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The Magic Quill #25: The Freestyle Event, Part 1

by Robbie Fischer, 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 exp–”

“All right, you can quit now,” said Spanky. He took a weary sip of firewhisky, then added, “I’m ready.”

“Very well,” said Harvey. His eyes twinkled above the edge of his handkerchief. “The floor is yours.”

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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