Wrede, Patricia C - Enchanted Forest 02 (6 page)

BOOK: Wrede, Patricia C - Enchanted Forest 02
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“Doesn’t t that make them harder to get rid of?”

“Not at all. The smart ones listen when I argue with them. The stupid. ones think I’m kidding, I had to offer to fight a couple of them myself before I could get them to go away.”

Mendanbar peered doubtfully at Cimorene in the dim lantern-light. She didn’t look as if she were joking. “You actually offered to fight a knight?”

“Four of them,” Cimorene said, nodding.
“And
a prince. It was the only way to convince them.” She looked at Mendanbar uncertainly. “I’m sorry if I behaved badly to you at first, but I really did think you were here to rescue me. It’s the crown.” She pointed to the circlet on his head. “You wouldn’t believe the trouble I’ve had with some of the princes. Being rude is the only way to get rid of them in a hurry, and sometimes even that doesn’t work. Especially if they’re particularly stupid.”

“I understand,” Mendanbar said without thinking. “They sound a lot like princesses—stubborn, witless, and—” He stopped short in dismay. He’d forgotten for a moment that Cimorene was a princess, too. He hoped she wouldn’t be insulted.

Fortunately, Cimorene didn’t seem insulted at all. She nodded. “Exactly. That’s why I send the knights and princes on to rescue other princesses. They mostly deserve each other. Of course, I
do
try to make sure I send the nicest knights to the nicest princesses. They can’t help it if they’re silly.”

They had reached a side opening, and Cimorene hesitated. Then she shrugged and went in. “The kitchen’s a mess today,” she said over her shoulder, “but even when it’s messy, it’s more comfortable for humantype people than the big caves where the dragons go to chat. I can make tea, too, if you’d like some.”

Before he could answer, Mendanbar emerged from the side tunnel into a large, well-lit cavern. An enormous black stove took up half of one wall, and the other walls were lined with tall wooden cupboards. A stone sink next to the door was filled to the brim with scummy gray water, and the shelf next to it was overflowing with dirty dishes. In the middle of the floor stood a large wooden table and three mismatched chairs.

“Tea sounds good,” Mendanbar said, politely ignoring the dishes.

Cimorene scowled at the sink and began rummaging through the cupboards. “Do you mind having your tea in a wine glass? I know it’s a little strange, but I’m afraid all the cups are dirty. The sink has been plugged up for nearly a week, and I haven’t been able to do the dishes.”

“I don’t mind,” Mendanbar said. “But you’ll have to do something about that sink sooner or later, you know.”

“I’ve tried,” Cimorene said in an irritated tone. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to persuade a plumber to come look at a dragon’s sink? I thought I’d finally found one, but he was supposed to get here yesterday morning and still hasn’t shown up, so he’s probably not coming. And there aren’t any books on plumbing in Kazul’s library, or I’d have fixed it myself.”

“I’m sorry,” Mendanbar said. “Maybe I can do something about it.”

“Go ahead,” Cimorene replied. “You can’t make it any worse than it is already.”

That didn’t sound like much of a vote of confidence to Mendanbar, but it didn’t matter. He went over to the sink and studied it for a moment, then backed up a pace and drew his sword.

Cimorene made a startled noise. “Your sword does plumbing?” she said, sounding interested. “I knew it was magic, but I thought it was for dragons.”

“It does most things,” Mendanbar said absently. Working magic outside the Enchanted Forest took a lot of concentration. He squinted down the length of the blade at the sink, feeling the power within the sword tingle against his palm. Then he whipped the sword through the air, pushing power out of it to wrap around the sink. With a final flourish, he touched the tip of the sword to the surface of the scummy water. There was a spray of magic, a loud glug, and the water swirled and began to run down the drain.

“There,” said Mendanbar. “That should do it.” He wiped the tip of his sword and stuck it back in its sheath.

“It certainly should!” Cimorene said. “Is your magic always that flashy?”

“What do you mean?”

“Never mind. I’ll wash some cups while the tea water is boiling. Sit down while I get the kettle started.” Mendanbar sat down at the table and frowned suddenly. “Oh, bother.”

“What?”

“Morwen gave me some cider to bring to King Kazul, and I was so busy cleaning up after Zemenar that I forgot to pick it up before I left. I’m sorry. I’ll have to send it with someone when I get back.”

