Authors: Searching for Dragons
“Of course, Your Majesty,” said Willin in tones of perfect understanding. He paused. “May I inquire where you are going and when?”
“To rescue the King of the Dragons,” Mendanbar said, “and as soon as possible.”
Willin swallowed hard, Prince Rupert choked, and even Morwen looked slightly startled.
“The only question is, what’s the best way of doing it,” Mendanbar continued. “Any suggestions?”
“We can’t just charge in and attack the cave,” Cimorene said, frowning. “The wizards could kill Kazul before we got to her. And if the area around the cave looks like that bit you showed us a few minutes ago, it simply won’t be possible to sneak up on them.”
“What we need is a back way in,” Telemain said. “I don’t suppose there is one?”
“Every cave in the Enchanted Forest has a back way in,” Mendanbar said. “The problem is finding it. Do you know anything about that part of the forest, Morwen?”
“I’m afraid not,” Morwen said. She turned to the cats. “Chaos? Jasper? How about you?”
The cats looked at each other, blinked, and looked back at Morwen. “They aren’t familiar with the area, either,” Morwen said with regret.
Willin coughed. “If I may venture a suggestion, Your Majesty . . .”
“Go ahead,” Mendanbar said.
“I believe there is a list of caves, passages, vesti
bules, and entrances in the Royal Archives,” said the elf. “Would you care to examine it?”
“Immediately,” Mendanbar replied. “I might have known you’d have a list somewhere with the right information, Willin. I should have asked you at once.”
The elf bowed deeply, looking very pleased. “I shall bring it without delay, Your Majesty,” he said, and whisked off down the corridor.
“Hey!” cried Crown Prince Jorillam. “Are you going to fight the wizards? Can I come?”
“Yes, we are, and no, you can’t,” Mendanbar told him. “You’re going to be locked in the dungeon, remember?”
“But a fight with wizards is
more interesting than being locked in a dungeon,” Jorillam complained. “I want to watch.”
“Maybe so,” Cimorene said. “But that’s how it is with dungeons. You aren’t supposed to get a choice about whether you’re going to be locked up in one, you know.”
This was evidently a new idea for the young prince, and he did not look happy about it. “But—”
“But, nothing,” Mendanbar said. “I’m the King, and I say you go to the dungeon instead of fighting wizards, and no argument.”
“Yes,” said Morwen. “We have much more important things to argue about. Such as how to get rid of the wizards once we find them.”
“Buckets,” said Cimorene. “Lots of buckets, and soap, and lemon juice. Where do you keep your buckets, Mendanbar?”
“Around somewhere,” Mendanbar said vaguely. “I’ll have someone bring us a few. Can the three of us carry enough buckets to get rid of all the wizards?”
“Four of us,” said Morwen. The cats yowled. “Yes, I know, and of course you’re coming, but you can’t carry a bucket of soapy water, so for purposes of this discussion it doesn’t matter,” she told them.
The cats gave her an affronted look, turned their backs, and began making indignant little noises at each other.
“It seems probable that the wizards will be present in force,” Telemain said. “They were certainly aware of Prince Rupert’s appearance among them this morning, and they may well have detected your unsuccessful locating spell, Mendanbar. Consequently, I would wager that there will be far too many to dispose of by means of your, er, interesting methods, Princess Cimorene.”
“We’ll bring some buckets along anyway,” Mendanbar said. “It can’t hurt.”
He nodded a summons to the blank-faced footman by the front door. The footman came over at once, and Mendanbar told him to bring half a dozen buckets of soapy water mixed with lemon juice out to the entrance hall immediately. The footman, who had worked at the palace for a long time and was used to peculiar requests, bowed impassively and departed.
“Any other ideas?” Mendanbar asked.
“Can’t the witch turn them into toads?” said the Crown Prince.
“I certainly don’t object to trying,” Morwen said.
Cimorene shook her head. “I don’t think it would work. The Society of Wizards has some new spell that
soaks up magic. That’s what makes the bare spots in the Enchanted Forest.”
“I still wish I understood
the Society of Wizards is doing all this,” Mendanbar said, half to himself. “I suppose it makes sense to try and blame the dragons for burning bits of the Enchanted Forest, but they’ve been deliberately trying to start a war. That would make almost as much trouble for them as for everyone else.”
“Ah, well, but would it?” put in Prince Rupert timidly. “I mean, if these wizards are soaking up magic, they must want it for something.”
