Author's Note for "Third Time Lucky"

I wrote the first draft of this story while I was on vacation in Cuba. Now this was almost thirty years ago so even the main tourist areas weren't as, well, touristy as they currently are, but that didn't really matter because we were nowhere near the main tourist areas. We were in a re-purposed resort for workers in the sugar industry at the other end of the island. Isolated. Gorgeous. Significantly cheaper. Slight danger of being electrocuted in the shower but, hey, nothing's perfect.

While exploring the property, I found a set of hidden concrete stairs that lead down into a tiny cove, and every day after that I sat on the top step for a couple of hours with an old spiral bound notebook and an assortment of pens and wrote a story about what happens when the most powerful wizard in the world is also the laziest wizard in the world. The small, friendly lizards who watched me work became a part of not only this story but of all the Magdelene stories to follow, along with a representative of the semi-feral cats who dined on them. (Pregnant cat, dead lizard; true story.)

The first friend who read "Third Time Lucky" moved all my commas one word to the left. That still happens, but now professionals do it.

I sent the story first to Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress. She rejected it. Then to Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. They rejected it. Then I sent it to Amazing Stories and George Scithers, the editor at the time, called me making suggestions for improvements. (It was a simpler time.) A little confused, I asked if this meant that he wanted to see it again after I implemented his suggestions. He sighed and said, "Yes." So I did. And he did. And he bought the story. I got the letter the day before I left on a trip to NYC where I met Sheila Gilbert and passed over the manuscript for Child of the Grove. (Again, simpler time.) And when Sheila asked me if I had any professional credits, I told her, "I just sold a story to George Scithers at Amazing." Maybe that meant she took the manuscript more seriously? Who knows.... but talk about third time lucky.

Excluding the two poems I had published in the Picton Gazette when I was ten (although they paid me five dollars each, I usually do exclude them) "Third Time Lucky" was my first professional sale – the contract is dated 13th September 1985 and it appeared in the November 1986 edition of Amazing Stories. Because of publishing schedules, it was the second story to come out – the first was "What Little Girls are Made Of" in Magic in Ithkar III – but this, this is where it all started.

Third Time Lucky

The lizard had no idea it was being observed as it lay on top of the low coral wall, its mouth slightly open, its eyes unfocused golden jewels. Its only concern was with the warmth of the spring sun – not that the spring sun was much different from the winter sun.

"The real difference," Magdelene explained every spring to a variety of sweating guests, "is that it goes from being hot to being damned hot."

"How can you stand it?" one visitor had panted, languidly fanning himself with a palm leaf.

Magdelene's grey eyes had crinkled at the corners. "I like it hot." And she'd licked her lips.

The visitor, a handsome young nobleman who'd been sent south by his father until a small social infraction blew over, spent the rest of his life wondering if he'd misunderstood.

The lizard liked it hot as well.

Silk, Magdelene's cat, did not. She was expecting her first litter of kittens, and between the extra weight and the heat she was miserable. She did, however, like lizards.

The lizard never knew what hit him. One moment he was peacefully enjoying the sun, the next he was dangling upside down between uncomfortably sharp teeth being carried into the garden where he was suddenly and painfully dropped. He was stunned for a moment, then scuttled as fast as he could for the safety that beckoned from under a broken piece of tile.

He didn't make it.

Twice more he was lifted, carried, and dropped. Finally he turned, raised his head, and hissed at his tormentor.

Which was quite enough for Silk. She lunged with dainty precision, bit the lizard's head off, then made short work of the rest of it.

"Are you sure you should be eating lizards in your condition?" Magdelene asked. The crunching of tiny bones had distracted her attention from her book.

Silk merely licked her lips disdainfully and stalked away, her distended belly swaying from side to side.

Magdelene laughed and returned to the story. It was a boring tale of two men adventuring in the land of the Djinn, but the friend who had brought it to her had gone to a great deal of trouble, and books were rare – even with that printing device they had come up with in the east – so she read it.

"Mistress, will you be eating in the garden today?"
"Please, Kali. It'll be happening soon; I want to enjoy the peace while I can."

"Happening again, Mistress?"

"Some people never learn, Kali."
"One can hope, Mistress," Kali sniffed and went back in the house to prepare lunch.

"One always hopes," Magdelene sighed, "but it doesn't seem to do much good."

