Wrede, Patricia C - Enchanted Forest 02 (8 page)

BOOK: Wrede, Patricia C - Enchanted Forest 02
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Mendanbar took off his sword belt and set it aside, then buckled on the belt and scabbard Cimorene had given him.

“All right,” he said, “let’s go.”

As they left the cave, Cimorene muttered something under her breath and waved at the entrance. Mendanbar jumped as a coil of strong, hard magic sprang into place behind them. Looking over his shoulder, he saw a solid wall of rock. He transferred his gaze to Cimorene and raised an eyebrow.

“What kind of magic was
that?”

“Just something Kazul and I worked out a while back,” Cimorene said. “It’s to keep wizards and knights and so forth from prowling around while I’m gone.”

So Cimorene is a sorceress, as well as a cook and librarian and goodness knows what else,
Mendanbar thought to himself. Every time he thought he had her figured out, she surprised him again.

“It’s a good idea, but please warn me if you’re going to do anything like that again,” he said. “I’m not in the mood for being startled, if you know what I mean.”

Cimorene nodded, frowning slightly, and asked just what it was about the spell that had startled him. This led to a long, technical discussion of the various ways of casting spells, detecting spells, and comparing spells other people had cast. Mendanbar found it both interesting and informative. He had always known that his own methods of working magic were not much like anyone else’s, but he had never had time to study other styles. Cimorene knew something about most kinds of magic, and she was naturally very well informed indeed about dragon magic. She was as interested in Mendanbar’s system as he was in everything else, and the conversation lasted all the way to Flat Top Mountain.

*
            
*
            
*

The sun had slipped behind the mountains and it was almost dark when they came to the foot of the last slope. Mendanbar could see the giant’s castle at the top, large and dark and ominous against the graying sky. A broad road wrapped three times around the mountain as it wound its way to the castle gates.

“Are you sure this is the right place?” he asked

 
“Quite sure,” Cimorene said. “I’ve never been here myself, but Kazul has described it often enough. And that’s certainly a giant’s castle.”

“Exactly,” Mendanbar said. “But is it the right giant?”

“We won’t find out standing here. Come on.”

Cimorene marched confidently up the mountain. Shaking his head, Mendanbar followed. By the time they reached the castle gates, the stars were beginning to come out and it was getting hard to see.

“There ought to be a bellpull or a knob,” Cimorene said. “You check that side of the gate, and I’ll take this one.”

“All right, but what—!’

A loud grinding noise interrupted Mendanbar in midsentence, and the gates swung open. Yellow light spilled across the road, making Mendanbar and Cimorene squint.

“Come in, travelers,” a woman’s voice said, much too pleasantly. “Come in, and make yourselves comfortable for the night.”

Neither Mendanbar nor Cimorene moved. “This was your idea in the first place,” Mendanbar said softly to Cimorene. “What do we do now?”

“Ask questions,” Cimorene replied just as softly. She raised her voice and said, “Thank you for your kind hospitality, but we’re not just traveling. We’re looking for the giantess Ballimore, and we’re in a hurry. So if you’re not Ballimore, we’ll have to go on.”

“I am Ballimore,” said the voice, still in an artificially pleasant tone that made Mendanbar’s skin crawl. “Who are you?”

“I’m Princess Cimorene, Chief Cook and Librarian to Kazul, the King of the Dragons, and this is Mendanbar, the King of the Enchanted Forest,” Cimorene answered.

“Cimorene?” said the voice in an entirely different manner. “Oh, good. I’ve been wanting to meet you for the longest time. Come on in, you and your friend, and I’ll have supper ready in a jiffy.”

Mendanbar and Cimorene looked at each other. “I think it’s all right now,” Cimorene said after a moment.

“Well, we won’t find out standing here,” Mendanbar said. He held out his arm. “Shall we go in, Princess?”

Cimorene gave him a bright, almost impish smile, and laid her fingertips on his arm as if they were walking into a court ball. “I should be pleased to accompany you, Your Majesty.”

Together they walked through the gate. The courtyard inside was high, wide, and empty except for two rows of blazing torches in iron holders lined up on either side of the path. Mendanbar and Cimorene paced slowly up to the door, which swung open just as the gates had, only without the grinding. As they went in, they heard the castle gates crunch shut. A moment later, the doors closed silently behind them.