Cimorene stopped short, holding the teakettle suspended in midair. “Zemenar? Not the Head Wizard of the Society of Wizards?”

“Yes, of course,” Mendanbar said, a little surprised by her reaction. Then he recalled how much Zemenar seemed to dislike Cimorene. Presumably Cimorene felt the same way about Zemenar.

“And you had to clean up after him? It figures,” Cimorene muttered. She finished filling the kettle and put it on the stove, then went back to the sink and washed two cups, two saucers, and two spoons with an intense concentration that made it obvious she was thinking about something else.

Mendanbar was happy to let her think. He had a few things to mull over himself. Cimorene was not at all what he’d expected. She acted more like Morwen than like a princess. He wondered where she had come from and how she had gotten captured by the dragons. He nearly asked, but pulled himself up short before the words left his mouth. He hadn’t come to talk to a princess. No, indeed. “When will King Kazul be back?” he asked instead.

Cimorene did not answer at once. She set the teacups on the table, poured hot water into the teapot to brew, and sat down across from Mendanbar. She studied him for a long minute, then gave a decisive nod.

“All right,” she said. “I’ll tell you the truth. I don’t know.”

A wave of irritation swept over Mendanbar. “If Kazul didn’t tell you when she expected to be back, why didn’t you say so at once?”

“Oh, she told me,” Cimorene said. She looked very sober. “She was supposed to be home the day before yesterday.”

“And she’s not back yet?”

Cimorene nodded again. “And she hasn’t sent a message or anything. She’s disappeared. I was just getting ready to go search for her when you showed up.”

6
In Which Mendanbar and Cimorene Have
a Long Talk and Mendanbar Reluctantly
Decides to Embark on a Journey

M
endanbar took a deep breath. “I think you’d better tell me everything you know about this,” he said. “When did Kazul leave, and where was she going?”

“She left last Monday,” Cimorene replied readily. “She was going to visit her grandchildren in the northern part of the mountains. She does that whenever she gets a chance, and sometimes she stays a few extra days, but she’s always sent word before when she’s done that.” She frowned worriedly.

“I—grandchildren?”

Cimorene smiled. “I know. I was taken aback when I found out about them, too. You just don’t think of the King of the Dragons as a doting grandmother, but she is. In fact, I suspect she took longer than she had
to about the negotiations with the Frost Giants up there, just so she’d have an excuse to stay a few more days. Anyway, she was planning to spend a couple of days with them and then swing through the Enchanted Forest on her way home.”

“She was coming to see me?” Mendanbar asked, surprised.

“Not exactly.” Cimorene hesitated. “We’d heard that someone was growing dragonsbane in one of the valleys along the border, and she wanted to see whether it was true. You can see why I’m worried.”

“Growing dragonsbane—you mean, deliberately planting it? There have always been a few patches of the stuff here and there.”

“The way we heard it, this was an entire valley full. That’s hardly accidental.” Cimorene lifted the lid of the teapot and peered inside, then poured a cup for each of them. “Kazul wanted to check for herself, quietly, before any of the younger dragons heard about it. Some of them are . . . impulsive. She didn’t want someone tearing off in a fury to burn down the Enchanted Forest with no more reason than a rumor.”

“Oh, lord.” Mendanbar pushed his hair backward off his forehead and grimaced at his tea. “I’ll bet that’s what happened. I wish she’d sent word to me.”

Cimorene studied her cup with unnecessary thoroughness. “She was afraid you might be the one doing it.”


Me?

“The King of the Enchanted Forest. You haven’t been particularly friendly since she took over, you know.” She frowned suddenly. “Why
did
you turn up today, anyway? And what did you mean, ‘that’s what happened’? Don’t tell me somebody really
has
started setting fire to the Enchanted Forest!”

“Almost,” Mendanbar said. He explained about the dead area and the dragon scales he had found. “Morwen said that they were all from the same dragon, but they had been enchanted to look as if they came from several different dragons. I was hoping King Kazul would tell me which dragon they belonged to, and maybe let me ask him a few questions.”

“Let me look at them,” Cimorene said. Mendanbar took the scales out of his pocket and spread them out on the table.

Cimorene made a face. “I can tell you whose scales they were, all right, but I’m afraid it won’t help much. Woraug isn’t around any more.”

“It’s a start,” Mendanbar said. “You’re sure these are his?”

“Very sure. But I’m afraid you won’t be able to ask him any questions.” Cimorene smiled, as if at some private joke.

