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Arri- March 11, 2004

March 11, 2004

Dear Keish,

I forgot to tell you who Lady Bashiyra is. She's wife of Sir Lanu--I can't remember his first name. They've been married just a couple of years and like to entertain. Taty says Lady Bashiyra has perfect taste.

Treany asked if I would bring her a copy of the Rousha Fly-by when I come in April. I didn't know what that was, so I asked Uncle Winthrop. He told me it was expensive fuel for the fireplace, which didn't make any sense. Finally he told me to try the ladies' shops on Broadway. Aunt Nysa wasn't interested, so just Colter and I went. The first shop I tried was a hat shop. It seemed an unlikely place, but I figured the saleswoman ought to know what I was talking about. I was right: she did know. She took me to the register and withdrew a sheet of paper from a shelf beneath. It was folded like a fan with the title across one edge: The Rousha Fly-by for Ladies; correspondent Raven Whitewing. It was a kind of newspaper. I started to open it, but the saleswoman cleared her throat softly.

"One copper," she told me. I paid her and then unfolded the paper. My name was in the title of the first article: "Lord Phyfe Tecsin Courts Lady Arrietta Etautca". Keish, it's awful! There was a full description of Taty and my night at the opera and the author knows exactly how many times Phyfe has come to see me. There was even a calculation of how many more times Phyfe would come before proposing. Half of what was written was an outright lie, and the other half was exaggerated beyond anything I have ever seen. I felt my face turn bright red and I wanted to cry. I looked around frantically for someplace to hide.

"Are you all right, my lady?" asked the saleswoman, sounding surprised.

"Yes, I..." I couldn't think straight, "where does this come from?!?" I tried to refold the paper, but my hands shook so that I wrinkled it.

"You don't know?" she sounded startled and disbelieving.

"I don't even know anyone named Raven Whitewing," I stammered, "Why would she want to write stories about me and PUBLISH them? Is the whole thing about me?"

I pulled the paper open again and studied it. The next article was an announcement of engagement.

"Haven't you ever read the Fly-by before?" asked the saleswoman.

"No," I said softly. Her large hands rested on her hips and she scrutinized me with furrowed brows. I shrank back into the corner of the store. I accidentally ripped the paper.

"You're telling the truth," she shook her head in disbelief.

"I never even heard of it till Treany asked me to get her a copy."

"You ought to have at least learned about this in school," she said in exasperation, "here, hand it to me." I handed her the paper and she smoothed it out carefully.

"The Fly-by," she explained, "is a society column. It's designed to inform society of important events."

"But I don't know Raven Whitewing..."

"That's only a pen name, an alias. No one knows her real name."

"She's lying about me..."

I could see that the saleswoman was frustrated. "Everyone knows to take Ms. Whitewing with a grain of salt. You read the rest of the articles and you'll see," she told me.

I didn't want to read the rest of the articles. I wanted to disappear. The saleswoman carefully refolded the paper and handed it back to me. I stuffed it in the bottom of my purse and tried not to run all the way home. Colter followed, growling with confusion. No one was home so I was able to hide in my bedroom and think for a while. I began to feel calmer. Eventually, I pulled out the paper and cautiously read the remaining articles. Each one was as bad as the first. I suddenly remembered what Uncle W. had said about fuel for the fireplace...

When Uncle W. came home he asked whether I had found what I was looking for at the shops.

"Yes," I said slowly.

"Where is it?" he asked. I looked steadily into the fireplace, wondering what to say. Uncle W. followed my gaze and burst into laughter. I don't see anything funny about it.

The next day when Phyfe came to call, I cautiously asked him if he ever read society columns.

"Pure trash," he responded shaking his head, "Why? did they say anything about us this week? Sometimes my friends and I read an article to laugh at. I remember last year there was an article announcing my engagement to a girl I'd never even heard of. Frank Lansky mailed me the article and we decided to stage a mock wedding. It would have been funnier if I could have actually come to Rousha in person, but instead, Frank and his brother painted wooden mannequins of me and the bride. We sent out announcements, and I'm told that wedding was best party of the season." Phyfe laughed. I looked down, feeling embarrassed.

