Coriander: Never Turn Your Back on a Giant 1 of 6
The journey started like most family trips: with protest and complaining. Coriander did not want to travel to some place he never heard of! He wanted to stay home and have fun. Wasn’t that the point of having breaks from Magoge ? He hadn’t earned very high marks and had gotten into trouble more often than not. He was sure he was gong to be expelled or put to death for some of the magick he had used , but since his return he was pretty much ignored. First Teacher almost congratulated him on saving the lot of them but then seemed to change his mind and warned Coriander on the discipline of using Power and had forced him to spend extra classes with Teacher Atki the Weapons Master. It could have been worse. He loved the very gentle sweet teacher and spending time with him wasn’t really a punishment but the extra class load had been exhausting. Didn’t she deserve a few weeks of mindless child-like silliness? After all this might very well be one of the last breaks when she was still considered a child.
None of his protests made any impact on his father who was packing with the precision of a potions maker. “I know. I heard you the first dozen times boy,” his Father sighed, “but I think this trip will be important for you. You’ll be a man soon and need to learn duty and purpose.” Coriander rolled his eyes and thought, ‘Why oh why were adults so concerned with making children adults. Doesn’t time take care of that?’
“And do not roll your eyes at me!’ snapped his Father. “Go and pack or you will show up naked!”
Coriander childishly stomped out of his Father’s room and into his own. His room had always been his solace. Being the only boy he had had his own room since he was 5. The youngest of six sisters he was grateful for place to call his own. At Magoge they slept in dormitories. Here in private Coriander could stare at the ceiling for hours just being alone. It’s not that he was unsocial or reclusive he simply enjoyed the quiet. When other boys were playing at war swinging fake swords and learning to swear, Coriander took long walks to the top of mountains and tried to see if the wind could literally carry your voice.
“Giant farts!” he swore. His boxes, rolls, and trunks had all been neatly put away by the servants. Not that he had that much stuff, the other rich boys at Magoge had three times the boxes Coriander had, but he had packed all himself and now he had to repack it. Didn’t they know he had to go on this stupid trip and why didn’t they leave everything out? “Stupid…” Coriander stopped himself. He almost said something unkind about the family slaves. It was not uncommon in other families to treat the servants like…well servants but his Father thought every life was sacred. Insomuch Coriander had been raised to never strike or be cruel to the servants. Of course now his end-friend was Vushi and he would he never speak badly about Vushi or her mother. And not just because Vushi could beat him up pretty easily, but because he loved her.
Not in a romantic way like everyone wished, including he suspected Vushi. More in a way like a sister. No not a sister. He already had six of those. It was like she understood him in a way no on else could. Obviously having come into their Power about the same time had forged a tight bond between them. So much changed when you became blessed. And not just speakings and postures but they others looked at you. Some with jealousy, others with fear, but almost everyone now looked at him as something different. Alienated perhaps but not ostracized. More just…different, and it is an odd thing to be looked at as different by people who were the same as you a week ago.
Vushi understood this. She had been a slave Coriander had barely seen. Having a mother, six sisters, a house full of servant women and a father who was frequently gone dealing with official problems, Coriander couldn’t be blamed for noticing yet another girl. But when Vushi came into her Power her life flipped completely. She had moved out of the slave’s quarters and into a large room off the kitchen. Vushi had been awkward about it and even still rolls her eyes when Coriander mentions it. You would think she would like the obvious improvements to her life that her new status brought her? Then Coriander realized for the first time how uncomfortable that might have been. To be put in a new lovely room as your mother stayed behind you. He knew the transition had been weird for him but how different must Vushi feel?
His Father was perhaps the least changed. Yes his pride blossomed and he, like his Mother, enjoyed the honor of having a blessed child in the community, but Coriander’s Father knew enough to know that Coriander would always need a Father no matter what kind of Power he wielded. And so he went out of his way to treat Coriander as a son and not a Mage. Usually Coriander appreciated the effort but today he wished he could use his blessings to make his Father obey him and stay home and go on walks and have fun!
Coriander’s Father came in to see him lying on the bed. He laughed, “so you really are going to travel naked?”
Coriander sat up and laughed, “Father don’t you think this trip is kind of useless?”
“In what way?”
“I will never be Magistrate.” Coriander said softly, “Thymari is a much better choice anyway. She’s smart and people like her…”
“Coriander,” his Father had a way of smiling with his eyes, “ I know you will never be Magistrate. By Hera’s Grace you are blessed. You will do great things in this world. And those things will be far away from our small town. Those things will be things I could never understand. I am not asking you to come with me to help train you to become Magistrate. No offense, but Hera help this town if you did.” He laughed and Coriander laughed too knowing his Father knew how much he hated politics.
Coriander stopped laughing and shook his head, “then why do I have to go?”
“Is it not enough that I asked you?” He said with a knowing look.
“Yes sir…” Coriander added, “but….”
“…you wish to stay home and have fun after your exhausting time at Magoge.” His Father continued as his voice cracked, “I do understand. But Coriander this might be our last trip together. Do you not want to spend this time with me? I am sure I am not as interesting as all those smart Magi and teachers but….
Coriander leapt off the bed and threw his arms around his Father’s torso. For a moment realized his Father was not so large anymore. He was almost the same size. That almost stopped and confused Coriander but instead he ignored it and hugged his Dad. “Father never think that! I am stupid! I didn’t think about…us. I just figured it was more work.”
His Father hugged him back and laughed again, “well it will be work. But it will be work done together.”
“I love you so much Father,” Coriander squeezed tighter, “never think anything is more important to me than you and my family.”
“As you get older you’ll have to make other things more important. That’s what getting older means. And some day you’ll have your own family and your son will be more important than anything you have ever known.”
They hugged in silence another moment.
Finally Coriander broke the hug and looked at his Father, “well then I guess I’ll have to pack. Or are we going to a naked place?”
They both laughed. Father brought a smirk to his mouth, “I certainly hope not! We are going in my official capacity as Magistrate. Besides spending time together I’ll need a man of your… talents.”
“My talents?” Coriander tried to read his Father’s smirk, “You mean magick?”
“Yes that,” he continued to smirk, “you shall be my secret weapon. Is that all right?”
Coriander rolled his eyes, “you’re teasing me! What could possibly need my talents up here?” He gestured at the provincial town.
“Oh we’re not staying close to town,” his Father started to leave, “and I will in fact need you Son. It is no small task to go and negotiate with giants.”
Coriander’s head cocked like a bird sensing his most-feared dog, “Did you say giants?”
Somethings Shared by a Father and Son
Coriander: Never Turn Your Back on a Giant 2
“GIANTS?!?!” Vushi yelled, “You’re going to trade with the giants! You are so lucky ! I’ve always wanted to go to see a giant!”
“And I want to know what a Monkey Queen is! That sounds like the Sun Herself! ” laughed Coriander.
“Oh I wish we were going together!”
“Me too!” sighed Coriander, “we must agree to remember every detail so when we tell each other what happened, we can feel like we were there!”
“I’ll be the lucky one there” laughed Vushi.
“What do you mean?” he questioned.
“You are a much better storyteller than I!” Vushi laughed some more, “I get too weighed down in the facts. You could charm a snake out of its skin and the tail off a magick pig! ”
“That’s probably why you’re better at magick,” Coriander reddened at her complement, “maybe my Father should be taking you. He says he needs someone of my talents.”
“I don’t know” Coriander shrugged, “he’s probably just going to show me off. You know how parents are!”
“That’s a horrible thought,” Vushi rolled her eyes, “the way they peacock us sometimes!”
Being magickal was frequently a multi-sided sword. You were blessed and thus revered. You could do powerful things and thus feared. You were necessary to the protection of the state thus respected. You were treated as above everyone else and thus envied. Basically everyone non-magickal person had a few contrary feelings about the Magi. It came down to how the person or persons visiting you felt about your ability to shoot flames out of the palms of your hands.
“Hera help me!” Vushi suddenly cried.
“What?” Coriander stopped laughing.
“What if that’s why I am taking my Mother to the temple!” Vushi threw her hands over her face in a very dramatic way, “she’s going to show me off and make me do magick like some performer!”
Coriander knew how Vushi felt but he never minded showing off. He thought it was fun. He terrorized his sisters all morning. He had moved the their bowls over breakfast. He levitated their hair and removed all the heat out of the bath! What was the use of magick if it couldn’t be used to tease your 6 older sisters! After all they had teased him plenty until he could defend himself. Pay backs are just deserts!
“Well show off or not they are lucky to have you” Coriander placed a hand on Vushi’s shoulder. “The road is less dangerous with you, but still….”
“….dangerous. I know. Your Father told us like 700 moons!” Vushi rolled her eyes again. “It’s well travelled for the most part…well the part of it I know. We will be fine. We will travel at day and keep a low fire at night. I will cloak us or hide us….”
“You?” Coriander cut her off, “You? Cloak and hide? Who do you think you’re speaking to? My Father? You’re much more likely to beat up a beggar then hide from a villain.”
She punched him in the arm “that is not true. I don’t beat up beggars!”
“It’s an expression. OW!” Coriander rubbed his arm, “promise me? Promise me you will keep that stubborn nose of yours out of trouble?”
“Coriander I am going on a well travelled road to visit a temple of some forgotten religion. The only trouble I am going to have is how slowly Grandmother walks!”
Coriander laughed and hugged her. He whispered a quick prayer of protection over her. He knew Vushi would be furious if she heard him. She was too proud to be protected by anyone let alone Coriander. “Travel safe.”
“You too,” Vushi kissed the side of his face, “and remember every detail and bring me back something gianty!”
“Gianty?” Coriander laughed, “Then I want something Monkey Queen-ish!
Coriander and his father left with far too much noise and commotion. They spent the first day alone. Alexi, Coriander’s Father, asked him about magoge and his studies. Coriander was filled in on all the gossip of the town and his sisters’ escapades. They laughed a lot. Then a sweet silence fell between them. They rode over hills and saw the land from different vantages and Alexi would explain who took care of what land and who did it well and why. Then the quiet would come again. It was nice.
Coriander knew at the end of the day they’d be meeting up with some soldiers who would bring them to the giant village so he was glad of this time to just be with his Father. But finally the silence gave way to questions and Coriander had to ask about the giants and what they were doing and how they were going to do it!
Alexi laughed, “I was wondering how long you’d try to pretend you weren’t curious! Let’s give the horses a break and walk. ” Coriander dumped some of his flask over his horse’s flank and kissed her nose. He whispered a thanks and, gently grabbing the reigns, started to walk. His Father smiled, “So many children just drag and push them. It does me proud how respectful you are to beasts. You are so very gentle.”
Coriander blushed, “it’s just how you taught me.”
“No” his Father corrected, “we rode when you were a child certainly, but this is something more. It’s like you can talk to her or something.”
Coriander laughed, “No. I cannot talk to horses. Vushi sort of can in a way I don’t fully understand but it’s not like they have conversations.”
