The Magic Quill #47: Some Thirsty Work

by Robbie Fischer, concepts Contributed By: Raluca, Jon, and Lighthouse Junkie

As Merlin’s story continues, he and “poor little rich wizard” Rigel are trapped together in a Gringotts vault, waiting for the next task the goblins have in store for them…

“’I should have known you would take his side,’ Rigel said, pacing the circumference of the vault, whilst I squatted in the middle upon an upturned bucket. ‘You’re just as self-righteous as he is. Well let me tell you–’

“’No, let me tell you,’ I shouted. I stood up and kicked the bucket for emphasis.”

“And then?” Endora urged. “What did you tell him?”

“Nothing,” said Merlin. “I just stood there and stared at where the bucket had bounced off the wall.

“’Kneazle got your tongue?’ Rigel sneered. He had stopped pacing and was standing with his back to where the bucket had hit the wall, as far out of my reach as the small vault allowed. ‘Perhaps you don’t have anything to tell me, because for once, you realize the bankruptcy of the whole system. Wizards pandering to Muggles! Mudbloods running all our sacred traditions into the ground! Halfbreeds and Muggle-loving old buffoons…are you listening to me?’

“’No,’ I admitted. ‘But I wouldn’t be half chuffed if you would dry up and move out of my light.’

“’Out of what light?’ Rigel pouted. ‘The only light in here comes from under that door, and it’s just enough for me to tell that you’re as ugly as you are–’

“’Did you miss the part where I said to dry up and move?’ I barked, and shoved him out of the way, for the bucket had shifted a loose stone in the wall—knocked it a bit sideways, and halfway into the next chamber. As I put my eye to the chink, I could not only see a bit of dim light, but I thought I could hear a distant murmuring of voices.

“’What are you looking at?’ said Rigel. ‘Budge up, I want to see.’

“’Give me the bucket,’ I replied, and a moment later I repeated it louder. Sulkily, he gave it to me. After banging the bucket against the wall a few times, I managed to loosen the handle—which was little more than a piece of braided wire, anyway—and set to work digging at the spaces between the stones around the one that had come loose. I cleared out some of the smaller bits, and scraped away at what passed for mortar, where there was any. Then I took a turn with the bottom of the bucket, pounding it on the wall until it was badly dented. Then back to scraping with the handle again.

“At first Rigel stood around and complained, then he curled up near the door and took a nap. I woke him an hour or two later and forced him to spell me, in the Muggle sense of the word. He complained even more now, but I boxed his ears once or twice and he became a willing worker. ‘It’s urgent that we work quickly,’ I pointed out. ‘That Nailspike character could be back at any moment to set us another task. It wouldn’t do for him to catch us at this. I doubt he would put us back in this vault another time.’

“’You’re a clever one,’ was all Rigel said, and he ducked his head to be on the safe side.

“We each took several turns. Mine were always the longer, because Rigel’s hands were soft and he complained often of cramps. I’ll give him this: his fingers did bleed before mine. We each snatched naps while the other worked. Still, I was growing worried about how much time Nailspike was going to let us sleep when Rigel woke me and said, ‘Hey, flatfoot, wake up! There’s someone digging from the other side.’

“With the help of our neighbors in the next vault, we got through the hole and had it patched up in another hour or so—not a moment too soon. We could hear goblins crashing around and searching for us before we had a chance to introduce ourselves to our new friends. In fact, before we had even looked around, we were stuffed into dark barrels that smelled of stale wine, where we hid while goblin voices yelped and groveled all around us. Then a door slammed, bolts were shot, and after a minute of silence I was pulled out of my barrel and introduced to our rescuers.

“There were seven of them. The most striking one—my eyes were drawn to him first—was thin and spindly, with a chalk-white face done up with black lines around the eyes and flame-red lipstick. He was wearing tights. Two others also wore the remnants of clown costumes—a portly one with a purple wig that made him appear to be a head taller than he was, and a little fellow, about so high, with a cap and bells on his head. The other four had the look of dissipated scholars, with filthy spectacles, school ties worn round their heads as bandannas, out-at-the-elbows robes, and in one case, a matted fur coat.

“Only one of them spoke English: the big clown with the purple hair. While I told them who Rigel and I were, he explained everything I said to the other clowns in Italian, then started over again in some language for the four students. Finally, he introduced himself and the others.

“’I,’ said the fat clown, ‘am Don Pagliai, and these are my associates, Signor Subito and Signor Boccachiusa.’ Here he indicated first the small one, then the chalky-looking fellow. ‘We are masters of the Guild of Fools and Acrobats in Brescia, where, as I am sure you know, wizards of fashion from all over the world come to see Muggle-themed entertainments, and to play at games of chance that cannot be cheated by means magical or otherwise. We had the misfortune of falling asleep in the wine cellar of Il Comte di Bestemmia—long story, I will not bore you with it at this time—whose retainers woke us the next morning. Il Comte thought it would be very funny, and therefore a treat to men of our profession, to send us along with a shipment of his most valuable wines to this vault, where he keeps much of his stock. Our wands were taken away, but we were given a charmed tablecloth that provides us with enough food to live, and all the wine we could ask for, but we cannot leave—by the Blessed Lady, even your English goblins cannot be bribed like civilized creatures—and we cannot escape except by finding the bottle that contains a djinn. If indeed there is such a bottle!

