Once there was a just king who loved every one of his people. On the very edge of his great kingdom, there was a castle, dark and vast. A selfish giant lived beneath in a dark dungeon, and ate humans every day. Or perhaps it was a man no bigger than any other, consuming inch-high little people alive, in bulging handfuls. Stuffing his mouth with heaps of minute limbs and faces.

He ate mothers, fathers and brothers. Shopkeepers, scientists, singers, artists and tramps. Farmers, garment-makers and orphans from across the whole world. Preachers and church-members–they were warm in his stomach and sweet. Writers, soldiers, cyborgs, wizards and ninjas–they all roared in his veins like a drug. He ate women with soft bodies and soft, effeminate men. Crushing their flesh between tombstone teeth and letting their fluid spill from his mouth to the dungeon floor.

The giant kept each kind of food in a separate box. He would feed them bread every morning and tell them how good they were–how much he loved and needed his food–in his deep and drawling voice. He did believe they were happier for hearing him, though it was nothing to the giant if they weren't. Not that he could ever imagine comprehending the feelings of such categorised, insectile little creatures, until the day when an even vaster giant would hurl him down its maw into the torment of digestion.

Though he ate all he wanted every day, only his mouth was ever full. The giant's towering body was thin–shoulder blades like glaciers, ribs like canyons, limbs like titan bones. He could find hundreds of foods he liked, but not even one that really satisfied him. He didn't eat so much for sustenance, but to fill his dungeon's silence. Until his throat had gulped them, human voices were meaningless shrills to him. But the chemicals of every human brain dissolved in his stomach passed into the giant's blood and directly into his mind, carrying all their memories, like a movie-reel vaster than a comet. That's the first kind of magic all giants have. He could pick over the incidents of their lives, like a monkey on a heap of jewels. He could talk with himself their different voices all day–a Samurai conversing with a coffee-picker, a preacher remonstrating with a prostitute, a street-urchin falling in love with a giant listened, chuckled and forget he was alone and monstrous. A slave to the quick, bright creatures he lived on.

He believed at heart that his food hated him. But somehow, he never felt hate or fear aimed at him from a single tiny, struggling face. As if the giant was too huge in the darkness to be glimpsed. Or too pathetic to be worth the slightest regard. The giant even dreamed at times that neither dungeon nor human food existed, and that his true life was nothing but disgusting, inescapable and banal.

–0–

The giant would eat until he vomited, and still be hungry. Women were sickly and indigestible–preachers tore at his mouth on their way down, roaring defiance. And the day came when the king sent the giant's castle a decree. If he ate another one of the king's subjects, an army would be sent against the giant, to tie him to the ground with cords, and torment him. The vastness of the giant's body would measure the immensity of his pain, and life would be never be extinguished from it.

The giant fasted for a month. He treated his captive humans with all the kindness he could, and gave up talking to himself in their voices. He even crept from his castle in the glaring day, and proclaimed in his great voice that he had changed himself. That if the king of the whole land would come to the giant, he would give his life to him, as the most devoted of his subjects. The people in distant cities trembled at his voice, and confessed that no one could speak more eloquently than the giant in praising the majesty and honour of the king. After a month, the king did come to the giant's castle alone, in a plain white robe and his humblest crown.

"My lord! I've only ever served you," The giant lied as he knelt down. He wondered why this tiny human seemed to look from a greater height than he did. With eyes that frightened him. There was a fire there that would drive and compel the ones it loved to unimaginable heights, and utterly burn up anything that opposed it.

"You may give me your body as a sacrifice," He told the giant, "But if you will gain nothing if you do not have love. If you love me, be free of your dungeon and follow me."

The giant realised in that moment that he had never loved in his life, except that he had loved his food. This was a love that recoiled from self and appetite, a love the riches of the world could never buy; a love that hurt. He thought how it would hurt to love a man with eyes such as that. How merciless the final end of a monster beyond redemption would be. Without love, he couldn't believe the king would ever spare him. So the giant ate him.

