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In Which a Wizard Pays a Visit

When Mendanbar 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?"

Willin unbent very slightly. "Your Majesty has an unexpected visitor."

He 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.

He 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."

Mendanbar 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.

The 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.

I 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?"

Mendanbar listened with half an ear while he rummaged through the desk.

The 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 to me?" the gargoyle yelled.

"Of course not," Mendanbar said. "I never do when you're being insulting.

"Insulting? You want insulting? I'll give you insulting. You always dress funny! You've got feet like an elephant! Your nose is too big and your ears stick out!"

"Not much, compared to yours," said Mendanbar cheerfully as he crossed to the door. "Stop grousing; if you can see my nose from up where you are, there's nothing wrong with your eyes."

"Your hair is a bird's nest!" the gargoyle shouted just before the door closed behind Mendanbar. "A bird's nest, do you hear me?"

Mendanbar rolled his eyes and headed down the corridor toward the main audience chamber. He supposed he would have to apologize to the gargoyle sooner or later, unless he could figure out a way to muffle the noise while he worked. Maybe he could enchant a pair of earplugs to keep out the gargoyle's voice and nothing else. A spell that specific would be tricky, but it would be worth it just to see the gargoyle's face when it realized Mendanbar didn't mind its chatter.

Mendanbar smiled and pushed open the rear door of the audience chamber.

Zemenar turned as Mendanbar entered, and the blue and gray robes he wore flared out around him. His face was just as sharp and angular as Mendanbar remembered. Giving Mendanbar a long, appraising look, Zemenar bowed his head in greeting. "Your Majesty."

"Welcome, Head Wizard," Mendanbar said, bowing slightly in return.

Something tugged gently at his mind, distracting him. The strands of magic, which were always particularly plentiful inside the castle, were drifting slowly toward the staff Zemenar carried. In another minute or two, they would begin winding around Zemenar's staff like thread winding onto a spool. Before long, the wizard's staff would absorb them, leaving a tangled knot in the orderly net of magic, and Mendanbar would have to spend hours straightening it out later.

It happened every time a wizard came to the Enchanted Forest, and it was very inconvenient. Mendanbar had gotten tired of asking wizards to keep their staffs from soaking up magic. They hardly ever understood what he was talking about, and if he did manage to make it clear, they generally got upset and indignant. He didn't want to upset the Head Wizard of the Society of Wizards, but he didn't want to spend his afternoon cleaning up a magical mess in the middle of his castle, either. He reached out with a mental hand and nudged the invisible cords away from the staff.

Zemenar did not seem to notice. "I have come to see you about a matter of much urgency to the Society of Wizards," he said, stroking his long gray beard portentously. "I hope you will be willing to assist us."

"That depends on what kind of help you're asking for," Mendanbar replied. "There are some things I won't do, and a few that I can't.

I'm sure you understand."

"Entirely," Zemenar said, though he sounded a little put out, as if he had hoped to get Mendanbar to agree quickly, without asking any awkward questions.

Mendanbar felt like rolling his eyes in exasperation. Everybody who lived in the Enchanted Forest knew better than to make a promise without knowing what they were promising. Did this wizard think that Mendanbar was stupid just because he was young?

"We in the Society of Wizards have been having a great deal of difficulty recently with the dragons in the Mountains of Morning," Zemenar went on. "That is the root of the problem."

"I don't think I can help you with the dragons," Mendanbar said. The strands of magic were drifting toward the wizard's staff again. He gave them another nudge. "The Mountains of Morning aren't part of the Enchanted Forest, so I can't just order the dragons to behave. If you were having trouble with elves, now, I might be able-" "Naturally, we don't wish to involve you in our dispute," Zemenar interrupted smoothly. "However, one of the results of our quarrel is that the King of the Dragons has cut off the Society's access to the Caves of Fire and Night."

"I still don't see-" "The caves are the source of many of the ingredients we use in our spells," Zemenar broke in once more. "They are also the only place it is possible to make certain items we need for our research." He paused and blinked, fingering his staff with one hand as if he thought there might be a rough spot somewhere along it and he was trying to find it without attracting attention. "We-the Society of Wizards-must have some way of entering the caves."

