In Which Yet Another Wizard Tries to Cause Trouble
They were standing in front of the wheeled house. At least, Mendanbar assumed it was the front because there was a door at the end of the long side facing them. Two iron steps, black and worn with age, led up to the door.
The house itself was painted a cheerful blue with yellow shutters and a yellow trim around the door. There were four windows on the side facing Mendanbar, lined up in a neat row next to the door like chicks following a hen. The roof above the windows was low but not quite flat, and covered with wooden shingles that looked brand-new. There were four pairs of wheels, too, the rims painted blue to match the house and the spokes painted yellow to match the shutters. A beautifully lettered sign on a stick had been pounded into the ground next to the door: "Ask About Our Low prices!"
Mendanbar looked at Cimorene. Cimorene looked from Mendanbar to the wheeled house to Telemain.
"Don't do that again without asking first," she said to the magician.
"I thought you'd be pleased," Telemain said. "Look at all the time you've saved."
"Asking doesn't take much time."
"Where are we, exactly?" Mendanbar put in before they could start arguing. "And what is that?" He pointed at the house on wheels.
"That is Gypsy Jack's home," Telemain answered. "If anyone can mend that carpet of yours, he can. As to where we are, all I can tell you is that we are still somewhere in the Mountains of Morning. If you want a more precise location, you will have to ask Jack. Assuming he remembers; he moves around a lot."
"How did you find him, then?" Cimorene asked.
"Oh, Jack supplies me with unusual things now and then, when I need them for a spell or an experiment," Telemain said. "I pay him by enchanting his house for him. Any good magician can find his own spells."
"Enchanting his house?" Mendanbar said. "You mean, to keep ogres and things from bothering it, the way you did Herman's?"
Telemain shook his head. "I offered, but Jack wasn't interested. He has his own way of discouraging unpleasant company. No, what he wanted was a spell to keep the paint from fading."
"Why does he need you to put spells on his house?" Cimorene asked.
'Jack isn't a magician," Telemain said. "He does a little bit of every-thing-smithing, gardening, music, tailoring, pretty much any trade you can think of. For example, he designed and built his house.
He has a rare knack for patching up a spell that's wearing thin, but he can't set up a complex enchantment on his own. That's why he deals with me."
One of the windows scraped open and a head poked out. "Yo! You going to stand there all night and maybe get eaten by a dragon? Not that I would dream of interfering with your plans, but if a quick exit is what you want, I got a dozen faster ways, all very cheap."
"Hello, Jack," Telemain called. "I've brought you some customers."
"Customers! Why didn't you say so? I'll be right out." The head vanished and the window screeched closed.
"Customers?" Cimorene said, looking at Telemain.
"You want that carpet fixed, don't you? Jack can-" The door of the house flew open with a bang, and a large man leaped over the steps and landed in front of them. He had a thick black mustache, long black hair, bright black eyes, and a wide white grin. Pushing a soft, baggy cap back from his forehead, he bowed deeply.
"Welcome to my home, friends of Telemain!" he boomed. "And very welcome you are. What's the problem?"
"A little difficulty about transportation, Jack," Telemain said before Mendanbar or Cimorene had quite recovered from the man's abrupt appearance.
"We were hoping you could help."
"No trouble! What do you need? Shoes? I got a barrel full-sandals, clogs, dancing shoes, walking shoes, horse shoes…" His voice trailed off and he looked hopefully at Telemain.
"Nothing that simple," Telemain said. "The difficulty is magical in nature."
"Ah! You want seven-league boots! Well, you're in luck. A pair of them just came in this morning. They're practically brand-new, hardly been used at all. Or there's a swell pair of ruby slippers that'd be perfect for the lady.
I'll throw in the magic belt that goes with them for free. On" "No, no, Jack," Telemain interrupted. "The problem is with this." He stepped aside and let Jack get a good look at the magic carpet.
Jack's eyes narrowed to slits of concentration. He stepped forward and studied the carpet, then paced around it, much as Telemain had done earlier. "No kidding," he said at last. "That carpet's a problem, all right."
"Can you fix it?" Cimorene asked.
"Sure. Give me a week, and she'll be good as new."
"A week? Cimorene looked at him in dismay. "Can't you fix it any faster than that?"
Jack spread his hands out and shrugged. "Maybe, but I can't promise.
It depends on how fast I can get parts."
"Then we'll leave it here and go on without it tomorrow," Mendanbar said. At least they wouldn't have to carry the thing around anymore, and they wouldn't be tempted to use it in spite of its hazards. "You can send it home when it's finished, can't you?"
"Shouldn't be a problem." Jack smiled. "Where do you want it?"
Cimorene hesitated. "You're not one of those Jacks who go around killing giants, are you?"
"Lady, what do you think I am, stupid or something?" Jack asked.
"I'm a businessman. I don't do giants."
