Ventus – Day 29 of 135


Returning from exploring the local town, Axel found the road to the Boros estate blocked by a number of wagons. They sat listlessly in the hot sun, waiting for some obstruction ahead to clear.

His horse snorted and turned to look at him. Axel stretched and grinned. “You hate to wait, don’t you?” he said to her. She swung her head away again.

He had gone into town to look for discrete lodgings for August, and to buy a good pair of horses for Calandria and Jordan. He’d found the lodgings, but not the horses. It was a good start.

He cantered over to the wagons. “Making camp?” he inquired of the driver of the wagon that sat square in the middle of the gateway. The man looked at him wearily.

“Everybody’s a comedian. Sir,” he added, noting the way Axel was dressed.

“Seriously, what’s the hold-up?” One very large wagon blocked the wrought-iron gates to the estate. Axel supposed he could ride around through the underbrush. He didn’t, but leaned forward as the other man pointed down the road.

“Breakdown up ahead.”

Axel laughed. “Some things never change. Any chance you can move that cart a meter or two and let me by?”

“Yes, sir.” The driver urged his horses forward a bit. Axel’s own steed balked at the narrow opening between the stone gate post and the side of the wagon, so he dismounted and led it through.

Six or seven wagons waited on the roadway ahead. He didn’t bother to mount again as he passed them.

Funny, he thought, but these wagons looked awfully familiar. Then he looked past them, and understood why.

Turcaret’s steam car sat wreathed by smoke and mist a little down the road. The controller himself stood next to it talking to a pot-belled man in greasy velvet robes. Axel passed the lead wagon and walked up the center of the road to meet Turcaret.

When he spotted Axel, Turcaret turned and casually waved. He was a tall man who appeared forever to be posing for his own portrait. He wore a red velvet riding jacket, and spotless black boots. He stood ramrod straight and held his chin high so that he could look down his long, pointed nose at Axel.

“Ah, the wandering agent of Ravenon,” he said. “I see you made use of my suggestion to visit the Boros. How is the lady May?”

“Never better, sir.” Axel peered into the pall of smoke around the steam car. He hated Turcaret. “Having a little mechanical problem?”

“Nothing we can’t fix. I’ve sent a man ahead to tell Yuri we’re arriving. I trust you’ve found the Boros’ accommodating?”

“That we have.” What was Turcaret doing here? He had outlined his travel itinerary at length in several tiresome dinner conversations prior to their arrival at Castor’s. Cal had decided to take up the hospitality of the Boros family precisely because Turcaret was not expected to come here. The fewer people to compare notes about them the better.

Might as well admit surprise, he thought. “And what brings you here? I thought you were heading straight for the capital after Castor’s?”

“Oh, I was.” Turcaret smiled one of his strangely infuriating, smug smiles. “But then I was given some information that I thought Yuri simply must know about. So I thought it best to come here directly.”

Axel felt his smile grow a bit wooden. “Information? What information?”

“Oh, that would be telling,” said Turcaret.

“Yes, well… I hope to see you at dinner, then?” Axel remounted his horse.

“Oh, you’ll be seeing me, Mr. Chan, count on it.” Turcaret smiled again, and turned back to inspecting his steam car.

This can’t be good, Axel thought as he spurred his horse to a trot. He’d had a very good time here at the Boros estate, but the worm was in the apple now. What would happen if Turcaret and Yuri compared notes? Maybe nothing…

But he would start packing anyway, he decided, just as soon as he’d told Calandria the news.


On the night of Turcaret’s arrival, Jordan awoke somewhere around three A.M. For a moment he thought he must be back in Armiger’s mind, because the sound that had awakened him was the sound of metal striking metal: clashing swords. He sat up, and looked around. This was definitely the tower room, with its odd triangular stonework. The sound had come from the window. Outside it was the courtyard of statues.

The sound was faint and intermittent. For a few seconds he thought he might be imagining things. Then it came again.

And again, silence. Jordan pictured two figures circling one another, in unspoken agreement that no alarm should be given. Unless one was already dead?

He rose and padded quietly to the window. The smell of the rain which had cascaded down all evening came to him. Calandria slept in her usual comatose way, limbs flung akimbo, body entangled in the sheets. Jordan stood on his tiptoes and peered down at the darkened well of the courtyard.

His scalp prickled. He had never seen the courtyard after lights-out. Not even the glow of a lantern filtered down from the tall windows of the manor. Lady Hannah Boros’ statues posed like dancers at some subterranean ball, who needed no light, whose music was the grumble of bedrock settling and whose dance steps took centuries to complete. Jordan had no doubt, after seeing the manse, that such places existed.

One of the statues leapt out of place and dodged behind another. Jordan heard labored breathing and the slide of metal on stone. Shadowed darkness near one wall roiled, showing another figure in motion. Jordan’s breath caught, and he pulled himself up farther to look straight down.

These two seemed to be alone. If there were seconds to this duel, they must be invisible in some darkened doorway. Jordan doubted there was an attending physician present; there was the grimness of vendetta about the silence and darting motion of these men.

Holding onto the edge of the window was hard. The opening was little more than an arrow slit, meant to provide light and a good firing point if one pulled up a chair to stand on. The chairs in the Boros manor were huge, heavy and old, and he was bound to wake Calandria if he tried to drag one over. He clung as long as he could, catching frustrating glimpses of movement below. Then he fell back, flexing his arms in frustration.

If he awoke Calandria, she would order him to stay here while she investigated. No way he was going to let that happen.

The whole thing was probably none of his business… but Turcaret’s steam car had puffed into the estate this afternoon. Where Turcaret went, bad news followed, Jordan had decided. And Jordan knew that Axel and Calandria had decieved Turcaret; they were both worried about his arrival. It was always possible, he told himself as he headed for the door, that one of the embattled shadows downstairs was Axel Chan.

He raced down the steps, slowing to a loud skip as he reached the first floor, and poked his head around the corner of the archway. Directly ahead was the door to the courtyard; to either side long halls led off in dark punctuated by coffin-shaped opals of light from the windows. These halls connected the tower to the main manor house at ground level.

A black figure reared into sight in one of these lighted spaces. It crossed the beam of crooked light, then disappeared again in shadow. He watched for almost a minute, until it appeared again in a lozenge of lunar grey farther down the hall.

Though the night watchman must be a thirty meters away by now and facing the other way, Jordan still held his breath and tiptoed very quietly across to the door. He eased it open, letting in a breath of cold, misty night air.

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