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17

In Which Mendanbar Grows Some Trees and Makes a Wicked Suggestion

There were, however, no wizards outside the cave. There was only an enormous stretch of barren land that looked as if it had been burned.

Morwen's long-haired tabby cat sat in the ashes several feet from the mouth of the cave, surveying the waste with evident disapproval.

"There you are," Morwen said to the cat as she joined Cimorene and Mendanbar by Kazul's left shoulder. "Any sign of more wizards?"

The cat meowed.

"Good," said Morwen. "Did any of the others get away?"

The cat made a growling noise.

"Very good," said Morwen. She turned to Mendanbar. "Can you keep them from interrupting us by accident?"

"I don't think so," Mendanbar said. "There isn't any magic here for me to work with." He was horrified at the extent of the destruction. How was he going to fix it?

"So this is how they did it," Telemain's voice said from behind Mendanbar. He sounded pleased, as if he had just solved a very difficult puzzle. "I'd been wondering."

"Did what?" Mendanbar asked.

"Established that shield spell," Telemain said. "The power involved was clearly several factors beyond the generating capacity of-" Kazul turned her head and looked at Telemain.

Telemain coughed. "There weren't enough wizards to have done it by themselves."

"Power," Mendanbar said, half to himself. "They sucked all the magic out of this whole area and put it in the shield. Where did it go when the shield disappeared?"

"Into your sword, of course," said Telemain, as if that were so obvious that everyone should have realized it without his saying anything.

"And the sword is linked to the forest," Mendanbar said. "And this is part of the forest, or should be. So…"

"So all you have to do is use the sword to put the magic back where it belongs," Cimorene finished.

"Theoretically, that should work fine," Telemain said, frowning. "But the practical applications aren't always that easy."

"Nonsense," said Cimorene. "That sword turned a whole patch of the Mountain of Morning into a bit of the Enchanted Forest when we were having all that trouble getting here. Mendanbar pulled it back into the sword then; all he has to do now is turn that spell around and push magic out. Try it, Mendanbar."

Slowly, Mendanbar lowered the tip of the sword until it touched the ashes. He couldn't feel anything at first. Then he realized that he was trying to reach outside himself for the threads of magic that always floated around him in the Enchanted Forest . And in this wasteland there were no threads.

He frowned. Closing his eyes, he concentrated on the sword instead.

That felt more promising. He could sense power crackling along the length of the blade, lots of power, but he did not think it would be enough.

He stretched deeper, using his experience outside the Enchanted Forest to pull together every last bit of magic he could reach. It was still not enough.

"I don't think I can do it, Cimorene," he muttered.

"You can, too," Cimorene said, and put her hand on his shoulder encouragingly. "Try again."

As she touched his shoulder, Mendanbar felt it come-not just magic, not only power, but all the magic and power of the Enchanted Forest itself.

It washed over him, and as it did he saw patterns in it, patterns that were the threads he manipulated to work magic in the forest. And he saw how to shift the pattern just a little, filling it in with the power stolen from the forest and stored in the sword, to repair the damage the wizards had done. Without thinking, he did it.

He heard an astonished gasp from Cimorene, a snort from Kazul, a low whistle from Telemain, and a surprised noise from one of the cats.

"Well? said Morwen.

Mendanbar opened his eyes. A thick carpet of moss, greener than Kazul's scales, spread out in all directions from the cave mouth.

Massive oaks and beeches with cooper leaves stood so close together that it was hard to see more than a little way into the shadows below them, packing every part of what had been a burned-out waste moments before.

All around, Mendanbar could feel threads of magic hovering in the air, ready to use for more ordinary spells.

No one said anything for a long moment. Then Telemain tore his gaze away from the restored forest and turned to Mendanbar.

"Could you do that again, slowly, so I can analyze it?" he asked.

Despite Telemain's urging, Mendanbar refused to repeat the spell immediately, though he did offer to let the magician watch when he went to clean up the barren area near the Green Glass Pool. Then Telemain wanted to stay and investigate the melted wizards some more, but Morwen and Cimorene insisted that this was a bad idea, and eventually he gave in. He was inclined to be sulky about it until Morwen pointed out that he had fourteen more wizards' staffs to study, including one that had belonged to the Head Wizard. It cheered him up enormously.

"You're quite right," he told Morwen. "Those wizards will get themselves back together before long, and once they do, they'll come looking for their staffs. If I don't examine the staffs before then, I'll lose my chance. I can always melt another wizard later and study the disintegration process then." He hurried back into the cave, reappearing a moment later with his arms full of wizards' staffs.

"Be careful with those!" Mendanbar said as Telemain came out onto the moss-covered ground.

