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Wrede Patricia Collins - Searching for Dragons.

sf_fantasyCollins Wredefor Dragons, the King of the Enchanted Forest, plays hooky one day and goes for a stroll to the Green Glass pool. He finds a section of the forest destroyed – apparently by dragons. Perturbed, Mendanbar visits Morwen for advice. Morwen counsels him to pay a visit to Kazul, the King of the Dragons. So Mendanbar retrieves his magical sword from the castle armory, and sets out for the Mountains of Morning – but not before he is paid a suspicious visit by Zemenar, the Head Wizard of the Society of Wizards.Mendanbar journeys to the cave of the King of the Dragons, only to find her away on a diplomatic trip. But he does meet Princess Cimorene (Dealing with Dragons), now Kazul's Chief Cook and Librarian. Cimorene admits that Kazul has been missing for days, and that she plans to go out in search of her. Mendanbar insists on accompanying the princess, with whom he finds himself very much taken.The two set out in search of the missing Kazul. On the way, they visit two wacky giants, contend with a defective magic carpet, and help out a well-meaning but financially-broke dwarf with a brood of royal children. But there is danger on their trail – for, once out of the Enchanted Forest, Mendanbar's magical sword starts leaking magic, attracting the attention of a horde of greedy wizards as well as an overly-inquisitive magician. And, as Mendanbar and Cimorene continue on their rescue mission, it becomes clear that Kazul's disappearance is linked with the Enchanted Forest. The Society of Wizards has invented a powerful new spell – and Mendanbar's sword may be the key.

.0 – Initial import to FB2for Dragons

Which the King of the Enchanted Forest Takes a Day OffKing of the Enchanted Forest was twenty years old and lived in a rambling, scrambling, mixed-up castle somewhere near the center of his domain. He sometimes wished he could say that it was exactly at the center, but this was impossible because the edges and borders and even the geography of the Enchanted Forest tended to change frequently and without warning.you are the ruler of a magical kingdom, however, you must expect some small inconveniences, and the King tried not to worry too much about the location of his castle.castle itself was an enormous building with a wide, square moat, six mismatched towers, four balconies, and far too many staircases.of the previous Kings of the Enchanted Forest had been very fond of sweeping up and down staircases in a long velvet robe and his best crown, so he had added stairs wherever he thought there was room. Some of the steps wound up one side of a tower and down the other without actually going anywhere, which caused no end of confusion among visitors.inside of the castle was worse than the outside. There were corridors that looped and curled and twisted, rooms that led into other rooms, and even rooms that had been built inside of other rooms. There were secret passageways and sliding panels and trapdoors. There were several cellars, a basement, and two dungeons, one of which could only be reached from the sixth floor of the North-Northwest Tower .



"There is something backwards about climbing up six flights of stairs in order to get to a dungeon," the King of the Enchanted Forest said, not for the first time, to his steward.steward, a small, elderly elf named Willin, looked up from a handwritten list nearly as long as he was tall and scowled. "That is not the point, Your Majesty."two were in the castle study, going over the day's tasks. Willin stood in the center of the room, ignoring several chairs of assorted sizes, while the King sat behind a huge, much-battered oak desk, his long legs stretched out comfortably beneath it. He was not wearing a crown or even a circlet, his clothes were as plain as a gardener's, and his black hair was rumpled and needed trimming, but somehow he still managed to look like a king. Perhaps it was the thoughtful expression in his gray eyes.cleared his throat and went on, "As the center of Your Majesty's kingdom, this castle-" "It's not at the center of the kingdom," the King said, irritated. "It's only close. And please just call me Mendanbar and save all that 'Your Majesty' nonsense for a formal occasion."

"We don't have formal occasions anymore," Willin complained. "Your Majesty has canceled all of them-the Annual Arboreal Party, the Banquet for Lost Princes, the Birthday Ball, the Celebration of Colors, the Christening Commemoration, the-" "I know," Mendanbar interrupted. "And I'm sure you have them all written down neatly somewhere, so you don't have to recite them all. But we really didn't need so many dinners and audiences and things."

"And now we don't have any," Willin said, unmollified. "And all because you said formal occasions were stuffy."

"They are stuffy," King Mendanbar replied. "Stuffy and boring. And so is being 'Your Majestied' every third word, especially when there's only the two of us here. It sounds silly."

"In your father's day, everyone was required to show proper respect."

"Father was a stuffed shirt and you know it," Mendanbar said without bitterness. "If he hadn't drowned in the Lake of Weeping Dreamers three years ago, you'd be grumbling as much about him as you do about me."scowled reprovingly at the King. "Your father was an excellent King of the Enchanted Forest ."

"I never said he wasn't. But no matter how good a king he was, you can't deny that he was a stuffed shirt, too."

"If I may return to the topic of discussion, Your Majesty?" the elf said stiffly.King rolled his eyes. "Can I stop you?"

"Your Majesty has only to dismiss me."

"Yes, and if I do you'll sulk for days. Oh, go on. What about the North-Northwest dungeon?"

"It has come to my attention that it is not properly equipped. When it was first built, by Your Majesty's great-great-great-great-grandfather, it was naturally stocked with appropriate equipment." Willin set his list of things to do on Mendanbar's desk. He drew a second scroll from inside his vest and began to read. "Two leather whips, one Iron Maiden, four sets of thumbscrews-" "I'll take your word for it, Willin," the King said hastily. When Willin got going, he could read lists for hours on end. "What's the point?"

"Most of these items are still in the dungeon," Willin said, rerolling the scroll and stowing it inside his vest once more, "but the rack was removed in your great-great-grandfather's time and has never been replaced."

"Really?" King Mendanbar said, interested in spite of himself. "Why did he take it out?"little steward coughed. "I believe your great-great-grandmother wanted it to dry tablecloths on."

"Tablecloths?" Mendanbar looked out the window at the North-North-west Tower and shook his head. "She made someone haul a rack up eight flights of stairs and down six more, just to dry tablecloths?"

"A very determined woman, your great-great-grandmother," Willin said.

"In any case, the dungeon is in need of a new rack."

"And it can stay that way," said Mendanbar. "Why should we get another rack? We've never used the one we have." He hesitated, frowning.

"At least, I don't think we've ever used it. Have we?"

