In the land of Calambria, southeast of Parygodia, a giantess named Cholumga lived in a wide green valley in the mountains. She was as old as the earth, and as far as she could recall, she had always lived alone. Her only companions were the grass and the trees and the small wild creatures that flourished in the valley without disturbing her in any way.
Cholumga was ten times taller than the tallest tree, with eyes as luminous green as sunlight through summer leaves, and hair as red as tongues of fire dancing in the breeze. Everywhere she went, life flourished; the grass grew greener and bright flowers bloomed, and she was as carefree as the white puffs of cloud afloat in the deep blue sky.
Everything Cholumga did, she did on a grand scale. She ate whole forests and drank rivers dry, but new forests and new rivers sprang up in her wake. She roamed all through the mountains, taking pleasure in everything that she saw, and laughing so loudly that the white peaks laughed along with her. Sometimes she would just sit and watch an acorn grow into a giant oak, serenading it all the while, for her days were longer than other creature’s lives, and to her the span of time from their first to their last breath was but a fleeting moment. But her long days took their toll, and when she grew tired, she grew very tired indeed. Whenever she laid herself down to rest, she would sleep for hundreds of years.
Her bed was at one end of the valley, where she could place her head in a dark, cool cave so as to be undisturbed by the impatient sun, which rose and set to a rhythm no giantess could bear. She would pull back the green mantle of the earth and lay herself down on the smooth stone beneath, drawing the blanket of sod back over her body to stay warm and safe throughout her long night.
Once, not long after she had gone to bed, some of the little people who lived far away in Parygodia began to wander into her valley in search of land, for they had grown too numerous for their own country to support them all. The first adventurers who came over the mountain pass and gazed upon Cholumga’s lush green home rejoiced at what they saw, for they beheld a country that was rich and fertile and would provide many people with abundant food. So these first settlers came down into the valley to build their homes, without knowing that a giantess slept beneath the blanket of the land, and a bustling little village sprouted from the earth right on top of Cholumga’s belly. Fields were tilled and crops grew and sheep grazed and the people prospered. Word reached Parygodia of the rich green land nestled high among the mountain peaks, and more people came, and many children were born and thrived in the colony, and new villages spread throughout Cholumga’s valley and beyond, and a civilization sprang up while Cholumga slept.
It was a rich civilization, for even while she slept Cholumga enriched the land in every way. The crops and livestock grew so eagerly that little work was required, and many people found time to pursue other crafts and to ponder the wonders of their world. Thus they developed new skills and new arts and an ever greater ability to transform the world around them in ways which gave them pleasure and gratified their pride. Villages became cities and paths became roads, and huge monuments of stone rose on every horizon. And people practiced the art of magic, which flourished in Cholumga’s valley as it had never flourished before.
The people established an order of wizards, who were revered above all others, and whose only occupation was to ponder the mysteries of nature and to master its myriad forces. Cholumga’s breath was as fertile for the imagination as it was for maize, and so the wizards came to manipulate the elements in profound new ways. They learned to create illusions with the power of their mind, so that others would see what they chose for them to see rather than what was truly before their eyes. And they learned to cleave matter by a mere force of will, to rend it and mend it as they saw fit. And so wizards were in high demand, the favorites of princes and the true leaders of this brave new world spilling forth from Cholumga’s lush green valley.
And all this happened while Cholumga slept. The people did not know that a giant slept beneath the blanket of the land, though they might have guessed had they not become so self-absorbed. For sometimes Cholumga snored, and they could hear the rumbling of her breath rolling forth from the cave at the end of the valley, and could see its dark mist filling the once clear sky. And though Cholumga usually slept very peacefully, sometimes she would become restless and turn in her sleep, and when she did so, the world would heave and the people and their buildings would be tossed about. But the wizards said that these sounds and sights and upheavals of the earth were omens from the gods, not the indifferent breaths and restless movements of a sleeping giant, for by doing so the wizards could more easily control the people, who were eager to please and appease the heavenly powers, and so to obey the wizards who alone could fathom their will. The wizards felt wise in this deception, though they themselves did not know the truth, for through it they were able to align the disparate wills of the many people as though they were one, and thus to make their civilization ever stronger and ever more formidable, and the people ever richer, especially the richest among them, the wizards themselves. And this progress was the only truth that the wizards allowed.
