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The Oathbound Wizard

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The Oathbound Wizard

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Author: Christopher Stasheff
Publisher: Del Rey / Ballantine, 1993
Series: A Wizard in Rhyme: Book 2
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Matt Mandrell, unsuspecting graduate student, never imagined his research would lead him to a strange scrap of parchment that would change his life forever....

Crossing the void of time and space, Matt is whisked away to an enchanted world where speaking in rhymes works the most dazzling magic. There he wins not only fame and power as the Lord High Wizard, but the heart of the beautiful Queen Alisande. His dreams are shattered, though, when he learns that he can't marry his true love; wizard or not, Matt is just a commoner in this bizarre land.

So Matt makes a foolish vow: to conquer a kingdom, any kingdom, if that's what it takes to claim his bride. But, as Matt discovers, in this world of enchantment, such an oath cannot be broken. He has truly committed himself to win a crown or die trying.

In search of lands to conquer, Matt sets his sights on neighboring Ibile, where the evil Gordorgrosso rules with an iron fist and sinister magic. Matt marches off against the tyrant, gathering a small band of unlikely allies, including a surly dracogriff, a well-spoken cyclop, and a damsel in distress. But against Gordogrosso's foul genius, Matt is going to need much more than a few stout-hearted companions and some clever rhymes....

Oathbound Wizard is the newest addition to the Del Rey Imagine program, which offers the best in fantasy and science fiction for readers twelve and up.



Lovers' Quarrel

The horse was steaming, and Matt was fuming. They clattered in over the drawbridge and past the guards with nothing but a perfunctory grunt. The guards exchanged a glance and shook their heads.

Matt pulled up by the stables and tossed the reins to the first groom who came running, then turned away on his heel, stalking toward the towering bulk of the keep. The groom stared after him, shocked--the Lord Wizard was unfailing in his politeness, with always time for a cheerful word or two.

But Her Majesty's Wizard was anything but cheerful, and in no mood to be polite to anyone, least of all Her Majesty. The fact that he had to ride a mere horse only made things worse. Of course, he had had to be content with ordinary mounts since his dragon friend Stegoman had gone gallivanting off with his other friend Sir Guy on an errand of errantry, a gallant mission to save the kingdom of Ibile from the wretched stew of sorcery it had simmered into over the last two hundred years--and, at the moment, Matt wished most ardently that he had gone with them. The danger seemed of relatively little importance compared to the simple fact of a mission worth undertaking. Not like this last little fracas, which... !

He stormed up to the doors of the royal apartments, but as he laid hold of the handle, a sentry leaped forward, albeit with trepidation. "Nay, my Lord Wizard! Her Majesty hath not given leave!"

"Too right she hasn't!" Matt snarled. Alisande seemed to have developed an aversion to Matt's company lately, probably because every time he saw her, he pressed her to set a date for their wedding. But they had been engaged for three years now, so it wasn't surprising that Matt was getting a little impatient. It was time to have it out with her. He yanked the door open and stormed into the corridor, trailing a howling wake of horrified sentries and servants.

The queen looked up from her writing, blue eyes wide in surprise, then in outrage.

It almost stopped Matt--not her rage, but her beauty. The oval face was framed in a cascade of blond hair, unbound here in her private apartments, and set off perfectly by the mauve of her casual gown.


"Why don't you just say you don't want me around anymore?" Matt slapped his gloves down on the table. "That last trip was something any village magician could have taken care of. No, strike that--he would have sent his apprentice!"

"I did not deem a plague of locusts a trivial matter, Lord Wizard!" Alisande said in a voice that would have frozen penguins. "It may be of little moment to you, but the poor peasant folk thereabout thought it disastrous!"

"Sure, because their village magician had dropped dead two years ago, and their baron was too cheap to hire a replacement! And don't tell me you didn't know that!"

"Assuredly, I did--and thought it your office to see to it! What, must I undertake every smallest matter myself? Have I none to aid me?"

"Oh, come off it with the wounded violet routine! You could have told me why the baron didn't have a magician, and I would have sent one out."

Alisande's gaze faltered. "Mayhap, yet still 'twas thy duty to see to his installation."

"And just conveniently put myself out of your way for a fortnight, so you didn't have to worry about my importuning you!"

Alisande tried to bring her gaze back up to his, but didn't quite manage it. "Wherefore ought I find concern..."

