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Those assembled in the dining hall could feel the air moistening.
It led to predictable comments. 'Damn wizard! Can't they send him on a long walk off a short pier? I never could do with humidity and now they have him conjuring up fog every five minutes. It plays merry heck with my sinuses, I tell you!'
The rambunctious voices were few but hearty and they echoed well in such a substantial hall. Vaulted ceilings arched in the grand style above high walls richly hung with paintings and tapestries. The king's dynasty was a relatively old one as dynasties go and it had been well documented by the artists of the realm. It lent an air of majesty to the surroundings entirely out of keep with the complaining conversation.
Great oaken trestle tables lined up regimentally, but most were bare. Drudges and serving wenches kept the few diners fed and merry, and they did so quickly enough to avoid too many shouts for 'more beer!' Their job was kept relatively simple by virtue of only the nearest few tables to the imposing door being occupied. Those who still came here to eat tended to congregate by the entrance mostly to keep away from that damned scary monster.
At the opposite end of the great hall, an ageing but still lithe cat was sprawled on its back in a particularly unladylike posture enjoying the slender fingers dancing up and down its belly.
'You're really too old for this, Kitten,' teased Dawtrina, owner of the well practiced fingers in question. 'You should be settled down raising grandkittens by now. Either that or heroically slain in combat, whichever takes your fancy.'
Kitten rolled onto her paws, gazing askance at Daw as if mildly annoyed at the suggestion that she could have possibly been beaten in a fight. She had the sense of jaunty style common to all cats, but most didn't have such a skill with their claws to back it up...
'Had enough?' Daw returned the glance stolidly until forced to blink. She knew it was folly to try to outstare a cat though admittedly it was slightly more realistic than to try to outstubborn one. On victory, Kitten promptly curled up into an logically impossible contortion and began to calmly wash herself.
'Your turn then, Petal, my love. C'mon, girl,' said Daw as her dragon lifted her head in anticipation. She had heard the descriptions hurled at leisure by those at court and still couldn't understand how they could think Petal was scary. Dragon she may be, but monster? Never. She was as much a kitten as Kitten, probably more so, for all of her eight inch talons, and she enjoyed her belly being rubbed too.
Of course, Daw couldn't oblige with mere fingers. However small a dragon Petal was, she was still a dragon and the smallest dragon wouldn't notice a finger rub. So she rolled, keeping her wild paws at bay while Daw leapt on board and attacked her belly with both fists. She let out a contented sigh as conversation at the tables ceased in open-jawed shock. Daw grinned at this common response and lost herself in play with her dragon.
Daw too had become increasingly aware of the increase of moisture in the air, and so a little later, after play and after food, her little entourage took off to see the wizard.
She had good hearing and so caught the various mutterings that accompanied their departure. She knew people didn't like her here: sure, they might think she was cute, but girls who consorted with dragons? 'It isn't natural,' people said. 'It's an abomination.' They only put up with her because she had foiled an invasion plot and saved their kingdom. In turn, she only put up with them because she didn't have any choice. She was stuck here.
Home, or what passed for home as she was an orphan, her only family the cat and dragon who accompanied her everywhere, was somewhere unknown. Somehow they had instinctively jumped through unknown space in response to a scream for help. They had no route back. They were stuck.
Officially they were state heroes. The king wasn't too fond of getting too near Petal's claws, or Kitten's either for that matter, but his two sons, the twin princes of the realm were both friendly enough to be half-decent companions. Daw found them a little tedious, but realised that it was inevitable that they should spend so much of their time on matters of state and not enough, in her mind, in exploration and inquisitiveness. Everyone else was scared of Petal. All of which meant that for two reasons, her favourite place to visit was the wizard's lair.
He was pretty useless at wizardry, it has to be said, but his learning in other matters was unsurpassed in the kingdom and Daw found him a constant fascination. She truly enjoyed his company and spent as much of her time with him as she could, picking up whatever knowledge he would impart. Always too was the vain hope that one day, one day he would discover a way to send her home.
