One fine May afternoon the Cavalier popped out of the baking ovens of the Giant King’s castle. Since he was intended from the first for the King’s only daughter and only child, no effort had been spared. The heat of the kitchen shimmered in the sunlight as he was brought forth.
It is a truism that few who serve giants are themselves gigantic. For instance, the head pastry cook who officiated was a large man as such things run though you’ve doubtless seen them taller and even some greater around.
Under his direction, pantry boys, scullion lads and baker’s assistants hauled a dairy’s worth of butter, sacks of flour, and sugar to a huge tub and poured it all in. The cook himself produced a small teak chest from far Ceylon and into the mix tossed the spice that hints at excitement, danger and arousal: cinnamon. He supervised the crew as they used oars to whip the ingredients into a smooth batter.
A mold the size and shape of a mortal man was brought in and placed on a pan big enough to hold the cook himself. The batter was poured with the usual fuss associated with baking a cookie as large as many of us. Hair curled in the heat as the oven door was opened and with a heave and ho the pan was placed inside.
After time had passed, the oven was opened again and the fires banked. After all had cooled enough, frosting was applied: chocolate for the hair and boots, berry blue for the pants, strawberry for the vest that was buttoned with apricots. His eyes were almonds and his nose walnuts. He had a shining vanilla smile that matched the sword he held in his right hand while in his left he grasped a single rose as red as cherries, a champion and suitor created out of pastry.
Only when the work was finished did the eyes blink the sword arm move.
Those who saw it first thought it was the ovens’ heat, the long hours, the cooking brandy. Only when he sat up did a long gasp emerge from the kitchen staff. “See here!” said the pastry chef.
Mainly it’s engineering that’s involved in providing for the comforts of a fifty foot tall man and his family. But there is magic around a giant’s castle. The tap of a divine finger on the cook’s soul might have been what brought life to the pastry or perhaps it was a stray spell picked up in some spice caravan or sailing ship en route to the kitchen.
Who is to say what produces a hero? From what little we know, heroism is instinctive. Hercules strangled serpents while still in his cradle, as a boy Arthur unthinkingly drew forth Excalibur.
So it was this time when the Cinnamon Cavalier swung his legs off the platter and hopped to the floor. Everyone else in the kitchen fell back towards the wide swinging doors. “Get back up there,” said the chef indignantly. The almond eyes turned his way. The sword twitched.
Cooks are known to be full of bluster but deep cowards. This one was no exception. When the hero took one stiff step his way, the chef broke and led a panicked mob through the big double doors.
Off they ran yelling about horror and cookies. The hero was about to follow them, when he saw a lifeboat set on wheels and full of steaming soup, an ox cart just large enough for the chicken pie it held. He saw an empty wagon right inside the door, the place in the giant’s daughter’s supper train that would have been his.
A hero is unlike us in enough ways to show us we are human. Turning away from ordinary fate, he saw a small iron door at the other side of the kitchen and went to it. With scarcely a moment’s fumbling, he pushed the bar aside and set out on his adventures. With each action, his movement became more fluid, his sword gleamed like polished metal, dew formed on the rose. Through all that happened he never lost a certain stiffness. He was, after all, a cookie.
The Cavalier found himself in a passage lighted by torches and ending with two flights of stairs. One led down, the other up. The way down smelled rank, the way up fresh. As he paused before the stairs, chains rattled and two gleaming eyes rushed up towards him.
Just as most servants of a giant are human sized, some few are not. Ratmagnus, the guardian of the lower ways, was six feet long from the tip of his tail to the nose which twitched at the scent of approaching food. Up the stairs he came, dragging the chain on his studded metal collar. Ravening with hunger, Ratmagnus, all sharp teeth and matted fur, leaped the last five steps. His claws raked the hero’s chest in a shower of crumbs.
The sword passed into his mouth and down his throat. One twist of the hero’s wrist and the rodent gurgled, twitched along his whole length, and fell back into the dark. It was only then that the hero felt his destiny and turned upward on the stairs. From behind him in the kitchen came the tramp of feet, the clank of arms. The yells of the kitchen staff had brought the castle guard.
Up forty steps the Cinnamon Cavalier bounded. A massive door lay before him. He shoved against it but it was locked. He rapped the lock with his sword, but it held. Below, soldiers shouted about the corpse of Ratmagnus and began a quick march up the stairs.
The cavalier brushed the lock with the hand which held the rose and the door sprang open. He rushed through, slammed it behind him and stood on the walkway atop the curtain wall of the Giant’s castle.
The walkway ran as far as the eye could see. He looked one way and saw below him the roaring river that formed the moat. He looked the other and the castle keep loomed against a background of hulking mountains and ancient sequoias.
Black turrets and silver towers crenulated and encrusted with gargoyles caught the light of a glorious afternoon. And there he found the true destiny which every hero, flesh or dough, instantly recognizes.
At one of the hundred windows was a face, round and curious, watching him with fascination. The Giant’s daughter was a jolly child with legs wide as tree stumps and feet like boulders. She skipped rope and chimneys fell down miles away. But in such a setting and seen with almond eyes her face was perfection. The attraction of children to cookies is well known. But the opposite is also true.