She had lived in the turquoise house on the hill for as long as anyone in the fishing village that held her closest neighbours could remember. Great-grandmothers told little children how, when they were young, their great-grandmothers had told them that she had always been there. She had been there so long, in fact, that the villagers took her presence for granted and treated her much the same way as they treated the wind and the coral reef and the sea: with a friendly respect. It had taken them longer to accept Kali and the visible difference of red eyes and ivory horns, but that too had come in time. It had been years since it was considered unusual to see the demon housekeeper in the marketplace arguing over the price of fish. It was, however, still unusual to see her lose the argument.

Occasionally it was useful to have Magdelene for a neighbour.

* * * *

"Carlos, there's a dragon in the harbour."

The village headman sighed and looked at the three heaps of kindling that had been fishing boats a very short time before. It had been a miracle that all six fishermen had survived. "Yes, M'lady, I know."

"I guess," Magdelene mused, squinting into the wind, her skirt and the two scarves she had wrapped around her breasts snapping and dancing about her, "I should go out and talk to him."

"I'll ready my boat." The headman turned to go, but Magdelene held up her hand.

"Don't bother," she said. "Boats are tippy, unstable little things. I'll walk."

And she did. She got wet to about the knees, the swells making for uneven footing, but, while the villagers watched in awe, she walked out until she stood, bobbing gently up and down with the waves, about five body-lengths from the dragon.

"Well?" she asked.

"Gertz?" replied the huge, silver sea-dragon, extraordinarily puzzled. He turned his head so he could fix her in one opalescent eye.

Magdelene put her hands on her hips.

"Go on," she said firmly. "Shoo!"

The dragon, recognizing the voice of authority, however casual, suddenly decided there was much better fishing further south and left.

The villagers cheered as Magdelene stepped back into the sand. She grinned and curtsied, not gracefully but enthusiastically, then waved a hand at the wreckage. Wood, rope, canvas, and the bits of metal received in trade for fish, shuddered, stirred, then danced themselves back into fishing boats.

Everyone stared in silent surprise. This was more than they'd dared hope for.

"We don't know how to thank you," the headman began, but his wife interrupted.

"Just say the words, for Netos' sake," she muttered, knowing her husband's tendency to orate at the slightest provocation. "The lady knows what she's done, she doesn't need you telling her."

Carlos sighed. "Thank you."

Magdelene twinkled at him. "You're welcome." Then she went home to browbeat Kali into baking something sweet for supper. She hadn't got halfway up the hill before the boats were putting out to replace the morning's lost catch.

* * * *

Two days later the soldiers came.

"It is happening, Mistress."

"Yes, Kali, I know."

"What would you have me do?"

"I think..." Magdelene shaded her eyes with her hand. "I think you should make lunch for six. We'll eat in the garden."

The captain had been sent by his king to bring back the most powerful wizard in the world. What he and the four soldiers he'd brought with him were supposed to do if the wizard refused to cooperate was beyond him. Die, he suspected. The wizard had been ridiculously easy to find; legends – and the memory of some of them caused him to shift uneasily on his saddle – had led him right to her. He wasn't sure what he'd expected, but it wasn't a woman around his own age of forty, with laughing eyes and a sunburned nose who was barely dressed.

"I'm looking," he said stiffly, stopping his small troop at the gate in the coral wall, "for Magdelene, the Wizard."

"You're looking at her." Magdelene liked large, well-muscled, dark-eyed men with grizzled beards – even if they were wearing too much clothing – so she gave the captain her best smile.

The captain showed no visible reaction, but behind him young Colin smiled back. The most powerful wizard in the world reminded him of his Aunt Maya.

"I am here to take you to Bokta..."
"And where in the Goddess' creation is that?"

"North," he said flatly; worship of the Goddess had been outlawed in Bokta for several dozen years. "Very far north."

"Why does he always go north?" Magdelene asked Silk, who had shown up to see what was going on. "What's wrong with east, or west, or even further south?"

Silk neither knew nor cared; and as she didn't much like horses, she padded off to find some shade.

Magdelene looked up to find the captain glaring at her and was instantly, although not very sincerely, contrite. "I'm sorry. You were saying?"

"I am here to escort you to Bokta so you may prove yourself to be the most powerful wizard in the world. My king does not believe you are."

"Really? And who told him I wasn't?"

A small smile cracked the captain's beard. "I believe it was his wizard."

"I'll bet," said Magdelene dryly. "And if I don't come?"

"Then I'm to tell you that the wizard will destroy twenty people daily from the time I return without you until you appear."

