In Which Daystar Leaves Home and Encounters a Lizard
Mother taught me to be polite to dragons. Particularly polite, I mean; she taught me to be ordinary polite to everyone. Well, it makes sense. With all the enchanted princesses and disguised wizards and transformed kings and so on wandering around, you never know whom you might be talking to. But dragons are a special case.
Not that I ever actually talked to one until after I left home. Even at the edge of the Enchanted Forest, dragons aren’t exactly common. The principle is what matters, though: Always be polite to a dragon. It’s harder than it sounds. Dragon etiquette is incredibly complicated, and if you make a mistake, the dragon eats you. Fortunately, I was well trained.
Dragon etiquette wasn’t the only thing Mother taught me. Reading and writing are unusual skills for a poor boy, but I learned them. Music, too, and fighting. Don’t ask me where Mother learned to use a sword. Until I was thirteen, I didn’t know we had one in the house. I even learned a little magic. Mother wasn’t exactly pleased; but growing up on the edge of the Enchanted Forest, I had to know some things.
Mother is tall—about two inches taller than I am—and slender, and very impressive when she wants to be. Her hair is black, like mine, but much longer. Most of the time she wears it in two braids wound around and around her head, but when she really wants to impress someone she lets it hang straight to her feet. A lot of the disguised princes who stopped at our cottage on their way into the Enchanted Forest thought Mother was a sorceress. You can’t really blame them. Who else would live at the edge of a place like that?
Sometimes I thought they were right. Mother always knew what directions to give them, even if they didn’t tell her what they were looking for. I never saw her do any real magic, though, until the day the wizard came.
I knew right away that he was a wizard. Not because of his brown beard or his blue-and-brown silk robes—although no one but a wizard can walk around in blue-and-brown silk robes for very long without getting really dusty. It wasn’t even his staff. I knew he was a wizard because he had the same feel of magic that the unicorns and griffins have when you catch a glimpse of them, farther on in the forest.
I was surprised to see him because we didn’t get too many wizards. Well, actually, we’d never gotten any. Mother said that most of them preferred to go into the forest through the Gates of Mist and Pearl at the top of the Crystal Falls, or through the Caves of Fire and Night if they could manage it. The few that went into the forest in other ways never stopped at our cottage.
This wizard was unusual. He turned off the road and walked right past me without saying anything, straight up to our cottage. Then he banged on the door with the head of his staff. The door splintered and fell apart.
I decided that I didn’t like him.
Mother was cooking rabbit stew in the big black pot over the chimney fire. She didn’t even look up when the door fell in. The wizard stood there for a minute, and I sneaked a little closer so I could see better. He was frowning, and I got the impression he wasn’t used to being ignored. Mother kept stirring the stew.
“Well, Cimorene, I have found you,” the wizard said at last.
“It took you long enough,” Mother said without turning. “You’re getting slow.”
“You know why I am here.”
Mother shrugged. “You’re sixteen years too late. I told you, you’re getting slow.”
“Ha! I can take the sword now, and the boy as well. There is nothing you can do to stop me this time,” the wizard said. I could tell he was trying to sound menacing, but he didn’t do a very good job.
Mother finally turned around. I took one look at her face and backed up a couple of steps. She looked at the wizard for a minute and started to smile. “Nothing, Antorell? Are you sure?”
The wizard laughed and raised his staff. I backed up some more. I mean, I wanted to see what was going on, but I’m not stupid. He paused a moment—for effect, I think—and Mother pointed at him.
“Argelfraster,” she said, and he started to melt.
“No! Not again!” he screamed. He shrank pretty quickly—all but his head, which was shouting nearly the whole time. “I’ll get you, Cimorene! I’ll be back! You can’t stop me! I’ll—”
Then his head collapsed and there was nothing left but a little puddle of brown goo and his staff.
I stared at the puddle. All I could think was, I never knew Mother could do that. Mother let me stand there for a while before she told me to clean it up.
“Don’t touch the staff,” she said. “And don’t forget to wash your hands before you come to dinner.”
I went to get a bucket. When I came back, the staff was gone and Mother was stirring the stew as if nothing had happened. She didn’t mention the wizard again until the next morning.
I was out by the remains of our door, trying to fix it. I didn’t think my chances were very good. I picked up the hammer, and as I looked around for nails I saw Mother walk out of the Enchanted Forest. I was so surprised I dropped the hammer and nearly smashed my foot. Mother never went into the Enchanted Forest. Never. Then I saw the sword she was carrying, and if I’d still been holding the hammer, I’d have dropped it again.
Even from a distance, I could tell it wasn’t an ordinary sword. It was about the same size and shape as the one I practiced with, but it shone too brightly and looked too sharp to be ordinary. Mother brought it over to me and set it down on top of the boards I’d been working on. “Don’t touch it,” she said, and went into the house.
I had a hard time following Mother’s instructions. The more I looked at the sword, the more I wanted to pick it up and try a few of the passes Mother had taught me. It was such a beautiful weapon! Just looking at it made me shiver. But Mother always had good reasons for the things she told me to do, so I waited.
I didn’t have to wait long. She came back almost immediately, carrying a sword belt and a sheath that I’d never seen before. They were old—so old that the leather had turned nearly gray—and very, very plain. I was disappointed; the sword deserved something more impressive.
Mother went straight to the sword and put it in the sheath. She relaxed a little then, as if she’d been worried about something. Mother almost never worried. I started wondering just what that weapon did. I didn’t have much time to think about it, though. As soon as she had sheathed the sword, Mother turned and gave me her You’re-not-much-but-you’ll-have-to-do look. I started to worry.
Mother picked up the sword belt. “Thi...