They stood in a stone hall three times the size of any Mendanbar had ever seen. A wooden table, sur
rounded by high-backed chairs, stretched the length of the hall. At the far end of the room a large fire burned in an open hearth. High on the walls, more torches lit the room. A brown-haired woman in a pale blue dress was bending over a cauldron that hung from an iron hook above the fire. It all looked very ordinary, until Mendanbar noticed that the seats of the chairs were level with his eyes and everything else was similarly oversized.

The brown-haired woman sniffed at the cauldron, nodded to herself, and straightened. “Welcome,” she said, coming forward. “I’m Ballimore. You must be Princess Cimorene. I’m so pleased to meet you at last, after all that Kazul has told me about you.”

The giantess bent over to shake hands gently with Cimorene. She was at least three times as tall as Mendanbar, but she moved with a grace that suited her size. Cimorene returned the handshake gravely, and said, “I hope Kazul hasn’t given you the wrong idea about me.”

“Not at all, I’m sure,” said the giantess. “Is this your young man? You’re not running away from the dragons after all this time, are you?”

“Certainly not,” Cimorene said with unnecessary vehemence. “I’m very happy with my job.”

“Of course,” Ballimore said, sounding disappointed. She gave Mendanbar a speculative look, then leaned toward Cimorene. “If I were you, I’d reconsider,” she said in a loud whisper. “Your young man doesn’t look like the patient type.”

“No, no,” Cimorene said, reddening. “It’s not like that at all. This is the King of the Enchanted Forest, and he came to see Kazul, only Kazul has gone to visit her grandchildren and isn’t home. That’s why we came to see you—to borrow a magic carpet, so we can find Kazul.”

“Oh, I see,” said the giantess. “Strictly business. Well, you’ll have to wait until after supper. Dobbilan will be home any minute, and he hates it when his meals are late.”

“Dobbilan?” Mendanbar said with some misgiving.

“My husband,” Ballimore said.

There was a loud crash from the courtyard outside, followed by the
thud, thud, thud
of heavy footsteps that shook the castle.

Ballimore straightened with a happy smile. “Here he comes now.”

8
In Which They Give
Some Good Advice to a Giant

M
endanbar and Cimorene turned to face the castle doors as the footsteps drew nearer. A moment later, the doors flew open and the giantess’s husband stepped into the hall. He was a giant’s head taller than she, with wild brown hair and a beard like a large, untidy broom’s head. He carried a club that was as long as Mendanbar was tall.

Just inside the door, the giant stopped and sniffed the air. Then he sneezed once, scowled ferociously, and said in a voice that shook the torches in their brackets:

 

“Fee, fie, foe, fum,

I smell the blood of an Englishman.

Be he alive or be he dead,

I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.”

 

Ballimore shook her head. “Nonsense, dear. It’s just Princess Cimorene and the King of the Enchanted Forest.”

“And neither of us is English,” Cimorene added. The giant squinted down at her. “Are you sure about that?”

“Positive,” Mendanbar said.

“Well—” The giant sniffed again, experimentally, then lowered his club with a sigh. “That’s all right, then. I wasn’t in the mood for more work tonight, anyway. Sorry about the mistake. It must be this cold in my head.”

“I told you yesterday to take something for it,” Ballimore scolded. “And I told you this morning to wrap some flannel around your throat before you went out. But do you listen to me? No!”

“I listen,” the giant protested uncomfortably. “But I can’t ransack villages with a piece of flannel around my neck. It wouldn’t look right.”

Cimorene snorted softly. Mendanbar got the distinct impression that she didn’t think much of doing things for the sake of appearances.

“Well, really, Dobbilan,” Ballimore said, “how do you think it looks if you’re coughing and sneezing all over everything while you’re ransacking? Have a little sense.”

“I’d rather have a little dinner,” said Dobbilan and sneezed again.

“If you sound like that tomorrow, you’re staying home in bed,” Ballimore informed her husband.

“I can’t do that! I’m scheduled to pillage two villages and maraud half a county.”

“You’re in no condition to pillage a henhouse, much less a village,” Ballimore declared. “Besides, you’ve earned a bit of a rest, what with all the extra time you’ve been putting in lately, looting and marauding and I don’t know what all.”

“That’s not the point.”

“It’s precisely the point. You’re just being stubborn because you think having a bad cold is un-giantlike.”

“Well, it is.”

Ballimore shook her head and looked at Cimorene. “Men!” she said in tones of disgust.

“And don’t you say ‘men’ to me,” Dobbilan said. “It’s my job we’re talking about.”

“Maybe you should try a different line of work,” Mendanbar suggested.

