I walked into Nicolae's office, ignoring the sweet-smelling woman who ran after me, shouting something I didn't understand. "What have you done with Mellio?" I asked.
He spoke a sentence or two in six unfamiliar languages before finally coming out with some fluid, unaccented Hembrai. "My dear Foven. I understand how distressed you are, but I have done nothing with your young friend."
I think he expected me to be impressed that he knew my name, and who Mellio was. I wasn't: Onis Reeve could probably have done the same. "If you didn't take him, you know who did," I said, also in Hembrai.
"My dear Foven, if I knew who had taken the children, do you really think I would keep it to myself?" Andaroi this time, as smooth and accentless as his Hembrai. Again, I had the feeling I was supposed to be impressed, but the Guild is full of mages who can do that.
I answered in Andaroi, just to show him he couldn't outdo me. "Yes. You are a deceiver."
"A deceiver? You wound me. I want only to lead the people of the world through this terrible time and into peace."
"That might be what you want." I couldn't keep up the Andaroi, so I switched to Arinese. "But that's not what's going to happen. I know someone just like you - he's full of the best intentions, and somehow all he ends up with is a bucket of warm piss."
"You are speaking of the healer Dasil," he said, in perfect Arinese. "It's quite understandable that you distrust him, but he has your best interests in his heart - just as I do."
That unnerved me. How did he know I was thinking of Dasil? Had he checked me out so thoroughly, or could he somehow sense my thoughts? Either possibility could be terrifying, but having come this far, I couldn't let him see my fear. "Dasil's concern for my best interests always seems to make me feel more wretched, and I have the feeling yours may work out the same way."
"My poor Foven." His voice brimmed over with pity that sounded all too genuine. "Open your heart and trust a little."
"I've read about you," I said. "The Final Era book. It lays out exactly what you're going to do. What you've already done."
"Lies." He took a couple of steps towards me, and I had to back away. "Lies, spread by misguided fools. I'd like to help them all to see the error of their ways, but life is just too short."
He reminded me more and more of Dasil with every word. Something about the aching pity in his voice, and the way he tried to wriggle out of everything. "If it's all lies, what's the truth? What's your real agenda?"
"I already told you, my friend. Bring the people of the world through this terrible time and into peace."
It was a dangerous thing to want, even if he was telling the truth. I knew my history - rulers started out trying for peace, and ended up compromising themselves into oblivion. And the way he was going about it - persuading the rest of the world to join with him and give up their most powerful weapons - could only end in disaster. "You know you're bound to fail," I said. "And I didn't come here to argue about that. Tell me where Mellio is."
"Foven." His voice had a hard edge now, no more of that bleeding pity. This was the point where Dasil would have shoved me towards the refectory or poured something down my throat, but Nicolae could do much worse. "You do not wish to oppose me. It is not wise."
He was right, of course. But since I caught the pox, my life has been one long series of things I didn't wish to do and still did. As for wisdom, I'd long ago decided that was the province of whole mages.
"My only agenda is to bring peace." His voice seemed to drill into my mind. "Your presence here is a wasteful distraction."
Dasil could have come out with the same thing, nearly word for word. And, just as I'd lost my temper with Dasil so many times, I lost it now with Nicolae. "Now listen, you pissing little idiot. Last year, I saw a dragon - an actual fire-breathing dragon. The man who summoned it wanted me to drink its blood and live forever, and I told him to piss in his kecks. Do you think I'm going to let you fool with my mind?"
"Fool with your mind?" The pity was back, like an unwanted touch that made my skin crawl. "My dear Foven, I would never do such a thing."
"You would. You just did. Do you think I can't feel magic being worked, just because I can't read glyphs any more? I'm blind, you fool, not stupid."
"All I want to do is bring peace-" he started again, this time in Hembrai.
That was when I realised there was no getting any sense from him. I hit him the hardest blow I could manage with my staff, and left.
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