14 Nevrine (continued)
So I said, “Norsselen, how long have you been a mage?”
“A magicker,” he said.
“Almost exactly a month, isn’t it?” I said, ignoring him. “And yet you are awfully quick to say what is and isn’t possible.” I took a step back and raised my voice. “I’ve been a mage—” I couldn’t help stressing the word—“for over ten years. Jeddan here has been a mage for four. I learned my first pouvra when I was sixteen, and in the years since I’ve developed eleven more.” That got a reaction. I let them murmur for a few seconds, waited until Norsselen opened his mouth to speak, and overrode him. “You’re all young by my standards,” I said, “and you all came about your magic differently than I did. But there’s no reason you can’t learn new pouvrin just the way I did. More easily, maybe. So let me show you what I can do.”
I took a few steps toward the scarred wall and summoned the long whip of fire the way I had just minutes before. Then I brought up a huge swathe of fire (I admit I was showing off there), summoned water and tossed it into the center of the blaze, raising a huge cloud of steam. I worked as many pouvrin as were easily visible, saying “I can’t show you how I can see in the dark or see inside things, but I can do those too,” and ended by working the concealment pouvra and making all of them, except Jeddan, exclaim in fear or wonder.
Norsselen looked stunned and furious. I took a few steps toward him and dismissed the pouvra, making him curse and stumble away from me. “Sorry,” I said, though I wasn’t very. “You learned three pouvrin in a month, Norsselen. That’s impressive. I mean it. You’re a remarkable mage.”
“You dare come in here,” he said in a low, vicious voice I had to step close to hear, “and try to take over, as if you had any authority?”
“I don’t want to take over, Norsselen,” I said. “You’ve got these people working together, you seem to understand what the military needs from us—they look to you for leadership. But I know more about magic than you do. I just want to help everyone learn more. I want us to work together.”
Norsselen just glared at me. He was breathing heavily, and he looked both angry and afraid, and that made me feel afraid also, because it was the sort of situation that turns on a knife edge, balanced between sanity and violence. I hoped Jeddan was nearby, because if I had to turn a pouvra on Norsselen to protect myself, the room would erupt into a full-out magical war, with who knew how many sides. I kept my eyes fixed on Norsselen’s, willing him to see sense.
Finally he said, “I don’t think any of us realized magic existed before the Event. Or that…mages…from that time might have been able to survive the prejudice and hatred that dominated society before the King proclaimed magic to be good rather than evil. I think we all have a lot to learn.”
His little speech made everyone else relax, but his gaze was still locked with mine, and there was neither humility nor friendliness in it. If Norsselen could manage it, he’d make me disappear. One more reason he reminds me of Vorantor: he’s dangerous because he hides his true nature behind a façade of cooperation and amity, and even if you know not to believe the façade, there’s still no way to tell where he’ll attack from until he’s already launched himself at your throat.
“I know Jeddan and I have much to learn about how to use magic in the service of the army,” I said, hoping Norsselen would accept the bone I was throwing him and not toss it back in my face. “Will you let us work with you in mastering more pouvrin, and you teach us your military strategies?”
Norsselen nodded once. “You’ve seen what we can do,” he said, “and we’ve seen your abilities. I think it would be best if all of us were capable of fire, or of moving things; those will be useful in attacking the foe. Which do you judge will be easier?”
Jeddan said, “I’ve almost mastered the mind-moving pouvra. I could teach that and you could teach fire, Sesskia.”
“Either way, we have to begin by teaching everyone to understand what it is they do when they work magic,” I said.
“That’s what I’ve been saying all along,” said Relania. “That it’s all about giving the magic shape. But they just can’t understand.”
“It takes time,” I said. I’d seen Norsselen bristle when Relania started talking, and I couldn’t exactly blame him. She’d just been vindicated, and from what little I knew of her I was fairly certain she’d rub Norsselen’s face in it when she could. That would destroy any hope I had of getting Norsselen to cooperate.
“Remember how hard it was to learn the second pouvra?” I said, hoping her experience matched mine. “How everything seemed counter to sense? It’s not really fair to these people to expect them to understand more quickly than we did, I think.”
Relania’s gaze flickered to Norsselen’s face, just for a second. “You’re right, Sesskia,” she said. “But then, of course you’d know best.” (Side note: Relania uses my praenoma ALL THE TIME. As in, every sentence she directs at me. I think she’s trying to show that we have a special connection due to our having read the same books and therefore share some kind of magical genealogy. And she doesn’t have much in the way of social graces, though as I write that I realize that being as isolated as both of us have been makes it logical that we’d lack social graces, which means me having them at all is really what’s unusual. I don’t have the heart to tell her to stop, but I’m worried she’ll try to boss people around on the strength of her connection to me.)
“Thanks, Relania,” I said. “Norsselen, you know everyone’s strengths. Could you direct them to gather in groups based on what pouvra they’re best at?” I hoped I didn’t sound as patronizing as I felt. Either I didn’t, or Norsselen was pretending to be cooperative, because he started directing people into their groups, and I could take a few seconds to think very rapidly back over what Jeddan and I had been doing for the last month.
As I write all of this, I realize just how quickly everything happened—too quickly for me to think beyond the moment. It’s cold comfort to realize that even if I’d had time to consider the implications of what I was doing, I still would have made the same choices. Though maybe I would have been happier, making a conscious choice rather than feeling, as I do now, as if the choice was made for me.
to be continued…