7 Fruiting 634

My dearest Pippa,

Today I walked past the flat you lived in when I first knew you, on my way to the only glassmaker in the city still working. The earthworkers were having a protest outside in the street. One of them had the long, uneven haircut you wore then.

I think I would have joined their march even without seeing that eager youth, but—really, what else could I do. So I went a mile out of my way to march outside the Directorate and sing angry songs, and I nearly missed picking up my flasks before the glassmaker closed, but I knew you would approve.

I love you.

And in any case I made it back to the university in time for my consultation with young Vithroe. Really, her work is coming along nicely. I expect she’ll be defending her thesis within a season or two—she’s got the background down, it’s just coming up with her capstone spell, and she’s very close on that. She wanted me to write letters for the elder Vithroe and also for her neighborhood committee, testifying to the value of her research. I was only too glad to do it.

I also told her that we’ve started keeping track of which neighborhood committees are friendly to the university. I hope she doesn’t have to use it, but at least now she knows. She’d be reluctant to move because of her mother’s position on the Directorate—hesitant to appear to be seeking special treatment. Which is the right thing to do. She’s always been conscientious. I suppose it’s her upbringing.

I was glad to focus on Vithroe’s work as a break from my own, which has hit some serious shoals. Mostly I am staring glumly at pitchers of river water trying to pretend there is the least hint for where this spell will go next. Too many contributing streams in this section of the river mouth, Pip. What have I gotten myself into.

I would rather think of you. Write soon and give me more of those thoughts. I’m glad you’re safe from all the upheaval, but oh, I miss you dreadfully.

All my love,

Aranth

20 Fruiting 634

Aranth, my dear,

To think I complained of the spells necessary for the bird post, when I first moved to Wolf Grove! and now I couldn’t be more grateful that they’ve become second nature to me, with all the imperial post in and out of Gullspoint interrupted for the foreseeable future. This revolution of ours: my dear, it is not convenient. But for you I will gladly hex the poor swallows until they sparkle.

I couldn’t do without your letters, Aranth. I can barely do without you, for the term of this sabbatical.

But the size of bird required to bear me safely home, hex or no hex, is not to be thought of this far north of Terexar, so I had best get on with my research and not grumble too much. (Possibly we should come up with some kind of spell to tell whether the birds have been intercepted, though. I’m told it’s happened before with Directorate officials, and I don’t like the idea of anyone else reading my soppy silly letters to you. Soppy and silly is for your eyes only.)

I ran into Yudit Vus in the street yesterday, going into the Bard’s Library. She didn’t know me right away, which made me realize that she’d have last seen me before transition—you know, at the thaumanimatology conference in Greenoak, when it wouldn’t stop raining and we stayed in the dormitories drinking cider like undergraduates when we were supposed to be solemnly conferring.

In any case, Yudit and I got reacquainted with each other quite cordially, and then she had some fascinating news about the thaumistic properties of stockinged clothed mole rats in Singer and Worritch’s latest paper. Well. Fascinating to me—you might not have known that clothed mole rats are the nearest known cousin of my beloved hurtling dormice. Well, they are, and this latest finding may shed some light on the obfuscation abilities of both. I shall write to Singer about it. Worritch has never much liked me.

I would put something sarcastic here about how lucky you are to get such love letters from me, full of dormice, but you’d only write back earnestly to say you do feel lucky. I know you by now. Well. I feel lucky, too, all right? You just remember that.

And remember your fern tea; you’re always miserable from the teleporting pine pollen at the end of Fruiting. Drink your tea, you’ll feel better.

I fuss because I love.

I do love. I love you ferociously.

Pippa

2 Cider 634

My darling Pip,

The morning got away from me yesterday—just little things stacked up. Nothing to worry about—although there are rumblings in the lower city, and I admit I am a bit uncertain about next year’s funding. I went to the neighborhood’s collective work session in the orchard in the afternoon, glum and frustrated that your letter would be delayed by another day. By the time we finished work I realized I would have had to write you another right away anyway.

