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Arri- Sept. 27, 2003

September 27, 2003

Dear Keish, Gretel, and Liop,

Keish, are you okay? You need to write me back real fast, because I want to see your handwriting and know you’re all right. Divining spells must be very tricky if you could collapse from one. I’m glad you didn’t accidentally call up a smoke monster like Liop did when he tried to call the oracle. I hope you get better very fast; it’s awful not to feel well, and your father really depends on you. You’re so much better at figuring things out than I am, and I need some advice. I’m glad you have Gretel and Liop with you. I would send Lady Clara to help too, only she won’t leave because she’s busy helping me. Anyway, things just seem to be getting worse and worse, and I’m scared. I’m really scared.

Last night I woke up to strange sounds coming from downstairs, like someone was moving things around. Kestrel was sitting up on the edge of the bed with her ears turned toward the sound and every hair on her body rigidly on end. Nozama chattered randomly with his hand tight around the kitten’s tail. I threw a robe around my shoulders and looked around my room for a weapon, but all I found was the hat stand. I picked it up and leaned it over my shoulder. Then I opened the door just a crack to see if I could hear anything more. Suddenly a man burst into my room, pushing the door in on me before I could stop him. He grabbed the hat stand from my startled fingers and waved it wildly, slamming the door shut behind him. I fell backwards against the bed. The man followed me and in the moonlight I saw a haggard face, etched in dirt and wrinkles. He swung at me with the hat stand, but missed. I rolled backward to the other side of the bed and onto my window seat. I didn’t have any weapons, so I grabbed a pillow and held it out in front of me.

Then something really strange happened. The intruder started pulling other pillows off the bed and throwing them at me, hard! They pummeled into me one after another and fell out the open window. If one landed on the floor in the bedroom, the man picked it up and threw it out the window too. He came closer and closer, shouting strange words, and I moved further and further back into the window, clinging to the windowsill with my hands. Then suddenly I felt his hand grab mine and I fell backwards through the window. He let go of me. Falling is really weird. For a second it was almost like floating, and I think time stopped; then I hit the ground with a heavy jolt. Fortunately there were so many pillows already on the ground that I wasn’t hurt very badly. I looked up and saw the stranger’s face briefly lit by moonlight; then he was gone.

The sounds of moving furniture never stopped as I staggered to my feet and turned toward the forest to hide. Then I heard Glory whinny. I turned and saw another man leading her out of the barn. She tossed her head angrily and neighed nervously. I cried out in fear and anger and ran toward him. I don’t know what I thought I was going to do. A second man came out from behind Glory and grabbed me as I neared him. I kicked and screamed, but he wouldn’t let go.

“Is it the Brio child?” he asked the man with Glory.

“Lorn should have that girl by now,” the other replied. He looked at me sharply. He had a long narrow nose with a scare across it.

“What’s your name?” he demanded.

I couldn’t think, so I didn’t say anything. The man with Glory held a torch close to my face.

“Yeah, this is it,” he said with some surprise, “but what’s she doing out here?”

He pushed the torch closer, and the flames caught my hair. I twisted hard in terror, feeling hot flames in my ear. I got one arm free, and swung out at the torch, trying to grab it, but instead I only knocked it into the face of the man holding me. He shouted and released me. I ran.

My feet were bare and my nightdress kept catching on branches and tearing, but I didn’t stop until I was at Mendel’s back door. I pounded on it, crying until a servant answered and ushered me in. He called Lord Westridge. He came out with his wife, staring sleepily. Lady Clara entered the room from another direction. Her eyes widened when she saw me, and she wrapped an afghan around me.

“They took Glory!” I sobbed hysterically; it was the only thing I could think of.

Lady Clara kept her arms around my shoulders. For a few seconds I couldn’t talk and she didn’t ask me to. When I caught my breath, I shouted again.

“They came into my house! I fell, and they took Glory! They took Glory!” I put a hand to my head where the torch burned me and was startled when a handful of charred brown hair fell away. Several people in the room gasped.

