I know my work is spotty, but here’s a chapter of something I’m working on.
Chapter 18: Requiem for a Poisoned Chalice
Edmund neither desired to be tested, nor looked forward to whatever challenge was set before him. He didn’t avoid challenge in what he thought of as his ‘real’ life of not being tormented by fairyland. This was getting beyond what he thought of as ‘acceptable’. He wanted his real life with his family and his school and his own bed and not the couch of some fairy godmother in between charity cases.
He sighed. He shouldn’t be ungrateful, the food had delighted him. Her protection of his siblings saved their lives. That little fairy had healed his feet and not even tried to put him into a Faustian bargain. He pushed away the negative thoughts and focused. A task awaited him.
He considered the grey fog he walked through, and wondered whether he passed any of his siblings struggling with their combatants. As much as it bothered him, Jack was a goner. Probably eaten by trolls, or stepped on by a giant. In fact, the amount of things that could happen kept dancing through his mind. Mika was being served rotisserie style. Richard probably was getting gored by some mystical beast in an ironic twist for the hunter. Lucy running for her life in some hellish race. Susan facing, likely, the ghosts of the past and Peter stuck in some contest against that giant minotaur. Maybe one of them had cursed shoes and was dancing for a hundred years in a cursed masque ball, if they were lucky.
The fog cleared a little, and he could see a squat form, like a toad, sitting at a table. As things became clearer, the form turned into a full toad. No, it changed to be a toad like elf. The fat thing squatted before a sumptuously laid out table. Framed by sweet meats, fruits of all climes, and overflowing bowls of candies, a lazy susan slowly spun in the center, with a pair of goblets and a flagon on top of it. The goblets were covered in beaten red gold, with gems and platinum filigree. The flagon seemed to be made of moonstone or quartz, for it glimmered in strange ways. Through the nearly glass-like quality of the minerals, Edmund could see crimson liquid sloshing within, as the toad-like elf idly fiddled with the lazy susan.
The face of the thing flopped and expanded as the ugly thing breathed. It took in an immense breath, and expanded to twice his height and width. Then, like a balloon collapsing, it spoke to him, each syllable ruffled Edmund’s hair and flapped his collar. The smell singed Edmund’s nose hairs, causing him to flinch. In every way, it looked like a toad in human form.
“Well! Look who’s here! One of the children, first in a very long while, pity under less than magical conditions.” The greenish elf leaned down, and whispered conspiratorially, which means he merely spoke loudly, not shouted. The smell got worse. “I’m more traditional than the rest the nobles here. And I like playing these things traditionally, you see!”
He paused, and leaned back, hand playing over the goblets and the flagon. Edmund said, “I see you’ve set out food and drink. Two goblets. Is one poisoned? The poisoned chalice gambit is considered a classic in our side of things!”
“Ho ho!” And with that laugh, Edmund fell on his behind from the breeze. Despite the foetid smell, Edmund felt that his flattery had been the right call. “I’m so glad you recognized it! But the poison is much more subtle! Death isn’t as fun for our kind as a hundred year sleep! You don’t know how funny it is to see them wake up and everything is different and unknown. They run around, grabbing people and shaking them.” The toad mimicked the panic of a man out of his own time. “Oh no! What’s going on? What’s happening? What are these clothes? What is that thing flying in the sky!? I don’t know what memes are! I can’t understand you!” The elf laughed and laughed.
Edmund laughed in kind. Partly, the toad-like elf was so ridiculous that Edmund couldn’t help himself, but also, the laughter was infectious. Too infectious. Edmund kept laughing, but carefully now, reading the motions and the table. The lazy susan still turned slowly under the almost careless fingers of the elf. “My name is Numenoad, and I rule all the pools from what you call Oregon down to the foot hills of El Dorado. I want you to know that you’re not fighting some… TOADY!” And the two of them laughed for a good moment.
“I’m glad for your consideration! A hundred year sleep sounds awful, and I can’t let down my siblings like that. Hm, any news of them so far?”
Numenoad gained a sly look. “Have you got a toad pun or a joke for me?”
Edmund made a great show of thinking one up. He ‘hummed’ and ‘hawed. He scratched his chin and rubbed his neck. “Weeeeellll now…” Numenoad leaned forward in anticipation. “Do you accept rhymes?” Numenoad grinned but shook his head. “Sad. Well, I’m glad I’m not going to… croak.”
Numenoad’s giant, bulbous eyes widened. “Rough, but serviceable! Clearly, you aren’t a wordsmith. Ah well, the time of bards is long gone and the next one to come is quite a bit of a hop away! What did I expect? If you win, I’ll be happy to tell you who needs the most help.” Edmund nodded.
