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Authors: Patricia C. Wrede

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BOOK: Talking to Dragons
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I sighed. “I'm sorry, Shiara, but it's my sword, and I'm not a wizard. I just have to do it.”

“Daystar, you . . . you . . .” Shiara gave up and just glared.

I tugged at the sword again, and Shiara turned her back. The Princess still looked puzzled. I shook my head and unbuckled the whole sword belt. I stared at it for a minute, then held it out toward the Princess. “Here. Take it.” My voice seemed too loud, and I realized that the woods had gotten very quiet. The Princess smiled and took hold of the scabbard. I let go of the sword.

There was a rumbling noise, and the Princess said, “Oh!” very loudly and dropped the sword belt. The point of the scabbard hit the ground, and there was another rumble, and an enormous geyser of water shot up into the air.

I saw the Princess cringe, and Shiara fell backward. Then I couldn't see anything but white spray. A voice said, “All hail the Holder of the Sword!” The words echoed hollowly around me as the fountain vanished.

Shiara and the Princess were both staring at me, wide eyed. All of us were dripping. The sword was standing upright in front of me, in the middle of a pool of water about four feet across. It was about halfway out of the sheath, and the blade shimmered in the sun.

The Princess burst into tears. “I knew not that this weapon was of such potency,” she said between sobs. “Alas! For I cannot hold the sword, and who now will be my help? Alas, and woe is me!”

“You mean you don't want the sword anymore?” Shiara demanded.

The Princess nodded. She was weeping too hard to say much.

“And Daystar can have it back now?”

The Princess nodded again. She was still weeping.

I sighed and dug out my handkerchief. It was wet. I squeezed it out and offered it to the Princess anyway. She took it without thanking me and cried some more.

“What am I to do?” she kept saying. “Who now will be my help? Alas! For I am in great distress!”

“Oh, help yourself,” Shiara said crossly. “Daystar, are you going to take that stupid sword?”

I hesitated, then reached out and took hold of the hilt. The blade flashed once, and a brief shock ran through me as the hilt came to rest. I ignored the feeling and pulled at the scabbard. It came free almost at once, and the water closed silently behind it. I took a closer look at the bottom part of the sheath. I wasn't even surprised when I saw that it wasn't wet.

I looked up. The Princess had just about stopped crying. I looked at the sword. Then I looked back at the Princess. “Are you sure you don't want this?” I asked finally.

“Daystar!” Shiara sounded like she wasn't sure whether to be mad or horrified.

The Princess didn't seem to hear her at all. “I cannot take it!” she cried. “Oh, indeed, I cannot! Alas! That I am so helpless in my time of need!”

“Well, if you didn't want the sword, why did you ask for it in the first place?” Shiara said angrily.

“I fear I have deceived you,” the Princess said tragically. “Yet I myself have been misled. Alas! I beg of you, forgive me! For indeed, I am—I am in great distress.”

“Distress? Ha!” said Shiara. “You better tell us the truth, right now, or you'll find out what distress is.”

“Shiara—” I began.

Shiara turned. “You shut up. You obviously don't know anything about handling princesses, so let me do it. Now,” she said to the Princess, “explain. And it better be good.”

“I am a king's daughter,” the Princess said. “My father would have me wed the prince of a neighboring kingdom, to bring us wealth. Yet I could not, for I love not him but another. My father listened not, for all my pleading, so my love and I fled into the forest. We wandered far, and great was our suffering, yet were we happy, for we had each other. But I, being unused to travel, became tired, and my love at last set me here and bade me wait for him. And here have I stayed these two long days, and I fear me some evil may have befallen him. Alas! That we are parted!”

“What,” said Shiara, “does all this have to do with Daystar's sword?”

The Princess sighed again. “I was seated here, as you see me, bewailing my bitter fate, when lo! a man appeared, most wise and powerful of aspect. He told me my love was imprisoned by a mighty sorceress, and at that news I wept bitterly. Then he bade me desist from my grief, for the means of delivering my love was at hand, to wit, a sword most magical. And he himself made promise of aid, if I would but attain the sword. And this have I attempted, and I have failed. Alas, and woe is me!”

