The issue of Rook's wife being called Magda is one that stuck with me after reading The Immortals because I assumed Magda Burlix to be Rufus's mother and therefore Xanth's wife/partner. Perhaps it was another Magda that Rook married? It could be a common enough name on the Edge, for all we know…
It didn't matter that the circumstances of their first meeting were so deeply unpleasant.
He was on patrol on the eastern fringes with Steg when he heard the screaming. They communicated silently, as was the Lancers' way, and they made their way to the source of the sound.
His blood boiled when he saw the slavers. Small men with sharp, greedy features and vicious whips tucked into their belts. They were sitting on the bed of a flat wagon, watching something that they obviously found highly amusing.
The spectacle in question was the source of the screaming. There was a whitecollar woodwolf, one of the really big males that were so rare now because of their near-primeval size, and there was a small, fine-boned… Being. It was hard to tell what it was, under all the blood and scarring and the hulking mass of fur that hovered over it-
Rook's crossbow was in his hands as the wolf sank its long, serrated teeth into the person's leg, just above the knee, and the person screamed again. A quick sign at Steg and there was an ironwood bolt buried in the wolf's neck behind its collar, and the slavers jumped quickly onto the front of the wagon, probably intending to whip up the hammelhorns and get away quickly from what they assumed was a rival slaver.
Steg's lance took one, Rook's sword the other. For Rook, this was deeper – he was famously (or perhaps infamously) merciless with slavers, because of what had happened his parents.
Because he'd come in closer, he reached the person by the wolf first, and was stunned to discover that they were alive.
And female. And fourthling, too, because she had pointed ears and pale skin and longer, slender limbs. Neither slaughterer nor woodtroll, then, and definitely not waif or trog of any sort.
Rook gathered her into his arms and, with Steg's help, got her onto prowlgrin back so he could get her to Tweezle. Tweezle would know what to do.
It didn't matter that she had more scar than skin.
As they galloped across the Deepwoods towards the Free Glades and Tweezle's healing appendages, Rook took the time to survey the girl. She was lying front-down in front of him, and it made him blush as he realised that if she were well and not covered in blood, she wouldn't be covered in very much at all. Her clothes were torn to shreds, which only made it easier to see the horrible burn scars that covered her back and licked up across her neck and half her skull. The other side of her head was covered in soft downy hair, almost as dark as his own and twice as curly.
There were deep welts from whippings on top of the burn scars, and some of those were oozing worryingly. Every movement seemed to jar her aching body, because she moaned softly in obvious agony with every step.
Her wrists and ankles bore the signs of long hours spent in heavy manacles, and yet more whip scars covered her arms and legs.
Her bitten leg was open right to the bone, and that seemed broken. He couldn't see how she'd keep it.
It didn't matter that she was afraid at first.
Tweezle had given Rook the fearful assurance that he would "send for you if she gets better."
If. That was the fearful bit. Rook didn't like the sound of that.
It was common knowledge by now that Rook was Founder Maris and the great Cloud Wolf's great-grandson, that the legendary Captain Twig was his grandfather and that he had flown with Twig on the last of the great skyships. It was also common knowledge that Rook looked after anyone who'd been captured by slavers, much in the manner of his great-grandmother and her waifs and strays. It made sense that he be worried about this new one, no matter what sort of romantic reasoning Magda Filatine dreamed up.
But the new girl, who Tweezle had already dubbed Little One, was not interested in romance. She was more interested in hiding from any fourthling who came within a hundred yards of her. She clung to the old spindlebug and the safety he apparently offered her as though her life depended on it.
Rook still went to visit her every day, and sat in the doorway of her little room in the Gardens of Light, moving as close to her as she would allow and simply talking to her. She didn't seem to mind when he talked, provided he did it from far enough away that he couldn't touch her or pour anything on her.
Tweezle had mentioned that her burn scars were of the kind made by boiling oil.
It didn't matter that she couldn't speak or walk.
Gradually, over the course of summer and autumn and some of winter, Little One healed. Her eye, her right eye, was damaged beyond repair by a careless stroke of a whip, and her hair would never grow back on that side of her head, so she gladly took the colourful scarves Tweezle's gabtroll helpers offered her and wound them around her head, hiding both her sightless eye and the worst of her scarring. She seemed entranced by the pretty colours and the intricate patterns, and even more so by the thick weave of the cloaks the gabtrolls wrapped her in when she eventually agreed to let Rook take her outside.
He gave her a present before letting her out of her room. She'd been making her way around her little corner of the Gardens of Light in an ancient wheelchair of lufwood and scentwood that Tweezle had found somewhere, but after her leg had been amputated, Rook had started work with the help of some of the woodtrolls and Brisket, and he'd fashioned her a chair of sumpwood, one that didn't need wheels and so could travel anywhere in the Glades. Of course, there was an intricate arrangement of miniature sails and weights, but the chair itself was deep and comfortable and, if she wanted, she could draw up the weights and sails and someone could push her along. Rook suggested that maybe, since it was her first day, he should push her, and she agreed gratefully.
She never spoke, though, and Tweezle wouldn't tell him why that was. The ancient spindlebug refused to tell him many things, such as why Little One cringed at every man's voice except Rook's own, or why she refused still to let him touch anything but her dainty little hands and her scarred wrists.
But it didn't matter, because she could convey more in a single smile than most people could in a hundred words.
It didn't matter that she couldn't do so many things.
When he first brought her to the library, on that snowy winter's day, she'd blushed and started shaking her head. It had taken him a moment to realise that she couldn't read.
"When were you taken from your home?"
She shrugged, shook her head. He understood that. She'd never had a home – she'd been born a slave, to a slave mother. Fury burned within him, but he stayed calm for her sake.
