Gog & Magog and the Damsel in the Teacup
Once upon a time, long, long ago, on the merry island of Britain, there lived two brother giants named Gog and Magog. They lived atop a hill of yellow flowers, in a cottage as big as a castle. The cottage was made of colossal stone blocks that the brothers had taken from a ruined temple. It had a front door as big as a drawbridge that was painted blue, with a ship’s anchor for a knocker. Huge windows let in the sunlight or were shuttered against the rain and a chimney like a tower rose from the roof and smoked like a volcano when Gog was cooking.
Of the history of the brothers or their true identities, few knew but many talked. Some said they were thrown off Noah’s ark for drunkenness; some held that they were the sons of fallen angels; some swore that they were djinn sent by the Saracens to make mischief; others that they were Irish. The brothers themselves said nothing. Perhaps they guarded a great secret. Perhaps they nursed a private shame. Or maybe they had simply forgotten; they were, after all, very, very old.
Almost everyone agreed that they were wicked brutes, but that remains to be seen.
It was a fine spring evening when the brothers giant were returning to their cottage. Gog was carrying a large sack full of deer and debating with himself whether to make a venison stew of a great humble pie for their supper, while Magog was stripping the lower branches off a handful of flowering trees that he had picked to adorn their table.
“Do you hear a noise, brother?” asked Gog as they came within sight of their hill.
Magog stopped and put a hand to his ear. “Perhaps it is the wind coming off the sea?”
“I don’t think it is the wind,” said Gog, setting down the sack and pushing his own ears forward. “There are words.”
“Words,” said Magog eagerly. “What is the wind saying?”
“It is not the wind. It is someone shouting, someone atop our hill.”
“Oh!” said Magog. “Your ears are better than mine, Gog. What are they saying?”
“They are calling for a pair of monsters to come forth.” Gog leaned forward and twitched his ears. “They are swearing terrible oaths.”
“Monsters!” Magog clutched at his faggot of trees. “Are there monsters atop our hill?”
Gog considered this for a moment, then picked up his sack. “Let us go and see.”
So the two giants went up the hill, Magog hunched behind his brother. They went as quietly as they could, which was not very quiet at all, and when their heads crested the hilltop they saw a man before their door. He was dressed in shiny mail, with a bright surcoat and a plumed helmet. He sat upon a chestnut horse, and held a brightly painted shield in one hand, and a gleaming sword in the other. He was waving the sword and shouting so furiously at the giants’ cottage that he did not hear the brothers behind him. But his horse heard the giants and stared back at them, his nostrils wide with fear, though he was too well trained to bolt.
“Come out,” shouted the knight. “Come out villains and face me!”
“What should we do?” whispered Magog in a whisper like the roaring wind.
At this the knight twisted around in the saddle. “Wicked brutes,” he shouted as he pulled his horse around to face them. “Vile monsters, release the fair maiden or I, Sir Henry of Levindore, will smite thee mightily!”
The brothers giant gaped at these words. They gaped at the knight. They gaped at each other.
“Good day, Sir Henry of Levindore ,” said Gog, coming up the hill.
“Perfidious and dastardly cur! Hold your lying tongue; your foreign trickery will not serve you now! Release my fair lady and I will spare your filthy hides, but if you refuse me then you will die by my sword!”
“But sir knight, you are mistaken: we have no maiden.”
“Enough!” roared Sir Henry as he spurred his horse forward. “For Levindore and St. Luned!”
His sword cleaving the air, Sir Henry charged the giants, striking Gog below the knee.
“Ow!” yelled Gog, jumping backward, clutching his wounded leg and hopping on the other.
Seeing his brother hurt and the fearsome knight waving his bloodied sword, Magog threw down his bundle of trees and ran. The perfumed trees fell with a crash, knocking Sir Henry clean out of his saddle.
A few minutes passed before Magog stuck his head around the corner of the cottage. “Is he gone?”