Cimorene, Morwen, Mendanbar, and Telemain stared at one another in dismay. “Yes, what
they using it for?” Cimorene said after a long, thoughtful silence.
“In all probability, to intensify their general enchantments,” Telemain said. “Alternatively, to enable themselves to achieve something more substantial than would otherwise be possible.”
Prince Rupert looked at the magician blankly. “Oh,” he said in a doubtful tone.
“Don’t mind him,” Morwen said. “He always gets technical when he’s talking about spells.”
“But what did he
the prince asked.
“He meant that the Society of Wizards wants more magic to power their spells,” Mendanbar replied. “Or maybe to use in a spell that would be too big for them to work without it.”
an idea I don’t care for at all,” said Morwen, frowning. “The Society of Wizards is too powerful already, if you ask me.”
“You know, if the dragons start fighting with the Enchanted Forest, any new wasted areas would be blamed on the war,” Telemain commented. “The Society of Wizards could absorb considerable quantities of magic before anyone realizes what they are up to.”
“That would explain why they’re doing this, all right,” Mendanbar said. “We have
stop them.” Without thinking, he put his hand on the hilt of his sword.
“Mendanbar!” said Cimorene suddenly. “Didn’t that wizard say something about you reversing his spell? Not Antorell, the wizard at Jack’s house. And you were using the sword. Maybe it can reverse this spell, too.”
“It’s worth trying,” Mendanbar said.
“Not until we have a better idea of exactly what we’re up against,” Morwen said firmly. “If the King of the Enchanted Forest gets killed trying to rescue the King of the Dragons from the Society of Wizards, goodness only knows
“We’ll sneak in and take a look around,” Telemain agreed. “Then we can formulate a plan of action.”
“As long as it doesn’t take too long,” Cimorene muttered. “This isn’t some kind of experiment, where we can take our time and try again. If those wizards figure out that someone is trying to rescue Kazul . . .”
Mendanbar tried to smile reassuringly at her. “I don’t see how they—ah, Willin! Did you find that list? Good! Then let’s all go into the parlor and look at it. The sooner we’re done, the sooner we can be on our way.”
illin’s list was remarkably clear and well organized. Once they found the section headed “Caves and Caverns Near the Mountains of Morning,” it was only a matter of a few minutes before they discovered the listing far the Cave of Stone Icicles, the only cave at the western end of the Pass of the Dragons. As Mendanbar had predicted, there was a back way into it. A tunnel started from the bottom of the Crystal Falls and wound around under the hills and forest until it reached a crack at the rear of the cave.
“This doesn’t look as if it will be hard at all,” Cimorene said. “Let’s go.”
“Right,” said Mendanbar. “This shouldn’t take long. I’ll be back in an hour or so. Willin, take care of everyone while I’m gone—you know, refreshments and things.”
“Wait a minute!” Cimorene said, her voice rising above startled objections from everyone else. “You’re not going without me.”
“I am Kazul’s Chief Cook and Librarian,” Cimorene said firmly. “It’s my job to help rescue her.”
“I suppose so,” Mendanbar said, “but all I’m going to do is sneak in and look at the wizards, and then sneak out again.”
“That’s all you
you’re going to do, but what if something goes wrong?”
“Exactly,” Morwen said. “You should have someone with you. Several someones, in fact.”
“I’m real good at sneaking,” Crown Prince Jorillam put in eagerly. “And I want to see a dragon up close.”
“No, you don’t,” Mendanbar said. “Morwen, are you trying to tell me you want to come along as well?”
“No,” Morwen said, looking at him sternly over the tops of her glasses. “I’m telling you I’m going to come whether you like it or not. Kazul is my friend, and besides, I want a crack at those wretched wizards.”
“We aren’t going to do anything to the wizards until we know more about what we’re up against,” Mendanbar said, feeling harried.
“Then how come you wanted those buckets of soapy water?” Crown Prince Jorillam demanded.
“Just in case,” Mendanbar said. “This is only to find out what the wizards are doing and how many of them there are.”
“Which is precisely why I must accompany you,” Telemain put in.
“Not you, too!”
Telemain frowned at him. “You don’t seem to realize what a priceless opportunity this is,” the magician said. “It is entirely possible that we shall be able to observe the Society of Wizards in the very act of casting their magic-absorbing spells. Since they are extremely secretive about their methods, this may be the only chance we have of studying their techniques.”
“It isn’t worth the risk,” Mendanbar said.
