08 June 2015

Significant Digits, Bonus: Goblins

Significant Digits, Bonus: Goblins

1107 C.E.
Sugworn Sug, Ackle
All Acklish Gobbeldegook translated to modern vernacular English.

Haddad pounded on the door of Sugworn Sug.  He was an enormous fellow, perhaps four and a half Roman feet in height, and the thumping of his fist on the wood shook the whole door.  “Dodrod!” he called, pounding again.  “Dodrod, open up!”

After a few grains, Dodrod finally loosed the knot and shifted the bar, opening the door.  He was a smaller fellow than Haddad, but handsome as goblins reckon: short and finely-curved ears, a high nose, a dark eye, and skin like cream.  “What is it?” he asked irritably, tucking his wand away in his shirt.  He had been setting his house in order, and the interruption was annoying.  He’d already lost track of which of his will-works he’d refreshed, so now he’d have to start from the beginning, unless he wanted his bed to suddenly revert to unvarnished wood in a few days.  It was a tiresome chore, and he had to do it more often than those of greater will, and so he did not relish starting over.

“The Wizards Council has called a moot!  The human Thing is gathering in London!”  Haddad said, urgently.

Dodrod’s eyes widened as  he lurched forward, seizing at Haddad’s collar.  “You are certain?  Why do they call a gathering?  Is there war amongst them?”

The larger goblin shook his head.  “No!  Severus Hortensius has sent owls throughout the realm, crying against us!  If there is war - it is against us!”  Small sharp teeth gnashed, Haddad’s eyes were opened wide in alarm.  “Dodrod, Hortensius is calling for our wands!  He specifically summoned the Greek to the moot!”

Dodrod blanched, but shook his head.  “Ollivander would never bow to such demands!  She is a proud woman, and many owe her favors, human and sundry alike!”

“I do not have your confidence,” Haddad said, as Dodrod released his collar.  “But either way, we need to come up a plan.”

“Yes,” Dodrod said, sighing.  He stepped past Haddad, to the edge of his home platform.  “They fear us.”  He looked out over Ackle, and gestured.  “They fear this.”

In its natural configuration, stripped of all Forms, Ackle would have been a plain city.  It was large by any standard, with nearly three thousand goblins living within the mountain, but much of the true substance was harsh, indecorous metal and stone.  The underpinnings of Ackle were hewn and true-forged to be unyieldingly strong, holding buildings level to cling to the steep interior walls.  It was for safety’s sake, so that no combination of poor scheduling and weighty homes could lead to the collapse of the city.  Many goblins willed their homes into structures that were not only beautiful, but also heavy, with vaulting marble walls and diamond roofs; these homes would have broken and fallen if they were set upon anything but stone and iron supports.

But Dodrod knew that few visitors might be aware of these facts -- for why would any goblin tell them? -- and so Ackle must have looked like a place of impossible wonder.  Whirlgigs of weighted gems and gold swung in ceaseless patterns from elegant manors that glowed in the rock-sun’s light (itself a marvel of Vincian mirrors).  The narrow streets, clinging to the side of Ackle’s mountain-within-a-mountain, were solid curving surfaces of pebble-surfaced granite, shot through with beautiful whorls of starmetal.  The ceiling of native rock, the sheer drop of the vast Oubliette below the city, and a few choice pillars were the only unworked places in the whole city.

It was magic, of course, but not incomprehensible magic.  To be accorded a seat in the Urgod Ur, each grown goblin had to tend to a portion of the city, sculpting it with Forms and renewing the longevity of their work every few days.  Naturally, there was some mild competition within the Urgod Ur as a result, and so the city shone like a glittering gold lode  in the rough.  It was a living representation of the fierce goblin spirit, for goblins put themselves into whatever they created, from the heatless magma of the Jurg Hod right down to the trivial hand-forging work of Toggle Gol.

Dodrod tried to imagine Ackle without wands, or with those crude wands that the Welsh humans in the surrounding areas used.  To him it seemed like the place would be a dark and dismal underground version of Tomen y Mur: clumsy stones and that Muggle stone-wax crafted into rough buildings, all thick with smoke and anger.

Haddad spoke with a snarl, thumping his hand against the luminescent emerald of the wall of Dodrod’s home.  “Our souls go into our works -- what we make, is made of our spirit!  Would they take that from us?  Are they mad, to think we will permit it?”

“We won’t permit it,” Dodrod agreed.  “We won’t let it happen.  We will leave the fortresses of the Fey and Gwent and Hortensius himself all in ruins, first.  We will give them our wands as hot as new bronze, and quench them in wizard blood, first.  And if that fails… we will try again until those wands break in our hands, and throw the pieces at them.  We are a patient people.”


1580 C.E.
Gringotts Wizarding Bank, Diagon Alley, London

“And that is why, dearest Ug, I regret to say that we will be assuming formal proprietorship over the bank.  It has been a score of years since the intercessors began working with you and your kind, here, and so there will be no damage in the transition.  We must protect the bank -- there are representations that we must make before the Wizengamot.  While you have done a fine job, you cannot request examinations, you cannot request the body, and you cannot really function in this wider world of trade.  This isn’t just for the good of the bank, it’s for the good of your kind.”

