A MALADY OF MAGICKS
"Guxx Unfufadoo is my name. And killing wizards is my game!" Thus spoke the dreaded rhyming demon, come from the Netherhells, to munch a bunch of the great Ebenezum.Only it didn't quite work out that way. Ebenezum lived, cursed by Guxx with a mighty curse that he should henceforth be allergic to magic.So Ebenezum and his hapless apprentice Wuntvor must journey to the City of Forbidden Delights to seek a cure. They find the road fraught with peril and dark magic, from tap-dancing dragons to enchanted chickens, slobbering trolls, winsome witches and sinister shrubbery.It's up to Wunt to see them through, to utter the sounds of power and speak the spells that will insure their health, wealth and continued life. It only he could remember the words...
A MULTITUDE OF MONSTERS
I've got you now, you wizardly pest, in my stomach you soon will rest! Thus spoke Guxx Unfufadoo to the mighty wizard, Ebenezum. The dreaded rhyming demon had cruelly cursed the mage with a malady of magicks and now he was determined that the suffering sorcerer never reach Vushta, the City of Forbodden Delights, where he might find a cure.
A NIGHT IN THE NETHERHELLS
In the conclusion of the Ebenezum trilogy, the wizard Ebenezum and his hapless apprentice, Wuntvor, must do everything in their power to save Vushta, City of Forbidden Delights, from Guxx, the rhyming demon.
The original comic fantasy trilogy, fiendishly funny, wickedly clever. There’s nothing quite like it in any of the known worlds… – Steven Savile
"A bizarre, witty fairy-tale for grownups."– Mike Resnick
"Gardner skewers all the cliches of quest-fantasy with wit, style, mordant irony and great glee— this series could have been serialized in National Lampoon or filmed by one of the Pythons!"– Spider Robinson
"The field needs more humorists of this caliber."– Robert Asprin
"Gardner has a fine sense of just when to deflate an apparent threat into slapstick."– Newsday
"A delightful, very funny, supergly off the wall entertainment that owes less to Rocky and Bullwinkle than it does to the mind of a man who needs serious help."– Lionel Fenn
"A lot of fun! I could hardly wait to find out what was going to happen next!"– Christopher Stasheff
"A Malady of Magicks is a slapstick romp worthy of Laurel and Hardy...but I warn you not to read it late at night—the neighbors will call the cops when you laugh down the walls."– Marvin Kaye
" 'A wizard is only as good as his spells,' people will often say. It is telling, however, that this statement is only made by people who have never been wizards themselves.
Those of us who have chosen to pursue a sorcerous career know that a knowledge of spells is only one small facet of the successful magician. Equally vital are a quick wit, a soothing tongue, and, perhaps most important, a thorough knowledge of back alleys, underground passageways, and particularly dense patches of forest, for those times when the spell you knew so well doesn't quite work after all."
—from The Teachings of Ebenezum, Volume I
The day was quietly beautiful, perhaps too much so. For the first time in a week, I allowed myself to forget my problems and think only of Alea. Alea! My afternoon beauty. I had only learned her name on the last day we were together, before she went on to, as she called them, "better things." But as surely as she had left me, I knew that we might be reunited. In Vushta, anything might happen.
The wizard sneezed.
I woke from my reverie, instantly alert. My master, the wizard Ebenezum, greatest mage in all the Western Kingdoms, had sneezed. It could only mean one thing.
There was sorcery in the air!
Ebenezum waved for me to follow him, his stately and ornate wizard's robes flapping as he ran. We headed immediately for a nearby copse of trees.
A hoarse scream erupted from the bushes across the clearing.
"Death to the wizard!"
The spear embedded itself in the tree some three feet above my head. Half a dozen warriors ran screaming from the undergrowth, blood cries on their lips. They had painted themselves with dark pigments for a particularly fierce appearance, and they carried great swords as long as their arms.
The spear seemed to have a few primitive charms painted on it. Oh, so that was all it was. Just another assassination attempt. In a way, I was disappointed. For a moment, I had thought it might be something serious.
