Esther and the Giants

Fiction By Nora West // 5/2/2014

“Shall we be going fishing today?” Esther stood in the doorway, peering into the dim, crowded cabin, where three of her four brothers and both her sisters were crammed uncomfortably into the single room. Her mother looked up from the far corner by the wood stove where she was cooking something for lunch, probably old dry rabbit for the hundredth time this month. “It’s possible. Did you find any berries?” “Too late in the year,” Esther shook her head, then gave an exclamation and hurried to the corner of the cabin. “Bonnie, don’t eat that!” Her baby sister gurgled happily and drooled out whatever it was she’d been chewing on. Her mother sighed. “I suppose we shall have to get some fish then, there’s nothing else for dinner. We’ll tell your father when he gets back.” So, that evening, they heaved the old canoe her father had made by hand into the water and pushed off. The eldest sister had been left in charge, since Esther was coming with her parents. The morning had been sunny, but now a heavy, clinging fog was drifting down upon them. Esther’s hair draped her head in damp tendrils and her sodden clothes dragged on her body. Her breath made puffs of vapour ahead of her and her parents became nothing more than shapes in the dimness. They had been fishing for some time without success when her father said, shivering, “This is useless and it must be getting late. Let’s head back.” They turned the canoe and set out, but after they had been paddling a ways, her father stopped and looked around in confusion. “I can’t tell exactly where we’re going in this fog, but this is certainly the wrong way. Perhaps we should wait till it burns off.” Her father’s voice sounded unusually helpless. Esther pulled up her paddle and hugged herself for warmth. There was no sound save for that of the water lapping against the sides of the boat. Suddenly a new sound cut the stillness, a great churning and splashing that made their boat rock wildly. Then, ahead, a great shape loomed out of the fog. It appeared to be another canoe, but a canoe of such monumental size that it was dizzying. The things that stood atop it however, were larger still. Esther felt like screaming but she was too awed to make a sound. The shape came closer, towering above them. At last it resolved itself into what was definitely a canoe, and on it the tallest, most unbelievable man she had ever seen. He had long black hair and darkly tanned skin. He was dressed entirely in a suit of a dark leather like material, save for his thick black cape. He was larger than the trees in the forest around them, ridiculously, incredibly huge. And there were two others in the boat with him, equally gigantic. They looked much the same too, except one had brown hair, and their noses were different shapes. Even faced with this overawing spectacle, she did not really start panicking until one of them looked at her. “Hey,” it said, sounding mildly surprised. “Will you look at that? Little People.” “We’re not little, you’re big,” she protested, annoyed. Then her heart skipped a beat realizing that she had just contradicted someone who it was probably best not to offend. “Um, but I'm sure we look small to you,” she added hastily. “And we’ll leave right away if we’re bothering you.” “Yes certainly,” her father put in, shaking himself out of his astounded reverie at last. “Well no need for that,” said another. “I haven’t seen anyone big or small for quite some time except my brothers, and they can’t cook anything.” “And your feet smell,” retorted the brown haired one.” “Now now,” said the one who had first spoken, and who seemed to be the smallest. “No need to fight again.” He turned to Esther and her parents. “Why not come visit us for a bit. We’d love to have the company.” “Yes, and besides, I want cheese fondue for dinner tomorrow,” the second added “Screw your fondue!” screamed the brown haired one. “There there, let’s all get along peaceably,” said the first one soothingly. “So will you come?” It struck Esther’s father that it might be a bad idea to disagree with people this size, so he nodded. All the giants smiled delightedly, and turning their canoe they set off, the smaller one calling back for them to follow. Faintly, for the canoe was far ahead of them, they could hear the second muttering “Well they seem friendly enough, and cornflakes are my favourite food you can’t deny it.” “We’ll see about that!” “Now really is this away to handle your problems? Have some dignity.”
