The 15th of Raining

Dear Jenny,

I have indeed received your letter before leaving for the ferry, for which I am quite glad. The ferry ride in my opinion is very boring and I have been glad of the opportunity to read. Gwen has been chasing the boys around. Though Tiador has been a sulky about the visit to Gullshore, he cannot resist the ferry.

The magistrates made the announcement recently that it was the Daggers. I had heard about them once or twice, but always as something very far and distant and unimportant. I do not think there has been talk of them on the other islands. There are now rumors running all over the island about them and what they do. It is difficult to know what to believe. The only real details I have been able to ascertain are that they do not name their god, or alternately use a different name in every ritual; and they regularly make sacrifices of both animals and humans. The other rumors really can’t be true; they are all contradictory. Shall I give you a sampling? They are said to be brazen rebels; others say the king is backing them and they kill those who oppose him; their leader is the king’s long lost uncle who is going to take back what is rightfully his; or a maniacal woman whose lover was killed and now seeks revenge on all the world. And those are only the rumors that might be somewhat reasonable. There are some people who say the Daggers are distributing jewels and gold to the poor. I suppose you could believe that – they have forgotten the part where the jewels are given with a dagger in the back!

Well, enough of that. Knowing who is behind the crimes may help the magistrates, but it doesn’t help me very much. It is all the same to be weary of some unknown person or persons as it is to be weary of a strange gang of unknown person or persons.

One thing – in your letter you said you would have to be sending your letters differently when we are on Gullshore. We will not be there very long, just for the afternoon, so you needn’t worry. But that leads me to a question. I do not understand why you would need to do anything differently at all. I have been sending my letters with the same spell each time, and I have no idea where you are at all, but none of them have been lost, have they? Of course, if they were lost you wouldn’t know, but there haven’t been any gaps in our correspondence, so it doesn’t seem likely.

I do not think Aden has had any premonitions since coming here, but he is a little shy, and does not talk much. Is his how he usually is? I think it is because everything on the estate is so different from what he has known in an army camp. He stares at the array of food set out for every meal, and asked me what happens to parts we don’t eat. Oh I felt so silly, for I had to think a moment before I could answer. It was so long ago that Cook had explained it to me that I had nearly forgotten because it’s just the way things are. At least I was finally able to explain that the servants take the rest, and whatever they leave goes to the poor, so it is good manners to never eat all of it.

We have very few moments alone, though I make it a point to talk with him a little before bed. Sometimes he asks questions; sometimes I feel that he just wants me to leave him alone. I am trying very hard to be a good aunt, but I do not know how it is to be done, nor dare I do anything excessive lest Mama notice. I would not let her find out that her grandson is under her roof for all the opals of the fae. Gwen and I have talked are trying let Aden know that we are there for him without smothering him. It is not an easy task to balance.

But he is healthy; I hope that he is somewhat happy. Just the other day he beat Tiador at darts, and Tiador sulked a good deal. Aden told him he needed to practice more, and that he should try knife throwing, and produced one. I should not have been surprised to see it, but I was. I was able to explain to him why he should never show the knife to Mama, but Tiador didn’t understand and I had to bribe him with sugared roses. Then I took them down to see the horses and even let them ride Papa’s blue roan stallion with me, which of course Tiador couldn’t stop talking about and we were all in trouble because the stallion is temperamental and Papa was in a rage that something might have happened to the horse. But it distracted Tiador from the knives and Aden told me that night that I am a trickster, so it was worth it.

Another thing, Gwen has taken the amber to be set in a copper casing like what she wears hers in, and will have a long chain, I will wear it backwards, so that the amber rests on my back, and when someone (Mama) looks at the front of me, all they will see will be a thin gold chain. Which of course will be hidden under other necklaces or collars or both. With Gwen to dress me I feel sure this plan will be satisfactory, if a little odd. Well, it will not be the first odd thing that I have done to avoid something coming to Mama’s notice. I am wearing no amber today (we sent it off before we got your last letter or we would have put it off), but Gwen has her bracelet, Tiador has grandmother’s beads, Aden’s dagger is set with amber, and we will not be on the island for the majority of the day, so we are not unprotected.

We are about to land. I shall write again in a moment.

