In the old, half-forgotten times, before the gardens of Shinrone were overrun with weeds, there lived a Cold Toed Giant along a frozen mountain. Every sunrise, the behemoth yawned morning thunder before skewing boars on a pine tree for breakfast. Each afternoon he bathed in his favorite lake, racing the fresh water whales for sport. At night, he scratched his back along his mountain until he fell asleep, snoring the snow off the peaks. Happy was the Cold Toed Giant in his mountain, content to remain so for the rest of his days.
But one dawn the giant’s kin, in their temerity, demanded that the Cold Toed Giant find a bride. Now, the rigmarole of a giant courtship is a complicated matter to say the least. A male is expected to scour the lands for a mate, then be stalwart enough to earn her betrothal. Only then do they agree to produce children. It’s a dispassionate affair, but then again, so is everything in a giant’s nature. So when the Cold Toed Giant gave into his clan’s demands, he decided he’d do so in haste.
By sunrise he’d set out to acquire his bride, scouring neighboring mountains for a female of good stock. He thought that once he found her, he’d earn her accord and then hurry back to his mountain. He packed only enough fish for a few days, confident that he’d be wed before another inch of snow fell across his home. Then she too could enjoy his mountain, but only once chores were complete and his supper was cooked. However, fate, frivolous from wine that night, decided on a different destiny for the Cold Toed Giant, and the cost would be his heart.
The Cold Toed Giant had rummaged, combed and ransacked the lands for weeks. There were few prospects along the frozen wastes, and of those, none deserved his precious mountain. Yet, the Cold Toed Giant knew he could not return to his clan empty-handed. Defeated, the Cold Toed Giant sat destitute along a cliffside. All he needed was a bride. All he wanted was his mountain.
Then from a crossing crag, the Cold Toed Giant beheld her. Along the snowy crevices of the neighboring peaks was not a giant, but a woman like nothing he’d ever seen before. The melancholy beauty combed her glistening mane and hummed a song composed for funerals. Her porcelain skin stretched across sharp bones, and her sapphire eyes peered longingly across the frozen tundra. The Cold Toed Giant listened to her melody, resigned to the spell in her voice and its sirenic power. The Cold Toed Giant knew he’d found his bride.
He trudged helter skelter across the cliffside, eager to take his bride home. As he did, he dreamed up what being married to the beauty would be like. There’d need to be adjustments in what the small-scaled beauty was used to cooking and washing, but tolerances could be made for someone with a voice like hers. It only took the Cold Toed Giant thirteen steps, three leaps and a skip to reach the beauty’s side of the cliff. Once he arrived, the beauty lulled her light hum mute, taking in her suitor. The Cold Toed Giant pressed his mighty fists upon his hips and gulped a deep breath.
“I am the Cold Toed Giant,” the strider of the mountain declared, lifting a house sized stone to show off his prowess. “I’ve come to make you my wife so we may make children.” The beauty bowed her head, but remained quiet as the grave. “I proclaim my might to you, and will take you to my mountain.” The beauty combed her hair wistfully, saying nothing. Irritated by silence, the Cold Toed Giant struck his chest. “Will you not be mine?”
The beauty parted her lips, releasing a voice as sweet as honey pie. “My kind,” she answered with soft condemnation, “does not wed for a mate, but for love. Or at least we did.”
The Cold Toed Giant considered. He’d never felt love before, but the yearning in his breast told him that this day may be different. He desired only to be with the beauty before him, and was willing to prove his fealty.
“Then I am in love,” the Cold Toed Giant proclaimed. The beauty pretended to fold under his protestations.
“Are you?” she asked as a smiled snaked across her lips. “I shall need proof.”
“Anything,” the Cold Toed Giant returned.
“Can you make me an island?”
“Of course,” the Cold Toed Giant professed. Hurriedly, he moved to the top of the bluff, and with all his might, broke off the cliff peak and cast it into the nearby ocean shores. He proudly returned to his beauty. “The island is yours.”
“But can you bequeath me a pet for company?”
“Undoubtedly,” the Cold Toed Giant acceded. He hurried to an abandoned nest he’d come across on his journeys, and plucked an ivory dragon babe from its nest, ignoring its claws and fangs. He presented it to his beauty. “To you I bequeath.”