Alexi seemed to embarrass slightly and Coriander’s laughter, “I didn’t mean actually speak I just meant…”
“That I can feel her life.” Coriander wasn’t sure if he had hurt his Father’s feelings. He had laughed because Vushi and he constantly fought over who was better with horses. “I do not mean to contradict you Father but you are wrong. Yes I am blessed by She and have learned many things at Magoge. I can tap into power you will never understand. I have done things….” Coriander paused not wanting to tell his Father about some of the bad things he had done. Would his Father still be so proud him if he knew Coriander had killed? He quickly decided this was not the time for those secrets.
Coriander looked deep into his Father’s eyes, “…things that most people are not faced with. Including yes, understanding that life is a beautiful gift and this mare has a spirit and I can feel it and the Earth beneath us and voices on the winds. But if I am respectful and, as you say gentle, it is because of you. Trust me when I say Magoge is not a place to teach kindness. But you are. When you deal with strangers you always speak with respect. Your temper is peaceful at court even when someone opposes you. You speak to Mother with such love even when she’s…well, being Mother. I see your gentleness when you stare at the sunset. If I am half the man you are I will be blessed indeed.”
Alexi stood silent. He reached his hand onto the back of his horse and fumbled for words. No father deserved this much devotion. He wished he could tell his son about all the wrong choices he had made over the years. Things he was not so proud of on the long journey to being a person of power. Would his son respect him so much if he knew his kindness had been forged in the face of cruelty? He decided now was not the time for such secrets.
Coriander hugged his Father. Alexi suppressed the tear he might have shown and slapped his son on the back, “come now we must reach the soldiers by nightfall.”
The walked a few more minutes and then got back on the horses. Not much was said. The conversations of giants had been forgotten. It been replaced with stifled tears and kind thoughts.
Hours later as the Sun kissed Earth and they arrived the small encampment. His Father became more serious and the soldiers behaved with militant respect and distance. Coriander didn’t have a lot of experience with non-magickal warriors. It pleased him to know that soldiers were soldiers. He knew later they’d be drinking and laughing. He hoped he could make a friend or two and learn a bit about non-magick fighting. Coriander could certainly hold a sword but he always had some magick up his sleeve. What would it be like to fight without that confidence? How brave these warriors must be.
Coriander guessed there were a hundred people at the site, all with duties and responsibilities. Swords, bows, and weapons he didn’t even know the names of, were carried or piled near by. This wasn’t a small escort his Father had mentioned. This was a regiment. Why did they need such force? Were they planning for an attack? Were giants dangerous?
Throwing Rocks at Warriors
Coriander: Never Turn Your Back on a Giant 3
By the third day Coriander was bored out of his mind ! He wasn’t allowed to help do anything. His Father was constantly busy speaking with the soldiers and merchants who joined up with the march trying to convince Alexi how to get the best deal out of the giants. No one would talk to Coriander. He was their “better” or some such nonsense.
When he tried to help with a tent or tool he was immediately stopped and the item taken away. They didn’t even let him carry his own bag. It was infuriating. His father got the same treatment but he didn’t seem to mind. Perhaps he was simply used to it or perhaps he was so busy dealing with campaigns and merchants and actually didn’t have the time to do it. Coriander did.
At least at night Coriander and his father would talk in the tent or at supper and laugh a bit. Coriander tried to not complain. He thought maybe he could get his father to make one of the soldiers teach him something but thought against it. Soldiers had work to do and teaching him would look like baby-sitting.
The next night, his father had to dine with a smelly merchant from across the sea. Coriander was encouraged not to come. Alexi, ever the diplomat, had introduced Coriander and then quickly added Coriander was much too busy with his Magi studies to come to dinner. He had at once impressed the merchant and saved Coriander from dinner. Coriander, his whole family, knew how to take cues from his father’s words when meeting strangers. It was a family business thing.
So this evening Coriander was to eat alone. He wandered as the Sun greeted Earth wondering if he could find someone else, anyone else, who didn’t have a dining companion. He wished he had made speaking stones with Vushi.
He trampled over the rocky hillside and came upon the military tents. He quickly heard “Ho boy! You don’t belong here!” from some older soldier. The man seemed kind but Coriander couldn’t keep the scowl off his face. He almost said ‘I can be wherever I choose!’ but knew that wouldn’t win any favors. He did manage to execute one of Vushi’s famous eye rolls and turn away.
He saw four soldiers sparring. That was fun. He went closer. The two nearest him stopped and bowed. Uhg! “Carry on,” he said as innocently as he could. The two behind them were so focused on their sparring they didn’t see him at first. Coriander heard them laughing. He realized they were playing a game. One would throw a rock at another and they would stop it with their shield. Coriander knew this game and his face beamed. He ran to the two!
They stopped immediately but Coriander didn’t hesitate, “I know this game! Can I play?!?”
All four laughed. “It isn’t a game boy. We throw hard!” said one of warriors. As she did, as if to demonstrate she threw a stone over Coriander’s head, just missing him, and Coriander heard it loudly bounce off the shield of a warrior behind him.
They were about to ignore him when Coriander changed tactic. He laughed, “one rock at a time? Is that the best you can do? Ha! I thought this army was one of the best.” He started to walk away.
“What did you say boy!” snapped a soldier.
The woman interfered,” let it go he’s the Magistrate’s son.”
“…brat..” mumbled the gruff warrior.
Coriander laughed, “is that all you know about me?” He paused dramatically the soldiers looked at one another. “Shields prepare!” he barked as he had heard so many times in his young life. The soldiers obeyed instinctively, as they should. “ROCK” he yelled and two rocks flew off the ground at the two soldiers.
The woman had been ready and easily blocked the rock. The gruff man, however, had been confused and got clipped in the thigh. He barked out a few cuss words and then started laughing, “again boy!”
“Rock” ordered Coriander. They were deflected. “Rock” Again. Coriander let fly five or so rocks at different speeds at the gruff warrior. One of the slowest moving ones made the warrior smile. He used his sword like a bat and hit the rock back at Coriander. The woman’s eyes grew panicked as the gruff man smiled. Coriander had wanted this. He raised his hand, “Shield,” and the rock stopped in mid air. Without a word Coriander sent to rock zooming back at the gruff warrior’s shield and sent him tumbling back five or six steps. It was on!
Soon torches were brought as most of the encampment gathered around to watch the five play rock-and-shield. Well perhaps not play. Spar? Drill? They had been at it for two hours. Coriander had never played for so long as fiercely. As the darkness continued the shields grew heavy. One by one the soldiers bowed out. The gruff man refused to yield. Coriander was getting tired of throwing around so much magick and was sure Vushi would strangle him for this showing off but he had to prove something. Inside his warrior had come out and was calling the shots. He wanted to win. The gruff man panted. Coriander would win. The crowd couldn’t seem which side to take. That was a problem. Quickly Coriander realized he had to change tactics.
The gruff warrior had two rocks in his belt. Coriander yelled “rock!” and turned himself side ways offering an opportunity. The gruff warrior blocked and threw one then the other rock at Coriander’s side. Coriander turned. “Shield” he stopped the first rock. “Shield,” he missed the second rock and got hit in the shoulder. Blood spurted out everywhere. Coriander dropped his magick and held his arm as his knees buckled.
“Giant farts and goat turds!” Coriander yelled into the now completely silent camp. Blood trickled out from his hand but Coriander stood and faced the gruff man who looked concerned. Concerned might be an understatement after having just harmed the Magistrate’s boy. Coriander’s posture relaxed, “Not bad for an old guy!”
He laughed and was joined in by a chorus of warriors cheering him and laughing! The gruff man came forward, “come boy I’ll bring you to the healers. Old man indeed!” he laughed.
Coriander’s father didn’t find the event as amusing as everyone else did. He had been informed of the sparring and of the out come. He was not pleased. Alexi approached the healer’s tent with a look of concern and anger that almost worried Coriander.
“Coriander!” Alexi said sternly.
“Father,” Coriander eyed his father in that go with what I say look and continued, “Let’s not make a small scratch a bigger deal than it needs to be.” Coriander weakly motioned for the gruff man to leave.
“Small scratch?” said the healer, “ I might need to gather string! Could get infected on the roadway!”
Coriander held the bandage in place and as if in pain said, “if you could just bring me more bandages I’ll be fine.” The healer shook his head and went out to get more bandages. “Father hand me a cup of water please?”
Alexi wanted to lecture his son severely but knew that nothing would matter if his son fell ill. So he went to the bowl, ladled some water out and brought it to his son. Coriander removed the bloody bandage. The wound was deep. Alexi wondered if he should send his boy home. His second thought was ‘why isn’t Coriander screaming in pain? What did they teach them at that school?’
Coriander took the cup and closed his eyes. He mumbled something and poured the water over his shoulder. Coriander wasn’t very good at healing spells but he had learned to heal minor scratches and wounds. If you were going to play rock-and-shield with Vushi you had better have learnt.. The wound closed up. Alexi shook his head to clear his eyes. The Healer came back in as Coriander quickly replaced the bloody bandage and resumed his pain-ridden face. “I think you bandaged it just in time healer. The bleeding has stopped. Thank you.”
The healer wound more bandages over the bloody one and then left the two men alone mumbling about cleaning and proper ointment. Coriander winked at his father.
“You faked it?” Alexi whispered.
“Well no I can’t fake bleeding,” Coriander smiled, “I let him hit me.”
“Why…” his father blurted out and then nodded in understanding, “you didn’t want to show up one of my warriors and make them not like you.”
“They already didn’t like me!” Coriander sat up, “if I had beaten him they’d hate me! And the crowd started rooting for me. Division is never a goal of the warrior clan. Besides, now maybe someone will talk to me!” Coriander laughed.
Alexi realized how boring the trip must have been for his son. They hadn’t talked much after the first day. He would have felt sorry for him but mostly he felt proud that his son was so smart and politically savvy. He wondered if Magoge had taught him that or perhaps he had, He continued, “…and you are even concerned with how the healer feels…” which made him even more proud.
“No one likes to feel useless,” Coriander shrugged, “especially by the Magistrate’s son!” They both laughed.
“Did you eat?” Alexi asked.
“Not yet we were too bust playing-I mean sparring!” Coriander corrected himself.
“Well let’s get you some food and rest,” Alexi smiled.
“…would you mind…” Coriander fumbled for the words.
Alexi guessed, “you want to show face in the mess hall ?”
“If that’d be all right?’ Coriander wasn’t sure how his father would react to him dining with soldiers even thought he did it everyday at Magoge. It’s one thing to know it and another for a parent to see it.
“Well you started this plan I guess you should see it out,” he smiled.
Coriander was greeted with thunderous applause at the mess hall. He filled his plate with food and was beckoned over to the table with the four he had sparred with. Soon a few more curious soldiers sat around them as well. Frequent laughter, hearty eating and a lot of questions kept Coriander talking and laughing for hours. Tomorrow he would be tired but at least he’d have friends.
Coriander: Never Turn Your Back on a Giant 4
“Never any race known to any living thing is as fierce and violent as the giants. Kill their own mother for an extra helping of porridge. Some say they think they take the Power and Soul of the one they killed so they kill often and without regard! Only fools enter where giants trod.” The gruff soldier looked at Coriander’s father and amended his speech. “Fools and those important people who need to trade with them that is… backed by an army such as this!” he banged his chest and it was echoed by those assembled by the fire.
