The castle was large, and impressive, and didn't feel at all like home. By the time he'd been lost five times (which only took until noon, the day after the battle), Daystar would have liked very much to go back to the cabin he was raised in.
After lunch he sat in a drawing room, and wondered if there was a way to ask for the cabin to be moved somewhere close to the castle that didn't sound like he was ungrateful for the suite of rooms he'd been given. It was larger than their whole house had been.
"You know, there are a lot more comfortable rooms in the castle."
Daystar looked up at the stranger in front of him, then around at the ornately carved furniture and delicate knickknacks on every surface. "Yes, father," he said. "But this room is next to the dining room, so I know I'll be able to find it."
King Mendanbar—his father—gave a short laugh. "Yes, the castle is a bit of a maze, when you're not used to it, isn't it? I was surprised how quickly your mother learned it. Usually, we have to send out search parties for new people at least twice in the first week they're in the castle. It'll probably be a lot more often than that, for a while, since it's been so long since people have been here. Even the old hands who return may get turned around now and then."
"How does the cleaning go?" Daystar asked. After seventeen years empty and a wizard occupation, the castle needed a thorough cleaning (magical and mundane) from top to bottom. Mother and Father were handling most of the magical bits, with Morwen assisting as needed. Daystar had been told in no uncertain terms that his own magical skills were too rudimentary to be of any help there, so he'd gone to Willin and asked how he could help the regular cleaning. Willin had almost had an apoplexy as he explained that the Crown Prince most certainly could not be allowed to lower himself to dusting like a common scullery maid. It had left Daystar feeling rather useless.
"Well, we've got the bulk of the magical part done," Father said. "Fortunately, the wizards didn't have time to do much mischief. There are a few places left to go with the more fiddly bits—pre-existing spells and the like, which have to be checked for tampering—but most of the castle is safe. Tomorrow it'll be time to look at the kingdom and see what's happened in my absence. Not that I was ever a very hands-on sort of king, the Enchanted Forrest doesn't react well to too much interference, but I shudder to think what might have happened without any hands on it."
"Oh." Daystar wondered what he was supposed to say to that. "May you find everything peaceful and prosperous, and may your work be light."
His father looked oddly at him, and Daystar wondered what he'd said wrong. All the protocol mother had drilled into him had seemed complete at the time, but he'd come to realize there were two glaring omissions: how to talk to his own father, and what exactly a Crown Prince was supposed to do.
"I was hoping you'd help, actually," King Mendanbar said.
"If you're sure I wouldn't get in the way?" Daystar asked. "I don't know much magic, and I wouldn't want to intrude."
"Of course you wouldn't be in the way!" his father said. He hesitated. "Well, perhaps a little, at first. But how are you to learn if you don't help? Cimorene didn't teach you much magic because the magic of the kings of the Enchanted Forrest is unique, because it's tied to the Forrest. She couldn't teach it to you, and she didn't want preconceived notions to get in the way when all the spells were lifted and I could teach you." He spread his hands. "Checking in with the Forrest is one of the most basic exercises to learn."
"I would be honored to be instructed by you, Father," Daystar said.
"Good! We'll get started right after breakfast, tomorrow."
"Now, can you feel how this thread—" Father tweaked something Daystar couldn't see "—and this thread feel different from one another?"
Daystar concentrated on the two strands of magic Father had set pulsing. He couldn't really see them the way Father could, but Father said that would come with time (and probably not until Daystar was king, himself). He could, however, feel them. Most of them felt a bit like palm fronds, or perhaps very scratchy wool—a core fiber with what felt like fringe brushing up against him. "Maybe?" he said at last. "They're about the same size, but one is … more taut than the other?"
"Exactly!" King Mendanbar leaned over the map he'd created: not a map of the Forrest, per se, but a map of the magic of it, strands criss-crossing back and forth. Parts of it looked almost like a woven fabric or a basket, with strands neatly interwoven at nice right angles. Others … looked like Mother's seventeen-years abandoned knitting basket had looked like this morning after Nightwitch had found it. Still others looked like the tributary system of a large river. "Now, those two strands are here and here, on the map." He pointed to two that spanned the whole forest, from one edge to the other. "Can you see what the problem might be?"
Daystar studied the map carefully, comparing the lines he could see with the real ones he could only feel. "Those are both major strands. Lots of others are attached to them."
