Hallowed

XII. Correspondence

Dear Tatiana,

I hope this letter finds you well. I’m sorry if this letter isn’t very good, but I’ve never written one before. Avenel says to just write whatever I want to say, so that is what I’m doing.

It has been three days since we arrived at Olyssa’s house. Well, it isn’t a house, really. It’s more like a palace, the kind I read about in story books when I was younger. It has its own library and a conservatory and greenhouses, and more rooms than I can count.

Everyone has been very nice to me, even Telrin, Olyssa’s former ward. I don’t think he liked me very much at first, but we’ve gotten to know each other as we both spend a lot of time in the library. He is a historian. His research is a bit morbid, but still kind of interesting. He lets me flip through his notes, as long as I’m careful to put everything back the way I found it.

Olyssa’s daughter, Raine, has been nice to me too. She likes to draw. Her drawings are very good, but she’s very sick, so it’s hard for her to do it much, though she tries to draw a little every day. I tried to have her teach me, but everything I draw looks, in Avenel’s words, “like a malformed potato.” When I told Raine I would be writing you a letter, she made a quick sketch of me to include. I hope it doesn’t get smudged in transit. Sometimes Raine helps Telrin with his work, when he needs to copy drawings and diagrams into his notes. She’s copying a drawing right now as I write. It’s some sort of palace, I think, or a temple. Telrin says that while it was made by the Drema, it wasn’t actually in Asterii, nor was it in the usual Asterii style of architecture. Apparently, the young Drema people used to travel around the world in a “grand tour” as part of their coming-of-age, so the Drema built temples around the world as waypoints for these travelers. There is even evidence that these temples were magic, that there were portals that allowed Drema clerics to transport themselves from any one temple to another at will! Raine says she wishes she could have been born in Asterii. She says that even if magic couldn’t cure her illness, at least it could let her see the world.

Avenel just looked over my shoulder and said that you would probably rather read about me than about Telrin’s work. She is playing chess with Olyssa. She’s been doing that a lot, and I’m glad. It is really about time that they stopped being estranged.

Olyssa herself is a very interesting woman. She used to work as a botanist, until Raine became ill, and still keeps a lot of plants in her gardens and greenhouses. Most of the plants are ones I’ve never seen before, and they all have funny names. One of them even eats bugs! I watched Olyssa feed it a dead fly. She insists that I call her Aunt Olyssa, so I do. I’ve never had an aunt before. The other day, she asked me what my favorite foods were so she could tell the kitchens to make it. They tried their best, but it’s not quite the same as how my mother made it.

Speaking of the kitchens, there are so many servants for just one family! I tried to help out with dinner on my second day, because there wasn’t much else to do, but all the scullery maids were so much faster at dicing and peeling than me that I just get in their way. A few of them are my age or a little older, and I tried to make friends with them, but they don’t seem interested in being friends with me. Maybe it’s because I’m Lord Avenel’s ward, and it’s like what happened with Graham and his own friends. But they are nice to me, particularly one of the guards, Pedro, so I suppose that’s good enough.

For a few days we were also joined by some people we met on the road, a pair of siblings and their friend, though they left yesterday. The sister was teaching Raine to shoot a crossbow, which surprised me because she is not a very patient person. The sister, I mean. Raine is very patient. The brother is much nicer. He likes to sing and has a very good voice. He taught me some sea shanties he learned when he was a boy, but they are a bit too crass for me. Maybe sailors are just crass people. Their friend is something of a swordsman. He sparred for a bit with Avenel, and even though Avenel won, she said that he was very good. He didn’t seem upset about losing, but did demand a rematch. Avenel still won. Some of Olyssa’s guards came out to watch. Pedro wanted to take bets, but no one wanted to bet against Avenel.

Okay it’s time for supper now, so I will finish this letter later.

I forgot to finish this after supper. It is now the next day. Raine asked me this morning when I think Fr Ellia will be coming back, and I don’t know how to tell her that I don’t think she ever will. I asked Avenel if there’s any way Raine could write to her, but Avenel says she doesn’t think so. I don’t think Raine has had many friends, outside of her family. It makes me sad, and thinking about it makes me think about my own friends and family. Sometimes I have nightmares about I still miss them a lot, but I am glad I have Avenel now, and her family.

That’s all I have to say for now. Telrin is leaving tomorrow, to return to work. He says he’ll stop by Emdenshire, where he will give this letter to the next supply caravan heading for the Tower. You’ll probably get this letter at the same time as that lip color you were missing. I don’t know how long that will be, but I hope it isn’t too long, and I hope you’ll write back.

Your friend,

Deena

P.S.: Please give my regards to Lord Glenna, Graham, Lord Vallus, and everyone at the Silent Tower.

P.P.S.: How do supply caravans make it up the mountain?

A:

The siblings and I have crossed the border without incident. Following your directions, we have made contact with one of your safehouses, where I am writing this. I am uncertain how this letter is to reach you, but I understand it involves a messenger bird, so I will keep it brief.

So far, no one we’ve encountered has heard of the incident in question, but I plan to ride for Court in the morning, then my brother’s. I am certain someone at one of these two locations will know something, but failing that, I will concoct some excuse to ride for Lord Loorne’s and interrogate the man myself. Don’t worry; I fully intend to keep my promise to you.

