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Arri-- January 21, 2004

January 21, 2004

Dear Keish,

Yes, of course Jace can take Liop out exploring! I’m sorry I forgot to mention that in my last letter, but the answer was obvious. Liop is very excited, almost enough to cover up his fear of moving.

Uncle Winthrop thinks it’s an excellent idea to celebrate his and Uncle Alden’s birthdays together in Rousha. He says he will be on his best behavior and not utter a single controversial word from sun-up to sun-down. I made him promise, although Imato and Liop are taking bets on whether he can actually keep it.

I’m writing this letter from the coach that Uncle W. hired to take us to Rousha, so you’ll have to forgive the sloppy handwriting. It’s snowing lightly and we’ve gotten stuck in the mud twice, but Uncle W. is sure the storm will clear soon and it’s impossible to avoid muddy roads this time of year. Uncle W. is in a small carriage ahead of us with Father. Father doesn’t seem to be feeling well and I couldn’t get him to eat anything this morning. Hopefully the doctors and healers in Rousha will be able to help him. He still hasn’t said a word and he fought hard when Uncle W., Imato, Cook’s husband, and Mendel tried to move him from the bedroom to the carriage. I was afraid they would hurt him, but they were very careful.

I must start this letter from where I left off in my last letter. There were only three things left to do before we could move to Rousha.

The first was to have dinner with the Westridges. It was a formal affair, so Liop had to stay home. I wore one of Aunt Rawnal’s dresses made over. It’s a long red-brown gown with lots of hand-crocheted lace. Uncle Winthrop says it was one of the first dresses she made after they married. It’s old-fashioned, but elegant and Imato said I needed to wear something elegant. I would have worn the yellow dress that Treany gave me, but I’ve worn it so much it’s beginning to wear out. Cook says the shade of brown is wrong for my complexion, but I still like the color.

The dinner was awfully formal, which means that only Lord and Lady Westridge, Imato and Sean had anything to say. Uncle Winthrop was polite, but he and Lord Westridge never really had anything except a business relationship, and that was ending now. Imato told me beforehand that the Westridges were having us to dinner because of our social standing and because they wanted to keep the door open for social contacts when we move to Rousha. I really don’t understand any of that.

I spent most of the first course trying to remember what fork to use, and during the main course I mistook an oil vase for a salt shaker—it was dark—and poured oil onto my meat, which startled me and I knocked a fork (still not sure what kind) onto the floor and bent to pick it up, but I was still holding the oil vase, so I poured oil all down my dress. It all happened in less time than I just took to write it. Mendel put his hand over his mouth to try to hide his laughter.

Lady Westridge rang for Clara to come and help me. For some reason Mendel thought that made everything even funnier and he busted up entirely.

Lady Clara ignored him completely. She picked up the fallen dinnerware and led me away to a spare room without saying a single word. Then she produced a spare dress of Lady Westridge’s for me to change into.

“I really don’t think Mendel should have laughed,” I grumbled as Lady Clara helped me with my buttons.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Lady Clara, unconcernedly, “Mendel seems to laugh every time I do anything these days. It’s driving me crazy. I’ll be relieved when I can follow you to Rousha in three days. Lady Pren is sending a carriage for me the day after you leave.”

I didn’t think anyone could say “relieved” and “Rousha” in the same sentence. I stared at her.

“At least the Westridges never expect me to act like a lady,” I said, although it wasn’t really comforting, “Lord Westridge didn’t even raise his eyebrows. Aren’t you worried about using the wrong thing at dinner?”

“Not really,” Lady Clara answered, “I’ve had to set so many tables that I know what all the utensils are, and having to carry serving trays has given me pretty good balance.” I could hear the pride in her voice as she said this. It amazed me. I hadn’t ever thought about it before.

Lady Clara told me to wear the spare dress the rest of the evening and she’d have my dress ready for me by the time we left to go home. I spent the rest of the evening moving as little as possible. When I got my dress back, it was perfectly clean and spotless.

The second thing to do was to have lunch with Treany. She told me it would be very informal and just her and me, which meant that I didn’t have to worry because even if Treany does know the difference between an oil vase and a salt shaker, she doesn’t ever put both on the table at the same time, at least not for lunches. And she never notices what fork I’m using.

I told Treany about the dinner and she didn’t laugh once. She was very sympathetic and she called Lady Clara a “very superior kind of servant,” which made me laugh because I suddenly understood why Mendel thought the situation was so funny. I would rather forget it happened though.

“You ought to send for her when you move into the palace,” she informed me in a conspiratorial whisper. I was confused.

“I’m not moving to the palace,” I said, “We’re going to a nice two-bedroom apartment in the old city. We have a lovely view of the castle park.”

