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Arri- December 3, 2003

December 3, 2003
Dear Keish,
Mendel is not a good match! If you read the whole letter that he wrote me, you would know that. As soon as my adventures are over, I hope that I can go back to avoiding him, or helping the prince set traps for him, or something else. Even Treany agrees with me. Although you wouldn’t like her reasons. The Westridges are a landed family, and since land has to stay all in one piece, only Sean can inherit anything. Mendel will get a gentleman’s allowance every year after he turns eighteen, but that isn’t enough money to marry. He could have gone into the army, but he didn’t—I don’t know why. Treany says he can’t pursue a career, because it would be a disgrace to his family, so he hasn’t any prospects at all, and isn’t a good match for anyone who is already nobility. Treany says Mendel will come to no good, because that’s what usually happens to gentlemen of leisure. I asked her what she thought he would do, but she said it isn’t good for ladies to talk about it. I asked her how she knew about it. She said they teach it in Feminine Politics. I asked Clara if she knew anything about it and she said it was a lot of nonsense—that Mendel had more sense than that. Mendel and good sense don’t normally belong in the same sentence, but since I still don’t know what they’re talking about, I can’t say much.
Prince Tulson is too busy to be anyone’s match. And he has a lot of choices, because he will become a duke one day and be given a manor to live on. Besides, he orders me around too much. I like him as a friend, of course, but that’s all.
We’ve had a visitor recently.
I first her saw from Liop’s bedroom window, which I was washing. She appeared walking along the road that runs by our house. I didn’t recognize her.
She was tall and thin with a spring in her step and a straight, well-proportioned figure. She walked with confidence like the high ladies in Rousha. She stopped at the gate, seemed to look the whole place over, and then admitted herself as though she belonged here. She wore a long, red lady’s dress with a lacy black shawl and wide-brimmed black hat that cast a shadow on her face. I don’t know much about fashion, but I think Treany would have been impressed. I stared so hard I dropped my cleaning rag and didn’t remember it until much later.
She was coming to our house! I didn’t run to the door like I normally do. I ran to my bedroom to take off my apron and splash water on my face. It was late morning and I had already changed house-dresses once (having splashed stable mud on the first one). At least the current dress was clean, and my second best. Then I sat down on the bed and waited, just as she was knocking at the door. I didn’t want to answer it. If I was lucky I wouldn’t have to do more than say “how do you do” and curtsey.
I listened to the sounds of Uncle Winthrop leaving his study and going to open the door…then the sound of the door opening. An odd length of silence. And then…
“What are you doing here?” demanded Uncle W.
“I’ve come to see Arri,” said the woman with cold civility.
“She’s busy.”
“You will not get rid of me until I’ve seen her.”
“She’s a child!” I couldn’t decide whom I wanted to win the argument. I was dying with both curiosity and intimidation at the same time. No one who dressed like that could be easy to talk to.
“This isn’t my fault, Winthrop, and you know it. At least I came to the front door like a decent person…” she seemed to be insinuating that she could have done something else. I shut my bedroom door as quietly as I could and tried to pretend I wasn’t there.
“What do you want with her?” Uncle Winthrop’s strong voice carried through the door, but the woman’s did not. I considered opening the door again.
“I don’t want to hear it! Arri can only come to harm.”
I put my ear to the door and heard a man’s footsteps on the staircase. The knock at my door startled me. I jumped, tripped, and made too much noise to stay hidden.
“Arri?” Uncle W.’s voice was frustrated.
I opened the door.
“Brynn Garrard is here to see you,” and he turned and walked away without another word.
I hurried down the stairs and stood before her, looking up. I couldn’t say anything; she didn’t look at all like I imagined her. Her face was full of fine wrinkles that added more grace to her character than age.
“It’s good to meet you again, Arri,” said Brynn with a smile. She took off her hat and set it on the armchair in the parlor, revealing a flourish of dark silvery hair with just a few streaks of color. “Of course, you won’t remember the last time we met—you were just learning to walk. I’ve thought many times that I’d like to look at you again, and so I have come.”
I didn’t say anything. Brynn cocked her head to one side and looked me up and down.
