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Arri- June 13 2003

June 13, 2003

Dear Keish,

Your teacher Brynn sounds very nice. I can’t wait to visit you again so that I can have my palm read, or see how you read tea leaves. I’ve heard it’s really tricky to learn. It sounds exciting!

I’ve been thinking about my dream, but I’m afraid to ask Liop to draw a map to the Cave of Wishes. Don’t you think if he could, he’d have already told me? I’m also scared about people trying to steal it – valuable things are magnets for burglars, as Father used to say. I really don’t understand why you’re so drawn to the cave. Wouldn’t it be better off just staying lost? Some people think it’s powerful dark magic, but Uncle Winthrop thinks it depends on the desires of the wisher. I don’t know, but the whole idea makes me nervous. I mean, is there anyone who really understands what the deepest desire of their heart is? Maybe it changes over time. When I was little, I thought my deepest desire was to own a horse, but that seems insignificant now. Maybe one’s deepest desire is too abstract to ever really be granted. I don’t know, but I think I’ve rambled about it enough now.

You’re right about Liop’s vocabulary. He once told me fifty different words to describe a mouse. He doesn’t know what things are called until someone tells him, but the minute he learns one word for something, he immediately knows all the words for that thing. I asked him if he ever gets confused, and he looked startled and said "No." It’s one of those things I really don’t understand.

That prince sounds like a real problem. Have you had any luck getting rid of him yet? I got another idea. Maybe you could pretend to have a secret admirer, someone you like much better than him. Then the prince would think that you’re already taken, and give up. Maybe you could also try to get the prince interested in one of those other girls who are infatuated with him – arrange for them to bump into each other several times. The prince sounds like a very inconsiderate person. Imato told me that if our king knew one of his sons was acting that way, he’d put a stop to it. Of course, I don’t know how you’d go about complaining to a king about something like that without offending him. Maybe you could get a third person to do it. Someone whose opinion the king trusts. It is an awkward situation, isn’t it?

Imato wasn’t very happy with me for inviting Aegolius to stay with us. In fact, I think I scared him, because a few days after I mailed the letter to him, he showed up at the cottage in the evening with his mare looking very tired. He put her in the stable with Spriggs and marched into the house.

"What were you thinking, Arri!?!" he shouted, pulling me into the library with him and pushing me down into Uncle Winthrop’s big leather chair by the fireplace – the interrogation chair, I call it, because I always have to sit there when Imato or Uncle W. lecture me. I think it's because the chair is deep, and I don’t have many escape routes.

"He’s just a nice old man," I defended angrily, "He has grandkids!"

Liop’s argument had no impact on Imato – I don’t know why I thought it would. Secretly, I was delighted that Imato came home from training early, and thought the trouble with Aegolius entirely worth the consequences.

"Arri," Imato flung his hands hopelessly into the air, "I thought you had a little more sense than most girls. This man could be any kind of debauched criminal!"

"He isn’t," I said.

Imato was still yelling when a knock at the door interrupted him. The door opened to reveal Liop and a very humble looking Aegolius with his hands clasped together guiltily. I studied him, trying to imagine a debauched criminal in his place. The idea was ludicrous. Imato stopped yelling. For a few seconds complete silence reigned in the room.

"Aegolius is sorry for causing problems," said Liop softly, "He says he’s going to leave now, but he wants to pay us for boarding him." Liop’s face was very red, like he’d been crying.

Liop held out two gold pieces. Imato took them.

"Where will you go?" Imato asked.

"Home," Liop translated.

"That’s good," said Imato.

"He’s going to leave right now," said Liop sadly.

Now it was Imato’s turn to look guilty. He was silent for a couple of minutes. "It’s too late to leave today," he said finally, "Better stay the night and leave in the morning. Does Cook have dinner ready, Arri?"

"There’s soup in the kitchen," I said.

Imato stepped past all three of us and started for the kitchen. We all hesitated. Then Liop grinned at me, and we followed Imato.

