Authors: Searching for Dragons
“I know you mean it,” Cimorene said when she could talk again. “It wasn’t what you said, it was the way you said it.” She shook her head, chuckling. “You sound about as eager to come with me as I am to have company. Which isn’t much.”
“Maybe not, but somebody—”
“What was that?” Cimorene interrupted, holding up a hand for silence.
“I didn’t hear anything,” Mendanbar said.
“Shhh,” Cimorene hissed. She rose and tiptoed to the door, listening. In the quiet, Mendanbar heard a faint thud outside. Cimorene’s lips tightened. “Princes or wizards?” she muttered. “Wizards, I’ll bet. Princes are noisier.”
Still frowning, she picked up the bucket of soapy water that was sitting beside the door. As she reached for the doorknob, Mendanbar started after her. Cimorene hadn’t asked for his help, but a bucket of soapy water wasn’t much of a weapon against a wizard. If it was a wizard.
The corridor outside the kitchen was pitch black. Cimorene vanished into the gloom, moving with the calm sureness of long familiarity. Cursing mentally, Mendanbar picked his way after her, one hand on the cave wall for guidance, the other stretched out in front of him to keep him from running into anything.
Another muffled crash echoed from up ahead. Mendanbar took two more steps and his outstretched arm touched Cimorene’s shoulder. A moment later, Cimorene’s voice said calmly, “Phrazelspitz.”
Mendanbar felt magic rise around him. Light flared from the walls, then settled into a steady glow, revealing an enormous cavern. He and Cimorene stood in one of five dark openings spaced unevenly around the wall. Halfway across the cave, a tall man in blue and brown wizard’s robes stood hanging onto a staff and trying to squint in all directions at once. His hair and beard were brown, and he bore a strong resemblance to Zemenar, only younger.
“Antorell,” Cimorene said in tones of disgust. “I might have guessed.”
“I’m glad to see you again, Princess Cirnorene,” the wizard said in an oily tone. “But who could fail to rejoice at the sight of so lovely a princess?”
“What are you doing here?” Cimorene demanded. Mendanbar was pleased to note that she didn’t sound at all mollified by Antorell’s flattery. “And how did you get in without being eaten?”
“Oh, we wizards have our little ways,” Antorell said airily. “And I came because—well, because I was concerned about you, Princess.”
“I’ll bet,” Cimorene muttered. “What do you mean?” she said in a louder voice.
“I thought you might need a friend.” Antorell’s voice oozed sincerity. “Especially after what Father said when he came back from the Enchanted Forest. If King Mendanbar really is getting ready for a war with the dragons . . .”
“Where did your father get that idea?” Cimorene asked in tones of mild interest.
Antorell frowned slightly, as if he had hoped for a stronger reaction. “Something the King said to him, I think. I shouldn’t have repeated it, I suppose, but I was carried away by my feelings.”
“Sure you were,” Cimorene said. “That’s why you sneaked in here without knocking and went blundering around in the dark, instead of calling me or at least bringing a lamp.”
“I didn’t want to disturb King Kazul, if she happened to be here,” Antorell said stiffly.
Cimorene snorted. “If you’d really thought Kazul was here, you wouldn’t have come at all. She doesn’t like it when people ignore her rules. One of which, may I remind you, was that wizards aren’t allowed in the Mountains of Morning anymore.”
“But if there’s going to be a war—”
“There isn’t,” Mendanbar said, stepping forward into the light. “At least, not if I can help it. Why are you people trying so hard to make trouble, anyway?”
Antorell’s eyes widened, and he sucked in his breath. “Mendanbar? You’ll ruin everything, blast you.” He smiled a sudden, nasty smile. “Unless I deal with both of you now. Oh, yes, that will do very well. Bather will be so pleased.”
