Knot Gneiss [NOOK Book]

Overview


Wenda Woodwife has a knotty problem--her mood swings have sent her beloved husband, Prince Charming, off on Adventure. She seeks the cure from the Good Magician Humphrey, only to discover that he has a knotty problem of his own and that only Wenda Woodwife can help him.

She’ll need Companions. Luckily, in Xanth magical companions...

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Knot Gneiss

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Overview


Wenda Woodwife has a knotty problem--her mood swings have sent her beloved husband, Prince Charming, off on Adventure. She seeks the cure from the Good Magician Humphrey, only to discover that he has a knotty problem of his own and that only Wenda Woodwife can help him.

She’ll need Companions. Luckily, in Xanth magical companions are never far away, and all roads lead to Adventure.

This 34th installment in the saga of the magical land of Xanth proves the enduring appeal of Piers Anthony’s peerless creation.

At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429932691
  • Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
  • Publication date: 11/23/2010
  • Series: Magic of Xanth Series , #34
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 123,900
  • File size: 410 KB

Meet the Author


Piers Anthony is one of the world's most popular fantasy authors and a New York Times bestseller twenty-one times over. His Xanth novels have been read and loved by millions of readers around the world. In addition to his bestselling Xanth books, Anthony is the author of a series of historical fantasies called The Geodyssey, that makes the broad sweep of human history into very personal stories. Piers Anthony has a devoted fan following, and he daily receives hundreds of letters and emails from them. Piers Anthony lives in Inverness, Florida.
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Read an Excerpt


Knot Gneiss

Chapter 1

MOOD SWING

Wenda Woodwife Charming was horribly distressed. She knew that a good part of the reason Prince Charming had gone on a royal business trip far, far away was to get away from her. Oh, he still loved her; she knew that. She still loved him, too, and longed to be with him. But lately her moods had become violently changeable, making her unfit to live with. She knew it, but somehow couldn’t stop it.

Distressed, she went to the private courtyard and sat on the swing there. It had become her place to think about things, because none of the servants ever went to this particular alcove; she could be alone. The swing was next to a round court called the Social Circle, where people became highly social. Unfortunately this too was isolated; no one visited it.

She pushed her legs forward and leaned back, getting it started. Then she leaned forward, tucking her feet below her, reversing the motion. Soon she was swinging back and forth across the court, so high that she could almost peek over the top of the wall into the next yard. It was exhilarating.

But it didn’t solve her problem. What was she to do to save her marriage from her own difficult nature? She had thought that once she found true love, and married, and became a real woman instead of the half woman she had been, everything would be perfect. And for a while it had seemed so. She and the prince had shared so much delight that sometimes she had feared the stones would melt around them. They had surely given the storks a headache from overlapping signals.

Then she had started suffering the moods. One day she would be utterly sweet. Then unutterably sad. Then so cheerful she couldn’t stop smiling and laughing, even when there were serious matters afoot. Then unreasonably angry. Or impossibly analytical. She was constantly changing, seemingly at random. Why? She couldn’t say. That was frustrating.

In fact it made her angry. So angry she could hardly see straight. “Bleep!” she screamed at the top of the swing and her voice. The dread word bounced off the wall and fragmented, leaving acrid smoke and dropping cinders.

That appalled her. She had never been a person to swear. She liked to think of herself as a nice person, in all the ways feasible.

That was it. She definitely had to do something about it. But what?

What else? She would go ask the Good Magician Humfrey. He would know how to fix it. True, it would cost her a year’s service or the equivalent. But if it fixed the problem, it would be worth it. After all, she had been to the Good Magician’s Castle before, and knew the way.

She stopped the swing, got off, and hurried to the bedroom, where she quickly penned a note for the prince and left it on the pillow where he would be sure to find it when he sought to kiss her.

Dearest beloved bold handsome prince husband—I have gone to see the Good Magician about my moods. I’ll bee back when I can. Dinner is in the kitchen; dew knot go hungry. I wood knot dew that to yew. Hugs, kisses, & unmentionable passion. I love yew, Wenda.

