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Authors: Patricia C. Wrede

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BOOK: Talking to Dragons
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The woods had gone very, very quiet. I didn't like that, but after all the trouble I'd had getting out of the belt, I would have felt stupid if I'd just picked up the sword again without doing anything. Besides, I'd started setting up for a spell, and leaving things like that half-finished can be awfully dangerous.

I took a deep breath and spoke as steadily as I could:

 

“Sword of the Sleeping King,

I conjure thee:

By stream and starlight,

By sun and shadow,

By song and storm wind,

Show me thy tale!”

 

It was the simplest spell I knew—almost the only one, in fact. It's supposed to let the spell caster know more about the nature of whatever object is named in the first line of the chant. I didn't think the spell would work quite the usual way on a magic sword, but it wouldn't do any harm, and I was hoping to find out something useful.

I finished the spell, and everything was quiet for about two heartbeats.
Fast
heartbeats. I was nervous. Then the world turned over.

That's what it felt like. The ground started shaking, and the part under the sword pushed up until it made a mound taller than I was. I didn't have much of a chance to look at it, though, because I was rolling all over the open space and trying to grab hold of something. Then everything went dark, and I was falling, and a huge, deep voice said solemnly, “All hail the Bearer of the Sword!”

And then it was over and everything was back to normal. I was lying on the ground in the Enchanted Forest, trying to dig my way through the moss. I stopped and waited. Nothing else happened, so I sat up and looked around. I was still sitting in the same not-quite-a-clearing, with the sword and sheath in the middle. The sword . . .

The sword was standing upright, half-buried in a knee-high mound that hadn't been there before. The blade was about a handspan out of the sheath, and it glittered when the sun got far enough through the trees to hit it. I stood up and walked over. The mound was covered with moss, just like the rest of the forest floor. It could have been there forever. I shivered, wondering how I was going to get the sheath out of the ground.

I put one hand on the hilt, intending to shove it back down into the sheath. When my hand touched it, my whole arm started to tingle. I jerked my hand away and stared at the sword. It just sat there. I reached out again, this time for the sheath.

As soon as I touched it, the sheath slid out of the ground. The belt was still wrapped around it, and no dirt clung to either of them. I touched the hilt again. My arm tingled, but this time I was ready for it, and I shoved the sword back into the sheath. Then I stuffed the sword belt under my arm and started walking. I was sure
somebody
must have noticed what had just happened, and I didn't want to be around when they came to find out what was going on.

 

I didn't stop again until midafternoon. By then I was hungry as well as tired. I hadn't brought any food with me, and even if I'd known how to get home it was much too late to go back for some. I sighed and sat down under another tree to rest and think, but I didn't get much thinking done. Mostly, I stared at the sword.

Finally, I gave up. Sitting under a tree wasn't going to teach me anything. I stood up and buckled on the sword belt. As I adjusted it, my hand touched the hilt of the sword again.
Three
little tingles ran up my arm before I pulled my hand away. I looked at the sword for a moment, then shrugged and reached for the hilt with my right hand, as if I were going to draw it.

As soon as my hand touched the hilt, I felt the tingling. This time, instead of letting go, I concentrated on the way it felt. I got three distinct impressions. One was a low sort of background vibration, like a kitten purring in its sleep; one was a deep rumble; and one was a bright buzz, like a bee in a jar. Almost as soon as I figured them out, they started to fade. In another minute they were completely gone, and they didn't come back.

I took my hand off the sword's hilt, then put it back. I didn't feel anything. I tried a couple more times, but whatever it was had stopped. Finally I gave up and started walking again. I wasn't getting anywhere trying to figure out the sword, and I had to find somewhere to spend the night.

At least I didn't have to worry about giants; they live farther east, in the Mountains of Morning. It occurred to me suddenly that I didn't know where I was. I might
be
in the Mountains of Morning. It wasn't a particularly cheerful thought. I started walking more quietly.

