Well, I did sleep, eventually, and woke clutching this book against my chest, just in time to hide it under my pillow when the servant came to rouse me. She was aghast at the vomit, which did smell horrible, and brought in a couple of other servants to clean it up and bring me water and some soft, tasteless food—they think I’m ill. I didn’t correct that misapprehension. I couldn’t face the mages again. I’ve never felt so low in my life. I was certain they were all going to be killed because I couldn’t master that one tiny thing that was so crucial to the kathana’s success, and every time I closed my eyes I still saw that woman’s face, only after that nightmare, sometimes it was Sovrin, or Audryn, or one of the other Darssan mages. I ate a little, then set the tray aside and curled up facing the wall, my hand on this book under my pillow.
The door opened, and a moment later Cederic said, “You are not asleep. And you did not tell me everything. What happened when you were with the God-Empress?”
I rolled over to look at him. He was dressed in the white robe and black trousers he still wears to work in even though, as Terrael had told me, he’s entitled to wear red as Kilios (Vorantor’s people wear brown and gold, and they always look as if they’re going to a party compared to the simple Darssan uniform). “I don’t want to talk about it,” I said.
He came closer until he stood next to me. “Whatever happened is making you ill,” he said quietly, “and will continue to do so as long as you allow it to fester inside you. Tell me.”
So I sat up and told him everything, keeping my eyes on my clasped hands, managing not to break down when I described the collenna master’s murder. I think I glossed over the thing about the th’an because I was still overwhelmed, or he didn’t think it mattered, because he didn’t seem interested in that. He listened silently until I was finished and looked up at him finally. He wasn’t looking at me; he was staring out the window, his jaw clenched and his face impassive. “Tell me I’m wrong about all this,” I said. “Tell me I’m wrong that everyone’s safety depends on me.”
He shook his head. “You are not wrong.” He looked down at me and said, “Lie back,” and put the tips of his first and middle fingers in the center of my forehead and pushed a little. I lay back on my pillow, wondering what he had in mind, but he walked away and leaned on my dressing table the way he had on that table when I translated the Eddon book. “This is not a burden you should bear, but I cannot take it from you,” he said. “But I may be able to ease it.”
He came back to my side and reached for the neck of my shirt, opening it slightly to expose my throat. “This will make you sleep, and will keep you from dreaming,” he said, “and it may also clear your mind to make your task easier. Do not go wandering tonight, Sesskia. That is not a request.”
I nodded, and felt the tips of his fingers brush my chin as I did. He pressed up on my chin, baring more of my throat, and I felt the lightest pressure as he traced th’an on my skin, there and then across my forehead. I immediately felt sleepy, the good kind of sleepy where you’ve worked hard all day and your muscles are relaxing, and the last thing I felt before I dozed off were his fingers brushing against my cheek.
It was nearly dark when I woke, rested and happy as I haven’t been in days—weeks—and with the nightmares a distant memory, sad, but something I could deal with. I sat up, which drew the attention of a woman sitting on the floor next to my wardrobe, who hopped up and bowed to me repeatedly. She explained, in between bows, that she would bring me food and it was the Kilios’s instructions that I not disturb myself. Though I did use the chamber pot in the kiorka as soon as she disappeared; I doubt Cederic meant me to exercise superhuman control over my bladder. I ate sitting up in bed, and now I feel sleepy again, but I wanted to write all this down before falling asleep again. I owe Cederic a debt.
Now that I’m thinking more clearly, I realize that I took on too much responsibility for what is ultimately the God-Empress’s evil. It’s true that she expects results out of the kathana, and it’s true that as soon as I master my th’an, we’ll be able to perform it, which means that it’s also true that everything depends on me. But it’s not true that that means I hold everyone’s lives in my hand. It’s not true that I would be to blame for any deaths resulting from the God-Empress’s dissatisfaction with how her priest-mages are performing. All of that is to her damnation. I can’t do more than I’ve been doing, which is learning to use a kind of magic literally alien to me. And I haven’t given myself enough credit for what I have accomplished, which is successfully scribe a th’an in only ten days without five years of preparatory penmanship exercises first. I know I can do this. And I refuse to let the God-Empress cow me again.