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Orc's Opal

A GIRL, A BOY--AND THE DRAGON

The prophecy of Mouvar is running its course in the many frames of reality inhabited by Kelvin Knight Hackleberry and his family.

The great Confederation of kingdoms under the rule of the twins Kildom and Kildee is a triumph for good. But Kelvin's enemies are not all dead. The evil witch Zady seeks vengeance for the deaths of Zoanna and Rufurt in another frame, and she has vowed Kelvin will pay with the lives of his children, Merlain and Charles.

Zady's wicked plan is to lure the precocious, telepathic six-year-olds on a quest of their own that will draw the Confederation into a war it cannot win, and bring death and ruin on all Kelvin holds dear.

Merlain and Charles are not twins, however, but two of the set of triplets--the third is Horus, a dragon, and their only hope.

Book 4 of the The Roundear Prophecy series

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Piers Anthony

Twenty-one times New York Times Bestselling Author

Piers Anthony is one of the world's most prolific and popular authors. His fantasy Xanth novels have been read and loved by millions of readers around the world, and have been on the New York Times Best Seller list twenty-one times.

Although Piers is mostly known for fantasy and science fiction, he has written several novels in other genres as well, including historical fiction, martial arts, and horror. Piers lives with his wife in a secluded woods hidden deep in Central Florida.

Robert Margroff

Robert Margroff and Piers Anthony have been collaborators since the late 1960s when they first wrote The Ring, a science fiction novel in 1968. In 1970, they wrote E.S.P. Worm, another sci-fi novel. In the 1980's they wrote their longest collaboration, the Kelvin series: Dragon's Gold, Serpent's Silver, Chimaera's Copper, Orc's Opal and Mouver's Magic.

Reviews

This pleasant fantasy adventure possesses the added irony and realism that one expects from Anthony.

Publishers Weekly
Excerpt

Prologue

Night

The ugly old witch with beautiful warts on her face had an air about her. A bad air. It wasn’t merely physical; it extended well into the supernatural realm and was almost artistic in its awfulness. Leaning there in the study on her artfully crooked stick, she could have stepped right from an ancient woodcut which had soaked in the foulest of sewers for a few centuries.

Professor Devale rubbed his polished horns, wondering who she was and why she had come. She was obviously competent in sorcery, or she would not have found him here.

“You do remember me, Professor?” Her voice grated like bone against gravestone. Her breath as she spoke staggered him. Her rheumy eyes cleared for a moment and glowed with the intensity of coals from a funeral pyre.

He thought rapidly, searching his memory, annoyed that his precognitive ability was weaker than it should be. Let’s see—several centuries ago a witch such as this had brought a really beautiful girl to him. A girl named Zoanna, and it hadn’t been entirely her fault that she hadn’t wanted to study, then. With beauty like that, she had been able to have her way without magic. Later Zoanna had learned the limits of beauty and had come to him for help, as they all came sooner or later. What a joy she had been, when she wanted his favor! He had known exactly what she was up to, and that she cared not a pennycent curse about him personally, and she had known he knew. That was the way he liked it: proper understanding. There could be much pleasure in a business romance. But Zoanna was gone now, destroyed in the frame of dragons by another type of witch and that witch’s amateur helpers. Helpers such as Kelvin Knight Hackleberry, the claimed Roundear of Prophecy, and his mother and sister. The frames were in a sorry state when louts like these could interfere with the projects of legitimate practitioners of magic. Vengeance was in order for somebody. Yes, yes, and so this had to be Zoanna’s old aunt, who was as vengeful a creature as he could remember.

“Why of course I remember you, Zady,” he said in his familiar manner. It wouldn’t do to have anyone think he was other than completely sharp, and verging on omniscience. Especially a stinking crone like this! If she was so powerful, why didn’t she make herself beautiful?

“Oh, very well!” the aged mouth snapped. An apparently feeble hand lifted, and fingers that resembled a bird’s claws made a gesture.

Pink smoke puffed up from the carpet, spread out, thickened, and enveloped her, obscuring her form. In a moment a smooth white hand emerged from it and made a pass. The smoke dissipated.

