Warbreaker Prime: Mythwalker Chapter Twenty
The following is a draft chapter of Brandon’s unfinished novel Mythwalker from 2001. Brandon later repurposed some elements of this story into Warbreaker, Mistborn, and The Way of Kings.
Vvenna looked up to see the dark-skinned shadowling approaching. She suppressed a shiver. Though this strange forest world was becoming familiar to her, she knew that she would never be comfortable around the creature. She had read many of the old texts forbidden to those outside the priesthood; she knew the shadowling for what it was. A creature spawned from the Living Night itself, a servant of the demon god.
However, Posture was strict, and did not make exceptions for creatures of darkness. She would show it the same face she showed any that approached her. “Yes?” she replied.
The shadowling smiled in its deceptively innocent way. “Devin has asked me to come and fetch you, and as his friend I am willing to do as he asks, despite the fact that I find it slightly inconvenient—an emotion we humans often experience.”
“You want me to go with you?” Vvenna clarified, working through the creature’s twisted speech.
“Yes,” the shadowling replied.
Vvenna nodded, standing up from her rock and motioning for the creature to lead. Devin shouldn’t be able to summon her in such a way, of course—no one below the first Sept could make such demands of the Vessel. Vvenna didn’t give the oversight much heed—her situation being what it was, she couldn’t expect those around her to know and keep courtly tradition.
A part of her was amused by how unoffended she was. She knew the rules and traditions better than nearly any other, and her mind couldn’t help noticing every mistake and error. It was what she had been trained to do. Yet, at the same time, her training had desensitized her. There were so many little details and proscriptions that no one could possibly follow every one. On a given day, Vvenna had been able to pick out dozens of mistakes made by the Kkoloss around her. If she could forgive them, who were supposed to be near-perfect, why could she not do the same for one who had never received the proper training?
The shadowling led her to the camp’s largest tent, a meeting room of sorts. Devin often spent time inside of it speaking with his associates. The shadowling knocked on the post outside, and the large quiet Eruntu—Ralan—pushed back the cloth and let them in.
A rather large conference was happening inside. Devin was there, and so, therefore, was the older Hine. The odd-looking squat Voko was in attendance, as was the spindly Skeer. They sat on mats on the floor—furniture was a luxury in the forest. All eyes looked up as she and the shadowling entered.
Voko raised an eyebrow. “You invited your captive to listen to the ransom discussion?” he asked in Eruntu, his tone amused.
Devin shrugged, rising and gesturing for Vvenna to sit in the room’s only chair. He did make an effort to do what was proper, even if he had no comprehension of what true propriety was. Vvenna took the indicated seat and Devin sat himself back down.
“Why not invite her?” Devin replied to Voko. “She is, after all, directly involved.”
Voko just shook his head. “Dev,” he mumbled, “you have a lot to learn about this business.”
“Well, since I never intend to try this again, I guess that’s not a problem,” Devin said. Then he turned to the rest of the group. “King Sarn finally replied to our message today.”
Vvenna maintained posture, but her mind jumped in surprise. “King Sarn?” she asked in Kkoloss.
Devin paused. “No one told you, did they?” he realized, switching to Kkoloss. “King Dunn is dead. He was murdered the night we kidnapped you.”
“Murdered?” Vvenna asked. “Did you do it?”
“No,” Devin said defensively. “I promise you, it wasn’t us—no matter what Sarn is claiming.”
King Dunn. Dead? Vvenna thought to herself as the others continued talking. That could explain why it was taking them so long to get her back—a change in leadership could have slowed the rescue efforts. Except, it had been well over a month. It wouldn’t have taken Sarn that long to take control. Her royal-brother was not a lethargic person—he would have efficiently seized command as soon as he felt the Kkell leadership pass into his body. He had always been more capable than his father—much of what Dunn did had been instrumented by his eldest son.
But who killed him? Vvenna thought with confusion. An assassin from one of the other Houses? Such things were not unheard of, but they were seriously frowned upon. A Kkoloss found guilty of such an act would be shown no mercy by the priesthood.
“I still don’t like dealing with Sarn,” the gruff Hine mumbled. “He’s not trustworthy.”
“You think the Emperor is any better?” Voko asked.
Hine shrugged. “He can’t be worse.”
Vvenna listened to the comments with dissatisfaction. Why would they consider Sarn untrustworthy? He was Kkoloss—if he gave his word, he would keep it.
“From all accounts, the Emperor doesn’t know she’s gone,” Devin said. “If we approached him, he wouldn’t believe us.”
