Ventus – Day 116 of 135


Rocks tumbled around the white Wind. She staggered from agony in her head and along her side where one of Armiger’s bolts of fire had clipped her. The perfidious queen was gone, and her basts were falling back, yelping in confusion. The little vale was full of smoke but she could see at least four bast bodies on the ground, and one horse with its throat torn out.

“Where is the other horse?” she shrieked at a bast who came within grabbing distance.

“They took it,” it shouted. “Rode. East, they went out the east exit!”

A bolt of fire from somewhere made them all duck.

“Follow!” She raked her claws across the bast’s shoulder. “Catch him! I don’t care if you all die doing it!”

The remaining basts vanished into the haze. The white Wind moved to follow, but she hurt too much; she could only stagger a few paces.

She cursed the swans. You took out my armor, and for what? So I could die here in this wasteland? For a few moments, she was Calandria May again, as she wept at her misfortune, and then the world greyed around her, and she tumbled onto the sand.


Armiger’s hand was missing. In its place was a smoking black ball. Every now and then he would lean back in the saddle and aim that ball at the monsters that were chasing them. Fire would leap from where his hand used to be, and once she heard a scream as it struck home.

He was taking them in a grand circle to intersect the line of Megan’s flight. Even if they ended up facing fifty mounted knights, it was the right and proper thing for him to do. Galas said nothing, just held onto him and the horse and let the ride go on.

He stretched back again, and she hunched from the blast of sound. “Ha!” he shouted. She risked a look back, and saw one monster in flames, another leaping away to the side, with only one more still following. It was losing ground steadily.

Suddenly he reined in the horse. Galas almost fell out of the saddle, and only after a giddy moment righting herself was she able to look up and see why.

They were cantering along the top of a ridge-line. The human riders were below them, dismounted and clustering around something on the ground.

Galas recognized her dress before she made out the crumpled figure in it.

The dress was stained scarlet.

She had time to glimpse someone raising a limp arm and letting it fall back to the earth, before the horse shied out of the way of a panting white creature.

Armiger shrieked a curse at the thing, and shot it as it made to leap again. Then he plunged the horse back from the ridgeline–away from the riders, away from his love.

For the first time since she met him, she saw him weep, wretchedly and uncontrollably, and it was Galas who took the reins and led them into the sunlit night.


Lavin’s ears popped and he groaned. He had elected to travel the first leg of their journey by means of the vagabond moon, in part to encourage his men and partly because his vertigo would not go away. He had not suspected that air travel would be like sea travel–full of dips and sways. He had lain huddled on his bedroll for most of the past eight hours, unable to tell what motion was in his head and what was real. The illness left him alone with his thoughts, which was the worst possible situation.

He would dearly have loved to tour this fantastical place, and look down on the world passing below. Two thousand of his men were bivouacked here on the black floor of the moon. There were no tents, because the Winds had forbidden them from driving tent pegs into the floor, and no fires for similar reasons. At four sides of the vast empty floor large rectangular openings let in the cold air; just now several men were standing near one, peering down in awe at the landscape passing below. As they looked, another man walked up casually, holding a chamberpot, and upended it over the opening. He laughed at their expressions and walked away.

Lavin closed his eyes as the world swayed again. Vertigo reminded Lavin of how he had met Galas. He could not stop thinking about her, going over and over in his mind the strange paths that had brought them to this endless day.

He had taken the side of Parliament partly to ensure her safety. In order to allay any suspicions on the part of the members, he had loudly proclaimed his allegiance to tradition. At the time, he had been crossing his fingers behind his back, hoping they would believe him and let him lead the army. But–and this he had not wanted to admit to himself–he really did believe. Galas was wrong. The traditions were sacred, and beautiful. He remembered the country dances of his youth, where singers would recite the names of the Winds and the seasons decreed by the desals. When he tried to picture the future Galas was building, he could not imagine what would replace those dances, and the cordial sense of community they fostered. Her future might be just, but her thoughts seemed to have a cold, insectile quality. He pictured the empire of Galas as a giant hive.

