‘There be giants in these parts,’ Gavin muttered, hiking the pack higher onto his shoulder as they trudged through the snow drifts at the bottom of the monument. In front of him Eddie huffed, his breath turning to ice and smoke. As the sun sunk towards the frozen horizon the temperature would continue to fall, and in the fading light Gavin had to squint to see the humped silhouettes of the outpost. There would be traders there they hoped. A chance to refill their supplies before moving deeper into the wastelands.
‘You believe all that, really?’ asked Eddie. ‘Damn Gav, you’re worse than those priests back at the temple, always trying to tell us that we’re only here by the mercy of the gods.’ He scratched his chin and tipped his head back. They were right beneath the right hand of the statue, the lines of its palm a shadowy black web in the dust. In full light it would seem almost human. The same shape to its face, its arms, its legs. The only thing that set it apart was the size. One thumb was almost three times the size of a full-grown man, and the monument was more than just one thumb.
‘There were no giants, just stupid men with nothing better to do with their lives but make up stories and build ridiculous statues.’ Dropping his head Eddie threw his hand over his shoulder and flipped off the monument. ‘They can shove their giants where the sun don’t shine for all I care. Now shut your trap and move your feet. I’m not letting stories get me stuck out here for the night.’
Night proper was close on their heels by the time the outpost grew into something more than shapes. At the gates they were stopped by two men swaddled in seal skins, pelts mottled with age and patched in places with something cheaper. Eddie spoke to them and Gavin kept back, watching the empty tundra they’d just crossed until the quiet clink of silver was done with and the men stood by to let them through. Turning, Gavin caught sight of the purse before Eddie could slip it inside his jacket and felt the shock register on his face before he had chance to school it.
‘We’re fine,’ Eddie hissed, and hooked his hand around Gavin’s arm. ‘We have enough to buy supplies still. We just need to be smart about it.’
There was no official market place so to speak of. Instead the houses had been built in three circles, one around another, all of them surrounding an area of hardpacked earth perhaps ten yards in radius. Pressed into the space were five battered wagons, one off its wheels and two others half dismantled to create lean-tos where the owners sheltered from the elements.
Eddie paced towards one of the remaining wagons where the horses nosed at the frozen ground, steam rising from their backs. The owner, a flat faced woman with a wide smile, stepped out to meet him.
‘You lookin’ to buy?’ she asked.
‘Aye. We need dried food, enough for three weeks at least.’
The woman nodded and sucked her teeth. ‘Ah, three weeks, you be travelling inwards then? Don’t see many people round here but those you do are always headin’ inwards. Can’t say I understand it but madness is madness and I ain’t ‘ere to judge.’ She returned to her wagon and rustled around in the back before popping her head out of the door. ‘You got silver?’
Eddie patted his breast and her smile widened.
‘You gotta ask,’ she said. ‘Some people, they think they can take advantage of little old women like me.’ She brought out three boxes and placed them on the ground. ‘That’ll be five and twenty.’
‘Five and twenty!’ Eddie scoffed. ‘I’m not sure what supplies you’ve got in those boxes but they sure ain’t worth five and twenty. I’ll give you eight at most and that’s me being generous.’
The woman sucked her teeth again and crouched beside the boxes. The pen knife she produced was good and clean, the blade catching the watery light from the lanterns hanging above. She wedged it under the lid of the top box and prided it open, grimacing as the iron nails squealed free.
Eddie caught the silver packet she tossed him.
‘It’s small,’ he conceded, ‘and light.’ He tossed the packet from hand to hand and strained to read the tight black type printed on the back of it. ‘Spaghetti Bolognaise?’ he read. ‘What’s that supposed to be?’
The woman shrugged. ‘Old world recipe. Very rare. Hence the twenty-five silver. Just melt some snow and mix it in, boom, ‘unger pangs gone. Since I like you boys, and you’re likely to be dead as doornails soon enough, I can do you twenty maybe. I’m feelin’ kind today.’
Eddie weighed the packet in his hands.
‘How about twelve,’ he offered. ‘You were just saying how few people come through this way, what’s the chances you’ll find someone else to sell this to before you move on.’
‘I can sell it after,’ she countered. ‘There’ll be people on the roads wan’in feedin’.’
‘No one on the roads wants to buy, they all come to outposts, its safer. Besides, the only reason traders come this way is to get past the wall and to do that you need silver. You’re not going to find it past here so unless you’ve got enough already to pay your way, you’ll be wanting whatever I can give you.’
Her smile dropped. ‘You’re clever boys. Fifteen and I don’t show you want your insides looks like.’
‘Thirteen,’ growled Eddie, ‘and I don’t show you yours.’
Snapping her pen knife closed the old woman shoved it back into her pocket.
‘Fine, you take ‘em then. Let the giants ‘ave you both.’ She held her hand out for the silver and counted it meticulously when Eddie handed it over. Gavin picked up the boxes, careful to keep her in the corner of her eye at all times. Eddie took the top two from him, dropping the sachet in his hands in the first.
‘Let find somewhere to sleep,’ he said, watching the women past Gavin’s shoulder. ‘Preferably somewhere that has a lock on the door.’
There weren’t many people willing to take in strangers for the night and Eddie was forced to use the last of their silver to pay their way into a cramp cupboard at the back of a home close to the edge of the outpost. The wind whistled between the wood slats and the blankets beneath them did little to block the cold from the floor, but Gavin did his best to ignore his discomfort. He pressed his head into the hollow between Eddie’s shoulder and cheek and pretended they were somewhere far away and warm. Eddie’s voice brought him back.
‘We might not find it, the maps might be wrong you know.’
Gavin breathed in the smell of him and squeezed his eyes shut.
‘I just want you to be prepared in case this doesn’t work out the way you want it, in case we-’
‘In case we die?’ asked Gavin. ‘I don’t think either one of us will care much then.’ He felt the tendons in Eddie’s neck tense.
‘It’s a possibility. We’re putting a lot of faith in what might turn out to be a story.’
‘You mean like the giants? I know you don’t believe in them either, but it doesn’t mean that nothing we’ve been told is true. We have to have some faith at some point or what else do we have?’
‘We have each other,’ said Eddie quietly. ‘That could have been enough.’
‘Now who’s the one believing fairy-tales?’
‘It’s your fault, you’re rubbing off on me.’
The both laughed, the rumble of it rising through Eddie’s chest into Gavin’s fingers. When they stopped, they could hear the wind again. The sound of it unbroken across the empty planes.
‘We’re going to find it,’ Gavin promised. ‘It will be out there, and we’ll find it together.’
Eddie’s arm tightened around him.
‘I hope you’re right,’ he said. ‘I really, really hope you’re right.’
For those of you who can’t tell, I’m going my happy dance. That is because I’ve found a new writing prompt, and it focuses on Speculative Fiction! Yay, yay, yay!!! I’m very excited to take part and I’m looking forward to see what pictures are going to be used in the following months to inspire and motivate those joining in.
If you want to know more then head over to mythsofthemirror.com for the full details.
Thanks for reading.