Warbreaker Prime: Mythwalker Chapter Eighteen
Now she didn’t have that option. If she acted out, the priests would grow suspicious—they were probably already suspicious. It would be easy for one of them to ask some uncomfortable questions—questions that Vvenna would have known from her studies, but Siri wouldn’t be able to answer.
And so she studied furiously. The possibility of her execution provided incredible motivation. Where her mind had once wandered flightily, she now kept it focused. She wasn’t an incredibly quick learner, but she was stubborn enough for ten women. And, in her experience, learning had about as much to do with tenacity as it did with wits.
She memorized the things Vvenna would have known, trying to make up for a lifetime of studies. She memorized the proper responses to courtly situations, repeating them over and over in her head until she could speak them without hesitance. She learned how deeply the various Sept members were required to bow to her. And, most importantly, she studied theology, learning which actions earned Ssu and which brought Ki-Ssu instead. She didn’t care about Ssu—she never had. However, in order to play Vvenna, she would have to be certain to keep herself from making major mistakes.
Of course, no matter how much she learned, her nightly visits to the Emperor still left her baffled. Why didn’t he do anything? Siri felt the Emperor’s eyes bearing down on her as she knelt before him. He never looked away—he just stared at her all night, his pallid face completely void of life.
In a way, Siri was glad for the studies. She quickly learned that the most horrid part of her new life was its forced inactivity. She couldn’t leave the palace—couldn’t even leave her quarters without causing a stir in the palace’s Kkoloss servants. When she did leave, she was first required to undergo the ministrations of her handmaidens—even if she had already been bathed and dressed once that day. It was a formality, she learned from her studies—the Vessel had to be cleansed before entering the outside world.
The bathing process took over an hour, and she was required to let the handmaidens do it. She couldn’t even brush her own hair, something she’d always forced her attendants to let her do. Any break from tradition would arouse suspicion. As a result, Siri spent most of her days idly, sitting and letting others care for her. Things she had once enjoyed—horserides in the hills outside of the Holy City, lunches on the decks of her mansion, time spent visiting other members of court—were forbidden to her now.
She would have gone mad if it weren’t for the studies. She found if her mind was full of the things she had read, the hours of bathing and sitting were far more tolerable. The best part was, her studies weren’t suspicious at all. Slels and the servants seemed to expect it of her—in order to be the perfect Vessel, she needed to understand her role in Kkoloss society. If she had been Vvenna, she would have spent her entire life studying, and so continuing to do so made perfect sense.
In fact, now that she was committed to her studies, the days seemed to pass more quickly. Of course, part of that was because she slept during the days now. Those first few nights of restless waiting before the Emperor had left her so exhausted that she had begun falling asleep during the day. She no longer slept on the floor of the Emperor’s bedchamber—she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. So, instead, she knelt before him all night, maintaining the difficult position despite her discomfort.
Siri’s eyes flickered up at the man. He sat, like always, upright in his bed, staring down at her. She knew it was just her mind, but for some reason the darkness in the bedchamber seemed to have grown even blacker since her arrival in the palace. Even now the shadows seemed to seep around the Emperor, flowing like an amorphous black liquid at the edges of her vision. Almost like the old folk tales of Eruntu pagan magic and the Living Night.
The Emperor watched her. Silent, still, harsh. The best Siri could figure, watching her gave him some sort of twisted pleasure. He knew that he could demand her body at any time he wanted. Instead, he waited, watching her lay prostrate before him, glorying in his overwhelming domination and her submissiveness. He made her anticipate and ponder what he would do to her, made her wonder when he would actually demand that she perform her duties. He was the absolute authority in Kkorimar.
Siri resisted the urge to grind her teeth in frustration. Instead, she looked away from the Emperor’s dispassionately smug form, staring again at the dark Amberite floor a few inches from her face. The Emperor represented everything she hated about Kkoloss society. He was all that she had defied, all that she had ignored, and all that she had purposefully spited. And now she had given into him. She lay, acquiescent on the ground, awaiting his pleasure.
