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 In the Footsteps of Giants (Multiple Parts)

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Gabriel Faith

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Join date : 2010-03-09
Age : 31
Location : Vancouver

PostSubject: In the Footsteps of Giants (Multiple Parts)   Tue Oct 11, 2011 4:48 am

See this now, see it very well. A lone wanderer dressed in ebony, and traveling beneath the stars, his destination is lost somewhere, at some time...

Amongst some of the oldest races within the world, the Elves are considered the fairest, and the Dwarves the most hardy. Each species claim to be descended from the Gods and the primordial forces that shaped the realm itself. However, some would differentiate from such a belief and draw their own unique conclusions. A few in particular do not concern themselves for it, instead focused solely upon the act and benefit of living. It seems strange that some dedicate their entire lives pondering over the causality of existence, wasting their youth in study only to die as a bitter old soul.

Still you would find it difficult to meet a friendlier and more cheerful type of folk than the Halflings. In contrast to their distant relatives, the Dwarves, these tiny people spend their entire lives reaping in harvest and celebrating for the smallest things. Although some would find their welcoming personalities to be irritating, it is apparent that even in times of despair their optimism outshines the grey of their sorrows. Their natural curiosity and eagerness for adventure often leads them astray. Some of the Halflings make for the most notorious, infamous scoundrels in known history.

What is strangest about these foolhardy individuals are their tenacity for joy. The little children spend entire summers in the shade, consuming cherries and nuts from a freshly picked grove; past the winter wolf hunts, their taverns are often brimming with patronage. Each season, each momentous call for celebration is answered, no matter the direness of the world beyond. Though their hair colors may fade in time, their clothes worn to nothingness, these small individuals share a strength in spirit beyond measure. No other race seems to possess the same caliber than these aloof creatures.

Therefore when I had arrived in one such hamlet, it was with a smile that their militia captain greeted me with, followed only by the tip of his spear. His emerald green tunic coated the chainmail suit he wore beneath. Short curly chestnut hair sprouted from his scalp towards the side of his ears, which perked as he grinned when he neared.

"Lo stranger," he called out from his pony. "Why such a color for this time of year? Are you a mourner?"
I shook my head lightly. "No, just a traveller."
"I see. The scouts reported you as far as the Glimmering Brook, beyond the birch tree bridge and Retainer's Hill." The captain steadied his mount, which trotted from side to side as the other riders approached. "What brings you here then?"
"The road." I replied.
The other laughed, along with him. From the moment he approached, he did not seem a brash fellow.
"Bless me, I am blind then. Of course, the road. Come! We will escort you to the mayor's office, then the tavern."
It was a thinly disguised threat. The halfling riders had their spears lowered at my direction, lifting them upwards only when I agreed with a nod. It was not in them to openly shout hostilities, swear save in good humor, or be direct. However, they were still capable of violence though not fond of it.

The Halflings did not build themselves through war or conquest, fighting only out of necessity, and always sought for a peaceful resolution. For that matter, it seemed strange that they would flourish in a world constantly ripe with conflict and war. They were a hardy bunch as much as they were childlike and playful. It is known that many strangers, thinking them as weak and unable, often are trounced by these resilient folk.

***

The militia patrol led me through the cobblestone paths where they were greeted by the local population. Several children ran behind the riders, laughing and cheering as they did. Amongst the faces of the men and women and elders that emerged to greet them, none of them shed a light of concern by my presence - this was a warning as well, that the entire community would band together were I to threaten these watchmen. It was a very subtle gesture but a clever one at that.

Each of the hovels were composed of dried straw, branches, and bricks. They measured only half as tall as a standard sized floor in a human society. Each of them were adorned with flower wreathes, colorful paint and smooth wooden crafts. The clothing colors of their inhabitants were bright and radiant, mesmerizing. In contrast to them, I wore only the color of black pitch, matching that of my hair as well.

My eyes were kept forward as I ignored their greetings and waves. Periodically I heard the hushed musings of small groups and the laughter from the japes they made. It was apparent that they regarded me as a captive though their cheerfulness disguised their worries. I was a stranger to them after all and a perceived threat. It was customary for them to greet each newcomer in an effort to alleviate any form of social discrepancies, all the while gauging them for their self worth. In other communities, most would regard travellers with silent contempt and visible whisperings; Halflings were subtle in such kinds of behavior.

