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Enchantress from the Stars
By Sylvia Engdahl
Puffin Books Copyright © 2003 Sylvia Engdahl
All right reserved.
At the edge of the Enchanted Forest there lived a poor woodcutter who had four sons, the youngest of whom was named Georyn. They were able to earn a meager living by selling wood to the folk of the village, and although there was seldom more than dry bread or thin gruel on their table, they were not miserable.
Yet the brothers, as they grew to manhood, found little satisfaction in their lot. Often, as they toiled at the hewing of a tree on the outskirts of the wood, they stopped to watch the huntsmen of the King ride by to hunt in the Enchanted Forest, which their father had forbidden them to enter. And the eldest son would say, "Ah, if I but had the power of the King and a hundred servants to do my bidding!" And the next brother would laugh and reply, "Myself, I would settle for the King's treasure, for gold buys all that a man could wish for." And the next would tell them, "You are both fools, but if a man could win a fair bride such as the King's daughter, he would be well content."
Georyn, the youngest, would say nothing; yet in his own heart he would whisper, "Had I the wisdom of the King and his councillors, I would not be merely a woodcutter, and indeed I would not be hungry, nor would the villagers. And I would know the secret of the Enchanted Forest and be free to hunt there, and someday I might go even beyond it!"
Now to that country there came a time of great sorrow, for on the far side of the Enchanted Forest there appeared a monstrous Dragon that breathed fire, and its roaring could be heard far and wide over the land; and many folk fled in terror, fearing that their homes would be laid waste. Many of the King's huntsmen went to fight the Dragon, yet the Dragon remained and no men returned.
At last the King sent forth a decree, and in every village it was proclaimed: whosoever should free the land of the terrible Dragon would be given whatever reward his heart should desire, even to a half of the kingdom. Yet the people were afraid. If the King's own huntsmen had failed, how could mere villagers face the monster and kill it? And few men entertained thoughts of the King's reward.
But the woodcutter's sons had dreamed long of possessing such as the King could give, and they begged their father for permission to travel to the King and ask his blessing in the quest. The woodcutter himself, however, opposed them. "Even to enter the Enchanted Forest is death for such as you!" he cried. "Yet you talk of dragons! I forbid it; you shall not go."
The three elder brothers went angrily to their beds and whispered far into the night, making plans to disobey their father and set out together at first light, for they believed their valor equal to that of nobles and huntsmen. But Georyn talked further with the woodcutter, asking, "Why should it be death to enter the Forest, when the King and his followers have hunted there since before I was born?"
"As I have often told you," replied the woodcutter, "the Enchanted Forest is the home of evil spirits, who have laid a curse on all who go there, though they dare not touch the King's companions, This was true even before the Dragon appeared to ravage our land."
"Then if the King should send us, they would not touch us either."
"Perhaps not. But how could you hope to slay the Dragon, you who have never before held a sword? It is impossible, Georyn."
Now Georyn knew this, for though he was quite as brave as his brothers, he was not so foolish as to consider himself abler than the King's huntsmen at killing. But these men had failed, and if they had failed then perhaps the Dragon could not be killed with a sword at all. "There may be a way to overcome the monster, Father," he said. "But it will not be found by those who fear it! I can have no happiness until I have at least tried."
And so at last, seeing that he could not dissuade them, the woodcutter allowed his sons to seek the aid of the King. They set forth the next morning, following the river that circled the wood. When they had gone but a short distance, they came to a fork in the path: one way kept to the course of the stream, while the other led to the King's castle by a shorter route, through the forest.
"Let us take the quickest way," said the eldest brother.
"That would not be wise," protested Georyn. "That way leads directly into the Enchanted Forest."
His brothers laughed, saying, "What, do you believe such foolishness? Do you fear that we will be bewitched?"
"Not all tales of enchantment are foolish ones," replied Georyn. "There will be a time when we must challenge that which lies within the Forest, but to do so now, unnecessarily, would be no better than folly. We have no knowledge of what we face."
Thereupon the brothers stopped and debated; for they remembered that they had indeed heard fearsome tales of the Enchanted Forest, and they were not anxious to test the truth of them. So at length they were persuaded to take the familiar way, and for the rest of that day they continued along the river bank. It was a bright, springtime morning; the leaves were young and green, the water sparkled in the sunlight, and as the young men walked, they whistled.
When the sun had sunk low behind the dark profiles of the fir trees, however, the Forest beyond the river loomed larger, both in the brothers' eyes and in their thoughts. The foaming roar of the water seemed less cheering, and upon the opposite shore a faint trace of mist began to form. And then it was that the brothers came upon a small stone hut, which surprised them greatly, for it had not been there in the past when they had cut wood near that place. As they were wondering at this, a tall, dark-haired maiden stepped forth from the hut; and the woodcutter's sons stood silent in amazement and awe, for she was unlike any mortal maiden they had ever seen, and they knew at once that she was an enchantress.
I was not supposed to be in the landing party at allI was supposed to be studying. That was part of the bargain when Father decided we should go in the first place; I agreed to prepare for First Phase exams on shipboard, to make up for the time I would be missing at the Academy. For that matter, the Academy itself wouldn't have granted me leave on any other basis. Father's wish was enough to get us passage, since the starship was to make a stop at the world on which our family reunion's to be held, but even that wouldn't have carried much weight with the Dean.
A Service starship is a good place to study; you have lots of free time at your disposal, especially if you are neither part of a survey team nor a member of the crew. But who wants to study all the time? I had never been off my home world before; since I'm from a Service family, even entering the Academy hadn't meant a trip for me. And I was dying to see something! I knew that I would not be permitted to accompany any regular team for a long time. So when the Andrecian situation came up and Father was appointed Senior Agent to handle it, I begged him to take me with him.
"It's out of the question, Elana," he said gravely. "We are not going on a sightseeing trip. You know that."
"Evrek has completed Third Phase; he has taken the Oath. He's ready for a field assignment, and while I wouldn't have chosen a thing like this for his first one, it's his job."
It was true enough that Evrek and I were not really in the same category any more. The Oath makes a difference, personally as well as officially; since Evrek was sworn, I'd hardly known him. Practically from the moment of his investiture, which had taken place only a few days before we left home, he had seemed changed in some subtle way that I couldn't quite define. One thing was sure: it wasn't only the new white uniform. Agents don't wear their uniforms anyway, except on dress occasions.
Excerpted from Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Engdahl Copyright © 2003 by Sylvia Engdahl. Excerpted by permission.
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