Oh dear sister, forgive me. I have failed you. You were quite right to be worried about the 15th of Raining, but who would have guessed that trying to avoid catastrophe would bring it? We are trapped, and – I shall write it out as it happened. I am loathe to tell you of my failure, but you may as well know. Much as I hate to cause you pain, it can either come with all the correct details from me now, or later, much later, as speculation.

Docking was fine and we went through the fields and had a lovely picnic and Aden and Tiador had fun climbing all over the quartz rocks. Do you remember how we used to pretend they were the bones of dragons sticking up all over the island? The air was thick with gulls and it was all very lovely and Gwen and I were congratulating ourselves on missing whatever impending doom was behind us and discussing in whispers if it would be possible to accidently miss the return ferry home and be stuck here for the night. Of course the Larum family would have taken us in –

I digress. We walked along the beach and Tiador was determined to show Aden the sea caves. Gwen and I had dressed simply, so I thought it would not hurt to wade into the shallower ones, though I forbade Tiador from swimming out into the deep caves. To his credit, he kept that promise. But he insisted on running ahead, deeper into the caves than I have ever gone before. Perhaps you made it back this far – I don’t know. Aden did not want to go on, but of course I could not leave Tiador, and he refused to listen to me and would not come back, so I had to follow him, and then Gwen nor Aden would let me go after Tiador alone. It was quite touching.

We went deeper into the caves, and the water got deeper, and Gwen and I were calling and calling to Tiador, because our skirts were getting very waterlogged by now and leaving the cave was of the greatest importance, then we heard him scream. Oh the way it echoed! We thought some monster had caught him, or perhaps the Daggers, or even simply regular bandits. We rushed forward of course – Aden with dagger drawn – and fell. What a shock! I do not know why we didn’t die right then. Gwen hit her head badly, and we all ended up swallowing a great deal of seawater, and all of our candles went out.

You may wonder how I am writing to you at all. My reticule is waterproof, and I had one candle besides my writing things in there. So I am writing while we still have light. We are all fine despite the fall, but we cannot get out. We have looked all over the cave, at least the parts we can reach – we are huddled near that disastrous waterfall for this is the only place shallow enough to sit or stand. Not from here it becomes very deep – and we can find no way out. There must be a way out or this cave would be a deep pool and we would all be drowned already, but as it is we cannot find it.

The tide must be coming in, for it is getting deeper. I feared so for sometime, but Aden has said it, and I am sure he is right. Forgive me sister. I did not mean to get your child drowned even before he had been here a month. Aden says he loves you. I will give him the paper in a moment so he can write his own letter. He does not want me to see it, which I suppose is fair. Gwen asks that if you can would you let Albern Travon of Oyster Bay know what has happened. He is her sweetheart and one of the magistrates here.

I give the paper to Aden now. I am so sorry Sharps.

With love and regret,

 

Stella

 

(Author’s note: I didn’t know what a smart 5 yr-old would write as his dying words to his mother, so you’re just going to have to imagine it.)

Reply to: The Arrival

Stella,

I am sending this the 13th day of Raining. I hope it will reach you (and that you will find time to read it) before you take your trip to Gullshore, which is an excellent idea, by the way. I knew I could depend on you. After you’ve left your home island, I will have to send my letters a little bit differently in order to have them reach you, as you well know from your own practice of magics.

The information about the knives was truly revealing and has made your position even more precarious, but also slightly reassuring if you can believe that. You see, the Daggers is a group of people, one that I am familiar with for we have had many encounters with them over here on the mainland. (I don’t believe they call themselves “the Daggers” but it is the name we call them.) They have all sorts of strange rituals and ideals and believe they are on the errands of the gods. I am sad to hear that their actions have taken the lives of people living on the islands. Have you heard any other reports from the other islands? I did not realize they would have moved so far west from where they began. It makes me wonder if a higher authority than their gods has got a hold of their hearts… or their moneysacks. I do not understand the relationship between Jax and the old woman. I feel like I am missing something and feel wretched that I can’t be there to investigate in person.

What has Aden said about things so far? Any new dreams or premonitions? I think he inherited some of that from me, but in a more concentrated form somehow.