"Then please send the carpet to Ballimore the Giantess on Flat Top Mountain when you're done fixing it," Cimorene said. "And the bill to Cimorene, Chief Cook and Librarian, in care of the King of the Dragons."
"King of the Dragons, eh?" Jack said thoughtfully.
"Yes, and don't go padding the bill, Jack," Telemain warned.
"Me? Wouldn't dream of it." Jack kicked the carpet into a loose roll and heaved it up onto his shoulder. "Anything else?"
"Is there a safe place near here where we can spend the night?"
"Sure," Jack said. He balanced the carpet with one hand and jerked the thumb of the other at the blue-and-yellow house on wheels. "Right there. I got two spare rooms on the end I can rent you for as long as you want 'em."
"Tonight is all we need," Mendanbar said, and Cimorene nodded.
Jack bobbed his head in a way that managed to suggest a full-fledged formal bow, then started toward the house, carrying the carpet.
Mendanbar turned to Telemain. "Thank you very much for your help."
"You're welcome," Telemain said, and started after Jack.
"Hey!" Cimorene said. "Where are you going?"
"To arrange for my own bed and board," Telemain explained patiently.
"You didn't really expect me to leave before you'd answered my questions, did you?"
Without waiting for a reply, the magician followed Jack into the house.
Mendanbar and Cimorene looked at each other, shrugged, and went in after them.
The front door of Jack's house opened into a cluttered room painted a bright green that clashed with almost everything. Fortunately, most of the walls were hidden behind piles of boxes, barrels, bales, and bundles. Jack propped the carpet in a crowded corner, where it leaned precariously against two paintings balanced on a stack of books. Then he set about fixing dinner.
Cimorene kept Telemain's attention occupied while Jack worked, and at first Mendanbar was glad of it. He wanted time to think and sort out some of the confusing things that had happened in the last two days.
He was sure that a few of them were important, and if he could only concentrate for a little while he could figure out which ones.
He quickly discovered that it was not going to work. The conversation between Cimorene and Telemain was much too distracting, even though he was not particularly interested in anything they were talking about.
Finally he gave up trying to think and listened instead.
"-window wasn't up to it," Cimorene was saying. "So I used a spell to boost it."
"And that broke it?" Telemain said, frowning.
"No," Cimorene replied. "It worked just fine. The window turned white, and then showed Kazul and a lot of wizards." Her face darkened.
"And when I catch up with them-" "Yes, of course," Telemain said hastily. "What happened next?"
"I told the window to show me where they were, and then it broke."
"I can fix up a new one for you," Jack put in over his shoulder. "I got some glass around somewhere, and it's no trick at all to cut it to size."
"I'll think about it,Jack," Telemain said. He looked at Cimorene.
"The window just… broke? It didn't show anything at all?"
Cimorene nodded. "Not a thing. Right, Mendanbar?"
"Right," Mendanbar said. "The picture of Kazul and the wizards disappeared, and the window turned bright green, and then it broke. I think it was trying to show us a place inside the Enchanted Forest and couldn't."
"It should have been able to," Telemain said. "I tested it very thoroughly.
I suppose the enchantment might have been wearing thin. What kind of spell did you say you used to boost it?" he asked, turning to Cimorene.
Cimorene hesitated, then shrugged. "It was a dragon spell I found in Kazul's library last year. It's very adaptable, and-" A shout from outside the house interrupted Cimorene in mid-sentence.
"You in there! Come out at once. There's no point in hiding."
Jack muttered something and stuck his head out the window. "Hang on!" he shouted. "I'll just be a min-" Something exploded outside, knocking Jack back through the window and making the whole house rock. "Come out!" the voice repeated.
"Wizards got no patience," Jack muttered, glaring at the window.
Mendanbar stiffened and looked at Cimorene.
"We'd better go out, or he'll tear the house down," she said. "Jack, can you mix up a bucket of soapy water with a little lemon juice in it, quick?"
"Huh?" said Jack.
"A bucket of soap and water and lemon juice," Cimorene repeated impatiently. "It melts wizards. Hurry up and bring it out after us.
I think we're going to need it."
"Soapy water with lemon melts wizards?" Telemain said with great interest. "How did you discover that?"
Another explosion rocked the house. "Never mind that now," Cimorene said. "Come on!" She pushed the door open and darted out.
With a muttered curse, Mendanbar followed. He remembered the steps just in time to jump over them instead of tripping. As he landed, he dodged to one side and pulled his sword out. Only then did he stop to look around.
Cimorene stood with her back against the house, watching the wizard warily. The wizard was very easy to see, even though it was by now quite dark, because he was glowing as brightly as a bonfire. He was taller than the wizard who had invaded Cimorene's cave, and he wore red robes instead of blue and brown, but his staff was of the same dark, polished wood and his sandy beard was just as long and scraggly.
Mendanbar wondered irrelevantly whether the Society of Wizards had a rule against its members trimming their beards.
"Cimorene!" the wizard said. "I might have guessed. What have you-no, you haven't got it. Where is it?"