“Not to you, perhaps,” Telemain told him. “I, however, intend to take full advantage of these circumstances. One way or another, I am going to get a look at those wizards.” He leaned the wizard’s staff against the wall and folded his arms stubbornly.
“Yeah, and then we melt ‘em!” Crown Prince Jorillam said enthusiastically.
coming with us,” Mendanbar told him.
“But I’m real, real good at sneaking,” Jorillam said. “Tell them, Uncle!”
“He is,” Prince Rupert said earnestly. “And I’ll keep an eye on him so he won’t get in your way.”
Mendanbar stared at him. “No, you won’t. Because you aren’t coming with me, either. I am going to sneak into the Cave of Stone Icicles
“No, you’re not,” said everyone at once. Morwen’s two cats glanced up, then went back to washing their tails. Mendanbar got the distinct impression that the only reason they hadn’t joined in the general outcry was that they thought it was beneath them to argue.
“It is inappropriate for the King of the Enchanted Forest to embark on a mission to the King of the Dragons without a formal escort,” Willin added.
“You want me to take all these people along as a formal escort?” Mendanbar said incredulously. “Really, Willin—”
“Not at all,” the elf replied. “They are all persons of distinction, and it would not be suitable for any of them to take a position as a formal escort to Your Majesty. Properly, only those of your subjects already in Your Majesty’s employ may make up such a retinue. Due to Your Majesty’s general dislike of formality, we have very few such persons available at present.”
“What are you suggesting?” Mendanbar asked with a sinking feeling.
“That I am the only possible person who can accompany Your Majesty in this capacity,” Willin said.
“If he gets to go, so do I!” Crown Prince Jorillam cried.
“Not without me,” Prince Rupert said, setting his jaw. “I don’t know anything about this business with the dragons and wizards, but Jorillam is my responsibility. Until I lose him in the forest, that is.”
“And Kazul is
responsibility,” Cimorene said.
“Like it or not, I am going to get a look at those spells,” Telemain stated flatly.
“Those wizards have caused me a lot of trouble, what with one thing and another,” Morwen pointed out. “I intend to cause them a bit of trouble back.”
“It is necessary to Your Majesty’s dignity that Your Majesty take a proper escort with you,” Willin put in.
“QUIET!” Mendanbar said.
Everyone stopped talking. Willin looked utterly astonished. Jorillam had a wary expression, and Prince Rupert and Telemain both looked mildly taken aback. Morwen’s eyes gleamed approvingly behind her glasses. Cimorene looked momentarily startled, but then she smiled.
Mendanbar took a deep breath. First things first. “Crown Prince Jorillam.”
“You are not coming on this expedition. You will stay here, at my castle, until I return. In the dungeon, just as you requested.”
“But it’s not fair,” Jorillam said. “I didn’t know
that you were going to go fight wizards. And that elf—”
“Willin is one of my people, and a native of the Enchanted Forest,” Mendanbar said. “You aren’t. Don’t bother arguing; you don’t get a choice. I’m the King here, remember.”
Jorillam gave him a sulky nod.
“Prince Rupert,” Mendanbar went on, “you were quite right to say that your nephew needs watching. You will stay here and keep an eye on him while I’m gone.”
“Certainly, Your Majesty,” Prince Rupert said with a relieved sigh. “If you say so.”
“I’m afraid I can’t bring you with me, either, Willin,” Mendanbar said, turning to his steward. “Somebody has to take care of our visitors, you know, and you’re the only possible person.”
Willin hesitated, plainly torn. “It is my duty to serve Your Majesty regardless of the danger.”
“I appreciate your willingness to accompany me,” Mendanbar assured him. “I feel, however, that you would serve me better here. Now, please take these two guests to the North-Northwest Tower dungeon and see that they get some refreshments.”
“As Your Majesty commands,” Willin said, bowing. He gestured to Prince Rupert and Crown Prince Jorillam, and led them away.
Well, that takes care of
Mendanbar thought as the three rounded a bend in the corridor and vanished from sight. The rest wouldn’t be that easy. He looked over and saw Morwen, Cimorene, and Telemain standing side by side, wearing identical expressions of stubbornness, and he sighed. He supposed he could accidentally-on-purpose forget to include them in the transportation spell, but somehow he didn’t think that would stop them. Not when one was a witch, one a magician, and one an experienced dragon’s princess.
