Ffion often fumbled her way in and out of situations with her parents, her brothers, her friends, and the people of her village. The older she grew, the worse situations she found herself in. It would’ve surprised no one that, beyond her ability to explain, she found herself strolling through a sloping forest in the middle of the night.
She knew this forest to be the home of wolves, a large bear, a witch, possibly a giant, and something else that villagers said had been cut by the witch from night itself, like you might cut a sliver of fabric from a wide cloth. All of these predators ate men, and Ffion surmised they would eat women too if given the chance, so she tried to creep quietly, which only sent her tumbling over an arching tree root in the dark.
After a few feet of crawling and scraping through the dirt and grass, Ffion stood up, patted down her dress, and realized there were eyes upon her from elsewhere in the woods. She went on walking, hoping she only sensed an owl or maybe even a mouse so long as it wouldn’t bother her, but from the corner of her eye she spotted a man’s shape striding amongst the trees.
Barely any clothes covered his body, and instead she saw black feathers rising out of his flesh, matting his chest and crowning behind his ears. He was no bird, though—he had a man’s face, and hands and legs, and a grimace that would’ve chilled her blood if she wasn’t so heated with panic. Her fear came so great that she couldn’t stand to run at first, and her quivering knees dragged her to the forest floor.
The grimace parted, opening to a mouth of sharp teeth, and believing this to be her end unless she tried something mad, she opened her mouth too.
“Great lord of the woods!” she bellowed, bowing her head. “Are you planning to eat me?”
The nameless man’s mouth opened wider and he leaned forward.
“I have to say, though you might have heard this reasoning before, that I’m quite stringy. I would not fill your belly very much and I would get stuck in your teeth. Yes, I can see by your salivating that you’ve heard this excuse before, but I have something else to offer. I’m a wonderful servant for a wealthy merchant and I often arrange parties for him. When this lord wants a few people gathered together—or many people, if that’s more your appetite—he always calls on reliable Ffion. I can find you many people! Fat, juicy, lovely people, the kind I gather when I serve the king and he wants a party! If you’ll just give me a chance.”
The nameless man’s hungry mouth hung open for a moment, and then closed softly as he leaned back. Ffion shakily took to her feet and the nameless man stared, waiting for her.
“I’ll show you then,” Ffion said, and she led the way back through the woods, getting turned around once or twice, but by morning they came to the edge of the forest where a neighboring town sat heavy with the tall houses of rich families who weren’t important enough to live closer to the kingdom’s capital. “Well, there they are. It was lovely meeting you.”
As she began to walk away, a heavy hand clapped down on Ffion’s shoulder. The nameless man shook his head and pointed at the houses.
“You wish for me to bring them here?” Ffion asked, and received a curt nod. “Oh, well, certainly. I’m excellent at convincing people to be eaten.”
Ffion hurried down to the town. She considered simply hiding here or sneaking away to her own village, but she feared the creature would find her. After knocking on the doors of a few rich families, she told them of a great celebration inviting only select attendants that would take place in the southern edge of town, near the forest. She even managed to convince one or two of the families to actually join her there in the evening.
Illustration by Falineowlight.
Yet when the rich families neared the town’s edge, one father said, “There’s an evil wind brewing from that wood. It seems to have driven all the other celebrants away.”
“We’re the only celebrants,” Ffion said.
“Then we can decide where it’s held?” the same man asked. “The north side of town is much cooler and more pleasant.” Before Ffion could stop him, the man turned to head for the north side of town, and everyone else followed behind him.
“But there’s no forest there!” Ffion cried. “And your feet will get sore on the walk!” Her cries fell on deaf ears and Ffion looked to the woods.
Within a few moments, the nameless man appeared, looking around for the juicy people he was promised.
“I can see how poor this looks on me, but it was not my fault,” Ffion said. “I’d gathered a few families here, enough to sate your appetite, when a giant appeared from the eastern hills.”
The nameless man frowned and looked to the east.
“And!” Ffion shouted before the nameless man could look for giant footprints. “He was creeping on his hands and knees so none of the many, many families I’d gathered would see him. There was one tall man who spotted the giant over the buildings, and when the giant noticed this, he stood up and scared the people, clearing the area despite the fact that I’d brought nearly the entire town here for you to eat. He ruined everything and I beg your forgiveness, sir.”
The nameless man waved for Ffion to follow and she obeyed, dogging his heels, sometimes stumbling into him, as they headed east. They walked over soft slopes, around higher hills, climbing steadily upward until they reached a mountain where a great stone arch formed around a tall cave’s dark mouth. The bones of men and sheep littered the floor inside.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d think a giant lived here,” Ffion said, and by the nameless man’s nod, she knew this was exactly the case. “A much bigger giant than the one who lives in the woods. I’d hate to have to see him, and that probably means you’re sending me in there to deal with him so he won’t scare off all the people you want to eat again. Isn’t that right? Yes, you’re nodding again, very well.”
