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About Varied / Hobbyist Lindsay28/Female/United States Group :icongrievances: Grievances
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The little girl was bewildered and confused in the best way.

She was surrounded by lady giants, all of them cooing at her, wiping away her frightened tears and petting her hair. Someone was braiding her freshly washed hair while another was taking measurements of her feet for new shoes as her own were deemed unacceptable.

Lolly had brought her to a room somewhere in the servants’ quarters reserved for the female servant and had called all her friends to help her. They brought out a small wash bin and filled it with warm water and allowed the little girl clean herself, giving her a little space, and collect her scattered thoughts. Though Lolly did step in when she felt the little girl did not quite scrub all the dirt from behind her ears and neck. Then she washed the little girl’s hair for her with real soap.  

“Oh look! There was a little human under all that dirt!” Lolly teased with a laugh, wrapping a soft towel around the now clean human. “You have red hair as well! And here I was thinking that it was brown.”

Indeed, it was a sight to look into the water to see the once clear water had turned a murky brown.

The little girl was beginning to feel a lot better and even spared Lolly a smile at the woman’s kind words. The lady giants were all nice and very gentle with her as they took her measurements for new clothes. An idea that was beyond the girl’s scope of thought for the moment. Just a little while ago, she had been so certain she was going to die and now she was not entirely sure what to think. But she dared to hope it would be alright. If the ladies were so nice and the King so merciful, maybe there was real reason to hope.

But she recalled that she was going to be given to the Kitchen master. He was large and he scared her.

“I suppose if you’re going to be in the kitchens, you’ll need some clothes you can get about in,’ Lolly was saying, writing down the little girl’s measurements. “A few sets so you’ll have a clean one ready each morning.”

“Is Farris...is he really mean?” The little girl asked, feeling nervous. The kitchen giants were for the most part tall and menacing looking. Male and gruff and looking just as she imagined ferocious giants to look. Farris and the butcher, Bart, were tallest and most muscular with personalities to match. The giant who had caught her, Yale, was lean and tall but his eyes belied a sharp intelligence.

They scared her.  
 
“Farris? I wouldn’t call him mean. He’s certainly not as cruel as he acts. Just loud. And bossy and he has a temper. But he is a good man. Even if I could throttle him for deciding the kitchen was an appropriate place for you. Though I doubt he’ll be having you doing anything. He runs a tight kitchen and I can’t imagine he’d have the patience to try and have you do any real work.”

“Why would he want me? I thought he was mad at me for stealing and…”

“I’m sure I haven’t the faintest idea, my dear,” Lolly replied stiffly, rifling through a sewing box.

“Did you not say that you had caught the Red Reap, dearie?” one of the ladies asked. When the girl answered to the affirmative, she nodded knowingly. “That must be it.”

Lolly seemed to ponder that for a moment. “I supposed. Yes, that could be it.”

Lolly hummed quietly to herself for a moment and looking a little more sympathetic.

“Why would that be it?” asked the little girl.

“Farris lost a dear friend a few years ago to the Red Reap.”

“It was very sad,” said another lady.  

“I heard he didn’t speak for a whole week,” added another. “He took it really hard.”

“The whole kitchen did, but Farris especially. Poor man.”

“And a depressed kitchen makes the most bland food.”

“Wendy!”

“What? It’s true! The food was awful for almost a month before Farris got some sense knocked into him.”

The little girl was silent as she thought about what the ladies were saying. She was still apprehensive about living in the kitchens of a literal giant castle, but now that she knew she was not destined to end up as someone’s dinner, she was less frightened. If only a bit. And she still could not place where or why Farris’s sharp green eyes seemed familiar. She was certain she had never met a giant before coming to Vhasshal. Surely she would recall such a meeting.

Wouldn’t she?

The lady giants put a bright blue ribbon in her hair and fussed over the fittings of the first piece piece of clothing they had finished. It was a gray dress made of very soft material, though it was a little big on her.  

“Hm,” Lolly considered the fit, pulling on the hem lightly and instructing the girl to turn. “We could take it in a bit more, but I think we’ll leave it, so there’s room for you to grow into it.”

“It’s very pretty,” the little girl said with a bright smile, noticing the blue flowers embroidered on each cuff. “Thank you.”

The lady giant responded by leaning down and pressing her lips to the girl’s head in a light kiss. The little girl blushed a fierce scarlet and the other ladies all giggled.  

“We’ll make you a coat too. It can get mighty cold up here, even in the kitchens, and fall’s nearly over. Ginger’s wants to make you a proper quilt as well. The rest of your clothes will take a bit more time, but I think this shall keep for the moment.”

Bathed and dressed, the lady giants all gathered around to inspect their work.

“You look very pretty, my dear,” said Lolly with a warm smile.

“Thank you,” the little girl said, twirling a little so her skirt swirled around. “And for being so nice to me. I was so scared I was gonna get eaten, but...”

That only seemed to set the ladies off and they spent the next half hour assuring the little girl that she was perfectly safe and that all the talk of eating her was just the kitchen boys playing tricks on her. One of the ladies scooped her up and cradled her like a baby. The little girl was surprised to find that she did not mind it so much. It felt nice to have someone care. Even if that someone was taller than a house.  

“Don’t let those boys get away with any of that nonsense,” Lolly told her firmly. “Tell them what’s what next time they pull that hooey.”

“But they’re so much bigger than me! I don’t wanna make anyone mad at me...”

“Never stopped me,” said Ginger, who was the youngest and shortest of the ladies. “I popped Gjerk over the head once for pulling my skirt. Nothing drops their bravado quicker than their mates laughing at ‘em for getting throttled by a girl.”

The little girl was not sure she would be heeding that particular piece of advice.

She ate lunch with the ladies, much to her delight as she had missed breakfast entirely. Lolly took it as a chance to teach their new little guest proper table manners. It was a lot more complicated than it first sounded and took an entire hour. Not much eating was actually done much to the little girl’s displeasure and she retained very little of the lesson.

“I know we have some human sized plates and cutlery somewhere, but I cannot remember where. I tried to teach Jae proper manners when he was small, but his head is as hard as a rock. The little barbarian eats with his hands and the King doesn’t even say anything!”

“Who is Jae?” asked the little girl.  

“Oh!” exclaimed Wendy. “Of course, you haven’t met him yet, have you? He’s the King’s pet human.”

The little girl frowned. “...‘pet’?”

She recalled the words the King used when telling her that he was giving her to Farris. Optimum word being ‘given’. Was that what her punishment was? To become a giant’s pet?  

“Oh don’t fret, dearie,” said one of the ladies, seeing the worried expression she wore. “We just call him that because that’s how he acts. Lounges around like a cat and acts dumb and innocent to get out of everything. He’s the King’s ward.”

“And the King adores the little brat so he gets away with everything. He’s such a rascal.”

“He’s a scoundrel is what he is.”

“He’s a little mischievous is all.”

“Remember when we caught him spying on us in the dressing room?”

“Boys will be boys regardless of size, I suppose.”

“He’s lucky he’s too small to properly throttle.”

“Lolly might still give it a go, though, after last night.”

The ladies all broke out into fluttering laughter. Lolly was not so amused.  

“What happened last night?” asked the little girl. She had heard Jae’s name so many times, she could not help but be curious about him.  

“The King just married Lady-er, Queen Rosanna. It was a beautiful ceremony, her dress was spectacular! The bead work alone took months! She looked so regal, just as any young queen aught to. And the feast was magnificent! Farris really outdid himself. Last night was the last night of the celebration and...”

“Someone gave Jae whiskey...”

“I don’t have to think very hard as to who that someone is...”

“...and...well, Jae is not permitted to drink anything like that.”

“For a very good reason.”

“He just can’t handle his drink. At all!”

“He got drunk...”

“...and he fell into the gravy boat and it splattered it all over the Queen!” cried Lolly, red in the face and furious. “My poor Lady Rosanna! She looked so embarrassed! And Jae didn’t even bother to apologize! He just passed out! Urgh, they should have just let him drown in that gravy.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“Maybe in a week I won’t. But right now, I certainly do. It might be a few years for her Ladyship to get over it. She did not have very high opinion of him to begin with.”  

