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Authors: Patricia C. Wrede

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BOOK: Talking to Dragons
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A cloud of steam puffed out of the pot, smelling of herbs and magic and gingerbread, and I sneezed. The steam spread out around me and got thicker. It smelled more and more like herbs and magic and less and less like gingerbread. My right arm started to ache, and my left arm started to tingle. The ache got stronger, but it stayed where it was; the tingle spread. In another second or two I was tingling all over, except for the arm that was aching.

By now the steam was so thick I couldn't see anything, but I could still feel Shiara's hand and the vine Morwen had tied around my arm. For what seemed like a long time, nothing else happened. Then one of the cats yowled. I saw Morwen's hand, the one holding the silver knife, come out of the mist.

“In the King's name!” Morwen's voice said, and the knife cut the vine from my arm and pulled it away.

My sword flashed once, very brightly. Most of the steam settled on my right arm and turned black. The ache started to creep upward, and something that felt like lightning or wind ran up my left arm and down my right one. I heard Shiara gasp. The black steam stuff dropped off my arm into a slimy blob on the floor. My right arm stopped hurting, and my other arm stopped tingling, and everything felt normal again. I let my breath out and looked around.

Morwen was looking in my direction with an expression of extreme distaste. “That,” she said, “was an exceptionally nasty wizard. He deserves what's coming to him.”

“What's coming to him?” Shiara asked hopefully.

“I don't know, but he certainly deserves it,” Morwen said. “Anyone who would keep a spell like that in a staff . . .” She shook her head and looked down. “I do hope it doesn't disagree with the cats.”

I followed her gaze. The cats had formed a small mob and were playing with something I'd rather not describe in detail. I looked up again very quickly and took a step backward. I bumped into Shiara and remembered that Morwen had said not to move until she was finished. “I'm sorry,” I said to both of them.

“It's quite all right. You can sit down again now,” Morwen said. “And if you don't want to put your sword in your sheath, you can lean it against the wall. You won't need it for the time being.”

I followed Morwen's instructions and sat down at the table again. I didn't realize until I reached for the gingerbread that although my right hand felt better it didn't
look
any better. I didn't have time to worry about it, though, because Morwen was already standing by my chair with some oily-looking salve and bandages. She worked on my hand while I ate gingerbread and cider left-handed. We finished about the same time, and I thanked her.

“You're welcome,” Morwen said. “Now, perhaps you would explain how you got into such an uncomfortable situation? I have a general idea, but I would appreciate a few details.”

I told her about the wizard and the elf, and then Shiara explained how the staff had exploded.

“Of course the staff exploded!” Morwen said severely. “That sword doesn't like wizard's staffs. Next time, make sure it's sheathed before you touch one.”

“I knew it!” Shiara said angrily. “That elf was
trying
to get Daystar hurt!”

“Not necessarily,” Morwen said. “He may simply have been trying to make sure the wizard found you again. If you'd taken the pieces of the staff with you, the wizard would have had no trouble locating you once he got himself back together, because the first thing he'd do would be to look for his staff.”

“If that elf wanted the wizard after us, why'd he get rid of the wizard in the first place?” Shiara objected.

“I doubt that he did,” Morwen said calmly. “It's more the sort of thing the sword does. I wouldn't depend on it in the future, though, particularly since you still haven't learned how to use it properly.”

I wanted to ask more questions about the sword, but I was pretty sure Morwen wouldn't answer them. “What if the wizard couldn't find his staff when he came back?” I asked instead.

“Wizards always know where their staffs are. And it's almost impossible to keep wizards away from their staffs for any length of time. One can slow them down a bit by putting the staffs somewhere hard to get at, but they usually manage in the end.”

“That's why Mother hid Antorell's staff!” I said.

“I shouldn't wonder,” Morwen murmured. “Now, I strongly suggest that you rest for a while, Daystar, and while you are doing so I will talk with Shiara in the library.” She stood up and nodded to me.

Shiara frowned and opened her mouth to say something. Then she looked at me and seemed to change her mind. “All right,” she said.

