There was once a woman named Aglaia, a farmer who lived on the very edges of her village. Each night, Aglaia would walk down to fill her pots with water from the stream, and empty the last of her meal into the river as a blessing for the gods. “Please, gods, bless this village, for we have no children.” she would say, stones digging into her knees as she knelt on the riverbed, fingers twisted together in prayer under the rising moon.
One fall day, as she walked to the mouth of the river and knelt on the stones, she had no food to offer. “I am sorry.” She breathed, fingers reaching out to touch the cold water. “I have nothing left to offer. Please, bless me with a child.” As the woman knelt, tears ran down her cheeks and hit the water. Far above, Hera, who sat on her throne in Olympus, turned her head and listened.
Sitting on her throne, high above the mortal worlds below, Hera watched the clouds shifting past her windowsill and wondered about what was happening outside those walls. A few days earlier, a frostborne child had been left on the doorstep of Olympus, and the council of gods was meeting to try and decide what to do with the little boy. As she listened, Hera heard the whispered, “Please, bless me with a child.” and she stood.
Aglaia slipped from her riverbed, a bucket in each hand as she slowly walked down to her home. The moon had just risen, and it bathed the world in its soft glow. She walked towards her home, water sloshing out of the buckets and against her aching legs. Slowly reaching the door, Aglia made a noise of shock as she saw the box resting on her doorstep. She knelt, one hand moving to open it. The first thing she saw beside the small face and pale skin was the pure-white hair on the infant’s head.
He was not in the village on the day of the fire. He had been making the trek to a trading outpost, swapping fresh fish and clean water for supplies, and so he did not find out about the fire until he returned two days later. With a bag of dried meat and fish slung over his shoulder, he slowly crossed the hill and froze in horror at what he saw.
He buried her down by the river, on the far side of the riverbank, across from where she had gone to get them water every day. He buried her alone, the only sound the shovel scraping over the soil as he put the last few scoops of dirt back. He knelt, hands resting against the soil as he stared at the ground in absolute defeat.
Areh had heard a story, about a fire giant who lived on a mountain above the sea. He knew where he was, and he knew the tales of how to get to the sea, so he walked slowly along the riverbed away from his old home. The river had plenty of fish, and the water was fresh and quenched his thirst. He had been walking for several days when he finally upon a man sitting on the riverbed.
“Sir?” Areh questioned, watching the man lift his head up, sharp blue eyes meeting his own silver ones. “Don’t call me sir, I’m no older than you. Name’s Eneas. What do you need?” Areh hesitated for a moment before he finally spoke. “I need a ride, to the cliffs of the fire giant.” Eneas studied him, blue eyes cutting into his soul before he jerked his hand in the direction of the river.
He wasn’t sure how many days had passed. The boys didn’t speak much, as Areh spent most of his time sitting in the front of the boat, watching the scenery around him. He had never the world beyond his home, and so everything he saw was new. Eneas watched with amusement at his passenger’s reactions, as he counted down the days until they reached the base of the mountain.
Areh spent each night curled in the bow of the boat, sleeping soundly through the cold winds that would’ve broken most men. It wasn’t until one night, as the rain began to fall. that he stirred. Fear dug into his chest as he pressed himself as far under the bow as he could, struggling to keep himself dry.
He wasn’t sure how long had passed when he heard the footsteps. He forced his eyes up, blinking sluggishly as he saw Eneas crouched in front of him. The smaller figure tugged him up, struggling to use his body to shield them both from the rain as he slowly made his way into the covered section in the back of the boat.
Eneas woke slowly, curled up against Areh’s side. Areh was dryer now, clothes no longer clinging to his thin body. Areh groaned as Eneas moved, shifting to look at him in annoyance, but Eneas just grinned. He stood, offering out a hand to tug him up. “C’mon, we’re almost at the sea.”
Areh was sitting on the sand, staring out at the sea in utter amazement when Eneas found him. “Where are you going now?” he asked curiously. Areh glanced up, pointing at the path leading up the mountainside. Eneas nodded, turning back towards his boat before hesitating, moving to watch Areh stand and slowly start along the beach, hearing only the “thank you” he had called out into the wind.
Areh had only been walking a few minutes when he heard footsteps pounding up the trail behind him. He froze, turning slowly to see Eneas bounding up to stand near him. The smaller boy’s eye were shining with amusement, thin bag slung carefully over his back. “You didn’t wait for me!” He teased, scrambling further up the rocky path even as Areh stood still, staring at him. “You do not have to come.” He said stiffly, amazed when Eneas just kept walking. “I want to.”
“How can a fire giant live on a mountain where there is so much rain?” Eneas wondered aloud, causing Areh to give a sharp laugh. They had been climbing for two weeks at that point when yet another storm began. This one was worse, thunder ripping across the sky. Areh wasn’t worried, not until the moment, between cracks of thunder, he heard the flickering sound of fire.
One moment, he was turning to see where Eneas had gone and the next, he was watching the flickers of flame he could see through the thick rain moving back up the mountain. “ENEAS.” He screamed. “ENEAS.” Areh wasn’t sure how long he stood there, shouting his name, until a hand sharply wrapped around his forearm. He howled in terror, till he saw the face of a young girl staring intently at him. “Are you trying to die?” She grumbled, tugging him after her. He didn’t protest, even as she led him under overhanging bits of rubble
He was about to ask where they were going when the girl ducked down and led him through a small hole. He blinked, awkwardly following as he realized that he was in a tunnel “What?” he began, but she shook her head, one finger pressed to her lips as they crept forward. After a few moments of movement, it began to open up. Areh made a noise of shock as he realized he was standing in a wide cave.
