Read Wrede, Patricia C - SSC Online

Authors: Book of Enchantments (v1.1)

Wrede, Patricia C - SSC (7 page)

Mother and Father were late to
breakfast the next morning, and when they came in they were arguing. "It's
the only thing we can do," Mother insisted. "And after last night, we
have to do
If Imani hadn't slowed us down coming home, that
baby might have been—"

"There has to be another
alternative," Father interrupted. He sounded desperate.

"Suggest one," Mother
said. "Bearing in mind that the moon still isn't completely full, so we'll
have at least another three or four nights like the last one unless we solve
this problem right away."

I looked up. "Mother! You've
found a way to break the curse?"

"Not quite," Mother said.
"But we've come up with something we hope will work just as well."

I looked from Mother to Father.
"What are you going to do?"

Father sighed. "I'm going to
apologize to Caliph Arenschadd," he said reluctantly.

Mother insisted that both of us go
along with Father to apologize to the caliph. I'm not sure whether she was
worried about Father's ability to be tactful or whether she thought Caliph
Arenschadd would be more likely to relent if he were faced with all three of us
at once, but she was very firm. So I had to spend all morning having my hair
washed and perfumed and my hands painted, and putting on my best clothes. Then
I had to wait while Mother and Father finished doing the same things. I had to
sit practically without moving so I wouldn't muss my hair or tear my skirts or
rub any of the paint off my hands. I hate court appearances.

When we got to court, we were
ushered into the caliph's presence for a private audience. Father bowed and
started in on the obligatory courtesies. I didn't bother listening; all that
O-Radiant-Light-of-the-Universe stuff bores me. I looked around the audience
chamber instead, and that was why I saw Tumpkin sneaking in at the back. I
is supposed to be at a private audience except the
caliph, whoever he's seeing, and the deaf guards the caliph hires especially
for private audiences. Tumpkin would be in real trouble if anyone else noticed

Father finished his apology.
"Very nicely put," the caliph said, smiling. "Accepted. Was
there anything else?"

"O Commander of Legions, the
curse yet remains," Father said delicately. "That is, the
forty-eighth curse of your renowned list of curses, which you in your great and
no-doubt-justified anger cast over me and my wife and daughter."

"Of course it remains,"
the caliph said. He sounded a little testy. "When I curse someone, they
stay cursed until they break it."

"O Fountain of Wisdom, you
have said it better than your humble servant ever could," Father replied.
"That is our difficulty precisely. For nowhere in all the scrolls and
tomes and works of magic is written the cure for your forty-eighth curse, and
so we have come to you to beg your mercy."

"You want me to lift the
curse, is that it?" the caliph said, frowning. "I don't like the
idea; it would set a bad precedent."

Father wiped his forehead with the
end of his sleeve. "O Auspicious and Merciful Caliph, what is wrong with
establishing that a man's punishment ends when he humbly acknowledges his
error? Display your justice before the whole court, and remove this dreadful
curse from me and mine."

"Well. . ."

"O Just and Sagacious Monarch,
let me add my entreaties to my husband's," Mother said. She stepped
forward and knelt gracefully in front of Caliph Arenschadd. "Have pity! Or
if your heart is hardened against us, think of your subjects who huddle within
their doors each night in fear while wolves prowl the streets. Think of them,
and lift the curse."

"Get up, Mirza, get up,"
the caliph said. "You know that sort of thing makes me

"O Caliph of Compassion, I
cannot," Mother said, bowing her head so he couldn't see the annoyance on
her face. "My limbs will not support both my body and the curse that
weighs on me. Lift the curse, and I will stand."

"I can't," said the

"What?" said Mother and
Father together.

"I didn't work out how to lift
all the curses I made up," Caliph Arenschadd said self-consciously.
"I didn't think I needed to."

"You mean you were too lazy to
bother," Mother muttered. Father gave her a horrified look, but
fortunately Caliph Arenschadd hadn't heard.

"O Powerful Sovereign, what
then are we to do?" Father said.

