Brigitte tiptoed up the stairs of the mansion, the board of Jumanji slung under her arm. Her sense of being in a palace deepened with every step she took: no man who was not a king's favorite could possibly have a house that went this high.
She felt a slight pang of guilt at the thought when she reflected on what she was doing. Bad enough that she was leaving Jumanji in another's house at all, but to afflict the dwelling of a great lord with its presence seemed to her petite-bourgeoise soul a sacrilege compounded. But she had no alternative – save that of taking the game with her, and she would do anything before she did that.
When she reached the attic (with François, who alone of her bats seemed to have retained some connection to her as his Guardian, fluttering behind her), she searched for a while until she found a pile of boxes about the same size and shape as the Jumanji board, which no-one seemed to have disturbed in some time. She removed four or five boxes from this pile and placed Jumanji on top of the stack that remained, then replaced the boxes on top of it. The result was most satisfactory: unless someone knew what to look for, he would never notice the new addition to the pile without kneeling down and sorting through it.
Having accomplished this, she rose and looked about for François, only to find him perched comfortably in the attic roof, his wings wrapped around him as he dangled from one of the rafters. She smiled softly; he, at least, had had no trouble readapting to life Above. She only hoped she would find it so easy.
She gathered up her skirts and tiptoed from the attic.
As she stepped hesitantly out the front door of the Parrish house, she was rather surprised by how still the street was outside. Brantford, though far from the sleepiest of New England hamlets in those days, was still very much a New Hampshire small town with only one major business to its name; subconsciously, Brigitte had expected something more like the Avignon of her youth. She had expected to see tradesmen riding home after closing up their stalls, friars walking past telling their beads, evening revelers making themselves conspicuous outside the local wine-shops – in short, bustle and activity, albeit a subdued, pre-industrial variety. The soporific stillness of the Brantford streets wrong-footed her almost as deeply as its opposite, the chaotic tumult of New York City or Chicago, would have done.
To be fair, it would perhaps not have unsettled her so deeply had it not been for the automobiles that occasionally swept past as she was descending the steps of the house; the contrast between that mysterious swiftness on the street and the lack of activity off of it made the 20th century seem all the more uncanny to its medieval visitor. Nonetheless, the stillness was the essential problem; having known her only untroubled happiness as a child in the Babylon of the West, she could not help equating crowds of human beings with security, sunlight, and health.
Then, as she stood on the sidewalk, looking around helplessly for some indication of what to do next, the door of the house to her immediate left opened. This was the home of the Parrishes' next-door neighbors, the Nelsons; their fifteen-year-old daughter, Amy, had observed Brigitte's bewilderment through the window, and had decided to offer her help. "Hey, are you lost?" she called to Brigitte.
Brigitte, though not understanding the words, knew a friendly voice when she heard one, and turned gratefully in the direction of the sound. Then, as she caught sight of Amy, her eyes widened with horror, and she turned and ran from the well-meaning girl as though from all the Terrors of Jumanji at once.
Amy stared after her in puzzlement, trying to make sense of what she had seen. A preadolescent girl in medieval costume, who doesn't seem to have ever seen a road before and runs away when you try to talk to her. What could be the reason for that?
In a different decade, the question might well have been insoluble. This, however, was 1969, and so an answer lay ready to Amy's hand. "Geez," she muttered, shaking her head. "These hippies are weird people."
When Brigitte stopped for breath, she had run halfway across town, to the far end of Monroe Street. Six hundred years in the untamed wild had given her great powers of endurance, and fear had given her feet wings.
It was not the young woman that had inspired her fear; it was what she had seen when she had looked at her. She had wondered, when Jumanji had spoken to her in the manor's dining-hall, how she was supposed to find a suitable Guardian if she wasn't permitted to speak to anyone beforehand; now she knew. When she had looked where the girl stood, she had seen, not the girl herself (or, if she had, it had been very dimly), but a cold, hideous diagram of all her weaknesses: her fears, her petty vanities, her excesses of sentiment – all the things that might, if properly played upon, lead her to surrender her freedom to a demonic board game.
Brigitte shuddered, and peeked out from behind the tree that she was resting against. A family of three had just parked by the side of the road and was getting out of their car; she could see the mother and father quite clearly, but the nine-year-old boy was obscured by another obscene psychograph of the same sort.
Brigitte turned her face away quickly, and tears welled in her eyes as she cursed her folly. How could she have thought that returning Above would bring her relief from the evil of the jungle? By agreeing to fetch a new Guardian, she had bound herself all the more deeply to that evil. Before, she had been only its dupe; now, she was its willing servant. (As Hadassah is, she thought bitterly. That was the kinship she saw with me.)
She rubbed her eyes fiercely, hoping irrationally that she might thereby wipe away the bewitchment that Jumanji had placed on her vision. It was fruitless, of course: the taint of dark magic is not removed so easily. Jumanji required a youth or a child to guard its lion; Brigitte had promised to bring it one; until she did so, she would be unable to look at a youth or a child without seeing a potential Guardian of the Lion. It was unavoidable – even, in a macabre way, just.
She wondered why she had seen no cloud of weaknesses about the girl whom her bats had frightened. The answer, though, was obvious immediately. The girl was a Player, and no Player could be a Guardian. The Players had a different role in the plan of the game: it was theirs to watch the world around them devolve into chaos as the Terrors were unleashed, to know that they were the cause, and yet to be unable to make things right save by unleashing further Terrors. The passive side of the game, the side of waiting and maintaining over the centuries – that was reserved for others, for those who had never heard the drums or held the dice, but who simply happened to be in the wrong place and the wrong mood at the wrong time. Such had Brigitte been, when the Duke and his gambling partners had played the game in 1302; such had Sowagen been, and Miriamne, and Patience, and all the other Guardians.
And at that moment, somewhere in Brantford, there was an unfortunate youth who was in the same predicament, and would soon find him- or herself likewise bound to serve Jumanji for a score or more of mortal lifetimes – and all through the voluntary agency of Brigitte of Avignon.
Then, just as this dismal reflection passed through Brigitte's mind, the clock on the nearby Episcopal church struck the half-hour.
Brigitte looked up, startled, and for the first time noticed the white steeple rising over the lines of houses and small shops. A sudden thrill of gladness rose in her bosom; to her, in her present state of mind, the sound of church bells tolling was the most heartening thing she could have heard. It spoke of hope; it promised protection; it reminded her that there were powers greater and more kindly than the one on whose errand she had come. Adeas cum fiducia ad thronum gratiæ, it said to her, ut misericordiam consequaris, et gratiam invenias in auxilio opportuno.
She did not know that the chime, in itself, indicated nothing more than a division of the day, nor would she have cared if she had known. It might, indeed, have momentarily sobered her to learn that the church that seemed to her such a vessel of mercy was the property of the heretical faith that Will and Patience professed, but it would not have likely deterred her. God was God, after all, and Christ was Christ, and any means to Him, however imperfect, was as water in the desert to her troubled and afflicted soul.
She pressed Sowagen's ivory crucifix to her chest, and ran towards the church as fast as her legs could carry her.