Oh, I’ve got a tale for you, but this old throat is a tad parched.

Oh, thank you, kind sir, where shall we begin?

The largest man I did ever see held a whiskey glass between forefinger and thumb. In the dancing warmth of the firelight, it seemed a trick of perspective, of light or shadow.

But this was the Giant of Shagonar.

He had been a normal boy, but he had never tired of growing. He could carry his father before he could shave. He once dragged back a wayward bull, the mean-spirited animal had broken free from its pen in a fit of rage crashing through the town.

The poor animal never recovered its pride.

The icy winds that forever froze the high waters, sweeping down the valley to blanket Shagonar in shoulder-deep snow, took his story and carried it over the jagged basalt spires.

The tale of a man surely the tallest in all the known world.

His legend grew and spread in tavern whispers and fermented in the drunken darker corners where men grew brave and foolish. For all his strength, his temper was fiercer, the Great Bear of Shagonar made men’s bowels turn to jelly when he roared.

Those foolish men came to our small town, to face the legend. To measure their strength and guile against The Giant of the North. His temper had been a thing of wonder before then, after, well he was no longer a man. But a target, a beast to be prodded and provoked.

The last fool to come to town to test his mettle, hurled insults at Mikhail until the right words put that stupid man in the wrong place at that moment. It is good for that man’s final moment that he was blind drunk, beyond sense, for when Mikhail reached him in a hot-blooded rage he simply crushed his skull like a tin beer flagon. Crumpled and leaking.

But never mind that, the story you want to hear is how Mikhail lost his hand.

I’ll tell you that tale for another full tankard. An old man’s throat does get so dry from all this talking.

Oh, you’re too kind.

It was at a time when the foolish had grown thin and far between. A great winter befell Shagonar and ice grew to spikes and many froze in their homes.

In the midst of this a beast came down from the mountains, part bear, part lizard, some say dragon but those are children’s tales. Whatever it was it was all hell’s fury.

It slaughtered cattle for no purpose, it tore that old bull in two, leaving it there to bloody the snow. None dared approach it save one man. Mikhail. He strode forth that night with his ax in hand, a mighty spiked thing that now hangs over there above the fire. Yes, he held that in one hand.

He confronted the beast when no other could. He faced it and roared at it to come at him. And come the foul thing did, I still remember that fight as if it were last night.

I was a young lad then, head full of courage and not enough sense. I followed Mikhail that night to the field where that beast slaughtered. The snow was a churned muddy crimson, the torn body of the old bull steamed as it was devoured.

The white fur of the thing was covered in blood and gore. It was all I could do to not soil myself at the sight. Mikhail stood firm and met that thing’s charge, pushing him backward in the slick snow.

It knocked his great ax from his grasp and he grappled with it as they stood eye to eye. Even his great strength labored to hold it at bay, he flung the beast back and raced for his ax. But it sprung upon him sinking its teeth into his thigh.

He hacked at it with that terrible ax but still, it tore at him. He leveled ax blows and punches and kicks to its ribs until he knocked it back. The sides of the beast heaved as Mihkail’s blood dripped from its fangs. I wanted to help, but what little could I do, I had no more courage, I was frozen in place.

Trapped in my witness of that night.

It circled him as he got back to his feet, that tongue flickering and lapping up the blood. The beast tensed and leaped again and this is when Mikhail sacrificed his hand.

He plunged his fist down that beast’s throat, as far as he could and it bit down. Mikhail roared with the pain, his cry reaching up to the heights, but no aid came. He brought his ax down with all the strength he had left, cleaving that foul thing's head from its neck and what was left of his hand with it.

Yes, that thing above the ax is real, it may have withered with age, but that leathery grimace was dragged back by Mikhail after he burnt the body. It was I that bandaged his arm that night, stopping the blood that poured forth.

He grew so pale and weak on our staggering steps back to town that I thought he might die right there in the snow. Those fearful wretches in their warm homes, cracked their doors to watch us pass, and it was not before we reached the square that they had the courage to help one of their own.

It was that night I believe Ina fell for the brute, nursing him back to his strength over those cold bitter days. Mikhail lived many years more after that night and had more than a few great adventures and I was there to see them all, even the last.

Some were greater and others lessor, but all deserving of that statue in the square. I think he was uglier than that but who am I to question. Oh, sure I can. Of course, I can tell you more of Mikhail, that Giant of Shagonar, my mind is still sharp and my wits have not wandered.

But my throat grows hoarse again and this tankard too light. An old man shouldn’t talk so much, you know.

Oh, you’re too kind.

...

Photo by Nikola Jovanovic on Unsplash