Along the way we passed through fields of barley and rye, orchids of apples and groves of oranges, and in the gardens of the hovels were fenced gardens for vegetables and crops. There were no open displays by butchers or fishmongers. The smell of garbage and sewage was absent from the remarkably hygienic settlement. With the exception of a stone shrine, the granary and windmill were the only tall structures within this place. Lanes of blooming flowers decorated the streets, which were devoid of traffic and pedestrians. Even the market stalls were neatly aligned, adding to the dreamlike quality to this locale, far different than other townships and cities I had previously encountered.

Periodically I listened to the ambient atmosphere of the rolling green hills and farms, echoing with the signs of the early spring; brazen blue skies spread across a sea of cotton white clouds, the heat of the afternoon sun purveying upon the grass below. There was no shortage of picturesque harmony and peace to my surrounding environments. It was difficult not to be captivated by the simplicity of these folk and the energy about each and every one of them.

Gradually the fields began to disperse, replaced by entire beds of flowers in varying colors as far as the eyes could see. Soon the ground began to elevate almost evenly and the sight of small smoke pillars became visible. The foundations of small brick chimneys protruded from the slopes of each individual hill, beyond which were small fenced perimeters and doors leading to the homesteads. These were the fabled architectures of Halfling design, often leading to their nicknames as "The Hill Folk".

At the end of the hill, perched amongst a long flight of steps, sat the Mayor's estate. It proved to be nothing spectacular, no different in quality than the rest of the homes we passed, and there settled upon a rocking chair was the Mayor himself. He was a stout individual, several lines along his cheeks displaying his years, which pursed back when he smiled in greeting. Other political figures lived in estates that were notably richer and fancier in design. In office, it was customary to appoint a meeting within the Mayor's schedule - it proved unnecessary, he shook my hand and offered me a smoke of his pipe. I politely declined.

"Greetings, traveller!" he exclaimed, withdrawing his hand and settling upon his rocking chair. He gestured that I do the same, which to some difficulty because of my size I did. Beneath the steps, the militia patrol bantered amongst themselves as we spoke. "It is not often we see travelers within our village. What brings you here?"
I regarded him silently with a nod. "I wander the lands, a vagabond if you will."
The Mayor shook with laughter, which rang itself with the gentleness of his voice. "I see the boys have brought about a straggler. You're not here to beg for food and lodging are you? These are Halfling lands, that would be most rude of us."
"I did not come for food or lodging, only by the road that brought me here." I replied, softly.
"I see, I see. Well then, do not be alarmed, stranger. I can speak for everyone else that your presence is sudden and most certainly uninvited." The Mayor gestured with his pipe at my cloak. "Your dark attire resembles the image of a wraith. Your skin too is pale like one. I could have sworn, had you approached my stead alone, I would have mistaken you for one."
"I am grateful then," I replied.
The Mayor reclined slightly, glancing across the fields beyond the top of his hill, amongst the other Halflings at work. From here I could see that some in the distance, whispered then amongst themselves, their smiles now absent from their faces.
"You frighten them, stranger," He added, turning to face me again. "But you are observant, aren't you? There is a look to you, my friend, that speaks of experience and insight. You are not a blind individual, so to speak."
I watched as he briefly emptied his wooden pipe of the tobacco remains, began to stuff more from a pouch that sat on a table nearby along a tea set, and lit it up with a match. He began to suck greedily upon it, puffing out small smoke rings into the air.
"The road that leads from here lead to a forest nearby. That area is rich with game in summer and autumn. Beyond that you would find the end of the Glimmering Brook, further than that the Azure Fields." He turned for a moment, gesturing at the pot of tea. "You say you are a traveler. Have you any news from the South? At least stay for the tea."
"Only the hearsay of the locals, the stories of midwives." I said, nodding to his offer. The Mayor began to pour from the small tea pot into two small cups. With some difficulty, amidst his chuckling, I managed to support the cup between two fingers. It was only enough to support a single gulp. "Nothing of concern regarding this place."
Nodding his head slightly, the Mayor took a sip from his tea, smacking his lips from the honey laden taste of it. He joked, "Did you sample the tea they have when you passed?"
"Not at all." I replied, flatly. "They did send me on my way."
"No doubt with an escort for your safety," The Mayor said, laughing. "We trust you know the road from here."
I inclined my head slowly. "As long as I do not stray, I suppose."
As he brushed off the last note of his laughter, the Mayor looked out once more across the fields and the hovels. We both noted that the cheery air about the other Halflings had faded and though their curiosities remained, most returned to the fields. It almost appeared as if though they shifted their focus on the harvest at hand. His smile began to fade, the Mayor turned and asked, "What have you learned of Giants, stranger?"
Lowering my tea cup, I replied softly, "I know that they have come to this place."
We finished our tea together in the afternoon and returned to his office in time for supper.