Gog looked up from where he sat examining his wound, “He’s there,” the giant said, pointing to the pile of trees, a shiny metal boot sticking out from under the trunks. “I think he’s dead.”
“Oh!” said Magog, “I didn’t mean to do that.” He ran out from behind the cottage and picked up the tree, but Sir Henry was indeed dead, his body twisted like a toy soldier that’s been trodden upon.
“Good riddance,” growled Gog. “Sir tin-pot nearly cut my leg off. Him and his twattle about maidens. Ba!”
“Oh Gog! your leg isn’t badly cut, is it?” Magog dropped the trees back atop the knight and ran to assist his brother into the cottage. Forgotten, Sir Henry of Levindore laid among the yellow flowers till night came, and with it the wolves to offer the brave knight their last respects.
Inside, Magog had bandaged Gog’s leg and had fed him soup by the light of a blazing hearth. Gog’s leg was not badly hurt after all and after a few barrels of cider had been drunk, the brothers forgot about Sir tin-pot and his missing maiden. Magog played his fiddle and Gog sang a ballad older than knights and maidens and the kingdoms of Man.
And there the matter may have ended, if it were not for the knight’s chestnut horse. A practical and sensible animal was this chestnut horse, and not of that romantic breed that is sometimes encountered in sad and heroic tales. So that when he saw his master killed by fearsome giants and himself alone in the Wild North he did not stand guard over the body or bow his head in respectful mourning but turned tail and fled. He ran south as swiftly as he could, which was very swiftly indeed spurred as he was by fear and not Sir Henry, and he did not stop running till he had outran his fear and found himself among trees and earth and wind that he knew. Then he slowed to a trot and began to consider his future. His master was gone, for this he was thankful for though he was a well-bred mount who had served Sir Henry long and well, he had no love for the knight. But the longer he thought the more he came to see that freedom was a burden no less than a rider. Who would bring him oats? Who would brush his chestnut coat? Where was he to stable? Certainly not in the open fields like some common ox? No, he was a knight’s steed, not some wild pagan’s pony.
And so the chestnut horse returned to his familiar places: to the stable were he was bred, and the courtyards were he was wont to prance, and the deer parks were he was wont to run; to the stablemen, the squires, and the knights that were his masters; to the steeds, stallions, palfreys, and mares, that were his kith and kin, friends and enemies. Recognized at once he was, though his mane was matted, and his coat was frayed, and his ribs were easily counted. Crowding about him came the steeds and the palfreys, the stablemen and the squires, and very troubled they were. A great fuss was made over him – water and oats and a blanket, brushing and nuzzling and soothing words – till the chestnut horse was certain that he had made the right decision.
But the knights, who stood apart, said to each other, “it is Sir Henry’s steed that returns without a rider.” And though each cast down his eyes and shook his head and muttered “alas” and “woe”, in his heart he thought “aha! if Sir Henry has fallen then his quest has failed and the fair maiden still awaits rescue!” For Sir Henry had boasted loudly of the monsters he was to slay and the lady he was to win, so that his fellow knights had grown envious (for quests were few and distressed damsels were scarce). But if Sir Henry had been careless in his boasting, he had also been cunning, for he had revealed to none where this lady was imprisoned. One by one, the covetous knights withdrew to brood and fume. Over the passage of several days however, one by one, according to their own cunning, the knights recalled Genesios, the duke’s wizard, and one by one, according to their bravery, they approached the old man to beseech his aid.
Now Genesios was of the common type of sorcerer: a man with little or no magic about him, wearing a name found in a dusty tome of forgotten history and greatly skilled in the theatrical arts of fireworks and conjuring, the pleasing interpreting of stars and signs, and the recitation of long words of mysterious origin. One or two knights, he could easily misdirect. Three or four, he could frighten or postpone. But after the fifth and sixth knight, Genesios saw clearly his peril. And after he had sent the seventh knight away with a vague tale of Saturn’s tarring in the House of Venus, he began to scheme how he might save himself.
