Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” series: Six Crystal Princesses

Page

Six Crystal Princesses (2022)

[In this review I have used the actual chapter headings from the book. In place of the chapter headings for the chapters “Sirens etc.” and “Ghosts, etc.”, I have used as headings the names of the six species that Vinia contacts.]

Mission
Prince Ion and Princess Hilda (twins, 11 years old) are the children of King Hilarion and Queen Ida. They previously appeared in “Skeleton Key” when they joined the crew on Fibot, the Fire Sail Boat, 2 years ago.

(King Hilarion ascended to the throne of the island kingdom of Adamant in “Skeleton Key”. So his wife Ida, previously a princess of the Kingdom of Xanth, is now the queen of Adamant.)

Ion’s talent is that he is immune to elixirs, including healing elixir. When he broke his legs in an accident, they did not heal, so he uses a flying carpet to travel.

Hilda’s talent is magical sewing. For example, if she sews a kitchen apron, the person who wears it becomes a very good cook. She had sewn Ion’s flying carpet.

In “Skeleton Key”, Fibot had visited the planet Animalia, where there were several castles, staffed by human/animal crossbreeds, that were used as holiday locations for tourists. There Ion had met a girl called Vinia, who had gone to Animalia as a tourist. She was sensitive to even minute amounts of toxins in the environment, and she had to remain in her room where the air was constantly purified. Her talent was telekinesis: she could lift and move close objects, up to her own weight, with her mind.

Ion was able to shield Vinia from toxins as long as he was close to her, because he has a naturally antiseptic environment due to his magic. And Vinia could enable Ion to walk, using her telekinetic power; she normally does this by synchronising his body with hers, so they are making the same movements.

Ion and Vina fell in love and became boyfriend and girlfriend.

We don’t know what Vinia’s homeworld is, but apparently it is a planet with space travel, as she had travelled with her parents from her homeworld to Animalia.

Benny, a Caprine – a human/goat crossbreed, had been the guide and companion provided to Hilda on Animalia. He had introduced Ion to Vinia. Hilda was so grateful for what he had done for her brother, she asked him to be her permanent boyfriend.

So Vinia and Benny came back with Ion and Hilda when they returned to Xanth, and are living with them in Castle Adamant.

Vinia is now 12, a year older than Ion.

The Animalian crossbreeds normally appear in human form, but are able to transform to their animal form. So Benny normally has the appearance of a young human man, but is able to change to goat form. But goats mature at 3 years old, and Benny is 6, so is regarded as an adult; however, this is a bit ambiguous in this book: he is sometimes included in a group with the other three as “the four children”. He has the appearance of a 24-year-old human. But Benny honours the Adult Conspiracy.

Vinia asks the twins how their parents met. They tell her the story.

As told in “The Color of Her Panties”, Ida was misdelivered by the stork as a baby to the region of the Fawn and Nymph Retreat. She was found and brought up by otterbees. When she reached the age of 21, she set off to go to Good Magician Humfrey to find her destiny. But she was captured by a dragon, who collected young women and encased them in crystal. Ida saw several young women encased in crystal in his display room: the current book states that they were six princesses: presumably Ida had concluded they were princesses from their appearance. And then the dragon breathed on her, encasing her in crystal as well.

Ida was found by Mela Merwoman and Okra Ogress. Okra shattered the crystal using her ultrasonic voice, and released Ida. (Ida didn’t have a name until Mela gave her the name of Ida.) Later, Ida discovered she was the twin sister of Princess Ivy, and therefore she was also a princess.

As told in “Knot Gneiss”, when Ida had been 1 year old in the otterbee community, the 2-year-old Prince Hilarion had been brought there by his parents, and the two children had been betrothed. Hilarion’s parents had learned by magic that Ida was a princess, and she would be the ideal bride for their son. (We can probably infer that the same magical source had revealed that the then-unnamed little girl would later be named Ida.)

But after Hilarion’s parents had departed with him, a forget whorl had passed through the otterbee community, and they had forgotten about the betrothal ceremony.

Ida was supposed to come to Hilarion to be married when she turned 21. When she didn’t turn up, he went searching for her. He magically froze his age at 22 for convenience; he would return to his real age when he found her. But during the search, he had a brush with a forget whorl [or maybe more than one on separate occasions], and forgot his real age, and how long he had been searching and the name of his betrothee. When he finally met Ida, on the “Knot Gneiss” quest, she was apparently a lot older than him, so it took them a while to realise that they were intended for each other. They married at the end of that book.

Ion and Hilda are bored with life in the palace, and miss the adventures they had two years ago. They wish they had a pretext to go on a quest.

Hilda had sewn a magical thinking cap for Benny. He puts it on and comes up with an idea: they should go and rescue the other six princesses.

Vinia wonders if Ion and Hilda’s parents would allow it. Encountering a dragon could be dangerous. But Ion and Hilda believe they could handle the dragon with their magic. And they would have an adult – Benny – in their party.

They decide they should get advice from Squid, a member of the Fibot crew. She is actually an alien cuttlefish, who came to live in Xanth. She can transform her appearance, and normally appears as a human girl. She is 13 years old. She has travelled a lot as a child, and knows how to handle parents.

Ion has a small bag which Hilda had sewn for him. It is magical: it can contain everything Ion wants to put in it. So he has put in food supplies, changes of clothes, and folded tents. And his collection of elixirs. Since he is immune to all elixirs, they can’t harm him, so he collects all kinds and uses them when necessary.

He brings out a vial of “Essence of Squid” and hands it to Hilda. She pours a drop on the floor. It puffs into vapour and forms an image of Squid, establishing a communication link with her.

Squid had disappeared for a few months, and Hilda is curious about where she had been. Squid gives a brief description of a mission she had been on, which is described in “A Tryst of Fate”.

Hilda tells her they want to go and rescue the six princesses from their crystals, as Princess Ida had been rescued. But there is a dragon involved.

Squid communicates with her boyfriend, Demon Chaos, and then tells them the dragon is Dragoman. He is not a bad sort; he doesn’t eat princesses, he just collects them. They will have to meet his terms to rescue the princesses. The quest is worthwhile, but they should consult Good Magician Humfrey first. Squid says she will put in a word with their parents.

Squid happens to meet Vinia’s eye, and says, “Oh, my.” She breaks the connection. Vinia wonders what that had been about.

They head off to talk to Queen Ida, as King Hilarion is away on business. Vinia puts her arm around Ion as she uses her talent to enable him to walk.

But on the way, Ion works out what Squid had noticed. Vinia is the protagonist of this story! Squid had been protagonist of the “Skeleton Key” adventure two years ago, and had recognised this in Vinia.

Ion tells Vinia that the protagonist is the main character of the story, the viewpoint character. They always survive until the end of the story. And the story is always a big one.

They arrive at the queen’s audience chamber. Ion tells the queen they want to rescue the six princesses who had been crystallised with her. The queen glances at Vinia and says, “Oh, my,” just as Squid had. Vinia realises that Queen Ida, too, knows that Vinia is the protagonist.

Ida tells them that Squid and Demon Chaos had just visited her, and had seemed to think they would be safe. She gives them permission to go.

So they prepare for the journey. Hilda makes a large magic carpet, similar to the one she had made for Ion, but big enough for the four of them. She includes a canopy, a steering bar, reclining deck chairs and a privy.

They all get on board. They all take turns practising flying, using the steering bar to control the carpet. They fly into a storm cloud, but have no trouble because the carpet has been spelled to be immune to weather.

They park the carpet by getting it to fly in a continuous circle over the forest while they retire for the night, sleeping on their bed mats on the flying carpet.

In the morning they decide to take the scenic route to the Good Magician’s Castle. This includes flying to the Gap Chasm and visiting the Gap Dragon. (This dragon is a descendant of the one that had been Ivy’s friend, and is fairly tame.)

Challenges
They arrive at the Good Magician’s Castle. When entering the castle as querents (people with questions), it is necessary to pass three Challenges. And these can be difficult. The Good Magician tailors the Challenges to the querents.

Vinia has an idea, but she thinks it might be stupid, and is too embarrassed to say it. But Hilda guesses what it is. The Good Magician knows Ion, Hilda and Benny, but does not know Vinia and maybe thinks she is inconsequential, so hadn’t done any research on her. So the Challenges are designed to defeat Ion, Hilda and Benny. However, since Vinia is the protagonist, she has a good chance of passing the Challenges.

They explain to her how the Challenges are arranged. And the querent can’t use their personal magic; so Vinia won’t be able to use her telekinesis. She must rely on her own body and mind. And she will have to perform some Service for her Answer.

Vinia is allergic to just about everything, and normally has to stay close to Ion. But Ion brings out a vial of “Essence of Ion”. One whiff of it suppresses her symptoms.

So Vinia steps off the carpet and heads towards the castle.

She tackles the Challenges, which are difficult, but she succeeds. She recognises that the three Challenges had been tailored in turn for Ion, Hilda and Benny. And finally she comes to the castle entrance. She meets a woman there who says she is Dara Demoness, the Good Magician’s Designated Wife of the Month.

