The Impossible Children

Chapter 15: A Discussion at Breakfast

Jenny continued to speak. “I’ve had some time to think, and I believe there are certain things you should know.”

Upon hearing Jenny’s words, she felt much like she was going to her mother’s office to listen to another lecture, when she would much rather sink into her father’s armchair with a good book.

She quickly banished the thought, for at least now she might get some answers.

She wiped her mouth with a spare cloth and mumbled, “Er, okay, where should we—”

Charlie worked her mouth. “Don’t we have a right to hear what you have to say—”

“Here is fine,” said Jenny.

Surprised, Charlie stopped speaking, and even Seppo looked up at Jenny.

The older girl pulled out a chair and sat down, smoothing out the hem of her robes. “In fact, I wish the others were here, but I can speak with them later.”

Amelia pushed forward a plate of eggs. “Are you sure you don’t want to eat?”

Jenny allowed a small smile to touch her lips. “No, thank you.”

“What did you want to talk about?” asked Annabelle, feeling just a tiny bit nervous, her stomach churning from either the many questions she wanted to ask or the bacon she’d cooked.

“First, you should tell me how you met Seppo, Percival, and Charlie, and all the rest.” Jenny glanced over at Charlie and Seppo, then turned to Annabelle again. “ I’ve heard bits and pieces from Seppo and Percival, but I’d like to hear the whole of it from Annabelle, please.”

“Er, okay,” said Annabelle. She felt even more put on the spot. She shared a glance with Seppo, and then began recounting the story as best as she could, though it was difficult with everyone watching. She stumbled over some parts and hurried over others. In truth, she was impatient to ask her own questions.

Charlie tried to help by interjecting here and there, and even Amelia would chime on her own though she hadn’t been on the journey, but Jenny would always quiet them both and ask Annabelle to continue.

She finished after only a short while and a great deal of mumbling. It had seemed like such a long journey to live through, but saying it aloud and shortening the whole of it to only a few minutes made it seem small.

Jenny had many questions for her in turn, asking for the most minute of details. “You say you ended up in a cave? How long were you there? And you ate mushrooms?”

Annabelle tried to answer as best as she could, though Jenny always had a round of more questions after, teasing apart more and more of the shape of the story as she did so.

After much of this had passed, Jenny finally turned back towards the beginning. “How did the man come to capture you and your sister again? Tell me that part specifically, and what he said to you afterwards.”

Annabelle had to take a deep breath and for many moments couldn’t speak. She felt Charlie squeeze her arm, and Annabelle looked up and smiled at the other girl, though her fingers were all twisted into knots.

She had to remind herself that the man in the dapper coat couldn’t hurt her anymore, though Grace wasn’t so lucky as her, was she? Which in turn made her feel even worse. And remembering Seppo’s promise, Annabelle suddenly didn’t want to look anywhere near his direction.

Finally, Annabelle answered Jenny’s questions about the man in the dapper coat, but by this point her patience was wearing thin. She added with questions of her own. “Who was that man? And why did he want my sister and me?”

Jenny sighed and did not speak for some moments. “I am not sure how much I should say. But I thought I should tell you something when I woke this morning. What have the others told you about the Enemy?”

It was another question, but Annabelle thought she was finally getting somewhere, so she answered. “Not much, actually. Well, they told me they don’t know much either, so I suppose that’s to be expected.”

Jenny nodded. “That is by design. The Wizard tries to keep information about the Enemy hidden from the others.”

“But why? That seems very cruel to me,” said Annabelle.

“I thought we were supposed to seek all knowledge,” Amelia said in a sort of voice that sounded like she was reminding the older girl.

There was some sadness in Jenny’s countenance as she continued. “You are right, Amelia. But if you knew more, you would want to help battle the Enemy. And that the Wizard does not want, to see children fighting battles instead of living in peace and studying the Mysteries.”

There was a great clamor as both Annabelle and Charlie both spoke at once.

“But we already do! Percy got wounded—”

“And Charlie has a limp—”

Jenny held up a hand and they all stopped. “I know, I know. It is already too late, I think. But I will tell some of what I know. It will not put things to right, but it will be a start at least.”

They all waited expectantly as Jenny took a deep breath and continued.

“I don’t know exactly the reasons for the enmity between the Wizard and the Enemy. But they have waged battles with one another across many different worlds for a very long time. Certainly long before I was born.”

Annabelle’s mind flew through all sorts of possibilities. Could they have been friends that turned into bitter enemies? Or did they always hate each other?

“As you may know, the Enemy has many spies and allies to call upon. The Black Band you’ve met. And there are many others besides. You were taken by one of the chief servants of the Enemy, by the man who calls himself the Midnight Baronet.”