The reason I said that knowing that the Daggers are behind the murders is reassuring is because they have very specific signs that I can tell you to look for. They are very methodical in their execution of their beliefs, even if those themselves seem to be chaotic. I will include a list of symbols to look for. If you are good at copying, you could etch a few of them around your estate that will tell the rest of the gang, “avoid this place, nothing to see here.” You will have to be wise about it, though, because if you are too excessive they may suspect a mole.

For once I am glad your mother is a dependable old rat. If you can manage to keep her talking, you could probably begin leaving symbols around the house without her noticing. Bless little Jax for enabling my son to be accepted in his new home without questions. For such a short life, his will be well remembered and honored by me.

Knowing who is behind the murders has settled my heart, but I still feel you should leave the island. For some reason, it doesn’t matter what time of day, only that you do depart for a decent amount of time sometime during. You will have to let me know what you observe during that day and upon your return to the island. It may not be the best 15th of Raining you’ve ever had, but it may be the most memorable.

I realize that I do not send much information about my whereabouts or what I am doing. I would have you know that most of the time it is because I would write the same things over and over each letter. The rest of the time, it is because I, myself, do not know where I will be going or doing next. Today, I am standing on the top of the highest mountain peak in the eastern range (one of the ranges) and preparing to “avalanche” a small town of rebels. It has been a lot to learn, becoming a general, and I am glad for the patience of my men and women because soldiering on is always difficult even under the most capable leadership. Last night, I pulled out my bow to practice and found small chew marks on the wood. Can you believe that mealiebores can live at such a high altitude and can be found so far east? I was so frustrated that they’d chewed away at my bow that I used nearly an entire cupful of rucks oil sealing the wood back up. The markings are still there, not that markings on a bow are anything new, but they are in a place that won’t weaken the entire thing, thank the moons. I will have to be more diligent and have my soldiers checking their wooden equipment regularly now.

All the best. Please write back soon. I am anxiously awaiting news of the coming storm.

Sharps

The Arrival

Dear Aden’s Mother,

I feel as if I have unknown you all over again. That is a strange thing to say and Mama would tell me that I am not wording things properly, but I think it is true. I am delighted with Aden – he is here now – but somehow he, and you, were like a story of the fae folk, until suddenly, he was here. He has your nose, and that spark in his eyes that you had whenever we were about do something Mama wouldn’t approve of. He is here, real, and that means you are real as well and that there are so many, many things about you that I don’t know that these long ten years have stolen from us. I am ecstatic and melancholy all at once. Mostly ecstatic though.

Aden arrived on the day of funeral for Jax Amaury – the little boy who was murdered. They are the ones my old magic tutor went to. Jax and Tiador were playmates. I have seen them so often running around the grounds together, playing at pirates and making off with goodies from Cook. She always leaves some unguarded for them. I snag some myself when I can.  Mistress Tumbledown’s death was shocking, but Jax’s death is heartbreaking, for I know him. He should not be dead. The Magistrates believe it was the same murderer.

The murderer left the knife in both his victims.  Gwen has more friends in town, and told me in confidence  (she knows that I am telling you) that both knifes had bone handles and were made of seric steel, and each was set with a great jewel, an emerald in mistress Tumbledown’s and a sapphire in the other. Jax had blue eyes.

I can think no more about it. I will write of Aden instead. As I said, he appeared on the same day as the funeral, sometime after we returned. Mama was busy calculating how best to comfort poor Mrs. Amaury (before Lady Hippolyte can) and Gwen and I escaped to stroll outside in the gardens. He appeared from between the hedges so quickly and suddenly that Gwen said she was sure he was a fae. He was rather dirty, so we whisked him off to the bath, which I do not think he fully appreciated. He did appreciate Cook’s dinner though, and we were able to get some of Tiador’s old clothes to fit him. He looks like a little lord. He insisted on keeping his own boots. I do not blame him, they are a good pair, but the rest I have put away, since Mama would burn them. He was reluctant to part with them, poor dear, but it cannot be helped.

Gwen and I have been discussing how to present him to Mama and Papa and we are both glad of the advance warning. (I have told her Aden is your son, but not that you are not married, nor of your lover’s exile.) Jax’s death, unfortunately, gives us good excuse. We told Mama that he would be a comfort to Tiador and a good companion. Also, that were Lady Hippolyte in Mama’s shoes, she would throw him out like a monster, and we all know that Mama is not a monster, nor like Lady Hippolyte in the least. I think we could have left it at that and Mama would have accepted it. So Aden is established in the household.

