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Arri-- January 11, 2004

January 11, 2004
Dear Keish,

Your dress is beautiful! You’re going to look so elegant at the Winter Ball. I showed the sketches to Treany and she said that you have flawless taste (which I already knew, but I thought you’d appreciate the compliment since Treany is also known for having good taste in clothing). I won’t ask about my dress, but I’m very grateful, and it’s wonderful to know that I don’t have to worry about it. I’m really not very good at fashion.

We hired Nurse Linder right before the trip to visit you, because Mother was feeling poorly and wanted extra help. She didn’t come from a healing background, and I think the traditional doctor who trained her was against healers (a lot of them are, since they’re kind of in competition for patients). I don’t remember why Father and Mother chose her. Miss Perlita was around sort of she was being courted by someone (I don’t remember the name and they eventually broke up).

I should tell you the plans for moving. Uncle Winthrop found an apartment, so we’ve begun packing. The apartment is smaller than the cottage, so we’ve been sorting things out that will be stored in the Westridges’ basement from things that we really need. Most of Uncle W.’s books will go into storage, and a lot of the furniture. He rented a shop in Rousha for his alchemy supplies. It’s probably best that Liop doesn’t have such easy access to them anyway. Yesterday he was caught mixing a bright blue substance that caught fire when Uncle Winthrop asked a little too loudly what it was. Liop says he was going to rub it on the windows so people could only see out and not in. Uncle W. says it was entirely the wrong color for that kind of potion, and he’s glad Liop was caught before he actually tried to use it.

I know you’re going to miss Jace a lot, but it is very comforting to me knowing that I have friends in Rousha: Brynn, Jace, and Taty. I don’t really know anyone else there, or at least it seems that way because I didn’t keep in touch with anyone I knew after I moved away nearly four years ago. The girls I shared classes with must be highly educated, refined young ladies. They will have graduated from school and be seeking marriage. I never graduated, and although I learned a lot in Odsreq, I don’t think it will serve me in the high society of Rousha. I wish you lived in Rousha; you know virtually everything about high society.

I still don’t know who my trainer will be. Everything is so busy, and Uncle Winthrop is pretty stressed out. Imato advised me to let the matter rest until we get to Rousha, and I think he’s right. Thank you, and tell Uncle Adlen thank you, for offering to pay for my apprenticeship. I think it will be okay now, but I’ll let you know. Thank you.

Brynn came on the eighth in the morning. “It’s too snowy to work outside today,” she said briskly, “is there a room we could use where we won’t be disturbed?”

“The basement,” I said.

Aunt Nysa looked up from the cross-stitch sampler I had been teaching her to sew on. Her long golden hair hid most of her face, but she was watching us.

“You’re welcome to join us,” Brynn told her.

Aunt Nysa turned her eyes on me. She set down the needlework and took my hand.

With Uncle Winthrop back, the basement is much better organized and cleaner than it was before. Brynn, Aunt Nysa, and I moved the table and instruments to clear a space in the center of the floor. Brynn pulled off her long white gloves, revealing her bright orange hand. At least the cuts from the crystal were almost completely healed. Then Brynn removed a cold pale object from her satchel and placed it in my hand. It was a peeled potato, carved round. Brynn smiled grimly: “At least this is closer to my natural skin color than the orange,” she said.

Aunt Nysa stood by, watching us with intense interest. I closed my eyes and felt the weight of Brynn’s hand on top of the potato. Suddenly I felt like I had been doused in cold water. I jerked my hand instinctively and the connection broke. Aunt Nysa laughed as the potato hit the ground with a soft thump.

“I’m sorry,” I said, feeling the color rise in my face.

“Not to worry,” said Brynn, “Keish almost hit me in the head with the crystal when I used the spell on her said she felt like a spider was crawling on her.”

“Is that what I should have felt?” I asked nervously.

“Different people feel different things,” said Brynn nonchalantly, “Don’t worry; I got the information I needed.” She stretched out her hand and studied it. It was still bright orange, but no worse than that. She sighed.

“Well, Arri,” she said finally, “your magic is as strong as Keish’s and much stronger than mine. Actually, it’s surprising the fairies never took one of you.” She glanced at Aunt Nysa as she said it.

“The fairies have a more accurate method of measuring magic,” said Aunt Nysa softly.

“Yes and very invasive. I’ll stick to this one since I really don’t need that many details.”

Aunt Nysa looked abashed.

“Sit down,” said Brynn, and since there weren’t enough chairs we all sat cross-legged on the floor. “Now Nysa,” said Brynn gently, “what would you know of me?”

Aunt Nysa blushed, soft rose giving color to her pale cheeks. She looked down and let most of her face be hidden in her hair. A couple of minutes of silence surrounded us.

