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The Littlest Giant
by Jai Gomer

Once upon a time, nestled in around the foot of a huge mountain, there was a quiet, peaceful town. This town was much the same as most - it had doctors and blacksmiths and bakers, schools, picnics and summer fairs. But what made this town different from others was the people.

Here, Giants lived alongside Men.

One day, a baby was born in the town. The parents - a Giant blacksmith and his wife - were overjoyed, as they had wanted a child for so long. They dressed him in green swaddling cloth, and named him Alder.

As Alder lay in his crib his father would tell him tales and legends of the Old Giants, who were rulers of all the Land, long, long ago. He told Alder of adventures and heroes, of battles and victories, of brave Kings and beautiful Queens.

Alder heard how Giant warriors set out on Quests to free towns and villages from tyrants, or to rescue them from creatures such as the Horned Spolrac or the now-extinct Gnabbergizzard, and he wished he could be just like them. He longed to be a fearless Warrior-Giant, sword in hand, taking on the mightiest of beasts.

But Alder stayed small. He was smaller than his friends when he was a young child, and he was tiny compared to the other Giants his age at school. In fact, he was little bigger than the Man-boys.

Alder couldn’t play with the other Giant boys, as he was too small - they would mock him because he couldn’t kick a giant ball, or play at wrestling with boys who towered over him, and they would shout at him when he got under their feet - and he couldn’t play with the Man-boys either, because they would laugh at him for being so small, even though he was a little taller than them. They would call him names and chase after him, or point and whisper as he walked past “There goes Alder, the littlest giant.”

The names would hurt him, but it hurt even more to have not a single friend. No matter how hard he tried, all the children would do was laugh at him and so, one day, he decided to run away. He packed some food into a knapsack, and left the town early one morning while everyone was asleep.

He walked along the road leading out of the town, and came to a fork. There he could choose to walk the main road to the other towns he knew, or a rarely-used path leading to the other side of the mountain. Knowing that everyone would expect him to travel along the main road, Alder turned onto the rough path, heading to places he’d never been.

All through the morning he walked, following the crooked path as it wound its way around the huge mountain. All afternoon he walked, until he could no longer see the town he had left behind. As evening closed in, he began to get tired, but he would think of how the other children had laughed at him, and he would hurry to get as far away from them as possible.

Alder never slept that night. He walked right around the mountain, to the fields and forests on the other side. He walked all through the next day, stopping only briefly to eat from his pack, pick a few apples from trees by the side of the worn dirt track, and sip cool water from a small stream.

He slept that night under the branches of the Bushy-Willow, safe from the rain under its thick, soft leaves. In the morning he rose early, with the sun, and continued on his way. The sun warmed him, seemed to travel with him, and gradually lightened his step. Soon, Alder was whistling as he walked, almost forgetting his cares.

As he walked, further and further from home, Alder saw many new and strange things. He saw flocks of the multi-coloured (but tiny) Ganza Bird flying through a rainbow, and huge herds of hairy Dufflemites grazing on wide open fields of the greenest grass. He even saw what seemed to be a walking tree, like the ones he had heard about in stories long ago (though he couldn’t be sure). But, no matter what new things he saw, or ate or smelled, he could still hear the mocking voices of the children from the town.

One night, as Alder fell asleep on a bed of moss on the banks of a tiny stream, he dreamed he was back at school. All of the other children were gathered round him, jeering and joking and pointing. Alder cried out for them to stop, but they carried on laughing and pointing and calling “Little Alder, you’re not a Giant. Little Alder, you’re not a boy.” over and over. And as they crowded in, closer and closer, Alder began to grow smaller and smaller and smaller, until the children were the size of mountains to him, and he was no bigger than their toes.

“I don’t want to be small!” Alder cried, but found he was crying out to the night, and he was on a bed of moss by the side of a stream, far from home, with tears staining his cheeks.

He slept very little for the rest of that night, and in the morning he woke cold, hungry and miserable. He sat by the edge of the stream and drank some of the icy, refreshing water, trying not to think about the dream. Suddenly, something caught his eye.

A small creature was scurrying through the long grass on the other side of the stream. Then another creature followed the first, its movement shown only by the swishing of the reeds at the water’s edge. The creatures seemed to be moving quickly, as if they were chasing something, or being chased.

