Trandelomacus heard a commotion outside his prison door. He stepped away from his balcony, and the idyllic view of the rolling hills and lazy sheep on a fine summer’s day, and sighed. Outside the door, he heard the dull jangle of heavy keys accented by the pitched squawking of angry politicians.
The iron-bound wooden door lumbered open with a groan. There was Hubert, the one soldier in town and his jailer and constant companion – and behind him was a crowd of aldermen. They were red-faced and growling, all struggling to fit through the doorway at the same time. Enough of them shoved at once and the tide of flesh spilled into Trandelomacus’ humble foyer.
“Gentlemen,” he said, tugging at his long, white beard. “And ladies,” he added, spotting the Miller sisters stepping into the room. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
The aldermen rose from the floor with grunts and growls, and dusted themselves off. Two of the younger ones helped Grandfather Morroway to his feet, who was well known to be the wisest by virtue of being the oldest.
He sneezed when they set him on his feet and adjusted his glasses, and then he looked at the others, and they looked at him, and everyone looked at everyone other than Trandelomacus.
“Shall I put some tea on then?” Trandelomacus asked. “I’m afraid though, I may not have enough cups for everyone. Nor, for that matter, any tea. Or a stove. What with,” he waved his arms around the cramped, bare chambers, “my prison and all. I do believe it’s nearly lunch though, so… Hubert, would you be a dear and bring an extra portion of slop for my guests?”
“Ah, that won’t be necessary,” said Grandfather Morroway. “This isn’t a social call.”
“No, of course not,” said Trandelomacus. “Can’t say I get too many of those, what with,” again he motioned his bare stone walls, pile-of-hay-for-a-bed, and leaky bucket that served as a toilet, “being a prisoner and all.”
“Er,” said Grandfather Morroway, “municipal ordnance 17-B stipulates this is a retirement, not a prison.”
“A forced retirement.”
“All the same.” The words put the conversation in an awkward spot, and Grandfather Morroway cleared his throat. “Er, anyway, regarding that social call situation…”
“Well, the council has decided it’s cruel to keep you locked up here without anyone for company–”
“–Oh, but I have Hubert and his sunny disposition–”
“–all the same. So, anyway, we’ve decided to grant you, kind of like a, let’s call it, communal visiting pass.”
Trandelomacus arched a bushy eyebrow. “A communal visiting pass?”
“Yeah. Like, you’ll get to visit the community for a bit – escorted of course – catch up, see things on the outside, yadda yadda, and then back in the hole. Home. Back home.”
“Hmm.” Trandelomacus crossed his arms. “Something broke, didn’t it? You need my help.”
“We most certainly do not!” said Grandfather Morroway, at the same time Lurlene Miller said, “The river’s flooding.”
Grandfather Morroway glared at her, then harrumphed. “Let’s go!” And the lot of them descended the prison tower and approached the banks of the Fetterwild River. Or rather, the new banks, as the river had more than quadrupled in width and showed no signs of slowing its growth.
A crowd of other townspeople were already there waiting for them, grumbling about the rising water and the price of turnips. Mud-smeared children made faces at each other, and their shifty-eyed elders gossiped daggers. When they saw the aldermen and Trandelomacus arriving, they all made some sort of hand sign and recoiled from him. Or rather, each of them made a hand sign, but none of the signs were the same, and they all looked bizarre and unpracticed. Perhaps they were meant to ward off the evil eye, but Trandelomacus couldn’t possibly tell, and it had been years since he’d given anyone the evil eye.
When the waters inched forward and swept over Trandelomacus’ thin sandals, he swore. “Bloody hell.” He looked at the rushing river and a hush fell over the crowd. “Morroway!”
“That’s Grandfather to you. Or Alderman.”
“Where’s the dike?” Trandelomacus asked.
“The what?” asked Thormelina the baker, covering her snot encrusted child’s ears.
“The dike! The dike! You know, the big strip of dirt? That I put here? To keep the river from flooding the town?” They stared at him with slack jaws. “The dike, damn it!” They winced when he stomped his foot.
“Oh, the dike,” said Lester Platt, picking his teeth with a knife. “We got rid of it.”
“You what!?” asked Trandelomacus. “Why?”
“Well, it was an eyesore,” said Lester. “A big pile of dirt just lying there? It was making the skyline all ugly. Driving down the price of my hovel.”
“But you don’t live anywhere near the river!”
“Well, no, of course not. Wouldn’t nobody move here with that unsightly dirt staring us in the face.”