As it happened, Genesios did have one talent that approached the magical: in the days of his youth, when his dedication to the magical arts was as yet untempered with sloth and vainglory, he had learned the language of the beasts. And though he had not spoken it since he had secured his comfortable place at the duke’s court, still he recalled enough to speak with a noble steed. So it was that late one night he donned his humblest cloak and went – without staff or wand or golden dagger – to the stables.
The chestnut horse was, at first, reluctant of speak of Sir Henry’s death and refused utterly to revel it’s location. He was warm and happy in the stables and pastures of civilization and had no desire even again to leave them. But, while young Genesios had ultimately abandoned his magical studies and thus never learned to lay curses, old Genesios had learned well the infinitely more subtle art of threatening curses. Soon the chestnut horse, trembling and sweating at the terrible things the sorcerer foretold, relented and promised to lead him to the very spot.
“Not I,” said the wizard, who loved civilization as much as the chestnut horse, “but another.”
And so it was, that when the eighth knight came to him seeking the location of Sir Henry’s maiden, Genesios – with a somber display of flame and blood – took the knight to the chestnut horse, “bewitched” now to return to the place of his master’s death.
Happily unaware of the treachery of knights, Gog and Magog had resumed the rhythm of their lives. It was a warm and mild day, and Magog had gone to sea to fish for whales while Gog, his wound healed but his leg still stiff, had stayed behind. He had done a spot of cleaning in the cottage till his leg began to pain him and was now resting in the garden smoking an enormous pipe.
He was just falling into sleep when there came a long screeching cry. Suddenly awake, the giant sat upright and glanced around wildly. Almost too late did he look up and see a falcon diving out of the sky toward his face. Almost too late did he turn his head so that the falcon’s talons tore at his ear and not his eye.
“Ow!” cried Gog, jumping out of his chair and clutching his ear. “Cursed bird! Why do you pester me?”
“He pesters you,” came the answer, “on my command. And he will pester you to your grave, vile villain!”
Gog turned to see, at the edge of the hilltop, a knight astride a forlorn chestnut horse. “Who are you, sir knight, and why do you and your bird assault me?”
The knight rose in his saddle and shouted (for he was still some distance away), “I am Sir Gregory of Gronshire, and I have come to rescue the fair lady and lay low the foul fiend that imprisons her!”
Before Gog could answer the good knight and offer his opinion of his lady and his bird, there came again the long screeching cry. Thoughtlessly Gog looked up and was repaid for his foolishness by twin sets of talons in his giant eyes.
“Arr!” cried the giant, clutching his eyes and staggering wildly.
“Huzzah, Zeus!” Sir Gregory shouted and waved his sword in encouragement. Zeus, sensing victory, rose into the sky, circling over his giant prey.
Blinded, hurt, and enraged, Gog stumbled about wildly till he tripped over his chair and fell to the ground with a crash.
“Now Zeus, now! We strike together and win the day!” Sir Gregory spurred his mount onward towards the fallen giant. But despite his words, Sir Gregory was still some distance away and his charge was not as vigorous as it might have been, for he had no intention of joining the fray till his falcon had completely crippled the mighty giant.
Zeus however, needed no assistance, and when he saw his prey prone and helpless beneath him, he gave a mighty cry and dove at the giant, talons gleaming in the sun.
Gog heard the bird’s cry and felt for the first time the terror of rabbits and voles and the little creatures of the fields. Flailing blindly, his hand found the stem of his abandoned pipe. Wildly he waved the pipe above his head where it smoked like a badly tended forge. A great cloud of sweet-smelling smoke rose above Gog and Zeus, unable to correct his dive, plunged in the cloud. An instant later, the falcon, like the arrow of the hesitant archer, shot out of the cloud, passed its target and into the doorframe of the cottage.