Magdelene's eyes went hard. "Will he?"


"That son of a bitch!" She considered that for a moment and grinned ruefully at her choice of phrase. "We can leave tomorrow. I'd travel faster on my own, but we'd best follow procedure."

She stepped back and the five men rode into the yard. Suddenly, there was no gate in the corral wall.

"Oh, put that away," she chided a nervous soldier, who clutched his sword in an undeniably threatening manner. "If those great big horses of yours can't jump a three-foot wall, even in this heat, you're in trouble. Besides, you couldn't kill me if you wanted to. I've been dead, and it isn't all it's cracked up to be."

The sword remained pointed at her throat.

"Garan!" snapped the captain.

"But sir..."

"Put it away!"

"Yes, sir."

Scowling, the captain swung off his horse. "Then we are your prisoners."

"Don't be ridiculous, you're my guests. Unsaddle your horses and turn them loose over there. They'll be well taken care of." She turned and headed for the garden. "Then you can join me for lunch. I hope you like shrimp." She paused and faced them again, noting with amusement that they were looking slightly stunned. "And please don't draw on my housekeeper, her feelings are easily hurt."

* * * *

A small problem arose the next morning.

"You have no horse?" the captain asked incredulously.

Magdelene shook her head. "I can't ride. No sense of rhythm." She slapped her hands in front of her to illustrate the point. "I go one way, the horse goes another and we meet in the middle. Incredibly uncomfortable way to travel."

As children in Bokta rode before they walked, it hadn't occurred to the captain that the wizard would not have a horse. Or that she'd be unwilling to get one.

"Never mind," she said comfortingly, "we'll stop by the village on our way and borrow Haylio's donkey and cart."

"Donkey and cart?" repeated the captain weakly.

"He's not very fast, but I can sit in a cart with the best of folk." She waved a hand and the gate reappeared in the wall.

"Mistress?" Kali stood in the garden. "When will you return?"

"How long will it take us to get to this Bokta place?" Magdelene queried the captain, who, in company with his men, was eyeing Kali nervously. Garan had his hand on his sword.

"About three months."

"Then expect me back in about three months plus a day. Or two. Maybe three at the outside. After all," she added for her escort's benefit, "I don't intend to take the scenic route back. And you," she wagged a finger at Silk who was lying at Kali's feet. "You take care of yourself, and no more lizards."

Silk inspected a perfectly groomed silver paw and refused to answer.

* * * *

It was a strange cavalcade that moved north along the coast road: five great warhorses carrying overdressed and sweaty soldiers, bracketing a medium-sized donkey pulling a two-wheeled cart and the most powerful wizard in the world.

Magdelene sang loudly and tunelessly as they travelled, her songs usually the type gently-bred females were not supposed to know.

"Madam!" The captain had stood it as long as he was able.

A bawdy lyric, in an impossible key, faded to silence. "Something troubling you?"
"It's that song..."

"Really? Am I corrupting your men?"

"No, but you're scaring the horses."

For a moment the captain anticipated being turned into something unpleasant, then Magdelene threw back her head and laughed long and hard.

"Point taken," she gasped when the laughter finally let her talk. "I've no music at all and I know it. Do you sing, Captain?"


She grinned up at him. "Pity. I'm very..." She paused and her smile grew thoughtful as she remembered. "...amiable to men who make music."

On his way back to the front of the line the captain almost succeeded in not wondering just how amiable this wizard could be.

* * * *

The soldiers treated Magdelene with a mixture of fear and respect, fear winning most often, for their king's wizard had taught them to dread the breed; all save Colin, who treated her much the same as he treated his Aunt Maya. Magdelene, who had never been anyone's aunt, slipped happily into the role, and Colin became the only one of the fair-skinned northerners to stop burning and peeling and burning again.

"Well, I don't care what you say," growled Garan. "Ain't nobody's aunt can grab a fistful of fire, then sit there tossing it from hand to hand."

"I don't think she was aware she was doing it."

"That don't make it better!"

* * * *

They reached Denada in three and a half weeks. Even forced to the donkey's pace, that was two days faster than it had taken going the other way.

The captain sighed in relief; he'd about had it with the perpetual heat of the southlands. Even the rain was warm. He spurred his horse towards the city gate.

"Uh, sir?"

"Now what?" He wheeled around, narrowly missed running down a farmer with a basket of yams on his head, and was soundly cursed. When he reached the cart, Magdelene had removed her small bundle of belongings and was kissing the soft, grey muzzle of the donkey.

