Pen watched the scenery pass by with fatigue dulled eyes that were a telltale sign of one who'd felt the collapse of repressed emotions. She laid curled up in the protective reassurance of Jude's warm palms. When she was there, she felt alright. She felt loved, safe, protected. Like everything would pass and the best would come. Slowly but surely, the redness faded from her eyes and she calmed entirely.
An hour before sunset, Jude made a side stop. He sat down upon a grassy hill and lowered her to the ground. His hand suddenly felt so bare without her slight weight upon it.
"I dunno about you, but I could use a snack." He opened up a side pocket on his bag and removed what was to him, a tiny sack of food.
"Got some stuff for you back in the market earlier." He explained as he handed the human-sized variety down to her. Her blood sugar was probably low, making her mood linger. He pulled out a shiny speckled apple and rubbed a spot off on his shirt before taking a bite.
The sound of Jude sinking his teeth into what sounded like a succulent apple made her set the bundle in front of her and get down on all fours with her rear practically in the air to sift through food. She decided on a plum and sat back to munch on it.
"Thank you." She sent Jude a dizzying smile.
He swallowed and wiped away juice with the back of his hand before returning the smile. God, how her smile did remarkable things to him. He would do just about anything to ensure he got to see it everyday.
"You're welcome. Figured it would do you better than stealing bits of mine." He gave her a subtle smirk before taking another bite of the apple.
"I have the appetite of a bird most of the time." Pen let out a musical laugh and chided back. "At least in comparison to you."
Penelope felt warmth returning to her cheeks and the tip of her nose as always. She took another few bites of plum.
"I bet you've just got a black hole inside you. Eats up all the frickin' food you eat." She giggled.
"Heh, my mum used to say something similar."
It was good to see the familiar, jovial Pen start to reappear. Jude was glad she was feeling better. A couple minutes later, he stood up and walked a few paces away, finding a patch of soil. He wedged the toe of his boot down to make a small indent and buried the apple core. Hands all sticky, he walked what was a short distance away for him down the steep hill to the bank of a small pond. He crouched by the water's edge and rinsed his hands in the cool water.
Most of the time, Pen hardly ever found herself on the ground in Jude's presence. Most of the time, she was either beside him whilst he was sitting or in his hand, on his chest, on his shoulder- hardly ever there when he stood up straight.
When Pen took the time to consider everything, she realised how truly massive the man she loved was. He easily towered over her and should have made her feel as insignificant as a mouse and yet she felt he noticed her entirely. Jude's very steps shook the ground beneath her but instead of striking any fear, it fascinated her endlessly. Even when he'd reached a body of water that would have been a several minute walk away for her in mere paces, Pen could see him still before he bent down.
A man as immense as he moved with surprising fluidity-- or not surprisingly at all. Some small fraction of her strong willed mind still held traces of archaic ignorances, thoughts and stories that should have made her fear giants entirely. But not Jude. Never Jude. She would never be afraid of him and meeting him had been a stepping stone to something more. Some would have called her brave for being with him. Even by accident, one misplaced food, one embrace too hard, one accidentally slip of the hand and Pen's fragile life would end. No. It was not bravery but trust and understanding. Humans could kill each other just as easily. So why should she be afraid of death and dwell on it when there was so much more to Jude than his being a giant?
She stood to her feet after finishing off her plum. She'd always been a neat eater simply by habit so there wasn't much to clean off in the way of juices or debris. Pen bundled up the remainder of the food sack and awaited Jude's return.
He shook the excess water off his hands and wiped the remainder on his pants as he stood.
He returned to her side and almost immediately squatted down to snap his satchel shut and put it on his back. He wasn't fond of standing over Pen like that. It made him feel... Awkward. She just looked so far away there on the ground. He couldn't make out the specific details of her face. He rolled his shoulders and looked at her; she looked ready to go.
"Back to the road again." He offered her a small lopsided smile then took her sack first and tucked it away; his hands returned for her.
"Away we go." Pen exclaimed, stepping onto his hand. She was glad she no longer had to reach for skirts constantly to move them out of the way of her feet to prevent herself from tripping. Her current attire felt so unbelievably comfortable. Everything felt snug but not uncomfortably or too tightly, save for the sleeves which poofed out nicely but hardly obnoxiously. Pen took a seat cross-legged in Jude's palm and sent him a happy wink.
He cupped the other hand around her as he stood up. A gaggle of geese honked from their v-formation across the pond. Once he was headed in the right direction again, he looked down at Pen. She hadn't asked otherwise, so he figured he would just hold her like this for a while.
"Pen, isn't it ever... I dunno." He stumbled over how to word it before giving up. "Ah, Nevermind."
