Tuesday, December 23, 2008

89. The Eyedropper Banquet

Contest winner: _houdini

The fire flared green, and a robed figure appeared in it, spinning to a halt. Coughing slightly, Endora staggered out of the fireplace and wiped her sooty boots on the hearthrug. Her arrival was barely noticed by a stocky, red-faced woman wearing a pointed hat, batter-splashed robes, and a grim expression. The woman stopped stirring the cauldron, extinguished the portable flame under it, threw down her wand with a muffled curse, and wiped her sleeve across her forehead. Then she turned toward Endora and said something in a language Endora did not know.

“I – I’m sorry,” said Endora, patting a cloud of soot out of her robes. “Could you repeat that? I’m sure I have a translation spell around here somewhere.”

The red-faced woman rolled her eyes and said, “I speak English,” with very little accent.

Endora was relieved. “I’ve come looking for Herr Svendanna,” she said. “It is urgent that I speak with him.”

“Karl?” the woman asked, narrowing her eyes suspiciously. “Vhat do you have to do with him? He never mentioned an English vitch to me.”

“He doesn’t know me,” said Endora. “But we have a friend in common. And an enemy too. I’ve been sent to warn Karl that Il Comte has awakened and is seeking revenge.”

The woman looked first relieved, then alarmed as her jealousy gave way to the realization that her husband was in terrible danger. Then she gave a nervous laugh and said, “But that Italian toenail-fungus vill never find us here.”

“I found you. I may have been lucky, though. Or it may have been the two-column advert in the Floo Network European Holiday Guide that listed this establishment as the only wand-free wilderness survival camp hosted by a wizard who survived 22 years lost in Gringotts.”

Frau Svendanna’s face went pale. “How did...but ve never...”

At that moment, a tall, wiry man with an impressive sunburn and a lot of mud on his robes entered the room through the door between Endora and the woman. He grabbed an apple out of a bowl on the sideboard, took a bite, and addressed the woman without seeming to notice that Endora was there. “Ah, Heidi,” he said cheerfully, before launching into a rapid flow of words Endora could not understand.

“No, Karl, I am no closer to success, but you have bigger problems. Did you purchase an advertisement in the English Floo Guide?”

Karl choked slightly, spat out a seed, and said evasively, “Vhy are ve talking in English?”

Heidi gestured toward Endora. The man jumped slightly when he saw her, then scratched his temple. “Haff ve met?”

Endora introduced herself and shook his hand. “I’m a friend of Merlin’s. I was just telling Frau Svendanna that Il Comte is back, and he’s coming for you. It might be safest for you to come with us.”

“And he vill find you qvickly, thanks to your foolishness,” Heidi said bitterly.

“Nothing risked, nothing gained,” Karl said to his wife, and then asked Endora, “Who is ‘us,’ and vhere are you going?”

“Us is...” Endora coughed. “I mean, we are all friends of Merlin, and we are planning to liberate something or other from the Vault of Yves the Leper.”

Karl spat an apple seed past Endora and into fhe fire. “You’re mad. You vill all perish. We vill stay here and mourn for you. Meanwhile, that Italian Teewurst vill not find me easy to harm.”

“We’ll have Merlin with us. He got himself and eight others through Gringotts once; he can do it again.”

“Forgive me for correcting you,” said Karl, spitting another seed into the fire. “I got the nine of us through Gringotts. All Merlin did vas vipe that rich brat’s nose and get us all into trouble. I vas there much longer than he vas, and I vas the best at finding food. Vithout me, they vould all have starved. If anything goes wrong, and I guarantee that it vill, you vill be trapped. Von’t you vish you had Karl Svendanna vith you then.”

Endora opened her mouth, but so many biting replies tried to get out of it at the same time that all she actually said was, “Wow.”

“Heidi and I vill manage quite vell, thank you,” said Karl, dragging his wife into a one-armed embrace. “However, ve should not let you go vithout a little help, in case you haff troubles. Do ve still have a flask of the Eyedropper Banqvet, Heidi?”

“Ve only have one that is still sealed, and one that is almost empty. As you know, I remain unsuccessful in finding out the formula, and since that old apothecary disappeared, ve vill never be able to buy any more. If I give her the last full flask, I might as vell give up trying to duplicate the recipe.”

