Jeanette remembered running through Radiant City after Kelly--actually, not that long ago. The palace of Avalon was a lot smaller, but it was so intricate that she couldn’t build up any speed, and a couple of times had only the tiniest bit of red gown to steer by. The woman wasn’t running, just striding confidently (and on long adult legs), which said she might not be her Queen of Hearts, because why would she know anything at all about the palace.
The corridors weren’t empty either, and it wouldn’t do to bump into people, even if (or especially because) she was a special guest of the King, so she couldn’t seem to gain on the mystery woman. And where was she going? Not to the lower levels or into the towers, but staying in the large curved wings wrapped around the boles of giant trees. Was she looking for someone?
Was she looking for her? That would be cute…
Once she thought of that, it did cross her mind to just call out to her and maybe bring the chase to a close--but what should she call her? She never actually got her name--
--Or did she even have one?
Thus preoccupied, she came upon a T intersection, with nothing to be seen down either corridor. There were no people either, or she would have been able to see which way she had gone by their reaction. They curved away and branched, so that guesswork seemed pointless. Jeanette had already started to tell herself that there were probably lots of deep red cloaks and white rabbits inAvalon, when she saw that the left hand corridor had a recessed door in it. It would explain the Queen of Hearts’ disappearance, so she walked up to it.
There was nothing distinguishing about the door, and this was a magic palace and not an office building, so there wasn’t a nameplate on it. There was a handle on the door, but no key. She tried it, though, and it opened.
She hadn’t known what she’d expected to find--mops? Brooms?--But she found a wonderland. One wall of the room she entered was a gnarled tree-trunk--that wasn’t unusual--but small branches from the main bole were festooned with jewels, and hanging with pendants and necklaces heavy with precious stones. There was motion and sound deeper in, so she parted the curtain of jewelry and went further.
The jungle opened up on a workshop lit by a skylight. It was small but not cramped. Seated at a workbench was a human with the magnificent curved horns and long face of a goat. His hands, though, were long and supple, moving quickly as he worked--though each finger had small cloven hooves instead of nails. There was a loupe in his eye that adjusted itself as he looked up.
“Can I help you? And by that I mean eventually, since I’ve got a backlog of at least two weeks. And by at least two, I mean at least three.” As he moved his head, tools hung on his horns jingled.
“Hi. Um, did a woman--a, um Yahoo woman come in here?” Jeanette said nervously, since he didn’t seem happy to see her.
“Yahoo woman? No. And by no, I mean not recently. And by recently, I mean since you showed up. What’s your name, little Yahoo girl?”
“Jeanette Ransom. But before then? But still, like, today?”
“Put it that way, yes. Came in, gave me a necklace to fix, and then went back to use the mirror.” He held up an empty hand.
“Um--there isn’t anything there…” Jeanette said, worry beginning to creep into her breast.
He looked at the hand. “So there isn’t. Well that frees up a spot in my schedule, Ms….”
“Ransom. Jeanette Ransom. What do you mean, use the mirror?”
“What do I mean? I mean, use the mirror.”
“But what for?”
“To get into the Garden, of course.”
“The Inverse Garden. One of the nicest spots in Avalon. I highly recommend it.”
“Is it okay if I use the mirror?”
“What do you want to use it for?”
Jeanette wondered if he was making fun of her. “To get to the Inverse Garden.”
“Be careful. It’s a very dangerous place.”
“Then why do you recommend it?”
“It’s one of the nicest spots in Avalon.”
Jeanette blew her breath out between her lips. “Thank you very much, Mr. Goat.”
“The ‘von’s’ an honorific. Von Goat.”
“When do you want the necklace repaired by?”
“Which necklace?” She said, her hand drifting to her throat.
“This one.” He held up the empty hand.
“Very good. It should be ready before then.”
She got up and started to walk to the back. Then she turned.
“Are you always like this?”
“Why yes, I almost always resemble myself. Good of you to notice!”
“Thank you. You’re excused.”
As she walked into more branches laden with jewels and pendants, she came to the conclusion that some sort of magic had to be involved with Mr. Von Goat. She also felt like she wanted to have the conversation over again, so that she could figure out what she had been doing wrong.
The trees became thicker, and the jewels became sparser. This was definitely too big for a room in the palace, but that was one of the few things that didn’t bother her about this.
The trees opened out onto a more open space. There was a tall, stand-up mirror. It looked unmagical in that it reflected the environment, including her, in a most reliable fashion. Nevertheless she stood up straight and walked resolutely towards it, to the point of putting her foot through it in the interdimensional sense, or the shattering sense.
She went through.
The Inverse Garden was close and luxuriant. There were flowers everywhere, large and varied. Some she had seen before but didn’t know the name of; one of them was called the bird of paradise, which she particularly liked. Others were so wild she thought they were sculptures.
The path was well-tended, white pebbles and eggshells, and she followed it, though the garden was designed so that you couldn’t see more than five feet ahead. Why it was called the Inverse Garden was not something she was able to figure out.
There was a small reflecting pool with a number of white-wire chairs around it, and there was the Queen of Hearts, sitting serenely with her red hood thrown back, while the white bunny lolloped slowly around in the green grass. She saw Jeanette and smiled beautifully.
“You Majesty--what are you doing here?” She said as nicely as possible.
“Hello, Jeanette. Despite what I said to you about not coming, when you used my world-jewel, and at such a high level, I got very nervous., and so came looking for you.”
“But why here? Did someone tell you to meet me here?”
The Queen nodded. “A very nice man in a frock coat. He gave me directions that seemed to be very complicated, but I found the place all right. And here you are.”
Jeanette was getting very nervous about all of this, but decided simply to accept it. “Yes, here I am. It’s good to see you again, Your Majesty. Are you-um--reconstituting--are you beginning to become yourself?”
“It’s coming along. Your teleporter is a wonderful device--but it took a while to develop the reading thing. It wasn’t easy, and I relied on your memories a great deal more than I think I should have. But after that, doors are opening.”
“I’m so glad to hear it.”
“But I did become concerned: that was an awful lot of power you had to use. Not that it was a problem on my side, but I was concerned that you might need more help.”
“That’s very thoughtful,” Jeanette said, entirely truthfully, “but I think we’re going to manage all right.”
“Even so, Just let me--” and she lifted her arm to reach inside her cloak. She coughed, then--and coughed again. She leaned forward, and the cloak fell open.
The Queen’s whole side was covered in blood.
Jeanette ran to her, grabbed her to hold her up. She was sliding downwards.
Blood was spreading all over the ground.