I heard a nightingale. And it had the most beautiful voice that I had ever heard.
It was around midnight. The only reason why I was even awake was because of my horrid insomnia, so I had an excuse. But what about the nightingale? She was singing so beautifully, but it was so late at night.
I peeked out the window, hoping to find the source of the voice but had no luck. I glanced to the left of my cottage, seeing the riverbed but no nightingale. I glanced over to the right, but only saw the headstone of my late wife and no bird. I huffed at the sight of the grave, shaking I head as I retreated back inside.
It had been six years since her death, around the same time I started to develop my insomnia. That horrible plague, affecting everything – animal, man, giant – that it touched. My wife had had a weak constitution, so it was unavoidable that she had fallen victim to the disease. Despite my efforts, she had died after a month of contracting the illness. It had been a horrid day and I just couldn’t forget it.
My thoughts were broken by the singing again. Where was that coming from? It was so beautiful… So… soothing. It actually made me tired, made me want to sleep. That was rare. So unbelievably rare. And I hadn’t had a good night’s rest in over a week.
I left the window open, allowing the voice to come through as I climbed back into bed. That voice… It was so beautiful. It was like the cure to my insomnia. No, it was the cure. It was what I needed to sleep, what I needed things to be normal again…
Tomorrow night, I thought to myself as I closed my eyes. I will look for the nightingale tomorrow night.
I had never been this well rested in years. I didn’t feel like I was going to collapse that morning and, in the afternoon, I had even took a small nap after working out in the forest. All because I could remember the song of the nightingale.
The voice… It was so soothing, so calm, so pretty and pleasant. It could bring even the strongest of men to their knees, just so they could hear it and listen to it. I needed to know where it had come from.
Throwing my dark brown cloak on, I headed out of the cottage, closing the door behind me. I would have locked it, but I thought it was rather silly to lock the door;I was the only giant out for miles upon miles. I doubted that any humans would dare enter my cottage. At least sane humans.
Not wanting to be spotted by humans, I took the path that they normally didn’t travel on. I didn’t bring a torch or a lamp either. I didn’t want to frighten anyone, especially at this time of night. Humans had a nasty habit of believing the stories they were told as children about giants. That they were all murderous, human-hungry monsters that destroyed everything in their paths.
I had to laugh at that. Eating humans? Perhaps there were some evil, bloody-thirsty giants out there. Humans had that same issue! But to categorize them as being all the same? How completely foolish. I was as civilized as one could be, the thought of eating a human quite repulsive. I would never hurt anyone, unless I was provoked or threatened. Then it became a means of protection, which was what humans did as well.
But still, I stayed out of the humans’ way, not wanting to cause large panic and chaos for no reason. Besides, I didn’t care about them now. I had to find the nightingale.
As I searched through the forest, I paused when I came across a human campsite. I looked over it, seeing what appeared to be a group of six bandits gathered around a fire, laughing hard and making jokes amongst each other as they sat on their beds. There was a wagon nearby, the horses tied up to the trees.
And next to the horses, grooming them, was a girl.
I blinked, crouching down a bit. Well, no, certainly not a girl. More like a fully grown, but young woman. And she was so beautiful. Pale white skin, long straight raven-black hair, and big bright green eyes. She was a thin girl, but tall. Well, taller than the average human woman. The men, from the looks of it, towered over her.
I looked over her. Why was she there? Judging from her clothes, she looked to be a commoner. Perhaps a lover or a wife of one of the bandits? No, that couldn’t be it. She would be joining them for the meal and sitting next to one of the men if that were the case. Than who was she?
“Aye!” one of the men called out, clearly drunk. “Girl – come on over here! Put on a little show for us, would you?!”
The woman closed her eyes, stroking over one of the horse’s manes. Then she let out a heavy breath and turned away from the horse, walking over to the men.
My eyes widened when two of the men got up, the first man shoving her against the other. They pulled at her hair, making kissy-noises at her as well as feel her up. The other men just laughed, a third man joining the other two. The woman just stood there, eyes closed and head titled back. It was like she was used to this and simply removing herself from the situation entirely.
“Aye, girl!” one of the men barked. “Open your eyes and give us a song!”
She did as ordered, allowing her eyes to open as she took a deep breath before she began to sing.
I almost slipped from where I crouched when I heard the song.
So… It wasn’t a nightingale. It was an actual woman. This woman, to be specific, singing that beautiful song I had heard last night. This was the nightingale. This was the one that had helped me sleep last night. This was the one who had allowed me to rest in peace after years of rough sleep and horrid insomnia!