After lunch, several of the ladies had to leave to tend to their own work, leaving the little girl with Lolly and Ginger. Ginger sat quietly in the corner, sewing little patches of brightly colored fabric together for a quilt. Lolly held the little girl in her lap as she read from a book of poetry. She had decided she would return the girl to Farris closer to their supper time when the kitchen would be quieter and the Spice Master a little less ornery. She rocked lightly in the chair, cradling the little girl against her and rubbing her arm affectionately.  

“Farris can wait a few more hours,” Lolly said. “Besides. I haven’t quite gotten over the idea of stealing you away. You’re too sweet for the kitchens. They’ll have you cursing and acting unladylike like within a week!”

The little girl giggled, leaning against the giantess’s middle, a familiar sense of comfort coming over her. It reminded her of sitting with her mother. She use to recite poetry and sing songs too. Suddenly, Lolly jumped in her seat, jostling the little girl. “Oh my goodnes! I just realized! We haven’t even asked you your name!”

The little girl broke out into a giggle. She thought something had been wrong when Lolly suddenly jerked at nothing.

“My name is Nenani,” said the little girl. “Like the river.”

“Nenani,” repeated Lolly. “That’s a beautiful name.”

“Thank you. My Mama gave it to me.”
DUMPLING ch. 5
SHE HAS A NAME! :)
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(Side story to Dumpling)

The chill in the air was a welcomed feeling across the nape of his neck and the hefty weight of the crossbow in his hands grounded him in the moment. The fog was thick and the previous night’s rain left the ground swollen and muddy. A piss poor time for a hunt. Any tracks would be washed away. However, bringing down a beast was not entirely the reason why he and his man were out in moors. No, he needed to clear his mind. He needed a peaceful place to sort through the chaos of the previous week and to come to terms with the impossible that had come to pass.

He was King now.

He was never meant to be King. Thadeus was suppose to take the thrown after their father. Strong willed, talented at sword and bow, and possessing all the charms and intellect needed to thrive as a ruler. But he was dead now. As was Druden, Baelen, and Mourin. His brothers. His dear, beloved brothers. All dead. Fallen in battle and bringing with their deaths great glory to their house.

Or so people told him.  

But where was the glory in a merciless genocide? His brothers had picked up the mantle of war when their father called for every Silvaaran to die. For killing Thadeus. They sold their virtuous and kindhearted natures for blood lust and vengeance against a people who could not truly defend themselves against the Vhasshalan armies. A people who may very well be completely innocent of the accusations of regicide. No one who knew what truly transpired that day was alive to tell the tale. All that was known was that the Vhasshalan crowned Prince was found dead with several Silvaaran soldiers strewn about. Some in pieces. There had been a battle, of that there was no doubt. A battle for which no one seemed to have won.

War was declared. Blood retribution demanded.  

One Silvaaran soldier against one Vhasshalan soldier was no fight. It was a slaughter. There were not enough mages or talented magic users left in Silvaara to make much difference against the sheer might and size, both body and number, of Vhasshal. Silvaara never stood a chance. Silvaarans were human after all. Small and frail bodied, a fraction of the size of a Vhasshalan. A full grown human male would only just reach the height of a Vhasshalan’s knee. But they could be courageous and strong with the proper leadership. Of which they had and more in their King, A man named Haeral. During peacetime, the human King had been a highly respected monarch, known for his brilliant tactical prowess and wisdom and descended from the single oldest bloodline of any kingdom. How terrible that it should have been struck down so uselessly.  

The War of Blood and Fire had been a terrible one.

It left Silvaara destroyed. Its King dead. His family slaughtered. Most of them had been children, no threat at all. But it was their blood that made them a target. By no fault of their own. By the mere fact of being born Silvaaran royalty. His father, so named The Blood King, had done it himself. Crushed their little bodies one by one. Their blood colored the stone floor of the great hall, bathing everything in horrible red.

“The blood of my sons’ shall be repaid by the flesh of yours,” his father told the mortally wounded human King as he lay on the cold ground, gasping for air and weeping for mercy. For his children and scores of grandchildren. But the Blood King’s rage demanded satisfaction. “You will die drowning in their screams...”

And he did.

It was that single greatest act of cruelty of the war. And that act would doom his father to his fate. The war had been going on for too long. It was turning their people into monsters and not entirely through their own choice. Two years of failed crops. The people were starving and so much of their resources went to aide in the war. So why then would a desperate farmer allow his family to starve when he could go set traps or he and several others go and raid a Silvaaran refugee caravan? They would have fresh meat for weeks and their King’s praise. It use to be normal for Vhasshalans to prey upon human beings, thousands of years ago. His father had resurrected the practice.  

But there was something deeply wrong with what was happening. It needed to stop. Thadeus had been avenged ten fold. His other brothers had fallen through their own foolishness. The war had to end or they would all drown in it.  

So the last Prince orchestrated his own father’s murder.

There was no sense in hiding behind words. He had his father killed. He was a murderer. He alone was guilty of regicide. For the good of his people, he told himself. Some people cheered the Blood King’s death, the end of the war, and there was a celebration. There were a few who resisted the take over and fought back, but it was for naught. They won in the end. But the Prince who would be King was heavy with grief. His family was now dead. Every last one of them. Even his eldest sister, married off to the Prince of a distant kingdom years ago, has passed away. Not from war, but sickness. Struck with the red reap as she labored to bring into the world a new life. She and the tiny prince passed quickly. And now he was truly alone. Too young to feel so old. World wary before the true work had even begun. He had never been groomed for the role of King. How could he take the wastes of his lands and give his people back a Kingdom?

His first act as King had been a goodwill gesture. The few Silvaarans that had been awaiting execution in the dungeon were released and turned out into the wilds to try and find any scrap left of their lives. Only one requested to remain, much to the surprise of many, including the new King. But he allowed it. The human was an old man, but not without worth. He had been captured because of his previous role as the head archivist of Silvaara. It was his knowledge of the inner workings of Silvaara that allowed his father to plan the attack on their castle keep. To kill the human King. His children. And their children. The elderly man had requested he be allowed to record and archive for the new Vhasshal King. To hide away in shame and grief amongst books and ink.  

The human reminded the king so much of the magician. The one found chained in the tower. Both were men of knowledge, now worn down and wounded by the horrors of war and the terrible things their knowledge and skill wrought. The king made a mental note to introduce the pair.    

“History is worth writing down as it happens,” the old man told the freshly named King. “I have dedicated my life to the art. History is all we leave our children once we’re dust. Best they have a proper grasp of it. Even the secrets we dearly wish to hide. Most importantly those. The ballads and poems that will be written of these times will not tell the truth. And what else is there but the truth?”

What else is there but the truth? The truth was the once great kingdom of Silvaara was gone. Their King was dead as was the deep roots of his bloodline. The famed Fire of Silvaara had been doused, the flower crushed. And it was only through one more murder that Vhasshal was kept from joining them in oblivion. His people were calling him the Gold King. After some words an old invalid spouted in the throws of some madness. Prophecies were worthless and dangerous. Gold King indeed. Perhaps the Tin King would have been more apt.

Vhasshal was penniless and struggling. A mild winter was the only reason the people were not starving. The harvest season lasted longer this year. Paltry stores of grains and the over abundance of freshwater eels was enough to keep the kingdom holding on.  

Spring could not come fast enough.

“You look lost in there, Sire,” said his man, a ranger in dressed in a blue coat, as he tapped a finger against his temple. The ranger’s fierce green eyes focused on the young monarch before offering out a small leather pouch to him, pulled forth from an inner pocket of his long coat.

The King raised an eyebrow.

“Won’t the smell alert any game to our presence?” he asked the man who just shrugged in response.

“We both know we ain’t out here to hunt.”

Keral always was overly observant. He was truly wasted in the ranks of the rangers.

