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Arri- December 16, 2003

December 16, 2003
Dear Keish,
About what happened three mornings ago, I still don’t think I understand. Liop and I were cleaning up from breakfast, and Uncle W. had just gone back to his study. (I think he was in there all night.) I climbed up on the stepstool to put the bowls on the top shelf, and then everything went black. I tried to move, but I couldn’t. It only lasted a second and then I was in a dark room filled with people, but it must really have been the cave. I could see you reading out of the Chronicle (but I didn’t know it was the Chronicle), and Liop was standing a little ways away, and everyone else was sort of crowded around us looking misty and ghost-like, too vague for me to tell them apart. And the air was full of chanting, with threads and ribbons of magic falling all around us, so that we couldn’t take a breath without drawing some of it in. I didn’t feel bound anymore, but I don’t know if I could really move or not— I didn’t think about moving after the darkness went away. I saw the flashes of light, and Imato, Uncle Winthrop, Nysa, our mothers, and Grandfather appearing. They were solid, we were solid, and the ghosts made room for us. Couldn’t you see the ghosts? Liop couldn’t see them either. When the window appeared, I had to look away. I felt like my insides were being torn to shreds, like I was being stabbed over and over again with every word coming out of the man’s mouth. The man’s chanting drowned out every other sound in the room. I put my hands over my ears, but I don’t think I was hearing it with my ears. I closed my eyes too, but nothing could pull me away from Sir Gessair’s chanting. There was more magic coming out of me than going in.
Then I felt Mother’s hand on my shoulder, and suddenly I could hear her voice, giving me the words of your chant. I knew the words, but I can’t remember them now. I started chanting with everyone else. I heard Liop and finally Uncle W. join us, and soon I couldn’t hear Sir Gessair’s voice anymore. I breathed deeply, breathing magic like air. The pain subsided. I didn’t see anything that happened in the window. Mother put her arms around me.
There was so much I could have told Mother. I’m nearly bursting inside with it, but I was back in the kitchen with Liop before I could say anything at all. I’m glad you got to say some things to your mother.
I woke up lying on my back with Uncle W. and Liop standing over me. I closed my eyes again, because I wanted to be back in the cave. Uncle W. picked me up and carried me to my bed, and I have been here ever since.
Imato is here. He left as soon as he could after he found himself back in the inn. The other inn guests noticed his disappearance and return, but he didn’t explain anything to them. He just settled his debt, saddled Spriggs, and left for Odsreq. He figured that was the best way to find out exactly what happened.
I’m starting to feel better. Kestrel is curled up next to me and purring. I ate some of Cook’s broth. I haven’t tried to do any magic— the idea frightens me and makes me feel very tired. I wonder what would happen if Brynn tried her spell on me now. I’m sure I have more magic than I did before I went to the cave. I asked Imato and Liop, but they don’t feel any different. I haven’t talked to Uncle W. yet, but I’m going to as soon as I feel strong enough to stand up.
It’s such a relief to know that Gessair has been stopped. I was going to write a letter to Brynn, but you’ve probably already told her about it. Maybe she can come for Christmas too, or maybe she is spending the holiday with her family. Does Brynn have any family? I never thought to ask her, but she must have someone…
December 18th
It’s been two more days. Liop is at school and Imato is off somewhere. This morning after they left, I got out of bed for the first time. I said I was going to talk to Uncle W. and I meant it. Halfway down the staircase I got dizzy and had to stop and sit down. I thought about what I would say to him. I thought about all the ways I could argue about why he should tell me things, but I didn’t really want to argue.
Eventually I stood up and finished going downstairs. I went to the library/office and knocked on the door. No one answered. I shook my head nervously and let myself in. Uncle W. was sitting at his desk his head down, reading some papers. He didn’t look up.
“I’m very busy,” he clipped.
I didn’t say anything, and he looked up.
“Arri!” he exclaimed, “you should be in bed! Do you need anything? A glass of water or something to eat?”
I hesitated. “A book,” I managed.
Uncle W. frowned. “You should have rang the bell and let me come to you.”
“I wanted to come look at the shelves,” I stammered. I walked over to the book cases and stared blankly at them. A couple minutes passed.
“On commerce?” asked Uncle W. dubiously noticing what shelves were before me.
I jumped slightly and moved to the agriculture section. “Flowers,” I mumbled vaguely. I pulled down the first book I saw and took it over to the green chair to sit down. I felt dizzy again. It was a big horticulture book with pictures that I flipped through absently. Uncle W. returned to his reading. After a few minutes I leaned my head back and closed my eyes.
“Arri.” I woke up to see Uncle W. standing over me, his eyes gentle. “Arri, did you really come down here, still sick from the cave, to study the differences between the sixteen recognized varieties of wheat grass?”