“I don't think I understand,” I said. “Why didn't you tell us this to begin with?”

The Princess began to weep again. “My unknown friend instructed me in what I was to say and told me that all would be well once I had the sword in my own hands. And in this he deceived me, for the touch of the sword burns so that I cannot hold it. And the cause is that I deceived you, and tricked you into offering me the sword, and the sword knew, and it will not abide in my hand, and now am I utterly without hope.”

“What did this person look like?” Shiara asked unsympathetically. “The one you were going to give the sword to.”

The Princess seemed a lot more interested in explaining how wise and powerful and helpful the man had been than she was in giving a simple description, but eventually we managed to get some idea what he looked like. Tall, dark haired, blue eyed, and carrying a staff—

“It sounds a lot like Antorell,” I said finally.

“Antorell?” Shiara asked.

“The wizard that Mother melted. She said he might try to make trouble for me in a day or two.”

“Oh, great. All we need is another wizard looking for us.”

The Princess didn't seem to be following the conversation at all. “Alas!” she said finally. “There is nothing left for me but grief. I have no means now to save my love, so I shall die with him. I shall fling myself in yonder stream and make an end.”

“You are even dumber than Daystar,” Shiara informed her. “That stream isn't deep enough to drown in. You'll only get wet. Besides, if that stupid wizard lied about the sword, how do you know he didn't lie about your love? Who is this person you ran off with, anyway?”

“He is a knight,” the Princess said, her eyes lighting up. “Poor in goods, yet rich in spirit, of most pleasing aspect. His eyes are a hawk's, his arms are mighty, and his sword is bright and—”

“He sounds like he can take care of himself,” Shiara said. “I don't think you have to worry about him.”

Shiara's words had a marvelous effect on the Princess. “Truly, you believe this?” she said, and her face lit up even more. “Then here will I await his coming, for surely he will return to me. Ah, joy! That we shall soon be once more together!”

Shiara looked disgusted. “I'm sure you'll be very happy. Come on, Daystar, let's go.” She stood up.

“I don't think we should leave her here by herself,” I said.

“Daystar, you're impossible!” Shiara was still mad. “She tried to trick you! Besides, she's been here two days already, and nothing's happened to her yet.”

“Alas! I did indeed attempt to deceive you,” the Princess said. “And for that I beg forgiveness. Yet consider my unhappy plight, and be not harsh with me.”

“Oh, shut up,” Shiara told her.

“What if Antorell comes back?” I said. “Somebody ought to take care of her. Besides, I made a promise.”

“Well, I didn't!” Shiara said. “And I'm not going to sit here doing nothing just because of a stupid princess! I'm leaving.”

“You can't do that!” I said. I was really upset. Shiara didn't know very much about the Enchanted Forest, and she was going to go tramping off into the middle of it with no one but Morwen's kitten. I couldn't let her do that, but I couldn't leave the Princess sitting there alone, either.

“Want to bet?” Shiara said. She picked up the bundle Morwen had given her. “Come on, Nightwitch. Let's go.”

“Nightwitch? What an unusual name for a cat,” said a new voice.

Shiara stopped and both of us turned. An old man was standing at the edge of the clearing, in front of a clump of scruffy lilacs that were almost tall enough to be considered trees. His beard and what was left of his hair were quite white, and he was stooped over and leaning on a staff. Even without the way my skin prickled, I knew he was a wizard.

The Princess was the first to recover from the surprise of seeing him there. “Ah, sir, have pity on my sad state!” she said. “Have pity, and if you have seen a knight, bright armored, hawk eyed, most fair and pleasing in speech and semblance, then tell me speedily where he may be found. For he is my love, and we are parted, and thus am I in great distress! Alas!”

“That's quite all right, my dear,” the wizard said in a kindly tone. “You've nothing to worry about. In fact, he should be here before very much longer. That's why I hurried. Just sit there and wait quietly, like a good girl.”

“Oh, joy! Oh, bliss!” said the Princess rapturously. “To be with my love again!” She started happily explaining how strong and handsome and generally wonderful her missing knight was. Since she didn't seem to be speaking to anyone in particular, the rest of us ignored her.

