The Giant, the Cow, and the Pixie
by Ellis L. Knox
The pixie Tann could have gone up into the mountains, but instead he went down into the valley where he never went, and that is why this happened.
Or maybe it happened because of the dragon.
Tann arrived in the valley around midday. The sun poured golden light across rich, green grass, primrose, and crocus. A small stream burbled loudly down the slope toward a waiting river. Near the stream, arranged in a peaceful tableau, were a dragon, a giant, a cow, and a knight.
The dragon was lying down and so was the cow. The knight was dead. The giant was fine, though.
He was an ordinary sort of giant, or so he seemed to Tann, who fancied himself well traveled and much-experienced, although in all his life this was only the second valley he had ever visited. He could just see the giant's head over the outstretched neck of the dragon. He couldn't see the giant's face but, atop his head, blond hair piled up like a haystack.
Under most circumstances, a pixie will go considerable distances to avoid a dragon, but this particular dragon was motionless. Tann hoped the creature was dead, or sleeping. Dead would be better, because he wanted to ask the giant some questions, it being quite out of the ordinary to find a dragon, a knight, and a giant all in one place. Not to mention the cow.
Pixies are powerfully attracted to anything out of the ordinary, and Tann was so hungry he had certain thoughts regarding the unmoving cow. That’s why the pixie Tann turned aside to speak with the giant about his thoughts.
When he was near enough, he said, “Hello,” which he believed was the proper way to begin when dealing with giants.
“Hello,” the giant boomed.
The pixie's ears folded down in reaction. “What's going on here?” Tann asked.
The giant's head swung left and right slowly — giants rarely do anything quickly — trying to find the source of the voice. “Nothing is going on. My cow is hurt. The knight is dead, and oh, there you are. Hello.”
Tann was unsure whether or not it was rude of the giant not to have spotted him right away. He decided it wasn't. Giants, after all, were not especially clever creatures. Not like pixies.
“What's that delicious smell? Are you cooking something?” The cow did not look roasted, but one could hope.
“I am not cooking anything,” said the giant. “That's the knight.”
Tann's eyes widened. “Oh,” he said. Now that he looked more carefully at the fallen knight, he saw the man's armor was melted in places. He also noticed a massive lance stuck into the dragon's shoulder. Tann congratulated himself on being so observant.
“Are knights good to eat?” he asked.
“I do not know. It is a human.”
“Ew. Not good, then.” Tann sighed mightily. “Why is the dragon sleeping? If I had a lance stuck in my shoulder, I don't think I would fall asleep.”
“I do not know,” the giant replied. “It is hurt. Maybe it fainted.”
“Don't be stupid. Dragons don't faint.” Tann eyed the immense form. “I think it's dead.”
“Listen,” said the giant.
“To the dragon. Put your ear to it.”
Tann happened to be standing near the middle of the beast's length. He stepped closer to the dragon, hesitated, then stepped nearer. He leaned as far as he could lean, then pressed his ear to the body. Its scales were slate gray and shiny as if wet, but they felt quite dry. The rumble was low but clear.
“Hmm,” Tann said. “I think it's sleeping.”
“Good, because I'm right.” Tann took three steps back and considered several courses of action. “We should kill it,” he said.
“It is hurt and defenseless. It would not be honorable to kill what is hurt and defenseless. Besides, I do not eat dragon.”
“Dragon eats you, I bet.”
“That is possible. Can you stand over here in the sun? You are very hard to see in shadow.”
“I'm a pixie. I'm hard to see most times,” Tann declared, but he moved into the sunlight. He looked at the dragon again and added another course of action. “I will kill it for you,” he declared.
“How would you do that?” The giant refrained from smiling, not wishing to seem discourteous.
Tann had already worked this out. “I will stab it in the eye,” he said. “Pixies are masterful dragon slayers.”
“It might take more than one stab,” the giant said. “You might wake it up.”
“Is it waking up?” Tann quickly moved further away.
“No. But if you poked it in the eye, it might.”
“That could be awkward,” Tann said. He came up with another plan. “We should leave.” Pixies are masterful makers of plans.
“No,” the giant said.
“My cow is hurt and cannot move. When the dragon wakes, it would eat my cow.”
“So let's kill the dragon now. I'll stab it in the eye and you stab it with... something stabby. There's the lance, you know.”
“If I pull out the lance, the dragon will surely waken.”
“Oh,” Tann said. “Not the lance, then.”
“No,” the giant said.
“We should still kill it.”
“You use that word too much,” Tann said.
“The dragon is hurt and defenseless.”
“That would not be honorable.” The giant shook his head as he said this.
“It would be survivable. Your honor is very silly.”
“This from a pixie?”
Tann did not reply. Instead, he began circumnavigating the dragon. He was considering all the angles, but all the angles led to unfortunate ends. When he got back to the giant, he had more questions, which is something pixies have in ample reserve. He carefully placed himself in a patch of sunlight and spoke. “What's your name?” he asked.
