and Gwennie picked up and stroked a kitten. Dominic’s stallion gave us what I would have called a surly look, but when I lifted Paul up onto his back he made no movement, though the skin twitched all along his neck and side. The stables were very quiet, with the only sound that of tearing hay as the horse in the adjoining stall pulled off a mouthful.

“Now me,” said Gwennie.

“You want to get on the stallion too?” I asked in surprise. Gwennie, the castle cook’s daughter, was almost exactly the same age as Paul and would tag after him all day if her mother let her, but she had always seemed nervous around horses.

“Put her up behind me,” said Paul. “We can pretend we’re galloping across the high plains, trying to get there in time to win the treasure.”

I hadn’t heard the story of the treasure of the high plains before, but Paul was always coming up with something new. “Just be sure you sit very still while pretending,” I said.

For a moment, I left Paul to stay on the stallion’s back by himself and turned my magic to the girl. She was white-faced and sober, but when I hesitated, she said, “Come on!” as imperiously as the royal heir. I lifted her slowly and gradually, using the words of the Hidden Language to guide her over the stall gate and onto the stallion’s broad back. I set her down with her legs sticking straight out and her face whiter than ever.

The horse shifted uneasily, feeling the sudden increase in weight. Paul kept his balance without even thinking about it. Gwennie took a firm grip around his waist.

“Don’t be so frightened,” said Paul, not unkindly. “Now, we have to make it to the fortress by sunset, or it will be too late. The sun is setting fast! Come on, Whirlwind!”

This was not in fact the stallion’s name. I wasn’t even sure Prince Dominic had given it a name. Paul, riding across the high plains on Whirlwind, at least had the sense not to dig in his heels.

But Gwennie, wanting to show Paul she was not frightened, suddenly kicked the stallion in both flanks and let out a high whoop.

Dominic’s stallion jerked hard against his head rope, trying to rear. When the rope held him down, he lashed out with his heels against the wall. The wall gave a hollow boom, and the stallion kicked again.

Even Paul looked frightened. I held the children tight with magic and lifted them together, as rapidly as I dared without further startling the stallion. In a few seconds, they were out of the stall and back beside me.

I started to say something, to warn Gwennie that it was not a good idea to kick a high-strung stallion, bred to carry someone who weighed well over two hundred pounds. But I looked at her face and realized any warning of my own would be superfluous.

“We can continue the story of the treasure of the high plains up in the nursery,” Paul told her. His own color had come back almost immediately, but I was pleased that he showed no signs of wanting to continue the story on a horse’s back-at least, not yet.

The children were starting toward the stable door hand-in-hand, and I was trying to decide if the stallion, who had stopped kicking and merely gave me another surly look, was indeed all right, when the outer door opened, letting in daylight, a whirl of snowy air, and the constable.

Paul and Gwennie darted out, Paul giving me a conspiratorial grin over his shoulder.

“There you are, Wizard,” said the constable. “The queen said you were with Prince Paul, and I should have known you’d all be in here with his pony.”

We had in fact barely looked at Paul’s shaggy little pony while in the stables. “What is it?”

“You have a telephone call.”


A wizard looked at me from the base of the magic glass telephone. The call was from Zahlfast, the head of the transformations faculty at the wizards’ school in the great City. Even the tiny image of his face looked both irritated and worried.

“Have you heard from Evrard?” he asked without preamble.

“Evrard?” I said in surprise. “I haven’t talked to him in, what would it be, a year now. He was leaving on a trip.”

“Well,” said Zahlfast, “he hasn’t been in touch with the wizards’ school since he left, so I’d hoped you might know where he was.”

Now that I thought about it, it was somewhat strange that I hadn’t heard from Evrard in so long. Nearly eight years ago, he had briefly served as wizard to the duchess of Yurt, and although he had soon returned to the City we had always stayed in at least intermittent contact. “I would have thought he’d be back months ago,” I said.

“So would I,” said Zahlfast. “A wizard can normally take care of himself, but on a long trip to distant lands anything can happen.”

I had always been closer to Zahlfast than to any of my other former teachers at the wizards’ school, in spite of all that embarrassment with the frogs in his transformations practical exam. If he was worried, it was with good reason.

“Evrard told us at the school before he left that he’d try to keep in touch with Yurt. He’s been serving as wizard for, what is it, your king’s cousin?”

“My queen’s uncle,” I corrected. “Sir Hugo.” I paused then, trying to remember if the City nobleman in whose elegant household Evrard had been employed for the last few years was indeed her uncle, or perhaps a cousin once removed.

But Zahlfast did not give me time to try to work out the connection. “Well, your queen’s uncle’s wife-” He gave up and started over. “The lady whom Evrard served has just contacted us. She said that her husband, with a small retinue that included his wizard, have now been gone long enough that she’s become very worried. He sent her messages fairly frequently when they first left, but for some months now she’s heard nothing. And when she finally got a message from the East today, it wasn’t from him but from the governor’s office in Xantium. They said he’d signed in with them when he came through on his way east, but he’s never gotten back.”

I knew what he was about to say and thus why Zahlfast was irritated as well as worried. Everyone in the City knew that the school trained its wizards to serve mankind, and many people therefore felt that any favor they asked was a fair request.

“She asked us if we could find her husband. The governor’s office in Xantium had made it clear that they considered their duty done once they notified her he was missing, so she immediately thought of the school. Of course I told her we couldn’t search for a person hundreds or even thousands of miles away, past all the western kingdoms and even the eastern kingdoms. The school doesn’t even maintain contact with the wizards and mages east of the mountains. But we are worried about Evrard.”

I was touched. Evrard had never been a particularly good wizard-not even as good as me, a comparison from which most wizards would have flinched-but it was nice to see that the school was concerned about all its graduates.

“So I’d hoped you might have heard something, that they were fine but had decided to stay in a warmer climate until winter was over or something of the sort,” said Zahlfast. “But if you haven’t heard-and I think you’re the only person outside the household to whom any of them might have written-we may have to start trying to trace their movements from the Holy City, the last place from which they sent a message home.” He snorted. “School-trained wizards usually stay in the western kingdoms, and I certainly would have hoped any wizard had enough sense not to go on a pilgrimage.

I had forgotten that until he mentioned it. It wasn’t just an ordinary trip on which the queen’s uncle had gone. It had been a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

“A wizard has to go along wherever his employer needs him,” I said.

“I know, I know,” said Zahlfast. “Of course he had to go, but I still don’t like it. Well, if by some chance you do get a message from Evrard, let us know immediately.” And he rang off.

I stood by the silent phone for several minutes, tapping my fingers slowly. If Zahlfast had thought it worth

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