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Arri- March 20, 2004

March 20, 2004

Today feels significant somehow. I don’t know why.

Liop claimed to be sick this morning. He wasn’t very convincing, but I couldn’t prove otherwise, so I gave him a tonic and sent him back to bed. Of course, that made it impossible to go to the cave with Nysa, so I practiced boiling water with magic until I was bored and then decided I’d better finish the homework Master Imkell set me the night before. I pulled out my geography and sat down to memorize the major landmarks in Greste (deserts, bigger deserts, etc.). I fell asleep.

I woke up to the sound of the doorbell and, realizing I was still in my house dress, I dashed for the bedroom and let Nysa answer it. Uncle Winthrop has decided to let Nysa chaperone Phyfe and me sometimes. I changed as quickly as I could into my blue dress. When I came out Phyfe was sitting on the sofa paging through my geography book.

“Is Liop taking geography already?” he asked casually.

I froze. Uncle W. told me not to tell anyone (except you) that I’m preparing for the college entrance exam. I hadn’t. It had only been a couple of weeks since Phyfe started calling on me and it suddenly occurred to me that except for Father’s illness, we hadn’t ever really talked about anything important. Phyfe knew, of course, that Nysa was teaching me magic, but most people just assume that.

I didn’t say anything. Phyfe didn’t notice.

I sat down and he asked me about my visit with Father that morning. Nothing really changes with Father. I don’t really remember what I said to Phyfe. My eyes kept straying to the geography book on the side table. I remembered what the article in the Fly-by said about Phyfe coming to call twenty-four times before proposing and my face began to feel red. People shouldn’t make silly rules like that.

“Are you feeling all right, Arri?” asked Phyfe.

“Yes, I’m fine,” I said. From the corner of my eye I saw Nysa raise her head to look at me. Unlike Uncle W., Nysa never says a word when Phyfe comes to visit.

“Did you like college?” I asked suddenly.

“It was tolerable,” Phyfe grinned, “I think Frank Lansky was the main reason I survived it. He could make a joke out of anything.”

“It was hard?” I asked, surprised that anything might be hard for Phyfe.

“No, not really,” he said, “I wasn’t at the top of the class, but I held my own. I was bored stiff most of the time. Business is pretty dull stuff, Arri. Be glad you’re through with formal studying.”

Nysa sneezed.

“But I don’t have a diploma in anything—not even a Lady’s degree,” I said.

“Really? I wouldn’t worry about the Lady’s degree. Lots of girls never get them. I’m sure you already know everything you need to.”

“Keish says they aren’t really worth anything,” I acknowledged, wondering where the conversation was going.

“I’m going to have to meet her sometime. I think I’d like her.”

“Have you heard that she’s starting a school for girls?” I asked. You’re a good subject to talk about, Keish.

Phyfe looked surprised. “I thought she didn’t care about schooling.”

“She thinks girls should be educated the same way boys are,” I said.

Phyfe blinked. “I never really thought about it,” he admitted after a moment; “not that you couldn’t learn anything you wanted to,” he added quickly.

“I could learn anything,” I agreed, and then I just sat there, stupidly, wanting to know what Phyfe would say before he said it, so I would know if I wanted to give him the opportunity to say it. If that makes any sense…

“Is there anything you’d like to learn?” asked Phyfe, “besides magic, I mean.”

I looked over at the geography book.

“Oh, I like learning,” I said, which is true most of the time, “I’ve been studying that geography book.” There, I’d finally said something significant, sort of.

Phyfe is quick.

“It’s not Liop’s?” he asked, “I though it looked a little advanced for him.”

“No.” My face couldn’t decide whether to be embarrassed or nervous. “Master Imkell gave it to me. You see, Uncle W. thinks if I’m going to become a healer, I should become a doctor too. Well, actually, I think he’s trying to stall things, or at least slow them down, because he doesn’t want me to learn magic at all. It’s working too, because I have to spend hours everyday studying for the college entrance exam. But studying magic in the morning tires me out, so I wouldn’t be learning any faster even if I didn’t have so many other things to remember. So that’s why the geography book is out. I’m going to college.”

