I feel as if I begin a lot of these entries with variations on “I wonder if I made the right choice.” I used to pride myself on being decisive. Not rash or reckless, but when your actions can potentially get you killed, waffling about them is a big mistake. So I always try to think things through, and go over all the possibilities, and then, when I’ve decided what to do, I do it without revisiting every last detail. (That’s not the same as changing plans in midstream, which happens frequently, but is a response to the situation changing, not my analysis.) It’s like I’m swimming out of my depth all the time, not having enough information but having to act anyway, worrying that if I knew more, I’d see that whatever decision I’d made was the wrong one.
In this case, however, despite having not even close to enough information, I know I made the right choice. I just wish it had been the wrong one.
The day started, for me, with a knock on my door, and when I called an invitation, a woman entered with a steaming tray and set it down across my lap with a bow. It was scrambled eggs and bacon and apple juice and hot, black coffee, which I don’t care for but smells divine, and all the little condiments to make the meal perfect, and it was the first hot breakfast I’ve had in over a week, so I fell on it like I was starving and was really grateful no one was around to see my lapse of good manners.
The woman left me to my breakfast with another bow, and I ate my fill, then set the tray on the floor and got up to dress. I really wish I’d had my own clothes, because the ones the King forced on us gave the impression that Jeddan and I are somewhat higher class than we are, certainly people who deserve a surname and a home with two servants. Not what I wanted these mages to think of me, and I certainly couldn’t blend in very well in that getup, but there was nothing I could do about it except consider finding the servants’ wing and stealing something more practical. I’d leave money, naturally.
Anyway, I dressed—at least the clothes look nice—and then waited for a few minutes before remembering I’m not the sort of woman who sits passively waiting for things to happen, and that I didn’t care if wandering through the manor was against the rules. So I crossed the hall to Jeddan’s room and knocked, then entered on his invitation. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, dressed in his own too-nice clothes. “So what do we do now?” he said.
“Explore,” I said. “I want to meet these other mages as soon as possible.”
“Have you decided what you want to do about the pouvrin?” he said. “Or, for that matter, telling everyone they’re called pouvrin, because I doubt that’s knowledge they got when they became mages, especially since somebody came up with ‘magickers.’” He made a face.
“I’ve been going back and forth on that all night,” I said. “On the one hand, if we go in there claiming one pouvra, then have to reveal more later, that makes us seem untrustworthy. But if we manifest several, who knows what kind of balance that will upset, if none of them have more than three? On the third hand, I’m leaving soon, and don’t care if they think I’m trustworthy. So I’ve decided to say I’ve got just the one, and see what happens from there. My least favorite kind of plan, but I don’t know enough to do better.”
“That’s the conclusion I came to,” Jeddan said. He made a motion that encompassed all of him. “People see me as a threat because I’m as big as I am, and having several pouvrin will only make that worse. Better to find out what the people are like, and then reveal everything.”
“Then let’s see if we can find our colleagues,” I said, “and maybe we’re being too paranoid. Maybe we’ll be able to share what we know and learn from them.”
“Or maybe it will be as bad as I know you think it will, and we’ll both be leaving this place at a run,” Jeddan said.
“I’m trying to learn optimism,” I said. “You’re not helping.”
We retraced the route we’d taken the night before, down the narrow servants’ stairs, and went down the corridor only to discover ourselves outside. So we turned around and went the other way, through a small door into a tall-ceilinged hallway half-paneled in light maple, with skylights high above that made the place look cheery. There were two or three doors opening off the hallway that led to empty rooms with the same paneling and bare wooden floors. None were occupied.
At the end of the hall, another hallway, this one wider, intersected ours. More doors, more skylights. We investigated each one: these were furnished, mostly sitting rooms, but also a music room and a formal dining room with a table that could seat forty diners. We saw not a single living soul in all this time, not even servants. I think, now, that all the other mages got used to a leisurely morning, like we used to have in the Darssan, but while that does appeal to me, it certainly wasn’t how I was going to behave when there were so many things to explore.
We finally found a staircase, a big one with an ornately carved railing and thick carpeting with brass stair-rods, and went up to the next floor. That one had hardly any doors at all, and we were almost all the way to what I gauged was the north end of the house before finding anything worth investigating. That hallway terminated in the most beautiful window made of two enormous sheets of curved glass, one framed above the other, and it looked out over Venetry and the view was just breathtaking. Cities really are beautiful, if only from a distance.
We looked at it for a while, then decided to try the door on our left, which was a big three-paneled thing (it looked like three doors in the same frame, but only the outer two opened, and the middle was just a wood panel) we figured couldn’t possibly lead to someone’s bedroom, which was what had kept us from trying the other doors on this level so far.
The room it led to was enormous. The ceiling was two stories tall and capped with a dome of glass so clear it looked as if it wasn’t even there; the silence, as opposed to the birdsong of early morning, was the only thing that dispelled that illusion. More tall windows lined the walls on two side at regular intervals, with rose-painted panels dividing them. The floor was a glossy parquet of wooden squares of different sizes and colors, like a mythical giant’s puzzle, and sunlight reflected off it to cast a glow over the other two walls, which by contrast had been covered to a height of about twelve feet with rough oak planking that was scarred and burned everywhere.
I took a few steps into the room and turned in a slow circle. “Those light fixtures above the windows would turn night into day here,” I said. “I think this is a ballroom, or was.”
“There’s a patio over here,” Jeddan said. He’d crossed the room and opened one of the tall windows, which turned out to be a door. “It’s a sheer drop fifty feet down, but you can see most of Venetry from it. Very pretty.”
“I’m guessing we’ve found at least one of the places where the mages study,” I said, summoning a rope of fire and flicking it like a whip at the paneling. It made a mark paralleling an old burn scar. I tried again and managed to overlay the old mark entirely. Very satisfying.
to be continued…