The Tumble Titan
The River Titan sent up the damp smell of green with every step. Scents of moss and wet mud, sodden leaves and the bark of encroaching trees rhythmically puffed up into the air as if the earth itself was exhaling. The sunlight shone through lime green leaves, enough to remind you of its presence, but restrained enough to keep the thick air cool.
Here by the stream was always cool, even in this height of summer. The trees leant forward to kiss one another, so the path never quite dried, and the smells of the river always stayed true.
For this was the river, and he was the Titan.
He kept up his strides, one heavy footfall after another. When he closed his eyes the light inside his head would go from orange, black, orange, black. He heard the dragonfly and the stonefly. He heard the wagtail dancing from branch to branch above. And they heard him.
For it was their river, and he was their Titan.
On the Titan went, over the fallen tree and across the single steppingstone. Up and over the bend and across the heavy stone that criss-crossed the water. A thousand greens and a hundred chirps, all with the steady tinkle of rushing water in his ear. The air hummed and buzzed. The patches of sunlight were hot, the relief of the shadow cooling.
Then the Titan froze.
He stood stock still, a ray of light glinting off his armour, his heavy boot crushing down on the soil beneath. He waited, waited, waited. The Titan allowed one breath, just long enough for the song of the skylark to finish. In one movement, he whirled and leapt, sending up a puff of dry dirt. Spinning he snatched up his weapon, shook it clean, and grasped it strong with a two-hand grip. The Titan felt the stretch on his shoulders, the tensing of his stomach, the power lurking in his legs. He crouched low, lifting the pommel to the height of his face, and waited.
The lark sang again, and the Titan danced his merry song.
Foes came from the left first, looming and green. The Titan sent a sweeping cut at their necks, and all the heads rolled. Another came from behind. This time the sword sent flecks of red into the air. The Titan span over the rocks, stabbing and piercing, he feet dancing from stone to stone. An enemy swung down from a branch above, but now the Titan’s blood flowed strong, and he leapt, bringing down the sword mid-leap and cutting his enemy in two. The Titan laughed. His breath was hard and hot, sweat beaded on his brow, but he was alive.
I am the Titan, and this is my river.
He sprinted along the path, flinging out his sword with one hand, sending enemies to their doom. He leapt and leapt and leapt again, each higher than the last, each with his sword slashing. It made a whoosh sound as it ripped through the air. He took one last jump, into where the stream was its shallowest. Crystal clear water ran past his ankles, and now the enemies swam towards him, one after another, squirming and slithering. The Titan thrust his sword down, again and again, not even seeing if he struck true. Again and again, water flying up to his legs and on his face. Splash and thrash, splash and thrash.
The Titan yelled with glee. “Nyahh! This is my river! And I am the Titan!” He wrapped two hands around the grip and drove the sword down into the soft sand below, roaring with his triumph.
Somewhere between his heart beats he heard a derisive gasp. “Seven Hells. What is he doing?”
The warm morning turned misty cold as the Titan turned, yet heat still bubbled under his skin.
“Can’t you see? He’s defending us all from the vicious tadpoles!”
The woods rang with laughter, and the skylarks sang their song no more. The Titan turned, his armour returning to his patched wool greens. He dropped the stick that had been a sword beneath the ripples. And the Titan drooped his head, hoping they would not see the burning of his face.
The first voice returned. “Oh yes, thank the Seven, Freck has been turning back the tadpole tide. And look, he’s beheaded all the thistles too. You know what thistles do when the moon goes down, don’t you? My, Freck, you just saved the whole village!”
There was more tittering, and more burning. He stared down at the water lapping around his ankles. It seemed dirtier than it had a moment before. He watched his sword slowly drift away. Titan, not Freck. Freck is not my name.
Unable to resist any longer, the Titan raised his head. They were all there, staring. Jed, tall and lithe, leant up against an alder tree, chewing leaves as he always did. The Farrah twins were behind, giggling on cue whenever it was asked of them. Thin-haired Bowl was a few steps beyond, idly dabbing at the riverbank with his own palm. In front of him was Lassa, arms folded, brow frowning, yet with glee on her face. Hers had been the first voice. Hers was always the one that cut him deepest.
“You’ve dropped your sword, Freck.” She put such an emphasis on the name that the Titan could feel it in his bones. “How will you defeat the weeds and leaves now, Freck?”
The twins giggled and Jed offered a sly grin. Even Bowl offered a throaty guffaw this time. The Titan nearly went back to staring at his feet, but Lassa jumped down from the mound she had been stood on. When the Titan dared to raise his eyes she was stood in front of him, nose-wrinkled with one eyebrow arched, and her head tilted in the way a dog’s sometimes did. But it was the hands on her hips that kept his mouth shut. Lassa’s hands on Lassa’s hips meant trouble.
The Titan braced, waiting for it to come, wishing he had a shield like the real Titan…but Lassa just kept staring. The others were silent too, waiting for the onslaught. What came was somehow worse. Lassa stepped forwards, the water running past her toes. She didn’t even reach the Titan’s shoulders, yet he found himself leaning backward anyway.
Lassa was peering up at his face, eyes screwed in concentration, and the whole wood seemed to go quiet. Had the larks gone? Was the stream dry?
“Ha!” Lassa’s triumphant shriek gave birth to nature once again. A bird flapped above them, Bowl dropped a pebble into the stream, and one of the twins had begun to titter pre-emptively. “Ha!” She squealed again, hopping up and down on the water’s edge. “A hundred!” She pointed with glee. “He’s got a hundred of those things on his face. I counted! A hundred! A hundred!” Lassa cackled as she bounced back up to the path, near doubling with laughter. The others followed, each and every one of them, the howls bouncing off the tree trunks. The trees seemed so much closer suddenly, and the sun’s heat had punched its way through the canopy. The Titan wanted nothing more than to swim away with the tadpoles.
“Who bet a hundred?” Jed asked the assembled crowd, “I know I had a thousand.” More jibes came in between the puffs of laughter, but the Titan made a deal of splashing his foot so he wouldn’t have to hear them. They slowly began to move away, hopping off their branches and Bowl emptying his pocket of pebbles. The Titan just watched them shift along the track, Lassa in front making some joke, Jed a step behind adding his own witty comment, and the twins behind them laughing in harmony. Only Bowl lingered, looking back when he realised the Titan was stock still. He jerked his head towards the others before shuffling away himself.
The Titan chewed his lip, followed, and then stopped chewing his lip, because that is not what Titans did. That’s what it was like before. Be brave, like the stories. Be brave like him. He caught up soon enough, falling into step with the other five, unheralded. He painted a smile onto his face and strained to hear the latest from Lassa.
“Saw one of Strawman’s pigs with that many dots like that once, just before it died. Smelled like a burning chamber pot. No wonder she ran from their hovel!”