Sometime later, cold and clammy with the fog, they arrived at a small island in the middle of the river. It was mostly taken up by a massive cabin, with a little forested yard, from the point of view of the giants, left over. “Here we are!” said the first giant, jumping to shore and causing a tidal wave that sank Esther’s boat and sent her family plunging into the chilly water. “Oh, sorry,” he said ruefully, lifting them out. “I keep forgetting how careful you have to be around little people. “Step carefully you two,” he called to the others, who nodded and climbed to the bank with surprising speed and silence. Esther and her parents crouched dripping in the giant’s massive palm. Gazing down at the tops of the trees an unbelievable distance below them and feeling the swaying of the hand with each step the giant took; she began to feel sick and dizzy. She retreated from the edge to the middle of the palm and shut her eyes. At last they were there. In fact it had not taken long at all what with the massive strides their…. friends? Captors?..... Could take. The one holding them now lowered them carefully to the ground. “Here we are,” he said. “It’s time to meet Kothos.” “Who’s he?” quavered Esther. The giant’s manner of saying the name had been rather ominous. “Our eldest brother. He is very powerful. He will tell us if you may stay here.” “And he likes fried beef for dinner,” put in the first one. “Fried beef, “scoffed the second, “is a ridiculous meal. It knows even less than you do, and it has no manners.” The third shrugged apologetically at Esther and her family. “They fight like this all day and there’s nothing I can do to stop them. But they’re really quite harmless and kind. And more intelligent than they act,” he added rather mysteriously. “Well come on.” He pushed open the towering door and stepped inside. It looked like any well furnished comfortable cabin, save for the fact that everything was the size of a building in itself. There were bows and arrows, snowshoes, fishing tackle and things of that kind hanging on pegs on the walls. They did not look like the synthetic ones you found in stores. You could tell these were real, wood and hide, put together by hand. The only thing that did not seem to fit the room was the clusters of strange, shimmering, brightly colored objects hanging from the ceiling. They were all shapes and sizes and hung by glittering, pale cords that were visible one minute, vanished the next, which seemed sometimes like a thread at others like the finest chain. If you looked closer you could see that many of the shapes were entirely impossible, like something in a book of optical illusions. But they were there. They made Esther feel weak and dizzy if she gazed at them for long, so she turned quickly away. She saw that the giants had come in after them. The first called out, “Kothos, we have visitors!” There was a pause then a door in the back of the cabin opened and through it stepped the tallest man she had ever seen. He was too tall to take in all at once, a giant even among giants. His face had the look of great age. His grey eyes were bright and alive, yet endlessly quiet and deep. When he spoke his voice was neither loud nor quiet, but the perfect volume for being heard. It was deep and strong and clear and it seemed as if you could hear the animals running and the trees growing and the rivers flowing and all the life of the great forest in his words. His presence made you feel calm and yet wild, proud and great and at the same time humble and overawed. “Who are they?” he asked, settling his great mass into a vast oaken chair. “Small people who look like sausages,” said the second cheerfully. “Two shrimpy parents and their ugly daughter,” grouched the third. “They live in the woods. They were out fishing and I invited them to stay,” explained the first. The giant called Kothos turned his deep eyes on them and studied them for a while. Esther had a funny feeling that he could see anything about them that he wished. At last he said, “They seem like good people. They may stay here as long as they like.” “I am very grateful,” her father managed to speak up, “And I will gladly accept your hospitality.” “Very good,” said the first giant happily. “Then you must know our names. I am Moth, the hungry one is Oll and the grouchy one is Bata.”
