As a gargoyle, Gary Gar has one job in Xanth: to protect the Swan Knee River from the pollution flowing in from Mundania. But more dirt plus less rain will crack any gargoyle’s stony composure.
So Gary does what any good Xanthian would do: He seeks the help of the Good Magician. But payment for his service is high. Gary must find a philter for the water, while taking on human form to tutor a wild human child, with help from the surly Sorceress Iris, and—even though time is of the essence—taking Hiatus, a known troublemaker, along for the ride.
It won’t be easy, especially when they’re all transported back to the dawn of time. And if they can’t figure out what’s going on in the past, there may be no future for Xanth—come hell or high water . . .
“Ephemeral amusement for pun-struck Xanthonauts.” —Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Piers Anthony is one of the world’s most popular fantasy writers, and a New York Times–bestselling author twenty-one times over. His Xanth novels have been read and loved by millions of readers around the world, and he daily receives hundreds of letters from his devoted fans. In addition to the Xanth series, Anthony is the author of many other bestselling works. He lives in Inverness, Florida.
Read an Excerpt
The demoness formed into smoke, and then into an insidiously lovely (if you like that type) human-style woman. Her face was unutterably fair, her hair flowed like honey, her bosom was so full and well-formed that it was probably sinful just to look at it, and the rest of her was moreso. But there was something odd about her apparel.
She eyed the creature sitting in the dry riverbed, who was about as opposite from her as it was possible to be. "My, you're an ugly customer," she remarked.
"Thank you," the thing replied gruffly.
"You can speak!" she said, surprised.
"Only when I make the effort."
She walked around it. Her dainty delicate feet did not quite touch the ground, but the ground here was so scabbed and messy that this was just as well. She peered closely at every detail. "You have a face like a cross between a lion and an ape, with the worst features of each, and with an extremely big mouth formed into a perpetual 0. You have a grotesque compact body with an inane tail and four big clumsy feet. And you have a pair of really ugly stumpy leathery wings. Overall I can't imagine a worse-looking creature."
"Thank you. You, in contrast, are unconscionably aesthetic."
"I'm what?" she asked, frowning.
"Oh. Thank you."
"My statement was not a compliment."
"Well, neither was mine! I have just three questions to ask of you, monster."
"Then will you go away?"
She shook a fine firm finger. "Answer mine, then I'll answer yours, you refugee from a horror house. What are you?"
"I am a gargoyle."
"Who are you?"
"And what are you doing, Gary Gargoyle?"
"I am performing according to my geis."
"What's a gaysh?"
"Forget it, demoness! You promised to answer mine after three of yours."
She frowned prettily. "Very well, Gary Garble. Ask your stupid question." A large mug appeared in her hand. "Would you like a drink from Ein Stein first?"
"What's tha —" he started to ask, but caught himself almost barely in time. She was trying to trick him into wasting his stupid question. "No. I don't know what that is, so I won't risk it."
"Too bad," she said. "One drink from this would have made you Xanth's smartest creature, capable of concluding that Eeee equals Emcee squared." The mug disappeared.
"I can live without that conclusion," he said. "Who are you?" She fidgeted, beginning to lose definition. "That's awkward to answer."
"Well, make the effort, smokeface."
Her features reformed, lovelier than before. "I'm D. Mentia, but that's only a half-truth."
"What's the other half of the truth?"
"I'm the alter ego of the Demoness Metria. She did something disgusting, so I'm sailing out on my own."
"What did she do?"
"She got married, got half a soul, and fell in love, in that order. Now she's so nice I can't stand her."
"Do demons marry?"
"Forget it, gargle. I answered three already. Now it's my turn again. What's a gaysh?"
"A misspelling of geis."
"How can you tell it's misspelled when I'm speaking it?"
"I am long familiar with the word. You're pronouncing it as it sounds."
She grimaced. "Sorry about that. So what is it?"
"An obligation of honor."
"What does an ugly character like you know about a fair concept like honor?"
"That's your fourth question. Mine first: Why are you wearing a skirt upside and a blouse downside?"
Mentia glanced down at herself. The clothing faded out, leaving a body so barely luscious that any ordinary man who spied it would freak out in half a moment. "That's hard to explain."
"Make another effort, bareface," Gary said, looking slightly bored though her face was the least of her bareness.
