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6. The Giants of the Sill Valley

Once on a time, so they say, there lived huge giants in Europe, and Tyrol in particular. They were often ferociously cruel and a pest to their smaller human neighbours, and quarrelsome and jealous among themselves. So the giants were often at war. This, and the difficulty they had in finding enough food, made them fewer and fewer as time went by. Finally all of them were gone and buried beneath huge mounds. People told legends about them and the wonderful feats they could perform. Tyrol, a wild and mountainous country, was one of the last places where the giants survived.

More than a thousand years ago, one of these giants lived with his wife in the Sill valley. Both were tall and strong, and had for a long time lived in the district in a huge house, built of boulders on a broad mountain-shelf. Here the two lived, feeding on bears and other game, which were abundant in Tyrol at that time.

They also helped themselves freely to the cattle and crops of the peasants, but whenever they took anything from the farmers, they would pay well for it in gold.

The giant had a large gold store after pounding rocks for it with a great hammer and then crushing pieces to powder between his fingers and washing out the metal in the waters of the river Sill.

The two had a child called Heimo. He was so large that when he was a baby and screamed, his cries were heard for miles down the valley. The mother's voice sounded like a storm among pines, and his father's voice echoed louder than a thunderclap shaking the mountain peaks.

When Heimo was more than a hundred years old he was still but a boy and barely reached to his father's chest. The old giant was proud of his son, and took the lad with him everywhere. Often they were seen standing together on some height, like two tall towers, and whenever they passed through a village, their heavy tread shook the ground so that the church bells rang.

Among the many tales about their strength, one is about how they could carry home on their shoulders half an acre of pines for firewood.

Even now, on the slopes of the Patscherkofl, men show a huge boulder, about which they tell the following tale:

When Heimo was yet a youngster and had not reached his full strength, he was one day walking with his father. Suddenly, his father said:

"Show me what you can do!"

They were standing by a torrent full of big boulders worn smooth by the water. The old giant wrenched one out of its bed, and carried it some way from the bank. Here on a level spot, he made a mark with his heel; then poising the stone in his right hand, hurled the mass about two hundred metres up the hillside, where it fell, splintering a great fir.

"Yes!" said Heimo, "that was not bad, father, but you would have done better if you had made more use of your body and put your weight into the throw. That was nearly all arm-work."

The old giant answered: "The truth is, I am getting too stiff for the game. Anyway, let us see if you can outdo me."

Heimo walked over to the stone his father had thrown, picked it up and returned with it. Taking a short run up to the mark his father had drawn, the youngster hurled the stone high among the woods on the slope above, far beyond where it had first landed.

The sport pleased them so much that they continued it all the morning, watched by the awestruck peasants thatthe sound of snapping timber had drawn from their houses.

In the end, after a splendid cast by Heimo, the old man accepted Heino had beaten him, and they went home, leaving the stone high up on the mountainside, where you can see it to this day.

So delighted was the father that he gave Heimo a score of gold waistcoat buttons, each bigger than a soup plate. When his mother had sewn them fast with strong cord, they made a dazzling show on the young giant's chest as he walked about in the sunshine.

Another century went by, and Heimo was now in the prime of youth. This was the happiest period of his life; day after day he roamed over mountain and valley, singing with so powerful a voice that the heights echoed, and eagles were scared in their lofty nests.

But in course of time all this was changed. One after the other, Heimo's parents died, and he was left alone in the great house on the hillside. He became gloomy, and sang no longer. To drive away his sorrow, he began to perform useless feats of strength and activity, such as moving great rocks from place to place, or jumping over wide gorges among the peaks.

Some of these antics were troublesome to his little neighbours. Thus on one occasion he laid huge stones and trees across a high-road merely to see what the carriers and teamsters would do till he cleared the way. Another time he dammed the Sill, and caused a flood that ravaged the valley.

He always repented of such wanton mischief, but this did not console the people who suffered from it, even though Heimo was generous with his gold towards the victims.

One autumn, another giant, almost as large as Heimo, came across the mountains and settled in a cavern on the Seefeld, a broad, rocky platform high above Zirl, and just under the tall peak called Solstein.

The newcomer set about cultivating the Alp around him, and for some months did not meddle with his neighbours, but before the year was out, he began to go down into the valleys, plundering the people and killing those who resisted, so that the whole countryside was soon in terror of his attacks. At last, driven by despair, the wretched people came to Heimo and begged him to protect them.

They found him in a furious mood, for some of his trees had lately been uprooted and carried off by the intruder. Though usually good natured and easy going, Heimo's temper was, like that of most giants, ungovernable when roused. The complaints of the villagers made his anger overflow.

