A GIANT MISTAKE
Leona R Wisoker
Jo was unhappy.
Now, by itself, this is not a particularly original situation. Women living in male-dominated systems have been unhappy since time began. And even giants cry sometimes. Especially female teenage giants.
Jo normally had a sunny personality and an unshakable belief that whatever was wrong could be put right with a bit of thought and perhaps some hard work or sacrifice. She rarely descended into angst or despair. Yet here she was, sitting on Giant’s Hill, staring at her beloved and thinking about how impossible the world could be sometimes.
Humans and giants had been at war until one of Jo’s ancestors had come up with a way to actually communicate: a high tower, which humans could stand atop to speak with the giants, and a beautifully sculpted hillside that allowed the giant to rest comfortably while they spoke. The humans seeded the hillside with aromatic, soft ground covers and herbs to keep the dirt in place and the spot pleasant for all concerned.
Giant’s Path, a half-mile wide road, ran from the Speaking Tower to the main giant settlement. Boundary markers had been put up, to let humans know that stepping onto this road wasn’t safe for anyone under twenty five feet tall, and that if they were injured it would be their own damn fault.
Jo’s father, Uis, was the current head of the settlement. He was a very rigid and unforgiving man–by Jo’s standards, anyway.
“Humans,” he had declared just that morning, “are silly creatures. Best to leave them to themselves. Let them farm their small plots and argue over small matters and live their small lives. They don’t have anything of interest to say. We never should have moved the clan to this side of the world.”
Jo did not agree, to say the least.
“What are you so damn tetchy about this time?” Uis hollered after Jo as she stood and stormed from the room; Jo heard her mother say something about “she’s just at that age” before the cottage door slammed behind her.
She walked rapidly along Giant’s Path to the Tower–it wasn’t permitted to actually run, this close to the human settlement, because the shock unsettled their livestock and broke their windows, and part of living in harmony was avoiding unnecessary damages. Jo loved to run. Sometimes she went out to the Great Plains to the east, where no humans lived, and ran and ran and ran until the restlessness passed. All the giants went out there to run, especially the younger ones; in pairs, at most, because even that far away, too many giants running and stomping shook the earth and caused damage to the human settlement.
The seasonal dances had to be held up in the mountains. Uis had been getting increasingly worried over the damages being done to the “fragile ecosystem” of the mountain range. He was always talking about riverbed redirecting and deforestation and fragmentation of underlying igneous systems and other bizarre and boring topics.
None of which mattered to Jo at the moment. She slowed her pace to a gentle walk as she approached the Speaking Tower, and sat down in the Big Chair to stare at her beloved.
“It’s impossible,” Jo said. “He’d never understand.”
Brigitte leaned her elbows on the low stone parapet that served as a rail, her chin in her hands. “I haven’t told my parents either,” she confessed. “My father’s been too busy trying to solve all sorts of problems; he hardly even sees me these days. And my mother doesn’t like fuss. She just wants to be left alone to bake bread and clean house. It’s boring.”
Jo sighed. A passing hawk tumbled wing over talon, and fetched up a half mile away, thoroughly out of sorts. Neither girl noticed.
“My father’s always talking about ecological issues,” Jo said. She leaned forward and put the tip of her pinky on the wall. Brigitte moved from leaning on the wall to leaning on Jo’s fingernail; Jo didn’t even feel the weight, which only depressed her further. “And my mother likes everything to stay ordinary. They’d never understand.”
They stared at each other for a long time, sighing now and again. Jo was careful to direct her exhales up or to one side.
“Oh, to be so large, and command the world,” Brigitte said wistfully. “To be able to walk a mile in just a few steps, and to see the birds face to face while they are in flight!”
“Oh, to be so small and delicate,” Jo said, wishing she could safely stroke Brigitte’s tiny face. “To walk without fear of crushing anything small, and to dance without worrying about causing earthquakes.”
They stared at each other some more.
“Do you have any drawings for me?” Jo asked at last, tentatively.
“Yes!” Brigitte said, brightening. She knelt and began unrolling a sheet of paper wider than she was tall. “I think this is the last for a while, though. The paper-mill is getting fussy about letting me have so much of their scraps. But this is a praying mantis. I found one last week and thought you’d like it. Isn’t this pretty?”
