The Stone Giant’s Treasure
For as long as he could remember, which was a very long time indeed, the stone giant had kept watch over the gold in the cave at the top of the mountain. Over the centuries, there were many who had entered the cave to test their mettle and prove they were worthy of the treasure the stone giant guarded.
He had fought and vanquished warriors of all stripes, for no matter their strength or skill, or the caliber of their weapons, none were a match for the stone giant. Whenever he could, the stone giant did his best not to hurt them terribly and let them crawl back out of the cave in shame-faced defeat. They were the lucky ones.
It was up to the challenger to choose the terms of the challenge. Some chose games of wit or chance. But whether it was chess or dice or music the stone giant defeated them all. And when the contest was over, their bodies solidified into gold and were added to the pile of treasure they so coveted.
The stone giant took no pleasure in their defeat. Sometimes, he even felt a bit of regret at their fate. In one corner of the cave, now half buried in a mass of cold coins, was the solidified form of a lovely singer from the court of some great emperor. She’d had a voice as sweet as honey. But the stone giant had cavernous stone throat, that echoed and harmonized with itself. Her human voice, as beautiful as it was, could not compete. And now her sweet voice was still and silent. A pity, thought the stone giant, I would have liked to sing with her a little while longer…
But she was not worthy of the treasure she sought. And that was that. And so the stone giant was left in the cave all alone with the pile of gold, awaiting the next challenger.
She entered the cave in the early pre-dawn hours of the morning—scurried in like a curious mouse in a house without a cat. Her bare feet hardly made any noise on the cave floor as she walked right up to his big toe. She looked up at him, curiously, her big brown eyes blinking at him from a face framed by a halo of thick, dark curls.
He sat very still, (he was very good at that, being made of stone and all) while she inspected him. He hoped, if he did not move, that she would get bored and go away on her own. He had no interest in challenging a little girl. Certainly, he did not wish to see her turned into a lump of gold.
From her clothing, the giant could tell the girl was a local, one of the villagers who lived in the foothills at the base of the mountain. The villagers generally did not attempt to challenge him—they knew better than to try—but on occasion they would guide foreign adventurers to the cave and, provided they were paid ahead of time, would serve as porters carrying supplies and equipment up the mountain.
It could be an arduous journey, especially the last leg of it, where horses could no longer walk the narrow mountain path. At the end of the trail it was necessary to climb up a stretch of cliff to reach the cave entrance. The stone giant could hardly imagine how this small girl had made it all the way up here, seemingly all on her own. She must have climbed up in the dark, for the stone giant could see no sunlight coming through the entrance to the cave. Remarkable.
The girl’s expression of curiosity melted into a frown and she began poking his toe with her index finger. It tickled, but the stone giant did not move.
“Hey!” said the girl.
Please just go away, thought the stone giant without moving.
“Hey! Hey! Are you sleeping! Wake up!” she shouted.
No, go away, he willed silently.
The girl hocked a gob of spit onto her palm and proceeded to rub it against his foot. The giant found it to be a most unpleasant sensation.
Oh, that’s it, thought the stone giant. “WHO DARES ENTER THE CAVE OF TREASURE?!” he bellowed in his great voice that could make even the most battle-hardened warriors tense.
The girl looked at the stone giant like he was an idiot. “I do,” she said.
The stone giant was a little surprised by her calm demeanor, but nevertheless he continued with the standard script, “And who are you?”
“Who’s asking?” she retorted.
The stone giant paused. He wasn’t entirely sure how to respond to this question.
“I am.” He finally replied. “What is your name, little one?”
She squinted at him. “You first.”
“Me—” the stone giant started, “I don’t…have a name.”
“Well, that’s dumb. Why not?”
“I’m not sure. I’ve just never had one.”
“But what do people call you?” she asked.
“Nothing,” the stone giant replied.
“Oh, ok then, Nothing,” she said rolling her eyes a little, “Everyone calls me Queenie. My brother says it’s ‘cause I put on airs, but he’s just jealous because I’m better at racing and swimming and catching frogs than he is, and I am the best climber out of anyone in the WHOLE village.” She punctuated this declaration of achievement by thrusting her thumb proudly into her puffed up little chest.
“So then,” said the great stone giant, glaring gravely at this boastful little miscreant, “you have come here to prove your worth and claim the treasure of this cave?”
“Pfffffffft.” She replied.
The stone giant was not quite sure what to say to that.
