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11

In Which Mendanbar and Cimorene Are Very Busy Something was wrong.

Mendanbar could feel it, even before he was fully awake. The magic of the Enchanted Forest floated all around him, but it seemed tenuous and tottery, almost disconnected. He thought he had better get up and fix it. He opened his eyes.

Cimorene's concerned face hovered a foot above him. Her braids had come loose from their tight crown and there was a worry line between her eyebrows. He didn't want her to be worried. He tried to say so, but all he managed was a coughing fit. Cimorene bit her lip, and her troubled expression intensified.

"Don't try to talk," she said unhappily. "Don't try to do anything yet.

Your sword is safe, and I'm all right, and everything else can wait for a few minutes. Just lie there and breathe slowly."

It occurred to Mendanbar that Cimorene was anxious about him. That was nice, in a way, but he still didn't want her to be unhappy. In fact, it was suddenly very important to him that Cimorene should not be worried or unhappy in the slightest. He closed his eyes to consider how best to convey this and fell asleep at once.

When he woke, the sky was the pale blue of late afternoon. Rubbing his eyes, he sat up carefully, remembering what had happened earlier when he'd tried to talk. Cimorene was at his side at once.

"Are you sure you should do that?" she said.

"It hasn't hurt so far," Mendanbar replied. "What happened?"

Cimorene studied him for a moment, then relaxed visibly. "I'm not sure," she said. "One minute we were going somewhere, and the next minute we weren't. When I picked myself up, you were lying there looking three-quarters dead and as white as cracked ice, and you've been that way for over four hours. If that's your transportation spell, I think I would have preferred the carpet."

"At least it got us to the forest."

"Not exactly."

Mendanbar blinked at her, then looked around. The carpet, on which he and Cimorene were sitting, lay in the center of a twenty-foot circle of thin green fuzz. Seven saplings, pencil-thick and none more than waist high, poked randomly upward through the fuzz. Beyond the circle, patches of short, brownish-green grass alternated with mottled gray rock that rose quickly into cliffs and ridges and the sudden, sharp heights of mountains that shadowed them all. None of it looked familiar, though it still felt vaguely like the Enchanted Forest to him.

"Well, at least we went somewhere," Mendanbar said after a moment.

"Yes, but where? Those are the Mountains of Morning, but this bit"-Cimorene waved at the green fuzz and the saplings-"looks as if it belongs in the Enchanted Forest . So what's it doing here?"

"It feels like the Enchanted Forest , too," Mendanbar said. He shifted, and his hand touched cool metal. Even without looking, he knew it was his sword. He picked it up and looked at it thoughtfully. "Cimorene, is this still 'leaking magic' the way you said it was earlier?"

"No," Cimorene said. "I can tell it's a magic sword, and an odd one at that, but only if I study it. It's not-not so obvious anymore."

Mendanbar pushed himself to his feet. It took more effort than he had expected, and by the time he finished, the worry line had reappeared between Cimorene's eyebrows.

"I'm all right," he told her. "Mostly." He waited a moment for his head to stop spinning, then walked cautiously to the edge of the circle of fuzz. He stepped over the boundary onto a patch of grass. The comforting sense of being surrounded by magic vanished, and although he had more than half expected it, he staggered slightly.

Cimorene was beside him almost at once. "What is it?"

"It was just the change. Can you feel my sword now?"

"Yes," Cimorene said. "But it's nowhere near as bad as it was this morning."

"I was afraid you were going to say that." Mendanbar looked at the circular area of green and sighed. "I hate to do this, but you're right. It doesn't belong here."

He started forward. Cimorene grabbed his arm. "Wait a minute! What are you talking about?"

"This." Mendanbar pointed at the saplings with his sword. "In a way, it really is part of the Enchanted Forest . That's why it feels like home to me, and that's why the sword doesn't feel 'obvious' when it's inside."

"That makes sense," Cimorene said. She still had hold of his arm.

"But how did it get here?"

"I don't think it did, exactly," Mendanbar said. "I think the sword made it for us when we couldn't get through to the real forest. That's why it's so-so new-looking."

"Your sword" Cimorene paused, thinking. "Yes, you told me it was linked to the Enchanted Forest." She looked at the green area. "I didn't realize it could do things on its own, without someone directing it."

"Normally it doesn't," Mendanbar said. "Unless it's picking the next King of the Enchanted Forest."

