Dr. Ransom stood before Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone, by turns angry, bewildered, and finally guilty. Still, he held on to the stone.
“I saw your face and your hands as you watched Jeanette. I knew you had something you wanted to bring to bear on her plight. I also knew in was shameful.”
“What do you mean, shameful?” Despite the towering presence of the armored tiger, despite the fact that he knew this terrible warrior didn’t play games, he bristled.
“You would wipe away all she has been. You would wipe away her victories, you would remove us from her life as well as hers from ours. You would run.”
“Rather than see her dead, yes!”
“You HAVE seen her dead, Ransom!” Silvertyger snarled. “You have seen her dead and continued to fight for her, and you know that we would charge into the gates of death for her sake!”
He could feel the heat of the tiger’s breath on his face.
“You are a courageous man, Terence Ransom. But your daughter is far more courageous than you. It is your presence that makes her brave--while it is her presence that makes you cowardly. Give me the stone.”
Ransom’s shoulders slumped. “You’ve said to me nothing worse than what I’ve said to myself.” He gave the tiger the black stone. It disappeared inside the tiger’s massive paw.
“I have no doubt of that.”
“I swear to you, if the time comes when all is lost, I will sent her home, and you with her. But while I might trust Jeanette with such a decision, I do not trust you.”
And Lord Elphinstone left the side-room without a look back or another word.
The meeting with King Oberon was not in the least confrontational, although no one was happy. Terence was surprised to find the king in conference with the lynx Diotima Gearheart, but he figured out that he was consulting her on teleportation. There was a mechanical device on the table when they entered the conference room.
Senhor Capoeira Capybara took point. “You’ve been most helpful to us and have protected us from danger, but the answers to our mysteries--and the goal of our quest--lie elsewhere.”
Oberon nodded. “It disappoints me that I couldn’t uncover more for you, but am far from being a complete master. Not that I’ve ever actually met one,” he added wryly. “So where will you go? Do you have any ideas?”
This was of course the tough part. For all his amenable manner, would Oberon take mentioning the King of Ys and his pronouncements? They had deliberately (and rather stupidly) not planned this in advance.
Grandmère Hutan surprised them all by saying “A few nights ago, I saw a ghostly ship fly behind the moon. It started me thinking that the Night Land might be another name for the dark of Space.”
Dr. Ransom added quickly, “and we have recounted to you the scene we were shown of the Redoubt at the core of the galaxy. Even though they said it was named after an earlier one, that still might be the direction we were meant to go.”
Oberon nodded. “Strange worlds, suns, and skies are known to us all--but we have tended to travel to them by door and gateway--or forest path, so the Great Sea of Space almost seems not to exist. But there are those who love the black reaches for themselves--and of course there are myriads of places that cannot be visited any other way.”
Then he frowned. “The problem is that so many directions have become so dangerous. Even a return to the railway could be perilous. I will provide you with an escort, but that is only the first part of the journey.”
Diotima Gearhart spoke up. “There is a place where I come from, your majesty, that might fill the bill. It has been a very long time since I visited, but I believe I could guide them there.”
“Now that you mention it…” Oberon said with a smile.
“Whatever you recommend, your majesty, we’d be happy to follow,” the capybara said quickly.
“Right!” Said Diotima. “Then it’s all settled!”
The departure waited two days until Magister Tanbark announced that Jeanette was fully recovered. In the meantime Jeanette and Diotima became good friends: Jeanette showed the lynx the tiny watch-locket that her father had made for her--she only had to set limits to keep Diotima from taking it apart. Terence also created a hole using the magic chalk for her, and the lynx loaded the hole up with what seemed like half her shop.
The Escort was to be the three paladins from Broceliande, all astride white winged horses; there was a fourth for Lord Elphinstone. There was also a flight of seven herons, blue as sapphires, larger than Jeanette, who, when they spoke, did so in harmony. There was an enormous fish-eagle and, a bit more disturbing, a dragonfly the size of the eagle. Both were extremely polite, and the dragonfly seemed to love to tell stories. Their names were Forsan and Haec, and the herons said they were entitled to the rank of generals from their exploits in war, but scoffed at the idea.
The crows did not take to any of them.
The whole of Avalon turned out for their departure, and King Oberon embraced each of them. “Return to us,” he said to Jeanette.
It was therefore a little peculiar that the whole retinue simply melted into the forest. Diotima explained that, although there would be roads later on, there wasn’t so much as a footpath that led out of Avalon where they were going.
“And where are we going?” Asked the capybara.
“Limberlost,” the lynx answered.
“Oh,” remarked the capybara.
Early in the third day, Terence had definite misgivings. “We’re heading into a swamp.”
Diotima said, “Off and on--mostly on.”
“You didn’t tell us about this,” Terence said. “And if you say, ‘you didn’t ask’, I’ll, I’ll--be extremely upset with you.”
Diotima just blinked at him.
There came a point where the broad road descended into the water. The procession stopped. “Everybody but the essential people can take to the air,” Silvertyger said sourly. “Not the best planning.”
Diotima said, “Watch.”
A dark mass approached mainly submerged in the water. The companions moved back in alarm as a giant alligator emerged, walking up the sloping road.
The alligator said, “Diotima Urantia Gearhart. It’s a wonder you have the nerve to show your face around here again.”
“That was all cleared up--and besides it was over two hundred years ago. We’d like to commission a punt. Your best.”
“Times have changed, kitty. We’re not in the business any more. Redistricting .”
“That’s absurd. This is a public thoroughfare, and these are very important people. Official business from the King of Avalon.”
“Never heard of him.”
And the grass all over the swamp started to shift. Hundreds of alligators, each as large as the first , start to rise out of the water. And behind them--Jeanette gasped--rose the long necks of dinosaurs.
“You’re under arrest,” the alligator said.