Ventus – Day 33 of 135


Armiger stood and wiped the sweat from his brow. He had been trying all afternoon to repair the damage he’d caused to Megan’s garden last night. Short of using some of his own nano, there was nothing more he could do.

“Very good,” she said. He turned. Megan leaned on the tall stump that marked the end of the garden. She smiled. “But seldom have I seen a man so grimy.”

“I told you I would fix it.”

She laughed. “One does not ‘fix’ growing things, Armiger. But… with practise, you could become a good gardener. I may leave the task to you for a while.”

He brushed back his hair. She seemed happy at the thought, and he did not want to disappoint her. Still… “I can’t stay,” he said.

Her face fell. “Why not? You’re not going back to your damnable army?”

“This is another army, and another war.” He shrugged uncomfortably. “I want to talk to Queen Galas. She’s the only one on this off-chart world who seems to know what the Winds are. The only human on Ventus with vision. Naturally, she’s going to be killed for it. So I have to reach her immediately.”

Megan folded her arms under her breasts. “You know this queen?”

“No. Never met her.”

Megan watched him pick his way carefully out of the garden. He hadn’t said he was in love with the queen. Still, he was willing to leave Megan to see her.

He paused next to her, waiting for her to fall into step as he headed for the cottage. His recovery had been unnaturally swift, so that by now he showed no sign of having been at death’s door. Quite the contrary; his face glowed with health, and he moved with a cat-like grace he had sometimes caught her admiring. None of this surprised Megan; he was a morph, or some spirit very like that, so such powers were to be expected. But he was still a wounded man, she knew, regardless of his bodily strength. He walked and ate like one in shock, and their conversations had continued to be brief and awkward. Some men trod heavily on their own hurt; the worse it was, the harder they would push it down, but it showed–in premature age, in lines of exhaustion and anger in the face. And she well knew that a man who will not salve his own pain will often put all his energy into healing that of others’. To Megan, such brutality against oneself combined the most noble and foolish that men were capable of, and men of this sort drew her like magnets. Her own Matt had been like that. She believed only a woman could ease the intolerable pressure these men put on themselves.

So, Armiger was leaving. But she would be going with him, though he did not know it yet–and she had only this moment decided.

“I have money,” she said. “Enough for a horse, maybe two. Riding palfreys.”

“I only need one horse,” he said. Men were so obtuse sometimes; she half-smiled.

He strode easily through the thick grass, muscles moving in that fascinating synchrony she saw only in horses and men. “I’m not letting you in the house until you’re clean,” she said mischievously.

“You might have a long wait, then.” He grinned back at her. “Your little well only draws a cupful at a time. Do you propose to wash me a palm’s-width at a time?”

“That might be delightful,” she said. “But wait and see.”

When they reached the cottage, he laughed in surprise. “How long did this take you?” She had filled an entire washtub while he was in the garden.

“Well…” She put her hands behind her back and kicked the dirt. “I rather thought you would need it. So I started just after you left.”

“I do need it.” Unself-consciously he stripped off his shirt. Her eyes widened as she saw he meant to do the same with his pants.

Armiger had only bathed in the presence of other men–officers and enlisted men, at river’s edge or encampment. It took him a moment to notice her sudden silence, then he realized he might be shocking her. By then he was naked, and had already stepped into the water.

He turned and their eyes met. Even as she stepped toward him, he felt his sex stirring. Since becoming embodied, he had not made love; it wasn’t necessary. Still, he had seen others do it many times, although the rapes performed by his men were distasteful, nothing like the love-making in which he had seen his remotes indulge.

Megan took a washcloth and wordlessly ran it up his leg. She did not look at him as she laved his calves and thighs; but his excitement was visible, and she raised her eyes to his as she brought the cloth there.

He reached to touch the nape of her neck. She sighed heavily, and ran her wet fingertips along his member. She kissed the flat of his stomach, then stood into his embrace.

