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De Camp, L Sprague - RK 1 - The Undesired Princess UC

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De Camp, L Sprague - RK 1 - The Undesired Princess UC

THE UNDESIRED PRINCESS AND THE ENCHANTED BUNNY

    This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

    "The Undesired Princess" copyright ? 1942 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc. Copyright ? 1951 by L. Sprague de Camp. Copyright ? 1990 by David Drake

    All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

A Baen Books Original

    Baen Publishing Enterprises 260 Fifth Avenue New York, N.Y. 10001

    ISBN: 0-671-69875-3 Cover art by Gary RuckleII First printing, May 1990

THE UNDESIRED PRINCESS

* Sprague de Camp

    Distributed by SIMON & SCHUSTER 1230 Avenue of the Americas New York, N.Y. 10020

Printed in the United States of America

1

    K.OLLIN HOBART LOOKED UP from his flow charts through the haze of smoke and said: "Come in." When the door opened, he added: "Hello, George." Pause. "Didn't you say something about bringing a friend?"

    George Prince answered the hello. He was a young man of no great importance either in the world wherein he lived or in this story, so there is no point in describing him. He added: "He'll be along. My gosh. Roily, don't you ever do anything in the evenings but work?"

"Sometimes. Who's this friend?"

"His name's Hoimon."

"Hermann?"

"No, Hoimon. H-O-I-M-O-N."

"Hoimon what? Or what Hoimon?"

"Nothing; just Hoimon. H-O-"

    Hobart gestured impatiently. "Heard you the first time. What is he?"

"He calls himself an ascetic."

Rollin Hobart frowned, or rather the already per-

4 L. Sprague de Camp

    manent crease between his eyebrows deepened. He was a rangy, large-boned man, young but not very, with slick blond hair, a narrow straight nose, and narrow straight lips. "Listen, George, I'm sorry but I haven't time to admire your eccentric friends. I've got to figure how to save these guys three-quarters of a cent per ton."

    Prince answered: "This one's different. YouTl see. Oh, by the way, have you changed your mind about the party tomorrow night yet?"

"Nope. I told you, work."

    "Oh my gosh. You don't go anywhere any more." Prince shrugged hopelessly. "I suppose that now the strike-breaking business isn't so hot"

Hobart straightened angrily. "Higgins and Hobart are not

    strike-breakers. I thought I explained"

"How about that"

    "It isn't our fault if our investigator exceeded his instructions. It was his idea to hire those"

    "Yeah," interrupted Prince, "but you and Higgins knew Karsen was a hard egg when you took him on. So you're partly responsible for that riot"

    "Not at all. You know the judge decided, when Karsen sued us because the strikers had knocked out all his teeth, that he hadn't been acting as our agent at the time."

Prince laughed. "That was the funniest darn thing"

    Hobart grinned wryly. "To you, maybe, but not to those on the inside. The company lost business, the strikers lost their pay, we lost our fee and the legal expenses, and Karsen lost his teeth. My point just was we were legally cleared, so we're not strikebreakers. Q.E.D. We're consulting engineers, and it's only natural that our clients should consult us about (heir labor-relations problems."

THE UNDESIRED PRINCESS 5

    Prince replied: "The trouble with you, Roily, is that you're a black-and-white thinker; everything either is so or it isn't. That's Aristotelian logic, which has been long since exploded. You'd make a good Communist if you hadn't got started in life as a shellback conservative"

    Hobart gave up all effort to concentrate on his engineering figures and pitched into his friend: "You're the black-and-white thinker, my lad. Because I accidentally get associated with a strike-breaker, I hate the poor toiling masses; and from the feet that I think that permanently unbalanced budgets mean trouble either for individuals or government, you infer I'm a hidebound reactionary! The trouble with you guys who dabble in social theories is that you invent a lot of pretty laws and expect the world to conform to them"

    "I only said" interrupted Prince. But Hobart, once started, was not so easily stopped.

