The Storyteller Presents
The Heartless Giant
On the whole, there's absolutely no need to be frightened by Giants. Giants are gentle souls, perfectly harmless, and very affectionate. Unless, of course, the Giant has no heart in his body.
Think of all kinds of unpleasant things and add Giant to them and that's what you get when a Giant has no heart. Such a Giant once terrorized a county in the far north of the world, near the very top. He'd hidden his heart. It gave him too much trouble, all those Giant Feelings, too much pain. In its place was a wasps' nest. About to swarm. Put your ear to his chest and you'd hear an angry buzzing noise.
This Heartless Giant could shake a man and shuffle his wits. He could crack a skull with his fist like a walnut. And frequently did. Until, at last, the old King of that country, as good as the Giant was bad, trapped him in a giant trap and locked him in a cell. There the Giant crouched, an inch of the outside world to look at, the damp dripping from the walls, the dull rattle of his chains, his low angry growl a ceaseless rumble through the King's castle.
Years passed in this was until the Giant's voice had grated away to the hoarsest whisper and folk had quite forgotten about Giants with no hearts. And he'd be there still, in his foul pit, were it not for a little boy whose name was Leo.
Leo was the King's youngest son. He had two brothers who were bigger. Prince Leo could leave not stone unturned, no passage unexplored, no drawer unrammaged, so incurably curious was he. One morning, scouting the far and deep of the castle, he came across a tiny, barred window set in the bottom of a huge gray wall. Looking through it, Leo saw nothing buy dank dark pitch black. But as he turned away he imagined he heard a stir, and then came a growl, a low buzz of a growl. It was a frightening sound.
His brothers told a Giant with no heart lived in this prison with the tiny window. He didn't believe them. They were older, his brothers, and forever teasing him. But the next day he went back, carrying his drum. "Rat-tat-rat-ta-ta-tat," he played outside the window. From inside the dark dank pitch black he heard a rattle, like the rattle of a chain. He crept to the window and squinted into the shadows. Two eyes blinked back at him. Leo jumped. A wasp buzzed angrily through the bars. Leo ran off. It was true, there was a Giant!
All night Leo thougth about the Giant, his eyes, the low rumbling growl. Next morning, he was back, "rat-tat-rat-ta-ta-tat," on his little drum. The Giant was waiting for him. When Leo tiptoed to the window, he was there, whispering hello. The Giant told Leo that long ago he had done some bad things and that the King had locked him up. Leo couldn't imagine what these bad things were. He worried about the poor Giant, stuck down there in terrible chains. He lit a candle and held it to the hole. The Giant was so big he had to crouch with his chin on this knees and his elbos bent. He looked to Leo like a huge sad baby, his yellow eyes screwed up against the candle's sudden glare. Leo said he would speak to his father, it wasn't fair the Giant had been locked up for so long; he must have been forgotten. "No," croaked the Giant, all anxious. "If you say anything, they'll make me stay down here forever and I shall surely perish." The eyes blinked nearer. "Would you like to be my friend?"
Leo was elated. "Oh yes, yes please!" "Good. Good," said the Giant. Good, thought Leo; I have a secret friend. Good, thought the Giant who had shed his heart at last. And he sighed a chill sigh and planned chill plans, while the young prince skipped back along the path, swinging the iron gate behind him, caressing his secret, nurturing it, back to his room.
And so it began, the friendship between the huge, crouching Giant and the little Prince. Every day, the boy would appear, rat-tat-tatting on his drum. Every day he'd tell a little more, hear a little more, until he felt he knew no one better, that no one knew him better. Oh, he wanted to tell the whole world about his friend. But the Giant said, "Out secret," and Leo agreed, although he would have loved to tell his mother or his two brothers or somebody. But he couldn't so he shouldn't, so he wouldn't so he didn't. The Giant, meanwhile crouched in his blackness and schemed. And so it was that one day he told Leo he'd heard a Guard saying that the King slept with the keys to the Giant's chains hanging on a ring by his bed. Leo had always those keys were for the Crown Jewels. "No," said the Giant. "They're for my misery." Leo felt desperate for his misunderstood fiend, and a plan formed in his mind. The Giant watched it being born and sighed a cold sigh. Deep inside, in the prize where his heart should have been, the wasped seethed and buzzed.
