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AlexanderMinatour

...Flames reflecting in its eyes, the Minotaur roared, charged, and lunged at Alexander. (3rd Edition).

Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow: From the Chronicles of Daventry, Part VI is the novelization of KQ6 by eluki bes shahar from the King's Quest Companion. It is written from the perspective of Derek Karlavaegen (as told to him by Alexander-Gwydion).

The novelization is actually designed as a walkthrough that can be followed to win the game. It follows the main path through the game (as designated by the game developers)[1].

From the Chronicles of Daventry, Part VIEdit

By rights, these should be Alexander's own words that you read here, to be entered in the histories of both Daventry and the Land of the Green Isles. They are not. A few days before his wedding, Alexander came privately to me in the room I occupied in the Palace of the Crown-how I came to be there I shall relate at its proper point in this narrative-in a state of far more agitation than could be accounted for by a groom destined in a few days to embrace his beloved bride.

"I can't do it, Derek-it's impossible!" he burst out. I'm not you-I'm not my mother-I'm not even our stuffy old court chronicler. I've tried and I've tried and-it's beyond me."

Shamefacedly, the young prince placed a bundle upon the table in my room. It consisted of a pile of battered vellum sheets covered in Alexander's crabbed hand, and a number of curious objects, among them an empty bottle, a large key of golden bone, and a curious-and very large-gleaming black feather that suggested the pinions of that great beast of legend, Night Mare. "I tried to write down what happened here, you see. Mother and Rosella are demanding all the details, and Father and King Caliphim say that the story has a place in the court archives of both kingdoms. And I have tried, Derek, but-well, see for yourself." I lifted the first sheet of vellum and quickly scanned the crossed-out and written-over lines. It was as I had feared-Prince Alexander may be a magician and a scholar but, alas, he is no writer. "I'll admit it needs a little work," I acknowledged candidly. "The wedding is tomorrow-I could work on it till the sun rises in the Isle of the Dead and it would still be gibberish," Alexander groaned. "Oh, Derek-I know I have no right to ask it of you, but I would never have survived without your guidebook, and so it seems right to ask you this: "Won't you write out the story for me? I know all the facts, but when I put them down, they just seem to tum into," -he sighed- "dust. Write it, and make it as real on paper as it was for me at the time. I owe the people of Daventry and the Land of the Green Isles that."

To tell the truth, my hands already itched to take hold of the threads of Alexander's strange story and weave it into a strong and colorful shape. For some years it has been my good fortune to be associated with the Royal House of Daventry: King Graham, Queen Valanice, and their children the Princess Rosella and Prince Alexander. I have, in fact, known Prince Alexander almost from the moment of his return to us from years of captivity in the house of the evil sorcerer Manannan. Few among us could survive such reversals of fortune as have been Alexander's lot with the grace that he has shown, for it has always been my experience that while many may handle adversity well, sudden good fortune can be the unkindness gift of all. Alexander, in fact, still often thinks of himself as Gwydion, and wears the persona of "Prince Alexander of Daventry" as another man might wear a cloak of ill-fit. Young Alexander, however, survived the discovery that he was not-as he had been raised to believe-- the slave Gwydion, property of the wizard Manannan, but in fact Prince Alexander, heir to Daventry, with a family and friends who held him dear. Among them, I am proud to have him hold me his friend. And so I promised Prince Alexander that this chronicle would be ready to enter into the royal archives on his wedding day, and though I burned much lamp oil this last night, I have kept my word. All that Alexander did and said in the Green Isles I have set down here, trying to include all of what he felt, and omitting what was not known to him at the time, for that information is rightly contained in other scrolls. In writing down Prince Alexander's adventures in the Land of the Green Isles, I have reconstructed events as best I may, drawing on the extensive library here and my knowledge of the Land of the Green Isles, and making allowances for the Prince's at times excessive modesty.

And now the day I always hoped for has come, and I am to share with you of Daventry and the Land of the Green Isles the strange and glorious tale of how the wedding of Prince Alexander to Princess Cassima that we celebrate this very day came to pass. I go now to hand these pages to the Royal Archivist of the Isle of the Crown so that copies may be made, and thence-to the wedding.

The events that were to lead, in the end, to Alexander's wedding day began several months before, and as good a place to begin as any is with the day that Alexander came to my home (once the house of the magician Manannan) to seek my help. It seemed that one day not long before, as he was looking into the Magic Mirror that hangs in the Great Hall of Castle Daventry, Alexander had seen that which disturbed him greatly. This mirror is one of the three great treasures of Daventry and is said, once, to have belonged to the magician Merlin. Its property, as all Daventry knows, is to always show the truth, whether of past, present, or future, and as Alexander gazed into the mirror, he saw a vision of Princess Cassima of the Green Isles. It is ever Alexander's way to speak little, and never of those things which lie closest to his heart. But it was I who had written the pages of the Court Chronicle dealing with the foul attempt of the wizard Mordack upon King Graham's family, and I who had heard from King Graham's own lips of the bravery of the beautiful raven-tressed princess who aided Graham to rescue them, though she was a slave in Mordack's hands at the time and in constant peril of her life. Though Alexander had met Cassima only briefly, and Alexander spoke little of her afterward, it was plain to the eyes of experience that an attachment had already been formed between the two young people in the brief time they had spent together before Cassirna returned to the Land of the Green Isles. This alone might have explained Alexander's eagerness to visit there as he had promised Cassirna he would, but the story he related to me upon his visit had even graver overtones-for Alexander, and, as it befell, for all Daventry. It seems that when the Magic Mirror had displayed her-for reasons of its own knowing-Alexander had seen a vision of the Princess Cassima that showed her to be, although not in immediate danger, still in some sort of trouble that she was ill-equipped to defend herself against. Alexander was resolved upon going to Cassima at once, and while his ship was being prepared had come to me to see if 1 knew anything about the land to which he was going.

It was my great joy to be able to be of greater aid than perhaps Alexander had anticipated, though little could I do save relate my own impressions of that strange and wonderful land, for in my youth I had been tossed by waves to the shores of the Land of the Green Isles, and had produced a small atlas (a guidebook, really) distilling my experiences in that odd, lovely, and unknown corner of our world. A small edition had been printed, but out of respect for the wishes of the King and Queen of the Isle of the Crown the book had never been offered for sale or perusal. I felt a small glow of pride that at last my words would at last be read- and indeed, the very next time I was to see Alexander he told me the little book saved his life on more than one occasion. Armed with the guidebook and sundry gifts for Cassima and her family, Alexander boarded his sloop, the Johannes Bey, and set sail for the Land of the Green Isles. That was the last any of us in Daventry saw or heard of him for some months. The waiting preyed upon us all, though of course it was worst for King Graham and Queen Valanice, and for Alexander's twin sister, Rosella. But through all that long wait, no matter the dire sayings of doom-sayers who were certain our Prince was lost forever, those of us who knew Alexander best never despaired that someone as resourceful and dever as he would win through in the end. At last our faith was rewarded. One momentous day we were gathered together in Castle Daventry-for what cause I now remember not-when the news came that not only was Alexander alive and well, but he had survived as strange an adventure as had ever befallen any of his family.

It began with a shipwreck. The waters about the Green Isles are treacherous in the extreme, and it is those reefs and currents and eternal fogs which keep the realm secure from the intrusions of the rest of Daventry-these, and the great storms whjch local legend claims to be the artifact of a great protective spell once cast to defeat all intruders. The Johannes Bey had been following the stars, sailing by a pattern which Alexander had seen but briefly in Merlin's Mirror, one which sparkled in the skies beyond Cassima's beckoning image. One moment Alexander was standing in the forecastle of the Johannes Bey, the sloop that had been his home for the last three months, straining his eyes for sight of the land. The next, he was fighting for his life against the maddened elements of wind and water. I thjnk, from Alexander's description, that the ship must have been much closer to land than any realized, and was blown onto the treacherous reefs that dot the shallow ocean of that island country. Alexander remembers little of his battle for survival, until at last he came to himself lying in the small sand beach of a rocky cove. The sun beating down on him was what finally awoke Alexander of Daventry-that, and the inevitable rasp of sand everywhere upon his tender skin. Slowly he opened his salt-sticky eyes and squinted into the blinding sun. Everywhere around him were the hot bright colors of the tropics. He wondered where he was-could this be the Land of the Green Isles? Groaning, he got to his feet. The beach where he lay was covered with sea-wrack-the remains of his ship. Of the captain and crew there was no sign, and Alexander spared a moment to hope that they, too, had reached safety. This is not the way I meant to arrive, Alexander thought ruefully. Everything he had brought with him was gone. Even his princely signet was missing from his finger. As he stared about him, Alexander saw a glinting at the edge of the water. Walking over it, he looked down and saw his lost ring, half-buried in the sand. He took it and looked at it fondly. Alexander's signet bore a yellow topaz, and carved upon its surface were the royal arms of Daventry: a lion and a unicorn. His name and birthdate were carved into the yellow gold that held the stone, and upon the inside of the band was a very special memorial: the date Alexander-then known as Gwydion- returned to Daventry at last. Alexander slipped the ring on his finger. The small recovery of some tiny part of his lost property cheered him. Perhaps other things will have washed ashore, he thought hopefully, but though he looked everywhere around the beach where he had found himself, all that he found was a chest that lay buried beneath a large timber. He moved the timber and opened the chest. Inside the chest was one small copper coin of Daventry, the profile of his mother-Queen Valanice--etched proud despite the coin's low denomination. Better than nothing, Alexander told himself philosophically. Pocketing it, he started up the trail to the island's inland.

After a few minutes he came to a fork in the trail. To the left he could see a bustling village. To the right, an immense ornate castle built of golden marble and snowy white alabaster, with soaring towers and gilded spires. After a moment's deliberation, Alexander headed toward the palace. As he approached, Alexander saw something unusual about the guardsmen in front of the castle door. As he got even closer, he realized what it was. The guardsmen were dogs-the Guard Dogs of the Green Isles. As tall as humanfolk, true, but dogs nonetheless, and bulldogs by their appearance. Alexander had reached Cassima's home after all. "Excuse me," Alexander said to the Guard Dog on his right. The creature turned toward him, its muzzle whiskers bristling suspiciously. "I'm Alexander of Daventry. I am here to see the Princess Cassima. I've traveled a very long way." "The Princess!" Both Guard Dogs raised their pikes menacingly. "This is the Castle of the Crown, not the almshouse! The Princess won't want to see the likes of you, beggar-boy," said the first Dog.

"And don't try our patience with the old "traveler" story. There haven't been any newcomers to the Isle of the Crown since Alhazred himself," said the second Dog. "And we're still not sure how he got here." Alexander was uncomfortably aware of his salt-stained and tattered condition. In their place, he wouldn't admit him to the castle either. Then he remembered the signet ring he had salvaged. "I am Prince Alexander of Daventry," he said yet again, holding out the ring for emphasis. The lion and the unicorn flashed in the sun. "My ship was wrecked on my journey here and I have come a very long way to see the Princess." The dogs conferred a moment in low voices, and then one of them turned and went through the great bronze-bound doors. A moment later he was back with an impressive creature who, from the splendor of his armor, could only be the Captain of the Guard himself. Unlike his minions, the Captain bore the stately bearing of a collie.

"Captain Saladin will deal with you," the first Dog commanded importantly. Alexander stepped forward to the Guard Captain and repeated his story. The Captain nodded wisely. "U your story is true-and you had best pray that it is, 'Prince' Alexander-the vizier will wish to meet you. He takes a special interest in ... visitors," Saladin said in a low rumbling voice. Following Captain Saladin, Alexander entered the Castle of the Crown. All around him he saw beauty-the carven archways, the tiled walls. Golden light spilled in through the high carved windows of the upper halls, and where it struck, the paving-stones glittered. Saladin took him to the second floor of the castle, explaining that Alexander was to see the vizier in his study. The palace's delicate enameled beauty made Alexander feel even scruffier, and he began to regret, just a little bit, his insistence upon meeting with the vizier. At last Saladin stopped before an ornately carved door and indicated Alexander was to precede him.

"Abdul Alhazred, The Grand Vizier of the Isle of the Crown," Captain Saladin said. Alexander walked into the room. The vizier's study was a room filled with luxury beyond imagining-even to a high prince of Daventry. Incense curled up from braziers of pure gold. Rich hangings decked the walls, and magnificent rugs covered the floors. In the middle of all this stood the vizier, Alhazred, a tall curious dark man with a pointed beard. He was dressed simply in a plain red robe, and upon his head was a soft black cap embroidered with mystic sigils in silver. Far more magnificent was his personal servant, a towering bare-chested giant in gaudy turban and bright pink pants. The servant looked closely at Alexander, and the young prince saw that his eyes were the burning gold of twin candle-flames. "Greetings, Prince Alexander of Daventry. How sad that your long journey should have been in vain," Alhazred said. I don't like him, was Alexander's first instinctive thought. He tried to remember everything Cassima had said about her father's vizier, but it did not come to much. Though it had been the vizier who first invited Cassima's captor, Mordack, to the Land of the Green Isles, no one-least of all Cassima herself-had believed Alhazred knew how wicked Mordack really was. "ln vain?" Alexander said. "I've come to see the Princess Cassima." "And that, my brave young friend, is precisely what you may not do-but I forget, you will not have heard the sad news. The princess's parents-King Caliphim and Queen Allaria-died while Cassima was a captive of the wizard Mordack. Naturally she mourns them deeply, and is therefore in complete seclusion-a tradition which I'm sure you'll respect." There was something about Alhazred that made Alexander profoundly uneasy. He was hard-pressed exactly to say what; certainly he didn't expect Alhazred to fall all over himself to make Alexander welcome, but a little civility might help. "Kind men are honest, and honest men are kind," was one of King Graham's favorite proverbs. "It has been nearly a year since Mordack was defeated," Alexander pointed out. "How long must Cassima remain in seclusion?" "And after her mourning period is over," Alhazred said, as if there had been no interruption, "she and I will be married." Alexander stared at the vizier. "But I thought. . . " he began, and stopped himself. "Young men think little and imagine much more. It was the dearest wish of her parents," the vizier said smoothly. "And as we are both men of the world, I'm sure you'll understand when I tell you that your presence in the Land of the Green Isles could well prove to present a certain awkwardness which for Cassima's sake I'm sure you'll wish to avoid." Alexander's head was spinning. Cassima-married? And to Alhazred? He remembered her bleak, terrified face as it had appeared in Merlin's Mirror. Surely she had not known of this when she wished for his presence. Perhaps she didn't know now. "I must insist-," Alexander began. "But of course," the vizier said smoothly. "I shall not stand in your way, nor keep you when you have such a long journey home to arrange immediately. And I shall certainly give your best wishes to my wife ... in a couple of years or so." Moments later Alexander found himself outside the castle doors once more, blinking in the bright sunlight.

"Run along now, Prince Alexander," one of the Guard Dogs said gruffly. "We have our orders-you'd best not come back here again." Alexander stared at the door for a long time before walking away. I must interrupt the flow of the narrative here to remind my readers who may lack familiarity with him, of Alexander's essential nature. By birth a prince, by upbringing a slave, by inclination a scholar and a magician, it is his nature to approach all problems slowly-he tells me that if one approaches them slowly enough, ofttimes they vanish before one reaches them. Impetuous action is not in his nature-he learned in a grim school to advance slowly, and to be sure of his ground before advancing. I am certain this training saved him here, for if he had simply attempted to force or shout his way into Cassima's presence, as many men in his place would have done, he would surely have died. Yet Alexander's nature was no less stubborn for being contemplative, and in the end, it was slow perseverance that was to bring him triumph.

It's all very well Alhazred telling me to go home, Alexander thought to himself, but he can't seriously mean for me to do it. No ship calls at the Land of the Green Isles, and Derek's guidebook devotes a whole chapter to the treacherous ocean currents that surround it. If Alhazred were truly the magician he wishes to seem, he would have sent me home himself I wonder what it is he really wants? It was not that Alexander has a suspicious nature-though one who grows to manhood as the slave of a mad wizard is more likely to develop one than most-but simply that, as a scholar, he likes to have things perfectly clear. Things were not perfectly clear in the Castle of the Crown. Alexander decided to see if they were clearer anywhere else. When he returned to the fork in the road he turned right, and soon came to the small village he had spotted earlier. The Isle of the Crown, despite being in some sense the capital of all the Land of the Green Isles, is not large, and the village which supplied its needs was likewise small. When I visited there many years ago there was a bazaar which was open three days a week to sell fish from the sea and produce from the farms, but Alexander does not mention seeing any more of the village than that one small street of shops. The village was quickly explored; a wide thoroughfare lined with shops of various sorts-most of which, strangely enough considering the hour, were closed-that ended at a wall with an open archway through which the road passed into a residential district. Determined to gain information, and perhaps allies, Alexander took a wider look around. Taking the sun, green eyes observing everything that moved or stirred, an ancient man sat on a poorly carved marble bench across the street from the village shops, a frazzled figure dressed in patchwork motley. That he was a wandering merchant of some kind was easily noticed; from the staff on his shoulder were hung an assortment of wares as variegated as their owner. "Lamps! Fine new lamps! New lamps for old!" the man called out when he saw Alexander. Despite his age, the merchant was letting no possible customer pass by unsolicited. "New lamps for old?" Alexander questioned. He took a closer look at the bundles the old man carried, and sure enough, every single one of them was a lamp. Tall lamps. Short lamps. Brass lamps. Glass lamps. Lamps of every size, shape, and description. "It doesn't sound as if you make much profit on a deal like that," Alexander said to the man. "Profit?" The old man laughed softly. "Bless you, young sir, it isn't money I want. I'm searching for a lamp- a very special lamp." "A lamp with a genie in it?" Alexander asked. It wasn't at all hard for a student of magic to guess what "a very special lamp" might be. "Bless you, young sir, exactly so. And how better to find one than by offering new lamps for old? You'll observe, young sir-" here the old man stood and turned slowly around in a circle so that Alexander could observe him and his wares from all sides "-that every single one of my lamps is quite new, and in a style to suit any taste." "But what do you do with the old lamps you buy? The ones that, er, don't have a genie in them?" "Bless you, young sir-I sell them to buy more new lamps. You wouldn't happen to have an old lamp about you, young sir? Just a bit of a one?" "I'm afraid not," Alexander said. "Well, don't despair-perhaps you'll turn one up. And remember-I'm always willing to trade!" With that the old man ambled off, crying his wares to the trees and sky. "Lamps! Fine lamps! New lamps for old!" Alexander continued on through the village.

Two shops immediately caught his attention: one, a curio and pawnshop, the other, a bookshop. Unlike the other business concerns in the Village of the Crown, these two seemed to be open. After a moment's deliberation, Alexander headed up the steps to the bookshop.

The bookshop was not much frequented this late in the day. Slanting afternoon sunlight illuminated a low cozy room whose walls were entirely lined with books. In the center of the room a table and chair were placed so purchasers might inspect their wares before deciding to buy. A fireplace burned in one corner to keep the damp of the sea air from ruining the books. The only customer was a silent black-robed ancient, apparently intent upon his reading.

