The Giants of Avalon

We were brought from the lands of hot winds and burning, shifting sands. We were giants, once, and foolishly believed that the human Brute King and his iron clad army were no threat to us. But giants are not as cunning as mankind. We had size and strength on our side but that was all. The men had numbers, malice, trickery and a phrase: “The bigger they come, the harder they fall.”

We fell hard that day. The Brute King fought and won the final battle between mankind and the giants in the most despicable way. As the crimson sun set on the battlefield, he put my brothers and sisters to the sword, staining the sand in their hot red blood. He told us we were the lucky ones. He told us he was saving us, but really the Brute King wanted us as living monuments of his victory to take to his new capital.

My partner was called Gog, and so I am Magog. These may sound like strange names to you, but that is because they are giant’s names from long ago and far away. Your name would sound strange to me if I knew it: but there is little about this world I understand any more. That is because it is the world of men.

Our journey to the Brute King’s capital was a long one. He led us across continents, bound and chained so that we could not escape him. Soon the hot breezes had cold edges and the sun did not warm our skin as it had done in our desert home. We crossed cloud-capped mountains where the Brutish men told us Gods had once lived. We waded through deep, rushing rivers, carrying our captors on our backs so that they weren’t drowned by their iron clothing. We heard the men tell stories of their homeland, of a sacred Isle of Apples each of them longed to visit. We fought through forests so dense, Gog and I were the only ones who could see the way to the other side. We heard the men whisper the name of the isle.

We heard them whisper “Afalon”.

You want to ask me why we did not try to get away from our captors. Already you have forgotten that giants are not cunning like humans; we do not know your tricks. We do not know deception. Besides, I think Afalon was already settling into our hearts. We wanted to know if such a beautiful place really existed.

The Brute King and his people had made their home on a wet island, far to the north of our own homeland. We arrived at the edge of a cold, grey sea while the Brute and his army crammed themselves onto their waiting ships. You’re wondering how they fitted two giants onto their ships, aren’t you? Well, they didn’t. There was no wind that day, so they made Gog and I wade out into the waves and drag their vessels back with our prisoner’s ropes. We saw the milky white cliffs of their homeland as we waded past. We dragged the boats up a long muddy river, into the Brutish capital of Lundien. There, we were chained to the Brute King’s Mead Hall for all to see, living monuments to his deception, or as he saw it, his strength.

It was not long before we managed to free ourselves. Gog was the first to break the chains. As he ripped himself free from the Mead Hall, the building fell with the roar of an injured beast. A great cloud of dust swallowed the Brutish people who had gathered around us; they began to scream, they began to run, afraid of the great power now freed in the middle of their city. And they were right to be afraid. Little men, even ones dressed in iron skins, can be crushed easily beneath a giant’s foot. The few soldiers the Brute King had left to guard us tried and failed to tame us again. We ran from Lundien as fire bloomed in the ruins of the Mead Hall and swept throughout the city. In later times, they tell me, that city would have a “Great Fire”, but it did not burn as hot or spread as fast as that first fire, kindled by giants’ rage.

We ran far. We ran through the day and into the sunset. We ran until we could no longer see the flames of Lundien reddening the night sky. We ran until I could run no more. We found ourselves on a great flat plain, where we could see for miles in every direction. Gog said we should rest there for the night, that we would be safe from men in that place. They could not surprise us there, they could not trick us. He piled up some trees for a fire and stood some high stones around the edge to hold the flame. I slept soundly that night with Gog by my side, visions of Afalon drifting through my dreams. We left our campsite at daybreak. Men have since named our Stone Edge and claimed it as their own, as they do with all things.

The next day Gog said we were to start back across the grey sea to our warm home among the shifting sands. But I did not want to. I told Gog I wanted to go and find the isle of Afalon I had heard the Brutish men talk of so often. Gog told me that he too wanted to find that place, although he somehow feared it would be the end of us. I told him he should not worry, although I secretly knew he was right. Perhaps it was not only Afalon which was filling my head, but also the cunning ways of men.

For many months we searched the shores of Brute’s Kingdom, but could not find the beautiful isle of which the men had spoken. We had searched along every sandy beach, along every cliff face and even the furthest islands to the north, but there was no sign of Afalon. Finally we reached the foggy, brown waters at the mouth of the summer lands. There, the sand we stood on seemed to pull us down, dragging us under the thick, frothy tide. We struggled against the waters, we struggled to keep our heads above the flood; we struggled and crawled and dragged our way through the murk and the mud. Neither of us believed we would find anything beautiful in such a terrible place.

But then, slowly, the fog began to thin.

And the sea around us ran quick and clear.

And there, rising from the misty waters of the summer lands, was the dream; the Isle of Afalon.

We crashed onto its shores, exhausted after months of searching. The very earth of the isle seemed to vibrate with warmth and welcome. We felt as if we had arrived home, that we had been gathered in. We felt like we belonged there. We gazed upon the steep slopes of Afalon’s central hill, and realised that the whole isle was a giant orchard, covered in ripe, full apple trees. Many months had passed since we had broken free from the Brute King’s Mead Hall and now it was harvest time. The setting sun burnished the gleaming apple skins and made our mouths water. We were so hungry, and the apples looked so tasty, that, at the same time, we both reached out to grab an apple tree, to strip it clean and gorge ourselves on the fruit.