The laughs cut deeper this time, settling in the Titan’s chest. There seemed only one available option. The Titan laughed. Loud and deep, he made himself laugh, wherever he felt like it or not. That was the only way. Take it away from them, laugh the loudest, be one of them. He was the widest there and only an inch shorter than Jed, but he became aware he might have overdone it when they started staring. For most of them it was only a glance. Lassa’s lingered, and for a moment it all went quiet again, but then they went on, making more jokes as they followed the stream through the green.
The path that wound around the high bank and then cut through the Miller’s fields, the fastest way home, came and went, and the Titan steeled his jaw as they passed. This was more important. He had waited long enough. Life had to go on. The path rose through the tall grass and left the stream for a time, rising above the trees and along a ridge that gently sloped down to the farmed fields of Haversbrook and Watchcreek beyond it. A column of smoke drifted up from one, the tip of the Sept spire from the other. But on their path only lay bees and butterflies, dancing between the six. In-between jokes Lassa would sometimes lash out to grab one, but she was too forceful by half, and her fingers always came away empty. Bowl left his hand in the air and had one settle on his muddy knuckle. He tried to show it to Pheba, but as she turned the butterfly fluttered away, leaving Bowl standing there with a single finger extended.
As the ridge began to head down the Titan became lax in his duties. Lassa’s whip-tight voice and Jed’s smarmy additions began to merge with the chuckles of the twins. But the distant hills came alive with the sound of warhorse and horn. Legions of soldiers flowed over the smooth grass like ships over waves, streaming and calling, drawing their swords as they began their climb up the hills, shields and sigils glinting, coming, coming, coming, a wave ready to smash itself on the mighty Titan, ten foot tall with arms of granite. He swung a sword as big as a tree, with family and friends cheering behind him. Titan, Titan, TITAN! They sang as the soldiers flew into the air.
“OW!” shouted one of the twins. Pheba. No, Else. No, it was Pheba. The Titan had walked straight into the back of her, not realising the group had stopped just before the treeline, staring off at the crook of hill, where bushes clung together around a dark opening.
The Titan was sure Lassa was going to bite at him, but Pheba needed no help. “Watch your step Freck, you bloody clumsy oaf,” she scorned, rubbing at her heel. Else frowned too, but Bowl gave the Titan a half-shove, leaving muddy fingerprints on the Titan’s shoulder.
“Yeah. Watch it. Freck.”
Somehow it stung a little bit more when said by a girl who’d spent the morning giggling and a boy who provided a home for butterflies. He tried to mumble out an apology as best he could. Lassa just smirked, and Jed didn’t even turn around, instead keeping his focus on the dark bushes. “Well if that was Old Clawface that shout was enough to send him scarpering. Thanks, Freck. Come on.”
Each twin gave him a withering scowl, and Bowl no longer enticed him forward. For a brief moment the Titan considered leaving for home, but they were so far past the turnoff now, and they had invited him to play. Besides, she wasn’t coming back to save him. This had to be done.
For an even briefer moment he considered telling them that ‘Freck’ was not his name.
Under the cool cover of the trees they soon found themselves back with the sound of running water. Before long the narrow stream widened out into what they called the brook, a clearing with the trees spaced out but covered by the foliage, while the ground rose up to one solitary oak in the centre. The water ran around it, underneath the mighty fallen trunk and around the embankment. The water was so clear you could count the pebbles beneath if you fancied, and the curve was so steep that you could go ankle-high or shoulder-high, as it pleased you. Mistle thrush and golden chaffinches sang from the branches above, the sun dappled through the leaves, and every so often a small roe deer would appear to snatch a peek at their games. The Titan smiled as he entered the brook, sighing with content at the same time. He had been away too long.
The other four spread to their normal starting positions, as they always did. The twins sat on the stones amongst the blue brooklimes and violet bugles, Jed and Bowl went to the water’s edge, while Lassa began climbing the fallen oak, selecting a branch from which she could swing or sit at her delight. The Titan lingered, not wanting to go too quickly, not wanting to ruin the peace. Else was the first to talk.
“What will it be today? Lords-of-the-Crossing?”
“For babies” Jed intoned without looking up.
“What about Throwing Bull?” Pheba asked.
“Yeah, Throwing Bull” Bowl said immediately.
The Titan tried to keep his smile to himself. He liked Throwing Bull. It was probably his best game. And they had laughed so much back when she was still around.
The group let their gaze turn upward to Lassa, who was busy completing a rotation on the branch, her pigtails flapping out wildly. They said her father used to beat her mother mercilessly, until a few years ago when Lassa’s mother took a cooking pot and cracked it open on his face. His head had opened too, it was said, though not in Lassa’s mother’s hearing. Lassa herself had seen the whole thing, and she had not been told what to do by anyone but her mother ever since.
Pulling herself back to upright, Lassa seemed to consider for a moment before finally giving a nod of approval. The twins rushed to find suitable logs while Jed moved to the best bank to play the game from. Lassa leapt down and the Titan eagerly went to help. He dragged over two of the logs himself as the others laughed and joked, the excitement of the game already building. It would be different without her. It would always be different. But it was just enough of the same to make it seem like she was still here in some way.
Within minutes they were suitably prepared. They began in the shallows, where the two stony banks were at their closest. The twins had split for once, with Else joining Lassa and Jed on the centre bank while the Titan joined Bowl and Pheba. Bowl smiled and gestured for the Titan to take first position, which he did with glee. She used to give him first position too. And she would always cheer the loudest, except for when it was his turn to cheer for her. All their years and they had never been on different teams for Throwing Bull. No, not them, they stuck together more than the twins. They were always together, always laughing, always having-
“Freck?” The voice snapped through the dust motes like the closing of a lion’s jaw. “What do you think you’re doing?”
The Titan had frozen in the midst of bending down to pick up his end of the log. He extended his neck upward to see Lassa standing at the other end, hands on hips, head slightly cocked. And she had a look on her face…that look. The Titan stayed bent over as he tried to answer.
“Umm…the log…I thought…need to get the–”
“No,” Lassa said over him, her voice ringing out across the brook. The world had gone silent again, all save for the beating of the Titan’s heart. “What are you doing?”
The Titan’s mind scrambled, searching for the right answer. He wanted to look to Jed or Bowl or any of them for an answer, but he couldn’t break the lock between he and Lassa. His tongue felt heavy, his breath stuck in his throat, and still he did not move.
“Oh my,” Lassa said as her eyes lit like night fires above her smile. “You didn’t think we would let you play, did you?”
A wide, cold hole drained through the Titan’s stomach at the same time his face grew hot and red. He finally dropped the log and stood up straight, blood rushing back down him. “I…I…” I what? I WHAT? His face grew hotter, his whole head. He felt sweat on his brow.