Spread flat, the drawing took up a quarter of the tower roof, and proved to be at least a hundred smaller pieces of paper carefully glued together. Jo studied the drawing with care, then said, “It looks like a stick with legs.”
“Well, yes,” Brigitte said. “That’s what they look like. And they blend into the background really well, so they’re hard to catch. Do you like it?”
“Yes, of course!” Jo said. “May I take it home?”
“Yes, of course!” Brigitte beamed, and rolled the drawing up again. It was smaller than Jo’s hand; she put the tiny thing in her belt-pouch with care.
“It will go under my bed with all the other beautiful things you’ve brought me,” Jo promised, and Brigitte flushed with embarrassed delight.
They went back to staring at each other for a while.
“We have to go,” Brigitte said at last, mournfully. “My father sent for some wizard or other to help solve the livestock mutant births and the crop failures. They’re meeting here at noon.”
“Here?” Jo said. “Why here?”
“I heard him say your father was interested in meeting the wizard too. Something about igneous subsystem relocation issues in the Black Mountains.”
Jo rolled her eyes. “That’s all he talks about these days,” she said. “It’s boring.”
“I know.” Brigitte straightened. “Tomorrow morning?”
“Right after breakfast.”
They smiled at each other, tears in their eyes, and returned to their respective settlements.
* * *
“Jo,” Uis said on her return, “I’m going to an important meeting today, and I want you to come along and listen in. It’s time you began to understand the world as a significant political and ecological entity.”
“Whatever,” Jo said. “I don’t want to go.”
He gave her a Look.
“Oh, fine,” she muttered, and followed him back down Giant’s Path, not really listening as he talked about cracks forming in the mountain and rockslides and the way large stands of thousand year old trees were dying, and the river jumping a quarter mile out of its former path. None of it mattered to Jo, not unless she could have Brigitte.
Then she realized this was the first time she’d actually been alone with her father in months.
“Da,” she said, “Can I talk to you about something that’s important to me?”
He immediately stopped and turned to look at her, appearing very pleased with himself. Jo realized this whole walk had been a gambit to get her to do exactly what she’d just done. It had probably been her mother’s idea.
But manipulated or not, she did need to talk about the problem. She’d find some way of making her mother miserable later, to pay for this setup. Jo drew a deep breath and blurted, “I’m in love, Da.”
“Ah!” He beamed, looking immensely pleased with himself now. “We thought that might be it. Who’s the lucky one?”
Her father frowned, shaking his head slowly. “Don’t think I know that name. I know of a Barnan, and a Browal; I think there’s a Brigley out in the western–“
“She’s a human, Da.”
He blinked at her, looking befuddled for a moment, then his frown returned and deepened. “A human?”
“Yes. A human female.”
“Impossible,” he said, shaking his head. “Jo, what are you thinking?”
“I’m in love with her, Da!”
“Impossible,” he repeated. “And this just proves my point. We’re not meant to live in such close quarters with humans. It’s time for a change.” Shaking his head, he began walking again, muttering to himself.
“You don’t care about me!” she shouted after him. “You don’t care about what I want at all!”
“Come on,” he said over his shoulder. “I really do want you to hear this. It’s important.”
“Da! Are you even listening to me?”
He ignored her. She glared at his retreating back, then stomped after him sullenly.
* * *
The ecological wizard was tall, for a human, and very skinny. In his light brown and grey robes he looked like a stick-insect. Jo thought of Brigitte, and sighed again.
“Careful!” her father said, nudging her shoulder and scowling.
The wizard let go his fierce grip on the parapet and ran his hands through his thin hair to put it back into order. “That’s all right, that’s all right,” he said in a surprisingly deep, loud voice. “I didn’t need that hat anyway.”
“Uis,” said Brigitte’s father, climbing back to his feet and dusting himself off, “may I present Arcniology.”
“Er, no,” the wizard said. “My name is Frez, actually. What I do is archaeonomancy. And a bit of biomancy, geomancy, aeromancy, and aquamancy, but I can’t do a thing with fire.” He grinned as though that were some sort of joke.
They all stared at him blankly. His smile faded.
“I can sort out your farm animal mutations and your igneous relocation issues,” the wizard said with a sigh, crossing his arms.