***

Supper is an extraordinary affair to a Halfling. Stories has it that if a family of Halflings were to visit a sidewalk cafe or tavern, they would be partly responsible for depleting the stocks of said establishment. It is widely known that Halflings are revered and feared for their indulgence, which is considered to be legendary. Whenever it is possible, they will find an excuse for tea at all hours preferably with the addition of a good smoking pipe. There are multiple breakfasts, lunches and dinners and no shortage of second or third variants of each. Within Halfling communities, the children are plump and fat, which adds a delightful blush on their cheeks in the course of playing.

Their cuisine is considered exemplary as well. Each dish has a variety of sweet flavors such as honey, fruits and sugar. Meat consists of local game such as poultry, rabbit, venison, and raised livestock. Their alcohol is notably light if only for the reason of multiple consumption. The quality of their mead is most refreshing as well. They are also known to be generous hosts, provided that their culture consists of strong family values and friendships. On that note, the Mayor and his host found no excuse to feast the occasion of my arrival along with multiple toasts throughout. I was served fresh loaves of black bread, sweetened milk, pork pies, quail, hunks of venison and dried beef, and no shortage of fresh butter. For dessert, the Mayor brought in a blueberry pie, fruits, and nuts. His wife insisted on providing me with rations when I returned to the road.

I discovered that their generosity was not stemmed by any motive other than friendliness and kindness at this point. When it became apparent that I was harmless to a degree, soon it became impossible to keep from the attention of the local population. Children milled around the office windows, prying at our conversation, and periodically interrupting with their laughter. Whenever I turned they would dart and hide their faces from me as if though in a game. Once I heard one of them sing a rhyme in jest of my appearance, which led to the Mayor driving them out entirely.

Although I never admitted to it, there was a soft place in my heart for children especially those I had met within this surrounding countryside. Part of me wondered if the childlike demeanor of the Halflings were retained from their childhood, whereas so many other children outgrew their past times and hobbies. The naivety and welcoming attitude of the locals seemed almost adolescent at certain occasions, but it seemed that beneath that cheeriness was certain despair. Such behavior could wound even a strong heart and I felt only a hint of pity for these people. It mustn't register on an emotional level lest it dissuade my better judgment.

When we had finished our meal together, the Mayor, his captains, and several clan heads joined me at the dinner table. While his children played by the crackling fireplace, his wife tended to the dishes and served us bowls of sweetened mead. The men shared a pipe, briefly talking about the weather and the harvest festival. Gradually the Mayor spoke of the matters at hand.
"The scouts have reported that the giants have returned this year in greater numbers than the last." He said, surprisingly direct for an introduction. The severity of the situation called for seriousness not commonly found within these fair folk. "We must form a plan to stop this menace."
"What do you propose?" asked one of his captains.
"A strategic retreat," spoke one of the clan heads. "Led by our strange visitor."
This brought about much laughter at the table.
"Have you a name?" asked the Mayor, addressing me.
I shrugged slightly. "I go by many names."
Together the table laughed at this, even his wife giggled at my reply. One of the captains clapped me gently at the back, smiling as I turned to regard him. The Mayor shook his head, "Very well then. You are dressed as a mourner, claim to be a traveler, and appear as a wraith. You have many names but share none. Very well then, Nameless One!"
I nodded my head, forcing a smirk to my lips. They were not the first to regard me by such a title. The table laughed again, applauding me in return. "He smiles! The wraith smiles!" shouted one of the clan heads. "Beware your life!"
When the laughter died down again, the Mayor spoke, "The harvest is rich. No doubt they intend to raid our stocks when the festival is over."
"My scouts count as many as six hands of them," said another of the militia captains. She stood up from the table. "Six hands is enough to destroy all of us."

