A Tiny Man in a Giant Land

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The isle of the giants?  Oh, no…no, my friends, I wouldn’t ever try to return there.  Once was enough. 

I do miss my cousin though.  I’m certain he misses me too.  But I haven’t seen him since I left the isle, many, many years ago. 

Like brothers we were.  Perhaps we were so well-matched because I could direct his aim.  He always aimed high, that Slubber.  Everyone else just tried to stop him.  But for good reason.  Like that one time he built a pair of wings from tied-together branches and scraps of sail cloth that the tailor’s shop let him have.  After his mother forbade him from testing the wings by jumping off the roof, Slubber went right up to the roof.  He let me follow.  He knew I wouldn’t tell.  But as we climbed, I convinced him that if he were a true inventor, he would test his invention in steps.  Jumping off the roof was a grand conclusion not a beginning. 

Convinced by my sound reasoning, Slubber climbed back down, and tested the wings by jumping off a window ledge that was a head taller than I was then.  And he spent the rest of that morning running up and down the road, flapping those wings, to no avail.  He set the wings aside, declaring that he would take up the cause again once he was older and had studied the matter.  But he never did take up those wings again.

I myself took up a fanciful aim or two in my day.  And Slubber was the only one I told.  (For I was—and still am—far more fearful of the disapproving judgement of my fellows than my cousin ever was.)  In fact, I believe it was I who first mentioned—jokingly, of course—that we might make our fortunes in the land of the giants.

***

When Slubber and I reached the age when apprenticeships were done, we were expected to make our way in the world.  No more would we eat at our father’s table, or sleep under the shelter of our mother’s roof.  Eighteen years of life had I lived.

Slubber longed to meet the great love of his life, and I longed to settle in a town by the sea and open a tavern for sailors and travelers. There I could hear their tales of adventure and grant them some nights of comfort and fellowship.  And perhaps, someday, I might embark on a journey of my own.

“Where would you go on this grand journey, cousin?” Slubber asked one day.

I had no answer to give.

This troubled me, for I had never given thought to where I would go.

And as I thought more and more about the journey, I realized how silly it was of me to consider a journey by sea. The cost alone would be beyond my means, even if I worked at my tavern until the last of my hairs turned gray.

I became dismayed.  Noticing my sorry state, my cousin asked again one day, hoping to direct my thoughts away from a dismal present and toward a cheerful future.

This time I had a ready answer, an answer so outrageous that even my indulgent cousin would surely balk at it.

“The isle of giants is where I would go.”

True to his nature, Slubber did not balk.  Instead, his eyes grew wide with wonder.  And before he could respond, I added in earnest, all the notions that followed that first far-fetched vision.

A year I would live on the isle of giants, being so small that I could feast from the crumbs they left behind.  I would live warmly and safely in the spaces between their walls, and after much observance of my giant host’s practices, and familiarity with his home, I would steal a grain of gold.

A grain of gold to a giant, that is.

To me, it would fill my fist. And a piece of gold that large, perhaps a few pieces, if I were feeling bold, would be fortune enough to buy seven inns in as many ports.

I recall that I smirked after speaking my last word.  I am not a smirker.  But I smirked that day, for I was in a dark mood, and I had no remorse upon mocking my cousin’ kind enthusiasm for my outlandish notion.

Slubber’s eyes twinkled by the time I’d finished speaking.  He grasped my shoulders and told me I was brilliant.  And the next morning, he came to my door with a small bundle of his belongings, and told me that he had booked us passage to the isle of giants.

***

When my cousin said he had booked passage, he had not mentioned that such passage was on a ramshackle boat, manned by a single sailor who served as captain and crew all at once.

And when my cousin booked passage, he had not mentioned that he had spent all his worldly fortunes for that questionable voyage.

I expected to die upon the sea.

I envisioned maelstroms striking from above, monsters of the deep, rising to claim us from below.  I envisioned a journey so long that the salt of the sea would cure my very soul until it was so dry that it and that boat would crack and crumble and vanish into the sea.

But as it was, the isle of giants was only a few weeks’ sailing from our home port.

Before homesickness replaced seasickness, we were standing upon the shore of the giants’ isle.

And as I watched the little boat sail away in quiet waters, I wondered if we had been duped.  For the journey had been too easy.

I turned to Slubber, my mouth half open, the doubt in my thoughts rolling onto my tongue.

