Sesskia’s Diary, part 6

Later, same day

I’m in a different room now, one of the bedrooms lining the inner curve of the corridor. I learned in following Terrael—but I’m getting ahead of myself. Terrael did come back, after maybe half an hour, and gestured for me to follow him. The women didn’t stop me leaving, though I saw one of them look at the other with this expression that said she thought it was a bad idea to let the strange woman wander around with no one but Terrael to supervise. Terrael didn’t seem worried that I might run off. I don’t know what to make of him. He’s young enough, I’d guess eighteen or nineteen, that he might not be sufficiently cynical yet, but…I don’t know. He has this air of eager confidence about him I just don’t understand. But he’s polite, and he’s trying to communicate with me, and in general I’d feel bad about knocking him down and running away. So I just followed him.

We went down the corridor a little ways and everyone we passed stared at me; they took the white robe away from me, so I’m in my own clothes, though I left my stinking jacket in the other room. I hate giving up anything that might be an advantage, but I couldn’t have cleaned it even if I created water, which would just have made a big wet mess. Terrael didn’t pay any attention to the gawkers, and they didn’t acknowledge him. He took me to another door on the same side of the hallway and indicated that I should go in. It was another sitting room, though a much nicer one; I think they crammed me into the first room because it was unused and they needed someplace to put me while they could think about what to do next. There were a couple of tall stools, still without backs, and a table with a tray holding a steaming pot of something that smelled a little nasty and some smaller jars, and a pair of porcelain cups with no handles. Terrael pointed at one of the stools and sat in the other, so I sat down and watched him pour a bitter-smelling translucent green liquid into the cups. Then he waited. I watched his face, wondering what he expected me to do. After a few seconds, he nudged one of the jars in my direction. I took the lid off and found it contained some kind of paste that smelled like roses. I dipped my finger in it, and Terrael made a grunting sound that sounded like suppressed laughter. I shoved the pot back at him and glared, and wiped my finger on my trousers. So this was some kind of test, to see if I understood the custom. I stopped liking Terrael at all in that moment.

Except he immediately lost the smile, turned a little red, and started babbling again and making this motion with his fist closed over his throat and bowing a little in my direction, over and over. Then he picked up the jar and a tiny spoon with a bowl the size of my thumbnail, scooped out some of the paste, and tapped it into his cup with three little tinks on the edge of the porcelain. Then he offered the jar and spoon to me. I was still angry with him, but I repeated his gestures, and he smiled and nodded like I’d performed an exceptionally complicated trick. Then he took another little jar, this one full of red crystals like dyed salt, picked up another tiny spoon and put two scoops into his cup, then took a different, larger spoon and stirred the liquid. So I imitated him, reasoning that keeping him happy might mean greater freedom for me, then raised the cup to my lips when he did the same. And it was good! Tangy and a little sweet, and somehow the combination of liquid and rose paste and red salt made it smell like oranges, which I love. Terrael could see I liked it and his smiling and nodding nearly took his head right off, and I had to smile at his enthusiasm, which made me decide to like him again.

I don’t know what the point of the drink was, but I’m guessing it was some kind of hospitality custom. All I can say is that they have a damn funny way of showing hospitality, locking me up in a bare room that, yes, might as well be a cell. We drank for a while, and I stared at Terrael, and he stared at me, but he didn’t try to speak again. There’s supposed to be a pouvra that lets you hear what other people are thinking, and I wished I had it right then. Though if he was thinking in his own language, it wouldn’t have done me any good. I’ve never heard even a rumor of a pouvra that can translate words from one language to another. Pity.

When the drinks were gone (Terrael poured me a second cup when I finished the first) Terrael got up and moved the tray to a different table, then sat down again and said something that ended in a question. I shrugged. Shrugging is apparently another universal gesture, by his response. Then he said something else, and I could tell right away it was not in the same language he’d spoken at first. I shook my head, but I began to feel excited. I speak four other languages besides my own, though two of them I’m not exactly fluent in, and it was just possible we might find one in common. He spoke again, in a third language, and I shook my head and responded in Enthendil—no reaction. I’ll just skip to the end and say it was a failed experiment. Neither of us spoke a single language the other understood. I was so disappointed, and Terrael looked like I’d kicked his favorite puppy. I almost felt worse on his account than on my own, he’d looked so hopeful.

After all that, Terrael stood and made a sort of shooing motion toward the door. Again, I don’t know if he’s stupid or just supremely self-confident, but it didn’t seem to occur to him that I might try to run if I left the room first. And I admit, at this point I was a little curious. Sticking close to Terrael might get me closer to freedom than sneaking about would. So I went back into the hallway ahead of him, then let him lead me further along the corridor. Eventually we came to the cavern, and now I had time to examine it more fully. It’s well-lit despite being made of such dark rock, mostly with those basket lights again, but also with tangles of glowing rope near the ceiling and around the walls below the ledges. One of the basket lights wasn’t glowing, and I got a better look at the design on it. It looks like it’s painted on, and it’s not symmetrical at all. It looks almost like writing. I still don’t know where the lights come from, but it has to be a pouvra of some kind, and I hope I can learn that one because wouldn’t that be useful!

The tables were mostly occupied by white-robes, showing each other their wooden tablets and talking very fast. Other white-robes stood along the stone walls, writing in chalk or drawing pictures. And I discovered their sleeves are all smudged because they use them to erase the chalk markings. I guess that’s convenient, but it still seems odd that they’d dirty their own clothes rather than just use a sponge or a rag. Or maybe it’s so everyone can see immediately what they are, whatever that is. I don’t know.

I didn’t understand what was happening at the center of the room. There were a dozen free-standing bookshelves, crammed with ancient books that my fingers itched to touch, even though I was certain I couldn’t read them. They were arranged radiating out from a circle on the ground about twenty feet across, an inch-wide gold strip set into the black stone floor. It took me a few seconds to realize it was the spot I’d “arrived” in. I left Terrael’s side and ran toward it.

An unfortunately familiar hand grabbed my shoulder and brought me to a halt. Smug Git said something in that sarcastic tone of voice that made Terrael drop his gaze to the floor, silent for once. I wrenched away and said, “If I’m such a burden to you, send me back already, but leave Terrael alone. And don’t bother locking me up again, I’ll just keep escaping, if only to make your life hell.”

Those eerie eyes narrowed, and he spoke more rapidly this time, the sarcasm gone. Terrael responded, and the two of them had an increasingly rapid conversation in which Terrael ended up gesturing and tapping his forehead, and Smug Git kept shaking his head no, which I hope is another universal gesture, because just imagine if ‘no’ meant ‘yes’ and how much more confused I’d be. The conversation ended with Smug Git being very sarcastic at Terrael, who to my surprise didn’t cringe at all, just glared at him in defiance. Then Smug Git turned his back on us and went back to doing something at the circle. Terrael looked furious. He actually walked several steps away from me before remembering me and beckoning me to follow. We went out by the other corridor, and I was right, it’s one big corridor looping around one side of the cavern. Terrael didn’t say anything else, just led me to this room, bowed to me, and left. Without locking the door. I wonder if they’ve decided that’s pointless.

This is a much nicer room, an actual bedroom with a narrow bed and dresser and wardrobe, more or less like the room I hid in. From what I’ve seen, all the bedrooms are on the inner side of the curve, and the rooms on the outer side are sitting rooms—that’s more of a guess. The rooms aren’t plain enough, or I’d think this was some kind of barracks. Maybe it’s the uniformity of dress; I haven’t seen a single person who wasn’t wearing a smudged white robe and black trousers. It’s strange, and it makes my skin crawl, and the sooner I find a way out, the happier I’ll be.