"Hello?" Alexander addressed the other occupant of the shop, who was tidying the books on the shelves. As Alexander approached the desk, the proprietor bustled into view to greet him. "Well! Well! Well! Welcome to Ali's Bookshop! I've never seen you around before. And what can Ali do for you today, young sir?" "My name is Alexander of Daventry; I've been shipwrecked here and I was wondering if you could tell me exactly where it is I've been shipwrecked." Ali laughed, and confirmed what Alexander already suspected: he was on the Isle of the Crown, chief of the four ("though some do say as it might be five-if not six or more-we continually reinvent our land and ourselves-") islands which made up the Land of the Green Isles. "It sounds like a very interesting place-or, places. Do you perhaps have a book with more information? I had a guidebook, but I'm afraid it's lost-along with everything else," Alexander finished gloomily. "A book? You have two good legs, Prince Alexander-the best way to learn about a place is to go there. Why not go see Hassan the Ferryman down at the dock-he may even have the ferry running again, who knows? Just go through the archway and take the Ferry Road west to the docks. You can't miss it." Alexander reflected that on every occasion in the past when he had been told he couldn't miss something, he generally missed it by a good league-if not by several. His eye wandered over to the shelves of books beside the fireplace. "Do look around before you go," Ali urged. "Prices are reasonable-times are hard-I even take books in trade. 11 Alexander thanked the proprietor again, but realized that neither his copper coin nor his gold ring was likely to buy him a book in this shop. Ali's shop contained all manner of books, and Alexander did not have far to seek before he found a trove of his favorites-the books on the wall that Ali had been working on when Alexander came in turned out to be poetry books. All students of magic know that poetry, the language of dreams, is the close cousin of magic. The rhythmic beat of a line of poetry is the reflection of the thundering power of the magical incantation; the incantation that works best has the rhythm and drive of good poetry. It is not surprising that Prince Alexander, a student of magic, should have a love of poetry to his credit as well. Even in this strange place, it would have the power to comfort him. Alexander took one of the poetry books down at random and paged through it, but for the first time he found no solace there. All the poems made him remember Cassima as he had seen her in the mirror, and as he read the conviction grew in him that something on the Isle of the Crown was far from right. He must see Cassima and speak to her. One poem in particular seemed to speak to his plight:

I cry out and cannot find you, I reach out and you are not there. If I cannot have you with me, There is no peace for me anywhere. If this is Jove, then Jove has killed me, For without my Jove, my heart is slain Through all the world I search for you To make me whole again.

Alexander felt his eyes grow moist as he read it once, and then over again quickly. As he closed the book carefully-the book was old and the pages were loose-the page he had last read slipped from its binding and fell to the floor. Alexander placed the book back on the shelf and retrieved the page, offering it to the proprietor. "Oh, dear me, no! Keep it if you like-that book's been falling to pieces ever since I opened this shop," Ali said. "I'll be off to see the ferryman then," Alexander said, reading the poem over one last time before tucking the page into his tunic. As he turned to leave, he took one last look at the other inhabitant of the shop, but the lurking black-robed figure with the suspiciously bright eyes was as silent as before.

The late afternoon sun gilded the town square as Alexander headed toward the docks. Just outside the village he saw a large house-what would be a great manor house back in Daventry-built of soft red stone and completely overgrown with roses. Alexander stopped to admire the view and saw a young woman, heavily veiled, slip out of the house and pause at the front door. There was an air of sadness about her as she reached out and pulled one of the roses to her, inhaling its scent. "Beauty!" a harsh voice called. The girl's head jerked up like that of a doe who hears the hunters; it was obvious she was the one being so unkindly summoned. Alexander looked toward the sound of the voice and saw a squat woman with a large stick in her hand standing in the open doorway. "What do you think you're doing? Those roses aren't for the likes of you. Get about your chores or there'll be one less place set at dinner tonight!" The woman held the door open and the girl called Beauty vanished unhappily through it. Her oppressor slammed the door, and Alexander was left staring at an empty garden that was somehow less beautiful than it had been a moment before. So there is slavery here on the Island of the Crown, Alexander thought sadly. Memories of his own days as a slave were suddenly vivid. Cassima would not let this woman, Beauty, be treated so, if she knew. Now he had even more reason for seeking an audience with the dark-haired princess of the Land of the Green Isles.

"Perhaps the vizier had good reason for wishing to stop the ferry," Alexander said soothingly. "I'm sorry to have bothered you-it's just that the bookstore owner thought the ferry might be running. I'd wanted to visit some of the other islands, you see." "The Island Queen running? Ali must have stood out in the sun too long. And I'll tell you another thing, young fellow: mark my words; there won't be a ferry to ply these waters until the unrest-and I could tell you another word or two if I'd a mind for it-is over! Strife between the islands-whoever heard of such a thing? And the accusations! I well mind the last time the Queen made her run-took her late Majesty, Queen Allaria, and dear little Princess Cassima on their annual inspection tour. They were as surprised as that, I'll tell you, by the reception they got. "After that the vizier stopped the ferry-to give everyone time to cool down, he said-and that means, young feller, if you want to be getting about these islands now you'll have to be a magician to do it." The ferryman stopped, much pleased with his own wit. Then, a thunderstruck expression crossed his face. "Say, young feller, you've gone and reminded me-there is another way around these islands besides this old girl! If it's travel you want, and don't mind a bit 0 1 magic, take yourself back up to the village and ask Hakim the pawnbroker if he still has that magic map he bought awhile back. There's your answer-the only way you'll get around these islands is by magic." A magic map! Alexander thought. He was not unfamiliar with such items-a magic map was one of the items that had enabled him to successfully escape from Manannan-but he knew they were very rarely exchanged for mere gold. Still, it cannot hurt to try, Alexander said to himself, quoting to himself a favorite phrase that might almost be the motto of the royal family of Daventry. "You've been a great help and I thank you," Alexander said. "I'll go and see the pawnbroker. Perhaps we can work something out." As he prepared to go, Alexander reached out and fondled the rabbit's foot that lay incongruously on the table before him. For luck. I'm going to need it. "Take it," the ferryman said, startling Alexander considerably. "Having it hasn't done me any good-maybe giving it away wili tum my luck." Thus encouraged, Alexander pocketed the rabbit's foot and, bidding farewell to Hassan, headed back to the town to try his luck with the pawnbroker.

Though his ultimate goal was the pawnshop next door, Alexander decided to stop again at the bookshop he had previously visited. He wanted to tell the bookstore owner what success he'd had at the ferry, and also, I suspect, Alexander felt the need to relax a moment in familiar surroundings, even if they'd only become familiar an hour or so before.

The moment he entered the bookshop Alexander realized that the atmosphere was completely different. The shop was as sparsely populated as before, but now the sole customer was a short round man in outlandish clothes instead of a tall gaunt graybeard in a black cloak. The newcomer wore bright gold slippers whose toes curled preposterously, wide balloon-like trousers patterned in purple and orange, a shiny green vest edged in tassels and bells, and an enormous orange turban trimmed with gigantic glass gems and long fantastic feathers. The man's apparel, though, matched not his mood. He was sitting in the chair in the middle of the room, turning the pages of a book titled Court Clowning Through the Ages and sighing loudly. "Good afternoon, sir," Alexander said boldly.

I Like to think that Alexander then was remembering what I had told him-I fear more than once-about the craft of chronicling-which is to say, of course, the gentle art of gathering information. A proper chronicler makes a point of speaking to everyone he may while in the process of preparing his history, since anyone might know something that might properly belong within his tale. "There's nothing at all good about it," the man said dolefully, turning the pages of his book. "No, I must say, everything's as bad as it can possibly be." "Oh, come now, Jolla," Ali said from behind the counter. "Things can always get worse." "Excuse me, sir," Alexander said. "Could you by any chance be the sameJollo who is Court Clown to King Caliphim?" "And who is it that might be asking?" Jolla said suspiciously. Once again Alexander showed his ring. Anyone might know the truth about the Land of the Green Isles and Alexander was determined to find it out. "You do not know me, sir, but my name is Alexander, and-" "Prince Alexander of Daventry!" Jollo exclaimed delightedly. It is a fortunate hour that sent you to us." "At last, someone who's glad to see me," Alexander said jokingly. "Oh, Prince Alexander-you hardly know the anguish I've suffered! It was bad enough when King Caliphim was alive, but now-." The round little man shuddered dramatically. "I fear there is wickedness afoot," he said in a low whisper. "Cassima-is she well?" Alexander demanded. "Ah, the poor little princess! Locked in that tower for nearly a year now, seeing no one. If not for little Sing-Sing, her pet nightingale, she would be wholly alone. lt is by her own free will, or so the vizier tells us; still, it would lift my heart to see her walk beneath the sun once more." "Then she is a prisoner?" Alexander asked. "Who can say? No one sees her or speaks to her save Alhazred; she is all alone in her tower, and the servants who tend her are mute. We had once hoped, when her year of seclusion had passed, that .... But now there is talk in the castle that Cassi ma will wed Alhazred, and my heart is a black stone in my breast." Jolla sighed again, even harder than before. "But tell me-" Alexander began. "No. No time. I must return or I shall be missed. I am watched. We are all watched," the clown whispered darkly. Brushing aside Alexander's attempt to keep hirn,Jollo scuttled hurriedly from the shop, darting glances right and left as if he suspected the very books of spying on him. "Well," said Alexander, in slightly bewildered tones. He was not quite certain what to make of Jolla, but at least the clown's words seemed to confirm that there was something not right in the Castle of the Crown. Still musing, Alexander went up to the bookstore counter. On it lay a large red-bound book. Alexander looked at its cover, then picked it up. "Oh, you mustn't mind Jolla," Ali said. "For a clown, he's the gloomiest fellow. But tell me, did you find what you sought at the ferry?" "Yes and no," Alexander said vaguely, preoccupied by his discovery. The book in his hands was a spellbook, containing a number of peculiar spells. "How much do you seek for this book?" "Ah," the shop owner brightened at the prospect of a sale. "It's a beauty, isn't it? Belonged to Haroun alRaschid, who was court enchanter to the Princess Cassima's grandfather. I doubt even you could afford its price, Prince Alexander, but I tell you what-I'll trade it to you for another book of equal rarity. It doesn't have to be a magical book, either." "You're very generous," Alexander said, reluctantly replacing the book on the counter. "Not at all," Ali said jovially. "I'll look forward to having your business." He smiled again and whisked the book out of sight. Alexander turned toward the door. At the moment he had more hope of talking the pawnbroker out of his magic map than he did of finding a rare book. Still, it never hurt to try. As he left the shop, Alexander saw a pile of dusty books on a table near the door. The last time he'd been in the shop the sign on the table had read "SALE"now, however, it said "FREE! TAKE ONE!" Alexander reached toward the pile. "Oh do please take one," Ali urged from behind him. "Please! You never know when a book might come in useful!" Alexander opened the top book and read a page at random. Before he had read more than a sentence or two, he felt his eyelids grow heavy. The dreariest chapter of the dustiest Court Chronicle was lively compared to this-even he could write with more life, style, and flair! Useful? Only if I want to throw it at something. Still, it would please Ali if he took it, so Alexander did.

"Quaint" and "curious" are highly over-used adjectives, but when Alexander got a good look at the inside of the pawnshop he could think of no others. The back wall of the shop was covered with strange bibelots and stranger souvenirs. Crystal balls vied for space with stuffed moose-heads, and in one corner the gigantic carcass of an enormous stuffed bear reared up alongside a stuffed old man in a black cloak. On closer inspection, the old man was not stuffed at all. Alexander took another look at him; he was the same graybeard Alexander had seen in the bookshop, and as quiet and unfriendly as ever. The old man's eyes were the same glowing gold as the swimming boy's had been-perhaps they were father and son? No matter who the old man was related to, Alexander was pretty sure he knew who he worked for. lfJollo's fears were correct, the old man had to be a spy, keeping watch over Alexander at Alhazred's bidding. Let him watch-I have nothing to hide. Alexander approached the back of the store, and as he did, he saw a small bowl of brightly colored mints on the counter. His stomach rumbled, reminding him that a lot had happened since breakfast. Alexander took a mint, but decided to save it for later. "What can I do for you today, sir?" the pawnbroker said. "My name is Hakim, and I and my shop are at your service." "Hassan the Ferryman sent me," Alexander replied. "He said you might have a magic map that once belonged to Haroun alRaschid." "Ah, well, perhaps," Hakim said vaguely. He glanced for a moment toward the old man, then looked away. "Certainly I would require something quite valuable in exchange for such a map-that is, if I had it." Alexander knew that the only thing of any value he had was the gold and jeweled signet he wore. He also realized that to follow Ali's advice he needed the map-and that getting to the bottom of the mystery that shrouded the Isle of the Crown was worth sacrificing a piece of jewelry that he hadn't, after all, worn for very long. Alexander held out the ring. "Will this do?" he asked. The pawnbroker took the ring and examined it. Hakim's eyes grew wider as he studied the carving upon it. As he did, the cloaked graybeard edged along the wall for a better look, until he was up against the end of the counter that held the mints. Alexander swears he saw the old man's nose quiver like a rabbit's, but what he certainly did see was the old man making a lightning grab at the dish, emptying the contents into his mouth, and then reeling about the shop much as Dagonet, King Graham's jester, did after one too many tankards of new ale. Eventually the old black-robed figure spun and giggled its way to the door. Alexander looked back at the pawnbroker.

"He comes in here a lot, seldom speaks, and never buys anything," the man said, and shrugged. He seemed to be less nervous now that the old man was gone. "Now, about this ring-." A few minutes later Alexander was the new owner of a magic map, with instructions for its use. On it he saw four islands: The Isle of the Crown; above it, the Isle of the Sacred Mountain; to the west, the Isle Of Wonder; and to the east the Isle of the Beast. Hakim said that while the magic map would take Alexander to any of the islands upon it as many times as he wished, it had no potency except when used in sight of the sea. "I hate to take such a valuable family heirloom, Prince Alexander-and come to that, there are some who might ask too many questions about how I came to possess it. I'll keep it out of sight for a while, and if you come into fortune in the next few days, you can buy it back." "That's very kind of you," Alexander said. Now that he had the magic map he could see if things were different on the other islands-but before he did, he bethought himself of the only other thing he had salvaged from the wreck. "Is this coin of any worth to you, Hakim?" he asked, holding out the copper coin to the pawnbroker. "That's my mother's face on it. It is .. .it might be considered a rarity here." The way Hakim examined it made Alexander uncomfortably aware of how far from home he was-if a copper penny of Daventry could be accounted such a curio. At last the pawnbroker put down his jeweler's loupe and sighed. "I can see the resemblance. Well it's worth something, but not much. Tell you what: I'll trade you-even-for anything on the counter. I take back my own items in trade, too, so if you get tired of your bargain it's easy to unmake. I make no profit on the exchange, but it does bring back repeat business." Alexander looked at the items on the counter: a paintbrush, a tinderbox, a wooden flute, and a wind-up nightingale. He picked up the nightingale and wound it up. A thin haunting melody filled the dusty pawnshop. I'll take this," Alexander decided. "Come back any time," Hakim replied as he left.

It was late in the day; the sun was setting behind him, but for some reason Alexander didn't relish the thought of spending the night anywhere on the Isle of the Crown. He headed through the archway down the Ferry Road back toward the docks, but about the time he reached the garden in front of Beauty's house he realized he'd made a mistake. I should be using this map at the beach, not the docks. And besides, more from the Johannes Bey may have washed ashore. Shrugging, Alexander retraced his steps.

When he returned to the village, Hakim was just leaving the shop with a large armload of trash, which he dumped into the pot beside the door. He waved when he saw Alexander and went back inside, shutting up the shop for the night. Feeling a little sheepish, Alexander went over to see what had been thrown out. You never know, he thought, quoting another favorite proverb of his father's. Something that Hakim had no use for might be very useful to Alexander. But this did not seem to be the case today-all Alexander found discarded in the pot were things like fake thumbs and exploding cigars ... and a bottle. It was a small black bottle with a glass stopper. Alexander couldn't imagine why it had been discarded; he shook it, and felt liquid slosh inside. Ink? He tried to open it, but the stopper seemed stuck fast. He continued tugging, and after one last gigantic wrench from Alexander, the bottle surrendered. It was ink. It was also everywhere, splashing from the bottle to liberally anoint Alexander's face and tunic. As he looked for stains, the ink-spattered portions of Alexander's anatomy faded from view. He was still staring drop-jawed as they reappeared, fading slowly back into view. So. Invisible ink. The magic must be almost gone; that's why Hakim was throwing it out. Still, I didn't spill it all, and what's le~ just might be useful. Tucking the ink bottle, now securely stoppered, into his pocket, Alexander headed back to the beach where he had first washed ashore. To Alexander's disappointment there was no new debris on the shore. After a few moments of fruitless searching, he finally opened the map and concentrated on the image of the island in the top center of the map-the Isle of the Sacred Mountain-wondering what lay ahead of him there. He touched the shape of the island with a fingertip, and as he did, felt a blurring, floating feeling. The world was obscured in a blue mist, and suddenly .... He was there! Or at least, he was somewhere else. Alexander stood on a beach even smaller than the one he had left. Sheer rock cliffs, unclimbable by any means Alexander could see, ringed the semicircle of sand. The sand at his feet was cluttered with shells, crabs, and partially devoured sea birds, but in addition to these there were two other things: a sea-wet flower, and a black feather as long as his arm. Alexander had, he realized, absolutely no way of knowing where he was-only that he was no longer on the Isle of the Crown, for the Isle of the Crown had no cliffs of this size anywhere upon its surface. He gazed up the cliff-and up, and up, and up-to where its crags disappeared into the sky. The guidebook had mentioned heights like these nowhere else in the Land of the Green Isles. Until he could find someone to ask, Alexander decided to assume that the map functioned just as Hakim had promised, and that he was standing on the Isle of the Sacred Mountain.

Looking about himself, Alexander picked up the feather, and realized with a thrill that it certainly had come from no mortal bird. Versed in the arcane arts, Alexander easily discerned that this feather might well be from the fabled Night Mare, a winged steed that can fly between the pleasant world of men and the dread realms of the Lord of Death himself. He carefully tucked the feather away, and wondered if he would get a chance to see Night Mare herself. Then he picked up the flower. It was a rose, Alexander saw, though strangely colored, so he raised it to his nose to inhale its fragrance-and nearly dropped it. The flower had a strong perfume, all right-but the scent was worse than that emanating from the castle latrines at high summer. Alexander held the stinking rose at arm's length, thinking of tossing it into the sea. lt was the memory of his grandfather that stopped him. Alexander had never known Sir Hereward, for that gallant old knight had died many years before Alexander was born, lost to the border wars that characterized the turbulent end of old King Edward's reign. But the wisdom Sir Hereward had passed on to his son had always been a part of King Graham's life- and of Alexander's ever since he had returned to Daventry. The words themselves were woven into a great tapestry that hung upon the wall of the Great Hall wherein King Graham and Queen Valanice sat in judgment at such times as their royal duties required. Upon the tapestry, it said: If I have learned anything in my life, I have learned this: Pick up anything that is not nailed down, If it is, check for loose nails or boards. Check carefully into, under, above, below, and behind things. Read everything-you might learn something. Wear clean undergarments, Brush after meals, And always remember: Nothing ls As It Appears. Alexander regarded the stinking rose, thinking that he had almost made a mistake. He carefully tucked the flower away. Odd ingredients are often useful in spells-and even the most unpleasant find could be useful some day. Had not his own father, King Graham of Daventry, successfully used a custard pie, a rotten fish, and a dry stick to rescue his family from the clutches of the evil wizard Mordack? T must be more careful. If nothing is as it appears, then even the most useless-seeming thing can be of use.