"What are you doing?"

She grinned up at him. "What does it look like? I'm kissing the donkey."

Colin snickered but managed to school his expression before the captain could look his way.

The captain sighed. "Metros give me strength," he prayed. "Why are you kissing the donkey?"

"Because I'm sending him home." She flicked the animal between his eyes with the first two fingers of her left hand.

Half a startled bray hung on the air, but the donkey and the cart were gone.

"Can your Aunt Maya do that?" hissed Garan.

Colin had to admit she couldn't.

"Why not send us to Bokta that way," demanded the captain, walking his horse through the space where the donkey had been, making sure it had truly vanished, "and avoid all this damned travelling."

"I know where I've been," Magdelene replied gravely, "but even I don't know where I'm going to be until I get there." She shouldered her bag and headed for the gate. The captain and his men could only follow.

The five northern soldiers on their massive war horses made little stir as they moved the width of the city, from the gate to the harbour. After all, they had been there less than two months before, and Denada, a cosmopolitan city with traders arriving daily from exotic places, saved its wonder for the truly unusual. Only a few street whores took any notice of the men, and no one at all noticed the most powerful wizard in the world.

Denada's harbour was huge: twenty ships could tie up, and there was room for another thirty to ride at anchor. Miraculously, the Raven, the ship that had carried the soldiers across the inland sea, was still docked and appeared to have just finished loading.

"Two months!" boomed her master, bounding down the gangway. "Two months I've sat here since you rode away! First, I have to clean the stink of those abominable animals out of my forward hold, then what happens but my steersman, may his liver be eaten by cockroaches, sets sail with a hangover, and we come up bang on a reef and rip off half the keel. It's a miracle, although no gods have yet claimed it, that we made it back here for repairs. Now, at last, we're ready to sail." He pounded the captain's shoulder enthusiastically. "So, what can I do for you?"

"I need passage north for myself, my men, and our horses. And for this lady here."
"Again with the horses!" He didn't give Magdelene, who was dropping stale journey bread into the water to feed the fish, a second glance. "Still, as I already have a hold that stinks like a stable... fourteen gold pieces."

"All right, I..."

"Two," said Magdelene, her eyes glinting dangerously as she dusted crumbs off her hands.

The ship's master stared accusingly at the captain. "I thought you said she was a lady? Fourteen I say, and fourteen it is."

After a spirited discussion, they settled on eight. The captain paid up, and Magdelene deftly lifted four gold pieces from his pouch.


"You're still up two," she said sweetly. "While you load the horses, I'm going shopping."
"Don't tell me," muttered Garan, stopping Colin before he could speak. "Your Aunt Maya loves to shop."

Hours passed, the ship was ready to sail on the evening tide, and Magdelene had still not returned. Both worried and annoyed, the captain walked to the end of the docks to look for her. He was considering a trip into the city when she came barrelling around a corner, a grimy urchin heavily laden with packages in tow, and crashed into his arms.

"Here, take these." She shoved the parcels at him and tossed the boy a silver piece. "Thanks for the help, kid, now beat it before the mob gets here."
"Where have you been?" demanded the captain as they trotted towards the ship. "We're ready to leave. Why are we running an..." He stopped. "Mob? What mob?"

Magdelene got him moving again. "I cured a blind beggar. It drew a bit of a crowd. Good thing the kid knew a short cut."

They sprinted up the gangway just as the leading edge of the mob appeared at the end of the docks. A cry went up as Magdelene was spotted.

"Why didn't you do something a little less spectacular," muttered the captain, tossing the packages over the rail, then vaulting it himself. "Like raising the dead."

"I did that the last time." She accepted his helping hand, having somehow managed to become tangled in a stray line. "This time I was trying to keep a low profile."

"You've been here before then."


"Well, maybe next time you can pass through without starting a riot." He shouted to the ship's master to cast off, but it was unnecessary. The instant Magdelene's foot touched the deck, ropes untied themselves and the Raven slipped its mooring just ahead of the first hysterical Denadan.

"Why," asked the captain, using the toe of his boot on a package in danger of going overboard, "does the most powerful wizard in the world have to run from a crowd of shopkeepers and beggars?"
Magdelene collapsed on a bale of rope. "I'll let you in on a secret," she panted. "I'm also the laziest wizard in the world. Running was definitely the least complicated thing to do."