There stood a voluptuous young-bodied redhead. It was the witch, of course; but her talons had been replaced by firm slender fingers, and her sour puss by a radiantly lovely face, and her scarecrow body by one that would shame an ardent hourglass. Her awful stench was now the sweet breath of roses. She smiled, showing even white teeth instead of gappy nobs on decaying gums. Only the knowingness of her eyes gave her away, and that was already fading to the perfect semblance of innocence.

Professor Devale drew an appreciative breath. This was better, much better! There was nothing wrong with the old hag’s shape-changing or telepathic abilities. As a matter of fact, just looking at that luscious form...

But he was not so readily trapped by his appetites. “You want something, Zady. Out with it first.”

The beautiful creature made a gesture the reverse of the prior one. Dark smoke puffed and dissipated, and her body metamorphosed back into the ugly witch. Professor Devale watched with regret. He knew exactly what she was, but her lovely form did not make his eyes smart.

“If you want business, it will be all business,” the hag grated, making a grimace which was supposed to pass for a smile.

Confound it! She had really tempted him with her lush format. He was too smart to allow that to make him act foolishly, but he had really hoped they could work something out in the course of sensible negotiations.

Devale hated to be put at a disadvantage, but his mind did tend to be swayed by his desire. The crone was besting him at the game of manipulation. But it was a nice challenge, and perhaps he could recover some ground.

“I think I know what you’ve come about. Your niece’s destruction at the hands of near amateurs. But surely you don’t need my help for that. Just go to the dragon frame, work a few nasty spells, and—”

“Professor Devale, please have the courtesy to listen to me. First, it is not merely my niece who concerns me, great loss though she certainly is. Before that, my dear brother, the wizard Zatanas, was devastated by this brash, uneducated roundear. I must destroy that oaf above all, and do it in my own peculiar fashion.” He had a notion of what her fashion would be: first she would use her luscious form to seduce the man away from his wife; then she would break his heart and spirit and finally his body. “But I must also deal with every righteous being who assisted in my kin’s destruction. This is my unholy mission.”

“Including the chimaera, I suppose?” Just how impractical was this old crone? She had some fine talents, but her overall perspective was deficient. The best magic was insufficient if used unwisely. Many an excellent witch and wizard had suffered because of a deficiency of larger vision.

“Not including the chimaera, dear Professor. As you know, that three-faced monster has the protection of certain others that even you dare not challenge. However, there is something of the chimaera’s in the dragon frame.”

“You refer to the twin children and the young dragon.”

“Of course. They are of the roundears, but also of the chimaera, thanks to the complication of their undeserved luck. If they are allowed to live and grow to adulthood, they will present a real danger.”

“Yes, I am aware of that.” His precog had failed, frustratingly, when he attempted to see what would happen in those future years, as it tended to do when the purported Roundear of Prophecy was involved. He hated operating blind. Danger there was in these unnatural beings, but he could not foresee to what extent, or how it would manifest.

“That is why I may need your help in destroying them,” Zady said, answering his thoughts as readily as his words.

“I see. That certainly makes sense. But why wait six years? Why didn’t you come to me sooner?”

“Because, dear Professor, now is the proper time. With your help, I can arrange to use the youngsters against their elders before their final destruction. A cause of mine can be greatly benefited, and there is an incidental but hardly inconsequential prize.”

She was beginning to interest him even in her present form. “Prize?”

“A certain stone. An opal endowed with certain magical properties.”

“Zady, I know of that opal. The risk, even to me, would be considerable.”

“Ah, but the exquisite irony if my plan succeeds!” she cackled. “My enemies’ own children serving my purpose while bringing destruction to those they love!”

“True.” He focused on the three dark hairs growing from her jutting chin, repelled and fascinated. This crone had an intriguing mind. “All will suffer greatly in the process.”

“Obviously. All the ‘nice’ folk. All the goody-goodies. When my family plots revenge, we plot complete revenge.”

“The children too? They will certainly suffer when they discover what they have done, but what of them thereafter? Will they expire horribly?”

“Of course. Always the worse for the innocent.”

He nodded. “A denobling philosophy, worthy of your ilk. But I would like to have them here at the university.”

She was surprised. “To train them in evil magic? Do you dare, Professor?”

