To Grandmère Hutan, the city of Avalon was perhaps the most civilized city she had ever been in. She realized this was self-centered, but the idea of a great city so interwoven with trees, would be, to others, like having a metropolis having couches and playgrounds every few yards--not to mention free refreshment stands. She started to range wide among the trees--at least until she felt the protected sensation she had gotten used to in the city leave her.
She also fell in with a society of arboreal citizens, groups of squirrels (who, though they adored her, made her feel like a grandmother in truth, since their principle amusement consisted of pushing each other out of trees) and a number of what she called anti-chameleons--lizards who were constantly shifting colors in order to stand out from the background. They were more mature, and eager to hear stories. They were also terrible gossips, but listening to inconsequential rumor was better than worrying about her companions all the time. Which she was doing, particular Dr. Ransom and Jeanette.
One night she had let the sun waste away telling a long and entirely fictitious story to a larger-than-usual audience, and she was eating fruit and enjoying the warm breeze under the moon (a moon, anyway) When she saw something drift across the sky. At first she thought it might be some dandelion fluff wrapped in cobwebs--or it was much farther away and a ghostly ship with shifting sails flying on unknowns winds between the world and the stars. It seemed to fly behind the moon (in which case it was a world unto its own), or perhaps it was just so white and delicate that the moon outshone it. She was ready to fake nonchalance and ask what it was--but she discovered that her audience had fled.
She was alternately chilled to the bone and delightfully enchanted--and, being unable to decide which one was appropriate, allowed herself to watch for a long while feeling both at once.
After breakfast with Jeanette, Terence had a messenger from King Oberon requesting his presence. To his surprise, the young man led him down below ground into a chamber lit by a big fireplace, and with straight smooth walls. He was also surprised to see Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone there, and without his armor. He wore knee-pants of some kind, and was exuding heat and a scent that was enough unlike sweat to be almost pleasant.
The tiger greeted Terence and said by way of explanation, “Sir Ogier and Sir Huon have much to teach me, and I have much to teach them.”
Oberon entered and said, “I have done quite a bit of research and I think I have made some discoveries to the advantage of both of you.” He pulled out the package of chalks. “I have chosen this chamber hewn out of stone to avoid any damage I might cause to the trees. It pays to be considerate.”
He pulled out the black chalk and handed it to Dr. Ransom. “I have learned to use these after a fashion, but only after a long list of spoken spells and noisome unguents. It’s far easier to ask you to do it. Please draw a medium size black spot on the wall. Oh, about the size of your chest.”
Terence did so with some apprehension. He knew he had to sketch the Decision Tree to activate it, but he was still shaken from the last time.
“Now,” said the King, “Before you draw the Tree, edge the hole with this,” and he held out the brown chalk. Terence did so. “Lord Elphinstone, would you please drag that over to the wall, please?”
What the Earl of Maurya dragged over was a familiar strapped suitcase. “You left this behind at the palace of Broceliande, I’m sure not intentionally. It was delivered here by two young exhausted but uncomplaining pages. I commend your detachment from earthly wealth, Lord Elphinstone, and understand the inconvenience of such baggage in the life of an adventurer. Ergo I think I have found a solution. Dr. Ransom, please draw the tree,” and he proffered the white chalk, and Terence drew the symbol.
“Now, Lord Elphinstone, push the suitcase into the hole.” The tiger shrugged, and effortlessly pushed it in. Dr. Ransom tensed, awaiting his wife’s arm or something even worse to come through. Oberon smiled at him, no supernatural skill needed to read his thoughts. The King walked over to the wall, ran a finger around the hole, and peeled it off the wall. It flapped in his hand like cloth.
He subsequently walked over to another part of the wall and smoothed it on with his hands. “Now, Lord Elphinstone, would you please reach in?” Silvertyger did so, and pulled out his suitcase full of treasure.
“Very good. If you would put it back?” He did so. Oberon peeled it off the wall again, folded it into the size of a handkerchief, and handed it to the tiger. “Now, instead of a heavy suitcase full of treasure, you have a hole in your pocket--or wallet, or purse.”
“But now, something a little more consequential, ” the king said. “You were told that if you drew a picture of some sort in perspective, that this would become not just a hole into the void but a tunnel. What the technique was, they didn’t tell you.”
“Actually, they told me very little.” Terence said.
“And it’s quite true that it would require quite a detailed knowledge of cosmic infinity to be able to select a specific destination and draw your way there. If this is the way the Decision Tree Doorways were originally fashioned--and it’s not clear that it is--then it probably took many ages of trial and error, and the sacrifice of many lives. The nameless people who came before the Pilgrims are referred to in only a few books of lore, and were unbelievably ancient. This may be a rediscovery.”
