After a while Jeanette relinquished the control station back to the engineer: she had gotten tired of stars and the occasional aurora-borealis-like curtain that she took to mean they’d crossed into another universe.Yet another universe.
Getting on to the Last Train Out’s line had been exciting enough. When she had accelerated the train to too high a speed to take the sweeping Dead Man’s Curve, the train had leapt off the rails, causing the cars to bounce about in screeching fashion, and causing the bug engineers to prostrate themselves. There had been no reason why this should have worked except for Jeanette’s faith in the ancient map and the knowledge that her father had passed this way.
Now, though, there was really nothing to do. Jeanette’s only previous interdimensional train trip had been colored by the fact that they were fighting a life-or-death battle, but even taking that into account, this was a far longer trip.
The crows had long since adjourned to the rear, and she joined them. The frontmost car, like the other train, had been allotted for guards, and the crows had opened up every door and drawer in search of something to eat. It was hard to tell how much time had passed, but she was definitely hungry.
“On the bright side, we probably aren’t missing anything by the lack of bug-soldier rations.” Antithyrsis said.
“I was hoping for at least some entertainment software we could make fun of,” Thyrsis said morosely. “All that’s left is introspection.”
“I’m hoping we start eating each other before it comes to that.”
It was not too much longer that they felt the train descend and touch physical rails. She managed to re-pack her backpack from the extended chaos she had covered the train car with, before the train started to brake in noisy fashion.
When the train stopped, she looked out and saw that there was not much more than a pair of classical pillars with a fragment of an arch between them, and a bowl with a floating fire bracketed to one side. There was a panel that at first she thought said Aubpe-something, until she realized it was in the greek alphabet.
??????????? • ?????? it said, which would have taken her too long to figure out, so she assumed it was the place.
She came into the locomotive compartment. “You have done superbly well,” she said. “This is all I need you for, and I trust you can turn the train around and return.”
The engineers’ relief was overwhelming. “Of course! Simply driving the train in reverse until we arrive at--er--standard trackage is something we do all the time! We thank your Highness for the opportunity to serve!”
She descended the train and stood there on the minuscule platform. It was beautiful, after a fashion: vast masses of willow trees beyond the small circle of light, and a series of marble stepping-stones leading down to a dark lake, with a platform even smaller than the first, and a pole for tying up a boat. There was light through the leaves at a distance, and what sounded like people talking and maybe even music, though very faint.
She went down to the edge of the water and waited.
It was only a few minutes before a pair of eyes glided toward her on the surface of the lake. The eyes rose and turned into the shaggy form of Senhor Capoeira Capybara. “Miss Jeanette Ransom, I presume!” he said delightedly.
“Senhor,” she said, and got up and did a mock-curtsey.
“So glad you could make it.” The capybara emitted a chuck-chucking sound, and shortly a small flat boat, poled by Lord Silvertyger, appeared, and bumped up to the platform.
She hugged her father, who was looking immensely better, and let the tears flow. They all gathered around her and hugged her.
Grandmère said that this place seemed to be something of a royal preserve, and that she had felt more power here than any place she’d ever been, so they figured they would try to avoid disturbing the folks here.
“While I had a most entertaining discussion with a lynx-maiden, who didn’t seem at all put out by our presence,” Silvertyger rumbled.
“And I reasoned, ” said the capybara, “that such spiritually powerful beings engaging in such opulent diversions would not mind a little unintentional generosity.” He went down into the water and pulled a basket out of the back of the boat, laden with fruits and pastries tiny savory bites. “It will do, I think, for a reunion celebration ”
They all ate, including the crows, and there was plenty for everybody. Grandmère said, “your father, as I’m sure you figured out, insisting on getting off the train at The first stop when he found you were missing. But not, I will say, before he negotiated re-boarding passes for all of us. Here is yours.” And he extended a long orangutan arm to hand her a translucent card.
Finally, sitting in her father’s lap, she introduced them to Thyrsis and Antithyrsis, who talked to them through her jewelry, and she told them about the history of Haven, and how the mantis was a princess, and how she’d found the map. She was about to start filling in the narrative gaps, when Terence rubbed her head. “We all have more to tell each other, but for now, I would just as soon enjoy the fact that we’re back together, and can sleep easy for the first time in a while.”
She saw that Senhor Capoeira’s eyes were fluttering shut, and the sleepiness in her father’s, and delighted in just that knowledge. So Terence distributed blankets from his knapsack, and they laid them down in the warm breeze, and went to sleep.
In the middle of the night, though, she got up and found the light and the music and the voices irresistible to her. She got up and skirted around the lake underneath the willows.
She saw an incredible scene: a wonderment of multicolored cloth, held up by spears, and plate after plate of food, and lying back or walking around, magnificent tall muscular men and beautiful women in draperies and armor and a profusion of jewels, talking and singing and laughing and playing instruments, all by the golden light of a hundred torches. It was the most enchanting thing she’d ever seen, and she had to get closer to drink it all in.
In the center was the largest canopy, in gold-bordered white cloth, and in the center of it, surrounded by young boy and girl servants, was a woman of breathtaking beauty, with long dark hair and large dark eyes.
Those eyes were set on Grandmère Hutan, who crouched before her.
“You know what’s going to happen to her,” Grandmère said. “I don’t know how you can countenance it.”
“I countenance all,” said the woman in a voice like a dark cello. “But you know full well that it is you who shall betray her.”
Grandmère bowed her head low and buried it beneath her angled orangutan arms.
Then the incredible woman looked directly at Jeanette, and it was as if they were less than a foot apart. The great dark eyes softened with pleasure, the gleaming red mouth curled in the beginning of a smile, and the lips parted to speak--
--And she awoke.
She was wrapped in her blanket, and so was her father right next to her, and so was Grandmère. Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone was a few steps away from her, looking off into the darkness, on watch.
Jeanette blinked a few times, felt the confusion of swimming up from a dream, relaxed and moved closer to her father.
When she awoke again, the sun was in a blue sky, the wind was gentle, and everyone but Lord Elphinstone was still there.
She got up and looked around.
“Where are we?” she said.