That very night, when the whole castle was sleeping, when the Royal Guards slumped against their sentry posts and dozed, when the owls hooted, little Prince Leo slipped from his bed, slid past a sleeping sentry, and pushed on the door of his parents' room. He tiptoed round the great bed with its velvet eiderdown, past his sleeping mother and sleeping father, to the hook where the keys were hung. They were so heavy. He heaved them up and they swung together, clanging like the Angelus bell. Leo clutched them tight, their black metal teeth squashing his toes, their hooped handles framing his face. Slowly, slowly, inch by inch, he dragged the huge keys out of the room.
"I've got the keys," he whispered, trembling at the little window. He let them ring against the bars. "Who goes there?" challenged a voice from the darkness. It was the one sentry still awake. "Hurry, hurry!" growled the Giant from the bowels of the dungeon. Leo struggled to push the keys through the bars. The teeth went in and the long shafts, but when it came to the ring he couldn't work out how to do it. "They're too big," he explained as he heard the Giant's snort of impatience. "I can't do it." Leo wanted to drop the keys and run for his life. "Push them," hissed the Giant. "Push them!" The Giant's voice was colder than the night, it was icy. Leo pushed. A great hand yanked on the keys. Leo saw its shape in the shadows. He felt a terrible force pulling downward.
"Who goes there?" demanded the approaching voice. And then, with a sudden wrench, the keys disappeared, pulling the bars with then into the blackness. Leo heard a sigh issue from the Giant. A horrible aching sigh. Then the turning of locks, the crushing of doors. "Don't forget to let me have them back," he said, staring blankly into the dungeon. He shivered again.
The sentry's torch was almost upon him. Suddenly the silence was rent with cries. A man screamed, and there was the sound of crunching, like a great walnut cracking. Then a broken, throaty roar. At the far corner, a door burst from its hinges, spilling light onto Leo's face. The Giant appeared. From his head, squeezing at the entrance, pulling away bricks and lintels, then his shoulders, squeezing, straining through. A giant baby being born into the night. Leo watched, horrified. The Giant glanced at Leo, but only for a second. As he emerged from the entrance, first one sentry, then a second confronted him, challenging him with a sword and spear. The Giant hoisted them up, one in each fist, and cracked their heads together before tossing them away. Then, with the sound of the alarm, the Heartless Giant turned and limped off, roaring his broken roar.
All night Leo sat shivering on the battlements at the King and his men searched the grounds of the castle. His father's angry words haunted him. "Someone betrayed us. Only a madman would help a Giant with no heart. Someone betrayed us." Leo's face swam with tears. So letdown, he felt. So stupid. So guilty. Every scream was his fault. Every cracked skull. And when finally morning came, the boy in him, the innocent heart, the joy in him, they were gone-those things, like his friend-and they would never return.
Next morning, Leo looked down and saw his Elder Brother march across the courtyard. He carried his sword and his axe and his bow and a large saddlebag, which he yanked up onto his shoulder. "Where are you going?" Leo called down. "Sh-h-h!" warned the brother. "I am going to get back the Giant." Leo felt awful. "Have you told anybody?" Elder Brother shook his head proudly. "No. Of course not. But I must go. Father is too old." And with this he offered up his hand in salute and turned, young warrior, off to find the Giant. "I'm sorry," wept his brother, but no one heard him.
And Elder Brother did not come back.
The spring came and went with sadness in it. Every day, more stories reached the castle of the Giant's cruel rampage. So it was that one glum morning, perched on the ledge of his window, Leo looked down and saw Middle Brother striding through the courtyard, golden helmet blazing, shield sparkling. "Where are you going?" Leo called out. "To find our brother and to kill the Giant." Leo was beside himself. "Please don't! It's madness. He has no heart." Middle Brother shook his proud head. "I must go. Our father's too old now." Leo could not stand it. "But he'll trick you!" he blurted out. "He'll trick you!" Middle Brother would not listen. He raised his hand in salute and set off to find the Giant. Terrible, Leo felt, as he watched him go, terrible.
And Middle Brother did not come back either.
