Ventus – Day 21 of 135

At festival occasions they were taken out and worn, as now. The Boros ancestors had come to visit their descendents.

The horn sounded again. Everyone stood. The masked procession proceeded up the hall within the space between the tables, and each figure bowed or curtsied politely to the head table before it turned to walk back. Polite guests were expected to have already learned the names and histories behind these masks; Jordan had never thought to do so, but then, he had never been any highborn person’s guest before. He resolved to visit the mask room and learn the Boros pedigree as soon as he could.

Lady Marice stood. “On behalf of my husband, I welcome you. We have much that is serious to discuss amongst ourselves, but I pray you first enjoy this fine meal we’ve brought you, and forget your cares for a space.”

“What does she mean about serious stuff?” Jordan whispered to Calandria.

“Something’s up,” Axel responded cryptically. Almost imperceptibly, he gestured at the table opposite. Jordan looked, but didn’t see anything odd or unusual–just two family groups seated near one another, each attentive to Marice. Now and then glances were exchanged within each group, but not between them.

Axel nodded to the patriarch of the family closer to the head table. “That’s Linden,” he whispered. “Direct heir to Boros. Not by blood, apparently, but some kind of tradition.” Linden was a thin, whippish man with pale hair drawn back in a pony tail. His eyes were fixed on Marice as she spoke. “And that,” Axel indicated the square-faced head of the other family, “is Brendan Sheia, bastard son of Yuri and a lady from Iapysia. By the laws of Iapysia, he is the heir.”

“Isn’t there a civil war in Iapysia?” Jordan whispered back. Axel nodded.

Calandria touched his arm. “Can you tell me who here is a royalist, and who is a parliamentarian?”

Jordan looked from one family to the other, then down the rows of the tables, where many more sat. Marice had finished her short speech and as she sat down, the buzz of conversation started again. Now Jordan was eager to see who spoke with whom, but there was no easy dividing line.

“Bright lad,” Axel said behind his head. “He’s looking for the battle lines already.” Calandria nodded.

Waiters swirled up carrying trays of food. A very complicated service began; Jordan knew vaguely that there was a protocol to which dishes one took and in what order, but had no idea what that was. In a fit of inspiration, he decided to watch the apprentices of two households opposite, and choose what they chose. Once a plate came to him before either of them, and he felt a moment’s panic. He appealed silently to the waiter, who smiled and gave a slight nod. Relieved, he took the dish.

And so it proceeded, through a gruelling two hours of careful eating, followed by a gruelling hour of ambiguous speeches and circumlocutions. Jordan alternated between relaxed enjoyment and extreme discomfort. Despite himself he began to fight back yawns, and to keep himself awake he let his thoughts drift to his sister. He didn’t want to think about his parents beyond acknowledging to himself that he was still angry with them. But as Postmistress, would Emmy attend banquets like this one? He would have to tell her about the evening, and reassure her that she could do the same at Castor’s.

Except that Castor had not approved of her posting…

He shut his eyes, weary and worried again about Emmy. Her official position was a thin shield, he knew. Somehow he must accomplish what Calandria demanded of him, and return to her. Tonight, or tomorrow; soon.

Suddenly dizzy, he opened his eyes. To sunlight.

Jordan blinked, and again saw the tables and the guests, under lamplight. He craned his neck back. Shafts of evening light still shone through the oculi high overhead, but it hadn’t been those he’d seen. For a mere instant, he’d seen forest light, leaves and sky.

He shook his head and sat up a little straighter. Must be the wine, he thought hopefully. With an effort, he returned his attention to the banquet.

Linden and Sheia still ate stone-faced, though their wives seemed animated enough. At the head table, Yuri seemed most relaxed, his slack-jawed pale face shining in the gas light. But, Jordan noticed, his hair was plastered to his forehead with sweat, and it wasn’t hot in here. Of course, Yuri was right next to the fire.

