Polished Hearts of Mountains

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
Here I offer a tongue-in-cheek take on the classic fairy tale. In a kingdom on the brink of collapse, only Latvany, the rather thin and red-haired Giantologist can save it. How? Through intellectual curiosity, of course!

Submitted: August 07, 2017

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Submitted: August 07, 2017

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A long time ago, before men worshipped gods, men worshipped the giants in the hills. Sometimes you could hear their footsteps crash in the dead of night, even over ceaseless, pelting rain. You’d think it was the rumbling requiem to lightning if you didn’t know better. In those days, even grown men cowered in their beds at night, like small children.

If you were to walk out from your hut just as the rain began to ebb, you might even catch sight of one, the back of its head disappearing over the mountains, wire strands of hair billowing in the westerly winds. But this was rare. Mostly you would find evidence of their jaunts in the surrounding forests. Oxen often fell into the oval sinkholes.

Where did the giants go? Children often asked. Why do they leave their home in the endless mountain range called Gondolat, just to tromp through the kingdom at night? Children were curious creatures, but adults had no good answers for them: “They come and go as they please” or “Stop your questions! Curiosity killed the cat.” Sitting by the cozy hearths at night, children would hear these replies and roll their eyes. But in the end, most were satisfied—there was a kernel of truth in clichés.  

And even as the small among us questioned the giant’s business, so did the large.

“There must be an answer!” said the Archbishop one day.

“Why?” asked the King. “Don’t you think some things have no answers?” He slouched in his oak throne, the kingdom’s burdens on his shoulders. He was very tired lately, and cared little for much but the prospect of sleep. Yet the Archbishop—old and gray as he was—seemed to never tire in his desire to better the kingdom.

“Lord, have you truly forgotten the glory of decades past? Do they mean nothing to you? Think of the innovations we saw twenty years ago: the great leaps in agriculture, architecture, medicine. We saw mere peasants invent irrigation systems that had our kingdom brimming with corn and wheat. I watched as the Arcanists developed remedies for everything from gout to the common cold. We once lived in a kingdom fertile with ideas and thought. Even this castle…” The Archbishop stomped his foot on the intricate stone floor for emphasis, “Even this was a product of those times. But now…”

The King sighed heavily. “Yes, yes. And now our masons are too stupid to even upkeep this large stone turd.” He looked out through a crumbling arch at his realm below. Past the castle’s dying gardens lay a web of thatched roofs leading to the Eastern Ocean, and the kingdom’s quay.  Around the rustic peasant homes lay a thin border of wilting crops. The autumn before, the crops had spread farther, seemed taller. Even more so the autumn before that. He saw the trend, not that it mattered much. The King wondered briefly if the maids had washed his favorite pillow today.

“Lord! I can barely stand it! Knowledge is slipping through our fingers even as we speak, and we don’t even know why. I fear that soon we will all be too ignorant to even know what we have lost.”

“Well, now I’m bored,” said the King, “It seems this is all you ever want to talk about. Can’t we play checkers?”

The Archbishop growled in frustration. “Please, Lord. Let me fix this problem.”

“And how might you do that?” asked the King from the floor, for he had now slithered lazily out of his throne.

“We must find someone to study the giants.”

The King looked at him with wide eyes and rounded mouth. “The...giants? Have you gone mad? Entering the mountains of Gondolat will anger them. In their wrath, they will surely crush this kingdom to powder! What kind of solution is that?”

The Archbishop walked to the western window and stared out over the jagged horizon. “I don’t know how, but I sense the giants are a part of this. We must study their comings and goings.”

“Fine. Destroy us all. It makes no difference to me anyway,” pouted the King. He began to sob, imagining a giant squeezing the life out of him. If he died, he’d never see his pillow again.

That very night, the Archbishop tied a note to his finest raven. “Go, Querius! Find he who knows giants best in all the world, though I know not whom that might be. Fly! Fly across the oceans and deserts! Fly for a day or a year, but fly and find him!”

“Ooookay!” squawked the raven, and leapt from the window into the misty night.

 

It was a fortnight before Querius returned, a wax-sealed note gripped delicately in his black beak. The Archbishop’s hand shook as he broke the seal and read the note. He gasped, and held his hands up high, elated for the first time in years.

