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Katie and Richard

A Tale of Wizardry

On their way to school one bright May morning, two normal American fifth graders suddenly find themselves transported to an unfamiliar and magical world. Katie, who likes bugs, encounters four tiny diamond miners in the middle of a glittering desert; Richard, who plays the flute, meets a dwarf named Gert in an underground workshop and is given a small mouse in a cage. Both Katie and Richard have been warned to beware of a renegade wizard called Grendell, who has been working to bring a malevolent form of magic called the Dark Arts back into the world. Now the two children and the mouse (which Katie has named "Fluffy") have arrived in a city called Amaria in the company of two wizards, Malvolio the Adroit and Lorenzo the Solemn, who have travelled there to attend the Conclave - a gathering of wizards that has been called to try to deal with the threat posed by Grendell. Malvolio can't seem to keep his spells from turning things into roses, but during their journey - with Richard's help (or maybe Fluffy's) - he has managed to save the town of Dwerry from an attack by a very large troll. Lorenzo is friendly - perhaps a little too friendly. Katie and Richard have been trying to figure out if he had anything to do with the really bad nightmare that came to both of them, in identical form, during their night in Dwerry. When we last checked in with them, Malvolio had just informed the children that they had been called to appear before the Conclave.

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This week: grilled by the Ring of High.

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Chapter XII. The Ring of High

 
It was only a short distance to the White Ward through the bustling streets. Up close, the seven towers of the Ward loomed like small skyscrapers. The walls were blindingly white; the stones they were made from were fitted together so tightly that the joints between them could not be seen. Inside, brightly lit passages and stairways led in every possible direction, plus a few directions that didn't seem possible at all. It might have been confusing even to Malvolio, but large paper signs had been tacked up on the walls or set on easels at each intersection, with arrows pointing which way to go to get to the Conclave. They found the Great Hall with no trouble.

 

The Great Hall was a large room with a high ceiling held up by soaring buttresses of dark polished wood. It was built like an arena, with rings of backless benches stepping downward on all sides. On the flat floor at the center of the room stood a black oval table with thirteen chairs around it. Thirteen robed and hatted wizards – eight men and five women – sat in the thirteen chairs. Perhaps three hundred other wizards sat on the benches or stood against the walls behind them. A few lunches were still being eaten. There was a low hum of conversation.

 

Katie spotted Lorenzo on the far side of the room, seated next to a pale, gaunt-looking wizard in a black robe. She nudged Richard. "It looks like Lorenzo is sitting with Death," she whispered into his ear.

 

"I heard that," whispered Malvolio, with a small smile. "That is Manfred the Robust. As you may have noticed, we wizards tend to favor names that are the opposite of our personalities."

 

"Who are the people around the table?" asked Richard. "Is that the Ring of High?"

 

Malvolio nodded. "It is. They are our chief council, and it is they who have called this Conclave."

 

"Who is the leader? Is it the man with the bushy white beard, with the tablet in front of him?"

 

"There is no leader. All members of the Ring of High are equal. But we have a Convenor to run the meetings, and a Scribe to take notes. The man with the beard and the tablet is the Scribe. His name is James the Attentive, so you shouldn't be too surprised if he falls asleep. The Convenor for this Conclave is Ludmilla the Obscure. Can you spot her, now that I've let you in on the secret of how we name ourselves?"

 

Next to James the Attentive, a massive, ebony-skinned woman in a brightly colored robe like a tie-dyed circus tent spotted them and gestured emphatically. "Maladroit," she bellowed, "you bring those children right down here."

 

"If you guessed her," whispered Malvolio with a small smile, "you were right."

 

Katie and Richard followed Malvolio down the aisle to the center of the room, uncomfortably aware of all the eyes on them. The buzz of conversation had stopped. They faced the stern-looking Convenor across the table.

 

"This Conclave will come back to order," announced Ludmilla, "although it doesn't really seem necessary for me to say that. I've heard funeral homes that were noisier than you people, once you spotted these three folks. Even James, here, is actually attentive for a change."

 

There was brief rumble of laughter, which quickly died. The Convenor looked keenly at Katie and Richard, who suddenly felt as if they had been called before the principal.

