“I see it.”
Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone rumbled to Jeanette. His huge paw rested on the pommel of his sword. “I’d have been surprised if we didn’t pick up a parasite on our way through the portal.”
The one thing that had bothered her--that this was some kind of supernatural being visible to her and her alone--was laid to rest. Strictly speaking, they had made it away from the Night Land exceedingly well armed and experienced in dealing with a host of terrors. She doubted whether the towering mirror-armored tiger would know what she was talking about when she felt they had leveled up. Her father would have scowled at her just short of a reprimand, but that’s how she felt. Strictly on general principles this was very foolish, she knew, but it was incredibly nice not to be terrified.
Night began to fall. It was still that gradual darkening one got in the mountains, where the sun was behind the mountains but not under the horizon.There was an unspoken consensus not to make camp inside the dense forest, so they walked for a while in deep night.
At length the trees ended abruptly at the steep banks of a river, which came down out of the forest and turned to cut across its face. They descended the bank and crossed the river, which was loud and not deep. They mounted the other side at a place where the slope was gentle.
What Jeanette saw as she looked up at the sky made her breathe in: while there was a spattering of stars in the clear night, there was, low on the horizon, a galaxy. But it wasn’t the Milky Way or Andromeda, but a more peculiar looking spiral. So they were far, far from home--or at least she and her father were.
But the other thing she saw, over the dark grasslands that might be cultivated and might not, was a single light, yellow and close to the ground. It looked comfortingly like a window of a house nestled in the landscape. Jeanette wondered if she’d see windowpanes if they were closer.
O Tse went to the edge of the river and picked up some large stones. He came back, turning them over and over in his fuzzy hands and they started to glow without heat. He laid them down in a small pile, and the group made their camp around it, close in. Dr. Ransom distributed the singular blankets from his backpack, and Senhor Capoeira Capybara handed around fruit Jeanette had never seen before, but were juicy and sweet.
The Weasel-Bear said, “Lord Elphinstone and I will stand alternating watches, in case our friend decides to get adventuresome. Sleep until light, all of you.”
Jeanette lay on the ground wrapped in the blanket, but before letting herself fall asleep, she took the larger necklace out of her backpack. She felt as much as looked at it: It was definitely made of the same light metal and the same style of mounting for the jewels. The light wasn’t good enough for her to compare the stones minutely, but some were very different. It was frustrating, since the necklace was probably a repository of important power--but then she didn’t even know what all the stones on her own smaller necklace did. What they needed was another Chancellor Acquin of Broceliande who would stand there with all the safety devices in the world and press the jewels to see what they did. Either that, or find a manual.
The stones began to lose their brightness, so Jeanette shoved herself and her blanket closer to her dada, and pressed the stone on her necklace that activated the magic shield that, hopefully, would protect both of them. She was interrupted in closing her eyes by the flapping of crows’ wings.
“We saw what you did. No sense in letting a good magical shield go to waste,” said Thyrsis.
“Fine,” she said. “Just no arguing. I’ve heard how you two go on.”
“It’s all Thyrsis’s fault,” said Antithyrsis.
Jeanette drew her breath in over her teeth. “Good. Night.”
They did awaken to sunshine and clear skies over a lovely green landscape. It was grassy fields with clumps and lines of trees, as if it had once been farmland but wasn’t any longer, because there was no sign of human houses or roads. It was hard to match the daylight land with where the yellow light had been at night, but there were clumps of trees that could hide a house. Jeanette gave thanks that she was probably the worst tracker of the entire company, or they’d wander around forever.
It had apparently been decided without her input to dispense with breakfast, in favor of seeking out the habitation, and that didn’t make her happy. O Tse took the stones back to the river, and they did what GrandmΩère Hutan called policing the campsite, and they were off. Capoeira passed a bunch of grapes over to her, and they were delicious--but had seeds in them. Grapes with seeds? What kind of nonsense was that??