"Where is what?" Mendanbar demanded. "And what do you mean by causing all this commotion? Didn't anyone ever teach you to knock on doors and ask for things politely?"
"So you've picked up a hero" – the wizard said to Cimorene with a sneer.
"He won't do you any good. Where is it?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Cimorene said.
"Neither does he," Telemain commented from the doorway. "Unless he's even more fuzzy-headed than he seems. From the way he's been leaping to conclusions without any evidence at all, that's entirely possible."
The wizard's eyes narrowed and he pointed his staff at Telemain.
"Who are you?"
"That's the first intelligent thing you've said since you arrived," Telemain said. "My name is Telemain. I'm a magician."
"A magician!" The wizard sucked in his breath. "I suppose we are after the same thing. I warn you, you had better not cross me. I represent the Society of Wizards in this matter."
"What matter?" Cimorene asked crossly.
"Yes, you have displayed a lamentable lack of precision in your account of your purposes," Telemain said. 'Just what-" Mendanbar felt the harsh swell of the wizard's magic an instant before the spell left the man's staff. Without thought, he swung his sword to parry it. As it touched the bolt of magic, the sword hummed hungrily. A shiver ran up Mendanbar's arm from the hilt of the sword to his shoulder, and the spell was gone.
"I wouldn't do that again, if I were you," Mendanbar told the wizard.
Everyone stared at Mendanbar. The wizard was the first to recover.
"The sword? he cried. "I should have seen it at once. Excellent! This makes everything easy."
He moved the end of his staff a few inches to point at Mendanbar and muttered something under his breath. Mendanbar sensed magic building up in the staff again. This time he didn't wait for the wizard to release the spell.
He pushed a tendril of his own magic out through the sword and touched the wizard's staff gently with it.
Power flowed into the sword like water being soaked up by a sponge.
The feeling of magic that surrounded the wizard vanished, and so did his glow. The wizard gave a squawk of surprise. He lowered his staff, staring at Mendanbar.
"How did you do that?" he demanded. "You're just a hero. How could you possibly reverse my spell?"
"I didn't reverse your spell," Mendanbar said. "I stopped it, that's all.
And I'm not a hero. I'm the King of the Enchanted Forest."
The wizard's eyes widened. Certain that the man was going to try another spell, Mendanbar reached out with the sword's magic, hoping to stop him before he could properly begin. He wasn't quite fast enough.
As the threads of the sword's magic wrapped themselves around the wizard's staff, the wizard disappeared.
There was a moment of silence. "Mendanbar, what did you do?" Cimorene said at last.
"Nothing," Mendanbar said. "I wasn't quick enough. I'm sorry. I should have expected him to try to get away."
Telemain walked over to the spot where the wizard had been standing.
"Interesting," he muttered. "Very interesting-ah!" He bent over, and when he straightened up he was holding the wizard's staff in one hand.
"Here's your bucket," Jack said from the door of the house. "What's all this about wizards?"
"It doesn't matter now," Cimorene said. "He's gone."
"Then you won't be needing this?"Jack said, lifting the bucket.
"Don't throw it out," Mendanbar said hastily. "We might want it later.
In case he comes back."
"I seriously doubt that it is necessary to worry about his return," Telemain said as he rejoined them. "Wizards depend a good deal upon their staffs. Without his, our recent visitor is unlikely to be much of a problem."
He sounded very satisfied with himself, and his fingers stroked the staff lightly as he spoke.
"Then he's sure to come back for it," Cimorene pointed out.
"Yes, but how long will it take him to get here?" Telemain responded.
"I assure you, he didn't transport himself anywhere close by. We'll be long gone by the time he makes his way back."
"We?" said Mendanbar.
"Of course." Telemain smiled. "I've been trying to get my hands on one of these"-he lifted the wizard's staff-"for years. You've managed to get hold of one in a few seconds. You don't think I'm going to miss an opportunity like this, do you?"
"If that's all you want, keep it," Mendanbar said. "I haven't any use for a wizard's staff."
"Neither have I," Cimorene agreed.
Telemain bowed. "Thank you both." He paused. "I would still like to join you, if you are willing. There are other matters I find intriguing about you."
Completely at sea, Mendanbar stared at the magician.
Cimorene sighed. "Mendanbar, your sword is at it again, worse than ever. I'll bet that's what he means."
"Oh." Mendanbar put his sword back in its sheath and inspected Telemain for a moment. The magician was still something of a puzzle, but he had been very helpful so far. And it was clear from the wizard's behavior that magicians and wizards did not get along, which was another point in Telemain's favor. "I can't promise I'll let you study my sword, but it's all right with me if you come along." He glanced at Cimorene.
"It's fine with me, too," Cimorene said. "But you'd better hear the whole story before you make up your mind. You might not want to come with us after all."
"If you're all done out here, come in and eat," Jack said. "Supper's ready, and if you're sure there won't be any more wizards, I'll just use this water for the dishes afterward."