So it began again. By this time, I must admit these assassination things had grown quite tiresome. All thoughts of my afternoon beauty had fled from my mind. As boringly regular as these attacks had become, it would still not do to become too lax in our response.
I looked to my master. The wizard Ebenezum, one of the most learned men upon this huge continent we now traversed, nodded briskly and held his nose.
I placed my hands in the basic third conjuring position. Taking a deep breath, I stepped from concealment.
"Halt, villains!" I cried.
The warriors did nothing to acknowledge my warning, instead bounding across the field toward me with redoubled fury. Their leader's tangled blond hair bounced as he ran, a mobile bird's nest above his brow. He hurled another spear, almost tripping with the effort. His aim was not very good.
I quickly wove a magic pattern with my hands. During the last few days of our headlong flight, Ebenezum had taken what few rest periods we could manage to teach me some basic sign magic. It was all quite simple, really. After you had mastered a few easy gestures, earth, air, fire, and water were yours to command.
Still, I didn't want to try anything too difficult for my first solo endeavor. Another spear whistled through the air, almost impaling the leader of the warrior band from the rear. The leader yelped and stopped his headlong charge. He was close enough that I could see the anger in his pale blue eyes.
Infuriated, he spun to lecture his men on appropriate spear-throwing technique. Ebenezum waved from the trees for me to get on with it. It would be a simple spell, then. I decided I would move the earth with my magic and create a yawning pit in which our pursuers would be trapped. I began making the proper movements with my elbows and left leg, at the same time whistling the first four bars of "The Happy Woodcutter's Song."
The warriors screamed as one and ran toward me with even greater speed. I hurried my spell as well, hopping once, skipping twice, scratching my head, and whistling those four bars again.
The sky suddenly grew dark. My magic was working! I pulled my left ear repeatedly, blowing my nose in rhythmic bursts.
A great mass of orange dropped from the heavens.
I paused in my gyrations. What had I done? A layer of orange and yellow covered the field and the warriors. And the layer was moving.
It took me a moment to discern the layer's true nature. Butterflies! Somehow, I had conjured millions of them. They flew wildly about the field, doing their best to get away from the warriors. The warriors, in turn, sputtered and choked and waved their arms feverishly about, doing their best to get away from the butterflies.
I had made a mistake somewhere in my spell; that much was obvious. Luckily, the resulting butterfly multitude was enough of a diversion to give me time to correct my error. I reviewed my movements. I had spent hours perfecting my elbow flaps. The hop, the skips, the scratch, everything seemed in its place. Unless I was supposed to lift my right leg rather than my left?
Of course! How stupid of me! I immediately set out to repeat the spell and correct my mistake.
The warriors seemed to have won free of the butterflies at last. Breathing heavily, some leaning on their swords, they gave a ragged yell and staggered forward. I finished my humming and started to blow my nose.
The sky grew dark again. The warriors paused in their hesitant charge and looked aloft with some trepidation.
This time it rained fish. Dead fish.
The warriors left with what speed they could muster, slipping and sliding through a field now covered with crushed butterflies and thousands of dead haddock. I decided it was time for us to leave as well. From the smell now rising from the field, the haddock had been dead for quite some time.
"Excellent, apprentice!" My master emerged from his place of concealment among the trees. He still held his nose. "And I had not yet taught you the raining creatures spell. You show a real talent for improvisation. Though how you managed a rain of butterflies and dead fish is beyond me." He shook his head and chuckled to himself. "One could almost imagine you were whistling 'The Happy Woodcutter's Song.' "
We both laughed at the foolishness of that thought and rapidly left the area. I decided I needed to hone my sorcerous skills just a bit before our next encounter, which probably wouldn't be all that long from now. King Urfoo simply wouldn't give up.
A bloodcurdling scream came from far overhead. I looked up in the trees to see a figure, dressed all in green, plummeting in our general direction. The wizard and I watched the man fall some ten feet in front of us, knocking himself unconscious in the process.
