The field stretched out before me. Or, at least, I assumed it did; the snow covered everything. The grass stretched taller than my head, blocking out almost all but the sky. It was akin to being underwater.
I forced myself onward. I hadn’t eaten in 3 days, had barely slept at all – it was too cold. It seemed another life ago that I had woken to an empty castle. The giants that lived there, ruling over their part of the world, had all left me alone. I didn’t know why (and still do not). I was a faithful guard, I helped in every way that I could: sweeping the floors, watching the children, working the livestock. And still, I was left behind.
I waited. I waited for the castle to fill again, for the children to run and the floors to be dirty, but no one came. Finally, I gathered myself and left the only place I had ever known as home. I had been born there, served that family for my whole youth. I had loved them, and protected them. But they had not loved me, it seemed. I did not know what to make of that.
Now, as my legs dragged me to the edge of the field and no further, as I collapsed and felt my eyes closing, I knew I was lost. I lay at the border of field and forest, my ribs heaving, and saw a hand larger than my head coming to reach for me as I closed my eyes. I saw nothing.
When I woke, I was lying in a deep cocoon of warmth. I was encased in wool quilts. A fire was crackling near me in a brick hollow. I slowly looked about me, too weak to raise my head. There were stone walls, reaching high, high above me, laced with heavy oak beams. The smell of meat roasting was heavy on the air.
I finally lifted my head, becoming alarmed. Where was I? How did I get here? I twisted around as much as I could. I couldn’t find my bearings. I listened closely, over the crackling flames.
A faint crunching noise was beyond the walls. It came closer, them suddenly, a loud thumping noise somewhere behind to my left. A door opened.
“Oh, you’re awake!” Boomed a deep voice. I caught sight of its origin.
A giant, one I had never seen before, only this was a true giant. Far larger than my previous owners, who had been imposing enough. He was built like a tree, the large ones I’d seen patrolling my old home. His eyes sparkled beneath a heavy cap, and an enormous wool coat and scarf, which could not contain the magnificent beard he sported. Snow tumbled from his frame like an avalanche. He thundered away from me, deeper into whatever structure I was in. “Roasts about done, too.”
More thundering, louder and above my head, took up. More giants appeared; a woman and two children. “He’s awake!” The girl squealed, running towards me. I shrank back, shivering. The first giant came back in, catching her up in his arms.
“Hold on now, he’s awful scared. Let him be, my love.” The girl looked up at him, and then back at me. She stilled, and smiled at me shyly. I relaxed slightly. She turned back to her little brother (little only in comparison to their parents). The woman, who I figured was their mother, was as slender as the father was sturdy. However, I never underestimated a female giant. She smiled at me too, and ushered them into the kitchen
The family ate in another room. I cautiously crept around the fireplace, looking about myself. There was an enormous and well loved couch, and a short table made from the raw edge of a tree. The floor was covered in a thick carpet, and there were toys and books spread all around. Now that I had turned with the fire to my back, I could see the staircase on the opposite side of the cavernous room, and the kitchen doorway to the left. But my legs were very weak; I had to lie down again on my woolen nest after only a moment.
The father came back into the room with a small plate in his hand. Several beef ribs, still warm, rested on it. “Here,” he said, putting it on the hearth. I slowly went up to it, and sniffed. I immediately began eating as the scent hit the roof of my mouth, starving as I was. “Slowly, slowly,” he said, his deep voice surprisingly gentle. I slowed. “That’s it.”
That is how I came to live with the Giants.
❂ ❂ ❂
It took a dismally long time before I could feel my strength returning. The children got bolder and I would play with them for as long as I could. I would try to do the sweeping, but Mother laughed and shooed me from the kitchen. When I was strong again, Father began to show me how I could help him. I stood watch as he chopped wood, and helped load kindling onto the sled. I would watch the new castle, just as I had before. However, unlike before, I slept inside by the fire every night. I was able to come and go through a small gate in the back of the castle. I let no one enter if Mother did not know them, or the children were afraid. Other giant’s children visited, and I would stay near them while their mothers talked.
