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Authors: Patricia C. Wrede

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BOOK: Talking to Dragons
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“Exactly,” Morwen said.

“What?” said Shiara.

“Let's go,” I said. I was feeling a little unsettled by the whole thing, and I didn't want to talk about it anymore. Shiara scowled, but she didn't insist on an explanation.

We said goodbye and thank you to Morwen and started walking toward the trees. Shiara carried the kitten for a while, but pretty soon the kitten decided it wanted to walk. We slowed down a lot after that, until the kitten got tired enough to let Shiara pick it up again without scratching her.

Shiara and I spent most of the walk talking. I hadn't realized how little she knew about the Enchanted Forest, and I wound up telling her a lot of things. Like about being polite to people and why you shouldn't promise things without knowing what they are first.

Morwen hadn't told us how far away the stream was, and eventually I started wondering how much longer it would take us to find it. I was also curious about where we were going. Right about then, I noticed that the trees we were walking past were larger than the ones I'd seen the previous day. At least, I
thought
they were larger. I studied them as we walked, trying to decide whether it was my imagination or whether they really were larger. I was just getting ready to mention this to Shiara when I heard a cough. I stopped and looked around.

“Ahem,” said a voice.

This time I located the speaker. It was the little gold lizard, Suz. He was sitting on a branch at just about eye level, watching me.

“Oh, hello, Suz,” I said. Shiara looked around. I nodded toward the lizard and said, “Shiara, this is Suz. You remember, I told you about him. Suz, this is my friend Shiara.”

The lizard ignored the introduction and continued staring at me. “Why,” he demanded in an aggrieved tone, “didn't you tell me Cimorene was your mother?”

“You didn't ask,” I said.

Suz looked at me reproachfully. “It would have saved me a great deal of trouble if you'd mentioned it.”

“I'm sorry,” I said. “I didn't know it mattered.”

“You didn't?” Suz ran down the branch and peered at me. “No, you really didn't! How amazing. I can't understand how it happened.”

“What are you talking about?” Shiara said.

The lizard appeared to see her for the first time. He leaned outward in Shiara's direction and I thought he was going to fall off, until I saw that his tail was wrapped tightly around a sturdy twig on the far side of the branch. “You've brought someone with you? Dear me, this will never do. Who is this?”

“I've already introduced you once,” I reminded him. “You weren't listening.”

“You did? Yes, of course, you did. How perfectly dreadful.” Suz ran around the branch very fast, and for a minute I was afraid he was going to try to stand on his tail. If he did, I was sure he'd fall off, because the branch wasn't very wide.

“What's so dreadful?” Shiara demanded. “There's nothing wrong with me.”

“No, of course, there isn't. Oh, dear, Kazul will be terribly unhappy about this.”

“Who is Kazul?” I asked.

Suz looked at me in astonishment. “You don't know? No, you don't. I haven't told you yet. Kazul is who you're going to see.” He cocked his head to one side as if that explained everything.

“Why should I want to see Kazul?” I asked. “And why should he care about me, or Shiara, or anything?”

“She,” Suz said. “And of course you want to see her. You have the Sword of the Sleeping King, don't you? I'm afraid she'll be dreadfully upset if you bring someone with you, though.”

“Well, I'm not going to leave Shiara alone in the middle of the Enchanted Forest,” I said firmly.

“No, no, you couldn't possibly do that,” the lizard agreed. “That wouldn't be right at all. Dear me, whatever are we going to do?”

“You don't have to worry about me,” Shiara said indignantly. “I'm a fire-witch. I can take care of myself.”

“You are?” Suz turned his head and looked at Shiara so intently that his eyes crossed. “You really are! How convenient! Everything's quite all right, then. Kazul won't mind a fire-witch at all.”

“Who,” I said very slowly and carefully, “is Kazul?”

The lizard stared thoughtfully at me for a long time. “I don't think I ought to tell you any more,” he said at last. “You're quite safe, you really are, but it wouldn't do at all for Kazul to lose her temper with me. Oh, dear, no.”

“Quite safe? In the middle of the Enchanted Forest, with wizards after us?” Shiara said sarcastically. “You're crazy.”