Shiara, Nightwitch, and I were edging backward. I had my right hand on the hilt of my sword, and my whole side was tingling with the feel of the wizard's magic. The wizard noticed us and smiled.

“Take your hand from your sword,” he said, looking at me. “I am not here to engage in a vulgar physical contest with you.”

“Are you from the Society of Wizards?” Shiara demanded. Her voice sounded a little shaky, but I don't think anyone who didn't know her would have noticed.

“No,” the wizard said. “Why? Are you looking for one of them?”

“Then why are you here?” I said.

“Why, to assist you,” the wizard said.

“Assist
us?
” Shiara said. “But you're a
wizard!

“I am not at all concerned with your baseless prejudices,” the wizard told her. “I have come to offer to help your companion, and I will thank you to cease interfering.”

I stared at him. “I don't want to be impolite,” I said before Shiara could say anything else, “but why do you want to help me?”

“Why, because you deserve it, of course,” the wizard said. “You made a foolish promise to this other young lady,” he went on, nodding toward the Princess, who was still talking to the air. “You could have gotten out of it several times, but you refused to behave dishonorably. I think that is deserving of a reward.”

“Thank you very much,” I said. I didn't really know what else to say. After all, there are people in the Enchanted Forest who go around rewarding heroes and princes for noble deeds. Why else would all those heroes come here?

“Well, what would you like?” the wizard said after a moment.

“Like?”

“As a reward.” He sounded a little impatient.

I thought about it for a moment. “I appreciate the offer,” I said finally. “But I really don't need anything. Thank you very much all the same.”

“What? Isn't there anything you want?” he asked sharply. He didn't look nearly as friendly as he had at first.

“No, I don't think so,” I said.

For a moment the wizard looked very disconcerted. Then he seemed to relax a little. “Perhaps I did not make myself clear enough,” he said. “You need not ask for something material. Information will do just as well. The word for
sorcery
in the tongue of the giants, or the location of the Well of Silver Storms, where the unicorns drink. There must be something you want to know, even if there is nothing you want to have.”

The only thing I wanted to know was what I was supposed to do in the Enchanted Forest. Somehow, I didn't think Mother had told him. “No,” I said. “I don't think there is anything.”

The wizard looked at me, and his eyes narrowed. “Come, come! You need to know the name of your father, do you not?”

“No,” I said, puzzled. I'd wondered about my father a few times, but I'd never asked Mother about him. She would have told me if she'd thought I ought to know. And I certainly couldn't think of any reason why I
needed
to know. “Why should I?”

“You're looking for him, aren't you?” the wizard snapped.

“No, not really.” That might be one of the things Mother wanted me to do, but it certainly couldn't be the only one. Furthermore, I couldn't see how knowing his name would help much, even if I were looking for him. In the Enchanted Forest, looking for someone usually isn't the best way of finding him. You're much more likely to run into people by accident.

“You aren't? Then you must know! She
told
you! Who is it?”

“I thought
you
were going to tell Daystar that,” Shiara said. “Don't you know?”

“Silence, fool! I have waited too long for this.” The wizard turned back to me. “You will tell me now or regret it deeply: Who is your father?”

“I don't know,” I said. “And if I did, I don't see why I should tell you.”

“There are other ways of learning what I wish to know,” the wizard said. He straightened abruptly. The Princess squeaked and fell silent. Nightwitch hissed. Shiara started edging backward again. And the wizard changed.

He got a little taller and a lot younger; his beard and hair darkened and filled in. His eyes changed from brown to blue, but they still glared.

“Antorell!” I said, and drew my sword.

The steel rang as it came out of the sheath, and the blade shimmered and flashed in front of me. It made the whole clearing seem brighter. Antorell's lips curled into a sneer.

“Fool! What use is a sword against a wizard?”

He raised his staff, and a globe of green light appeared at the lower end of it. A thread of green, dark and bright as the shine of a snake, reached out toward me from the staff. I raised the sword.

BOOK: Talking to Dragons
12.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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