Shiara was now a hamster.
She glared up at me from the mossy ground, with more malevolence in her beady black eyes than any hamster had ever possessed. "Blast it, Daystar," she squeaked, "I told you we couldn't rely on my immunity to spells right now, especially not now that you're fiddling with that stupid politeness enchantment and making it blink on and off all the time and you're the most stupid, bothersome person I've ever met and I'm a hamster and I hate you!"
I half expected her fur to burst into flame, but it didn't. That was a relief. A malevolent, angry hamster is unnerving enough; a malevolent, angry hamster on fire would be more than I could deal with just then.
"Um," I said. "I can fix this." I reached out for the magical threads of the Enchanted Forest and gave one a slight twitch.
It worked, this time. I can't always rely on the forest to do what I want it to do; I'm not the King yet, after all. But it generally works with minor enchantments, like undoing whatever spell was on that cranberry bush that caused the whole hamster thing.
Shiara was no longer a hamster. In fact, as far as I could tell, she was completely back to normal. But she was still glaring at me. Then again, that was pretty normal for Shiara.
"Next time," she said, making a visible effort to calm down, "can we not test my immunity to passive enchantments until after you've fixed the politeness curse?"
I was impressed. She wasn't shouting or anything, and she sounded almost civil. Her month with the dragons must have had an effect. I guess she got tired of having Kazul's councilors breathing flames at her every time she offended them, even if her natural imperviousness to fire protected her.
"Right," I said. "I'm sorry."
She made a face at me. Well, some habits are hard to break, I guess.
"I'll work it out soon," I promised her, mentally sorting through the magic in the sword. The enchantment affecting Shiara was like a knot in the threads of magic; it was just a matter of gradually unraveling it. "Don't worry, Shiara."
Shiara gave me an odd, searching look, then smiled. I tried not to stare; Shiara has a really pretty smile, and I don't get to see it often. "I don't," she said softly, then turned and started heading back to the castle, leaving me no choice but to follow her.
"Drat it!" Shiara moaned, sitting heavily on the carpet of the Blue Room, which was an inexplicable shade of lavender. "It's not working! Whatever you've done with the sword, it's not enough, because now even being polite doesn't help! I was polite to at least three different dragons yesterday, and I even sort of meant it once, but I can't even light a lousy little candle."
I examined the sword's magic, puzzled. "I don't understand it," I muttered. "I thought I'd straightened out that spell, but then you'd be able to work your magic regardless of how polite you are. And if the spell were still there, then you'd at least be able to light a candle after being polite a couple of times." I glanced over at Shiara hesitantly. "Maybe you didn't mean it enough with the dragons."
If she'd had anything at hand to throw, she definitely would have hurled it at my head. "I thought the point was that you were supposed to be fixing it so I can work my magic whenever I want!"
"Well, yes," I said hastily. "But since you could never really do magic properly, even before you met me--"
Shiara looked like she was either about to cry or to start her hair burning, and I didn't feel very comfortable with either possibility. Fortunately, Mother popped her head in right then. "Any progress?" she asked. "Because if not, it's lunchtime."
After a moment, Shiara stood regally and flounced out of the room, shooting one nasty glance back at me. I shuddered and sheathed the sword, then turned to follow her out.
Mother was watching Shiara stomp down the hall thoughtfully. "You know, Daystar," she said, "there's a fireproofing spell I learned when I was Kazul's princess that I think I should teach you."
"Why?" I asked.
Mother smiled. "Because sooner or later her magic's going to start working again, and then I think you're going to be in for a bit of trouble."
Telemain frowned, examining Shiara with what looked like the improbable spawn of a telescope, a compass, and a pendulum. "Fascinating," he said.
"Well?" Shiara asked. "Can you tell if my magic's back to normal yet?"
"It's difficult to determine," Telemain replied. "As I first encountered you after Mendanbar's sword initiated the curious courtesy-related enchantment, I was never able to examine your magic in its normative resting state, and therefore have no quantifiable method of verifying whether or not Daystar has managed to restore your magic to its preexisting set of criteria. Furthermore, the intricacies and variability of fire-witch--"
Shiara held up a hand irritably, and Telemain actually shut up for a second. I was impressed. I didn't know Shiara could be so commanding. "Hold on," she said. "Back up. Pretend Kazul is here, and say that again."
