Those wicked wizards are back--and they've become very smart. (Sort of.) They intend to take over the Enchanted Forest once and for all . . . unless Cimorene finds a way to stop them. And some people think being queen is easy.
About the Author
Patricia C. Wrede has written many novels, including all four books in the Enchanted Forest Chronicles as well as Sorcery & Cecilia, The Grand Tour, and The Mislaid Magician, co-written with Caroline Stevermer. Ms. Wrede lives and writes in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Read an Excerpt
1In Which a Great Many Cats Express Opinions Deep in the enchanted forest, in a neat gray house with a wide porch and a red roof, lived the witch Morwen and her nine cats. The cats were named Murgatroyd, Fiddlesticks, Miss Eliza Tudor, Scorn, Jasmine, Trouble, Jasper Darlington Higgins IV, Chaos, and Aunt Ophelia, and not one of them looked anything like a witch’s cat. They were tabby, gray, white, tortoiseshell, ginger, seal brown, and every other cat color in the world except a proper and witchy black. Morwen didn’t look like a witch any more than her cats looked as if they should belong to one. For one thing, she was much too young—less than thirty—and she had neither wrinkles nor warts. In fact, if she hadn’t been a witch, people might have said she was quite pretty. Her hair was the same ginger color as Jasmine’s fur, and she had hazel eyes and a delicate, pointed chin. Because she was very short, she had to stand quite straight (instead of hunching over in correct witch fashion) if she wanted people to pay attention to her. And she was nearsighted, so she always had to wear glasses; hers had rectangular lenses. She refused even to put on the tall, pointed hats most witches wore, and she dressed in loose black robes because they were comfortable and practical, not because they were traditional. All of this occasionally annoyed people who cared more about the propriety of her dress than the quality of her spells. “You ought to turn him into a toad,” Trouble said, looking up from washing his right front paw. Trouble was a large, lean gray tomcat with a crooked tail and a recently acquired ragged ear. He had never told Morwen exactly how he had damaged either the tail or the ear, but from the way he acted she assumed he had won a fight with something. “Who should I turn into a toad?” Morwen asked, looking an unusually long way down. She was sitting sideways on her broomstick, floating comfortably next to the top of the front door, with a can of gold paint in one hand and a small paintbrush in the other. Above the door, in black letters partly edged in gold, ran the message “NONE OF THIS NONSENSE, PLEASE,” which Morwen was engaged in repainting. “That fellow who’s making all the fuss about pointy hats and respect for tradition,” Trouble replied. “The one you were grumbling about a minute ago—what’s his name?” “Arona Michaelear Grinogion Vamist,” Morwen recited, putting the final gold line along the bottom of the “L” in “PLEASE.” “And it’s a tempting thought. But someone worse would probably replace him.” “Turn them all into toads. I’ll help.” “Toads?” purred a new voice. A small ginger cat slithered out the open window and arched her back, then stretched out along the window ledge, where she could watch the entire front yard without turning her head. “I’m tired of toads. Why don’t you turn somebody into a mouse for a change?” The ginger cat ran her tongue around her lips. “Good morning, Jasmine,” Morwen said. “I’m not planning to turn anyone into anything, at the moment, but I’ll keep it in mind.” “That means she won’t do it,” said Trouble. He looked at his right paw, decided it was clean enough for the time being, and began washing his left. “Won’t do what?” said Fiddlesticks, poking his brown head out of the front door. “Who’s not doing it? Why shouldn’t he—or is that she? And who says so?” “Turn someone into a mouse; Morwen; I certainly don’t see why not; and she does,” Jasmine said in a bored tone, and pointedly turned her head away. “Mice are nice.” Fiddlesticks shouldered the door open another inch and trotted out onto the porch. “So are fish. I haven’t had any fish in a long time.” He paused underneath Morwen’s broom and looked up expectantly. “You had fish for dinner yesterday,” Morwen said without looking down. “And you ate enough breakfast this morning to satisfy three ordinary cats, so don’t try to pretend you’re starving. It won’t work.” “Someone’s coming,” Jasmine observed from the window. Trouble stood up and ambled to the edge of the porch. “It’s the Chairwitch of the Deadly Nightshade Gardening Club. Wasn’t she just here last week?” “It’s Archaniz? Oh, bother,” said Morwen, sticking her paintbrush into the can. “Has she got that idiot cat Grendel with her? I told her not to bring him anymore, but nine times out of ten she doesn’t listen.” Fiddlesticks joined Trouble at the top of the porch steps. “I don’t see him. I don’t see anyone but her. I don’t want to see her, either. She doesn’t