Jeanette toppled through the portal and the light was bright white. But an instant later the cold wind smacked her in the face and wriggled down inside her inadequate clothing. So much for wishes, she thought--but it got still colder, and she thought of nothing but the cold.
Senhor Capoeira was there by her side, though and drew her to his furry side that seemed to radiate heat. He immediately started moving forward. “I am--” he began, but then thought the better of any sort of talking, and instead chuffed through his nose. Jeanette though she could hear her father’s teeth chattering on the other side of the capybara, and feel the wiggles he set up in the big rodent’s furry mass. Jeanette decided she had friends at school she liked less than the capybara.
He stopped. “Look,” he whistled through his incisors.
“Not gonna,” she responded from inside his fur, so they continued walking, this time downward.
The wind abated. “Now look,” he said.
Although it was still icy, Jeanette could see that they were at the top of a mountain, and that below them--way below--was a beautiful green valley with a lake that sparkled even from here. They were on a flagstone terrace that let out onto broad stone stairs.
“Mmp,” she said in approval, not being ready to leave the capybara’s fur.
The staircase was truly awesome, and would be even frightening if it weren’t so broad and well-walled. It zigzagged down a sheer rock face maybe half a mile high, and while it was carved into that face, on the other side was nothing. But as they descended, it became steadily warmer and the great green valley steadily more of a reality.
The staircase began to be bordered with flowers, starting with little white blooms and then successively replaced by different varieties, like a floral thermometer. Except for scented howitzers like lilacs, Jeanette had been too surrounded by internal combustion engines all her life to know what air filled with flowers smelled like, but she did so now.
At the bottom of the stairs the path led to a gorgeous little castle. There were no Sleeping Beauty towers or crenelations, but the windows were broadly gothic in shape and in stained glass, and the walls were rough white stone and a broad fan of terraces around it, nestled onto bright green grass.
“Purely on the basis of how nice it looks, I suspect a trap,” said Terence.
“This place is drenched in power, but it’s placid. We should proceed with caution. Capoeira answered.
Jeanette nodded in agreement, but she was ready to say that she thought it was happy to see them.
The one thing--the only thing--that was similar to the Office From Hell was that there were no people. But deserted? There were baskets of flowers hanging from the eaves, and there were hangings from the rafters of the big rooms inside that seemed to have just stopped swinging. If there were people--or fairies--hiding behind the draperies and watching them, she wouldn’t have been surprised.
When they passed through the elegant rooms of the house to the broad terrace that looked out over the lake, all three of them let out a breath. There was a round table, perfect for three or four, with a fountain spray of flowers as a centerpiece and laden with dishes of all sorts of food.
“I vote to throw caution to the winds,” the capybara said, and bounded on all fours to the table. Terence and Jeanette followed with only a little more dignity.
The center part of the table was a lazy susan which they pushed around to scoop from the dishes. The enchanted thing was that when the table came around again, the dishes were different, and there was literally nothing they could not choose from. Jeanette was ready to put a big ladle into a golden-crusted bowl of macaroni and cheese, when terence pushed the susan around, saying, “You have eaten enough macaroni and cheese in your short life, young lady. Try something new.” Jeanette scowled, since this had been an ongoing battle, but when the revolving tray came around again, the bowl was still there, so she stuck her tongue out and scooped.
When Terence leaned back and said, “I think I have finally put the memory of that coffee and those awful danishes to rest,” Jeanette wanted to go to sleep from sheer ease. They left the table, all three of them waddling a bit, and made for some cushioned chairs scattered near the low wall of the terrace, where the lake glistened a short walk downwards.
Jeanette pulled her backpack up onto a side-table and pulled out her phone. “That’s almost certainly dead by now, Jeanette,” said her father.
“Shows what you know. I have a power bank in the bottom of the pack.” She pulled out a box with a Star Wars Resistance logo on it and plugged the phone in. When nothing happened, she pouted and thought of her lending the bank to Annabel and Robert a few days ago.
“It’s not like you’re going to get any connections out here, Jeanette,” her father said, half-amused.
“But I’ve got all my books on it,” she said, and her pain was evident.
Then a stalk grew up from one of the legs of the table. It wrapped tendrils around the USB plug, and a silver were descended to the terrace flags. The gleaming line leaped over the wall and sped out over the grass. Very quickly it had gone out over a nearby hill, and reappeared. The air was so clear that they could see it as it blossomed, miles away, into a cluster of silver towers, and then still farther, until it was only a pinprick, where it reached a river cascading down from the far mountains. A white fan of a dam spread out with great speed between the shoulders of two hills--
--and Jeanette’s phone lit up with a thin red line at one end of the picture of a battery.
“Well,” the capybara said.
“No ingratitude intended,” said Terence after a digestive rest, “But I think we would do well to find out more about the power of this place.”
The capybara took a small device out of his fur, and turned it over a couple of times. Then he pointed off towards a gentle rise to a promontory on the lake’s edge. “Whatever it is, the center is there.”
“Jeanette,” Terence said.
Jeanette had replaced her phone with her tablet, and was reading something. But she got up quickly, and they headed along the well-tended path.
At the promontory, what they saw was two long mounds of earth, the size of an adult human. They were obviously graves, though there were no headstones. Instead, from the head of one grew a bush heavily laden with roses, and from the other a scraggly briar. The two intertwined. On one bush, there hung a pair of opera-length white gloves, and on the other, a flared gauntlet pair. Terence and the capybara lowered their heads, but Jeanette walked forward and reached out her hand to touch the long white gloves.
She was greeted with a spark of lightning that caused her to stagger back three or four paces. “Those gloves are undoubtedly what’s powering this entire world,” Capoeira said. “All is revealed.”
When the sun went down, and fireflies lit up the grass around the house, Terence followed Jeanette to the bedroom she had chosen. Jeanette stood before the bed, reluctant to move further. “We’ve made sure this isn’t the Queen--the Princess’s bed, and you haven’t slept in an awful long time. You need to.”
“I’m awfully tired, but…”
“This is all so beautiful--sad and beautiful. What if I wake up back in my own bed and find this was all a dream?”
“Well, I don’t know.”
“What kind of world is this where you have to have courage to go to sleep?” she whispered.
“But you have that courage, my darling daughter.” He kissed the top of her head.
“I love you, Dada,” Jeanette said, softer than a whisper. “No matter what.”
She got into bed, and the fireflies left the room and flew out over the lake.