It was on that morning, as Hogswallower Thornbottom rose from his comfortable Elvish bed in the quaint cottages which rimmed the hollow under the steep sides of Grothbringumden, that his faithful manservant Fidelio Brownnose came trotting up to him, wide-eyed and trembling.
"Oh, Mister Hogswallower, sir, you've got to come. He says it's urgent!"
"Why, Fidelio! What-ever is the matter? You're all aflutter."
"Well, it's like this, you see. Master Hlableldleletheldlerenden says that we should take the Blue Ball of Morkmindia to the Chasm of Deepness and throw it in, so that the world will be forever rid of its malignancy, or words to that effect. But Lord Finduil of the Finduillin wants to keep the Blue Ball for his people, to use against the forces of Hraaäargh the Foul. They're using loud voices, Mr. Hogswallower! I knew I had to do it. I knew I had to come to you."
"Well then, lead on, Fidelio. Let's see if a little Smalling-sense can smooth things over. And then what would you say to a bit of something, eh?"
"That sounds capital, Mr. Hogswallower. Just capital!"
So the two Smallings bounced their way into the Ring of Hearkening, where Lord Finduil and Master Hlableldleletheldlerenden were disputing the fate of the Blue Ball, both studiously ignoring the bristling eyebrows, rolling eyes, heaving sighs, and wheezy outbursts of "Confractimatulate all of you!" of the wizened wizard Gargamel.
"Master Hlableldleletheldlerenden, sir, I brought him!" piped Fidelio.
The elven master turned to Hogswallower and regarded him with eyes that seemed to gleam with the light of ancient stars.
"Ah, Pigswallower Thornbottom, Ball-bearer and last hope of all the peoples of Oldworld," he intoned, "I have summoned you to the Ring of Hearkening to lend your small voice to this dispute."
"But this is preposterous," cried Lord Finduil, "to ask advice of a Smalling in a Big matter! Aside from Ball-bearing, what knowledge or prowess can he lend to this debate?"
"Con-sarn it, you aggle-fragging wisher-washer! That Smalling done carried that rassin'-brassin' Ball more miles than a rootin'-snootin' frangle-waisted ribblerubber like you could do!" wheezed Gargamel.
Lord Finduil whirled, drawing his fabled sword Stabby halfway from its burnished sheath. Gargamel began a half-heard incantation in the sorcerous tongue.
Hogswallower stepped forward, radiating Smalling outrage from every hair on his head, feet, and the backs of both knees.
"Hear me, O wise ones of Oldworld! We Smallings may not be counted among the Wise, but surely even the voice of one such as I may rise to be heard when he is summoned amongst you?"
Gargamel, Finduil, and Master Hlableldleletheldlerenden drew back in surprise, unused to such a bold voice from a Smalling.
"If the world lies as you have drawn it, then surely the forces of Hraaäargh the Foul are even now at our doorsteps. If the Blue Ball is even now mine to bear, then bear it I shall, even if I must bear it into the very Chasm itself. This is the hour of the Smallings, and we shall not fail!"
Fidelio's eyes shone with tears. His chin trembled with pride to hear his master speak so, showering the patterned stones with dislodged crumbs from the remains of elvish delicacies.
"Hrmmm...I done said it before, Hogswallerer, I'll be jimmy-jangled if you ain't the rasslinest, brassiest, rip-roarin' swig-swaggerer that ever bamboozled a great-great-growliger with a pea-shooter, I'll tell you," mumbled Gargamel.
"Indeed, though the meaning of his words eludes me as always, I take the tone of it and add my own stanza, Master Hogswallower. Truly, you are a prince among Ball-bearing Smallings," spake Finduil.
"Yes. Truly, this is the hour of the Smallings," announced Master Hlableldleletheldlerenden, "and the hour of the Ball-Bearer! Let Master Thornbottom go forth with his Blue Ball, to bear it to whatever fate awaits him. But he shall go with more than our words."
The elven master brought forth an ancient hollow vegetable, plucked from the vine. It shone with an odd orange light. Lord Finduil knelt, and began to tie Hogswallower's shoes in a special pattern known only to those of his realm. Gargamel began an incantation, mumbling "rack-um-smackum-bangum-buggum-riggum-roogum..."
Hlableldleletheldlerenden handed the orange plant to the Smalling.
"You have my gourd," he said.
Finduil stood, having finished the lacings on the Smalling's footwear with a flourish of loops.
"And you have my bow," he said.
Gargamel concluded his incantation with a series of loud, ritualistic coughs and loogie-summonings.
"And my hacks!" wheezed Gargamel.
Suddenly, a dark-cloaked figure appeared, set down two bottles of mysterious liquid, and vanished.
"By the gods, who was that?" gasped Finduil.
"It came and went so suddenly...a veritable Mysterious Stranger!" mused Hlableldleletheldlerenden.
"What in tarnation?" wheezed Gargamel.
Hlableldleletheldlerenden strode over to the bottles, and inspected them, peering closely at the grey-brown label of the first one.
"This writing is of an ancient mode, but I read it as 'Fukola Cola'," he said slowly.