"Picking the next" Cimorene's voice trailed off and she shook her head. "I think you'd better tell me about that sword. All about it, not just dribbles of information when something comes up. I have a feeling we're going to need to know."

"I don't know that much," Mendanbar said. "And I have to take care of these things first." He waved at the saplings.

"What are you going to do?"

"If the sword did it, it ought to be able to undo it," Mendanbar said.

"I don't want to erase this patch, but I can't think of anything else to do with it.

It wouldn't be a good idea to leave a bit of my kingdom disconnected like this.

"No, I can see that," Cimorene said, releasing his arm at last. 'Just watch what you're doing with that spell. It's going to be dark soon, and I don't want to spend another four hours waiting for you to wake up."

"I don't like the idea myself," Mendanbar said. "Don't worry. I'll be "You'd better be."

Mendanbar smiled, raised the sword, and walked back into the tiny forest. He paced around the edge, getting the feel of the magic that was spread spider-web thin across the circle. Then he stopped. With his left hand, he lowered his sword so that the tip rested on the green fuzz that might one day have grown into moss. With his right, he reached out and touched the web, gathering in the threads. When his hand was full, he began to feed the threads into the sword.

It was touchy work, for the invisible strands were thin and fragile, and he knew that if he missed even one he would have to begin all over again.

The task took a lot of concentration, for the sword accepted the threads with great reluctance. He was not at all sure he would have the strength to do it twice, so he worked with painstaking slowness.

When he was halfway through, the saplings began to shrink. Slowly at first, then faster and faster, the little trees grew shorter and more slender, until they disappeared into the green fuzz. For a moment, nothing more seemed to happen. Then the circle of green began to shrink. Like a drop of water being sucked up by a napkin, the green edge drew back toward the sword, leaving bare rock behind. In a moment, the retreating border was out of sight beneath the carpet.

Mendanbar continued feeding magic into the sword. There were only a few threads left, and he slowed down even more. A puddle the size of a wagon wheel was all that was left of the original circle. It shrank to the size of a dinner plate, then a pancake, then a penny. Then it was gone.

For a heartbeat longer, Mendanbar held his position, checking to be certain he had not missed anything. Finally he let go of the end of the spell and lifted the point of the sword from the ground. He felt much better than he had when he began. He looked up and smiled at Cimorene.

"That was extremely interesting," Cimorene said. She eyed the bare ground around the carpet. "Is that all of it?"

"I think so. Why?"

"Because if we don't want to spend the night here, we're going to have to leave quickly. It'll be getting dark soon." Cimorene paused, then added, "You'd better put that sword away. It's dripping magic again."

"Sorry," Mendanbar said. "Why don't we-" With a rattle of small stones and a vicious hiss, a long, gray-black snake shot out of a crevice at the top of the nearest cliff and dropped toward Cimorene. Mendanbar jerked his sword up and sent a crackling bolt of power to meet the serpent. The hiss became a choking gurgle as the snake flared into a bright line of fire and disintegrated. Flakes of ash drifted the last few feet to fall around Mendanbar and Cimorene.

Three more snakes launched themselves from parts of the cliff, and another slithered from behind a boulder. From the corner of his eye, Mendanbar saw Cimorene yank her sword out of its sheath. He hoped briefly and intensely that she was good at fighting, and then he had no time or attention for anything except the snakes.

A second blast of magic disposed of two of the three in the air, and a single sword-stroke chopped the third in half. By then four new snakes were in the air, and Mendanbar could hear more hissing on all sides.

He sent another spell skyward, and another, then swung at two snakes that had leaped from a crack barely shoulder-high above the ground.

After that he lost track of how many he burned or blasted. He had no time for anything but fighting. He swung his sword until his arms were tired and his head hurt from concentration and spell-casting. And then, suddenly, there were no more snakes.

The ground was dusted with ashes and littered with pieces of snakes, and the air smelled of charred meat. Slowly, Mendanbar lowered his sword.

A few paces away, Cimorene was straightening up from a fighter's crouch with the same wary hesitation. Her sword was covered with dark blood, and there were quite a lot of dead snakes around her.

"Oh, wonderful," Mendanbar said with heartfelt sincerity. "I was hoping you were good with a sword."

"You aren't bad with one yourself," Cimorene replied a little breathlessly.

"It's a magic sword," Mendanbar reminded her, but he felt absurdly pleased nonetheless.