“I am? No, I'm not at all! How very rude.” He turned his back, looking extremely offended. Shiara stared at him. As I said, an offended lizard is an interesting sight.

I sighed. “Shiara.”

Shiara looked at me. I just stood there. After a minute, she looked down. “Well, it
is
dangerous to be out here, even if you do have that stupid sword,” she said defensively. “What's wrong with saying so?”

“It wasn't very polite,” I said. “And you promised you'd try.”

Shiara glanced up at me, then sighed. “Oh, all right. I'm sorry, Suz.”

The lizard twisted his head around. “You are?” He ran around the branch again and peered at her upside down from underneath the limb. “No, you're not at all. How disappointing. I accept.” He ran back up on top of the branch.

“Accept?” Shiara said.

“Your apology,” the lizard said with dignity. A dignified lizard looks even odder than an offended one.

“Oh.” Shiara looked at Suz doubtfully.

“If you won't tell us who Kazul is, will you at least tell us how to find her?” I asked hastily. I didn't want Shiara to say anything that would offend Suz again, and she looked like she was going to. Besides, I was curious.

“You won't have any trouble,” the lizard assured me. “Just head for the castle. Kazul will—” He broke off in midsentence, staring at the kitten Shiara was holding. “What is that?” he asked disapprovingly.

“A kitten,” Shiara said. “What does it look like?”

“You're sure it's under control?” Suz seemed a little nervous. I looked at the kitten. It was watching Suz with a great deal of interest.

“What do you mean, under control?” Shiara said. “She's a perfectly well-behaved kitten. Morwen wouldn't have given her to me if she wasn't.”

“Cats are not—Did you say Morwen?” Suz peered at Shiara.

“Yes, I said Morwen. Can't you finish a sentence?”

Suz ignored her. “You've been to see Morwen? I didn't know that. Oh, dear me, I must be dreadfully behind. Why, all sorts of things could be happening that I don't know about! How perfectly dreadful. I must really get back to work at once. Oh yes, indeed I must.”

The lizard ran down the branch and disappeared behind the tree trunk. “Wait a minute!” I said. I ducked around the back of the tree, but Suz was nowhere in sight. I shook my head and went back to where Shiara was standing.

“He's gone again,” I said. “And he still hasn't told me what castle he's talking about.”

“So what? Nobody else has told us anything either.” Shiara glared at the branch where Suz had been sitting. “I don't think
he's
very polite. He didn't even say goodbye.”

“He keeps going off like that,” I said. “I think that's just how he is.”

“Well, I can't say I'm sorry he left,” Shiara said. “Come on, let's find that stream Morwen was talking about. I'm thirsty.”

We started walking again. Shiara put the kitten down, and we took turns keeping an eye on her. She had a marvelous time jumping on leaves and attacking bushes while Shiara and I talked about what Shiara was going to name her. Finally she decided on Nightwitch. I didn't think that was a very good name, but Shiara liked it, so I didn't say anything.

By the time we found the stream, Shiara and I were tired and hungry as well as thirsty, so we stopped. We each took a drink, and then we sat down and opened the bundles Morwen had given us. Just as I had expected, there were packets of food right on top—meat pies and apples and gingerbread. Shiara and I each ate some, and we gave one of the meat pies to Nightwitch. There was a little left over, so we wrapped it up and put it back in my bundle before we started off down the stream.

We stayed as close to the bank as we could. It's easy to get lost in the Enchanted Forest, especially if you don't really know where you're going. If we got out of sight of the stream, we might never find it again.

In a couple of places the trees grew in thick clumps, right up to the water's edge, and we had to choose between wading and going around. I didn't like the dark look of the forest near the tree clumps, and the water was only ankle deep, so we waded. Nightwitch did
not
approve.

The forest got darker as we went along. I was sure, now, that the trees were bigger, and they were certainly closer together even when they weren't growing in tight clumps. We spent more and more time in the stream, but the water wasn't very cold and the pebbles on the bottom were smooth, so it wasn't particularly unpleasant. Even so, I was glad when the woods started to open up again.

