29-30 Storis, 1138
I didn’t think I’d sleep after Bran left and the lock clicked, but once I turned the paste into slime, combed it into place and let it dry into a crisp approximation of a young man’s style, whatever had sustained me in getting here gave up. In fact, Bran was logically right — there was no reason anyone would look for me in his room, unless the Guard suspected my true crimes. Arson, murder, mutilating a corpse, flight from questioning, obstructing justice. At least. Despite those thoughts, my mind abdicated the moment I was flat. It wasn’t sleep so much as unconsciousness; restorative, it wasn’t.
I was absolutely relying on luck, rather than planning or logic, and the fact that Galantier is a village, despite a half-million people and square milliae. Now that I thought about it, since Telia was Ethene’s protégé, she probably referred Bran to me. It wasn’t coincidence, but the very nature of our interconnected society. I’d seen it work in the Curia, and in the legal profession in Cimenarum; such nets of people exist everywhere.
I woke when the door opened, but it admitted Bran, alone. He carried a tray, and though he looked weary and wary, his first words relieved me. “The Guard just left after sealing your rooms. I overheard them speaking to Telia. Since you can’t be found, they assume you were inside. Your office exploded. They said heat builds up inside and… boom. The embers were still burning when they left to come here, but they wanted your kin. Telia told them to contact Lady Ethene, so they’ve sent a boat downriver — the flash-station is out.”
“Was anyone hurt?” I asked.
“Not that I heard, save Avah, of course. They’re notifying her father. They didn’t leave a Guard here; they believe you died.”
I shouldn’t have felt relieved — this would torture Ethene and Ragin — but I did. This meant I had a chance. Grief and terror hadn’t precisely abandoned me, but they stepped aside for the moment. They’d follow me, and I didn’t doubt I’d fall to pieces the moment I felt safe, but for now, I could put them aside. I mourn with my labor. For the living and the dead. “Thank you.” With relief came hunger.
My pocket clock said — amazingly — an hour to midnight, not the depths of the morning as I expected. My office must have burned very fast if the Guard was willing to declare the scene complete already. “Did the Guard say anything about how the fire started?”
“No,” he said, putting the tray down and beckoning me to join him at the desk. “I got the impression the Archilians handle fire investigations here, and they’ll look for bodies, but… I also got the impression the Guard didn’t expect they’d find anything.”
Well, no. Not after an explosion. The tray held a large bowl of barley dove soup, beef wrapped in pastry, bread, butter, roasted roots and a generous portion of cassia cake. “I feel horrible saying that’s good, but… it really is.”
“Ayuh and don’t feel bad about it. You got a rotten hand, but you’re playing it pretty well.”
“I’ve a good partner across the table,” I said. “Saying thank you feels entirely inadequate, but you’ve my gratitude.”
He shrugged sheepishly. “You’re not the first person I’ve helped hide,” he said. “And knowing me, you won’t be last, either. I’ve got part of a plan, and another question. Disappearing doesn’t mean you’re just leaving the country to… your cousin?”
I shook my head, and accepted the eating sticks he offered. I didn’t want to eat all of his meal, and while it seemed large enough for two, I wasn’t entirely sure. “Just the opposite, but I shan’t tell you more, because I don’t want you at risk.”
He paused, his spoon halfway to his mouth. “Already am. Fine, for now, but when I get you home, you must tell us everything, right back to the beginning of the world, just the once. That’s as much to protect us as you — we’ll need to know what to look for, too.”
I lost my appetite. “What you don’t know can’t be read from your mind,” I said.
“Perceptives an’t thick on the ground up here,” he said. “You and maybe a couple at Archilavast. Let us worry about that. We know the territory better than you.”
That was the hells of it — everyone knows every territory better than me. In my world, every third person is a Perceptive or an Impath. That’s what I get for being surrounded by Advocates for the past twenty years. “What’s your plan?”
“What was yours, if I’d just let you use my door and sent you on?”
I could be honest, since the plan was abandoned. “Beg shelter from Teregenia Silvalt for a few tendays — I’ve something she wants.”
He eyed me speculatively. “You don’t know the Uplands well, do you? Even if you got there — which you wouldn’t, the Silvalt roads are awash by now — Silvalt might look secure, but it an’t. Not enough people, and most people gossip. Not maliciously, but when they’ve nothing else to occupy themselves, they talk. She couldn’t keep you hidden. Mine’s better, then. We take the morning canal boat to Reva, then overland. You good for a long walk?”