The gruff man, Ki, was quite the storyteller if not a sensationalist. Coriander loved him! He had to ask, “are they all evil?”
“Depends who you ask,” Ki enjoyed the boy’s wide eyes, “but nothing is completely evil. They say even a hydra is just protecting her young in her belly. The giants built the palaces the Gods of the Sky live in. That’s why these hills are so rocky. It’s the remains and scraps of the walls and statues!” Coriander had never heard of Gods living in palaces in the skies. He had heard of them living in trees and mountains, clouds and wind but not palaces. They must be beautiful he thought. KI went on, “and they made the rivers. They were so big, when the Earth Mother hatched them they split her open and the rivers we need came to be!
“Yup, they say Eurom , the first giant was born from Her and that as a child he spat in Her eye rather than heed Her words!” Coriander made a sign of protection against such evil. Ki noticed and teased, “make any sign you choose Master Coriander, Mage or not, nothing will help you against a giant’s temper and arm! Their very breath can slice your face!”
“Ki,” Alexi had to interrupt, “please stop terrifying the troops. I have met with Naus before and he was quite reasonable. A bit straight forward but his breath did not slice my face off as you can see.”
“I mean no disrespect Magistrate,” Ki bowed his head, “but most of us are on our best manners around you.”
“I am sure, but I’d still like to layout our strategy if that’s all right with you?” Alexi wasn’t actually asking permission he was belittling these silly stories. Coriander knew it wouldn’t help much if the troops were scared out of their armor. However, he also noticed, his father had brought a lot of troops so obviously the giants weren’t quite as “reasonable” as Alexi was pretending.
Alex drew on the ground for all to see. He made a triangle shape. They would all march another day and then base camp would be established. From there, half the soldiers would continue to the next point. Half again would follow to the following point on the “map.” The process would be repeated two more times until all that would be left was Alexi. “And I shall then walk the remaining distance to the giant’s gate.”
Coriander didn’t need to do the math to realize the purpose of this plan. Should anything go wrong reinforcements were less than a day away and if you had to retreat it’d much easier than an entire army running. Coriander couldn’t help but ask, “Father, why are we hiding our numbers?”
“Because they’re so gentle!” laughed Ki.
“QUIET” barked an officer.
“It’s all right,” Alexi squared off with KI. Coriander had seen this tactic before. Alexi addressed the gruff soldier, “why don’t you explain it to him?”
Silence entered the stand off. Ki bowed his head, “ I meant nothing… very well. You see boy, giants might be reasonable and some even say peace loving, and by that I mean eat ya alive piece by piece , but they can be easily threatened. If you look like you mean war with a giant he’ll start it just to prove he ain’t afraid! If you challenge one you better have a weapon I never heard of. Never even turn your back on a giant! He’ll clobber you for the disrespect. That’s why your Father wants to appear trusting but with the best regiment in the country not a half days march should they try something!” The soldiers around the fire yelled in agreement.
“It is a precautionary measure to be sure,” Alexi said calmly, “if a giant decided to rip me in two I do not think he’d wait the required half day to do so. I am there to negotiate safe passage. That is all. We will not start a war or even a scrimmage. Talk and scare each other all you want but know the giants are just like us. They have needs to barter and trade as we do. It is in their best interest to work with us. If they do not agree we will have to make sure the southern route is passable and that is why you are here.”
“The Southern route!” barked Ki, “give me a giant any day!” Coriander did not know what happened in the southern route but his Father’s tactic had worked. The soldiers would face the giants calmly and with clear heads to avoid whatever was there. Ki seemed to realize he had been played so threw down his trump card, “so why bring the boy?”
“Coriander. Are you letting him stay in the back?” Ki nudged the insult.
“No,” Alexi made a motion to dismiss them but stopped. He knew how rumors spread. “Coriander is accompanying me. Naus has a son that is also coming of age. It would be fitting if the two boys met.”
“And,” Ki smiled, “if things go bad it won’t hurt to have a little magick at your side?”
Coriander gulped. Had that been what his father meant by talents? Did he expect Coriander to be the escape route if the giants went berserk? Alexi smiled knowing he too had been played, “exactly,” Is all he said. Coriander gulped again.
Ki laughed loudly, “what’s he going to do? Throw a rock at them?” the troops laughed in unison.
Coriander didn’t appreciate being laughed at. He looked at his father who winked. Coriander understood. He stepped forward pointed at the campfire. Fire shot up into the air 13 feet. He motioned with his wrist. The fire left the stone circle and encircled him creating a barrier between the troops and his father and him.
No one laughed as Coriander stopped the Fire and placed it back where it belonged, “I think that should hold them for half a day?”
“I imagine it would,” Alexi said proudly and left the circle to the stunned troops.
“All right then,” ordered the officer, “tomorrow’s the day, you know what to do, so DO IT!” the troops left with mumblings, laughter and astonishment.
Ki and his three friends came over to Coriander, “Hera’s teat I didn’t know you could do that!”
“Haven’t you ever marched with Magi before?” Coriander was puzzled.
Ki looked embarrassed, “not as of much. I never walked with the royal army or nothing.”
“I have,” the woman added, “but he could only heal and frankly he wasn’t that good at it. Still got the scar on my leg!” They laughed.
“Good night then young Mage,” Ki affectionately padded his head, “we have a few days to hear all about your skills! Get some rest.”
“And I’ll have a few days to hear all about giants and how to kill them!” laughed Coriander.
“That too” winked Ki as they left.
Coriander was a flood of confusion. Coriander frequently forgot how rare it was to be Blessed. At Magoge he was surrounded, to the point of irritation, by Blessed men and women, each with their own abilities and talents. Out here, in the country, they were probably the stuff of stories and myths. The stunned look on the soldier’s faces was the only proof Coriander needed that he was remarkable. But was he remarkable enough to go up against a giant? He was his father’s secret weapon. Could he do it? Yes. He would do anything to protect his father. He decided right there he would not hesitate to return these vile creatures back to the Earth! Coriander: Giant Slayer! He liked the sound of that!
Or so he thought.
Society of the Secret Knife
Coriander: Never Turn Your Back on a Giant 5
As planned the size of the troops had halved every few miles and their anxiety doubled. Coriander could almost taste the fear in some of the soldier’s eyes. Even his father, who maintained a calm exterior, was nervous. Coriander could tell. His hand motions were more careful and his eyes darted even if his smile remained. That more than anything, made Coriander nervous.
Ki and his friends had sparred with Coriander every time they had a chance. It was exhausting but they kept at him. Coriander had bruises were he kept falling down or from a well-placed swat. He was used to being roughed up at Magoge but this was different. The intention was different. They fought ruthlessly and without, what some at Magoge would call, honor.
Coriander wanted to ask Ki about it but felt it would be rude or insulting to his new friends. He also thought he might already have the answer: These warriors would never be able to rely on magick. They didn’t have the luxury of fighting fair, they had to win. And win right away. Ki would scream when Coriander backed down after a successful hit. Apparently you did not let your opponent get a moment to clear his head. In a magickal combat that could go badly for both fighters. Here an opening was a gift to be exploited and if you didn’t have an opening by the Gods of War you made one!
In just a few days Coriander’s training was at a whole new level. His hits were harder and from a different place than magickal instruction. He learned how to think while fighting and when not to. “The berserker method ” the crew had laughed. Coriander enjoyed the primal screaming! He learned to fight with his elbows and nails and knees. He learned tricks and cheats and weak spots. He was quite sure his teachers would think this nothing more than barroom brawling but Coriander knew this was the real world. These solders had survived it.
Coriander had many new bruises to show for it. He couldn’t have healed all of them. His skills were basics: closing a cut or muscle pulls. He probably could have done something about a couple of the black and blues but a part of Coriander liked them. It made him feel strong.
Alexi didn’t seem to mind Coriander sparring so much. He was very busy with collecting news and preparing negotiations. He was not pleased however when he saw a particularly bad bruise on Coriander’s shoulder, “I will have a word with that… was his name Ki?”
“Please don’t!” Coriander begged. “We’re leaving soon anyway…”
“I do not like seeing my son beaten!” he snapped back.
“Do you think they coddle me at Magoge?” Coriander didn’t back down. He would not be babied, “have you any idea the scars I’d have if it weren’t for gifted healers? Did you know students die there? Father, please. I am learning so much!”
“Even so,” Alexi wouldn’t back down, “I think they can teach you with less injury!”
“Father, I must insist!” Coriander said so coolly that Alexi stopped in his tracks. No one spoke to the Magistrate that way. Coriander met his eye and, surprisingly to himself, did not flinch, “you will be interfering with something you know nothing about. If one day I am an officer I cannot be undermined now. They will think me weak and that my Father had to protect me. You will undo all I have accomplished.”
“I do know a little about military life Coriander,” Alexi said unsure if he was angry or not, “I have served, you know?”
“I’m sorry,” Coriander couldn’t tell if his father was angry or not, “of course you have. I didn’t mean to disrespect that honor. I appreciate you wanting to protect me as a son but you must also respect me as a Magi, apprentice though I be.”
The silence and tension ceased as Alexi smiled, “what a young man you are becoming!” He hugged his son. “What a strange trip this has become. I knew I wanted to get to know you better but all my assumptions seem to have been wrong. I wanted to know my child before you became a man and the world changed you. I see now I am too late.”
“I will always be your child,” Coriander returned the hug and added, “thank you for protecting me.”
Coriander turned to leave the tent but halted as his father asked, “Coriander? Is Magoge really that bad?”
Coriander wanted to lie and make his father feel better but knew if he and his father were to continue this new relationship of trust and understanding, it could not be founded on lies. “Yes Father it is.” As he left, Alexi secretly wished Coriander had lied.
“Get over here boy! Where you been” Ki gruffed from inside a tent.
“Eating with Father. What are you up to?” Coriander entered and looked at his four friends suspiciously. They were gathered around a small pot over a small fire. They seemed up to something.
This was the last day they would travel together. Coriander had made sure his friends went with them to the very end. In a few hours Alexi and Coriander would leave the final encampment and walk to the giant’s village. Everyone was tense. His friends had spent the last evening showing him how to fight a larger opponent. It was thoroughly without any sort of honor but Coriander learned the lesson as best he could. His friends had seemed proud. Now they simply looked mischievous.
“Here boy!” one of them handed him a small piece of metal. “Hold it so.” Coriander copied. “Squeeze.” Coriander did and out popped a small blade.
“Ha ha tiny knife! Where did you get it? What’s it for?” Coriander marveled at the toy.
The woman laughed, “it’s for giant-killing that ain’t no toy boy!” she said not unkindly.
“With this little thing?’ Coriander went to touch the blade…
“STOP!” barked Ki. “That’s the sharpest metal known to man or magick. Cost us a good piece to get it for you!” Ki gently took the blade and gently drew it over a nearby pelts. The leather cut in two as if it had never been whole.
Coriander’s eyes grew wide, “You bought this for me?” He very gently took the knife back. “Why?”
The all laughed, “because boy we don’t want to see you hurt! We can’t be there ourselves but if it comes to it that little trinket could save your life and buy you some time to use your magicks!”
