The Giant and the Thaumaturge
By Floris M. Kleijne
For the hundredth time, Mustanen grips the bamboo railing of the new bridge with white-knuckled hands, and faces the Giant.
The Giant sits immobile in the deep cleft in the hill’s side. Its legs lie stretched out to either side of the murmuring brook, where the cleft levels off into a ravine, a hundred feet below the bridge. Its house-sized head towers over Mustanen, the boulder-sized eyes squeezed shut, leaking infuriating crocodile tears. Motionless arms stretched out in front of it, the Giant carries the new bridge in clawed hands frozen in place.
Along the railing to either side of Mustanen, neighbors and friends stand clasping the bamboo, and mumbling. Like Mustanen, they’re ignoring the drizzle that moistens their cloaks and hats, flattens their hair. He can’t hear their words, but he knows their accusations by heart. Laila, hair held together with a leather strap, her blacksmith’s apron stretched over her belly, speaks of a husband and children in a cart loaded with scythe blades and plows. Eiki, in greens and tans, remembers his hunter father tracking a deer in the ravine between the bridge’s pilons. Voices shake or quaver; others never rise above a whisper.
In his mind, Mustanen hears little Preita scream.
For the thousandth time, the memory rips through him.
The wide curve of the bridge was Preita’s favorite part of the way back. She enjoyed their long hikes from Hamina Village to the capital and back as much as her Thaumaturge father, but seeing the ravine increased the bouncy energy in her steps. She relished the tapping of her feet on the bamboo, the wide-open vista, the white water of the brook between the pylons far below. Once they hit the interlocking bamboo halves of the bridge surface, she was almost dancing, her footfalls percussion to her exuberant singing and the murmuring of the brook, the sound she so loved.
Mustanen slowed his step and watched his daughter twirl around after every half-dozen steps, drawing fond smiles —and occasional frowns— from the other villagers crossing the ravine. He spoke a quiet incantation to lock the image in memory. The deep peace he felt powered his spell, etching the memory in his mind with exquisite detail. He planned to take out his inks and brushes later, and attempt to capture Preita’s essence. He expected to fail, but the effort would extend his loving enjoyment of his daughter’s innocent happiness.
The ground shook, and with it, the bridge.
People on the bridge screamed. There was another deep thud, felt as much as heard. Mustanen saw people, these people he had known all his life, grabbing the railing. Preita had stopped and turned.
He could not hear her in the ruckus, but read the word on her lips. He started towards her, but then the thuds and the shaking grew louder still, and a deep, thunderous roaring rolled through the ravine.
Mustanen took his eyes off his daughter and looked towards the loudness, but he already suspected what he would see.
Something not seen for a score of years.
A giant had rounded the steep, rocky promontory south of the bridge. It was wading blindly through the pines at the bottom of the ravine as if they were grass. With one boat-sized hand, it clawed at two pine trunks lodged deep in its left thigh. Brooks of blood seeped between its fingers. It groaned, making sounds of hurt and despair in its primitive language, uprooting pines, its treelike limbs flailing wildly, striding as if trying to outrun its pain.
Towards the bridge.
Mustanen sprinted desperately towards his daughter, who stood frozen in place, eyes wide with fear, arms stretched as if trying to bridge the distance between them. He sprinted, but there was no way he could outrun the Giant’s strides. As he ran, he reached for his magic, but he already knew what he would find.
Terror for Preita was blotting out every skill, every spell. Time slowed down, showing him everything that was happening in terrible detail, as his mind kept reciting the Thaumaturge’s Litany as if to mock his impotence.
Use your joy to conjure beauty
Use your calm to reach perfection
Use your anger to draw power
Use your grief to give compassion
Conquer fear, for fear will thwart you
He saw the bamboo shake with his every leaping stride. He saw Preita lose her balance, drop to her knees. He saw the Giant flail, its leg sweeping a wide arc under the bridge.
He saw the shattered remains of the pylons fly.
He was mere strides from Preita when the bridge collapsed, and there was nothing he could do. He could only fall as she fell, stretch his arms towards his daughter in despair as the bottom of the ravine rushed towards them. Their fingers touched. Branches smashed into him, broke his fall, broke his ribs. 
Nothing broke Preita’s fall but the dusty ground.
Wedged between branches, Mustanen cried out, his grief yielding to rage. Only then, ribs leaking blood into his lungs, Preita lying broken far below him, could he call up his Thaumaturge’s power, and scream, in a gurgling voice,
The Giant froze in his desperate, confused rampage. Pain and confusion contorted its face. Mustanen did not care.
The Giant would have to pay.