Alder looked along the bank of the stream and, coming up right behind the two creatures, he saw a Grumble - a slow-moving hairy beast which shuffled around on all fours, snuffling in the earth for grubs and shoots and berries (though sometimes, he remembered - though it was quite a time since he last saw a Grumble - they would eat Dingles, and other creatures which lived around the roots of trees and in tall grass).

All of a sudden, the creatures veered to the edge of the reeds and towards the water. Alder watched, and was amazed at what he saw. The “creatures” were, in fact, a young boy and a girl. They looked as if they could be the same age as him, but they were small. Very small. In fact, neither of them could have reached to touch his knees. They were so small he could have picked each one up in one hand.

As they reached the edge of the water they saw him, and the girl cried out in fright. The young boy was limping, and Alder could see that he would not be able to cross the stream quickly enough to escape the Grumble, which was shuffling closer and closer.

The young girl was clearly terrified, and tiny tears ran down her face, but from somewhere she found the courage to cry out to Alder.

“Please help us!” she cried. “We cannot run any more, my brother is hurt, and the Beast will soon catch us and eat us.”

It was true. The Grumble was almost upon them. Alder looked towards the lumbering beast, and back at the tiny children, and into the tearful face of the little girl. Nobody had ever asked for his help before. Now he had the chance to help people who really needed him.

Alder smiled to the girl, then drew himself up, feeling strangely taller than he had ever felt before. He stomped through the stream, splashing through the icy-cold water, then, when he reached the other side, he ran at the startled creature, waving his arms and roaring loudly (knowing that this was normally enough to terrify a Grumble). The hairy beast yelped loudly when it saw Alder racing toward it, and it turned - suprisingly quickly - on its four shuffling feet and ran away as quickly as a Grumble had ever ran (which wasn’t really that quickly).

Alder carried on roaring until the Grumble disappeared into bushes far away from the water, then he headed back to the edge of the stream to find the young girl wrapping a cold cloth around the boy’s injured leg. When she was finished she stood up and walked over to where Alder was standing.

“Thank you.” she said, gratefully.

“That’s okay.” replied Alder.

“Are you a Giant?” she asked.

Alder’s chest swelled with pride. “Yes, I am, actually.” he answered.

“”My name’s Corn,” said the girl “and that is my brother, Carrot. What’s your name?”

Soon, the three of them were talking just like old friends, and Alder shared with them some fruit he had picked the day before. The three talked all through the morning, and into the afternoon, their shadows growing longer with every passing hour. A slight chill let them know that evening was drawing close.

“We must get home!” said Corn. “We hadn’t meant to be gone all day!”

“Well, I suppose I should be on my way too.” said Alder, and his heart was suddenly heavy and sad. He remembered why he was there; that he was far away from his family, or anybody he knew. He had spent the day talking to these two small people as if they were friends, but now they were going, and he would be alone again, with no food, nor a blanket, and with no idea where to go next.

“Where are you going?” asked Carrot. “Do you live around here?”

Alder shook his head.

“Where do you live then?” asked the boy.

“I don’t really live anywhere.” replied Alder.

“So where will you sleep tonight?” asked Corn.

Alder shrugged.

“Then you must come back with us. Our village is nearby, and our father has a barn. It’s warm and dry, and big enough even for you!”

“Are you sure he wouldn’t mind?” asked Alder.

Corn laughed. “After he hears about how you saved us from the - what did you call it? The Grumble? Well, when he hears how you saved our lives he’ll put on a feast, and everyone will come, and you’ll be the guest of honour!”

And she was right. When the three of them first approached the village - the tiniest village Alder had ever seen - the people were worried, seeing an enormous Giant carrying two of their children on his shoulders, but when Corn and Carrot told them all about the battle with the huge beast, and how the mighty Giant had saved their lives, the villagers cheered, and set about preparing a feast in Alder’s honour.

Torches were lit in the square at the centre of the village, musicians played, and the villagers piled food and drink high on tables set around the square. As night fell the villagers ate and drank and danced, and Alder sat and ate and talked with Corn and Carrot and their family and friends. Men stood on tables and made toasts to Alder, praising his bravery and strength.

