Chapter 5: The Enchantress Daisy

V. The Enchantress Daisy

 

 

 

1.

 

Mom is most unhappy with the result of our look-see in Valen. To her, it’s profited nothing and it’s cost me a week of work. But she doesn’t contest Janet’s prescription of bed rest. So a couple of days after they get me back home to my bed, I’m sitting up having some toast and tea with Jan and Fen. Fenric’s even brought some berry jam he copped from someone’s windowsill.

 

“They have to cool the jars,” he says. “So they leave them right there out on the windowsill. There were at least a dozen. I think of it as a form of taxation.”

 

“Seems right to me,” I say, looking at Janet.

 

“Normally I would say that the Virgin frowns on this sort of thing,” she opines, “but it’s definitely your calling, Fen, and besides, it would be a sin to keep all this jam to oneself.”

 

“So,” says Fenric, “heading down to the Institute to convince the faculty you’re worthy of the rarefied air of Grade Two?”

 

“Dang,” I say. “I need an artifact. An orc knife or something.”

 

Janet puts her pack on the floor and pulls an arrow out of it. It’s short and blackish with a tip that’s just whittled, hardened wood, and it has a little dried blood on it. My blood.

 

“Oh,” I say. “I think that might do.”

 

 

 

And it does. I had no idea how this would work, and I’m a little relieved to find that at Grade Two the examination process is pretty perfunctory. I find Stintsing, who’s in her lab trying to help Miss Lucette Barnswallow flail her way through a potion of waking. Try some strong tea, dear. Stintsing finally tells her, “Just keep at it, I’ll be back to check on you,” and comes over to see about me. “Oh my,” she says, “you’re looking quite pale.”

 

“Could be to do with this,” I say, holding out the arrow.

 

“Oh my.” She takes it and examines it. “Not orc. Maybe mountain orc, but I doubt it. Kobold?”

 

“Yes, Professor, exactly. Is it enough?”

 

“Let’s go round up two more masters,” she says.

 

So we do. We find Professor Eald right away in her office; she teaches Holds and Locks. I haven’t had her yet, but she seems really nice. They ask me who else I’ve had and I mention Shmoke, and they find him in the library gabbing with the head librarian, old Wooly. Then the three of them sit me down in an empty classroom and have me tell the story of my big adventure in the dungeons. Despite their universal need to go off about what they all did when they were my age and exploring the dungeons—in Eald’s case, it was under a ruined monastery in Hartway—I do manage to get to what they think are the salient points. These are: one, that I made it down a couple of levels; two, that I actually slept down there; three, that someone threw a cease spell on me; four, that I brought back an artifact, and five, I brought it out of Valen sticking out of my stomach.

 

I thought they might object to my learning rok from an archer as opposed to taking Eald’s class, but quite the contrary—they seem to find my resourcefulness refreshing.

 

In any case, I leave with a pile of homework to do while I continue to recuperate, five mantras to meditate with as I let my magic energy grow into its new power, and two new spells: xu, just to make invisible things visible, which seems useful, and paf nis, the lock spell, since Barb seems to have disappeared. Maybe I can xu her.

 

“You don’t think Lock is a bit wimpy for my first enchanter spell?” I ask.

 

“No, no, no,” says Shmoke. “That was my first enchanter spell. You have to have that. You need to be able to lock yourself behind a nice sturdy door before you go picking something offensive.”

 

“I agree,” says Stintsing. “Of course I’m brewing up something nasty behind my locked door. I remember one time when I actually made a stone stink potion. It’s perfectly benign until it’s thrown on stone. We had a bunch of ogres pounding on the door, so I locked up and made the potion and then we tossed it out the door and shut ourselves up for the night. No one bothered us after that—we could’ve stayed the week.”

 

“Lock spells are not wimpy,” says Eald. “You must take my class next semester. Maybe you could be my student assistant.”

 

So I’m feeling pretty buoyant when I get back to the house. Also pretty exhausted, and my wound is bleeding a little again. Fen and Jan come by and see to my nutrition and my bandage, and Gurth comes with them, with the news that Yanos is hanging about Sleepy’s trying to talk up another look-see in the Dread Dungeons of Dread Valen.

 

“Crapola,” I opine.

 

“Don’t tell me you’re not going,” says Fenric. “Don’t tell me you’re putting your little foot down.”

 

“Oh, I’m going,” I say. “Someone has to keep an eye on that guy.”

 

 

 

2.

 

Needless to say, Mom has plenty of work for me when I’m up and about after three days and four nights mostly spent in bed. The fact that I carried an arrow around for a while sticking out of my belly doesn’t impress her much; as far as she’s concerned, the whole idea was “cockamamie,” and whatever happened was “no more than you were asking for.”

 

But as I work up jugs of potion blank and then turn around and start making them into love potions and sleep potions (another hot item, especially for the elderly) and potions of wakefulness and potions of healing and potions of anything else that won’t get us in trouble, I know I’m hooked. I’m walking around among the cauldrons listing the reasons I should never go back into the dread dungeon. I just nearly got killed; Barb, whom I never liked even a little, was better than me and she’s gone off to who knows what shadowy grave; there are people down there with three-word spells, as well as very sharp little black arrows; get my grade three alchemy certification and head for the coast where I’ll have to learn some new numbers to count the money I’ll be making; and oh, on the subject of money, my average take on two journeys into the Valen dungeon: zero. The average number of people I see die: 2.5.

 

We close up shop and I go upstairs and collapse on my bed. After an hour, I sit up and think. Five minutes of that, and I haven’t come up with any reason to stay in bed. I get up, put my dress back on, put my coat on and quietly exit my room. Stopping to listen, I can hear my mom downstairs flirting with Constable. I go down the back stairs and out the back door. In a few minutes, I’m at the front door of Sleepy’s.

 

I don’t see any of the gang at first, though I do see Eleanor, who rather sticks out, and Lucette and some guys they seem to be hanging out with. They don’t show any notice of me. The two women seem impatient with their male companionship: have they been in the digs and didn’t find anything, or have they not yet persuaded the guys to do anything? If only I had the spell, I’d love to be a bug on that table.

 

But maybe I’m in my own head. Maybe they’re just young women looking for men who are faithful, reliable, interesting, clever, romantic, a little ambitious—let’s see, what else isn’t too much to ask? What was that joke? Every girl wants a man who will be romantic, a man who will make sweet love to her, a man who will buy her nice things, a man who will always remember her, and a man who will interest her without making her feel ignorant, and she also wants to make sure her boyfriend never meets any of those men. Something like that. I’m no good at jokes, and when I think about it, it doesn’t seem that funny after all.

 

But then I haven’t been that interested in a guy since I was fifteen, when Fenric told me he was gay. I had a crush on him, but it was just as well. He may be gay and sweet and all, but he’s a gay, sweet thief.

 

I’m thinking about the state of the male gender and vaguely watching Lucette Barnswallow and Eleanor of North Waldo, surrounded by men who would obviously love to get into their pants, but who draw the line at doing anything more to accomplish that goal than pour beer and make lewd remarks. I sense someone next to me. It’s Yanos.

