Authors: Searching for Dragons
“I think I’m beginning to get the idea,” Cimorene said. “It’s not just spinning straw into gold that’s a family tradition, is it? It’s the whole scheme.”
The dwarf nodded sadly. “Right the first time. Only I can never make it work properly. I can find plenty of girls who’re supposed to spin straw into gold, and most of them suggest the guessing game, but I’ve never had even
who managed to guess my name.”
“Oh, dear,” said Cimorene.
“I even changed my name legally, so it would be easier,” the dwarf said sadly. “Herman isn’t a difficult name to remember, is it? But no, the silly chits can’t do it. So I end up with the baby as well as the gold, and babies eat and cry and need clothes, and the gold runs out, and I have to find another girl to spin gold for, and it happens all over again, and I end up with
baby. It isn’t fair!”
“You, um, seem to be fond of the children, though,” Mendanbar said.
The dwarf looked around to see whether any of the children were within hearing distance, then nodded sheepishly. “They’re good kids. It’s just that there are too many of them. I moved out here so it would be harder for the silly girls to find me and talk me into spinning for them, but they keep finding me anyway.”
“It was a rather drastic move, wasn’t it?” Cimorene said. “What about the dragons and giants and rock snakes and so on?”
“Oh, they’re no problem. The house used to belong to a magician, and he left a lot of guarding spells on it. Nothing nasty can get anywhere near.”
why it feels magical,” Mendanbar said, relieved.
“It’s an odd sort of house for a wizard,” Cimorene said, studying it. “Why so many windows?”
“Not a wizard,” the dwarf said. “A magician. He was trying to find out which kinds of windows work best when they’re enchanted.”
“Did he find out?”
“I suppose so, or he wouldn’t have let me buy it. Most of the windows don’t work anymore, but there’s a round one at the end of the attic that still shows things once in a while.”
“What kinds of things?” Mendanbar asked. “Can you ask to see something in particular, or does it just show scenes at random?”
“You have to ask,” said the dwarf, “and you don’t always get an answer. Would you like to see it?”
“Yes, please,” Cimorene said quickly.
Mendanbar looked doubtfully at the carpet, wondering whether it would be safe to leave it where it was with all the children around, and thinking how much trouble it would be to haul along if they didn’t.
“Let it be,” the dwarf said, following Mendanbar’s gaze. “The kids won’t touch it.”
With some reluctance, Mendanbar nodded and followed the dwarf and Cimorene into the house. The inside was just as mazelike as Mendanbar had expected from the rambling exterior. The dwarf led them down a passage, around a corner, up a flight of creaky wooden stairs, through a room lined with pictures, up
another flight of stairs, and down a long hall to a cramped, stuffy little room under the farthest slope of the roof. The only light came from a circular window about twice the size of Mendanbar’s head.
“There it is,” said the dwarf. “If you want to see something, ask; but I can’t guarantee it’ll work.”
“Show me Kazul, the King of the Dragons,” Cimorene commanded at once.
For a moment, nothing happened. Then Mendanbar felt a tentative swelling of magic around the window. “I think it needs a boost,” he said and reached for his sword.
“No, let me,” said Cimorene. She thought for a minute, then raised her right hand and pointed at the window.
“Power of water, wind, and earth,
Cast the spell to show its birth.
Raise the fire to stop the harm
By the power of this charm.”
Power surged around the window, and the glass went milk-white. “What did you do?” Mendanbar said, impressed.
“It’s a dragon spell,” Cimorene told him, keeping her eyes fixed on the window. “It’s easy to remember, and it’s not hard to adapt it to do just about anything. I found it in Kazul’s—look!”
The window glass had cleared. Through the circular pane, Mendanbar could see the inside of a large cave. A sphere of golden light, like a giant glowing soap-bubble, covered half the cave, and inside the glow was a dragon. She was easily four times as tall as Mendanbar, even without counting her wings. Three short, stubby horns stuck out of her head, one on each side and one in the center of her forehead, and her scales were just starting to turn gray around the edges. An angry-looking trickle of smoke leaked out of her mouth as she breathed. In front of the bubble stood two tall, bearded men in long robes, carrying staffs of polished wood.
“Wizards,” Cimorene said angrily. “I knew it!”
endanbar stared at the window, angrier than he could remember being in a long time. In the back of his mind, he could hear a voice reminding him that the King of the Dragons was no concern of the King of the Enchanted Forest and that the Society of Wizards was a dangerous group to offend or interfere with. He could hear another voice that sounded very like Willin’s, suggesting envoys and formal complaints. But he was in no mood to pay attention to either of them. Mendanbar was not going to stand by and let the Society of Wizards kidnap and imprison anyone, King of the Dragons or not.
“Huh,” said the dwarf. “So you weren’t kidding about looking for that dragon.”
“Of course not,” Cimorene snapped. Her eyes were fixed on the window, and there was a little crease between her eyebrows. “But where are they? Window! Show me where they are.”
Magic rose up around the window in a great wave, and Mendanbar felt an answering surge in his sword. The window turned bright green, glowing brighter and brighter, then suddenly shattered into dust.
“Hey!” said the dwarf. “My window!”
