All the benevolent souls are still sleeping, save two – Aquim watching closely, and, suddenly, the Sleeping Beauty stirs on her own, unlike anything anyone expected – Vicky opening her eyes, feeling pinned down. Looking over to the floor by her bedding, it’s the devoted suitor, grasping Vicky’s pinky, like an anchor securing the ship, not letting her drift out of port. Vicky sees tracks of tears on his cheeks, both eyes closed, swollen and red. Scattered about the tower floor, countless Forest People, piles and piles of them, overlapping each another, some snoring. Freeing her pinky, Vicky stretches, before putting on her glasses, bewildered by the topsy-turvy angles. Everything appears askew and off centered – walls are wobbly, brick and mahogany pulsate and wheeze. Asleep, the ceiling creaks, slipping down. Vicky will have to crouch to move about. Is Vicky dreaming? No, she woke up on her own – on purpose, more determined than ever! With restored will, there’s always a way.
Aquim, perplexed, fluffs up and flutters his wings:
“Who woke you? Was Glooscap here again? I didn’t see him. Are you all right?”
“No one woke me. I’m fine, better than ever. I’ve had enough of icy tears. They were murder. Then my Inner Voice made it crystal clear that fears can bring a living death, but I want to live a full life and make a difference in the world.”
“You certainly have the right name to do that – Victoria.”
“What do you mean, Aquim?”
“Victoria means victory – it’s your destiny to win, not whine. Fear can paralyze even the most capable winners, before they even try. Did you notice what Glooscap left on your pillow before he quit the tower?”
“Where? What? I don’t see anything on my pillow.”
Aquim flies down. He tries with his beak to lift the brass, to deliver it to Vicky, but the metal’s too heavy. It’s a nautical instrument to take measurements, specifically the height of heavenly bodies on the horizon, but in this case, the instrument was used to calculate latitude, what mariners used before the invention of the sextant, this astrolabe consisting of a disk with edges marked in degrees and a pivotal pointer. The name derives from classical Greek for “star” and a verb meaning “to take” in the sense of “to measure” – the scientific name describing its function and purpose.
As soon as Vicky spies this brass circle, watching it slip again and again from Aquim’s beak, she reaches over and seizes it, feeling its full weight, almost dropping it. At the same time, her heart-shaped locket knocks and clinks against the astrolabe, reminding Vicky of her solid, unbreakable ties to family and friends – “three hearts beating together,” as well as “the Three Musketeers” – “one for all, all for one.”
“You know, Aquim, I’m never alone, I’ve never been alone. Others still count on me, and I can’t let them down, but I also won’t let myself down either. Say, whose is this?”
“This is a gift to you from Glooscap who found the brass circle yesterday in the Acadian woods, to remind you what you’ve just said – you’re never alone. The heavens watch daily over you, and the Protectors keep you on course, much like this astrolabe used to guide ancient mariners. Want to know who lost this particular circle? It once belonged to an explorer.”
“It belonged to Champlain in 1604 when he sailed across the Atlantic to settle Acadia. It must have fallen during a portage, while the crew was carrying canoes over land between two bodies of water. Glooscap retrieved it – it’s a keepsake for you.” Aquim flies even closer, perching himself on Vicky’s shoulder, noticing tears welling in Vicky’s eyes.
“Oh, no, not again…. more icy tears?”
“Not at all! These are tears of joy. Champlain’s our national hero. I can’t let Champlain’s dream fade away without trying to beat the odds!” Aquim cheers:
“You’re right, Victoria. Go for it!”
Vicky looks around, feeling cramped with the slouching ceiling. “Why is everyone asleep, Aquim? Look, even the ceiling!”
“Glooscap wants you to avoid the mayhem. In fact, Glooscap put everyone here asleep, except me. But somehow you woke yourself up. Why did you wake up?”
“I’m not afraid any more. Aquim, please tell me where I can find Violette, Annie, and the Saqamaw.”
