The man reentered the room several moments later visibly shaken. He sat, exhaled, took his tea and had a sip. “I have been trying to determine a strategy for the king to defeat the Ace of Spades, but it has been for not. She refuses to play chess and without her…”

“The philosophies that I deal with are much further beyond what you deem as important for your precious king.” She replied.

“For years we played dominoes,” he said.

“That was for harmony. The games never ended. Double ninety-nine, those were rousing days when the kingdom was in harmony. With so much playing time no one ever won the game. One would gain a hand the other would lose, but in the end everything equaled out,” she smiled at the man and he blushed.

“When conflict arose it was backgammon,” he said.

“Delay your opponent more than they delay you. Brilliant strategy. Those too were good days and settled amicably. And then… Then we went to war and we played cards for two weeks straight trying to figure out how this would settle up. We played Spades, we played Hearts, Gin, but nothing seemed to have an amicable solution.” She said.

“That’s when I decided to figure out a strategy for our side to defeat the black cards and she opted out.”

“We do not take sides. We have never taken sides.” she declared. “You want to find a solution for your king, but we have always dealt with harmony.”

“So what do you do now?” Khamet asked the woman.

“I…” the woman seemed taken aback. “Do you really want to know?”

“Yes.”

“When he started with his chess and the military strategy for the king I began playing solitaire to understand what one person could do to solve the conflict for the rest of the kingdom, but that failed me quickly. Then I began playing Sudoku. Have you heard of Sudoku?”

“Pish tosh!” the man snorted and selected another biscuit and took a sip from his tea.

The woman waddled quickly to her great fluffy chair and picked up the book.

“It didn’t take long to figure the game out and quite often you must play for years before you understand the hidden meanings.”

“Like what?” Khamet said.

“Well in most card games all Clubs are mercenaries,” the man said. “Jokers are always wild of course, Hearts are the romantic, and Diamonds are the root of all evil.”

“Or for financial success,” the woman added.

“The Spades are considered the hierarchy.” The man finished.

“You considered that yourself and that’s when we began to fall out of suits. Then of course there’s a question of the cards being white, blue, green, yellow, red or black. She reached under the coffee table and pulled out a deck of cards, we play with a three hundred shoot and still he cheats,” the woman said.

“Bah,”

“So,” the woman said opening the book. “After two weeks playing Sudoku…”

“Idon’tunderstandthisatall!” he exclaimed. Saying everything like it was all one word.

“You never gave it a chance,” she said. “Look here. This is the basic set up. It’s a four-four grid. Place the four numbers all in different places in the grids so that everything is represented in each line.”

“Kids stuff,” he mumbled. “She knows that chess is sophisticated but she refuses…” he was stopped by her hand in his face.

“I don’t play those any longer.” She said flipping the hefty book to one of the deeper pages. The grid was massive and covered both pages. “This is the 100 line grid and it is a challenge unlike anything you would believe.”

Khamet saw the man lean over with a bit of interest at this.

“You know something,” Khamet’s brother said. “That looks like…”

“Exactly,” she said. “It is laid out in the shape of Heere, but it is more refined and complicated as well.”

Everyone was staring now.

“And here’s what I discovered. To win a game of Sudoku you cannot place a number in a box unless you thoroughly understand and think about that numbers relation to each and every other number and box on the board. If you do, though it may seem like a small thing. You will eventually place other numbers in the boxes in relation to that number, relating to all others, which was placed wrong and as a consequence everything will eventually fall apart.”

The three males stared.

She flipped the book back to the beginning. “There are four of us in this conversation, yes?”

The three nodded.

“Four numbers four grids. I place my number here, you place your number here and just to be difficult,” she pointed to the frog faced man. “You place your number here.”

The man glowered at her.

“That’s it. No matter what happens now, because one of the numbers is off, the harmony is lost. The others cannot place their numbers in correct succession because you… very like your king, considered himself rather than others. This, quite simply, is why we are at war.”

The man sat back. He had a look in his eyes of understanding and frustration.

“Have you ever seen a situation where everything is going one way and trying to live in harmony, when one or two decide to go a different direction rather than consider the effect on others. Often the end result is out of balance and starts conflict.” She opened the book again to the deep pages. “I have been working on this puzzle for two months. It is slow and evident, but citizens are not like these numbers are they?”