(I know. You would have been fine with two letters. I also know I’m ridiculous. As long as we’re clear on both points.)

In any case! When we got up the trees in the orchard, we discovered that they were infested by velvet shrews. The little wretches had sampled the apples with their long, narrow bites, but they remembered they are carnivores in time to leave us most of a harvest. The problem was getting it all down—while the apples didn’t suit their tastes, our flesh did!

How does this interest you. I know, I know. I’m coming to that. So, Ilenna—do you remember Ilenna? very short hair, assistant to the Bursar?—if you do, you remember she’s barely bigger than a velvet shrew herself. So when one of the little boogers bit her, her hand camouflaged itself. Yes. Like the shrews do. She blended right into the tree, texture of the bark and all. Uncanny.

I know this is not the same as going invisible, not by a long shot, but I have never heard of it being transmissible before. And I said to myself, thaumatic appearance change in rodents, that’s at least related to Pippa’s work. And I told Stelving, and he agreed, so we told the committee, and they agreed that trapping an even dozen of the wee pests would be a service to thaumatic research and agricultural bounty alike.

Well. There may be a reason your lover has not been recruited by the Exterminators’ Guild heretofore. But Stelving, like the rest of your department, has a good bit more experience with the humane capture of thaumatically influenced creatures, and one or two of the neighborhood children were quite keen. (I never thought I’d see the day that Tinker Haylon’s youngest brat was useful for... no, that’s unkind, the lad simply has high spirits.) (Very. Very high.)

In any case. The thing is done: we have now, in my office of all places, one dozen velvet shrews, stubbornly camouflaging to fit their new borrowed cages, but present all the same. They gnaw, Pip. You give them frogs and afterwards they gnaw the leg bones. It’s grisly. I try to think that every tiny tooth and claw is a gift to you, and that helps a little. I hope I’m right.

So! I am taking charge of them for the moment—anything to distract me from my own estuary woes—and I will see what crude observations I can make of them. And Stelving is sending students over to peer at them and feed them frogs. (Shudder.)

I should like to tell you to come home soon and look after these shrews, but your research there in Wolf Grove is important, and I’m not sure you’d be quite comfortable here, the way things are going with the council. So we will do the best we can. In any case there’s a curfew at the moment that would annoy the life out of you—I can just hear you demanding to know how you’re supposed to get any work done, how you’re supposed to think at all, without your witching-hour rambles.

But I do wish you were here. I’m glad you haven’t given it all up to sit by waiting for me to find useful rodents—I still may not have—but I miss you. I do. I’ve never contemplated leaving the city for longer than a conference or maybe some field research before, but developments have made it more appealing—and if the Directorate isn’t funding my work, I’ll have to make some hard choices. I sometimes think, the world has been turned upside down so much in the last two years, what would one more upheaval even mean to me? I mean, if it was the right one. If it let us be together.

We don’t have to answer that yet.

I love you.

Aranth

10 Cider 634

Dearest Aranth,

This is incredible! You’re absolutely right that we’ve never seen transmissible thaumatic properties like this in any of the vanishing breeds. It’s an extremely exciting sort of middle ground. Can you get the students to extract venom from the shrews’ fangs? Ask the snake specialists to help if the mammal specialists don’t know what I mean—any of the herpomancy department will do. But really all but the most junior students should be fine doing it.

You’re such a dear to start into this for me! It must be a lot of bother compared to your usual peaceful hydromancy! I always thought it must be serene working with flowing waters, but on reflection it doesn’t seem to affect you that way. Possibly this is due to the turbulent effects of other hydromancers?

Speaking of whom, how is young Vithroe’s thesis? Flourishing, I hope? Not too disarrayed—nibbled—by shrews?

Yudit and her family have taken me very much under their collective wing, so in addition to lots of discussion about work, I have been introduced to their favorite tavern and their favorite recipes. Oh, Aranth. You would hate the herring dish they make here. Hate. It is both curried and pickled, and I think it’s lovely, but I can just see your face as I write this...and I think of you every time I eat it, which is at least twice a week, because of that face.

