Ventus – Day 18 of 135

“Good grief, are you a boy or a woman?” laughed the lady in a deep voice; Calandria was still dressed in buckskins. The lady made a fluttering gesture with her hand near her breast. Silver chain in her hair glinted as she cocked her head. “And which side of the family are you from?”

Lady May curtsied again. “Neither side, I fear, Madam. I am Lady Calandria May, and this is my charge, Jordan Mason.” Jordan started at the sound of his own name. He stood awkwardly and bowed. “I wrote asking for the hospitality of the house some weeks ago, and received it,” Lady May went on. “If we have come at the wrong time, please let us know.”

“Nonsense,” said the lady. “Make yourselves at home. I am lady Marice Boros. My husband is, alas…” she smiled for the first time as she looked around, “missing. You see, we are having the first family reunion in a full generation, and the clan has grown to unmanageable proportions. These are all my kin.” She swept her hand to indicate the throng, then turned and frowned at the vista. “Oh dear, they are, aren’t they? Well, no matter, we will accommodate you. Alex,” she said to the man holding their horse, “put them in the tower.” She nodded sharply to Lady May. “I trust you will join us for dinner? I’m afraid we shan’t be able to give you too much attention today; I’ve not spoken to some of our family members yet, and will be doing that at dinner.”

“We understand. Though I hope we will be able to converse at some point, your obligations are clear,” Lady May said. “Oh–we were to rendezvous here with an acquaintance. Sir Axel Chan. Has he by any chance arrived?”

“Chan. Ah, of course.” Lady Marice’s eyes narrowed. “I think you can find him right over there.”

Jordan and Lady May followed Marice’s pointing finger. In a clear area of grass, two men circled each other. One wore a sky-blue silk uniform with winglike feather epaulets. The other, shorter man wore black leather. They were surrounded by a small crowd of young men, who either sipped delicate glasses of wine or negotiated bets among themselves. Abruptly the man in black stepped forward, took the wrist of his opponent and, without appearing to move, flipped him over to land with a thud audible all the way to the cart. Scattered laughter and jeers drifted over.

Lady May sighed. “I was afraid of that. I will take him off your hands, Lady Marice.”

“Thank you.” Marice curtsied, and walked away. Lady May started in the direction of the fight, and Jordan stepped down to follow.

The youth who’d been flipped stood up angrily. “–Slipped!” he shouted. Two of his friends shook their heads as they paid the ones with whom they’d bet.

The man in black grinned like a gargoyle. He was not tall, slighter than his black jacket and leggings tried to suggest, but broad-chested. His features were strange–flat, with a broad triangular nose and dark hooded eyes. His hair was a black tangle kept tied back in an unruly pony tail. But when he smiled, his teeth were perfect, and he smiled very broadly when he saw Calandria.

“My lady,” he shouted, spreading his arms and stepping forward to embrace her.

Lady May shifted her weight slightly and shrugged. Axel Chan flew over her cocked knee and onto his face.

The crowd erupted in laughter. The young man whom Axel had humiliated smiled, and bowed to Lady May as Axel picked himself up.

Jordan’s attention wavered between Axel and Calandria May. As she had before, now she changed before his eyes, her mobile face taking on a rakish smirk as she played up to the young men. “Dear sir,” she said, “Our friend is not well known to you; he is to me. Hence, you can be forgiven for not being prepared for him. I, however, am surely ready for any meeting with Axel Chan.” She put a hand on Axel’s shoulder and shook him lightly. Axel grinned stupidly.

“Axel, you will show your worthy opponent what you did to him–later. For now, I need your ear. Get yourself cleaned up and I will meet you in your quarters.”

Axel winked at the youths. “In your dreams, Axel,” added Lady May, as she turned to go.

Jordan stayed where he was. After a moment, Axel noticed him, and his expression became serious. He waved away the questions from the other men, and came to stand before Jordan, hands on his hips. He smelled of wine and sweat.

“Well. Mason, isn’t it?” He stuck out a grimy hand. “Axel. I met your sister.”

Jordan wasn’t sure he liked the idea of this rogue coming anywhere near Emmy. “How is she?”

“Fine.” Axel glanced after Lady May, who was remounting the cart. “Don’t tell her ladyship there, but I told Emmy what’s up. I have a letter she wrote you.” He grinned at the way Jordan’s face lit up. “Don’t do that! She’ll figure it out. This is between you and me. I’ll let you have it later, whenever we can escape from her clutches for a minute or two.”

