Enchantress from the Stars
Puffin BooksCopyright © 2003 Sylvia Engdahl
All right reserved.ISBN: 0142500372
At the edge of the Enchanted Forest there lived a poorwoodcutter who had four sons, the youngest of whomwas named Georyn. They were able to earn a meager livingby selling wood to the folk of the village, and althoughthere was seldom more than dry bread or thin gruel ontheir table, they were not miserable.
Yet the brothers, as they grew to manhood, foundlittle satisfaction in their lot. Often, as they toiled at thehewing of a tree on the outskirts of the wood, theystopped to watch the huntsmen of the King ride by tohunt in the Enchanted Forest, which their father hadforbidden them to enter. And the eldest son would say,"Ah, if I but had the power of the King and a hundredservants to do my bidding!" And the next brother wouldlaugh and reply, "Myself, I would settle for the King'streasure, for gold buys all that a man could wish for."And the next would tell them, "You are both fools, butif a man could win a fair bride such as the King's daughter,he would be well content."
Georyn, the youngest, would say nothing; yet in hisown heart he would whisper, "Had I the wisdom of theKing and his councillors, I would not be merely a woodcutter,and indeed I would not be hungry, nor would thevillagers. And I would know the secret of the EnchantedForest and be free to hunt there, and someday I might goeven beyond it!"
Now to that country there came a time of great sorrow,for on the far side of the Enchanted Forest thereappeared a monstrous Dragon that breathed fire, and itsroaring could be heard far and wide over the land; andmany folk fled in terror, fearing that their homes wouldbe laid waste. Many of the King's huntsmen went to fightthe Dragon, yet the Dragon remained and no menreturned.
At last the King sent forth a decree, and in every villageit was proclaimed: whosoever should free the land ofthe terrible Dragon would be given whatever reward hisheart should desire, even to a half of the kingdom. Yet thepeople were afraid. If the King's own huntsmen hadfailed, how could mere villagers face the monster and killit? And few men entertained thoughts of the King'sreward.
But the woodcutter's sons had dreamed long of possessingsuch as the King could give, and they begged theirfather for permission to travel to the King and ask hisblessing in the quest. The woodcutter himself, however,opposed them. "Even to enter the Enchanted Forest isdeath for such as you!" he cried. "Yet you talk of dragons!I forbid it; you shall not go."
The three elder brothers went angrily to their bedsand whispered far into the night, making plans to disobeytheir father and set out together at first light, for theybelieved their valor equal to that of nobles and huntsmen.But Georyn talked further with the woodcutter, asking,"Why should it be death to enter the Forest, when theKing and his followers have hunted there since before Iwas born?"
"As I have often told you," replied the woodcutter, "theEnchanted Forest is the home of evil spirits, who have laida curse on all who go there, though they dare not touchthe King's companions, This was true even before theDragon appeared to ravage our land."
"Then if the King should send us, they would nottouch us either."
"Perhaps not. But how could you hope to slay theDragon, you who have never before held a sword? It isimpossible, Georyn."
Now Georyn knew this, for though he was quite asbrave as his brothers, he was not so foolish as to considerhimself abler than the King's huntsmen at killing. Butthese men had failed, and if they had failed then perhapsthe Dragon could not be killed with a sword at all. "Theremay be a way to overcome the monster, Father," he said."But it will not be found by those who fear it! I can haveno happiness until I have at least tried."
And so at last, seeing that he could not dissuade them,the woodcutter allowed his sons to seek the aid of theKing. They set forth the next morning, following the riverthat circled the wood. When they had gone but a shortdistance, they came to a fork in the path: one way kept tothe course of the stream, while the other led to the King'scastle by a shorter route, through the forest.
"Let us take the quickest way," said the eldest brother.
"That would not be wise," protested Georyn. "Thatway leads directly into the Enchanted Forest."
His brothers laughed, saying, "What, do you believesuch foolishness? Do you fear that we will be bewitched?"
"Not all tales of enchantment are foolish ones," repliedGeoryn. "There will be a time when we must challengethat which lies within the Forest, but to do so now, unnecessarily,would be no better than folly. We have no knowledgeof what we face."
Thereupon the brothers stopped and debated; forthey remembered that they had indeed heard fearsometales of the Enchanted Forest, and they were not anxiousto test the truth of them. So at length they werepersuaded to take the familiar way, and for the rest ofthat day they continued along the river bank. It was abright, springtime morning; the leaves were young andgreen, the water sparkled in the sunlight, and as theyoung men walked, they whistled.
When the sun had sunk low behind the dark profilesof the fir trees, however, the Forest beyond the riverloomed larger, both in the brothers' eyes and in theirthoughts. The foaming roar of the water seemed lesscheering, and upon the opposite shore a faint trace of mistbegan to form. And then it was that the brothers cameupon a small stone hut, which surprised them greatly, forit had not been there in the past when they had cut woodnear that place. As they were wondering at this, a tall,dark-haired maiden stepped forth from the hut; and thewoodcutter's sons stood silent in amazement and awe, forshe was unlike any mortal maiden they had ever seen, andthey knew at once that she was an enchantress.
I was not supposed to be in the landing party at allI wassupposed to be studying. That was part of the bargainwhen Father decided we should go in the first place; Iagreed to prepare for First Phase exams on shipboard, tomake up for the time I would be missing at the Academy.For that matter, the Academy itself wouldn't have grantedme leave on any other basis. Father's wish was enough toget us passage, since the starship was to make a stop at theworld on which our family reunion's to be held, but eventhat wouldn't have carried much weight with the Dean.
A Service starship is a good place to study; you havelots of free time at your disposal, especially if you are neitherpart of a survey team nor a member of the crew. Butwho wants to study all the time? I had never been off myhome world before; since I'm from a Service family, evenentering the Academy hadn't meant a trip for me. And Iwas dying to see something! I knew that I would not bepermitted to accompany any regular team for a long time.So when the Andrecian situation came up and Father wasappointed Senior Agent to handle it, I begged him to takeme with him.
"It's out of the question, Elana," he said gravely. "Weare not going on a sightseeing trip. You know that."
"Evrek has completed Third Phase; he has taken theOath. He's ready for a field assignment, and while Iwouldn't have chosen a thing like this for his first one, it'shis job."
It was true enough that Evrek and I were not really inthe same category any more. The Oath makes a difference,personally as well as officially; since Evrek wassworn, I'd hardly known him. Practically from themoment of his investiture, which had taken place only afew days before we left home, he had seemed changed insome subtle way that I couldn't quite define. One thingwas sure: it wasn't only the new white uniform. Agentsdon't wear their uniforms anyway, except on dress occasions.