The Impossible Children

Chapter 16: The Tower Tour

Unfortunately, they had barely made it down the stairs again when their tour was cut short by Jenny who told both Annabelle’s companions to get on with their chores.

“But we were going to give Annabelle a tour of the Tower,” said Charlie, looking somewhat put out by the prospect of chores.

“A Tower tour,” exclaimed Amelia without missing a beat. She seemed to be happy whatever they did.

“Now that you’re back,” said Jenny, having come downstairs now wearing a red cloak, the embroidered fabric cutting a stark contrast with her far simpler robes. “There’s no reason for things at the Tower to fall by the wayside. Don’t you agree?”

Annabelle, being very curious about what sorts of chores were done around the Wizard’s Tower, asked if she could tag along. “Perhaps that way, we can do both chores and the tour at the same time.”

“Yes, you may,” said Jenny after giving the matter some thought. “But I will not countenance any slacking from you two,” she added to both Amelia and Charlie.

“Yes, Jenny,” they both said in unison. Even with her short time with Charlie, Annabelle could tell when the mischievous girl was disguising her own chagrin.

“Are you going somewhere?” said Annabelle, wondering the occasion for such a turn of dress.

“Yes, I am,” said Jenny, though she did not elaborate. She continued to walk down the stairs and to the Tower’s front doors. “I’ll be back before long,” she added, the light of her lamp bobbing up and down as she descended.

“What kinds of chores do you do?” Annabelle asked once Jenny had left them.

“Mostly cleaning and such,” said Charlie, her face twisted into a grimace.

“And we’re supposed to do things by hand!” said Amelia. “Not with spells or anything like that at all!”

“I suppose it builds character?” Annabelle ventured a guess. Several stories she’d read had the same notion, even if she felt like that was only because the authors who wrote them couldn’t fathom a world where magic actually existed.

“Character fooey!” said Charlie. “What’s the point of learning the secrets of the cosmos if we can’t practice it!”

Annabelle could only smile. It was like Charlie read her mind.

Charlie gestured up towards the dining hall. “Come on, we need to go upstairs to fetch things from the supply cupboard.”

“Why are we going back upstairs?” asked Annabelle.

“Because that’s where the supply cupboard is,” said Amelia with a certain amount of cheek.

“But isn’t this where the dining hall is?” said Annabelle. She waved her hand at the general area of the dining hall. “And then next are the dormitories and then a few study nooks, I think they were.” Had she missed a supply cupboard along the way?

“Oh!” Charlie looked somewhat chagrined. “I guess it’s a little odd if we don’t explain it properly.”

Charlie walked back down the stairs until she was at the very bottom floor.

“The White Tower exists as several separate places that all occupy the same space at the same time. The easiest way to get to and from each is to go downstairs and start from there.” Charlie pointed at the foot of the stairs, where Annabelle saw, having never noticed it before, several images carved into different stones all in a row. “Stepping on these stones will sort of shift the Tower so that you’re on the right strand of stairs. Does that make sense? It’s pretty odd when you experience it, but you get used to it.”

Charlie stepped onto the left most image and motioned for Annabelle to follow her. Annabelle thought she might have felt a moment of disorientation, but she also might have imagined it.

“Yes,” Charlie agreed. “The effect can be very subtle. I don’t usually feel anything at all.”

“Me neither,” chimed in Amelia.

Annabelle pointed at one of the shelves. “Look! Those books are different. At least I think they are.”

Amelia nodded profusely. “Yup yup, the books change when you go to different parts of the Tower.”

That fact alone boggled the mind. Annabelle had to spend several minutes revising her estimates. One set of books for the Tower already meant it was the greatest repository of knowledge in all of human history. And the Tower contained several versions of it self, each with a full complement of different books for each version?

“How can anyone read so much in a single lifetime?” she repeated her earlier thought aloud.

“I’m sure the Wizard has,” said Amelia, hovering very distractingly above Annabelle’s left shoulder.

If the Wizard had read every single book in the place, Annabelle’s estimation of the person would go up several notches indeed.

Upon retrieving several brooms from the cupboard, they set about giving the floor a good sweeping. A thought occurred to Annabelle, which she voiced aloud.

“If I sweep up this version of the Tower,” she said wonderingly, “does that mean all versions of the Tower are clean now? Or do I need to clean each version separately?”

Charlie grimaced in return. “I’ll tell you this much, I’m not doing this twice in one morning.”

The morning was full and busy with chores. First, they lit several candles with Charlie’s gift for fire. She put her a finger to her lips, saying, “I won’t tell if you won’t.” Then, they set about sweeping the first floor, dusting its books and restacking them in their proper places. Though it did not seem to Annabelle that there was a proper classification system in place anyway.

While Annabelle was not overworked, the tasks kept her mind busy from thinking overmuch about her circumstances for she was unused to physical labor. Seppo came upstairs with a basket filled with loaves of bread, hunks of meat and cheese, as well as a pitcher full of spiced juice that he’d carried under the crook of his arm.

“Time for a midmorning meal,” he said, appearing suddenly and silently in the gloom.

“It must be pitch black outside!” said Annabelle, noting how dark it was. She tore off a chunk of bread and washed it down with some juice.

“Yes, it means Kaguya is awake,” he said, reminding Annabelle of their earlier conversation about those who lived upstairs.

“Do you mean that whenever Kaguya is awake,” Annabelle said slowly, working it out in her head, “the sun just disappears? That’s very…”

“Spooky!” finished Amelia with a repressive giggle.

