Dr. Ransom had never been to the city or the castle of Ys, but he’d developed some preconceptions after meeting its king. This , however, didn’t resemble his conjectures at all.
It hadn’t included a jumble of ramshackle pagodas set in a vertiginous Norwegian fjord, most of which was occupied by a giant dragon. There were warriors resembling the one by his side, but no hostilities seemed to be going on.
“We have been successful, fortunately, in helping this village’s tutelary deity resist an encroachment by Deep Chaos. Come, let us take a walk.”
There was a road paved with stone that led towards the mouth of the fjord. The sun was blue and small; the wind was cool and salty. From behind him, Dr. Ransom could hear distant pops that might have been gunfire. Without changing the stray pace the kin g was setting, he turned halfway and saw that they were fireworks.
Ransom said simply, “Why have you brought me here?”
The king didn’t answer him immediately, but waited until they reached a small promontory on which had been set a small white railed platform. Facing the distant sea there was a small pillar, on top of which was a shallow golden bowl. Ransom, still irritated by this high-handedness, had no desire to participate in any sort of ritual, so he found the lip of the platform and, though it was a little low, sat down to wait.
The King of Ys started a fire in the bowl with a few gestures, and then came over and sat matter-of-factly by Ransom.
“The reason I brought you here is that thanks to our best efforts and the full power of a Dragon Without Qualities, this place is momentarily clean. Avalon is not clean; Ys is not clean. Here, for a short period of time I can speak with you, and say what needs to be said.”
He raised his hand with rings on every finger, palm toward Terence Ransom, and brought it to within an inch of his face. He dropped it then, and grimaced. “It is true then: you have stepped into the river. It’s the esoteric answer to the old philosophical chestnut, you know, about not stepping in the same river twice? You cannot because you never leave that river in the first place.
You are Her creatures now, all of you, and who knows what her idea of a proper outcome will be?”
Ransom was floored by this outburst. All he could say was “So what do we do?”
“Do? You fight. We fight. She did toughen you up considerably, or you’d be dead already. Oberon will aid you as far as he can--and so will I. But on my part, I have no weapons to give, or shields: Change herself has you.”
He paused. “The things that have been following you ever since you left the Night Land are Nemesis: they will not stop, and if blasted into pieces, those pieces will re-form and renew pursuit. There is one for each of you, so even sacrifice won’t work to save the others--not forever. They aren’t all-powerful: you can defeat them--but they will not stop coming.”
“Can you tell me where my kind have gone, since they escaped the Redoubt? Where we might meet up with them?” Ransom asked.
“I’ve looked myself in vain, but I don’t wear the gloves. I can only guess that, unlike the Redoubt in the Night Land, which was established, they haven’t reached the point where the story ends. It would be nice to skip ahead to the back of the book, but not even Change does that.”
He stood up. “Come along. It hasn’t been my intention to knock hope from under you, though I’ve done pretty well at it: my gifts to you are waiting for you back at Avalon. Listen to him. He’s not a fool--or we both are.”
They descended the road, back to the slightly-splintered city, the fireworks and the Dragon. Ransom was wrestling with his own innate optimism. It would be easier just to be frightened, but for all his dismal delivery, it wasn’t despair the King had been talking about. There were ways through this.
Yes there are.
Dr. Ransom looked up a hundred feet into the eyes of the Dragon Without Qualities.
The war on Imagination’s side is far from done, my brother. We are both still in the fight, and the book remains unwritten.
Ransom bowed his head, because he was a long way from being able to call a dragon brother--although he did remember Grandmère Hutan’s theorizing on minor deities becoming cartoon characters.
When he reappeared in the hallway of the palace of Avalon, though, he was far from despair.
Jeanette awoke late in the afternoon, feeling better but aggravated that she had squandered the better part of a day. She got up--throwing her nightclothes on the floor, which she had really missed--and cleaned up and got dressed to see about salvaging some of it.
Rather than search out her friends, she decided to go down to the main ceremonial hall to see what was to be seen. She had finally gotten it into her head that, with monsters about, going wandering through the city in search of trouble was off the schedule, so this was a decent compromise. Besides, little miss throws-her-clothes-on-the-floor was famous, was she not?
The hall was bustling with beautifully dressed people, busy enough that nobody dropped what they were doing and shouted “IT’S JEANETTE RANSOM!”--Which was probably good for her. So she decided to poke around into these people’s business and see what was to be seen.
There was a large chattering of squirrels, grey, black and red, that reminded her to look up. The immense branches that interpenetrated the arches of the hall were as full of life as the hall, and she remembered that Grandmère Hutan had built up quite a following up in the branches. She wondered if she should try talking to some of them.
Then her eyes lit on a snow-white rabbit jumping down from an archway. She smiled.
Until she saw that it had jumped down onto the shoulder of a woman in a blood-red cloak who disappeared through another door.
She ran after.