She hesitated, concerned that she was making it too cold and distant. She wanted him to be sure that her feeling for him had not changed. Well, it would have to do. Still, she felt almost unbearable nostalgia and pity for the prince when he returned. He did so like his passion! Sometimes she feared his enthusiasm would break the bed. How would he ever cope with her absence? Tears of regret coursed down her face. But of course this was yet another mood, in her ever-shifting kaleidoscope of emotions. She simply had to deal with it.

She left the castle, crossed the moat, and hesitated again. Something had bothered her about the moat ever since she came here, and suddenly she realized what it was: there was no moat monster. A castle just wasn’t authentic without a decently horrendous moat monster. She would have to look for one. But now was not the time; she had moods to nullify.

She followed the winding path into the forest. Trees were her second love, after the prince. After all, she had until reasonably recently been crafted of wood herself. As a woodwife she had been in effect an animated carving resembling a shapely nymph—that was a pleonasm, because shapely and nymph pretty well defined each other—from the front, while she had no back. In fact she had been hollow from behind, showing the outlines of her shapeliness in reverse, inverted. So that when a man clasped her, he felt everything against his front, but his questing hands found nothing behind. That was said to be disconcerting.

Prince Charming had especially delighted in taking handfuls of her rear aspect, when she turned real. Just to be sure it was truly there, he said. She might have thought that after a year he would have developed some confidence about it, but he still insisted on those handfuls. It surely showed how much he valued her, needing constantly to be certain that none of her was missing. Maybe he thought that it could not be lost as long as he kept a firm hold on it. He was certainly conscientious in that respect. He was just so devoted!

She came to the key tree. The forest all around her was perfectly manicured, every tree being large, tall, and without blemish. That was because Prince Charming’s castle was the setting for more than one fairy tale, and artists could come at any time to paint scenes from it. It would be humiliating to have it be weedy or otherwise imperfect, ruining the pictures.

The tree marked the boundary between fairyland and Xanth, though the perfect forest extended well beyond it. The path passed by it without pausing, so that strangers would not know. But Wenda knew.

She looked around, just to be sure that no painter was in the area at the moment. Because she was about to climb, and if a painter happened to glance up under her skirt and see her panties he would freak out. That would be embarrassing, because the prince was the only one allowed to freak out on her panties. If a painter painted a painting in that condition, the picture might freak out all male viewers—and a few females too. That would never do for a children’s story.

She put her small hands on the bark and drew herself up. She could climb very well, because of her wooden legacy. She related perfectly to trees, and they knew it. She shinnied up the trunk until she reached the first major branch. Then she circled the tree to the opposite branch, and shinnied back down the trunk until she touched the ground.

She turned away from the trunk and looked around. The forest had become a jungle that entirely surrounded the tree. There was a palmetto hand, which was a giant palm of a hand with splayed fingers. There were milkweed plants with bottles of milk. She was now in the Land of Xanth, where things tended to be literal, and puns abounded. Her native country.

She saw something and paused. There was a stray goblin frozen in place like a statue, his eyeballs crystallized. Oops! She had forgotten to look around before she descended, and he had seen her panties and freaked out. Fortunately goblins hardly counted; the males were normally ugly and crude to the point of disgust, while the females were pretty, sweet, and nice. There was no risk of him painting a picture.

She walked behind the goblin, snapped her fingers, and faded instantly into the anonymous brush. The goblin came back to life, bits of crystal flaking off his eyes. He didn’t even know what had happened. Had he caught on that there was a nymph in the vicinity, he would be chasing after her with lascivious intent.

Meanwhile Wenda was making her way to the nearest enchanted path. It wasn’t that she needed it for safety, because she was a natural creature of the forest who had no fear of its aspects. It was that the path was the quickest and surest route to the Good Magician’s Castle, and she was in a hurry. If she was lucky, she might even find a bicycle.

