Jeanette sat on the stone floor of the infinite bookstacks. She was not going to simply run again, taking turn after turn and up staircases and down, only to have it look exactly the same. She had already called for help ten or so times, and if her guardian (or whatever) Parise hadn’t heard her, surely Thyrsis and Antithyrsis, the crows would over her bracelets. Except that there was no guarantee that the bond would work into another universe, which was very likely the case here.
The really bad part was that she’d been in a place like this before: in escaping the city of the vampire pteranodons, they had found themselves in a horrible dreary--and infinite office building, and Dada had called it Hell. Hard to argue with that. But surely Hell with books wasn’t really Hell? Something a lot better than Hell? After all, it was books, and she loved books.
Then she remembered her dream. The man telling her that he was writing down his whole life, all the bad or stupid things he did, and that when he was finally done writing it, he would, as Parise put it, ‘softly and suddenly vanish away, and never be heard from again.’ That was books too, wasn’t it? Was that what she was talking about when she was talking about the Book of You?
She was scaring herself and she didn’t care. She wanted none of her adventures to ever have happened. She wanted to be back at home with her father and her friends and her gaming console, and she didn’t want to be a toon or an adventurer or anything but what she was before.
She stripped off her bracelets and necklace and--even though it felt like he was taking off all her clothes in front of a crowd--she pulled off her white gloves. She didn’t want Parise to find her and take her back to Broceliande or any of that. Only she couldn’t go anywhere now, could she?
She was half-ready to take off her stupid blouse, too, even though it was really pretty and was the sort of thing she could go to school in and have her friends go ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ about. But her hands moved up, and touched the embroidery.
Instantly there was in the distance, two rising notes from a human voice that she knew to be “Jean-nette?” Then she heard it more distinctly. She shouted out “HERE!” As loud as she could and put all her stuff back on.
It was only a minute before Parise D’Avignon was standing in front of her, hands on hips in the classic now-you’re-gonna-get-it pose. But her voice was calm and there was even a bit of smile. “There are, in point of fact, a number of rules about being in the library, but they’re all subsumed under the single category of ‘don’t go off by yourself.’”She sighed. “What truly bothers me is that I searched for you for hours without sensing you. I had hoped, on top of everything else to have taught you to overcome your disdain for embroidery. All my fault, of course.”
“I think,” Jeanette said, hoping to turn this onto a technical subject, “that touching it with my gloves on didn’t activate it.” Because she had touched it a lot.
“Hmm.” Parise leaned down and inspected the gloves. “Probably right. Another complication. Well, come on. The Chancellor has asked to see you all in the throne room, and you’re inexcusably late.”
It was, humiliatingly, only about two turns and a few steps before they were at her door, but that was magic for you. “I dare say you didn’t sleep at all, milady?” She would just as soon not have been called ‘milady’ in that tone of voice. “No,” she answered. “Take some of this: it will give you energy for the meeting.”
She offered Jeanette a cup. Jeanette sipped it, and made a face. “This is coffee…!” She said. “Oh, are you familiar with it? Well, never mind. Now hold still.” Parise had a comb and a clothes brush, and briskly and efficiently, made Jeanette unwrinkled and untangled. “Now off you go.”
Her worst fears (at the moment) were realized when she hurried into the throne room and found everybody silently waiting for her. Chancellor Acquin tried to wipe the irritation off his face, but didn’t do a god job of it. She had a raft of possible excuses ready to choose from, but one look and it was clear nobody wanted to hear them.
“I want to thank you all for your forbearance and cooperation in these last few days. I have listened to your stories; I have examined your accoutrements, and while I have learned a vast amount, little of it points to the astonishing transformation of the boy and the defeat of the Theravaders. Dr. Ransom, who says he has no memory of a toon life, I have probed with all the skill I have, and have found no buried memories. I have examined the chalks you were given, and in hands of any who do not wear the white gloves, that is all they are. You have even, Senhor Capoeira Capybara, graciously allowed me to inspect your gloves and even to try them on, and although they are objects of magical power, they do nothing of themselves. Your map, though we have copied it into our archives, shows no world or worlds we know. We have but one set of tests left to perform, and if they follow the tendency we have seen so far, I will release you from your offer of service and help you on your way with what gifts we can bestow.”
He turned to look at Jeanette. “What remains is to examine you and your possessions, Jeanette. I am sorry to put you through this.”
That last promise sounded good, Jeanette thought, but he still had that creepy hungry look on his face. She was now not in the least sorry for being late. She stepped forward.
“I know your story, and I don’t think your gloves will be any different, so I won’t ask for those.”
Jeanette looked at a kind of a workbench that had been brought in. She saw with a small increase in her already large irritation that her tablet, her phone, and her power bank were laid out. But the box of random jewels and the tattered pages of the Dawn Treader (maybe) log were also there. The jewels glistened, so the phial of tears had probably been used on them.
She took off the bracelets and the necklace and handed them to him. He was still looking at her expectantly, and it was a moment before she took the little watch on the thin silver chain (still running!) and handed him that, too.
The Chancellor, in full show-off mode, said “Your father has told me of the origins of your jewelry and how you were apprehensive about just pressing buttons to see what they’d do. Very wise. But I am going to test them between two pillars which, at my command or my guard’s initiative, will jump time backwards for about two minutes. The results may be startling, but don’t be afraid--any of you.”
He stood between the pillars, put on the necklace, and then the bracelets, making sure thechains were on the same fingers as Jeanette had had them. Immediately the crows’ voices rang out in the room: “When is this stupid thing going to be over so we can get out of here?”
He then touched the leftmost jewel on the necklace--and vanished. The guard in the symbol-laden surcoat pressed a panel on the workbench and he reappeared. He said shakily, “A teleporter, but it’s unclear where. Pitch dark, and no air to breathe.” He pressed the next, and a shimmering aura surrounded him. “Magic shield.” The next, and he was encompassed in an opaque ovoid. “Physical shield. You will find these useful, no doubt, milady.”
He pressed the next jewel, and suddenly there was her own voice, “But surely Hell with books wasn’t really Hell?” He quickly pressed it again, and it toggled off. “My apologies. Evidently a private recorder. So sorry.”
Then he pressed the center jewel.
The light changed, making it seem like sunset rather than morning. Everyone moved back because there were two more figures in the room. They might have been projections but they seemed solid and real. One of them was a tall broad knight with flaming red hair and widely set green eyes, clad in blood spattered chain mail--and the other one was Parise.
“You are the one. You have betrayed the city, and the trust of the king--and me. You, and not some demon-possessed sorcerer.” Her voice was exactly the same as it had been hours ago, and Jeanette could smell the scent of her breath.
“And so what? My victory is complete. And instead of exposing me, you shall be the one to carve my story in stone and make me champion of champions.” This one’s voice was high, and well-trained, like an actor’s, and it made you want to punch him.
“That’s imposs--” and the knight flashed out his throat and slit her ear to ear. Jeanette screamed.
Then, to Jeanette’s wide-eyed horror, the Red Knight, unbuckled his sword belt and let his breeches fall, and leaned town over the blank-eyed motionless woman…
There was a bellow from the side door, “WHAT’S THIS?” And it was Acquin who screamed, as high as Jeanette had done.
The man was huge, huger than Lord Elphinstone, with long black hair and long black beard. He was in red-gold armor, and carried a giant hammer.
“YOUR MAJESTY!” Acquin shrieked.
With a roar that a tiger could not equal, King Charles Martel brought the hammer down to the floor.
Lightning cracked out and everything went pitch black.