14 Lennitay (continued)
Nothing else exciting happened, and we returned to the gate we’d started from, and the God-Empress stepped off as lightly as she had before. I stumbled a little when I reached the ground, had to catch my balance, and was about to thank the God-Empress for her generosity in giving me her time when she said, “Kill the driver.”
I whipped around just in time to see two of the soldiers lift the woman off her seat, and another take her head in his two massive hands and twist so rapidly the woman didn’t even have time to scream. The sound of her neck snapping was almost inaudible over the roar of the blood rushing through my temples. The soldiers dropped her, and the God-Empress came to stand next to the body and prod it with her big toe. “Tell the priests to train me another,” she said, and walked away, her damp shift still clinging to her perfect ass and thighs. Fortunately my body knew to ignore my shocked brain, and propelled me after her, because for all I knew I might have been next.
“Don’t worry, I have many drivers,” the God-Empress said, and to my further shock drew my arm through hers and patted my hand. “I can see you dislike waste as much as I do. But she broke the rule and acknowledged me on a rose day, and God cannot be disrespected.”
“I thought…it was the bad driving,” I managed.
“What bad driving?” the God-Empress said.
We reached her filmy red chamber, which was empty of servants, and she stripped off her shift and walked naked to a wardrobe in one corner, which she flung open, revealing richly embroidered robes in all shades of, that’s right, red, accented with gold and copper and silver. She took robe after robe from the wardrobe and tossed them on the floor behind her, held one for a few moments before wrenching at its back seam until it tore, then finally found something she liked. But she didn’t put it on; she held it out to me. “You must be rose, too,” she said, “for you are God’s chosen.”
I did not like the sound of that, but I said, “Thank you, Renatha,” and wrapped it around myself. It was far too big for me, too big for the God-Empress even, but it was wonderfully opaque and fastened high enough in front that only a hint of my cleavage showed. She beamed again, childlike, but with a body that was definitely not that of a child. She found a robe for herself and then sat on the divan with her legs crossed under her.
“I expect to see the kathana performed soon,” she said, and suddenly her voice and her features were sharp in a way they hadn’t been all day. “How soon, do you think?”
“I, uh, wish I knew, Renatha,” I said, “For my part, I’m working as fast as I can, but focusing on my own work means I don’t know very much about how the rest is progressing. But I know everyone is performing to their utmost abilities.” I prayed to the true God that I hadn’t inadvertently said something that would condemn every mage to a sudden, neck-snapping death.
“I see,” the God-Empress said. “Then I will allow a little more time. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.”
“You’re welcome,” I said. Talking to her really is like maneuvering a maze of knives blindfolded, though that might be easier. At that point I just wanted to run back to the Sais’ wing and tell Cederic that we now have a deadline—though he and Vorantor probably already know this better than I do. I’ve resolved to be more diligent and to stop complaining at Terrael, now that I understand what’s at stake.
The God-Empress just sat looking at me, and I belatedly realized I was dismissed. “Thank you again for the generous gift of your time and company, which I do not deserve,” I said, and backed out of there as rapidly as was polite and sensible. Then I ran. I only made one wrong turn before reaching the Sais’ wing, and the safety of my bedroom, and then I’m not too proud to confess that I ripped the robe off, stomped on it, then stood there in my underclothing and cried. That poor woman. All those people. Had the God-Empress decided the men and women at the eating place had paid her too much attention, and sent her soldiers back to burn it to the ground? It was just so overwhelming, all the tension of worrying about whether I was going to say or do something wrong, and could I turn the pouvrin against someone in defense of my life, because I hope the answer is “yes” and I don’t want to only find that out when my life really is in danger.
After I finished crying, I dressed in comfortable clothing and wadded up the God-Empress’s robe and stuck it in the back of the wardrobe. Then I got it out and hung it up instead. She might expect me to wear it again. I don’t want to call her Renatha again. She may not have hurt me today, but I’m convinced she is my enemy, and for me to use her praenoma…it’s degrading to my true friendships to put my relationship with my enemy on the same standing. Even the thought of it makes me feel uncomfortable and a little sick at breaking that taboo, after all I’ve done to keep those customs. But I don’t have a choice, do I? The God-Empress might take lethal offense at my rejecting the gift of her name. And she might not direct that lethality at me. But as far as I’m concerned, ‘God-Empress’ is her aenemica now, her name turned curse, and I’ll think it every time I’m forced to say ‘Renatha’ instead.
Well. I feel better now that I’ve written all of this down, but I think I won’t go exploring tonight; I’m still a little on edge. And I’ve just realized I have more to tell Cederic about what’s happened, not just the part where it sounds as if the God-Empress is losing patience with her pet mage-priests; I have to tell him about feeling like I should recognize the th’an. And I have questions for him. And I’m starving because I forgot to go to dinner, I was too busy crying. At least all I have to look forward to tomorrow is failing to work th’an with fire. No, I can’t afford to think that way. If the kathana really only lacks my part to be ready, I have to redouble my efforts or I could cost many people, some of whom I care about very much, their lives.