LES CONTES DU ROCAMBOLE
THE END OF THE GIANTS
A SCANDINAVIAN LEGEND (1925)
BY MARCEL ROLAND
The writer Marcel Roland (1879-1955), famous for his naturalistic works published in the Mercury of France, was first of all a novelist and storyteller for newspapers. He remains today especially known by lovers of early science fiction for his various contributions to this genre, in which he had specialized at the beginning of his literary career: Le Presqu'homme [The almost man] (1908), Le Déluge futur [The future Deluge] (1910), La Conquête d'Anthar [The Conquest of Anthar] (1913, Excelsior prize), Le faiseur d'or [The maker of gold] (1913-1914), Quand le phare s'alluma [When the beacon was lit] (1921-1922) and Osmant le rajeunisseur [Osmant the rejuvenator] (1925). He also published a science fiction story, "Sous la lumière inconnue" [Under the unknown light], in Le Miroir (n°52, 23 March 1913), which was not yet the photographic current events weekly that it would become as a result of the war. We find his signature in Le Journal des voyages, notably in 1919 for two fantastic tales, "Le Serpent fantôme" [The Phantom Snake], and "L'échelon" [The Echelon] (Rocambole n°6, p. 100) and in its supplement la Vie d'aventure (3 stories, 1911-1913), as well as in le Matin (17 tales from 1912 to 1915).
The narrative we present here appeared in Le Journal des voyages (4th series, n°28, 23 April 1925), with which he continued to collaborate on articles of scientific popularization.
Note that places named in the text are precisely those where bodies of perfectly preserved mammoths have been exhumed. Some sensational investigations are in progress: an expedition directed by Bernard Buigues has exhumed the remains of a mammoth, baptized Jarkov, which will be studied in detail for years to come. Two works have appeared on the issue: Sur la piste du mammouth [On the trail of the mammoth], (Laffont) and a book of photographs of Francis Latreille, Mammouth [Mammoth] JLB.
This story was related to me one evening in Lapland, when we heard reindeer behind the house browsing in the moonlight, rubbing their rough antlers against the low branches of the birches.
* * * * * * * * *
In that time the world was covered with immense forests and enveloped in soft and tepid mists, like prairies at sunrise. The breath of Thyr-Thiwas-Zio the All-Powerful had caused to be born, from one pole to the other, the millions of plants and animals that prospered in peace in the depths of the liquid abyss, and on the new continents. Men had just appeared, and already they reigned by their spirit over all the rest of creation.
Among those who lived in the regions later called Europe were two brothers named Bar-Knussen and Rosterold. They were shepherds, but instead of possessing great herds of reindeer, like shepherds of today, they had for their wealth innumerable hordes of mammoths. For since his arrival on the earth, man had domesticated these calm and enormous beasts. He made them carry his heavy burdens, plow the soil, and pull his chariots; he ate their flesh, manufactured tents and clothing of their skin, tools and weapons of their bones. On the immense and deep plains where fat grasses waved like a perpetual crop, mammoths wandered peacefully under the care of their masters. Tall dark towers, covered with long hair that blew in the wind, their well balanced trunks alternately skywards or earthwards, their curved ivory tusks gleaming, they grouped themselves around ponds in the evening and sounded their trumpeting.
Those of Rosterold and of Bar-Knussen were the most beautiful and most numerous. But the elder brother, Rosterold, fed some perverse and greedy instinct, and a secret jealousy pushed him against the other. He long coveted the herd of Bar-Knussen, and had resolved to strip him of it at any cost.
The idea of the crime germinated and bloomed in him little by little.
One night, as Bar-Knussen slept lightly in his tent, Rosterold entered, and before the sleeper could defend himself, he silenced him with his flint-carved ax. Then, without remorse, he hid the body in a cave, and the following day, he joined to his own herd that which he had acquired by murder.
However, the spirit of Bar-Knussen, on leaving his body, took off for the region where Odin, Father of Wisdom and Destiny, was enthroned.
"Oh you that are just," said the spirit, "I ask you to punish my brother!"
And the God Who Knows All and for whom pain must not remain unpunished, answered,
"Your brother will be punished!"
He made a sign to the bottom of clouds. Then, below, waters that had held a truce for a long succession of years, suddenly moved again, and surged forward to assault the continents. The rising sea level forced rivers and streams to back up to their sources. Little by little, the flooding won. Earth disappeared once more under the dull invasion; forests and savannas subsided, drowned. A heavy rain fell without interruption.
Rosterold, chasing before him his mastodon herd, fled to escape the curse. For long days he walked northwards, hoping to eventually stop, to plant his tent and take rest. His mammoths, tight around him in a confused tangle of bodies, panted with fatigue and hunger, and painful moans passed through them as waves on the ocean. But still, under the threat of the constantly resurgent peril, it was necessary to flee, and Rosterold, crying blasphemies and spurring on the chief of the horde, put back in march the great army of giants.
One evening, the migration arrived at the sea. Before them, on all sides, behind them, the water spread, enveloping them. For the first time, the giants felt passing over their impotent strength the shiver of the inevitable. Over the centuries, when their immense crowd covered the planet, they could have believed that the world belonged to them, monstrous giants, next to which all else was nothing but dust! And then the man had come, the man, this weak Pygmy who had enslaved them. Why did he reign, him... the dwarf, rather than them... the giants?
While the water continued to move in their direction, through the valleys, between the mountains, down the stream beds, the mammoths launched a desperate clamor that rose echoes in faraway peaks and made the Arctic horizon shudder. Under the low sky where livid gleams slipped, their trunks raised and thier soundings were the trumpets of death. They contemplated the rising level around them wherein reflected their agony. It was as if the promontory on which they were gathered and which marked their last refuge, had begun to subside under their very mass, and that the silt and the sand were sucking them under. Their leader, an old male on whom Rosterold sat, was suddenly shaken with a furious start... "Why him, this Pygmy?" He seized his master clinging to the fleece of his back, and hurled him to the ground. Without giving him a chance, he raised above him one of his feet bogged in the moving silt. The heavy pillar fell again and again with rage, the mammoth crushing his dominator, powerless to prevent the disaster.
Blood mingled with the mud, until, satisfied, the avenger lay down to die. Already monuments crumbling at the base, his brothers sank straight in, snatched by the ravenous soil. A long time they fought, but, by turns, their tragic trumpeting died out: and the sea reigned...
We find them now in heaps, intact in their sheaths of ice, under the cold latitudes of the Bay of Tchesskaïa, of the Gulf of Ob, the Liahkoff Islands. Cemeteries of defeated giants who sleep there, standing for millennia, keeping the eternal secret of the convulsions of the prehistoric world of which they were witnesses forever mute.