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Keish-- January 30, 2004

January 30, 2004

Dear Arri,

Four full days in Rousha and there is so much we didn’t get to talk about! It might as well have been four days in Adya, I have so much to write! Of course, I barely even saw you the first two days and the other two were so busy that we didn’t get to talk about much else.

So… how was spending a day helping Queen Elspeth get ready for the ball? I think I’d have died if I’d had to spend that beautiful crisp day directing servants in that busy ballroom. The tables did look nice, though. I’m sure your help was invaluable. (I’m sorry, I can’t help but tease you a little. I’m sure you were very helpful.)

I spent the day with Jace and Taty. He showed me old Rousha and all of the things he planned to show Liop the day after the ball. So many great things to see! It’s no wonder Liop kept switching languages in excitement that night.

It was good to spend time with Jace again. I’ve missed him, even though it hasn’t been too long since he left Adya. I think Taty got bored with us, though. She told Jace to “find another chaperone next time.” He just laughed.

The day of the ball was, naturally spent getting ready and controlling rumors. (Gretel says I should change that to spreading rumors, but really I was trying to control them,) Clearly, I spent too much time in the palace. I didn’t need all day to get ready, but everyone else seems to, so I stayed with Gretel and we heard all sorts of rumors. Most of them were about you, which is why I was trying to control them. (It’s also why I didn’t mention them to you that night-- you seemed nervous enough.) Anyway, even with Lady Pren introducing Clara to a few people as “a special guest,” nobody was picking up on it. Everywhere we went in the palace we heard the rumors about Tulson marrying a Brio.

In the anteroom, drying our hair after the baths, there were four of the young ladies of the court who were going on and on about you when we walked in. I decided enough was enough.

“Have you met Mistress Clara Songson yet?” I asked them, innocently. “I wonder why she would choose now to come to court.”

“The Prince’s announcement, of course,” one of them answered. (I don’t remember their names, so we’ll call her “Red Hair”.)

“Yes, isn’t she your cousin’s friend?” added Brown Hair.

“Well, yes I believe she is, so she must know…” I trailed off, “hesitating.”

“Know what?” asked Curly Blond excitedly.

“Well I don’t know if I should say anything,” I demurred.

Gretel rolled her eyes. “It’s bound to come out,” she said. “Just tell them.” (Not that she had any idea what I had in mind, but she trusts me… for some odd reason, she says.)

I fretted a moment or two more, then said softly. “Well I guess it’s okay to tell you, as long as you don’t tell anyone.”

They hastened to assure me that no a soul would be told, so, content in the knowledge that what I said would be everywhere within the hour, I continued. “I’ve read the cards for a match between Prince Tulson and Lady Arri. No matter how many times I do it, she’s a widow by 20. It always ends in disaster.”

“Now be fair,” said Gretel, trying valiantly not to laugh, “one time it was Lady Arri that was killed tragically and Prince Tulson was left a widower at 22.”

“That’s true. That was if they married on his birthday. If they married on her birthday they both died in a horrible accident within a week. The point is, it’s a bad match every time.”

“But couldn’t the cards be wrong?” Other Blond asked.

I responded abruptly, “You doubt my ability to read the cards?” (Said while rising dramatically, of course.)

They all quickly insisted that they didn’t doubt any such thing and I sat back down, mollified.

“It’s just so sad,” Brown Hair said. “We were all so sure. Poor Lady Arri.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say ‘poor Lady Arri’. She’s being courted by a wonderful young man. And you know what ‘wonderful’ means,” I said with a wink.

“Lots of land and money,” Gretel answered in a conspiratorial whisper.

They all nodded.

“Who is he?” asked Red Hair.

I put my hand to the base of my throat in innocent protest. “Gossip about my cousin? And in front of her soon-to-be sister-in-law? Oh, I couldn’t. And you mustn’t say anything to Arri. It’s supposed to be a secret.”

Since nothing is so exciting as knowing about a secret courtship, I believed them this time when they declared they’d never tell. I’m sure you probably had four girls giving you very interested looks all through the ball, though.

“So who is Prince Tulson marrying?” Curly Blond asked.

