Sesskia’s Diary, part 174

22 Nevrine, half an hour later

I’m confident I can reproduce twelve of the th’an Cederic used. Damn it, if I had that hypothetical memory pouvra…I would still not have any idea how to turn the th’an into a pouvra. I guess that’s not entirely true; I remember how the binding th’an came together into a pouvra, and I know that pouvra works even if I don’t know what it’s for. But this is a lot more th’an than the binding had, and I don’t think I can keep all the pieces in my head at once, let alone practice arranging them into a pouvra. I need an alternative. But not tonight. I’m so tired now.

I forgot to write about dinner with Tarallan, so I guess I’m not going to sleep yet. He’s set up his headquarters in one of the manors about a quarter mile from ours—not in Janeka Manor, which I think makes a statement about the army’s relationship to the king—but it’s surprisingly non-martial in feel, at least the part of it I saw. Probably he’s turned most of the ground floor public rooms into offices. But we had dinner in a very nice dining room, not a huge one like ours but small, with just the one round table, and it was a good meal. I wonder if his cook goes with him when he’s out campaigning. I have trouble imagining anyone, no matter how good a cook, producing meals like that one over a camp stove, so probably not.

Anyway, we ate, and discussed tactics. Tarallan wants us to practice extending the range of our pouvrin, so we can attack more distant targets. Apparently the God-Empress’s battle mages can do damage from a great distance, and we’re intended to neutralize them (Tarallan’s word) rather than use our magic on the army itself.

Tarallan told me about the Castaviran city they’d been besieging when they were summoned back to Venetry thanks to our information. Our side didn’t know exactly how it all started, but Tarallan thinks when the city appeared (from our perspective) their ruler decided to start conquering territory by running over all these towns that lie along the highway between Venetry and Durran. I felt sick listening to Tarallan’s description of what they’d done to those Balaenic towns, even though he didn’t go into much detail. They’d managed to claim a good chunk of Balaen before King and Chamber learned about it and dispatched the army.

Tarallan pinned down their forces, making them retreat to their city, and the siege had been going very well until they were forced to withdraw. Tarallan is bitter about that, but he puts a good face on it because it’s not the King’s fault that the God-Empress is marching on Venetry.

I asked him more about the army staying at Venetry rather than advancing south, and he said, “Position is important. By leaving immediately, we have a chance to choose our ground. If we wait here long enough, we’ll be fighting a defensive battle, and in this case that’s a mistake. I want to catch the enemy when they’re weakened from fighting a hundred little battles around Hasskian, not when they’ve had time to regroup and rest and, not incidentally, cut us off from some of our support.”

“Are there more troops in Balaen you can call on?” I asked. “I assume they’ve already eliminated the forces at Calassmir.”

“Unfortunately,” Tarallan said with a frown. “Our forces are already divided. I had to leave troops to watch that enemy city, just in case they decide to emerge and go back to sacking and looting the countryside, or, true God forbid, nip at our heels. There are several divisions at Barrekel, but we haven’t regained contact with them, and for all I know they’re fighting off more enemy invaders and aren’t able to join us. Hasskian doesn’t have much more than a token force these days, and Denderiss has its hands full dealing with Fensadderian refugees and maintaining the border defense. It sounds as if Fensadderis is falling apart more rapidly now than it was before, which means it must be in utter chaos.”

“I wish people could be told what really happened,” I said. Jeddan and I had explained a bit about the convergence to King and Chamber, claiming to have learned it because we are such gifted, experienced mages, but I’m not sure how much they believed. The King got it into his head that everyone in this world had a counterpart in Castavir and kept asking, worriedly, what we were doing about his double. Tarallan, on the other hand, understood it quickly and had asked a lot of questions at the beginning of the meal. After dealing with King and Chamber so often, it’s refreshing to talk to someone so intelligent and quick-witted.

“I don’t think it matters,” Tarallan said. “It’s unfortunate, but people will always be afraid of things, and people, they don’t understand. Conflict is inevitable.”

“But it shouldn’t have to be, if we try to understand each other,” I said, but I remembered how afraid and suspicious I’d been of the Darssan mages before Terrael gave me their language, and knew Tarallan was right. It left me feeling discouraged, thinking once again of the destruction of both our worlds not by the convergence, but by each other.

“What’s troubling you?” Tarallan said. Did I mention he’s observant as well as intelligent?

I cast about for something to say that wouldn’t implicate myself as a Castaviran sympathizer and came up with, “I’m worried about my husband. We were separated during the convergence and I don’t know where he is.”

“I…didn’t realize you were married,” Tarallan said, sitting back in his chair. “Where were you when you were separated?”

“Near the Myrnala River, several days’ journey north of Garwin,” I said. “The middle of nowhere, or at least it was. Who knows what kind of Cas—of invader cities might have appeared there?” Like, for example, their strife-ridden capital.

“It’s a dangerous place these days,” Tarallan said. “The messengers we sent in that direction returned with news that the whole area has been occupied by the enemy. I hope your husband is unharmed.”

“I’m sure he is,” I said. “I was traveling to find him when the trouble at Calassmir, and the King’s summons, brought me here.”

“Just as well,” he said. “You might have been killed, and the mages would be leaderless, and my dinner just now would have been a good deal more boring.”

I laughed, and said, “The mages wouldn’t lack for leadership, they’d still have Norsselen.”

“Really?” Tarallan said. “You make it sound as if Norsselen’s leaving was a response to your presence.”

“I, um, that’s a little true,” I said. “We had some differences of opinion, and he chose to, um, go elsewhere to use his talents.”

“I think you may be prevaricating,” Tarallan said, but with a smile. “However, you seem extremely competent, and the mages seem happy, so I’m willing to accept your version of events. And I admit I enjoy your company.”

“Thank you, General,” I said. “I enjoy yours as well.”

“That’s fortunate, because I’m going to require you to bring me a report every evening on your troop’s progress,” he said. “I want to know when new mages arrive, what progress they make on learning pouvrin, and I especially want to know how those ranges are extending. A verbal report will be enough, and I expect to see you between six and six-thirty every evening.”

“Yes, sir,” I said, pretending seriousness, and that made him laugh.

“Keep in mind I’m still your superior officer, Thalessi,” he said, “and you’re to show respect.” He smiled at me to show he wasn’t entirely serious. Which is to say, I know he believes respect is key to good discipline, but he’s not so stiff as to have no sense of humor.

“I certainly intend to, but you should keep in mind I’m not military and I don’t always know how to be properly respectful,” I said in the same light tone.

“I’ll let you know if you overstep,” he said, still smiling, and rose to indicate the meal, and the meeting, was over. And now I truly am exhausted. I wonder what I’d be doing if I were with Cederic instead of here in Venetry. Not sleeping alone, for one.