Resolved to pry loose anything that wasn't nailed down-and to check for loose nails if it was-a weary Alexander rolled himself into his cloak and slept his first night in the Land of the Green Isles. The morning found Alexander fit, rested-and very hungry. Since the Isle of the Sacred Mountain didn't seem to offer much in the way of breakfast or travel, Alexander decided to try his luck elsewhere. He faced the water, opened the map, concentrated, and touched the small, comma-shaped isle at the bottom left corner of the map. Once more he felt the map's spell overcome him, and when he opened his eyes again he was in the most peculiar place he'd ever seen. Even the light had a curious flatness to it, as if it had been applied with a large brush, and everything he saw was as brightly colored as the frescoes on the castle walls of Daventry. A bright golden beach swept up to the verge of an emerald-green jungle, and even the water was a flat. bright turquoise. Looking down, Alexander saw a flicker at the edge of the water. He reached down and picked up-a sentence! Well, part of one anyway. Holding the brightly colored words up to the light he read: "Where are you ... ?" What could that mean? Alexander wondered. It gave him an odd feeling to hold a sentence in his hands without benefit of a letter or book. Tucking it away, he decided to think about his catch later, after he had explored further. Each step Alexander took seemed to produce new wonders. A little up the beach he saw a tiny cluster of doll-sized beds, with tiny z's drifting up from them. In each bed lay an enormous oyster, most of them snoring soundly. Oyster beds. Of course. Without doubt, this is the oddest place I've ever been. Looking closer, he saw that one of the oysters wasn't asleep. It was sitting on the edge of its bed, and had the most doleful expression Alexander had ever seen, especially on an oyster. "Hello, little oyster," Alexander said. "Is something wrong?" "I can't sleep. My mouth hurts. And I'm so tired!" the oyster wailed. As it spoke, Alexander could see a flash of pearl white inside its mouth. "Perhaps I could see what is wrong," Alexander ventured, but the oyster merely shook its head. Considering Alexander's own experiences with the former court dentist of Daventry, he found he couldn't blame it-but he was certain that something in the oyster's mouth was causing its distress. "I'm so tired!" the little creature wailed again. "Perhaps I could read to you?" Alexander suggested. If the book the bookshop owner had given him for free was as boring as it seemed to be, it ought to put anything to sleep. "Oh yes, I'd like that!" said the oyster. It settled down on its bed to hear a story, and Alexander sat down and began to read.

Within paragraphs the oyster was yawning, and Alexander, despite a night's rest, thought he might well fall asleep himself. He forced himself to stay awake and continued to read, biding his time-and when the oyster opened its mouth in a real jaw-cracking yawn, Alexander pounced on the pearl and snatched it away. "Oh," the oyster said in surprise. "That feels much better." It was asleep almost instantly. Of course, when a tooth-puller is done, one almost always feel better. Alexander looked down at the enormous pearl he held in his hand. The oyster certainly didn't want it-perhaps Hakim the pawnbroker would let him exchange it for his ring. Alexander got to his feet. If he stayed in the oyster beds much longer he'd fall asleep too. He started inland, toward the interior of the island, but stopped when he heard chanting: We are the Guardians of the Isle of Wonder. We guard her with our might. Our senses are quite keen by day And twice as keen at night. Marching toward him, in rhythmic cadence, was a short procession of five of the strangest creatures he'd seen this morning-which was saying much, considering that Alexander had spent the morning on the Isle of Wonder. One had an enormous nose; the next enormous ears; another, enormous mouth; still another, enormous hands; and finally, one with enormous eyes-one creature for each of the five common senses. They could only be gnomes, although very odd ones; and to make sense of their exaggerated appearances, Alexander silently named them Sense Gnomes. That no intruder will escape We peek and poke and pry Then we catch them and we kill them And our prey is doomed to die! "Oh, we are the Guardians of The lsle of Wonder," the little creatures chanted on and on. " ... our prey is doomed to die"? Not very appealing, Alexander thought-but even less appealing was the thought of giving up before he had even begun to explore the Land of the Green Isles. Somehow he must get past these creatures-but what did he have that could baffle each of the five senses these Guardians of the Isle of Wonder were about to turn on him? Frantically Alexander searched his pockets, then sighed in slim, resigned hope.

As he stood in the shadow of the large rock by the seaside, the gnomish creatures paraded up to him and stood in a solemn single file. Alexander knew he had no choice but to deceive each of them, and their overdeveloped senses. He prayed that his ruses would succeed. To the first gnome, bereft of all senses save smell, Alexander offered the overpowering scent of the stinking rose. And the Guardian could smell no human. For the second gnome, who had enormous ears, Alexander played the tin nightingale he had purchased at the pawnshop. And the Guardian could hear no human. When the third gnome unrolled an enormous tongue, Alexander placed the mint he had planned to eat upon it. And the Guardian could taste no human. The fourth gnome stretched out his sensitive hands, and Alexander placed the ferryman's rabbit's foot in them. And the Guardian could feel no human. And just before the fifth gnome opened his big blue eyes to look all around, Alexander poured the entire bottle of invisible ink over himself and stood completely motionless, not daring even to breathe. And the final Guardian could see no human at all. "Morons!" shrilled the last gnome. "Idiots! Is everybody here crazy but me? There isn't anything on this beach at all! Why are all of you wasting my time?" He continued to grumble as he led the others away. I hope I've seen the last of them, Alexander thought as the gnomes disappeared; then chuckled at his tum of phrase. The ink faded away and Alexander reappeared. He looked up and down the beach and decided to go east, wondering what wonder he'd see next. The next wonder seemed to be reasonably mundane: books. But piles of books out in the middle of nowhere-a library graveyard. Maybe one of these is rare enough to gain me Haroun's spellbook, Alexander thought, placing a hand on the center and tallest pile of books. "Whooooo's there ... ?" a thin quavery voice demanded, and out of the tallest pile appearedA bookworm. How did I guess? The bookworm was small and green and wore thick glasses that glinted in the sun. It swayed back and forth before Alexander's eyes like a diminutive leaf-green cobra, chanting words in its high piping voice that almost made sense. "Excuse me," Alexander said. "I'm looking for a rare book." Books we have in plenty They're a treasure that is great And if you want to gain one Just speak up, don't hesitate.

"It doesn't matter what book, just so long as it's rare," Alexander said hopefully. "These books have been here so long that they're all quite well done. Heh! Hehl You haven't seen my dangling participle, have you?" the bookworm asked anxiously. Apparently it was not prepared to give Alexander a book just then. "No I haven't," Alexander said. "But I'll look for it." After all, if I picked up a sentence fragment today, finding a dangling participle should be as easy as an ill-constructed pun. If anything, the conundrum will provide new food for my thoughts as I travel. And not much else! The idea of food reminded Alexander that breakfast was still in his future, and since he didn't seem to be accomplishing anything where he was. He bid farewell to the bookworm, retraced his steps to the beach and then headed inland. Just north of the beach the jungle took on a distinctly swampy aspect. The trees-and even the logs on the ground-all seemed to have disturbingly human faces. And that was far from being the oddest thing he encountered in the bog. As he headed along the path he heard a faint glassy chiming in front of him. When he looked, he saw milk bottles growing on stalks at the base of a large tree. Milkweed, Prince Alexander thought to himself, pleased at the surmise. "Ruff!" Ruff!" Above him, the tree's bark turned flesh, barked at my prince and then to the branch-obscured sky. "Bough, wough!", it continued, until the temporary countenance hardened once more into wood. A dogwood, of course, Alexander groaned. Once he rounded the turn in the path, Alexander realized where the punning plants must have come from, for he found himself in a living pun garden. The crab apples clicked their claws and waved their antennae, the buttercups had real butter in their cups, the snapdragons defended themselves with very sharp teeth, wallflowers blushed shyly along the brick wall at the back of the garden, and more. At the end of the pun garden the way was barred by large yellow-and-red polka-dotted doors. Beyond that must be Chessboard Land, where, according to the Guidebook to the Land of the Green Isles, the Queens Blanche and Ruffina, the rulers of this domain, resided. Alexander continued looking about the garden. On the left side of the path was a nursery of pink and blue-faced baby's breaths and baby's tears dozing in the morning sun, and next to them were curling green vines covered with red ripe tomatoes-except for one at the very bottom. As Alexander looked closer, he saw that these vegetables had faces, too. "Hello, little fellow," Alexander said to the fallen tomato. "What are you doing here?" "I'm lying on the ground rotting, Highpockets-whaddya think?" the tomato sneered.

Well, Grandfather, it isn't nailed down .... Ignoring the tomato's squalls and shrieks, Alexander scooped it up and carefully added it to his growing collection of extremely strange salvage . But breakfast was still nowhere in sight, and Alexander had no intention of eating something with a face-much less something with a face that could talk. He looked around the garden for something that might fit his rather exacting requirements. He thought he'd found it when he reached the lettuce patch, but the lettuce he plucked turned out to be iceberg Lettuce, and a three-pound ball of green ice wasn't Alexander's idea of breakfast either. Giving up on the pun garden, Alexander wrapped the lettuce in his cloak, tucked it under his arm and returned to the beach to try his luck elsewhere. The lettuce hadn't been nailed down, but it still was chilly. This time he chose the Isle of the Beast. When the enchantment faded, Alexander was standing once more on a beach. On this island, the forest began almost immediately. Alexander took a well-marked path inland, but soon his progress was halted, this time by a wide, broad pool Lying across the path. There was no way to go around it. Alexander had just about made up his mind to get his feet wet when he took a second look-and this time he saw tiny bubbles rising through the water, and wisps of steam dancing upon its surface. Moist heat brought the sheen of sweat to his face. If I step into that, I'll certainly be in hot water. Alexander thought about the rapidly melting iceberg lettuce he carried. It's worth a try, he decided, and tossed it into the water. There was a moment's enormous hissing and roiling, and when it subsided Alexander knelt and gingerly stuck his finger into the water. The pool was still pretty hot, but bearable. Alexander waded quickly and was able to make it across without getting cooked. At the far side of the hot water Alexander saw an old brass lantern hanging from the branch of a tree. It was battered and dented, and its interior contained a thin brown sludge that Alexander identified after a few sniffs as tea leaves. Someone had been using the kettle-shaped lantern as a teapot, and fairly recently-possibly with water from the boiling pond. Alexander shook his head in bemusement, then took it down from the tree. With no hesitation he added it to his collection and continued on his way, soon coming to a gray stone wall at the edge of an enormous rose garden. The path led between a pair of formidable stone pillars topped with statues of archers. As Alexander approached, the statues seemed to quiver, and Alexander could have sworn he saw one carven eye roll in its stone socket to follow him. "Come in, come in! Oh, don't mind those old statues; they're harmless-and I can tell you the way to reach the castle of the Beast!" The voice came from behind the stone wall.

Alexander stopped and regarded the man who had spoken. He was kneeling in the dirt a few feet inside the gate, his hands busy in the earth. From his dress and his activity, the man seemed to be a gardener. "Come in-don't be shy! I can tell you everything you need to know!" the gardener urged again. Let it never be said that Prince Alexander of Daventry is one to pass up an opportunity to increase his store of knowledge. On the other hand, he's nobody's fool. After one full day in the Land of the Green Isles he'd learned quite a number of things, not all of them good. As the gardener glared at Alexander with impatience, his eyes glinted yellow in the forest light, and Alexander decided he didn't want to go through the gate right away after all. Alexander glanced away-since if he did not go through the gate, there seemed no place else for him to go-and when he looked back, the gardener was nowhere to be seen. Still, Alexander had seen something else useful. On the grass just outside of the gate, a lone gray brick lay on the grass. A throwable brick was something that seemed to Alexander to have immediate practical use, so he picked it up. I'm beginning to resemble a sack rat, Alexander thought. I really do hope grandpa's advice comes in handy soon. Was it only his imagination, or did the eyes of the stone archers gleam with anticipation as he neared the gateway? In any event, Alexander was glad to leave, retracing his steps to return to the beach. Everything was serene when he reached there, yet something was different. For a moment he couldn't put his finger on the reason, but then he looked up. After a morning spent on the Isle of Wonder, Alexander could hardly say this was the strangest creature he'd ever seen-but it did its best to become one of the most memorable. It looked like a cross between an opossum and an iguana, and its hide was the same curiously flat yet bright color that Alexander associated with everything he had encountered on the Isle of Wonder. "You're not by any chance a dangling participle, are you?" Alexander said to the creature. "Going to! Going to!" the creature cried. Alexander reached for it, but it curled up higher out of reach. Alexander searched through his possessions for something that might tempt the scatterwitted thing to come down. He even thought of throwing the brick at it, but Alexander is by nature a kindly soul who would not choose to use such measures against a creature so much smaller than he. At last in his rummagings he encountered the sentence fragment he'd picked up on the Isle of Wonder. It was brightly colored; perhaps that would interest the creature. Alexander offered the sentence to the creature. "Where are you ... ?" the creature recited. "Where are you ... ?" Then it noticed the sentence fragment; then yelled in joy and fulfillment.

"Where are you going to? Where are you going to?" it concluded triumphantly. "Where are you going to now? Can I come too?" it added. The creature leaped into Alexander's arms, squirmed, then wriggled up to and across his shoulders where it settled with a purr, much like a live fur collar. And thus it was that Alexander of Daventry acquired a dangling participle. From there it was a simple matter to use the magic map to jump back to the Isle of Wonder. The five fierce guardians were nowhere to be seen, and after a moment Alexander turned east, toward the book garden. He again placed a hand upon the middle tower of books to summon the bookworm, and when the creature appeared, Alexander quickly handed it the dangling participle. It is hard to say who was more delighted-the dangling participle to be home again, the bookworm to have its pet back, or Alexander to receive his reward: a rare book such as the bookshop owner back on the Isle of the Crown might well be looking for. And the oyster's pearl, perhaps, would redeem his ring. Alexander glanced at the book he had been given, and found it to be a book of riddles. He read aloud: My first is foremost legally; My second circles outwardly; My third leads all in victory; My fourth twice ends a nominee. It takes but two to play at me; This riddle's answer can you see? "Hmmm?" Alexander looked through the book, and on the ground, for the page with the riddle's answer, but it was gone. When he finally did look up, however, Alexander was staring into the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen-all eight of them, a number that matched the owner's legs. "Hiya, sailor-new in town?" Alexander took a closer look, and saw an enormous black widow spider, dressed in lace and leather, sitting in the middle of a web the size of a dinner plate. There were a number of things caught in the web, but the one that attracted Alexander's attention most was the piece of paper that looked as if it might be the missing page from his riddle book. Alexander started to reach out a hand toward it, and the spider skittered forward eagerly, fangs shining. "I just knew you were my type." "Um, thanks, but we haven't been properly introduced," Alexander said, snatching his hand back as the widow moved closer. As she did, Alexander saw a thread loose in the web. Grasping the thread carefully between thumb and forefinger, he began to tug gently, in order to distract the lady killer.

"Hey, you big Junk! What do you think you're doing?" The black widow scampered back and forth in furious agitation. When she was quite distracted-and down near the bottom of the web-Alexander deftly plucked the piece of parchment out of the top. "You give that back!" the spider shrilled. "I only wanted to read it," Alexander said. On the sheet-which did indeed come from the riddle book-was printed the single word LO VE, the answer to the riddle. As Alexander was about to return it to the black widow, a vagrant breeze plucked it from his fingers and carried it off to be lost in the island's underbrush. At this point, Alexander decided the best thing to do was leave. Hurrying back to the beach, he again took out the magic map. In a moment, he was standing once more on the Isle of the Crown. In another moment, he was striding back toward the village. At the crossroads, Alexander was greeted with a sad sweet song drifting down from the leaves above him. He stopped and glanced up into the tree. A small brown bird was sitting on a branch, singing mournfully-the first nightingale Alexander had seen or heard in these islands, other than the mechanical one he carried. Hadn't Jollo said that Cassima had a pet nightingale named Sing-Sing? Perhaps this is the same bird? If he could befriend it, it might carry a message to Cassima for him. It was worth a try: once again Alexander wound up the tin nightingale, held it out to the real one for a moment, then placed it on the ground. For a moment the thing sang alone, then its song was joined by that of the living bird. The tin nightingale wound down to silence and Sing-Sing trilled on a few notes, then fell silent. From her perch the small brown bird regarded Alexander expectantly, as if waiting for something. I'm sure it's Sing-Sing, Alexander thought hopefully, although in reality he was hardly so certain. Perhaps she'd take a message to Cassima for me, but what can I send? The only thing that proves I'm me and here in the Green Isles is my ring-and the pawnbroker has that. But he did say he'd let me redeem it with something of equal value. The pearl is certainly that. "Wait here, little friend," Alexander said to the living bird. He scooped up the tin nightingale and put it in his pocket. "I'll be right back." Whistling his own song, with a light heart for the first time since his shipwreck, Alexander strode toward the village. Entering the pawnshop, ignoring the silent old man who was there again, Alexander thrust the tin nightingale at the pawnbroker, Hakim. "Come to trade her in, have you? Well, what will you have in exchange?" Hakim said. "I don't know? Perhaps this," said Alexander, seizing the flute almost at random. He was nearly beside himself with unaccustomed excitement as he fumbled the pearl out of his pocket.

"And I'll have my ring back now, if you please," Alexander added, presenting the pearl to Hakim. "This pearl should be of more than enough value to redeem it." Just then the black-robed ancient-who seemed to spend a lot of time in the pawnshop, if Alexander were any judge-came bustling importantly up to the counter. He peered at the candy dish, but it was empty. "Your dish is empty! Fill it!" the old man barked in a surprisingly deep voice. "I'm sorry, noble sir," the pawnbroker said, "but I can get no more mint now that the ferry does not run-it does not grow here." The old man's face grew red and his gold eyes blazed fearsomely. "I hate not getting what I want, do you hear me? Hate it!" He turned in a swirl of black and left the shop. Alexander looked at the shopkeeper. The shopkeeper shrugged, bit at the pearl to verify its authenticity, smiled satisfied, then returned Alexander's ring to him. "If I see any mint in my travels, can I bring you some?" Alexander offered. "That would be most welcome, Prince Alexander-but have a care. There is a saying in the Land of the Green Isles that mint attracts more than candy-makers," Hakim said. Alexander thanked the pawnbroker for his advice-and his signet ring-and left the shop. Once more out in the sun, Alexander glanced toward the archway that divided the town from the houses beyond. An overly gaudy poster had been newly pasted to the wall. Alexander stepped over to read it. He stepped back a moment later, his mind reeling with shock. The handbill was a wedding announcement! Cassima was marrying the vizier the next day at noon. Alexander shook with a fury that quite surprised him. Cassima in Alhazred's hands was unthinkable; he would rush to the castle at once-he would demand to see her-he would-he-. He would plan very carefully before he placed himself within Alhazred's reach again. Alexander took a deep breath and steadied himself. Now was not the time to lose his head. Certainly both Alhazred and Jollo had spoken of a wedding, but Alexander had not expected it this soon. This sudden marriage spoke of secrecy and a desire for haste-and Alexander now was sure, without knowing quite how he knew, that Abdul Alhazred was at the root of the troubles that afflicted the Land of the Green Isles. It was even more vital than ever that he reach Cassirna safely-and Cassima seemed even more out-of-reach than before. He could do nothing without more information. Squaring his shoulders, Alexander strode into the bookshop. Once moreJollo was sitting in the chair before the fire, much as ifhe had been waiting for Alexander. He looked up and saw Alexander's expression. "You've heard about the wedding, then," the down said dolefully.