I love you so much. I miss you so much.

I don’t want to make all our letters about shrews, love, but... I’ve attached a table I’d like to see filled out with different properties of the shrews and their venom. Thank you! Kisses! I love you!

Pippa

P.S. Yudit just came in and said the letter she got from her thesis advisor was really alarming. What happened there? Are you all right? Never mind the plagued table, write soon about you. Anything. Just let me know you’re safe. Love.

22 Cider 634

Dearest Pippa,

I hope you haven’t been too worried! What an odd letter Yudit’s advisor must have written. I don’t know what they were thinking, we’re all quite well.

Here’s what happened: on 3 Cider, the past Directorate was consolidated. Now instead of seven elected Directors, we’ll have three permanent ones. This will be much more efficient and will benefit every citizen. Certainly I can’t think of anyone who is not happy about this opportunity!

Of course there have been many changes! The curfew has been extended and rationing instituted. There is a freeze on further funding at the university until vital Directorate programs like the Directorate-sponsored newspaper and the Directors’ parades have had their funds thoroughly allocated, so we all must do the best we can. At this point frogs are not being rationed, so please don’t worry about the shrews either! I’ve tried to fill out the table you sent as best I could, although student labor has been much reduced. Many students have been required for work on the new earthworks along the river mouth, and those who are still at the university have been assigned to re-education for the good of the Directorate.

It would be immensely useful if I still had someone like young Vithroe to help me but of course without her connection to the recently retired Director. If I knew where she was, I would be obliged to tell the city guard, but I haven’t the faintest notion. If only she were somewhere quite nearby, I would certainly rely on her help with shrew care and also figuring out the hydromantic implications of the river mouth earthworks, but alas.

Please tell me how things are in Wolf Grove! I would love to hear what sorts of things you are doing there, and also your colleagues in the hydromantic department, what sorts of projects they are doing. How interesting are the ways of other lands. Also your voyage there, my love—you know how I like to share the little details of your life even from this far away. Are there many caravans available to ride with, or did you have to wait quite some time for one?

My neighborhood is taking another shift in the corn fields for the good of the Directorate, so I must close this earlier than I would like. Please remember that I love you and remain always

your Aranth

29 Cider 634

My own dearest Aranth,

I am so relieved to hear that everything has turned out for the best! How worried I would be if you were experiencing some kind of political chaos, but it sounds like the Directorate has things well in hand. I have shared your most recent letter with Yudit so she can be exactly as relieved as I am.

I was thinking only yesterday of what an abundance of hydromantic research there would be here in Wolf Grove, with the confluence of three rivers in the area, not to mention smaller streams, but of course none of that is important now as the Directorate needs you for their own vital projects.

I hope that Stelving has not gotten too caught up in the harvest to help you observe the shrews’ winter nest-building on a quantitative level. The composition and thickness of the den walls can tell us much about how those little creatures expect the next few months to go. But perhaps you can give me qualitative estimates and that will still be useful. I fear they have a harsh winter ahead. Only you will know.

I have heard back from Singer about his clothed mole rats, and I think the insight he had there applies to your velvet shrews as well as to my hurtling dormice. I have attached some figures. Perhaps you will see what I mean! Perhaps few others will.

Please don’t worry about me in this strange land. The trip here was smooth and relatively cheap, with so many caravans each week that I had my pick of trustworthy drivers. I expect any other careful traveler would find the same. Many of the inns had charming names like the Tipsy Heron and the Vindictive Trout. (Luckily the meal at the latter did not live up to its name.) The people in Wolf Grove have all been most kind, and though it is not my home, the dormice find it very comfortable and go hurtling around their dens at alarming rates. You would smile to see them.

Please write soon to tell me all the wonders accomplished under the Directorate—or the small portion you can fit in a letter. I miss you dreadfully.