“Drat!” Cimorene’s hands clenched into fists, and she glared at the empty space where the window had been. After a moment, she shook her head and turned to the dwarf. “I’m sorry, Herman. I didn’t know it would do that. And we don’t really know any more than we did before.”
“Oh, yes, we do,” Mendanbar said. “We know that some wizards have captured Kazul, and we know that they’re somewhere in the Enchanted Forest.”
“I’m sure of it. I think that’s why the window couldn’t show a more general picture of where they were. Things in the Enchanted Forest move around a lot, especially if the forest doesn’t like something. I’ll bet my best crown that that”—Mendanbar waved at the empty window frame—”is something the Enchanted Forest doesn’t like one bit.”
“All right, but that doesn’t help much,” Cimorene said. “The Enchanted Forest is a big place. How are we going to find them?”
“That won’t be a problem,” Mendanbar said. “I’m the King of the Enchanted Forest, remember?”
“That makes you good at finding missing dragons?”
“It makes me good at finding out what’s going on,” Mendanbar said. “I can tell when places are moving around, and I can get where I want to go even when it’s moving. I don’t think it will be too hard, once we get back inside the forest.”
“Then let’s go,” Cimorene said. “I didn’t like the look of that bubble thing those wizards had around Kazul.”
“At least they don’t seem to have hurt her,” Mendanbar offered.
“That’s true. Oh, I
I knew what they were up to!” Cimorene scowled at the broken window, then turned sharply away, almost running into the dwarf.
“I don’t understand this at all,” the dwarf said, looking from Cimorene to Mendanbar with a puzzled frown.
“I’m sorry we don’t have time to explain,” Mendanbar said. “But I’m afraid we don’t.”
“Thank you for all your help,” Cimorene added.
The dwarf shook his head and led them back to the front door, frowning in such deep concentration the whole time that neither Mendanbar nor Cimorene could bring themselves to interrupt. In the doorway, the dwarf paused.
don’t want any gold?” he asked. “Quite sure,” Mendanbar said. “We have a long walk ahead of us, and gold is awfully heavy.”
“I thought you didn’t want to spin gold anymore,” Cimorene added.
The dwarf looked down. “It’s not the spinning, it’s the rest of it,” he said, not very clearly. “And spinning’s the only way I know to make money, and you wouldn’t believe how fast kids grow.”
“Oh,” said Cimorene. She bit her lip. “What if we asked you to spin some gold for us and then let you keep it?” she asked without much hope.
“No,” said the dwarf. “I tried it once. It just doesn’t work.”
“Can you spin for the children?” Mendanbar asked.
The dwarf shook his head. “They’re my responsibility, so it’s the same as spinning for myself as far as the spell is concerned.”
going to do with them all?” Cimorene asked as renewed shrieks and the sound of pounding feet came through the open door.
“Oh, most of them will grow up and save their kingdoms from something or other in the nick of time,” the dwarf said. “Long-lost heirs, you know. That’s what makes it so difficult. I have to see that they’re properly trained on top of everything else.”
“Training,” Mendanbar said under his breath. He squinted into the sunlight, trying to catch hold of an idea that hovered just out of reach.
“I don’t suppose their parents . . .” Cimorene’s voice trailed off as the dwarf shook his head.
“A bargain’s a bargain. Besides, it wouldn’t be the same without them running all over. I
give them back.”
“Of course not,” Mendanbar said, blinking. He smiled suddenly. “But you
charge for training them, can’t you?”
An answering smile lit up Cimorene’s face. “A boarding school for long-lost heirs. What a good idea!”
“A school?” the dwarf said as if the words tasted funny. “A boarding school? I don’t know—”
“Why not?” Cimorene said. “It would solve your money problems for sure. Special schools are always horribly expensive. You could charge the parents of your children for just the training part, and take on a few more kids at training plus full room and board.”
The dwarf’s eyes gleamed at the idea, but then his face fell. “What about my spinning?” he said. “It
a family tradition.”
Cimorene rolled her eyes. “Haven’t you done enough of that already?”
“I have an idea about that, too,” Mendanbar put in. “The problem with the spell is that you can’t spin for yourself or for anyone who’s your responsibility, right?”
“That’s it in a nutshell,” the dwarf said. “And there’s nothing to be done about it.”
“What if you set up a scholarship fund?” Mendanbar said. “I’ll bet a really good lawyer could design one that would get around the spell’s restrictions so you could spin for it.”
Cimorene nodded. “A good lawyer can get around just about anything. And if that doesn’t work, you could spin for other scholarship funds and only take part of the gold, the way you usually do.”
“I never thought of spinning for a fund,” the dwarf said in wonder.
“You think about it, then,” Mendanbar said. “We have to go.”
“Yes,” said Cimorene. “I won’t feel quite comfortable until I know Kazul is out of that bubble. Thank you again.”
They left the dwarf in the doorway, muttering to himself about rooms and expenses, and walked over to the rolled-up carpet.
Mendanbar looked at it with distaste, remembering their wild ride. He hoped Cimorene wasn’t going to insist on using it right away. His stomach hadn’t completely settled from the last time. He turned his head. Cimorene was looking at him with a wary expression.
