Telemain and Morwen were walking in the forest -- not quite transport via spell, and quite a joyful broom ride, but a compromise they had grown comfortable with together. They had about an hour's or so walk left on their hike through the Enchanted Forest in the fall morning towards the harvest fair, but as both of them had the time to spare, and Morwen wished to hunt for some mushrooms for drying, and perhaps dinner, both considered the time well spent. That she had a broom in one hand for her ride home, and he a spell in mind to get him back to their home was also a happy compromise that they had come to, together.
(The cats, perhaps disagreed, but as it was not the company of their spouse which the humans were enjoying, they were ignored or told to be quiet when they found it in themselves to protest for the first five minutes of the hike. But that was before they discovered the abundance of wood mice off the sides of the road. With this entertainment, they had to be content.)
Suddenly, Morwen held up a hand in the middle of their conversation, interrupting Telemain's explanation of the results of his latest energy field test. "Wait. I think I hear something."
Telemain tilted his head, turning to gaze at the tree that was looming next to the path. "Over there? Birdlike? Sounds rather young, for so late in the season."
Morwen frowned, swatting gently at Chaos who was peering with a certain expectant gaze off into the low bush underneath the tree with a particularly firm swat. "True. Perhaps it's just been separated from its parents. I'll take a look."
Chaos sighed, and turned to wash at his paws, the very definition of injured dignity. "I only wanted something to help chase the rat down. I don't see what's so bad about that."
What she found there was not exactly what she had expected, and she sighed. "Bother. Dear, I think you had better take a look at this with me."
For what she had found on the ground was a mass of silks, linens, and jewels, undoubtedly in the shape of a princess outfit, and on top of it, a neat silver circlet and a slightly gawky looking duckling who was staring at the circlet in a slightly put out fashion.
"Someone's been meddling in a messy way, " Telman murmured as he stepped off the path to look over Morwen's shoulder.
"Yes, and the least they could do is not leave their victims strewn across the landscape like this. It leaves the rest of us to deal with potentially catatonic princesses." Morwen frowned at the duck who had craned her neck shyly around to look at the group of them. "I don't suppose you could tell us what's going on instead of crying at us like a lost thing? No?"
The princess sniffed and made the wailing noise again and Morwen shook her head. "Ah. Well, it was worth hoping for. I suppose we should take you someplace where someone can look after you before you get eaten by something, or worse. And send a letter to your parents or whoever's responsible for you, so they know where you've gotten off to. Myra, go check to see if she's dropped anything helpful or informative, for me, thank you."
As the cat sniffed over the edges of the pile carefully, Telemain, peering over the cats shoulder picked up a envelope, seal pressed neatly to the paper and tilted it to the light to see the inscription. "Do you think she looks like a 'Lila' to you?"
At this, the duck turned around very fast, and made to peck at the ground next to Telemain's feet and quacked indignantly, and Telemain spared it a glance. "Ah. I suppose so."
Morwen nodded. "Well, that should make things easier. See what it says, will you?"
He nodded and cleared his throat before skimming down the page. "Would it surprise you to know that she appears to have run away from home? At the behest of someone who thinks themselves self important enough to sign with an initial and not a real name."
Morwen snorted, picking up the dress and shaking it out, starting to fold it. "Not terribly, it seems like the sort of thing that a princess would do. Especially one foolish enough to run away from home alone in her gown and without any real supplies into the Enchanted Forest. I wonder what her parents taught her to make her so incautious?" Morwen bent over as Myra returned, dragging something in her mouth. She plucked the offering out of her beak, a pear that had a sizeable chunk bitten out of it, and waggled it at Telemain.
"Ah! Well, that might make things simpler. I suppose it wouldn't be too much of a stretch for me to take it to my tower to get a better idea of what's going on. I don't suppose you'd mind following me back?" He pocketed it absently in one of the ever-expansive pockets of his robe.
Morwen shook her head. She'd tied the clothing of the errant Princess Lila into the basket she'd hoped to put some mushrooms in, placing the silver circlet carefully on top. "I wanted to take a look at my library to see if I could identify her, or ask around in the palace. As long as our lost little duck doesn't mind following a witch back to her house, where her cats will definitely not eat her, or make the attempt to scare her."
Myra sniffed. "I suppose it'd be too much to hope for, although I think we should all get two fish each for being so patient."