 

The following morning, the Archbishop travelled by horse to the kingdom’s quay. Here, seagulls squawked in the deep blue sky and dock workers tirelessly loaded and unloaded ocean-bound ships. As he crossed the glittering white sand, he reflected for a moment how fresh it felt here. Nowhere but on this beach, at the border of the kingdom, did he feel so light and free, his mind clear and cogent. Children ran laughing and tumbling by him. Truly, the quay’s bustling atmosphere was testament to its prosperity.

He came to a dockhand busily filling a sack full of the beach’s white sand. They had found it made for excellent packing material, cushioning valuable imports and exports. The Archbishop cleared his throat.

“Oh! Your Excellency!” barked the surprised dockhand, and dropped to one knee. “I didn’t see you there. How can I help you this fine day?”

“Sir, you need not kneel for me. I am your subject more than vice versa. I am to meet someone here. Tell me: have any travelers arrived today from far off kingdoms?”

“Why yes, your Excellency. A single passenger arrived this morning, and awaits transport on the first dock.”

A girl of no more than thirty sat on a spare crate, staring out at the Eastern Ocean. Her fiery red hair blew behind her.

“Excuse me, Madam. I am looking for a very important passenger. He is said to study giants. Have you seen him?”

The girl turned toward him, smiling. “I am he.”

The Archbishop raised his eyebrows at the pretty young girl. “I see.” As she stood, her strong feminine presence was unavoidable. He wrapped himself tighter in his cloak, as if protecting himself from any un-bishop-like urges.

“I am the Archbishop,” said the Archbishop. “Are you the one come to save our land?”

She chuckled and then bowed deeply. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I am Latvany. I can’t say I will save anyone, but I offer my services as a Giantologist, for what they’re worth.”  With her index finger, she pushed up an odd contraption sitting on the bridge of her nose, covering her bright green eyes with two pieces of round glass. The Archbishop gestured to them.

“What is that thing on your face?”

“They are called glasses. They have become popular in my country lately. They help one to see better.”

He sighed in envy. “How magnificent! It warms my heart to behold a new innovation. Perhaps some time you might share its secret?”

“Perhaps some time,” she said running a thin hand through her hair, “But for now we must get down to business. We have much to discuss.”

Together they road back to the castle, where they chatted by lantern light into the wee hours of the night.

 

The plan they finally devised was simple enough. She had merely to find the giants residing in the Gondolat mountains, and discover—through whatever means possible (that part of the plan remained vague)—what connection, if any, they might have to the kingdom’s current woes.

And so that very night, she traveled in a green cloak by horse through the outlying forest, into Filozofus Pass. As she made her way up the winding path, often she’d see wooden arrows pointing the opposite direction. “Stay away!” and “Go back home!” they read. She pushed on, wondering. Would she come across monsters that drank human blood and munched on human bones? Or might she simply disintegrate when she crossed the border into the giant’s sacred home? But as the sun rose, it became clear that this was no place to fear. Indeed, the pine trees smelled fresh in the morning air, and squirrels ran about playfully.

By the evening, Latvany came to the top of the pass. Far off, she viewed another row of mountains blocking the horizon. Below sprawled a valley so large, she lost any sense of perspective. She pushed her heels into the horse’s flank, but the beast would go no further.

“Silly thing!” she chided. “Can’t you see there’s nothing there to fear?” But in the end she had to send the horse back toward the kingdom, setting out into the Gondolat mountains by foot.

She spent the next week traveling by night and sleeping by day. She drank from brooks and set up snares for rabbits and ptarmigan. Sometimes she felt lonely, but mostly she enjoyed the solitude and the fresh air. It was nice to do actual field work, even if she hadn’t seen a single giant yet, for she knew she would eventually. Latvany smiled, thinking about her colleagues back home and how envious they would be, mere armchair Giantologists that they were.  

By the third week, her feet never seemed to get clean; dirt had worked its way deep under her nails. Still, anyone seeing her bathing in a meadow stream or mountain lake would have thought her a nymph or magical dryad, save for the glasses.

