The Meek Mountain Peak

Standard

Once, there were five magic beans.

A poor boy was swindled into accepting them as payment for some vegetables he was trying to sell at market. His mother had thought the beans were useless until he ate one and grew into a giant. His mother was poor and could not have supported the needs of a skinny boy much less a giant. So she had no choice but to cast him out. On his wanderings, he befriended a young girl who called herself Turtle. She named him Cob, which was short for “corncob” for he was tall as a cornstalk (and he didn’t fancy being called “Stalk”).

Cob helped Turtle to defend her village from raiders. Turtle in turn tried to help Cob solve the mystery of the beans, for he longed to return to his former self. Being a giant had brought him mostly misery. Each bean was a different color, and they discovered that each had different qualities. By a mishap, the golden bean was eaten by a goose in Turtle’s keeping. The goose turned golden and thereafter lay only eggs of solid gold.

Turtle was kidnapped and imprisoned by a warlock who had learned of the beans and used her to find and steal the three that remained. But Turtle managed to steal back the silver bean and feed it to her fellow prisoner, a beautiful harper named Renny, who at once turned silver. The harper enchanted the warlock with her playing, and she and Turtle escaped.

As they escaped, Turtle ate the blue bean and transformed into a magnificent blue bird.

With them escaped the harper’s lover, who had tried to rescue her but had been transformed into a rooster by the warlock. The odd company—those who shared the “bond of the beans” as Turtle called it—came to live upon the highest peaks of a mountain, far above the clouds where the air was too thin for any to abide but those enchanted beings. Unlike her friends,Turtle could transform back and forth between bird and girl by choice, for the beans were mysterious and held many secrets.  Only she could wander freely among people, including the town at the foot of their mountain home, Viamonte.

In her battle with the warlock, Turtle had found herself falling through the sky from a high cliff. She ate the blue bean and was saved by it, but she dropped the last one, the red magic bean.

The red bean was mistakenly swallowed by a hapless animal who then transformed into a vicious and hateful monster, killing and maiming. It bit off one of Turtle’s feet in her first encounter with it. Turtle and her friends stopped the creature and recovered the red bean, thereafter keeping the bean locked away. They sought to find the man who had first sold the beans to Cob. For they now feared that the beans might be cursed, and that the extraordinary powers they had been granted might bear extraordinary costs.

One day, they encountered a man named Arrick high on the mountain. Unlike most who fled or attacked upon seeing a giant, Arrick was most fascinated by Cob. The man befriended the giant and the little girl, but then he betrayed them. He plied Cob with drinks that were no ordinary drinks. They were all enchantments and two of them worked. Cob expelled the green bean that made him a giant, and he began to shrink.

The green bean began to wither and by the time he realized he would continue shrinking until he vanished altogether, it was too late for him to swallow it and become a giant again. So the bean was planted. It grew into a stalk that reached above the clouds that wreathed the mountaintop on which the odd company lived. The beanstalk produced a single bean pod before itself withering away, and in this bean pod were three beans. One was meant to break the spell of shrinking. One to restore Cob to his native-born height. And one to make him a giant again. By mishap one bean was ruined.  Cob consumed it in pieces and its magic did not work.  Only two remained, one to halt the shrinking spell, and the other to restore him to the size of a typical man.

The treacherous Arrick never knew of Cob’s fate, for he grew impatient of the potions. He donned an enchanted bearskin, transformed into a great bear, and charged at Cob. During the struggle, the bearskin was torn asunder, and Arrick fell dead.

Among Arrick’s possessions was a notice for a bounty on a giant’s head—Cob’s head. Giants were feared among the lands. But the mountain company suspected that some other misfortune was afoot. The enchantments that Arrick possessed, the potions and the bearskin, were far above the average standard of the average bounty-hunter.

Surely, the encounter had something to do with the magic beans.

*****

No longer a giant, Cob had no reason to hide from people.  And he found that the climb up and down from the mountain abode had become too treacherous for someone his size. Unlike Renny, who was protected from much harm by the silver bean, Cob would surely perish if he fell from the mountain. So he settled in the town at the base of the mountain, Viamonte.

He had no trouble with wealth, for he was aided by his friend, the golden goose. He bought a humble cottage. But he still sought a trade so as not to raise any undue suspicions. He had studied so much while a giant, that he was knowledgeable enough to find an apprenticeship position with the town’s apothecary. He excelled, especially now that the books were easier to read since they were the proper size for his proportion. He was now able to ride the beautiful black mare that his mother had given him as a parting gift during their last visit.