like me.” “That’s because you talk too much,” Trouble told him. “I’m going inside,” Fiddlesticks announced. “Then I won’t have to see her. Maybe someone’s dropped some fish on the floor,” he added hopefully as he trotted into the house. Morwen landed her broomstick and stood up, just as the Chairwitch reached the porch steps. The Chairwitch looked exactly as a witch ought: tall, with a crooked black hat, stringy black hair, sharp black eyes, a long, bony nose, and a wide, thin-lipped mouth. She hunched over as she walked, leaning on her broom as if it were a cane. Morwen put the paint can on the window ledge next to Jasmine, set her broom against the wall, and said, “Good morning, Archaniz.” “Good morning, Morwen,” Chairwitch Archaniz croaked. “What’s this I hear about you growing lilacs in your garden?” “Since I don’t know what you’ve heard, I can’t answer you,” Morwen replied. “Come in and have some cider.” Archaniz pounded the end of her broom against the porch floor, breaking some of the twigs and scattering bits of dust and bark in all directions. “Don’t be provoking, Morwen. You’re a witch. You’re supposed to grow poison oak and snakeroot and wolfsbane, not lilacs. You’ll get thrown out of the Deadly Nightshade Gardening Club if you aren’t careful.” “Nonsense. Where in the rules does it say that I can’t grow what I please in my own garden?” “It doesn’t,” Archaniz admitted. “And I’ll tell you right away that you aren’t the only one who puts a few lilacs and daylilies in with the rampion and henbane. Why, I’ve got a perfectly ordinary patch of daisies in the corner myself.” “Daisies.” Jasmine snorted softly. “She would.” “But I’ve been getting complaints,” Archaniz continued, “and I have to do something about them.” “What sort of complaints?” “That the Deadly Nightshade Gardening Club is too normal for witches,” Archaniz said gloomily. “That all we grow are everyday plants like cabbages and apples—” “Apples are a basic necessity for witches,” Morwen said. “And everyday plants don’t turn the people who eat them into donkeys. Who’s complaining?” “Some fellow with an impossible name—Arona Mc-something-or-other.” “Arona Michaelear Grinogion Vamist?” The Chairwitch nodded. “That’s the one. I’ve gotten six regular letters and two by Eagle Express in the past month. He says he’s going to write a letter to the Times next.” “He would,” Trouble muttered. “I said you should turn him into a toad.” “That idea sounds better all the time,” Morwen told Trouble. Then she looked back at Archaniz, who of course had not understood a word Trouble had said. “Vamist isn’t a witch,” Morwen said. “He’s an idiot. Why worry about what he says?” “That’s all very well, Morwen, but if he convinces people he’s right, it’ll ruin our image. And if people think we’re not dangerous, they’ll come around asking for love potions and penny curses whenever they like. We’ll be so busy mixing up cures for gout that we won’t have time for the things we want to do. Look what happened to the sorceresses!” “I haven’t seen many of them around lately.” Archaniz nodded. “They got a reputation for being kind and beneficent, and the next thing you knew everyone was begging them for help. Most of them moved to remote islands or deep forests, just to get away from the pestering. It’s all very well for you, Morwen, living out here in the Enchanted Forest anyway, but I—” A loud yowl interrupted the Chairwitch in mid-sentence. An instant later, four cats tore around the corner of the house. The one in front was a heavy, short-legged tomcat with yellow eyes and fur as black as night. Behind him came a fat, long-haired tabby tomcat and two females, one a large calico and the other a fluffy white cat with blue eyes. The black cat streaked out into the front yard, made a hairpin turn, and leapt for the porch, where he clawed his way up Archaniz’s skirts to a perch on her shoulder. The three pursuing cats jumped gracefully onto the porch railing and sat down, curling their tails around their feet, just as Fiddlesticks poked his head out of the front door. “What’s all the noise about? Who’s shouting? Is it a fight? Who’s winning? Can I join?” With every question, Fiddlesticks pushed a little farther, until he was entirely outside the house, staring up at Archaniz and the cat on her shoulder. “Who’s that?” “Mrow!” said the black cat in a complaining tone. “Yow wow mrrrum!” “Oh, yeah?” said Trouble. “Well, your father wears boots!” Morwen gave the black cat a speculative look. “One of these days, I am going to have to work up a spell that will let me understand other people’s cats as well as my own,” she said to Archaniz. “What was that about?” “We caught him nosing around in back of the garden,” the long-haired tabby growled. “He had no business there,” the white cat added primly. “He’s not one of us, after all. So we thought we would drive him away.” “Stupid creature was babbling something about a rabbit,” the calico cat said with a disdainful look at the black cat. “As if that was any excuse.” “Why