Read Wrede, Patricia C - SSC Online

Authors: Book of Enchantments (v1.1)

Wrede, Patricia C - SSC (20 page)

Even today, I do not know what happened
that day beside the river. But I am the only one with doubts, it seems. The
dramatic accusation persuaded nearly everyone, and those who were not satisfied
by the harp's song were convinced when Anne smashed the harp to bits. She did
it to silence her accuser, they say. But I remember her words to the minstrel:
"Then that much of what she sang is true, now." And I remember her
voice when she was fourteen, saying of Eleanor, "It was not true when she
said it, but I will make it true now."

I tried to tell my father all my
doubts before he sent Anne away, as I tried to tell the minstrel that night in
the great hall. Father would not listen then; like everyone else, he believed
the harp. The minstrel's hearing was better, I think. For though the song he wrote
afterward tells only the story that everyone believes, and nothing of the
doubts I shared with him, he has at least made no more magic harps from the
desecrated bodies of the dead.

Utensile Strength

Queen Cimorene of the Enchanted
Forest stepped back and cocked her head to one side, setting her black braids
swinging. "A little to the left, dear," she said.

Obligingly, her husband moved the
large, gold-framed painting.

"A little more. Yes, that's
perfect. Now, if you'll just hold it a minute longer—"

Behind her, there was a discreet
cough. "Your Majesty.''

The King and Queen turned their
heads simultaneously to find a plump, gray-haired elf in green velvet and lace
ruffles standing in the doorway. "Yes?" they both said at the same

The elf bowed immediately.
"Ah, Your Majesties, I should say."

"Yes, Willin, what
said the King. "And can't it wait another ten minutes?"

"I'm sure I didn't mean to
disturb Your Majesties," Willin said.

"Put the picture down,
Mendanbar," Cimorene said with a sigh. "There's no point in arguing
with Willin. Or hurrying him. He's as stubborn as I am."

"Nobody's as stubborn as you
are, dear heart, and I'm not putting this down just when we've finally gotten
it in the right place. Daystar! Here, Daystar, we want you."

With a soft popping noise and a
brief eddy of air, Prince Daystar appeared in the center of the room. He had
Cimorene's black hair and Mendanbar's long, lanky build, and though he was
still shorter than his parents, he had the slightly awkward look of someone who
hadn't finished growing. "Yes, Father? What is it?"

"Just stick this picture to
the wall, will you? My hands are full, or I'd do it myself."

The Prince nodded and gestured with
one hand. A moment later, Mendanbar let go of the painting and flexed his fingers
with a relieved sigh. The painting stayed where it was, just as if it had been
hung on a nail.

"Thank you," Mendanbar
said to Daystar. "Now, Willin, what was it you wanted?"

"There is a ... a young man at
the door, Your Majesty, insisting on seeing you," the elf said in evident

"At the door?" Cimorene
said. "Willin, I'm ashamed of you. It's pouring rain outside. Go and let
him in immediately."

"I was using the phrase as a
figure of speech," Willin said stiffly. "The young man is currently
standing in the hallway, dripping on the handmade silk rug that the Emperor of
the Indies presented to His Majesty's grandmother. He is insisting on speaking
with His Majesty."

"It's a very ugly rug,"
Mendanbar said. "That's why we put it in the entry hall."

"Did he say what he
wanted?" Daystar asked.

"Something about a frying
pan," the elf said in a gloomy tone.

"He's probably come to apply
for a job in the kitchen," Cimorene said. "We still need a third
assistant cook and two scullery maids, and I told the head cook I want to
interview them myself. I refuse to let him hire a princess in disguise who's
hoping to sneak into the next ball wearing a dress as shining as the stars so
that Daystar will fall in love with her. Princesses are very persuasive, but
most of them aren't much use in the kitchen."

Daystar blinked. "But Mother,
we hardly ever have balls. And I really don't think I'd fall in love with
someone just because she was wearing a fancy dress."

"Try and convince a princess
of that."

"You'd better bring the
gentleman in," Mendanbar said to Willin.

The elf hesitated. "Now, Your
Majesty? Here?"

"Yes, of course,"
Mendanbar said, puzzled.

"It's all right, Willin,"
Cimorene said. "He'll put on his crown before you get back."

