long Celia may make her into a nun, of much too pure a mind to want to associate with some magic-worker.”

“And who was it,” Celia shot back with an answering grin, “who was saying just today how much fun it would be to teach a little girl to use a sword?”

Antonia looked up at me again. “I haven’t seen any swords yet,” she said in anticipation. “Will I see a dragon too?”

“I’ll keep the girl with me though dinner,” I said and escaped.

As we walked back across the courtyard, Antonia asked thoughtfully, “Do you love other ladies besides my mother?”

“Of course not!” I replied, shocked.

“Those ladies are very pretty,” she said in explanation.

I had tried to tidy my chambers for her arrival, but she immediately clambered onto my desk and started leafing through papers, telling me she was looking for good magic spells. When I lifted her down and threw the papers into a drawer she crossed straight to my bookshelves and started to climb, working the toes of her small shoes in between the volumes.

“Here, I want to show you something interesting,” I said quickly, taking hold of her again and planting her in a chair. “And, Antonia, I don’t want you on my shelves.”

“But Mother likes to climb,” she objected.

“Not on shelves. It’s very dangerous. She’ll be angry at me if you hurt yourself.”

“What are you going to show me?”

“A unicorn,” I said, throwing the spell together as quickly as I could.


And so I spent much of the afternoon working a series of magical illusions that I hoped would amuse a girl. She watched very seriously without commenting at all, but she did snuggle up next to me while I told her a few stories from my experiences in the fabled East and in the borderlands of the wild northern land of magic. However, she kept being disappointed at the absence of dragons in my stories.

“We’ve only ever once had a dragon here in Yurt,” I said, “years and years ago, before the king was even born. It almost killed me.” For a number of reasons, I did not think the details appropriate for her.

But instead of asking me more, she jumped up, listening with an eager expression. “I hear a swordfight!”

My heart gave an abrupt thump, but the faint sound of swords during the day, carried into the castle from outside, was perfectly normal. “Someone’s practicing,” I said. “Do you want to go see?”

Antonia ran ahead, chestnut-colored braids bouncing against the back of her blue dress. On the grass outside we found King Paul and Hildegarde, fencing with swords and light shields.

In a leather tunic and men’s leggings, her long blond hair tied back and eyes flashing, Hildegarde had a magnificent figure. She was as tall as the king, well muscled but not the least bit unfeminine. I would have found the sight of her before me highly distracting, but Paul apparently did not. He concentrated on his fighting, moving lightly, landing all his blows on her shield while deftly parrying the strokes she rained less discriminately on him. For ten minutes they circled each other, fighting while more and more of the staff came out of the castle to watch.

Very good,” the king said as Hildegarde got an unexpected advantage for a moment and forced him to retreat a few steps. “But don’t drop your defense,” he continued, his sword moving constantly as he spoke. “Because if you do-” and with a sudden twist he jerked the blade from her hand.

Antonia was watching open-mouthed. I doubted a seamstress’s house in town offered anything like this much excitement. Hildegarde dipped her head and lowered her shield. “That stung,” she said, flexing the fingers of her sword hand. “I think you got in a lucky blow.”

“In part, of course, I did,” said Paul, pushing back sweaty hair and ignoring his audience. “I’ve had a lot more experience. But in part I’m just stronger than you are. Your footwork is fine, your stamina is fine, and your reach is longer than a lot of men, but you just don’t have the upper-body strength you’d need.”

“Father keeps telling me the same thing,” she said glumly, retrieving her sword.

Paul smiled and put an arm casually across her shoulders, as though she had been a youth in knighthood training rather than a stunningly well-constructed young woman. “I think it’s time we got cleaned up for dinner. I’ll try to think of some exercises for you to build your muscles.”

At dinner my daughter demonstrated excellent manners, sitting beside me with a copy of Thaumaturgy A to Z bringing her up to table level. Afterwards I took her to the twins’ suite-Hildegarde had been transformed back into a modestly-attired aristocratic lady for dinner-and told them to make sure Antonia got to bed soon.

King Paul was waiting at the door of my chambers when I returned. “I’d like to talk to you, Wizard,” he said, frowning.

Good. This was my opportunity to impart some wisdom-if I could only think how to tell my liege lord diplomatically that he had been behaving like a fool. Acting in front of the staff as if he did not notice that Hildegarde was not a boy was perhaps insufficient cause for comment by itself, but I hadn’t forgotten him allowing the watchman to attack him in good earnest. I pressed my palm against the magic door lock and let him in, leaving the door open since it was such a pleasant June evening.

Paul flopped down on my couch and stretched long legs out before him. “You know, Wizard,” he said, “sometimes it seems that you’re almost the only person in the castle not trying to get me married.”

“Married?” This was certainly a different topic.

“My Aunt Maria and half the ladies in court seem to bring the topic up every day. Mother’s the worst, of course.” Even his frown could not obscure the fact that Paul was extremely handsome, golden-haired, superbly muscled, with his mother’s emerald eyes and ready smile and his own grace and confidence in everything he did. “For the longest time she was trying to marry me to the daughter of King Lucas of Caelrhon. Not that Mother-unlike Aunt Maria! — ever said anything explicitly. But have you noticed how many times in the last year the little princess has been invited to the castle? And there were always hints, suggestions that now that I was king it was time to start giving some thought to the heir who would one day be king after me.”

“And you don’t like the princess?” I asked.

“There’s nothing to like! I’m sure she’ll be fine when she grows up, but it’s quite a stretch calling her a woman rather than a child. How could I possibly be interested in someone like that?”

“It would certainly make sense to your mother,” I suggested, “forging anew a dynastic tie between the twin kingdoms of Yurt and Caelrhon. After all, her own husband is the younger brother of King Lucas.”

Paul pulled a jeweled-handled knife from his belt and flipped it into the air, caught it, flipped it up and caught it again. I had never been quite sure how much he approved of his mother’s second marriage, but that was not what was bothering him now. “I thought a king was supposed to be able to do whatever he wanted,” he said gloomily. But then he abruptly smiled for the first time since entering my chambers. “But I can keep on with my horses. I’ve got a dozen foals sired by Bonfire now, and I’m going to backbreed some of the fillies to him. The stables of Yurt will one day be famous.”

“And you’ve been able to do a lot for educating the children of Yurt.” I knew that Paul had, from his own resources, laid out a great deal in addition to the amount the royal treasury had always expended on books and teachers’ salaries in the schools scattered across the kingdom.

He waved this away as barely worth mentioning. “I guess I just don’t want to feel that everyone considers me a stallion myself, interesting only if I’m fathering the heir to the throne.”

The topic of fatherhood always made me feel as though my ears were burning. Traditionally wizards neither marry nor have children, being considered wedded to institutionalized magic. Although I had managed to carry on as Royal Wizard of Yurt in the five years since Antonia was born without either Paul or the wizards’ school learning she was my daughter, this was a charade I could not continue indefinitely. Part of my decision to bring Antonia to Yurt was a vague feeling that once she was here I might find a way to resolve the issue.

The king did not seem to notice my confusion. “I think I finally made Mother understand that I’m not about to

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