He doesn’t deserve this, Siri thought bitterly. Suddenly, she felt like she was betraying herself. She knew she had to act like Vvenna, she knew she had to maintain Posture or be killed, but the rebellious nature that still crouched within her demanded that she at least show a little bit of herself. Show some sort of defiance to this one man who had never been defied before.
And so, acting with the impulsiveness that had always been part of her nature, Siri sat up.
It was a small act—almost inconsequential. However, its ramifications were great, and Siri immediately cursed herself for a fool. The Emperor was the one person she couldn’t afford to annoy. By breaking Posture before him, she proved that she wasn’t really Vvenna—that she wasn’t a worthy Vessel.
Siri sat, chagrined. However, now that she’d acted, she couldn’t back down. Her back sighed in relief, her muscles relaxing. Once, she would have considered sitting upright uncomfortable, and would have wished for a chair. Compared to the crouching bow, however, the simple posture was a blissful paradise.
But what would he do? Siri regarded the Emperor, staring him in the eyes and trying to mask her emotions like a proper Kkoloss woman. He could order her executed on a whim, or have her Sept stripped away from her, removing her royal status and her Kkell power.
The Emperor didn’t move.
What if it was all a test? Siri wondered. What if he was waiting to see if I would maintain posture long enough. What if he wanted to make certain I was the perfect Vessel? Would he now reject her? Would he order the priesthood to find him another bride? One a little more willing, one not so impetuous?
He just continued to sit. So, therefore, did Siri, her mind full of questions. Hours passed, Siri sitting stiffly, the Emperor watching her. At the crack of dawn, he moved, slipping out of the bed and walking to the door—just as was his custom. The door opened—the Emperor couldn’t be expected to open his own door—and stepped outside, where his servants waited. The door closed, leaving Siri alone with her worries.
At Hine’s suggestion, Devin passed cooking duties onto another member of the camp. The old warrior had explained that while cooking had earned him a place in the camp, as leader he now had to remove himself from such mundane activities. Devin had balked slightly—if he had earned their respect as a cook, why couldn’t he maintain it that way? However, he eventually gave in—partially because he knew Hine was far more experienced, and partially because he was growing far too busy to worry about cooking three meals a day.
Devin walked through the camp, checking on the new tents, Hine walking on his side. They had discovered an extensive stash of Amberite coins in Quin’s tent—apparently, most of what the Kkoloss had given to the camp had stayed in its leader’s possession. The money had been enough for resuplying as well as some careful purchases—some new tents and some whetstones and oils for the men’s weapons and armor.
It had all been purchased through some ‘acquaintances’ of Voko’s in the Holy City. Hopefully, it would be enough to keep the camp running until Devin could find a way to make money. Though Voko and Ralan were in favor of continuing the bandit raids, Devin wanted to avoid them. The skirmishes cost far too much in the way of lives in exchange for far too little a reward.
When Devin passed, men stood a little straighter. They didn’t salute—this wasn’t the military—but they did seem to want to impress him.
“It’s like they’ve forgotten that a couple of weeks ago I was their cook,” Devin complained quietly to Hine.
“Deal with it,” was Hine’s simple reply. “You’re the leader now. It’s a horrible job, but better you than someone like Quin.”
Devin sighed. How had he let himself get into such a situation?
The tents looked good. The old ones could be used to provide materials for patching, should the need arrive, and the sharp look of the tents went a long way toward improving the rebels’ morale. The dwellings were new and clean, and a lot of the men were responding by straightening up their own attire. Devin had lost a few of them after the change in leadership, but most had stayed. They walked prouder, looked prouder, now that they had a sense that they were fighting for something more than just their next meal.
