Illustrated by: Aaron Siddall
Once upon a time, a princess and a giant were companions on a quest. What the quest was, exactly, does not matter, except that it was a long one and involved a great deal of traveling, so they were forever wandering over parched steppes or crossing cruel mountain ranges or struggling through fetid swamps, and the princess, though possessed of a bold spirit and a sweet nature, had very dainty feet.
Her name was Carry-Me (which she insisted, despite its spelling, was pronounced ka-REE-may), and early on in their quest she had a horse to ride, so that the daintiness of her feet did not matter. At some point, however, whether through an evil plan of their Enemy, or because the horse had to leave to pursue its own affairs (the historians are not clear which), she found herself a rider without a mount.
Just then she and the giant were facing the soft, leaf-carpeted floor of the Quiet Forest, and the loss of her mount did not distress her. It only became an issue when they reached the edge of the Forest, and found before them a smoking expanse composed almost entirely of razor-sharp obsidian.
The giant, whose name was Maximactacus, possessed both a degree of kindness not usually found in his kind, and the thick-soled feet that usually are, and so he marched out of the forest onto the plain. Shards of obsidians crunched loudly under his toes, and it was a few moments before he realized that the princess hadn’t come with him. He turned and found her still standing at the edge of the forest, frowning at the sharp black stones.
“I think I brought the wrong shoes for this,” she said.
“You mean you brought the wrong feet,” the giant said, with a laugh. “Shall I carry you, Carry-Me?”
“It’s Kharímé,” she said, somewhat testily. “And despite the spelling, I prefer to make my own way.” Then she sighed, and apologized. “I suppose you had better carry me after all — but only until we get past these rocks.”
And so Maximactacus scooped her up and they made their way across the Plain of Blades. Both fully intended that Carry-Me should return to the ground when they reached the far side, but there they discovered a shallow sea in their path, and no boats.
“I shall swim,” the princess said.
“It’s many leagues across,” the giant said. “Can you swim that far?”
“I shall have to,” she replied, but sounded doubtful.
“Perhaps I might just —” he began.
“If you wouldn’t mind just a while longer —” she began at the same time, and they both laughed, and then Maximactacus sat Carry-Me on his shoulder and waded across the Basin Sea.
After that, it became more and more common for him to carry her wherever they went. At first they both assumed that it was only a temporary measure. When they reached the Carpetlands, for instance, Maximactacus set Carry-Me on her feet and started off on the grass, but she called him back.
“Is it soft?” she asked.
“Very,” he said, and bounced a little to show how springy the turf was.
“I only ask because I traded my slippers to the Weird Wizard for our release, and these cursed feet of mine are so dainty. Would you mind very much?”
“Of course not,” he said, and picked her up. Much as she liked making her own way, Carry-Me began to think being carried had its advantages. They made much better time, because the giant’s stride was very long, and she enjoyed being up so high, with the wind rushing in her face from the swiftness of his passage.
Still, she was both proud and bold, and so, later on, when they came to the Royal Road of the Ancient Kings (and after she had a chance to acquire some suitable footwear), she started walking on her own on the smooth paving stones that stretched straight away to the horizon.
This time it was Maximactacus who stopped. “Are you sure you want to walk?”
“Of course. Why not?”
“I only thought the stones might hurt your feet.”
“Oh, these old highways were laid by the best mage-engineers. I hardly notice it.”
“As you like,” he said, though he watched her footsteps carefully over the next hour or so, and finally called a halt. “You’re limping.”
“I am not! Or only a little — and I’m sure it will pass.”
“Don’t argue with me,” he said, picking her up. “I’m a giant, and you’re no burden.”
In fact, she really wasn’t a burden, as she weighed very little and he was very strong. What’s more, he too had noticed how much more quickly they went, and he liked having her up high, so that he was not forever having to stoop down to hear what she said.
By slow degrees, they reached a point where Maximactacus carried Carry-Me everywhere they went. She would cling to his back when he had to climb a mountain range, or sit on his shoulder when he had to ford a river, but mostly she rode in the crook of his arm, and they were both quite happy with the arrangement. The giant’s back no longer ached from stooping to listen, and as he was careful to switch carrying arms on a regular basis, he found both growing even stronger, so that he felt more prepared than ever for any foes they might meet. The princess’ feet never hurt, and she found that riding gave her time to ponder the many riddles they needed to solve to complete their quest.
So it went for all the long months and years of their journeying, with Princess Carry-Me’s feet hardly ever touching the ground, and then only after Maximactacus had carefully chosen a spot to set her down. They grew to be inseparable friends, and the arrangement suited them both very well: She unraveled riddles with greater and greater ease, and on those occasions when he was forced to set her down and fight, he found himself mightier than ever before. If either noticed any disadvantage to her being carried all the time, neither mentioned it, and so they continued on that way, crossing the Pitiless Gravel of Doom, the Acid Marshes, and Stubtoe Wood in the same fashion as they did the Sighing Silken Sands, the cushioned lands of the Kingdom of the Clouds, and the Soothing Mudflats of Warm-Milk Bay, with Carry-Me on Maximactacus’ arm regardless of whether the footing was safe or not.
Exactly how close they were to completing their quest when they met their untimely end does not matter, because the fact is that they did not complete it. After many months and years of eluding their Enemy, they were ambushed by his minions in the Canyon of Dust. Though the dust there is quite comfortable to walk on, Princess Carry-Me was in her usual spot on Maximactacus’ arm, and so sudden was the onslaught that he did not have time to carefully choose a safe place to put her so he could meet the Enemy’s creatures with all his strength. They swarmed over him unopposed, and when he finally deposited the princess out of reach on the upper rim of the Canyon, he was too late to save himself.
The princess, unfortunately, found her feet even daintier than ever, and her legs quite weak from months and years of being carried, and so she only managed to drag herself a short ways before the Enemy’s minions finished off Maximactacus and came after her.
Historians differ on what the moral of this story is; some question whether it has one at all. Most are willing to agree, however, that princesses should walk from time to time, and that questing giants should be ready to fight at the drop of a hat.