And now she was been treated like a common wench by this group of bandits. I didn’t know much, but I knew that the woman had probably been kidnapped from her home and forced to take care of these pigs. I didn’t know how long she had been with them, but she had been with them long enough to be used to this kind of treatment.
I had to do something. Anything! I looked over, seeing an old tree a ways away from me. It was fairly large and it would surely make a rattling sound when it hit the ground. I ran to it and immediately began to push on it, hoping to make it tip over. It groaned at the pressure, but had yet to fall.
I growled, bearing down my weight on the tree. I may have been an older giant, but I was still fit and strong for my age. My adrenaline was kicking in as I heard the singing get louder, fearing the worst for the girl. With all my might, I shoved at the tree, smiling when I heard the tree cracking under pressure. I pushed back and gave it one final push with my leg, watching it groan as it fell to the ground, rattling the earth with a loud crash.
Immediately, I could hear the men jump and panic. Brushing myself off, I moved away from the tree, circling around the camp area so that the bandits wouldn't see me. I watched as the six men ran over toward where they heard the noise, leaving the girl tied up to a tree near the wagon.
Seeing that the men were distracted, she started yanking and pulling at the rope, hoping to free herself and escape. But the bastards had tied the rope too tightly, leaving her utterly helpless as she tugged and tugged at the rope.
Getting down on my knees next to the tree and hiding behind it, I pulled out my hunting knife from my belt. Quickly, I cut the rope and freed the girl, who gasped when the rope fell to the ground. But she didn’t dare question it, despite the fact that she should have, quickly getting up to run.
I did not free her just so she could get lost and possibly killed in the forest. The girl probably had no idea where she had come from and she would probably pick the wrong direction. I wasn’t about to let the poor girl die out there.
So, throwing my ideology of staying out of human affairs off the side, I reached out from behind the tree and scooped the gorgeous girl right off the ground, bringing her to my chest.
As predicted, the woman screamed in absolute terror at the sight of a giant, me, peering down at her. I flinched, but tried to shush her unsuccessfully. Frantically, the woman tried to climb out of my hand, screaming and struggling wildly as she tried to get back on the ground.
“Wait!” I cried, struggling to keep her in my hand. “I’m not going to hurt you!”
But the girl still fought to get to the ground, rolling and throwing herself off my hand, though I caught her each and every time.
I jerked my head up when I heard the bandits come back at the sound of the woman screaming. Oh no… I had to get out of here! But I couldn’t just leave the poor girl… I looked over my shoulder, back toward the path to my cottage. I didn’t have a choice. Not unless I wanted either of us to get hurt.
Cupping my hand over her, I held her in the way a child would hold a frog that he caught by the river so it wouldn’t hop away. She shrieked and I could feel her push at my hand, but it was a sad attempt to try and break free. I quickly rose to my feet and turned around, retreating back toward the cottage. I made sure my pace was setting so the human in my hands would jar around too much. I was thankful that I was a giant, or else I doubted that I would have lost the six bandits that were chasing me.
I reached my cottage, quickly opened the door and retreating inside, kicking it closed as I panted softly. I peeked out the window, wondering if they had tried to follow me. But, as it turned out, they were going in the opposite redirection. Idiotic humans.
Speaking of humans… I glanced down at my hands still cupped over the girl. She was no longer screaming or struggling, but I could feel her shaking. Damn it, I didn’t mean to scare her. I just wanted to keep this human nightingale safe.
Carefully, I lowered my hands down to the counter top and set the girl down. She was curled up into a little ball, shaking violently and panting hard in fear. When she realized that I was no longer holding her, she quickly rolled over on her back and gasped when she looked at me.
I remained completely still, being sure to look at her with a gentle expression. I didn’t want her to think that I had any malicious intentions.
“It’s all right,” I said in a soft voice as she tried to back away. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
She didn’t seem to believe me, still continuing to back away until she hit the wall. She pressed up against it, her eyes watching my every move. It was obvious that she did not trust me and that she was afraid of me. Well, I supposed that if I were in her position, I would be frightened too.
I sighed. I had to get her to believe me. I wasn’t going to hurt her! Well, my late wife had always told me that honesty was always the best way in winning a person’s trust. Perhaps that was the approach I wanted with the girl.
I placed my hands on the counter to show her I had no intentions to hurt her. She flinched at the movement, eyeing me nervously.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” I repeated. “Please, I know I’m… a giant, but I’m not a monster. Honestly, I believe that I’m perfectly harmless.”
She remained silent.
I continued anyway. “My name is Baron. I didn’t expect to find such a pretty girl at the hands of a crew of rough bandits.”
The girl swallowed and shifted a bit uncomfortably when I called her “pretty.” I thought it was quiet adorable, especially when she bit her bottom.
