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Arri-- January 4, 2004

January 4, 2004
Dear Keish,

I know I don’t have a response yet for my last letter, but so much is happening that I need to describe for you, that I’m just going to send Clotho with this letter, and then wait for your response. The last thing I told you in my last letter was that I was summoned to court, so I’ll describe that for you.
The King’s coach was black with red trim. Four sturdy, dark bay Clydesdale horses pulled it through the snow at a steady pace, their breath making puffs of mist in the air in front of them. The messenger hardly spoke and seemed rushed, but he gave us time to pack our overnight bags and arrange with Cook and her husband to care for Father. Nacks, of course, would see to the animals. Liop wasn’t summoned, but we brought him anyway to keep him out of trouble.
“Will the King be on his throne?” Liop asked Imato, who was the only one of us who had ever stood before King Trunsle.
“Yes,” said Imato.
“Will I get to see him?”
“No, you’ll stay in the guest chambers.”
“Can’t I come to your audience too? I’ll be silent,” Liop shifted restlessly on his seat in the coach, “I just want to see what he looks like.”
“You’ve seen him before,” I said, “in the summer parades before we moved to Odsreq.”
“I don’t remember the parades. I was too little,” Liop complained.
That startled me, but when I thought about it, I realized that Liop was only three when Father disappeared.
“They were very grand,” said Imato, leaning back in his seat.
“Tell me,” said Liop. Imato began describing the parades in a low voice intended to make Liop sleepy as we had at least three more hours of traveling. I turned my head and watched the snow covered hills and the bare-branched orchards that make up much of the land between Odsreq and Rousha. At first I listened to Imato, but when Liop’s head dropped sleepily onto my lap, I began to remember another carriage ride with Liop. It seemed a long time ago…
Father and his man-servant took turns driving the coach while Imato and I sat inside with Nurse Linder. Liop, still so tiny he slept most of the time, was curled up in Nurse Linder’s lap, and every time Imato or I tried to say something she shushed us rather loudly. It was a much longer drive from Rethmon Beach to Rousha, and the spring rains made it gooey and cold. You hear a lot of gossip at funerals, hard to ignore kinds of things. Some people said Father was running away from her memory. Some said he must not have really cared for her, to accept another assignment so soon after her death. Some said it was heartless to pull us children away from our home, but that sounded silly—we’d only lived there two years. Everyone had an opinion, and no one seemed to care if I was close enough to overhear it.
I was glad we were leaving Rethmon behind—I only wished we could take Mother’s casket with us. I remember asking Father if Mother would be sad that we weren’t there to tend her flowers anymore. He told me she would be too busy watching over us in our new home to pay attention to the graveyard. I thought that Father understood what he was doing better than anyone else in Rethmon Beach. He wasn’t running away.
I suppose it must be different living in the same place all the time where you have everything to remind you of the people who aren’t there. For me it has to be different, because everything to remind me is absent, so I have to build up my own reminders like planting seeds I took from the gardens at Rethmon under my window at Uncle Winthrop’s cottage, and tying knots in bits of rope to make sure I still remember Father’s lessons.
Rousha is more than a capital city, it’s also the place we always went between places. When we were children, we stayed with Grandma and Grandpa Brio. After they died, we stayed at the castle, or in rented houses nearby. The longest continuous time we lived in Rousha was the house on Brick Lane near the army headquarters on the west edge of the city.
We passed by that house on the way to court, quickly, as though it weren’t even there. I don’t think the carriage driver cares about scenery. I caught a glimpse of the old lace curtains in the windows and a single girl jumping rope on the sidewalk. I used to jump rope there too. The flower boxes in the windows were empty—of course it’s winter. It looked cold.
We passed through the old inner gate that used to be the outer edge of the city when it was small so many hundreds of years ago. The crumbling brick turrets on either side of us leaned toward each other. They haven’t fallen yet. Maybe they never will. I held my breath as we passed between them, even though I know it’s just a childhood superstition.
The “old” part of Rousha looks less old every time I see it, because so many of the original buildings are being torn down and replaced with newer structures. They finished filling in the moat around the castle. It’s all covered in snow now, but I suspect it will make a beautiful green park one day, just like the king commanded.
When we arrived at the castle, we were first ushered into changing rooms where we could take off our heavy travel clothing and change it for formal court attire. I don’t actually own any court dresses, so I wore the yellow dress that Treany gave me for the cotillion last spring. Imato, however, had a courtier’s suit. Fortunately, we didn’t need to come up with anything fancy for Liop. After changing we moved to one of the sitting rooms to wait for our turn to have audience with King Trunsle.
