Chapter 14 - The Giants
With such a large group, traveling by land took time. We had to break for water often while enduring the heat of the Barrens. Gullane assured us that our water supply would last for the week long trip to Gurgand.
One afternoon when our caravan had stopped for the evening, I visited Riley under our rickety tent. He was toiling over Gullane and Rhaida’s map of Palleo.
“Working again?” I picked up one of his many journals. Inside I saw diagrams and notes describing the characteristics of various animals. He had drawn the front and back view of each animal. The work was detailed and exquisite.
“Do you like it?”
“This is really incredible, Riley. There’s so much here. I never knew so many animals exist in our world.”
“Many don’t exist any more, or at least I don’t think they’re alive. I was really surprised to find the toad-like creature we encountered at Summon’s Pass. My purpose for drawing those was to show the animals to Wolfe. But then I decided to record the images for myself as well, before my memories vanish.”
Riley sat next to me. “What do you mean?” I said. I closed the journal and gazed into his eyes.
“I mean that when I was a protector time didn’t make a difference with my experiences. My memories were as infinite as my immortal life. But now I’m having… difficulty. I don’t believe I’ll be as valuable as you once thought. This mortal mind can’t hold the many experiences of my former life. I realized this when we discovered the portal on the island. I should have remembered this place, the people and animals of this continent, yet I can’t.” Riley dropped his gaze and continued. “, I’m remembering my life as Riley, but my prior self seems to be fading. I’m trying to record everything I remembered as a protector before it’s lost. I’m sorry, but I won’t be very useful to you.”
“Riley, you’re the king of a kingdom and my husband.” I took his hand. He tilted his head and stared at me with his irresistible, boyish charm. “I prefer that you remember just one thing in your mortal life.”
“That I love you. You make me happy and whole. There’s nothing more I want in this world than to be with you.”
Riley’s thoughts expressed relief. “How do you do that?” he asked.
“My emotions and uncertainty are about to explode and you wash them all away. I just look at you and my worries dissolve. Sometimes I wonder if it’s magic.”
“It’s not magic; it’s love.”
“Right now, feeling love as a human seems more important than anything I experienced as a protector. There’s so much they don’t understand.”
Riley packed up his books for the evening. His thoughts told me he would continue to record his memories although he was not as zealous as he had been.
Four days later Gullane led our alliance into Gurgand. “I will introduce you to our Lord. Much time has passed since I left, so I must travel ahead and determine who reigns as Lord of Gurgand.”
As Gullane jogged ahead we saw the first of the giants. Like gigantic oxen the men plowed fields with apparatuses strapped to their backs, and the women were as large and muscular as the men. The giants’ chopped wood, labored in fields, or aided in the construction of a fine-crafted sailing ship. We were dwarfed by these big people, like mice entering a town of elephants. Gurgand ran on brute force. Men lifted carriages and heaved massive carts through town. We did not see any horses, oxen, or animals of great strength. These people were their own beasts of burden.
The giants stared at our carts pulled by horses and we heard Gullane’s voice call out from the streets.
“This way.” He waved us toward a beautiful wooded area lined with covered shelters. Our party took up the entire park area.
Riley and I trailed after Gullane as he walked up to a man close to the shore. The man turned, noticing the commotion behind him, and headed straight for us. My jaw dropped when I saw him. He was easily a foot and a half taller than Gullane. Actually, Gullane’s height was that of a woman, about a head shorter than the men. I remember Gullane telling us long ago that he was a small man, though no one in our party believed him. Compared with the man now towering over Riley and me, I finally understood what Gullane meant.
The men spoke as though they had known each other all their lives and then they slapped each other on the shoulder in greeting.
Gullane turned to us. “This is Lord Raine, presently head of the giants, and he will help us.” He smiled as Lord Raine gazed down at us.
“Welcome!” his voice was lower than Gullane’s and scarier. I stood frozen like a little loyatee, ready to scream and run away. My eye level reached Lord Raine’s waist. Any words that I had previously thought about saying were now lost and I stared blankly.
