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Thresholds

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When a magician and a witch, each in possession of real estate and an established household - and firm ideas about the proper running thereof - decide to cohabitate, the logistical complications are not to be taken lightly.

"My tower could be moved, I suppose," Telemain said doubtfully. "The power required would be tremendous, and the modulations to the transport spell to ensure that it arrived with all the integral enchantments intact would be, hm - "

"Nightmarish," Quiz suggested from under the table, winding between Telemain's ankles.

"Oh, hello there," Telemain said absently, and reached down; Quiz butted her head affectionately against his hand and then wriggled away.

"Don't let him do it," she told Morwen. "Where would he put it anyway? And it wouldn't go with the cottage at all."

"I imagine we could prevail upon Mendanbar for some assistance," Telemain said, oblivious, "but - "

"As Quiz quite rightly points out, even if we could, there's nowhere to put it," Morwen put in, heading him off. "And the garden certainly can't be moved, particularly not into the deep woods; magic or no magic, most of my plants won't grow without sun. Except for the ones that do, but those are special cases."

“Of course,” Telemain said. “And of course the enchantments in the garden integrate magical and energetic elements of the terrain itself. Why, the temporal dislocations in the orchard alone – it is a temporal effect, yes?”

“Seasonal,” Morwen said. “It's a delicate distinction, one which I'll happily explain to you at another time, I think you'll find that it adds an interesting dimension to your experiments in combining elemental and physical magics. But,” she went on, raising a hand, and also her eyebrows – Telemain closed his mouth and, grudgingly, let out the breath he had drawn to interrupt with - “that is, as I said, for another time, preferably after we have worked out what to do about the houses.”

Telemain frowned.

“You're right, I suppose. But that means we have to actually work out what to do about them.”

Morwen sighed.

“Quite.”

In the patch of sun by the window, Quiz yawned elaborately.

“Good luck,” she said, and tucked her feet under herself and went to sleep.

*

“You could build a different house, and both move into that,” Shiara suggested, and sipped her tea carefully. She didn't particularly like tea, Morwen could tell, and she clearly had only recently learned genteel tea-taking etiquette, but it must have been on her princessing curriculum, because she was obviously trying.

“The point,” Morwen said, not quite peevish but verging on it, “is that neither of us wants to move.”

“But if you both moved, then you'd both be equally unhappy about it,” Shiara pointed out.

“I'd like to think we can do better than equally unhappy,” Morwen said, and frowned. Shiara frowned too; on her shoulder, half-hidden by her hair, Nightwitch yowled quietly, and Shiara's expression smoothed.

“All right,” she grumbled, presumably to Nightwitch, and then to Morwen, “Well, yes, but if you can't, then at least that would be fair.”

“I suppose it would,” Morwen said, and suppressed the urge to sigh. She stood up. “I'll step into the library and find Materia Exotica for you, I'll just be a moment.”

Kazul had sent Shiara to borrow the book from Morwen, quite possibly just as a pretext to send her to the Enchanted Forest for the day. Daystar would probably be turning up any minute now to coincidentally run into her.

Morwen stepped through into the library, closed the door behind herself, leaned against it, and stopped suppressing that sigh. When had seventeen become 'practically a child'? Cimorene couldn't have been much older than that when Morwen first met her. More to the point, when had a preoccupation with fairness – surely well-intentioned, if lacking nuance – become childish rather than idealistic? Well, sometime in the past seventeen years of political upheaval and clandestine warfare, obviously, Morwen told herself, and for good reason, too. The real question is, is that how you mean to go on from here?

She shook her head, and crossed the room to pluck the book from the shelf, pausing on the way back to admire the view out of the wide bay window. All the other rooms looked out on the garden too – they were all on that side of the house, as far as the spell was concerned – but the view from the library was particularly nice, as the colocation spell put it squarely in the middle of the e'er-blooming rose bushes.

As she watched, Daystar appeared, just outside the back gate, then shook his head and disappeared again. Going 'round to knock on the front door, probably. Trust Cimorene to have raised a mannerly child. Morwen smiled to herself and went back into the kitchen, book in hand.

*

“If you wanted to build a different house, I'd be more than happy to grant you your pick of places to put it,” Mendanbar said. “There's a very nice glade that's usually near the Well of Ideas, but far enough out of the way that it doesn't get much traffic. Sometimes it's a meadow instead, over toward the western border, but it never stays there more than a week or so.”

“That's very kind of you,” Telemain said, carefully, “and the idea of building a home to suit is not without its appeal, I suppose, but neither I nor Morwen can readily, or willingly, abandon our current dwellings.”

“Why not just connect them?” Cimorene suggested, coming into the study with her arms full of scrolls. “Mendanbar, Willin insists that I inform you that – ahem – “reviewing the census rolls is a task better suited to administrative staff than to Your Highness.”