“I apologize for grabbing you like that,” I said. “But I wasn’t about to let a woman be handled by a group of perverted bastards like them. I didn’t think you knew the way back… from wherever you came from.”
She just stared at me. She didn’t look so afraid anymore, which made me more than relieved. I didn’t want her to think she had been brought back here for food or something. I wasn’t a barbarian.
“I’m very sorry for scaring you, dear. I didn’t mean you any harm.” I stretched up a hand to rub my eyes, a bit delighted in seeing that she didn’t flinch at the movement. When I rested my hand back down on the counter, I asked, “Is there anything I can get you? Are you hungry? Tired?”
She looked over me a bit more, studying me more intently. I remained still and pretended I didn’t know what she was doing. I wanted to show her that I wasn’t a vicious giant, just an older one who lived in the woods alone. I certainly didn’t look vicious, or so I believed.
Among giants, I was considered a fairly tall one. I had bright golden brown eyes, short black hair, which now had a few gray streaks in it due to my age. And, despite my age, I was still a well built man, having muscle and strength like I did when I was younger. Perhaps it was due to staying in shape, considering all the odd, manual jobs I did. Of course, it could just be arrogance, all the same.
“No,” she said softly, speaking for the first time. She had a gentle, soft voice, one that was just as pleasant as her singing voice. I had to stop myself from smiling, just simply regarding her with a nod.
“Are you sure? It isn’t a hassle for me if you do need something.”
“No… No, I’m fine.” She slowly moved away from the wall and moved toward me. “I… I have to thank you. For saving me. I… I am forever grateful.”
“As I said before, I wasn’t about to leave a beautiful woman such as yourself to the hands of vile men like that.” Then I laughed, shaking my head. “Of course, I only came across you by chance. I heard you singing last night, and I went looking for you, the source.”
She blinked, looking up at me with confusion. “You… heard me singing last night?”
I nodded and smiled at her gently. “I did. You have a beautiful voice. I had believed you to be a nightingale.”
“I… apologize if my singing disturbed you.” She had moved closer to me now, standing only a foot away from my hands. “They… had asked for me to sing.”
“Actually, your singing helped me sleep,” I admitted, looking out the window and at my wife’s grave. “You see… I haven’t had a good night sleep in a very long time, so when you sang and it allowed me to sleep peacefully, I thought of going out to look for you and possibly keep you as a pet to help cure my insomnia.”
I looked back down at her, seeing that she seemed frightened by the idea. Not meaning to frighten her, I quickly added, “Of course, at the time, I thought you were a bird. Now that I clearly see that you are a human, I wouldn’t dream of keeping you here as my pet.”
“O-Oh…” But she said nothing else, now looking down at her feet.
I mentally scolded myself. Great, now she believed me to be a giant who kept humans for his own personal pleasure. I huffed, shaking my head. “If I may, little one… What is your name? And how did you come to live with such… men?” If I could really even call those pigs men. I should have squished them when I had the chance.
She seemed hesitant to tell me, glancing around the room. Perhaps she was looking for a cage of some sort? To match my claim of keeping her as a pet. But she found none and relaxed a bit, looking back up at me. “My name is Serena.”
I smiled, glad to be able to refer to her by name rather than simply “the girl.” Was this a sign of her trust? I wasn’t sure. “A pretty name to match a pretty girl.”
“Th-Thank you,” she stammered, clearly embarrassed. But then she cleared her throat and continued. “A… lord from the far West heard about my ability to sing and my appearance… He wanted me as a bride. The men I was with were the ones who kidnapped me from my town a week ago. They’re that lord’s men.”
My eyes widened? Kidnapped? Bride? This supposed lord wanted a marriage to a girl he didn’t even know, simply because of how she looked and what she sounded like? Humans were cruel creatures, men especially with their selfish desires. And to think humans called us barbaric.
“I’m sorry that happened to you,” I offered, squatting down a bit so that I was eye-level with her. “Is there anything I can do? Perhaps take you back home?”
She shook her head. “I lived alone and they burned down my cottage. There is nowhere for me to go.”
“Oh…” Now it was my turn to not be able to say anything. What could I say? Now I understood why she didn’t fight the men earlier. There was nothing she could do because there was nowhere for her to go. I felt guilty, wanting to help the poor girl, but knowing that there really wasn’t anything I could do. Well, I could take her to another village, though the closest one I knew of wasn’t for miles.
“I’m sorry,” I finally said.
She shook her head. “You don’t need to apologize to me. You… saved me from this, so I am very grateful to you.”
“Hmm.” I looked around my house for a moment. Maybe I couldn’t take her to another town, unless she asked, of course, but perhaps she could live here? If she wanted a giant as company. I certainly wouldn’t mind it, considering I lived in this cottage for six years alone.