He is in the old servant room next to mine. Mama wanted Gwen to stay there when she first came, but I insisted she have lodgings in town. Gwen was somewhat bemused by that, but has since seen that it is a great relief to both of us that she isn’t constantly under Mama’s watch. And now it makes it Aden’s room. Mama wanted him closer to Tiador, since they are companions, but all the rooms down there are full. We have fixed up Aden’s room as well as possible on short notice (that is, we moved out of the storage. The current steward was most annoyed. I am glad. It can be discomforting to hear noises from that room in the middle of the night, even if it is innocent and all.) We shall add to it so that is will truly be his own. We have left the door between our rooms unlocked. This is the first time in two years that is has been so.

If you could see everything, I think you will be pleased. I mean to introduce him to Tiador’s tutors next week. After the 15th of Raining. And that reminds me about your warning. Sun and moons above Gen Sister Mine, how am I supposed to get us off the island during the greatest home bound celebration in the Nine Islands? Yes, I know gathering at the family hearth is only for the evening, but Mama has a Timetable that CANNOT be moved nor changed. Even taking a ferry out to Gullshore Isle would leave us with enough time to be back. Or are you only worried about the morning, when we shall be running all over town? We could get to Gullshore for that. Tiador is bored of Gullshore already, but Aden has never seen it and that would serve as a good enough reason to take us there.

In truth, I should be glad of any excuse to get away from Mama and her instance of reading all Forty-nine of the Adages of the Gallant Seven Arms of the Emperor (Why did they all have to say such long and boring things?) especially once I learned that very few other families actually do it. Lady Hippolyte’s family is one of the few. Three years ago I mentioned this in an attempt to persuade Mama to give up the Adages, but apparently they are Tradition that started even before Mama was born (she made it sound like some multi-great lost-history Head of the Family and was therefore LAW.) And I was not permitted outside for the Cloud Fair. It was a terrible 15th of Raining, but that is the past.

Well, we shall go to Gullshore then, and I suppose if the worst that happens is that we all suffer through the Adages we can only be grateful.

With Love,

Stella

(Author’s note: According to Wikipedia seric iron is another name for Damascus steel. Britannica Encyclopedia says seric steel was used in Roman times. The Britannica article looked very informative, but way too long to actually read.)

Reply to: Nephew

Oh Stella,

I might have known that you would be so quick to expose me. I suppose the love of a mother would have been impossible to mask in a letter to my dear, clever Stellar. How can I deny you the joy of knowing that Aden is your nephew? I certainly hope you will keep the knowledge from your mother; the last thing I need is for Aden to become a tool in her hands against me. If I keep him here, I lose. If I send him I away, I lose, but at least he will be safer. Yes, he will be safer on your island full of evil marks and dimwits than with me on my next “expedition.” He is going through more distress than a child ought for, you see, his father is the Captain who was exiled from us. I am afraid that Aden may blame himself for his father’s poor choices, perhaps thinking that ‘he only did what he did to make sure his son was well-kept.’ Do not be too harsh when I say we were not married. There is little time for and fewer people willing to perform such niceties when in the middle of a war. We seek comfort and happiness in the ways that we can.

I think if I had been forced to attend such a dinner as you have, I would have slipped bilious berries into everyone else’s food. I am sure it would be difficult to be stiff and formal when vomiting all over the “Ziegler Mahal.” Do not worry — those who wake the dragon always get burned… if they are lucky enough not to get eaten. Ms Hippo deserves what is coming to her; it is too bad her family will probably get mixed up in it, too.

I am sorry to hear there has been another murder. My mind is preoccupied by the things I am up against out here and can only wish that it was as simple as murder. Are there any evidences that point to one murderer or is it the work of a group? Or separate incidents entirely? Please promise that you will take the boys (and Gwen, if you can!) off the island, at least on the 15th day of Raining. I keep getting prickles of anxiety when thinking of that holiday and felt urgently that I must warn you as it is approaching so quickly. Perhaps it is just my “war-sense” but that has never failed me before. Take as much amber with you as you can. Things will only get worse.

Aden will arrive on the 5th of Raining, if I got my timing right.

