It’s been an awful day. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected anything less; 30 Coloine has been a terrible day for me every year for the last six years. Fortunately, it ended well—quite a surprise, actually. I think I might be able to sleep tonight.
We’re making good time now we’re on the Royal Road. Balaen’s King is erratic and hedonistic, and our government is sometimes guided more by vanity and greed than by good sense, and the nobles play vicious games with lives, part of why my family lost its status I guess, but we’ve got an excellent road system. I don’t know if that’s down to the current Chamber Lord who has jurisdiction over transportation (lady, actually, Debarra Jakssar, the only woman in the Chamber) or if it’s something she inherited, but the major roads are well-kept and smooth. Of course, that’s going to benefit the God-Empress too, but there’s no point worrying about that.
That wasn’t the awful part. The Balaenic village hadn’t had much food to spare, and we forgot to ask at the Castaviran village, so we’re running low on supplies. Jeddan’s good at setting snares, but now that we’re out of The Forest—there are still trees surrounding the road, but it’s not heavily overgrown—there aren’t as many places for animals to shelter, and I think the convergence’s upsetting of the landscape has caused many of the animals to flee. So when we saw signs that we were approaching another village, I cheered up.
It makes me sick when I remember that now, because as the road curved out from beneath the trees, we saw smoke, a lot of smoke, and heard screaming, and there was far too much movement in the streets. Jeddan and I looked at each other, then I took his hand and concealed us, and we ran toward the village.
It was carnage. Men and women were fighting in the streets, some with blades, others with whatever weapons they could find. Bodies lay fallen everywhere, some of them crumpled where they’d managed to crawl away a bit before they died. As we watched, a handful of men burst through a door with their arms full of—I don’t know what, boxes and piles of cloth, whatever they thought was valuable. Half of the main street was on fire, and I saw a woman climbing out of a second story window and dropping to the ground; by the way she landed, it looked like she broke her leg. The tingling numbness of the concealment pouvra seemed to spread through my body, making everything around me seem unreal.
Jeddan tugged at my hand and we turned around and left. There wasn’t anything we could do. I know, I have all this magic, I should have been able to think of something, but I was just too numb to think. No, even now that we’re well away from it, I still don’t know how I could have made a difference. I wonder what started it. Not that it—
I was going to write “not that it matters,” but it does, because if we can understand what made Balaenic clash with Castaviran, and Castaviran with Balaenic (and I can’t imagine it was anything else that caused that horror) maybe we can stop it next time. Maybe. I’m depressed enough right now that all I can picture is that now-familiar image of both worlds going up in an epic conflagration, and the survivors clawing their way out of the wreckage and still being unable to create a new, common world.
We made camp and ate a scanty meal, then sat staring at the fire. Jeddan said, “We probably…”
“I thought of that too,” I said. “But I couldn’t bear the idea of taking advantage of that calamity to stock up on food like some looter.”
“Me neither,” Jeddan said, and we both went silent again. I know I’ve said I like being alone, and silence doesn’t bother me, but right then I thought I might scream if I had to listen to the emptiness one minute longer. So I said, “How old are you?” Then I wished I’d thought of something else, it sounded so inane, but he said, “Twenty-four.”
“I’m twenty-seven.” And that was when I understood what had been niggling at me all day. “It’s my birthday today,” I said. “I’m twenty-eight.”
He smiled. “I wish I had a candle for you to light,” he said.
“I wish I had a gift for you,” I said. It’s been years since I had anyone I cared enough about to gift on my birthday. It was a surprise to discover I like Jeddan that much—he’s just comfortable to be around, and we have so much in common. I definitely think of him as a friend, almost as good a friend as Sovrin or Audryn, but in a different way.
“You could tell me a little about yourself,” he said. “That’s like a gift.”
So I did. Not much—he may be a friend, but we’re not close enough yet for me to tell him all my secrets. I told him about Dad and Mam and growing up in Thalessa, but not about Bridie or Roda, told him about traveling and learning pouvrin, but not about how the magic woke up inside me, told him about Castavir and how we’d come up with the kathana to save the worlds.
I couldn’t talk about Cederic—I’m trying not to think of him at all, it hurts too much—but I did tell him about the God-Empress, and made him laugh at the story of my failed wedding to Aselfos, which in hindsight is pretty funny. Jeddan is a good listener, and when I wound down, he said, “Thank you for the gift, Sesskia. And good fortune on your day.”
“Thanks, though that seems a wish that didn’t get fulfilled, given the day we’ve had,” I said.
“We didn’t get caught up in the disaster,” he pointed out. “We still have food and shelter. We’re only ten days from Venetry—fourteen at worst. By my standards this has been an excellent day.”
“Your standards seem a little low,” I joked.
He shrugged and bowed his head. “I’ve been outcast for a long time,” he said in a low voice. “I did a good job looking like I fit in, but I knew I was different, and so did they, and the strain of pretending—you know what I mean. I should have gone traveling like you did, but I was too afraid to leave the village. But it was getting harder, all the time, to be normal, especially when I discovered the second pouvra and started thinking about learning more. Being with someone else like me…it’s like there was a rock pressing down on me, all these years, and now it’s just gone. I hope that doesn’t sound too…I don’t know. Too sentimental.”
It did feel a little sentimental, but I was so moved at his willingness to share something so personal I didn’t feel embarrassed. “I feel the same way,” I said. “The Castaviran mages are friends, and it was good to be around other mages, but there was always a gap I didn’t know how to fill because we couldn’t really understand each other’s magic.”
“You and I can’t understand each other’s magic either,” Jeddan said, smiling.
“But we’re getting there,” I said. “Tomorrow I want to work on learning the see-inside pouvra. And then I’ll teach you how to see in the dark. It occurred to me today that that pouvra alters the body, which is what you said happens to you when you work magic. Maybe that will make it easier for you to learn.”
“Then don’t stay up all night writing in that book,” he said, and went into the tent. So I’m finishing this, and then I’m going to sleep, and tomorrow will look better.