    "And you're wrong about Aristotelian logic's being exploded," he continued in an authoritative rasp. "All that's happened is that it's been recognized as a special case of the more general forms of logic, just as plane trigonometry is a special case of spherical. That doesn't mean it's useless; it's just more limited in its application than was once thought. We could hardly conceive a world where Aristotelian two-value logic did apply generally; for instance everything would have to be red or not red, so nothing would be pink or vermiUion ..."

"Speaking of which, my friend"

    "I'm not through, George. Matter of feet Plato did have some glimmering of the concepts of continuity and multiple causation, which Aristotle missed. If Plato hadn't been so full of foggy idealistic mysticism

    what's that about your friend?"

6 L. Sprague de Camp

    George Prince, caught off balance, took a few seconds to get back in his groove. He finally said: "Well uhit's land of hard to explain.

    I don't know him very well, and I don't really believe in him yet. But if you see him, too, he must be real."

Hobart frowned, "I should think so. But what's the matterseeing things?

    Too many hot rums?"

    "Yes and no. I see him, but the question is am I seeing something that's really there?"

    "That ought to be easy," said Hobart with an impatient gesture. "Either he's there or he isn't"

"There you go!" cried Prince triumphandy. "Either or! I knewuhcome

    in!"

    They stared at the door, which opened to reveal a gaunt old man with unkempt white whiskers. This individual wore an overcoat that Hobart recognized as belonging to his friend Prince. As far as one could tell, that was all the oldster had on; below its hem extended a pair of hairy shanks ending in large calloused bare feet. He carried a rectangular wooden object with hinges and snaps, about the size of a suitcase.

Hobart asked Prince: "IsthisyourMr. Hoimon?"

    The apparition himself answered in bell-like tones: "It is true, O man, that my temporal name is Hoimon. But kindly do not use the term 'mister.' I am informed that it is derived from 'master.' Such an epithet is most repugnant to my humility; I do not wish to have superiority over any living thing ascribed to me."

    "Well," said Rollin Hobart, flustered for the first time in a couple of years. "George, what's"

"Hoimon will explain, Roily," answered Prince.

    Hoimon smiled a sweet, patient smile. "May I," he tolled, "recline?"

THE UNDESIRED PRINCESS 7

"Uhoh, sure!"

    The old man unsnapped the clasps of his wooden contraption and unfolded it, whereat it was seen to be a collapsable bed of nails or spikes. Hoimon set the thing down with a solid wooden sound, shucked off the overcoat (under which he wore a towel-like piece of textile around his middle) and settled himself at length on the spikes with a luxurious sigh.

    For some seconds he sprawled silently. His eyes swept Hobart's room, taking in the shelves of textbooks, the adding machine, the large iron dumbbells, and the photograph of Frederick Winslow Taylor on the wall.

    When he spoke, it was to Prince: "O George," he said, "is this man indeed possessed of a keen and logical mind?"

    "Keenest and logicalest I know," replied Prince. "One of M.I.T.'s best. Least, when it's something he's interested in. Outside his special fields you'll find him a bit narrow-minded. Frinstance he thinks Thomas Dewey's a wild radical."

    Hoimon waved aside the question of Mr. Dewey's radicalism. He asked: "Is he intact physically?"

"If you mean is he healthy, yes. I think he's had his appendix yanked"

    "Look here," snapped the subject of the discourse, "what the hell's the idea"

    Hoimon ignored him, and spoke again to Prince: "And his departure would not wreak grievous harm or sorrow on those near him?"

    "Guess not. Some of his friends would say they wished old Roily was around to lend his crushing ironies to the conversation, but they wouldn't go into a decline on account of him being gone. He's a good, steady sort of guy, but not exactly gemuetlich."

Hobart cleared his throat, and interjected: "What

8

L. Sprague de Camp

    my misguided young friend means, Mr. Hoimon, is that I value my

independence."

    Hoimon gave him merely a brief glance, and inquired of Prince: "He has, then, no wives or oflspring?"