“Don’t even bother trying to talk us out of it,” Cimorene warned. “You’ll only waste more time.”
“You’re probably right,” Mendanbar said at last. “And anyway, I suspect I really
have some help with me, just in case.”
“Very sensible of you,” Morwen told him.
“Yes, well, let’s get our buckets and go,” Mendanbar said uncomfortably.
The four of them collected buckets of soapy water from the imperturbable castle footman. Cimorene and Telemain took two each, but Mendanbar only took one, because he wanted to keep one hand free in case he needed his sword. Morwen also took only one bucket.
She did not explain, and her expression dared anyone to comment. No one did.
The footman left, removing Telemain’s staff along the way. “Be sure you put that somewhere safe,” Telemain called after him.
Mendanbar looked around one last time, checking to make sure everyone was finally ready, then twitched the strands of power and transported them all to the foot of the Crystal Falls.
They appeared on the slippery bank of a narrow stream. A little farther on, the Crystal Falls poured in a shining curtain down the side of a sheer cliff of black glass. The water foamed and swirled at the foot of the falls, forming a small, restless pool, then rushed down the channel at their feet and dashed on into the deeper parts of the Enchanted Forest. The noise of the falling water was tremendous, and the air had a clean, sharp smell.
Mendanbar looked around to see that everyone was there and that no one had spilled the soapy water. He noticed, without surprise, that the two cats had come along, even though he had not specifically included them in the transportation spell. Cats were like that.
“Which way is the tunnel entrance?” Cimorene asked. She had to shout to make herself heard over the roar of the waterfall.
“Over there,” Mendanbar shouted back, waving at a clump of fir trees near the foot of the cliff. “Watch your step.”
“What did you say?” Telemain yelled.
“He said, ‘Watch your step,’ “ Cimorene replied at the top of her lungs.
Telemain nodded, and they moved cautiously away from the water-slick bank of the stream. The cats had already moved out of range of the mist billowing up from the base of the waterfall. When the rest of the group caught up to them, the two cats gave Mendanbar looks of deep reproach, as if to imply that he should have more sense than to set everyone down so close to such a damply uncomfortable spot.
The tunnel entrance was a narrow crack in the side of the cliff, hidden behind the clump of firs. The cats trotted through it and vanished into the darkness. Morwen gazed after them with a thoughtful expression on her face.
“I don’t suppose anyone remembered to bring a light?” Cimorene said, eying the crack with evident misgiving.
Telemain smiled and said three words that crackled in the air. A small globe of golden light appeared above his head. “I’ll go first, so the rest of you can see where you’re stepping,” he said, smiling with a trace of smugness.
“And what do you think will happen when we get near the wizards and their magic-absorbing spell gets hold of your little glow-ball?” Morwen said sharply. “You’re not thinking, Telemain.”
“I suppose you have a better idea?”
Morwen pushed her glasses firmly into place, set down her bucket of soapy water, and reached into one of her long, loose sleeves. She pulled out a small lantern
and set it on the ground. Then she reached into the other sleeve, from which she pulled a flint striker and a long splinter of wood. Expertly, she struck a spark and lit the splinter, then used the splinter to light the lantern. She blew the splinter out, stuffed it and the flint back into her sleeve, and smiled at the surprise on everyone else’s face.
“I thought we might be needing this,” she said. Picking up the lantern and the bucket, she started for the mouth of the tunnel.
“Hang on a minute,” Mendanbar said. “I should go first. Would you give me the lantern, Morwen?”
“Only if you don’t dawdle,” Morwen responded. “My cats are in there.”
“Of course. You come next, then, and Telemain after you. Cimorene can come last. That way we’ll have a light between every two people,”
Cimorene did not look happy about these arrangements, but Mendanbar did not give anyone time to argue. As soon as Morwen nodded, he took the lantern and started into the crack. It was only wide enough for one of them at a time to edge sideways, and the ground was covered with shattered rock, which made the footing treacherous. Juggling the lantern and his bucket back and forth from hand to hand, Mendanbar tried to see what lay ahead of him while still giving Morwen enough light to follow. Progress was slow, and he began to wonder whether the whole tunnel was going to be as narrow and difficult as this beginning.
“Maybe we would have been better off charging at the main entrance,” he muttered to himself.
After what seemed a very long time, but was probably only a few minutes, the tunnel widened. The piles of shattered rock became fewer, then ceased altogether. Mendanbar heaved a sigh of relief and stopped to let the others catch up.