The Freestyle Event, Part 1
Concepts contributed by: Alessandro Simoni & Angelbot
"So," said Spanky gruffly, stalling for time because he wasn't in much of a mood for telling
stories, "you're a betting man, then."
"You bet your life I am," said Harvey. He somehow appeared smug, even with a handkerchief
covering his features. "I have put together a list of 54,239 betting games, magical and
otherwise. And I have a system for at least a third of them. Naturally..."
"A third?" Endora sputtered. "That's over 17,000 games. Where did you find the time to develop a
system for all of them?"
"Well, all right," Harvey said peevishly. "I and my associates. I've spent a lot of good money
hiring the greatest experts in the field to research and design--"
"Yes, yes," said Endora, with what sounded like a knowing smile (though, like the rest of her,
it was invisible). "I see now. You spend your good money on brilliant researchers who will find
out for you which highly-favored hippogriff will be fed a ferret laced with a sluggishness
solution, or which broom is likely to develop a tendency to turn somersaults thirty-eight minutes
into the game..."
"And then," added Merlin, picking up the tale, "you wager enough bad money to feed, clothe, and
educate all of, say, Arthur Weasley's children on one mer-boxing match, betting against the
longest odds your own hand-picked handicapper can cook up..."
"And finally," Sadie concluded, waving her foul smoldering pipe around for emphasis, "after
throwing bad money after good, you win the worst money of all, and enough of it to spend on the
next bit of research and design..."
"Yes," said Harvey unrepentantly. "That's the general idea. But see here, our champion was about
to tell of one of the greatest risks I ever took, and it paid me well. The fact that I didn't do
enough research to be even mostly sure of the match's outcome; the fact that I bet on the person
I wanted to win, rather than the one I expected to win; and the fact that I bet a lot of money
that rightfully belonged, not to me, but to a dear friend who is known, to some in my profession,
as Eye-for-an-Ivan-all made that year's Freestyle Dueling Final quite exciting enough to be
getting on with. I need hardly add that, after fixing a Lithuanian hopscotch tournament the
previous summer for the same lovely gentleman, I was under considerable pressure to continue to
impress my generous associate. But what happened between Mr. Spankison and Mr. Shmedly in that
duel was so exciting that I forgot about all that--well, almost. I must admit that at times, a
mental image of my eyeballs in a glass jar, in the middle of a wall-to-wall shelf full of
identical jars, contributed a certain frisson to the already sufficient level of tension that I
"All right, you can quit now," said Spanky. He took a weary sip of firewhisky, then added, "I'm
"Very well," said Harvey. His eyes twinkled above the edge of his handkerchief. "The floor is
The cloaked, hooded storyteller took a deep breath. Then, as if his unmasking and the sordid
business of the Interview had not intervened, Spanky plunged into the stream of his story where
he had left it.
"Ilona was wearing my ring as she stood at the foot of the shielded stage and watched my last
duel in the Freestyle event. It was the one for which I had trained the hardest. By all rights,
it should have been Crinkle up there on that stage. He had a really creative mind, you could
never predict what connection he would make. But he was disabled out of the event in the second
round, when a charging bull that his opponent had set on him gored his right leg, piercing his
Achilles tendon. It was a good job Crinkle had at least managed to shrink the bull to the size of
a bulldog. Nevertheless, I had to do my best to represent the English team. Beyond all
expectations, I made it to the semi-final...and even more surprising, to myself above all, I
scraped a win over the great Armand Hammer of the U.S. And when a Russian wizard trounced
Shmedly in the other semi-final, I began to hope that I could win, or at least make a good
account of myself, in a final that was nothing but pure competition, without the taint of
personal enmity and dirty dealing.
"But an hour before I was to fight that final duel against that Russian lad, an Owlympic judge--tipped
off, no doubt, by a member of Shmedly's entourage--discovered that the Russian lad's
great-times-four-grandmother was a house-elf who wore clothes and married her master's son.
Imagine, having your family tree picked over just to be able to play a game! The news, of course,
scandalized all the important sort of people, and the Russian lad was declared ineligible to
compete because of his impure blood. There was also a suggestion that non-wizarding magic gave
him an edge over other competitors. So my hope turned to dread, and I had an hour to prepare
myself to face Shmedly once again. And I dare say Shmedly was more viciously determined to put
paid to me, with my impure blood and lack of proper wizarding pride.
"The Freestyle is very much like the Single duel, except that it dispenses with the first two
rounds and is limited to the face-to-face wandplay. Also, there is a time limit of five minutes,
and at the Owlympic level a clear winner or loser in that time is virtually unheard of. Instead,
the winner is decided by the judges, based on the variety, difficulty, and number of spells
performed, as well as the style and form in which they are carried out. Doing a higher number of
spells was the one bit that came naturally to me, with my two wands. But having to concentrate
on doing the widest possible variety of spells--and difficult ones at that--while shielding
myself from my opponent's jinxes made this an event that taxed all my strength to the utmost
and forced me to face my own weaknesses.
"There is a tradition in the Freestyle event. It isn't exactly a rule; you could ignore it and
not be disqualified. You might even do rather well, up to a certain point; but the judges
generally seemed impressed by duelers whose spells touched on each of the three Kingdoms, four
Elements, five Senses, and six Colors. So to curry favor with the judges, I also had to aim--in
five minutes, mind you--to conjure something Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral; something earthy,
watery, airy, and fiery; something that attacked my opponent's eyes, ears, nose, palate, and
skin; and something red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet...all while dodging and
deflecting the opponent's spells.
"I was still almost staggering from the shock of what was happening as Shmedly and I faced each
other inside the enchanted circle, upon the shielded stage. A bell rang. A five-minute hourglass
was flipped over. The most intense five minutes of my life, up to that day, began..."
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