He raised his staff. Mendanbar started toward him, puling his sword free as he ran, though he knew the wizard was much too far away to reach before he finished the spell. Cimorene followed quickly, not quite running, carrying her bucket carefully to avoid spilling. They had only gone a few steps when a swirl of smoke appeared in the air in front of them.
The smoke thickened rapidly, then congealed withshocking suddenness into the largest nightshade Mendanbar had ever seen. It was two feet taller than Mendanbar and covered with spikes of coarse black fur. Its beady black eyes glared at him as it raised a long arm and clicked its dark purple claws together. It hissed, showing a mouthful of fangs.
“There!” cried Antorell over the nightshade’s noise. “Vanquish that, Cimorene—if you can!”
gnoring Antorell, Mendanbar kept his eyes on the nightshade. He had a moment’s useless wish that he were in the Enchanted Forest, where he could have disposed of the monster with relative ease. Here, things were going to be a lot more complicated. He shifted his grip on the sword and pulled at the power within it.
The nightshade swung at him, its fully extended claws carving a whistling arc in the air. It was very, very fast. Mendanbar barely managed to block in time. The force of the blow knocked him to one side, and he almost lost hold of the sword. The nightshade hissed in pain and shook its arm, but Mendanbar knew it was not seriously hurt. Without active magic behind it, the most damage the sword could have inflicted on a nightshade this big was a bruise.
Again he pulled at the power in the sword, then had to roll to avoid another swing by the nightshade. This time he kept on rolling until he was out of the monster’s reach. He came up on one knee and pointed the sword at the nightshade, pushing power through the sword in the pattern he had pictured in his mind.
Antorell’s staff struck him across the shoulders. The sword flew out of his hands and he went sprawling. His half-formed spell spun wildly in the air and then was sucked away. He heard an angry shriek from Cimorene, then a shout: “Mendanbar! Dodge left, quick!”
Without hesitation, Mendanbar threw himself to his left. He heard a rush of wind as the nightshade’s claws missed him by inches. There was a splash somewhere behind him, and Antorell’s voice cried, “No! No! You’ll be sorry for this, Cimorene!” Then Mendanbar’s hand closed on the hilt of his sword. He twisted and brought the sword up, shoving power through it recklessly.
The blast of barely formed magic caught the nightshade in midleap. The creature hung frozen in the air for an instant, then dissolved in a cloud of bright sparks. Mendanbar seized the remnants of magic and pulled them together into a tight knot, ready to throw at another nightshade or at Antorell himself. Only then did he pause to look around.
Cimorene stood a little way away, swinging the empty bucket in one hand and looking at him as if she were impressed in spite of herself.
Antorell had vanished.
like flashy magic,” Cimorene commented as Mendanbar climbed warily to his feet. “I haven’t seen anything like that since Kazul’s coronation party.”
“Where’s Antorell?” Mendanbar asked. “Did he get away?”
“No,” Cimorene said, waving her free hand at a damp area of floor to Mendanbar’s right. “I melted him.”
him?” Mendanbar looked at the damp patch more closely. Antorell’s soggy robes were plastered to the floor in the middle of a gooey puddle. His staff lay along one side of the robes, half-in, half-out of the goo. There was no other trace of him. Mendanbar was impressed, and said so.
“It’s really not hard,” Cimorene said. “All it takes is a bucket of soapy water with a little lemon juice in it. A friend of mine discovered by accident how to do it, and I’ve kept a bucket ready ever since, just in case.”
“I thought that only worked on witches.”
Cimorene shrugged. “Lots of things don’t work the way they’re supposed to. Morwen’s a witch, but she certainly doesn’t melt in a bucket of soapy water.”
Mendanbar thought of the shining stone step and the spotless wooden floor in Morwen’s house, and nodded. “I can see that. But why does it work for wizards?”
“We don’t know.” Cimorene gave him a sidelong look. “I’m sorry I let Antorell wallop you with his staff, but I didn’t want to throw the water at him while you were in the way.”
