I first arrived in Nalbuz, it seemed the grandest
place in all the Greenhall. I had walked all day
from my father's sheep pastures. The wagon trail I
was walking along crested a steep ridge, and below
the city's towers caught the yellow sunset and
seemed to glow from within. Never had I seen so
many buildings in one place, or any buildings so
broad and tall. It seemed like a place built for
Giants rather than men and women. The
Zountharflour, widening out as it found its way
into the great bay beyond the city, was broader
than I could have imagined any river being, like an
enormous lake whose waters silently flowed on
The merchants smiled at me
as I walked the streets of the city, wide-eyed and
hardly aware of where I stepped. They were smirking
at the new country boy lost in the city. I didn't
mind; I thought them strange too, with their
brightly dyed clothes and fussed-over hair. I had
been warned of thieves, so I kept my money pouch
tucked into my breeches. My father had sold three
sheep to get the seven silver coins that would give
me a place at the academy. I would have to work to
earn my keep too, but without the money, so I was
told, they would not even open the door for me. I
had seldom held any coins before, and it was
strange to think of the worth of three sheep tucked
into that small linen pouch.
My favorite room in the
academy buildings was the Old Moothall. Behind the
high table hung a great map of the Greenhall, with
all its many lands and realms. It took me an hour
the first time to find Nalbuz, which on the map
seemed nothing more than a small hamlet tucked away
in the northwest corner of the world. If I bent my
neck back, I could read the words inscribed in blue
ink at the very top of the map: Meigil Gabar, the
Great Chasm. It was a name I had heard in stories
when I was a child. I was never sure if it was a
real place or not.
Autumn passed quickly into
Darkening, and Darkening into Winter that first
year at the academy, and the bustling activity of
the city streets was replaced by a somber chill.
Snow was piled between the buildings and the
daylight hours became few and bleak. I spent them
mostly doing my chores: mopping the kitchen floors,
breaking the ice on the stone pathways, and
emptying the chamber pots in the masters' rooms.
Most of my waking hours were spent in the long dark
mornings and evenings, reading by lamplight and
trying to understand a dozen subjects that I did
not know even existed just a few months
Late one evening, I noticed
Master Graiwar and Master Thoundmanar in the Old
Moothall, apparently discussing something on the
map. I stepped in and waited politely as they
continued speaking. Master Graiwar then turned to
me, stroking his bushy gray beard. "Yes, Alfroun,
may we help you?"
"Forgive me master, I am
just curious about this map. May I ask you some
Master Graiwar's eyes
glinted. "A curious student! What a strange turn of
events for us, Master Thoundmanar." He paused. "By
all means, boy, speak up!"
"Well, sir, I see there at
the top of the map, the words say Meigil
"I was wondering what land
lies beyond the Great Chasm."
"Well, son, you can read on
the legend of the map, down here, that this is a
map of all the Greenhall, the whole world. So there
is nothing beyond the Great Chasm. That is the edge
of the world.
Master Thoundmanar coughed
politely. "Well, to be circumspect one might say it
is the edge of the map. There are some books from
the Time of Monarchs, and even earlier, that say
there is a place named Stonemark beyond the Great
Chasm, where Giants dwell. A whole other world,
some seem to think."
"Now, Master Thoundmanar,
the boy asked a direct question. Let's not confuse
him with old legends and songs from long ago when
men still dressed in skins!" I thought uneasily of
the sheepskins that my mother had sewn into a
simple tunic and trousers, which my father had worn
for longer than I could remember.
"Master Graiwar is correct,"
said Master Thoundmanar, perhaps just to appear
deferential to the other teacher. "Modern scholars
know that there is nothing north of Meigil Gabar. I
just thought we might take some amusement in the
beliefs and fancies of ancient times. All the
Greenhall appears on this map, from farthest north
to farthest south, and from sunrise to
"Has anyone been there?" I
asked. "One might take a ship and sail north across
the Chasm. Or even stand on the shore and look
across, to see if there is land on the other
"That would be a long and
dangerous journey to undertake for such little
cause, Alfroun. The Meigil Gabar is filled with
grinding slabs of ice, even in the summer months.
