Half Giant Lore
Ah, good evening, lord - I must say I love what you've done with the great hall - those tapestries never did truly suit it. I? I am Agramont the Artiste, master Bard and court retainer - er, former court retainer to the until recently Duke Nestor Fairwind. Oh yes, I agree! He was a coward, and a pig! I suppose he still is, but you can bet that he won't show his ugly face around these parts again any time soon! Truly, your strength and... uh... wisdom will serve these lands much better. You coming in with your... large... friends and giving the Fairwinds a good thrashing is beyond doubt the best thing that ever happened to this worthless little kingdom. Worthless, did I say? Of course not! I'm sure a Warrior such as yourself must have very discriminating taste, and would never devote yourself to the conquest of a worthless province. I meant, of course, that the full... er... potential of these lands lay hidden, withering under a cloak of hideous mis-management, until you came to set them right. What was that, your immensity? Ah. The Fairwinds employed me as their court minstrel and entertainer. Would your immensity perhaps care for a song while you dine? Oh, I suppose not. Don't worry about the lute, your majesty, I'm sure I can find another...
What was that? Ah. You ask me why I should keep my tongue, or my head for that matter... Well... I assure you, my services could be of great value to a lord so mighty and... refined as yourself. I agree, the notion is a bit humorous when you consider it, but - oh. What a lovely vintage of wine. Not to worry, mighty one, I'm sure this doublet will clean right up. As I was saying, what Warrior cannot draw inspiration from the examples of legend and history? Indeed, even a conqueror as great as you must learn some standard against which to measure your own greatness. How else will you know when to stop conquering and campaigning? I know countless tales and poems of great deeds and mighty heroes from every Age. No poems, you say? That's perfectly fine: my best stories require no rhymes at all. Incidentally, may I just say that those are some fine halberds your guards have... my compliments.
Now, where were we? Ah yes! Heroes and histories. I am not too far afield when I surmise from your stature that you indeed bear the Blood? You are, I presume, a Half Giant? No, never a brute! Did I say brute? A vulgar term, your excellency, and one that I've never been fond of. Well, I assure you - I know the names and deeds of hundreds of Giant-born, names that resound down the ages. Of course, unlike most of the other children of the World, Half Giants have no real history of their own. 'Tis no disrespect, I assure you, and nothing to be ashamed of! Quite the contrary: the... uncertain birth of Half Giants has prevented them from forging dynasties or carving out nations, but many Half Giants have left an indelible mark on the history of Men and Elves all the same. There was, of course, one time when a large band of Half Giants did come together to rule a kingdom. The Iron Avalanche, yes, I see you've heard of them. Judging by your entourage, perhaps you wish to take up their example. Well, how much of the tale do you really know? Certainly, the King of Sorwenfells did hire the tall and brawny mercenaries to defend his kingdom during the strife that came before the rise of the High King, but do you know why Golrudd their leader came to quarrel with his lieutenants, or which of his policies reduced Sorwenfells to a wasteland? Rest assured that I do - without me to teach you Golrudd's follies, you may be doomed to repeat his tragic story. Can you and your comrades afford to take that risk?
Again, I mean no disrespect! Of course, you are doubtless much more clever than Golrudd was, I can see it in your eyes. Oh yes - to me, you seem cast from the same mold as Danvor the Wolf. Haven't heard of him? Well, there are those who say that Danvor was the wisest Half Giant who ever lived. Originally from Ghand, one of the smallest of the Ten Kingdoms, Danvor became a soldier and rose quickly through the ranks. During the War of Ashes against the Fallen God Morloch and his Orcish legions, Danvor's strategic genius was revealed. Many of the Giant blood serve as soldiers, but only a few are remembered as Commanders. Danvor's great lure and feint at the Battle of Jagred Pass is still praised as one of the finest tactical maneuvers ever seen, and many Scholars think that that victory alone helped turn the tide of that vicious war. In time your fame will match even Danvor's, I'm sure of it! That final assault in the Inner Court was... a brilliant bit of soldiering.