Trandelomacus pinched the bridge of his nose. “The dike was there to keep your hovels from being flooded. Do you understand that? Now there’s nothing stopping the river from coming this way and washing the town away.” To emphasize his point he took a couple splashing steps away from the river, as it had risen nearly half an inch since he got there.
“All the same,” said Grandfather Morroway. “Fix it.”
Trandelomacus rolled his eyes. “‘Fix it,’ he says,” he muttered. He placed his hands on his hips and frowned at the river again. It was swollen and getting bigger, but it wasn’t aggressive. Not yet. Even though the bumpkins cut it pretty close in fetching him, they should still have time.
“Okay,” he said. “I’m going to need my wand.”
The crowd gasped.
“Ha!” said Grandfather Morroway. “Not a chance in all the hells. There’s children here – you think we’d let you play with your wand, wizard?”
“But, I need it.”
“Nice try, sorcerous snake, but it ain’t gonna happen. There’ll be no witchery from you.”
Trandelomacus grit his teeth. “How am I supposed to fix the river without my wand?”
Grandfather Morroway stepped closer. “I know,” he whispered conspiratorially, “it looks pretty dire. But the town would never agree to giving you your wand back. My hands are tied. I wish it were different, but it ain’t.”
“Then why am I here? You know as well as anyone else that I can’t magic this problem away without my wand.”
“Yes, yes, I know. Frankly, the whole situation looks pretty bleak, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, it does. The town’s going to get washed away.”
“Yeah, that’s what I figured. So, you’re mostly here so that they have someone to blame that isn’t me.”
Trandelomacus recoiled, as though slapped, and Grandfather Morroway shrugged.
“Fix it!” shouted Lester. “Fix it!” the others joined in, and soon the whole mob was shouting. For whatever reason, their unruly children got to throwing mud, and soon everyone was shouting “Fix it!” all covered in mud.
“All right!” Trandelomacus bellowed. “All right!” The mob quieted down, and he wiped mud from his face. “I’ll fix it.”
“You better,” said Thormelina, pouting. “It’s ‘cause your stupid dike broke we’re in this mess.”
Trandelomacus snorted. “It didn’t break, you broke it–never mind. Never mind. I need a moment to think.” He started pacing up and down the dwindling river side, massaging his temples, and everyone watched him. Finally he raised a finger into the air. “I’ve got it! Sandbags!”
“What’s that then?” said Albert, the town’s foremost-and-only sand collector. “Some kind of witch-slang?”
“Witch what? No, it’s sand, in bags. Sandbags.”
“Oh,” said Albert. “Sand-in-bags. Why didn’t you say so?”
“I–yes. Sand-in-bags. That’s what I meant. I need sand-in-bags. Lots of them. Enough for everyone and then some.”
“What are you going to do with them?” said Thormelina. “It’s not some kind of magickery, is it?”
“Just the magic of community.”
The crowd screamed.
“No no no no no, sorry!” Trandelomacus said. “I didn’t mean that! Poor choice of words.” The crowd caught their breath and calmed down. “It was just a metaphor.”
Again they screamed.
“Oh, please stop! What I really meant is, it’s honest, back-breaking drudgery.”
The crowd murmured their approval.
Trandelomacus rolled his eyes. “So, I’m going to need everyone to be involved in this. Head back to town, grab as many sand-in-bags as you can, and bring them back here. Stow them on carts and wagons, load them onto beasts of burden, hold them in your hands – whatever it takes.”
“What are you going to do with them?” asked Thormelina.
“We’re going to build a wall of sand-in-bags, to keep the river from flowing into the town.” He looked around and saw a dip in the countryside, which would be the natural path of the water. Maybe, just maybe, they could wall it off in time. Maybe it would hold. He pointed to it. “There.”
Albert’s eyes narrowed. “And just where do you plan on getting all these sand-in-bags?”
“Well, from you, Albert.”
“Ho-ho!” Albert laughed cruelly. “Fat chance, necromancer.”
“Oh, come on. That’s a slur.”
“You’re not getting any of my sand wet.”
“Well, okay,” said Trandelomacus. “But then the river will flood the town. And then it will flood your home. And your sand will get wet.”
“Oh. Damn it. Fine.”
That matter being settled, Trandelomacus led everyone back to their homes where they began in-bagging the sand and loading up the bags onto whatever conveyances they had. Any available wagon and cart was conscripted, as well as a fair number of wheelbarrows, sleds, and sleighs. Every horse, donkey, and dog was loaded up. The Crandlehart triplets even filled a boat with the bags, which was ultimately unhelpful, but their heart was in the right place.