"Fukola? Hmm...I have not heard that word before," said Finduil. "It sounds like a variation on a word I once heard in a far-off land, Nieau Hyoarch. If I remember, it sounded like 'Fu-'"
"STOP!" wheezed Gargamel. "I know the word, you grondleflobberer. The Fabled F-Word ain't not to be spoken by such a woozy-wharvin', gringly-grangly mornobbet like yerself. Even Hraaäargh himself might think himself another think before usin' the Fabled F-Word. Also, look yerself below; do you see what it says beneath? 'Anytime, Anywhere, With Anyone', it says. I'll be jiggerasticoated if that don't sound like a bottle ready to fight."
"Well, then," said Finduil, "let us consider the other, if this bottle carries such a heavy burden. This one the runes name 'Pop Goes The Bubble'. Beneath this I see writ in smaller letters, 'Old Fashioned Bubble Gum Soda'. Can any here interpret this riddle?"
Unexpectedly, it was Fidelio who spoke.
"Well, beggin' your pardon, Lord Finduil, but I think I might be able to explain that one, if I might be excused for intruding on your Lordships' goings-on. Back in Böondäukia, where we Smallings live, there's an old alchemist name of Old Smelly. Well, Smelly was known amongst the kids for making a certain kind of sweet that he called bubble gum. I'm thinking that this bottle might have come from Smelly himself. See? 'Old fashioned', it says. Why, it's near as could be to a maker's mark, if you ask me." Seeing the assembled representatives of the Wise looking down on him, he blushed and stammered, "Errr...not that it's right, or nothing...just thought I'd mention it..."
Gargamel wheezed out a laugh and said "Well, I'll be hog-handled and dip-dappled, that's just about the gur-dringiest thing I ever heard from a blim-blammy frickilated Smalling. You just go on with your ramblings, you old zing-zang-zoomie chilglibbersnabbit."
Finduil nodded. "Indeed, just as he said." His brow furrowed. "I think."
Hlableldleletheldlerenden stood, throwing back his robes, and shaking back the hair from his brow. "Friends, I think these eldritch brews can only have been delivered for the benefit of our good master Thornbottom, to aid him in his Ball quest. This 'Fukola Cola' seems likely to be a brew intended to lend strength to his arm in battle, though I do not think battle is his best refuge in this quest. 'Pop Goes The Bottle' I find harder to read, but I think I do not venture too far off the mark when I say it might serve to fire faint heart with cheery thoughts of home and hearth. After all, those are things near and dear to the heart of any Smalling, are they not?"
The assembled company laughed. "Ha ha!", they said. "Ha ha, ha ha ha. Ha." And then they sang a song, the Battle of Benny Hill, believed to be the anthem used by the forces of Han-Selior in their ill-fated, yet strangely humorous, battle against Hraaäargh's experimental all-scantily-clad female army. The first verse is rendered below:
Bi di bi diii diii di bi diii, diii diii di bi diii,
Duh, buh duh buh duh buuuuh DUH!
Where and when: Gifts from the Mysterious Stranger. The Fukola Cola was from August, while the Pop Goes The Bubble is from September.
First, the Fukola:
Color: dark brown, almost looked like a greenish tint while pouring, but looks reddish now.
Scent: Strong sweet cola, with significant spice. Toasty, cinnamony, citrusy.
Taste: Pretty nice, actually. The main taste is cola, but there's a pleasant lemony-lime which comes around the sides. Has an odd bite--oily and acid a the same time, but not as unpleasant as that sounds. Slightly reminiscent of Moxie. A lime-y cola with extra kick.
There's some ginger in the aftertaste--kind of a lot, actually.
The ingredients include: lime oil, orange oil, clove, American, Siberian, and Korean ginseng, capsicum (the active ingredient in pepper spray), dill weed, skullcap, echinacea, ginkgo, kola nut, sage, damiana, kava kava, and sodium benzoate (claimed to preserve flavor).
The K-i-C, who knows a bit of herbal medicine, informs me that damiana is a mild aphrodisiac.
Hence the soda name, I guess.
And now the Pop Goes The Bubble.
Color: cotton-candy pink, translucent/foggy.
Scent: Wow. Strong bubble gum, surprisingly lemonish.
Taste: Goodness. That's really interesting. It's really very much like the kind of bubble gum one fund in little wrappers.
Yes, that's it.
K-i-C: "I'm disappointed I didn't get a little comic strip."
Really amazingly accurate. Even has that odd harsh/bitter edge that reminds me of powdered sugar. I've described other sodas as tasting like bubble gum, but I wasn't right. This tastes like bubble gum. I'll have to figure out what all the others tasted like.
Maybe they tasted like stick bubble gum, but this tastes like Bazooka.
All right, final word.
Quaff rating: 3.5. Pretty nice, a notable cola
Cough rating: 1.0. The aftertaste is a bit strong for me.
Pop Goes The Bubble
Quaff rating: 3.0. If you like bazooka, it might be higher.
Cough rating: 1.0. Too accurate not to be a bit bizarre.
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