Sesskia’s Diary, part 198

6 Seresstine, continued

His grip on my hand had loosened, become something gentle, and his thumb stroked the back of my hand. I just stared at him. I still don’t know if I should have seen that coming. I just feel stupid and embarrassed. I liked him. I thought we were friends, but apparently that’s not how he felt. I don’t—I have to write the rest first.

I just stared at him. It didn’t even occur to me to pull my hand away. “Sesskia,” he said again, “I know you’re waiting for your husband, but even you have to admit he’s almost certainly dead. You know as well as I do what kind of chaos central Balaen is in right now. If he hasn’t found you by now, he’s not coming.”

“No,” I said, but came up once again against the fact that I couldn’t tell him my husband is a powerful Castaviran mage who is absolutely still alive, wherever he is. “I know he’s alive,” was what I came out with, but it sounded weak even to me.

He pressed my hand, gently again, and reached across the table to brush his fingers across my cheek, and this time I knew that touch for a lover’s caress, and it sent a shiver through me, though I had no idea what emotion had prompted it. “I understand,” he said. “It’s one of the things I love about you, your strength of spirit. But you should understand something, too. At some point, you’ll realize the truth, and when that happens, I will be here for you.”

I retrieved my hand from his and said, “I think I should go,” and walked away before he could say anything else. I went straight to my tent and curled up, fully clothed, on my bed. I lay like that for about ten minutes, then got up to write. Which brings me to now.

I’ll admit there was a fraction of a second in which I considered a reality where I returned his love. It didn’t last long, and I don’t feel guilty about it; it was as if I looked at a shirt that belonged to someone else and wondered how it might look on me, but never considered actually wearing it. I love Cederic, and that’s not going to change just because an attractive, interesting man told me he cares about me.

But—it’s like what happened when I learned Cederic had loved me for weeks before I knew it, and I thought back over that time and saw so many things I’d missed. In hindsight, Mattiak’s interest in me was obvious. Every time he brought up Cederic’s name, it was always accompanied with some comment about how dangerous things are in the east, or something reminding me we were separated and how it would be so long before he was found. He’s been trying to drive a wedge between me and my husband that would let him fit himself into the space between. And it makes me feel sick, because I thought we were friends. I thought I could trust him. But all he wanted was to steal my affections.

I feel stupid for not realizing. And I don’t know what to do or how to behave toward him. I have to be polite and friendly, and I can’t avoid him because I’m technically on his general staff, but I can’t have dinner alone with him anymore, knowing what he’s thinking when he’s looking at me.

There’s no one I can tell, either; I’m not close to the other mages in that way, and the only other person I have more than a casual relationship with is Nessan, and this isn’t something I can share with him. I wish Jeddan were here. I wish Cederic were here. Hah. I wouldn’t have this problem if he were, because much as I’m angry with Mattiak right now, I don’t think he’s the type to make a play for a man’s wife with the man actually standing there. Clearly he has no problem doing it when the man is absent.

It’s far too late now. I have to meet with the general staff in the morning, where we’ll learn what Mattiak has decided. I hope it’s that we’re moving east to attack the God-Empress’s army. I might not be a killer, but right now I could happily burn swathes through the enemy line.

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