Yes! There was a Playing Card stand with several bicycles for travelers to use. A bicycle magically tripled a person’s traveling efficiency. She selected a nice wooden one with balloon tires, flowery petals, and a banana seat. The balloons were bulky, but they made the bike lighter. The banana could be peeled and eaten if it got too battered. Bicycles were supremely practical.

There was another woman there Wenda hadn’t noticed in her focus on the bicycle. She was dressed conservatively, but there was something odd about her. Wenda couldn’t quite place it.

“Oh, hello,” the woman said, startled. “I was just trying to make sense of these devices. Do you happen to know what they are for?”

“Yes. They are bicycles. They triple yewr walking efficiency.”

“Oh, good! I need to go see the Good Magician, and this will help.” She paused. “I should introduce myself. I am Freja, often nicknamed Freka.”

“I am Wenda Woodwife. I am going to see the Good Magician too, because I have such violent moods.” She hesitated. “If I may ask—”

“My talent—my curse—is to freak out men when I dress normally. That’s why the nickname. I have to show my underwear to snap them out of it. I hate that. I am a modest person.”

“I wonder whether a chip of reverse wood wood fix that,” Wenda said.

“No it wouldn’t. I tried a chip to change my hair color, but it didn’t work.”

Wenda got an idea. “What did yew dew with the chip?”

“I left it in my hair. It’s been there for years. I am still hoping it will work.”

“That may bee yewr problem,” Wenda said. “Yew never can tell how reverse wood will reverse. It may bee affecting yewr clothes instead of yewr hair.”

“Oh!” Freja put her hand to her hair and removed the chip, dropping it to the ground. “That never occurred to me.”

“We can test it,” Wenda said. “A man is approaching.” Actually it wasn’t a man so much as a male gnome, but the principle would apply. “Hello, gnome!” Wenda called.

The squat little man paused. “What do you want, woodwife?”

“Please take a good look at Freja here. Is there anything about her?”

“I am Gene Gnome,” the gnome said. “My talent is to change living things as they are. But this woman looks perfectly ordinary. She doesn’t need any change.”

“Pick up the chip,” Wenda whispered.

Freja stooped to pick up the chip.

Gene glanced at her, and froze, his eyes fixed on her flexed skirt where it was tightest. He had freaked out.

“Oh, bleep!” Freja swore. She quickly lifted her skirt to show her panties. The gnome returned to animation.

“Drop the chip,” Wenda whispered.

Freja did, along with her skirt.

“If that is all, I will be moving on,” Gene said, evidently bored. He did so without delay.

“You have solved my problem,” Freja said. “How can I ever thank you enough?”

“No need,” Wenda said. “I like helping people.”

“Now I can go home. It’s such a relief!”

“I am glad.” And she was.

Freja departed, and Wenda focused on the bicycle. She mounted, put her feet on the petals, and pushed down. There was a burst of flowery scent and the bike moved forward. She was on her way.

After that it was routine. She rode rapidly, and by nightfall was near the castle. She pulled into a weigh station, weighed in, and foraged for a dietary pie. The prince might love her flesh, but she knew better than to get too much of it.

In the morning she weighed out and resumed her journey. Soon she saw the highest turrets of the Good Magician’s Castle. She hoped she would be able to navigate the challenges soon so as to get her Answer. Of course then there would be the nuisance of the year’s service. She hoped there would be an alternative service that would take less time, because she wasn’t sure how the prince would react to a year’s separation. He might even run out of food.

She parked the bike beside the path and walked the last bit of distance to the castle. The Good Magician would be expecting her, of course. Somehow he always saw querents coming, and prepared three relevant Challenges to discourage those who weren’t really serious.

Sure enough, there was a robot barring her way. On his chest was printed the word DENT.

She sought to pass by him, but he grabbed her and enfolded her in a metal embrace, seeking to kiss her with his faceplate. What was this? A robot getting fresh with a live girl? That did not compute. Then she caught on. “Robot Dent,” she said. “R Dent for short. Yew’re ardent.”

“Oh, clang!” he swore. “You calculated the pun.”