And so the people called Cholumga’s valley their own, and carefully surveyed its length and breadth so as better to exploit its riches. Had they ever stumbled upon the cave where Cholumga rested her head, they would have in their fear killed her while she slept, unwittingly destroying their own magic and glory along with her. But the blanket of the land was pulled so close to the upper lip of the cave that only a narrow crack was left, and this they never found. However, not far away, at the base of a mountain rising from the boundaries of Cholumga’s valley, a team of explorers discovered another cave whose yawning mouth beckoned them to enter. And as they delved ever deeper, and the cavern opened ever wider, they felt Cholumga’s hot breath growing ever thicker upon them, for hidden passages linked these caves to the one where she rested her head. They did not know what this warm wind was, but their minds reeled from its potency, and they knew they had found a sacred place. So they returned to the capitol sprawled across Cholumga’s belly to tell the Council of Wizards of their discovery.
The Prime Mage and his ministers themselves went to see this hollow mountain wherein a hot wind which made men’s minds spin blew, and as they entered they could feel the magic of Cholumga’s breath upon them. They continued on, choosing from among the forking passageways, until one finally opened onto a huge chamber in the very center of the mountain, a chamber larger across than their largest city, and more than ten times taller than the tallest of trees. Here Cholumga’s hot, dark breath swirled like a storm captured in a crucible, and its power filled the wizards’ veins with a throbbing excitement such as they had never before known. They threw back their heads and spread open their arms, letting the fertile wind blow through them, letting its power become their own. They felt they had found the very source of the earth’s magic, and now could tap it as never before, and become the gods themselves.
But just then Cholumga’s long night ended. Whether it was that she had felt the presence of intruders too close to her lair, or simply that it was time to arise, she began to stir in her bed beneath the blanket of the land. Slowly she roused herself, her body stretching and flexing in anticipation of another ages-long carefree day. And so the earth heaved, as it sometimes did, and the people ran in all directions, like a colony of ants stirred by a stick. But then panic turned into a terror beyond anything they had known before when they saw in the direction of the cave what appeared at first glance to be an explosion of fire leaping into the sky, but resolved itself, as Cholumga’s flaming locks fell away from her face, into the enormous head of a waking giant! Looming above them like the resurrected wrath of the earth itself, Cholumga sat up in her bed, rising swiftly from prone to upright in a matter of mere hours. And even as the earth was lifted up with her, and fell away in folds upon itself, crushing the capitol and hurling the tiny people and their tiny monuments through the air, the onlookers from all through the valley were frozen in awe. As Cholumga came to her senses, her eyes clearing of their dreamy clouds, some among the people came to their senses as well, and ran in search of places to hide. But many cowered where they stood, and awaited certain doom.
For as Cholumga awoke and gazed upon the world around her, she saw that her sweet, clean home had been infested by a horde of tiny pests while she slept, and that the green carpet of the land that stretched to every mountain wall had been marred by their destructive industry. A large patch on the blanket on her bed had been stripped bare, and horrible barren growths were spreading throughout her once pristine abode. Cholumga grew enraged at this intrusion upon her home, and her shining green eyes turned a fiery red as she let out a scream which shook the mountains to their very roots. Then she cast her burning gaze upon any of the parasites she could see, and upon their towns and their fields, and such was the power of her rage that all upon which she glanced burst into flames. Standing up to her full height, her terrible beauty towering over the valley that was her home, she went on a rampage of frenzied anger, seeking out all the damage that these little bugs had done. Most of the people themselves, being so small, were able to hide, though those that hid in the towns chose poorly. For Cholumga ran about the valley incinerating all the towns and fields with her furious glare. And when she had finished, and had cleansed the valley of its infestation, she went running off over one of the mountain passes to weed out this blight upon her land.
And all this time the Council of Wizards were safe within the hollow mountain. They felt the earth shake and heard Cholumga roar, but knew not what manner of disaster had struck their realm. When they ventured out from the cave and looked across the valley, they saw it in ruins, the towns and cities burnt to the ground, the monuments crushed beneath the giant’s angry strides. People, confused and disoriented, were emerging from their hiding places, and wandering helplessly through the rubble of their once great civilization. The wizards ran to the nearest cluster of such folk and asked what had happened, and when all was told the wizards gave commands and set about spreading word throughout the valley that all survivors should come to the hollow mountain, that there they would regroup and find a way to reclaim their land.