For her part, the Princess Lila stared at Morwen a little bit fearfully the minute the word "witch" was uttered, but after a moment she gathered her courage and waddled with a slow kind of dignity over to Morwen's side.
Morwen slung the basket over her shoulder. "We'll meet up around supper. Unless we won't, and I'll send a note." She bent over to kiss Telemain on the cheek and held her hands out to the princess, who gave them a slightly fearful look, then waddled into them.
Telemain spent the next several hours experimenting in his laboratory, and looked up finally to the noise of a rather persistent meowing. Ginger was sitting rather sulkily by the door of his workshop.
The cats had been forbidden to enter when serious spellwork was in progress, being less of a safety measure for the cats and more as a safety measure to make sure Telemain didn't make any particularly sensitive mistakes or to let the cats cause anything particularly explosive. The cats, for the most part, treated the workshop as a particularly boring place where nothing happened, but a few of them were still secretly curious, and Morwen was careful to only ask those who were respectful enough to not pry too hard. Ginger was fairly uninterested in such goings on, but still liked to be acknowledged promptly, and was thus the most frequent messenger to the laboratory.
"Is it already dinner time?" he asked. Ginger looked at him reproachfully, which he supposed could be seen as fair from her point of view, so he set about to clearing off his workbench and following her out the door and through the shortcut now placed in his tower, back to Morwen's house through her magic door.
Morwen was placing a platter of salad onto the dining room table, closest to the end that held Princess Mira, who was pacing back and forth across the table surface next to the letters she'd been found with. There were also a few homemade signs, marked very clearly with the words YES, NO, and TRY AGAIN, and a plate with what looked like some of the more choice bugs from the garden. Telemain put his notes down on the side with the chicken sandwiches, and made his way into the washroom to scrub any errant bits of goo and fruit off his hands. He gave Morwen a kiss as he passed her on the way back and settled down into his chair as Morwen came back in with a large platter of chicken salad for the cats, which she set on the floor.
"Now," Morwen said briskly as the princess opened her beak, "we'll sit here, and have a very nice supper. And then, we will talk about what what we have discovered. There's still quite a bit to be done, but I think we're not so much of a hurry that a nice meal wouldn't do us all a world of good." She picked up the sandwich platter and passed it to Telemain before turning to share out the salad to everyone at the table.
Telemain smiled to himself absently as the princess's beak stood open, then fell shut with a definite clack. She recovered quickly, rising to her feet and waddling over to the platter of bugs and carefully picked up one to nibble on.
After several companionable minutes of chewing, Telemain smiled at Morwen. The conversation between them flowed easily over the dinner, where nothing of any greater consequence than the moon's size or the letter they'd just received from Kazul was discussed. Every now and again a question of little consequence would be directed at the princess, and she would consider it for a moment before tapping a piece of paper to indicate roughly what she thought the answer might be.
For the most part, the duck kept to herself, chewing on the grubs and salad as if nothing bothered her at all. She did sometimes look to the sky outside the window and eye it, a bit wistfully, before returning to her nibbling, or before Morwen asked her another question.
In time, the table was cleared of dishes and food, and as Morwen brough glasses of cider to the table, Telemain gathered his notes together, and began. "All right. I think that what we're dealing with here is a great overlap of etheric energies, and intentions, that have mixed together to quite contradict each other, to make a polymorphic effect. Possibly permanent, but there may be some chance in untangling it if I study it longer."
The princess stared at Telemain for a second, and quacked irritably before stabbing at the TRY AGAIN sign with her foot..
Morwen snorted. "That doesn't sound like much of a discovery, the idea that it's just a tangle of spells."
"Ah!" Telemain put up a finger with some excitement. "But there are signs of intent without any spellwork behind it, which is somewhat unusual. And some traces of organic magic as well. I think that's mostly the pear, though. But it does beg the question: Princess, do you know any magic users?"
Just as he was finished saying this the door a frantic knocking was heard. Morwen held up a hand. "Actually, some of that's covered in the letters, but I think I'd better see who's at the door first."
A frantic stable boy--or so it could be assumed, from his rough clothes and the hay stuck to the hems of his clothes--burst through the door as soon as it was open, skidding to a halt under the weight of the gazes of everyone in the room. Considering the judgmental staring by the cats, which came complete with tail twitching and pointed ear thrusts, it was many gazes indeed.
"That would probably be the boy who wrote the letters. A mysterious P, I think it was." Morwen pointed at a extra chair at the table, and pushing the pitcher of cider and a cup in its direction. "Come in and stop hovering all over my doorstep, boy. And don't interrupt."