“He doesn’t know I’m gone?” Vvenna interrupted. “How could he not know that I have been kidnapped? What other excuse would they have for postponing the wedding?”
Devin looked up. “Um, they didn’t postpone the wedding, princess,” he informed.
Only years of practice kept the shock from showing on her face. “Explain,” she requested.
“They found a substitute for you,” Devin said, his honest face a little chagrined. “They married the Emperor to another woman in your place—though everyone says it is you.”
“Impossible,” Vvenna affirmed. “You are mistaken.”
Devin paused. “I don’t think I am,” he said slowly. “We’ve had several reports . . .”
“They are incorrect,” Vvenna affirmed. “Only the Vessel can marry the Emperor. A substitution, even a clandestine one, would be unthinkable. The Ki-Ssu for such a subterfuge would be enough to weigh down even a Kkoloss soul. No one would have tried such a thing.”
Devin didn’t look convinced. However, he shrugged and turned back to the group, who had watched the Kkoloss conversation. Like most Eruntu, they could understand Kkoloss, though they had never spoken it. “It doesn’t matter,” Devin continued in Eruntu. “We have to deal with Sarn, and it looks like he is willing to deal with us. The question is, what kind of deal do we want to make?”
“I don’t trust him,” Hine said. “I don’t like much saying it about a Kkoloss, but that man is rotten.”
“Agreed,” Voko said. “But as long as we have something he wants, we have leverage.”
“We should demand that he free the Eruntu!” the enthusiastic Skeer said. Vvenna still didn’t understand the tall Eruntu’s place in the group. The rest seemed discerning, if misguided. Skeer was just . . . unfathomable.
“We talked about this, Skeer,” Voko said with a sigh, leaning back on his cushion, staring up at the top of the tent. “We’re not slaves. How can he free us? What does that even mean?”
“Um,” Skeer said, obviously thinking through his demand for the first time. “We could make him give us Kkoloss titles. We could make Eruntu Septs and kings.”
Hine snorted, but Devin was the one to reply. “I don’t think that would solve much, Skeer,” he said. “Most of the people would still be in the same position, even if some Eruntu were elevated.”
“He couldn’t do it anyway,” Vvenna said. “Only the Emperor has that power, and even his authority is debatable in this situation.”
The room looked up at the comment. They seemed surprised that she would take part in the conversation.
“Your leader was right,” Vvenna said to them. “I have a large stake in this. If you are going to trade me to Sarn, then I want to make certain your demands are reasonable.”
They looked at one another, and Hine shrugged.
“All right,” Devin continued. “So what do we ask for?”
“We could always demand money,” Voko put in.
“And what would we do with it?” Devin asked.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Voko mused. “A few things come to mind. . . .”
“We’re not in this for wealth, Voko,” Devin.
“Maybe we could get him to give us some sort of asylum,” Hine suggested. “We’re in a fairly dangerous position as it is.”
“But what is the use of that?” Devin asked. “We weren’t in danger before we kidnapped her. We would have accomplished nothing.”
They continued to argue, Voko, Skeer, and Hine all throwing out suggestions. Vvenna watched the discussion with growing interest. Up until the moment she heard them argue, she hadn’t realized one important fact. These men had absolutely no idea what they were doing.
The concept was fascinating to her. Every part of her life, every moment, every action, and nearly every thought, had been planned out for her. Vvenna never did anything without understanding the consequences. She had assumed it was the same for these men—after all, kidnapping the Emperor’s betrothed was a daring, even foolish, move.
But now that they had her, they apparently didn’t quite know what to do with her. She had wondered why it was taking them so long to get their ransom. Now she understood.
She watched for a few more minutes, watching their comments with interest. It wasn’t just that they didn’t know what to demand in exchange for her—it was more. There was an underlying confusion, one that came from not truly understanding their purpose in life. That was one confusion Vvenna had never felt.
They continued to argue. If they keep on like this, I’ll never get out of here, Vvenna realized. It was time to take control of the situation.
“What are you doing?” Vvenna asked.
The conversation paused. “What do you mean?” Devin asked.
“What is your purpose?” Vvenna continued. “What do you want to accomplish?”
“We’re . . . rebels,” Voko said, sitting up. “We’re rebelling.”
“And what does that mean?” Vvenna prodded. “What is it that you are rebelling against? What is it that you want to change about society? What do you want to put in its place?”
