Gog & Magog and the Considerable Egg
Part the Second
Now Gog and Magog lived on the very tip of Albion, in a land known as the Wild North, the Hem of the World, and the North of North, but even in those ancient daf ys scholars and sailors knew that there was yet more north and parts yet wilder. As well-travelled giants, Gog and Magog knew this as well and they knew also that a creature as marvelous as the Trivet could only be found in one place: the Northway Sea.
Their simple one-sailed boat was bigger than the biggest galleon, yet it was cramped for two giants and their provisions and it was as puny as the smallest raft next to the might of the Sea and they were not afloat ten minutes before Gog remembered how little he enjoyed sailing.
From his seat at the tiller, Magog watched his brother with concern. “Feeling unwell?” he asked.
Gog looked up from where he clung against the mast. His face was green and his lips white, but he smiled bravely. “Right as rain,” he croaked.
After a week at sea Gog found enough of his sea-legs to take the helm and allow his brother to sleep. It was far into the night and Magog lay on a pile of sacks. He was uneasy as he gazed at the steady stars and listened to the rumbling waves. Something had woken him but he was too sleepy to say what was amiss. “Gog,” he yawned. “Gog? How goes it?” When a snort and a huff was his only answer, Magog stumbled astern to find Gog slumped over the tiller, snoring happily.
Magog shook his brother. “Gog! Awake! Something’s wrong!”
Gog jolted upright. “Help! Sunk! Drowned!”
“Quite the opposite,” said Magog, pushing Gog back onto his seat and patting him reassuringly. “We’re not moving.”
“Oh, thank the Stones.”
“Gog,” Magog frowned, “we’re sailing; we’re suppose to be moving.” He twisted his beard and glanced at the gently flapping sail. “Clearly, we’re not becalmed. Gog, did run you us aground?”
“What? No!” Gog was fully awake now.
“You fell asleep.”
“I was resting my eyes,” said Gog crossly. “We’d have felt it if we’d hit anything. I felt nothing, did you?”
“No,” admitted Magog.
“Thus,” said Gog.
Magog peered over the gunwale. “Then where, brother mine, is the ocean?”
“What?” Gog joined his brother at the gunwale and saw, by the pale starlight, a dark, empty abyss beneath their ship that, whatever it was, was not water. “Where are we?”
Magog took up a lantern made of defective cathedral windows and by its bonfire light examined their surroundings. “I think,” he said, looking between two shadowy cones that towered above the ship to port and starboard, “that we are wedged between a pair of giant pillars.”
“What do we do?”
Magog shrugged. “There’s nothing we can do at the moment. I suggest we go back to sleep and try to sort things out in the morning.”
The morning brought not answers, however, but pirates. They clambered and tumbled over the sides of the ship – they were very elderly pirates – and stole upon on the sleeping giants. “Avas-a-a-a-a,” the captain fell into a coughing fit and had to be supported by his ancient cabin boy. “Show a leg!” shouted the quartermaster. The other sailors, thinking that he had found a keg, soon joined in and it was this hullabaloo that finally woke the giants.
The sleep-heavy giants stared in disbelief at the wrinkled and rag-clad sailors. There were dozens of the old men, some surrounded the giants with shaking swords while others ransacked the boat’s provisions or sat on the deck wheezing and coughing.
“What is this?” demanded Gog.
“Who are you?” asked Magog.
“Pirates are we,” said the quartermaster, a moulting parrot asleep on his shoulder, “and we’re a-plundering your ship.”
“Oh, you are, are you?” Gog stood to his full height and held out his enormous arms. His seasickness had receded but it had left cross belligerence behind.
“Peace brother,” whispered Magog. “Pirates?” he said to the quartermaster. “Where did you come from?”
The quartermaster pointed a knobby finger over the boat’s bow. “There be our ship, theHalcyon, run aground like Noah on Mount Ararat.”
“’t isn’t my fault,” mumbled one of the ancient mariners.
The giants gazed out over a mountain range that stretched from horizon to horizon in neat rows. Each mossy peak stood alone and rose from a barren ground far, far below. The distant Halcyon, like the brothers’ own boat, was wedged between two of the strange mountains.