[The author seems to break one of his own rules in this book – or maybe an editor has done it. When referring to a lesser demon, a small “d” should be used, except in combination with the demon’s name, or if the word begins a sentence. So “Dara Demoness” is OK, but when referring to her as “the demoness”, “demoness” should have a small “d”. However, in this book, almost every occurrence of “demon” and “demoness” has a capital “d”, even though all of them, except for Demon Chaos, are lesser demons. In my review I will continue following the previously established convention.]

Dara takes Vinia into a living room. She tells Vinia that the Good Magician did not expect her party to make it through the Challenges, so he and his son and daughter-in-law had taken the afternoon off, and left Dara in charge. It will be Dara’s job to give Vinia her Answer.

Since Vinia had overcome the Challenges, it is her Quest, not Ion and Hilda’s. Vinia is the protagonist, the others are her companions. The fact that she succeeded suggests that she has a natural feel for what a given situation requires. This will be needed to free the princesses.

Dara says that Vinia and her companions have been assuming that Dragoman is a mean-spirited animal. But in fact he is doing the princesses a service. They were young and impetuous and headed for trouble. He stored them in crystal until they could find better situations, and there are suitable princes to marry.

(It is not stated in this book, but this seems to imply that Dragoman thought Ida fell into this category.)

[The fact that Dragoman has a benevolent motive is of course a retrospective reinterpretation. There was no indication of this in “The Color of Her Panties”.]

This was a deal Dragoman had made when he was young. In exchange for this Service, he would receive a fine estate. He is ready to retire, and just needs a suitable prince to be found for each princess. It will be part of Vinia’s Quest to find those princes. Actually one of the crystal princesses is a lesbian, so a princess will be needed as her companion.

Vinia realises the princesses are feminists. Dara points out that in the time the princesses were crystallised, there were no feminists, just undisciplined girls. But now the social climate will be better for them.

Then Dara tells Vinia that only one of the princesses is human. The others are goblin, elf, centaur, bee and demoness.

The demoness is Dara’s friend, Demesne (pronounced diMEEN). Her name means estate or dominion, or territory controlled by a sovereign. She is destined to control land.

Dara gives Vinia a ring; when Dara puts it on Vinia’s finger, it becomes invisible. When Vinia says Demesne’s name, the ring glows, pointing in Demesne’s direction. This will guide them to Dragoman’s cave. Vinia will recognise Dragoman because he has a tattoo of a shapely human girl on his neck.

And Vinia can orient on Dara similarly by saying her name.

The ring brings good luck to the creature or thing it orients on. But Vinia must not take it off, otherwise the luck will be reversed.

The Service for her Answer is the Quest to free the princesses.

But there are bound to be complications. The challenges could be greater than the ones she has already passed.

Dara disappears as she goes to tell the rest of the party to come into the castle. A moment later they arrive on the flying carpet through a window.

Vinia has a lot to tell them. They spend the night in the castle.

Princesses
Dara has impressed on the others that Vinia is not only the protagonist, but the Quest proprietor. Vina is a bit embarrassed about this; she is used to being a background character.

They set off again on the flying carpet, and eventually come to the mountain where Dragoman has his lair.

Ion tells Vinia that she will be the one to interview Dragoman. Dara had informed the dragon they were coming, so he will expect Ion, a Magician, or Hilda, a Sorceress, to interview him, and will be on the defensive, but he would regard Vinia as harmless. And they want his cooperation.

They fly into the cave entrance and follow the tunnels to the dragon’s lair. Dragoman is there. He says, “Queen Ida’s children, I presume?”

Vinia notices that his mouth doesn’t move when he speaks; he must be using limited telepathy to communicate, while he makes grunting sounds. And a wisp of smoke tells her that Dragoman is a smoker dragon.

She greets Dragoman and tells him that she will be the one talking to him. She introduces herself and her companions.

Dragoman says he had known Ida as a princess, and had wondered what had happened to her.

[This statement is a bit of a puzzle. In “The Color of Her Panties”, Ida had not given Dragoman her name, as she didn’t have one at that time, or told him that she was a princess, which she did not know.

Did Dragoman realise she was a princess at the time? Or did he hear about Princess Ida later, and realise that she was the unnamed young woman who had escaped from him? Or maybe he didn’t work out who she was until Dara contacted him in the current book.]

Vinia tells him how Ida had been released, and what had happened to her afterwards. Then she tells him about their mission to release the princesses.

He tells her how in his youth he had discovered that he was not interested in smoking living creatures for food. But that meant he was not popular with other dragons. He went to the Good Magician to ask for a beneficial situation that would keep him busy and away from aggressive dragons. The Good Magician arranged that he would receive a fine spacious estate if he took some more difficult maidens out of circulation for a while. And he gave Dragoman the ability to modify his smoke so he could encapsulate the maidens in crystal, until prospects were better for them. Then he would free them with nullifying vapour.

Not all of the maidens that Dragoman has crystallised have been princesses. But ordinary maidens are easier to place. So the six remaining maidens are all princesses.

As part of their mission, Vinia and her companions will have to find princes for the crystal maidens before Dragoman will release them.

Vinia should interview the princesses, while they still remain crystallised. One of the princesses is a full telepath. Dragoman has had telepathic dialogues with her. She can provide telepathic communication between Vinia and each of the princesses.

And then Vinia hears a voice in her head. It is the telepath princess, Chloe, a winged centaur.

(With each of the princesses, Vinia tells them the purpose of her mission.)

Chloe says all the centaur stallions liked her in her day. But she could read their minds, and could tell they were only interested in her body. She wants someone who is interested in her as a whole person.

Chloe says she would connect Vinia to each of the other princesses, while she remains in the background.

The next princess is Hula Human. She says she wants a man who would satisfy her, both physically and intellectually. He must be smart and bold.

Vinia is having some trouble understanding some of what Hula is saying. The Adult Conspiracy seems to be getting in the way. Hula suggests that they should make holograms, so they can introduce themselves to their prospective partners.

The next princess is Goblette Goblin. She is a lesbian, so she wants a lesbian princess as a partner, rather than a prince.

The next princess is Demesne Demoness. Vinia tells her that Dara sends her greeting. Demesne recognises Dara’s ring on Vinia’s finger. She had felt the signals from it as Vinia had used it to find Demesne’s location. Vinia tells her how Dara is one of the Good Magician’s wives.

Demesne says the male demons of her day wanted to control land. But she wants a demon prince who is interested in other things, as she intends to manage the estate.

She says that if Vinia wants to contact her, she only has to say Demesne’s name to the ring.

The next princess is Elga Elf. None of the elf princes had interested her for more than a few minutes. They were only interested in a physical relationship, and she wants someone who is interested in more than that.

The next princess is Beetrix Bee. She is communicating with a buzzing sound, but the telepathic contact is translating it to words.

When Beetrix becomes a queen bee, it would be expected that she would spend all her time laying eggs. But she wants to fly free, experience the world and enjoy herself. She wants an independent drone, who is not just interested in one thing.

Vinia comes out of her trance and tells the others what she had learnt.

Then she realises that something is bothering her, but she is not sure what it is. Benny lends her his thinking cap, and she puts it on. There is a triple flash: she has had three ideas.

  • The princesses should not go out to scattered kingdoms; they should remain here, not in crystals, but alive and active.
  • They should remain here, not in Dragoman’s lair, but on his larger estate. They should form their own feminist kingdom, which the princes can join as consorts.

Dragoman may be dreaming of retiring alone, but he would be awfully lonely. And Vinia thinks he likes being with the princesses. That is why he has the girl tattoo, and he had agreed to this Service.

  • The kingdom should be called Thanx, like Xanth backward.

But Vinia still has a trace of doubt. Benny puts on the thinking cap, and discovers what it is. The princesses need to decide this for themselves, and discuss it.

Vinia wonders if they can have a joint dream, with all the princesses together. Hilda adds that the visitors should be included too. Dragoman contacts Chloe, and a moment later Chloe contacts Vinia.

Chloe says she can do it, but it would stretch her mental capacity to the limit. So she wouldn’t be able to participate in the dialogue herself. Demesne would have to speak for her. And the waking folk would have to focus to the point of a near trance.

So they proceed. Chloe creates a dream environment called Cloud Nine. They all appear to be on a cloud floating above Xanth. The five princesses other than Chloe, Dragoman and the four questers are all there, seated in deck chairs.

Vinia suggests that Demesne be the moderator, and Demesne accepts.

Vinia explains the reason for this meeting: the proposal that they form a new feminist kingdom called Thanx, on Dragoman’s estate. The princes would be brought in as consorts rather than rulers.

Demesne introduces all the participants.

Hula wonders what Dragoman thinks of them taking over his estate like this. Dragoman says that he would be lonely if he retired alone, and would like to have the princesses’ continuing company. The princesses respond by embracing and kissing him.

The princesses all agree with the proposal of the new feminist kingdom, or rather queendom, of Thanx.

Beetrix asks how they are to record their presentations for the princes. Dragoman says he has six Dreaming Jewels – blue rubies – which can be used for this. He produces them within the dream environment.

Now they decide on the roles each of the princesses would have in the new queendom:

  • Demesne: Queen
  • Hula: Entertainment
  • Chloe: Communications
  • Beetrix: Defence
  • Goblette: Cuisine
  • Elga: Maintenance

Goblette asks if they can have a poolside setting for recording the presentations. Chloe modifies their dream setting so that a pool appears in the middle of the cloud. They all record their presentations.