“Keish says that you’re a chatterbox, but right now you seem more like your quiet father. I can see his nose, and the way you stand is the way he stood in the line at their wedding reception. You’ve got your mother’s eyes, and your height… that must come from the Etautca side somewhere. You’re not as tall as your parents, but very pretty all the same.”
She looked very pleased.
“Did you know my mother well?” I asked, finding my voice.
“No… and yes,” said Brynn thoughtfully, “Shall we take a walk outside? I don’t think your uncle will mind if he can’t hear us. I’ve only met him once, briefly, and I don’t think this dress is as intimidating as I hoped.”
“Uncle W. doesn’t intimidate easily,” I said.
“That’s very wise of him. You’ll want a shawl to keep the chill off.”
We walked out into the garden, looking at the barren trees and dormant ground, which Nacks was clearing for winter.
“You knew Aunt Ellean well,” I said.
“Yes, that I did,” said Brynn. “You can ask as many questions as you like, but I may not answer.”
I considered this.
“How did you come to tutor Aunt Ellean?” I asked.
“She was eighteen and living with the Condies in Adya. Your grandparents sent her there so that she could study astrology under Master Jaxinamy. Of course a female tutor was desirable, and your grandparents were making inquiries. They didn’t hire me, mind, but I heard about the inquiries and followed my own thoughts on the matter. It seemed that even though Lord Bastion Brio’s magic was waning, his second daughter had the gift of divination.”
“Grandfather’s magic waned? Why?”
“I don’t know; there are many ways magic can wane. Lord Brio was not known for practicing his skill. Perhaps it was just neglect. Those were quiet times…”
“Like Flora’s family,” I murmured.
“Anyhow, I arrived at the court of Adya in time to see the beginnings of Ellean and Sir Adlen’s courtship.”
“Why did you go?” I asked.
Brynn just shook her head at me, “Who would pass up the chance to tutor a daughter of the Brio lineage? I was curious—to say the least.”
But why didn’t you talk to Lord and Lady Brio first? I thought to myself.
“What is Marigold’s real name?” I asked instead.
“Ask your uncle,” said Brynn tersely.
We walked in silence for several minutes. I tried to imagine Uncle Adlen as a young man going courting.
“What kind of flowers did he give her?” I murmured to myself; the idea was wonderful.
Brynn heard my whisper and laughed.
“Wildflowers and daisies and anything else he could get his hands on,” she told me, “although I think young Lady Ellean would have preferred swords. He was head over heals in love from the first day he saw her. If it hadn’t been for conventions he might have proposed on the spot, but they managed a proper, if rather eccentric, two years of courtship. I’ve never enjoyed watching anyone court so much in my life. If Adlen wanted to get married, Ellean was too busy learning to tell fortunes, looking for mischief, and generally having fun. Then the roles would suddenly reverse and Ellean would be pushing for elopement while Adlen worried about tradition and their age difference. He was almost seventeen years her senior. The other girls didn’t know what she saw in him—he was thin and lanky, beginning to bald—not at all like the dashing young suitors your aunt liked to spurn. He collected beetles and telescopes.”
“Then why did she marry him?” I asked.
“Well, Ellean loved astronomy. They could talk about it for hours. Adlen had a good heart. He wasn’t interested in taking advantage of Ellean’s magic or family connections, both of which things were motivating her other suitors. He loved her for herself, and he let her have her way in almost everything.”
“Was it a good match?” I asked.
“Not many people thought so; they thought he would spoil her and she would take advantage. But it was a good match, Arri. Ellean made herself a perfect wife for the not-quite-young, star-struck astronomer.”
I sighed.
“I would tell you about your own parents’ courtship too, but I’m afraid I don’t know much. I first met them at their wedding reception a couple of months after I started tutoring Ellean.”
“Father rescued Mother from a dragon,” I volunteered, “She was out gathering herbs by herself when she accidentally disturbed a great green dragon. Father was patrolling and he heard the dragon roaring, so he went to investigate. And he found Mother trying to bury her herbs before the dragon could get to them. Father always laughs when he tells that part—a young lady in fine gown kneeling in the moist dirt and digging in front of a fire-breathing dragon, more concerned about a handful of dead plants than her satin dress. Of course that isn’t the first time they met, but that’s usually where Father starts when he’s story telling.”
