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Arri- November 10, 2003

November 10, 2004
Dear Keish,

I have your last letter in my hand, and I am trying to think what to write. It’s so terribly sad. I wonder how things would be different if the child had been born. Do you know what the child is supposed to accomplish? I hope it isn’t too late.

When we were children everything seemed so simple, but it never really was, was it? Sometimes I think our parents lived in different worlds than us. I wish we could have helped them. We’re helping them now, or trying to at least.

I’m glad that Uncle Adlen will be okay, and that your journey has been easy and people have been kind. Do you know where you’re going yet? I mean how to get to the cave? Or which cave you’re going to? We’ve found out about so many of them. Sometimes I think there must be a great hollow mountain somewhere that’s full of caves. I hope you are making good progress, and I’m glad that you still write to me, but do you think it’s really good to distance yourself from everyone? Imato says you shouldn’t act like a martyr, and I told him you weren’t. It would be so frightening to have someone try to kill you. Maybe like the night I almost was abducted.
I didn’t expect to learn anything useful until Uncle Winthrop came back. But you know, Keish, the strangest things happen to me sometimes.

Imato came yesterday. He rode into town with such a large party that I knew he was coming nearly an hour before he arrived, because Journey Inn is a center for gossip, and a large party of soldiers creates a lot of gossip. From the villagers, it sounded like Imato had brought an entire troop. The villagers were rather disappointed to find only three actual soldiers (gathered from Odsreq on the way), two squires (Imato and his good friend Leonard Thorn), Prince Tulson (once he was recognized the villagers perked up), and Sean and Mendel.

I ran out to meet them and Imato picked me up and spun me around twice. Then I led them all back to the inn. Imato sent the others to deal with their supplies and room arrangements. Once everyone was dispersed except the two of us, he sat me down in the nearest chair and gave me a lecture that any father would have been proud of. I didn’t have anything to do but listen, since it was impossible to get a word in edgewise. Besides, I could tell that I had frightened him, and thinking back on the whole adventure, I felt rather foolish and guilty for attempting it. Finally, Imato ran out of things to say.

“Well?” he asked me.

I looked up into his face and saw, for the first time, something of Father’s grandeur and more than a little of his love. I dropped my head again.

“I’m sorry, Imato,” I murmured.

Imato put his hand on my shoulder and I dared to look up again.

“I did do it, though, didn’t I?” I ventured, “I found Uncle W.”

Imato grinned a little, more like the boy who used to play with me.

“Yeah, you did it, Arri,” he said, “I don’t know how, but you did it.”

Then he took a step back, and I began to tell him about my adventure.

That was last night, and even though I went to bed very late, with only a little soup in my stomach, I still woke up with the first light of dawn. I went walking alone along the banks of the River Eden. It was beautiful! Red and orange leaves drifting gently to the ground like flashes of flame, and filtered light sparkling on the water. The river Eden is more like a stream than a river, but it’s the source of life for the residents of Onoff. Sometimes I wonder why they would like to live in a place so dry, but on a morning like this, I can see that even deserts are beautiful.
Kestrel followed me, batting at stray leaves and moths. I sang all my favorite songs, and thought about lots of different things and sometimes about nothing at all. Once in a while I would think about eating dinner in the inn’s dining room with Imato and all his companions, although I was too excited to eat much. Then I would think about how nice it will be when we’re all back in Odsreq as a family and Father is cured of his madness. I sang Mother’s “Cherry Tree Song” more times than I could count, but then I grew silent and just ambled along the river’s edge, feeling peaceful. Imato told Mrs. Journey I can go where I please from now on. He said anyone who can tackle a griffon ought to have that right. I left a note on Imato’s door so he wouldn’t worry.

Then, unexpectedly, I came upon Mendel, strolling along in the opposite direction with a fishing pole over his shoulder. My first impulse was to turn around and walk away quickly and quietly before he saw me, but I didn’t. I just stood there looking at him. He was humming softly, too soft for me to make out the tune. I took a slow step backwards, but my foot landed on a dry leaf that crackled lightly under the pressure. Mendel looked up and saw me.

“Hi, Arri,” he said, grinning as if at a very good joke.

I waited for a joke or an insult, but he only put one hand behind his back, and it occurred to me that he hasn’t really made fun of me in a long time.

“Hi,” I said politely.

“How are you?” asked Mendel slowly. He tossed a pebble thoughtlessly into the river.

“Very well,” I said.

“That’s good,” he looked like he wanted to say more. I waited awkwardly.

“Have you seen any more spikebacks lately?” he asked with a mischievous grin.

“No,” I responded.

“The reason I asked is because I saw one three days ago. It was all yellow with green spikes, and it had gold horns and streaks on its face. It reminded me of you.”

