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Keish- December 1, 2003

December 1-2, 2003
Dear Arri,

It's the middle of the night and I can't sleep.

It was Jace's birthday today. I missed Jace's birthday! We've known each other for 6 ½ years and I've always sent something for his birthday-- now the one year we're together I completely miss it.

He didn't say anything. Honestly, with all the traveling I'm not sure he realized the date. I'll get something tomorrow in the village that we're close to, but I feel awful.

I was 12 the first time Jace came with his father (Master Garen Pren). His father would come at least once a year. I guess viewing conditions are better in Adya for some things. I know Father traveled to Rousha sometimes when I was a child.

Jace was 13 and we wreaked havoc around the castle grounds. (Tearing around at top speed either on or off a horse was one of my favorite pastimes.) We also played tricks on the stable hands. I remember how much fun it was to have a "partner in crime." (I didn't know Gretel yet and didn't really have playmates.) A few months later, for his birthday, I sent him a box like the one I left for Tulson a few months ago-- rice explosion! Inside was a wooden horse. He mentioned the other day that it still sits on his desk. I don't know that his mother liked the rice, but he liked the horse.

He sent me a pretty scarf for my birthday. Wrapped up in it was a note saying his mother picked it out as "a gift appropriate for a young lady." His contribution was a capsule of ink that exploded when I pulled out the note-- splattering an interesting pattern on the scarf. I actually packed the scarf for this journey. It's warm and I'm wearing it now.

He wasn't able to come when his father visited that year, but we had a letter prank war. You wouldn’t believe how many things you can put in letters to explode all over the recipient. I don't think Father really approved, but it kept me from terrorizing the stable hands, so he didn't interfere. Jace's father seemed to find it funny. (Again, not really sure what his mother thought.)
I sent him a nice set of quills for his 15th birthday-- but they were all stuck together. He said it took him two weeks to get them apart. He sent me a bottle of ink that was completely sealed. I still haven't gotten it open.

He came with his father a couple of months later and we caused a scandal by having a mud fight in the courtyard… With Prince Tulson. (I told you there was a major prank war, right? Well, after having several days of more or less everything he touched exploding, Tulson had had it and started throwing mud.) Yeah, it didn’t go over too well. We weren't allowed to leave the tower for the rest of the time he was there. We were 14 and 15 and such behavior was deemed completely inappropriate. It was fun though. And Tulson did start it. Not that anyone believed that.

After a couple of days stuck in the tower we decided we should maybe act a little more mature. We called off the prank war (for the most part). We spent a lot of time reading to each other and making up stories and just talking.

At the end of the summer, he and Taty both came. We rode horses and had picnics. We were very well behaved… for the most part… okay, so there was something about a frog…

I sent him a book for his birthday that year and he sent me one too. It was a volume of poetry. Really interesting stuff about life and philosophy, not the sappy dreadful stuff the young men at court read to young women they fancy. I can't stand that awful sap.

That year Jace was 16 and expected to start taking his studies more seriously, so he couldn't come to visit. We wrote letters and I sent a couple of pranks to lighten things up. I sent him a book of silly poems I had written, all making fun of the love poems at court and court life in general. He said it was a great present.

He sent me a miniature dagger in a jeweled sheath. You’ve seen it-- I use it to open letters. He said he'd have sent a real dagger if he thought he could get away with it, but he thought someone would ask questions.

I didn't get to see him that year either. I was lonely and we wrote lots and lots of letters about our studies and court like and all the things we wished we could change. I remember telling him about all the things I wanted to do-- acting with a theater company, writing plays, archery, stuff like that. He told me about wanting to live in the country. I got him thinking about acting and he thought that would be fun , too. You should see him when we go into these villages to tell fortunes-- he's a natural, almost as dramatic as I am. He introduces me and lines up potential customers, gets people excited. It's been fun, really.

Anyway, I sent him an amazing carving of a dragon-- it was his 18th birthday and the intricate dragon was perfect. (December is the month of the Dragon, after all.) We hadn't seen each other in almost 2 ½ years, but he was pretty much my best friend. Outside of family members he was definitely my best friend.

He surprised me by showing up for my 17th birthday. He brought me the dagger that he had talked about the year before. It is a beautiful, elegant piece. I've kept it put away, even my father would object to a young woman owning such a weapon. I have it with me-- put away and enchanted to look like a simpler knife. It's comforting, but it's almost more comforting because it's from Jace. I know he would protect me if anything were to happen. I probably wouldn't end up needing the dagger.

Jace was able to take a break from his studies for a few months and visited several times that year. We spent hours riding in the forest north of Adya. Jace went with Gretel and I into the city. We all dressed as peasants for the market days.

Once we took a picnic to the sea. It was a wonderful day. We waded in the surf and collected sea shells. I love walking barefoot through the waves. It was one of those perfect days-- the kind you want to never end. We ended up watching the sun sink into the sea and got back to the castle really late. We tried to sneak back in, but of course our fathers were up and noticed. We were taken into separate rooms and lectured by our respective fathers.