"Very well, Your Majesties.
Your Highness." Willin bowed to everyone in turn and left.

Mendanbar looked after him with a
thoughtful expression. "Poor Willin. I don't think he's ever going to get
used to me."

"He likes formality, and you
have to admit that you're dressed a little more casually than is common among
royalty." Cimorene nodded at his stained brown smock.

"I'm not going to dress in
velvet robes with ermine trim when I'm spending the day hanging pictures and
cleaning out the attic in the South Tower, no matter how much Willin would like
it," Mendanbar said firmly.

"I think the real problem is
that he doesn't think a king should be hanging pictures and cleaning out
attics," Daystar said.

"He's wrong," Cimorene
said flatly. "But you
say you'd put your crown on to receive
visitors, dear."

"No, you said that."
Nonetheless, Mendanbar made a quick, complex gesture like pulling on invisible
cords. An instant later, two crowns appeared in the air in front of him. He
caught them and handed one to his wife. "Fair is fair. If I have to wear
one, you have to wear one, too."

Cimorene smiled and took it. They
settled the crowns on their heads just as Willin came through the doorway once
more. With him was a solidly built young man with sandy brown hair, carrying a
large cast-iron frying pan.

"Your Majesties, Your
Highness, Tamriff of High Holes wishes an audience."

"Thank you, Willin," said
the King. "What did you want to see us about, Tamriff?"

"This," Tamriff replied,
carefully raising the frying pan. When he held it up, they could all see that
he wore a large brown oven mitt on the hand holding the pan.

"That is not a suitable
subject for discussion with the King of the Enchanted Forest," Willin said

"Yes, it is," Daystar
said. "It's a magic frying pan."

Tamriff looked at him with respect.
"How did you know that?"

"It's sort of a knack."

"What does it do?"
Cimorene said. "Make gourmet meals, or just instant eggs-and-bacon for
however many people you need to feed?"

Tamriff sighed. "No. That's
the problem. It's a weapon."

"A weapon? It's
a frying pan."

"My father is an
enchanter," Tamriff explained. "A couple of years ago, he decided
that he was going to create the ultimate weapon, something powerful and
wondrous that heroes would fight over for centuries. The Sword of Doom, he
wanted to call it. Only Mother came in with the frying pan at just the wrong
minute, and then he tripped over the pig—"

"The pig?" Mendanbar
said. "Where does a pig come into it?"

"It's the family pet. Father
says only witches have cats, and he's allergic to dogs. He says that since pigs
are intelligent and unusual, they make good pets for enchanters."

"So your father tripped over
his pet pig..." Cimorene said.

"And the spell went wrong and
fixed itself to the frying pan. Both of my parents were furious. Father says
that the sort of spell he was using can only ever be cast once by any
enchanter, so he's lost his chance at creating the ultimate weapon. And Mother
says it was her best frying pan and now she's going to have to start all over
breaking in a new one, because you can't cook chicken in the Frying Pan of
Doom. It just wouldn't be right."

"I see." Mendanbar
blinked. "The Frying Pan of Doom. How . . . unusual. Why did you bring it
to us?"

"We didn't know what else to
do with it," Tamriff said. "It's very dangerous—Father says the spell
worked perfectly, except for enchanting the wrong object—but he's not quite
it's dangerous. And we didn't really want to experiment."

"Couldn't you go ahead and
give it to a hero?" Daystar asked.

"Rather tried. No one would
have it. Heroes want a weapon that sounds heroic and magical—the Thunder Mace
or the Sword of Stars—not the Frying Pan of Doom. And on top of that. . . Well,
here, try to touch it. But be careful."

Gingerly, Daystar reached out and
touched the side of the pan. "Ow! It's hot!"

Tamriff nodded. "Nobody can
pick it up unless they're wearing an oven mitt. And no hero wants to go into
battle wearing an oven mitt and swinging a frying pan—or at least, none of the
fifty-seven heroes Father has checked with so far."

"What do you expect us to do
with it?" Mendanbar asked.

"Don't you have somewhere you
keep dangerous magical weapons?" Tamriff said. "You could put it

Mendanbar shook his head.
"Things like the Sword . . . er, the Frying Pan of Doom aren't meant to
lie about in an armory. It would be asking for trouble."

