Sesskia’s Diary, part 32

2 Lennitay, just after dinner

I’m hiding in my room—it’s not so much a room as a cubicle, with barely enough space for a bed and window—having pretended to have a headache. It’s not entirely a lie. The motion of the loenerel makes me a little queasy, and right now I’ve got my face hanging over a little vent that constantly blows cool air into the room, probably to compensate for how hot the loenerel is. The master, the one who keeps the collenna moving, said it would be much hotter if not for the kathana that shields it from the sun’s rays. I can’t even imagine walking through the desert unprotected, and I’m trying to be grateful, but since I’m still angry at Vorantor’s manipulation, it’s difficult to hang on to gratitude for anything.

I hate when I can’t write every day. I know I’m forgetting things, and then I remember them and have to put them in out of order, and I’d like to just summarize, but so much of importance has happened that I feel as if I’m cheating myself to skim over it. So if this is confusing—but I suppose I’m the one who’ll be reading it later, so there’s no sense apologizing to myself.

So, as I wrote earlier, I was tired and just went to bed instead of writing, not that that really mattered because I hadn’t done much worth writing about. In the morning, I went to breakfast and the refectory was practically empty. One of the mages was leaving as I entered, and he told me to be quick, because there were visitors on the way. Well, that excited me—any change is exciting, though the news that someone had discovered the right kathana for summoning the Codex Tiurindi would have been far better. I gulped down my food and hurried out to the cavern to find it was nearly empty, too.

(The loenerel just came to a stop again. They have to refresh the th’an frequently because the loenerel is so massive it swallows magic like a drunkard swigs brandy. When it stops, it becomes warmer, and the smell of hot metal becomes more pervasive, and then I really do feel ill. It’s a measure of how quickly I’ve come to take the casual use of magic for granted, that I can be annoyed at the loenerel’s failings rather than awestruck that anything can transport fifty people across the desert faster than a horse can run and with greater endurance.)

Terrael was there in the cavern, and he told me everyone was cleaning up so the Darssan, and its inhabitants, would look their best for the visitors. But what he and a handful of other mages were doing was washing off the walls in places, and I think they were concealing some of their research from whoever was coming to visit. Now that I know it was Vorantor, that makes sense. Damn it, now I’m telling the story out of order again. At least I can take comfort in knowing my dislike of Vorantor is rooted in good reason, unlike my dislike of Cederic, which was just mutual misunderstanding and my unfortunate prejudice.

I asked what I could do, and he said I should dress as nicely as possible, which was useless advice because I have no idea what constitutes nice dress in Castavir. I certainly don’t have a white robe to wear. I compromised by going back to my room and dressing in the clothes I think look nicest on me, a pale blue shirt embroidered with white flowers around the neck and cuffs and hem and a pair of gray trousers almost too fine a weave to be practical. I couldn’t do anything about my shoes—I don’t think I’ve ever said that everyone here wears thin-soled sandals held on by cloth strips, and if they have other shoes, they maybe have a single pair, and there wasn’t any need for me to borrow them. And of course if the sandals are too informal for something as important as this visit, they’d all need their own shoes and no one could loan a pair to me. So my worn and cracked leather ankle boots didn’t look right, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. Audryn knocked on my door just as I was about to leave and made me sit while she pinned my hair up with two of her clips, simple openwork brass loops big enough to keep my mass of hair in place. She’s the one who told me our visitor was Vorantor, and she wouldn’t say much more than that, which left me nervous because I still didn’t know the truth about him and his relationship to Cederic.

We went back to the cavern, which in contrast to earlier was now full of people, everyone dressed neatly in their white robes and black trousers. Some of the women now wore hair clips and a few of the men wore earrings, nothing flashy, nothing that might get in someone’s way while he or she was scribing th’an. I saw Sovrin across the cavern, and she saw me and gestured to me in a way I eventually realized meant “step back”. So I took a few steps until I stood behind someone else, partially concealed by the crowd. I realize now she meant to conceal me from Vorantor, but at the time I thought it was just a custom. It didn’t matter, because at that moment Cederic entered, looked around the chamber, saw me immediately despite my being much shorter than the person I was standing behind, and made a little motion for me to come stand beside him at the circle. He was dressed just as he always is, no extra jewelry or anything, though he was wearing shoes rather than sandals. “Say nothing except in direct response to something Denril asks you, and then be as brief as possible,” he instructed me in a low voice. “You may want to argue, but say nothing. Promise me, Sesskia. This is important.”

“I promise,” I said, because his tone of voice frightened me a little, and if he thought Vorantor would make me want to argue, then something serious was happening.