Then she laughed. She threw her head back and laughed, pointing at him as if he were some big dumb beast. And though he didn’t look, the Titan heard the others join her.
“You great big freckled sow. We let you play before because Ket insisted. Ket was good and fun and fast, we liked her. Ket was our friend.” She left the rest dangling there to accompany the rings of laughter. The corner of Freck’s eyes began to prickle.
“I…” he managed, but it was less than half a croak.
“Did you honestly think we’d keep playing with you once she left? It’s your bloody father’s brother’s fault she went in the first place. Why couldn’t they have taken you and left her here with us? Not enough room in the sty?”
Somewhere, somehow, he found the courage, or the madness, to say, “But I’ve come past the path. Home is so far away,” he said in a voice light and pathetic.
Lassa kicked at the water. “Do you think I give a fuck? You are nothing to me, Freck. You are something we had to put up with because your cousin felt bad for you, and even she got annoyed with having to do it. I’ll bet your uncle made her. I bet she was relieved when he died, just so she could get away from leading you round the field by your neck. We were friends with her. You weren’t her friend. You aren’t our friend. You are just Freck, the spotted boy. Now leave us alone, so we can play with our friends.”
For a few heartbeats he had been the Titan, full of anger at the mention of his uncle. But that was gone in an instant. The mighty Titan, a hundred feet tall, made of stone, immovable in the protection of his family and his river, was gone. Spotted Freck stood there instead, with tears streaming down his cheeks.
Lassa made a joke about that too. Or maybe Jed, Freck couldn’t hear anymore. There was a thundering in his ears. The heat had spread throughout all of him, banging and burning. He half-tripped on the log as he turned, not daring to look at any of the other faces, not daring to look at the brook he’d once loved and shared with Ket. Instead he walked quickly as he could on the slick pebbles, and then trotted, and then ran out of the clearing, wishing that flowers and stalks were the only enemies he had to fight.
Freck left the laughter behind, and prepared for the long journey home, alone.
Most of it he’d tried to run, but he only came up coughing. A bit closer to home he tried to skip through Rand’s field, but one of the boys had seen him and started throwing apples. He heard one of their mastiffs bark, and that was when Freck really started running. When he reached home mud had spattered up past his knees, his shirt was heavy with sweat, and his face hadn’t cooled one bit.
Ket had freckles too. Especially in the sun. They never called her Freck. Not even once.
It was sunny now. Her freckles were probably out, even more prominent than his. But who was to say? There were no freckles large enough to see all the way from Shorstone. The only part of Lassa’s word that hadn’t whipped him was the idea that Ket had never wanted to play with him in the first place. If there was anything Freck knew, it was that he and Ket were friends no matter what. Even if they hadn’t been cousins, they would have played. Even if they had lived far away from Lassa and Jed and the others, they would have played, and did, often, right from the beginning. Freck had only been two years old himself when Ket was born, but he swore blind he remembered the day clear as any other, when she’d smiled and giggled as he poked out his tongue.
Besides, he couldn’t imagine Uncle Rennam ever caring enough about Freck to give Ket any sort of orders of care. He was always too busy with Da and the animals. Drac might have cared enough, but he didn’t need to. Ket wanted to play. Freck knew that. He knew it.
The thought didn’t make him feel any better. As he walked past the fence and onto the first step of their hovel, the step where Ket had liked to sit, it just made the empty hole inside him feel bigger.
The house was just as quiet. Da would be with the animals. Ma was probably collecting something for the evening meal. She had argued Freck’s father into letting him have every third day off for play. The next three he would spend assisting his father with the stock. He didn’t mind helping, it was the silence that got to him. Neither father nor son would talk. Just the animals. It hadn’t been that way before. When Uncle Rennam was still alive, and Freck only had to work once every three days, it had been a noisy, exciting place to be. Drac was old enough to help every day, and nearly got as much work done as his two elders. Drac was taller than Jed even, his voice had deepened, and some hairs had crept down from near his ears to his chin, though he was forever trying to trim them off.
It was Drac who used to speak to Freck during the midday break. Uncle Rennam and Da would kick up their feet and drink a horn of ale each, business being as good as it was. Drac and Freck would sit by the pump washing their hands and forearms. Sometimes Drac would give him tips, sometimes he would tell jokes (even rude ones that made Freck snort water out of his nose), and sometimes he told stories. And he always knew which Freck liked best.
“He stands a hundred feet tall,” his cousin would always begin, “bigger than the Rock in the West. Big enough to jump over the Wall, if he wanted. Maybe he did, once upon a time, but then he got his duty and his people, and he never forgot neither, nor left his place.”
Drac would always jump atop the stump and assume the position then, one arm half bent and kept close to his ribs, the other extended high towards the sun.
“Far away he stands, across the Trident and past Maidenpool. On Crackclaw Point you can see his head, if the sun deems you worthy. But even then you have to sail across the Narrow Sea, and you have to find the hidden city, behind its wall of mist.”
Freck had always loved that part.
“The city he protects is called Braavos, and all those we go there were once lost souls in need of protection. Even when they found the bay they wanted to make a home in, all them thousands of years ago, they knew their enemies could find them, and come to bind them once more. So, what were they to do?”
The first time Drac told the story Freck had simply stared at him, not realising he was supposed to reply, but every time after he was quick off the mark. “They needed a Titan!”
“They sure did. All the people of Braavos went to the Titan, and told him of their need, but they were worried, because they had nothing to offer him, on account of their escape from lives of bondage.”
“But why would the Titan protect them for nothing?” Freck had asked during the first telling.
Drac had spoken a bit more softly that first time, dropping the rag from his dirty arms, and putting a hand on his young cousin’s shoulder. “The Titan isn’t a sellsword. He didn’t need money, or honours, or homage.” (He had paused to explain what homage meant as well) “He protected them because they needed protecting, and he had the power to do so. That is what all Titans do, and all good men with him.”
There had been a pause, that first time, when the sun had started going down and the two of them had their shadows lengthened in the orange dusk. Freck remembered hearing the insect as Drac squeezed his shoulder and looked into his eyes for a long minute. Freck didn’t think he would ever forget that moment with the song of orange grasshoppers. Originally, he thought the story done when Drac picked up the rag again, but little did he know his favourite part was still to come.
“After the Titan agreed to be their protector, and asking nothing in return, the new people of Braavos got together and whispered. They would not let his service go unrewarded, they decided, because they had suffered all types of horrors, and knew what his protection meant. But what could a Titan possibly need? It was a little girl who came up with the answer, a lonely little girl who didn’t look too different from our Ket. She had lost her family in the coming to Braavos, and she eventually made her small voice heard when she told them ‘The Titan is all alone. He is the only one. I’ll bet he wants a family.’