There was another rescued soul in the house. Slim, much smaller than I, with watchful eyes. She was elegantly judgemental, and treated me at first as a complete nuisance. “You’re absolutely filthy,” she’d say as I returned from the woods. I would always try to engage her in conversation, but she seemed wholeheartedly against the idea. Eventually, however, she relaxed slightly. She would help me sweep, and I noticed she would swiftly check on me while passing as she did with the Giants. We did not speak much, but she would ask me if the thaw had come every day.
It was long understood that when the weather became slightly warmer, and the snow could be easily moved, The Giants would leave us for a time. This was explained to me as Father showed me how to pull the sled.
“I’m sure you’re loyal – the good sort,” He said to me. “You’ve seen some things, eh?”
I shrugged. I had, after all, been a guard.
“I thought so.” He gave me an appraising glance. “We will have to go out when all this (he gestured to the frozen field) thaws a bit and we can get to the main road. It will be a while, but really not so long. I need a good guard, can you do that?”
I was overwhelmed. I wanted a purpose again, and I loved this family already. But I couldn’t bear the thought of being left again. I would not make it. I would not wish to.
He seemed to sense something I was feeling. He leaned down, took my chin in his hand, and solemnly promised, “We will always return. You need never fear, we will always return.”
❂ ❂ ❂
It was quite a time before the road could be reached. I practiced my guardianship; besides watching the small castle closely, I developed a trail of territory that I could patrol. It surrounded the whole field, running along the fence there, down to the main road, and along the hiking path in the forest. I patrolled twice a day, not that anything ever happened. The snow provided an issue and made the whole process arduous, but I was growing quite strong. Back in the house, I finally learned the elegant shadow’s name was Jane. When I would sit on the large porch, watching the small road up to the castle, she would often sit with me. We never spoke much. She seemed to enjoy the quiet.
Finally, the day came when the snow could be rightly shovelled, and a path was cleared to the main road. The light had barely filtered through the forest when the family began to leave. Daughter dressed in a clean, bright outfit with new ribbons; Son was quite reluctant to find his good pants and jacket, and flatly refused to wear his hat until Mother promised him a chocolate. Father brought in all the wood the pile would allow, and Mother made sure Jane and I would be well fed in their absence. “They can always hunt,” Father assured her, but she insisted that was ridiculous and left us many dishes. Finally, the cases were loaded into the wagon and the family hugged us goodbye (I saw Jane squirm out of the corner of my eye). Father nodded to me, and I nodded at him. With this gesture, they rumbled away.
Jane sighed, sitting down on the cushions adorning the porch. “Well that’s that then.”
“How long will they be gone?” I asked, sitting on the steps.
“I don’t know. They found me on their travels and brought me back with them.” She gave me an appraising look. “They will come back,” she said softly. “I’m sure.”
We sat quietly for a while; it seemed too heavy a moment to augment with chat. I finally worked up the nerve to ask, “Did it happen to you, too?”
She nodded, gazing out at the snow. “My old family left me. I was born there, and they seemed to love me. But one day, a new Giant started showing up and courting the Mother. And he grabbed me one night and dumped me in an alley in town. Thankfully it hadn’t snowed yet when this family found me.”
I shivered. “I’m sorry,” I said.
“What happened to you?”
“My old family just left. I woke up and they were gone, doors locked and no food.”
She narrowed her eyes. “We were both left for dead. What a world.” I agreed with her. I liked this turn of character in Jane. Though we were discussing unpleasant things, I was grateful she seemed to trust me.
Eventually, I stood and stretched. “I’m going on patrol, I suppose. A bit early, but I might as well.” Jane rose as well, and circled round to our gate as I started off. I hurried up around the perimeter; just the normal tracks, maybe a few more than normal. Nothing amiss. I headed back in the back to the castle, where Jane was keeping watch at the window. She brushed off my coat and nodded to the plate of food. We quietly passed each other, taking care our footsteps didn’t echo in that empty place.
We went on like that. I would sleep in front of the fireplace, Jane pacing around the castle. Then, we would trade, I would pace and she would rest. The fireplace was never lit, as neither of us could do it. Jane would go to eat while I was on guard, and not otherwise. She refused to leave her back unprotected. I had been right, I thought proudly the first time she did so; she trusted me. There it was, our little routine, round and round, for so long I thought it would be the end of time.