She looked up at me.
I took one of my hands away from the counter, turning over the remaining hand on the table with my palm up. Her eyes widened a bit, but I just gave her a soft look.
“As you have nowhere to go… Perhaps you could stay here.” I gestured to the cottage around us. “I have plenty of room, especially for someone as small as you. Though, if you don’t wish to, I understand. I could possibly take you to another town. Mind you that it would be a two day journey.”
I watched her pause to think about my offer. A part of me hoped that she would stay here. Some company would be pleasant. At least for a little while until she wanted to be with people of her own kind. I couldn’t help but to laugh to myself. I was much lonelier than I thought.
“I don’t want to intrude.”
“I’m the one that invited you,” I reminded her before giving a soft sigh. “I live alone, so you don’t have to worry. You won’t be intruding on anyone.”
She thought about it a bit more. I could see that she was extremely hesitant to accept my offer by the way she was looking me up and down. I just kept up with a soft look, not wanting her to believe that she was forced into this and that she could say no if she really wanted to.
“I…” she said, catching my attention. “I suppose… I could stay here for a little while.” She climbed onto my hand, sitting down on it with her legs up against her chest.
I smiled. “All right then. Let’s get a bed made for you.”
I gently lifted her up and cupped her against my chest. She seemed a little shaken at first, holding out her arms to catch herself. But I was careful, carrying her over to my bedroom. I opened the door and walked inside, setting her down on the end table on the right side of the bed.
I walked over to the closet, crouching down to open up a trunk of old toys. My wife had been in love with dolls, treating them like children and having me make wooden beds and such for them. I had been sure that I had a bed left over and when I moved some things out of the way, I had found one. It was a bit big for a woman Serena’s size, but it would surely do. I placed some doll-sized blankets and pillows in the bed as well, standing up and carrying back over to where she stood.
She moved out of the way as I set the doll bed down. She stared at it for a moment, looking up at me a bit confused. I rubbed the back of my neck, a bit embarrassed as it didn’t make sense for an older man like me to have such things.
“My wife had been a doll-lover,” I explained a bit sheepishly. “She asked me to make her furniture and things for her dolls. I had a few things left over in the trunk. Never actually believed I would have to use them.”
“Your wife?” she asked, a bit more confused now. “I thought you lived alone.”
“I do. My wife passed away six years ago.”
Her face softened a bit, looking guilty that she asked. “I’m sorry.”
I shook my head. “It’s all right.” Besides, she was dead and there was nothing anyone could do about it. Life began with birth and ended with death. Death was just a natural part of life.
But I didn’t want to dwell on it, giving a soft sigh and looking down at the woman with a small smile. “You’ve had a long day. It’s probably best you get to bed. I’m tired myself.”
“I… I thought you have insomnia.”
I blinked. “I do. Why?”
“Isn’t it hard for you to sleep?”
I shrugged. “It can be, but I’ll be fine.”
I moved over to my dresser, searching for my pajamas as I kicked off my shoes. I stripped myself of the day’s clothing while Serena had turned away to give me some privacy. When she didn’t change herself, I mentally noted that I would have to make her a set of clothes or something. She couldn’t stay in the clothes she was wearing forever.
As I climbed into bed, blowing out the candle, she said out of nowhere, “Will you be able to sleep if I sing to you?”
Abruptly, I turned my head to look at her. Serena had already climbed into her bed, looking at me with a solemn expression. She was serious? I didn’t understand for a moment there. “What do you mean?”
“You mentioned earlier that you had originally gone out looking for me because you believed me to be a nightingale as my singing helped you sleep,” she said matter-of-factly. “Perhaps I could sing to you now. To help you sleep.”
“You don’t have to do that, Serena,” I said, though quite surprised and touched by her offer. It was rather sweet, considering I was a complete stranger. Not to mention a giant that could crush her, if I ever got the hideous urge to.
“Consider it my way of thanking you. For saving me and allowing me to stay here.”
I just stared at her for a few moments. A pretty girl with a gorgeous voice that had a kind personality was offering to sing me to sleep. It was too surreal and at first, I thought that perhaps I had already fallen asleep and I was dreaming. Yet, if that was the case, I wanted to keep on dreaming because this was just too good of a dream to dismiss.
I reached out a hand toward her, gently touching her cheek with my fingertip. “Only if you wish to.” Then I took my hand away, closing my eyes as she softly began to sing.
I had found a nightingale in the form of a gorgeous human woman. She had such a beautiful voice. She could bring the strongest men to tears or bring old men like me to a peaceful slumber. She was a good woman, a kind woman.
She was my nightingale.