This is Part One of "A Bad Spell in Yurt." If you like it, you can either download it in Kindle format from Amazon or buy a hardcopy (it's out of print, but I recommend contacting the Wooster Book Co. for a signed copy).




By C. Dale Brittain















I was not a very good wizard. But it was not a very big kingdom. I assumed I was the only person to answer their ad, for in a short time I had a letter back from the king's constable, saying the job was mine if I still wanted it, and that I should report to take up the post of Royal Wizard in six weeks.

It took most of the six weeks to grow in my beard, and then I dyed it grey to make myself look older. Two days before leaving for my kingdom, I went down to the emporium to buy a suitable wardrobe.

Of course at the emporium they knew all about us young wizards from the wizards' school. They looked at us dubiously, took our money into the next room to make sure it stayed money even when we weren't there, and tended to count the items on the display racks in a rather conspicuous way. But I knew the manager of the clothing department--he'd even helped me once pick out a Christmas present for my grandmother, which I think endeared me to him as much as to her.

He was on the phone when I came in. "What do you mean, you won't take it back? But our buyer never ordered it!" While waiting for him, I picked out some black velvet trousers, just the thing, I thought, to give me a wizardly flair.

The manager slammed down the phone. "So what am I supposed to do with this?" he demanded of no one in particular. "This" was a shapeless red velvet pullover, with some rather tattered white fur at the neck. It might have been intended to be part of a Father Noel costume.

I was entranced. "I'll take it!"

"Are you sure? But what will you do with it?"

"I'm going to be a Royal Wizard. It will help me strike the right note of authority and mystery."

"Speaking of mystery, what's all the fuzzy stuff on your chin?"

I was proud of my beard, but since he gave me the pullover for almost nothing, I couldn't be irritated. When I left for my kingdom, I felt resplendent in velvet, red for blood and black for the powers of darkness.

It was only two hundred miles, and probably most of the young wizards would have flown themselves, but I insisted on the air cart. "I need to make the proper impression of grandeur when I arrive," I said. Besides--and they all knew it even though I didn't say it--I wasn't sure I could fly that far.

The air cart was the skin of a purple beast that had been born flying. Long after the beast was dead, its skin continued to fly, and it could be guided by magic commands. It brought me steeply up from the wizards' complex at the center of the City, and I looked back as the white city spires fell away. It had been a good eight years, but I felt ready for new challenges. We soared across plains, forests, and hills all the long afternoon, before finally banking steeply over what I had been calling "my" kingdom for the last six weeks.

From above there scarcely seemed to be more to the kingdom than a castle, for beyond the castle walls there was barely room for the royal fields and pastures before thick green woods closed in. A bright garden lay just outside the castle walls, and pennants snapped from all the turrets. The air cart dipped, folded its wings, and set me down with a bump in the courtyard.

I looked around and loved it at once. It was a perfect child's toy of a castle, the stone walls freshly whitewashed and the green shutters newly painted. The courtyard was a combination of clean-swept cobbles, manicured flower beds, and tidy gravel paths. On the far side of the courtyard, a well-groomed horse put his head over a white half-door and whinnied at me.

A man and woman came toward me, both dressed in starched blue and white. "Welcome to the Kingdom of Yurt. I am the king's constable, and this is my wife." They both bowed deeply, which flustered me, but I covered it by striking a pose of dignity.

"Thank you," I said in my deepest voice. "I'm sure I will find much here to interest me." The air cart was twitching, eager to be flying again. "If you could just help me with my luggage--"

The constable helped me unload the boxes, while his wife ran to open the door to my chambers. The door opened directly onto the courtyard. I had somehow expected either a tower or a dungeon and wondered if this was suitably dignified, but at least it meant we didn't have far to carry the boxes. They were heavy, too, and I had not had enough practice with the spell for lifting more than one heavy thing at a time to want to try in front of an audience.

The air cart took off again as soon as it was empty. I watched it soar away, my last direct link with the City, then turned to start unpacking. Both the constable and his wife stayed with me, eager to talk. I was just as eager to have them, because I wanted to find out more about Yurt.

"The kingdom's never had a wizard from the wizards' school before," said the constable. I was unpacking my certificate for completing the eight years' program. Although, naturally, it didn't say anything about honors or special merit or even areas of distinction, it really was impressive. That was why I had packed it on top. It was a magic certificate, of course, nearly six feet long when unrolled. My name, Daimbert, was written in letters of fire that flickered as you watched. Stars twinkled around the edges, and the deep blue and maroon flourishes turned to gold when you touched them. It came with its own spell to adhere to walls, so I hung it up in the outer of my two chambers, the one I would use as my study.

"Our old wizard's just retired," the constable continued. "He must be well past two hundred years old, and when he was young you had to serve an apprenticeship to become a wizard. They didn't have all the training you have now."

I ostentatiously opened my first box of books.

"He's moved down to a little house at the edge of the forest. That's why we had to hire a new wizard. I'm sure he'd be delighted to meet you if you ever had time to visit him."

"Oh, good," I thought with more relief than was easy to admit, even to myself. "Someone who may actually know some magic if I get into trouble."

I took my books out one by one and arranged them on the shelves: the Ancient and Modern Necromancy, all five volumes of Thaumaturgy A to Z, the Index to Spell Key Words, and the rest, most barely thumbed. As I tried to decide whether to put the Elements of Transmogrification next to Basic Metamorphosis, which would make sense thematically but not aesthetically, since they were such different sizes, I thought I should have plenty of quiet evenings here, away from the distractions of the City, and might even get a chance to read them. If I had done more than skim those two volumes, I might have avoided all that embarrassment with the frogs in the practical exam.

"You'll meet the king this evening, but he's authorized me to tell you some of our hopes. We've never had a telephone system, but now that you're here we're sure we'll be able to get one."

I was flabbergasted. In the City telephones were so common that you tended to forget how complicated was the magic by which they ran. It was new magic, too, not more than forty years old, something that Yurt's old wizard would never have learned but which was indeed taught at the wizards' school. How was I going to explain I had managed to avoid that whole sequence of courses?

He saw my hesitation. "We realize we're rather remote, and that the magic is not easy. No one is expecting anything for at least a few weeks. But everyone was so excited when you answered our ad! We'd been afraid we might have to settle for a magician, but instead we have a fully-trained and qualified wizard!"

