variety, but magic of a sort imagined in newsstand pulp fantasy. By God, would Miles have been astonished by that table and twenty-course dinner trick! How could anyone possibly conjure something like that up so quickly unless they truly were in a fantasy world where magic was real?
That was the other side of the coin he toyed with, unfortunately. Landover was really not a part of Virginia or the United States or North America or anywhere else on Earth. Landover was a whole other world entirely, and he had somehow stepped through a time zone to reach it.
Damn, it was exciting and terrifying all at once!
He had wanted this, of course. He had made the purchase understanding that he was going to a fantasy world, that he was buying the throne to a fantasy kingdom. But he had never imagined that it could actually be. He had never thought that it would turn out to be just exactly what the promo and old Meeks had said it would be.
He thought suddenly of Annie and wished she were here with him. She would have been able to help him accept what was happening, he thought. But Annie was not here, and it was because he had lost her that he had come in the first place. Landover was his escape from what her loss had cost him.
He shook his head admonishingly. He must remember that he had come to this world to renew his life, to leave behind the old, to find a different existence from what he had known. He had intended to cut all of his ties; he had wanted to begin again. That being so, it was foolish to bemoan the fact that he might have gotten exactly what he had wanted.
Besides, the challenge it presented intrigued him beyond anything he had ever known.
He mulled matters over in silence, letting Questor lead the way. The wizard had not volunteered any further information since the aborted luncheon, and Ben thought that he might be well advised not to ask any more questions of the man for the time being. He concentrated instead on studying the land about them; first, what was visible from the high slope during their descent and, later, what could be seen more closely from the valley floor. They were traveling east, he concluded, if the sun’s passage through the skies was an accurate compass. Mountains ringed the valley and the mist lay over everything. Lake and river country comprised the south end of the valley, desert and scrubland the east, hills the north and heavy woods the west. The center of the valley was a green flatland of fields and meadows. There were castles in the central plains; he had glimpsed their towers through the mist. There was a very dark, very unpleasant-looking hollows north and west, a deep bowl that seemed to gather mist and shadows until they stirred like steaming soup. He viewed all this during their descent from the meadow where Questor had found him; when they reached the valley floor he saw his first people. They were an unimpressive bunch—farmers with their families, woodsmen and hunters, a few stray traders with their wares, and a single rider bearing an heraldic banner of some sort. Except for the rider, the rest looked rather downtrodden. Their clothes were poor, their tools and wagons battered, and their stock worn. The homes of the farmers had seen better days and lacked any decent upkeep. Everyone seemed tired.
Ben saw all of this from some distance off, including thepeople, so he could not be entirely certain that he was seeing it accurately. Nevertheless, he didn’t think he was mistaken.
Questor Thews said nothing about any of it.
It was mid-afternoon when he turned Ben suddenly north. A stretch of wooded hills lay before them, shrouded in trailers of mist that hung across the trees like factory smoke. They passed through in silence, picking their way cautiously where limbs and leaves left the pathway in shadow. They were well north of the lake and river country Ben had seen earlier, yet a sudden cluster of lakes and ponds came into view through the trees, bits of dark water mirroring