“Get some men to go down to the Brio cottage and look around,” Lady Westridge told a servant, “But be careful!”

“You should send Mendel to help with the tracking,” suggested Lady Clara.

“Mendel isn’t here,” said the servant.

“What?” asked Lord Westridge in surprise, “Where is he?”

“I don’t know, but I heard him leave a couple hours ago.”

“Well, get out there and start looking!” Lord Westridge thundered with sudden urgency. His wife made frightened whimper. The gathering servants scattered.

“Don’t worry,” said Lady Clara, “they can’t have gone far yet.”

Lady Clara sat with me through the night. It was very unnerving with Lord Westridge pacing up and down the room, randomly shouting at Mendel as though he were with us, while his wife pestered me for information about the men. I couldn’t say very much that was useful. I didn’t know how many there were, or how well armed, or why they were there. A couple of times Lady Clara tried to take me out of the room, but Lady Westridge would bark an order for me to stay. She looked terrified and kept looking out the window.

“You should have ordered them to look for Mendel,” she accused her husband, “the horse is less important.”

“What were you thinking, boy!” shouted Lord Westridge furiously. I followed the movements of his eyes and found a painting—about two feet square—hanging on the wall next to the mirror. The small boy in it was clearly Mendel, but a much more innocent looking Mendel than I’ve ever seen before. A ginger cat sat on his shoulder and a dog and tamarin at his feet. It was the painting, apparently, that Lord Westridge kept addressing.

I couldn’t imagine that Mendel was in any real danger. More likely he was just goofing off somewhere. But as the minutes turned into hours, I realized their concern might be more real, and I began to wonder about Mendel too. A servant came back to say that the intruders were gone by the time they reached the cottage, but the entire house had been rearranged and torn apart. They couldn’t tell that anything was missing, but several things were broken. Glory was gone and they were tracking her. There had been no sign of Mendel.

Just as the first rays of morning broke through the window, striking the mirror and sending bright light into the sitting room, we heard the front door opening. Everyone in the room turned toward the sound of footsteps in the hall. The sitting room door opened and Mendel entered, looking exhausted. As he stepped in, his eyes fell on me and a look of surprise filled his face. He stopped.

“Arri! Arri, I didn’t…I’m so…” but Lady Westridge interrupted him with a shriek of joy as she flung her arms around her son, sobbing.

“You were dead!” she cried, “I was sure you were dead! Where were you?”

Mendel hugged her tight.

“I’m okay, Mother,” he murmured, “I just went fishing—night fishing is all.”

There was a pause and then he continued, “I ran into some men I didn’t recognize. They looked rough, so I decided to hide out for a while until they were gone. I’m sorry it took so long.” He patted her shoulder as she calmed down, but his eyes kept darting in my direction.

Lord Westridge, after yelling so much at the painting all night, was silent.

“What about the men?” asked Lady Clara, “What did you see?”

Mendel hesitated.

“Not much,” he said slowly, “I stayed out of their way. What happened here?” He looked at me, but I didn’t say anything. Clara frowned.

“Come with me Lady Arri and I’ll get you some chamomile,” she said, leading me to the kitchen. When we arrived at the kitchen, she turned to me.

“I’ll have a talk with Mendel later,” she said slowly, putting a teapot on the stove, “it seems he’s not likely to tell his parents this one.”

“What do you think happened?” I asked.

“I have no idea, but something happened,” she paused, “do you have anyplace you can stay, Lady Arri, while Imato’s gone?”

“I can’t leave the cottage empty,” I responded, thinking of the griffon trap and wanting Uncle Winthrop more than ever.

“Then can I come stay with you?” asked Lady Clara immediately.

“You don’t have to,” I said, feeling grateful and relieved at the offer.

“Well, I’m going to,” Lady Clara responded authoritatively.

“Thank you,” I said.

Keish, do you think it’s okay for me to tell Lady Clara the things I told Prince Tulson? I’d really like to tell her, but I thought I better ask you first.

