Currant Events (Xanth, No. 28)

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9780765343109: Currant Events (Xanth, No. 28)
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When Clio, the Muse of History, sat down to pen the twenty-eighth volume in the Chronicles of Xanth, she was stunned to discover it was already there! And, what was worse, it was totally unreadable, for the words on its pages were fuzzed beyond comprehension.

Vexed and bewildered, and more than a little concerned, Clio resolved to leave the quiet comfort of her study on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, and ask her old friend, the Good Magician Humfrey, to search a solution to her problem in his Book of Answers.

But, much to her consternation, Humfrey required her to perform a magical Service before she could acquire her Answer: to rescue Xanth's dragons from the verge of extinction before the delicate balance of its wildlife was permanently thrown out of whack.

Her momentous mission lead her to a dangerous Dragon World hidden amongst the Moons of Ida, across a perilous landscape filled with wonder and danger, in search of the fabled Currant, a very rare red berry that might hold the secret she sought.

Along the way she acquired a fellowship of companions, including the brave and beautiful Becka Dragongirl, a pair of pocket dragons named Drew and Drusie, a charming young child called Ciriana whose destiny was somehow entwined with hers, and Sherlock, a sweet but homely man from Mundania who might just be a master magician himself.

Together they gradually began to unravel the momentous mystery of Xanth's missing history. And Clio began to realize that Sherlock's enchantments had begun to work their way into her heart... in Piers Anthony's Currant Events.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Piers Anthony is one of the world's most popular fantasy authors and a New York Times bestseller twenty-one times over. His Xanth novels have been read and loved by millions of readers around the world. In addition to his bestselling Xanth books, Anthony is the author of a series of historical fantasies called The Geodyssey, that makes the broad sweep of human history into very personal stories. Piers Anthony has a devoted fan following, and he daily receives hundreds of letters and emails from them. Piers Anthony lives in Inverness, Florida.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

Clio

Clio was tidying up her office, as she did every century or so even if it didn't really need it. Dust did tend to collect, along with dried bugs, apple seeds, and lost wisps of fog. Then she paused, which was easy to do during a dull chore like this. There was a volume on the shelf she didn't remember. That was odd, because she had an excellent memory. She had to, to be a competent Muse of History.

She lifted it up, noting the clean spot of shelf beneath it. She blew off the dust and looked at the title. She couldn't quite make it out, so she opened the volume to the title page. That was written in her handwriting, but was somehow blurred. It might be CURRENT EVENTS, but could also be GETTING EVEN. Neither one made much sense, as she did not handle either contemporary news or revenge plots. Her specialty was history, past and future. The present bored her.

She turned the pages. They had all been filled out, and definitely in her handwriting, but she couldn't read a word of it. She blinked to clear her vision, but it didn't help; every word was fuzzed. The pages might as well have been blank.

She stood there, bemused. How could she have written a volume of history that she herself couldn't read? It didn't make sense. Was she losing her sight?

Alarmed, she set the volume down and picked up the one next to it. That one was clear enough: PET PEEVE, with a picture of a disgruntled bird. That was incomplete, because it hadn't happened yet; she was working on it. So she checked the prior volume: CUBE ROUTE, which was complete. That was the story of a girl with gumption, and the text was quite clear.

So it wasn't her eyes, which was a relief. It was the volume. What was wrong with it? And why couldn't she remember writing it? How could she be writing the following volume, and remember its details, while being fuzzy on this one?

Fuzzy: her memory of it was as fuzzy as its print. There was definitely something strange here.

She considered for a good three and a half moments. She seemed to have two or more unenviable choices: principally to let the riddle be, or go to Good Magician Humfrey for advice. Humfrey could surely unravel the enigma, but would take obscene pleasure in her predicament. She hated giving him that satisfaction. But she knew the mystery would bug her until it became a downright nuisance.

She sighed. She would stuff her pride into her nonexistent handbag and go to see the Good Magician.

Humfrey's castle was some distance away from the home of the Muses, so Clio got transportation. She walked down Mount Parnassus and out to a babbling brook and spoke to it. "May I have your attention for a moment?"

The brook ceased babbling and formed a swirling eye. It looked at her, recognized her, and formed a mouth. "So good to see you, Muse," it bubbled.

"I need to pay a call on the Good Magician. Do you suppose I could prevail on you to transport me there swiftly?"

"Gladly, Muse. I owe you favors from way back."

That was true, but she hadn't cared to put it that way. "Then I should be obliged if you would run me there now."

The water humped up into a shape like that of a centaur without a human forepart, standing in the riverbed. "Immediately," it agreed. "If I can make it past the fish."

"The fish?"

"Recently there have been so many fish they clog my channel. It has never been this bad before; normally the water dragons eat them."

"The dragons must be off their feed," she said. That was humor; dragons were never off their feed. Still, it was an oddity.

Clio stepped close to the bank, glanced around to be sure no one was watching, then lifted one leg and swung it over the centaur's back. Skirts were not the most convenient clothing for riding, but they were required for her gender and age. She caught hold of the liquid creature's flowing mane and drew herself fully onto it. "I am ready."