“Fair enough, my friend. Fair enough,” the King replied and took the pouch, reaching into his own coat and pulling out his favorite pipe. It had been a gift from Baelen, a few weeks prior to his death. His brother had been a bit of a snob when it came to smoking. It had always annoyed him when he was younger, but now he longed for just one more long conversation of the virtues of Ibronian tobacco.

Pressing a pinch of the shredded material into the bowl, he stuffed it down before striking a match to light it. After a moment, he was puffing at the end of the piece, his mouth around the familiar feel of whale bone. He breathed out a cloud of fragrant smoke and watched it join the vast expanse of fog. “How the fuck am I going to fix this mess, Keral?”

Puffing on his own pipe, the blue clad ranger shrugged, scratching his chin.

“No fixing this shit,” the ranger replied bluntly, slipping the pouch back into his satchel rather than his pocket. “My advice? Don’t even try.”

The ranger received an incredulous glare in response.

“What I mean is this: Don’t waste your time and energy and everyone else’s trying to find what was lost. The old Vhasshal is gone. Move on. Build on the bones of the old. Make somethin’ better than what was before and let the dead be. Be better than your father and the shit he left you and the rest a’ us.”

“And just abandon all that we were? All our history?”

“History doesn’t move, lad. The present does. All that we once were is still there, gatherin’ dust and mold in them old tomes and in our minds. Looks pretty rosey from up here, sure, but it’s not real. Not anymore. It’s not who we are now. Who you are now. Or who you’ll become if, y’know... ya don’t end up drowning in all the shit.”

“That’s why I got you, right?” the King smiled weakly.

“Aye, s’why ya got me,” Keral replied, returning the weak smile with a grim one. “Got to make sure the Gold King lives up to the name, eh?”

The King growled. How he hated the name being forced onto him. “I’m going to murder that old moldy git if I ever find him.”

“What? Don’t care fer having grand prophecies about ya being thrown around?”

“Not when they saddle me with stupid titles.”

“I thought it was rather regal soundin’.”

“You would.”

“Oh come now, what better way to start a dynasty on the right foot than with a good ol’ prophecy? Gives people hope and all that bullshit.”

“There are plenty of prophecies that never come true. Words are cheap, anyone can spout that nonsense,” he replied bitterly. After a moment, he sighed, running a hand through his hair. “Gods...I was never meant to be here, Keral...”

“Hm. I’m sure that’s what Thadeus thought right before those little bastards gutted ‘im,” Keral replied, taking a deep draw of his own pipe. “Words are cheap for a reason, Warren. But cheap’s what I got.”

Keral was the only person to ever actually call him by his name anymore. The ranger was the closest thing to a true friend the new King had and one he sorely needed. He was more blunt and direct and real than any royal advisers. Those same advisers who had promoted and paraded his father’s path to genocide. Keral had been in the running for Captain of the Guard. But at the outset of the war, he declined. Instead, taking a minor and almost insulting role as a ranger, effectively undoing years of ladder climbing and work.

“Good, because Gods know I haven’t the coin to afford anything else. War is expensive,” Warren quipped, the ghost of a smile on his lips. After a long pause, he said, “I’m gonna dismiss the war council.”

“Aye. No need for a council with no war,” Keral replied. “They might be expecting some sort of promotion, though. Fer their years of good service and the like.”

“They’ll be stripped of their titles,” Warren replied, anger seeping in. “And sent away. If they want to keep their heads, that is. They’ll poison any reforms I attempt. They’re already angry with me for allowing Barnaby to live, let alone stay in the castle. I’ve already posted guards around the poor man, just to make sure they don’t try anything foolish.”

His proclamation would have met with disbelief by anyone else. They would have tried to tell him he was being cruel. The advisers were only doing their job, after all. Advising. They were high born men of great titles and strong bloodlines. Dependable men of the great Vhasshalan court. But not Keral. The ranger’s face broke out into a grim smile, his brow narrowed.

“Let the fuckers burn,” he sneered. “I lost a lot of good friends to their fucked up ideas. Noticed non of ‘em sent their sons or friends to war.”

“Their focus should have been to reign in my Father’s anger when the war turned to slaughter,” the King said. “They could have stopped so much death. My brothers might be alive. The northern campaign was their idea. They designed the whole thing. Even having the gall to call it a campaign instead of the genocide it was.”

“No use wishing fer things that never were,” Keral added, stepping ahead into the damp grass. “They had their own selfish reasons and they used the blood of our kin, mine and yours, to do it. I don’t see them being missed by anyone worth keeping around.”

Together, the two old friends walked further into to depths of the moors, letting the fog curl around them, not longer under the guise of a hunt. They just walked. Reveling in a single pleasure that only a few days ago would have been impossible. For a few hours, they could pretend that all was well. But it was a facade that would not last.

It was close to an hour of walking when they came across the first body.

It was a human, a young woman. She’d been dead for a few hours at least. Her eyes were open wide, her last moments of terror forever frozen.

“Curious,” Keral remarked, crouched over the small being, sweeping her hair back from her eyes carefully with one finger. Her eyes were a dull blue and her hair dark brown, almost black. Silvaaran, but not a noblewoman. A peasant. “No blood. No wounds. Don’t look like she was crushed or nothin’.”

“Let’s move on,” Warren replied quietly as though afraid to disturb the dead woman’s forever sleep. “I have a feeling she’s not the only one out here.”

Sure enough, there were more. Many more.

Gathered around a small pond was a group of humans, all of them dead. Their ragged clothes decried their lot in life. Peasants, poor villagers. All of their eyes were a dull blue, their hair almost black. Fleeing the ruins of the Silvaaran countryside in all likelihood. Their worldly possessions were strewn about them. Men were curled up with their wives, small children pressed to their mother’s breasts. It was a sad sight. A grim reminder of the reach of a powerful man’s rage even after death.  

“Poisoned,” Warren said, gesturing to the small pool. Several of the small bodies were still clutching their small wooden cups.

“Aye,” Keral agreed. He looked around his feet and snarled. “Damn shame. Had I had know they were here I could have had my boys take ‘em to the border with the others weeks ago. They must’ve been hiding out in the hills.”

A noise drew their focus and they turned towards an upturned wagon just in time to see a pair of small feet disappear underneath. Keral gestured for Warren to stay still. He reached into a boot and pulled out a dagger and with careful and silent steps, slowly made his way closer, easily stepping over and around the dead, and crouching beside the overturned cart and the dead beast still shackled to it. He placed a hand on the wagon’s side and pushed it up. The wood groaned and cracked, but the only thing underneath was a few bundles of clothes and a few baskets. One of which was upside down. A perfect hiding spot for a scared little human.

Keral tipped the basket over with the push of a single finger. A small boy, dressed in clothes far too big for him, sat in the mud, looking up into Keral’s face with the same look of utter terror forever plastered on the faces of his dead fellows. However, unlike his fellows, this boy was very much alive. Before Keral could say anything, the boy was on his feet and running.

“Oi now! Just where do ya think yer goin’ my lil’lad?” Keral laughed, almost in relief, with his country accent leaking through. He dropped the wagon with a crash and reached out for the fleeing youth. Keral caught the boy easily enough, just as the little thing darted between his boots. He snagged him awkwardly in one hand with the boy’s lower half dangling over the edge of his palm. As the ranger stood back to full height, he slipped his dagger back into his boot and brought his now free hand up to support the boy’s flailing feet, cupping both hands together. The young human had curled in on himself, wrapping his arms over his head. A high pitched whimper escaped the child and Keral could feel the little body in his grip tremble. He chortled and bounced the boy lightly in his hands as a devious grin spread across his face.

“Now, what are we gonna do this one, eh?” Keral asked, bringing the boy closer to his face. “Little scrawny to be a proper snack. Might have to fatten ‘im up some first...”

“No!” cried the boy, pushing back against the ranger’s fingers and swinging one of his feet out. Keral reared his head back with just as the small muddy shoe missed his nose.    

“Keral,” Warren said with a slight warning to he voice as he stepped up to his friend, but an amused smile was tugging at the corner of his mouth and he rolled his eyes. Keral never could resist a good teasing. “Don’t. The poor lad’s scared enough without worrying about your notorious appetite.”