He shrugged with regret. “Probably not. The chimaera may not have forgotten them completely, and we can’t rule out a possible reappearance by Mouvar.”

“Mouvar will not be back to the dragon frame. Not after his defeat at the hands of my late brother, Zatanas.”

“That was long ago, Zady, and your brother succeeded only with my help.”

“I too may need your help.”

“As,” he said, making a motion so indecent that it would have appalled an ordinary woman and caused an innocent one to faint, “do I, in a more immediate manner.”

The hag vanished in pink smoke. From the haze came her voice, at first scratchy but turning dulcet as the sentence progressed. “You do have a way with the inviting gesture, Professor!”

The smoke dissipated and the arousing redhead stood before him. Her breasts were heaving and her eyes were half-lidded. Some of the smoke clung to her body, forming a kind of cloak that blurred the rest. “Do that again, you rogue,” she breathed.

Instead he reached for the gossamer covering. It became illusion as his fingers sought its texture, and he found himself touching her flesh instead. An electric thrill went through him: she had given herself a tactile aura. But he retained a sliver of caution. “Zady, promise me one thing.”

“What’s that, naughty Professor?” An aspect of her rondure slid into his hand, possessing a will of its own.

“Promise me you won’t change your appearance in the middle of it.”

She laughed in a way that suggested she had had exactly this in mind. “Why Professor! Doesn’t my most basic form appeal to you?”

“Please. Indulge my little foible. At least while we’re—”

He made a gesture with his smallest finger, the only part of him that was not engaged at the moment. Behind him his desk spread out to become a low and comfortable bed. Just in time; they were already descending. They fell on it together, locked, and bounced.

She twined around him, squeezing him here and there with this and that. Any reservations he might have had about helping her vanished along with the roaring flames of his not easily satisfied lust. “Zoanna!” he cried out climactically, unable to help himself.

“Hush, Professor,” the voice of the old hag said from the mouth of the gorgeous creature embracing him. “After this is all over I’ll be Zoanna any time you wish. Just remember that only I can be her, and that you are binding yourself to give all the help that is necessary.”

“I’ll give, I’ll give!” he promised. He was uncertain whether the greatest part of his desire was for her body or for the satisfaction of aiding a suitably cruel and imaginative plan. Lust and cruelty: where did one leave off and the other begin? Or were they merely facets of the same devious pleasure?

Morning

Kelvin Knight Hackleberry lay in bed looking at Heln, his black-haired, still-beautiful wife. The flimsy nightdress showed off her form to best advantage where she stood in the ray of golden sunlight. It was hard to believe that she was the mother of ensorcelled triplets and had barely escaped with her health at the time of their horrendous birthing. She looked virginal at this moment. Well, not exactly that, but certainly young and desirable. If only she had been content to remain in bed awhile longer...

Outside their window the birds were singing, but he doubted that this was what had roused her. Instead of, sigh, arousing her. The only thing that caused her to react so alertly, so early, was the children.

“I’m certain they can’t have gone far this time,” he said reassuringly. He loved his children, but every so often he wished that they could go for a long visit with relatives so that Heln could give him her full attention. “I heard them when they left.”

“You heard them!” Heln turned an angry face on him. “Then why didn’t you do something?”

Of course he could not give his real reason. “Because, sweet love, the twins are very, very capable, for their years. It’s natural that they want to explore. I did, at their age—or at least my sister Jon did—when we were young. Besides—”

“But they’re only six years old! That’s not old enough to realize the danger!”

“Believe me, they’ll know if there is danger,” he said with what he knew was a futile effort to reassure her. “I suspect they just went out to meet their brother.”

“Don’t call it that!”

“Well, he is. Or if you prefer, it is. You have to accept that, Heln, even if we don’t always like it.” Actually Kelvin had adjusted to the notion fairly soon after the initial shock. It had certainly been better than the threatened alternative.

“Never! I will never accept that I gave birth to a dragon!”

He sighed. It was an old argument that never seemed to end. He hated having any source of dissension between them, but there was no getting around this one. Heln’s attitude was understandable, but wrong, for she had indeed given birth to a dragon. As well as the twins.