“So the peoples of Braavos had a good think and arrived at a decision. On the morning the Titan crossed the sea for the final time, and took up his position on the bay,” Drac dropped the rag again, and took up the mighty stand on his stump “Every single person of Braavos walked up to his mighty stone foot, holding up their right hand, every one of them red with blood. Every man, woman, and child of Braavos had cut their palm, and wiped it upon the Titan’s leg, making sure a teeny, tiny, piece of stone came away in their hand. It took all morning, and was well past noon before the city was done. All of them had cut, all of them had wiped on the same spot, and each had come away with a tiny stone. When finally the Titan noticed, he looked down on his people, and asked what they were doing.
“‘Mighty Titan!’ they cried. ‘You have within you the blood of every person here, and each of us has your stone. You are as much of our blood as we are each other. You are one of us. We are family.’ And the Titan looked down, his big stone heart set to cracking, and thanked them all. From that day to this one he has stood on the bay, protecting the people of Braavos, protecting his family. Because that is what all Titans do, and all good men with him.”
Even whilst sitting alone in an empty kitchen, with no fire and the air full of sweaty smoke, Freck nearly smiled at the memory. Drac was a good cousin. A good man. There had been less time for stories, because he kept taking on more and more of the work, but he always made time for Freck when he could. Every time he did tell the Titan story Freck would ask how he knew about it, and every time Drac would say he would tell him next time.
But I suppose he never will now.
That just made the hole feel big again. And if he missed Drac, well he only spent one or two days a week with his older cousin. But he spent nearly every day with Ket…
Ma backed through the door with a puff and a grunt, manhandling her large bowl through the doorway. Freck was used to seeing it overflow with fruit and veg and the like, but all that was on offer today was three turnips and a cabbage that looked as if it had received a good kick. Ma put the heavy bowl down right in front of Freck, grunting again and holding the small of her back, only then did she seem to notice her son.
“Oh,” she said as she regained her breath. “Good, you’re home. Looks like your father will need some extra help this evening.”
Freck nodded, keeping his eyes on the cabbage.
“Don’t look like that, son. Your father’s work has tripled since the chill took Rennam and…she took Drac.” Ma spun around on the word she, muttering under her breath. “I know you like your games, and we like you playing them, but work is work, and summer doesn’t last forever.”
Freck nodded again, intent on seeing nothing else but the cabbage. She had freckles too…
The thought ended when he realised his mother was staring at him.
“Did you have some trouble today?”
Ma took a turnip and cleaver both, beginning to hack away what parts of the root could be salvaged. “I’m glad you had no trouble. It can be hard sometimes for us. This here turnip might have been here longer than we have, certainly by how bloody tough it is.” She took another hack, and succeeded in separating a small, pathetic looking wedge. “I told your father it would be a risk, coming here,” she continued as she wedged the cleaver in further and further, not even bothering with a chopping motion. “We were Tumblestone people for generations, his family and mine. But Rennum got the idea in his head, not too long after you were born. And if Rennum had an idea your father would listen with mouth agape. If he’d said we should set up shop at the Wall your Da might have gone with him, and dragged me into it too, I don’t doubt.”
“I thought Da loved the Tumblestone.”
“Da do love the Tumblestone. You’ve heard him. ‘A proper river’. I swear they are all the same, but he won’t hear of it. But he loves Rennum more.” The cleaver went still for a second. “Loved.”
Ma was silhouetted against the window, and dusk had come in force. For a moment, if Freck squinted, it was as if Drac had returned, ready to tell another story. Freck was halfway to asking for one when the door opened, the sun went behind a bank of cloud, and the glow died. Instead it was just Freck, ma, and now da. That and the shade.
“Need a fire,” Da grumbled, throwing one of his tools on the table and walking past them both. Freck tried, truly tried, not to look at his Da’s right hand as he passed, but he couldn’t help it. He had to look, he always had to look, just in case it was better.
Instead his father’s hand remained swollen and dark. It had been red before but now there was a purple shade around his knuckles, all puffed up. The centre knuckle was still out of place, and his last two fingers were still bent in on themselves. Freck hurriedly drew his eyes away when his father passed, and instead began to light a fire.
“Good boy,” Ma whispered as she continued with the turnip.
The meal was so silent they may as well have invited the crickets in to dine with them. A couple of times the conversation tried to start but could not find legs. Ma would talk about Mother Clare delivering a new-born, or the stick man on the outskirts of the village getting too drunk again. Da spoke of the animals, and the work, but the words were too much for him and he soon stopped.
Freck tried to watch him, out of the corner of his eye. His father was as strait-laced and stiff as any man who had to make his own way in the world, but Freck had heard him laugh. With Uncle Rennam, and with Drac too. Once he had even chased Freck and Ket around with a tail he said he was going to pin on them and turn them into a donkey. Now he sat, pushing odd-shaped pieces of turnip around the plate. He wasn’t angry. Da was a good Da; the times he had struck Freck couldn’t fill up a hand full of fingers, and those had all been around the work tools or the animals. It wasn’t anger…it was something else…
I’m supposed to be a Titan…but how can I protect him if I don’t know what’s attacking him?
Ma cleared their food away and fetched Da an ale before retiring. For a little while it was just Freck and Da, with Da sipping and the candle flickering and throwing strange lights on the wall.
I’ll figure it out, the Titan told himself. Damn Lassa and the others. He had his family to think of. Uncle Rannem was gone, Drac and Ket too, but he, the River Titan remained. An idea occurred to him then, to drag his father back towards smiles.
“Ma was talking about the Tumblestone today. I remember you saying I was born right next to it, and you and Uncle Rennam used to play in there all day. I always thought the Tumblestone was a proper river, right?”
His father was facing away from him, so the Titan could not truly tell in the half-lit gloom, but he thought his father was smiling by how the shadows tracked each other across his cheek. Da pinched the bridge of his nose and spoke in a much huskier voice than usual.
“You have trouble with those kids again today?”
The Titan’s chest tightened. “No.”
“Normally sprint back from the brook, do you? Rand’s farm? The long way home?”
“I…I was running because of their dog.”
Da snorted. “Don’t remind me. Seen a puppy make you jump out of your skin.” Da drank.
The Titan’s face warmed by the light of the candle, but he did not relent. A Titan protected. This was his family, and he –.
“One with the pigtails giving you trouble again was she? The little girl?
“She said I had a hundred freckles.” Freck mumbled.
His father looked up for just a second, and ran his tongue over his teeth. “That Lassa don’t know her numbers.” He got up, dragging the cup off the table, making the flames dance.
Yes, the Titan thought. He’s right. Stupid Lassa can’t count.
But then his father passed by him and the candle, illuminating his frame for a second. “There’s much more than ‘a hundred”. And he lurched off into the darkness, leaving his son behind with a sputtering candle and a hundred laughing shadows.