Ffion swallowed heavily, and then tripped and picked her way through bones and splintered trees, out of the nameless man’s sight, until she found herself in a much nicer setting than the cave. The giant had carved himself stone shelves, stone furniture, and even walls and doorways that gave the appearance of a kitchen, a bedroom, and a den where a mighty fire roared, burning through enough wood to make half a forest.
The young woman was so taken by it all that she didn’t notice the giant stomping up behind her. “What have I here, in my home?” he roared. “Do my meals now come to me on their own two legs?”
Ffion bowed as she had for the nameless man. “Greetings, great giant. I was sent to be your serving girl, to keep your home tidy and clean, as I see the cave has unjustly made your lovely furnishings dusty. It’s my belief that your mood will be lighter in a cleaner environment, so let me get straight to work and you might go about relaxing.”
Without instruction or permission, Ffion tore off a leafy branch from one of the splintered bits of wood on the floor and began to sweep in vain at the stone surfaces, unsure of how she’d escape all this.
“How long does it take such a tiny thing to clean all this?” the giant asked, waving his hands to indicate his colossal home.
“My good master, a day should be more than enough,” Ffion said.
“Yes, you’ll see a great improvement in just a scant few hours.”
“Are you truly that quick?”
“Absolutely. I’ll be finished in a few minutes, you’ll see.”
The giant did see, but what he saw was a home just as dirty as when Ffion had arrived, only now the dust had been kicked into the air. Some of it tangled with his sprawling beard and sent him into wild sneezing. “You empty-headed bird—you’re only making it worse!”
“I confess!” Ffion shrieked, dropping the branch, and then dropping to her knees. “I wasn’t sent by anyone to serve or tidy or make your life better. A giant in the clouds saw what a terrible maid I’ve made and, as a cruel joke, sent me to vex you.”
“A strom wants to vex me?” the giant asked. “I didn’t even know one remained in this land.”
“Oh yes, and he’s a nasty one,” Ffion said, having no idea what a strom was. “He lives on the biggest, blackest cloud of rain and wind and lightning that you’ve ever seen. You go chasing one of those and you’ll find the giant, I promise.”
“I’ll do so and give him a piece of my mind.” The giant leaned down, picking up Ffion by the back of her dress. “But before I go, since you’re of little use to me, I think a tiny snack is worth having.”
“I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but I’m not much of a meal.”
“You’re not much of a maid either.” The giant’s mouth opened wide.
“I’d be much more use for vexing someone else!” Ffion pleaded. “Wouldn’t you get a laugh if you made me someone else’s problem for a time? It surely gave a great deal of joy to that giant in the mountains who sent me to you.”
“I suppose,” the giant conceded. “But I have no one to vex, besides those I’ve already eaten.”
“There’s a man outside with feathers on his head and chest,” Ffion said, at this point preferring the nameless man’s patience to the giant’s gluttony. “He’s been telling people not to come here or else they’ll be eaten, and had a few laughs at how hungry you’ve gone.”
“I’ve not gone hungry,” said the giant.
“Oh, I just assumed because you could’ve been having more people if not for this feathered man, and also because you’re looking so lean and shapely.”
The giant chuckled. “Very well. I’ll make you his problem. Go be his servant and cause him the kind of trouble you’ve caused me.”
“Without a doubt, I will, sir,” Ffion said, and she hurried out of the giant’s home as quick as she could, running face-first into the nameless man. “What a relief to find you here waiting for me! I made quick work of that nasty giant with a little home-cooking, my own bread recipe that my father says could solve all the kingdom’s hunger problems overnight, as after a single bite, no one feels the need to eat anything else for a time. Well, I cried and pled until the giant went on eating, and he was so full that he fell over asleep. Then he hit his leg on a big stone stool and broke it. He won’t be troubling you anymore.”
The nameless man narrowed his eyes. “Did he break the stool or his leg?” he asked in a cool, gritty voice.
Ffion was so surprised at the nameless man’s speaking that the words fell out of her mouth momentarily. “I … don’t know.”
The nameless man grinned. “You’ve told me a lie.”
“I may have.” Ffion stood up, wringing her hands and avoiding the man’s gaze. “Perhaps I may have embellished on my reliability. I would not make a good meal—I stand by that and you won’t make me change my mind. But, if you wish to eat me, I won’t run away.”
The nameless man squeezed Ffion’s shoulder firmly. “I do not wish to eat you.”
“That’s a lovely thing to say.”
Turning away then, the nameless man returned to his woods, and Ffion sighed so heavily with relief that she hit the ground again, and couldn’t walk until she’d rested a few hours. When she awakened, she wasn’t certain of which way was home, but a mighty storm brewed in the east, beyond the mountain, and a dark forest lingered in the south, and a gathering of unpleasant people had formed in the north. Heading west seemed her best prospect for avoiding trouble, and hopefully she’d find home that way.