Khamet chimed in. “They can decide for themselves. And they know when something they do will conflict or cause a problem with another.”

“Yes they do,” she said. “And I know very well change is necessary, but if one would stop and think for a moment, changes can be smoother than we make them and…”

“And it doesn’t matter right now does it? Because we are at war.” the man said, nudging Khamet’s brother and motioning to the chessboard. They both got up and moved back to the table.

The woman looked disappointed. “My husband cannot see clearly. This could solve the problem with the war if people took it upon themselves to…”

“But they won’t.” Khamet said. “If you come to a part where you have to go back do you start over?”

“How could I,” she said and flipped the pages back to numerous unfinished puzzles with the conflicting number circled. “This is where I discovered the problem and there is no way to figure out where it began.”

“So what’s the point of it?”

“Exactly my boy! You tell her kitty! Tell her!” the man said not looking up from the board.

“The point is that they can be solved,” she said.

“Then why don’t we?” he said.

“That is the real question,” Khamet said. “You do realize these games will not substitute for the true nature of thinking creatures.”

“We are not trying to do that, but then again,” she closed the book. “Are you finished with your tea?”

“Yes,” Khamet said.

“Which was your brother’s cup,” she said.

Khamet indicated the cup and she snatched it up. “There we are.” She set the cups down and the man looked in their direction. She stared down into the cups, “You two are separated by… dear, dear. Where are you…? You are from Yonderland?” she said with aw.”

“What, you two are…?” The man began.

“No,” she said, “Not him. Him,” she addressed Khamet.

“Yes, but aren’t all cats from Yonderland?”

“No. Once you arrive you are changed and…” the woman said.

“And one option is caterwaul.” Khamet’s brother said loudly from the board.

“Goodness and you haven’t become caterwaul. Why is that?”

“Good question,” Khamet’s brother said. “He keeps going back and leaving me here. By the way the rest of our litter didn’t come over.”

“Do they always?” Khamet asked.

He shrugged, “It’s always been a wonder to me. Why some do and some don’t. I don’t fully understand it myself. The longer I wait, I think there’s more possibility of going caterwaul, but it usually happens immediately.”

The woman looked from Khamet to his brother who sat at the chessboard and waited for the man to make the next move. “How long have you been here?” she asked Khamet’s brother.

“He turned from the board and looked at her. Well,” he said thinking. “Knowing all that I do, I’d say I remember the Grouses and the Furlong. When the wheezilwhip dared to sashay against Mr. Tummylump.”

The woman’s eyes grew wide, “You remember that? But, that was kingsomes ago. Many many kingsomes ago.”

He smiled, “I was there.”

“Gads!” the man said in pure shock.

Khamet’s brother smiled. “I was the one that burbled to Kin.”

“Blimey,” the man said.

“We a have a couple of celebratories in our game Tweedle.” She said to the frog faced man.

“I’d say we have.”

“Come come son let us strategize,” The man made his move and Khamet’s brother concentrated now. Three moves later he said, “Check.”

“No!” the man exclaimed.

“Tell me about Yonderland,” the woman said to Khamet.

“Well I can’t say much. It seems time moves differently over there and here. It’s confusing, but the time I lived in is… no more. The place I keep going back to is different than the one I’m used to.”

“Tell me,” she was genuinely interested.

“Check,” came from the game again.

“How are you…?” the frog-faced man retorted.

“Here,” Khamet’s brother said. “The game will be done in seventeen moves and I will show you why.”

The two went into a huddle and Khamet watched them as he spoke. “When I began, things were very different…”

“I’ve got it,” The frog faced man said triumphantly. “I know how the king can win.”

Khamet’s brother was sitting back in his chair, proud as if he had just created something himself and watched the man as he began hopping around the living area.

“Where can I find the Jack of all Trades?” Khamet said in the commotion.

The man stopped hopping, “By Rublick, why would you want to find that rabble-rouser. The Jack is nothing, but a traitor and a scoundrel. By my estimation he was probably part of the coups.”

“He was not. I already told you…” Khamet stopped and began thinking about the conversation he had overheard upon meeting the Jack. How had he gotten in the gardens? He said he wanted to see the king. And what had he wanted that four? Employment was it? A job? Was this bigger than he had first imagined? “I need to find the Jack of all Trades.”

