Chapter Five

"Tse Witwex," said a small bluemage. "Why can't I see the gods?"

Meea was developing a headache. She was a decent teacher and she knew the standard course of theology material, but these facts were not combining as expected. "We're learning about the sacrifice wall today, not about seeing gods," she said. "Now, contrary to what some confused new mages think, it is not a list of people who are going to be sacrificed the way you might sacrifice a bird or -"

"But Tse Witwex," said the bluemage child insistently. "I can't see them. I tried! I asked to be allowed and my grandma laughed and said I could look for gods all I want and nothing happens!"

"I'm not an expert on bluemagery," Meea said.

"But you're supposed to teach us gods," said the child stubbornly.

Meea tried again. "The carvings on the sacrifice wall are our record of who has been turned into a mage, because all mages make sacrifices of themselves, piece by piece -"

"Why can't I see the gods, Tse Witwex?"

"Bluemages can't see them," Meea snapped finally. "That's not how gods work. You can't see air with bluemagery either. Your farsight and pastsight work differently from your eyes, since they'll show you things from all directions and distances at once, but they don't show you things that are invisible like the wind or the gods."

And just as Meea knew it would, this prompted a torrent of questions from all of the children at once. "But the Collected Poems says the gods have colors!" "Can you touch them?" "Do the gods stop too, when a goldmage pauses?" "If a greenmage found a god -"

"Enough!" exclaimed Meea. "The gods have colors the way mages have colors. I'm not gold, I'm brown, but if I touch Godspring water it turns gold. That's because Ua of Hours chose me, instead of one of the other gods of the spring. Gold is its color. You can't touch the gods any more than you can see them. Gods can do as they like, regardless of what any goldmage does, especially Ua. Certainly a greenmage can't affect one, don't be ridiculous. Gods are not like people."

Apparently she'd said all this sharply enough to quiet the class.

"The sacrifice wall -" Meea began.

The quiet proved temporary. "If the gods aren't like people then why does my uncle say Tsi of Love loves everyone like it's a redmage?" a boy blurted.

Meea rubbed the bridge of her nose. "We covered this in the first few lessons. Mages double as clerics because using magic makes us more like gods. That doesn't mean we're remotely similar to them even when we're as dwindled as we can get."

"So Tsi -"

"Tsi of Love Knows and loves everyone and remembers nothing, but it's a god, not a person, so it doesn't need memories: it's a god, so it can remind itself of anything it wants to know instantly. A redmage is more like Tsi of Love than a non-mage is, in the way a fish is more like a human than a worm is."

"What about Ua?" a small goldmage asked.

"And the others, what about Ci and Mu and Ial?" demanded a whitemage.

Meea scrunched her eyes shut with frustration and decided that answering would be faster than trying to force them back to the planned lesson. "Ua of Hours is immortal, so it can change time as it pleases and lose nothing, because forever minus a day or a year or a million years is still forever. Ci of Life is responsible for all the growing and healing that happens in nature, which is so vastly greater than what any whitemage can do in the course of their career even with godlike luck - but gods can't get sick or hurt, because they have no bodies to weaken. Mu of Breath gives people and animals all the instincts that let us live at all, and it doesn't matter that it doesn't have any of its own because it has no body to take care of. Ial of Sight can see everything, always, and it's a god, not a person, so it doesn't have to be able to think about people to think about itself."

The next half minute passed without further questions. Meea resumed the planned lesson. "The sacrifice wall has been in place in its current form for nearly three hundred years..."

A small voice interrupted her again. "If Tsi loves everyone, and doesn't need its memories, why do bad things happen?"

"No one knows," said Meea. "Let's get back to our lesson now."

Meea only took Seedlessness once a week - enough that an extra dose on top of that regimen would leave her body largely hostile to pregnancy, if taken after she unexpectedly tumbled into bed with someone who could cause such a thing. But not enough to be certain. And she needed to be able to pause, or jump, without causing a medical emergency, if she had to protect Liatsi. If this ended the way it was obviously going to end, she needed to be sure - "Wiar, you take your powder, right?" she asked, awkwardly, fumbling with the door to her room until it swung open.

"Iamica puts it in my tea. Every morning," Wiar assured her, following her in and closing the door after them. He nudged his gloves off bit by bit. He was looking at her, eyes sweeping up and down like he wanted to be able to read her secrets from across the room, like he wasn't patient enough to wait a moment and learn her by magic.