Then all the princesses strip and go for a swim. Vinia and Hilda join them, while Dragoman, Ion and Benny watch in admiration.

Elves
The questers are on their way again, flying on their magic carpet, for the next part of the quest: finding the princes. Their first destination is Castle Roogna, to find a prince for Hula.

As they fly they see a butternut tree, surrounded by a fiery cloud and burning, on the ground below. They fly down and Ion puts the fire out with fire retardant from one of his vials.

The fire cloud reacts angrily and transforms into a fiery female human form. She says she is Fiera Fire Cloud; she is the evil twin sister of Fracto Rain Cloud (who has appeared in many previous stories).

There is a struggle between Fiera and Ion as Fiera tries to attack them, and Ion retaliates with various vials of elixir.

Eventually Ion uses a pheromone vapour to summon a male elemental fire spirit, called FireBrand (or Brand). Brand escorts Fiera away.

They continue on and arrive at Castle Roogna. King Ivy, who is Queen Ida’s sister, greets them all warmly. (For constitutional reasons, the ruler of the Kingdom of Xanth is referred to as King, whether male or female.) Hilda tells them about their mission, and asks if Ivy knows of any human princes who might like to join the Queendom of Thanx.

Ivy says there are princes, but she is afraid that they wouldn’t like to take secondary status in a feminist habitat. Then she tells them about the Shee kingdom. The Shee are light elves, but look very much like humans. The previous year the king was deposed and his daughter took the throne.

The former king is acting as adviser to his daughter, but is possibly a bit resentful of his lowered status. He might be willing to join a new kingdom.

[There is a problem here. This description sounds like events which happened in “A Tryst of Fate”, but those events happened in a different reality with a setting 7 years in the future. Demoness Fornax took Squid and Laurelai to that reality in that book. In the normal course of events, in the current reality, the Shee king would have been expected to remain in power for at least another 7 years from last year.

However I can think of a possible explanation. With their knowledge of the future reality, when Squid and Laurelai returned to their own reality, they may have put things in train to depose the king of the Shee, and allow his daughter, Princess Birdie, to take the throne. It is not known whether the counterparts of Goar and Incident (from “A Tryst of Fate”) would have been involved.]

So the next day the questers fly to the Kingdom of Shee. They meet Queen Birdie, who says her father might be interested.

So they meet with Sherlock, the former king of the Shee, and play Hula’s hologram for him. Sherlock approves.

He tells how he realises now that he had not been a good king. The power had gone to his head, and he had insisted on doing everything his own way. He hopes to do better in future.

Vinia mentions that one of the other princesses is an elf. Sherlock says there are many varieties of elves, which come in all sizes and colours. From her description, Elga sounds like one of the fee.

They play Elga’s hologram for him. Sherlock touches the dreaming jewel and, at the  touch of an elf, it plays an addendum. Elga says that like all fee, she has one disfiguring flaw; in her case it is a snakelike tail.

Sherlock says he knows where the fee kingdom is; the Shee kingdom have had relations with them. He thinks he should come with them to smooth the interaction.

So Sherlock comes with them as they set off again on the flying carpet. Hilda sews an attachment for the carpet so that Sherlock can have his own private quarters. (She would repeat this for each additional passenger.)

They come to the fee area. Sherlock tells them the fees live in underground crystal caves with secret entrance passages.

There are three fee tribes that Sherlock knows of: Fi, Fo and Fum. This area belongs to the Fo. The fee are one third of human size: the questers will need an accommodation spell.

Ion says he has accommodation elixir; it is what the accommodation spell uses. He opens a vial and the vapour puffs out. Suddenly everything outside the carpet seems to be much bigger, as the carpet and everyone on it shrink to a third of their size.

[Shouldn’t Ion be immune to accommodation elixir? Maybe the explanation is that the accommodation elixir causes the accommodation spell to be cast, and it is the spell that affects Ion, not the elixir itself. A similar argument is necessary later for transport elixir. Maybe also for translation elixir, and any other elixirs for which an exception must be made. Presumably this doesn’t apply to elixirs in general.]

The entrance is a hole in the trunk at the top of a giant acorn tree. They fly the carpet into it, and down inside the trunk, into an underground cave system. They come to a crystalline palace. A party of elves comes to meet them, headed by King Finder. Sherlock introduces his party and describes their mission. Finder invites them inside.

King Finder says they know of Princess Elga; she was a wild one from a previous generation who was not satisfied with their placid existence. She took off on her own to seek her fortune, and they had lost track of her. She could have had a perfectly suitable prince there in the fee kingdom, but she was too independent minded for that.

They play Elga’s hologram for him. Elga says she intends to join the feminist queendom of Thanx, where women will rule. But if there is a prince who can tolerate the role of consort, she believes she can satisfy him in other respects.

Finder tells them they do have a surplus prince. He is so aggressive that normal princesses can’t handle him. Being in a feminist queendom wouldn’t bother him as long as the princess is serious about those other respects. The king summons the prince; his name is Furioso.

Furioso arrives; it is clear what his fee deformity is. He has wild red and yellow hair, down to the ground, which cannot be tamed.

Vinia tells Furioso that Prince Ion has a gift for him that will help with his hair. Ion hands him a vial of magic hair conditioner. Furioso pours it on his head, and immediately his hair smooths out.

King Finder tells Furioso the visitors are looking for a prince to join a captive princess. They play the hologram again.

Furioso says he is willing to meet Elga without promising any commitment. He is a man who prefers a lot of woman; one who can handle a lot of man. (Vinia is a bit confused about this; maybe the Adult Conspiracy is preventing her from understanding. And would there be a problem if Furioso doesn’t find Elga acceptable?)

So they depart, with Furioso added to the passengers of the carpet. As they exit from the tree, the accommodation spell ceases, and they are back to their normal sizes. Furioso remains elf-size; he hadn’t been included in the accommodation spell. But he says that he can assume human size for up to an hour if he chooses. He demonstrates by transforming to human size momentarily and then returning to elf size.

Ladies
Now they need a lesbian goblin princess as a partner for Goblette. Hilda asks Furioso if he knows one.

Furioso says he does. He dated a goblin princess called Georgia at a nearby goblin mound, until she came out as a lesbian. They remain friends. But she wishes there was some way she could make the goblins forget she is a lesbian; she has not been able to get acceptance within the mound.

Vinia says Georgia’s name to the ring, and it glows, showing them the way, and Benny, who is steering at the moment, directs the carpet in the indicated direction.

Hilda has knitted a magic cap for Furioso. She gives it to him. He discovers that his long hair slips into it and is completely contained by the cap.

Vinia wonders what precautions they should take when coming to the goblins’ mound. Sherlock says he understands that King Gourmand of this goblin tribe, the Scraggle Horde, is fond of food. Maybe they should give him a gift.

(In past stories, the head of a goblin tribe was usually called the chief. But it seems that some tribes have kings.)

Vinia suggests a rare variant of boot rear, called toot rear, which he can serve to someone he privately dislikes.

(Boot rear is a beverage which occurs commonly in the Xanth series; when you drink it, you feel a kick in the posterior. And there is no need to describe the effect of toot rear.)

Ion gets out a bottle of boot rear, and adds a few drops of conversion elixir, which converts it to toot rear.

Sherlock wonders about defences in case the goblins attack. Hilda says the carpet has an invisible shield. And they also have a star flash, which can temporarily blind the attackers.

They arrive at the goblin mound. Armed goblins surround them.

Furioso addresses them. He tells them he has been here before, when he dated Georgia. He asks that the king come to meet him and his party.

The goblins burst out laughing, then throw their spears at the carpet. The spears bounce off the shield. The goblins bring a battering ram, but Ion activates the star flash, which temporarily blinds the goblins.

Now the goblins are willing to comply. Soon the king is wheeled out on his portable throne. He tells Furioso his men had not recognised him without his hair. Furioso had forgotten about that. He removes his cap.

King Gourmand takes a bottle of wine from an adjacent wheeled rack and takes a sip.

Furioso tells the king that his party would like to take Princess Georgia with them, as they have found a princess of her persuasion. “Another pervert?” says the king.

Furioso hands the king the bottle of toot rear, telling him how he can serve it to a visiting dignitary he doesn’t like but has to be polite to.

The king tells his courtiers to bring Georgia. Soon she arrives, having obviously been brought against her will. The king is rude to her as he tells her to talk with the visitors.

But Furioso tells her to trust him, and she does, since they are friends. She joins them on the carpet. Hilda plays Goblette’s hologram for her. Georgia is impressed. She urges them to leave.

The king takes another sip from a bottle, but seems to be in some discomfort. Georgia had switched his bottle of wine with the bottle of toot rear!

The visitors take off, unable to suppress their laughter.

There are three remaining princesses for whom they need to find princes: Chloe, Beetrix and Demesne.

Georgia says she knows of a nearby beehive with several drones. She has learned to communicate with them. One she was in touch with might be interested in meeting with an isolated bee princess. His name is Drover Drone.

Vinia says his name to the ring, which flashes. Benny steers the carpet in that direction.