Coriander was touched but was pretty sure he could use magick far more easily than this lethal blade, but he didn’t want to hurt their feelings, so he nodded a sincere thanks. A new problem came to his mind, “I don’t think I’m allowed to bring weapons. Shall I wear it like a necklace maybe?”
The four exchanged looks, “we know a better way. Take off your clothes!” Coriander saw the laughter in their faces and thought the worst. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. I don’t want any kind of blade, especially one so sharp in there!”
The solders laughed so loudly Ki had to quiet them, “shhhh! No not there. Here.” He grabbed the inside of his thigh. “Now be quick about it and lie down.”
Coriander disrobed and went to the cot as ordered. He blushed slightly, “so how does this work?”
“This here,” said the woman pointing at the small smoking pot, “is resin. It’ll hold it firm until you need it.”
Coriander suddenly understood and made motions to stop but sooner was held down by the other two soldiers. “wait!”
“Shush your carrying on!” Ki ordered. He awkwardly and gruffly pulled apart Coriander’s leg and held it firm. He nodded and the woman came over with the pitch. “This might sting a bit.”
Coriander only didn’t scream because one of the solders pushed his face down in the bed. The pitch burned his inner thigh as if the God of War hated him . Once the pain had lessoned Ki took the knife collapsed it and stuck it onto the drying resin. “There. Now it’ll hurt to take it off but if you need to resort to this you’ll be grateful!”
“He’s one of us now!” cheered a soldier as he let go of the no longer struggling boy. The pain subsided quickly and Coriander wondered if he felt more powerful or safer with a knife glued to his leg. A few days ago he probably would have felt silly but now it meant something to him. “You are now brother to the Society of the Secret Knife!” Ki whispered.
They all cheered and drank wine. Coriander knew he had just been inducted into some kind of group he knew nothing about. He also realized his friends might be eating berries out of season! Was Ki just playing with him? Was there really such a society? Was he now a member of some elite group? Was that a good thing? He drank his wine and took a deep breath. He was more concerned with how he as going to ever get that knife off his body without more pain but decided, since it was already there, it might as well stay. Some part of him, maybe the warrior part, was overjoyed that these seasoned veterans thought him worthy enough to initiate him (even if it was pretend).
The solders hugged him and told him they were there in spirit and on his thigh. They all laughed again and Coriander found it funny and sweet. They said there goodbyes and Coriander met up with his father.
They walked a few miles off the main path and onto a smaller unused one. Coriander had wondered why the path was smaller. Certainly giants would need a larger path but said nothing. In fact neither of the men said anything. It wasn’t the sweet silence of companionship it was fear.
The narrow path led through a forest. As they neared the ending Alexi whispered, “we’re here. I love you son. If anything goes wrong…”
“I know,” Coriander had heard this speech a hundred times, “leave you there to your torment and demise and save myself.” He laughed.
“It’s not funny Coriander…” Alexi said with a smile, “we will be fine. Ready?” he asked without pausing. The two marched out of the forest with confidence, albeit feigned confidence. In the small clearing was a fat stone bridge over a wide gap. On the other side of the bridge was a stone wall and a path. Coriander gulped at the strategic placement. One could easily be thrown off the bridge and into the chasm below. Not a pretty thought.
On the bridge stood a very large man covered in armor. He held a spear in their direction. Alexi stopped.
Coriander mumbled, “Huh? I thought he’d be bigger.”
Coriander: Never Turn Your Back on a Giant 6
“I think he’s plenty big enough,” laugh-whispered Alexi as the guard approached. Coriander’s eye grew, as the giant seemed to grow as well. Perhaps it was some magick or a trick of perception but when Coriander first saw the giant he seemed thick and tall. Muscular but fattened the giant seemed no more than a head or two above a tall human. Now that the guard was on top of them he seemed truly enormous. There was not an ounce of blubber on the guard. He just had incredible slabs of muscle on top of more slabs of muscle. He was wider than any man Coriander had ever heard about and he was definitely tall, about four to five heads over a tall man, which is about seven head taller than Coriander.
Coriander found his jaw mimicking his wide eyes and then quickly shut both and attempted to look confident as he admired his father’s composure. The Giant spear pointed at Alexi barked, “With what purpose do ye approach the bridge?” Coriander didn’t realize giants spoke the common tongue but then realized if you had a sentry over the one bridge to your kingdom he had better be able to speak a lot of languages. As well Coriander wondered, you’d make sure he was the best of your best as first impressions went far. A farmer seeing this creature would certainly run and sweep wide around the giant village rather than speak to him.
Alexi calmly but loudly spoke, “We wish to cross your bridge and expand a safe travel route for traders. I have come to negotiate with you in good faith and peace.” Coriander was confused. Was this King Naus? Did he guard his own bridge?
Then Coriander remembered what his father had told him about giants. They did not have a nobility or ruling family. King was chosen by dominance and skill and reigned until he was finished. That is to say a giant king could be very old and weak but none dared oppose him until he died or stepped down and then new contests and battles were held where the next king would be found.
There was something sort of secondary ruling group or committee that Alexi wasn’t exactly sure about, but it seemed the giant king was answerable to some other governing party. Coriander thought this very wise and wished there were more information on the subject .
Furthermore Coriander remembered, that since any giant could essentially be king one day, every single giant was equal and outsiders did well to treat any giant as a ruler. To answer Coriander’s question the sentry, after eyeing Alexi for a moment with his spear, spat, “that is a task I’d rather leave to the king. My task is comings and goings. Should ye be granted future permission, and I know not if ye be, then I shall see to your future safe passage. For now go with Cro and straight to the king!” The sentry yelled something in Coriander presumed giant-tongue and a much smaller, older giant came running out from behind the stone walls. Cro said something back in giant-tongue and the giants seemed to argue. Coriander quickly surmised that was simply the way giants spoke, like nymphs always sounded like they were singing .
Cor, who stood only a few head over Coriander and was much less muscular than the other, cleared his throat and spoke with a forced ridiculously-wide smile, “greetings Alexi and progeny! Well met at the bridge! Did you travel accommodatingly?”
Coriander bit his lip as so not to laugh. Cro was obviously trying very hard to be human and his creepy smile was his attempt at mimicking human facial expressions of kindness. Alexi didn’t seem bothered by the odd speech, “Old Friend! Well met Cro descendent of Eury scribe of Voogil, speaker of Names and Holy in the Eyes of the First Eye.”
Cro smiled even wider showing two sets of teeth as he declared, “well met indeed though no longer Voogil, now Sakl but not for long. Your progeny looks delicious!”
Coriander gulped he thought he might faint right there but the sentry’s loud laughter took his eyes away from the multi-teeth giant who found him tasty. “Delicious is for food stupid Cro! The whelp pees the Earth in fear! Well met indeed!” the sentry cackled.
Cro looked embarrassed and screamed in giant-tongue at the sentry who screamed right back. This went on for a few moments and then the sentry shrugged and turned his back on Cro which set Cro to screaming even louder. Cro then he seemed to remember his guests, stopped screaming and quickly out on that too wide smile, “forgiveness? I made no claim to feasting on the progeny of Alexi Magistrate of Pedia-omo! Is this still Pedia?”
“Yes Pedia-Omo,” Alexi quickly confirmed and corrected. He looked down at his son and presented him, “behold Coriander, unworthy of Cro and unworthy of forgiveness. He is delicious indeed!” Alexi laughed loudly and slapped Coriander hard on the back.
Coriander had been ready for this. In giant terms he was not yet a man and not considered worthy to speak to anyone. He also remembered, far too late, that he was not supposed to be looking at anyone either. He quickly dropped his eyes to the ground and made small bow in Cro’s direction. The old giant laughed and attempted to tussle Coriander’s hair in an affectionate human- way but of course being a giant he slammed Coriander into the dirt.
Alexi laughed loudly, in a very fake way, and lifted Coriander off the dirt as he whispered, “laugh.” Coriander laughed at the command but it was more fake than his father’s. Cro didn’t seem to mind as he turned his back on Coriander and took Alexi by the hand, again attempting the human art of hand-holding, and walked him over the bridge. Coriander followed them eyes down. As he passed the sentry he could hear the giant whisper “delicious.”
The Enemy of Giants
Coriander: Never Turn Your Back on a Giant 7
“In the beginning there was naught but the eye! The great eye saw all. And it wept! Creating the liquid of all life. The fluid of tears yes, but of streams, of blood, of oceans, of piss, of dew, of all that is not stone! And in this weakness life came! On our rock bones, our skeletons, grew this silly flesh needing breath!” King Naus held the entire village in thrall of his storytelling. Even though he spoke in giant language Coriander and Alexi were mesmerized. Cro sat behind the two and interpreted in a whisper. Coriander thought he needn’t have bothered.
Naus was a wonderful storyteller. He was old but had a thick pile of blond hair bound messily to his head. His hands looked as if he could tear down a tree. His chest could knock over a raging bull. But his eyes held the real hero and king. They beamed and gleamed with power and perhaps wisdom. He got caught up and swept away by the stories of his people and everyone who heard him felt that they had been taken back to that ancient time and place.
Coriander wasn’t quite sure what any of this had to do with establishing trade routes through giant territory but he liked a good show. Obviously where giants took little pride in the physical arts in storytelling their true passions exploded. Naus chronicled the very beginning of the world, and giants had 9 explanations for creation, down through the first giant Eury and his children.
They had been briskly rushed through the village. What little Coriander saw seemed to look much like any other village he had seen with the obvious exception of scale. The buildings were large. Some very large. They were also more trapezoidal than the rectangular human dwellings. He wondered if the larger bases were to support the height but didn’t have much time to ponder the shapes as Cro all but pushed them down the road. The street was not paved or titled as such, simply the stone ground of the mountain wandering through these fat-based large buildings. Coriander noticed no greenery. The mountain above and below them had trees and shrubs, but here on the main road was only rock.
The street was deserted. Far down, for the town was vast, Coriander could almost make out the shape of someone, or some giant, closing a door. He heard sounds but they were hushed. Obviously the giants of Sakl were avoiding the strangers but to what end? Was it simply customary to not gawk at new comers or were they exclusionary? They certainly wouldn’t be afraid of a human Magistrate and his unworthy son!
Cro shoved them with that ridiculous, and contrary, smile to the right. They passed what Alexi and Coriander presumed was a sort of town square. It had a large slab of rock that looked something like a stage and around it were other rocks carved to look like chairs. Coriander wondered how a tribe that lived in and on the rock of a mountain had never become skilled carvers or craftsman. Coriander knew a few dozen stonecutters who would love to work with a piece of rock like these. He even imagined himself crafting a beautiful, yet too large to carry, chair. He suppressed a smile and an idea of a spell that would at least make the rock chair more comfortable.
King Naus, on his rock slab stage, bellowed the cried of a woman giving birth to a giant warrior, “she screamed to the stars who comforted her not. She cried to the Moon who hid! She wailed to the dead body of Rul who had impregnated her and died doing so! Rul, in the other world heard and wailed back but she could not hear the dead! She tore her woman place and the Earth shook. From her very self, not a crying baby came, but a full grown warrior with spear and club and skins of Death on his shoulders. So huge the mountains bowed to him. As honorable as he was fierce he turned to his weeping bleeding Mother and clubbed her back into the arms of Rul! No one would name him or find his secrets so the mountains called him Scream!”