“Ah, wasn’t gonna do nothin’,” Keral replied, still grinning, and eyeing the human with amusement. “Oi, pup. Yer not hurt, so stop yer sobbin’. What would yer Father say to see ya weeping like a wee babe?”

The human looked up with wet blue eyes, sharp, accusing, and hurt. “HE’D TELL YOU TO FUCK OFF!”

Both Vhasshalans were silent, struck dumb by the loud and, frankly, absurd reply from the human. The boy could not have been much older than seven or so. Keral broke from his stupor first, laughing loudly and the sound bounced and echoed through the quiet moors. Warren felt his face crack into a smile and then a grin wide enough to make his face hurt. The first genuine smile he had experienced in ages. Gods it felt amazing...

“Now that’s an honest answer if I ever heard one!” Keral bellowed, shifting his hands so he held the human in one hand around his chest and middle, allowing the rest of him to dangle from the gloved hand. When Keral spoke next, the amusement was gone from his tone and replaced with a more serious curiosity. “So then. Why don’t ya tell us what happened here, laddy?”

“I don’t know,” replied the boy, a pained and anguished lilt to his voice. He looked down from the giant’s grip and seeing everyone laying so deathly still, brought a fresh wave of tears. “I was asleep and when I woke up everyone was dead...”

The human’s eyes darted all around, picking out the faces of the dead, and with each one he seemed to recognize and see the people he had known. People he had loved. All dead.

“You didn’t drink from the pond?” Warren asked gently.

“No...” The human was shivering, appearing confused and desperate. His little hands clenched against Keral’s hand.

“Well, that’s good,” Keral said offhandedly. “Otherwise we’d have one more useless corpse.”

“How is any of this good?!” the boy cried, angry flaring far above the fear. He began to flail and kick with renewed vigor, tinged with desperation. “I’d rather die with my family than be eaten by a giant!”

“Hm? And who said anything about eatin’ ya?” Keral asked, frowning and poking at the boy’s dangling feet.

The boy, despite the very obvious fear, somehow managed to find enough inside himself to snark back, “You did!”

“Ah, s’pose I did say that. Didn’t mean it in actuality,” Keral shrugged and then patting his belly. “Not gonna gobble ya up, pup. Yer safe with us.”

“Liars,” mumbled the boy acidly, fat droplets falling from his cheeks. “You have no honor...you’re murderers. All of you...”

Keral frown deepened and there was a hard edge to his eyes. “Careful now, pup. Yer throwin’ around some big rocks there...”

“Murderers,” the boy spat back, a little louder, eyes defiant.  

“If ya miss ya folks that much m’lad,” Keral sneered, voice low and threatening. “I might be able to oblige ya there.”

The boy blanched at the non-too-veiled threat and shrank further into the giant’s grip. The boy’s momentary bout of bravery seemed to have fled him.

“Keral, enough,” Warren said, stepping up to place a hand on the ranger’s shoulder and gestured with his other. “Hand me the boy.”

Keral surrendered the human and took a step back. Warren watched his old friend’s face, seeing with some surprise at how the small human’s words had struck something in the ranger. Keral was a man who had sacrificed so much to distance himself from the real murderers and to be called as such by one of the very people he had been, up until a week ago, essentially committing treason to help...well. It was down right insulting for the man. From the mouth of babes, as it were.

But the boy did not know Keral’s history.

He had probably fled his home like so many others in search of someplace safe. Dragging what remained of their lives with them in bundles and baskets. Meager possessions. Only to find death as they stop for a rest and something to drink. The small human’s world lay in pieces at his feet. He was alone, scared, hurt, and confused.

Warren knew those emotions all too well.

Raising the boy so he could get a proper look at him, Warren watched him squirm under the close study. The hard and defiant eyes wavered, the fear came back, and the boy struggled to meet the King’s calm and steady stare. His breath became uneven and short. He was panicking.  

“Please don’t hurt me,” the boy sobbed.

“What is your name?” Warren asked calmly.

“J-Jae...” replied the boy with a voice so heavy with grief and fear that it was barely a whisper.

Keral barked a laugh. “That’s a letter, boy. Not a name.”

“That IS my name...”

“My name is Warren,” he said, ignoring Keral. When he had Jae’s full attention, he continued. “I am the new King of Vhasshal.”

Warren had expected the look of panic and the tears and the barely audible plea for mercy. The boy appeared so fragile, it seemed as though he could shatter at any moment.  

“I’m not going to hurt you, Jae,” he said gently, bringing his other hand to softly pet the boy on the head. He meant it as a reassuring gesture, but Jae jerked and yelped as though he were about to be crushed. The poor thing seemed utterly perplexed by the gentle touch atop his head. “You truly have nothing to fear from us. The war is over now. Your people are free.”

“All gone. Never free,” Jae mumbled, scrubbing at his eyes. “Too much pain...”

There was a world of truth to those broken words. Far beyond the years the little human could have seen. Warren found himself smiling sadly, thinking again of his beloved brothers and of happier times.

“Aye,” he agreed. “There’s a lot of pain. Much to atone for. So much anger. Too much to say and too little of it with any real meaning.”

A notion struck him then. A curious one, a selfish one, and one that he could not shake. He remembered the old human archivists, Barnaby, who had made his home in the library. A man who had no longer had a place in the world, but had found a place in Vhasshal. A very unexpected place. Warren looked down at the little boy and felt a sickening tug at his heart.

He could see his inner self made real, materialized in the form of a lost little boy.

After a moment of heavy thought, Warren sighed deeply and brought Jae to his coat pocket. He slipped the small boy inside, ignoring the startled cry. The large breast pocket was just big enough for the boy to curl up comfortably with his head poking out the top. With one hand to his pocket to steady the human, Warren bent down to retrieve his crossbow that leaned against his boot. Straightening, he looked to Keral who was watching him with an intense gaze, puffing at his pipe.

“Let’s go home,” Warren told his friend, voice tired. “There’s a lot to do. And I need a strong drink or two.. or three. We’ll need a good plan on how to deal with the council’s dismissal tomorrow. Have some guards at the ready in case things becomes rough.”

Keral nodded and gestured towards his pocket. “And the pup?”

Warren looked down at Jae, who was peeking up from the pocket with a bewildered expression. Warren ran a finger across the boy’s head. Jae didn’t jerk back this time, only regarding Warren with a confused and pleading look. Warren smiled warmly, patting the small body in his pocket. “He’s coming too.”

The King of Vhasshal pulled his long coat around him to further help shield himself and his small charge from the lingering chill and the three made their way back.
Dead Walls Rise
This is a side story to Dumpling and takes place approximately nine years prior to the events of the main storyline. Here we learn some backstory, what the King's name actually is, and we meet Jae and Keral. In the currently posted chapters of Dumpling, we have not met either Jae (pronounced Jay) or Keral (pronounced Carol). Jae is about 7-8 when this story takes place and we will meet him in Dumpling when he is 16.  

And yes, I did name a big old ornery giant Carol. 
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The Cocotte Incident
Also know as that time Jae pissed Farris off enough that he stuffed the kid in a Dutch oven for two hours in a 'time out'. Kings ward or not, you don't mouth off to Farris. You just don't.

Jae and Farris are two characters from my story Dumpling. As I post this, we have not met Jae in the current chapters. In the above comic, Jae is about 9-10 years old and this takes place several years before the events of Dumpling. When we meet him, he's 16.
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Rheil seemed to be taking side corridors and servant entrances through the castle because they did not come across another giant the entire way, though the little girl could hear them just beyond the walls. Some were laughing, others having heated arguments. She even heard someone scream and demand to know where Jae had run off to.

Whoever this Jae person was, he seemed to be in almost as much trouble as the little girl.

The Captain pressed open a door and walked into an empty corridor. This one was lavishly furnished with a bright red carpet running down its length and impossibly large tapestries were hung on the walls. Rheil walked a short distance before he stopped in front of a large set of double doors. He lightly knocked on the wood.

“Enter,” came the muffled reply.  

