Back at the asylum, Jordan caught up with the art expert from last night as he was trying to sneak his way up the stairs. “Count Algarotti!” he called out. “What a pleasure to see you again so soon! Have you got another painting for me?”
The Italian turned, a look of distaste on his face. “I don’t really need your help, Charles,” he said. Jordan saw that he had the spare set of keys for the inmates’ doors in his hand. He suddenly wrinkled his nose and started to sniff the air.
Jordan quickly tried to come up with an excuse for why the smell of donkey could be found in the stairway of an insane asylum.
“Isn’t your girl a little young to be wearing perfume?” Algarotti asked.
Jordan took a cautious sniff himself. As if he needed more proof that the donkey outside was an unusual animal, it appeared that not only did she wear perfume, but she also bathed regularly. “Err...yes?” he said uncertainly.
“Whatever,” Algarotti said with a shrug. “I’m just here to see the patient in room 108.”
“Yes. Has he recovered from his injuries?”
“He’s well enough to see visitors, I suppose,” Jordan replied. “Are you sure you wouldn’t feel safer accompanied by an attendant?”
Algarotti raised one eyebrow as he lifted a corner of his coat, revealing the holstered pistol tied around one leg. “I think I can take care of myself, Charles. Now run off and fill out some forms, or whatever else it is you civil servants do for fun.”
Having no further recourse, Jordan bowed briefly, and then backed his way out of the staircase without tumbling to his death.
Having gotten rid of the peasant, Algarotti quickly made his way into cell 108. The inmate turned to look at him from his bed. He looked like one large bruise, but the count had far more important things to dwell on.
He walked up to the bed and pulled a large rubber ring out from inside his coat. “What is this? Where did you get it?” he demanded in the patient’s native tongue.
“It’s a dog toy!” Oscar explained with a laugh, before settling into a severe coughing fit. “I had one just like it when I was a boy. You throw it, and the dog fetches it.”
“No dog toy can do this,” Algarotti replied with a growl as he dropped the ring. The ring seemed to fall like a feather before coming to a halt in mid-air, floating at knee height.
“That’s because you’ve got hands,” the inmate explained. “The unicorns put a spell on it to make it float, to make it easier for them.”
“The unicorns...” Algarotti said to himself as he looked around at all the drawings on the walls of the cell. He rushed over and started minutely examining them. “They’re real? What else can they do?”
“What can’t they do would be the better question. I’ve seen them taking on beasts much larger than themselves, and winning easily. I didn’t used to believe in magic, but I do now, and I know that they are the masters of it.”
“You said you were able to spy on them, that you created windows with a magic pencil?” asked Algarotti.
“Not just windows,” said Oscar, sitting up with some difficulty. “Portals. How do you think I was able to steal that toy? But that’s not all. The pencils have different powers for different species. For humans, it’s portals. A monkey once stole my pencil and waved it in the air a few times, summoning a tornado.”
“Amazing! How did you get that pencil?”
“I made that pencil, from a rock made of pure graphite. I found it in the Coppenbrügge outside Hamelin. The outside of it looked pretty burnt—maybe it fell from the sky. Once I found out what it could do, I turned the whole rock into magic pencils. I spent my family’s fortune trying to get somebody, anybody to believe me, but not even the evidence of their own eyes was enough to believe the words of a mere charcoal burner, and I finally ended up here.”
“Well I believe you,” said Algarotti. “And I can make King Friedrich believe you.” He gestured at the wall. “Based on these drawings, the unicorns are fairly primitive. We’ll probably be able to find something to trade them in return for their magic. The King is a very ambitious man, and he’s willing to reward quite generously for anyone who can give him an edge in his rivalries with the other powers of Europe. Now if you just give me your pencil, I can take it and the dog toy to the King.”
“I haven’t got it. Your friend with the permanent smirk on his face stole it from me when the King’s guards attacked me. The rest of them are all buried in a pit in Brunswick, in a spot only I know.”
“Voltaire!” Algarotti cried out in rage. “Why must he always take what I want? Wait right here.”
The human raced out of room 108, not even bothering to lock the door behind him. He flipped through the keys as he walked, stopping dumbfounded at the open door of room 122. Voltaire was gone, the room smelled of the same perfume from the stairway, and the floor was scattered with pieces of paper.
Pieces of paper with pencil marks on them.
Back outside, Genevieve and the human girl were chasing each other around the tree. The human had removed the donkey’s leash as soon as her father had disappeared, without Genevieve even having to use any body language to ask her to do so.
Eventually they got tired, and threw themselves down on the blanket, laughing. The human sat up and started speaking in her language at a rapid clip, gesturing extensively at the world around her. Genevieve really wished she knew what the girl was saying, but at the very least, it must have been something happy, because she hadn’t stopped grinning since they had been introduced to each other. She ate a little more of the cake that the girl had given her.
The human then beckoned the donkey to her side as she got back to work on her drawing. The picture she was working on depicted the copse of trees they were resting under. A human figure in a pink dress, obviously the girl, was sitting at the table, with a gigantic cake in front of her with lots of candles. In front of her were dozens of happy humans. One of them was probably the girl’s father, and Number One could be seen as well. There were tall humans, and short humans, and a human with really fancy clothes and a big fancy crown. Most interesting to Genevieve, there was a sort of pegasus-human, which is to say a human sitting on a cloud. She wore a long white dress, and looked down on the party with pride.
All of this was done in a fairly-realistic style, but contrasting with that was a large cartoon speech bubble which floated in the sky, containing the symbols “HERZLICHEN GLÜCKWUNSCH NACHTRÄGLICH!!!” There was a “tail” coming out of the bubble for each human in the drawing, other than the girl, indicating that all of them were saying the phrase.
As the donkey watched, the human added her to the drawing, complete with her satchel and her paper crown.
Just then, she heard Number Two happily call out her name. As she turned her head, she saw the girl get up and run into the arms of her father. She couldn’t be sure, but it appeared that she and the girl shared the same name. In a weird sort of way this made sense, as Genevieve had the strong feeling that she had known this little human for a lot longer than a single afternoon. Seeing that the older human had not yet turned his attention to her, the donkey walked over to the rope, slipped her head in the loop, and carefully pulled it snug.
She looked down at the human drawing, and had a nagging feeling that something was missing. After studying it for several moments, she suddenly realized what was the problem: there was no tail connecting the speech bubble with the drawing of Genevieve. Seeing that the paint jars were too small for her to use her hooves to paint, and with the only paintbrush currently in the human’s claw, the donkey reached into her satchel, removed the pencil she had found on arriving in the human world, and added the missing pair of lines.
Suddenly she sat down and sneezed loudly. For an instant, the world seemed to float before her eyes, then it settled back down again.
“Bless you!” said the human father.
“Thank you,” said Genevieve, before putting a hoof to her throat. Something was definitely wrong with her voice.
Genevieve looked over to see that the man had fainted.
The surprised donkey looked down at the drawing, and found she could now understand the words in the speech bubble: they said “HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY!!!”
“You can talk!” the human girl exclaimed.
“Yes,” the little donkey replied. “I suppose I can.”