At the end of the night the whole village led him to a barn, where each of the villagers had laid out a blanket for him - so many that the floor of the barn was covered in layers of soft, warm cloth. He lay down on the blankets, his head resting on pillows of straw, and settled into a soft, dreamy sleep.

Alder spent the next few days telling and retelling the tale of The Battle With The Grumble, while people brought him gifts of fruit and flowers and told him how brave and strong he was. He went with the boys and girls of the village when they hunted for Snyles and Bomboles, and he accompanied the men and women who tended the fields around the village, helping to push their heaviest plough - which he did with ease.

Soon a few weeks had passed by. Still Alder hunted and farmed and told the story of the Great Battle. Then months rolled by, and there were more tales to tell - tales of adventure and bravery; of Sea Monsters and Troll Kings and Shadow Goblins; of battles fought to protect the village from Fire Fairies and Snaggle-Trees and herds of Grumbles.

Winter arrived, and then slipped away, and spring turned to summer once again. The world turned with the years, and Alder lived happily amongst the villagers, growing strong working in the fields. He loved the villagers, and they loved him in return. He was their Giant, their friend, their helper and protector. The barn, where he had slept when he first arrived, was now full of grain, fruit and vegetables (for, with Alder helping to plough the fields and harvest the crops, there was always plenty of food), and it seemed so much smaller than he remembered.

Now he lived in a tent at the edge of the village. A massive, towering tent, fit for a Giant.

Sometimes, however, when the night was still and all the villagers were asleep, he would think about his family, and the town he had left behind so long ago. He would wonder if his parents thought about him, or whether they had forgotten that they used to have a son. A tiny son, who would never be a real Giant.

The thought of them so far away made him sad, and tears would well up in his eyes. But then he would remember the taunts and the laughter from the children of the town, and he would remember why he left. Why he ran away. There he was laughed at, picked on and bullied. There he was “Alder, the Littlest Giant”. Here, he was “Alder the Great”, and he was a Giant. A Hero. Then he would wipe away his tears and stop thinking about his past, until the next still night.

One day, deep into winter, with snow covering the land as far as the eye could see, Corn fell ill.

At first everybody thought she would get well the next day, or maybe the day after, but instead she got worse, and took to her bed with a burning fever. Alder sat outside her bedroom window, where most of the other villagers had also gathered. He suddenly felt helpless for the first time in so long, and his heart was heavy with worry for his friend.
The doctor came every day, trying all he knew to try and make Corn well again, but nothing helped, and she grew weaker and weaker. The village became a quiet place, and everybody was sad.

One quiet morning, about three weeks after Corn had taken ill, the doctor came and sat with Alder outside Corn’s bedroom window. The doctor hung his head sadly, and the two of them sat there for a long time, without speaking a word.

Finally, Alder asked, quietly, “Will she ever get better?”

The doctor shook his head, slowly. “No, Alder. I’ve tried all I can, but nothing is working.” He took a deep breath, and then said “Corn is dying.”

When he heard that, Alder began to sob, and huge tears began dropping from his face, splashing onto the ground and soaking the villagers who sat below. “I don’t want her to die!” he cried. “I wish I could help her. I’d do anything.”

“What good is it me being a Giant,” he asked, wiping his cheeks, “when I can’t even help my friend? If only there was something I could do. I would do anything, go anywhere. I’d run to the edge of the world to find help if I could.”

There was a moment of silence, and then the doctor leapt to his feet, startling the nearby villagers and even Alder as he shouted “Of course! Alder, you can help. You can run to the edge of the world to save Corn!”.

The doctor then began speaking so quickly and excitedly that a pot of calming herbal tea was brewed especially for him. Once he had drunk three cups, and was a little more relaxed, he began again, and everybody in the village listened.

The doctor spoke of legends, told to him by his grandfather, of a magical mountain which stood at the place where the ground meets the sky. On this mountain, shaped like a huge, sleeping dragon, grew a herb called - not suprisingly - Dragonroot, which was a cure for almost any illness.