Sailing is impossible. And how could you see to the
other side, when there is no other side to
I thought of suggesting that
one could walk over the ice on skis or snowshoes,
but guessed that Master Graiwar's delight in the
curiosity of students was beginning to ebb. I said,
"Thank you, Master Graiwar, Master Thoundmanar. You
have answered my questions. Good night."
That night I could not
sleep. My mind was filled with the thought of
looking out on the edge of the world, or beyond it.
It was not far on the map. Surely it would not be
difficult to simply keep walking, or paddle a boat,
northward from the northern shore of Galarzgou, and
simply learn the truth of the matter, once and for
all. Could there be Giants? Real Giants?
That was how it happened
that during the summer at the end of my first year
at the academy, when I was expected to go home and
help my father tend the sheep, I instead set out on
a journey to the edge of the world. The gold
merchant in the market seemed to be a well-traveled
man. At least he told tales of foreign realms like
Thagam and Rassal, and seemed to know where every
item in his cart had come from, and how far it had
traveled to grace the streets of Nalbuz. It was the
opinion of the gold merchant that one should travel
by ship from Nalbuz to Thaiwig, which, as everyone
knew, was the northernmost habitable place on
Earth. From there, one could travel on by whatever
means presented themselves.
It turned out to be not
quite as simple as that. The only ship bound for
Nalbuz this summer was not a passenger vessel. It
had come south at the beginning of Spring, loaded
with furs to trade. The crew had stayed on in
Nalbuz, trying to sell enough furs to return north
with barrels of beer and iron knives and axes. But
the furs had not attracted much interest, and now
their plan was to compensate for their losses by
hunting seals along the coast. I negotiated passage
on the ship by offering to clean and do odd
It was aboard this ship,
The Black Bear, that I became friends with a
Giantkin fellow named Aithgar. He was just a few
years older than me, big and brawny with tufts of
curly red hair and a short red beard. He told me
that his home was in the forests far beyond
Thaiwig, and that he believed he knew how we might
trek into the mountains and come to the
Nauthfithur, which flows into the Meigil Gabar. He
thought such a journey might test his fortitude,
and he loved challenges of that sort. He warned me
that the overland journey from Thaiwig would take
many weeks, for the country there was rugged and
there were few roads or tracks to
The seal-hunting business
turned out to be even less productive than the
fur-trading one, so the crew was not in good
spirits as the slow, tedious journey along the
coasts of Atharlanam and Ioudlanam progressed.
Aithgar, however, seemed to be always in good
spirits, perhaps because his mind was on our
anticipated adventure in the northern
long last, the ship captain spotted the inlet that
would take us to Thaiwig. There, during the long
twilight of evening, I saw the strangest and most
beautiful thing I had ever seen. Curtains of light
hung in the sky over the northern sea, yellow and
green and shifting as I watched. "That's the
Nahdweihl," Aithgar said softly, with a dreamy look
on his face. He was coming home.
It took us eight days
walking cross country just to get to Aithgar's
home. Five wood cabins stood huddled together in a
wet, gray-green valley. There was little growing
here, except a stand of onions and a small herb
garden near the door of the largest cabin.
Aithgar's family came out to greet us - his mother,
father, two uncles, an aunt, and four cousins. They
were all big, heavy-set people like Aithgar
himself, with broad faces and hair in shades of red
and dusty yellow. Giantkin had something of a bad
reputation in Nalbuz, as they tended to be crude
and to settle grievances (real or imagined) with
their fists. But here, in this remote place, I saw
them differently. These were people who lived by
their strength and stamina. It probably took
everything they had in them to bring in enough food
to survive the winter. If they were unused to the
nuances of gentle conversation and niceties of
urban life, it was hardly surprising, or something
to fault them for.
We ate and drank well that
night, as Aithgar's father told many stories by the
fireside, and the beer flowed generously. I slept
soundly, feeling welcome and very safe.
