Sesskia’s Diary, part 10

18 Senessay (later, same evening)

I had to stop before because Terrael came in to ask me more questions. Then Audryn—I haven’t written about her yet, I guess—she came to make Terrael leave me alone so I could sleep, but I really need to finish writing about this, because it has to be important.

So, we compared histories. After about three hours, we were both tired, and Terrael suggested we get some food. This time, he took me to a big room with ten or twelve long tables and little backless stools lining them on both sides. A lot of white-robes were sitting there, eating, and all of them looked at us—at me—when Terrael and I came in. Terrael ignored the attention and went to an opening in the far wall, like a five-foot-square window with no glass, and I followed him. Beyond the window was the largest kitchen I’d ever seen in my life, and that includes the one in the royal house in Venetry where the cook hid me while the guards searched the house. A man came to the window, looked at both of us, and walked away again. When he came back, he had a couple of plates piled with food: a slice of meat in thick brown gravy, mashed potatoes (finally, a food I recognized!), green peas that had been dried and then reconstituted, so they were mushy, and a thick slab of the brown bread perched on top of everything. Terrael handed one to me, thanked the man, and went to the end of one of the tables where no one was sitting. He went at his food like it was the last meal he’d get all week. I was conscious of people still staring at me, so I used my best manners. Though now that I write that, it occurs to me that I have no idea what these people consider good manners. Maybe Terrael inhaling his food is the pinnacle of proper eating etiquette in Castavir.

“Will you look at the maps after dinner?” Terrael asked. His mouth was full of food and, I’m sorry, but there’s no way that’s good manners no matter what country you’re in. Since my mouth was also full of food, I just nodded.

“Are they letting the stranger out now?” said a young woman, sliding onto a stool beside Terrael. It took me a second to realize she was the young woman Terrael had spoken to the night he nearly killed me gave me their language, the one wearing the jeweled hair clip.

“Her name is Thalessi, Audryn,” Terrael said, and this time he made sure his mouth was empty when he spoke. He also sat up a little straighter and couldn’t quite meet her eyes, and those are some more gestures that mean the same thing no matter what language you speak. I covered my mouth with my hand so I wouldn’t embarrass him, because it seemed like the young woman didn’t realize how Terrael felt, but I couldn’t help smiling. Really, people in love are sort of cute.

Audryn turned to face me, put her palm flat against her chest just below her throat, and said, “Welcome to the Darssan, Thalessi, though your arrival was unintentional.”

To my surprise, she had the same green-gray eyes Sai Aleynten and I do. In my travels, I’ve seen maybe ten other people who had the same eye color I do, so two of them in one place was unusual by my standards. I wanted to ask about it, but I felt a little awkward about just blurting that out. “That’s certainly true,” I said instead. I thought about mirroring her gesture, but decided it might not mean greeting, or at least might not be reciprocated by the same gesture.

“Well, if anyone can get you back home, Sai Aleynten can,” Audryn said. She spoke his name with such pride and respect that for a moment I wondered if we could possibly mean the same person. I decided to be polite and not act as if Sai Aleynten puts my back up, which he does.

“I hope so,” I told her, though as I said before, I’m not sure if I care whether I go home or not. Again, being polite to the people who are still basically keeping me captive is probably the best course of action. “Your name sounds familiar.”

“I’m named for the woman who founded the Darssan,” she said, and then I remembered what Terrael had told me. Well, I learned a lot of things this afternoon—I’m sure there are things I’ve forgotten to write down.

“We’re going to look at the maps to see if Thalessi can show us her country,” Terrael said. He was eating more daintily and seemed to be using that as an excuse for not meeting Audryn’s eyes, though he did a fair job of still looking at her occasionally. Poor Terrael. I wonder what their courtship customs are, here in Castavir. In Balaen, women are supposed to indicate their interest in a man before the man can reciprocate, and if it’s the same custom here, Terrael could be in for a long wait, because I didn’t see any evidence that Audryn feels anything for him but friendship. But I’m not going to assume it’s the same here. I’ve been in many different countries and they all seem to do things their own way. Still, I feel for Terrael. Not that I would know what being in love feels like.