“Greetings!” Sir Edward walked up from behind me, raising his hand to Lord Raine. “I am Edward Dawuz, but my clan calls me Sir Edward.” Lord Raine shook Edward’s hand then slapped him on the shoulder, knocking him into me.
“Hello, Sir Edward,” said Lord Raine. He turned to Riley. “Gullane tells me you are a King. We have never had a King visit Gurgand.”
Riley stood frozen also, “Yeah,” is all that escaped his mouth until Edward poked him in the back. “Yes. I am King Riley of The Land.” Riley held out his hand to shake Lord Raines and clenched, awaiting the inevitable slap to the shoulder. With a forceful thud, Riley fell sideways. Edward grabbed him just before he hit the ground.
“And you must be his Queen?”
I nodded and then held out my hand. My body tensed and I shut my eyes. When the slap to my shoulder never happened, I opened my eyes and saw Lord Raine kneeling in front of me. His face was massive and more muscular than anyone I had ever seen, even Gullane.
“I am Queen Crystal of The Land.” I said in a timid voice. Lord Raine took my hand and placed it on the side of his bald, decorative head. Then he placed his colossal hand to the side of my head and leaned in close until our foreheads touched.
“Welcome to Gurgand, Queen Crystal of The Land,” he said. He rose to his amazing height and continued. “Gullane is a hero to our people and we are happy for his safe return. We offer you our hospitality. Your caravan may rest here.”
“Thank you,” Riley replied. “Our people could use some rest.”
Lord Raine planned a return welcome for Gullane, so a small group was invited to dinner that evening. We stepped into a great hall housing an oblong table. There were enough chairs for each of us and Riley sat down first. He hopped up into his seat and the rest of us did the same. Once settled our feet dangled, and our eyes could barely see over the table. We stood quickly when Lord Raine spoke so we could see him at the head of the table. Gullane and Lord Raine were the only two sitting down.
“Tell me your entire story,” Lord Raine said. Mirth emanated from Lord Raine’s tone. “I am quite eager to discover how such a large group has traveled so far, especially through the Barrens. Quite a desolate place, the Barrens.”
“Maybe Gullane would like to start by explaining how he has come to be part of our alliance?” Riley said and glanced at our quiet companion.
Gullane agreed and offered his perspective of our journey, starting with our union at . By the time he told the story of Governor McCook, the council of , and the capture of the spying protector, Lord Raine was on the edge of his seat.
When all the events had been recounted, Lord Raine turned to Riley. “So you were really one of those creatures?” Riley nodded.
“My Lord,” I interrupted. “Have you noticed any suspicious deaths? We have been wondering where the protectors have fled, wondering if maybe they have come here to kill from the shadows.”
We watched while he thought, then after moments of silence a startled look fell upon his face. “Wait here a moment. I must summon someone at once.” He lifted from his chair and stepped out of the room.
“What do you think?” asked Wolfe who stood across from us.
“Well, his thoughts tell me that he believes Gullane’s story,” I said, then perched myself on my massive chair.
“Good idea having Gullane tell his side of the story.” said Devin to Riley.
“You were really quite good at keeping him on edge.” smiled at Gullane and sat down on his huge chair. Eventually everyone sat quietly.
George stretched as high as he could in his chair, enough for his eyes to glance around at us. “Do you think anyone will notice that we don’t quite fit in?” He got off his seat and scooted it closer to the table. He sat back down, rested his tiny head on the edge of the table and glared at everyone in a comical fashion, grinning like some maniacal shrunken head. He looked ridiculous! In fact, we all looked ridiculous in Gullane’s world.
I began laughing, followed by everyone one in our entire party. Laughter echoed through the huge study. Most of us were beyond the point of teary-eyed chuckles and into full blown hysterical snorts, in-between gasps for air.