Shouldering his favourite weapon, a club made from the trunk of a monstrous fir tree and bound with huge iron bands, he went up to the Seefeld and stood before the cave, at the entrance where Thurse, the offender was seated on the ground . He was roasting a couple of oxen before a huge fire. At the sound of Heimo's steps, Thurse looked up, and, without troubling to rise, roughly ordered the visitor away threatening to punish him if not.

"What!" roared Heimo, beside himself with fury. "If you value your hide, do not, from this day forth, meddle with any of the little people round about, and also beware of laying a finger on so much as one pine cone that belongs to me. Disobey, and I will chain you up in that cave like a dog in a kennel!"

With these words he flicked a stone at Thurse, catching him full on the chest.

The other sprang to his feet, rushed into the cave, and came out with a huge sword in one of his hands. He leapt on his enemy.

Heimo was not so well armed as Thurse, but he was taller, stronger, and much more active. From the valley below, many eyes were anxiously fixed on the two giants that circled on the upland, leaping, thrusting and pounding while the mountains echoed with the clang of steel on iron-girdled pinewood.

At last a blow from Heimo's club struck his enemy on the right hand so that he dropped his sword. Heimo threw aside his weapon, sprang on Thurse, and dashed him to the ground. As he held him there, he felt the other's teeth close on his forearm. At once, Heimo mercilessly drove his fist into Thurse's ribs and then lifted the collapsed body, and hurled it headfirst down a slope that ended in a deep precipice. Those below saw a vast bulk spin through the air and crash to earth with the noise of a landslide.

There was a great silence before Heimo went down to where Thurse lay shattered by the fall. The sight grieved the conqueror. He buried the body in a huge pit among the pines, and returned home filled with remorse.

For many a month Heimo lamented over Thurse's fate, for with such fights going on among them, in the end the giants would disappear from the earth, while mankind would increase in such numbers that fun would be gone.

Heimo grieved as if he had destroyed a brother. He should have remembered how short-tempered giants were. Often at sunset men could see on the Alp the huge, familiar shape, sitting on some peak.

Some years after, a wayfarer from the lands beyond the southern mountains came into those parts, preaching good conduct to the people. Many gathered to hear him. Heimo himself visited the stranger, and as he listened to what he taught, his remorse increased.

Taking the wayfarer on his open hand, he raised him aloft, and related the tale of violence. The wayfarer listened with grief while clinging fast to the great thumb so that he might not be blown away and killed by the fall.

When the story was finished, the wayfarer suggested that Heimo's should do much good to balance his fare.

Accordingly, the giant, full of zeal, undertook many useful and difficult works to benefit neighbours. He cleared the fields of boulders, destroyed dangerous beasts, made roads, widened passes and rivers. He also made embankments so that torrents should not cause floods. It is said of him that he was always ready to lend a hand to any who required help. And what a hand it would do the work of five hundred men, although it was trying for him to work steadily. But he never slackened his efforts.

While Heino was doing good on a large scale, a huge, fire-breathing dragon decided to destroy the people of Tyrol. Many were killed by the monster. When the news reached Heimo he hastened at once to meet the dragon. A dreadful battle followed. The beast, breathing fire, sought to wrap Heimo in flame, and burnt him severely until a blow from the giant's club crushed the dragon's skull. Heimo cut out the dragon's tongue, full two yards long, salted it, and presented the trophy in one of the houses he had built for people.

Time after time afterwards, enemy armies invaded Tyrol. On such occasions, the giant used to march against them, armed only with a huge broom and a sack. A couple of strokes swept whole battalions into the mighty bag. Heimo would then hoist it on his shoulders, carry it to the frontier, and empty out the frightened troops there, threatening to throw them into the river Inn or some other deep stream if they appeared again. After a few more such attempts, no one tried to invade Tyrol as long as the giant lived.

In this way Heimo kept it up for many centuries. His grateful neighbours looked up to him, but as years passed, the giant felt more and more sad and lonely. He had no relatives. One by one others of his kind disappeared from the world. He grieved also for the little beings about him, so much shorter lived than himself, who, generation after generation, passed quickly from childhood to old age, and were laid out of sight in the ground.

When Heimo grew old, his once powerful voice had shrunk to the sound made by trees when they creak in a great gale. At last, feeling death was near, he retired to a huge wooden shed he built for himself in a peaceful spot. Here he lay down and died peacefully. He was mourned by many.

[Retold]

⚶⚶⚶

If the cat were a hen, she would lay eggs. (Proverb from Tyrol)

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