“Let’s carry it for a while,” she suggested. “The children are probably watching, and we shouldn’t give them ideas.”
“Right,” Mendanbar said with relief. “Do you want the front end or the back?”
Cimorene took the back end, and they hoisted the carpet to their shoulders and started off. Walking with the carpet was surprisingly easy. Cimorene was a good match for Mendanbar in height, and she was quite strong. Mendanbar supposed it must be from carrying around dragon-sized servings of lamb and beef, and before he thought, he said as much.
“Actually, it’s the chocolate mousse and cherries jubilee,” Cimorene said.
“I didn’t think chocolate mousse was particularly heavy.”
“It is when you’ve got a bucket full of it in each hand,” Cimorene retorted.
“Oh,” said Mendanbar. “Yes, I suppose it would be.
He was trying to figure out how much a bucket of mousse would weigh when the carpet jerked suddenly. Mendanbar grabbed at it, thinking
no, it’s going to start dancing around on its own!
Then he realized that the carpet had jerked because Cimorene had stopped. He looked reproachfully over his shoulder.
“It’s time for lunch,” Cimorene said. “All this talk about food is making me hungry, and I don’t want to have to face a lot of wizards on an empty stomach.”
Now that she mentioned it, he was hungry, too. “Good idea,” Mendanbar said with enthusiasm. “And this looks like a nice spot to stop. Will you serve, or shall I?”
Cimorene laughed. They set the rolled-up carpet on a stretch of grass between two pines and got out Ballimore’s package, then sat down to see what the giantess had sent along with them. It was, as Mendanbar had expected, an enormous quantity of food—seven fat pastries stuffed with chicken and herbs, a large bottle of cold spring water, a round loaf of bread and a generous wedge of yellow cheese, four large red apples, and a small box filled with a wonderful, creamy chocolate fudge.
“My goodness,” Cimorene said when they had unpacked everything. “Ballimore certainly believes in feeding people well.
at all of this!”
“No, no,” Mendanbar said, picking up one of the pastries and handing it to Cimorene. “Don’t look at it. Eat it.”
“I wonder where she got the fudge,” Cimorene mused. “Everything else is probably from the Cauldron of Plenty, but it doesn’t do desserts very well.”
“Maybe she made it herself.”
“I hope so.” Cimorene smiled at Mendanbar’s look of surprise. “If she did, I can ask her for the recipe.” By an unspoken mutual agreement, neither Mendanbar nor Cimorene mentioned Kazul or the wizards during lunch, though they were both certainly thinking about them. Instead, they had a pleasant talk about some of the odd and interesting people they had each met over the past few years. Cimorene knew a lot of unusual folk. Many of them were dragons, of course, but her position as Kazul’s Chief Cook and Librarian meant that she had also met most of the visitors from outside the Mountains of Morning who came to pay their respects to the King of the Dragons or to ask her questions.
Near the end of the meal, Mendanbar noticed that Cimorene was gazing intently at him. No, not at him: at his sword.
“What is it?” Mendanbar asked worriedly.
“Have you been doing things with that sword again?” Cimorene demanded.
“No,” Mendanbar said, puzzled. “I used it on your sink, and to stop the nightshade, and when the carpet started falling, but that’s all. Why?”
“Because it’s leaking magic all over the place,” Cimorene said. “I thought so before, but now I’m positive.” She finished her second pastry and stood up, brushing crumbs from her lap. “That sheath must not be as good as I thought. Would you mind letting me look at it? Without the sword.”
“Not at all,” Mendanbar answered. He stood up and drew the sword. Cimorene flinched. “Is something wrong?”
“I don’t know,” Cimorene said. “Can’t you feel it?”
“Your sword. It isn’t the sheath after all; it’s that dratted sword. It’s gotten worse. Put it away, quickly.” Thoroughly puzzled, Mendanbar did as Cimorene asked. “All right,” he said. “Now, would you please explain?”
“I’m not sure I can,” Cimorene said. “You didn’t know what I meant before, when I said your sword reeked of magic, so I suppose it’s reasonable that you can’t tell that the reek is twice as strong now. You’ll just have to take my word for it.”
Mendanbar looked down at the sword, thinking hard. “It’s linked to the Enchanted Forest, and I’ve never taken it out of the woods before,” he said at last. “Maybe it doesn’t like it. Maybe it’s trying to make the mountains more like the Enchanted Forest.” It sounded silly put that way, but he couldn’t think how else to say it. It would sound even sillier if he told her that he thought the sword was trying to stuff some magic into the empty, barren-feeling land around it.
“Um,” said Cimorene, gazing absently at the sword. After a moment, she looked up. “I’ll bet you’re right. Bother. That means we
to use the carpet.” She bent and started packing up the remains of their lunch.
“Wait a minute,” Mendanbar said. “What has my sword got to do with that carpet?”
the Enchanted Forest is what makes your sword behave like a—a magic beacon, then we have to get it back
the Enchanted Forest as fast as we can,” Cimorene explained patiently. “Otherwise every ogre and wizard for leagues and leagues around will come looking for whatever is making all the fuss. And the carpet is a lot faster than walking.”