And just as I inhaled, the ground beneath our feet shook.  And a sound as of distant thunder struck my ears.  And it happened again.  And again. 

Slubber grinned and put his arm around my shoulder. He turned me around, away from the sea.

“Welcome to the isle of giants, cousin,” he said.

***

Slubber strode into the massive town as if he were a sailor, newly arrived and in need of rest and entertainments.  I tried to pull him toward the edge of the road, afraid we would be seen.  We were truly exhausted, having walked for days from the shore.  The town was farther inland than we had expected.

“We will live in their house, as mice live in ours.  We shall never want for anything.  One slice of their bread could feed us for half a year.”  Slubber slapped me on the back.  “Cousin, I have always thought you clever, but this is beyond clever.  This is true brilliance.” 

“Mice.  What if there are giant mice?”  Strangely, the thought had not occurred to me, as many useful thoughts had not.  “Or worse yet…cats?”

“We shall find out.  And if there are, we shall evade them.  Using our wits.  I believe the only clever creatures we will have to contend with, will be them.”

He pointed up.  A footstep loomed above us and passed right by.  We had by this time grown accustomed to the shaking of the earth that the giants’ footsteps produced.  They were too big for us to see much past their ankles.  We had considered walking in the furrows between the cobblestones.  But those furrows were in constant turmoil, churning with mud and sand.

That first day, we found an inn, climbed to the highest height we could manage, and watched the people who were to be our unwitting hosts for the next year.

We found a likely fellow who could serve as our landlord.  We listened to him speak to his fellow patrons and the jolly innkeep, and we learned much.  He was young and had few possessions, but among those possessions were a few precious trinkets that his father had bequeathed to him.  He lived alone and did not entertain much in his home.  He preferred to go about town, or visit far cities on the other side of the isle.

I nodded along when Slubber spoke his praises about the young giant.  But when my cousin began to drag me down to the ground and toward the giant, I began to feel a sick lurching in my stomach.

“Come,” Slubber said, “We can climb into his pocket, and have an easy ride to our new home.”

“But if he catches us, he’ll cook us, and he’ll eat us.”

My cousin shook his head.  “Giants don’t eat men.  That’s a myth.  Why would they eat us?  We’re too small and there’s scarce any meat even on the biggest of us, to satisfy the hunger of a giant.”

***

We were to discover that the giants farmed, just as we did.  They kept cattle as we did.  But all of the crops and animals were of our size.  There were—to my utmost relief—no giant mice, or cats.     

And we would come to test all of the myths we had heard about giants from our youth.  That they turn into stone in the sunlight.  This was false, for it was trolls who turned to stone in sunlight.  That their footsteps vanished because of a blessing granted to their race by one of their deities (or in some tales, it was a curse).  This we discovered to most definitely be false as soon as we set foot on the isle.  That they only ate flesh.  That they were terrified of birds.  That they were belligerent, and the only thing that kept them on the isle was that they were more terrified of the ocean than they were even of birds.

There were as many myths about the isle, the giants’ home.  One myth said that it was made from a chunk of a falling star that chipped off and fell to the earth, landing in the ocean.  And so the isle once floated above the ocean, as if straining to return to the heavens.  Another myth proclaimed that all the ancient imagined creatures that once existed in the world and no longer did, such as fairies and unicorns, did indeed exist and now only lived and thrived in the center of the isle, guarded by the fierce giants.  And yet another tale said that the giants were not always giant.  They were once humans, but the waters and fruits of the isle made them grow taller and taller, broader and broader, and eventually, they became giants.

Of all the myths that we could recall, in our observation of the giants, we found only one to be true.  They spoke of it.  Their laws and customs referred to it.  Giant mothers warned their children about it in their nursery tales.

The giants did indeed fear the ocean.

Most of them did, in any case.

After several months of living in our host’s abode, eating tavern food, searching his rooms for gold or other treasures, and sleeping comfortably in a high cupboard that he never opened, we grew restless enough to make the long trek from the town to the shores where we first arrived.

We had bid the sailor who brought us to the isle to return to the same spot after a year to retrieve us.  Though we were still far from that anniversary, our trek was as much to test our navigational skills as it was to find some refreshment after living in the bustling and booming town.

But we were to find that we were poor map-makers, for we ended up on a different shore from the one upon which we had landed.

Our first clue was the strange, purple-leaved palms that grew behind the border of sand that demarcated the beach.

Our second clue was even stranger.