“Wheat grass?” I focused on the book and read the words: “Tarleton’s light wheat grass is found only in the valleys of southern Tameral near the equator.” I leaned my head back against the chair.
“What do you want to talk about?” Uncle W. asked.
“Why did you run away from home when you were a youth?” I asked.
“Arri, that’s not your business.”
“Yes, but people tried to kill me, and take my magic, and yours, and Father lost his memory, and you won’t let me learn about healing… and I don’t know why.”
“That has nothing to do with it.”
I dropped my head. Uncle Winthrop sighed. He pulled the big leather chair next to mine and sat in it.
“I wasn’t the only one who ran away,” he told me, “there was a group of us— Ladian Norson, Joe Carde, Youssel Hounding…”
“Lord Hounding?” I asked, looking up.
“No, Youssel— he was the second of old Lord Sean Hounding’s four sons. He was Lady Westridge’s brother. You might say he was our leader, if we had a leader. Ladian’s father, Mr. Telman Norson, was a member of the ‘Landbreakers’, a group of men who believed that the large estates should be broken up and given to their tenants. Youssel was very bitter about the fact that his older brother would inherit the entire family estate, so Mr. Norson’s ideas about land reform appealed to him. Mr. Norson was one of the Hounding’s tenant farmers and we boys all grew up together.
“When I was fifteen, Mr. Norson and Ladian followed the Landbreakers on a barn burning spree. In one night they torched eleven barns— nine were a complete loss. Of course when he was caught, Mr. Norson went to prison and the Houndings evicted the entire family. With no place to go, they ended up living on the streets in Rousha. The youngest child died of an illness a few months later.
“After that Ladian and Youssel were more firmly Landbreakers than ever, but most of the men were in prison. We all went to the meetings…held in secret, full of strong words and new ideas, things they didn’t teach us in school. We had a lot of fun, especially knowing how much trouble we would be in if our parents found out. Father had forbidden me from having any contact with Ladian, and we argued almost constantly when I was home.
“But there was more to it than just that, Arri,” Uncle W. continued adamantly, “Ladian and Youssel had real reasons for joining the Landbreakers. Ladian’s family had worked on the Hounding estate for generations, and yet they had no more status or resources than any simple farmer. Why shouldn’t they have music lessons for their daughters, fine horses for their sons, and a chance to improve their situation? Youssel saw himself drawing ever nearer to a meaningless future, in which he could never marry or work, but would live along with his younger brothers at the mercy of an arrogant older brother they hardly got along with. Why shouldn’t they have the same opportunities as he did?”
Uncle Winthrop paced the floor, looking angry. I thought of Mendel and wondered if he is ever bothered by his lot in life. He doesn’t seem to be.
“Then there was the land out in the north. The king announced that anyone who could successfully farm it, could own it. That announcement gave the Landbreakers new ideas. They began making plans to move north, to create their own settlement. Some of the more radical thinkers even hinted at a new kingdom. I listened for weeks as they made their plans. I wanted to go with them.
“I remember the day I told my parents. You can imagine how angry they were, how they tried to talk me out of it. I had my head full of anti-class talk and I told them everything I’d been thinking for years. When I left that night, I said I would never come back. I was almost seventeen.”
“Where did you go?” I asked.
“I followed the Landbreakers north. We established the town of Onoff. Of course the idea of farming in the Torca Mountains is ridiculous— we learned that the hard way. The very idea was concocted by the king to try and get rid of us. You don’t need to hear about what a bad time we had of it. I was one of the ones who gave up, but Youssel and Ladian are still there. They both married eventually, but they’re no better of then they would have been if they stayed in Rousha. Youssel changed his name to Franz Journey.”
“Oh!” I said.
“Yes,” said Uncle W.
I leaned back and tried to make my dizzy head think clearly.
“What about magic?” I asked finally, “Aunt Ellean said that you felt so sad about Aunt Nysa that you didn’t do magic again.”
“Really?” asked Uncle W., “When did she say that?”
“It’s in the story she told Keish, about how Aunt Nysa was kidnapped by the fairies, but my mother’s book doesn’t say that. It doesn’t even mention you. Is that why you quit doing magic?”
Uncle W. looked angry and muttered something under his breath. “I have told you many times what my reasons are for disliking magic,” he said finally, “I have seen it used for evil many times, and I have seen the arrogance of those who have it, flaunting it in the face of those who don’t. It is dangerous, as you well know.”
“Yes, but…”
“No more, child. Your head is so heavy you can hardly hold it upright. Let me help you back to bed.”
That was the end of our conversation. I’m back in bed now and writing this letter to you. I can’t wait until you arrive here.
