“You mean,” I said, “exercising royal authority-” I had only recently managed to make myself into a passably competent wizard, and it would certainly be a challenge to become a competent substitute for a king.

The king smiled. “No, I wouldn’t really make you two act as regents. But I am serious about taking a vacation.”

The knights and ladies of the royal court were assembling in the hall. The queen came in, carrying the baby boy all of us considered the most important person in the castle. His nurse hurried behind, frustrated as usual because the queen kept stepping in to do things the nurse felt were her proper duties.

“So you finished up the last case?” said the queen, smiling at the king affectionately. She was less than half his age and the most beautiful woman I had ever met in my life. “I’m sure you handled them all with justice and wisdom!”

She set the little prince down on the flagstone floor. He crawled determinedly to the table, took hold of a table leg, and started cautiously pulling himself to a standing position. His face carried an expression of intense concentration.

The queen caught him just before he reached the table cloth. Holding onto one of her hands with both of his, the prince swayed a little but remained standing and gave a wide smile of triumph. He already had four teeth. “Dwrg,” he said.

“Did you hear that?” asked the queen in delight. “He called you ‘Daddy.’”

The king seemed happy to believe it. I decided not to mention that just the day before the little prince had looked directly at me and indubitably said, “Gizward.”

Above us, the brass choir began to play, and we went to our seats, the king at the head of the main table and the queen, with the prince in her lap, at the foot.

The king had said nothing to the queen in my hearing about a vacation. I glanced again toward the chaplain, whose place was directly across the table from mine. He gave a slight shrug, with no better idea than I. Could the king really be planning to leave Yurt?

Servants brought steaming trays from the kitchen, and we all began to eat, too hungry for more than minimal conversation. It was early summer when the days are longest, and yet the sun was setting outside. But as we reached dessert, people settled back more comfortably to talk. I sat at the table, as I always did, with the queen’s aunt on my right side and the king’s nephew on my left.

Dominic, royal nephew and presumptive heir until the birth of the baby prince, was built along the lines of a bear, large and solid. The layer of fat that had begun to replace his muscles did not conceal the fact that plenty of muscle still remained. Like a bear too, he moved slowly-these last few months especially-but there was always the suggestion that he could move very rapidly if he wanted to.

The Lady Maria, on the other hand, gave an impression of constant motion even when quite still. Although in the two years since I had come to Yurt her golden curls had turned a rather attractive ash gray, and she had given up lacy gowns for dark colors and severe styles, her manner still verged on the girlish.

“I’m always so impressed with King Haimeric when he gives judgment,” she told me. “He cuts right through to the truth!”

“He certainly had a complicated case this afternoon,” I agreed.

“I’m sure it’s a great help to him to have the assistance of a Royal Wizard at his side!” she added with a smile. “Our old wizard hardly ever assisted in legal affairs.”

The implied insult to my predecessor, I realized, was actually supposed to be a compliment to me. “I can claim no credit, my lady; the settlement today was all the king’s idea.” It was interesting to hear that my predecessor had not stood, as I had, through long afternoons of complicated quarrels. I could appreciate his point of view. Listening to dull court cases was not the challenge to my magical powers I had anticipated when becoming a royal wizard.

The old wizard, who had been Royal Wizard of Yurt for a hundred and eighty years before me, through five generations of kings, was still alive. He lived by himself with his magical roots and herbs in a little green house down in the woods. Although I had when I first came to Yurt negotiated a truce with him, which is about the best one can hope for between young and old wizards, and he had taught me some of his herbal magic, there were still a large number of things about him I did not know.

But the Lady Maria moved on to other topics. As dinner ended, people rose and stood talking around the fireplace. The evening air, coming through the hall doors laden with the scent of roses, was just cool enough to make the fire’s warmth welcome.

The king said to me, “How about some of your illusions to round out the evening, Wizard? I may not get a chance to see many more of them for a while.”

So he really did mean to go. As I put together the words of the Hidden Language to shape my spells and produced a few simple but effective illusions-a golden egg that pulsated with fire and hatched into a phoenix, and then a twenty-foot giant who strode the length of the hall while waving its club and roaring silently-I wondered how he could bear to leave. I couldn’t imagine wanting to go anywhere else.


And yet I also surprised myself by envying him. Wherever the king was going, he would see new people, new sights. Yurt was a wonderful place, but sometimes I had to admit, very quietly to myself, that it could be a little dull.

I went to talk to him the next morning. Every morning that the weather was fair King Haimeric spent a few hours in his rose garden outside the castle walls, weeding, pruning, trimming off faded blossoms, examining the bushes for slugs and insects, and planning which varieties to plant or breed next. It was hard to imagine the castle without the king in it. As I came across the drawbridge, I saw that the barred garden gate was swung open and could hear his and the queen’s voices at the far end of the garden. I proceeded slowly along the grassy paths, taking time to admire the roses.

Some bushes were tall and robust, others propped against tiny trellises. Some blossoms had scores of petals and were as big as saucers, while other bushes were covered with tiny blooms no bigger than my thumb nail. Every shade of white, pink, and red was represented. At the far end, where the voices came from, was a section of yellow roses. The king had begun his rose garden when a young prince, but he had only started on the yellows within the last eight or ten years. The mingled scents from the different blossoms was almost overwhelming.

I spotted the king and queen sitting together on a bench. He looked happy and not at all regal, with a broad- brimmed straw hat on his white head and grass stains on his knees. A bowl of cut roses and his garden shears were beside him. The queen had put the baby prince down on a blanket, but he kept crawling off it. As I watched, he reached for her skirts to try to pull himself upright. She reached down and lifted him into her lap with a smile of affection and maternal solicitude that made my heart turn over.

I had been in love with the queen since the first moment I saw her. As a mother, she seemed even more beautiful to me than ever. However, this was certainly something I had never felt appropriate to tell the king. For that matter, my feelings had also never been something to tell a woman so obviously in love with her husband as the queen-even if he was more than twice her age.

“I thought I saw you come in, Wizard,” said King Haimeric. “Come join us. We were just talking about our trip. And look at my new bush; the buds started opening today.”

It was one of his yellows, with pale blooms almost the color of parchment but tinged very delicately with red on the edges. I bent down to get a faint whiff of scent. “So where are you going?”

“To visit my parents,” the queen answered. “I think Baby Buttons here is old enough to travel safely.”

The castle without the queen in it would be even worse. “Why can’t your parents come visit us?” I asked.

The queen laughed. “They visited here last year, when their grandson was born. And you know they hate traveling. I think they got their fill six or seven years ago, going around the western kingdoms trying to find someone appropriate to marry me to-until I found someone myself!” with a smile for the king.

“I’m still a little concerned about my garden,” said the king. “You know, I’ve never been away from the roses in June. Some of the bushes haven’t bloomed yet, and I’m starting to worry about them.”

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