I'd been walking for nearly half an hour when I realized that I knew where I was going. Unfortunately, I didn't know where I'd be when I got there. It was very odd, and I was a little uneasy until I realized that I didn't
have
to go that direction. I could have turned around and walked the other way, or gone sideways. In fact, I did go sideways for a while, just to prove I could.

After that I felt better, so I stopped avoiding whatever it was and started walking toward it again. I wasn't going to get anywhere if I kept avoiding things, and I might miss something important. Besides, there isn't any way you can avoid
everything
in the Enchanted Forest. This way, at least I knew something was coming.

I was still walking very quietly when I heard somebody crying. I headed toward the sound, wondering what I was getting myself into. You can't just ignore things like that, especially in the Enchanted Forest. On the other hand . . .

I stopped, staring at a thick, prickly hedge. It was taller than my head and impossible to see through, much less to shove through. The crying was coming from the other side.

I bent over. The bushes were much too close together for me to crawl through them. I could make out sunlight and long red hair and a brown tunic on the other side, but not much else. I stood up and walked to one side, looking for a thin spot in the hedge. It wasn't long before I realized I was going in a circle.
Terrific,
I thought.
I bet it goes all the way around without breaking.
I kept walking anyway, just in case.

It didn't take long to make the full circle. I bent over and peered through the bushes again. Suz might be able to get through, but I never would. I stood up and tapped lightly on the outside of the bushes.

“Excuse me, please, but would you mind letting me through?” I asked as politely as I could.

The bushes rustled and pulled apart. I stared at them for a minute. I hadn't really thought it would work. The bushes rustled again. Somehow they managed to sound impatient.

“Ah, thank you very much,” I said, and stepped through.

The hedge closed behind me with a prim
swish,
and I looked around. Inside the hedge was a circular clearing full of sunlight and the feel of magic. A red-haired girl in a brown tunic was lying at one side of the clearing. She sat up as I came in; her face was tearstained.

“Who are you?” she demanded fiercely, as soon as she saw me. “And what do you want?” She looked about my age, but I never have been very good at guessing how old people are, especially people who aren't in disguise or enchanted.

“My name is Daystar,” I said. “I heard you, um, crying, and I wanted to see if I could do anything.”

She looked at me suspiciously. “You just walked through that hedge? Ha! I've been trying to get out of here all day. It's not that easy. I bet you're a wizard.” I noticed some scratches on her arms and some fuzzy places in the tunic where it might have caught on branches or trees.

“I'm not a wizard. Maybe it's easier to get in than it is to get out,” I offered.

The red-haired girl sat back. “That could be true,” she said a little less belligerently. She eyed me skeptically, and I tried to look trustworthy. “Well, you don't
look
like a wizard,” she said at last. “Can you get out again?”

“I don't know,” I said.

“Well, try!” she said. “No, wait. I'll stand next to you so I can get out, too. Then we'll both be rescued.” She jumped to her feet. “What are you waiting for?”

“I'm sorry, but I don't really think I need to be rescued,” I said. “I was looking for a place to spend the night and this seems pretty safe. I'm not sure I want to leave just yet. Besides, I don't know anything about you. Maybe I don't want to rescue you.”

“Oh, rats.” The redhead sat down again. “I thought you might be a hero. You can talk them into anything. Stupid creatures.”

“Who are you?” I asked. “And why are you worried about wizards?”

“I suppose it won't matter if I tell you,” she said after thinking for a minute. “They're chasing me. My name's Shiara,” she added.

“Wizards are chasing you? More than one?” I was impressed. Wizards usually don't cooperate much, even the ones who belong to the Society of Wizards. At least, that's what Mother always told me. “What did you do?”

Shiara hesitated, then threw her hair back over her shoulder with a toss of her head. “I,” she said defiantly, “am a fire-witch.”

“You're a fire-witch?” Well, she had the red hair for it, but that doesn't always mean someone is a fire-witch.