"That is not the point, Your Majesty," Willin answered in a hurry tone, from which the King concluded that they hadn't. "It is my duty to see that the castle is suitably furnished, from the topmost tower to the deepest dungeon.the dungeon-" "-needs a new rack," the King finished. "I'll think about it. What else?"elf consulted his list. "The nightshades are becoming a problem in the northeast."

"Nightshades are always a problem. Is that all?"

"Ah…" Willin cleared his throat, then cleared it again. "There is the matter of Your Majesty's marriage."

"What marriage?" Mendanbar asked, alarmed.

"Your Majesty's marriage to a lady of suitable parentage," Willin said firmly. He pulled another scroll from inside his vest. "I have here a list of possible choices, which I have compiled after a thorough survey of the lands surrounding the Enchanted Forest."

"You made a survey? Willin, you haven't been talking to that dreadful woman with all the daughters, have you? Because if you have I'll . . . I'll use you to test out that new rack you want so badly."

"Queen Alexandra is an estimable lady," Willin said severely. "And her daughters are among the loveliest and most accomplished princesses in the world. I have not, of course, talked to the Queen about the possibility, but any one of her daughters would make a suitable bride for Your Majesty."tapped the scroll meaningfully.

"Suitable? Willin, all twelve of them put together don't have enough common sense to fill a teaspoon! And neither have you, if you think I'm going to marry one of them."sighed. "I did hope Your Majesty would at least consider the idea."

"Then you weren't thinking straight," the King said firmly. "After all the trouble I've had…"

"Perhaps Your Majesty's experiences have given you a biased view of the matter."

"Biased or not, I'm not going to marry anyone any time soon.not an empty-headed princess, and especially not one of Queen Alexandra's daughters. So you can stop bringing it up every day.you understand?"

"Yes, Your Majesty. But-" "But nothing. If that's everything, you may go. And take that list of princesses with you!"

"Yes, Your Majesty." With a final, fierce scowl, Willin bowed and left the room, every inch of his two-foot height reeking of disapproval.sighed and dropped his head into his hands, digging his fingers into his thick, dark hair. Willin meant well, but why did he have to bring the subject up now, just when it looked as if things were going to calm down for a little while? The feud between the elf clans had finally been settled (more or less to everyone's satisfaction), the most recent batch of enchanted princes had been sent packing with a variety of improbable remedies, and the giants to the north weren't due to raid anyone for another couple of months at least. Mendanbar had been looking forward to a quiet week or two, but if Willin was going to start nagging him about marriage, there was little chance of that.

"I might just as well go on a quest or hire some dwarves to put in another staircase for all the peace I'm likely to get around here," Mendanbar said aloud. "When Willin gets hold of an idea, he never lets go of it."

"He's right, you know," said a deep, raspy voice from somewhere near the ceiling. The King looked up, and the carved wooden gargoyle in the corner grinned at him. "You should get married," it said.

"Don't you start," Mendanbar said.

"Try and stop me," snarled the gargoyle. "My opinion is as good as anyone else's."

"Or as bad," the King muttered.

"I heard that!" The gargoyle squinted downward. "No thanks to you, I might add. Do you know how long it's been since anyone cleaned this corner? I've got dust in my ears, and I expect something slimy to start growing on my claws any minute now."

"Complain to one of the maids," Mendanbar said, irritated. "We weren't talking about hiring a housekeeper."

"Why not? What are you, cheap or something?"

"No, and I wouldn't discuss it with you even if I were."

"King Mendanbar the Cheapskate, that's what they'll call you," the gargoyle said with relish. "What do you think of that?"

"I think I won't talk to you at all," said Mendanbar, who knew from experience that the gargoyle only got more unpleasant the longer it talked.

"I'm leaving."

"Wait a minute! I haven't even gotten started yet."

"If Willin asks, tell him I've gone for a walk," Mendanbar said. As he left the room, he waved, twitching two of the invisible threads of power that crisscrossed the Enchanted Forest. The gargoyle's angry screeching changed abruptly to surprise as a stream of soapy water squirted out of the empty air in front of it and hit it squarely in its carved mouth.smiled as the door closed behind him, shutting out the gargoyle's splutters. "He won't complain about dust again for a while, anyway," Mendanbar said aloud. As he walked down the hall, his smile grew. It had been a long time since he had taken a day off. If Willin wanted to grumble about it, he could go ahead and grumble. The King had earned a holiday, and he was going to have one.outside without being caught was easy, even without using any invisibility spells (which Mendanbar considered cheating). Willin was the only one who might have objected, and he was at the other end of the castle somewhere. Mendanbar sneaked past two maids and the footman at the front door anyway, just for practice. He had a feeling he might want to do a lot of sneaking in the near future, especially if Willin was going to start fussing about Queen Alexandra's daughters again.he had crossed the main bridge over the moat and reached the giant trees of the Enchanted Forest, he let himself relax a little, but not too much. The Enchanted Forest had its own peculiar rules, and even the King was not exempt from them. If he drank from the wrong stream and got turned into a rabbit, or accidentally stepped on a slowstone, he would have just as much trouble getting back to normal as anyone else. He still remembered how much bother it had been to get rid of the donkey's ears he'd gotten by eating the wrong salad when he was eight.course, now that he was King of the Enchanted Forest he had certain privileges. Most of the creatures that lived in the forest would obey him, however reluctantly, and he could find his way in and out and around without even thinking about it. He could use the magic of the forest directly, too, which made him as powerful as any three wizards and a match for all but the very best enchanters.

"Magic makes things much simpler," Mendanbar said aloud. He looked around at the bright green moss that covered the ground, thick and springy as the finest carpet, and the huge trees that rose above it, and he smiled. Pleasant as it looked, without magic he wouldn't have wanted to wander around it alone.came naturally to the Kings of the Enchanted Forest . It had to; you couldn't begin to do a good job of ruling such a magical kingdom unless you had a lot of magic of your own. The forest chose its own kings, and once it had chosen them, it gave them the ability to sense the magic permeating the forest and an instinct for using it. The kings all came from Mendanbar's family, for no one else could safely use the sword that did the choosing, but sometimes the crown went to a second son or a cousin instead of to the eldest son of the king.considered himself lucky to have followed his father onto the throne., he glanced back toward the castle, then shook his head.