❂ ❂ ❂
The weather, I thought, might be warming. There was still snow, of course, but the sun began ever so slowly to show through the windows. In the beginning, it was only light. But gradually, as the time passed, it began to warm as well. This phenomenon was especially dear to Jane. She loved to sit in the patch of sun, humming to herself as she watched the grounds. I enjoyed it too, and Jane even allowed me to sit with her provided I didn’t capitalize on the space. During the times we shared that patch, we would discuss the little things about our lives. She was only twenty and five, and yet seemed so young, as though she’d aged far slower than I. I chalked it up to my size, and relative exercise. I told her about my having 3 siblings, but of course I hadn’t seen them since we were very young. She told me about her mother, who lived with her old family until she got sick.
Despite the talks and the warm moments in the sun, Jane and I were lonely. It seemed as though our work would outlast us. We found ourselves listening hard for the crunch of wagon wheels, but the Giants did not come. Jane was steadfast; she did not droop or moon about as I did. I tried to be cheerful, but I dearly missed them and their steady calm. I missed the children, and warm food, and a fire. And most of all, I was afraid. I was greatly afraid I was doomed to watch those I cared for simply disappear. Jane told me not to whine, and I did my best. I made sure I did my job well, as that was all I could do.
And even that was not enough. I was finishing a lap, the sun just starting to near the treetops, when I suddenly became aware of the presence of someone else in the yard. I crept closer to the house and was about to quietly warn Jane when I heard her scream and yell. I barreled in the back door.
Jane was wrestling an intruder to the ground. I had been right to be grateful I was on Jane’s side; though the intruder was bigger, she was absolutely fierce. Had I not crashed into the kitchen, she would have him dead to rights. As it was, he was bleeding badly. When he saw me through Jane’s attack, he quickly disentangled himself and raced away in the snow. I yelled at him as he ran, and I did not think he would be back any time soon.
I ran over to Jane. “Oh I’m alright,” she said, her eyes ablaze. She had a few scratches, but nothing serious. I helped her patch herself up, and sent her to rest in the sun while I investigated. He had gotten in through the back door, so I made sure to check there every patrol hence. He must have spread the word, because that was the only time we ever had an intruder.
I had no idea how long the Giants had been gone, but we guarded their home as though it were ours. And it WAS ours. A furrow remained in the carpet where I slept in front of the fire. I knew every inch of the property. The castle itself seemed to say, “You were meant to be here, and here you will stay, safe and sound.”
And if walls could talk, they told the truth. For finally, finally, under a night sky a rattling arose from the road. I was in the back, checking the grounds, when I heard it. I ran full pelt through the gate, and encountered Jane racing down the stairs. We got to the door just as it opened.
There they were; the children laughing, Father rumbling on about the cold, Mother usering them all inside. The children ran to us, squealing and hugging us tightly, and then raced upstairs to collect their toys. Mother called after them to stop running indoors, and conducted Jane into the kitchen. Father patted me on the back and said, “Well, boy, shall we have a fire?” and went to light one. It was as though they had never left and nothing had changed. And, for a time, nothing did.
❂ ❂ ❂
Yet, though it was a long time, it came to an end. Again, coats were buttoned, goodbyes were said, and silence descended. Jane and I stood at the window, knowing the Giants would be gone for too long, and they would be back.
They have always repeated this cycle, these Giants. Sometimes it was longer, or one of them would stay behind for sickness. Sometimes, it would be an extended stay; the warm weather, the long days, or in the winter, the whole family home at once. The children are gone far longer than this, now, and their parents stay at home. But always, they return.
Jane and I are old now. Our legs no longer run to the door, but we stand guard just the same. My patrols take longer, but I keep this place safe. We will wait, as long as it takes. The Giants leave, and come back, all in a day. And though our fur grows grey and my bark may be frail, I was born a guard dog and will always remain – with Jane the cat by my side.
I had so much fun writing this! A friend came up with the idea, and I loved it! I hope I did this justice, Elijah!