The door swung open and Lord Raine sat back down in his chair. “I see everyone’s comfortable.”
I looked at Riley who had tears forming in his eyes. I struggled to hold in my laughter and somehow squeaked. Of course this did not help, and Riley laughed in an unconcealed manner. Our struggles were in vain, and even Gullane burst into laughter with us while the Lord of the Giants watched with astonishment.
“I’m sorry, My Lord,” Gullane finally blurted. “I believe my companions will need to eat somewhere where they can reach the table.” We burst our sides at his request for so obvious a need. George was close to the edge of his chair and fell off while holding his sides. A few of us gasped, then noticed him under the table curled into a fetal position, laughing and moaning.
“Hmm,” Lord Raine observed our hysteria and chuckled. “I see what you mean. Guess we need better accommodations.”
He requested two smaller tables and in minutes we were sitting together at the right size table and chairs. Once we were settled, the food came to the table on platters and we were astonished to discover that the giants were vegetarians. They never ate any type of meat or even eggs. I always assumed Gullane ate the same things we did during our first journey across Noore although in retrospect I remember him preparing his own meals. Stashed in his sack, he would pull out different brightly colored fruits or vegetables and always refused our offerings of roasted rabbit or toasted snake on a stick.
Placed in front of us were different types of squash, vegetables, and many variations of food that I never recognized. Sumptuous bean soup, roasted vegetables, dark breads, and fruits of all kinds graced the table. Some of the whole vegetables were five times the size of our vegetables back home. We also found out that giants eat small meals, but they eat six meals everyday – five during the day and one they wake for in the middle of the night.
“Lord Raine,” I asked. “Are there people on Palleo who can help us find the protectors?”
“Miserlains may offer their help. They know many things even though they lack resourcefulness.”
“What do you mean?” asked Riley.
“Well, my Grandfather visited the Miserlains and upon his return home he told us about their way of life. They are always busy making things, objects to better the Miserlain life. But he also told of how they waste good farmland.”
“Do you mean that they use up the soil and plow new fields rather than alternating fields?”
“Yes, they don’t allow the ground or forest to regenerate. Giants give back to the soil what has been taken and we replace trees. It is our belief to leave our land alone so it can replenish itself. We take only what is necessary. The Miserlains live differently, but they are smart and might aid in your search. If you inform them of your alliance and the protectors, I believe they will help.”
A giant entered the room and whispered in Lord Raine’s ear.
Lord Raine nodded as the man spoke. Then he made an announcement. “We have prepared a meal for your alliance in the park. It was set up moments ago.”
“Thank you, Lord Raine!” I said. “They could use good food and warm hospitality.”
We were almost finished eating when the doors swung open and a woman giant entered.
“Autumn, please come in and join us.” said Lord Raine. He and the woman touched heads in the same manner I was first introduced: I watched Gullane slowly stand up from his chair. She was beautiful and her long, black hair flowed to the small of her back. Gullane stared at Autumn and once she noticed him, their thoughts revealed a sad story.
They were very close while growing up, and even as young playmates they shared a romantic flare. Gullane was not growing like the other men, and they knew he would have to travel farther than any man on quest because he was the smallest giant in Gurgand. Autumn did not want him to leave, sure he would never return, so they choose not to marry.
“Gullane!” she cried with glee and rushed to him. They stood the same height, like Riley and myself, and touched heads tenderly. “You’ve returned. What has happened? Why have you come back?” She began a barrage of questions, but Gullane stopped her for a moment to introduce us. Lord Raine went over to the doors, closing them and pulled up a chair for Autumn to join us. “I summoned you here to ask you a question about your husband.” Gullane looked at her and her gaze dropped. “What happened to Brenn before he died?”
“Brenn?” asked Gullane. “You married Brenn?” Autumn nodded. “What happened to him?”
I could tell by Gullane’s voice that Brenn was a close friend.
“He was very sick.” Tears formed in her eyes. “We rarely get sick, so I knew something happened to him. I took care of him for days before...”