"Because I keep pressing you to set the date! Which is scarcely surprising, considering how long we've been engaged! But every time I bring up the subject of marriage, you keep putting me off--and off, and off. Meanwhile, I hang around here like your tame poodle--just another ornament for your palace, never getting to do anything I really want to do!"

"Not what you wish! Pray Heaven any of us could do what we wished! And what is it you wish to do?"

"Marry you!"

Alisande took a deep breath, fighting for patience and trying to still her beating heart. "It shall come some day, Lord Wizard."

"Yes, I understand it will. I seem to remember some sort of promise to that effect..."

"Promise?" Alisande's gaze sharpened. "I made no promise!"

"Oh?" Matt cocked his head to the side. "Then what would you call those words we exchanged on Breden Plain?"

"My appeal, and your response. As I mind me, 'twas yourself who did give promise that day, not I--and somewhat unwillingly at that."

"Well, I'm more than willing now!" Matt swallowed down outrage. "And you may not have actually given me a promise, but there certainly seemed to be something implied."

Alisande tossed her head impatiently. "In a moment of weakness, I gave you a kiss, naught more--and, Lord Wizard, a kiss is not a promise."

Matt held his face impassive while he absorbed the hurt. Alisande saw, and quailed within, but met wooden face with flint.

Finally, Matt said, "If that kiss happened in a moment of weakness, then you have a weakness for me--which means that, underneath your mask of duty, you're really in love with me, and hopefully, want to spend your life with me."

Alisande bridled, the more so because it was true. "You overreach yourself, Lord Wizard. Yet whether I love you or not, I may not act upon it."

Matt just stared at her.

Then he said, "Let me get this straight. You love me, but you can't do anything about it?"

Alisande kept her face hard. "You must needs know that a queen cannot marry for love--but only for the good of the kingdom, using her marriage as a way of forming an alliance, or in other ways benefiting her people."

Matt felt his stomach sink--he did indeed know. So, of course, he tried to fend off the vision of a lifetime of hanging around the court as the bachelor least likely to succeed, by going on the offen- sive. "That means that if I were the king of some other country, you'd marry me?"

"Aye, if the goodwill of that land were of need to my own."

"Okay--so I'll go win a kingdom." Matt started to turn away.

"Speak not so foolishly, Lord Wizard!" Alisande snapped, with her first hint of real temper. "Kingdoms are not to be had for the asking! To say such is nigh to sacrilege!"

"Oh, come on!" Matt turned back. "There has to be a kingdom somewhere near that has a rotten king, and needs a new one."

"Aye, both Ibile and Allustria--yet I do well but to ward against them, with all my horses and all my men! How should we conquer them?"

"I'll find a way."

"You cannot!"

"I swear to God I will!" Matt shouted. "I'll kick that Ibilian monster-monarch off his throne or die trying!"

Alisande blanched, and the throne room was suddenly as silent as a tomb, even the guards staring in scandalized shock. Matt glanced at them out of the corner of his eye, and something inside him said, in a very tiny voice, Oh. I should not have said that, should I?

Then Alisande caught her breath and shouted, "Guards! Seize that man! Bind and gag him! Chain him to the thickest wall in my deepest dungeon!"

Matt stared, unbelieving. His one true love? Sending him into solitary?

Then the guards hit, and he believed. Two men hugged his arms and two more his legs, picking him up bodily, ignoring his struggles. He opened his mouth to shout a spell, but somebody's glove jammed in between his teeth. Enraged, he tried to spit it out, but someone else was already wrapping a sash around his face and tying it tight. He couldn't speak, he couldn't gesture!

"Well done," Alisande said, discreetly disregarding the guards' ashen faces. "Now bear him to the dungeons, and chain him to the wall. Then mount guard over him, inside the cell and out--and if he should even attempt to speak, give him so shrewd a knock alongside the head that he loses consciousness again. Oh, be sure, he must not speak! Or he will cast a spell!"

Matt felt his stomach sink, as the guards turned him about and headed for the stairway. Alisande was right, unfortunately--and the guards had hit too fast for him to get his mouth working. He was well and truly trussed this time--and not liable to get out of it.

But his one true love! How could she do such a thing to him? Humiliate him so? Not to mention the discomfort!

Easy--she didn't love him. He'd just been a valuable asset. A heavy mass seemed to weigh down upon his spirits, as the guards hauled him down, down through the keep and into the dark of the dungeon. Dark, yes, but no darker than the mood that descended over his soul.

Copyright © 1993 by Christopher Stasheff


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