 

“Pathetic, really,” he says. “Is that all your friend Lucette can manage?”

 

“Um,” I say, “have they been in Valen Dungeons?”

 

“They had a go,” he says. “I don’t think it went very well.”

 

“Did they bring back more treasure than we did?” I ask. “It would be hard for them to have brought back less.”

 

“We were just scouting,” he says, “and thus, we should go back soon and seal the deal.” We continue looking their way and he adds, “Rumor has it they’re also looking for the Circlet.”

 

“Rumor?”

 

“Well, you could go ask,” he points out. “Want to do that?”

 

“I might,” I say. “Think they know what happened with Barb?”

 

There’s no answer from his side, so I turn and look at him. He’s looking at me. He has that sensitive expression on his face. I’ve hurt his feelings.

 

“Do you know what happened with Barb?” he challenges me.

 

“No. I don’t. Do you?”

 

“I do not,” he says. “Daisy, I will tell you the truth. My heart is broken. She was in love with me, and I was not responsive, and now she’s gone. I feel awful.”

 

We stand there looking at each other. His scarred face is quite handsome in this light, and his eyes look incapable of lying. He’s laying his feelings on the table, baring his soul. I can’t help think he’s completely full of poo up to his earholes, I think it so intensely I almost say it, but—well, he’s got that look in his eyes. However full of poo he is, he believes what he says is what he feels.

 

“You’re signing people up to go back in,” I say.

 

“Well, yes,” he says, “but we all have a lot to deal with.” He waits just the right number of ticks and adds, seriously, “Daisy, may I buy us a bottle of wine? You look like you could use a mug of wine, and I know I could.”

 

“Oh, sure,” I say. “Let’s snag that table in back.”

 

“That sounds perfect,” he says. “I can tell you all that is troubling me, and you can tell me all that is troubling you.” He smiles. It’s quite the smile. And then we get that bottle and two mugs and a table, and he actually listens to me talk about my problems. Is he up to something? Well, obviously. But still.

 

At this point, I am still a virgin. That doesn’t last the night.

 

 

 

3.

 

But I don’t want to talk about that. It wasn’t degrading, it wasn’t a revelation from the Goddesses, it wasn’t—well, like I said, I don’t want to talk about that.

 

I wake up in the wee hours and I’m kind of disgusted but just a little thrilled with myself and a tiny bit concerned about what might come of it emotionally (but nothing’s going to come of it in any other way because, well, Mom did teach me about potions). And here I am talking about it, which I don’t want to do. So I get my clothes together and slip on out, leaving him (well, someone, it could have been anyone really) snoring in his bed, and I get back to the shop and get a few more hours of good sleep before I have to get up and get some work in.

 

I am at this point seventeen years of age. My birthday is in December: it’s the fifteenth, in case you’re thinking of buying me something. So I’m almost eighteen. I always assumed eighteen-year-old people knew what the hell was going on. I thought maybe someone takes them aside and explains it all. I need that, because I have never been so confused. It’s not like I’m torn between opposite pulls of my many desires. It’s more like I’m standing there with all these ropes attached to me waiting for any of them to pull me at all.

 

I really want another shot at Valen. I mean, it’s personal. I’ve been in there twice and lost five people, well, lost six, I suppose, because lost is what Barb is. Given that I feel very strongly about it, it’s curious how little actual desire I have to do anything about it. I could work and go to school for as long a time period as I am capable of imagining—that would be fine. But I’m absolutely firm that I am not going to do either of those things forever. Would I like some loving? Maybe a handsome man in my life? Yes, please. Two seems not too many. Do I want any of the men currently available? Well, Fenric’s out of the picture. Gurth is nice, but he’s a warrior and one thing I know about warriors is that they inevitably get shot dead by goblins, unless they fall prey to hypnotic-eyed monsters whose mouths don’t open the right way. Then there’s Yanos.

 

The number of mutually perpendicular ways I feel about Yanos is way more than I can keep in my conscious mind at once.

 

But I’m not going to talk about that.

 

So I take the day and work in the shop and manage to get to my History of Magic class. Professor Shmoke, who wears his black robe open in front to show off his plain grey tunic with a cannabis leaf stitched on it, and work pants, has started to notice me, so I have to up my attendance and my preparation. Do I have an opinion about the Stifling Peace and the Three Word Rule? Indeed I do! He’s so happy with me. After class I stop by my Magical Algebra prof’s office and find her in: Azalea Bund. I apologize for missing class, but I know better than to bother with a creative excuse. She gives me the homework: a scroll with a bunch of glyph-like puzzle problems to solve.

 

I happily stay home and work those problems and read up more on the Stifling Peace and how the Leodians tried to get around it. I get some more potions fixed up. I fix up a batch of contraceptive potion for my own use, just in case.

 

The next day I work all day and make it out for my Glyphs class. Oh, how I love glyphs. I could copy those things all day, especially when I think of how it felt to have an arrow pulled out of my stomach, or what diseases a guy who gets around like Yanos must have. I go home and volunteer to keep the shop open all evening. I make a charm sale, and then two people come in, about the fourth hour of evening, just as I’m thinking of locking up so I can go back and study and make potion blank.

 

They’re a man and a woman. She’s in a sort of novice nun outfit, except for the belt with some pouches and two knives. He’s got a hood and some very quiet boots, and something about him makes me keep an eye on the charms and trinkets we have on display.

 

“Oh, it’s you,” I say.

 

“Oh, it’s you,” Janet echoes me. “Fenric, I think she’s glad to see us.”

 

“You poor thing,” says Fenric. “Mummy is making you work all day and all night. What’re you studying? History of Magic?”

 

“It’s actually very interesting,” I say.

 

“Oh, I’m sure. Has Shmoke told you about the Quest of the Golden Bowl? That’s history.”

 

“Actually,” I say, “there are days when that’s mostly what he talks about. But there’s one difference between that and the Lapis Circlet.”

 

“Oh, what’s that?”

 

“I’ve seen the Golden Bowl. Shmoke has the Golden Bowl. They succeeded.”

 

“Right,” says Janet. “And do you know why? Because they kept at it.”

 

I don’t bother to retort. She’s right, and so am I. Shmoke has told us all about all the adventures he and his friends had once upon a time. He can still rattle off the names of all the ones who died along the way. And the ones who went on to be great wizards, and the one who wound up being Queen Daphne I. I’m trying to imagine the Emperor Fenric, or Janet with a time warrior ring. Or Lord Yanos. Or me with a time warrior ring.

 

“Look,” says Fenric, “we’re going back. We’re not sure when. We have Zelin, Yanos, Gurth. We need a magical practitioner. You’re an Enchantress now. You’re what we need.”

 

“What spell did you pick up?” asks Janet. “A damage spell?”

 

“No,” I say defiantly. “The lock spell.”

 

“Oh,” she says, “that’ll be useful. Where would that be useful? Trying to think. Oh, that’s right. The Dungeon of Valen.”

 

“So you’re going,” says Fenric. “Put her down on your list, Jan.”