I think it's about the only time Father's ever really lectured me-- usually we debate. That night he went on and on about the dangers of making such a journey through the woods and such at night. "Why if you had run into robbers or bandits…" he started.

"Jace would have protected me," I interjected. "He's a very good swordsman."

"But he's only one man," Father started again.

"Then I should learn archery," I suggested. "That way I could help."

He looked at me like I'd lost my mind. (I was probably being a bit silly, I was getting quite tired.)
"That is not appropriate," he huffed. "And another thing-- how could you go off like that without a chaperone?"

Now I looked at him as though he'd lost his mind. "Why would we have a chaperone?" This caught me totally off guard-- I was honestly baffled.

"It is not appropriate for a young man and a young lady to go off for the whole day-- let alone half the night-- without a chaperone!"

I had never seen him so worked up about something like this. "But it was Jace," I responded. In my mind it explained everything. Jace and I were friends-- we had been off riding alone before, why would we take a chaperone now?

I think Father realized I was completely confused. He almost seemed disappointed, but I wasn't sure why. He sent me to bed.

The next day Jace said he got a similar lecture-- very heavy on the subject of not having a chaperone. When I expressed my confusion to him he seemed almost disappointed too and didn't
pursue it.

"I have to leave first thing tomorrow," he said. "My father's decided I've taken enough of a break."

I immediately forgot about everything else-- even trying to figure out what I had said that had disappointed him. "Tomorrow? Can't you stay just a few more days?"

He shook his head sadly. "I had to argue just to stay today. I never argue with my father-- you're a bad influence," he said, lightly hitting my arm.

I knew he was trying to cheer me up, but we were both pretty sober all morning.

In the afternoon, we decided to make the most of his last evening and snuck out into Adya. We watched a theater company perform in the square and later we acted out our favorite parts in the tower library. I think we stayed up most of the night.

He left early the next morning in spite of the late night. It was the very end of summer and the morning was beautiful. I couldn't enjoy it, though. I spent the rest of the day shut up in my room. Jace's father was still with us-- he felt bad and came to talk to me. He said he was sorry for sending Jace away but that Jace really did need to get back to his studies and his mathematics tutor was available again. He said it would be hard for Jace to break away for a while, but that as soon as he could he would certainly be allowed to come back to visit.

A few months later, I managed to find a mask from the play we'd seen and sent it to him for his birthday. He sent me a book of plays that included the one we'd seen. I still don't know how he managed to get it-- they're very rare.

Jace didn't get to visit again until the end of this last summer. I wrote to you about it, remember? We spent a lot of time just talking and riding. I think Taty might have gotten bored with us.

And now here we are. Off on our own, except this time it's not a picnic on the beach. I wonder what our fathers think now. It's not like we could have brought a chaperone, though. Taty sent to their parents so that they wouldn’t worry. Jace says that being from Rousha they're used to hearing stories of Brio adventures and so his parents won't be too concerned. I hope they aren't. Jace has sent a couple of letters to Taty and one to his parents-- with enchantments to keep them from being suspicious-- so they know he's safe.

I guess I should stop rambling and sleep. I can't figure out what to do for Jace's birthday. My options will certainly be limited, even if it is a large village. I'll try to find something and then do something to make up for it when we get back to Adya.

Speaking of birthdays, isn't Imato's soon? Father's is next month-- I hope I can be there for it; I'm getting tired of this adventure. After all this, I'm not sure I ever want to live in the castle again, but I do miss my father. (And my nice soft bed…. And other conveniences…. I guess if I don't want to live there again I'll have to get used to going without some things)

I'd best sleep-- we probably won't really travel tomorrow since we need to replenish our supplies, but I still need rest. Besides, I've been using magic for light and heat this whole time-- I should probably stop. I had things so under control for the first part of our journey but now I can't seem to not use magic-- again. We just have to hope that the Narls don't notice. I don't know if they can detect it or not.

Do you ever look back over a letter and realize things you've not noticed before? I noticed a couple of things looking back over this. One thing I find interesting is that I'd never told you most of this before. I've mentioned Jace to you, but never said a lot. Even when I wrote to you in September I think all I said was that Jace and Taty had visited and I couldn't remember if you'd known Taty in Rousha. I think maybe I also ranted about not wanting our parents to arrange a marriage between us. I don't want a marriage arranged for me at all-- I want to be allowed to fall in love and make my own match. I think somehow that kind of arrangement takes away from the relationship, even if you like each other a lot.

I also realized that with all my grand ideas and all the things I talk about wanting to do, the trip to Odsreq for your birthday is probably the furthest from home I'd ever traveled until now. I never even visited Jace in Rousha. Somehow that makes me sad. When all this is over, I really should go to Rousha and let Jace show me around and everything. (Could be a good opportunity for some more pranks on Tulson too.)

Now I really need to sleep. I'm going to need to be on top of things to find something for Jace tomorrow.

Thanks for "listening"
Love always,

Oh, I forgot! Brynn said the other night that the castle gossip says that the prince is getting married! You remember the one that wanted me to sit for portraits? With Gretel's help I had finally gotten one of the other girls in his path (Vanessa) and apparently they're betrothed!

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