“I would know who you are, and how you came here,” said Aunt Nysa, “and why you are connected to this family.”

Brynn whistled. “That’s a list,” she said, “but it’s a wise one.” Aunt Nysa raised her head briefly.

“Very well,” said Brynn sofly, “but understand that I’m not in the habit of telling more about myself than I need to. My name is Brynn Garrard and I am of the Tooron magic line. There is also a little Maurisald in me, but the Tooron is much stronger. Actually neither the Maurisald nor the Tooron can compare to the Brio line in strength. The fairies were slow in deciding to take me in fact they waited so long that they almost lost their window of opportunity. I was fully seven years old when I was taken.”

“Why?” asked Aunt Nysa, and I asked, “What’s a window of opportunity?” at the same time.

“The fairies’ time allotment in which they can take a child without permission is between two and eight years of age. Before the age of two, they must ask the parents, and after eight, they must ask the child. The fairies waited so long, because they were hoping a more magical child would be born into my family. None was.”
Brynn gave us a minute to think about this.

“How old are you?” I asked.

“Old,” said Brynn simply, “I was fully grown when Nysa came to the fairies.”

Aunt Nysa raised her head and looked at Brynn.

“It had been a long time since a powerful child had entered the world of fairies,” Brynn continued, “when Lord Bastion Brio married the Lady Katja Whiteleaf. They were 4th cousins, both magical, and both from the line of Brio. You can imagine” (she looked mainly at Aunt Nysa) “the kind of excitement a marriage like this caused. The first child, Winthrop with only a little more than the average amount of magic, was a disappointment. Jezreel was much more promising. Most fairies were certain Ellean would be taken, but still the listening fairies waited. Then you were born.”

Aunt Nysa shifted in her seat and her large blue eyes narrowed.

“You were exactly what they wanted. They needed only wait for the perfect moment. You were three years old when it finally came.”

Brynn frowned. She stopped looking at either of us.

“I didn’t pay much attention at first. I didn’t really care about new baby fairies, but then Jezreel and Ellean came. Other families had looked for their lost children. Other families had even found them. But eventually they would quit coming, especially once the child lost its memory. Even children who never lost their memory soon stopped getting visits. They were too difficult. Jezreel and Ellean were different. Years later they were still coming, still pouring every ounce of magic they possessed into finding a sister who couldn’t always remember them from one visit to the next. They never gave up.”

“I thought you said you didn’t know my mother,” I said.

“I never spoke to her while I was in the fairy ring. I was only aware of what was happening; I wasn’t involved. I didn’t become involved until I left the ring and a couple years later went to tutor Ellean.”
Brynn became silent. I looked at Aunt Nysa and saw tears in her eyes. It occurred to me that Brynn must have had family. Did they find her? Did they stop coming to see her? They were questions I knew I couldn’t ask.

There really isn’t much to tell after that, although Brynn didn’t really answer the question of why she is connected to this family.

In the afternoon Prince Tulson showed up and asked if I would go walking with him, but Imato pointed out that it was snowing, so the prince looked uncomfortable and finally said he had something to speak to me about in private. Imato raised his eyebrows at me and gave me a chance to say no. I knew what he was thinking, so I shook my head and turned a little red.

“Okay,” I said to Prince Tulson and we went into the basement. I seem to be spending a lot of time there.
Once downstairs, Prince Tulson began to look awkward. Usually, when I see the Prince he immediately has something to say and says it, so I wasn’t sure what to think when he started by asking me how I was and then how Father was. Actually, I kept thinking about what Imato said about the prince courting me, and even though I knew it was silly, he was acting so funny that I started to get nervous.

“How long are you going to be in Odsreq?” I asked finally.

“Not long. Mother is visiting Uncle Perris. Actually, I wanted to ask you a favor, since she’s here too.”

I was confused and worried all at once. Prince Tulson was watching me very closely.

“You see, Clara and I have been doing a lot of talking, not just when you’re around. She’s really a great lady, don’t you think? I like spending time with her.”

Relief washed over me. I smiled.

“I like Clara a lot,” I said, “she really does deserved to be called a lady.”

“Or a duchess,” said Prince Tulson, “You see, I made her an offer this morning and she accepted.”

“Really?” I almost shouted I was so happy, “I’m so glad! Congratulations!”

Prince Tulson looked so relieved that I felt a little startled.

“I’m glad you like her,” he said with more confidence, “I was a little worried… well, the problem is more with Mother and Father. They’ve been letting me spend more time here, and I’ve told them a lot about you and Clara, but they didn’t expect me to fall in love with Clara. She’s… well, she’s a servant. And you and I know she shouldn’t be one, but that isn’t going to be so obvious to the king and queen.”

