himself occupied. Either that, the thought struck me with depressing force, or else the castle’s main source of mature wisdom was going to have to teach him some.

But my first thoughts the next morning were not for Paul. “My, uh, my niece would like to visit me here at the castle, my lady,” I told the queen mother. “That is, if it’s all right with you.”

She looked at me, puzzled, her head cocked to one side. “I don’t think I knew you had a niece, Wizard.” I willed her to understand though not daring to say more. The queen knew about Antonia-or should. “How old is the girl?” she asked.

“She’s five.”

The queen blinked, long lashes over emerald eyes. The matronly mother of the king, she was still the most beautiful woman I had ever met, much more lovely than Theodora although with none of her intelligence and wit.

“Oh,” said the queen in sudden comprehension. “Of course, Wizard. We would be delighted to have your, uh, your niece visit the castle. The duchess’s daughters will also be visiting this week, although I myself will be away. Does the girl have a nurse of her own or should I ask the constable to engage one for her stay?”

“Oh, she won’t need a nurse,” I said. And I hurried up to the pigeon loft to send Theodora a message that I would be coming in two days to see her and pick up our daughter.

Theodora lived, as she had since I first met her, in the cathedral city of Caelrhon, in the next kingdom over from Yurt. She had Antonia all dressed in a new blue dress when I set the air cart down in the narrow street outside her house two mornings later. The air cart was the skin of a long-dead purple flying beast, which would still fly if given magical commands. I tethered it to a ring by the door and ducked inside.

“I’m all ready,” said Antonia gravely. “I packed my bag all by myself.”

I hugged her and kissed Theodora, who sat at her sewing. She gave me a one-armed embrace but did not get up. Her curly nut-brown hair was even more tousled than usual. “We don’t have to leave right away,” I said.

Theodora used her teeth to rip out some basting thread. “I’m supposed to have these dresses ready by tomorrow,” she said distractedly. “I’m glad you’re taking Antonia now.”

“But I could help you pin seams,” said the girl. “I’m very good at pinning seams,” she explained to me as though it were a great secret.

Theodora smiled. “I know you are. But go with the wizard. They’ll all think you’re beautiful in your blue dress when you reach Yurt. Aren’t you looking forward to living in a castle for a week?”

It was the castle that decided it for Antonia. She had never been to Yurt. She marched out toward the air cart, then darted back in to grab her bag and, somewhat belatedly, kiss her mother good-bye.

Theodora kissed me too. “I’ll see you both next week. She really is a good girl, Daimbert,” she added, “but make sure she gets enough sleep. She’ll keep herself awake for hours if you let her.”

And so, rather abruptly, rather than having a pleasant day with the woman I loved, I found myself leaving for home with the daughter with whom I had never before spent more than brief periods alone. A moderately skilled wizard, with access through the Hidden Language to the same forces that had shaped the earth, I felt at a loss before this serious-eyed young girl. I wanted this to be a wonderful week, an opportunity to gain the affection and confidence of someone who might not even be certain I was her father.

Boys I thought I knew about, from memories of my own childhood and from watching Paul grow up, but girls, I thought with something approaching panic, must be different. It was all very well for Theodora to say that she needed to get to bed on time, but what was involved in getting a girl to bed? Nightgowns and toothbrushes, I was sure, played a role in this, but how about her hair? Did I brush it? Was I supposed to rebraid it at night or in the morning? And did I even have the slightest idea how to braid hair?

I lifted Antonia into the air cart, climbed in myself, and gave the command to lift off. Her self-possession cracked for a moment as the cart rotated and rose above the twisting streets of Caelrhon. She clutched my leg and looked up at me-was it supposed to sway like this? When I smiled and the air cart’s flight leveled out, she smiled back, reassured.

She stood on tiptoe to look over the edge as we soared above the construction for the new cathedral and across the green hills toward Yurt. Our shadow darted up and down the slopes below us.

“When I grow up and become a wizard I’m going to be able to fly like this myself,” she said confidently. This had been something else I had been hoping to discuss with Theodora today-the question of when and how the daughter of a wizard and a witch should start learning magic. “Why do you think Mother always makes me wear blue?” she added.

“Because it looks so good with your eyes,” I suggested. Antonia’s eyes had in fact never changed color, remaining a brilliant sapphire blue.

“I don’t think so,” she said, thinking it over. “I think it’s only because Mother’s own favorite color is blue. My favorite color is yellow. What’s yours?”

“Blue,” I said, thinking I would have to buy Antonia something yellow to wear.

I had expected that she would sleep on the couch in the outer room of my chambers, but Gwennie would not hear of it. “A little girl alone with a wizard?” she said. “You’d probably have a nightmare and turn her into a frog by mistake. Of course, you’d be very sorry in the morning, but think how she’d feel!”

Antonia, holding my hand, looked up at me and laughed, but with the slightest questioning look, as though wondering if Gwennie was right and she might unexpectedly find herself an amphibian.

I had the vague feeling that Royal Wizards in other kingdoms were treated with more awe and respect than to be accused by the castle staff of doing transformations by accident. “I wouldn’t do anything to harm her, Gwennie,” I tried to argue. This would have been easier if I had dared tell anyone Antonia was my daughter, but the queen was the only person in the castle who knew. “And you can’t very well put a little girl like this in a room by herself.”

“I sleep in a room by myself at home,” Antonia piped up.

Gwennie, daughter of the cook and the castle constable, had been destined for the kitchens by her mother, but herself had always intended to replace her father. Indeed, since her father had been so sick the past winter, she had taken over more and more of his duties, supervising the other servants, arranging accommodations for visitors to the castle, and keeping the accounts and the ledgers. Senior members of the staff had smiled indulgently, assuming it was only a temporary situation. Knowing Gwennie and her determination, I knew better.

“I’ll put her in the suite with the duchess’s daughters,” she announced, forestalling further argument-besides, the duchess’s daughters probably knew all about hair brushing. “They’ve just arrived, and they were very interested to learn you had a niece. And I’ve already told you, Wizard,” she finished loftily, “that in carrying out my duties I prefer the name of Gwendolyn.”

The duchess’s twin daughters, three years younger than King Paul, were delighted when I brought Antonia’s little bag to their suite-a doll’s smiling face poked out of the top of the bag. “We already said we could take care of the girl,” the twins told me. “So you don’t need to worry about your niece at all, Wizard. Oh, Gwennie, before you go, we’re going to need more towels.”

“Of course, my ladies,” she said with a respect she never showed me.

“We know an old man, set in his ways, doesn’t want youthful female companionship!” they added, going into giggles that I found highly inappropriate.

Antonia held onto my hand, looking up at them gravely. They had grown into handsome women in the last few years. Both the twins had inherited their father’s height, being very tall, but physically the resemblance between them stopped there. Hildegarde was blond like her father, whose principality she would someday inherit, and Celia was slim and dark-haired like her mother, after whom she would one day be duchess of Yurt. They had always shared a unanimity against outsiders, which when they were little had even taken the form of a secret language, but I had the feeling that as they grew up their personalities had begun to diverge.

“What an adorable little girl,” said Hildegarde. “It’s hard to believe she’s related to you, Wizard.”

“Where did you get those big blue eyes, sweetheart?” asked Celia.

“I was born with them,” said Antonia very seriously, which made both the twins start laughing again.

“I’d better warn you, Wizard,” said Hildegarde with a grin for her sister, “that if you leave the girl with us too

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