They stood at the stump of the bridge, looking out over the wreckage in the ravine as the last dust settled, the Giant’s frozen shape casting a shadow over the rescue efforts down below. Mustanen clutched an arm around his ribs, his fresh healing incantation enough to stop the bleeding, but not the pain.
“Kill it.” Laila the Blacksmith clutched one of her famous knives in her fist as if wanting to jump the gap and assault the Giant herself. “Only death can pay for death.”
“No, we should release it.” Kivi the Cheesemonger raised his hand to Laila. “It didn’t know what it was doing. Their minds are like toddlers’.”
Laila spit.
“A yellowjacket doesn’t know what it’s doing, but I’ve seen you swat them, Kivi.”
“So we just swat the giant?”
More council members joined the discussion, their voices only a background murmur to Mustanen’s swirling thoughts.
Despite its size, Mustanen could tell that the Giant was still young. It must have gotten lost Giantside, must have inadvertently crossed the Boundary. To its kin, it must have inexplicably vanished. Knowing not what it had done, or how, it must have panicked, and in its panic sustained the injuries that drove its mad rampage.
“Explanation is not excuse,” Mustanen said to himself in a cold whisper.
Again and again, he saw Preita fall away from his fingers, saw the cloud of dust where she struck the ground.
He had failed her.
The council members’ voices rose, tempers flared. He did not listen to their words. His mind was made up.
“We will not kill the Giant.” Although he hadn’t raised his voice, all fell silent and turned to him. He was their Thaumaturge. “We will not. Nor will we release it. No.
“We will make it suffer as we suffer.”
The giant stood motionless until the last victims had been carried from the ravine. Then Mustanen returned to the remains of the bridge, and with the council behind him, he pointed at the Giant, at the deep cleft in the hillside, and shouted,
The Giant clambered past the remains of the bridge, and turned to settle against the hillside. Mustanen made it stretch out its arms until its clawed hands hovered over the splintered pylons.
“You will pay for your crime, Giant!”
It had taken Preita from him, and Mustanen could not conceive of a worse crime. His anger flared, and he could feel his power swelling.
“You will suffer as we do, and worse!”
Hadn’t he himself preached again and again that Hell is not a place? Hell is understanding how much pain and grief you’ve caused. He would plunge the giant into its private hell.
“I curse you, Giant, and the name of my curse is...EMPATHY!”
Hadn’t he himself preached again and again that Hell is not a place? Hell is understanding how much pain and grief you’ve caused. He would plunge the giant into its private hell.
“I curse you, Giant, and the name of my curse is...EMPATHY!”
A soft hand on his shoulder calls Mustanen back into the present. He glances over his shoulder. Laila gives him a cautious, tear-streaked smile. She seems to be trying to convey something to him with her eyes, but he can’t fathom her meaning. She shakes her head and walks off, her shoulders still wet although the drizzle has stopped.
Laila’s unspoken message stays with him as he tries to call up the words of his accusation. He has thrown those words in the giant’s face every day since Preita fell, but today they seem slow in coming. He reaches for his anger, but sees Laila’s sad, compassionate smile instead.
What was she trying to say?
Mustanen strains to hear, but of course, she hasn’t spoken, and is now out of sight. Instead, his concentration brings other voices into focus. From a few strides down the bridge, Eiki is speaking about his father, his murmuring voice hardly rising above the sound of the brook: a soft, sad story of grief, love and remembrance.
But no anger.
And no accusation.
Eiki, Mustanen realizes, is sharing fond memories of his father with the giant. And on his other side, just close enough to hear, Kivi talks quietly about his husband’s love of boating.
Mustanen steps away from the railing and stumbles along the bridge. Everywhere he turns, he hears words of love and fond memory. No one is accusing the giant. No one screams, no one rages. There are only those soft, whispering voices, hardly rising above the susurrus of the brook.
How long has it been since he last heard anyone on the bridge scream in fury?
How long has it been since he even listened to any of them?
Again, he tries to call up his anger, but it lies stubbornly out of reach, and people are turning to him with compassionate gazes. Mustanen is beginning to suspect what Laila was trying to say, and he wants to hide from her message.
“No,” he whispers.
Use your anger to draw power
“No, I need my anger.” For he knows and fears what lies beyond it. The tears that start to run down his face belie his defiance. “I need it!” The brook murmurs under his words, the sound Preita loved so dearly. 
But how can the brook still murmur? When the giant settled back, it blocked the flow, diverting the brook into a waterfall beyond the promontory. The ravine should be dry.
Like his own cheeks have been dry.
“No,” he whispers again. His anger has sustained him all this time. Without it, how can he keep the grief at bay? And if he cannot, how will he survive its onslaught?