"I've heard about it-and I'm going to stop it!" Alexander declared hotly. Unaccustomed emotions surged through his blood, making the normally cool and self-possessed young man tremble with rage. "Brave words," sighed the clown, "but how? If you come within a mile of the castle, Alhazred will have the Guard Dogs clap you into a dungeon so deep even the Royal Tax Collector doesn't know where it is. He says you're a saboteur, you know." "Well I intend to sabotage something!" Alexander exclaimed. Every time he thought that Cassima-his Cassima-who had already suffered so much, should be forced to this wedding by a man whose motives were, at the very least, highly suspect, made Alexander's blood boil with a passion he had previously reserved only for books. "Jollo, you don't think that Cassima wants this marriage, do you?" "Prince Alexander, if you believe that, you are not the prince I took you to be. Cassima has never liked Alhazred-never! Nor his cronies." "Peace, Jolla, I meant no harm," Alexander said. "It's just that-oh, how 1 wish 1 could speak to her!" "Even I am not allowed access to the Princess-and Alhazred has spies everywhere, so beware, young Alexander! Their hearts are with him-just as the hearts of all Cassima's loyal subjects are with you!" With that, the clown scurried from the bookshop. What did he mean about Alhazred's cronies? Alexander wondered. Everyone I've spoken to has said he came here alone. Perhaps someone else might know. Alexander went to the desk at the back of the bookshop and held out the book the bookworm had given him. "I've brought you a book you might be interested in. I'd like to trade for the spellbook," Alexander said to Ali. "Is this rare enough?" The shopkeeper pounced on the riddle book eagerly, and paged through it uttering small exclamations of delight. The torn page bothered him not at all. "This is splendid, Prince Alexander-splendid! Take the spellbook, please-it may be old and valuable, but no one wants it." Alexander picked up the spellbook and paged through it. Ye Useful Booke of Magick Spells was an old book, covered in a strange fine-grained scarlet leather, and bound with large clasps of gold-washed brass. He opened it, and the sweet musty scent of ancient vellum rose to his nostrils. The book was written in a bold sweeping calligraphy that probably belonged to Haroun aJRaschid himself. The first page was handsomely ornamented in scarlet and gold-a title page, and warning, to those unversed in higher Iconomancy to leave these spells alone. Alexander turned the page and read: To Create a Magic Paint That Will Render Unreal Things Real: Take one cup of swamp ooze. Add to it water taken from the River Styx.

Stir with a black feather taken from a black horse. Apply to blank surface with an artist's brush in the form desired. Then say: Magic Paint, black as ink Bring to life, what I think. Make it real, what I draw According to this spoken law. Alexander thought of the brush he had seen in the pawnshop-and of the feather of Night Mare currently in his possession. And there was a swamp on the Isle of Wonder-but there was little likelihood he would ever lay hands upon water from the River Styx-the river that flows through the Land of the Dead. Alexander turned to the next spell in the book. To Cause Rain: Take salt water not from the sea, Mix it with a vial of sacred water in a teapot, and Fill to brim with falling water not from the sky. Then say: Clouds of thunder, shafts of light Come and sup with me tonight. Waters three have I for tea Brew a tempest now for me! Rain will come as soon as the water in the pot is boiled. That seemed a little easier to arrange, since even sacred water was not as hard to obtain as Styx water. Alexander wondered if the brass lamp he carried would make as satisfactory a substitute teapot for the spell as it had for its last owner-but it did not seem to him that making it rain would be of any particular use. Still, one never knows. He turned the page again. To Charm a Creature of the Night: In the presence of a creature one wishes to enchant, Take one skull filled with hot oak embers, Add to it some brimstone (or as it is also called, sulphur) and One strand of a pure-hearted maiden's hair. Then say:

Creature of Night, to me succumb Fire and Brimstone leave thee numb. Purity bind thee like a chain Do thou what I now ordain! That was the last of alRaschid's meager collection of spells-the rest of the pages were blank. Alexander struggled with mixed feelings-his instincts told him these spells could be of powerful help to him, but except for the one to create Magic Paint, he wasn't certain exactly how. Patience, Alexander reminded himself, as he had so many times in his life. First go and see if the nightingale is truly Sing-Sing-and if she will bear your signet to her mistress. Book under arm, Alexander returned to the crossroads to seek out the nightingale. The nightingale was now tweeting cheerily in the tree when Alexander returned to the crossroads. As he stopped beneath the tree she regarded him with bright curiosity. Feeling only a little foolish, Alexander held the ring out to the bird. "Sing-Sing?" he called softly. "Here, pretty bird." The nightingale cocked her head as in recognition of the name, and lifted her wings. She launched herself from the branch and sailed down to Alexander's outstretched hand. He felt her warm feathery weight on his palm, and the sharpness of her beak as she pecked curiously at the ring. Another instant, and the bird was gone, Alexander's jeweled signet clutched in her bill. "Now what do I do?" Alexander asked the empty air. As if in answer, he heard a rustle of tree leaves, and an enormous green snake with glinting gold eyes slithered into-and out of-sight. Sing-Sing, be careful, wherever you've gone. And Cassima too, Alexander prayed. My prince waited. Alexander hardly had time to decide what to worry about first before Sing-Sing was back. In its beak now, the bird held a length of red ribbon, and she fluttered back and forth before Alexander's face as if making certain it had his attention before dropping the ribbon at his feet. Then the bird flew away. Alexander bent down and picked the ribbon up. As he held it to his nose he caught a faint sent of violets and jasmine-Cassi ma! Inspecting it more closely, he saw that a strand of long black hair was entangled in the scarlet velvet ribbon, a hair so fine as to have been made from dream itself. Hair the same color as Cassima's; it could only be hers. So she is still alive at least. He had not known how much he feared the worst until joyful relief washed over him. And now she knows I am here. Filled with new purpose, Alexander headed south toward the ocean. There, the magic map returned him to the Isle of Wonder. Alexander had not yet fully explored that island, and he now wanted to collect some swamp ooze, just in case he ever found Styx water. But more than that, he still wanted very much to meet the two queens that the guidebook mentioned-as well as the rulers of the other Green Isles. The suspicion growing in him was at this moment no more than an unformed suspicion, but it was an unease that wanted feeding with large chunks of corroborative detail. Why did Alhazred stop the ferry? Why is there distrust between the isles? Cassima told me that she had been held prisoner in Mordack's castle because she refilsed to marry Mordack-but how did Mordack come to visit the Green Isles in the first place to see her-hadn't Alhazred himself sent for him? And most of all, if this wedding were Cassima's true will, she would have returned my ring instead of sending me her hair ribbon. Alexander took the path that led inland and was once again enveloped in the dismal swamp. As he stared across the glassy stinking surface of the swamp, he realized that while the swamp did indeed contain the ooze he needed for one of the spells, he didn't have anything to carry the stuff in. Alexander shrugged, wondering if it was his fate to know where each of the ingredients for the spells was, but not how to transport them. As he passed the milkweed, he plucked a bottle from the stalk and looked at it. It was a large plain glass bottle labeled "Milk." Cautiously Alexander tasted it, and the liquid inside was cool and sweet. He drank it all. Refreshed and satisfied, he continued onward. The pun garden was much as he had seen it, save that for some unknown reason there was now a plain wooden chair with a teacup sitting on its seat. Three loud yells brought no one, so Alexander picked the cup up and tucked it away inside his tunic-he had something in which to collect swamp ooze. But first, he wanted to enter Chessboard Land, where the two queens lived. He was about to open the spotted gate that barred the way, when he noticed what looked like a gap in the wall. Hoping to get an advance look at the country on the other side, Alexander stepped doser to take a peek. He saw rolling red and white hills that were smooth as glass, undulating endlessly against a flat blue sky. Then the gap in the wall opened a pair of big green eyes and blinked at him. Peculiar things had been happening to him on the Isle of Wonder, but this was the strangest so far. It's a Hole-in-the-Wall, or should I say, a Hole-ON-the-Wall? Alexander reached out a hand to it, but the little creature scurried away behind the wallflowers, taking its view of Chessboard Land with it. Other than its enormous eyes, all it consisted of was a pair of gloved hands, two splayed feet, and a black, transparent middle. The flowers closed ranks, making it impossible for Alexander to make another try for the remarkable little beast. Alexander was just as determined to catch the little creature as the Hole was to remain free. Several futile attempts netted Alexander a handful of wallflower petals and not much else. If I could just make them move aside, I'd have it in an instant, Alexander thought, but the more he grabbed for the Hole, the more agitated the wallflowers became.

This is getting me nowhere, Alexander finally realized. Looking at the wallflowers, he felt ashamed of causing them such distress. Hoping for some way to calm them, Alexander remembered the flute he carried. Perhaps some music would turn the trick. Taking out the flute, he began to play, and the results were more than he could possibly have hoped for. After a few moments piping, the flowers calmed down, ceased their frantic weaving back and forth, and parted. Alexander was able to scoop up the Hole-in-the-Wall and drop it into a pocket. It squirmed and wiggled for just a few seconds before becoming limp. Alexander could bear a slight snore replace all movement. Feeling a certain amount of triumph, Alexander tried again to enter into Chessboard Land. The entrance to the Harlequin Hills was barred by two gigantic chess knightsmuch like the pieces Alexander had seen on the chessboard in his father's study, but a thousand times larger. They regarded him with stony gazes and did not move. From some distance beyond, Alexander heard the sound of two voices raised in argument, moving in his direction. There was a curiously inhuman sound to the voices, and as the speakers appeared Alexander saw why: these were Blanche and Ruffina, the two queens of the Isle of Wonder. Both of them were made of stone! Tom between mirth and worry, Alexander listened to their circular argument about what gifts the two queens would send to Cassima's wedding, even though the Beast had stolen their greatest treasure, the Singing Stone, and neither of the queens was on good terms with any of the other islands at the moment. Neither of the presents seemed very desirable: one seemed to be a lump of coal, while the other was a rotten egg. Nevertheless, the two queens were stubborn: both wanted to be the one who sent the lump of coal. And the argument kept going this way, around and around and around. At last they appealed to Alexander for help, but as he could see no way of dividing the lump of coal without destroying it-and breaking the rotten egg open wouldn't be a good idea at all-Their Royal Majesties left in a huff. As they bounced away, moving with the curious rocking motion that animated chess pieces have, the Red Queen dropped her scarf. Alexander stepped forward and picked it up. It had a curious texture, almost like woven metal, and it was bright blood red. Alexander tucked it away carefully. Perhaps he could return it later. He thought of trying to go further into Chessboard Land, but one good look at the gleam in the knights' eyes convinced him it would not be a good idea. Alexander retreated into the garden, then headed back to the swamp. Kneeling at the edge of the swamp, Alexander had just dipped his teacup into the vile-smelling sludge when a reedy voice called out, "Hey! Scruffy! Whaddya think you're doing?" The voice was coming from the center of the swamp. Alexander looked up and saw a gnarly, stick-like figure with glowing red eyes standing in the middle of a pool of bluish sludge. "My name is Alexander of Daventry. I was just getting a little swamp ooze." "Well you won't get it there," a resigned voice said from behind Alexander. "That isn't swamp ooze-it's swamp muck." Alexander turned. What he had taken for an ordinary fallen log had opened its eyes and was speaking to him. "Yah! Yah! Yahl A lot you know!" jeered the stick in the mud behind them. "That isn't swamp muck-it's swamp slime!" The log, or perhaps it was only a bump on a log, sighed deeply. "He's probably right, you know." "Hello," Alexander said to the bump. "I'm Alexander of Daventry. I was hoping to get some swamp ooze-do you know of any way to do it?" "The only way is if he throws some at you. Don't try wading into the swamp after it," the bump said in alarm. "You'll sink without a trace. No, the only way you'll get any ooze is if he throws it at you-and he never will. I'm his brother, and I should know." Alexander looked back over his shoulder at the stick-figure in the swamp. It sneered and japed in a thoroughly unpleasant fashion, though most of its insults were directed at its brother. "Oh, I wish he'd just be quiet!" sighed the Bump-on-a-Log. "But he won't," it added. The Stick-in-the-Mud made a rude noise for emphasis.

It has never been in Alexander's character to wish to stand by while others bully the helpless. It is equally a part of his character not to wish to simply champion them, but to help them stick-you will pardon the expression-up for themselves. It was that-as much as his need for the ooze-that prompted Alexander's next actions. "What he needs is a lesson in manners," Alexander said. Hoping it was still intact, Alexander took out his rotten tomato and placed it upon the bump's log. It had survived my prince's adventures until then reasonably intact. "I wonder if he'd continue to be so rude if you could strike back?" "Oh now let's don't be hasty, brother," the stick said nervously. "Stand back, Alexander of Daventry," the bump said, and suddenly the rotten tomato went flying through the air-to land, with an enormous, smelly splash, right in front of the Stick-in-the-Mud. Suddenly the air was full-of swamp mud, swamp muck, swamp slime-even swamp ooze! The precious ooze landed in a lump on the side of the bump, and Alexander, ducking muddy missiles as he worked, carefully scraped it off into the and take possession of it, it would become beholden to him. The creature would instantly cease to serve Alhazred and might even be made a force for good. Of course, taking possession of that well-guarded treasure might be a bit difficult, but if Alexander was already attempting the impossible, the insanely difficult should be easy. "Good day, Hakim-I've come to make another trade," Alexander said to the pawnbroker. "Will you take back this flute? It has performed quite well for me and is owed a rest. Will you give me that tinderbox in exchange?" Hakim quickly assisted Alexander in making the exchange. It seemed to Alexander that Hakim was anxious to be rid of him, and Alexander felt that this destruction of simple friendliness by the fear of reprisal was perhaps the worst thing the rule of corruption had brought to the Land of the Green Isles. Alexander's heart was troubled as he took the tinderbox and returned to the beach. From there, the map returned him to the Isle of the Sacred Mountain. Alexander had spent his first night on the beach at the foot of the towering cliffs, finding nothing more of interest than a black horse feather and a stinking rose. This time Alexander was there, not in the shadowy dusk of sunset, but in full daylight. As he Looked closely at the cliff face, he saw that words were carven in the stone: Ignorance Kills Wisdom Elevates It was, of course, a puzzlement. Alexander stared at it for a moment, baffled. It was good advice, but it didn't seem to get him any closer to the top of the cliffs which looked unclimbable The Guidebook to the Land of the Green Isles, he remembered then, claimed the Winged Ones, whose island this was, placed riddles in the way of any visitor to the place. It was from this practice that the cliffs bore their name. I had recorded among their aphorisms, "Only the pure of heart will be able to Rise or Ascend the Cliffs of Logic." These were the same words chiseled into the cliff itself. Alexander stared at the puzzlement for a long while before the obvious became dear before him: the letters of the words appeared to be buttons, buttons which could be pushed. Rise or Ascend? Which would it be? Deliberately, Alexander pressed the letters R - I - S - E in the words of the carven motto, one letter from each word. They sank smoothly into the sheer rock. After a sudden rumbling, stone steps shot out of the sheer granite cliffs, rising upward. Alexander paused for a moment to give laughing thanks for my onetime scribblings, and began to ascend the Logic Cliffs. Unfortunately, twenty feet above the sand the steps stopped. Alexander stood balanced on the tiny granite step far above the beach and again faced a wall of carven riddles, and this time the solution could only be found in the language of the Winged Ones themselves. Fortunately it has always been Alexander's habit to embrace new knowledge wherever he may find it, and he had spent the months of tedious sea voyaging reading the guidebook over and over again. If he had not memorized the Winged Ones' alphabet he would not have been able to go on. But a lifetime habit of mind saved him often on the Cliffs. Higher and higher he rose, each time finding farther progress being thwarted by another riddle, puzzle, or befuddlement. My prince is as fit of mind as he is of body; to him, conundrums are to be relished for their own sake, caressed like a lover until they yield themselves. Four times he was forced to repeat the challenge. At the last puzzle, pressing the button-letters A - S - C - E - N - D let him gain the steps that led to the top. From the top of the Logic Cliffs Alexander could see everywhere in the Land of the Green Isles. The air was sharp and cold as crystal wine, and the view was staggering-it nearly gave him a case of vertigo, after all he had been through. From his high perch here on the cliffs Alexander felt as if he could see all the blue skies and bluer ocean of the Land of the Green Isles. There was a bank of mist just south of the Isle of the Beast, but everything else was clearly visible. Alexander was supremely thankful that his head had remained equally clear during his climb. To his left the cliffs rose up again-what had seemed the top of the Logic Cliffs was only an interruption in their upward rise. Set into their stony surface was a set of enormous wooden doors bound in ancient, time-worn bronze. In the distance, Alexander could see the cloud-capped towers and delicate palaces of the Winged Ones' city. "Little boy-er-young man, I know where you want to go!" The speaker was an old woman in a black cloak, sitting beside the entrance to a small cave a few yards away from where Alexander was standing. She was wingless. And I know who-and what-you are now, no matter what form you choose to appear in, Alexander thought grimly, staring into the "woman's" flame-gold eyes. She continued cooing her blandishments at the prince. Alexander paid no further attention to anything Alhazred's genie said-for it could only be that magical creature-but simply waited for it to give up and vanish. At last it did, turned to smoke, and vanished. When the genie was gone, Alexander stepped to the oak and bronze doors, shivering a bit in the chill mountain wind, but could not open them no matter what he tried. Casting another glance at the distant city, he walked along the cliffs until he came to the place where the genie had been standing; there stood the entrance to a small cave, partially covered by a stand of poison nightshade. A slight breeze blew out at Alexander, suggesting a path through to- well that was a question my prince wanted to answer. With care he squeezed past the nightshade, making sure none of its poison rubbed onto him. Then he was inside.

The interior of the cave was pitch-black. From his pack, Alexander removed his tinderbox and lit the candle that came with it. In the wan light of the candle, Alexander saw an empty cave, with another opening toward the east. Pushing through, he entered the second cave. Alexander had been hoping for a back way into the Winged Ones' palace-or even into the catacombs that he had read of-but all there was was a dead-end. Sunlight spilled into the cave from an opening on Alexander's left-and that accounted for the waft of wind which had brought him inside. This opening was much too small for him to crawl through, and half covered over with plants, but when Alexander inspected it more closely, he found to his delight that-according to his nose-the plant growing there was mint! Remembering his promise to Hakim, Alexander took a handful of the green fragrant leaves before retracing his path to the outside. When he reached the surface again the genie was nowhere to be seen, and Alexander could see the entrance gates of the City of the Winged Ones off in the distance. It was only a short walk to reach them, and when he reached the gates, Alexander went directly up to them and knocked briskly. It may be thought odd to readers of this chronicle, after all I have said about Alexander's essential nature being marked by coolness and suspicion-and to be fair, Alexander himself is the first to recognize that such character traits can swiftly become character flaws and strives not to succumb to them-that he would simply and straightforwardly walk up to the gates of a people whom he could not expect to treat him well. The answer is simple. Alexander had been long enough in the Land of the Green Isles, and had by now seen enough, that he knew that the only thing the islanders trusted less than each other was a foreigner, yet he had little choice but to do what he did. Though the gates barred a terrestrial path, the city of the Winged Ones was a fitting setting for its inhabitants-each building was set either in a sheer cliff-face or at the top of an enormous pillar. Without wings, it was impossible to sneak into the City of the Winged Ones, and even if he were able to do so, to sneak into their city would only prove Alexander a spy. To enter openly would at least gain him a hearing from the king and queen, and perhaps a chance to ask them some questions. Poor Alexander! He did not really understand how deep Alhazred's corruption had struck at the fabric of life of the Land of the Green Isles. Although, had he known what was to befall him, in all likelihood, he would have done precisely what he did anyway. Almost before the echoes of his knocking had died away, two winged guardians swooped down from above and seized Prince Alexander-and he gained his first glimpse of the city's elusive inhabitants.