“You really think this’ll work?” Grandfather Morroway asked.
“Well, if we had a bit more time,” Trandelomacus said, his words trailing off. Everyone was pitching in, but they were all working independently and at different paces.
“We don’t really have time, do we?”
Trandelomacus frowned. There were ways of organizing labour, of synchronizing a group of people and keeping them united in deed and spirit. A song was what they needed. He grabbed a bag of sand and sung the first few notes of Hang Ye The Witch This Eve, and after a moment of stunned silence, the whole mob joined in.
It was then that Trandelomacus realized pretty much all the town songs involved hanging wizards and such, but it no longer mattered. The music took on a life of its own, driving the townsfolk to work diligently and together. They loaded the sand-in-bags up and drove them to the spot he had identified, and began sand-in-bagging, effortlessly moving from one song to the next. As the day turned to night and the fading sun gave way to distant starlight and sputtering torches, the dour faces of the locals transformed, and glowed with a sweaty sheen and hard won grins.
By morning their wall was nearly the height of Albert, and thrice as thick, but on their side it was dry, while on the other side the water came almost to the top. And then, the Crandlehart triplets noticed it stopped rising.
“We did it!” they shouted, and soon the whole town raised the cry with them. And just in time. People were dead on their feet. They sat down wherever they were standing, and basked in the good work they had all done together. The Festers, who ran the local inn, rolled in a giant pot of soup, and everyone voraciously shared a meal they would never forget.
“I don’t believe it,” said Grandfather Morroway. “You actually pulled it off.”
“We pulled it off,” Trandelomacus said, and the town cheered.
Grandfather Morroway grunted. “True, I suppose. It can’t be denied, even. Maybe we were wrong about you.”
“Maybe not all wizards are vile,” said Thormelina.
“Maybe sometimes they have okay ideas, I guess,” said Lester.
Trandelomacus stood tall – or as tall as he could, with an aching back that he would feel for the next week. It had been fun though, he had to admit to himself, and more to the point, it had been necessary. It was nice to be needed again.
Grandfather Morroway conversed with the other aldermen, and then cleared his throat.
“It has been decided,” he bellowed. “For your services to the town in our time of need, the council of aldermen has decided that your sentence shall be overturned.”
The crowd cheered, and Trandelomacus felt a swell of emotion in his breast.
“All the same,” said Grandfather Morroway, “we hereby find you guilty of ensorcelling the town with the dread magic of community, and sentence you to ten consecutive lifetimes’ imprisonment.”
The crowd cheered louder. Trandelomacus… shrugged. Wasn’t the first time that happened.
They dragged him back to his tower, where Hubert handed him a fresh bowl of slop.
“Thanks for your help,” said Grandfather Morroway.
“’Till next catastrophe,” said Trandelomacus, as Grandfather Morroway shut the door.
“Yeah, see you next week,” came the old man’s voice from behind the door.
Trandelomacus walked to his balcony, enjoyed a spoonful of slop, and looked out over the countryside. He saw their sand-in-bag wall, saw the shimmering river in all its massive glory, and saw that most people had gone back to town. But there by the wall was Albert. Busy tugging at a bag. Busy, no doubt, trying to save his beloved sand.
Trandelomacus took another spoonful of slop just as Albert tugged a bag loose. Then the wall collapsed and a torrent of water swept him away, surging towards the town.
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This chord struck a resonant chord with me, Michal I'm a former prisoner with artistic ambitions, and I've been stuck wanting to reach my artistic goals with delusional "wizardry" that include ending up incarcerated again - instead of going about it the way Trandelomacus does here: by building community and encouraging hard work. Perhaps a little more information than you wanted to know (or maybe not enough?), but thanks for this tale that served as an instructional allegory. I'll opt for hard work and community...I just don't want an Al...
Yeah, Albert… some people seem compelled to sabotage themselves, perhaps through short-sightedness or lack of imagination, and there's often fallout for the rest of us. Nah, not too much information. What I like about writing (the medium) is, it's so accesible. It can give pretty much anyone a voice, with a bit of work, and in my experience these voices are great for learning about the world and developing empathy - which seems to be something we could use more of. Trandelomacus doesn't have much of a choice here, so he does what he can...
Nice metaphorical story. I see an engineer making the next amazing Apple product before being shuffled off back to the lab. Loved some of the humor..."grumbling about the rising water and the price of turnips" "you think we'd let you play with your wand" Ending theme, a village is as weak as its more selfishing member, or a dyke is as strong as its weakest sand bag.