When he stops walking, he finds himself back where he began, at the railing. Slowly, he raises his face. But what he sees is not the source of his anger. Instead, he sees the source of the brook.
All this time, the Giant has been weeping, and Mustanen can no longer deny seeing her grief. Great, glistening tears are running down the Giant’s towering face in rivulets, dripping between her legs, feeding the stream that cascades down the ravine. The Giant is weeping, and Mustanen finds he is weeping as well. He doesn’t remember collapsing onto his knees, but he is kneeling. And his friends, his neighbors, are kneeling around him. Touching his shoulder, his face. Holding his hands.
“It’s okay,” they whisper. “It’s okay.” 
And then someone hugs him, and he smells leather and charcoal, and he returns Laila’s hug and thanks her for coming back.
“You are the last,” she whispers. “So much anger.”
“I miss her.”
She nods against his chest. “We all do. All of them.”
“It wasn’t her fault,” he says, and it feels like the words rip an opening in his heart. She shakes her head.
“It wasn’t. But only you can release her.”
Use your grief to give compassion
Slowly, Mustanen unwraps his arms from around Laila’s broad back. He stands up, stumbling like an old man. Half a dozen hands reach out to support him. He shakes his head and straightens.
We’ll have to rebuild the bridge, he thinks. We’ll have to help her recross the Boundary. We’ll have to let her reunite with her kin. He remembers, he dares remember, Preita dancing across the bamboo, and for the first time since he lost her, he recalls the image he captured in his mind. For the first time, he feels the tiniest spark of joy.
Use your joy to conjure beauty
For the first time, he thinks he may take out his inks and brushes when he comes home, and attempt to capture that perfect final image. His grief has caught up with him at last, but he is finding he can exist within the grief, as if in the eye of a storm, and in that quiet, he believes he may be able to do his daughter’s memory justice.
Use your calm to reach perfection
Facing the Giant a final time, he speaks a word of partial release. The Giant opens her eyes, a flood of salt water cascading down her cheeks. She speaks one rumbling word. Mustanen has no doubt of its meaning.
I’m sorry.
Mustanen nods.
“I forgive you.”
DreamForge Editorial Notes
by Scot Noel
When enjoying the end result of any magazine or anthology, readers can be forgiven for imagining that it all came together without question or misstep. Of course, that’s not what happens. Even the gems have typos and plain old mistakes. There may be a confusing sentence or two in the best of works, and it’s not unusual for authors to come back after we’ve already paid them to say “I’d like to change the 3rd paragraph on page two— I think there’s a better way to say that.”

This month we chose “The Giant and The Thaumaturge,” by Floris Kleijne, not because it has more or less corrections than average, but because of the artful economy Floris demonstrated in addressing our concerns.

We offered Floris up to 1,000 words to bring the concerns we expressed into better focus. He did the trick in 195 words. And now you can see how. Here is the email with editorial notes, originally sent in response after we first read “The Giant and The Thaumaturge.”

We liked a lot about “The Giant and The Thaumaturge,” but then some of it left us a bit confused. So, I’m returning it with editorial comments and the possibility that you might consider some changes and resubmit it our way.
For me, there are two critical things to be addressed. First, exactly what is happening in the first scene? It seems to take place after the ending scene, when perhaps the giant is putting a new bridge in place, but the giant is still frozen? Everyone who read it had a little bit of a hard time wrapping their heads around exactly what they were supposed to envision happening.
Secondly, although the story revolves around finding empathy for the giant, the giant is treated largely as a force of nature – a flood that came through the valley would be similar.
The villagers losing their hatred of the giant over time depends on them knowing something of the giant and being able to “walk a mile in its shoes.” What was going on that drove the giant through the valley (so hastily that it injured itself on trees?) Why have no other giants come back to look for it?
There was a minor attempt at humanizing the giant by indicating that it had a simple mind. What if it was a child itself – which might give more emotional resonance with Preita.
Was it afraid? What was the giant running from? What was it running toward? What did the villagers realize over time that turned their hearts? (…. Some earthquake or natural disaster not too far distant where the giant’s family was swallowed into the depths of the earth and killed? Explaining the terror and rush of the younger giant, as well as why no other giants came to its rescue? )
And a couple other minor comments. 
I understand you may not agree with any of these comments, and we wish you the best of luck in finding the story a home. If what we’re saying seems agreeable, I’d like you to take a shot at a revision for us. I realize this might make the tale a bit longer. I think 500 to 1000 extra words should be sufficient. 
I look forward to hearing from you.
Scot Noel
DreamForge Anvil © 2021 DreamForge Press
The Giant and the Thaumaturge © 2021 Floris Kleijne