Ventus – Day 134 of 135

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A cold winter rain descended on the valley below the Titans’ Gates. The flood had long since subsided, and remnants of the army now worked to make a new road across the blasted landscape. Of the forest that had once stood there, not a single twig remained; in their zeal to destroy 3340, the Winds had reduced everything in the flood down to its constituent molecules. Where pines had towered over needle-strewn loam, now there was only grey rock and a fine, black ash that shifted uneasily in the breeze.

High on the mountainside, a lone figure paused at a narrow window on the northernmost facade of the monastery. Here, where the ledge on the North Gate narrowed and vanished, the monks had long ago built a precarious, wedge-shaped tower that clung to every available contour of the mountain. The window looked out from this tower’s furthest point, with nothing but a six hundred meter fall beneath it.

Galas turned from the window to inspect her new quarters. There were three rooms, all walled and floored in granite. Her new bed chamber was triangular, with a single slotted window. The room she stood in now was larger, and the third was larger still. Each had a fireplace, where some of the last of the available wood was crackling now. Generations of abbots had lived and died in these small rooms.

“Are they adequate for you?” asked the present abbot.

She smiled at him. “They were for you. Why shouldn’t they be for me? –But are you sure you’re willing to give them up?”

He shrugged. “Everywhere is holy now, your highness. We have no reason to stay here any longer.”

Galas walked to a window and looked out. The pebbled glass gave a distorted view of the devastated valley below, and beyond it the desert of Iapysia, across which she had fled only days ago.

“Am I going to freeze once the wood runs out?”

He laughed. “I didn’t. But I’m sure if you ask the rooms nicely, they will be warm in the future.”

“Yes, of course.” So simple, yet impossible to conceive.

She stood there, smiling at the possibilities in these three little rooms. After a while she heard the abbot cough politely and move to the door.

“Oh, thank you,” she said before he could escape. “You don’t know what this means to me.”

He cocked his head at her and smiled. He looked years younger than the first time she had met him, over a decade ago. “May I ask?” he said hesitantly. “What does it mean? For you to stay here, that is?”

She laughed. “Peace and privacy, two things I have never had in my whole life. You should know that yourself, abbot; no one will make the trek up here lightly. I am negotiating with the vagabond moons to exclude these peaks from the tourist trade they are planning. Only those who really wish to speak to me will come–which excludes every courtier and most of the nobles of my former court. Parliament is cowed, now that the army has spread its tales. They call me the Queen of Diadem now, and far be it for me to disillusion them. –They’ll all learn soon enough that their powers in this new world are equal to mine.

“I’ll wait out the winter here. I have no stomach for travel right now. And come spring, I’ll find a little cottage in a small town somewhere, and settle down quietly–with a new name, I think.”

“Then you have no more wish to rule? The country needs you now more than ever.”

She shook her head. “I’ve been crushed under the weight of power all my life. I think I’m going to enjoy missing it.” She laughed at the lightness with which she dismissed royal power. Every moment was a surprise, these days. She hoped that feeling would never end.

“It seems that we have all been given new lives,” said the abbot. “I wish you well in yours, Galas.” The abbot bowed, and stepped backward out of the room.

Galas returned to examining her new realm. Hmm. Where to start? These rooms might be small, but she was happy to have them. She felt she deserved no more, after letting her kingdom fall into civil war. She had dared much, and lost it all; but she had never dared nor lost as much as the people she commanded, and knowing this humbled her.

She could hear the walls’ murmur, faint in her minds’ ear. This new sense Jordan Mason had given to the world was like dreaming while awake. She could order these stones to change their color, texture, even to become warm. She could talk to trees and animals, even the air itself.

Everywhere is sacred; we are all divine. No more could a man justify power or wealth by claiming he needed it to protect his people from material want. The elements were enemies no longer. It hadn’t happened yet, but Galas knew that soon, this fact would throw into sharp relief the true colors of every tyrant in the world. New wars and revolutions would follow, but they would be different from those that had occurred in the past. Only men would do the killing now; neither starvation nor exposure would kill those dispossessed of their homes. And very quickly the refugees, who would have been powerless in the wilderness in past ages, would realize they were dependent on the conquerors for nothing. They would make new political pacts, this time with the Winds.