She sobbed and Lord Raine apologized for making her recount what had happened. He assured her that his questions were necessary.
“Did Brenn tell you anything about what happened?”
She composed herself and continued. “It was dark. Brenn often worked in the moonlight. It was cooler and he loved to hear the crickets. He told me he was feeling fine while plowing. Only after the plow hit a rock did he start feeling ill. He got on his knees to dig up the rock and something stung him on the back.”
“Did he see anything?” asked hastily. “Was there anything around him, a snake or a bat?”
“No, but he did mention seeing a swarm of glowing insects. He had never seen them before and figured one of the bugs must have stung him.”
“Did he mention anything about the color of the swarming insects?” I asked.
“No, he didn’t. What is it? What do you know?” Besides being upset at the recent loss of her husband, she was getting angry, knowing that we knew something about his death.
“How long ago did this happen?” asked Riley.
“Three months. Why?”
“Because we believe we know how your husband was killed. We’ll need evidence before we can be sure.”
“I kept the stinger.”
“What?” Devin and Cal responded in unison. Our eyes were fixed on her.
“I’ll show you. Brenn felt the stinger in his back when he slapped whatever stung him and brought it to me. It was large, unlike anything we had seen before.”
Before anyone else said a word we were out of our chairs, waiting for our giant widow to lead us to our evidence.
“Devin,” I whispered. “Get the syringe. I think we may have discovered a good lead.”
“I agree. I’ll join you right away my Queen.”
Devin left and returned quickly. Autumn then led our entire party to her house further northeast from Gurgand. The house was made of stone and wood and blended with the landscape. She lit four lamps when we stepped inside, then left for a moment. She returned carrying a box and grabbed one of the lamps, holding it close so we could see the small stinger now lying across her palm.
“Could I examine it?” I asked.
“Careful, !” warned Riley. “It could still have the potion on it.”
“What?” Autumn asked.
“Devin, bring that syringe over here, into the light.” I held up the stinger.
He pulled out the syringe from our very first trip. It was empty now, but sure enough my thoughts were right. The stinger was a piece of a needle. The tip of another syringe that had been used on Autumn’s late husband by the protectors.
“Devin, take this to Uncle Ally and ask him to search for residue of the protectors potion. Lord Raine?” He stared at me intently. “Has anyone else died recently from the same symptoms?”
“Yes, we have had at least three more deaths.” He rubbed his chin. “It takes much to kill a giant. We live for two hundred years or more and rarely get sick, however in the past year Reagle died, then Dullie, followed by Ollie who died in the same manner as Brenn. He was just one hundred years old.”
“Autumn, we have much to tell you. Our journey to Gurgand is linked to your husband’s death. Gullane has joined our alliance in an effort to stop these mysterious killings. The protectors are here and it looks as if they want to eliminate all human forms, including Giants.”
I asked Autumn to sit down. “We have quite a long story to tell you. Can a few of us rest here for the night?” she nodded.
Gullane remained to comfort Autumn while Riley and I explained our journey. Everyone else went back to the camp.
The next day we discussed our plans and decided that half of the alliance would travel with me and the King to the Miserlains. The other half, including our feathered friends and young communicators, would be safer with the giants while awaiting Captain Drischolls arrival from sea.
The two evenings before we left, Riley and I finally had some time alone. Always when we wanted an intimate moment together people were around us and often when we did find time to share as husband and wife, our eagerness was drained. I was frustrated, Riley was frustrated, and we longed for our castle.
“If we can’t find the protectors what will we do?” Riley’s thoughts expressed a desire to go home.
“I don’t know Riley, but other events will happen while we are searching for the protectors. They’re important even though I’m not sure why. We can’t go home yet. Meeting the Miserlain people will at least be a start. I guess we’re following a trail in the fog, not always able to see too far ahead, but sure of our footing. One thing I do know, either we will find the protectors or they will find us.”