I’m so sick of talking to people. I’m no diplomat and I’m sure as hell no leader, and I’ve done more talking in the last two days than any human being should be expected to do. And we’ve delayed our journey by a day, which has made me tense and irritable, but what else could we do?
It actually wasn’t as hard as I’d feared to convince the three mages that the God-Empress was an imminent threat. And once I did, they started coming up with plans on their own—setting up a semi-permanent camp in the nearby hills, sending people to observe the siege of Calassmir who would return when they saw the army move in their direction so they could evacuate—and they seemed confident, like this was something they could handle.
What I wasn’t sure they could handle was a possible attack by Castaviran villagers while they were in their camp, which was meant to be secluded rather than defensible, given that there’s no way they can keep the army from overrunning them if they’re found. So once we were sure they understood the situation, we bade them goodbye and headed straight for that Castaviran town.
Like I wrote, I’m really sick of talking to people. And I’m even sicker of the unrelenting fear and suspicion both countries are displaying toward each other. I realize it’s a normal human reaction, but really, is everyone’s first reaction to encountering the strange and unknown going to be violence? People can’t just take a moment to learn what kind of strange and unknown thing they’re facing? This is the way the world is now, Balaen and Castavir lying cheek-by-jowl with one another, and it’s not going away, damn those long-ago mages and their arrogant belief that they had the right to make decisions for everyone around them.
Last night I lay awake, sleepless, not thinking of Cederic for once but of the possibility that our civilizations are going to destroy each other and the survivors are going to claw their way out of the wreckage and still go on fighting each other. It made me so angry I finally had to go for half an hour’s walk before I could calm down enough to sleep.
Anyway, the point of all of this is that Jeddan and I marched across the fields (there’s no road to the Castaviran village, not yet, maybe not ever) out where anyone could see us, no trying to hide. It’s a walled town, so a little bigger than…I don’t know what Baltan’s village is called. I can’t believe it never came up. Anyway, the farms outside the walls were all deserted the way they’d been in that village, and when we were close enough we could see the defenders huddled up at the gate, not sure what to make of us.
The minute I could see the boards two of them were clutching, I let loose with a huge sweep of fire, bigger than anything I’ve ever managed before, made it circle them without burning (yet) and shouted “Drop your weapons!”
It took them a second or two, but drop them they did. “Boards too!” I shouted, and the two mages were much quicker to respond. One of the boards cracked in half when it hit the frozen ground. I kept the fire going until we were about twenty feet away, then dismissed it and stood facing them with my arms crossed over my chest.
“Who speaks for this town?” I said. I scared even myself at how angry I sounded, but I was tired and frustrated and heartsick and afraid we wouldn’t reach Hasskian in time, and I didn’t much care if I frightened anyone, because we didn’t have time to waste.
“Our mayor,” said one of the women.
“Get him,” I said, and waited for the woman to duck past the growing crowd and run for the mayor. Why he wasn’t with the defenders—no, I know why he wasn’t with the defenders, he’s a coward and a bully. But it doesn’t matter now. We stood there, waiting, watching each other. The mages looked like they might go for their boards if I gave them a chance, so I sent a couple of fierce glares their way. We waited some more. I started to feel the anger wearing off, replaced by anxiety. They would only stay cowed by my display of magic for so long. If that mayor didn’t return quickly…I didn’t know what I would do next.
But the woman came back in less than five minutes, bringing with her a tall man who moved more slowly than she did, trying to exert control over the situation and, by extension, over me. “How dare you threaten us?” he called out when he reached the front of the crowd. “We haven’t done anything to you. Leave now before we kill you.”
The men and women around him looked nervous at that. Well, he hadn’t seen the fire-summoning pouvra. “That was just to get your attention,” I said. “I want to talk to you about the village about two miles down the road.”
“The invaders?” he said. “What about them?”
“You need to stop attacking them,” I said, trying to be reasonable even though his tone of voice irritated me. “They haven’t done anything to you and they’re only interested in living in peace.” That was mostly true.
“They are foreign invaders and represent a threat to the Castaviran Empire,” he said. “It’s our duty to eliminate them.”
“They are inhabitants of the shadow world, joined to ours again,” I said. There was no point explaining the convergence to this fool. “The world belongs to both of us. You don’t need to conquer them any more than they need to conquer you.”
He examined me and sneered. “I know what you are,” he said. “They’ve played a clever trick, choosing someone who looks Viravonian and somehow teaching you our language. But you’re one of them. Kill her.”
No one moved. “Kill her!” he screamed, and one of the mages bent to pick up his board, so I set it on fire and he flinched away. The crowd muttered and backed up. “Cowards!” the mayor shouted, and snatched a sword from the nearest bystander and ran at me. That was unexpected, and I had barely begun to respond when Jeddan stepped in front of me, grabbed the mayor’s sword-wielding arm, and used the man’s own momentum to wrench it behind him so painfully he gasped and dropped the weapon.
“Thanks,” I said to Jeddan. He nodded, and gripped the mayor by the back of his neck, holding him tightly. He flailed at Jeddan with his free hand, and I grabbed it and worked the walk-through-walls pouvra to slide my hand through his, making his face go white and the rest of him go limp.
to be continued…