Of course, ‘fighting’ wasn’t yet the proper word. Since Devin’s acquisition of the camp, there had been no raids. Instead, the men’s time had been spent training with Ralan and Hine—as well as working on a few of Devin’s own personal projects.
He strolled past the tents, looking over the rest of the camp. A short distance away, Ix was fixing lunch. The shadowling had been eager to take Devin’s place as cook—he had seen the acceptance the position had earned Devin, and acceptance was what the creature seemed to desire most.
True to his words, Ix had awakened precisely four days after his wounding. He now wore a lose vest and trousers, and through the vest Devin could see the handspan-long scar in the direct center of his chest. When Ix woke up, he had taken off his bandages and acted like nothing had happened. Devin had forbidden the rest of the camp to tell the shadowling that no human could have survived a wound such as his—Devin had a feeling that if Ix knew, he would apologize for his mistake, then promptly fall over dead.
Even after two weeks, the men still stepped lightly around Ix. They, like Devin, had been a little shocked to see Ix survive such a blow. Until that moment, Ix had been strange, but no one had really believed that he was supernatural. It was one thing to call someone a shadowling; it was quite another to see one’s theories proven. Devin suspected that the creature would never quite be able to find the acceptance he so soundly desired—even Devin himself couldn’t help being a little suspicious. Ix stubbornly refused to answer any questions relating to Living Night or the Demon God, explaining that he—like most humans—didn’t believe in such nonsense. The secrets Ix must be hiding worried Devin.
However, the camp knew that Ix had saved Devin’s life, and for that they left him alone. They might regard him with suspicion, they might mutter prayers or oaths when he tried to speak with them, but they let him remain. Devin had worried that they wouldn’t eat Ix’s food. However, when after a few days no one had suffered any adverse effects from the food, even the most firm skeptics had relented and begun eating Ix’s meals.
“Looks good,” Hine approved, nodding toward the camp.
“It is an improvement,” Devin agreed, turning away from Ix. “Have the scouts come back yet?”
“Den and Selle got back about ten minutes ago,” Hine said. “Voko and Ralan are still out.”
Devin nodded. He had begun sending scouts to investigate the forest. He wanted to find a better place for the camp—as it was, they had just picked a place that was reasonably close to a source of water. Devin wanted a defensible location—a place near some caves, perhaps, where they could escape if needed. The men would grumble at the move, of course, but Devin didn’t like being out in the open.
The scouts had another purpose as well—to search for other bandit camps. There were supposed to be as many as a dozen of them in the forest, and Devin wanted to know where each one was and how many people it had. The bandits could be both potential allies and potential liabilities.
“Hess,” Hine whispered. “Look at that!”
Hine stood beside him; the warrior’s eyes were turned skyward, and Devin followed his gaze, looking through the open clearing top. Hundreds of shimmering blue specks were swimming through the sky above the trees. They were like a flock of birds, only they flew far more slowly and flew more closely together. The lills moved almost randomly, shifting direction en mass, like a shifting wave of life.
“Just as if they were a real school of fish,” Hine mumbled.
“Except for the flying part,” Devin added.
Hine smiled, nodding his agreement.
The two continued their rounds. As they did, Devin noticed a familiar form sitting on a rock at the edge of the camp. The lanky Skeer still acted like he usually did—bursting with enthusiasm—but he seemed a little more withdrawn lately. He spent a lot of his time just sitting and watching the camp.
Hine noticed Devin’s scrutiny. “Perhaps you should go talk to him,” the older man noted.
Devin frowned. “I’ve tried, Hine,” he said. “He just pretends that there’s nothing wrong.”
Hine didn’t give a response. He just watched Devin quietly.
Devin sighed. “All right,” he said. “I’ll try again.”
Skeer looked up as Devin approached, a forced smile coming to his lips. “Hess’s blessing, Devin,” he said. Hine stopped a respectful distance away, within hearing range but not obtrusively so.
“Hess’s blessing, Skeer,” Devin said, taking an uncomfortable seat on the rock beside Skeer. “How are you?”
