Hugh looked around the room. It was full of things that were utterly foreign to him. Sunlight streamed in through the window upon numerous glinting baubles: metallic eggs with inlaid gems of deep red and green, a half-sized bronze bust of an elderly man, a covered crystal bowl which Hugh opened to find craisens (though Hugh had no idea they were dried cranberries, nor even what cranberries were), and finally, Hugh’s eyes rested on two nails twisted around each other.
He picked them up to get a closer look. It seemed to be two ordinary nails, though they were very silver in color. It almost seemed like they could be pulled apart if they were twisted just the right way…
“Indeed, it is a puzzle, sir,” said Henry. Hugh was so startled, he almost dropped the nails. “I’m sorry if I surprised you, sir.”
“Oh, no problem, I just… that was quick. You were gone for so little.”
“I am valued for my efficiency, sir,” Henry said.
“Well, then if you like being efficient, you don’t have to call me sir.”
Henry nodded. “Very well.”
Hugh looked at the nails again. He fidgeted with them a bit, tried to tug on them, and Henry smiled.
“While I can’t say anyone as large as you has ever tried this puzzle, I assure you: you cannot bend them. They are made of Vulcan Steel. They were forged in a volcano, and you could tie both ends to the two strongest horses in the world and have them pull until their tendons snap, but they wouldn’t be able to get it to budge.”
Hugh looked it over a bit more. The dwarf and giant wandered over and tried to figure out what Hugh was doing. Finally, Hugh twisted it a few different ways, and eventually they slipped apart, much to Hugh’s surprise. “Am I the first person to figure it out?” asked Hugh?
“No sir… in fact, the master’s seven-year-old niece got it last week. Though I must say, you did it a wee bit faster.”
Hugh’s smile evaporated. “Boy, Henry… I said you to quit calling me sir...”
“My apologies,” said Henry. “To show there’s no hard feelings, I’ll have an ottoman brought to your room to be put at the foot of your bed, since we lack any mattresses in the residence that would accommodate a guest of your stature.”
Hugh looked at Henry, not sure how to feel. “Is there one that is a challenge?” asked Hugh.
“Sure,” said Henry. “Try putting them back together. Most people don’t bother to do that. They just leave it for me to do.” Henry turned and began to walk off. “There will be someone sent for you shortly, so don’t meander too far.”
Hugh looked at the two bent nails. Each was bent into a round circle, with the head and tip 90 degrees from each other, sticking out straight, giving it the profile of a circle head with antlers poking out of the middle of its head.
Hugh took one of them and put the point on his thumb and the head on his index finger, then he tried to push them together as hard as he could. The pain in his finger tips was excruciating, but when he looked at it again after his strenuous effort, the nail tip and head were next to each other, forming a teardrop shape.
Hugh panicked and set it back on dresser next to the other one. He hurried out of the room. Next to his was the giants’. Her room was adorned with lace doilies in a pastel palate.
“Can you believe this shit?” asked the giant.
“Maybe you can get another room,” asked Hugh.
“I better. There’s tons of other rooms down this hallway, but all the doors are locked. I didn’t hear anyone inside, so I figure –”
“Ladies and gentleman, I am here to escort you to dinner.” They turned to see a man in a rose-red, velvet tunic over a frilly white shirt. “But first, we’ll need to have you fitted for some clothes which will be appropriate. If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to the tailor.”
Rather than leaving the house, they went upstairs to a room with large mirrors and a raised circular step in the middle. An older man with glasses and a handlebar mustache smiled as they walked in. “Well, I have my work cut out for me, don’t I?”
“Three custom jobs, by the look of it,” said the escort.
“What are the odds,” the tailor said, looking back and forth at the giant and Hugh, “That on the same day, I would make both the largest set of men’s and the largest women’s clothing of my career?”
“I guess I’m small potatoes, then,” said the dwarf.
“Oh, you’re just an added challenge,” said the tailor. “How long do I have?”
“Two hours,” said the escort.
“Better fetch me…” the tailor paused and made clicking sounds with his mouth, “No less than five seamstresses. If you can find six, I’ll take them.”
“Right away,” the escort said before ducking out the door.
The tailor looked at the three of them and smirked. “So, who’s the first victim?”
The dwarf stepped forward.
“Alright, come here, stand on this.” The tailor took a measuring tape from around his neck and began taking measurements. The dwarf seemed uneasy at times, especially when the tailor came suspiciously close to his junk.
“If it makes you feel any better,” the tailor said, “Up to this moment, you’re the biggest set of clothes I will have made in months.”
The tailor wrote a few things down and waived the dwarf to a set of chairs. The dwarf stepped down and went to take a seat along the wall.
The tailor looked at Hugh. “Let’s smash that record, shall we?”
Hugh climbed the step and stood up straight. His head almost touched the ceiling.
“No wonder you slouch so much,” said the tailor. “I bet you hit your head on a lot of door frames.”
“I’ve been tall for a long time,” said Hugh. “You learn to deal with it.”
“All except the stares, I bet,” the tailor said, working briskly and jotting down numbers in chalk on a scrap of fabric.
