Sesskia’s Diary, part 185

31 Nevrine, continued

I bowed to each person there, then left the manor and flitted to where everyone was practicing to talk to Jeddan. Then we cancelled practice and gathered everyone in the ballroom to explain what was happening. They knew how long the army had been waiting to march out, so they were all relieved it was finally happening, but when I got to the part about half of them staying behind, there was an uproar.

I let it go on for a minute or two—let them relieve their feelings—then said, “This is going to be hard, I know, but you need to remember the point is the defense of Balaen, and it doesn’t matter where you personally make that defense. Those of you who are staying behind have what I think is the more difficult task, because you have to stay ready to fight at all times, and that’s wearying and dangerous because you risk losing your edge. And those of you who are going will face bloodshed and possibly death. But I believe every one of you is ready for those challenges. So Jeddan and I are going to discuss it, and we’ll tell you our decision in the morning. The rest of the day is yours.”

The discussion about who to take and who to leave was intense, especially when we realized Jeddan was going to have to stay in Venetry to command those mages. He was not happy about that, but we both knew my extra pouvrin might become necessary, and that there was a chance I’d have to sneak into the God-Empress’s camp again—the spies are coming along more quickly than I’d anticipated, but they’re still amateurs. I’m not happy about it. I trust Jeddan with my life, and throughout all this we haven’t been separated, so it feels strange to know he won’t be there when the fight begins. So I’m even more furious with the King than I was this morning.

The rest of the discussion was just as difficult, because neither of us knew what criteria we should use for dividing our forces. Jeddan didn’t want me to take both Saemon and Hasseka, which might leave the defenders underpowered as far as the mind-moving pouvra went, but I argued that if the God-Empress’s mages were as experienced at the mind-moving th’an as Cederic’s abilities suggested, having that extra edge was worth the risk.

I showed Mattiak our decision at dinner and he suggested a few changes, but otherwise approved. He also wasn’t angry about the King’s decree, saying he was just glad the army was finally moving and at least would have some mages. “And you’ll be coming along, which relieves my mind,” he said with a smile. “I’d miss our conversations, and I think the mages need someone they trust to give them orders.”

“I think they trust you,” I said.

“They hardly know me,” he said. “You’re the one they look to. You’re a natural leader.”

I felt horribly uncomfortable. “I don’t think so,” I said.

“You only feel that way because staying in the shadows has kept you alive all these years,” he said. “You have a knack for getting people to listen to you and you can back that up with experience and talent. Use it. Don’t be afraid of it.”

I remembered threatening Norsselen and enjoying it. “I think it’s a dangerous ability,” I said.

Mattiak shrugged. “That’s up to you,” he said. Now, let’s talk about something else.” And he turned the conversation to the latest news from the east, which distracted me enough that I could finish eating. But I’m still thinking about what he said.

I don’t know if I’m a natural leader—I think he’s wrong about that. Even so, he’s right that the mages look to me, and I don’t feel awkward about that. Afraid, sometimes, that I’ll make the wrong decision—more afraid now that the wrong decision could get people killed—and worried I’ll use intimidation to achieve results that could be better reached through other means, but the idea of leading people doesn’t seem so unlikely anymore. It’s unexpected, and a little unnerving, because this is nothing like who I was before. And yet I can’t say that it isn’t me.

Enough introspection. I’m going to ask Nessan what he thinks we should do about the spies. Leaving any of them behind is pointless, because there won’t be an enemy to practice their skills on, unlike the others who can drill with the soldiers, but if I take them, I have to leave several of my warrior mages—ooh, I like that phrase, I think I’ll start calling them that—behind, which could weaken our attacks. He’ll have a better idea than I do of how necessary their skills will be to Balaen’s army.