“Well, one learns to dew that, in Xanth,” she said. “It’s a matter of survival.”

He let her go, but still barred her way. Behind him was a pattern of pictures. Now his chest panel said CADE.

“That wood bee Robot Cade,” she said. “Arcade. Does that relate to my challenge?”

But already it was changing. Now it said TILLERY, and there was the sound of big guns firing in the background.

“Artillery,” she said. “But I’m knot sure what relevance this has.”

It changed again. Now it said SENIC, and the robot was looking sickly.

“Arsenic,” she said. “Look, we can dew this indefinitely. R ME, R RAY, R REST, R SON, R TERY, R TICKLE, R TIST—what’s the point?”

The robot did not reply, except to put another word on: DOR. He advanced on her with ardor.

“I think yew have a screw loose,” Wenda said, retreating. “But I dew knot see a gremlin to fix it.” In fact all she saw was a bale of old hay. What good would that do her?

Then a bulb flashed over her head. She stepped to the bale, pulled out a wisp of hay, whirled, and jammed it into the robot’s front grille. “How hot does that make yew, lover?”

It worked. The robot heated. A wisp of smoke issued from his grille. Then he started running crazily in a circle.

Wenda moved on by. She had used the hay to convert the machine’s hay fever and make it go haywire. That was the solution to the Challenge, rather than guessing endless pun identities. Sometimes it was necessary to get out of a particular rut of puns, and find now ones that worked better.

She walked on down the path toward the castle. One down; two to go.

The path led to a playground filled with children. There were swings and slides and seesaws, but the children weren’t using them. Instead they were taunting one another. That made Wenda wince. She loved children, but she preferred them to be well behaved.

“I think, I think, you stink, you stink!” a girl cried at a boy.

“You stink worse!” the boy retorted.

Wenda tried to pass through the playground, but the crowded children blocked her. She realized that this was not accidental; it was a Challenge. She had to get past without making a child cry—which was surely not possible without finding a way to get them to stand aside. She had no experience with children, and was sure she would not be good with them. Not until she had some of her own, and learned the ropes. Which made this a nasty Challenge for her.

Not that these were normal children. Wenda saw that the boys were actually composites, formed of masses of slugs, snails, and puppy dogs’ tails, while the girls were all sugar and spice and all things nice. No wonder they weren’t getting along!

She gazed around the playground. Could she get them interested in the normal diversions? If only to make the children jealous of them?

She went to the nearest swing and sat on it. It was standard hemp for the ropes and beechwood for the seat, sandy like a beach. She pumped her legs and started swinging.

No child noticed.

She worked her way higher. This swing was subtly different from the one at the castle. It did not involve her emotionally in the same way. It was just a swing, with no magic. No wonder the children weren’t interested.

Totally ignored, she gave up on that. She let the swing subside, got off, and tried a slide. It was nice and tall. “Wheee!” she exclaimed with a full three E’s as she slid down. But she wasn’t persuading even herself, let alone the busy children.

She gave it one more try. There was a sidewalk with a hopscotch diagram chalked on it. She sniffed a scotch, verifying that it was fake; they would not really let children use such an adult drink. But the diagram was authentic.

She hopped on it, following the pattern. No girl seemed to notice. They were all still too busy exchanging insults with the boys. Of course that was because boys and girls interested one another, but didn’t know how to relate, so they argued instead. That way they could safely interact.

There had to be some other way. Wenda looked around, but saw nothing but the children, the vacant equipment, and a few spaced trees. They lacked leaves; this was evidently winter, here, if not in the rest of Xanth. One tree had a mass of green in its branches.

Green. That would be mistletoe. That was a forest plant, and she understood it well. And it just might be the key to resolving this Challenge—if the dreaded Adult Conspiracy to Keep Interesting Things from Children didn’t intervene. She wasn’t sure whether it applied; she would just have to proceed and hope for the best.

She walked to the mistletoe tree and shinnied up its trunk. She wasn’t concerned about any children looking up her skirt; they wouldn’t think to do it, even if they were paying attention, which they weren’t.