“Why not?”

“Because the reason Woraug isn’t around any more is that he got turned into a toad about a year ago. Do you know how the King of the Dragons is chosen?”

“By a test,” Mendanbar replied, a little puzzled by the question. “When a king dies, the crown goes to whichever dragon can carry Colin’s Stone from the Ford of Whispering Snakes to the Vanishing Mountain.”

“Yes. Well, Woraug poisoned the old King of the Dragons. Then he arranged with the Society of Wizards to rig the test so he’d be the next King,” Cimorene said
matter-of-factly. “It was mostly luck that we found out in time to stop them. When we did, Woraug turned into a toad because of his un-dragonlike behavior.” She sipped at her tea. “I think a snake ate him,” she added thoughtfully.

There were so many things Mendanbar wanted to say in response to this disturbing summary that for a moment he couldn’t say anything at all. He took a large swallow of tea, which gave him an extra minute to think. “Is
that
why the wizards have been banned from the Mountains of Morning?” he managed at last.

“Of course,” Cimorene answered. “Kazul couldn’t do anything more. Even though we knew it was all their idea, it was Woraug who actually poisoned the King. Didn’t Morwen tell you about it? She was there.”

“No,” Mendanbar said. “It didn’t come up.” He shook his head. “No wonder Zemenar didn’t want to talk about why the dragons don’t want wizards in the mountains anymore.”

Cimorene nodded. “The wizards don’t talk about it because their scheme didn’t work out, and the dragons don’t talk about it because the wizards came so close that the dragons are embarrassed to admit it. And Morwen is too discreet to spread the story around when the dragons would rather she didn’t.”

“I see.” Mendanbar saw considerably more than that. The disagreement between the dragons and the Society of Wizards was not a minor matter, as Zemenar had led him to believe. And Kazul’s princess—or rather, Chief Cook and Librarian, he reminded himself—was nothing like the sneaky, manipulative girl Zemenar had hinted she was, either. It looked very much as if Zemenar had been deliberately trying to cause trouble between Mendanbar and the dragons, or at least get Mendanbar off to a bad start with their King. He wondered what Zemenar would have said about Morwen if
her
name had come up.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if the Society of Wizards was behind this, too,” Cimorene said, waving her hand at the scales. “It’s exactly the kind of twisty scheme they’d come up with.”

“It’s possible,” Mendanbar acknowledged, “but why would they want to bring the Enchanted Forest into their argument with the dragons?”

“Maybe they think you’ll clean the dragons out of the mountains, or at least reduce their numbers enough so that the wizards will be able to come through without getting eaten.”

Mendanbar shook his head. “If it came to a fight, the Enchanted Forest and the Mountains of Morning would be very evenly matched. A war would cut the wizards off from both places as long as there was any fighting, and it would probably drag on for ages. Zemenar must know that. He’d have to have an awfully good reason to start something like that.”

“Maybe he does.”

“Maybe, but I can’t think what it could be. Can you?”

“No,” Cimorene admitted. “But if I figure it out, I’ll let you know.”

“Meanwhile, is there anyone else who could have done this?” Mendanbar asked, waving at the line of scales on the table.

“There aren’t many people who can get hold of even one dragon scale, much less five from the same dragon,” Cimorene said, scowling at the table. “Woraug’s princess might have kept one or two as a souvenir, but I don’t think she’d have had this many, and anyway she doesn’t know any magic.” Suddenly she looked up. “Wait a minute! When Woraug turned into a toad, a whole batch of scales fell off and scattered.”

“What happened to them?”

“We just left them at the ford,” Cimorene said with a shrug. “Nobody thought it was important. Most of them are probably still there. Dragon scales last a long time.”

“At the Ford of Whispering Snakes?” Mendanbar asked. Cimorene nodded, and he grimaced. “Then anyone who walked by could have picked up these scales any time in the past year. That doesn’t narrow things down much.”

“I’m as sorry about that as you are,” Cimorene said.

Mendanbar’s face must have shown his surprise, because she gave him an exasperated look and went on, “Hadn’t it occurred to you that we’d want to know who’s plotting to get dragons blamed for their mischief? Especially if it turns out
not
to be the Society of Wizards.”

“But—oh. If it’s
not
the Society, then you have a new enemy you don’t know anything about.” Cimorene nodded again, very soberly. “I just wish I had time to look into it right now, but with Kazul missing it will have to wait.”