Voko, Devin, Ralan, and Hine shared a look. Vvenna could see it in their eyes—understanding and chagrin. They were realizing just how formless their ideas were. They might look more collected than Skeer, but deep inside their motivations were just as incohesive.
“She’s right, you know,” Hine said with a grunt.
“We want to help the Eruntu,” Skeer said in response. “That is our goal.”
“Help them how?” Vvenna asked.
Devin sat, staring at the side of the tent thoughtfully. “When I was young,” he began in a quiet voice, “I wanted nothing more than to be in the Guard. I wasn’t Guard material, but I didn’t know that at the time. I heard the stories of the Holy Isle, of its glory, its beauty, and its magnificent Kkoloss rulers. Every Eruntu is told similar stories—they’re mixed in with the priest’s teachings about Hess and the Mythwalker.
“Then, well, I finally got my chance. By then I didn’t really want to be a Guard, but that doesn’t matter. After a few days, I was as idealistic as I ever had been. I came to the Holy Isle, expecting the tales I’d be told. Some of them were true. . . .”
He trailed off, his eyes unfocused. Vvenna watched with fascination. This was her first real glimpse into the mind of the rebellion’s young leader, the man who always seemed content, yet was leading the largest group of revolutionaries in Kkorimar. The man who had stood against members of his own band to protect Vvenna.
“Prince Sarn was in charge of my group,” Devin continued in a reserved voice. “He was everything the priests had said. He was tall and powerful, his head a brilliant red. Yet, he was something else as well. Snappish, unkind. The day after I reached the Isle, Prince Sarn marched us through the forest toward the capital. On the way, we found some Skaa by the side of the road. They weren’t doing anything wrong; they were just picking berries. But Sarn’s expedition was a secret one. He didn’t want anyone to know that they had passed. He could have just taken the Skaa captive. He could have just . . .”
Devin’s voice choked with emotion, and he paused for a moment. Vvenna’s interest turned to wonder, even compassion. Devin was always so easygoing. It was hard to see him in pain.
“He had us kill them,” Devin whispered. “He ordered me to do it. And . . . and I did. I ran my sword right through the poor man’s chest. He died by my hand; he bled all over me. They say Skaa are barely human, that they can’t think, but I saw different in that Skaa’s eyes. He was alive, he was scared, and I murdered him. I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself.”
Devin took a deep breath, and tent was silent for a moment. Vvenna listened with increasing horror. She what he said was possible, but it was different to hear it from his lips, to hear the emotion in his voice.
Devin was not done. “Afterward, after I slaughtered that Skaa for no reason, Prince Sarn had me arrested. He said I hadn’t acted quickly enough, that he didn’t like my attitude. He didn’t even look up as he ordered my execution.”
Devin turned, his eyes focusing on Vvenna’s. “That is what I want to change, princess. I don’t know how to do it, I don’t even know what I want in its place. But I do want a world where one man can’t take another’s life simply because it is convenient. I want a world where justice isn’t just following the law, it is doing what is right. The Kkoloss don’t have to free us, we don’t have to cast away their nobility. But I want there to be laws protecting Eruntu and Skaa from what happened to me.”
Vvenna held his eyes, feeling his pain. She had always been taught that showing emotion was for those of lesser intelligence, that Hess demanded order. But, she realized, there was more to it than that. She could feel almost as if she had been there with Devin when he killed the Skaa. She could feel what the death had done to him. Because of his passion, she herself felt passion. Though she hurt with him, there was something about the experience that made her feel alive.
“I’m sorry, Devin,” she said quietly. “You shouldn’t have had to go through that.”
Devin looked down, taking a deep breath. His eyes sought out Hine, who was watching his young protégé with compassionate eyes. “A wise man once told me that if you don’t resist something, you might as well agree with it,” Devin continued. “So, princess, that is why I fight. I can’t condone what I did as right, but what Sarn did was just as bad. I have to fight against it, even if I don’t do a very good job.”
“You have a hard road ahead of you,” Vvenna said.
“I know,” Devin said.
The others in the room, Voko, Skeer, Ralan—even the shadowling—regarded Devin with solemnity. They hadn’t heard his story before, but their eyes offered Devin support.
Suddenly, Vvenna was painfully aware of her own dispassionateness. She couldn’t give Devin anything but hollow words. Though he had saved her, though he had always treated her with kindness, she could do nothing more than stare at him with coldness. She didn’t know anything else.
You must maintain Posture, her mind warned. He is Eruntu. He may have saved you, but he also kidnapped you. He has committed unbelievable blasphemies.