Morwen went to the door, followed by Shiara and most of the cats. It was the room of books again. Trying to be careful of my bandaged right hand, I lay down on a bench that had had three cats on it before they went into the library with Morwen. I fell asleep almost immediately.

 

When I woke up, I could tell by the way the sunlight was slanting in through the windows that it was late afternoon. There wasn't anyone else in the room, except for the black-and-white cat who had led us to Morwen's house. It was sitting in the middle of the table, washing its tail.

“Hello,” I said. “And thank you very much for bringing Shiara and me here.”

The cat looked up briefly, decided I was uninteresting, and went back to cleaning its tail.

I shifted a little; the bench was hard. I felt much better than I had when I lay down. Then the back door opened—this time it was the door to the yard—and Morwen came in.

“You're awake. Good. Shiara has been waiting for you.”

I sat up just as Morwen saw the cat on the table. She frowned at it. “Child of Scorn,” she said sternly, “you are
not
allowed on the table.”

The cat looked at Morwen. Morwen looked at the cat. After a minute, the cat jumped down to the floor, where it did its best to pretend that the floor was exactly where it had wanted to be all along. Morwen shook her head.

“You'll have to excuse the Grand Inquisitor. He knows he did me a favor when he brought you here, and he's inclined to take advantage of it. I would have sent Cass, but I was afraid you wouldn't pay attention to her.”

“Cass?”

“Cassandra.” Morwen nodded at a small gray cat that I hadn't noticed before. “She has much better manners than Quiz, but she tends to be overlooked. Nobody overlooks Quiz.”

I studied the cats. They both ignored me. I glanced back at Morwen. “I don't think I've thanked you yet for—for fixing my arm.” I wasn't really sure what else to call whatever she'd done.

“Yes, you have,” Morwen said. “And if you insist on repeating yourself, you'd better wait until you take the bandages off tomorrow. Time enough for thanks if it's healed properly. Not that I have any doubts, mind, but it's better to be sure.”

“All right,” I said. “Did you say Shiara was waiting for me?”

Morwen went over to the stove. “Yes, I did. She's out by the garden,” she said over her shoulder. She reached up and lifted a large kettle down from a hook on the wall.

“Thank you,” I said. I got up and opened the back door. There was a room on the other side, with a bed and a large bookshelf and, of course, a cat. I shut the door and tried again. This time I got the library. Morwen had more books than anyone I'd ever heard of. I shut the door and looked back at Morwen.

“How do I get out to the garden?” I asked.

“Through the door,” Morwen said without turning. “Just be firm. Sometimes it's a little contrary with strangers, but that won't last long.”

I turned back, wondering how to be firm with a door. I opened it again. Still the library. I closed it, wondering how long it would take me to get to the garden. I didn't really want to spend the rest of the afternoon opening and shutting Morwen's door, but what else could I do? I sighed and opened the door again.

This time it worked: The door opened onto three steps going down into the yard. I went through quickly, before the door could change its mind. Shiara was sitting on a stone bench by the corner of the house. She looked a lot happier than she had earlier, but all she would say was that she'd been talking to Morwen.

“She's been showing me some things,” Shiara said. “And she's going to give me a kitten.”

“That's nice,” I said. Actually, I wasn't sure it would be a good idea to have a pet with us while we wandered around the Enchanted Forest. On the other hand, if it was one of Morwen's cats, it could probably take care of itself.

Shiara and I sat and talked for the rest of the afternoon. I discovered that somehow she and Morwen had decided that we would be spending the night here. Shiara was very pleased about it. Evidently Morwen had promised to show her some interesting magic. I wasn't sure we should stay, even though I liked Morwen. After all, neither of us had ever met her before. I had to admit, though, that it sounded a lot better than sleeping out in the open. We were still discussing it when one of the cats came to bring us in to dinner.