I said everything so fast that I’m not sure Phyfe caught it all, but he got the general idea.

“You want to go to college?” he asked in a stunned voice.

“Yes,” I admitted, “Other ladies have gone before.”

“I know,” he cocked his head to one side and looked at me.

“Um,” he said finally, “I don’t know what to say. I admit it.” He shook his head.

I didn’t know what else to say either. We spent the rest of the visit not knowing what to say. Fortunately, Nozama and Kestrel got in a fight and gave us something else to talk about. At the end of the visit Phyfe kissed my hand and formally asked if he could call again, just as he always does at the end of every visit. I said that he might.

I wonder what he’s thinking right now, Keish. If he comes back, I wonder if he’ll help me study?

Hermes flew in with your letter a few minutes ago. I’m glad that you’re feeling better. It seems unfair that I can go to the cave so easily and you can’t. Nysa thinks it’s related to my resistance to magic—that I’m developing a resilience to magical travel. Also Mother’s fairy book has a very strong link in it and that’s definitely significant. She must have intended for the book to be used this way.

Curriculum planning sounds like it’s as much work as curriculum learning. I can only say that I wish you well with it.

If Jace can almost beat Imato in a fight, then he should have gone into the army like Imato. I don’t know of any squires that can actually beat him. He hasn’t lost a fight in over a year to anyone, regardless of rank.

Tell Kaplan that I hope all is well with him.

Keish, you have too started a rumor lately. You told everyone I was secretly courting someone. If I understand gossip rags correctly, that should have made it in there. I’m glad I didn’t see it. Of course, maybe everyone thinks the secret beau was Phyfe. I guess it doesn’t really matter.

I suppose since Uncle W. was in Onoff most of the time that our mothers were courting, he did what Imato is trying to do and supervised through letters. Really Imato doesn’t need to worry. Phyfe never deviates from tradition. I don’t really know all of the traditions, but Taty does. I’ve told Imato this already. Maybe it will have more weight coming from you.

I wonder if there’s a way to ask Uncle W. about my mother and the Houndings without bringing up all the things he doesn’t want to talk about. Maybe I’ll just have to ask Father when he’s well again… if he’s ever well again.

You don’t bully me, Keish. Don’t worry about that.

As for Gretel and Jace eloping, wouldn’t that get you out of looking at more fabric swatches? Eloping has some definite advantages. There’s no preparation involved.

The sketches of Gretel’s wedding dress are gorgeous! That beading looks like a lot of work. Gretel will have to teach me to bead sometime—my sewing skills are more basic. I can turn out a dress and mend. I can follow a standard pattern. Beading looks complicated, but I’m sure it will be worth it.

You can pick out a dress for me. You have a better sense of style than I do, and I tend to fall asleep looking at dress books anyway. Treany has more than I can count and she loves to page through them. I try, but I never last long. Treany says that’s why I should always have someone with me when I’m clothes shopping, so I don’t buy the first thing I see.

March 22

Hermes and Clotho both refused to take my letter yesterday. They just sat in the windowsill cooing to each other. Hermes puffed himself up and pranced like… well, like a love-struck pigeon. I guess Spring is here. They knew the letter could wait.

Yesterday, I had lunch with Clara. She showed me the designs she she’s considering between for bride’s maid dresses. She has two bride’s maids: me and her cousin, Deborah. She’s narrowed it down to three options and they’re all so lovely that I wasn’t the least bit helpful in deciding between them. Prince Tulson poked his head in for a minute to tell me that Aegolius and his wife are returning to Elcaro in May, as soon as the mountain pass is clear of snow. He said to make sure anything we decide to do for the wedding will look good on a daguerreotype. Lady Clara responded that she wasn’t going to turn her wedding into an alchemistry shop just so he and Aegolius could play at reflectography. But after the prince left she eliminated one of the dresses, because she thought there might be too much light and dark contrast in the colors and she didn’t want the reflections to look like a herd of zebra.

That was yesterday.

