A low-tech culture discovers an immense, ancient robot lying in rest near their city. No one knows where it came from, who created it, or even what it is, but when their bravest explorers draw near enough to touch it, the machine wakes, rises, and begins to wander.
The people are terrified at first, but this ‘Ancient’ proves gentle and benevolent. It never steps on their roads or fields, it watches the seas and uses its vast body to blunt the wind when storms blow in, and it even retrieves wayward livestock and lost travelers, carrying them to safety in the palm of one gigantic hand. Communicating only in warm, rich bass tones that are somehow grand enough to shake the earth but soft enough to calm the nerves, the Ancient watches over the people for many, many years, never speaking a word, but always quick to grasp what needs to be done.
When invaders come to kill the people and conquer their land, the Ancient changes. Its soothing hum becomes a thunderous roar. Its footfalls split the earth, and its gentle hands smash ships like tinder and hurl stones the size of houses. The Ancient’s terrifying, almost godlike fury utterly routs the invaders, much to the joy of the people - but the Ancient itself seems oddly changed by the experience, even after it returns to its usual placid self. Its voice is softer, its steps a little slower… and it is often seen standing at the shore, staring silently, mournfully, at the edge of the horizon to which the invaders retreated.
Generations later, the invaders return. The people are prepared for war this time, having built fortifications and formidable weaponry to protect their country from future incursions. But when the Ancient strides out to the shore again, the invaders make no attempt to attack the cities or villages. The Ancient, itself, is the focus of their ire - many of their people died by its hand, and they have returned to exact vengeance. The sea roils, the sky grows dark, and the wind howls.
The Ancient sits down and waits to die.
At first the invading general is baffled. He looks upon the people, now strong enough to fend for themselves, even without their fearsome protector. He looks upon his own ships, powerful enough to destroy the Ancient, but not without heavy casualties. He looks upon the Ancient, making no move to defend itself as its age-old plating is gradually rent from its vital systems, softly humming its great, mellow music as the driving rain runs down its crumbling form. He looks upon the people again, and sees their horror and anguish. He sees them frantically marshalling their forces to defend their defender, and he knows that they will not make it in time. He realizes that the Ancient has calculated this. The machine is an admirable strategist. It has found a way to defend its people at the cost of only a single life.
The general watches the weary Ancient sing to its murderers, and his heart breaks.
The tale of the general’s remorse is a famous one. It is retold - by the people of both nations - for centuries after he is gone. Mothers tell their children how the proud general and the ancient machine met between two armies, and made peace without speaking a word. Teachers tell their students about the pact the nations made that rainy evening, signed under the shelter of an outstretched metal hand. The old tell the young about the general’s cliffside funeral, and the towering, ancient being that stood head and shoulders above the crashing waves, singing an eerily calming funeral dirge as it watched his people consign his body to the sea.
The Ancient tells no stories. It walks, and it shelters, and it rescues, and it sings in its weird, beautiful, wordless voice.
And when the weather is calm and the people are safe, it goes to the shore and stands in solitude, staring at the horizon and singing softly to the long-dead general with the broken heart.