Maybe I should come visit you some time. I believe Duane and Katarin could take care of things here, and there are enough neighbors around that I wouldn't feel as if I were abandoning the family in the wilderness. It might do me good to get out of here, see something new. I'm beginning to feel like the resident oddity. My hair still drew stares with every new family of settlers. People who'd been here longer seemed to get used to me, but some days I dreaded the sight of a wagon at a distance.
That would be wonderful but I'm not sure this is really the best place for a lady to visit, he wrote back. I snorted at the word 'lady,' as if to prove him wrong. I'd been in far worse places than an underground archeological dig, and he'd been right there with me, so it wasn't as if he didn't know. I'd love to have you but perhaps you should wait a bit until things are more hospitable. And besides I think we may be almost done here, at least according to some of the others. I sighed and dipped pen in inkwell.
Don't worry about it. I really am needed here. It was just a thought. Then it was on to the other things, and by the time I'd finished talking about the number of claims filed - we'd finally organized them - the feeling of dejection had faded, though it returned when I reread the letter, and persisted, like a nagging cough after you're mostly well, for the rest of the next few weeks.
It was October. I was twenty-one. Kat had cooked a special meal to commemorate the occasion, but that was all; I didn't expect more, and was pleasantly surprised when so many letters trickled in, during the week of my birthday and for the week after, acknowledging it. Cyan had remembered, and had made sure that Gau did as well. Gau's contribution was the phrase "Happy Birthday" and his name, in childish block letters. I was surprised he'd learned to write so much, since I'd heard from Cyan that his speech and grammar hadn't really improved.
Relm's handwriting bore the signs of a penmanship class, but was already starting to take on a personal slant. The letter sounded like it had been directed by Strago; if Relm were writing herself, I could only imagine, but it would likely involve quite a few vaguely dirty jokes - she was the right age to be hearing them from her friends, if my children were at all typical. Or she might just not bother, which would be likelier. Strago had added a postscript wishing me well and marveling at my youth, which made me smile. Celes wrote, and both Edgar and Sabin managed quick notes as well, though Sabin's was as blotty and stilted as ever. An airship flew overhead, low, on the fifteenth, which I guessed meant that Setzer hadn't remembered the exact date. It still brightened the day and drew me out to the porch to smile and wave until it passed.
Locke's was the last of the letters I got around my birthday, on the twentieth. He did remember it, and apologized that it hadn't been in the mail earlier. Mostly, it was a normal letter, but pinned to the bottom was a piece of paper, ragged-edged as though it had been torn along folds.
It was a sketch, and I recognized Relm's signature, which was why I dropped the paper. But it hadn't eaten the pigeon, so it must be safe. When I picked it up, I recognized it.
We'd been in the castle for two days when we found the royal chambers. Typically enough, I went for the bookshelves while Locke poked around under the bed and started knocking on the walls, looking for anything hidden. The Queen's diary had three small, discreet sapphires set into the spine, which was what caught my attention, and I pulled it out. I picked the lock - Locke had taught me to do that ages ago, though I could only get through the simplest - and sat down on the floor to try and puzzle out words through her handwriting and her archaic language. Eventually Locke came over to see what I was doing, and once he was interested Relm gave up trying to hurry us along, and Strago found an armchair, sat down to "rest his eyes" as he called it.
The sketch was of the two of us. I was leaning into Locke, comfortably, my eyes on the book, a finger hovering just over a page. I was smiling; somehow I looked animated, even though the picture wasn't one of her living ones. Locke was looking at me with a faint smile, a sort of wondering expression, like I'd just done or said something amazing. I'd never even looked up, not to notice him watching me. Below that was a sketch of him grinning hugely, the look he got when he'd just found something exciting - a gold medallion with an inscription, that time. "Jackpot," he'd said happily, as he crouched over it. I hadn't realized Relm had been drawing.
I turned the paper over, slowly. "Don't forget my face," he'd scrawled. "If you don't mind, I'll just keep the rest of the page." I remembered looking up, happening to notice Relm sketching, and nearly having a heart attack. "It's just pencil!" she'd insisted. "It won't come to life, I swear. Honestly, grownups are such cowards." Later I'd apologized, and she showed me the rest of the page. Sketches of inscriptions, furniture, one fairly detailed pencil drawing of me with a pensive smile on my face. I didn't know when she'd gotten that one - maybe over the diary, but the angle had seemed wrong. She'd said, but I couldn't remember. I wondered if I was remembering that page correctly. I wondered if the sketch of me were really the one he wanted to keep.
I didn't show the sketches to anyone, but I kept the paper in my desk drawer, and was slightly embarrassed to admit to myself that I felt just slightly happier every time I opened the drawer for an envelope, a penwiper, anything, and saw it.