“Ouf,” said the giant.
“Ouf. It is my name.”
“Not much of a name,” said the pixie. “My name is Tannenfeldargergerbalbernarrenbockrauberbodenbombe.” He puffed up his chest and added, “The Third.”
Ouf squinched his face and spoke carefully. “Tan enfold argue bald near buck robber body bomb...” the giant let the last syllables trail away. It sounded like retreating thunder.
“You can call me Tann.”
“Thank you,” Ouf said.
“You're very welcome.” Tann performed a tiny bow. “It is a distinguished name.”
“It certainly sounds that way.”
Tann cocked his head to one side, which caused the ear on the opposite side to flop forward. He pushed it away from his eye. “Is this truly your cow?”
“It belongs to a vill.” Ouf replied. He pointed downriver. “This one wandered away, and I had a thought to return it, as that vill is under my protection.”
“Pfff,” the pixie said. “Gnomes.”
“Do you not like gnomes? Their vill is pleasant and productive.”
Tann shrugged. “They're all right, I suppose. If you're a gnome.” The pixie pointed. “What's wrong with the cow?”
“The dragon clawed it just before the knight arrived. I have given it a physik. It will recover.”
“The dragon might wake up before then!”
“That is possible.” The giant nodded gravely, as if agreeing with a philosopher.
“We should run away.”
“My cow—” Ouf began.
“Is hurt and cannot move. I know. You just told me that. I was the one standing in front of you when you said it.”
The giant did not say the pixie was rude, because that would be rude. He waited quietly because there was no point in waiting any other way.
“This is all very strange,” the pixie said. He started to walk away but turned back after only a few steps. “Is this a prank?” Pixies are masterful pranksters.
“It is not,” the giant said.
“That's just as well, because it's not a very good one,” Tann said.
“That is because it is not a prank.”
“Don't repeat yourself,” Tann scolded. “It's redundant.”
The giant fell silent again. The pixie fell silent, too. His stomach growled, quietly, so as not to wake anything dangerous.
“So, now what?” Tann said. It wasn't really much of a question, but it was all he had at the moment.
“As before,” Ouf said. “I tend my cow until she can walk home.”
“That's stupid,” Tann said. “The dragon will wake up. It will eat your cow and probably eat you, too.”
“That is possible.”
“So, we should kill the dragon now.”
“Giants are stupid.”
“Some are,” Ouf agreed.
Tann muttered furiously but low, so Ouf couldn't hear it. The pixie had never met a giant before and was surprised to find one so courteous. Still stupid, of course, but courteous. “Well, now I can't leave either.”
“You need someone to protect you,” Tann said, “from stupid.”
“That is why you stay?”
“Maybe. It may be I stay because you're interesting. Funny.”
“I have never been called funny,” Ouf said.
The pixie swept his arms wide. “See?” he said, “that is funny.”
“You should go,” Ouf said, trying to make is voice earnest without being terrifying. “When the dragon wakes, it might kill you as well.”
“Hah. Shows what you know.” Tann hooked his thumbs into his belt and pushed out his chest. “Pixies are quicksies. We're much too clever for a dragon. Especially one dumb enough to get a lance in its shoulder from a mere human.”
“I think you may be too clever for your own good.”
“Well that's just more stupid from Sir Stupid.”
“You realize,” Ouf said mildly, “that name-calling is not a form of argument?”
“Sure it is. I do it all the time and I never lose an argument.”
“I find that unlikely.”
“That's because you're stupid, you stupid stupid-head.”
“Now, really, that's—”
“Stupid stupidy stupider stupidest super stupor stupid stupidifous stupendous ....”
“Stupendous doesn't mean...” Ouf tried to interrupt.
“Stupiditous stupitendor stupid stupid stupid...” Tann took a breath.
“Are you done?” Ouf inquired.
The pixie put one hand on his hip and raised the other in a fist over his head. “I win,” he declared.
The giant gusted a sigh. “All right. You win.”
“Maybe,” Ouf said, “when the dragon wakes, you can call it names.”
“I told you you were funny.”
The two did not speak for a while. The sun drifted lazily toward the western horizon, for it was in no hurry. Animals and insects decided to be lazy as well. Even the breeze had chosen to nap for a bit.
The giant stretched, which caused Tann to scamper away a few yards, just to be safe.
“There is real danger when the dragon wakes,” Ouf said. “It might be wiser for you to leave.”
“Pixies have honor too, you know,” Tann said. He was being extra dignified to cover his impending retreat. “You will surely need my help.”
“That is kind of you,” Ouf said, then added: “and honorable.”
Tann smiled. He had been traveling alone for a long time and was glad of company, however huge. He had no particular objection to giants, one way or the other, and this one seemed a decent enough fellow.
His thoughts wandered pleasantly for a while, until his stomach reminded him of more urgent matters. He cleared his throat and spoke. “If the cow should die... somehow,” the pixie said, waggling a hand, “we could eat some and leave the rest for the dragon.”