Ebenezum and I stepped gingerly around the fallen assassin. Surely another of King Urfoo's minions, incredibly bloodthirsty, and incredibly inept. Urfoo, it seemed, had offered a reward for our death or capture. That alone was enough to attract certain mercenaries. But Urfoo was the cheapest of cheap tyrants, keeping his purse strings tied in a double knot and giving a whole new meaning to the phrase "tight-fisted." The reward for our demise was not all that large, and none of it was payable in advance. Certain mercenaries, by and large, lost interest when they became familiar with the terms. This left only the foolish, the desperate, and the desperately foolish to pursue us. Which they did. In droves.
I looked down at my worn shoes and torn tunic, aware of every noise in the forest around me, careful of every movement I might see out of the corner of my eye. Who would have thought that I, a poor farm boy from the Western Kingdoms, would find himself in circumstances such as these? What would I have done, on that day when I was first apprenticed to Ebenezum, had I known I would leave the peace and security of a small, rural village, destined to wander through strange kingdoms and stranger adventures? Who would think that I might one day even be forced to visit Vushta, the city of a thousand forbidden delights, and somehow have the courage to face every single one?
I looked to my master, the great wizard Ebenezum, boldly marching by my side, his fine tunic, tastefully inlaid with silver moons and stars, now slightly soiled; his long white hair and beard a tad matted about the edges; his aristocratic nose the merest bit stuffed from his affliction. Who would have thought, on that summer's day a few months ago, that we would come to this?
"Wuntvor!" my master called.
I considered making a hasty retreat.
"No, no, Wuntvor. Come here, please!" Ebenezum smiled and waved. It must be worse than I thought.
I had only been apprenticed to the wizard for a few weeks then and, frankly, didn't care much for the job. My new master hardly spoke to me at all and certainly made no attempt to explain all the strange things going on around me. That is, until he became angry with me for something I'd done. Then there seemed to be no end to his wizardly rage.
And now the gruff wizard was smiling. And waving. And calling my name. I didn't like this situation at all. Why had I become a wizard's apprentice in the first place?
Then I remembered that I had a reason now. A very special reason. Just that morning I had been in the forest, some distance from the house, collecting firewood for use in the magician's never-ending assortment of spells. I had looked up from my gathering, and she had been standing there!
"You seem to have lost your firewood." Her voice was lower than I expected from so slender a girl, and huskier as well. She formed each word with a pair of perfect lips. I looked down to the pile of wood at my feet. One look at her long-haired splendor, and my arms had gone limp.
"Yes, I have," was all I could think to say.
"Whom do you gather it for?" she asked.
I nodded toward the cabin, just visible through the trees. "The wizard."
"The wizard?" Her lips parted to show a smile that would make the angels sing. "You work for a wizard?"
I nodded. "I am his apprentice."
Her finely etched brows rose in pleased surprise. "An apprentice? I must say, that's much more interesting than most of what goes on hereabouts." She flashed me a final smile.
"We will have to see each other again," she whispered, and was gone.
I thought on that at the door to the master's studio She wanted to see me again. And simply because I was a magician's apprentice!
Ebenezum called my name once more.
My afternoon beauty! It was a good thing to be a magician's apprentice, after all! I took a deep breath and entered the magician's study.
"Over here, Wuntvor." My master pulled forward a stool for me. "I will show you how to construct a spell." That smile showed again, curling through space between his mustache and his long white beard. "A very special spell."
The wizard's robes swirled as he turned. The stars and the moons embroidered on the cloth danced in the candlelight. Ebenezum pushed his cap to a jaunty angle and walked over to an immense oak table that was almost entirely covered by a huge, open book.
"Most spells," the wizard began, "are quite mundane. Plying one's trade in a rural clime such as this any wizard, even one as experienced as myself, finds most of his or her time occupied with increased crop yield spells, and removing curses from sheep and the like. Now, why anyone would want to curse a sheep is beyond my comprehension"—the wizard paused to glance in his book—"but a job is a job and a fee is a fee. And that, Wuntvor, is the first law of wizardry."
Ebenezum picked up one of two long white candles that sat at either side of the table. He placed it in the only clear spot on the study's floor. The candlelight illuminated a star, sketched in the dirt.