One golden afternoon, she came across a large and curious boulder completely blocking her path. As she came closer, she realized the boulder, which spanned two great cliffs a hundred yards apart, seemed to be fashioned from jute cloth, of all things. She ran her hands along the course weave, completely baffled.

“Now how am I to keep traveling, with this odd boulder in the way?” she asked no one in particular. “Has my quest been thwarted so soon?”

Latvany sat down in a great heap in front of the boulder, arms crossed and pouting. “Some Giantologist I turned out to be!” But even as she said this, inspiration struck her, and a mischievous light shined in her green eyes. From her pack she took out a section of rope, and threaded it through the cloth boulder and tightly around her arms and legs, leaving just enough slack to lie down. She sighed in contentment and went to sleep.

She awoke that morning to a sensation no human before her had ever experienced: the feeling of rapidly leaving the earth behind. Completely in shock, dizzy and so very heavy, Latvany fought hard to keep from passing out. Still, she could not resist taking a peek, and looked out through the glasses that were now plastered to her face in the heavy wind. What she saw was beyond belief. She was flying away from the earth, and with each second, the perspective changed. First the trees turned into little dots, then merged together into large green blotches. Now she could see the kingdom she was supposed to save, and how it was spread out from the castle much like a spider’s web.

And still she ascended. Now other kingdoms came into view, including her own. They all sat like little moles amongst the blue and green skin of the earth. How much there is unexplored! She thought in awe. Really, we’ve done so little. And the world is so much bigger than we realized.

Then, as quickly as the acceleration began, it ceased, and she was left suspended thousands of feet up in the air, still tied to the cloth boulder, which she knew now was the giant’s hat. Suddenly, it began to move again, falling into a long up-and-down rhythm— the giant’s great stride. Fighting the fear and confusion that welled up in her, she carefully traversed the tremendous hat such that she was facing in the same direction as the motion. On this side, she could see rows upon rows of mountains—more than a thousand, a million—and a few huge craters where mountains should have been. From here, the mountainous horizon seemed to curve in a slow arc rather than continuing in a straight line as she had always viewed it.

The perspective hurt her mind, which at first tried to reject all that she was seeing. It’s just a dream, part of her said. But she knew this was no dream; up here she saw how things really were.  Getting adventurous, she tied her rope to the hat’s brim, and rappelled down the side. Fifty yards down, the cloth boulder gave way to thick wiry strands of gray hair that glistened with natural oils. Farther down she came across a deep cave seven times her height. She thought about yelling into it, but it occurred to her that this was no doubt the giant’s ear. Best to not alert it, she reflected.

Still farther down, she came to a flat blue mesa that could be none other than a hulking shoulder. This is the spot! She thought happily as she set up camp. I’m not so high up as to get dizzy, but I still have a great vantage point from here. As she sat and ate an apple, a bird flew by and landed in a wrinkle of the giant’s old, stony face. Does it even know that bird is there? She wondered. How much of the “small world” did this creature completely miss? No doubt it dealt exclusively in big things.

No sooner had she thought this, than the boom of footsteps came from the horizon. Silhouetted by the blue-black sky, a fellow giant’s face came into view. As the horizon revealed ever more of him, he raised his hand in welcome. Latvany’s giant did likewise. Then, without warning, she felt herself falling rapidly, as her giant stooped to the ankle-high mountains below. She grabbed wildly at the blue cloth of its shirt, finally finding purchase. Regaining her composure, she pushed up her glasses to observe better.

She watched as her giant grasped the mountain closest to them, and with a single fluid motion, ripped it clean out of the earth. Her stomach lurched as the giant went upright again, and held the mountain up for inspection, turning it this way and that. She watched as rocks, trees, and a few mountain goats fell silently from it. Then the mountain went whizzing over her head as the giant held it up to his ear. She stared up into the rich, moist underside of the mountain, and thought briefly of how she had listened to shells on the beach as a child.

Now the fellow giant was close and fully in view. His loose clothes billowed slowly around him. He stroked his deep, black beard and smiled at Latvany’s giant.

“BREOTH KOONTOO BAAWM LOW!” bellowed the fellow giant. To the uninitiated, the giant’s voice would sound like some natural force, such as an earthquake or a tornado. Or if nothing else like the earth itself blowing into a deep, resonating horn. Luckily, Latvany had studied the runes of giant cuneiform in her home kingdom. Running through the deep troughs that formed the scrawlings of their ancient language proved an excellent exercise for both body and mind.

