The Magic Quill #65: Hiking, Birdwatching, and Wandmaking, Part One

by Robbie Fischer, concepts contributed by: Ace Gray and Angelbot

After a long, long ride in the ore carts – mostly downhill – the prisoners were stood on their feet again. The bonds on their hands were cut, and a heavy door slammed behind them.

Merlin pulled the sack off his head and groaned. Five other voices added their groans to his in the darkness, lit only by Rigel’s cloak of visibility. They were back at the entrance of the Pit.

“Look on the bright side,” said Rigel, with an attempt at cheerfulness belied by the catch in his voice. “At least they didn’t take our things this time. And they left us all together, too. The Durmstrang lads could be a help, sometimes.”

“They could also slow us down,” Merlin said under his breath. He didn’t dare complain aloud, since it was his idea to “rescue” them.

“Let’s find that chamber with the seven tunnels, and keep trying different ones,” Rigel suggested brightly.

“I think those clowns will escape before we do,” Merlin grumbled, as the group began moving forward. “And all they have to do is keep drinking wine until they find a genie.”

“Ach, but ze headaches are vithout mercy,” said one of the Durmstrang lads, giving Merlin a start.

“Karl, I didn’t know you could speak English,” Merlin exclaimed.

“Slavik hass been teachink me,” Karl said, indicating the youth walking next to him.

Merlin, who had been no wiser about Slavik’s linguistic accomplishments, shook his head, bemused.

The group trudged along in silence for a while. Then Rigel moved close to Merlin and said in a low voice, “What was that little glass thing the boggart turned into, before you kicked it into my pocket?”

Merlin shrugged, muttered, “Prophecy,” and said no more.

Rigel refused to let it rest. “What kind of prophecy? Do you mean a crystal ball? Does divination frighten you?”

“No,” said Merlin, beginning to sound grouchy. “Just that one prophecy. It’s been recorded in a little glass receptacle, like a pensieve.”

“Why is that scary?” Rigel wondered aloud. “Lots of people would love to know what’s going to happen to them.”

Merlin shrugged again. “Lots of people who hear prophecies about themselves manage to make them come true. It even happens when they’re trying to keep the prophecy from coming true. Maybe not knowing is safer.”

“So someone made a prophecy about you?” Rigel persisted.

Merlin shot him a sharp look.

“But you don’t know what it contains,” Rigel went on with a knowing smile. “You’ve just heard about it, and what you’ve heard fills you with dread. You don’t want to know at all.”

“I like having choices,” Merlin said softly.

“Well, this should make you happy,” said Rigel, as the passage widened into a huge gallery they knew so well. At the far end was a cluster of tunnel entrances leading off in seven directions—and all but two of them remained mysteries.

“Now, we know not to take the first tunnel from the left,” said Rigel.

“Or the second,” said Merlin.

“Actually, we don’t know that,” said Rigel. “We know the first tunnel doubles back on itself, and it has the breath-ants in it. But the second one leads to an underground river, and there may be any number of landings along that river. We only tried the one that leads to the dragon’s lair.”

“Yes,” Merlin said, “but unless that boatman shows up again, we would only get as far as we can swim in freezing water—unless you have a collapsible dinghy in that pocket locker of yours.”

Rigel bit his lip. “Er, most regrettably…”

“Third tunnel from left it is,” said Merlin.

After sloping sharply uphill for a while, the third tunnel leveled off while curving, broadly and smoothly, to the right. At intervals they found tall narrow windows in the two-meter-thick walls, through which light blazed. It hurt their eyes after so many hours in near-total darkness. The six men crowded around one of the gaps, trying to let their stinging, watering eyes adjust, and sniffing the moist, green air that came from the other side.

“I hear birds flapping their wings,” Rigel whispered. “And that barking sound? That was some kind of birdcall, I think.”

The fourth Durmstrang lad, whose name Merlin usually couldn’t remember, whispered rapidly to Slavik in a singsongy language. At intervals he paused, and Slavik translated: “Jaan says, is trees in there. He knows by smell, because he grew up in forest. Every variety of wand-tree, he says. Sunlight and rain is spells to help trees grow.” Jaan’s speech became more and more excited, and Slavik had to tell him to calm down in several languages before he could get the last bit out of him. His voice caught as he translated: “Jaan says, his father is biggest wandmaker in country. He is learning trade since small boy. If bird feathers in there have magic quality, we can making wands. Jaan is show us how. We are saved!”

The party’s cheers echoed deafeningly in the confined passage, and startled a number of birds in the adjoining chamber. Cheeks were kissed, backs slapped, eyes wiped on ragged sleeves.

When the noise level dropped a bit, Merlin said, “I don’t like it.”

Everyone stared at him in shocked silence. Though tempted to shrink into the shadows, he stood his ground.

“What part of ‘We are saved’ don’t you like?” Rigel hissed.

“It’s too easy,” said Merlin. “The goblins told us they never venture this deep. Even they don’t know what’s down here. So what is a wand-tree preserve and bird sanctuary doing at this level of Gringotts? It can’t be that simple!”

“There’s one way to find out if you’re right,” said Rigel. “And find out we will, because if there’s even a chance that this is real, we could be out of here in a matter of days, or even hours…”

“Provided,” said Slavik, soberly, indicating the window slits as they walked by them, none of which was wider than a handsbreadth, “provided we can get into there.”

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