5 Lennitay, way too early in the morning (continued)
The alcove to the right of that one, the alcove between it and the mages’ alcove, leads to a warren of more personal sleeping and living quarters, and a big dining room and a kitchen. And it was completely empty. All those bedrooms, unoccupied. The kitchen hadn’t been used in months, at least. I couldn’t tell if this was meant as guest quarters, or as living space for the royal family, but either way it was eerie. Now that I’ve had time to think about it, my instinct is that it’s guest quarters. The royal family has to be protected, and it’s easier to have them all in one place rather than splitting the guards’ efforts—and this definitely didn’t belong to the God-Empress. I don’t know why the palace would have an entire wing for guests and then not have any, but it likely has something to do with the God-Empress’s insanity. I can’t imagine anyone staying here unless she was a hostage. That thought makes me queasy, because every one of the mages is a hostage if the God-Empress decides it’s so.
By this time, it was getting very late, and I was starting to feel tired, so I decided to leave exploring the rest of the alcoves until another time. I have a much better idea of what the palace looks like, even if I didn’t find anything interesting. I don’t know whether to hope that the God-Empress’s quarters are beyond one of the two remaining alcoves or not. Easier if it is, but if not, what a challenge to try to sneak into it!
So I went back to my room, but when I reached the hallway, I decided to take one last look at the…I’m still not sure what it is. An observatory? It’s certainly high enough, though I wonder what anyone could see through that smoked glass. In any case, I figured Vorantor wouldn’t still be there, and I really wanted to see the view for myself.
I was still cautious, approaching it—an overconfident thief is a dead thief, another one of my mottoes—even though I heard nothing, not even snoring from the adjoining chambers. Now that those holes are closed up, my room seems completely soundproof, and these stone walls are thick enough to keep most noises contained. I’m not going to experiment by standing in my room and screaming, certainly. I was almost to the entry when I heard voices—not even voices, just a low cadenced hum that I’ve learned to recognize as what voices sound like at the edge of hearing. I took a look into the observatory and saw that Vorantor was still standing there, at the other side of the room, only this time he wasn’t alone. With my eyes more perfectly adjusted to the dark this time, I could see immediately that the second person was male, shorter than Vorantor, light-haired, and dressed in clothing that looked drab next to Vorantor’s rich robes. Everything about him screamed “thief.” I didn’t even have to think about it; I did the concealment pouvra and began sidling along the circumference of the room, trying to get close enough to make out their words.
Years ago, when I first learned the basics of the see-in-dark pouvra, I tried adapting it to enhance my hearing, but I was never successful. I can’t believe there isn’t a pouvra for that, so I haven’t given up on finding it, but I don’t think I’ve ever wanted it more than I did just then. The trouble with sneaking up on a thief is that she’s, well, a thief—and if she’s any good, she’ll be constantly on the lookout for people doing to her what she’d do to them. The closer I got, the less convinced I was that the stranger was a thief, simply because he lacked the alertness I’d have in his position. But…well, whatever he is, stealth and cunning are definitely some of his tools of the trade, even if he’s never hung by his fingertips off a third-story window ledge while his bare toes grope for purchase on the irregular bricks of a castle wall.
I went as close as I dared and was frustrated to discover that the conversation was nearly over. I suppose it would have been too much for me to coincidentally enter just as they started talking about a key piece of information that only mattered to me. As it was, it left me with more questions instead. The stranger said, “An upset for you, I think.”
Vorantor said, “Cederic pledged his honor, so I’m not worried about him. And he’s never been interested in glory. Everything will go on as it has.”
The stranger said, “No matter what you have to do to ensure that.”
“Exactly,” Vorantor said. “Something I believe you understand.”
The stranger just nodded, then to my surprise walked past Vorantor to the edge of the observatory, where a low wall kept people from simply stepping off and falling, I assumed, to their deaths, slung his leg over the wall and dropped. Vorantor didn’t react, and I heard neither scream nor fatal thud, so I concluded that he was the kind of thief I’d originally thought, and I confirmed this later—well, I don’t want to put this out of order when I’m almost done. A minute after the stranger made his dramatic exit, Vorantor turned and left the observatory, passing very close to me without noticing anything amiss. This is why I don’t wear scent. People forget that there are all sorts of ways to notice a hidden someone that have nothing to do with eyes. I could smell Vorantor just fine; he uses a nice-smelling woody cologne, which is probably the only nice thing about him. I gave him plenty of time to reach his room, then went forward, still concealed, and leaned way out over the wall to see where the stranger had gone.
The observatory is at the top of a very fat tower about fifty feet tall, with narrow windows marking out the layout of the interior. Based on the way the windows are arranged, the tower has three stories, and its base is set in one corner of what I’ve come to think of as the “main” palace, which is itself another four stories from the ground. So the observatory is fairly high up, based on those stairs about half a story above the Sais’ wing, though not as high as the God-Empress’s pavilion. From my angle, dangling over the wall, it was immediately obvious that someone had built a staircase from the base of the observatory to the nearest window, which was about ten feet down and three feet to the right of where I was. I say “staircase,” but it was more a series of jutting blocks that offered hand- and footholds so you could reach the window without much—all right, not much effort for someone like me, and a crippling fear of heights would make it almost impossible, and the window wouldn’t admit anyone much larger than the stranger, who wasn’t much taller and broader than I am. But it would be a good way for someone to meet someone else in the observatory without walking past a lot of Sais, who might want to know what that someone was doing there. None of my exploration had led to that tower, which made it even more interesting; it was something somebody wanted kept secret.
I pulled myself back up and went to my room, not even pausing at Cederic’s door. I know he knows th’an he’s never showed me, and that there are all sorts of them that have offensive capabilities, and I’m certain he’d try to take the head off anyone who entered his room at night. And now I’ve written everything down, and I’m so tired I can barely keep my eyes open long enough to make a list of what I need to do in the morning:
- Tell Cederic about Vorantor’s well-after-midnight conversation.
- Ask him about Kilios. And the eye-color thing. And what happened between him and Vorantor in the God-Empress’s pavilion.
- Figure out what’s directly below us in this tower. Yes, I could take the staircase to the window, but allowing myself to be outlined against the sky for a possible enemy to take a swipe at seems like a bad idea. Besides, I don’t want to give away the fact that I know about the staircase if I can help it. It could turn out to be an escape route.
- Begin work on the kathana to summon the Codex Tiurindi. As much as I dislike Vorantor, and find working for him distasteful, I’m a little excited to finally witness a kathana that I’m not the focus of.