Sesskia’s Diary, part 126

24 Coloine, noonish

I didn’t get very far scouting the army this morning. For one, Jeddan wasn’t happy about being left behind, even though he had to agree I’d move faster if I didn’t have to hold his hand to conceal him. For another, there are still a lot of people in the camp even though the siege was going strong, and I had to depend as much on my stealthiness as the pouvra to keep from being detected.

It looks just like any other military camp, lots of dull canvas tents, lots of cookfires where people were having breakfast, lots of people grousing about the bad food and the bad weather (it was drizzling a bit, typical southern winter weather). I guess there are really only so many ways you can organize an army and still have it be effective. The only unusual thing, to my eyes, was the presence of female soldiers as well as male. The Balaenic Army is entirely male. I don’t know what goes into that kind of decision, and I don’t really care.

But the point is that despite those problems, I was able to infiltrate the camp deeply enough to find their command center, and that’s where I ran into different problems, which is why I’m back here and writing while Jeddan is hunting for our lunch (we ran out of food this morning, and decided he should try to gather more while I was gone, just in case).

It was easy enough to identify the command center, since it flew the falcon flag from its highest peak, and just as easy to sneak into the tent with the walk-through-walls pouvra, and easy to stay concealed, though at that point my fingertips were pretty numb. It’s really big, though not the biggest tent in the camp—that honor, naturally, goes to Her Godliness Renatha Torenz—but bigger than any I’ve ever seen before. It has several tent poles holding up the roof and they actually put rugs down to cover the ground so it doesn’t get muddy.

Even so, military tents are all the same no matter the size: lots of uncomfortable-looking stools, the smell of whatever greasy meat was for dinner, and the dim wavering light of camp lanterns, always lit no matter the hour, so it wasn’t as if it was luxurious. The God-Empress’s tent, on the other hand—well, I should tell this in order, so more on that later.

So it was easy to get inside undetected. The problem was the tent is almost always occupied, and I couldn’t see any of the information we needed lying out in the open. And there’s no way I can rifle through the papers spread out over the tables without someone noticing. There were always three or four officers there, going over paperwork and writing out orders, and it seemed just as one left, someone else came in.

I wandered around the tent for a bit, just in case something changed, but the officers just talked about how the siege was going and a lot of technical stuff about strategy and tactics that didn’t mean anything to me, given that I don’t know much about besieging a city. Nothing useful. So after about half an hour, I gave up and left.

Only I didn’t return to Jeddan immediately. There was, as I said, an even bigger tent nearby, also flying the falcon flag, but with a difference: there were angular symbols printed beneath its beak, the God-Empress’s personal sigil. There was no way I’d leave the camp without investigating her tent. I circled around to the back and went through the wall.

This was luxurious. It also had rugs on the ground, but they were plush and soft and looked as though they’d come from a palace guest room. The lamps hanging at intervals from the tent poles shed a warm, bright light over the space. And she’d brought actual furniture, a four-poster bed and dresser and a little table next to a deeply upholstered armchair, and even now I can’t imagine how she managed that. I suppose if you have enough manpower, you can do almost anything. The place smelled not of greasy, stale food, but of her sweet-citrus scent that made me gag because I associate it so strongly with the deaths she’s caused.

The God-Empress wasn’t there, and I was confident no one would enter the tent without her permission, so I dismissed the concealment pouvra and poked around for a bit. She’d even brought useless knickknacks to decorate her dresser. I thought about stealing one, not because I’m desperate to own an abstract pink marble sculpture of (I think) a woman giving birth, but because it might have been a disruption for the God-Empress to believe one of her soldiers had stolen from her. But I realized she wouldn’t hunt down the perpetrator; she’d just pick some random person to blame and have them executed immediately, not slowing down the attack at all. And even though it could probably be justified as an act of war, I couldn’t bring myself to cause some innocent person’s death. So in the end, I just reflected on how insane the God-Empress is and left the tent. Then I came straight back here to our “camp,” such as it is.

I told Jeddan what I’d learned and we discussed options:

  1. I go back alone after dark and look for more information. I was in favor of this, but Jeddan is increasingly worried that we’ll get permanently separated. This is reasonable, but I’m not sure it’s worth the risk of going in together. The real problem with this is that military camps never entirely sleep, and there’s a chance the tent will never be unoccupied. So I’d risk being caught again for nothing.
  2. We go back together now and try to distract the officers so we can get what we need. Jeddan’s plan. If we can get the officers out of the tent, we can quickly search for their plans. The problem here is creating the right distraction when we don’t know what would be effective.
  3. We capture an officer and interrogate him or her to learn where the army’s going next. The most effective plan, but dependent on too many variables, and what would we do with the officer afterward that wouldn’t reveal our presence?
  4. We give up on learning anything, wait for the siege to end, then see which way the army goes and try to beat them to their destination. I really hate this plan, but it’s our last resort, because even though we can move a lot more quickly than the army, we need the best head start we can get.

So it looks like 2 is our best bet. Jeddan just came back with an armful of apples, only a little worm-eaten, and we’ll have lunch and then make a more detailed plan.