Through magical evil their children had been distorted in her womb. Through good magic in the nick of time she and the children had been spared, and the monster within her had been fragmented into three. Kelvin felt, and knew that Heln did too, that the children were really theirs and not their benefactor’s. Yet their son and daughter did bear a strong resemblance to the chimaera’s woman-face.

“They are telepathic, you know,” he continued, trying to satisfy her that the children really were safe. That ability bothered him during intimate moments with Heln, but at other times he saw it as a considerable advantage. “They do communicate in their heads. And Dragon Horace, whether or not he’s their brother, is better protection than an armed guard. It would take an evil witch or wizard to slip up on them, and with Helbah as a friend I don’t think that will happen.”

“You just want them out of the house!” she charged with some justice.

“Well, sometimes that’s nice. Their range is limited, and I admit I don’t like to think of them peeking in at us when we’re—”

“Kelvin!”

“Well, it’s so,” he said, nettled. He had never quite dared bring up this aspect before. He had sort of assumed that she had thought it out for herself, as far as she wanted to.

“You mean—when we...?” He could hear the three dots of her ellipsis, each dot loaded with appalling significance. Evidently she hadn’t thought it through this far before.

“Why not? Children are curious creatures, and it isn’t as if there’s anything wrong with it. They probably are bored by it, because they’re too young to have the, er—”

“I know what you’re trying to say! Don’t say it! Of course they’re too young to have such urges! That’s why they shouldn’t peek!”

“But we can hardly stop them. However, now that they are out of peeking range, why don’t we—”

“Kelvin, you are so exasperating at times! How could you think of a thing like that at a time like this? We have no idea where they are or whether they’re safe!”

“Heln, I’m sure they’re safe! They can read the mind of anyone or anything that might threaten them. They’ll be with Horace, and he is extremely protective of them. We need to let them get some experience on their own. Meanwhile, if we want some real privacy, now is the time.” He knew it wouldn’t work, but what was there to lose at this stage?

She stared at him. Then she laughed, surprising him. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe they do peek, and certainly they need to have some freedom, lest we stifle them. So we can do what is good for us and for them simultaneously.” She turned toward the bed.

He saw it at the same time she did. The small white square that materialized out of sunlight about the table and floated down. Magic—it had to be magic, but of what kind?

Heln picked up the paper. “Why it’s an invitation!” she exclaimed, pleased. “Look!” She brought it to him.

He looked. In shimmery golden letters the message read:

Kelvin Knight Hackleberry, the Roundear of Prophecy:

Greetings from the Order of Benign Wizards and Witches. You and your spouse and your two human offspring are cordially invited to attend this century’s Benign Wizards and Witches Convention as guests along with our Guest of Honor, Witch Helbah. Only under very special circumstances are nonmembers of our Order invited to our conventions. Time and place and traveling plans will be relayed to you through our guest of honor.

The Committee

 

Kelvin swallowed. He had hoped that he and Heln were finished with the witching business. Yet Helbah had saved all their lives as much as he and his mother and sister had saved hers. All of them, working together, had defeated Zoanna and Rowforth, the wicked king from another frame. Through cooperation and magic and a bit of assistance from a chimaera they had saved the existing kingdoms in the federation. His mother and sister had in fact been recruited as apprentices. Much as he would have preferred to say no to this invitation, he knew that there was no way. Not only would it be a chore to attend, and not only would it interfere with the fishing trip he had planned to take with Lester Crumb, it had ruined his one chance to make love to Heln completely free of the children. If only the message could have arrived half an hour later!

Heln got a strange expression on her face. She seemed about to burst. Then she clapped her hands and shrieked with joy. She threw her arms around him, bearing him back down on the bed, almost smothering him.

“Oh, Kelvin, isn’t it grand! They’re honoring our Helbah at last! And we get to go with her and see her be honored! Oh my love, I’m so happy!”

Well, it was nice to have her happy, even if he wasn’t. He held her, savoring the moment of closeness before she remembered all the womanish things she would have to do to get ready.

“Now I’m really in the mood!” she said, kissing him as she pressed close. “What are you waiting for, lover?”

Suddenly Kelvin was happy too.

****