A woman was standing in the center of the room and, as quick as she had been there, the girl was gone from his side, leaving Areh standing in front of her. The woman had fierce eyes and held herself in a way that inexplicably made Areh feel like he should be on his knees. She wore simple clothing, except for the pomegranate-red cloak draped over her shoulders. “Who are you? Why are you here?” She asked
Areh hesitated, conviction wavering for a moment before he spoke. “My name is Areh, son of Aglaia. I wish to slay the fire giant who lives on the top of your mountain.” A flicker of amusement crossed the woman’s dark eyes, but she hid it well. “Brave, child. Insane, perhaps, but brave,” she stated calmly, sizing him up. He didn’t flinch under the sharp gaze, standing calmly until she spoke again. “Rest here, tonight.” She nods, gesturing at a girl standing off to one side. “Bareas, show him to somewhere he can rest.”
The caves were warmer than he had expected, causing Areh to grumble as he followed the girl through the stone passages, knowing fearfully that he would have been lost in these passages if he was by himself. The passages opened into a small cave, Bareas moving to sit on a sleeping pallet against one wall. “You sleep over there.” She ordered. Areh nodded, curling up on his side with the bag as a pillow, closing his eyes and almost immediately falling asleep.
Areh dipped his head, ignoring her smirk as he spoke first. “I will kill the giant with or without your permission, ma’am.” She studied the boy for a moment, before nodding. She reached to her belt, pulling out a sheath and offering it to the boy. Areh stared at her with an intenseness that shook even her ironclad resolve before he took it, not even looking at the weapon as he tied it to his belt. Areh turned to the cave entrance, only a few steps from it when she called, “you won’t succeed, boy. The Fire Giant has no weaknesses.”
As he climbed up the slippery rocks, Areh realized he was nearing the peak. He paused for only a moment to marvel at the incredible view below him before he began to climb once more. He could feel the heat as he neared the mountaintop, and it left him weak and sweating. After hours of climbing, Areh finally made it to a point where he could peak up at the flat surface around him.
The giant was huge. That was Areh’s first thought as he watched in amazed terror as the creature moved. It creaked, like boulders shifting, as it faced the post where he could just make out a slumped shape. “Eneas.” he whimpered, barely able to keep himself from screaming the name.
He reached down to his belt, fingers grasping onto the handle and tugging out the blade, and the handle came free. He blinked down in shocked terror at the handle, looking up just as the giant turned to face him, crude face sneering. “What have we here.” he purred softly, in a voice that sent shivers of terror down Areh’s spine. The boy cursed angrily at the handle he was still gripping even as the giant roared, “you can not run for long, ward of Hera.”
The words actually made Areh freeze for a moment, before he bolted once more as a new wave of fire nearly struck him. “You are mistaken.” he roared, even as some deep-hidden part of his mind softly quested his theory. “I am the child of Aglaia.” The giant sneered down at the boy, even as he continued to hurtle fire. “And who left you there?” He sneered. “Who sent you here, with only a useless weapon to face ME?”
He only just managed not to howl in pain as he bounced to the floor after a blow, whining softly as the figure towering over him approached slowly. He shook slightly, looking past the giant to Eneas, who was looking back at him with wide eyes from where he was tied. He could see the terror etched into Eneas’s face and it was that that made him move. Areh shakily pressed one hand to the ground, the other gripping the handle he still hadn’t dropped. He stared at it angrily, shouting “DO SOMETHING.” as the Giant loomed over him, roaring with laughter. “Hera can’t save you now, boy.”
He wasn’t sure what he was feeling as he locked frantic eyes with Eneas, a sharp blast of cold striking his body as he felt a cold spread in his chest, leaving him shaking. The giant tilted his head slightly at the surge of power. “What is that, boy?” He questioned. Areh shook his head, one hand curling frantically around his chest as he locked eyes with Eneas, his eyes desperately pleading his apology as the power exploded from his thin body.
He could feel the sharp cold of the ground under him, dulling the flames that felt like they were eating their way into his bones. He focused on his right hand, still clinging to the handle. He reached out shakily, praying to any god he could think of as he pressed his fingers to the handle, letting ice slowly spread out from his fingertips.
The giant was still roaring, pain mixed with anger and something close to fear, and Areh almost felt a pang of pity for the creature. But the memories of Eneas’s terrified eyes hit him once again, and so he stood. He jerked himself up, seeing the Giant twisting in pain as the frost struggled to freeze his legs. “NO.” the creature roared. “Puny frost boy!” He threw himself forward, easily breaking the ice over his feet as he once again lunged at Areh.
Areh stiffened, ducking down to not be struck by a flailing giant’s hand as he lunged forward. He ignored the burning pain through most of his body as the creature bent forward, twisted face only inches above the boy. Areh whined, shaking in pain as the heat dug into his cold bones. “You die now,” he growled, reaching one hand down to strike as Areh threw himself upwards, frozen knife striking the creature in the throat. He thrust the blade down, ignoring the scream of anguish as he dropped it and backed up, watching the creature in front of him stumble, falling to its side in one quick moment that shook the earth around them.
Eneas hadn’t moved, hanging limply from the post as Areh rushed to his side. “A’eh.” He whimpered, leaning desperately into the hand that Areh pressed to his face. Areh leaned forward to press his lips to Eneas’s forehead before quickly working to undo the ropes that were digging painfully into the boy’s forearms. Eneas stumbled, nearly falling to his knees once the ropes were off before Areh caught him, wrapping one arm tightly around his waist and tugging him back to his feet.
Eneas shook against Areh’s side as he pulled him back to his feet. Areh helped him slowly towards the edge of the cliffside, and both boys settled against the rock face. Eneas shifted, head resting on Areh’s shoulder as they watched the flames of the giant’s body lick at the dried ground as the sun rose above the edges of the mountaintop and bathed their eyes in its fire.