Cob found himself missing some of the advantages he’d had in being a giant. But for the most part, he loved his life in the town.

He had even started courting a young woman, or rather she had started courting him, with her teasing and winking. Cob stumbled over himself at first, but he was accustomed to being in the company of headstrong folk. He did not return the teasing, but merely gave the sincerest and coolest compliments whenever she visited the apothecary’s shop. Soon Turtle’s sneering at his awkwardness became admiration for his humble calm.

Now that he had a lady love himself, Cob longed to restore Renny’s love to her. There was one who could have restored the rooster to his original form quite easily, the warlock who cast the spell in the first place, but he refused.

Sometimes Renny would come down the mountain, for if she was cloaked and her skin well-covered, she appeared like every other lady. She and Turtle would visit Cob in his cottage, and they would sing and play games, and read books. But they would also glance over their shoulders when passing through town, or out of the cottage’s front window if an unfamiliar face were to pass. For still they feared being hunted because of the magic beans.

Half a year passed in this manner, then one morning as he prepared a breakfast of biscuits and honey, Cob heard a familiar cry. He ran outside to see a little bird with iridescent blue feathers and one false foot made of silver flying toward him. He could not quite place the meaning of the cry. It sounded like excitement, but whether it was the excitement of alarm or joy, he could not say.

***

As the bird swooped closer to the earth, she raised her wings and they transformed into a cloak, and a pair of bare human arms dropped down from them. An awkward tunic of blue feathers wrapped around the tall form of a girl whose feet touched the ground and began running.

Turtle dashed toward Cob, blue feathers flying off from the force of her running. She’d come straight from the mountain where she and Renny still lived, guarding the precious treasures they could not keep safe on lower ground, the golden goose that laid golden eggs, the red magic bean whose powers were unknown but certainly terrible, and the silver harper herself, who was a strange sight to behold and held the power of healing and mesmerizing through the song of her voice and her harp, an enchanted silver harp that resided in her heart. She pulled it from her very chest when the need arose.

Cob entreated the winded girl to catch her breath.

“It happened during the night,” she said. “The curse…on the rooster. It’s broken.”

Early in the previous evening, Turtle had been grooming the golden goose when she heard Renny cry out for her. Turtle came running into the high-roofed cave that had once served as Cob’s bedchamber. There she saw a strange sight.

The rooster was transforming.

Slowly, painfully transforming. Renny helped him to lie upon what was once a giant’s pillow and would serve as her lover’s bedroll. As Renny and Turtle kept watch, and even the golden goose from a distance, the rooster changed back into a man. As he changed, his feathers fell away, and the dark smooth skin beneath them became slick with blood and sweat. The caws of a suffering rooster soon became the cries and moans of a suffering man. The sheets and covers of his bedding were soon drenched. His long ropey strands of black hair turned damp. So much heat was thrown from his body, that when Renny tried to help him drink some water, a drop fell upon his chest, and Turtle saw the droplet sizzle and steam.

Renny pulled out her harp and sang to him to ease his pain. And it worked. The transformation continued, and Renny’s lover still suffered. But Turtle could see that he could bear the suffering better. He cast his soft brown eyes first upon the silver lady.  Seeing her seemed to ease his pain even more.  Then he glanced at Turtle, who tried an awkward smile of comfort that she feared would fail. But even the sight of her seemed to help him. He tried to return her smile, but his expression twisted into a wince as another pulse of pain passed through him. It was strange. When Turtle transformed, it was quite easy, like changing clothes. Sometimes there was some awkward stumbling or tightness, but no pain. When Cob had transformed, he complained of a terrible itchiness, but no pain.

When at last the transformation was complete, it signaled the end of the man’s suffering. He fell into a deep sleep. Scattered all around him were rooster feathers matted with blood.

Renny kept watch all night, while Turtle and the goose slumbered on a nearby cot.

When Turtle woke the next morning, Renny had gone to fetch more water. The man who laid upon a giant’s pillow cast his brown-eyed gaze toward her.

“Good morning, Turtle,” he said, in a deep smooth voice that sounded nothing like the raucous crows of a rooster. “My name is Gallus and I am truly delighted and honored and humbled to make your acquaintance and to thank you at last for doing what I could not do.” He turned to Renny as she entered. “Yrennive!” he cried, calling her by her full name.

With wide eyes, he looked again at Turtle. “Thank you for saving my love. And for saving me.”

