[Edit: Forgot to mention the reference for Ayla and the Raven is here, and you should totally check out all of bOZRAT‘s stuff:). The artist for Ayla’s sketches is Caitlyn Lee]
The old grenz eases himself down into his chair with a groan. He nods to the innkeeper, who nods and ladles him out a fresh cup of warm spiced wine. The small crowd of townsfolk are waiting for him to begin, a smaller crowd than last night, but not too small. Among them is a young girl, who wants to hear a particular story. She was promised this story, though it has troubled the old grenz all day. How to tell it? Where to begin? It is not so simple a tale as the tale of the Wandering Wood. He has made a decision though. He runs his hand over the folded red cloth on the table beside him. He takes the cup from the innkeeper, takes a long drink, and then sets it down with care, far from the red cloth and it’s precious contents. He clears his throat with a deep grunt.
“This is the Tale of Ayla and the Giant of Teag Mountian.”
“Hey!” a small voice shouts from the crowd. It is the girl, the girl whom he promised. The crowd turns to stare at her incredulously. “You promised! You said you’d tell the story about how she became the Warrior Queen of Genn.”
The crowd turns back to the old grenz. An interruption is one thing, but a promise broken is another matter entirely. He nods his head, and picks up his wine. Taking a small sip and setting it down with a pointedly sluggish pace.
“So I did,” he says, “But the story is not as simple as that. It is not a story over in a single night young one. I said I would tell you the story of the Warrior Queen. The story begins here.”
The girl is quiet, then she deliberately mimics the grenz’s slow nod. She is satisfied, for now.
“Well that is not true,” admits the old grenz, “It did not begin here, nor did it truly begin when Ayla ventured into the Wandering Wood. But for the sake of the telling, we shall say it began here. In a small village in the land of Genn.”
It had been a year since the Wandering Wood had been turned aside. The land of Genn, free from the trouble of the Wyrd of the Wood who now sat sulking in his forest court, had become a peaceful and quiet place. Not so to the west, beyond the forest, in the mountain kingdom of Teag. A giant had taken up residence at the mountain of Teag, and he threatened to destroy the kingdom.
News of the giant spread into the land of Genn, where it came to the ear of Ayla Green-hammer. The news was that the King of Teag called for warriors of strength and courage to defend his land. Ayla thought, “I am a warrior of strength and courage. I will go and slay the giant.”
So Ayla took down her hammer from the hearth in the house of Aster, the mother of Ayla, and (remember how cross her mother had been when she had run off to the Wandering Wood) Ayla left her mother a note.
“Gone to slay a giant. Back soon.”
Ayla thought this sufficient, and so she left her village in the land of Genn, setting out for the mountain of Teag.
All along the way she hear dark tales that came from the land of Teag. The giant had trampled the crops, had devoured all the cattle, and had crushed many a brave knight beneath his heels. The maw of the creature could swallow a horse whole they said. They said he picked his teeth with oak trees. Ayla was not afraid. She had faced the Wyrd of the Wood, she would not be frightened by stories of an something others said was “unstoppable.” They had said the same of the Wandering Wood, which at this time wandered no more.
And so Ayla came to the land of Teag. And saw it nearly in ruins. No fence could hope to stop the giant, nor stone wall it seemed. The castle at the foot of the mountain where the king of Teag held court was in barely more than rubble now. Ayla ran forward to the castle, worrying she was too late to save the land of Teag.
She came upon the King, standing outside the castle with his knights. Ayla Green-hammer called to them.
“Your grace! Has the giant attacked the castle?” She asked, bowing deeply, but unaccustomed to the gesture, and off balance due to the hammer, she stumbled and nearly fell.
The king of Teag was offended, “Captain, take this child away!” He cried, ordering his captain to send her home, and to berate her parents for letting their child wander about in such dangerous times.
Ayla struggled against the captain’s grip, demanding he release her. The captain had some knowledge of magic, though he had never cultivated the talent, and he recognized the presence of Ayla’s hammer.
“You carry a powerful weapon, child. Where did you come by such a thing?”
“It was given to me,” Ayla told him.
“Liar,” accused the captain, “No one would give such a thing away idly. Much less to a little girl.”
“It is not a lie,” Ayla said stubbornly, “It was given to me in the Wandering Wood, and I have come from the land of Genn to slay the giant with it.”
The captain laughed, “You? I’m sorry little one. We have not time to play with children today. We ride to face the giant on the mountain. We may have need of a weapon such as this though. Will you give it to me?”
Ayla thought for a hard moment. The captain was rude, but if the weapon was as important as he said, it might save the lives of many if she gave it to him. On the other hand, this weapon was a gift from the young wizard. It would be wrong to give it away. The captain was angry, but he knew that the theft of such items is as likely to leave a man cursed as it is to help him in battle, so he left the girl at the edge of a nearby village and returned to the castle to regroup with his men.