“Nonsense,” Mendanbar said. “Telemain was just going to demonstrate a method of magically comparing them to the last census and generating a list of differences between them; reviewing the results of that process is a task for administrative staff, but – ”

“I didn't say I thought that, I said that Willin insisted that I tell you he said so,” Cimorene said. “And hello, Telemain. But it sounded more like you were talking about real estate.”

“Well, yes,” Mendanbar admitted. “We got distracted, a bit.”

“So why not connect the two houses?” Cimorene asked.

“Relocating either of the existing structures would be exceedingly difficult,” Telemain said, “and that's not even accounting for surrounding features, such as Morwen's garden. And furthermore, the buildings are, um, architecturally incompatible.”

“I didn't say combine them,” Cimorene said. “I said connect them. Morwen has half a dozen rooms through the same door; your tower is bigger on the inside. Surely there's a way to attach them to each other somehow. That way nobody has to move, and you can come and go between them whenever you please.”

“That,” said Telemain slowly, “is an excellent idea.”

*

“This,” Telemain said, in tones of despair, “was a terrible idea.”

“No it wasn't,” Morwen said briskly, and shifted a stack of notes aside to set down the teapot. “Difficult to implement, certainly, but not terrible.”

Telemain blinked up at her.

“The revised power estimates for a permanently stabilized transportation spell,” he said, and offered her a page of calculations without further comment.

“Oh,” Morwen said. “Well, that approach clearly won't work, then. On to the next thing, I suppose. But first, there are two bushels of apples which need pressing. We can talk it over while we work.”

*

“I don't see,” Telemain said, wiping spatters of apple juice from his brow with his rolled-up sleeves, “why you don't automate this. There are any number of ways to do it that wouldn't directly influence the cider at all, provided that they were properly set up. It would save a lot of effort.”

“You know perfectly well why not,” Morwen said, and nudged him, and nodded toward the basket of apples he was supposed to be feeding into the cider press. “If you don't remember, any one of the local talking rabbits could tell you a cautionary tale about eating magically-contaminated foodstuffs.”

“You are altogether too careful to allow that kind of thing to happen,” Telemain said, and dropped a handful of apples into the hopper and prodded them with the stick, pushing them down into the grinder.

“I am,” Morwen agreed, giving the crank a little more oomph. “That's why I know better than to mess around with it. Some things don't benefit from being meddled with unnecessarily.”

Telemain huffed.

“I disagree,” he said, “not only with the apparent premise of your argument, but with the characterization of research and development as unnecessary meddling. Why wait for things to break before you fix them?”

Morwen stepped back from the crank and turned to look up at him; unattended, the flywheel slowed and stopped.

“I think our philosophies on the subject can probably be reconciled,” she said, smiling. “But I expect it will take a lot of debate.”

“I don't doubt it,” Telemain said, comically grave, humor in his eyes, in the quirk of his mouth.

“It's a good thing we have time, then,” Morwen said, equally serious, and tugged him down into a sweet, cider-sticky kiss.

*

“It's theoretically sound,” Telemain insisted, fanning away the smoke and surveying the faintly-singed doorframe with affront. “So why doesn't it work?”

“Because you're doing it wrong,” Cassandra said, from the woodbox beside the stove. Morwen fixed her with a stern look.

“It probably is an issue with the implementation,” she said, “but there's no need to be rude. Particularly not if you don't have a constructive contribution to offer.”

“You sound more like him every day,” Cassandra observed. “It's hilarious. And the problem is that you're focusing too much on to-ness, but not there-ness.”

“What?” said Morwen. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“I'm not a magician, I'm a cat,” Cassandra said, “so I'm not going to tell you about reconciling the whatsit with the thingamabob or regulating the whatchamacallit flux, or however you people like to talk about it. But you're thinking too much about going somewhere, and not enough about where it is you're actually going. The door won't let you through, because there's no there there, because it doesn't know where thereis.”

“Nonsense. It's going to the ground floor of Telemain's tower, we designated exactly where the door should – hmm.”

“Morwen?” Telemain said, looking harried. “I've depowered the main spell modules, so the risk of deflagration is greatly decreased, but there's still a risk of – Morwen, what on earth is that cat saying to you?”

“When your tower creates a new room, where is the room, exactly?” Morwen asked.

“It's in the tower,” Telemain said, distractedly. He turned back to the door and wiped away a few of the chalkmarks they had spent all morning painstakingly drawing, muttering as he did so, waved a hand slowly and effortfully counterclockwise, as if through molasses, and sagged a little, rubbing his injured shoulder. “Phew. There, that should be stable until we can fully disassemble it. What were you saying?”

“Where is 'in the tower,' though? What space does it occupy?”

“Oh,” Telemain said. “The tower continues upward, within the footprint of the ground floor, for, hmm, five hundred feet? The internal structure – the individual rooms and so on – propagates upward as one climbs the staircase; I've only ever climbed to the top of it once, just to confirm that it worked correctly. While I was constructing the ground floor, I developed an experimental space-condensation technique and incorporated it into the structure; the theoretical limit far exceeds what was implemented, but there were practical considerations.” He said 'practical considerations' with such audible distaste that even distracted, Morwen couldn't refrain from smiling.