"Well, my better nature — that is, D. Metria — has a certain problem with words. For example she would say you really don't look properly volant, and you would say —"
"And she would say feathers, uplift, flapping, sky, winging —"
"And she would say Whatever, crossly."
"That's what volant means?"
"Uh-uh, Garfield. I answered three. What's this about honor?"
Gary sighed. It was a good effort, because his stone body was mostly hollow. "From time vaguely memorial on, my family of gargoyles has been in charge of this river, the Swan Knee, which flows from drear Mundania into Xanth, as you can see." He gestured with a wing. Sure enough, to the north the dry channel wound unhappily through truly dreary terrain. The line where the magic of Xanth took effect was marked by increasingly magical vegetation, such as shoe trees, lady slippers, and acorn trees. The Mundane equivalents were sadly deficient. "Normally the water flows south, and it has been our geis to guarantee its purity, so that Xanth is not stained by Mundanian contaminants. Normally the water was mostly clean, so this was no problem, but in recent decades it has become sullied, until it was virtually sludge. It was awful, cleaning it up! But now there's a drought, and there's no water at all, which is worse yet. I hope that when the rains return, and the flow resumes, that it will be cleaner, so that it doesn't leave such a foul taste in my mouth. But regardless, I will do it, because my line is honor bound to guarantee the quality of this water. No wading swans will get their knees dirty in this river."
"Now that's interesting," Mentia said, looking about as bored as he had been when she had lost her clothing. "But why are you wasting your time here, when you could get the job done without all that fuss?"
Now the gargoyle began to show some feeling. "What do you mean, wasting my time? This is my job, demoness."
"So it's your job. But why not do it the easy way?"
"Because it's the only way I know." He paused, counting. "That's three questions I've answered. My turn. What's this easy way?"
"How should I know, spoutface?"
"You don't know how?"
"That's right, garnishee."
Gary paused, realizing that two of his questions were already gone, by her slightly crazy rules. He had already failed to learn why her clothing had been confused, and he didn't want to fail to learn how to do his job the easy way. So he phrased his question carefully. "What gives you the idea that there is an easy way to do my job?"
Mentia shrugged, making ripples all across her front and down her arms. "There has to be, because if you went to ask the Good Magician about it, he would have the answer."
The Good Magician! He had never thought of that. But he realized that this was not a wise course for him. "I couldn't go to ask him, because the moment it rains, the river will resume its flow, and I shall have to be here to clarify it. Anyway, I understand he's extremely grumpy. And I don't know the way there."
"Why don't you make a dam, so the water can't pass until you return to process it? And what's so bad about grumpiness, if it frees you from a lifetime's geis? And why not ask me to show you the way there?"
Three more questions. Gary pondered, then answered them. "I could make such a dam. A few minutes of grumpiness seem a bargain, when I think of it that way. And I won't ask you to show me the way there because you're a demoness who surely has mischief in mind."
She considered that. "It's your turn for questions. Why don't you ask me if I mean to lead you astray?"
He became interested. "Do you?"
"Because I have a defect of demonly character: I'm slightly crazy. That's why my clothing was mixed up." Her blouse and skirt reappeared, correctly placed. "I share this with my better half: I like to be entertained, and you promise to be entertaining. I don't care about you personally, of course, but I hate being bored."
That seemed to be a fair answer. So Gary gambled and asked the expected question: "Will you guide me safely to the Good Magician's castle?"
"Very well. I shall make the dam."
He got to work. There were some wallflowers not far distant, and he was able to transplant several to the river bed. But there was a problem: they needed water in order to flower, and he had none.
"Well, find some water lilies or water melons or water cress," Mentia suggested impatiently. Her body was aimed away from him, but this didn't matter because her head was now on backwards; she had gotten confused again.
"There aren't any in sight," he pointed out. "I know only the plants that are in sight, because I have been bound to my post in the river for the past century or so."
"Oh for illness sake!" she exclaimed. "I'll find some." Her lower section fuzzed and formed into a peculiar wheeled vehicle.
"What's that?" Gary asked, surprised.
"Haven't you seen a snit before?" Then a dirty noise pooped out of the thing's tailpipe, its wheels spun, and it zoomed away at magical speed. She was departing in a snit.
Then it zoomed backward, just as rapidly, coming to park just under his nose. "Just be thankful it isn't a snot," the demoness said, and was gone again.