As Rheil stepped inside, the girl was overcome with smell of parchment and wood. When she saw what lay inside the room, it was no wonder. The walls were filled with books, tall shelves stretching to the ceiling and filled with large tomes and the like. The back wall was dominated by a large stained glass window depicting a figure, a giant probably, holding up a crown. Behind him was a tall mountain and a river flowing at his feet. There were words on either side of the figure, but she could not read them.  

In front of the window was a large ornate desk. Stags were carved into the front and sides, their great antlers being gilded with gold leaf. A single giant sat at the desk, a large tome sitting open in front of him. His eyes were scanning the pages, one hand lazily sweeping across the parchment as his other hand was pressed to his lips in contemplation.

The Gold King was not dressed in lavish silks and bright colors as the little girl thought a King should be. He wasn’t wearing a speck of gold either. Instead, he wore a plain red tunic and brown trousers. His messy long black hair looked unkempt as though he had just woken up and had not bother to dress properly for the day. Why would he bother to dress up for a human, anyway? His eyes rose from the text of the tome and took in the form of both Rheil and the little girl, his cool stare turned steely.

Leaning back in his chair, he made a beckoning motion with one hand and Rheil walked forward with stiff practice strides of a person with military experience. When he stopped just short of the desk, he gave a swift bow. The little girl squeaked as she gripped the giant’s arm at the motion.  

“Your Majesty,” Rheil said. “I’ve brought the human child Yale found. And a message from Farris. He requested you read it prior to any decisions to be made concerning the girl.”

Rheil passed the small folded parchment to the King, bending far over the desk so the King only had to reached out to receive the note. The King silently opened the note, scanning it’s words before placing it down on his desk and returning his gaze to the human girl.

“So, I am told you helped yourself to some of the fruit meant for my wedding feast,” he said, void of emotion. His voice was smooth and practiced as someone who was accustomed to addressing others with his authority. There was no anger, nor was there any warmth. “I do not tolerate thievery in my lands. The punishment for such crimes are steep. Do you have anything to say in your defense, human?”

The King gestured for Rheil to sit the human down on the desk and he complied. The little girl’s legs wobbled as she stood, a mixture of fatigue, fear, and hunger. She clasped her hands in front of her, shoulders trembling and she opened her mouth to say something, but found that her words just died in her throat.

When the girl failed to answer, the Gold King frowned.

“I would have the full story before any decisions are made. So I suggest you find the fortitude to answer my questions. I am very unhappy to bare such an insult, on my wedding day of all days.”

She felt the hot tears before she realized she was crying. The King’s eyes narrowed further.

“Tears won’t help you, child,” he warned. “Answer me or I will pass my judgment now.”

The girl gulped hard against the lump in her throat, her legs buckling beneath her, but some how she did not fall to her knees. She took in a long fortifying breath.

“I did...do it,” she answered, voice cracking. “I...I only wanted one, but I got stuck and...then the wagons were moving and I couldn’t get out and then the Gate and...I’m sorry.”

There was stone silence.

“So you passed the Gate without proper papers of passage as well? Theft and trespassing. Grave crimes indeed. I was under the impression you were from the Hill tribes, but you’re not, are you?”

She shook her head meekly, trying not to linger too much on the word ‘grave’, and quickly wiped away the torrent of tears flowing from her eyes. She could not stop from crying.

“Do you know the punishment for that one simple act alone?” She shook her head, not meeting the King’s glare. She did know, she knew the stories, but hoped that it would not be true for her.

“Death.”

That word struck as hard as any weapon and all hope for mercy shattered at her feet. Her knees buckled again and she fell. Her head swam and she pulled herself into a ball and started to openly sob. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to trespass!”

“Only to steal.” It wasn’t a question.

“I just wanted something to eat. I tried to work, honest! But no one wanted to take me and all the Port Masters said no and...I...I’m sorry. I was just hungry...”

“Port? The Southland Port? Why would you be seeking work from the Beastmen? Those docks are notorious, even reaching our ears here, and hardly the place for a human. Least of all a small girl. What were you doing there really?”

“Lots of folks from the village work for the Beastmen now...because of the fire.”

A pause.

“What fire may that be?”

“The fire that destroyed our fishing fleet. We were starving and we lost so many people. Most of the women got job from the Port Masters, but they didn’t want me because I’m too small and...”

A pause.

“Who did you lose in the fire?” The King asked, his tone softer than it had a moment before.

“...my uncle.”

“And where are you’re parents in all this?”

After a moment, she shook her head.

“So you’re an orphan.” The King did not sound surprised.

She nodded, scrubbing at her eyes again. There was an uncomfortable silence that settled over the room. She could heard Rheil’s leather armor creek as he shifted from foot to foot. She could hear the King’s breath as he breathed. The pounding of her own heart was deafening.

“A fire destroys a fishing village’s main source of food and commerce, killing a large portion of its men, leaving mostly women and children to fend for themselves. A starving orphan tries to pilfer a piece of fruit and ends up being stuck in the caravan that is destined to pass through the Gate and enter Vhasshal. Have I got the facts correct?”

She nodded.

“Some would say catching the Red Reap was divine punishment,” said the King. “But I don’t believe the Gods hold any interest in the frivolity of mortals. Least of all the makings of my Wedding day feast. The Reap takes what it will. And yet, despite that, you’re still alive. Not many can say that they lived through the fever. The only person I know who did was left blind by it. And yet here before me stands a small human girl who is neither dead nor blind. Rather amazing it is not?”

The little girl just nodded, not daring to disagree with the very large man who was about to decide if she would live or die.

He sighed in annoyance at her lack of speech.

“Stand up, girl. I detest groveling.” The little girl pushed herself onto her knees and then stumbled to her feet. She looked up. The King was sitting straight in his chair, a feathered quill in his hand as he added something to the bottom of Farris’s note and then he looked up to meet the girl’s nervous gaze. “I have come to a decision.”

The little girl took in a shuttering breath, feeling the bottom of her stomach fall to the floor.

“Rheil,” said the King, holding out the note. “Deliver this to Farris. His request has been granted. And stop by the forge and tell Hev we’ll be needing a marker. One with the Crown’s crest and with Farris’s seal.”

Rheil nodded. “Surely a footman would suffice, m’lord? I do have rounds this mornin’.”

The King returned smirked, reaching over to the side of the desk and picking up a bell, giving it a strong ring before setting it back down. “And deprive Farris of his revenge?”

Rheil’s furrowed his brows. “Your majesty?”

“You still have jelly on your face, Rheil. Seems this one isn’t the only one sneaking treats from the kitchens.”

“Ah, damn,” Rheil muttered a curse, swiping a hand across his mouth, and looking down at the girl. “Ya could’a said something.”

The door to the room opened and another giant stepped inside. “You rang, m’lord?”

“Yes,” replied the King. “Please fetch Lolly for me.”

“I, uh...believe she’s still searching for Jae, sire.”

The King sighed, shaking his head. “She’ll never find him. He’ll come out when he’s good and ready. Which might not be for a few days. I’m sure he’s nursing quite the hangover. His dented pride certainly. And you can tell her I said as much. I need her in here as soon as possible. Jae can wait.”

“Very good m’lord.” The giant turned and left the room.

“Please make sure our dear Spice Master gets his answer, Rheil. And don’t let Farris bust you too badly. You’re useless to me broken.”

The Captain gave a small resigned sigh and turned away. “Very good m’lord.”

And suddenly the little girl found herself alone in the large room with the Gold King. His eyes focused in on her.

“Am...I...uh...” the girl sputtered.

“Hm? What is it, child?”

The little girl was so scared and her stomach was clenched so hard it hurt. Her heart hammered so noisily in her head and her lungs were frozen, feeling for all the world as though she would never take another breath.

“…are you going to have me killed, sire?” her voice was barely above a whisper. She couldn’t manage anything else. She trembled under the intense scrutiny of the giant and she vaguely wondered if it was worth trying to run. But the idea was fleeting. She would never make if off the desk. And if she did without breaking something, she would be caught easily. Just as she had before.  

