“I don’t see why the wizards can’t just vanish all this stuff,” Glorigat said. “You know, magic and all.”
Brobin rolled his eyes. The young dwarf was new, you could tell that from the beard. He still braided his beard. After years of cleaning up after wizards, you stop worrying whether your beard was braided. Not that Brobin’s wife understood that. For fifteen years now, every morning, “Aren’t you going to braid your beard?” For fifteen years he said, “Woman, I work in the garbage. Do I look like I need to worry about braiding my beard?” But she kept at it.
“Course not, that’s the first rule of magic,” Brobin said, just like he had told generations of trainees. “Can’t create or destroy matter, it’s just physics.”
“Hm,” Glorigat said. He squatted down and lifted a chunk of rubble from one of the destroyed buildings. The griffin had done a number on the student center. “How is it they can create beasties like this one then?”
“You’re giving them too much credit,” Brobin said, “They didn’t create that beastie, they summoned him. Plucked him right out of his home into some wizard lab. And when they catch the escaped ones they send them right back.” Brobin had complained numerous times about summoning of wild animals, especially ones that made messes like this, but the Dean of Conjuration was adamant that it was an important part of the curriculum.
“Huh.” Glorigat tipped the rubble into the garbage cart. “Why can’t they just send the garbage somewhere else then?”
Brobin thought for a second. “Because then someone else would have to deal with it. They can’t just push their messes off on somebody else.”
He picked up one of the heavier pieces of rubble, stood on his toes, and rolled it into the cart. Fifteen years now he had worked for the university and they still wouldn’t get him a dwarf-sized garbage cart.
Glorigat wrinkled his face in thought, a look Brobin recognized in the new folks before they learned to accept things weren’t going to change. He gathered loose pamphlets that the griffin had scattered when he crushed the information kiosk.
Brobin picked up a flier, which warned in large letters about the evil wizard Sorloc. It seemed like evil wizardry was just as popular as regular wizardry; they attacked the college almost as often as summoned monsters.
Brobin crumpled the flier and tossed it in the cart. He looked back at Glorigat, who still had the same expression on his face as he dumped his pile of papers there as well. “You’re thinking of something,” Brobin said, “Spit it out.” He was a strong believer that it wasn’t healthy to keep so many thoughts in your head at once. That’s what the wizards did, and he had never seen a wizard with blood in their faces or meat on their bones.
“It’s just, isn’t that what they do already?” Glorigat said. “They’re pushing their messes off on us, we didn’t make them.”
Having cleaned up most of the destruction, Brobin and Glorigat climbed into the front seats of the cart. Brobin patted Old Maisie, the mule, on the rear. She trudged along toward the dumping site.
“Well sure,” Brobin said, “But what can we do about it?”
Glorigat shrugged. “We could strike.”
“Sure,” he said. “Guilds do it all the time. It seems every other week a different guild is striking. Merchants’ guild, bakers’ guild, thieves’ guild…”
“Thieves’ guild?” Brobin said. “Why do they need a guild for thieving?”
“For thieving proper-like,” Glorigat said, “under safe and stable working conditions. You don’t know about the thieves’ guild?”
“I pay attention to my business,” Brobin said, “and that ain’t thieving.” He scratched his scraggly beard. “We’re not a guild though.”
“Sure we are,” he said, “We’re the garbage-dwarves’ guild. I just said so.”
Brobin slowed the cart to a stop. “You ever striked before?”
“Sure,” Glorigat said, puffing his chest proudly. Then he deflated. “That’s why I’m a garbage-dwarf.”
“They kicked you out?”
“But it’s okay, I was alone last time.”
“Right,” Brobin said, “now we got, whatsit…”
“ — Solidarity.”
The next day, Brobin showed up with his beard braided. He also brought a list of everything he had asked for over the years: an end to monster summoning, a dwarf-sized cart, and a few others he could be talked down from.
Glorigat showed up with a cask of ale and two mugs. “Mum’s own,” he said, pouring a mug for himself and Brobin as they rested in the back of the garbage cart and surveyed the damage.
Sorloc the evil wizard had attacked sometime in the early hours, and the wizards of the university had fought him off. If anything, wizard battles were worse than beasties because of how unpredictable magic was. Brobin looked over his mug at the remains of the information kiosk, which had been transmogrified into a pile of pork chops.
From across the courtyard, the Dean of Thaumaturgy stomped toward the cart in a fury, his starry robe flapping behind him. He stomped around the pile of pork chops and planted himself in front of the cart, fuming over the tiny spectacles that sat on the end of his nose. He gestured vaguely everywhere. “Well?”
Glorigat took a swill of ale. “No can do. We’re on strike.”
Brobin handed the dean the list of demands.
“These are ridiculous,” the dean sputtered, “Who’s supposed to clean this place if you’re on strike?”
Brobin handed the dean a dustpan from the back of the cart. “You do it.”
The dean looked between the dustpan and the destruction behind him. He raised an angry finger and took a sharp sniff, then let the finger drop as he sniffed again. The pork chops had started to stink in the summer heat.
“We’re ready to start negotiations,” the dean said.
Brobin and Glorigat toasted and took a drink of ale.
Patrick Tierney writes fantasy and science fiction in Davis, California. He is trained in both writing and analytical chemistry which, contrary to popular belief, is used very little in his science fiction. He traveled all the way to Oxford to study British fantasy literature.