Two Heads Are Better Than One

For 2022, I’ve been wanting to write more ‘creature features’ and generally improve my short story writing. My partner got me a Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual for my birthday so I came up with the idea of writing a story every week based on a different creature from that – All There in the (Monster) Manual. Hope you enjoy!

This Week’s Inspiration: Ettin

Once upon a time, a very clever merchant fell afoul of a nasty, brutish ogre with two heads… Will his cleverness be enough to help him escape an unpleasant fate? A fairy tale with a moral message.

Trigger Warning: Gore

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Once upon a time there was a very clever merchant. The merchant lived in a land filled with ogres and giants and other beasts that made roaming between cities and towns very dangerous. But one day, the merchant realised if he was very clever and very brave he could travel between the cities and towns and make trade, and he could charge the people in those places lots and lots of money because other merchants wouldn’t make the trip. So the very clever merchant became a very, very rich merchant too.

The clever merchant’s trading caravan grew to half a dozen carriages drawn by oxen. He hired many strong men in heavy armour with heavy weapons to protect them from bandits and ogres and other creatures, but there were still many dangers on the roads outside the big cities. The clever merchant travelled in the last carriage, which was very luxurious. It was filled with cushions and silks, and food and wine. And everywhere the clever merchant went he carried a big pouch full of gold.

The clever merchant was relaxing in his carriage when he heard a huge crash, and yelling from his guards. Horses whinied and oxen bellowed. Another crash and the merchant’s caravan stopped. The merchant heard more yelling and screaming, and two very loud voices roaring almost in unison. Reaching for his door, the clever merchant went to see what was attacking his caravan but at that exact moment his carriage was knocked over by an enormous blow. He rolled over and over and hit his head, and everything went black.

The clever merchant woke up sometime later. His carriage was on its side. He managed to climb out the door and saw he and the carriage had been knocked down a small hill to the side of the road. The merchant climbed back up the hill to find his trade caravan in ruins. The road looked like a terrible battleground. His wagons had been smashed, his horses and oxen killed or chased off. The remains of his guards lay in pieces on the ground all around him.

As he was inspecting the damage, the merchant smelled an awful smell. Something sitting beside the road, which the merchant had first thought was a boulder, shifted around and stared at him. It was too big and too close to run away from, and besides the merchant was weighed down by his fancy clothes and big bag of gold.

“Who are you?” Growled the stinking beast.

The creature that had attacked the merchant’s caravan was an ettin, a particularly foul and ugly breed of ogre. It stood up, and was more than twice as tall as the merchant with enormous muscles. Its skin was grey and covered in thick shags of mossy hair. The ettin’s most distinguishing feature was its two heads. Both were identical and incredibly ugly, unshaven, and with course, black hair. Each head controlled half of the body, both sides alike in every way. They even picked up a couple of identical clubs, huge, primitive weapons stained with blood.

“I’m the merchant who owns this caravan, which you have just attacked,” said the clever merchant.

“Why shouldn’t we kill you right now?” Asked the ettin.

The merchant looked behind the ettin and saw it had already been looting the caravan of things that it wanted. Bolts of silk, pots and pans, weapons, and some pieces of gold. The clever merchant thought he might see a way to get out of this situation with his life, and to keep some of his riches. Ettin had two heads but they were very stupid and could be turned against one another.

“I can pay you not to kill me,” said the merchant.

“Pay us with what?” One of the ettin’s heads asked.

“With gold coins I carry here in my purse! What I’ll do is I’ll pay ten gold coins to the head that’s in charge of the two of you, and five gold coins to the other.”

“Ten coins to the head in charge,” repeated the head on the right.

“And five to the other?” Finished the one on the left.

“That’s right, so which one of you is in charge?”

“Me!” Both heads shouted simultaneously, and they turned to face one another. “No, me!”

“Well one of you must be in charge,” the clever merchant said. “Which of you two heads is better?”

“Me, I’m the better one,” said the right head.

The left reached over and shoved the right side of their body. “No, I’m betterer than you!”

“I’m smarter!”

“I’m tougher!”

“I’m meaner!”

“I’m smellier, the girl ettin like me better!”

“There must be some way to settle this,” said the merchant, and he walked among the corpses of his guards. “Ah, look at this breastplate, it’s been beaten in with a single blow! The chest of the man inside it is almost perfectly flat. This could only be the work of a strong right arm!”

“That’s right, I’m strong!” The right head flexed its powerful arm.

“I thunk I did that one, though,” said the left head, trailing off with uncertainty.

“But now look at this! The captain of my guard, beheaded!” The clever merchant gestured to a headless body clad in slightly nicer armour, trapped beneath the body of an equally dead horse. “Such precision! Such speed, clearly the victim of a devastating left handed blow!”

“That’s right, I’m devastating!” The left head brightened.

“So which of you is better?”

“Me!”

“No, me!”

The heads started to argue, and shoved one another. Smirking, the clever merchant began to slip away. While they fought, he could run into the woods and then make his way back to the nearest town. With all his gold, he could easily buy a safe and luxurious passage home. But unfortunately for him, he had underestimated the ettin’s level of distraction.

“There’s only one way to settle this!” One of the heads said.

A terrible shadow and a horrible stench fell over the merchant. He turned and his eyes went wide as both the ettin’s giant hands reached for him in unison.

A short while later, the ettin sat back on the side of the road picking the very clever merchant’s very clever meat out of their teeth with slivers of bone. Spoils from the merchant’s caravan were scattered all around them. The merchant’s pouch had fallen between their feet, with hundreds of gold coins spilling out of it.

“Are you ready?” Asked the right head.

“Ready,” agreed the left.

The right side lifted the clever merchant’s lower body, severed messily from his upper half at the waist. Both took a leg, like a wishbone. With a horrifying crackling sound, the ettin pried and twisted, and ripped the legs apart at the pelvis.

“Ha ha! I got the bigger half, I’m the better head!” Said the left head.

“Okay,” said the right sullenly. “But I get to be the better head tomorrow.”

The moral of the story is that class solidarity is more important than fighting over someone else’s scraps, and that you should eat the rich.

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Sean: I really enjoyed this one, who doesn’t like a story with a happy ending? Fairytales are a lot of fun and I really like the ettin. Before you point it out, yes, I’m very aware there’s something of a mixed message in essentially having the working class here be a giant, stinking, stupid, violent beast that lives off stealing from others – I wouldn’t take any of it too seriously.

Of course, they’re a lot less friendly and peaceful than the last giant I featured. And maybe I have a bit of a soft spot for creatures with two heads.

Next week’s inspiration: Swarm of Insects

Keep your eyes on my website for more in this series, I fully intend to release one every week across 2022 – totally free. And for more updates you can find me on Facebook and Twitter.

One thought on “Two Heads Are Better Than One

  1. Pingback: Beans | Sean E. Britten

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