The King’s silence was answer enough and the little girl looked down at her feet, feeling the terrible cold dread drip down her spine like ice water. Her bottom lip trembled and fresh tears poured down. There came a creek of wood as the King shifted and every muscle in her little body stiffened.

She felt a hand, large and warm, press against her arm and side. A thumb wiped across her wet cheek gently and she opened her eyes in fear and confusion. The King was looking at her and not unkindly.

“No,” he said finally. The steel of his eyes was gone, replaced with something more patient and understanding. “You have broken my laws, yes. And there will be recompense for it, do not doubt me there. But I will not take your life. Such laws exist to protect my people, my Kingdom, and I see no threat to either of those in you, little one. For the crime of trespassing, I pardon you. On the matter of theft however...”

The little girl could not believe her ears and suddenly blurted out, “You’re...not gonna have me cooked? Or...or...”

The King, despite the interruption, only appeared momentarily displeased before picking up on the little girl’s words.

“Eaten?” the King finished, the edges of his mouth turning into an amused smile. “It’s what my father would have done. He would not have even entertained the idea of this meeting. In all likelihood, he would have given you to the guards at the first hearing of you. But as you might have guessed: I am not my father. His blood lust died with him.”

“I’m not gonna die?”

“Everyone dies, little one. But you will not die this day nor by my hands,” replied the King. “As I was saying: I’ll be sending you to Farris. He is the head of the Kitchens and Spice Master. I believe you met already.”

She nodded, not sure how sending her to the kitchens meant she was not going to die. Everyone down there wanted to cook her! It was not a very reassuring thought. Was she gonna be made into a slave? A myriad of unpleasant thoughts were pouring into her mind.  

“He wanted to throw me into the stew...” the little girl whined, wringing her hands nervously.

The King laughed, throwing his head back and falling back in his chair. “Oh, I do not doubt it. He says that to everyone at one time or another. In that regard, you are in good company.”

Before the little girl could reply, the door to the room opened once more and a lady giant walked in, dressed in a tawny gown and a white scarf draped over her head, strands of black hair falling around her almond shaped face and framing brown eyes. Her lips were pinched into a barely concealed frown of displeasure as she marched towards the desk with purposeful strides.

She stopped short of the desk, gave a curt curtsy, and asked, “You had need of me, m’lord?”

“Yes, Lolly. I want you to take this child and have her cleaned and perhaps some new clothes made.”

It was then that the giantess, Lolly, seemed to realize that they were not alone. She looked down at the little girl and all of the ire in her expression left, forgotten and abandoned in an instant.

“Oh my goodness!” She exclaimed, her hands flying to her mouth. She bent down close to the little girl, eyes sparkling. “What charming little girl. O-oh, you poor dear, you’ve been crying! What have you been doing to this poor child?”

“Nothing insidious, I assure you, Lolly,” The King raised a hand in his defense, though he was smiling at the woman’s reaction to the little girl. “She has simply had a bit of a fright. Nothing your capable hands cannot mend.”

Lolly slowly reached out, as though trying to keep from startling the human, and slipped her hands under her arms before lifting her up with great care. She held the girl to her breast, securing her with one arm and her other hand rose up to softly caress the girl’s head. Large fingers lightly petting the little girl’s hair. The action startled the girl and she whined a little in confusion. The lady giant just slowly rocked her as though she were a baby. “There, there little one. Come now, don’t fret. Shhh. Poor little thing, you’re shaking like a leaf!”

The King regarded the pair with warm amusement before returning his attention to the large book before him. “Please, see to it she is taken care of. I know I can trust you in this regard Lolly.”

“Of course, my Lord.”

“And deliver her to Farris when you’re done. He’ll be expecting her.”

The cold glare from before returned to Lolly’s face and she stopped her rocking of the human. “Come again, my Lord?”  

“I am giving her to Farris,” said the King without looking up from his reading.

“...m-my lord, why?”

“He laid claim to her. It was from his kitchens that she stole and I’ve already given him my approval.”

“My lord, please,” Lolly pleaded. “The kitchens are no place for such a little girl!”

“Farris will take good care of her,” said the King before lifting his gaze and staring at the giantess with a stern look. “I trust him wholeheartedly in this and I will say no more on the matter.”

“Very well, my Lord. I will see that it is done,” Lolly replied in defeat before turning on her heels, gently cradling the slightly bewildered human girl in her arms. “For the next several hours, however, the girls and I are spoiling this one rotten.”

As Lolly carried the little girl from the room, she could have sworn she heard the King laugh.
She dreamed her mother was rocking her, singing a familiar lullaby, and running her hands through her hair. The fire in the hearth was warm, crackling pleasantly. Until it wasn’t. The girl felt hot, feeling like she was too close to the flames. She looked around and she was no longer in her mother’s lap, but standing in the middle of the ocean, her feet resting on the water, watching her village’s fishing fleet burn against a blood red moon.

Thousand foot tall flames licked at the small boats. Men screamed as they died. Her uncle screamed her name before the flames consumed him. Some fisherman dove for the water, others chose the flames. The girl screamed as the flames swirled around her, burning her skin, and charring her clothes to dust. Her eyes burned with a fiery agony. From the flames a tall shadow emerged, hands outstretched and reaching for her. A voice, deep and thunderous, spoke, but most of the words were carried away on the wind.

“…shall rise when the old blood runs new…”

The hands came for her and she screamed and woke up. The spice pantry was the same, framed by the wooden bars of her cage. The lights were out, with only vague moonlight from the small window to illuminate the room.

But the fire in her skin remained. That terrible fire…

Every bit of her was burning, aching, and she coughed. Her lungs felt like she had swallowed smoldering embers. Her breath sounded ragged in the empty air and she could not think anything but how much her eyes and skin hurt. She rolled over onto her belly and cried out in pain. Everything hurt and nothing seemed to soothe the pain. Looking up, she noticed a cup in the cage where there had not been one before. It was a small cup to a giant, but as large as a half barrel to her. She crawled over to it and dipped her hand in. Water, blessedly cool, greeted her hand. She dumped her head inside, taking large long gulps. The moment the water hit her stomach, she was overcome with nausea and she doubled over and began to wretch. Even when all she had inside splattered itself onto the cage floor and her front, her stomach roiled and she gasped for breath as her body began to fight itself.

Oh Gods…was she dying?

The green door opened, sounds of laughter and pleasant chatter filtering in with soft gold light from a hearth fire, and a large shadow swept into the room. The girl paid it no mind as she struggling to breathe.

“Seven fucking Hells,” came the hissed curse. The shadowy giant turned back to the door and leaned out, his voice calling out with a sense of urgency. “Yale, get me warm water, not hot, and a few towels.”

“Oi, aye? Be needin’ some relaxation after all that exhaustive spice grindin’, eh, Farris?”

“Shut yer gob Saen before I bash it in. Ain’t fer me,” the giant snarled and then turned to level an enigmatic stare at the caged girl, before adding with a touch less gruffness, “The human’s got the Red Reap.”

The laughter and chatter died down. There was silence. A curse.

“…she didn’t look ill earlier.”

“They call it the Reap for a reason, boy. There’s no warning. It just comes. Now get off yer arse and
get me what I asked for.”

“…right away, boss.”

The giant, Farris, stood outside her cage for a moment before opening the door and removing the cup of water. A large hand reached in and the little girl whimpered. In pain or fear, she could not tell anymore. She did not want to be there. She did not want to be in such pain. She wanted to call out for her mother, her delirious brain hoping that the impossibility would be possible and she would be there to soothe the scared girl. To let her know she was not alone. That she would be there. But she was not. Instead, the only one there was a giant. The little girl started to sob, terrified and in pain. The sound of her ragged breath and pained cries were a pathetic thing to hear.

“Hush now,” whispered the giant, so only she could hear. Fingers thicker than a man’s thigh rested on her back, rubbing lightly, but the touch brought unpleasant prickles of pain. Her skin felt so raw. The little girl shuttered and inched away from the touch. “I know it hurts, lil’un. I know yer scared. Just keep breathin’…”

“Where do you want this, Farris?”