That evening the giants served a massive meal of fish, rabbit and fried potatoes from their garden. The humans only needed the smallest scraps of what the giants ate. The food was delicious and filling, they were soon utterly stuffed. When they could not possibly have forced down one bite more the giants invited them out onto pleasant porch the size of a barn with a good view of the garden and the surrounding lands. Esther sighed contentedly as she looked out across the rolling red and green forests. “They are lovely are they not,” agreed Kothos, “And they have always and always will be our home.” “Who are you and how is it we have never seen giants before?” inquired Esther. “We don’t like to be seen in general, but you seem to be good people. I must warn you though to be careful… for we have an enemy.” Esther started. “An enemy? You?” He smiled. “You are thinking that no man could be big or powerful enough to challenge us. It is not only humans who can be enemies. The thing that we are always watching for is called Maonto. He is a great winged beast. But I am not so worried that he would bother you. He would most likely not notice you at all, for he consumes magic and that is why he would consume us.” “So you have magic?” Esther’s father asked. Kothos nodded gravely. “We are wizards, all four of us.” “I have always wished I was a wizard” her father said wistfully. Kothos looked at him. “It is not a power many can be granted,” he said. “I know this,” answered her father. “And I know that I am not worthy, but still I wish, in a hopeless sort of way.” He laughed. “People seem to make a habit of doing that.” “Well wishing is the beginning. Then you must begin to do something about it. That is how dreams come true,” said Kothos softly. Esther and her parents sat and thought about that for a while. The sun was setting brilliantly behind the hills, like jets of multicoloured flame, when Moth said, “Well it is time we were all sleeping. Come, I will show your rooms.” Esther’s room was a wonderful one up in the attic, with a slanted log roof that smelled sweetly of wood, a small neat cot, a beautifully embroidered rug on the floor and her own bathroom nearby. The rug was so lovely and so intricately designed that she spent nearly half an hour looking at it before lying down to sleep. She revelled for a while in having a room all to herself, in the quiet and privacy of it; before her busy day got the better of her and she fell deeply asleep.
In the morning she woke up when the first light was streaming honey coloured through the window at the foot of the bed. A cheering twitter of just awakened bird song filled the trees. She yawned, stretched herself as far as she could then slid comfortably out of bed and wriggled into her clothes. Downstairs Oll was frying bacon and stirring a pot of oatmeal. Bata was sitting at the table, looking sulky. “Good morning, Esther,” Oll said cheerfully. “The food will be done any minute.” “Better never,” snarled Bata. “Fudge! You’d starve to death if it weren't for me,” said Oll, injured. “No I’d just chew your boots!” Batas cried, with wild and meaningless sarcasm. “The wittier they get the less sense they make,” Moth observed from his seat at the table. “Well it’s done,” Oll slammed the pot and a plateful of bacon onto the table. “And if no one else is hungry at least I am.” “I'm hungry,” said Esther eagerly. “Us too,” said Esther’s mother, who, with her father, was coming downstairs at that moment. “I never said I wasn't hungry!” Batas roared. “If you neglect to feed me I’ll tear apart this cabin!” The breakfast was quite as delicious as dinner the night before, and for dessert there were delectable rhubarb tarts. “I shall get fat soon if I keep on eating so much,” said Esther’s father happily. He leaned back and patted his distended stomach contentedly. At that moment, Kothos came downstairs. ‘Forgive me for being late to breakfast,” he said kindly. “I have been looking over the spells that we use to track Maonto. He is not far, and his wrath towards us has been still greater since we slew his brother.” “His brother was delicious fried,” Oll said sentimentally. “He was the ugliest meat I’ve ever seen,” complained Batas. “We didn't eat him,” protested Moth. He hesitated. “Did you?” Oll looked at the ground and shuffled. “Honestly, you would try anything,” Moth reprimanded. “You don’t even know where he’d been!” “In any case,” Kothos continued as if he had not been interrupted, “He ought to be here in four days.” He looked at Esther and her parents. “There is much preparation to make before then. Will you help us? If you do not wish to I will understand, and if you like I can return you to your home where you will be safe from Maonto.” Esther shook her head fiercely at that, but said