“Eh?” Dobbilan peered down at him with interest. “Like what?”

“Consulting,” Mendanbar said at random, because he hadn’t actually thought about it.

“Consulting?”

“You know,” said Cimorene. “Giving advice to people. You could teach other giants the best ways of—of ravaging and pillaging and marauding, and
you
could tell villages the best ways to keep giants away. With all your experience, I’ll bet you’d be good at it.”

“I never thought of that,” Dobbilan said, rubbing his chin.

“I don’t know why not,” Ballimore said. “It’s a very good idea. And you wouldn’t be out in all sorts of weather, catching colds and flu and goodness knows what else.”

“Plundering
has
gotten to be an awful lot of work lately,” the giant admitted. “It would be a relief to stop. I’m getting too old to tramp through fields.”

“I understand consulting pays very well, too,” Mendanbar told him.

“I’ll do it!” Dobbilan said with sudden decision. “Tomorrow morning, first thing. Thank you for the suggestion. What did you say your names were?”

“If you’d listen once in a while, you wouldn’t have to ask me to repeat everything,” Ballimore said. “This is Princess Cimorene, the one who’s been with Kazul for the last year or so and gave me that marvelous biscuit recipe you like so much. And her young man is the King of the Enchanted Forest, who she’s not running away with yet.”

Mendanbar choked and shot an apprehensive look at Cimorene. She rolled her eyes and made a face at him but did not say anything, having apparently decided it was a waste of effort to correct the giantess.

“Pleased to meet you, Princess,” Dobbilan said solemnly. “Nice to see you, King. What brings you to FlatTop Mountain?”

“They say it’s business,” Ballimore said before either Cimorene or Mendanbar could answer.

“Then it will have to wait until after dinner,” Dobbilan announced. “I never discuss business at dinner. Or with dinner, for that matter.” He winked at Cimorene. “Besides, I’m hungry.” He sneezed a third time. “Excuse me.”

Ballimore began scolding again as Cimorene and Mendanbar nodded politely. Mendanbar was beginning to wonder how long they were going to have to stand next to the table, when Ballimore shooed her husband to a seat at one end and started for the other herself, saying over her shoulder, “Cimorene, dear, you and the King are on the right. Just walk around to the chair; it’s all set up.”

With some misgiving, Mendanbar escorted Cimorene past Dobbilan’s chair toward the seat Ballimore had indicated. As they approached, he saw that the giantess had not been exaggerating. A set of normalsized wooden steps, equipped with wheels so as to be easily movable, stood next to the giant right-hand chair, and two ordinary chairs were perched side by side on the seat at the top. The combination was, Mendanbar discovered, exactly the right height to reach the table. Apparently, Ballimore was accustomed to having smaller people at dinner, for the plates and glasses were the usual size as well. As long as Mendanbar did not look down, it was easy to pretend he was sitting at an ordinary dinner table.

The food was very good. They started with fresh greens and went on to roast pig with cranberries, mushrooms in wine, and some sort of lumpy vegetable in a thick brawn sauce that disguised it completely and tasted marvelous. There was a great deal of everything. Mendanbar supposed this was only to be expected at a giant’s table, but Ballimore did not seem to realize that a person who was only a third her size would have a smaller appetite as well. She filled and refilled Mendanbar s plate until he was ready to burst.

Near the end of the meal, Cimorene leaned over and whispered, “Don’t take any dessert.”

“Why not?” Mendanbar asked.

“Ballimore’s using her Cauldron of Plenty,” Cimorene said, “and it doesn’t do desserts very well. So unless you
like
burned mint custard or sour-cream-and-onion ice cream . . .”

“I see,” Mendanbar said quickly. “Then it’s a good thing I couldn’t eat another bite even if I wanted to.”

*
            
*
            
*

When dinner was over, Cimorene brought up the question of the magic carpet. Ballimere nodded at once. “Of course you can borrow a carpet, Cimorene dear. I’ll just take a look around and see what we have.”

“You won’t find much,” said her husband, and sneezed loudly. “That last Englishman you let in took most of them. You should have let me find him and grind his bones, like I’m supposed to.”

“Nonsense,” said Ballimore, frowning at her husband. “We can afford a few cheap magic harps and a coin or two. I keep the good silver and Mother’s jewelry in the top cupboard, where they can’t reach it. Besides, they’re always such nice boys.”

“Huh,” said Dobbilan. “Beggars and thieves, if you ask me, and boring at that.”

“What makes you say that?” Mendanbar asked curiously.