In more ways than one, Jordan thought, and smiled. “You wouldn’t wish to have the troubles of the highborn,” Jordan’s father had told him more than once. Just now he agreed.

Jordan leaned back and closed his eyes.

His ruined hand brushed aside twigs, revealing a forest path. With a sigh he stepped down to it. For a moment he swayed, and put one hand out to steady himself against a tree. Then he sat down.

Armiger looked up at the sky. Night was coming. He had been walking for two days now without pause; night merely slowed him down. At first it had been mechanical, aimless activity. Gradually as he walked, though, the bright air and thrum of life all around him awakened something in him–a kind of recognition, an identification with the things that grew and struggled all around. If he squinted at the sky, his healing eyes could perceive the faint threads of the Diadem swans wavering in their high seats. The Winds still did not know he was here. But while the sight of them filled him with a deep pang of loss–for they were his own kind, if distantly related–it was the buzzing insects and the gaudy flowers that he drew strength from. The swans, like his greater Self, were inaccessible.

As he walked, Armiger for the first time contemplated what it meant to be mortal.

Now as he paused on this tenuous path, he forced himself to take stock of his body. Hitherto the body had been just a vessel, rugged but ultimately disposable. Today as he walked he had begun to come to grips with the idea that this was his only body now–that his resources were finite and concentrated in this ruined husk.

His wounds were healing. If he tried he could articulate words with his split tongue, and his fingers could grip again. The terrible wound in his chest had closed, and great sloughs of skin had fallen away to reveal flesh new and pink. As he walked he had stuffed leaves into his mouth to make up the mass he’d lost, dimly aware as he did so that the human biology of his body protested. He overrode it to command digestion and assimilation. After all he was not human; he was Armiger, agent of a god.

Or he had been. What he examined now in the failing daylight was a badly wounded man, dehydrated and staggering on blistered feet. In his experience in the field, he had seen men like this weeping as they collapsed by the side of his marching columns. They tended not to rise again.

When he closed his eyes and listened to this human body, Armiger knew why. Yesterday as he walked he had wondered how the small lives around him experienced existence, unaware that he need only pay attention to his own body to know.

As long as he thought of himself as Armiger the demigod, this body’s problems seemed trivial, as he had treated those dying men’s tears as trivial. After all, they were so stupidly unaware of themselves as parts of the systems of army, ecology and planetary action which Armiger felt in his deepest being. What was a body, or even a mind? Get rid of it, there were more, the important thing was the system. Armiger had been the systems’ awareness; they had been it also, but never knew.

While he had his tie to the omniscient power that had created him, Armiger had rarely used the brain of this human body he was in, except when he needed to understand the irrational actions of his soldiers. This body thought, and felt, like any human, but he didn’t need to use that mind, for he had access to the far greater mind of his master, whose own thoughts could themselves be conscious entities.

Previously Armiger had existed as god and mind, with the body merely a tool. Now he was only mind and body. He ran his hands over this body, finding the strains and infections. He stank, he realized. The human instincts he had ignored so long quailed at the damage, the humiliation of his state. For the first time, Armiger opened himself to those instincts.

This was what his men had felt, fighting and dying. This was the essential experience of the deer and foxes he had sighted as he walked: pain and loneliness.

Armiger no longer had the god to center him, make him complete. Humans and the animals of this world had existed without such a god. How? Who are you? he asked his human side.

In wonder, Armiger realized he had sunk to his knees, was clutching himself, and crying in wrenching gusts. And now he knew the feeling of the human misery he had heard so much on this world.

“Calandria!” Jordan clutched at her shoulder.

“Shh!” She put a hand on his lips angrily.

He started to protest–he needed help, the visions were back–then noticed the silence.

Jordan turned his head. A few people were staring at him. The rest had their eyes on the head table, and only one voice in the whole hall was speaking. It was Yuri, who had risen and now stood with his arms crossed, staring at nothing while he spoke. Jordan had not heard him speak before; his voice was a high tenor, very mannered and hard to hear, even in this attentive silence.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)