I’ve been in a sitting room before, waiting for Father to have audience. There are two different kinds: one large, simply furnished room for ordinary people, and several small but richly designed room for nobles and other people of importance. Of course, we were sent to one of the small rooms. I think the person who decorated the small sitting rooms wanted to distract everyone from the fact that they’re waiting by making them feel surrounded by busy-ness. First of all they’re painted, floors, walls, and ceiling, with murals. Our room had murals of dragon hunts full of movement and color with so many people crammed into the space that you felt like the dragons had accidentally wandered into a village fair. Everyone was dressed as though they were on their way to a party and just happened to be carrying swords and shields with them. On the ceiling the sky was painted with so many colorful birds that you had to look hard to find the bits of blue sky poking out between them. They were all flying in a big whirlpool shape that made me dizzy. The rug on the floor was jammed with flowers, as were all the pieces of furniture. After the first several minutes I closed my eyes, so I wouldn’t feel so crowded.
I’m not sure how long we waited. Liop was fidgety because there wasn’t anything to do, and Imato and Uncle W. looked worried and didn’t want to talk. When we were finally summoned to the audience, I was torn between relief and nervousness. Liop made me promise to tell him everything when I got back.
Since the courtroom doesn’t have to pretend to be busy, it is decorated as simply as possible. It has a high arched ceiling, red floor rugs, cream curtains hiding the stone walls, and many tall brass torches to illuminate the room. The only ornate objects are the royal thrones set on a dias at the head of the room. When we entered the room, I saw immediately that King and Queen Trunsle were both present, sitting on the thrones. However, it was the table in front of the dias that immediately grabbed my attention. It was a heavy oak table without any trim, but standing behind the seats watching us enter were Sir Aoweir with his white-feathered helmet, a old gentleman I didn’t know, and Brynn. Each end of the table had formal dining chair, and the side nearest me had three other simpler unoccupied chairs. I had little trouble guessing whom they were for.
I had to let go of Imato’s hand so that he could bow and I could curtsy. Uncle Winthrop bowed too. King Trunsle held out his staff so that we could each touch the smooth ceramic ball on top of it. (I’m told the king has a much more elaborate staff for ceremonies.)
“Welcome,” said King Trunsle, and he looked like he meant it.
We curtsied and bowed again.
“I would like to begin with your reports of service,” the king began. Imato, Uncle W., and I all exchanged confused glances.
“First I would like to hear how Lord Brio discovered the whereabouts of Sir Etautca,” said the king helpfully, “Then Lady Arri can explain how she discovered the whereabouts of Lord Brio, and her part in the rescue.”
“Oh!” I said, and then clapped my hand over my mouth because I had spoken out of turn.
I don’t need to tell you our explanations, or the king and queen’s questions, because I’ve already told you all about those things. After our reports, the king and queen stood and moved to the seats at either end of the table.
“Now,” he informed us, “we will discuss and make arrangements.”
Again Uncle W., Imato, and I felt confused, and again the King had to help us.
“First we will discuss and decide on a proper course of treatment for restoring Sir Etautca’s memory.”
“Your Highness,” said Uncle W., “I am already in the process of making those arrangements.”
The King frowned at him, “I have your letter and I understand, but you can’t simply ask for money and not have me take personal interest in how it’s used. I have called Master Ujifil, my personal healer, to advise us on this case. I will hear your plans and we will decide together the best course of action.”
Uncle W. frowned but he took a place at the table.
“Our next order of business will be to assign Squire Etautca his final tasks so that he can complete his knighthood.”
Imato bowed deeply, “Sire, I believe I gave a letter of resignation…” he began, but the King raised his hand. He was frowning.
“I never received your letter; therefore its contents are completely irrelevant. Sir Aoweir tells me he never received your letter either. Consequently, squire, you are still under his command.”
“Sit, Imato,” said Sir Aoweir. Imato sat.
“Finally, we will discuss the education of Lady Arri,” said the King. He was smiling a little now.
“Do I have to take Feminine Politics?” I asked uncertainly. Imato put his head in his hands, but everyone else laughed.
“Everything in order,” said King Trunsle smiling wider, “Lord Brio, please tell me your plans for my captain.”
