GIANT OF ICE, GIANT OF FIRE - a slightly humorous tale
There once dwelt a village nestled between gentle hills overlooking a particularly lush and pretty valley. Which is the same as saying, once upon a time, far far away, there was a village.
This village had lived in moderate prosperity for time out of mind and would, no doubt, have existed in the same calm, conservative manner for more time if not for the machinations of a cruel and whimsical fate.
In his constant search for a place to dwell away from the depravations of the dwellers of Asgard a certain Frost (or Ice) Giant whose name has not come down to us across the aeons of time, made his way into the far country where the village lay. Being the thoughtless and nearsighted giant that he was, he did not see the houses and structures, only the hills and the riverbed that ran straight out of the snowline to the east. For the river had dried and the land was dry and barren as though a curse was upon it. The drought had lasted three years and saw no sign of breaking. The once prosperous village had fallen on hard times.
"A good place to hide" The giant muttered, when he found a shelf of rock not far upstream, for giants - as is well known - and especially Ice giants, have no need for protection from the cold living as they do in a permanent sub artic aura.
The inhabitants of the village: feudal and timid and afraid, made their way to the nearest knight, who lived a few days journey to the south, in the warm lands.
"Deliver us from this monster" They cried in one voice, "He is eating our sheep (true) He is making holes throughout the area (also true) he is robbing our gold (Not true- giants have no need for gold) He is stealing our children (Also not true, giants have no need of other people's children, and are usually not carnivores. Although there is the tale of the Two Headed Giant of Lower Moldavia who... but that is another story)
To continue, then. After an agreement on the terms the knight put on his armour. Not the heavy solid metal armour of later ages but chain mail over leather. Strapped his iron sword to his side and climbed aboard his chariot.
The merchants and civic leaders who had prevailed upon him to end the danger of the giant walked behind, cheering and waving to the peasants they met along the way as though they, themselves, were going to slay the giant. They encamped in splendid tents for the night and early the next morning made their way into the valley to confront the monster.
That is, the general plan was to allow the knight to go forward and challenge the brute. Then meet it on the flat area below the cave and defeat it with a spear charge while mounted on his chariot. In the event that this action failed, he was to dismount and behead the creature with his iron sword (the only iron weapon other than a few spear heads for many miles around)
Alas, just as the townspeople stood back and watched the brave knight sweep down into the valley with his head held high and banners fluttering gaily in breeze, it so happened that the Fire Giant, who had taken up residence at the other end of valley all unbeknown to either the village or the Ice Giant, stepped out from behind a rock without looking and stepped on the chariot, frying the knight, barbequing the horses and melting the only iron sword in the province.
Screaming and yelling the towns folk ran for their lives while the Fire Giant looked around for the source of the noise, because - as all know - Fire Giants live with their bodies continually enveloped in a slight cloud of steam (from the usual humidity of the northern lands and they never come out in the rain) and so - like the Ice Giant - have very poor vision. This seems to be a problem to a wide variety of giants though, again, I digress.
The towns folk went back to their homes dejected and afraid. There was no other knight or hero within two weeks travel on horse. They did not know what to do and gave themselves over to despair.
It was weeks before an answer presented itself, and during this time the Ice Giant ate about half the sheep and most of the goats as well as leaving several really deep holes where the ground was a little soft. The Fire Giant, on the other hand, ate no sheep or goats and was only responsible for the destruction of a few houses that caught fire as he passed.
The answer came in with a wild west wind and the arrival of a tall stranger one desperate night. The merchants lay in their cups in the one inn and the good wives and ordinary people were long abed although many could not sleep for fear of the local giants.
The tall stranger, though, had the look of one who has seen and ventured strange things and he fell into conversation with the few customers still able to do so after several pots of the local brew. Upon being told the problem he sat as though in a muse and was left alone for a long time. Then he rose and went to the innkeeper, who stood at the bar wiping glasses that needed no wiping and waiting for the last customer to leave.
"Innkeeper" The tall man asked, "Who runs this village?"
"Why the town council of course." The innkeeper replied.
"And where might I find this council?"
"Tomorrow they meet at the Baker's house for luncheon. 'Tis the last house on the left as you go towards the river"
The tall man thanked the innkeeper and went upstairs to sleep the deep sleep of the just or the unaffected.
