"The Sleeping Giant"
by David M. Korn


PROLOGUE

Hundreds of years ago, Theo Grant, a young soldier, returned home from a long war in a far away land to the east. He began to tell others of his experiences in that strange, chaotic place, and the frightening and unfamiliar things he had seen. Motivated by a fear that such disorder and confusion might flourish in his own country, Grant established a new settlement in a secluded clearing near some woods, beyond a great waterfall. A big tree at the center of the area seemed to welcome his people and provide them with the reassurance that this was their true place in the world, their home...


TWO

For a long long time, Valence and Luzanne had been secretly going into the Endless Forest. After school let out, and at the end of the week when their chores were done, they ventured deeper and deeper into the forest to explore. When they were younger, they struck out to discover the different parts of the village. They went down to the cold briny sea and out to the warm yellow fields, and eventually up into the rocky hills at the base of the Shoulders. They came to know each other like brother and sister during those excursions, which often brought them home after dark.

The forest remained unknown to them until they reached the age of thirteen, when they could no longer contain their desire to explore it. But it was forbidden for anyone to enter the forest, which officially began where the woods that bordered the village ended. This was designated by a ridge where the ground inclined sharply and the trees became dense and impenetrable. No one had any reason to go into the forest, and no one wanted to go either. The Endless Forest was a dark and ominous place, and nearly every family could tell of a friend or relative who’d wandered in and got lost, never to be seen again. One could wander a lifetime without ever seeing the other side. In ancient times, those guilty of the worst crimes were given scant food and minimal supplies, and sent off into the forest and told to find the Sea of Mist, a hopeless, impossible journey before they grew old and died.

Initially, Val and Zann had been excited by the notion that they actually set foot on forbidden ground. They expected to be satisfied with this secret triumph, but almost immediately they were struck with the desire to enter forest again. They wanted to go in far enough to feel that they’d conquered it, like every other place in the village. Every excursion had taken them a bit farther, but they were never satisfied. The deeper they went the deeper they still wanted to go. The forest always appeared the same, so there was no way to mark their progress with any certainty. There was nothing new to see within its dense confines, and they soon wondered what they were really looking for.

Then Zann thought of the Sea of Mist. She realized that if they just went far enough, they’d be able to make out its very edge from the treetops. But after many more journeys, there was still no sign of it. Zann was certain is was possible to spot. It had to be, she thought again and again.

This was because the forest seemed to get smaller as she got older. When Zann had her first look at it, she didn’t yet know its name. It wasn’t something that could be named, for it was like naming the ground itself. It was the everything beyond the tiny space on which people lived and moved. Brief distances could be named because they could be measured, and seen in their entirety. But the sky had no name. It was part of the enormity that contained the smallness of life, so huge that, ultimately, it had no distinction.

And so it had been with the forest, until Zann found out that it indeed had a name. It was a strange and surprising discovery, producing a fundamental shift in her awareness of the world. Something which seemed to swallow up her very existence now suddenly had its own limitations. And as she heard people in the village talk about the forest, referring to it casually, as if it were as a benign component of the landscape as any rock or patch of ground, she sensed it getting smaller. She could even enter it and familiarize herself with parts of it, like any corner of any room in her house.

Then, as an older child, Zann learned of the Giant, whose very name was the immeasurable enormity of existence itself. The Endless Forest was but a tiny green sliver, insignificantly larger than the village, and only more important because it separated the village and its people from the vast nothingness of the Sea of Mist, whose only physical occupant was the Sleeping Giant. Zann could never imagine the infinite size of the Giant, who defined and protected the village for all eternity, unseeable and unknowable somewhere out there beyond the Endless Forest. But the forest, nothing more than a swath of trees where she played and grew, came to be hers, as much as the darkest corners of her mind.

But now it was becoming ominous again, reclaiming its former immensity. For the first time in years, Zann sensed its ungraspable enormity. It was beyond her comprehension. She felt chained to her small patch of village, a tiny, insignificant piece of dirt at the far edge of this magnificent dark mass. The whole world is trees, Zann considered as she and Val descended the ridge bordering the village.


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