nothing; the question had been addressed mainly to the grown ups. Her father had a determined look on his face. “I will stay and help,” he said to Esther’s relief. “It would be fair payment for your generous hospitality.” Kothos nodded, it was hard to tell but she thought he seemed pleased with her father’s answer. “Very well,” he said. “And will you help?” he asked Esther and her mother. They both nodded eagerly. So they got to work. Esther’s mother gathered firewood, nuts and berries from the forest, vegetables from the garden lest it be a while before they could venture out again. Her father mended any crack or weakness in the houses structure and nailed sheets of iron over every inch of it. “Maonto fears iron and is repelled by it,” Kothos explained. “So covered, our house at least should be safe.” “Not just the house,” her father said. “With your leave I shall build a shelter of iron over the garden as well.” Kothos gave his permission and her father quickly had the garden encased in a shining shed. The giants were busy too, pouring over books and maps and trudging far and wide to cast protective spells over the area. As for Esther, she rather wished she could be more helpful, her biggest job was keeping things tidy while everyone else was busy. She did help her mother a little with her gathering, and she spent several hours fetching and carrying tools for her father. The days were over all too quickly, and Batas reported on the morning of the fifth day that Maonto was approaching fast and directly. “He is ripping through many of our spells,” he informed them, “They are doing little more than slowing him and increasing his anger. He will be here in a few minutes.” “Well we knew all along that the spells could not be permanent. We must defeat Maonto once and for all.” He turned to Esther and her family. “Get inside and stay there. You have been of great help to us, but this battle must be fought by us alone, Maonto’s strength is beyond you.” He glanced at her father. “But do not forget what we have spoken of, if it should be necessary.” Her father nodded, and led them to Esther’s bedroom, where the window would give them a view of the battle. They all waited, with baited breath, for it to begin. Her fist sight of Maonto was a great, dark shape on the horizon. She thought for a while that it was approaching very slowly, but then she saw her mistake. It was much farther away than she had supposed, but more unbelievably massive than anything she could have imagined. The very greatness and darkness of him, and strange air he seemed to carry with him made her feel limp and tremble-stomached. But that was nothing to how she felt when he grew close enough to be clearly seen. His body was like that of a vulture, great, black and shining as the surface of a swamp by moonlight. The great knobby legs, the color of dead worms, ended in massive splayed toes tapering to talons of obsidian sharp enough to rip through a man with the slightest touch. His neck, naked except for a few tufts of his metallic feathers, supported a head that was by far the worst part of him. It was not the beaked head of a bird but rather that of a man, or enough like that of a man to be utterly horrible in its likeness to a beast. It was a dreadful, purplish, contorted face filled with mindless cruelty and brutish rage. It was framed by a mat of stringy black hair and out of it glinted tiny malignant black eyes and a row of yellowish, lethal fangs. Maonto had arrived. The giants were ready. The fight must now begin. Maonto threw back his head and roared, a sickening gargling sound. Then he charged, his fangs reaching for Bata’s throat. Bata flung up his arm in a commanding gesture, there was an ear popping bang and a flash that imprinted itself on Esther’s eyes for several minutes afterwards, and Maonto was flung back as if he had struck a wall of rubber. He staggered briefly. Taking the opportunity, Oll lunged forwards and made to embed a long hunting knife that blazed with magic deep into Maonto’s side, but the beast threw him back with a blow of one foot. Kothos had hastily softened the air about his brother; otherwise he would have been severely injured in the landing. As it was, he got slowly to his feet, panting and slightly winded. Kothos seemed to be focusing hard, suddenly the ground rumbled and a mass of chains erupted from it like fast growing roots, slinging themselves about Maonto’s body. The monster gave a low, haunting snarl and the chains withered, then turned to four flaming snakes that made a dart one at each of the giants. Kothos dispelled his into nothingness with a wave of his hand, Batas, dodged hastily; receiving a burn across the back, then with a brief effort turned his into a worm, which he stamped on. Moth made his