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In the Air

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            Cimorene was halfway across the castle courtyard when Willin caught up to her.

            “Princess Cimorene,” the elf said with a bow. “Where are you off to today?” He was pristine as always in a stiff white shirt with a gold collar, a fine green velvet coat, and white silk hose. She, on the other hand was looking very un-princess-like in a loose linen shirt, baggy black trousers, and a sturdy pair of leather boots.

            Oh drat. I knew I should’ve used the invisibility spell.

            She put on her most polite smile. “Just out for a stroll.”

            Willin’s brow crinkled up and he reached into his coat to extract a scroll. Cimorene suppressed a groan. “But, princess, we still have a long list of items that need to be finalized before your wedding.”

            He began unrolling the scroll and Cimorene jumped in before he could start reading her each and every item on that list. “I’ve just spent the past three hours being measured and fitted and fretted over by a small army of seamstresses. I need some air.”

            Reluctantly, Willin rolled the scroll back up. “In that case, there’s a very fine path around the castle. If you continue along towards the far corner there you’ll get a fine view of the moat.”

            “And I could use a change of scenery,” she added. “I’m just going for a walk. I shouldn’t be long.”

            Willin scowled. “In the Enchanted Forest, there’s no such thing as ‘just a walk’.”

            “In that case,” Cimorene said, “I’ll go fetch my sword.”

            And she did just that, taking long strides which Willin simply could not match.

 

#

 

            Cimorene knew from experience that things in the Enchanted Forest were not always in the same place. The forest tended to shift around so that a waterfall that was in the north on one day, might be in the east the next. She’d noticed though, that since becoming engaged to Mendanbar, the forest had become less apt to shifting around when she moved through it, as if it sensed that she was soon to be Queen of the Enchanted Forest as if it were making an effort to be polite.

            She had been a princess for so long–whether she’d wanted to or not–that the thought of her new title still seemed a little peculiar to her, like the feeling of breaking in a new pair of boots. But it also made her smile very much indeed when she thought of just who she was going to marry to acquire that new title.

            After a quarter of an hour of walking, Cimorene stepped around a giant oak to find herself in a rocky clearing, in the centre of which was a large pool, the colour of poplar leaves and as still as glass. She knew this place well: the Green Glass Pool was a favourite spot of Mendanbar’s and he’d brought her here several times, including one night a few days ago so that she could see the starlight reflected in the pool, like a thousand tiny emeralds.

            The smile that had made its way to her lips at finding herself by the Green Glass Pool, vanished when she discovered that she was not the only one there.

            Even at a distance, Telemain’s figure was unmistakable: the vest with its pockets bulging with magical equipment and the sheathes and pouches on his wide black belt were a dead giveaway. In his hand, an instrument that looked like a cross between a pinwheel and a sieve spun in the breeze.

            Cimorene gave serious thought to turning around and heading back the way she’d come. Of course she was grateful for everything Telemain had done to help them in rescuing Kazul and dealing with the wizards, and, more recently for all he was doing to help Mendanbar with the wedding preparations. If only he would speak plainly! If I have to hear one more incomprehensible lecture on weather-altering magic, I’m going to run all the way back to the Mountains of Morning.

            But Cimorene had been well brought up, and it really would be terribly rude not to say hello, so she took a deep breath and greeted him properly. “Hello, Telemain.”

            He spun around and blinked at her for a few seconds as if he weren’t quite sure whether she was real or a figment of his imagination. “Oh. Cimorene. Hello. I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”

            “I was out for a walk. But I don’t want to disturb you if you’re in the middle of something.”

            Much to Cimorene’s chagrin, Telemain shook his head. “Not at all. I was simply checking the aerodynamic ratios of the atmospheric matrix I’ve been preparing for the wedding.” He looked inordinately pleased–though about what, she wasn’t certain. Something to do with the weather, she thought. “The adjustments work most effectively if they’re made gradually so as to avoid any sudden disruptions to the matrix equilibrium.”

            “That’s... lovely,” was the best she could muster in response to that. The instrument in his hand–whatever it was–made an angry clicking sound and he studied at it with great intensity. Cimorene seized the opportunity. “I should let you get back to work. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

            “Oh of course,” he said vaguely, his eyes rivetted to the instrument. “Thank you, Cimorene.” And then he turned his attention fully to the device.