The giant child’s nursemaid, a behemoth who had also tended her mother was twelve feet tall and only came to her young charge’s waist. Her tutor was a captive scholar, a thin man with a nasal voice who sat chained to the edge of a shelf and called out his lessons to his enormous pupil.
Once her father’s counselors said, “Oh, your immenseness, the princess has kicked over another barn.”
The Giant King, amused and proud in the way of fathers, thundered, “Damn it, give her dancing lessons.” And twice a week, a tiny ballet mistress tried to teach her to be a snowflake.
The Cinnamon Cavalier saw the giant princess’ eyes widen at the same moment that he heard the door fly open behind him. Soldiers, armed and helmeted, poured onto the parapet. They halted and waited as heavy footsteps sounded behind them. The guards stepped back and Goliath, as they called him, heaved into view.
Even in the Land of the Giants, as we’ve said, few are actually gigantic. But giants like everyone else have moments when their passions stray. Some such indiscretion had produced the soldier who lumbered through the door.
Goliath stood well over ten feet tall. His size and the iron club he swung had always been enough. Enemies ran before him at first sight. This time he paused and stared, amazed. For a cookie barely cool from the oven, however, Goliath was no more a wonder than everything else.
With one backward glance to the face in the tower window, the Cinnamon hero went to meet his challenger. A short affray it was. The club swung where the cookie had been. The white sword flicked. With one stiff little skip the cookie jumped aside as Goliath fell howling about the cut on his knee.
The Cinnamon Man, his legs opening and closing like scissors, ran along the parapet heading toward the castle keep and the face at the window. The guards at first fell back before him.
But their captain, too, was aware of the towers and their windows. He knew that at any moment they might be seen by one of the Giant’s ministers. Or even, terrible thought, by the King himself. The captain ordered the men to form a wall with their shields. He ordered up the Royal Archers. The Cinnamon Cavalier ran forward, waving his white sword, almond eyes flashing.
The shield line began to waver. The first arrows flew. One flicked away a piece of the candied lemon rind that was his left ear. Behind him more archers took up position and opened fire. One snipped a small chips off his right elbow. The guards cheered and began to edge forward.
“We’ll reduce that foolish cookie to a pile of crumbs,” bellowed the captain.
“The dessert, ruined, ruined,” wailed the pastry chef. “Quick, prepare a hasty pudding.”
The Cinnamon Man ran at them and they fell back. But more arrows flew and more crumbs scattered in the spring breeze. As the two lines of guards closed in, he jumped onto the outer wall. Below him raced a river in full flood. He knew, by instinct, that he would not last long in water. Before the plunge, he gazed up at the window. The Giant King’s daughter was not looking his way. Her hand was extended as though she had just flung something and she gazed upward.
A black shadow fell on the parapet. The archers flinched and ducked their heads. The Cavalier heard a harsh shriek looked up in time to see the great beak, the fierce talons which hooked onto his back and pulled him up into the sky. Every man on the castle walls bowed down in fear and respect.
The Cinnamon Cavalier soared toward the tower and through a window large enough for a schooner to sail into under full canvas. The eager, curious child presented her left wrist on which the Roc landed. Before she returned her pet to its cage, she released the cookie from its talons’ grasp.
Standing on the huge table on which she placed him, the Cavalier knelt and presented to her the cherry red rose. Delighted as the large can be at the tiny and exquisite, she held it on the tip of a finger, smiled and said, “We thank you, Sir Cavalier,” in a voice not yet quite like thunder.
The Giant’s Daughter was a young lady who ate a barge of fish for Friday dinner and puddings wide as ponds. Now you might think that a child, as greedy as you were at ten and huge in ways only a ten year old can imagine, would have seized the cookie and gobbled him up.
But she was a bright and imaginative soul who had watched his progress on the walls and through the air. And he smiled his bright frosting smile as if that possibility had never occurred to him.
She put him on a shelf along with such keepsakes as the Sphinx who sat and asked his silly riddle each time she tickled his belly and the Phoenix, with which she was supposed to play only in Nurse’s presence, which consumed itself just before bedtime and grew whole again by noonday.
The Roc scrabbled in his cage and the Giant Princess went back to her lessons. She looked at the Cinnamon Cavalier and you might wonder how long it would be even with the best will in the world before she became bored and hungry as inevitably she must.
Perhaps she will find a quest for him, send him forth again on the path of the hero. She will promise herself to offer him his freedom if he succeeds but when he does, she will break the promise.
Whichever way it falls out, be assured that his fate will be great and memorable. Quite unlike what probably lies in store for you and me.
Richard Bowes has published five novels, the most recent of which is From the Files of the Time Rangers (Golden Gryphon). His most recent short fiction collection is Streetcar Dreams and Other Midnight Fancies (PS Publications). He has won the World Fantasy, Lambda, International Horror Guild and Million Writers Awards. Recent and forthcoming stories are in F&SF, Subterranean Magazine, Helix, Sybil’s Garage and Salon Fantastique, Coyote Road, Beastly Bride, Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy and So Fey anthologies.