Hundreds. Maybe more.
Counting them would have been like counting stars and although Siggy had taken a crack at that a few times out on the water when the fish were slow to fill his nets, well, he’d always had to give up before he got much past fifty three. Fifty three was quite a large number and after that the numbers only got bigger. And the bigger the numbers, the weightier they were and increasingly tiring to count. Back in his school days, if he was being completely honest, Siggy had even found it a bit of an ordeal to carry the one when doing his sums, so now he was grown-up he was quite happy to leave bigger numbers alone.
And these lights were not only large in number.
Heaped up against the back wall of the cavern, they were giant – wasn’t everything around here – onion-shaped bulbs. Kind of frosty off-white in colour, if white could be called a colour. Dear old Mar, rest her soul, always took care to keep whites and colours separate when doing the laundry in the sink so Siggy was rarely given to considering white a colour. And this white was an off-white. The sort of white that had decided against being too intense so as to allow the bright light behind it to shine through. Whatever material these onions were made of, their skins screened the illumination some and gave the light in the cavern that ghostly quality he’d first seen cresting the dark shape of Figboot’s slumbering form. Unobscured by sleeping giants it was brighter but still phantasmal.
Siggy imagined he could achieve a similar effect by shining a lantern through the tips of his fingernails. Assuming he let them grow a bit. The pink under his fingernails would surely be a lot pinker without the nails to mask it, so he could only guess at the sheer ferocity of light trapped within these bulbs.
Maybe – oh no! – maybe Figboot was tall enough to grab stars from the heavens and pull them down and store them up like a squirrel hoarding nuts for winter. Maybe – no! – maybe it had been one of these bulbs that had crashed down on Big Toe and set the district ablaze. Maybe it had been a falling star after all, dropped by a fumbling giant as he plucked it from the night sky, and maybe Siggy had mislead the Burgermeister with his information.
But it hadn’t looked like a star. And neither did these really. What they most resembled was onions. Huge onion lanterns with a little twist at the top. Little, that was, on the scale of the overall onion.
Siggy approached the heap of bulbs slowly. He lowered his net, thinking he wouldn’t need it against lights.
He wondered if this was the giant’s amassed hoard of treasure. He’d heard tales of dragons jealously guarding vast piles of treasure, often in great caverns. Generally, he questioned the mentality of creatures who treated their precious valuables so abominably.
If Siggy ever possessed any valuables he’d do better than to arrange them with all the tidiness of a haul of cod landed in the belly of his boat. Now, to be fair, dragons were said to have a lot of valuables and no doubt sorting them and finding somewhere to put each item would be very laborious but it was also said that dragons lived for hundreds of years so it wasn’t as if they lacked for time.
Siggy stood within arm’s reach of these strange treasures.
He prodded one with the prongs of his garden fork. These onions would seriously trounce Mr Tarwick’s prizest artichokes in the annual harvest fair. If there was ever a general vegetables category. Like laundry whites and colours, organisers of festivals tended to keep types of vegetables separate for the purposes of competition. Of course they’d happily bung them all in the same pot for a stew, but they never shared the same table come judging time.
Siggy prodded another.
It produced a solid clunk, like striking a stone when digging into dirt.
These onions were hard. Hard as nails.
Fingernails, he thought again.
He glanced at his hands. His nails were rough-edged and grubby, a splinter wedged under one or two of them from the oars – and now some rope-fibres, he noticed, from the net. But otherwise they shared a strikingly similar texture to the onions.
He cast his mind back, trawling for memories of waking to the sight of the giant – that hugely giant giant – looming over him. Figboot had planted his monstrous spider hands either side of Siggy on emerging from the mountain but they’d been at a fair distance away and Siggy had been chiefly focused on the enormous face like a whole other world hovering over him. A big bushy-bearded world intruding on his world’s sky.
If he’d even glimpsed the giant’s fingernails, the recollection slipped through his memory’s net. As for toenails, well, they had been hidden in those boots woven from trees. So for all Siggy knew, bulbous nails were a feature of giants or perhaps a condition suffered by Figboot, like warts or corns. Although why they would contain light was beyond him.
It was all beyond him really.
What to make of it all, that was the thing. What to do.
Return to the town and report his findings? With a horse and cart he might be able to transport one of these glowing onion bulbs back for the Burgermeister’s inspection. Dear old Mar, rest her soul, had been a generous soul, not least with her opinions, and she’d often been of the opinion that Burgermeister Chaffinch was ‘a bit power-mad’. And if these bulbs contained power, well, it seemed to Siggy that the Burgermeister would be very interested in them. Of course, going back now would mean having to admit to not having yet exchanged words with the giant and there was a chance that might look bad.
In every adventure yarn Siggy had ever heard, not once had he come across a hero who’d returned from a quest to the folks depending on him to slay the dragon or defeat the evil sorcerer or whatever with the answer ‘not yet’.
Not that he rated himself a hero. But he got the impression many of his townfolk were expecting him to be one.
He mulled over his choices.
While he stood there thinking, the world grew impatient. It rumbled. And shook.
Like a distant thunderstorm brewing in the earth.
Or a giant coming home.
[To Be Continued…]