13 Nevrine, after curfew (hah!) (continued)
“Of course he leaves it to us to handle the details,” muttered Lenssar, then in a louder voice he said, “You are indeed favored highly among your class. I hope you will show proper appreciation for his Majesty’s condescension.”
“Yes, Honored,” Jeddan said. “Where should we go?”
Batekessar rose and walked past us without a word. The others didn’t seem to think there was anything strange about this. “I’ll summon a servant to take you to the guest wing,” Jakssar said, though she didn’t rise, just sat there looking at us with the same intent expression Crossar had. I was starting to feel very twitchy.
“It really does make one wonder,” Lenssar said, and I had to avoid looking at him because that whiny whistle coming out of a face so eerily familiar was too disconcerting, “how society will be shaken up, all these nobody magickers coming up from nowhere.”
“Be polite, Lenssar, you’re talking about our guests,” Jakssar said, and now she did stand. “You went into the invading army’s camp, young woman? How thrilling. Whatever prompted you?”
“I wanted to help our country, Honored,” I said.
“I don’t know many people who would take such a risk simply to help their country,” Jakssar said. She came to stand in front of me, looking down—she’s not hugely tall, but taller than me—and I had this strange feeling I was in front of the God-Empress again. They’re nothing alike physically, and Jakssar strikes me as very sane, so I’m not sure what I was responding to. I’ve decided to be very careful if I have to interact with her again. She may seem friendly, and I still have sympathy for her position, but she’s still a Lord of the Chamber and every bit as ruthless as her peers to hold that position.
“It wasn’t much of a risk, Honored, the enemy has female as well as male soldiers,” I said.
“Really?” said Crossar, more interested now than before, which made his needle-sharp attention even more acute. “What else did you see?”
I’m embarrassed that my first reaction to this was to tell him nothing, so I wouldn’t betray Castavir, then I felt stupid because, for one, it was the God-Empress’s army and even Castavir wanted her defeated, and for another, I was still a Balaenic citizen and wanted my people to have every advantage when it came to war.
Then I told him as much as I could remember about the number of troops, the number of generals, the way they organize themselves, and how well supplied they were. I also told him about the God-Empress, including some details I pretended I’d learned in the camp that I’d actually learned from personal observation.
“I don’t speak their language,” I said at the end, “but by the way they reacted when her tent burned, I think half her officers are afraid of her. Honored.” I’d realized about halfway through my speech that some of that information I could only have gotten if I understood Castaviran. I hoped no one noticed the inconsistencies. I have got to be more careful now that we’re among Balaenics exclusively.
“This is excellent information,” Crossar said, and I saw him close his lips on a sibilant that was almost certainly the first syllable of my name. He had permission to use my name, as I’d been maneuvered into giving it by the King, but it was still a presumption on a relationship we didn’t have, so his choosing not to felt like more of an honor than the King’s dubious request. Naturally, this made me even more suspicious of him: was he trying to gain my, if not allegiance, then my good will? Because basically I don’t think someone like Crossar ever does anything without an eye to his political future. And I’m certain he wants something from me. I really don’t trust him.
We answered questions for a while, the kind of questions people of high rank ask of their inferiors that show they have no idea how anyone manages to live without a hundred thousand crowns’ income a year, then Jakssar finally did summon some servants, who took us away to be washed and clothed appropriately. The clothes are nice, but too ornate for my taste, and I don’t know where they took my old clothes. Probably burned them, so it’s lucky I smuggled these books behind a curtain instead of wrapping them in my clothes. Too bad, because I really liked that shirt. These new clothes are going to make sneaking around Venetry very difficult.
Then we had dinner with the King, who asked the same equally foolish questions as Chamber had, though he did manage to stay focused on our trip and what we’d seen along the Royal Road. He also wanted to know about magic. We told him the truth about pouvrin, which made his eyes glaze over, but didn’t say anything about our having more than one. At some point we’ll have to reveal ourselves, probably tomorrow when we meet the mages, and I’m not looking forward to that. The King said “two or even three” like that was really impressive, so I’m certain that walking in there tomorrow with twelve is going to disrupt whatever power structure they’ve got in place. Time enough to worry about that when it happens.
Dinner was very, very long, with so many courses I ended up taking just nibbles off some of the dishes I liked most because I’d incautiously eaten too much of earlier ones I didn’t really care for. I hope they give what we couldn’t eat to the servants. Some of those dishes were delicious. We ended with after-dinner drinks, which I only pretended to imbibe, and finally the King started yawning, and told us someone would take us to Fianna Manor, and left before we could finish saluting him.
We didn’t see much of Fianna Manor in the darkness. I’d like to say it’s the same as all the other manors up at the top of the city, but none of them share any similarities aside from having walls and windows and roofs. Sizes, construction materials, floor plans, all of those are unique to each manor, which is a fun challenge for a thief.
I’ve never stolen from Fianna Manor, so I didn’t know what to expect, and I still don’t, because we went through a side door down a narrow corridor, up stairs that had to be servants’ stairs, and into a wider, low-ceilinged corridor lined with plain wooden doors. These also are probably servants’ quarters, which makes me wonder if someone’s already trying to prove a point by pushing us to the side. If I were planning to stay, I’d care more about that. It’s still a nice, sizable room, though, with a pretty rug and matching counterpane, and a water closet, and furniture that all matches (heavy old oak, and I wonder how they got it up those stairs).
Jeddan’s across the hall from me and his room is almost identical, except for the rug and counterpane being in different colors. I was tired enough that all I did was strip down to my underwear and cuddle up in the bed to write all of this. It’s a good, comfortable bed, too. It makes me wonder what kind of luxury some of these mages might be living in.
I wonder what tomorrow will bring. I’m planning to stay three days and then head out for Colosse. I haven’t asked Jeddan if he wants to come with me—that’s part of what the three days are for, to see what happens with the mages and whether Jeddan would rather be part of whatever they’re doing. I’d miss him if he stayed, but I know too well what it’s like to crave learning to be disappointed if he did.