5 Lennitay, way too early in the morning (continued)
Fortunately, I remembered I was the otherworlder before she had to repeat her instruction. I copied Cederic’s gesture, but said nothing, because I didn’t think she’d actually spoken to me. “You may stand,” the God-Empress said, so I stood and waited. She stared at me, tapping her forefinger against those perfect lips. Eventually, she said, “You appear to be Viravonian.”
“I am not, God-Empress, though I’ve been told there are similarities,” I said.
“And why do you suppose that is?” the God-Empress said.
“I can only guess, God-Empress,” I said, “but I know our worlds were once one, and some of those who in your world are Viravonians are probably in mine as well.” Vorantor was almost in my line of sight, and I saw him close his eyes as if I’d said something wrong, but I had no idea what. Now I know he thought I’d made a mistake in mentioning that our worlds had once been one, but the God-Empress disagreed, because she didn’t lose her temper or order me executed.
What she said was: “And you will prevent the worlds from destroying each other when they are reunited.”
I realized at this point that she was in the habit of asking questions phrased as statements. That was clever, forcing the addressee to own statements she probably didn’t intend to make. “I will assist the mages who will perform this task,” I said.
The God-Empress stood up and came down the stairs. She was taller than me, not by much, but enough that she could grab my chin and tilt my head up to look directly into my eyes. She stared at me, and I tried not to blink, and eventually she released me and went to Cederic and repeated the procedure. “Your eyes are the same,” she said. (I forgot to mention that about a third of the mages at the Darssan have green-gray eyes. Nobody seems to think it’s unusual, so I never remembered to ask about it. I’ve seen a few other people with those eyes in my travels, just not so many in one place.)
“It is a color that indicates a predisposition for magic,” Cederic said, not flinching. I have no idea whether this is true or not. I forgot to ask him, just like I forgot to ask him what Kilios means. I suppose it could be true. It was an explanation the God-Empress liked, because she went back up to her throne and gracefully settled herself on it.
“We welcome the mages of the Darssan,” she said in a louder, carrying voice, “and bid them put themselves under the supervision of the most high priest Denril Vorantor. We will hear their oaths now.”
There was some shuffling behind me, and one by one my friends came forward, bent their knees briefly, and said something I couldn’t understand, they spoke so quietly. It made me furious on Cederic’s behalf. He’d already lost the Darssan, lost his research, and now he’d lost what little was left to him. Kilios or no, this couldn’t be anything but a slap in the face.
Or so I thought. When everyone had gone back to their places behind us, the God-Empress said, “Kilios, will you make common cause with Denril Vorantor and turn your skills to his needs?”
“I will, God-Empress,” Cederic said, his voice entirely neutral.
“Denril Vorantor, make your oath,” the God-Empress said, and damn if Vorantor didn’t cross the pavilion and prostrate himself in front of Cederic, and say, “I accept what you offer and swear to heed your words, Kilios,” and Cederic laid his right hand over Vorantor’s and said, “I give you my skills and will follow where you lead.” The whole thing sounded bizarre; who was making promises to whom? I still have to ask Cederic about that, that and the Kilios thing and about a million other questions, but I keep forgetting.
I wasn’t finished being confused by that when the God-Empress said, “Otherworlder, will you give me the freedom of your name?”
I didn’t have time to indulge my outrage at her asking such a personal thing of me, God-Empress or no. “I, uh…yes?” I said. “My name is Sesskia.”
“And you may call me Renatha,” said the God-Empress, which provoked a reaction from everyone except, naturally, Cederic.
Remembering what Cederic said about gifts, I said, “Thank you, God—Renatha, it is a generous gift I do not deserve,” and she smiled more widely. I think it was a test.
“You will join me presently, and we will learn more of your magic,” the God-Empress said, and that was some kind of signal that the audience was over. Cederic stood, and we all filed out of the pavilion and back down the stairs. Vorantor and his mages didn’t follow us, which was fortunate because as soon as we were back in the hallway at the bottom of the stairs, everyone started talking at once, and Cederic had to shush them.
“This changes nothing,” he said. “You will turn your efforts toward assisting Sai Vorantor, because now we have a common goal. Summoning the Codex Tiurindi is of paramount importance. It does not matter to whom you owe allegiance.”
“We owe our allegiance to you, Sai Aleynten,” Terrael said.
“That may be, but I have sworn to aid Sai Vorantor, and I instruct you to do as he says,” said Cederic. “That should satisfy the demands of honor.”
“I don’t like it,” said Jaemis. He’s short and wide and looks more like a wrestler than a mage, but his skill at transmutation kathanas is unmatched by any of his peers.
“Liking it is not the issue,” Cederic said. “And remember that you may be watched at any time. Say nothing that will draw unwanted attention. Now, dinner will be served in two hours, so I suggest you use this time to rest so you will be refreshed for the morning’s work.”
Everyone grumbled, but they all went to their rooms. Cederic and I went back to the Sais’ wing, but he followed me into my room and said, “That was unexpected. Sharing one’s name with the God-Empress means a sort of kinship. You may be unable to avoid being called often to her presence.”
That frightened me. “What can I do?” I said.
“What you always do. Listen. Speak carefully. Be honest when you can and lie well when you cannot. And at worst, you can slip away from her and we will find another solution,” Cederic said.
“Staying hidden from her forever seems impractical,” I said.
He smiled. “This palace has places no one but a ghost can enter,” he said, “and I daresay you can become a ghost when you want.”
“That’s less encouraging than you think it is,” I said.
“We will worry about it when we come to it,” he said. “I will see you at dinner. And please, Sesskia, if you must wander, do it when no one will be watching.”
Which I did. Dinner was uneventful; the God-Empress, naturally, didn’t dine with us, and the dining room seemed reserved for the use of the mages. I sat with Terrael, Audryn, and Sovrin, and Cederic ate with Vorantor and acted exactly as if they were friends. I don’t think I could be friends with anyone who behaved the way Vorantor had. Fortunately no one was asking me to be friends with him.
to be continued…