“Oh, I’m sure you don’t intend to be there long,” said Treany lightly. She studied my confused expression.

“Arri,” she said finally, “I promise I haven’t said a word, but really, you couldn’t have been more obvious.”

“About what?” I asked.

“You and Prince Tulson.”

It was like watching a vital puzzle piece fall into place and discovering the puzzle wasn’t what I thought it was. I started at her, trying to decide what to say.

“I’m not engaged to the prince,” I said finally.

Treany frowned at me.

“The queen came all the way to Rousha and the only person besides her brother’s family that she dined with was you,” she accused me.

“Yes, but you don’t understand,” I said, wondering how Treany knew I dined with the queen.

“You can’t spend most of your time with three young men, two of them highly eligible, without attracting attention, Arri,” Treany continued. Then she sighed, “you really should have taken Feminine Politics. People watch you. Besides, you’re the only eligible young lady in Odsreq.”

I shook my head. “There’s you and Felicia Lowling and…” but Treany interrupted me with a bright smile.

“Prince Tulson would never even look at us. We have no rank.” She shook her head in frustration.

I started to protest that, then shut my mouth, thinking that if I said too much I might accidentally give away Clara. Lunch with Treany wasn’t nearly as nice as I thought it would be.

“What do you mean, people watch me?” I asked finally, my voice soft.

“For all the reasons I’ve already said,” Treany told me, “and you’re really hard to figure out. You’ve never done what people expected a lady of quality to do. You were so quiet when you first came here. People though it was snobbery at first. It took me forever to figure out that you were just being shy.”

“I didn’t know anyone, and I was scared,” I defended, remembering that first awful drive to Odsreq after we were told Father died. I didn’t even know Uncle Winthrop very well. Then going to language class and everyone stared at me like I was a zoo animal and no one said anything…

“Do you think the people in Rousha will think I’m snobbish?” I asked.

She didn’t answer that. She just sighed again and then brightened. “You’re going to make so many important connections. Will you promise to send me sketches of the new season fashions? Old Rousha is the absolute center of modern design!” I promised to send sketches of every outfit I saw.

I don’t think I really convinced her that I’m not engaged to Prince Tulson, and she couldn’t understand at all why I was so nervous about moving. I don’t know what I’m going to do, Keish! I’m so glad you’re coming. I wish you could just stay here with us and keep me from making a fool of myself, although I’m not sure it will be possible to prevent that regardless. Everyone my age will be graduated from finishing school and very elegant, I’m sure.

The worst part of all is that I have to leave Glory behind with the Westridge’s. That was the third thing I had to do before we could leave. I walked her there myself and handed her over to Mendel, who didn’t even laugh once, but showed me the stables and how bright and clean they are, and introduced me to the head stableman and even the veterinarian who will help with the foaling. I know the Westridges have the best stables of anyone and Mendel says that no matter where I’m living, he’ll send for me as soon as Glory’s belly drops and she starts going into labor, so I still might get to see the foal born. But it won’t be the same as if I’m living there and can help take care of them. I know the foaling is still more than two months away, but I can’t help worrying about it.

I’m sorry, Keish. I feel so selfish and helpless and whiny. Everything we’re doing is for Father to help him get better, and I do want him to get well. I want that more than anything—more than Glory’s foal. So I shouldn’t be complaining, and I ought to be much happier than I am. Father’s going to have the best doctor in all of Elcaro! That’s something to be happy about. Everything will be so much better when he’s well again. Our apartment is within walking distance of the hospital. Uncle W. made sure of that, so we’ll be able to visit him whenever we want. And of course the king’s healer will help with the treatments. I wish I could help too.

I don’t know why the fairies didn’t take you, but I’m sure they could tell that with or without magic, I’m hopelessly incompetent.

Uncle W. was right. The snow has stopped and the sun came out while I was writing this. We’re traveling through countryside now with white, sparkly fields covered in fresh snow. It’s cold, but I have plenty of blankets, and Liop is asleep with his hot little head against my shoulder. I think I should quit complaining and just watch the scenery. I wonder though, why your father is in such a funny mood. Do you think he’s been talking to Mendel? He’s been awfully silly since Prince Tulson got engaged, and not just around Lady Clara. It’s like there’s some private joke going on that no one will explain. That’s one thing I just thought of—in Rousha I won’t have to spend so much time trying to figure out Mendel.

I threatened Liop with everything I could think of but I have no idea where that book of spells is. He’s bent on keeping it, even if he blows up the kingdom.

I can’t wait for you to get here. It will be so nice to talk to you in person again! And Aunt Nysa is so excited to meet you! She was very impressed by your spell work in the cave.

I have to end this now, as I’m almost out of paper. Everyone sends their love and safe journey, and we will see you in a few days.



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