Just a while ago, as the tiny sun set and the ordinary one was just rising, a priest had come to him. The man had knelt by Lavin’s bedroll, and Lavin had smiled at him, expecting words of comfort. But the man was crying.

“I have been speaking to the Winds,” he said. “All my life, that was all I wanted to do. The desals and the other Winds of the earth can’t talk, but the swans can. I went to them and recited the ancient chants. They waited in silence. Then I–I ventured to ask a question.” He took a deep breath. “I asked them why they had not spoken to us, all these centuries.”

Lavin had sat up, despite his spinning head. “And what did they say?”

“They said that they had never stopped speaking to us in all that time. That it was us who would not listen.”

The priest looked carefully over his shoulder; a hundred meters away stood a pillar of flame, pale in the wan sunlight. Faces appeared and vanished like hallucinations within it. “I said I was listening now. And do you know what they said? They said, ‘no, you are not listening. We are asking you to speak even now, and you are not speaking.’ General, it had the sound of madness to it! I recited the sacred scriptures to them. And they… They asked me what this nonsense was I was barking. Lord, they didn’t know them! Are these truly the Winds, or…”

“Or what? Something else?” He almost shook his head, but refrained. “No. Who else has this power? They are who they say they are.”

“But sir, there’s more.” The priest looked like he was about to be sick. “I… I asked them what was to become of us. Of humanity. Had we disappointed them? How could we serve them? And the swans said… the swans said, ‘We have tried to complete ourselves for centuries. We thought you might be the key.’ They said they had been searching for something and studying for many generations, but that it was all done now. ‘We have completed our Work,’ they said. ‘We need not tolerate your presence any longer.'”

“Need not tolerate us?”

“They have no more use… for the human race.” The priest stood up, appearing stunned, and walked away.

Everything we know about the Winds is wrong. Lavin remembered Galas writing something like that, in the secret letters he had liberated. They are not benevolent gods. They are antagonists in a struggle for command of this world. And what is that to us? she had continued. A tragedy? Only if we are lazy. It is more like an opportunity–a chance to create a new reality that is more true to nature.

Was she right? Should he have razed the sleepy towns with their inheritance-bound guildsmen and books of ritual appeasement instead of her experimental villages–burned the festival costumes and children’s’ storybooks–and helped her build the hive of the future? Could her love have sustained him while everything else he had known and cherished whithered and died? She had claimed she had the permission and advice of the Winds in all she did; he had known that to be a lie, for one time they had discussed the lies of great men, and she had blithely stated that all nations were based on them. Yet, the Diadem swans did not know the scriptures attributed to them; even now he could see the priest standing before the pillar of flame, arms apart, pleading for sense from the masters of the world. All the traditions Lavin believed in were based on those ancient scriptures, and the stories that surrounded them. Was Galas right? Were they all lies too?

The world spun around him in a particularly savage gyre, and Lavin’s gorge rose. It wasn’t just him, though–men were shouting and running. He forced himself to sit up, and observed green foliage moving past the open hatchways of the moon. Crowds of men had begun to cluster there.

One of his commanders hurried over. “We’re coming down, sir. There are some horsemen and the bast creatures on the ground below.”

“All right.” He took several deep breaths to quiet his stomach. “Bring them to me before they speak to anyone else.”

The moon took ten minutes to drop the last few meters, and it didn’t actually touch the ground. From his seated position Lavin saw a long grey metal ramp extend out and down into the darkness of the moon’s shadow. Horsemen began rattling up the ramp. He saw some men with stretchers carrying bloodied white forms–two of the basts had been injured somehow. Despite himself he smiled grimly at that. So they could be hurt after all.

The moment the last horse stepped into the cavernous space of the moon, the ramp began to retract and the ground dropped away. The Winds were punctual, it seemed.

The leader of the horsemen had dismounted and was walking over. He was flushed with excitement.

“Sir! They would not let us bring the bodies aboard sir. I’ve left a guard with her, but brought you–“

“Her?” He stood up, leaning on the cane Hesty had had made for him. “The queen? Is she with you?”