Of course, there have been other Half Giant heroes, of even more famous name. Surely you've heard of Sir Gondegrain, the Red Knight, who was among the first to wear the mantle of one of Cambruin's Champions. Pilgrims still journey to the site of the Red Willow, where the brash Half Giant first met Cambruin in combat. The two jousted, and it is said that the young king's mighty buffet hurled Gondegrain off his horse and into the tree, felling it with a mighty crash. You can still make out several scars on the felled tree, stained red by the lacquer on Godegrain's scarlet armor. Once defeated by the "beardless boy," Gondegrain became one of Cambruin's most loyal and dedicated followers. His temperament never allowed him to achieve full Knighthood, but many tales of his courage are still told. His valor on the field of battle was unquestionable, but the Red Knight is thought by many to have shown the most courage at the end of his life. When Gondegrain realized that the Wizard Lorgannon had tricked him into killing Gamlin, his own brother, the Red Knight took complete responsibility for his crime, and even refused a royal pardon, going willingly to his death for the murder of one of the Champions. Thus the Red Knight proved that even Cambruin's Champions were bound by the laws of the High Kingdom and the demands of Justice. I should add that Sir Goindegrain was knighted, albeit posthumously. A very moving story.
Well, yes, there are also some who think that Gondegrain was rather stupid in so readily accepting his fate. That's a perfectly valid opinion, your lordship, though "worm-brained idiot" seems a trifle harsh to me. Loyalty is never a quality to fault in a person, or so I believe. Speaking of loyalty, many have heard the tale of Torvagau the Liberator, who crept back into the Deathless Empire to free the Human slaves and unchain the Titans, but have you heard of Vurgom, Breaker of Chains, the mighty Half Giant slave who helped Torvagau evade capture, then led the Human slaves in their final, bloody uprising? His is a long tale, and glorious! He never forgot the Liberator, and served him well through war, revolution, and the building of Ethyria. What's that? Oh no, of course not - you, my... large lord, are obviously meant to be a leader and not a loyal follower. Oh yes, you've the mark of greatness upon you, if ever I've seen it.
Keeping my survey of famed Half Giants to leaders, I would be remiss to leave out Olwenn Orridwane, the Half Giant chieftain of the Gwendannen hill folk. In the War of the Scourge he turned the tide of the siege of Algoram, and is said to have managed to actually wound Vranaxxas the Flayed God, one of the dreaded Dark Lords, with his great mace. Legends recall that Olwenn spit into Vranaxxas' skinless face just before he died. I have also learned many songs and redes that tell the tale of Shragin Storichsson, one of the mightiest heroes of the Northmen, who killed the great Ice Wyrm and slew the sons of Ymur the Old, avenging Cuthric Grimskold and ending the great war between the Norhtmen and the Giants. Would these stories be more to your liking? I'm glad to hear it! Naturally, I am not prepared to recite them without a bit of revision before hand. They are poems, and you have made your feelings about verse and rhyme perfectly clear. Perhaps later, when I've had some time to prepare.
Of course, not all of the Half Giants of legend can be called heroes. Turn you recollection to Hagnor the Black, the terror of Lambourne, who Caeric Blackhammer fought while questing for Shadowbane. It was Hagnor who slew Heloise, Caeric's true love, and the Half Giant villain paid for the deed with his life. Ever afterward, Caeric endured the wrath of Hagnor's cousin Henegrim, a Man of normal stature and vassal knight of the High King. Some say their feud was the beginning of the High Kingdom's doom. And many chronicles still tell of Ivard the sixth of Ethyria, called Ivard the Grim, who tortured his own subjects and was infamous for his hideous temper. Fearing treachery from all sides, he kept the children of his bannermen as hostages, as is said to have ripped all their limbs off in a fit of rage. Among the Northmen, there is one Half Giant whose name is not revered: Vidurr the Slayer, a master of Rune Lore, who served Cuthric Grimskold faithfully for years, and then finally betrayed the hero to the sons of Ymur. In return for his treachery, the Barbarian ruled the Invorri briefly as Thane of Thanes, but he was the last in the North to ever hold that title. Legend has it that Cuthric's kinsmen scattered Vidurr's bones to the winds. I'm sure, mighty lord, that you would never take any of these dark names as the inspiration for your rule. You are far too noble for that, methinks.