Cimorene grinned. "So is mine. I know a little about fencing, but not enough to do me any good against most of the things in the Mountains of Morning. That's why Kazul lets me carry this." She lifted her sword, and a drop of snake blood fell from the tip. She frowned and began fishing in her pockets with her free hand. "It's supposed to make the bearer impossible to defeat."

"Sounds good to me," Mendanbar said, looking at the bits of snake near Cimorene's feet. "What's the catch?"

"Getting killed isn't the same as being defeated," Cimorene said. She pulled a handkerchief from a pocket, smiled, and began cleaning the sword with it. "Not always, anyway. And it doesn't keep you from getting hurt, either. So I still have to be careful. Do you want to use this?" She held out the stained handkerchief.

"Thank you," Mendanbar said, taking the square of cloth. He wiped his sword carefully, resheathed it, and hesitated. "Do you want it back? I'm afraid it's ruined."

"That's all right," Cimorene said. "I always carry one or two extras."

She retrieved the handkerchief, grimaced, and tied it into a tight bundle, which she stowed in her belt pouch. "There. Now, let's get out of here."

"Why such a hurry?"

"We still have to rescue Kazul. And besides-do you want to fight more rock snakes?" Cimorene asked. "That's what we'll be doing if we stay.

We've cleaned out this part pretty well, but there's sure to be several other colonies around." She pointed at a dark ridge a couple of hundred feet farther on. "There, for instance. Or there." She gestured in the opposite direction, at a wrinkled cliff.

"I don't see how we can get past them on foot," Mendanbar said, frowning.

"Well, we can't stay here. They'll slither over as soon as the last of the light goes. We'll have to take the carpet."

"I wouldn't recommend it," said a new voice.

Together, Mendanbar and Cimorene turned. The voice belonged to a dark-haired man who stood calmly next to the magic carpet, watching them with interest. He was several inches shorter than Mendanbar, with bright blue eyes and a neatly trimmed beard and mustache. He wore tall black boots, dark gray leggings, a loose-sleeved, high-necked shirt in pale gray, and an open knee-length black vest covered with pockets of all shapes and sizes. Under the vest, his wide black belt was hung with strangely shaped pouches and sheaths. The air around him crackled with magic.

"Who are you?" Cimorene asked. "And why don't you want us to use the carpet?"

"My name is Telemain," said the man, bowing, "and I have a considerable familiarity with the basic mechanics of carpets. Magic ones, that is.

And this carpet"-he gestured left-handed, and three silver rings glinted in the fading light-"is plainly defective."

"Defective?" Mendanbar said suspiciously. Telemain didn't look like a wizard, but that didn't necessarily mean much. Wizards could wear disguises as well as anyone else.

"Oh, it will probably operate, after a fashion," Telemain said. "But not well, and not for long. I'm surprised you got this far on it."

"We didn't, exactly," Mendanbar said. "And we have had some trouble with it. What do you suggest?"

The sound of a pebble bouncing down a series of rocks echoed along the narrow canyon. "I suggest we talk somewhere else," Telemain said, glancing toward the sound. "This isn't a safe place, even with my defensive enchantments fully erected."

"And how do you suggest we get there?" Cimorene asked.

"Like this." Telemain raised a hand and made a circle in the air with his forefinger. As he did, he muttered something, then clapped both hands together.

The canyon flowed and melted into a sloping meadow halfway up a mountainside. "Much better," Telemain said. "No rock snakes, trolls, ogres, or other dangerous wildlife. I guarantee it."

Mendanbar was inclined to believe him. Trolls and ogres liked places where they could jump out from behind things or pop out from under rocks. An open meadow didn't have enough cover. Besides, Telemain was no longer surrounded by the hum of magic, which meant he had dropped his guarding spell.

"Now," Telemain went on, "how did the two of you get into a ravine full of rock snakes with a defective magic carpet? Having rescued you, I think I am entitled to some explanation."

"We were on our way to the Enchanted Forest ," Cimorene said carefully, pushing wisps of loose hair out of her face. Mendanbar noticed with approval that she said nothing about Their reasons for wanting to go there.

"How did you happen to come by at such a convenient moment?"

"I was-looking for some people I thought might be in this area," Telemain said. "By the way, what are your names?"

"This is Cimorene and I'm Mendanbar," Mendanbar said. "Who were you looking for?"

