Ventus – Day 26 of 135


The ceiling was low, and beamed. He could see the cross- pattern of thatch crooks flickering above that in the firelight.

Armiger sat up. The effort was easier this time. He looked around, fingers opening and closing on the soft cloth which was draped over his naked body.

The woman sat near the fire. Megan, she had called herself. She held a cloth sack draped across her knees, and was just positioning the second of two buckets at her feet. It was probably the scraping sound of the buckets that had woken him.

All Megan’s possessions were visible within the one room of this cabin. She had three chairs, a full set of pots, cooking, and fire implements, two hatchets by the door, and a spinning wheel. Chests were wedged into the corners. Dried herbs and kindling hung from the rafters. Everything was rough-hewn, except three items of furniture: the posted bed Armiger now sat in, a fine oaken dining table and, at the wall behind Megan, a wooden cupboard with inlaid patterns of leaves. Yesterday he had lain for a while, too exhausted to move, and examined the pattern on that cupboard from his position here.

Megan was in her thirties. Her hair was grey, her face lined and wind-burnt. She was very strong, though, and still slim under the red peasant dress she wore. Now she plunged her hand into one of the buckets, and brought out a fistful of brown and white feathers. She began riffling through the mass with her other hand.

“What are you doing?” he asked. His voice sounded stronger.

Megan looked up quickly, and smiled. “How are you?”

“Better.” He rolled his head, surprising himself when his neck cracked. It never used to do that. He fingered the underside of his jaw. The scar was almost gone. “I’d like to try to walk today.”

“Tomorrow. It’s evening.”

“Oh.” She began stuffing feathers into the open end of the sack, and he realized she was making a pillow. “I’ve been using your bed. I…” He wasn’t sure what he was going to say. Thank her for that? But he had been ailing. It was a human thing for her to do, he knew; not that any of his men would have willingly done the same. “Where have you been sleeping?”

“Oh, I slept there with you the first night,” she said, looking down at her work. Her hair hid her face. “You were so cold, I thought you might not survive till morning. The last few times, I’ve used the table. With some quilts on it, it’s quite fine. The bed’s mattress is only straw, anyway.”

Armiger imagined her lying on the table, like a body in state. He pushed the image deliberately out of his mind.

“I’m sorry to be a burden to you,” he said stiffly.

Megan frowned. “Don’t talk like that. It’s no trouble, all else I have to take care of is me. And I am fine. Anyway… what else could I do?”

“I was dying,” he said, wondering at the thought. “You saved me.”

“I’ve tended the dying before,” she said. “Last time, with no hope he’d recover. I had not that hope this time, either. So I am happy, you see, if I could save someone.” Her face fell as she thought of something. “At least this time…”

“You lost someone close to you?” He looked around, noticing the fine wooden table and bed-frame. “Your husband.”

Megan nodded as she reached for more down. “You see I know about losing things. And about trying to keep them.” She looked at him, almost fiercely. “You always lose it in the end–what you want to keep. The harder you try to keep it the more it goes. So now I know how to keep things right.”

“How is that?”

“You can never keep a whole thing. But you can keep a part of anything.” She looked sadly at the wooden cupboard. “Be it only a piece of furniture. And if you can learn to be content with that, then you can let anything go.” Megan stood and walked to the cupboard. She smoothed her hand over the fine wood grain. “I would sit and watch him as he made this. He spent so much time on it. We were in love. When you lose your husband, you think you’ve lost everything–nothing has any value any more. Funny, how long it took to know that this was still here, and other little things. The parts of him I could keep.”

She shrugged, and turned to Armiger. “And what have you lost?”

He felt a surge of rage at the mindless presumption of the question. As if she could comprehend what he’d lost! Well, maybe to her, losing her husband was the equivalent of his own disaster. “I lost my army,” he said.

Megan laughed. “And nearly your life. But soldiers don’t worry about that sort of thing, do they? I admire that.”

He scratched absently at the back of his arm. “Good lady, soldiers worry about nothing else.”

She came and sat down on the edge of the bed. He smelled pungent chicken feathers. “Now,” she said seriously, “maybe I do believe that. Because you’ve lost something. More than your way.”

Armiger stared at her. There was no way he could talk about this–words could not encompass it, they were too small. The part of him he had communed with had been beyond words, or any of a human’s five senses; it had invented senses, and sense, to suit its intimacies.

He wanted to speak to her in thunder, in torn ground and shocked air. Would have, had he only the strength.

Reminded that she had given him what strength he did have, he looked down.

“I think… I did die,” he said. It was the only human analogue he could think of. “I died when… She died.” She was completely wrong to describe his higher Self; but Megan’s people thought their souls were feminine. He struggled to find words, wrapping his arms around himself, glaring past her. “More than a wife. More than a queen. My god died, who gave meaning to more than just my life, who infused everything, the stones, the air, with it.”

Megan nodded. “I knew. From things you said in your sleep. From the look of you.” She sighed. “Yes, you see, we are together in that.”

“No. Not like you.” He sat up angrily, feeling sharp stabs of pain in his side. Megan stared at him, patient and undaunted.

He wanted to pierce her calmness, her certainty that her own pain was as great as his. “She wasn’t a human being,” he said. She was… a Wind.”

Megan blinked. Her brow wrinkled, then cleared. “Much is made clear,” she said. It was his turn to look surprised. Megan reached out, slowly, and touched the healing scar under his chin. “I know the rites of death,” she said. “I have had to perform them myself.”

Armiger sat back. His anger was deflated. For some reason, he felt unfulfilled, as if he had lied to her, and not merely told her what she would understand.

Everything was greying out. “Sleep,” she said. “My morph.”

He lay back, listening to her move about the cabin. Just before he drifted off again, he heard her say, maybe to herself, “And what part of this are you going to keep?”

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