“Cousin,” Slubber said, as he gazed out to sea, “I do believe there is a giant in the water.”

***

Slubber convinced me to get closer to shore, to take a closer look at what should have been an impossible sight. 

It did not seem so impossible to me.  There were many a nursery tale that I had heard as a youth that were not true.  Many monsters that I was taught to fear that I came not to fear.

But I did watch in wonder as the giant came swimming back toward shore, and emerged from that water, hauling a tremendous net that was teeming with fish.

“That much fish could fill my father’s house to bursting,” Slubber said.

We watched the giant take off most of his wet clothing, squeeze the water from it, and lay it upon the sand to dry it.  The giant himself lay down on his back.  He raised his arms and rested his head in the cradle of his interlocked fingers.  We drew closer still, hiding in the shadow of the fish-filled net. 

 “Have you come here to steal from my haul, little men?”

I froze at the sound of the booming voice.  And shivered when I realized that the words that voice had spoken were directed toward me and my cousin.

We had hidden ourselves in the first months upon our arrival.  But after a few accidental encounters in the open that did not result in our being chased away or squashed to death, we had concluded that the giants could not see us.  We were too small, we surmised.  Their eyes could not perceive us, even though we were equivalent to the size of a mouse.  Perhaps a giant’s eyes were not as keen as a human’s.

But we had just learned that this was not so.  They could see us.  And we came to learn that the reason the giants did not react to us is that they did not care to, because if there was one thing that giants did not fear, it was humans.

We were to learn this from our new acquaintance.

For while I was creeping farther back into the shadows, grasping my cousin by the shoulders to pull him down with me, Slubber began to speak.

“Not at all, sir,” he said.  “We have brought our own provisions.  But if you would deign to share, we would make no dent in your catch.  We don’t eat much.”

We heard a grumbling sound that might have been the giant uttering a thoughtful “hmm.”

The giant propped himself on an elbow, angling his body so that he could see into the shadows that his haul made.  He looked directly at us with coppery brown eyes.

“Tell me your story,” the giant said, “and I might consider giving you a fish or two…if it is a good story.”

To my horror, Slubber told our true tale, leaving nothing out about how we had already found our host’s bequeath, a pocket watch, and had plans to pilfer a few fist-sized gems that we had loosened.

The giant narrowed his eyes after Slubber was done speaking.  I caught my breath. 

“Your story is a good one, little man.  Though, you should not steal from that youngster.  He is a good giant, and worthy of that bequeath—every tiny gem.  Leave it intact.”

I gulped.  And when the giant hand came surging toward us, my frozen limbs buckled.  I felt to the ground, grabbing my cousin’s arm so that he would fall with me. 

We went tumbling down, though Slubber recovered himself and stood up, brushing sand from the front of his shirt and trousers.

The giant hand hovered in front of my cousin, the index finger pointed at Slubber, all other fingers curled.

I thought the giant was going to push Slubber down.  I opened my mouth to warn him.  But Slubber reached out his own hand.  He grasped the tip of the giant’s finger, and that finger began to wag slowly up and down.

“It is intriguing to meet you, little men,” the giant said.  “My name is Parvus.”

***

His name, Parvus explained, meant “small,” because he was small for a giant.  Small but fearless.  He knew of only two other giants on the entire coast who dared to go out into the ocean and catch fish. 

But Parvus did not become a fisherman because he wanted to prove he was fearless.  He became so because when he was a child, his mother told him of a special fish that lived in distant waters and only came near the isle once every hundred years to spawn.  If Parvus ate one of those fish, he would grow as big and strong as the other giants. 

So Parvus had studied this story, studied the charts of stars, observed the tides of the ocean, and the movements of all the other fish.  He held secret hopes that if he visited the shore every day, then someday, he would find one of those legendary fish on the shore, having been beached.  For these fish were giant, the size of whales.  At last, the year came when he calculated that the fish would be returning to his shores.  And he watched and watched, to no avail. 

Then one day, his longing for this legendary fish grew keen enough to compel him into the water.  He had found and studied a few volumes on swimming.  Old, tattered volumes kept only for the sake of history.  Not meant to be references.

I noted how Slubber’s eye grew wide, how they gleamed, when the giant told him that he found one of these special fish one day after swimming farther and farther out from shore.  He asked Parvus whether the fish could help a human to grow taller and stronger as well.

Parvus did not know what effect the fish would have on the likes of us.  Or even what effect it might have on other giants.  He only knew what effect it had on him.  For he had tried the fish.  It had done nothing for his stature.