shrink and all the flame go out of it till there was nothing but an ordinary snake slithering hastily away. Oll fell into the river in surprise at his snakes attack, swamping it and quenching it thoroughly. The four giants turned to face the snarling beast, breathing heavily. Maonto lowered his head. The air around him began to grow dark, to shiver like the air above a flame. “Watch out!” cried Kothos. A deep penetrating, fatiguing heat began to fill the air, pushing you down, draining your strength. The giants grew pale, their shoulders drooping. Maonto began to make a strange, dry clacking and to move forwards slowly. The giants seemed paralyzed as if by a great weight dragging on them, holding them in place. Still Maonto clacked, a greedy, hollow sound that sent shivers through Esther’s stomach. Suddenly Esther’s father leapt to his feet, whirled and rushed upstairs. “Oh where is he going at a time like this?” Esther hissed through her clenched teeth. She could feel her clamped hands sweating. Maonto’s head began to sway slowly, hypnotically, from side to side his eyes glittering in triumph and still moving steadily forward. The even side to side movement made her feel sick and dizzy, as you might feel after working too hard on a very humid day. A strange, helpless hopelessness filled her. It was too late. It was over. Maonto had won. Her head drooped, she felt as the giants must, beside her she could see her mother too was hanging her head, her eyes vague and sleepy. Suddenly there was a crash and the door of the cabin flew open. There stood her father, holding some long, glittering object. “Wake up, Kothos!” he shouted. “The battle is not yet over! Awake!” The giant shuddered, then seemed to shake himself, Moth, Oll and Batas too seemed again to come alive. “Right you are,” cried Kothos, “We still have our plan! Throw it here!” At that moment Maonto turned to face her father. He had been raising his hand to throw the object, but suddenly he hesitated. She could all but feel Maonto focusing all his strength on her father. “Oh resist him, resist him,” she cried in a shrill whisper, tears stinging her eyes at how small her father looked in comparison with that beast. Her father was breathing hard and sweating, his eyes half closed and his face contorted with effort. His hand, still poised above his head for throwing, was shaking as if he were lifting a massive weight. Gradually, slowly, as if the air itself were pushing against him, he lifted his head. “No… Maonto…” he pushed the words out through his laborious breathing. “I… Will not drop it… No.” Suddenly his voice became steady and he straightened up and threw, threw the thing arching through the air and Kothos caught it, his face filled with warm approbation and joy. “Well done.” He said. Just “Well done,” but somehow those words were all that was needed to be said. Then he turned to Maonto. He held up the object, which Esther now saw was similar to those on the ceiling, but much bigger, a queer, twisting object that passed through, across and around itself in never ending motion. Maonto cringed at the sight of it. He seemed to be wavering between two decisions. Suddenly he turned and fled, spreading his great wings and leaping into the air. “After him, after him!” cried Moth. “Don’t let him escape!” A great, glistening net appeared in the air before Maonto, dragging him to the ground. He clawed wildly, head thrashing, screaming with a sound of pure and horrible rage. Hastily, Bata sprang foreword. “Throw it to me!” The object flew through the air and he caught it, bringing it down in one swift movement onto Maonto’s head. The beast screamed again, a sound of hate, despair and malice and flung out a wing, knocking Bata back heavily to the ground before there was a chance to cushion his fall. But even as he committed this, his last act, he shivered, cracked, then burst into a rain of fine grey ash which a sudden gust of wind blew quickly away. The remaining giants leaned back, breathing heavily with relief. Esther herself slumped against the wall, eyes closed, feeling almost as tired as if she had been an actual member of the battle herself. She was almost too relieved to think straight, but poor, poor Bata! There was little hope of his being alive. Even now Moth was bending over, examining him. “Yes he’s dead all right,” he said, straightening up. Esther was amazed at how unconcerned he seemed. “Well, Bata, are you coming in to lunch or not?” Moth added, turning towards the house. “How can I? I’m dead you idiot,” said Bata, glaring at him. “Oh, right.” Moth bent down and touched his brother’s forehead briefly. “Now come on, the battle has made me as hungry as Oll.”
Batas got up, muttering to himself. “Just said it right out loud and he forgets! Bah!”
