Elementals had created most of the turmoil before him. As he approached, the wizard watched with awe the elephant dance that they were still performing.
“What have I done?” he asked himself. “How did I ever manage to accomplish it? Ardneh himself could hardly … but wait.”
Karel assumed the elementals were the same ones he had created many days ago, now revivified and stalking the plain before him and the nearby hills, diverting the little river from its proper channel. But if these were indeed the same elementals, someone had really been working on them, had salvaged and reenergized them from the entities that Karel had left dying, like so many smoldering fires buried in the earth. They were now bigger, more powerful, more sharply defined, and closer to sentience than any that Karel had ever managed to raise before.
He rode a little closer to the turmoil, until his steed began to grow restive at the mumbling and the rumbling in the earth. Then he stopped and looked matters over again. Now he could be certain that this was not the work of the one who called himself the Master. He hadn’t really thought it was, but But now he could let out a long, faint, quivering breath of
And now someone-the figure of a wizened little old man, clad in a peculiar stage-wizard costume-was standing a few meters to Karel’s right and waving at him.
Karel had been looking forward to this encounter. He turned, nodding to himself. Beth and Stephen had done a good job of describing the apparition. The image was really very good, though slightly transparent along the edges.
The lips of the figure moved. “Karel, Karel!” it rasped at him in its old man’s voice. “You must help me!”
“Yes, I will help.” The magician who was seated on the riding-beast shook his head and pulled at his gray beard. “Do you know, some of this is my fault… I know who you are, by the way, though it is not easy to believe.”
“I know who you are, too, Karel. Who cares about that?” Now the voice sounded angry, and frightened, too. “Go back home if you can’t help me. Can’t you help?”
“I will help. I see that things are starting to get away from you here. But be calm, you have done marvelously well, considering everything. These elementals have doubtless saved your life, and others’ lives as well. But now they’re turning dangerous to you. Dangerous even to your-”
“Help me, then! Help me!”
And Karel did.
It took the experienced wizard even a little longer than he had anticipated to soothe and quell the elementals down into quietude, for their rebellious power had grown great. But eventually even their gargantuan energies had been tamped and dampened back within the earth. The local clockwork of the world was ticking on reliably once more. The image of the ancient-looking wizard in the unintentionally comic dress had disappeared, and Karel did not expect ever to encounter
Once the job of settling the elementals was done, Karel remounted his riding-beast-the animal, relatively experienced though it was in these matters, required some soothing first-and proceeded on his way.
The unruly portion of the world had quieted-if it had not exactly gone back to its original conformation-and the local geography was once again almost completely stable. Almost, because Karel could see the farm still there ahead of him, and he knew from past experience that the farm had a way of its own with geography. He was not really surprised to see it right before him now, though the last time he had seen it (under quite different circumstances) it had been many kilometers from here.
When he reached the tall gate, with its green wreaths of vine and its decorations of horn and ivory, he found it unlocked. That was no more than Karel had expected. He rode on in, remembering to close the high gate carefully behind him lest any of Still’s livestock wander out. Here on the farm you always had to keep such practical matters firmly in mind.
As Karel approached the house he saw that he was expected, which by now came to him as no surprise. Outside the front door, two people were standing waiting for him. The first of these, to Karel’s great relief, was young Zoltan. The boy looked older than when Karel had seen him last, and a bit banged about and bruised, but essentially unharmed. Zoltan was dressed in clean farmer’s garb, and his half-curly hair was damp as if he might just have had a bath. He was holding a piece of pie in his fist, and his mouth was full.
Bulking beside Zoltan was Ben of Purkinje, still grimy and smeared with dried blood as if he had just come from a war. Ben was looking somewhat confused-Karel, remembering his own first visit to the farm, could sympathize. Ben welcomed the appearance of Karel as that of a familiar face in a strange land.
As Karel dismounted he smiled reassuringly at Ben. When the first round of greetings was over, he told the huge man: “There is magic, Ben, and then there is magic. Not all of it is accomplished with a chant and a waving of the arms. Not all of it turns parts of the world upside down.”
And then the Stills themselves were coming out of the house, and Karel spent some time in the joyful task of greeting his old friends in the way that they deserved. He showed them great respect, and also some of the envy that he could never help feeling when he visited here.
The Stills were prompt to assure him that Prince Mark himself was safely on his way to join them and would be arriving at the farm presently.
And now one more figure, a small one, had appeared in the open doorway of the house. Prince Adrian stood erect, looking at Karel with clear blue eyes; and then he somewhat shyly held out a hand in greeting. Karel was much moved. He half genuflected as he grasped the child’s hand and muttered something.
A minute later the gathering had adjourned to the kitchen- something that always seemed inevitable in this household- and everyone but Mother Still was seated at the table while she bustled around it, dealing out heavy plates and cups. A feast was rapidly taking shape before them.
Ben, who had stopped at the sink first to wash the stains of combat from his arms and face, was marveling at the seeming ease with which these preparations were being accomplished. Karel caught his eye, and said to him in an aside: “Whatever the task on this farm, working or fighting, it will be done well and quickly if someone works at it. That is the secret magic that these people have.”
Ben smiled vaguely, wanting to be reassured, not really understanding as yet. It took most people several visits, Karel had observed.
Adrian had been listening. “And it works for reaching the farm, too,” the child said. “Don’t forget that. My father is going to find it, because I’m here, and he’s really working at finding me.”
It seemed to Karel that the preparations had hardly started, the last clean plate dealt out on the table, before Mother Still was announcing mat the feast was ready and taking her own chair at the table. At that point conversation was abandoned for a time except for the terse courtesies mat were required to maintain a flow of serving dishes from hand to hand around the table.
Everyone took part in the cleaning-up that followed, and again it was all done almost before the visitors were sure that it had started. Each of them felt faintly disappointed that there had not been time for him to contribute more.
And then the party were all seating themselves in the parlor, and Farmer Still was lighting the lamps there against the first lowering of the shadows outside.
When Mother Still had established herself comfortably in her rocking chair with her knitting, she turned at once to Karel across the table and asked him: “Tell me, are you blood kin to the Princess Kristin? Or are you this child’s relative by marriage only?”
“Indeed I am blood kin. The mother of the Princess was my sister.”
“That explains it, then.” Nodding with satisfaction, the goodwife rocked her chair and shooed away the calico cat that was menacing her supply of yarn. “I thought as much,” she added. “Then the child has a powerful inheritance of magic on both sides of his family.”
Adrian, sitting close beside Father Still at the moment, was listening intently.
“How’s that, Mother?” The fanner squinted at his wife. Meanwhile his large, gnarled hand had paused over the lamplit table, where he was starting to show Adrian the game of pegs.
“Father, I do wish you would try to keep up with family affairs.” The goodwife’s needles clicked. Her chair creaked, sawing at the floorboards, back and forth.