The Impossible Children

Chapter 17: The First Lesson

Annabelle awoke early the next morning and tiptoed down the stairs. Amelia, who had snuck into her room sometime during the night, was even now tangled among the blankets.

She stepped outside with a lamp in her hand, when she saw a white cat with blue eyes staring at her. She nearly jumped out of her skin with fright, but when she looked again, the cat was gone. The cat’s eyes had been so purposeful that she couldn’t help but shiver at the strangeness of it.

“Right, because that’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened to you,” said Annabelle to herself.

She shook her head at her own lack of sense and made her way down to the dining hall and was greeted by the hound Typhon. “Are you hungry as well?” she asked. “Yes, me too. Let’s go make something, shall we?” The great big hound only lolled his tongue to the side and grinned. She gave him a quick scratch underneath his chin and walked into the kitchen, the dog trailing behind her.

Taking stock of what was inside the kitchen, she saw a few stale loaves of bread, some eggs left from the previous day, and some sausages linked together that she guessed Seppo and Percy must have hung up the night before. There was also a large fruit the color of white shell she didn’t quite recognize, though the smell reminded her of tart raspberries.

Very soon she had prepared a small breakfast of eggs, sausages, and toast, though she gave a few sausages to Typhon, who ate them up greedily. She cut the fruit into small slices, though the skin was thicker than she’d realized and there were two great seeds or pits at the center that she had to cut around. She prepared the dining table with a stack of plates and portioned out some for herself.

Annabelle was about to cut her egg into small pieces when the door opened and Charlie walked inside. “Hey, you’re up early. Wow, you made breakfast!”

“Good morning,” said Annabelle. “There’s plenty for everyone.”

Charlie obliged and fetched her own plate and dug in.

“Will the rest be coming down soon?” Annabelle couldn’t help but look at the door every now and then.

“Maybe,” said Charlie. She held up her hand and ticked off her fingers. “Cid’s still in bed. Seppo and Percy usually go off early in the morning to hunt in the forest. Amelia sometimes comes, sometimes doesn’t. “

Annabelle nodded, having guessed as much from the previous day.

“Is everything alright?” said Charlie, now looking keenly at Annabelle for the first time that morning. “You seem fidgety this morning.”

“I’m a little nervous,” Annabelle admitted. “I suppose I don’t know what to expect from magi lessons.”

“A lot of reading,” said Charlie almost immediately, making a face as she did so, as if it were a bad thing.

Annabelle shrugged. “I actually like reading.”

“Well, then you’ll love your lessons,” said Charlie with a wicked grin. “But otherwise it’t not so bad. If you need any help, I’ll be happy to lend a hand. Though to be honest, I’m not all that great yet.”

Annabelle could hardly believe that. “But what about your conjuring fire? I think you’re amazing.” She blushed upon hearing her words aloud.

Charlie only shook her head. “That isn’t quite the same. My impossibility is a part of me. You don’t really need lessons to learn about a part of yourself, not really.”

That statement didn’t ring quite true to Annabelle, but she didn’t want to say so, especially since she didn’t know much of anything about magic or impossibilities. It would have been the height of arrogance to think she could speak about anything she had no direct knowledge of.

Their plates were soon emptied, and still no one else came down to the dining hall. Annabelle half-wondered if Jenny was avoiding her, and she said so aloud.

“Perhaps, she might be,” said Charlie. “If I were you, I would go up to her study and bother her. But I’m not, and I have loads to do as it is. I’ll see you later, Annabelle.”

“Wait!” said Annabelle. “Can you at least tell me where her study is? I don’t want to get lost.” She remembered Charlie telling her about the shifting nature of the Tower.

Charlie patted Annabelle’s arm and said, “That’s fair. But her rooms aren’t that difficult to find. Just go up until the fifth floor, and you’ll find her at the beginning of the hall.” She raised her cane in a sort of mock salute and then she was gone.

#

Following Charlie’s directions, Annabelle found herself standing before a door engraved with an image Annabelle recognized as a nightingale, the bird chirping while standing atop a curved branch amid a cluster of berries. The door handle was also shaped into the image of the same bird.

Annabelle took a deep breath and knocked. For several moments, there was only silence, and Annabelle wondered if she had knocked loudly enough, when Jenny’s voice came from inside.

“Come in,” she said with a soft, almost imperceptible voice. Annabelle opened the door and went inside.

Jenny’s study was a modest room and humbly appointed, with only a small writing desk, about the width of her shoulders, and a creaky old chair badly in need of repair. There were a few books stacked at the edge of her desk, with most of the space being taken up by a large leather-bound book that lay open. There was a large bookcase behind her, upon which sat many stacks of parchment and scrolls.

Jenny sat at her desk, scribbling into the book with a tiny, cramped hand all the way to the margins, her robes of somber grey and blue gathered around her tightly to ward off the chill. She set down a large quill feather pen and looked up at her.

“Er,” said Annabelle. Not an auspicious beginning. Feeling nervous, she began to tap her fingers together. “You, er, said that I could begin my education today.”