I nodded, wondering what the favor was and starting to get nervous again.

“So I was thinking that you could talk to Mother for me,” the prince continued, “You can have lunch with her tomorrow and talk about Lady Clara. Explain all of her qualities. She’s so graceful and well-mannered…”

“When they meet her, they’ll be able to see that,” I protested.

“I want them to look for it, to expect it. I started to, but Mother interrupted to explain how interested she is in meeting you. She feels badly that she didn’t have an opportunity to speak to you when you were last in Rousha. When you have lunch with her tomorrow, talk about Clara.”

I kept trying to protest, but the Prince Tulson kept insisting. He never listens when I try to get out of things, so in the end, I had to go upstairs and think about what dress to wear. Keish, I really don’t think it’s fair.

I arrived at the Westridge manor right on schedule, walking carefully through the snow with the hem of my yellow dress held up to keep it from getting wet. The day was clear, cold, and beautiful. I climbed the steps to the manor entrance and rang the bell. In a minute a servant answered, but not one I recognized. He, however, recognized me in a moment and admitted me. I handed him my coat and scarf.

“Lunch is about to be served, my lady,” said the servant, “Let me escort you.” He led me through the main hall and into the parlor. Prince Tulson was sitting at a small table with the Queen talking. When he saw me, he jumped up and came to offer me his arm. I curtsied. Queen Elspeth nodded her head and came forward to offer me her hand. She was gorgeously dressed in navy blue with white and gold trim. When she took my hand, I realized with a start that I was still wearing one of my gloves. I gasped a little and removed it hurriedly, trying to stuff it in a pocket, but I didn’t have any pockets, so it dropped on the floor. The Queen laughed a little.

“I’m very pleased to see you again, Lady Arri,” she said. I was glad she didn’t say my full name. Prince Tulson escorted me to the table. He gave us very formal introductions, then stepped toward the door.

“Will you excuse me, Mother?” he asked. She nodded and he hurried out of the room, catching my eye and giving me a slight nod as he went.

I didn’t expect him to leave us alone so soon. I wasn’t ready for it. My mind went blank and I stared stupidly at the Queen, wondering what to say.

“Tulson speaks very highly of you, Lady Arri,” said Queen Elspeth, smiling kindly, “He says you are one of the smartest girls he knows.”

I blushed. It was a moment when I should have said something about Lady Clara, but my mind was still too jumbled up. I never thought the Queen would compliment me.

“I hear you and Tulson have been spending a lot of time together,” she added. I jumped slightly, because I could tell from her tone of voice that she was implying something more than that.

“Not just us,” I stammered, “Lady Clara Songson too.”

“Yes, Tulson has told me about her. She’s a servant here, isn’t she?”

“Yes,” I said, “And I like her a lot.” I tried to think of something else to say about Lady Clara, but it didn’t seem appropriate to say she was great at climbing trees or fixing picnic baskets, or any of the other things Clara did. All those things only emphasized her social status, and I knew Prince Tulson wanted me to make her sound higher class.

“Yes,” said the Queen, “Are you looking forward to the ball?” She smiled politely.

“Yes, I am,” I lied, “Imato and my cousin Lady Lakeisha Leilani are coming too.” I wondered whether I should mention Lady Clara, but decided against it since I didn’t know if the Prince told them he invited her.
Queen Elspeth began telling me about her plans for the ball. She was particularly involved in the decorating and she gave me long descriptions of the flower arrangements and tablecloths. I only half-listened. I was trying to figure out how to draw the conversation back to Lady Clara. Every once in a while, when I could tell the Queen had just asked a question, I nodded politely.

Before I realized how much time had passed, Prince Tulson returned.

“Sorry I took so long, did you enjoy your chat?” he asked, looking mostly at me.

“We had a lovely conversation,” said the Queen, “Lady Arri has agreed to come a day early to help me put the last minute touches on the tables.”

I blinked. I couldn’t remember making any commitments like that, but then again, I couldn’t remember hardly any of the conversation at all, so I figured I must have agreed. Prince Tulson looked at me. I looked away guiltily.

We ate lunch for a few minutes, Queen Elspeth making light conversation. The food was good, but I couldn’t enjoy it very much, knowing I’d failed the Prince so terribly. Then one of the servants came to the door. He called Queen Elspeth and Prince Tulson out of the room. I suppressed a sigh of relief.

Once they were gone, I went to the window, put my hands on the sill and looked out into the spacious backyard. Mendel was playing with one of the cats. They looked peaceful and happy. I sighed miserably, wishing I was home playing with Kestrel or brushing Glory. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around, and found the Queen standing behind me.

“You have a lot on your mind, I think,” she said kindly, “May I do anything for you?”