What else do I know about Half Giants? Well... er, good of you to ask. While many Half Giant names are remembered and celebrated, there is still little lore about the race as a whole. Some scholars tend to group Half Giants with Shades and Aelfborn, the so-called "lesser branches" of Humanity. Now now, my good lord, no need to rise! It's their opinion, not mine. And quite obviously false, too - one glance at a Half Giant clearly shows that they're clearly not "lesser" branches of anything. As to why some men are born so great of frame and strength, I've heard a few different reasons. Each tells an interesting story in itself.
The oldest (and most accepted, I might add) of the tales is the one that gave Half Giants their name. The oldest stories of Half Giants can be found among the Invorr, the Barbarians of the frozen North, who are always on the watch for men who bear the Jotensblut, the blood of Giants. Long ago, the skalds of the Northmen sing, Torvald the Titan left the Blessed Realm of Ardan, and led the Invorri north to conquer a new homeland. In time the Father of the Northmen subdued the Mother of Winter and led his folk in a bitter war against the Alfar, the cruel Elves also called Dar Khelegur, the High Ice Lords. While Torvald and the mightiest Northmen heroes were away fighting their fey enemies, the Joten, the Ice Giants of the North, came upon the villages of Torvald's people, left nearly defenseless. The Giants did not come to conquer the Northmen, or even to slay them. Instead they burned their halls and took many captives, bearing them away to mighty fortresses that crowned the tallest peaks. There the captives learned the Giants' greatest sorrow.
The Northmen, sagas tell, were not the first to war with the Elves of the uttermost North - years earlier the Giants had also fought the Alfar, and lost. The Giants were terrible in battle, but the masters of the Deathless Empire broke their strength with powerful magic. After the final battle that ensured victory for the Dar Khelegur, Elvish Wizards invoked a mighty Curse against the Giants, a tactic similar to the one they would later use to humble the Men of Ardan. The spell tainted the blood of their enemies, and was devised to drive the entire race of Giantkind to extinction. From that day forward, only one Giant in a hundred was born whole and healthy: the rest were abominations that died quickly or, were exiled from the lands of their parents forever. Without new blood, the race of Giants was surely doomed. And that's where the Northmen came in: the Invorri prisoners were bred with their captors. Some of the progeny that resulted were no different from other Men, while most had the strength and stature of Giants, only slightly reduced. The race of Giants was saved, but they paid a grim price for their deliverance.
Toravld, Herogar, and the Warriors of the North returned home victorious from their battles with the Elves, only to learn of the treachery of the Giants. The Northmen freed their kin, and took many of the more Human seeming giant children back with them. While no taller than the average Northmen, these children had children who showed the Giant blood, and sired the first half Giants when they came of age. Ever since, they say, the blood of Giants has flowed in the veins of the Northmen clans, and through them the Giant blood has spread to the other the Sons of Men. Over time the mingling of bloodlines has diluted the Giant blood, so that the Half Giants of today are far shorter than the Jotenkinder of old. Now, only rarely does the Giant blood breed true, and has been known to skip many generations before manifesting again in a given bloodline. Both the Giants and the Elves dismiss the tale as lies devised by the Northmen, but the Invorri still tell the tale in their meadhalls. While you might think that the Northmen would hate or despise Half Giants, born of shame and capture, Torvald's children value strength above most things, and are too pragmatic to throw away an advantage in their bitter struggle for survival. Half Giants are celebrated among the Northmen, and often become Thanes or chieftains.