"Even a king needs a day off once in a while," he told himself. "And it's not as if they need me for anything urgent." He turned his back and marched into the trees, determined to enjoy his holiday.a few minutes, he strolled aimlessly, enjoying the cool, dense shadows.he decided to visit the Green Glass Pool. He hadn't been there for a while, and it was one of his favorite places. He thought about using magic to move himself there in the blink of an eye, but decided against it.

"After all," he said, "I wanted a walk. And the pool isn't that far away."set off briskly in the direction of the pool.hour later, he still hadn't reached it, and he was beginning to feel a little cross. The forest had shifted twice on him, each time moving the pool sideways or backward, so that not only was it farther away than it had been, it was in a different direction as well. It was almost as if the forest didn't want him to find the place. If he hadn't been the King of the Enchanted Forest, Mendanbar would never have known he was going the wrong way.

"This is very odd," Mendanbar said, frowning. "I'd better find out what's going on." Normally, the Enchanted Forest didn't play this sort of game with him. He checked to make sure his sword was loose in its sheath and easy to draw if he needed it. Then he lifted his hand and touched a strand of magic floating invisibly beside his shoulder.around him, the huge tree trunks blurred and faded into gray mist.mist thickened into a woolly fog, then vanished with a suddenness that always surprised him no matter how many times he did the spell., he shook his head and looked around.was standing right where he had wanted to be, on the rocky lip of the Green Glass Pool. The pool looked as it always did: flat and still as a mirror, and the same shade of green as the new leaves on a poplar.

"Oh!" said a soft, frightened voice from behind him. "Oh, who are you?"jumped and almost fell into the pool. He recovered his balance quickly and turned, and his heart sank. Sitting on the ground at the foot of an enormous oak was a girl. She wore a thin silver circlet on her head, and the face below it was heart-shaped and very lovely. Her long, golden hair and sky blue dress stood out dearly against the oak's brown bark, like a picture made of jewels set in a dark-colored frame. That was probably exactly the effect she had intended, Mendanbar thought with a resigned sigh. Somehow princesses, even the ones with less wit than a turtle, always knew just how to appear to their best advantage.

"Who are you?" the princess asked again. She was examining Mendanbar with an expression of great interest, and she did not look frightened anymore. "And how did you come here, to this most solitary and forsaken place?"

"My name is Mendanbar, and I was out for a walk," Mendanbar replied.sighed again and added, "Is there something I might do for you?"princess hesitated. "Prince Mendanbar?" she asked delicately.

"No," Mendanbar answered, puzzled.

"Lord Mendanbar, then? Or, belike, Sir Mendanbar?"

"I'm afraid not." He was beginning to catch on, and he hoped fervently that she wouldn't think of asking whether he was a king. It was a good thing he wasn't wearing his crown. Ambitious princesses were even worse than the usual variety, and he didn't want to deal with either one right now.princess's dainty eyebrows drew together for a moment while she considered his answer. Finally, her expression cleared. "Then you must be a virtuous woodcutter's son, whose deeds of valor and goodwill shall earn you lands and title in some glorious future," she said positively.

"A woodcutter? In the Enchanted Forest?" Mendanbar said, appalled.'t the girl have any sense? "No, thank you!"

"But how came you here to find me, if you are neither prince nor knight nor deserving youth?" the princess asked in wide-eyed confusion.

"Oh… sometimes these things happen," Mendanbar said vaguely.

"Were you expecting someone in particular?"

"Not exactly," said the princess. She studied him, frowning, as if she were trying to decide whether it would be all right to ask him for help even if he wasn't a prince or a lord or a virtuous woodcutter.

"How did you get here, by the way?" Mendanbar asked quickly. He hated to refuse princesses pointblank, because they cried and pouted and carried on, but they always asked him to do such silly things. Bring them a white rose from the Garden of the Moon, for instance, or kill a giant or a dragon in single combat. It would be better for both of them if he could distract this princess so that she never asked.

"Alas! It is a tale of great woe," the princess said. "Out of jealousy, my stepmother cast me from my father's castle while he was away at war. Since then I have wandered many days, lost and alone and friendless, until I knew not where I was."sounded as if she had rehearsed her entire speech, and what little sympathy Mendanbar had had for her vanished. She and her stepmother had probably talked the whole thing out, he decided, and come to the conclusion that the quickest and surest way for her to make a suitable marriage was to go adventuring. He was amazed that she'd actually gotten into the Enchanted Forest. Usually, the woods kept out the obviously selfish.

"At last I found myself in a great waste," the princess continued complacently.

"Then I came near giving myself up for lost, for it was dry and terrible. But I saw this wood upon the farther side, and so I gathered my last strength to cross. Fortune was with me, and I achieved my goal. Fatigued with my efforts, I sat down beneath this tree to rest, and-" '"Wait a minute," Mendanbar said, frowning. "You crossed some sort of wasteland and arrived here? That can't be right. There aren't any waste-lands bordering the Enchanted Forest."

"You insult me," the princess said with dignity. "How should I lie to such a one as you? But go and see for yourself, if you yet doubt my words."waved one hand gracefully at the woods behind her.

"Thank you, I will," said Mendanbar. Still frowning, he walked rapidly past the princess in the direction she had indicated.princess's mouth fell open in surprise as he went by. Before she could collect herself to demand that he return and explain, Mendanbar was out of sight behind a tree.

Which Mendanbar Discovers a Problemwas still congratulating himself on his escape when the trees ended abruptly. He stopped, staring, and quit worrying about the princess entirely.piece of the Enchanted Forest as large as the castle lawn was missing., not missing; here and there, a few dead stumps poked up out of the dry, bare ground. Something had destroyed a circular swath of trees and moss, destroyed it so completely that only stumps and a few flakes of ash remained.taste of dust on the wind brought Mendanbar out of his daze. He hesitated, then took a step forward into the area of devastation. As he passed from woods to waste, he felt a sudden absence and stumbled in shock. Where the unseen lines of power should have been, humming with the magical energy that was the life of the Enchanted Forest , he sensed nothing. The magic was gone.

"No wonder that princess didn't have any trouble getting into the forest," Mendanbar said numbly. Without magic, this section of forest couldn't dodge away from her; all the princess had to do to get into the woods was cross it.annoyed, Mendanbar kicked at the ground, dislodging more ashes. He bent to touch one of the stumps. The wood crumbled to dust where his hand met it. Coughing, he sat back and saw something glittering on the ground beside the next stump. He went over and picked it up.was a thin, hard disk a little larger than his hand, and it was a bright, iridescent green.

