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18

In Which Willin Finally Gets to Arrange a Formal Celebration

For the next several days, Mendanbar was busier than he could remember being in a long, long time. Besides arranging for Crown Prince Jorillam's schooling, a stream of messengers had to be sent to the dragons in the Mountains of Morning to explain where their King was and to warn them about the wizards.

Morwen and Telemain argued constantly about what they were finding out from the wizards' staffs, and when they weren't arguing, they were asking for obscure reference books and peculiar ingredients for their spells.

Between the two of them, they kept the small castle staff busy hunting for things.

The wizards themselves seemed to have disappeared completely, but Mendanbar didn't trust them to stay gone. He spent several hours every day checking the entire network of magic that enveloped the Enchanted Forest , looking for the tangles that wizards with staffs always caused, so that he would know if any of them returned. In the process, he found several more burned-out areas where the wizards had stolen the magic of the forest.

Fortunately, none of the charred spots were very big, but repairing them was not an easy task, and Mendanbar worried constantly about what would happen if a wizard sneaked into the forest and soaked up a larger patch before he could be melted.

He confided this worry to Cimorene on the third day after Kazul's rescue.

"What you really need is a way to keep them from soaking up magic in the first place," said Cimorene. "Then it wouldn't matter if they sneaked in, because they wouldn't be able to do any real harm."

"They could still cause plenty of trouble," Mendanbar said. "But you're right, it would solve a lot of problems. Unfortunately, I can't think of a way to stop them."

"Well, of course you can't," Cimorene said. "You don't know enough about wizards and that ridiculous magic-absorbing spell of theirs. Why don't you ask Telemain?"

So Mendanbar went off to find Telemain, who was with Morwen, working on the last of the wizards' staffs. At first, Telemain was a little annoyed at being interrupted, but when Mendanbar explained his problem, however, the magician nodded.

"An automatic spell to reroute any magical power should do the trick," Telemain said. "That way, anything they try to grab will just slide back where it belongs, and there will never be any new holes to fix."

Morwen looked at Telemain in mild surprise. "You're slipping," she said. "I actually understood that."

"Can you make up an automatic spell for me?" Mendanbar asked quickly, before Telemain could take offense.

"It shouldn't be a problem," Telemain said. "It'll need some sort of anchor, though, or you'll have to keep checking to see if it's still working.

Any ideas?"

The three of them discussed it for a few minutes, and finally Morwen suggested tying the spell to the sword. This turned out to be an even better idea than it first appeared. Working through the sword, Mendanbar could manipulate the power of the Enchanted Forest directly, and with Telemain's help he made the new spell an integral part of the forest's magic.

"What does that mean?" Cimorene asked when he sought her out to tell her how well her idea had worked.

"It means that if any wizards come into the Enchanted Forest, their staffs won't absorb any magic, ever, for as long as they stay," Mendanbar explained. "I won't even have to check the spell very often, because it's tied to the sword. As long as the sword is anywhere in the forest, the wizards can't do a thing."

Cimorene frowned. "They could still use the spells they have stored in their staffs, couldn't they? And what if you have to leave the Enchanted Forest again?"

"I'll have to take a different marc sword, that's all," Mendanbar said.

"I ought to do that anyway, because of the way that one sprays magic around outside the forest. It's not exactly inconspicuous."

"Very true," Cimorene said with a smile.

They were silent together for a moment. Then Cimorene shook her head.

"Kazul will be ready to leave tomorrow. She thinks she's ready today, but I told her not to push."

"I– That's good," Mendanbar said. He hesitated, then said tentatively, "I suppose you'll be going with her?"

"What else would I be doing?" Cimorene asked. She sounded more curious than sarcastic.

Mendanbar took a deep breath. "You could stay here. At the castle, I mean. With me." This wasn't coming out at all the way he had wanted it to, but it was too late to stop now. He hurried on, "As Queen of the Enchanted Forest, if you think you would like that. I would."

"Would you, really?"

"Yes," Mendanbar said, looking down. "I love you, and-and-" "And you should have said that to begin with," Cimorene interrupted, putting her arms around him. Mendanbar looked up, and the expression on her face made his heart begin to pound.

'Just to be sure I have this right," Cimorene went on with a blinding smile, "did you just ask me to marry you?"