“But!” He said. “There are a few principles I’ve discovered that may make this less than totally useless. And I apologize to you profusely, but I’m asking you to help field-test my hypothesis.”
“Dr. Ransom has a sick daughter. I am willing to go with you,” Lord Elphinstone rumbled angrily.
“But you are not of the sodality of the white gloves, my lord. Moreover, the chalks were entrusted to him, and that does make a difference.”
“It’s all right,” Terence said to the tiger.
“Let’s begin, then. Dr. Ransom, draw a black hole large enough for the three of us. There’s a step stool over in the corner if you need it.”
Terence pulled over the stool and did so, finding that he only had to get the filling-in started before he completed itself.
“Now outline it in red so that it will be reusable, please. There may be a way to enlarge a smaller drawing but I haven’t discovered it.” Once it was done, Oberon went on, “If you draw a white hole in the center of the black, that should form a tunnel. You can make it like a tunnel entrance if you like.” So Terence made a hole with a flat bottom and an arched top.
“Now if I’m correct, the key to the process is this:” and thee king pulled out a a purple chalk. “It would be thankless indeed if the destination had to be made in pastel tones and realistic, but the power here should allow one to be quite schematic. Simple symbols should be adequate. Be very simple, Dr. Ransom: draw a sun, a tree, a road, perhaps some waves of water.”
Terence drew a circle (an imperfect one) with rays coming out, a very rough pine tree, and a foreshortened path extending from the square bottom of the white. He wanted rudimentary? Rudimentary is what he got.
“Finally, The Decision Tree in white.” Terence sketched it--and felt a breeze. Smelled it, too.
Oberon walked forward with his walking stick, but Lord Elphinstone picked up his gleaming longsword that had been leaning against a wall, and took the lead. In they went.
It was remarkable: while his previous reach into a black chalk-hole was a frigid void, this felt like an ordinary tunnel or corridor. The light at its end was too bright to make much out.
But once they walked through into the light itself, it was remarkable. They were on a mountain path, with pine forest to the right of them and a cliff-face to the left. The path curved away downward in precisely the curve he had drawn, and the nearest tree was where his crude sketch had been, and the sun was where he had put it. They stared and marveled.
“Any idea where we are compared to Avalon?” Terence asked Oberon.
“None. But there seems to be a city by a lake in the distance,” he said.
Terence was just about to suggest that they not go down and visit the city and instead wheel around and go back, when the picture changed.
There was an addition of a very big human, close to twenty feet tall and about two times as broad as he should be. He had shocking red-orange hair, a big nose, and a mouth with boulders for teeth. He was dressed in an immense wrap of fabric that looked like a blue-and- green tartan. There were feathers at his ear that must have come from a roc. He was carrying a hammer with a head that looked as big as a smartcar.
“And who might ye be then?” He said in a voice that was more abrasive than booming.
Since he had the white gloves with their translation powers, Terence spoke. “We’re travelers and mean no harm.”
The giant leaned down and squinted. “You a colonial?”
Hopefully, Terence said, “I’m an American.”
“Yuir’s a bloody Englishman! I smell yuir blood!”
“I’ll grind yuir bones to make my bread, ye wee sassenach asswipe!”
“Please, this is all a--”
“The laird o’ this tribe has given me an allotment of a murder a month in return for guardin’ the pass, and I guess I’ve got this month’s!”
He raised the giant club and lightning flashed out of it. It leaped at them and was foiled by a shield of Oberon’s, who was standing there with his brow furrowed.
This enraged the giant. “‘At’s Huron Magic! Micmac Magic! ALARM ALARM ALARM!”
He now swung the giant hammer down on them, but in one motion Silvertyger had pushed the other two aside, turned and cut a gash up the giant’s arm that spurted blood.
“Retreat!” He roared.
They ran back for the tunnel opening, but there were more giants at the top of the cliff, and they were throwing down boulders as big as panel trucks down at them. Oberon was clutching something at his breast and murmuring something that was probably a spell--but at the same moment that another giant boulder came down, lightning flashed again out of the first giant’s hammer, and Oberon went limp.
Dr. Ransom looked backwards, and saw that the tunnel opening was completely blocked by an immense boulder. The first giant was advancing, while the others were sliding down the cliff face.
Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone stood forward, longsword flashing in the sunlight. “Come on, come on, he snarled, showing his fangs. “Who dies first?”