But something stopped us.

These were not our apples. These apples belonged to the isle. We couldn’t just take them and eat them, as men would have done. We needed to wait. We needed to ask the isle if we could eat of her harvest. And so, hungry as we were, we settled in to sleep that night on the steep slopes of Afalon. As we slept, the hill seemed to shape itself around us, broadening and flattening so we could sleep comfortably.

As the sunlight woke us from our dreams the next morning, we realised we were no longer alone on the isle. There, on the summit of Afalon’s hill, was a small man, clothed all in green. I’ve named him a man to you because I don’t know what other word could describe him, but he certainly was not of mankind. There was something about him which was not of this realm and yet he seemed more earthly than any other being I have ever met. He was made of the darkness in light, and the light in the darkness. He made us feel both afraid and hopeful. He seemed to stand at the edge of the world.

“My name is Afallach” he said to us. “This is my isle. These are my apples. Tell me, why have you come here?”

Gog began to tell him our story, how we came from the land of shifting sands, how the Brutish men had spoken of this isle on our forced journey away from home, and how we had dreamed of this place.

“You must be hungry after such a journey” Afallach continued. “You could have eaten every apple on this isle, but you haven’t. Why?”

We couldn’t really answer him; we could only say that we felt like we couldn’t take the apples, we needed to wait and ask.

“Who could have stopped two giants from eating every apple on this Island? Could one as small as I have stopped you?” There was nothing small about Afallach, but we didn’t tell him. “Today is the day of balance between the darkness and the light” he said “and I need to bring the apples in before the days grow cold and biting. If you help me, I will let you eat some of the harvest as your payment.”

We agreed, and Gog and me picked every apple from every tree in Afallach’s orchard on that day. Afallach was true to his word and let us eat as many of the beautiful apples as we wished. Gog drank from the red spring on the isle, I drank from the white. While we worked, a very different harvest was taken into our hearts. After all our journeys, our capture and our searching, we had found the place we belonged. We had picked Afalon, and Afalon had picked us.

At sunset, Afallach appeared on the summit of the hill again. He thanked us for harvesting the apples and wished us well on our journey. But neither Gog nor me moved.
“What is the matter?” Afallach asked. “If you are going to go back to your homeland you need to start now, before the days become too dark.” But still we did not move. We couldn’t. The warmth and welcome of Afalon vibrated in our hearts.

“We want to stay” said Gog “We want Afalon to be our home.”

“I am sorry” Afallach began “But this is my isle, these are my slopes, my trees. Only I can live here.”

“But we will help you.” I began “We will serve you however you wish.”

“What use would I have for two giants?” the green man began. “My trees only need harvesting once a year and the isle is too small for you to live here all the time. You would damage it if you stayed.” We knew he was right, although it tore at our hearts to admit it. We knew we would have to leave. But where would feel like home after Afalon?

“Although” Afallach continued “I am concerned about the Brutish men you spoke of. What if they find this isle and decide to take it for their own?”

“We will protect Alfalon” Gog started, full of joy at the thought he may be able to stay. “Let us live here and we will make sure they never take what is yours.”

“I can’t” said Afallach. “I said this isle is too small and you would destroy my orchards if you lived here all the time.” He paused. “However, you could stand beside the causeway which joins my isle to the Brutish lands. I can’t let you stay on Afalon but you will be near it, and you can protect it against the greed of men.” Of course, we agreed.
“We will only let through the respectful, the wise” I told Afallach, “Those who love this isle as much as we do. Those who come to gather the truth in their hearts.”

As so we took up our place beside the causeway, where the harvest of our trials had made us the giant guardians of Afalon. Days passed, months, years, centuries. We stood there so long our feet slowly took root. We stood there so long that the slow, warm magic of Afalon changed us into a pair of giant oak trees. Children fell from my branches as tiny acorns and took root near us. They grew strong and healthy in our shadow until a great avenue of oak trees lined the causeway between the Brutish kingdom and the isle. Men slowly began to find their way to us but no longer recognised us as the giants of their legends. Instead of being afraid of us, they thanked us and worshipped us for our protection. Those were golden days, our days of endless summer.

Oh, the things we saw, our children and us, standing by that causeway! We saw a great King, far greater than the Brute who chained us to his hall, brought to the isle for his final sleep. We saw a man from our homeland, with sand still on his feet, drop a cup into the red spring and plant his staff on the island. We saw the sea recede and a great building rise. And fall. We saw a holy man hung high on the top of Avallach’s hill. We saw orchards full of apples grow and we saw orchards of apples fall. We saw them gathered in before the darkness overtook the light.

But, as winter follows summer, darkness came to us too. We saw our children fall. Men, Brutish, terrible men, hacked them, chopped them and dragged them away, leaving only Gog and me to guard our beloved isle. If we could have wept we would have. Instead, we started to pass into the darkness ourselves. Gog stands by me still but I know he has died, like my children. I no longer feel the warmth of him, as I did on that plain, so many years ago. Although one day he may return to me, for now, he is part of Avallach’s true harvest, and lies beneath the hill. One day I must follow him, so that the harvest will be complete.

And so I stand, with one foot in the darkness, breathing the last of the light.

Photograph by Karin Brown at Imbolc Photography (https://brownkcd.wixsite.com/imbolc)

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