Turtle felt tears well up in her eyes and a blush form in her cheeks. And the blush was not simply for the heartfelt compliments, for Turtle noticed how handsome the man was. His ropey hair fell upon trim but brawny shoulders.

Gallus complained of a heavy soreness in every limb. He believed he knew why the curse had broken and why he had felt such pain upon his transformation. The warlock who had cursed him must have died. But Gallus was quick to dismiss his recent misfortune and smile at his present good fortune.

“Where is my giant brother?” he said next.

***

Cob would have gladly climbed the mountain to see the rooster and the harper reunited. But Turtle’s news did not end with the release of the rooster from his curse.

As Turtle prepared to fly out and deliver the news to Cob, Gallus began to grow ill.  He lay in a sickbed still.

Cob rode out to the nearest city, where he spoke with the council of apothecaries and alchemists who had overseen the jailing and punishment of the warlock who had cursed Gallus. The warlock had indeed died, of very old age. He had not revealed any of his secrets, his curses, his doings while he was free. The council had not known what misfortune might fall on the cursed upon the breaking of the warlock’s curses.

By the time Cob returned to Viamonte, Gallus had fallen into a stupor from which he could not be woken. Renny despaired. Cob and Turtle grew angry and determined on their friends’ behalf.

First, they wondered if there was some way to enhance the power of Renny’s healing harp. When Turtle was in her bird form, her cry seemed to bolster the harp’s strength during their battle with the very warlock whose curse still troubled them.

While Cob remained helplessly waiting and pacing in his cottage, Turtle conveyed the plan to Renny. Turtle and the goose cried out while Renny played her harp and sang. And the birds’ cries did indeed bolster the harp’s strength. Gallus rallied and woke. For a day, he felt stronger, but the effects did not last beyond the day. He soon fell into stupor again, and his deep brown skin turned ashen and pale.

They considered, of course, the red magic bean. But all remembered what happened the last time a creature swallowed the bean.  Either something was wrong with the red bean, or it was imbued with a different kind of enchantment than the others, a destructive enchantment. They could take no chances in giving the bean to Gallus in the hopes that it would save him as the blue bean had saved Turtle and the silver bean had saved Renny.

And Renny believed her lover would rather die in the company of his friends than be turned into an evil monster. Though it would shatter her heart to lose him, she resolved to do as he would wish.

***

When Turtle told Cob of their friend’s resolve, Cob decided that the harper and the rooster had made enough sacrifices. He bid Turtle to walk with him to the foot of the mountains above which he once lived. He seemed so heavy-hearted that Turtle did not ask but only followed.

“I am not certain this will work,” Cob said with a sigh. “But by the bond of the beans, I think it may.”

He told Turtle his plan, a plan he had not spoken of before. He believed they should take Gallus to the council of alchemists and apothecaries. If any would be able to help him, treat his illness, perhaps even cure it, it would be them. But to bring the ill man down the mountain was a near-impossible feat. Cob could think of only one way to do so without risking harm to Gallus.

He handed her a slip a paper on which he had written an awkward song, a song whose words were simple and plain-spoken. A song he meant for the harper to sing.

“If she sings this song, and commands the broken bean within me to mend itself, I believe it will,” Cob said. “And once it does…”

Turtle held the slip of paper in her hand and gaped at her friend. “You’ll be a giant again.” Her heart swelled with both hope and guilt. “But—what about—?”

Cob stopped her and asked her to give his lady-friend the note he had written to her and left for her on the table in the cottage. Once he transformed, he would not be able to change back. Only Turtle could transform back and forth between her bird form and her girl form.

The harper was lithe and strong, and the silver bean protected her from much harm. But even she would need days to climb down the mountain. There was no time for that. So Cob instructed Turtle to fly up with the note, and ask the harper to come as close to the precipice as she could and sing as loudly as she could.

Cob remained at the base of the mountain, tying a few cloaks around his middle. If his plan worked, and he transformed, he would need some way to protect his modesty while he climbed the mountain. He sighed at the thought of once again wearing the giant patchwork shirts that his friends had made for him. If all went well with their current adventure, he resolved to learn some sewing so he could tailor his own clothes.

***

That night, a haunting echoing melody descended from the mountain. In the town of Viamonte, many a sleepy head rose, ears pricked, and necks craned, straining to hear the enchanting voice singing, and the fluttering music of a harp.

The song was a gentle but firm entreaty and a humble command. Those who heard it and did not know its meaning drifted back into sleep where they dreamed adventurous dreams.