On the morrow he presented himself to the village council as they ate their frugal lunch at the Baker's house.
"I believe that I can remove your problem, for the right price." He stated baldly, upon introducing himself.
"Can you indeed?" The leader of the council replied, he who was also the village potter and one of those who had seen the destruction of the knight and his chariot. "Are you, then, a warrior?"
"Nay, not I. I am a traveller and perhaps this is the time for intelligence rather than force to prevail"
"We have naught to fear from this fellow" The Baker surmised, "If he fails we pay nothing and lose no one that belongs to us. It is agreed, fellow" He said as the others nodded, "If you can remove the giants by any method, then you can name your own price"
"Agreed" The tall stranger answered, "My price will not harm you, but is only the bag of gold you have hidden in your coat, Potter."
The Potter jumped, "How did you know?" He squeaked, but the tall man turned away and as he did, the travel stained blue cloak that he wore swept out and they saw the jewelled hilt of a dagger and the bright red crest of a falcon on his sleeve.
"What do you make of that?" The Butcher whispered to the others.
"It seems" one of the more intelligent council members mused, "That our stranger is more than he seems. Let us follow at a distance and see what befalls"
So they did. And this is what they saw.
The tall stranger strode on his long legs out of the village and over the rise into the main part of the valley. He stopped every so often and looked at the ground. He spied the cave where the Ice Giant lived and saw that the huge creature was lying on the rock ledge obviously asleep. The tall traveller nodded to himself.
Further up the valley he could see the cloud of steam that announced the presence of the Fire Giant as he moved slowly down towards the village in search of whatever it is that Fire Giants search for.
The tall stranger stood very still for a moment and then sat down cross legged on the cold ground. He began to pull things from a hidden pocket in his cloak. Mostly some sort of powder which he poured out of vials into a pile on the ground. The pile grew and grew until it was nearly the height of the man. Then he left, sprinting away towards the slight cliff below the Ice Giant's cave.
From their vantage point the town council saw the man run straight up the cliff as easily as a man running down a flat road. He went straight up past the sleeping giant, turned around a few paces above him and came down behind: between the sleeping form and the rock face.
The counsellors could tell that the Ice Giant was directly above the pile of powder and the Fire Giant was close upon it as it lay in his path. The Fire Giant came up to the mound. He stopped and looked around as though puzzled. He knelt down, the fire of his legs scorching the earth and small brush fires ran away with the wind to die on the rocky slopes. He stretched out a finger and touched the mound.
Downwind the counsellors smelt the hot, sweet incense as the mound began to burn. The Fire Giant put his finger in his mouth and a sound like a groan of giantish pleasure moaned across the valley.
Above him the Ice Giant woke and raised himself on one elbow to see what was causing the noise. As he did the tall stranger came from behind and tapped him with the hilt of his dagger.
A slight touch. Yet it so unbalanced the giant that he swayed: He tumbled: he fell from his high perch. Down into the valley. Right on top of the Fire Giant.
There was a roaring and an enormous spout of steam and wind. The counsellors downwind, fell to the earth and tried to hang on as the gale ripped across the valley. There was a mighty shouting and wailing. Then silence.
The men lifted their eyes and looked. The Ice Giant was gone. The Fire Giant was no more. In the centre of the valley stood the tall stranger, leaning on a staff and staring down into a large round hole.
The braver of the towns folk wanted to go in and ask what had happened but were cowed by the fears of the others. Eventually two went. The Butcher and the Carpenter, who were old friends. They approached the man.
He stood looking down the hole as they approached and then raised his head when they arrived.
"The fire turned the ice to water and the water put the fire out. The water sank into the earth and the wind blew the smoke away. The world turns."
"Pardon?" The Carpenter asked, but the man turned and walked up the valley. He took the bag of gold held by the village potter, gave a short bow and smiled. Then he walked away.
He seemed to walk and shrink as though passing into a great distance. He reached the rise at the other end of the valley and stood silhouetted against the sky: sharp and tiny, and then he was gone.
The water from the well in the valley made by the destruction of the giants was sweet and made it's way down to the main river. It healed the land and made the ground to bear lush pastures and caused the flocks to multiply and to grow fat. But no one ever saw the tall stranger again and no one ever went into the valley of the giants.