Sesskia’s Diary, part 44

5 Lennitay, way too early in the morning (continued)

After dinner I dressed in comfortable clothes (my shirt from the Darssan and some trousers that fitted more closely than I would normally find comfortable, except they were perfect for sneaking around) and waited in the dark until I judged everyone had gone to sleep. Seeing in the dark is a matter of altering the shape of your eyes, more or less, and it can be…not dangerous, exactly, but if you walk into a well-lit room in that state, it blinds you for a while and it hurts like hell. So you have to be careful where you go. Fortunately, I was planning to go places that would be empty of people.

When the moon was finally hovering on the horizon, preparing to set, I slipped out of my room and headed down the hall toward Cederic’s room. I wanted to see where the hallway went. It turned out to end at another set of stairs, this one continuing up, so I followed it and found myself in a round room much like the God-Empress’s pavilion, but with a smoked glass dome for a roof and wind-blasted pillars supporting it, all of it overgrown by some kind of twining vine with fat, five-pointed leaves. The wind had died down somewhat from earlier and the night was cool and refreshing. I almost stepped out into the expanse when I saw that it was already occupied. I ducked back into the doorway—I wasn’t using the concealment pouvra because I didn’t want to get used to it and become careless—and watched for a bit. The person just stood looking out past the pillars, and it took me a while to discover that it was Vorantor. That made me intensely curious about what he was doing, because I was certain he wasn’t there just to admire the view, but I couldn’t exactly walk up to him and strike up a conversation. So after about ten minutes of watching him do nothing, I turned around and went back down the hallway to the other stairs.

I was tempted to stop in and talk to Audryn when I reached their hallway, but I realized in time that if I were caught wandering, and it got me in trouble, she would need to be able to say with conviction that she knew nothing about it. So I kept going. My first stop was the stairway leading to the God-Empress’s pavilion, with the landings that led to the upper levels of the mosaic chamber. As I wrote, there was too little contrast for me to see the design, and that was frustrating, having a failure right at the beginning of the night. I considered climbing back to the pavilion to look at the city from that height, but the memory of how long a climb that was deterred me. So I sat with my legs dangling over the edge of the highest balcony and thought about what to do next. Normally when I’m sneaking through a manor or a castle, I’m looking for the library, or maybe a secret room where the important books are kept, and after that I want to find the treasure room so I can buy the books I can’t steal, but I can’t read the books here, and the mages already have all of them. And I don’t have any need for the treasure, not to mention that if I’m caught with it, the God-Empress (I can’t call her Renatha in these pages, I just can’t) would probably do something fatal to me and everyone I know. Thinking about the God-Empress gave me an idea. It was still dangerous, but in a fun, let’s-see-what-I-can-get-away-with way, and if I was successful, it could benefit me in the long run. So I went to map the boundaries of the God-Empress’s territory.

A manor may belong to a person, but in practice, there are portions of that manor that are the personal rooms of the owner. Places that aren’t secret (though sometimes they’re that), but private. Those are the places a thief has to be especially careful of, because people take intrusions there as more of a violation. Though violating them can be effective, if you’re trying to frighten someone by, to take a hypothetical example, leaving notes in their bedroom that say (again hypothetically) THE WATCHER KNOWS WHAT YOU DID TO YOUR WIFE. Very effective.

I just wanted to know what the God-Empress called her own so I wouldn’t trespass accidentally. I knew some places where her territory wasn’t—the rooms where the Darssan mages were housed, and the Sais’ wing, and our dining hall and the two common areas we gathered in after dinner. Places like the mosaic chamber were probably outside that territory, since too many people use them—I could hear lots of noise coming from it when we passed it on the way to that audience with the God-Empress yesterday, like people passing through it, and I think it’s likely that when we arrived, it was cleared specifically so the Kilios didn’t have to encounter any of the unwashed masses. So I was imagining a map of the palace as I sneaked down to the ground floor. I may not have the most perfect memory for conversation, but I wouldn’t be much of a thief if I couldn’t keep the map of a building I’m infiltrating in my head. There were far too many blank spots, because the palace is huge, and having entered the way we did, I don’t have as good a sense of its footprint, but the whole point of exploring is to learn new things, isn’t it?

My first step was to learn where all the alcoves off the mosaic chamber led. I didn’t get very far last night/this morning because, as I said, the palace is huge, but what I discovered was still a lot. I already knew that one alcove leads to the loenerel’s stopping place, and one leads to all the mages’ living and working quarters and, less directly, to the God-Empress’s cloud-kissing pavilion. The one directly to the right of the loenerel alcove goes to the public areas of the palace, waiting rooms and audience chambers and finally to the God-Empress’s real throne room. The actual, official throne is strangely plain, unadorned except for elaborate carvings, and it’s built to a scale that would accommodate someone fifteen feet tall. The God-Empress probably looks like a child sitting in it, kicking her feet because they wouldn’t reach the ground. The throne room makes up for the throne’s plainness by being lined with mirrors, all of them three feet wide (I used my arm span to measure) and as tall as that imaginary giant, framed in what was probably gilded wood (can’t see colors with the see-in-dark pouvra) decorated with scallops at top and bottom. The floor is marble tiles in contrasting colors, dark and light, and I had to be especially careful not to make any sound walking on them.

I wandered around in these rooms for a bit, admiring their scale and the beauty of the furnishings, which is more refined than my world goes in for. I was going to write that they were more sophisticated, which is true but gives the wrong impression; my world lacks things this world has, mainly with regard to what magic can do, but its cultural development doesn’t lag that far behind Castavir’s. So in my world, the wealthy go in for big, sturdy, unadorned furniture and architecture, which compared to Castavir’s looks rough, but closer examination just shows that it’s different. I don’t think I’m trying to make excuses for my world, either. But I suppose this is another thing that’s irrelevant.

to be continued…