Georgia tells them they will have to negotiate with Queen BeeAttitude. She puts a price on everything, even a drone she would like to get rid of. Drover used to be the fastest flier in the hive, but he injured a wing, and now is the slowest. He has no chance to catch the hive’s princess bee in flight and become the king bee. And the Queen is unwilling to use healing elixir on a drone.

Georgia says she has made a study of bees, from both Xanth and Mundania. In Mundania, worker bees live for a month, drones live for three months, and queens live for three years. But in Xanth, with magic, workers live for one year, drones live for 10 years, and queens live for 30 years. They also approach human intelligence.

And in Mundania, a princess bee mates with a dozen or more drones, but in Xanth, a princess bee mates with just one drone, and he becomes her consort.

Hilda tells the others they will need three accommodation spells when they get to the hive, for size, flight and speech. They will park the carpet outside the hive and go in as individuals.

They arrive at the hive, which is in a beer-barrel tree. Worker bees fly around them angrily, but are unable to penetrate the carpet’s shield. Hilda says they will need a fourth accommodation spell, to make their skins invulnerable to stings.

Ion opens the vial for the size spell, and vapour wafts out. They all shrink to bee size, although they otherwise retain their own forms. The carpet is unaffected.

Ion opens the vial for flight. They all grow wings. He tells them the wings are just for appearance, and to reassure the bees; they will be flying by the power of their thoughts. They practise flying until they are able to control it.

Ion opens the vial for communication. They and the bees will understand each other.

He opens the protection vial. Now no stinger will be able to penetrate their skins.

Georgia steps off the carpet, with Vinia at her side, to address the bees. The warrior bee troop leader demands to know who they are.

Georgia gives her name, and tells the bees she has been reduced in size by magic. They have seen her previously, in her full size, around the hive. She knows Drover Drone. The quest group want to take Drover to meet a foreign princess bee, to see if they connect.

The warrior bee says this is a matter for the queen. The quest party follow her as she takes them to see Queen BeeAttitude.

Georgia introduces herself and the party to the queen, and tells her the purpose of their mission. The queen is interested in the fact that a queendom will be established. However, she says, the hive cannot afford to let a valuable drone depart before the Flight of the Princess. Obviously she is ready to bargain.

Sherlock speaks up. As a former king, he is used to negotiating. He asks what the queen requires. She says the hive needs flowers.

Sherlock says that the queendom’s territory has some nice flower fields. Unfortunately the queendom is not adjacent to the bees’ territory. He asks Ion whether he has the capability of teleportation.

Ion says it can be done at the bees’ scale. Parallel portals can be set up, allowing instant transport from the hive to the flower fields of Thanx and back again.

The queen asks what kind of flowers. Vinia contacts Demesne using the ring, Demesne communicates with Chloe, who checks with Dragoman. Demesne comes back with the answer: they have Heaven-Can-Wait Honeysuckle.

The queen is momentarily frozen in rapture at the news: that flower produces honey that transports folk into paroxysms of delight. The deal can be made.

A worker escorts Drover into the chamber. One of his wings is crooked. He recognises Georgia, but is surprised to see her bee-sized. Georgia describes their mission.

Ion brings out some healing elixir and heals Drover’s wing. Georgia explains that this makes him capable of catching the hive’s princess. But they would like him to come to be with Beetrix.

Drover is reluctant. He knows the hive’s princess, but he doesn’t know Beetrix.

Hilda plays Beetrix’s hologram. And Drover is impressed. He is willing to come.

But the queen says he can’t be released until the portals are in place, giving access to the flower fields. Drover is escorted away.

They go outside the hive to set up the local portal. Ion gets out a covered cup containing transport elixir. He dips a ring into it and sets it up as a hoop on a stand. Vinia puts her ring next to the hoop and says the words, “The near edge of the Heaven-Can-Wait Flower field of Thanx.” This orients the portal on its destination. Ion will set up the other portal when they get to the flower field.

Islets
The quest group are back in the air again, on their flying carpet. They now want to find a winged centaur prince as partner for Chloe.

Hilda wonders if centaurs have princes and princesses. Sherlock says they don’t; they believe in equality. But this means every one of them is royal if they choose to express it that way.

But how can they find a centaur stallion? Vinia can’t use the ring to orient on one, since they don’t have a name.

Can they go to a winged centaur village? But Sherlock doesn’t think they have villages.

Benny suggests that they might have one, but are wary of mentioning it to strangers.

They discuss the possibilities, and come to the conclusion that the winged centaurs might have a village hidden in an inactive volcano, on an island in the sea to the east – an island, which is otherwise uninhabited.

Hilda sews a map, using her magic talent, making adjustments as the criteria are specified, and including the names of the selected islands. They see an island called Thera.

They don’t want to take a long time going from island to island. They need the right access. And it occurs to Vinia that maybe “Thera” stands for “The Right Access”. She says they should try Thera, but doesn’t say her reason, as she feels that it is foolish.

But the group have experienced her success with foolish reasons before, and decide to follow her suggestion.

They fly out over the sea. And come to a massive storm.

Ion says the carpet’s shield will protect them against rain, hail and lightning, but the winds will buffet them. Georgia and Furioso say they get seasick.

Vinia suggests they go under the water. Ion confirms that the shield will hold up against the seawater. So they plunge down under the water.

They travel along in the calm of the ocean. They can see fish and other sea creatures through the shield.

In due course they rise out of the sea again. They have passed the storm. And the island of Thera is before them.

But the volcano appears to be active. How can this be, since the map showed only islands with inactive volcanoes?

Sherlock says it must be illusion.

Hilda objects that centaurs don’t like to use magic. Sherlock replies that centaurs don’t like to be magic, except (in the case of winged centaurs) to the extent that it facilitates flying, but they will use it as convenient. This means that Chloe, with her talent of telepathy, must have been an outcast. But the winged centaurs are more liberal than the land-bound ones.

If the volcano is active, the shield will protect them for a few minutes. They fly to the volcano’s summit, and down inside the cone. Fortunately the fire, smoke and lava are indeed an illusion.

They fly across the giant empty caldera and see a big building, like a stall, tucked into one wall. A winged centaur flies toward them. He points to a corner of the stall roof, where they should land.

So they land, and Vinia goes to meet the centaur. She tells him they need the centaurs’ help. He replies, “Obviously, or you would not have come to Grand Centaur Station.” He says his name is Cedar Centaur; he is Officer of the Day.

Vinia tells him about their mission, including the fact that Chloe, the winged centaur, would only be released when a centaur stallion is found for her.

Cedar recognises the names of Ida’s children, and concludes that Vinia is the one that helps Ion to walk. It is apparent that centaurs have encyclopedic knowledge.  He recognises Chloe’s name; she disappeared a century ago; she was telepathic; this may be a problem in finding a partner for her.

Vinia says they only need one more prince after this – for Demesne Demoness.

Again Cedar recognises the name; Demesne is a friend of Dara, the Good Magician’s wife. He sees Dara’s ring on Vinia’s finger. This implies that Vinia’s quest has the Good Magician’s support – something the centaurs can’t ignore.

Cedar puts his hands together, forming a cup, and blows a flutelike note, calling all the bachelor centaurs. Six of them arrive.

The other members of the quest party leave the carpet to observe the proceedings.

Cedar tells the centaurs of the visitors’ mission. Hilda plays Chloe’s hologram for them.

But none of the centaurs respond. Obviously Chloe’s telepathy is a problem for them.

Cedar says that as Officer of the Day, he must handle this matter. They cannot afford to balk a project – the new feminist Queendom of Thanx – of this progressive nature, tacitly supported by the Good Magician. And this may relate to their own crisis. He hands over his duties, as Officer of the Day, to another centaur, called Cedric. Cedar joins the quest party as they return to the carpet. They take off.

Ion wonders about the crisis Cedar had mentioned. Cedar says that Thera shows signs of becoming active again. The centaurs will have to establish a new base within a decade. Maybe Thanx can serve this purpose.

Vinia privately wonders if the fact that Cedar is doing this out of duty, rather than for romance, will be a problem.

Now they need to find a demon prince as a partner for Demesne.

Cedar tells them that the main source of information about lesser demons (outside of Hades) is Demon Professor Grossclout. He is currently visiting the Islet of Longer Hands to give a lecture on diabolics.

Grossclout (who has appeared many times in past stories) is notorious for terrorising his students at the University of Magic. He is the Magician of Intimidation.

Vina says Grossclout’s name to her ring, and it flashes. Benny steers the carpet in that direction.

Ion says that demons can be mischief. Fortunately the worst they have encountered is Demoness Metria.

And as often occurs when her name is mentioned, Metria appears. She is a mischievous, flirtatious demoness, who often flies around seeking interesting things. People find her a nuisance, and try to persuade her to leave, often without much success.

But a flying carpet, with a mixed cargo of children and princes, is too interesting for her to ignore.

Sherlock strikes up a conversation with Metria. He tells her she has a sharp mind, but she is not living up to her potential.

He tells her how he had been an arrogant king, doing things his own way, and not listening to other people. And his people had risen up against him and deposed him, and given the throne to his daughter. She is willing to listen to other people’s opinions and now the kingdom is prospering.

