Ventus – Day 3 of 135


The church lay several kilometers within the forest. Jordan relaxed as he walked, frightening as the forest was. Father Allegri would help him.

The path opened onto the church lands abruptly: Jordan came around a sharp bend where towering silver maple and oak trees closed in overhead, and there was the clearing, broad and level, skirted at its edges with low stone buildings where the ministers lived. In front of the church itself, a broad flagstone courtyard, unwalled, was kept bare and clean.

The priests’ house stood off to one side, under overhanging oaks. It was a stout stone building, two stories high, with its own stable. Jordan had been inside many times, since his father helped in its upkeep.

With relief he saw that Allegri was outside, seated on the porch with his feet up, a news sheet in his hands. It must be something important he was reading. The priests received regular news about the Winds from all over the country.

Allegri looked up at Jordan’s shout and quickly walked to meet him. Now that he was here, Jordan ran the last part, and appeared on the porch huffing and puffing.

“Jordan!” Allegri laughed in surprise. “What brings you here?”

Jordan grimaced; he didn’t know where to start.

“Is something wrong? Shouldn’t you be at work?”

“N-no, nothing’s wrong,” said Jordan. “We’re taking a break.”

Allegri frowned. Jordan shrugged, suddenly unsure of himself. He pointed to the paper Allegri held. “What’s that?”

“Copy of a semaphore report. Just arrived.” Allegri sent Jordan another piercing look, then sat, gesturing for Jordan to do the same. Jordan dropped on a bench nearby, feeling uncomfortable.

“It’s fascinating stuff,” said Allegri. He waved the paper. “It’s about a battle that took place yesterday, between two very large forces, Ravenon and Seneschal.”

Jordan looked up in interest. “Who won?”

“Well, there hangs the tale,” said the minister. “It seems each side lined up, on the edges of a great field south of here, on the Ravenon border. They camped, and waited all night, and then in the morning they donned their armor, and took up their weapons, and marched against each other. Very deliberate. Very confident, both sides.”

Jordan could picture it clearly; this sounded so similar to the nightmare he’d had last night. In his dream, the mounted horsemen had clashed in clouds of dust on the ends of the lines. Bracketed by the horror of dying men and screaming horses, stolid infantry marched up the center. In his dream, Jordan could tell from the angle of the sun that it was nine o’clock in the morning. He had stood on a hill above the battle, surrounded by flying pennants and impatient horses.

“What colors?” he asked.

Allegri raised an eyebrow. “Colors?”

“What were the colors of the pennants they were flying?”

“Well, if I recall correctly, Ravenon flies yellow pennants. Those are the royal colors, anyway. The enemy were the Senschals, so they’d be red,” said Allegri. “Why?”

Jordan hesitated before speaking. To say this to Allegri would be to make it real. “Your semaphore… does it say that the Seneschals had these steam cannon hidden behind their infantry? Like fountains in a way, grey streams of gravel flying up and into the back ranks of the Ravenon footsoldiers.”

“Yes.” Allegri frowned. “How did you know? I just got this. We’re relaying it on to Castor’s place right now.” He gestured to the far side of the clearing, where one of the brothers was yanking the pulleys on a tall semaphore tower.

“I dreamed this battle.” There, he’d said it. Jordan looked down at his feet.

“Is this why you came to see me?” Allegri asked. “To tell me you’d dreamed today’s news?”

Jordan nodded.

The priest opened his mouth, closed it, and said, “Where were you in this… dream?”

“On a hillside. Surrounded by important people. I think I was an important person too. People kept looking at me, and I said things.”

“What things?” Allegri prompted.

It wasn’t like remembering a dream. The more Jordan thought about it, the more like memory it became. “Orders,” he said. “I was giving orders.”

He closed his eyes, and recalled the scene. His own lines were wavering, and the infantry fell back even as his cavalry outflanked the Seneschals on the right. A group of his cavalry rode hard at the steam cannon, and cut down their operators, but some were lost in the last moments as the cannon were laboriously turned against them. Ravenon now had the Seneschal forces bent back like a bow, but their own lines were stretched thin. Jordan described this to Allegri.

Allegri shook his head, either in surprise or disbelief. “What happened then?” he asked. “The news just reached us–but it’s unclear. Unbelievable. What do you know about it?”

Jordan squinted. He didn’t want to remember this part; he could see bodies strewn across the grass below, some writhing, and in places where the line of battle had passed, women walked to and fro, cutting throats or administering first aid depending on the color of a helpless man’s uniform. Jordan saw one man play dead and then leap up and run down a woman who had approached him with her knife drawn. Three others converged on him and cut him down in turn.

In the dream Jordan had looked away then, and spoke. “We deployed a new weapon,” said Jordan now.

“Describe it.” Allegri’s hands twisted in the cloth of his robe. He sat hunched forward, eyes fixed on Jordan.

“We had the breeze to our advantage. My men set fire to some sort of long tubes filled with… sulphur, I think. They made a horrible reddish-yellow smoke.” Jordan didn’t want to talk about it any more, but once he had started it was hard to stop. And Allegri was staring at him as if he could force the story out of him by willpower alone. “The smoke went over the Seneschals. They started to fall down, they choked on it. The lines broke. We had time to regroup, we got ready to charge.”

“And then?”