 

“Already did, Fen,” she replies. They throw a matching pair of smiles at me, then swing around and leave without even stealing anything.

 

 

 

4.

 

But they’re wrong. I’m not in yet, not again. Whatever progress they might have made, Yanos just about loses it for them.

 

He swings by the shop the next morning. He acts as if he’s shopping for a strength potion, until he’s sure Mom’s not around: to my knowledge they’ve never met, although it’s not out of the realm of possibility that she’s slept with him. He comes up to me where I’m at the counter pretending to read magic history while I watch him. He gets very close, not like he’s going to make love to me, but like he has some sort of secret.

 

“Daisy,” he says, “we need you, you’re our only enchanter. We are going back for the Circlet and this time we are going to get it.”

 

“Yanos,” I say, “you look like you haven’t slept in a month.”

 

“Daisy, maybe that’s because I—this thing’s really driving me—!” He stops, rearranges his face and says, “We know where it is. We have new information. We—!”

 

“New information. What new information?” He starts into that trust me series of gestures. He’s got in the weary smile and the half shrug, and he’s shifting to his innocent look when I say, “Be exact, Yanos. And use words.”

 

He rolls his eyes, then looks around, leans forward and says, in almost a whisper, “There’s this old chapel down on the fourth level down. There’s a series of old torture rooms and store rooms, and through the chapel and through the torture room next to it there’s, it must have been a barrack for the Old Order. They’re gone. Long gone.”

 

“Oh good,” I say. “Who’s taken their place?”

 

“Band of goblins, couple dozen. They’re in the pay of some sorcerer, but they have the Circlet in the old barrack’s special storage, I don’t think they even know what it is. Who knows what else they have in there? All we have to do is get through a bunch of goblins.”

 

“And maybe a sorcerer.”

 

“No, no, he never hangs out down there. You put the guards to sleep, we crash through the rest of them, grab whatever we find and get out. But we need you.”

 

“Yanos,” I say, “where on Earth would you get such specific information? If this circlet is so freakin’ important, and someone knows what drawer it’s in, why didn’t they just take it?” He hems and haws. “Yanos. Who told you all this? Or did you make it up?”

 

“Well,” he says, and he laughs. I’m glaring at him. He gulps and says, “Barbara. Barb, she told me. She had the telepathy spell. It’s two words, isn’t it?”

 

“Yes, yes, it’s a two worder.”

 

“So when we were scouting,” he says, “she said the spell, when we were sort of cowering around a corner. Sha something.”

 

“Yeah. Sha something,” I say. I know the words, but I don’t have the spell yet. That one sort of freaks me out. Would I like to know what Yanos is thinking? Definitely yes and no. “Who did she use it on? A stray goblin came around the corner?”

 

“She sort of reached out, apparently, and I suppose goblins are easy reads. She was sort of whispering about it to me, ‘it’s in a store room, through the chapel, past the torture room and the barracks, it’s in a closet’ and so on. ‘They don’t have any idea what it is,’ she said, she said that.”

 

“The goblins? The circlet? You’re sure she wasn’t talking about a bathtub? They wouldn’t know what that was either.”

 

“No, no,” he said seriously, and then he laughed at my joke, which I thought was rather charitable, and said, “Barb actually said ‘circlet’ to start with. Got my attention.”

 

“And then you went and—?”

 

“Then we went and got into it with a sorcerer,” he said.

 

“Who’s never there.” He smiled apologetically and shrugged.

 

I’m frankly not sure what it is with me. I was so ready to go back, but then I’d get a twinge where I got shot in the stomach. Then Jan and Fen come see me and they know just how to manipulate me, so that they leave with those smirks on their faces, and right after I get over thinking there is no way I’m falling for that, I’m falling for that. I’m all ready to be manipulated. Except that on reflection, I hate being manipulated. I can remember my sarcastic rejoinders and they still make more sense to me than anything Jan and Fen said.

 

And then Yanos comes in here and tries to sell it to me, and all I can think of is that there is no way I’m going back in there with this guy.

 

I say so. He takes a second to think about it, and then he comes around the counter and starts trying to get sweet with me. He’s all “hey, now, sweet Daisy,” and a whole new set of little smiles and doe eyes. “Yanos,” I say, “do I need to slap you?”

 

“You just might,” he says, getting up against me, his hands along my sides, his face bending to be in my face. I sense his hands ready to take my wrists. He thinks he’s going to push me against the wall and do what he thinks I want him to do. So I stomp on his toes. Hard. He takes that as a no. He backs out of range, then sort of laughs and says, “You’ll come around. We need you.”

 

“Yeah, well,” I say, holding my position but getting my wand out, “I work today, I work tomorrow, I work the next day, and then I’m planning on working every day till Yule. It’s good money, you know. Love potions selling really well.”

 

“Come to that,” he says, still backing toward the door, “you wouldn’t make a break lock potion, would you?”

 

“A what?”

 

“Just an idea,” he says, and then he backs out the door, his smirk lingering behind him.

 

 

 

5.

 

So I work my butt off for two days. I make potion blank, I make love potions, I make healing potions, I make a few charms, and then, just for the heck of it, I get out the cookbook and have a bash at a couple of vials of break lock potion.

 

Janet stops by the second evening, says hi to my mom, who offers her soup, has some of Mom’s over-spiced soup, and wheedles me into going out for a few beers. We go to the Golden Mouse, at my request, pretty much just to avoid being found by Fenric or anyone else: I figure that if Fen or Yanos or anyone like that is looking for us, and we’re not at Sleepy’s waiting to be found, they’ll look at the Rose, and if we’re not there, they’ll assume we’re out of town. Of course the Mouse happens to be crowded tonight. Maybe everyone else is avoiding Fenric just now.

 

“I have to tell you something,” Janet says as soon as we sit down with our pitcher (well, my pitcher, I paid for it) and two mugs.

 

“Really? What?” I say, so relieved. A very very different me would have started the conversation that way, and continued with, “I lost my virginity!”

 

“Really.” She takes a big drink, carefully swallows it, looks around, leans close and says, “I’ve decided on what to call myself as a priest.”

 

“Oh, good,” I say, the air going out of the ball a bit.

 

“I know it’s a little ways away,” she says. “I just made vicar, in case I didn’t tell you, so—!”

 

“Wait,” I say. “You just made vicar? And that’s not the big news?”

 

“Well, okay, but you just made enchanter, so—!”

 

“Enchantress. Okay, so what are you going to be called as a priest?”

 

“Father Jan,” she says, with a proud smile.

 

It takes me several seconds to realize what’s going on there. “Father?” I say.

 

“Yes!”

 

“Well,” I say, and I cast about for a reaction. The first thing that comes to mind is, “You’re definitely tall enough.”

 

“Are you saying I couldn’t be a Father if I was short?”

 

“No, no, I—! You can be whatever you want. Really. I’m just saying that you’ll have less trouble looking the part—geez, is that bad? Am I totally blowing it here? Wow. Maybe I should just settle for wow.”

