“So we have the skull from a beast of the future,” said Valanice, running her finger across the line she was reading, “And the glass globe.”
“What about the tower?”
“Oh, that’s a simple matter when you live in a castle. The north tower is the tallest of the four, but I still don’t know how these things are supposed to fit together, or how we’re going to find the third and fourth items?”
“The artifact from the future and the artifact from the past? Yeah, I was wondering about those. And the way the materials fit together too.”
“Do you have anything with you that could serve as an artifact from the future, Jack?”
“Well…I could use a lock of my hair, but that might be too small…you never know where a bit of hair might mess up a spell…like what happened to Hermione in The Chamber of Sec – Oops!”
“Will you never stop fading like that?” snapped Valanice, slapping the vanishing Jack on the back. “I thought by now you would’ve learned to not say things from your time!”
“Sorry, Valanice,” said Jack, straightening up in his chair (which fortunately was composed of wide slats in the back, so he could fit his tail through one of the gaps). “But what else could satisfy the spell’s requirements? These gold clasps might do but…wait!” he suddenly exclaimed. “I’ve got it!”
“Got it where?”
“My marbles! – or, what’s left of my marbles.”
Valanice lifted an eyebrow and looked at Jack skeptically.
“Look, there are two more ingredients we need to find, right?”
“And there are two eye sockets in the skull, right?”
“And my marbles are small and round, and I’ll bet my head that they’ll fit into the rat’s head!”
“You know…I think you’re right,” said Valanice. “But let’s see if you really are.”
Jack placed his marble pouch on the table and emptied it. There were only three marbles left after their battle with the rats, but only one was needed to fill the empty eye socket.
He tried to fit the first marble in, but it was too large. The second was also too large, but the third, a pearl-colored, iridescent one, fit in perfectly.
“So all we need to do is find an artifact from your time,” said Jack. “Where do you suggest we look?”
“Well, if it’s something round you’re looking for, I’m sure I can lend you some of my jewelry…”
“Good idea. Let’s see what we can find.”
Jack and Valanice searched her room in pursuit of a second “eye” for the skull. Jack was very finicky about the queen’s suggestions, however. Whenever she showed him a sapphire ring or a crystal pendant, he would shake his head and insist that the eye had to be something that resembled its mate in appearance, size and shape, otherwise the spell might go wrong.
After looking at all of Valanice’s jewelry with no success, they walked out into the hallway, exhausted and dejected. Just as they were about to descend the stairs, Rosella came running up them.
“Good day, mother. Good day, Jack.”
“G’day, Rosella,” muttered Jack, barely looking up.
“Is something amiss?”
“That’s putting it lightly, Rosella,” said Valanice.
“Does it have something to do with that magic spell you two are working on?”
Jack’s head jerked up. “How did you know?”
“Oh, Father told me the whole story, and one of the servants overheard the conversation you were having in the library a half hour ago. So you couldn’t find anything to match the eye in the skull?”
“No,” said Valanice.
“Well, I think I can help you,” said Rosella. “I have an old necklace of pearls that I haven’t worn for some time, and one of them is quite large. I think it may be just right for you.”
“You wouldn’t mind unstringing an entire pearl necklace just for us?” Jack asked in shock.
“Absolutely not. I haven’t been deaf to those strange noises or oblivious to that awful aroma seeping through the windows. Besides, that’s one of the advantages to being a princess, no? Having more precious stones than you can keep track of?”
“I guess so,” said Jack. “I’m not royalty myself, though…”
“Enough talk,” said Valanice. “Do you two hear that noise? It’s one of those music pieces from Jack’s time starting to pick up again. Let’s find that necklace of yours, Rosella.”
“What do you think?” Rosella asked, holding the necklace up for Jack and her mother to see.
“Wow. Any one of those small pearls would easily fit into the eye socket of a normal rat skull,” said Jack. “But that big one in the middle is just what we need.”
Valanice held up the rat skull they had brought with them, estimating the size of the pearl and the socket. “You are correct, Jack. It not only is the right size, but it’s almost perfectly spherical and if I didn’t know better, I’d think it was a mirror image of your marble.”
“Shall I break the string so you can get it?” asked Rosella, gripping the necklace with her hands.
“Yes, dear, but don’t…”
Valanice spoke too late. Rosella snapped the fragile thread, sending pearls flying all over the room like round snowflakes. Jack uttered something obscene under his breath, and Valanice was about to scold her daughter when a particularly loud burst of music came screaming through the room, and she quickly got down on her knees and began picking up the pearls, trying to find the largest. Jack quickly joined her, and Rosella, after a moment, followed suit.
