Jordan was a ghost in Castle Roogna now, spending his time with little five-year-old Ivy and watching his own past unfold on the magic tapestry. But once he had been a valorous knight, riding his ghost horse Pook on a fabulous and dangerous mission.
He had been betrayed with a cruel lie by two wily magicians and the woman he loved. He had been killed at the end, and his bones had been scattered. Now he could not even remember where they had been buried.
That was important, because Jordan's talent had been to recover from almost any injury, provided enough of his body could be assembled to grow together again. But all that had been four hundred years before. Nobody who was alive today knew or cared where his bones might be.
It was hardly the proper ending for a gallant adventure!
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Chapter 1. Ghost Quest
Ivy was restricted, for no reason at all, to Castle Roogna, and of course it was overwhelmingly boring. Her mother Irene had recently gotten quite fat in the tummy, but kept right on eating and pretending it was wonderful and didn’t seem to have much time for Ivy any more. To make things worse, her father King Dor had ordered a baby brother for her. Ivy did not need or want a baby brother. How could they have been so thoughtless as to order something like that without consulting the one most concerned? What good was a baby, anyway—especially a boy?
But now the infernal thing had arrived, and Irene had evidently celebrated by using a thinning spell, because she was suddenly back to normal weight, but she still had next to no time for Ivy. To heck and darnation with all cabbage leaves! Even drear Mundania, she decided, could not be worse than this.
For a time, she played with the items sent by her pun-pal, Rapunzel, who had very long hair and was similarly confined to her castle. Ivy was still too young to read and write, so they exchanged small objects, and that usually worked well enough. But there was only so much a person could do with puncils and hot-cross puns, and Ivy soon tired of them.
She found herself watching the magic tapestry in her room for hours on end and more hours sidewise; the idiot cloth had become her amusement of last resort. Its moving pictures showed everything that had ever happened in the Land of Xanth. But the pictures were fuzzy, and she wasn’t much interested in history, anyway. It was so much more fun in the jungle, playing with clouds and tanglers and gourds!
As the tapestry played over a sequence several hundred years in the past, Ivy became aware of company. One of the castle ghosts was in the room. In fact, it was watching the tapestry.
Ghosts did not bother Ivy, of course; in fact, it tended to be the other way around. Ghosts avoided her because trouble seemed to follow only half a footstep behind her, and the haunts of Castle Roogna, like others of their kind, were basically settled creatures. So the presence of this one surprised Ivy, yet hardly alarmed her. She peered at it, but the outlines were fuzzy, and she could not make out which one it was. So she asked, “Who are you?”
“Jordan,” the ghost replied faintly. It was hard for ghosts to speak with any volume, because their volume was mostly vapor, but they could do it when they concentrated.
Oh, yes. Jordan was the one who had helped Mare Imbri save Castle Roogna from the Horseman oodles of time ago, before she arrived on the scene. “What are you doing?”
“Watching my history.” The ghost became clearer as she concentrated on it, shifting from amorphous cloud shape to humped sheet shape, which was an improvement.
Ivy suffered a flicker of interest. “Your history? That’s Xanth history, silly!”
“I lived in Xanth four hundred years ago,” Jordan said, becoming a vague human form.
“Was it as dull as it is now?”
“No, it was exciting!” the ghost said with greater animation than before. “It was a terrific adventure—I think.”
“You think?” Ivy wanted to nail this down, because if there was anything interesting in Castle Roogna, she wanted to find it.
“Well, I died from it.”
Oh. “I’m about to die from boredom,” Ivy asserted.
“Oh, no,” Jordan protested. “You’re a Sorceress. You will grow up to be King of Xanth.”
This was nothing new, but Ivy’s interest increased. Now Jordan was a fully formed man, partly white, partly translucent, fairly large, young, and handsome. A white lock of hair fell down partway over his right eye, which was also white. Most ghosts were white; Ivy wasn’t sure why. “How did you die?”
Jordan shook his head. “I can’t quite seem to remember. I’ve been dead a long time.”
“But that’s easy to remember!” Ivy exclaimed. “Dying is a big deal, like getting born.”
“Do you remember getting born?”
“Of course not. Animals get born. I was found under a cabbage leaf. I should have kicked over the cabbage behind me, because now they’ve found Dolph under it and they’re making him my baby brother.” She pouted, as the memory rankled. “If I’d been smart, I’d have sneaked out at night and thrown all the cabbages into the moat before Dolph arrived. It’s probably all his fault I’m grounded.”
“Yes, boys are a lot of trouble,” the ghost agreed. “Almost as much trouble as girls.”
