October 25th, 2007
Title: Mount Fraught Syndrome: Chapter 4
Summary: In which things are not what they seem, especially drawings of eyes.
Author's Notes: The Phantom Tollbooth is a great book. You should all read it.
Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three
“Sunny!” Klaus screamed again, scrambling round the side of the tent. He heard Jacques yell in pain, probably from Sunny’s teeth. “Let her go!” What was happening to her? The world was a blur and all he could do was run through it, waving his hands in front of him to feel the way.
“Run!” Sunny shouted. “Klaus! Inclid!” He has the tattoo, the same one! she meant, and Klaus felt his heart stop beating.
“No!” He gave up trying to feel ahead and ran, toward her voice, to her side, but a guy rope caught his legs and pulled him down. The dusty ground smashed into him, knocking the air from his body with a feeble gasping sound.
“Klaus?” Jacques’ voice. A brown blur appeared in front of him. “What -?”
“Vamo!” Stay away from him! He heard Sunny rush over to him, felt her arms around his waist.
Jacques’ shoes scuffled in the dirt as he backed away. “It’s all right,” he said, more slowly, cautious. “I’m not going to hurt either of you. I want to help.”
“Liar,” Klaus gasped, fighting for breath.
“He is not lying, please!” Madame Lulu exclaimed, indignant. “We are not hurting lost children! We are not ones biting, please, or making of accusations…”
“Lulu, I think they’ve a right to be upset,” Jacques interrupted.
“Yaha!” Sunny shouted. Of course we have a right to be upset!
“It’s all right,” Jacques repeated. He must have crouched down or something like that, because his voice seemed nearer. “I know you’re scared. I know what’s been happening to you…”
“Of – course – you know,” Klaus croaked, dragging air into his winded body. “You work – for Olaf, don’t you? You’ve got – his eye – his mark…”
He heard sharp intakes of breath from both the adults. Sunny still pressed against his side. She needs me, he thought, distantly. I shouldn’t lie here, I should get up. But there didn’t seem much point. He couldn’t run, or hide, or remember anything that would help them. This must be it. The end.
“That’s what you think?” Jacques sounded startled. It would have been convincing if Klaus hadn’t known better. “Is that what he told you? That the eye’s his symbol?”
“It’s all over his house.” Klaus could more or less breathe now, but his lungs still hurt. Everything did. “It’s on everything he owns.”
“And somehow that doesn’t surprise me much,” Jacques muttered. He was talking to himself, not Klaus and Sunny, and his tone held what seemed like genuine anger. Klaus felt a faint inkling of doubt. But Olaf’s an actor. Maybe he is, too. “The eye is a symbol,” Jacques continued, addressing them both again, “but it’s not what you think. It was…” He sighed. “Once, long ago, it was the symbol of a noble organisation, a group of people devoted to learning. People who wanted to keep peace in the world. To some of us it still is, but to others… do you know what the word ‘schism’ means?”
“Yes,” Klaus said, just as Sunny said “No.”
“It means a fight,” Klaus explained, “between different members of a group. One that splits the group into two opposing parts.”
“That’s right,” Jacques said. Klaus desperately wished he could see his expression. If he could he might be able to tell whether Jacques was telling the truth. He wanted to think he was, to trust that this man with the gentle voice and comforting explanations was really who he claimed to be. But relying on adults was dangerous. He’d learned that in Mr Poe’s office, with that bruise still livid on his face.
“So that’s who you are? Part of this ‘noble organisation’?” He tried to keep his voice cold, suspicious. “And Olaf’s on the opposing side?”
“We are both, please, helpers of VFD,” Madame Lulu said. “Not troupe of Count Olaf. We are wanting, please, only to help.”
After a slight pause, Jacques said, “Yes. I’m one of the ones who work to – keep the world quiet, as we put it.” He hesitated again. “As were your parents.”
“What?” Klaus yelped.
“Qua?” Sunny exclaimed. “Telnis!”
“Sunny says they never told us anything like that,” Klaus said. It wasn’t so hard to sound cold this time. “And she’s right. We never heard any of this before today.”
Jacques gave another deep sigh. “I know. Your parents wanted to keep you out of harm’s way for as long as possible. They thought you’d be safer if you didn’t know too much. For all I know, they may even have been right,” he added, again talking more to himself than to the children. Klaus’ head was swimming. That made no sense, he’d never been less safe in his life…
“Ediv,” Sunny said, quietly,
“What was that?” Jacques asked.