But for the first time, Vvenna understood the motivation behind her kidnapping. It really had been a brilliant move—no person in Kkorimar was as valuable as she was. Devin could use her to gain incredible advantage over House Sserin. For some reason, despite her training, she wanted to help him.
“All right,” Vvenna said. “So you want to change the law. You want to make it illegal for a Kkoloss to take the life of an Eruntu or a Skaa without a trial.”
“That includes the Games,” Hine added quietly. “I want them stopped. Men must not kill men for Kkoloss amusement.”
Devin nodded. “The Games are a good place to start,” he agreed, recovering his former insouciant demeanor. “If Kkoloss stop looking at Eruntu as things to make slaughter one another, then perhaps our lives will start to mean more to them.”
“Then your goal is to stop the Games?” Vvenna asked, looking around the group. The shadowling just sat in the corner, looking from face to face, obviously trying to mimic the expressions on the other’s faces.
“I like stopping the Games,” Skeer said. “Honor, truth, justice—the perfect goal for the Eruntu Rebellion.”
Voko nodded. “It’s a good plan. I would have died my first week in the Games if Ralan hadn’t protected me.” The squat man paused, smiling slightly. “I never noticed it before. Do you realize I spent two decades stealing from other men, and the only time I’ve been arrested was after I tried to go straight?”
Vvenna continued, trying not to think about what she was saying. Stop the Games? It was ridiculous. “There is only one person who can order the Games stopped,” she said.
“The Emperor,” Hine said.
“Right,” Vvenna agreed. “And, the only way to petition him to end them is to have the backing of a Kkoloss King.”
Devin nodded slowly. “Sarn.”
“Again, right,” Vvenna said. “Only a member of the first Sept can bring an item before the Emperor. So, what you need to do is convince Sarn to back your proposal to end the Games. And, since House Sserin will have Imperial favor from my marriage, any item he puts before the court will receive consideration.”
Devin looked up at her, his face thoughtful. “It’s not very likely, is it?” he asked.
Vvenna shook her head. “No, it is not.”
“But it’s the best we have,” Devin continued. “At the very least, we can get House Sserin to boycott the Games. That will help, if only a little bit.”
“One problem, Dev,” Voko noted. “Once we give the princess back, we won’t have any more coins in our hand. What is to make Sarn keep his end of the contract?”
“He will keep his word,” Vvenna said. “He is a first Sept Kkoloss.”
The group exchanged another look. “Forgive us if we don’t trust him, princess,” Devin said.
“I see,” Vvenna said. “But I don’t think that you have any choice but to trust him.”
The room fell quiet, each man considering her proclamation. Devin regarded her quietly. “Princess,” he said slowly. “Assume for a moment Voko’s reports are correct. What if Sarn did replace you with a double. What would happen then?”
She shouldn’t even consider such things, but for his sake she did. “He would be desperate to get me back,” she guessed. “I have trained for twenty years to be the Emperor’s bride—no Kkoloss, even a member of the first Sept, could emulate me. Unless he had been planning such a preposterous substitution for decades, then Sarn would be in serious danger of being discovered. His only hope would be to find me and secretly substitute me for the fake Vessel.”
Devin nodded to himself, then he eyed Voko. The squat man frowned for a moment, then smiled to himself.
“Dev, you’re brilliant,” Voko said.
“What?” Skeer said.
“We send her back,” Devin said. “We tell Sarn we just want money, something a king can easily provide.”
Voko was smiling broadly now. “And then Sarn sends her to the palace to replace the fake. Only, we know what he’s done.”
Devin looked at Vvenna. “Assuming Sarn did what we say, what would you do if someone asked you what had happened?”
“I would tell the truth,” Vvenna said immediately. “I would let him substitute me for the good of the house, but I would not lie if I were asked.”
Devin shared Voko’s smile. “We’ve got him,” Devin said. “If the princess were to talk, then Sserin would be cast down and Sarn removed as King.”
“Blackmail,” Voko said. “The old tricks are the best.”
“That isn’t very moral,” Vvenna chastised with dissatisfaction.
“We’re trying to save lives, princess,” Devin said, his voice growing hard.
“A good end is not justification for evil means,” Vvenna said simply.
“Do it this way, son,” Hine suggested. “Make Sarn promise to end the Games to get the princess back. If she is right, and he keeps his word, then we won’t have to do any more. If, on the other hand, he breaks his word, you have valid reason to act.”
Devin nodded. “Good,” he said. Then he turned to Vvenna.