Pen turned to glance up over her shoulder at Jude with intrigue in her blue eyes.
"What is it?" She asked, laying her hand flat onto of his palm.
He looked away, sighed and finally came out with it.
"Doesn't it get... You know, weird looking up at me like that? I can't imagine it a very attractive angle..." To his surprise, he felt a dab of color rising to his cheeks. Way to be a conversationalist, he sarcastically applauded himself.
Pen giggled and covered her mouth a bit before wearing a mirthful smile.
"Even by human standards, I'm little. I'm used to looking up at people." She scooted over a bit to grasp Jude's thumb and give it a quick kiss. "You're handsome from any angle."
Jude gave a small laugh under his breath, but couldn't help but feel like she was just saying that to preserve his ego. Still, he didn't press it. Around sunset, two fingers of his free hand inexplicably found themselves running from her belly down her legs. The feeling of the snug leather and the flesh of her figure underneath occupied him greatly, even though he wasn't looking at her.
Pen had been caught up with the colour of the sky because she was certain she'd never seen it before. Sunsets seemed like the same phenomenon to most folks with identical colours and hues but she liked to think each one was unique. She was trying to memorize the hues splashed across the lightly clouded sky. There was no threat of rain in them.
The cleric felt the tender touch of two gentle fingers that sent pleasant shivers through her body. Her face warmed and heat pooled in its very core. In spite of herself, a light, breathy sound left her like a soft hum of bliss. Her eyes relaxed, falling to half mast.
"So..." Jude spoke rather softly; he didn't want to startle her out of her pleasant trance. "I haven't met your mother, but I did meet your dad-- and I had the immense pleasure of being acquainted with your grandmother... Here's hoping the next 'meet the parents' goes a bit smoother, eh?" He smiled humorously, but also was trying to see how she was feeling about this endeavor now that they were over halfway there. She hadn't spoken much about it.
Pen perked up from her state of relaxation and fixed her hair quickly, shifting it back into a braid before fixing up her head scarf
"Honestly, I'm excited to meet your parents. If you're indication, they must be nice people." Pen reasoned with a chipper expression. "I'm sure it will go fantastically." She affirmed.
As it got later, Jude steered them away from the water source where the bugs were more plentiful. They settled down for the night in a grassy clearing more than spacious enough for the two of them lying side-by side. The fire crackled peaceably. In the not too distant areas of the woods, the glows of other campers and traveler's fires could be seen. Jude laid on his mat, stroking the girl on his chest thoughtfully and looking up at the stars.
Suddenly, there was a thin streak across the sky. A shooting star. "Did you see that?"
I wish for equality for all races, the power to change these laws, and the freedom to be with Pen as long as I live...
He gazed fervently at the spot where the streak disappeared, willing his wish into the confines of the starry sky.
I wish for the king to listen and do something good about the giant segregation...and for a few nice things on the side...and for a way for Jude and I to stay together...but I think we'll manage that on our own. And maybe a few nice nights of good weather too, just for good measure.
Pen's eyes had closed the moment Jude's voice had rumbled through her via his chest. She silently prayed for her words to become reality whether by the constructs of fate or shaped by her own hands. After letting her speechless wish fly free into the cosmos, she smiled and opened her eyes.
"I saw it."
She reciprocated the action of his stroking her and laid her hand down on the breathing expanse below herself and rubbed circles.
"Pretty, aren't they all? Not just the shooting stars but the ones we can see. Even the ones we can't."
His eyelids fluttered shut upon her touch. Behind closed eyes, the feeling was amplified. It was gentle, loving, kind...
"They're amazing." He agreed. "Diamond dust scattered across a sheet of night."
Pen stood up and walked across Jude's chest with footsteps like a cats: precise, balanced and practiced to be so. She made her way up toward the base of his neck, halting to tap his jaw with her hand and run her hands down his throat as far as her arms could reach. She felt the pulsation of blood there, a heartbeat.
Although her hands were only on his neck, the sensation spread like wildfire to every nerve in his body. His Adam's apple bobbed once as he took a slow deep inhale of air, trying to stay still. Precise fingertips danced over his skin. He could feel her pause over his artery. How curious and wonderful it was that somehow he, an ordinary man, should fascinate this amazing woman.
She giggled and felt Jude swallowed under her palms.
"I think that being able to see all these things that must seem so simple and mundane to you up close has got to be the coolest thing ever."
She laid down against his neck and traced over his skin. "You are an amazing being, Jude."
"Please, I'm blushing." He chuckled half-heartedly.