I glanced at Gretel questioningly. She shrugged slightly and turned to the four girls. “You really haven’t wondered why Clara Songson would suddenly come to court?” she asked.

“I know if I were her, I wouldn’t have come unless the announcement was about a family member or something,” I said nonchalantly, watching their reactions while pretending to study my nails.

The reactions varied in levels of confusion. Red Hair was most perplexed. “But who is her family? No one has even been able to figure out where she came from. They might be minor landowners from the borderlands.”

“Have you seen her?” asked Gretel.

“Do you really think she’d hold herself like royalty if that were the case?” I added, playing to the common perceptions of class.

“Maybe she’s a relation of the Pren’s,” suggested Curly Blond.

“She is staying with them,” pointed out the Other Blond.

I shook my head. “Jace and Taty said she’s a family friend.”

Gretel jumped in before they could protest more. “Friend of a Brio, friend of the Pren’s, holds herself like a queen… I don’t think anyone needs to be concerned about her family.”

Brown Hair finally piped up. “But it’s just her. I’m not sure she has any family.”

I shrugged. “Well, if she’s not here because it’s going to be her friend and she doesn’t have any sister…” I trailed off significantly.

Their eyes all grew large. “You mean…” Red Hair started.

I shrugged again. “I’m just saying.”

Glowing with excitement, they all hastily gathered up their things and said goodbye.

As soon as they were gone, Gretel and I dissolved into hysterical laughter.

“You liar,” Gretel said when she regained her composure. “All that about the cards.”

I shrugged. “I can make the cards say anything I want them to say.”

“You know, it’s too bad you don’t like all the intrigue of court life,” she said as we went back to our rooms, “because you’re appallingly good at it!”

I ran into Tulson later in the afternoon-- he was uncharacteristically nervous. So much so, in fact, that Jace and I decided we really just couldn’t play any pranks on him.

And before anyone else asks-- NO! we were not responsible for the exploding cravat! I don’t know why people don’t believe me. Don’t they know how much I’d love to be able to claim responsibility for such a great idea?

You looked stunning at the ball. I’m glad you liked the gown. Imato seemed impressed. I thought Mendel might faint! (I’m sorry, it was just so funny!)

I actually enjoyed the ball. Jace and I don’t ever get to go to balls together. He was a little possessive, though, wasn’t he? I really didn’t mind, though. I really didn’t want to dance with anyone else. (Tulson doesn’t count, he only danced with me to ask what I’d been telling people about Clara and to accuse me of causing his cravat to explode,)

You danced a lot. Mendel, Sean, Tulson, and what… half a dozen others? It’s as if the whole kingdom suddenly realized you’re an eligible young lady. (I’m teasing again, aren’t I? I just can’t seem to help it.) Oh and if Imato starts lecturing you again, you’re supposed to remind him that Gretel said to leave you alone. He wanted to pull you aside after you danced a couple of times each with Mendel and Sean, but Gretel wouldn’t let him. “It’s a ball,” she told him. “Let her be. She should dance with whomever she pleases.”

He grumbled a bit. I don’t think he likes people realizing his little sister is a young lady. I guess it’s just part of being a big brother. This was Taty’s first ball and Jace was grumbling about who she was dancing with, too.

I thought Tulson’s announcement went fairly well. Her connection to you and how she carries herself was already being discussed and Gretel and I had already planted the suspicion that she was the one. The King and Queen were a bit surprised, but Queen Elspeth seemed to be pretty understanding. She had Clara move to the palace, after all. I think what you said to her at the Westridge’s really helped.

It was probably for the best that Sean and Mendel were the only Westridges there, though. I overheard Sean telling Imato that his parents were going to need some time to adjust to the idea.

Speaking of adjusting, I’m glad Nysa came to the ball. She looked lovely. I think she only danced with Sean, Mendel and Imato, but she seemed to enjoy herself. I saw several men that looked disappointed that she left early-- and a couple of them even looked jealous that Sean got to escort her home!

The day after the ball was fun, wasn’t it? I enjoyed the festival market the most. I’m glad Lady Pren convinced Clara to come with us; I enjoyed getting to know her. You’re absolutely right about her making an excellent wife for Tulson.