The one who heard it and did know its meaning felt a stirring in his gut.

Cob did not know if that stirring meant that the broken bean within him had been made whole. He might not know for many days. When first he consumed a magic bean, so long ago it seemed a lifetime, it had taken him many days to grow to his full size.

To his relief, this time was different. He felt a terrible itching on his skin, and then under his skin, and then in his muscles, and he could swear, he felt the itching in his very bones.

He groaned in irritation, and then he saw the ground beneath him move away as he gazed at it. He was growing. He was growing fast.

***

Cob, the giant, climbed the mountain, remembering every foothold and grip. Before morning, he crested the clouds and found himself upon the plateau where he’d once spent evenings lying on the ground and staring up at the stars with Turtle lying restlessly beside him.

He felt a twinge of guilt regarding his cozy cottage, for when he stood upon the plateau, he felt he had truly come home.

But he wasted no time in reminiscing. Renny and Turtle were ready to travel. They had prepared a sling in which Cob could carry Gallus.

Renny touched Cob’s giant hand. She did not speak, or could not, perhaps. But her grateful gaze spoke for her. Cob smiled and nodded his head.

“Do you think she will be all right alone?” Turtle asked, gazing at the golden goose, who honked as if in reply.

“We’ve left her food and water,” Renny said. “She will be well for a few weeks.”

***

They traveled mostly at night, and now that Cob was a giant, and the others could ride upon his shoulders, they traveled quickly.

Once they reached the city, Turtle led the way to the council of apothecaries, as she and a cloak-hidden Renny carried the cot on which lay Gallus.  The apothecaries came out at once and tended to Gallus. They prepared a chamber for him, and Turtle told them of the warlock, the curse, and the curse’s breaking.

For many days, Renny and Turtle stayed in the city, where there were so many folk, of so many kinds, that Renny need not hide her silver-skinned self, though she still did. The apothecaries said they would bring Renny their report, but after waiting so long, Turtle and Renny grew impatient.  They went to the council and to their greatest chamber of healing. Gallus still lay in stupor. He was paler, thinner. The apothecaries told Renny that the man was slipping away. The illness was a rare and insidious enchantment. There was little they could do but to ease his pain.

Renny kept her calm while the apothecaries were present, but after they left, her resolve broke. She begged Turtle to fly to the mountain and bring the red magic bean. For surely it could do no harm now.

So stricken was the harper’s face, so broken her voice, that Turtle was afraid as Renny threw herself upon her lover’s still form.

Turtle left the chamber and flew to where Cob was hiding in the forested hills surrounding the city. Cob regretted then that he was a giant and not a man. Turtle was shaken by the silver lady’s grief. Cob would have gone to the harper in Turtle’s stead and comforted her. But as he could not, and as he could not bear to send Turtle, he trusted that Renny would recover herself. And when she did, and when she returned to her friends, Cob was determined to have another plan, a better plan.

But it was Renny who devised their next plan.

***

Turtle and Cob were relieved when Renny asked forgiveness for suggesting the red magic bean. She had another notion. A far-fetched one. For even if they had as much time as they needed, they might not succeed. As it was, her lover’s time was short. How short, even the apothecaries could not say.

Renny recalled to them the potion that made Cob expel his magic bean. It was given to him by Arrick, a man who possessed many potions. Cob lost his giant form when the bean was expelled.

“If we had more of that potion,” Renny said. “Then I could take it. I could expel the silver bean. Then I could give the bean to Gallus.”

“But how would we make him swallow it?” Turtle asked, for the man lay in still slumber.

“We could wake him as we did before, with the harp and your cry and the goose’s.”

Turtle wondered if it would work. Gallus looked so much sicker now. But Renny no doubt knew this. She herself had called the plan “far-fetched.” Turtle would remain silent with her doubts.

The only person they knew who might obtain such a potion was dead. They had buried the treacherous Arrick themselves after he attacked Cob and mysteriously fell dead. Cob was certain it was no blow he dealt that felled the man. It might have been something to do with the enchanted bearskin the man had donned to transform himself into a great bear.

They had searched Arrick’s belongings and found nothing of great value or import. But perhaps they had missed something when first they looked.  Something that might lead them to the potion they sought.

Renny left her love in the care of the apothecaries. Though they could not cure him, they could keep him in comfort. They warned Renny not to go far, for they would call upon her if it seemed her lover was nearing death.