Jordan opened his mouth, countless questions crowding for expression. Axel gave him a friendly shove. “Be on your way, boy. She wants you. We’ll talk later.”

Jordan nodded, and practically ran back to the cart. He remounted it next to a scowling Calandria. “…About as inconspicuous as a tart at communion,” she was muttering. “He’ll be the death of us all.”

They were led to the main doors of the manor, where they dismounted. Another servant preceded them into the giant rotunda of the place, and through a wide greeting hall to a glass-walled chamber which let out onto the central courtyard.

The manor wrapped almost all the way around the courtyard, which was packed with statues like a forest of stone. The neat procession of pillared windows and beige wall was broken at the far end by the strange angles of the old tower. The manor seemed to have grown out of one of its corners.

Jordan marvelled at the workmanship of the statues. They depicted men and women, mechals and desals and other fabulous creatures, and one or two were attempts at modeling the Winds themselves. He paused before one of these, which was a human form made of tortured folds of cloth carved in marble. It looked realistically windblown. The servant noticed him looking and said, “Lady Hannah Boros, six generations ago now. This was her workplace. She made all our statues,” he added proudly.

One statue near the dark entrance to the tower was missing its head. The blond stone in the wound was fresh; Jordan could see a few chips half-covered by grass at its feet. “What happened to that one?” he asked.

“Hush,” said Lady May. “Be discreet.” The servant pretended not to have heard them.

Jordan was still puzzling over that exchange when they were shown their chamber. It was squarish and about six meters on a side, but the ceiling was a spiderweb of buttresses. One narrow window looked out over the courtyard. There was only one bed, but the servant told them another would be brought up. Other than that, the place held only a dresser and wardrobe, and a small writing desk. Sheepskins were scattered about the stone floor; it smelled of camphor and woodsmoke here.

Lady May thanked their guide. “I need clothes,” she said to him on his way out. “Can you send me a tailor?”

“We have the best here, lady. Dinner is at six.”

“Thank you.” He left, and she collapsed backwards onto the bed. “Whew.”

“Why are we here?” Jordan asked. He was admiring the stonework. This place was very solid, much more so than the manor house itself. It might even be strong enough to keep Armiger out.

Lady May had stripped off her left boot and was massaging her toes. She peered at him through the window her legs made. “We will be staying here until we know exactly where Armiger is. You have to get hold of yourself now, Jordan. We need you tell us exactly where he is, and where he’s going. When we locate him, we’ll strike.”

“Why should I help you any further?” he asked. “When I tell the Boros’ what you did to me…”

“Do you want the nightmares to stop?” she asked quickly. “When Armiger is no more, they will cease,” she continued. “But only Axel and I of all the people on Ventus can destroy him. You can surely escape us, Jordan, but by doing that you guarantee you will never escape Armiger.

“Well?” she asked after they had glared at one another for a long moment.

“He’s coming here,” Jordan said sullenly.

She dropped her foot and sat up. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, he’s after me!”

“How do you know that?”

“I… I just know.”

She grimaced. “I don’t think so. At least, we’ve seen no evidence that he’s aware that his connection with you is still open. As I told you, we’ve taken steps to disable it so he can no longer see through your eyes. But we’ll determine all of that soon. This is our headquarters now, Jordan. We are also guests here, and I expect you to behave accordingly.”

“What do you mean?” he asked suspiciously.

She patted the bed next to her. He sat on the linen; it was softer than any bed he’d known, except maybe the one in the manse. Lady May leaned over and massaged his shoulders delicately. “I’m going to go talk to Axel. When the tailor comes, I want you to ask him to dress you. Not in servants’ clothing–you are no one’s servant now, you are the equal of anyone in this building. So waistcoat, evening dress, the lot. Do you understand?” He nodded. “And do not wander too far, but please do not enter any of the servants’ areas–when you walk, you will walk in the main halls like the owners. I think this might be hard for you, but it is necessary.”

He frowned. He hadn’t thought about it, but it definitely would be hard. Never in his life had Jordan walked the halls of a manor as if it were his home. He was used to ducking from stairwell to stairwell, never straying beyond areas where he could justify his presence. She was right: his instinct would be to find the back halls, eat in the kitchens and leave the building when night came. He shook his head. “I’ll try.”

“Good.” She rolled off the bed. “I’m off to tackle Axel. Wish me luck.”

He watched her go, and bolted the door when she’d left. Then he went to examine the mortaring around the window, and tried to gauge its strength.

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