Spring, Year 374, PostLongNight (PLN)
Brianna MineShaker listened to the quiet discussion taking place in the next room, her father’s words a tone of disappointment, her mother’s ringing with despair. She sat on the floor and leaned against the stone wall of her room, the rocky surface drawing warmth from her body as cold fingers of dread kneaded her soul. Her parents had just received her report card, and from their hushed whispers, it didn’t sound good.
“Brianna, come in here, please.” Her father, Jase MineShaker, sounded serious, as usual.
She stood and walked to the main chamber of the house but took a position far from her parents.
Jase paced back and forth near the fireplace, the report card in his hands, a furrowed brow showing he wasn’t happy.
I’m not surprised, she thought. No one really understands me, especially my teachers.
“Brianna, come sit next to me.” Her mother, Starr, patted the woolen cushion on a nearby stool. She reached up and wiped a tear from her cheek. “We have much to discuss.”
She sat next to her mother, Brianna’s worried eyes cast to the ground.
Jase clenched the report card in his hand, then glanced at the fire. Brianna thought he meant to cast it into the flames, but instead, he smoothed it out and folded it in half, setting it on the mantle. Slowly, he paced across the chamber, his limp more pronounced than usual. He remained silent as he shuffled back and forth, the tension building. Brianna glanced at her mother, but she turned away, hiding the tears escaping from her eyes. Her mother’s long red hair reflected the flickering light from the fire, the intricate braid stretching down her back, a green and white stone tied to the end. It was a TreeAgate stone, the symbol of their Giant Clan.
Glancing at her father, Brianna found Jase staring down at her, the TreeAgate stone at the end of his long, braided black bear swaying back and forth as he shifted nervously from one foot to the next. He ran his fingers down the beard until he found the stone and rubbed it between his palms; Jase always did that when he was anxious.
“What is it?” Brianna stood. “What does the report say?” She glanced at Starr.
“Well, dear . . . um. . . it says . . .” Her mother stammered, looking for the right words, but found none.
Brianna stood and took a step toward Jase. “Father, tell me.”
Jase sighed. “The report is not good. It tells of a giant who doesn’t do as she’s told. It says that—”
“But sometimes, what the teachers tell us to do is foolish.” Brianna clenched her fists, frustrated. “I know better ways to do things, but they never listen to me.”
“That’s because they are the teachers, and you are the student.” Jase’s voice grew louder, frustration adding to the volume. He continued pacing, his limp making a ba-dump ba-dump cadence. “It says you won’t use the warhammers made for younger children and insist on using ones for kids your age.”
“It’s embarrassing to use an infant hammer.” Brianna’s voice intensified, her frustration matching her father’s. “They call me the . . .” she paused, getting control of her emotions, “the baby-giant just because I’m so short. I hate it!”
“I know you do, dear.” Starr stood and put an arm around her daughter. “But you can’t just ignore it. Your report card says you refuse to work with others, or ask for help, or—”
“I don’t need any help.” Brianna glanced up at her father and brushed aside strands of reddish-black hair from her face, her brown eyes moist with tears, but she refused to set them free. I won’t cry. “All the other kids do is pick on me and try to get me to fight with them. I won’t back down, I refuse . . . I refuse!”
Starr sat next to her daughter and put a hand on her arm. “It’s okay, Bri, just relax.”
Brianna’s tense body was like a coiled spring, ready to explode. She clenched her teeth so tight, her jaw ached. The frustration was almost too much to bear. Glancing at her mother, the young giant let muscles in her body slowly relax, her pulse slowing.
She looked up at her father. “What does the FirstMaester say at the end of the report? I know there’s always a recommendation.”
Jase stood in front of his daughter. “Stand tall, like a giant of the TreeAgate GiantClan, and hear your fate.”
Her mother stood and moved to her daughter’s side.
Brianna swallowed but found her mouth completely dry, every drop of moisture gone. She stood and held her head high.
Jase moved to the fireplace and pulled a warhammer off the wall. It had been in their family for generations, not because of its great deeds, but because of some shame it brought to their clan long, long ago. Jase shoved it into his daughters’ hands, sadness filling his eyes. “This is yours now.”
Brianna stared down at the warhammer in shock. The Hammer of Shame, is that what I’ve become, a source of shame for our family? Her heartbeat pounded in her ears like the sorrowful rhythm of a funeral drum.
Her father read from the report card. “The FirstMaester, Gregg SteelClaw, says he has failed to teach you what it means to be a giant worthy of respect. He points to your frustration and anger, as well as the fights and unwillingness to ask for help. He says the school here in our cave-village of StoneHold cannot teach you what you need to learn.”
“Oh no . . .” Brianna’s head lowered, eyes focused on the ground.
“The FirstMaester has decided to send you to HarmonySchool in hopes they can set you on the right path so that you can follow The Way.”
“But Harmony, they send the misfits and incorrigibles there.” Brianna sniffled. “Am I . . . hopeless?”
“Of course not, dear.” Starr put an arm around her daughter. “But if the FirstMaester things it might help you, then it must be done.”
“But I don’t need help. There’s nothing wrong with me.” Anger bubbled up from within her soul, her fists clenching the handle of the warhammer. “This is just who I am. Why must I change?”
“It’s for the best, dear. We must have faith in the FirstMaester’s recommendation.”
Brianna’s father crushed the report card in his hand and turned away from his daughter, throwing the crumpled paper into the fire. He stood there, staring at the flames. “You must learn how to behave so you won’t be the target of comments and abuse. Our school here in StoneHold isn’t teaching you what you need to learn. Harmony is where you need to go.”
“But Father, you can’t—”
“It is decided!” Jase’s voice echoed off the stone walls, his booming voice causing the structure to shake, as if in fear of the huge giant’s rage.
Brianna set the warhammer on the ground, then slumped down onto the stool. Putting her head between her hands, she swayed back and forth. Her body felt numb as if this were a dream . . .no, a nightmare.
What do I do, what do I do, what do I—
“You need to gather your things in just one sack.” Jase kept his eyes on the flames. “The FirstMaester will be personally taking you to Harmony. You are to leave immediately.”
“Immediately?” Tears trickled down Starr’s cheeks. “But she’s only twelve-years-old. She needs more time to—”
“The FirstMaester SteelClaw told me they were to leave right away.” Jase turned and faced his daughter. “Go gather your things. We’ll meet the FirstMaester at the entrance to StoneHold. We are giants of the TreeAgate clan, and we will meet this challenge with courage and pride. Now go.”
Brianna stood and headed to her room, her leaden feet dragging across the polished granite floor. Pulling a canvas sack from under her bed, she stuffed clothes and items into it, still feeling numb.
“This can’t be happening,” she mumbled to herself as she finished packing the bag. “Maybe it’s just a trick to teach me a lesson.” The thought pushed back on her fear, giving her the smallest taste of courage . . . and hope.
With a sigh, she flung the back over her shoulder and picked up the adult warhammer her father had given her. Brianna stared down at it in disbelief.
“I guess you’re mine now.” She shook her head, reddish-black strands flinging across her shoulders.
Moving to the door, Briana slowly opened it, the hinges squeaked, letting their thirst for oil be known. Turning, she looked at her room one last time, sadness making her heart feel heavy. The realization that this might be the last time she’d ever see her home hit her hard, taking the breath from her chest. But Brianna knew she couldn’t falter and refused to cry.
Standing tall, Brianna knew she must see this through with courage and strength, for there was nothing more important to a giant than those two traits. With her chin held high, she headed toward her father and the fate laid out before her, whether she wanted it or not.