She looked right back, because she could only learn things by observing them - and because he was so lovely, such eyes, such long legs and delicate hands. And any moment those hands would reach out and brush against her skin.

The gloves were off. Wiar dropped them on the rug.

"Is there some - I don't know how this is normally done, I was a baby when my pa first picked me up," Meea said, flustered.

"You're really going to need to stop comparing me to your pa," Wiar said, raising his eyebrow. "Unless I was very far wrong about how you're looking me over."

Meea bit her lip. "Well, you know what I mean."

"Nothing special beforehand," Wiar assured her. "Special part's all after. And there isn't a script for either one." He held his hand out, like one would if one were helping someone up from a low chair. Meea could just reach out and take it.

So she did.

A series of fascinated expressions passed over Wiar's face, and he paused in breathing and clasped her hand with his other one like he feared she'd flinch away.

"Oh," she murmured, "oh."

For some reason she'd imagined the sensation would appear all at once even the first time, but it didn't, it poured over her like hot honey and clung, a tactile love-song that sank through her soul while he processed what he Knew. Wiar stepped towards her, mesmerized joy all over his face, and he pressed her knuckles to his lips.

He didn't need to say he loved her. That would only be a distraction. But what next - Wiar was not Mixi, Wiar was not even slightly shaped like Mixi, how was he supposed to magically know what to do when Meea had nothing for him to go on?

He moved his kiss up her hand without lifting his head, and then he rolled up her sleeve and continued as far as it would let him. When he reached the interfering sleeve, he straightened up, wove her fingers with his, and touched their foreheads together so his face blurred before her eyes.

"Hi," he said, and she could hear the grin in his voice.

Meea burst out laughing. "Hi?"

"You were nervous," he said, "and now you're not." He twirled her, like they were dancing; Meea couldn't dance, but he tugged on her arm in just the right way and she wound up tucked under his chin with his arm around her middle. He ran his thumb along the back of her hand, up and down.

The warm beloved feeling had spread everywhere, and - Meea really did have to stop comparing him to her pa. This was not a fatherly affection Wiar had created for her. This was charged, keening, alive. Solicitous, yes. But not protective or providerly, not authoritatively benevolent.

Not chaste.

Wiar half-turned, folding himself around her, and leaned down to kiss her mouth. He kissed her like she was delicious. Meea did know how to kiss, although their heights meant it was easiest to let him do much of the maneuvering, and he seemed quite willing. Whenever Meea's lips drifted past the edges of his there was a scratch-burn from thin stubble. Whenever her teeth touched the back of his lip he made a high sound in the back of his throat.

Meea felt delicious.

After some unknown span Wiar tilted his head up, breaking the kiss and pulling in air. She kept noticing how tall he was and distracting herself with confused speculation about mechanics, and the loss of kisses to keep her occupied didn't help.

"New territory?" he asked against her cheekbone. Feet shuffled slowly; they were facing each other again.

"C-can't you tell?" Meea said, trying to laugh the words.

He ducked his head and nuzzled the inch of shoulder that her neckline left exposed; breath wisped across her skin. So loved, hummed the magic emanating from all their points of contact. "I can tell how to interpret your tone, your face, how you're standing -" His hand skimmed down her ribcage, over her waist, settled on her hip just below the sash of her robes. "I can make very good guesses. I can't read your mind outright. Can't learn anything you're not telling me one way or another."

"Oh." She swallowed. "There was a girl. Just - the one girl."

"Aren't we lucky I can still remember how everything works, then?" Wiar said, and she could feel him smile against her neck.

"Yes," Meea agreed, closing her eyes. She didn't want to let him go. Certainly not soon. It could happen by accident, and the abrupt loss of redmagic proof that he loved her would ruin the mood even if it was only momentary. "It'll - it'll be easier for you to keep hold of me if -"

"Mm-hm." His hand crept towards the knot in her sash. "If. With sufficient if, keeping hold of you will be quite effortless."

Meea laughed, and the knot came free with minimal resistance. She found it unexpectedly challenging to get her arms out of her sleeves when Wiar insisted on holding at least one of her hands at all times. He had no such trouble with his own robes; both sets landed in crumples near the foot of her ridiculously large bed at the same time despite her head start.

Meea had a sleeveless blouse on under her robes, but Wiar was apparently less prone to chills, and when he pulled her in towards him, her cheek pressed against a warm expanse of chest. She felt brief kisses speckle the top of her head, and she arched backwards to shake off the chain that was still resting on her hair.