“’So we have been here,’ said Don Pagliai, by now handing around bottles of wine that Signor Boccachiusa had opened uncorked, ‘for perhaps a year, perhaps five years. It is hard to say; we have been so drunk most of the time! It is not a bad way to live, but dear Boccachiusa, being a mime, is no great conversationalist, and poor Subito does not hold his wine well. We were not alone long, though. These fellows, who have neither Italian nor English, sad to say, became stranded here when the ship they had stolen from school brought them to the underground lake down in the lowest levels of the bank. They thought they would bring a trophy back, but instead, they became trophies when the ship went back to their school without them. So much for learning! They fortunately found us before the goblins found them, and we have been hiding them, feeding them, and benefiting from their virtually unquenchable thirst as we search for the one bottle that has been on all our minds.’

“’Karkaroff will be very hard on them, if they ever get back to the school,’ Rigel noted.

“When Don Pagliai translated this, the students laughed and said something in a language that seemed to require optional vocal equipment. Don Pagliai interpreted: ‘He says why should Karkaroff worry them? He merely licks the boots of their headmaster, Professor Vladika Lukavij.’

“It was Rigel’s turn to laugh. ‘Lukavij? Why, he’s been retired since a pensieve containing all of his research in the Dark Arts was broken in pieces by a clumsy house-elf and he was no longer able to lecture. You poor fools have been here at least seven years!’ After laughing for a minute more, Rigel paused, reflected, groaned, and sat down on the floor to have a good cry.

“’There, there,’ said Don Pagliai. ‘The lad’s worse than Subito. Let’s get that tablecloth out and give you two something decent to eat. Perhaps that will cheer him up!’ After a brief remark by Subito, the fat clown added, ‘Ah, yes. It should also help you to drink better. To your health, gentlemen!’

+++ RIDDLE TIME! +++

Here are some ancient riddles to start off with. Thanks to Greek Spider and Riddlemaker. The lettering starts at D to avoid confusion with the riddles previously designated as A, B, and C.

D) Do you know the original “Riddle of the Sphinx”? It comes from Homer’s Odyssey. The man of many sorrows (or wiles), Odysseus, was the one who answered it:

What is the animal that has one voice, and goes on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening?

E) Another ancient Greek riddle:

What has roots as nobody sees,
Is taller than trees,
Up, up it goes,
And yet never grows?

F) And another:

Has a mouth but never speaks,
Has a bed but never sleeps.

G) Here’s an Estonian one:

One keeps me forever; two share me; three give me away

H) An Arabian riddle:

A lady sits weeping in the window, and her tears will finally destroy her

I) From India:

What has two horns when young, loses them in adulthood, and regains them in old age?

J) From Tibet:

If you tie him up he runs, but if you untie him and set him free he stands still.

K) From Cuba:

Locked in a narrow prison, guarded by ivory soldiers, there is a red snake who is the mother of lies.

L) This one reportedly came from 16th-century B.C. Sumerian tablets:

A house: one enters it blind, one leaves it seeing

M) And finally:

1 in me, 2 in you, 1 in him, 1 missing

And now the answers to last week’s riddles from our readers! The answer to Jess’s riddle is that the man lived in a lighthouse, and when he put the light out, a boat was lost with twelve hands on board. The next line of numbers in Jade’s first riddle is: 1113213211. Why? Because each line DESCRIBES the one before it. “One one, one three, two ones,” etc. Jade’s second riddle is “night and day.” And Jade’s third riddle is “a tree.”

Finally, here are a few fresh riddles from your fellow readers!

Cheledine writes: “The criminal is the father of the judge’s son. Explain the relation.”

Lighthouse Junkie chants:

A king dined with his sister,
his friend and his friend’s wife.
All of them were greedy beasts
that loved food more than life.
At last three pies alone remained,
there wasn’t any knife;
how’d they all have equal shares
and save them all from strife?

Claire offers this brain teaser: “Antony and Cleopatra are lying in the middle of the floor in an Egyptian villa, dead, with a broken bowl beside them. They were not poisoned, and there are no marks on their bodies. How did they die?”

Speaking of brain teasers, E. F. (all right, Ethan) strikes again: “If a rooster lays an egg at the peak of the barn’s roof, which way will it roll?”

And here are two more brain teasers by Jade:

“If you are running a race and you pass the person in second place, what place are you now?”

“What appears once in a minute, twice in a moment, yet never in a billion years?”

What happens next? Send us your idea in 150 words or less, and tune in next week for another installment of the Magic Quill.