"They are unlikely to be a source of difficulty without intelligent guidance," Telemain said reprovingly. "So long as the wizards are not in contact with them, they are merely passive instruments of assimilation. There's nothing to worry about."

"Yes, there is," Cimorene put in. "If you drop them, Mendanbar will have a lot of ugly brown marks on his nice new moss. And if they can do that, there's no telling what else they might do."

"Wizards store spells in their staffs," Morwen said, nodding. "You can't always be sure what will set one off."

Telemain looked at them with annoyance. "I suppose you'd rather I left them here. Have you no spirit of scientific investigation?"

"Not where wizards are concerned," Cimorene muttered.

"Nonsense," Morwen said. "I'm just as curious as you are, Telemain, but I never heard that a spirit of scientific inquiry precluded taking intelligent precautions."

"Oh, I see," said Telemain. "Why didn't you just say so in the first place?"

While the others talked, Mendanbar studied the staffs, keeping a careful watch on the threads of Enchanted Forest magic that were nearest to Telemain. To his surprise, the threads showed no tendency to drift toward the magician or wind themselves into knots around the staffs he carried. Apparently, Telemain was right-the staffs would only be a minor nuisance as long as their wizards weren't carrying them. He resolved to mention this to Telemain later. Perhaps Telemain could even help him find a way to deal with the problems the staffs caused when they did have their wizards with them.

A few minutes later, when Kazul was satisfied that there were no wizards left in the area, Mendanbar took them all back to the castle with a quick spell. He was relieved that the wizards' staffs caused no trouble, and pleased to discover that transporting a dragon was no harder than transporting anyone else.

They materialized in the castle courtyard, just inside the moat.

Willin, who had apparently been watching for their arrival, came hurrying out to meet them.

"Welcome home, Your Majesty," the elf said with evident relief.

Mendanbar noticed that he'd dug up a formal uniform somewhere, all sky-blue velvet and dusty gold braid. "May I assume that your mission was a success?"

"Yes, you may," Mendanbar said. "Willin, this is Kazul, the King of the Dragons, and she's very hungry. See if you can scare up something in the kitchen that would do for a dragon-sized meal."

"At once, Your Majesty," Willin said, bowing. "And may I congratulate you and your companions on your great achievement and welcome King Kazul to the Enchanted Forest."

"The welcome I'm interested in is dinner," Kazul said with a smile that showed all her teeth.

Willin backed away hastily. "Of course, of course. I'll see about it immediately."

"I'd better come with you," said Cimorene. "I've been Kazul's Chief Cook for over a year, and I know what she likes."

The two of them left, heading for the other side of the castle, with Kazul trailing hopefully behind them.

Mendanbar wasn't sure whether to be disappointed or relieved. He wanted very much to talk to Cimorene, but he wasn't sure how to tell her what he wanted to say, and anyway they certainly couldn't discuss the things he wanted to talk about with all these other people around.

"Mendanbar, have you got somewhere I could work on these without being disturbed?" Telemain asked, nodding at the load of wizards' staffs he was carrying.

"I wouldn't mind examining them myself," Morwen said.

"The blue room would be best, I think," Mendanbar said. "The light is better in my study, but there's a gargoyle in the corner who can be, um, difficult."

"We'll take the study," Morwen said decisively. "Light is important, and once Telemain gets involved, he won't notice any distractions."

"What about you?" Telemain asked, nettled.

Morwen sniffed. "I can handle considerably more than a mere gargoyle."

"All right," Mendanbar said. "As long as you're sure."

He showed them to the study and helped them get settled, then went down to the kitchen to see how Cimorene and Kazul were doing. He found Kazul in the rear courtyard, eating an enormous kettle of stew that had been intended to be supper for the entire castle. Cimorene was in the kitchen, her arms covered in flour to the elbows, rolling out pie crust and giving orders to the cook. Mendanbar stayed long enough to make sure the cook would do whatever Cimorene told him to, and then Cimorene chased him away, saying that it was difficult enough to cook in a strange kitchen without people hovering over her.

"You don't have to cook anything," Mendanbar told her.

"I do if we want any dinner," Cimorene retorted. "Kazul is already eating everything that was ready for tonight, and she's going to want more as soon as she's finished. Your people aren't really prepared to cope with a visiting dragon."

"We've never had one before."

"Well, you have one now." Cimorene glanced toward the courtyard and lowered her voice. "I think We'll be staying for a few days at least, if that won't cause too many problems. Kazul needs to get her strength back before she tries to fly back to the Mountain of Morning."