She climbed to the mistletoe, which consisted of clusters of toes on green stalks. She grabbed a handful, then shinnied back down the tree.

Back on the ground she set the stalks carefully in the ground, the toes pointed at the children. “Three, two, one, ignition,” she said.

The stalks jetted fire, rocketing upward at an angle. They arced to the crowded children, then exploded. Toes went flying like shrapnel, bouncing off the children.

There were screams of surprise, then of horror. Caught by the magic, the boys and girls came together, hugged, and kissed. “Ooo, ugh!” they exclaimed, disgusted. It was clear that of all the things they might ever want to do, this was bouncing at the bottom of the last, or below.

During their distraction, Wenda quietly made her way past them and out the far gate. She had found her way past the second Challenge. But she was sorry she had not been able to interact more positively with the children.

“Two down,” she murmured with satisfaction.

The path entered a kind of corral with an unpleasant smell. Wenda recognized it immediately, because it was of a forest creature: skunk. But she didn’t see any such creature there. There was only a central pole. How did that relate?

Then she caught on. It was another pun. “Pole Cat!”

Sure enough, the pole shortened and thickened into an odoriferous creature. But it was a lovely cat. This was surely a Challenge, but of what nature?

She stopped before the cat. “Hello,” she said in mew talk. She knew all the forest dialects, of course. “Are yew my next Challenge?”

“No,” the cat replied in the same language. “I am the Challenge, not a forest tree.”

Wenda took stock. The cat had evidently mistaken her word. It was best simply to explain. “I am a forest creature, or I was before I married Prince Charming. I speak the forest way; I can knot help it, regardless of the dialect. I said Why Oh Yew, yew. Yew heard a tree. I wood speak the other way if I could, but I can knot.”

The cat considered. “Now I understand. I apologize for my confusion. Let’s introduce ourselves. I am Pollyanna Polecat, Polly for short, and my talent is making others stink. That’s why I’m not popular.”

“I am Wenda Woodwife. Or at least I was before I married and got real.”

“Ah, that’s why you have a backside.”

“Yes. I filled out behind when I won the love of a real man, Prince Charming. I dew knot have a talent, being of magical origin myself.”

“I beg to differ,” Polly mewed. “You surely have a talent, or are developing one, from the time you got real. That’s how it works.”

“Oh, I dew knot think so. I wood have noticed.”

“Not necessarily. You must have a good one, at least potentially. The Good Magician has serious plans for you. He wants you to win through and ask your Question.”

“He does?” Wenda asked, amazed. “I am just a regular girl now, with a simple question. I will probably have to serve as a scullery maid for a year.”

Polly shook her head. “I doubt it. But you will surely find out for yourself.”

“I suppose so,” Wenda agreed. “But yew say yew are the Challenge. How is that?”

“My talent. I hate it. It ruins my social life. I came to ask the Good Magician how to fix it, but he wouldn’t answer.”

“He wood knot answer?” Wenda asked, surprised.

“He said he couldn’t use a smelly cat. Instead he made me a deal: serve for a single Challenge, where I might get my Answer without having to serve any more time. So naturally I agreed. And here I am.”

“I dew knot understand.”

“Just as your special words are inherent, so is my talent. The moment I get frightened or upset, I stink my companion. It’s a reflex. It makes it impossible to keep companions. Find me a way to nullify it, so I can maybe find me a tomcat who can stand me, and yowl happily ever after. That is your Challenge.”

“That wood bee easy. Yew can use reverse wood to convert the stink to perfume.”

Polly glanced at her. “There is something odd about the way you said that.”

Wenda smiled. “Sometimes when I say ‘wood’ it really is wood. I always say ‘wood.’”

“Oh. Yes. That’s it. But I tried reverse wood. It doesn’t work.”

“It does knot work? But it reverses anything.”

“It reverses in different ways. If I’m in cat form, it reverses me to pole form. If I’m in pole form, it makes me be cat form. In fact it keeps switching me back and forth. So I can’t use it.”

