The woman continued down the hallway past the few remaining doors to the living room. The place was neglected and the further they went the more dilapidated it became. Everywhere things had been smashed and broken. Khamet figured that her two little sweetums had tempers around mommy as well.

“What happened here?” Khamet asked.

“Oh,” the woman became tight lipped and sullen. “It came.”

“It?”

She began to wring her hands, “The thing from the Tulgey Wood. I don’t know what it was.” She entered the living room which looked like it was in the process of being rebuilt. “Tea?” she asked. “Tweedle will be up soon and he will take coffee.”

The chessboard and table were nowhere to be seen. The Sudoku book was open and there were several decks of cards on the coffee table.

“No more chess?” Khamet asked.

“Oh,” she said distracted. “No. That was given up. It is good to see you.” She stopped and seemed to remember, “But you didn’t say goodbye, that was very rude.”

“Yes,” Khamet said, “That was rude of me and one of the reasons I returned. The other is to use your looking glass if you have one hasn’t been broken.”

“Oh,” she started, “No, no we haven’t got one. Please tell his majesty we haven’t got one. Please!” she pleaded moving fast and dropped one of the coffee cups. It fell to the floor with a crash. She stepped back sobbing and covered her mouth. “Please.”

“I am sorry did I say something wrong…?”

“What is it? What’s happened?” the frog faced man come out. He was fatter than before if that was possible and he looked terrible, his frog face was long, stretched and sullen. His hair was wispy white and thin. “What happened?”

“I’m so sorry dear I dropped a cup. I was making tea for our guest.”

“You?” he said. “By Rublick! What in the… How did?”

“I was just about to ask him that?” The woman said still composing herself.

“How did you get in here?” The frog faced man was accusing.

Khamet hadn’t thought about how he would answer that question. “I…well…”

The man gave a nod and a large pot slammed down on top of the cat from behind.

“That’s it,” he said.

“What shall we do with him now?” the woman was worried.

“Well I don’t know. Put him out.” the frog faced man said.

“What happened here?” Khamet now sounded annoyed and was sitting on the sofa.

The man and the woman turned in shock to stare at the cat. The woman snatched up the pot and the man ran around to flank him. “You have to leave!” he said.

“Why?”

They both came in and Khamet dashed and avoided them easily. Both were old and the man with a stomach as big as a beer keg could not hope to catch him. The chase that ensued was mostly frantic and from an outsider comical. The woman was crying and the man angry. However they didn’t stop until both were exhausted.

“Please just leave us alone cat.” The woman panted heavily.

“I will leave gladly, but I would like to know what happened here.”

“What happened,” the frog faced man mocked. He was sweating and collapsed on the couch in defeat. “What happened is that after you and your brother left. How did you do that by the way?” he waved off the question. “I finally worked out my strategy and traveled to the king to aid him in defeating the Spades and Clubs. He didn’t want to hear it. In fact he had just then set a decree that all the mirrors in the kingdom were to be smashed. No mirror larger than a teacup would exist in the Kingdom of Hearts. Well with my service to the king rejected I came home. The caterwaul had become extremely restless and we had just had the twins.”

The woman smiled through her panicked and weary face and looked down as she did so, but didn’t say anything.

The caterwaul attacked us several times, but it was to no avail. Something in the wood had spooked them. There were murmurings of something large terrorizing the caterwaul which is simply unheard of. The Tulgey Wood was the caterwaul’s domain and then one day…” he paused. “There was a…” he stopped and became silent for a while. “A noise.” he whispered finally.

The woman sniffled and crossed her arms. She squeaked and covered her mouth as tears began to flow.

The frog faced man sat remembering, “The noise was, more of a cry, or a howl, or both. I’ve never heard anything like it. There was a bang at the door.”

The woman sniffled and was fully weeping in silence now.

“The noise came again and the bang and then it broke in.”

“What was it?” Khamet asked.

The man was far away and simply shook his head. “It had these enormous yellow eyes that peered right through you and those teeth, such teeth. Not even caterwaul teeth could compare. It moved fast and half slithered, half walked. No…” he corrected. “It crawled, but it slithered as well. It was leathery and had a tail and what looked like wings maybe. It made that sound again. The noise seemed to cause your whole body to shift with it and when it wasn’t making that sound it chattered in a way like it was looking for something to eat. It did eat. Everything in the house cookeys and mushrooms all at once, plants, the pots. I thought it would come for us next, but it moved down the hall passed us and children. It moved down the hallway and entered every room eating as it did whatever it could find that might be edible. And the smashing, I didn’t know why at first, but it was smashing all the mirrors in the house, seven in all. Then afterwards it came back and just like that, it sounded its grotesque hiss and was gone.”