"You, I think," Telemain said, smiling. "That is, if you're the same Cimorene and Mendanbar who visited Herman the dwarf earlier today."

"That was us," Cimorene said cautiously.

"Good! Then I can settle this quickly and get back to my work. How did you-" "Excuse me," Mendanbar interrupted. "But how do you know Herman? And how did you find us?"

"I know Herman because he bought his house from me," Telemain said. He was beginning to sound irritated. "I also maintain certain defensive enchantments, which are especially designed to prevent incursions by noxious creatures, around the house and neighboring areas for him.

When someone demolished the scrying spell I had established on the attic window, I felt obliged to investigate. Herman was in the middle of an explanation about visitors and dragons when I sensed an extremely interesting sorcerous flare to the northwest."

"I knew that dratted sword was going to get us in trouble," Cimorene muttered.

"Before I had time to locate it precisely, there was another burst of magic, which I recognized as a transportation spell," Telemain continued.

He frowned disapprovingly. "A rather confused one. It has taken me all afternoon to disentangle the traces and discover your whereabouts.

Does that satisfy you?"

"I think so," Mendanbar said. "I'm sorry if we seem overly suspicious, but we've already had some trouble with one wizard and we've reason to expect more. So you see"

"I am not a wizard," Telemain said emphatically. "I'm a magician.

Can't you tell?"

"No," Cimorene said. "what's the difference?"

"A magician knows many types of magic," Telemain said. "Wizards only know one, and they're very secretive about it. I've been researching them for years, trying to duplicate their methodology, but I still haven't managed a workable simulation."

"What?" said Cimorene, looking puzzled.

"He's been trying to figure out how the wizards work their spells," Mendanbar explained, "but he hasn't done it yet."

"Why do you want to know that?" Cimorene asked Telemain with renewed suspicion.

"Because that's what I do!" Telemain said. "I just told you that.

And if you'll answer a few questions for me, I can go back to doing it.

How did you shatter that window?"

"We asked it to show us something," Mendanbar said. "It couldn't, so it broke."

Telemain shook his head. "Impossible! That particular glass was enchanted to reveal anything, anywhere, even in the Enchanted Forest .

If it couldn't discover the object of your inquiry, the viewing plane would display an empty information buffer."

"What does he mean?" Cimorene asked, frowning.

"He means that if the window couldn't find what we were asking about, it should have just stayed blank," Mendanbar explained.

"That's what I said." Telemain nodded emphatically. "It should not have broken."

"Well, it did," Cimorene told him. "And we don't have time to stand around arguing. We have to get to the Enchanted Forest and rescue a friend of mine. So could you just tell us what's wrong with our carpet?"

"Nonsense," Telemain muttered. "You must have done more than frame a question." He intercepted a look from Cimorene and sighed. "Oh, very well, I'll examine the carpet. Spread it out so I can see all of it at once."

They unrolled the carpet the rest of the way. Telemain's eyebrow's rose in surprise at the sight of the teddy bears, but he did not comment, for which Mendanbar was grateful. When the carpet was stretched full-length on the meadow, Telemain paced twice around it, frowning and gesturing occasionally. Then he turned to Mendanbar and Cimorene and shook his head.

"The landing compensator has a gap in it, and the flight regulator has completely deteriorated," he said. "It needs more than I can do without special tools and yarn for re-weaving. You'll have to take it to a repair shop."

"Wonderful," Cimorene said sarcastically. "This would happen with a borrowed carpet."

"Can you recommend a good place?" Mendanbar asked Telemain.

"Preferably somewhere close," he added, noting the pink tint of the sky to the west. The sun would be completely down in another hour, and he didn't want to wander around the Mountains of Morning in the dark.

"Or can you send us straight to the Enchanted Forest?" Cimorene asked.

"We're in kind of a hurry."

"The Enchanted Forest requires a complex and destination-specific enhancement to the basic transportation spell module," Telemain explained.

"But the repair shop is simple."

He raised his left hand and made the same circular gesture he had before. "Gypsy Jack's," he said, and clapped, and the meadow and the mountain melted and flowed. The mountain bulged higher, and the meadow flattened and grew rockier. A long, rectangular section of ground squeezed upward and settled into the shape of a narrow house on wheels.

"There," Telemain said with great satisfaction. "We've arrived."


10 In Which Mendanbar Decides to Experiment | Searching for Dragons | 12 In Which Yet Another Wizard Tries to Cause Trouble