December 19th
Another day has passed. This morning I felt strong enough to eat downstairs with the family, though Imato and Uncle W. fussed a great deal and thought perhaps I should wait. After breakfast I went into the parlor to sit, because I was tired of being in my room. It had snowed the night before and the sun was not yet high enough to melt it, so the whole front yard sparkled and the air beyond the immediate reach of the fireplace felt cold.
It was from this vantage point that I watched Lady Westridge approach the house. She had an errand boy in tow— struggling with his short, young legs to take two steps for each of the Lady’s long strides. Her slim figure was completely hidden in layers of heavy clothing, and the clothing itself was shrouded in a full gray cloak. I couldn’t wonder very much why she was coming; it made me dizzy.
The boy finally managed to get properly in front of her just before they reached the door. I heard the knock, but I didn’t move. Imato answered it.
“Lady Westridge,” announced the boy dutifully.
“My Lady,” Imato was completely polite.
“How do you do?” came the response, “I have come to call upon Lady Arri.”
Imato glanced over at me, but I was equally surprised.
“You’re very kind to call on my sister,” said Imato, “but she is not well and is unable to entertain.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, but I’m afraid the matter is urgent. I will be as brief as possible and attend your sister in her room if she prefers.” She had not seen me sitting on the sofa.
Imato looked questioningly in my direction.
“It’s all right, Lady Westridge,” I said, “I can see you.”
Imato made a short bow, helped her out of her cloak and outer clothing, and then escorted her into the parlor, which really only means a few steps, since the cottage parlor isn’t a separate room. Lady Westridge took my hand politely, inquired after my health, and thanked me for my time. Then she seated herself in the rocking chair opposite me. The errand boy took up a position near the front door. Imato sent him back to the kitchen for some cookies and took up the post instead.
It took several minutes for Lady Westridge to come to the point of her visit.
“I’d like to ask you to write a letter to my sons and tell them to come home,” she said, “They are far behind in their studies and winter is deepening. I would write a letter myself, but they won’t listen, and I don’t know where to send it anyway.”
I dropped my head. “I don’t know where they are either,” I said.
“Surely, you can contact them,” she said firmly, “after all, you sent them.”
I looked back up. Lady Westridge was frowning at me.
“Perhaps it would help if you told me what they’re doing for you,” she said finally.
She didn’t know. She thought I had sent them on some kind of errand, and that I could call them back anytime I wanted. She thought it was all my fault. I didn’t know what to say, what I was allowed to say without breaking Mendel’s trust.
Lady Westridge waited for my answer.
“I don’t know where they are,” I repeated, “We were headed home, but they turned away. It wasn’t my idea.”
“Then you’re not involved?” she raised one eyebrow doubtfully.
I shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t know,” I said, “I guess I am, but Mendel does what he wants. He doesn’t listen to me.”
“Have you heard from him?” asked Lady Westridge.
“Yes, but it wasn’t very helpful. I mean, you can’t tell where he is from it exactly. It’s like a lot of nonsense.” I felt my face get hot.
“There’s no consideration in that boy,” Lady Westridge said finally, “what I don’t understand is Sean joining him. Sean has always been so reasonable. Isn’t there anything you can tell me that will help me?”
She looked so sad and frustrated that I wanted to say something to make her feel better.
“What they’re doing is good,” I said, “but it’s supposed to be secret.”
“You made them promise?” she frowned again.
“No, it’s not for me they’re doing it. It’s for someone else, and that’s who they promised. I just found out about it— kind of by accident— or maybe not by accident, but it wasn’t my idea; I wasn‘t trying to find out. It just happened is all, and they’re trying to help someone— not me, well sort of me, but not directly. I mean that’s not the main goal of it. I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say.” It would have been a lot easier to just tell her what happened.
“It’s getting colder every day,” said the lady. She looked out the window through the ice crystals on the west-facing panes. “Will you promise me to tell them to come home, if you get a chance?” Lady Westridge has large, bright blue eyes, and right then they looked like they wanted to cry.
“Yes,” I said.
“Thank you,” she murmured, “I’ll leave you now. I do hope you feel better soon.” She gathered her outer clothes and the errand boy as swiftly as she had discarded them. Imato, who had remained silent and nearby at the front door, saw her out.
After she had left he turned to me with a quizzical look. “This isn’t something you can tell me about, is it?” he asked.
I shook my head sadly. Imato sighed.
“Well at least I’m not the only one in the dark about things,” and he left the room. I think he was angry.
I’m finishing this letter now, and I’m going to send it. I’m feeling better everyday, and I’m so excited that you are coming for Christmas! I am sending a letter to Uncle Adlen to invite him to join us. Imato has contacted Jace’s father and made sure you have horses in Dovery. I’m so glad you’re coming. Liop, Imato, and Uncle Winthrop all send you “good journey”s, and we will watch for you to come.
May you travel swiftly. You’re probably so close by now. Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow.

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