“Greetings, Brother! What of the mountain’s wisdom have you brought me this day?” Asked the fellow giant.

“Greetings, Brother!” said Latvany’s giant. “Please, take this, and listen for yourself!” She had always found it odd, yet fitting, that giants almost exclusively spoke with exclamation points at the end of their sentences. But you could hear it in their booming voices. She had no doubt of that. Now her giant handed the mountain to his companion, who brought it eagerly to his ear.

“Ahhh yes! I hear it, Brother!” said the fellow giant, after a moment. “It tells me that All is in motion, that everything moves without cease, that All is forever changing!”

“Indeed, it does!” said Latvany’s giant, “So speaketh the wisdom of the mountains!” With this, the fellow giant took the freshly plucked mountain, and dropped it into a satchel by his waist. “And in exchange, what wisdom has my brother brought me?”

The fellow giant with the black beard gave a thunderous laugh, and pulled an object from the same satchel, dropping it into Latvany’s giant’s waiting hand. In it lay a perfectly round stone sphere no bigger than she.  Her giant rolled it around in his hand before holding it up to his ear. He laughed and said, “As yes, Brother! Though it be known by many, it is still not quite common news! This mountain tells of entropy, and how All must come to an end! So speaketh the wisdom of the mountains!”

With that, they shook hands and parted ways, the fellow giant receding slowly back over the horizon.

Latvany rode upon her giant for many days and nights, finding what edible creatures and plants grew and lived on the blue plain of its shoulder. She watched closely, observing this curious exchange of mountains again and again. Yet it confused her, for each “mountain” appeared just as valuable to the giants. Sometimes like-sized mountains were traded, but other times her giant might trade a fresh mountain for something no larger than a marble. Still, he seemed to care for each as if they were all precious commodities, putting them gently (for a giant) into his satchel.

One day, Latvany’s giant came across a brother who seemed to put nothing in her giant’s hand for exchange. Surely, he’s not giving away his mountain for free, she thought. Still her giant held out his great, craggy hand, and curled it around something.

“Ahh Brother! We have now all heard this wisdom, and its usefulness to us is spent! I shall dispose of it tomorrow!”

But what was it? Thought Latvany. What had he received? The idea of it instantly chafed her, and she knew she would have to find out. That night, she rappelled down past her base camp on the giant’s shoulder, down past his hairy arms and thick billowy blue shirt, and finally to his mysterious mountain-carrying satchel. As she hung above it, the opening appeared to her as a deep ravine into which there seemed to be no return. In the end, curiosity got the better of her, and she shimmied down her rope and into the dark entrance.

Though at first she could see nothing, in time her eyes adapted to what little light filtered through the thick cloth, and she saw the piles of mountains below her. She sighed at the thought of traversing them. The lure of giving up overtaking her, she made to go back up the rope. Yet before she could get far, she heard the whispers. They told her of thoughts and ideas so bold, so fresh, they seemed to have little connection to the life and times she had lived. She found she knew how to build contraptions and medicines none had ever dared dream. Latvany heard a voice whisper that blood flows through the body, though to her this seemed absurd: if it flowed through the body, wouldn’t it all come out with a single cut? Still she knew it to be true, despite its seeming absurdity.

She rappelled down farther, and saw smooth boulders underneath the jumbled mountains. These whispered ideas that seemed to make more sense to her; still she found them disconcerting and confusing. After all, how could the earth move ‘round the sun? Wouldn’t we feel the movement?

Down and down she went, rappelling for a full day deep into the giant’s satchel until her muscles burned and her hands became raw. How she would get out, she knew not. Her only thought was to continue, continue. Finally, at long last, she came to the bottom, where the air was thick and moist. She landed softly on a pile of pebbles that crunched underneath her feet. They were all so smooth and colorful, and stretched out for so many yards in every direction, that Latvany became mesmerized.