The legends told of massive crops of pink-leaved Dragonroot growing all the way up to the top of the mountain. “Unfortunately,” said the doctor, “we don’t know exactly where this mountain is. The legends say it lies towards the morning, towards the rising sun, and that it would take almost a whole season to reach. This is why nobody has tried to reach the mountain for such a long time, even though we have all at some time needed the Dragonroot.”

He then looked up at Alder. “But a Giant like you could travel there in only a couple of days! You could collect more than enough Dragonroot to make Corn well.”

Then, for the first time in many days, the doctor smiled, as he asked “Alder, will you go to Dragon Mountain to help save Corn?” And, of course, Alder said yes.

And so it was that, later that morning, the villagers finished packing a huge knapsack of food for Alder, and a much smaller one for Corn - as it had been decided that Alder should take her with him on the journey. That way, she could eat the Dragonroot much sooner, for by now she was very, very ill.

The villagers wished good health on Corn, who was wrapped up safe and warm in one of Alder’s pockets, and hailed Alder the Great, their Giant and their Hero, and waved the two of them off on their journey.

Alder strode - long Giant strides - while Corn slept in his pocket. He left huge footprints in the snow, leading away from the village, towards a distant mountain far beyond the horizon.

All through the day and through the night he walked, battling fierce wind and snow, and shivering from the cold. Icicles formed on the end of his nose, but he brushed them off without caring. All he could think of was the mountain, the Dragonroot and saving Corn.

As a new day dawned, the blizzard grew thicker and thicker, almost blocking out the light. Alder could only hope that he was still travelling in the right direction, as he could see only a short distance ahead. Many times he stumbled in the slippery snow, almost falling, and as day turned to night once more he struggled to stay awake and to carry on walking.

Through it all Corn slept, not knowing the danger all around as Alder fought his way through the snow to Dragon Mountain.

By the time morning came around again, the storm had eased slightly. Alder could see more of the thick, white blanket which covered the land all the way to the horizon. He could also see the sun, rising directly ahead of him, and he knew that he was heading in the right direction. He shook the sleep from his head, and walked more quickly towards the sunrise, with determined strides, eager to save his friend.

That afternoon the storm returned , stronger than ever, and colder than Alder had ever known. The pain and tiredness he felt forced tears from his eyes, which froze instantly on his frost-covered face. At one point he almost tripped over the trunk of a fallen tree, and was only just able to stay on his feet.

It was then that he saw the beast. It was huge, bigger than any beast Alder had ever seen, with a shadow larger than many villages. It sat in his path, oblivious to Alder’s presence, sleeping. Alder knew that he was much too tired to fight anything, especially a beast of this size. It was enormous.

A voice inside his head told him that there was something he should remember.

But what? Alder was so tired. What was the voice telling him?

It was enormous.

It was sleeping.

Then, through the pain, and the cold, and the overwhelming tiredness Alder realised that he had reached his goal. The beast before him was not a dangerous creature, but a mountain.

Dragon Mountain.

Though his legs screamed in pain, Alder ran towards the mountain. He raced up to the gentle, lower slopes, scrambling over snow-covered fallen boulders, and began to burrow into the snow. His fingers were numb, but still he clawed, until he was stopped by earth and rock. He pulled out his hands, and laughed out loud when he saw the tiny pink leaves stuck to his skin.

In a daze, he tore out more of the Dragonroot from beneath the snow, while all around him the storm raged.

The legends were true - the Dragonroot grew like a carpet on the mountainside, and it didn’t take Alder long to claw together a huge pile of the precious leaves. He crammed them into his one free pocket, and then checked in the other to make sure Corn was still safe. She was sleeping, but she was pale, and cold.

Alder knew that he couldn’t feed Corn the leaves out in the fierce, freezing storm. He would have to find shelter. He stumbled through the snow with his arms outstretched, until his grasping fingers finally found the rough branches of an old, twisted tree.

Alder cleared the snow from around the trunk, and was delighted to find it was hollow. He took off his overcoat, leaving Corn in the pocket, and placed it in the hollow. He gently woke her, and began to feed her the Dragonroot.

The cold, and the ferocious wind tore at him through the thin tunic he wore, but still he huddled over Corn, feeding her the tiny pink leaves. She was so weak that he was sure she didn’t know where she was, or maybe even who he was. It was all she could do to chew slowly, without the strength even to open her eyes.

