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"What are you talking about, you foolish faun?" the Director demanded.
"The private lives of the actors and audience have nothing to do with the play!"
"Yes they do," Forrest said. "Your play went wrong because the actress, Miss Take, has a talent that is bound to foul it up. Since it is too late to change the actress, you must change her name, so that it no longer has a bad effect. As it happens, Justin Case here can do that by marrying her, so that her name becomes Mrs. Case."
"But he doesn't want to marry a failed actress."
"Speak for yourself, Director," Justin Case said, standing. "She's a beautiful woman, in or out of the play."
"But she wouldn't want to--"
"I'd do anything to save my role," Miss Take said.
The Director nodded. "Very well, then, but be quick about it. We'll have to stage another partial rehearsal, to be sure it's straight."
"But how can you marry and leave me alone?" Justin Time asked. "After I have so loyally gotten you where you needed to be, at just the right time?"
"That's right," Justin Case agreed. "You deserve a lovely actress too."
Forrest thought quickly. "Is Raven's beautiful sister Robin a character in the play?"
"Yes, of course," the Director said. "She has to be saved from the dread demon."
"Then she can marry Justin Time."
"But Miss Inform wouldn't-"
"Speak for yourself, Director," a lovely young woman said, walking on stage. "Let me get a look at this man."
Justin Time stood. He was a handsome man, appearing almost ageless.
Miss Inform nodded. "He'll do."
"But if you are only fifteen-" Justin Time began doubtfully.
"That is my role age," she replied with a smile. "I am actually slightly older, and a good deal more experienced."
"Good enough!" Justin Time agreed.
"Then let's get this done with," the Director said. "The four of you stand before me."
The two men and two women lined up before him. "By the allthority vested in me as Almighty Director, I now p.r.o.nounce you men and wives.
Now get on with the play."
The men quickly kissed their brides and returned to their places in the audience. "Pick it up from Raven's 'Yes' " the Director directed.
"Give her the cue, Son."
On the stage, Son stared at Raven in wild surmise. "You mean?"
"Yes!" she replied, striking her dramatic pose. "Ruben and Rowena are my parents. He is my long-lost brother I never knew I had."
"But how is this possible? Dolph is thirty years older than you are."
"That's right. There must be some mistake. Let's look at that record again."
Son peered at the stork records. "Oh, now I see that it is mismarked.
There's a note: ERROR: PROPER PARENTS ARE DOR & IRENE OF CASTLE ROOGNA."
"Oh, that's a relief," Son said. "I liked King Dolph. I'll be glad to bring the good news to him." He paused. "But then why did your father say that the baby was his?"
"Obviously he lied, because he wanted a son instead of only daughters."
"That makes sense," Son agreed.
"But what about my sister, whom the demon will now claim as his slave?"
Son looked grim. "I shall have to fight him, so as to keep your family happy."
"But you can't fight a demon!" Raven protested.
"You forget my talent of manipulating men's minds. He's male, so maybe I can change his mind." He struck another pose. "Demon, come here!"
There was a gout of fire and a puff of smoke. When it cleared, there was a horrendous figure of a demon. "Who calls Demon Ize?"
"I do," Son said. "I shall not let you make a slave of this woman's lovely little sister."
"Lovely sister?" the demon asked. "I thought it was a vastly older brother."
"No, that was a clerical error. Raven has no brother, only a sister."
"Hm. What does she look like?"
"Here is her picture," Raven said, holding it forth.
D. Ize peered at it. "That could be airbrushed. She's probably really ugly.
"She is not! Here, I'll conjure her in person, and prove it."
"You can conjure?" Son asked, surprised.
"It's one of the pieces of talents I have saved in my bottle," Raven explained. She brought out her bottle and popped the cork. "Sister Robin, come here," she intoned.
A bird with a red breast flew in. It landed on the floor and became a beautiful young woman. "Yes, sister dear?"
"Demon Ize here thinks you're ugly," Raven said.
"Really?" Robin turned to the demon, inhaling.
"Not really," Ize said quickly. "You are truly lovely."
"And he plans to make you his slave," Raven continued sourly.
"Really!" Robin said, frowning. "Does that mean I won't be able to look for a nice man to marry who will have the talent of changing form and flying with me?"
"I can do that!" Ize cried, changing into a green jay. "Suddenly I don't want to enslave you, to my surprise; I want to marry you, you lovely creature," the bird said.
"Gee-that's nice." Robin changed into her bird form, and the two of them flew away.
