The train, while still towering and magnificent on the inside, felt a lot less ghostly and ethereal than the one Jeanette had been in--briefly--before.
The fairies, obviously, had a great deal to do with that.
They were thin and delicately colored--miniature versions of the conductors she had met, but they were everywhere, chattering in tiny voices, and forming chaotic aerial groups that sometimes involved pushing and poking. They complained loudly about hauling Lord Elphinstone’s treasure-filled suitcase away to his room, but they did it.
The conductor, who was larger than most, perched on the lead of a lobby plant and said to Jeanette, “This was peculiar enough that I’m sure there’s a story behind it. What gives?”
“What gives what?”
“You all have railpasses--unusual but not wildly so--even the crows, who shouldn’t need them--but they’re good for 1,020 years. That I’ve never seen or heard of. So spill it.”
“Well, um, they were given to us by a conductor--he was about ten times your size, by the way, on a train--kinda--a thousand years in the future--or at least Radiant City’s future.”
“We had to go back to now to fight some evil monsters, was how we got here.”
“I see even more.”
“So are you guys from Haven? I hear it’s a beautiful place.” Jeanette asked, hoping she didn’t sound as fake as she felt.
“Beautiful? Yes, it is that--but boring. Nothing ever happens there, unless you like music or cloud sculpting. Much better to ride the rails! Evil monsters? That sounds exciting!”
“I guess. Did you Haven people build the railways?”
“Oh no--although we did add some lines and stations here and there. No, most of it was done by a race we call the Railway Builders--”
“Like that helps…”
“I know, right? Nobody knows that much about them, except maybe Upper Management.”
“Sorry. But how far are you going?”
“We kind of have to discuss that…”
“That’s the beauty of the railpasses. Just get on and decide later. Well, let me know when you do decide. Bye!”
Another Haven fairy showed her to her room, which was facing the lobby and its fountain. It was not as nice as the suite in Radiant City she had stayed in with her father, and she wasn’t crazy about all the frilly stuff--but the frilly stuff was made out of incredibly delicate cobwebs, and the curlicues were actual vines. And it smelled wonderful.
It was also right next to Dada’s room, and there was even a communicating door. He came in when he heard her unpacking.
“Yeah,” she said, meaning no.
He sat down on the edge of her bed and picked up the little phial. “So this is the bottle of tears?”
“I was wondering what would happen--”and he reached over,”--and applied it to the map?”
“Hunh,” she said, plopping down next to him. “I was thinking about doing it to the jewelry, but not to the map. That’s an idea.”
“You do the honors,” her father said, as he unfolded the map and spread out both hands to hold it open. She unscrewed the top and carefully let a drop fall onto the top of the map. She let out a “NO!” as the tears spread and eliminated the word written at the top.
“That should be okay, Jeanette. The crows said that it was written in a later hand, wasn’t that right?”
Where the tears had spread, there was a silver tracery--thin as the cobwebs in her frills, extending over the previously dull blank areas of the map. It wasn’t random, either: the lines gathered at the railway stops, and radiated away from other places that had dots like microscopic beads of dew.
She did the rest of the map--and there was a vast tracery of lines all over. In addition, there was additional writing next to the bold railway diagram--but it was too tiny to make out.
“Jeanette, do you have my loupe?”
What he meant was, did you filch it again, which she was always doing. “No, dada.”
“Well, we can’t either of us read the writing anyway. We’ll have to ask the crows, and maybe they have eyes like eagles.” Not wanting a commentary on his thinnest of dad jokes, he went on, “Now let’s try the bracelets and necklace.”
The results, while beautiful, didn’t seem to reveal anything like the map. (They both checked for tiny writing, but there wasn’t any.) And if she felt different putting them on, there wasn’t any indication that it was anything real.
“Even if there’s all sorts of things they can do, I’m scared of just pressing a jewel to see what happens. I might just teleport away, or something.”
“No argument there. But maybe one of our sprites can give us some answers.”
“Have you talked to them? Don’t think so.”
Dr. Ransom sighed. “I have. You’re almost certainly right. I’m wondering whether these are very young Havenite forms, and that they turn into beings like the other conductors.”
She put her hand on her father’s shoulder, because there was a fairy hovering right in front of them. And probably had been for some time.
“I came to announce that lunch is served in the main dining room.”
Red faced, Terence and Jeanette got up. “Thank you,” Jeanette said.
“And the answer is no,” said the fairy with an ultrasonic giggle.
Time passed. Jeanette didn’t sleep well, and resented a tiny bit her father’s attempts (gingerly brought forth as they were) to cheer her up, because there wasn’t anything that he could say that would make any difference. But she didn’t want to be alone with her thoughts and particularly not her dreams.
She was diverted by the crows engaging in raucous play with the fairies, that got quite violent at times. Grandmère and Senhor Capybara were respectfully keeping their distance, and Silvertyger was difficult to talk to, blindfolded as he was.
The stations of Utterfar and Quincunctive were small stations in the midst of breathtaking landscapes but with no other buildings visible for miles and miles, and and Civitate Rhei was nothing more than a white rock in a rushing mountain stream. The fairies just shrugged at her questions about them.
But shortly before coming into the stop the crows had read out as Broceliande--that is, after they had emerged from the interdimensional void and were descending the dizzying ramp downwards--the train came to an abrupt and apparently unexpected stop. Unexpected, because the companions, in rushing to the observation deck (minus the blindfolded Lord Elphinstone) were accompanied by what seemed to be the entire contingent of Haven fairies.
Below and before them, the city of Broceliande, set in forest for as far as they eye could see, was on fire.
“Oh my,” said the conductor.
“Do those ships look familiar to you?” Asked Dr. Ransom.
“Sure do,” said the capybara sadly.