I’m not sure why, but I didn’t expect Queen Elspeth to be so nice. She looked genuinely concerned about me. I looked back out the window, trying to organize my thoughts. Then I plunged forward with the only thing that came to my mind:

“Your Highness, do you ever think about marriage?” I asked. It sounded stupid the moment I said it, but I couldn’t take it back.

“I think about my son’s marriage frequently,” the Queen replied, “I want him to marry a fine young lady.”
I frowned, knowing she was misunderstanding something important, but not knowing how to approach it. I decided to deflect the subject for a minute.

“What about your marriage?” I asked, “Why did you marry the King?” Then I put my hand over my mouth in fear of my boldness. Is that an appropriate question to ask royalty? Probably not.

The Queen studied me thoughtfully for a minute.

“I fell in love,” she said finally. She didn’t look offended, so I ventured another question.

“Would you have married him if you didn’t love him?” I asked.

“No,” she said slowly.

“Love is very important,” I said.

“Very important,” her eyes were full of questions that she didn’t ask.

“Would you have married him if he wasn’t a prince?” I asked.

“Yes, of course,” she said, “We must marry whom we love.”

“No matter what?”

“Yes,” she agreed, narrowing her eyes slightly, “are you in love with my son?” She put one hand on my shoulder.

“No,” I whispered, “but someone else is.”


I hesitated; it didn’t seem right to just tell her. “I’m sorry, but I think you should ask him that question.”

“Does he love her?”

“More than anything!”

The Queen withdrew her hand.

“Forgive me, but I was sure it was you.” She was disappointed. I felt a worried chill.

“It’s someone better than me!” I cried in a panic, “It’s someone who will make sure he eats three meals every day! She’s really great: smart and pretty and everything.” I tried to remember Prince Tulson’s adjectives, but in that moment they escaped me.

“Do you think so?” asked the Queen.

“I know so. Only… she’s not what you expect.”

“How so?”

“I don’t know, Your Majesty,” I said awkwardly, “but she’s good and kind, and I know she’ll take good care of the Prince.”

“Then I can’t wait to meet her.” The Queen smiled a little perplexedly.

I smiled back as a new idea struck me.

“You’ll meet her at the ball,” I assured her, “The Prince will introduce her to all the court.”

Prince Tulson was really mad at me when I told him later what I said to the Queen. He said he would rather introduce people to Lady Clara one at a time, so he could get their reactions. I said that we should spread rumors through the court about what a fine person she was, so they would already have a good opinion of her before they met her. He liked that idea, but the announcement still worried him. I didn’t know what else to suggest. I mean, I hadn’t planned on making a promise like that to the Queen. I said it without thinking. Do you think I did okay? I hope it turns out all right, and I’m never letting the prince talk me into something like that again.

I told Imato that you said he is the most frustrating person you know, and he said (smiling) that the feeling is mutual. I think it’s funny that Jace took Imato’s side. Imato says men should stick together, especially when stubborn young ladies try to argue with them. I’m glad you told me about how Imato proposed; I knew it had happened, but Imato didn’t give me any details at all. He especially didn’t tell me about kissing Gretel.

By the way, Imato hasn’t ever killed a dragon. None of the squires have. Imato says he did fight one once, but it was Sir Aoweir who finally killed it.

Sean is twenty-two years old I think unless he’s had a birthday recently. Treany says Lady Westridge has introduced him to “countless” girls, but he hasn’t courted any of them seriously. I never paid much attention to Sean before. He’s kind of shy and quiet, not at all like Mendel. If Sean wants to court me, I wish he would just tell me. Well, maybe not. I don’t know what I’d say. I guess I’d say yes, because he is nice, and I can’t think of a reason to say no. I wish Imato would stick to his own courtships and not worry about mine. I don’t know why anyone would want to court me anyhow. My education is incomplete, and I’m always getting in trouble for something. I’m too young anyway. At least, I feel too young. Treany says her mother got married at sixteen. I wish I hadn‘t asked Treany about courtship. Imato says I shouldn’t pay attention to her. Uncle W. says I shouldn’t pay attention to Imato who says I shouldn‘t pay attention to Uncle W. Brynn says I shouldn’t pay attention to Liop (not that he has any opinions about courtship). Prince Tulson and Lady Clara only pay attention to each other. Brynn went back to Rousha. That leaves Mendel, which isn’t very comforting. No one else in Odsreq pays much attention to me. I’m glad I have you to write to.

As for the queen, Imato tells me that connecting the royal family to the Brios would be very desirable. I, myself, might not be a perfect match for the prince, but my legacy is, and that would be enough. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with the idea. I don’t want to be courted for my heritage.

I hope you are enjoying getting ready for the ball. If you have any ideas for how to introduce Clara as a Lady to the Court, I’d really appreciate it.



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