Then I saw the clearing a little ahead of us. A minute later, I saw the person sitting in it.

She was a princess. She had to be. Her hair was long and golden and not tangled at all, and her eyes were very blue, and her skin was very white, and she was very, very beautiful. One dainty foot was peeping out from under her blue silk gown. Her hands were folded in her lap, and she was looking at them with a sad expression.

Shiara poked me. I realized that I was standing in a stream with my shoes in one hand and Morwen's bundle in the other and my mouth hanging open. I swallowed and waded over to the bank. I wanted to put my shoes back on before we got any closer. I had seen at least two princesses before, that I knew of, but both of them were enchanted and hadn't looked at all like their usual selves when I met them. When I finished with my shoes, the Princess was looking in our direction.

I stood up hastily and hurried toward her. Shiara followed. As soon as I was within speaking distance, I stopped and bowed. The Princess smiled sadly.

“I bid you such poor welcome as I may,” she said in a musical voice. “Alas! That I can offer you no refreshment. For I am in great distress.”

“I'm sorry to hear that,” I said. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“I fear not,” said the Princess. “For you are as yet a youth. Alas! and woe is me! For I am in great distress.”

“All right, all right. So tell us about it,” Shiara said. She sat down on the ground and looked at the Princess expectantly.

I frowned. I didn't think that was the proper way to address a princess, though I wasn't positive. Mother had taught me a lot more about dragons than she had about princesses.

“You are kind to inquire of my sad tale,” the Princess said. “It is not long to tell. My father was a king, much beloved of his people, and I his only daughter. Being lonely after my mother's death, my father remarried, to a woman comely but proud, and under her influence have I suffered these seven years. And now the King my father is dead, and my stepmother hath cast me out, to wander alone and friendless through the world. Alas! For I am—”

“In great distress. We know. You said that before,” Shiara said. “Why didn't
you
throw
her
out when your father died? It would have saved you a lot of trouble.”

The Princess's blue eyes filled with tears and she bowed her head. “'Twas not within my power to work harm against her, alas. And now I seek some prince or hero who will take pity on my destitute state and return me to my proper place. Woe is me! That I should be without help in such distress.”

“Sounds like a lousy excuse to me,” Shiara muttered under her breath. Fortunately, the Princess didn't hear.

“I'm afraid we can't help you get your kingdom back,” I said. “I'm very sorry. But if there's any other service I can do for you, I'd be happy to try.”

“Daystar!” Shiara's voice was horrified, and suddenly I realized what I'd said. I swallowed. At least I'd only promised to try.

“There is one thing,” the Princess said. She raised her head, and her eyes were very bright. I went cold. The Princess smiled sweetly.

“Give me your sword,” she said.

7
In Which There Is a Good Deal of Discussion

I
STARED AT THE PRINCESS
. Then I shut my mouth and swallowed again, hard.
Mother isn't going to like this at all,
I thought. I was just about to draw the sword and give it to her when Shiara said, “Wait a minute, Daystar.”

I stopped and looked at her. She looked at the Princess. “Daystar hasn't got a sword.”

“What?” the Princess and I said at the same time. The Princess frowned. “I am not blind, to be so easily deceived. See, there it is.” She pointed to my scabbard.

“That,” said Shiara triumphantly, “is the Sword of the Sleeping King. So it belongs to him, not to Daystar, and Daystar can't give it away.”

The Princess looked very puzzled. I thought for a minute. Shiara was right, but she was wrong, too. I mean, it was obvious what the Princess had
meant,
even if she hadn't said it right. I sighed and reached for the hilt.

Shiara turned on me. “Daystar, what are you doing?”

“Giving her the sword,” I said, tugging at it. The sword wouldn't come out of the sheath. “You know as well as I do what she meant.”

“Well, if all those wizards and sorceresses can be picky about the way people say things, why can't you?” Shiara was so mad I expected her hair to start burning any minute. “You can't even get it out of the sheath! You only said you'd try to do what she wanted. Well, you've tried. Isn't that enough?”

BOOK: Talking to Dragons
9.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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