"You'll just have to find a
way to break it yourselves," Caliph Arenschadd said. He was trying to
sound airy and unconcerned, but I could see that he was really embarrassed and
worried. He wasn't much better than Father at pretending he was right when he
knew he wasn't.

"But Commander of Legions,
no cure for lycanthropy!" Father said.

"Not usually," Tumpkin
said from behind the caliph. "But I think I know one that will work this time."

I shut my eyes, wondering what
Caliph Arenschadd would do to Tumpkin for sneaking into a private audience and
whether Tumpkin would be able to tell us how to break the curse before Caliph
Arenschadd did it. Nothing happened, so after a moment I opened my eyes again.
Mother, Father, and the caliph were all staring at Tumpkin, who looked pleased
and proud and a little embarrassed by all the attention he was getting. Nobody
seemed to be angry.

"My son, how can this
be?" said Caliph Arenschadd. "You are still a beginner in wizardry.
How can you do what my grand vizier"—he waved at Father—"his skilled
and intelligent wife"—he gestured at Mother—"and myself cannot achieve?"

"It's not wizardry,
Father," Tumpkin said. "It's just logic."

I said
indignantly. "You mean you're the
Why didn't you

"Imani!" Mother said
sharply. "Mind your manners! Pray forgive the impulsiveness of her youth,
Your Highness."

"It's all right," Tumpkin
said. "We've known each other for a long time."

"You seem to have many secrets
I was not aware of, my son," said Caliph Arenschadd, but he couldn't keep
from sounding proud instead of reproachful. "Therefore, tell us how you
think to break this curse."

"It's just a theory,"
Tumpkin said. "But you told me once that your curses only work one at a
time. If you cast another curse on the grand vizier, wouldn't that take the
place of this one?"

Mother and Father and Caliph
Arenschadd all stared at Tumpkin some more. I stared, too, thinking furiously.
If Caliph Arenschadd put the next curse on Father, we'd be in the same
situation we'd been in when Father got the forty-eighth curse, not knowing what
the curse was or how to break it. Curse forty-nine could be just as bad as all
this werewolf business. But if somebody
made the caliph mad . . .

"That's the stupidest thing
I've ever heard," I said loudly.

Everyone turned to look at me.
Mother and Father looked horrified; the caliph looked startled and unbelieving.
Tumpkin grinned, and I knew he'd figured out what I was up to.

"Imani!" Mother said

"What was that you said,
girl?" Caliph Arenschadd asked ominously.

I swallowed hard and said, "'I
said that that list of curses was a stupid idea. And it was even stupider not
to figure out how to break them all. Stupid and lazy. And sticking in a
werewolf curse was the stupidest thing of all.
knows you can't
break a werewolf curse, but I bet you didn't even think about it."

I paused for breath. The caliph was
positively purple with rage; the minute I stopped talking, he pointed three
fingers at me and said something that sounded like "Donny-skazle

I looked at Mother and Father. They
were bright green.

I heaved a sigh of relief; I hadn't
been quite sure that Caliph Arenschadd would start over with the first curse on
the list for me. I studied Mother and Father again, more closely. Their
eyebrows were back to normal.

"It worked!" I said. I
grinned at Tumpkin, then looked at Caliph Arenschadd. "Sorry about that,
Your Majesty; I was just trying to make you mad."

"Imani..." Mother sounded
as if she didn't know whether to laugh or scold me.

I shrugged. "Well,
had to do it. And I wasn't sure it would work right if the caliph wasn't
really mad at somebody. 'Scuse me, Your Majesty."

"I believe I understand,"
the caliph said slowly. He looked from me to Tumpkin and back. "Just don't
do it again, young woman. Audience concluded."

I went straight outside and walked
backward around the palace three times, and that took care of being green. Then
Mother and Father took me home and fussed over me. Father said I was
quick-witted enough to make a fine diplomat, if I'd just learn a little tact,
and he'd start my training tomorrow. Mother said that Father was a fine one to
talk about tact, and she wasn't going to let him waste my abilities in
politics. She was going to start teaching me sorcery that evening.

