Chapter 13: A Dinner for Magi
“Where do we start?” Annabelle asked. She took off her cardigan and set it onto a chair, then rolled up her sleeves up to her elbows.
The young Amelia tapped a finger to her lips, drifting idly along the ceiling. “Hmm, where to start,” she said.
Charlie laughed aloud. “You don’t know how to cook?”
“I mean, I know a little bit about cooking,” said Annabelle, feeling a little bit irritated upon being laughed at. But she supposed it was true that she was no great cook, the evidence being the whole of the journey to the White Tower. Her knowledge about cooking extended only to the few books she’d read on the subject, as it had never greatly interested her.
Still, Annabelle wanted to help in whatever way she could, especially since she’d been helped along so many times.
“If only Cid were well,” said Charlie somewhat wistfully. “He would cook such wonderful feasts.”
“Well, I don’t know about a feast,” said Annabelle, taking a more assertive tone. “But at least we can fill our bellies,” she added, echoing Charlie’s words. “Come on now, tell me what we’ve got in the kitchen.”
Charlie gave Annabelle a wry smile and limped towards the far door. “This way.”
Annabelle followed behind and pushed past the door and into the kitchen. Long rows of wooden tables filled the room, topped with all manner of implements, including knives, iron implements, wooden bowls, dried cloth rags, and large, empty ceramic containers. There was a thin layer of white powdery substance filming the tops of a few of the tables, and large wicker baskets lay underneath.
At the far end of the room were multiple blackened iron furnaces. On the walls hanging from thick hooks were many different brass and iron bowls and pans and plates.
Annabelle tested one of the furnaces, noting the heat radiating from it.
“Oh, look! There’s bread inside,” she said, taking a deep breath to smell the fresh aroma. It had seemed so very long since she’d had a fresh loaf instead of something stale and old and with a bit of mold.
“We always try to make some bread, everyday,” said Amelia. She reached inside to take one of the loaves, but Annabelle slapped at her wrist.
“Not yet!” she said, almost reflexively. “You’ll ruin your appetite.” It felt almost like something she would say to her own sister.
“Ow!” said Amelia. But a hand darted back into the oven and retrieved a piece of bread within their fingers. Flying to the ceiling with her prize, Amelia stuck a tongue out at Annabelle.
Annabelle ignored her and took stock of the kitchen. There was already a stock boiling away, with nothing except bones inside, though she wasn’t sure what sort of bones either. It smelled a mixture of sweet and salty at the same time.
She checked the baskets and saw there were roots, tubers, and other vegetables tucked away. She took a few of them out and set them onto the table.
“Well, I suppose this is a good place to start,” she said. “Not a feast, but good enough, I think.” She felt someone tap her shoulder and saw Charlie holding out a knife for her. It was mostly black with a sharpened edge and almost too big for her small fingers. “Er, thanks.”
“Hallo!” Percy poked a head into the kitchen. “Ah, I thought I’d come by. Cid looks like he’ll be on the mend.” He looked at what Annabelle was doing and made a face. “Potatoes? For our first meal back at the Tower?”
“You’re welcome to cook for yourself, if you like,” said Annabelle wryly.
Charlie only gaped for a long moment, then burst out laughing. “Oh, I’m beginning to like you, Annabelle!”
“Next time,” said Percy without any hint of awareness, “I’ll trap some game, and we can cook that for dinner.”
Annabelle smiled. “Next time.”
Percy helped Annabelle and Charlie to chop vegetables, and the three settled into an easy rhythm reminiscent of their time on the Road.
After some minutes, Amelia flew back down to the floor, saying, “I’m bored!”
“Well,” said Annabelle, wiping her hands on a rag. “Maybe you can get the others?”
“Oh gosh, you’re right!” Amelia leaped up into the air and flew out of the dining hall as Annabelle stared bemusedly after her.
Charlie leaned in and said, “She’s like that sometimes. Pay her no mind.”
Amelia took so long to arrive back at the dining hall with Seppo and Jenny that Percy wondered if he should go after them.
Annabelle’s lackluster skills in cooking only allowed for a simple soup and whatever bread had already been made. But it was hot, and the vegetables in the soup were fresh and chopped to manageable chunks. Percy had carried the entire pot back to the dining hall, and Annabelle began ladling bowls of it and passing them around to Charlie.
There were two place settings sitting empty. Annabelle knew that Cid was still in bed in the infirmary.
“Who sits there?” Annabelle said, pointing.
“Bathsheba the—” Charlie said with a grin, though she was interrupted.
“Don’t call her that,” Jenny said. Percival stifled a laugh and coughed into his elbow.
Annabelle knew that Bathsheba had been a biblical figure seduced by David, so she gathered that whoever it was, Charlie didn’t like her much. It was very much a surprise that even though there seemed to be only a handful of people living in the Tower that Annabelle had yet to meet everyone.
“Percival, Seppo, what have I said about weapons at the table?” said Jenny in the tired, yet patient, manner of a mother wearied by too many children.
With a hearty laugh, Percival set his sword, scabbard and all, leaning against the wall, while Seppo followed suit and put his knife away.
Jenny narrowed her eyes, but this seemed to suffice. Annabelle sympathized a lot with Jenny’s position, being an older sister herself.
Dinner soon began.