All my love,

Pippa

3 Unity 1

Pip dear,

Very thick walls on these dens, my love. I see the figures you have sent very clearly. No time to talk as we are preparing for a Grand Procession. Expect more soon.

Love always,

Aranth

7 Unity 1

(really 15 Wine 634)

My dearest Pippa,

You were absolutely right about how we could use the shrews’ venom. You were also right about the stability of the Directorate—yes, love, I’m saying it outright, I was wrong and you were right.

Young Vithroe and I are safe in Silver Lake with four very disgruntled shrews, two unconscionably heavy jugs of water (one from the river and one from the bay—I have hopes), and an arrangement to travel with the next caravan to Wolf Grove, which leaves in three days—so this bird should beat us there with enough time that you can make preparations.

That’s ostensibly why I’m writing. Mostly I could not make you wait another fortnight and more to hear that your advice worked and I am safely out and on my way to you.

Oh, Pippa, our home. Sweetheart. Our home. I don’t know what will become of it.

But we’ll talk about that later, at length, at the very greatest length. In the meantime: the shrew venom lotion from your equations was a smashing success. Young Vithroe passed through the city gates without anyone giving her face another glance, even though she was on the Directorate’s wanted posters. She waited for me with supplies and shrews at the orchard Ilenna’s cousin runs. Dear Ilenna. You will not believe the number of people it took to get the two of us out, Pip, all kind and wise and silent as the very grave.

(Not the shrews. They are not silent, the little wretches. I wish I could have left them all with Stelving. He likes this sort of thing. But I knew you’d want to get your hands on them as soon as practicable—and, oh, love, I don’t know when we’ll get to go home again. I hope these ideas I have about river hydromancy work. But I don’t know. And we may need these shrews’ venom, if the hydromancy doesn’t do enough against the worst excesses of the Directorate. We may need everything we’ve got.)

But anyway! Stelving! He was an absolute peach. I wasn’t only using Grand Procession as a code for our escape—all the faculty had to participate in a Grand Procession—full robes and pointy hats and all, yuck—for the glory of the new Directorate. Enough to make one vomit. But I processed past the remaining Directors, beaming, and then in the milling about chaos that always follows every pointy hat occasion, Stelving and my department colluded to mislead everyone about my whereabouts—I was here, I was there, isn’t that Aranth over talking to the new Bursar behind the column—and gave me time to get clear.

There has been nowhere to dispose of the damned hat, so I will arrive with it. The robes too. If the Wolf Grove university doesn’t hold with them, we can make them particularly garish curtains for our new home together.

I hope there’s no trouble transferring young Vithroe’s classes and research experience. We should really just call her Vithroe now as there are no others left. Poor child. She was, as I hinted to you, living in the basement of the hydromancy building, which is particularly damp and uncomfortable. There was nothing for it but to bring her.

Two things give me pause about the fate of our city. One, there was a great rumbling in the earth the first night we were away from it. I am suspicious that it might be the earthworkers. The Directorate has been attempting to bribe them with grandiose projects, but I think their patience may run short, and who knows what then. Who knows what now. Stelving and I have a symbolic code arranged in hopes that I will be able to do more with the water samples in a department with funding, so I hope that he can come to some kind of accommodation with the earthworkers. I really don’t know.

The other thing is: Vithroe pointed out to me the most curious illusionary labyrinths around what we realized were the entrances to the dams of rune beavers, and I realized that they are rodents too. Very, very big rodents on the river leading to our city, and... apparently some reason the ancients associated them with runes? Oh dear.

No, I have not managed to secure a rune beaver for you to study. It can be field research for us to do together once we’re settled in our home with its gaudy doctoral robe curtains.

Our home. I like the sound of that, even if it’s not where we first imagined it.

I’m coming to you, Pippa. It will be home where I’m with you, and the shrews and dormice will just have to learn to live with it. I love you. I love you.

Aranth

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Marissa Lingen lives in the Minneapolis area with two large men and one small dog. Her work has appeared on tor.com, in Lightspeed, Apex, and multiple times previously in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, among others.

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