“RAT!” The unpleasant, grating voice of Mog Borgrumble burst into Finian’s sleep. He jumped, lurching from a half-remembered dream into the sudden shock of full waking. “Get up, you useless, filthy, lazy rat!”
Scrambling to reassemble his mind out of the confusion of sleep, and feeling as if he had been thrown somehow off-balance, Finian sat up out of the pile of old straw that made up his bed and forced a yawn away. It would only infuriate his gargantuan step-mother Mog if he made any sign of being comfortable, her maternal philosophy being the more uncomfortable the child, the better she was doing the job of mothing. He felt the fact that she had resisted using the willow-switch today was an unseen mercy the likes of which he could hardly expect to see again. As if hearing this line of thought, Mog slapped Finian on the back of the head for good measure, almost as if to point out how easily he had really gotten off.
His stepmother stood over him, her blotchy, red face pressed close to his, her eyes wide and nostrils flared like a winded horse. She struck an intimidating figure to almost everyone in the village, nearly as wide as she was tall, dressed in a roughly woven dress the size and texture of a sail, and an apron designed for someone several sizes smaller than her was roped about her enormous middle, stretched to what looked to be the breaking point. Finian thought it a minor miracle it hadn’t split apart in several directions the moment she bent over to shout at him. Her thick, bristly black hair was cropped short and stuck out in every direction in a great, unwashed mass. It was not just limited to the top of her head; it also spanned the gap between her eyebrows and lined her great, bulging cheeks and ran down her thick forearms. Getting a hug from her was like trying to cuddle a porcupine, not that Finian would know anything about that. The day she hugged him would mark the beginning of some sort of apocalypse, he felt reasonably sure. It was due to her general size and irritable demeanor that rumors around the village persisted that she had a bit of Giant blood in her, gained from some long-ago distant relative.