While we ate soup and rolls, Imato interrogated Aegolius. I think he asked more questions about Aegolius’s past than even Liop could think of, and Aegolius answered, using Liop as interpreter. Aegolius comes from the country of Iconei where he worked as a blacksmith and amateur inventor until he invented the reflection maker and decided to try marketing it. He has three grown children and four grandchildren. If you ask him about them, he talks very rapidly for a very long time and Liop has trouble keeping up with the translation. Finally Imato said it was a shame that Aegolius came all this way without selling a single copper reflection, and that he ought to stay a few more days. I laughed at him and he looked embarrassed, but he still lectured me again that night about not letting strange men into the house. He said I was very lucky once and shouldn’t expect to be lucky all the time. He needn’t worry; I’m much too disaster-prone to harbor ideas of being lucky.

The next morning Imato gave Cook three days vacation and thanked her family for staying with us. Then he rode off to explain to the King why he left training early. I hope he isn’t in too much trouble. When I asked him, he said not to worry about it.

Not being a school day, Liop and Aegolius shut themselves in the basement and ignored my pleas to be admitted, so I wandered upstairs. The door to the guest room was open. I looked in and noticed Aegolius’s pile of daguerreotypes sitting on the bed. Since he had already showed me so many, I didn’t think he’d mind if I looked at more of them, so I gathered a pile up into my arms and took them to the window seat of my bedroom where I could study them in the sunlight with birds singing in the oak tree. They really are amazing – I hope you can see one sometime. I flipped through images of mountains and rivers, members of Aegolius’s family (clearly recognizable from their long, pointed noses), and finally I came to a picture of three men sitting around a campfire. I glanced at this picture and started to set it aside when suddenly something – I’m not sure what – struck me and I looked at the scene more closely. Chills ran up my spine as I focused on the right-most man. His head was turned slightly, so I couldn’t see his face entirely, but there was no mistaking the eyes and chin. Keish, it’s my father! Aegolius has a picture of my father! I’m not mistaken. I’ve looked at the reflection from every angle. He’s wearing the old chain-mail shirt that Mother made him. I can see the place where she bent a piece of thin copper into a bird-shaped talisman woven into the chain mail over his heart, and he’s wearing my wood beads around his neck. I made those beads six months before he was killed in battle. I said a spell over them to protect him from danger. The other men in the picture I’ve never seen before, but they don’t look like soldiers. They’re wearing traveler’s clothes. In the background there’s a mountain and a rock formation that looks a lot like a swan with a long curved neck.

For a long time I just sat in the window with the picture. I cried a little, but it felt wonderful to see him again, even if it was just a little piece of silver coated copper. I determined to ask Aegolius where he made the picture and when. Just as I stood up, however, a loud explosion in the basement rocked the entire house. Dropping the reflection, I dashed downstairs into the basement. Plumes of yellow smoke billowed out from under the lab door. I pulled on the handle, but it was still locked. Inside, I heard Liop scream. I screamed for help, but no one answered. After pulling on the door with all my might, and to no avail, my head cleared enough to realize there was an ax in the garden shed. I tore back up the stairs and outside to the shed. Finding the ax, I rushed back downstairs where I flung it heavily into the door. After several whacks, the door finally broke open. Yellow smoke filled my lungs, making me cough. I saw Aegolius flat on his back at one side of the room and Liop huddled up in the far corner flailing a short dagger wildly into the face of a large creature made entirely of yellow smoke. Every time the blade moved through the smoke, the monster became a little disoriented, but then it drew closer to him. I shouted, trying attract its attention, but it ignored me. Liop, pale and shaking, coughed more yellow smoke. He was choking to death. I threw an empty beaker at it, and it passed through the monster’s belly, slowing the creature down briefly while the displaced smoke reformed itself, but not stopping it. Panicked, I looked for a better weapon, but what could I do against smoke? My lungs filled with the smoke and I started coughing. I backed into the chemical shelves. Randomly, I grabbed a bottle of red liquid and threw it at the creature. The bottle shattered against the back wall spraying the room with drops. The creature hardly noticed, so I threw a jar of white powder at it. The jar burst against the ground, filling the room with a substance like flour. I couldn’t see anything. I reached for something else to throw, but stopped when I felt Liop’s arms around me. I grabbed him and pulled him out of the room.