Gary was duly thankful. He had not had a lot of experience with demons, but this one seemed tolerable despite being rather too pretty for his taste.
Soon she was back, bearing a boxlike object. "That doesn't look like a water plant," Gary said dubiously.
"Naturally not," she agreed, setting it in the river bed beside some of the rocklike pillows there. "It's a closet."
"What good is a closet? We need water."
"A water closet," she clarified. She opened the door, and a flood of bright blue liquid poured out.
"That's polluted!" Gary cried. He jumped down and placed himself in the path of the flow. He sucked up the water, then spouted it out. "Oh — it's water color."
"Whatever," she agreed. "It will do, won't it?"
He considered, tasting more of the water as it changed to red and then to green. Already some of it was sinking into the ground around the wallflowers, and they were growing. "Yes, as long as it doesn't flow away from here."
"So make another little damn."
"To divert the curse."
In a short moment he figured it out. A dam to divert the course of the flow. Mentia might be her self's worse half, but she did seem to suffer from a bit of her better half's problem with vocabulary. He hastily scraped dirt and rocks across the path of the stream, causing it to puddle. That left it nowhere to flow but into the ground around the flowers. These responded by developing blue, red, green and other colored walls, depending on the color of the water. The walls walled off the main riverbed. The job was done.
"Let's be off," the demoness said, floating up. She had resumed her full human form, and was correctly garbed.
But Gary hesitated. "I'm not sure this is appropriate."
She floated over him, becoming even more lovely in her moderate pique. "Why not, garlic?"
"Because my powers of flight are limited. I weigh considerable, being lithic."
"Being made mostly of stone, so I can fly only when aided by a steep slope or a gale-force breeze. I shall have to proceed along the ground."
"So why not proceed, garnet? That doesn't mean I have to be landbound."
"I think it does."
"Because from down here I think I can see your panties."
She exploded into roiling smoke. Flames licked around the roils. Her voice emerged, tinged with soot. "You aren't supposed to look, garget!"
"I didn't look. But I suspect that if I did —"
"Oh." The cloud sank to the ground, coalescing into her luscious human form — this time in red jeans. "Point made, garden. I'll walk when you do. Thanks for not looking."
"Thanks for getting my name straight."
She paused, fuzzing briefly before firming again. "Got it, Gary Gar." She glanced speculatively at him. "It occurs to me you're not quite as stupid as you look."
"I don't look stupid, I look properly grotesque. It occurs to me that you're not quite as careless as you seem."
"You know, if you were less ugly, I could almost be tempted to think about possibly starting to get to like you."
"If you were less pretty, I might be tempted not to dislike you."
Once more she fuzzed. "You like ugly!" she exclaimed. "How fitting!"
"I'm a gargoyle. We're the ugliest creatures in Xanth, and righteously proud of it."
"What about the ogres?"
Gary pondered. "I suppose you could call them ugly, if you dislike that type," he concluded grudgingly.
"Maybe we'll encounter some along the way, and see." Then she thought of something else. "You're no more human than I am. Why should you care about panties?"
"I don't. But you evidently do."
"Well, when I emulate the human form there are codes of conduct to be observed, or the emulation is imperfect. But that does give me a notion." She fuzzed, and reappeared as a female gargoyle, horrendously ugly. "How do you like me now, Gary?"
He studied her. "I wish you were real. I'd be glad to spout water with you."
"Ha! You mean I can tempt you in this form, and endlessly frustrate you? This promises to be entertaining after all."
"Let's be on our way," he said shortly.
"On down the riverbed," she said. "It will take us south to the gulf."
"But I can't swim," he protested. "I would sink right to the bottom."
"Then we won't enter the water. We'll proceed along the shore. Except —" She broke off, evidently waiting for his query.
"Except what?" he dutifully inquired.
"Except for the whatever. You'll have trouble navigating that." Then she brightened. "But maybe I can figure out a way. Onward!"
"Onward," he agreed, determined not to oblige her by asking again.
They set off down the riverbed, bound by bound, using their little wings to steer the bounds and keep them within bounds. It was the gargoyle way.
Before long the dry riverbanks changed color, turning yellow. Gary paused. "What's the matter with the ground?"
Mentia looked. "Nothing. It's just doing its thing."
"But it's all sickly yellow!"