I didn’t know what to say to that. There was a stretch of silence, during which Mendel threw another large rock into the river. He’s going to ruin his fishing, I thought.

“I can skip a rock farther than anyone,” said Mendel suddenly, “do you want to see?”

I didn’t know what skipping meant, but I nodded politely. Mendel immediately got down on his hands and knees and began crawling among the rocks.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Looking for a round, flat rock,” said Mendel.

I waited for a couple of minutes; then decided to speed things up by helping him. I got down on my hands and knees.

“Aren’t you worried about your dress?” Mendel asked.

“It’s old,” I said.

For the next few minutes rock hunting consumed us. Every once in a while I would find a rock that seemed to meet the criteria and show it to him. He would say it was not flat or round enough and we would continue searching. Finally Mendel found one he liked. He showed it to me, but since I didn’t know what he was going to do with it, I didn’t say much.

Mendel stood at the edge of the river and threw the rock out into it—threw it different this time, kind of like you throw a discus. The rock jumped lightly across the water several times before sinking, as if it was enchanted to bounce on water. But I never heard Mendel utter a spell.

“Is it magic?” I asked with mild interest.

Mendel smiled. “No,” he said, “just physics. The rock is aerodynamic, like a bird, and if you throw right, it skims over the surface of the air like a wing, and when the flat side hits the water, it bounces. Do you want to see another?”

I nodded, and we began hunting among the rocks again. I snagged my dress a little, and Mendel looked worried, but I said I didn’t care. After a couple more minutes Mendel spoke again.
“I came looking for you this morning,” he said, “we’re never alone together, and I wanted to talk to you.”

“About what?” I asked.

Mendel turned very red.

“Lots of things,” he said, grinning, “skipping stones, for example.”

Mendel can be infuriating. I thought about leaving, but I didn’t. Instead I watched as he found a good rock, and went through the motions of throwing it slowly, so that I could watch the technique. Then he threw the rock and it skipped more times than the first one. He found a rock for me to throw. My rock plunked awkwardly in the river. Mendel laughed and found me another one. Then he guided my hand to throw it correctly. It bounced once and sank into the river, like magic. I think we spent at least an hour finding rocks and throwing them. Mendel asked me about the griffon, and how I could control it. I told him about the rosehips and the bridle. He laughed, but this time I don’t think he was mocking. I finally got a stone to skip three times. Mendel sang The White Lion’s Victory Song and stamped his feet. It was funny, and I laughed at him.

“Mendel,” I asked, “is it about what you were doing the night Glory was stolen?”

“About what?” Mendel’s face went very red and he hit the ground with his fishing pole.

“Is it?” I demanded.

“I was asleep,” he said finally, his voice full of remorse, “I’m so sorry, Arri. You could’ve been killed, and I was asleep.”

I was startled. “You didn’t know someone would come though,” I told him; then my eyes widened, “Or did you?” I asked.

Mendel shrugged.

“When I was five, Arri,” he said quickly, “I used to go looking for frog eggs in the stagnant pools along the river.” He looked up at me questioningly.

“Frog eggs?” I asked with confusion.

“Yes, and… well, one day I came upon a fairy in a trap. It wasn’t an ordinary trap like yours with ropes and pits. It was a magical trap made out of force fields—strong walls of magic—and it was set within a rather large fairy ring. The harder the fairy pushed against the trap, the stronger the walls became. They were feeding off her magic.

“Well, I didn’t have any magic in me—not an ounce. So when the fairy saw me, she asked me to reach through the force field and give me her hand. Since I didn’t have any magic and the force fields worked by absorbing magic, I could reach my hand through without any problem. The fairy took my hand in hers and used me as a channel to call for help from the other fairies. They came in just a few minutes and after a lot of spells, they managed to break through the force field and get the fairy out.

“After that the fairy came to visit me regularly—in the fairy ring, of course—and we became good friends.”

“What was her name?” I asked.

“She didn’t know. Fairies never do know their names.”

I thought about this for a minute, but I couldn’t see a connection between the men’s kidnap attempt and the fairy’s rescue. Mendel started talking again.

“The fairy asked me to never tell anyone about her, and I didn’t,” he said, “But we used to meet sometimes and play magic games, and I would tell her about my life and my family and she would listen. Sometimes the things I told her troubled her—she thought they reminded her of something, but she was never very sure what. She was always trying to remember, and I tried to help her.

“There’s something else you should know about what happened. When someone magical, like a fairy, uses you as a channel for their magic, they can’t help but leave some of their magic behind when they finish. So I became magical—not a strong magic like what you and Liop have—just small magic, and especially magic related to traps and finding things, because that’s what I was doing when she used me as a channel—I was looking for frog eggs and helping her out of a trap.