Seeing his falcon burst like a feather pillow, hearing its victory cry end with a humble thud, Sir Gregory pulled the chestnut horse short and, without a word, turned his charge into a retreat. The chestnut horse offered no argument.
Gog lay stunned and bleeding on the ground amid the wreckage of his chair and the feathers of his attacker. And it was there that Magog, pulling a whale up the hill by its tail, found him when he returned.
“Gog!” cried Magog, dropping the whale and rushing to his brother. “What has happened to you?”
Then Gog told his brother all that had befallen him since he had sat down to smoke that morning. Magog said nothing as he helped his brother inside, laid him on his bed, and bandaged his ear and face. But as he set the kettle to boil he said, “another knight? This is strange. And more moontalk of a maiden?” Then he became quiet again and very thoughtful.
“Gog,” he said meekly, as he poured the tea.
“You didn’t . . . I only ask . . . you haven’t . . .”
“Kidnapped a princess?”
“Well, yes. Only, I thought maybe, with all the knights and all . . . there was the Seamstress of Sevengate, you remember?”
Gog looked angrily at his brother with his bandaged eyes. “No, Magog, I have not kidnapped a princess. And the Seamstress was a special case: there was a cruse and all.”
“Oh, right,” said Magog. “I didn’t really think you’d kidnapped anyone, it was just with the knights and all . . . I’m sorry I brought it up. Now just you lie back and sleep. I’ve got to go clean that fish or the wolves will be at it.”
The days slipped by and the brothers giant were troubled by no more knights. Gog was mending, but he still wore the bandages over his eyes, and Magog was kept very busy tending his brother and doing all the housework and cooking, as well as keeping the garden and hunting and fishing.
One day, while Magog was away hunting and Gog lay dozing before the fire, the blinded giant was startled awake a soft, quick pitter-pattering. “Fe-fi-fo-fum” said Gog (which is ancient Giant for “Hullo, what’s this?”).
Immediately the pitter-pattering stopped. Gog listened carefully but heard nothing. Soon his head drooped and his dozed again. But it was not long before the pitter-pattering came again. This time the giant jumped out of his chair and stood before the fire with his hand cupped around his good ear. There was a tiny shriek from across the room and more pitter-pattering.
“Who’s there?” demanded Gog as he turned and tripped over the chair with a thunderous crash.
And there Magog found him, sprawled across the floor, rubbing his bruised noise. “Gog!” Magog cried out. “Brother, what has happened to you?”
Then Gog told him about the pitter-pattering and the tiny shriek. Magog was very quiet as he righted the chair and helped Gog into it. “Mice?” He said slowly.
“Mice?” Snorted Gog. “As if, with one ear and half-asleep I would hear mice!”
“Giant mice?” suggested Magog.
“No such thing. But hear me, I have a plan.” And then Gog whispered to Magog in the tongue of the ancient giants, which all giants know but rarely speak.
“Pa-po-tum?” said Magog after his brother had stopped speaking.
“Pa-po-dum,” said Gog.
“Oh,” said Magog, winking and nodding at his blind brother. “You have had a shock, brother,” he said, switching to the common tongue. “Let us go for a stroll in the garden.” With more winking he took his brother’s arm and led him outside.
The two giants lingered in the garden till nightfall, then Magog took from his pocket a ship’s sail that he used as a handkerchief and tied it over his own ear and eyes, loosely so that he could still see. When they were both bandaged, Magog led his brother back into the cottage. The only light came from the low fire and the giants keep close to the shadowed wall as they made there as to their beds. Gog climbed into bed and, as he pulled the covers over his head, said clearly, “goodnight Gog, I hope your eyes are better in the morning.”
Magog, winking under his bandages and thoroughly enjoying the game, said, “goodnight, Magog. I think I will sit by the fire for a while. With a loaf of good bread and a cup of tea. For I am blind.” With that he turned and made a great show of stumbling to the chair by the fire, taking a loaf of bread and a teacup from the kitchen and placing them at his feet. “Ah! I hope I have sat by the fire and not in the woods. For I am blind.” There, thought Magog happily, that should fool any giant mouse.