Telemain just sort of looked cross. "I don't--"
"I think he meant that he can't tell if your magic's back to normal because he doesn't know what normal is, for you," I put in. I'd gotten pretty good at decoding Telemain's technical gobbledygook, with Father's help. I glanced apologetically at Telemain. "I'm sorry to interrupt."
"Oh," Shiara said. "Well, do you at least know if that dratted sword's curse is gone?"
"Oh, yes, of course," Telemain said blithely. "Daystar undid that some time ago. I thought you knew."
Shiara stomped her foot impatiently. "Then why isn't my magic working?" she demanded.
Telemain's eyes lit up. "I'm glad you asked. You see, there seems to be a preexisting enchantment that underlay the courtesy restrictions applied by the sword, and the method by which the sword managed to entirely bypass or possibly temporarily negate the aforementioned spell is absolutely intriguing, especially given the extent to which the first enchantment had become enmeshed within your overarching magical network. Now, if you happen to know when you first encountered the original spell...?" His voice trailed off delicately to frame the question.
Shiara just blinked. "What?"
"Hey!" I said excitedly, once I'd completed the mental translation. "Maybe that's why Shiara's magic never worked right!"
Telemain rubbed his beard thoughtfully. "It's entirely possible. I'd need to do more extensive tests to determine the full nature of the enchantment, of course. Shiara, would you mind accompanying me to my tower? I have all the necessary materials there, and we'll be able to proceed in a much more timely fashion."
"What?" Shiara asked again, sounding rather plaintive now.
"The politeness thing isn't the problem anymore," I explained to her. "He thinks you had another curse on you already, and if you let him test it a bit, he'll be able to figure out exactly what it is so we can fix it." I looked at Telemain. "You do think you can fix it, right?"
"Probably," Telemain said negligently. He was clearly more interested in studying the spell than in removing it.
"All right," Shiara said, somewhat suspiciously. "Hey - don't you get married in three days, though?"
Telemain waved a hand absently. "This should only take a few hours or so, particularly if we--"
"Oh, right," I said guiltily. "I'd forgotten. I'm sorry, Telemain, you can do it after the wedding, Morwen--"
His eyes lit up again. "Of course! With Morwen's assistance, this shouldn't take nearly as long as I'd predicted. Good idea. I'll go give her a call and let her know; Shiara, you'll be ready to go by the time I'm finished, I'm sure." He hurried off in search of a mirror, fumbling with his pockets and mumbling to himself about parameters and localizations.
Shiara looked at me. "You'd better be right about this," she muttered.
I hesitated, then touched her hand. "I'm sure it'll be fine," I said. "Just try to make sure he doesn't get so distracted he misses his own wedding; we can always keep working on it afterwards."
She sighed. "Don't be stupid, Daystar," she said without malice. "I know we'll figure it out eventually." She squeezed my hand for a second, and the bottom dropped out of my stomach pleasantly. Then she let go, and went after Telemain.
I always seemed to be following after Shiara lately. I didn't really mind.
Morwen leaned back in her chair with a sigh, stroking the cat in her lap. "It seems to be a fairly standard christening curse," she told us. "Except instead of specifying that something magical should happen to you, Shiara, it functions as a sort of block on your magic."
"What's odd," Telemain put in eagerly, "is that it should have any effect on you at all. Fire-witches' natural immunity to such spells and curses ought to--"
"There are always loopholes," Morwen corrected, smiling at her husband-to-be to take the edge off her interruption. "For example, it might not have been placed on Shiara directly; a generalized curse aimed at her mother's firstborn child, or something like that, would bypass Shiara's magic nicely. A theoretical or as-yet-unborn child doesn't have the same magical protection as a fully grown fire-witch, after all."
Shiara looked a little lost. "But...who would have put a magic-blocking curse on me before I was even born? And why wouldn't I have known about it?"
"It's a bit strange," Morwen admitted. "No malicious fairies your family might have offended?" Shiara shook her head. "Disgruntled sorcerers?" Shiara just shrugged helplessly. "And to not even tell your parents about it...that's very sneaky," Morwen mused.
"Sounds like wizards," I muttered.