 

“Oh, Daisy,” she says—he says?—“you’re great. I can just imagine what my dad will say.”

 

“Did you tell Fenric? He’ll be supportive.”

 

“He’d better be.” She takes a drink. Or: He takes a drink. I need to nail that down, I guess. “But you’re right, actually, the height and the way the Priests of the Virgin dress won’t hurt.”

 

“And your higher-ups?”

 

She laughs. “They don’t know my name. I can tell them they’ve been saying it wrong. Yes. Yes! That’s it. ‘Et’ is my last name. Brilliant!” She chortles a bit. Then she catches my eye. “Daisy,” she says, “you’re fixating on something across the room. What are you fixating on across the room?”

 

“Nothing,” I lie.

 

We drink the rest of the pitcher pretty fast. I leave her with the last mug of it, and excuse myself to use the latrine out the back door. I kind of need to, but that’s not why I’m going.

 

I wait just inside the back door, and it opens to let in a couple big ugly Amazons. I have my wand in my hand. They eye me suspiciously but move on.

 

I can see the next person coming back from relieving himself before he gets to the door. I push outside and meet him. It’s Yanos. I have my wand to his neck.

 

“Hi, Daisy,” he says.

 

“Yanos,” I say. “What a pleasure. I couldn’t help notice you were sitting with Lucette Barnswallow. And my old archer pal Eleanor.”

 

He smiles in spite of my wand sticking in under his chin. “Gonna put your lock spell on my mouth?” he manages to say.

 

“No,” I say, “but I can put enough sleep energy into you to keep you unconscious for a week. Why are you at the Mouse? Avoiding the usual crowd?” He starts into his whole smiling-shrugging routine. I stick the wand up there further. “Yes? No?”

 

“Yes, obviously,” he says. “Look, we need—!”

 

“We’re having this discussion back at Sleepy’s with the others,” I say, taking my wand out of his neck.

 

“Tomorrow night okay?” he asks, straightening his tunic.

 

“No,” I say. “Right now.”

 

 

 

6.

 

In Insmoor, my home town, it’s still unremarkable when a young woman of less height that she would like pushes a full-grown, rather hairy and battle-scarred man ahead of her through the Golden Mouse with her wand in his back. We are followed, of course, but only by Jan.

 

We turn onto Bridge Street and up the block is Sleepy’s. Gurth and Zelin are actually standing outside with Fenric, smoking. They see us down the block and watch us approach without reaction.

 

“Let’s get a table, shall we?” Fenric remarks.

 

“Should be easy,” says Gurth. “Sleepy’s is sleepier than usual.” He and Fenric go in, and Gurth holds the door. I prod Yanos inside. Gurth asks me, “Anyone know who Sleepy is or was?”

 

“Was, I think,” says Janet, who is behind me with Zelin. “This place has been here for about five thousand million years.”

 

“I’ll get a couple of bottles of wine,” says Zelin. “Six glasses? Yes.”

 

I put my wand away. We take a nearby round table, and the five of us sit down: me, Janet, Fenric, Yanos across from me, Gurth next to him. “So,” I say. “Nice night at the Mouse?”

 

“Coming back from the bathroom was not the usual,” says Yanos.

 

“So tell us. Were you recruiting, or being recruited?”

 

Zelin put two bottles of wine on the table, and then six short sturdy glasses, produced from her various pockets. “What have I missed?” she asks.

 

“He was at the Golden Mouse,” Janet explains, “with Daisy’s magical rival Lucette, and our former associate Eleanor.”

 

“And some guys who looked like warriors,” I add.

 

“All right,” says Zelin, pouring glasses and passing them around, “that sounds like recruiting. And how would he recruit them? They were recruiting him. For his knowledge.” She fixes Yanos with a look. “True?”

 

“True,” he says, smiling at his glass.

 

“Now he expects us to bid for him,” she adds. She looks at me. “But we don’t want to do that.”

 

“No,” I say. “Because he’s got a prior commitment to us.” I say it, and that little voice inside me says, why do YOU have a commitment to us? Are you now stuck with going back in? It’s dismal. It’s dark and dangerous and shadowy and feels like going to work. And then I think, there we are in that room where Jorg is pretty well decomposed by now, but outside there in the hall where Zelin and Gurth and I had a smoke, down that hall to—where? Where? What lies beyond?

 

What wondrous caverns? What guarded treasures? What strange beasts and strange glyphs and strange designs and strange inhabitants? And always a hall into darkness, always a stair down further into the Earth.

 

“She’s right,” Jan is saying. “You’re going with us, not with Lucette Barnswallow. And we’re not changing the deal. You’re doing this because you have a moral obligation, and if that’s not enough, you know we know most of what you know and if we get a head start on you, we’re likely to be on the fourth level of below before you are, and that could be very messy. And we’re doing this because we like you. We do like him, right?”

 

“Oh, we love him,” says Fenric. “Only one thing. The situation has changed, Yanos. Before, you could pretend you were more experienced and all. You’re not that much more experienced anymore. We’re all equals.” Yanos looks up at him and snorts. Fenric says, “We need a couple more warriors. I’m on map. Daisy is in front with Gurth and another warrior, she can fall back if we meet things that shoot, she’s allergic to arrows. Middle is Jan and you. Back is me and Zelin and the other warrior.”

 

“You wouldn’t want me in back,” says Yanos, “I might try to escape.”

 

“We need an archer in the middle,” says Zelin, “but there is also that.”

 

“And we split the take even up,” says Yanos. “What about the Circlet? We split that even up? Chop it into eighths?”

 

“We sell it,” says Fenric. “Believe it or not, I know people who pay for items of unknown provenance. You didn’t want it for some other reason, did you?”

 

“Why would I want it for some other reason?”

 

We all look at each other. No one has the heart to puncture Yanos’s bluff, if it’s a bluff. Finally I take a drink and say, “So about these other warriors.”

 

“I know a couple people,” says Gurth.

 

I think of what I want to say to that. I’m nearly eighteen, so I take another drink of wine—dang, this is good wine, we must always let Zelin choose—and I say it anyway. “Do you mind if they get killed and have their corpses stuffed in closets?”

 

“No, actually,” says Gurth. “Just so you don’t do that to me.”

 

I hold his eyes for a bit. “Warriors,” says Fenric. “You’re a little different, aren’t you?”

 

“We know we’re expendable. Not like, say, thieves.”

 

“Or enchantresses,” says Yanos, smirking at me.

 

“All right, all right,” says Zelin. “Enough, what do you say, garbage talk. Trash talk, I mean. Let us swear.”

 

“Your call,” I say.

 

She raises her glass. “We drink to our pledge. We shall go into the darkness and return with the Lapis Circlet, or not return at all. We will not betray this cause.” We clink glasses and drink. She holds up her half-empty glass—I notice Gurth and Janet both finished theirs already—and adds, “And we will then sell it and split the proceeds.”

 

“Pledged,” says Jan.

 

“And when do we set out on this sacredly consecrated mission?” asks Yanos.

 

“I dunno,” says Jan. She looks at me. “When’s your next day off?”