"A dragon's scale? What is a dragon's scale doing here?"was no one near to answer his question. He inspected the scale with care, but it told him nothing more. Scowling at it, he shrugged and put it in his pocket. Then he began a methodical search of the dead area, hoping to find something that would reveal a little more.an hour later, he had collected four more dragon scales in various shades of green and was feeling decidedly grim. He had thought he was on good terms with the dragons who lived to the east in the Mountains of Morning: he left them alone and they left him alone. Glancing around the burned space, he grimaced.

"This doesn't look much like 'leaving me alone," "he muttered angrily.

"What do those dragons think they are doing?" He began to wish he had not left them quite so much alone for the past three years. Right now it would be useful to know something more about dragons than that they were all large and breathed fire., Mendanbar pocketed the dragon scales and walked back to the edge of the burned-out circle. It was a relief to be under the trees where he could feel the magic of the forest again. Frowning, he paused to look back at the ashy clearing.

"I can't just leave it like this," he said to himself. "If that princess came this way, anyone might get into the Enchanted Forest just by walking across the barren space. But how do I put magic back into an area that's been sucked dry?"frowning, he circled the edge of the clearing, nudging at the threads of magic that wound through the air. None of them would move any closer to the burned section, but on the far side he found the place where the normal country outside the forest touched the clearing.paused. It wasn't a very wide gap.

"I wonder," he said softly. "If I could move it a little, just around the edge…", he reached out and gathered a handful of magic. It felt a lot like taking hold of a handful of thin cords, except that the cords were invisible, floating in the air, and made his palms tingle when he touched them. And, of course, each cord was actually a piece of solid magic that he could use to cast a spell if he wanted. In fact, he had to concentrate hard to keep from casting a spell or two with all that magic crammed together in his hands.gently on the invisible threads, Mendanbar stepped slowly backward out of the Enchanted Forest. The brilliant green moss followed him, rippling under his feet. The trees of the forest wavered as if he were looking at them through a shimmer of hot air rising off sunbaked stone.took another step, and another. The threads of magic felt warm and thin and slippery. He tightened his grip and took another step. The trees flickered madly, as if he were blinking very rapidly, and the moss swelled and twitched like the back of a horse trying to get rid of an unwanted rider. A drop of sweat ran down his forehead and hung on the tip of his nose. The magic in his hands felt hot and tightly stretched. He stepped back again.a sudden wrench, everything snapped into place. The trees stopped flickering and the moss smoothed and lay still. The forest closed up around the burned-out clearing, circling it completely and cutting it off from the outside world. Mendanbar gave a sigh of relief.

"It worked?" he cried triumphantly. A breeze brushed past him, carrying the sharp smell of ashes, and he sobered. He hadn't repaired the damage; he had only isolated it. "Well, at least it should keep people from wandering into the Enchanted Forest by accident," he reminded himself.

"That's something."by one, Mendanbar let go of the threads of magic he had pulled across the gap. He felt them join the other unseen strands, merging back into the normal network of magic that crisscrossed the forest.he had released the last thread, he wiped his hands on his shirt, then wiped the sweat off his face with his sleeve.

"Are you quite finished?" said a voice from a tree above his head.looked up and saw a fat gray squirrel sitting on a branch, staring down at him with disapproval.

"I think so," Mendanbar said. "For the time being, anyway."

"For the time being?" the squirrel said indignantly. "What kind of an answer is that? Not useful, that's what I call it, not useful at all.my way across this forest is hard enough when people don't make bits of it jump around, not to mention burning pieces of it and I don't know what else. I don't know what this place is coming to, really I don't."

"Were you here when the trees were burned?" Mendanbar asked. "Did you see what happened? Or who did it?"

"Well, of course not," said the squirrel. "If I had, I'd have given him, her, or it a piece of my mind, I can tell you. Really, it's too bad. I'm going to have to work out a whole new route to get home. And as for giving directions to lost princes, well, it's hopeless, that's what it is, just hopeless. I'll get blamed for it when they come out wrong, too, see if I don't. Word always gets around. 'Don't trust the squirrel," they'll say, 'you always go wrong if you follow the squirrel's directions." They never stop to think of the difficulties involved in a job like mine, oh, no. They don't stop to say thank-you, either, not them. Ask the squirrel and go running off, that's what they do, and never so much as look back. No consideration, no gratitude.'d think they'd been raised in a palace for all the manners they have."

"If they're princes, they probably have been raised in palaces," Mendanbar said. "Princes usually are."

"Well, no wonder none of them have any manners, then." The squirrel sniffed. "They ought to be sent to school in a forest, where people are polite.don't see any of my children behaving like that, no, sir. Please and thank you and yes, sir and no, ma'am-that's how I brought them up, all twenty-three of them, and what's good enough for squirrels is good enough for princes, I say."

"I'm sure you're right," Mendanbar said. "Now, about the burned spot-" "Wicked, that's what I call it," the squirrel interrupted. "But hooligans like that don't stop to think, do they? Well, if they did, they wouldn't go around setting things on fire and making a lot of trouble and inconvenience for people. Inconsiderate, every last one of them, and they'll be sorry for it one day, you just wait and see if they aren't."

"Hooligans?" Mendanbar blinked and began to feel more cheerful.he wasn't in trouble with the dragons after all. Maybe it had been a rogue who had burned out part of his forest. That would be bad, but at least he wouldn't have to figure out a way of dragon-proofing the whole kingdom. He frowned. "How am I going to find out for sure?" he wondered aloud.

"Ask Morwen," said the squirrel, flicking her tail.

"What?"

"I said, ask Morwen. Honestly, don't you big people know how to listen? You'd think none of you had ever talked to a squirrel before, the way most of you behave."

"I'm very sorry," Mendanbar said. "Who's Morwen?"

"That's better," the squirrel said, mollified. "Morwen's a witch. She lives over by the mountains-just head that way until you get to the stream, then follow it to the big oak tree with the purple leaves.left and walk for ten minutes and you should come out in her backyard. That is," she added darkly, "you should if all this burning things up and moving things around hasn't tangled everything too badly."

"You think this witch had something to do with what happened?"waved at the ashy clearing a few feet away.

"I said no such thing! Morwen is a very respectable person, even if she does keep cats."

"Then I don't understand why you think I should talk to her."

"You asked for my advice, and I've given it," said the squirrel.