Brynn chuckled.
“I’ve heard that one before, and I’ve always wondered what she was doing so far south.”
I looked up at Brynn in surprise. “I don’t know—I never thought about it.”
“She would have had to be very near the southern border of Elcaro to meet up with both a great green and a border patrol; that’s a good journey from Rousha, but it probably doesn’t matter.”
I didn’t know what to say to that.
“Tell me about your father’s illness,” said Brynn.
I told her everything that had happened to Father since Uncle Winthrop first found him. I ended with the words: “Can you heal him?”
Brynn sighed, “I’m not a healer, Arri. My skills are in divination and some of the more practical sides of magic.”
“Healing is practical,” I responded, “couldn’t you get a book and learn?”
“It would be better if you did that,” Brynn responded, “that’s why I’ve come. I want to get you started in your training. I can’t do more than that; I don’t know enough about your kind of gifts, but I can get you started and then point you in the right direction to learn more.”
“You’re going to tutor me?”
“Only for a few days, then I must return to Taty.”
“Is Taty still in Adya with Gretel and Liop?” I asked.
Brynn smiled. “Liop is with me. I have him at the Odsreq inn, guarded by the Mistress’s daughter who is on orders to tie him up if he tries to leave. I wanted to speak to you alone first, but I’ll bring your brother home this afternoon. He’s very anxious to see you— hoping to show off some of what he’s learned.”
Brynn did bring Liop home. He was a little sulky about not getting to come with her in the morning, but we were all so glad to see him that he couldn’t sulk long. Nozama clung to him like a baby to its mother for the rest of the evening. Cook came out and insisted Brynn stay for dinner, but what a cold meal that made. Brynn and Uncle W. didn’t say a single word to each other. Imato and I felt awkward and embarrassed, but really I wasn’t sure who was behaving worse— Brynn or Uncle W.
It’s so good to have Liop home! He showed me the new spells he learned. We put the newts and their crystal bowl in my bedroom and pulled the curtains so we could watch them flash lights around the room as we talked. It felt nice sitting with Liop and Imato and talking until Liop’s head drooped with sleep, and Imato carried him back to their room. I curled up on the pillows on my window seat and watched the moon rising over the trees. I fell asleep and dreamt of the hart, tall and proud in the forest.
This morning Brynn came after breakfast. She was dressed in dark blue wool this time with a white shawl. Uncle W. shut himself up in the office without a word. I had already walked Liop to school (he didn’t like that, but there have to be some consequences for running away). Imato was off with his own business, so Brynn and I went out into the garden. Kestrel came with and curled up on the bench to watch. Brynn had a satchel with her that she set on the bench next to Kestrel. She rummaged through it for a minute, finally retrieving a small sphere, perfectly clear and hollow. She handed it to me.
“A crystal ball?” I asked, wondering.
“Of a variety,” said Brynn vaguely, “it will help me measure the strength of your magic. Hold it out in your hand— whichever one you write with, elbow straight, fingers curled so it won‘t slip.”
The sphere felt cool in my hand as I held it out towards Brynn. She put her right hand on the top of the ball, closed her eyes and began to murmur a kind of chant. Almost immediately the sphere shattered, sending crystal shards in every direction. Brynn and I both let out cries of surprise, hers somewhat louder, and pulled our hands back into ourselves. My hand was perfectly fine, but I could see that Brynn’s was covered, even dripping, with blood. She pulled a handkerchief from the satchel and began wrapping the hand tightly.
“Well that’s never happened before,” she said calmly.
“Are you all right? What happened?” I asked.
“I’m a bit cut up, but I don’t think it’s serious,” she looked over at my unharmed hand thoughtfully.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what I did. What happened?” I repeated.
“It isn’t your fault, I’m sure. Something about the spell wasn’t compatible with your magic,” said Brynn slowly in a tone of uncertainty.
“Was the magic too strong?” It seemed unlikely, but it was the only thing I could think of.
“No,” said Brynn, “I didn’t even finish establishing the connection before it broke, so I don’t think strength had anything to do with it.” She watched a spot of blood slowly seeping through her handkerchief.
