Friday, 17 August 2012

The Case Of The Ogre And The Wizard's Cat

On the last day of the harvest season, the Evil Ogre of the Mountains came down to the plain and the villages of men.

The Evil Ogre of the Mountains was called Dirk the Destroyer. As he strolled down the road, twirling his immense club, Skullcrusher, like a baton, the villagers saw him and fled the fields in disorder to their homes and barns, to lock themselves in and cower in fear and pray to their little gods that he pass them by.

So great was the panic that its edges washed up to the door of the wizard Smartypants, who lived in a tall strange house on the other side of the village, the one with a conical red roof and walls of rough grey stone that looked more like tree bark than tree bark did. The wizard looked up from his great Book of Spells and cocked his head.

“There’s something going on,” he said to his cat. “Go and find out what all the shouting’s about.”

The wizard’s real name, of course, was not Smartypants; it was, to let slip a great and cherished secret, donecGlrkwhndryxxsqurqīoshtinąvkrtnglishting. You can’t pronounce it? Of course not. Even the wizard donecGlrkwhndryxxsqurqīoshtinąvkrtnglishting couldn’t pronounce his own name; that was the whole point of the exercise, because names that can be pronounced give power to the pronouncer over the name’s owner. Every wizard that ever was knows that, even those who aren’t very good; and the wizard donecGlrkwhndryxxsqurqīoshtinąvkrtnglishting, while not a genius among his peers, was quite competent.

But for the purposes of normal discourse, a common name’s needed, and hence Smartypants. Yes, wizards have a sense of humour – sometimes.

The wizard’s cat was as far from the typical warlock’s or witch’s familiar as you can get. She was no frighteningly unnatural feline with black fur, green eyes and an evil disposition; merely large, cheerful and well-fed, her short fur white with tan and black markings. Only her eyes were slightly odd, one amber and the other a deep blue.

Her name was Goldie. It’s quite all right; that was her real name.

Leaving Smartypants to continue leafing through his great Book of Spells, Goldie trotted up the stairs from the wizard’s secret cellar and into the open; for the so-called house of the wizard was only a construct of dreams and air, and his real home lay deep underground, as far below the realms of other men as his interests were above theirs. She threaded through the panicked throng of villagers, easily evading stampeding farmers’ boots, and listened. Satisfied, she slipped down the stairs and back to the wizard’s den, and told him what she knew.

“This shouldn’t require my talents,” the wizard pronounced. “You, Goldie, should be able to take care of this on your own.”

“I’m sure,” mewed the cat, and glided up the stairs again into the wan sunlight.

By now the village looked deserted, everyone hiding, and Goldie went like a shadow between the trees and over walls, until she saw the ogre coming.

The Evil Ogre of the Mountains walked down the village street, twirling Skullcrusher and looking around him with interest. Dirk the Destroyer was so broad that he didn’t look particularly tall until you saw him next to a house or tree or something to give him scale. His torso was like a barrel, so much so that you might have thought him fat until you took a closer look. His arms and legs were pillars of muscle, his hands and feet slabs of raw power. His head was a block of stone held proudly up into the sky on the column of his neck. You didn’t really need the fangs jutting out from his prognathous jaw, or the horns growing back from his forehead, to know what he was. And if you had any sense at all, you ran from him as far and as fast as you could go.

Goldie, then, had no sense at all, because instead of running away in fear, she jumped up on an old tree-stump and sat waiting for the ogre.

Dirk the Destroyer stopped when he saw the cat. His face crunched up in concentration, so that his eyes seemed to disappear among his folds of skin and wrinkles. He bent forwards and scratched his head, because he had never seen such an animal before.

“Well,” Goldie miaowed cheerfully, “hello! Where would you be going this fine bright day?”

“Hello,” said Dirk the Destroyer. For an ogre he had a remarkably soft and educated voice, mangled only slightly by his prognathous jaw and the fangs that prevented him from fully closing his mouth. “And who might you be?”

“I’m the official reception committee,” Goldie said. “As an honoured visitor, I’ve been tasked with welcoming you to our village.”

“Why,” rumbled Dirk, “thank you. I never expected that!”

“So,” asked Goldie, “why have you come to the village? Is your trip for business or pleasure?”

“Well, actually,” Dirk said, “I came here as a tourist. After all, ever since I retired, I’ve wanted to see the world, and this seemed a nice place to start.”

 “Retired?” Goldie was surprised, but hid it well. “Retired from what?”

“My job as an accountant, of course.” An aggrieved note crept into the ogre’s voice. “My dad forced me to become an accountant. My heart was never in it, and I still had to spend the most productive years of my life adding up columns of figures. I ask you, is that a job for an honourable ogre?”