“That’s why my traps never worked with you,” I said.

“Not the way you thought they would,” said Mendel slowly and he looked away. I wanted to ask him what he meant by that, but he started talking again.

“Then one day about two years ago as we were talking, you came along. I already knew you from school, because you’d been in Odsreq for a couple of years, but of course the fairy had never seen you before. She stopped what she was saying and stared at you with all the color draining from her face, as though she were seeing a ghost. And you couldn’t see us, because we were in the fairy ring.”

“Two years ago,” I whispered.

“ ‘Who is that girl?’ the fairy asked me,” Mendel continued.

“ ‘Arri,’ I said, and then because she looked so interested I added, ‘Arrietta Fae Etautca. She’s the daughter of Sir Quin Etautca who was killed in battle.’

“The fairy looked at me and began to tremble. I’d never seen her look so troubled before, so I asked her what was wrong, but she didn’t know. She just kept repeating your name over and over again. Then she stepped to the edge of the fairy ring and looked as though she wanted to call you over, but she didn’t.

“ ‘Her father is dead?’ she asked me.

“ ‘Both her parents are dead; she lives with her uncle. Are you all right?’ I said.

“ ‘I promised to look after her if her mother died,’ the fairy whispered.

“ ‘Did you know Lady Etautca?’ I asked.

“The fairy began to pace up and down in distress. It was like the day she was caught in the trap.

“ ‘I made a promise,’ she whispered, ‘I made a promise.’ She started to step out of the fairy ring, but then she stopped.

“ ‘I’m a fairy, Mendel,’ she cried wildly, ‘they made me a fairy!’—as though it were something terrible—‘I can’t cross these mushrooms.’

“I wanted to help her, so I asked what I could do…” Mendel stopped. He looked down and I thought about things.

“She bade you watch me,” I said softly, “that’s why I was always running into you. That’s why…” I started to say you wouldn’t leave me alone, but I stopped myself.

“The night the men came and tried to abduct you, I was supposed to be watching the cottage. I’d watched countless nights before at the fairy’s request—she didn’t ask every night, but once in a while when she knew something she couldn’t tell me about. But nothing had ever happened before. I would sit in the forest just beyond the garden.

“That night…I fell asleep. I don’t know how long I slept, but I woke up to strange sounds coming from the forest. I ran to your cottage, but it was in a shambles and you were gone. Arri, I was frightened. I thought they had taken you. I tracked them for more than a mile, but one of the men had magic more powerful than mine, and they lost me. Then I went to the fairy ring and called the fairy. When I told her what happened, she almost lost her mind with fright. I told her I would find you—that I’d go back for my horses and find you. She said she’d come with me—that she’d step out of the fairy ring. They can do that, but it costs them terribly, and they can never go back. I told her not to leave the ring—I told her I could find you myself.”

“Is that when she left the ring?” I asked.

“No, because when I went back for the horses I found you safe with Tulson. I can’t tell you how relieved I was. You could have been killed.” Mendel dropped his head guiltily.

“It’s all right,” I said, putting my hand on his shoulder, “none of us knew there was any danger in my staying alone, and I was all right anyway. Even Glory is all right.”

We were silent for a minute.

“When did the fairy leave the ring?” I asked finally, “She did leave it.”

Mendel looked surprised.

“She left the day you found the griffon,” he said, watching me closely, “it was the day you went somewhere too fast for me to follow,” he paused, “but how do you know about that?”

I opened my mouth to tell him, and then realized I didn’t know, so I shut it again.

“Do you know where she is, Arri?” asked Mendel anxiously, “I think she might be in trouble.”

I think I’m going to end my letter here, Keish. There doesn’t seem to be much more to tell. Mendel hasn’t seen Marigold since she went after me, and I haven’t seen her either. He thinks it’s a bad sign, but he doesn’t know what to do about it. All the way to Onoff he kept scouting ahead, hoping to pick up a trace of Marigold or me. He even hoped to find us together.

Uncle Winthrop is still looking for Father, but we expect him back soon. Mendel and Imato will go looking for him if he doesn’t show up on time. Imato says he has no intention of hanging around for months waiting for a missing person to turn up again, and unless someone can show him a body, he’ll never believe anyone’s dead.

I hope that your journey is still going smoothly. Do you feel close to finding the cave yet? Do you remember when you said that maybe Liop could draw a map to it? I wonder about that sometimes, but I don’t really want to draw Liop any further into this. He’s safer with Gretel.
Imato says use your head before you use your powers, and don’t go charging into anything you’re unsure of. And don’t start using your powers just because he told you not to.

Everyone sends their love, and Tulson reminds you that he’s still one up on the pranks.

May your path be full of light.


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