Skeer shrugged. “Not bad.”
Devin turned eyes over the camp. Ix was ringing the lunch chime, drawing men from their practices to come and eat. Devin watched them with approval. “They look good,” he said. “Your dream is finally coming true, Skeer. Your rebellion is growing.”
Skeer nodded silently.
“You’ve done well with them, Skeer,” Devin approved.
Skeer sat for a moment. Then he sighed, leaning back. “We don’t have to play this game anymore, Devin,” he said quietly.
Devin paused. “Game?” he asked.
Skeer nodded. “They aren’t my men, Devin,” he said. “This isn’t my rebellion. It never was.”
Devin sat back, not certain how to respond. A part of him was relieved to hear those words from Skeer—he had always suspected that the lanky man wasn’t quite as dense as he first seemed.
“I tried,” Skeer continued quietly. “Oh Hess, how I tried. I let Quin call me leader, but I knew he was really the one who made the decisions. I tried to lead them, Devin, I really did. I tried everything I could think of.”
Skeer turned toward him, looking at Devin with emotional eyes. “Why wouldn’t they follow me, Devin?” he asked. “I thought my ideas were good, but everyone always laughed at them. I tried to get them excited, I tried to show them how I felt. It never worked. No matter how enthusiastic I was, they always ignored me.”
“I’m not sure why, Skeer,” Devin answered honestly. “I think they respect you, though—even if they do laugh at you once in a while. You have vitality.”
“That’s all I’ve ever had,” Skeer said, turning his eyes back toward the camp. “I don’t pick up on things very quickly, Devin. Other men are far more intelligent than I—I know that. All I have is my passion. That wasn’t enough, I guess.” Skeer paused. “Of course,” he continued, “they followed you almost immediately.”
Devin looked down guiltily. “I don’t deserve it, Skeer.”
“Sure you do,” he objected. “I’m not jealous, Devin. You deserve to be in charge—even I want to follow you. I saw what you did to Quin, and what you’ve done for this camp. You’ve accomplished what I never could. You took thieves, and you made rebels out of them.”
“You brought me here, Skeer,” Devin pointed out.
Skeer shrugged. “I suppose,” he agreed. “If I hadn’t rescued you all from the dungeons, this never would have happened, would it?”
“Never,” Devin agreed. “Quin would still be in charge.”
Skeer brightened slightly. “Well, that’s something, I suppose. I was something of a trailblazer.”
Devin smiled. “That you were. You prepared them, Skeer. It’s because of you that the rebellion started. I, for one, am proud to have you in the camp.”
Skeer clasped him on the shoulder. He was still reserved, but he did look a little more optimistic. “Thanks, Devin,” he said. “But I suppose I should go oversee lunch. If I’m going to be your second in command, I’ll need to keep an eye on the men.” With that, Skeer scuttled off the rock and moved over toward the firepit, calling to several of the men.
Devin paused. “Did I miss something?” he asked of Hine, who had been standing a short distance away. “I don’t recall making him my second in command.”
Hine shrugged. “I don’t recall him saving us from the dungeons, either,” he pointed out.
Devin smiled to himself, shaking his head. “Oh well,” he mumbled. “I suppose he won’t be able to do much harm. Come on, let’s get something to eat.”
Hine nodded in agreement.
“Ho, Devin!” a voice called as Devin rose. He turned, noting as a familiar squat form stepped into camp, followed by the taller Ralan.
“Ho, Voko,” Devin said with a smile, waving the shorter man over. Voko carried a large pack on his back—he’d been scouting in the direction of the city, and Devin had asked him to pick up a few things with the remainder of their funds. “How went it?”
Voko held up a large sheet of paper scribbled with lines and diagrams. Over the last few weeks, Devin had sent numerous groups out scouting, but their findings had only led to rough sketches of the land. Voko’s job was to go over those lands again and draw a more detailed map. As the short man approached, Devin noted that he had given the assignment to the right man. Voko’s map was far more detailed, and more legible, than those drawn by the other men. He noticed something else as Voko handed the paper to him—it was covered with scribbles.
