The Dentist’s Apprentice

  • 16 Oct - 22 Oct, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

Brecan felt a tremor. Then came another, and another: the footsteps of a fellow giant, a league or more away. Brecan kept whistling and pulling leaves out of Dr Audley’s gutters.

The human shopkeepers on either side of Dr Timon Audley’s Tooth and Jaw Services began to shutter their windows and bolt their doors. They were used to giants – and other visitors – here on the Borderlands. They knew the difference between the rumble of a giant’s amble and the quaking of a giant’s march. These footsteps rattled the windows. These footsteps meant trouble.

Dr Audley poked his head out his front window, right over the flowerbox, and looked in each direction, up Chepe Street and down it. Then he cranked his head to look up at the sky, at Brecan. Brecan was not yet fully grown, but he could look down at Dr Audley’s gutters without standing on his tiptoes.

“And what is that racket?” Dr Audley demanded. He managed to make it sound as if Brecan were responsible.

“I expect it is Mrs Knaggs,” said Brecan. He plucked a clump of brown slime out of the gutter, grimaced and let it plop onto the pile next to his toe. This was not the sort of work an apprentice should do, in his opinion. But Dr Audley was the only dentist in the Borderlands, so it was Dr Audley’s opinion on the duties of apprentices that mattered.


“Your customer of last Tuesday. The giantess. I suspect her new teeth are giving her trouble.”

Dr Audley blanched, muttered something about “this blasted place” and ducked his head back into the house.

A moment later, his head popped out again.

“Quick, boy, “the dentist shouted.“Get the big chair down while I lock up. We don’t want to give her any inkling that we might be open for business.”


The big chair sat in the yard behind Dr Audley’s dentistry, for his larger customers. It was a groaning contraption of tree trunks slotted and lashed together in a precise and precarious arrangement. It would have taken Dr Audley an hour of sweat and curses to dismantle that chair. It took Brecan five minutes.

The big chair – and the occasional big clients who made use of it – was the main reason Dr Audley kept Brecan on as his apprentice. Brecan knew that. He was not much use with the human clients, who used the human-sized chair inside Dr Audley’s house, whose heads was the size of one of Brecan’s fists.

Brecan harboured dreams of becoming a dentist himself. There was little hope of it, though. Giants were scarce, even in the Borderlands. A dentist who could only take giants as clients would never make a living unless he could take every giant, from this town and all the others within a day’s march on giant legs.

Brecan had other uses, too, and not just cleaning the gutters and fixing the roof. He had a little magic in him. He could sense things. He knew by touch when a tooth was unsound, so Dr Audley had taken to having Brecan “clean” his giant clients’ teeth before the exams, to save him the energy of looking for holes himself. (Brecan suspected the doctor was a little afraid of being so close to giant mouths.) Cleaning teeth was a new notion in the Borderlands; most of Dr Audley’s work was done with pliers. But Dr Audley pretended cleaning was always done in the City and his clients submitted to it. Brecan went into their mouths with a pine sapling, cleaning the teeth and surreptitiously touching them, feeling for weakness within.

The feeling he got when he touched an unsound tooth was the same feeling he got when he touched a standing stone. He had always kept away from those stones. In the Borderlands, children learned early what places to avoid. One could scarcely walk through the forest without falling into a goblin trap and the plains were dotted with rings of stones that cast the wrong shadows. Horses walked around such places, whether their riders directed them to or not. But a few weeks ago, Dr Audley had ordered Brecan to go to the nearest circle of standing stones, the place they called Strewnstreth, in the dead of night. He told Brecan to pull the stones down and cart them to Dr Audley’s cellar.

Brecan had objected, had warned his employer.

But Dr Audley had insisted.

“All these giants, missing teeth, wanting replacements,”

Dr Audley had squeaked, wringing his hands.

“Just where do you think I can get my hands on teeth to fit the mouths of your kind, boy? It isn’t as if giant molars are lying around for the taking. And giants are too stupid to realize what I’m putting in their mouths, anyway. Most of them don’t even ask, and the ones that do seem to think it quite possible for me to get my hands on giant teeth for them. I mutter something about the North: ‘Frost Giants, you know. Very warlike.’ And they nod and give me their money. But we do not have Frost Giant teeth, as you well know, and so we must have rocks, boy. We must have something and we have used up all the suitable ones within an hour’s journey. You really must do away with these country superstitions.”

So Brecan had gone to do as he was told, because Dr Audley was the only dentist he had ever met, and Brecan wanted very badly to be a dentist.

Of course he was not fool enough to walk right into the circle of standing stones. Dogs, chasing squirrels or sunshine, sometimes disappeared that way. But one could uproot a stone by standing on the outside of the circle, where life was as safe as life ever could be. When he put his hand on the warm, gray rock, he could feel the weakness between the worlds, a soft spot.

He knew no good would come of Dr Audley’s plan.

to be continued...