The lunch they ate must have made a world record. They laid out every bite of food they had saved in case of siege, cooked in every manner imaginable. They were all there, every one of them, even her father, looking very tired but otherwise none the worse for wear. When they had finished the meal, and were lying back patting their stuffed bellies, Kothos addressed him. “I congratulate you on your brave resistance. It is not many that can stand up to Maonto. Even we were nearly taken under his power.” Her father lowered his eyes with a mixture of thanks and modesty. “Was that what you meant when you said not to forget what you had spoken of?” Esther asked. “Was your plan to have him bring that object?” Kothos nodded. “It is crafted of pure iron, iron better than any human hands can make that has been freed of the smallest blemish. And coated in raw white magic, the exact reverse of Maonto’s. There is no way he could survive a blow from such a weapon. Before the battle we spoke with your father and agreed that if all seemed hopeless he would bring us this. It was a desperate venture. For not many a human could touch a thing of raw magic without dying at once. Only a true wizard may lift such a thing.” Her father stared at him, dumbstruck. “You- you mean…” Kothos smiled. “Yes. You have wished and you have done something about it. You agreed to that plan, though we told you only that it might result in your death. In your brave completion of your task you thoroughly proved your worth.” He rose to his feet. “It is time now for you to return home, but before long I will send for you, and you will become a wizard as are we. For though you have the power to touch and use magic, you must still be granted the ability.” Her father sat for a moment with his mouth open, too awestruck and filled with gratitude to speak. At last he managed to stammer out, “I am so grateful- I don’t know what to say. I will gladly accept your gift, only there is one thing I must ask.” “What is it?” said Kothos. “I would not have to leave my family would I? For they need me.” Kothos nodded approval of the question. “You may live where ever you like, with whoever you like. There are few restrictions to becoming a wizard and those are usually self imposed.” “Then beyond doubt, if you truly know I am worthy, I will become a wizard whenever you choose to give me that gift.” “Watch for a white hawk and a dolphin in the river. They will tell you it is time to return to us.” Kothos raised his hands. “Now I bid you farewell, my friends, and I thank you for your help and your companionship.” “Thank you. Thank you for everything. I shall miss you very much,” said Esther. “We will never forget your hospitality,” her mother added. “Farewell,” called the giants, “Farewell!” Then, suddenly a soft, white mist seemed to sweep across the room, drawing it away from them, or rather them from it, obscuring the room and the giants completely. Esther felt as if she were floating, floating in a strange soft sea of white. Gradually, the mist dispersed and they were standing on their own riverbank with their canoe nearby. The eldest sister who had been left in charge was running downhill towards them. “Mother, Father, Esther! Where have you been?”
Four years had passed since the defeat of Maonto. Four years since their father had been promised magic. It seemed to Esther, now seventeen years old, that Moth, Oll and Batas might have been only a dream if it were not for the fact that her father and mother too remembered them. She went into town for high school and began saving for college. She got to know people outside of her family for the first time, and began to feel quite content with life as it was. The old days in the cabin in the forest; fishing, canoeing, stargazing, began to feel silly and far away. She had driven into town and was hanging out at the mall with a bunch of friends when her cell phone shrilled abruptly. “Just a sec,” she told her friend Sandra, pulling the phone out of her pocket and flipping it open by her ear. Her father’s voice came through, eager and urgent. “Esther, come home quickly. It’s happened.” She blinked, startled. “What’s happened?” “The sign has come. Hurry.” Before she could stop him, he hung up. Sighing, she put the phone away. “I got to go. Sorry to cut our trip short, my dad wants me back.” “Oh come on,” Sandra pleaded. “Now?” “Yeah. I’ll see you guys tomorrow though.” “Okay, see you then,” they said, waving her off as she climbed into the battered old pick-up truck her dad had got her cheap. As she jerked and lurched along the road homewards she wondered what on earth it could have been that her dad was talking about. Suddenly, like a faraway dream, she heard Kothos’ voice in her memory. “Watch for a white hawk and dolphins in the river. They will tell you it is time to return to us.” Her hands tightened on the steering wheel as she