Gibbon the wizard, for that was his name, had a problem. He had the look to be a wizard - the star studded robes, the pointed hat; he had the heritage, being last in a long line of court wizards; and he certainly had the learning, being renowned as the most knowledgeable man in three kingdoms. Unfortunately his learning, gleaned mostly from court libraries and a few books passed down through his family, didn't include much worth speaking of in the field of wizardry.
Somehow those books, the important ones, had gone missing sometime during his great grandfather's tenure a great while ago and had not been heard of since. What became passed down in their stead was an oral teaching, of spells and magics, that had become confused over the years and over the tellings and retellings. It had got to the point that whatever Gibbon tried to do, he invariably ended up making fog, and it was this fog that more and more frequently was the cause of such humidity around the castle. Over the years he had gradually toned down his spell attempts, though he would never admit to giving in, but now he had a mission. He burned to find a way to grant his friend Dawtrina her dearest wish: to go home.
His quarters were in a farflung corner of the castle, in a tower that his family had long occupied. He had tried to move a little nearer to the main library, but the king had resisted this, knowing full well how much his unintended fogmaking could damage the ancient paintings and wall hangings. Gibbon had sighed and accepted his lot.
As such it took Daw a little while to get there, especially as he was experimenting on the fifteenth floor of the tower. The staircase was long and narrow, so Petal climbed up the outside and clambered in through a bay window that Gibbon had thoughtfully stripped of glass some time ago. She made far better time than Daw, who fit as she was, was still out of breath when she reached them. Kitten had waited at ground level for some time before scooting up all fifteen flights as if it were a race. If it was, she beat Daw.
'And welcome again, my friends,' said Gibbon, beaming as he always did when someone arrived who shared such wide interests as himself. Dawtrina was young and not well educated, but she had a fiendishly fast brain and the rare ability to pick up anything quickly. When she found books, she read; and when she read, she learned. Gibbon, who had moonlighted as a teacher, wished that more could follow her example.
'We could feel the fog again,' said Daw, 'but it didn't seem as strong as before.'
'Ah, because the fog was just a by-product this time,' enthused Gibbon. 'I have managed to move things.'
'Move what?' asked Daw, remembering the time that he had apparently successfully moved an orange until she had discovered that the table leg had merely slipped.
Gibbon grinned and waved his arms in theatrical style across his face. 'I could tell,' he said, 'or I could show...'
Daw was used to his amateur theatrics by now. Maybe all wizards have to be showmen as well as true artists, she had thought: it gets the crowd on their side, regardless how good their magic.
He started circling round a large table made of solid oak, laden with notes and seemingly immobile. Gradually his circles became wider until he backed up against a wall. All the time he was muttering under his breath. Daw knew better than to interrupt an incantation so she kept quiet. Petal was watching carefully with her unblinking dragon eyes and Kitten was washing her rear end, seemingly oblivious to the entire proceedings.
As Gibbon reached a muted crescendo in his mutterings, becoming almost audible, he raised his hands high with starred sleeves flaring, and then thrust his arms forward, pointing at the table with focused fingertips. For a long moment nothing happened, other than a few explosions of fog, but then the table lifted and slid quickly and surely across the floor.
Daw's mouth was open but Gibbon was grinning, unfazed by the operation. 'I extrapolated it up from a fragment I found in a cookbook,' he said. Daw wasn't sure whether to believe him or not, but whatever the case, he had certainly achieved something other than fog.
'Have you tried it with a person yet,' asked Daw.
'Not yet, but there's a first time for everything,' he replied. 'Are you up for it?'
Kitten made a rumbling noise of disaffection but Daw laughed. 'Sure. Go ahead: try it on me!'