Cro continued marching them through the empty village and led them to a small courtyard, small relatively, where Cro left Alex and Coriander. They were offered food and tea by two very tall and beautiful giant women. They wore very bright attention-grabbing clothing but very little of it. Coriander blushed but Alexi, always at ease, winked at one and she smiled a bit too knowingly for Coriander’s approval. “Father!” he whispered.
Alexi laughed at his prudish son, “always appreciate beauty son you never know where you’ll find it again…and in such large amounts!” Alexi extended his hand and the giant woman brushed it with the back of hers. The women giggled, which looked odd on such a large face, and pretended to blush. Coriander fought the urge to vomit. He Father was flirting. With giants no less! Alexi smiled, “I think we are supposed to enjoy the courtesans of Naus and find them beautiful and be impressed.”
“How…far are we to…..enjoy them?” Coriander gulped.
Alexi smiled wide. So there were still some things his soon-to-be-a-Mage-son did not know about being a man. The idea pleased him. Perhaps Coriander was still his child. “Not that far son. Just smile and take her hand.”
Coriander pushed past his Father and extended his hand as his Father had done. Except the woman froze. Her smile quickly became forced and awkward. She caught herself and bowed to Coriander careful not to touch him. “Oh right, “ Coriander caught on., “I’m not worthy. Great.” He added sarcastically.
Alexi seemed to see more than Coriander and he motioned for his son to sit farther away from the women. Before Alexi could apologize or question Cro came back and called Alexi forward. He too seemed a bit more nervous, “Magistrate the Great King Naus with you now meets.”
Alexi brought a hand to the side of Coriander but was stopped by Cro, “only you Magistrate.”
“Oh,” said Alexi not giving away any displeasure in his façade, “but I had hoped for Naus and his son to meet Coriander…”
“…in time that is due,” Cro smiled terrifyingly, “soon. But now please come and see the great King!”
Around the fire the villagers banged on their chests and stomped their feet as King Naus recounted the many stories of Scream. His legend was more than a story to the giants: it was their birthright. “Scream will come again!” roared Naus! “is he there?” he pointed to a woman’s full belly she threw her hands in the air and yelled something in giant. “There?” another screamed an affirmative in giant. “Is he in my son? Where is Scream to come? When? Perhaps the manner in his parting?” The area silenced. Naus lowered his head and almost cried, “the Earth in her weakness of water cared for the smaller races. She did not know that the might of Giant-kind would usher in star-thrown stones! Instead she offered the weak-races a tool! A tool that could buckle to prowess of Scream!”
Hours had passed as Coriander sat alone in the stone courtyard. The female giants had quickly left after Alexi. Alone, Coriander sat and looked at the sky. Out in the streets he heard the city come to life. The strange giant language now not whispered sounded more pleasing. Footsteps pounded by. Coriander fought the urge to leave the courtyard and see what giant life was all about but knew better.
As dusk fell Alexi found his son sleeping in the corner. He woke him gently, “some all powerful warrior?”
Coriander laughed, “how did it go?”
“Not terribly,” Alexi eyed the building that housed the king. “I think we will make a fair deal by the end of it all. We are to feast with the village and council tonight and then Naus says we shall hear his verdict.”
“What did he look like?” Coriander wondered how awesome a giant king might be!
“Tonight you shall see,” Alexi smiled, “we have a few hours. I have sent word that we will be spending the night. They have room for us in the …palace?” Alexi gestured to the ugly rock building. Coriander laughed.
Naus held the captive audience in a pause that lasted ten breaths. He shook his mane of hair free and took on the visage of a wild man, “what tool could there be to quell Scream? What weapon great enough to pierce the skin made of stone?” Cro translated more quietly.
“Uh-oh” whispered Alexi who shifted on his uncomfortable rock chair. Coriander looked at his Father and saw a swift expression cross his usually calm face. It was a look of concern or possibly fear. Coriander couldn’t understand why. He noticed a lot of other faces now. Many of the giants were looking at him.
King Naus gritted his teeth and grunted, “magick!”
Then Coriander caught up with his Father’s fear. He, too late, realized what all this storytelling and rallying had been about. He now knew why the giant courtesans had not touched him. He realized why the village had emptied. He understood why he and his Father had been sat in the middle of the village surrounded by giants, who now wore angry faces. It was not a seat of honor but of capture. He also just remembered that Naus had said Magick in human-tongue. Coriander looked up and King Naus was facing him.
“She in her weakness blessed them with MAGICK to kill the mighty Scream and destroy the giant villages! Magick came in lightning, in fire and in destruction. Our people were tortured and ruined. We fled to the mountains our rock skin and bones withstanding the mountain’s hunger! We survived and escaped the magick-users! And now here this human comes to beg entry into our lands and brings his Magick-using progeny to kill us all!”
Challenge or Die!
Coriander: Never Turn Your Back on a Giant 8
“WAIT!” Alexi screamed above the giants’ roaring! Naus held up a hand and every giant stood still. “There’s been some misunderstanding….King Naus..”
Naus was having none of Alexi’s attempts to stall, “allow me Magistrate.” He adopted a weak voice and spoke in the common tongue, “oh no King Naus my son cannot do magick. Whatever do you mean King Naus? Oh King Naus come now!” He dropped his mocking tone, “you think we are stupid! Easily tricked! Big stupid farting giants! Our scouts saw your boy make walls of fire!”
Cro rushed in from behind them full of fury and waving his hands. Coriander had no idea what was being said but obviously Cro did not agree with Naus. As Coriander swept his trained eyes over the assembled horde of giants, he saw many were nodding with Cro and others casting fowl looks. Division. A new age was beginning for the giant clans and many disagreed on if that new age was a good thing or not.
The giants have always been a reclusive people. Sticking, in modern times, the mountains or cliffs or difficult to reach places. But the world was growing and the amount of out of the reach places was dwindling. From looking at their shabby clothes and hygiene, Coriander realized that perhaps the giants were also dwindling. A new frontier of trade and barter would integrate them into a society they had always feared. Some, mostly the young, as Coriander could guess their age, tended to agree with Cro. The older folks seemed to side with Naus. Coriander’s mind raced. How could he bring this to his advantage?
Naus screamed back at Cro. In the middle of the yelling match Coriander barely heard his Father whisper, “Coriander leave. Go. Run.”
“How?” he mouthed back.
“Magick?” his father hissed, “you promised…”
“Father,” Coriander gulped, “what would you have me do? We’re surrounded by giants. I cannot fly!”
Alexi seemed angry. He should have never brought his son, Mage or not, into an unknown situation. He was desperate to save his child, “use fire burn your way out!”
“I’d never last long enough,” Coriander felt as if he had failed his Father. He was no Kryo-Magis. His showing off at camp had been the extent of his Fire Power. Coriander thought back on Madraceas. He had leveled a city with the Elements, but that situation had been extreme…but perhaps…no he could not kill a race of people who were no more than afraid. Besides Madraceas had been emptied. He wasn’t even completely sure if he has killed a handful of Scavs as buildings toppled with Fire Earth and Air or the Goddess herself had been offended and simply used him. That magick was beyond him. . Coriander mumbled to comfort his Father, “We will get out of this together. I promise you. The opportunity will arise or I will make one…”
“SEE!” barked Naus pointing to Coriander’s mumbling, “he has a spell upon his lips!”
“ I do NOT!” yelled back Coriander.
And the entire village went quiet.
Cro ran over waving his hands, “shhh do not speak to the king unworthy progeny! Strike him Magistrate!”
Alexi had never laid a hand on any of his children and his eyes said as much.
“Just do it,” Coriander grunted knowing he could take a punch from Alexi.
Alexi smiled, his countenance again sweet in the middle of such chaos, “I will not be made into something I am not.” He turned to Naus, “King Naus. Be still! I made no secret of Coriander’s gifts! I brought him to meet your own son Clynimun. I thought the boys should meet if they are to one-day rule. I would have introduced him as Mage of Krokos had you only granted him audience. No lies or deceit has come with me. I stand firm of purpose! It is you who have tricked us!”
Coriander had never been so proud of his Father. And yet he knew, Sun to Moon, honesty was not going to work. Naus was not discussing he was preaching. He had turned the clan against the new comers. But why? What did he want?
Naus paused and looked around seeing who had understood the human. Cro took the moment to speak. He addressed the masses in both languages, “humans have come in good faith to trade with us. And our King would have us hide in our villages! Fearing YES I SAY FEARING,” he yelled because Naus came forward threateningly, “instead of seeing how we can better our kind! I am old and I see this from the First Eye!”
A few agreements went up. Other yelled in the negative. Alexi stood forward emboldened, “we spoke earlier! You listened and agreed with our offer? Why change face now? Certainly not from one magick boy?”
“I listened to your plan, never say Naus doe not listen,” Naus continued to preach, “ and you will have us no more than servants! Begging humans to give us food!”
“I offer fair agreement, “Alexi was loud but in control, “a good fee for safe passage. Fist looks to barter. Free trade for skins and mountain spices! The world is coming King Naus you may become a part of it or fight it and your people suffer!”
Some giants were translating Alexi’s words. others started arguing about the truth of them. Soon Alexi, Naus, Cro and the entire clan were fighting.
The divided crowd grew in passion as debates were hollered. Coriander almost had to cover his ears the nose was so loud. Alexi seemed to be making himself heard by Naus who looked confused. Coriander thought this would be a good thing. Perhaps they could reason out some agreement or at least, he gulped, allow Alexi and him to leave. In fact, Coriander saw an opening. No one was watching him. He could slip out and find safety. He could alert the troops! Could he, as ordered, leave his Father alone in this mess? As he wondered he saw the unimaginable.
Naus was frustrated by the truth of Alexi’s words. Part of him knew this new path of trading and commerce was coming with or without his permission. He also knew many of his subjects welcomed it. However many were still terrified by humans and the magick users. What would become of their culture? Would they be tainted? Weren’t all humans only good at destroying? And yet Alexi seemed an honest human. Would it look like weakness to allow them to use his land? In his frustration he lifted Alexi and screamed in his face.
Alexi was un-used to the gesture. For a physical culture like the giant clans, shaking a person you were arguing with might be kin to humans gently pushing another’s arm in jest. The scream? Well giants seemed to scream all the time to anyone who wasn’t a giant. Alexi didn’t feel threatened as he felt the hot breath of Naus. He felt uncomfortable and a bit nauseous as the spittle dripped off his face but instinctively he knew he was not in real danger. Coriander had no such instinct.
What he saw was Naus lift his Father off the ground and bring him to his open mouth. All the stories of Ki telling him about giants eating humans came rushing back in. Naus was about to eat his Father!
“NO!” he screamed as all the torches around the stage flared brightly and Fire streamed into the sky. All went silent again as Naus turned to Coriander. Coriander was shaking with anger. If they thought magick was bad wait until he let lose. He eyed the king and barked, “my Let my Father down now or I will kill you where you stand!”