"You never learned to read or write?"
She shrugged again, a different shrug this time. It said, why would a slave need to read? What use is there for that when you're only useful for your physical being?
Rook sat on a bench next to her chair for a moment, holding her hand, and then pushed her chair over to a special tree. He contemplated asking her to wait there for him, but he could imagine what would happen if he left her alone and a stranger approached.
Felix was here! Felix would get what he needed!
And Felix did, although Rook had to promise to explain why Little One was cringing away from him.
And then he began to teach her to read and write. That evening, after she'd made it clear that she had no intention of learning how the weights and sails worked, he fitted wheels to her chair, light sumpwood ones on a metal axle that would be easier for her to turn, if the axle was kept greased.
It didn't matter that few others understood her.
Felix found her strange, and made Rook promise not to let anyone know about her past. He said it wouldn't do to be found associating with women with "pasts like that," and Rook had punched him squarely in the jaw for it. What could Felix possibly know of Little One's past? He had lived a life of privilege always, doing as he pleased. She had been a possession for almost her entire life, and she would forever bear the scars of her past. Rook admired her strength.
She'd taken a strange liking to Felix's father, who had endeavoured to broaden her mind by offering a greater range of reading material, all written in fairly simple language that she could understand. Her reading and writing was improving rapidly, astonishingly so, and Fenbrus had made some comment about "great minds being wasted in unfortunate circumstances." Still, he too didn't entirely trust her, which annoyed Rook no end.
Xanth was gentle and patient with her, but there was something in his eyes that worried Rook. He knew that Xanth saw helping people as a penance for what he had done as a Guardian, and that seemed an unhealthy thing to be doing around Little One. She was delicate enough without the added burden of having to remove Xanth's guilty conscience, too.
Uncle Tem seemed to like her, though, and he was endlessly gentle with her. As two almost silent people, they seemed to understand each other on a level beyond words, and they often laughed together. He visited her when Rook was on patrol to ensure she didn't become lonely, because few others dared visit her in her home in Tweezle's Gardens.
It didn't matter that she was different.
She spoke unexpectedly on the first day of summer, when they were sitting beside the lake with Xanth and Magda in the warm sunshine. He'd carefully lifted her down out of her chair and helped her sit on a blanket that Magda had carefully spread out on the ground for her, while they sat on the grass. Xanth and Rook discussed recent raids of rogue goblin bands, and Magda talked at length about materials, because that was something Little One seemed to enjoy – she loved sewing and weaving, and had somehow convinced Tweezle to allow her to bring a loom into her rooms.
Magda had just opened the picnic basket she'd brought when the sound came.
"I… Magda… too."
Everyone looked at her, amazed.
"You spoke!" Rook exclaimed, and then flinched when she cowered slightly. She still didn't like loud noises, and there were very few people she would allow to touch her. "Sorry," he said gently. "But you spoke!"
"Didn't want to talk," she said, the words sounding awkward on her disused tongue and lips. "Talking was bad. Got punished for talking. Talking here is good?"
"Very good," Rook assured her, taking her hands and crouching in front of her. "Did you say your name was Magda, too?"
She smiled brilliantly. Her scarf was the same deep blue as the lake, and she looked very lovely in that moment because she looked truly happy for the first time since Rook had known her.
"Little Magda," she said cheerfully. "Because I'm littler."
And she spoke as much as she could, and they laughed and laughed because she had a very different way of looking at things.
And also because she had so many funny observations about the Lodds, father and son.
It didn't matter that she wasn't what people expected of him.
By the next winter, a year after Little Magda had first left the Gardens of Light in the chair Rook had carved for her, she was speaking and laughing and able to read and write properly. She often journeyed to the Library, sweet-talking the younger librarians and the students into finding the scrolls she wanted for her and sometimes just bullying Felix into it. She spent lots of time with Uncle Tem, because they still understood each other well even though it was impossible to shut her up when she got going.
Rook decided, on midwinter's day, that he had fallen in love with her. He decided to talk to Cancaresse about it. She was delighted for him and, having had to read Little Magda's mind to test her before she was allowed live in the Free Glades, knew that if he courted her and treated her with the courtesy he had thus far shown her, she was his for as long as they both would live.
Oh, he knew that some wouldn't approve. He was a Hero, after all, and of high blood. But Little Magda had a smile that lit up his whole world, and that was enough for him.
He asked Magda Filatine's advice, and presented Little Magda with a bunch of huge blue flowers that evening.
It didn't matter that she made him wait.
They spent every possible moment in each other's company. He was often thankful that he'd had the foresight to carve her chair so deep, because she could turn sideways in it, her half-leg against the back, and curl up and sleep if they stayed out too late. She was healed, but she still tired easily, and she felt the cold horribly.
Often, he brought her to Uncle Tem's house, and they sat together on the rug in front of the little pot-bellied stove filled with lullabee logs and just watched the fire. She usually fell asleep in his arms.
He'd been courting her for some seven months before she kissed him, taking him by surprised on one of their evenings in front of the stove.
It didn't matter that she wasn't a traditional bride.
She refused to wear white, and nobody said a word. Instead, she wore palest green, and the gabtrolls made her a scarf of dark green, forest green, to wear over her scars.
She refused to cover her eye. She said that if Rook didn't run away screaming when he saw her eye, she knew she had him forever. Rather than run, he'd wanted to kiss the long white scar that ran from high up on her forehead right across her eye and down under her ear. Her eye was a strange whitish-blue, and she closed it when she was pushed right up beside him by Tweezle, who had taken her on as a sort of surrogate daughter.
Rook kissed her broken eyelid before turning back to the matter in hand. A short while later, she was named Mrs. Rook Barkwater, and he was the happiest man alive.