9 Lennitay, very early, maybe just past midnight (continued)
Light came through the open door, blinding me, forcing my eyes shut. “Up there,” a deep voice said, and two people jingled past me, the second coming close enough that the wind of his passing ruffled my shirt. It took me a minute to recover from the see-in-dark pouvra to see who’d opened the door. At first, I thought I hadn’t recovered enough, because the man who stood in the doorway looked as if he was wearing a chicken on his head. I blinked a little harder and realized it was a helmet made to resemble a falcon, with wings folded to either side and head thrust forward, beak slightly open as if crying out. He was looking past me up the passage toward two other men wearing matching helmets, who were carefully searching in all directions for invisible thieves. Fortunately for me, they used their eyes and not their hands, and I pressed back so far into the wall that I might not have needed a pouvra to go through it.
“Nothing,” said one of the two men, and they both came back down to join their comrade at the door. All three wore, in addition to the chicken falcon helmets, short-sleeved shirts made of a fine steel mesh over long-sleeved black linen tunics, snugly-fitting black leather pants, hard black boots I would not like to be kicked with, and sword belts with sheaths for a longsword and a seven-inch-long knife.
“I told Prenz these hinges needed work,” the first man said, and all three went back inside and shut the door, and locked it. I stood there breathing peacefully for a while. Nothing guarding the treasure, but three men, possibly more, standing a very careful watch over whatever was beyond these doors? I retreated up the passage a long, long way, maybe two stories, then dropped the concealment pouvra and rubbed feeling back into my fingers and toes. Getting past those men would be difficult, because there was no way in hell I was going to try passing through living flesh. All my instincts told me it was a bad idea. Hard enough maintaining my identity against a stone wall; how much harder against another creature, whose instinct to remain complete was just as strong as mine? And if two of those men stood in front of those doors at all times…more reconnaissance was needed.
I went back down, feeling my way in the blackness because I didn’t want to be blinded again when I did the see-through pouvra, and carefully patted the wall with the tips of my fingers until I was certain I was facing the door. Then I did the see-through pouvra and took a look around. Only one man stood in front of the door; the other two were in position a little ways off down a long corridor the door opened onto. I couldn’t see where the light was coming from, but the corridor became dark just past where the other two men stood. They were all three of them very alert despite the hour, and after giving it some thought, I turned and went back up the sloping passage, finding my way in the dark to make it a bit of a challenge, until I reached the door I’d come in by, then I went silently back to my room. Which brings me to now.
I’ve been trying to think of what might be beyond that passage. The most logical explanation is that it leads to the God-Empress’s personal chambers. The only thing a ruler wants to guard more closely than her treasure is herself. And she might want to maintain a direct route to her treasure rooms, even if she doesn’t care enough about them to protect them more fully. But logic only applies if you assume the ruler is sane, which the God-Empress is not, in which case, who knows what’s beyond those doors? There could be any number of things she might want closely guarded, intrinsically valuable or not.
I really should just leave it alone. I’m in enough danger as it is. I certainly can’t tell Cederic what I’ve learned, because he would definitely tell me to leave it alone, and I’d feel bad about disregarding his wishes. The thing is, I’ve never regretted gaining knowledge, even when that knowledge has been personally painful. I have, on the other hand, regretted not knowing enough. The God-Empress has an unhealthy interest in me, and the more I know about her, the safer I’ll be. And that includes discovering as many of her secrets as I can.
I’m running out of pages in this book, and I don’t know how I’ll be able to make another. Maybe Cederic will let me scrounge paper out of the books, but that still leaves me with no leather for the cover and no thread and needle for the binding. I’ll have to find an alternative, I suppose.