He shrugged and glanced at Charlie and Amelia. “You get used to it after a while.”

Seppo left and the trio continued with scrubbing the dining room floor, which meant carrying water to and from the kitchen. Annabelle was glad to see running water of a sort in any case.

“Where does this water come from?” said Annabelle, running her hand beneath the water that came spouting from the metal pump.

Charlie scratched her head. “So many questions! I’m sure it’s pumped from the spring beneath the Tower. There are mountains nearby, after all.”

Though Annabelle felt a little let down by the completely mundane explanation, she shrugged her shoulders and continued scrubbing the floors until they sparkled clean.

“When do you study at all? You can’t always be at chores all day,” said Annabelle. She wiped her brow with the back of her hand and threw her cleaning cloth into the bucket full of dirty water.

Charlie and Amelia looked at one another, then looked away with guilt in their eyes.

“What is it?” Annabelle asked. Looking more closely, she saw Charlie fidgeting with her hands and Amelia looking liable to shoot up into the ceiling.

Amelia spoke first. “Well, it’s only we rarely get visitors, and if I had to study, then I’d have to go and…” She petered out as soon as she started, which was an odd turn for the constant chatter Annabelle had become accustomed to from the younger girl.

Charlie looked up and said, “I suppose we were having too much fun doing chores with you that we kind of forgot about our studies.”

“You mean you’ve been wasting time with me all day doing chores?” Annabelle found the thought too farfetched to believe. No one wanted to spend time with her, not even her sister.

“Not wasting time exactly,” said Charlie. “Spending more time than usual on chores would be more correct.”

“You’re not mad?” said Amelia. “We’re not making you do our chores, we promise!”

“No, I’m not mad,” said Annabelle. She was feeling a little put out, since she would have liked to have seen some of the books they used to study with. But she supposed she couldn’t say that aloud exactly.

But she was certainly touched by their easy affection, even if she didn’t know quite what to do with it.

“Well, er, thanks,” said Annabelle, feeling awkward. She didn’t have the words to say more than that. “What next?”

They decided to move onto the next floor, sweeping and dusting as they went, though they did not do very much to keep on task. They visited with Cid several times throughout the day, but each time he was resting in a deep slumber and could be wakened.

Unable to resist her curiosity any longer, Annabelle took one of the books from its shelf and opened it before her. She was met with the same frustratingly cryptic text, the script wholly foreign to her eyes. She’d never seen anything like it before.

“Working hard, I see!” Charlie remarked with a wry smile, startling her. Annabelle had been so absorbed in trying to puzzle out the symbols that she did not hear the other girl’s approach at all. Flustered, she quickly closed the book and put it away. “No, no, it’s okay!” said Charlie. She limped on her cane towards her, adding quickly, “Find anything interesting?”

“I wouldn’t even know if I had,” Annabelle said. “Do you understand everything written here?”

Laughing, Charlie gave Annabelle’s arm a careless pat. “Hungry for knowledge, yeah? Learn to walk before you run, I would say.”

“I can read it!” said Amelia, flying up from behind, giving Annabelle a second fright. “Well, some of it. There are some words that I can’t read, but that doesn’t happen very often any more.”

Annabelle put the book away and resolved to begin her lessons tomorrow in earnest.

The motivation to continue sweeping and dusting and scrubbing and cleaning began to dwindle to nothing, until finally Annabelle put the brooms and buckets away in their cupboard and they sat in the dining hall, not eating, only talking with one another for several hours.

Percy joined them after a time, carrying a brace of rabbits he’d caught from the forest. Annabelle made a face at the dead things, though she supposed his skill with game hunting had kept her fed through the long journey to the Tower. Still, a dead animal was a dead animal, and she could not help but feel a bit queasy at the sight.

The boy only laughed and took the rabbit into the kitchen to properly skin and butcher his quarry.

Jenny did not return to the Tower for several hours, and when she did, she only nodded and continued on upstairs, still wrapped in her fine red cloak.

Very soon the day passed them quickly by, and Seppo announced that he had prepared dinner, another simple meal of bread, soup, and the rabbit that Percy had brought. Percy had even helped Seppo to cook the rabbit.

They talked of many different things, mostly about what they each did during the day. Seppo had been in and out of the Tower all day it seemed, while Percy had gotten an early morning start and spent the whole day in the forest.

Annabelle yawned more than once at the dinner table, drawing an arch glance from Jenny, but no word of reproof.

Finally, dinner concluded and Jenny said they could go upstairs to bed while she and Percy washed up. Annabelle stumbled up the stairs, she was so tired and sore, until she finally found her room and heaved herself into the bed without even changing her clothes, though she did not fall immediately to sleep.

More than once during the night, Annabelle wondered what her first lesson on the morrow would hold. She only had the barest of pictures of what exactly magic entailed, catching glimpses of it when the others spoke.

Charlie was right, Annabelle thought. There was a lot of physical labor involved at the Wizard’s Tower, though she didn’t actually mind that much. It felt less whimsical than she might have supposed at first hearing.

The White Tower wasn’t what she expected. Annabelle hadn’t been disappointed exactly, but she had to admit she couldn’t predict what would happen when it came to the new and strange. Even a lifetime of reading books and stories hadn’t prepared her for this. So it held that magic wouldn’t be quite what she expected either.

On and on and round and round she went, until she managed to just drift off to sleep without her noticing herself.