It took a long time to sort everything out. Uncle Winthrop thought that he ought to have more control over the proceedings, but the king reminded him that they were discussing the future of the captain of his army. Imato thought he ought to help more, but the King told him that as Elcaro’s most promising squire, he had a responsibility to finish his training and not waste the time and energy that the government had already spent training him. I thought that I shouldn’t have to take Feminine Politics—everyone agreed with that.
The last order of business fell to Brynn.
“I’ve found an apprenticeship for Lady Arri,” she announced, directing a broad smile in Uncle W.’s direction. He immediately stood up.
“I am currently the head of the Brio Family,” he said, “I will not sign my name or put forth a single coin towards an occupation that will likely lead to the untimely death of my niece.”
He spoke with such intensity that for a moment no one spoke. Chills shot like lightning through my spine.
“You don’t know that,” said Brynn finally.
“I know more than you do!” Uncle W. responded.
“You assume more,” snapped Brynn. The rest of us looked at each other in confusion.
“It is Arri’s destiny to follow her mother, just as Lakeisha follows Ellean. She will never find happiness without it,” Brynn continued.
“Assuming she lives long enough to see it…”
“It’s not your decision to make. She ought to have been apprenticed years ago. You know that.”
“There hasn’t been money,” Imato tried to remind them, but they weren’t listening. Brynn called Uncle W. a name that I shouldn’t repeat, and Uncle W. shouted something in response, and I think that they forgot there were other people in the room and even the original argument. Finally the king stood up and shouted for silence.
“Lord Brio,” interrupted King Trunsle, “there are only six healers left in all Elcaro, and Lady Arri is the only child with the affinity to be apprenticed of whom I’m aware. I intend to pay for this apprenticeship myself. You can see it will be to my advantage.”
Uncle Winthrop folded his arms and caste glares at everyone in the room, even those of us who hadn’t said anything. Brynn looked at me; she held my eyes with hers a long time.
“Arri,” she said finally, “aren’t you going to say anything?”
No, I thought nervously. But then…
“Why do you think I’m going to die?” I asked, looking mostly at Uncle W. He didn’t say anything.
“Lord Brio,” said Brynn, folding her arms angrily. He shook his head at her.
“For the love of Jezreel,” he said softly, looking at Brynn.
Brynn’s fine eyebrows arched in surprise and for a moment I thought she would say something, but she regained her composure and was silent. For a long time no one said anything.
Then King Trunsle said, “Perhaps this is not the time for this discussion.” His fingers played with a gold clasp at his throat. I looked over at the queen, but she had her head down, writing something, and didn’t look up. She was the only one of us who hadn’t spoken during the meeting.
Brynn and Uncle W. sat down. The king offered all of us a smile.
“We will reconvene tomorrow,” he said, “after we’ve all had a chance to cool our heads and examine the facts.”
“Sire,” said Uncle W., “my sister, Lady Nysa, is expected home soon. I ask permission to postpone until we move to Rousha for Sir Etautca’s treatment.”
“Lady Arri?” the king asked.
“Yes, please,” I gulped nervously.
“Well, then, I expect all of you to have resolved your differences,” he shot dark looks at Uncle W. and Brynn, “and be ready to discuss Lady Arri’s apprenticeship rationally and without name-calling. Court adjourned.” And he and the queen swept out of the room.
As we stood to leave, Master Ujifil caught my eyes. He bowed deeply, so that I could see the smooth, tan circle of skin on top of his head. When he rose again, a smile made deep creases in his face and his dark green eyes sparkled.
“I look forward to seeing you often, Lady Arri,” he said softly, and while the rest of us milled around awkwardly, he walked swiftly out of the courtroom.
Uncle W., Imato, Sir Aoweir, and I left together. Once outside the courtroom, Sir Aoweir turned to Imato.
“You have one more meeting, squire,” he said, “right now in the third sitting room to the right.”
“Who…” began Imato; then he stopped and his face turned bright red.
Sir Aoweir shook his head at him. He started to turn, paused, and held out his helmet. “Here,” he said, “you might need this.” And he turned and walked away swiftly.
Still red, Imato ran his fingers across the white feathers of the helmet.
“I’ll see you later,” he said, and retreated hastily down the hall, looking much more nervous than he had been with the king.