turned onto the long gravel driveway that led to their cabin. Could it really be…? She swung to the ground, slamming the door with the final thump a car door always makes upon returning. Her mother hurried towards her. “Come to the river quickly.” She followed her, scrambling and stumbling in her haste, down the bank to the water’s edge. Her father was standing there, when he saw her approaching he pointed solemnly. Esther looked, there, swimming up and down and cavorting in the waves, was a dolphin, solid and shiny-wet, with water droplets flying from its shimmering fins. Perched on a branch above it, cozily ruffling its pure white feathers, was a graceful hawk. There was no doubt about the reality of either of them, nor that they certainly did not belong here. Esther let out her breath in a strange slow sigh. She felt almost afraid. “So they have come after all,” she murmured. Her father’s eyes were bright with excitement. “Quickly, let’s get the canoe.” Silently, they launched the aged boat and climbed in. Esther’s heart was beating fast. Was it true? Could it really have happened? Would there really be three giants at the cabin… waiting? The oars swished softly in the current riffled water. In they dipped and out, in and out, sending up small drops of water that sprinkled lightly against Esther’s face. The dolphin turned from its playful circles and swam on before them, guiding. The hawk softly spread its wings and soared overhead. Was it true? Could it really have happened? The seconds ticked past like hours, flowing backward with the river through time. Time lost itself in the stillness. It was as if she were again thirteen, drifting in the fog, and any minute that strange great shape would come, looming, looming. Abruptly, the boat touched a stretch of damp, sandy shore. “We’re here!” Her father moored the boat. He seemed suddenly calm and methodical, as if there were nothing at all to hurry for. Esther bit her lip, breathed deeply, tried to push back the rising impatience and conflict. At last it was done, she and her mother climbed out after him. They made their way steadily up the steep bank. Suddenly Esther hesitated. There… At the top… A shape… She peered into the mist, trying to make it out. Suddenly she broke into a run, hard and desperate. Could it be true? She pushed forward, her breath tearing at her throat, her feet slipping on the wet grass. Near the top now, almost there… “Welcome, Esther.” Stumbling to a stop she looked up, up past the unbelievable height of the giant and saw a face she knew. “Kothos.” Her mind was spinning, she wasn’t sure whether she felt relieved or shocked or overjoyed. It was true! Her mind sang, It was really true!
Inside the cabin, they sat in a circle around the familiar old table. The cabin, Esther thought, looking around, was unchanged. The same equipment, the same wooden furniture, the same queer objects hanging from the ceiling. The giants looked much the same too. “So you came. Welcome back,” said Kothos. “It is wonderful to see you again,” said Moth. “I’ll get some dinner,” Oll hurried into the kitchen and returned carefully holding a human size tray between his thumb and forefinger. The food was as good as ever. When they had finished her father said, “I am afraid I cannot stay long this time. I trust all is well with you and there has been no further trouble with Maonto’s kind.” Kothos nodded, “All is well for now. But fighting Maonto’s kind is our duty. That is a wizard’s task. We drive out evil like Maonto was, and we protect what is good. That is the gift of magic. When you have become a magic user, you will be able to tell, without doubt, what is wholly and hopelessly evil, and sense any speck of good in any being. You will also become more aware of your surroundings, of every sight and sound and smell. It is a wonderful task, but a difficult one. And the hardest part is not really the fighting; it is knowing when not to fight.” He got to his feet. “Are you ready?” Her father nodded, and rose also. “This will take some little time. Feel free to go where you will. We are going up to my work room.” Kothos, her father, and the other giants moved upstairs and closed the door behind them. Esther and her mother sat looking at one another across the table. Esther was having trouble adjusting her brain to the fact that they were back with the giants, that it was really real. She could see her mother was worried about father. She reached out and took her hand. “It’ll be okay. I trust them. They are worthy of it.” Mother nodded. “I know, I know. But after he becomes a wizard what then? Will everything be different?” Esther could not answer that. She did not know. The seconds ticked past slowly. The cabin was utterly silent; there was not even a twitter of birdsong in the misty evening outside. They strained their ears for a sound from the room where her father and the