“Do you know how to make a poultice?” she asked.
“Yes, and I have all the ingredients, but I can’t get the healing spell to work.”
“Well, we can work on that together, although I’ve never managed that spell either,” Brynn responded.
We went into the kitchen. I mixed up the herbs and water to make the poultice and spread it over Brynn’s palm. She had me recite the healing spell as I worked, but I couldn’t get any magic into it. Brynn said that just the herbs would have to be enough. Then she spent the rest of the morning questioning me about all of the spells I’ve ever tried to perform and what happened when I tried them. She seemed more interested in the spells that failed than the few I succeeded at. I asked her if she tried to use the crystal ball with you, and she said that she had and that the strength she felt behind your magic was the strongest she had ever encountered.
“Did the crystal break for Keish?” I asked.
“No,” said Brynn, “that’s partly why I don’t think what happened to you had anything to do with strength. The connection didn‘t even complete, so the crystal never felt the full force of your magic. What little it did feel, I felt too, and it wasn‘t so strong as Lakeisha‘s.”
I didn’t know what to say. I just sat and stared at my hand, wondering why the crystal shards hadn’t cut it too. Brynn left before lunch but promised to return the next morning after she had thought through what happened that day. It made the day seem long, wondering what was wrong with me that my magic would break a crystal sphere.
December 4th
When Brynn came today she carried the same small satchel and another bag, made of netting and full of oranges. She was dressed in the dark blue wool with a wide white apron.
“Well,” she said matter-of-factly handing me an orange, “shall we begin?”
I looked blankly at the orange. Brynn shook her head at me.
“Hold it out like you did the crystal,” she instructed.
“The orange?” I asked. Brynn sighed.
“Yes, the orange.”
“What are you going to do?” I asked, feeling stupid.
“The same thing I did yesterday, but this should be much safer. No more questions, Arri, just hold it out.”
I held out the orange and closed my eyes so I wouldn’t get juice in my eyes when it splattered. Soon I felt the weight of Brynn’s hand on the top of the orange. Then everything went blank.
“Arri… Arri,” Brynn’s voice broke through my brain. I opened my eyes and found myself lying on the ground, flat on my back with Brynn kneeling over me. She looked worried. I lifted myself onto my elbows and looked around, feeling disoriented.
“Are you all right?” asked Brynn.
“Yes,” I said, looking around, “where‘s the orange?” I shook my head, sitting up.
Brynn laughed, a kind of short bell sound that sobered quickly. She handed me the orange. It was perfectly round and whole.
“I should have know better,” she said finally, “when you rejected the spell the first time I should have left it alone.” She held out her left hand for me to look at. It was the same color as the orange. I looked at my own hand, but it was perfectly normal.
“What happened?” I asked.
Brynn shook her head, all the merriment vanished. She looked grim.
“I don’t know, Arri,” she said finally, “there’s something wrong with your magic. It felt like shredded paper.”
It’s hard to know what to say next, Keish. I guess that’s why I have such a hard time with spells. Maybe I need a healer too.
Prince Tulson left, but not before I got your letter. He said (smiling) to ask you: “What exactly are you implying by saying I should know a lot about mental homes?” The fact is that he doesn’t know much. However, he will make inquiries about healers, and he says that he will inform the King about Father’s illness, and that you’re right, he will want to help.
It’s nice to finally know what your father knows about everything. Maybe he can help us now.
I’m so glad to hear that you are well and that your magic is growing, although it would be better if you could control it. It must have been amazing to tell so many fortunes and know that they were true. Perhaps as your magic grows you will be able to control it better and use it to solve all the mysteries we’ve been finding out about. I wish that Darius had told you more about the book. It seems like we have too many secrets already, but hopefully you’ll get to where you’re going soon and know that you’re there when you get there. I wish you had a griffon to guide you. At least then you’d get there, even if you did have to find your own way back.
I hope Darius finds Marigold if Mendel doesn’t. I’m worried about her.
I will write to Gretel and tell her not to worry about Liop. He’s happier than he’s ever been— no one’s ever let him try out so much magic as you and Gretel did.
I’m at the end of my six sheets of paper again. May good weather continue to be before you.

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