"That's my job. I'm not supposed to explain it, too, for heaven's sake. If you want explanations, talk to a griffin."

"If I see one, I will," said Mendanbar. "Thank you for your advice."

"You're welcome," said the squirrel, sounding pleased. She flicked her tail twice and leaped to a higher branch. "Good-bye." In another moment she had disappeared behind the trunk of the tree.

"Good-bye," Mendanbar called after her. He waited, but there was no further response. The squirrel had gone., Mendanbar started walking in the direction the squirrel had pointed. When someone in the Enchanted Forest gave you advice, you were usually best off following it, even if you were the King.

'specially if you're the King," Mendanbar reminded himself. He wished he knew a little more about this Morwen person, though. He wasn't really surprised that he hadn't heard of her. So many witches lived in and around the Enchanted Forest that it was impossible for anyone to keep track of them all. Still, this one must be something special, or the squirrel wouldn't have sent the King of the Enchanted Forest to her.sort of witch was Morwen? "Respectable" didn't tell him a lot, especially coming from a squirrel. Morwen could be a white witch, but she could also be the sort of witch who lived in a house made of cookies in order to enchant passing children.

"She could even be a fire witch," he said to himself. "There are probably one or two of them who could be termed respectable." He thought about that for a moment. He'd never heard of any himself.Morwen had lived in the Enchanted Forest for a long time, she was probably a decent sort of witch, he decided at last. The nasty ones generally made trouble before they'd been around very long, and then someone would complain to the King.

"And nobody has complained about Morwen," he finished.reached the stream and turned left. Maybe it had been a mistake to cancel all those boring formal festivals and dinners Willin liked so much, he mused. They would have given him a chance to meet some of the ordinary people who lived in the Enchanted Forest. Or rather, he amended, the people who didn't make trouble. "Ordinary" was not the right word for anyone who lived in the Enchanted Forest, not if they managed to stay alive and in more or less their proper shape.reflections were cut short by a loud roar. Glancing up, he saw a lion bounding toward him along the bank of the stream. It looked huge and fierce and not at all friendly. As it leaped for his throat, Mendanbar batted hastily at a nearby strand of magic. The lion sailed over Mendanbar's head and landed well behind him, looking surprised and embarrassed. It whirled and tried again, but this time Mendanbar was ready for it. With a quick twist and pull, he froze the lion in the middle of rearing on its hind legs and stepped back to study it.lion roared again, plainly frustrated as well as embarrassed and confused. Mendanbar frowned and twitched another invisible thread.the roaring had words in it.

"Let me down." the lion shouted. "This is entirely undignified. How dare you treat me like this?"

"I'm the King," said Mendanbar. "It's my job to keep this forest as safe as I reasonably can. And I don't much like being jumped at when I'm just walking along minding my own business."

"What?" The lion stopped roaring and peered at him nearsightedly.

"Oh, bother. I'm exceedingly sorry, Your Majesty. I didn't recognize you.'re not wearing your crown."

"That's not the point," said the King. "It shouldn't make any difference."

"On the contrary," the lion said earnestly. "I'm the guardian of the Pool of Gold, and I'm supposed to keep unauthorized people from dipping branches in it, or diving in and turning into statues-that sort of thing. But if you're the King of the Enchanted Forest, you're not an unauthorized person at all, and I've made a dreadful mistake. I do apologize."

"You should," said Mendanbar. He looked around and frowned.

"Where is this Pool of Gold you're supposed to be guarding?"

'Just around the bend," the lion answered. He sounded uncomfortable and a little worried.

"Then what are you doing attacking people over here?" Mendanbar demanded. "I might have gone right by."

"You wouldn't have if you were a prince," the lion muttered. "They never go on by. I was only attempting to get ahead of things a little, that's all. I didn't mean anything by it."

"Yes, well, you should have thought it through," Mendanbar said in a stern tone. "Princes don't always travel alone, you know. Someone could distract you with a fight along here while a friend of his stole water or dipped branches or whatever he wanted. This far away from the pool, you wouldn't even notice."

"That never occurred to me," said the lion, much abashed. "I'm sorry."

"Stick to the pool from now on," Mendanbar told it. "And make sure that the people you jump at are really trying to get at the water, and not just wandering by."

"Yes, Your Majesty," said the lion. "Uh, would you mind letting me down now?"nodded and untwisted the threads of magic that held the lion motionless. The lion dropped to all fours and shook itself, then bowed very low. "Thank you, Your Majesty," it said. "Is there anything I can do for you?"

"Does a witch named Morwen live somewhere around here?"asked.

"Sure," said the lion. "Her house is up over the hill where the blue catnip grows. It isn't far. I haven't ever been there myself, of course," it added hastily, "since I have to guard the Pool of Gold, you know. But sometimes one of her cats pays a call, and that's what they tell me."

"Thank you," Mendanbar said. "That's very helpful."

"You're welcome, Your Majesty," said the lion. "Any time. Is there anything else? Because if there isn't, I should really be getting back to the pool."

"That's all," Mendanbar said, and bid the lion a polite good-bye. He waited where he stood until the lion was well out of sight, then continued on. He was very thoughtful, and a little annoyed. His quiet walk was turning out to be more of a project than he had expected.short while later, he passed the oak the squirrel had described, and a little farther on he found a hill covered with bright blue catnip.paused, debating the wisdom of walking around the hill rather than through the thick growth.

"You never know what things like oddly colored catnip will do if you touch them," Mendanbar reminded himself. He looked at the knee-high carpet of blue leaves, then glanced at the deep shadows below the trees at the foot of the hill.