“Why—oh, you mean you were afraid it would melt me, too?” Mendanbar blinked. “But I’m not a wizard.”
“You work magic,” Cimorene pointed out. “And I don’t know how strict the soapy-water-and-lemonjuice trick is about defining wizards. It would cause a lot of trouble if I melted the King of the Enchanted Forest in the middle of Kazul’s living room, even if it isn’t permanent.”
“You mean he’ll be back?” Mendanbar had started to put his sword back in its sheath, but he stopped at once. “How soon?”
“Not for a couple of days, at least,” Cimorene reassured him. “Antorell may be Zemenar’s son, but he’s never been a very good wizard.”
“Antorell is the son of the Head Wizard?” Mendanbar shot a considering look at the puddle and the pile of soggy robes. “So that’s what he meant when he said his father would be pleased.”
“Probably.” Cimorene frowned pensively at Antorell’s staff. “I’ve got to find Kazul. The Society of Wizards is up to something for sure, and she needs to know right away.”
“Couldn’t Antorell have come here on his own?” Mendanbar asked, although he didn’t really believe it himself.
Cimorene shook her head. “I don’t think he’d have dared. As I said, he’s not a very good wizard. He wouldn’t have been able to keep himself concealed from the dragons, and he certainly must have had help to make anything as nasty and complex as that construct you took care of.”
“That wasn’t a construct,” Mendanbar said. “That was a nightshade. They’re fairly common in parts of the Enchanted Forest. Antorell didn’t make it, he just snatched it from somewhere nearby.”
“Snatched it?” Cimorene’s eyes widened. “Yes, I suppose he could have managed that. I begin to see what you meant about traveling in the Enchanted Forest alone,” she added in a thoughtful tone.
“I should hope so,” Mendanbar muttered, turning away. “Then you’ve changed your mind about going?” he added hopefully over his shoulder.
“No, just about whether I accept your offer of escort,” Cimorene said. “It’ll probably be a nuisance, but nightshades would be much worse.”
Slightly startled by this unflattering comparison, Mendanbar glanced back at Cimorene. There was a decided twinkle in her eyes. Mendanbar smiled and bowed elaborately. “Thank you for your kind words, Princess.”
“You’re welcome, Your Majesty,” Cimorene said, curtsying in response. “Now, we’d better get to work, or we’ll never get this mess cleaned up in time to get to Flat Top Mountain before dark.”
Cleaning up the large cave took less time than Mendanbar had expected, despite the unpleasantly gummy look of the goo that Antorell had left behind. A large part of the mess turned out to be leftover soapy water, which was very convenient. Cimorene mopped most of it up with Antorell’s robe, then wrapped the robe around the staff and started toward the rear of the cave.
“What are you going to do with that?” Mendanbar asked curiously.
“Hide it,” Cimorene said. “There’s not much else you can do to a wizard’s staff. They won’t break, and even dragon fire won’t burn them. I know because we tried everything we could think of the last time we melted some wizards.”
“Morwen and I. Antorell will get it back eventually, of course, but hiding it will slow him down a little.” She left to dispose of the staff while Mendanbar scraped up the last of the goo.
The kitchen was another matter. Cimorene insisted on doing all of the dishes that had been waiting for the sink to get unplugged, which took a while. Mendanbar offered to use his magic on the dishes, but Cimorene politely declined.
“A magic sword that does plumbing is unusual but very useful,” she explained as she filled the sink. “A magic sword that does dishes is just plain silly. Besides, there have been two big flares of magic in this cave in the past hour already, and if there’s a third one, someone might come to see what I’m up to.”
“I didn’t notice anything remarkable when Antorell brought the nightshade in,” Mendanbar said, frowning. “Though I’ll admit I overdid it a little when I got rid of the thing. I was in a hurry.”
“Yes, of course,” said Cimorene, setting a clean plate on the drain board. “But you weren’t in a hurry when you unclogged the sink, were you? That was the other flare I meant, not Antorell’s fiddling.”
