7 Nevrine, continued
This new book feels strange, probably because the cover is thick, stiff paper made of many layers pressed together and not beautiful blue leather. All that matters is that it’s a book, I know, but it’s hard to look at it and not think how much better a job I’d have done making it.
We ran, for a while, without paying attention to where we were going, just getting as far away from the Citadel as we could. Eventually, we were breathless and hot even in that weather, and I had a stitch in my side I kept trying to bend into, hoping that would make it go away, so we stopped and went to walking at a normal pace. “I don’t think they’ll find us,” said Jeddan.
“Two anonymous strangers who don’t look different from anyone else, in a city this size?” I said. “You’re right.”
“We do look a little different,” Jeddan said, pointing at our shadowy reflections in a shop window (dozens of little glass panes, very modern). Our images were crisscrossed with the black leading of the windows, but I could see his point: we looked very travel-worn, and our coats and hats looked incredibly provincial, and I was still wearing my Castaviran uniform boots, because they were warm and waterproof. In the window, I saw someone passing behind us give us a skeptical look.
“We can either get new clothes, or find somewhere to hide,” I said.
“We could do both,” Jeddan said. “My shirt is getting ripe.”
“We don’t have a lot of money,” I said, “and we should buy food. And we really ought to do it quickly, just in case somebody here has a locate-person pouvra.”
“We’d have to kidnap that person, if that’s true,” Jeddan said, making me laugh. I wish there were such a pouvra. I have so many friends I wish I could find. Even a prove-someone’s-alive pouvra would be nice.
“All right,” I said, “let’s walk,” and I linked my arm with his so we looked like a couple of sweethearts out for a stroll. I didn’t really know where to go; the only places I was ever familiar with in Hasskian were the noble manors (probably not a good idea to go back there), the slums (dangerous unless you were very familiar with them, which I wasn’t after seven years’ absence), and the industrial district (because nobody wants to pursue a thief through an abattoir). And none of those were exactly what I wanted. But the place we were in now was too upscale for our business. So I took us in the direction of the slums, and hoped we’d find something in between.
To sum up, because it was boring by comparison to what came next, we found a neighborhood in which we could not only purchase cheap, clean clothing, but they let us change in the back of the shop and gave us a discount in exchange for our old clothes. Then Jeddan bought food, and I stole this book—true, we had money enough for it, but I was feeling reckless and felt like giving myself a challenge. Then I felt guilty and left some money on the counter when the store owner wasn’t looking. I don’t think I’ve ever stolen anything except out of need, because I know what it’s like to have almost nothing and then have that snatched away from you. Anyway. I have it now, and it’s a nice fat one that should last me for a while, unless we keep having adventures like yesterday’s.
We were watching over our shoulders the whole time we were in Hasskian, but never saw a single guard. I’m a little worried that Endolessar didn’t take our warning seriously, given that we “betrayed” him and ran away. I hate to think of these people being crushed by the God-Empress’s army. But we’ve done what we can, and now it’s up to them.
Despite not being pursued by the guards, we decided to go through the northeast wall, between two of the gates where the industrial district is. It was every bit as smelly as I remembered, what with the tannery and the butchers and all the other unpleasant things no one wants to think about that civilization needs to move smoothly. We passed through—this was about mid-afternoon—and hugged the wall, circling the city until we could strike out toward the road.
We stayed concealed until we were about a mile from the city, then trudged on through the snow toward the Royal Road. The storm had passed, or rather the snow had stopped falling for the moment, but I could still smell the storm in the air, waiting for the right time to start dumping on us again. I felt pretty good in my fresh new clothes (used clothes, but cleanly laundered) and almost cheerful about getting on the road again.
Then Jeddan said, “It’s not right. We have to do something, Sesskia.”
“What’s not right?” I said.
“The villagers,” he said, “the ones they took from their homes. We can’t just leave them there.”
I stopped and turned to face him. “What do you propose we do?” I said. “Even if we could sneak them all away, they can’t go back to their homes. And we can’t go to Venetry trailing who knows how many Castaviran refugees.”
“You think those people give a damn about the comfort and safety of foreign invaders?” he said, hotly, which surprised me. “They’ve been penned up in some camp somewhere, probably without enough food and inadequate shelter, and that camp is going to be their home for months, and with winter coming on they’re going to start dying. That’s assuming someone in Hasskian doesn’t decide they’re too much trouble and orders them all killed.”
“They wouldn’t do that,” I said.
“They already think of them as dangerous outsiders,” Jeddan said. “Leave them there long enough, they’re going to start thinking of them as not human. And nobody thinks twice about squashing a spider that might be poisonous.”
I thought about it for a minute while he watched me, silent. We were both right, unfortunately. The Castavirans were in danger no matter how you looked at it. But there were too many of them—one, or two, or a dozen we might have been able to help escape, but a whole village? I cursed myself, but I could see we only had one choice.
“Let’s find the camp, and investigate,” I said, “and make a plan from there. We won’t abandon them unless there really is nothing we can do, all right?”
“Agreed,” Jeddan said.
to be continued…