For many hours Magog sat by the dying fire and made exaggerated snoring noises. Finally he heard a tiny pitter-pattering noise. Grunting and shifting, he stopped his snoring and peered into the orange darkness from under his handkerchief.
And there, tiptoeing towards the bread was a tiny figure on two legs. “Hy!” cried Magog (which is ancient Giant for “hi!”) and popped his empty tea-cup over the diminutive figure.
“Magog!” Magog hopped from one foot to the other. “Gog! Brother! I caught it!”
Gog jumped out of bed and stumbled his way to the hearth. “Finely done, Magog, finely done! Who is the intruder? Look and tell me, but don’t let him escape.”
As gently as it were a egg shell, Magog held the teacup against the floor with one hand and slid the other underneath, then he lifted the cup up between his hands and flipped it over so that the bottom hand was now covering the cup. Then, raising the corner of his hand, he peered into the cup with his giant eye. “It’s no mouse,” he said, disappointed. “I think it’s a girl.”
“A girl?” said Gog.
“I think so,” said Magog, peering into the cup again. “Or maybe it’s a boy. It’s very small and it’s very dark in this teacup. Leastways, it’s not a knight.”
As Gog opened his mouth to reply, a tiny voice rose from the teacup. “Excuse me! I am not a boy, I am not a girl, and I am most certainly not a knight. I am the Lady Audrey.”
“Gog!” gasped Magog. “You said you hadn’t stolen a maiden!”
“No one kidnapped me,” came the lady's voice. “If you put me down, I will explain.”
After a quick debate in ancient Giant, Magog put the cup, still with the damsel inside, upright on the table while Gog clumsily lit a lamp. When they were all seated at (or on) the table, she began.
“I am the Lady Audrey,” she repeated, “youngest daughter of the earl of Kentbum, and I have come to your house, good giants, in order that I might find a husband.”
Magog coughed an embarrassed cough. “Lady Audrey,” Gog said. “Giants do not marry the daughters of men.”
“Lady’s slippers!” she exclaimed. “I did not come to marry a giant but a knight.”
“But there are no knights here,” said Magog.
The Lady Audrey raised her eyebrow, “are there not?”
“Well,” said Magog, “now you come to mention it . . .”
Gog, who had begun to sense the wind, laid a restraining hand on his brother. “Go on,” he said to maiden in the teacup.
The Lady Audrey, with a slight bow, went on. “It was I who spread the tale that I had been imprisoned by giants. I sowed the rumor among the knights of the land, then hurried here, to await rescue.”
“Oh!” said Magog. “You wicked thing!”
“Hush, brother,” said Gog. “Why so, my lady?”
“I am a maiden not graced with beauty,” she said.
Magog bent down and peered into the teacup, “I thought all maidens were beautiful.”
“You are mistaken,” said the Lady Audrey.
After squinting with first one eye then the other, Magog shrugged at his sightless brother. “They all look alike,” he whispered.
“It may be she is not fair, but that is no answer,” said Gog. “That is no answer, Lady Audrey.”
“But it is,” said she. “My father, the earl of Kentbum is a rich man and a powerful man but – ill-luck! – he is also a poet. He has decreed that all his children shall marry not for advantage or for position, but for love.”
Gog shook his head solemnly. “I have heard of such things.”
“I think it’s nice,” said Magog quietly.
“As I watched my brothers and sisters wed,” said Lady Audrey, “I came to realize that no man of birth would succumb to my charms, for not only am I unlovely – a lady ought to be aware of her shortcomings – but I am clever and ambitious as well. Therefore I resolved to be rescued by a knight who, even if his heroic efforts did not make me lovely in his eyes, would be unable to set me aside.”
Magog cocked his giant head to one side, “hum?”