didn’t you call me?” Trouble demanded. “I never get to have any fun.” Radiating hurt pride, he stalked to the far end of the porch and disappeared into a large clump of beebalm. “You know, people have been trying to perfect a universal cat-translating spell for years,” Archaniz said to Morwen in a dry tone. She glanced at the cats on the porch railing. “If you do come up with one, I’d like a copy for myself.” “Nosy old biddy,” said the calico cat. “On second thought, perhaps it would be better if I left things as they are,” Morwen said. “Being disagreeable, are they?” Archaniz said knowingly. “It’s only to be expected. Who ever heard of a polite cat?” The black cat hissed. “Grendel!” said Archaniz. “Behave yourself. It wasn’t that bad, and besides, you can use the exercise.” “He certainly can,” said the calico cat. “What’s all this racket?” rumbled a low, sleepy cat voice from under the porch. “Dash it, can’t a fellow take a nap in peace?” A moment later, a long cream-and-silver cat oozed around the steps to blink at the growing assembly above him. “That’s another thing, Morwen,” Archaniz said, scowling at the newcomer. “Cats and witches go together, I admit. And I know they’re a big help with your spells, but one really ought to observe some reasonable limits.” “I do,” said Morwen. All nine cats were useful, particularly when it came to working long, involved spells that required both concentration and power. Nine cats working together could channel a lot of magic. To explain all this would sound uncomfortably like bragging, however, so Morwen only added, “Anyway, I like cats.” “She is simply jealous because we’re all smarter than he is,” the white cat informed Morwen with a look at the black cat on Archaniz’s shoulder. “What, all of you?” Morwen said, raising an eyebrow. “All of us,” the white cat said firmly. “Even Fiddlesticks.” “I’m very smart,” Fiddlesticks agreed. “I’m lots smarter than Fatso there. Don’t you think I’m smart, Morwen?” Grendel hissed and bunched together as if he were preparing to launch himself from Archaniz’s shoulder. Hastily, Archaniz put up her free hand to hold him back. “Perhaps I had better leave now,” she said. “We can finish our discussion some other—” “There’s a big garden show coming up in Lower Sandis,” Morwen said thoughtfully. “Why doesn’t the Deadly Nightshade Garden Club enter an exhibit? If we all work together, we should be able to put together something quite impressive.” Archaniz considered. “Monkshood and snakeroot and so on? In a large black tent.” “And if everyone sends one or two really exotic things—” “Morwen, you’re a genius! People will talk about it for years, and that Airy McAiling Grinny person won’t have a leg to stand on.” “I don’t think it will be that simple,” Morwen cautioned. “But an exhibit will buy us time to find out why he’s so interested in making witches do things his way. And stop him.” “Of course,” the Chairwitch said happily. “Let’s see—Kanikak grows Midnight fire-flowers, and I have half a dozen Giant Weaselweeds. If I can talk Wully into letting us use her smokeblossoms . . .” “I’ll contribute two Black Diamond snake lilies and an invisible dusk-blooming chokevine,” Morwen said. “I won’t keep you any longer now; just let me know when you’ve got things arranged. Chaos, Miss Eliza, Scorn, wait for me inside, if you please.” The three cats sitting on the railing looked at each other. Then Chaos, the long-haired tabby, jumped down and sauntered past Fiddlesticks into the house. The white cat, Miss Eliza Tudor, followed, tail high, and Fiddlesticks fell in behind her, apparently without even thinking about what he was doing. Scorn sat where she was, staring stubbornly at Morwen. “I’m not leaving while that idiot of hers is still here,” Scorn said with a sidelong glance at Grendel and Archaniz. “There’s no telling what he might get up to.” As this did not seem unreasonable, for a cat, Morwen let it pass. She walked Archaniz out into the yard, where there was plenty of room for a takeoff, and bade her a polite goodbye. As soon as the Chairwitch was out of sight above the trees, Morwen turned to go back inside. Jasper Darlington Higgins IV was sitting in front of the porch steps, watching her. “Was that a good idea?” he said. “Invisible dusk-blooming chokevines aren’t exactly easy to find, you know. Much less to grow. And you haven’t got any, unless you’ve added them to the garden since early this morning.” “I’m well aware of that,” Morwen said. “But I’ve been wanting some for a long time, to put along the fence by the back gate. Now I’ve got a good excuse to hunt them up.” “As long as you know what you’re getting into,” Jasper said. “Can I go back to sleep now, or is there going to be more noisy excitement?” “Go to sleep,” said Morwen. As she climbed the porch steps, she gave Scorn a pointed glare. Dignity dripping from every whisker, Scorn jumped down from the railing and walked into the house. Morwen shook her head, picked up her broomstick and her paint can, and followed.