IVAN OVERCOMES THE GIANT
THERE was once a giant who lived in a fortress by the side of the sea. This giant was a menace to the whole country, for he often came out from the fortress, and attacked the people. He destroyed their homes, burned their crops, and killed the young men. He sometimes captured women and children, carrying them away so that their families never saw them again. The giant was large, ten times larger than any man you ever saw. He was very, very strong, and his manners were so threatening and terrible that people quaked with fear even to look at him. He wore full armor, and always carried weapons of war, which all the more made him an object to be feared.
In former times people had been quite hopeless about this. monster. He came out frequently then; later wise men began to talk of ways to overcome him. They said to each other, "His fortress is very old, no one knows how old; it must be ready to crumble to ruins." Some people proposed binding the giant with great cords, thus to keep him prisoner. Some had plans for destroying his castle, and many hoped the creature could be killed outright. But time went on, and after much talking, the subject was dismissed. As there had been no raid by the giant for a long while, people began to feel secure against him. It was even suggested that he was dead That was not true, for he was not even growing weak. He was apparently no older than at the beginning. Then it looked as if he were preparing for a more terrible attack than had ever been known before. Men noticed these preparations and were sick with apprehension of what was before them.
One day a family who lived near the fortress was startled by a great roar. The children clung to their mother's skirts too terrified to cry. The father seized the nearest weapon, and stood ready to defend his family; but after a few rambles, the noise died away, and nothing further happened. Next day the man spoke to his neighbors and they agreed that the time had come when something must really be done.
"We should arm ourselves and go to the castle at night," said these brave men. "We may ourselves be destroyed, but perhaps we shall save others from a like awful fate."
So plans were made to gather a great army of the strongest and bravest men to attack the giant in his den and destroy him.
"I know a much better way to overcome the giant," said one young lad to his playmates, "it will be a great mistake if these men do as they have planned."
"Why, Ivan, you are not wiser than our fathers!" cried his playmates.
"No, I am not wise at all," returned the boy, "but I do know that their plan is wrong."
"How do you know this then?" asked the children again.
"I know because a voice spoke to me as I walked through the forest."
Most of his playmates jeered at Ivan's story, but some believed him, and told the story to their parents at home. Ivan talked often with the children who believed him, and sometimes older persons listened, too. Some said, "This child counsels wisely, perhaps he has heard the voice of God. Let us tell the King."
So they took Ivan before the King. The great monarch smiled at first when he was told about Ivan, but when the boy began to speak, he listened attentively.
"Tell me more about the voice you have heard in the forest, Ivan," he said encouragingly.
"It is the voice about which my mother taught me," replied the lad."She said the voice of God speaks to us in the silence.
She often heard the voice, and one day it called her, (and she went away."
"Have you yourself often heard the voice?" asked the King.
"Oh, yes Sire, I often hear it when I am alone. Sometimes when I cannot decide what is best to do, I go to the forest and listen for the voice to advise me."
Most of the people of the court laughed at Ivan's story, and the King himself seemed hardly to know whether to laugh or be serious, until a wise old man, who had been chief councilor, said, "The child is right, this is the voice of God."
Still those persons who had made such elaborate designs for taking the giant by force hesitated to give up their way and try the plan of a simple lad, who believed the giant would not destroy any who approached him in a kindly mood.
"It is absurd," they cried; "the child is a dreamer. He is foolish, and we shall be overtaken by a great calamity if we do not use the surest means of protecting ourselves. What shall we do with our great army which has been prepared? The men will not disband until their homes are safe. This is a wild, mad scheme you propose. What, shall a child teach us what to do at such a time as this?"
At this the King felt uncertain, and he sent Ivan to play in the royal garden, until he should have time to talk with him privately. Suddenly a great cry arose among the people, "The enemy is coming! He has begun the attack."
Women and children ran for shelter. Men formed in companies and went out to meet the cruel monster. Fires were burning where once homes had stood. The men fought bravely. It seemed as if they really succeeded in checking the advance of the enemy, but, in doing so, they suffered greatly. Most of them were badly injured, and many lost their lives. The King cheered his valiant soldiers and urged them to be courageous, but his own spirit wavered when he saw that the giant could not be slain.
"What shall we do? What shall we do?" he cried in despair The King retired to his royal garden to think things over in quiet. "What shall we do?" he cried again, dropping dejectedly into a garden seat.
"Sire, why do you not listen for the voice?" asked Ivan, who had overheard his lament.
"Oh, are you here, child? I had forgotten you. Yes, I think I shall try your plan. Come "with me to the forest."
So the King and Ivan walked together in the stillness of the forest. When they returned, the King's face wore a peaceful expression. He at once sent orders for his men to come to the palace. The wounded and desperate soldiers listened gravely to what their king had to say. " It is of no use," they muttered to each other, "the beast cannot be slain."
"No, he cannot be slain," said their leader, "but he can be overcome in another way. Lay down your arms and follow me. Ivan shall lead us."
The bewildered men did as they were bidden, and, brave men though they were, they trembled with fear when they saw that they were being taken directly toward the monster's stronghold by the sea. But Ivan led them on, the King following with his men. On they marched, past the ruined homes and deserted battlefields. Straight to the palace of the giant they walked, nothing harming them. At last they paused before the very door of the fortress. Here they were seized with a great fear, and would have turned back, but Ivan walked straight up to the huge door, and without even knocking, lifted the latch and swung it softly open on its big iron hinges.
"I will be with you soon, wait here," he said, and the King who was about to pull him back in terror, paused while Ivan disappeared within.
The boy stood alone in a large room, the ceiling so high above him that it was lost in the shadows, only a little gray light filtering in through barred windows far above his head. At first he heard nothing but the beating of his own heart; then from a far corner came a sound like a groan of pain. Fearlessly Ivan walked out into the middle of the room. "Giant," he called softly. The groaning ceased. "Giant," he called a little louder. A roar which awoke the echo answered, "Who is there?"
Ivan's voice did not tremble. "It is only Ivan, and I have come to be your friend, Giant. Why do you moan?"
In the dim light Ivan could now make out the huge figure of the giant seated in the corner, his head bowed upon his knees. Ivan forgot everything except pity. Straight to the giant's side he ran, crying out:
"Oh, Giant, can it be that you are suffering? Will you not be our friend? Then we could help you."
The giant lifted his terrible face furrowed with pain and sadness.
The giant looked down on the little lad as though he could not believe his eyes.
"Lonely! I am lonely, Ivan," he muttered. "They all cannot harm my body, but how they can hate!"
Suddenly Ivan remembered the King and his men waiting at the fortress gate; if they could but see the giant now they would not hate him.
"Giant, oh, Giant," he cried in great excitement, "my people are at your door, ready to be your friends, if you will only let them. Why be lonely?"
At last the fortress door swung open, and the men outside, who had scarcely dared to breathe, beheld a wonderful sight. The giant, without his armor, stood in the doorway smiling, and Ivan close beside him held his hand.