“Ah, there you go,” Uis said. “That wizard talk never made any sense to me. Anything with that ‘mancy in it just shuts my brain right down. But you’re talking proper now.”
The wizard sighed again and nodded. Jo thought how wonderful it must be, to sigh without worrying about knocking over the nearest sentient creature. Her attention wandered. She remembered Brigitte standing where the wizard now stood, leaning on the parapet, her golden hair long and loose around her face and her blue eyes like tiny lapis pebbles.
Jo stifled a sigh just in time and dutifully tried to listen to what the men were talking about.
“–rockslides tearing up a twenty mile wide swath of mountain after the Fall Dance,” Uis was saying. “There has to be some way of stabilizing–“
Jo lost interest again. She watched an eagle soaring past, and wished she could see it more clearly. Brigitte always loved watching them go by. She thought eagles were majestic and imperious, whatever that meant. Brigitte had tried to explain about kings and kingdoms and empires, but Jo found anything political immensely boring, and had always forgotten every word before she even got home.
“Jo,” her father said sternly, “listen, now. The wizard is ready to tell us his solution.”
She tried to look as though she’d been attentive all along. He gave her the Look again, clearly not fooled.
“You’re probably not going to like the solution,” the wizard said. “But it’s the only way I can see to stop the problems. You have to move further apart.”
Uis and Brigitte’s father nodded as though they actually liked that answer. Jo sat up straight, horrified, and said, “What?”
“Your people just aren’t meant to live this close together,” said the wizard. “This is the soft side of the world, where humans were born. Giants belong over on the hard side of the world, where the ground can support more weight. Even the mountains aren’t hard enough to withstand your seasonal Dances, and the creatures here are suffering from the constant vibrations in the ground. It’s like living in the middle of a perpetual earthquake. I’m sorry, Uis, my magic can’t stop physics.”
“But,” Jo said.
“That’s what I thought,” Uis cut in, nudging his daughter. “It was a mistake for my grandfather to move us this close to human lands. We’ll start packing right away.”
“But Brigitte!” Jo wailed.
Everyone fell silent, staring at her. “My daughter?” Brigitte’s father said. “What about her?”
“I don’t want to leave her!” Jo said. “I love her!”
Uis and Brigitte’s father exchanged a long look.
“Come on, Jo,” Uis said heavily, getting up from the Chair. “Let’s go home.”
Jo stood up, protesting, “Da!”
Uis did something very unusual, for him: he put his arm around his daughter’s shoulders and kept it there the whole walk home.
* * *
Jo went back to the Tower that night, hoping that Brigitte would feel Jo’s presence, sneak out, and come up to talk in the moonlight.
But nothing happened, except that the air grew colder. Brigitte didn’t show up.
Maybe she never would. Maybe her father wouldn’t allow her out of the house again, thanks to Jo’s clumsy pronouncement, until the giants were all gone. They’d never see each other again, and it was all that stupid wizard’s fault.
“Er, hello,” the stupid wizard said a moment later, cautiously, from the parapet. “It’s Jo, right?”
She glared at his washed-out, moonlit silhouette. She couldn’t remember his name, and that annoyed her, but she didn’t like him enough to ask him about it. “What are you doing here?” she demanded.
“Er, there’s a comet due past tonight,” he said, pointing at the sky. “I thought the tower would be a lovely spot from which to see it.”
“Whatever,” Jo sulked, and looked away. “You’ve ruined my life, you know that?”
The wizard said, “Well, I didn’t mean to. Perhaps I can help you somehow, by way of an apology. I’m a very good listener, and I keep secrets very well. It’s one of my trademarks, actually, that I never tell a confidence. No matter what. Er.” He coughed awkwardly.
“All I want is to be with Brigitte,” Jo said. A thought struck her, and she leaned towards the Tower, squinting. “Hey–did you say biomancy, earlier?”
“Er. Yes. But–“
“Doesn’t that mean, like, biology? Like living things? You can cast spells on living creatures?”
“Er, well, yes. But–“
“Can you . . . can you make creatures . . . smaller?”
“Oh boy,” the wizard muttered. “I was afraid of this. Er, yes. Technically, yes, I can. But it’s a one-way change, you can’t reverse it–“
“Then that’s what I want,” Jo declared. “As your apology for ruining my life. I want to be a human size. That way I can stay with Brigitte.”