“Then I have a final proof of your devotion,” the beauty requested. “Do so and we shall wed.”
“Beg of it,” he implored, his foot on the dragon’s head, “and it is yours.”
“I wish for your heart,” the beauty claimed.
Without reluctance, the Cold Toed Giant removed his great dagger, and plunged it in his chest. Surely, he’d suffered greater wounds he reasoned. As the blood cascaded, the fallen Cold Toed Giant presented it to his beauty. She simpered, kissed her titan on his forehead and received his gift. Then the Cold Toed Giant’s legs went slack. His monstrous body fell to the mountain’s call belly first. He spread across his bled bed like a rose lain upon sea foam.
As the Cold Toed Giant lay dying, the beauty caressed his massive heart three times on each side, freezing it in a rock of ice. Suddenly, the giant’s wounds staunched. The Cold Toed Giant rose again. He beamed at his beauty, enthralled by her prowess. The Cold Toed Giant never thought he’d admit it, but the beauty drew desires that his mountain never could.
“I have your heart now,” the beauty affirmed with her callous voice, “and you’re mine to do with as I please.”
“As it should be,” the Cold Toed Giant approved, a new outlook on his circumstances.
“Long ago, my people, the good people of the Timberwoods were driven out of their lands by the likes of your kind. All perished except for me.”
The Cold Toed Giant thought of his clansmen. It certainly sounded like something Nufur the Five Toothed, Frangan the Cow Stomper and Eòghann of the Crooked Slope would do. Flame burned in the Cold Toed Giant’s heart. It was a bonfire licking the feet of a dry field. How could they?
“You will take me to your mountain,” the beauty ordered, “but you will not rest. I require more of my husband. You will gather your arms as I make myself comfortable upon your peak. Then together, we will make your kin suffer, as I suffer. As you suffer. As the frost giants should suffer.”
The Cold Toed Giant did as commanded, taking his wife to his mountain. He skewed her hogs, bathed her in his lake and built her a fire to sleep by. Once he outfitted himself with mountains of ice and rock, he set out to ravage the winter hamlets and villages of his brothers. There were none that stood in his way, and soon the Cold Toed Giant would no longer be known for his innocent moniker. Instead, he’d inherit names like The Treasonist Giant, Open Wounded Marauder and Bonestealer. Giant mothers would tell their children stories of the Cold Toed Giant to warn them, and giant fathers would always be on the lookout for a kinsman with the desire to kill. He was easy enough to spot. His chest gaped open with a heartless wound, his grimace was sharp enough to split rivers and he was always accompanied by a mournful song hummed from the winds.
Many other ice giants, knights and other heroes claimed to have slain the Cold Toed Giant throughout the decades. Nevertheless, no matter who claimed to destroy the beast, the Cold Toed Giant’s undying devotion instructed him to return. For so long as his bride had his heart, the Cold Toed Giant was deathless, and would earn his most popular nickname throughout the lands, the Heartless Giant. The Heartless Giant would slay kin to the point of extinction, moving on to the lands of mortal men. To this day he devastates parts of the northern countrysides, punishing all in order to appease his wife, but never truly appeasing himself. And so it was, and so it is, from now until the piper hands down the tune to his children, and they theirs. The dreamer dreams, their life goes by, when I tell you this story, the story is a lie, but listen old friends, listen proud youth, the story is a lie, but what it tells is dark truth.
Justin Alcala is an author from Chicago. His first published novels, Consumed (2014) and The Devil in the Wide City (2016) were released by Zharmae Publishing Press before its unfortunate shut down. His third novel, Dim Fairy Tales, has been contracted with AllThingsThatMatterPress and is due out in late December of 2019. He has also written multiple published short stories, such as It Dances Now, which will be released in August of 2019 with Crimson Streets magazine. He is an extremely nerdy tabletop role player and an avid blogger with a strong social media backing on Twitter (14.3k Followers), Goodreads (3,116 friends/315 followers), WordPress (1,110 followers) and Facebook (500+ friends). His works focus on the playfully bizarre, with mild influences from Jim Butcher and Andrew Smith.