Phyfe came to call today. He asked all of the usual questions and I gave the usual answers. I’m not sure what I expected. Maybe my going to college didn’t matter to him. I felt… ignored, I think. I don’t know a lot about society, but I know going to college is not well accepted for a lady. I wanted to talk about it, but I didn’t know how. Then I remembered the geography book. I asked Phyfe if he would drill me on the deserts of Greste. He did so without even looking at the book. I was nervous and couldn’t remember much of anything. Nysa left the room, probably bored.

“Arri,” asked Phyfe after I failed at several questions in a row, “do you really want to put yourself through this?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Three years of medical school and then between two and ten years as an apprentice, depending on how intensely you study…”

Ten years! No one said anything about ten years, Keish!

“It might help Father,” I said out loud. That’s the most important thing. I can go to school ten more years if it will help him.

Phyfe hesitated, looking uncomfortable.

“Arri, I know you’re intelligent, but do you really think you’ll learn something that the doctors already treating him don’t already know?”

It was an excellent point.

“I’m going to combine my medical knowledge with healing. No one treating Father right now is doing that.”

“They could collaborate. Arri, I don’t want to hurt you,” Phyfe took one of my hands and I wasn‘t even wearing gloves, “but this is a huge commitment, and you’re going to have other commitments, equally important, in the future. I’m worried that you might get overburdened. That might even be what your uncle intends, given his attitude toward magic. You’re already meeting with doctors and healers daily. Isn’t that enough?”

His hands were warm and it was hard to concentrate. I closed my eyes and frowned.

“If it were enough, it would work,” I said finally, “Lakeisha and Nysa believe I have to do the healing myself.”

“Maybe they just mean you could do it, not that you have to.”

I wasn’t sure of the answer to that. Is there any other way, Keish? It’s been three months and no one has made any progress. We were quiet for a while. I opened my eyes slowly to look at Phyfe’s face. I could see only sincerity in his dark green eyes.

“Sometimes I think you let other people rule your decisions too much, Arri,” he said gently.

We were all alone in the room. Nysa hadn’t come back yet. I suppose that’s why Phyfe could say what he did. I didn’t know how to respond.

We were interrupted by Uncle W. returning home. Phyfe immediately moved away from me and responded politely to Uncle W.’s apologies for being late. Nysa returned to the room. The remainder of the visit was nothing extraordinary. I didn’t contribute anything.

“I don’t like him, Arri,” Nysa snapped suddenly as we eating lunch with Uncle W., “he’s trying to manipulate you.”

I supposed that meant she overheard Phyfe and my conversation.

“Why?” asked Uncle W., “what happened?” He looked at me.

“Nothing,” I said, “we were just talking. Phyfe was helping me study.”

Uncle W. looked suddenly amused.

“What exactly did he say?” he asked.

“I didn’t really hear,” Nysa said. She looked embarrassed.

“You didn’t hear?” asked Uncle W. Nysa was forced to admit that she left the room. The conversation spiraled into a chastisement for leaving us alone. I went to my bedroom. I did not look where Phyfe’s latest bouquet of hothouse flowers was sitting on the dresser. I sat where I could look out the window at the park. The gardeners are pruning and planting for the new season. I think they lost a couple of trees. None of the trees are old and established yet. The park is too young.

Eventually, Nysa came in.

“Did you hear the conversation?” I demanded. I was feeling rather angry at everyone, including Phyfe.

“No,” said Nysa earnestly. She let her hair hide her face. “But I don’t think he understands you, Arri. I’m sure he’ll try to talk you out of your training. He stiffens every time you mention it.”

I didn’t know what to say to that.

“I think you can find someone better,” she concluded.

Who? But I didn’t ask her out loud. She pulled out her writing tray and began penning a letter to Mendel. I finished this letter to you. It took some convincing, but Hermes agreed to carry it. I have a feeling we’ll have to return to using ordinary post soon.

I do envy your ability to go riding, Keish. If I had a horse, I would ride as fast as I could, as far as I could. I hope your weather is as lovely as it was outside today. I was able to walk to the hospital this morning without a coat. I seem to be describing the day backwards. I better post this before I go back to yesterday. If you want I can send you some lovely sketches of the latest designs in saddle blankets. I’m sure they sell them somewhere in Rousha.



P.S. Don’t worry about Liop. He got bored of being forced to stay in bed and went back to school the next day.

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