In Which They Give Some Good Advice to a Giant
Mendanbar and Cimorene turned to face the castle doors as the footsteps drew nearer. A moment later, the doors flew open and the giantess's husband stepped into the hall. He was a giant's head taller than she, with wild brown hair and a beard like a large, untidy broom's head. He carried a club that was as long as Mendanbar was tall.
Just inside the door, the giant stopped and sniffed the air. Then he sneezed once, scowled ferociously, and said in a voice that shook the torches in their brackets: "Fee, fie, foe, fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman.
Be he alive or be he dead, I'll grind his bones to make my bread."
Ballimore shook her head. "Nonsense, dear. It's just Princess Cimorene and the King of the Enchanted Forest ."
"And neither of us is English," Cimorene added.
The giant squinted down at her. "Are you sure about that?"
"Positive," Mendanbar said.
"Well-" The giant sniffed again, experimentally, then lowered his club with a sigh. "That's all right, then. I wasn't in the mood for more work tonight, anyway. Sorry about the mistake. It must be this cold in my head."
"I told you yesterday to take something for it," Ballimore scolded.
"And I told you this morning to wrap some flannel around your throat before you went out. But do you listen to me? No!"
"I listen," the giant protested uncomfortably. "But I can't ransack villages with a piece of flannel around my neck. It wouldn't look right."
Cimorene snorted softly. Mendanbar got the distinct impression that she didn't think much of doing things for the sake of appearances.
"Well, really, Dobbilan," Ballimore said, "how do you think it looks if you're coughing and sneezing all over everything while you're ransacking? Have a little sense."
"I'd rather have a little dinner," said Dobbilan and sneezed again.
"If you sound like that tomorrow, you're staying home in bed," Ballimore informed her husband.
"I can't do that! I'm scheduled to pillage two villages and maraud half a county."
"You're in no condition to pillage a hen house, much less a village," Ballimore declared. "Besides, you've earned a bit of a rest, what with all the extra time you've been putting in lately, looting and marauding and I don't know what all."
"That's not the point."
"It's precisely the point. You're just being stubborn because you think having a bad cold is un-giantlike."
"Well, it is."
Ballimore shook her head and looked at Cimorene. "Men!" she said in tones of disgust.
"And don't you say 'men' to me," Dobbilan said. "It's my job we're talking about."
"Maybe you should try a different line of work," Mendanbar suggested.
"Eh?" Dobbilan peered down at him with interest. "Like what?"
"Consulting," Mendanbar said at random, because he hadn't actually thought about it.
"You know," said Cimorene. "Giving advice to people. You could teach other giants the best ways of-of ravaging and pillaging and marauding, and you could tell villages the best ways to keep giants away. With all your experience, I'll bet you'd be good at it."
"I never thought of that," Dobbilan said, rubbing his chin.
"I don't know why not," Ballimore said. "It's a very good idea. And you wouldn't be out in all sorts of weather, catching colds and flu and goodness knows what else."
"Plundering has gotten to be an awful lot of work lately," the giant admitted. "It would be a relief to stop. I'm getting too old to tramp through fields."
"I understand consulting pays very well, too," Mendanbar told him.
"I'll do it!" Dobbilan said with sudden decision. "Tomorrow morning, first thing. Thank you for the suggestion. What did you say your names were?"
"If you'd listen once in a while, you wouldn't have to ask me to repeat everything," Ballimore said. "This is Princess Cimorene, the one who's been with Kazul for the last year or so and gave me that marvelous biscuit recipe you like so much. And her young man is the King of the Enchanted Forest, who she's not running away with yet."
Mendanbar choked and shot an apprehensive look at Cimorene. She rolled her eyes and made a face at him but did not say anything, having apparently decided it was a waste of effort to correct the giantess.
"Pleased to meet you, Princess," Dobbilan said solemnly. "Nice to see you, King. What brings you to Flat Top Mountain?"
"They say it's business," Ballimore said before either Cimorene or Mendanbar could answer.
"Then it will have to wait until after dinner," Dobbilan announced. "I never discuss business at dinner. Or with dinner, for that matter."
He winked at Cimorene. "Besides, I'm hungry." He sneezed a third time. "Excuse me."
Ballimore began scolding again as Cimorene and Mendanbar nodded politely. Mendanbar was beginning to wonder how long they were going to have to stand next to the table, when Ballimore shooed her husband to a seat at one end and started for the other herself, saying over her shoulder, "Cimorene, dear, you and the King are on the right. Just walk around to the chair; it's all set up."
With some misgiving, Mendanbar escorted Cimorene past Dobbilan's chair toward the seat Ballimore had indicated. As they approached, he saw that the giantess had not been exaggerating. A set of normal-sized wooden steps, equipped with wheels so as to be easily movable, stood next to the giant right-hand chair, and two ordinary chairs were perched side by side on the seat at the top. The combination was, Mendanbar discovered, exactly the right height to reach the table.
Apparently, Ballimore was accustomed to having smaller people at dinner, for the plates and glasses were the usual size as well. As long as Mendanbar did not look down, it was easy to pretend he was sitting at an ordinary dinner table.