"On the other hand, one of the easiest ways of getting lost in the Enchanted Forest is to not follow directions exactly." He looked at the catnip again. He did not want to spend hours hunting for Morwen's house just to avoid some oddly colored plants. Cautiously, he poked at the invisible network of magic that hung over the hill. It seemed normal enough.a shrug, he waded in.to the top, he saw some of the stalks near the edge of the patch wobble, as if something small had run through it. The wobble kept pace with him until he reached the top of the hill, but though he tried to see what was causing it, he was unable to catch a glimpse of whatever was brushing by the plants.patch of catnip ended at the top of the hill. Mendanbar stopped to catch his breath and look around. The hill sloped gently down to a white picket fence that surrounded three sides of a garden. A large lilac bush was blooming on one side of the gate in the middle of the fence, and an even larger apple tree loaded with fist-sized green apples stood on the other side.frowned. "Aren't lilacs and apple trees supposed to bloom at the same time? What is one doing with blossoms while the other is covered with fruit?" Then he laughed at himself. "Well, it's a witch's garden, after all." He supposed he shouldn't be surprised if things behaved strangely.the other side of the garden stood a solid little gray house with a red roof. Smoke was drifting out of the chimney, and lace curtains were blowing in and out the open windows on either side of the back door. Below the right-hand window was a window box overflowing with red and blue flowers. The stone step outside the door was cleaner than the floor inside Mendanbar's study, and he resolved to do something about that as soon as e got home. Sleeping on one corner of the step was a white cat, her fur gleaming in the sun.walked down the hill to the gate. A small brass sign hung on the latch. It read: "Please keep the gate CLOSED. Salesmen enter at their own risk." Smiling, Mendanbar lifted the latch and pushed the gate open.loud yowl from just over his head made him jump back. He looked up and discovered a fat tabby cat perched in the branches of the apple tree, staring down at him with green eyes. An instant later, a long gray streak shot out from behind a nearby tree and through the open gate. It slowed as it neared the house, and Mendanbar saw that it was actually a lean gray cat with a ragged tail. The gray cat leaped to the doorstep and from there to the sill of the open window. The white cat on the step raised her head and made a complaining noise as the gray one vanished inside the house.

"So much for a surprise visit," Mendanbar said to the cat in the tree.cat gave him a smug look and began washing its paws. Mendanbar stepped through the gate, closed it carefully, and started across the garden toward the house.

Which Mendanbar Receives Some Advice from a WitchMendanbar was halfway across the garden, the door of the cottage swung open. Seven cats of various sizes and colors trotted out, tails high.flowed over the stoop, collecting the sleepy white cat on their way, and lined themselves up in a neat row. Mendanbar stopped and looked down at them, blinking. They blinked back, all eight at once, as if they had been trained.

"Well?" said a voice.looked up. A short woman in a loose black robe stood in the open doorway. Her hair was a pale ginger color, piled loosely on her head. Mendanbar supposed she must use magic to keep it up, for not one wisp was out of place. She wore a pair of glasses with gold rims and rectangular lenses, and she held a broom in one hand.

"You must be Morwen," Mendanbar said with more confidence than he felt, for she was quite pretty and, apart from the black robe and broom, not witchy-looking at all.woman nodded. Giving her a courteous half-bow, Mendanbar went on, "I'm Mendanbar, and I was advised to talk to you about-well, about a problem I've discovered. I hope you weren't on your way out." He indicated the broom.examined him for another moment, then nodded briskly. "So you're the King. Come in and tell me why you're here, and I'll see what I can do for you."

"How do you know I'm the King?" Mendanbar asked as the cats exchanged glances and then began wandering off in various directions. He felt disgruntled, because he had not intended to mention the fact. At least Morwen wasn't curtsying or simpering, and she hadn't started calling him "Your Majesty" yet, either. Perhaps it would be all right.

"I recognize you, of course," Morwen said. She set the broom against the wall behind the door as she spoke. "You've let your hair get a bit long, but that doesn't make much difference, one way or another. And Mendanbar isn't exactly a common name these days. Are you going to stand there all day?"

"I'm sorry," Mendanbar said, following Morwen into the house. "I didn't realize we'd met before."

"We haven't," Morwen said. "When I moved to the Enchanted Forest five years ago, I made sure I knew what you looked like. I'd have been asking for trouble, otherwise."

"Oh," said Mendanbar, taken aback. He had never thought of himself as one of the hazards of the Enchanted Forest that someone might wish to be prepared for, and he did not like the idea much, now that it had been pointed out to him.waved at a sturdy chair next to a large table in the center of the room. "Sit down. Would you like some cider?"

"That sounds very good." Mendanbar took the chair while Morwen crossed to a cupboard on the far wall and began taking mugs and bottles out of it. He was glad to have a minute to collect his wits. He was not sure what he had expected her to be like, but Morwen was definitely not it.house was not what he had expected, either. The inside was as neat and clean as the outside. The walls of the single large room were painted a pale, silvery gray. Six large windows let in light and air from all directions. There were no gargoyles or grimacing faces or wild tangles of trees and vines carved into the window ledges or the woodwork around the ceiling, and no intricate patterns set into the floorboards. One of the cats had come inside and was sitting on a big, square trunk, washing his paws; another was lying in an open window, keeping an eye on the backyard.was a large black stove in the corner by the cupboard, and three more chairs around the table where Mendanbar was sitting. It was all very pleasant and uncluttered, and Mendanbar found himself wishing he had a few rooms like this in his castle.

"There," said Morwen as she set a large blue jug and two matching mugs in the center of the table. "Now, tell me about this problem of yours."cleared his throat and began. "About an hour ago, I ran across a section of the Enchanted Forest that had been destroyed. The trees had been burned to stumps and there wasn't even any moss left on the ground. I'm afraid it may have been a rogue dragon. I found dragon scales in the ashes, and a squirrel suggested I come and see you."

"Dragon scales?" Morwen pressed her lips together, looking very grim indeed. "Did you bring them with you?"

"Yes," said Mendanbar. He dug the scales out of his pocket and spread them out on the table.

"Hmmm," said Morwen, bending over the table. "I don't like the look of this."

"Can you tell anything about this dragon from his scales. Mendanbar asked.

"For one thing, these scales aren't all from the same dragon," Morwen said. Her frown deepened. "At least, they shouldn't be."

"How can you tell?" Mendanbar asked, his stomach sinking.

"Look at the colors. This one is yellow-green; that one has a grayish tinge, and this one has a purple sheen. You don't get that kind of variation on one dragon."

"Oh, no," Mendanbar groaned, shutting his eyes and leaning his forehead against his hands. He had so hoped that it had been a single dragon.would have been a nuisance, sending letters of complaint to the King of the Dragons and waiting for an answer, but it would have been better than a war. If a group of dragons had attacked the Enchanted Forest, war was almost inevitable. "You're sure there were several dragons involved?"

"I didn't say that," Morwen snapped. "I said that these scales look as if they came from different dragons."

