A wolf seduced her sister and a witch wrapped her bony fingers around her brother’s heart, so when a giant came for her, she told him she wouldn’t go.
He plucked a rose petal from the bushes that grew around his castle, and that was her bed. When the day grew hot, he offered dewy raspberries to quench her thirst. When she refused, a single tear fell from his eye and splashed at her feet. The salt on her lips tasted like sorrow. She was drenched, but unmoved.
Only when he left his almanac out—quite by accident—did she creep from the threshold of her cottage. It took all her strength to turn the pages, but turn them she did. The letters were as tall as she was, but read them, she did.
He caught her reading. If he wanted, he could have slammed the book shut, trapped her or squashed her. He didn’t.
He looked to the book and then to her. “Will you come with me now?” he asked.
“I am not a pet.”
“Of course not.”
“Or a meal.”
He blew air through his lips, the force ruffling her hair. “You are much too small for that.”
“Then what am I?”
“I need someone to tend to the mice. They are ailing. And the butterflies. My fingers are too clumsy and I cannot mend the rips in their wings.”
“So you have work for me?”
“Good work, with good pay. You can keep your family well.”
“They would feed me to the wolves.”
“Then how am I any worse?”
How indeed? Did she trust this giant and his promises of mice and butterflies?
“Will you?” He extended a hand.
She stepped onto his palm and he her lifted higher and higher—even with his mouth, his nose, his eyes. Then he placed her gently on his shoulder.
“What made you change your mind?” he asked.
“The almanac. Will you read to me sometimes?”
“Would you like that?”
“I shall read to you every night.”
Mice and butterflies filled her days. On the back of the Mouse King she rode, clutching the soft fur about his neck, racing through the castle to tend to mothers with large broods, crumbs and bits of cheese tucked in a canvas sack. With thread from a silkworm, she repaired butterfly wings, her stitches tiny and neat.
The giant peered at her handiwork through a glass that made his giant’s eye all that much larger. When he laughed his approval, the sound rolled through the countryside. And every night, when he reached for his almanac, she settled on his shoulder and marveled at how someone so colossal could speak words with so much tenderness.
Even when his bones grew old and all he could do was move from bed to chair, he read to her. When his eyesight dimmed, he recited the words from memory, so strong was his desire to keep his promise. Until, at last, the day came when the stories stopped.
A thousand butterflies fluttered into his room, and mice came from fields and forest alike, led by the Mouse King. They bore the giant outside, where they laid him to rest beneath the rose bushes.
It was there she learned that all her tears combined could not rival the sorrow contained in a single giant teardrop.