"Don't worry the boy with his duties so soon," the constable's wife said to him, but smiling as she scolded. "He'll have plenty of time to get started tomorrow."

"Tomorrow! A few weeks!" I thought but had the sense not to say anything. I didn't even have the right books. If I did nothing else, I might be able to derive the proper magic from basic principles in four or five years. I was too upset even to resent being called "the boy"--so much for the grey beard!

"We'll leave you alone now," said the constable. "But dinner's in an hour, and then you can meet some of the rest."

I had seen faces peeping out of windows as we went back and forth with the luggage, but no one else had come to meet me. While I unpacked my clothes, I tried gloomily to think of plausible excuses why Yurt could not possibly have a telephone system. Nearby antitelephonic demonic influences and the importance of maintaining a rustic, unspoiled lifestyle seemed the most promising.



Dinner was formal. Freshly washed and brushed but still wearing my red and black velvet, I was led by the constable out across the courtyard and to the castle's great hall. On the way out, I stopped to put a magic lock on the door to my chambers, a lock that would recognize only my own palm print. It took me only a second, even though it's fairly complex magic; I had needed it on more than one occasion in the City, living among an unruly group of other wizardry students. The constable was impressed, as I knew he would be; that's why I had waited to do it until he came back.

We walked under a tall archway, through studded doors that looked as though they stood permanently open in the summer, into a hall whose high roof was four stories above us. The walls were hung with brightly-colored pennants, and a cheerful fire burned in the great fireplace at the opposite end, in spite of the warmth of a summer evening. The room was well-lit by a series of suspended globes. I peeked at them surreptitiously as we advanced across the flagstones, and my opinion of my predecessor went up; I didn't think I could make magic lamps that burned so well.

A group of people waited at the far end of the hall, made to seem almost insignificant by the height of the room. Their talking faded away as we approached. My attention went of course to the throne, pulled close to the fire, where a stooped-shouldered, white-haired man watched me coming with surprisingly sharp eyes. The velvet of his ermine-decorated robes was even more brilliantly red than my pullover.

"His majesty, King Haimeric of Yurt!" announced the constable. "Sire, I wish to present the new Royal Wizard."

I did the full bow in the proper stages, first the dipping of the head, then the wide-spreading of the arms, then the drop to both knees with my head still lowered. They had taught us etiquette in the first few weeks after we arrived at wizards' school, while I was still attending all classes.

"Rise, Wizard, and advance to the throne." The voice was thin and quavery, but the eyes regarded me shrewdly as I lifted my head. I came toward him, holding out my hands palm up. He placed his hands on top of mine; they were dry and so light I almost didn't feel them. "Welcome to Yurt."

This seemed to end the more ceremonial part of the introductions. The constable now came forward and began introducing the rest of the party. There were a number of knights and ladies and two boys. The queen, it turned out, was not there, having gone to visit her parents. "I wonder how old they can be!" I thought.

The most important person there, after the king, was Dominic, the king's nephew and, I presumed, the royal heir. He didn't look like someone you'd want for an enemy. His golden hair had gone sandy with the first streaks of grey, and his once doubtless heavily-muscled body was pushing out his tunic in places where muscle didn't grow. But there was a hard look about the eyes and a twist to the lips that made me glad he didn't seem to resent me.

After Dominic came an assortment of other knights, ladies, and more distant royal relatives, none of whose names I caught. The boys, it seemed, were there to be trained in knighthood. I did the formal half-bow to each of the men and the full bow to the ladies. "He looks, so--young!" I heard one of the ladies whispering to another. She was very young herself, but I feared it was not a compliment.

Last came the chaplain. Even though he was young, probably no older than me, he had a maturity about him that made my own two-inch beard seem rather trivial. He had a gaunt face, enormous black eyes, and a mouth that looked as though it rarely smiled. In short, he looked like a good chaplain should look.

I wrung his hand with enthusiasm. His was the only hand that was offered for me to shake. His responding squeeze was both stronger than I had expected and much stronger than my own. "I'm delighted to meet you," I said and meant it. Calculating quickly, I decided he was the only person in the court I would be able to talk to, really talk to, about interesting topics. I was used to a social life in the City and had no intention of spending every evening with my books if I could help it. Priests and wizards traditionally do not have cordial relationships, but I never let something like that stop me. "I hope we can become closest friends."

He looked a little taken aback, which I thought of as a good sign; at least he was paying attention to me. But he only said gravely, "I hope so. I regret that I never enjoyed a particularly amiable friendship with your predecessor."

While I was being introduced, servants in blue and white livery had been setting up the two long tables. The king now rose from his throne, leaned on Dominic's arm, and led the rest of us to dinner. As he reached the table, a brass quartet, on a balcony above us, began to play. I thoroughly approved. Several of the other young wizards had left to take their posts at about the same time as I, and although all of them had bigger kingdoms, I was sure none were as charming.

The king's party, consisting of his relatives, the other knights and ladies, the chaplain, and me, sat at one table, with the king at our head, while the constable and his wife took the head and foot of the other table. The brass quartet changed to a different, even livelier, tune, and through the arch at the far end of the hall came more servants in procession, carrying huge steaming platters. They served the king a portion from each, placed the platters on the table, and stood back. He took a bite of the fowl, looked up, and nodded. The music came to a close with an abrupt flourish, the servants all rushed, smiling, to sit down at the constable's table, and in a moment the trumpeters joined us, laughing and wiping off their instruments. The platters were passed up and down. I took much bigger helpings than anyone else.

Conversation at our table tended to be rather refined, but at the other table, the constable and his wife, the servants, and the trumpeters were talking and joking. I tried to keep my attention both on my neighbors at table and on what the servants were saying. They were talking about the day's events, work done, fields almost ready for haying, news from the forest, gossip about someone they all knew who had been away but might be back soon. It was insider conversation, where each only had to make a passing reference to something before the others all knew what he or she meant. I wondered how soon it would be before I too knew without even thinking what they were talking about. This was, after all, my kingdom.

At my own table, of course, everyone was well-schooled in manners and was explaining things for the benefit of the outsider, me. "One becomes so aware of the agricultural cycle out here," the lady at my right was saying. I dragged my attention back to her from a pretty servant girl at the next table who had given me a saucy look over her shoulder, while chewing enthusiastically on a drumstick. Wizards, like priests, never marry, but unlike priests we're allowed to look at girls.