“I know,” said Jenny, looking briefly into Annabelle’s eyes. Then, she turned and set them one at a time in Annabelle’s hands, each one of them heavier than the last it seemed. “These are the first ten volumes of Foundations of Philosophy. You’ll need to read them as soon as you can, and then we shall see after where your studies are.”

It was a lot to take in. Annabelle could only muster a plaintive, “But I can’t read the language that these books are written in.” She thought it was a good point, but she didn’t like the way her voice sounded when she said it.

Jenny simply took another book, really a sheaf of bound papers more than a book, and set it atop the stack she now carried. “This is primer on the study of glyphs, for you to use in your own broader work. I wrote it some years ago, but it should suffice, as I wrote it in English. I gather you have some command of the English language?” She said this last part with an arch look in her eye.

“Er, yes,” said Annabelle. “Only—”

“Only what?”

Annabelle didn’t know whether to continue with the way Jenny was looking at her, but she supposed it couldn’t hurt. “I guess I thought I would be getting actual lessons and not, well, reading material.”

Jenny looked at her coolly. “Due to your travels, you have a cursory knowledge already of the cosmos and its countless worlds. What you require now is a foundation with which to build upon. If you wish to practice the magi’s craft, you must have a degree of self-sufficiency, mixtured with the will and ambition to gain the knowledge you require for yourself, and with your own means, rather than just having me tell you this or that. Do you understand?”

She didn’t raise her voice, but Annabelle could tell that Jenny was displeased in some way. Therefore, she only nodded and said, “I understand.”

#

Annabelle was back downstairs in the dining room with her stack of books next to her and the first volume of Foundations of Philosophy open before her and poring over the old primer. Unfortunately for her, it was one of the driest texts she’d yet read in her life, with many meandering fragments of thoughts strung up together with altogether no purpose she could see.

She had often found these kind of dry, technical treatises in her father’s library, which she was eager to read almost as much as her favored fantasies and histories. However, this read more like the personal notes of someone trying to sound very important and intelligent. There were a lot of multi-syllabic words, for instance, and the sentences were constructed in a meandering fashion. Towards the middle began a series of lists with complicated looking symbols, or “glyphs,” she supposed, with matching definitions and explanations.

She supposed the book’s construction made a certain amount of sense, given that Jenny had said she’d written it “some years ago,” though now that she thought about it carefully, she did not know how old she really was. She looked to be about fifteen or seventeen, which would have made her about Annabelle’s own age back then. Realizing that, she felt even more spurred to continue onward without needing to ask Jenny for more help.

Even more, Annabelle wished she had a pen and paper herself so she could write her own notes, but she’d left Jenny’s study in such a hurry, balancing the large stack of books in her hand and climbing down the stairs, that she hadn’t even thought to ask.

The door opened, and Annabelle looked up. Seppo walked inside carrying a basket full of mushrooms and berries. Seeing Annabelle with her stack of books, he walked over and peered down at the text she was reading. Then he looked up and said, “You have begun your studies, I see.”

Annabelle, feeling very cross, said, “Yes, I have. Not much good it will do me, I think. I have learn the language to read the books—” she gestured wildly “—in order to even learn whatever it is I’m learning!” She realized after she said it that her words didn’t make much sense, but she was too angry to care.

Seppo, ever the poet, only said, “Yes.” Then, he asked, “Do you know many other languages?”

Annabelle shrugged. “I mean, not really. I know a little Latin grammar to get by, my father’s library was filled with books written in Latin. I know some French, but not enough to carry a conversation and maybe a word or two in German. Why?”

Instead of responding directly to her question, Seppo carelessly flipped through the pages of the primer. Then, he closed the manuscript and said, “I will help you.”

Taking a piece of charcoal of his pocket, he wrote a small symbol, a circle crossed by many intersecting tines and branches. His writing was smooth and precise, which to her chagrin Annabelle was somewhat surprised by. Perhaps it was his rugged appearance, but she wouldn’t have guessed it.

“This glyph represents beginnings, “he said. “Usually it indicates the beginning of a sentence or phrase or idea.” He tapped Jenny’s primer. “Many of the phrases in the first volume are quite short, so you should be able to construct the meanings of some of sentences with the help of the glyphs here.”

She leaned forward to look at the symbol and how he had written it. “Does it have a sound, the word, er, the glyph?”

Seppo shook his head. “I do not know, I only know how to read the glyphs, not to speak them. For more, I think you must ask the Wizard.”

Given a chance and an outlet for her questions, she asked, “Are they magical, these glyphs? Can I write them to cast spells and such?”

“No, it is not like that at all,” he said. “The words convey powerful knowledge, yes, but they are only words. The power is in your mind and what you do with that knowledge.”

“Oh, I see,” said Annabelle. “I think.” Though she couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed that she couldn’t say a simple word or two and unleash great magical power unto the world.

“You will understand,” he said. “You will do well, I think.”

“Er, thank you,” said Annabelle. She felt all of a sudden very awkward. They were a long way from the desolate hillside near the Midnight Baronet’s house, but she remembered he’d said every day.

“Of course,” said Seppo. “If you have other questions, find me and I will try to answer.” Taking the basket, he walked into the kitchen, leaving Annabelle to puzzle through Foundations and her own thoughts by herself.