Authors: Piers Anthony
Tags: #Humor, #Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Young Adult
Xanth 28 - Currant Events
Clio was tidying up her office, as she
did every century or so even if it didn't really need it. Dust did tend to
collect, along with dried bugs, apple seeds, and lost wisps of fog. Then she
paused, which was easy to do during a dull chore like this. There was a volume
on the shelf she didn't remember. That was odd, because she had an excellent
memory. She had to, to be a competent Muse of History.
She lifted it up, noting the clean spot
of shelf beneath it. She blew off the dust and looked at the title. She couldn't
quite make it out, so she opened the volume to the title page. That was written
in her handwriting, but was somehow blurred. It might be CURRENT EVENTS,
but could also be GETTING EVEN. Neither one made
much sense, as she did not handle either contemporary news or revenge plots.
Her specialty was history, past and future. The present bored her.
She turned the pages. They had all been
filled out, and definitely in her handwriting, but she couldn't read a word of
it. She blinked to clear her vision, but it didn't help; every word was fuzzed.
The pages might as well have been blank.
She stood there, bemused. How could she
have written a volume of history that she herself couldn't read? It didn't make
sense. Was she losing her sight?
Alarmed, she set the volume down and
picked up the one next to it. That one was clear enough: PET PEEVE,
with a picture of a disgruntled bird. That was incomplete, because it hadn't
happened yet; she was working on it. So she checked the prior volume: CUBE
ROUTE ,which was complete. That was the story of a girl with gumption, and the
text was quite clear.
So it wasn't her eyes, which was a
relief. It was the volume. What was wrong with it? And why couldn't she
remember writing it? How could she be writing the following volume, and
remember its details, while being fuzzy on this one?
Fuzzy: her memory of it was as fuzzy as
its print. There was definitely something strange here.
She considered for a good three and a
half moments. She seemed to have two or more unenviable choices: principally to
let the riddle be, or go to Good Magician Humfrey for advice. Humfrey could
surely unravel the enigma, but would take obscene pleasure in her predicament.
She hated giving him that satisfaction. But she knew the mystery would bug her
until it became a downright nuisance.
She sighed. She would stuff her pride
into her nonexistent handbag and go to see the Good Magician.
Humfrey's castle was some distance away
from the home of the Muses, so Clio got transportation. She walked
downMountParnassusand out to a babbling brook and spoke to it. “May I have
your attention for a moment?”
The brook ceased babbling and formed a
swirling eye. It looked at her, recognized her, and formed a mouth. “So
good to see you, Muse,” it bubbled.
“I need to pay a call on the Good
Magician. Do you suppose I could prevail on you to transport me there
“Gladly, Muse. I owe you favors
from way back.”
That was true, but she hadn't cared to
put it that way. “Then I should be obliged if you would run me there
The water humped up into a shape like
that of a centaur without a human forepart, standing in the riverbed.
“Immediately,” it agreed. “If I can make it past the fish.”
“Recently there have been so many
fish they clog my channel. It has never been this bad before; normally the
water dragons eat them.”
“The dragons must be off their
feed,” she said. That was humor; dragons were never off their feed. Still,
it was an oddity.
Clio stepped close to the bank, glanced
around to be sure no one was watching, then lifted one leg and swung it over
the centaur's back. Skirts were not the most convenient clothing for riding,
but they were required for her gender and age. She caught hold of the liquid
creature's flowing mane and drew herself fully onto it. “I am ready.”
The legs of the water horse went into instant
motion. It galloped down the riverbed, following its twisting channel. It had
to, because it was unable to run anywhere else. But the running water was so
swift that it would soon reach the Good Magician's castle regardless of the
indirectness of the route.
She looked down through the horse's
translucent substance. Sure enough, the channel was packed with fish so thick
it was almost solid. She looked across the landscape around the river channel,
and saw rabbits in similar number; in places they were like a gray blanket
covering the ground. That was another oddity; were the land dragons similarly
off their feed?
She looked in the sky, and saw clouds
of crows harassing the other flying creatures. Where were the flying dragons?
Normally crows were hardly in evidence, because dragons toasted them on sight.
Only in Mundania did they really flourish, normally.
Soon they were in sight of the castle.
There was a stream access to the moat that enabled the water horse to reach it.
In hardly more time than it took to see it, they were there, splashing to a
The moat monster was snoozing, hardly
expecting any intrusion from this direction. It lifted its head and gaped
menacingly. Then it recognized the visitors, nodded, and returned to its
“I thank you kindly,” Clio
said, dismounting. The water horse had stopped beside a steep bank so that her
foot could readily reach it. “Your swiftness was a real pleasure.”
The horse nodded, dripping with
pleasure. Then it galloped back the way it had come. Running water could never
pause long, or it lost its definition.
A sad young woman was walking away from
the castle, staring at the ground. “What's the matter?” Clio asked.
“I'm Clio; maybe I can help.”
“I'm Cayla. I came to ask the Good
Magician what my talent is, because I haven't found it yet.” She twiddled
nervously with a wooden twig she carried.
“That's something you usually just
have to find out on your own,” Clio said. “It's almost impossible to
“Yes, I've tried guessing,”
Cayla said. “It doesn't work.” She twiddled some more; the twig was
taking a beating. In fact there were two twigs getting intertwined.
“So did the Good Magician have the
Answer for you?”
Cayla burst into tears. “No! I
never got to see him. In fact I flunked the first Challenge.”