“I suppose they’re still in the vortex, but don’t you worry. The Saqamaw knows how to manage the time tunnel. They’ll be back soon. Vicky, would you like me to stir the Forest People? That way they can give you a hand.”
“Good idea. Annie taught me a Mi’kmaw proverb: Be strong enough to stand alone, be yourself enough to stand apart, but be wise enough to stand together when the time comes. Yes, Aquim, it’s time to stand together.”
Aquim flies as high as the sloping ceiling allowed and begins circling, round and round, but the enchantment was so powerful that the Forest People remain fast asleep. Aquim makes several rounds with no effect. The tiny people won’t budge, some standing upright, snoring like the dickens, others crisscrossing each other all over the floor. Befuddled, Aquim looks over at Victoria and remarks how tall she’s standing, so self-assured and ready. Does she even need anyone’s help? He notices how resplendent she appears. Suddenly one tiny body begins to stir. Rising, he stumbles twice, then stands a third time, wobbly. It’s the devoted suitor, his tiny legs weakened from deep slumber. Immediately, he looks for Vicky and spots her. His legs tingle more from admiration than atrophy. As he reaches Vicky, he falls to kneel at her side. Victoria looks down and smiles:
“My faithful bodyguard! Sorry to keep you waiting.”
The suitor is charmed by Vicky’s graceful manner more than her words, since he can’t understand a word of French. Enamored of her beauty and kind nature, nor can he hold back his joy and gratitude, as he praises her in Algonquian, but his incomprehensible discourse, eloquent as it is, remains a mystery to Vicky, though his shaking hands spoke volumes. And thus to the end their mutual affection began, each comprehending the other, not by eloquence, but from body and facial gestures. The suitor felt more embarrassed than Vicky, and it’s not surprising, since he was still aglow from the pleasure of lying close to her during the enchantment. Now, face to face, so to speak, more than twenty minutes, his unwavering devotion confused Vicky more than words can express, but it also delighted her, each one having so much more to say to the other.
Vicky and the suitor enter the ballroom where Forest People had already set two tables, one for the ladies, the other for gentlemen. The suitor’s sister and her friends, already having gone up and down the dumbwaiter – in the blink of an eye – twenty times, had prepared and served a complete meal, covering each table with savory dishes. Tiny violins and oboes were playing raucous Acadian tunes. Without losing any time, everyone sat down. At that very instant, a thunderclap shook the building, day became night, and Vicky lost sight of all the tiny people, including the suitor, but she still felt him holding her pinky. Vicky turns and runs blindly in the direction of the tower:
“Don’t go.” says a gentle voice, “We can be such good friends.”
Vicky recognizes the voice of the Intruder – that of Mme Vidocq! Wanting to take shelter, but hesitating to reveal her hiding place, Vicky pulls the wire slowly behind her back to reenter the tower, only to find it’s loose, disconnected. A blue-white glow fills the ballroom, making Vicky’s skin appear luminous – like someone shining a spotlight on her.
“You’ll never leave, my dear. Here you belong. To me you belong! Forever! And I possess – both you and the entire castle. Your ancestors are still trying to whisper through windows, but they can’t any more. Don’t worry. We can be such good friends. Here you’ll never be alone – here, in no-man’s land, forever free from the outside world, forever between life and death – with a hundred shadows watching every minute of the day.”
“Look! See the flitting shadows all about, the saddest of them is yours – but don’t worry, you’re here with me forever! Listen! One door closes behind us and another one opens. Do you hear footfalls resounding from the trapdoor, louder and louder, as more shadows near? There are no living hands opening these doors, no living feet touching the planks. Here shadows follow you everywhere, Sweetie. No more solitude. Who wants solitude? Better yet, you’ll never leave. You belong to the castle – to me! Even if you try to leave, you can’t.”