"The second law is to always stay one step ahead of the competition," he continued. "As I was saying, you'll soon tire of crop and curse spells. As far as I'm concerned, you're not a full-fledged wizard until they really bore you. But in your spare time—ah, Wuntvor, that's when you'll find the opportunity for your wizardry to shine!"
I watched my master with mute fascination. He moved quickly about his study, turning here, kneeling there, fetching a book or a gnarled root or some strange, sorcerous device. I could half imagine his wanderings set to music, like some mysterious dance to herald the coming magic. The whole thing was something of a revelation; like cracking open a piece of slate to find the speckled blue of a robin's egg.
"And now we begin." My master's eyes seemed to sparkle in the reflected candle flame. "When this spell is finished, I shall know the exact position, disposition, and probably future direction of every tax collector in the realm!"
So this is what my master did in his spare time. I imagined there was some greater scheme to the spell that he had just described that I did not yet see, but I judged it a bad time to ask for explanations.
My master pulled back his sleeves with a flourish. "Now we begin!"
He hesitated at the edge of the markings. "But my enthusiasm carries me away. Wuntvor, something seems to be on your mind. Did you have a question?"
So I told him about the bucket.
I mean well, but my hands do not always do exactly what my mind intends. Growing pains, my mother always called them. On perhaps in this case, the thought of the girl I had encountered in the woods. At any rate, I dropped the bucket, without the rope, into the well.
What could I do? I stared dumbly at the length of rope I had wanted to tie around the handle. I should never have set the bucket on the well's edge. I looked down into the well but couldn't see a thing in the gloom. I kicked the side of the well. If only, somehow, the rope could magically tie itself to the bucket, everything would be fine.
And then I realized that the rope could magically tie itself to the bucket. So I ran to the wizard's study to ask for help. That is, if he wasn't too busy.
"Oh, I think I can fit it in," the wizard replied. "You do sometimes have a problem with your hands, Wuntvor. Not to mention your feet, your height, and a few other things. Still, with luck, you should grow out of it."
Ebenezum pulled at his beard. "There's a lesson to be learned here, Wuntvor. If you intend to be a wizard, you must consider your every action carefully. Every action, from the smallest to the largest, might somehow affect your performance of magic, and thus your fortunes and possibly your life. Now let's fetch the bucket and get on with things."
I stood to lead my master to the well. But instead of walking to the door, the wizard took a half step back and raised his arms. His low voice murmured a dozen syllables. Something bumped against my knee. It was the bucket.
"Now—" the wizard began just before he yelled in surprise. "What the—" He leapt forward and turned to face whatever had upset him.
It was smoke, or so it seemed at first; a particularly vile-smelling cloud of bluish gray that hung over the star drawn in the dirt. It swirled about furiously, growing until it almost looked like a human shape.
The wizard pointed to the ground. There was a smudge across the markings on the floor where the mystically propelled bucket had passed.
"The pentagram!" Ebenezum cried. "I've broken the pentagram!"
He grabbed a small knife from the table and knelt by the side of the star. He placed the knife against what remained of the line and used it to redraw the markings up to the point where he was stopped by a huge blue foot. The foot was attached to an even larger body; a body made of almost nothing but spikes, talons, and horns.
"A demon!" I cried.
The thing opened its mouth. Its voice was as deep as an earthquake. "Sound the charge and ring the bells," it said. "You have freed me from the Netherhells!"
Ebenezum's lips curled behind his mustache. "Even worse, Wuntvor. 'Tis a rhyming demon!"
The giant blue thing took a step toward the candlelight. As it approached the illumination, I could make out what in charity might be described as facial features: a knife slash for a mouth, above that a pair of hairy nostrils, and a couple of eyes too small and evil to even be called beady.
The thing spoke again:
"Alas, you humans are out of luck,
For now you face the demon Guxx!"
"Luck and Guxx?" Ebenezum's face became even more distraught. "That's not even a proper rhyme!"
Guxx the demon displayed its dark and pointed claws. "I'm somewhat new at the poetry game. But you'll soon be dead all the same!"