“They always do the same thing—come in, ask for a meal, hide, and then run off with a harp or a bag full of money the minute I fall asleep,” Dobbilan said. “And they’re always named Jack.
Always.
We’ve lived in this castle for twenty years, and every three months, regular as clockwork, one of those boys shows up, and there’s never been a Tom, Dick, or Harry among ‘em. Just Jacks. The English have no imagination.”

“About the carpet,” Cimorene reminded him. “Oh, that. Well, the last Jack wasn’t musical, and he cleaned us out of magic carpets instead of harps.” Dobbilan sneezed again and began to cough.

“Bed for you, dear,” Ballimore said firmly and shooed her husband out of the room. She followed him closely, muttering to herself about cough syrup and vaporizers and hot tea with lemon and honey. Mendanbar and Cimorene looked at each other.

“Is there anywhere else we can borrow a carpet?” Mendanbar asked.

“Not that I know of,” Cimorene said with a worried frown. “We’ll just have to walk. Drat. It’ll take days.”

“We could go back to the Enchanted Forest and—”

“There,” said Ballimore, coming briskly into the room and cutting Mendanbar off in mid-sentence. “He’ll be much better in the morning. I’m afraid he’s right about the carpets, Cimorene dear, but I’ll just have a look around and see if there isn’t something stuck off in a corner somewhere. I can’t believe we’re completely out.”

“It’s quite all right,” Cimorene said. “We’ll manage somehow.”

“Nonsense, dear,” Ballimore said in the same tone she used to her husband. “It will be quite an adventure, seeing what’s stuck off in corners and so on. I haven’t been in some of the storage rooms in years.”

It was clear that nothing they could say would shake her resolve, and after a token protest, they gave in. Ballimore showed them to a pair of comfortably furnished rooms and left them for the night. Mendanbar did not object, even though it was still fairly early. The long walk from the dragon’s cave had been very tiring. He lay down on the bed and fell asleep at once.

*
            
*
            
*

Breakfast next morning was cinnamon-flavored porridge, milk, and toast with blueberry jam. Mendanbar found it waiting on the high table in the central hall when he left his room to look for his hosts. There was no one else around, but the giant-sized dishes and crumbs at either end of the table showed that Ballimore and Dobbilan had already eaten. Mendanbar climbed the stairs to his seat and began dishing up the porridge. Before he had finished filling his bowl, Cimorene walked into the room, peering around for the giants.

“Good morning,” Mendanbar called. “Madame Ballimore and her husband appear to have been and gone, but they’ve left an excellent breakfast. Would you care to join me?”

“I’d be delighted,” Cimorene called back, and climbed the stairs to join him. “I had no idea giants were such early risers,” she said as she sat down in the second chair. “Where do you suppose they’ve gone?”

“Gone?” said Baltimore’s voice from the hallway at the end of the room. “Dear, dear, I thought sure I’d left enough porridge for the pair of you, but it won’t take a minute to make up some more.”

“There’s plenty of breakfast,” Mendanbar said
quickly. “We were talking about you and Dobbilan.”

“But he was supposed to wait for you,” Ballimore said, emerging from the hallway. She inspected the room over the top of the large bundle she carried, then shook her head. “Isn’t that just like a man? Cimorene dear, I’ve found just the thing for you. I knew there would be something upstairs, no matter what Dobbilan said. Are you quite certain you have enough porridge?”

“Quite certain,” Cimorene said. “What—”

“Ballimore! Ballimore, where’s the inkwell?” Dobbilan’s voice echoed down the corridor, interrupting Cimorene in mid-sentence. “Where are you? Why can’t I find anything around here when I want it?”

“Because you never look in the right place, dear,” Ballimore called. “The inkwell is in the kitchen next to the grocery list, where it’s been for the past six months, and I’m in the dining room. Which is where you’d be if you’d done what I asked you to, instead of wandering off in all directions.”

“I didn’t wander off,” Dobbilan objected, sticking his head into the room. “I went to get some paper and ink so I could write a letter. Oh, good morning, Princess, King. I didn’t see you.”

“You were supposed to see them,” Ballimore said, exasperated. “You were supposed to be here when—oh, never mind.”

“Well, if you’re done scolding, could you find me that inkwell?”

Ballimore shook her head, set her bundle down on a chair, and went off to deal with her erring husband. Mendanbar looked at Cimorene, and they both burst out laughing at the same time.

BOOK: Wrede, Patricia C - Enchanted Forest 02
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