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Arri- May 26, 2003

May 26, 2003

Dear Keish,

I was excited to get your letter. I can tell you were incredibly busy (you never told me about the tower construction). It sounds like you have enough to keep you occupied for a long time getting everything arranged exactly how you like it. It must be beautiful living up there above everything. Sometimes I climb out my bedroom window and watch sunsets from the roof. Why is it that everything is so much prettier from up high?

I was a little worried when I was waiting for your letter, and I asked Imato in my last letter to him to check in on you when he gets a chance. He’s probably already visited since you received this letter. I hope so, because maybe you can tell me something.

The last letter I got from Imato was full of stories about this girl he met at a dance named Gretel. He doesn’t talk about feelings, but he called her "extremely well informed about real world problems" and "good at understanding jokes". I think those were compliments, since Imato usually complains that most girls don’t know any more than the flowers in their hair. (He once forbade me from ever wearing flowers!) I’m hoping that Imato brings Gretel with him to visit you, so you can give me better information about her. What does she look like? Is she nice? What if Imato marries her? I don’t think I’m old enough to be an aunt. When Liop read Imato's letter, he looked up and said it was completely obfuscating. I had to find the word in the dictionary. Liop's right.

It sounds like you're learning a lot from your new teacher. It must be nice to be learning useful things like astrology and dream interpretation. I can't take anything else until Uncle W. gets home or Imato finishes his training and becomes my guardian. Liop is still in school, though. Even if his tuition money runs out before Uncle W. gets home, he can still attend the public school for boys. I wish there was a public school for girls.

I get a wish? I never got a wish before - not one that came true anyway. I feel very lucky that you are my cousin and can tell me about astrology.

Imato once told me that if you wish for the tulips to turn pink at sunrise on April Fool’s Day that what ever you touch next will turn into polished turquoise and your next wish will come true, but I’ve tried that lots of times, and it never really works. This wishing on the full moon is much more serious, isn’t it?

At first I thought that I would wish for Uncle Winthrop to come home, but then I got scared that he’d come home in a casket. Then I thought I’d wish for the griffon to come, but what good is that without a bridle? I could wish for a bridle, but what if the griffon never comes? Then I thought that I would wish for Uncle W. to come home completely alive and happy. I thought this was a good wish, but then Liop informed me that if Uncle W. has amnesia he could still come home alive and happy. I tried making the wish long enough to include all of the possible disasters that Uncle W. could face on his return voyage, but the sentence got so long I didn't think I could memorize it before the full moon, and besides Liop kept coming up with new catastrophes to add to it – things like unexpectedly getting frozen by a snow witch and hidden in the center of a glacier for three hundred years, and then coming home alive and happy to find an empty house. Even if I did add a specific time for him to return, what if I pull him away while he's in the midst of saving a child from drowning or something else really important?

Finally, I decided to wish for ‘help with solving my problems’, because maybe if I’m not too specific, then nothing will backfire on me.

On the night of the full moon I followed your instructions exactly. It was a beautiful night, and I sat in the pennyroyal in the garden, because it seemed romantic with the scents and the flowers all around. I made my crown out of purple clover blossoms (Imato can’t object to that, can he?), because I thought maybe having both the pennyroyal and the clover would make the wish stronger. Staying up all night wasn’t so hard, because a tall hart with five points on each antler walked curiously around me several times, and I could see rabbits eating the garden vegetables. I sat as still as I could, and finally the hart reached out with his nose and ate the clover right off my head! I hope it didn’t ruin the spell. Do you think it would? He was so pretty, almost like the paintings of unicorns. So far nothing helpful has happened yet. Although things at the cottage have changed recently…

Liop was late coming home from school a couple days ago. I waited around for an hour to see if he would show up, and then I put on my sturdier shoes to go looking for him. When I opened the front door, however, I could see him tearing down the street like something was chasing him, but I didn’t see anyone behind him. He was going so fast that he almost ran into me when he reached the front porch. His face was bright red and he gasped several times for breath.

"What’s wrong?" I asked anxiously, kneeling down to look more closely into his shiny green eyes.

He gasped and laughed in one breath.

"You gotta come see this, Arri," he said.

"What?" I asked.

"It’s like magic, only it’s called reflectagraphy. Oh, I wish Uncle W. could see this; there’re all sorts of chemicals and smoke! Come see!" He grabbed my hand and half dragged me down the street and into town. When I didn’t think anyone could see me, I ran with him.

Liop led me to a large tent set up at the far end of Market Street. I would have liked to look at some of the other booths, but Liop shouted at me whenever I slowed down. The tent that Liop brought me to was made of heavy black fabric with no windows. Tethered to one of the tent stakes was a beautiful black mule with a white blaze up his nose. Sitting nearby the mule was an old man, with skin like red licorice and short, frizzy, white hair. He stood up when he saw us and bowed to me with a smile of startling white, but somewhat crooked teeth.

"Welcome, Liop and Sister," he said slowly and carefully, so that I could understand his thick accent. I stiffened nervously.

"Liop," I hissed, "you know you’re not supposed to speak languages."

Liop frowned at me, "He knows that. We only speak Iconese inside the tent." I shook my head, frowning.

"Hi, Master Aegolius," called Liop, "can we see your reflection maker?"

"Yes," Aegolius bowed again to me, and I felt very uncomfortable, but Liop was already dragging me inside the tent.

