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Arri- March 7, 2004

March 7, 2004

A couple of days after the dinner with Phyfe, he sent me an invitation to attend the opera with Taty, Master Jemond Telesforo, and himself. Oh, the opera is magnificent! We had a balcony for just the four of us and waiters served us hot cocoa and cookies. I spent most of the money you gave me on a pair of brass opera glasses and a rose-colored fan which Taty said I must have to appreciate the experience properly. She had never been to an opera either, but knew all about them. The music was beyond anything I’ve ever heard before. They sang in Iconese, so Phyfe leaned over to translate in my ear. The story was terribly tragic, even more so than The Lady in the Forest. Taty sobbed through most of it and Master Jemond looked very nervous trying to comfort her. I finally leaned over and told him not to worry—that Taty was crying because she was happy. Fortunately, Taty’s tears are very quiet, so I was able to hear the music. The scenery and the costumes were gorgeous, so much more elaborate than the plays I went to as a child. I do hope I can go to another opera next season!

After the opera we rode home in Phyfe carriage. The sky could not decide whether to snow or drizzle, but it was not so wet as to be uncomfortable. We dropped Taty off first and Master Jemond walked her to the door and kissed her hand. He was a perfect gentleman. Next we dropped him off. That left Phyfe and I sitting opposite each other. He leaned forward.

“Did you have a good time?” he asked.

“Yes, it was wonderful,” I said.

Phyfe smiled.

“May I call on you, Lady Arri?” he asked.

I froze. For a moment the words hung meaningless in the air. Call on me? Call on me???

“Yes, if you want to,” I stammered. Phyfe reached across the carriage to take my hand in his. I don’t remember much else, except that he walked me to my door still holding my hand. And like Master Jemond with Taty, he kissed my white glove before he left.

“Is everything all right?” asked Uncle Winthrop when I walked in, “You look stunned.”

I didn’t answer. I was looking at my white-gloved hand, feeling mostly confused.

“Arri,” Uncle W. commanded my attention, “I trust young Lord Tecsin was a gentleman? Did you have a good time”

“Yes,” I said absently, “it was lovely.” I would have liked to give him all the details of the opera, but I wasn’t sure I remembered them anymore. Kestrel jumped up on the back of the sofa and meowed.

“Anything else you’d like to say about it?” Uncle W. was looking at me rather sharply. I realized my face was very red.

“Yes,” I began uncertainly, “Lord Phyfe asked if he could call on me.”

“Ahh…” said Uncle W., but he didn’t looked surprised. In fact his expression was rather too neutral for the significance of what I’d just said. “And you responded…” he prompted.

“I said that he could, if he wanted,” I admitted. Uncle W. smiled with amusement.

This morning a bouquet of hothouse flowers arrived: yellow roses and white daisies. Phyfe’s calling card was attached. Uncle W. surprised me by coming home for lunch. When I asked him why, he only smiled and shook his head. Phyfe arrived a few minutes later and I realized Uncle W. meant to chaperone us.

Keish, it was so awkward! Phyfe sat next to me on the sofa and Uncle W. sat in the arm chair. He asked Phyfe what brought him to Rousha out of season. Phyfe smiled at me and said that his parents felt it would be good for him to be around more people his age. Uncle W. asked about his education and they talked about college for several minutes. Phyfe graduated with a business degree just last year, so they compared notes about which professors were still teaching. Then Phyfe tried to draw me into the conversation, but I felt too awkward to say much. I don’t think I said more than five words the whole hour. At the end Phyfe kissed my hand and asked to call on me again. I said that he might. Then I spent the rest of the day trying to study, but all the while wondering why Phyfe would want to repeat the afternoon’s disaster again. Could he really like me?

March 9

I got your letter last night. I read most of it to Aunt Nysa. She was furious.

“Something must be done,” she said, looking exactly like the woman who yelled at me in the cave for the first time since I’ve known her.

“But what?” I asked, looking down at your letter and rereading the parts about Uncle W. silently to myself. Uncle W. doing magic behind our backs?

Nysa grabbed my hand and closed her eyes.

“What…” I started.

“Concentrate on the caves,” she told me, “we’re going to ask the lioness.”

The lioness!

“Do you know her?” I asked as we hurried down a corridor of a cave a few minutes later.

“No,” Nysa admitted. She was sounded less sure of herself now.

“Do you know where she is?” I asked next.

“She must be somewhere in the caves,” Nysa said. We were turning corners right and left so fast that I would never find my way back to the practice chamber where we arrived. Nysa tugged at my hand and moved faster, despite the fact that we were wandering. Her anger frightened me.

“The lioness is the guardian of these caves,” Nysa explained, “if we delve deep enough, we’re sure to attract her attention.”

“But will she be angry?” I asked.

“We’re Brios; we have as much right to be here as she does, maybe more.”

That really frightened me. It sounded too angry. I was sure the lioness wouldn’t like it. I tugged at my hand in Nysa’s, trying to slow her. We turned one more corner and… Oh!

The lioness was crouching just a few feet away. Silvery-gray wings folded neatly against her back. Her ears were half back and her gold eyes bore into us with pupils narrowed to slit. Her tail lashed back and forth behind her.

Nysa came to a sudden halt. I bumped into her, but held my footing. Angry as she was, I expected Aunt Nysa to say something, but she didn’t. The echoes of our last movements faded into silence.

“May I ask your names?” The lioness’s voice was low and undercut with a slight growl.

“Nysa Brio,” Aunt Nysa sounded more nervous than angry now.