She sat down amongst them to rest. Idly, she picked one up, and brought it to her ear. “Money,” it said to her in a pebble-like voice, “exchange through a circulating medium.” She reflected on this, grasping at its meaning, and at one point felt she almost had it. She thought of how her family would trade bushels of wheat in the market for all the items they needed—clothes, animals, wood, and so forth. If you had enough wheat, you could get almost anything. But wheat breaks down, falls apart, goes bad. And not everyone wants wheat. If only there was something, like wheat, but that everyone wanted…

The answer almost came to her, but just as she felt she could grasp it, it seemed to slip between her fingers—as did the pebble, lost in the pile around her. Already she had forgotten what she was thinking about. Exhausted, she lay down on the smooth pebbles for a quick beauty rest.

She woke to hear the thundering crumble of mountains being pushed around above her. A tremendous hand came crashing down just inches from her. She jumped back, watching the hand smash deeply into the pile, spraying her with pebbles. In it reached, feeling around, until at last it closed on something deeply buried. As it ascended, she jumped and latched onto a craggy wrinkle along a thumb joint, and felt the same amazing rush from nearly a month ago, when she was first launched into the sky. She rode now in the giant’s hand, clinging desperately to it. She looked around and saw that it was a moonlit night, the stars twinkling. As she composed herself, Latvany pushed up her glasses and realized that thousands of feet below was the kingdom’s quay! After all her journeys, the giant had somehow taken her back to the very beginning. She carefully traversed the digits, following the index finger to where it pinched some small object against its granite thumb. As she looked down at it, she was amazed (but not that amazed) to find the massive giant pinched within its fingers the tiniest grain of white sand. Yet before she could reach for it, the giant was already stooping, and she felt her stomach start to float. The massive hand she now rode flew straight down towards the quay, and she was sure at that instant that she would be smashed.

Yet the giant’s hand stopped only feet from the ground. Nearby, the seagulls cried. She jumped down, and landed not so ladylike upon the beach. Dusting herself off she looked up at the giant, which from down here was too large to fully observe. It hurt her brain to even try. Then came the giant’s bellowing voice:

"Here, Little One! Take this, and may your kind prosper by its wisdom! It is useful to my brothers and I, no more!”

With that, he dropped the single sand grain into her open palms where it sparkled in the moonlight. So he had known about her the whole time! She laughed aloud at her own presumptions. The giants see all, of course. She waved and said, “CRON BRAH DEELOW! Good bye, friend! And Thank you!” Even as she spoke these words, her giant was already booming off into the horizon again. First his legs disappeared behind the world, then his torso, then his head, then only the last strands of his wiry gray hair blew in the night. Then she was alone with the seagulls.

Latvany sat in the sand and stared off into the moonlit ocean. After awhile she held the grain up to her ear, and listened.

 

It was afternoon now at the quay, and the children laughed and did cartwheels. She had half a mind to join them, but she mostly felt like relaxing right now. There would be time for play, but later. In her own kingdom much worked remained, now that she had saved this one…

 

Early that morning she had reached the castle and the waiting Archbishop. His news was grim, for the King had never woken up five nights earlier. The weight of the kingdom was now upon the Archbishop, at least until an heir could be found. When he asked how her quest had gone, she had laughed and pushed up her glasses.

“Put out your hand!” yelled Latvany. (She would go on to speak in exclamations for another day or two). From her satchel she pulled out a single white grain of sand and dropped it into his lined and worn palm. His brows furrowed. He looked at her questioningly.

“It’s the sand! You keep shipping it off to other kingdoms! There’s nothing wrong with that! But you aren’t getting any sand back! You have to keep it balanced! Trade sand for sand!”

The Archbishop cocked his head to the side, almost like his raven would. “But…how…what…? I don’t…did the giants tell you this?” he stammered, flummoxed by the strange advice.

She chuckled. “In their way, they told me! Just trust me! I’m a Giantologist!”

Sitting here in the quay, she guessed the Archbishop would take her advice. Maybe he wouldn’t know exactly why, but perhaps that solitary grain would whisper to him from his bedside, giving him all the impetus he would need.

Latvany watched contently as the children somersaulted and cart-wheeled through the sand. She felt very much like them. No, we were all like them, she realized. And as children, could we ever know we play amongst the polished hearts of mountains?

 

 

 

 

 


© Copyright 2017 Nick Kominitsky. All rights reserved.

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