Ebenezum glanced at me. "See what I mean? The meter's all wrong." The wizard pulled at his beard. "Or maybe it's the creature's delivery."
"You try to confuse me with your words!" the demon cried. "But Guxx will shorten you by a third!"
The demon's claws shot out with lightning speed, straight for the wizard's neck. But Ebenezum was every bit as fast as the creature, and the claws only grazed his magician's cap.
"You're getting too complex," the wizard remarked as he pulled back his sleeves. Ebenezum liked both arms free to the elbows for maximum conjuring. "You'd be better to stick to simpler rhymes."
The demon paused in its attack, a deep rumble in its throat. "Perhaps," it said, and coughed into one of its enormous palms.
"Guxx Unfufadoo is my name,
And killing wizards is my game!"
Ebenezum's hands made a complex series of movements in the air as he spoke half a dozen syllables that I didn't understand. The demon roared. It was surrounded by a silver cage.
"You think to stop me with your silver!" Guxx screamed. "But I'll break free and eat your—" It paused. "No. That doesn't work. What rhymes with silver?"
"Orange," the wizard suggested.
"I'll teach you this demon to mock! A few more rhymes, and I'll break this lock!" The creature stared at its cage. The bars shook without it even touching them.
"This demon could be a bit of a problem," Ebenezum said. "Come, Wuntvor. I will teach you a quick lesson in banishment."
"Guxx will win, this demon knows!
For with every rhyme my power grows!"
"Yes, yes. Bear with us for a moment, won't you? That's a good demon." Ebenezum glanced over one of the dozens of bookshelves that cluttered the room. "Ah. The very tome."
He extracted a thin brown volume from the upper shelf. 312 More Easy Banishment Spells was stamped in gold on the cover.
"Now, as I remember it…" Ebenezum paused as he leafed through the book. "In a case such as this, Wuntvor, it is important that you find just the right spell. Saves messy cleanup afterward. Ah, here's the very one!"
"Don't talk of spells, don't talk of mess, for seconds from now Guxx will bring your death!" the hideous creature cried.
"If your power grows with that rhyme," Ebenezum remarked, "there is no justice in the cosmos." The wizard cleared his throat. "At least no poetic justice."
"You make awful jokes at my expense,
But from Guxx's claws you'll have no defense!"
With that, the demon's arms burst through the sides of the silver cage.
"Back, Wuntvor!" the wizard cried.
The demon was on top of Ebenezum. It had moved faster than my eyes could follow it. Razor claws whistled as they descended on the wizard.
My master was in dire peril. I had to do something!
I jumped for the thing's back. Guxx shrugged, and I was tossed aside.
Ebenezum shouted something, and the demon was thrown across the room. The wizard staggered to his feet. His right sleeve was torn. The arm beneath was bright with blood.
" 'Twill soon be finished, come now, make haste!
A wizard's blood is to my taste!"
The demon smiled.
Ebenezum grabbed a box from the shelf behind him. He tossed the contents at the approaching Guxx. Yellow powder filled the air. And the world slowed down.
Guxx was no longer a blur. You could see the demon's every movement now as its heavily muscled form strained against whatever the yellow powder had done. I could feel the effects as well. Sitting on the edge of the conflict, it took an eternity to turn my head or blink my eyes.
Ebenezum still seemed to be moving at normal speed. His voice cried a tuneless song, and his hands wove swirling patterns upward, ever upward, like two birds seeking the sun.
The demon was moving faster. Its slow progress had become a walk.
Small points of light appeared above the wizard's hands; dancing light that described fantastic shapes as it circled the upper reaches of the room.
The demon flicked aside the great oak table. Its movement was as fast as any man's.
The wizard snapped his fingers, and light flew at the demon's head. The demon cried in pain, its claws splayed out at the open air.
"Death is coming, wizard!" it screamed. Then, a moment later, as if an afterthought: "I'll cut out your gizzard!"
"Gizzard?" The wizard reached for something in his sleeve. "Well, I suppose it's more appropriate than blizzard."