“Oh, I see. I never had that problem. Let me think.” Wenda pondered. How could she get reverse wood to reverse the way it was needed? “There are different varieties of reverse wood. Maybee yew need to try others, until yew find one that reverses the right way.”

“I’ve tried them all. None were right.”

Wenda looked around. There in the corner of the corral was a little pile of wood chips. Reverse wood—she could instantly identify any kind of wood. The only reason for it to be here was because it was the answer. She just had to discover how it was the answer.

She went to pick up a chip. She had no concern about doing so because it was, after all, wood, and she could handle wood of any type. It simply didn’t affect her.

She sorted through the pile, sensing the nature of the chips. Each was from a different tree, with its own flavor. One was subtly dissimilar. “I think yew missed this one,” she said. “Try it now.”

“It won’t work,” Polly said dispiritedly. But she took the chip in her mouth, holding it in her cheek.

“Now stink me.”

“But you won’t like that. It will take hours for it to wear off.”

“Dew it anyway.”

So Polly let fly with a stink. It wasn’t a physical thing, but a feeling. She was supposed to feel stinky.

She didn’t. She felt perfumed.

Polly sniffed. “You smell good!”

“Yes. Yew are reversed.”

“But how—?”

“I found the different chip. That’s all it took.”

“But I tried all of them! None worked.”

Wenda shrugged. “This one works. Now yew can go court a bold tom.”

“Yes, I can!” Polly exclaimed. “Thank you, thank you! You have saved me and won the Challenge.”

“Yew are welcome.” Wenda was pleased, though she did not think she had done much. Wood was her medium; sorting chips had been almost too easy. Maybe the Good Magician really did want her to win through. But why? What possible mission could he have in mind for her, that someone else couldn’t do better?

She exited the corral. Three down.

She had reached the moat, and the drawbridge leading to the castle. There stood Wira, the Good Magician’s favored daughter-in-law. “Welcome back, Wenda,” she said. “I’m so glad to see you.” That was literal, because though Wira had been blind most of her life, now she could see.

“Yew just like girls with W names,” Wenda said, smiling.

“That must be it,” Wira agreed. “This way, please; the Good Magician is expecting you.”

Obviously true. “May I ask a question?” Wenda asked as they walked across the bridge.

“About the relevance of the Challenges? Of course.”

“That robot with the printed pun names—”

“For this mission you need to be inventive. The Good Magician wasn’t sure how well you could think outside the box, because for most of your existence you lacked a brain.”

“My head was hollow,” Wenda agreed without annoyance.

“So it seemed that you just had to guess the puns in the names, but actually you needed to see beyond that. To change the rules, as it were. You did.”

“I did,” Wenda agreed. She had been half afraid she had cheated. “And the quarreling children?”

“More outside-box thinking. But also, the swing.”

“The swing? It was dull. No wonder the children did knot bother with it.”

“The swing at your castle is different.”

“It does feel different. But how does that relate?”

“It’s a Mood Swing. It changes your moods every time you swing on it. That’s why you became so changeable.”

Wenda’s pretty mouth dropped open. “That’s why! I never suspected!”

“You hadn’t had experience with regular swings before, so you didn’t know the difference.”

“But that means all I have to dew is knot swing on it. Here I’ve come for an Answer that will cost me a year’s service, when I could have figured it out myself.”

“Yes.”

“But I have knot even asked my Question of the Good Magician yet. I could just go home now, and avoid the service.”

“Yes.”

Wenda looked at her, realizing that something more complicated was afoot. “Yew would never make a mistake like that, Wira. Yew told me deliberately. Why?”

“Because it’s a truly challenging and dangerous mission that only you can accomplish, and it would take you away from your husband for a long time. It seems unfair to inflict it on you, for such a simple Answer.”

“So yew are messing up the Good Magician’s plan? I dew knot believe that either.”

“He told me to tell you,” Wira confessed.

“Why?”

“Because this mission has to be voluntary. You have to want to do it, and nobody with any sense would want to. So you are free to go home now.”

