Ventus – Day 30 of 135

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.

Jordan felt exposed just peering around the door jamb. The statues seemed to be staring at him. Aside from them, there was no sound at all now.

The two men might still be circling in the dark, only meters away for all he knew. Now that he was here Jordan had no idea what he was going to do. Sound the alarm? That would be the sensible thing to do–but this was doubtless some political feud, and Calandria’s dress-up games aside, he was still only a mason’s son, and it was not his place to interfere. He had already drawn the attention and wrath of the household for fainting at dinner. He was not about to compound that by waking the place, especially since the courtyard seemed empty now. Maybe the duellists had lost their nerve, and fled, or one had capitulated.

The silence drew out, and the outside chill began to penetrate Jordan’s bones so that he shivered as he clung to the door. Then he heard a cough, followed by a faint groan.

The duel was over then, but the outcome had not been peaceful. Now what? Wake the household? Run back for Calandria, tell her a man was bleeding to death in the courtyard?

‘So what’, she would say. She was too ruthless, and seemed to think it best if Jordan unlearned empathy as she sometime had. But he couldn’t do that.

He eased out into the night air, and paused half-expecting a dark figure to rush him from the forest of statues. Nothing moved.

He heard the groan again, and this time was able to locate its source. Huddled near one wall of the manor was a man. He held his stomach with both hands, and his mouth was open wide as he struggled to breathe. His epee lay neglected on the grass nearby.

Jordan ran to him and knelt down. The man flinched away from him. “It’s all right,” Jordan said. “I’m going to help you.”

“Too… too late for that,” the man gasped. He was tall and rangy, with a hatchet-shaped face. Lank black hair lay plastered across his forehead. He was dressed in the livery of Linden Boros’ household. “I… I lost. Let it be.”

“What are you talking about? You need help, or you’ll die.”

“I know.” Black liquid welled up between his tightened fingers. “Got me… a good one.” He gritted his teeth and raised his head to look at his belly.

“Yes, you lost fair and square. But he didn’t kill you, did he? You’ve got another chance.”

The man shook his head. “Can’t… face them. Now. Too humil–, humili–” he didn’t have the breath for the word.

“What?” Jordan was desperate that the man would die in front of him. He sat back on his haunches, suddenly angry. “You can’t face them? Is that supposed to be brave or something?”

The man glared at him.

“I’ve always admired soldiers for their bravery,” Jordan went on in a rush. “Being willing to die for your pride seemed honorable. But I guess some men are willing to die because they’re brave enough to face defeat, and some because they’re afraid of facing their friends after being defeated.” He crossed his arms and tried to stare the man down. “Sounds like you’re the second kind.”

The man fell back with a groan, closing his eyes tightly. “I’d… I’d kill you,” he gasped. “If I could stand.”

“Yeah, that way you wouldn’t have to listen to me. Cowardice again. Are you going to let me help you?”

“Go to hell.”

“What’s the problem?” Jordan nearly shouted in exasperation. “Where is everybody? Where are your friends? What’s so awful about getting yourself sewed up? Who’s that going to kill?”

“House–house rules.” The man opened his eyes again, to stare at the stars and wind-torn clouds. “Boros rules. No duelling… allowed. I call f-for help… Linden loses. Loses face. Maybe more.”

“We’ll take you to Linden’s doctor. He can cover up for you, surely?”

“Ordered… not to treat… duelists.” The man began to shiver violently.

“Oh.” Jordan looked back at the tower, which stood in black silhouette against the troubled sky. “So your surgeon won’t treat you because he’s ordered not to, and Yuri’s won’t for the same reason. I suppose it was one of Brendan Sheia’s men who stabbed you, so his surgeon certainly won’t help.” The man nodded fatalistically.

“Lucky for you I’m not a member of this household, nor one of yours, or Sheia’s,” Jordan went on. “I’ve been given no orders against helping you.”

“Are you… surgeon?”

“No, but,” he guessed, “my lady is.”

The man tried to sit up. Jordan slipped an arm under his shoulders and helped him. “How can… lady be…” A violent shiver took hold of the man. “C-c-cold.”

