Tuesday, December 23, 2008

91. The Wandwright

Contest winner: lupa

The trees stood like vast pillars, and the rustling of their leafy canopy made for a special kind of silence – unearthly, churchlike, peaceful. The wandwright finished scattering his offering of woodlice to the bowtruckles, shouldered a bundle of straight green boughs, and began his trek towards the one-room home and workshop he had hewn out of a great hollow trunk within sight of the Wizards’ Highway.

Now and then, he paused and listened. Once he shook his head, wondering at himself. It was not until he had laid his bundle outside the door of his hut, and had gone inside to put the cauldron on to boil, that he became sure he was hearing a real sound rather than a memory. He wiped his hands and went outside to look around. There it was again – like the laughter of a child. Several children, really.

Then he froze in his tracks. It was too bad he had his back to the solid side of his tree hut. He would never be able to get round to the door and barricade himself inside. The tall figure in the dark, hooded cloak was too close – and what was more, it had the look of a powerful, active man with swift reflexes.

The wandwright wondered if he could reach his wand before the visitor noticed. But no sooner had the thought crossed his mind than the figure held up both arms. The sleeves fell back and revealed two – TWO – wands pointed directly at him. He shivered, not daring even to look toward the group of small children he saw approaching at the corner of his eye.

Then one of the arms bent and poked its wand under the dark hood, its point seemingly touching its owner’s throat. “Don’t do anything hasty,” came a deadly serious, but otherwise rather pleasant voice from under the hood. It spoke in the wandwright’s native language, but clearly as a result of a spell. “I have not come to harm you. On the contrary. We are here to warn you that Il Comte, or his minions, are on their way and they mean to harm you.”

“How do I know you aren’t Il Comte or one of his minions?” the wandwright demanded. “And if you’re a friend, why do you...?”

“I hold you at wand-point,” said the hooded wizard, “because I know not but that YOU may be Il Comte or one of his minions. But only the real you would know where we have met before.”

“Of course I remembered you, Spanky,” said the wandwright; yet he remained wary, tense. “How could I forget the double-barreled wizard, whose endorsement turned my little cottage industry into a dueling wizards’ mecca? You were the first customer who ever bought more than a hundred wands from me. Thanks to you, my business was starting to catch fire. Then your little fiasco at the Owlympics doused it like a bucket of ice-cold water.” He sighed. “All for the best. One can have too much success. I like peace and quiet better.”

“Then why haven’t you relaxed your wand arm?” the cloaked wizard asked drily. “Have you really forgiven me for sending your industry back to the cottage?”

“No, it’s just that the real Dandelionel Ethelbaldricson was the only Englishman who could ever pronounce my full name.”

The cloaked figure laughed. “It was hard, but I had to learn to say any name that was longer than my own.”

“Repeat it once,” said the wandwright, “and then we shall disarm ourselves.”

“Jaan Järjestelmällistämättömyydelläänsäkäänköhän,” said Spanky. He pocketed both his wands, pulled his hood back, and joined his old friend in a painful, back-slapping embrace. Then he held an arm out toward the row of small children who, until now, had appeared as a blur in Jaan’s peripheral vision. “Meet my family.”

Jaan turned toward them, grinning, then gave an involuntary yell and flinched backwards. The children laughed.

“Don’t mind them, the naughty blighters,” said Spanky cheerfully. “They’re not actually missing body parts. It’s only the djinni sort of Fidelius Charm they inherited from their Mum, to whom, I’m afraid, there would be no point in introducing you. The one with the empty eye sockets is Aloysius. Shake hands with the man, there’s a good boy. This is my elder daughter, Ethelfrigga. Isn’t she sweet? I hope the missing arms don’t disturb you, but if you close your eyes she’ll shake hands with you anyway. The floating torso is Marmaduke, and the disembodied hands are Persephone. And somewhere around here – oh, the devil, there he is! Stop that this instant, Bob! I’m so sorry. Ever since he found out that the girls disliked the sight of brains, he’s been making his left side invisible. We had to bring them along, you see. Our nurse just quit and there’s nobody for miles around who will put up – er, that is to say, who is available to look after them during a trip we are planning, a very necessary trip of indefinite duration. We think you should tag along with us. That way, if Il Comte comes after you...”

“I would rather face Il Comte than leave this place,” said Jaan, wiping his hands on his trousers after five of the gooiest, giggliest, stomach-turningest handshakes he had ever experienced. He was now trying, but unsuccessfully, to keep his eyes averted from the bizarre, partially invisible children – especially the anatomical Bob. “I have had the smell of these woods in my nostrils every day of the last seven years. I swore that I would die here after I came back from a long journey. Whether I do so tomorrow or a hundred years hence, I do not care. You don’t know what I went through.”