“Yeah,” said Hugh.
“Not to mention the eye,” the tailor said.
“Oh, I’m sorry there, buddy,” the tailor said, moving in front of Hugh and looking up at him. “I know a lot of people will give you guff for being different, but you don’t have to worry about that in this house.”
“What is the deal with this place?” asked Hugh. “He’s in the flower business or something?”
The tailor laughed. “Oh sure, he’s just a gardener… and a collector of rare animals, and the owner of two chariot racing teams, and the richest man in the entire city.”
“And he got it… from roses?”
“More or less,” said the tailor. “He was a young farmer with a plot of land that would not yield grain or fruit, only rose bushes seemed to grow. One year, he had so many roses that he couldn’t sell, he collected the nearly rotting petals and lined the streets of the city late one night before a fertility festival. People loved it so much that the next year, they paid him to do it.”
The tailor motioned for the giant, and Hugh stepped down as the giant took his spot. “Now, let’s see what the new female record will stand at.” After he was almost done, he asked, “Are the two of you siblings or something?”
“Twins,” the giant and dwarf said together.
“Well, that explains it. Other than your hips and chest, you guys are pretty much identical.” He made a few more measurements. “Alright, you’re done, my dear.”
The tailor opened a door and began rummaging around.
“I have some larger sized clothing for the twins, we’ll just have to rip the stitching on the hems and add a little fringe to supplement the length. As for the cyclops…”
“My name’s Merk. So, as for Hugh, we’re starting from raw materials here.” He pulled out two large rolls of cloth. “I hope you all like red. It’s the house color.”
Merk began tracing the outline of a vest on a large piece of velour that was orangish-red, one might say salmon colored. The first seamstress came in, took a wide eyed glance at the three of them sitting there, and joined the tailor in measuring, cutting, and eventually sewing. Four more seamstresses came in. When the last one had been given instructions, Merk walked over to the three waiting clients.
“Okay, next up is a haircut. I’m also a barber, so if you’ll come with me, I’ll get you all cleaned up.”
The tailor/barber led them through the house, out of the back of the residence, to a large fountain in the yard with a break in the trees. “Go ahead and wet your hair, or even take a quick dip if you’re so inclined,” said Merk.
Merk went back inside as the three of them wet their heads in the fountain. The dwarf stripped down completely naked and plunged in. Merk returned with a chair, which he set up in the sunniest spot. Hugh sat down first.
“How do you like it cut?”
“Whatever you recommend.”
“I won’t let you down.” Merk ran his hands through Hugh’s hair, walking around behind him. After a few snips, Merk asked, “So, what’s your story, Hugh?”
“Yeah, your story. Everyone has a story they want to tell.”
“Well…” Hugh began, “My mom was a sea nymph, my father was a cyclops, though I never met him. When I got old enough, I left home and found a small, unoccupied island. A few decades later, I found the twins abandoned on a beach. A couple decades after that, an old man arrived, died, and we’ve been trying to get him a sea burial since.”
Merk had not hesitated to this point, but he stopped cutting and started laughing after Hugh was finished. “Oh my… I have to say, I wish I had more folks like you. I’ve never heard a story like that, from the cradle to my chair with few, yet odd, details.”
“No need to apologize, I’m thoroughly entertained. So how old are you?”
“You look good for your age, a nice full hairline.”
“Well, I’m just a scamp as far as cyclopes go. If I’m lucky, I might live a millennium or more, but realistically I’ll probably live another 700 years or so, at least.”
“I can’t even imagine living that long.”
“To be honest, neither can I,” said Hugh. “Things just seem to keep changing faster and faster around me. I don’t know how I’m ever going to keep up. You can kind of see why most of my kind get to a point where they just retire to a cave somewhere, away from everyone else.”
“Oh, I suppose change can be hard,” said Merk. “I mean, sure…people do things these days that would have been unthinkable when I was growing up… but some of those changes are for the better.”
“Very true,” said Hugh. “But on my island, I created my own world, and there is no need for change, because it’s already perfect.”
“It’s perfect on your island?”
“I would say so,” said Hugh.
“Was it perfect before or after the twins arrived?”
Hugh thought for a few seconds. “You know what? I spent so much time worrying about being imposed upon, I never stopped to consider whether I might be missing out on something even better. The twins have made life better, or at least more interesting. They’re better company than my cattle, and when they relied on me to survive, they sort of gave me a purpose. Even now, when they could do just fine on their own, I feel good knowing they stick around, even though they don’t have to.”
Merk continued chatting with Hugh until his hair was finished, then the giant and dwarf had their turn in the chair. As he was brushing hair off the last of them, a seamstress came out and told them their clothes were finished.
They went inside and found their clothes in their rooms. The giant was given a red satin dress, the dwarf a red brocade doublet, and Hugh a white shirt and red velvet vest. When they left their rooms, Hugh and the giant both stifled a laugh at the giant’s consternation.
“I can’t believe I have to wear a dress,” she said.
“You look glorious, my dear,” a voice down the hall said. Walker approached them with a large entourage in tow. “I hope you are ready to meet the city’s rich and powerful.”
To be continued…