"But if the scales came from different dragons-" "I didn't say that, either," Morwen said. "I said they looked as if they came from different dragons. Have a little patience, Mendanbar."opened his mouth to say something else, then closed it again.was staring with great concentration at one of the scales, the one that was the brightest green, and she didn't look as if she would welcome an interruption. Suddenly she straightened and in one swift movement scooped the scales together like a pile of cards. She tapped the stack against the tabletop to straighten it, then set it down with an air of satisfaction.

"Ha! I thought there was something odd about these," she said, half to herself.

"What is it?"

"Just a minute and I'll show you." Morwen went back to the cupboard and took down a small bowl and several jars of various sizes. As she spooned and mixed and muttered, Mendanbar felt magic gather around her, like a tingling in the air that slowly concentrated itself inside the bowl.last she capped the jars and carried the bowl, brimming with magic, over to the table.

"Stay back," she warned when Mendanbar leaned forward to get a better view.sat back, watching closely, as Morwen spread the five dragon scales out in a line. She set the purple scale at one end and the bright green one at the other. Then she held the bowl over the center of the line, took a deep breath, and said, "Wind for clarity, Stone for endurance, Stream for change, Fire for truth: Be what you are!"she spoke, she tilted the bowl and poured a continuous line of dark liquid in a long stripe across the middle of the five scales.was a flash of purple light, and the liquid began to glow. The glow spread outward, like fire creeping around the edges of a piece of paper, until it reached the rims of the dragon scales. Then it flashed once more and vanished.identical scales lay side by side on the table, all of them bright green.

"I thought so," Morwen said with satisfaction. "These scales all came from the same dragon. Someone altered them so that they would each look different."

"Oh, good," Mendanbar said with some relief. "How did you know?"

"The scales were the same shape, and very nearly the same size," Morwen said. "Different dragons might have scales about the same size, if they were the same age, but there's as much variation in the shape of dragon scales as there is in their color."

"Really?" Mendanbar said, interested. "I didn't know that."

"Not many people do. But look at these-they're all round, with one flat edge. If they'd come from different dragons, I'd expect one to be, say, squared off, another oval, another long and wiggly, and so on."

"In that case, it shouldn't be too hard to find the dragon who destroyed that chunk of forest," Mendanbar said.looked at him severely over the tops of her spectacles. "I'm not sure it was a dragon at all."

"Why not?" Mendanbar asked. "Because the scales were changed? But if he didn't want to be blamed-"

"If some dragon wanted to avoid being blamed for burning up a piece of the Enchanted Forest , he wouldn't have left his scales lying around, changed or not," Morwen said dryly. "Picking them up would be a lot easier than enchanting them. Besides, a healthy dragon doesn't shed scales at this rate. Unless you think your rogue dragon burned down a lot of trees and then stood around looking at them for a week or two."

"I see." Mendanbar picked up one of the scales and ran his fingertips across it.

"It's a good thing you were the one who found these," Morwen went on, waving at the dragon scales. "If it had been one of the elves, there would have been trouble for certain."

"Why do you say that? Whoever found them would have had to bring them to the castle-" "And long before he got there, word would have been all over the forest that a lot of dragons had burned half the woods to powder," Morwen said. "Most elves mean well, but they can't keep a secret and they have no common sense to speak of. Flighty creatures."

"Do you think someone was trying to make trouble between the Enchanted Forest and the dragons, then?"

"It's possible," Morwen answered. "If you hadn't come to me, you probably would have thought the scales came from different dragons.of people know about the color variation. I doubt that you'd have figured out the transformation, though. Only people who are fairly familiar with dragons know about the differences in the shapes of their scales, and I don't think anyone at the castle understands dragons very well."

"How do you happen to know so much about dragons?" Mendanbar asked, nettled.

"Oh, Kazul and I have been friends for a long time," Morwen said.

"We trade favors now and then. She lets me have a spare scale when I need one for a spell, and I lend her books from my library and pots and pans that she doesn't want to keep around all the time. In fact, Kazul was the one who convinced me that it would be a good idea to move to the Enchanted Forest."

"Kazul," Mendanbar said, frowning. "That name is familiar. Who is she?"

"Kazul is the King of the Dragons," Morwen said. "Drink your cider.", Mendanbar lifted his mug. Then the implications of what Morwen had said sank in, and he choked. Morwen was a good friend of the King of the Dragons? No wonder she knew so much about dragon scales! Morwen gave him an ironic look, as if she knew exactly what he was thinking. To give himself time to recover, Mendanbar sipped at his cider. It was cold and sweet and tangy, and it fizzed as it slid across his tongue. He looked at the mug in surprise and took a longer drink. It was just as tasty the second time. "This is very good."looked almost smug. "I make it myself. You may have a bottle to take back to the castle with you, provided you take a bottle to Kazul when you go see her about these scales you found."

"Thank-wait a minute, what makes you think I'm going to see Kazul?"

"How else are you going to find out who these scales belong to? I may know more about dragons than most people, but I can't tell whose scales these are just from their color and size. Kazul can. Besides, you should have paid a call last year, when the old king died and Kazul got the crown."

"I sent a note and a coronation present," Mendanbar said. He sounded sulky even to himself, and he felt as if he were being lectured by his mother, who had died when he was fourteen. "I was going to visit, but the Frost Giants decided to come south early, and then some fool magician tried to turn a rock snake into a bird and got a cockatrice, and-" "-and it's been one thing after another, and you've never found the time," Morwen said. "Really, Mendanbar. Haven't you learned by now that it's always one thing after another? Being busy is no excuse.'s busy. You take those scales and a bottle of my cider and go talk to Kazul. At the very least, you'll get some good advice, and I expect you'll get some help as well. You look to me as if you could use it."

"The castle staff is very good," Mendanbar said stiffly. "And my steward does an excellent job."

"I'm sure he does," Morwen said. "But one good steward isn't enough to run a normal kingdom, much less one like the Enchanted Forest. It's perfectly plain just from looking at you that you're wearing yourself out trying to do everything yourself."

"It is?"gave a firm little nod. "It is. And it's quite unnecessary.you really need-" "-is a wife," Mendanbar muttered resignedly, recognizing the beginning of Willin's familiar complaint.

"-is someone sensible to talk to," Morwen finished. She looked at him sternly over the tops of her glasses. "Preferably someone who knows at least a little about running a kingdom. An exiled prince, for instance, though they don't usually stay long enough to be useful.who'll do more than make lists of things you need to attend to."thought of Willin's endless schedules and could not help smiling. "You're probably right." He suppressed a sigh; he didn't have time to spend hunting for a capable adviser. "Do you know anyone suitable?"

