Sesskia’s Diary, part 11

19 Senessay

I had breakfast this morning in that room with all the tables, eggs with funny orange yolks and some reassuringly familiar bacon and a glass of pink juice that tasted a little bitter, but grew on me over time. No one came to sit with me, and I didn’t see Terrael or Audryn, and while I didn’t exactly feel lonely—I’ve traveled alone for too long to let solitude bother me—it meant I had no one to talk to but the inside of my own head, and that made me increasingly nervous about the upcoming conversation with Sai Aleynten. It felt like I was coming at it from a position of weakness, since I’d made a mistake, and I hated—still hate—the thought of giving Sai Aleynten any power over me. I don’t know why that is; he only used magic on me to defend himself, and he seemed more concerned for my welfare than Terrael was with the whole Cap of Death incident, even if that was only because he sees me as a puzzle he doesn’t want damaged until he can solve it. I just don’t like him, that’s all.

But all last night, before I finally fell asleep, I kept going over the day’s events and I was increasingly sure that Sai Aleynten needed to know about the map. So when I finished eating, I went in search of him. It took a while. Nobody stopped me poking around the cavern, and I didn’t give them a reason to by prying into their conversations. Though I did find out, in looking at the walls, that I can’t read their writing. I was so disappointed. They have a lot of books in the cavern, not just in the shelves surrounding the gold circle but on shelves here and there next to the walls, and they’re the old kind I love because you’re practically guaranteed to find something mysterious and maybe even magical within their pages. Maybe I can get Terrael to read to me, though I don’t know how we’d figure out which of those books would interest me. All of them, maybe.

I wandered around for a bit and smiled at everyone. Nobody talked to me, and although they didn’t stare either, I felt awkward. I don’t think anyone, myself included, knows what to make of me. After I’d made the circuit of the room three times, Sai Aleynten came out of one mouth of the corridor. I know he saw me, but he didn’t come to me immediately; he stopped to talk to one of the little knots of white-robes, then was handed one of those wooden tablets by someone so tall he made Sai Aleynten, who isn’t short, look like a dwarf. I just stood and waited. Eventually he finished his business and came to where I stood, and said, “Can I help you with something?”

Have I mentioned how much his tone of voice bothers me? I kept my irritation under control and said, “I need to show you something, and I think it should be private because I don’t know what you’ll want to do with it.”

“Cryptic,” he said, raising one eyebrow and HOW THE HELL DOES HE DO THAT? Is it something they teach in Sai school?

He followed me to the map room and watched me choose the first map Terrael had shown me, then helped me take it down from the stand. “Is there room enough in here to spread it out?” I asked.

He looked around, gestured, and two of the stands rolled back, leaving a big empty space in the middle of the floor. I’m so jealous. Maybe if I keep practicing, I’ll be that good with the mind-moving pouvra someday. He unrolled the map and stepped back a little. “Well?” he said.

I said, “Is this your country? Castavir?” I knew it was, but I hadn’t given much thought to how I was going to explain this strangeness, so I decided to stall. Or lay the foundation for my revelation. That sounds better. More noble.

Sai Aleynten squatted beside the map and traced lines with his forefinger. “This is the Castaviran Empire,” he said. “Here, the central country, Castavir. East is Helviran, bordering on the ocean. Northeast, Endellavir, and southwest, Viravon.”

“They all have ‘vir’ in the name,” I said, once again stalling for time learning useful information.

“The names come from a much older language than the one we are speaking now,” Sai Aleynten said. “‘Vir’ means ‘land’ in that tongue.” His words were patient enough, but his tone said he wanted me to get on with it already.

I squatted next to him. “The lands on this map look exactly like my homeland,” I said. He went completely expressionless, his green-gray eyes fixed on mine. He stared, and I fidgeted, until he looked back at the map and said, “You don’t mean they are similar.”

“I mean I’ve seen maps like this many times in my travels,” I said, “and with a few exceptions, this map is identical to those.”

“What exceptions?” he said.

I pointed at the places where in my world there were cities, at the places where they have cities that in my world are empty, and at the ridge of mountains where the tiny dot of the Darssan sat. “And this should all be plains,” I said, spreading my fingers to encompass the area around the Darssan.

Sai Aleynten went even stiller than before, enough that he might have been carved of stone. “Tell me,” he said, extending a finger, “in your world, what is in this place?” He pointed at a spot where the borders of Castavir and Viravon met. “No, wait,” he said, interrupting me, and stood and went to the back of the room, where he rummaged around a bit and returned with a roll of tan paper, or parchment, or something, and a handful of smooth rocks. He rolled the parchment out over the map; it overlapped it a bit on two sides, and was thin enough that the lines of the map showed through it. Then he set the rocks on the corners to keep it from rolling back up. They weren’t ordinary rocks, but stones carved to look like animals, fat little turtles and low-slung horses, and I had to wonder why anyone would put so much effort into something that would only be used to hold paper down. Or maybe they have some mystical significance and only Sai Aleynten would use them for something so prosaic. I don’t know.