"Go on." Mendanbar tried not to sound as irritated as he felt. He did not like Zemenar's lecturing tone, he was tired of being interrupted, and he still did not see what the Society's dispute with the dragons had to do with him. On top of that, the invisible threads of magic were moving toward Zemenar's staff again, almost as if something were sucking them in.

Mendanbar yanked at them hard, wishing he could do the same to the Head Wizard.

"That is where you come in, Your Majesty," Zemenar said. He sounded vaguely confused, as if he were trying to concentrate on two things at once. "You, ah, could be of great use that is, you could help us enormously."

"How?" The strands of magic were gliding toward the staff more quickly than ever. Mendanbar could see that if he kept pulling at them he would soon be unable to pay attention to anything else. He thought for a moment, while Zemenar rambled, then he took hold of a fat, invisible cord and with a swift gesture threw it in a loop around Zemenar. The loop hovered three feet from the Head wizard in all directions, spinning slowly.

Other cords floated toward it and glanced off before they came anywhere near Zemenar or his staff. Mendanbar smiled slightly.

The Head Wizard broke off his speech in mid-sentence. "What was that?" he demanded.

"I beg your pardon," Mendanbar said with dignity. "As the ruler of the Enchanted Forest, there are sometimes matters that require my immediate attention. I have dealt with this one."

Zemenar frowned, plainly taken aback. "You have? But I didn't sense any spell-" He stopped short, staring at Mendanbar in consternation.

"You would not," Mendanbar said in an offhand manner. Inwardly, he smiled. Apparently wizards could feel normal spell-casting, but they could not sense Mendanbar's way of doing magic. He wondered why no one had ever mentioned it. Undetectable spells could be a big advantage, if he ever had trouble with the Society of Wizards. "It was not exactly a spell, just something to do with the forest forces. It need not concern you."

"Of course, Your Majesty," Zemenar said after a long pause. "If I may continue?"

"Please do."

"What we are asking is that you allow the wizards of our society to enter the Caves of Fire and Night from the Enchanted Forest," Zemenar said. "There is a way in somewhere along your eastern border, I believe."

"Yes, but it doesn't stay put," Mendanbar pointed out. "Nothing in the Enchanted Forest does, at least, not for long."

"It's always in the same general area, though," Zemenar said confidently.

"We're willing to take whatever time is needed to find it."

Mendanbar thought of the enormous number of knots and tangles that the wizards would cause while they wandered around looking for the entrance to the caves, and he could barely suppress a shudder. "What about the dragons?"

"If you have no authority over them, they can have none over your gateway into the Caves of Fire and Night," Zemenar said, watching Mendanbar closely with his hard, bright eyes.

"That's not what I meant." Mendanbar paused, pretending to consider.

"I think I must refuse your request, temporarily at least," he said in as judicious a tone as he could manage. "I have certain differences of my own to settle with the King of the Dragons at the moment. From what you say, the dragons would object if I let your wizards into the Caves of Fire and Night, and I do not want to make my discussion with them any more difficult than it is likely to be already. I hope you understand."

"Ah." A fleeting expression of satisfaction flicked across Zemenar's face. "I am sorry to hear that you, too, are having trouble with dragons. I hope you will be able to settle things suitably. They are sly creatures, you know, and one can never tell what they are thinking."

The same thing could be said about the Head Wizard of the Society of Wizards, thought Mendanbar. "Thank you for your kind wishes," he said aloud.

"If you would like our assistance, the Society of Wizards would be happy to advise you," Zemenar said with a smile. "We have had a great deal of experience with dragons over the years."

"I appreciate the offer," Mendanbar replied cautiously. He did not want to offend the Head Wizard, but he doubted that the wizards' advice would help him much. After all, they seemed to be having more trouble with dragons than he was.

"Have you met the new King of the Dragons or her princess?" the Head Wizard went on.

"No, I-princess?" Mendanbar forgot his misgivings in a wave of surprised dismay. "The King of the Dragons has a princess?"

"She does indeed," Zemenar said. There was a faint frown in his eyes, and his fingers were stroking his staff again. "She's a real troublemaker, too-the princess, I mean. Our misunderstanding with the dragons is all her fault."

"Oh, lord," Mendanbar said. He raised a hand to run his fingers through his hair and remembered just in time that he was wearing his circlet. "And King Kazul listens to her?"