“What was conspicuous about that?” Mendanbar asked defensively. He picked up a clean towel and began drying plates. “It was a perfectly ordinary spell.”
Cimorene looked at him. “Right. Just like that sword is a perfectly ordinary magic sword.”
“Well, I wouldn’t call it
exactly, but that’s because it’s linked with the Enchanted Forest,” Mendanbar said, “Outside of that, it’s nothing special.”
“Nothing special.” Cimorene stopped washing dishes for a moment to stare at him. Suddenly, she frowned. “You mean it. You really haven’t noticed.”
“The way that sword of yours positively reeks of magic,” Cimorene said. “We’re going to have to do something about it, unless you want the Society of Wizards to be able to find us with their eyes closed.”
Mendanbar looked at her. She was perfectly serious. He set the dishtowel down and drew his sword. It didn’t look or feel any different to him from the way it normally felt, but Cimorene winced.
“Can’t you . . . tone it down a little?”
“I still don’t know what you’re talking about,” Mendanbar said, irritated. “And even if I did, I wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to go about ‘toning it down.’”
“Why not? It’s your sword, isn’t it?”
“It didn’t come with directions!”
“Most of them don’t.” Cimorene shook her head at him and picked another dirty teacup out of the rapidly diminishing stack. “Maybe there’s something in Kazul’s treasury that will take care of it. I’ll check as soon as we’re done here.”
When the dishes were finished and the kitchen tidied to suit Cimorene’s exacting standards, she left Mendanbar to mull things over while she went off to investigate the treasury. Mendanbar was glad of the chance to think.
“What is the Society of Wizards doing?” he muttered. Between the misleading things Zemenar had said to Mendanbar and the downright lies Antorell had told to Cimorene, it was clear that the wizards didn’t want them comparing notes. Cimorene might even be right about their desire to start a war between the Enchanted Forest and the dragons.
Starting a war, however, would take more than a misunderstanding between the King of the Enchanted Forest and Kazul’s Chief Cook and Librarian. Were the wizards behind the mysterious burned area Mendanbar had found? They could have gotten hold of Woraug’s scales, and they certainly could have enchanted them.
would they do it?” Mendanbar asked the sink. “They’re not stupid, at least Zemenar isn’t, and a war would cause the Society almost as many problems as it would cause us. What could make them overlook the problems and try to stir up trouble anyway?” The sink did not answer.
But if it wasn’t the wizards, Mendanbar wondered, who was it? Where had Kazul disappeared to? And was there really a dragonsbane farm in the Enchanted Forest, or was that just a rumor someone was spreading to add to the confusion?
He was still trying to put his questions into some sort of order when Cimorene returned. She had exchanged the apron and the rust-colored dress for a dark blue tunic with matching leggings, a pair of tall black boots, and a maroon cloak. She had taken off her crown, and her braids were wound neatly around her head. A gold-handled sword hung at her side, next to a small belt pouch. She held out a sword belt and sheath, the leather gray with age.
“I think this will do the job,” she said. “Try it and see.”
“I’ve already got a sheath,” Mendanbar pointed out.
“Yes, but this one blocks magic,” Cimorene explained. “It’ll keep your sword from being so—so obvious all the time. At least, I hope it will.”
“If you say so,” Mendanbar replied, taking the scabbard. He held it a moment, testing. It didn’t feel magical, but then, that was the idea. He shrugged, pulled out his sword, and put it into the sheath Cimorene had given him.
“Oh, that’s much better,” Cimorene said with evident relief. “I can hardly notice anything now.”
“I can,” Mendanbar said, touching the hilt with a frown. The pulse of the Enchanted Forest was still there, ready for him to use.
“Of course you can,” Cimorene said. “It’s your sword.”
“Well, I suppose I don’t mind using it, then,” Mendanbar said. “As long as it doesn’t damage the sword.”
“It won’t,” Cimorene promised.