When we went over to the cottage later in the day, I found that what the servants had told us about the house was right. On the main floor, things were turned over and thrown randomly through the room, but the only things missing were a small painting of Uncle Winthrop from the library and the miniature of Imato. The upstairs was almost untouched, except for my room with the hat stand on the floor and pillows on the ground beneath the window. Kestrel and Nozama were thrilled to see me. Nozama climbed onto my shoulder, pulled my remaining hair, and chattered excitedly. The reflection with Glory and I was missing from my dresser and also a reflection of Liop, but everything else was untouched. I’m glad I don’t own a painting of you, because I feel sure they would have taken it, although I don’t know why. In the stable, Glory was gone. I cried really hard when I saw the empty stable. They won’t know that she’s pregnant. They’ll ride her until she loses the foal. Poor Glory! What will I tell Imato?

For now Lady Clara has permission to stay with me, and I took Father’s sword out of the chest and put it next to my bed. I wish I knew how to use it. I’m not sure what to tell Imato, so I haven’t written him. I don’t want him to have to come home again so soon, but I’m really scared and worried. I thought maybe you could tell him what happened; you have a better way of putting things than me. I always sound so panicky. Don’t send Liop home yet. I think he’s safer with you. In the mean time, I think I need a better idea than the griffon trap for finding Uncle W. It isn’t working. We really need him.

I decided to wait a couple days to post this letter, because after I finished the last paragraph, I had a new idea. I want to come visit you. I don’t feel safe here, and I don’t think it’s fair to Lady Clara to keep her here when she’s supposed to work for Lord Westridge. I hope you don’t mind, but I already tried to arrange it. You see, Treany’s relatives are merchants and they travel between here and Arella a lot. Traveling alone makes me nervous, so I asked Treany if I could go along with someone from her family the next time they make the trip. I told I her that Imato is having a tournament and I want to surprise him by going to see it (it’s not really a lie, since Imato has a tournament once every month). I also told her that I was worried someone would spoil the surprise by telling people, so I asked her to keep the trip a secret. Treany was thrilled by the idea, and before I could stop her, she started talking about coming with me. I tried mentioning things about Imato and Gretel dating, so Treany would lose interest, but I don’t think she listened to me. Treany isn’t a very good secret keeper—not that she’s mean or anything—she’s really very nice, and that’s why I asked for her help. But I don’t think we should tell her anything. She loves to talk, and she has a lot of gossipy friends. Last night she told me that her uncle is leaving for Arella in two weeks and that I could travel with them in a private coach. They will have a lot of valuable merchandise with them, so the coach will be well guarded. Right now Treany is trying to talk her parents into letting her go too. I don’t know if they will allow it. Anyway, I wanted to ask your opinion. Would your father mind? If I stay in Arella with you, then Imato won’t have to leave his training to come look after me. We can work together on finding out about your mother and about Uncle Winthrop’s disappearance. Cook will look after everything at the cottage, and I’ll leave enough money for her and Nacks. I’ll try to bring Kestrel and Nozama with me, if the coach allows it.

Liop, you can talk to animals? That’s wonderful! Maybe you can help Kestrel and Nozama get along better now. They’re fighting again and I don’t know how to stop them. Nozama is the worst. He teases Kestrel constantly. I’m glad Keish is teaching you magic. Perhaps you can teach me some when I see you again. I’m also glad that the bad luck is just a myth, although right now it feels very real to me. Lady Clara says that I should feel lucky, because I escaped.

I hope that you are feeling better, Keish. Please be careful! I hope Brynn comes back to you soon. It would be so nice to meet her! Of course, if you don’t think I should come, then you can tell me and I’ll stay here. I’m just so worried about things, and I don’t think the griffon trap is working, although I change the rosehip tea every night and morning, and I put the pennyroyal in it. I’m going to keep doing it for as long as I’m here.

Gretel, thank you so much for writing and telling me what’s happening. I’m glad you’re helping Keish and me with our problems. I hope you’re finding time to spend with Imato too.

May everything return to normal quickly for all of us.



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