Sesskia’s Diary, part 41

5 Lennitay, way too early in the morning

I’ve only had a few hours of sleep, but I want to write everything that’s happened while it’s still fresh in my memory. Especially what I learned from exploring last night.

But first, the God-Empress. I almost don’t know where to begin. So I suppose I’ll start with the clothing, because that was strange. I had about half an hour to play with the jewelry before the men with the clothing came back, with friends, and then I felt as if I were at the center of a fuchsia-scented whirlwind of brocade. Two of the servants began hanging clothes in the wardrobe and putting away all sorts of garments I hadn’t seen before, including underclothing, and then the men left and the women stripped me naked and began dressing me as if I were an infant. I protested loudly, but stopped when they all became hugely apologetic and I learned that this was supposed to be an honor, and that it was a service normally performed only for God-Emperors, and if I rejected it they would all be punished.

So I mentally said some very rude things about the God-Empress, never mind what Cederic said, and let them wrap me in more layers than I’d ever worn in my life, including a breast band, which they don’t have in my country. I tried one back in the Darssan, but I’m not exactly well-endowed and I decided a good shirt is enough support for me. It felt awkward and strange and I hoped it wasn’t obvious from the way I held my arms that I was wearing it. Then there was a thin thigh-length robe that went over the wide-legged trousers, both of them a beautiful cerulean blue I’d only ever seen on pottery before. After that came a sleeveless tunic made of a multicolored brocade that had tassels hanging from the hem to my knees. If they were allowed to swing free, they would be annoying, but they’re constrained by the over-robe, which is gold velvet that matches the curtains so closely they might have come from the same bolt. It has shorter sleeves than the thin under-robe, so the blue shows, and it fastens only with a single button at the waist, so it’s open over the brocade tunic and some of the tassels are visible. And then they put a white thing like a sheet sewn up the sides over my head, so the whole thing is covered up. I asked what the point was (I was more polite than that) and the gist of their explanation was that the God-Empress expects everyone to dress in their finest court clothing when they wait upon her, but not to outshine her. Hence the white sheet. Insane. Though with a certain logic.

I had to wait a little longer for Cederic to come for me, when the women were done, and it was strange to see him wearing the sheet, which looked a little pink because of the red robe he wore under it. He still managed to look composed instead of ridiculous. I’m pretty sure I looked rumpled. I hadn’t dared look at myself in the mirror. Instead of just beckoning me to come, he entered my room and shut the door behind him, gesturing me to keep silent. He drew th’an on the air, and spots on the walls glowed with amber light. I went with him to look at the nearest one, which was on the left-hand wall, and he indicated I should put my eye up to it. When I did, and my eye focused properly, I realized I could see into the room next to mine! I bit back an outraged complaint, and Cederic smiled, but it was a sort of bitter, resigned smile. Every one of the amber lights indicated a peephole. It was infuriating. Suppose someone had been watching me dress!

Cederic went to my wardrobe and dug into the top drawer, and came up with, to my embarrassment, a pair of undershorts. He removed the drawstring and tore them down the back seam, then into smaller pieces that he rolled up tight and fitted deep into the holes. Then he scribed more th’an, and the amber light flared again, this time giving off the scent of cinnamon. When I looked again, I saw that the cloth was now fused with the stone, completely blocking the holes. Cederic tossed the mutilated undershorts at me, and I set them on fire in midair so they came down in front of the window as nothing but black ash.

“I doubt anyone here knows those holes exist,” Cederic said, “but I thought you might feel more comfortable not worrying that someone might be watching you. Or listening to us.”

“How did you know about them?” I said.

“I didn’t,” he said. “I hypothesized their existence and then proved it in my own chamber. It is, by the way, the fourth door down the hall from yours.”

“Thank you,” I said. “Before we go, what do I need to know about the God-Empress? What should I expect?”

He put his hands behind his back and walked toward the door. “She is predisposed to like you,” he said. “Show her whatever magic she asks for. Whatever she offers you, accept and say it is an honor you do not deserve, but never decline a gift, because she will take it as refusing God’s bounty. You will know when she is pleased with herself; at those moments, admire her without sounding sycophantic. I think you will find that less difficult than it sounds, because the God-Empress is capable of great things. And she is not stupid, whatever else she may be.” He very carefully never uses the word “insane,” not since his conversation with Vorantor. “Above all, do not go out of your way to have contact with her. Every encounter is a chance she might change her mind about your…novelty, and there is the rare possibility that Denril’s insistence that you are needed for the kathana may not be enough to protect you.”

“Is it all right that I’m a little afraid?” I said.

“That shows how sensible you are,” Cederic said. “Now, follow me, and say nothing until you are spoken to.”

to be continued…

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