In form the Winged Ones are much like any other humanfolk of Daventrysave that they tower over any human ever born, and that two great white wings grow from their shoulders. It was with the aid of these, and not by any magic, that the Winged Ones obtain the power of flight. These impressions Alexander gathered piecemeal over the course of his stay on the Isle of the Sacred Mountain. At the time, he had time only to collect the impression of a vast flurry of feathers as, beating their mighty wings, the two greeters lifted him high into the sky. After a short, dizzying flight, Alexander was deposited in the cloud-hidden throne room of Lord Azure. White-winged, severe, and far taller than Alexander, the ruler of the Isle of the Sacred Mountain gazed down at Alexander disapprovingly, his equally formidable lady at his side. "Who dares challenge the Cliffs of Logic?" Lord Azure demanded. "My name is Alexander of Daventry," Alexander began, but before he could say more, a chirping of excited comment ran about the room. Lord Azure glared the murmuring into silence. "So. You are the interloper that he has spoken of. It has been suggested, 'Prince' Alexander, that should I put you to death, both the vizier and the realm would be much happier. But you have gained the top of the Cliffs of Logic- by whatever means-and the Lord of the Winged Ones is not yet at the beck and call of some wingless grub. Let those animated playing pieces from the Isle of Wonder mock us and steal our golden treasures how they will, we will not yield!" "But your lordship, I only came to-" Alexander began. "Silence, wingless one! I will give you one chance. As a spy, you will have learned much of us-perhaps you even wish to visit our famed catacombs, and plunder our beloved dead? Very well-that wish is granted. When you leave here you will be taken to the catacombs and confined till the end of your life, unless you take the chance I will give you. There is a Minotaur in the catacombs-this very day it has demanded my only daughter in sacrifice. Defeat the maze, slay the Minotaur, save Celeste-and not only will I spare your life, but I will grant you a boon in addition. Fail, and die with her." "But-" Alexander said again. Even at a moment such as this, it struck him that if Lord Azure wanted his help, he had a rather roundabout way of asking for it. He was given no chance to say anything more, for Lord Azure made a curt gesture to the guards holding Alexander's arms, and once more he was airborne. The guards deposited him at the edge of the Cliffs of Logic. One held him securely as the other unbolted and unlocked the entrance to the catacombs. "In you go," said Alexander's captor. "You may be ugly, stupid, and stuntedbut I hope you succeed." Thanks, I think, Alexander said to himself, listening to the echoes of the great door as it closed behind him. The catacombs stretched before him, gloomy and deadly-in addition to containing one very angry, probably very hungry Minotaur, it was filled with the traps that the Winged Ones had constructed for generations to prevent looting or tampering with their beloved dead. Alexander knew he had no hope of defeating the Minotaur in combat, but instead hoped to free Celeste from her captivity during monster's absence and flee away with her without ever facing the bull-headed creature that had made the catacombs its home. To do that, he must find both the way out of the catacombs, and the place Lady Celeste was being held. I mustn't fail. I cannot fail. Cassima is depending on me. Celeste's life is depending on me. Too many peoples' lives and happiness are depending on me-including mine. Alexander cudgeled his brains, and strove to remember all of the Guidebook to the Land of the Green Isles that he could. After all, he was on an island of puzzlements and conundrums; there must be some key to the catacombs, and if there were, he was sure it would have been recorded in the slim lost book-or at least referred to. But for all his striving, Alexander recalled nothing save for some drawings of crumbled dungeon walls and bricks to which he had paid scant attention. Perhaps it is not as difficult as Lord Azure claims, thought Alexander hopefully. Heartened, he started off, but soon found himself tangled in a maze of dusty passages and rooms that all looked exactly alike. An hour of fruitless wandering followed before Alexander found himself, to his deep disgust, once more facing the door through which he had entered the catacombs. I have said before that Alexander is not inclined to jump into things, and that hasty action is foreign to his nature. He did not, once frustrated, go rushing madly back into the catacombs, determined to defeat it by mere desperation and brute force, as so many might have done. In the face of grim and certain peril, Alexander did as he had so many times before. He sat down and thought. It was then that inspiration, or perhaps observation, struck. The walls of the entrance chamber were made of porphyry, a sensuous dark-red marble. About six feet off the ground, a ribbon of golden marble had been inset into the red, and carven into the golden marble was a series of designs. Or, as Alexander now saw them, writing. As he tried to copy out the carven letters, Alexander soon realized that, though fabulously ornate and all run together, they were not from the alphabet of the Ancient Ones that Alexander had so carefully memorized, and the knowledge of which that had already served him so well that day. These letters were words inscribed in the common tongue of Daventry, but in a style so archaic and ornate that they, too, could only be the handiwork of the Ancient Ones, the folk who were already legend when we first withdrew from the Other World, and the precursors of the Winged Ones. These now-dead creators of the winged race have left the remains of their great works scattered all over, and below, the Isle of the Sacred Mountain. They live on only in these, and their writings. Scratching out aeons of dust with a twig, Alexander soon revealed the words of the wall's inscription. Unfortunately, it didn't make a lot of sense: NOW OR NEVER EVERY MAN MUST EXIT NICELY Good advice, Alexander thought, but what does it mean? Then he took a second look at the words carved on the catacomb walls. Some were written larger than others. In the dust of the floor, Alexander scratched out what had been written: Now or Never Every man must Exit Nicely He stared at the sentence he had recorded for a while, the dust of the tomb harsh in his nostrils. Slowly, with hands that shook more than a little, Alexander wrote a second line beneath the first, then a third. Now his inscription read: Now or Never Every man must Exit Nicely N-N-E-E-N North - North - East - East - North It's the key to the maze-it must be. And if it is not. .. well, there is nothing else here for me to follow. Now, which way's north? Fortunately Alexander had taken his bearings from the other side of this door-north was straight ahead of him. Briskly he set off again-to prove the accuracy of the inscription, or die. The directions took him to a room filled with skulls-no closer to escape than he had been before. Here the walls were rough red sandstone, with no ribbon of yellow marble to bear further directions. But sandstone, too, can be carved. On the lintel of the door that opened southward, Alexander found more letters carved. Soon he had another sentence: Some Wanderers Will Not do Well "Thanks much," Alexander said to the unknown-and possibly long-deadartisan who had inscribed the words. Ignoring the prediction therein, he extracted the cipher contained in the sentence: S - W - W -N - W. If this route brought him to yet a third inscription, Alexander would be sure that he had solved the code of the catacombs. As he prepared to leave the chamber, Alexander took a final look around. Even trapped in a maze beneath the earth, he was mindful of the ingredients required by the spells in the spell book.

a room that was another dead end-and then continued carelessly into the center of the room attempting to find further directions. The lapse was speedily punished. A faint silken sound of sliding, and before Alexander could recover himself, the floor opened beneath his feet. Fortunately the fall wasn't far, but the landing was into total darkness. lt was quite a few moments before Alexander could pull himself together, discover no broken bones, and light his tinderbox. He was in yet another dungeon chamber, little different from the ones he had passed through above. In the pale flickering light he saw new words-also of gold-frame a doorway that opened westward: Wise Wanderers Will do Well When Seeking Secret Entrances I wonder what that means, Alexander muttered to himself. I'm looking for an exit, a girl, and a Minotaur-not a secret entrance. Or am I? The walls, not unnaturally, did not answer, but more and more often as he walked, Alexander could hear faint inhuman howls echoing through the twisting corridors. He hoped Celeste was still unharmed. Was there some young lord in the Winged Ones' city who even now yearned for Celeste as my prince did for Cassima? The thought was too painful to entertain. At last Alexander's steps led him to still another dead end, and this time, try as he might, he could uncover no clue at all to lead him onward. Alexander sank down to the floor in weariness and exasperation, slumping against his pack. A lively squirming from his makeshift pillow reminded him that some of its contents might not like being laid upon. As another roar-closer now-shook the air, Alexander reached into his pack and came up with the wriggling form of the Hole-in-the-Wall. "I'm sorry, little fellow. I forgot all about you. I didn't mean to get you into this mess, too." Though he held the Hole-in-the-Wall firmly in his hand, Alexander's fingers were nowhere to be seen-Alexander was looking directly through them. By now the beastly roars were very close, as if in an adjacent room. Alexander knew that if he were not to simply lie down and die there, he must choose a path through the catacombs by his wits alone. He could even spy through the wall beyond which the roars seemed to be emanating. Taking the squirming little creature in another firm grip, Alexander placed it on the eastern wall of the chamber. He peered through it, and caught his breath in excitement. Through the hole-in-the-wall Alexander could see an enormous, gilded room. As he watched breathlessly, the Minotaur itself entered that room through a concealed passage, carried Celeste to an altar, and bound her to it. Celeste struggled against her bonds with no success, her great wings twitching, but no more. Satisfied that his victim was secured, the bull-headed monster walked away and occupied himself with what looked to Alexander as unhurried preparations for a sacrifice. For a moment, Alexander hardly noticed when his vision was interrupted by the Hole-in-the-Wall's hasty retreat, disappearing to who-knew-where. He had to get to Celeste, and there was little time to do so. He would have to find his way to her unaided. Alexander began running back the way he had come, through the room's only exit, and in his excitement tripped, fell, then sprawled flat upon his face. Rolling over onto his back, wiping blood from his chin, he caught the gleam of words on the vaulted ceiling above, this time a longer sentence-and set of directions-than any before: When Wending Ways Seeking Secret Entrances, Silence Encourages Extra Nonsense. Echoes are Not Neglected The directions he had been following, Alexander realized suddenly, were not a way leading out of the catacombs. They never had been. They were to show him the way into the Minotaur's lair! After his fall, Alexander forced himself to follow the directions slowly, making certain of his way and using the time to plan his assault upon the Minotaur. He followed these last directions until he was in a hallway hung with a large tapestry. Recalling what he'd seen through the Hole-in-the-Wall, Alexander placed his hand on the tapestry in order to move it aside-but just before he did, he removed the Red Queen's scarf from his pack. Loosely, he held it in one hand. The door was open, and he could see inside clearly. A great brazen altar in the shape of an enormous Minotaur dominated one corner, and a pit of flame occupied the center of the room, but Celeste and the Minotaur were hidden. Alexander entered the room, and could see the Minotaur leaning over the young winged woman. Alexander had hoped for more time to execute his plan, but the daughter of the Winged Ones gave him none. Her eyes widened when she saw the prince. "You get me out of here or my daddy's going to be really mad!" Celeste shrieked tearfully. Fully unfurling the scarf, Alexander rushed further into the room, drawing the bull-headed beast's attention completely away from its intended sacrifice, and onto it. He stood next to the creature's fire-pit and waited for the only thing that could happen next. The Minotaur turned and looked directly at Alexander. Then-if this is the proper description of the Minotaur's act- it smiled at him. The prince, praying his hastily conceived plan would work, waved Queen Ruffina's brilliant red scarf again at the bull-headed creature. just as it is known that all goats hate trolls, it is well known in Daventry-and in all the multiverse, I suspect-that anything bullish will charge at anything red. The Minotaur was only half bull, but half can be as good as enough, as my mother sometimes says. Flames reflecting in its eyes, the Minotaur roared, charged, lunged at Alexander, and-vanished into its own fiery pit. The roars, now of anguish and pain, continued for many moments as the monster fell. "You! Human! You untie me at once!" the Winged One Princess demanded shrilly, much as if Alexander were still the slave-boy Gwydion, and not her savior. While it is true she was not very gracious, she had spent the entire day believing she was about to be eaten alive, and that sometimes puts an edge on one's temper-or at least so Alexander felt as he moved to untie her. "You clumsy grub! There's a knife in my girdle-use that!" Alexander slipped the small golden dagger from the belt at the winged girl's waist, and soon she was free. "You may keep it-as a reward for saving me," she said, smoothing her long red hair into place and stretching her great white wings. She was as beautiful as any other of her majestic race, but Alexander's heart was filled with the dear imperfect face of Cassima. Celeste's beauty did not stir him. "Now come along-Mummy and Daddy will be awfully worried about me." Celeste quickly led Alexander back to the catacomb entrance and pushed open the door. Against all reason, he returned again to sunlight. "What are you two fools staring at?" Celeste demanded of the dumbfounded guards. "The Minotaur is dead and I want to go home! You can bring this one with you," she said, nodding at Alexander. A moment later she had spread her silken wings and launched herself into the sky. The guards, seizing Alexander, followed her example-and, though he never has said so, I think Alexander, as he was borne aloft once more, perhaps regretted saving her-if only a very little. But none of that winged race has ever learned humility, and it is in my mind that none ever will. Theirs is the arrogance of intellect, an infirmity with no cure. Again Alexander stood before the throne of the sky king, but the reception was not even as joyous as a modest young man like Alexander of Daventry could have expected. "So you're back," Lord Azure said heavily. "And now I am honor-bound to release you." Good grace is another trait scarce in the Winged Ones. "And grant him a boon," the Lady Aerial put in sharply. Lines of worry and concern etched Azure's wife's striking patrician features, and she regarded Alexander with a little more affection than her husband did. "Even so," said Lord Azure. "Take it and go-and if you ever come again to the Sacred Isle before the day the Golden Fleece rests once more in our treasury, Alexander of Daventry, I shall throw you from our cliffs myself."

Before Alexander could ask what this boon might be-he had a few suggestions of his own, if anyone was interested-the winged courtiers seized him once more. Again he was carried above the towers and pillars of the City of the Winged Ones, but instead of returning him to the beach, or even the cliffs, this time he was transported to the highest spot in the entire Isle: a cloud top cave that held the Aerie of the Oracle. Alexander had read of the Winged Ones' Oracle, a mystic seeress who can infallibly predict the future, and who has been consulted even by King Caliphim and Queen Allaria. His boon, it seemed, was to be an audience with her. Alexander was ushered into the cave by the suddenly respectful courtiers. Surprisingly young for one such, the Oracle was bending over a well of green radiance. Unlike the other inhabitants of this isle, the look she turned upon Alexander was a kindly one. "Welcome, Prince Alexander of Daventry," the Oracle said. "Do not ask how your name, or your quest, is known to me-many things are known to me, though few indeed are those I may affect. Young Lord Azure hopes I will tell you your future and thus persuade you to leave. But I know your future, Prince Alexander, and I know that you will not leave the Land of the Green Isles, perhaps forever. I can tell you no more. "Of more use to you than any threats or promises I might make will be a vial of this sacred water-take it, and fare well upon your quest." Alexander heard a gasp from behind him as the Oracle filled a small carved crystal vial with the glowing water of the sacred well. He had barely grasped it when his escort hustled him out of the Oracle's aerie and launched him into empty space once more. Nor had he full grasp of the Oracle's meaning. Was he doomed to perish without ever seeing Cassima again? Was his quest already doomed? Would Cassima or his parents ever know of his fate? Or was there another meaning in the words; one of success and .... Success and what? This time the Winged Ones did deposit him upon the beach. One of the two took off almost before he had landed, but the other-whom Alexander recognized as the guard who had wished him well at the doors of the catacombs-hesitated a moment. "Farewell. We wish you well," he said, as if he might say more. But before Alexander could say anything in reply, he too was gone, and Alexander was once more alone on the beach of the Isle of the Sacred Mountain. Baffled still by the Oracle's words, Alexander unfurled his magic map to depart. He blinked in amazement. There were no longer four islands upon its surfacethere were now five. Alexander remembered Ali telling him that the lands in this part of Daventry were subject to change, often abruptly and for little logical or easily discerned reason. Now he had seen the truth of that for himself. But of this island he had read and heard mention. He considered a moment and decided to go there-the Isle of the Mists.

The abrupt transition from sunlight to clinging mist made Alexander shiver in spite of himself. The Isle of the Mists certainly lived up to its name: the bright sky of the Land of the Green Isles was obscured by a mantle of mist, mist eddied in a thin veil upon the clammy sand, mist seemed to hang from the very tree limbs like funeral shrouds. It was not much a happy place. As Alexander stood looking about himself, he became aware of the distant throbbing of drums to the north and west. Perhaps the race of earth sorcerers that inhabited the island were hard at work upon some great magic. Alexander followed the beach road west. Before he had walked much, Alexander came to a small village, obviously the home of the island's sorcerer-kings. He had hoped to find someone there, but in fact the entire village was deserted. The drums to the north were louder, more intense and insistent, and something in their ominous rumble warned Alexander that it was not a good time to disturb the priest-kings at their magic. He decided to leave, and return later. As he turned to go, Alexander's attention was caught by the rusty scythe stuck into one of the oak trees. Its condition spoke of long neglect and exposure to the elements, and Alexander did not think it would be missed. He slung it over his shoulder, and his glance lit upon something else that would not be missed. In the firepit there was a jaggy, shiny black rock-an unburned lump of coal. Alexander scooped it out and added it to his possessions; if he returned to the Isle of Wonder, there was at least one ongoing quarrel to which he could put a permanent end. Retreating quickly now, Alexander returned to the beach and wished himself to the Isle of the Beast. From the beach he headed inland through the forest. The once-boiling pond was now quite cool, and at last he reached the wall that enclosed the garden. The stone archer eyed Alexander with malicious intensity as Alexander moved toward the gate. lf he were ever to meet the ruler of this land, he would have to pass beyond it, but Alexander this time had not come unprepared. Unslinging the shield he had taken from the Winged Ones' catacomb, he held it up over his head as he walked between the stone pillars. Just as he had suspected, the archer came to life and fired. Its lone shaft struck the shield and shattered. It would have been sure death to the unwary. Arrow less now, the guardian froze in place again, its work completed, forever to remain motionless. Alexander entered the garden beyond the wall. Before him was a huge hedge of the most beautiful red and white roses Alexander had ever seen. They were as sweetly fragrant as the stinking rose had been putrid, and their spread blossoms were as wide as his hand. Alexander plucked a white rose, hoping soon to be able to give it to Cassima in person.

no son of King Graham and Queen Valanice of Daventry would surrender to misfortune without a fight. When Alexander reached the village he hesitated. A few minutes wouldn't matter e.itherway, and he owed it to Hakim to warn him about his frequent browser. But when Alexander entered the pawnshop, the old man in the black robe was already there! It was a situation which would have to change. Alexander fumbled in his pocket for the peppermint leaves he had collected from the Isle of the Sacred Mountain. Brandishing them before him like a torch, Alexander waved them under the old man's nose. The result was as he'd suspected. Whooping and giggling, the old man in the black robe-a djinni now unmaskeddanced out of the shop intoxicated on the fumes. "Hakim," Alexander said to the pawnbroker, "l have to warn you-" "No, Prince Alexander, I must warn you-if you are caught by Alhazred's men, your life won't be worth a shaven oobol. Stay away from here for your own safety. Get out! Go quickly!" The pawnbroker was obviously in deadly earnest, and Alexander exited the shop as quickly as he had come. Understandably reluctant to get any of his new friends in trouble, Alexander knew that he must tell Jollo some of what he had learned-or leave a message for him with Ali. But Alexander's luck was with him; Jollo was again in the bookshop -just as if he had been waiting for him. When I met Master Jollo in person, I learned that this had indeed been the case. Before beginning her period of enforced mourning, Cassima had spoken to Jollo of her captivity in Mordack's hands-and of the young prince who had briefly shared it. When Alexander appeared on the Isle of the Crown, Jollo hoped that Alexander could free Cassima-even knowing the prince would be spied on at all times, as were all on the island. For that matter, being without proof that Cassima actually was in danger, Jollo could do little beyond provide Alexander with as much information as lay within his gift. To do this, Master Jollo spent many anxious hours at Ali's Bookshop, awaiting each of Alexander's appearances. "Jollo!" Alexander exclaimed. "Friend!" "Keep your voice down," the clown said worriedly. "The wedding is still tomorrow, and Alhazred thinks you would make the perfect centerpiece for the wedding feast." "Never mind that now," said Alexander. "Listen. It is a genie that Alhazred uses to spy on everyone. Do you know where its container might be? It will be some sort of bottle or lamp. Have you seen it? Could you get it?" Jollo was not as surprised as Alexander might have expected to hearthat Abdul Alhazred had a genie. As I have said, Jollo always had suspicions of his own.