Telemain blinked at me. "Actually, the overall structure and form of the enchantment itself had a rather recognizable flair, now that you mention it," he said. "Morwen, did you notice that?"
Morwen frowned thoughtfully for a moment; suddenly, her eyes narrowed. "Shiara, do you happen to be related to a fire-witch named Brandel?"
"Brandel?" Shiara repeated, startled. "He's my uncle!"
"That explains it," Morwen said disgustedly. "Vamist. I'd hoped we'd heard the last of him." Her cat yowled its agreement.
"Vamist?" Telemain said in surprise. "That ridiculous bald man? He was no sorcerer."
"No, but he had the Society of Wizards helping him then," Morwen pointed out. "I'll bet that's how they learned about Shiara in the first place. I suppose this was his idea of revenge, although I've never seen the point of taking grievances out on people who had nothing to do with them except by chance familial ties."
"Wait, wait," Shiara protested. "Who's this Vamist person, and what does he have to do with Uncle Brandel - or me?"
Morwen and Telemain exchanged a look. "It's a long story," Morwen said,
"Christening curses," Shiara said with a sigh, flopping across the bed in her usual castle guest bedroom. "I don't think I even had a christening. I thought those were only for princesses."
"I don't think it was technically a christening curse," I told her, perching tentatively next to her on the bed. "Just similar in structure."
She sat up on the bed, hugging her knees to her chest. Strands of her red hair fell into her face; I narrowly resisted the urge to reach out and tuck them back behind her ears. "How much can you or the King do about these kinds of curses?" she asked.
"I'll have to ask Father," I said with a shrug. "It's not the sort of thing the sword is generally used for, I don't think."
"That's all right," she said, too hastily. "I don't want that sword anywhere near my magic again!"
I grinned. "We'll figure something out."
Shiara looked as if she were about to say something, then hesitated. "You know," she finally said, "we should probably start with the more...traditional methods of fixing this. From what Morwen told us, it sounds like the jerk who probably did this was big on tradition."
I shifted back a bit on the bed, to get more comfortable. "That's true," I agreed. "It would be silly to go looking for some complicated solution if there's already a quick fix built into the curse. Do you have any ideas?"
She smiled, almost shyly. A shy Shiara looks very nearly as odd as a malevolent hamster, let me tell you. "I thought...well, you know," she said. "Like when I was a statue."
My face felt very hot. "Oh," I said. "Right."
"It worked that time," she said quickly.
"But wouldn't... I mean, if that's all this would take, then why didn't I fix this curse, too, at the same time I turned you back from being statue?" It wasn't that I minded the thought of kissing Shiara again, because I didn't. At all. But if it didn't work, she might get angry at me.
Shiara shrugged. "There were too many other enchantments in the way, probably. But now there aren't."
I realized suddenly that her face was getting very close to mine. Nervously, I considered shifting away, but that would be rude. Wouldn't it? And it's not like I wanted to move away from her, anyway. "Um," I said. "Well, if you're sure you want to try this..."
"I want my magic back!" she said, rolling her eyes. "I'll try anything."
Well, that wasn't exactly a vote of confidence, and I almost felt insulted, but she was smiling at me again and her lips were - I decided to stop thinking about it.
The kiss was really, really nice. Well, I thought so, anyway. I mean, it's not like I'd ever kissed anyone before, except that last time, but Shiara had been a statue then, so that was different.
I would have liked to keep kissing her for a while, but the whole point of this was to break the magic-blocking curse, so I forced myself to pull away after a few long seconds. "Did it work?" I asked, feeling a bit breathless.
Shiara looked somewhat out of breath herself. "I don't know," she said, and suddenly there was a mischievous sparkle in her eyes. "We should try again to make sure."
I thought that was an excellent idea.
What with one thing and another, we sort of forgot about the christening curse for a while.
"You know," Shiara commented eventually, when we'd come up for air, "you really ought to look into your mother's fireproofing spell."
I blinked at her, totally at sea.
She ran her fingers through my hair. "You know what happens when fire-witches get angry?" I nodded. She grinned wickedly. "You should see us when we get worked up in...other ways."
I considered this for a second, then pulled Shiara in for another kiss. I figured it would be well worth the risk.