The alarm of murder rang throughout the palace. Runners appeared, and King Oberon had them lead him and the group around him to the scene of the crime.
It was an a lower corridor that curved twice to avoid tree-trunks, and was of slightly glowing stone, which was used in the levels that never saw daylight. The victim was young and uncommonly pretty, with carrot hair and a gown of green and gold that was brutally ripped up the side and sopping with blood.
O Tse said “I can scent him from here,” but Oberon said “no, there is something else.” They walked a dozen steps down the hall and the king turned. “He phased through the wall here, a probably lost the scent in the process.”
“Not to me,” said the weasel the size of a bear, and he took off at a crouching run around a corner.
Jeanette wasn’t happy: she knew one other person who could phase through walls, and while she wouldn’t believe that Jack would commit an atrocity--two atrocities like those, she had to remind herself that he had been all to ready to kill her.
As the King strode purposefully forward, A white rabbit jumped onto her shoulder. The Queen of Hearts looked down at her and smiled. “That’s Barnaby Bartleby Rudge, scrivener. He’s a would-be writer, and quite talented.” Jeanette looked at the rabbit, who only kept making nose-adjusting motions. “Take it from me, he’s excited.”
They climbed stairs nearly at a run and doors flew open in advance of Oberon. Another stairwell, and there was a young man in a white robe with a shallow bowl in front of him. Red smoke rose from the bowl and congealed into the shape of a running man. “Fleeing people always run upward,” said Lord Elphinstone.
There were a surprising number of big impressive rooms that Jeanette had had no inkling of, and long after she thought they must be reaching the narrow steeples they were still going through broad chambers and corridors. Oberon walked without so much as a hesitation on which way to go.
They entered a tall circular room with a dozen doorways that might have been the base of a tower when the black figure phased into existence. He turned to see the group and turned away--only to find a sword-point pressed against his throat. He reared back--to find another sword ay his back.
“Sir Amadis! Sir Ogier!”Jeanette cried in delight. (She felt a pang of guilt that she might have broken their concentration, but then figured nah, not them.)
At the moment that Dracula might have phased out again, Oberon snapped his fingers, and Sir Valdemar Quiñones (that was his name) stayed just where he was.
The Queen of Hearts said to King Oberon, “With your permission, Your Majesty?” And Oberon nodded. She strode over to the figure, and the two paladins frm Broceliands withdrew ahalf a step.
The Queen looked at Sir Quiñones with heavy-lidded eyes--and like lightning pulled a shortsword out of her cloak and stabbed him in the gut. With a kind of shrug she brought the sword upward, until its contact with the ribcage lifted him off the floor. He fell like a sack.
“You will learn just as much from his corpse,” she said in a voice that was full of growl. Jeanette knew she would see and feel that upward thrust for the rest of her life.
The body of Dracula was changing in death: shorter, fatter, older, with earlobes that settled on the floor. Altogether ugly and somewhat piggish. The Queen leaned down and pulled a red gem on a thin gold chain from his inside coat pocket, and put it around her neck.
Oberon came over, and without so much as a look at the Queen of Hearts, leaned over and inspected his hands and fingers. “Not a sorcerer, but a reader. And from the look of his manicure, he probably bought the spells necessary to do what he did.”
“The question is, I guess, was he sent?” Dr. Ransom said.
“He was sent, but it was his heart’s desire,” the Queen said softly. “Even his death was a dream he had.” She was about to wipe her sword on her cloak, but Sir Ogier, on one knee, offered her the edge of his, which she accepted with a smile.
Oberon said, “And now we should see to the resurrection of that poor young lady. I doubt there’ll be any difficulties, but it’s necessary I do it myself.” He turned to go, and Lord Elphinstone and Senhor Capoeira Capybara turned to go with him, but at a look from the king stayed. Silvertyger walked over to the paladins, and they clasped forearms with the tiger with broad grins.
O Tse at that moment walked through one of the doorways, and Sir Amadis said “We promised your friend a good dinner if he’d let us take the rascal. He’s a tracker and no mistake.” Sir Ogier added, “So you’ll be our guests tonight in our quarters, since deaths are not celebrated in Avalon, no matter how richly deserved. But you will have a rare time of it, we promise.”
Jeanette quailed just a bit at the thought of another big heavy meal, since the breakfast this morning had knocked her out, and she knew how Sirs Amadis and Ogier ate. But she would soldier through somehow.
Her father said, “Your Majesty, maybe you would like a rest and a change of clothes before dinner? You could use one of our rooms…”
The Queen of Hearts gave him a full-wattage smile. “I feel completely refreshed--your daughter is a powerful healer--but this dress is somewhat the worse for wear.” So Jeanette found herself walking between her father and the Queen of Hearts--slashed dress, billowing red cloak and everything--up to her father’s suite.
To say that Jeanette was uncomfortable was to put it mildly. The alternate--to have the Queen of Hearts running around naked in her bathroom petrified her--although it was difficult to explain why to herself. Was it that the wrong glimpse would give her an inferiority complex for life? That was conceivably part of it, but there was also just a magic she was scared to be around. She felt it badly enough around Queen Parise, but that was tightly controlled and laced up compared to her. Not that she was completely fine with her dressing in front of her father either, but that was on a different level.
As it was, it was pretty safe--there was a knock at her father’s door at a very dangerous time, but it was a folded set of clothes, courtesy of the palace staff, and she managed to shove it into the bathroom while keeping her eyes glued to the floor. When the Queen emerged, she was breathtaking--but in a glamorous, elegant and safe way. Dada was gracious and appreciative, and also safe.
Then the Queen said, “I’ve been thinking. This whole adventure has shown me that my education still has a way to go, and that solipsism on one’s own planet does not serve it. I would like to accompany you on your travels from here, and yes, I know the danger. You can definitely use someone at my level of power, and I can do more than a simple world-jewel can.”
She looked at Jeanette, “and I think I can learn from you, Jeanette, about life as it is lived.”
“I’m just a little girl!” She exploded, squeaking like a mouse to emphasize the point.
“Well, then, from a man as wise and courageous as your father.”
Terence looked over at her, burst into laughter, fell to one knee and hugged her. “That face! Jeanette, you’re making that ‘Dada’s going out on a date!’ face! Oh my darling girl I love you!”
And that, as they say, was that.
At the dinner, which was just as huge as Jeanette had feared, she loosened up. She really had been feeling inadequate with Ngozi and Grandmère gone, and having her power reminded her of how she felt when Queen Parise erased a marauding space fleet with a hand gesture. And besides, she liked her, however much she was scared of her.
And Amadis and Ogier surprised her with a plate of lumpia, which almost made her cry.
Ogier dropped a small object in front of the Queen. “Oberon’s folks found this on your suitor,” he said. She held it up, and said, “I’m afraid it means nothing to me.”
“But not to me!” Jeanette called out. “That’s a symbol on the map we in the Night Land!”
“Storisende,” said O Tse. “The Empire of the Folded Hands. Metastable. Oberon gravitated towards it without knowing why.”
“And with all the oracular talk about ‘the end of the story,’ it might be connected to our path as well,” said the capybara.
“Hurrah for Storisende!” Then became the toast far into the night.
The ceremony for Diotima Urantia Gearhart was heartwarming, and Jeanette was glad to have been there for it. But afterwards, Dr. Ransom explained that they had brought enough peril and had to go, which Oberon accepted with good grace.
Then Terence Ransom drew a black area on the plaza of Avalon, drew with the purple chalk the symbol of Storisende, and descended into the portal.