“Not going to find him. My information says he’s mixed up with the Tarot. And if you go there… well it don’t matter if your caterwaul or not. Chances are you won’t be making it out again.” The frog faced man said.

“They are a strange lot, keep to themselves mostly. They occupy Thebusey,” the woman added.

Khamet’s brother shot him a hard look. “We really need to be getting you back. I’ve been waiting.”

Khamet looked past his brother to the hard area on his back again. “I know you have. Time is moving differently, back and forth and never the same.”

“Have either of you ever heard of something like us coming from Yonderland?” Khamet’s brother asked the host and hostess.

The two looked at each other and considered.

The man began to shake his head, “No. I have heard of Yonderland and there are rumors of those making their way through, but it’s just rumor. Cats become caterwaul and all others never last long enough for Popularopinion to have anything to do with them.”

“You know who would know,” the woman said. “The Roadscholar would know. Of course we haven’t seen him for…”

“I know where he is,” Khamet said.

“He says he’s stuck in the Bandersnatch nest.” Khamet’s brother offered.

“Oh my, that would explain it then,” the woman said.

“Ay, that it would,” the man said.

“What?”

“Well anything… most things….” She stuttered, “Things that are… that…?

“Things that are juicy and pop and squish with their parts,” the man finished. “Things that walk and don’t grow and are not cards. The Jubjub bird eats anything.”

“But the Roadscholar is the oldest resident of Here. Supposedly he was created by the land from the dirt and trees and bark and all of the land that there is, he is not… animate.” She turned to Khamet, “When did you see him last?”

“The first time I came here.”

“All the way back to the Grouses and the Furlong. Oh I do hope he is still there.”

“That was me.” Khamet’s brother said. “The first time he was here was when…” he thought. “Um… when the Belfry’s hats began taking the heads they sat upon.”

“Ugh,” the lady said. “A horrible time, took out most of the family that did.” She leaned into Khamet. “The Belfry’s are hatters and all of them mad.”

“Especially that son of theirs,” the man said. “Little tyke’s already growing up to be the worst of the lot.”

“The Roadscholar said he would wait patiently to be rescued.”

“Oh I’m sure he will,” the man said. “No other choice than that has he? Let us play,” he said to Khamet’s brother.

“In a moment, might I have a word with my brother alone?”

“Certainly.”

“Where is your bathroom?”

“The nineteenth door on the right,” the lady said. The vines against the far wall uncoiled to form an arch that led to a hallway that was nothing like the living room.

Khamet’s brother motioned him to follow. Khamet smiled to the couple and made his way down the hallway.

“What is it?”

“Wait,” his brother said and started walking. The vines tangled together and closed behind them.

In the hallway the air was cool rather than the humid green house of the living room. The floor was all black with white patters of blocks, stripes and triangles reaching snakelike into the distance. The walls were a deep plum and seemed to glow. Rather than shine, the light seemed to cause the white of the floor to glow with a bright luminescence. Every archway consisted of oranges, yellows and reds that also glowed. The floor sloped up and twisted around and down at odd angles, tipping straight up for several feet, then down again. At one point it continued to slope up and Khamet was certain they were upside down. The two cats walked flat on the corridor, the angles having no effect on them as they passed door after door.

There were pictures of people and colorful scenes on both sides of the corridor. Several times his curiosity almost got the best of him, but Khamet controlled himself. It would be rude to go snooping around someone’s house like that, especially those who have been so hospitable.

They passed door number nine, the corridor dipped straight down then climbed a dozen feet and his brother stopped.

“This isn’t nineteen,” Khamet said.

“No it isn’t, but I wanted to talk to you. I can’t keep waiting. It’s driving me mad.”

“Well I don’t know what to do about it? Should I just go and kill myself?” he asked thinking about the cargo on the ship.

“I don’t know if that will work. You must have nine lives so if you get rid of them all…”

“Since no one knows about this we could ask the Roadscholar.”

“I told you I don’t know anyone that can get to the Bandersnatch nest. That’s why it’s there.”

“If I climbed down then I could climb back up?”

“Well,” he said seemingly distracted. “We will look into that if you come back soon.”

“What do you mean if I…” His brother leapt at him suddenly with his claws out. Khamet stumbled back and found himself suddenly falling. He reached out with his claws, but he felt the pull and the frozen liquid tug as he went through the mirror that he had been standing in front of while his brother distracted him.

 

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