"Yes," Mendanbar said. "At least, that's what I meant."

"Good. I will."

Mendanbar tried to find something to say, but he was too happy to think. He leaned forward two inches and kissed Cimorene, and discovered that he didn't need to say anything at all.

The first person they told was, of course, Kazul. Mendanbar was a little nervous about it, because from what he'd heard, dragons tended to get testy when their princesses ran off with someone, but Kazul didn't seem to mind at all.

"Good for you," she said to Mendanbar. "And congratulations to the pair of you." Her eyelids lowered halfway, and she looked at Cimorene.

"I'd been wondering how much longer you were going to stay."

"I don't know what you mean," Cimorene said indignantly. "I wasn't planning to leave! This just sort of happened."

"I know," Kazul said. "But you'd have gone soon in any case. Now that you've gotten things organized, there isn't really enough work to keep you busy in the Mountains of Morning. You wouldn't have stayed long, once you started to get bored."

"Living with dragons doesn't sound boring to me," Mendanbar said.

"That's because you've never done it," Kazul replied. "Being Queen of the Enchanted Forest will give Cimorene more scope for her talents."

"Then you really don't object?" Mendanbar asked.

"Why should I?" Kazul said. "You're a nice enough person, as humans go, and you've been very polite about the whole thing. That doesn't happen often. Normally, knights and princes just grab a princess and run. And most of the princesses don't even bother to say good-bye, much less give proper notice." She looked at Cimorene and sighed.

"I'll miss your cooking, though."

"I can come back for a week or two, if you'd like, and train a replacement," Cimorene offered.

"I may take you up on that, once I find one," Kazul said thoughtfully.

"And in the meantime, you can come over for dinner a lot," Mendanbar said, and both Cimorene and Kazul smiled at him.

When Willin heard about the engagement, he was delighted. The wedding of the King of the Enchanted Forest was just the sort of vast formal occasion the elf had been craving, and he threw himself into the preparations with enthusiasm. He didn't even object when he learned that the bride wanted the King of the Dragons for her matron-of-honor and a witch for her bridesmaid.

"Kazul and Morwen are my best friends," Cimorene explained. "Besides, if I have them, Mother won't insist that my sisters be bridesmaids."

"You have sisters?" Mendanbar asked, somewhat taken aback.

Cimorene nodded. "Six of them. They're all perfectly lovely and sweet, and the sight of Kazul will probably scare them silly."

"Typical princesses," Mendanbar muttered, but without any active dislike. He didn't seem to mind foolish princesses much anymore, as long as he didn't have to marry one. It was amazing what a difference being engaged to Cimorene made.

"They aren't as featherbrained as they sound," Cimorene told him.

"They just act as if they are."

"I don't think I like the sound of that," Mendanbar said. "Are you sure they won't want to be bridesmaids anyway? Maybe we should just elope."

"No, it's too late for that," Cimorene told him. "Don't worry about it, though. It will work out fine."

"If you say so," Mendanbar said, but he was not really convinced.

The note Cimorene's mother sent to acknowledge the engagement only increased Mendanbar's misgivings. I am delighted to hear that you are going to be properly settled at last, Cimorene dear, ran the note. I am enclosing a list of relatives and family friends who ought certainly to be included in your wedding plans, however unconventional those may be. Your father wishes to know which half of the kingdom your betrothed would prefer, as he is anxious to get the paperwork out of the way as soon as possible.

"Half the kingdom?" Mendanbar asked cautiously.

Cimorene looked more than a little put out. "It's the usual reward for rescuing a princess from a dragon. I hoped they'd forgotten about it, but I should have known better. Mother would never do anything so incorrect."

"Well, I don't want it. One kingdom is more than enough for me."

"Then you'd better write them immediately and tell them so," Cimorene advised. "Otherwise they'll have all the forms and documents and records written out, signed by twenty noble witnesses, and sealed by every member of Father's Council, and you'll never be able to get rid of it."

"I'll see to it at once."

"Good." Cimorene picked up the long list of names that had been enclosed with the note. "I'll take this in to Willin, so someone can start addressing the invitations."

"Do we have to invite all of them?"

"We might as well," Cimorene said. "We're asking everyone else. And most of them are family."