Cro ran over to quiet him as Alexi whispered “Coriander no!”
“I SAID NOW!” the Fire grew brighter. Cro froze.
Naus smiled and threw Alexi to the ground as one might a piece of lint, “you think you are worthy to speak to me?”
“YES.” Coriander was done being unworthy.
“Ha ha ha,” laughed the king, “then let us stand trial to see? Are you ready to be a man boy?”
Coriander had no idea what any of this meant but knew he could not back down now, “Yes.”
King Naus nodded, “let it be! Cly come forth. Let our two sons decide who will be a man!”
A bulky young giant a few heads taller than Coriander came forth. He screamed at Coriander in challenge then looked to his father-king for approval. Naus smiled.
Coriander took a breath and screamed back. It wasn’t anywhere near as loud as the giant-boy. Someone snickered. Coriander turned to his Father for approval but instead saw his Father shaking his head and mouthing “what in Hera’s name are you doing?”
A group of giants pushed back the slab-stage. Under it was a pit. Torches were thrown down. They fell for a while before you could hear them thud. Coriander understood completely. He knew the drill: two boys in one man out. He looked at his opponent. Cly was huge but Coriander had fought larger boys before. Upon a second glance Coriander saw something else: an odd stance. Cly was slouching and his feet were close. This was no warrior. Coriander smiled. He would take this boy in moments. He knew dozens of spells that would have Cly on his back begging for forgiveness. He boldly approached the pit.
Terrifyingly, King Naus looked him square in the eyes, “And boy?” Coriander stopped. “You may not use magick in the pit!”
Coriander: Never Turn Your Back on a Giant 9
“WHAT?!” Coriander yelled, “that’s not fair!”
“Not fair?” laughed Naus, “what part of being a man is fair! That’s why you are a boy thinking life is fair! You magick my son and I’ll skewer your Father before a spell is upon your lips!” Naus nodded his head and two giants drew swords and pointed them at Alexi.
Alexi didn’t flinch at the words, his entire attention was on Coriander. He was furious at him. He had purposely made a commotion that would have given Coriander time to scape. Why hadn’t he used it! He had promised. He shook that thought away knowing he was getting angry because he couldn’t deal with the real emotions at hand: Coriander was going to die.
He had been foolish and prideful and now was going to pay dearly for it. Alexi begged, “Please great Naus! I beg you do not do this!”
Naus bellowed something in giant and cheers went up. The he smiled and said, “I like that the great Magistrate begs to Naus. Beg more weakling!”
“I will. I’ll beg all you want. On my knees please spare my son…” Alexi’s eyes filled. Coriander was ashamed. A few minutes before Alexi said they would not make him something he wasn’t and now he was a groveling dog. Coriander’s hated Naus now. He could feel Power bubbling up inside of him. He took a breath trying to calm it down before he did something even more stupid.
“And triple the fee! And honors held at Naus feet!” Naus repeated this in the giant tongue. Alexi started to nod. Naus could and would ask for anything. And Alexi would give it. Coriander’s stomach turned. His Father was dishonoring himself. He was playing into Naus trickery. He was going to undo any progress their people may have made over the last few years. He was about to break oaths, which would remove him from the ruling class. He was betraying everything he stood for. And then Coriander realized he was being exactly who he was: a father.
What would Coriander not to for Alexi? This was his fault. He would rather die than see his father do this to himself. And thus Coriander made up his mind. His father and he locked eyes, as Naus was raging in giant tongue. Coriander shook his head no. Alexi looked confused. Coriander mouthed ‘I love you,” Alexi shook his head violently.
He had been played. If Naus wanted a game he had picked the wrong pawn. Coriander took a breath and in his loudest voice cried out, “ENOUGH! Fool of a king!” Naus almost choked in disbelief. Cro and a few others feverously translated. Soon gasps and wide eyes were all directed at Coriander.
“Enough I say!” Coriander didn’t need to fake his rage, “How dare you! What shame you bring upon your people!” Coriander spat. “You lure us here with promises of treaty and then betray us? When bargained with good faith you turn and hold the Magistrate’s son prisoner with fears of death while you negotiate? SHAME! I say this night giant the giants of Sakl have spat in the honor of the First Eye! Of rock you are made? HA! More like snake skin: shed at a whim!”
Naus was shaking with inner rage. Cro was almost smiling. Half of the giants seemed to nod their heads in agreement and others were still appalled he had dared speak at all. They were divided. Good. But it wasn’t quite good enough to sway the people against their king. Coriander could feel the mood of the clan much as he could sense the energy of an army or the spirits of friends listening to a good story. He had the advantage. He had to press it. He couldn’t let Naus start another dark-placed speech! Coriander knew what he had to do.
“We have come in good-speech and true words,” Coriander waited till his words were translated, “and I continue to do so. I have dared to challenge. You have accepted Clynimun. Do you dare to back down?” The young giant shook his head but obviously lacked the ferocity he had shown earlier. Coriander also noticed Clynimun had understood him.
“Coriander no!” Alexi yelled from the side. Coriander wished he had Vushi’s Voice and could let his father know it was all right. That he was a warrior and could hold his own against any foe. That he might win. That even if he didn’t he would rather die that see his father dishonored because of him. That he loved him.
“It’s done Father,” Coriander said stoically. He turned to Cro, “should I not return from the pit shall my Father be freed?”
“Yes progeny,” said Cro loudly enough to let Coriander know it would be so.
Alexi started to protest. His face was caught between rage and fear. “Coriander I forbid this!”
“I am a Mage of Krokos! You have no authority over me Magistrate.” Coriander said as coldly as he could. His Father’s wet eyes shook in disbelief.
“…..please…” he muttered.
Coriander ignored it and spoke loudly to the group, “although you have offended fair-speak I will not.” Coriander positioned himself to the side of the pit.
Naus had been oddly quiet as his thunder had been stolen. His eyes darted amongst his people. He had been undone by a child. He could feel angry eyes upon him. He also quickly realized this Mage-boy was more than he had planned. He thought the humans would balk and run. Would he lose his son this night? He loved Clynimun faults and all. Had he risked too much? Is this what Alexi was feeling when he threatened his progeny? He did not let his fear show. He scrambled for a way out of this battle. Naus didn’t like being confused or feeling scared. He let out a roar that shook the ground.
“SO LET I BE!” He screamed. Clynimun would win. He had to. Then he would let Alexi leave to let all know not to deal with giants. His people would survive on the mountains! He scoffed at the very idea of trade routes and fees and tariffs of the weak-moneyed humans! He slapped his son on the back. “No magick in the pit boy! You so much as mutter a spell….”
I know I know,” Coriander tried to say dryly, “You’ll kill my Father. I heard you.” Naus was not expecting that reaction. Coriander laughed at his expression. Coriander’s laughter seemed to put Clynimun and few others at ill ease so he laughed more. In truth he was terrified but Magoge had taught him well to hide his feelings before a fight. ‘That’s all this is,’ he said to himself, ‘a fight with a big bully at Magoge. It’s happened a dozen times before.’ And then his inner voice added, ‘yes but those fights weren’t to the death.’
Coriander suppressed a gulp as he mimicked Clynimun’s approach to the pit. So they were jumping into the pit. Coriander hoped he didn’t start the fight by breaking an ankle. The giants surrounding them started chanting. Clynimun smiled and turned his back to Coriander. Laughter erupted.
Cro approached very officially, “we shall do this in the human tongue so progeny knows many of us believe in fairness still.” He shot a look at Naus. “On three.” Clynimun and Coriander nodded.
“1, 2,3” and the boys jumped into the pit to fight to the death.
Coriander: Never Turn Your Back on a Giant 10
The pit was huge. The torches that had been dropped illuminated the center, leaving sides and walls dim. As Coriander fell he tried to land in a darker area. He’d need a moment to get his surroundings. Also, he knew if he didn’t use a little magick he was going to break a leg at this far a fall. He hoped he could be subtle enough to pull the spell off without alarming the giants above who held his Father at sword point. He took a breath a called upon Air. It slightly slowed him down. He dove for the cavern floor and rolled as he landed. He didn’t actually touch the ground; he had made sure to land on a bed of Air. But he rolled out and forced himself to spin uncontrollably for a moment and yelled ‘OW’ to make the giants think he had landed badly. He faintly heard cheering, nothing more. He had used magick and no one was the wiser. Perhaps this would be easier than he thought.
He put his back to the wall and searched for Clynimun. The giant boy was climbing down one of the many ropes that hung from the surface into the pit. “Of course,” Coriander mumbled. He hadn’t even thought to look for ropes or ladders whereas Clynimun had seen this match many times before. ‘So much for a fair fight.’ Coriander used this moment to survey the pit. Rocks of various sizes littered the ground. Five torches were burning in the center: possible weapons. Other actual weapons, staves and canes, most broken, laid on the ground. Coriander saw no exits nor did he see any corpses. That was almost a relief until he remembered the stories about giants eating their victims. He suddenly had the sensation of something huge picking its teeth with his leg. He shuddered.
Clynimun dropped to the center in the fire light hands over his head grabbing all the attention he could. He yelled something in giant and the crowd, which sounded very far away, cheered. Coriander had seen this behavior before on bullies and favored wrestlers at sporting events, ‘What a goat turd,’ he thought, ‘I might actually take enjoyment out of bringing this creep down!’ Coriander quickly grabbed two of the rocks nearest to him.
Clynimun turned on him. He screamed or roared in an attempt to make Coriander afraid. Coriander simply shrugged. The non-action seemed to confuse the giant. Coriander laughed, “Go ahead keep roaring. It’s funny.”
“Disgusting humans!” Clynimun laughed back, “no sense honor! Throw your rocks stinking Scav!”
“HEY!” blasted Coriander “I’m a no Scav!”
“Human’s be humans” he replied as if the truth were obvious. He picked up a rock and threw it at Coriander. Coriander leapt to the side and threw his much smaller rock back and hit Clynimun in the head.
“Ow! Nasty little Scav!” He threw another rock, which hit Coriander’s thrown stone and both landed harmlessly.
“Stop calling me a Scav!” Coriander was furious. “They’re disgusting vile creatures who live…”
“They’re human!” Clynimun continued, “humans with no magick!”
“There are a lot of non-magickal humans who are not Scavs!” Coriander wondered if this would be settled by talk. As if in answer Clynimun dove for another rock and sailed it at Coriander. He jumped but it hit his shoulder. Coriander blocked out the pain, probably through magick, and landed as he flung another rock at Clynimun’s head.
“Trying to blind me?” the giant boy laughed, “so a Scav! No honor.” The boys circled one another.
“You are more like Scav then I am!” Coriander shot back, “At least I don’t eat my enemies! Only nasty giants and Scavs do that!”
Clynimun seemed taken back. He looked at Coriander and shrugged his shoulders, “sometimes, if Gods demand it, priests do.”
“Ewwww,” Coriander almost gaged, “that’s so disgusting!”
“We disgusting? US?” Clynimun enraged, “you attack your own kind! You kill and kill with no feeling no true reason. Only gold or land! You rape mothers. You slaughter progeny! Sell children into chains!! For what? Prettier palaces? Sweeter seats?!”