It was some time later that Alder heard a voice. It was weak, and he could barely hear it over the roar of the wind, but something deep inside told him that it was a cry for help.

Corn had fallen back into a deep sleep, having chewed on a small pile of leaves. Alder checked that she was wrapped up securely in his overcoat, protected from the storm, and he began to walk further up the mountain, in the direction of the voice.

Through the thick falling snow and the howling wind, Alder moved quickly up the mountain until he saw, on a thin, rocky ledge, the owner of the voice.

It was a boy. He was shivering with the cold, looking scared and alone. But what suprised Alder was his size. The boy, though smaller than Alder, was much bigger than Corn, or any of the other villagers.

Alder made his way, carefully, over to the rocky ledge. He called out to the boy, who looked up, startled. The boy held out his arms to Alder, who edged closer, careful not to slip in case he fell down the dangerous, rocky slope.

When Alder was close enough he grabbed hold of the boy, who in turn held on to his saviour as tightly as he could.

Alder made his way slowly back down the mountain as the powerful storm continued to rage. Soon he had both Corn and the boy wrapped in his coat, but Alder knew they couldn’t stay much longer in the freezing cold.

Hoping that the boy lived nearby, Alder called out loudly above the wind “Where do you live?” and the boy pointed to a path, mostly hidden by snow, leading to a dip on the other side of the mountain. Alder could just make out a faint glow, which he hoped was lamplight. Maybe that was a village, or even a town!

There was no time to lose. Alder picked up the bundle of coat, boy and sleeping Corn, and moved as quickly as he could on tired, numb legs towards the light.

Many times Alder almost lost his footing and fell, but he forced himself to stay on his feet to protect his two charges. He stomped through the snow, as shadows began to spread across the mountainside.

Just when he thought he could take no more, the lights were in front of him, then around him, and there were people. He felt them take the boy and Corn from him, and sensed the storm being left behind as he was led indoors. The last thing he remembered, before falling into a deep, deep sleep, was somebody calling his name.

When Alder woke from his sleep it was daylight. He was lying on a soft, sweet-smelling bed in a large, bright room. He raised his head to see more, and saw the bright, smiling face of Corn, who was sat up looking at him with happy eyes from the edge of the bed.

She was well!

The two of them broke into huge, wide grins, then laughed and hugged and cried all at the same time.

They sat this way for a long time, hugging one another (something Alder had to do very carefully). After a while, Corn said “I have something to show you.” and she climbed onto Alder’s shoulder, wrapping and arm around his neck. “Let’s go outside” she said, smiling.

Alder raised himself from the bed, stood, and made his way to the open doorway, through which he could hear sounds of people. Before he had a chance to think about the fact that the doorway was easily large enough for him to walk through while standing upright, the two of them were outside, and there waiting was a crowd of smiling faces - including the boy Alder had saved from the mountain (who, he later discovered, was called Bramblethorn - Bramble to his friends - and was destined himself to be a great Hero).

When they saw Alder appear, the people cheered so loudly it was like a roar. It was a huge crowd, all of them waving and cheering, and many of them calling out his name.
It was then that he realised where he was. This was the town he had left as a boy! Only something had changed. And when his parents emerged from the crowd, crying with happiness and relief and joy that their son was here and alive and in their arms, Alder realised what was different.

He had grown. He was no longer the size of the Man-boys. Though he hadn’t noticed while living with the tiny people of Corn’s village, he had grown into a real Giant. In fact, he was even taller than his father, who hugged him tightly with tears in his eyes.

The townsfolk cheered, and hailed Alder as a Hero for saving the life of Bramble, who had become lost in the worst storm any of them had ever seen.

Corn held on tight to Alder, perched proudly on his shoulder as the people of the town gathered round to shake his hand and offer their thanks while others prepared tables of food and drink for a great celebration, which was to last through the day and through the night, and Alder was happier than he had ever been in his life.

This is the story of how “The Littlest Giant” became “Alder the Great”, a hero to Men, Tiny Folk and Giants alike. But, of course (for true heroes are never idle), this story is only the beginning...

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The Littlest Giant © Jai Gomer


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