"You can't let those kinds of things bother you, Arri," Phyfe continued seriously. I guess he's right, but I don't like it. It might not be so awful if everything in it was fiction. But Raven Whitewing was exactly right about where I was and when. I don't like it.

March 12

I have your letter. I'm glad you didn't turn Prince Euan into a fire newt. However, I give you permission to turn Raven Whitewing into a fire newt.

Uncle Winthrop will not tell me anymore about why he doesn't like magic. I asked him again, but he only repeated what he already told us. I'm going to ask the Lioness.

March 13

I've been to the Lioness. It was too stormy to walk to the Mental Home this morning and Nysa didn't want to get up so early, so I used Mother's fairy book and the magnifying glass to get to the caves. I'm getting better at controlling the magic and the link is very strong. This time it took only minutes to find her. She led me back to the cavern where she lives.

"I brought some herbs and ointment for your arthritis," I told her. She purred and led me back to the cavern where she lives. For a while we just sat while I rubbed the ointment into her paws and chanted healing poems. I can get more magic into them when I'm in the caves.

"You'll be as good a healer as your mother one day," Trena told me as she stretched each claw carefully, "Now tell me what you came for."

I hesitated.

"Well?" She looked amused.

"Keish is certain there's something Uncle Winthrop isn't telling us--something about why he doesn't like magic."

"It's possible," said Trena, "but that's his story to tell, not mine."

"I know, and I've asked him many times. Is it very terrible?"

"Yes," she regarded me with cool gold eyes for a while. I had to look away.

"Very well," she snapped suddenly, "but Winthrop will regret this."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

The lioness closed her eyes. She seemed content enough, but her tail twitched.

"I suppose the place to begin is with a boy, the eldest of four, the only son. In any normal family he would have been a prized possession, heir of all the family's pride. In a family of class, his place would have been assured. But the Brios do not value status the way the rest of the world does, nor do they place great emphasis on material inheritance. In the Brio clan, pride comes from more intangible things, namely talents. Unfortunately in these, the boy was lacking. You must picture a boy of no great consequence: mediocre in magic, intelligent enough to prevent concern, but not so much as to attract attention. Winthrop was never the best at anything. He never shone or stood out in any way. And his sisters were Jezreel and Ellean.

"I can say that Jezreel and Ellean never deliberately overshadowed their brother. Nor did Lord and Lady Brio ever knowingly neglect or diminish their son. But it happened all the same. Others did it. I'm not sure the Brios could have prevented it. By the time Winthrop was a teenager, it was very pronounced. All of society was full of the Brio daughters, their talent, their beauty, their prospects--not that they cared a bit for the attention. Ellean and Jezreel were mainly indifferent. Ellean, when she bothered about society at all, attempted to thwart it. The very fact that she and Jezreel weren't empty-headed or conceited attracted attention. You could talk forever of the exploits of the young Brio ladies. Not so of Winthrop.

"I do not know if Winthrop resented his position. He loved his sisters--I'm certain of that--but he has never spoken frankly with me, or anyone that I know of since he was a child."

"Aunt Rawnal," I suggested.

"Perhaps," Trena conceded dismissively. She yawned.

"The next person to consider is Mr. Youssel Hounding," she continued, "Youssel was everything Winthrop should have been, charismatic, handsome, charming. He only lacked magic and position. He was the second son of Lord Hounding. And the Houndings, like your friends the Westridges, are a very traditional, landed family. It did not help that Elroy, the eldest son, was cold, prideful and very resentful of the small allowances of his younger brothers. Have you heard of the Landbreakers?" (I nodded.) "The idea of redistributing the wealth of upper-class families had great appeal for Youssel. It offered him a chance to claim what he felt was only his fair share of the Hounding fortune. He joined them as a teenager, bringing with him his friend and great admirer, fourteen-year-old Winthrop Brio. Did I mention that Youssel was charismatic and eloquent, a natural leader? Remember that. People liked him. It wasn't long before he was almost their leader. I'm sure he was aware of that."

The lioness stopped and a low growl rose in the room. I shuddered.

