Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” series: Night Mare


Night Mare (1983)
[During this story, a series of people become King in turn.  I have marked their names in bold at the point that they come to the throne. Trent is already King at the beginning of the story.]

Mare Imbrium (Imbri) is the night mare Tandy had ridden to escape Demon Fiant in “Ogre, Ogre”.  She received a half-soul from Chem Centaur as part of the payment when she and her fellow mares rescued Smash Ogre’s party from the Void.

But Imbri is too kind-hearted to be a good bearer of bad dreams.  The Night Stallion calls her in to give her a new assignment: the liaison between the World of the Night (also called the dream realm, or “the gourd”) and the World of the Day, during the coming crisis, the Nextwave – a wave of invasion of Mundanes into Xanth.  Imbri is to go to Chameleon and become her steed, and take a message to King Trent: “Beware the Horseman”.  Normally night mares cannot go out into sunlight, but Imbri’s nature will be changed; she will become solid during daylight hours, but at night she will retain her ability to dematerialise and pass through solid objects.

Emerging into normal Xanth, she is delighted to experience the sunlight.  She meets a white stallion – apparently an escaped horse from the Mundanes, as there are no true horses resident in Xanth. But the horse becomes frightened and runs off.

Then she meets a man, the horse’s owner, who refers to his horse as the “day horse”.  Night mares are able to communicate with other people by projecting dreamlets into the other person’s mind.  The man persuades her to let him ride her to find his horse.  But he is revealed as a cruel man when he puts a bit in her mouth and uses spurs on her sides.  He gives his identity as the Horseman. But learning that she has been warned about him, he forces her to go to his camp, where his Mundane companions hobble her and confine her to a pen.  She would normally have been able to escape at night by dematerialising, but they build a big fire, whose light prevents her.

But the day horse turns up in the night and puts the fire out, which enables her to escape.  He is afraid of Mundanes, and in fact of humans in general, and is willing to help her, but will not come to Castle Roogna.

Imbri goes to Chameleon’s house, near Castle Roogna.  But Chameleon is in her stupid beautiful phase, so cannot understand about the message for the King. (As described in “A Spell for Chameleon”, Chameleon’s magical nature is to change over a period of a month: from beautiful and stupid, to average in both appearance and intelligence, to ugly and smart, and then back again.)  So Imbri goes to the King herself, and tells him of her mission. Then she returns to Chameleon’s house.

The next morning Grundy Golem arrives at Chameleon’s house; the King has given instructions that Chameleon should ride the night mare to Good Magician Humfrey’s Castle to get his advice. So Chameleon rides Imbri to the Good Magician’s Castle. When they get there, the Magician tells them again “Beware the Horseman”, and gives her another message “Break the chain”.  He cannot tell her any more than this.

Chameleon knows that her son Dor and his fiancée Irene are planning to be married secretly that night, by a zombie justice of the peace, outside Castle Roogna.  But the couple don’t realise that all their friends know about it, and will be present, disguised as zombies.  Chameleon and Imbri arrive back at the castle in time to attend the wedding. One of the other guests is Ichabod, the archivist from Modern America, who now often visits Xanth. (Dor and company had met him in “Centaur Aisle”.)

After the ceremony, Imbri, Chameleon and Ichabod search for King Trent in the castle, but find him motionless and mindless, sitting at his desk.  Dor, as heir to the throne, must become king.

Dor appoints Chameleon, Imbri and Ichabod to travel north to spy on the Mundanes and gather information. Grundy goes with them because of his ability to communicate with plants and animals.  And Imbri persuades the day horse to be Ichabod’s steed.

The border between Xanth and Mundania is constantly changing to connect to various parts of Mundania’s history and geography.  Ichabod’s knowledge should enable them to identify the time and place the Mundanes come from.

But then Imbri, Ichabod and Grundy are captured by the Mundanes, and taken to their leader, Hasbinbad.  Ichabod soon learns that the Mundanes are Carthaginians, or Punics, from the time of the Second Punic War, around 210 or 215 BC, and they were attempting to enter Italy in support of Hannibal when they entered Xanth instead.  Then the Horseman turns up – he is second in command to Hasbinbad – but he allows Imbri to escape. So Imbri rescues Ichabod and Grundy, they rendezvous with Chameleon and the day horse, and return to report to King Dor.

Dor leads the soldiers of King Trent’s former army – soldiers whom Trent had brought with him from Mundania (in “A Spell for Chameleon”) in his attempt to take the throne. The two armies meet north of the Gap.  (Castle Roogna is south of the Gap.)  It is apparent from the numbers of invading Mundane soldiers that half the soldiers are still up north, kept in reserve.  But at dawn on the next day, Dor is found motionless and unresponsive just like Trent.  The healer says they are not ill; they are victims of a magic spell.

The Zombie Master arrives at Castle Roogna to take the throne. He takes an army of zombies to meet the Mundane army at the main bridge of the Gap. (There are 3 bridges over the Gap: the main bridge, the invisible bridge, and a one-way bridge from south to north.)  As the battle progresses, Chet Centaur cuts down the bridge.  But that night, the Zombie Master falls victim to the same spell as the previous kings.