The demon leapt for the mage. And Ebenezum had pulled a short sword from the folds of his cloak.
So it would come to hand-to-hand combat. But the demon was clearly stronger than the wizard. There had to be some way I could help! I stood and almost tripped over the bucket. If only I had a sword as well!
Dagger met claws. And the claws were sheared in half.
Guxx screamed with a rage that shook the floor beneath me. The creature darted away from the wizard and swatted the air with its blunted talons. Holding the dagger before him, Ebenezum stepped toward the demon.
What was my master doing? He had virtually walked into the demon's arms. Guxx's still-taloned hand was behind the wizard now, aimed for the back of Ebenezum's head.
I had to do something. So I threw the bucket.
Bucket met talons, and the claws sliced through the wood as if it were paper. But Ebenezum whirled about as the bucket split. Dagger met claws again, and Guxx had lost all its weapons. Or so I thought before the demon opened its mouth. There were two rows of sharpened spikes where the creature's teeth should be.
It was a frightening sight. The mage backed away from the fiend's gaping maw, but Guxx was faster. The demon's deadly incisors caught Ebenezum's beard.
The wizard tried to call out a spell, but his words dribbled away as he choked in the demon's foul breath, so close to his own. Although the demon's mouth was largely occupied by beard, the corners of the fiend's lips appeared to smile. But only for an instant, for Guxx, too, must have realized the flaw in its demonic plan.
By capturing the wizard's beard, and contaminating the mage's air with its own exhalations, Guxx had put an end to Ebenezum's magicks. But since the demon's own mouth was filled with wizard hair, Guxx could not utter that final, devastating poem that would make it a victor of this sorcerous contest. The demon furrowed its immense brow, causing its incredibly tiny eyes to appear even tinier.
The combatants had reached a stalemate. But Ebenezum could not hold his own for long. Guxx's demon breath prevented not only the wizard's speech, but cut off the mage's supply of wholesome air. Ebenezum was rapidly turning a color not unlike a robin's egg, or certain pebbles I have found at river bottom. It was not a hue that particularly suited him.
If I did not act quickly, Guxx would win by default.
I looked about for a weapon, but all I could see were the broken bucket and a half dozen sheared claws. The claws! What better way to defeat a demon?
I grabbed a pair of the deadly daggers, one for each hand. The claws were the length of my longest finger.
"Take that, fiend!" I cried, plunging them toward the demon's rib cage.
The claws bounced from Guxx's stonelike skin. The demon made a deep sound, like rocks dropped down a well. After a second's hesitation, I realized it was laughter.
So it would be harder than I thought. But I must save my master! I struck again, with redoubled force.
The claws made a scratching sound this time as they slid across the demon's hide. Guxx laughed even louder. He couldn't control the laughter; tears ran out of his pinpoint eyes. Ebenezum pulled back at the fiend's mirth and managed to free a small portion of his beard.
I threw myself at the demon, both claws running up and down its fearsome rib cage. Guxx reared back its head and roared helplessly.
Ebenezum was free!
The mage shouted something, and the demon seemed to grow smaller. It grabbed at the wizard's robes with the remains of its claws. Ebenezum made a series of passes in the air, and Guxx once again turned to blue smoke, which was sucked in turn back into the pentacle from which it came.
The wizard half sat, half fell into the dirt. His beard was matted and ragged. The demon had torn fully half of it away.
"Open the windows, Wuntvor," he managed after a minute. "We need to clean the air."
I did as I was told, and the last bits of the blue cloud vanished with the breeze. That's when the wizard began to sneeze.
It was a sneezing fit, really. My master couldn't stop. He lay on the ground, sneezing over and over again. I remembered his remarks about clearing the air. Even with the windows open, the atmosphere in the study was far from wholesome. I thought I should get him outside, in the open. Which, with some difficulty, I managed to do.
His fit ended almost as soon as we were out in daylight, but it took him a moment to catch his breath.
"Never have I had such a fight," he whispered. "I was worried there for a time, Wuntvor." He shook his head. "No matter. It is over now."
Unfortunately, Ebenezum was wrong. It was only just beginning.