* * * *

The trip across the inland sea had never been done faster. The Raven seemed to barely touch the waves, and the wind never left her sails.

"I don't like boats," Magdelene explained when the captain voiced his suspicions about the wind. "They make me sick. It's worse than being pregnant."

He stared at her in surprise. He'd never thought of her having a life like other women. "You had children?"

"Have," she corrected, and it wasn't just the sea that chased the laughter from her eyes. "One. A son. Goddess knows why I ever let his father talk me into it."

"He could make music," the captain suggested.

Some of the laughter returned. "He could at that."

The ship rolled, and the most powerful wizard in the world turned slightly green.

"Oh, lizard piss!" she muttered and headed for the rail.

* * * *

The Raven docked in Finera in eighteen days. The previous record was twenty-seven.

"Any time you want to travel the seas, Lady Wizard, you are most welcome to sail with me."

Magdelene smiled stiffly at the ship's master, "Next time I travel, I'll walk." She gripped Colin's arm tightly as he helped her down the gangway. "Sometimes, I think he situates himself purposefully so that I have to travel by sea."

Colin looked puzzled.

"Never mind, dear. Just get me somewhere that isn't moving."

"Take her to the Laughing Boar," bellowed the captain over the squeals of the horse being lifted from the hold. "We'll spend the night."

The Laughing Boar was the largest inn in Finera and a favourite with the caravan masters who came into the city to trade with ships from the south. As they crossed the common room, Magdelene counted fifteen different dialects; one of which, she was surprised to note, she didn't know. Her room was large and cheerful and so, she observed with satisfaction, was the bed.

"This ought to make him sit up and take notice." She winked at her reflection, now clad in a dangerously low-cut green silk gown, and went looking for the captain.

Later that night he sat on the edge of her bed, suddenly unsure.

"What's wrong?" she asked, gently tweaking a wiry curl.

He caught her hand. "Did you use your magic to bring me here?"
She smiled, and there was nothing, and everything, magic in the smile. "Only the magic that women have been using on men since the Goddess created the world."

"Oh." He considered for a moment. "That's all right then." And he lowered himself to her lips.

Next morning, as he left Magdelene's room, the captain bumped into Colin in the corridor. The young man executed a parade-ground-perfect salute and marched briskly off down the hall, his face a study in suppressed laughter.

"Smart-assed kid," muttered the captain. He straightened his tunic, and stomped off to find breakfast.

* * * *

"Will we have to camp in this?" Magdelene asked anxiously, watching water stream off the shield she'd raised over the entire group. Even Garan was forced to agree there were certain advantages in travelling with a wizard.

"Not for a while," Colin reassured her. "We follow the Great North Road over half the way, and it seems to be lined with inns."

Magdelene eyed the broad back of the captain. "Good."

* * * *

"I'd like to see you claim resemblance to your Aunt Maya now." Garan wiped foam off his mouth onto his sleeve. "She's used her blasted magic to bewitch the captain."
"That's all you know," Colin chuckled, finishing his own ale. "My family lives in the capital, and Aunt May has bedded the captain."

* * * *

When they reached the border of Bokta, a full division of the King's Guard awaited them, darkly impressive in their black and silver armour.

"This is the best you could do?" sneered the guard captain, staring disdainfully down his narrow nose at Magdelene in her pony cart. "The king and his wizard are not going to be pleased."

It had been a long trip and Magdelene was not in the best of moods. "How would you like to spend the rest of your life as a tree frog?" she asked conversationally.

The guard captain ignored her. "Can't you keep her quiet?" he drawled, ennui dripping from the words.

It was difficult to say who was more surprised, the division of King's Guard or the tree frog clinging to the saddle of the guard captain's horse. The horse seemed unimpressed.

"Magdelene," sighed the captain, "change him back."

"He's a pompous ass," Magdelene protested sulkily.

"Granted, but he's also the king's favorite nephew. Please."

"Oh, all right." She waved her hand. The guard captain cheeped once, found himself back in his own body, and fainted. It was a rather subdued trip into the capital.

* * * *

The king's wizard stirred the entrails of the goat with the tip of his bloody knife. She was here, in the palace, and when he defeated her he would be the most powerful wizard in the world! Power. He could feel it burning through him, lighting fires of destruction that he would release to obliterate this woman, this Magdelene.

He wiped the knife on a skin taken whole off a stillborn babe, twitched his robes into place, and left his sanctum. Behind him, blood began to drip off the table and form a pool on the carpet.