The thick, mucus covered fingers stopped the lazy susan. “Feel free to pour the wine!” Edmund looked at the flagon askance. Numenoad laughed, again nearly falling from his perch, so greatly did he rock in his seat. “I don’t blame you for that, this is a battle of wits! Over a hundred years ago, I poisoned the handle of the flagon. I almost think it unfair, you being a tadpole compared to me… but I haven’t done this in a long time.” The webbed hands lifted the gem-like flagon and poured the wine. Edmund could smell the strong alcohol in it.
Edmund began to talk. “I can’t smell any difference. I think you played this straight. If you were doing this every day, to fight the boredom, you’d switch it up. I wonder if you even know which one it is? You’ve been sitting here a long time, you could have lost track.”
Numenoad pointed to one of them. The goblets were identical in all points, as were the two portions of wine. “This is the goblet with the ‘poison’.”
Edmund flinched. He didn’t expect this. “You could be lying. But I’ve read some fairies can’t lie.” The goblet on the right didn’t look any different. If they just pooled the poison at the bottom of the cup, he wouldn’t be able to see it.
“I can. I’m not so proud. And besides, this is my favorite game! Games have special rules about such things! It gets me hopping excited!” The squat elf let out a ‘ribbit’. “Pardon.”
Edmund continued to think. There’s always a trick to this. It could be a simple misdirection. It could actually be the goblet with the poison. It could be that he pointed to that one so that he would suspect it. The wine itself could be poisoned, but Edmund did not want to test it, just in case. He didn’t have any of Susan’s or his mother’s draughts or anything from Grandma Goodness’ house that might come in handy all of a sudden. He could literally go down infinite possibilities of the two options, based on how far Numenoad had thought it, and Edmund would bet any amount of money that he had the perfect strategies.
He went over his options. He couldn’t flip the table, that would probably end poorly for him. He could just grab the goblet, or the opposite goblet and risk it. He could… do something else.
“You know, this reminds me of some jokes. How about this? I’ll choose after three jokes.”
Numenoad laughed, but he placed his hands over his mouth. He did his best to cover up his fits of giggles. His eyes became mere slits as he sought to control himself. “Alright alright! But I’m going to warn you, I’m heard some real croakers in my day!”
“So, this is a favorite of my joke books: A cowboy lost his favorite book while on the range. One day he looks down and a toad has it in his mouth. He takes it up in surprise. He shouts, ‘It’s a miracle!’ The toad replies, ‘Not really, your name is on the cover.’” Numenoad guffawed, just once.
“Another one: A man goes to the movies. He looks around, and sees that there’s a toad besides him. He says to himself ‘I didn’t think toads went to the movies. How weird.’ The toad replies. ‘It’s not so weird, the book was great!’” Numenoad began to giggle, the air sacks on his back expanded and deflated rapidly.
“Last one! Then we choose! An old man goes out fishing. After a while he hears a voice say, ‘Pick me up!’ Well he doesn’t see anyone so he thinks he just dreamed it up. Then, he hears the voice again. ‘Pick me up!’ He looks around and sees a toad on the pier next to him. ‘Are you talking to me?’ He says. The toad replies, “Yep! I’m talking to you. Pick me up and kiss me and I’ll turn into the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen. You’ll have me as your bride and every one of your friends will be jealous.’ The man looked at the toad and thought about it for a few minutes, then, he put the toad in his front pocket. The toad screamed, “What, are you nuts? Didn’t you hear me? I said kiss me and I will be your beautiful bride!’ It was getting ‘hopping’ mad! The old man looked down at the toad and said, ‘Nah, at my age I’d rather have a talking toad!’”
Numenoad opened his mouth wide in a great “HA!” And just at that second, quick as lightning, Edmund grasped both goblets and splashed them into Numenoad’s wide open mouth!
The toad-like elf gasped and swallowed in surprise. “Well that’s never been done before. They try to spill it, not drink it, hide it… well. Good game! Ha ha ha ha!” Numenoad began to sway and his immense eyes drooped.
Edmund rushed over and cradled him as he fell over. “Wait! Your promise! Tell me if any of my siblings are in danger, and where I can find them!”
Numenoad pointed into the fog that still surrounded them. “There, you will find a younger sister in dire need of help. She is at the gate of the giant’s spice rack. She is not in mortal danger, if she gets help soon.” Numenoad giggled as he drifted off. “I should have defined the rules better. I’ll remember that for the next one. But a good game of the poison chalice involves turning it on its head, after all! You’re pretty good, kid!” And with that, Numenoad began his one hundred year sleep.
Edmund laid him down respectfully and ran into the fog as fast as he could.