“Because I am a big man, my anger gets very big. Yes?” The giant sat hunched in front of the tavern bar, hulking. Monstrous, perhaps. He was large enough to bring to mind images of something sufficiently small–a child, perhaps, or even an average-sized woman–being crushed under him if he happened to stumble. Even the barmaid, who was a little stouter than most, made the patrons nervous when she slipped past the giant on her way to the bar. He was large enough to evoke at least some nervousness when one of the large mugs of ale was deposited in front of him and he received it with a grin. What could such a man do with enough alcohol in him?
He raised the mug, more like a cup in his mighty fist, and drained it in two, three deep gulps. He wiped the foam from his lips and he might have slammed the mug down on the bar with dangerous results if at the last moment the giant hadn’t caught himself at the last second. He set it down carefully, almost daintily. And then he belched. “My name is Gorm,” the giant said unnecessarily, having said it several times before, but the bartender simply nodded. “And my anger gets very big. Yes.”
“That is why it is important to be careful. Yes?” he waggled a finger at the bartender, who was cleaning a mug with a spotless rag. When he noticed a few droplets of ale on the bar near the emptied mug, the rag swept out and erased the spots. But he said nothing. “Else you would have many shattered mugs on this counter. Yes?” Gorm burst into laughter, huge guffaws that drew the attention of almost everyone in the tavern. “Many fragments! Lots of cleaning!” he laughed some more, then stopped abruptly. Listening to it a man could develop whiplash.
“It was long before I learned that,” he continued, the giant’s voice suddenly softer, regretful. Almost morose. “Many times, it is hard to remember not to… what is it?” he searched for the phrase for a moment or two before realizing the empty mug before him had been refilled. He seized it joyously and drained it with another few gulps, then almost slammed it down… but again, remembered himself. The mug made its final descent at a fraction of its initial speed and met the counter with barely a sound. “Ahh.” The giant smacked his lips. He had been in this tavern for almost an hour, now, and drained several mugs already. But if he had become drunk, he showed no signs of it.
In the crowd of the tavern, a knight and his squire paid and left. They were the closest thing to the law that cared to come into the bar, and when they left–whether the crowd realized it or not–everyone let their voices raise a little higher. They became just a little more raucous. The flirty words sent the barmaid’s way increased in frequency and seriousness, although she nimbly evaded them all with a smile and a sashay. One man in the crowd didn’t seem to like his advances being refused: a tall, thin man with a wiry mustache frowned at the barmaid and opened his mouth, ready to scold her:
“Fly off the handle!” Gorm shouted, and pounded his hand on the counter. All heads turned as the mugs on the bar wobbled and the bartender, quick as a flash, steadied them one by one. Behind his hulking back, hairy where it showed through his clothing, the thin man frowned and withdrew his comment.
“That was the phrase, Yes!” Gorm laughed. “I liked it ever since I heard it. It is curious: why would one fly off a handle? But perhaps I understand. You must not fly off the handle.” Another mug of ale: when had the bartender placed it there? The giant happily drank it down.
“I spent a long time…. flying off the handle. It was how I got this, yes?” he pulled the furs he wore aside a few inches to show a long, jagged scar that reached from his neck to below his chest on his right side. “If I had not been quite so quick to anger, I might not have accepted the challenge.” He grinned at the bartender, and it was an intimidating smile even without intention behind it. Many of his teeth were sharp. Many of them were halfway or completely broken, like the man had replaced his teeth with snapped bamboo.
“Would you like to hear the story? It’s a good one, yes.” He continued to smile at the bartender, and although the man in front of him said nothing at all, didn’t so much as nod… there was a sense of acceptance coming from him, and Gorm seemed satisfied. “It was…” he began, and thought. “Yes! It was when I had a pretty little thing I was trying to impress. It is always the way.”
“There was a problem bunch of goblins,” he explained. “Out in the wilds there are not so many knights to handle things, yes? The gods help those who find ways to help themselves. So when they threatened our lands we had to act. And some conflicts may only end in battle.” He raised his mug aloft–newly filled–and again the ale disappeared into his seemingly endless stomach.
“It was a very difficult battle,” the giant explained. “Many more of the goblins had come from their holes to fight us, and they seemed to have found hardened steel weapons from somewhere.” he paused for a moment, pondering that mystery, then moved along. “And my family has fire in its veins, but still we found ourselves struggling. Battle should be a joyous thing, but in that time it was hard. Yes?”
Gorm frowned thunderously at a bottle on the wall. If it had possessed legs, perhaps it would have gone running. “We lost many good men and women that day. Still my tribe struggles. But as the pretty thing I mentioned (she looked splendid in goblin blood) began to be menaced, I began to–can you imagine? Fly off the handle!” He slapped his palm against the counter and when he raised it again, the mug came with.
“Ahh. As I said, my anger gets very big. And this was no exception! I let myself go and for a time all I saw were goblins in front of my fists.” He curled a fist and shook it with a grin. “It was a glorious time. They truly knew the strength of our tribe, and in time the goblins routed. They ran like dogs!” Gorm guffawed, his cheeks newly rosy. Surely he had consumed a full keg of ale by this point.
“But my anger did not shrink quickly. Even as the goblins fled I turned to find new targets to squeeze the life from, and–I am told–I put a great number of my own family in danger. When I came to my tribe had become afraid of me.” He held up his mug, now half-filled, and gestured with it. “But don’t you think the pretty thing I mentioned had been harmed! Not by my hand or any other. She and I simply did not end up seeing eye to eye, and I wish her well.” He nodded to himself and drained the rest of the mug. He slammed it down once more, but did not manage to stop himself–or remember to–before the ceramic touched the counter. It shattered into a dozen pieces, sending droplets scattering.
Gorm sat there, looking at the broken mug. He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, breathing hard. His back hunched. His shoulders shuddered. Now even the bartender stepped back. Only one man didn’t notice the giant’s barely-restrained fury: the thin, wiry-mustached man who was now once again trying to solicit the barmaid. He had grabbed her by the arm and was speaking with her angrily, sharply, and she was struggling. His fingers were leaving deep marks in her arm and she was starting to cry angry tears.
The giant stood up. He came walking (stomping) over to the pair. He didn’t so much as announce himself before his giant balled fist flew into the thin man’s face. Tables clattered. Chairs went scattering. The man went falling to the floor with a groan and the giant followed, crouching above him. His fists slammed down into the man’s face, one cheek and then the other, left and right and left and right. It took a long moment for the giant to pull back, chest heaving, face spattered with his victim’s blood. It was good he withdrew on his own, for no one besides the knight would have stepped in to stop him, and he was long gone.
There was utter silence in the tavern as Gorm returned to the bar. He sat himself down, his breathing slowing, and let out a long sigh. Both hands went flat on the counter, holding motionless, bloody and teeth-pocked. “Because my anger gets very big,” he began, fixing the impassive bartender with a clearheaded gaze. “It is most important to direct it against proper targets. Yes?”
The fragments of the mug next to him shivered, wobbled, and fell more completely apart.