Turtle and Cob insisted on returning to Viamonte alone, but Renny had been parted from her love in that way before, close enough to touch, but still too far to be together.  She would risk herself to save her love, as he had done for her.

***

When they returned to their mountain abode, where they kept the remains of the bearskin and other possessions the man Arrick had carried, they sensed something amiss at once. The plateau was still. Its earth undisturbed.

Turtle discovered it first. An array of golden feathers, some soft and fallen to the ground, but some as thin and sharp as a shaving razor, stuck in the earth. Turtle had not known the goose could harden her feathers so.  A few were covered in drops of blood.

The golden goose herself was gone. They searched everywhere. Were it not for the bloody feathers, they might have believed that she had wandered off, even after all their adventures together. They had never before left her alone as they had.

They searched the mountain abode to find if anything else was amiss, and something was.

The red magic bean was gone.

They did not have to guess who had taken their treasures. For there were other items missing that revealed the thief.

“Speak of the demon and the demon will come,” Renny said.

For the bearskin was also missing.

The company went down to the base of the mountain, where they had buried Arrick. They were not surprised to find the earth disturbed, as if the grave had been dug up and hastily refilled. Cob scooped up the earth in a few fistfuls.

The grave was empty.

Either Arrick was alive and well, or someone else, perhaps the one who had sent him, had come to claim his corpse and the treasures they had sent him to obtain. Whoever it was had watched and knew when best to strike.

“He shouldn’t have taken the goose,” Turtle said, her frown deepening. “I can find her as sure as I can find my own feathers.”

“But what else will we find?” Cob wondered. He saw that his friends longed to charge recklessly at the thief. To save Gallus, there might be no better choice.

***

Turtle could not speak the language of the birds in her bird form. She had never been able to speak with Gallus when he was a rooster. But her bond with the goose was different. For it was the bond of the beans. With her sharp eyes, the goose’s clever shedding of feathers, and some instinct that she trusted to lead her, Turtle was able to follow the thief.

And Cob and Renny followed Turtle.

The thief was traveling south. Even from a great height, Turtle began to recognize the lands, for she had traveled them with her family when she was a small child.

In only a few days’ time, they came upon a forested valley below them and beyond, a chain of mountains that bore the faces of the giants who died upon it many ages ago. The Meek Mountains they were called.

The giants had once made that mountain their abode.  Legend said they turned to stone after death, sinking into and merging with the mountain, which molded its face around their faces. In truth it was believed the faces were carved as monument by their descendants and friends. Giants were not always through to be brutish and wicked.

The trio was in a sparsely inhabited part of the land now, and Cob and Renny revealed themselves freely. Renny rode upon the giant’s shoulders. Turtle flew until she grew tired, then she too would ride on Cob’s shoulder. Cob did not seem to tire, so determined was he.

They tracked the thief to the mountains. Turtle flew beyond them and found no trace of thief or goose. So with clenched fists and watchful eyes, they entered the Meek Mountains.

***

Once the abode of giants, the inside was large enough for Cob to move quite easily. There were stairs where each step was two stories high. Hallways etched with carvings that even Cob had to crane his neck to see.

The caverns were mostly dark, save for the torches they had brought. They soon came upon an unexpected sight. Living green vines that traversed the inner paths of the mountains, growing somehow without light.

As they passed deeper into the mountain, the vines began to bear flowers. Turtle, who was riding on Cob’s shoulder, asked him to stop when she saw a flower bloom and glimpsed something strange. Etched on its petals, she found an entreaty.

Find me.

They passed another blooming flower that said, before he does.

“Someone has been chasing us,” Renny said. “Chasing after the beans. Perhaps it’s the one who grew them.” She waved her hand at the enchanted vines that could speak through their flower petals.

“If so, we might have been led here,” Cob whispered, for his voice too was giant, and he still winced at how loud his whisper sounded.

“By who?” Turtle wondered. “The thief or the one who’s sending us these messages?”

“Maybe they are one and the same. Maybe this is some trick of the thief.”

“Welcome to the mountain,” a voice called out from above.

The trio stopped and looked up. Turtle and Cob recognized the voice, for they had heard it before.

Arrick appeared above them, walking out on an outcropping of the wall. He held up a hand, for he saw that Renny had produced her silver harp and Cob had slipped a hand over the giant axe he had found along the way that now hung from his belt.

“You are under my power now that you’ve entered the mountain. But I know your troubles. I am willing to help you, to cure your ill friend, if only you will do something for me.”