I nodded. “How long?”
“I an’t gonna say now, for the same reasons you won’t tell me — should you get captured between here and Reva — not that it’s likely, but everything’s possible — I’ve got people to protect, too. Not short.”
I understood that. A long walk from Reva, however, had to mean the Foreti, and deep in, too. Reva is on the far north end of Thesanal — moderate Progressive — and hardly more than a wide spot in the Tynel. It’s the absolute last place a canal boat can go on the river until we manage to settle the Foreti borderlands and build another canal; the Tynel is all shallows and falls above Reva as far as it has been mapped, and that only thirty or forty milliae. There are trees up there, but no way to get them down to where they’re wanted. Thus do we rely on Silvalt and the silvagreves in the southern Argenta range for wood. “I’ve managed forty milliae in a day before,” I said. Some of Da’s tramps down on Monserat had been that long. True, they had been summer tramps, but unless we were breaking snow trails, a winter tramp isn’t much harder, and last I’d seen in the broadsheets, Reva hadn’t got snow yet. Unless they got this storm, too.
He nodded. “I thought I recalled that. Tomorrow, you stick behind me, keep your head down, like you’re shy, and don’t talk. I can disguise your face, but you’ve got a woman’s voice and you’re too tall to be too young for it to have changed. We shouldn’t have to talk much.”
We’d finished the meal, and he looked half-dead. Also, fear wafted from him and I’d stolen his bed and bathry. “Your turn for restoratives, I think,” I said.
“You’re all right for a few minutes alone?” he asked.
I nodded. “After about the third assassination attempt, they become almost routine.” Indeed I recognized these feelings as old, unwelcome acquaintances. Part of me would happily give up all of Galantier for a life in which I never felt this looming dread again. After all, I’d lost Galantier already, and the dread hadn’t gone.
He winced. “You’re still breathing. Tomorrow always comes, if you let it.”
“Yes, so I fear,” I said dryly.
While he bathed, I repacked the ruck he’d brought. He’d gotten my needed books, plus the little journal of poems. I left it out. I couldn’t quite yet write, but if I wasn’t going to panic when I jumped his wall in the morning, I needed to write. The sound of rain on the windows and my heartbeat and the sheer miracle of feeling my blood course through my body compounded in a fierce, frightening joy to be alive, and the pain of loss and terror felt equally welcome. The first line came to me then — Pain, my old friend, reminds me I live. It brought tears of guilt and shame because this feeling, so glorious and joyful, had been bought so dearly.
As I stood there, weeping into my hands, I realized I hadn’t used the Advocate’s mindset in… hours. Not since… After my bottles all broke. This numbness was… mine, natural. And the pain, and joy and relief and gratitude. I probably wasn’t thinking clearly, but in that moment, I never again wanted to be numb for no reason save my convenience, and I never again wanted to miss feeling. If I’ve broken entirely with my former life — and being dead, I rather have — let this be the moment when I clear the slate.
Bran returned, dressed to sleep, and placed a gentle hand on my back. I still needed to write, but earlier, he had whistled for me a song he’d once sung. That song had preceded another that resonated so strongly in me I’ve never forgotten it, though I only heard it once. With the comfort of his touch, I inhaled hard, pulling all of the puissance I could gather, and went deep inside myself. There, I found the tiny variation in the channel that separated my abuse of the Advocate’s calm from the memory, and I forced all of that puissance into it.
The channel burst in a firestorm of pain inside my head that lasted seconds or eternities. But when it was done, it was done. I’d never again be able to block myself from myself. I felt like a poppy paste addict breaking his pipe, except I couldn’t buy another channel. Once it’s gone, a channel can’t be recreated.
“Rien?” he asked. He put a kerchief in my hand. When I didn’t move, I felt him dab at my nose. I’d caused a nosebleed. Darav wouldn’t approve my method, but it worked and the damage was done.
“Do you remember the song about faceless justice?” I asked tentatively as I took the cloth.
He pushed me gently to the edge of the bed, made me sit and tilt my head forward. He sat beside me and stroked my upper back in soft, calming circles. “I didn’t sing that one,” he said, “but I do play it from time to time.” Then he began to sing it softly, and something in it started to heal a fragment of my soul.
I should be dead and I’m not and dear gods and goddesses, I am glad. And I would give everything to have Avah breathing beside me.