"Aegolius," shouted Liop, still coughing. I went back in, grabbed the old man by the arm and dragged him out of the room. Then I slammed the broken door shut. I don’t know why I thought that would help. It fell down in pieces a minute later. Liop helped me carry Aegolius outside. For several minutes Liop and I sat on the bottom step of the back porch holding onto each other, shaking, coughing, and watching the house for signs of the monster, but except for a little smoke, we didn’t see anything.

"The flour killed it, probably," said Liop, quivering, "It got all contaminated. Flour’s good for expunging things; that’s why Uncle W. keeps it down there, but I couldn’t get to it. I couldn’t breath!" He shuddered.

"I killed a monster with ordinary flour?" I demanded.

"Yes," said Liop. I don’t know why, but I felt disappointed.

Aegolius was unconscious from hitting his head so hard when the explosion happened. I thought we should put him in bed, but I was too scared to go inside.

"What were you trying to do?" I asked Liop.

"We were trying to make an oracle – to find out where Uncle W. is. I started it a long time ago, but I didn’t know how to finish. Then Aegolius had this book, and he said he’d help me, but something went wrong. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before. It was a surprise, and I thought maybe you wouldn’t let me."

He’s right. I wouldn’t have let him.

We spent the next couple of hours debating whether it was safe to go back into the house. When I finally ventured back in, it was horrible – yellow dust coated everything on all three floors. The basement was the worst. There was nearly half an inch in some places. The upstairs floor only had a slight dusting. Fortunately Uncle W.’s and Imato’s rooms had their heavy doors shut. We carried Aegolius into the guest room, shook the yellow dust from the bed, and then put him in it. He moaned a little, and I sent Liop for a doctor. In the meanwhile I started cleaning up all the dust, and trying to decide what to tell Imato when he came home. It didn’t seem right, after all the effort we went through the night before getting Imato to let Aegolius stay, to tell Imato that he and Liop almost blew up the house.

Liop joined me cleaning as soon as he could, while the doctor tended to Aegolius. We were terrified that Imato would come home and catch us, so we worked pretty fast, getting the most obvious places first. We concocted a plan about Aegolius being allergic to turnips and accidentally eating some (not knowing he was allergic, because there aren’t any in his country). The doctor said a few days of bed rest should be good, and gave us a jelly-like substance to rub under his nose twice a day, so that he can breath in the fumes. Next we pushed all of the pieces of the lab door inside the lab and took all the candles from the staircase to keep it dark, so you couldn’t see that the door was missing. Fortunately Imato never goes into the basement anyway. Please don’t tell Imato what really happened – I don’t want him to worry anymore.

When Imato came home in the evening, we told him briefly about Aegolius’ illness and then we pestered him with questions about Gretel until his face became very red and he forgot to question us very closely about the illness. Have you ever seen Imato embarrassed? It’s really hard to do, but well worth the effort. He gets all tongue-tied and says things backwards.

Imato told us that two days after he met Gretel, he ran into her on the street. She was wearing one of the peasant disguises that you told me about, and he didn’t recognize her at first. When he did though, he thought he’d play a joke. He took a couple of coins out of his pocket and approached her. She wouldn’t look at him directly, because she didn’t want to be recognized. Imato held out the coins and offered them to her like she was a beggar woman. She refused. Then Imato accused her in a loud voice of being too arrogant to accept handout from a well-meaning knight-in-training. Her partially concealed face went very red and she looked confused. Imato asked her if he could purchase one of her handkerchiefs to wear during his next jousting tournament. Then she knew he recognized her. Imato says she was really mad at first and then she laughed and sold him the handkerchief for the coins. Then she gave the coins to a peasant girl selling flowers on the street corner. I think Imato was really impressed.

I’m glad that letting the hart eat the clover blossoms off my head was a good omen. Sometimes I watch for him at night, but so far I’ve only seen the rabbits.

I need to end this letter now. Liop wants me to read him a story. Good luck with choosing a new kitten to enchant. Red and orange flaming cats sound beautiful!

Sending love to you and your father,

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