“Oh come on, you just reached the edge of the map, that’s all,” Thyrsis said over Jeanette’s bracelets.
“This isn’t a map with edges,” countered Senhor Capoeira Capybara, still looking up.
King Oberon, after a couple of shifts back and forth, let the image stay in the dark. But it soon became obvious that the dark was neither plain nor black. It was a picture of turbulence many darks turning in on each other, and though there wasn’t anything as distinct as a a face, Jeanette got the feeling in her bones that the dark was staring at her in the same way that the monster on her bed did.
“How much longer do we have?” Terence Ransom asked.
“Put that way, we who can thread through multiple space-times have a great deal of flexibility. In fact, if we decided to simply run back to the dead past, we could live for millions of years safely,” Oberon said. “But the same cannot be said for those who live their lives beneath one night sky. A year, and not a lot more than that.”
“A year? ” O Tse said in dismay.
“The doom doesn’t move in a straight temporal line, the way it looks in this projection, but in decay. We have considerably more than that, as long as ultimately we can be at the crucial point at the proper time. But it is there and we are moving towards it.”
The King swiped his hand in a different direction, and the lines, planes and shapes appeared again. “But the messenger wasn’t racing across the Night Land to deliver a message that ‘We’re all going to die.’ Your surmise that it might show the destination for the forces of the Redoubt has much merit. I’ll have a systematic search done by those far better at it than we are.” He paused and swiped back. “But just for a second, let me look here.”
He spread his fingers and the map zoomed in and in. “There isn’t anything as satisfying as a single emphasized line from somewhere to somewhere, but there do seem to be a network of lines that are thicker than the rest. It may be the depiction of a, well, toon network, or it maybe an external net for the toons to take advantage of. But one of the lines goes through this:” and a close cluster of lines centered on four nested solid shapes.
“The Authorized Personnel legend says ‘Storisende. Empire of the Folded Hands. Metastable.’ That last maybe a name as much as it is a characteristic., and none of it raises any associations with me. Still, it seems to be a principle vertex in that network. But we should await a more systematic report.” He let the map collapse into the sheet.
“We should not spend too much time here, Your Majesty, much as it gives us a welcome respite. We still draw damaging forces to your land,” Lord Elphinstone said.
“I wish that were not so, milord, but you have the right of it. Yet that respite, let a friend tell you, is something you desperately need. Tomorrow will be a celebratory service for Diotima Urantia Gearheart, who was more beloved of this city than you know. Let your departure not be before then.”
Dr. Ransom looked at his daughter as the ensemble did justice to the remainder of the breakfast. She was too pale, he thought, and the way she hesitated with her shoulder meant that the wounds inflicted by the creature challenged even Avalon’s healing expertise. But she was bright-eyed and clearly happy to be back in this beautiful place. She had grown a little: not much, but he could tell. And he? He had grown enough that he no longer thought of protecting her by throwing her back to Earth and ignorance. For all its terrors, this larger world was theirs now.
Yet another heavy meal was taking its toll on Jeanette, who was leaning against him as they walked back to her room. The clockwork lynx unfolded itself as they entered the bedroom, and sat attentively, following their every move.
Dr. Ransom was ready to tuck Jeanette in, but she shoved herself backwards and put her shoulders up against the headboard in a familiar position.
“Shall I read to you, then?” he asked.
“Yes please,” she answered.
“So what’ll it be? You said you were enjoying What’s Been Hid. Or something from your tablet. I know you have at least two going there.”
She thought. “I’d kind of like to start something new. There’s a book that Master Overend-Watts gave me that he said was a favorite of his, On the River To Find Out. Let’s try that.”
He noted that there was a brand new backpack over by the table, with impressive embroidery on it. It was also packed more neatly than Jeanette had ever done on her best day. He pulled out the volume. It was on rich, heavy paper and there were decorations on every page. The type was large, and he thought that they might make decent progress before she conked out.
She had her hands folded over the (new, and more sumptuous) bedspread.
He sat down, opened the book, and began to read:
“Ludwig was his name, and that was principally because his father was also named Ludwig. He was not very fond of it, mainly because his friends’ names were ones like Ban and Dal and Tor, and seemed to be allowed to have far more fun than he had
Colovatura was a small town along the great river, and there was always lots to do, whether work or play. He was good at his work--his father was, after all, a Ludwig, so he didn’t mind it all that much.
Early one spring, though, the elder Ludwig developed a cough that turned into something worse, and the doctors told him to go to the Camellia Sanitarium, up in the mountains, for a few months. For that period the younger Ludwig was to go live with his Aunt Hedwig in Rona, the city at the mouth of the Great River. So new clothes were bought, and a suitcase, and a ticket, and they both left the house they had lived in on the same day.
Colovatura was not a big enough town for the Grand Riverboats to stop at, but there were plenty of medium-sized packet-boats, and they were bright and colorful, and, at least by rumor, quite comfortable.
So Ludwig sat at Colovatura’s dock on a rather chilly spring day, and waited for a packet-boat. He stood up and grasped his suitcase as a packet-boat approached. It was bright green with yellow trim.
When it stopped and the ramp was extended, we walked up and was greeted by a woman wearing a captain’s hat. Ludwig greeted her and told her his name, “You can call me River,” said the Captain.
“That’s a strange name--rather redundant,” which was a word he knew.
“Well, I think it’s about the best name a Captain could have,” the woman said.”
Jeanette was breathing steadily now, so Terence closed the book. He wondered if he’d heard that the name of the woman was River--which of course had made him suspicious. But he thought, probably not.
On his way to his own room, Dr. Ransom saw a figure in a black frock coat standing in front of him. He recognized him immediately. “Hello, Your Majesty. I was wondering when you’d show up,” he said.
“Dr. Ransom,” the King of Ys said. “Please come with me. It’s rather important.”
He hesitated, and there were two big figures in black armor on either side of him. “That’s really unnecessary, you know.”
“We will see whether it is or not,” said the king.
They walked down the hall for a few paces. Then the king retrieved and put on some white gloves. As soon as he did so, the symbol of the Decision Tree glowed on the wall next to them.
“Now hold on just a second!” Ransom cried out. “What--”
But the hallway was now empty.