He plucked the corresponding jewelry from his forehead and tossed it towards the robes, and peered down at her face. "You know," he remarked, "not everyone who eventually sleeps with a redmage does it the first time they touch."

"Am I freaking out that much, really?" Meea asked, hiding her face against his chest again. "I guess you'd know."

"You'd know, too," he pointed out. "I'm only watching your face. When I can see it."

"How do I figure out when to let you go?" Meea whispered, muffled.

"When Liatsi needs one of us?" he suggested. And Meea must have moved, or made a sound, without realizing it, because then he said: "Hmm."


"...Nothing. C'mere, my feet hurt." He picked her up with effort, just long enough to turn and sit on the edge of the bed, setting her sideways on his lap. "There's no hurry. She's not going anywhere and I doubt she'll need me tomorrow, let alone today."

"Your feet hurt?"

"Not badly. I don't usually stand up for that long." He shrugged; his skin slid past Meea's face where she was resting her head. Toeing off his shoes, he said, "I love you."

"I know," she murmured. It was undoubtable.

He shook his head. "Not the way I mean it. I don't love you because of magic. I Know you because of magic, and I love you because I Know you. I don't want you because of magic, either, because that is not how it works. I want you because you're beautiful and lovable. I just get -" He shrugged again. "I get a chance to understand that. And you're not sure why I'm here, however much you like it, and I want you to get it so you're not wondering why I would really like to take your shirt off."

Meea blinked.

And she smiled.

And she lifted her arms to let him do exactly that.

Iamica kept winking at her.

Meea did not wink back - she issued increasingly withering looks across the banquet table. Most servants were not even allowed at official feasts like the one on the eve of Liatsi's coronation. Iamica was only an exception because Wiar would eventually need her at his side near-constantly, even if that time wasn't soon.

Meea really ought to try to get along with Iamica, under the circumstances. Meea had never taught a class on how mages ought to amicably live together, but she'd attended them, recently enough to remember that Iamica was the sort of person who ought to be her friend. Perhaps it would develop later.

Meea sat next to Liatsi, and looked at her instead.

Liatsi ate sparingly - nerves? distraction? had she not been consulted on the menu for her own celebratory dinner by her own cooks, and found the selection unappetizing? - and looked steadily at her plate. "Kindly don't slip off with Wiar after dinner," Liatsi said, after the squab course and before the berry paste on biscuits. "I would like to see him this evening. Before the dedication ceremony."

Meea swallowed. She hadn't known Liatsi had noticed that slipping off might be a thing they'd do. "Yes, Princess."

It was a tight squeeze to have the mages all formally pledging their services to the Princess the night before the coronation, but Liatsi had waited long enough to choose a redmage that the only alternative was prolonged delay. Meea directed Wiar to leave the dinner hall with Liatsi, after the zucchini tarts were cleared away, and then made herself useful by locating the other three mages so they wouldn't have to keep the Princess waiting. They all ostensibly knew when they were expected, but while the greenmage and whitemage did indeed seem irritated at being reminded, the bluemage had apparently decided he didn't want to go, and Meea's prompt was the only thing that alerted his attendant to the need for coaxing.

Meea hung around uncomfortably while the attendant cooed instructions piecemeal - "up, now, get up, go out the door there, turn left". She knew how to talk to bluemages; if Meea had tried this one would just stare at her. Meea wasn't sure if he'd been this dwindled to begin with - surely he wouldn't have been submitted as a candidate then? - or if Liatsi had been leaning on him heavily for some reason she wasn't privy to. Or he was having a bad day; there was some variation even between use of Sight, she'd heard.

Gold and blue and white and green all took their places at the temple, and shortly a more relaxed Liatsi and Wiar joined them. Wiar stood in front of the Shrine to Love and Liatsi sat in the middle of the semicircle, crosslegged on the floor, eyes closed.

"Mages," said Liatsi.

"Princess," replied everyone else in near-unison. The bluemage wasn't throwing them off; Meea supposed he'd recovered enough presence of mind to participate normally. Wiar was speaking a beat behind everyone else, probably having trouble remembering his lines. "Behold the Shrines; we, mortal shadows of gods, welcome you to the Temple."

"Whitemage," said the Princess, addressing her choice of physician where she stood on the far right.

"Princess," the whitemage said. She didn't sound stuffy at all; she must have cleared herself for the ritual. "I have the gift of Ci of Life, and while I am with you, you will never lack for health. I will empty you of sickness and fill you with life."