That was too much for Wenda to assimilate at the moment, so she reverted to the subject. “And the third Challenge?”

“That relates to your developing talent, which makes you uniquely qualified for this particular mission.”

“What talent?”

“The talent of working with reverse wood.”

“But all I did was sort through the chips and find the one the Pole Cat needed. I understand wood, having derived from wood myself.”

“No.”

Surprised, Wenda looked at her. “I dew knot think I’ve ever heard you say that word before.”

Wira laughed. “You do understand wood, and that’s important. But you did not merely sort the chips. Every chip of reverse wood has the capacity to reverse several ways. You fixed that selection, locking that chip into the manner you desired. That’s your magic: to guide reverse wood. When you did that, we knew you qualified.”

“Qualified for what?”

“The Good Magician will tell you. Remember, you have the right to decline. I recommend that you do.”

Wenda shook her head. “I dew knot think that would bee fair. Yew gave me my Answer.”

“Well, listen to what he says, then decide.”

“I will dew that,” Wenda agreed.

They entered the Castle Proper and came to a central courtyard. There was a lovely woman in overalls and gloves, with a bandanna on her hair. She wore a necklace of Rose quartz, with the quartz-sized beads alternating with pintz-sized beads. She was evidently the Magician’s Designated Wife of the month. He had five and a half wives, but wasn’t allowed to have more than one with him at a time, so they took monthly turns. “Rose of Roogna, this is Wenda Woodwife Charming,” Wira said.

“Oh, I’m delighted to meet you,” Rose said. “You surely understand plants.”

“I understand wood, anyway,” Wenda agreed cautiously. “And many of the plants of the forest.” She had heard of Rose, who had lived for centuries in Castle Roogna, until marrying the Good Magician. She grew magic roses.

“That should be close enough. My world is roses, but I have encountered one I do not understand. Maybe you can help.”

“I doubt I could tell yew anything about roses.”

“Oh, I simply love the way you speak! It’s so woodsy. Here is the rose.” She showed a lovely plant with a single large red rose with blue polka dots. “I received it from a goblin who found it deep underground. I can’t make it grow, and fear it will die before I can clone it.”

Wenda saw the problem instantly. “That’s knot a rose,” she said. “It’s carved wood, magically animated to resemble a rose.”

“Oh!” Rose exclaimed, amazed. “It certainly fooled me.”

“I think there’s an acceptance spell on it, so that people are dissuaded from questioning it. But I can knot be fooled by wood. That’s cut wood, so it will never grow. That goblin is playing an unkind joke on yew.”

Rose considered. “Goblins do malicious things. I should have realized. Thank you, dear. I hope my husband can help you as much as you have helped me.”

Wira reappeared, which was mildly startling because Wenda had not realized she had departed. “The Good Magician will see you now.”

Wenda followed Wira up the dark winding stone stairway to the Good Magician’s dingy office. “Good Magician, here is Princess Wenda Woodwife Charming.”

The gnomelike figure looked grudgingly up from his huge tome. “Thank you, Wira.” Then he focused on Wenda. “What, back again, wood nymph?”

Wenda smiled. He was having his little joke. “Yew saw me coming, Magician. Yew even gave me my Answer in advance, so I could escape the year’s service. Yew surely have a reason, unless yew are becoming forgetful in yewr dotage.”

He did something astonishing. He laughed. Then he got serious. “The service is to fetch an object and bring it here. Unfortunately it is a difficult object that others can’t readily handle. You will find it a challenge too. It is too bad we don’t have the man with the talent of Ease.”

“Ease?”

“Anything he tried became easy. But we had nothing for him, and let him go. Then we learned of this difficult chore. I do not like to admit mistakes, but that was a bad one. He could have fetched the object without difficulty. It will not be easy for you, but it will be possible.”

Wenda was cautious, having been forewarned. “What kind of object?”

“It is a knot of petrified reverse wood, buried for centuries, that was exposed when a new crack opened from the Gap Chasm. It terrifies anyone who approaches it. It must be taken to safekeeping before it falls into the wrong hands.”

