24 Nevrine, continued
Anyway. I let them talk quietly among themselves for a while, maybe ten minutes, and then I went back and said, “Well? What do you think?”
Relania stepped forward. “You make a good point, Sesskia,” she said. “We’re not just opposed to violence because we think it’s inherently wrong, though most of us do. We’re opposed to it because we care about human life and the preservation of it. And we think it’s not enough to just sit back and not participate. So we’re ready to learn from you.”
“Some of us also want to know why you’re qualified to teach us to spy,” one of the mages said, grinning so I’d know he was teasing, and everyone laughed, myself included.
“Well, Keonn, the truth is I’ve had to do a lot of things in the course of learning magic, and one of those things is sneaking in and out of places,” I said. “You’ll be learning the concealment pouvra as part of this, but you have to remember it’s not invisibility, and you can’t rely on it to protect you. You also can’t rely on the walk-through-walls pouvra unless you think passing out is a good way to not be caught. So in addition to practicing those pouvrin, we’ll be learning how to move quietly, and how best to investigate an enemy’s home—or camp—and some other skills that will be of use in that. But first—” I waved my hand at the marked-off field—“we’re going to see how fast you can run.”
The rest of the afternoon was actually fun. I lined them up along the field and had them go insubstantial and see how far they could get before shortness of breath stopped them. Then I had them go inside the “houses” and practice putting their faces through the walls, trying not to expose themselves too much. And then I set them to walking the narrow, curving path I’d made with rope and bells. They couldn’t go insubstantial, and they couldn’t make the bells ring or I’d make them start over.
“You all know you can’t stay insubstantial forever,” I said when they complained. “You have to learn to move quietly, and you have to learn to pass obstacles. Yes, if this were a real camp, you’d just work the pouvra and walk through the whole thing, but you can’t always count on being able to do that. Tonight we’re going to do this in the manor, with the see-in-dark pouvra. Think how much of an advantage that will be.”
They’re all more enthusiastic about it than I thought possible. And Rutika is a born thief, not that I told her this. She can’t stay insubstantial as long as some of the others, but she walked the rope course perfectly the first time, and she has a very good sense for how far she can go through a wall to examine her surroundings without revealing too much of herself. I already have some special training planned for her.
I told most of this to Tarallan that evening when I “reported” to him—not the bit about Rutika being a good thief, but that she was going to be an excellent spy. He was very happy to learn how far a range most of us have, and pleased about the budding spy corps. I think he might have made a good thief himself, because he thinks about problems sideways the way I try to, and he appreciates the value of intelligence.
Our conversation went long enough that he invited me to eat with him again, and I accepted. This time we talked about other things as well as the war, mostly him telling me about his family, and me talking about my Dad—I really don’t know how we got on that subject. He seemed interested in the loss of our surname, and said, “So you don’t have any idea who your family was?”
“None, and I don’t really care,” I said. “From what I’ve seen of the upper classes, there’s nothing inherently wonderful about being part of them. And it’s not like I could regain our status even if I knew what the surname was.”
“I’d think it would be uncomfortable, not knowing if I had a connection to one of these families,” he said. “Suppose Lenssar was your uncle, for example.”
I shuddered. “Sorry, I don’t mean to disrespect Lord Lenssar, but—”
“—it would be like being related to a weasel,” Tarallan said.
I laughed. “A little. But the only thing I know is our family line was completely lost, so it’s unlikely I’m, for example, the King’s long lost heir.”
“Too bad,” he said. “That is, the King having an heir would almost mean more to Balaen than winning this war.”
“Why is that?” I asked. This was the first I’d heard of the King not having an heir.
“Obviously the King has no offspring, and he hasn’t designated an heir,” he said, “which means if he were to die, the noble houses would go to war, so to speak—or maybe literally, I’m not sure—over who would take the throne. I’m not privy to their machinations, but I imagine the Chamber Lords have an edge over the others, and there’s no question they’re building support for themselves even though the King is relatively young and quite healthy.”
“One more reason not to belong to the upper classes,” I said, and we parted on that note. I like him. He’s interesting, and clever, and never makes me feel stupid when I say something that shows I know nothing about military science. I think we might become friends.
Time to go teach my spies about moving silently in the dark.