"All our food, or almost all, is produced right on the castle estates. At this time of year they're winnowing the cockerels out of the young fowl, so we'll have chicken very regularly. I hope you don't miss the greater choice of the City."

"Well, this is delicious," I answered, wiping my lips and wondering if I could reach the platter or if I would have to interrupt Dominic in his conversation with the lady on his far side to get him to pass it.

"I spent three seasons in the City myself when I was younger, much younger."

"Then you must have been an infant," I said gallantly. I slid my hand nonchalantly to the left along the table, calculating the distance. I guessed her as perhaps half again my age, in spite of the big pink ribbons with which her braids were looped and the myriad flowers and flourishes of lace on her gown.

"On, no," she said with a tinkling laugh. "I'm so much older and wiser than you might think. I may have kept my youthful looks, but they conceal a wealth of experience. You may not realize it, but it can be a serious disadvantage to still have golden curls when one has passed twenty summers. It's so hard to be taken seriously!"

Although my curls were not golden, I actually realized it quite well, having the same problem--except that I didn't have the wealth of experience either. Dominic's wine glass was unfortunately placed; I was afraid I'd catch it with my elbow. I wondered if I dared use a lifting spell on the platter.

"Go ahead, see if you can guess my age," she continued. I was tired of this topic, but she was just warming to it. "Come on, everybody, guess!"

"Twenty-five?" I said judiciously.

"My goodness, you're getting close, but you're still too low." She laughed again. "Anyone else?" looking around the table.

Dominic looked toward us. "Pass the chicken, please," I said quickly.

The chaplain, sitting across the table from me, had been following our conversation in silence. "Forty-eight," he said, just as everyone else had stopped talking.

My companion blushed up to the roots of her hair (if she dyed her hair, she was careful; the roots were as golden as the rest). The chaplain resumed eating, and, after a brief embarrassed pause, so did everyone else. I reloaded my plate with more clattering of spoons than was strictly necessary.

"While you were in the City," I said, "did you ever go on the tour of the wizards' school? Did they show you the dragon in the basement?"

Conversation resumed around us. I glanced over again at the chaplain. I was afraid he didn't have a sense of humor, which could be a problem for him if he was going to be friends with me, but on the other hand he didn't seem to have any tact either, which could have advantages.

I don't know why I kept expecting Dominic to be my enemy, but the burly royal heir was trying to be friendly. "There's a story we've heard even out here," he said, "that if you go far enough north, thousands and thousands of miles, you come to a land that's nothing but dragons and other magic creatures. Is this true? A wizard came through once, to visit our old wizard, and he said he'd been there."

"Oh, it's real enough," I said. "The magic is wild up there." Other people were turning toward us, and I was enjoying the audience. "It's the same magic we use, because it too grows out of the power that shaped the earth." I caught the chaplain's eye across the table and winked. He made no response.

"But the magic there is more primitive," I continued, "not formed into the deep channels that generations of wizards have made for it down here. It's a land of dragons, of giants, of unspeakable monsters. The air cart you saw me arrive in today"--I knew some of them must have been peeping at me from the windows--"is the skin of a beast from the land of dragons. Anything could happen there; it can be a highly dangerous place, even for those most experienced in wizardry."

"Have you been there yourself?"

I had been hoping Dominic wouldn't ask that. Of course I hadn't been there. There had been a field trip from the wizards' school, but only the best students were invited to go.

"I am not yet worthy of the voyage," I said in what I hoped would be a mysterious voice. Surprisingly, the chaplain sat up straighter and fixed me with his enormous eyes at that. Several ladies further down the table smiled as though they saw right through me. "Has your old wizard ever been?" I said disingenuously, knowing the answer from what Dominic had said but wanting to make it clear that I at any rate had company.

"Not that he ever told us," said the lady on my right, but much more uncertainly than I had expected. Several things several people had said about the old wizard made him seem like a more distant and more shadowy figure than someone should be who had lived in the court for years and even now, apparently, lived just outside the castle. I was both going to have to work on my own aura of shadowy mystery and visit him.

There was a clearing of a throat at the upper end of the table. Everyone felt silent at once. "Wizard!" said the king. "How are you finding Yurt? Do we have company to make up for the pleasures of the City?"

The chaplain might have said "No." I instead answered only the first but not the second question. "I like it very much!" I said with perfect honesty.

"But already you're worrying that the evenings will be quiet," said the king with a smile. How had he known that? "This will be an incentive to you to work on our telephone system, so you can talk to your friends again."

The disadvantage to studying wizardry, instead of religion, is that you don't learn good curses. Everything you learn is in the powerful language of magic and will have an effect if you say it, even if the effect is not the intended one. I really didn't want to propel King Haimeric and his talk of telephones across the hall and into the fire, so I couldn't even think it. "The constable's already mentioned that to me!" I said with cheerful noncommittal. If I already had a telephone, maybe I could call up some of my teachers, the ones who still liked me even at the end, and ask them how to put one in. But this line of thinking clearly was not going to get me anywhere. "Do the neighboring kingdoms already have their systems?"

"Ours will be the first in the region," said the king proudly.



Dessert came at that point, providing a welcome distraction. A few minutes later, the king rose, and everyone rose with him. He left the hall, again on Dominic's arm, presumably bound for bed. Some people stood talking, and others started to disperse. I touched the chaplain on the shoulder. "Would you like to go my chambers for a last glass of wine?"

He looked slightly surprised but nodded, and we walked together back out into the cobbled courtyard. The long summer evening was still lingering, and the air was like a caress on the skin. My magic lock was glowing softly. I pressed with my palm to open the door, then threw the casements open to let in the air.

The chaplain took a seat by the window, eyeing my diploma and books. I opened one of the bottles of wine I had brought with me. Tomorrow I would have to ask the constable about getting some of the local wine for my chambers; it was better than what I had been able to afford in the City on a student stipend.

"You seemed surprised that I asked you in," I said as I handed him a glass. "Why was that? Were you and the old wizard enemies?" I knew at least that he would give me a direct answer.

"No, not enemies," and he held the glass up to the light. "I trust this isn't magic wine," he said and smiled for the first time since I'd met him. He took a sip without waiting for the answer to what was obviously meant to be a joke. "But your predecessor resented religion. I don't know whether he thought there shouldn't be a court chaplain at all, or whether he thought that the fact that religion demands a higher standard of human behavior than does magic put him at a disadvantage. I have only been here three years myself, and clearly something happened between the old wizard and my own predecessor. I have never heard what it was; I had too much Christian tact to ask."