giants had gone, but there was nothing. It must have been hours they sat there. Once Oll came down and brought them a cup of tea. “I am sorry to keep you waiting so long,” he said. “But there is much to be arranged.” Her mother nodded tensely. “That’s quite all right.” Oll returned upstairs and their vigil continued. Neither of them could bring themselves to do anything but listen and wait. At last, Esther fell asleep, and dreamed a white hawk came swooping down out of the sky and carried her on its back over rolling fields all aflame, and she knew she was searching, searching desperately for something, but she could not fathom what. She jerked awake to find her mother shaking her shoulder, and looking around saw a large group of people coming downstairs. It took her a moment to straighten things out, then she realized it was the giants and her father among them. She jumped to her feet. “Dad! Did it all go well!? Are… Are you a wizard now?” Her father smiled. He looked tired, but the same as ever. “Yes Esther, I am.” “You don’t look any different.” “Well what do you expect,” her father laughed. “Should my hair begin spelling out the words wizard perhaps? The giants have invited us to stay for dinner, and judging by the time and how dark it is outside we shall have to stay the night as well.” ‘Good,” said Esther. She looked forward to the chance of again sleeping in that bedroom of years ago and seeing how it looked now. But the bed turned out to be too small for her now, so she slept in a sleeping bag on the floor. It did not take her long to nod off; there was peacefulness about this place. She slept far more soundly then she had for a long time. In the morning she was awoken gently by the same soft twitter of birdsong that brought memories of the last visit strongly to her mind. She leaned on the windowsill and breathed deeply of the morning air. It was real. She had slept and woken up and it was no dream, it was truly real! The knowledge filled her with joy. She dressed and hurried downstairs. Oll had steak and fried potatoes waiting for them, the best she had ever tasted. When they had finished, her father stood. “I am more grateful than words can tell, and I wish we could stay longer, but our family is waiting at home. I shall come visit soon if I may.” “You are always welcome,” replied Kothos. “And we are ready to help you with your wizards duties if you so need while you are still learning.” Her father nodded. Esther wondered if they were going to be magicked away again, but the giants walked with them down to the shore where their canoe was beached. As they were climbing in, saying their last thank you and farewells, Kothos suddenly spoke to Esther. “Esther. Your father’s task is to be a wizard, but there is a task you could have if you choose.” Esther was almost too surprised to answer for a moment. At last she managed to say, “Me? What is it?” “The task of finding work for your father to do. Finding people who need him. Finding people who also are worthy of being wizards. Your father has a life and people who need him at home. You as yet, are free. But if you chose that task it would be a life, your job and living. And there are not many you could tell what this job is. It would mean giving up much of the life you have chosen back at the city, and many friendships besides. Could you do that? Would you choose this job?” Esther hesitated. “I- I don’t know. I’d have to think. May I have some time to consider?” “You may have as much time as you desire,” replied Kothos. “Take this.” He placed something in her hand, looking down she saw it was a small, ivory dove. “Tell this dove your decision, when you have made it. Then hold it out the window, and it will become a real dove, and fly to tell us what it is.” Esther nodded, and closed her fist around the small sculpture. It felt strangely warm and living within her palm, not cool as one might expect. Then her father pushed off, and the waving forms of the giants slid away from them and quickly vanished in the morning mists.
Esther leaned on her windowsill and gazed out across the forest, thinking of Kothos’s words to her. A task to assist her father! She had hoped for that, hadn't she? But she had a real life now, her thoughts protested, and real friends. She couldn't just give them up. But are they worth having? Something tickled the corner of her mind. She felt like slapping it. Of course they’re worth having! If they’re worth having, really true friends, the thing tickled again, then you could tell them couldn't you? Well yes but… but what? Was she going to have what she wanted, or what she really wanted? She opened her hand, looked down and the little white dove, glittering and lifelike in her palm, its small folded wings just waiting to be spread. She smiled. She knew what her answer would be.
The end


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