The large flakes made soft pucking sounds as that hit the window pane. The fire was newly stoked, nothing remained on the plates but grease and crumbs, and the night promised to be cold and long. Three children clutched an old man’s sleeves and begged to hear about Taralak and the Giants again. A smile broke across his broad, bearded face as he took a seat on a stool near the fire. He motioned for them to sit as he fumbled for a pipe on the mantle. Two children sat cross legged, the other propping her head upon her hands with her elbows planted on the floor, a great bear skin between them and the cold dirt floor. Having lit the long pipe and taken a few deep puffs to get the rough tobacco going, the fire casting his form in a long shadow on the wall behind he began the story…
‘Long ago, when Bahamut’s scales were still dusky and shaded, Taralak lived down in the Udoli Horach. He was a mighty lumberjack, who could fell a mighty oak with one blow. Taralak worked hard, but lived alone. One day, while walking through a pine forest, his axe slung over his shoulder, he heard a loud commotion from up ahead. As he got closer he discovered it was two giant clans, met for the spring festival. The giants were tumbling and wrestling, laughing despite the ghastly sport. It was there he caught sight of a young giantess (“Horala!” the children cried, wide-eyed). That’s right (he said laughing), Horala. Perhaps you should tell me the story! (The children protested and begged him to continue). Well, Taralak nearly fell right over when he saw her. He walked right up to those giants, who all stopped their games and watched, amazed, as the man approached. The three strongest giants bared down on him, but Taralak stood tall, swung his mighty axe around, and proclaimed “I am Taralak, the great woodsman. Who is that giantess yonder?” The giants, still in disbelief, answered him, and Horala’s father pushed between the three strongest giants. “And what would you have with her?” He demanded. Taralak said he intended to bring her back to his lodge and make her his woe-man. The giants fell to the ground, laughing. Finally, Horala’s father rose and spoke, “If you can best our three strongest champions in feats of strength, you may ask Horala to return with you.”’
One child jumped up, he chased after the cat, pretending to be Taralak fighting the manticore. The other two children set upon each other, pretending to be Taralak and the giant wrestling. The old man laughed at the shrieking children, puffed his pipe and waited for them to return, which they presently did.
‘That’s right, that’s right. Taralak and the giants were set against manticores, Taralak was the first to subdue his beast. Then Taralak wrestled each of the three giants, proving victorious again and again. Finally, Horala’s father revealed the final test, the first of them to move a mountain would win. The three giants immediately set to the task, trying to push, trying to lift, anything to move their mountains. Taralak set to it as well. After a week, none of them had yet succeeded. Horala’s father declared that when the sun rose on the 8th day, if none of them had succeeded, none of them had won. The giants and Taralak struggled throughout the night. As dawn rose, Horala’s father and the other giants came to see. They looked around the first mountain, no movement. The second and third had not moved either. Then they came to Taralak’s. They were astounded to see a clear impression where the mountain had been, and where it stood now. Taralak had succeeded and Horala was delighted to follow him back to his lodge. And children, Taralak and Horala had 70 children, our great-great ancestors who tamed this valley and gave us the giant’s blood that runs through our veins.’
It was not the last time the children would hear this story
Ellion and I had been in Dolni Hora only a short while when he announced to me that he had received a message from Onia at long last. It had been months since we had last heard from any of our companions, and not it seemed they were on the road north to meet us and help hunt the dragon. I wasn’t sure how they had found out where we were, though I suppose they had known I was headed north in search of a white dragon, but it mattered little. I was pleased to know we’d have their assistance. The powers Verenestra gave to me have been strengthening, but I do not know if just Ellion, Skanda, and myself could kill a dragon on our own. The people here in the northern mountains are predominantly half-giant folk, yet they have been unable to deal with this dragon for twenty years! It must be a fearsome creature indeed, and I must be cautious to not overestimate my abilities.
Dolni Hora is the most-visited city of these half-giants, and as such has a very cosmopolitan population. This is not to say that no one is curious about us, but we have been warned that other settlements in these mountains will rarely see anyone of outside parentage. The traders who hired Ellion for the journey northward were quick to confirm to us the story that people here are mistrustful of magic and any who use it, too, so we have been trying to keep that in mind so as not to cause any additional problems for ourselves.
Just before our companions were to arrive from the south, the traders convinced Ellion to travel with them again, this time farther into the mountains. Ellion felt it was worth his while to agree, especially since their destination would ultimately allow him to rejoin us at some point down the road, long before we expected to have any sightings of the dragon we were stalking. This meant that our companions were disappointed to arrive to Dolni Hora and find him gone, most especially Syoran who had great news to tell us – Desluna was expecting! We celebrated at a tavern that evening, where Erelas and Syoran put the local champion to shame at a game of seeing who could pull a large rock the highest out of a pit dug into the tavern floor.
Syoran had acquired a new companion in his journeys, a Tiefling sorcerer by the name of Damakos. We were uncertain how to think of him, with his hellish appearance and the reputation all children are taught in fables and cautionary tales. Onia most especially was overtly dismayed, but Syoran vouched for Damakos and Skanda also seemed at relative ease. He’s a strange one, that Skanda. He still has not removed his leather mask once in our company, not to mention his frightening propensity to burst into flames, which has kept him barred from most establishments we have come across since meeting him.
Here in the north, they have a time-honoured and greatly-respected group of half-giants who serve the public as Guides, for traveling about in the mountains. Civil society provides everything the Guides need – food, housing, equipment – and the Guides shepherd travelers free of charge, no matter who you are or where you come from. The Father, who is the leader of this mountainous realm, selects those who will serve, and they join the Order of the Silver Moon and volunteer their assistance to any who ask.