The king was waiting in the corridor, nervously pacing up and down. He stopped when the wizard emerged, and his two men-at-arms thankfully fell into place behind him.

"She's in the Palace. We must hurry or we won't be in the throne room when she arrives." The wizard merely nodded curtly. His measured stride didn't change.

"You are sure you can defeat her?" The king, left standing, scrambled to catch up.

"I have studied for over a hundred years. I command the demons of the Netherworld. I control the elements. I can easily defeat one ancient woman."

Magdelene's actual appearance came as a bit of a shock to both men. The crystal had only ever shown her location, never the wizard herself. This was the most powerful wizard in the world? This laughing woman who wasn't even wearing wizardly robes? The king almost chuckled as he took his seat.

* * * *

Magdelene approached the throne with the captain, bowed when he did, and clicked her tongue when she looked up at the king's wizard. Thick grey hair sprang from a widow's peak and curled on his shoulders, his eyes were sunken black pits, his nails were claws on the end of long and skinny fingers, and his stooped body was covered in a black robe so closely embroidered with cabalistic symbols that from a distance it looked more gold than black.

"If he'd just once realize that self-control comes first," she hissed to the captain as a herald announced them.

The whispers of the court fell silent as the king's wizard stepped forward. "I have summoned you to prove yourself," he declared in ponderous tones, blue fire crackling eerily about him.

The captain shifted his weight so that his cloak fell free of his sword. He had always hated this wizard, this scrawny, grey, scarecrow of a man, and had it not been for the innocent lives that would have been forfeit he would have never brought Magdelene here to him. At least not after he'd gotten to know her.

Magdelene successfully fought the urge to giggle. "Interesting outfit, Tristan. Demon-made?"

"My name is Polsarr," snarled the wizard, his lips pulled back over startlingly white teeth.

"Your name," said Magdelene mildly, "is Tristan. I should know, I gave it to you. And now," she turned to the king, "I'd like to be shown to my room, it's been a long trip."

"You are not going anywhere, woman!" bellowed Polsarr. "Until I banish you into darkness!"

"Oh? And would you have everyone say that you defeated the most powerful wizard in the world only because she was exhausted and irritable from four days of bumping over incredibly bad roads?"

The king tugged on Polsarr's sleeve. "We don't want that! There must be no doubt when you win."

Polsarr glowered and muttered, but finally had to agree the king was right. "Enjoy your rest," he snarled. "It will be your last." He stalked from the room.

"If he really wants to prove his power," Magdelene muttered to the king, "he should do something about those roads."

The king ignored that. "Captain, take her to the south tower in the east wing. And Captain, you and your men will guard this wizard one more night."

The captain bowed and backed away. Magdelene gave the king her second-best smile and followed.

At the tower – which was as far away from the rest of the Palace as it was possible to get and still be in the Palace – the captain dismissed his men.

"Be back at dawn," he told them. "Even if the king's wizard decides to attack tonight, there's nothing you could do."

Colin raised an eyebrow at the phrasing, but he went with the rest.

The tower was deserted and, judging by the unbroken layer of dust, hadn't been used in years. Magdelene waved a hand at her bag, and it trailed behind them up the stairs.

"The man's as big an ass as the king's nephew."

There was no need to ask who she meant.

"He's not much like you."

"Thank you. He's not much like his father either. That man didn't have an ambitious bone in his body." She sighed. "Maybe I should've encouraged the kid's musical talents."

The captain threw open a door leading to an old-fashioned bedchamber.

"If I remember correctly, this is the only furnished room in the tower."

Magdelene stepped inside, the bag settling to the floor at her feet. "It's not that bad. The bed looks solid enough for one night at least." She grinned over her shoulder at the captain, only to find him hesitating in the doorway. "What's wrong?"

"I'll stand guard in the hall. You'll need your strength for tomorrow."

"And I want your strength tonight," she told him gently, drawing him into the room and shutting the door.

Some hours later, the captain untangled himself from her embrace and rolled over on his back. "Is there anything," he asked, trying to get his breath back, "that you don't do well?"

Magdelene ran her fingers through the matted hair on his chest. "I'm a lousy mother," she admitted.

* * * *

Everyone with a plausible excuse crowded into the throne room the next morning. People were packed so tightly against the walls, they had to cooperate with their neighbours in order to breathe. Even the queen, who hated public functions and wanted only to be left alone, was there. The king was almost quivering with excitement, anticipating when he would control the most powerful wizard in the world. Polsarr stood alone in the centre of the room.

