I’m guessing you knew the desecrator would be there, and just didn’t tell me because, well, for your own reasons.
Sorry, sorry. In order, then. From the beginning?
You were the one who said sarcasm was—Yes, m’lady.
It was several days ago that you sent me—Barlen’s balls. All right.
It was early in the morning of the third day of the month of the Phoenix in the 230th year of the Reign of Her Glorious Majesty Zerika the Fourth that you sent me to meet the desecrator. Well, sorry! You sent me to the place where I ended up meeting the desecrator. Is that better? I don’t know what you know. That’s kind of funny when you—okay, I’ll just say that I left Dzur Mountain on the third day of the month of the Phoenix in the 230th year, all right?
I had to walk a long way, and there was still snow on the ground; deep snow at the top. It was cold. No, that is not a complaint, it is a detail. You said I was to include details of what I was feeling and—thank you.
As I walked, I thought about the mission you’d given me and how I would carry it . . .
Okay, I won’t lie. I thought about how cold I was, and how annoying it was to have to walk. My sword was light on my back, but the cross guard kept smacking the back of my head when I climbed down off rocks. I tried to adjust it, but couldn’t find a position that worked.
Eventually I made it down the mountain and found the cottage of a Teckla family. They groveled and all that. I identified myself properly, as Lord Telnan, House of the Dzur, and said I would be spending the night. They didn’t have a problem with it. They had a lot of kids—I could never quite count them—who were all too loud. The mother didn’t even seem to notice the noise. Every time she’d slap a spoonful of pulped tubers on a plate, she’d make some remark, like “grow those bones,” or “this will make your hair curly,” or “you need more muscles.” She was one of those laughing, happy peasants that you hear about but never actually meet. Now I’ve met one. It wasn’t as big a thrill as you might think. I got some sleep on a lumpy bed while they slept on the floor next to the hearth, and I paid them half an imperial for their trouble, and I didn’t kill any of them.
Do I really need to give you every day? It isn’t like anything happened.
All right, all right.
Your rules were: no teleporting, no magic, no Imperial conveyances until I reached Adrilankha, so I got a ride on an oxcart from another peasant, a young one. He wasn’t interested in conversation; just grunting in response to whatever I said. But he was willing to take a few coins in exchange for letting me stay in his cottage that night. He lived alone.
The next day I walked as far as the inn in Yalata, and slept in a real bed.
My next ride was on a wagon drawn by a pair of oxen. This was from a merchant, a Jhegaala. When he finished groveling and shaking, he got talkative: he chattered about exchange rates, and margins, whatever they are, and quantity discounts, and how changes in the weather and major events can affect sales. It was annoying, but he’d given me a ride, so it would have been rude to disembowel him. He brought me all the way to the city.
You never indicated there was any hurry, so I spent three days in Adrilankha, enjoying civilization. When I sobered up and recovered enough to feel like I could teleport, I used the location you gave me and arrived in Lansord an hour after dawn.
Have you ever been to Lansord, Sethra? There’s not much to it: a speaker’s house, two silos, a store. There’s no physicker closer than Bringan, ten miles to the east. I saw two old men and an old woman, none of whom gave me so much as a glance.
The ground rises steadily as you look west, to the foothills of the Kanefthali Mountains. Mount Durilai is closest; as you start west it rises over your head; I’d have liked to climb it. Maybe I’ll go back someday and do that. Sometime when there’s less snow.
I found the path where you said I would—a rock forming a tunnel, two flat, slanted, man-sized boulders inside it like teeth, with a wide man path to the right, and a narrow animal path to the left. I went left and followed it for a day. I slept outside. I don’t care for that.
The next morning I ate bread and cheese, and washed up a bit in a stream. It was very cold.
It was around mid-morning when I found the cave, hidden by a profusion of calia. I pushed the bushes aside and went through, giving myself the first wounds of the day. There, see the back of my hand? And here, on my cheek.
The cave was dark. I did a light spell; just a dim one. The place was just wide enough for my arms, and I couldn’t see the back. I brightened the spell a bit, and still couldn’t see the back. I checked my sword and my dagger, and started in, the spell illuminating twenty feet ahead.