He gave her a chance to back out but she was intrigued and ready, so he started circling. Wider and wider circles he took until he suddenly backed up and went through exactly the same procedure as for the table. As his fingers dropped and aimed squarely at her, Daw felt nothing. She was about to point out that it obviously didn't work for people when she suddenly hurled backwards at speed. Once again her mouth dropped, but this time it was followed by that of Gibbon as she failed to stop as intended, and carried on straight through a bookcase and the wall beyond. Daw was gone.
Petal was much further away but still beat Gibbon to the bookcase. He looked at her as if to try to communicate telepathically, then decided that English might be safest. 'Can you move this?' he asked, and Petal duly obliged. Even small dragons are powerhouses of strength. A mere bookcase was nothing to Petal, who could have juggled it. Behind was blank stone wall. No Daw, no hole.
Kitten stood up and padded over to the wall. She rubbed up against it, then worked her way down the wall to finally sit down and mew consistently at one point. Gibbon looked confused, only to look even more confused when he heard a faint knocking on the other side of the wall to where Kitten was sitting.
'Daw!' he shouted. 'Can you hear me?' All he heard back was the same faint knocking. 'Daw! Daw! A door? Of course, I should fashion a door! Now how to fashion a door, a door, fashion a door...' Gibbon the wizard was lost in the world of his own thoughts.
Kitten stopped mewing but stayed facing one stretch of wall and sat back and relaxed. Petal joined her, pressing her large ear up against the stone to listen, and then she too sat back and waited.
Four or five hours later, the scene hadn't changed. Kitten was lying down, Petal sat on her haunches; both still kept guard on their particular stretch of wall. Gibbon was pacing up and down, chanting rhythmically under his breath, trying to summon lost memories. Eventually he marched up to Petal, head bowed, obviously apologetic.
'I'm sorry, Petal. I can't think of a way to bring your mistress back,' he admitted. 'I'm a poor attempt at a wizard really: all I've ever been able to do is make fog. Now I make fog and I make people disappear who I really don't want to make disappear.'
Petal nuzzled Gibbon under the chin. She knew he meant well, but this situation was going to need a lot more than meaning well to resolve. It seemed that in her quest to get them home, Daw had merely got herself lost further.
'I try though,' carried on the wizard, sitting down next to Petal and taking off his long pointed hat. 'I do try. It's just that the one thing I've managed to achieve is something I didn't want to achieve. If only I still had the books, the old magic. I feel that I still have the power deep inside me if only I had the spells. What did great-grandfather do with the things anyway?'
'I could tell you the answer to that,' said Daw, appearing as if by magic through the wall in front of Kitten, who promptly rubbed up against her legs as if she'd been gone for weeks. She passed Gibbon an ancient volume that she had obviously had trouble lifting. 'It's all there in black and white. The books were here all along. You just didn't know where...'
'Behind the wall,' said Gibbon to himself. 'Behind the wall! All this time I've been searching the libraries for some clue to where great-grandfather had spirited it all away to and it was right here behind the wall!' He sank his head into his hands and sighed a deep sigh.
'Protected doorways, right? You just had to find the right words to let you out? And to find the way in by accident... the way in! The way in! What are the words to get in? They must have been part of the movement spell. Let's see...'
And Daw grinned as Gibbon worked out how to get into the room of hidden lore that had sat under his nose for more years than he cared to count.
Five months later and the same room looked entirely different. There were more tables for a start, many almost lost beneath racks and racks of laboratory equipment. A guard stood by the door and Daw stood by her dragon, watching closely as Gibbon danced around from book to desk, desk to book.
'Are you sure you want to do this?' he asked, for the fourth time.
'I have to,' said Daw. 'The only thing keeping us here is you. The rest of the kingdom is scared stiff of Petal and hates me for not being scared. I have to.'
'I can't send you home,' said Gibbon. 'We don't know where home is. But I can send you to Kush: I have all the directions we need right here.'
Daw swallowed, and pulled closer to her dragon. She cradled Kitten in her arms, and for once the cat seemed happy to be held.
'Do it,' she said. 'Do it.'
Five minutes later they were gone.
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