"Several people, but they're all quite happy where they are right now," Morwen said. "Don't worry. This is the Enchanted Forest . If you start seriously looking for good help, you'll find some."

"I hope I recognize it when I see it," Mendanbar said. He took another long drink of cider and stared into the mug. "You're the most sensible person I've talked to in days. I don't suppose you'd consider moving to the castle?"

"Certainly not," Morwen answered tartly. "I have quite enough to do here. However, I'll have the cats keep an eye out for any more burned-out patches of forest, and if I think of anything that might be important I'll let you know. Finish your cider and go see Kazul before you talk yourself out of it."

"I won't talk myself out of it," Mendanbar said, taking another sip of cider. "It's a good idea." He picked up the dragon scales and put them back into his pocket. He hoped Kazul would be able to tell him something worthwhile.Enchanted Forest was large, but it could disappear in a hurry if someone started punching holes in it. He frowned suddenly. "Do dragons eat magic?"

"Not that I know of," Morwen said. "Why do you ask?"

"That burned-out place I told you about," Mendanbar said. "There wasn't any magic left in it. It had been sucked dry. I've never seen anything like it."

"I don't think dragons would have done that," Morwen said. She considered for a moment, then rose. "Wait here a minute; I want to look something up."walked over to the back door, the one through which Mendanbar had come in. He watched, puzzled, as she opened the door and stepped through into a room full of tall, dark bookcases. Morwen left the door open and disappeared among the shelves. Mendanbar blinked. The windows on either side of the door looked out on the garden, and the one on the right still had a cat in it. Oh, of course, he thought.'s one of those doors that go where you want them to. There was a door like that in one of the castle attics, which was convenient for getting back to the ground floor without actually climbing down seven flights of stairs. Unfortunately, you still had to climb up all seven flights in order to get to the attic in the first place.reappeared, holding a red book with the title The Patient Dragon printed on the cover in gold. She closed the library door behind her and sat down at the table again. She flipped rapidly through the book, then slowed and read half a page with great care.

"I thought so," she said. "Dragons don't eat magic. They generate their own, the way unicorns do."

"You're sure?"

"See for yourself." Morwen held the book out. "Austen is very reliable, and the more obscure the fact, the more reliable he tends to be. If he says dragons make their own magic, they do."

"I'll take your word for it," Mendanbar said. "But the more I find out, the less sense any of this makes."

"Then you haven't found out enough," Morwen said.talked for a few more minutes while Mendanbar finished his cider.told him how to find Kazul's cave in the Mountains of Morning but refused to advise him on what to do when he got there. Finally, she packed him off with two bottles of alder, the red book about dragons, and a recommendation not to waste any more time than he had to.headed straight back to the castle. Visiting the King of the Dragons was going to take more preparation than simply talking to a sensible witch, and Morwen was right about wasting time.

Which a Wizard Pays a VisitMendanbar got back to the castle, the first person he saw was Willin standing in the doorway looking relieved. By the time Mendanbar got within earshot, however, the ells expression had changed to a ferocious scowl.

"I am happy to see that Your Majesty has returned safely," Willin said stiffly. "I was about to send a party out to search for you."

"Willin, that's ridic-" Mendanbar broke off as his brain caught up with him. Willin might fuss and complain about the king playing hooky, but he wouldn't send someone out looking for him without more reason than irritation. "What's happened?"unbent very slightly. "Your Majesty has an unexpected visitor."paused. "At least, I presume he is unexpected."

"Don't frown at me like that," Mendanbar said. "I certainly didn't expect anyone. If I had, I'd have told you."

"So I had assumed," Willin said, relaxing a little more. "And since Your Majesty is not forgetful, in the normal way of things, I felt sure you would not have, ah, left the palace so precipitously if you had had an appointment."

"Who is it?" Mendanbar asked. "Not another complaint from the Darkmorning Elves, I hope? If it is, you can tell them I won't see them. I've had enough of their whining, and I've got more important things to attend to right now."

"No," Willin said. "It's Zemenar, the Head Wizard of the Society of Wizards."

"Oh, lord," Mendanbar said. He had only met the Head Wizard once before, at his coronation three years earlier, and he hadn't liked the man much then. Still, the Society of Wizards was a powerful group, and its members were not the sort of people it was a good idea to offend.ran a hand distractedly through his hair. "How long has he been waiting? What does he want?"

"He's only been here for a few minutes," Willin reassured him. The elf frown returned. "He refused to tell me his business, Your Majesty. He said it was a matter for Your Majesty's ears alone."

"He would," Mendanbar muttered. "As I recall, he's got an exaggerated idea of his own importance."

"Your Majesty?" said Willin, clearly shocked by such plain speaking.

'-e certainly thinks so," Mendanbar said. "Oh, don't worry, I won't say anything improper when I'm talking to him. Where is he?"

"I asked him to wait in the main audience chamber."

"Good. I'll go see what he wants. You take these down to the kitchen."handed Morwen's jugs of cider to Willin. The elf blinked in puzzled surprise. Before Willin had time to collect himself, Mendanbar grabbed a handful of magic and twisted hard.courtyard faded into white mist. An instant later, the mist evaporated, leaving Mendanbar standing in the middle of his study. The wooden gargoyle in the corner immediately began shouting at him.

"You! You've got a lot of nerve, waltzing in as if nothing's happened.bet you thought that trick with the soapy water was funny! You'll be sorry for it when the wood up here starts to rot from the damp, you wait and see."

"That's why you're there," Mendanbar said as he set the book Morwen had given him on the desk. "You're supposed to let us know if the wood starts to go bad or gets termites, so we can fix it before the castle falls apart."

"And look at the thanks I get," the gargoyle complained. "Water in my ears and soap in my eyes. How do you expect me to do my job if I can't see?"listened with half an ear while he rummaged through the desk.gold circlet he wore for official business was in the bottom drawer under a pile of old envelopes and out-of-date invitations to balls, dinners, birthday parties, cricket games, and teas. As he put the circlet on, Mendanbar frowned at the drawer, wondering why he was saving all that useless paper. He resolved for the hundredth time that week to clean everything out someday soon, shoved the drawer closed, and glanced around to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything.

"Are you listening


Date: 2015-04-20; view: 141


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