Shortly after we returned to the sitting room, we were served hot soup with bread and cheese for dinner. I didn’t eat much. Uncle W. spent a while talking to me about the dangers of magic, but it wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before. It was still early evening when I told him I was tired and excused myself. We had all been assigned separate sleeping rooms, except for Liop who was supposed to share a room with Imato. But Imato wasn’t back yet, and Liop made a fuss about sleeping in the big, ornate room alone, so I told him he could come share my room. He was restless and pestered me with questions about the meeting and I told him everything about Father and Imato, but I didn’t say anything about the argument over my apprenticeship. We found a jigsaw puzzle in a drawer and dumped it out on the breakfast table to work. I didn’t fit very many pieces, and I yawned so much that Liop finally caught on and let me go to bed.
I’m not sure what time it was when I heard the soft tap of knuckles on my door. It was still dark beyond the curtains of the room, and Liop was curled up on the other side of the bed. I climbed out as quietly as I could and pulled my warm, pale blue robe around me. The tapping got a little louder. I cracked the door open just a little. Imato, still in his formal suit and looking wide awake, peered in at me.
“You awake?” he asked.
“I am now,” I yawned.
“Do you want to go for a walk?”
“I’ll get my slippers,” I got them and a minute later we were walking together down the dark halls of Rousha’s castle. At first we didn’t say anything. Imato had a candle in one hand, and its glow caste yellow haloes and made ghostly shadows all around us, catching bits of paintings and the occasional suit of armor or potted plant sitting beneath dark curtained windows. Imato put one arm around my shoulders, protectively.
“How did your talk with Gretel go?” I ventured finally, and it startled me how loud my whisper sounded.
Imato sighed, “I‘m not sure. She was pretty angry, and I don‘t think I said what she wanted to hear.”
“She’s in love with you,” I said.
“She’s the most wonderful girl in the world,” said Imato, “and I want to marry her, but how can I? She deserves so much more than I can give her.”
“You’re the best squire in all of Elcaro, and you’re about to get your knighthood,” I reminded him.
His head dropped. “Maybe I’m just afraid, but those things seem so far away right now. Who knows what may happen? I should have had my knighthood a long time ago. Do you know there’s only one squire left who’s older than me? And he’s been passed up for knighthood three times. Every time I think I’m almost finished, something comes up to slow me down. Even after I have my knighthood, I can’t promise any stability. What if something happens, Arri?”
I dropped my head, “I don’t know.”
“I love her so much,” Imato said.
I didn’t say anything. We walked for a long time, up staircases and along corridors, past balconies and through large, dark rooms. Once we met a watchman, who recognized Imato and bowed to us. We went downstairs to the kitchens and found two new candles (Imato’s was almost gone). The castle is so big that most of the time I didn’t know where we were, but Imato knew. He was a page there before he was a squire.
“I was really disappointed with you today,” Imato said slowly.
“Why?” I asked, startled.
“The king, Uncle W., and Brynn all stood around the table arguing about your future and you hardly said word. You just let them try to make decisions for you.”
I didn’t say anything.
“You have more backbone than that, Arri. Don’t you want to be a healer?”
“Yes,” I said, “but I don’t want Uncle Winthrop to hate me.”
“I see,” said Imato with surprise, “I hadn’t thought of it that way.”
We walked down another hallway in silence.
“It seems like we have the same problem,” I said softly.
Imato looked down at me.
“We both want to do something, but we’re afraid of the consequences,” I told him. He cocked his head to one side, as he often does when he’s listening.
“But you captured a griffon and rescued two people from the Narls,” he said.
“And the king thinks so highly of you that he called a personal audience when you tried to withdraw,” I responded. Imato smiled.
“Maybe we both need to use more backbone,” he said, “and do what’s right regardless of the consequences. Let‘s make a pact that we‘ll both do the thing we most want to do no matter how afraid we are to do it.”
I took a deep breath, “What are you going to do?” I asked.
“I‘m going to ask Gretel to marry me,” said Imato, “what will you do?”
“Ask Uncle W. to let me study healing.”
“It’s a pact?” asked Imato.
“It’s a pact,” I said, and we shook hands.
We came to a window in time to watch the sunrise, gold and pink on the castle turrets. Then Imato showed me back to my room where I began writing this letter while Liop still sleeps. I think Imato went to talk to Gretel.
I have to finish this letter now. It’s already very long, and I still haven’t eaten breakfast. When we get back to Odsreq, maybe Aunt Nysa will be there. I hope so. I have so many questions I want to ask her. I wonder if she can start helping me with my magic.
I hope that you slept well last night.

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