“We’ll leave you alone now,” said the constable. “But dinner’s in an hour, and then you can meet some of the rest.”

I had seen faces peeping out of windows as we went back and forth with the luggage, but no one else had come to meet me. While I unpacked my clothes, I tried gloomily to think of plausible excuses why Yurt could not possibly have a telephone system. Nearby antitelephonic demonic influences and the importance of maintaining a rustic, unspoiled lifestyle seemed the most promising.


Dinner was formal. Freshly washed and brushed but still wearing my red and black velvet, I was led by the constable out across the courtyard and to the castle’s great hall. On the way out, I stopped to put a magic lock on the door to my chambers, a lock that would recognize only my own palm print. It took me only a second, even though it’s fairly complex magic; I had needed it on more than one occasion in the City, living among an unruly group of other wizardry students. The constable was impressed, as I knew he would be; that’s why I had waited to do it until he came back.

We walked under a tall archway, through studded doors that looked as though they stood permanently open in the summer, into a hall whose high roof was four stories above us. The walls were hung with brightly-colored pennants, and a cheerful fire burned in the great fireplace at the opposite end, in spite of the warmth of a summer evening. The room was well-lit by a series of suspended globes. I peeked at them surreptitiously as we advanced across the flagstones, and my opinion of my predecessor went up; I didn’t think I could make magic lamps that burned so well.

A group of people waited at the far end of the hall, made to seem almost insignificant by the height of the room. Their talking faded away as we approached. My attention went of course to the throne, pulled close to the fire, where a stooped-shouldered, white-haired man watched me coming with surprisingly sharp eyes. The velvet of his ermine-decorated robes was even more brilliantly red than my pullover.

“His majesty, King Haimeric of Yurt!” announced the constable. “Sire, I wish to present the new Royal Wizard.”

I did the full bow in the proper stages, first the dipping of the head, then the wide-spreading of the arms, then the drop to both knees with my head still lowered. They had taught us etiquette in the first few weeks after we arrived at wizards’ school, while I was still attending all classes.

“Rise, Wizard, and advance to the throne.” The voice was thin and quavery, but the eyes regarded me shrewdly as I lifted my head. I came toward him, holding out my hands palm up. He placed his hands on top of mine; they were dry and so light I almost didn’t feel them. “Welcome to Yurt.”

This seemed to end the more ceremonial part of the introductions. The constable now came forward and began introducing the rest of the party. There were a number of knights and ladies and two boys. The queen, it turned out, was not there, having gone to visit her parents. “I wonder how old they can be!” I thought.

The most important person there, after the king, was Dominic, the king’s nephew and, I presumed, the royal heir. He didn’t look like someone you’d want for an enemy. His golden hair had gone sandy with the first streaks of grey, and his once doubtless heavily-muscled body was pushing out his tunic in places where muscle didn’t grow. But there was a hard look about the eyes and a twist to the lips that made me glad he didn’t seem to resent me.

After Dominic came an assortment of other knights, ladies, and more distant royal relatives, none of whose names I caught. The boys, it seemed, were there to be trained in knighthood. I did the formal half-bow to each of the men and the full bow to the ladies. “He looks, so-young!” I heard one of the ladies whispering to another. She was very young herself, but I feared it was not a compliment.

Last came the chaplain. Even though he was young, probably no older than me, he had a maturity about him that made my own two-inch beard seem rather trivial. He had a gaunt face, enormous black eyes, and a mouth that looked as though it rarely smiled. In short, he looked like a good chaplain should look.

I wrung his hand with enthusiasm. His was the only hand that was offered for me to shake. His responding squeeze was both stronger than I had expected and much stronger than my own. “I’m delighted to meet you,” I said and meant it. Calculating quickly, I decided he was the only person in the court I would be able to talk to, really talk to, about interesting topics. I was used to a social life in the City and had no intention of spending every evening with my books if I could help it. Priests and wizards traditionally do not have cordial relationships, but I never let something like that stop me. “I hope we can become closest friends.”

He looked a little taken aback, which I thought of as a good sign; at least he was paying attention to me. But he only said gravely, “I hope so. I regret that I never enjoyed a particularly amiable friendship with your predecessor.”

While I was being introduced, servants in blue and white livery had been setting up the two long tables. The king now rose from his throne, leaned on Dominic’s arm, and led the rest of us to dinner. As he reached the table, a brass quartet, on a balcony above us, began to play. I thoroughly approved. Several of the other young wizards had left to take their posts at about the same time as I, and although all of them had bigger kingdoms, I was sure none were as charming.

The king’s party, consisting of his relatives, the other knights and ladies, the chaplain, and me, sat at one table, with the king at our head, while the constable and his wife took the head and foot of the other table. The brass quartet changed to a different, even livelier, tune, and through the arch at the far end of the hall came more servants in procession, carrying huge steaming platters. They served the king a portion from each, placed the platters on the table, and stood back. He took a bite of the fowl, looked up, and nodded. The music came to a close with an abrupt flourish, the servants all rushed, smiling, to sit down at the constable’s table, and in a moment the trumpeters joined us, laughing and wiping off their instruments. The platters were passed up and down. I took much bigger helpings than anyone else.

Conversation at our table tended to be rather refined, but at the other table, the constable and his wife, the servants, and the trumpeters were talking and joking. I tried to keep my attention both on my neighbors at table and on what the servants were saying. They were talking about the day’s events, work done, fields almost ready for haying, news from the forest, gossip about someone they all knew who had been away but might be back soon. It was insider conversation, where each only had to make a passing reference to something before the others all knew what he or she meant. I wondered how soon it would be before I too knew without even thinking what they were talking about. This was, after all, my kingdom.

At my own table, of course, everyone was well-schooled in manners and was explaining things for the benefit of the outsider, me. “One becomes so aware of the agricultural cycle out here,” the lady at my right was saying. I dragged my attention back to her from a pretty servant girl at the next table who had given me a saucy look over her shoulder, while chewing enthusiastically on a drumstick. Wizards, like priests, never marry, but unlike priests we’re allowed to look at girls.

“All our food, or almost all, is produced right on the castle estates. At this time of year they’re winnowing the cockerels out of the young fowl, so we’ll have chicken very regularly. I hope you don’t miss the greater choice of the City.”

“Well, this is delicious,” I answered, wiping my lips and wondering if I could reach the platter or if I would have to interrupt Dominic in his conversation with the lady on his far side to get him to pass it.

“I spent three seasons in the City myself when I was younger, much younger.”

“Then you must have been an infant,” I said gallantly. I slid my hand nonchalantly to the left along the table, calculating the distance. I guessed her as perhaps half again my age, in spite of the big pink ribbons with which her braids were looped and the myriad flowers and flourishes of lace on her gown.

“On, no,” she said with a tinkling laugh. “I’m so much older and wiser than you might think. I may have kept my youthful looks, but they conceal a wealth of experience. You may not realize it, but it can be a serious disadvantage to still have golden curls when one has passed twenty summers. It’s so hard to be taken seriously!”

Вы читаете A Bad Spell in Yurt
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату