Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” series: Knot Gneiss


Knot Gneiss (2010)
At the end of “Jumper Cable”, Wenda Woodwife had married Prince Charming. She had originally been a woodwife – a female creature of the forest – who looked like a woman from the front, but whose body was made of wood and was hollow. But following her marriage, she had become a real woman, in the form of a forest nymph, due to her fulfilled love. Her accent reflects her forest origin; she pronounces words as their forest-related homonyms: “you” as “yew”, “would” as “wood”, “not” as “knot”, “do” as “dew”, etc. (See my comment under “Jumper Cable”.)

They live in a castle in Fairyland – which is not actually in Xanth, but is easily accessible from Xanth as long as you know the way.

She has lived with the prince for a year now, and everything is fine, except for her mood swings.  The prince is now away on a business trip, but Wenda suspects that his absence is because of her mood swings.  They have become such a problem that she goes to Good Magician Humfrey about it.

When she arrives at the Good Magician’s Castle, she meets Wira, the Good Magician’s daughter-in-law.  Wira tells her that her mood swings are caused by the swing at Wenda’s Castle: it is a Mood Swing.  The Good Magician has told Wira to tell Wenda this, because her Service would involve a challenging and dangerous mission, and it is not fair to inflict it on her for such a simple answer.  So Wenda has her Answer, and she is permitted to decline the mission.

But Wenda insists on seeing the Good Magician and hearing about the mission.  So Wira takes her in to meet him.

The Good Magician tells her the mission is to fetch a knot of petrified reverse wood from the Gap Chasm.  It was buried for centuries, but was recently exposed when a crack in the chasm opened up.  It makes everyone nearby terrified, so that no one can approach it, except Wenda, because of her association with all things to do with wood. The knot is a big boulder, so it will need to be transported on a wagon.

However, it must not fall into the wrong hands.  Goblins could rope it from a distance, or drop stones on it to chip flakes away, which they could carry on long poles to threaten people.

So the mission must be kept secret.  And Wenda must be anonymous; her forest accent must be eliminated.  Wenda agrees to the mission. The Good Magician gives her a potion to eliminate her accent, which she drinks.

Wenda rides her bicycle to the Gap Chasm.  (Bicycles appeared in the Xanth series in “Jumper Cable”.)  But then it strikes her what an impossible mission this is; she must return to the Good Magician and say she can’t do it.

She heads back, and then notices Fracto, the worst of storm clouds, in the sky.  She tries to make it to a shelter, but a storm arises. She is drenched, and she skids and crashes into the shelter.  She is rescued by Meryl, a winged mermaid.  Meryl can fly, but she can’t walk, because, unlike some mermaids, she can’t change her tail into legs.

Within the shelter, Wenda introduces herself and tells Meryl about her mission.  Meryl says she is on a quest herself, but doesn’t know what she is looking for.  Possibly a winged merman.

Wenda realises, as she refers to the “knot of wood” that she is pronouncing it as “not of would”.  The potion has had a strange side-effect – she cannot pronounce forest-related words correctly when there is a non forest-related homonym.  This is the reverse of her previous situation.

Meryl says she would be willing to come with Wenda on the mission if Wenda decides to go on it after all.  She gives Wenda a token to summon her if necessary.

Wenda returns to the Good Magician’s Castle, and discusses the situation with Wira and Rose, the Good Magician’s current Designated Wife.  They point out to her that she doesn’t have to do the mission alone; she should have companions.  The Good Magician has suggested Princess Ida.  Wenda decides on Jumper Spider as a companion; they had become good friends on their mission in “Jumper Cable”.

She rides her bicycle to a campsite.  Then using a magical technique, she is transported to the underground ice palace where Jumper has been living since he married Demoness Eris (at the end of “Jumper Cable”).  (This is the same location where Eris was previously imprisoned, in “Jumper Cable”. It is now her private estate.)

Wenda tells Jumper her story, and Eris agrees to let him go on the mission with Wenda.  Eris would come and visit Jumper each night, and would bring Prince Charming to visit Wenda.  And Eris gives Jumper the ability to change form and size, invulnerability to injury, and telepathy.

Eris transports Wenda back to the campsite.  Jumper tells her telepathically that he is in the form of a tiny spider in her hair.

Wenda decides on Meryl Mermaid as another companion.  She summons her by biting the token, and soon Meryl arrives.  Jumper transforms to normal-sized manform to be introduced to Meryl.  (During this mission he would transform to various forms as required.)

Wenda decides to follow the Good Magician’s advice and include Princess Ida in the mission.  So they set off for Castle Roogna: Wenda riding her bicycle, Jumper as a small spider in her hair, and Meryl flying.  But it is a long way, and they stop at another campsite as night falls.

A small bird arrives; he introduces himself as Dipper Swimming Bird; the Good Magician had sent him to join their mission, as he was hoping to get meaning in his life.

The next morning they continue on their way and arrive at Castle Roogna.  Jumper transforms into a unicorn, so Meryl can ride the last part of the way.  They meet the three 14-year-old princesses, Melody, Harmony and Rhythm, who take them into the castle to meet Princess Ida. Princess Ida is an older woman of 41.  She has her bag packed ready to go.

But first they go to meet Ida’s twin sister, King Ivy.  Ivy had ascended to the throne when her father Dor retired.  (For constitutional reasons the human monarch of Xanth is always referred to as King, whether male or female.)  Ida tells Ivy that she is going on a quest and they say their goodbyes.  Then Ida fetches a magic carpet to travel on, and off they set.  The Good Magician has given Wenda a magic compass to show her the way.

Ida explains that because of the secrecy of the mission, she has a masquerade spell.  Everyone other than members of the mission will see her as an old crone, and they will hear her name as Haggai, or Hag.

Ida’s talent is that if a person suggests something, Ida can agree and it becomes true.  However it only works if the other person doesn’t know Ida’s talent.  Ida suggests to Wenda that since Dipper doesn’t know her talent, they should keep it secret from him, so she can make his suggestions come true.

Ida has a device that can get them out of trouble.  It is a humidor: a box containing a vial of water and a glass tube containing a sponge.  When someone wets the sponge it creates a mist, and a Door appears in the mist that leads to another location.

Then they are attacked by harpies, who dive-bomb them with eggs.  Ida activates the humidor, and a Door appears. They all go through.  They have arrived on a world called Comic, one of Ida’s moons.

Ida has a tiny moon, Ptero, orbiting her head. It is possible for people from Xanth to travel to this world and when they are there, the moon appears to be a full-size world. Ptero also contains a Princess Ida, who has another moon orbiting her head, and so on.  Up to now it has been necessary for a person’s soul to be released from their body, and they travel to Ida’s moons in spirit form.  But the understanding of Ida’s moons changed at the end of “Air Apparent”, and it is possible to travel to them in other ways.  In fact, as indicated in the current story, it is possible for Ida herself to travel to one of the moons in the series, which wasn’t thought possible previously.

To get back to Xanth they have to enter one of the comic strips and find a Sidewalk; they must then sidle to the right to find a Door, which leads back to Xanth.  (A comic strip is a strip of land with various obnoxious puns; entering it can be a rather nasty experience.  Previously they were known to occur on the planet Ptero to mark boundaries between regions, but could be found other places as well.  Now we learn they are common in this world too.)

And so after finding and entering the comic strip, and enduring its nasty puns, they find the Sidewalk and the Door and enter.

They find themselves back in Xanth, at the Otterbee Swamp, where Ida had been brought up – refer “The Color of Her Panties”.  She calls the otterbees and introduces herself (she has to turn off her masquerade spell momentarily) and explains that she is on a quest.  The otterbees have another visitor, Prince Hilarion, a young man of 22, who is on a quest of his own.

Prince Hilarion is from an island kingdom called Adamant.  He had been betrothed to a 1-year-old princess when he was 2 years old.  She was supposed to come and marry him when she turned 21, but she hadn’t turned up.  So now he is searching for her.  But he had had a brush with a forget whorl and had forgotten her name.  But he would know her if he kissed her.  So he has been going around kissing likely young women.

Now he kisses Meryl and Wenda, but concludes that neither of them is his betrothee.

But then an otterbee tells them that trolls are attacking the nearby Faun & Nymph retreat.  The group goes off to rescue them.  They decide to send the trolls through the humidor.  Wenda strips naked and behaves as a nymph, luring the trolls away.  But one of the trolls catches her and is likely to do unmentionable things to her.  But Hilarion catches up with the troll and the troll lets go of Wenda.  They succeed in sending the trolls through the Door and close it on them.

But it seems that Hilarion had used some kind of magic talent on the troll to make him stop what he was doing.  After a bit of experimentation they discover that Hilarion can make a person forget a particular thought or memory.  This could come in handy in conjunction with Ida’s talent; if a person forgets Ida’s talent, she would be able to make their suggestions come true.

They invite Hilarion to join their quest, and he agrees.  Maybe he would find his betrothee while on this adventure.

It is a long way to the Gap Chasm, so they decide to take the trollway.  (The trolls who run the trollway are more civilised than the trolls who attacked the Faun & Nymph Reserve.)  They get on a bus that will take them as far as Lake Ogre-Chobee.

One of the other passengers is an angel.  Wenda goes to talk to her.  The angel’s name is Angela; she is from Heaven, on one of the worlds of Ida.  She had fallen in love with a demon called Beauregard.  (Angela’s world, which contains both Heaven and Hell, was visited by the travellers of the story “Air Apparent”.  Angela and Beauregard appeared in that story.)  So now she is no longer welcome in Heaven; she is looking for a place where she and Beauregard can be together.

But here in Xanth she is intangible; her face, hands and clothing are illusion, and her body, legs and feet (usually concealed by her clothing) are not visible at all.  She was given a month to achieve a legitimate presence in Xanth; otherwise she must return to Heaven and have her memory of Beauregard purged, or she will fade away to oblivion.  And only a week remains of that month.

Hilarion kisses her, but she is not his betrothee.

Dipper proposes that he swap places with Angela.  He will go to Heaven and she can remain in Xanth.  Angela gives him her return ticket and Dipper disappears.  So Angela is now a member of their quest. (However, her body is still intangible.)

They arrive at Lake Ogre-Chobee and get off the bus.  The next section of their journey will be by boat, which will not depart until the next morning.  There are cabins where they can stay overnight.

The next day they get on board the boat: it is a robot boat or “rowbot”.  They travel from Lake Ogre-Chobee along the Kiss-Mee River to the river’s end.  They travel by foot for the rest of the way to the Gap Chasm.

Ida knows a magical path that enables them to walk down the cliff, at right angles to the cliff surface.  They follow her down to the bottom of the chasm.  Stanley Steamer, the Gap Dragon, arrives; he is a friend to Ida; Ida introduces him to the others, so he will not harm them.

Wenda has an awareness of where the Knot is, so they follow her as she heads to the west, to where there is an offshoot of the chasm to the north.  But night falls before they get to the Knot, so they set up camp.  This time when Eris comes with Prince Charming for their nightly visit, she brings Demon Beauregard as well, to visit Angela.

In the morning they follow the offshoot.  As they approach the Knot, all members of the party, except Wenda, experience fear, caused by the Knot.  The Knot is made of petrified reverse wood: its characteristics are different from normal reverse wood; it is more like rock, such as gneiss.  But to counteract its effects on them, it will be necessary to surround it with normal reverse wood.

Meryl and Angela fly off to ask Stanley Steamer where they can find some reverse wood.

Wenda walks up to the Knot. It radiates a malevolent personality.  There is a wagon nearby which the Good Magician had somehow managed to get here.

Wenda borrows Ida’s magic carpet and rolls the Knot onto it.  But when she tells the carpet to lift, the Knot burns the carpet, so the carpet is ruined.

Meryl and Angela return from Stanley, and say that the dragon has collected all the reverse wood into a cache, because it has a bad effect on him.  He gets creatures who enter the chasm to collect the reverse wood in exchange for sparing their lives.

So Wenda hauls the wagon away from the Knot to the other group members, and Hilarion and Jumper haul it the rest of the way to the cache of reverse wood, following Meryl and Angela.  They enter the grotto and load the reverse wood into the wagon.  But as they touch the wood, it reverses their gender, although they revert when they stop touching it.  The exception is Wenda, who is immune, except that she reverts to her forest accent, because the reverse wood is reversing the spell which suppressed her accent.

The next day they make a shell of reverse wood to surround the Knot.  Wenda shapes the wood into strands, and the others weave the strands into a wickerwork mat.  Then Wenda wraps the mat around the Knot.  The reverse wood changes its malevolent radiation to friendliness.  Then Jumper and Hilarion load it onto the wagon.

But now how will they get it out of the Chasm?  They decide the best solution is to take it through the humidor.  And so they pass through the Door to Comic.

Wenda suggests something based on a previous idea that Jumper had mentioned: if Meryl is willing, Hilarion can make Meryl forget about Ida’s talent, so that in future, if Meryl makes a suggestion, Ida can make it come true.  They discuss this and do it.

But the effect of the reverse wood is wearing out. They locate some more and make a new wickerwork mat.  This new reverse wood reverses their natures instead of their genders (angel to demoness, spider to fly, prince to pauper, adult to child).  Wenda wraps it around the Knot.

They enter the comic strip, hauling the wagon with them.  Eventually they find the Sidewalk, sidle along it and go through the Door.  But the place they arrive at is not Xanth!  The reverse wood had caused them to sidle left instead of right, so they had gone through the wrong Door!

They see some angels perched on clouds, and wonder if this is Heaven.  But Angela does not recognise it.  She goes to talk to them.  But the angels behave in a demonic fashion.  Jumper reads the mind of one of them, and discovers that this is Reverse World.  The world is a giant reverse wood tree.  They are currently on the tree’s trunk.  Appearances are reversed: demons appear as angels and vice versa.

But where would the Door be, to take them back to Xanth, or maybe Comic?  Since one would normally expect a door to be in the trunk of a tree, maybe on this world it is in the foliage.  Jumper can transform into a big roc bird and transport them there.

But first they set up camp and gather food.  Because appearances are reversed, they gather ugly-looking food, which turns out to taste right.

They discover that when they touch the ground with a bare foot or hand, or sit on the ground, their own appearances are reversed, although their natures are not changed:  Ida becomes an ogress, Angela becomes a demoness, Hilarion becomes a demon, Meryl becomes a kraken weed, and Wenda becomes a female troll.  Jumper as a human becomes an ogre, as a spider he becomes a fly and as a roc he becomes a hummingbird.

Eris arrives, bringing Charming and Beauregard for their nightly visit.  Eris comments that they will have trouble finding the Door, but she can’t tell any more without interfering in another Demon’s realm.  Wenda is impressed that Eris, a Demoness, would be interested in interacting with mortals.  Eris tells her mentally that she is only doing this to please Jumper, especially with Wenda, who is Jumper’s best friend.  If it weren’t for Jumper, she would pay Wenda no attention. Wenda thinks privately that this is a bit tactless.

But by now the reverse wood surrounding the Knot is wearing out again.  They find a beerbarrel tree husk (which like all trees of this world is made of reverse wood), and put it over the Knot.

Jumper transforms into a roc, and they all load on, plus the wagon carrying the Knot.  This is a bit tricky: since Jumper appears as a hummingbird, but is actually as big as a roc, he is mostly invisible.  But once he is airborne his appearance reverts to that of a roc.

So they head for the foliage end of the world tree.

As they fly, Eris (who is not physically present) communicates mentally with Wenda.  She had picked up Wenda’s thought about her being tactless.  Wenda tells her that she understands that a Demoness, being soulless, would not care about the feelings of mortal folk.  But Eris points out that she received a half soul from Jumper when they married.  Jumper, in turn, did not originally have a soul as a spider, but had received fragments of souls from his companions, including Wenda, on their quest in “Jumper Cable”.  And now Eris wants to be Wenda’s friend.

Jumper lands for a rest stop at the beginning of the foliage section.  The others get off.  And they discover that there is a different kind of reversal here: direction.  Their tendency is to go in a different direction to where they intend to.  This takes a bit of getting used to.

They set off again and finally come to a region well within the foliage area.  And here there is a different reversal again: they say the opposite of what they intend to say.  They stay here for the night.

In the morning they continue and arrive at the far end of the world tree.  There are flowers, fruits and seeds.  But there is no Door; it must be at the other end of the tree – the roots.  Wenda collects lots of seeds; she can use these to surround the Knot.  She makes a net of vines, covered with seeds, and puts it over the Knot.  She would refresh the seeds as needed. And they set off again for an overnight trip to the roots.

Finally they arrive at the root section of the tree.  Here their genders are reversed.  Wenda becomes a faun, the male equivalent of a nymph.  They all search, but can’t find the Door.

Then Wenda meets a gnome.  He is Gnever Gnome of the Gnarly Gnomes.  Wenda calls the others, and Gnever leads them down to an underground residential hall, where there is a community of gnomes.

But the gnomes want them to stay and become part of their community.  They won’t let them go.  The exit door is locked magically.  When the group won’t submit, the gnomes lock them in a bedroom chamber.

But in the morning the gnomes ask for help.  The Knot, which is near their door, has worn through its reverse wood shield, and its malevolent radiance is causing them to be terrified.  Wenda agrees to fix this as long as the gnomes let the group go.  So she replaces the seeds, Jumper transforms to a roc, they all get on, and Jumper flies off.

Jumper had read the gnomes’ minds and knows where the Door is.  He brings them to a cave.  But now their natures are reversed.  Wenda is transformed into a reversed woodwife; seeming human from the back, but hollow in the front.  The path appears to rise, but in fact descends.  The wagon rolls out of control.  Wenda, trying to rescue it, falls into a chasm; she is falling to her death!  But Eris appears and rescues her, returning her to the path.

But this means Eris has interfered in another Demon’s domain.  They are suddenly in a courtroom.  Demon Reversal is the ruler of this planet.  If the ruling goes against Eris, she will lose a status point, and her change will be reversed – that is, Wenda will die after all.

There is a panel of three Demon judges: Xanth, Fornax and Pluto.  Angela is appointed the Defense Attorney.  Eris’s defence is her friendship with Wenda, which is an unfamiliar concept for Demons.  But Wenda notices that Xanth’s human wife Chlorine, and Pluto’s human wife Eve are present; they probably have some influence over their husbands.  The ruling goes in Eris’s favour.  Wenda remains alive, although locked in her reverse woodwife form.

The group are returned to the cave.  They have all reverted to their normal forms except Wenda.  And her forest accent is back. Angela has been rewarded by gaining substance: now her whole body is visible.   They locate the Sidewalk and go through the Door.

They have arrived in the world of Comic.  After spending the night here, they enter the comic strip, locate the Sidewalk and go through the Door.

They arrive back in Xanth, but in the territory of the Goblinate of the Golden Horde, the worst of goblin tribes.

They are surrounded by goblins. Nearby is a lake of hate elixir, with an island in the middle.  (Contact with this water causes people to hate each other so much that they hurt and even kill each other.)  Angela locates an air boat on the shore; it is invisible, but she can see it because she remains partly ethereal. They get on board, taking the wagon with them.  But the goblins have captured Meryl!   Wenda’s group rows the boat across to the island, but they vow to rescue Meryl somehow.

Since Meryl is the one who does not know about Ida’s talent, Angela volunteers to have her memory of Ida’s talent erased, so Ida can make her suggestions come true.  And then she suggests that Jumper can use his telepathic ability to tune in on what is happening to Meryl.  Jumper does this and displays a hologram of what Meryl is seeing.

Meryl is in a cell within the goblin mound, being guarded by Goggle Goblin.  Another goblin called Gorilla appears and threatens to do nasty things to her.  Then King Gauche arrives, and given Gorilla’s threats, Meryl tells the King about their mission and the Knot.  Gauche decides he can use the Knot; he will trade Meryl for it.

Wenda’s group discusses this; they are not convinced Gauche will give up Meryl when he gets the Knot.  And Wenda won’t give up the Knot which it is their mission to deliver.

They come up with a rescue plan; it is difficult, but they carry it out and successfully rescue Meryl, and in the process humiliate Gauche.  They return to the air boat and row across the lake to the island.

But now they wonder about the origin of the air boat.  The goblins seem not to be aware of it. The goblins could easily have rowed their own wooden boats across the lake to Wenda’s group. Maybe there is an avoidance spell on the boat, which is limited to goblins.

They discover controls in the boat.  Angela presses a button, and from inside the boat they see a lighted highway outside.  Hilarion sits at the controls, and with a bit of experimentation works out how to drive the boat.  It rises into the air and travels forward, following the highway, eventually coming to a complex cloverleaf pattern.  Another boat passes them; the inhabitants are aliens, with the appearance of land-going squid.  Exiting the road complex, the group stop at a park, and stay there for the night.

In the morning they discuss their situation.  They have apparently blundered on a highway system for aliens, who, among other destinations, secretly visit Xanth.  The group may have inadvertently stolen the boat and stranded some alien tourists at the goblin mound.  They find a button that sends a distress signal, and press it.

Another boat arrives: two tentacled bug-eyed monsters (Bems) get out.  Wenda’s group explain their situation. The Bems send out a message about rescuing the stranded tourists.  But Wenda’s group must pay for their infraction: they must prepare an additional site in Xanth for tourists to visit; their boat will take them to the required location.

Now the air boat takes Wenda’s group back to Xanth, to Lake Wails, which is the filled caldera of an extinct volcano.  To make the location suitable to arriving tourists, they may have to make a landing by dredging gravel from the interior of the lake.  Meryl dives in to investigate.

When she returns, she tells Wenda she must discuss the situation with one of the fish, Theodore (Ted) Sturgeon, who is leader of the local school.  Wenda can put rocks in her hollow feet and go underwater; because she is back in woodwife form, she doesn’t need to breathe underwater.

Meryl takes Wenda to see Theodore Sturgeon.  Theodore won’t let them dredge, but they may pile up volcanic rocks.  But this will require intruding into the abode of the kraken weed.

A coelocanth called Seel takes Wenda to see the kraken.  The kraken needs a bit of persuasion, but Wenda points out that it can put on a show of ferociousness for the tourists, which will gain it respect.  The other water creatures can put on a show as well.  The kraken goes ahead and builds the landing.  When it is complete, some Bems arrive and are pleased with the site.

Wenda’s group now has a free trip in the air boat.  They set off, looking at the destinations along the highway, and eventually choose an intersection labelled “Fun House”.

They arrive at a yard with trees, bushes and walks, but no buildings.  Meryl and Angela fly off to view it from the air.  They return saying the paths seem just to loop around in a maze.  Then they suggest that the structure may be invisible, and Ida agrees; since the two females have forgotten Ida’s talent, she can make the suggestion true.  They also suggest that it may be a maze with prizes, to which Ida also agrees.

They leave the air boat and approach the fence surrounding the yard.  There is a gate here.  Entering, they find an invisible structure.  As each person approaches: a picture appears in a magic mirror of that person’s wish:

  • Hilarion wishes to find his betrothee; the picture shows a lovely young princess.
  • Meryl wishes for a winged merman as a companion; the picture shows a handsome winged merman.
  • Angela wishes for the rest of her substance (since she is still only half solid); the picture shows a mound of blubber.
  • Jumper wishes for a Status Point for Eris; the picture shows a shining numeral 1.
  • Ida wishes for a suitable prince to marry; the picture shows a handsome prince or king of her age. He looks like an older version of Hilarion: could it be his father or uncle?
  • Wenda wishes for a fast, easy route to the Good Magician’s Castle, so she can complete her mission and deliver the Knot; the picture shows the Good Magician’s Castle.

Each person follows their own path into the maze and has their own adventure.  Wenda takes the magic mirror and is able to follow each person’s progress.

But in the end, only two of them complete the maze and get their wishes: Angela gets her missing substance – her body is now complete; and Meryl locates her winged merman, Merwyn, who returns with her.  But now the air boat is gone; they have to continue their journey via the humidor.

They arrive back in Planet Comic.  They hear the howling of dogs: apparently the dogs of war – puns who have escaped from the comic strip.  They take refuge in the ruins of an ancient temple and set about making it defensible.  The dogs attack; one jumps the wall; Hilarion kills it with his sword.

Angela points out that there is usually an anti-pun close to each pun in the comic strip; she flies off to find it. She returns leading a flock of doves – the doves of peace.  Each dove goes to a dog – and they all become normal doves and dogs.  The group is not sure whether to trust this, and decide to spend the night at the ruins.

The next day they make their way into the comic strip, locate the Sidewalk and the Door and go through.

They arrive back in Xanth, at a pleasant valley.  There is a village called Scoop there, surrounded by what appear to be tangle trees.  They see a man walk up to a tangle tree; it wraps its tentacles around him and takes him into its foliage, and a moment later lets him go.  This is not typical of a tangle tree, which would eat any creature it could catch.

Wenda’s group find some people living outside the village.  One of them, Michael, tells them that the trees are a cross between a tangle tree and a call-to-nature bush, which are called toilet trees.  These trees induce people to provide them with their bodily wastes.  These non-villagers want to leave this locality without being subjected to the humiliation of the toilet trees.

Wenda’s group work out a strategy, and they and the non-villagers escape from the valley.

They come to a castle and find Princess Eve there.  Eve normally lives at Demon Pluto’s Castle in Hades, but she wanted a castle in the mortal world as well, so she has been renovating Castle Windswept, the former Storm King’s residence. (The Storm King ruled during “A Spell for Chameleon”.)  Eve provides a banquet, after which they spend the night at the castle.

The next day the Scoop Valley escapees depart to return to their homes.  Wenda’s group continue on.

They arrive in a cultivated area, where a woman is working in a garden. It is Maiden Taiwan, one of the Good Magician’s wives.  This is where she lives with her sisters, Maiden Japan and Maiden Mexico, when she is not required to be on duty at the Good Magician’s Castle.

Maiden Taiwan tells how at the time Magician Humfrey came to get his wives out of Hell (in “Question Quest”), she was there in Hell, not because she had died [which is what you would assume from reading “Question Quest”], but because she was visiting the other wives.

[The original agreement Humfrey had with Demon Xanth in “Question Quest” was that the off-duty wives must remain in Hell. It is not clear whether this applied to Maiden Taiwan, given that she was not confined to Hell at the time. In “Isis Orb” – which is a later story than “Knot Gneiss” – we are told that Demon Xanth had released all of the wives from Hell, and apparently the original agreement no longer applied. We don’t know exactly when this change occurred, but it may already be in effect in the current story. In “Ghost Writer in the Sky” we learn that the off-duty wives, including Maiden Taiwan, are living in a shared house in Xanth (not Hell). So by that time presumably Maiden Taiwan is sharing her time between the two houses.]

Maiden Taiwan is 176 and the other Maidens are similar ages. They have lived so long because they have been taking Humfrey’s youth elixir.