"My gosh no! You ought to hear him on the subject"

    Roltin Hobart, who had been polishing his glasses in a marked manner, now interrupted: "George, I admit you pique my curiosity with this ingenious nonsense. But I've got work to do; this defense boom isn't going to last forever, and Higgins and I have got to make hay. When I want a character analysis I'll go to a psychia"

    "He is also, I see," boomed Hoimon, "a person of strong and determined character. He will do, I think. But one more thing: Is he adept at the solution of paradoxes?"

    Prince looked blank; Hobart frowned, then grinned a little. The engineer remarked: "Now how did you know I was a puzzler? Hobby of mine, as a matter of fact." He picked a small white magazine entitled The Engima out of a pile and handed it to Hoimon. "I was president of the National Puzzler's League, last year. Haven't time for that sort of stuff now, though. What is it I'll 'do' for? Solving a paradox?"

    "Precisely," responded Hoimon. "It is without doubt by the providence of Nois that I was led to the one man in the three-answer world who can best assist us. Arise, O Rollin, and come with me to Logaia. There is not a minute of your finite time to be lost!"

"What tbe hell?" scowled Hobart. "What sort of

gag"

    "I have no intention of gagging you," said Hoimon, folding his bed of spikes. He turned piercing blue eyes on Hobart. "Do not haver and quibble, O Rol-

THE UNDESIRED PRINCESS

9

    lin. The life of the fairest, wisest, and best depends on you. Already the androsphinx draws nigh unto the Stump of Sacrifice."

    "But!" cried Hobart, "what's Logaia, who's this fairest etcetera, what's"

    "All will become clear," said Hoimon calmly. Though he was standing a good ten feet away, his free arm shot across the room like a chameleon's tongue and grabbed Hobart by the coat collar of the latter's conservative brown business suit. The indignant Rollin was hoisted out of his chair and across his desk. He swung a pair of knobby fists, but Hoimon held him dangling just out of reach.

    "George!" yelled Hobart. "Stop him! Get a cop! He's a nut!"

    Prince registered indecision. He said: "Hey, Hoimon, if he doesn't want to go, you got no right"

    "That will do, O George," rumbled Hoimon. "It is not for you to judge. It is but natural that one of his character should resist. Waste not your breath in shouting, as this room is now part of Logaia. By my spiritual perfection I have caused it to be so, temporarily."

    Prince stepped across to the window and looked out. He turned a blankly dismayed face. "Hey, there isn't anything outside!"

    "Of course not," said the ascetic, dodging an extra-long punch that Hobart threw at him. "Will you open the door, O George, as my hands are occupied?"

"WellI"

"Open it!" roared Hoimon.

    Prince obeyed, asking hesitantly: "Hey, Hoimon, how can a skinny old guy like you do it?"

    Hoimon replied: "My strength is as the strength of ten because my heart is pure. Farewell, O George.

10

L. Sprague de Camp

Danger awaits your friend, but also opportunity. We

go!"

"Help!" screamed Hobart. "My glasses!"

"You have them on, O Rollin," And the ascetic,

with the folding bed of nails dangling from his left

hand and a struggling Rollin Hobart at arm's length

from his right, marched out the door.

* * *

    As the darkness closed around him, Rollin Hobart tried to slip out of his coat. But Hoimon had gathered a considerable fold of shirt and vest into his iron grip. Hobart felt for the ascetic's fingers and tried to wrench them apart, but he might as well have tried to twist the tail of one of the New York Public Library's lions.

    The environment through which he was being hauled was not the hallway outside his spic three-roomer, but a dark tunnel. The light from the door of his living room picked out sides and roof of rock. Hien his feeble illumination went out sharply, as though George had closed the door. Hobart thought of the folly of keeping up with lightweight friends whose sole virtue was that they were fun to argue with.

    Hobart continued his struggles long after it was obvious that they were getting him nowhere. When he finally stopped kicking and clawing it was from exhaustion. His relaxation allowed his mind to take in the implication of the tunnel.