"Well, I guess that solved your problem," Son said. "And King Dolph's problem. Let's go back to Castle Roogna so I can gain my recognition as a Magician."
"You changed Ize's mind?" Raven asked, impressed.
"Yes. It really wasn't difficult, when he saw how pretty she is. I hope you don't mind having a demon in the family."
"Well, it does seem better than the alternative. And it does seem like a Magician caliber talent. Let's go to Castle Roogna."
They linked arms and walked off stage.
"That works for me," the Director said. "Be here tomorrow for the official production." The members of the cast scattered, and the two actresses went to join their husbands. Meanwhile the Director's roving eye fell on Forrest. "What are you waiting for, Faun? Go on in to see the Good Magician." And a door opened beyond the stage.
Forrest and Imbri walked up to the door and through it. "You figured it out," Imbri said admiringly. "You're a pretty smart faun."
"No, I just caught on to how these Challenges work. In real life I probably would have flubbed it." But he was pleased with her appreciation.
An old, dull woman approached them in the next chamber. a.s.sorted socks were tucked in her ap.r.o.n pockets. "So you repaired my play!" she said.
"Thank you. I am Sofia Socksorter, Designated Wife of the moment."
"Uh, yes," Forrest said. "We came to-"
"Of course. Himself will see you now. Just follow the trail of socks."
They followed the trail of socks. "He always had trouble keeping track of his socks," Imbri murmured. "That's why he married Mundania's best sock sorter. But even she can't keep up on a bad day."
"So I see-and smell."
The trail led up to the Good Magician's cramped study. There was Humfrey, as before, hunched over his monstrous tome. "Uh-" Forrest began.
The gnome-like figure looked up. "Yes, yes, of course. Your Service will be to serve as adviser to the princesses Dawn & Eve, to enable them to save the Human territory from marginalization. The magic path will take you directly to Castle Roogna."
"But I haven't even asked my-"
"You came to ask the way to Castle Roogna," Humfrey said irritably. "I have Answered." He returned to his tome.
They had been summarily dismissed. Again. But it was true: they had only sought the way. And for that they had to pay the equivalent of a year's Service. It didn't seem quite fair.
They went back down the dingy winding stairs. "How can Humfrey be here, the same as ever?" Forrest asked Imbri.
"He sips youth elixir to maintain his age at about one hundred," she reminded him.
"No, I mean shouldn't he be banned from Ptero, since he's a real person in Xanth?"
"Only a year, I think. The rest of his life is un.o.bstructed, as with Ogle Ogre."
"Oh, yes, I suppose so. It's strange, seeing someone I met there, here."
"Yes. But it will be stranger seeing Dawn & Eve."
Sofia gave them lunch, and showed them to the magic path. "Be sure not to stray from it," she warned. "There are dragons out there."
"We will stay on it," Imbri promised.
"Himself does appreciate what you are doing, even if he doesn't show it," Sofia said. "If not for you, those two foolish princesses would be off looking for husbands."
"Isn't that normal, for human beings?" Forrest asked.
"Not when their territory is being marginalized. Save that, and then they can do whatever else they want."
"But I don't even know what the term means."
"I'm sure you will find out. Now off with you; the matter is urgent."
She shooed them out the door and toward the magic path. "This realm is as strange as Xanth," Imbri murmured.
"It's stranger," Sofia called after them.
She was probably right.
The path brought them safely and conveniently through the forest. But it was a fair distance, just as it was in Xanth, so they stopped at a rest station as night came. They knew that night had nothing to do with the progress of the sun across the sky, because Ptero simply used the light of Xanth. Sometimes when Princess Ida put her head in shadow, the scene dimmed.
Forrest wasn't sure whether he should be tired, but when darkness closed, he found he wanted to sleep, so that was all right. Sleeping was no more unnatural here than eating; it seemed they could take or leave either, depending on the local circ.u.mstance.
"What does it feel like, being solid?" he asked Imbri as she settled down beside him. "I mean, I'm used to it, but you aren't."
"Especially not in girl form," she agreed. "But I find I am getting used to it, and at times I rather like it. I am even beginning to feel solid girl emotions."
"Oh? What are they?"
"Appreciation for the beauty of the forest, and the niceness of folk like Cathryn. Even things like eating and sleeping are interesting experiences."
"I suppose so. This world of Ptero seems all right, as I become accustomed to it."
"Yes." Then sleepiness overtook him, and he faded out.
He woke later, feeling a motion near him. He discovered that it was Imbri, putting a conventional blanket on him. "You looked cool," she explained.