"You didn't have too much Christian tact to guess the lady's age tonight!" I said with a laugh. If he could make a joke, so could I.

"The Lady Maria?" He considered for a moment. "Maybe it wasn't tactful at that." I began to wonder if he would be as good a person to talk to as I had hoped.

"Did the old wizard have these same chambers?" I said to change the subject.

"These chambers? No. In fact, I was rather surprised when I heard the constable was putting you here. The queen's old nurse had lived here until she died last year; the rooms were then shut up until last week. The old wizard had his chambers in the north tower."

I knew it. They weren't taking me seriously. I could be ten times more powerful and mysterious in the north tower than in the old nurse's chambers!

As though reading my thoughts and wanting to contradict them, the chaplain said, "Everyone was enormously impressed when a wizard trained in the great school answered the constable's ad. The queen started talking at once about a telephone system."

"Why a telephone, in the name of the saints?" I cried, using an exclamation I trusted he would understand.

He lifted his eyebrows at me. "The queen has found telephones extremely convenient the times she has been in the City. She thought that if we had a system here, she could phone here and talk to the king wherever she is, in the City or visiting her parents, rather than having to rely on carrier pigeons."

The queen was clearly an important presence here in Yurt. I wondered if she could possibly be as old and bent as the king, since she seemed to take frequent trips, and when she would be returning.

The chaplain hesitated for a moment before speaking again, taking unnecessarily long over a sip of wine. It was probably Christian tact failing again to control his words. "I don't like this talk of telephones," he said brusquely.

"Neither do I," I said cheerfully, but he didn't hear me.

"The queen herself tried to persuade me that it's only white magic, that it involves no dealings with the devil, but I can't be sure. There must be black magic in being able to hear someone's else's voice over hundreds of miles."

Since it could have been pink or purple magic for all I knew about telephones, I responded to a different aspect of his comment. "If you had been more friendly with my predecessor, surely he would have persuaded you there's no such thing as either white magic or black magic. That's only a popular perception. Didn't they teach you that at seminary? Magic is neither good or evil in itself, only natural, part of the same forces as the world and mankind. The only good or evil is in the people who practice it."

"And you don't practice magic with evil intent?"

"Of course not," I said self-righteously. A few student pranks hardly counted.

"Then why do you have a well-thumbed copy of the Diplomatica Diabolica if you don't converse with demons?"

He was looked at my shelf. The volume's spine was cracked; it did look well-thumbed. But that was from the time I had been reading it late at night, the night before the demonstration, and had become so terrified I had slammed it shut and it had fallen on the floor. That book gave me the willies.

"One prefers not to talk with demons," I said. It didn't seem appropriate somehow to tell him about that demonstration, about how two other wizards were there to help our instructor if they had to, and how when a very tiny demon, maybe a foot tall, had appeared in the pentagram, the room had gone totally dark and some of the students (not me!) had fainted in fear. "But one meets them occasionally," I continued airily, "and if one does one had better know exactly what to say and how to say it. Otherwise, as you know yourself, one's immortal soul is in danger."

"But why practice magic at all?" he cried, his black eyes burning. "You put your souls in danger, and for what? Your predecessor used to entertain us with illusions during dessert, but that's the only magic I ever saw him do."

Illusions! Clearly I was falling down already. It hadn't even occurred to me to produce special entertainment at dinner; I had enjoyed the brass quartet and the food too much to think anything else was needed.

"There's lots of magic besides illusions," I said. "You saw the magic lock I have on my door."

"My door locks with a key. It works just as well."

He had emptied his wine glass and was spinning it in his fingers. I said two quick words in the Hidden Language and the glass spun away from him, rose majestically, and slid across the air to my own hand. I refilled it and sent it sliding back without spilling a drop.

He had to smile at that. "Very deft," he said. "But you could also have gotten up."

"But wizards have known about magic since the beginning of human history," I protested, feeling that I was not the person who should be having this discussion. I was also rapidly running low on the spells that I knew always worked. "You can't turn away from knowledge." He opened his mouth to speak, and I knew he was going to say something about Eden and the Tree of Knowledge. One thing they taught these priests in seminary was how to have quick answers to everything. "And magic works!"

"Every single time? You've never had a spell that didn't work perfectly?"

Maybe they taught them to read minds too at seminary. "Well, maybe just once, or twice, or a few times. . ." But I realized that, if I was going to have him for a friend, I was going to have to be honest. "Don't tell anyone else, but a lot of the time things don't work out exactly as I expected. But that's not a problem with magic. That's a problem with me. If you do it right, magic always works."

"You're implying religion doesn't?"

"You know it doesn't!" I protested. "Lots of people pray to the saints all the time and never get anywhere, whereas if they consulted a competent wizard they'd always get results."

"The saints don't listen to formulae. The saints listen to pure and contrite hearts. You spoke at dinner of a voyage you thought you were not yet worthy to take. Doesn't even magic make absolute demands on your mind and your soul?"

I felt I was being backed into a corner instead of sitting comfortably in my own study in my own kingdom, with the stars coming out through the window. "So what would you do if you met a demon and you didn't know how to speak to him? Have you ever had to do an exorcism?" I paused briefly before continuing, taking his silence as a negative answer. "You can't very well practice and study ahead of time to make sure you have a pure and contrite heart when the time comes. Suppose you meet a demon and you've had an impure thought a few minutes ago and, never having studied the Diplomatica, don't know the words to say to keep the demon from being annoyed?"

"We have the liturgy and the ritual of exorcism."

"See?" I said triumphantly. "You have to learn magic words too, even if you don't call them that."

He changed the topic abruptly away from demons. I was just as glad. I didn't like talking about demons with it now full dark, even though one of my predecessor's excellent magic globes was shedding a soft light in the room--I hoped the chaplain didn't consider that an illusion.

"You say that magic always works," he said. "But they must have taught you at the very beginning of your studies that there are only limited areas in which magic works at all." For someone who claimed to have no knowledge of or interest in magic, he seemed to be able to guess remarkably well. "Since magic is part of the earth's natural forces, it can modify them but never alter them irrevocably."

I nodded ruefully. "The cycle of birth and death, sickness and health. We can lengthen life, but not indefinitely. We can't cause someone to be born, and we can't bring them back when they're dead."