“No, sir. That’s what I’m saying. The Winds allow only the living aboard these moons.”

The sergeant’s face seemed to recede. A chaotic gabble of sound filled Lavin’s ears. He felt someone take him by the shoulders; people were shouting. They lowered him into a camp chair.

“Only the living… She is…”

“She is dead, sir. The queen is dead. It was a stray shot, accidental. We were trying to bring down her horse–I had given orders that no one should shoot above its legs, but a shot went wild and she was leaning, sir…”

“I, I see.”

“I have left an honour guard with them, and sent two men to fetch her royal guard from the palace.”

A spark of hope made Lavin look up. “What proof do you have that this was the queen?”

“Her rings of office, sir.” The sergeant withdrew a square of cloth from a belt pouch, and opened it to reveal familiar circles of gold. “It is she.”

He stared at the rings. They looked so unnatural, alone in that square of black.


True, she had not worn them when they first made love, in that inn near the academy. It was only later that he saw them, when he saw her in regal glory on the throne, and she recognized him and sent him her most secret of smiles–waggling her fingers slightly as she raised her hand for him to kiss it.


The commander took the sergeant’s arm and muttered something. They moved aside, talking in low tones.

She had subtly taunted him on that day, showing off her new position; but he knew it was only that she was proud and surprised at where she was. Her father slunk in the shadows, deposed by an act of the desals, and at that moment Galas had believed she could do anything. So had Lavin, and he had trusted that they would be together again, somehow.

“I must go to her,” he said. He reeled to his feet. “Put us down. I must attend her.”

“Sir, the Winds say we must continue. We failed to capture Armiger. They say to continue the march to the Titan’s Gates.”

He cursed savagely, and stalked toward the pillar of fire. His men silently parted before him. Dimly he wondered at this. Had they known all along that he loved her? They stood with heads bowed; none would meet his eye. They had known he loved her and yet they still fought for him? It couldn’t be.

He stopped, gasping, two meters from the blazing swans. “Turn us around!” he commanded. “Put us down!”

There was no answer.

“Do as I say! The queen needs me!”

“We have other concerns,” said the crystalline voice of the pillar.

“Please.” He found it hard to speak past the savage pain in his chest. “Let me go to her.”

“No. We have a schedule to meet. Your queen is not important.”

He froze. Suddenly he felt all eyes on him. Should he shout the fury he felt now, with his army watching? What would they do if they realized that he, and they, were prisoners of the Winds, pawns in some game of theirs that had nothing to do with Iapysia, or humanity at all?

He felt a hand on his shoulder. It was the priest, his face grim, a message of caution in his eyes.

Deliberately, jaw clenched, Lavin bowed to the flame. “I understand,” he said. “You are correct, of course.”

Walking away was somehow easy. He moved as if weightless, bobbing along. People were speaking to him, but their words made no sense. Light and shape registered, but none of it had any meaning. She was dead, and it was his fault, as surely as if he had shot her himself. This moment had haunted his dreams for months, and he had steeled himself every morning to deny it, using the force of his will to command himself, his men, the world and Winds to preserve her. Just yesterday he had awoken sure that she was alive and free, and his heart had lofted like a swallow, serene and happy. But that was gone now, and he would never feel again.

Gradually the hands fell away, the voices receded. He found himself standing near one of the giant hatchways. Cold air moved across his face, but it didn’t revive him. It had the feel of death to it. Far below he could see patches of snow, bare trees. No one should ever die in winter, he had always felt. And now she was that cold, limbs frozen. He should be with her, arms around her to keep her warm.

Lavin walked to the edge of the opening. Someone shouted his name. He heard it like a curse.

He decided to let himself fall, and teetered for a moment on the edge. He could just close his eyes, and let it happen. It would be a relief, after holding himself up for so long.

Lavin turned, and dropped to his knees facing away from the hatchway.

No. He didn’t deserve such an easy escape.

Sunk in misery, he hung his head and in full view of his army, wept.

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