Immediately this prompted the table into a sudden clamor of simultaneous discussion. The suddenness of this alarmed the children until the Mayor gestured for a gathered silence. He spoke gravely, "It is apparent that we would be forced to retreat if met directly in the field."
One of the clan heads spoke, his voice lifting slightly, "The Birch Foots will not flee."
"None of the Wydales will leave." said another.
"Nor any of the Tyburries." added another. "We will not leave our fields."
My eyes followed the voices that added to the bold proclamations and briefly I admired their courage. It is often said that Halflings despite their size make for fierce individuals. Part of me wondered if this was an act of pack mentality or suicidal bravery. Either way the Mayor studied them long and hard before he spoke again.
"We have two weeks to prepare for such an event. The hills beyond the Glimmering Brook is home to the other clans and territories. Maybe we could form an alliance against them." said the Mayor. "It seems likely that the Giants if successful will raid their villages as well."
Again the table broke into a fierce discussion, this time the added voices louder than before; it proved futile for the Mayor to calm the group entirely. They fell silent when I stood from my seat, narrowly brushing my head against the roof of the homestead.
"You would need all the help you have." I said flatly. "You have shown me much kindness and generosity. I would wish to repay you in some small way."

Immediately the table broke into laughter including the Mayor and his wife. I overheard the children awkwardly joining in with the rippling sound as well. It did not sound like a nervous laughter, genuine and clear.
"Nameless One," said the female captain. "You are a guest. You needn't talk such things. Leave this place and our troubles."
"Aye," said the Mayor. "He is my guest. Tomorrow we will see you to the road again."
There was another silence that fell across the table as all their eyes turned towards me again. I studied their faces quietly before I replied, "You are few against many. It would be unfavorable to abandon my hosts, would it not?" Several opened their mouths to speak against it. "I have traveled to partake in the harvest festival. Would you forbid my presence from it?"
The Mayor spoke in turn, following the silence that ensued. "You are welcome to our festival, Nameless One."

<End of Part 1>
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Gabriel Faith

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PostSubject: Re: In the Footsteps of Giants (Multiple Parts)   Tue Oct 11, 2011 5:55 am

Within the following days, the Mayor announced the council's decision before the rest of the villagers. The news itself set the entire region abuzz with the declaration of war. Beneath any other circumstance, most settlements would see a large emigration of refugees based upon the risks at hand. However, for the Halflings, the thought of this was simply out of the question. The farmers toiled their fields vigorously, routinely allotting parts of their schedule to train at the militia barracks; each man, woman and child began to practice escape routes at day and night hours. Pony riders galloped across the emptied fields. The local hunters and rangers began to fletch bows and arrows.

Soon the news spread as far as beyond the Glimmering Brook, even towards the edge of Echo Peaks. The villages from afar began to circulate towards that particular township, carrying with them wagons of armor, weapons and supplies. It was remarkable how cooperative the Halflings were to one another, where other Human settlements squabbled over petty disputes. My presence amongst them became an attraction for their increasing numbers. More and more often I became the target of lighthearted jokes and pranks. Eventually the children grew brave enough to trail after my every movement, periodically mimicking my expressions and darting off whenever I glanced. It became more customary for me to guard my coinpurse when once I caught a child prying at it in passing.

The war council was the first to be formed in over several decades. When the Halflings in this region had settled almost a century and a half ago, they were plagued by Goblins and a local pack of Wargs. Although that part of their history was considered too harsh for documentation, it was remembered only for the sake of its importance. After much prying and banter did I manage to learn of this despite what actual historians claimed otherwise. Slowly I began to take the time to learn their clan names and the neighboring communities as well such as the Rough Foots, the Summer Curls, and the Brook Joys. This particular village was named Wolves Bane, after the slaying of the Warg packs.