"I know you're blushing, I feel your heart racing." Pen giggled and gave the flesh over a throbbing artery a gentle pat of her hand before she paused and circled her touch.
"Right.." He muttered, recalling once again how nothing he felt was a secret to her when she was so close to him.
"And...I'm glad I can be something for you. If I can make you happy then I know I've done something right." She crawled up his throat and climbed onto his chin "I'm glad if both of us can be happy."
She whispered before stroking his lips and leaning in to give them an affectionate kiss, a smile in her words.
In that moment, he became certain that she loved him. Not ordinarily, casual love; a truly caring, sacrificial love. What was more surprising was that he discovered he reciprocated it in full. Jude was breathless when she pulled away.
Their serene moment was tainted by a clamoring of voices. They were distant, but they sounded angry. Jude's eyes opened and flicked towards the source of the noise.
There was a note of gravity in Pen's voice but not quite fear. No, with him so close and their happiness just as much, the cleric would not taste fear tonight. She stood her ground and gazed around the clearing for the source of the voices that spoke, poisoning their time together.
He felt it too. He reached up to grasp her carefully, sitting up and looking around. He spotted a cluster of lamps and torches way over he treetops by the gate to the small village across the woods. While he couldn't make out exactly what they were saying, the generous clamor carried over the distance. He frowned. It looked like some sort of angry mob or a riot or something. Really, it was none of their business, but he couldn't help but hold Pen a little tighter in a protective reflex.
"If that's an angry mob, we need to stop them. They could be doing something horrible." Pen wriggled in Jude's strong grip and tried to figure out a way to get a better look at was was going on. "We can't just sit here."
"Look I want to help, too, but that's not our job." He looked down at her but didn't loosen his grip.
"Jude, I am not repeating myself. Either you take me to see what is going on or you put me down this instant so I can myself."
There was strength in her words and a stark stubbornness in tone that would not waver, not without a thousand cracks of thunder and lightening.
"I am not going to go defend and entire race of people without defending them individually."
A louder voice joined the crowd and Jude snapped his gaze upward. Several tall silhouettes were now partially illuminated in the torchlight. There seemed to be a conversation going on... Something about the giant's family.. An accident one of the kids had caused. The rest of the details were indistinct, but that was enough to make him clench his jaw and stand up. This was ridiculous…
His eyes flickered down to hers. While he didn't say anything, his fist uncurled into a more open hold. He did love her for this side of her too.
The mob grew quiet upon the arrival of the newcomers.
"We were nearby, overhead the ruckus..." Jude met the other giant's eyes briefly. There was a family behind him. "I can't claim to be a citizen but in my humble opinion... You're over-reacting. You can't uproot an entire family because of an accident!" He addressed the townsfolk.
"He'll be more careful!" The mother quickly inserted, putting her hands on her nervous teenager's shoulders.
"He nearly destroyed the school house!"
"You folk are to dangerous to live among us here!"
"Was anyone hurt in the accident?" Jude tried to distract them from their growing hatred. No shout-outs of names, only a grumbling murmur. "…Then surely this boy and his family deserve a second chance... Just as any of you would receive."
He got a stony response.
"All of you should be ashamed of yourselves! This was the mistake of a boy! A mistake does not make an entire race dangerous! How many 'mistakes' have humans made that have cost another's life, huh? How many runaway carriages? How many accidents with uncontrolled horses? Or knocked over candles? What right do we have to say that someone is dangerous just because they are bigger than us? I am standing here today because of the man who's hands I stand in. He's saved my life before and protected me in the past. What is it about humankind that we feel the need to hate what is different?"
Pen stood visibly and called out her words in a voice that rivaled any kings in power and natural authority. She thrust out her finger toward the family
"You tell me that you cannot see a family there! A family like you all have! A mother, a father, a son! Giants love just like humans. Giants make mistakes just like humans. Giants have homes and lives just like humans!"
She lowered her hand and let her passionate blue eyes sweep to crowd
"Imagine a single mistake that you might make, something so unintentional and harmless causing you and everyone you love to by removed from your home forever. And imagine feeling like a monster because of that one, single event."
Pen's voice grew smoother
"Think about who you are oppressing before you follow the ignorant words of a crowd."
At first, many were shocked to see a human in his hand. Willingly at least.
Many of the townsfolk seemed to have lost heir resolve after Pen's speech. Jude himself was deeply moved, as was the giantess mother across the way, who had tears glistening in her eyes.
It was a mother cradling an infant who broke free of the crowd. "I say we give the Murdens another chance. They're the most honest workers In this town." She shared a look of protective understanding with the much taller mother. A couple other women in the crowd nodded and nudged their husbands.