The summer that year was short, the winter wild and endless. One day, Leo heard his mother's sobs from far off and came into her bedroom to find her kneeling in sorrow, head against the green velvet of the eiderdown. "Mother?" The Queen did not look up. "Your father says he intends to go off and fight the Giant. "I've lost two sons already. He's too old. He's too ill." She wept and wept. She wanted Leo to promise he would not follow his brothers. "Promise me, promise me you won't ever go." But he couldn't promise, how could he? Were it not for him, the Heartless Giant would still be chained and locked and safe in the dungeon.
Next morning, at the crack of dawn, dressed in thick leather jerkin, Leo rode into the Royal Stables. He carried with him saddlebags stuffed with cheese and ham and biscuits and salted beef, but no weapon of any kind. He approached the stall where his father's stallion stood, tall, scarred, imperious, swung the saddle over the beast's back, and led him from the stable. Off they rode without looking back, their breath steaming out before them, the path flashing by, on and on and on.
And so the young Prince Leo rode the land in search of his once friend the Heartless Giant. Three winters came and went, their bitter shiver, but still he rode on, determined. And many times were the saddlebags epmtied and filled; many nights slept achingly cold, huddled with his horse for warmth; many days spent without sighting a single soul. The boy changed slowly into man, took his own counsel, his jaw set in resolve, his heart firm, his plan fixed. Yet to find the Heartless Giant was no easy thing. His pillage had stripped the landscape bare. Only bleached bones, spat-out ruins, whispered nightmares remained. Where the Giant was no one knew. Long gone, the survivers told Leo as he bent from the horse's neck. Lone gone.
Then one day he came to a place and knew he was finally on the Gaint's trail. The sweet stench of blood curdled the air. A village, abandoned, smoldered and smoked. Leo's horse reared and bucked and was fearful. Looking down to the earth for clues, they saw a bird flap, helpless, a torn wing shuddering pitifully. The Prince set down and took up the bird in his hands. "Craa! Craa! Help me!" it cried. "The Giant broke me and now I cannot fly, cannot eat. Craa! Help me."
And Leo tended the bird, fixed its wing, fed it bread soaked in milk. And soon all was well with it. Leo threw it high into the air and watched it soar, its vivid re-ascent. "Thank you!" cried the bird from the heavens. If you need me, I shan't forget." And with that a "Craa! Craa!" it flew off. And they followed.
Not lone after, Leo stopped at a brook, horse and rider hungry and thirsty, sore and weary. As they drank, they heard a flapping, heard a thrashing, heard a slapping, and, looking round, Leo saw a salmon, twisting, franitic, beached in the crook of a small crevasse. "Help me!" cried the choking fish. "Help me back into the water! I'm stuck here, I'm stranded, I'm beached up and landed! Help me!"
Now Leo was famished, and he loved salmon over the taste of any fish. But he'd suffered sufficient, this fellow, thought the Prince. He pick up the flailing fish and swung it gently into the stream, back to where the salmon is King. Off it flashed through the reeds and green ripples, before leaping up in the middle of the water, slapping the surface with its message. "Thank you!" it cried. "If you need me, I shan't forget." Then it plunged back into the brook, and they followed its zig and its zag down the stream, for that way lay the Giant.
Now neither Leo nor his horse had eaten in days. They were faint with hunger. Their progress slowed to a weary jog and stumble, until at last the old stallion sank slowly to his knees and gave up the ghost. Enough, he sighed, rolled over, and died. Leo lay behind his faithful servant and shed tears enough to break a heart, half from love, half from despair. Then he slipped into sleep. He dreamed he was in his mother's bed, warm and cherished. So warm, his mother mursing him, licking up his wet cheeks, hugging him. So vivid. He woke hugging himself, only to find a dead horse beside him and not his mother but a great Wolf coiled around his body, terrible teeth glistening, tongue hanging out with hunger.
And, seeing his eyes flicker, the Wolf howled a terrible howl, fixed on Leo's bare, unguarded throat. "Help!" howled the Wolf. "I've not eaten since the winter came. Help me and I'll not forget you." Leo had no food, save his own flesh. He took up his courage and spoke to the Wolf, whose sour breath plaited with his own, so near they were to the other's jaw. "How can I?" he replied. "I have no food myself." The Wolf nudged against the dead horse. "Then let me eat your horse," he panted, his tongue a vicious red swipe across his teeth. "I'll eat it and be strong again. Trust me. I'll help you."