"I think it would be easier to elope," Mendanbar said.

The guest list was enormous. Almost all the dragons were coming, and so were a great many of their princesses, past and present. After some initial misgivings, Cimorene's entire family decided to attend, including all six of her sisters and their husbands, her fourteen nieces and nephews, her parents, three of her aunts, two uncles, seventeen cousins, and her fairy godmother. Queen Alexandra was also coming, along with all twelve of her daughters. Mendanbar couldn't help feeling a little nervous about that, out of habit. All the kings and queens and princes and grand dukes who lived around the edges of the Enchanted Forest had had to be invited, and so had most of the odd and unusual people who lived inside the forest itself. Even the ogres and trolls had agreed to behave themselves if they were allowed to be present. In fact, the only people who hadn't been invited were the wizards.

"This wedding will be the best and most prestigious event in years!"

Willin said happily as the acceptances poured in.

"It's certainly going to be the biggest," Mendanbar said, gazing at the stacks of paper in mild amazement. "Where are we going to put them all?"

"You are not to worry about that, Your Majesty," Willin told him sternly. "It is my job to oversee the preparations, and that includes arranging an appropriate place to hold the ceremony and the reception afterward."

"I really think it would have been easier to elope," Mendanbar grumbled.

In the end, they decided to hold the wedding in Fire-Flower Meadow.

The gargoyle in Mendanbar's study complained about the decision long and loudly, because it would obviously be unable to attend, but the meadow was the only open area in the entire Enchanted Forest that would be large enough for the enormous crowd of guests.

"I bet you think that makes it all right," the gargoyle told Mendanbar and Cimorene several days before the wedding. 'Just because you want to have hundreds and hundreds of people at your wedding, I'm supposed to smile and say I don't mind being left out. Well, it isn't all right and I won't do it!"

"I wouldn't expect you to smile about anything," Mendanbar muttered.

Cimorene studied the gargoyle thoughtfully. "If you're that eager to come, I suppose we could take the molding in that corner apart and find someone to bring you down to the field to watch," she offered.

The gargoyle looked down at her in alarm. "Take me apart? Oh, no, you don't! I'm not stupid. I know what would happen. Even if you managed to get me out of here without damaging me, you'd forget to put me back afterward, and I'd spend centuries in a storeroom somewhere. Dust and dry rot!"

"Well, then I'm afraid all I can do is stop in before I leave for the ceremony," Cimorene said. "Unless Telemain can fix up a spell on one of the windows so you can watch from here."

"I don't want that magician messing around with anything in my-wait a minute, did you say you'd stop in? You mean, here? In this room?"

"That's what she said," Mendanbar told it.

"I wasn't talking to you," the gargoyle said. Looking back at Cimorene, it went on, "You mean, you'd come and see me before the wedding?"

"That's right," Cimorene said, nodding. "Right before? All dressed up and everything?"

"Of course," Cimorene promised.

"Hot dog!" said the gargoyle. "I'll take it! Oh, boy, I can hardly wait! This is going to be even better than going to the wedding."

"It is?" Mendanbar said suspiciously. "Why?"

"Because I'll get to see her all dolled up before you do, that's why," the gargoyle answered smugly. "Everybody knows the groom doesn't get to see the bride on the wedding day until the ceremony. And she's going to stop in here first! Oh, boy, oh, boy!"

Mendanbar looked at Cimorene.

"He's right, you know," Cimorene said apologetically. "And I've promised."

"He's never going to let me forget this," Mendanbar muttered and left to talk to Telemain about setting up Fire-Flower Meadow for the wedding.

Despite Willin's determination to handle the wedding plans himself, there were a number of things only Mendanbar could do. Among the most important was making sure that Fire-Flower Meadow and the area around it stayed firmly in one spot on the day of the wedding, so that all the guests could find it. This was not an easy thing to arrange. Even with Telemain's help, it took Mendanbar several days' worth of work before he was positive no one would miss the wedding because of a shift in the forest.

The night before the ceremony, Mendanbar and Telemain went over the whole field an inch at a time, to make certain that all the fire-flowers had been picked (so that none of the guests would get an accidental hotfoot) and to take care of any lingering minor enchantments. They found two princesses who had been turned into pinks, a frog prince, and a hedgehog that had once been somebody's groom. All of them were grateful to be disenchanted and very happy to be invited to the wedding.

