When light returned to the throne room, Chancellor Acquin was lying on the steps, a massive hole in his chest. He looked definitely dead.
The guards rushed to him and picked him up, carrying him to the two pillars that would turn back time for a few minutes.
King Charles Martel shouted in rage, “STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING!” But the guards ignored him. One of them pressed the panel.
A blink, and the Chancellor was unconscious and limp, but intact and alive. The guard turned to the King and said, “Your pardon I beg, your majesty, but due to the nature of the tableau before you, we feared you might have committed an act in error--one that could not be reconsidered.”
The king rumbled, “I know a magical reconstruction when I see one, and I meant to do what I did. But you acted properly. No blame to you.” The guard remained ramrod straight, but was obviously relieved.
But the huge black-bearded monarch wheeled, holding his war-hammer as if he was going to smash something with it, and strode toward the Chancellor, now just blinking awake. “You lied to me. You backed up Ganelon’s story of the rape and murder of the Queen.You deserved the death I just meted out to you, and I am ready to mete it out again.”
Jeanette’s heart, already racing, skipped a beat. The Queen! Of course my guardian turns out to be the Queen! And of course I’ve been mouthing off to her like the brat I am!
And as if that were the cue, Parise D’Avignon stood at the side door to the throne room.
“And when I returned, you wouldn’t listen to me, because Ganelon was still your favorite. You called me an evil spirit and a false revenant, even though you could tell I was neither, because you needed him for the war. Even at Loquifer, when only the intervention of Oberon saved you from the traitor’s dagger, you mourned his death as a tragedy. And though you in the end acknowledged me, you lived in denial and honored my rapist’s memory.”
“For that I do not blame you, because you had told yourself a story that exceeded your own power to break--but would you have listened to the boy Acquin if he had told you the truth?”
She came only up to the king’s chest, and she spoke her words in an even, mild tone, but the king dropped his hammer, went to the throne, and slumped in it. “I am often enough a fool. It’s a wonder you suffer to stay by my side.”
“If you were clever, my darling, then you would be insufferable. But you owe thanks to this young girl from far away, who finally showed you the truth in a way you could see.”
She turned to face Jeanette, and if it hadn’t been Parise, she would have run and hid behind either her father or Senhor Capoeira, who would hide her more effectively. But she walked slowly forward, stumbling only once, a little girl in white gloves, embroidered blouse, and big fat white running shoes with blue stripes on them.
“Your majesty, this is Jeanette Ransom. Her father, Dr. Terence Ransom, stands close by.”
It was actually Chancellor Acquin testing my necklace, Jeanette didn’t say. She was going to follow the queen (the Queen!) in this.
The king said, “I am in your debt, young lady.” Jeanette thrashed around in her head, trying to figure out what to say, coming up all sorts of things that ended badly, and not even having the sense to curtsey or bow.
“Come, milady, am I that frightening?” He said in a tone that would have been jovial if it hadn’t also sounded like a thunderstorm.
“Yes,” she said plainly. Parise laughed aloud, and so did the king. Terence came up and got her, and he murmured, ”Good move.”
The banquet to welcome the King was everything the victory celebration wasn’t: fireworks, and dancing on the tables, and even ensemble flying by the winged horses. Jeanette was in between the Queen and her father, which was about as good a place as she could ask for.
Senhor Capoeira Capybara was next over from her father, and Jeanette noticed that there was a row of mice in front of him, eating morsels that he set in front of them. She pointed at them and raised an eyebrow at him.
“The Chancellor wanted to test my device for enhancing the intellectual evolution of mice. So here we are again.”
The next morning, she got up and went to the bathroom, and noticed that the embroidery on her blouse was different, and more elaborate. What her father would have done, she thought, was to have taken a photo of the old shirt and set it beside a photo of her new shirt, and then try to figure out just what changes were made to make it able to work with her gloves on. But that was far too late, because she’d gotten way too used to throwing her clothes on the floor at night.
A young woman was at her door to take her to a meeting. Her friends and the queen were in a room she hadn’t been in before. Grandmère interrupted herself as she walked in, and Thyrsis and Antithyrsis flew over and perched on her shoulders.