She must have heard the doubt in my voice, because she scowled at me. “I
am
a fire-witch! I am!”

“I didn't say you weren't,” I said hastily. That only seemed to make it worse.

“You don't believe me! But I am
so
a fire-witch! I am! I am!” By the time she finished, she was shouting. She glared at me, and her hair burst into flame.

That settled it. “I believe you, I believe you,” I said. “Uh, shouldn't you do something about your hair?”

Shiara burst into tears and her hair went out.

I stood there feeling silly and useless. Finally I remembered my handkerchief. Mother made me carry one all the time, even to chop wood, so I actually had it with me. I pulled it out and offered it to her.

After a couple of sniffs, she took it and mopped her face, but she didn't say anything.

“I'm sorry,” I said finally. “I didn't mean to make you mad.”

“Well, you did,” she snapped. She crumpled the handkerchief into a little ball and threw it at me.

I caught it and stuffed it back into my pocket. “I
said
I was sorry.”

“I can't
help
having a temper,” Shiara said crossly. “All fire-witches do.”

“Really? I've never met one before. I've met heroes and princes, but no fire-witches. Does your hair always do that when you get mad?”

“No,” she said. She looked like she was going to cry again.

“Why are the wizards chasing you?” I asked hastily, hoping it was a safer topic.

“I burned the Head Wizard's staff,” Shiara said matter-of-factly.

My jaw dropped about a foot. A wizard's staff is the source of his power, and furthermore, most wizards store spells in them. Sort of an emergency reserve. A lot of the staffs get passed down from one wizard to the next, accumulating magic as they go. They're practically indestructible. Sometimes they get lost or stolen and then found in the nick of time under peculiar circumstances, but I'd never heard of one being destroyed before. And the Head Wizard's staff . . .

“You
burned
a
wizard's staff?
” I managed finally.

“You bet.” Shiara's eyes glinted at the memory. “He deserved it, too. But the rest of them got mad. So I ran away while they were arguing about what to do with me.”

“And you came to the Enchanted Forest? On purpose? Isn't that a little extreme? I mean, you could get, well, enchanted. Or killed or something. This place is dangerous.”

“Having the whole Society of Wizards mad at you isn't exactly safe,” she snapped.

I thought about it. She was right. “Why did you burn the Head Wizard's staff?” I asked after a minute.

“I didn't like him,” Shiara said shortly. I got the distinct impression she didn't want to talk about it, so I decided to change the subject again. Besides, my feet hurt.

“Would you mind if I sat down?” I asked. “I've been doing a lot of walking today.”

“Go ahead.”

I moved the sword out of the way and sat down. This time I didn't fall over the sheath; I was starting to get the hang of it.

Shiara saw the weapon and frowned. “Are you sure you're not a hero or an apprentice hero or something?”

“I don't think I am,” I said cautiously. “I'm not really sure.”

“You're not sure? Don't you know who you are?”

I blinked. I'd never really thought about it that way. “I know who I
am,
” I said. “I just don't know what I'm supposed to be
doing.
Except finding out what I'm supposed to be doing.”

Shiara stared at me. “I don't believe it. Nobody comes to the Enchanted Forest without some kind of reason.”

“What's yours, then? Besides running away from wizards.” I was getting a little tired of people and animals and things not believing me.

“None of your business!” Shiara glared at me again. Then she jumped up and glared down at me. “I want to leave,” she announced. “Right now.”

“All right,” I said. “But I thought you couldn't get through the hedge.”

Shiara stamped her foot, and a little flame flared up from it. “I can't! Open it for me! Right now!” She was really mad, but at least this time her hair wasn't burning. I was glad. Watching someone glare at you with her hair on fire is a little unnerving.

“I don't want to open the hedge yet,” I said reasonably. “I don't even know if I can. Besides, it would be dangerous. There are wolves in this forest. And it's getting dark. There could be nightshades out there already. That may not bother a fire-witch, but—”

BOOK: Talking to Dragons
10.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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