Sharps

 

(*Author’s note: “Ziegler Mahal” is one of the most expensive rugs in the world, worth about $185,000, and is referenced in mockery of Lady Hippolyte although this story does not necessarily take place on Earth.)

Nephew

My dearest and beloved Jenny,

Of course I will take your son Aden in. Am I really an aunt? Oh I did not know when I first saw that name it would bring such joy to my heart! I see no reason for him to be a servant; why would I do so to my own kin? Of course I  will not explain this to Mama, but that does not mean I shall do less for him! He shall have the best education I can provide him. I am only too happy to do anything for your…

I have read your letter again and I see that you did not say what he was to you. Forgive me, if I have misinterpreted, but he is your child, isn’t he? It’s been over ten years you know. You haven’t said a word, but we haven’t been corresponding and… Are  you married? I surely hope so, things would be so much settled that way, but if – there are other circumstances – that will not stop me from taking in my nephew.

As for the dinner… I did not use the bilious berries. I did not suffer much – just the usual awkwardness and stiff formalities. I ate little. She has not yet attempted to poison my food, but I’m not very optimistic about it staying that way. All of her children were there and she made a great many remarks about how wonderful it was to have all one’s children around and how sorrowful Mama must be to have only one. I wish you could have been there, if only to be proof that I have an ally. I think you would have hated it more than I.

I was able to tell Gwen about our writing and the amber after the dinner. It takes a load from my mind to tell her and I am glad you don’t mind. I think I hurt her feelings though. She may have some ideas for a better container for my amber so we shall be looking into that soon. It is difficult to simply buy a pretty bauble without going through Mama. She has her own amber bracelet, the beads are in copper wire casings in such a way that you cannot see the amber at all.  I have seen her wear it before, but I had not known they held amber. I cannot blame her for Mama scorns amber. (I can’t help feel that is unfair though for her to be angry with me for keeping a secret when she has one .)

Anyways –

There’s been another murder! Gwen just came in to tell me. Oh, I am trembling, forgive me if my words are shaky. I thought surely the murderer must have fled when the boats started again. Why stay? It is even worse than the first. It is a little boy just older than Tiador. Genevieve, don’t send Aden here. I couldn’t bear it if he dies too.

I will write with more details later, but please, don’t send him!

Stella

 

(*Author’s note. I’m not saying Aden shouldn’t come. Just that this is Stella’s natural reaction. Also, since she’s distraught she slipped and used Genevieve. That’s still how she thinks of Sharps. She’ll get over it eventually.)

Reply to: Amber

Ever Stellar,

I did know that those evil symbols burned the flesh, but did you know – not the flesh of the one who creates them? Which is probably why your mother and the Brainless One still have the fingers to continue their war. They have not entirely realized that their aversion to the symbols is anything more than aversion to each other, but it does not take a brilliant mind to sense the evil radiating from them, if one decides to pay attention, of course. Your precautions are well in order.

Aden may be coming to join you as an urchin and a servant shortly. He is only 5 years but more clever than many of the grown men I work with every day. He has a special ability to sense magics, both pure and tainted, and sometimes has dreams that warn of future events, if only vaguely. He is quickly becoming competent at figuring them, though. Please take him in, Stella. As loath as I am to have him out of my sight, it will be better for him to be away from an army camp and you are the only person I trust to give him a decent childhood and stability since you seem firm in your decision to stay on your estate. He understands what is needed and will not give you any trouble nor demand pampering, but I pray you will continue to teach him to read and write and do mathematics. He will not be travelling alone but when he shows up at your estate, he will be alone. Do not be alarmed at this, it is all for protection. He will also be a part of your protection with his skills.

Aden has been learning how to throw knives and even shoot arrows since he was younger than 4 years. You were little older than that when I taught you, not even 5 years. Isn’t it strange how memory makes us wiser, younger than we give the little ones credit for now? I do forgive you for losing the knives. I will send a few more with Aden when he comes and perhaps he and Tiador will become best mates.

Did you use the bilious berries? If not, did you find any other symbols on your person, or even the carriage? (Have you checked it as diligently as your own clothing?) I think you and the children of Ms. Hippopotamus should be friends just to spite both your mothers.