"Could you and Telemain
disenchant the pan?" Cimorene asked.

"That's an idea."
Mendanbar studied the frying pan for a moment. "Set it down, Tamriff, and
back up a bit. You, too, Daystar." He made some pulling and twisting
gestures, and the Frying Pan of Doom began to glow a dull red. Mendanbar
frowned and gestured again. The red glow got brighter, and the pan began to
make spitting noises, like something being dropped into overheated oil. With a
sigh, Mendanbar waved and the glow died. "No, that won't work. I could get
the spell off, I think, but I'd use up half of the magic in the Enchanted
Forest doing it. We'll have to think of something else."

There was a moment of silence while
everyone thought.

"Are you quite sure that
can pick up that pan without an oven mitt?" Cimorene asked Tamriff at
last. "Or is it just that nobody who's tried so far can pick it up?"

"I don't know. Why? Is it

"It might be. Sometimes magic
weapons can only be wielded by the proper person, and if so—''

"Then we just have to find the
proper person to wield this one," Mendanbar finished. "I think you're
right, Cimorene. But how do we do that?"

"The traditional method is to
hold a tournament, at which every knight and hero and prince will attempt to
use the weapon," Willin said, his tone a curious mixture of interest,
disapproval, and dismay. "In this instance, however—"

"Willin, you're a
genius," Mendanbar said. "We'll hold a contest. We'll tell people the
prize is a powerful magic weapon, but we won't mention what. And we'll get
everyone to touch the frying pan, and when the right person does, we'll give it
to him."

"How are you going to get all
those heroes and knights and princes to touch the frying pan, without telling
them what you're doing?" Daystar asked doubtfully.

"We'll make it a contest to
prove how well rounded they are," Cimorene said. "They can start with
the usual fighting and swordplay and so on, and then we'll have them sing or
compose poetry or something, and we'll finish up with a bake-off."

"A bake-off?" Tamriff
said blankly.

"A cooking contest. It
shouldn't be too hard to arrange for the contestants to touch the frying pan
during a cooking contest."

"Heroes and knights won't come
to a contest that involves cooking!" Tamriff objected.

"Yes, they will,"
Mendanbar said. "Willin will arrange it. You have no notion what amazing
things Willin can do with large formal occasions. How long will it take to get
ready, Willin?"

The little elf puffed out his chest
and considered for a moment. "I believe that we can have the invitations
out by tomorrow evening, but we ought to allow at least a month before the
actual event, to provide everyone with adequate travel time. We can be ready
sooner, if you wish, but not as many will attend if we do."

"A month, by all means,"
the King said. "The more people we have, the better the chance of the
right person being there. We'll put the frying pan in the armory in the
meantime. As long as it's temporary, I don't think it will be a problem."

"We'll have to hire more
kitchen staff," Willin said. He pulled a scroll of paper and a pencil from
somewhere in his jacket and began writing. "And at least three more
footmen. And we'll need additional prizes for the people who actually win the
contests. And—"

"Yes, of course, but first
take Tamriff and the pan down to the armory," Cimorene said. "And
then see that he gets a decent room. You will be staying until the frying pan
has been finally disposed of, won't you?"

Tamriff nodded. "Thank you,
Your Majesty."

As Willin and Tamriff started for
the door, Daystar frowned at the frying pan. "I'd still like to know what
he said.

"One thing at a time,
Daystar," Cimorene told him.


True to Mendanbar's prediction, an
enormous number of heroes and knights signed up for the tournament, despite the
unusual requirements. An even bigger crowd arrived to watch the event, and it
took a steady stream of footmen and scullery maids to keep the tables by the
castle moat supplied with cider and beef patties and ale and fresh gingerbread.

"There is a good deal of
speculation as to the nature of the prize," Willin reported as the
contestants finished their second round.

"Let them speculate,"
Cimorene said. "It doesn't hurt anything."

"What if somebody
guesses?" Tamriff said in a low, worried tone.

"They won't," Cimorene
assured him. "But speaking of the prize, where's the Frying Pan of Doom?
It's supposed to be on the big table with the rest of the cooking supplies, but
I didn't see it when I went by a minute ago."

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