And so the world would fall into chaos, Galas thought, but this time men would have to think of new excuses for getting their fellows to follow them. The arrangement Mason had made with Thalience was clear: the Winds regarded humanity as a treasured companion but not a master. One might command the meek mecha in the walls, but no one commanded the Winds. From now until the end of time, they and humans would share responsibility for Ventus, and neither side would let the other harm their world.

This situation was just. It was everything she had ever dreamed of. It also made rulership irrelevant for Galas–and that, too, was just.

Someone knocked on the door as she was hauling the abbot’s old desk from its old position to a better one. “Come in!” She drew a hand through her tangled hair and smiled as Armiger entered.

He was dressed in traveler’s clothes again, fresh ones that still looked a bit stiff on him. His face had regained its fleshly colors; the Archipelago had required that he be stripped of his nanotechnological core. He was only a man now, albeit one with memories of being a god.

“My dear friend,” she said. “How do you like my new palace?”

“Everywhere you are, is a palace.” He laughed at the sour expression she shot back. He too seemed transformed, these days. He was even able to joke. “So you’re really staying here?” he asked, sending an appraising look around the narrow room. “The Winds are building new Manses; you could move into one of those, without having to feel you’d taken it from anybody.”

“This is all I need.” She went to him, and took his hand. “What about you? Have you decided what you need?”

“No.” He shrugged. “I don’t yet know who I am, I suppose.”

“Welcome to humanity, Armiger,” she said wryly. “Let me tell you a secret: you will never know who you are.”

He shook his head. “Am I human, really? I think I was once, centuries ago. And then after 3340 died, I became human again… when I met Megan. Now that she’s gone, am I still? I don’t know.”

“You are more than ever, Armiger. That is her gift to you. Don’t squander it.”

“Gift…” He nodded. “The part of her I can keep. Yet I don’t know what to do with it.”

“Just be, my friend. Learn to simply be.”

He shook his head, but not in denial. “And you? Have you given up everything you were to become a nun in a cell? I can hardly believe it.”

“It is necessary.” She looked around at the narrow space. “I am too ambitious by far. And rulership is addictive. Something new is needed for the great of soul to do, and I wish to learn what that thing is. Consider this cell to be a self-imposed discipline.”

He nodded. “But you will soon have no country to rule, anyway.”

She smiled ruefully. “Ah, Armiger. I am Mad Galas–I have ever been, and so I shall ever be. What do I care for mere nations? I set my sights higher the instant I was born. So what if I’m just a mortal–no wiser, no smarter? In all the trillions of people in your vast universe, I bet there is no one like me.

“I have to admit to a new temptation. Now that my world is free, Ventus needs a philosopher to protect it against new threats. The greatest, in the long run, is the ‘tyranny of condescension’ you told me rules everywhere else. Of course, that may not take hold for centuries; we are still an uneducated and rural people. Right now, I worry about who will replace kings and generals as the wielders of power over men. I very much fear that it will be religious fanatics of one sort or another. They will have to use words to compel, because to use naked force without justification is now to reveal your desire for power too clearly. The people will need to have other words with which to combat these ambitious preachers. Being the philosopher to give them their new weapons would seem to be a worthy enough ambition for me.”

She sighed. “But I will not commit pen to paper yet. I may never be able to. How could I advise people about how to live, when I don’t yet know what it means to merely be a woman, like any other?”

She gestured dismissively. “Help me move this table.”

When they had it placed to her satisfaction (by the window) Galas walked to a trunk she’d just had brought in and took out two copper goblets and a bottle of cheap wine that one of the monks had been caught hoarding. She drew two chairs over to the table, and sat at one.

“Come, sit with me for a while,” she said as she poured. “And let’s gossip to each other about the affairs of men and Winds–and forget gods and philosophers.”

Armiger laughed, and took the offered wine.

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