Did you make an amber-filled locket for Gwen, too? I believe if she is your confidant and friend that she deserves one since Tiador already has your amber beads. I will also send a few amber beads with Aden so that he and Gwen may both have that protection. Your mother is a fool. I have seen the protecting power of amber beads and even so little as amber dust too often to dismiss it in good conscious. One time, I saw a man before my very eyes get cut by a sword across his shoulder and upper arm. There was blood everywhere, excuse the description. We bandaged it and rushed him to the medic and when we got there and removed the bandage there was no cut, only a thin white scar. In his pocket we found a small amber figurine. It had been enchanted with a protective spell, and I don’t know how in the moons he could have afforded that, but it truly worked.

I greatly anticipate the news in your next letter.

Sharps

 

Amber

Beloved and Sharp-Quilled  Jenny,

May the fae seal my feet with the roots of the oldest tree on the island if I have ever penned a false word to you. Indeed, Mama and Lady Hippolyte’s war (it is I more than a petty feud) started with and continues with those terrible symbols.

And war indeed it is. I must attend a sacrificial dinner (that is, I am the sacrifice) later this week in Mama’s name with Lady Hippolyte and her odious daughters. I am much tempted to eat bilious berries the night before in order to escape, but I try to reserve such measures for the truly greatest terror of social engagements. Even Mama would notice if I became ill every time I was expected to wait upon Lady Hippolyte. (Her son is actually quite nice, but as our mothers are enemies, we cannot have any kind of acquaintance. It is a pity, he is a wonderful painter and he uses a lovely technique that I just cannot figure out.)

I assure you, Gwen and I will search over my dress, fan, stockings, reticule, jewelry, while we are in the carriage on the way back and if we find any of those vile symbols, Gwen will confiscate them and burn them discreetly. Lady Hippolyte tries to send them to Mama on my person and it is an exceeding nuisance. I have learned never to take anything directly from her and I always keep my gloves on in her presence. Or anywhere on her estate. Did you know those symbols burn if they touch your skin? That has only happened once. I always wear my amber beads from grandmother whenever I must visit Lady Hippolyte.

But father begged my beads from me because he is worried for Tiador and wants him to have “something better than magistrates’ promises.” If it had  been anyone but Tiador I could not have parted with them, but well, my heart would break if anything happened to him. So I have been amberless for the last little while. Mama laughs at the superstition that amber protects. She says the story of Spring Song is utter nonsense. For this reason she will not wear amber (Lady Hippolyte wears a great deal of it, and I think this is Mama’s real reason for avoiding it.)

I was very glad to see that your pre-made spells have some crushed amber in them. I have put one of them into and very old and rather large locket that normally I wouldn’t wear, but it was the only one that fit. I have not taken it off since, though I have had some trouble explaining to Gwen why I am so suddenly fond of it. The other spells I have buried around the house and it eases my mind.

I cannot leave Wirbel Grove without feeling that I am the greatest of cowards. Someday it will be my estate and what sort of overseer would I be if I fled any supposed danger while my people stayed? Also, there is no where for me to go. I am not like you, able to take up a new life. I have and always will be an aristocrat’s daughter. There is no other way for me to earn a living. Besides, I would not able to take Tiador with me.

The boats have been operating again for two weeks now. There is nothing amiss on the island, unless you count Lady Hippolyte’s daughter spraining her ankle before we were supposed to go riding together. I think I can be confident in saying we were both glad of it and if she did it on purpose than it is proof she might actually have brains. The only other really horrible thing I can think of that has happened since Mama’s war started was that the steward who replaced Tiador’s father stole a great deal of money and had to be replaced. Oh, that does mean Taidor’s father died first but I cannot remember now if that was before or after the war started.

I suppose I should have started with your friend who is gone. I am very sorry to hear of his doings. I thought at first someone must have died to cause you such grief. I suppose it is a small comfort that he has not been executed outright. Perhaps in exile he will have a chance to mend his ways. I do not know if that can give you any comfort though. I am glad you have shared it with me, though I have no words of counsel to give. Mama would have several, but I don’t think you would like those.

Just what is important about the name Aden? It will be much easier to remember if I know.

