“State your business,” said the guard at the gate.
The rabbit girl laughed, almond eyes glinting. “My business is plain to see.” She swept her arm toward the stained wooden cart behind her, standing taller than her own scant five feet. Her plain peasant’s clothes belied the grandness of her gesture.
The guard grunted, looking at the cart’s shelves without seeing their contents. What emotion could be read in his scarred badger face said only: I wish I were somewhere else.
Yet there seemed to be very few other places to be. The walled hamlet was a good day’s journey from the closest trading post, and another two day’s journey—over mountains—from a true city. Still, she had heard this hamlet was pleasant, if reclusive. Once she could see more than tall stone ramparts she would know for herself.
“I am a merchant,” she finally elaborated. “A trader, a seller—a performer.”
“And what do you perform?”
“Mmm. This is not a time to pester our citizens with trinkets and parlor tricks.”
She shook her head, shoulder-length brown hair—a shade darker than her tan fur—flipping from side to side. “An unhappy time for the populace is all the more reason to let cheer pass through the town.”
The badger merely grunted again, then cranked open the metal gate. Taking firm hold of her cart’s rope, the trinket-seller walked forward, wooden wheels clattering on the cobblestone road behind her.
“Mind yourself,” the guard called. “We love our town, and don’t want it disturbed further.”
Once through, she stopped momentarily, greeted by an unexpected sight. The township stood in near ruin—not a single structure near the gateway remained intact. Once handsome wooden two-story shops along the thoroughfare, stone and brick homes small and large along the smaller streets and alleys, now all splinters and shards. “No. It’s been disturbed quite enough,” she murmured.
As she made her way down the street, less damaged buildings became visible. It seemed as if a tornado had carefully followed the wall’s inner perimeter. Townspeople, foxes and cats and even humans, moved to doorways, silently watching her cart roll past.
Another minute of being the center of this silent, one-woman parade and she could stand it no longer.
The trinket-seller stopped her cart, put her hands on her hips, and cried, “Wares for sale! Where, pray tell, is your village market?”
In response, only stillness.
She picked the closest person and locked eyes with him. “You, sir. Your market?”
“It’s gone,” the fox said slowly.
“Gone?” she repeated, and spread apart her hands, inviting elaboration.
He gestured back the way she had come. “By the entrance. In the rubble, near where the clothier’s was.”
“That’s not a very useful market, sir.”
“Sometimes now merchants gather in the courtyard by the palace.” With that, he pointed in the direction she had been travelling, toward a large—and whole—stone structure in the center of town whose spires clearly marked it as a building of importance.
“Thank you.” She took her rope in hand again, then paused, looking back at him. “What town were you at war with?”
His brow furrowed, muzzle wrinkling. “War?”
“The rubble?” she prompted.
“No war at all, madam. A giant.”
The trinket-seller frowned. “A giant just stepped over the wall,” she motioned with her hand, “and went about stomping on buildings?” She thumped down with her foot for emphasis on the word stomp, which caused the townsman to flinch before nodding affirmatively.
“Not once. Almost every night since the last full moon.”
Three weeks. “May I ask why?”
The townsman thought. “Because he is evil. Or playful. Does it matter?”
Another person nearby called, “We don’t stop to ask anymore. Those that tried were killed. If you don’t attract attention to yourself, he doesn’t chase you.”
“But he destroys your homes, your shops, all your livelihood. And you let this continue?”
“How can we stop him? He crushed what army we had by the first week. Those we’ve sent out to find aid haven’t returned.”
“And yet you stay here?”
“We love our town,” the second person said. Several others nodded agreement. “We’d never leave.”
“Mmmm.” She nodded sagely, causing a lock of hair to flop over one eye. “When will this giant be expected back?”
“Tonight, I imagine.”
“Then I think,” said the trinket-seller, “I have an appointment at your palace.” She bowed, and continued on her path.
The guard at the palace gate showed little more emotion than the one in front of the village, even when she brightly announced she was there to see the village Lord.
“The Lady, you mean,” he said. “On what business?”
“To rid your village of its giant.”
He surveyed her, expression dour, then sighed heavily. “And on what grounds should I assume you will not be wasting the Lady’s time to sell your knick-knacks?”
“I promise to sell only my service as a magician.”
“Magician,” she repeated.
In short order she found herself inside a dimly-lit audience hall, with floors of polished marble, walls of stone and an enthroned cat-woman as cold and austere as her surroundings. Her finery, of light blue velvet and silver lace, showed less frill than that of many lords and ladies, but was still far richer than the rabbit’s simple garb.