Karl’s brow furrowed. He looked from his anxious wife to Endora, apparently weighing his honor against a lucrative business opportunity. Endora shook her head and said, “It doesn’t matter. I don’t even know what you are talking about.”

“Eyedropper Banqvet!” said Karl. He put his hand up to the kitchen wall, pulled aside a curtain that had blended perfectly with the surface, and took a small stone bottle out of the recess that had been concealed there. The bottle was sealed by magic, with no opening on top. Karl held it up lovingly. “It is the survival-vizard’s best friend. One drop of this potion, and you feel as full as after a seven-course meal. You also get all your daily nutrition and enough energy to keep going for another day. If I had brought this vith me into Gringotts, ve vould haff had a much easier time. A few flasks of this could sustain you and your friends for months. But only one family knows the secret of making it, and the last member of that family has been missing four months. This vill be the last of it unless ve can vork out how it vas made. But you need it more than ve...”

“Oh, is that all?” said Endora, relieved. “I can whip some up in a jiffy.”

Karl brightened immensely. Heidi looked astonished. “But how?” she asked.

“I have a nose for these things. Show me the other bottle, the open one.”

Heidi rummaged among the things on the counter and handed over a similar stone flask that had a hole bored in the top end. She waved her hand over the opening and sniffed. She wafted again, sniffing harder, eyes closed. A third time she wafted and sniffed...then...

“Heidi, write this recipe down. Karl, summon the ingredients as I name them. One dragon’s egg, beaten, preferably Vipertooth. Four galleons’ weight dried moke filets. Eleven-seventeenths of a tablespoon of each of the following: abscess root, Chilean wine palm bark, shredded peppermint leaves, toasted pumpkin seeds, grated ugli fruit skin, dried squirrel brains, pickled skink hearts, mooncalf milk, and flamingo eyes that have been preserved for at least three years in a solution of flaxseed oil and crocodile tears. A two-year-old goat’s stomach filled with equal parts powdered rat’s teeth, pressed cod livers, aardvark nose, bat’s ears, thin-sliced zebra tongue, sunflower nectar, and Pitcairn Island honey (the stomach must be sewn shut with a single veela hair). Also, a pinch of salt, a splash of pitaya juice -- that’s pitaya, not papaya -- and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. Mmm. No, half a dash.

“Combine all the ingredients except the moke filets in a cauldron, cover with water, and heat until boiling. Stir three times counterclockwise, then four times clockwise; repeat exactly nineteen times. Then add the moke meat and stir by tracing the exact path of the labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral, with a single unbroken stroke of your wand. When the potion turns completely clear, remove from heat. It will shrink while it cools. Use a charm to bottle it, and store it in a cool place.”

Endora looked up. Every horizontal surface in the kitchen, including the mantel, the window sill, and the floor, was filled with ingredients. Karl was clutching his head with both hands. Heidi finished scribbling on a roll of parchment, rolled it up, and tucked it into her bosom with a glow of excitement in her cheeks.

“By the earlobes of Agrippa,” Karl swore, wiping sweat off his brow. “You got all that from the smell?”

Endora handed the flask back to Heidi with a slow smile. “As I said, I have a good nose,” she said. “I’ll start mixing the ingredients then. You should practice that labyrinth thing a few times to make sure you’ve got it; otherwise we’ll have to start all over...”


To send Robbie your personal feedback or original ideas, visit the Feedback Form [EDIT: Rather, leave a Comment]. To vote in the Survey and Contest to determine what happens in the Chapter-After-Next, visit the Discussion Forum [EDIT: This discussion is closed].

SURVEY: What will happen when Harvey’s party breaks into Gringotts? (A) They make a clean getaway and go back to the Hog’s Head to continue telling stories and to plan their next caper. (B) Everything gets messed up and they end up having a lot of adventures before they can get out again. (C) Some of them escape and some of them don’t – and those who do have to plan another break-in to save the ones who don’t. (D) The curtain comes down, the lights come up, and the adventure comes to an end. (E) _______(This space is for a write-in candidate)_______.

CONTEST: Make up names for Spanky and Ilona’s children. (Bear in mind that their last name is officially “Ethelbaldricson”).

The Survey answer that gets the most votes, and the Contest entry that Robbie likes the most will be featured in Magic Quill #91. So be sure to visit our Discussion Thread – and if you aren’t a member of COS Forums, join today!

[Originally posted 5/16/06]

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