Ventus – Day 127 of 135


“Sir, they’re not fighting.”

The lieutenant lay at the very edge of the door, a telescope jammed against his eye. He was staring straight down.

“What do you mean? They haven’t engaged the enemy?”

“I think the monks must have surrendered. They’re all together down there, but there’s no fighting going on.”

“Excellent. Have they got the semaphore set up yet?”

“It’s just coming on line now, sir. They’re sending a test message.”

“Read me the first real message as it comes in. I don’t want to waste a second.”

He paced back and forth, fighting vertigo and cursing the basts who got in his way. Nearly the entire army was on the ground now, either here or at the mouth of the valley. They would never be in a better position than they were now.

“I want to know the instant you have your hands on General Armiger.”

“Yes,” said the bast who had been overseeing the operation. “So do we.”

“Sir, we confirmed the test message. Now they’re sending. The message is…”

Lavin staggered over and sat down heavily next to the man. “Yes, yes?”

“The message… the message is…” The lieutenant took the telescope away from his eye and rolled over. He looked at Lavin with a puzzled expression. “It said, ‘The queen is alive.'”

Lavin felt his whole body go cold.

What a terrible, terrible joke to play on him. I will kill the man who thought of this, he decided.

“Signal them. Tell them to stop fooling around and tell us what’s happening.”

The lieutenant ran to comply. Lavin sat gasping. It took all his willpower not to leap to his feet, and hurl the bast standing over him into the sky.

The flag man lay with his head and shoulders over the opening, and began waving the bright banners of his trade. The lieutenant sat on his legs as he did this. He was still holding the telescope, so Lavin crab-walked over and snatched it from him. The metal was freezing cold, like everything at this altitude. Lavin lay down, inched up to the edge of the door and looked down.

He was immune to heights now, since he’d felt like he was falling for days.

It took him a while to find the semaphore man on the ground. When he did the man was in mid-message. “–is alive,” the flags said. “Galas is here.”

“No.” He wiped his eyes and looked down again.

Each letter took several waves of the flag, so the next message came to him with excruciating slowness.

When the message completed he rolled away from the opening, and lay staring at the false sky inside the moon. Way up there, guy wires thrummed with the tension of trying to hold the moon in position against the buffeting mountain winds. The bast was speaking to him, but he ignored it. The semaphore message had been read aloud by the lieutenant, and the commanders and soldiers left aboard the moon were in an uproar.

Galas commands General Lavin to surrender his army. Only she could be so audacious.

He sat up, vertigo forgotten. “Lieutenant! Reply to that message!”

“Sir! What should we say?”

He thought about it, heart racing. “Ask her… ask her this: ‘What was the name of the inn?'”


“Just send it.” He felt lightheaded now, but not because of the vertigo. He lay down again.

If she was alive… if she was alive, he could never look her in the face again. Yes, he had loved her, but he had also failed her–both as a man and as a soldier. It no longer mattered what she felt for him in return. He knew his real value, and with that knowledge came a certain measure of calm. He also knew what he could do to let her know he was sorry, and that too was a healing thought.

It seemed to take forever for his message to be relayed. He knew the answer was the right one, however, by the third letter.

“Nag’s Head.”

That was the inn where he had first met Galas. Nobody else knew that, except maybe her old bodyguards, who had all retired long since, and wisely held their tongues.

Lavin rolled to his feet, staggered, but stayed up. “Send this: ‘The army is yours.'”

They gaped at him.

The bast stepped forward. “What is it you are doing?” it demanded. “Cease this. We command your army.”

Lavin bowed to it. “And you still do,” he said smoothly. “You may relay your orders to my commanding officer from now on. She is below, on the mountain top.”

The bast twitched its tail suspiciously. “Send a message to this commander with your flag thing,” it hissed. “Tell it to deliver up the abomination to us now!”

The semaphore operator looked at Lavin, who nodded. He stepped back, carefully loosening his sword in its scabbard.


Galas stood on a level spot halfway between the monastery and the peak of the mountain. She had ordered the semaphore be set up here, where she could survey all the action. When the question about the Nag’s Head had come down, she nearly cried from the memories it evoked. There could be no stronger evidence that Lavin still lived, and that he still honored what had once been between them.

Arrayed around her were Lavin’s men. They were plainly stunned with the turn of events, but remained silent. They would do whatever she asked, she knew. Lavin had commanded it; and they had no other lifeline.

The semaphore operator read out the Winds’ demand that Armiger be given up. Galas sighed, and glanced down the mountainside. She had been expecting this, of course. It was inevitable, now that Armiger had clearly failed to do whatever it was that he had intended.

She could see him down there, a small figure standing still by the parapet overlooking the valley. There was no one near him; the monks were afraid of him, and rightly so. He seemed so insignificant there–just another lost soul. However, until she gave him to the Winds, all of Galas’ people were threatened.

In turning to give the command that he be taken, Galas felt herself loosing hold of all that she had striven for. Armiger represented the last shreds of her dream of autonomy from the Winds, and tradition. With him gone, the world would flatten out again, into the drab and futureless round it had always been. Her people would be slaves again, and now for all time.

It was ironic. Lavin had surrendered to her at last–and yet, he had won, more completely than he probably knew.

So be it. The safety of her people came before everything else. That being the case, however, she must not just give Armiger up. He was valuable; and the wrath of the Winds must be turned away from her kingdom.

With difficulty, she cleared her throat, and said, “Send this message to my dear General Lavin:

“We will turn the general Armiger over to you, provided that you promise to leave our army, our cities and our people unharmed. This is a small price to ask.”

She stood with her hands clasped as the semaphore operator began waving. Her gaze was turned not up at the all-encompassing sky made by the moon, but down at the monastery courtyard, where a kindred spirit stood disconsolately, awaiting his fate.

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