He warned Ayla that if they spotted her again, he would personally beat sense into her. He did not know that Ayla was the best at the game of hiding.
Ayla sneaked back to the castle, and when the King led out his battalion of knights to ride up the mountain, Ayla sneaked behind them as well. The mountainside was great for hiding. So many nooks and crannies to duck behind. Ayla found a spot from which to watch the knights as they traveled up the worn mountain path, and off in the distance, she could hear a rumbling like distant thunder. It came out from around the mountain so suddenly, Ayla nearly yelled in surprise. One minute there was nothing, then the road ahead was filled as the giant stepped out from behind the rock. The massive thing (for he was 100 feet tall if he was 10) looked down on the knights with dark, dumb eyes and billowed out a laugh. The knights brayed their own challenge and charged at the giant’s feet. Archers of the group unleashed a hail of lethal shafts, but the giant swatted them from the air like so many gnats. The wounds from lances and swords at his feet caused him a mild discomfort, but all it achieved was to make the giant’s foot feel asleep. The shifting and testing of his feet crushed knights and horses without thought.
When the giant came to realize he had been attacked, he roared like the very mountain was collapsing, sending rancid smelling spit and horrid breath forward from his maw. He kicked a knight a 100 paces back into the air and off the mountain side, where he tumbled to his certain death. He grabbed at men and horses, some he tossed into his gaping mouth, others he simply squeezed.
The old grenz squeezes his wine cup till it breaks. The children jump in surprise and fright. A displeased look from the innkeeper is ignored as the story continues.
Ayla Green-hammer watched from afar, terrified. The size of the thing was enough to frighten even the most staunch hearted warrior. The knights were routed, the men at arms scattered, and the whole troop retreated down the mountain, despite their king’s pleas to stand and fight. The giant chased them a ways, but soon lost interest in them.
As the giant sauntered back up the mountain to it’s lair, Ayla wondered how she could possibly defeat such a creature. No matter how hard she swung her hammer, surely it would be nothing to that creature. She sat upon the mountain side and thought. She stayed there for hours watching the sun set over the beleaguered land of Teag, watching the mountain birds fly by without a care for the monster who lived below them on the mountain.
That is when Ayla had her idea. She stood up from her seat, and let out a sharp whistle. Loud and long and echoing on the mountain. She waited only a moment before a fluttering of wings announced the arrival.
“Ayla Green-hammer, why have you called me?” said the raven.
“I have need of your help again my friend,” Ayla said, picking up the black bird and stroking it’s feathers.
“It is said that your mother was worried sick over you. That you had gone to slay a giant.”
“I did, raven, but I cannot do it alone. I need your help.”
“My help. My friend, I am no giant slayer. If you seek my advice on how to kill a giant, I would suggest finding the Swords of the Twelve Peers, and 11 knights to wield the others for you.”
“I will need no knights, wise raven, but I do need allies. Will you carry a message for me?”
And so Ayla walked up the mountain road in the early morning, to the lair of the giant. It would be a lie to say she was unafraid, but Ayla would not turn back. She stopped before the entrance and paused, breathing deep and steadying herself.
She hefted her hammer, and banged it against the rock. The clang rang out, into the dark lair, and there was a stirring and rumbling of the massive creature within. The creature burst forth from the lair. Roaring it’s displeasure at being woken. As close as Ayla was, the creatures breath nearly knocked her over. Ayla turned and ran.
She did not run back down the mountain road, which led back to the land of Teag. Instead, she ran up, along the road that led up higher into the mountains. The road was rough and uneven this far into the mountains, and Ayla Green-hammer was forced to scramble on all fours over the rock. Staying only barely ahead of the giant, it laughed. A great braying laugh like a donkey and a thunderstorm. It knew that a rockslide had blocked the path ahead.
Ayla came to the rockslide which blocked the road ahead. To her right was the rock face of the mountain, to her left a cliff, a thousand feet deep at least. She threw herself up the rock face, climing up as quickly as she could with her heavy hammer on her back. The giant caught up to her, and its laugh returned. Rather than escaping, his prey had merely moved closer to his eye level. He raised his hand to the rock to pick this pesky morning morsel.
Ayla gave a sharp whistle.
It was answered by a hundred cries, as the flock of mountain birds, led by a sleek black raven, burst from hiding and fell upon the giant. They pecked at his eyes and the giant cried out in pain. He swatted at the birds, ane though many fell, many more found their mark. The giant was blinded.
