The Giant's Tale
The Giant’s Tale by norman douglas
I am descended from Giants. I am descended from men. I crossed into The Forgotten Realm — the human realm — with no intention on spending the rest of my life here. Not that I have anything against humans; some of my best friends are people: men, women and kids. I know the grief that holds people side by side in the darkness, an emptiness they suspect is more than real. I confess it’s in my blood, this longing to be better, the strange weight of fear, a shortness of breath one longs to transcend. But then, we catch the lightness of another breath, the familiar levity that laughter spreads, the certainty that we are not alone, all one. Mine is not the only heartbeat mixed up by the ardor of two.
I came to look for one of my childhood playmates, an Erdluitle (one of the “earth people”) named Alastriona. Alastriona has an uncontainable liking for the company of men. Like the Thusser (the true name of those humans call Giants or Trolls), the Earth People love dancing, and centuries of roving have made Alastriona a practiced performer of countless regional gambols. Of course, the mightiest of modern men has very little stamina and nothing to match Alastriona but, after one dance, these guys are hopelessly smitten. Worse, a rebuff from any of the Hidden Folk can lead to a human’s fatal dissipation from heartbreak and obsession; and Alastriona rejects them all, usually sooner than later. It’s a rotten business she admits is like an addiction, an insatiable lust for manskin she pursues inexorably.
Because all elementals have the same withering effect on humans — and we all endure brothers and sisters who recklessly cross the line — conservatives regularly threaten judicial assemblies and punitive measures to stifle such wantons. They argue that vampire lore derives from these doomed affairs since stricken humans end up depleted of all humors due to a nearly combustible rise in body temperature that comes with this abnormal passion; an accelerated evaporation of fluids rather than any appetite held by the Hidden Folk for mortal juices. Like I said, it’s not pretty.
Most Fair Folk contend that anything harmful to mortals is pardonable after centuries of escalating warfare against all we’re charged to steward. Not truly immortal, our lifespans span your millennia nonetheless. We are the Free Folk. We trust in our family; our good sisters and bad sisters, our wrong and our right brothers all know how to fly high, when to lay low. Guided by vision not common to mankind, we can’t forget that the veil between inside and out is porous, and threadbare at that. Through doorways closed to human perception, we cross over and into the Forgotten Realm; crossings that steadily drop in number and time.
I would’ve volunteered to look for Alastriona no matter what. We played together as wee ones, as youngsters, as grown-ups. Because of our different orders — the Sidhe (shee) are Light Elves while Thusser are Dusky Elves, and both are related to Dark Elves (with none of the color associations dreamed up by humans) — a playful rivalry prevailed. Our earliest amusements involved shape-shifting or, more specifically, size-shifting. While Giants pretend to a greater height than the miniature Sidhe, we share the ability to change size at will, especially in the Sunset Land. On the other side, this faculty is greatest at night, like all of our strengths. We not only competed to out-grow and out-shrink the other, we learned to enjoin the spaces our shifting shapes exposed to us; to climb into the stem of a flower together, to bound through crowded cities on moonless nights, one block at a step, unseen in the prickly flood of electric light — these frolics were pure delirium for two. As our transmutations improved, we grasped how to seek for which part of the landscape the other turned chameleon to hide in: a bunny at play, a deer cow or buck, field of clover, stand of birch, stinking tarn... Success meant spying the other’s unique stamp — a resonance, their wavelength — on the counterfeit. And we picked up on the ways our temperaments were just as prone to sudden shifts and instabilities as the physical illusions we made up and how, without truly changing at all, the one was as one with the other.