He gasped: "What the hellisthis, the fourth dimension?"

    Hoimon spoke softly behind him: "Talk not, O Rollin, lest you draw the cave-folk nigh."

    "Oh, is that so? Well, you answer my questions or I'll raise a hell of a holler!" Hobart filled his lungs to shout.

THE UNDESIRED PRINCESS

11

    Hoimon conceded: "In that case I must speak, lest you ignorantly bring

disaster upon yourself. Not that the cave-folk would harm me, but you"

    "All right, get to the point! What's the idea of this kidnapping?"

    Hoimon sighed. "I fear you resent the high-handed tactics I was forced to use"

    "You're damn tootin' I resent 'em! The F.B.I.'s going to hear about this! Now what"

    "I had to use force, and therefore, unless you abandon your hostility, I shall be forced to punish myself, oh, most grievously, for having laid constraint upon a living creature. I should not have considered a course so out of keeping with my humility, had it not been necessary in order to avert a greater evil. Know, O Rollin, that by the ancient curse laid on the Kings of Logaiahark!"

    Hoimon broke off, and Hobart kept his silence for the nonce. Through the darkness came a shrill sound, like the highest note of a violin; a spine-tickling cry.

    "The cave-folk!" breathed Hoimon. "Now we must hasten. If I put you down, will you accompany me in orderly fashion? You cannot return to you own world in any case."

    "I'll walk," grumbled Hobart. "What d'you do, unscramble the dimensions?"

    "As I am no scholar, I cannot fathom your talk of dimensions. All I know is that by purity of heart I have acquired powers, said to have been possessed by certain philosophers of yore, of visiting strange universes like yours, where the laws of reason hold not and nought is what it seems."

"What d'you mean, the laws of reason don't hold?"

    "In your world the earth appears to stand still while the sun goes around it, but I was assured on good authority that the reverse is the case. In Logaia,

12

L. Sprague de Camp

    when the sun seems to go around the earth, it really does so. Let there be more progress and less talk."

    The shrill wail came again, lending more speed to Hobart's legs than exhortations from his abductor would have done. A spot of daylight appeared ahead. Soon they arrived at the exit, and stood on the crest of the fan of detritus that spread out from the mouth of the tunnel. Hobart swiveled his head, blinking. The sun was high in the brilliantly blue heavens. All about were mountains, steep and conical, and somehow not quite right. After a few seconds Hobart saw what was wrong with them; they were too regular and too much alike. They reminded him of a lot of ice-cream conesthat is, the cone part without the ice

    creamplaced upside down in regular rows on a flat table.

    "Come," said Hoimon. The ascetic bounded down a steep trail, swinging his folded bed of nails, his long white hair flapping behind him. Now that Hobart got a look at his kidnapper in daylight, he saw that the saintly slave-raider was not at all a clean person. But for a man of his apparent years he was uncommonly agile. Probably, thought Hobart, the result of some screwy diet of nuts and lettuce. The engineer followed, fascinated by the way the towel about Hoimon's equator stayed in place by the most precarious of firictional holds.

    They reached the bottom of the steep slope. The mountains were a phony-looking golden yellow; so was the scanty grass. An occasional shrub had leaves of a bright blue. Yes, blue, thought Hobart after a pause to peer. Well, if they were blue they were blue. He contemptuously dismissed the idea that he might be dreaming; fear of being insane never entered his mind. If he saw blue foliage with his own eyes, blue foliage there was, period.

THE UNDESIRED PRINCESS

13

    Tliere was a little flat space between the bottom of one cone and the next. Hoimon marched briskly along this, skirting mountain after mountain. Hobart, following, got his breath back after that run down the trail. He used it to demand to know, in slightly petulant tones, what was meant by all this nonsense about androsphinxes, Stumps of Sacrifice, and the rest.

    Hoimon the ascetic dropped his folding bed beside a gnarly little tree with an unrealistic geometrical appearance; it reminded Hobart of

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