            Cimorene breathed a sigh of relief and headed back towards the woods, wondering if the forest had wanted her to check in on Telemain or if their meeting here was simply a coincidence. Her relief was short-lived. Before she’d taken more than two steps, a fully armoured knight stumbled through a clump of trees, very nearly tripping on a tangle of purplish vines that clutched at his ankles. He swung wildly at the brush with his sword and then, getting loose, clattered into the clearing, huffing and puffing.

            Knights were not at all uncommon in the Enchanted Forest. They tended to wander in on quests to fight trolls or visit the Pool of Gold and return with proof–that sort of thing. “Can I help you?” Cimorene asked.

            The knight raised his visor and stared at her for a moment, appearing confused–by her attire she supposed. He looked as if he’d travelled quite a distance to be here if the amount of dirt clinging to his armour was any indication. Finally he sheathed his sword and offered a stiff armour-clad bow. “Thank you, fair maiden. I am Sir Caramin. I have travelled far to reach the castle of the king of the Enchanted Forest.”

            Cimorene smiled politely. She’d had her fill of knights during her time as Kazul’s princess. “I’m headed there myself. I can show you the way if you’d like.”

            “Thank you, fair maiden.”

            “And please don’t call me that. I’m Princess Cimorene.”

            “You are?” He brightened considerably at this news. “Well that saves all sort of difficulty then.” He straightened his shoulders and puffed out his chest. “Come with me, Princess. I have travelled far and braved many perils to rescue you.”

            “Rescue me?” Cimorene put her hands on her hips and scowled at the knight. “From what?”

            “From the King of the Enchanted Forest of course.” Cimorene’s jaw dropped but not a sound came out. Caramin took no notice–or simply mistook her bafflement overwhelming gratitude. “The wizard who visited the king’s court told us the whole story, how you were captured by a dragon and then how the evil magician who rules the forest took you from the dragon so he could claim the reward for rescuing you.” And then, pausing a moment to consider. “Half your kingdom, wasn’t it?”

            “A wizard, you said?” Cimorene crossed her arms, foot tapping a staccato rhythm on the stone beneath her boots. “His name didn’t happen to be Antorell, did it?”

            “You know him then? Wonderful! Now if you’ll just–” He reached out to take her hand and she stepped away.

            “I’m not going anywhere. I chose to be Kazul’s princes and I chose to stay in the Enchanted Forest. Mendanbar isn’t a magician, let alone an evil one, and we’re in the middle of planning our wedding.”

            “Oh bother,” Caramin mumbled and began searching through a pouch at his belt. “He did say you might be under an enchantment.”

            “An ench–”

            “Is everything all right, Cimorene?” She glanced over her shoulder to see Telemain coming to join them. His expression was a mix of curiosity and concern.

            Cimorene sniffed. “Antorell has been causing trouble again.”

            Caramin, hand still buried in the belt pouch, froze. “Are you a wizard too?”

            “No, of course not,” Telemain replied with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Wizards only use one type of magic, concentrated in their staffs. Their approach is fascinating but suffers from the limitations of being reliant on that staff for their magical enterprises. I am a magician.”

            “A magician?” Caramin croaked, looking pale. His hand darted out from the belt pouch clutching a vial of orange fluid which he tossed at Telemain.

            Telemain’s hand shot up, palm outward. “Curmudgeonry!” There was a flash of light and when Cimorene’s vision cleared, the orange vial remained suspended in the air a few inches away from Telemain. He plucked it out of the air and inspected it. “Bottled will-o’-the-wisp. Highly flammable. Did Antorell give you this?”

            Caramin nodded dumbly, looking like, at any moment, he might consider a strategic retreat.

            Cimorene cast Telemain a puzzled glance. “Curmudgeonry?”

            He’d gone back to inspecting the bottle but then placed it in one of his many pocket and turned his attention to Cimorene. “It’s a trigger word for a pre-prepared spell. The trigger has to be something the user doesn’t employ is regular conversation.”

            “I see.”

            During this exchange, Caramin had fished a second vial out of his belt pouch, this one containing a lavender powder. He did not throw this one, but with his free hand drew his sword. “I will fight you to the death, King Mendanbar, and break the enchantment you’ve placed on Princess Cimorene.”

            “Mendanbar?” Telemain echoed, looking confounded rather than alarmed.

            “I am not under an enchantment,” Cimorene snarled. “And he is most certainly not Mendanbar.”

