Life, Barda and jasmine, with Kree the raven, are on a perilous quest to find the seven gems stolen from the magic belt of Deltora.
Their journey has brought them to a deep chasm, over which sways a narrow bridge made of rope and wooden planks. Guarding the bridge is a golden-eyed giant.
Life stood stiffly, his heart beating fast, as Jasmine followed him around the bend. He heard her take a sharp breath as she, too, saw what was ahead.
The golden-eyed man had noticed them, but he made no move. He just stood, waiting. He wore nothing but a loincloth, yet he did not shiver in the wind. He was so still you could have thought him a statue, except that he breathed.
“He is bewitched,” Jasmine whispered, and Kree made a small, moaning sound.
They walked cautiously forward. The man watched them silently. But when finally they stood before him, at the very edge of the terrible drop, he raised his sword warningly.
“We wish to pass, friend,” Barda said. “Stand aside.”
“You must answer my question,” replied the man in a low, rasping voice. “If you answer correctly, you may pass. If you answer wrongly, I must kill you.”
“By whose order?” Jasmine demanded.
“By the order of the sorceress Thaegan,” rasped the man. At the sound of the name his skin seemed to quiver. “Once, I tried to deceive her, to save a friend from death. Now it is my doom to guard this bridge until truth and lies are one.”
He looked from one to the other. “Who will meet my challenge?”
“I will,” Jasmine said, shaking off Barda’s restraining hand and stepping forward.
The look of fear had disappeared from her face. It had been replaced by an expression that for a moment Lief did not recognize. And then, with amazement, he realized that it was pity.
“Very well.” The huge man looked down at his feet. A row of sticks lay there in the dust.
“Change eleven to nine, without removing any sticks,” he said harshly.
Life felt his stomach turn over.
“This is not a fair question,” exclaimed Barda. “We are not magicians!”
“The question has been asked,” said the man, his golden eyes unblinking. “It must be answered.”
(Taken from English Skills in Context 4)