Sherlock has learnt that there is merit in doing the right thing and helping others.

Metria is much the same as Sherlock was, only interested in her own projects and not concerning herself with other people’s welfare or opinions. As a result, people react negatively to her, as Ion and Hilda had on this occasion.

Metria admits that she is tired of being unpopular.

Sherlock tells her they are hoping to talk to Demon Grossclout. Maybe Metria can help them.

Metria says she used to be in Grossclout’s classes at the University of Magic. She would tease him by wearing short skirts and displaying her panties.

Sherlock tells her how they need Grossclout’s help to recruit a demon prince for a demon princess, so the six crystal princesses can be released, and that the princesses hope to form the feminist Queendom of Thanx. The demon princess is Demesne.

Metria knows Demesne. She had been the top student in Grossclout’s class. This was because she had a crush on him. But she had finally left, thinking it was hopeless.

Sherlock has a wicked idea. If they try to talk to Grossclout, but he ignores them, maybe Metria could assume the form of Demesne. This would be sure to get his attention. And in the larger context it would be the decent thing.

So Metria stays with them as they continue their journey.

They finally arrive at the Islet of Longer Hands. Ion makes the carpet invisible. The ring directs them to Grossclout, who is walking along a path away from where he has just completed his lecture.

Vinia steps off the carpet, becoming visible. Metria is with her, but invisible. Vinia addresses Professor Grossclout.

But Grossclout disappears, reappearing further along the path.

Metria transports Vinia further along the path, so they are now in front of Grossclout. Metria is now visible, taking on Demesne’s appearance.

Grossclout freezes, and asks Metria (whom he takes be Demesne) where she has been.

Vinia tells him this is not actually Demesne, just her image. Vinia has come on Demesne’s behalf. She plays Demesne’s hologram for him. Metria fades out.

Grossclout says he wants Vinia’s opinion. Vinia protests that she is just an incidental child. Grossclout replies that she wears Dara’s ring, that she is the protagonist of the story, and she has uncanny finesse in handling unusual situations. He had given Dara the ring a century ago, to facilitate her training of Good Magician Humfrey.

He says Vinia is a true innocent, with no preconceptions. Unlike that insult to the species, Metria. Obviously he knows Metria is still present, and who she really is. Metria reappears, in her own form.

She protests that she is reforming; she is trying to connect him up with Demesne, who had had a crush on him.

Grossclout is taken aback; he had not realised that. Metria suggests that he should retire and go to be with Demesne.

Grossclout asks Vinia to contact Demesne, so Vinia says her name to the ring. When Demesne answers, Vinia tells her that Grossclout is here with her.

Demesne exclaims, “Grossclout!” sounding like a trapped schoolgirl. Grossclout tells her that it has been suggested that he retire and join her as her consort in the Queendom of Thanx. Demesne doesn’t know what to say.

So Grossclout asks Vinia: should he go there? And after a moment’s thought, Vinia says, “Yes!”

There is no objection from either of them. Grossclout says he will join Demesne at the concourse of suitors. And then he vanishes.

No Thanx
They arrive back at Dragoman’s cave in the predawn. Metria had left earlier.

Before entering, Vinia suggests they empty the potty. They have been using it for several days, and it wouldn’t do for it to be knocked over inside the dragon’s lair.

They land the carpet outside the cave. Cedar picks up the potty and carries it off the carpet. Sherlock and Furioso follow with magically enhanced spades and dig a pit. Cedar empties the potty into the pit.

Sherlock starts to cover up the pit with loose earth.

Vinia, wanting to help, grabs Furioso’s spade, which he had dropped. And she feels her hands hurting. She had run afoul of some stinging nettles. Georgia washes Vinia’s hands with water from a nearby pool. But the nettles had got under Vinia’s ring. She pulls off the ring and washes her hands in the pool.

By now the pit is covered, so they all return to the carpet and fly into the cave.

Then Vinia realises she has lost her ring. But the carpet can’t turn around in the tunnel, and it is still too dark to find the ring. They will have to return when it is full daylight.

They arrive in Dragoman’s lair, and announce to the dragon that they have three princes, plus one princess, and there are two to come.

One to come,” says Grossclout as he appears.

Ion says he will arrange for the last to arrive. He and Vinia walk out to the flower fields, where Ion sets up the portal, as he had previously for the one near the hive.

Vinia realises with dismay that she hasn’t got her ring, which would be needed to specify the portal’s destination. But Ion says it is not needed, as the local portal is within the orientation range of the portal near the hive.

He completes the setup, and pokes his finger through the portal, making a beckoning motion. Soon Drover Drone flies through. He greets them and then flies back to tell Queen BeeAttitude that the return connection had been established. Soon he is back again, followed by a line of worker bees who head to the Honeysuckles.

Vinia invites Drover to perch on her head; they return to the dragon’s lair.

They all go into the crystal chamber. There are the six crystals, like giant gems. The princes and Georgia line up in front of them, and Vinia joins them, with Drover on her head.

Dragoman breathes out a plume of white smoke, and the crystals evaporate; there are five princesses standing there, plus one buzzing in place. The princes and Georgia gaze at the princesses, who gaze back at them.

A heart appears, with lines connecting Elga Elf and Cedar Centaur. Vinia is confused: these two are not supposed to be a couple!

Cedar steps forward and offers Elga his hand. She accepts it and then sits on it. She is only two feet tall, and he is six feet tall, with more behind. He brings her to his face and they kiss. It is true love.

Elga murmurs that they will need an accommodation spell. Ion hands them a vial, and they leave the room to spend time together.

Another heart appears, connecting Sherlock and Hula. They kiss.

Hula says, “I love you, but I want more.” Vinia wonders if there is a problem. Sherlock replies, “Understood. I am happy to have the share of you I can manage. I look forward to watching you dance, and of course we will converse.” Hula seems to accept this, so maybe the problem has been solved.

Another heart appears, connecting Beetrix and Drover. She flies over to join him on Vinia’s head. Beetrix invites Drover to fly among the flowers. She flies off, with Drover following.

Another heart appears, connecting Grossclout and Demesne. Their long-stifled interest is finally working out, with their relationship changing from professor and student to queen and consort. They come together and kiss.

Another heart appears, connecting Goblette and Georgia. They come together and kiss, finding love and acceptance, rather than the disapproval they had previously experienced from other goblins.

That leaves Furioso Fee and Chloe Centaur. But these two are not interested in each other. They look to Vinia for a solution, and Vinia realises that as protagonist, it is up her to resolve the situation.

Benny tosses her his thinking cap. She puts it on and immediately two ideas come to her.

She says to Furioso, “Your problem is that no elf has been woman enough for you, physically or emotionally. And Hula’s problem is that no one man is enough for her. She’s a lot more woman than a fee or an elf.” (As before, Vinia is not quite sure what she is talking about, because of the Adult Conspiracy.) Furioso and Hula eye each other. And of course Furioso can assume human size for an hour at a time.

Furioso says to Hula, “My initial interest is mostly physical rather than mental.”

She replies, “As it happens, I have the mental aspect covered,” glancing at Sherlock, who smiles.

The three of them leave the chamber together.

“Which leaves one winged monster,” says Chloe. (The term “winged monster” is used in Xanth to include winged creatures of all kinds.)

Vinia tells Chloe there is another winged monster present who knows and respects Chloe, who also has a limited form of telepathy. She looks at Dragoman.

Chloe reads Dragoman’s mind and realises it is true. They have known each other mentally for years and are friends. As for the physical, an accommodation spell will suffice. And they can fly together.

An hour later, everyone returns to the dragon’s cave. Queen Demesne wants to have an informal strategy meeting. She says she knows they all want to get busy with their roles:

  • Goblette and Georgia will be setting up the schedule of meals.
  • Hula will be organising the queendom’s entertainments.
  • Elga and Cedar will be setting up a pavilion to use as a temporary official palace, so as not to intrude on Dragoman’s lair anymore, and putting the grounds in order.
  • Chloe will be establishing formal relations with established kingdoms and monarchs, such as King Ivy and Queen Birdie.

But Demesne thinks that the queendom needs to establish diplomatic relations with neighbouring tribes as soon as possible. She says she can handle this herself, without having to distract Chloe from her business.

Dragoman says there are six neighbouring kingdoms, or the equivalent: human, goblin, ogre, troll, gnome and dragon.

They decide to start with the human kingdom, as most of the group have some human component. Dragoman tells them that that kingdom is the Hoo-Hah Humans, given to mostly wine, women and song.

[This seems to be an exception to the rule I have previously assumed, that all humans in the Land of Xanth are under the jurisdiction of the Human Kingdom of Xanth. It is not known whether the Kingdom of Xanth recognises the Hoo-Hah Kingdom. Note: Adamant might also be considered to be such an exception, but this might be more understandable, as Adamant is in the Sometime Islands, and not in Xanth Proper.]

They make up a party to visit the Kingdom of Hoo-Hah: Demesne, Grossclout, Goblette, Georgia, Ion and Vinia. They would take a gift: perfume for the king to give to the queen, the kind which generates powerful potency when the king sniffs it. Ion has this available as an elixir.