  1. The Enchantress Daisy

 

 

 

1.

 

Mom is most unhappy with the result of our look-see in Valen. To her, it’s profited nothing and it’s cost me a week of work. But she doesn’t contest Janet’s prescription of bed rest. So a couple of days after they get me back home to my bed, I’m sitting up having some toast and tea with Jan and Fen. Fenric’s even brought some berry jam he copped from someone’s windowsill.

 

“They have to cool the jars,” he says. “So they leave them right there out on the windowsill. There were at least a dozen. I think of it as a form of taxation.”

 

“Seems right to me,” I say, looking at Janet.

 

“Normally I would say that the Virgin frowns on this sort of thing,” she opines, “but it’s definitely your calling, Fen, and besides, it would be a sin to keep all this jam to oneself.”

 

“So,” says Fenric, “heading down to the Institute to convince the faculty you’re worthy of the rarefied air of Grade Two?”

 

“Dang,” I say. “I need an artifact. An orc knife or something.”

 

Janet puts her pack on the floor and pulls an arrow out of it. It’s short and blackish with a tip that’s just whittled, hardened wood, and it has a little dried blood on it. My blood.

 

“Oh,” I say. “I think that might do.”

 

 

 

And it does. I had no idea how this would work, and I’m a little relieved to find that at Grade Two the examination process is pretty perfunctory. I find Stintsing, who’s in her lab trying to help Miss Lucette Barnswallow flail her way through a potion of waking. Try some strong tea, dear. Stintsing finally tells her, “Just keep at it, I’ll be back to check on you,” and comes over to see about me. “Oh my,” she says, “you’re looking quite pale.”

 

“Could be to do with this,” I say, holding out the arrow.

 

“Oh my.” She takes it and examines it. “Not orc. Maybe mountain orc, but I doubt it. Kobold?”

 

“Yes, Professor, exactly. Is it enough?”

 

“Let’s go round up two more masters,” she says.

 

So we do. We find Professor Eald right away in her office; she teaches Holds and Locks. I haven’t had her yet, but she seems really nice. They ask me who else I’ve had and I mention Shmoke, and they find him in the library gabbing with the head librarian, old Wooly. Then the three of them sit me down in an empty classroom and have me tell the story of my big adventure in the dungeons. Despite their universal need to go off about what they all did when they were my age and exploring the dungeons—in Eald’s case, it was under a ruined monastery in Hartway—I do manage to get to what they think are the salient points. These are: one, that I made it down a couple of levels; two, that I actually slept down there; three, that someone threw a cease spell on me; four, that I brought back an artifact, and five, I brought it out of Valen sticking out of my stomach.

 

I thought they might object to my learning rok from an archer as opposed to taking Eald’s class, but quite the contrary—they seem to find my resourcefulness refreshing.

 

In any case, I leave with a pile of homework to do while I continue to recuperate, five mantras to meditate with as I let my magic energy grow into its new power, and two new spells: xu, just to make invisible things visible, which seems useful, and paf nis, the lock spell, since Barb seems to have disappeared. Maybe I can xu her.

 

“You don’t think Lock is a bit wimpy for my first enchanter spell?” I ask.

 

“No, no, no,” says Shmoke. “That was my first enchanter spell. You have to have that. You need to be able to lock yourself behind a nice sturdy door before you go picking something offensive.”

 

“I agree,” says Stintsing. “Of course I’m brewing up something nasty behind my locked door. I remember one time when I actually made a stone stink potion. It’s perfectly benign until it’s thrown on stone. We had a bunch of ogres pounding on the door, so I locked up and made the potion and then we tossed it out the door and shut ourselves up for the night. No one bothered us after that—we could’ve stayed the week.”

 

“Lock spells are not wimpy,” says Eald. “You must take my class next semester. Maybe you could be my student assistant.”

 

So I’m feeling pretty buoyant when I get back to the house. Also pretty exhausted, and my wound is bleeding a little again. Fen and Jan come by and see to my nutrition and my bandage, and Gurth comes with them, with the news that Yanos is hanging about Sleepy’s trying to talk up another look-see in the Dread Dungeons of Dread Valen.

 

“Crapola,” I opine.

 

“Don’t tell me you’re not going,” says Fenric. “Don’t tell me you’re putting your little foot down.”

 

“Oh, I’m going,” I say. “Someone has to keep an eye on that guy.”

 

 

 

2.

 

Needless to say, Mom has plenty of work for me when I’m up and about after three days and four nights mostly spent in bed. The fact that I carried an arrow around for a while sticking out of my belly doesn’t impress her much; as far as she’s concerned, the whole idea was “cockamamie,” and whatever happened was “no more than you were asking for.”

 

But as I work up jugs of potion blank and then turn around and start making them into love potions and sleep potions (another hot item, especially for the elderly) and potions of wakefulness and potions of healing and potions of anything else that won’t get us in trouble, I know I’m hooked. I’m walking around among the cauldrons listing the reasons I should never go back into the dread dungeon. I just nearly got killed; Barb, whom I never liked even a little, was better than me and she’s gone off to who knows what shadowy grave; there are people down there with three-word spells, as well as very sharp little black arrows; get my grade three alchemy certification and head for the coast where I’ll have to learn some new numbers to count the money I’ll be making; and oh, on the subject of money, my average take on two journeys into the Valen dungeon: zero. The average number of people I see die: 2.5.

 

We close up shop and I go upstairs and collapse on my bed. After an hour, I sit up and think. Five minutes of that, and I haven’t come up with any reason to stay in bed. I get up, put my dress back on, put my coat on and quietly exit my room. Stopping to listen, I can hear my mom downstairs flirting with Constable. I go down the back stairs and out the back door. In a few minutes, I’m at the front door of Sleepy’s.

 

I don’t see any of the gang at first, though I do see Eleanor, who rather sticks out, and Lucette and some guys they seem to be hanging out with. They don’t show any notice of me. The two women seem impatient with their male companionship: have they been in the digs and didn’t find anything, or have they not yet persuaded the guys to do anything? If only I had the spell, I’d love to be a bug on that table.

 

But maybe I’m in my own head. Maybe they’re just young women looking for men who are faithful, reliable, interesting, clever, romantic, a little ambitious—let’s see, what else isn’t too much to ask? What was that joke? Every girl wants a man who will be romantic, a man who will make sweet love to her, a man who will buy her nice things, a man who will always remember her, and a man who will interest her without making her feel ignorant, and she also wants to make sure her boyfriend never meets any of those men. Something like that. I’m no good at jokes, and when I think about it, it doesn’t seem that funny after all.

 

But then I haven’t been that interested in a guy since I was fifteen, when Fenric told me he was gay. I had a crush on him, but it was just as well. He may be gay and sweet and all, but he’s a gay, sweet thief.

 

I’m thinking about the state of the male gender and vaguely watching Lucette Barnswallow and Eleanor of North Waldo, surrounded by men who would obviously love to get into their pants, but who draw the line at doing anything more to accomplish that goal than pour beer and make lewd remarks. I sense someone next to me. It’s Yanos.