"Wait a minute!" Someone yelled. "Why are we gonna let some strange kid come in and tell us how live?!"
"Because she speaks the truth." Jude said simply.
More grumbling, more silence.
"You can stay... But don't let that boy out if your sights you hear me?" The snippy man who seemed to be in charge doused his torch and went back in. Not long after, many were following.
"Thank you." The bearded giant shook hands with Jude (his free hand of course), then thanked Pen: "My family and I are indebted to you."
"I wish you wouldn't have been put into the position where you would have to be indebted to me in the first place." Pen smiled up at the man and extended her hand for a shake.
"Penelope Farthing. I wish you all the best of luck."
The ginger giant delicately pinched her hand and gave it a little shake.
"It... Comes with the territory." He shook his head defeatedly. "Joshua Murden, my wife Anja and Terrence over there..." He nodded behind him to the others.
Penelope's heart went out to them. "I hope that someday you won't feel like that kind of ignorance should be something normal for you. You and your family and all of giant-kind deserve not to feel like they're walking on eggshells around humans."
"Best of luck in your travels... And mate, I'd hold onto that one if I were you." He gave Jude a man-to-man look before attending to his own family. Jude stood back as he watched the scene settle down. "I plan to."
Pen glanced up lovingly towards Jude and smiled, sitting back down to place her hand tenderly on his palm
"I want the world to know that we can live together as one people, not segregated segments."
"That's exactly right." He looked at her with love and admiration. "Your voice is powerful. You have sway on the masses because you're one of them."
As the crowd thinned down, he watched the giant family trek back towards their house with relieved expressions on their faces. Content with the turn of events, Jude finally returned to their campsite. "I feel good about this." He said in afterthought, sitting down by the dying fire and giving it a prod.
"This evening really gave me more insight on gravity of this situation. I knew that giant segregation was bad but this...they tried to uproot an entire family. And I doubt this is anything new. "
Pen had since relocated to sitting on Jude's leg with her own two legs curled inward as she faced the fire and admired is resilience in spite of being neglected. She remained steady, eyes baring that same resilience as well.
"This is a task that we cannot fail."
Her fire fanned the flame of indignation in his own heart. He remembered growing up, all the memories of injustice vivid in his mind, the impoverished people that suffered because of a need for 'safety' from humans or giants.
He touched her hand, catching her eye and holding her gaze with a resolved look of his own. "We won't."
The fire cast a heated glow over the both of them that suitably reflected the inner churning of their minds.
The bond shared between her and the giant she treasured so deeply was one of profound worth and that alone qualified the depth of her passion in aiding the giant people in their liberation from ignorance fed segregation. Even as a child, being instilled with well spun horror stories of beautiful young maidens being eaten alive by hulking, wicked giants or beanstalk clamouring boys easily outsmarting stupid beasts, Pen had felt doubt of their legitimacy. She had never seen a giant as a child. She had never trusted the stories, much less the lying mouths that told them.
Pen's legs remembered a restlessness quenched only by one of the few luxuries afforded at her school whilst staying in the dorms. Amir had taught her how to dance like his people, like the gypsies with their enchanting movements and fluid steps. Whilst she was not a confident singer, Pen took pride in her ability to dance. She'd spent enough time locked away in her chambers repeating move after move until her legs had committed every movement to memory.
"Say...Jude?" She turned to gaze up toward his face again, curiosity and a desire for levity before visiting his parents. "Do you sing by any chance?"
Jude had been frowning at the embers, heavy thoughts of an entire race weighing on his mind. His features visibly lightened at the question, taking him off-guard.
"Ah..." He blinked the surprise away. "I know a couple folk songs.. Nothing boast-worthy, mind you." He gave a small laugh, curiosity written all over his face.
Perfect. Pen stepped to the edge of the giant's leg and shifted her body to slide down the smooth surface until she landed crouched on the dirt, muscles tensed to absorb the landing. She hurried out in front of him and smiled straight up at Jude
"Sing for me. I feel like I need to show you something."
It never ceased to amaze him how she traversed his body without any trepidation; like it was as ordinary as putting on pants. She had definitely piqued his curiosity, and held his rapt attention. She was putting him on the spot, but he couldn't say no to her. Not when she was smiling up at him like that, literally glowing in the firelight.
"Okay... Just gimme a second to get in the mood, alright?" He made a rather exaggerated motion as if finding his inner chi. He closed his eyes and sought out words and earthy notes he had heard since his youth.
It's empty in the valley of your heart.
The sun it rises slowly as you walk, Away from all the fears and all the faults you've left behind
His voice started out rusty, clearly not having sung in a while. He felt a little odd, but grew more confident with each note. He opened his eyes.