The food was very good. They started with fresh greens and went on to roast pig with cranberries, mushrooms in wine, and some sort of lumpy vegetable in a thick brown sauce that disguised it completely and tasted marvelous. There was a great deal of everything. Mendanbar supposed this was only to be expected at a giant's table, but Ballimore did not seem to realize that a person who was only a third her size would have a smaller appetite as well. She filled and refilled Mendanbar's plate until he was ready to burst.
Near the end of the meal, Cimorene leaned over and whispered, "Don't take any dessert."
"Why not?" Mendanbar asked.
"Ballimore's using her Cauldron of Plenty," Cimorene said, "and it doesn't do desserts very well. So unless you like burned mint custard or sour-cream-and-onion ice cream..."
"I see," Mendanbar said quickly. "Then it's a good thing I couldn't eat another bite even if I wanted to."
When dinner was over, Cimorene brought up the question of the magic carpet. Ballimore nodded at once.
"Of course you can borrow a carpet, Cimorene dear. I'll just take a look around and see what we have."
"You won't find much," said her husband, and sneezed loudly. "That last Englishman you let in took most of them. You should have let me find him and grind his bones, like I'm supposed to."
"Nonsense," said Ballimore, frowning at her husband. "We can afford a few cheap magic harps and a coin or two. I keep the good silver and Mother's jewelry in the top cupboard, where they can't reach it.
Besides, they're always such nice boys."
"Huh," said Dobbilan. "Beggars and thieves, if you ask me, and boring at that."
"What makes you say that?" Mendanbar asked curiously.
"They always do the same thing-come in, ask for a meal, hide, and then run off with a harp or a bag full of money the minute I fall asleep," Dobbilan said. "And they're always named Jack. Always. We've lived in this castle for twenty years, and every three months, regular as clockwork, one of those boys shows up, and there's never been a Tom, Dick, or Harry among 'em. Just Jacks. The English have no imagination."
"About the carpet," Cimorene reminded him.
"Oh, that. Well, the last Jack wasn't musical, and he cleaned us out of magic carpets instead of harps." Dobbilan sneezed again and began to cough.
"Bed for you, dear," Ballimore said firmly and shooed her husband out of the room. She followed him closely, muttering to herself about cough syrup and vaporizers and hot tea with lemon and honey. Mendanbar and Cimorene looked at each other.
"Is there anywhere else we can borrow a carpet?" Mendanbar asked.
"Not that I know of," Cimorene said with a worried frown. "We'll just have to walk. Drat. It'll take days."
"We could go back to the Enchanted Forest and-" "There," said Ballimore, coming briskly into the room and cutting Mendanbar off in mid-sentence. "He'll be much better in the morning. I'm afraid he's right about the carpets, Cimorene dear, but I'll just have a look around and see if there isn't something stuck off in a corner somewhere. I can't believe we're completely out."
"It's quite all right," Cimorene said. "We'll manage somehow."
"Nonsense, dear," Ballimore said in the same tone she used to her husband. "It will be quite an adventure, seeing what's stuck off in corners and so on. I haven't been in some of the storage rooms in years."
It was clear that nothing they could say would shake her resolve, and after a token protest, they gave in. Ballimore showed them to a pair of comfortably furnished rooms and left them for the night. Mendanbar did not object, even though it was still fairly early. The long walk from the dragon's cave had been very tiring. He lay down on the bed and fell asleep at once.
Breakfast next morning was cinnamon-flavored porridge, milk, and toast with blueberry jam. Mendanbar found it waiting on the high table in the central hall when he left his room to look for his hosts. There was no one else around, but the giant-sized dishes and crumbs at either end of the table showed that Ballimore and Dobbilan had already eaten.
Mendanbar climbed the stairs to his seat and began dishing up the porridge. Before he had finished filling his bowl, Cimorene walked into the room, peering around for the giants.
"Good morning," Mendanbar called. "Madame Ballimore and her husband appear to have been and gone, but they've left an excellent breakfast.
Would you care to join me?"
"I'd be delighted," Cimorene called back, and climbed the stairs to join him. "I had no idea giants were such early risers," she said as she sat down in the second chair. "Where do you suppose they've gone?"
"Gone?" said Ballimore's voice from the hallway at the end of the room. "Dear, dear, I thought sure I'd left enough porridge for the pair of you, but it won't take a minute to make up some more."
"There's plenty of breakfast," Mendanbar said quickly. "We were talking about you and Dobbilan."
"But he was supposed to wait for you," Ballimore said, emerging from the hallway. She inspected the room over the top of the large bundle she carried, then shook her head. "Isn't that just like a man? Cimorene dear, I've found just the thing for you. I knew there would be something upstairs, no matter what Dobbilan said. Are you quite certain you have enough porridge?"
"Quite certain," Cimorene said. "What-" "Ballimore! Ballimore, where's the inkwell?" Dobbilan's voice echoed down the corridor, interrupting Cimorene in mid-sentence. "Where are you? Why can't I find anything around here when I want it?"