“We thought you were dead,” Cob said, whispering no longer. His giant’s voice boomed and echoed in the chamber, making Turtle’s bones shudder.

Arrick smiled. “Using the bearskin takes great strength and concentration. I had not expected you to be so formidable. I have fought giants before. But you are different. I expended too much energy and the bearskin broke, draining me almost to death. But I only needed some time to recover. Luckily the grave dug for me was shallow enough for me to dig out of it when I woke and realized where I was.”

A flower bloomed beside Turtle. Vines quickly encircled and hid it. Before they did, she glimpsed the flower’s message.

Trust only yourselves.

Like some lord welcoming bothersome lesser guests at his manor, Arrick told them they were free to roam and discuss what they would do among themselves. But he warned that he could take the beans from them at any time, and if he did that, there would be no deal to save the rooster or to recover the goose. And they themselves might not survive the removal of the beans if they resisted.  With that he left them.

They could not surrender the beans, not to Arrick. On this, they all agreed. But perhaps they could find whoever was sending them the messages.

Arrick didn’t try to stop them, as they’d feared he would.  They grew suspicious and anxious. It seemed to them that he wanted them to find the sender of the messages, perhaps so he could follow them. Yet the sender also wanted them to find him, or her, and seemed to believe they could do so before Arrick could. The trio secretly hoped and believed that the sender of the messages was the maker of the beans. And if that were so, and they could rescue the maker, then they might rescue Gallus.

They followed the fleeting messages on the vines until they reached a deep but well-lit cavern. Within lay a charming wild garden surrounding a little cottage. They could not at first discern where the light was coming from and thought it must be enchantment. Then they spotted the glowing yellow sunflowers arrayed above and around the cavern.

They approached with caution, glancing about for any sign of Arrick. As they did, the door to the cottage opened and a familiar sight met one of the trio.

It was the bean-trader. Cob recognized the man who sold him the beans. And the man seemed to recognize him too. He beamed up at Cob and the allies who stood upon Cob’s shoulder.

“Welcome to the mountain, friends,” the man said.

“Are you the one who’s been sending us messages?” Turtle asked.

“I am, little bird, the reason for your many gifts. I am the maker of the beans.” He flourished his arms. “My name is Jack.”

***

Turtle thought she caught a shadow flickering at the corner of her sight as Cob lowered her and Renny to the ground. He then knelt down himself.

“Don’t worry about him,” Jack said, addressing their unspoken concern. “He’s a fair bit behind you.”

“We’ve come to help you,” Renny said.

“Have you? I thought you had come to receive my help, harper.”

Renny inclined her head. “I confess, I do hope for that.”

The bean-maker, Jack, gazed at them each in turn, and he told them the story of the beans. He did not say how the beans came to be. Only that he had grown them right there in the heart of the mountain of giants with the help of the man who had once been his friend, Arrick. They were mages who sought to make wondrous spells using the wonders of the world, green growing things and music and light.

“Such great powers are not meant to be wielded by one mortal being,” Jack said.

The mages had never intended to wield the powers they created themselves. But such intentions are easily foiled. When Jack realized how much he coveted their powers, he sought to hide the beans away. Even one of the beans might be corrupted by the wrong hands. If all five were corrupted and then consumed by one person, that person would become both powerful and terrible. Arrick, who helped him create the beans, felt he deserved to wield their powers. Jack caught a glimpse of the same hunger in Arrick’s eyes that he felt within himself. Arrick had agreed to part with two of the beans, but found himself betrayed when Jack took all five.

Arrick pursued Jack. But Jack found himself in the market of a distant town. Seeing how naive and innocent Cob was when first they met, he told the boy as much of the truth as he could. He hoped Arrick would never guess that Jack would dare to give the beans to a callow stranger.

Jack tried to restrain himself, but his longing grew and burned within him, like an unending hunger. He needed to consume what he had only tasted. He returned at once to the mountain and locked himself away in the garden. He had remained in the garden ever since, hidden even from his former friend.

Arrick must have heard the rumors of the giant, the silver lady, the golden goose, and even an enchanting little bird. He was clever. He understood and he sought the company of misfits.

Turtle told Jack what happened with the red bean.  Jack suspected he knew what happened to the red bean. The beans’ powers were primed by the elements. Blue by water. Green by earth. Silver and gold by air or light. Red by fire. The red bean was touched by the fire of a wicked warlock, and so it was tainted.

And it remained so.

“Arrick has the red bean, and our friend, the golden goose,” Renny said. “Does he know how to remove the corruption upon the bean?”