He smiled for the third time that evening. "For twinkling lights and fairy gold, see a wizard. For a miracle, see a priest." That must be something else they had taught them at seminary, a handy phrase to confound wizards.

"Would you like more wine?" I stood up this time to get his glass.



Bells were ringing out in the courtyard. Snuggled down in my pillows, I opened one eye. Early morning light was coming in the window, too early, I decided, to make it worth thinking about yet. I closed the eye again.

My door handle rattled, then the door swung open. I wished again for a good curse to use, this time against myself. I remembered now forgetting to lock the door when I let the chaplain out, well past midnight. I sat up straight, both eyes wide open.

I was, however, somewhat mollified when I saw it was the pretty servant girl who had given me a saucy look at dinner the night before, and that she was carrying a steaming tray. "Good morning, sir. Are you ready for your tea and crullers?"

I pulled on my robe and tried to push my hair into line with one hand.

She set the tray on my table. "The crullers are still warm; I just finished making them."

I took a drink of scalding tea and a bite of cruller. They were just the way I liked them, with lots of cinnamon. "These are wonderful."

"Thank you, sir. As well as bringing you your breakfast, the constable's wife said I should explain to you how to get to the chapel for service. You go back through the great hall--"

"Church service!" I cried. "That's why they're ringing the bells. I'm going to be late."

"You have plenty of time. They always ring the bells half an hour early, to give slack-a-beds time to get up and dressed."

"I forgot it was Sunday," I said somewhat sheepishly.

"We have service in the chapel every morning," she said primly. "Anyway, you go through the great hall, and at the far right-hand corner there's a door into a stairway. Go up to the third landing, and there's the chapel. You shouldn't get lost; just about everyone else should be going there too." But though she spoke formally and correctly, as a servant should address even someone who was fully dressed and combed, she gave me a wink as she left me to finish my breakfast and get dressed.

Twenty minutes later, dressed and reasonably tidy, though I was still licking crumbs from my lips, I walked through the great hall and joined a large group of people going upstairs. The stairs were dark and badly lit--no magic globes here--so it was with surprise and pleasure that I emerged into a very tall chapel, whose walls were made almost entirely of stained glass. The eastern light illuminated the Bible stories and the saints, and blue and green shadows were cast across us.

The chaplain was already at the front. The white and black linen of his vestments was immaculate. He looked sober and shaved, not at all like someone still feeling shaggy from being up half the night. And he had not even had the benefit of excellent fresh-made crullers; priests are not supposed to have breakfast before service.

The king was already seated in the first row, surrounded by his knights and ladies, but I sat down with the servants and attendants. They kindly passed me a copy of the hymnal and gave me no odd looks when I didn't know the tune and discovered that my ability to sight-read music was even worse than I remembered. Everyone else's singing, however, was lovely. As the service ended, I wondered why they had assumed that I would go, and if my predecessor had ever come to chapel.

The constable fell into step beside me as we filed out. He asked, "So how are you finding Yurt so far?"

"I like it very much. I'll have to see how well I can do once I really take up my duties; so far I've been a guest on vacation." This was to forestall any remarks about telephone systems.

We groped our way down the stairs, our eyes almost blind after the brilliance of the chapel's colored light. He chuckled and said over his shoulder, "Maybe you could get some lights put in here. Your predecessor made our lights for the great hall, but he never wanted anything to do with the chapel. The roof here is too low to hang regular lamps, so we've always had to stumble as best we could."

Magic lights were something I was fairly sure I could make, though it might be tricky making them bright enough while also making them small enough to fit in the restricted space. "I'll try to manage something in the next few days," I said cheerfully.

We emerged at the bottom of the stairs. "I must say," said the constable in a low voice, "that I was delighted to see you inviting the chaplain to your chambers last night." He glanced about quickly to make sure we were not overheard. "I hadn't wanted to say anything at first, but there had been a certain--tension between him and your predecessor, and when we hired a new wizard one of the things I had been hoping was that that might be resolved. Your predecessor really was an excellent wizard, and I wouldn't want to be thought to speak ill of him, but in a small kingdom one doesn't need these petty enmities. That's why I knew you wouldn't mind being brought breakfast in plenty of time to get to service."

"Of course not," I said noncommittally. I really was going to have to meet the old wizard.

The constable started to turn away. "Oh, just one thing," I said, and he turned back at once. "Where do you get the Sunday paper around here?"

He looked surprised. "We don't get the Sunday paper. We don't get papers at all in Yurt."

"But your ad for a wizard was in the Sunday paper."

"Yes, that. The queen had brought a copy back from her last trip to the City, so we had the address to which to write. Now, if you'll excuse me."

He walked briskly away. "Well," I said determinedly to myself, "if I'm not going to waste half the morning reading the color supplements, maybe I can see if there's anything in any of my books about telephones."

With my casements wide open and red and white climbing roses peeking in, I settled myself in the most comfortable chair in my study and put my feet up. Thaumaturgy A to Z had nothing to offer, but the first volume of Ancient and Modern Necromancy, the volume I had never looked at it because most of it was just a history of wizards and wizardry, gave a brief description of the discovery of telephones. "The person's voice actually enters the flow of magic. The spells attached to each telephone find the voice's way through magic's four dimensions, so that even a person without magic skills can operate it. All he has to do is to speak the name attached to the telephone instrument with which he wishes to communicate, and that instrument's bell will ring, summoning someone to answer."

Well, I had vaguely known that already. The part this historical snippet seemed to pass over was how one created spells and attached them to the telephone, to localize the instrument in both space and time, and then set up the permanent channels through the flow of magic for the voice to travel. I closed the book and would have frowned if the summer breeze hadn't been so soft on my cheek.

Clearly I was going to have to try something different. The thought of going back to the City and stealing an instrument occurred to me briefly, but it would never work. The instrument would have to have all its spells redone or it wouldn't function. The times I had seen a new telephone installed, it had always seemed to take several days and require several wizards--usually of the serious, pale-faced sort with whom I had not associated much at school. A kingdom didn't hire a new Royal Wizard and then pay enormous sums to import other wizards who might know more than he did about telephones.

I stood up and yawned. Maybe Yurt didn't need a complete telephone system. Maybe it would be possible just to work out a way to communicate with the City and with wherever the queen's parents lived. I stopped in mid-yawn and thought about this. It seemed to have possibilities.