The Hoo-Hah castle is within walking distance, so the group of six set off, and soon arrive at the castle. They ask to see the king and are directed to a hall where music is playing, scantily-clad girls are dancing and servants are carrying jugs of wine in and out.

They see the king, in his crown and robe, drunkenly attempting to dance with a pretty girl. At Grossclout’s suggestion, Ion releases the vapour of a sobriety elixir, and they get the king’s attention.

Demesne tells the king that she is the queen of the newly-formed Queendom of Thanx, a feminist queendom, governed by women, and she hopes to establish friendly relations with his kingdom.

The king is shocked at the idea of a kingdom governed by women. He declares that the queendom must be destroyed.

Ion presents their gift: a seductive perfume for the king’s wife. This interests the king. His dancing partner, a girl called Dulcie, races off to find the queen (and thus avoids his lustful attentions toward herself).

The lecherous king casts his eye on the two pretty goblin girls. To distract him, and to avoid a diplomatic incident, Vinia uses her telekinetic power to cause the king’s robe to goose him. The king howls and leaps into the air.

Dulcie arrives back with the queen. Ion opens the vial of perfume, and the vapour wafts out around Dulcie and the queen. The potency elixir has its effect on the king, and the queen and Dulcie run from the hall chased by the king.

Demesne and her retinue take their leave and return to Dragoman’s lair.

But Chloe, now Minister of Communications, tells them Hoo-Hah has declared war on Thanx, and the other surrounding kingdoms are following suit. They plan to invade and destroy the queendom tomorrow.

Cedar wonders why things had gone so drastically wrong so suddenly. Vinia confesses that she has lost her ring, which brings luck, but the luck is reversed if she loses the ring.

They all go out to search for the ring, and eventually find it. Vinia puts it back on. They return to the lair.

They must now plan how to handle the invasion.

Beetrix says that if her hive had been at full strength, her bees could sting the invaders so badly that they would never bother the queendom again. But that wouldn’t happen for another year.

The queendom has a mutual defence pact with Drover’s home hive. But Drover says that Queen BeeAttitude would only provide enough warrior bees to defend the Heaven-Can-Wait Honeysuckle field. There are six more sectors to defend.

Sherlock has had experience with wars. He says they will need allies – instant ones, and probably highly unusual ones. He suggests nickelpedes.

Nickelpedes are one of the common hazards of the Xanth series. They are five times as bad as centipedes; they gouge nickel-sized pieces of flesh from their victims.

But Thanx can offer them recognition of their merit as a species. In exchange for driving off the invaders, they can be offered a place to live in Thanx, as long as they do not attack the citizens.

Benny suggests salamanders. These creatures can set fire to anything, and so can give hotfoots to the invaders. They too can be given a place in Thanx and acceptance as a species. They may even agree to heat people’s homes in winter.

Furioso suggests ghosts. They don’t have to spook everyone they see. They could be offered freshly-built haunted houses, and they might put on spook shows for children.

Georgia suggests sirens. These are mermaids who can sing and lure invading men to their doom. The person to recruit them should be a girl child, a nonprincess.

And Vinia realises that this means her. She reluctantly agrees to do this.

Demesne says if Vinia is not careful, she’ll end up recruiting all their allies. But Vinia says they will need to do all their recruiting today, and she can’t be in several places at once.

However Ion says he has a split personality elixir, so Vinia could be in several places at once.

And Vinia realises she is stuck with it. Princes and princesses are not much for menial tasks, and they will all be busy with their roles setting up the queendom.

Grossclout tells her that her ring will facilitate her effort.

Hilda says Vinia will need someone to protect and encourage her. Grossclout volunteers for this. Vinia is dismayed: Grossclout is the Magician of Intimidation! But Demesne reassures her: Grossclout really can protect her, and he can be social and friendly when he tries.

Sirens
Vinia feels overwhelmed by what she is required to do, and she doesn’t know how to do it.

Grossclout escorts her out of the lair to the location of a lovely pool, the Whirl Pool Pond.

Vinia bursts into tears. To her surprise, Grossclout hugs her comfortingly, and as he does, he seems like a kind and friendly grandfather. Grossclout explains that Ion had given him some reverse elixir, which temporarily transforms him from the Magician of Intimidation to the Magician of Encouragement.

Grossclout assures her that Demesne had specifically selected her for this mission, believing that Vinia was the most capable person for the job, and she had advised the others. And Grossclout will be available to provide the elements she requires to function efficiently.

Ion had provided Grossclout with the split personality elixir. Grossclout tells Vinia that when she inhales the vapour, her host body will remain here, inert, while her several partial selves will depart for the domains of the six prospective allies.

Hilda had provided Grossclout with a map of Xanth, with the locations of the six allies marked. Each of Vinia’s selves must touch one of these locations and will be transported astrally there to occupy a compatible host who has been advised she is coming and will cooperate to the best of her ability. Vinia must approach the leader of the tribe and make her case.

Since Vinia will be wearing the ring, she can always return to it. And she will have to guide the allies back to Thanx. Grossclout would bring one of Ion’s miniportals to each site where necessary. This would suffice for all of the groups except one, as they are small in size, or diffuse in the case of the ghosts. The exception is the sirens; they would have to travel via the river channels to the Whirl Pool Pond.

Her host among the sirens will be Signal Siren. She had taken one of Grossclout’s classes, so he had contacted her, and she is amenable. She is expecting Vinia.

Signal had joined the class because she had wanted to learn incidental magic, such as air flotation, so she could get around on land. But she needed something else: her tribe was in trouble and needed a new home. The local king was annoyed with them for dooming too many of his warriors, so he was going to lay siege to their lake with female warriors.

[As the story develops, it is revealed that Grossclout had in the past been in contact with a representative of each of the prospective allied species. In each case the tribe had been under some threat and needed a new home, and Grossclout had promised to help. Since at that time he hadn’t yet heard about the queendom of Thanx, either he wouldn’t have known how to fulfil his promises, or he had some prophetic knowledge that a solution would be forthcoming.

Is it a coincidence that the others in Thanx had suggested four of the six species that Grossclout had already been in contact with? Or maybe Grossclout had discussed those species with the group.

There seems to have been quite a bit of discussion which Vinia was not party to: Demesne’s discussion with the others that Vinia was the best person for the job, and Grossclout’s discussion of the species he has been in contact with. It is a bit difficult to know when this happened, and how it fit into the timeframe.

And Grossclout must have contacted the representatives of those species – the individuals who would host Vinia – again recently, and told them that someone would be coming in the form of an astral spirit, to organise things. Logically this would have to have been after it was decided that Thanx needed allies, that Vinia would be the one to recruit them, and that she would make use of the split personality elixir. It is a bit hard to see how this could have fit into the timeframe, but maybe Vinia’s period of bewilderment was a bit longer than seems apparent from the narrative. Grossclout could have used his demonic ability to pop quickly into the presence of each of those representatives, and briefly told them what was happening. Maybe he used the split personality elixir to be several places at once.]

Grossclout brings out the vial of split personality elixir. He tells her to breathe it. It will last for several hours. She should focus on one visit at a time. The visits would be simultaneous, but her focus would enable her to experience them as consecutive. Grossclout would pop to any section where she needs him.

He opens the vial, and Vinia breathes the vapour. Suddenly there are six of her, jostling for attention. Grossclout tells her to focus. She focuses on the self that will visit the sirens. Grossclout holds up the map, and Vinia (as that particular partial self) touches the spot that marks the location of the sirens.

Vinia finds herself sharing the body of Signal Siren. They communicate mentally, introducing themselves. Grossclout had told Signal that Vinia was coming.

Signal swims to meet her queen, Siesta.

Vinia uses Signal’s mouth to speak to the queen. She tells her that she is Vinia, a land-bound child, visiting Signal astrally. She is representing the Queendom of Thanx, and offering the sirens a new home in the Whirl Pool Pond. They must not harm the men who are residents of Thanx, but they must help protect against invading men. Thanx will be invaded tomorrow and the pond is next to the ogre kingdom.

Queen Siesta says the sirens can handle ogres just the same as they can human men. She agrees that the sirens will come.

But there is a problem. The river channels between their current location and Thanx are dry.

Vinia sends a thought to Grossclout, and he appears. He greets Signal and Siesta. Siesta tells him the problem with the river channels.

Grossclout turns toward a cloud in the sky above the nearby dry river channel. He fires off one of his famous glowers. This frightens the cloud so much that it loses control of its water, which pours down into the channel.

Siesta whistles, calling all the mermaids, who swim into the channel.

Grossclout has to repeat the procedure every time the mermaids enter a new channel. Eventually they all arrive in the Whirl Pool Pond in Thanx.

Nickelpedes
Vinia uses the ring to summon the map and touches it at the spot marked Nickelpedes.

She finds herself sharing the body of a female nickelpede called Nimbus. They greet each other. Nimbus sets off to take Vinia to the nickelpede queen, Nitro.

The encounter a few creatures along the way:

  • a smaller creature, a centipede. Nimbus says it is harmless. If it tries anything, Nimbus will eat it.
  • a smaller, silver-coloured creature, a Dime-i-pede. It is no trouble, but it does not fear Nimbus. Maybe the silver protects it from the nickelpede’s bite.
  • A larger creature, a quarterpede, who gnashes its teeth. Nimbus backs off and finds an alternative route.