The legs of the water horse went into instant motion. It galloped down the riverbed, following its twisting channel. It had to, because it was unable to run anywhere else. But the running water was so swift that it would soon reach the Good Magician's castle regardless of the indirectness of the route.

She looked down through the horse's translucent substance. Sure enough, the channel was packed with fish so thick it was almost solid. She looked across the landscape around the river channel, and saw rabbits in similar number; in places they were like a gray blanket covering the ground. That was another oddity; were the land dragons similarly off their feed?

She looked in the sky, and saw clouds of crows harassing the other flying creatures. Where were the flying dragons? Normally crows were hardly in evidence, because dragons toasted them on sight. Only in Mundania did they really flourish, normally.

Soon they were in sight of the castle. There was a stream access to the moat that enabled the water horse to reach it. In hardly more time that it took to see it, they were there, splashing to a halt.

The moat monster was snoozing, hardly expecting any intrusion from this direction. It lifted its head and gaped menacingly. Then it recognized the visitors, nodded, and returned to its snooze.

"I thank you kindly," Clio said, dismounting. The water horse had stopped beside a steep bank so that her foot could readily reach it. "Your swiftness was a real pleasure."

The horse nodded, dripping with pleasure. Then it galloped back the way it had come. Running water could never pause long, or it lost its definition.

A sad young woman was walking away from the castle, staring at the ground. "What's the matter?" Clio asked. "I'm Clio; maybe I can help."

"I'm Cayla. I came to ask the Good Magician what my talent is, because I haven't found it yet." She twiddled nervously with a wooden twig she carried.

"That's something you usually just have to find out on your own," Clio said. "It's almost impossible to guess."

"Yes, I've tried guessing," Cayla said. "It doesn't work." She twiddled some more; the twig was taking a beating. In fact there were two twigs getting intertwined.

"So did the Good Magician have the Answer for you?"

Cayla burst into tears. "No! I never got to see him. In fact I flunked the first Challenge."

Clio was morbidly curious. "What was it?"

"It was a big square park set on its end. That is, one corner was toward me as I came to it. I thought the challenge was to get in, but when I got in nothing happened. There was a ball flying around in there, but I had no idea what to do with it. I finally gave up." She blew her nose into a handkerchief, then returned to twiddling the twigs.

A square park, set on its end. "A diamond!" Clio said. "A baseball diamond. You weren't supposed to get 'in,' you needed to get an 'out.' By catching the ball."

Cayla looked at her. "I don't understand."

Clio realized that this would be complicated to explain. "It's only a guess." Then she noticed something. The two twigs were not just intertwined, they were knitted together. "Do you knit?"

"Yes, when I have wool."

"Have you tried knitting other things?"

"Of course not. Why would I do that?"

"Look at those twigs."

"Oh, these are nothing. I'm just frustrated and nervous."

"They are knitted together."

Cayla looked. "Why so they are. But I don't have knitting needles."

"Try something else," Clio said. She looked around and found several bricks. She picked two up. "Try these."

"Bricks? That's crazy!" But the girl took them and put them together.

The bricks twisted and merged. They were getting knitted together. "That's your talent," Clio said. "You can knit wood and bricks. Maybe other things. Maybe anything. You'll have to experiment and find out."

"Oh!" Cayla said, thrilled. "So I don't need the good Magician after all!"

"You don't," Clio agreed, pleased. This was her first personal interaction with a human person in regular Xanth in some time, and she was glad it had been positive.

"Thank you so much! I was so sad; now I'm so happy." Cayla ran on along the path.

Clio walked toward the drawbridge. This was the obvious way to cross the moat, as she didn't wish to get her feet or skirt wet. But as she approached it, it lifted off the bank, being drawn up by its chains.

"Halt!" she cried. "I wish to use you."

The bridge halted.

She arrived at its resting spot. "Now if you will just drop back down to the bank, I shall be happy to set foot on your sturdy surface," she said.

The bridge started to drop, but a chain snarled and it got hung up. It was stuck a small but inconvenient distance above the ground.

Clio considered it, an unbecoming suspicion hovering at the fringe of her awareness. It wasn't like the Good Magician to have flawed mechanisms. Was it possible that this was not a malfunction? That she was being subjected to a Challenge for entry?

No, of course not; she couldn't believe that of her old friend Humfrey. So it must be a rare glitch in the mechanism.

"Hello the castle!" she called. "You appear to have a problem. The drawbridge is stuck."

There was a little shed associated with the near side of the drawbridge. Now the bridge tender emerged. "Harold the Handyman here. What can I do for you?"

"I am Clio, the Muse of History. I wish to confer with the Good Magician Humfrey, but am unable to cross the moat. Can you fix the connection?"

"Sure, I'll be glad to lend a hand," Handy said, extending his right hand.