“She said Prove it,” Klaus translated. “Prove you really knew our parents.”
Jacques was silent for a long while. “They sang to you,” he said, eventually. “All three of you, when you were infants. A song called ‘The Butcher Boy’.” Sunny gasped, her arms tightening round Klaus. “The chorus goes ‘I wish, I wish, I wish in vain, I wish I was a maid again…’”
Klaus nodded, hoping his shock didn’t show on his face. He remembered that song, yes, he’d sung it to Sunny just last night when he’d thought they were going to be slaughtered. But one song didn’t prove anything. “Go on.”
“Sunny,” Jacques continued, “you once had to go to the emergency room because you chewed some rhubarb leaves while you were helping your father in the garden. And Klaus…” He paused to think again. “When you were seven, your favourite book was The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. Especially the part about the word market. You have good taste.”
Klaus swallowed. “What did Alec Bings’ sister do?”
“She saw under things,” Jacques said. “But she was all the way up in the air, so whatever she couldn’t see under…”
“…she overlooked,” Klaus finished with him. His voice was faint, not just tired but stunned. Jacques might have been able to find those details out some other way, as part of some elaborate trap, but he probably wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of reading the whole book just to trick him. And even if he would, Klaus knew the tone of voice he’d used. He was talking about a book he’d loved, one that meant something important to him. That couldn’t be faked.
It didn’t prove he was telling the truth. But Klaus was almost convinced, now, that he was.
“What do you think?” he asked Sunny.
“Aidag,” she whispered. I believe him.
Klaus swallowed again. “All right,” he told Jacques. “We’ll trust you.” Saying the words seemed to lift something from him, a great weight of suspicion and fear that had been holding him down without his really feeling it. It was replaced by another weight, this one simple tiredness. He let his head sink into the dust. He hadn’t realised until then how truly exhausted he was.
“Will you let me help you up?” Jacques asked. Klaus nodded. “Sunny?” She must have said yes too, because Klaus felt warm hands take hold of him, lifting him to his feet. He staggered, and more hands steadied him, presumably Madame Lulu’s. “I’m sorry for picking you up without your permission, Sunny,” Jacques said. “That was terribly rude, and I hope you’ll forgive me. I was just so relieved to see you alive.”
“Nema,” Sunny said.
“She says it’s okay,” Klaus murmured, “as long as you forgive her for biting you.” Lulu let go of him and he stumbled again before Jacques wrapped an arm around his shoulders.
“Of course. Perfectly sensible of you, under the circumstances.”
“We will be taking you to my caravan, please,” Madame Lulu said, from somewhere near the floor. Klaus assumed she was bending down to pick up Sunny. “You can be resting, please, on beds there, and there is food and water, or sodas if you prefer.”
“Thank you.” Klaus slumped against Jacques, wrapping an arm around him as well to hold on to his coat. “So much… I can’t…”
“I have to ask you something first.” Jacques sounded tense again. He took a long breath. “Just this one thing then you can sleep, I promise. Klaus…” His voice was soft. “Where’s Violet? What happened to your sister?”
Klaus felt the weight of fear crash back. “Olaf has her,” he whispered. Tears stung in his eyes. Jacques held him tight.
“Did he – do something to her?” His voice caught, wavered. Klaus thought of what he’d heard in the tent. My brother… I need to know if he’s still alive.
“Matric,” Sunny explained, and Klaus translated.
“He married her.”
“He’s married?” Madame Lulu exclaimed. “I didn’t – I am not seeing about this, please, in my crystal.”
“It’s a long story,” Klaus muttered. He tried to think, put the words in some kind of coherent order, but it was too hard when everything was so hazy. “The play was a trick, and we tried to stop it… but he had Sunny… and Justice Strauss was…” It wouldn’t hold together. His eyes kept slipping closed of their own accord.
“It’s all right, you don’t have to,” Jacques’ voice said, from far away. They were moving, to the caravan, he guessed. “You can tell me later. The two of you need to rest now.” There were steps, and a door opened. “Just rest, and when you wake up, we’ll figure out how to help your sister.”
“…thank you…” Klaus was vaguely aware of lying down again, this time on something soft, a bed or a couch. He couldn’t tell and it didn’t matter. He was floating away, Sunny nestled by his side.
“We will help her,” Jacques repeated, and as he drifted into sleep, Klaus let himself believe it.