The cave went pretty deep into the mountain. If I’d thought to set a trace-point I could tell you exactly how far, which I’m sure would make you happy. But I was walking for more than two hours, and the thing just continued. As you said, from time to time there were side passages, more as I went deeper. But it was never hard to determine the main line and stay on it. I figured out that, in spite of how rough and jagged and uneven the walls, floor, and ceiling were, it had been deliberately dug out. But it was old. Really, really old. Maybe as old as—um, as really old things.
Then it ended, just like that; and that’s where the desecrator was waiting.
Okay, well, I shouldn’t say he was waiting. He’d obviously been doing something, and he looked up when he saw my light or heard my footsteps.
He had his own light spell—brighter, but a smaller area. The combinations of the two spells made it look like he was emitting a glow. He was about my height, and wore all black. No question of his House: the dark complexion, the narrow eyes, the nose, all said Hawk.
He said, “Who are you?”
I very, very badly wanted to say Zungaron Lavode, but I was good. I said, “Telnan of Ranler. And you?”
“What are you doing here?”
“An honor to meet you, my lord What-are-you-doing-here.”
“Hmmm? Oh, no, that isn’t my name. I was asking.”
I had no idea how to reply to that, so I just waited. So did he. Eventually he cleared his throat and said, “What did you say you’re doing here?”
“I didn’t. I asked you your name.”
“How do you do? What are you doing here?”
“Me?” he said.
I almost said, “No, the other guy,” but I knew you wanted me back this year, so I said, “Yes.”
“I’m a desecrator.”
“Oh. What are you desecrating?”
“This is an abandoned Serioli dwelling that goes back to the Second Cycle. I’ve found the remains of prayer spinners, smith tools, pottery, weapons, and I just discovered this.”
He held out what seemed to be a piece of shapeless dull metal about half the size of his palm.
“What’s that?” I said.
“Um.” He put it away, took out a small notebook, consulted it, and said, “Unidentified metal object SI-089161-44B-79.”
“That’s what I thought it was,” I said.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m on a mission from Sethra Lavode.”
“You do like to jest, don’t you?”
“I suppose I do. I’m here looking for something I lost.”
“I’ll know it when I see it.”
“This is my site, Telnan.”
“On whose authority?”
“Ah. Yes. Well. I don’t believe they have any actual, you know, official authority.”
“Oh.” He considered. “We could fight.”
“I’m good with that,” I said.
He tilted his head and looked at me as if I were an odd relic he had found at his site. It occurred to me then that his weaponless state might mean he didn’t need weapons. This, I started thinking, could be fun.
I reached behind my neck for my sword, wrapped my hand around the hilt, and wondered why I had lost interest in drawing it. I stood there for a moment. Daymar still had that same look on his face.
“That,” I said, “isn’t fair.”
“Sorry,” he said.
I tried again to want to draw my weapon, and I couldn’t. I thought about an amulet that I needed to start wearing, just as soon as I could figure out how to craft it. Which reminds me, Sethra; can you tell me how to—
“Another idea,” he said, “would be for you to tell me what you’re after.”
“If you have such control over my mind, why don’t you make me tell you?”
“Causing someone to do something against his will is considerably more difficult than sapping his will to do something. Also, it wouldn’t be polite.”
I hesitated, started to speak, then wondered if he was making me do it after all.
“I’m not,” he said.
Was he reading my mind?
“Only surface thoughts. You’re well protected. Oh, very nice. Now I’m not getting those. Where did you learn to do that?”
After a moment he said, “You weren’t jesting, then.”
“I see.” He frowned. “You’re her apprentice?”
“Not exactly. She’s teaching me some things.”
“Her own reasons.”
“You never asked her why she’s teaching you?”
“Yes, in fact, I did.”
“What did she say?”
“To further her plot to destroy the Empire.”
“Oh.” He considered. “Now you’re jesting, right?”
“No, but I’m pretty sure she was.”