What does he want? She asked. My endorsement of the terms for my release? She wasn’t certain, but she had a feeling that this was the oddest kidnapping that had ever occurred.
“All right,” she said. “If Sarn breaks his word, then you are justified in pushing him to keep it.” Of course, the initial promise would be based on an illegal act—her kidnapping—but she didn’t say anything.
Devin looked at the others, then nodded. “It is settled then. Voko, draft a reply to the prince. Tell him we’ll return the princess if he promises to boycott the Games and put a petition before the Emperor to end them forever.”
Siri awoke feeling groggy. She suppressed a groan, and rolled over. She vaguely remembered falling asleep after another round of visits to the Archpriests. She was beginning to find their use of her annoying—any time one of them asked her something, the other seven immediately wanted to know what it was. Sometimes, the first one would summon her again to ask if she had told anything to the other seven, and the process would start over again.
“My Lady,” one of her handmaidens said. “It is time for your cleansing.”
Remembering with fondness the days when she decided when she got up, Siri forced herself into Posture and rolled out of bed. The handmaidens approached and the bathing and grooming process, now familiar, began.
Siri had spent the last few weeks treading lightly. Archpriest Eseras hadn’t mentioned his suspicions to her again. He made perfunctory summons of her when the others did, but he rarely spent much time talking to her. She could see his dissatisfaction in his eyes, however. He wanted to catch her very badly. Fortunately, so far he hadn’t been able to. Either Siri was simply lucky, or Sarn was very good at covering up his lawbreaking.
Despite her nervousness, her life continued unchanged. She still went to the Emperor’s bedchamber every night, she still endured the ministrations of her handmaidens, and she still pretended to be Vvenna. However, she had redoubled her studies. If Archpriest Eseras was going to try and catch her, Siri wanted to be certain not to give him any additional proof.
As the bathing proceeded, Siri’s mind turned with annoyance to the Archpriests once again. Their interrogations had taken up the better part of her day, and she hadn’t been able to get to the studying she had intended. A new stack of books, delivered by Slels, sat untouched beside her bed. Hopefully the Archpriests would tire of involving her in their games. She never gave them answers, feigning ignorance in every area. She refused to give them information about Sarn, other Houses, the Games she had watched, or any of a host of other topics. Eventually, they would realize that she was useless to them and leave her alone.
Unfortunately, if they took much longer, Siri feared that her lack of study time would get her into serious danger. Who would have thought that the Vessel, supposedly the most idle person in Kkorimar, would want for more time?
The bathing done, her handmaidens began to care for her hair and nails. As she sat before them, her eyes flickered unconsciously toward her sleeping chambers. She had eight hours every night where she sat and did nothing. If she could use that time for studying . . .
Don’t be foolish, Siri, she told herself. The Emperor would never stand for that. He might have conceded to let you sit, but ignoring him and reading is a very different thing.
Still, the idea intrigued her. Eseras was probably on the verge of exposing her anyway—a little more study time could mean the difference between life and execution. The Emperor hadn’t said anything when she broke Posture before him; maybe he would let her get away with reading. And, if he didn’t, then at least it would all be over. The anticipation of her failure almost seemed worse than the actual event.
But how would she get a book into the room? Her handmaidens dressed her, and the enormously long selves of her dresses were usually attached to the train itself. It would be very hard to hide a book from all twenty-four sets of eyes.
Which, of course, made it a challenge. Siri pondered dozens of different ways to sneak a volume in with her, but all of them seemed foolish. Fortunately, the grooming process took nearly a half-hour, and she had plenty of time to ponder. In the end, she decided on a plan.
Just after her hair was finished, but before the handmaidens put on her dress, she told them she needed to use the privy. This, at least, they let her do by herself. They watched her as she slipped into her bedchamber and closed the door behind her.
Siri rushed over to her bed stand and selected the smallest of the volumes. She was only wearing her undershift, which didn’t leave many places for hiding. It was long, however, and so she quickly grabbed a long handkerchief from the stand and reached down to tie the book against her leg.
It was an awkward job. She had to make it tight, so it wouldn’t slip down, and the book wasn’t exactly sized for the task. In addition, she had to make certain it didn’t stick out and reveal itself. Eventually, she decided to tie it on the inside of her thigh. It made for uncomfortable walking, but it was the least obtrusive place.