To fool around like this for a couple centuries fosters an intimacy not easily ignored or severed. We eventually tested the rapturous transport built-in to the erotic coupling seen in all flora and fauna around us, a call from within we sensed with increasingly keen and inexplicably guarded interest. If I could describe the light shone when the spectrums escaping two distinct prisms are united through a third — one diffuse and polychromatic beam mirrored kaleidoscopically while, but two steps behind, a tsunami of melodies crests in dulcet harmonies swimming on deeply crisscrossed drumbeats — I would. What starts as a muscular coupling of sinew and flesh climaxes in rhapsodic bliss far beyond the paltry symbols I’ve chosen to describe the indescribable. Suffice it to say that we grew up closer than two peas in a pod.
We never fell in love. The Hidden Folk rarely suffer the mysterious longing that Psyche had for invisible Eros as long as he felt obliged to keep his beloved concealed from his mother’s ken, and his immortal face from the eyes of his mortal lover; we don’t share the pubescent desires that drove young Montague and Capulet to suicide. We nurture a lust for the lifeblood of starlight and wind; we perceive a pageantry in our coeval visions of endlessly unfolding worlds. My youth in Alastriona’s company expanded my hybrid persona beyond a simple duality and taught me to embrace the polyglot wonder of our chosen multiverse.
I emerged upon this mortal coil through a convenient mist that lingered under a manmade waterfall just a stone’s throw from the county road and bridge that spanned the broad creek feeding it. This was an ideal setting for safe passage between worlds and in the past, it would have likely been a fine haunt for a Troll. The trash littered willy nilly showed me right away that no Thusser lived here now; instead, here was a glimpse of humanity’s careless construction of a world without consequence and so, I steeled myself against the depravity ahead.
The scuttlebutt around the Sunset Land had Alastriona holed up in a Manhattan barrio full of young folk, passing herself off as a visual artist. A hundred miles north of the Empire City, I started off on foot. Evening twilight was near and an icy wind cut across the wide and fallow late-winter fields I followed, their grasses laid flat and brown by heavy snows that had melted not more than a few days before. I listened closely for the snores of wildlife in deep hibernation, a staccato growling I recalled from my last visit, centuries ago, but heard nothing for miles except the blowing that sang at the bare branches while the motors of cars and trucks hummed over the highways and roads I avoided except to cross. I moved at a good clip, invigorated by the wintry gusts on my cheeks, and by the few ancient trees who whispered to their young that a Mound Man was passing. I hailed them respectfully. They understood that my urgency to be done with this world kept me moving, wished me well. Several vowed to see me in the next world, “And don’t be late.”
After an hour or two, the stars that peppered the soaring bowl of night seemed to swiftly disappear and the horizon ahead glowed with a raucous luster that could only come from the imperial city. Not knowing how long I would stay in the capital, I resolved to keep my purpose in mind, to check any temptation to indulge in the trove of ready, earthly delights; the ease with which mortals are drawn to the abyss of the intangible ripples with ramifications that spiral over all.
Shrinking to mortal height, I assumed the look of a mulatto with Ibo and Norse blood; the stature of both tribes is great, and taking on the aspects of one or the other clan isn’t feasible over a lengthy stretch for half-Thusser. Realizing I had no money, I installed myself on a corner and performed what the passersby took for magic tricks. I pretended to make coins and cards appear and disappear, even though I had neither. It’s not hard to make copies of worldly and material things, but to circulate the rapidly expired doodads invites unwanted attention and worse. It wasn’t long before the hectic crowd filled my pockets with genuine paper bills and dull metal discs.
From the newspapers on display in a corner store where I bought a half dozen donuts and a cup of tea, I saw that it was a Thursday; especially cherished by Thusser as the night for dancing. The two brown gentlemen working the counter told me in Spanish about a spot that was a hangout for rumberos just a block away. Sure enough, as soon as I stepped back onto the sidewalk, the tip led me straight to the seductive singing of a man with a distinctive nasal tenor. As I neared the source, I recognized the a capella lyrics to the Ibarabo Abo Mo Juga for Elegua, one of many names for the crossroads, a road no one knows how to begin or to end. I went through the doorway just as the trio of bata drummers started and in no time, I was compelled to shred a rug, as we Giants like to say.