“You claim to be able to rid us of the giant,” the woman said without preamble.
The trinket-seller nodded. “I do.”
“I have no wish to deal with charlatans.”
“I will not ask for a price up front.” The rabbit tilted her head. “Your people seem unwilling to relocate.”
“We have no desire to.” The cat-woman leaned back, sighing. “Generations have lived behind these walls. It is the only home we know. We shall not be driven out.”
The rabbit traced a circle in the air with a delicate fingertip. “The giant moves along the wall, it seems.”
“Getting further in with each circuit when he visits.” The spiral described by the finger tightened. “If you refuse to consider relocation as an option, your choices are either giving me a chance, or…” The finger reached the spiral’s center, and she made a crushing motion with her hand.
“Name your price,” the woman said.
“Ten times my asking price for all the trinkets in my cart.”
The lady surveyed the cart, which the rabbit had insisted in wheeling into the throne room behind her. Much of its display was common, well-crafted simple items; each shelf contained at least one exquisite work, though: a finely-wrought brass sculpture, an intricate wooden ship in a bottle, a gold-and-pearl locket. The price could be high—if she had to pay, which the she sincerely doubted.
“If you can use magic to rid the town of the giant, you shall have all the money you ask for.”
“And your word is good, my Lady?”
The woman’s eyes narrowed slightly, and she nodded.
Then the trinket-seller pulled her cart back to the edge of town, and waited.
The sun had barely touched the horizon before she felt the approaching footfalls. The few curious townspeople who’d watched her take up her sentry position fled.
Soon the giant came into view. He was a wolf, at least seventy feet tall, his fur the grey of storm clouds in winter. His expression, though, was less fierce than playful.
He approached the wall and began to stride over it.
“Hello!” the trinket-seller called loudly, stepping out of the shadows toward his foot.
The giant paused, then crouched down. “You want to play?”
“Play?” she said. “All right.”
“Great!” he said, standing up and stomping his paw down. She barely had time to roll out of the way.
“Wait—” she started to stay, but the other foot came down. Cursing, she rolled back between two nearly-destroyed buildings, listening to the remaining pieces of one collapse.
“I have better games!” she shrieked. Then she tilted her head up, ready to flee to either side if her voice proved a cue for another stomp.
Instead, though, a huge muzzle appeared ten feet above her. “Like what?”
“If you stop trying to catch me, I’ll show you.” She stepped out of her niche, back toward her cart. “Bend down.”
The wolf did so, a black nose half the size of her body following her movement closely.
“Now…let me see what I have on my cart.”
“It’s very tiny,” he said doubtfully. His breath ruffled her fur like a warm wind.
“It is now.” She picked up a small red box. “If we can go somewhere a little more…open, then—”
“Okay,” he said, scooping up her and the box in one palm. He rose and strode out of the town.
“Goodness,” she said, hanging onto one big finger and trying not to feel seasick.
After another minute he sat down, and dropped her and her toy onto the ground by his legs.
“Sorry. I didn’t break it, did I?” he said, frowning.
“Breaking things is fun.”
“Well, hopefully this will be more fun.” She set the box down between them. “I think you must spend too much of your time bored.”
The wolf leaned way over. “I can’t even see that. I’ll have more fun chasing you back to the town. I bet if I land on you with both feet I could drive you a yard into the dirt!”
“Lovely. Look a little closer.”
The wolf did so. “What is it?”
“It’s a puzzle. Here.” She touched both hands to it, and suddenly it grew to her size. The wolf jumped back, then leaned closer again.
“How…did you do that?”
“A good merchant must always have the right merchandise, must she not?” She touched the box. “For giants, you need giant wares.”
“So what’s it do?” He tapped the box with a clawtip.
“You have to break it, then figure out how to put it back together.”
“Breaking, I can do.” He raised his fist, then smashed it down on top of the box. The trinket-seller let out a stifled shriek, leaping backward, as the box came apart in dozens of giant, carved geometric shapes.
“Ooooh,” the wolf said, beginning to poke at the shapes. “Can you make it bigger?”
The seller stepped back further, and suddenly the pieces were ten times the size they had been. The box would be larger than the wolf if reassembled.
“Now, you have to figure out how to put it back together.”
She sat with the wolf for most of the night, as he arranged and rearranged the pieces. Finally, all but one side of the box was back in place. “I can’t get this one.”
“Try it from inside,” she said.
The wolf stepped inside, kneeling, and begin putting the rest of the pieces in place. Soon the box was completely whole again. “That’s neat!” he said, voice muffled from inside. “Now what?”