“You can write?” Devin asked with surprise.
Voko shrugged. “It’s more common in the cities, Devin, even for Eruntu. You can’t?”
Devin shook his head.
“Well, we’ll fix that,” Voko said, pointing at the map. “That letter is called the ‘Sho.’”
Devin began to shake. Hine steadied him from behind as the seizure came upon him, and Voko took back the map lest Devin tear it.
“How about now, Dev?” Voko asked, handing back the map.
“Bandit Camp,” Devin read, looking at one of the marks a short distance from the city. He blinked in surprise; not at his ability—that he expected—but at the oddity of reading. It felt strange—his eyes focused on the symbols, but instead of looking like lines and dots, they became words in his mind.
Voko just shook his head. “That’s quite the power, your majesty,” he noted. “I took the wrong Kkell Oath, that’s for certain.”
Hine grunted, looking over the map. “All of the Kkell powers have their disadvantages, Voko,” he said. “I wouldn’t be wishing for another, if I were you. Your lust for power got you into trouble in the first place.”
“You have a point,” Voko agreed, unslinging his large, thin pack. “Of course, if I hadn’t taken the Oath, I wouldn’t have ended up here, would I? I’d never have had the privilege of seeing your lovely visage, Hine.”
Hine snorted as Devin accepted the pack eagerly. He untied the ends, pulling out a long thin piece of wood.
“Be careful with that,” Voko noted. “It was crafted by the finest fletcher in the Holy City. A friend of mine had several of them he needed to get rid of quickly.”
“You have a lot of ‘friends,’” Hine noted.
“I’m a popular man,” Voko said with a smiling shrug as Devin pulled out a quiver of arrows. “You know how to shoot one of those?”
“Not yet,” Devin replied. The only other item in the pack was a bundle of cloth about two handspans wide and one tall. “What about news, Voko? Did you find out what I asked?”
Voko nodded. “As far as anyone knows, Princess Vvenna was married to the Emperor over two weeks ago. Either we’ve got the wrong woman, or they found a double to take her place. Oh, and yes, King Sserin is definitely dead. They’re blaming it on us, of course—they say we killed him the night we snuck in to kidnap our fair princess.”
Devin shook his head. “Sarn,” he said. “He couldn’t wait to take over House leadership, and we gave him a good excuse.” Devin gritted his teeth—the Rebellion’s reputation for slaughter was going to be difficult to overcome.
“Anyway,” Devin said, sighing. He set aside the bow and arrows, picking up only the pack of cloth. “Thank you, Voko. You three go get something to eat; I’ll deliver this first.”
A knock came at Vvenna’s tent post. She paused, uncertain how to respond. How could she greet a visitor? She didn’t have handmaidens to stand with her, didn’t have an Eruntu escort to provide protection. The thoughts were silly, of course—she was in the rebellion camp. She would have thought that after two weeks in the camp, she would be used to the lack of normal conviences, but a lifetime of reinforcement was hard to deny. Every time someone knocked on the post—usually Devin—she went through a moment of anxiety at her lack of attendants.
“Um, can I come in?” Devin’s voice asked.
Vvenna composed herself, sitting upon the stool that was the tent’s only furniture. She wore a woolen shirt and skirt that the rebels had scrounged for her, one of only two sets of clothing she had. She sat primly, doing her best to maintain Posture. In a way, having the tent had allowed her to recapture a little bit of her Kkoloss formality. All she had to do was pretend that this Devin was a Guard captain, and that the tent was her receiving room. That wasn’t so hard. . . .
“Come,” she said quietly.
Devin pulled back the flap, and Vvenna blinked at the brightness outside the tent. The tall Eruntu boy was a stark silhouette against the light, and he was carrying something under his arm.