“How long have you been here?” asked Magog.
“Forty year!” shouted one of the sailor.
“Ay,” shouted another. “Forty years with no plunder!”
“No rum!” shouted another.
“Not to eat but gulls’ eggs!
“Ay,” said the quartermaster. “And forty years beached on this accursed island with no way home and naught to do has left the lads a mite restless, so iffen you don’t mind, we’ll be plundering you now.”
“Try,” growled Gog. “And I’ll break you like reeds.”
“Suits us,” snarled the quartermaster, “don’t it lads?”
The “lads” – their liver spots flush with excitement, their grey beards bristling – roared in agreement and raised their drooping weapons.
“Gentlemen!” Magog placed himself between his brother and the pirates. “Gentlemen, peace. There’s need be no violence between us.” Several of the old men groaned in disappointment. “My brother and I wish you no harm.” Here Gog grumbled in disappointment. “And we have no gold or jewels for you to plunder.”
“What about rum?” yelled one of the sailor.
“No rum,” said Magog. “But we do have a few barrels of crapply; it’s made of wild apple and honey which –”
“Surrender the grog!”
“Which,” continued Magog, “we would be willing to share with you gentlemen, as well as our other provisions: salted fish, pork, bread, cheese, eg—er, apples, lemons, and water. Seems to me, we are all in the same predicament. We could help each other or kill each other.”
As Magog fell silent, the crew of the Halcyonerupted into argument:
“I like lemons!”
“My feet hurt!”
Suddenly the captain – having quieted his coughing and struggled to his feet– banged his cane on the deck till his crew fell silent.
“Who’s that?” whispered Magog to the nearest pirate.
“Erik the Younger,” croaked the nearest with pride, “our capt’n.”
Magog stared at the decrepit seafarer – at his wrinkled pate and his single cloudy eye; at his jaw hanging slack under the weight of his golden dentures; at his wobbling stick-legs and his skeletal hands – and wondered what Erik the Elder must look like.
Captain Younger glowered at his crew with his lone eye. “Half a century we’ve been marooned on this cursed island, but we’ve not forgotten who we were. Who were we?”
The old men mumbled and stared at one another. “I was a cobbler,” ventured one bent sailor. “I was Putnam the Page,” said another. “My feet hurt,” added a third.
“Pirates,” screamed captain Younger. “We were pirates! Hard men of blood and booty! Now you milk-drinking, goat-fed cowards say ‘peace’?” He trembled with rage, his knees knocking together, and spittle flying from his white lips. “I’m still captain o’ this ship,” he said in a furious wheeze.
“Not thisship,” Gog growled.
“And I say-ay-ay – arrgh!” Erik the Younger clawed at his chest and chewed his glittering teeth; his legs abandoned him and he capsized onto the deck, pulling his cabin boy down with him. The cabin boy knelt beside the captain and, taking his walnut head on his lap, listened to the dying tyrant’s last order.
Closing the captain’s baleful eye, the cabin boy looked up at the stunned assembly. “The captain’s dead,” he said.
A few moments passed as the gulls circled overhead like sharks and the pirates stared in disbelief at their erstwhile captain and Gog and Magog shrugged in embarrassed silence.
“Well,” said the quartermaster finally, “what did he say? Last orders?”
The cabin boy looked at his crewmates. He looked at the giants. He looked at the dead captain. He scratched his grey beard. “He ordered us,” he said slowly, “to work with the giants.”
“What?” said the quartermaster amid a grumbling from some of the pirates and at least one of the giants.
“Truly,” said the cabin boy, using the captain’s cane to struggle to his feet. “He said that we weremen of blood and booty but now, after being marooned for forty years, we should do all we can to return home, including co-operating with these fine gentlemen.” He pointed at the giants with his stiff beard.
“What!” cried the quartermaster again. “Bilge water! Captain Younger named no successor and as quartermaster I –”
“He did,” said the cabin boy, “he named me captain after him.”
“What!” The furious quartermaster leapt into the air (upsetting the sleeping parrot). “You?”
“Me.” The cabin boy stooped to retrieve the battered captain’s hat. “For my years of loyal service.”
“Liar!” The quartermaster fumbled his sword from his belt.
“Let the crew vote,” said the cabin boy. “Men, who here wants the quartermaster for captain – and to die at the hands of giants?”
After a moments hesitation, half the pirates raised their voices in favor of the quartermaster.
“And who,” said the cabin boy, “wants me for their captain – and to see their beloved homes once more?”
The other half of the crew yelled and stamped their feet.
“Yay,” said Magog.
“Quiet brute,” snapped the quartermaster. “You don’t get a vote.
“The crew has spoken,” announced the cabin boy. “I am captain and I will see us home.”
“WHAT!” The quartermaster waved his sword so wildly that he overbalanced himself. “Wait,” he whined from the deck, “we need a count!”
But he was drowned by the cheers of the crew: “Cabin boy! Cabin boy!”
“That’s ‘captain’,” said the junior member of the ancient crew.
“Captain Boy! Captain Boy!” (No one could remember his name.)
The hoary crew swarmed around their new captain and – after a nearly disastrous attempt to lift him unto their shoulders – began to ushered him off the giants’ boat with much clamor and acclaim.
“Wait,” Magog cried after the departing pirates. “What of us?”
The old men stumbled and mumbled in confusion; they seemed to have forgotten the giants. “Ay,” said Captain Boy, “the giants.” The new captain pushed through his crew and hobbled towards the brothers. “Greetings gentlemen, I am Captain Boy of the Halcyon, and I propose an accord.”
“At last,” muttered Gog.
Magog trod on his brother’s foot. “Quiet, Gog,” then he knelt before the captain and extended a finger. “My brother and I accept your proposal captain.”
The ancient pirate and the giant shook hands.
“Now,” said Magog. “What can you tell us about this island? How did you ship run aground atop a pair of mountains?”
“T’was a wonder and a terror.” The captain shook his sunbaked head. “We were sailing north, eights days out of, of -- I forget where – when, in the fifth watch of a moonless night there were a noise like a maelstrom and we was all thrown from our bunks. We rushed on deck and look about and peered over the gunwales, but we could see nothing. When the dawn came, it showed us wedged between two mountain peaks. An island had risen from the ocean in one night and beached us.
Last night, for the first time in forty years, the island sank back into the water. We cheered to see the waters rising to meet the Halcyon. Then we cursed as the water came through the ship’s boards as if they was cotton. We climbed the rigging and the masts and waited for drowning. But then the waters sunk again and the island reappeared. That’s when we spied your ship and knew that the island had caught another fish.”
“Hmm,” Magog twisted his beard in thought. “What more can you tell us about this island. You must have explored it? There must be food and water.”
“The mountains and the valleys are all of the same strange rock; nothing grows here but moss. There be no animals save the gulls and the barnacles and – on the two occasions when the island rose from the sea – shallow pools filled with struggling fish. We drink rain water and eat birds and eggs and barnacles and moss.”
“How big is the island?”
“We don’t rightly know.” Captain Boy shrugged. “We found a cliff overlooking the ocean 2 days in that direction,” he pointed west with a scrawny arm,” but we never found any another edge or anything other then rows of infernal mountains.” The gathered men nodded in agreement. “There is one more odd thing about this island.”
“What’s that?” asked Magog when he could stand the captain dramatic pause no longer.
“It moves,” whispered the captain.
“Tis true,” interjected a sailor whom the captain introduced as Petre, ship’s navigator. “The island moves, slowly, in a great ellipse, hundreds of miles long, once a year, tis true.”
Magog waited for the strange old man to speak again and when he did not, turned to Captain Boy. “Captain, I propose that my brother and I explore this island of yours. Perhaps we can find answers you men did not.”
“Agreed,” said the captain. “And while we await your return, we will safeguard your vessel.”
“From whom?” asked Gog.
Captain Boy grinned. “Pirates,” he said.
“I don’t trust them,” grumbled Gog as they trudged towards the “bow” of the moving island. “Pirates.” He shook his bald head in disbelief.
