Sesskia’s Diary, part 192

4 Seresstine, continued

Mattiak doesn’t snore, but I can tell the difference between someone who’s actually sleeping and someone who’s faking it, so I kept crawling until I was right next to the trunk, where I stopped to take a few deep breaths. I worked the see-inside pouvra and took a look at its contents. A note read BRING THIS BACK WHEN YOU’RE DONE.

It amused me so much I let out an incautious snort, and Mattiak stirred in his sleep, rolled over, and then sat up. I sat perfectly still as he looked around, then went to light the lamp and looked around again. I was running out of time. With the pocket watch in my left hand, I carefully slid my arm inside the trunk, not looking at Mattiak—I’ve written before that I think if I meet someone’s eyes, the pouvra won’t be able to conceal me against them. So I had no idea whether Mattiak had seen me or not, except if he had, he probably would have grabbed me.

Insubstantial, I couldn’t burrow between Mattiak’s neatly folded clothes to hide the watch, so the best I could do was open my hand and let the watch fall out of it, becoming substantial as it did. Whatever noise it made was muffled by the wood of the trunk and the clothing inside, and I carefully turned Nessan’s note insubstantial so it wouldn’t rustle and withdrew, a little too rapidly because I was starting to feel lightheaded.

Mattiak moved then, walking toward the tent flap, and I could only kneel there and pray he wouldn’t try to open the trunk, because he’d walk right into me. But he just stood there, so I quietly shifted toward the wall—and he swiftly turned and reached to grab me as I threw myself backward.

I scrambled to my feet and sidled along the edge of the tent where the snow hadn’t fallen so I wouldn’t leave footprints for him to follow. Seconds later he burst out of the tent and rounded the corner, scanning the ground for those footprints I wasn’t leaving, but I’d already reached the far end and was bolting through the camp back to where Nessan waited. I slapped the note into his hand with three minutes to spare.

“You weren’t spotted?” he said.

“Almost,” I said, “but what matters is I wasn’t caught.”

“You plan to tell the General it was you in his tent?” he said.

“I plan to make him believe it was his imagination,” I said. “I take it the spies are all safely asleep in their tents?”

“With plenty of witnesses to say they were there all night,” he said. “Nice work.”

“You don’t even know I put everything back correctly,” I said.

“Don’t have to,” he said. “If you’d failed, you’d have told me.” He started to walk away, then stopped. “Could you kill a man in cold blood?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Think about it,” he said. “You may have to.”

It felt as if he knew my secret ability, even though I know he doesn’t, no one does except Jeddan. I think Nessan isn’t training me to be a spy. I think he’s training me to be like him, and I’m certain Nessan wouldn’t think twice about assassinating someone. I feel even more of a stranger to myself than ever.

I couldn’t convince Mattiak it was his imagination, because he said, “My watch was missing, and now it’s back. Did you decide you couldn’t sell it easily, all the way out here?” He was smiling so I’d know it was a joke.

“Why would I steal from you?” I said, with calculated innocence.

“I’m sure you’d have some reason,” he said. “And someone was in my tent last night, I’d swear to it. Is that a habit your husband knows about?”

“What, sneaking into men’s tents? Which I would never do,” I said.

“I hope not,” he said. “You might give someone the wrong impression.”

That flustered me, and I had to change the subject, which he let me do with a look that said he knew I was doing it on purpose. I hope Mattiak doesn’t think I’m the kind of woman who’d go looking for male companionship just because she was missing her husband. Damn Nessan and his training exercises.

It was, in fact, a very long day of travel. By dinner time, Mattiak seemed to have forgotten last night’s incident and we talked as usual about our progress and where the invading army was. One of the army’s divisions has headed almost directly east and we’re getting messengers back, reporting on forests that weren’t there before and a lake they had to skirt, but no sign of an army passing. We’re continuing south tomorrow.