I do not think I can get any knives for Tiador. He is only six after all. I was much older wasn’t I when you snuck those in for me? We did have good times throwing those. I think I won once, but am I sure you let me. I am ashamed to say that I no longer have them. After you left, I was angry. Forgive me – after all, I have forgiven you for leaving. I – well, there are two things. First, I made an over-show of being in your favor, during which I was free with one of the knives and Mama confiscated it; and then in a fit of anger I threw the other into the sea. Only afterwards did I find your letter explaining things and though I did not understand it much then, I realized how silly I behaved and regretted losing the knives.

Well, this is perhaps not the most cheering of letters, but at least there is no more dreadful news. At least not until the sacrificial dinner. Perhaps I shall eat bilious berries after all.

Much love,

Stella

Reply to: Stitchery

Dear Clever, Exasperating Stella,

I do not recall what I revealed to you of my personal loss those weeks ago, but the pain of it has dulled somewhat to numbness and I am at a point that I could share more with you. A very great Captain and leader of one of the groups of our cause was found to be guilty of falsifying documents for his own personal gain. We subsist only on what we, ourselves produce so, though you may not understand how severe this is, he was sentenced to death by exile. You cannot begin to understand how much good he did for our people and our cause, how many people he helped, how many people he inspired, yet this one weakness was his undoing. His importance to me is still very personal and I cannot bear to share all at this time, but I can admit to you he is the first person I met when I fled to this place and he took care of my needs, treated me as an equal, and made me feel important. He taught me the rules, including the importance of sharing freely, of honesty, of putting others first, and so his betrayal cuts very deeply not only for me, but for hundreds of others.

Don’t mourn for me, little Stellar, we are a quick people to recover. We must be in order to keep on surviving. I have been named Captain and placed in his stead for a temporary service of three years. This is the reason it has taken me so long to reply to your letter.

I am very proud of you for continuing your practices; do not give up. I cannot believe your report of the embroidery symbols, pray tell me that you made it up! If not, then your mother is a ridiculous cow with dung for brains! And Lady Hippolyte is exactly what she sounds like: a stinking, slobbering hippo with a fat, empty head and not a Lady at all. They have together very thoroughly and effectively endangered the lives of every single person on your island! Is it possible for you to leave? They may have a petty feud, but those symbols have power all their own so it is no wonder they have attracted some dark thing. It is a wonder they did not do so sooner and you can count your lucky trees that you live on an island where perhaps the water all around did deter a number of wicked creatures. When did the boats start operating again? Have there been any other incidents since?

Darts is a good start, but maybe you can sneak Tiador some small throwing knives for practice. Remember when I first brought some to teach you how? Your parents never even found out. I still consider that one of my prime accomplishments in my previous, young life.

I’ve included a small package of pre-made spells. Deposit them around the property where you are living and they will assist you in protecting yourself and the idiot parents. I know it is not much, but it is what I had the time and energy for. It will not diminish their effectiveness if you bury them a little to hide them from view.

Remember the name Aden. It is important.

 

All my love,

Captain Sharps

Stitchery

Beloved and Grieved Sister,

I am very sorry to hear you have a loss, though I don’t know who. You can confide in me – I hope I’m not intruding into your heart. We are near strangers after all. But I’ve burdened you with all my troubles and I would very much like to share or at least understand yours.

As for Master Unferth, I studied with him for only three years. After that even I could see that it was no good continuing. He has been teaching the Amaury children since then. All of them are advancing rapidly though they are all younger than me. I believe they are seeking for a mage for the oldest now. I am just not good a magic. My little improvements have only come because I cannot leave it alone though it frustrates me no end at times.

Mama wishes that I wouldn’t keep up with it – except where it’s expected of course. Her hair spells always turn out so lovely and elegant and mine – just last week I burnt a section near my face when I was trying to curl it. It was Gwen’s evening out and I had to wear a horrid old cap to hide it and I could feel everyone staring at me all through dinner. It was terrible.

But that is all trivial and what I really wanted to tell you about were those signs you mentioned. The magistrates sent out some papers a few years ago so that we would all be aware of them and to look out for them. And then… Oh, I suppose a woman must have come up with that first one that looks like half a flower made with a lazy daisy stitch. It really ought to be embroidered and would come out quite pretty. A man wouldn’t have thought of that would he? I know this because Mama was working on a handkerchief with lazy daisies and Lady Hippolyte ran straight to the magistrates and told them that Mama was an “accursed barbarian” waiting to murder everyone in their beds.