The Prince could not watch as the starving animal leapt upon the flesh of the stallion. In no time, he eaten every scrap of flesh, chewed the bones, spat them out. Leo allowed himself to single glance from a distance. He caught the Wolf's red eyes contemplating him, the tongue sweeping the teeth, the body crouched over a mess of rib and hunk.
"Master. Come here," said the Wolf. Leo was resigned. "Am I next to go?" he asked simply. The Wolf nodded. "Oh yes, us both must go," he replied. "For you seek the Giant, I know. And now, strong again, I'll help you. On my back, sir, and let's leave this place."
Off they went a gray dash, a day and a night and a morning, until they came at last to a strange garden full of statues. Stone men. Stone women. Stone soldiers. Leo slipped from Grayleg's back and examined the statues. So lifelike were they, he felt a warmer sun might thaw them into being. He passed the bend, supplicant figure of an old woman, ivy in her stone tresses, then came to a statue of a brave young warrior, sword drawn, shield raised. Leo walked round to face it. "It's my brother!" he gasped. "This is a statue of my brother!" Graylegs the Wolf shook his head. "No, my lord, no statue. This is the Giant's work. There is his house," he continued, nodding toward a clearing. "All who approach he turns to stone."
A little way down, the Prince came across another figure, frozen in the act of straining at the longbow, arrow poised at the ear. It was the Elder Brother. "You too!" cried Leo in despair. "You too."
At the end of the clearing was the place where the Giant lived, a strange building made by tearing up the whole village and squashing it into a single house. Inside, the Heartless Giant was asleep. A "Rat-tat-rat-ta-ta-tat," over and over. He heaved his huge frame to the patchwork of windows and looked out. Standing there, fearless, without weapon, beathing his child's drum, was the young Prince Leo.
The Giant took Leo in as his servant. The Prince explained how it was discovered he had helped the Giant escape. The Giant laughed at this. Had he seen his brothers, stone men in the garden? Leo said he had. Any who crossed him got the same treatment, so Leo had better be on his mettle. The Giant picked up the drum between his fingers and tapped out the march rhythm, memories flooding back. "That terrible cage," he sighed. "I had to fool you to get the keys. Otherwise I'd still be there, rotting. I still limp, you know." Then he squeezed Leo affectionately in his palm. "so, my little Leo, back again. Hah! Yes, stay if you like. No tricks, though, to traps. Else you'll end up like your brothers."
"No tricks, no traps," agreed the boy and went inside.
So Leo became the servant of the Giant. For weeks he cleaned, for weeks he scoured, until spick where speck was and span where squalor. Each evening, the Giant returned from his Wild outings to find the fire lit, the hearth swept, his breeches pressed. He liked this. Very nice. "Very nice," he'd say as he slurped and slopped his stew. "I should have had a servant before. I like it." He burped. "It befits a Giant." Leo bowed and cleared the plates away. He was always silent, always polite, always cleaning, always watching.
Then the Giant croaked his cracked laugh. "And don't I treat you bad, do I? For a Heartless Giant." Leo kept walking away with the dishes. He spoke without looking back, his words light and idly curious. "What happened to your heart?"
Black clouds furrowed the Giant's brow. "It's in safekeeping," he growled. Leo kept walking. The Giant continued, suddenly swelling, thumping the place where his heart should have been: "Can't feel without it, can I? Can't get hurt. Can't die from heartbreak if I haven't got one. I'm invincible!" he guffawed. Leo shrugged, impressed. "Clever," he said casually. "So where is it, then, your heart?" Wasps streamed from the Giant's mouth. "He who pries is prone to die," he warned. "Do you follow me?" "Yes." Leo walked into the kitchen. Then the Giant called after him. "But I'll tell you if you want to know. My heart's in that cupboard."
Leo was passing a huge laundry press, its old wooden doors bleached and scarred with age. He paused for an instant, felt his own heart pounding. There! pounded his heart; his heart is there! The Heartless Giant, crouching at the table, missed nothing. He smirked, belched, and slumped into an after-dinner snore.
Next morning, the Giant stalked off as early as ever. His prison years had made him fearful of walls. Out he went, all the daylight hours, roving, raging, rampaging. Leo stood at the window watching him limp and lumber away. Then he rushed to the linen press, heaved on the doors. Inside was a riot of this and that: a tusk, a trowel, a tent, a trap, a towel, a tin, a thousand trinkets. And then boxes. All manner of boxes. Leo opened them all, big or small. Two were heart-shaped. He tore at them. But there was no heart. Anything but hearts.
