Although my curls were not golden, I actually realized it quite well, having the same problem-except that I didn’t have the wealth of experience either. Dominic’s wine glass was unfortunately placed; I was afraid I’d catch it with my elbow. I wondered if I dared use a lifting spell on the platter.

“Go ahead, see if you can guess my age,” she continued. I was tired of this topic, but she was just warming to it. “Come on, everybody, guess!”

“Twenty-five?” I said judiciously.

“My goodness, you’re getting close, but you’re still too low.” She laughed again. “Anyone else?” looking around the table.

Dominic looked toward us. “Pass the chicken, please,” I said quickly.

The chaplain, sitting across the table from me, had been following our conversation in silence. “Forty-eight,” he said, just as everyone else had stopped talking.

My companion blushed up to the roots of her hair (if she dyed her hair, she was careful; the roots were as golden as the rest). The chaplain resumed eating, and, after a brief embarrassed pause, so did everyone else. I reloaded my plate with more clattering of spoons than was strictly necessary.

“While you were in the City,” I said, “did you ever go on the tour of the wizards’ school? Did they show you the dragon in the basement?”

Conversation resumed around us. I glanced over again at the chaplain. I was afraid he didn’t have a sense of humor, which could be a problem for him if he was going to be friends with me, but on the other hand he didn’t seem to have any tact either, which could have advantages.

I don’t know why I kept expecting Dominic to be my enemy, but the burly royal heir was trying to be friendly. “There’s a story we’ve heard even out here,” he said, “that if you go far enough north, thousands and thousands of miles, you come to a land that’s nothing but dragons and other magic creatures. Is this true? A wizard came through once, to visit our old wizard, and he said he’d been there.”

“Oh, it’s real enough,” I said. “The magic is wild up there.” Other people were turning toward us, and I was enjoying the audience. “It’s the same magic we use, because it too grows out of the power that shaped the earth.” I caught the chaplain’s eye across the table and winked. He made no response.

“But the magic there is more primitive,” I continued, “not formed into the deep channels that generations of wizards have made for it down here. It’s a land of dragons, of giants, of unspeakable monsters. The air cart you saw me arrive in today”-I knew some of them must have been peeping at me from the windows-”is the skin of a beast from the land of dragons. Anything could happen there; it can be a highly dangerous place, even for those most experienced in wizardry.”

“Have you been there yourself?”

I had been hoping Dominic wouldn’t ask that. Of course I hadn’t been there. There had been a field trip from the wizards’ school, but only the best students were invited to go.

“I am not yet worthy of the voyage,” I said in what I hoped would be a mysterious voice. Surprisingly, the chaplain sat up straighter and fixed me with his enormous eyes at that. Several ladies further down the table smiled as though they saw right through me. “Has your old wizard ever been?” I said disingenuously, knowing the answer from what Dominic had said but wanting to make it clear that I at any rate had company.

“Not that he ever told us,” said the lady on my right, but much more uncertainly than I had expected. Several things several people had said about the old wizard made him seem like a more distant and more shadowy figure than someone should be who had lived in the court for years and even now, apparently, lived just outside the castle. I was both going to have to work on my own aura of shadowy mystery and visit him.

There was a clearing of a throat at the upper end of the table. Everyone felt silent at once. “Wizard!” said the king. “How are you finding Yurt? Do we have company to make up for the pleasures of the City?”

The chaplain might have said “No.” I instead answered only the first but not the second question. “I like it very much!” I said with perfect honesty.

“But already you’re worrying that the evenings will be quiet,” said the king with a smile. How had he known that? “This will be an incentive to you to work on our telephone system, so you can talk to your friends again.”

The disadvantage to studying wizardry, instead of religion, is that you don’t learn good curses. Everything you learn is in the powerful language of magic and will have an effect if you say it, even if the effect is not the intended one. I really didn’t want to propel King Haimeric and his talk of telephones across the hall and into the fire, so I couldn’t even think it. “The constable’s already mentioned that to me!” I said with cheerful noncommittal. If I already had a telephone, maybe I could call up some of my teachers, the ones who still liked me even at the end, and ask them how to put one in. But this line of thinking clearly was not going to get me anywhere. “Do the neighboring kingdoms already have their systems?”

“Ours will be the first in the region,” said the king proudly.


Dessert came at that point, providing a welcome distraction. A few minutes later, the king rose, and everyone rose with him. He left the hall, again on Dominic’s arm, presumably bound for bed. Some people stood talking, and others started to disperse. I touched the chaplain on the shoulder. “Would you like to go my chambers for a last glass of wine?”

He looked slightly surprised but nodded, and we walked together back out into the cobbled courtyard. The long summer evening was still lingering, and the air was like a caress on the skin. My magic lock was glowing softly. I pressed with my palm to open the door, then threw the casements open to let in the air.

The chaplain took a seat by the window, eyeing my diploma and books. I opened one of the bottles of wine I had brought with me. Tomorrow I would have to ask the constable about getting some of the local wine for my chambers; it was better than what I had been able to afford in the City on a student stipend.

“You seemed surprised that I asked you in,” I said as I handed him a glass. “Why was that? Were you and the old wizard enemies?” I knew at least that he would give me a direct answer.

“No, not enemies,” and he held the glass up to the light. “I trust this isn’t magic wine,” he said and smiled for the first time since I’d met him. He took a sip without waiting for the answer to what was obviously meant to be a joke. “But your predecessor resented religion. I don’t know whether he thought there shouldn’t be a court chaplain at all, or whether he thought that the fact that religion demands a higher standard of human behavior than does magic put him at a disadvantage. I have only been here three years myself, and clearly something happened between the old wizard and my own predecessor. I have never heard what it was; I had too much Christian tact to ask.”

“You didn’t have too much Christian tact to guess the lady’s age tonight!” I said with a laugh. If he could make a joke, so could I.

“The Lady Maria?” He considered for a moment. “Maybe it wasn’t tactful at that.” I began to wonder if he would be as good a person to talk to as I had hoped.

“Did the old wizard have these same chambers?” I said to change the subject.

“These chambers? No. In fact, I was rather surprised when I heard the constable was putting you here. The queen’s old nurse had lived here until she died last year; the rooms were then shut up until last week. The old wizard had his chambers in the north tower.”

I knew it. They weren’t taking me seriously. I could be ten times more powerful and mysterious in the north tower than in the old nurse’s chambers!

As though reading my thoughts and wanting to contradict them, the chaplain said, “Everyone was enormously impressed when a wizard trained in the great school answered the constable’s ad. The queen started talking at once about a telephone system.”

“Why a telephone, in the name of the saints?” I cried, using an exclamation I trusted he would understand.

He lifted his eyebrows at me. “The queen has found telephones extremely convenient the times she has been in the City. She thought that if we had a system here, she could phone here and talk to the king wherever she is, in the City or visiting her parents, rather than having to rely on carrier pigeons.”

The queen was clearly an important presence here in Yurt. I wondered if she could possibly be as old and

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