“I thought you were my friend,” Tann said.
“Possibly. But not if I starve to death.”
“Or if we are both killed by the dragon,” Ouf added.
An idea struck Tann, who was frequently struck by such things. “A disguise! I could be a bush. That way, the dragon wouldn't notice me. Watch.”
Tann crouched and became not motionless but very still, the way a bush is still in a light breeze. His limbs became like branches, and his green clothing managed to look like close-packed leaves. He shook himself and became a pixie again. “What can you do?” he asked. He was suddenly unsure what sort of disguise a giant might adopt. Maybe a mountain.
“Not a bush,” Ouf said, “but there's still the cow.”
“I doubt cows are good at disguises.” Tann made his face look serious and sad. “We might have to sacrifice the cow, Ouf.”
“Do you win many arguments with that word?”
“You should try my approach.”
The dragon made a sound like a volcano muttering.
“The dragon stirs,” the giant said. “Now we will see what we will see.”
“Don't worry, Ouf. I have a plan,” Tann said, quickly thinking of another plan. “You stay next to your cow. Sit very still. It's important you don't move.”
“Okay, I will sit next to the cow and not move,” the giant said, having no plan of his own.
Tann nodded once. He felt sorry for Ouf. It takes an exceptional sort of stupid, he thought to himself, to trust a pixie when a dragon wakes.
The dragon moved. Its scales rattled like stones in a rockslide.
By the time it had raised its head, the pixie had managed to get around to the front of it. “Hoi! Hey, dragon!” Tann cried.
Pixies are the smallest of creatures, but they have many talents. Most of their talents range from useless to annoying, but one of the more practical is that they can make themselves heard even from quite a distance.
The dragon heard the voice but couldn't see its source. The gray plates scraped as the beast turned its great head left and right; its red-gold eyes narrowed, trying to see who spoke. Then a deep rumble came from its belly, for the dragon was hungry.
“Hoi, hoi, look!” Tann cried. “Meat!” He gestured, but the dragon's eye, which was quite good at spotting sheep from a thousand feet up, was less good at spotting pixies from ten feet. Tann had still more plan, though. He jumped atop the knight's chest and worked the visor back and forth. As he did so, the metal caught the sun, and the reflection caught the dragon's attention.
The dragon extended its head to sniff. Tann jumped farther than any pixie had ever jumped in all of history: three feet if it was an inch. So when the dragon's wide mouth slavered its way close to the armored knight, Tann was well away, lying in the grass, stiff as a stick. The dragon took a long smell. It reared up high. It reached out with one mighty claw and took up the dead knight. The dragon uttered a sharp cry, a sound like trees struck by lightning, then it flew away careening, for the lance still protruded from its shoulder.
Tann cautiously moved over to Ouf.
“How did you know what it would do?” the giant asked.
“Dragons prefer their dinners cooked,” Tann said.
The giant and the pixie watched the dragon fly toward the mountains, its wings booming, knight in claw.
The cow stirred uneasily and tried to stand. Ouf put one hand gently on its back, and it quieted again.
“I will stay with you until your cow can walk,” Tann said.
“Thank you,” Ouf said.
“You are very welcome.”
“Where were you going,” Ouf asked, “when you came to my valley?” He applied a fresh poultice to the cow's wound.
“This isn't your valley,” Tann said. “It belongs to the pixies.”
“There are no pixies in my valley.”
“I'm a pixie.”
“There is no more than one pixie in my valley,” Ouf amended.
“Pfff. Shows what you know.”
“Where were you going?”
“To visit the pixies of the vale, naturally. Only... I haven't found any yet.” Tann glanced toward the mountains. “Maybe the dragon ate them.”
“What will you do now?” the giant asked.
“I'm not really sure,” Tann said. “I'll stay with you for now. Until your cow can walk.”
“You could come to my home, Tann. Help me take care of the cows and the vill.”
“I could do that?” The pixie felt something large in his very small heart.
“I have invited you,” the giant said.
“I might be a bother.”
“That's all right. You would be a very small bother.”
“I don't eat much,” Tann said, trying to be helpful.
“No, I don't suppose you do.” Ouf gestured.
“We will be friends?”
Tann laughed, a whisper of a sound, but the giant was learning how to listen.
“Why do you laugh?”
“Because you didn't say no!”
“No. Or perhaps, yes,” Ouf said.
The pixie cocked his head and wondered if the giant was trying to be funny. Then he had a sudden thought. “Will the dragon come back?” he asked.
“Be easy in your mind, my friend. You are safe.”
The giant stood. His shadow stretched as tall as an elm.
“I'm very hungry, Ouf,” Tann said.
“I have plenty of food,” Ouf said.
“When do we eat the cow?”
“No, Tann, we don't eat the cow.”
Copyright © 2020 by Ellis L. Knox