"I could make a good guess where he keeps it," the clown said slowly. "But if I disturbed it, I would be instantly discovered. Unless ... Unless I could put a duplicate in its place." "But do you know what it looks like?" Alexander demanded. "All I know of the genie's lamp, Prince Alexander, is that it is blue-if, indeed, I have seen it as I believe I have. Alas, that I can be no more aid to you." "Blue, is it? I'll see what I can do," Alexander said wryly. The clown got to his feet and clasped my prince's arm. "Fare well, Prince Alexander. I have a feeling we will not meet again." "Oh yes we will," Alexander said. "I'll see you at Alhazred's wedding." Rash, brave words spoken, Alexander left the bookshop. Time was becoming dear now; the sun was rapidly sinking, but Alexander knew he had but one chance to avoid the curse of the Beast. If he failed, more time would matter not. Still, fortune favored him once more that afternoon. As he strode out of the village, the girl Beauty was in her garden. Still veiled, she appeared to be gently sobbing. When Alexander saw the girl named Beauty again, all his prepared speeches dropped right from his mind. Instead, he went to the garden wall and held out the white rose he had taken from the Isle of the Beast; the rose that was to have been Cassima's. Though slightly crushed from being carried in his pocket, its fragrance filled the twilight. "This is for you," Alexander called. Beauty came over to the fence. "What a beautiful rose!" she said, taking it from his hands. "Where did it come from?" "From the Isle of the Beast," said Alexander quickly. "A creature is there-he is hideous to behold, but his heart is kind and gentle. He seeks a bride to end his loneliness." "I know how terrible it is to be alone without someone to love," Beauty said. "I feel so sorry for him." She looked at Alexander curiously, as if wondering what he had to do with all this. "Will you come to him? He seeks a bride. You would receive nothing but kindness at his hand, but would be free of this ... life. This is his token." Alexander held the ring out to Beauty. Gold, garnet, and obsidian shone in his palm. Beauty stared at the ring for a moment, and then at the manse where she lived ill-treated and despised. Again, the ring. Beauty's small fingers plucked it from Alexander's palm. "I will go to him, willingly." And as was promised, they were instantly transported to the Beast's garden. The Beast began to roar, choked off in an instant when he saw Alexander had brought a woman with him.

"Does she come her-r-e willingly?" the Beast shouted at Alexander. "Why do you not ask her?" "I do." Beauty spoke for herself. Raising the veil over her face, she looked directly at the Beast. Her name fitted her well. "Alexander told me you were kind and would let me love you-and if that is true, I do not care what you look like." "Then," said the Beast, barely daring to believe, "we two shall be happy here together." He held out a hand to Beauty. She placed her hand in his, and at that moment both their forms shimmered and changed. When sparkles cleared from the sky, Beauty was clothed in garb as dazzling as the Beast's-and the Beast was transformed into a strong, slender man of middle years. "The evil enchantment is broken for us both, Alexander," said the former beast. "Know now that I was once known as Prince Cocteau the Thrice Blessed, and shall be again. Know also that I am grateful to you beyond words, as I am sure my bride is too." He offered a flat object to Alexander. "Thanks to you, lam again blessed. Take this mirror as your reward for your kindness-it has the power to reveal the true nature of any who gaze into it. Would that I could give you more, but since the Druids stole my jeweled coat of arms I have naught but this. It is yours. Now go your way-all I ask is privacy for my bride and myself." With that the couple turned away and passed, hand in hand, through the gilded gate that led to the former Beast Prince's castle. Alexander stood alone in the garden, holding the mirror the Beast had given him-his human form his to keep forever. He wondered if he would ever feel the relief it was his right to feel after an escape from such a horrible fate, but it seemed that the only emotion he could feel now was fear-fear for Cassima's future. As the sound of the fountain echoed through the garden, Alexander examined the Beast Prince's gift. The word Truth was carved around its frame border over and over, in dozens of languages and alphabets. Alexander gazed into it, but saw nothing other than his own rather sunburned, weary face. Absently, he collected Beauty's discarded slave clothes and stowed them in his pack. Then memory struck him, and he checked in the spellbook. Yes, there it was, in the Make Rain spell ingredients: falling water not from the sky. Knowing that he could come back here at need, Alexander replaced the spellbook in his pack and left the garden, leaving the lovers to themselves. At the hedge he plucked one last white rose for Cassima, determined again to offer it to her. When he reached the beach he wished himself on the Isle of Wonder. By now Alexander had a good idea of what he needed to cast the spells in his spellbook, and where each ingredient might be found. He also knew that Cassima was to marry the next day at noon unless he could stop it-and he couldn't stop it without help. But through Alhazred's meddling, all the islands had grown so suspicious of one another that they certainly wouldn't accept him on his word alone. He had to gain their trust-and the quickest way to do that was to bring them gifts. The two queens of the Isle of Wonder might listen to his words if he brought them another lump of coal. Offering a rain spell to the weather-magician Druids of the Isle of the Mists might gain him an audience there. He had the sacred water, and knew where he could get the falling water. AU he needed was the last of the ingredients for the rain-salt water not from the sea. A quick jaunt inland brought him once more to the garden outside Chessboard Land. This time there was a dark green glass bottle on the table. "Drink me," the label said, but the bottle seemed to be empty. Alexander uncorked it-the bottle was indeed empty, but as he sniffed at it he caught a whiff of a scent that sent him reeling. Curiouser and curiouser, Alexander thought, wondering what may have happened to whomever may have emptied the container. He slipped the bottle into his pocket, but his mind was elsewhere. Salt water was what he needed for his third spell ingredient .... Tears. Tears were salt water " ... not from the sea." But how to get them-and where? It is a mark of Alexander's desperation that he acted as he did. Returning to the swamp, he took another bottle of milk, but did not drink of it. The dogwood stayed quiet, its only bark quietly clothing its form. The bump-on-a-log and sick-in-the-mud both ignored him, and each other, completely. Back in the pun garden, Alexander gave the bottle of milk to the nearest of the baby's tears. Immediately all the plant-babies without bottles began to wail. The baby's breath's joined in with their own howl. It was just as he hoped-the baby's tears cried real, true, tears. Truly, nothing is as it appears! Alexander stepped to the back of the row of baby's tears and placed the brass lamp-and sometime teapot-beneath the bountiful flow of tears from the last plant. Its tears began filling the lamp. Stepping away satisfied, he then added the sacred water from the Oracle's pool. The lamp was now near to full. One quick return to the Isle of the Beast, and the rain spell would be ready. Carefully repacking the lamp, Alexander took out the lump of coal and ventured through the polka-dotted gates into Chessboard Land. He had only a short time to wait before the Red and White Queens showed up. "Your Majesties," Alexander began, "I now have the answer to your dilemma. Will this do?" With an exaggerated bow and a sweeping gesture, he held out the second piece of coal to the White Queen.

"Why, how perfectly lovely. It will do quite well." She immediately snatched the coal out of Alexander's hand, and then snorted. "As we need this no longer, you may have this splendid rotten egg as your reward," the White Queen sniffed graciously. "You do deserve something for your time and trouble. See, Ruffina?" she addressed her sister, "this nice young man has given me this wonderful piece of coal to present to the dear little Princess Cassima when she marries tomorrow." "Yes, Blanche, it is very nice," Queen Ruffina said grudgingly. "And now, Your Majesties, if you'd-" Alexander began. "A little too nice, if you ask me!" Ruffina went on. "It's nearly twice the size of mine. As I am the elder, Blanche dear, I'm sure that you'll agree that the nicer of the two pieces is, by rights, mine." "Ladies-" Alexander said. "I shall certainly agree to no such thing!" Blanche said stoutly. "You wanted that nasty old piece of coal right enough when all I had was my poor egg-" "It is perfectly obvious that-" "Well I shan't give it up, and that's that!" Still arguing, the two queens bounded away once more, leaving Alexander with egg on his face-or at least in his hands. Oh, well, Alexander sighed as he tucked it carefully away, perhaps the Druids will be more reasonable. Alexander made his way back to the beach and, for the last time, transported himself to the Isle of the Beast. There, with no stone archer to avoid, it was easy work to retrace his steps to the Beast's garden. Beautiful as it was, Alexander was tired of seeing it- just as he was tired of the Isle of Wonder, the Isle of the Sacred Mountain, and the constant coming and going that the magic map made possible. Just because a thing can be done doesn't mean it's a thing worth doing, Alexander thought quietly. I don't think this much rushing about is good for anyone. He filled the brass lantern to the top with falling water from the fountain, making certain afterward that the lid was tightly secure so that the liquid would not spill out again. Alexander then opened the spellbook and turned to the "Make Rain" spell. He chanted the spell over the lantern, and felt the brass grow warm to his touch in response. The spell was cast. Now all that need be done was boil the water, and rain would come. This last preparation made, Alexander returned to the beach and teleported again to the Isle of the Mists. The sun had been the hot gold of late afternoon when Alexander had left the Isle of the Beast, but here on the Druids' secret isle the sky was as gloomy and gray as ever-for it always is-and this time the beach was watched. Before Alexander quite had time to gain his bearings, two robed priests surprised, buffeted, then overpowered him and dragged him away. It was even darker under the trees, and the pounding of the drums filled his head and made his teeth ache. Up ahead he saw a huge balefire burning, and before he could protest further, Alexander was dragged to the center of a ring of tall gray stones that marked the circle of Druid magic. Conversation was impossible against the thundering beat of the drums, and shout and struggle as he might, Alexander could not make himself heard or understood. Even the Druids' cries came to him only in faint snatches over the hammering cadences. To his horror, and despite his struggles, Alexander was thrust into a wicker cage that was swung out and above the roaring fire. In their delight, the flames rushed up to kiss at him. "No! Wait!" he cried uselessly. "There's no need for this!" My prince is a scholar and a student of magic: he knew that the Druids were attempting one of the most ancient and powerful of all spells-a blood sacrifice for fertility. For rain. Alexander assures me that he did not have time to despair then-he was too busy trying to make himself heard over the drums and trying to find a cooler spot in the wicker cage. That his position was torrid can be proved by the fact that after only a few seconds hung over the fire, the enchanted teapot, which had fallen out of Alexander's pack, began to boil. Beauty's discarded dress, which had tumbled out with the lamp, burst afire as he tried to beat out the Licking flames with it. And then, of course, it began to rain. The drums and the ceremony suddenly stopped, and in the silence the only sound was the hissing of the raindrops hitting the hot coals of the balefire. Rightly surmising that Alexander had more than a little to do with the sudden cloudburst, the Druid Chief ordered him cut down. It was fortunate that Alexander did not really expect an apology, because he did not receive one. "Greetings, 0 great magician come from afar. For what you have done, man of Earth, you have our deepest thanks and respect. Since the day our Sacred Oak was stolen by the rulers of the Isle of the Sacred Mountain, we have not welcomed visitors. Of late our magic seems to fail as well. But I will not burden you with our troubles. How may we repay you?" "By stopping Alhazred from marrying Cassima tomorrow!" Alexander snapped. He was rumpled, tired, hungry, cold, wet, and scorched-an unlikely combination, but one unlikely to improve anyone's temper. "Alas, we may have the wish, but we of the Isle of the Mists have no authority to interfere with the Isle of the Crown. If you would call a halt to this untimely wedding, call upon Cassima's own blood to aid you." "Meaning no disrespect," Alexander said, "but the king and queen of the Isle of the Crown are dead-and Cassima has no other relatives."

"Then you must call upon Princess Cassima's parents to aid you, 0 master of the natural arts, no matter where you must seek them. To reach the Isle of the Dead is a simple matter-if one is a skilled enough magician." From the chief Druid's expression, it was plain that he thought the prince to be a magician of such skill, and that any of Alexander's remarks to the contrary would fall upon unhearing ears. And to be copiously honest, Alexander had no intention of arguing with the Chief Druid's assessment of him as a great magician, whlle such arguing might still lead to roasted Alexander. My prince is quite knowledgeable of matters magical, but more of his knowledge is from books than from repeated practice. "So be it. Tell me what I have to do," Alexander said resigned to another doubtful undertaking. "Night Mare flies between the worlds, and comes to this one to feed upon the nightshade which is her herb. Seek the nightshade, tame Night Mare, and you will have your passage to the Isle of the Dead. There, approach Samhain, Lord of the Dead. It is said that if a mortal being challenges him and wins, Samhain will grant a boon. Perhaps he might allow a soul to return to the lands of the Living as such a boon. It is also said that no one has ever returned from the Underworld." Before Alexander could ask anything more, all the Druids turned and left the ring of standing stones. Tame Night Mare. Challenge the Lord of the Dead and defeat him. A~ r the other things I've done, now this, Alexander mused dejectedly. He thought of alRaschid's spell book. Was Night Mare a creature of the night? Would the spell work on her? And would he know whether or not it had before it was too late? But easy or not, I have to try. Cassima is depending on me. He had the strand of hair from a pure maiden, and he knew that Cassima was a maiden most pure. The rotten egg would give him the brimstone needed for the enchantment. Pausing only to fill the skull taken from the catacombs with some embers of the Druid oakwood fire-the last component of the charm spell-Alexander returned to the beach and whisked himself back to the Isle of the Sacred Mountain. Night had begun to take over the world; if Night Mare were to be about, it would be now. It was death to be found on the island, Alexander knew, but he had no choice but to return. He knew Night Mare visited its peaks, for he had collected one of her wingfeathers on the beach he stood upon. That was proof enough. The prince reasoned that the creature must come to feed on the nightshade that grew by the cave at the top of the cliffs. Once more Alexander climbed up the Cliffs of Logic, this time without challenge as the steps accepted his prior mastery of them. The fiery sunset light changed to the silver gloom of twilight as he climbed. Soon, he had trouble seeing his feet, it was so dark. But Alexander gave no thought to quitting. At last he reached the top-and there, in the first pale evening gloom, stood a death-black winged horse-Night Mare indeed, and placidly eating nightshade near the small cave. It could be no other creature. Alexander opened alRaschid's spell book to "Charming a Creature of the Night." He again read over the ingredients, then added maiden's hair-Cassima's hair!-to the skull full of embers. Carefully, he cracked the rotten egg over the coals to add the necessary brimstone. A heavy greenish smoke began to rise up from the skull-worse than the stinking rose, worse than the swamp on the Isle of Wonder, worse than any smell Alexander could imagine-an omelet from the kitchen of Hades. A vagrant breeze wafted a tendril of smoke over to Night Mare. Her head came up, her nostrils widened, and slowly, step by step, she approached Prince Alexander-spellbound. Before the spell could dissipate, Alexander leapt to her back and twined both fists into her silky black mane. Night Mare quivered all over for a moment, then launched herself skyward before Alexander could even think of commanding her. He barely had time to look down before the Green Isles, and all the oceans surrounding them, were lost in the shadows of the night. Her great wings boomed as they cupped the air, carrying Alexander higher and higher, to where the stars burned with a hot unyielding fire. The cold of space-like that of death-struck to Alexander's very entrails. By the time Night Mare began her descent, the skin of his face and hands were numb and tingling. When Night Mare landed, it took Alexander a moment to realize she had stopped. Shaking, he slid from her back, and Night Mare flew away. Prince Alexander of Daventry was trapped in the Land of the Dead. There are so many ways to die that there must be more than one way back to the land of the living, Alexander told himself firmly. If nothing else, the logic seemed sound, and it helped dispel some of the place's gloom and despair. He looked around. Alexander found himself in a colorless dismal place. He could see quite clearly, but the light did not seem to be coming from any particular source. He may have even been on an island, but distant details turned to dark too quickly to be sure. Everything he could see, though, seemed baked and bare, parched and lifeless. How appropriate. Alexander squared his shoulders and took another look around himself, shuddering at his initial inattentiveness .. There were all manner of creatures lurching around, from shambling zuvembies-loathsome eaters of the dead who would be more than willing to add Alexander to their number, or their diet-to nearly transparent wraiths. Alexander's twin, Princess Rosella, had once dealt with zombies in a haunted graveyard in Tamir, so he knew how dangerous these shadowy cousins of the creatures she had met could be. They seemed to be wandering the landscape with no purpose, but they could smell life if life ventured too close to them. Alexander carefully eluded the shambling corpses, one touch from whom would spell his death, and made his way to the pair of dim ghosts he saw looking intently upon him. They were shackled to the ground by golden chains. No matter who they were, their bearings were regal and their faces, even in death, kind. Perhaps they could tell him something of Cassima's parents. "Excuse me," he said, "I've just arrived. Can you tell me-" "Alexander of Daventry! But what are you doing here-you're surely not dead?" the chained man cried. "But-but how do you know who I am?" Alexander stammered. "But how should we not-when Cassi ma thinks of you so often? The dead can see the thoughts of the living, you know," the chained woman said, "and she is our daughter. You are as handsome as in her dreams." "Then you are the spirits I seek-King Caliphlm and Queen Allaria." Alexander hesitated, not wishing to cause these gentle spirits any more pain than he must. "I come on an errand for Cassima," he finally said. "I seek an audience with Samhain, Lord of the Dead." "Alexander, you know not what you do!" Queen Allaria admonished. "Alhazred is wicked indeed-he murdered us both in our beds. I fear so for Cassi ma in his hands, but next to the Lord of the Dead, Alhazred is the merest child." "I shall be as careful as I can," Alexander assured her honestly. So Alhazred was as evil as Alexander had suspected. He swore again that he would do all he could to undo the wicked vizier's works of darkness. "And I will not turn back without what I have come for." After a moment Queen Allaria produced a ghostly bit of parchment and handed it to him. "If you insist on doing this rash thing, you will need a ticket to pass the guard at the gate. This will allow you through, but it is only the first of the obstacles which bar the living from the Isle of the Dead. You must be careful!" Alexander looked at the ticket in his hand; he could see his fingers through it. "Will you come with me to Lord Samhain?" Alexander said. Queen Allaria shook her head sadly. "While our murders go unavenged, we are earthbound here upon the surface of the Isle of the Dead to suffer without rest. Free us, Prince Alexander! Free us!" Now, all Alexander had to do was find the Lord of the Dead and persuade him to release Cassima's parents-but that was what he had traveled there for anyway. So little as that? Alexander thought wryly. Still, he accomplished nothing standing there. Bidding farewell to the earthbound ghosts of Cassima's parents, he took a tight grip on the ticket and his courage. Keeping a special eye for the eaters of flesh, he began walking the path to the Underworld.