“Arrietta Fae Etautca,” I said quickly, and I curtsied, wondering if curtsying was a good thing to do to show respect to a lioness. Perhaps it was. Her ears came forward and her tail stopped lashing. She sat down , wrapping it neatly around her feet. I could hear her wings rustling as she moved.

“My name is Trena of Solutuns,” she said softly, “I’m very pleased to meet you. Jezreel Fae Brio was a great friend of mine.”

I think I heard Nysa’s heart restarting. I know mine was. The lioness studied us intelligently.

“You look like you have a lot on your minds. It’s not often people come looking for me and I love company. Would you follow me to my chamber?” She turned slowly, somewhat stiffly, and led us further down the corridor. We followed in silence.

The lioness was old, white hairs scattered evenly throughout her tawny coat. Her pale yellow eyes had creases in their corners and wrinkles, softened by fur, lined her forehead. Her movements were measured and graceful. Nysa looked utterly awestruck, her earlier fury vanished entirely and the subdued, shy persona so familiar to me returned.

Eventually we came to a chamber not much larger than my bedroom in Rousha. The ceiling was arched and natural looking. Torch patterns flickered from sconces along the walls. The floor was covered with a thick layer of fresh hay. I wondered briefly where the hay might have come from, but I didn’t ask. Over the hay, several blankets, one nearly identical to Uncle W.’s quilt that Aunt Rawnal made. The lioness curled up on it and indicated that we should also be seated.

“We’ve met before, of course,” she said conversationally, “but neither of you will remember.” She purred, not exactly like a housecat, but a low, uneven growl that somehow was still benign.

“We’ve met?” I asked.

“Yes, Arrietta,” the lioness said, “when you were a baby.”

“Arri,” I corrected automatically.

“Arrietta,” the lioness responded, her purr deepening, “you may not care much for your name, but Jezreel loved it. The listening fairies were very angry when I prevented them from taking you.” Her expression was very much like Kestrel’s when she’s just stolen a lick of cream.

“Why…” I began, but Nysa interrupted me.

“When did you meet me?” she asked.

“At the same time,” the lioness told her, “we needed fairy magic to work the spell that would protect Arrietta.” She shook her head, “This is no place to begin,” she told us, “let me try again.

“When you were two, Arrietta, Ellean foresaw that the fairies would try to take you. Jezreel was very clever and she brought you here. These caves are neutral territory for both man and fairies. She knew that you could not be taken from them. Perhaps she would have hidden you for the full six years, but it would not have been good for you. So we devised a spell that would protect you until you came of age. Of course, we needed Nysa’s power to complete it.” She turned to Nysa, “the amount of power involved was tremendous. With your simple fairy’s memory you could not have been expected to recall it afterwards.”

“But I did recall the promise,” Nysa said softly, “to protect Arri if anything happened to Jezreel.”

“Yes,” agreed the lioness, “a fairy will remember a promise, even when they remember nothing else. The listening fairies erased most of your memory after each human encounter. They couldn’t erase all of it though, and Jezreel was expert at maneuvering around their spells.”

She kneaded her claws contentedly into the quilt.

“I did love her visits,” she reminisced, “Jezreel had a spell that could ease my arthritis, and she told me everything about the outside world. I’m very old Arrietta, so old that leaving this cave for any great length of time would kill me. It is the magic of this cave that has allowed me to live so long.”

“You don’t look so old in my fairy book,” I commented.

“Jezreel was very kind,” the lioness purred, “Now you must tell me all about yourselves, and what you have been doing since your mother died.” She was looking at me more than Aunt Nysa, so I began to talk. It was awkward. The lioness wanted details; she got frustrated and interrupted with questions when I tried to skim over anything. Nysa said nothing, but I could feel her eyes on me too. I didn’t like it, describing Mother’s funeral and Father’s disappearance. The lioness growled slightly when I told about going to live with Uncle Winthrop.

“You ought to have gone to Adlen Leilani,” she said. I wanted to defend Uncle W., but I couldn’t, not with your letter fresh in my mind. I simply continued talking. Finally, I got to Gessair and everything that happened in the cave. I added the parts you told me in your letter about Uncle W. planting the Chronicle and the mirror for us to find. Suddenly, the lioness interrupted, her voice indignant.

“Winthrop plant the Chronicle and mirror?” she demanded, “is that what he claims.”

I was taken aback.

“It’s what Lakeisha believes,” Nysa said, speaking for the first time since I began my tale.

“It’s very anthro-centric,” the lioness growled, “Winthrop had the Chronicle, yes. I stole it from him. But Ellean gave me the mirror many years ago. I was the one who planted them for Lakeisha to find. Winthrop should have given Arrietta the Chronicle when he received it among Quin’s belongings. It was never his to begin with. I only restored Lakeisha’s ability to fulfill the prophecy, which Winthrop would have denied her.”

“But what about the wards?” I asked.

“There were no wards when I stole the Chronicle. Winthrop must be getting paranoid.” Here she smiled. “We’ll come full circle at last, I believe.”

“But he’s been using magic with the stone,” I protested.

“If he is, it’s more recent than you think. In these caves everyone speaks the same language, so, as you have noticed, there is no need of a stone to speak to me. Now, tell me more about Imato and Gretel.” She began kneading her claws again.

I talked until I fell asleep. When I woke up Nysa had brought me home. I immediately got up and finished this letter to send you. I will talk to the lioness again as soon as possible. Nysa’s says she liked me very much.

I suppose you must have survived the wedding, or did you turn Prince Euan into a fire newt after all? That would have gotten you out of going I’m sure, and it’s not like he doesn’t deserve it.

I need to post this letter, so I will end here. I hope all is well with you.



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