Naturally petrified wood would frighten people. “But if no one dares approach it, how can wrong hands get it? And what could they dew with it?”

“Goblins could rope it from a distance, or drop stones on it to chip flakes away, which they could carry at the ends of long poles, and fling into neighboring villages to terrify the inhabitants, making them easy to rob, rape, or kill.”

“How could I approach it, to carry it? I am knot brave. I wood bee as frightened as anyone.”

“Not so. I remind you that this is petrified reverse wood. It has changed its nature, and now frightens rather than reverses, but you would relate to its fundamental nature. It will not affect you.”

“Oh. Then I could carry it quickly here, before the goblins learn of it.”

“No.”

“I dew knot understand. Why woodn’t I carry it?”

“Because it weighs, in Mundane terms, about a hundred and fifty pounds. You could not lift it, let alone carry it. You will have to use a wagon.”

She was beginning to get a notion of the challenge of it. “Still, if I had a wagon—”

“The intervening terrain is rough. You would have to navigate the wagon through the Gap Chasm, bring it to ground level, then haul it through trackless jungle. Goblins and others would catch on long before you completed the mission.”

Wenda made a sudden decision. “I’ll dew it. Give me the wagon and the address.”

“You are aware that you don’t actually have to do it? You haven’t asked your Question, and I have not Answered.”

“It needs to bee done.”

“Then we shall have to do something about your accent, so you can be anonymous. Wira will delve in the cellar and give you a potion to eliminate it.”

“A potion will dew that?”

“Yes. It will cause you to say ‘do’ instead of ‘dew,’ for example. We got it from a couple who needed a favor, GenEric and GenErica.”

“Who?”

“A boy and girl who had the talent of substituting things that would still do the job. In this case, it will make you substitute other words that will suffice, even though they are not the original ones.”

“Substitutions will make me anonymous?”

“Yes, essentially. Your forest accent is a giveaway to your nature. Then no one need know your identity, unless you tell them.”

“But why wood I need to bee anonymous? I am already thoroughly unknown.”

“Less so than you might think. For one thing, you’re a princess, ever since you married Prince Charming. People notice princesses. For another, you were part of the party that repaired the gravity cable from Mundania. There are those who remember. For this purpose, you must become an anonymous protagonist.”

“A what?”

“A person at the center of a narrative. A viewpoint character. One who sees what is happening, without necessarily governing it.”

That was still too complicated for her to comprehend. But at that point Wira reappeared. “Here is the potion.”

Wenda didn’t wait. She took it and drank it. It tasted like thickened water, and had no apparent effect. “I do not think it’s working,” she said. Then paused, startled. Then tried again, using more of her words. “I would not do that to you. It would not be fair.”

The Good Magician nodded. She was ready for the mission. At least in this respect.

 

Copyright © 2010 by Piers Anthony Jacob

All rights reserved.

A Tor® eBook

Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC

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Sort by: Showing all of 16 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 18, 2011

    Always a Great Read.

    I've been reading this series since the start and can never get enough! They have everything but sex and blood and guts. I just love them! I would recommend this series for teens and adults. Book clubs discussions would be great also.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 21, 2014

    Were are some of the book are it skips from 15 to 31 i like the

    Were are some of the book are it skips from 15 to 31 i like the book but i want to know why some of these books are not on here?

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  • Posted February 3, 2013

    i just discovered piers anthony's writings and since then i hav

    i just discovered piers anthony's writings and since then i have read 3 of his works and now i am going to the book store to order more,,, ( i don't like e-book reading),,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,( he is a master story teller ),,,enough said :-)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 5, 2012

    Read this

    This is a great book but i have a simple thing i need answered were are some of the book are it skips from 15 to 31 i like the book but i want to know why some of these books are not on here?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2012

    Knot another so-so sci-fi.

    Piers comes through again with #34 in the ongoing story of Xanth. For any who trully love Xanth, this will not disappoint.

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    Posted December 26, 2010

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