I debated long and hard over this. Let you start from the beginning? Or plop you down in the middle of a juicy scene with no context?
JUICY SCENE IT IS.
Literally. You’ll see.
“I smell you.”
The voice was deep and grinding and it echoed off the walls. Raef spun, trying to pinpoint the source but saw only shadows. “Not a bird or beast. You do not have the smell of feathers or fur. Bones to crunch and flesh to bleed, yes, but not feathers to stick in my teeth or fur to choke me.” Raef, hoping he had only been smelled, not spotted, sprinted to the closest pillar and took shelter behind it. “A man, then.” The voice laughed, a harsh, splintering sound. “Long has it been since I tasted the flesh of man.” Raef eyed the door and was about to bolt for it when the floor trembled beneath him and a mountainous shape came into view, blocking his escape.
The giant, for Raef could not deny that this was what it was, cracked his massive knuckles. “Come out, come out. Let me see what I have caught.” Raef stayed close to his pillar and held his tongue. “No?” He turned and pulled the stone doors shut. “I can wait. Can you?”
Raef knew he did not have the strength to open the doors on his own. He would need the giant to do so willingly. He could be patient, too. The giant, secure in the strength of his doors, seemed to lose interest and walked the length of the hall. Raef kept still but soon heard the sounds of fire preparation and a warm red and orange glow brought life to the dark stone. Cold to the bone, Raef longed for the warmth of a fire, but he dared not move.
In time, the hall grew quiet but even then Raef waited until he heard the sounds of snoring. Raef’s legs, cold and cramped from sitting so long in one position, protested his sudden movement, but Raef managed to move in silence from pillar to pillar until the sleeping giant was in sight.
The fire had burned low but the embers were still bright. In its light, Raef could at last clearly see the giant, his massive head, long, scraggly hair, and monstrous features. He sprawled beside the fire, his length at least four times that of a tall man. His shoulders were boulders, his legs trees, his feet the size of farmhouse doors. But there was no time to stare. The remains of food and drink were on the floor, but Raef could not know how long the giant would sleep.
A tower of unburnt wood stood nearby and Raef selected a slender log the length of his arm that was tapered at one end. Stoking the coals just enough to revive them, he buried the pointed half of the log in the red-hot depths and waited. The giant turned in his sleep, groaning and flopping over onto his side. Raef, parched and in desperate need of water, picked through the giant’s leftovers, but every cup was drained and dry. Risking further movement but realizing that the giant must have stores somewhere in the hall, Raef roamed further afield until at last he found a cache of barrels and a dipper strung up beside them. Sniffing the contents, Raef decided they were safe and took a long drink, wielding the immense dipper with some difficulty. Water spilled down his chin as Raef took gulp after gulp.
When he returned to the fire, he judged the log ready. Shrunken but not yet ready to break apart, the wood glowed red and Raef hefted the log to shoulder height. Approaching the giant with caution, Raef readied his grip and positioned the log over the giant’s face. Steeling himself with a deep breath, Raef mustered his voice.
“Here I am,” Raef shouted. As he had hoped, the giant’s eyes fluttered open and Raef plunged the burning wood into one eye.
The roar was deafening and the giant’s flailing arms nearly knocked Raef over as he fled to the safety of the pillars. Screaming, the giant came to his feet and tried to remove the hot coals, but the wood began to crumble and his colossal hands caused more damage as he smeared the coals across his face and into his other eye. Blinded, he reached out and stumbled forward, his hands searching for the culprit, but finding only empty air.
“Curse you, scum of Midgard. I will flay the skin from your body for this.”
Raef, deep in the recesses of the hall now, cupped his hands around his mouth and let the echo do the work for him. “Silence, fool,” he said, letting that rumble across the walls before continuing. The giant slowed his frantic movements. “You dare call me scum? You dare call me a man?”
“I smell man!” the giant shrieked.
“You smell the guise of a man.” This seemed to give the giant pause and Raef, taking a deep breath, went on. “It is Loki and I have come to you in a man’s skin.”
“You lie, you lie. Loki has no business with me.”
“My business is my own. But am I not often a friend to the giants, do I not travel here to Jötunheim and walk amongst you? And yet you threaten to eat me.”
“No, no, you are not Loki.” But the giant seemed less sure. “Loki would not blind one of his father’s kin.”
“I do as I wish. Now, will you open your doors or must I take your life?” Raef held his breath, for surely Loki would be able to open the doors himself.
“No, no, I will not. You must pay for what you have done to me.”
“Should I summon the wrath of Odin? The retribution of Thor? Must I bring the strength of Asgard to your doorstep?”
The giant, standing in the middle of his hall, harms hanging at his sides in defeat, eyes raw and bleeding, quailed at this. “Asgard will pay, Asgard will pay,” he said, though he no longer roared and the words were like an oath to himself rather than a threat to Raef. But defeated he was, for his blind, awkward steps took him to the immense doors and they ground open, letting shining moonlight spill across the threshold.
Raef began to creep toward the doors, giving the giant and his pit a wide berth, but when he was close enough to feel the night breeze on his face, the light of the moon was cut off by a shadow and Raef froze.
“You scream too much, Mogthrasir,” the newcomer said. Stepping through the open doors, a second giant hefted a club and clouted the unsuspecting Mogthrasir across the jaw. His head flew back and he fell to the ground, twitching.
Though Raef was in the shadows, the second giant’s gaze seemed to find him with ease. “Come out, Midgardian. I am not so easily fooled.”
P.S. Here’s to you, Odysseus