Ug sat in stunned silence, quill in one limp hand, notes forgotten.  Years and years of meddling and greed, and now they wanted to swallow it all up, as though they had put anything of themselves into the bank?  He wanted to spit.  He wanted to vomit.

Closing his ledger, Ug licked his lips, and spoke carefully.  His mind was already racing ahead like a gol doll.  So much hung on this moment.  So unbelievably much for one unprepared Ug Sugug, Chief Goldsmith.  “You would assume title of Gringotts, as a group?  Or on behalf of the Wizards Council?”

Alba laughed like a small bell.  “Oh, on behalf of the Council, Ug!  I won’t make a Knut off of this… I’m in it just like you, working as I’m told!  Really, it’ll just be like before… you and me against them!”  She leaned over the table to slide the official documents over to him, the seal of the Wizards Council visibly moving as it melted and re-stamped itself, continually asserting its veracity.  “Each of the Grand Sorcerers has commanded, and so we must follow orders.”  She winked, and it was repulsive to Ug.

He smiled, and chuckled.  Look at me, I am in on the joke.  We’re good friends, and I am a fool who was happy to sign over half the coining-cost rights to you stub-toothed idiots.

“Well then,” Ug said.  “I will have the documents prepared.  All the rights and responsibilities, everything to be transferred to the Office of Intercession, held on behalf of the Wizards Council, yes?”  This was possible.  Many of the terms under which Gringotts operated had been established at the founding of the bank, sealed by the fires of the Goblet to be eternally binding for as long as the institution should last.  But ownership could be transferred; that was permitted.

“Yes,” Alba agreed, after a long moment.  She was not stupid, of course.  But she didn’t have the feel for Gringotts -- the true weight of the gold, the true heft of the stone, the true heat of the dragons.  The intercessors never went into the vault-catacomb.  They sat in their posh office, rightfully the office of the Chief Curse-Breaker, and argued over numbers.  But they had none of their soul in the stuff of Gringotts, and so they would never know the whole of those numbers.

“The terms will be all words and fluff, but I presume that the Office will take on all ongoing powers of enforcement, coining, curse-breaking, storage, and the like?”  Ug said, lightly.  Alba nodded, and Ug could almost see her salivate at the prospect.  Ug didn’t know what part of the fees the intercessors received, but he guessed it to be nearly one in ten.  Her share would be a fortune.

“And you will still want to employ us goblins, yes?” Ug said, and winked one black eye.  As though these half-giants would deign to work the vaults themselves.

Alba laughed.  “We couldn’t even begin to do it without you!”

True enough.

He laughed along with her.  “Then do you wish to pay stipends -- no, of course not, what if business slackened and you were left to pay the stipends of five hundred goblins on the back of a trickle of income?  Sorry, I was being stupid.  You will, I suppose, wish to simply have the same sort of terms as before, but modified?  You would take all other fees, and we would keep only the coin-fee?”

Alba folded her fingers in front of herself, and leaned forward, her face crafty.  “The terms have been half the coin-fee for the services of the Council and its intercessors, my friend, and everything else for you.  But now we’ll be doing so much more work, making the decisions, running things, and working to protect the bank in the Wizengamot.  You’ll just have to do your duties and not have worry about any of that!  I think it’s safe to say that the Council will expect all incomes, and perhaps half of the coin-fee will be allocated to you and yours.”

Ug sighed, shaking his head.  “That will be hard to bear… even these past years under our current agreement, it has been hard to stay solvent.”  Hard to bear… it’s insane.  The coin-fee might be one of our best sources of monies, but half of it wouldn’t suffice for the entire goblin staff!  That used to be the bribe they paid to these vultures, and now it would be all that was left to them?!

“I know,” Alba said, “but I can honestly say that you are so enormously clever for a goblin that I have absolute faith that you will be able to do this.  Your ideas have been marvelous, at times.”

For a goblin.  Oh, this would not do.

“Very well,” Ug said, heavily.  He opened his ledger, and wrote some nonsense for a second, then paused.  “Well, maybe this is an opportunity.”

“Yes!” Alba agreed, enthusiastically (and slightly surprised).  “You will have the chance to do all the things you never had time to do.  You always said you wanted to go back to live in Ackle, and work in the forges of your mighty stone city.  Now you can do that!”

“I meant an opportunity for all goblins, really,” Ug said, smiling in a way that entirely failed to touch his eyes.  “Maybe we should take no part of the coin-fee, either.  All fees and income would be the Council’s.”

“I’m not sure…” Alba said, uncertainly.  Doubtless she thought he was proposing that wizards run the Bank entire.  Ha!  As if they’d leave their will-work in the hands of the clipped clods!

“I mean, we can do other things than banking, as you know.  I have often thought of opening up…” Ug said, trailing off.  He interrupted himself, leaving her to wonder what fantastically successful new enterprise he was dreaming of building.  He knew that her thoughts would be of taking control of that, too, one day.  It was the way of their loathsome selves, to spread out and devour like insects.  “Never mind.  But perhaps my people could take only two parts in ten of the coin-fee?  Would that be possible?”

