The Magic Quill #20: Marathons and Relays

by Robbie Fischer, concepts contributed by: “Angelbot,” B* and Katya S.

“The Marathon,” Spanky continued after a dramatic pause, “is the one event in which Shmedly and I didn’t face each other. But make no mistake: this was part of his overall strategy. The Romanian team got themselves eliminated in the qualifying round (something about Lobster transfiguring himself into a shield so that Quadrille could fend off spells), which is such a blatant and elementary rule-violation that they had to be tryingto get kicked out. Of course, this meant potentially one more Galleon for us and one less for them; but the Marathon is a very chancy event: anything can happen, anyone can win. And it can seriously wear out a wizard who must then be at his best for the remaining four events. In fact, it has been the custom in recent years to have the Marathon at the very end of the games, so it doesn’t spoil a team’s best players before they can compete in the other events.

“So Shmedly and his cronies reckoned on having an overall advantage in the games, simply by getting thrown out of the Marathon. They got a pleasant evening off, while I had to survive a barrage of spells from dozens of desperate wizards that went on for hours. Having teammates watching your back helps. Crinkle and Ruff were both very handy with a wand, and they held out nearly as long as I did. We covered each other as we blasted away.

“The Marathon is pretty crude work, though. After awhile, no one has the energy to be creative. Near the end, I was fending off a shower of rotten swan’s eggs from a Georgian witch with one wand and shooting cod-liver oil at the legs of a New Zealand wizard with the other, while Crinkle covered my back and Ruff tried to clear up the pool of spoiled milk at our feet. A Jamaican wizard on Crinkle’s side, who was running out of ideas, shot a basic Avis spell at Crinkle, who ducked as a flight of songbirds flew low over his head. Crinkle overbalanced, slipped on the milk, and went down with a splash.

“Now it was down to Ruff and me and about fifteen other wizards, and we had been at it so long that the crowd had gone except for a few people, like Ilona, who were mostly asleep. It was the dead of night, and I was so tired that I could barely hold up my wands. What kept me going was the thought that Shmedly was counting on me to get knocked out cold, or injured, or in some other way compromised. I wanted to get this over with. I wanted to fight him.

“My frustration rose within me. Throwing caution to the wind, I canceled my shield spell and let the rotten eggs do their worst. Meanwhile, I blasted a gale of freezing arctic air out of my left wand, and with my right wand I swept a stream of scalding coffee in a wide, wet arc. Wizards and witches in all directions–whether they were trying to curse me or each other–were either blown over or forced to flee from the ring in self-protection. I’m afraid some of them received burns, but the healers on the sidelines set them right in the bat of an eye. I hardly realized what I was doing and was still turning round and round, hosing down my fleeing opponents with coffee and frigid air, until Ruff grabbed my shoulders and shook me. ‘We won, mate!’ he yelled hoarsely. Like me, he was covered in putrid-smelling, broken eggs. ‘Galleon to you, Sickle to me, and a Knut to that Italian feller who conjured a mug to catch your coffee in.’ Ruff pointed to an exhausted-looking lad who was sitting amid the mess, sipping from a steaming mug.

“I believe Shmedly was furious. He was hoping I would come out of the marathon too exhausted or injured or addled by curses to face his team in the Relay. Instead, I had nearly four hours of sleep, a huge breakfast, and a flush of triumph from winning Galleons in my first two events. Meanwhile, Shmedly and his friends had caroused the night away, secure in their belief they would triumph over me and my team; so I was actually in the better condition when the sixty-four teams that had qualified for the Relay assembled for the first round of double-elimination play.

“It should come as no surprise, then, that Shmedly’s team lost their first-round match against Senegal. This didn’t necessarily put them out of contention, though: it only meant they were sent to the bottom of the rankings, and would have to win every other match in order to stay in the event. It also meant they would be dueling mainly against other teams that had lost in an early round, so for a few rounds they probably had easier opponents than Crinkle, Ruff and me. I figured this, also, was by their design. My teammates and I were pushed to the limit as we dueled and defeated tough teams like the Netherlands, Norway, Nigeria, and Nicaragua. Meanwhile, safely in the bottom of the rankings, Shmedly and his cronies pummeled such teams as Ethiopia, Haiti, Bolivia, and Belarus into smithereens. He couldn’t have had an easier time if he had bribed the judges to give him the weakest opponents–and I wouldn’t discount that possibility.