Jenny and Percival bowed their heads in saying grace, while the others dug in without waiting. Annabelle didn’t know what to do, so she sat quietly until Jenny finished, then picked up a spoon and began to eat the soup.
“Where’d you get that cut?” Amelia said, pointing at Percy’s arm. “Were you fighting the Enemy?”
“Close,” said Percy rather boastfully. “It was the Black Band.”
“Ooh,” said Amelia. “Is that why you came back limping, Charlie?”
“No,” Charlie said with a raised brow. “It was when we were rescuing Cid—”
“You have had a long journey,” said Jenny, cutting Charlie off. It wasn’t a question, but the older girl seemed to be prompting Annabelle to speak.
“Er, yes,” said Annabelle after swallowing a scalding bit of soup. Now that it came to it, she did have something she wanted to ask. “Do you know, will the Wizard be joining us? I wanted to ask, about my sister—”
It seemed to her that the others were used to being on their own, though Amelia’s face fell at the question.
“I do not know,” said Jenny. “The Wizard has many urgent matters to attend—”
“But it seems like the Wizard always has ‘urgent matters’, doesn’t it?” Amelia frowned and picked at her soup.
“Yes, but for good reason, as you well know,” said Jenny in a reproving tone, so much so that Annabelle saw Amelia shrink away in her seat.
“What do you mean?” said Annabelle, curious to know about who the Wizard was and, more importantly, where the Wizard was.
Annabelle could tell that Jenny didn’t quite know what to say in front of her. So did Charlie, it seemed, who saved her the trouble by speaking up.
“Annabelle already knows all about the Enemy,” said Charlie through mouthfuls of soup. “So it’s okay for her to hear whatever you have to say.”
“Not all, I would think,” said Jenny. “And don’t speak with your mouth full.”
Charlie only rolled her eyes, but she nonetheless finished chewing a morsel of onion, then said, “She was captured from her home by the Enemy, so she has a right to know more, don’t you think? Her sister is still captured.”
Jenny and Charlie exchanged hard looks at one another while the others only watched them. Percy seemed for once dumbfounded, while Seppo had looked away. And Amelia seemed quite oblivious.
But Jenny was the first to break. She sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose in that same beleaguered way.
“These questions can wait until tomorrow,” she said. “You have had a long journey, and you need rest enough to heal.”
Annabelle felt a vague sense unease. It felt much like an adult who was saying the right things in order to shunt an inconvenience away to the side. Charlie had led the way, but Annabelle now pressed for more. “But you will answer my questions? All of them?”
Jenny looked levelly into Annabelle’s eyes.
“Yes,” she said.
The dinner continued on with only awkward conversation to break the silence. Finally, the meal concluded, and everyone stood up.
Jenny gestured to Annabelle, holding a brass lamp in one of her hands. “Let the boys clean up. Come with me.”
Together with Charlie and Amelia, they all walked up the stairs. All the walls of the Tower were lined with books, marked by the same strange language with no earthly alphabet that had graced the surfaces of the Doors.
Finally, they came to a floor with several rooms.
“The girls’ floor,” Jenny said, gesturing to the doors. “You can have the room down at the very end. If you have need of anything, you may ask me. I sleep in the first room two levels above this one.”
Jenny waited a moment, looking expectantly. But Annabelle shook her head, feeling awkward, and so Jenny continued up the stairs, leaving them behind.
Charlie pointed at the first room of the floor. “That one’s mine. Amelia sleeps, well, in a different room every night, but one next to mine is supposed to be hers.”
“But it’s difficult to sleep alone!” Amelia protested.
Annabelle went inside the far room, revealing simple furnishings and spare stone walls. The cot had a comfortable straw mattress, with warm blankets, and lying atop the bed was a bundle of clothes to wear for sleeping. Simple linens that felt soft to the touch.
Annabelle put them on, but she felt much too awake for sleep. As she lay in bed, she couldn’t help but feel the pangs of homesickness.
Though Annabelle missed her father the most, her thoughts also led back inevitably to her sister Grace and what she could be doing at that moment.
Annabelle didn’t know when she’d see Grace again, but she knew it wouldn’t be soon. In her heart, she knew the truth. It could take years till they were together again, and she was beginning to accept that awful truth.
And the awful truth was, Annabelle wasn’t sure she belonged here at the Tower.
She wasn’t special. That belonged to her sister. Everyone who knew Grace could already see that.
And Annabelle couldn’t shake the words spoken by the man in the dapper coat: There is inside you a gift that I wish to nurture. A rare and special gift! Something that makes you wholly unique in all the many countless worlds!
The one he’d been looking for must have been her sister.
There came a knock, and Annabelle looked up to see Amelia at her door.
“Do you mind if sleep here?” she said. “I would with Charlie, but I think she’s in a bad mood.”
Annabelle was reminded of the times when her own sister Grace would come to her bedroom and ask the same thing.
“Yes, of course,” she said, pulling herself from her own storm of emotions. Amelia whooped for joy and flew to Annabelle’s bed and almost immediately went fast asleep beneath the covers, her legs curled to her chest.
Annabelle sighed. She could sort it out later. Tomorrow, perhaps, or the day after. There was so much to see and so much to do.
Sleep, when it came, was fitful and brief.