Waiting for Anna: Part Seven
The midmorning sunlight is bright by the time Anna leaves for the castle. The path is well-kept and clean, something the Aisha notes as a good point of Brightvale. Her walking stick thumps cheerfully on the trodden-down dirt as she goes up the hill; she slows as the slope increases, but it never gets steep enough to slow her to a trudge.
The wide court in front of the castle is filled with people today. From the look of them, most are Brightvalians, though some are plainly tourists. The gates are closed, but there is a hopeful note in the air that keeps the crowd happy.
The Aisha reaches the edge of the paved court and stands there. There is no point in trying to get closer to the castle, she guesses; where she stands is as good of a place to wait as any. From here, too, she is afforded a view of the variation of the crowd.
She leans on her stick and waits, watching them. The Brightvale citizens are mingling amongst themselves, chatting amiably, but they ignore the outsiders. Those from out of town are ignoring the Brightvalians, for their part, and staring around in wonder and awe. One is sketching a view of the scene onto a sketchpad--to show to his relatives back home, no doubt, Anna thinks.
At noon the gates open, creaking slowly out from the wall. The Aisha waits and watches as a line forms: the Brightvalians are eager to receive wisdom, the tourists equally eager to see the famed King of Brightvale. The result straggles across the plaza, and Anna has to move back to get out of the way of the excited tourists claiming their places. No need to disrupt their order by cutting ahead, she thinks. After all, she has a year.
The thought thrills and horrifies her at once, for if she is a year in the past, would Darren and their parents still be at their house in Meridell? Would she, for that matter?
Anna shakes her head, taking her place at the very back of the line. King Hagan will know, she tells herself. He is wise, wiser than even Biblius. She just has to wait.
The day stretches on. The line moves forward every few minutes as another person is let into the castle to ask their question. Sometimes they come out again almost at once; sometimes it takes nearly half an hour. Anna takes a glance at the sun once and is surprised to find that it is just after noon. Sighing, she grasps her stick and waits for the next person to be let in.
It is evening, the shadows sliding down darker as if they are hiding from the sun, when they close the gates. Anna and the last quarter of the line are left standing in the gloom, watching as the gates creak shut again. The tourists' children whine that they didn't get to see King Hagan, and their parents scoop them up quickly and take them away. The Brightvalians, too, seem disappointed, but they do not show it except in their expressions, which are more stoic than usual as they turn to walk into the darkness.
Anna sighs, left alone in the gathering dusk. She looks up at the castle walls, but they are high and secure. A comfort to the King, she's sure, but a curse to her.
The Aisha turns at last to pick her way down the hill, tapping cautiously with her stick before her.
Biblius looks surprised to see her the next morning at breakfast. She only picks at her food; in response to the Ixi's questions, she shrugs and tells him that there was not enough time for her to be seen, too.
She spends all of that day, and the next, by the window in the back room, staring out up the hill at the castle and the edge of the woods.
On the third day Anna packs a lunch and walks up the hill toward the forest. She uses her stick to help her up the paths, and then cuts across the wide field to the wood.
The Aisha stands for a moment in front of the trees, and then steps past them. She is in the wood, but it is not silent. Birds sing out joyfully into the air, and the trees are not waiting for anything. They are not waiting for her.
Still, they are her woods. Anna explores them, sits against a tree to eat her lunch at noon, and stays there for a while, thinking. She picks up a leaf and twirls it in her paw, idly. Without thinking about what she's doing, she flicks her wrist, palms the leaf off in the whip-quick way she always did.
She looks down at her hands the next moment. The leaf cannot be seen; it has vanished. The Aisha stares, and then begins to laugh, flicking the leaf back into her hand to appear again.
Laughing, Anna repeats the process over and over again: disappear, appear, disappear. Her smile widens into a grin as she does it again and again, and it keeps working. It astonishes her, delights her.
She goes back to the store early that afternoon, hurrying down the hill toward it as fast as her foot will let her, a leaf in her free paw. Bursting in, she grins at Biblius.
"I did it!" she exclaims.
"Hmm?" He raises his gaze from a book and adjusts his spectacles. "Did what?"
For answer she holds the leaf up, showing it to him, and then makes it disappear. The Ixi resettles his spectacles.
"Anna?" he asks.
Concentrating, she makes it appear again, and then looks up at him. "What?"
"I... don't think I quite understand."
The Aisha grins, remembering that she didn't tell Biblius about her tricks. "I haven't been able to do this for... a long time," she says, thinking back. "A very long time."
"Ah." He smiles back at her. "Congratulations, then. It's a very nice trick."
But it's just a trick. Anna hears the unsaid words as clearly as if he had shouted them. She glances at him; Biblius has gone back to reading.
She bites her lip and pockets the leaf, and goes back to her chair by the window.
She spends the rest of the week reading, going through the shelves of books. Biblius lets her read any of them that she wants, as long as she doesn't crack the spines, and Anna wants to read all of them, especially the ones about magic. King Hagan only answers the public's questions once a week. If Anna could find a way to get back to her family on her own--
She plunges into the books, devours them from cover to cover, sitting from dawn until dusk in her chair with a book spread out across her lap.
Biblius runs his errands and tends his shop. A few times a day, a customer comes in. Everyone knows Biblius, or so it seems to Anna, and Biblius knows them. He avoids using their names, she notices, but he always remembers what kind of books they like, and has a few on hand to suggest to them.
She tries to avoid looking out the window. On the third day of reading, she is turning the page to a new chapter when a giggle floats through on a breeze. Out of instinct she looks, and sees a Kacheek trying to shepherd along an Ixi girl and two Flotsam boys, who are doing flips and fancy moves, showing off as they float through the air. The Kacheek--their mother, Anna guesses--is trying to be severe, but she is hiding a fond smile, and the Ixi is laughing out loud at her brothers' tricks.
Anna watches them until they are out of sight, leaning up against the wall to keep them in view for just a little longer. She doesn't notice Biblius coming up behind her until he coughs.
"I just got a shipment of books in," he tells her. Anna just has time to wonder at this before he hands her a book. "I ordered this specially, from Neopia Central."
He wanders away. Anna frowns at his back, and then looks down at the book.
Magic Tricks for Beginners, the cover reads, and it is black and silver. It looks official. And she has to begin somewhere.
Anna glances at the book she was reading before, a heavy tome on Faerie laws and courts. She closes it carefully and sets it down on a stack next to the chair, and then picks up the book of magic tricks and starts reading.
A few minutes later, she gets up and wanders out to the kitchen to find supplies. You can't learn magic tricks by reading; you have to do them, too.
Anna sits in the kitchen for the rest of the day. Sometimes she goes out--to find Biblius and ask him where his handkerchiefs are, or if she can borrow his spare pair of spectacles--but mostly she sits in the kitchen and practices magic.
To be continued...