“And I don’t trust them either,” said Magog. “That is why I brought the egg with us.”
“It’s not the egg that concerns me,” Gog looked wistfully at their stranded boat and listened to the distant cheers of drunken sailors.
“I’m sorry, Gog,” his brother said. “It was all I could think of.”
Burdened beneath packs that contained provisions as well as a boulder-sized egg, the brothers marched along the slate-like valley floor between perfectly spaced mountain peaks, the monotony only broken by fragments of ancient shipwrecks. Gradually the air filled with salty mist and the crashing of waves and the mountainous cones began to dwindle, growing shorter and thinner and fewer until they stopped altogether. The bare rock rose slightly to a horny rim, beyond which could be seen the distant, watery horizon. Gog and Magog exchanged silent glances as they slowly approached the island forward edge and peered over.
“Fo-fum,” whispered Magog.
“Stones preserve us,” said Gog.
“I think I know where we are,” said Gog, swinging his pack off his shoulder and rummaging through it. “Ho-ho!” He produced a miniature manuscript and waved it triumphantly. Sitting cross-legged on the ground, he clipped his pince-nez on his nose and began carefully leafing through the tiny pages.
“Gog!” said Magog. “Where did you get that book?”
“Hmm,” said Gog, pretending not to hear.
“You stole it from the Blue Witch,” gasped Magog. “You wicked brute!”
“I borrowed it,” insisted Gog. “But that’s not the point. The point is: I know where we are.”
“Of course that’s the – wait. You know where we are?”
“I do,” said Gog, climbing to his feet and waving an arm across the strange landscape. “We are on the back of Fastitocalon!”
“The back?” Magog glanced about them. “The island has a front?”
“This is no island,” said Gog, holding out the book to Magog in the palm of his hand. “This is Fastitocalon the Island Turtle, the greatest of sea monsters!”
“A sea monster!” Magog leapt about, trying to escape the beast below his feet. “What’ll we do? We’ll be eaten or drowned or, or, hurt!”
“Peace, brother,” said Gog. ‘Stop that dancing about. He’s not going to eat us. I doubt he even know we’re here. Just be still and let me see what this book says. ‘So great is the sea-tortoise that it is thought to be an island and the spikes upon its back to be mountains’ – yes, yes, we know that. ‘…swims in great circles atop the sea for years, suddenly diving beneath the waves and rising again…’ Hmm, not very helpful. ‘So too do the unwary place their hope in the Devil…’”
“Devil!” Magog leapt again. “There is a devil as well?”
“Quiet, brother,” said Gog. “It is only the author making some dubious analogy.”
“Oh,” said Magog, who disliked dubious analogies almost as much as he disliked devils.
Gog continued to squint at the bestiary, muttering under his breath. “Ho-ho,” he exclaimed. “Listen to this: ‘…feeling the heat of the fire, the beast plunges into the depth of the deep.’ This is it, Magog! We shall light a fire.”
“But Gog, surely the pirates must have lit fires before in all the years they have been stranded here.”
“Hmm,” Gog dropped the tiny book in his pocket and rubbed his bald pate. “Perhaps their fires were too small for Fastitocalon to feel through his thick shell. We shall build a great bonfire here, upon the monster’s head.”
Magog frowned. “I don’t think he’ll like that.”
“Of course he won’t like it, you feather-head! That’s the point: Fastitocalon will dive underwater to quench the fire and our boat will be freed.”
Gathering wood and canvas and rope from the shipwrecks they had passed, the giants soon had a huge pile stacked high on the monster’s head. Gog carefully arranged the fuel into a mountainous bonfire while Magog stood on the sloping prow between the monster’s eyes.
“By all the Sea,” Magog shouted with his arms thrown wide to catch the ocean’s spray, “this is amazing! Gog, this is amazing! Fastitocalon is amazing! Do you think he can hear me?” The giant edged his way to the ridge that crowned the monster’s left eye and, laying down, leant over to try to peer into the colossal orb. “O, great Fastitocalon! Can you hear me? Can you see me?”