Clio was morbidly curious. “What
“It was a big square park set on
its end. That is, one corner was toward me as I came to it. I thought the
challenge was to get in, but when I got in nothing happened. There was a ball
flying around in there, but I had no idea what to do with it. I finally gave
up.” She blew her nose into a handkerchief, then returned to twiddling the
A square park, set on its end. “A
diamond!” Clio said. “A baseball diamond. You weren't supposed to get
'in,' you needed to get an 'out.' By catching the ball.”
Cayla looked at her. “I don't
Clio realized that this would be
complicated to explain. “It's only a guess.” Then she noticed
something. The two twigs were not just intertwined, they were knitted together.
“Do you knit?”
“Yes, when I have wool.”
“Have you tried knitting other
“Of course not. Why would I do
“Look at those twigs.”
“Oh, these are nothing. I'm just
frustrated and nervous.”
“They are knitted together.”
Cayla looked. “Why so they are.
But I don't have knitting needles.”
“Try something else,” Clio
said. She looked around and found several bricks. She picked two up. “Try
“Bricks? That's crazy!” But
the girl took them and put them together.
The bricks twisted and merged. They
were getting knitted together. “That's your talent,” Clio said.
“You can knit wood and bricks. Maybe other things. Maybe anything. You'll
have to experiment and find out.”
“Oh!” Cayla said, thrilled.
“So I don't need the Good Magician after all!”
“You don't,” Clio agreed,
pleased. This was her first personal interaction with a human person in regular
Xanth in some time, and she was glad it had been positive.
“Thank you so much! I was so sad;
now I'm so happy.” Cayla ran on along the path.
Clio walked toward the drawbridge. This
was the obvious way to cross the moat, as she didn't wish to get her feet or
skirt wet. But as she approached it, it lifted off the bank, being drawn up by
“Halt!” she cried. “I
wish to use you.”
The bridge halted.
She arrived at its resting spot.
“Now if you will just drop back down to the bank, I shall be happy to set
foot on your sturdy surface,” she said.
The bridge started to drop, but a chain
snarled and it got hung up. It was stuck a small but inconvenient distance
above the ground.
Clio considered it, an unbecoming
suspicion hovering at the fringe of her awareness. It wasn't like the Good Magician
to have flawed mechanisms. Was it possible that this was not a malfunction?
That she was being subjected to a Challenge for entry?
No, of course not; she couldn't believe
that of her old friend Hum-frey. So it must be a rare glitch in the mechanism.
“Hello the castle!” she
called. “You appear to have a problem. The drawbridge is stuck.”
There was a little shed associated with
the near side of the drawbridge. Now the bridge tender emerged. “Harold
the Handyman here. What can I do for you?”
“I am Clio, the Muse of History. I
wish to confer with the Good Magician Humfrey, but am unable to cross the moat.
Can you fix the connection?”
“Sure, I'll be glad to lend a
hand,” Handy said, extending his right hand.
She took it. “Excellent. The lines
seem to be snarled, so- EEEEEK!” Her scream was a full five E's, and would
have been six, had she not run out of breath.
For the man's left hand had just
reached around and goosed her right through her skirt.
“Oh, I'm so sorry,” Harold
said, hastily retreating. “I forgot to warn you. I have two hands.”
“I appreciate that,” she said
somewhat coldly as she rubbed her indignant bottom.
“I mean, they're different. My
right hand helps others, but my wrong hand roves. I can't stop them.”
She saw his problem. “Perhaps the
Good Magician can help you with that problem.”
“Maybe, after I complete my year
“I should think he would fix the
problem first, to better enable you to perform your service effectively.”
“Not exactly. This is my
“Tending the drawbridge,” she
“No. Being a Challenge.”
She gazed at him. “You are a
“That's right. Any querent has to
navigate three Challenges before getting into the castle to query the Good
Magician. He doesn't like to be bothered by folk who aren't serious.”
“I know that. But I'm not a
querent; I'm his friend!”
“You're coming to ask his
The hovering suspicion abruptly landed.
She was indeed being subjected to the Challenges. That was as outrageous to her
mind as was the goose to her bottom. “Well, I never!”
“My right hand should be able to
fix the drawbridge,” Handy said. “But my wrong hand will interfere.
So I have to deal with my hands before I can deal with the problem.”
“And I am expected to fathom how
to resolve your problem of hands,” Clio said. “As the first of my
“You catch on quickly,” the
She was tempted to think an unkind
thought about Humfrey, who was definitely not acting in a friendly manner. The
very idea that she should be subjected to this process! He deserved to receive
a sour piece of her mind. But unkindness was not in her nature, so she realized
in half a moment that this was probably a confusion on Humfrey's part, an
error. He used water from the Fountain of Youth to prevent himself from aging
beyond a hundred years, and perhaps needed to set the mark a bit younger, to
prevent senility. She would suggest that to him, as he surely did not want to
be confusing his friends with querents.
But first she had to get in to see him.
Well, then, there was no help for it but to tackle the three Challenges,
preposterous as the situation was.
She looked at Harold the Handyman. So
he had a right hand and a wrong hand. Her challenge was to discover a way to
nullify the wrong one, so that he could let the right one function. She doubted
that any permanent solution was within her power, as she was a Historian, not a
Magician, but perhaps there could be a temporary expedient. One that would
enable him to function during the interim of his Service to the good Magician.
“I am neither a Magician nor a
Doctor,” she said. “So I am unable to offer a cure for your
condition. But I may have a way to negate enough of its effect to enable you to