Saturday, December 27, 2008

129. The Crystal Cave

Contest winner: Dragonic

The goblins bound Rigel hand and foot. Then they bound him knee and elbow for good measure. They gagged him and carried him down the drive, trussed like a fly in a spider's web, wriggling ineffectually on their shoulders. Turning toward town, they walked beneath him in double-file.

Rigel's insides were tied in knots, with fear pulling at one end and fury at the other. He wanted to ask where they were taking him, and was afraid to ask at the same time. He was afraid, rather, that the answer would be Gringotts, the last place in the world he ever wanted to see again.

Muggle cars passed them on the road. No one seemed to notice a band of goblins carrying a tied-up boy in clown makeup. No one noticed, either, as they marched through the town square, or as they waited for a signal to cross the street. No one made a remark as they bought tickets at the train station, climbed aboard the train, and stowed Rigel on an overhead luggage rack, though they had to stand in a goblin pyramid to do so. Rigel watched with growing frustration as the conductor punched their tickets, taking each one from a goblin's long claws and returning it again without seeming to notice anything odd.

They spent hours on the train, pausing at numerous stops while the sun slid down the sky. The goblins whiled the time munching on biscuits, playing cards and laughing at remarks about people Rigel didn't know. Finally, as dusk approached, the goblins packed up their cards and their tea things, pulled Rigel down from overhead, and left the train at the next stop.

By this time, Rigel was in some pain. His arms and legs were beginning to cramp. His stomach roared with hunger. And the goblin's shoulders under his body were hard and pointy, poking him painfully with their every step. Rigel could see little besides what was directly overhead, but it seemed they passed down a long, tree-shaded avenue. They came out at the bottom of a cliff beside a dark, still lake whose cool surface sent up fingers of mist. After marching along this cliff for a while, the goblins stopped where a long rope dangled from a grooved stone some way up the cliffside.

"Up you go," said the goblins. But they did not untie Rigel. Instead, they fastened his bonds to a number of clamps near one end of the rope. They hung a pair of heavy leather wallets around his neck. And pulling at the other end of the rope, they hoisted him up. It was a painful ascent, too. Every time the goblins heaved on the rope, Rigel's body was slammed against the cliff.

Long before he reached the grooved stone at the top of the rope's arc, Rigel came level with a hole that had not been visible from below. He scarcely had time to see it before he fell into it, at the point in his swing where his battered limbs expected to meet hard rock. The goblins lowered him into the hole carefully.

In only a few moments, he descended around a lip of rock that blocked his view of the hole he had come through, cutting off even the faint evening light from above. He was in pitch darkness, utterly blind. Rigel's heart began to race. This was worse than going back to Gringotts. If the goblins meant to punish him for eluding their bank security - twice - they knew what they were about. He began to choke on his gag, wanting to scream - feeling he would burst if he did not scream - but unable to make a sound. His body twitched, trying to kick, to strike out at the walls of the stone chimney that seemed to close in around him. But his legs and arms would not come free of the goblins' bonds.

Suddenly, when Rigel thought he might expire from terror, his feet touched earth. An instant later, he had collapsed headlong on the ground. Alone. Tied up. In the dark.

But he was not alone. Footsteps shuffled toward him. Again Rigel felt his heart in his throat. Without a word, someone put his hand's on Rigel and felt him up and down. Rigel struggled weakly, but he was almost at the end of his strength. The air around him had an awful smell of sweat and human filth, which grew only stronger as the stranger in the darkness leaned toward him, removed the wallet of food and drink from his neck, and began to untie his bonds.

As soon as his hands were free, Rigel struck out at his prisonmate, pushed him away, and yanked the gag off his face. While untying his feet and knees, he demanded - in a voice that sounded far more scared than he would wish - to know who was there and what they wanted with him.

Whoever-it-was answered by pressing a bacon sandwich, wrapped in wax paper, into his hand. A skin of cool, slightly metallic-tasting water followed. With only a little reluctance, Rigel ate and drank. Then he repeated his questions, a bit more calmly.

"Spayed buttercups sued the jaw juice between the moon," replied the other in a whispery-hoarse voice that, nevertheless, sounded vaguely familiar. "Knee-high badger-berry dresses couldn't brisquet the peach out of more hats but how gleefully the charwoman's yak sneezes below a clarinet."

"I'm sorry," Rigel said, taken aback. "I can't understand a word. Do you speak English?"

His neighbor's voice answered sharply: "Just you double-hinge the clockwork cashew, unless my whistle ducks the brain-powder!"

"Huh," said Rigel. "I'm pretty sure that's not English. Perhaps I can teach you." He felt around in the darkness until he found the other man's hand, then placed it against his cheek. "Rigel," he said. "I am Rigel." Then he put the other's hand against his own cheek and asked, "You are...?"

The other prisoner tore his hand free and uttered a string of what sounded like curses, though they also sounded like "Dill weeping nose! Crispy prawn gripper!"