"I'm back," announced the Giant later that evening, tossing a brace of dead pigs on the kitchen step. The Giant sniffed into the air. A suspicious sniff. "What's that smell?" he demanded, his nose tilted up, snorting like a bellows. Leo pointed at the gleaming doors of the old cupboard. "Polish," he said. The Giant's eyes widened in disbelief. "What you polishing the cupboard for?" he demanded.
"It's the home of your heart," declared Leo. "It should be polished." The Giant roared with laughter. "Did you really think I kept my heart in a cupboard? Gah!" Leo feigned a look of disappointment, then went to the first pig and heaved it up on his shoulders to carry into the pantry. It was still warm. "If you want to know," the Giant called after him, "my heart is under the step." "Right," said Leo, treading on the stone step and continuing on his way. "That old step," chortled the Giant. "That's where my little heart beats. Ticktock."
Next morning, same story: off stomped the Giant and out went the Prince, pick and shovel, hack and hew, digging out the step, spooning out the earth. Stone. Dust. Roots. But no heart! Ach! Poor Leo. He sank down onto the step, feet in the mounds of earth, and despaired. From where he sat he could see the grim silhouettes of his brothers and their fellow sufferers. Waiting. Waiting for him to make amends.
"I'm back," called the Giant, throwing down a sack, splitting it, and revealing hares and hens and ducks and every type of small bird, all strangled. As he limped into the house, the Giant looked down to see a map of his journey recorded in huge red footprints. "What's that?" he demanded as Leo appeared. "Ah, you must have trodden on the step, sir," replied Leo politely. "I painted it." The Giant scowled. "What did you paint that old step for?" "It covers your heart, and should be special." Leo bowed. "What?" gaffawed the Giant. "You're a daffle-box! You'd believe anything!" "Yes," admitted Leo. "I supposed I am, sir. I mean, I fetched the keys to the dungeon thinking I could trust you, didn't I? So...yes."
The Giant didn't know how to take this. He wasn't sure whether he should feel flattered or insulted. So he sat on his chair and offered his smudged boots for Leo to remove.
"The fact is, no one can find my heart," he declared proudly. "I'll tell you exactly where it is and you'll still not find it." Leo did not look up, but continued unwinding and bootlaces as the Giant unleashed a torrent of directions in a single breath. "Far away, so far you could not fathom it, so high you could not climb it, is a mountain, and in the mountain is a lake in the lake is an island and in the island is a church and in the church is a well and in the well is a duck and in the duck is an egg and in the egg...is my heart."
The Giant poked Leo with a giant finger, bowling him over and over on the flagstones. "Not so easy, little thief, eh?" he declared. "Not such a diddle and a doddle as you thought, is it? No. Your father tricked me once. I shan't be tricked again."
That night as the Giant slept, Leo lay on his cot staring at the ceiling. An egg in a duck in a well in a church in an island in a lake in a mountain. Impossible, he decided as he stole from the house and began the journey. Impossible, he decided as he passed his brothers. Impossible, he decided as he glanced at the moon and saw, in its pale silver, his friend Graylegs the Wolf, raising his head to the wind and howling long and loud before turning and bounding towards him. In a second, they were reunited, and Leo was explaining everything. He knew, he said, he knew where the Giant's heart was, he knew how to get there, but the journey was hard, treacherous, impossible.
"Hold tight," said Graylegs, offering the Prince his back. "Hold fast." And very tight they young Prince held, and very fast, for a gray dash they went, headlong, a breathless blur of world flashing by. And they came to the mountain, clambering, scrambling. And up at last. And then the lake. Wide. Deep. "Hold tight!" the Wolf cried again. "Hold close." And plunge, splash into the lake, heads arched up above the water, cold, soaking, chilled, choking. And out at last. On the island.
In its center loomed the church, its spire so high it threatened to tear Heaven. Leo twisted the iron handles on the massive doors. The doors were locked. Nothing would budge them. Leo hammered in frustration on the thick oak panels. Above them the bells rang for the Angelus. They looked up at the swing and toll.