“Magog!” Gog grabbed his brother by the ankles and dragged him back from the edge. “Be careful, you ass! You’ll fall overboard and be drown.” He helped Magog to his feet and ushered him sternward. “Come, I’m ready to light the fire.”
“Do you think he knows we’re here?” asked Magog.
“He’ll know soon enough,” grinned Gog, striking a flame from two iron posts and touching it to an oil-soaked sail.
The fire crawled through the latticework of beams and masts and riggings, climbing towards the pyre’s summit. “It’s a fine fire,” said Magog, already drying in the heat.
“That it is,” said Gog proudly.
“But, oughtn’t we be on our boat when the island sinks?”
The brothers stared at one another for a panicked moment before scrambling over the edge of shell and running across the monster’s back. Running at their utmost, the giants were still miles from their boat when the bonfire blazed into the sky like a pillar of fire.
“Fastitocalon stirs!” shouted Magog as a ground beneath them began to pitch and roll.
“We’re not going to make it!” cried Gog.
“There!” Magog pointed to a derelict suspended above them. “TheHalcyon! It’s our one hope!”
Frantically, the giants began to climb the bony spire. Below them, Fastitocalon began to submerge, the valley of his shell already underwater. Soon the waves were about their knees and Gog and Magog seemed to be climbing watery steps towards the ship above them. They reached the ship moments before the ocean, scrabbling over the gunwale and collapsing onto the deck (splintering the ancient boards beneath them).
But alas, the ancient ship had been too long absent from the Sea and was no longer worthy of her. In horror, the giants watched the raising water pour through the ship’s warped and creaked boards, breaking her apart and turning the Halcyonto wreckage. With a great slurping roar Fastitocalon plunged “into the depth of the deep” and pulled the sundered ship and the giants down with him.
Slowly, the riotous waves died away and the whirlpools exhausted themselves and the green waters grew calm once more. Overhead, gulls, suddenly homeless, complained loudly. Then the waters bubbled again as the Sea disgorged a cloud of flotsam and two sputtering giants.
Gog spat out gallons of seawater and clung desperately to one end of a broken mast. “Blast all turtles!”
“We’re alive,” cried Magog from where he clung to the other end of the mast, “thank the Stones and the Stars! And look, there is our boat!”
After a flurry of circular splashing and a brief argument, the brothers began paddling their mast towards their boat. As they drew closer they saw the thin and bent figures of elder seamen sitting in the rigging and standing on the deck.
“Ahoy!” shouted Magog. “Captain Boy!”
At the giant’s exclamation, the distant sailors broke into a flurry of activity: stumbling over the deck, scrambling about the rigging, yanking on ropes, and straining against the giant tiller. The giants smiled to see the efforts of the old men, but their joy and relief turned to anger and confusion when – the sail finally unfurled – their own fishing boat tacked sharply and began to fly away from them.
“Wait,” cried Magog. “wait for us!”
Captain Boy stood at the stern, waving his hat as the ship sailed away. With a flood of curses, Gog began to paddle after the boat, but Magog hesitated.
“Gog, look,” he cried. “It’s the Egg!”
For indeed it was the Considerable Egg, popping to the surface like a great pink cork. Magog abandoned the mast and struck out for the egg. When he reached it, however, the egg shot out of his grasp and rolled away across the waves.
“Magog!” sputtered Gog, splashing in circles. “Help me!”
“But the Egg,” pleaded Magog. “It’s swimming away!”
“So is out boat!”
Magog returned to his floundering brother and righted him. Then he looked about. Their fishing boat was far distant and flying before the wind. The Considerable Egg was spinning like a waterwheel in the opposite direction. “I think we should follow the Egg,” said Magog. “It is moving against the wind and seems to know where it’s headed. I know you—”
“Whatever you wish, brother,” said Gog, spitting out seawater and clinging to the mast. “I am drowned and care not.”
And so the brothers paddled after the Egg that bobbed over the Sea like a fat, pink seal. At last reached land. Like beached wales, the giants lay panting on the rocky shore; waterlogged, clothed in rags and seaweed, and thoroughly exhausted, they slept for days and were only woken by the pestering of sea gulls and the barking of sea lions.
