A Sciapod's Tale

Started by Jubal, August 27, 2015, 04:24:46 PM

Previous topic - Next topic


A Sciapod's Tale

This is a story about a sciapod. You may never have met a sciapod – they are agreeable but rather odd folk, and little seen nowadays – so I suppose I had better describe one to you. Sciapods are giants, from lands far to the south and east; they are notable for they have only one leg, with a single foot so big that they can lie upon their backs and shade themselves from the sun. This is useful on two accounts; firstly, it is very hot where the sciapods live. Secondly, they are always very sleepy.

This particular sciapod was a baby. Only six and a half feet tall! He hopped around after his mother But tragedy struck in its young life, for he became the target of hunters. They threw great spears at his mother, who was driven back and away from her baby; the young sciapod was netted, and thrown on a cart, to be taken as a delight or performing beast to the lands far westward, perhaps even to Constantinople to delight the Emperor of the Romans.

There were three in the group of hunters, and they began to travel back across Persia and Armenia, their captive bound in the cart behind them – but they were not happy with one another, for each, thinking of the riches available when they sold the sciapod, were trying to work out how much they could get for themselves.

The largest hunter started it; "I am the only one strong enough to capture beasts like this. Without me we would never catch them in the first place, and as such I should get a larger share of the money."

"I am the only one who can look after the horses", objected the middle hunter. "Without me we could never cart this monster back across Asia – so I should clearly get the largest share myself."

"I am the only one who can read and write and count", said the smallest hunter, "so only I can sell our beasts, and as such I should get the largest share."
So the group took to quarrelling, and words turned to fists and fists turned to clubs and swords, and fairly soon the smallest hunter found himself knocked out cold and tied to a tree whilst the other two carried on.

The cart rolled up through the mountains of Cappadocia, and on north towards Trebizond and the sea. But even the remaining two could not agree their differences, when talk next turned to money – and once again words turned to fists, fists turned to clubs and swords. One of the two hunters soon lay dead in the road; the other abandoned the carts to go and seek treatment for a sword-wound.

And so the sciapod, at last free to struggle out of his bindings, was left stranded, somewhere in Anatolia, far from his native country. He hopped along the road at dusk or dawn, entirely lost, occasionally eating a stray animal or fruit from a tree at the side of the road. In the day he of course did what all sciapods do, and lay down to shelter from the heat of the sun.

The local towns and villages started to get reports in of a one-legged giant hopping about on the roads; concern spread, and local merchants fearing for their livestock or their lives started to raise concerns that whatever this monster was, it could do serious damage to them.

The nearest town finally decided that something had to be done about the strange monster that had appeared on their doorstep, and they summoned the toughest watchman from their guard. He took his great wooden club, a club his grandfather had given him, and set out to fight the sciapod. He came across him by the roadside, where – as sciapods do – he was asleep in the shade of his foot.

He ran forward and swung his club, waking the sciapod and catching him a nasty bruise on the back of the leg. Suddenly alert and in pain, the sciapod reached out and grabbed the club, swinging the watchman down onto the dust of the road. He took a look at the club as he struggled upright, and promptly tossed it into a nearby stream. Unarmed and sprawled in the dust, with his grandfather's club lost and in all likelihood broken, the watchman closed his eyes and waited for death.

"Very well – kill me, monster!"

"Why would I want to do that?" said the sciapod, rather confused, and he hopped off down the road.

The townspeople got more worried when the watchman came back and told them his tale. How could they get rid of this terrifying creature? At length they decided that the only thing to do was to call in someone more professional – and so they sent for a knight to deal with the problem.

The knight was a Norman. This was the time in which pretty much all itinerant knights were Normans, and they were more or less everywhere and practically impossible to get rid of. He had a black horse, a coat of chain-linked mail, and a long lance which he had carried all the way from France (or at least he claimed to have done).

Once again, the sciapod was asleep by the road, under the shade of his one great foot.

The knight spurred his horse forwards, and its whinnying woke the Sciapod up. He levelled his lance and rode forwards, but the sciapod bounced up onto its foot; the action startled the horse, which reared up, throwing the knight; he let go of the lance which rolled uselessly into the road, and lay there on his back, unable to get up quickly in his heavy suit of armour. He closed his eyes and waited for one of the sciapod's crushing fists to kill him outright.

"Very well – kill me, monster!"

"Why would I want to do that?" said the sciapod, rather confused, and he hopped off down the road. The Knight eventually got back onto his horse, decided Antioch sounded nice at that time of year, and rode away south as fast as he could go.

By now the townsfolk were desperate – by all reports the sciapod was still growing, and so they did the only thing they could think to do – they sent a messenger to Constantinople to call for the emperor.

And the Emperor rode up to those parts, with the Ambassador of the Venetians, the Ambassador of the Germans, and Tammin, Ambassador of the great king Prester John, at his back. A hundred knights followed in his retinue, and the noise awoke the poor sciapod yet again from his sleep. Blinking, he stood up to his full height. The hundred knights shuffled back nervously, and several turned their horses around there and then.

The Emperor spurred his horse forwards. His sword was of Damascus steel, his armour gilded with precious metals; he whirled his blade and charged.

He struck once toward the sciapod, and the sciapod just about hopped out of the way, confused and afraid. Upon seeing how great the sciapod's leaps were, the Venetian ambassador turned his horse back to the west, deciding that he definitely wasn't being paid enough for those sorts of risks.

He swung his sword a second time, and this time caught one of the sciapod's fingers, the sword glancing off and making a long cut across one hand. The sciapod flailed out and nearly hit the Emperor's horse, who reared up and threw the Emperor to the floor before bolting – along with the German ambassador, who was certain this hadn't been in his job description.

The Emperor was not beaten yet, though, and he staggered to his feet. A third time, he swung his sword – but the sciapod (who had by this time woken up enough to realise that a large, sharp, heavy object being swung around near his face was probably bad news) plucked it from his hand, carefully bent it in half, and threw it into a bush. And the Emperor staggered back, raising his hands in expectation of a final killing blow.

"Very well – kill me, monster!"

But the only sound was a confused sciapod scratching its head – and laughter. The Emperor and the Sciapod both looked up, and the last man left of all the Emperor's train sat there on his horse, bent over in mirth.

Tammin laughed, and laughed. And then he, helping the Emperor back to his feet, said to him: "You see, o mighty Emperor, though you may be master of much of the known world, though you may be heir of Augustus, though you may be the richest man in Christendom – it is not for you to decide what is a monster simply from what someone looks like. The only monsters we mortals can choose to create or destroy with a thought are ourselves. And this – this is not a monster at all."

The Emperor saw how rash he had been, and apologised to the sciapod, who was still not sure what all the fuss had been about but was glad to see fewer sharp things being waved at him. Tammin then took his leave of the Emperor, and led the young sciapod back to the east, back homewards – where the sun is hot, where everyone will give the time of day to a sciapod, and where there is always plenty of time for sleep.

Tellers' Notes
I love this story to bits, mostly because sciapods are (at least in Tamminverse) fundamentally adorable creatures. It's got a nice message to it as well, and the "fight scenes" are quite amenable to physical motions that can draw the audience in well. The "always sleepy" characteristic of my sciapods is fantastic for storytelling because it means they can have a very distinct "yawning" speaking voice.
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...