Sesskia’s Diary, part 14

20 Senessay (evening)

I just finished reading over what I wrote above and it makes me cringe to see how petulant I sound. Once again it turns out I was wrong in a lot of my assumptions. In my defense, Sai Aleynten was definitely at fault, too, but I probably shouldn’t have given in to my anger like that. And I can admit, now, that my first impressions of Sai Aleynten were all bad ones, and that’s predisposed me to dislike everything about him, even if he doesn’t deserve most of it. I don’t think we can ever be friends, but I’m doing my best not to hate him and his smug face—there, I did it again. He only looks smug because of the way his eyebrows are crooked and his eyes are almost always half-lidded, like he’s trying to hide the fact that he’s laughing at your stupidity. But I’ve seen him talk to the rest of the mages, and he never sounds dismissive or impatient, though he does get sarcastic at times, and that makes me a little angry, because they all want his respect, or at least his approval, and I can imagine how his scorn makes them cringe. He has some definite character flaws, but after today I’ve decided not to assign him any more of them than are actually true.

About ten minutes after I finished writing the entry before this one and was sitting on my bed, wondering what to do next, there was a knock on my door. I waited, but no one came in, so I called out an invitation and Sai Aleynten opened the door. See, right there, that should have told me I was wrong about him, just a little; he’d learned from our earlier conversation. At the time, I was still angry enough not to give him credit for anything. I said, “If you want me to perform any more tricks for you, you can forget about it.”

“No,” he said. “That was wrong of me. I am afraid my eagerness interfered with my good sense.”

That sounded a little like an apology, and I figured I wasn’t going to get any more than that from him, so I said, “And what does your good sense tell you?”

“That we should work together, not separately,” he said. “You know far more about your magic than I can understand simply by observing it. If anything, I should be showing you th’an and asking for your opinion on its similarities and differences to your pouvrin.”

That staggered me a little—I was still operating on the assumption that Sai Aleynten was too arrogant to admit that anyone might have something to teach him. I said, “I wish I could read your books. I’ve studied hundreds of ancient writings in my own world and I’d like to see what they have in common. I don’t know how helpful it would be, but you did say you were trying to summon a book. If the worlds split, and some things ended up in one world and not the other, perhaps there’s a book in my world that has some of the information you need.”

Sai Aleynten nodded, and gestured to me to follow him. Again, it surprised me that he was listening to my suggestions, but it was at that point I started to feel a little ashamed of myself for damning him so thoroughly. We went to the gold circle and the bookshelves surrounding it, and Sai Aleynten removed a book that looked as if it had been in a fire. “Tell me if you recognize anything,” he said, and turned the pages for me. The writing was gibberish, and I shook my head. “What does it say?” I said.

“Nothing that any of us can read,” he said, closing the book. “It is very old, but probably not as old as the separation. You said you have studied ancient books; were any of them in languages you did not recognize? Or languages you could not read but were able to decipher?”

Huh. I can’t believe I didn’t see this before. In asking that question, Sai Aleynten paid me a huge compliment by assuming I’d be smart enough to learn to read an ancient language. Now I feel incredibly guilty. But I still don’t like him very much.

“I was able to work out two books because they were similar to one of the languages I speak,” I said. “But most of them were unintelligible to me. I don’t remember seeing any in this script, though.”

Sai Aleynten put the book away and took down another. “This might become tedious,” he said, “but if there is any chance you can read a book we have been unable to, that could mean the difference between failure and success.”

That was another apology, I think. “I understand,” I said. “You might try explaining things to me before assuming that I don’t.”

“I should not have said that,” he said. “I meant only that what I was doing requires a great deal of study in th’an to understand, study I know you lack. Does it help to know that I would have said the same to half the men and women in the Darssan?”

It did, actually. “Yes,” I said. “But you should have been that specific.”

“As I said, I allowed my eagerness to get in the way of my good sense. I have a regrettable tendency to be unable to express myself well when I am focused on a goal. I apologize.”

That was the second time he’d used that word to me. I

I stopped writing just there for about fifteen minutes while I thought about it. I really have been stupid and prejudiced, and it’s embarrassing. Yes, Sai Aleynten has been insufferable at times, and I think we might be too different ever to be friends, and I’m never going to give him the respect he gets from the mages, but I have no reason to hate him. So, again, I repeat my resolution to give him more credit than I’m inclined to.