And so the refugees staggered in haggard rivulets in the direction that the messengers had pointed out to them, bringing what stores and livestock they could, and trickled into the cave, gathering together in the great chamber in the center of the hollow mountain. And the wizards stood on a ledge above them all, and looked calm and shouted firm but reassuring slogans rich in the magic which controls men’s minds, and the crowd became subdued gladly awaiting guidance from those upon whom they depended.
At last the flow of refugees came to a halt, and all who had lived in the valley and had survived Cholumga’s first assault stood shoulder to shoulder in this great chamber in the mountain’s heart. The wizards had firm control over their minds, for though Cholumga had left the valley her breath long lingered in these caves, and its magic remained strong. So the people possessed a defiant calm and confidence in the face of this immeasurable holocaust which had befallen them, and listened eagerly to the plan the wizards had devised.
Relying on the horrible hope that Cholumga would be long occupied with the eradication of distant villages and cities, and shored up by the courage the wizards had instilled, teams of workers set out to build a trail of mock villages leading from the pass over which Cholumga had fled the valley to the face of the hollow mountain. When this work was done, all the wizards of the land gathered at the foot of the hollow mountain and cast a concerted spell upon it, such that the thick wall of stone facing the valley fractured along a latticework of cracks but did not fall. Then they moved all the people to distant caves, and told them to wait until word came that it was safe to emerge again.
And then the wizards held their long vigil, neither resting nor taking their eyes off the distant pass over which they knew Cholumga must return. Days and weeks passed, but the wizards stood their watch, until one day they felt the earth tremble, and saw the flaming red hair of the giant rising into the pass. Then, before her head was high enough that she might gaze down into the valley, they joined their forces again and cast another spell, this time creating an illusion before the hollow mountain that there was no mountain there, and that the valley, speckled with the haphazard scattering of villages, sprawled on.
Soon Cholumga’s head stood framed between two mountain peaks, and her anger, which had cooled somewhat in the course of her morning, flared again, for she saw that new sores had sprouted upon the land where she thought she had obliterated them all. Ferociously fuming she strode down into the valley and frantically set about to annihilate the growths that had sprung up in her absence. And so blind with rage was she that she did not notice that they formed a trail, nor that the valley with which she was so familiar was now longer at one end than it had ever been before. No, addled by her own fury she did not see through the wizards’ ruse, and with the full force of her forward stride she crashed into the unseen mountainside. The weakened face fell apart, huge boulders flying in all directions, as Cholumga, stunned and thrown off balance, stumbled into the great cavern within. Before she could turn around and escape, the wizards summoned all their strength, and sent the flying boulders back along their very same arcs, fusing them together again and sealing Cholumga inside the hollow mountain.
Cholumga pounded on the walls from inside her stony cage, but the walls held and she could not escape. She let loose with all of her terrible wrath, shooting fire from her eyes and dark smoke from her nose, but it could not break through the wall of thick rock. Instead it swirled upward and expelled the single boulder with which the wizards had corked the mountaintop, sending burnt rock and fire and black smoke high into the air. But she could not lift herself up through the opening she had made. For countless years she tried unceasingly to escape, pounding relentlessly on the mountainside, spitting fire and smoke through its shattered peak. But it was to no avail. Cholumga was trapped inside the hollow mountain.
So the people rebuilt the civilization on the land that had been her home, and benefitted from her magic even while she stood captured by it. But every now and then Cholumga awoke within her mountain prison, and her heart and soul flared with a giant’s just rage, and she would shake the earth and set the darkened sky ablaze, spitting such fire that it would pour across the land, and the people would tremble, for they knew that Cholumga would one day be free again.
(See also Prelude to “A Conspiracy of Wizards”, The Wizards’ Eye, “Flesh Around A Whim”, The Cloud Gardener, The History of the Writing of “A Conspiracy of Wizards” and About “A Conspiracy of Wizards”.)