“Muck and mire,” moaned Gog as he rolled over and squinted up at the gull-strewn sky.
“Oh,” cried Magog, pulling his face out of the sand, “oh, my head!”
Scattering the sea lions and swatting at the gulls, the giants sat up and looked up and down the desolate coastline. “Where are we?” whispered Magog, for his throat was dry and his own voice hurt his head.
“I’ve no notion,” said Gog. “But look, there’s your confounded egg.”
The giants struggled to their feet and tottered off to where the Considerable Egg lay in middle of a tidal pool. Magog lifted the egg out of the water. “Then it was drawn here,” he said and began walking inland. “It’s an omen.”
“A muddy nuisance, I call it,” grumbled Gog as he followed his brother.
The land rose steadily as the giants walked away from the sea, till, after several miles they came to a great bald hill. From atop this hill a dull grating roar rose and fell and a warm fetid breeze with it. “Fa!” cried Gog, pinching shut his nose. “What a stink!”
Coughing and sputtering in agreement, Magog fumbled for his handkerchief and dropped his charge. “Pits!” he shouted as the Egg hit the ground and begin to bounce. “Gog, look! The Egg, it’s--”
“I see it, brother,” said Gog. “I see it.”
The brothers watched in amazement as the Considerable Egg bounced and rolled up the grassy hill like a giant pink football on a sting. When the Egg was nearly at the summit, Magog cried “after it!” and – forgetting his handkerchief and heedless of the stench -- bounded up the hill. With his brother in tow, the giant surmounted the hill and slid to a halt.
“Fe-fi,” he whispered.
“What – oof!” Gog crashed into his suddenly still brother. “What is it?”
Magog rung seawater from his beard as he pondered the slumbering beast before them, “it must be the Trivet.”
Gog peered over his brother’s shoulder at the monstrous hybrid of toad and whale that squatted on three legs over a cairn of rocks, its three bulging eyes closed. “Quite right,” he said. “This is the Trivet.”
They watched the sleeping beast twitch its three horns, heard its mighty snoring, and felt the reeking wind from its blowhole. “What now?” said Gog.
“I don’t know,” said Magog, picking up the now motionless Egg. “Does the bestiary have anything to say?”
Gog snapped his colossal fingers and began fishing about in his waistcoat. “I fear,” he said, pulling the waterlogged book from his flooded pocket, “the bestiary can tell us nothing more.”
“Well,” said Magog thoughtfully, “the Egg was clearly trying to reach this place and that could be a nest that the creature is sitting upon…perhaps we could slip the Egg into the nest without waking the creature and then . . . then we could go.”
Gog shrugged and motioned Magog towards the monster.
“Me?” said Magog.
“The idea was yours,” answered Gog. “I wanted to poach it, remember?”
“Cruel hard,” whispered Magog as he tiptoed around the sleeping beast.
From behind, the Trivet was a warty black mound, its three stubby tails waving lazily between its two hind legs. Pausing to affix his handkerchief over his face, Magog crept forward. Gingerly he lifted the central tail and pushed the Egg into the dark, dank, cavity beneath the monster’s slimy bottom.
The Trivet burbled in its sleep and shifted backwards, trapping his arm and nearly sitting on Magog’s head.
“Gog,” he hissed in alarm, “help me; I’m stuck!”
Rushing to his aid, Gog seized his brother round the waist and pulled his hardest. With a slurping pop, Magog came free and both giants tumbled like an avalanche down the hill. Scrabbling to their feet, Gog and Magog jogged to the beach without a backwards glance.
At the rocky shore, Magog bent to wash away the slime, then he stood, straightened his ragged clothes as best he could, and grinned at his brother proudly.
“What’s your joy?” asked Gog crossly.
“We did it, Gog. We delivered a Considerable Egg safely back to the wild.”
“Indeed we did,” grumbled Gog, looking out across the grey ocean, “but who shall deliver us safely home?”
Copyright 2018 Matthew A.J. Timmins