Both good themes :) The engineer thing is a good observation too. I think I've done that a couple times now. Wonder if the day job is bleeding into fiction :P Thanks for the feedback!
Laughed out loud a few times on the bus especially when the baker covered her child’s ears. The stupidity of the townsfolk was very funny.
Thanks, Linton! Always glad to hear about a laugh :D
I found the story a bit too slow, and there were repetitions in the dialogue, bit I will follow you, and read some more, great job for having 41 submissions.
Thanks, Elena :) I appreciate the feedback! Definitely good to know if things slowed down too much, or if there was too much repetition in the dialogue. These are things I can keep an eye on in the future.
Lovely story, this read like a fond old fairy-tale. The moment where they freed him and immediately sentenced him again was pretty hilarious!
Heh, thanks! Glad the humour worked out; definitely the goal :) I've always been partial to the simultaneous win/loss. Well, not so much in life, but in fiction sure. If fiction characters ever come to life, I think that'll be the end of writers :)
Michal, A bit late in catching up on reading this week. I already see many comments and suggestions over here. So anymore from me would be irrelevant but for the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this.
Never irrelevant :) Thanks for dropping by and reading, Suma!
Absolutely loved this. An amusing and poignant take on humanity's depressing tendency to bite the hand that feeds it. Trendelomacus's resigned/ carefree attitude is excellent, while the townsfolk's aggressive ignorance is all too believable. Excellent work, as usual!
Thanks, Daniel! "aggressive ignorance" I like that. And I hate it :) I appreciate the feedback!
Thoroughly enjoyed the story, loved the dialogue between Trandelomacus and the members of the community. I love that despite they're seemingly unnatural fear of Trandelomacus, they overlooked their biggest danger which was themselves. Trandelomacus shrugging at the fact of reimprisonment makes me think he realized life was far simpler locked away.
Thanks, Phineas! Yeah, the tower might offer some benefits. At least he'll be dry :) I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I appreciate the feedback!
This was a great read! The mob mentality, the tendency of societies to self-sabotage, cancel culture... all universal and not new at all!
Thanks! Yeah, history really does keep repeating, doesn't it? We live in different times and put on different hats, but all the daily dramas are familiar everywhere/everywhen.
Good story! Though there wasn't much fantasy in this fantastic story. The only magic the wizard used was conjuring a wall of sand through the 'magic' of community and the 'spell' of music. And the only Monster was of selfishness and stupidity - unfortunately stronger than his magic- breaking the wall and potentially flooding the town. If it was truly fantasy- they would have all listened and honored the genius among them!
Heh, that observation is both funny and sad :) Yeah, it occurred to me after the fact that there were no real fantastical elements to this, other than the claim Trandelomacus was allegedly a wizard. Still, I like the idea of taking someone's tools away and throwing them to the sharks. Good place for a character to be. Thanks for the feedback!
A highly imaginative story Michael. I liked your subject matter and the way you approached it. What idiots those towns people were. I was hoping he’d be allowed back into the community. No doubt he would have ‘transgressed’ again in some way in their eyes and been thrown back in prison. A good twist at the end too.
Thanks, Helen! Yeah, I suspect you're right. It's rough when the deck is stacked against you, but it looks like Trandelomacus has adapted.
I was looking forward to reading something for this prompt, and I’m excited that you wrote for it—you always have such interesting stories. [Trandelomacus recoiled, as though slapped, and Grandfather Morroway shrugged.] I think this would read better without the second comma. [“What are you going to do with them?” said Thormelina. “It’s not some kind of magickery, is it?” “Just the magic of community.” The crowd screamed.] I laughed out loud here. [Trandelomacus frowned. There were ways of organizing labour, of synchronizing a grou...
Thanks so much! Yeah, it occurred to me near the end - he lives in a tower, so if they're hell bent on flooding themselves, at least he'll have a dry spot. Thanks for pointing out that comma! I think sometimes I go overboard with them. They've already approved this story, but it's something I'll keep in mind going forward. I appreciate the feedback :)
This was super cool! I loved the tone and the descriptions you added! I always love a good fantasy:)
Thanks! I was meaning to write another fantasy for a while, and it worked out this week. I'm glad you enjoyed it!
I enjoyed this, while marveling at your skill of taking your readers into another world so dang completely - through language, setting - what a voice you have! Anyway, my take on this piece is its complete package - entertainment, realism (names, places, foundation) and what fun the outcome. I kinda think it's brilliant.