The idea of course is absurd. Mama bosses everyone around but murder is not her style. The magistrates had to look into it of course and it was very uncomfortable having them poke around, especially since that was when Gwen came to me and we were still sorting out how to keep secrets from Mama and the magistrates nearly came across a few of them.

Mama was enraged, but she waited. Once the fuss had died down, she whipped up a pillow casing with that second design – the bird like one (not nearly as pretty embroidered but that’s besides the point) –  and left it in Lady Hippolyte’s sitting room right before she hosted a party of acclamation for the magistrates for all of their investigating into Mama. So then of course they had to investigate Lady Hippolyte. And it’s just been going back and forth ever since. I’m afraid those two symbols are everywhere on the island and if someone actually used them for what they’re meant for, no one here would know it.

I have not seen that last symbol on the list. I can only hope I won’t, but I shall be aware of it.

Tiador and I have been playing darts since your last letter. Clarence made us a board like you used to have. Oh, I meant to say that at first but I forgot. Clarence is still here. He calls you Jenny, which is convenient since I’d rather not be confined to my room again for saying your name where Mama or Papa might hear. (You do realize though that you I have been thinking of you as nothing but Genevieve for the last ten years? You’ve been my mythical confident and advisor (although the advice wasn’t always the greatest. That’s not really your fault, but still.) I’ve been talking to Genevieve in my head for years and years and I don’t know if I can break the habit. Mama and Papa have banned me to my room for days (the current ban has only just been lifted) for merely speaking your name. Funny isn’t it that you both agree on that it ought never be used. I didn’t think you agreed on anything.)

Anyways, neither of us is very good since I haven’t played since you left and Tiador of course is a child. But there is a lot of laughter, which is a relief after all the tension over the murder. They will be letting boats leave the island soon. There’s not really anything more they can do.

I do hope I hear from you soon. I shall try to be patient if it is a long while before you can write again. Good fortune on your endeavors – whatever they are.

Love,

Stella

 

Reply to: An Introduction

Sun and moons above, Stella, if I see that awful name again I may burn your next letter before I read it!

Kind lady, please call me Sharps. It is physically painful to be reminded of a name given to me by parents who abandoned me. If you must be a rebel then is not calling me Sharps rebellion enough? In this matter, I really must insist.

I am glad for the news in your letter. The life I lead is so far removed from the civilities of my youth that I forget about things such as tutors and servants. Here, we learn all together in a large group and if one cannot pass the exam, one must try again on their own until they succeed. For certain, there are no servants. We are all equals in the cause.

I’m glad you are receiving tutoring, but if I may say boldly he sounds like an absolute imbecile. My tutor, Mage Candon treated both the power and the application equally, for “without the foundation [power] can no mountain stand [use]. Without the mountain, foundation’s but land”. Is he very accomplished, your tutor? For if you have studied under him for 7 years and still struggle with simple spells, I wonder if your parents did not shortchange you in hiring him. I implore you to find a tutor who has risen to the academic level of Mage, for he or she will teach you more than you could imagine. And enough to keep yourself and those you love safe. You are at an age you could find one suitable enough on your own.

I have to agree, bright red gowns are pretentious. I thought so when we wore them to Grandfather’s funeral all those years ago and I was nearly too young to have a logical thought in my head. I would like to meet Gwen some day. I approve of the care she has taken of you and am grateful for it. I am deeply grateful for your secrecy, though. I have a request for one piece of news. What of the gardener Clarence? Of all the staff, he was the only one I cared to talk to and I am actually interested in his fate

I apologize, Stellar, for many words in this letter seem to be coming out angry sounding. I have suffered a great loss in the past weeks since sending my last letter and I cannot fully contain the difficult emotions. They are unruly and want to come out on paper in spite all. For your sake, I am happy no further murders have been committed. But, I’ve made a few marks on the back of this page and you must tell me immediately if you see any of them anywhere on the island. There always follows great tragedy.

Maybe Tiador will be part of a great cause someday. A tirador is a great markswoman or marksman. Don’t tell Father.

My band is on the move. It may be difficult for me to receive a sending for awhile in the place we are going. Don’t stop trying.

All my love,

Sharps