Mother taught me to be polite to dragons. Particularly polite, I mean; she taught me to be ordinary polite to everyone. Well, it makes sense.
With all the enchanted princesses and disguised wizards and transformed kings and so on wandering around, you never know whom you might be talking to.
But dragons are a special case.
Not that I ever actually talked to one until after I left home. Even at the edge of the Enchanted Forest, dragons aren't exactly common.
The principle is what matters, though: Always be polite to a dragon.
It's harder than it sounds. Dragon etiquette is incredibly complicated, and if you make a mistake, the dragon eats you.
Fortunately, I was well trained.
Dragon etiquette wasn't the only thing Mother taught me. Reading and writing are unusual skills for a poor boy, but I learned them. Music, too, and fighting. Don't ask me where Mother learned to use a sword.
Until I was thirteen, I didn't know we had one in the house. I even learned a little magic. Mother wasn't exactly pleased; but growing up on the edge of the Enchanted Forest, I had to know some things.
Mother is tall-about two inches taller than I am-and slender, and very impressive when she wants to be. Her hair is black, like mine, but much longer. Most of the time she wears it in two braids wound around and around her head, but when she really wants to impress someone she lets it hang straight to her feet. A lot of the disguised princes who stopped at our cottage on their way into the Enchanted Forest thought Mother was a sorceress.
You can't really blame them. Who else would live at the edge of a place like that?
Sometimes I thought they were right. Mother always knew what directions to give them, even if they didn't tell her what they were looking for. I never saw her do any real magic, though, until the day the wizard came.
I knew right away that he was a wizard. Not because of his brown beard or his blue-and-brown silk robes-although no one but a wizard can walk around in blue-and-brown silk robes for very long without getting really dusty. It wasn't even his staff. I knew he was a wizard because he had the same feel of magic that the unicorns and griffins have when you catch a glimpse of them, farther on in the forest.
I was surprised to see him because we didn't get too many wizards.
Well, actually, we'd never gotten any. Mother said that most of them preferred to go into the forest through the Gates of Mist and Pearl at the top of the Crystal Falls, or through the Caves of Fire and Night if they could manage it. The few that went into the forest in other ways never stopped at our cottage.
This wizard was unusual. He turned off the road and walked right past me without saying anything, straight up to our cottage. Then he banged on the door with the head of his staff. The door splintered and fell apart.
I decided that I didn't like him.
Mother was cooking rabbit stew in the big black pot over the chimney fire. She didn't even look up when the door fell in. The wizard stood there for a minute, and I sneaked a little closer so I could see better. He was frowning, and I got the impression he wasn't used to being ignored. Mother kept stirring the stew.
"Well, Cimorene, I have found you," the wizard said at last.
"It took you long enough," Mother said without turning. "You're getting slow."
"You know why I am here."
Mother shrugged. "You're sixteen years too late. I told you, you're getting slow."
"Ha! I can take the sword now, and the boy as well. There is nothing you can do to stop me this time," the wizard said. I could tell he was trying to sound menacing, but he didn't do a very good job.
Mother finally turned around. I took one look at her face and backed up a couple of steps. She looked at the wizard for a minute and started to smile. "Nothing, Antorell? Are you sure?"
The wizard laughed and raised his staff. I backed up some more. I mean, I wanted to see what was going on, but I'm not stupid. He paused a moment-for effect, I think-and Mother pointed at him.
"Argelfraster," she said, and he started to melt.
"No! Not again!" he screamed. He shrank pretty quickly-all but his head, which was shouting nearly the whole time. "I'll get you, Cimorene! I'll be back! You can't stop me! I'll-" Then his head collapsed and there was nothing left but a little puddle of brown goo and his staff.
I stared at the puddle. All I could think was, I never knew Mother could do that. Mother let me stand there for a while before she told me to clean it up.
"Don't touch the staff," she said. "And don't forget to wash your hands before you come to dinner."
I went to get a bucket. When I came back, the staff was gone and Mother was stirring the stew as if nothing had happened. She didn't mention the wizard again until the next morning.
I was out by the remains of our door, trying to fix it. I didn't think my chances were very good. I picked up the hammer, and as I looked around for nails I saw Mother walk out of the Enchanted Forest. I was so surprised I dropped the hammer and nearly smashed my foot. Mother never went into the Enchanted Forest. Never. Then I saw the sword she was carrying, and if I'd still been holding the hammer, I'd have dropped it again.