Alba Greengrass, who must have thought that Merlin himself was addling Ug’s mind, smiled softly.  She’d just had the Chief Goldsmith agree to keep on all the goblin staff at less than half of what she’d anticipated paying them!   “Oh, yes.  I think that would be possible.”

“We’d just want a few fees waived, in return.  No coinage fee, no storage fee?  Galleons will be tight in these initial years, as we work to start other businesses.  We’d still pay for enforcement, contracts, and all the rest.”  Ug leaned back, and began to make a list.  He wrote in a slightly larger hand than usual:


Look at all these businesses we could start.  And you can steal them, too, someday.  You can try to take our souls there, too.

Alba looked pained, though Ug had no doubt she was inwardly rejoicing.  “No fees on coin or storage?  I don’t know if I can get the Council to agree to that.”

Ug put down his pen, and clasped his hands in front of himself.  “Please, Alba?  For me -- for friendship, and all these past years working together?”

“Very well,” Alba said, nodding solemnly and severely.  “For you, I will do my best to make sure these are the terms.”

“Thank you, dearest Alba,” Ug said.  “And please, don’t hesitate to rely on us.  Should the bank ever become insolvent, let us have it on oath that goblinkind will take it on our backs, once more.”

“Of course,” she agreed.

And to hasten that time, Ug thought, hate boiling behind his grateful smile, we will devote ourselves to scouring the world for gold.  Every scrap of it will be coined and stored, and the terms of storage have been sealed by the Goblet and cannot be altered.  The cost of holding will increase year by year until it flows red over the Gringotts books, and you will pay it.  And when you cannot, we will have back what is ours.  And we will not forget.


No one knows the origin of the goblins, not even the goblins themselves.  Urg the Unclean, who would lead the fifth and greatest of the goblin rebellions in Britain between 1720 and 1722 C.E., was fond of spreading the Shikoku goblin legend of the All-Opposer, who fell from heaven on a shooting star and laid waste with his rage, rending metal like paper and turning all that fell under his gaze into sand.  The All-Opposer made goblins to be his servants and castellans, and Urg would shout in a roaring clatter of Gobbledegook that goblins had fire in their veins, and were born to greater fates than the mudwater humans.

Whatever their birth into this world, though, it is certain that goblins are patient and methodical by their very nature, and they are possessive to a fault.  Goblins usually die before their grudges do.

It was two hundred and eighty-five years before Gringotts was returned to goblinkind, in 1865 C.E., after very nearly ruining the Ministry of Magic (which had assumed control upon the demise of the Wizards Council).  Though Ug the Bloody had not known the term of demurrage, his people used it as a far-sighted weapon over the course of two and a half centuries, mounting the vaults of the bank high with gold that had to be guarded with proportionate precautions under the terms of the founding, an unbreakable necessity enforced by the Goblet of Fire.  Costs grew incrementally with every passing year, and the wizards never could discern how the wealth seemed to be draining from them.

And other goblins waged war after war against witches and wizards.  Twice over the course of a thousand years, they founded and sacrificed new communities of their kind on the altar of their ancient enmity.  In the seventeenth century, Crad the Callow led the Curdish separatists of Caislean-i-Cahaenn in three separate and bloody rebellions, before they were entirely wiped out, while Urg the Unclean swore ceaseless violence against all of humanity at the head of his independent Togrod Teulu in the eighteenth century.

If you cannot win and you refuse to lose, then impose costs.

After they lost the power of Transfiguration, forgotten when their wands were stripped away, the goblins found solace in device-making.  They made great and terrible works, and their patience and care let them create items of unparalleled power.  Goblins believe, perhaps correctly, that part of your soul goes into that which you create.  You own it, ever after.  Only such passion can create weapons such as the Sword of Ragnuk, which remains the most potent blade in existence (for it is not made of steel, but of the Form of war itself).  Only such hate can make the Arch of Ulak Unconquered, the most perfect prison ever devised.

Knowing what we know, there is a question.

You have been for a long time in the darkest of woods, hounded by wolves and torn by thorns.  For years, you have made your bed on rough boughs and breakfasted on bitter herbs.  There has been no light, and you have suffered.  You are made of patient anger, slow-burning but hot, and those coals are your only warmth.

Then ahead, there is a break in the darkness.  Between one heartbeat and the next, you step out into the day, blinking in the cool bright morning.  You are free.  In an instant, you are made whole.

Will you forget?

Must she then buy no more such dainty fruit?
Must she no more such succous pasture find,
Gone deaf and blind?
Her tree of life droop’d from the root:
She said not one word in her heart’s sore ache;
But peering thro’ the dimness, nought discerning,
Trudg’d home, her pitcher dripping all the way;
So crept to bed, and lay
Silent till Lizzie slept;
Then sat up in a passionate yearning,
And gnash’d her teeth for baulk’d desire, and wept
As if her heart would break.

      -- Christina Rossetti

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