She bent forward, picked up AURYN, and let the chain glide through her fingers.
“You have done well,” she said, “and I am pleased with you.”
“No!” cried Atreyu almost savagely. “It was all in vain. There’s no hope.”
A long silence followed. Atreyu buried his face in the crook of his elbow, and his whole body trembled. How would she react? With a cry of despair, a moan, words of bitter reproach or even anger? Atreyu couldn’t have said what he expected. Certainly not what he heard. Laughter. A soft, contented laugh. Atreyu’s thoughts were in a whirl, for a moment he thought she had gone mad. But that was not the laughter of madness. Then he heard her say: “But you’ve brought him with you.”
Atreyu looked up.
He looked into her eyes and found only serenity. She smiled again.
“Golden-eyed Commander of Wishes,” he stammered, now for the first time using the official words of address that Falkor had recommended. “I. . . no, really. . . I don’t understand.”
“I can see that by the look on your face,” she said. “But whether you understand or not, you’ve done it. And that’s what counts, isn’t it?”
Atreyu said nothing. He couldn’t even think of a question to ask. He stood there openmouthed, staring at the Childlike Empress. “I saw him,” she went on, “and he saw me.”