            Caramin’s gaze flitted from Cimorene to Telemain and back again. “He’s... not?”

            “Perhaps we should discuss this matter,” Telemain said, inching forward, palm raised–probably in case he needed to cast another quick spell, Cimorene thought. But this only seemed to distress the knight further, for as Telemain moved, Caramin started.

            Two things happened then which, had they occurred independently, would have been innocuous, but, when they happened simultaneously, proved disastrous.

            Startled, Caramin dropped the vile in his hand just as Telemain was stepping forward. It rolled under the magician’s upraised boot, just as that boot came down. The vial shattered. Telemain was engulfed in a cloud of lavender smoke. Cimorene and the knight both leaped back.

            “Oh bother,” Caramin muttered. “The wizard said that one was to disenchant you.”

            Wrapped in the cloud of purple smoke, Telemain began coughing and Cimorene was torn between trying to help him and preventing any more attempted rescuing by the knight. She  swivelled on Caramin and this time it was she who drew her sword. “I am not enchanted. Now tell me what that powder does.”

            Caramin shrugged helplessly. “It... disenchants.”

            The coughing subsided and was followed by a thud but she could still not see Telemain through the smoke. An alarming clatter a moment later signalled Caramin’s hasty retreat back into the woods. With an annoyed glare at his retreating form, Cimorene sheathed her sword. The smoke had begun to subside and she could see Telemain lying on the rocky ground. Before approaching, though, she took one of the handkerchiefs from her pocket and used it to cover her mouth and nose, just to be safe. She knelt down next to Telemain’s prone form and gave his shoulder a firm shake. “Telemain. Telemain, are you all right?” She was relieved when, a moment later, he groaned in response. After another minute he opened his eyes and blinked at her as if trying to clear them. “Oh good. I was worried I’d have to go fetch help. Can you stand?”

            “I think so.”

            She took hold of his arm to steady him as he got to his feet. He looked none the worse for wear but she still didn’t know what that lavender powder might have done. If it really was only meant to disenchant then it wouldn’t have had any effect, but why would Antorell give the knight a disenchantment powder when he knew Cimorene wasn’t enchanted?

            “How do you feel?” Cimorene asked. The smoke was well and truly gone so she folded up her handkerchief and put it back in her pocket.

            “I’m quite well. Thank you for your assistance. My name is Telemain,” he said with a bow. And then he took her hand and smiled at her. “Might I ask for your name?”

            Cimorene tugged her hand free. “I’m Cimorene. Don’t you remember?”

            His eyebrows shot up. “Your name is Cimorene? Quite the coincidence. I know a Princess Cimorene.”

            “I am Princess Cimorene. Telemain, what is wrong with you?”

            Telemain began stroking his beard, his brow slightly furrowed. “Two Princess Cimorenes. That’s quite extraordinary.” He gave himself a shake and smiled at her again. “Thank you again for your assistance. I seem to have had a slight mishap while working on a spell.”

            Cimorene stared at him. “Mishap? Don’t you remember the knight?”

            “Knight?” Telemain’s brow crinkled as if he were thinking very hard. “Was he trying to rescue you?” He looked around at the green pool and the now empty clearing, but of course there was no knight to be seen.

            “Something like that.”

            “The forest can be quite... unpredictable. Perhaps I could escort you somewhere?” He offered his arm. Cimorene took a step back. “Do you live nearby?”

            “Yes. I live at the castle now.”

            “Mendanbar’s castle?”

            “Yes! Don’t you remember? Mendanbar and I are getting married.”

            He blinked at her for a moment and then his expression turned to one of pity. “I’m sorry to be the one to inform you, but Mendanbar is engaged to be married to Princess Cimorene.”

            “I am Princess Cimorene.”

            “No I mean the other Princess Cimorene.”

            “But I am–” And then she thought better of it. That lavender powder certainly hadn’t been for disenchanting. She needed someone with more magical expertise than she had–and Telemain was not in a position to help in this case. “Never mind. Let’s go back to the castle.”

            “As you wish, my dear.”

            “I am not your dear,” she snapped.

            For a few seconds he bore a striking resemblance to a puppy that had had one of its paws trod upon. But then he smiled again. “As you wish, Cimorene.” And Cimorene began to wish she’d taken Willin’s advice and gone on the walk with the good view of the castle moat.