As the otter-girl drew closer and closer to the stone circle she realised that this figure standing at its centre was huge. So big was he, he was blocking out the light of the moon and the stars above. But with her sharp otter eyes she could see him clearly. He was a giant of a man, with legs like huge tree trunks and a great big bushy red beard, and the strangest thing about him was that he wore a huge cloak and the cloak was decorated with…beards. Black beards, grey beards, brown beards, blonde beards. A shiver went down the little otter’s spine – whose beards were they?
The giant reared his huge head up at the sight of her. “I am the great giant Rhita Fawr!” he bellowed. “Who comes a-creeping into my stone circle at night?”
“M-me,” the otter stammered. “I am very sorry to disturb you –”
Boom boom BOOM!
The giant drew closer and closer and closer and the little otter shrank down towards the earth and closed her eyes and expected at any moment to be swallowed whole and then –
“HO HO HO!” she opened her eyes a wee slit and there was the giant’s bearded face so close to her whiskers that she could see nothing but the moonlight reflected in the great orbs of his eyes. And he was laughing. His laughter was so huge that it shook the ground below her feet.
“I won’t eat you, you little shivering fool!” he bellowed. “I don’t eat otters, only folk with beards, and only then so I can have their beards to add to my cloak – look at it, isn’t it fine?” and he swished it at her.
“Yes,” the otter stammered, “yes, very fine.”
“But you – you’re not really an otter, are you? I can tell, you know. I can smell it. You smell like an otter at first sniffle but then there’s something else. Mortal folk. Are you a human being?”
“I was a girl until about ten minutes ago.”
“Ohhh,” said the giant, “ohhh, she got you then.”
“The witch. The witch of the park. She’s been walking the paths of this park since pagan times. And sometimes, when a human being wanders in here late at night, she grabs them, and then instead of a human there’s an animal, and that’s the way it is.”
“Do you mean I will be an otter forever?”
The little otter wasn’t sure how she felt about this. She thought of all the things she liked about being a girl – her friends, her family, ice-cream, going to school, playing games – but then she also quite liked being able to swim and run and sniff things.
“Oh no,” said the giant. “You’re an otter for tonight and tonight only. When the sun rises tomorrow, you’ll be turned to stone, and you’ll join the other animal folk on the wall. The witch, she makes the Keepers of the Wall, and there they are, all rowed up along the edge of the park. They come alive only when the park is threatened. The rest of the time, they’re stone.”
The otter girl was horrified. “Do you mean I will be a stone otter – forever?”
“Like as not,” the giant said, picking his teeth. “There’s no otter on the wall at present, so the witch has a gap to fill. I must say it’s been many years since this happened. The last time was a boy of about your age – I think he became an ape.”
The little otter felt terror rise in her. What could she do?
“There must be some way of breaking the spell before the sun rises! Please, can you help me?”
“I can’t do diddly,” the giant said, as if he did not care. “I’ve not been here for long and I’ve no magic at all, just a big mouth for crunching bones and my very fine cloak of beards.”
“Well, is there anyone else who can help me?”
“This park is very old,” said the giant. “There are creatures in it much older than I. They may know more of how to break the witch’s spell.”
“Please – tell me more.”
“If you go towards the thick wooded area there is a creature there that is much older than I. He may know how to break the witch’s spell. But be careful. He’s a dangerous beastie. Far more than I.”
“Thank you,” said the otter and she was about to speed off across the moonlit lawn when –
“Wait!” boomed the giant. “Before you go, I want you to do something for me!”
Climb on that big stone in the centre of the ring and SHOUT!
“RHITA FAWR IS THE FINEST GIANT OF ALL”?
Well, what are you waiting for? Do what the giant says!