6
In Which Daystar Makes a Mistake

D
INNER WAS A STEW
that smelled and tasted awfully good, though it didn't look like much. Morwen had made a large pot of the stuff. Half of it she put in a big pan and set on the floor for the cats, and the rest we ate. By the time we'd finished, we had decided to spend the night with Morwen and the cats.

I was a little worried, at first, about what to do with the Sword of the Sleeping King. I didn't want to leave it leaning up against Morwen's wall all night. Finally, I decided to keep it with me. It wasn't that I didn't trust Morwen, but Mother had given the sword to me and it was my responsibility. Once that was settled, I started wondering where Shiara and I were going to sleep.

I shouldn't have worried. Morwen had several extra bedrooms behind her magic door, and she simply put each of us in one of them. By that time I was starting to wonder how many rooms she had in her house and where she kept them all when they weren't needed. That isn't the sort of question you ask people in the Enchanted Forest, though. So I didn't.

Besides, I was tired again. As soon as Morwen showed me to my room, I stuck the sword under the bed and went to sleep. I was pretty sure the sword would be safe there.

I was right, too. When I woke up in the morning, a cat was asleep on top of it.

After breakfast, Morwen took the bandages off my hand. The burns were gone and it felt fine, but she examined it carefully anyway. When she was finished with my hand, she helped me get my sword belt on. The sheath was dry, so I put the sword back in it. While I was doing that, Morwen produced a couple of bundles and a small black kitten with one white paw. She gave Shiara the kitten and one bundle and turned to me.

“This is for you,” she said, handing me the other bundle. “It should make your travels a little easier. Now, come outside.”

She opened the front door and went out onto the porch. I let Shiara leave next and started to follow her, but one of the cats darted in front of me and I nearly tripped. I had to grab for the door frame to keep my balance.

“Watch out!” Shiara said, then, “Daystar! What's the matter?”

I almost didn't hear her. I was staring down at my sword. My hand had brushed it when I'd tripped, and I'd felt the tingling again. Only this time there was even more of it. I reached over and took the hilt in my right hand. The rumbling tingle hadn't changed, but the buzzing tingle and the purring tingle were considerably stronger than they had been, and they'd been joined by a brisk vibration I hadn't felt before. I concentrated on the new feeling, trying to figure out where it had come from, and found myself looking at Morwen.

I looked back at the sword. I hadn't let go, and my arm was still tingling. I tried to pick out one of the other vibrations. Suddenly I was feeling mostly the purring tingle and looking out into the woods. I blinked and tried again. This time I got the buzz, and I was staring at Shiara. Suddenly I understood.

“It's magic!” I said.

“Of
course
it's magic,” Shiara said. “Honestly, Daystar—”

“No, I mean that's what it does,” I said. “The Sword of the Sleeping King finds magic!”

“Among other things,” Morwen said in a satisfied voice.

“Finds magic?” Shiara said skeptically.

“That's what the tingling is,” I said. I was completely sure of myself, though I didn't know why. “Different tingles mean different kinds of magic, and the tingles get stronger when the sword gets closer to the magic.” I looked at Shiara. “No wonder it gave me such a jolt when we both touched it at the same time.”

Shiara had been reaching for the hilt, but she pulled her hand back hastily. “If the sword finds magic, how come I couldn't feel anything until you touched it? And if the tingles are the way it finds things, why can't you feel them all the time?”

“I don't know,” I said. The tingling was fading again, the same way it had when I held onto the sword before, so I let go of the hilt.

Morwen considered me through her glasses. I couldn't tell what she was thinking from her expression. Finally she nodded very slightly. “I see. There is considerably more to you than I had expected, Daystar,” she said in a thoughtful tone.

I was still trying to figure out what that statement meant when Morwen turned away and said briskly, “However, it is time for you to be going. You see those two trees? Walk straight between them and keep on until you get to a stream, then follow the stream northward. You'll get to something eventually, and you should be able to figure out what to do from there.”

My eyes turned in the direction Morwen was pointing. It was the same way I'd been looking when I'd been concentrating on the purring tingle from the sword. I looked back at Morwen.

BOOK: Talking to Dragons
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