Nimbus tells Vinia a swarm of quarterpedes is moving in, and the nickelpedes are running out of places to retreat.

They finally reach the rotten stump which serves as the nickelpede headquarters. A guard says Queen Nitro is waiting impatiently. Quarterpedes had raided their best foraging patch today.

Nimbus enters. Vinia introduces herself to the queen using Nimbus’s mandibles. She says that the Queendom of Thanx offers the nickelpedes a safe patch to live, if they help defend the queendom against the goblins who will attack tomorrow. There will be a truce between the nickelpedes and the citizens of Thanx: the nickelpedes must not attack the citizens, and the citizens will not harm the nickelpedes.

But the queendom has two goblin princesses who are citizens. The nickelpedes must not attack them.

Nitro objects that goblin princesses are the tastiest, but reluctantly agrees not to harm them.

Vinia says Grossclout’s name to the ring – this of course is an astral copy of the ring which came with the astral copy of Vinia – and Grossclout appears.

But quarterpedes are attacking the nickelpedes. Grossclout says he will back off the quarterpedes while the nickelpedes go through the portal. He sets up the portal. The queen leads the nickelpedes through.

Grossclout glares at the quarterpedes, which causes them to stumble and crash into each other.

By now all the nickelpedes except for Nimbus have passed through the portal. The quarterpedes converge on her. But Grossclout picks her up and places her in front of the portal. She goes through.

Arriving back in Thanx, Vinia sees the nickelpedes crawling all over Chloe and Dragoman! But Grossclout reassures her: Chloe and Dragonman are welcoming the nickelpedes by giving them joyrides. Nimbus and Vinia join them.

Chloe and Dragonman take off, giving the nickelpedes an aerial view of the land, which the nickelpedes would never have experienced before.

Chloe communicates telepathically with them all. She tells the nickelpedes they will be welcome in any Thanx house, to prey on vermin such as rats and roaches. And citizens will carry them where they want to go.

Nitro wonders if the two goblin princesses will object to what the nickelpedes will do to their kinsmen. But Chloe says no. The princesses know the goblin soldiers would gang-rape them if they got a chance. They are from a different tribe.

Salamanders
Vinia touches the spot on the map that marks the location of the salamanders.

She finds herself sharing the body of a female salamander called Sali. Sali is tending her part of a communal garden; the flowers have a pleasant smell.

Vinia and Sali introduce themselves.

Sali tells Vinia the salamanders use the ash from burning to provide nutrition to the flowers. But now the area is largely burned out and they need to move to a new area. The plant is the stink horn.

Vinia is surprised. The stink horn produces the worst of smells. But Sali says that is only for large creatures, to discourage them from trampling the plants.

Vinia tells her she is here to offer the salamanders a place in Thanx: fresh fertile unburned land in exchange for protection from the trolls who will invade tomorrow. Sali says the salamanders can give the trolls hotfoots, and if that is not effective, they can burn them out.

Vinia says that the salamanders must restrict their burning to their own territory. Sali agrees.

Sali heads off to take Vinia to the salamander queen, Sapphire.

Vinia asks if they are a matriarchy. Sali says no, the salamanders are separated into divisions by gender, in order to avoid distractions outside of the mating season; King Saber runs the male division and Queen Sapphire runs the female division.

They come to a fort made of tamped ashes. Queen Sapphire is there. Vinia repeats the offer she had made to Sali, which the queen accepts.

There is a rumble of thunder, and three clouds appear above them. Queen Sapphire is dismayed: there is going to be a storm, which will interfere with the salamanders’ transplanting of the stink horn seeds.

But Vinia has a solution. She uses the ring to contact Fiera Fire Cloud. She tells her she is helping a band of salamanders to move to the newly-formed feminist Queendom of Thanx, but there are three storm clouds threatening to delay this. Could Fiera come and help? If she does, she too would be welcome to come to live in Thanx, in the same region as the salamanders.

Fiera agrees and she soon arrives. She fires off a display of lightning in the direction of the clouds. When they don’t back off, she fires a lightning bolt at the nearest cloud, causing it to explode. The other clouds flee.

Vinia calls Grossclout and he arrives. He commends Vinia for the solution of involving Fiera, and says he will clear Fiera’s move to Thanx with Demesne. He sets up the portal.

Vinia tells the queen that the salamanders should go through. The salamanders gather up their stink horn plants and proceed through the portal.

Vinia tells Fiera to form herself into a tube of vapour and go through the portal as well. Fiera does this and Sali and Vinia follow her through.

Demesne is there to welcome the salamanders; she has formed herself into a large burning salamander.

Vinia (still hosted by Sali) talks to Fiera and assures her she is welcome; Grossclout would have cleared it with Demesne.

Fiera tells Vinia she is lonely; she has no friends. She has FireBrand as a boyfriend, but that is not the same. Vinia tells Fiera she will be her friend.

Ghosts
Vinia moves on to her next host, a ghost. She finds herself in a nebulous region. She sends a querying thought.

A mental voice replies; it is a female ghost called Ghorgeous. Grossclout had told her to expect Vinia. While alive she had had the nickname of Gorgeous; as a ghost she tends to insert an “h” as the second letter of some words: Vhinia, Ghrossclout, Mhundania, rhainbow, etc.

Ghorgeous tells Vinia they are in a haunted house in Mundania. But the house is about to be demolished. Ghorgeous and her fellow-ghosts are chained to the house, as the place of their death, but if the house goes, they will be left haunting thin air, which is a ghastly fate.

[It seems a bit strange that Vinia’s partial-self could be transported to Mundania by touching a map of Xanth, but there is a ready explanation. Hilda had created the map with her magic. Although the spots for Ghosts and Snails (see the next section) are marked on the map of Xanth, Hilda had made it that touching them actually transports Vinia’s partial-selves to where the ghosts and snails actually are, in Mundania.]

Ghorgeous had managed to stretch her bond sufficiently to arrive in Professor Grossclout’s classroom, where she requested to attend his class. [This would have involved travel across worlds, from Mundania to Xanth, but maybe this is within the scope of ghostly powers.] He weakened her bond to enable her to be somewhat free.

She says that Grossclout believes that Vinia has a special talent for solving intractable problems, that she can free them from their bonds and enable them to move to a ramshackle house in Thanx.

Vinia says the ghosts will be welcome to move to Thanx if they defend against the invading dragons. Ghorgeous says she thinks the ghosts can spook the dragons.

But Vinia does not know how to free the ghosts.

Ghorgeous says that she needs to solve the riddle of their murder and gain justice, so that their unfinished business no longer anchors them there. They don’t know that it was murder, but Grossclout thinks so, otherwise they wouldn’t be bound there.

The night before Ghorgeous was due to be married, a car was left running in the garage, and carbon monoxide filled the house and suffocated the twelve people in the house.

Vinia wonders if there was a recording device to see what happened to the car, and Ghorgeous remembers that there was a motion-activated camera, which would have recorded onto a videotape. The police would have it.

So Ghorgeous contacts her living brother George and tells him Vinia’s suggestion. George contacts the police and they examine the videotape; this had apparently been overlooked in the original investigation.

The case is solved and the ghosts find they are free of their bonds to the house.

Vinia tells all the ghosts to touch Ghorgeous, so they will stay together as they transport to Thanx. She calls up the map, and touches the section marked Thanx, with her host Ghorgeous’s hand, and they all find themselves at the ghosts’ new home, a rundown house in Thanx.

Snails
Vinia calls up the map and touches the section marked Snails.

She finds herself sharing the body of a female snail called Snazzy. They introduce themselves.

Snazzy sets off to join the rest of the snail community. It will take a while because snails are slow. Snazzy explains the background to the snails’ problem.

The snails live in Mundania. They have a field of florescent fennel they feed on, which they have done for millennia. They also protect it from marauders. But now the sea is advancing – due to global warming – and will soon swamp the field. The fennel will die and so will the snails, as they can’t eat anything else.

Vinia tells her the snails are welcome to come and live in Thanx. But they would have to fight against the invading gnomes. And Vinia can’t imagine how the snails could do this. But Snazzy says the snails can use their stickiness against the gnomes.

But there is another problem. There is no field of florescent fennel in Thanx. They will have to take their present field there, and Vinia doesn’t know how to do that.

Snazzy says their queen, Snafu, may know how to do it.

They finally arrive at the stalk where Queen Snafu resides. Vinia tells her the situation.

Snafu knows about Ion and Hilda, and their magical abilities. [It is not clear how a snail in Mundania could possibly know about these two people in Xanth.] She says Hilda can sew a flying carpet big enough to support the field of fennel. Ion could use a time contraction elixir to enable Hilda to make the carpet in the available time. And Ion could use the accommodation elixir to enable the carpet carrying the field to fit through the portal to Thanx.

Vinia uses the ring to call up Ion and Hilda to tell them what Snafu had said. Before long, Ion and Hilda arrive, in snail size, with an enormous rolled carpet.

Ion uses some elixir to enable the carpet to slide under the field of fennel. Hilda makes the carpet lift, and they all (including all the snails) board the field. Ion uses accommodation elixir to make them all small enough to fit through the portal, and they fly through to the plain which is their destination in Thanx. Demesne and Grossclout are there to welcome them.