In a short time the three had retrieved all the pearls except one, which, in a horrid twist of fate, was the one that they needed the most.
“Let’s check along the walls,” decided Valanice. “There are lots of wide cracks in the stonework.”
They immediately began combing the corners and the spaces between furniture and the walls. After several unsuccessful minutes, Jack let out a triumphant shout.
“I’ve got good news and bad news, highnesses.”
“What?” asked Rosella and Valanice at the same time.
“The good news is: I found the largest pearl. The bad news is it’s stuck way back in one of these cracks. I can see it, but I can’t reach it, even with my claws out.”
“You didn’t tell me he has claws,” said Rosella, turning to her mother.
“Don’t worry Rosella, he’s a gentleman,” whispered Valanice. “So how do you propose we get it out of there, Jack?” she said in a normal tone of voice.
“I have no idea. It’s really wedged back there. I doubt if anyone could reach it unless they were a mouse.”
“Or a snake,” groaned Rosella.
“You don’t have any other pearls that large, Rosella?” asked Jack, lifting his head from where he had it pressed against the floor.
“Well, unless there’s someone in this castle that can transform me into a snake so I could crawl back there and get that pearl, I doubt we’re going to be able to do anything to save Daventry from the future…”
“Wait!” cried Rosella. “Strange you should mention changing into snakes! We have a sorcerer whose specialty is just that!”
“Really?” asked Jack, his eyes growing large.
“Yes! His name is Ian, and he can change people and animals into other creatures -- including snakes -- for short periods of time, and I’m sure he can do the same to you…that is…if you really want to…”
Jack was out the door before she finished. Valanice stared at her daughter in stupefied silence.
“Rosella, what sort of idea was that that you gave him? You know Ian is an inexperienced amateur! Remember what he did to that robin last Christmas?”
“Well, I figured it was the best thing to say,” said Rosella smugly, “For two reasons. One, we need to get that pearl out and finish that spell before things get any worse…”
“He just looks like the type.”
Graham, Valanice, Rosella, Jack and Ian met in the Rosella’s bedroom one hour later, the king looking baffled, the queen looking concerned, the princess looking curious, the cat looking nervous beyond description and the sorcerer looking mischievous.
“So you say it will change me into a snake for fifteen minutes?” asked Jack.
“No, I did not say that,” said the sorcerer. “I said that I can change humans into snakes for ten minutes and animals for one, but you, it seems, are something in-between, so I’d say you would be a snake for…do I daresay it, yes, I do…five minutes, maybe four.”
“Jack, this is a very dangerous thing,” pleaded Valanice. “Ian has never done this before, and he might…”
“Don’t say that, Valanice,” said Jack. “I’m trembling in my boots already, you don’t want to see me when I’m really nervous.”
“But you’re barefoot.”
“That’s my point. I’m trembling in my boots with no boots. If that doesn’t scare you, nothing will. So,” he said, changing the subject and shifting his glance to Ian, “Any other warnings, Sir?”
“Yes. Whomever I turn into a snake usually loses some of their memory until they change back. Only for snakes, though. Other beasties don’t make people lose their memories while in the form in question. But you aren’t exactly human, so you might lose more memory than usual. Are you sure you don’t want to be some other creature than a snake, Jack?”
“Yep, I’m sure. Rosella gave me the idea and the last thing I want to do is offend her by choosing another animal.”
Rosella cleared her throat and looked over her shoulder.
“But what if you forget what your mission is, Jack?”
“Are you positive?”
“All right,” said Ian, raising his hands. “But one last warning: you will only be able to speak in the tongue of snakes when you are a snake. You won’t understand our language or any other. I just thought I’d let you know before you change.”
“Okay. I’m ready,” said Jack, kneeling.
“Remember,” said Ian, “You have only five minutes, your memory almost vanishes, and you won’t be able to understand…”
“OKAY!” snarled Jack. “Just change me. The sooner this is over with the better.”
“As you wish,” said Ian. He raised his arms high above his head and spoke a long, garbled word that sounded more like a growl than a spoken phrase. His hands were surrounded by a blue glow for a moment, then he spoke another word and lowered his hands in one quick movement. There was no flash of light of clap of thunder, but Jack had vanished and in his place was a small, green snake staring up at them.
All three wanted to say something to the snake, but they all realized that their words would be in vain. After examining them for a while, the snake began looking around the room, then slithering toward the crack in the wall. Valanice began whispering words of hope that Jack would remember what his goal was, but she stopped when Jack started crawling away from it, along the wall towards Rosella’s bed.