Dawn brought his father’s shouts to wake, grumbling clouds and a dark, dark mood inside Freck’s head. He woke, he dressed, he worked. He would not let it be said that he was not dutiful. Maybe he wasn’t a Titan. Maybe he was covered in freckles. Maybe no one liked him. Fine. The gods could control many things, but he could control the work he put it. The morning went by in a fury. He threw logs into the fire. He thrashed the broom across the workshop floor. Buckets of water cascaded on the yard with such force that his legs and the lower wall were just as soaked, and the animals squealed even louder when he threw the bucket back down, denting it on the way. No doubt he would pay for that too, but what of it?
With Freck helping in the yard his father was able to concentrate his efforts inside, where Freck frequently heard his own grunts and curses of frustration. At first Freck thought he should offer to help, but then figured it was as likely to end in a clipped ear as it was a smile, so he left his father to the struggle. Eventually the command was bellowed for the wheelbarrow to be trundled to Glack’s house. Some sacks of who-knew-what were bundled in. His father muttered what needed picking up, and Freck was sent on his way. He could have sworn the cursed thing was seeking out rocks and divots as he started down the path. Despite the far-off clouds the heat was pressing closer, and Freck felt sweat under his armpits before he’d even left the house. His forehead was soon dripping as he neared town and Freck felt the tight feeling in his chest grow as heavy as anything in those clouds.
Why does the Titan stay there? He began to wonder. Surely at some point the people of Braavos had forgotten him, mocked him, said mean things about him, so why did he stay? Did he not become bored? Did he not miss wandering the world?
Titans can walk over oceans. And why would he want to stay guarding all the time? I’ll bet he is hankering to be an attacker for once. Titans can attack better than anyone.
Freck could have sworn the people of the village were staring. At first he kept his eyes low, not wanting to confirm his own suspicion, but then he frowned back, daring them to break the stare first. He was tired, tired already, and hot. Hot enough that he had to wipe his brow every few steps until his sleeve looked like it had been claimed by the bucket too. Glack was on the far side of the village, and unless he wanted to wrestle with yet more rocks going through the centre was Freck’s best option. So on he went, pushing his cart, ignoring any hellos. All he wanted was to be in and out as fast as possible.
Why should I protect them anyway? He thought as he wound through the trail. It seemed most folk had come out to get their business done before the clouds burst with their summer rains. The Titan of Braavos shares blood with all his people. That was what Drac had said. Freck didn’t share any blood with these people. These ugly, withered, annoying, stupid people. His family were one of the newest. There were no ancient blood ties. No oaths. These people had not cut their hands for him and offered up their thanks. Why should he protect them as the Titan did for the Braavosi? Besides, he raged as he lashed out at a particularly annoying stone, even those I do share blood with don’t want my help. Either that or they are gone.
The push he gave the cart then was one too much. It went over the divot all right, but then overbalanced and toppled onto its side, half of Da’s contents spilling out. The heat rushed to Freck’s face as he hurried to scoop them all up out of the dirt, dropping half again as he did so. He heard the mutters and the tuts, and kept his head bowed so he didn’t have to face them. But then there was a short, sharp Heh, jabbing like a spear into Freck’s ear. From his position kneeling on the floor, arms full of the cart’s contents, Freck looked up. Sitting by the corner of the door of his house was Jed, a half-smile of amusement on his face. The twins were there too. And so was Lassa. She was looking at him with a hand to her mouth and said something to the others.
They laughed. Then Lassa did too, with the spear again. Freck was close to getting everything back in when the air suddenly filled with angry barking, and a great black bitch was bounding towards him from the other way. One of Rand’s. It was all over the cart, barking, growling, slobbering everywhere, and Freck fell back. He wanted to run, wanted to get away from those teeth and that horrible bark that got right inside his head. The other one came now. It was the older and normally slower of the two, but the fallen cart had gotten him excited too, and soon they were both bounding around, jumping on the cart, on each other, towards Freck…
Before he could help it he was stood up, backing off, hands raised high and his voice went yet higher. “No! Noooo!”
One of the Rand brothers was there laughing, but the gods were kind enough that his father was there too. He broke his conversation with the miller off and came stalking over, chewing cud yet again. “HERE! NOW!” The two dogs obeyed in an instant, though they kept wheeling round as they went, tongues lolling at the scent of the cart. Rand gave them both a flick on the ear and pushed them on their way, then frowned back at Freck and Spat. “Gods be good boy, what are you a maid? They’re dogs is all, not hell hounds! Dogs won’t do you no harm.”
Freck could only swallow. His voice might as well have been at Harrenhal for all the good it could do him now. The folk around him went back to their hurried business, the interest over. Freck made the mistake of glancing at Jed and the others. He looked in time just to see them turning away, their faces red with laughter, and Lassa using that blade of a laugh again as she slapped Jed on the shoulder. She took one look back, and Freck had never seen a smile look smugger in all his life.
Then they were gone. Off to play their games and laugh some more and point and play and laugh and play and not even care about the damn bloody cursed jokes they were making. They didn’t even care.
Freck stood straight up. With his foot alone he pushed the wheelbarrow upright. He dumped the contents back in, despite half of it being all over his chest, not bothering to dust off what had fallen or any of the dog slobber on the sides. He gripped the handles, half wondering if he could crush them with his hands alone, and set off for Glack’s, woe betide any stone that should get in his way.
At Glack’s he thudded the barrow down, gave two thumps on the door that immediately hurt his wrist, and stalked away. Da can get his own bloody cart. And if he wants to yell, he can go talk to Rand’s bloody dogs.
Freck marched away, out from the centre and around the edge of the village. He knew where Lassa and them liked to play, and he knew where they never went. It was the latter he headed for, stomping on the ground and kicking the heads off flowers. At some point he heard a noise and saw a puppy, or a smaller dog at least, racing towards him. Freck looked back to see if he belonged to anyone, though he didn’t recognise the damn thing, and saw nobody.
“Gerrof!” he exclaimed as the dog jumped up at his leg. He swung his foot out twice in the puppy’s general direction, but it seemed to enjoy that, its tail wagging as it tried to latch onto Freck’s boot. Freck gave up immediately. This was a common occurrence given his father’s line of work, so he settled for stalking away, hoping the bloody thing would get bored of its yapping and bouncing around and leave Freck alone.