Tiny as a single crumb of bread, the king vanished without resistance. His body was bloody from the giant's hand; covered in spray from the giant's slobbering mouth. But his eyes remained fixed, and the giant remembered it. The giant had never stopped hungering for many, many things, but the king's desire was single. A devotion that could not be ignored as anything but holy. Nothing but wonderful beyond conception, or terrifying beyond endurance. The giant ate him down quickly, thorny crown and all.

–0–

It was three days before the giant heard the voice again. He had barely felt fear at what he had done–it was so terrible that fear could only be buried with denial. But the voice of the king in his head wasn't fearful. It spoke of sadness, that he had willingly given his life for the giant, and been simply ignored. And the giant felt the sadness and the pain of it. Then the giant felt anguish and awe and true wretchedness and true galaxy-spanning joy that made him run from his dungeon through the forests and simply to go and see and praise. And smash the walls of his own castle down to the ground.

Above a thousand dead echoes of all the humans he had eaten, in his brain, the voice of the king was living. The king was somehow alive inside him, like Aesop's mouse that shook a mountain. His eyes were on him, and the giant would never be alone again. There were desires in him he had never know–to build, to strive, to love. Nothing would be the same inside him again.

But even with his castle broken, the giant still lived in the dungeon. He could barely believe that he could love, when he had never had any relation to another except to eat them. He so desperately wanted his sins forgiven that he could scarcely believe they really were. All the voices of all the humans he had devoured alive buzzed through his mind like the locusts of hell. The voices of departed preachers roared out holiness and self-control until the giant could scarcely endure it, but the king's voice ran through them all, guiding him. Then the moment when the giant had crushed and eaten the one who had died for his life rushed back to his head in waking nightmare, and he smothered the king's voice from pure terror and shame.

"What do you want me to do, Lord? Just tell me, and I'll do it."

"No you won't, not yet. But there will be time. I want you to be truly free, and deny yourself. I want you to trust me for everything, and to believe that your choices truly matter. And I want you to rule with me, one day. This country will need a ruler, and I will always be with you."

"Then…will it always hurt this much? I'm so afraid that I'll destroy whatever you give me, and never escape…"

"Don't you remember that I gave you myself? Remember it. Remember it like the way from death to life. How else could I show how I loved you?"

"No, no other way, nothing greater…but I still can't feel it. Can't believe you love me…because I'm still a monster."

As he ate nothing, squatting in the dungeon, the giant began to shrink, smaller and even thinner. It terrified him so much that he might shrink to nothing, he gulped down two women compulsively, and hated himself with bitter hatred.

–0–

The king's voice within the giant grew faint, but desire to hear it clung to him like an anchor in rock. He knew his life depended on him changing, one way or another. He released all the captive humans he could release without starving to death, though there were days he wished he could starve. He strained for the voice and everything it had put in his soul, even when he wished it would be silent and let him die alone. He wasn't what he thought he was–he was who the king's voice said he was. A pure servant with power for every good work. A gigantic living sign of royal power and goodness. If he was really, truly loved, then he had to love back and believe it, like streams of water pressing on the walls of his heart.

On some days he left his dungeon and squatted in the fields outside like a hill. He told out all the memories still in his mind from all the humans he had eaten, in his mighty, broken voice. Humans in cities miles distant heard all his stories of life's-works, hopes and loves. They trembled at the giant's voice, but the stories moved each one of them in a different way.

Finally, the giant remembered the second magic that all giants have. There was a legend that humans who eat the flesh of giants can grow to gigantic size themselves. If the giant fed his own flesh to humans–it need only be a few to begin with–they would become giants whose voices he could understand. Companions who he could serve and help; who could show him a true food for giants that wasn't people. His equals, who might hurt him, or punish him for his sins. But the giant didn't care about pain anymore, even as he cut his flesh and blood away. Loving or loveless, there would always be pain. And the needs of others held the only healing.