The day of the wedding dawned bright and clear. Telemain had spent most of the previous week making sure that it would, while explaining to anyone who would listen that weather magic worked best if one set it up over a long period of time, which was what made it so difficult.

The guests started arriving early, and Mendanbar was kept busy greeting them.

A large corner of the field had been roped off as a landing place for dragons, and for most of the morning the sky was full of flashing green wings. Ballimore and Dobbilan-who had come the previous evening to make sure their Cauldron of Plenty would have enough time to produce a proper wedding dinner for so many guests-directed traffic, as they were the only ones large enough for the dragons to see clearly from a distance amid the growing crowd.

Jack was early, too. He parked his wagon in a corner of the field and did a brisk business selling seven-league boots, cloaks of invisibility, and magic rings(along with wrapping paper and tape) to those who had forgotten to bring wedding presents. Nearby, all nine of Morwen's cats prowled on, around, under, and through the stacks of gifts that covered the six long benches that had been set out to hold them. Whenever someone brought a new package to lay on the benches, three of the cats would converge on him and purr loudly, while the others kept a watchful eye on the rest of the presents.

Slowly, the meadow filled up. Everyone was in a good mood, everyone was on his or her best behavior, and everyone was trying to be helpful.

Even Cimorene's family seemed to be having a good time. Her father was deep in conversation with Dobbilan, discussing ways of discouraging marauding giants. Several of her sisters were comparing notes with the dragons' ex-princesses, while her mother helped Queen Alexandra and her daughters (who did not seem nearly as awful as Mendanbar remembered) set bowls of punch and trays of sandwiches on a table at the far end of the meadow for people to nibble on until dinner was served.

Herman and his flock of children-including Crown Prince Jorillam-arrived and bought several bags of walnuts from Jack to feed the squirrels.

Jorillam was delighted to discover that the squirrels would give him advice about quests. He went through three bags of nuts before the ceremony began and had to be almost dragged to his seat when the time came. His uncle, Prince Rupert , showed up at the last minute, wearing a black cloak and an enormous fake mustache. He looked very wicked and thoroughly pleased with himself.

Finally, everyone was there, everything was ready, and it was time.

Resplendent in deep green velvet, milk white satin, and his best crown, Mendanbar waited nervously while the musicians, a talented group of Goldwing-Shadowmusic elves, began the wedding march. Willin, who had at first argued-but not very hard-that he was not a proper person to be a groomsman because he was Mendanbar's steward, came down the long, open aisle with Morwen, who was wearing her best black robe. Following them came Kazul, the matron-of-honor, and Telemain, Mendanbar's best man. Then came Cimorene, and Mendanbar forgot about everyone else.

Instead of her usual crown of black braids, Cimorene had let her hair hang in loose, shining waves down her back. She wore a wreath of fire-flowers, specially enchanted to burn without being hot or setting anything ablaze; from the wreath hung a veil of silver lace. Her bouquet was of fire-flowers, too, and her dress shimmering snow-silk trimmed with silver. She was stunningly beautiful.

The ceremony went by in a blur, but Mendanbar was pretty sure he hadn't made any mistakes because suddenly he was kissing Cimorene and everyone was cheering. He felt like cheering himself, except he would have had to stop kissing Cimorene.

A finger poked him surreptitiously. With considerable reluctance, Mendanbar broke away from Cimorene and turned.

"Enough," Telemain said in a voice so low Mendanbar could hardly hear it over the cheering. "Now it's time for the party."

Mendanbar looked at Cimorene, who gave him a wry smile as if to say that she didn't think it was enough, either, but there was nothing they could do about it now. He looked back at Telemain.

"I knew we should have eloped," he said.

Cimorene laughed and shook her head at him. "You don't really mean that, any more than you mean it when you complain about the gargoyle," she said, taking his arm.

"Who told you that?"

"The gargoyle did," she admitted, and they both laughed. "Come enjoy the party."

Arm in arm, the King and Queen of the Enchanted Forest went to accept the congratulations of their guests.


17 In Which Mendanbar Grows Some Trees and Makes a Wicked Suggestion | Searching for Dragons |