Unbelievable. Once we got access to a nearly unlimited space to practice, it became clear a lot of these mages had power nobody dreamed of. We went north of the city today, where there isn’t anything but fallow land stretching all the way to the northern forests a hundred miles away, and spent the morning marking off distances. The farthest marker was at two hundred yards, which I thought was optimistic, but better to have marked off too far than too short, right?
We marked too short. I was able to start a fire five hundred yards from our starting mark without even straining. Daerdra reached nearly as far. Hasseka and Saemon were so nearly tied for mind-moving things at five hundred and fifty yards’ distance that we spent half an hour watching them compete for first place. That contest is still undecided. The fire-rope is limited in distance; no one could manifest it farther than fifty feet away, even me, but that’s a one-on-one “weapon” so that makes sense.
Once we’d extended the markings on the field, and I’d demonstrated the kind of exercises I wanted everyone to do, I left Jeddan in charge and had a handful of mind-movers help me set up the things I’d brought in a very large, very heavy wagon pulled by a team of placid horses whose shaggy winter coats made them look warmer than we were. At the end, we had a couple of “houses” that were really just prefabricated walls jammed into the ground at right angles to each other, no roofs, a lot of sticks standing upright with ropes strung between them to make a path, said ropes being hung with little brass bells, and another wide stretch of empty field marked off at ten foot intervals.
Relania’s group watched all of this curiously—they don’t have the fire or mind-moving pouvrin, so it was either watch me or watch the great clouds of steam that went up wherever someone set a fire in the snowy field. When I was finished with my preparations, I called them to me and said, “You haven’t made any secret of the fact that you don’t believe we should be using magic for violence. Now, I don’t know if that means you don’t want to be here at all, or if you wish there were something else you could do. What I do know is that King and Chamber see us as key to fighting the, um, invading army, and they are extremely unwilling to let any advantage slip away. Which means unless you want to make the kind of stink Norsselen did, you’re stuck here.”
“If you’re trying to make us feel bad, Sesskia, it won’t work,” Relania said. “We’re all committed to principles of non-violence.”
“Believe it or not, I agree with you,” I said, “mostly, anyway. I’ve spent most of my life trying not to get into fights.” Of course, my reasons for doing so weren’t that I believe violence is always the wrong way to handle conflict—sometimes it’s the only way—but that I’m too small to be an effective fighter. But that was irrelevant. “So I’m not going to train you to be fighters. I’m going to train you to be spies.”
That got them talking all at once. The voice that won out over the rest wasn’t Relania’s, but Tobiak’s. He’s about fifteen years old with terrible acne, poor kid, but he’s got the kind of self-confidence you usually only see in really attractive people. “How is that any different from making us fight?” he said. “We’re still advancing the cause of the military.”
“Tobiak,” I said, “what is the purpose of pacifism? In your opinion.”
“To oppose violence as a tool to make people do things,” he said. “To prevent people from being hurt or killed.”
“Sesskia, that’s not what—” Relania said.
“I know it’s not as accurate a definition as you’d like, Relania,” I said, “but the point here is to establish what exactly all of you want to accomplish by refusing to use pouvrin in the war. Am I right that you don’t want to be responsible for people’s deaths?”
They looked at each other, then began nodding, some vehemently, others as if they still weren’t sure. I pushed forward so I wouldn’t lose momentum.
“I know you don’t like it, but this war is happening whether you fight with us or not,” I said. “I don’t like it either. I think it’s idiotic that our people and their people can’t figure out a way to live in peace. But the army that’s advancing on us is commanded by a madwoman who doesn’t give a damn how many people die in her conquest of both countries. She doesn’t even care how many of her own people die. General Tarallan is working to stop her before too many people are killed. To do that, he needs information. And that is what spies are for—to minimize losses and end wars more quickly.”
Most of them were looking confused, but to my surprise, one or two people had looks on their faces that said both that they’d never thought of it that way before, and that now that they had thought of it, it made perfect sense.
“So you need to consider this,” I said. “I’m not going to make you learn those offensive pouvrin. I’m not going to make you do anything that violates your principles. If you want, you can sit this out in Fianna Manor—I won’t even let the General know I’m not sending him all my mages. And you will have absolutely no effect on stopping this war. Or…you can learn to gather information about our enemies, give it to people who know how to use it, and maybe keep hundreds or even thousands from dying. It’s up to you.”
And I walked away and went back to watching mages argue over how to bring boulders here so people could practice their lifting as well as their distance. And that is almost exactly word-for-word what I said. It felt right, again, only better because I wasn’t making a speech to bully someone. And I can’t even say I learned it from watching Cederic, because he doesn’t make speeches. I don’t know where it came from. It just felt good, the kind of feeling I usually only get when I’m doing magic. I think I felt like an actual leader for the first time today.
to be continued…