Anyway, his apologizing to me made the rest of my anger disappear. I said, “I’m afraid I tend to become impatient when I’m not seeing progress. So I’m sorry I stormed off like that.”

“Then let us see if we cannot make progress together,” he said, and smiled a little, so I smiled back at him, and that made me feel better, like we might actually be able to find a solution.

He showed me a few more books, none of which I could read. These were beautiful books. I’ve seen the new ones coming out of Venetry, the ones that are made by machine so they’re all alike, and those are pretty, but there is something about a hand-stitched binding and tooled leather cover that satisfies me down to the core. Some of them were illuminated with abstract designs, and some had animals I’m sure were fantastical decorating the capitals of the pages, and there was one where the cover was crusted with gems in a spiraling pattern that was simply amazing. Some of the gems had been added more recently; the glue holding them in was a different consistency from the older ones. It made me wonder whether this book was special, that it had been restored to its original condition, or if someone just couldn’t bear to see it imperfect. I touched one of the stones, then pulled my hand away quickly, thinking Sai Aleynten might object to my handling one of these books, but he said, “I think, having seen the book you created, I need not fear you would damage this one,” and he gave it to me so I could open the pages and exclaim at the jewel-like colors decorating the front page. I wish I could read it, but again, it was not in a language I understood. I asked him if he could read it, and he said, “I am not entirely fluent in this language, but I know it is a book of stories. It came from the library of the palace at Colosse and we believe it was made for the children of an Empress. I wonder if they appreciated it.”

“They couldn’t have handled it much, if it’s in this condition,” I said.

He nodded, and asked for the book back so he could put it away. We went through about fifty books like this, and I was starting to become irritable because we weren’t succeeding, when he said, “I have been showing you books that are of relatively recent date, in the hope that our languages might not have separated as far as we feared. I have not given up hope that we will find one you are capable of reading, but the results of this initial exploration are not positive.” (He really does talk like this, though I’m not getting the words exactly right. Very precise and formal, like the rest of him.)

“I wish I could tell you the age of the oldest book I’ve been able to read, but when I find them in places like the ruins, places whose age I don’t know either, it’s hard to tell,” I said. “Some of them are kept in dry, airless vaults, preserved so they don’t look much older than the day they were written.”

“The ruins,” Sai Aleynten said. “Of course. I should have thought of it before. We must look at the maps again.” He grabbed my hand and towed me rapidly after him, and I remembered that he has a grip like a clocker crab. There was no point in trying to get free, and anyway I wanted to see what he had in mind.

He went to the map room and pulled out the parchment—well, I’ve been calling it parchment, but it’s far bigger than any parchment I’ve ever seen, and more translucent, too—that I’d drawn the map of Balaen on, and unrolled it. “Show me the places where you have found books you could decipher,” he said curtly. I ignored his tone of voice and pointed at three ruins. Two of them had had books that were in the language that was a derivative of Enthendil, and in the other I found the book where I could barely make out nouns and a few verbs. Sai Aleynten stared at the map for a bit, then rushed out of the room, this time leaving me behind, so I said a few choice words in my exasperation and followed him at a slightly slower pace.

He went back to the shelves and began running his finger across the spines, occasionally pulling out a book and setting it on a nearby table, which was already cluttered with books and papers and a few more of those carved animal stones. When he was finished, he had three piles of books—not very many, really, compared to how many were on the shelves. “Look at this one,” he demanded, and flipped open a cover.

“Ask me,” I said.

He blinked at me. “I just did.”

“No,” I said, “you ordered me. I understand you’re excited about something, but I don’t see why that entitles you to be rude.” See how polite I was? Even though he was behaving like an arrogant git. And I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to point that out.

He opened his mouth, probably to object, and that was when I realized we had an audience. Sai Aleynten rushing around was bound to draw attention, and while the white-robes watching us were doing so covertly, I could tell by the way their activity went to almost nothing that they were intensely interested in this conversation. “My apologies, again,” he said. I thought I heard a couple of people gasp, very quietly. “I meant, I believe we may have better luck with this book, and would you mind looking at it.”