The minute we were inside, Liop and Aegolius started speaking Iconese very rapidly, while I looked around. It was very dark, lit only by a few small candles. Long, shallow trays of chemicals lined the walls of the room, so that I had to be careful not to step in them. The whole place smelled somewhat like Uncle W.’s lab while he’s experimenting. In one corner was a pile of mechanical devices unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and small, flat, rectangular sheets of metal. As I bent over to look at them more closely, Aegolius jumped in front of me. He grabbed up a couple of the metal sheets and started talking very rapidly.

"He wants to show you in better light," said Liop. He grabbed my hand and led me to the door of the tent where Aegolius handed me the sheets. I held one up and gasped in astonishment. They were little pictures! But I’ve never seen a picture like this before. The metal was copper with some kind of thin coating. Liop told me it was silver. The pictures had incredible detail, but in only one color – kind of like pencil sketches. One was of a tree in the middle of a large field. The detail was astonishing. The other picture was of an old woman.

"The woman’s his wife," Liop told me.

"It’s amazing," I said, and Liop translated.

"They’re called daguerreotypes; come on, I want to show you how he does it." Liop pulled me back into the tent. Then, for the next hour, he and Aegolius picked up each of his instruments one at a time and explained them to me, along with the chemicals. Liop was entranced. He kept asking Aegolius for more details until the old man became lost in trying to answer them. I think it’s the first time Liop’s ever seen an interesting use for alchemy. He’s right too; Uncle W. would love this stuff.

Finally Liop turned to me and said, "But he doesn’t have any customers."

"That’s sad," I said reluctantly. I knew where this was leading, but I also knew we couldn’t afford it.

"He says people are scared – that they think the reflection makers steal their souls or something," Liop frowned.

"That’s dumb," I said. The pictures looked harmless to me.

"So," said Liop even more slowly with his green eyes very wide, "I thought maybe he could come stay with us, and you could tell all your friends about him and I could tell mine, and maybe we could have a picture made so people could see it's safe, ‘cause he doesn’t have anyplace to stay except this tent and I think it’s going to rain soon and then there’ll be lots of mud, and maybe he can get some more chemicals from Uncle W.’s lab, because he’s all alone." Toward the end of this long speech, Liop began speaking more and more rapidly, and his cheeks were flush with excitement. I looked over at Aegolius and he bowed deeply. I looked around at the tent. It was mostly bare except for the chemicals and gadgets.

"I pay," said Aegolius, but looking at his clothes, I doubted it. Most likely every cent he had was in that equipment.

"I don’t think Cook will like it," I said softly. Looking at Aegolius I could tell he didn’t understand much of what I was saying. He was smiling hopefully.

"Cook won’t care."

"He could be dangerous!"

"He is not! He has grandkids!" That’s not the most convincing argument I’ve heard, but Liop seemed to think it very important.

I looked closely at Aegolius. Something in his gold eyes reminded me of Uncle W., and suddenly I felt safer. It took a few more seconds of pleading, but Liop finally convinced me to at least let the old man spend the night. After all, it did look like rain outside.

I thought that when we showed up at the cottage with a strange old man that Cook would have a fit, but she didn’t. She took one look at the shabby clothes and bizarre gadgets and sighed in the same way that she sighs at Uncle W. when he comes home with new scientific contraptions. Then she made up Imato's room and sent Liop with a message to her husband so he’d come stay at the cottage too (Cook usually goes home in the evening, but I think she wanted to make sure Liop and I were safe). So now our house is quite full with Cook and her husband, their grandson Lazuse, Aegolius, Nacks the Gardener who stays in the servants quarters all year except winter, and Liop and me (of course). Aegolius and Liop spent all of yesterday downstairs in the laboratory without even giving me a hint of what they were up to. I don’t quite know what to make of it. Whenever he sees me, Aegolius bows like I’m some kind of royalty. Liop says that’s what gentlemen are supposed to do for the Lady of the House, but I don’t feel like the Lady of the House. That was Aunt Rawnal’s job a long time ago, so if Aegolius wants to bow to someone, he should bow to her portrait over the dining room table, and then I would feel much better. Liop says I’m just being silly.

I don’t know how long Aegolius expects to stay here, or how Liop and I can help him. Actually, I feel a little like maybe my wish backfired, and I’m getting more problems instead of fewer, but Aegolius seems very kind and good-intentioned, and Liop likes him a lot, so in some ways I’m glad to have him around. He gets everyone’s mind off Uncle W.’s disappearance. I wrote Imato about Aegolius too. I wonder what he’ll think of my decision to let him stay with us.

I’m going to take your advice about ignoring Mendel, because I’m afraid if I try to mess with his head, that he’ll mess with my head too, and we’ll both be obfuscated like Liop. Anyway, I’m too busy to bother with Mendel right now. I haven’t even seen him since the cotillion.

What else are you learning from your astrology teacher? She sounds nice. The dream interpretation skills must be very useful. I think I’d like to learn that. I wonder if Imato will let me take lessons.

I’m not very worried about my dream. Thanks for interpreting it for me. Also I would appreciate any information you can find about the cave. But why are you so interested in it? You don’t want to go looking for it, do you?!? I think about doing that sometimes. Maybe we could find a way to reverse Liop's wish, so he could be an ordinary kid. (Liop just shouted that he doesn’t want his wish reversed. He’s reading this part of the letter over my shoulder.)

I hope that you are enjoying the great height of your new tower, and that the skies are clear enough to see from one horizon to the other, and that the prince is leaving you alone.


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