Mattiak—Tarallan offered me his praenoma tonight at dinner and asked the honor from me, and I do feel like we’re friends—is worried about the advance of the God-Empress’s army and the fact that we’re still stuck here in Venetry. He won’t come out and criticize the King, even behind his back, even privately to me, but it’s clear he’s frustrated at not having the power to do what he’s responsible to do, which is defend Balaen. Not protect the King, not protect Venetry, but defend our country.
The God-Empress is still besieging Hasskian, from last reports anyway, but it takes so long to get a messenger from there to Venetry that we won’t know if she’s taken the city until it’s already happened. Mattiak showed me how they’d attacked the Castaviran city to the north with the utensils and condiments on the table, and I didn’t really understand the details, but I think it made him feel better to have something concrete to focus on.
He also told me a few more details about the conflicts to the east that are centered on Colosse, not that he knew that, and asked if Cederic and I had a plan for finding each other. Of course we don’t, and that made me depressed, but he reassured me that the best chance we had of being reunited is for only one of us to do the searching, that my remaining in Venetry was the smart thing to do. That did make me feel better, as did the thought (which I couldn’t share with Mattiak) that Cederic and the mages are too powerful a force to simply have been destroyed no matter what had happened in Colosse. But I’d feel happier if any of Mattiak’s men would return with more specific information.
More progress. We set up some practice dummies from the archery range and worked on setting them on fire and smashing them with stones or bricks. I don’t like how excited everyone is about destroying them, because it feels like they’re not taking this seriously—that when we face the enemy, we’re going to do it to actual people who scream and die. That’s what war is.
I’m afraid some—maybe a lot—of these people won’t be able to use magic on living targets, but there’s no way to test that. I’ll have to ask Mattiak what soldiers do to become inured to killing people. Or maybe they don’t. Something else I can ask him.
Funny, that reminded me of some of my entries in the sixth book, where I was going to Cederic for everything and never realized I was falling in love with him. Not that I’m falling in love with Mattiak; I like talking to him, but I’m not attracted to him and he’s far too old for me. It’s just that we often end up talking about Cederic, so I come back from our dinners remembering things about my husband, especially memories that look different when I realize he was secretly in love with me. That trip by loenerel to Colosse, when he was always the one to come for me when it was mealtime, and I thought it was because he was trying to give me privacy to keep my book hidden, but it was actually because he was attracted to me and trying to work out how he felt.
Damn it. Now I’m crying. I thought I was past doing that.
My spies learned quickly from their first lesson and none of them were blinded last night. Rutika even managed to duck inside a wall when I “caught” her. Tonight I’m going to have them retrieve their first piece of “information”—a vase I borrowed from one of the sitting rooms and concealed in an unused bedroom. Oh! That reminds me that that bastard Norsselen claimed the best rooms for himself and his cronies, which is why we ended up in the old servants’ quarters. We’re not moving, of course, but it still makes me mad.