Maiden Taiwan takes them into her house, where they meet her sisters.  They all share their life histories.  The Maidens tell how Hilarion had visited them and kissed them all a decade ago.  This puzzles Hilarion – but he can’t remember it because of his brush with the forget whorl.

The Maidens tell how they had all been born in Mundania, in the separate countries after which they are named.  They had been interested in science, physics, chemistry and computer science – at a time when women weren’t expected to have serious occupations, let alone scientific ones. They had received scholarships at the University of Squeedunk (which is where Grey Murphy would later go).  They met and formed a sisterhood (they are not “sisters” in a biological sense, which is what we would have assumed when they appeared in “Currant Events”) and decided to form a company to create extraordinary inventions.

However, the plane they were travelling on crashed.  A second before the crash, a Minor Demoness, Nan O’Tek, from Xanth, recruited them and spirited them off the plane, and took them to Xanth.

Nan set them up in the Gap Wilderness, where they selectively bred the small indus-trees into the massive Heavy Indus-trees, from which they developed refined materials such as steel and plastic.  They developed an atomic assembler, which used the refined materials to create non-magical products and toys to be marketed in both Xanth and Mundania.  They have been providing weapons to the Kings of Xanth from Ebnez onwards.  And Maiden Japan had created Com Pewter.  They had helped design a spaceship for centaurs to travel to Alpha Centauri, using magic to overcome the limit of the speed of light.

When Eris visits that evening, she mentions that there is another sister, Maiden China, who is living in Mundania.

[Maiden Taiwan’s sisters, Maidens China, Japan and Mexico, previously appeared on the Acquaintance Ship, in “Currant Events”.  However the two stories are difficult to reconcile: the sisters Japan and Mexico can’t have spent such a long time on the Ship if they have been busy doing all the things described in this book.  Also, the two stories give different reasons for the sisters having lived so long.  It appears that the author has forgotten that he had already written about Maiden Taiwan’s sisters.

Possibly the two stories can be resolved to some extent as follows (these hypotheses are not authorised by Piers Anthony):

Maiden China was part of the Maidens Sisterhood in Mundania, but did not relate as closely as the other Maidens.  She was not present on the plane which crashed, so wasn’t included in the agreement with Demoness Nan O’Tek.  After establishing their base in Xanth, the Maidens in Xanth contacted Maiden China in Mundania and invited her to join them.  However, she wasn’t interested in the industry, and when she located the Acquaintance Ship on the Fanta Sea, she spent all her time there.  The other Maidens sometimes visited her there – sometimes for extended periods.  At the time of the current story, she had left the Acquaintance Ship, accepted youth elixir from the other Maidens, and returned to Mundania.]

The next day the group travels on.  They are now coming close to the Good Magician’s Castle.

Hilarion and Ida have become good friends.  Hilarion feels that his friendship with Ida has spoiled him for a marriage with a younger, less mature, woman, and Ida admires Hilarion’s princely qualities, even though he is much younger than her.

But now Hilarion wonders about what Maiden Taiwan had said about meeting him a decade ago.  Had he been searching for his betrothee 10 years or more? Now he remembers invoking a spell to freeze his age, for convenience, when he first set out.  The effect of the forget whorl must be wearing off.  He now remembers his real age; he is 42.  And Ida is 41.  Could Ida be his betrothee?

Hilarion and Ida kiss.  There is a burst of bright colours radiating out from them.  Now Hilarion knows that Ida is his betrothee.  And Hilarion is changed to his true age of 42.

The explosion of light had filled Wenda’s hollow front with a warm glow.  Then she hears a ticking: the Knot has been affected by the light and is about to blow.  She spreads her arms, shielding the others from the Knot with her body.  The Knot explodes, hurling her backwards, filling her hollow body with petrified reverse wood fragments.  (The Knot has been destroyed, so the mission is over, except for reporting back to the Good Magician.)

But now Wenda discovers that her body has been restored: she is a complete woman again.