Coriander was a loss. He stammered, “I don’t…I would never..”
“LIES!” the giant bellowed, “ here in the most honor pit you lie! I see murder in your face! You do! You kill!” Clynimun ran to Coriander to attack him. He easily swatted away a rock Coriander had feebly thrown.
Coriander was so confused he didn’t know how to fight back. So he ran. Clynimun chased him. Coriander tried to get his brain to work. What he could he do with no weapons and no magick! He dashed to a fallen torch and held it over his head. He swung it at the giant. Clynimun jumped back. With his much longer reach he threw a punch. Coriander’s weight was off center, placed with the massive torch had had swung, and he couldn’t replace his footing fast enough. The punch hit. Coriander immediately went down!
Coriander saw stars as he thudded to the ground. Clynimun did not stop. He tackled the much smaller boy. Clynimun took his head into his hands like a melon. He pressed. The giant muttered something that Coriander could not hear with his ears covered and blood rushing to his temples.
Coriander had never known such pain. He grabbed the giant’s hands and tried to relieve some of the pressure on his skull! He could not fight him. A part of him, a tiny voice, thought maybe the giant was right. His human race was guilty of horrible things. Coriander had killed. Perhaps this was his punishment from the Goddess. But another voice, a much louder one, wanted to live. Coriander let go of the giant’s hands and reached down and gave a blood-curdling scream filled with more pain than Coriander ever thought possible.
The cry was heard up on the surface and all froze. The scream was so full of pain it silenced the clan.
Alexi heard the scream and fell to the Earth, “no….no no no..” tears flowed over his eyes and onto the Mother. The look of failure, of torment, of disbelief, of despair was so intense Cro had to look away. “No..” he wept.
King Naus smiled a wicked smile and turned to receive the praise of his people. Only no one cheered. Many cast looks of shame at their king who had crossed a line. Others simply could not, in good faith with the First Eye, relish the destruction in such an unfair combat. King Naus looked at Alexi and almost felt sorry for the man who had just lost his honor. Almost.
Clynimun was even thrown by the scream. He dropped Coriander’s head. In Clynimun’s panic, Coriander found an opening and he took it!
Coriander had screamed from pain but not from his head being compressed. What had hurt, more than he had ever imagined it could hurt, was the pain of ripping his secret knife off of his skin. The resin ripped his flesh and tore it free. Blood covered his hand and inner thigh as Coriander yelled in triumph and pain. As Clynimun dropped his head, Coriander brought his knife up and sliced the giant’s belly!
Clynimun jumped back in shock. He looked down terrified as he saw the blood seeping from his belly. He pushed away from the warrior boy and wriggled to the wall behind him. Coriander pressed his advantage like he had been taught by his new friends. He ran to the bleeding giant and with not a hint of mercy brought his knife up. Clynimun was afraid to let go of his belly and only used one hand to try and stop the insane human.
Coriander pushed the arm away easily and brought the knife up for a killing slit at the giant’s throat. He spat, “this pit decides who is a man? See what kind of man I am!”
Cor and Cly
Coriander: Never Turn Your Back on a Giant 11
Coriander saw the fear in Clynimun’s eyes. He should be afraid. As far as Coriander was concerned Clynimun had helped undo his father’s honor and tried to kill a Mage of Krokos. He thought of all the horrible things he had learned about giants over the past week. Perhaps the honor he would afford this giant was a quick death. Coriander raised his knife and somewhere in the back of his mind her remembered the title: Coriander: Giant Slayer!
But the he hesitated. Another part of him, a stronger part, one that revered all life stayed his hand. He was no murderer. He had done bad things when in bad situations but, like his Father, he would not be made into be something he was not.
He stepped back and lowered his blade, “I don’t want to kill you.”
“You already do stinking human!” Clynimun looked down at the blood on his torso and shook, “you killed me?!?!”
“It’s not that deep…” Coriander rolled his eyes. “I can fix it.”
“Get away from me!” barked Clynimun, “I’d rather die!”
“FINE! Then die! I win! Clynimun loses!” Coriander yelled. The two stared at one another for a moment. Coriander calmer said, “do you really have to die to prove a point? I don’t think you’ll be able to climb out and I certainly cannot carry you….Look do you want to die? IS this some giant thing?”
“Not giant thing!” Clynimun seemed perplexed, “I did not plan on death!”
Coriander couldn’t help his sarcasm, “Oh sorry I didn’t die for you!”
“I said yield! You would not! You the one with crazy death wish!” Clynimun snapped back.
“When did you say yield?” Coriander was puzzled.
“Before you scream I say yield!” he defended.
“You mean when you were covering my ears?” Coriander spat, “how was I to now what you said?”
“What you think I say?” the boy quipped back, “flowers? I let you go and you killed me!”
Coriander was puzzled completely now. “So it wasn’t a fight to the death?”
“Fight to the death?’ gasped Clynimun, “why fight to the death?!”
“You did..” Coriander searched his memory, “…didn’t you?”
“NO stupid human rat!” Clynimun held his bloody hands around his wound tighter. “Who would fight to the death?”
“Well it looked that way,” Coriander “two boys in one man out… ya know to the death….” He suddenly realized no one had said this was a combat to the death. He had assumed.
“We not kill our own kind!” Clynimun almost laughed, “you think we kill off half our people when they came to age? Disgusting humans!”
“Why do you think so badly of humans, Clynimun?” Coriander asked sheepishly.
“Have you met humans?!?!” Clynimun yelled.
“Funny,” Coriander rolled his eyes again, “you’re areal comedian.”
“What is comedian?” Clynimun got defensive.
“A funny person. You know,” Coriander stood up, “he stands up and says funny things…people laugh…”
“A drunk?” Clynimun glared at the boy.
“NO!” Coriander couldn’t imagine a world without comedy, “it’s like a story, like the one the king told but not of heroes…it’s to be funny.”
“Oh I see,” he didn’t quite understand why one would stand around and make people laugh but then again humans were weird.
“I can fix that.” He gestured to the wound.
“With magick? No thank you!” Clynimun was stubborn.
So was Coriander, “so you’d prefer to die? Please Clynimun. Please let me fix this.”
“Stop saying my name!” Clynimun hissed.
“You say it wrong!” Clynimun glared at Coriander. Suddenly he felt weaker. The cave spun. “Oh no…”
“You’re going to bleed to death if you don’t let me help you. This is kind of your fault by the way!” Coriander tried to be gentle but was too caught up emotionally to have bedside manner. “How was I supposed to know the rules? Maybe if you have some special giant world game that isn’t to the death you should let an outsider know! I panicked. Let me fix this, Cly? Can I call you Cly?”
“Cly ha ha..” the giant smiled a tiny bit, “yes fix this. Cly does not wish to die tonight.”
Coriander sighed in relief, “I need some water… hold on.”
Water is everywhere. It is in dew and rain but also inside of everything. All around us. It is where you’d never guess it might hide. Coriander went to the wall of the pit. There beneath the surface he could sense water. He put his hand up and began to call upon the element but paused. “If I do this are you going to tell and have my Father killed?”
“Tell giants I let magick use me?” Cly almost laughed again, “no Cor I will not.”
“Cor?” it took Coriander a moment to realize the giant had nicknamed him as well. “Ah. Nice. Now try not to distract me.”
He called upon Water and it came. A small trickle filled his hand. He went to the bleeding giant and placed it on his belly. His hands glowed. Cly’s eyes went wide. Coriander said magick words and willed the Water to work. The bleeding stopped. There’d be a scar. Coriander wasn’t very good at healing spells but the giant would live.
Clynimun laughed, “that feels good! Huh?” His face seemed suddenly kind which was odd for Coriander. He liked his enemies ugly. He looked at Clynimun and suddenly saw a sweetness he hadn’t before. Coriander released the spell. The giant inspected it, “nice scar.”
“Sorry about that…” Coriander felt stupid for saying it. “What do we do now?”
Cly thought, “well… if I had won, I would have climbed back with you on my shoulder and thrown you before my King….”
“I thought I was alive?” Coriander did not like this plan at all.
“You would be live! I said it no? We do not kill like you!” Clynimun shook his head at the stupidity of humans, “You would be dishonored and not have first choice of mate. Then we drink.”
Coriander laughed. He thought of the scantily clad giants from earlier who wouldn’t even greet him let alone…..“…and my Father’s treaty would be in your favor.” Coriander grew serious.
“Yes.” Cly laughed, “and no.”
“Because you are divided.” Coriander said wisely, “your people think differently on dealing with humans. I saw the disagreement in their faces.”
“You are smart for human,” Cly checked his new wound, “my Father is good King but old. The world changes like mountains. Wind and water push and pull at the mountain and it changes. We must change too.”
“And the King does not want to change?” Coriander tried to figure things out.
“No,” Clynimun added quickly, “he does but he must be true to the clan. And many fear. And then he brings magick user! Bad idea for you to come here Cor!”
“I kind of figured that out Cly.” Coriander laughed, “ what happens now that I won?”
“By cheating?” Clynimun eyed him.
“I didn’t use magick! That was the only rule I was told.” Coriander laughed defensively.
“You would have climbed up and….” Clynimun laughed loudly, “I do not know. I never thought you could win! Tiny human! Do all humans put knife on legs?”
“No I’m special that way,” Coriander shrugged his shoulders, “you shouldn’t judge all humans on me or on having only meta few of us. Some of us are really nice and wonderful. You only meet traders Scavs and military that’s not who most of us are.”
“…and you think giants eat people and fight to death because you meet so many giants?” Cly said not threateningly and more to both of them.
“..and stupid.” Coriander added before he thought better, “I mean I don’t think but people humans think that well ummm…”
Clynimun let out a huge laugh, “we think humans are stupid too, we say thick like trees and full of sap!”
“I know few people who fit that description!” Coriander laughed back.
A moment passed. It was quiet. Some understanding passed between the enemies. Some silent information that both registered and agreed to. It occurred to both boys that they were men.
“Well Cor?” smiled Cly.
“Yes Cly?” smiled Cor.
Cly continued, “this fee for safe passage? Is it in good honor? And what mountain spices humans want? Humans barter is strange. Always yelling about prices they pretend are higher?”
Fear and Laughter
Coriander: Never Turn Your Back on a Giant 12
Outside the pit was still silenced. Even Alexi had stopped sobbing. Too much time had passed. Why hadn’t Clynimun returned? Had both boys failed? Alexi wondered how the giants would know Coriander hadn’t done magick. Coriander occasionally did magick without even trying. Alexi remembered the water spell that had flooded the house. A small smile crossed his lips. Coriander could not be dead. No one that full of life should ever die. Alexi pushed grim thoughts from his mind. The boy had healed a shoulder wound, he would survive in the pit; he had to.
Alexi turned to the equally confused Naus. He made a gesture with his hands, flipping them, which Alexi some how knew equaled a shoulder shrug. No one could see down into the pit. The torches had gone out. Naus called over Cro and whispered something. Cro looked down into the pit. He seemed unhappy. Obviously was game leader, Naus wanted him to go down and see what was happening. Cro turned back to his king and mumbled something. They both looked back into the pit. Alexi wondered if they were afraid they would dishonor the competition or if they feared Coriander had done magick and it was lingering…waiting for them. Alexi hoped it was.