Jack frowned as he absently watered a patch of grass. “Does he know? Perhaps, but I doubt he could do it.”

***

As the purported bean-maker went about tending to his garden, the trio stepped aside.

“What if this is actually Arrick in disguise?” Turtle pondered.

“If such a thing is possible,” Renny said, “then we are truly out of our depth, and must do our best to appease him until we can find some way to save ourselves.”

“If he imprisoned himself, then why did he call for us to find him? Why did he seem to be asking for our help?”

“Perhaps it’s as you said. This is some kind of trick.”

Cob did not speak, for his giant whispers would be easily heard by Jack. He simply pointed at the cottage.

Turtle asked Jack if there was anyone else there with him. Jack freely offered his cottage for their comfort—save the giant. Turtle and Renny quickly searched the cottage, even as Cob watched the cavern. They found no one else there but themselves and Jack.

But as Cob rose and gazed about the cavern, he spotted another familiar sight. When Renny and Turtle emerged from the cottage, he pointed them to what he had seen.

It was still small, not much higher than Turtle was tall. A beanstalk.

There were white flowers blooming in a crown at the top of the stalk. Turtle gently unfolded the petals and found a simple message there.

The peak.

Jack approached them. He folded his arms and peered thoughtfully at the beanstalk. “Of course it favors you. You’re all carrying its children.”

Renny started. “Is this the stalk that made the magic beans?”

Turtle spotted another flicker of shadow. Her head turned quickly to follow the flickers. She was certain that something, or someone, was in that cavern with them. Perhaps it was Arrick. She did not know. She couldn’t quite see what it was. It moved too quickly.

But the beanstalk’s message was clear. There was something at the mountain’s peak. Turtle raised her arms. Beneath her cloak of cloth was her cloak of feathers. She used it now to transform into a bird and she flew up and up and saw that the cavern had no roof. Flowers grew along the inside of the mountain wall, glowing with green, orange, and yellow light. She flew farther and farther upwards and then she began to see it.  Weaving in and out of the stony mountain wall were the tendrils of a beanstalk.

At last the light changed. It was the light of the sun and it poured down at a slant through a shallow cave. Turtle flew out of the cave and up the side of the mountain, passing the giant faces carved into the rock (or formed from it if the legends were true).

There on the mountain’s peak, she saw a thin tendril quivering in the cross-breezes. She transformed into a girl, shivering from dry cold air. There was a single pod growing upon the beanstalk, and within it, a single bean.

***

Turtle was not surprised to find Arrick in the garden upon her return. She had guessed those shadowy flickers within her vision was him, searching for a way into the garden. She and her company had merely strolled in. They had been allowed entry, by Jack, by the beanstalk. Both perhaps.

Arrick did not hold hostage her friends. Renny stood by with the golden goose in her arms. Cob was occupied, for he was holding his hands against a section of the mountain wall. When Turtle spied the many deep cracks along the section, she understood why. Arrick had caused those cracks so he might occupy Cob. The hostage he held was his old friend, Jack. Arrick had an arm wrapped around Jack’s throat.

“The bean from the mountain peak,” Arrick said. “You have retrieved it?” He gaped, marveling.

“It was quite easy for her to do so,” Jack said, earning a squeeze of his neck. He winced and struggled. But Arrick’s grip was too strong.

“What is its color?” Arrick asked.

Turtle glanced between her friends. She gently opened the pod, and lifted out the bean, glimpsing the message inscribed within.

Let him.

“It has no color,” she said. She held up the bean. She felt a strange twist within her gut. She suddenly wanted to put the bean down and wash her hands.

“Bring it to me,” Arrick said.

Turtle shook her head. “This bean. I don’t think—“

“Bring it to me!”

Turtle gulped. Her eyes widened and her skin crawled, though she did not know why.

Arrick’s demeanor softened. “I will let your friends go. I will even let my betrayer here go. If you will but bring me the bean. Here, as a gesture of faith.”

He tossed something at Turtle’s feet. It was the red magic bean.

“Alas, I have no more of the potion I used on your giant friend. I did not make it, you see. I acquired it.”

“Then maybe this bean can help him,” Turtle said, though she did not believe it. She did not want to give the colorless bean to Gallus, but nor did she want to give it to Arrick.

Arrick tightened his grip on Jack’s throat. Turtle begged him to stop. She reached down to retrieve the red bean. Then she held out the colorless bean and approached him.