Ion releases the accommodation spell and the field expands to its full size. The snails now have their home in Thanx.

Lovebugs
Vinia calls up the map and is about to touch the spot marked Lovebugs, when Grossclout says, “Halt!”

He says there is a complication. She must rescue two swarms. These bugs come in two varieties, the female lovebugs and the male hatebugs. When a lovebug bites a creature, the creature loves, and when a hatebug bites a creature, the creature hates.

Therefore, Vinia will have two hosts, a lovebug and a hatebug. She must fission her current partial-self, so that half will be in each host. The two halves will be in mental contact with each other, so it will be necessary to focus.

Vinia inadvertently touches the map before she is ready.

She finds herself in a white bug and in a black bug in different locations. She greets them both.

The white bug replies that Grossclout had told her that Vinia was coming. She is Lorna Lovebug. Her swarm had been blown by a terrible storm and are now stranded on an isolated island.

Meanwhile, the black bug demands to know what Vinia is doing in its mind.

Vinia tells Lorna she must talk to someone else first. She switches focus to the black bug.

After a short argument, the black bug gives its name – Hayes Hatebug – and says their swarm had been chasing a flock of rabbits, which had then transformed into demons and disappeared. The demons had led the swarm so far astray that the swarm had become lost.

And then Vinia realises that the black bug is in fact a female masquerading as a male.

Hayes confesses that this is so. She is a lesbian. The other bugs don’t understand her orientation. She would be driven out of the swarm if they knew. She had dipped herself in black powder, practised her hate and managed to fake being male well enough to join the male swarm.

Vinia tells her that only half of her personality is here with her. Her other half is with a bug in the female swarm. She must swap over and consult with her other host.

So Vinia swaps back to Lorna. She asks her which she prefers romantically, male or female. Lorna admits that she is a lesbian. Vinia tells her that her other half personality is with a lesbian bug, posing as male in the male swarm.

Vinia says she believes her mission is to get both swarms to Thanx.

She switches back to Hayes and tells her her other host is also a lesbian. When the two swarms merge for mating, Lorna and Hayes can get together.

But when the two swarms come to Thanx, it will be necessary for the lovebugs and hatebugs to defend the kingdom against human invaders. They will do this by biting them, making them either love or hate their companions, which will disrupt the invasion.

Hayes tells her that the two swarms must not arrive together, otherwise they will immediately proceed to mate, and will not sting the invaders.

Vinia swaps back to Lorna and tells her everything she had discussed with Hayes. Then she says Grossclout’s name to the ring.

Grossclout appears. He says they will transport the lovebugs today and the hatebugs tomorrow. The two swarms will each encounter the invaders before encountering the other swarm.

Vinia explains to the hosts what is necessary. Each of the hosts goes to their swarm chief and explains the situation.

Grossclout sets up the portal for the lovebugs and they all pass through to a delightful valley in Thanx. He will set up the portal for the hatebugs tomorrow.

War
Back in Thanx, Vinia joins Ion in their room on the carpet, ready to sleep after her eventful day.

But Queen Demesne appears. The princesses and their consorts are concerned about the next day. They want to be sure their defences are working and to actually see it happening.

Vinia agrees to help. Demesne tells her she must check on the six fronts and relay the information to the princesses. Grossclout has a webcam she can use.

So the next morning Vinia meets with Grossclout. He tells her the six invasions will happen simultaneously. So she will have to use the split personality elixir to fission into six again.

He explains about the webcam: it is a camera which projects its images to a large screen in the central chamber, where the princesses will be watching. It is borrowed technology from Mundania which Grossclout has enhanced magically.

He gives her the cam and explains how to operate it. Once she has it oriented on its target, it remains locked onto it; it will continue filming the target even if she turns away, correcting for shaking hands or whatever.

When she fissions, the webcam will fission with her.

He opens the vial of split personality elixir and she breathes the vapour.

[In the following description I will not be giving details of the battles.]

Vinia touches each relevant section of the map of Thanx in turn, and visits:

  • Signal Siren. The sirens are fighting against the ogres.
  • Nimbus Nickelpede. The nickelpedes are fighting against the goblins.
  • Sali Salamander. The salamanders are fighting against the trolls, with the help of Fiera Fire Cloud.
  • Ghorgeous Ghost. The ghosts are fighting against the dragons.
  • Snazzy Snail. The snails are fighting against the gnomes.
  • Lorna Lovebug. The lovebugs and hatebugs are fighting against the humans. After the battle, Vinia helps Lorna and Hayes to get together.

In each case the allied species defeats the invaders. The war is won.

Virus
Vinia goes to see Queen Demesne in Dragoman’s lair. She tells Demesne she wants to have a party in the lair with the friends who had helped her with the defence – her seven hosts plus Fiera.

Demesne approves this. She says the princesses will cater the party, as they are grateful for what Vinia has done.

Demesne says she will retire for a while, as she seems to have caught a virus. Vinia protests that demons don’t get viruses. Demesne replies that maybe she is exhausted from the strain of organising the queendom.

Hula arrives and tells Vinia that she can do a dance for the party. She will also organise some decorations.

Cedar and Elga arrive and organise tables and chairs and an urn containing a translator spell.

Goblette and Georgia arrive, and tell Vinia they will make pastries and anything else Vinia’s friends want to eat.

The fragmentation effect of the split personality elixir has not yet dissipated, so Vinia tunes in on her eight friends and invites them to the party. Then she solidifies in one place and another to pick up Snazzy Snail and Nimbus Nickelpede and brings them to the lair. [This seems to be an effect of the split personality elixir which we didn’t know about before.]

Ghorgeous Ghost joins Vinia in her body, saying it is nice to be hosted in a living body after so long. Vinia feels a bit strange.

Ghorgeous tells her to look in a mirror, and when she does, she sees herself as a grown woman. Ghorgeous tells her that with Ghorgeous’s spirit in her, she has assumed the form she will take when she is Ghorgeous’s age.

The other guests arrive in the lair. Vinia introduces them all to each other. Goblette and Georgia arrive with a tray of refreshments.

Then they all watch the recordings of the invasions and the defences, applauding the devices used to defeat the enemy.

All the guests are getting on well, making friends with each other.

Then Demon Grossclout arrives. They all welcome him.

But Grossclout says he has something serious to say. Demesne has been affected by a virus that makes her submissive. This virus makes any woman unable to deny any man anything. It was introduced by the invaders. The guests must therefore depart immediately, to avoid catching it.

In the meantime, it will be up to the male consorts to defend the queendom. The neighbouring kingdoms are likely to attack again once they are satisfied the feminists have all become submissive.

So the party abruptly comes to an end and all the guests depart. (Vinia reverts to her normal age when Ghorgeous leaves.)

Grossclout tells Vinia that she and Hilda should be immune to the virus; it only seems to affect adult women. And men and boys are not affected.

He tells her that she and her companions – Ion, Hilda and Benny – should go back to the Good Magician to ask what they should do.

So Vinia and her companions board the flying carpet and set off again for the Good Magician’s Castle.

On the way she uses the ring to communicate with Demesne. Demesne tells her they have set up a roster, so Vinia can keep them informed of her group’s progress. (Vinia would specify the “Thanx Officer of the Hour” to the ring.)

In due course they arrive at the castle. This time they will all tackle the Challenges together. They will not be able to use their magic, except that Vinia still has sufficient telekinetic power to enable Ion to walk.

They overcome the Challenges and arrive at a door into the castle, where they are met by Wira, the Good Magician’s daughter-in-law. She leads them in to the same living room where they had been with Dara before. Wira leaves to tell the Good Magician they are here.

Vinia says she is sorry not to see Dara here; she had been really helpful, especially by giving her the ring. The others agree with her.

And then they hear Dara’s voice, thanking them. She had taken the form of the couch that Ion and Vinia are sitting on! Ion and Vinia jump up, and Dara takes her usual form.

Vinia offers Dara her ring back, but Dara says to keep it; her need for it is not over.

Vinia offers to let Dara talk to Demesne, and contacts Demesne via the ring. The two demonesses chat together for a while.

Wira returns and conducts the querents into the Good Magician’s study. Hilda asks Magician Humfrey what the required Service will be. Humfrey replies that their Service is to accomplish the mission.

Ion asks the Question, “How can we get the antidote for the submission virus?”

Humfrey replies, “That is a secret possessed only by the Lips tribe. They are attractive women with outsize lips. You must meet their leader, Queen Apoca, and persuade her to share the secret with you, or to provide you with a sample. The ring will enable you to get in touch with her, but there is danger. Their territory is a war zone. Proceed cautiously and indirectly, so as not to betray Apoca’s location to the enemy.”

Hilda asks him who the enemy is.

Humfrey tells them, “The Male Volents. Violent males who want to conquer and possess the Lips without being tamed by them. Any male a Lips kisses becomes her love slave. But if the males can catch Lips women without being kissed, and infect them with the submission virus, they win. Neither side wants to kill the other, merely to master or mistress them as the case may be.”

So the four questers set off again on their magic carpet on the next part of their mission.

Advertisement