The Impossible Children

Chapter 19: Exercises in Patience

Over the next several days, Annabelle devoured Not Bulfinch’s Mythology, reading the stories from another world. Most of these concerned the heroine Raethusa, but there were others including Cinna, who could sing mesmerizing songs; Ashenath and the wonderful toys she made; and Indra, who lost his home but found a kingdom.

But the stories she came back to again and again were the ones about Raethusa. She read late into the night and often into the following morning, forgetting sometimes to sleep until Amelia hovered into her room asking if she could sleep with her.

Her head filled with these stories, Annabelle began to neglect her other studies. The study of glyphs was especially difficult, as it seemed to require brute memorization. And indeed, none of her exposure to other languages in grammar school was of any help, including Latin. Progress was slow and came in fits and starts.

Annabelle had tried several strategies over the previous few weeks. She wrote each glyph and their definitions, copying the primer Jenny had given her. However, she would always uncover an additional usage or definition or some place where the glyph was used irregularly. And in any case, Annabelle had never been very good at memorizing things in so forced a way.

She also tried observing the different patterns the glyphs seemed to take and writing out long lists of tables and diagrams to demonstrate what she saw. But this was even more time-consuming work and required cross-checking different volumes for different usages. Eventually, Annabelle threw her hands up and gave up on the effort.

Instead, now she was attempting to read Foundations of Philosophy in a haltingly slow fashion, looking up each word from Jenny’s primer and translating the text into English onto a sheaf of blank papers that Seppo had found for her. At least then she could review her work and read a little of what she’d written, though most of it made little sense to her.

But now even this work was slowing to a crawl as Annabelle concentrated more on reading Not Bulfinch’s instead. Even Jenny could tell that her studies had been affected and told her so during one of their weekly conferences.

“Is this the only progress you’ve made this week?” Jenny looked over a single page of translations at her desk and looked up at Annabelle with an inquisitive glare.

Annabelle nodded quietly, looking down at her feet on the floor. “I’m sorry,” she said.

“Don’t apologize,” said Jenny. She began to repeat her earlier speech to her when she’d allowed Annabelle to study to become a magi. “The work of an acolyte is hard. Much is expected of you, and it will take many years before any training bears fruit. Are you sure you’re ready for this?”

Annabelle nodded, saying, “Yes. I’ll do better, I promise.”

“Yes, yes,” said Jenny, waving her hands to dismiss Annabelle. “You may go.”

Annabelle left as quickly as she could and went back down to the dining hall, where her pile of books were waiting for her. She paid little attention as Amelia flew into the room after her.

“Hello, Annabelle!” she said, waving her arms.

Annabelle murmured a hello back.

“Is something wrong?” Amelia flew closer, hovering slightly above her as she did.

Annabelle sighed. “I guess my meeting with Jenny could have gone better. Though it was mostly my fault. I haven’t really been studying much lately.”

“Oh? Why not?” said Amelia.

Annabelle gave the younger girl a strained smile. “Well, remember the book I found a few days ago?” Amelia shook her head. “Well, anyway, I suppose I’ve been reading fairy stories instead of Foundations.”

In truth, her marks had fallen at school as well. She’d heard many endless lectures from her mother on the subject all through the summer. It was like she’d fallen into a pile of mud and couldn’t get out again.

“Oh, I see! What kind of stories?”

Annabelle wasn’t really in the mood to talk at length with Amelia, but she could see that the girl wouldn’t be put off. “Oh, stories about heroes doing all sorts of impossible things.”

And so Annabelle told Amelia the first story in the book, about how Raethusa vanquished a giant with bottle of lightning. Her version was far more truncated however, and not very riveting, she thought. Yet Amelia said, “Oh, tell another!”

“Not right now, Amelia,” sighed Annabelle.

“But later?”

“Yes, I suppose,” said Annabelle distractedly. “I read them every night at bed anyway.”

And so when dinner came and went, Annabelle went up the stairs to her room and found Amelia waiting there excitedly to hear more stories. Annabelle had almost forgotten what they’d talked about earlier, her mind so much in a fog from her meeting with Jenny. But she pulled out the book and read a few stories aloud.

After reading the stories, Annabelle closed the book and looked at the young girl lying down next to her, already bundled up in the blanket. “Amelia, can I ask you something?”

“Oh sure,” she said.

“How do you fly?” said Annabelle.

Amelia’s brow furrowed into a frown. “I don’t know, I just do.”

Realizing that Amelia would need further prodding, Annabelle said, “I mean, did you have to study a lot of books and then you could fly? Or is it more like Charlie, where you can fly just because you can? Because it’s a part of you? Your ‘impossibility?’”

