Day 1: VII

I changed the subject. “Gift?”

“After what you’ve said, I’m not sure you deserve one. Perhaps I forgot to bring it today.”

I frowned. “Your second statement does not follow from the first.”

Whatever response Crick had expected, his narrow-eyed expression made it clear mine was not it. “What?” he said. Crick’s questions carried with them the sort of sincerity not often heard (that is to say of the genuine variety)—and so found themselves often mistaken as disingenuous, particularly by those best described by that word. A knave and a good man alike would consider Crick one of their company if they spent some time in his company.

“You’re cross with me and so you said I do not deserve a gift. If you had forgotten my gift as you claimed, you wouldn’t have said such a thing in the first place. It follows then that you indeed brought it and have it with you, but do not wish to give it to me,” I said in a breathless blur.

“Very clever indeed, Kadon. I see Luthor has been teaching you well. Yes, I have your gift but I do not think I will give it to you. What say you to that?”

Ready to receive my reward, Crick’s response caught me flatfooted. “Why n-not!” was all I could stammer in protest.

“You offended me, Kadon. You make me look a fool and then expect me to do as you command. That was not well done,” he said with a sad smile. The emotion, writ across so large a face, expanded to the same titanic proportion as the man himself, and in doing so diminished his physicality until he seemed almost ordinary.

“I’m sorry, Crick,” I said to him for the second time that day, and the first in genuine contrition.

He nodded, and with a slow shrug regained his happy countenance.

With this easy restoration of our friendship, I felt again emboldened to ask for my present, which had gone from ill-lost to well-deserved in my mind. Crick must have known as much. Hardly had I opened my mouth when he reached within one of the cavernous pockets of his trousers and pulled out a glass bottle. Not small otherwise, it appeared a cruet in his fingers. With a glance at the great hall’s door, beyond which the music of the king’s procession drew closer, he proffered me his hand.

I regarded the vial, and the liquid inside it, with suspicion. “What is it?” I said.

“Kumyss,” Crick said in confident answer, as if he expected me to know the word.

I did not. “Khumis?” The word, foreign, tricked my tongue and I winced at its butchery.

“Koo-mis. Mare’s milk,” he added when he noticed my continuing confusion.

“Horse milk?” My tongue prickled in protest and a bile-bitter flavor erupted at the back of my throat when I imagined the taste.

“Aye, horsemilk!” Crick straightened his back and his eyes, pale as winter water, flashed. “Nectar of the gods, Kadon! How do you think I grew to this size?” He slapped veined biceps for emphasis. The sharp clap rang across the hall like a musical note.

In such an animated state, Crick claimed the world around him without thought. His breath, hungry as a blacksmith’s bellows, drank the air from your lungs. His voice, deep as a summer thunderclap, allowed none to speak before it. And his words, forceful as a hammer’s blow, did not command authority but created it.

“My mother spurned me the taste of her breast for this wondrous mixture! By my fifth year, I towered above my brothers!” He held a hand by his neck to indicate their height. Ten-foot-tall dwarfs indeed. “Were we not made of the same flesh and bone? Did it matter then that they had seen more moons than me, had already known the touch of a woman when I could not even speak to one from fright?”

The possibility of a fearful Crick, at a woman no less, seemed to me so ludicrous I found it difficult to not laugh, or protest. His tale complete, Crick had paused—to catch his breath or collect his thoughts I could not be sure. Only when his gaze upon me turned to insistence did I understand he expected an answer.

“No?” I said. I could have spoken with greater force but it is an easy thing to forget one’s tongue around a giant—and besides, I could judge no more confidently the manner of Crick’s upbringing than any other child aged four (Or had you already forgotten?).

“No!” Crick boomed, and at this instant, as if compelled by his talismanic power, the door of the great hall flung open.

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