doesn’t-or at least not immediately. But if it’s not dangerous, why was he concerned enough to write me?”

Joachim shook his head, with no better idea than I.

“The count’s castle is over at the eastern end of the kingdom,” I said, “so it must be quite near your hermitage. If we go together we can investigate both at the same time. All right, then,” turning to the constable without giving Joachim a chance to object. “Send the count a message to expect us. We’ll leave for his castle as soon as I tell the regent we’re going.”

If nothing else, this certainly solved the problem of what to do while waiting to hear from the king and queen.


We sat under a beech tree, eating bread and cheese. Our horses, their saddles off, grazed before us. If I had been going alone, it would have been faster to fly, but flying is hard mental and physical work, and I still wasn’t as good at it as a qualified wizard really ought to be. Besides, I was glad of Joachim’s company.

“You had been starting to tell me about this hermitage,” I said, brushing crumbs from my lap and leaning back against the tree trunk, which rose smooth and white above us.

“Yes, but I’m beginning to wonder if I am wrong to bring a wizard into the affairs of the church without consulting the bishop,” Joachim said slowly.

I was glad I wasn’t a priest. There seemed to be all sorts of things over which one could have moral dilemmas, none of which would have bothered me in the slightest.

“But perhaps it’s best that I have,” he continued after a moment, “for the hermitage has a magical creature of its own. The hermitage is built in a grove, at the source of a little river. There has always been a wood nymph living there.”

I sat up straight. “How very exciting! I had no idea we had a wood nymph in Yurt. I’ve never seen one before-I’ll definitely have to visit this grove. So how do she and the hermit get along? Is that what you’re going to investigate? I wonder if it’s the nymph who is annoying the count.”

He looked at me and looked away, seeming to find the idea of a wood nymph much less exciting than I did.

“The old wizard, my predecessor, must know about the nymph,” I continued. “I’ll ask him when we get home again. There’s a lot of the old magic of wood and earth that he knows but which they don’t teach at the school.”

“My investigations have nothing to do with the nymph directly,” said Joachim. “But with you along, it may be easier to deal with her if she appears-I’ve never seen a nymph myself. The bishop has sent me to the hermitage on a matter concerning the saint’s relics kept there.” This sounded dull again. But apparently it was not dull to the chaplain. “Why would the bishop send me on such an important commission?” he burst out.

I lay back again with my legs crossed, looking into the leaves above us. Very high up, hidden from view, a bird was singing gloriously. “You’ve been royal chaplain of Yurt,” I said, “what is it, five years now? And I know you were at the cathedral for a year or two after leaving the seminary, before becoming chaplain. The bishop has had plenty of time to see your abilities. Maybe he trusts your judgment more than that of the priests in his cathedral chapter.”

“If he’s giving me this kind of responsibility,” said Joachim gloomily, “I’m afraid he may even be thinking of making me a member of the cathedral chapter.”

I sat up abruptly. This gloom I could understand. “But if he did, you’d have to leave Yurt! How could you bear to leave the king and queen and the little prince?”

His huge dark eyes were turned toward me, but did not seem to see me. “That’s not the real issue. The issue is that I know I am not worthy of such an honor.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “I don’t understand. Why would it be such an honor to be a cathedral priest? I thought you had been one already.”

Joachim looked at me soberly. “You really don’t know how the church works, do you.”

“Not me! We wizards prefer to have as little to do as possible with the details of organized religion.” If I had been the chaplain, I would have rolled my eyes at me. So far, I had never managed to make Joachim roll his eyes, but I still had hopes.

“I’ll explain it to you again,” he said patiently. “I went from the seminary where I was trained, two kingdoms away from here, to the cathedral of Caelrhon, the cathedral that also serves Yurt. The bishop who headed my seminary knew the bishop here and recommended me to him. Young priests are always sent away from the dioceses where they are trained.”

“I already knew that,” I said promptly.

“But I was never a member of the cathedral chapter, just one of the many young priests attached to the church. Only the most senior and spiritual priests of the diocese are chosen to join the chapter.”

“But the bishop of Caelrhon appointed you Royal Chaplain,” I objected. “Isn’t that more of an honor than being a priest in his cathedral chapter?”

His eyes became intense and distant again, no chance now of getting him to roll them. “To serve the cathedral is a much greater honor and a much greater responsibility. As chaplain, I am only responsible for the souls of the royal court, but the bishop and his cathedral chapter must mediate between God and all the people of the twin kingdoms of Yurt and Caelrhon. I fear I do not have a heart and mind pure enough to take on such a burden.”

I wanted to ask who did, in that case, but he went on without giving me a chance.

“And at the same time as I think this, I am filled with doubt, whether it is only my pride that even makes me imagine the bishop has such a plan. If I were truly humble, I would take the duties God sends me without worrying either about a possible promotion or my ability to carry out those duties.”

“So leaving Yurt wouldn’t bother you,” I said, highly irritated. To me, having Joachim leave the kingdom permanently would be almost as bad as having the royal family leave. Apparently he saw it differently. “All that bothers you is some moral dilemma.”

Now his eyes did focus on me again. “I shouldn’t have tried to explain it to you,” he said stiffly. “I should have realized a wizard wouldn’t appreciate moral concerns.”

The bird had stopped singing. We resaddled our horses and rode on toward the count’s castle.

“It runs like a rabbit,” the count told us as we ate dinner. So far, I thought, this did not sound like a particularly frightening magical creature. The count was a little younger than the king, but not by much. He had the same wispy white hair but otherwise was built very differently, being round and jolly-looking. “But it’s much bigger than a rabbit-closer to the size of a fox, or even a small hound.”

“So you’ve seen it?” I asked, setting down my fork.

“I saw it yesterday, just once,” the count said, “but my men have seen it several times in the last two days. It has, how can I describe this, an unfinished appearance. It moves awkwardly, almost as though it was about to fall apart. But the strangest thing about it,” he paused, and I felt a cold finger touch the back of my neck, “is that instead of rabbits’ ears it has horns.”


“That’s right. Long, straight horns. Almost like a young sheep.”

I caught Joachim’s eye across the table. He frowned as though wondering if this could be something diabolical.

“And don’t forget to tell him about the strange sound it makes,” said the countess.

“What kind of sound?”

The count hesitated. “A strange sound. Not like you’d expect a rabbit to make, even a horned rabbit. It sounded almost more like an owl.” He turned slightly pink, then smiled half-apologetically. “I’ll make the sound for you.” He raised his hands to his mouth and gave a long, low hoot. An awkward cross between a rabbit, a sheep, and an owl should have seemed funny, but somehow it didn’t.

“What has it done so far?” I asked.

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