“Please remember, Jack,” she pleaded, bending over and moving her hand towards the snake. Suddenly, the snake whirled around and hissed, nearly biting Valanice as she drew her hand back in terror.
“He’s not venomous, is he, Ian?” Graham asked.
“I don’t know,” said Ian. “He shouldn’t be…”
Jack struck at the three people again, and Rosella gasped in fear and looked at her mother, cowering in guilt.
“I was afraid of this,” said Ian. “He’s forgotten.”
“But you can change him into a snake again after he’s changed back, right, Ian?” asked Rosella.
“No. I’ve used up most of my strength on that odd one. I probably won’t be able to change him again for at least a day. There’s no way for him to get that pearl out now.”
“Alaca’pu,” muttered Valanice.
“What was that?” asked Ian.
“Nothing…nothing,” she replied, sighing. She looked at the tiny green snake that was Jack, glaring at them and hissing, but, for some reason, looking at her the most.
“Wait!” said Valanice. “You don’t need as much strength for changing humans, do you?”
“No, Valanice, I don’t usually…”
“Then change me into a snake. I’ll be able to talk to Jack and guide him to the pearl.”
“But what if you forget, my queen?”
“Jack’s half animal. That’s probably why he forgot so quickly. I’m a human. You told me that humans have stronger minds than animals once, didn’t you?”
“Then do it. Do it before Jack changes back. It’s the only way to get that pearl out of there before things get entirely out of hand.”
“Are you sure about this, Valanice?” asked Graham.
“Yes, are you sure, Mother?” asked Rosella.
“I’ve never been more sure in my life,” said Valanice primly and stepping in front of Ian.
“All right,” said the sorcerer. “Your word is mine to obey.”
Again, Ian raised his hands and recited that peculiar word. Valanice closed her eyes and hoped her transformation would be painless. Then, just as Ian was reciting the second word, she felt a roaring wind envelop her and draw breath out of her lungs. Her arms and legs went limp, then seemed to vanish. She opened her eyes and looked around. She was lying on the floor, and three enormous creatures were looking down upon her. For a moment, she forgot what was going on, then she remembered. Jack. I am a snake. Must help Jack.
Even her thoughts seemed fractured and confused as she looked around the huge room. What was the purpose of this room? Who is this Jack? Then she turned and saw a snake, a large green snake just as large as she was, flicking its long forked tongue at her and hissing. But she could hear words in between the hisses, something like who are you…begone, you intruder!
With that, he lashed out at her, fangs bared. If she were human, Valanice would have leapt back and screamed, but instead she lunged forward and wrapped her body around his, squeezing until his hissing finally ceased. She heard frightened voices she couldn’t understand coming from above her, and she knew without looking that they were coming from her daughter, her husband and Ian.
When Jack’s body finally relaxed, she loosened her grip and slithered backwards and faced him, trying to look as serious as she could.
I must help you, said Valanice. What she heard come out of her were raspy rattles, but she could hear her own voice, which sounded different than the other snake’s.
Why, strange one? Jack asked. Why?
We must save Daventry, she replied. Get the pearl.
What is that?
The great round ball within that crevice, said Valanice, pointing to it with the tip of her tail.
Jack didn’t even ask why, for reasons she couldn’t guess. Probably he had remembered, or perhaps he couldn’t think in the form he was in. But regardless of the answer, Jack slithered towards the crack and crawled inside.
I see it, he hissed. It is very large.
Hurry, lisped Valanice. Your time is almost up.
You are going to change back any minute. Get the pearl and get out here quickly!
All right…but how do I move it?
Use your mouth, Jack, your mouth!
Is that my name?
Just get it out of there! she roared.
After several tense seconds, Jack came out of the crack, carrying the pearl between his jaws. Before the tip of his tail had left the hole, his body started to shimmer and change. Valanice instinctually slid away from him, finding a safe place by the foot of Rosella’s bed. Within seconds, Jack towered above her in his own form, looking dazed and bewildered.
But where is the pearl, thought Valanice, looking from Jack to the crack in the wall. Graham said something that was probably the same thing, and Jack raised his hand to his mouth and spit a shiny round orb into his palm. The queen sighed with relief, but then gaped with horror at the sight of a hand reaching for her – Graham’s hand. He picked her up gently and she didn’t resist at all. The hand lifted her up in front of Graham’s face, and even though she couldn’t understand his words completely, she heard him say:
“That was a very brave deed, Valanice. You did it. You still have about ten minutes before you become human again, so I’m taking you back to our room. Again, I’m very glad you succeeded. I’m sure Jack thinks the same thing.”
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