"Well I beg your pardon," said Rigel, making himself as small as possible against the bottom of the wall. "I didn't mean to offend."

He heard his cellmate's loud, heavy breathing grow calm again. In a quiet, as it were contrite voice, the man in the dark said: "Gobble too flick."

"That's quite all right," said Rigel. "I just wish we could understand each other. Then, maybe we could work together to find a way out of here."

He started a bit as the man in the dark clapped his hands. "Ruble sandwich!" the man said triumphantly. Then, in a more solicitous tone, he added: "Piece your nasty chicken through wriggly bruise-the-herring?"

Rigel yawned. "I don't know what that means, but the sound of it makes me hungry." He yawned again, and let his head fall forward onto his crossed arms, just for a moment. A second later he was shaken roughly awake. The man in the dark grabbed Rigel's right hand and forced something into it - a narrow piece of wood - a wand. Holding it in Rigel's fist, he pointed it at himself and said, "Juniper squeal!"

Rigel laughed. "Excuse me?"

The man gave Rigel's arm a shake, jabbed the wand into his own chest, and cried even more urgently: "Nimble dog to tuck our pillows beside fleeting razors!"

"Eurgh," said Rigel. "I don't know what you want, but it doesn't sound good."

The next shake actually hurt Rigel's arm. The man shouted: "Tingle bleed over the hippogriff's fondue!"

"All right!" said Rigel. "You want me to put some sort of spell on you. Maybe one to enable you to speak English? Eh? How did that go...? Anglo Hanase!"

A pellet of light the size of a pea shot out of the wand and flew down the other man's throat. For a fraction of a second Rigel was able to see part of his face...again, it looked familiar...if only he could visualize it without the beard...

But the spell did no good. The man jumped up and down, screaming, "Spiffing dread snorkels branches upon their ravening slot-mincers!"

"You can say that again," sniffed Rigel. "How about this one? It's something my old tutor used to say when he couldn't understand something I said: Μην μιλήστε όπως έναν τέτοιο χοίρο!* There, how about that?"

The man in the dark cuffed Rigel rudely across the top of his head. "The suet snivels under the brass fiddle," he snarled.*

"Oi!" the boy snarled back. "Who put an itching spell on your knickers, anyway?"

Again he heard the sound of a man jumping up and down, grunting urgently.

Rigel's ears perked up. "What, did someone sput a spell on you, then?"

More jumping and moaning.

"But if I don't know what spell it was, I can't very well undo it, can I?"

The man in the dark stumbled forward, felt for Rigel's wand arm, and tapped the wand in his hand meaningfully.

"I see," said Rigel. "It's something to do with this wand, is it? That means you brought this curse on yourself, you daft git."

The other man shook Rigel's wand arm more urgently.

"All right!" Rigel shouted. "I know! I've got it, don't I? With this wand I can reverse the last spell you put on yourself. Boy, when I do, will you have a lot of explaining to do!"

The man stamped his feet impatiently.

"Well, here goes," said Rigel, aiming his wand at the sound of stamping feet. "Finite incantatum!"

"Did that do it?" the other man asked. "By George, it did! My dear boy" - the next bit was muffled, as the man pulled Rigel's head and shoulders into a crushing hug - "I never thought I would be so happy to see you again. Not that I can, actually. See you, that is."

"Get off!" Rigel yelled, pushing the man away. "Who are you, anyway?"

"I've been telling you these last ten minutes," said the voice, a note of irritation creeping into its joy. "When someone hands you a wand in a dark place, what should you do first?"

"Oh," said Rigel, feeling stupid. "That. Lumos."

Though only a faint glow came out of the wand-tip, Rigel and his companion were suddenly surrounded by a brilliant, sparkling glow - the glow of a vast cavern whose walls were studded with bright, reflective crystals. Rigel gasped as he looked around. It took him a moment to realize that he already knew who the other man was.

"It's you!" Rigel gasped. "But . . . "

"No time for that now," said the man. "We've got to find the door before the sun rises, otherwise we'll be spending another whole year down here. I've got the password to open it, only I haven't been able to spit it out since that bloody Babelnarrus curse backfired - long story - this way, hurry!"

Rigel, bewildered, trailed after his most surprising companion, wandlight held high over his head.

*Translation: "Don't talk like such a pig!"


To help choose the direction of the next few chapters of The Magic Quill, visit the Discussion Forum, or send Robbie feedback. The survey answer with the most votes, and the contest entry (or entries) Robbie likes best, will be featured in the chapter after next. [EDIT: This discussion is now closed.]

SURVEY: What do goblins have to do with Rigel's companion's escape from the Crystal Cave? (A) They want to mine precious stones from the walls. (B) There is a buried treasure of some kind in there. (C) The man in the cave owes them money. (D) They are actually the man-in-the-dark's house-elves, disguised inside inflatable goblin dolls.

CONTEST: How might an ordinary pet change as a side-effect of living in a magical home?

[Originally posted 12/30/07]

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