Compared to the other communities, the name itself was uncommon amongst the Halflings due to its ferocious definition. Each community was named for a particular trait found amongst its population. While none of the pleasant folk in Wolves Bane hunted or poached wolves, they were mostly known for their stubbornness and hardiness like their ancestors. According to the older Halflings, their forefathers rode down the Wargs during the coldest winter and freed the lands of their terrorizing. Today the only remains of that ancient conflict lies in the crumbled caves that once led to the Warg dens of long ago.

I wasted no time to share my knowledge with the Mayor and the gathered leaders concerning warfare. At first they dismissed them much to my chagrin, but unable to determine otherwise they took the time to understand given the circumstance. None of them took to writing it down due to the nature of it all. With the exception of the militia and volunteers, they had little interest for such things. Listening to my advice they began to form wooden stakes alongside the hills surrounding each individual township and village. The farmers lit up numerous torches alongside the fields to create the illusory image of miniature war camps. These were difficult to monitor due to the children playing about in the night, waving their torches in their laughter.

The combined force of the militia would patrol the roads and monitor the surrounding forests for any movements. Local hunters and trained rangers scanned the terrain for the telltale signs of Giant activity. Livestock were carefully herded into barns each night, preventing any theft of them by any enemy scouts. The Halflings goaded their opponents in their own fashion, singing and laughing long into the night, allowing the sound to travel around the countryside. They flew colored banners throughout their homes and even the riders strew the paths with picked flowers and petals. Together the air of the region was lit with the energy of the Halflings, fearless in the footsteps of giants.

My involvement with all this proved to be minimal and perhaps overlooked. The Halflings did not credit me for my planning and my advice, more intent on feasting me during my stay. Although I did not wish to insult them, a traveler that beds in a Halfling inn could wake up with an empty purse; there was a gentleness to the air in the surrounding hills, where I lay asleep to the vision and sounds of celebration. The locals often tried to question me about my travels and most of all, the stories I had gathered during each of them. In the end, this merely provided more evidence to their childlike behavior given their fondness for stories. Often I had to retreat from their demanding company if only to bask in solidarity.

***

Sometime after the first week of this vigorous preparation, the first reports began to surface of Giant activity towards the North, closeby the site of distant mountains. Past experience had proven that Giants, being of certain Troll blood and related ancestry, were found in caves situated in mountain sides. Their presence came in the form of a terrible disaster: the destruction of a pair of farms at the base of those mountains, along with their owners and the livestock.

At first I expected there to be a renewed sense of fear in the population, which to my surprise became absent that same evening. In fact, the clamor of laughter and singing echoed louder this time much to my own confusion. There was no form of mourning to be found at all, save for the many wreathes placed upon the ruined foundations. No funeral marches, no crowds of weeping friends or family - just the strange, surrealistic sounds of life in the wake of death. I sat alone by the hillside, watching the shapes of their dancers twisting around a bonfire in the dark.

In place of sorrow, there were no acts of retribution or anger to be found amongst the locals. I suspected some of them to reserve their emotions in privacy, perhaps due to my role as an interloper in their lives. However, it soon became apparent that these small fair individuals, so full of joy and cheeriness, were seemingly incapable of negative feelings. In all my travels, no other race or species appeared to be so open with their personalities. It became harder to involve myself with their affairs given their peculiar ways.

***

A few days after the farm raid, I was woken one morning by the sounds of distant excitement from the village. The scouts had reported a Giant wandering near the site of the farm ruins and immediately set the entire population of Wolves Bane into a frenzy. I could see then the mixed expressions of fear, awe and curiosity across each of the individual Halflings. They milled around the patrol that reported the sighting, barely allowing room for movement. Immediately the patrol set off with a dozen other volunteers on foot, galloping off towards that direction.

I followed them alone through the woods, tracking them down and settling upon a clearing overlooking a small green valley. The mountains surrounding this area were tall and vast all around. Below each base of them, leading through a vast open green valley, was a field that seemed devoid of flowers. It was here that I sighted the Giant itself, staggering with audible thumps upon the grass; each step that lifted left a noticeable imprint on the soil. He was clad in a rough hide jerkin and footwraps, wielding the remains of a tree stump as he moved.

