The woman in white, who you now identify as The White Queen, jumps off her swing and starts scraping out figures in the ground, and the other woman, The Black Queen, educates you on one point.
“Before we start, there is one thing that you should know. Creatures in these woods are merciless. They’ll trick you, they’ll treat you, and then they’ll bring you to The Red Queen, who has evil eyes and a storming temper.”
“But how do I defeat her?”
“You’ll encounter many of her creatures. Most will be slowed by your use of clever sums. That is one thing I am going to teach you. Some, on the other hand, will need to be attacked in order to be defeated.”
She pulls a tiny silver mirror from her pocket, watching it shimmer and reflect off the smooth leaves of the tree above. Suddenly, it catches a beam of light that has snuck through. It propels it through the clearing and onto another tree, which bursts into flames.
“Wow,” you mutter, as she places it into your palm.
“Now to the lesson. Tell me what the answer to this is: one-and-one-and-one-and-one,” The Black Queen says, with some menace.
“I’m sorry?” you say. “Could you do that a bit slower?”
“Too hard for you is it?” She sneers.
“One- and one, and one-and-one.”
“Four!” you reply, quickly.
“Good!” The White Queen cheers, brushing her dress down as she gets up from the floor. “Now you’ve got the basics covered, we can start on the important things. Come here. Look.”
You oblige her, looking at the square on the floor. Into the earth is drawn a mess of things that look somewhat like numbers, but which are playing tricks on your mind.
“What do you see?” The White Queen says, taking you by the wrist and maneuvering you into place.
“I see…” you begin, but cannot conceal your lack of knowledge. “What is it? It’s rubbish!”
“No!” the Queens yell together, their different voices reverberating down into your ear-drums.
“Look again, please.”
“I don’t know!” You sigh.
“Things aren’t always what they seem…” The White Queen whispers as she places a hand onto the nine-square. It becomes coated in a layer of clean white, like a snow has settled onto it, but firm like marble. As the sheet spreads across, the figures rotate themselves, leaving you with a block of marble with the black numbers one to nine numerically ordered on it.
“They were sideways!” you cry out, surprised.
“Excellent, though that took you a while,” The White Queen says.
“Now…the true question…”
Urg. You sigh, frustrated with Arithmetic already.
“What is one-plus-one-and-one-and-point-one-four-one-five…?”
“Umm…” you say, trying to order the numbers in your head. “3.1415?”
“Correct!” The White Queen chortles.
“And now you may go,” she says, releasing your hand.
“What, we’re done?” you mutter.
“Indeed. You have learnt all you need to become a queen. Goodbye.”
“See you later.”
Bemused, you begin to head back in the way of the tunnel, hoping to come across some other path that might lead you to the lost animals.
“Oh, and one last thing,” The White Queen calls, making you turn. That is when you notice the building out the corner of your eye. “Breaking locks is easy when you know the secret of the pharaoh’s tomb.”
Which, of course, is just what you have been doing.