The House that Fish Built VI…

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…Twice the height of any of the men of Albion was the horrible mantle about him and his hair was like a great spreading bush the size of a winter shed, under which thirty bullocks could easily find shelter. He had ravenous yellow eyes the size of an ox vat, which bulged from his head, and each of his fingers were the width of any normal man’s wrist.

In his left hand he carried a block, a burden for twenty yoke of oxen, and in his right, an axe weighing a hundred and fifty molten masses of metal. Its handle required a plough team of six to move it, and its edge was of a sharpness to slice a hair blown by the wind. He strode across the hall and stood by the fork-beam of the fire. “Is the hall lacking in size that you seek to hog the fire with your   bulk?” asked King Grim-Gaze, “You are as a shadow cast across the sun.”

“You need have no fear of my shadow,” rumbled the carle, “I possess the capacity to enlighten the whole household with this blaze behind me but tonight that is not my purpose.”

“Then what is your purpose?” asked King Grim-Gaze.

“I have a covenant to make,” said the clod-hopper, “for neither in Africa nor Asia, nor yet throughout the whole of Europe have I found the man to do me fair play regarding it: since the men of Albion excel all the folk of those lands for strength, prowess and valour, I hope to find me one among you to fulfill it.”

 “What then is this covenant which no one has so far met?” said King Grim-Gaze.

The foul fellow cast down the block into the middle of the hall and brandished his mighty axe, “whoever agrees to allow me to cut off his head with my axe tonight, I will grant him the same with regard to my own head on the morrow and along with it the Championship of Albion.”

“By the god of my tribe,” said Connor Cruel-Crest, “death is not such a pleasant prospect, if the man killed tonight returns to attack you on the morrow,” he lowered his cup and sat down.

“By the god of my tribe,” said Long-Horn O’Leary, “the man able to return on the morrow after suffering death the previous night would leave no man alive in Albion,” he lowered his cup and sat down.

“Sure then, is there no warrior here after these two?” roared the ogre surveying the mead house.

“Indeed there is,” shouted Fat-Head, the son of Short-Neck, and he sprang into the middle of the mead house, “bend down you grizzly gawp, that I might cut off your head tonight and you to cut off mine tomorrow.”

“But if that were my covenant I could have got it anywhere.”

“Yet to you alone, it would seem, is given the power to be killed every night, and to avenge your death upon the following day.”

“That’s true,” said the monstrous man, “I will agree to what you suggest.” He bent down and put his neck across the block.

With that Fat-Head took the axe from the giant’s hand; its two angles were a full seven feet apart on the stock, yet he struck at the hairy one’s neck until his severed head lay at the base of the fork beam of the fire.

Straightaway the unnatural hulk rose, recovered himself, clasped his head, block and axe to his breast, and made his exit from the mead hall with the blood still gurgling from his neck.

*

The next day, as the men of Albion watched Fat-Head to see whether he would shirk his covenant they saw a great dejection seize him, and some asked if they should start their keen.

Said Fat-Head, “it is true, my death is coming to me but I’d sooner my neck be broken than my word.”

As night approached the carle came into the hall as before, “where is Fat-Head,” he said, “for the squat one has a covenant to keep.”

“Here I am,” said Fat-Head, rising from his seat.

“You’re dull of speech tonight unhappy one,” said the fiend, “greatly must you fear to die, yet I see that you have not shirked your fate.”

Fat-Head went up to the swarthy chap and stretched his neck across the block but so big was its groove that his head reached only half-way.

“Stretch out your neck, wretch,” roared the giant, lifting his mighty axe.

“Dispatch me quickly, you keep me in torment,” shouted Fat-Head.

“I cannot slay you, what with the size of the block coupled with the shortness of your scrawny neck,” yelled back the fiend.

“I shall make my neck as long as the cranes above you,” cried Fat-Head, and he stretched himself out so that a warrior’s full grown foot would have fitted between any two of his ribs; his neck extended until his head reached the other side of the block.

The mighty man raised his axe till it reached the roof-tree of the hall; the creaking of the old hide that was about him and the crashing of the axe were as the loud noise of a wood, tempest tossed, in a night of storm, but the axe blade glided from the neck of Fat-Head as if it had been stone.

“Truly, the Championship of Albion to Fat-Head,” shouted the carle, and he lifted the little fellow onto his shoulders.”

“By the god of my Clan,” laughed Fat-Head, from the giant’s shoulders, as the two of them left the mead house, “his head shall he lose whosoever comes to contest it with me!”…

*

…Once outside the mead house, Father Fish and Little Nipper, Champions of the Crafty Folk, shifted into their own shape, and set off for Eden Dale.

Alongside them walked Grey-Sway: she was leading the white, black-maned cow, chosen by Father Fish as the price of his labour.

– Excerpt from: The Heart of Albion: tales from the Wondrous Head.

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