Siri stood, looking over herself in the mirror. To her eye, the book’s outline was painfully obvious. However, she wasn’t willing to back down now. Vvenna would probably call her impetuous—the princess would have spent a week planning the perfect method of sneaking the book in. Of course, Vvenna would have never considered bringing the book. Vvenna would still be kneeling every night as Posture dictated—either that, or she would have found a way to subtly bully the Emperor into taking her into his bed as was proper.
Siri, however, was not Vvenna—no matter what she claimed. She walked stiffly back into the other room, watching the handmaidens carefully for looks of surprise. Would they say anything if they noticed?
None of them gave her legs even a second glance. They quickly moved to place the dress over her head—careful not to muss her hair too much—then tie it tight at the back. They worked with speed—Siri’s sleeping in and subsequent delay put them in danger of finishing too late. Within a few minutes, the dress was ready, and after going over her hair and makeup, the handmaidens assembled behind her for their nightly walk.
They didn’t notice! Siri thought with amazement. She could feel the book tied against her thigh, and to her it was a sign of victory. Her heart fluttered, and she forced herself to untense. Her life definitely wasn’t exciting enough if sneaking a book into the Emperor’s bedchambers exited her this much.
Still, she walked with satisfaction, her secret triumph bolstering her. She walked, as always, with her arms pulled back behind her so that her sleeves would flow naturally with the train behind. The trip went uneventfully, though Siri worried on several occasions that the handkerchief would come undone and let the book slip free. At the proper moment, the servants opened the Emperor’s doors, and Siri went in and bowed herself as always—though the motion was a bit difficult with the book’s edges digging into her flesh.
The door slammed shut behind her, and she was free. The Emperor sat in his usual place, watching from the darkest recesses of his enormous bed. The fire was warm on Siri’s back—summer was waning, and autumn was on its way. The nights were becoming increasingly chilly, and she would probably soon be grateful for the bulk of her ridiculous dresses.
The Emperor watched her, as always. Awkwardly, Siri sat up, giving him a defiant look. She positioned herself with her legs extended before her, and only then did she realize her mistake.
In the dress, her arms were effectively tied behind her. There was no way she could untie her book, let alone hold it and turn the pages. She sat in frustration for a moment before she realized that there was only one solution to her problem. She would have to remove the dress.
She blushed immediately at the thought. The undershift was thick, and constructed to not be translucent, but even still . . . talk about breaking Posture.
Of course, he is my husband—in a weird sort of way, she thought. Her eyes flickered toward him, sitting in the darkness. She wasn’t really afraid of him, not anymore. He just sat there. Even Vvenna had been more animated. Rocks were more animated. What would he do if she suddenly started to disrobe?
You went through all of that to get the book in here, she reminded herself. What good will it do you if you don’t read it?
The Emperor continued to stare. Taking a deep breath, Siri started to worm her way free from the dress’s confines. It was more difficult than she had thought—the top half of the dress was pulled very tight, and she couldn’t undo the laces on the back. She had to wiggle, squirm, and suck in her breath to get her arms free from the sleeves. After that, she had to pull her head through the neck of the dress, horribly mussing her hair in the process. Finally, however, she burst free from the chains of cloth, and pulled it over her head triumphantly.
The Emperor hadn’t moved, though his eyes did look a little wider than they had before. She was probably just seeing things.
Siri blushed again, and immediately wrapped the train of the dress around herself like a large blanket. Then she pulled out the book, which had come untied during her struggles, and pulled it open in front of her.
She couldn’t, however, concentrate on its pages. Her mind was too stunned by what she had just done. Stripping down in front of the Emperor, Hess’s chosen, then pulling out a book? The idea was almost amusing. Her eyes kept flickering from the page up toward him. As far as she could tell, he hadn’t changed. He never did.
Siri didn’t get much reading done that night, a fact she found ironic, considering what she had done to put herself in a position to read. She found it difficult to concentrate with the Emperor staring at her like he always did. Still, she did manage to memorize several pages of proper responses to queries about her health during the night.
When morning arrived, the Emperor left at his usual time. At first, Siri worried about her dress. She couldn’t put it back on properly without attendants. Then, for the first time, she realized that she probably should have taken the dress off every night. Considering what she and the Emperor were supposedly doing each night, it would be normal for her to be disrobed when her attendants came to get her.
Siri tied the book in place, burned the sheets as normal, then put on the dress as best she could. She briefly considered hiding the book in the room, but she worried that maids would discover it. Even if they didn’t, her handmaidens might notice its disappearance. So, she walked back to her rooms with it secured to her thigh, already planning which book she would bring the next night.