25 Senessay (continued)
Despite what they’d said, I wasn’t surprised to find Sai Aleynten in the cavern, looking through the books on the shelves. He was dressed in a plain brown shirt with an abstract pattern in black embroidered around the neck and cuffs and brown trousers of a different shade than the shirt, so he looked less formal than usual, but he still had that distant, closed-off air he always did.
“I thought this was a rest day, even for Sai Aleynten,” I said. I suppose I was teasing him a little, which just shows how much my attitude toward him has changed.
“It is a rest day even for women from the shadow world,” he said, not looking at me. I hadn’t even startled him. I need more practice in moving silently. “I am looking for something to entertain me,” he added, “but I find I am not in the mood for any of these.”
“I came here for the same thing,” I said. “But I’m not sure I’ll be able to resist doing more research, if I get my hands on these books.”
Now he turned his head in my direction. “Learning is a disease, with you,” he said, and before I could protest, he went on, “I have the same illness. I recognize the need for occasional rest, but when there is a puzzle to solve…it is a great temptation to lie to myself about my motivations, when I choose a book to read.”
I couldn’t help smiling. “That’s exactly right,” I said. “That book, with the pouvra…I’m afraid to go back to my room without something else to read, because I won’t be able to stop myself.”
He smiled. I think he might not be capable of anything bigger than that little half-twist of the lips, as self-controlled as he is. “Then we are alike in that much,” he said.
It makes me a little uncomfortable thinking I have anything in common with him, even if I do like him a bit now. I think
I just spent five whole minutes thinking about this, when it doesn’t really matter. Except it does, a little, because I can’t stand mysteries. I think it’s because he’s so reserved, so private, that if I have something in common with him, it breaches that reserve a little. And I’m increasingly disinclined to intrude on his privacy, because for him to stay that buttoned up all the time, his privacy must be deeply important to him. It feels as if I’m breaking down a wall I have no right to batter at. And—I know why that matters now. Because as gregarious as I’m capable of being, I have so much inside me I’ll never share that on a deeper level, I’m as private a person as he is. I know how it would feel for someone to try to breach that wall, how angry and hurt that would make me. Maybe I’m wrong, and Sai Aleynten doesn’t feel that way, but in either case I feel defensive of his privacy the way I’m defensive of my own. But if he doesn’t mind—and in light of what happened later, maybe I am wrong about him—at any rate, I know how I’m going to behave, and he can make his own decisions.
Anyway. I felt uncomfortable, and I started poking around in “my” piles, the books I can read, and found one we’d both discarded as less useful, a history of some city I’d never heard of. I’d liked the clarity of the prose when I read the first few pages, so I picked it up and said, “I think this one will entertain me for a few hours.”
Sai Aleynten just nodded and went back to scanning the shelves. And I had an idea that I’m not sure was a good one, but I remembered how I’d seen him in here a few nights ago, still working while everyone else was at dinner, and thought about what Terrael and Audryn had said about him not eating with them, and how it clearly hadn’t occurred to them that he might be lonely, and before I could stop myself I said, “I could read it to you, if you like. At least it’s a book you know you’ve never read before. And it would keep me from falling victim to my disease.”
I felt stupid immediately. I’d assumed he didn’t like being alone without remembering that I enjoy solitude very well, thank you, and certainly don’t need pity or condescension or some well-meaning person “helping” me out of it. But Sai Aleynten turned to look at me again, his eyebrow raised, and said, “I would not want to intrude on your time.”
“I wouldn’t offer if I thought it was an intrusion,” I said.
He smiled again, and said, “No, you would not,” and I think he was making a joke! “I would enjoy that,” he said. “There is a reading room down the hall, if you’ll join me.”
(to be continued)