When Slubber asked the giant how long ago it was that he had found the fish, the giant threw back his head and laughed.  He leaned toward my cousin.

“Come and live in my house, little men.  I have no jewels.  But there is always fish, and better still, there are always sweets.  And if you tell me more stories of you and your people, I may find you a treasure to take back home with you.”

Slubber turned toward me.  And I was grateful that he had not spoken for us, for I could see that he was ready to take the giant’s offer.  But I would have preferred that we stay in the house of a host who was not aware that we were there.  I did not favor sweets so much that I would abandon the relative safety of a forgotten cupboard.

But for some mad reason, I found myself nodding my head as I looked into my cousin’s beaming, entreating face.

***

So we came to stay with giant Parvus.

He did have extraordinary sweets.  The giants made a caramel from the sugar produced by those very same purple-leaved palms that we saw on the beach.  This caramel was tinged with purple and tasted somehow…deeper than any caramel I had ever tasted.  They made a lemon cake so soft and spongy that I could have made a bed of it.  And Parvus had delivered from the other side of the isle, a taffy that truly melted as it touched my tongue and made the sensation of bubbles tickling the inside of my nose as the fresh scent of apples burst forth.

But my indulging in sweets did not blind me to the deepening affinity between my cousin and our new host.  Parvus and Slubber exchanged stories over breakfast, told each other classic jests over lunch, and traded myths that each people had about the other over dinner.

On occasion, when we were alone, I would warn Slubber not to grow too attached to our host, for we would soon be leaving the isle.  And we would not return.

“Why not return?” Slubber said one day.

I reminded him of the great cost he had paid for our passage to the isle and back.  And I reminded him that he would be happiest living among his fellows.  I reminded him of his own dreams.  He had told me he wanted to find his great love, perhaps even settle down.  He had told me that he wanted to return to the inventions of his youth and make at least one great invention that would better the lives of his fellows.  He told me that after visiting the isle of giants, he would travel the rest of the world, not just over land, but in the depths of the sea and in the heights of the mountains.

“Our adventure must come to an end,” I said, “so we can go on the next one.”

My cousin nodded his head.  He told me I was right.  I had convinced him, with calm and reason, as I had done many times before in our lives.

But I could see that my work was not done.  I would have to convince him again, until his thoughts stopped swaying and stayed in one place or the other.

The time came when we were a few weeks away from the day of our departure.  I found myself alone with Parvus.  We were in his kitchen.  I had been beckoned there by the scent of a tiny caramel pie.  Tiny, that is, by giant standards.  For me, it was quite big, a head tall and just as wide around.

“You disapprove of your cousin’s friendship with me,” Parvus said, raising a straggly brow.

I frowned.  I now eyed that caramel pie with suspicion.  “Not at all,” I said. 

“Why are we not friends, Jam?” the giant asked.

I was taken aback, for I had never considered that the giant would care whether or not I sought his friendship, or whether or not I did anything at all.  And when I looked at the giant, who had brought his face down to the level of the kitchen table, where I stood, I saw that he was smiling.  Some of his sharp teeth shown.

“I suppose…it’s because I know that I will leave, that I will not return, and that there is no means for us to even send letters to each other as friends are wont to do.”  I shrugged.  “We did not intend for any giant to know we were here.”

“So you did not aim for friendship.  But could you not have redirected your aim upon meeting me?”

“Do you want that we should be friends?” I asked.

The giant narrowed his eyes.  “I am not certain.  Perhaps we are only allies.”

He left then.  And he left me wondering.  For I rather liked Parvus.  He told good jokes.  He was kind to his fellow giants, and to his guests.  I did admire his fearlessness when he dove into the ocean, especially after he pretended to spray a couple of his giant friends with saltwater, and it drove one of them to faint away, and the other to flee.

Perhaps I was envious of his friendship with my cousin.  Or perhaps I merely feared that if both Slubber and I enjoyed staying with Parvus, then we would just stay and stay for all time.

But I need not have agonized over such matters.  For we were soon to leave.  The next month passed quickly.  We gathered provisions for our journey.  And we marched toward the shore.  Parvus wanted to see us off, but we feared that the sailor would not approach the shore if he spotted a giant.  So Parvus gave us our gifts and bid us farewell, and he watched from a hidden place among the green-leaved palms.