"You can stay as long as you like," Mendanbar assured her. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"You can let me get back to making dinner!" Cimorene said. She was smiling, but she obviously meant what she had said.

"All right. Call me if you need anything." Mendanbar bowed and left, feeling a little put out.

He went to the castle library, since his study was occupied, and poked about in the scrolls for a few minutes. Then he decided to check on Prince Rupert and his nephew. He found the middle-aged prince quickly enough, but he had to send someone to retrieve the young Crown Prince from the dungeon.

"Did you enjoy your stay?" Mendanbar asked when Crown Prince Jorillam arrived at last.

"It was all right," Jorillam said. He looked rumpled and vaguely dissatisfied.

"But there weren't any rats. I thought there'd be rats. There wasn't a rack, either."

"Jorillam!" Prince Rupert said sharply. "It's not polite to complain about things like that. Where are your manners?"

"I don't understand,"Jorillam said, frowning. "If there were rats and a rack, I'd be expected to object, wouldn't I? So why can't I complain when they aren't there?"

"It's not the same thing," Rupert told him. "I'm sorry, Your Majesty," he went on, turning to Mendanbar. "He's used to getting his own way.

I'm afraid I haven't done a very good job of teaching him how to behave."

"I behave just fine," Jorillam said.

"I am beginning to understand why you wanted to abandon him in the Enchanted Forest," Mendanbar said to Prince Rupert.

Rupert flushed. "No, no, it's not that. I'm really very fond of the boy.

But I have an obligation, you know, and there's no getting out of it."

"You can leave me here, Uncle," Jorillam said persuasively. "That's abandoning me in the Enchanted Forest, isn't it?"

"I don't think so," Mendanbar put in quickly. He didn't want to think about the problems the young Crown Prince could cause if he stayed at the castle. "There are too many people here for it to count as abandonment."

Prince Rupert nodded gloomily. "I'm afraid you're right. And frankly, I'm not at all sure that abandoning him is the right notion. I just can't think of anything else wicked to do on short notice."

"But you promised you'd abandon me in the Enchanted Forest,"Jorillam protested. "And I want to be abandoned and have all sorts of adventures and come home covered in glory."

"You're a little young for that," Mendanbar commented, studying the Crown Prince. He smiled suddenly as an idea came to him. "What you need is some proper training."

"There isn't time," Jorillam said smugly. "Uncle has to do something wicked to me right away."

"Ah, but that's just the point," Mendanbar said. He turned to Prince Rupert, ignoring Jorillam's suddenly wary expression. "Abandoning Crown Prince Jorillam won't do you any good, because he wants to be abandoned.

Letting him have his own way isn't terribly wicked, even if it isn't good for him."

"I'm afraid you're right," Rupert said sadly.

"But Uncle-" "On the other hand," Mendanbar went on, disregarding Jorillam's interjection "if you promised you'd abandon him, breaking that promise would certainly be wicked. And if you sent him off to a private school for princes-" "I don't want to go to school!"

"Oh, my." Prince Rupert looked from Mendanbar to Jorillam-who now looked thoroughly alarmed-and back. "I think I see what you're getting at. If he hates the idea, then it probably is wicked, even if it's good for him. And there's breaking the promise, too."

"And you wouldn't have to tell anyone at home what you'd done with him," Mendanbar said. "You could rule the country just as if you really had abandoned him in the forest, and no one would know. Surely misleading all those people would be wicked enough for your society."

"I think you're right," Prince Rupert said, smiling for the first time since Mendanbar had met him. "I really think you're right." His face fell suddenly. "But how am I going to find a good school before sunset tomorrow?"

"Don't worry about that," Mendanbar said reassuringly. "I know just the place. It's up in the Mountains of Morning, where no one is likely to run across it, and it's run by a dwarf named Herman. If you like, I'll send a messenger off right away to arrange things."

"No!" said Jorillam.

That would be wonderful," said Prince Rupert with relief. "Ah, I don't suppose this Herman person would be willing to write a letter to the Society explaining matters?"

"I don't see why not," Mendanbar said. "But what do you want it for?"

'Just to confirm that I'm fulfilling the requirements," Prince Rupert explained. "It's a rather unusual arrangement, you see, and I want to be sure the Society will think I've been wicked enough."

"I understand," Mendanbar told him. "Don't worry about it. If Herman won't write you a negative enough letter, I'll send one myself. I'll bet even the Right Honorable Wicked Stepmothers' Traveling, Drinking, and Debating Society will believe the King of the Enchanted Forest."


16 In Which Mendanbar Cleans Up | Searching for Dragons | 18 In Which Willin Finally Gets to Arrange a Formal Celebration