(This is just a silly little bit of short fiction that I wrote for a writing challenge somewhere. I ended up really liking the setting and the characters, actually, and I’ll probably be working with it in another story somewhere down the road. For now, though, this is a tiny little introduction.)
No one knew where the beanstalk came from. One evening, as the kingdom went to sleep, it wasn’t there. When the first of the farmers woke up before dawn the next day, suddenly there it was. It replaced one of the towers at the corner of the castle wall, crushing and displacing the stone there.
The King’s Magicians couldn’t make heads or tails out of it. The growth of plants was nothing new to them; they had ensured fruitful harvests for many seasons now, after all. But to see a vine so enormous — broader than the largest trees at its base and stretching up to beyond the clouds — baffled them so. If this was magic, they said, it was of a far greater kind they had ever seen.
The King, being a pragmatic sort, was more concerned about whether or not the beanstalk posed a threat to the kingdom than where it came from. Guards watched it, farmers got together to try and chop it down, and it did nothing but heal itself faster than they could cut it. Many of the townsfolk lost good axes to the enormous stalk, but other than that it didn’t appear particularly malicious. By nightfall of that first day the alarm of the people had settled into a bemused curiosity.
Guards were stationed at the enormous stalk, of course. The night was moonless, and they had plenty of torches to see by. No one understood how the giant that came down managed to evade their detection until it landed. It hopped the last several dozen feet to the ground with a tremendous crash that threw the guards off their feet and the sleeping townsfolk out of their beds. When it rose, its shadow towered over the wall considerably; the tower the beanstalk had destroyed would have only risen to the bottom of its chest.
The guards panicked and ran. Someone sounded the alarm and threw the entire castle into chaos. The giant came closer to the castle, each step shaking the walls more and more severely, until at last it came into the feeble circle of firelight all of those dropped torches provided. Its features came into view, revealing a set of whiskers the size of bell ropes, a twitching pink nose, and two black, beady eyes that reflected the light eerily. It looked like a demon from the old stories, blown up impossibly large. It looked at the men and smiled, displaying a fearsome set of rodent-like sharp teeth. Then it spoke, its voice deep and loud enough to be heard in the next valley over.
“FE FI FO FUM,” it roared. “I SMELL THE BLOOD OF ROYAL ONES.”
Panic grew deeper. Guards were rushing towards the wall to defend their king and castle, but more of them dropped their spears and torches and ran off to any place they thought might be safe. The giant simply watched them, then leaned over to see over the wall. It placed hands on the lip of it, crumbling rocks that have stood for ages and countless sieges. “Excuse me,” it said, in a quieter voice that still rumbled. “Can I have a word with the king of this fine castle?”
It took some time for the chaos to recede, and when it did the King was suddenly there under the beast along the wall. He thrust his sword high in the air and lifted his shield. He spoke in as commanding a voice as he could muster. “I am the King, and what foul business do you have with me giant devil?”
The giant blinked. “I beg your pardon, sir, but I am neither a giant nor a devil. Rather, it is you all who are…incredibly small.” It leaned over further to investigate the King. It had rounded ears, and its face was covered in fur. It looked like a mouse. “And without fur or tails, by the look of it.”
The King didn’t know what to make of this. “We’ve…gotten on quite well without them, thank you. Now, state your business or be off!” He tried not to let his confusion show, for that would be a sign of weakness and just the opening the Giant needed to be more aggressive.
“I…was wondering, er…you see, I’m…um, quite poor, and we’ve heard such tales of the lands below the clouds. You wouldn’t believe them!” The Giant’s claws scratched the stone on either side of the King as its fingers tightened. “Well, perhaps you would! But…well, I’ve heard tell of your riches, and I was wondering if you would be so kind as to…um, share them. With me.”
The whole castle had fallen silent by now. All of the King’s subjects had awakened at this point, and were hinged on the Giant’s every word. No one knew quite what to make of it’s request — it wasn’t just that it was asking for gold from the royal larders, but that it was doing so in such a nervous, meek fashion. The King stroked his beard for a moment, and stared at the Giant. It was a strange creature indeed, a mouse that walked like a man, that stood higher than his tallest towers. It could have easily breached the wall and taken what it wanted, and yet it didn’t.
“In my culture,” the King said. “A man earns his riches by doing honest work. I’ve earned mine by leading my people to great prosperity and protecting them from threats. If I were to give you some of my wealth, I would expect you to perform a service for me in exchange. What would you be willing to do?”
The Giant’s beady eyes glittered in the firelight as it considered. “I…don’t know, sir. In my culture, the largest of us has all the wealth, and the smallest of us must fight for whatever is left. I have fought for what little I have, but I am weary. And I…do not know what I could do to earn even a small part of your riches.”
The King chuckled. “You could be a great service amongst my people as a protector, you know. I doubt an entire army could withstand your might. Would you do this for us? Fight for us if we have need of you?”
The Giant smiled. “Of course! You lot are so small it would be no trouble at all for me to take care of a few of you. I…I would be glad to!”
The guards were nervous at this statement, but none dared question the judgement of the King. For his part, the King looked most pleased. “Then I decree it so. This Giant is now a Protector of the Realm, for which he will be duly compensated at the first of each month for his services. Duncan!”
One of the King’s personal guards stepped from the shadows, looking up at the Giant the entire time. The King turned to him and smiled. “Bring a chest filled with gold for our new guardsma–, er, giant. It will be a show of good faith between us.”
Duncan disappeared, and moments later it was done. The Giant looked inside the chest and its eyes grew wide with the amount of gold within. He looked for a moment as if he were about to lay hands on the King, but thought the better of it when the guards advanced.
“Thank you, Your Highness.” The Giant was breathless with gratitude. “My mother will be most pleased. I will return tomorrow to begin my duties.”
It clenched the chest in its teeth, and in its mouth the vast box that it took four men to carry looked as small as a walnut.
The King stopped him. “Ho, there, Giant. What do they call you?”
The Giant smiled, then pulled the chest from its teeth with a few fingers. “I am called Jack, your Highness. What do they call you?”
The King drew himself up. “I am King Humbert of the Nine Realms, Lord and Protector of All, Benevolent and Wise.”
Jack smiled, and his nose twitched. “I am honored to have made your acquaintance, King Humbert. Until tomorrow.”
“The pleasure is mine, Jack.” The King bowed, and watched the Giant ascend into the clouds. “Until tomorrow.”
That was how the people of the Nine Realms came to be acquainted with the Giant races, beasts who walked like men and were far, far larger than any of us had imagined in our stories. It was a long and fruitful relationship, but not without many troubles…