I found a piece of string that had been used to tie up my luggage and strung it between my bedroom and study. I already knew how to communicate, without speaking, to another wizard, at least if he was next to me and willing to listen to the thoughts I sent him. Therefore it should be possible to attach a communications spell to a string. An object with a spell attached became a magic object, and anyone could operate it.

"It's like invisibility," I said to myself cheerfully. A ring of invisibility will always work, even though invisibility is one of the harder spells. For some reason, even though it is straightforward to make the empty air take on solidity in illusions, it is very hard to make solidity look empty. There is probably a good theoretical explanation, but I have never paid much attention to theory, preferring the practical.

I paused to see how well I could make myself invisible. I had been working on the spells intermittently for almost a year now. Concentrating hard, breaking off pieces of the flow of magic and controlling them with the Hidden Language, I watched my feet disappear, first the left one, then the right one. At this point, however, things stopped. My knees remained obstinately visible. I snapped my fingers in disgust and my feet came back. Just last week I had made it almost all the way up my thighs.

"But I'm not trying to make a ring of invisibility anyway," I told myself firmly. "I'm making a communications string." I put both hands on the string and concentrated on it, thinking of how one reaches out, slides just the corner of one's mind into the stream of magic while leaving most of it firmly anchored to one's body (one of the most dangerous moments for young wizards is discovering how to slip one's mind out without losing oneself forever). I alternated the spells that seek another mind with attachment spells, and suddenly the string stiffened and glowed pink.

I rushed out into the courtyard. Since it was Sunday, the servants were only doing necessary chores, and a number of them were now playing volleyball while the others watched and cheered. I found my own saucy servant girl, flushed and laughing after having just been replaced at the net.

"Come on," I said, "I need your help with a magic spell."

She looked over her shoulder at the others, said, "I'll be back in just a minute!" and came with me, straightening her skirt. "What sort of magic spell? You're not going to turn me into a frog or anything!"

Ever since that practical exam, I had tried to avoid mention of things being turned into frogs, but she wouldn't know that. "No," I said, "I think I've invented a new kind of telephone, and I want to test it."

In my chambers, I stationed her in the study, at one end of the string, and went into the bedroom. "You listen," I said, "and see if you can hear me." Then, with my mouth close to the other end of the string, I said in my deepest voice, "All powers of earth and air must obey the spells of wizardry."

To my surprise, she burst into peals of laughter. "You're the funniest person I've ever met!" she said when she had caught her breath. "Are you sure you're really a wizard?"

"Did it work?" I said with irritation. "Could you hear me?"

"Of course I could hear you. You were only standing ten feet away! All powers of earth and air!" Still laughing, she went back out to rejoin the game.

I looked at my piece of string in disgust. It was still glowing. I snapped my fingers and said the words to break the spell, but nothing happened. I seemed to have a piece of string permanently able to convey words over the same distance one could hear them anyway.

"Except that it may not even do that," I thought. "All I know for sure is that it's pink now." Besides, the more I thought about it the more strings seemed like an impractical idea. One couldn't run a string two hundred miles to the City. It was with relief that I heard the gong for dinner.


My good humor was restored by another excellent meal. At the end, King Haimeric said, "Come with me. I want to show you my rose garden."

He walked on his nephew's arm out of the great hall, through the courtyard, and out through the great gates of the castle. Since I had arrived in the courtyard by air cart, I had not before been through the gates. The portcullis was up and looked as though it had not been lowered for years. Swans were swimming peacefully in the moat.

A red brick road ran down the hill from the castle gates toward the forest below. Next to the road was a walled garden, with roses creeping over the tops of the walls. Dominic swung the barred gate open, and we went in.

I had thought the roses in the castle courtyard were good, but these were spectacular. "You can leave us, Dominic," said the king. "I'm sure this young man can see me back safely."

His burly nephew gave me a slightly sour look but left. The king seated himself on a bench while I wandered up and down the rows, admiring the different colors, the enormous blooms, the vibrant green of the foliage.

"I'm too stiff to work on them much any more, but I planted every bush you see," said the king. "Most of them are hybrids I developed myself, though I've also picked up a few cuttings over the years. The newest one is that white bush; I planted it the day I married the queen."

It was smaller than the other bushes but growing vigorously. The white blooms faded to pink in the shadows of the petals. When I bent to smell it, the sweetness was almost overwhelming.

"I'm looking forward to meeting the queen," I said, realizing that she must be substantially younger than the king and wondering why I had ever thought otherwise.

"I've been king of Yurt a long, long time. It's been a good run of years, but in many ways the last four years have been the best, even though I can't crawl around with a trowel any more."

So they'd only been married four years. I had to readjust several of my assumptions. It seemed most likely that the king had found a pliant young princess to marry, someone to adore him and do his bidding and fulfill the adolescent fantasies he had never been able to fulfill in his years in the rose garden. The only difficulty with this picture was that it was hard to see the king as the old goat. "You may think me silly," I said, "but when I heard the queen was visiting her parents, I'd somehow thought of them as extremely old."

"Old?" he said and smiled. "No, they're not old. The Lady Maria, who lives here with us, is the sister of the queen's father. And you know from a remark at table last night how old she is." He laughed. "Give me your arm; I want to look across my kingdom."

Though he needed my help to rise, he walked unaided back out of the walled garden. I swung the gate back into place, and we stood looking down the hill toward the plowed fields and the variegated green of the woods beyond.

He stood without speaking for several minutes. Somewhere down there, I thought, was the old wizard. I was startled out of conjectures about him when the king said suddenly, "Can you transport me by magic?"

"Transport you?" I said with some alarm. This was worse than telephones.

"Lift me off the ground so I don't have to walk. I've always wanted to try it."

"I think so," I said, and "I hope so," I thought. "Lifting spells become more difficult the larger the object one is lifting," I explained. I didn't tell him that he was a lot larger than a wine glass. Inwardly I was wondering how, if I hadn't been sure I could magically pick up a heavy box or an awkwardly-placed platter of meat, I was going to manage my liege lord. "We'll take it slowly. I'll just lift you a little way, and I'll walk right next to you so you can take my arm if you're feeling unsteady." "Or," I added silently, "if I start to drop you."

The king, I decided as I started pulling the spells together in my mind, was actually not much heavier than a box of books. He stood looking at me with a faint smile as I concentrated, feeling my way into the magic, making sure each word of the Hidden Language was right. Slowly and gracefully, as though he were thistledown blown by the wind, he rose four inches, so that his toes just brushed the grass.