Vicky could feel Aquim on her shoulder, twitching about, ready to fetch Glooscap, along with the suitor’s firm hold of her pinky. Alert and clear-headed, Vicky knows it’s useless to respond – pure folly to express any emotion to Mme Vidocq, or rather to Louise Payen. What an unreasonable woman, exactly the mean-spirited species Violette claimed – a raging muskrat from the marshes of Acadia! Wild muskrats avoid close encounters whenever possible and take flight to avoid interaction. Like many wild creatures, this particular muskrat will be more dangerous if cornered, startled, or antagonized. Vicky whispers to Aquim to let her handle it, not to call Glooscap. The Forest People are there in solidarity – invisible to everyone while they guard Vicky, and if everyone can keep silent and not react at all, that might allow them a narrow escape. Each second that passes, it works in Vicky’s favor. The silence lingers but frays all nerves. The blue-white glow weakens and fades. During this prolonged pause, the Intruder suspects Vicky’s hopelessness will overtake her, waiting for some sign of surrender – be it a feeble whimper or maybe by screaming her head off. The darkness intensifies. Losing patience, the Intruder coughs. It’s now pitch black all around, rendering the trio at the tower imperceptible. This is their chance!
Just then, Mme Vidocq begins a tirade in the darkness:
“I was made for this noble war, calm and patient in my righteousness. If I don’t do it, who will? I know what’s coming. No one can stop me. I kill people I like. It’s my duty. Some of them beg for their life, but I never feel sad. I don’t really feel anything. I’m doing the right thing. No doubts about it. It’s such a filthy, sick world. I’m helping purify it, to make this world healthy again. There’s something healing in spilling impure blood. Listen to this, Vicky. Did you know, Sweetie, the Amerindians believed our veins collect evil spirits – what causes sickness, so once a month they would bleed themselves to release them. That’s what I’m doing when I kill someone; I’m purifying their souls. I’ve been killing for 90 years. That’s why so many shadows keep me company – they were all cleansed here in the castle. My children don’t know a thing about my killings. I started with the house servants, till there were none left. Don’t worry, Vicky. You won’t have long to wait. You’ll be next, Sweetie. No more hopelessness for you. You’ll be cured for good.”
The blue-white beam returns in a flash with blinding brightness.
Louise looks around, squinting, one hand over her brow shielding her eyes. Next to the dining table is a – “Oh, Jesus!” Her hand jerks, and the beam shifts and shoots up to the ceiling. Both her hands shaking, she sweeps the light through the darkness again, seeing a man sitting by the table – no, a woman, wearing some kind of shawl, her hair pulled back. A lifeless face, eyes open and vacant, unresponsive to the shifting light – legs crossed, glossy skin. Dead? No, not a person at all. A mannequin. Louise exhales with the realization. She looks around again, the light moving again, searching. Louise spots an arrow painted on the mirror toward the broken window pane. Did Vicky escape? How? Vicky became so daring? Louise loves a challenge and respects Vicky all the more. This game will be exciting! The blue-white glow flickers a few times, then extinguishes itself.
When Louise plays these dangerous games, which she adores, the emotions of others turn into chaos – be it fear, anger, or hatred – especially when what was once love turns into hatred. Hatred, like love, is chaotic. Think about it! Love makes no sense to psychopaths like Louise. No kind of emotion makes any sense to her. Remember, Louise doesn’t have emotions. She fakes them. What good is love or feelings to a psychopath? Emotions weaken people and spin them till they fall. Louise is a chosen one, firm and righteous. Only the weak fall apart – be it an individual in love, or a couple, or a whole family or nation. Civil wars are really about falling out of love. What happens when nations fall out of love? They hate their neighbors. They carry out genocide against neighbors, or they starve them or set up a system of deathcamps to get even and teach them a lesson. Some prefer fire-bombing neighbors or dropping nuclear bombs on them or implementing trade sanctions that kill the most vulnerable – helpless children mostly. It can’t be helped!