“So the tower is five hundred feet of vertical space condensed into fifty? Without any colocation? So it's compressed, not, er, telescoped?”

“Correct. But where is this line of inquiry going?”

“Going,” Morwen said, and smiled. “Cass was just saying that the spell we've developed is focused on going somewhere, but it doesn't know where it's going.”

“Nonsense. We specified the desired destination very clearly.”

“Yes, but not where that destination is actually located. All my rooms occupy the same space as my garden; if you go into any of them and take a look out the windows, you can tell from the view. They're just fixed so they're only accessible through the door, not by strolling through the walls.”

Telemain blinked.

“Oh.” He paused a moment, stroking his beard absently. “Would it be feasible, do you think,” he said, slowly, “to define a single colocated space as being in two places at once, rather than as two spaces in one place at the same time?”

Morwen squinted, considering.

“It's theoretically sound,” she said, eventually, and Telemain laughed aloud.

“No problem at all, then,” he said, and winked, and Morwen couldn't help but laugh too.

“Back to the drawing board,” she said.

*

“Your space-condensation scheme makes it much more complicated to put anything into the tower that isn't already there,” Morwen said, much later, after a thorough perusal of Telemain's notes. “But if we put another room in the garden – a small one, really just a hallway – and then also put that same room just outside the tower, and built a second door into that space through the tower wall... ”

“Then the space-condensation field doesn't apply, because the hallway is outside its area of effect! And then the doorway can be constructed based upon the design of the existing main entry, which is much simpler because it only interacts with the boundary of the field. A straightforward modification to your door spell should suffice.”

“According to him, the last six things you tried should have worked too,” Scorn said, unimpressed, and walked across the tabletop to sit squarely on top of Morwen's notes. “Morwen, it's lunchtime. It's after lunchtime. I don't mind you marrying Telemain, I suppose, but this business of getting distracted and missing meals is going too far.”

“Yes, look at you, you're wasting away,” Morwen said, amused despite herself; Scorn flicked an ear and lay down, spreading herself across more pages of notes and part of a book, one hind paw perilously close to the inkwell. Morwen sighed, and looked at the clock.

“You're being insufferable, but it is time to eat,” she said, and Telemain blinked at her, looking hurt. “Not you,” Morwen assured him; “Scorn is a crabby old lady, that's all.”

“I do wish I could understand them,” Telemain said disconsolately. “It's very disorienting, not knowing what they're saying. It ought to be possible to design a, a universal comprehensibility spell, maybe based on dragons, they can understand cats, perhaps Kazul would let me – ”

“One magical conundrum at a time, please,” Morwen said, and started tidying notes into organized stacks. “There's bread and cheese and chutney in the pantry, and apples and carrots – and the cats can have the chicken left over from yesterday.” She stood up and stretched. “We can hammer out the details after we've eaten.”

*

“Well, it's definitely there,” Quiz said, late that evening, nosing the door open another inch and slipping past it. “The question is, is it also there?

“We won't know until we set up the other door,” Morwen said. “Which we'll do tomorrow,” she added firmly, to Telemain, who was all but vibrating with enthusiasm, “because we have a dozen different diagnostic tests to run on this end, and dinner to eat, and I see no point in exhausting ourselves today and being too tired to do anything tomorrow.”

“But,” Telemain started, and then sighed. “You have a point.”

*

“Well,” Telemain said.

“So,” Morwen said, at the same time, and they paused, looked at each other, grinned.

“It's stable,” Morwen said, consulting the array of crystals as she spoke. They were all glowing softly, unwavering.

“It definitely goes somewhere,” Telemain said, gesturing with an implement, a divining rod onto which he had soldered some precisely-bent brass wire and what looked like a corkscrew.

“One way to find out,” Morwen said, and reached for the doorknob; Telemain reached at the same time, and their hands met on the doorknob.

“Empirical observation,” he agreed. “On three? One, two – ”

“That's definitely the hallway, and that is definitely my door,” Morwen said, peering into the little corridor. She reached for the diagnostic device sitting on the worktable, and rolled it through the doorway, careful not to let her hand cross the threshold. As they watched, it rolled halfway down the corridor and stopped, chiming softly. As they watched, the other door opened, just a crack at first and then an inch more, two inches, and Quiz eased through it, strolling with feline insouciance through an unprecedented but theoretically sound space as though it were nothing.

“It works,” she said, crossing the threshold without hesitation, and trotted off to explore. Telemain blinked after her.

“I'm going to have to cat-proof,” he said, with dawning realization.

“You can try,” Quiz called, already halfway up the stairs.

“Good luck,” Morwen said, and offered him her arm. “Shall we?”

“By all means,” Telemain said, and hand in hand, they strolled from Telemain's sitting room into Morwen's sunny kitchen.