She took it. "Excellent. The lines seem to be snarled, so---EEEEEK!" Her scream was a full five E's, and would have been six, had she not run out of breath.

For the man's left hand had just reached around and goosed her right through her skirt.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," Harold said, hastily retreating. "I forget to warn you. I have two hands."

"I appreciate that," she said somewhat coldly as she rubbed her indignant bottom.

"I mean, they're different. My right hand helps others, but my wrong hand roves. I can't stop them."

She saw his problem. "Perhaps the Good Magician can help you with that problem."

"Maybe, after I complete my year of service."

"I should think he would fix the problem first, to better enable you to perform your service effectively."

"Not exactly. This is my service."

"Tending the drawbridge," she agreed.

"No. Being a Challenge."

She gazed at him. "You are a Challenge?"

"That's right. Any querent has to navigate three Challenges before getting into the castle to query the Good Magician. He doesn't like to be bothered by folk who aren't serious."

"I know that. But I'm not a querent; I'm his friend!"

"You're coming to ask his advice."

The hovering suspicion abruptly landed. She was indeed being subjected to the Challenges. That was as outrageous to her mind as was the goose to her bottom. "Well, I never!"

"My right hand should be able to fix the drawbridge," Handy said. "But my wrong hand will interfere. So I have to deal with my hands before I can deal with the problem."

"And I am expected to fathom how to resolve your problem of hands," Clio said. "As the first of my Challenges."

"You catch on quickly," the man agreed.

She was tempted to think an unkind thought about Humfrey, who was definitely not acting in a friendly manner. The very idea that she should be subjected to this process! He deserved to receive a sour piece of her mind. But unkindness was not in her nature, so she realized in half a moment that this was probably a confusion on Humfrey's part, an error. He used water from the Fountain of Youth to prevent himself from aging beyond a hundred years, and perhaps needed to set the mark a bit younger, to prevent senility. She would suggest that to him, as he surely did not want to be confusing his friends with querents.

But first she had to get in to see him. Well, then, there was no help for it but to tackle the three Challenges, preposterous as the situation was.

She looked at Harold the Handyman. So he had a right hand and a wrong hand. Her challenge was to discover a way to nullify the wrong one, so that he could let the right one function. She doubted that any permanent solution was within her power, as she was a Historian, not a Magician, but perhaps there could be a temporary expedient. One that would enable him to function during the interim of his Service to the Good Magician.

"I am neither a Magician nor a Doctor," she said. "So I am unable to offer a cure for your condition. But I may have a way to negate enough of its effect to enable you to perform satisfactorily."

"That would be great," Handy said.

"I believe you should identify your hands. The right one can be called Dexter, and the wrong one can be called Sinister. Put labels on them to that all who encounter you will know them well enough to be able to avoid mischief."

"That sounds great," he said. "Forewarned is foreordained."

"Forearmed," she said.

"Whatever." He fetched some sticky labels and a pen. But when his right hand tried to write on them, his wrong hand jerked the paper out from under the pen.

"Let me see if I can do that," Clio said, smiling. She took pen and paper and neatly printed DEXTER and SINISTER. "Now hold out your hands."

Handy's right hand cooperated, and she fastened its label to the back of it. But the wrong hand jerked away, raising a middle finger. A cloudlet of smoke formed around it, suggesting that this was not a nice gesture. It didn't want to be labeled.

She tried to catch it, but it dodged aside, avoiding her. Then she had a naughty idea. She stood straight, half turning away. "Very well, if I can't label you, I will go elsewhere."

The wrong hand couldn't resist. It dived in for another goose. But as it touched her skirt, she slapped the label against it. Now the hand was marked despite itself.

"You got it!" Handy exclaimed.

"Well, I should hope to be able to outsmart a mere hand." She was privately pleased despite the embarrassing touch. She had, as it were, gotten to the bottom of the problem.

The hand was so ashamed of being tricked that it hid behind the man's back. That allowed the right hand to reach up and unsnarl the lines, and the drawbridge dropped to its proper landing. She had navigated the first Challenge.

At the far end of the bridge was a gate with an oddly folded turnstile. In fact it was shaped like the letter W. Clio paused to examine it. If this was a Challenge, its operation was obscure. It was mounted on a post that allowed it to rotate, so that it should be possible to step into one of the indents and circle through to the other side. What was supposed to be so difficult about that? She was not a suspicious woman, but she distrusted this.

Still, there seemed to be no other way to proceed. She stepped into it, put her hand on an end, and pushed. It turned, briefly enclosing her as she passed through the gate, then releasing her the other side. No problem at all.

She turned to glance back---and saw another woman right behind her. She looked rather familiar. In fact she looked exactly like Clio herself in the mirror. Where had she come from? She had not been on the bridge.

"Get out of my way, witch," the woman snapped.

Clio stepped out of her way, affronted. "Who, if I may be so bold as to ask, are you?"

"Who do you think I am, idiot? I'm your double, Oilc."

"My double! How can that be?"

"Didn't you just pass through the Double-You? What did you thin...

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