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Arri- June 7, 2004

June 7, 2004
Dear Keish,

We stopped in Odsreq for another day. Moonstone is getting so big! I wish we were still in the cottage, but the Westridges have found a new renter. Prince Tulson, Mendel, Sean, and I went riding for a couple of hours. Mendel has a very fine pair of jumpers--pureblood hackneys imported from the south. I hadn’t ever jumped with a horse before, but Mendel showed me. “It can’t be any more difficult than jumping with a griffon, Arri.” He was right, Asus and I sailed over the hedges as if we were flying. I’m going to teach Moonstone to jump when she’s old enough.
When I arrived in Rousha I found a note waiting for me from Phyfe. It was to congratulate me on passing the entrance exam.

June 8th

Waking up in my own bed after so much traveling was a comfort. I was aching more than anything to see Father. I’m so glad summer is here; morning comes so much earlier! I was aching to see Father and tell him all about your wedding and Gretel’s bridesmaid dresses and Moonstone’s progress with the halter and the two little nestlings in Clotho and Herme’s nest in the park. June is the most wonderful time of year! Father was very quiet through everything and cocked his head to one side as though he was really paying attention. I do hope he can understand me! He never said a word and after I finished talking, he walked to the window and stared out it. It was one of those rare moments when I can almost believe that nothing is wrong with him at all. I was so pleased, I wanted to run and throw my arms around him. Everything was very peaceful.
But then we heard a clatter in the hallway (the janitor accidentally dropped a bucket)  and Father slammed his fist through the glass window, passing it straight through the iron bars and getting his arm stuck. Something has to be done. He can’t be like this.
I came back from visiting Father feeling ready to spend the entire summer concentrating on magic. The first thing to do was to take Nysa to see the prairie. The problem was I didn’t know how to get there. The Lioness would know though, and I could also ask her why Malia’s magic doesn’t have any effect on me--why I don’t need a shield when I’m around her. Uncle Winthrop and Liop sure felt it.

Much to our surprise, Trena was waiting for us in the entrance cave.
“You’ve been away a long time,” she rumbled, tail twitching with amusement, “now tell me all about Keish’s wedding.”
It took a long time to tell about your wedding, the beauty of the ocean, your dress and everything everyone was wearing. “You ought to have worn your bridemaid dress. I’d like to see you in it,” Trena informed me. I told her about Ryland and Malia, but the Lioness was strangely uninterested in them. “Jace and Keish are kind to take them in. I remember that mistake--fairies rarely make mistakes of that sort. They should have taken both children,” she nodded her head wisely, “but you should not be surprised, Arrietta, that your resistance to magic protects you from Malia. Tell me, have you heard from Keish yet since she left on her honeymoon?” Her silver wings rustled as she stretched and changed her position. I noticed a quilt folded beneath her.
“Who takes care of you?” I asked suddenly.
“I have attendants,” said the Lioness without interest, “and the magic of this cave does much.”
“Will I ever see them?” I asked.
“The mark of a good servant is never to be seen,” the Lioness replied and changed the subject back again.
It took a long time to come around to the point of asking about the prairie. Nysa was growing impatient, but she did not dare to interrupt us.
“You may stop pacing the floor and ask me your question,” said the Lioness finally, flicking one ear and turning her gold eyes on Nysa for the first time.
“When Arri was last in these caves, she found an exit to a prairie,” said Nysa.
“Yes, it’s a lovely place that belonged to Jezreel.”
“Where is it?” I asked, “I want to show it to Nysa.”
Trena looked highly amused by this announcement. “It’s near the southern border of Elcaro. Your fairy book has many connections that you have not explored yet, Arrietta. This will be a good place to start. Nysa, if you’re to accompany her, be mindful of your steps.” She yawned, showing many sharp, white teeth. Her eyes, however, continued to sparkle.  “You must wonder how you got there, Arrietta. I admit that I sent you, because you were upset and your footsteps echoed through all the cave, pounding away all peace. I thought you would like to see one of you mother’s favorite places. But I will not send you this time. You must learn to travel on your own. One day I will teach you to create your own connections to places, but for now, I recommend learning about Jezreel’s places. I believe you will find them as useful as she did. You will also find, however, that the places outside this cave take even more magic to get to, so don‘t exhaust yourself. Be careful.”
After the Lioness left us, Nysa and I opened the Fairy Book. Now that we knew what to look for, it was easy to find the page with the connection to the prairie.  Mother had drawn a picture of herself and Ellean flying over it on the Lioness while traveling to visit the fairies. I held the magnifying glass over the picture and in a minute, Nysa and I were standing in the prairie. The day was cold and drizzly--nothing like the bright morning I found the first time I came. We looked carefully in all directions, but saw nothing. Everything was gray from the overcast sky to the dripping grass. But it was peaceful, and looking carefully I could see wildflowers sprinkled among the gray-green.
“Not much to look at,” said Nysa in disappointment, but I still thought it a lovely place. It only needed a little shelter for rainy days.
We began walking in a cautious circle around our starting point. I wasn’t sure what we were looking for. Perhaps Mother only ever came here for peace and quiet. I would like to come here myself. In good weather, I imagine there are birds and other animals about.
“Arri, stop!” commanded Nysa suddenly. I brought my foot immediately back to the ground without stepping forward.
“What is it?” I asked. Nysa was standing only a foot away from me looking pointedly at the ground. I followed the line of her gaze and found a plain, white mushroom. A few inches away grew another, and a few inches from that a third. Beyond that the grass was too high to see.
“We’ve found a fairy ring,” said Nysa, stepping carefully backwards.
“Oh!” I said, “are we inside it?”
“No, thankfully,” said Nysa and I remembered that she can never enter a fairy ring again.
“What would happen if you crossed into a fairy ring?” I asked.
“I would be killed,” said Nysa simply. She shivered. “Let’s go back to the cave.”
I looked around again, “Is this one of the places Mother would meet you?” I asked.
“It must be,” said Nysa softly. She looked around too, as though seeing the place more clearly. “I don’t remember it.”
“What would happen if I entered the ring?” I asked.
“Fairies rarely take an interest in humans,” said Nysa, “I doubt anything would happen.” Her eyes were very wide. “Let’s go back, Arri. Please.”
The Lioness was right that it takes more magic to visit places outside the cave than inside. After we returned to the cave and then back to the apartment, Nysa and I were tired, too tired to feel like practicing magic. I spent the afternoon watching Clotho and Hermes feed their nestlings through my opera glasses. Now that summer has come, my room in Rousha has as nice a view as I had in Odsreq. I love the castle park.