"Certainly. Most of the dragons do, now. Cimorene is quite the power behind the throne in the Mountains of Morning."

There was a sneer in Zemenar's voice, along with a good deal of suppressed anger. Mendanbar couldn't blame him. He'd had enough trouble with princesses himself to know the type. Cimorene must be one of the beautiful, empty-headed, ambitious bores whose only talents were the ability to stare innocently with their blue eyes and a knack for wrapping people-or, in Cimorene's case, dragons-around their fragile fingers. She was probably too stupid to realize how much trouble her manipulations caused, but if she did notice she probably liked having the power to produce turmoil.

"Oh, lord," Mendanbar repeated. Why hadn't Morwen warned him?

Well, he had to talk to Kazul, one way or another. Perhaps Morwen had heard about his aversion to princesses and hadn't wanted to give him any reason to put off the visit. Mendanbar looked at Zemenar, completely in charity with the wizard for the first time. "Thank you for telling me."

"You're very welcome," Zemenar said. "You will let me know how things go, won't you? And do remember that the Society of Wizards will be happy to give you whatever help you may need. It's in our own interest, after all. The sooner you get this little matter settled, the sooner you'll be able to reconsider our request about the Caves of Fire and Night."

"Yes, certainly," Mendanbar said. "Is that all, then? I'll have Willin show you out."

"That won't be necessary." Zemenar gave Mendanbar a smile that set Mendanbar's teeth on edge. "I am a wizard, after all. Good day, Your Maj Zemenar bowed and was suddenly and completely gone. No, not completely; Mendanbar could feel a lump of magic in the center of the looping spell where Zemenar had been standing. Mendanbar frowned. He might appreciate Zemenar's warning about Kazul's Princess, but that was no reason for the wizard to go leaving leftover bits of magic in his castle.

Mendanbar reached for the loop, to undo it, and paused. As long as he was at home, he might as well do this the easy way. He twitched a different strand of magic, and the audience chamber dissolved around him.

He materialized in the cool darkness of the castle armory. Lighting the wall torches with another twitch of the magic threads, he looked around. Willin had been hard at work since the last time Mendanbar had visited the armory.

Most of the swords and shields that had been piled in one corner or another were now hanging in neat pairs on the walls. Extra swords, spears, maces, lances, and knives hung in closely spaced rows higher up. The effect was almost decorative. Mendanbar made a mental note to compliment Willin, then turned his attention toward the wooden chests along the far wall.

The one he wanted was in the center. He reached into his pocket for the key and realized he had left it in his desk. He sighed and snapped his fingers. With a small pop, the key appeared in the air level with his nose and fell into his palm. Mendanbar smiled at it and bent to open the chest. Willin was always after him to have a proper set of keys made for the various doors and drawers and chests and hiding places in the castle, but Mendanbar couldn't see any reason to waste the effort when the Key to the Castle was all you needed to open any lock in the place.

It wasn't as if Willin needed a spell to call the Key, either, Mendanbar thought as he lifted the lid of the chest. The Key had its own magic. As long as it was inside the castle, it came to whoever called it. Willin just wanted to puff up his own consequence by carrying a big bunch of keys jangling at his belt. Mendanbar looked down and forgot about Willin.

There was only one thing in the chest: a sword, gleaming in the torchlight.

It was very plain, almost ordinary-looking, and it didn't have an air of magic about it at all, though anyone who looked at it closely would notice that it shone too brightly and had too sharp an edge to be an ordinary sword. Mendanbar reached in and took the hilt in his hand with a sigh of satisfaction. In the air around him, the unseen strands of power hummed in response, for this sword was linked to the warp and weft of the Enchanted Forest in ways no one, not even the Kings of the Enchanted Forest , really understood. Mendanbar always felt better when he had the sword with him, but he couldn't wear it around the castle all the time. It made Willin unhappy and visitors nervous. So he kept the sword in the armory unless he could think of an excuse to use it.

Rising, he swung the sword twice, just for fun. Then he hunted around until he found a sword belt and scabbard, put the sword in the sheath, and buckled the belt around his waist. With another wave of his hand, he was back in the audience chamber.

3 In Which Mendanbar Receives Some Advice from a Witch | Searching for Dragons | 5 In Which There Is a Misunderstanding and Mendanbar Does Some Plumbing