Humfrey comes to take the throne. He says that the chain to be broken, which he had mentioned previously, is the chain of lost kings. There will be ten kings during the invasion, counting from King Trent. He names Bink and Arnolde the Centaur as the next two Kings.  He then sets up a series of spells (mostly in glass bottles) at the baobab tree near Castle Roogna. He sends inflatable nymphs, floating through the air, to bring the Mundanes to the baobab tree, so they will not be attacking the castle.  He explains the spells to Imbri in case he is taken before he can cast them.

In the meantime, Imbri, Chameleon and the day horse go to meet Bink and Arnolde, who are returning from a trade mission in Mundania.

When they return, they discover that Humfrey had been found unconscious like the others. However, he had captured his voice, saying the name of his attacker, in a bottle: it says “Horseman”.  So the Horseman is a person from Xanth, with a magic talent, not a Mundane.  He must be using the Mundane warriors to enable himself to become king.

Bink becomes king. It is generally believed that Bink has no magic talent, but Humfrey had figured it out.  Bink’s talent is that he cannot be harmed by magic. The talent conceals itself, and often operates as an apparent coincidence.  In this current situation, it means Bink can operate Humfrey’s spells without being harmed by them.  He defeats the Mundane army, and finally fights and defeats Hasbinbad. But then he is found unconscious.

In anticipation of Arnolde’s succession to the throne, Imbri goes to Centaur Isle, to ask the centaurs to send an army, in support of the Centaur King, to fight the Mundanes’ reserve army.  The centaurs agree, on the condition that Centaur Isle is granted legal autonomy.  In any case, the centaurs don’t want the Mundanes ruling Xanth.

Arnolde the Centaur becomes king. He confers with Elder Roland on the interpretation of Xanth law. The King must be a Magician. It has always been understood that women can’t become rulers of Xanth. Women with Magician-level talents are referred to as Sorceresses rather than Magicians. But Arnolde argues that Sorceresses are female Magicians, so a Sorceress may be the ruler, but must be referred to as “King”, not “Queen”. And In the absence of a person with Magician-level magic, someone with a lesser magical talent may rule. These interpretations clear the way for Iris and Irene to be the next kings.

Arnolde also discusses with Imbri the fact that the Horseman’s spell is like a person becoming entranced by looking into a hypnogourd.  Maybe the Horseman can alter a person’s line of sight, linking their eye to a hypnogourd.  In which case, all the Kings are in the gourd in spirit form.  Imbri goes into the gourd and finds that all the lost Kings are there.

Imbri guides the centaur army north to where the reserve Mundane army is.  But the centaurs are defeated when they are ambushed, although with their excellent archery skills, they take out a large number of the enemy.  Imbri returns via the gourd, and finds Arnolde there with the Kings; he has also been taken by the Horseman’s spell.

Iris becomes King. Using her talent of Illusion, she creates illusions of monsters attacking, scaring the Mundane soldiers into making disastrous mistakes.  She also makes it appear that there is level ground at the Gap, so the soldiers fall in.  She creates an illusion of herself to taunt the Horseman, who is leading the Mundane Army.  But this enables the Horseman to cast his spell on her.

Irene becomes King.  She nominates Chameleon as her successor.  Chameleon is mother of one king (Dor), and wife of another (Bink), and she is coming into her smart ugly phase; she will need her intelligence for the crisis. Irene uses her talent of growing plants rapidly, to grow aggressive plants to protect the castle.

Imbri and Chameleon go to cut down the invisible bridge over the Gap.  Chameleon names Imbri as her successor; she is the only one immune to the hypnogourd, and therefore the Horseman’s spell.  They meet the day horse, who takes Chameleon back to the castle while Imbri goes to the Good Magician’s castle, to organise the Gorgon (the Good Magician’s wife) and other women to defend Castle Roogna.

Imbri fetches Blythe Brassie (who appeared previously in “Ogre, Ogre”) from the City of Brass in the gourd, and discovers both Irene and Chameleon in the gourd with the other Kings.  They have both been victims of the Horseman’s spell. Chameleon had brought the Horseman into the castle, and he is trapped there by the plants Irene had grown around the castle. (Chameleon had been King for two minutes, but she had been putting her plans into effect from the time Irene named her as successor.)  Imbri is now King: it is up to her to save Xanth.

The next battle will be fought by women.  The invisibility spell has been removed from the Gorgon’s face.  The Siren’s dulcimer has been repaired; with her singing and music she can lure men to be turned to stone by the Gorgon.  Goldy Goblin (also from “Ogre, Ogre”) has come with her magic levitation wand.  Most of the female companions from Smash’s journey in “Ogre, Ogre” are there: Tandy, the Siren, Chem Centaur, Goldy Goblin and Blythe Brassie.  Smash has been guarding the castle, but now the remaining Xanthian males – Smash, Chet Centaur and Grundy – must leave before the Siren starts singing.

The Mundanes come, but the women’s magic is effective against them – until the Horseman starts casting his spell on them, from the castle.  Night is falling, when Imbri will able to dematerialise – to enter the castle and confront the Horseman.