June 10th

I still haven’t heard from you, but I’m sure that’s because the post is so slow. And also I’m sure you’re enjoying yourself too much to have time for writing.
Today I had lunch with Clara. Everything is ready for the wedding, despite the fact that it is still a few weeks off. She says that everyone should stop being amazed at how quickly she arranged things--she’s been arranging formal events for the Westridges all her life and this is no different. Tulson says every courtier should spend a few years as a servant--this spoken while giving orders for his private rooms to be cleaned and polished before he returns from playing tennis.
The border with Greste is quiet again, but Clara says there was no clear victory and everyone is preparing for more incidents. Living in the castle, she hears a lot more about politics than she ever heard in quiet Odsreq. The subject interests her and she said so much about trade relations during lunch that I began to feel like I was preparing for another test. Eventually she noticed my wandering attention and went back to her wedding plans, for which I was grateful. It’s strange how not seeing her everyday has made our friendship less close than it was last summer when we were still building traps for Mendel in the forest. I still like Clara very much, but we have less in common outside of Odsreq.

June 11th

I went back to the prairie today. I didn’t tell Nysa. I went on my own. I wanted to see if the rain had let up. I took a book of birds with me so I could spend time identifying them. It seemed like a nice way to spend the afternoon. Liop was furious that I wouldn’t let him come.
“I want to see a fairy ring!” he protested, “I’ve never seen one.”
“You’re still too young and you’re also still grounded for what you did to Imato’s room in Uncle Adlen’s tower,” I reminded him (we had a letter from Imato about it a couple days after we got home--I’m sure you’ve heard too). I still feel a little guilty. Liop was sulking in his room when I left. With school out for the summer, Liop has less to keep him occupied. Tomorrow I’ll spend the entire day with him if he wants.
I decided to stay outside of the fairy ring. I found a nice little rise in the ground to sit on. It was another beautiful day with flocks of small birds rising and falling all around me. I trained my opera glasses on them and made notes on a piece of paper as I identified the different species. I think I had been sitting fifteen minutes when something small hit me in the shoulder. I looked down to see what it was.
An acorn?
I looked around carefully. There wasn’t a single tree in sight anywhere. Another acorn swished past my head as I turned. A third hit me in the ear. Where were they coming from? I stood up slowing, thinking about the direction I was facing. It seemed like they must have been coming from the west. Another acorn confirmed it by flashing across my vision. I walked west until I came to the line of the mushroom ring. The acorns were coming from within the fairy ring. I squinted, trying to see something beyond prairie grass, but nothing stood out. Nysa said nothing would happen if I crossed. Those acorns weren’t appearing out of nowhere. I lifted one foot and slowly reached it across the line. I stepped across.
A whole world opened up to my vision. I was standing in front of a stone wall about eight feet high and stretching away from me in a wide circle. Directly ahead of me was an open doorway. Just above the wall I could see the tops of trees--oak trees among the mixture. I peered through the doorway and found a wild garden growing inside it.
It was very wild indeed. Vines and weeds crept over the edges of raised flowerbeds. Out of control roses wound themselves among tree branches. The whole place smelled strongly of herbs and spices. I remembered Father’s story about rescuing Mother from the dragon while she was collecting herbs along the southern border. He never mentioned a formal garden, but this place did not look that old. Nothing was worn or crumbling. It was untended, but not ancient.
I walked through the garden slowly. The source of the acorns stood elegantly in one corner--an oak tree, young by tree standards, but probably at least fifteen years old--at least it was similar to the fifteen-year-old tree on the school grounds in Odsreq. There were several fruit trees that looked like they had never been pruned. Broken branches lay around them from years of unharvested fruit.
Seeing the oak tree did not really explain the acorns that hit me.
“Is anyone here?” I called. Another acorn hit my shoulder and I heard childish laughter.
“Who’s there?” I asked, feeling nervous.
“I’m here!” and the voice laughed loudly.
“Who are you?”