“I was just recounting some theorising, my dear, that I had done off and on, about how toons, funny animals, whatever we are, are the descendants of the small gods of the sundry varieties of humans. That as the actual belief in them fades, they get reborn in fiction, made caricatures of, and then animated cartoons, and soon we embody the various social forces--tricksters, innocents, adventurers, heroes and heroines--though very often commercial or trivial constructs, take on a life of their own and embody the little parts of the culture that the laboratory and the church neglect.”
“I told her she sounds like the comparative religion folks I ran into at college,” said Terence.
“And it has given me much to think about,” said the Queen. “And partly in reference to it, I want to turn to your map.” She unfolded it, put weights on the corners, And smoothed it.
“In large outline, this is all unknown to me, and hard even to comprehend. But the area right around Broceliande is different.” She pulled out a big magnifying glass. “The fine silvery lines around the city do correspond to lines of power stretching through the forest. It’s quite exact. And this one in particular--” she traced a line with her fingernail,”--goes right to one of the most powerful places in the whole great forest. There’s a minute blob there, and an inscription in an alphabet it took me some research to place.” Jeanette, leaning forward, saw that there was a pile of books next to Parise’s chair.
“It says, in the alphabet of the Pilgrims, Avalon, which is what we call it too. It is where my kinsman, whom I mentioned before, Oberon, dwells. He’s far more learned than I. In short, rather than getting back on your railway, which seems amazing but which has not brought you much except trouble, I recommend seeking Avalon.”
Terence looked at Jeanette, which she appreciated, and she nodded. Then so did everyone else.
“It’s not a journey without danger, so I will ask some of our paladins to accompany you: Sir Amadis, Sir Ogier, and Sir Huon. Lord Silvertyger knows them all.”
They had a late breakfast (one did not have ‘brunch’ in a magical palace), and then they went back to their rooms to get their things. On top of Jeanette’s backpack there was a gold key on a silver chain, and she got a bit melty about that--except that there was no way she was going back into the bookstacks alone. But as she opened the pack to put it in, she noticed that someone (wonder who) had also put a bunch of books in her pack. There was The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Sorcerer’s Ship by one Hannes Bok, two volumes called The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson--and a beautiful small leather-bound book with embossed lettering and gold-edged pages called How To Use Your Library. At that, her meltiness was complete. She took the key out and hung it around her neck.
It was still before noon when they gathered in a terrace before the edge of the forest. The King and Queen were there to see them off, as well as a number of others. (She never did get around to meeting her friends’ companions.) Huon put a horn to his lips, blew a pure note, and they walked off into the green shadows.
The forest dense and the trees were thick and tall. Jeanette might have expected actual footpaths, but though there was room to walk, the main sign that this was a traveled route was the series of carven figures on either side of the path, twenty feet apart or more, except where the path took a turn, which was better marked.
She knew she could rely on the capybara, so she drifted back to where he was ambling, and he handed her a pastry. “You’ll probably find some fruits and nuts in your backpack, but it’s a shame to rely on that sort of thing.” She could not help but agree.
There was something about these woods: there was always the feeling that she had been down this path before--and that she remembered that there was something cool up ahead. And there were cool things: single dramatic flowers in the green shade, or a canopy with branches intertwined. There was birdsong, too.
Then the crows, who had been ranging far and wide, came back at full speed. “Danger! Danger! Something coming fast!” The Paladins and Lord Elphinstone heard it, and made a circle with the others at the center.
They heard it then: things scrambling through the upper branches of the trees, dozens of them if not more. The Paladins and the tiger crouched over them. Amadis and Huon had shields; Ogier had a heavy bow.
A rain of arrows came down. Positioned as they were, none of the whited-gloved companions could pull out weapons, and there didn’t seem anything that they could easily hit. An assault rifle could tear up the canopy and not hit an enemy, and an energy weapon would set the whole forest on fire.
An arrow hit Dr. Ransom, and he shouted in pain. A heavy hooked arrowhead hit Jeanette’s shoulder, and she writhed on the ground in pain.