Amelia yawned. “That’s what Charlie calls it, yes? Yes, I can fly because I can.”

Annabelle felt a font of disappointment fill her up. “Are there other things you can because you had to study them from books? Like you had to learn glyphs and such?”

Amelia nodded, although not with much fervor as she edged closer to sleep. “Oh yes. I had to study a lot, and now I can do so many things. That’s why I’m warden, you know.”

“Can you show me?” said Annabelle.

“Maybe tomorrow,” Amelia said with a final yawn as she drifted off into a deep slumber.

“Tomorrow then.” Annabelle curled up in the bed next to her and tried to go to sleep, but for her it only came in fits and starts.

#

Early the next morning, Annabelle lay in bed wondering when would be a good time to wake up the girl sleeping next to her. She never felt comfortable waking Amelia up, which is why she never had before, but she was feeling a little desperate. She shook Amelia’s arm.

“Amelia, wake up.”

Amelia only rolled onto her side and mumbled, “Sleepy.”

Annabelle tried again. “Amelia, please wake up.”

But the younger girl lay still and refused to waken. Annabelle sighed and got up to her feet and walked out of her bedroom to go downstairs. She stopped midway at Charlie’s door. Not knowing quite what she was doing, Annabelle knocked onto Charlie’s door, pulled it open, and poked her head inside.

“Charlie?” she whispered.

But Charlie was already awake, blearily grabbing for her cane, which had become her almost constant companion, for her limp did not seem to be getting better at all through the weeks. “Annabelle? It’s so early. Or is it? Is it actually late? I can’t tell with the dratted light sometimes.”

“Sorry,” said Annabelle. She did feel guilty waking the other girl, but she plowed on ahead. “I was only wondering if I could ask you some questions?”

“Questions?” yawned Charlie. “Oh, go on. I’m up now. Might as well go downstairs. We’ll talk on the way.”

Charlie grabbed her cane and pulling her robes close around her shoulders, she limped out with Annabelle into the Tower. Annabelle tried to help her along, but Charlie shooed her away.

“What is it you wanted again?” she said, as a single flame appeared suddenly on her fingertip, lighting their path downstairs.

“I don’t know,” said Annabelle. “I guess I had a pretty crummy lesson with Jenny yesterday. And I was thinking and wondering whether I would ever get to the point where I could, I don’t know, conjure fire out of nowhere.”

Charlie nodded. “I see.”

“What does it mean to be magi?” Until that moment, Annabelle hadn’t thought she would be asking that particular question. At first, she thought she might ask for a little help studying. Or perhaps some pointers on which books to read. But this question sort of bubbled out of her, and now she realized that it what she was wanting to know all along.

They circled round the Tower, and Charlie came to a stop, leaning heavily on her cane. “I didn’t know you’d be asking something so fraught with meaning,” she joked.

“Yeah, I know,” said Annabelle. “Neither did I.”

They continued walking, Charlie lighting and leading the way, and she said, “I can understand how you’d be frustrated. Outside of my impossibility, I’m pretty frustrated, too, with my studies. I suppose I don’t understand what it means to be a magi.”

“Oh.” Annabelle felt a surge of disappointment.

“Here’s what I do know,” Charlie continued. “Being a magi isn’t about some secret power that lies within you. I know I have my impossibility, but I think of that more as a fluke of nature.”

“Amelia said she was one, too,” said Annabelle.

“True, she does,” said Charlie, “and I think some of the others do, too. But Seppo doesn’t, neither does Percy. And anyway, having these impossibilities doesn’t make us magi. From my understanding, a magi observes the laws of nature, whichever circle she’s on, and applies them. She can’t know everything, but she has a firm foundation of knowledge to draw upon. Does that make sense?”

“So you’re saying I’m not going to be waving my arms, speaking magic words, and casting spells anytime soon?” Annabelle tried to make it a joke, but it came out a touch too bitter and close to home.

They finally reached the dining hall, and Charlie turned back to face her. “Not anytime soon,” she said. “Sorry, I wish I could give you a better answer.”

Annabelle sighed. “I suppose that’s why I got so wrapped up in the book of stories. It felt better to imagine than to read glyphs again.”

Charlie gave a low chuckle. “I can understand that. Tell you what, let’s study together from now on. I can help you along, and you can motivate me to get out of bed from time to time. Just give me a good shove off the bed if I’m not up in the morning.”

Annabelle made a face as she leaned against the heavy doors to the dining hall and opened them for Charlie. “I can’t do that, you’ll scorch me for certain.”

Charlie barked a laugh. “Probably. But what do you say?”

Annabelle nodded. “That would be nice. And maybe if you could show me what this is all about, I might be able to get through it somehow.”

“Deal,” Charlie said.