 

“Pathetic, really,” he says. “Is that all your friend Lucette can manage?”

 

“Um,” I say, “have they been in Valen Dungeons?”

 

“They had a go,” he says. “I don’t think it went very well.”

 

“Did they bring back more treasure than we did?” I ask. “It would be hard for them to have brought back less.”

 

“We were just scouting,” he says, “and thus, we should go back soon and seal the deal.” We continue looking their way and he adds, “Rumor has it they’re also looking for the Circlet.”

 

“Rumor?”

 

“Well, you could go ask,” he points out. “Want to do that?”

 

“I might,” I say. “Think they know what happened with Barb?”

 

There’s no answer from his side, so I turn and look at him. He’s looking at me. He has that sensitive expression on his face. I’ve hurt his feelings.

 

“Do you know what happened with Barb?” he challenges me.

 

“No. I don’t. Do you?”

 

“I do not,” he says. “Daisy, I will tell you the truth. My heart is broken. She was in love with me, and I was not responsive, and now she’s gone. I feel awful.”

 

We stand there looking at each other. His scarred face is quite handsome in this light, and his eyes look incapable of lying. He’s laying his feelings on the table, baring his soul. I can’t help think he’s completely full of poo up to his earholes, I think it so intensely I almost say it, but—well, he’s got that look in his eyes. However full of poo he is, he believes what he says is what he feels.

 

“You’re signing people up to go back in,” I say.

 

“Well, yes,” he says, “but we all have a lot to deal with.” He waits just the right number of ticks and adds, seriously, “Daisy, may I buy us a bottle of wine? You look like you could use a mug of wine, and I know I could.”

 

“Oh, sure,” I say. “Let’s snag that table in back.”

 

“That sounds perfect,” he says. “I can tell you all that is troubling me, and you can tell me all that is troubling you.” He smiles. It’s quite the smile. And then we get that bottle and two mugs and a table, and he actually listens to me talk about my problems. Is he up to something? Well, obviously. But still.

 

At this point, I am still a virgin. That doesn’t last the night.

 

 

 

3.

 

But I don’t want to talk about that. It wasn’t degrading, it wasn’t a revelation from the Goddesses, it wasn’t—well, like I said, I don’t want to talk about that.

 

I wake up in the wee hours and I’m kind of disgusted but just a little thrilled with myself and a tiny bit concerned about what might come of it emotionally (but nothing’s going to come of it in any other way because, well, Mom did teach me about potions). And here I am talking about it, which I don’t want to do. So I get my clothes together and slip on out, leaving him (well, someone, it could have been anyone really) snoring in his bed, and I get back to the shop and get a few more hours of good sleep before I have to get up and get some work in.

 

I am at this point seventeen years of age. My birthday is in December: it’s the fifteenth, in case you’re thinking of buying me something. So I’m almost eighteen. I always assumed eighteen-year-old people knew what the hell was going on. I thought maybe someone takes them aside and explains it all. I need that, because I have never been so confused. It’s not like I’m torn between opposite pulls of my many desires. It’s more like I’m standing there with all these ropes attached to me waiting for any of them to pull me at all.

 

I really want another shot at Valen. I mean, it’s personal. I’ve been in there twice and lost five people, well, lost six, I suppose, because lost is what Barb is. Given that I feel very strongly about it, it’s curious how little actual desire I have to do anything about it. I could work and go to school for as long a time period as I am capable of imagining—that would be fine. But I’m absolutely firm that I am not going to do either of those things forever. Would I like some loving? Maybe a handsome man in my life? Yes, please. Two seems not too many. Do I want any of the men currently available? Well, Fenric’s out of the picture. Gurth is nice, but he’s a warrior and one thing I know about warriors is that they inevitably get shot dead by goblins, unless they fall prey to hypnotic-eyed monsters whose mouths don’t open the right way. Then there’s Yanos.

 

The number of mutually perpendicular ways I feel about Yanos is way more than I can keep in my conscious mind at once.

 

But I’m not going to talk about that.

 

So I take the day and work in the shop and manage to get to my History of Magic class. Professor Shmoke, who wears his black robe open in front to show off his plain grey tunic with a cannabis leaf stitched on it, and work pants, has started to notice me, so I have to up my attendance and my preparation. Do I have an opinion about the Stifling Peace and the Three Word Rule? Indeed I do! He’s so happy with me. After class I stop by my Magical Algebra prof’s office and find her in: Azalea Bund. I apologize for missing class, but I know better than to bother with a creative excuse. She gives me the homework: a scroll with a bunch of glyph-like puzzle problems to solve.

 

I happily stay home and work those problems and read up more on the Stifling Peace and how the Leodians tried to get around it. I get some more potions fixed up. I fix up a batch of contraceptive potion for my own use, just in case.

 

The next day I work all day and make it out for my Glyphs class. Oh, how I love glyphs. I could copy those things all day, especially when I think of how it felt to have an arrow pulled out of my stomach, or what diseases a guy who gets around like Yanos must have. I go home and volunteer to keep the shop open all evening. I make a charm sale, and then two people come in, about the fourth hour of evening, just as I’m thinking of locking up so I can go back and study and make potion blank.

 

They’re a man and a woman. She’s in a sort of novice nun outfit, except for the belt with some pouches and two knives. He’s got a hood and some very quiet boots, and something about him makes me keep an eye on the charms and trinkets we have on display.

 

“Oh, it’s you,” I say.

 

“Oh, it’s you,” Janet echoes me. “Fenric, I think she’s glad to see us.”

 

“You poor thing,” says Fenric. “Mummy is making you work all day and all night. What’re you studying? History of Magic?”

 

“It’s actually very interesting,” I say.

 

“Oh, I’m sure. Has Shmoke told you about the Quest of the Golden Bowl? That’s history.”

 

“Actually,” I say, “there are days when that’s mostly what he talks about. But there’s one difference between that and the Lapis Circlet.”

 

“Oh, what’s that?”

 

“I’ve seen the Golden Bowl. Shmoke has the Golden Bowl. They succeeded.”

 

“Right,” says Janet. “And do you know why? Because they kept at it.”

 

I don’t bother to retort. She’s right, and so am I. Shmoke has told us all about all the adventures he and his friends had once upon a time. He can still rattle off the names of all the ones who died along the way. And the ones who went on to be great wizards, and the one who wound up being Queen Daphne I. I’m trying to imagine the Emperor Fenric, or Janet with a time warrior ring. Or Lord Yanos. Or me with a time warrior ring.

 

“Look,” says Fenric, “we’re going back. We’re not sure when. We have Zelin, Yanos, Gurth. We need a magical practitioner. You’re an Enchantress now. You’re what we need.”

 

“What spell did you pick up?” asks Janet. “A damage spell?”

 

“No,” I say defiantly. “The lock spell.”

 

“Oh,” she says, “that’ll be useful. Where would that be useful? Trying to think. Oh, that’s right. The Dungeon of Valen.”

 

“So you’re going,” says Fenric. “Put her down on your list, Jan.”