Hoping to have news for you soon,

G

Dear Deena,

We’re all beyond ecstatic to hear from you! You seem to have settled in nicely, and we’re all very glad.

Things at the Silent Tower are going as they usually do. Forgive us if we can’t talk much about work, but rest assured that everyone is doing well.

I’ve been tasked with responding on behalf of all of us, as the others are busy, and we’re hoping to send this when the supply caravan leaves on the morrow. To answer your question, the supplies are hauled up on donkeys, not wagons, so they come frequently but carry little each time. Graham will want to add that they are very sweet animals, but personally I find that their personalities need improvement.

We’re glad to hear that everyone at Heyesford Hall has been treating you well. Personally, I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting either Olyssa or Telrin, but Erikr has met Telrin once, and assures me that he is “a complete stick in the mud”. You should ask Telrin if he remembers Erikr, the next time you see him. As for Raine, none of us have met her, though Lyza has of course heard of her illness. She’s surprised that Raine is still capable of drawing, and even of shooting a crossbow! It was her understanding that Raine’s condition would severely restrict any motion, including that of the arms and hands. Perhaps it’s because Raine is so dedicated in drawing every day, therefore exercising those muscles. Please ask her if she would be willing to begin a correspondence with Lyza.

Lyza also wants to add that she recommends warm milk and honey before bed. It’s said to help with nightmares.

Yours,

Tatiana

My dearest Deena,

Dear Deena,

To Lord Avenel:

I am glad to hear that you and Deena have arrived safely at Heyesford Hall, and that you are well. I trust that you will continue to take good care of Deena, and I hope she is enjoying the books I gave her.

The presence of unknown variables, namely the trio you met on the road, worries me, but I have faith in your discretion and your judgement. Please remember the trust I am placing in you. Please keep her safe from harm.

Give Deena my love, if you can.

Vallus

“Writing a reply already?” asked Avenel, glancing over Deena’s shoulder.

Deena nodded. “What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing, except you won’t have a chance to send it for a while. The courier already left.”

“Oh,” said Deena. “Why didn’t he wait?”

“He wasn’t paid to wait,” said Avenel. “I could ask Olyssa to send a rider out, if it’s really that urgent.”

Deena shook her head. “It isn’t,” she said. She set down her pen. “What did Lord Vallus say? His letter looked really short.”

“Nothing important,” said Avenel. “How are you feeling, Deena?”

“I’m fine,” said Deena. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“It’s been a month,” said Avenel. “Since Taunsgrove.”

“Oh.” Had it only been a month? It felt like a lifetime ago. She shook her head. “I’m—I’ll be fine,” she said.

“It’s tradition to revisit the grave, a month after the death.”

Deena nodded. She remembered when Mattieu’s grandfather had died. “But we can’t go back,” she said.

“No, we can’t, but Olyssa’s prepared something for you.”

She followed Avenel down the stairs and out into the gardens. There, in the afternoon sun, Olyssa stood waiting, with Raine sitting beside her. Beside them was a little grove planted full of daisies, carnations, and more, with a small stone plaque in the middle that read “Edith Hewe, Beloved Mother.”

Deena began to cry.

“Oh no,” said Olyssa, hurriedly pulling her into a hug. “Oh no, did we do something wrong?”

Deena shook her head. “No, no it’s lovely. Thank you. Thank you.”

“It was Avi’s idea,” said Olyssa. “I just helped with the plants.”

“This corner is yours now,” said Avenel. “We can add more plaques, for your other friends and neighbors, and you can plant whatever you like. More flowers, perhaps, or vegetables like you had at home.”

Deena wiped her eyes. “W-we had chickens,” she said. “Could I raise some chickens?”

“Whatever you like,” said Olyssa emphatically. “I’ll have someone start work on a coop right away.”

“Thank you,” said Deena again. “I—I want to write a letter. Maybe if I bury it here, she’ll get it over there.”

It was evening when she finished her letter, the sun about to dip into the horizon. It was ten pages long and still felt too short, crammed full of all that had happened that month, along with plenty of “I love you”s and “I miss you”s. Olyssa left a trowel for her, by the plaque, so Deena used it to dig a small hole, just large enough for the letter. She placed the envelope in the dirt and buried it.

She got to her feet and turned her gaze to the horizon. She paused, staring for a moment at the setting sun, then went into the greenhouse where Olyssa was working.

“Um, Aunt Olyssa,” said Deena, pointing at the sun. “What is that?”

Olyssa looked. “Oh, it’s an eclipse. I guess you’ve never seen one before. Don’t look directly at it, dear.”

“But I’ve read about eclipses,” said Deena. “They happen when the moon blocks part of the sun, but the moon is over there.” She pointed to where a pale milk moon sat languidly like a crescent shaped cloud. “It can’t be blocking the sun.”

“Oh,” said Olyssa. The shears fell from her hand, and she began running toward the house. “Avi!” she shouted. “Avi, come quickly!”

Avenel emerged a moment later. “What is it?” she asked. “Is everything alright?”

“No!” exclaimed Olyssa. “No it isn’t! I always thought it was a myth, a legend, but look!”

Avenel turned to look. “Olyssa—” she began.

“It’s all true, isn’t it?” asked Olyssa. Her hands shook as she clung to Avenel. “It’s what Father and Mother always said. What the Council always said. The world—”

“The world isn’t—”

“But it is! This is the sign of the end of the world!”