Arrick grasped it from her quickly and before she could speak another word, he swallowed the bean.

The golden goose flew out of Renny’s arms and toward Arrick. He released Jack to throw up his arms in defense, but he fell to the ground instead, his face wracked with pain. He glared at Turtle as if she had tricked him.

But it was not she who had tricked him.

Arrick had swallowed the colorless bean. And now it was swallowing him.

***

Mighty song filled the cavern. Renny was harping and as she did, vines grew all around them, bolstering the mountain walls. Cob released his hold as the vines wove the mountain together. Still, the mountain shook and the walls crumbled.

Cob swept his friends up in his hands. He swept up the bean-maker, Jack.

Arrick was crouched upon the ground, the color from his body, his hair, his skin, even his clothes was seeping away. He turned and lay on the ground, staring helplessly at the giant.

Cob could see that the man’s stomach was gone, vanished, and the rest of him was soon to follow. Still, Cob tried to grasp him, but his hands passed through the man.

The giant ran out of the cavern and through the halls. Even as they left the shaking cavern at the heart of the mountain behind, he ran.

He did not stop until he was far from the mountain where the giants once lived. And once the company had time to catch their breaths and mend any wounds, he swept them up again and turned north.

***

Cob did not take them home, but headed directly for the city where the apothecaries were caring for Gallus.

Renny and Turtle found the apothecaries tending to a conscious but delirious man. His stupor had broken days earlier, but as it broke, a fever arose. Renny had begged Jack to remove the corruption on the red bean, for she believed the bean could save her love.

But the bean-maker told them that he could not. Only a fire as pure as the warlock’s fire was tainted could restore the red bean.

Turtle wondered at the last message she had seen from the magic beanstalk.

Let him.

The beanstalk had entreated them to trust themselves.

“Let him eat it,” Turtle said, recalling Gallus’s soft brown eyes and the way he had spoken Renny’s name.

Renny did not object. She was weary and her eyes spoke of panic and desperate hope.

Turtle pulled the bean from her pocket. It was glowing softly. She remembered what it felt like to hold the colorless bean, the strange unsettling emptiness. The red bean did not feel so. The red bean felt…restless.

Renny pulled out her harp and began to sing. Gallus sat up and opened his eyes. For a moment, his mind was clear, and Turtle offered up the red bean. He grasped it, held it to his heart as he closed his eyes, and then swallowed it.

While the rest waited by Gallus’s bedside, Turtle told Cob what they had done. The giant too did not object. Perhaps it was the bond of the beans. They believed, though they could not say why, that the red bean would not corrupt Gallus as it had corrupted that hapless animal so long ago.

***

Gallus did not transform into a monster. He did not transform at all. He did heal. When he was strong enough to speak, he spoke of feeling a fierce fire burning within him. They would have asked Jack if that was the pure fire that would restore the red bean, but the man who made the beanstalk had long left their company. To where, he did not say and they did not ask. For they trusted he would not seek to make any more enchantments beyond those of a lovely garden.

When Gallus was well enough, Cob carried him back to the mountain where the company cared for him. The golden goose lay in the crook of his arm while he slept, warming him. Turtle told him jokes and stories. Cob brought him his favorite foods, foods he could not enjoy as a rooster.

And Renny sang to him, played for him, and when none others were present, kissed him deeply.

When the day came that Gallus was able to stand and walk, he gathered the company so that he might thank them. To the goose and to Turtle, he gave a kiss upon their foreheads. To Renny he vowed anew his love.

His raised his hand to shake Cob’s hand, and the moment their hand’s touched, Cob gasped, for he felt himself shrinking more and more until he was the size of a man. Indeed, he was half a head shorter than Gallus.

Cob looked down at himself. He felt the green giant-making bean within him still, its power held gently at bay.  He looked at Gallus. “How?”

“It’s your power at last,” Turtle said, marveling at Gallus.

Gallus laughed. “Perhaps, or perhaps it is the bond of the beans.”

*****

They stood together, the misfits of the mountain, a girl who could transform into a blue bird, a woman made of silver who could heal with her song and her harp, a young man who had been turned into a giant, a rooster who was actually a man, and a golden goose.

They were an odd company. An enchanted company. And they had lived through many adventures together.

Misfits they were and none of them harmless. But they were benign.

They were bound together by love.

And by five magic beans.

 

Copyright © 2017. Story by Nila L. Patel.  Artwork: “Where the Giants Once Lived” by Sanjay Patel.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s