“Hush, brother. It is the way of knights, I will explain later. Go on, Lady Audery.”
“That is all,” she said. “I have nothing else to say.”
“Nothing?” Gog gestured blindly, knocking a stained glass window off the mantelpiece. “You have trespassed like a thief in our home! You have slandered our good name across the land! You have brought murderous knights to our front garden –”
“My brother was twice injured,” interjected Magog.
“Quite,” said Gog. “Lady Audrey, you have cruelly used my brother and me.”
Within her teacup, she drew herself up proudly. “The lords and ladies of Kentbum do not apologize. It is true neither giants nor knights have proven to be the creatures I thought they were, and all my designs and devices have come to naught, but I will make no excuse or defense to the likes of you.”
“Oh! You . . . you,” Gog wagged his head. “ You false, little . . . scuttle-mop! I should stomp on you this instant or, or fill this cup with boiling tea!”
Lady Audrey of Kentbum said noting, but faced the giant’s fury with aristocratic reserve. It was Magog who stopped Gog’s angry flailing. Placing a saucer over the teacup, he dragged his brother across the room. “Brother,” he said. “Don’t hurt her.”
Speaking again the ancient tongue of their forefathers, the brother giants debated the fate of Lady Audrey. Finally, Gog threw up his hands in resignation and Magog lifted the saucer off the cup.
“Lady Audrey,” he said. “What you did was very wicked, but my brother and I have decided to help you.”
“Truly?” Despite her blood, the youngest daughter of the earl of Kentbum could not hide her surprise.
“Truly,” Magog showed his tombstone teeth when he smiled.
And so it was, that when the next knight rode up the hill to rescue the damsel in distress, it was Magog who met him. The giant wore rags and had stuck tree trunks in his beard and he waved a broken whale bone. Behind him he had loosely tied the Lady Audrey to a garden stake that normally held upright the brother’s giant bean plants.
“Fee-fi-fo-fum!” roared Magog as soon as he saw the knight. “I smell the blood of an Englishman! Be he alive or be he dead, I’ll grind his bones to make my bread!”
The knight was nearly unmanned by this fearsome display, but, being saved from cowardice by his steed’s momentum, he let out a fear-garbled challenge and rushed at the giant. His eyes closed, the terrified knight did not see his lance break harmlessly against the ground, but he did hear Magog’s blood-curdling cry and feel the giant’s thunderous fall. When the knight opened his eyes it was to see a giant as still as death and a maiden overflowing with love and gratitude. With trembling hands, and with more help than he knew, the knight untied Lady Audrey and placed her upon his horse. Then, with perhaps more speed than was dignified, the two galloped southward.
In the fullness of time, the brothers giant recovered from their ordeal; Gog’s sight had returned, Magog had at last combed the last of the bark from his beard, and the two were sitting in their garden enjoying the twilight. They were discussing a note they had received by terrified messenger that very afternoon.
“She didn’t even invite us,” said Magog for the fourth time.
“No,” agreed Gog.
“Rude, that’s what it is,” said Magog. “Plain rude.”
Gog rubbed his leg. “I suppose the families did not want giants at the feast. After all, we did steal the bride.”
“But we didn’t!” cried Magog. “That was just a ruse. She told them that.”
“It may be she didn’t,” said Gog.
“But she promised!” cried Magog again. “She swore that she would tell everyone the truth!”
“It may be that she's too ashamed at the trick she had played. Or it may be she did not wish to wound her new husband’s pride.” Gog puffed at his pipe for a moment. “Did you see the fear of her messenger? No, the Lady Audrey broke her vow to us. I told you she was a wicked little thing.”
Magog stamped his foot angrily. “And after I put on those filthy rags and made such a fool of myself!”
“Yes,” chuckled Gog. “That was ridiculous. Were did you get that nonsense about bones and bread?”
“Oh, that,” said Magog. “I just made that up.”
Copyright 2017 Matthew A.J. Timmins