 

"Malvolio has told us your story," she stated. "Now we have a few questions to ask. Are you ready for them?"

 

Katie and Richard nodded.

 

"Good. I'll start with the young lady, here." She looked at Katie. "Malvolio tells us that you were running to school, and that you suddenly found yourself in the middle of the desert. What sort of school were you running to?"

 

"Just a grade school," responded Katie. "It's called Kennedy School. Richard goes there, too."

 

"What is a 'grade school'?"

 

Katie was confused. "A grade school. An elementary school. Where they teach reading and math and stuff."

 

"Ah. What we refer to here as a 'reading school'."

 

"It teaches a lot more than reading."

 

"So do ours. And I'll bet grade schools teach a lot more than grading." Ludmilla's eyes were twinkling, and there was another small rumble of laughter. She's nice after all, thought Katie. She's just like Mrs. McCarthy.

 

The Convenor was serious again. "Where was this 'Kennedy School?'" she asked.

 

"Across from the bottom of Elm Street," said Katie. "In our town. In Riverton, Connecticut."

 

"And where is Riverton, Connecticut from here?"

 

"I don't know."

 

"Nor does anyone else. No one here in Erthwold has ever heard of it. Please understand – I'm not calling you a liar, or thinking you're mixed up. We're just trying to get to the bottom of an extremely vexing mystery. Did you notice anything odd before you suddenly found yourself in the desert?"

 

"Well, there was fog," replied Katie. "And there was a wind that seemed to cackle."

 

"Do winds often cackle, where you come from?"

 

"No. This one was different."

 

"Was the fog different, too?"

 

"It didn't seem different. But it must have been."

 

"It certainly was different here," said a woman at the other end of the table. "Different hardly begins to describe it." She had dark brown skin and jet-black, glistening hair, and she was wearing a robe that looked as though it had been woven from rainclouds.

 

Ludmilla smiled. "That is Gerda the Fair," she explained to the children. "She is a weather wizard – a specialist in weather spells. Or perhaps you could think of them as spells of weather. We call her 'Gerda the Fair-with-a-slight-chance-of-showers.' Gerda – " she turned to address the weather wizard – "what was it that was so different about this fog?"

 

"It was in the middle of the Diamond Desert," said Gerda. "You never get fog in the middle of the Diamond Desert. Never."

 

"But you saw it?"

 

Gerda nodded. "Only for a second. One quick blip on the crystal ball. Before I could even say to myself, 'That's funny,' it was gone."

 

"So this fog, which shouldn't have been there, deposited this young lady, who shouldn't have been there either, in the middle of the Diamond Desert." Ludmilla turned back to Katie. "The next thing that happened, as I understand it, was that you encountered four very tiny miners. Is that correct?"

 

Katie nodded.

 

"Their names were Charlie, Fred, and –" the Convenor consulted a paper in front of her – "Tom. And one who was not named." She looked back at Katie. "They were filling a very small cart with diamond sand grains."

 

"Yes."

 

Ludmilla shifted her gaze to Richard. "And now the young man enters the story," she said. "You were in this same cackling fog near Kennedy School?"

 

"Yes, ma'am," said Richard.

 

"We can get along just fine without the 'ma'am'," snorted Ludmilla. "Just plain Ludmilla will do. Vanilla Ludmilla, that's me. Now – when the fog cleared, you were not in the middle of the Diamond Desert like your friend here, but under it, in a tunnel?"

 

"Yes, ma– yes."

 

"And in this tunnel you also met four miners, and they also had a cart full of diamonds. And one of them was also called Fred. All of which sounds suspiciously like the ones in the young lady's story. But these men and their cart were normal-sized?"

 

"Big. Yes."

 

"And the diamonds were normal-sized as well?"

 

"Big. As big as my fist. Maybe bigger."

 

"And Gert the dwarf, who disappeared five years ago, was busily turning them into diamond figurines. And diamond figurines that look just like the ones you say Gert was creating are suddenly turning up all over the country, including here in Amaria. And simultaneously, the Dark Powers are getting stronger." Ludmilla let her gaze wander over the wizards crowded into the Great Hall. "I have a question to ask all of you," she said. "Does anyone here – anyone at all – know a spell, or know of a spell, that will shrink full-sized humans to inch-high humans, and then return them to normal size, without damaging them in some way?"