Even from a distance, I could tell it wasn't an ordinary sword. It was about the same size and shape as the one I practiced with, but it shone too brightly and looked too sharp to be ordinary. Mother brought it over to me and set it down on top of the boards I'd been working on.
"Don't touch it," she said, and went into the house.
I had a hard time following Mother's instructions. The more I looked at the sword, the more I wanted to pick it up and try a few of the passes Mother had taught me. It was such a beautiful weapon! Just looking at it made me shiver. But Mother always had good reasons for the things she told me to do, so I waited.
I didn't have to wait long. She came back almost immediately, carrying a sword belt and a sheath that I'd never seen before. They were old-so old that the leather had turned nearly gray-and very, very plain. I was disappointed; the sword deserved something more impressive.
Mother went straight to the sword and put it in the sheath. She relaxed a little then, as if she'd been worried about something.
Mother almost never worried. I started wondering just what that weapon did. I didn't have much time to think about it, though. As soon as she had sheathed the sword, Mother turned and gave me her You're-not-much-but-you'll-have-to-do look.
I started to worry.
Mother picked up the sword belt. "This is for you, Daystar." I reached for it, but she shook her head. "No, I'll do it this first time. Hold still."
She bent down and buckled the belt around my waist, then hung the sheathed sword on the belt. I felt a little strange letting her do all that, and my elbows kept getting in the way.
Finally she straightened up. "Now, Daystar, I have a few things to tell you before you leave."
"Leave?" I was shocked. Mother had never mentioned leaving before.
It occurred to me that she'd said "you," not "we." I swallowed hard.
"Of course. You're sixteen; it's time you left, and I'm certainly not coming with you. Now pay attention." She gave me one of her sharp looks.
I paid attention.
"You have a sword, and you know as much as I can safely teach you. I don't want to see you back here again until you can explain to me why you had to leave. Do you understand?"
Mother went on, "Start with the Enchanted Forest. One way or another, things will happen more quickly there. Don't lose your sword, and don't draw it unless you need to use it. Oh, and watch out for Antorell. It'll take him a couple of days to get himself back together and find out where I put his staff, but once he does he'll try to make trouble again. All right?"
"But you haven't explained anything!" I blurted. "Why did that wizard come here yesterday, anyway? Why should he want to make trouble for me? And if he's so dangerous, why are you sending me-" "Daystar!"
I stopped in mid-sentence.
Mother glared at me. "what happened to the manners I've tried to teach you?"
"I-I'm sorry, Mother," I said. "I was upset."
"Being upset is no excuse," Mother said sternly. "If you're going to be rude, do it for a reason and get something from it."
Mother smiled. "I know it's hard, and it's rather short notice, but this will probably be the best chance we get. I can't waste it just to give you time to get used to the idea of leaving home. Besides, if I tell you too much now, it could ruin everything. You'll just have to work things out for yourself."
I was more confused than ever, but I could see Mother wasn't going to tell me anything else. She looked at me for another moment, then bit her lip as if she wanted to say something and couldn't. Abruptly, she turned and walked away. At the door of the cottage, she stopped and looked back.
"Good luck, Daystar. And stop wasting time. You don't have much of it."
Before I could say anything, she disappeared inside.
I started off toward the Enchanted Forest. Mother's advice was always good. Besides, I was afraid she'd melt me or something if I hung around very long.
I didn't bother to follow the road. It isn't particularly useful, anyway-it disappears as soon as you cross into the forest. Or at least, it usually does.
At any rate, I wanted to start with the section of the Enchanted Forest that I knew.
The Enchanted Forest comes in two parts, the Outer Forest and the Deep Woods. Most people don't realize that. The Outer Forest is relatively safe if you know what you're doing, and I'd gathered herbs there a few times. I'd never gone more than an hour's walk from our cottage, and nothing particularly interesting had ever happened, but I'd always known that something might. The way things were going, I was pretty sure that this time something would.
I felt the little tingle on my skin that marks the border between the ordinary woods, where our cottage was, and the Enchanted Forest. Some people have trouble getting in and out of the Enchanted Forest, but I never did. I was feeling exalted and adventurous, and maybe a little scared. I mean, for years I'd watched all those princes and heroes and so on go into the forest, and now it was my turn. I looked back over my shoulder to see if Mother was watching. The cottage was gone.