The house came in sight. It was a little bit odd: It was made of rough-hewn stone and had slate-like roofing, and there was a castle-like tower, but was barely two stories tall. It was as big as a one-family house back home, and there were a number of sheds around it, including one that was almost as big as the main house. The path up to it was dirt, but it turned into a grass track, and ended in a cut area of the grass around it. It wasn’t simply cut, and Jeanette found herself wondering if it would look like one of those crop circles from above.
They walked into the dirt front yard, and chickens ran out to meet them. There was also a bright blur lizard that stuck a bright red tongue out at them. There was enough commotion that the front door (also rough-hewn, with rough black hinges) opened.
It was an old man, a Yahoo (Jeanette was getting resigned to the term), with a long white beard and close cropped white hair. He was wearing a frock coat almost exactly like the ones worn by the kings of Avalon and Ys, so that Jeanette’s heart beat faster. This coat, however, had been put on in a hurry, and the shirt was half-in, half-out of the black breeches, even though, by the sun, it was close to noon.
“Oh my goodness,” he said.
Dr. Ransom stepped forward, smiling and with his hand out. “I realize that there’s something in our company designed to startle just about anybody. My name is Dr. Terence Ransom, and we come, as the saying goes, in peace.”
“Of course, of course,” the man said, shaking Ransom’s hand. “The name is Giancarlo Federeci Tedeschi Overend-Watts, and I’m master of All Soul’s College, which is what you see here. I’m also it’s only Fellow, at least these days. Can I, er, offer you anything?”
“No, that’s fine,” Terence said, but Jeanette made a sound at the same time. Giancarlo turned to look at her.
“My daughter, Jeanette Ransom,” Terence said with slightly-forced joviality.
“Pleased to meet you,” said Jeanette, as meekly as she could.
“You should have lunch with me in the garden. It’s always a pleasure to have visitors. Well, not always, but you haven’t tried to eat me yet, which is a qualifying characteristic. Come in,” he said.
If Jeanette had been expecting disorder similar to, well, her own, she was disappointed. There was nice furniture, and carpets, and a few bookshelves filled with books--but not as many as she had herself, she noticed. They walked right through the house to French doors that led out to a well-trimmed garden.
There was laid out a spectacular luncheon spread--complete with blonde wood chairs of all the right size and proportion for each of them, including a roost for the crows.
That settles the level of technology, Jeanette thought to herself.
They filled their plates and sat down. Jeanette didn’t want to be the first one to dig in, and that was beginning to get difficult.
Grandmère spoke, “We’re travelers from another world, Master Giancarlo--”
“Do tell,” Overend-Watts drawled a little.
“--And I at least am curious as to the level of civilization of this world--as well as, frankly, its name. You seem to be well appointed here--but this does seem small for a college. Is learning not in favor?”
“It’s tolerated. But look up:” he pointed into the clear blue sky. There was the thinnest of silver lines across it. “That is where most of my experiments are conducted. It’s a rather substantial superconducting stabilized particle manipulator. There is an even larger ring orbiting Grammar’s sun--that’s the name of the world, Grammar. It has one moon named Syntax. It’s a matter of the right environments for the right machines.”
“Grammar and Syntax?” Dr. Ransom asked.
“It’s a long story, and rather mythological,” said Giancarlo. “And now I think I’d like to know what your story is, to the extent to which you’re willing to tell it.”
Senhor Capoeira Capybara put down a sandwich, made a small rodent whistle and began to talk. He started with his awakening, which Jeanette hadn’t heard, and didn’t get to them and the box of rats for a few minutes. He was, Jeanette had to admit, very good at it: not surprising, but still impressive to hear everything in smooth narrative order.
With frequent breaks for drinks and bites it took a while. When he got to the flight to millions of years in the future and the Second Redoubt, Capoeira stopped for emphasis in retelling the suspicious man’s explanation of Deep Chaos.
Master Giancarlo put down his glass. “Oh but this is extraordinary!”
“What is?” Capoeira asked.
“That’s what my chair is in!”
Grandmère said “your--chair is in?”
“Yes, yes, yes! I am Giancarlo Federico Tedeschi Overend-Watts, Distinguished Service Professor of Deep Chaos Theology!”