“Thank you,” I said, and went to look at the pages. The first two were meaningless. I turned a few more pages, opened my mouth to say, “I still can’t read it,” and then my mouth stayed open in astonishment when I realized I could. I trailed my fingers down the page, then thought better of touching anything so old, and continued using only my eyes. Reading it was as slow as I remembered it being, the last time I’d read a book in this language, but that book had taught me the walk-through-walls pouvra, and it’s unlikely I’ll ever forget that. And it was a little strange, reading a non-magical text in that language I associate so strongly with pouvrin.

“It’s a history,” I said, and Sai Aleynten’s hand, resting on the table nearby, closed into a fist. “I think the first—wait just a minute.” I picked up the book and turned it face down, and now the gasps were louder, and I could tell Sai Aleynten wanted to snatch the book out of my hands, but I lifted it to eye level and sighted along the place where the pages joined the spine. “The first three pages were bound into it later,” I said. “They might be an introduction for anyone reading it years after it was written. The rest…I can only summarize, because this language has tenses yours doesn’t, but it begins “Eddon, God and King—”

That was as far as I got before the entire room erupted in shouting. Sai Aleynten rested both his fists on the table and bowed his head. Terrael came out of nowhere and grabbed me around the waist, then backed away when I juggled the book and nearly dropped it. He was too excited to speak, and honestly, I had no idea what they were so excited about, but I do now, and it’s—well, Sai Aleynten thinks it’s hugely important, and I think if I’d been working on this problem for two years, I would agree with him. What little I do understand is still exciting. To sum up:

  1. Everyone in Castavir knows those words. They are the opening sentence of a famous book about the god-kings of Castavir. (They still have god-kings, or now god-emperors, though it doesn’t mean what I think it means, according to Terrael, but there wasn’t time for him to explain it to me.)
  2. What I was holding was undoubtedly the original book.
  3. They now know to within a few years how old it is, which gives them dates for several of their other books, some of which they can read.
  4. This helps them work backward toward discovering whatever language it was that the Codex Tiurindi was written in. (Why they were trying to summon it when they didn’t know if they could read it baffles me, but I think it might be a measure of how desperate they all are. Which I can understand.)

I’m not an expert on languages, but Terrael is, and what he explained is that if they have a text in an unknown language, and they know what that text is, they can use it to translate that language into theirs and read other books. Which makes sense. I’m less certain of the other thing he said, about being able to work out how a language changed over time and reverse that process, but, again, he’s the expert. The one thing I insisted on is being allowed to take the book to my room with me tonight. I argued that it would help me understand their culture better, but really, I am just so tired of having nothing to read! And I think Sai Aleynten knew that, because he agreed to my request with a little smile. He never gives anything away, but I know he’s relieved at having made some progress. And Terrael—he was the one who objected to me taking the book, but that was because he was so eager to start translating you could see him vibrate. It took all of Sai Aleynten’s force of presence to get him to calm down and join the others in ransacking the bookshelves. And it did look like ransacking, when I left. Sai Aleynten assured me they do this all the time, rearrange the books to represent whatever theory they’re following at the moment. That’s an interesting idea, that the shape of the library might have something to do with the knowledge that comes out of it. What they’re doing now is looking for all the books written in that language, and the ones they think are similar to it, and tomorrow we are going to begin translating those books. I’m supposed to read the first pages to get an idea of what kind of knowledge is in each book, so we can focus on studying the magic books first. Terrael is going to work on this book, learning to read the language—he really is some kind of savant, Sai Aleynten seemed to think it wouldn’t take him more than three days to become fluent—so I’d better read quickly, because I doubt Terrael is going to want to wait on me tomorrow morning.

Funny. I wrote “we” just a few lines ago. I’m a stranger to this world, I don’t understand their society, and yet I feel now as if I’m a part of something. Like I’ve been accepted here, even if only as the strange cousin from across the ocean who has to have everything explained to her. It’s a comfortable feeling.

Now I’m going to put this away and do some reading. Fortunately, it’s not a very thick book, though it is a little heavy to hold comfortably in bed. But I’m so glad to have something to read that isn’t my own writing I don’t even care.