 

“Already did, Fen,” she replies. They throw a matching pair of smiles at me, then swing around and leave without even stealing anything.

 

 

 

4.

 

But they’re wrong. I’m not in yet, not again. Whatever progress they might have made, Yanos just about loses it for them.

 

He swings by the shop the next morning. He acts as if he’s shopping for a strength potion, until he’s sure Mom’s not around: to my knowledge they’ve never met, although it’s not out of the realm of possibility that she’s slept with him. He comes up to me where I’m at the counter pretending to read magic history while I watch him. He gets very close, not like he’s going to make love to me, but like he has some sort of secret.

 

“Daisy,” he says, “we need you, you’re our only enchanter. We are going back for the Circlet and this time we are going to get it.”

 

“Yanos,” I say, “you look like you haven’t slept in a month.”

 

“Daisy, maybe that’s because I—this thing’s really driving me—!” He stops, rearranges his face and says, “We know where it is. We have new information. We—!”

 

“New information. What new information?” He starts into that trust me series of gestures. He’s got in the weary smile and the half shrug, and he’s shifting to his innocent look when I say, “Be exact, Yanos. And use words.”

 

He rolls his eyes, then looks around, leans forward and says, in almost a whisper, “There’s this old chapel down on the fourth level down. There’s a series of old torture rooms and store rooms, and through the chapel and through the torture room next to it there’s, it must have been a barrack for the Old Order. They’re gone. Long gone.”

 

“Oh good,” I say. “Who’s taken their place?”

 

“Band of goblins, couple dozen. They’re in the pay of some sorcerer, but they have the Circlet in the old barrack’s special storage, I don’t think they even know what it is. Who knows what else they have in there? All we have to do is get through a bunch of goblins.”

 

“And maybe a sorcerer.”

 

“No, no, he never hangs out down there. You put the guards to sleep, we crash through the rest of them, grab whatever we find and get out. But we need you.”

 

“Yanos,” I say, “where on Earth would you get such specific information? If this circlet is so freakin’ important, and someone knows what drawer it’s in, why didn’t they just take it?” He hems and haws. “Yanos. Who told you all this? Or did you make it up?”

 

“Well,” he says, and he laughs. I’m glaring at him. He gulps and says, “Barbara. Barb, she told me. She had the telepathy spell. It’s two words, isn’t it?”

 

“Yes, yes, it’s a two worder.”

 

“So when we were scouting,” he says, “she said the spell, when we were sort of cowering around a corner. Sha something.”

 

“Yeah. Sha something,” I say. I know the words, but I don’t have the spell yet. That one sort of freaks me out. Would I like to know what Yanos is thinking? Definitely yes and no. “Who did she use it on? A stray goblin came around the corner?”

 

“She sort of reached out, apparently, and I suppose goblins are easy reads. She was sort of whispering about it to me, ‘it’s in a store room, through the chapel, past the torture room and the barracks, it’s in a closet’ and so on. ‘They don’t have any idea what it is,’ she said, she said that.”

 

“The goblins? The circlet? You’re sure she wasn’t talking about a bathtub? They wouldn’t know what that was either.”

 

“No, no,” he said seriously, and then he laughed at my joke, which I thought was rather charitable, and said, “Barb actually said ‘circlet’ to start with. Got my attention.”

 

“And then you went and—?”

 

“Then we went and got into it with a sorcerer,” he said.

 

“Who’s never there.” He smiled apologetically and shrugged.

 

I’m frankly not sure what it is with me. I was so ready to go back, but then I’d get a twinge where I got shot in the stomach. Then Jan and Fen come see me and they know just how to manipulate me, so that they leave with those smirks on their faces, and right after I get over thinking there is no way I’m falling for that, I’m falling for that. I’m all ready to be manipulated. Except that on reflection, I hate being manipulated. I can remember my sarcastic rejoinders and they still make more sense to me than anything Jan and Fen said.

 

And then Yanos comes in here and tries to sell it to me, and all I can think of is that there is no way I’m going back in there with this guy.

 

I say so. He takes a second to think about it, and then he comes around the counter and starts trying to get sweet with me. He’s all “hey, now, sweet Daisy,” and a whole new set of little smiles and doe eyes. “Yanos,” I say, “do I need to slap you?”

 

“You just might,” he says, getting up against me, his hands along my sides, his face bending to be in my face. I sense his hands ready to take my wrists. He thinks he’s going to push me against the wall and do what he thinks I want him to do. So I stomp on his toes. Hard. He takes that as a no. He backs out of range, then sort of laughs and says, “You’ll come around. We need you.”

 

“Yeah, well,” I say, holding my position but getting my wand out, “I work today, I work tomorrow, I work the next day, and then I’m planning on working every day till Yule. It’s good money, you know. Love potions selling really well.”

 

“Come to that,” he says, still backing toward the door, “you wouldn’t make a break lock potion, would you?”

 

“A what?”

 

“Just an idea,” he says, and then he backs out the door, his smirk lingering behind him.

 

 

 

5.

 

So I work my butt off for two days. I make potion blank, I make love potions, I make healing potions, I make a few charms, and then, just for the heck of it, I get out the cookbook and have a bash at a couple of vials of break lock potion.

 

Janet stops by the second evening, says hi to my mom, who offers her soup, has some of Mom’s over-spiced soup, and wheedles me into going out for a few beers. We go to the Golden Mouse, at my request, pretty much just to avoid being found by Fenric or anyone else: I figure that if Fen or Yanos or anyone like that is looking for us, and we’re not at Sleepy’s waiting to be found, they’ll look at the Rose, and if we’re not there, they’ll assume we’re out of town. Of course the Mouse happens to be crowded tonight. Maybe everyone else is avoiding Fenric just now.

 

“I have to tell you something,” Janet says as soon as we sit down with our pitcher (well, my pitcher, I paid for it) and two mugs.

 

“Really? What?” I say, so relieved. A very very different me would have started the conversation that way, and continued with, “I lost my virginity!”

 

“Really.” She takes a big drink, carefully swallows it, looks around, leans close and says, “I’ve decided on what to call myself as a priest.”

 

“Oh, good,” I say, the air going out of the ball a bit.

 

“I know it’s a little ways away,” she says. “I just made vicar, in case I didn’t tell you, so—!”

 

“Wait,” I say. “You just made vicar? And that’s not the big news?”

 

“Well, okay, but you just made enchanter, so—!”

 

“Enchantress. Okay, so what are you going to be called as a priest?”

 

“Father Jan,” she says, with a proud smile.

 

It takes me several seconds to realize what’s going on there. “Father?” I say.

 

“Yes!”

 

“Well,” I say, and I cast about for a reaction. The first thing that comes to mind is, “You’re definitely tall enough.”

 

“Are you saying I couldn’t be a Father if I was short?”

 

“No, no, I—! You can be whatever you want. Really. I’m just saying that you’ll have less trouble looking the part—geez, is that bad? Am I totally blowing it here? Wow. Maybe I should just settle for wow.”

