By the time dinner was served Gresh had made the acquaintance of a significant portion of the royal family of Dwomor—King Derneth II, Queen Alris, the king’s brother Prince Debrel, the king’s unmarried sisters Princess Sadra and Princess Shasha, and half a dozen of the king’s nine children, the others having been married off to the royal families of other kingdoms. Three grandchildren were also present, counting little Alris—known here, understandably, as Alris the Younger. One prince had a wife, recently brought from Yorbethon, and still clearly not entirely adjusted to her new surroundings.
Two of the absent daughters also reportedly had children, but those children, like their mothers, were elsewhere.
If nothing else, it was clear that there was no danger that the current dynasty would run out of heirs any time soon.
Unfortunately, only about half the royal family and a handful of retainers spoke any Ethsharitic, and not all of them were anything close to fluent, leaving Gresh unable to communicate with most of the company. He still tried to make the best impression he could, especially when he was presented to the king and queen.
He had to explain repeatedly that he was not a wizard nor an adventurer, merely a businessman.
All in all, he did not consider the evening a great social success; his unfamiliarity with the language put a damper on any attempt to strike up an intimate acquaintance with one of the local women, since he was not stupid enough to attempt to seduce a princess or anyone with a husband in evidence, and his other conversations all seemed to follow the same route while going nowhere.
The food was excellent, though—plentiful servings of well-seasoned roast beef, cabbage soup, stewed apples, and cherry compote. The wine was astonishingly good; when he remarked on it he was informed that Dwomor prided itself on its vineyards, and the only reason they weren’t better known was that they didn’t produce enough of a surplus for significant exports.
He did manage to conduct some business, after a fashion; he added Peren to his permanent list of suppliers and talked to several people about spriggan sightings in the area. He was surprised how few people had ever seen the little pests; a few even professed not to believe in the creatures at all.
That seemed very odd, given that the mirror was in the area. Rather than being attracted by Tobas’s magic, the spriggans seemed to be deliberately avoiding Dwomor Keep. There was clearly something going on here that he didn’t understand, and he wondered whether it was related to whatever secrets Tobas was keeping. If there really was a powerful countercharm of some sort in Tobas’s possession, such as Gresh had previously theorized, perhaps the spriggans feared it.
He had no hard evidence, though, and no one he spoke to seemed to know anything about it, so at last he dropped the subject.
When the meal was over the Lord Chamberlain, who turned out to be the thin old man who had first knocked on the sitting room door, took him aside. “We have arranged accommodations for you, sir; if you would follow me, I will show you to your rooms.”
At that Gresh realized just how tired he was. He had started the day in Ethshar of the Sands, spent more than half the day on the flying carpet, visited Ethshar of the Spices, arrived in Dwomor, and survived a royal supper, all of it after a rather poor night’s sleep. He was happy to follow the chamberlain to a pleasant apartment on the second floor.
All his luggage was still in the bottomless bag in Tobas’s sitting room, though. He mentioned as much to the chamberlain.
“I will see to it, sir.”
Gresh settled into a chair, planning to just rest his feet for a moment; he was awakened by a knock at the door, where he found a footman holding his bag. He accepted it with a polite remark that the man obviously didn’t understand, but the two of them exchanged bows, and then the footman went about his business, leaving Gresh alone.
Gresh considered his situation for perhaps two or three minutes. Then he made his way into the bedchamber, dropped the bag, pulled off his boots, blew out the candle, and fell into bed.
No crying infants disturbed him; no woman’s lingering scent troubled his dreams. He slept well and awoke refreshed and was not surprised to see, upon looking out a window at the angle of the sun, that he had slept long. The morning was well advanced, the sun high in the east.
He was hungry, but not ravenous, and decided that he would prefer not to eat breakfast in the same clothes he had worn to bed. He began emptying his bag. He was unsure how long he would be staying in Dwomor Keep, but he thought he might as well unpack thoroughly.
He had pulled out perhaps half the contents when a knock sounded at the apartment door. He answered it and found Tobas.
“Good morning,” the wizard said. “I hope I’m not disturbing you.”
“Not at all; I was just unpacking a little,” Gresh said.
“I see. I was wondering what your plans are for today. Will you be heading out to look for the mirror?”
“Actually, I would very much like to get a look at where the mirror first entered the World, and I was hoping you could fly me there this afternoon. I assume it won’t take very long to reach the area?”
Tobas hesitated. “The carpet can’t take you all the way,” he said. “I can get you to the general area and point out a few things— it’s perhaps an hour’s flight—but it isn’t a safe place to fly.”