“Why would I need to prove my worth for pile of rocks? I’m worth waaaay more than any dumb pile of rocks no matter how shiny they are!” Queenie declared. “What about you? What are you worth? You just sit up here all day with these rocks. Is that all you’re good for?”
“I beg your pardon?” demanded the stone giant. Who did she think she was? “I am the guardian of this cave; it is my duty to look over this treasure and challenge all who come to claim it—”
“Why?” she interrupted him. “Isn’t it boring just sitting here by yourself all day?”
“It’s, it’s my duty—” the stone giant began.
“But isn’t it boring?”
“Well, yes—sometimes, but it’s necessary—” he faltered.
“Why?” the girl demanded.
“Because…because if I didn’t stand guard then just anyone could take the gold—”
“So, so…but—anyone could…” the stone giant stuttered. The nerve of this girl! He drew himself up and regained his composure. “If you are not here for the treasure why have you come to this cave?”
“Weeeell,” she said, rocking back and forth on the balls of her feet, “there are ripe persimmons growing on the southern ledge. Persimmons are my most favorite food in the whole wide world. And I want some.”
“This is not the southern ledge.” The stone giant grumbled.
“I know! It’s just…” the girl looked down, chewing her lower lip and tracing circles with her left toe in the dirt floor of the cave, as all the bravado faded from her posture. “It’s more fun with a friend. And I don’t have any—I mean, I don’t have many friends. Not any that can climb as well as me, and I just, I just thought…you’re always up here all alone, and maybe, I thought maybe…I mean if you wanted to…”
The girl looked up at the stone giant with a hopeful innocence he wasn’t at all equipped to handle.
He knew who he was in the stories that brought adventurers to his cave. He was the great challenge to be overcome. He was an obstacle to the treasure they had come for, the thing they really wanted. He understood that role.
But who was he supposed to be in this story? What stood before him was no warrior, no intrepid adventurer seeking gold—just a lonely child looking for a friend. It was off the familiar script. He didn’t know his lines. So he said–nothing.
Queenie fidgeted uncomfortably in the silence, her little brow furrowed, and her lips pressed together in a frown. She blinked away moisture from her eyes. Must be the dust, she told herself. She definitely wasn’t crying, though. Definitely not.
“You don’t have to come if you don’t want to! I don’t care! I don’t want to be friends with any big dumb rock who wants to just sit here with a big pile of dumb rocks ANYWAY!” She shouted, wiping away the stream of totally-not-tears dripping down her cheeks.
Indignant, the stone giant raised himself to his full height and stared down at the small girl before him.
“I am NOT” he roared, “A BIG DUMB ROCK!”
Queenie did not flinch. She didn’t even blink. She just balled her hands into fists, put them on her hips and looked up at him, pouting, her big brown eyes watering, sniffed back a whimper and said:
The stone giant was not prepared for this. This was all wrong. This was not what was supposed to happen. HE was supposed to issue the challenge, HE was supposed to demand proof of worthiness.
Yet here he was, being asked to prove his worth to this tiny, willful child. And what exactly was the treasure that his worth was being weighed against? What was his value? What treasure could be greater than what he already possessed?
The stone giant looked around the cave and at all the gold that filled it. He had never really noticed before how dark, and dank, and—lifeless it all was.
He was not a big dumb rock, he thought to himself. He wasn’t. He didn’t—
He didn’t want to be.
He looked back at the girl, her eyes glaring at him more fiercely than before even as her lower lip trembled, and he shrank a little before her.
“Uh…uhm..p-pers-simmons?” he stammered.
The girl looked him up and down, as if weighing and measuring him with her eyes. For the first time he could remember, the stone giant felt nervous. He wasn’t entirely sure what she was looking for and a piece of him worried that perhaps she wouldn’t find it, whatever it was—that he would fail the challenge, that he would be found lacking.
He feared that like all the others who had proven themselves unworthy of the treasure they sought, he would be left a lifeless stone in a dark cave, forever.
But instead, Queenie’s face lit up in an approving smile, and she half-skipped, half-marched to the cave’s entrance, calling back “Follow me!”
And so he did.
As the stone giant stepped out of the cave, for the first time since he couldn’t even remember how long, the rising sun began to peak above the eastern horizon. From the mountaintop, he gazed at the foothills spread out before him, and in the light of the dawn he saw his treasure–an entire world, drenched in gold.
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