Jordan swallowed. “And then the Winds came.”

From the hillsides all around the battle scene, a cloud rose as the birds, the bugs, the burrowing animals and the snakes, all rose and marched into the valley. The grass itself began to twist and come to life, and the earth trembled as great silvery boulders wrenched themselves out and sprouted legs. The men and horses around Jordan milled in panic. He could see they were screaming, but their voices were drowned by a tumbling, roaring, and shrieking mass of life descending on the battle lines.

“It was the sulphur,” he said quietly. “They smelled the sulphur and became angry at us. It was okay as long as we were cutting each other up. Beating each other to death. But the smoke…” Jordan relived a feeling of terrible helplessnness, as he watched both armies dissolve under a tumult of fur, feather and scale. Only a few stragglers and quick horsemen escaped. The steam cannon exploded with ringing bangs, and mist and sulphur clouds hung low for many minutes until, drifting away, they revealed an encampment of the dead. The animals slunk away into the hills, shaking the bloody fur of their backs as they passed the stunned witnesses.

“It’s okay, you’re safe,” Allegri was saying. Jordan came to himself to find the priest at his side, arm around his shoulder. He realized he was shaking. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“But I was the one on the hill. The one who gave the order!”

Allegri shook him gently. “What are you saying? That you got up in the middle of the night, grew some centimeters and an army, and commanded the battle yourself? It’s more likely that you’ve been using that fantastic imagination of yours,” laughed the priest. “Maybe you heard something last night, from Castor or his men. After all, he might have the news from some other source. Did you maybe sit on near some conversation last night, that you maybe didn’t realize you were listening in on? Some word or phrase you caught, that came back to you as you were going to sleep?”

Jordan shook his head. “I went straight home.” He wiped at his eyes.

Allegri stood up and started to pace. “The semaphore said there was a battle yesterday, near a town called Andorson. Everyone died, it said. We looked at that and didn’t understand it. Everyone died? But who won? What you’ve just said clears it up. It could be this was a true vision you had.”

“A vision?”

The priest chewed on a fingernail, ignoring Jordan. “A vision, for the son of a mason. Won’t this upset the applecart. Do we tell Turcaret and Castor. No… no, that wouldn’t do at all.”

Jordan stood up and grabbed Allegri’s arm. “What’s going on? What’s this about visions?”

Allegri scowled. He was more animated than Jordan had ever seen him. “You know some people can talk to the Winds. Turcaret claims the power; it runs in his family.” Jordan nodded. The whole foundation of sensible government was men like Turcaret, who had a proven connection to the Winds, hence the authority to guide the hands of economics and bureaucracy. “The Winds often speak in visions,” said Allegri. “Or dreams. But they rarely speak to someone of your class.”

“What does that mean? Am I like Castor?” The thought was absurd; Castor was hereditary Salt Inspector for this province. His pedigree was ancient.

“I admit it’s unusual, but most of the great families got their start with somebody like yourself, you know.” Allegri pointed towards the church. “Let’s talk in there.”

“Why?” asked Jordan as he followed the rapidly walking priest.

Allegri shook his head, mumbling something. “It’s a shame,” he said as Jordan caught up with him.

“What do you mean, a shame? This means our family could get a government post, doesn’t it?” Was that really the voice of some spirit that had entered his dreams last night? The idea was both exhilarating and terrifying. Jordan found himself laughing, a bit hysterically.

“Am I going to get my own manor house?” As he said it, he realized something: “But I don’t want that!”

As they entered the church, Allegri frowned at Jordan. “Good,” he said. “I had higher hopes for you–you’ve always been inquisitive. A lot of the ideas you’ve spoken to me about are like ones from the very books Turcaret bans. I’d hoped you would show an interest in the priesthood. After all, it’s the one thing you could legally do besides being a mason.”

They stood now in the pillared space of the church. Allegri gestured at the cross that hung between the tall windows at its far end.

“If Turcaret and his like had their way, this place would not exist,” Allegri said, gesturing around.

“What do you mean?”

“Turcaret and his kind have power because they claim–claim, mind you, that’s all–to know the will of the Winds who rule this world. All they know, really, is merely how far the Winds can be pushed before they push back. The Inspectors and Controllers use that knowledge to control the affairs of men. They claim to serve Man; really, they serve either the Winds, or themselves. And those who serve the Winds, do not serve God.

“Jordan, I hope you don’t become such a one. Whatever the Winds tell you, you can choose how to use the knowledge. But beware of becoming their tool, like the Controller and his men.”

Jordan looked around at the quiet space, remembering many evenings he had spent here with Mother. Father did not attend church; he was not a believer. Only about half the people at Castor’s manor were. The rest adhered to one or another of the Wind cults.

“What should I do?” asked Jordan.

“I’ll consult by semaphore with the church fathers. Meanwhile, tell no one. If these visions disrupt your day, claim sickness. I’ll back you up. Hopefully we’ll get some guidance in a day or so.”

Jordan brought up the subject of the stone mother. Allegri called one of the brothers over and they consulted, returning after a few minutes with some suggestions for handling the mechal beast. Jordan thanked Allegri, and they made their farewells.

He felt as if a great weight had been lifted off him as he walked back to the manor. Whatever was happening to him, he had put it in Allegri’s hands. The priests would know what to do.

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