“Upstairs, Yale. And I’ll need the salve from the drawer there. And a Cayne leaf. Small one.”

Large hands cupped the little girl and drew her carefully from the cage. She felt too weak and wretched to do more than heave in shallow pained breathes. Her very blood was on fire. The world shifted as she was carried off to places unknown. She heard the creaking of stairs before the sound of another door opening. The new room was much brighter with a proper window to allow the full moon’s glow inside. A lantern hung from one wall, already lit.

She heard Yale following behind and after a moment, Farris shifted his grip on her and began to pull on her tattered brown dress. She began to struggle.
He growled.

“Stop that, girl. You’re covered in sick,” snarled Farris. He indulged her weak squirms for only a moment before pulling the dress off her with a single yank. Her trousers were pulled off just as easily and she was naked to the world for only a moment before the hand below her lowered and she felt warm water pool around her. Oddly enough, the warmth of the water seemed to ease the pain. Calloused hands gently lapped the water onto her as sweat and vomit were washed away. When she was pulled from the bath, the fire in her skin was dulled to a vague throbbing. Dry coarse fabric was wrapped around her body and she was tucked into the curl of a giant’s arm. She could hear his heart beat against her ear.

“Keep your eyes closed,” the giant said before the girl felt a cold goop spread across her closed right eye. Then the left. She smelled peppermint and something else and whatever the goop was, it brought a bright sense of chill to her skin as though touched with ice. The degree of pain in her eyes was numbed, but she could feel her own blood pump through them in time with her heart. Something dry touched her lips, startling her. “Chew and suck, but do not eat.”

She opened her mouth and the end of a large dried leaf was slipped between her lips. Doing as she was told, she softly chewed and sucked. Her saliva hydrated the dry leaf and it became supple and soft in her mouth. A horrendously bitter lemon like taste spread across her tongue and she gagged and made to spit the thing out only to have to shoved back in.

“I know it tastes like shit, Dumplin’. But it will dull the pain and help you sleep.”

“Ya can go, Yale. I’ve got ‘er.”

“Yer sure?”

“If she makes it through the fever, she’ll live,” he sighed deeply. “We’ll know by morning. Regardless, I need you awake and alert tomorrow. There’s too much that still needs to be done. If she lives, she’ll be seeing the King. If not, well, the Reap’ll have made the judgment fer ‘im.”

“Alright.” A pause and she felt the lightest touch on her head. “Good luck, lil’un.”

The bitter lemon leaf worked quickly because she did not even hear Yale close the door before she was fast asleep.
…………………………………

Shadows danced around her, eyes of gold and crimson and azure baring down on her. A woman sang a song with words she could not understand. A man chanted something, drowning out the song. Other voices joined in…

“The river bends uphill…”

“…the fall of fools and Kings…”

“…shall rise when the old blood runs new…”

“The flesh taken will be paid in blood…”

Another voice, more concrete and real, rose over the chanting. “Wake up.”

The chanting continued. “The blood to be paid…”

The other voice spoke again. Green eyes hovering above her. “Please, wake up…”

And then she heard her mother. She was singing something. But the girl did not understand. Battling voices all around her, she could not seem to differentiate them anymore. But her mother’s song broke away, suddenly louder. The little girl felt the fire in her blood subside and a cool wave of relief wash over her as though she had been plunged into a cold river. “I love you my sweet. Be brave for me…”

Someone screamed.
…………………………

She awoke slowly.

Her shoulder was sore and her mouth was incredibly dry with the lingering taste of bitter lemons. But the fire was gone. The little girl shifted under the white blanket she was wrapped up in and looked around, the fatigue in her body making her shake with the effort. She was not in the spice pantry, but a smaller room with blue painted walls. She sat atop a wooden table in the center of the room. Off to one side directly across from the door was a low wooden frame and a mattress. The bedclothes were messily shoved to one side. There was a lit lantern on a wall, but the sunlight coming in from the window let in enough light to see.

When she heard the door open, the little girl laid back down, pulling her blankets over her head. Just as her head disappeared underneath the fabric, she caught the giant’s eye. The floor creaked as footsteps marked the approach of the giant as he entered the room and she tried to keep as still as possible. She was not sure what she was going to accomplish, but she did not feel brave enough to meet his eye.

As she fretted beneath the covers, she heard him sigh.

“I know yer not dead, Dumplin’,” said the giant. His steps drew closer to the table and there was a squeal of chair legs on the wooden floor and the sound of him dropping into it. “I’ve got yer clothes. Can’t be presented to the King all indecent like.”

The little girl didn’t move, new dread seeping into her bones. Anything but that, anything but facing the Blood King. It was more than a nightmare coming true and she wished she had never woken up from the fever. Her last night alive was fighting for her life only to have it snuffed out the next morning? It was a cruel joke.

“I’m sorry,” she squeaked, still huddled under the fabric, and now visibly trembling. “Please don’t…”
The giant snorted humorlessly. “Ya stole from the King. It’ll be his judgment as to what’s to be done with ya.”

What horrors would a blood thirsty King bestow upon a lowly thief like her? Surely she wasn’t worth his time. “I didn’t mean to…”

“Didn’t mean to be caught more like it, eh?” A laugh answered her silence. Short and humorless. “Aye, s’what I reckoned.”

She was grasping at straws, thoughts becoming an incoherent mess. “I was just…I didn’t…please, I just…” She started to sob. “I don’t wanna die.”

“No one does. But actions have consequences. And the King has very special rules when it comes t’humans.”

‘Special rules?’ That did not sound reassuring.

“…is he gonna eat me?” she asked, her voice nothing but a pathetic squeak.

“Hm…possible,” he answered her contemplatively, though she did not see the mischievous grin plastered on his face. The little girl felt large hands grip and lift her up, pealing away the fabric to reveal her tear stained face. His eyes softened for all of one moment before fixing her with a stern look. “Now then, are you gonna behave and dress yerself or do you need me to do it fer ya?”

The little girl shook her head, trembling in the giant’s hands. He sat her back down next to a small pile of coarse brown fabric, her clothes. They had been cleaned. Her hands shook as she slowly pulled her dress over her head and then slipped into her trousers. As soon as she was dressed, Farris grabbed her up again into his large and calloused hands and made his way towards the door, beyond which was a narrow set of stairs. At the bottom, the little girl found herself in the spice pantry again. The smells should have been pleasant had they not been so overwhelming to her nose. Farris paused by the desk and picked up a folded piece of parchment, slipping it into the clean white apron around his waist before leaving.

The kitchens were still busy, but the work had lost the fervent chaos of the day prior. There were no great beast roasting over the large hearth. Instead, there were several cauldrons bubbling away and being tended to by another giant. The gutting tables had been cleaned and cleared of blood. The great knives and cleavers so many of the giants had brandished were hung high on a wall. Only a few of the brick ovens were lit with a single worker pulling out rolls on a long paddled board and dumping them into a basket that was already half filled with similar breads. Another giant was kneading a large blob of yellow dough.  

“Oi, the human’s not dead!” The giant kneading the dough exclaimed, stopping his work and walking over to Farris. He flashed the human a smile that might have meant to be friendly, but she was far from any state of mind to appreciate it. “I always thought there was no survivn’ the Red Reap. Yale was poutin’ all night.”

“Bah. The Reap will take ya or it won’t,” said Farris. “Black, red, green, or white. Dun’ matter.”

“Still, never heard of anyone living through red,” The younger giant said. “She’s such a tiny thing…”

Farris just grunted noncommittally. “Have ya seen Rhiel? He’s suppose to take ‘er to the King.”  

“Eh, I think he was talking with Gjerk. ‘Prolly tryin’ to sneak one a’the left over puddin’s.”
“Bah! Useless boy. He’s worse than Herit.”

“Now, now, no need for insults,” came another voice. Farris turned, granting the girl a view of the new giant. He was tall, as tall as Farris, but not so muscular. He was lean and dressed in boiled leather armor dyed red with gold trim along the cuffs and collar. The Vhasshal sigil emblazoned into the leather plate across his chest. His face was thin and long with pale blue eyes and high cheek bones. Though he looked young, his hair was gray and pulled back into a long ponytail. He wore a cheeky grin, a noticeable blob of bright orange jelly at the side of his mouth. “I’m entitled to a little treat ain’t I? I went all the way to the wall just to bring back all those supplies for you. I didn’t get to join in the festivities you know. I had to work.”