“Come. We’ll stand up. Then we’ll see.” Slowly and gingerly, he drew the man to his feet.


Calandria cursed in a language Jordan had never heard before. He needed no translation.

“Look at the trail of blood!” she snapped. “How are we going to hide him as you’re suggesting? And what if he dies? We’ll have a corpse in our room!”

“Not… my… idea,” whispered the bleeding man.

“Lie back,” she said to him. She knelt, whipping her nightdress around herself crossly, and poked at the embers of the fire. “You’re going into shock. I’m going to get the fire well up, then we’ll see to your wound.” Jordan sat with his hands pressed hard on the man’s stomach. Blood flowed everywhere, but no more than at the butcher’s; Jordan was more worried by the amazing paleness of the man, and the coldness of his skin.

“Don’t mind her,” he said to keep his mind off these things. “What’s your name?”

“A-August. Ostler.” By Ostler he might have meant his family name or profession; Jordan didn’t pursue the issue.

“I’m Jordan Mason. This is Lady Calandria May.”

“Jordan, stop it! You’re wasting his strength.” Calandria thumped two logs onto the churned embers. Sparks flew up, and she poked the wood into position so it caught. Jordan had noticed before that she wasn’t very good at tending fires, a strange lack in someone so otherwise talented. Luckily these logs needed no encouragement to catch.

“Get Axel,” she said. “I’ll take over here.” She pulled her pack from under her bed, spilled its contents on the floor, and came up with two white metal tubes. Without glancing up, she added, “Then clean the blood off the steps, and yourself too.”

Jordan ran.

He was glad now that they had taken the tower room. The place was set apart from the main manor, so comings and goings like this would be much less noticeable than in the house. Still, Jordan slowed to a cautious walk when he reached the downstairs gallery, and paused every few steps to listen for the night watch.

Infrequent lamps dimly lit the halls of the manor. Jordan’s bare feet made no noise on the cold stone floor. He took servant’s ways; the idea of walking the main halls still bothered him, especially now when no one should be afoot. This also allowed him to pause at the cistern outside the kitchen. Low voices came from inside. He cautiously ladled water into a bucket, and washed himself. He took the bucket with him up the tall narrow stairs to the top floor. If anyone stopped him, he could come up with any number of plausible servant’s explanations for carting water about at two in the morning.

Even with this prop in hand his heart was pounding. As he reached the top of the stairs, he heard voices again. He plunked the bucket in a corner and quickly cast about for a place to hide. Finally he stood behind the door to the hall. Stupid, but what choice was there?

The voices became louder: a man and a woman in quiet conversation somewhere nearby. Very nearby. He held his breath, and waited for them to open the door.

Nothing happened. They must be standing just on the other side. Jordan waited for several minutes, but they did not move. But he had to get to Axel. Time to brazen it through. He took a deep breath, picked up his bucket, and opened the door quickly.

There was no one on the other side.

The voices continued. Jordan put the bucket down and placed his palms over his ears. The dialogue continued, within his own head.

“Shit! Not now!” He staggered back, nearly tipping the bucket. All the excitement tonight had made him vulnerable, and Armiger had stepped into his mind again. Now that he knew what it was, the voices were obviously those of Armiger and Megan.

He stood for a minute in silent panic, waiting for the vision to wash over him completely. He would lose himself here, just when Calandria and Axel needed him. Maybe someone would find him wandering like an idiot, blood-stained. If August died, he would be taken for the murderer.

As he thought this, the top-floor landing did begin to fade. He thought he saw the inside of Megan’s house, lit by a single candle. She and Armiger sat close together, talking earnestly. The vision became sharper with each passing second.

Jordan reached out blindly, and felt the bannister at the head of the stairwell. He held it tightly in both hands to anchor himself. It was the panic he had to fight. There was no other way to stop the vision.

He put his awareness into the tip of his nose, and breathed slowly, in and out, counting his breaths as he did so. Over the next few minutes he used every trick Calandria had shown him to engender calmness, and gradually the voices faded. When he was confident he had them at bay, he let go of the bannister. He could see again.

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