The creature shrieked, beating its fists on the rock wall in an attempt to catch the monster who’d led him to this fate. But Ayla was no longer on the wall. As soon as the birds had attacked she had dropped back down to the mountain road. Standing now between the giants feet, careful of the massive thing’s steps, she took her hammer and lined up her strike. She whirled the hammer all the way around, and brought it as hard as she could to the back of the giant’s ankle tendon. The giant stumbled, stepping back to steady itself. Stepping right off the cliff.
The giant roared as it fell, then there was a crash that shook the ground so hard Ayla Green-hammer was knocked from her feet. The roar had stopped.
Ayla crawled to the ledge and saw the giant’s body wrecked against the lower peaks. Ayla thanked the birds for their help, and stayed for the mourning of those that had been killed by the giant. Then she went back down the mountain to the land of Teag. She met the king and captain on the way down. They had heard the final roar and felt the crash, and had come to find the cause.
“I warned you to stay far away child,” the captian said dismounting. Ayla raised her hammer, prepared to defend herself. But there was a fluttering of wings and raven landed on Ayla’s shoulder.
“Your grace, most noble king of Teag, will you allow your captain to beat the saviour of your kingdom?” The raven croaked.
The king of Teag raised his hand, stopping his captain. “What do you mean, wise raven?” He asked.
“The giant of Teag mountain lies dead. His body broken upon the rocks in the valley beyond. It was through Ayla Green-hammer these things were done. Though many of my mountian kin joined in the battle.”
The king stood speechless. He recognized this girl as the one he’d had removed from his presence a day before. Could it be true? Had this child saved his kingdom.
“You speak truthfully in this, clever raven?”
“I swear by the Lady Morrigan, Queen of Ravens, that I speak the truth.”
The king dismounted from his horse, and knelt before Ayla, the saviour of Teag.
Ayla was somewhat embarrassed by this.
“Brave child, Ayla Green-hammer, saviour of Teag, I am in your debt. Tell me what I may do to repay what you have done for my kingdom.”
“Good king,” Ayla said blushing, “I need no reward. I think I shall return to my home now, in the land of Genn.”
“I will not let you go home empty handed. It would shame me and my kingdom,” the king of Teag stood, “Captain, bring my horse!”
The king’s horse was brought forth. A red courser mare with a white blaze on her nose. The king of Teag handed the reigns to Ayla. “This is Sathial, and she will carry you home. My gift to you, small though it may be.”
Ayla thanked the king, and rode the mare down the mountain, and away from the kingdom of Teag. Word spread from the mountain quickly, that the same young girl who had defeated the Wyrd of the Wood had saved the kingdom of Teag. Ayla Green-hammer, slayer of Giants.
The ending is met with a knocking of cups on tables and a few claps. The patrons begin to disperse. They know the old grenz only tells one story a night, even if the night is young. The youngsters are somewhat disappointed, but they know this too. All except on little girl, who is planted right were she was throughout the story.
“She went home again?” she asks the grenz.
“Oh?” he says, waving to the innkeeper for another cup of wine. She raises and eyebrow and shakes her head. She is still not ready to forgive the breaking of a cup, even if it was for dramatic effect.
“Why? She’s got a horse and a magic hammer, and a raven for a friend. I wish she’d just go out and adventure already, stop going back to her village.”
“Who said she went back to her village?” the old grenz asks frowning.
The girl is confused, “You said she rode back home.”
“I did not,” he says, sighing sadly, “I said she wished to go home. I did not say she made it.”
OK, that note cracked me up. 😀 “Gone to slay a giant. Back soon.” indeed!
I’m not sure about the implicit retention of the hammer. I had to think a moment to process that sequence of events. I would have liked it if the sentence, “It would be wrong to give it away.” had ended with, “and so she decided to keep it,” or something similar. While that sentence does heavily imply that she kept the hammer, it isn’t as explicit as I would have liked.
I did appreciate the nod back to the game of hiding. 🙂
The old grenz interlude with the broken cup made me chuckle.
There have been a couple of spots where it feels like a period landed errantly:
* “The creature burst forth from the lair. Roaring it’s displeasure at being woken.” <– feels like it should be one sentence, as the second one is a fragment.
* "Staying only barely ahead of the giant, it laughed." <– This is super awkward. I get that Ayla managed to barely stay ahead of the giant, and that the giant (I must assume) laughed at her, but it reads rather poorly in my opinion. Probably connecting the "Staying…" part to the previous sentence and changing the comma to a period would fix this, unless I'm misunderstanding what you are trying to say here. Also, the following sentence describes the laugh, which would make sense to me to have grammatically connected to the "It laughed," part.
Clever ending. I think it was a good move to call out that she merely wished to go home, and headed that way. The way you wrote the story portion heavily implied that she did, so I appreciated that the framing device pointed out that that was never actually said.
I'm enjoying Ayla's story so far. I'm also enjoying the slowly increasing length of her name. 😀