It had done no such thing by the time he reached the looping hill. By then it seemed content to dally behind him, sniffing this and that before coming for a sneak attack at Freck’s boots again. Freck just walked on, cursing under his breath. The dark clouds had thinned, but a slight rain was coming down fast. Tiny droplets that were ice cold in the summer warmth. If his mood had been better Freck might have enjoyed the relief. As it was, he remained hot. Hot on his head and under his arms, on his brow and deep, deep in his gut. Looping hill was the best place to be. It began high, overlooking his little village, nestled down in the trees. He could see the path of the river where he had been the day before, winding through the tall greens. He could get there quite easily from here, if he wished, all the paths around here joined. But instead he went left, leaving the village behind, walking around the perimeter of the great cornfield belonging to old Grandpa, as the whole village knew him. He wouldn’t be out today. It would just be Freck. And the bloody puppy.
The sun fought back in the battle of the sky, sending down shafts of light so hot as if nothing would ever feel rain again. The wheat was tall, brown and starched as Freck rounded it, the path going down the hill before turning right, going along the shortest edge of the field and creeping back up the hill, this time in a world of green again instead of cracked brown. The wheat was still on his right, but the left was now filled with a thick heavy hedge and trees bowing over the path, small copses behind each of them. Even halfway back up Freck could look around and see for miles. It was a lovely place, a special place. Ket had always loved it, yet at this moment Freck hated nothing more. Excepting the bloody puppy.
Why? The voice inside him raged again. Why should I protect them when no one around here would ever lift a finger for me? Why shouldn’t I be an attacking Titan? Why shouldn’t I rob and steal and hit and make people like me. Is that what they’d prefer? Would the bloody Braavosi like it if their Titan turned around and proclaimed himself a ruler instead of a guardian?
“ARGGGHGHH!” Freck yelled, making the dog bow suddenly as he kicked at a stalk of wheat. The clouds countered the sun, the droplets falling again in a light sheet, not even enough to sodden Freck’s clothes. “WHY?” he bellowed. Why did it matter if he was good if they laughed anyway? Why did it matter if he tried to play and they shoved him away? Why did it matter that he and Ket had played all those times, all those wonderous, fun, happy times, if she was going to up and leave him now? Leave him all alone. Apart from the bloody puppy.
A darkness Freck had never known came over him then, a black that would embarrass the clouds above. He stalked off again, along the green and rosy path. Why did she leave? Why why why why OW!
The bastard dog was nipping at his ankles again. Freck did his best to ignore it and walk on, it normally gave up after a step or two. But this time it kept coming. Nipping and napping, making little growls, and then it got through again, its teeth sinking right through the material of Freck’s boot. Pain lanced in his ankle. The dog had leapt back, its head bowed on two forepaws, but the growling was louder now, and Freck stopped. He could hear his own heart beginning to hammer.
Are you truly a maid? That sounded wrong though. Ket was the bravest person he’d ever known. Being a maid did not make you a craven. Craven. Am I a craven? This thing is half the size of the two of Rand’s. Yet Freck found his voice shrinking again, his throat getting tight. The thing was snarling now, baring its teeth. Freck backed up, right against the wheat.
“Go away,” he whispered. “Leave me alone.”
Shamefully, his dread grew. Again the beast came. Slavering, angry, this was no game anymore. Freck looked around for a stick, a stone, anything at all. It wasn’t fair. He was supposed to be the Titan, fending off soldiers and enemies, not Freck, alone and scared of a tiny dog. He was supposed to have Ket. And Drac too. They were supposed to be here.
The dog leapt, sinking its teeth into Freck’s calf. Freck shook, shook, shook and felt the frustration build inside. It grew. It would not stop. It was hot. It was too hot.
A sound came from the trees, and both Freck and the dog stopped. Two sets of jaws slacked.
From one of the copses, leaping over the hedge, stood a deer. No, a stag. Tall, brown, sleek and powerful, it stood at the top of the path, its head turned towards the pair, with two dark eyes staring directly at them, serene as the stars. Above those eyes were a pair of mighty antlers, black as the night and spidering out from its head as though they’d been dripped in a forge.
She had spoken about him often. Insistent, convincing as she always was. She and Freck had seen plenty of deer both up on the looping hill and down by the river. But Ket alone had set eyes on Ser Antler, as she’d named him. The biggest, the proudest, and with the most impressive set of antlers anywhere in the Riverlands. He was a protector of the hill and the trees, she’d said, who came to the aid of people who’d really deserved it.
“A Darry deer, one that fine,” Freck’s father had said when Ket tried to tell the family over supper one evening. “Look at him too long and you’ll be charged a stag of your own.”
Ket had only snorted. “You can’t own a deer. They’re wild. They’re part of the land. Especially Ser Antler.” Freck remembered Uncle Rennam smiling at that over his soup.
The dog, to his credit, tried a bark in Ser Antler’s direction, bowing on his paws again. The deer didn’t respond for a few moments before bowing his own head slightly, showing his antlers off all the more. Ser Antler pawed at the ground once, twice, and the puppy suddenly scarpered off back home.
Freck was too far to tell, but he could have sworn the deer was looking straight at him. It didn’t seem as hot now. It seemed cool. Comfortable. The only sound was the steady rain, the buzz of flies, and the chirp of crickets. Freck hadn’t realised how many butterflies were out. Large whites and tiny orange and blacks. The flowers he stood among were a droopy blue and confident pink. Sage green stalks, yet to come into their own, watched the prettier examples as the grass grew around them, and all of them rushed in a rainbow toward Ser Antler. Freck stared at the majestic beast. He didn’t move. Ser Antler didn’t move. Just the butterflies and the raindrops.
“Ket?” he dared to whisper.
She had always said if she could be born again she’d be a deer. A deer just like Ser Antler. Freck had laughed and said that was silly, that wasn’t what happened when you died, Septon Formon had told them all. But she’d scoffed again and said she’d do what she wanted. It was her death, after all.
Ser Antler did not answer, though his ear twitched a couple of times. But Ket isn’t dead. She’s just in Shorstone with Drac and her mother, and that new man her mother loves so much. She isn’t gone.
Freck smiled at Ser Antler, the darkness and heat in his head were gone. And he could smell green again. Just because Ket was no longer here, did not mean she was no longer here. Their times playing together did not cease. His memories did not go. Ser Antler was here, sent by his cousin Ket, and Freck was still here, and still a titan.
I am a Titan. A Titan of the river.
Ser Antler raised his head and peered away, off over the brown field and down the other side of the looping hill, down to the woods and stream. A second later, there was a scream.
The Titan didn’t think then, didn’t even really notice the mighty deer bound away into the thrush. Before he had time to think he was running through coloured butterflies and through brown stalks. The sun came from behind the clouds to light his way, and the Titan sprinted towards the scream.
The second screech came as the Titan leapt over the river, sprinting along the same path he had trodden the day before. Here and there was evidence of his dominance over flowerheads and grass stalks, but he ran past them all. For a couple of moments he thought that Ser Antler had been running with him, like Ket used to do, but he noticed he was still alone, and was still running. Running faster than he ever had before. He zigzagged over the river, deep at some points and rapid at others. He went over logs and charged through vines, ignoring the rip on his arms and face. Now he was dancing again, leaping as he before. But there was something in that scream that drove him, something that said no games were being played by the stream today.