The boy crossed to the table, but hesitated, hands on the back of the chair. "I'm very sorry to interrupt, er, madam witch. But the princess, Lila-- is she safe? Where is she?"
Morwen raised an eyebrow and pointed at the duck who eyed him and turned around in a huff, looking baleful.
P's face dropped into a comical look of dismay. "Oh... oh dear." He slumped into the chair as his mouth fell open as he gaped.
Morwen turned to Telemain as the princess and the stable boy stared at each other. "There was something about falling in love with her after escorting her around for riding lessons, and how she should free herself from an unwanted marriage to live together in happiness in some undefined and impossibly idyllic existence. But more interestingly, the letter had a old good-luck charm he's inherited from a possibly magical source."
Telemain nodded. "If we can identify the charm, perhaps that'll be enough to undo it. A place to start, at least." He cleared his throat gently, and looked across the table. "I don't suppose you you can explain what you know now?"
The stableboy started and coughed. "Ah! Uhm, yes. If you don't mind, madam witch, I suppose some introductions are in order. My name is Petra, but I go by Peter sometimes, and I'm...well, working in the stables of the Kingdom of Gelmine as a boy." She swallowed, but plunged bravely onwards after receiving no interruption, from duck, cat or human. "I haven't any family left after the cart crash that killed my parents, you see, and no money after they sold the farm to pay their bills. But when I went looking for something to do, someone told me they needed grooms at the palace, not maids. So I cut off my hair and took my father's breeches and went straight to the stablemaster and got a job for myself."
"I see. And how long have you been working with the princess?" said Morwen.
Petra swallowed. "About two years, now, madam witch. She, ah, usually asked for me, said I was more thoughtful than most of the boys."
"Call me Morwen. And this is my husband, Telemain. And how long did she know that you were a girl?"
At this, Petra flushed scarlet, and turned her face to the table. "About two months. It was an accident, I swear, but she caught me after I'd been mucking out the stables and I was changing my tunic." The princess made a soft quacking noise, turning up her beak, as if to say she'd had her doubts for longer.
Telemain glanced at the duck, and back at the stable-hand. "I see. And I also recall seeing something about an arranged betrothal for the princess? Wouldn't running away--especially to the Enchanted Forrest-- put her family into default on her betrothal contract and the both of you in danger?"
Petra shook her head vehemently as Lila quacked loudly. "He was only her second cousin, in line to inherit a duchy, and she the third daughter. He was in love with her sister, anyway! Everyone knew it, including me and her. So I gave her my gran's ring, and we made our plans. And, well, the forest was an accident. We were going to go back to the farm, and the way I told her to go only overlapped a little bit, I thought. But some wizard bought the place up, for it's closeness to the forest."
Telemain straightened up. "Aha! And the pear tree?"
Petra shook her head. "That's got to be some dark wizard thing, I swear it was just a tiny little thing when I left home. I used to tell her about it when we were riding, though. Is... is Lila going to be all right?"
Morwen pursed her lips and shook her head, but Telemain was beaming at the couple. "I think I have the perfect solution, if you are amiable. Please, if you will give me a bit of time to speak to my wife, I'm sure we can offer you both a solution."
Both the stable-hand and the princess nodded hazily, and Morwen and Telemain repaired to the library for some time. By the time they had returned, Petra had fallen asleep, head pillowed against her arms and Lila was leaning her head against hers.
Morwen gave Petra a gentle shake on her shoulder, and offered her a cup of water as she shook herself awake. "I think we have a solution, if you two are serious about this running away together business."
Petra looked down at the duck, as the duck looked up, and they both turned to nod emphatically, Lila quacking for emphasis. "I know it's not going to be easy, but I'd rather give it a shot then just give up. I'm sure Lila feels the same way."
Telemain nodded. "And what's your opinion on ducks? Favorable?"
Petra shook her head, a bit doubtfully. "Well enough, I suppose, sir. But why would that matter?"
Later, as they watched Petra and Lila take off into the sky together, Telemain put his arm around Morwen's waist, and she leaned against his shoulder as the cats ignored them. "Nice girls," he said, absently.
"The princess is a bit of a silly girl, and Petra an idealist," Morwen said. "But I suppose they'll do well enough if they keep it together."
"There's nothing wrong with a wish for happiness, my dear," Telemain said gently, and kissed her on the cheek.