A grunt was heard. All eyes flashed surprise. Another grunt. Then heavy breathing. Another grunt of struggle sounded. From the dark pit a giant hand slammed down. It was Clynimun huge hand. Alexi shook his head. The giant boy, awkwardly and exhausted, climbed out of the pit and rolled onto the ground. Alexi felt this heart break again. Clynimun immediately jumped up and turned to the pit below him and yelled, “HA! I win!”
“HUH?” was grunted by almost all. Again the interpreters whispered. Alexi realized the giant spoke the common tongue. If anyone could talk themselves out of a death pit it was Coriander. Did Alexi dare to hope?
Clynimun went onto his knees and reached a helpful hand into the pit. Ina flash Coriander had used the giant hand as leverage and literally climbed up Clynimun’s back and flipped in the air landing to the side of the much slower giant.
Coriander pointed a finger at him, “you only won because you are HUGE! In my world I would have gotten a head start!”
“You are my world!” barked the giant boy.
“Yea?” Coriander continued, “well if I had been able to use magick you’d be worm food! ”
Clynimun pulled his hands into fists and screamed, “Stupid human Scav!”
Coriander made fists as well, “Stupid giant fart!”
The silence aroid them was general shock, more so as the words were interpreted. Finally the silence was broken. The boys started laughing.
Coriander bent over gasping for air as he laughed so hard his face turned red! Cly equally shook but asked, “what is fart?” Coriander laughed even louder but finally caught his breath enough to bring his hand to his mouth and make a fart sound, which got both boys laughing again.
Alexi started laughing too. Tears streamed down his face, yet again, mostly it was from seeing Coriander alive and laughing: his favorite view. Naus let out a chuckle and soon the entire village that had been swept in fear had an outlet for all that pent up emotion and they roared with laughter.
Clynimun went and hugged his Father and Coriander did like wise. He saw the pain in his Father’s face and whispered, “I’m all fine Father.”
Alexi hugged him tighter and whispered back, “when we are safe I might just kill you.” Coriander laughed silently.
Cro ordered something in the giant language and then all ran off and brought out tables and food. A feast started. During the commotion Coriander brought Alexi over to Clynimun and Naus. The boys smiled and brought heir Father’s hands together. Alexi and Naus made faces but tried to be polite.
Coriander smiled and said, “we completed negotiations for you. The bargain is struck.”
Naus and Alexi at the same time said “WHAT?” in tow different languages. Cro came over as each boy, in their respected tongues, explained what had been agreed to. There was some disagreement and a bit of yelling. A few other giants surrounded them. The boys passionately explained, “This agreement is fair. It is noble. It was formed in the pit of honor Father! Compromise!” Slowly the boys won over their Fathers.
As they did a giant behind them started yelling. He waved his hands. Coriander turned to look at him. The giant was almost foaming at the mouth. “What does he say?” Coriander asked Cro.
Cor blushed, “ he says no. He says we cannot trade with humans. We cannot trust them. He says no.”
Coriander eyed the yelling giant. He shrugged his shoulder and turned his back on the giant. Clynimun smiled and the boys ignored the giant and continued their explanations “…anyway… we feel this pact benefits both….” The screaming giant, being ignored, walked away.
After the feast, Coriander and Alexi said goodbyes and went back to the bridge. As they crossed it, they were greeted by Ki and his regiment. They had seen the fire and were about to attack. Alexi quieted them. He assured them all was well and would be explained soon when they were safely away. Coriander realized his Father still did not feel safe. Coriander wondered how much time would pass before giants and humans would be at ease with one another?
Ki approached Coriander and hugged him, “how did it go?” he whispered as they army stared back. Coriander took the small knife out of his belt and smiled. Ki laughed and raced ahead. There would be much wine that night he knew.
Time passed in the darkness. Alexi and Coriander walked together. The silence was different than it had been at the start of the journey. Alexi seemed to go back and forth between calm and angry. Upset and fear. When they were removed far enough from the ears of the military, Alexi finally broke the silence. “Coriander I cannot begin to tell you how upset I am…”
Coriander cut him off, “Father, I knew you’d be upset about that point, but giants don’t believe in slaves! They don’t understand it. It’s an abomination to their Gods! I had to argue for hours to even let them allow the slavers to circle their village. There is no way they will allow them to walk through their sacred homes. Father, they don’t even tie up their animals! I think I…”
Now Alexi cut Coriander off, “To the dark place with the pact! I don’t care about slavers having to be inconvenienced! Coriander you almost died! And you disobeyed a direct order! I told you to run! I created a diversion. You knew it! You could have easily saved yourself. You promised!” Alexi sagged his shoulder in frustration.
Coriander knew this was coming and had his argument ready. “Firstly, there is no sure way I could have escaped. I cannot outrun dozens of giants! I almost turned invisible but I am really horrible at that spell. So no, I could not have easily left. As for your orders…”
Alexi rolled his eyes, “let me guess you’re a Mage now…”
“NO.” Coriander turned to his Father, “could you, yourself, have dropped be into the pit knowing it would be my death?”
“No. Of course not.”
Coriander smiled, “then do not ask that of me.”
Alexi grabbed his son and held him fast. He sobbed a little in frustration and relief. Coriander laughed. Alexi pulled back confused. Coriander explained, “Ya know for a very important Magistrate and a really powerful Mage we cry a lot!”
Alexi laughed too, “Tears are important my Son.”
“Yes.” Coriander agreed, “but let’s not tell Vushi.”
Alexi laughed again and remembered a question he had meant to ask, “So Coriander what was that small knife you gave that Ki?”
“ummmm..welll..” Coriander wasn’t sure if he should lie. “Seems I got inducted into a secret society of secret knives or something.”
Alexi put a hand over his eyes and shook his head in disbelief, “Only you Coriander. Will you ever stop being full of surprises?”
Coriander hoped not.
Giant Pit Match!
Monkey Queen & Never Turn Your Back on a Giant 13
“First one out wins! 1,2,3!” Coriander yelled as Vushi and Aristoph jumped into the pit. It wasn’t as deep as the one in the giant village so neither needed to use magick to land. A good thing too as it was forbidden! The two opponents squared off. Vushi raised her fists ready to smash Aristoph and leave a mark on that very pale face! Aristoph likewise raised fists. He knew how formidable Vushi was at combat and wanted prove her equal, he had little hope of beating her. Vushi leapt up into the air and landed tackling Aristoph.
“You used magick!” Rho yelled in his young but proud voice.
“Did not!” Vushi yelled back.
“Separate!” Teacher Akti barked.
“I didn’t use magick!’ Vushi swore.
“…yes she did” whispered Coriander.
“I HEARD THAT!” screamed Vushi as she backed of the fallen boy.
Teacher Akti smiled at Coriander, “is this really how giants fight?”
“Well one of the ways I guess?” Coriander had told the weapons teacher about the combat he had undergone. Impressed Teacher Akti asked his favorite students if they wanted to play? They all agreed and left Magoge and the city itself, to find an area large enough to dig. With magick and labor they had created a pit. Coriander explained it was nowhere near the size of the other pit but Teacher Akti thought it the perfect size to practice in safe way. He wanted to see if the exercise was valuable, he didn’t want students to actually get hurt.
Aristoph stood and got his wits together. He raised his fists.
Teacher Akti barked again, “compete!” on his order Vushi leapt again, this time with much less force, and attacked the pale boy. She punched him so hard he went flying into the dirt wall and fell down with a few rocks. Aristoph remembered the story Coriander had told all of Magoge: if you found a weapon you could use it! He grabbed a fallen rock and threw it hard at Vushi!
Little had happened at Coriander’s house upon their return. Vushi and Coriander took long walks. They shared moments that were grossly misunderstood by their families. They ate well. They pretended to practice. They were the same but were not.
Deena basically went back to old self, for which Vushi was grateful, but she noticed something different too in her Mother’s eye. Was it wisdom? Sadness? It seemed more complex than that. Almost as if Deena had now taken her place as older or an elder. She moved with more confidence and looked at things slower, more deliberately. Perhaps the trip had changed her as well Vushi thought. Why wouldn’t it she realized. Stealing a quiet moment after dinner the night before she would have to return to Magoge, Vushi asked her Mother how she felt after the trip. Typically Deena acted like she had no idea what Vushi was talking about.
Vushi dropped the subject but as she left her mother whispered, “I feel older.” Vushi knew what she meant. She cast a smile and nodded.
Alexi managed to spend as much time as he could with Coriander before work called him away to discuss the agreement with the merchants and traders. It would not be a fun meeting. Coriander offered to go but Alexi thought that to be a bad idea. He had to be very careful how he presented the agreement. As they said goodbye Alexi went to tussle Coriander’s hair but stopped himself. The action seemed wrong. Disrespectful even. He smiled at that idea.
Coriander caught onto the gesture and it’s sudden stop. He gave his Father curious look. Alexi simply laughed, “you’re too old for that.” Coriander knew what he meant. He cast a smile and nodded.
As Aristoph threw the rock Vushi Without thinking yelled, “SHIELD” and the rock bounced off an invisible barrier.
“SHE CHEATED AGAIN!” Rho screamed.
“You did!” Coriander added!
“Well you try simply stop using magick in combat! It’s hard!” Vushi yelled louder than she need to.
Coriander laughed and yelled back, “that’s kind of the point of the exercise! Two in who ever gets out first wins! And no Magick!”
“I’m fast” stated Rho proudly, “I would scramble up the side so fast you’d never catch me!”
“Can I just run up the wall?” asked Aristoph.
“YES!” screamed Coriander! “Pay attention!”
Teacher Akti snuck up behind the blustering Coriander and winked at Rho. With two solid hands, stronger than you’d imagine the thin teacher could, he pushed Coriander into the pit!
Coriander rolled as he hit the dirt floor. He looked up to the weapons teacher and laughed. “All right then. Three first one out….”
Using magick Teacher Akti lifted Rho off the ground and set him into the pit as well. Coriander wasn’t sure that was fair but shrugged his shoulder and moved away from all three opponents. The four eyed each other. Now this was a competition! The winner would never let the others forget they had won. Pride was at stake, if even in a playful way, each wanted to win.
“Each of you must fight to be the first to exit the pit. You may climb, you may fight, you may do whatever is necessary. Whoever is first to exit the pit wins.” Teacher eyed them carefully, “you may also make an opponent surrender. If you surrender you musts it to the side until the test is complete!” Vushi smiled wickedly. Akti continued, “If you use magick you surrender! Is that clear?”
Vushi rolled her eyes and turned to the Teacher and sarcastically yelled up, “Are there any other rules about giant-fighting we should know?”
Coriander slid his foot into place and lifting his right leg slammed into Vushi’s back. She sailed across the pit and slammed into a wall. She turned with wild eyes and glared at him.
“Yes. One last rule,” Coriander lifted his fists and returned her wicked gaze, “never turn your back on a giant!”