Wary hustled back as fast as he could; when he got to the village, he found some familiar faces congregating outside the tavern.
“It’s not what you think it is!” He was out of breath from his travels and gasped for air. “Something’s not right… It’s a mine!”
“What are you trying to cough up?” Orri, a wagon driver and bad gambler, asked.
“I saw it! On the old farm lands at the bottom of the valley.” Wary bounced and pointed.
“That’s the King’s land, you wouldn’t dare sneak around there.”
The group brushed him off and closed their circle to him.
“You’re right! It was being guarded by giants, but I could see what they were doing.” He did his best to regain their attention. “The land was being stripped away. The hole was so big, I couldn’t even see the bottom.”
They continued to ignore him, which frustrated an already perturbed Wary.
“Listen to me!” Wary barked as he pulled on Orri’s shoulder. Orri spun around and grabbed at Wary’s collar, twisting it and pulling him upwards.
“You listen, pudgy! Making up stories about trespassing on the King’s land is gonna get you, and everyone you tell, in a whole heap of trouble. So run off to Mommy and keep your gullet shut!”
Wary’s eyes watered up. “I’m telling the truth.”
Orri pulled him closer. “Then I definitely don’t want to hear about it. That’d make it even worse.”
“You’re going to wish you had listened to me.”
Orri shoved Wary to the ground; Wary jumped to his feet immediately and left them.
Time past and Wary kept what he had seen to himself; after all, he didn’t know exactly what he was warning them about anyway. If anyone else had stumbled on King Rikard’s land, they surely had not been vocal about it. The mining had evidently been going on for quite a while and no one appeared to be in any danger.
The day to day life around the village continued on. Wary made many more trips to Wilverth, always picking up his pace along the path above King Rikard’s mine. He started carrying a blade at all times, just in case he had another encounter with Dimmu Troll, but no such trouble came to pass; not until years later, on a day that began as forgettable as most.
“Una! Inga! Slow down, girls!” Signey ordered as the three made their way through the streets.
“Keeping up with them?” A friendly local joked.
She smiled at the woman and moved on toward the nursery. Signey had graduated to care-maiden and volunteered to be the primary caregiver for the twins in order to provide stability in their upbringing. Discussion between overactive minds had raised the question as to whether or not the twins’ development would be hindered by not having a strong, singular presence in their life. After the subject had been repeatedly brought up and argued in circles, Signey was proud to stand and put an end to the nonsense by pointing out that she had been there when the girls were born; she loved them and could continue raising them from the nursery. It was too convenient for any more bickering.
Una and Inga ran around the corner of a hut, out of Signey’s sight.
“Girls, wait up!”
A slight twinge of uneasiness trickled down her spine; although she was carrying a heavy basket of vegetables she had just procured at the market, Signey shifted her weight forward in order to run and catch up to the twins. It was in that same moment that faint rumbling could be felt in the ground. Signey halted and listened closely. She recognized the sound, she had heard it before.
Signey dropped her basket where she stood and took off in a dead sprint. She rounded the hut and caught sight of the girls.
“Una! Inga! Get home right now!”
She quickly caught up to them and patted them on the back, urging them along.
“Gavriila, open the door!” She pleaded, as they were steps away from the nursery. “Let us in!”
As the three approached, the front door swung open and Gavriila poked her head out to examine the commotion.
“What’s the shouting for?”
Signey ignored the question and instructed the twins. “Get inside, go to your bunks. Hurry!”
“What is it, Signey?” Gavriila demanded.
Still, Signey did not reply. Instead, she looked back to see several Giants beginning their approach on the village.
The convoy for King Rikard the Last was headed by a horde of Giants, meant to demonstrate his power. Their enormous size would inflict fear, and the King would have undivided attention. He, too, was a large man, though hardly a Giant, who chose to ride on the back of a Bull Skogkatt, a rare breed of mountain cat. They have long fur and large, pointed ears with paws big and powerful enough to crush a man. Kind Rikard named his Bull Skogkatt, Kleng.
The King surrounded himself with only a few other men on his travels. They were weaker men, brought along to handle the due diligence of the King’s dealings after he handed down the sentencing. He made it a habit to only trust those he could either manipulate or beat in a fight, and his convoy reflected just that.
Some of the villagers had come out of their homes and gathered in front of the King who placed himself in the center of a semicircle of Giants, standing at attention. He sat atop Kleng, surveying the village.
“I… will require this land be made available to me… immediately.” His voice was loud and drawn out.
Whispers swept through the crowd. The King watched, looking almost offended at the lack of movement from the people.
“This means you must pick up what you can carry and leave.” He paused a moment then continued, “or they will force you.” Gesturing to the row of Giants.
“But sir, you told us you wouldn’t cross the village borders.”
“Plans have changed, and my… operation will be coming through here.”
His gaze continued to shift along the mountaintops. His mannerisms were smooth and methodical, as if he was only partially paying attention to the matter at hand.
“These houses will be leveled tomorrow at dawn. Make your decisions as you will.”
A faceless voice pierced the chatter. “You can’t do this to us!”
“Correction.” He finally made eye contact with individuals in the crowd as if he was attempting to figure out who shouted at him. “The village will be leveled… immediately.”
He nodded at a Giant and they all marched forward. One in particular approached a hut and sized it up, he swung his mammoth axe and shattered through the mud and turf, clipping the corner timber. The roof caved in and half the house collapsed, setting off a total panic among the villagers. They scattered, screaming and clutching at loved ones. Other Giants strode through the roads, picking up anything that wasn’t fastened down and smashed it.
“Mother, I’m not telling you again, get out here!”
Wary fastened a pair of sacks filled with supplies for Patches to carry.
She finally exited their house with another bag, clearly over packed and heavy.
“Patches can’t carry anymore!” Wary cried.
“I’ll carry it myself, then.”
“That’s absurd, you won’t manage it.”
Wary went to grab the pack, but his mother pulled away.
“It’s all we’ll have left, Wary!”
He saw in her face how determined she was, it would be no use arguing.
“Alright, Mother.” He said, grabbing the pack. “You lead Patches, I’ll take this.”
Some of the villagers were scattering in different directions, headed to towns as far away from the King’s reach as they could bare to travel, but most headed up the hill to Wilverth. The Giants continued their path of destruction, harassing people to move faster, but the trail was already getting overcrowded. To press the issue, it seemed the Giants would make an example of one villager.
A bloodcurdling scream rang out, and Wary turned to find the head care-maiden being held up by one leg. She squirmed and cried, that’s when Wary noticed Signey waving at the beast, pleading for him to let her go.