The heartless Giant sat at his chair and offered his smudged boots for Leo to remove. “The fact is no one can find my heart,” he declared proudly. “I’ll tell you exactly where it is and you’ll still not find it.” Leo did not look up, but continued unwinding and unwinding the bootlaces, as the Giant unleashed a torrent of directions in a single breath. “Far away, so far you could not fathom it, so high you could not climb it, is a mountain, and in the mountain is a lake and in the lake is an island and in the island is a church and in the church is a well and in the well is a duck and in the duck is an egg and in the egg… is my heart.” The Giant poked Leo with a giant finger, bowling him over and over on the flagstones. “Not so easy, little thief, eh?” he declared. “Not such a diddle and a doddle as you thought, is it? No. Your father tricked me once. I shan’t be tricked again!”
That night, as the Giant slept, Leo lay on his cot, staring at the ceiling. An egg in a duck in a well in a church in an island in a lake in a mountain. Impossible! Impossible, he decided as he stole from the house and began the journey. Impossible, he decided as he passed his brothers. Impossible, he decided as he glanced at the moon and saw, silhouetted in its pale silver, his friend Greylegs the Wolf, raising his head to the wind and howling long and loud, before turning and bounding towards him. In a second, they were reunited, and Leo was explaining everything. He knew, he said, he knew where the Giant’s heart was, he knew how to get there, but the journey was hard, treacherous, impossible.
"Hold tight," said Greylegs, offering the Prince his back. "Hold fast." And very tight the young Prince held, and very fast, for a grey dash they went, headlong, a breathless blur of world flashing by. And they came to the mountain, clambering, scrambling. And up at last. And then the lake. Wide. Deep. "Hold tight!" the Wolf cried again. "Hold close!" And plunge, splash into the lake, heads arched up above the water, cold, soaking, chilled, choking. And out at last. On the island.
In its centre loomed the church, its spire so high it threatened to tear heaven. Leo twisted the iron handles on the massive doors. The doors were locked. Nothing would budge them. Leo hammered in frustration on the thick oak panels. Above them, the bells rang for the Angelus. They looked up at the swing and toll.
"Look!" cried Greylegs, and squinting into the glare, Leo saw dangling, impossibly high from the bell tower, the key. Then, mingling with the cling-clang-clang-clong-clang of the bells came a new note. "Craa!" it sounded, "Craa! Craa!" and from nowhere the bird whose wing Leo had mended swooped past them in salute before swinging up to the tower with a single beat and pulling off the key from its thread. Seconds later, the doors swung open. Sure enough, in one corner, they came upon a well, and in the well swam a duck…
Leo clambered up onto the lip of the well and began to scatter bread to tempt the duck towards his open hands. He coaxed the duck with each crumb, nearer and nearer, until with a sudden lunge, he had the bird firmly in his grasp. But then, just as he pulled the duck out of the water, the egg dropped from its body, back into the water, sinking into the blackness. Leo was dumbfounded. Then, miraculously, the water’s skin broke and a beautiful fish leapt, twisted, turned and plunged, then reappeared slapping the water with its tail. The salmon! Back it dived, vanished, surfaced to flip the egg high in the air. “Catch it!” howled Greylegs at Leo. And he did. He caught the Giant’s heart. Held it in his hands.
— The Heartless Giant, based on the Norwegian faerytale ‘The Giant Who Had No Heart In His Body’ by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, retold by Anthony Minghella.
Artwork by AngeliaArt.