Such a strange name! Amelia giggled, so Annabelle knew that she wasn’t the only one who thought it was odd, but Annabelle shushed her anyway.

“This name was entrusted to me by the Wizard, and I give it to you now because of your own dealings with him. Several months ago, while the others were on a trip outside to the Market, the Midnight Baronet managed to capture Cid.”

Jenny’s face began to break, and she covered her eyes with her hands. “I didn’t know what to do, when I heard. I should have been there, I could have done something.”

Seppo finally spoke. “It was not your fault. That belongs to me.”

Charlie looked angry as she said, “Neither of your are to blame, so stop doing that.”

Jenny gave a pained smile. “Maybe so. In any case, one day Percival, Seppo, and Charlie had all left, and I knew they’d done exactly what the Wizard told them not to do. But I suppose you made it back in the end.”

Everyone except for Grace, but that wasn’t fair to Jenny, thought Annabelle. Instead, she said, “Are they in trouble?”

“Yes, are we in trouble?” quipped Charlie.

Jenny gave Charlie an arched look. “Here in the Tower, we are equals. I am not your minder, and I cannot compel you to do what I say. Though I suspect the Wizard will have a few words with you all.”

It seemed to Annabelle that Jenny had many tools to get the others to do what she wanted, though she didn’t say that aloud either. She returned to the questioned that had plagued her all through the journey to the Tower. “But why was Cid taken? Why were my sister and I taken?”

Jenny paused before answering, though what she eventually said wasn’t much of one either. “I have my suspicions, but it will require the Wizard to answer them with certainty.”

Feeling desperation creep up upon her, Annabelle said, “Can’t you tell me that at least? What you suspect, if you don’t know exactly?”

Jenny shook her head. “It is never a good thing to wildly guess about something we know little.”

“The man in the dapper—I mean, the Midnight Baronet already said it, I think,” said Annabelle. She did not know if she would be able to get used to this new name, having called him “the man in the dapper coat” all this time in her head. “That my sister or I have some rare and special gift. I don’t know what he meant, but I wonder if it has to do with Charlie’s own gift, to create fire from nothing.”

Jenny pursed her lips together. “Perhaps. But it is only a guess. The Wizard will know more, I think.”

Annabelle could tell from the way Jenny looked that this line of conversation was no longer open. So at last she broached the subject that had been weighing on her mind. “What will I do about my sister?”

There was a long pause.

“I do not know,” said Jenny finally. There was no comfort in her voice, no warmth in her eyes. Her face was completely grim, and it set Annabelle on edge.

Seppo looked about to say something, but Charlie beat him to it. “Don’t worry, Annabelle. We won’t let this puffed up Baronet keep your sister for long. We rescued Cid, so we’ll certainly rescue your sister!”

“But the Wizard will help?” said Annabelle with some amount of hope in her voice.

“I believe so,” said Jenny, though she looked levelly at Annabelle, perhaps to better soften the blow. “But it may be many weeks or months before the Wizard returns to the White Tower.”

That felt odd to Annabelle that the Wizard was absent from the Tower for so long, and she said as much.

“The Wizard has many duties in many different directions, each one requiring careful attention,” said the older girl, her grey eyes now narrowed as she frowned. “It is endless, thankless work, but I am grateful to the Wizard for doing these vital tasks.”

Annabelle supposed she could see Jenny’s point, but it still felt very strange to keep a Tower full of children and never check up on them except for once every few weeks. Jenny herself was not even an adult yet from what Annabelle could tell.

What is the Wizard, and what is that he does? Annabelle noted how very vague Jenny was about that, but she supposed it might be because she really didn’t know much after all, except the little the Wizard told the children. But Annabelle kept these thoughts to herself.

“Can I become magi, like you and the others?” said Annabelle. She could almost feel Jenny’s eyes look her up and down, measuring and weighing her. Her hands began to fidget again, and Annabelle kept them still by holding one in the other.

“That is not for me to decide,” Jenny finally said, shaking her head. “That is up to the Wizard.”

Annabelle felt tears brimming in her eyes. “But how can I help my sister, when I feel so powerless?”

Jenny’s hand encircled her own. Her touch was gentle and though the older girl’s manner was blunt and reminded her of her own mother, Annabelle felt some comfort at least. “There are things we can teach you, if you truly wish to learn the Mysteries. You will not be a full acolyte of the White Tower, but there are things you can learn.”

Annabelle did not know what Jenny meant by the Mysteries exactly, only that if she was to have a chance of seeing her sister again, it was through the White Tower and whatever magical training they offered.

“I must caution that the work of an acolyte is hard,” said Jenny, holding up a hand almost as if to stall an oncoming storm. “There are certain responsibilities you will have, chores and other duties that will be expected of you. And you will need to be patient. It may take many years before any training bears fruit.”