The ghost drifted away from her, realizing that he had said something provocative and unwarranted. Everybody knew that boys were much worse than girls. But Ivy decided to forgive him his transgression, because even ghostly company was better than none. “Tell me the adventure of your life.”
“Well, I don’t quite remember that, either. I know it was exciting, and that there were monsters and magicians and swords and sorcery and beautiful women, but the details have fogged out.”
“Then how do you know your life is playing on the tapestry now?” Ivy asked alertly.
“I recognize bits of my life when I see them played. Fighting a dragon, kissing a woman—it begins to come back. I know I was there.”
“Fighting a dragon?” Ivy asked. “Not the Gap Dragon?”
“I think I avoided that one,” Jordan said. “It’s alive today, isn’t it? So I couldn’t have slain it.”
“Good.” Because the Gap Dragon had become Ivy’s friend, she didn’t want anything bad to have happened to him, even four hundred years ago. The Gap was now being patrolled by Stacey Steamer, the female of his kind. Eventually Stanley would grow up and return to the Gap, but that was long ago in the future and she didn’t worry about it. “Who’d you kiss?”
The ghost concentrated. “Several beautiful women, I think, but the last was most. There was a cruel lie, and I died. So I hate her. But I found a better woman after I died, so maybe it’s all right after all.”
This was getting downright fascinating! “How can you find a woman after you’re dead?”
“A dead woman, naturally. A ghost, like me.”
Ivy had always known the ghosts of Castle Roogna, but hadn’t thought to question them about their lives. “What happened to her?”
“She’s still here, of course. She’s Renee.”
“Oh, Renee! I hear her singing sometimes. Faint, sad songs.”
“Yes, she is often sad. But she’s a wonderful person. If I were alive again, I’d marry her.”
“Silly, ghosts can’t live again!” Ivy chided him.
“What about Millie?”
Millie the Ghost had been a resident of Castle Roogna for eight centuries, until restored to life. She had married the Zombie Master and now had twin teen-aged children, Hiatus and Lacuna, who on occasion baby-sat for Ivy.
“That was prehistoric,” Ivy said shortly. “Back when Good Magician Humfrey was still practicing as an old man. He helped bring her back to life. Everybody knows that. But Magician Humfrey isn’t animating ghosts any more, and nobody else knows how. How can you live again?”
“Well, my talent is healing,” Jordan said. “So if my bones were found and brought together, maybe—”
“Where are your bones?”
“I’ve forgotten, if I ever knew,” the ghost confessed, abashed.
So Jordan represented a mystery. Ivy was now fully intrigued. “This cruel lie—what was it?”
Jordan spread his hands. “I don’t remember that, either. I thought if I watched it replayed on the tapestry, maybe—”
“Why not,” Ivy agreed. They focused on the tapestry. It showed a towering wall of rock, the face of an almost vertical cliff. Down this cliff a huge snail was crawling—and a man clung to the snail’s shell.
“Oh, yes, the snail,” Jordan said. “That’s me, riding it.”
Ivy had never thought of snail-riding, but of course she had never encountered a snail big enough. “Where are you going?”
“I don’t remember, but it was somewhere I had to get to.”
“Why are you riding it, instead of walking there yourself? That snail’s pretty slow.”
“I don’t remember that, either. But I think I had no choice. Maybe if we could see more detail—”
They peered closely, and the picture enhanced itself somewhat, as things did when Ivy paid attention to them. They made out a shadow, as of some monstrous bird, but they could not tell where the cliff was or how extensive. The progress of the giant snail was tediously slow; it was evident they would have to wait for an hour to see significant progress. That was the problem with the tapestry; it ran scenes through at regular speed. It was possible to reset it, but that tended to jump the picture to some quite different scene, and the original one could be lost for days. So it was necessary simply to let it play through at its own rate if a person wanted to see how a particular scene ended. This was no good for a bored child.
But Ivy’s curiosity, once fairly aroused, did not accept denial. “We must find out,” she declared. “I want to know all about that snail—and your life, and especially about the cruel lie.” She put her hands on her hips, in the manner her mother did, to show the severity of her resolve.
“I’m sure I could remember, if the pictures were clearer,” Jordan said.
Ivy contemplated the tapestry. “It’s gotten sort of grubby over the centuries,” she said. “And I guess my using it to wipe off my hands before dinner doesn’t help much, either.” Adults always had these pointless rules about clean hands for eating, so Ivy knew it really wasn’t her fault, but now she wished she had wiped her hands somewhere else. “Maybe if we can clean it off, it will have better pictures.”
They tried. Ivy fetched a bucket and water, but found she couldn’t scrub the tapestry clean. The pictures were permanently dull, even when wet. “We need something better to clean it,” she said, frustrated.