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       "Oh, I wasn't implying any slight on his integrity," Bink said quickly. "I liked him, as a matter of fact; he was the only one who didn't get fed up with all my questions. I learned a lot from him. But I guess I didn't ask about history much. I was more preoccupied with something he couldn't tell me-but at least he did tell me about the Magician Humfrey."

       "What is your question for Humfrey, if I may ask?"

       What difference did it make? "I have no magic," he confessed. "At least, I seem to have none. All through my childhood I was at a disadvantage because I couldn't use magic to compete. I could run faster than anybody else, but the kid who could levitate still won the race. Stuff like that."

       "Centaurs get along perfectly well without magic," she pointed out. "We wouldn't take magic if it were offered."

       Bink did not believe that, but did not make an issue of it. "Humans have a different attitude, I guess. When I got older, it got worse. Now I will be exiled if I don't show some magic talent. I'm hoping Magician Humfrey can-well, if I do have magic, it means I can stay and marry my girl and have some pride. Finally."

       Cherie nodded. "I suspected it was something like that. I suppose if I were in your situation I could choke down the necessity of having magic, though I really think your culture's values are distorted. You should base your citizenship on superior qualities of personality and achievement, not on-"

       "Exactly," Bink agreed fervently.

       She smiled. "You really should have been a centaur." She shook her head so that her hair flung out prettily. "You have undertaken a hazardous journey."

       "Not more hazardous than the one to the Mundane world that will otherwise be forced on me."

       She nodded again. "Very well. You have satisfied my curiosity; I'll satisfy yours. I'll tell you the whole truth about the human intrusion into Xanth. But I don't expect you to like it much."

       "I don't expect to like the truth about myself much," Bink said ruefully. "I might as well know whatever there is to know."

       "For thousands of years Xanth was a comparatively peaceful land," she said, assuming the somewhat pedantic tone he remembered from his school days. Probably every centaur was at heart a teacher. "There was magic, very strong magic-but no unnecessary viciousness. We centaurs were the dominant species, but, as you know, we have absolutely no magic. We are magic. I suppose we migrated here from Mundania originally-but that was so long ago it is lost even to our records."

       Something tripped over in Bink's mind. "I wonder if that really is true-about magic creatures not being able to work spells? I saw a chipmouse conjure a crumb of bread-"

       "Oh? Are you sure it wasn't a chipmunk? That is a natural creature, according to our taxonomy, so it might work magic."

       "You tax animals?" Bink asked, amazed.

       "Taxonomy," she repeated with an indulgent smile. "The classification of living things, another centaur specialty.''

       Oh. Bink considered, embarrassed. "I thought it was a chipmouse, but I'm not quite certain now."

       "Actually, we're not quite certain either," she admitted. "It may be that some magical creatures can work magic. But, as a general rule, a creature either does magic or is magic, not both. Which is just as well-think of the havoc a dragon Magician could make!"

       Bink thought of it. He shuddered. "Let's get back to the history lesson," he suggested.

       "About a thousand years ago the first human tribe discovered Xanth. They thought it was just another peninsula. They moved in and cut down the trees and slaughtered the animals. There was more than enough magic here to repulse them, but Xanth had never been subjected to such callous, systematic ravage before, and we did not quite believe it. We thought the humans would leave soon.

       "But then they realized that Xanth was magic. They saw the animals levitating and the trees moving their branches. They hunted the unicorns and griffins. If you wonder why those big animals hate people, let me assure you they have good reason: their ancestors would not have survived if they'd tried to be friendly. The Firstwavers were nonmagical creatures in a land of spells, and after they got over the initial shock they liked it."

       "Now that's wrong!" Bink exclaimed. "Humans have the very strongest magic. Look at all the great Magicians. You yourself told me just now how Evil Magician Trent changed all the fish-"

       "Pipe down before I buck you off!" Cherie snapped. Her tail swished menacingly past Bink's ear. "You don't know the quarter of it. Of course humans have magic now. That's part of their problem. But not at the start."

       Bink backed down again. It was increasingly easy to do; he liked this centaur lady very well. She was answering questions he hadn't even thought to ask yet. "Sorry. This is new to me."

       "You remind me of Chester. I'll bet you're awful stubborn, too."

       "Yes," Bink said contritely.

       She laughed, and it sounded a bit like neighing. "I do like you, human. I hope you find your"-she pursed her lips distastefully-"magic." Then she flashed a sunny smile, and as quickly sobered. "Those Firstwavers had no magic, and when they found out what magic could do they were fascinated but a bit afraid of it. A number of them perished in a lake that had a drown spell, and some ran afoul of dragons, and when they met the first basilisk-"

       "Are there still basilisks?" Bink inquired worriedly, abruptly remembering the omen of the chameleon. It had stared at him in the guise of a basilisk just before it died, as if its spell had backfired. He had yet to be sure of the meaning of that sequence.

       "Yes, there are-but not many," she answered. "Both humans and centaurs labored to stamp them out. Their glance is fatal to us too, you know. Now they hide, because they know that the first intelligent creature killed that way will bring an avenging army of mirror-masked warriors down on them. A basilisk is no match for a forewarned man or centaur; it's just a small winged lizard, you know, with the head and claws of a chicken. Not very intelligent. Not that it usually needs to be."

       "Say!" Bink exclaimed. "Maybe that's the missing factor-intelligence. A creature can do magic or be magic or be smart-or any two of the three, but never all three. So a chipmouse might conjure, but not a smart dragon."

       She turned her head about again to face him. "That's a novel idea. You're pretty smart yourself. I'll have to think about it. But until we verify it, don't go into the central wilderness unprotected; there just might be a smart spell-throwing monster in there."

       "I won't go into the wilderness," Bink promised. "At least, I won't stray from the cleared path through it, until I get to the Magician's castle. I don't want any lizards looking death at me."

       "Your ancestors were more aggressive," Cherie remarked. "That's why so many of them died. But they conquered Xanth, and formed an enclave where magic was banned. They liked the country and the uses of magic, you see, but they didn't want it too close to home. So they burned the forest there, killed all magical animals and plants, and built a great stone wall."

       "The ruins!" Bink exclaimed. "I thought those old stones were from an enemy camp."

       "They are from the First Wave," she insisted.

       "But I am descended from-"

       "I said you wouldn't like this."

       "I don't," he agreed. "But I want to hear it. How can my ancestors have-"