"Actually, they're just one strand," Mendanbar said. "Look at the edges."
"Oh, I see," Daystar said. "They're like the wefts on mother's loom. They run back and forth from one end of the kingdom to the other, with other strands woven through them. And," he frowned at the edge of the map, "the two sections you pointed out are the strands next to each other, and they go through one of the places the wizards drained of magic. But the magic has been put back, so what's the problem?"
"The magic's been put back, but the network holding it together hasn't been fully woven together, yet," his father said. "It was weakened by almost two decades being disconnected."
"So, do we have to go out there to weave it back together?" Daystar asked.
"Well, we could, but it would take a while," Mendanbar said. "The main problem is that it's backed up, so magic isn't flowing properly along it as it passes through, so one side feels slack and the other taught. Sending a good sharp pulse along it should clear it out."
"Won't that tear it further?" Daystar asked. "If the threads are already weak?"
"They're not literal threads," his father said. "In this case, think of them like stopped up drains that need to get properly rooted out." He took hold of one of them, and Daystar could feel magic gathering in the air around him. It was an odd feeling that he supposed he should get used to. Like a shot from a bow, the magic flew out of the room, presumably down one of the threads.
"It may take a while to get through," his father said.
"Oh." Daystar couldn't think of anything else to say.
"So, how's Shiara?"
Daystar shrugged. "She's doing fine," he said. "She and King Kazul get along very well. I think it will be a good experience for Shiara."
"I'm glad," the king said. "I know you'll miss her, but I do think it's for the best."
"Yes." Daystar paused, biting his lip. "Father?" he said at last, wishing his mother were there. He'd prefer to ask her, but he hadn't gotten to see much of her in the last few days, and none of it had been in private. King Mendanbar seemed like a nice fellow, and he was certainly trying to be kind to Daystar. "Am I engaged to Shiara?"
His father tilted his head, frowning. "Not if you don't want to be," he said. "Certainly, nothing formal has been said, and such things require a lot of negotiating and contracts and things. Though given that she's a fire witch, probably less of that than when I married Cimorene."
"That's what I thought," Daystar said, relieved. "But everyone is treating her like she's a princess already!"
"It didn't take long for word to get out that Kazul is training the next Queen of the Enchanted Forrest, that's true," Mendanbar said. "I'll bet the dragons have even more princesses finding ways to be kidnapped by dragons than they did after Cimorene and I were engaged. But you don't seem happy—I thought you liked Shiara?" He sounded puzzled.
"I do," Daystar said. "I like her very much. She's a good friend, and she's smart and pretty." In fact, there were parts of him that thought that marriage to Shiara—and all the things that went with it—would be a very nice thing indeed. "But I'm only sixteen! And we've only known each other a week!"
"By the time I'd known your mother a week, I knew I wanted to marry her," his father said. "But then again, I was over a decade older than you, and knew I needed to get married soon. Things were much different. You've got years before any decisions need to be made. Don't worry about it. If you decide, later on, that you want to marry her, we'll start the formalities then. If you don't, you can stay friends and we'll find someone else for you. Though I will note, I think that once she's matured a bit and gotten some polish she'd make you happy, and make a good queen, too, and the fact that she's a fire witch will go a long way to making the traditionalists happy even though she isn't a princess."
"But King Kazul will be training her to be the next Queen," Daystar said. "Won't she be upset at wasting the time and effort if Shiara isn't?"
Mendanbar smiled. "Don't worry about it, Kazul's an old friend. What's more, she's not particularly interested in tradition for tradition's sake. She never did get a replacement Princess after your mother left—the King of the Dragons doesn't traditionally have one, so your mother's title after Kazul became King was Chief Cook and Librarian. I know she liked having your mother's help, and this will be an excellent excuse to have another human helper. It'll be fine."
Daystar opened his mouth to ask another question when the magic his father had sent off returned. Mendanbar caught it to keep it from going further, and Daystar could see why he used the metaphor of the drain to describe it. There was a lot more of it, now, as if it had picked up extra along the way, and it felt … dirty, was the only way to put it. Like stagnant water with pond scum over the top.
"Now we have to strain out the bad bits," his father said. "Remember how to do it?"
Daystar nodded. That was one of the first things Mendanbar had taught him that morning. He raised his hands and began to work.