“Here,” he said, handing her the bundle. “I had one of the men get this for you in town.”
Vvenna paused. Fool, she told herself, you don’t have an attendant to accept it for you. Hesitantly, she reached out to take the bundle herself. She pulled aside the brown cloth wrapping, and was surprised to find red velvet underneath.
“It’s crude,” Devin said. “The dress of an Eruntu merchant’s wife, not Kkoloss finery. Still, it is better than what you have now.”
Vvenna ran her fingers across the velvet. “Thank you,” she said quietly, before she even thought about it. Then, immediately, she cursed herself. Kkoloss did not thank Eruntu. She never would have made such a mistake two weeks ago—was she losing her composure so quickly?
Devin didn’t wait for her dismissal—he was growing more and more confident lately, though he did still apologize far too much for one in charge. He turned to walk from the tent. He paused, however, as he pushed the flap back, turning his head toward her.
“Princess,” he said in his flawless Kkoloss, “if I may ask. What do you do in here all day?”
Vvenna paused. “I wait,” she said.
“For what?” Devin asked.
“For rescue,” Vvenna explained. “It is my place.”
Devin smiled slightly. “Of course. But doesn’t it get boring? Every time I come in, you’re just sitting there on your stool.”
“It is my place,” Vvenna said. “It has to do with duty and Ssu, Eruntu,” she explained.
“And you don’t get bored?” Devin prodded.
“It doesn’t matter,” Vvenna said. “I am the Vessel.”
Devin raised an eyebrow. “Well, why don’t you come outside, at least? You could be the Vessel sitting on this rock out here just as well as you can do it inside, and I’m certain the scenery will be more interesting.”
Vvenna didn’t respond. Didn’t he understand? She couldn’t break Posture so obviously.
Devin just sighed at her lack of response, stepping out and letting the flap fall back in place. Vvenna felt an uncharacteristic twinge of annoyance at his insolence. He acted as if he didn’t even understand how enormous a problem he had created by kidnapping the Vessel. The entire Holy City must be in an uproar—the eight Houses would all be searching for her, for the one who located her would win favor with the Emperor.
She sharply controlled her annoyance, however. He was just Eruntu. He was misguided—he saw imaginary problems, and, like was often the case, he sought to fix them with violent impulsiveness rather than by submitting to Hess’s will. She would actually be sorry to see what happened to him when the Kkoloss finally located her.
If they ever locate me. The rebellious thought popped into her head unbidden. She discarded it, but its damage was already done, and her worries resurfaced. What had happened to House Sserin? Why hadn’t they found her? King Dunn shouldn’t have let it go so long—each day they went without finding Vvenna would bring great shame and Ki-Ssu upon the entire House. They should have found her weeks ago.
But still she waited. She spent every day sitting on her stool, trying to forget she was being held in the middle of a forest surrounded by Eruntu. But each day she grew more nervous. She worried that something monumentous had happened—something to make them forget about her. What if the Emperor had grown sick? There wasn’t an heir, and such an event would cause a great stir amongst Kkoloss society. It was the only thing Vvenna could think of that would distract them from finding her—even the death of a king wouldn’t be as important as the loss of the Vessel.
Her stomach growled. Devin said he had trouble finding cleanfood for her to eat, though such was far more common on Shakall Hess than the mainland.
Suddenly, for some reason, she thought of Siri. How was her friend doing? Was she worried about Vvenna? She would probably be livid—Vvenna could even imagine her going before King Dunn to demand why Vvenna hadn’t been located. Such an impetuous, tactless action would be just like Siri. For some reason, the thought brought a smile to Vvenna’s mind, and nearly to her lips.
Where are they? Vvenna thought. How long will I be forced to endure this?
The bundle of cloth was soft in her hands. She unwrapped it slowly, pulling out the red dress. Devin was right—it was far less ornate than she was used to. Her handmaidens had worn dresses more beautiful. He was right in his second assumption as well—crude though it might be, the dress was far better than what she currently wore.
