My first entry in my beautiful new book, and I feel like I’m defiling it from what I have to write. I’m tired, but not from physical exertion, and I wish I were back in the Darssan, where I could sink into a hot pool and let the water soak away the tension that’s making my back and neck hurt. Of course, if I were back in the Darssan I wouldn’t have spent the day with the God-Empress, which is the reason for the tension. Having to constantly monitor my words and actions put me on edge, especially since for the first part of the day it didn’t seem I needed to. It wasn’t until later that I was reminded of the kind of person she is.
One of the wardrobe servants came for me in the dining hall, before I was half finished with my breakfast. He used a lot of polite words, but the gist of it was that it was going to take some time to attire me properly, and if I was late, he and his fellows would be punished. The God-Empress definitely enjoys manipulating people by threatening others. I think it gives her pleasure to know that it’s a form of persuasion that would never work on her, because she doesn’t give a damn what happens to other people. It works all too well on me, and I abandoned my half-eaten meal, exchanged despairing glances with Sovrin, and went back to my room. They didn’t strip me this time, but allowed me to take off my own clothes down to my undergarments (still wearing the breast band; I’ve become accustomed to it, and thank the true God for that) before presenting me with an actual choice between two of my dresses, one full-skirted with short sleeves and a fitted waist, the other tight through the hips and knees but flaring out a little below that, so my stride would be seriously constrained. Neither of them would be good for running in, and I had to leave both books behind, hidden more or less in plain sight (wrapped loosely in my discarded clothes), but I noted the loose seams of the second dress and decided I could tear them open if running did become necessary. Paranoid, remember? The servants seemed pleased by my choice, which in addition to being impractical was a shade of brown that wasn’t particularly flattering to me, and I remembered how the God-Empress didn’t like being outshined by anyone. And I certainly wouldn’t be doing any shining in that thing.
They piled my hair on my head and secured it with far too many pins, which is to say that it’s heavy enough it needed almost all the hairpins I’d been given to keep it up, and even then if I did end up running, it would probably fall down anyway. Then I was allowed to wear some of my new jewelry, so I chose a very nice necklace of gold filigree with dark red rubies and had to struggle not to laugh at the servants’ consternation at discovering my ears aren’t pierced. No need, when I would never wear earrings that might catch the light at the wrong time, but they were so upset I think if we hadn’t been pressed for time they’d have pierced my ears right then. They settled for bracelets of amber and gold I could quickly shed and shoes that pinched my toes but would come off as easily.
As I read over this, I realize that I do sound paranoid, but given my experiences today, I think everything I did and planned for was reasonable. If anything, I might have underestimated the correct level of paranoia. But everything in its time, and at this time in my account I was dressed properly and ready to be escorted to the God-Empress’s chambers.
The last time, I was taken through the palace by the woman who’d met us when we first arrived, and handed off to some kind of steward when we reached the public wing of the palace. This time, four soldiers dressed in the uniform I’d seen beneath the tower, complete with chicken falcon helmets, were standing outside my door when I left my room. Their appearance was so unexpected I nearly shut the door in their faces, which were as impassive as Cederic’s ever is, but I recovered in time and just waited for them to indicate what I should do. They turned to face the stairwell, spreading out a little, and I realized they wanted me to stand in their center, so I did. Then I had to hobble rapidly to keep up with their longer, unconstrained strides as they marched away. It felt exactly as if I were being marched to the gallows, assuming they have those here, and that was when I first began feeling tense. The shoes became uncomfortable after only a few flights of stairs, the dress made me feel as if I were going to trip and fall and tumble to the bottom, hopefully carrying some of those soldiers with me, and my mind insisted on coming up with scenarios in which this was a death march and I was cooperating far too readily. The soldiers didn’t speak, and I didn’t have anything to say, and we saw no one at any of the landings and halls we passed, and I think now that maybe they’d cleared the halls so no one could see us. I’m glad I didn’t think of that at the time, because that would have bolstered my death march theory, and while I like to think I’m disciplined enough not to panic in stressful situations, I can’t say that I might not have made excuses and tried to run. Which would likely have been fatal.
The route they took me by was different from the first; it went through the mosaic chamber, which was every bit as impressive now as it was when we first arrived, and that reminds me that I still haven’t gone to look at the floor in daylight. We went through one of the archways I’d never been able to explore, the one between the God-Empress subduing a dragon and the God-Empress laying the foundations for a vast city—funny, she’s giant-sized in that one, maybe my fantasy about Colosse being built by a giant wasn’t so absurd—and into a very different part of the palace. The mages’ wing is all narrow passages with low ceilings that seem more suited to catacombs than a palace (everywhere except the hall in the Sais’ wing) and old, pitted stone. This place had wide halls with arched ceilings painted blue and walls plastered with abstract frescos in cool colors, and arched doorways instead of doors. The hall we entered by terminated in a courtyard with a glass roof very high above, revealing a circle of cool blue sky that looked as if it hung above some temperate landscape not blasted by the heat of the sun, which heat I could feel coming off the breeze that swept through the courtyard from both sides. A fountain fifteen feet tall at the center of the courtyard kept it from being too hot, and the breeze carried a faint mist toward me that was beautifully cooling. My awkward dress was surprisingly comfortable; court brocades would have been awful in this heat.
My honor guard, or whatever they were, separated and went to stand at the four corners of the courtyard, still silent and impassive, leaving me clueless as to what to do next. So I went forward to the fountain and inhaled the cool, damp air coming off it. I thought about taking a drink, but decided it might be taboo, or poisoned, or something. Of course that only made me thirsty, but I clasped my hands together in front of me to keep them from being stupid and waited.
to be continued…