“You’ll let me know when she gets back?”

“I’ll tell Roxim to send you word if she shows up while I’m gone,” Cimorene assured him. “And if I find her first, I’ll tell her everything you’ve told me. I’m sure she’ll get in touch with you right away.”

“Thank you.”

“Now, is there anything else you want to know? Because if there isn’t, I need to be going,” Cimorene went on. “It’s a long walk to Flat Top Mountain, and I’d like to get there before dark.”

“Surely you don’t plan to walk all the way to the northern end of the Mountains of Morning.” He was surprised and suddenly disappointed by this evidence of princesslike behavior. From their brief acquaintance, he’d thought Cimorene had better sense.

“Of course not,” Cimorene replied impatiently. “I’m not stupid. I’m going to borrow a magic carpet from Ballimore, the giantess who lives on Flat Top Mountain.”

Mendanbar choked on the last of his tea. “Do you expect a giantess to loan you a carpet just because you have a dragon with you?” he demanded when he could talk again.

“I’d better not, since I won’t have a dragon with me,” Cimorene retorted. “Not that it’s any of your business.”

“You’re going to wander around the Mountains of Morning
alone
looking for King Kazul?” Mendanbar said, appalled.

“Exactly. And if I can’t find her there, I’ll swing through the Enchanted Forest on the way back, just the way she was planning to. And it’s time I got started, so if you’ll just—”

“Oh, no.” Mendanbar set his teacup down so emphatically that it rattled the saucer. “If you’re fool enough to travel through the Mountains of Morning without a companion, that’s not my concern, but you are not going through the Enchanted Forest alone. It’s too dangerous.”

“I can take care of myself,” Cimorene snapped. “You forget, I’ve been living with the dragons for over a year.”

“Maybe so,” Mendanbar said, trying hard to hold on to his temper. “But the Enchanted Forest is very different from the Mountains of Morning. And what do you suppose will happen if the King of the Dragons’s princess—or Cook and Librarian, or whatever—gets captured or killed or enchanted going through my forest?”

Cimorene opened her mouth to reply, then paused. “Oh,” she said in a very different tone. “Oh, I see. That would cause just the sort of trouble we’re both trying to avoid, wouldn’t it? I’m sorry. I’m used to people objecting to things because they think I can’t do them or shouldn’t do them. It didn’t occur to me that you might have a
real
reason.”

“Then you won’t go?” Mendanbar said with relief.

“I have to,” Cimorene said in the tones of one explaining something obvious. “It’s my job. Besides, Kazul is my friend. I’ll just have to make sure I don’t get captured or killed or enchanted, that’s all.”

“It’s not as easy as you make it sound.”

“I know. I’ve visited Morwen a time or two,”
Cim
orene said. “I’ll manage, one way or another.”

Mendanbar started to object again, then stopped. He didn’t think Cimorene was quite as sure of herself as she sounded, but she was plainly determined to go hunting for Kazul. Well, she was right about one thing:
somebody
had to find the King of the Dragons, and soon. Mendanbar didn’t like to think of what might happen if Kazul stayed missing for long, especially if rumors about dragonsbane in the Enchanted Forest started floating around the mountains.

“Is there anyone you can take with you?” Mendanbar asked.

“No,” Cimorene said. “Roxim and Marchak are the only dragons who have enough sense not to go off in fits when they hear that Kazul is missing. Roxim is too old for adventures, and Marchak has to stay and take care of business while I’m gone. And I hope you’re not going to suggest I borrow Marchak’s princess.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Mendanbar said sincerely. “Is she very awful?”

“Actually, she’s one of the nice ones,” Cimorene admitted. “But she’s very silly. She’d try, but she wouldn’t enjoy it at all, and she’d be much more of a nuisance than she’s worth. I’d rather take my chances alone.”

“That’s almost as bad an idea as taking that princess along,” Mendanbar said. He sighed. “I suppose I’ll have to come with you myself.”

Cimorene stared at him blankly for a moment, then began to giggle.

“It isn’t funny,” Mendanbar said. “I mean it.” He felt a little hurt by Cimorene’s reaction. He wasn’t nec
essarily stuffy or useless or a nuisance to travel with just because he was the King of the Enchanted Forest. Cimorene ought to realize that. After all, he’d fixed the sink for her, hadn’t he?

BOOK: Wrede, Patricia C - Enchanted Forest 02
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