She pulled off her tan woolen clothing and began to put on the dress. It was an awkward experience—she had never dressed herself before two weeks ago. However, she had watched her handmaidens do it, and so she was eventually able to figure out how to do it on her own. The material felt soft and good on her skin, and it smelt faintly of perfumed powders the tailor must have sprinkled on the wrapping. The change, though a simple one, made an enormous difference to Vvenna.
She sat herself back on her stool, folding her hands in her lap. Why would he think that I was bored? she wondered. Doesn’t he understand Posture? Doesn’t he know that this was what I was trained to do? She could sit all day motionless on the stool—she had done similarly on her throne back in the city.
Her eyes flickered toward the tent flap. It stirred gently in the breeze, flashing hints of the light outside.
I am the Vessel. I must remain protected—I don’t even leave the palace unless it’s on the way to another palace. I don’t need to be entertained, or to ‘enjoy the scenery.’ I simply need to sit and wait, so that eventually I may do my duty. So that I may bring a new Emperor into the world.
The flap continued to blow. Despite her imperviousness to boredom, Vvenna did miss Siri. Though she had always chastised the girl for being too talkative, she had been Vvenna’s link to the real world. To the world outside the palace. Vvenna hadn’t needed to leave as long as she had Siri. She didn’t have Siri anymore.
He does have a point, though, doesn’t he? she thought. I can wait outside just as well, can’t I?
And, with a burst of impulsiveness that surprised even her, Vvenna stood and walked over to the flap. She paused just a moment before pushing out into the sunlight.
She blinked, trying to maintain Posture as the light assaulted her. Embarrassment flooded her as a tear ran down her cheek at the brightness, and she quickly wiped it away. The rock Devin had indicated sat right beside her tent. It was a large one, half as tall as a man, and Vvenna quickly moved over to it and sat down, placing her hands in her lap.
Though she maintained Posture, she regarded the world around her hostilely, and with a little fear. During the two days directly following her capture, she had been too stunned, too pained, and too worried to really look at the land she had been travelling through. Now, after two weeks in her tent, she was growing used to the idea of being captured. For the first time since she left the palace, Vvenna really looked at the forest around her.
The wind blew past her, ruffling her hair and her dress, feeling soft as the velvet she now wore. It brought with it dozens of scents Vvenna had smelt since entering the forest, none of which she could recognize. They were . . . lively scents. Scents of plants and animals, Vvenna assumed. There was also the smoke of the cookfire, as well as the occasional whiff of unwashed bodies from the men. Vvenna hated to think what she must smell like—as Vessel, she had been bathed once a day in scented waters. She didn’t dare ask Devin for a place to bathe, however—she didn’t trust the men of the camp.
The men sat before her, eating the midday meal, but Vvenna looked beyond them. As she regarded the world, a little of her fear slipped away, replaced by something more benign. Wonder.
She looked up at the trees. They stretched high into the air, like Amberite pillars, sunlight trickling between their branches and leaves. Beyond the sky was blue, the sun bright and powerful. The trees extended around her, each one a living statue. The colors were so . . . bright. She was used to the Sserin palace, where the Amberite gave everything a reddish tint.
Why didn’t I notice how beautiful this all was before? she wondered. The answer came immediately. Because you never saw it before.
She sat that way for a long while, staring at the trees, the light, the plants. She saw animals in the distance, mostly the odd fishlike creatures that swam in the air. They were so strange—she had never heard anyone mention them. Had they always been out in the forest, and Vvenna had just never heard about them before? Words couldn’t have conveyed most of what she was seeing, that was for certain.
The men went back to their duties, most training, others working on the camp, but Vvenna barely saw them. She was too busy looking, wondering, and experiencing. For the first time in her life, she let herself regret the title and position that had been forced upon her.