Gresh stared at him. “Why not?” he asked, baffled. He remembered now that Tobas had said the center of Ethshar of the Sands wasn’t a safe place to fly, either. That part of the city was where the usurper Tabaea died. And this place in the wilderness was where Derithon’s flying castle had crashed. The all-purpose countercharm, if that’s what it was, was presumably involved.
“I can’t tell you that.”
Gresh glared for a moment, then said, “Fine. Get me as close as you can. Shall we meet at midday?”
“I’ll come find you,” Tobas said.
Tobas bowed, and turned away. Gresh watched him go, then closed the door of the apartment.
Whatever the secret was Tobas was hiding—well, first off, he wasn’t hiding it very well. Second—it appeared that whatever had been done in the mountains and in the overlord’s palace had after-effects. That was interesting—and did it have anything to do with the spriggans’ mirror?
He would probably find out that afternoon. He returned to unpacking his bag.
A few hours later he had sorted out his belongings, changed his clothes, stuffed a few carefully selected items in a small shoulder-pack, stuffed several others back in the bottomless bag, and had gotten lost wandering the castle corridors looking for a bite to eat. The servants he encountered did not include anyone who could make sense of his Ethsharitic or his gestures, but he eventually found himself directed to the Lord Chamberlain, who sent him back to his apartments with assurances that a tray would be sent up forthwith.
The tray did arrive—bread, cheese, wine, figs, and dried apricots— and he was licking the last of the sticky residue of the figs from his fingers when Tobas knocked on the door again.
After admitting the wizard, Gresh finished his glass of wine and re-corked the bottle, then grabbed his little pack. He took a moment to reassure himself that the bottomless bag was tucked out of sight; then he followed Tobas upstairs.
Ten minutes later the carpet rose from the platform outside Tobas’s apartments with the two men on it—and no women or children, nor any luggage but Gresh’s pack.
It seemed much roomier that way.
About forty minutes later they came swooping down over a forested valley, and Tobas said, “There it is.” He pointed at an impressive cliff ahead.
Gresh followed the pointing finger and saw the ruins at the foot of the cliff, barely visible among the trees. He blinked, and said, “Fly level, please.”
“We are flying level,” Tobas replied. “It’s the castle that’s crooked.” Then the carpet veered off, swooping up to the right.
Gresh turned his head to keep the castle in sight.
It was still some distance away, so he could not make out all the details, but he could see the tops of five towers and one gable end protruding above the treetops. As Tobas had said, the castle was crooked; the trees made that obvious, now that he was paying attention. The entire structure was tilted at a ridiculous angle; it was a wonder that any of the towers still stood.
The roofs were red tile, though streaked dark with dirt and moss; the walls were smooth stone, either off-white or a very pale yellow. Gresh was not sure which. It appeared to be a very simple structure, with no ornamentation or elaboration.
The carpet came around in a full circle, and Gresh realized they were descending into a clearing in the forest. “Are we landing?” he asked.
“Can’t we get closer than this?”
“Not safely, no.”
“Wait a minute, then,” Gresh said. He unslung the pack from his shoulder and loosened the drawstring, then began rummaging in it.
The carpet slowed and descended further, making another loop. The trees now hid the castle completely.
Gresh pulled Chira’s talisman from the pack and gestured over it, setting it to detect anything between a foot and half a foot in height, and taller than it was long. That, he thought, should limit it to spriggans. Squirrels and other such creatures should be longer than they were tall, at least when moving. He spoke the command that activated the device.
Nothing happened; the surface did not glow, and no markings appeared.
He reset it for all small creatures, as a test, and promptly located what appeared to be several mice, squirrels, chipmunks, and other animals. He switched the settings back, and it went dead again.
“What is that?” Tobas asked, staring.
Gresh looked up, startled. He had been so involved in working the talisman that he had not consciously noticed that the carpet was now on the ground, and Tobas was standing on it and looking down at him.
“Sorcery,” he said.
“You’re a sorcerer?”
“I know a sorcerer.”
Tobas did not seem entirely satisfied by that response, but before he could say anything more, Gresh said, “Can we get any closer to the castle?”
“On foot, certainly—we can walk right up to it. But it’s not safe to fly the carpet any closer.”
Gresh considered that for a moment, staring into the forest toward the castle, then shook his head. “Get us airborne again and move us around to the…” He glanced up at the sun, then at the disk in his hand. “…the east,” he said.
“Because the mirror isn’t in this area.”
Tobas started to ask another question, then stopped. He sat down and waved a hand, and the carpet rose. “You know, it’s only an hour’s walk to the castle from here,” he said. “We could visit it, if you want.”
“Why would I want to?” Gresh said. “Do you think the mirror might be in there?”