We waited by the shore until night fell.  As I stood next to Slubber, I could sense that he was conflicted.  He wanted to come back home with me.  But he also wanted to stay longer with Parvus.

When the sailor did not come, we commented on how the weather and conditions on sea might have affected his travels this time in ways it had not when we first arrived.  So we made camp.  We were not yet concerned.  We had prepared for delays.

We were not to be concerned for a few more days.  After that, we began to wonder what might have happened.  But still we stayed. 

We stayed for three more weeks, waiting by the shore. 

I spent much time pacing back and forth, even as I ate.  I feared that the boat was not coming. 

One night, to cheer us up, and also to try and guide any vessels that needed shelter, including the boat we awaited, Parvus built us a bonfire.

“The boat is not coming, is it, cousin?” I asked, as Slubber fell into a pace beside me.  I frowned, wishing he would sit down, for I could not help but to see how tall he had become.

When we arrived on the island, we were both of equal height.  Now, Slubber was half a head taller than me.  When first I noted it, I measured my own height, to see if I too had grown taller.  I had not.  I observed my cousin again, considering that I might be mistaken.  I was not.  I asked him outright if he had noticed he was taller.  Slubber looked puzzled, then he waved the concern away.  I could not convince him to measure his own height.

“You don’t need a boat, little man,” the giant said.  And he waggled his eyebrows in a manner that made me most uncomfortable.  “I can send you home.”

“How?” Slubber asked, before I could express that we would make our own way.

The giant grinned then.  Parvus grinned.

And I gulped.

***

Parvus held up the giant slingshot.

“This is how I killed that magical fish that was supposed to grant me height and strength,” he said, “and this is how I can send you back.”

“You’re mad,” I said, pointing to the slingshot.  I turned to Slubber.  “He’s mad.”

Slubber frowned at the giant.  “If you shoot us from your sling, big man, it will kill us.”

Parvus smiled as he pulled something from his pocket.  To the giant, it was a stone shaped like a potato.  To me, it was a boulder.  He placed the boulder in the cup of the sling.

“You may wait for your boat, little men.  Perhaps it will come.  Perhaps not.  I will not abandon my guests.”  He looked at me as he spoke again.  “But if you wish to return home, I can send you.”  With a finger he tapped the boulder that was set in the sling.  “This will make sure that you arrive safely.”

Slubber turned to me.  “We will wait for the boat.”

But I stepped forth.   “What is it?” I said.  “Is it a magical boulder?”

Parvus laughed.  “I wished for it to be a surprise.  But you are right to doubt me, even if you trust me to the utmost.  Here is the answer to your question.”  He pulled the boulder out of the sling and held his hand low to the ground, cradling the boulder.

I gaped as he revealed his surprise.

I nodded.  “I will go,” I said.

***

I climbed onto the sling.  Parvus told me to face outward if I could, for that way, the boulder, would support my fragile body as it sailed through the sky, launched by the arm of a giant.

Slubber stepped toward me.  “Cousin, forgive me, but I have just decided that I will stay.  Will you send word that you have made it home safe?  That is all I require.  That, and a long and prosperous life for you, filled with the company of your fellows.  For that, I know, is your greatest joy.”

“I understand.  Your adventure here is not yet at an end,” I said.  “Do find me when it is.”

I braced my feet against the cup of the sling and hooked my arms behind me around the boulder.  I gasped as the giant raised the sling—with me on it—to the level of his eye. 

He pulled the sling back.  I felt when he stopped.  And I imagined him releasing the sling.

I went sailing into the air, and as I did, I sank into the boulder, for it was no ordinary boulder.  This was one of the legends told about the isle of giants.  That it was filled with levitating stones.  For the isle was once a piece of a star that fell from the heavens into the ocean. 

The giant’s aim was true.  The levitating boulder turned so that I could lie upon it, and it carried me all the way to the shores of my home.  As soon as I stepped off the boulder, it rose and floated toward into the direction it had come, as if it were being called back.

But as it moved away, I saw a chunk of the stone break off and fall to the ground.  I went to pick it up.  And I found that it was not a chunk of the boulder.  It was a pouch make of course cloth.  I pulled apart the drawstring, unsurprised to find that were glittering gems within. 

I tucked the pouch away in the deepest pocket of my coat.  And after a final farewell across the ocean to my favorite cousin and to a giant ally, I turned and made my way to the closest port town.

And that, my friends, is how I returned from the land of the giants.

 

Copyright © 2019  Nila L. Patel

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