"So you see," Trent continued, "my throne may merely be the most convenient agency for the promotion of your welfare. Perhaps your entire exile, and the death of the Storm King at this time, are all part of that magical scheme. Your exile brought me into Xanth-without my army, in your company. I certainly am not going to gamble that mere coincidence brought me to this pass; your talent makes most sophisticated use of coincidence. I don't want to go against you, and perhaps sicken and die the way my predecessor did, after he acted against your interest. No, Bink-I wouldn't want to be your enemy even if I weren't already your friend. So I am becoming a conscious agent for the preservation of your secret and the promotion of your welfare in the best way I am able. Knowing how you feel about Xanth, I shall try to be the best possible King, ushering in a new Golden Age, so that you never suffer any direct or indirect threats through my mismanagement. Now do you understand?"
Bink nodded. "I guess I do, Your Majesty."
Trent stood up, clapping him heartily on the back. "Good! All had better be well!" He paused, thinking of something else. "Have you decided on an occupation yet, Bink? I can offer you anything short of the crown itself-though even that may be in your future if-"
"No!" Bink exclaimed. Then he had to backtrack, seeing Trent's broad grin. "I mean yes, I thought of a job. I-you said once-" Bink hesitated, suddenly awkward.
"You don't seem to have listened very well. What you want, you will get-if it is within my present power. But my talent is transformation, not divination. You must speak. Out with it!"
"Well, in the wilderness, when we were waiting for Chameleon to-you know, just before the wiggles. We talked about the mystery of-"
Trent raised one royal hand. "Say no more. I hereby appoint you, Bink of the North Village, Official Researcher of Xanth. Any mysteries of magic shall be your responsibility; you shall probe wherever required until they are fathomed to your satisfaction, and turn in your reports directly to me for inclusion in the royal archives. Your secret talent makes you uniquely qualified to explore the most forbidding recesses of Xanth, for the anonymous Magician needs no bodyguard. Those recesses are long overdue for discovery. Your first assignment shall be to discover the true source of the magic of Xanth."
"I-uh, thank you, Your Majesty," Bink said gratefully. "I think I like that job much better than being King."
"Perhaps you appreciate how much that gratifies me," Trent said with a smile. "Now let's go see the girls."
The travel conjurer moved them both. Abruptly they stood at the front portal of Castle Roogna.
The drawbridge had been repaired, and now gleamed in brass and polished timbers. The moat was clean and full of water, now stocked with monsters of the finest breeds. The teeth of the portcullis glittered. Bright pennants fluttered from the highest turrets. This was a castle restored to full splendor.
Bink peered at something he thought he saw around to the side. Was it a small graveyard? Something moved there, white as a bone, with a trailing bandage. Oh, no!
Then the ground opened up. With a final cheery wave, the zombie sank into its resting place.
"Sleep in peace," Trent murmured. "I have kept my promise."
And if he had not, would the zombies have marched out of the wilderness to compel performance? That was one mystery Bink did not intend to explore.
They entered Roogna. All six ghosts greeted them in the front hall, every one in full human shape. Milly quickly popped off to notify the Queen of the King's arrival.
Iris and Chameleon swept up together, wearing castle tunics and slippers. The Sorceress was in her natural form, but so neatly garbed and coiffed that she was not unattractive, and Chameleon was almost back to her "center" stage, average in both appearance and intellect.
The Queen made no pretense of affection for Trent; it had been a marriage of convenience, as anticipated. But her pleasure in the position and her excitement about the castle were obviously genuine.
"This place is marvelous!" Iris exclaimed. "Chameleon has been showing me around, and the ghosts instructed our toilettes. All the room and grandeur I ever wanted-and it's all real. And it wants so much to please-I know I'm going to love it here."
"That's good," Trent said gravely. "Now put on your pretty face; we are entertaining company."
The middle-aged woman was instantly replaced by a stunningly smooth and buxom young woman with a low de colletage. "I just didn't want to embarrass Chameleon-you know, in her 'average' phase."
"You cannot embarrass her in any phase. Now apologize to Bink."
Iris made a breathtaking curtsy to Bink. She was ready to do anything to remain Queen-and human. Trent could make her into a warty toad-or he could make her into the very figure she now resembled. He could probably make her young enough to bear a child, the heir to the throne. Trent was the master, and Iris seemed to lack even the inclination to question this. "I'm sorry, Bink, I really am. I just got carried away there during the duel, and after. I didn't know you were going to fetch the Elders, to make Trent King."
Bink hadn't known that either. "Forget it, Your Majesty,'' he said uncomfortably. He looked at Chameleon, so close now to Dee, the girl he had liked from the outset despite Crombie's dire warnings. A fit of shyness overcame him.
"Go ahead, get it over with," Trent muttered in his ear. "She's smart enough now."
Bink thought about how much of his adventure had centered around Chameleon's quest for a spell to make her normal-when she really was quite satisfactory, and even somewhat challenging, as she was. How many people similarly spent their lives searching for their own spells-some gratuitous benefit such as a silver tree or political power or undeserved acclaim-when all they really needed was to be satisfied with what they already had? Sometimes what they had was better than what they thought they wanted. Chameleon had thought she wanted to be normal; Trent had thought he wanted armed conquest; and Bink himself had thought he wanted a demonstrable magic talent. Everyone thought he wanted something. But Bink's real quest, at the end, had been to preserve Chameleon and Trent and himself as they were, and to make Xanth accept them that way.
He had not wanted to take advantage of Chameleon in her stupid phase. He wanted to be sure she understood the full implications, before he-before he-
Something tickled his nose. Embarrassingly, he sneezed.
Iris nudged Chameleon with her elbow.
"Yes, of course I'll marry you, Bink," Chameleon said.
Trent guffawed. Then Bink was kissing her-his ordinary, extraordinary girl. She had found her spell, all right; she had cast it over him. It was the same as Crombie's curse-love.
And at last Bink understood the meaning of his omen: he was the hawk who had carried away Chameleon. She would never get free.