Suddenly from out of the woods, the Halfling riders poured screaming down the valley, their shrill voices stirring with excitement and incoherent shouts as they did. The Giant turned and roared in defiance, jogging towards the riders as they approached, shaking its free hand in the air. In contrast, the riders wore cloth tunics and chainmail, carried with them spears and short swords and slings. Two of them wielded short bows more suited for hunting than warfare. They began to loose their arrows at their immense opponents, hardly penetrating the thick hides.

Angrily the Giant swung towards one of the riders, knocking him from his pony as the others circled around it. The rider screamed and ran, narrowly avoiding the Giant's attempt to crush him with his foot. At that moment, from between its legs, another rider stooped and picked up the fallen Halfling onto her horse and sped laughing together from the Giant. This enraged it further and it swung wildly at the circling patrol. I watched as the arrows and sling stones bounced harmlessly off its arms and torso.

The spear riders began to jab at the lumbering menace, which started howling in agony in return. At one point it began to jump on one foot as the riders slowed to laugh and taunt at it. This sent the Giant into a fury. It ran full speed at two of the riders, narrowly missing them as they rode past. The taunts and jeering became an endless torrent, each rider shouting and cursing and laughing at their massive opponent. They seemed to be toying with him, like the way a cat would play with its prey. From all around the woods, the other Halflings burst forth and began to hurl stones at the Giant. Its anger soon paved to fearful confusion, stumbling around at the massive crowd gathered all around it.

Now it seems necessary to describe the tenacity of a Halfling's marksmanship. A common activity for Halfling youth and children involves a strange habit of skipping stones on water. An adult Halfling, without the use of a bow, has the ability to loose a balanced stone with deadly accuracy from as far as eighty yards. With the addition of a sling, the range for such accuracy is almost doubled or tripled. It is not unknown that Halfling slingers make a very dangerous opponent when gathered in large numbers.

Already the crowd surrounding the trapped Giant began hurling all sorts of stones, rocks and pebbles. Some of them had brought the dread straps of slings and threw sharpened rocks at it. The Giant whirled around, attempting to shield his head with one hand like a bullied child. I noticed that some parts of his arm was bleeding from minor cuts and bruises. The Halflings proved to be a vicious sort, mocking the burly creature and aiming for its eyes, nose and lips. Each of the riders encircled a defensive ring from its deadly club, all the while joining the shouts of the crowd. It was then that they began to produce nets between their ponies and charged the Giant once more.

With the nets they began to wrap its ankles and knees together, but comically they were knocked off by the weight of their opponent. Miraculously none of the fallen riders were hurt. Some members of the crowd sprang forward and began to taunt the Giant just within his reach. The Giant tried to pry the nets off but became disoriented by the projectiles and the periodic jab of the Halfling spears and pitchforks. With a sudden cry of disbelief, it tumbled forward and fell onto its stomach - it was then that the entire crowd sprang forward and began assaulting it in the most savage manner.

The entire altercation was over within seconds. Already the Halflings began climbing on top of their fallen opponent, lifting their hands and shouting cries of victory. Several began to salvage the Giant's purse, which was an oversized burlap sack. They pulled from it the remains of a sheep, then a large woven blanket that they carried and ran around with. All around the clearing other Halflings poured forward, cheering as they did, dancing around the body of the fallen Giant. They began to strip the hide jerkin and footwraps for their own use. In some strange funeral tribute, one placed a wreathe on the Giant's mangled head. Their celebration was cut short when some of them pointed towards a pair of Giants descending the mountains, leading them to run off laughing and taunting as they did.

When the Giants arrived, they attempted to give chase after the Halflings, who dived into the woods around me. They began to growl and mutter about revenge and eating each of them. It was then, deciding to act, that I emerged alone from the woods. They regarded me with angered scowls and glaring. Behind me I heard the whispers of the hiding observers. I drew my sword as the first Giant began to approach me.

<End of Part 2>
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