“The trouble is, Jaan, I do.” Spanky nudged a bundle of wandwood with the toe of his boot. “You see, Merlin told me all about your escapades in Gringotts. He’s going back in there with us. We could always use another experienced escapee, particularly one with your knack for making unconventional wands. You still carry that novelty line, don’t you?”

On a certain level of his mind, Jaan admired Spanky’s ability to handle him so well. Just when he was about to begin ranting and raging about the idiocy of trying to break into Gringotts – and of asking him, of all people, to go along – Jaan found himself completely disarmed by the question about his trade. Before he knew what he was doing, he had invited Spanky and his disturbing children into the shop. Naturally, it was much bigger on the inside than the circumference of the tree trunk. Several large rooms were full of nothing but wands, hanging on the walls, dangling from the ceiling, held up by hook charms and threads of spider silk treated with anti-shoplifting charms. Behind a wall that moved aside at the sound of a password – something that had far too many vowels in it for an Englishman’s comfort – Jaan introduced Spanky to his line of experimental wands. He talked about them with enthusiasm, as he seldom had a chance to do.

After an hour or so, as Jaan paused to catch his breath, Spanky gave his arm a squeeze and said, “So you’ll come with us, then?”

“No, I’m sorry. But you may stuff your pockets with as many of these as you like; and, if you ever get out of that place alive, come and tell me how they behaved. I ask no other payment, except to be left here to face whatever may come.”

Spanky stared at his old friend’s face for a long time, then shook his head with regret. “I must respect your wishes,” he concluded.

“Yes, you must,” said Jaan. “Especially since I know many of these wands so well, that I could hex you with them while they hang on the wall there. Fill the childrens’ pockets, too. Since you are breaking every law that you have sworn to uphold, you might as well break that one too.”

Spanky’s face turned red. “But I...” he began.

Jaan held up his hand as a sign of peace. Pulling Spanky aside, out of the hearing of the children (who were having uproarious fun with a wand that conjured rabbits every time it was waved), he whispered “I don’t need to hear it. I know the difference between a wicked man who knows no law, and a good man who is the law unto himself.”

“And which am I?” Spanky whispered.

“Neither,” said Jaan, eyeing Spanky with cool frankness. “You’re a man who knows right from wrong, but who does what he has to do regardless. Unlike He Who Must Not Be Named, you don’t have the luxury of living without a conscience. And nor do you bask in the glowing conviction that whatever you do is right, unlike that Italian fop of whom I now stand warned. You know where the line is and what it means to cross it. I hope you will be able to live with what you’re about to do.”

Spanky almost shivered. Then he pulled his hood up and said, in the same grim voice with which he had first spoken, “I’ll have to, won’t I?”

Their pockets stuffed with wands, Spanky and the children joined hands in a circle – an incomplete circle. Jaan blinked and rubbed his eyes. There seemed to be room for one more person in their circle, and yet everyone seemed to be holding someone’s hand. Spanky and the youngest boy, Bob, held between them a dog-chewed tennis ball that glowed and hummed with greater intensity as Spanky counted down from three. Then, with a pop, they all vanished.

Jaan sighed. Then he heard a bell tinkle out in the front room. He came out of the private room to see who had come into his shop.

It was a tall, richly dressed wizard with shiny hair. He held out his hand and a house-elf put a wand in it. Both his eyes and his lips smiled brightly at Jaan. He poked his own throat with the tip of his wand and said, in the wandwright’s language, “You’re Jaan What’s-His-Name, are you?”

“Oh yes,” said Jaan, darting his eyes this way and that. The floating, undulating wands along the walls and ceiling moved very gently, and, quite casually, shifted so as to point at the new visitor. Il Comte seemed not to notice that the room was bristling with wands that seemed to have a mind of their own, but the house-elf cringed. “Yes, that’s me all right.”

“Good,” said Il Comte. “Then I have a surprise for you.”

“Nothing like the surprise I have for you,” Jaan muttered under his breath.


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: Since some of the characters are going to escape from Gringotts, and some are going to be left behind... how are they going to be divided? (A) All the “couples” get split up. (B) The original members of Harvey’s “club” get stranded. (C) Only people who were trapped in Gringotts before get trapped. (D) Rigel and Spanky’s kids will be marooned. (E) The most apt to get on each other’s nerves will be stuck together.

CONTEST: Describe a Muggle artifact as a witch or wizard would (completely mis-) understand it.

The Survey answer that gets the most votes, and the Contest entry that Robbie likes the most, will be featured in Magic Quill #93. So be sure to visit our Discussion Thread – and if you aren’t a member of COS Forums, join today!

[Originally posted 6/4/06]

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