Now the ghastly landscape changed to a background of nightmare jungle, filled with flittering shapes-ghostly skulls drifting in and out of view; wraiths trailing mist, and the shrouded outlines of a million folk. Everywhere, the zuvembies sniffed and shuffled, bearing death to life. Nearby, Alexander saw the figure of one young woman, weaving eerily back and forth, tears trickling down her face. "Oh my baby-! Oh my baby-!" she moaned loudly, over and over. "Oh, Oh, Oh!" The sound of the despairing dead sliced his spine from bottom to top like a slow razor. "What's wrong?" Alexander said to the ghost. "Can l help you?" "Oh my baby-!" the ghost wailed as if Alexander did not exist. "My baby-! Lost, lost, lost!" she flung up her hands and floated away, leaving behind a ghostly cloth, damp with ephemeral tears. Alexander picked the handkerchief up. It felt icy and insubstantial in his hands-ghostly, in fact. Resolved to follow his grandfather's advice even on the Isle of the Dead, Alexander pocketed it. A gibbous moon hung overhead, and in the distance, an eerie, skull-like structure was the first evidence of habitation Alexander had yet seen. Keeping his overactive imagination in check, Alexander headed toward it. As Alexander approached, he saw that what he had first taken for an enormous skull was in fact a cave. Torches burned darkly against its walls, and the entrance curved back into shadow like the gullet of some tremendous beast. There were two tall skeletons guarding this passageway: the nearer dressed in onyx armor and carrying a huge ring of keys at its belt, the other standing farther back wearing black robes and a crown. As other spirits slid past Alexander to disappear into the cave, they first passed beneath the eyeless gaze of the Key holder and then presented their ticket to the night-robed Gatekeeper. That is how Alexander thought of them. To the right of the entrance he saw a row of bones suspended in the air. To Alexander's eye they looked very much like musical bones, a seldom seen instrument which is called by some a xylophone, although from where it comes and the meaning of the name is unclear. Music had served my prince well nearly everywhere he'd gone in the Land of the Green Isles, and it was worth attempting there. He has told me also that the overall gloomy mood of the dead land was in strong need of some pretty melody or sprightly cadence. A springtime dance might elevate his own spirit as well as give a last amusement to the souls entering the Underworld forever. It was in that spirit he picked up a loose bone lying nearby and began to play. The result was crude, but it was enough to pass for music in that grim place. The bone in Alexander's hand was chill as ice. Unlike true bones, these gave out a hollow echoing music, which the Gatekeeper and Keyholder apparently found irresistible. Soon the fearsome skeletons were tapping a ghastly dance, joined by others of their kind. Theirs was what we might term a tap dance, with a thousand bones tapping against another thousand in a ragged rhythm. As they danced, a key from the Keyholder's great ring fell to the ground unnoticed. The cold creeping up Alexander's arm soon forced him to stop playing the bones, but his eyes were not so numb to not notice the golden key. Alexander boldly reached for it, and the armored skeleton paid no attention. It may be asked, and rightfully so, why Alexander snatched up that random key. Other than the obvious reply that he was following his grandfather's admonishment, the reason is most obvious. It was a skeleton key. If you want to get something out of somewhere it is being kept secured under a stout lock, or through some intentionally recalcitrant door, a skeleton key will almost certainly be useful. One never knows when a thing like this might become handy, he thought, but it almost always does. It is perhaps one of the great unwritten laws of the multiverse. The key, he knew, would be especially useful if he could ever leave the realm of the dead, and enter into the Castle of the Crown. It might help him free Cassima. Dropping the gold key into a pocket, Alexander innocently approached the Gatekeeper. Cautiously he held out his ticket, and the skeletal form took it without comment. Thus Alexander passed, while still alive, into the Land of the Dead. Alexander found himself in an enormous vault. Paths and walkways ran everywhere at random. The chamber was filled with an eldritch green light that reminded Alexander of the Oracle's pool-or bad fish at high summer. The sound of dripping water echoed through the chamber. At least Alexander hoped it was water, although it was crimson and not the usual color for such liquid. To his right he saw what looked like a jumble of bones and metal, and he carefully inched toward it. Alexander found a full suit of dying black armor, once strong and gleaming, now rusted and encrusted with acids and mineral deposits, except, strangely, for one of the gauntlets, which gleamed as if new. He picked up the gauntlet; it was made of purest silver covered in black enamel. Words were engraved upon its back. Alexander held the glove up to the light and read: To challenge Death, lift up no human hand. To fight with Death, take up no earthly sword. The hand is here-the sword is yours. So I am not the first to challenge death, Alexander thought. He pondered over the riddle engraved upon the gauntlet, trying to ignore the fact that the man before him had obviously failed in his challenge. After a moment Alexander decided to keep the black and silver gauntlet of challenge and tucked it under his arm. Giving himself a firm mental shake, Alexander continued on toward his meeting wi.th Death. The dripping Alexander had heard now grew louder and faster, and soon he realized he was not hearing the drip of running water any longer, but rather the roar of a vast river. At length, the source of the sound came into sight: a river wider than an eye can reckon, a fiercely rushing torrent of black ice-the River Styx itself. Here was the penultimate barrier to the depths of the Underworld, and the last ingredient for his way into Cassima's castle. Alexander knelt at the side of the river and scooped Styx water to his teacup, being careful not to touch those corrosive arctic waters. It mixed with the swamp ooze already there, and immediately formed a thick paste which clung to the cup's sides, like bread dough to a mixing bowl. What a convenient way to carry water without spilling any, Alexander marvelled. Looking up, he saw the ferryman of the dead, about to pole his vessel across the river. "Wait!" My prince shouted, but the shrouded ferryman paid no attention to him. Alexander pulled out one of the coins he had taken from the skeleton in the catacombs and waved it. "Look," he shouted again. "I have the fare for passage." Assured of his proper payment, gaunt grim Charon silently ferried Alexander deeper into the realm of the dead. Alexander stepped from Death's ferryboat on legs chill and unsteady. He was beginning to get the idea that it wouldn't be very healthy for someone who didn't belong here to stay among the dead for very long. His path led past a black lagoon rimmed with torches, and the way beneath his feet was paved with human bone. It took him to yet another gate barring his way. Alexander placed his hand on its surface-and then sprang back as the gate changed into a leering, demonic face twice the size of his body. "Well, morsel, what can I do for you?" the gate asked in a falsetto tone much at odds with its daemon image. "My name is Gate, and I let few beyond my jaws." "lam called Alexander of Daventry, and I seek audience with Lord Samhainlet me in!" Alexander spoke with a boldness he hardly felt. Numbed by the wonders and horrors he had already seen, Alexander thought of Gate as only one more obstacle between he and his goal. Gate giggled, and began to recite in a thin piping voice: My first is foremost legally, My second circles outwardly. My third leads all in victory, My fourth twice ends a nominee. My whole is this gate's only key. "Riddle me this, Alexander of Nowhere-at-All, or stand there till you rot!" Gate sneered.

"Not quite that long," Alexander responded. The riddle Gate set him was certainly old-old enough, in fact, to have been printed in an antique riddle book, a book whose missing page had adorned the Black Widow's nest. "The answer is thus: L is the foremost symbol in the word legally; 0 is a symbol which always circles around; V leads the word victory; And the symbol E repeats to finish nominee. Love can be the only answer, both for your riddle and for life itself." "Not fair! Not fair! You guessed!" wailed Gate. "But just you wait-you'll be sorry!" But despite all Gate's complaints, its mouth slowly opened and allowed my prince passage entry. As he entered Samhain's palace, Alexander tightly clutched the Gauntlet of Challenge in his hand, and prayed Gate would not close his jaws until he was inside. Skeleton guards, of course, seized Alexander before he had gone 50 feet, and dragged him into the presence of the Lord of the Dead. They held him in a cold implacable grip from which there was no hope of escape. Atop a high dais, Lord Samhain sat upon an enormous throne constructed entirely of blackened human bones. To Alexander's surprise Samhain was chained to the throne by iron chains and shackles so old they had rusted into a single solid mass of metal. An iron crown circled his pale brow, and his expression was grim and unutterably weary. Yet his face seemed almost young and fair, and the combination evoked the curse of eternal tragedy. The Lord of the Dead was surrounded by the lords and ladies of the realm of the dead, who shrieked their approval of his every word. "Who comes before the throne of the Lord of the Dead?" Samhain said. His voice was a low rumble that seemed to echo through the entire chamber and ring through Alexander's still-living bones. "I am Alexander of Daventry-and I have come to ask you a boon." "Mortal man, Death comes to all. Have patience-or are you so anxious for it that you must seek me out? Very well, I will grant you this boon." "That is not what I came for," Alexander said, holding the black metal gauntlet out to the Lord of the Dead. "I have come to challenge you for two souls which are dear to one who is dear to me. It is my right. I ask for the souls of King Caliphim and Queen Allaria!" An astonished whisper ran around the chamber. "He must be mad!" "Samhain will surely slay him!" "Fool, to come here!" "Very well," rumbled the Lord of the Dead. "Amusement is rare here. I shall accept your challenge. If you win, all three of you will go free. If you lose, you are mine, Prince Alexander, and will know forever that you have failed whoever or whatever drove you to the desperate extremity of seeking me." "Let us be on with it, then," Alexander said, trying not to tremble in his boots. "As you insist. My challenge is this: Alexander, I have ruled this land since long before the beginning of time. I have seen horror beyond imagining, cruelty the mere retelling of which would strike you dead, terror and injustice and unkindness that would make the very rocks weep tears of shame. But though stones might weep, I never have. Make me cry, 0 Mortal Man, and win ail you have come for." Despair filled Alexander at Samhain's words. If the Lord of the Dead had seen so much, even the terror and injustice of Cassi ma's plight would hardly touch him. Samhain sat back on his golden throne, eternally confident he had won. After several moments, he asked, "You have had time aplenty. Do you surrender, mortal man? I promise you I will be quick." "I do not surrender, Lord Samhain." With a shock Alexander recognized the voice as his own. An emotion too fierce for hope and too chill for defiance filled him. With stiff, trembling fingers Alexander worked to free something from his pack. "Your story is indeed sad-but I wonder, after so Jong, if you remember how sad? Perhaps I can remind you." Alexander took out the mirror of Truth and turned it full upon the Lord of the Dead. A hush fell over the throne room as the mirror darkened and began to fill-with truth. Images danced faster and faster across its surface; images of pain and suffering, murder and torture and betrayal. The face is the mirror of the life, and after uncounted ages Samhain gazed once more upon his own forgotten visage. Alexander quickly averted his eyes, for Death's existence had been all that he claimed it to be. At last, with a great cry, Lord Samhain pushed the mirror aside. It fell from Alexander's hands and shattered. Tears stood in the Lord of Death's pale, colorless eyes, and the lines in his face were etched even deeper than before. "Truth is the cruelest blade of all, mortal man-take whom you will from my realm. You have won your challenge." "I ask only those two souls who were sent here before their time-the king and queen of the Isle of the Crown." "It shall be done. Until we meet again then, Prince Alexander-as we will." The faint light of dawn was barely breaking over the Isle of the Crown as Night Mare landed upon the beach. It had come at Samhain's bidding to return my prince and Princess Cassima's parents once again to the lands of life. Alexander slipped from the winged creature's back, but the king and queen did not. "Aren't you coming?" Alexander asked.

"Alhazred's treachery has eaten deep into the fabric of all we of the Land of the Green Isles hold dear," King Caliphim said. "To defeat him will be more than the work of a single battle. Queen Allaria and I go now to do our part, Prince Alexander- protect our dear Cassima until we return." Night Mare bounded into the sky, and Alexander watched after the creature until she had vanished into the rising sun. Cassima was to wed the murderous Alhazred that very day, and much needed to be done if he were to prevent the wedding from taking place. The prince thought very carefully over what he must do in the next few hours. He was certain he had a way into the castle that could not be stopped, but it would do him very little good if the Guard Dogs were alerted to watch for him. Alexander also had to convince Alhazred he was no longer a threat, enter the palace, reach Cassima, and somehow delay the ceremony until King Caliphim's preparations were in place-and all this before a breakfast that had been long delayed indeed. Frowning faintly in concentration, Alexander searched through his pack until he found what he needed. Assuring himself of their readiness, he walked to the crossroads and the oak. Sing-Sing was still nestled in the branches, singing as if her heart would break. For what he knew to be the last time, Prince Alexander of Daventry stopped before the tree. He held out the white rose from the Beast's garden to the little bird. "Sing-Sing, take this to Cassima from me. I wish you could tell her how much I've come to love her," Alexander added as the bird plucked the creamy blossom from his hand. And though he waited longer than he had either of the other occasions, this time Sing-Sing did not return. Alexander had no way of knowing whether Cassima had received the flower-or even if the little nightingale were safe. He shook his head; and could wait no longer. The sun was already high in the sky, and there was much to accomplish before noon. In the village square, he received the first hint that luck favored him at last-the old lamp-seller was there again, crying his wares to all who would listen. Taking the old-and by now rather scorched and battered-brass lamp out of his pack, Alexander approached the old man. "Good morning, grandfather-will you take this old lamp and give me a new one in exchange?" he asked. "Of course!" the old man said delightedly, taking the hunter's lamp from Alexander. "That's what I'm here for. Choose anything you find in my stock." Alexander studied the old man's wares carefully. He needed a lamp that would look enough like the djinni's lamp for Jollo to substitute the fake for the real. But Alexander had never seen the djinni's lamp-or had he? Alexander cast his mind back to that first painful interview with Abdul Alhazred. There had been a lamp in that room-surely Alhazred would keep that which allowed him to control the genie with him at all times. He remembered its color as blue. Alexander strove to recall its shape. In the end, his hopes of victory came down to a reasoned guess. If not a great magician, Alexander is still a well-read scholar of magic. Descriptions of djinn-and their bottles-are widespread through Daventry. He rememberedjollo's words and chose a slender blue bottle with a broad fat base. "I'll take this one, good sir-and thanks," Alexander said. A giddy sense of relief-or perhaps terror-overcame him: he had made his irrevocable choice. He placed the bottle carefully into his pack, took a deep breath, and walked into the pawnshop. As Alexander had hoped, the black-robed old man-whom the prince knew to be Alhazred's djinni-was still lurking about. Alexander ignored all of Hakim's attempts to warn him away, and innocently asked if the shopkeeper would exchange his tinderbox for an artist's brush. Hoping to get rid of him quickly for his own safety, Hakim all but thrust the brush into Alexander's hands. "Now go-!" he hissed. But Alexander was not yet finished with the the djinni. I would be less than honest if I do not admit admiration of the large streak of, shall we say, misdirection in Prince Alexander's nature. It is due, no doubt, to his difficult upbringing as a slave-boy in Manannan's house, where forthright honesty, if practiced, would certainly not count helpful for survival. This is not to imply that Alexander is actually dishonest; merely that, though Alexander is the kindest and most tender-hearted of princes, he is not above a bit of tactful chicanery when he thinks it may be the shortest-not to mention best-route to his goal. He does it well. A certain amount of acting ability was another thing Alexander had found useful for survival during his boyhood. My prince walked to the center of the pawnshop and made certain that the djinni was watching him. Then he pulled out the small "Drink Me" bottle and flourished it dramatically, careful to keep the genie from getting too near a look at it. "Hakim, I can endure no longer. Without Cassima I have no desire to live," Alexander shouted. "I shall take poison!" He quickly unstoppered the empty green bottle and pretended to drink its contents, grasped his stomach as if in pain, then collapsed limply upon the floor. He lay there motionless and not breathing, apparently lifeless. The pawnbroker rushed forward and placed his ear to Alexander's chest. "Is he dead?" the genie asked coldly. Alexander continued holding his breath. "Yes," Hakim said firmly, squeezing Alexander's shoulder in acknowledgment of the ruse. Breath held to bursting, eyes tightly closed, Alexander heard departing footsteps, and the door to the shop open, then slam closed. The djinni's cries of rejoicing faded into the distance outside. Filling his lungs with a gasp, Alexander sat up and stared right into the startled eyes of the pawnbroker. "But why-?" Hakim asked. "So that reports of my death will be somewhat exaggerated-I hope," Alexander said with the ghost of a grin. "Look, Hakim, I must go to the castle and try to stop the wedding. Alhazred won't be looking for me if he thinks l'm dead. He murdered Cassima's parents, the king and queen, and must be stopped before he does worse than he has already." "As you wish. May fortune attend you, young sir," Hakim said sadly, "but I think you are a fool." Of course, Hakim could be right, Alexander thought as he headed to the Castle of the Crown. The next few hours would determine the fate-not only of Cassima, but of all the folk of the Land of the Green Isles that Alexander had grown to know over the last three days. Alexander knew that this was the worst possible time for self-doubt, no matter how reasonable it seemed, and he sternly banished it from his mind. lf he failed he would have eternity on the Isle of the Dead to contemplate might-have-beens. Alexander approached the castle warily, but did not, this time, walk up to the front door. He slipped westward, down a path that led along the side of the castle wall, taking care at all times to stay out of sight of the Guard Dogs that warded the castle's main portal. Once he reached his goal, a blank, featureless expanse of creamy alabaster greeted him. Alexander set down his pack, took out his spell book, and turned to the "Magic paint" spell. The combination swamp ooze mixed with Styx water paste was still clinging inside its teacup. The moment he touched the stuff with Night Mare's feather, however, it instantly turned to mud and water again. He stirred them together thoroughly and soaked his paintbrush full of the sorcerous decoction. Before the solution had time to solidify again, Alexander painted the shape of a door on the pristine white wall, and while the image was still wet, he chanted the paint spell. The door became as if real. The spell had worked. Without hesitation, Alexander opened the door and silently crept into the Castle of the Crown. The only other time Alexander had been inside the castle, he had come in through the front door under Captain Saladin's escort. This time he had entered on the lowest level of the palace. Directly before him were doors that probably-in any castle run by Alhazred-led to grim dungeon cells. To his left must be the guardroom, for the Guard Dogs' gruff growling within it echoed down the halls. In these last hours before the wedding, the castle would be well patrolled, even if Alhazred weren't expecting a visit from a "dead" Alexander of Daventry.