"Youssel was in his own way every bit as conceited as his older brother. But he was much more subtle and certainly less greedy. Mr. Bede Norson preached of the evils of the upper classes. Youssel believed him. And with Youssel's support, Bede's courage grew. He began to move from words into action. The government had long ignored the Landbreakers. That would end soon. One winter they went on a barn burning spree. Well, the King couldn't ignore that. He sent in a army and rounded up most of the precinct. Half a dozen men were convicted and sent to prison, among them Bede Norson. I do not know if Winthrop participated, but it wouldn't surprise me. The captain of the army focused on the adults involved. No one under twenty was charged. Youssel was nineteen.

"In the midst of all this Youssel gained a new desire: he wanted to acquire magic, enough that when the Landbreakers acted again, the army would not be able to stop them. He became the leader of the Landbreakers. And this is where Winthrop comes in."

"But Uncle Winthrop doesn't have very much magic," I said.

"No," Trena agreed, "not nearly as much as Youssel wanted. Winthrop went to Ellean first. They had always been close. She was sympathetic and listened. He took her to meetings. By then Winthrop was sixteen years old and Ellean was twelve which was rather young, but the Landbreakers allowed her as someone who might be able to help them."

"What about my mother?" I interrupted.

The lioness grinned. "Jezreel never liked the Houndings. Probably because Elroy decided to marry her, convinced she could have no better prospects. Though she was only thirteen and he fully twenty, he made his expectations public." Trena unsheathed the claws on one paw and studied them with amusement. "Youssel prized anything he thought his brother wanted, and attempted, foolishly, to break up a non-existent courtship. It was one of the few social mistakes he ever made in those years. Jezreel saw right through them both." She sighed and resheathed her claws.

"Winthrop's is an unpleasant story so we'll skip the exploits of Jezreel and finish quickly.

"Youssel, Winthrop, and Ellean concocted a scheme to make a wand. A wand can be used by anyone, magical or not. To combine the magic of two people in one object would have created a very unique wand. The end result would have allowed Winthrop and Ellean to share power--no advantage to Ellean, of course, but she loved Winthrop that much. Obviously Youssel had everything to gain. It was a complicated spell. They spent months researching and preparing it in secret. Finally, they were ready. A Landbreaker named Bo Jolon lent them his barn for the experiment."

"But Winthrop and Ellean's names are on the list in the Chronicle," I said, confused.

"They did not make a wand," the lioness snapped suddenly, "they blew up the barn. Bo Jolon and his daughter were both killed, though they were in the yard and not actually inside the barn. Ellean lay at the point of death for several weeks. Winthrop was beside himself with fear and grief. Youssel was not there for the spell-casting, but when he heard, he came at once to see what he could do to help. I will say that much for Youssel. He did care for Winthrop and Ellean.

"Of course, the disaster could not be kept a secret. Youssel tried to distance the Landbreakers from the tragedy, but from that moment the government was acutely aware that the Landbreakers were attempting to acquire magic. It was also obvious that Youssel and Winthrop were part of the rebellion. Among the Landbreakers, however, there was confusion. Too many had been aware of Youssel's quest for magic. They began to distrust him and to break apart as an organization.

"It was Lord Brio who suggested that the King open land in the north for settlement. The Landbreakers wanted land, he reasoned, let them have it somewhere else. The King listened. Youssel caught hold of the idea of free land like a life raft. He threw every shred of influence he had left into the scheme. Jezreel once acknowledged that she had never heard him so eloquent as when he orated on pioneering a new society. He denounced magic vehemently, declaring his repentance. Winthrop was caught up in Youssel's visions all over again. After all, it wasn't Youssel's fault that the spell went wrong, and he had given up on acquiring magic. Winthrop waited until Ellean's health was out of danger before announcing his decision to go north. Lord and Lady Brio tried to talk him out of it, but he was determined, I think, for more reasons than he gave his parents. You see, Ellean was still determined to find a way of strengthening his magic, but Winthrop had developed a terror of magic. He could not bear the thought of another complicated spell going wrong. Two people were already dead. Could he risk his sister again? He broke her heart when he left. I gather these things from the letter that he left her, although the letter is not so explicit. And of course, I know Ellean's side of the story. Their relationship was never the same."

Trena ended her narration by putting her head on her paws. She looked tired. I didn't say anything. What could I say?

This is a very long letter, Keish. And I still don't know what to say. I guess I'll just post it and see what you think.



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