While many believe the ancient tale of the Northmen and the Jotenkinder, others think that Half Giants are not hybrids at all, but Men. Look to the Book of Staves - there are several passages that support the idea. In the Parables of Ardan, one of the few accounts of that lost realm, scripture tells that "Men were as Giants in those days, so truly did the blood of the Titans flow in them." Later in that same passage, the Men of Ardan are described as fighting against the Elves "with the strength of Giants." Indeed, the first sons of the Titans are described in the Psalms of Reckoning as standing "nearly as tall as the trees of the wood." These passages have led some scholars to believe that Half Giants are simply Men who show the heritage of the Titans of Ardan, undiminished by the Blood Curse of the Elves. According to this view, all of the Ardani were quite literally Titans, who stood much larger than Humans do today. The mighty spell that destroyed the minds of the Adani is also thought to have withered their bodies. Some Magi claim that the recent increase in Half Giant births is evidence that the Elvish curse is finally lifting. Perhaps in the centuries to come, all Humans will be born with a Half Giant's stature, and the glory of Ardan will return. Not even the oldest Wizards claim to have ever actually met one of the Men of Ardan, and ancient Elves are quick to claim that the Ardani were not any taller than the Humans of the Age of Strife. But then, when have Elves ever felt any qualms about lying to their enemies?
Another notion, also favored by many in the Holy Church, is that Half Giants are ordinary Humans who, before their birth, are blessed by divine powers, the source of their great stature and strength. Late in the Age of Kings, Patriarch Heberon of the Holy Church ended the great civil war in Alvaetia by anointing Clarius the Half Giant as King of that fractured realm. In his written proclamation, the Patriarch wrote that "His Celestial Majesty the All-Father has placed among us, his children, those few Men of transcendent virtue, whose great stature matches the purity of their souls. Truly in these Giant Men is the true design of the All-Father fully revealed." The Temple of the Cleansing Flame was quick to embrace Heberon's view of Half Giants. Scholars in the Temple have long claimed that Half Giants are superior Men, blessed by the Archons with their great strength. To this day, Half Giants are the only beings arguably not Human that are allowed into their ranks. As you might expect, many Half Giants are particularly fond of these ideas, and happy to count themselves blessed. Oh, I agree, the notion is very sensible, and probably the truth.
There are, however, some other ideas, none of which are as kind. Some scholars, no doubt deluded in their arrogance, claim that Half Giants arose during the Cruel Years, when Humanity was enslaved to the Deathless Empire. The Elves, they say, bred some of their slaves for bulk and strength, and tried to breed cleverness and disobedience out of the strain. Some Loremasters go so far as to assert that the Elves actually used magic to help in the process, and that Half Giants were the first clumsy attempt to create a race of laborers and soldiers, efforts that eventually led to the creation of the Minotaurs.
The Sages and Loremasters of the Irydnu have a very different opinion. According to their researches (which, I must add, are contradicted by numerous sources), Half Giants did not appear until after the War of the Scourge had begun. The dark-skinned philosophers believe the forces of Chaos subtly tainted the Sons of Men who fought beside the Elves and Centaurs in the War of the Scourge, affecting their progeny. Just as Grobolds are twisted versions of Men, so are Half Giants parodies of Human perfection, born of Chaos. Proponents of this theory point to the blunted intellects and erratic behavior of Half Giants as evidence of corruption by Chaos. This negative view of Half Giants has led to intense persecution against Brutes in the lands where the Irydnu rule. Wait! There's no need to shout, good my lord! I am but a humble Bard: I only tell the tales, it is the work of others to prove them true or false. No, I'm certain that the Irydnu are all quite mistaken and... Please, I beg you, sheathe your sword! I meant no disrespect! You did ask me what I'd heard about Half Giants...
What's that? I get to keep my post?
Ah. Lucky me.