“Who are they?” Ked asked as he and Alina crouched in the bushes near The Nose, far from the outcropping the outlander’s horses had been tethered at.
“Priests of Gallum,” his cousin whispered. “I think they’ve come to wake up the giant.”
The robed priests dismounted, encircled the towering rock and chanted. Ked and Alina ran down to the village and told their parents. When word reached the Onclu the headman, he called on the men of the village to drive the priests away. However, the priests had Gallum and his supplicant gods to defend them. The men of the village failed, and those who limped home after being smitten, grumbled, swore, worried and grieved the four who did not return. It was the war, of course, that had brought the priests. The villagers knew what that meant. Their elders had handed down what it had taken to put the giant to sleep, and what devastation it had wrought before succumbing to the soil.
Weeks later, Alina came running up the trail to where Ked was tending the sheep.
“Knights have come,” she told him, between gasps for breath. “The Count of Astrius is among them.
The count was the liege lord of the entire Astrian valley. Ked followed her down the rocky path to see what he and his knights would be doing.
The two of them watched from the woods above the Vale of the Giant as the crowd of
knights and men-at-arms wandered around the work begun by the priests. The priests had succeeded, to a point. After weeks where the earth trembled and shook the village day and night, the great body of stone that stretched for half a league had finally been completely uncovered, the rocky head, torso, legs and arms now glinted in the sun. However, the immense figure remained still, silent.
There were fewer soldiers than there had been followers of Gallum. Travelers who passed through whispered the war with the northerners was going poorly. King Jessick’s invasion had been reversed and now the vengeful northerners invaded the kingdom. Ked and Alina listened as the Onclu called on his fellows to pluck up their courage and try again to stop the Count from repeating the oath that would awake the giant, first pleading, and then gathering to fight the soldiers who guarded the ceremony. The soldiers were only men, but they were war veterans and well skilled. Those village men who returned home bleed and prayed. However, they didn’t know any longer who or what to pray to.
“Your father was brave,” Ked consoled his love, as he held Alina’s hand at the blacksmith’s burial.
She wept onto his shoulder. Later, they met on the outcropping near the grazing meadows.
“We should leave,” Alina told him. “Before it awakens, before the northerners come to provoke it.”
But Ked could not leave, not his maimed father and his ill mother. He was there, to guard the house and tend the flocks when northerners came, their warriors and their king. Though Alina threatened, she never left him.
Though they were winning the war, it was clear the northerners feared the great stone thing that still slept in the ground, unmoving, and uncaring. They summoned forth their bone-clad pummelers to return the giant to the dust from which it had been created. A lone emissary came to the village to tell them of this, and warned them not to interfere.
At night, Ked lay awake listening to the great thunder as the northerners tried to destroy the sleeping giant. Each night, Alina would creep into his room from the one his parents has provided her after her home had collapsed and there they held each other tightly till dawn.
The northerners failed. In anger they rode to the village. From the high meadows, Alina and he watched his home and many others burn, then turned to look across the valley to see what they had fled from. The giant had awakened, was now sitting, its massive stone head matching the height of the mountains that bordered the valley. That was day they finally left and would never, ever return.
When the giant awoke, he saw little he liked. There were dead around him, small and insignificant figures. Other, similar small creatures attacked him, but he swept them away with his mighty hands, their assaults mere pinpricks. There was a fire nearby in a small village. He rose to his thundering feet and stamped it out. Then he reared to his full height and looked down on the world he once again walked. It had changed, been reshaped by time and weather. He would get to know this world. Mold it into a form that suited him. He had been assured that if he slept long enough, there would be none that could oppose them. Now was the time to find out if what he had been told so many centuries ago was the truth.