“A tree!” announced the voice, laughing. I saw a hand briefly and another acorn flew in my direction.
Whoever it was seemed to be a child. I approached the tree cautiously.
“Come out so I can see you!” I said.
“Why?” laughed the voice.
“If you don’t come out, I’ll leave!” since the child had lured me into the garden, I thought it must want me to stay. I turned and started to walk away.
“Don’t go!” called the voice. I turned around to see a boy emerge from behind the acorn tree. But he wasn’t an ordinary boy. From his back grew a pair of iridescent dragonfly wings. The wings fluttered rapidly, and though he stood on the same level as me, his feet did not touch the ground.
“A fairy!” I gasped.
“A human!” he mocked and laughed hard at his joke. He had the same ageless quality that Brynn and Nysa have. He might have been anywhere between ten and fourteen years old. His brown eyes were large and bright with mischief.
“Who are you?” he asked finally, when I didn’t say anything else.
“Arrietta Fae Etautca. Who are you?” I asked.
He simply laughed and turned upside down.
“What are you doing here?” he demanded, upside down. He was dressed in a bright blue tunic with grey pants and a belt of braided white cord. The back of his shirt was cut to accommodate his wings.
“I came to watch the birds,” I said, “why are you here?”
He laughed again. “I’m looking for the lady,” he said, “who tends this garden. You are not her!”
“What’s her name?” I asked.
“Lady, of course,” he laughed, “but you are just a girl, even if you do look a little like her.” He turned sideways and looked at me closely, “have you come to tend the garden, Girl?”
“No,” I said softly, looking around. It was my mother’s garden. This fairy boy was looking for my mother.
“How long has it been since you last saw the lady?” I asked softly.
“I saw her when she planted the fruit trees,” the boy waved his hands toward the broken trees, “but she did not come back and prune them. She should have come back.” He looked troubled for a moment and then he laughed.
“Oh,” I said. Had part of me wanted him to say that he just saw her? That she was alive after all?
“Do you know the lady?” the fairy boy asked.
“She was my mother,” I said.
“What does that mean?” asked the boy.
“It means she had children,” I said, not knowing what he meant by his question.
“More than one child?”
“Yes, two boys and me,” I said.
“Boys? I want to see them! Bring them for me to see!”
“I can’t,” I said, “one is getting ready to marry and the other is too young.”
“What does that mean--marry?”
“It means to have a wife--for a man and woman to start a family.” How do you explain marriage?
“The boy will become a man?”
“He is a man.”
“But you said they were boys.”
“My little brother Liop is still a boy.” I don’t really think the fairy was understanding anything I said.
“Liop--what does that mean?”
“It’s his name,” I said.
“Liop is a boy?”
“I want to see him!”
“You can’t.”
“I want to!”
“It’s not possible. He can’t come into this garden.”
The fairy threw an entire handful of acorns at me and flew away.
I spent the rest of the afternoon in the garden. I walked around slowly, stepping carefully so as not to disturb any of it. Many of the flowers were familiar to me from Mother’s gardens when I was a child. There was a large section dedicated to herbs. It was overgrown, but the herbs had reseeded themselves over the years and were all mixed up together. The fairy followed, bombarding me with questions.
“Where is the lady?”
“She died.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means she can’t come back.”
“She’s in heaven, and people in heaven can’t leave.”
“Where is heaven?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why did she go there?”
It was frustrating. He acted much younger than he looked. And he was full of mischief, throwing acorns when I didn’t give him an answer he liked, chasing birds through tree branches and digging random holes, only to fill them back in.
“Are you always in this garden?” I asked the fairy.
“No, I’m not allowed here,” he responded, laughing, “but when I hear someone coming, I sneak away from the others. This garden is a lot of fun when someone is tending it. Are you going to tend the garden?”
I stopped and looked at him. Was I? Part of me wanted to. It was my mother’s and part of me wanted to restore it to what it must have looked like when she first planted it. But it would take a lot of time and effort, and I have so many other things I’m supposed to be doing. A lot of the herbs in the garden are for healing, but growing wild has not hurt them.
“No,” I told the fairy, “I’m sorry. I can’t tend the garden.”
When I left the garden, I was followed by a shower of acorns and the words: “Bring back the lady next time you come!” I’m not the lady, I responded in my head, I have to do things differently.