“We came to the point when only sixteen teams remained that hadn’t been defeated twice. My team was fairly worn-out and bruised, but undefeated. We had a knock-down, drag-out against Germany, which was also undefeated, and we won by a hair. Meanwhile, would you believe, Romania’s team was facing Senegal again. That kind of thing doesn’t happen often, and I don’t think it happened by accident. Shmedly’s crew already knew all of Senegal’s tricks, and they hadn’t shown half of theirs. While Crinkle and I sat on the sidelines, rubbing Anti-Cramping Potion into Ruff’s wand arm, we watched Shmedly face the captain of the Senegal team for the second time. It was over in one shocking second. Shmedly brought down a bolt of lightning, first thing after the starting bell. The Senegal wizard didn’t have a chance. He was carried off the pitch, smoking and giggling, with his hair on end and holes burned in the soles of his shoes. Only by the great skill of the healers was he ever able to hold a wand again. And yet, not a single judge questioned the legality of Shmedly’s curse. My guess is, galleons exchanged hands.

“So in the Relay quarter-final, Romania and Britain faced each other. The first task went to Ruff and Quadrille, who were supposed to unpop a balloon. Ruff was the cleverer of the two: he realized that all he needed to do was cast a Silencio charm on the balloon before sticking a pin in it. He managed this before Quadrille had even found all the bits of his balloon. The second task was between Crinkle and Lobster–the transfiguration routine. Crinkle chose a book, a length of hose, and a coat hanger; Lobster an electric torch, a stuffed trout, and a bottle of spirit gum. Well, Lobster turned the electric torch into a flaming torch, which set fire to Crinkle’s book. When Crinkle tried to put out the fire with water from his hose, Lobster turned his spirit gum into a rubber stopper which plugged the hose. Finally, Crinkle’s coat hanger turned into a fishhook and tried to catch Lobster’s trout, but the trout simply came to life and swallowed the hook. So that round went to Romania, and the Relay went into a third round: the wand duel between Shmedly and me. I had been waiting for this since our school days. And so had he…”

Spanky began to stand up.

“Where do you think you’re going?” snapped the voice of Endora, the invisible witch seated on Spanky’s right.

“It’s time for a lavatory break,” Spanky said. “I won’t be long.”

“Yes, you will,” Endora said. A hand emerged from her invisibility cloak, grabbed the front of Spanky’s coat and yanked him down into his seat. “You finish this Relay thing first. You can hold it till then.”

“All right,” Spanky said resentfully. “It’s just that I hate this part.

“As soon as the bell rang, I conjured a lightning rod to block the bolt of lightning I was sure Shmedly was about to call down on me. With my other wand, I put up a shield in front of me in case he decided to try another form of attack. But Shmedly had anticipated both defensive moves and got around them. He conjured a huge, poisonous-looking snake which slithered at me as fast as a man could run. I had to drop my shield to put an impediment on the snake and, when I did that, Shmedly turned my hat into a cat. It dug its claws into my temples and sprayed me right in the face. I dropped my left wand then, taking swipes at the cat to get it off my head, while trying to hit Shmedly with the custard-trap spell I had used on Otis years ago. But he blocked it with a shield spell, then sent a swarm of wasps at me.

“Now, I wouldn’t have gotten as far as I had without dueling against some very tough wizards. It isn’t as if this level of competition was new to me; but for some reason, this duel was going all wrong. I had just knocked the cat off my head–which, fortunately, pounced on the snake as it recovered from my impediment jinx–and was driving the wasps away with blasts of hot air from my only remaining wand, when Shmedly let loose with the lightning. Even with the lightning rod absorbing the main blast of it, I got enough of a shock through the ground that it knocked me flat on my back. My right hand went numb to the fingertips, so that I dropped my other wand as well. And before I could get up, Shmedly put a leg-locker curse on me, and shot ropes at me that tied me hand and foot. I was beaten. My undefeated team was defeated.”

“No!” Endora gasped.

“May I go to the toilet now?” Spanky asked caustically.

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