It burst into his vision as though it was the first time he’d opened his eyes. One second there was green leaves and tough vines and red berries, and they were gone, replaced by the scene.
Everything was taken in at once. The fact that it was the same place they had found him yesterday. The twins clutching each other. How pale Jed was. Lassa screaming and crying still. Bowl half-kneeling on the ground in front of the twins, and how bright the red was over his hands and his stomach, as if someone had gathered those berries and smeared them all over him. And there, across from the huddling friends under their familiar tree, the water turning red around its right paw was Old Clawface himself. Long, tall, with muscles rippling under a coat of dirty white, the shadow cat was twice the size of any dog the Titan had ever seen. It was hissing, snarling, with huge curved teeth bared, pawing at the water. Never had a name seemed more suddenly stupid and infertile than ‘Old Clawface’.
None of the others noticed the Titan’s bursting onto the scene. He didn’t blame them. He didn’t think he’d notice a dragon if those teeth were pointing his way. Old Clawface noticed though. The shadowcat’s tail swished against the current as he adjusted his position, keeping low so that he could see both the Titan and the others. He roared then, a horrible cutting roar that made the Titan’s breath lock in place like it was stone. But five remained more interesting than one, and Clawface was much closer to the tree than the Titan’s bush. He took a cautious step towards the tree, eliciting an angry, incomprehensible shout from Lassa and further whimpers from the twins. Bowl tried to move back, pain etched over his face as he clutched his stomach. Jed was muttering to himself.
The shadowcat took another step forward, and the Titan found himself frozen, utterly frozen, like the Titan of Braavos himself. But Lassa screamed again, and the Titan knew what he must do.
First, he took a sword from the earth. It was solid, yet felt light as a feather. He ripped off a shield from the broken skin of a tree. Finally, he inched left, and left again, until he was stood in the rippling water, filling his boots. The Titan stood there, armed and armoured, and knew who he was, because his cousin’s words were all he could hear.
Did you know all rivers are really the same river? Ket had said, over and over again.
No, they are not had replied Lassa, or Da, or anyone else. Lots of them connect but the Trident doesn’t touch the Blackwater, nor the Brandywine neither. They are different. It says so on the maps.
And Ket would always laugh, wait until her opponent was not looking, then whisper to the Titan: They are so stupid. Rivers are made of rain. Rain all comes from the same sky. So all rivers are one. Doesn’t matter which one you are in; you are in all the rest too.
The Titan knew it to be true, and as he stepped forward with the water sloshing around his ankles, Old Clawface turned to snarl at him. But he did not stop.
I am the Titan, he thought. And this is my river.
The water might be low, and thin, and trickling only into his boots, but Ket was right. This wasn’t just some run off of the Trident. It could be any river. And the Titan knew which. He knew where his family came from, where his and Ket’s and Drac’s blood lay. He knew this was not just some tributaries, gentle and serene. This was the mighty Tumblestone. Fierce, torrential, unstoppable.
This is the Tumblestone. This is my River. I am the Tumblestone Titan. And this is my roar.
The Titan splashed forward, mere feet away from the mighty shadow cat, demanding all of its attention now. They stood there facing each other, claw and sword at the ready, and Clawface feinted forward, a paw slicing out, but the Titan assumed the position his cousin had taught him . His bark shield came to his shoulder, his stick sword struck at the sky. Clawface tensed and leapt back, keeping both eyes on the stick. The Titan slashed left; Clawface followed. Up again; Clawface looked. One step forward. Down. Up. Forward. Clawface hissed, one of the children whimpered ‘nooo’ and the shadow cat prepared to leap, teeth bared.
The Titan slammed his sword to the riverbed, then yanked it up as hard as he could, a great curve of water and sand rising up. At the same time the Titan bellowed with all the might of his large lungs.
“ARRRRHHHHOOOOOOOO!” he shouted. That had always been Ket’s favourite bit. Whenever Drac told the story of the Titan of Braavos she would sneak up, yelling into the Titan’s ear and laughing. That is how the Titan tells people he’s there, she said. To remind them that he’s going to protect them.
The mighty call and the arc of water crashed down on Clawface at the same time, and the shadowcat screeched, before turning tail and running off into the undergrowth, leaving a bloody paw print in its wake.
For a few seconds the Tumblestone Titan just stood there in the water, unsure if Clawface was coming back. After a few moments he remembered to breathe, and suddenly every muscle in his body flooded with tiredness. He gently placed his shield into the water, and let the river take it away. He kept the sword though. That felt important. He turned to the children.
The twins were crouched around Bowl, who was starting to stand. Jed was still pale, still muttering, and his hair was no longer smooth. Lassa stood looking at the Titan with a red, scrunched up little face. After a second she reached into the river, took a pebble, and threw it at him.
“You big bloody oaf,” she gasped. “I said …I said…” Lassa began to sob. “I said you couldn’t play with us.” And she sank down to her knees, the mud going all over her dress, and began to cry.
The Titan’s first reward was that he did not have to go and fetch the wheelbarrows from Glack’s himself. The second was Ma insisting he have some of the choicest cuts she could sneak away from Da before she rushed him to bed and insist he rest properly. She didn’t care whether he was hurt or not, she wasn’t going to hear any talk about feeling fine or heroic deeds. This Titan was going to bed, whether he liked it or not.
The third reward, and sweetest by far, was waking to find his Da sat on the edge of his bed, a candle in one hand, and some even choicer cuts of meat in the other.
“Don’t tell your mother,” Da whispered, handing over the plate.
The Titan realised it was still night outside, and his father noticed the glance towards the window. “I’ve just got back. There was some concern for Cecil’s boy, with the wound.” The Titan started to raise but Da put his hand up, the one with the bruised knuckles. “It’s ok son, it’s ok. Mother Clare took a look at him. Some wicked scars is all he’ll have. He seemed happy about it, if I’m honest.”
That was good. That was very good, the Titan decided, but he said nothing. Even in the flickering of the candlelight he could see the last remnants of the bruise under his father’s eye. The Titan couldn’t think of anything to say. Da half-rose, then sat back down, then chewed his tongue. He was looking down at his own knuckles when he spoke again.
“They told me what you did.” Da’s voice sounded very different than usual. “They told me what my boy did.”
“Oh,” the Titan replied.
“The twins, they tried bless ‘em. Couldn’t understand a word they were saying they was talking so fast. It was the other one. Tall one…”
“Jed. Yes. He told us about the shadowcat taking a swipe at Cecil’s boy and…and what was going to happen…and what happened when you came.”