"Look!" cried Graylegs and, squinting into the glare, Leo saw, dangling impossibly high from the bell tower, the key. Then, mingling with the cling-clang-clang-clong-clang of the bells, came a new note. "Craa!" it sounded. "Craa! Craa!" And from nowhere the bird whose wing Leo had mended swooped past them in salute before swinging up the tower with a single beat and pulling the key off its thread. Seconds later, the doors swung open. Sure enough, in one corner they came upon a well, and in the well swam a duck.
Leo clambered up onto the lip of the well and began to scatter bread to tempt the duck toward his open hands. He coaxed the duck with each crumb, nearer and nearer until, with a sudden lunge, he had the bird firmly in his grasp. But then, just as he pulled the duck out of the water, the egg dropped from its body back into the water, sinking into the blackness. Leo was dumbfounded. Then, miraculously, the water's skin broke and a beautful fish leapt, twisted, turned, and plunged, then reappeared, slapping the water with its tail. The salmon! Back it dived, vanished, surfaced to flip the egg high into the air. "Catch it!" howled Graylegs at Leo. And he did. He caught the Giant's heart. Held it in his hands.
For a second time, the Heartless Giant woke to the sound of a drum playing. "Rat-tat-rat-ta-ta-tat. Rat-tat-rat-ta-ta-tat." "Where've you been?" he roared in his cracked voice as he charged from the house toward Leo. "I've a good mind to set you there with your brothers." Leo ignored him, continued the little drum roll on his drum. "Rat-tat-rat-ta-ta-tat. Rat-tat-rat-ta-ta-tat." The Giant boiled. "Stop that!" he ordered. Leo did not stop, but spoke as he continued to beat on his drum. "Year ago, sir, you broke my heart," he said in a quiet voice. "Now I shall break yours." And with that he laid down his drum and held aloft the egg that held the Giant's heart. The Giant was terrified, paralyzed.
"No!" he whispered. "Don't...Be careful...don't break that...please, I beg you." Leo stood before him, egg pressed threateningly between his palms. "I will break it," he promised. "I'll squeeze and squeeze it to bits unless you release my brothers and all these poor people."
"Yes! Anything! Don't drop, careful, please, please be careful!" The Giant seemed to shrink with each second, his voice disintegrating to a sorry broken cord. "I'll do anything you ask," he promised, staggering toward the stone figures. "Look! I'm doing it!" And with that he limped from statue to statue, touching each one, mumbling the while. As he passed, each pose melted, softened, shuddered to like. Leo's brothers ran to him, praising Heaven, embracing him. "Brother! You've rescued us!" they cried.
The Giant limped toward the three brothers. "I've done as you bid," he whispered. "Can I have my heart?" Leo nodded. "You can, sir. As I promised. For I know that with your heart in place you could not be as you are now." The Giant sighed. "Thank you," he said, holding out his hand for the return of his heart.
Leo's brothers lunged at him, trapping his arms, snatching the agg from his grasp. Leo yelled. The Giant groaned. "Now, villain!" the brothers cried. "For five long years we've stood here helpless and watched your cruelty." Leo protested, struggled. The Giant hung he head, closed his eyes. "Please," he asked sadly. "Don't. Please." By now, the crowds of liberated souls has surrounded the group, demanding vengeance. "Kill him!" they chanted. "Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!"
"Don't!" Leo pleaded. "I promised! Don't!" But no one heard him. His elder brother advanced on the Giant and squeezed on the egg. The Giant staggered back, clutching the place where his heart should have been, gasping for air, short agonized gasps. The crowd roared it approval. Leo wept and wept, screaming to be heard over the cheering. His brother squeezed again. As he sank slowly to his knees, the Giant caught Leo in a terrible gaze. "You promised," he said. "You promised."
Then the egg burst in the elder Pince's hands, yolk and white slopping him. The crowd cheered. The Giant slumped forward and died. Wasps swarmed angrily from his mouth. Where the Giant fell a hill grew. And in time, when much was forgotten, when many Kings had come and gone, the place was still known as the Hill of the Heartless Giant.
Prince Leo lived to be a great age, became King, had forty-two grandchildren, and told them all that tale. But in his story the Giant got back his heart and made amends for all his wrongs. Because, you see, despite all that took place, a little boy once met a Giant and they became friends.
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