14 Nevrine (continued)
Norsselen wanted us to be impressed, so we made appropriate noises. Then he said, “You’ve seen which groups you’ll work with. They’ll explain the techniques we’re studying, though of course everyone’s equal and you’re free to make comments of your own.” The look on his face said he didn’t consider himself anyone’s equal. He was really starting to annoy me, despite my resolve not to be drawn and my constant reminders to myself I wasn’t going to be here long enough to worry about what he did. But I couldn’t help saying, “You must be very experienced, to be in charge.”
“I live in Venetry, so I was the first to respond to the King’s summons,” Norsselen said, “and I’ve gained new magics faster than anyone, so everyone agreed I was the logical choice. I like to think I’ve been able to organize us efficiently. Of course I don’t think of myself as better, and I’m certainly not the best at everything. But someone has to take charge, and I’m pleased to do so.”
“Not everyone agrees with that decision, Norsselen,” said a woman who was just then entering the room. She had black hair, and brown eyes, and was so nondescript I felt a pang of jealousy, because with her looks I could go anywhere and never be noticed. Then I remembered that Cederic thinks I’m beautiful the way I am, and the jealousy passed. (It was stupid, I know, but I still think of myself as a thief first and a mage second, no matter how many pouvrin I learn.) “And not everyone believes we are pursuing the right course.”
“Phellek,” Norsselen said, “it’s good to see you. You see we have new members.” He really did sound genial, not at all offended by her remarks, and when I observed him he didn’t show any signs that he was concealing a different emotion. I think this was because he doesn’t see Relania as a threat and therefore is genuinely unmoved by her disdain for him.
“Of course I see that,” she said, and extended her palm to Jeddan, who was nearest her. “Welcome,” she said. “I’m Relania Phellek.”
“I offer you my praenoma in a spirit of kinship between mages,” he said. “My name is Jeddan.”
“And mine is Sesskia,” I said, “though—”
Relania gasped, and instead of laying her palm against mine, gripped my hand so tightly it pinched the skin. “Sesskia,” she said. “I know you. I’ve been following the trail you left for two years. Did you ever learn the mind-moving pouvra?”
I was so shocked I couldn’t pull away from her. This was no new-made mage. I’d left clues, here and there, for other mages to follow, but I’d never actually believed anyone would find them, much less be able to use them. So I’d signed my praenoma to all of them, more as a gesture of defiance at an uncaring world than to brag. “How long,” I began, realized that was a pointless question, and changed it to, “You found my clues?”
“Excuse me,” Norsselen said, but Relania overrode him.
“About two years ago, I stumbled on the cache outside Durran,” she said. “The one that has the see-in-dark pouvra. And you’d left that note about some of the secondary materials in the book, pieces that were incomplete, and that you were going off to find more of it. I never was able to make sense of it, myself, but did you?”
“Phellek, I’ve told you we aren’t humoring your desire to complicate magic with foreign words,” Norsselen said, though he kept looking at me as if he wanted to ask me questions but didn’t know which ones. “Or your claims of seniority.”
“Shut up, Norsselen,” Relania said. “This woman has even greater seniority than I. You should be asking her to teach you.”
This was where I regretted more than I ever have not having enough knowledge in advance to make the right plan. Not that I blamed myself. I couldn’t have guessed that an…well, an old mage, in contrast to the new mages, even though Relania is younger than I am. Anyway, there was no way for me to know that an old mage would find her way here, and not only an old mage, but one who’d used the same resources I had.
I couldn’t have guessed she and Norsselen had been fighting for over a week over Relania’s insistence that she had more experience; in the arguing that followed, I learned Norsselen didn’t believe Relania was any different than the rest of them and was dismissive of her pouvrin, since two of them were the invisible sort (the see-in-dark and see-through pouvrin). Not only that, he thought she was delusional and interested in stealing his power.
Relania, for her part, not only persisted in her story (because it was true) but was resistant to the idea of using pouvrin in the service of war. What the rest of the mages thought…well, the gang of toughs were Norsselen’s men (all men), and about a quarter of the others were willing to let him boss them around, and a handful of the rest sympathized with Relania, but covertly, since Norsselen seemed to have all the power.
All of that came later, though. At the moment, Relania was looking at me with something akin to worship, Norsselen was looking at me with suspicion, Jeddan was expressionless, and we were gathering an audience of people who probably were used to Norsselen and Relania butting heads and considered it good entertainment. And I had no idea what to do. I mentally cursed Relania for putting me in this position, and cursed Norsselen for needing to be in charge, and then I said, “I don’t want to interfere with the system you have in place. It seems to be functioning well.”
“Do you know her, Thalessi?” Norsselen said.
“No,” I said, and Relania made a sound of outrage. “We’ve just read the same books.”
Norsselen smiled one of those smug, self-impressed smiles that made me want to slap it off his face. “Another delusional,” he said in a low voice. “I suppose you’re going to claim you learned your magic from those books?”
“I’m not sure I understand, Norsselen,” I said in my sweetest, most reasonable voice. “How do you know that’s not possible?”
“We all have magic because of the Event,” he said, and I could hear him pronounce that capital E. “None of us needed books to become magickers. And magic is something inherent to each person. No one can teach magic any more than we can show someone how to change their hair color. It’s just not possible.”
I’m a thief. I’ve survived all these years by not standing out, by not causing trouble, by not letting my emotions get the better of me. And my first reaction to Norsselen’s smugness was to do just that. It didn’t hurt me that he was ignorant and power-crazed. I was leaving in a few days and it didn’t matter what he thinks of me. So I was going to let him keep his delusions. It would crush Relania’s hopes, but I wasn’t responsible for her emotional well-being. And it would give Jeddan the opportunity to choose whether he’d align himself with Relania or continue to conceal his abilities.
Then I looked around the room at everyone, and at this point it was everyone, watching our encounter. Norsselen had spoken loudly enough that everyone had heard him. I looked at their faces, and I realized Norsselen was going to deny every one of them their magical heritage. Who knew how many of them were capable of learning more pouvrin? Who knew how many of them would discover ones I’d never heard of? I could keep quiet for my own sake. Or I could speak out for theirs.
to be continued…