The woman was sobbing now and moved to the man and they cried together. They had changed as a couple from what he remembered and Khamet could see now how much they cared for each other.

“We don’t have guests. We have no one in here. We simply want to raise the twins. We were planning on moving, somewhere away from the forest, but now we are prisoners in our home.”

Khamet looked at the locks still on the door, the plants and the hot atmosphere and wondered how exactly their lives were different from before. “No chess?” he asked.

“No,” the man leaned forwards and chuckled.

“No.” The woman said, cleaning up her tears and reaching for her tea.

The man patted her and moved her off a bit, “I don’t think he is here to cause us any harm. If so he would have done it. Yes?” He looked up from the table to Khamet.

“No, no. I’m just trying to understand.”

“I stopped playing chess.” He took his cup and settled back. “When I went to see the Suicide King with my strategy for defeating the Spades, I realized that what you said might very well have been the truth and that a good strategy for war might not be the answer.” The man picked up a deck and laid out the cards. “All competitive games have been put away. It is not a competition any longer, but an understanding.”

The woman smiled a little, “He even learned to play Sudoku.”

“Yes, but I learned that though Sudoku might do well for an individual’s view of the world, and it does. I played solitaire,” he said.

Khamet watched as the frog faced man laid the cards of one deck out in an elongated pattern, then another deck and still another.

“There are several forms of solitaire which I thought might help in the understanding. But the one I found that gave the most specific results is Four Card. It is the movement of the individual cards that gives one an effort to win. And through that I discovered what the Ace has in mind.”

The frog faced began to lay the cards out removing the lowest denominator by suit. He was doing it so fast Khamet had trouble keeping up.

“If there are too many Kings then there can be no winner. And if one has the fortitude to eliminate the Aces as well… then one can control everything. On my journey to the King I learned that the King and Queen of Clubs were killed by parties unknown,” He removed them from the pile. “As well as the King and Queen of Diamonds including the Ace of Diamonds.” He set them on the side as well. “The Ace of Hearts was taken out before the lady was kidnapped. The black kingdom is now run by the Ace of Clubs and the Ace of Spades.” He took the deck out now and held it up to Khamet. “Now watch. What happens when I play this deck with the common denominations I have just told you of?”

He began to lay the cards out in fours eliminating the cards with each play. It was a fast game and one could play several in quick succession if one were adept. In three games he was left with the Ace of Clubs and the Ace of Spades, the King of Hearts and Jack of Diamonds.

“Ordinarily one would have to play and play to get a single win with something or other preventing it. But as things are now winning is quite simple. The Aces will rule the land.”

He scooped up the cards.

“My boy the Aces cannot kill the Princess of Hearts. She is the only thing holding the king back. If she dies the Suicide king will lay siege to the entire Black Kingdom. Though they are warriors, they are outnumbered at least twenty to one. They are trying to kill the Suicide King. If he dies they will have control for the Lady will become the Queen of Hearts. They can then kill her or use her, for no Jack can rule a kingdom. Both the Kingdoms of Hearts and Diamonds will fall under the rule of the highest ranking cards, the Jacks, both Heart’s and Diamond’s and they don’t have the nature to rule.”

“The two Aces,” Khamet said.

“Whoever thought it fortuitous to begin this war it is apparent that the Aces have found a way to win it.”

Khamet was not certain how much power was awaiting him, but the land might have known that he would be coming here, and that he alone could stop this. “I must go.” He said rising and feeling his body stiff and sore from the tugging he received in greeting. “Do your children have names?” he said almost as an afterthought.

“No, no one knows of them so the Popularopinion is no help and the Roadscholar is…”

The woman whispered something to the man and he turned. “Why did you come here?”

“I needed a mirror.” Khamet said trying to think about where he would go now.

“Why?”

Khamet was silent and not sure what he should tell them. The three stared at each other for a moment.

The woman smiled and squeezed the frog faced man’s hand. The man stood and motioned for Khamet to follow him. “Do you know how a looking glass works?”

Khamet shook his head.

“I do,” the man said turning back with his finger over his mouth in a whisper and giving the cat a wink.

 

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