Alexander knew he must be very careful in the halls. One false step would mean his capture, if not his death. Silently, he headed up the hallway-and heard the sound of Guard Dogs marching his way. At once, he doubled back. The magic door had already vanished, but the cell doors across the hall were unlocked. He quickly slipped into the center cell and listened. The sounds of the Guard Dogs patrolling the hall outside rang, but no suspicions filled their ordinary, if somewhat lewd, banter. Then they faded. Then, from behind him, Alexander became aware of the sound of childish weeping. He turned, and on the dungeon cot, was the huddled figure of a ghostly little boy. His age could have been no more than four of five summers. "I'm lost," he sobbed. "Oh where is my mother? How will I find her? I'm lost-I'm lost!" "Little boy," Alexander called softly. Trying to think of some way to comfort the spirit, he held out the faint handkerchief he had carried from the Isle of the Dead. The boy took it from him and blew his nose several times. It helped him regain some lost poise. "I am Alexander of Daventry, and I am looking for the Princess Cassima. Do you know her? Can you help me find her?" The boy's sobbing had stopped; he wiped his face with the handkerchief and looked at Alexander. "The bad man has locked her in her room," the little ghost replied. "There's a secret passage behind the old armor by the guard room. You can work it by pulling its arm. Sometimes the bad man is there and spies on Cassima because she is so pretty. I've tried to scare him-but he doesn't see me!" The boy began to sob again. "You leave Alhazred to me," Alexander said gently. The little boy took the ethereal handkerchief and wiped his eyes again. "This handkerchief-it's hers!" he said suddenly. "It's my mother's! I know how to find her now-oh, thank you, Prince Alex!" The little boy clutched the handkerchief in his hand and slowly vanished away before Alexander's eyes. Even at such a time as this, he spared a moment to hope the child-ghost made it safely to the Land of the Dead-if that could indeed be a happy conclusion for a spirit such as his. So there's a secret passage-and a way to spy on Cassima? Not too surprising, but I think I can put it to a better use than Alhazred does. Once I've seen folio first. If I can discover him. Easing slowly out of the dungeon cell, Alexander went in search of the court clown. The armor that concealed the secret passage was at the end of the hall, but Alexander did not stop to try it. He continued by it, following the hallway around still another comer, and taking care to avoid new patrols all the way. The door he eventually came to was grander than the cell doors, and grander than the door to the Guard Dogs' guardroom, but not so grand as the door to the vizier's study where Alexander had once been interviewed by Alhazred. Cautiously Alexander tried the door and entered. Once more, he found, dame Fortune sitting upon his shoulder. He also found Jolla sitting listlessly at a table, turning the pages of an old joke book and sighing deeply. "Come now, Jollo-is that any way to be acting when there's work to be done?" Alexander said. Jolla started in astonishment. "Prince Alexander! How did you get into the castle? How did you find me? I thought you were dead-that is, the vizier told me-." "Hush. Never mind that now. l told you we would meet again. Do you think this lamp is close enough to the djinni's for you to make a swap?" Alexander held out the one he had obtained from the old lamp seller. Jolla took it and turned it over and over in his hands. "l...I guess so, Prince Alexander-and for Cassima's sake I'll try." "Good," said Alexander. "Exchange them as soon as you can-I'll see what I can do to make Alhazred's wedding day a day he'd rather forget." Jolla favored Alexander with a rather worried smile and got to his feet. "Good luck, then, Prince Alexander-and may we meet next in happier circumstances." They clasped hands warmly, and then the clown left the room, the lamp concealed beneath his vest. After a moment Alexander followed. My prince retraced his steps to the suit of armor, placed his hand on the steel arm, and tugged. Without a creak, a section of wall fell away, revealing the secret doorway. A cautious glance around, and Alexander ducked inside. One wall of the secret passage had the guardroom on its other side. There was a slitted gap in that wall large enough to peek through and not be seen. Alexander looked inside and he could see some of the Guard Dogs sitting around a table deep in talk. "It's too bad that Alexander person turned out to be a spy," one said. "He smelled like a nice enough young man." "You never can tell, Growir' a second answered. "The vizier said he was an enemy, and that's enough for me." "You mean, Captain Saladin said he was an enemy. Captain Saladin is always right, Howel-and sometimes the vizier is rather strange. Why, just the other day 1 saw him talking to the wall near the treasure room." "You mean the door in the west corridor that's always locked?" Howe! asked. "Exactly. He said 'Ali'-but when he saw me overhearing him, he stopped like he was in mid-word." "Well, it's not for the likes of us to be spying on the likes of him," Howe! said firmly.

And I have better things to do than spy on the likes of you, Alexander said to himself. He backed silently away from the spyhole and turned to a set of stairs leading up. Taking care to avoid creaking boards, he ascended to the next floor. On the the second floor-what would be the first floor of the castle if Alexander were in the halls and not in the walls-he paused a moment to gain his bearings, then turned down the corridor. The prince felt very much as if he were back in the catacombs beneath the Isle of the Sacred Mountain with its twisting, turning, dusty passageways. When he reached the end of the first hall he turned into the next. Alexander thought he must now be behind the vizier's study, the room to which he had first been brought when he had washed up on the Isle of the Crown. It seemed like a lifetime ago, but Alexander knew it had only been three days. Here Alexander moved more slowly, looking carefully for more holes in the plaster wall. His patience was soon rewarded. Alexander placed his eye to a new peephole, peered through, and for the second time in his life looked upon the murderous Abdul Alhazred-vizier of the Isle of the Crown, minion of Mordack, murderer of Cassi ma's parents, jailer of Cassima, and sower of dissension among all the Land of the Green Isles. Alhazred was writing a letter. He wrote slowly, pausing to read choice passages out loud as he went:. "My dear Shadrack: Salutations from a fellow member of the Society of the Black Cloak. Our plans are about to come to fruition. By the time you read this, l shall have wed the Princess Cassima, and become a grieving widower as well. It is a shame that Cassima must die, but the people are loyal to her, and I have been unable to gain her trust. Knowing your peculiar interests, I wish I could make you a present of her either dead or alive. But as you know, when I presented her to Mordack, he was slain and she was back here within the year. I will not allow that to happen again." Alhazred scribbled a few more lines, then sanded and sealed the scroll. Taking up his own black cloak-which in the light of the letter assumed for Alexander a dire significance-Alhazred walked out the door, humming a lilting tune. The vizier's scheme was now murderously clear to Prince Alexander. Alhazred meant to kill Cassima, just as he had her parents. There could be no time to lose-even if King Calip him brought the allies he had promised Alexander, it might be too late for Cassima. He must reach her, and see her again-even at the risk of his own life. But, secret passages imply secret doors; for the next few minutes Alexander searched frantically along the wall. A few yards beyond the spyhole he discovered the concealed door he had been probing for. Cautiously, he opened it. The doorway seemed to be full of musty clothes, but a moment later Alexander realized he was in a wardrobe, surrounded by silken robes, unclean hose, and strong perfumes. He groped around until he found the latch, and stepped out into Alhazred's empty bedroom. Although Alexander knew the truth about Alhazred and the death of Cassima's parents, to convince others would require more proof than his word alone. He searched the room quickly. First he looked into the small brass-bound ebony chest, but the only thing he found of interest there was a slip of parchment with the word Zebu on it. It meant nothing, unless it was part of the magic word which opened the treasure room door. Taking the parchment, he turned to the brass-bound chest at the foot of Alhazred's bed. It was locked, but remember, Alexander had come prepared with a genuine skeleton key. As mentioned earlier in this slight chronicle, such things always find a use. A moment later he had the trunk open. It was filled with documents, and Alexander picked up the top one. His eyes widened as he read a new letter: To Alhazred, a brother of the Black Cloak, from Shadrack, also of that company, Greetings: I am sorry to hear of Mordack's death, but you seem to have the destruction of the kingdom well in hand. Turning the islands against one another, and eliminating the king and queen is a stratagem worthy even of me. Do as I advise with that meddling brat Cassima and the crown shall surely be yours. It was signed "Shade", most likely Shadrack's hidden name for himself. Proof indeed! With this document Alexander was certain he could gain aid against Alhazred. He hastily tucked the letter into his tunic, ducked back into the wardrobe, and followed his footsteps back through the dust of the passage until he reached the stairs once more. This time a sound of weeping echoed softly through the chamber-a weeping that was far from ghostly. Alexander found a narrow crack in the wall that he had overlooked before and peeked through. A woman sat erect and elegant on a downy bed, staring through a tall window overlooking the island. Her head turned briefly toward the wall Alexander was concealed behind. The tears were as real as she. It was Cassima! Alexander tells me that no matter what poets might say about a young man's feelings upon catching sight of his beloved, what he felt most at the time was sheer panic. According to Alhazred, Cassima was due to have a fatal accident rather soon after the wedding ceremony, and Alexander knew that was set to begin almost any moment. "Cassima!" he whispered urgently. "Cassima! It's me. Alexander." The words so startled the imprisoned princess, that she shrank back in startlement for a moment. Then she looked around , unbelieving, stood up, and rushed to the wall. The prince's voice directed her to the peep hole. "Alexander-oh it is you-but what are you doing here? How did you get here? You're in such danger!" Cassima's voice trembled on the verge of tears. "Not as much as you are," Alexander retorted. "Alhazred has been plotting to take over the kingdom from the very start-he's in league with someone named Shade-and as you suspected, he was even behind your kidnaping by Mordack. Look at this." Alexander passed Shadrack's letter to the princess through the crack in the wall. She read it, blanched, and then handed it back. "Saladin must see this!" she said urgently. He would not keep me prisoner here if he knew. You must take it to him, Alexander-at once!" "The first thing I must do is get you out of here," Alexander began, but Cassima shushed him. "If I vanish, Alhazred will tear the entire castle apart looking for me-he would find you, dear Alexander, and I cannot bear to think of what you would suffer at his hands. No, leave me here-I will be safe for a while. I only wish I had some way to defend myself." Alexander barely registered the endearment from Cassima's lips. Instead, he was groping for the dagger Celeste had given him. Finding it, he forced the elegant, deadly thing through the gap in the wall and into the princess's hands. "Take this," he said. "I hope that you will not need it." Cassima smiled, and tucked the dagger into her robes. New tears moistened her eyes. Of joy or sadness or hope or despair, Alexander could not determine. And the matter is too delicate for me to inquire of Cassima about now. It remains a secret between her and her lover. That is as it should be. "Now go," Cassima urged, "you have tarried here too long already." Alexander had to agree. Impulsively reaching to each other through the crack, they touched fingertips together for the briefest of eternities, each knowing that it might be their only kiss; neither daring to say any more to the other. In the place Alhazred had spied unseen upon Cassima's private moments, they came together and parted. Alexander quickly made his way down the steps and slipped out of the secret passage to the hall. He tried to force his mind away from the unbearable thought that this brief moment with Cassima might be his only one. Would either of them survive the next hours? In the castle's hallway once more, Alexander continued .straight, keeping an eye out for roving patrols. Just by the place he had entered through a magic door, he discovered a real door in the wall; one without knob or lock. This must be Alhazred's secret treasure room, the one spoken of by the guards. If the djinni's bottle were being kept secure there, Jollo would have been unable to make the switch.

At that very instant, wedding music begin playing in the halls above. Alexander gritted his teeth, but stayed where he was. He had to discover if the djinni's bottle was inside. "Door!" he whispered urgently. "Open! Door!" Nothing happened. "Door. Open up!" Again, nothing. He tried the magic words. "Zebu Ali! Zebu Ali!" Again the door spurned him. There was one last chance. "Door, Ali Zebu! Ali Zebu!" The door had indeed been locked by words of power. When my prince finally spoke the magic sounds in the proper order, it grudgingly swung open. Heedless of discovery at this late moment, Alexander rushed inside. Alexander found himself in a treasure room, indeed. What looked like the entire royal treasury of the Isle of the Crown was piled about the walls of the small room. The djinni's bottle, however, was nowhere in sight, to Alexander's relief, but when he removed the coverlet that lay draped upon a low table in the center of the room, he saw the lost treasures of all the lands of the Green Isles. He looked quickly at each: the tiny oak tree of the Druids; the fleece made of pure gold, stolen from the Winged Ones; the fabulously ornate jeweled coat of arms of the Isle of the Crown; and the large crystalline sing stone of the Isle of Wonders. They were all truly priceless. But how had they come to be where they were? A particularly loud skirl of music gained Alexander's attention. He could do nothing more where he was. Clutching Shadrack's letter in his hand, Alexander left the treasure room and hurried to the archway across the hall from}ollo's room. He climbed the stairs he found there. They lead to the Grand Hall. Well, this is for Cassima, Alexander consoled himself as he stepped through the door. Taking a deep breath, he started toward the set of doors that led to the throne room, where the wedding was taking place. Suddenly, the great ceremonial doors burst open from within, and the commander of the Guard Dogs came rushing toward him, a sword pointed at Alexander's guts. "Fool!" Saladin growled as he came near to the prince, "I did not think you were dead, but a wise man would have stayed far from here on this day." "Captain Saladin," Alexander said. "You can't let that wedding take place! Alhazred is a murderer. He killed the king and queen, and I have proof." Alexander thrust the scroll toward the Captain of the Guard. Saladin read the parchment, his lip lifting to show sharp white teeth, but his sword never wavering as it touched Alexander's stomach. "Prince Alexander-your recent misfortunes must have addled your wits if you think this poor forgery proves anything. Even now, the Princess Cassima goes freely to her wedding with the vizier. Come quietly, and you will see for yourself, before you die." That can't be! Alexander was stunned. He had counted on Cassima delaying the wedding until her parents could return-even if she did not know of their arrival, she certainly did not wish to marry Alhazred. Numbly, Alexander allowed himself to be led into the throne room. The throne room of the Castle of the Crown is gigantic, although then it was sparsely filled for a royal wedding. To Alexander's stunned horror, he saw Cassima standing next to the vizier, her hand on his arm, looking perfectly at ease, calm, tearless, and smiling. "You see?" rumbled Saladin pityingly. Alexander stared fixedly at the form of his beloved, willing her, before his death, to answer the only question left that mattered. Then Cassima looked up-and her eyes flashed gold. "That's not Cassima!" Alexander shouted, lunging forward. Saladin yanked him back. "Who dares to disrupt this joyous occasion?" Alhazred snarled. He spun around and saw Alexander. "You!" He turned to Cassima. "You told me he was dead, blast you! And you-" Alhazred pointed to Captain Saladin "-you'll pay for this incompetence. I told you to throw this dog in the dungeon if you caught him-not invite him to the wedding." "There will be no wedding," a new voice commanded. Alexander looked behind him, and every eye present followed. Into the throne room marched King Caliphim and Queen Allaria, surrounded by a guard of Druid sorcerers, and soldiers from all of the other isles. "It's the King and Queen! They're alive!" The gasp of astonishment seemed to come from everywhere at once, and even the multiverse itself seemed to pause, as if sharing the emotion. Then everything dissolved-if not into chaos, then at least into total confusion. The Guard Dogs fell to their knees, releasing Alexander as they did. The queen rushed past them all, thinking only of embracing her beloved Cassima once more, but when she reached her daughter's side, Allaria stopped. "That isn't my daughter!" she exclaimed in horror. Cassima's form began to shimmer. "What have you done with our daughter?" the king demanded. Beside the wicked vizier now stood, not Cassirna, but the djinni who served him. "Shamir! Defend me!" shouted Alhazred to his minion. Behind a dazzling hail of magical spells flung at once by the djinni, Alhazred ran for the door leading to the tower behind the throne room, Alexander followed instants behind. My prince paused on the first landing. Above him he heard Alhazred's footsteps echo upward. Below him he could hear the pandemonium in the throne room. But where was Cassima-the true Cassima? Alexander again dashed up after the vizier. At the end, Alexander found himself in a tower that stretched the height of the palace. Sprinting up flights of curving stairs behind the rogue vizier, Alexander emerged in the topmost room of that tower. A black-haired woman-Cassima herself-lay bound and helpless on the floor, Alhazred standing over her menacingly with a sword. She was struggling with her bonds, and Alexander saw a brief flash of a dagger cutting rope. Just as Alexander was about to go to her, the djinni appeared in a great flash and cloud in front of him, grinning for a kill: His way to Cassima was blocked. "You may have thwarted my plans to rule here, Alexander of Daventry," Abdul Alhazred spat, "but that's the last thing you're ever going to ruin. First, you're going to watch your pretty little princess chopped to pieces!" The vizier snarled, raised the sword in his hands and stepped toward Cassima. "Prince Alexander! Catch!" Alexander spun around-it was Jollo the Clown, standing atop the steps holding a blue glass bottle. As soon as Alexander turned, Jollo flung it at him. In a single motion, Alexander caught the bottle and held it up before the djinni. "Look! This is your bottle, djinni-now I am your master-and as your master I command you-into the bottle at once!" There was no pause or hesitation. There could not be. Shamir the djinni vanished, leaving only a wisp of smoke behind on the emotion-charged air. Alexander flung the genie-filled bottle back to Jollo. Alhazred hesitated. My prince jumped forward and grabbed a ceremonial sword from the wall. The vizier turned his attention from Cassima, and Alexander turned just in time to defend himself from Alhazred's first deadly lunge. Swordplay has never been a large part of Alexander's education, either as the slave-boy Gwydion or as the rediscovered Prince Alexander. King Graham believes there are better ways than force to resolve most problems, and Alexander never had the heart to fully learn the discipline of the blade. Alhazred was much the better swordsman, and the ceremonial sword my prince wielded had neither true edge nor point. Alhazred would surely have killed Alexander long before anyone could come to his rescue. But, my prince did not struggle alone. Princess Cassima is not the sort who leaves others to fight her battles, nor one to shirk one either. Working desperately with the dagger Alexander had given her, Cassima was able to free herself from the ropes which bound her. With an avenging shout, the princess attacked Alhazred from behind, drawing blood in some small recompense for all that Alhazred had shed. The damage Cassima did was not critical, but it hurt Alhazred sufficiently for Alexander to put his borrowed sword to its best possible use-smashing the vizier over the head with it. As Alhazred slumped unconscious to the floor, a pair of guards, whiskers bristling, dashed into the room. Too late to help, they looked upon the battle's aftermath, and the bloody, unconscious, former vizier. "This one will grace our dungeons for a very long time," Growlf promised triumphantly as he and Howel dragged Alhazred away. Jolla, seeing that only the prince and princess remained, discreetly followed.

Then Alexander and Cassima were alone. She looked at Alexander, took a step toward him, then quickly looked away-blushing. He too started to move forward, hesitated then crossed his hands at his waist and shuffled feet instead, unable to look the princess full in the eyes. "I'm sure we must all be very grateful for what you have done here today, Alexander. All the Land of the Green Isles owes you a debt of gratitude we will never be able to repay," Cassima said. Her voice was very low, but even so it trembled. "I don't want your gratitude, Cassima," Alexander stuttered. She looked at him in startlement. Alexander has confided to me that what he did next required more courage than anything else he had done anywhere in the Land of the Green Isles. "I want your love," Alexander said. "And I yours," was the princess's unhesitant reply. "Will you marry me, Cassima?" "Oh, Alexander-gladly!" And so will it be. With the djinni at her command, the Princess Cassima has already been able to right many of the wrongs Alhazred has done her people. Shamir has repaired the ferry, and communication has been re-established among the islands. Once Alexander told the king and queen what he had found in the castle's treasure room, the return of the stolen treasures did much to smooth over any remaining hostility the islands might feel for one another, and for the inhabitants of the Isle of the Crown. The djinni, disguised, had been the culprit all along. And with that revealed, there is little cause now for animosity. And it has even been by the aid of Shamir that Cassirna was able to transport Alexander's family-King Graham, Queen Valanice, and Princess Rosella-to witness today's joyous ceremony that will unite the Land of the Green Isles and the Kingdom of Daventry in marriage. At my prince's request, I too have been asked to become part of the celebration. And now I must lay my pen aside, for the hour grows short, and 1 am summoned to Alexander and Cassima's wedding. Joyous music peals out everywhere. Without the palace, crowds cheer without stopping. The tale that Alexander wishes me to relate ends here. No matter what future befalls Alexander and his bride, it is here that I must leave you. It is as it should be, for this is their day. May they live long in peace, prosperity, and in joy.

ReferencesEdit

  1. KQC1E,

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