“You’re an ex-accountant with a name like Dirk the Destroyer?”

“Listen,” Dirk said, bending to whisper in Goldie’s ear, “it’s a secret, but my real name is Pip the Pointless. I changed it to Dirk the Destroyer after I retired. The other one was too, I mean...”

“I understand,” said Goldie. “And the club?”

“Skullcrusher? Window dressing. I use it as a walking stick up in the mountains. But, you’ll admit, it makes one hell of a stage prop.”

“That’s...” For once, Goldie was somewhat at a loss for words. “Ah, nice.”

“So,” asked Dirk, straightening and looking around. “Where is everyone? I thought these humans bred like rabbits, and I haven’t seen a single one yet.”

“They’re hiding,” Goldie explained. “They’re afraid of you.”

“Afraid of me?” Dirk goggled. “Why on earth would they be afraid of me? What have I done to them?”

“They think you’re going to...” the cat began. “I mean,” she amended hastily, “they think you’ll, in fact, be possibly be not beneficial to their prospects in terms of evading culinary projections in their socioeconomic status. This, they fear, may tend to complicate matters in terms of transference of DNA to generations as yet unborn.”

“What does that mean?” Dirk demanded.

“They think you’re going to eat them,” Goldie explained.

“Eat them?” Dirk said incredulously. “Why on earth would I eat them? I’m a vegan, just like everyone else in Ogreland!”

What Goldie would have replied was lost in the sudden thunder of hooves as a squadron of the King’s cavalry arrived on their huge black steeds, their long lances held high. They surrounded the ogre and demanded his surrender.

“He’s a guest,” Goldie protested. “Why should he surrender?”

“Shut up, cat,” the officer in charge snapped, his plume waving in the breeze. “The king wants him as a weapon. With an ogre as a warrior-slave, even an over the hill one like this, no other kingdom will be able to stand up to us!”

“A weapon?” Dirk peered at the officer. “What are you talking about? Weapon...war?”

“Are you stupid? War, of course. Bind him, men!”

“War,” said Dirk disgustedly. “I hate war.” With a sweep of Skullcrusher he smashed three lances and sent their riders sprawling in the dust. Slapping aside the riderless horses with hardly any effort, he broke through the cordon and turned, raising his club high.

“Charge,” shouted the officer.

This was perhaps a mistake.

By the time the last bruised and bloodied cavalrymen were picking themselves up and stumbling off after their horses, Dirk the Destroyer was halfway back to his beloved mountains, Goldie trotting by his side.

“I think I’ve had enough of humans,” Dirk said. “Are they all like that?”

“Well, the governments usually are...”

 “What about you?” Dirk asked. “Are you coming with me?”

“No,” said the cat. “I’ve got to go back. But I hope you get back safely, and all the best of luck for the future.”

                                           *****************

So,” said the wizard Smartypants, “the cavalry squadron was all your idea?”

“It didn’t take that much magic, Master,” Goldie said. “I’d already cast the spells to create the soldiers before confronting the ogre, and at first I’d intended that they chase him off. But then I found he was actually a nice guy, a gentle giant as it were, and, well, it made sense simply to horrify him with human depravity.”

“You did well,” Smartypants said, turning over another page. “But do you think that once the villagers get over their fear they’ll go off after him, intent on revenge?”

“I’m sure they won’t,” Goldie purred, looking up from a saucer of milk. “I made sure they were watching while Dirk wiped out an entire squadron of the King’s own men. They’ll tremble in terror of the ogres for generations, but that’s all they’ll do.”

“Excellent,” said Smartypants. “You’re the best familiar I ever had, Goldie.”

“Thank you, Master,” Goldie said, washing herself modestly.

                                         *****************

A crass spell,” Dirk reported to the Assembly of Ogres. “A mere illusion-spell meant to make me believe that I was fighting soldiers. And I was meant to fall for it!”

“They must believe we’re very stupid,” the Great Ogre said from his throne carved from a single titanic emerald. “You did well. A very successful spying mission, all told.”

“Thank you, Great Ogre. But...”

“But what? What remains for us to do but to sweep down from these mountains and exterminate these humans?”

“That’s the thing. These humans, they’re so evil that I’m sure even the act of fighting them would pollute our race beyond recovery.”

“Why? What did you find out about them that makes them so disgusting, Dirk?”

The Destroyer looked around and bent close to the Great Ogre’s twitching, hairy ear.

“They eat meat,” he whispered hoarsely.


Copyright B Purkayastha 2010/12

 

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