We started toward the castle gates. I walked immediately next to him, just barely not touching him. Fortunately he was silent and let me concentrate. When we reached the drawbridge I had a sudden panic, picturing myself dropping him into the moat, and with my wavering in concentration he started to slip. I found the words just in time to set him down as gently as he had been lifted up.

We walked together across the bridge and under the portcullis. Dominic was waiting for us just inside. "That was extremely enjoyable," said the king. "Could you teach me to do that myself? Not today, but soon?"

This earned him an odd look from Dominic, who had no idea what we were talking about. "I've never taught anyone," I said honestly, "but I could try."

Back in my chambers, I spent the rest of the afternoon practicing lifting things.



After two days of loving my kingdom, I woke up the next morning hating it. Bells awakened me again. When I lifted my head I could hear hard rain on the cobblestones outside. The windows were streaked with water. My door handle rattled and didn't open, since I had remembered to lock it last night, but there was immediately a loud and persistent knocking.

When I opened the door, the servant maid stood there, trying without great success to shield both herself and a tray with an umbrella. I took the tray and half pulled her inside. "You're going to get soaked!" I said.

Her umbrella streamed water on my clean flagstone floor. My tea seemed to have been diluted with rain, and the napkin on the basket was damp. When I pulled back the napkin, I found not crullers but cake donuts, which I don't like nearly as well. They weren't even warm.

"I just wanted to make sure you were up in time for chapel," she said without a smile or any sign of friendliness. She put the umbrella back up and started out again.

"Thank you very much!" I said quickly, wondering if everyone went to chapel every single day. "You know, I don't even know your name."

"Gwen, sir," she said and was gone. I wondered as I ate if she didn't want to associate with someone as foolish as I must have seemed after the incident with the string. The donuts tasted as though they had been made several days before.

My mood was not improved when I banged my head on the dark stair going up to the chapel and then found, when I reached the top, that the king and the chaplain were the only other two people there. I rubbed my head surreptitiously all during service. At the end, I offered the king my arm, but he shook his head.

"A prerogative of being king is that I don't have to use those stairs." A small door which I should have noticed before opened half-way down the inner wall of the chapel, presumably into the royal chambers. He went through it and left me alone with the chaplain.

The chaplain fixed me with his dark eyes. "Don't think I don't welcome you in the chapel," he said. "But don't come because you think you have to. I hold service every morning for anyone who needs spiritual refreshment, and the king usually comes, but the rest of the castle mostly come on Sunday." He turned away without waiting for a response.

"In that case," I thought, "maybe I can start sleeping later." I would have to tell Gwen, if she was still speaking to me. I wished I could talk to some of my friends at the wizards' school. The chaplain still seemed like the only person at the castle I could hold a conversation with, and at the moment he was to me profoundly strange and distant.

"There's incentive for me," I thought bitterly, groping back down the stairs. "All I need to do to talk to them is get the telephone working."

Back in my room, I was looking glumly at the backs of my books, wondering which ones I should try next, when there was a knock. I hoped it was Gwen, come to apologize for the dry donuts, but to my surprise it was Dominic, the royal heir.

He lowered his umbrella and pulled off his coat. He looked around my study for a moment in silence, paused for a longer look at my diploma, and closed the door behind him. "May I sit down?"

"Please do," I said, wondering what he could want.

He planted his solid body in a chair by the window, set his elbow firmly on the arm, and leaned his chin on a massive fist. "I've come to talk to you about your duties."

This was it. I knew my problem wasn't the rain or the lack of crullers. I had spent two days on vacation, but now I was going to have to start work on projects I didn't think I could do. I tried to look intelligent and alert.

Surprisingly, he hesitated for a moment before beginning. "You're an outsider," he said at last--something I already knew!--"and maybe I shouldn't prejudice your mind with too many details. But you have to know one thing now. The king is under a spell."

This was not at all what I had expected. "Under a spell? What sort? I talked to him in the rose garden yesterday afternoon, and he never said anything about it."

"He wouldn't have, of course. He doesn't realize it himself. But the spell was one of the major reasons we decided to hire you."

He didn't say who we were. He looked at me from under heavy lids, waiting for my answer. "But what sort of spell? Do you know the source?"

"The king is growing old and feeble. This can only be the result of enchantment. We don't know the source of the spell, but we want you to overcome it."

"But that's silly!" I protested. "Of course he's getting weaker as he gets older. And besides," thinking that the chaplain should hear me now, "wizardry can't reverse natural aging."

"The king isn't as old as you may think. When he married the queen, only four years ago, no one thought of them as an extremely ill-matched couple."

A sudden vision flashed into my mind of a girl married to a much older man, excited at first at the power of being queen, but soon made irritable when she discovered she was not supposed to have a mind of her own, but only be the king's pliant companion. It shouldn't be hard for her, on one of her trips to the City, to find an unscrupulous wizard willing to sell her a powder or spell to sicken her husband.

"It must be the queen, then," I said. "She has bewitched him somehow."

A low rumble began somewhere in his barrel chest and emerged in an angry, "No! It's not the queen. It couldn't be anyone at court. It must be a malignant influence from outside."

I modified my vision to have the queen and the royal heir secretly in love, plotting to have the king die so that they could rule together. But I stopped myself. This made no sense. If Dominic were partially responsible for putting an evil spell on the king, he certainly wouldn't tell me about it.

"Thank you for this warning," I said in a deep voice. "The power of magic to conceal itself is often great, but the skill of the forewarned wizard is potent indeed."

To my surprise, he treated this statement perfectly seriously. "Good. I knew we had done well to hire you." He started to rise.

"But how about my other duties? The king's talked to me about a telephone system, the constable's said you need more magic lights--"

He waved these away with his broad hand. I was fascinated by the ruby ring on his second finger. Its setting was a gold snake supporting the jewel on its coils. It looked like a perfect ring for a wizard, and I coveted it for myself. "Those are a facade for your real work." He pulled his coat back on, picked up his umbrella, and left without saying Goodbye.

I stood by the open door, looking across the rain-drenched courtyard. The paint and the flowers were bright in spite of the dark sky. Could there actually be dark powers at work here in such a perfect little castle?