I left them arguing and went to see
Tumpkin. He was waiting in the garden, just as I expected.

"You took awhile getting
here," he said.

"My parents wanted to
argue," I explained. "Why didn't you tell me you were the

"I didn't think you'd believe
me," Tumpkin said. "I don't look much like a prince, you know."

I snorted. "What's that got to
do with anything?"

"It seems to matter a lot to
some people," Tumpkin said, and neither of us said anything for a little.

"How did you figure out what
to do about the curse?" I asked finally.

"I don't know," Tumpkin
said. "I just thought about it a lot, after I found out it was a werewolf
curse. I knew it was going to take something unusual to get rid of it, or your
mother and father would have figured it out weeks ago."

"They'd never have thought of
getting rid of one curse by replacing it with another," I said.

Tumpkin looked at me sidelong.
"Was it very bad?" he asked.

"Some of it," I said
shortly, thinking of the rabbit and the way the city streets smell to a wolf.
Then I thought about running through the grass. "Some of it was wonderful."

Tumpkin didn't ask any more
questions, and he never has. I think he understands, but he won't make me tell
him about the details until I want to. That's why we're such good friends. I
still call him Tumpkin, even though now I know he's really the prince.

A couple of weeks ago Caliph
Arenschadd issued a new proclamation about punishing people who offend him.
He's decided to turn them blue. The more times someone offends him, the bluer
they get and the longer it lasts. lather talked him into it by pointing out
that it's rather difficult to do most of the jobs in the palace with your
eyelids stuck shut or three-foot fingernails, but no one will have to stop
working just because he's blue. So no one else will ever work up to curse
forty-eight, and we won't ever have to worry about werewolves in town.

Which is a good thing, I suppose.
But sometimes I still dream about moonlight and the wind in my fur as I run,
and run, and run forever through endless, sweet-smelling grass.


The cave was dark, damp, and
smelled faintly of sulfur. After nearly seven years, Mariel knew every small
unevenness in the floor, and she walked surely despite the darkness.
Empty-handed, as was fitting, she crossed to the inner cavern, where only she
was allowed to go. She paused at the threshold, checked by the weight of power
and magic within. Then, slowly, she entered.

The water of the vision pool hissed
and bubbled, heated by the lava flows deep within the mountain. Mariel stopped
just short of the edge and knelt on the warm stone. Closing her eyes, she
stilled her thoughts and emptied her mind. When she was ready at last, she
opened her eyes and bent forward, peering into the steamy darkness to see what
the earth magic would choose to show her.

sunlight and a clear sky. Armies clashed on once-fertile fields, grinding the
sprouting grain into dust and watering it with blood. In the distance a village
burned, and the wailing of women and children made a faint counterpoint to the
desperate clash of arms.

Mariel took a slow, deep breath,
holding fast to her stillness as the scene played itself out. For six months
now, this was all the earth magic had shown her: war; destruction; slave
caravans hauling men, women, and children away from the ruins of their homes;
the king's armies in retreat, or struggling to hold back the tide of the invaders
long enough for the civilians to escape. The previous Earthwitch had assured
her that behind each vision the earth magic showed, there was a purpose, but
sometimes Mariel thought that if she did not find out soon what she was
expected to learn from the death and destruction, she would go mad.

The vision changed. She saw the
interior of a tent and a lean, brown-haired man in a chain vest, seated on the
edge of a cot with his head buried in his hands. The tent flap opened. "My
lord?" said a voice from outside.

The man on the cot looked up.
Mariel choked, and the vision wavered; barely in time, she suppressed her
unruly emotions. When her sight cleared again, the brown-haired man and a
tired-looking man in a torn red cloak were in midargument.

"My lord, it is madness!"
the man in the red cloak said.

"Have you some other proposal,
then?" the brown-haired man asked with implacable skepticism.

The red-cloaked man shook his head.
"But the ambassadors we sent to Wirnor have not yet returned. Surely, when
they do—"

"We cannot wait for
them," the first man said. "Not if we hope to have a people or an
army left by the time they get here. We're running out of places to retreat to.
We need a solution

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