Sesskia’s Diary, part 186

1 Seresstine

A new start to a new month. I’d like to think it’s auspicious, but the King came to Fianna Manor first thing this morning, and he’s not an early riser so I was afraid he was going to tell everyone he’d changed his mind. But no, he wanted to see the mages who were staying behind perform their pouvrin and prove that I’d chosen the best for his the city’s defense. Since he has no way of knowing what “the best” would look like, it didn’t matter how good they were, but the truth is Jeddan and I divided the mages so each group had a balance of more- and less-experienced mages.

So the King watched the performance, and then he wanted to know why they didn’t have uniforms. He wanted them to wear special armor and surcoats with a distinctive emblem. We explained this was so they wouldn’t stand out for the enemy to target, at which point he got this petulant look on his face and said, “We’re not ashamed to use magic in this fight, Sesskia.”

“No, Honored, but the whole point of this strategy is to protect the mages,” I said.

“Soldiers wear uniforms. The mages are soldiers. I want everyone to know they’re unique,” the King said. “I’ve had uniforms designed for them and they will wear them.”

“All right, Honored,” I said. It’s too bad you can’t beat sense into royalty. I feel sorry for the King, as much as I can when I don’t have any idea what it’s like to rule a kingdom. Probably his fears are grounded in fact. But he doesn’t seem to trust his advisors, which tells me he’s alone, and that makes it hard to make good decisions. I wonder if he knows how everyone around him feels that he hasn’t ever married, or had children, or named an heir. Well, he’s the King, and the truth is that despite my feelings about him, I’ll still fight to protect him and Balaen.

We didn’t get far today, but Mattiak says he didn’t expect us to. It takes time to get an army moving, and striking camp took longer than usual because it had become semi-permanent and therefore had things that had to be packed up and left behind. That gave Jeddan and me time to shop for some more suitable clothes than the fine garb the King had presented us with. Even though Jeddan wasn’t leaving with the army, he was just as tired as I was of looking like some palace functionary’s idea of a mage, especially the silk shirts; they’re pretty and soft, but easily damaged, and Jeddan’s was scorched from where a mage’s fire whip had gotten out of control.

I’m not sure where the money came from, but since it’s ultimately from the kingdom’s treasury, I had no trouble accepting it. I bought nice, well-made shirts and trousers that were completely nondescript, as well as a gray wool coat with a hood lined with the fur of some animal I’d never seen before that even Jeddan couldn’t identify, and managed to pack it all up so I could carry it with me easily if it turned out I needed to run away. We said our goodbyes at the store so we didn’t have to do it with all those mages watching. I’m really going to miss him.

I didn’t realize how much like a small town an army camp is. Balaen may not have women soldiers, but there are women who follow the army, even a few wives, and they’re all as accustomed to the life as the men are. They have their own society and didn’t look as if they welcomed us, not because they’re afraid of mages (which many of them are, surprisingly) but because we’re of such different classes as far as the army is concerned. Not that we were looking to fraternize. The soldiers were willing to train with us, but now we’re on the road it’s clear they consider us somewhere between the non-commissioned officers and Mattiak’s general staff, and therefore off limits.

(This doesn’t stop some of the soldiers leering at our women, which is hard because I’ve told everyone not to use magic against our own men unless defending themselves against physical threat. I don’t want soldiers to start thinking of mages as evil or dangerous again.)

We have tents near the center of camp, and (to my surprise) servants to care for our belongings and make our meals. I told Mattiak we didn’t need to be waited on, and he said, “You’re expected to focus your efforts on being ready to fight, and that means not wasting time cooking or cleaning up. Just tell them not to take advantage of the service. These are soldiers, and they see this as contributing to the cause—don’t insult them.”

I have my own tent, which feels strange since the last tent I slept in was a two-man shelter little more than canvas draped over a couple of poles, and I was sharing it with Jeddan. It doesn’t have much more than a bed and a folding table and camp stool, where I’m writing this before lights-out.

to be continued…