Sesskia’s Diary, part 154

13 Nevrine, after curfew (hah!) (continued)

I was impressed. And terrified. Nessan hadn’t struck me as the sort of man who can be bluffed, but Jeddan wasn’t really bluffing. I’m sure he meant it when he said they’d have to haul us away. And Nessan knew it too.

He tapped his finger against his lips for a few seconds, then opened one of the drawers, took out paper and pen and ink, scrawled something on the paper, blew on it and folded it. Then he walked around us to lean out of the guard room and call to someone passing nearby. “They’re to see the King,” he told the young soldier who answered the summons, and handed him the paper. “Urgent military business. Five minutes.”

That made me nervous; he might have written our execution sentence on that paper, and I wished he’d had better penmanship so I could have read it while he wrote. But there was nothing we could do about it except follow along.

The soldier saluted, and we trotted after him through the wide streets of Venetry. In the late afternoon, everything looked dismal, what with the slushy, filthy snow peppered with frozen horse turds shoved to both sides of the road, making a kind of frozen barricade between the passing horses and the pedestrians. I made note of landmarks as we went, updating my mental map of the city.

Not much had changed in the thirteen months since I’d been here last. All the traffic from the main gate funnels through the center of the city, where everything is new and modern and enticing to the eye of the visitor to Venetry. But that’s just the center. As you spread outward from that wide main avenue, you enter much older, dirtier places, some of which aren’t safe for anyone after dark, even their own denizens. I’ll have to see about renewing some old acquaintances there. Derria’s shop is probably still open, and she might give us a good price on that opal pendant. But that will have to wait.

We trotted along for a good while, through the city center and into the wide spiral that leads up to the top of Venetry where the rich manors are. One of those manors used to belong to my family, according to Mam, but I’ve never cared enough to find out which one. No point mooning over the past. I don’t even know what our surname used to be. I guess I’d be more interested if I didn’t feel like it was betraying my Dad to care about our past, when he set out to make a new life after he’d been ejected from his old one instead of clinging to what was. If I ever think about it, I mostly just get mad over the injustice of it all, though I don’t even know if it was injustice. I just know my Dad was a wonderful man, so he couldn’t possibly have deserved to lose all that.

But I’m getting off course. We went all the way to the top of the city, which does have an amazing view, maybe not as nice as Colosse, with all those white walls and colored roofs, but still amazing. You can see the whole city laid out in tiers below, and beyond that, the plains, but the best part, the part that actually brought tears to my eyes, was a distant lumpy smudge off to the west I recognized as mountains. Mountains that hadn’t been there before. The Arabel Mountains, in fact, under which lay the Darssan.

It struck me then as it hadn’t before that the land really had changed; the desert we’d traveled through to reach Colosse was gone, but the mountains remained. I wonder if Cederic will want to reopen the Darssan, when things have settled down and the God-Empress’s threat has been eliminated. Thirty years from now, probably. No sense worrying about it at this point. We still haven’t even met our fellow mages. Magickers. There’s no way I’m calling us that. I’ll just have to change everyone’s minds about that.

The royal manor—one of them, there are several throughout Balaen—anyway, the one in Venetry is called Janeka Manor. (I’ve never understood why so many of the wealthy manors are named after women, especially since women haven’t had much of a role in government until the last fifty years. It does give the impression of a bunch of hard-eyed matrons with their arms folded across their capacious chests, glaring at the rest of us.)

It’s a beautiful old house, built in the style of 150 years ago, with lots of windows made up of grids filled with thick glass bricks you can barely see out of and steep, shingled roofs that meet each other at odd angles. The gardeners had put the beds to sleep for the winter, which gave the manor a bare look, its harsh stone walls unsoftened by the hedges that bloomed in the spring. The ivy that used to grow on the walls all around the front door was gone, adding to the harsh look.

Two more soldiers stood at attention at the front door, and our guide saluted them, told them his errand, and they let us pass. I thought that was lax behavior until we came through the narrow hall, almost a tunnel, that led into the main hall of the manor, and came face to face with ten more soldiers, all of them standing where they could easily attack an intruder, all of them with the kind of humorless faces that characterize the really good warriors. I tried not to let them make me nervous. This time, at least, I was here legitimately.

Our guide took us the wrong way at first, and I had to remind myself I was a newcomer and a country girl and of course had no way of knowing where King and Chamber meet. He corrected himself without any slips that might suggest he’d made a mistake, which I approved of, and soon we were in the southwestern wing of the manor and stopping in front of a large double door banded in red-painted iron. Two soldiers stood there. They didn’t look as awe-inspiring as their brothers in the entry hall, but they clearly took their job of standing and staring into space seriously.

“Messengers to speak to the King. Five minutes,” our guide said, handing over the note.

“They’re in session. No one goes in,” the soldier on the left said.

“How soon?” our guide said.

“No idea,” the soldier said. “They can wait if they want.”

Our guide turned to us and said, “You can see the King when the session’s up. It shouldn’t be more than an hour or so.” He nodded at us and went back the way he’d come.

I glanced at Jeddan, who shrugged. We were both thinking another hour’s delay wasn’t going to matter, and it wasn’t as if we could do anything about it. So we waited. I leaned against the wall and surreptitiously examined my surroundings and plotted a way to draw the guards away so I could enter the chamber. Then I remembered I was now capable of assassinating the King with magic, which would be the only reason for me to sneak into that chamber, and it made me feel sick.

So instead I counted stones, and made lists, and daydreamed about what it would be like when I found Cederic, and went over the see-in-dark pouvra for possibilities of companion pouvrin. I didn’t have any success on that last one, but I haven’t given up. It does make me impatient to rejoin the Darssan mages and practice turning th’an into pouvrin. Which reminds me I haven’t practiced the binding pouvra for a while. No sense, when it doesn’t do anything, and we’ve got so many other interesting things to pursue.

to be continued…