Sesskia’s Diary, part 153

13 Nevrine, after curfew (hah!)

I’ve decided to keep these books hidden now we’re among the mages. Not that we’ve met any of them yet; it was very late when they brought us here. So they might all be friendly and intelligent and committed to learning—in short, like the Darssan mages. But I’m not counting on that. No telling what someone might make of these records…all right, that’s a lie, I have a very good idea of what someone might make of these records, which is that I’m a traitor to my country on any number of grounds, not least of which is being married to a high-ranking mage from the “invading” world. The fact that I’ve done all of this to save both worlds would be lost on anyone who was stupid or fearful or had some kind of grudge against me, though I hope there isn’t anyone here who falls into the latter category. Making enemies is the worst kind of being noticed, and I’ve spent my life trying to avoid that.

It had stopped snowing early this morning, but it was still gray and depressing and Jeddan and I were impatient to get to our goal, so we didn’t stop except once to relieve ourselves, ate on the way, and spoke little. When we approached Venetry sometime late this afternoon, there was a crowd milling about on the road outside the gate, not aimlessly, but with the erratic movements of a lot of people in one place, all wanting to be somewhere else.

We hung back, observing, and realized that rather than being an incipient mob, which has a much tenser, higher note to it, these were all people waiting their turn to get into the city, which was strange. I’ve been to Venetry often, and yes, I did use the gate, and nobody stops travelers unless they’re carrying trade goods. But we could see a lot of armed soldiers stopping people and having long conversations with them before letting them inside. It made me nervous, and I suggested we enter the city by another way.

“We’re mages. The King wants us here. It’s not like we’ll be turned away,” Jeddan said.

“They’re making people put their names on lists,” I said. “I don’t like that.”

“But we have to get the King’s attention somehow,” Jeddan said. “Being on an official list will help with that. And these soldiers will send us to wherever the mages are supposed to go, and that’s got to give us better access to King and Chamber than going through the wall will.”

I scowled, and said, “All right, but if this goes wrong I’m blaming you.”

“If this goes wrong, neither of us might be around to do any blaming,” he said cheerfully.

We fitted ourselves into the loose line of travelers and inched forward with everyone else. It was boring, and cold, and I really wished we’d gone through the wall. Jeddan had the glazed-eyed expression that said he was working on the mind-moving pouvra. I’m not sure he’d thought about what might happen if he succeeded in the middle of this crowd and knocked someone over. At least it would be exciting. The whole thing made me realize I haven’t stood in line for anything in at least five years. I vowed it would be another fifteen before it happened again.

“Name?” said a soldier, and I realized we’d reached the front of the line while I was daydreaming.

“Thalessi Scales and Rokyar Axe,” I said.

The soldier wrote our names in a little book, along with the date and time (there are about fifty big clocks in Venetry, none of them in agreement with each other, and one of them is just above the main city gate where we were. No one knows why some long dead ruler, or Chamber, thought people entering the city ought to know what the time was. At least that one doesn’t toll the hour) and had us initial the entry. “Purpose?” he said.

“We’re mages,” I said.

“What’s that?” he said.

I rolled my eyes. “Magickers? People touched by magic? With the eyes?” I pointed at my eyes in emphasis.

He peered closely at me, then at Jeddan, and I realized he was very nearsighted. “Papers?” he said.

“We don’t have papers,” I said. “We heard about the summons in Hasskian, but no one said anything about papers.”

“Then you’ll have to prove yourselves,” he said, and pointed at another soldier, standing just inside the gate. “Talk to Nessan there about that. Curfew is nine p.m., no carrying weapons in the streets, no loitering, watch for the off limits signs, and if a soldier tells you to do something, you do it without question.”

“Curfew?” I said. “I’ve never known Venetry to have a curfew.”

“Martial law,” he said. “City nearly tore itself apart after the calamity, what with magic happening and the earth shifting. Things still aren’t back to normal. Move along.”

There wasn’t anything to say to that, so Jeddan and I went to where the soldier Nessan was standing. He was older than the first, his hair graying and his eyes deeply lined at the corners as if he’d spent thirty years staring at the sun. He also wore a different uniform I didn’t recognize as either regular army or city guard. “Magickers?” he said when we approached.

“We’re called mages,” I said, which was pointless, but I was feeling edgy and annoyed and wanted to get the whole thing over with.

“You can call yourself nasturtiums for all I care,” he said. “Over here, and let’s see what you can do.”

We stepped out of the way of traffic into a little guard room that was empty of everything except a couple of chairs, a chest with a couple of warped drawers, and some smoked-glass lanterns, lit against the dimness of the windowless room. Jeddan put his hand through the wall and didn’t seem afraid or upset or anything but calm, so I hope that means he’s coming to terms with what happened in the camp. I settled on the fire pouvra, the ropy version. Nessan wasn’t impressed by either of us. “You’re to go to Fianna Manor for instructions,” he said. “You know where that is?”

“I’ve been to Venetry before,” I said, which was kind of a non-answer, but he understood the way I meant it.

“But we have to deliver a message first,” Jeddan said. “An urgent message from the army at Calassmir.”

“Go ahead,” Nessan said.

“It’s for the King and Chamber,” Jeddan said. We’d worked out that he should bring the message, in case anyone wondered why a woman had been entrusted with military intelligence.

“Of course it is,” Nessan said sarcastically. “And I’m supposed to take you to the King on no more proof than the say-so of some backwoods lumberjack.”

I opened my mouth to speak, but Jeddan cut across me with, “What exactly do you think I’m going to do? You think I’ve traveled all the way from Calassmir just because I feel like wasting the King’s time? I’m tired and I’m hungry and if I could deliver this message to just anyone, I’d tell you and my work would be done. But this message is for the King himself, because he’s the only one who can decide how to act on it. So find someone to take us to him, or we’ll just wait here until you change your mind or carry us off to jail.”

to be continued…

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