“Oh boy,” the wizard said. “Jo, I really don’t think you want–“
“I know what I want!” Jo said hotly. “I want to be small, like a human!”
“What about your father? Your family?”
“They won’t even notice I’m gone. Can you do it or not? Are you lying about wanting to apologize properly?” She leaned forward again, narrowing her eyes. “Maybe you’re not really a good wizard. Maybe you’re a fraud. I could tell my father you’re a fraud, and convince him not to trust you, not to move away!”
“I’m not a fraud,” the wizard said, sounding indignant. “Of course I can make you smaller. But it’s a very bad idea, Jo. Really. Please, trust me on this. Wait until morning–“
“In the morning it’ll be too late!” Jo cried.
In her mind she saw the scene: she’d show up at Brigitte’s door just before breakfast, carrying flowers. Brigitte would throw herself into Jo’s arms. Brigitte’s parents would clasp their hands over their hearts, in awe of True Love.
“You do this spell,” she said, as menacingly as she could, “or I’ll tell my father you’re a fraud. And I’ll–I’ll step on you! I’ll step on everything.”
“Er,” the wizard said, worried now. “That’s–you wouldn’t really? Would you?”
“I’ll tromple across everything,” she promised. “The only way you can stop me is to make me small!”
“Er. Well, in that case–but I really think you want to talk to Brigitte about this first–“
“No!” Jo said. “And don’t you tell anyone either! Not even Brigitte. Promise me you’ll keep the secret. I want to surprise her!”
“Oh, it’ll be a surprise all right,” the wizard muttered. “Jo, please, don’t ask me to do this–“
“I’m not leaving her behind!” Jo snapped. “Now do the spell!”
The wizard sighed. “If you’re sure.”
“Yes! Get on with it already!”
“All right, then,” the wizard said with a strange fatalism. “I suggest that as soon as you’ve changed, you get into the tower and up to the top. Now shut your eyes.”
Jo realized that would be even more perfect than greeting Brigitte at breakfast. She’d just stand casually looking out over the world, and Brigitte would come up expecting to see her in the Giant’s Chair, and then Jo would turn around–yes. That would be even better. More private.
They might even be able to . . . kiss. Jo shivered, thrilled and terrified all at once.
“Thank you,” she said, and shut her eyes.
* * *
Dawn spread orange and purple across the sky. Jo watched it, honestly enthralled. Everything looked different. The knee-high bushes underfoot were now enormous trees; the tiny creatures flying through the air had turned into blue, black, and red-colored birds. An eagle soared past the tower, its brown and gold wings stretched out impossibly far as it danced on the light wind.
Jo ran her hands over the stone parapet, tears in her eyes at how rough the surface felt to her new, beautifully small hands. Brigitte had leaned on this stone with her elbows, and it must have hurt her after a while, but her love had been so strong that it hadn’t mattered. There were so many stairs in this tower–Jo’s legs ached horribly from the climb–but Brigitte had made that trek almost every day without complaint.
And it was so far down! Jo peeked over the parapet and stepped back, dizzy at how high she now stood. She’d never been so high above the ground before. Brigitte had been brave enough to stand here, risking her own life for Jo’s sake.
Jo felt a warm flush run throughout her entire body. They were going to be so happy together!
A heavy tread, like a toddler unsure of its steps, shook the tower. Jo yelped as she was jarred off her feet, landing hard on the stone. She tried to stand and was knocked down again. She wondered if her father had found her missing and was on his way to bring her home; what a surprise he’d have, if so!
But the gigantic figure that came into view was distinctly female, with long blond hair and bright blue eyes like twin lakes, and looked around as though puzzled and hurt. “Jo?” she called out, looking at the empty Giant’s Chair.
Jo scrambled to her feet and stood at the parapet, unable to believe her eyes.
“Brigitte?” she shrieked. “What the hell have you done?”
Brigitte turned to look at the Tower, her eyes going wide. “Jo?” she cried. The force of her shout knocked Jo off her feet again.
Brigitte sat down in the Giant’s Chair, and Jo stood against the parapet; and the two girls just stared at each other, permanently unhappy, as dawn brightened into day and eagles flew past unnoticed.