30 Lennitay (continued)
Cederic was there, standing where Vorantor had the first night I’d seen the room, looking over the edge at what lay far below. I had another moment of fear, but pushed it aside and walked toward him. He always knows it’s me, though I don’t know how. This time he probably heard me shouting. He said, “There are stones in a strange pattern here.”
“It’s a way into the God-Empress’s treasure tower,” I said.
“I suppose I should expect you to know these things,” he said, not turning around. I didn’t like the sound of his voice. It was empty, and bitter, and sounded nothing like him.
“I’m a thief,” I said, trying to make a joke, but it hung in the air between us and then fell to the ground, disregarded.
He didn’t say anything. I swear I thought all I wanted was to help him. To show him that no one who mattered thought less of him for having been wrong. I cast about for something that would adequately express that feeling, and came up with, “Terrael feels terrible for having been the one to reveal that.”
“Master Peressten is an honest man. He would not have concealed it, even for me,” Cederic said.
More silence. I felt as if everything I wanted to say was running up against the brick wall that was Cederic’s humiliation. “What will you do now?” I said.
“You mean, now that it is clear to everyone that I am a fool, and that I have wasted two years of my time and that of Castavir’s finest minds?” he said.
“You’re not a fool,” I said. “Don’t say that.”
“The evidence was clear enough for Denril and the other Sais to see the truth,” Cederic said. “I let my pride in my rank convince me that I could find success where they could not. That makes me a fool. An arrogant, selfish fool.”
“Don’t say that,” I said. “You are better than they are, and you made a mistake—”
“What do you know of it?” he shouted, turning on me so quickly I took a step back in surprise. “You, another of my many mistakes, snatched out of your world because of my carelessness! You simply cannot leave things alone, can you? I did not ask you to follow me. I did not ask for your patronizing sympathy, your cautious tiptoeing around the truth, and I cannot understand why you believe anything you have to say means anything to me!”
I remember every word of it. His face, no longer expressionless, his voice, raging at me, I remember it all. It hurt so badly that for one confused moment I thought he’d stabbed me, and I put my hand up to my chest and felt nothing but cloth. The fury faded from Cederic’s face. “Sesskia,” he said, “I didn’t…”
I turned and ran for the door. He shouted my name, and I heard him coming after me, but I was already leaping down the steps and plunging through the floor as into the ocean’s depths, into blackness, from one open space to another, anything to get away from him.
I ran through long galleries where the servants flung themselves out of my way—I have no idea what they thought, I probably looked like a madwoman—and through rows of tiny, sealed-off cubicles; across the floor of the mosaic chamber, where I lost one of my shoes; then into one of the God-Empress’s kitchens, where I kicked off the other to be a mystery for one of the servants to find.
I wasn’t thinking at all, just running, and passing through walls, and at some point I became lightheaded from all the insubstantiality, and I stopped, and I was here in the fur room. I tore all the furs off the walls and the counters and piled them in a corner, and I flung myself down on them, and I cried as I haven’t for years.
Because I didn’t know I loved him until he told me how worthless he thinks I am.
I swear it’s true. How stupid does that make me? How incredibly stupid was I not to realize that my longing to ease his pain had nothing to do with friendship? I realize, now, that I’ve loved him for a long time. Of course I go to him for every little thing, because I feel better when I’m with him, happier and more comfortable than when I’m alone.
I trust him more than anyone, even more than Audryn and Sovrin—I don’t know why that is, because in most ways I’m closer to them than I am to Cederic. It’s just—I think it’s because he makes such an effort to be…not truthful, exactly, but he never says anything without being certain that he’s not misleading you, because truth and honesty and accuracy matter so much to him, and that goes so far beyond truth and lies that it’s like a bedrock foundation I know I can always count on.
I love it when I can make him smile or joke, and I thought that was because it’s a challenge, like it was a game I was playing, but the truth is that even though his smile is tiny and thin, his eyes get this amused gleam to them that warms my heart. And I love the way his lips quirk just a little bit when he’s intent on a problem; I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know he does that, and the thought of it makes my heart ache more because it reminds me of how confident and powerful he is, or was before that bastard Vorantor took such joy in tearing him down.
Did I write once that his face was smooth and arrogant? I don’t know why I ever thought that, why I never realized how handsome he is, with those crooked eyebrows and high, strong cheekbones and those eyes I have trouble looking away from.
I love him, and he despises me. He’s right, I don’t belong here, and if I had something to offer him, I wouldn’t have fumbled around like that in the observatory, I would have known exactly the right thing to say. And I didn’t.
This isn’t the worst day of my life. Not even close. The day I came back with the medicine for Bridie, and she was lying sprawled on the bed, dried foam at the corners of her lips from her final seizure, with Mam passed out in a gin-soaked stupor in the corner so Bridie hadn’t even had someone who loved her to hold her when she died, and I picked up her little body and carried it into the street to find someone who would help me bury her—nothing’s ever going to be worse than that day.
So I don’t know why this hurts so much more. Probably because I’m a fool, and I need to stop lying here mopping tears out of my eyes. The world is still ending. There might still be something I can do to—not stop it, obviously, but make it less terrible. Even if that means working with Vorantor. Even if it means giving the God-Empress the chance to expand her empire.
It’s been about fifteen minutes since I wrote that last sentence, and I feel calmer now. I can think about this more rationally. Cederic was hurt, and angry, and I probably looked like an easy target, fumbling around and hurting him more with my awkward words. So I doubt he meant any of what he said. But how much worse is that, that he knew exactly what to say that would hurt me and didn’t even try to hold it back?
Remembering makes me feel small and worthless again, because I’m just as bad as the Darssan mages, I want him to respect me and think I matter. I want him to love me. And I think this all proves he doesn’t.
I’m going to wait here until I’m sure my face looks normal again, then I’m going back to my room, I’m going to sleep, and in the morning I’m going to go to Vorantor and ask him what he wants from me. And I’m never speaking to Cederic again.