Sai Aleynten reached inside his robe and took out what looked like a pencil, though it was fatter than the one I’m using, and when he started tracing the outlines of the land, what came out was a thick black line, more like ink than lead. He kept sketching until he had drawn the coastline and the major geographical features. He didn’t include the country borders or the cities and he didn’t include the Darssan. When he finished, he handed the pencil/pen to me and said “Draw what you know of your land.”

Again I fought down my irritation and concentrated on remembering how my maps looked. I said before I could probably draw the map out myself, but I felt certain Sai Aleynten would want more detail than the general sketch I was capable of producing quickly. I drew in country boundaries and cities, and labeled the cities, and then I put in all the ruins I’d explored over the years, since I thought they were strange—all of them roughly the same size and shape, all of them in remote locations. Sai Aleynten just watched me. He was able to keep on squatting long after my thighs started to ache and I had to get on my knees, which was cold and uncomfortable since the floor of the map room was the same uneven, rippling stone as the cavern. I became more impatient with Sai Aleynten’s refusal to give me answers the more I drew. Once again he didn’t seem surprised or shocked by something I could do—first the magic, and now the revelation that his country and mine were identical. I wanted to ask him which of my list of suppositions was correct, but I couldn’t do that and concentrate on drawing, so instead I just let my impatience rise.

Finally, when I’d drawn as much as I could remember that I thought might be important, I sat back on the cold stone and handed the writing tool to my silent companion. He just squatted there, looking at the map, and when I started to speak he just held up a hand for silence and, damn him, I shut up. Again I wonder if that’s something he learned in order to be whatever-it-was, Wrelan, I think, or if it’s just part of who he is, like his stupid smug face.

When I was nearly ready to explode with impatience, he said, without looking at me, “You’re certain of this.”

“Yes,” I said.

He took hold of the parchment and rose, rolling it up as he stood. “I realize you are impatient,” he said, “but there is one last thing I want to do. I promise you will have answers soon.” He set the parchment aside, squatted again, and began making marks all over the map. I was a little shocked at that, because it looked like an old map and not one people ought to be drawing on, but I suppose when you’re Sai Aleynten you can do anything you like and no one will criticize you. He worked rapidly, with no indication of what he was marking, just two quick slashes to make an X at spots all over the map. Then he put the writing tool away and unrolled the parchment. “Help me line this up,” he said, and I helped align the maps along the coastlines and what in my world is the Myrnala River, and then I had another shock, because those X’s matched up almost perfectly with the ruins I’d marked on the parchment. I say “almost” because it wasn’t a one-to-one correspondence; there were a few places I’d marked that he hadn’t, and vice versa, but almost every X had a ruin overlaid on it.

“What does it mean?” I said.

Sai Aleynten stood and looked down at the map. “I dislike guessing,” he said. “But it may explain how you came to be here, and why.”

“So tell me!” I said. I might have been a little shrill, but the whole experience had me on edge. I’m still on edge, honestly, probably because he put me off again after assuring me I’d have answers soon. Because he shook his head and said, “I must perform two kathanas before I am certain. If I’m wrong, well, I would prefer not to tell you something that may not be true.”

Damn. I hate his logic. Because he was right; I much prefer knowing the truth than somebody’s guess, even though (I can’t believe I’m writing this) Sai Aleynten’s guesses are probably more accurate than other people’s truths, if only because I imagine he’s the kind of person who hates being wrong. Anyway, he rolled up both the maps and took them with him, and I followed him until he came to a door on the sitting-room side of the hall and said “This is not something for which I need an audience,” a little sarcastically, and I bristled, but I couldn’t think of anything to say in return. Nothing’s coming to mind now, either. And I used to think I was so clever and witty. So I tried a few doors until I found my room—fortunately I didn’t come across any more naked couples—and now I’ve written it all down, and now I’m waiting. I can’t decide what to do next. It’s too soon for a meal, I don’t want to bother all those people in the cavern, I refuse to go hunting for Terrael to entertain me, and there’s nothing to read—oh, hell, there isn’t going to be anything to read until I go back to my own country, is there? Just this book, and I know I’ll get sick of my own writing sooner rather than later.

I just made myself homesick for a place I didn’t even call home.

I hope Sai Aleynten’s figured out a way to send me there.

I don’t know what I’ll do if I can’t get back. Learn to read, probably, but am I going to be stuck here in the Darssan for the rest of my life? I doubt I have the aptitude, let alone the patience, to learn all those th’an, which frankly sound like a clunky way to work magic when you have the option to just let it emerge from within you, and it’s unlikely they’ll have any of the books I’d need to learn more pouvrin.

Now I feel sorry for myself, so I’m going to lie down and indulge in that for a while. It’s not as if I have anything else to do.