"Because you never look in the right place, dear," Ballimore called.
"The inkwell is in the kitchen next to the grocery list, where it's been for the past six months, and I'm in the dining room. Which is where you'd be if you'd done what I asked you to, instead of wandering off in all directions."
"I didn't wander off," Dobbilan objected, sticking his head into the room. "I went to get some paper and ink so I could write a letter.
Oh, good morning, Princess, King. I didn't see you."
"You were supposed to see them," Ballimore said, exasperated. "You were supposed to be here when-oh, never mind."
"Well, if you're done scolding, could you find me that inkwell?"
Ballimore shook her head, set her bundle down on a chair, and went off to deal with her erring husband. Mendanbar looked at Cimorene, and they both burst out laughing at the same time.
"Oh, dear," said Cimorene when she got her breath back. "I hope they didn't hear."
"Are they always like this?" Mendanbar asked.
"I don't know," Cimorene admitted. "This is the first time I've been here. Kazul has always been the one who comes to talk or borrow things."
The thought wiped the smile from her face. "I hope she's safe."
"You'd know if she wasn't," Mendanbar said, hoping he was right.
"Being King of the Dragons is a little like being King of the Enchanted Forest; if anything really drastic happens to you, everybody knows."
"I suppose so," Cimorene said. "And I know perfectly well that she can take care of herself, but I'll still feel a lot better when we find out where she is."
There wasn't much Mendanbar could say to that. They ate in silence for a few minutes and were just finishing up when Ballimore and Dobbilan returned. Dobbilan was carrying several sheets of white paper and a pen made of a feather as long as Mendanbar's arm. Ballimore held an inkwell the size of a sink. The giantess cleared the dishes away from the far end of the table and set the inkwell gently in place, then steered her husband to the chair. When she had him settled, she picked up the bundle she had brought in earlier.
"I'll just take this outside and shake the dust out," she told Cimorene.
"You and your young man can come along as soon as you've finished eating. Don't rush."
"How do you spell 'resignation'?" Dobbilan asked, nibbling on the end of his feather pen.
Mendanbar spelled it for him as Ballimore bustled out the door. He and Cimorene finished their breakfasts with only an occasional interruption from Dobbilan. Leaving the giant mumbling over his letter and chewing on the tattered end of his pen, they went out to see what Ballimore had found.
"There you are," Ballimore said as they came into the courtyard. "I've gotten most of the dust out, and it's ready to go. What do you think?"
She stepped back and Mendanbar got his first good look at the carpet.
It was enormous, with a three-foot fringe on all four sides. In places it looked rather worn, and there was a hole the size of a teacup in one corner.
The background was a rich cream color, dotted with teddy bears a foot long. Pink teddy bears. Bright pink.
"It's certainly large enough," Mendanbar said at last.
"Are you sure it will fly?" Cimorene asked, looking dubiously at the hole.
"Oh, yes," Ballimore reassured her. "It's the very best quality, but we haven't used it in years because of the pattern." She gestured at the teddy bears. "Dobbilan thought they just didn't look right in a giant's castle."
"I think I agree with him," Mendanbar said under his breath, eyeing the pink teddy bears with dislike. "No wonder that Jack fellow didn't take it.
"As long as it flies, I don't care what it looks like," Cimorene declared.
"Thank you so much, Ballimore. I'll make sure you get it back as soon as we're through with it."
"There's no rush," Ballimore said. "It'll just go back in the attic."
"How does it work?" Mendanbar asked.
"I couldn't find the instruction manual, but it's perfectly simple," Ballimore told him. "All magic carpets are the same. You sit in the middle and say, 'Up, up, up and away' to make it take off, and you steer by leaning in the direction you want to go."
"What about stopping?"
Ballimore frowned in concentration. "I believe you're supposed to say 'Whoa,' but 'Cut it out, carpet' works just as well. I'm sorry I can't be more definite. It's been a long time."
"Right." Mendanbar looked at Cimorene. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
Cimorene hesitated, then nodded firmly. "We'll manage. If I could think of some other way of getting to the north end of the mountains quickly, I would. Come on." She stepped onto the carpet, and plopped down in the center.
With some misgiving, Mendanbar sat next to her.
"Oh, heavens, I nearly forgot!" Ballimore said suddenly. "Stay right there, Cimorene dear. I'll be back in a flash."
"Now what?" Mendanbar asked as the giantess hurried into the castle.
"Maybe she remembered where the instruction manual is," Cimorene said.
"Somehow I doubt it," Mendanbar said.
A moment later, Ballimore came hurrying out again, carrying a large bag. "I packed you a bit of lunch," she explained, handing Cimorene the package. "Goodness knows what you'll find out there in the mountains."
Cimorene thanked Ballimore again and set the bag between herself and Mendanbar, then said, "All right, carpet: up, up, up and away!"
The carpet shuddered, shifted and rose slowly into the air. Smiling broadly, Cimorene waved at Ballimore, then leaned forward. The carpet shivered again and began to move. It sailed up out of the castle and into the sky over the mountains, gathering speed as it went.