That shook me. You just don't expect the place you've lived in for sixteen years to vanish like that. I looked around. The trees were huge-much larger than the ones by our cottage. I couldn't reach more than a quarter of the way around the trunk of the smallest one. The ground was covered with dark green moss that ran right up the bases of the trees and stopped short. I could see a couple of bushes, including one that had three different colors of flowers on it. Everything felt very dark and green and alive, and none of it looked familiar at all.
I shivered. This wasn't the Outer Forest. This was the Deep Woods.
I waited for a couple of minutes, but nothing happened. Somehow, I wasn't reassured. Being lost in the Enchanted Forest does not do much for one's peace of mind.
After a while I started walking again. I felt much less adventurous and considerably more scared.
I walked for a long time. Eventually I quit being scared, at least mostly.
Finally I started looking for a place to rest; my feet hurt and I was getting very tired. I was careful, though. I didn't want to sit on a flower that used to be someone important. After about fifteen minutes I found a spot that looked all right, and I started to sit down.
Unfortunately, I'd forgotten I was wearing the sword. It got tangled up in my legs and I sort of fell over.
Somebody giggled. I looked around and didn't see anyone, so I decided to get untangled first. I straightened my legs out and sat up, making sure the sword belt was out of the way this time. Then I took a second look around. I still didn't see anyone, but the same somebody giggled again.
"Sir or madam on" I stopped. What was the proper honorific for something that wasn't male or female? I was pretty sure there was one, but I couldn't remember it.
"Oh, don't bother," said a high, squeaky voice. "I've never cared for all that fancy stuff."
I still didn't see anyone. "Forgive my stupidity, but I can't seem to find where you are," I said.
The giggle came again. "Down here, silly."
I looked down and jumped. A little gold lizard was sitting right next to my hand. He was about twice as long as my middle finger, and half of that was tail.
"Hey, watch it!" said the lizard. "You might hurt someone if you keep jumping around like that. Me, for instance. You big people are so careless."
"I'm very sorry," I said politely.
The lizard lifted his head. "You are? Yes, you are! How amazing.
Who are you, anyway?"
"My name is Daystar," I said, bowing slightly. It was a little awkward to do from a sitting position, but I managed. Being polite to a lizard felt peculiar, but there are only two rules of behavior in the Enchanted Forest: Don't take anything for granted, and Be polite to everyone. That's if you don't live there. The inhabitants have Their own codes, which it's better not to ask about.
"You're Daystar?" The lizard did something very tangled very quickly and ended up balanced on his tail. "So you are! Well, my goodness. I hadn't expected to see you around here for a while yet."
"You were expecting me?"
"Of course." The lizard looked smug. "I know everything that goes on in the Enchanted Forest. Absolutely everything! I've seen you in the Outer Forest. It was only a matter of time before you got this far, though I thought it would take longer. I'm Suz, by the way."
"Pleased to meet you," I said.
"You are?" The lizard leaned forward and almost lost his balance.
"Yes, you really are! How positively extraordinary. Whatever are you doing in the Enchanted Forest?"
"I don't know," I said.
"You don't know? The lizard did a back flip and scurried up onto a fat tree root, where he would have a better view. He balanced on his tail again and looked at me thoughtfully. "If you don't know what you're doing, why are you here?"
I thought for a moment. "Do you really know everything that happens in this forest?"
"Of course I do." Suz looked offended. An offended lizard is an interesting sight.
"I didn't mean to hurt your feelings or anything," I said hastily. "I just wondered if you could tell me where this came from." I touched the sword Mother had given me.
The lizard squinted in my general direction. "What? It's on the wrong side of you, silly. Bring it over where I can see it. If it came from the Enchanted Forest, I can tell you about it."
I lifted the sword, sheath and all, and twisted it around so it was on the same side of me as Suz. The lizard promptly fell over backward.
"Oh dear me my gracious goodness my oh," he squeaked. "Do you know what that is?"
"I wouldn't have asked you if I knew," I said. "It's a sword. I think it's magic."
"It's a sword! He thinks it's magic!" Suz ran around twice in a small circle, then did the tail-balancing trick again. "Where did you get it?" the little lizard demanded.