“So were we, ya arse!” called the giant near the ovens.

“And ya seem to have brought back a lil’ extra,” snickered the young kitchen worker, pointing to the little girl.

The gray haired giant’s pale eyes turned to the little girl, making her squirm. Unlike the others, this one was armored, with a sword at his hip.

“So I’ve heard,” he said, bending down to peer closer at her. “Lucky the Gate guards didn’t catch a sniff of ya, lass. They’re always more than happy to have a human join ‘em for dinner.”
The way he was smiling at her made the little girl want to curl into a ball and hide, but Farris’s grip on her made it impossible. So she just pressed her face against the giant’s hand, whimpering. She heard the giants around her laugh.  

“Suppose I should be gettin’ her to His Majesty then,” Rheil said, gloved hands sweeping in and deftly pulling her away from Farris. “Also, if you see Jae, Lolly’s looking for him.”

“Nah. Hasn’t been round fer a few days. Warned ‘im not to be buggering around while we prepped fer the feast and the like,” said Farris with a huff. “Why? What’s he done now?”

“Not a clue,” Rhiel admitted, holding the little girl to his chest with one arm. “But Lolly didn’t look happy, whatever it’s about. Thought he might be hiding down here.”

The young kitchen worker laughed. “Nah. He’s probably on the Library roof. He likes to hide up there when he’s in trouble.”

“Probably,” conceded the armored giant. “But you won’t see me goin’ up there after him. I swear that boy’s part squirrel.”

“One more thing, Rhiel,” Farris said, pulling the folded piece of parchment from his apron. “This is fer His Majesty. If ya could give it to ‘im before he judges the Dumplin’ there, I’d appreciate it.”
“Dumplin’?” asked Rheil as he accepted the note.

“It’s what we’ve been callin’ the human,” said the kitchen worker with a smile. “Yale’s idea.”
Rheil laughed loudly, jostling his little prisoner. He looked at the two giants and then back down at the little girl. “You’re all a bunch of cruel fuckers, you know that?”
Neither of the other two giants protested the accusation. The young one placed a hand over his heart and leaned back as though wounded. Sardonically, he said, “What else do you expect from us poor fools that reside in Hell?”

Rheil shrugged, gesturing with his free hand. “You fellas should come by next time open call comes around. I’ll show you real Hell.”

“Get yer arse goin’ Rhiel,” snapped Farris. “The King’ll be expectin’ you.”

Rheil sighed, adjusting his grip on the human and nodded. “Aye, suppose he will.”

“And don’t think I ain’t gonna get ya per pilferin’ that pudding, boy.”

“I’ll be sure to deliver your message, you old fool. Now go back to your spices.”

Rheil turned on his heels, ignoring Farris’s loud bellowing ‘BAH!’ and walked out of the kitchens through the stone archway and into the courtyard. The human wagons were all pushed to one side and seemed to be in the middle is being pulled apart for firewood. There were several kitchen workers, marked by their gray and brown tunics and white aprons, mingling about and spared the captain and his human prisoner curious glances. The little girl recognized one face among the curious faces from the day before. The giant that caught her and handed her to Farris, Yale. He was sitting with another giant, some sort of vegetables piled between them as they peeled them. The black haired giant smiled wide when he saw her.

The little girl looked away, feeling queasy. Everyone around her seemed to have some desire to eat her. There was no escape. There was nothing to do but sit and wait for the Blood King to decide how she would die. She had heard stories of how he executed his human prisoners. Well, execution was one way of describing it. He had them cooked into pies and stews. Or alive and raw. One story told of him ordering some prisoners be cooked in a huge pot. And then the resulting carnage had been fed to his army. And not just the human soldiers taken in battle. Women and children from raided villages too. All of them went into the pot. All of the cooked and eaten on the word of a cruel King.  

The little girl desperately did not want to be a pie. Or a stew.  

“You’re shakin’ pretty hard there, little’un,” Rhiel said as he entered into a new part of the castle. He stopped and pulled the little girl up to get a better look at her. “Them boys put the fear a’ the Gods into you pretty good, eh?”

“I don’t wanna be eaten,” she sobbed pathetically. “I’m sorry I stole. Please, sir. I’m sorry…”

The giant Rheil regarded her with sympathetic smile. “I doubt the King’s gonna have ya cooked. He ain’t no monster.”

“But…the Blood King…”

His eyebrows shot up in surprise. “…is dead. Has been for some nine years now. His son’s King now.
Called the Gold King. Though he hates the name. Humble bastard.”

The little girl looked up, meeting the pale eyes of the Captain. “…the Blood King’s…dead?”
“Aye,” he replied. “Didn’t know that, eh?”

She shook her head, reeling from the revelation.

“Well,” the giant said with a small smile. “There you go. I don’t know what he’lll decide, but I can guarantee he ain’t gonna have ya served up like some prized hog. Must’ve been livin’ under a rock to not have heard about the Blood King being dead. It was quite the event ‘round here.”

The little girl did not know if she should believe the Captain.

“But I suppose that’s enough said,” he concluded. “I’m not the King. I don’t know what he’ll decide and I don’t presume to know. I know the man, but he is King and only he knows what he’ll decide.”
He tucked the little girl into the crook of his arm much in the same way Yale had the day prior. It was a more comfortable way to be carried, but it did not change the fact that she was about to meet the son of the Blood King. Who was The Gold King. She had never heard of any Gold King. Captain Rheil’s words made her feel hopeful, but she also remembered Yale’s words.

“…it’s no small thing to be stealin’ from the King. Not small at all.”

She was still convinced she was going to die. Whether the giants ate her after seemed a moot point.
Yeah. All I gotta say is that life had a big stick and used it to beat the ever living crud outta me. Nothing to worry about though. But it did mean that my art and time for it suffered in a big way and I am trying to slowly get back into it. I also have a tumblr now where I'm going to be posting some G/T related art and stories. Check it out, I'd love to see you all there: diddlesanddoodles.tumblr.com
  • Listening to: Last Podcast On The Left and Moana
  • Reading: The Moth and The Bear
  • Watching: Rogue One
  • Playing: Candy Crush Soda
  • Eating: Breakfast tacos
  • Drinking: COFFEE!!!

deviantID

Transformergirl
Lindsay
Artist | Hobbyist | Varied
United States
Lindsay is a fried dough food and is popular in many countries and prepared in various forms as a sweet (or occasionally savory) snack that can be homemade or purchased in bakeries, supermarkets, food stalls, and franchised specialty outlets. They are usually sweet, deep-fried from a flour dough, and shaped in rings or flattened spheres that sometimes contain fillings. Other types of dough such as potato can also be used as well as other batters, and various toppings and flavorings are used for different types...oh wait, that's a doughnut.
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:iconjasperinity:
Jasperinity Featured By Owner Dec 22, 2016
Happy birthday! :D
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:icontransformergirl:
Transformergirl Featured By Owner Dec 23, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you. :)
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:iconjasperinity:
Jasperinity Featured By Owner Dec 23, 2016
No problem! :3
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Morgatron84 Featured By Owner Dec 22, 2016  Hobbyist Artist
Happy Bday L Pikachu Emote - PEACE 
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Transformergirl Featured By Owner Dec 23, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you. :)
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StrikerBloodBlue753 Featured By Owner Dec 22, 2016  Hobbyist Artist
Happy bday!
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Transformergirl Featured By Owner Dec 23, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you. :)
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Star10 Featured By Owner Dec 22, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Happy Birthday :la::iconcakeplz::icongiftplz::iconrainbowbummiecakeplz::iconballoonplz::iconballoonsplz:
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:icontransformergirl:
Transformergirl Featured By Owner Dec 23, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you. :)
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SilenceIndustries Featured By Owner Dec 22, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Just wish to say Happy Birthday
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