Father and Uncle Winthrop really seemed to enjoy the gifts we found for them at the market. (Well, okay, I don’t think Uncle W. was actually all that thrilled with the

book of practical magic I got him, but maybe he’s softening just a bit. Either that or he was just being on his best behavior because he had told you he would.)

Speaking of shopping, don’t think I didn’t notice you trying to put the rest of the money I gave you back in my handbag. It’s on the bookshelf in your room. It was a gift and I don’t want it back. If you can’t bring yourself to spend it on yourself (though that dress we found at the market was perfect-- you should get a couple more) then buy something for Liop or something. I’m not taking it back.

I’m glad you and Taty got along so well. You’ve got two good friends in Rousha now to help you get settled in. (Granted, Clara’s just getting settled in too, but still.) Clara and Gretel got along well, also, which will be great for Gretel if Imato ends up with a post near Tulson and Clara.

Did anyone else feel like Lady Pren was trying to push you and Taty together and Clara and Gretel together, leaving me with her? It certainly felt that way to me! I didn’t mind too much, she is wonderful, but it felt like she had some sort of ulterior motive-- like when the Queen wanted to meet you. I felt like I was being evaluated for something. But Jace didn’t say anything… Maybe I’m imagining things. I probably won’t even see Jace again for several weeks. He wasn’t ever sure he’d be able to come for my birthday.

Dinner was wonderful; I think everyone had a good time. Don’t you agree that Father is acting odd, though? I don’t suppose he said anything to you that would explain it?

While you and he were talking after dinner, Nysa and I went out for some air. I didn’t really get a chance to tell you about it though.

“I recognize you,” she said almost immediately. “You were the one in the cave.”

I nodded. “I made that journey.”

“You did for this family what no one else could have. That child was never born.”

“My mother was killed while with child,” I responded softly.

She looked startled. “Your… mother…” You could see her struggling to remember.

“Ellean, your sister,” I explained. That was when I noticed that she was holding you book of fairy tales. I took it from her and opened it to the picture of the three girls. I pointed to each in turn. “Jezreel Fae Brio, Ellean Ryn Brio, Nysa Brio.”

She studied the picture for a moment, then pointed out each girl. “Jessie, Elli… me. Nysa Mikel Brio.” She turned the pages slowly, looking at the pictures. “Someone is missing. I have an older brother.:

I nodded. “Winthrop Latit Brio.” I pointed back inside. “Winthrop.”

She was quiet for several minutes, then looked back at the book. “Jessie told my story.”

“My mother did, too. They told it differently, though.”

She nodded. “They were very different.”

“What about you?” I asked quietly.

Her face clouded. “I’m… still not sure. So much is still missing.”

I put my arm around her thin shoulders. “It will come.”

She smiled. “I know.”

We went back inside and I asked Uncle W. if he’d read any good spells lately. He wouldn’t take the bait, though. I guess he meant it when he promised you no controversy.

I can’t believe how much effort it took yesterday to get that book of spells away from Liop! I was starting to think I really was going to have to turn him into a fire newt! (It’s a good thing it didn’t come to that, though. I’m not sure that spell works.) It’s a good thing that locator spell worked, because I don’t think we’d have gotten it any other way. He seemed mollified by the newer book I gave him, though. Hopefully he’s not causing trouble with it. At least the spells aren’t going to cause any explosions.

It was nice to jest spend a day at your new home, even if we spent most of it arguing with Liop. It’s probably good Gretel and Imato had gone out-- I don’t think Imato would have been amused. Nysa sure seemed to think it was funny, though. And Brynn spent all of lunch laughing at us. Did she come today to discuss more with you or is she coming tomorrow?

Well, I have spent the whole day writing and now the carriage is arriving at the inn. Gretel informs me I haven’t been very good company, so I should stop. Honestly this is so long I’d better just send it to you. Since we’re just a day’s ride from Rousha I’ll just send it to you with the morning post and you should get it tomorrow night! I should be back in Adya by dinnertime on the 1st, so Hermes should find me there.

Love Always,


P.S. Shelly loved Rousha! I’ve only just seen her and told her you hoped she’d enjoyed herself. She was very gratified that you’d thought to ask after her. Since I did everything for myself, she spent all her time at the festival. Apparently it was amazing!

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