I closed my eyes, probing past the closed doors and shuttered windows. There were plenty of minds there, most of which I did not know well enough to recognize, though I could tell the king and Gwen. Oddly, I didn't find the chaplain. I stayed well outside their minds, slipping by so lightly they wouldn't even feel me there. I found no powerful evil presence.

But when I opened my eyes a sense of foreboding lingered. Dominic might be right. If not the queen, who wanted the king dead, and how were they doing it? Was the constable, with his talk of lights and telephones, deliberately trying to mislead me? Had Gwen been warned against me?

I shook my head. This would get me nowhere. Maybe while everyone else was sheltering from the rain I should take the opportunity to explore the castle; so far I had seen very little of it. I remembered a spell I had seen once and reached for my shelves. I found it in only the second book I consulted, the spell to keep dry in the rain. "Why didn't I learn this one before?" I asked myself. It was only a variation of the lifting spell, creating a diversion for all the raindrops before they hit one's head.

I set the spell in place and stepped outside. It worked perfectly, although I immediately stepped in a puddle and got water in my socks. But this was not the fault of the magic. My good humor restored, I turned back to lock the door to my chambers, then started across the courtyard.

I stopped in the stables, where the horses whickered at me and the cats came to rub against my legs. It was warm and dusty with the smell of hay. The sound of rain seemed faint and far away in the comfort and dim light. I stroked the horses on their noses and laughed when they tried to nuzzle my pockets. "No carrots," I told them. Also no malignant influences. I readjusted my spell and stepped back into the courtyard.

This time I walked to the north end of the courtyard, where a massive tower rose. The stones of the tower, unlike the stones of the rest of the castle, were not whitewashed, but were so dark they were almost black. There were no windows for the first thirty feet. It was in this tower, according to the chaplain, that my predecessor had had his study.

A heavy oak door was the only way in. I tested the handle, but it wouldn't open. With my eye to the crack along the doorjamb, I thought I saw a bolt on the inside. Delicately I tried a lifting spell on the bolt, or rather a sliding spell, to push it back in its track. Although I had to abandon the spell against the rain to give all my concentration to the bolt, my sliding spell actually worked. With only the slightest squeak, the bolt slid back, and I was able to pull the door open. Damp but delighted, I went in and closed the door behind me.

Inside it was completely black, except for tiny streaks of light around the door frame. I needed a light; I wondered if maybe I should start carrying a wizard's staff. I could make a light, at least temporarily, but I needed something to attach it to. I found a piece of hay sticking to my trousers and tried that, but it made only a faint firefly glow. So I took off my belt and used the buckle. It was still not very bright, but it was serviceable, and since the design of the buckle was the moon and stars, it was rather dramatic. I wondered why I had not thought of making the buckle glow earlier and wondered if it would be possible to attach the light permanently.

Pleased with myself, I started up steep, uneven steps. It wasn't until I had spiraled up at least halfway, I estimated, to the first window, that a sudden thought brought me to a halt. If the tower was empty, why had the door been bolted on the inside?

I listened for a moment, hearing nothing but my own heartbeat, and probed with my mind, without finding another intelligence in the tower. I shrugged, telling myself that there was perhaps a connection to the rest of the castle from an upper level, but I had again the goose-bump feeling of evil.

Shortly I reached the first window and looked out across the wet courtyard. Except for the smoke from the chimneys and a distant sound of voices and laughter, the castle looked deserted. From here on up there seemed to be windows enough that the stairs were never black. I had been walking with my belt held out ahead of me to watch for uneven places in the stairs, but now I put it back around my waist. To my disappointment, the moon and stars of the buckle slowly faded once I turned my attention from keeping them bright.

My legs were just starting to ache when I reached another oak door. I admired my predecessor if he had walked up and down from here for every meal. "But he probably flew," I thought. "And that's why the door was bolted on the inside; the last time he was here, he closed it down below and then left through a window."

For some reason I had never liked flying. I could do it if I had to, at least for short distances, but I preferred my own feet on the ground. The king with his aching joints might prefer to skim above the grass, but I liked to feel my shoes among the blades. I was quite sure my dislike for flying had nothing to do with my experiences that first day our instructor had tried to teach us.

This door was not locked. It opened smoothly, letting me into a large and airy room. There were cupboards, desks, benches, and boxes, but all the cupboard doors were open, and there was nothing inside.

"So he took it all when he left," I thought, and then wondered what it might be. The room was almost disappointing. After the dark climb and the length of the stairs, it seemed as though there ought to be something significant here, rather than a room from which someone had removed his possessions and which he had swept thoroughly before leaving for the final time. I realized I did not know how long the old wizard had been gone; I had been acting and thinking as though it were a very long time, but in fact it might only have been a few days.

There was nothing else to see. One of the casement windows had had the glass broken out, but the rest were closed. I looked out the southern window toward the second highest tower in the castle, on the opposite end of the courtyard. It had a dovecot on the roof and was doubtless where the carrier pigeons came in. I opened the casement and climbed up on the sill, hesitated a moment, and stepped out into the air.

The rain had let up, but the damp cool air swirled around me. Although I would not have joined the king in characterizing flying as "extremely enjoyable," there was a certain sense of power in holding oneself up against the tug of gravity, of letting oneself drift slowly down, so that the ground sometimes came too soon. This time, however, I was glad to be back on the ground. I rebolted the outer door to the tower from the outside, as I had unbolted it, and started back toward my chambers.

With my door in sight, I stopped abruptly. The handle should have been glowing softly from my magic lock, but it was not glowing at all. I was certain I had locked it. I stepped forward, tried the door, and it opened at once. Someone had taken off my lock.

I stepped inside cautiously, but all seemed undisturbed. My books were as I had left them, and my clothes seemed untouched. I probed for a trap, both with magic and by lying down and looking under the bed.

Finding nothing, I sat back on my heels. Although it was impossible to say where it was coming from, and although it disappeared if one tried to sense it directly, the dark touch I had been feeling all day was here in my room. It was like trying to see something that could only be glimpsed from the corner of the eye.

To remove my lock, someone would not only have to know magic, but a lot more magic than I did. It was probably possible to break a magic lock, but a lot of the young wizards, including me, had tried to find the spell and never done so. I tried to dispel the chill that came from more than the rain. "Maybe I should be glad he or she left it unlocked; they couldn't have duplicated my palm print, which would mean that if they relocked my door it would only open to them." But who in the castle besides me knew magic?


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