“I’ll do anything!” said Annabelle, nodding very rapidly. “I’ll work hard, and I won’t disappoint.”

“And the final decision will remain with the Wizard.” Hard grey eyes met Annabelle’s brown.

Somehow Annabelle found the courage to look back without shrinking, and she nodded. “I understand.”

Finally, Jenny stood up from her chair. “I have a few errands I need to see to. You are free to roam the Tower. Curiosity is never forbidden in the Tower. Explore as you like and where you will.”

Annabelle nodded slowly, but it was when Jenny spoke next that her heart leapt out from her chest.

“We will begin your education tomorrow.”

#

Jenny left to go upstairs, leaving Annabelle with the others.

“Are you okay?” Charlie asked her.

But Annabelle felt much too excited and jittery however to continue eating with everyone. “Sorry,” she said. “I just need a moment to myself.”

She walked out of the dining hall and wondered where to go. Then, looking all around her, she realized how silly she was. There were books all around her. Knowing the best way to calm her nerves, she began to walk down the stairs, perusing all the books as she did.

It was slow progress, for she took time to look at each book and study them in detail, from their leather bindings to the letters imprinted upon them. No two were exactly alike, and she stood many minutes fascinated each one and its neighbor. But it helped to keep her mind off what they’d discussed.

Yet even this was not enough for her mind to wander back to her own troubles. Her own meager retelling was enough for her hand to shake perceptibly as she reached for the spine of one particularly large book. She sighed and pulled her hand back.

Annabelle had a path forward, and she was grateful for that. But she couldn’t help but think that time was slipping through her fingers, and with the Wizard not even at the White Tower, the prospect of seeing her sister again, of going back home, seemed further and further away.

Though she supposed the idea of learning magic was exciting in itself. But even with that thought, she felt a tiny bit guilty. After all, if not for chance, Grace might be here at the White Tower and Annabelle still a prisoner to the Midnight Baronet.

There came a voice behind her. “Hullo!” said Charlie, leaning heavily upon her cane. “That was something, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, I suppose so.” Truthfully, Annabelle did not know what to think. Jenny was almost as difficult to read as Seppo.

“That’s great news though, about you becoming a magi,” Charlie said with a small smile.

“It’s not permanent, though,” said Annabelle. “She said the Wizard has the final decision.”

“I wouldn’t let that worry you,” said Charlie.

“No, it’s only—” It became difficult for Annabelle speak just then. She found herself wanting to see Seppo and talk to him, but at the same time didn’t want to let him see her crying again. “I won’t let it worry me,” she said, offering Charlie a wavering smile.

Charlie all of a sudden clapped her hands together. “Say Annabelle, how about a tour of the Tower?”

While that did sound interesting, Annabelle couldn’t help but wonder if Charlie had chores that she was trying to skip out of. The thought made her laugh aloud.

“What? What’s so funny?”

Annabelle told Charlie her suspicions, and Charlie’s lips curled into a grin full of mischief.

“How do you know it’s not part of my chores to acclimate you to your new home?” she said even more slyly.

“That’s your job now, is it?” Annabelle chuckled at Charlie’s brazenness, but she also couldn’t help but feel even more homesick at the thought. For the foreseeable future, this was her home. She wondered when she would ever see her old house again, and for a tiny moment, she wondered if her mother missed her and her sister.

“Oh, I want to come, too!” Amelia appeared out of nowhere, flying down from some perch up above and giving Annabelle a fright, who almost jumping out of her shoes from surprise.

Charlie squared her shoulders at the younger girl, brandishing and waving her cane almost like a weapon. “Have you been hiding and eavesdropping, Amelia?”

Amelia had the good sense to look abashed, scuffing the ground with a bare toe. “I mean, only a little bit. I didn’t hear much, so it wasn’t really eavesdropping.”

It seemed to Annabelle that a little childish spying wasn’t something to get incredibly angry over, so she laid a hand on Charlie’s shoulder and smiled at the younger girl. “Of course you can come. But is there much else to see? Towers just go up and down, I would think.”

Though Annabelle supposed that there were the levels beyond the solid wall that had stopped her before, but the others had said that the Tower did that sometimes. She still had a difficult time thinking of the Tower as a living thing that could make decisions and choices like that.

“Oh of course!” said Amelia. “There are all sorts of rooms, and you haven’t even seen the grounds, have you? There’s a garden and the old carriage house, and—”

Charlie threw up her hands in surrender and said, “Oh very well, Amelia, you can come.”

Amelia flew up ten feet into the air, arms wide and shouted, “Yay!”

Annabelle could not help but find Amelia’s exuberance somewhat infectious herself. “Then, let’s go and see what else this Tower has to offer.”

And off they went.