Da laughed in the half-gloom. “Good? Good is one way to say it. Absolutely bloody brilliant is another.” Da put his hand on the Titan’s knee. “I’m sorry, son. I am. Forgive an old fool. I’ve been moping like I was the only one left behind.” Da looked down again, and the Titan could not see his face, but his voice came back quieter than ever. “You remind me of him, you know. Rennum. He would have done something like that. I would have stood around waiting for the thing to tear my guts out. But he…and you…” Da patted the Titan’s knee. His fingers were still crooked. They didn’t look like they would ever be able to hold anything properly again.
Da stood. “I’m proud of you, my son.” Da left.
The Titan sat. The Titan smiled. The Titan ate his surprise supper.
The next morning the entire village was in a hubbub. Even before he rose he could hear the noise of hustle and bustle. By the time he was dressed Da was already gone. “Furious at work” Ma muttered as she busied herself. The Titan offered to help, but Ma was insistent. “Maybe later. We both agreed. You get the morning off. Now go on, go enjoy it, before he comes back and changes his mind.”
All but pushed out of the door, the Titan went out into a world of sun and noise. Before he had even reached the centre he could see strangers on horse, and banners flapping in the wind. That wasn’t so unusual, many traders or lords came through this way from the Kingsroad or to visit Castle Darry, but there sure was a lot of them.
That thought was interrupted when he saw the twins, Jed, and Lassa, sitting where they always sat in the mornings, watching the newcomers go this way and that. When the twins saw the Titan they rushed up and embraced him, saying words of thanks faster than the Titan’s ears could catch them. Jed was there, still with milk skin, and shook his hand. It was only then that the Titan realised he was carrying his stick sword. Lassa was there too, but her only movement had been to fold her arms. The Titan made his apologies, saying something about retrieving the wheelbarrow from Glack’s, and moved on. The three returned back to their spot, and the Titan heard her little dagger of a laugh again, and something that sounded like “…think he is? The Knight of Twigs?”
Her stunt of a laugh came again, but as the Titan passed the corner he looked back, and neither Jed nor Pheba nor Else had anything but a polite-half smile on their faces. The Titan didn’t think he would have minded if they had. Lassa couldn’t get through his armour anymore. He wasn’t afraid of her. Or dogs either, and he made a concerted effort to walk right past Rand and his two dogs in the village square, whistling as loud as he could. Dogs did not frighten him any longer. What reason could there be to fear dogs now?
The Titan found himself wandering to one of the empty glades on the outskirts of the village. The Kingsroad ran not far off, and through a line of trees the Titan saw more horses, more carts, more banners. He stood and watched for a little while, but the sword in his hand seemed to demand attention, and the Titan resisted no longer.
The Tumblestone Titan swept through the blades, his mighty weapon cutting through like a steel wind, felling the hordes of enemies coming from all directions. The Titan cut, parried, thrust and leapt. He span around, cutting down a dandelion, dancing with a bee, and shouting bloody defiance at the sun. Behind him stood a village. A village of people he could protect. And around that was the rivers. The rivers that gave him strength. For he was the Titan, and he would protect them all, as any good man would too.
Slick with summer sweat once more the Titan almost laughed as he swung his sword. It was so light, so connected, so easy. Again. Again. Swipe. Swipe. Swipe. Swipe. Swi–
The Titan stopped mid-spin and nearly tripped over.
“Oh.” The Titan felt his face go red. “Sorry. Nothing.”
The girl frowned. “What were you doing?”
The Titan’s tongue was a tad too large for his mouth, and the words wouldn’t come. He forgave himself for thinking his cousin had come back to him. The girl in front was near identical. Just as small, just as skinny. The newcomer’s hair was a bit darker, and longer too. But if she cut it you could have passed the pair for twins. And she had the same frown…with the wrinkled nose…
“Oi,” the girl said again.
“Oh. Sorry,” the Titan said again. “I was just…umm…”
“Were you playing swords?”
The Titan felt his own smile stretch across his cheeks. “Yes. Yes, I was.”
“Good. I’ve been wanting to play at swords the whole ride down. Not my real sword, but I have one of these” The girl brought her hand from behind her back. She was holding a properly fashioned wooden sword, with a pommel and everything, like the sort they had at Castle Darry.
“We could duel, if you like.” The girl said, the top of her head not going much past the Titan’s elbow. “I want to practice.”
The Titan nodded before remembering to say, “Yes. Yeah. Ok.”
“What’s your name?”
Freck didn’t even cross his mind, not anymore. For a second he was going to say The Titan. And then The Tumblestone Titan. But this time he didn’t need it.
“Mycah,” he said. “The butcher’s boy.”
The girl grinned. “I am Arya. Think you can carve me up like a lamb, butcher’s boy?” She raised her sword.
Mycah grinned. “I reckon. I’m the protector of this village. I even beat a shadow cat. They call me the Tumblestone Titan.”
“No you never,” Arya said, striking out with her sword. She was faster than Mycah had expected, but he caught the blow with his own stick. “And that’s a silly name. It’s too long. Short names are best.”
Mycah frowned as they began to circle. Not Freck. Not anymore. “Like what?” He tried a lazy cut, which Arya met with ease.
“Tumble Titan. That’s quicker. You’ve got to say it fast if you are in a fight. Just. Like. This!” She sent three arcs towards him, fast and strong. Mycah met them all, the clack of the swords echoing out over the clearing. And then he sent back his own, again and again and again.
“Come on Tumble Titan,” Arya would call, “Let’s see you wash a wolf away!
So on he came, laughing the day away, two friends playing with their sticks, and two warriors fighting toe-to-toe. He danced, and smiled, leapt and laugh. They fought in the green gress, beneath the loping trees, and even by the river, at a place where it was deepest. All around came the smells and sights. Bird, bug, butterfly. And water, rushing water, always.
For this was their home, and he was their Tumble Titan.
Hello, and a hearty congratulations on making it all the way through that! I extend the very best of my thanks to you for taking the time to take a look, and can only cross my fingers and toes that you enjoyed the tale about our dear Mycah’s final days. It certainly was a fun time putting it together.
Except for one bit. When I was about three-quarters of the way through I figured I’d better go back, check if there was any info in the books my memory had neglected. Turns out there was: Mycah didn’t live in the Riverlands. He came down from the north on the baggage train, he started playing with Arya in the Neck, not the Riverlands.
Bugger, thought I. Where had I got the impression he was a riverlander? I suppose its a remnant from the show, where it isn’t made clear where Mycah comes from. So, feel free to file this in your brain as set in ‘A Game of Thrones’, an alternative ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ or ‘who cares?’, all result in the same for me. I liked the story, so I finished it. And here we are. I’ll say my bad, and move on.
Anyways, thanks again, and I hope I can repay you all the favour someday.