What the hell was Jude talking about? He had a voice that was rich and honest and beautiful, especially with that smokey edge to it. With his voice as her guide, she started to dance, opting for a few more folk styled affairs. Amir knew his own traditional dances but he had taught her ones more celtic in flavour. She spun and hopped, her movements grace and lithe. She wore a brilliant smile that translated into every certain movement and placement of her body.
Her energetic performance personified her inner spirit that he had always seen in her. She was incredible, moving accurately and without hesitation. She was both wild and delicate. Every time Penelope spun and stepped, she nearly took his breath away. He almost forgot to keep singing.
The harvest left no food for you to eat.
You cannibal, you meat-eater, you see; But I have seen the same
I know the shame in your defeat.
He took a breath, and heard her tiny feet tapping the packed earth.
Somewhere along the line, it occured to Pen that she'd heard this song before but she couldn't pinpoint where. Though the dancing cleric could only recall fragments so she hummed along save for a few places where she harmonized with a few of Jude's words and continued to dance. She managed to execute a cartwheel, then a handstand and a back-bend then she straightened up and spun before lift her arms and stepping about.
So come out of your cave walking on your hands and see the world hanging upside down-
Jude laughed through the words when she proceeded to do just that. He was utterly enchanted by her. ...cause I need freedom now. And I need to know how to live my life as it's meant to be...
As she danced closer, he reached down to her in a motion that seemed as fluid as the song as delicately took one of her upraised hands while she was twirling and spun her around.
Pen let out a musical laugh fed by the rising elation of dance and song shared with the man she loved. Seldom had she ever felt this sort of freedom in her life and it brought her true peace to know she had a moment like this with Jude, just them even after having to confront something they both feared deeply. Ignorance didn't exist as she danced and he sang.
Jude would treasure this moment in his memory for years to come. He felt so... Open inside. Light. At the present time, there were not organs and blood in his chest; only sparks of freedom and miles of open air.
He gradually laid out on his side as she danced around. She was slowing down, and he put out a hand for her to fall back into. He hummed a similar tune even after the song ended and they both began to wind down.
Deep breaths left and entered her pleasantly worn out body and she could feel sweat in the creases of her body. She laid back in a hand that was as accommodating as a chair but far warmer and far more Jude. Her braid pooled on his palm, her long hair bursting free in small wisps. She hummed along with him under the starlight and turned over to nuzzle into his palm once recovered enough to do so.
Propping his head up with one arm, he gazed down at her with an intriguing warmth. He moved her a little closer to his chest and brushed his thumb across her fire-warmed cheek. Finally, they both fell quiet again, and the fire once again became prevalent until he spoke again.
"Where'd you learn to do that?" He asked, hardly above a murmur.
"Amir taught me. Best friend all through out school, you know?"
"Ah. Mister Tall Dark and Handsome's into ballet, is he?" He couldn't help but make a teasing jab.
"I actually had the hugest crush on him for ages before I found out he swung the other way."
She smiled breathlessly up toward Jude before reaching up and untying her head scarf. Her hair was a mess beneath. Pen straightened out the spectacles on the bridge of her nose and basked in the warmth of his palm.
"You've got a fantastic voice."
He gave a surprised laugh at the compliment, but didn't refute it.
"You think so, huh?" He had never considered his voice anything above 'tolerable'. But if she liked it, that was good enough for him.
She giggled and snuggled up to Jude's warm chest "Yeah, you do. You've got spirit in it. Gives it colour." She gave his chest a gentle pat.
He hummed in reply. His hand followed her, feeling her small width and curves against his fingertips.
"You're very light on your feet. That was quite a show you put on."
A sudden dismal thought stuck him: he would never be able to dance with her, hold her in his arms, twirl or dip her.
"You made one hell of a partner, darlin'." She closed her eyes in contentment at his physical ministrations. Pen knew that he liked to feel her body like this because she enjoyed such sensations as well. She adjusted and melted under his soft, gentle fingertips.
He cupped her to his chest as he rolled onto his back and pulled the quilt over himself. "Next time, you get to twirl me." He joked. He tossed a pail of sand on the struggling embers and settled back.
"You better look forward to that, twinkletoes." Pen wore a fiesty grin and prodded his chest once before settling in under the blanket. She could recall another time he'd used it, the first night they'd spent together, in fact. He'd used it to protect her from a thunderstorm. The memory made her close her eyes and smile softly.
The lingering heat from the campfire clung to their skin, rebelling against the nippy night air. He fell asleep with his hand partially atop her diminutive form. Despite the imminent drama that was to unfold, he could feel nothing but peace and contentment here with her.