 

“Oh, Daisy,” she says—he says?—“you’re great. I can just imagine what my dad will say.”

 

“Did you tell Fenric? He’ll be supportive.”

 

“He’d better be.” She takes a drink. Or: He takes a drink. I need to nail that down, I guess. “But you’re right, actually, the height and the way the Priests of the Virgin dress won’t hurt.”

 

“And your higher-ups?”

 

She laughs. “They don’t know my name. I can tell them they’ve been saying it wrong. Yes. Yes! That’s it. ‘Et’ is my last name. Brilliant!” She chortles a bit. Then she catches my eye. “Daisy,” she says, “you’re fixating on something across the room. What are you fixating on across the room?”

 

“Nothing,” I lie.

 

We drink the rest of the pitcher pretty fast. I leave her with the last mug of it, and excuse myself to use the latrine out the back door. I kind of need to, but that’s not why I’m going.

 

I wait just inside the back door, and it opens to let in a couple big ugly Amazons. I have my wand in my hand. They eye me suspiciously but move on.

 

I can see the next person coming back from relieving himself before he gets to the door. I push outside and meet him. It’s Yanos. I have my wand to his neck.

 

“Hi, Daisy,” he says.

 

“Yanos,” I say. “What a pleasure. I couldn’t help notice you were sitting with Lucette Barnswallow. And my old archer pal Eleanor.”

 

He smiles in spite of my wand sticking in under his chin. “Gonna put your lock spell on my mouth?” he manages to say.

 

“No,” I say, “but I can put enough sleep energy into you to keep you unconscious for a week. Why are you at the Mouse? Avoiding the usual crowd?” He starts into his whole smiling-shrugging routine. I stick the wand up there further. “Yes? No?”

 

“Yes, obviously,” he says. “Look, we need—!”

 

“We’re having this discussion back at Sleepy’s with the others,” I say, taking my wand out of his neck.

 

“Tomorrow night okay?” he asks, straightening his tunic.

 

“No,” I say. “Right now.”

 

 

 

6.

 

In Insmoor, my home town, it’s still unremarkable when a young woman of less height that she would like pushes a full-grown, rather hairy and battle-scarred man ahead of her through the Golden Mouse with her wand in his back. We are followed, of course, but only by Jan.

 

We turn onto Bridge Street and up the block is Sleepy’s. Gurth and Zelin are actually standing outside with Fenric, smoking. They see us down the block and watch us approach without reaction.

 

“Let’s get a table, shall we?” Fenric remarks.

 

“Should be easy,” says Gurth. “Sleepy’s is sleepier than usual.” He and Fenric go in, and Gurth holds the door. I prod Yanos inside. Gurth asks me, “Anyone know who Sleepy is or was?”

 

“Was, I think,” says Janet, who is behind me with Zelin. “This place has been here for about five thousand million years.”

 

“I’ll get a couple of bottles of wine,” says Zelin. “Six glasses? Yes.”

 

I put my wand away. We take a nearby round table, and the five of us sit down: me, Janet, Fenric, Yanos across from me, Gurth next to him. “So,” I say. “Nice night at the Mouse?”

 

“Coming back from the bathroom was not the usual,” says Yanos.

 

“So tell us. Were you recruiting, or being recruited?”

 

Zelin put two bottles of wine on the table, and then six short sturdy glasses, produced from her various pockets. “What have I missed?” she asks.

 

“He was at the Golden Mouse,” Janet explains, “with Daisy’s magical rival Lucette, and our former associate Eleanor.”

 

“And some guys who looked like warriors,” I add.

 

“All right,” says Zelin, pouring glasses and passing them around, “that sounds like recruiting. And how would he recruit them? They were recruiting him. For his knowledge.” She fixes Yanos with a look. “True?”

 

“True,” he says, smiling at his glass.

 

“Now he expects us to bid for him,” she adds. She looks at me. “But we don’t want to do that.”

 

“No,” I say. “Because he’s got a prior commitment to us.” I say it, and that little voice inside me says, why do YOU have a commitment to us? Are you now stuck with going back in? It’s dismal. It’s dark and dangerous and shadowy and feels like going to work. And then I think, there we are in that room where Jorg is pretty well decomposed by now, but outside there in the hall where Zelin and Gurth and I had a smoke, down that hall to—where? Where? What lies beyond?

 

What wondrous caverns? What guarded treasures? What strange beasts and strange glyphs and strange designs and strange inhabitants? And always a hall into darkness, always a stair down further into the Earth.

 

“She’s right,” Jan is saying. “You’re going with us, not with Lucette Barnswallow. And we’re not changing the deal. You’re doing this because you have a moral obligation, and if that’s not enough, you know we know most of what you know and if we get a head start on you, we’re likely to be on the fourth level of below before you are, and that could be very messy. And we’re doing this because we like you. We do like him, right?”

 

“Oh, we love him,” says Fenric. “Only one thing. The situation has changed, Yanos. Before, you could pretend you were more experienced and all. You’re not that much more experienced anymore. We’re all equals.” Yanos looks up at him and snorts. Fenric says, “We need a couple more warriors. I’m on map. Daisy is in front with Gurth and another warrior, she can fall back if we meet things that shoot, she’s allergic to arrows. Middle is Jan and you. Back is me and Zelin and the other warrior.”

 

“You wouldn’t want me in back,” says Yanos, “I might try to escape.”

 

“We need an archer in the middle,” says Zelin, “but there is also that.”

 

“And we split the take even up,” says Yanos. “What about the Circlet? We split that even up? Chop it into eighths?”

 

“We sell it,” says Fenric. “Believe it or not, I know people who pay for items of unknown provenance. You didn’t want it for some other reason, did you?”

 

“Why would I want it for some other reason?”

 

We all look at each other. No one has the heart to puncture Yanos’s bluff, if it’s a bluff. Finally I take a drink and say, “So about these other warriors.”

 

“I know a couple people,” says Gurth.

 

I think of what I want to say to that. I’m nearly eighteen, so I take another drink of wine—dang, this is good wine, we must always let Zelin choose—and I say it anyway. “Do you mind if they get killed and have their corpses stuffed in closets?”

 

“No, actually,” says Gurth. “Just so you don’t do that to me.”

 

I hold his eyes for a bit. “Warriors,” says Fenric. “You’re a little different, aren’t you?”

 

“We know we’re expendable. Not like, say, thieves.”

 

“Or enchantresses,” says Yanos, smirking at me.

 

“All right, all right,” says Zelin. “Enough, what do you say, garbage talk. Trash talk, I mean. Let us swear.”

 

“Your call,” I say.

 

She raises her glass. “We drink to our pledge. We shall go into the darkness and return with the Lapis Circlet, or not return at all. We will not betray this cause.” We clink glasses and drink. She holds up her half-empty glass—I notice Gurth and Janet both finished theirs already—and adds, “And we will then sell it and split the proceeds.”

 

“Pledged,” says Jan.

 

“And when do we set out on this sacredly consecrated mission?” asks Yanos.

 

“I dunno,” says Jan. She looks at me. “When’s your next day off?”

 

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