 

There was dead silence. Ludmilla smiled.

 

"I knew the answer before I asked the question," she said, "but I wanted that silence in the record. James, did you get that?"

 

James the Attentive nodded.

 

"Good. Now, there is one more thing." She looked around the table. "None of us on this Ring is an expert in gems, so I have asked a genuine expert to be present this afternoon. He is not a wizard. Rake, are you here?"

 

An immensely fat dwarf waddled down the aisle and stood behind Katie and Richard. "I understand you're a flute player, boy," he wheezed into Richard's ear. "Please don't start playing here. If I start dancing I'll have a heart attack."

 

"Rake runs a gem shop a short distance from the White Ward," Ludmilla explained to the roomful of wizards. "It was in the window of this gem shop that young Richard, here, spotted one of the figurines which he says Gert has created. Rake –" she addressed the dwarf – "what can you tell us about the figurine in your window?"

 

Rake looked at his feet, or rather, at the part of his belly that was between him and his feet. "Not much," he wheezed. "It is exquisitely carved, and the diamond is genuine."

 

"And of high quality?"

 

"Oh, very high – very high quality, indeed."

 

"And where did you purchase it?"

 

"I didn't."

 

Ludmilla looked surprised. "Didn't purchase it? she asked. "Then where did it come from?"

 

Rake shook his massive head slowly. "I wish I knew," he said. "I came into the shop one morning and there it was, right there in the window. That's why I haven't placed it for sale. I'm not sure I have the right."

 

"One more question," said the Convenor. "I understand that you are considered by many people to be Erthwold's greatest living expert on diamonds. I also understand that diamonds have subtle differences in structure, and that a gemologist such as yourself can tell the source of a diamond by means of these differences, with a high degree of accuracy. So tell us: what is the source of the diamond from which the figurine in your window has been carved?"

 

Rake paused. Then he said, very softly, "I don't know."

 

"You don't know?"

 

"No. I have studied it carefully, and, as you said, I should be able to tell. I cannot. It does not match the signature of any source that I am aware of, and I am aware of them all."

 

"And what is the source with the best-matched signature, as you call it, to the diamond in this figurine?"

 

"That would be the Diamond Desert. The match is very close, indeed. But there is nothing of that size in the Diamond Desert. The largest diamonds there are no larger than grains of sand."

 

"Thank you, Rake," said Ludmilla. "You may go." She turned to the other members of the Ring of High, seated around the table. "Friends," she said, as the gemologist waddled back to his seat, "you have heard nothing this afternoon that you had not already heard this morning. But this morning it was hearsay, and now you have heard it firsthand. Do you have any further questions for Katie and Richard, or for Rake?"

 

There was silence.

 

"Are we agreed, then, on what must be done next?"

 

Heads nodded around the table. There were muttered sounds of approval.

 

"Good." She turned to the audience. "Is there a Summoner in the house?"

 

Manfred the Robust unfolded himself from the bench beside Lorenzo. "Here," he said, hollowly.

 

"Oh, it's you, Manfred," said Ludmilla. "Would you please let Gert know that the Conclave wants to see him as soon as possible?"

 

Manfred closed his eyes. He opened them again. "Done," he said.

 

"Thank you. We will take a fifteen-minute break."

 

There was a rustling of robes and a murmur of voices. Ludmilla turned to face Katie and Richard again. "Thank you for coming to us and answering our questions," she said. Her voice had dropped to a conversational tone. "I know it must have been hard for you. Do you miss your own world?"

 

Katie looked at the floor and nodded, once. Richard felt a tear trickle down his cheek. He brushed it on his sleeve. Ludmilla reached for their hands.

 

"We'll try to get you home," she said. "But first we must figure out how. And we must deal with the threat raised by Grendell, which this Conclave was originally called to confront. However, I suspect strongly that both of these paths are going to lead us to the same place. In the meantime, we'll do our best to be good hosts. I have a niece here in Amaria – I believe she is exactly your age. I'll send a note to my brother. Perhaps Ruthie can keep you company, and show you around our city."

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Next Week: Something sinister in Lorenzo's room.