When Magdelene entered, the room released a collective sigh. She had not escaped in the night.

Leaving the captain and his men by the door, Magdelene walked forward until she stood only three body-lengths from her son.

"Morning, Tristan. Sleep well?"

Polsarr ignored the question. He drew himself up to his full height and declared, "Already I have defeated seven lesser mages."

"Seven," said Magdelene. "Imagine that."

"I banished even the mighty Joshuae to the Netherworld!" He saw what he thought was worry in Magdelene's eyes and chuckled.

Magdelene wasn't worried. She was annoyed. "You banished Joshuae to the Netherworld? That was remarkably rude; the man is your name-father."

His outraged volume was impressive.

"Well, you don't now, that's for sure. I only hope he finds his way back."


Magdelene sighed. "And the time before this you were ripped from the loins of the North Wind. The time before that..." Her brow wrinkled. "I don't remember the time before that, but it was equally ridiculous I'm sure. Now, can we get on with this?"

Polsarr shrieked with wordless rage. Blue lightning leapt from his fingertips.

Magdelene stood unconcerned, and the lightning missed.

A fireball grew in Polsarr's hand. When it reached the size of a wagon wheel he threw it. And then another. And then another.

Magdelene disappeared within the fire. The flames burnt viciously for a moment, then suddenly died down. Although the floor was blackened and warped, Magdelene remained unscorched.

Polsarr screamed a hideous incantation, spittle flying from his lips to sizzle on the floor. There was a blinding red flash between the wizards... and then a demon.

The demon was three times the size of a man, with green scaled skin and burning red eyes. Six-inch tusks drew its mouth back into a snarl and poisons dripped from the scimitar-shaped talons that curved out from both hands and feet. It raised heavily muscled arms, screamed, and lurched towards Magdelene.

Magdelene looked it right in the eye.

The demon stopped screaming.

She folded her arms across her chest, and her foot began to tap.

The demon paused and reconsidered. Suddenly, recognition dawned. It gave a startled shriek and vanished.

Polsarr began to gather darkness about him, but Magdelene raised her hand.

"Enough," she sighed, and snapped her fingers.

When the smoke cleared, the most powerful wizard in the world cradled a baby in her arms. Polsarr's robe lay empty on the floor, and the wizard was nowhere to be seen.

"Here, hold this." She handed the baby to the king. "I want to say good-bye to some people." She walked to the door where the captain and his men still stood. The silence was overwhelming as the audience tried very hard not to attract the wizard's attention.


The young man stepped forward, for the first time a little afraid.

"This is for you." She wrestled a silver ring with three blue stones off her finger. "There aren't many wizards left in the world, but should you run afoul of one this will protect you." Then she grinned, and everything was all right. "Only from wizards though: it won't raise a finger against outraged parents." She pulled a string of coral beads out of the air and dropped them on his palm. "These are for your Aunt Maya." Reaching up, she pulled his head down until she could whisper in his ear. "Tell her I said..." Magdelene paused, glanced at the captain, and snickered in a very unwizardlike way. "Never mind. If we're as much alike as you seem to think, she'll come up with it on her own." A kiss on the forehead and she released him. "Come and visit me some time."

"I will."

She moved over to the captain and took both his hands in hers. "It won't be very safe here for you now. You were responsible for me, and I defeated the king's wizard."

They both turned to look at the king who was holding the baby as if he'd rather be holding the demon.

The captain smiled down at her. "I was thinking of leaving the king's service anyway."

"That might be a good idea. You can always come and stay with me; young Tristan is going to need a father figure." She gurgled with laughter at the look of terror on his face, kissed him hard enough to carry the feel of his lips away with her, and went to collect her son.

"You really should keep a better eye on him," she said to the queen, with a nod to the king who was rubbing at the damp spot on his knee.

And then she vanished.

* * * *

"Not again, Mistress," sighed Kali as Magdelene handed her the baby.

"Sure looks that way." Magdelene sighed as well, then grinned at a suddenly inspired thought. "See if you can find his father's lute!" she called after the demon and went to look for Silk and her kittens.

[Publisher’s note: “Third Time Lucky” is the fourth story in chronological order. To go to the fifth chronological story, jump to “And Who is Joah?” To continue in written order, proceed to the next page.]