“No,” Tobas said. “In fact, I’m sure it isn’t.”
“Because the same thing that makes it unsafe to fly there would make the mirror…well, it would do something to the mirror?”
“Yes,” Tobas admitted reluctantly. “It wouldn’t work there. That was why I let the spriggans take it in the first place—I never thought they’d get it out of the… out of… away from the castle.”
“You have some kind of powerful countercharm there?”
“What? No, I… Not exactly.”
“But there’s something there that interferes with certain spells. And you used the same thing against Tabaea in the overlord’s palace in Ethshar of the Sands.”
“Not just…. Well, after a fashion.”
“Do you know which spells it stops? How certain are you it affects the mirror?”
“It prevents all wizardry,” Tobas said. “All of it. It doesn’t cancel out anything, or counter it, or reverse it— it’s just that no magical effects happen there.”
“So it didn’t break the enchantment on the mirror, when it was in the castle?”
“No. It just…suspended it, I suppose. And the Transporting Tapestry, and everything else. The carpet can’t fly there—it’s just a carpet. For that matter, I suppose Karanissa ages any time she’s in there—but the instant the mirror was somewhere normal, spriggans must have started popping out again. And the tapestry still works, the carpet flies, and Karanissa doesn’t age, as long as they’re somewhere normal. If I use the Spell of the Spinning Coin and then I go in there, the coin still spins—but I can’t spin one when I’m there, even if I immediately leave for someplace else. You do understand that this is a Guild secret and to reveal it may carry a death sentence?”
“You’re revealing it to me.”
“We’re on Guild business, and you’d already figured part of it out, and I can’t see any way to not tell you if you’re going to look for the mirror around here. I don’t think Kaligir would appreciate it if you wasted all his powders and potions by trying to use them in there.”
Gresh grimaced. “That’s a good point. Or even just wasting time searching the area, if you’re really sure the mirror can’t be in there.”
“I’m sure, believe me. No wizardry has worked there in four hundred years. There’s an entire town up on the cliff that had to be abandoned as a result.”
“Four hundred years?”
“I shouldn’t have said that.”
“So that castle—that was Derithon’s? And Varrin’s Greater Propulsion shut down when it came too close to whatever it is, and the tapestry stopped working, and that was how Karanissa was trapped in there?”
Tobas sighed. “Yes.”
“Does witchcraft still work there? Or sorcery?”
“Witchcraft definitely does; I can’t be entirely certain about sorcery, as I haven’t tested it, but I believe it does.”
“Karanissa might be useful to have along, then.”
“If we were going to the castle, maybe, but you just said we didn’t need to.”
“True. A good point.” Gresh stroked his beard thoughtfully, then glanced down at the talisman he still held. “Take us around… what do you call it? Is there a whole area here where wizardry doesn’t work?”
Reluctantly, Tobas admitted, “Yes.”
“What shape is it? Is it a line, or…?”
“Spherical. We mapped it out years ago; it’s a sphere close to two miles in diameter, centered on top of the cliff. That must be where he stood….” He stopped.
“Never mind. It’s a sphere, centered on top of the cliff.”
Gresh nodded thoughtfully. “Two miles. And in Ethshar of the Sands…?”
“None of your business. Much smaller.”
“Of course. And your plan for disposing of the mirror, the one you wouldn’t tell me—is to take it into that sphere and smash it?”
“Yes,” Tobas admitted. “And now that you’ve learned my secret, where did you want to go?”
“Oh, yes. Around to the east, along the edge of the…the sphere.” He looked down at the talisman. “Low and slow, please.”
He did not expect to find the mirror in the woods, of course; unless the spriggan had completely fooled him it was in a cave, not a forest, and in a mountain, not a valley. He did, however, want to find a spriggan or two. He hoped to backtrack some to the mirror, and he was also trying to figure out why so few ever reached Dwomor Keep. It might turn out to be important.
Or it might not matter at all. Now that he knew a little more about it, he had to admit that Tobas’s plan of taking the mirror into the no-wizardry area and smashing it sounded feasible. It was simple and direct, and he couldn’t see anything obvious that might go wrong.
They still had to find the mirror, though. He knew it was in a cave, in sight of a ruin, probably facing east, and at one time it had been in that ruined castle over there, so it seemed very likely that it was somewhere in the mountains just to the west—why would the spriggans have taken it any farther than they had to?
But you never knew, with spriggans. It might be twenty leagues away in Vlagmor; that might explain why so few spriggans troubled Dwomor.
For the moment, though, he intended to start with the area around the castle. He peered intently at the sorcerous talisman in his hand as the carpet sailed gracefully along, skimming the treetops.