"No it isn't." She raked a claw across the dirt. Golden coins rolled down into the channel. "This bank is pay dirt. And there's a mint." She pointed to a plant with odd oblong greenbacked leaves and round golden flowers with serrated edges. "This is the bank where the money comes from, is all."
"Money? What good is it?"
"No good that I know of. But I understand they love it in Mundania."
"They say that the love of money is the root of all evil." She looked at the mint's roots, which did look bad, if not actually evil.
"But doesn't that mean that they think it's bad?"
"No, Mundania is such an awful place that they must love evil."
Gary nodded. "That does make sense."
"Pennies and cents," she agreed.
They bounded on. They came to a sign:
WHEN PASSING THIS BOG BEWARE OF THE DOG
"I don't see any bog," Gary said.
"I don't see any dog either. But maybe it doesn't matter; that's just doggerel."
A new kind of tree appeared along the bank. There was the sound of barking. "Dogwoods," Mentia explained. "They're harmless if you don't try to rub against their bark, which is worse than their bite."
But then real dogs appeared. "I thought Xanth had no dogs," Gary said.
"This is close to the border; a pack must have crossed over, and the dogs haven't yet had time to turn magic. It happens."
The dogs converged, growling. "They don't seem to be friendly," Gary remarked.
"Who cares? They can't hurt us. I'm a demoness and you're mostly mythic."
"Whatever." So they bounded on, ignoring the dogs. But the animals pursued doggedly.
It got worse. Ahead was a solid line of canines. It was impossible to bound through them. So they stopped before the large female in the center. "Who are you and what do you want?" Gary asked, hardly expecting an answer.
"I am Dogma," she replied. "I want your dog tags."
"We don't have anything like that."
"Then we'll have to eat you."
"Just because we don't have something you want?" he asked incredulously.
"I'm a real bitch," she reminded him.
"Then we'll just have to fight you," Gary said with regret, for he was a peaceful creature. "Have you ever been chomped by stone teeth?"
Dogma reconsidered. "I'm really not dogmatic. Just what kind of a monster are you?" she demanded.
"I'm a gargoyle. I purify the water coming along this river, but I'm trying to find a better way to do it."
"Doggone it," she complained. "Why didn't you say so? We thought you were pretending to be a dog."
"Who would anyone want to be a dog?" Mentia demanded.
Dogma turned to the others. "Let them go, dogfaces," she growled. "We don't have a problem with gargoyles, and we don't want our river to get spoiled. The swans would go away."
The dogs looked disgusted, but gave way, and the two moved on down the river channel. But they had hardly cleared the dog region before they encountered worse.
"More dogs?" Gary asked, seeing the creatures approaching.
"What's the difference? Aren't wolves just wild dogs?" "Not in Xanth."
They stopped as the wolves closed in. "What do you creatures want?" Gary demanded. He was getting impatient with these delays; at this rate it would be hard to accomplish his business with the Good Magician and return before nightfall.
"We are the Wolf clan," the lead female said, changing to human form. "I am Virginia Wolf."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Geis of the Gargoyle"
Copyright © 1995 Piers Anthony.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
#18-- After while you do understand thet these books are going to be really funny to people who were kids in the 70's but younger generations are gonna just love the silliness-- Hannah Barberian (hahahaha)"SUMMARY: Seeking a spell that will restore the polluted river Swan Knee to a state of purity, guardian Gary Gargoyle finds himself face-to-face with the Good Magician Humfrey"
Not as engaging as many of the other Xanth novels. :(
This was another great book written by peirs anthony. His use of "puns" is my favorite thing about this series, and the fantacy plot takes you to another place. And one more thing I love about these books is that they follow a basic time line. They flow toether. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fantacy stories.
ok, i hate that i had to give this book only 3 stars but thats the best i can do and honestly mean it.i dont know why but i kept getting lost in this book. and its lacking in something, i dont know what, i would not read this book again, but im glad i read it cause iris is in it, one of the classic stars from the first novel.i would not recommend starting with this one either.
Good puns and good story. I really liked this book, maybe just because it was the first Xanth book i read.(i didn't know they had numbers until i got onto this site) The main reason I love the Xanth series is because it doesn't have the crapp of stephen king and terry pratchett, the mindless talking and thinking, Xanth books just get straight to the story and never take a break, and they're easy to understand.
A great book in the xanth collection. I wouldn't say it's the best book in the xanth collection but that's because the other ones are very good too.