One more thing - I had to look up "necromancer" and did. That is a decent gauge for how entrenched I was in the journey you took us on. And, look at that, I learned something! Thank you for that!
Thank you, Susan! I've been looking to do a fantasy story for a while - though I guess in this case, the wizard isn't allowed any actual wizarding :) The prompts also brought to mind the last major flood we had here ('97? '98?), so that influenced things too, but thankfully we didn't have any Alberts.
A delightful story that captures so well the disrespect people can have for talent and ability, all while depending upon those abilities. I love the framing of those skills as magic to be feared. While it is true that some people currently have developed a belief in, and fear of, magic, it is equally true that talent and skill so often is - oddly - dismissed as magic as opposed to the result of years of training, practice, or effort.
Thanks, Laurel! Yes, it's odd, but people do seem to discount the work that goes into skill, instead venerating some mythical "natural talent". Not to say there aren't natural aptitudes, but practiced skill plays a tremendous role. I remember reading something on the subject once, though I don't recall where - it might have been Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck - where it postulated that many people have a need for bigger-than-life heroes. That it's somehow comforting to look up to people who are just born better, and it's somehow unpleasant to ...
Shades of 'Inside Man' permeate this story. Trandelomacus the wizard seems to be more feared than any natural disaster, which seems about right when dealing with people who are afraid to get sand wet and who see a dyke as an eyesore. Maybe this is more like 'Idiocracy.' LOL Fascinating tale, Michal. Trandelomacus needs more tales about him; he is intriguing. Thanks for the fun tale and the aphorisms. Great stuff.
Thanks, Delbert! I haven't actually seen Idiocracy, but from what I've read, sounds a bit like a documentary :) Lots of short-sightedness going around, it seems. Makes me wonder where my blind spots are. Thanks for the feedback!
I agree with the idiocracy reference. That film was accurate enough before the rise of social media, now it’s far too close to reality. Michael’s story really shows by way of parody how ungrateful people can be for the help they really need.
Michał - You do the Pseudo-Medieval descriptions so well… always vivid and entertaining! And this one’s just full of rampant human nature. Trandelomacus is a great whimsical name. Poor fellow - he can’t help but help these people, even though he surely knows they will mess up again. Using a historical-type setting is great for the “History repeats itself” cycle, too. Some favorites: “And ladies,” he added, spotting the Miller sisters stepping into the room. Repeated references to sand-in-bags “Hmm.” Trandelomacus crossed his arms. “So...
Thanks, Cindy! Nothing weird about that :) Some people have the good fortune of finding work they like doing and find meaningful. Considering how big a role work plays in our lives, I think that's a cause for celebration. And yeah, there's absolutely Alberts out there too. So it goes :)
Oh no, god damnit, Albert! This is a story of unappreciation and how others use people to get what they want. At least that's how the grandfather and community come off. But Trandelomacus (killer name btw, right up there with Bev) represents selflessness, and doing good despite the reward (or in this case punishment, since he obviously expected not to be released from his "retirement"). While this story clearly takes place in the past, it's sad that we still see this kind of condemnation in society today. I suppose it's one of our more h...
Yeah, I think you got it :) We take advantage of what others can do for us, even if we don't really understand it, or in some cases, don't trust the people doing the work. It seems like there's been a lot of criticism of experts these past few years (or maybe it's decades?). On the other hand, some people need to feel needed, so maybe in a weird, dysfunctional way, the system works. At least for some definition of works. I'm reminded of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers going in for their shifts through a group of protestors,...
Still laughing over that last line! First off, I'd love to know Trandelomacus' backstory! He's such an intriguing character; what exactly did he do to merit being put in jail and where did he learn magic? I love the descriptions of the townspeople as well ("snot encrusted child’s ears"). Moving deeper, your portrayal of humanity is most definitely not flattering, but it is realistic. There's always someone like Albert who's willing to sacrifice the well-being of others for selfish desires. Humans are so scared of those different from us; T...
Yeah, I think you nailed all the points :) Maybe it is an unflattering view, true. Maybe I've spent too much time reading the news the past few years :) While certainly some people are like this, it's also not true all the time. I don't actually know how Trandelomacus originally ended up in the tower. Perhaps it was small minded bigotry, but perhaps it was actually deserved too. After all, he's a person too, and maybe in the beginning he let his self-perceived superiority go to his head. And then, it became politically expedient keeping hi...
Great story, Michal.
Thank you, L M! I'm glad you enjoyed it :)