"Princess. I have the gift of Mu of Breath, and while I am with you, you will never lack for ease. I will turn you from that which you name distraction, and render your duties as natural as breath."


Meea swallowed. "Princess," she said. "I have the gift of Ua of Hours, and while I am with you, you will never lack for safety. I will snatch moments from the air to protect you, and undo time itself to erase harmful hours."

"Bluemage," said Liatsi. Her eyes were still closed.

"Princess, I have the gift of Ial of Sight, and while I am with you, you will never lack for knowledge. I will peer into the past at your command, and the shapes of faraway places will be yours through my sight," said the bluemage tonelessly.

"Redmage," Liatsi said at last.

"Princess," Wiar said warmly. His voice made Meea want to squirm; he'd said her name like that earlier. He could say Liatsi's name, like that, and no one thought it noteworthy. "I have the gift of Tsi of Love. And while I am with you, you will never lack for company. I will Know your soul's needs, and I will shower you with love."

Liasti rose to her feet and opened her eyes. "I value your services. I accept your sacrifices. I will be cautious and judicious in my use of your powers. When the time comes that your gifts have dwindled and you need rest, I will provide for your care."

"Until then, I love you, Princess," Wiar said softly.

"Until then, I am your eyes, Princess," said the bluemage.

Meea said, "Until then, I am by your side, Princess."

"Until then, I will smooth your way, Princess," the greenmage put in.

"Until then, I will keep you whole, Princess," finished the whitemage.

Liatsi nodded politely to each one in turn and left, and that was the end of the ceremony. The bluemage looked around and wandered out of the room, the whitemage and the greenmage began an unrelated conversation, Wiar stole up to Meea's side and said, "I think you should follow her."

"What? Why?" Meea asked him. It was almost Liatsi's usual bedtime; she wasn't going anywhere.

He shrugged, grinning. "Go on."

If he wanted to spend this particular night with Iamica, then shooing her in Liatsi's direction would make sense. Meea gave him a puzzled look, but went out of the little temple after Liatsi and fell into step behind the princess.

"Oh," said Liatsi. "Hello."

"It was a lovely ceremony," Meea said.

"I was worried Wiar would forget his lines. Or that Tse Curin would forget the point," Liatsi admitted. Redmages did not call for any honorific from their clients. Liatsi in particular could get away with names alone for nearly anyone, but apparently she was polite enough to extend the title to her bluemage anyway.

"Have you been asking Tse Curin a lot of questions?" she inquired. "Or is he just having an off-day?"

"Not many questions," Liatsi said, lips pursed. "I'm not using him lightly. But one that was more complicated than anyone expected, and I needed him to stay in that vision for several minutes to find more information."

If Meea were entitled to details, Liatsi would have provided them. "Oh dear," she said instead.

"It's not a disaster. But it informs the question of who I will marry, somewhat."

"Oh. Is that decided, then?" Meea asked.

"I still have to ask him," said Liatsi.

"Ask who? If I may?"

"You may. It's the king of Niohain," Liatsi said quietly.

There was a silence, and Meea said, "You know, the greenmage - Tse Faix? - could help with that. Not completely - it's been tried and it can only do so much - but if you ask him he could make men, or the king of Niohain in particular if you'd rather, less unappealing."

"I'll consider asking Tse Faix about that," said Liatsi neutrally. "I am not quite clear on whether it would be an improvement. And His Majesty Annon may decline to entertain the proposal, in any case."

"Of course," Meea said.

"I'm sending the courier with the message tomorrow, after the coronation," Liatsi went on conversationally. They'd reached her chambers; Meea held the door for her, and turned towards the wall when Liatsi's hand went to the buttons on her dress.

"So you can sign it 'Princess Sovereign'," Meea guessed.

"Yes. At this point it's only a technicality, but it would be - ideal, if he agreed, and it can only help."

"Have you ever met him?"

Liatsi nodded. "At international functions. When I was eleven and again when I was fourteen. We didn't become closely acquainted, though. You may turn around."

Meea pivoted. Liatsi was sitting on the edge of her bed, scrutinizing her hands where they were folded on her knees.

"Should I go?" Meea asked. Liatsi looked tired.

Liatsi's mouth compressed in thought, and then she said, "You may."

"Goodnight, Princess," Meea murmured with a quick half-bow, and she let herself out.