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Arri- The First Letter

March 20, 2003

Dear Keish,

I think that I will never survive the dancing class. Yesterday, I borrowed an old recital book from Treany. I borrowed it because some of the verses are actually parts of very ancient spells. We’re not allowed to recite from spellbooks anymore, but Treany’s mother collects old books and this is part of her collection. Anyway, there’s a verse in there about shoes that can make a person graceful. So I borrowed the book and some sugar from Cook, and decided to make a spell. Mother used to make spells all the time, and they worked so well for her. Anyway, I sprinkled the sugar and recited the spell. Then I put the shoes on, but nothing happened, so I thought the spell didn’t work.

And I was right—sort of. That afternoon, I wore the shoes to dance class. As soon as the music started my shoes began pulsing. The high leather tops throbbed against my calves, mimicking the rhythm of the song. It was terribly uncomfortable. I only felt relief when I was moving, so I wandered around the room while Mrs. Dinette explained the dance. She thought I wasn’t paying attention and told me to stand still. Standing still was painful, but I didn’t want to say so out loud, so I endured it.

Then came the time to try out the dance. Here I thought the spell would pay off, but it didn’t. Instead the shoes jabbed at me every time I made a wrong move, which only made me stumble, which only caused more pain. By the end of the hour I could hardly stand. I followed the girls to the changing room where we all sat down to put on our street shoes. I started to untie the laces on my shoes, but when I saw the skin of my ankle, I gasped. It was bright purple with bruises! So I couldn’t change my shoes with all the other girls watching, so I had to walk home in them.

From now on I will have to wear my street shoes in dance class and hope no one notices. At least until I can figure out how to remove the spell.

Liop is hiding something in Uncle Winthrop’s laboratory again—I’m sure of it. That whole lab gives me the creeps with all its dusty bottles and cobwebby beakers, like some bizarre chemistry graveyard. One day I’m sure Uncle Winthrop’s ghost is going to come screeching out from under the table and I’ll scream until the whole house thinks I’m dying—not that I really believe Uncle W. is dead, but we haven’t had a letter in nearly three months and the neighbors are starting to whisper things and cast sideways glances at me and Liop as if we were the cause of it. Goodness! We’ve lived here three years and the worst thing that ever happened was when Liop accidentally set fire to the back porch (yes, another fire newt). But no one died, and even Uncle W. didn’t really think it was Liop’s fault—just dumb luck. Fire newts can be slippery sometimes, especially if you let them crawl around in melted candle wax. We started keeping the candles inside an old fish tank, where the newts can slide around in the wax as much as they like without spreading the flames very far. Uncle W. said he was going to bring Liop a large crystal bowl from Darsepan to keep the newts in—you know the kind they use in fancy restaurants to reflect red and blue flames on the ceiling? I’ve never actually seen one, but Uncle W. says the newts will be gorgeous inside it and we can keep them on the dining room table to impress dinner guests. But that was before he disappeared, and I’d give up all the newts in the world if he would just come home safe.

The last time I caught Liop in the laboratory was last week and he had a baby spikeback in a barrel that he was keeping alive with scraps from Cook’s trash bin. It took me all day to convince him that we wouldn’t like it when the thing started breathing fire and caught some of Uncle Winthrop’s chemicals in the flames, but Liop kept insisting that he flame proofed the barrel and spikebacks don’t start breathing fire till they’re at least a year old, even if they do make a lot of smoke. I don’t care about that—what I do care about is what might happen if Uncle W. comes home to find the house blown up.

I put the lid on the barrel and hauled it out back behind the garden where I don’t think anyone could see me; then I lifted the lid and tipped over the barrel, but the stupid thing refused to budge. I finally had to drag it out by its hind legs, and fire or no fire, I got my lungs full of smoke before I could release it. When I finished coughing, Liop insisted I give him the jar of jumping beans I promised him in exchange for letting me get rid of the baby spikeback—but I refused to give them to him on the grounds that he didn’t help me get the creature out of the barrel. Liop whined and threatened to tell Cook about the time last week when I set out food to try and trap a griffon, so I finally gave him half of the jumping beans and he was satisfied. I don’t think my griffon trap is nearly as dangerous as a baby spikeback—after all, if I do catch one, we can use it to help find Uncle W. But I was wondering if you know any better ways of attracting griffons than boiled rosehips? I don’t think the scent is strong enough.

The next thing I need is a golden bridle to control the creature, but so far I haven’t been able to come up with anything to make it out of. Liop says I ought to let him handle the griffon, but I think I have a lot more experience handling dangerous creatures than my six years old brother who can’t remember what it was like before Mother died when we kept a winged lion in the barn with the horses. I tried to tell him last night what a winged lion looks like, but he just laughed and said it was only a story. That’s what the other neighborhood kids tell him, but I don’t care about little kid gossip. It’s what the adults say that bothers me most. I don’t think they really believe that we’re Uncle Winthrop’s relatives. They’d rather believe he created us with some crazy chemical mixture—mad scientist-like. Liop doesn’t help matters much either. I’ve told him a hundred times not to let people know that he speaks foreign languages, but yesterday he spoke Ripanian to a Ripanian lady in the village market just the same, and I know that boy Mendel overheard him. I hate gossip.

But like I just said the spikeback was last week, and I think Liop is hiding something else in the lab now. I hope it isn’t another red heron. The last one almost poked my eyes out with its beak. If Uncle W. would come home, then he could keep Liop in line, but Cook hardly even tries and without Imato around it’s hopeless. I never realized big brothers could be so useful till Imato left to train for his knighthood. Why can’t I follow in Father’s footsteps too? I’ll be seventeen in four months, and Imato just turned twenty. He’s going to come back knowing so much more than I do that I won’t know how to speak to him. I got a letter from him three days ago, and He says that the Duke of Darsepan gave him a beautiful chocolate-colored mare to repay a debt he owed our father. Imato promised me that he’ll breed her to Prince Gowlan’s best stallion and bring her back next spring so I can have the foal. My own horse! Father said I’d never need my own horse, so I’m glad Imato is more open-minded than he was. Of course, if I can catch a griffon to go looking for Uncle W.—a griffon’s at least as useful as a horse… but don’t tell Imato I said that, if you see him.

Speaking of Imato… he told me that if I rub pumpkin oil into my eyelids and sing "Pussycat’s Wedding" under a full moon, that my eyes will turn gold like a cat’s and I’ll be able to see in the dark. Is this true? I know older brothers are natural born liars—but just in case, will you see if any of your books say anything about it? Uncle W.’s library is painfully lacking in spellbooks, but I thought since there’s a full moon in it, that you might be able to find it in an astronomy book. (I don’t have any of those either.) I spent nearly fifteen minutes examining my eyes in the mirror last night, but they don’t look the least bit gold yet. Oh well…

I hope this letter finds you well and Liop wonders if you found the frog yet that he left in your bedroom the last time we came to visit. He says that he cast a growth spell on it and it should be the size of a cantaloupe by now. (Don’t worry too much; he also cast that spell on the neighbor’s cat and all she did was have nine kittens a couple of months later, so I don’t think it really works.)

May your nights be full of stars.



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