June 13th

When I left to visit Father this morning, I found Phyfe waiting for me.
“Can I walk with you?” he asked awkwardly. I nodded and he fell in step beside me.
“I’m sorry about not dancing with you,” I said softly, feeling the color rise to my cheeks, “I really was waiting for someone or I would have.”
“I’m sorry for my behavior,” said Phyfe, “I stopped coming without ever giving you a proper explanation. You’re a fine lady and you deserved better treatment.”
“You’re a good man,” I said, “I understand why you stopped coming.”
“I miss coming,” Phyfe sighed, “but it could never work out. I’ve thought and thought about it. You and I can’t ever be more than friends. It would be unfair to both of us to try for anything else. I hope you can forgive me. You deserve so much better.”
I realized in that moment that I didn’t love him and never had. But he was right: we could be friends.
“Let’s just be friends,” I said. I offered Phyfe my gloved hand and he shook it vigorously as if I were a man. I laughed and he laughed to.
“The Fly-by has been having a lot of fun with you,” he observed, “It seems to think you’ve taken up with a different gentleman every week. I suppose the author doesn’t think it’s possible for a gentleman and lady to be just friends.”
“That’s why I don’t read it,” I grumbled.
“I just wanted to say it was a brilliant move on Master Mendel’s part to blow both Lord Sean and I up. Now we’re both out of the running,” he laughed. But I groaned and changed the subject.
It will be nice having Phyfe for a friend again. He was always so good at helping me get out of dancing.

No letter from you yet. You must be having such a wonderful time! And I know the post is slow. Hermes and Clotho’s babies will leave the nest in another week, but the vet says that I shouldn’t use any of the pigeons for letters until mid-July so they can recover from the nesting season. There’s no hope of speeding things up. I’ll just keep adding to this letter.

June 18th

I just got your letter. It’s still so strange to think of you as married! I actually haven’t heard any rumors, but since I actively avoid the Fly-by that’s not surprising. I’ll ask Taty the next time I see her if she’s heard anything. It seems like both of us are always surrounded by rumors no matter what we do. It’s very frustrating. Prince Tulson used his connection with Prince Euan to find out what kind of horse you already owned and choose a match for you. Even he was surprised at how closely the colors matched--it was better than he hoped. Argyros is such a beautiful horse! Yes, Prince Tulson is rather frustrating to travel with, because he always wants to give the carriage driver advice. This carriage driver took it all very humbly and because of that we made two wrong turns and got stuck in the mud once.
Uncle W. is reluctant to teach Liop any alchemy since his experiments really are getting out of control. Nysa became so angry the other day that she threatened to drain him of all magic. (I asked her later if she really could do it, and she said that she knows the principle spells, but she’s never used them.) Fortunately, Liop’s magic is still much weaker than mine. I’ve started setting wards around his room to let me know of any magic going on without my permission. Maybe you’re right, though. Maybe training would help. He doesn’t mean any harm.
I hope that your trip back from Cruxholm went well.


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