Anyway, we finished eating, and Terrael took me back to the cavern. Audryn came with us. She seemed curious about what I might do, and I wonder if she was in the circle of people when I arrived. She didn’t say anything to me, but I caught her watching me once or twice with this speculative look, as if she was waiting for me to do something interesting. It was a little unnerving, but not antagonistic, so I didn’t react.

The maps are in a large cupboard near the room with the aeden. Each map is rolled up in a cylinder around a wooden rod, and the rods are stowed on metal stands on wheels, so they can be rolled out into the cavern, which is what Terrael did. He lifted one of the rods off the stand and laid it on the cavern floor, then unrolled it to its full length. It was big—maybe six feet long and nearly as many wide, and the minute I saw it I forgot to breathe.

I’ve seen many, many maps in the course of my quest. Some of them were ones I was using to find my way, more of them I found when I was looking for other things. So I know the geography of my own country, and the surrounding region, so well I could draw a map of my own. And I know what the two other continents look like, at least as well as anyone does, since few people from Balaen have ever crossed the ocean. And what Terrael was showing me was a map of Balaen.

I’m still a little overwhelmed at the thought. I have no idea what it means. And when I say it was a map of Balaen, that’s not completely accurate. The continent was the same—exactly the same—and the major landmarks were all there, like the Myrnala River that runs north to south and nearly cuts off the eastern side of the continent. But the cities were all wrong, like the big one lying right on the Myrnala River, and nothing where Thalessa should be, and—this is what really shocked me—there was a small range of mountains near where the western border of Balaen ought to be, and when Terrael pointed to it and said “That’s where we are now” I examined it closely and worked out that it was close to the spot where I’d been sleeping the night they summoned me, or whatever it was that happened to bring me here. Obviously I can’t tell with any exactness, but it can’t be coincidence.

Terrael asked me if I recognized anything, and I lied. I didn’t know what else to do. I suppose it wasn’t entirely a lie, given that I didn’t recognize any of the cities, and I sure as hell didn’t know what that mountain range was doing there, but I just didn’t know what to say. I don’t know what it means! And I’m reluctant to give anything else away to these people—I know, I told Sai Aleynten about the magic, and I agreed to answer their questions, but this seems so big—

I’m taking refuge in lists again. It’s my way of coping with things that are too big for me to understand.

  1. This is all a huge coincidence.
  2. I’ve been pulled forward, or backward, to a time so distant from my own that the landscape and the culture have changed.
  3. This is some kind of other-world, like in children’s fantasies, where it’s almost the same as my own but with key differences.
  4. I’ve been knocked on the head, and this is all some elaborate hallucination from which I will wake at any moment.

Hell. All of those seem so unrealistic and impossible. I suppose someone who didn’t know any better might say “anything’s possible with magic,” but that’s just not true. Magic has rules and limitations—at least, mine does, and I bet Terrael’s does too. In fact, he even told me that invisibility was impossible for them, though how he’d know that, I have no idea. I’ve always assumed, when I couldn’t do things, that it was because I hadn’t figured out the right way yet. But it does have limitations, and everything I’ve just listed does seem like a child’s fantasy story.

But to resume: Terrael showed me several other maps, all of which were more or less familiar. There was one that was a far more detailed map of the continent south and west of mine, and one that showed all the continents laid out on a single map, and some that showed countries I didn’t recognize. Finally Terrael gave up, and I felt just awful, he looked so disappointed. I’m sure he was hoping to have some great success in front of Audryn, though she didn’t seem disdainful of his failure. Her curiosity about me aside, she seems like a nice person. Then they talked for a minute, technical stuff I couldn’t follow, and after that Terrael brought me back to my room, for which I was grateful, because I’m still not good at telling the doors apart. I wonder if it would be all right for me to mark mine—but that might make me seem weak, and not all these people might be as nice as Terrael and Audryn.

My hand is sore from writing so long. Terrael showed me how to disable the automatic light dimmer when he was here earlier, so I didn’t have to worry about finishing before the light went out, but writing all of this hasn’t clarified anything for me. I’m feeling guilty, now, about not telling Terrael the truth. I promised to be honest, and I broke that promise. It’s just that it felt like such an important thing—

Damn. I’m going to have to talk to Sai Aleynten and his smug face. I hate the thought of confessing to him that I wasn’t totally honest, but if he’s the leader of the Darssan, he’s the one who ought to know what I couldn’t tell Terrael. I just wish there were another option.