The last stage of our
journey was difficult but happy. Although Summer
was ending, the snows had not yet come. And
although the hiking was often arduous, it felt good
to be using my muscles and breathing the cool,
fresh air, scented with pine. Aithgar made a good
traveling companion, speaking little and pointing
out the way with a nod or a gesture. For a young
man, he seemed to have an enormous experience of
the landscape to draw upon.
As we camped one night, I
asked him the question that had been on my mind
since we met. "Why are you called
Aithgar's face froze for the
slightest of moments, and then relaxed and grinned.
I realized the question might have gotten me a fist
to the chin, were we in Nalbuz, and unacquainted
with each other. "Not hard to guess. We're big, you
"Well yes, that's true. But
are you, like, related to Giants?"
Aithgar was laughing now, a
big powerful belly-laugh. "I've never met a Giant.
They're just in stories to scare children with. You
ever met a Giant?"
Now it was my turn to laugh.
"No, of course not. But maybe there used to be
Giants, real ones. I thought you might
"Nope, sorry," Aithgar
scratched his cheek. "You're the scholar, not
"Something just came into my
head. There's a poem, Haulardzlei it's
called. My grandfather used to recite it on special
occasions. We'd all sit together and listen.
There's a part that goes - mmm, let me see, yes:
Gaizderir galun thaiz zaizi gaith / Thouh reimi
and rainai thaiz eizi rai / Feinthan thau frouranan
"I know that too," said
Aithgar. "The ghosts call to him who goes / Through
rime and rain by the icy road / To find the frozen
Giant fells - Does it mean something to
"No," I said, "not really.
But I just thought that's what we're doing now. But
the ice hasn't come yet, and I'm glad the ghosts
are quiet for the moment."
Aithgar chuckled. "I don't
think you can find Giant country by any road we can
"I expect that's true," I
said. I slept soundly, and dreamed of ice-covered
towers of rock.
Aithgar led us up into the
mountains now, and it was more climbing than
walking. There was ice and snow here that never
melted, and it was covering more and more of the
rocky landscape. The trees were left behind us now,
patches of dark green stretched out far below.
Aithgar used a massive pick to give us footholds in
the ice and rock when the going was too steep. We
traveled like this for two days, and I began to
wonder if our rations would hold out. Aithgar
assured me we had two more days before we would
need to turn back.
Finally, we reached a high
rocky plateau. It was a like a great burden had
been lifted, to be on flat ground again after all
that climbing. Aithgar beamed. "If I'm right, we
should be able to see the Nauthfithur from the
other side of this plateau. Let's go!" We walked
now with renewed speed and vigor. I almost forgot
why I had come, I'd been so focused on the climb
and the hope of finding the deep firth that was so
near the northernmost tip of the Greenhall. It
didn't seem at all like the edge of the world now -
just a beautiful, high, cold, and rugged place that
few humans had ever set eyes on.
Aithgar was right. Within an
hour we were looking down in the Nauthfithur, a
narrow neck of sea reaching inland as far as we
could gaze. The slope leading down to it was a
virtual cliff. We could not conceivably have
climbed down if we had wanted to.
"I believe we are not far
from the outlet of the firth," Aithgar proclaimed
with obvious satisfaction. If we walk north now, we
may be there by nightfall.
So it was, at long last,
that we came to the end of our journey. The Sun had
just set, and the long northern twilight flowed in
like a gentle purple dream. We stood on the highest
place either of us had even been, and looked
northward, upon the Meigil Gabar, the Great Chasm
at the Edge of the World.
We couldn't see either ice
or water below us, just mist down, down, down into
nothingness. Looking north, there was only violet
sky fading indistinctly into the mist below us. I
started to say, "I wonder if the mist ever clears
here", but only two syllables came out. It wasn't
right to speak. The question didn't matter. I was
standing on the edge of world.
For the rest of my life, I
never learned whether there was a land on the other
side of the Chasm, or whether Giants walked there
in truth or just in poetry. But my Giantkin friend
and I carried a greater truth with us, all our
days. We had looked into unspeakable mystery. Or,
rather, unspeakable mystery had looked into
Nalbuz was a much smaller
place when I returned.