Standing up, the trinket-seller touched her hand to the side of the box, and it returned to its original size. She leaned over and flicked the box with two fingers, and it fell apart again, leaving a pile of blocks and a wide-eyed, tiny wolf.
“Now,” she said, crouching down, “we can finish my game, or your game. My game, I make you my size, and give you the box.”
“Your size? But I couldn’t…uh…”
“Then we can finish this as your game.” She looked meaningfully at her foot, then back at him.
“No! Your game! Your game!”
The rabbit smiled. “Very reasonable.” She reached forward and rebuilt the box, then dropped him carefully inside, sealed it up and returned it to its medium size, opening it by delivering a thumping kick to one side.
A few minutes later, when she handed the restored box to the young wolf, barely her own size now, he pouted. “This won’t keep me as entertained.”
“There’s more to that box than you might imagine, child.”
“Will I be able to make things grow and shrink with it?”
She smiled, and shook her head. “That’s only for trinket-sellers.” Then she winked. “I’m sure you shall find your own magic with it. Now, run somewhere else. I suspect the villagers would not be happy to see you.”
He grinned, and took off toward the mountains.
Shortly after sunrise the rabbit stood before the township’s Lady once again.
“I see no body,” the cat-woman snapped before the merchant spoke.
“You asked to be rid of the giant, not to see him dead.”
“If he’s not dead, he’ll come back.”
“He will not.” The rabbit tapped her foot. “I should like to talk about payment.”
“You’ll get nothing without proof of your work, girl.”
“Let us wait a week, then, and see if the giant comes back. At the end of that time, if he has not, pay my price.”
“You are treading on dangerous ground,” said the Lady, eyes narrowed.
“But there is no wolf treading on your palace,” the rabbit replied reasonably, heading out of the chamber.
After a week passed, the trinket-seller returned.
“Has the giant returned?” she said to the Lady.
“He has not.”
“Well, then.” She gestured toward her cart, then produced a parchment and offered it to the lady.
The cat looked at the paper, and then back at the rabbit. “This is a rather high figure.”
“It is the fair value of my merchandise.”
The woman frowned, turning away, then nodded. “Perhaps.”
“So I may expect ten times that amount by morning?”
The Lady whirled around. “Ten times?”
“That is what you agreed to. Ten times the value of my cart’s wares.”
“That would be nearly half the town’s public funds!”
“Then supplement it with your private wealth if you must. A bargain is a bargain.”
The cat raised her arm. “Guards! Escort this extortionist out of the township!”
As two foxes grabbed the trinket-seller’s arms, she hissed. “You gave your word!”
“The town’s well-being is more important than my word. I have no time for your greed.” She waved dismissively.
In short order the rabbit found herself hurled through the gate, her cart pushed after her, some of its wares broken and bent by the rough handling. As she stood up, she cursed at the town.
“Watch yourself,” the guard growled.
“Of course. You love the town,” she said dryly, brushing off her stained skirt. “Enough to be stomped on, and now enough to break your word.”
“And you would never leave.”
The badger shook his head.
“None of you, I imagine.”
“I imagine you’re right,” he said proudly.
The rabbit shouldered the rope for her cart, and looked over her shoulder at the guard. “Then you shall have the protection you truly want—and truly deserve. Tell your Lady I shall collect my payment in the morning.”
“Of course,” he sneered.
She dragged her cart off, out of sight.
The next morning the town’s Lady was awoken by a frantic rapping at her bedroom door. “What?” she said, sitting up in bed.
“My lady! Look outside!”
Furrowing her brow, she stepped to the window and looked up. The sky was—wrong.
As she threw on a robe and raced out to the courtyard, she put a name to it. The sky was glass, as if she was looking through a curved mirror, reflecting parts of the village and the sky through it—
—and now, the face of a giantess. The trinket-seller. Far larger than she could possibly be, larger than the Lady could fathom, so large she could have crushed the giant wolf with a fingertip.
The townspeople running through the streets began to scream, at least the ones not stampeding out the town’s gate only to find the cobblestone road abruptly cut off by a thick glass wall.
“Exquisite,” the rabbit-girl whispered, her voice carried as odd vibrations throughout the entire town, rattling the windows like a quiet earthquake. “Fetching far under my asking price, to be sure, but beautiful nonetheless. And you shall all get what you wish, shall you not?” She closed her hands around the glass globe, obscuring the view of its tiny inhabitants. “To stay in your little, little, town forever…always protected.”
She put the trinket on its new place in her cart, shouldered the rope, and started on her trip to the next town.