Part of him wondered why he was doing this–an old, inhuman side whose voice had been losing strength and confidence over the past days. Another part of him, young and ancient at the same time, almost wept with desire and relief as he drew her dress down to bare her shoulders, and buried his face in her hair.

Megan dropped the dress completely, and stepped into the basin with him. “It’s been so long,” she whispered.

“Yes.” He lifted her onto him. The feeling awoke a torrent of memory–false or real, it no longer mattered. He encircled her with his arms. “Too long,” he murmured. Their mouths met, and neither spoke again.


Jordan came to himself suddenly. Calandria was standing in front of him, bathed in slanting evening light. Her face was framed by a wreath of fine black hair, tendrils of which caressed her forehead and the nape of her neck. She smiled at him. Jordan cleared his throat.

“How is our patient?” she asked, nodding to August. “Well enough to travel?”

“I feel fine,” said August. “The wound doesn’t seem so bad. I think I could even manage to hide it from Linden.”

“Really?” Calandria brushed a hand through her hair absently. “That might not be such a bad idea after all.”

Jordan was surprised by this. Last night she had been adamant about getting August out of the way so that he would not call further attention to them. The state of his wound was bound to be cause for comment, after all. Of course, if he himself hid it from his masters…

“Jordan, can I speak to you alone for a moment?” she asked. He nodded, smiled at August, who shrugged, and followed her into the hall.

She closed the heavy door, and said, “Our plans have changed.” Jordan felt a quickening sense of excitement, but said nothing. “We are leaving tonight,” she continued. As she spoke she watched his face closely. “I want you to pack our belongings and wait for me to return. Be prepared to move quickly,” she said.

“What about Armiger? I thought we were staying because we hadn’t figured out where he was.”

“Well. We have enough to make a start, don’t we?” she said brightly. Then she walked away, apparently confident.

Jordan reentered the room, and closed the door. “What’s up?” August asked him. The man was stretched out, seemingly at leisure, on his bedroll next to the fire.

Jordan shook his head. “I have no idea,” he said.


Axel raised his fist, then carefully loosened his knotted muscles and knocked politely on the tower door. It was a hard climb up here, past Turcaret’s guards then up a narrow windowless spiral stairway. He could barely make out gleams of light coming through cracks in the door. After a moment he heard shuffling footsteps, and the door opened inward.

“Come in, come in.” Controller Turcaret waved him inside.

Axel was surprised to find the controller was alone. The tower room he had been given was lovely. Tall leaded windows in all four walls admitted long shafts of afternoon light to gleam on the leaves of hundreds of plants festooning every surface. The chamber was tall, maybe six meters, and stone-floored. Whoever normally lived here had trusted to the sturdiness of the place, and had potted several young trees of respectable size. One, a willow, curled its long branches down over an iron-framed bed. Another overshadowed a writing desk. A wardrobe, several cabinets and a table sat half-hidden behind the foliage. There was a fireplace by the bed; the place might be quite cozy in the wintertime.

Axel crossed his arms, trying to manage a diplomatic smile. “Well. How are you?” he asked. It really should be Calandria at this meeting; but Turcaret had asked for Axel in particular, so Cal was off getting the horses ready, and he had to pretend to like this man for a few minutes. He manufactured a smile.

Turcaret brushed some leaves and a beetle off the table and motioned for Axel to sit. “Come in, Chan,” he said as he rummaged in a cabinet. “Make yourself comfortable.” He produced a bottle of wine and two glasses.

Axel eyed the bottle. “Are we celebrating something?”

Turcaret laughed darkly and uncorked the bottle. “We might be. That depends on how cooperative you are.”

“Does it have to do with your reasons for visiting the Boros?” asked Axel. What he really wanted to ask was, Did you follow us here?

“All in good time, man.” Turcaret made a shooing motion toward the wine glass. “Try it. I think you’ll appreciate it.”

Axel scowled, but picked up the glass. He took a sip. Instantly his diagnostic nano went to work. They detected no common poisons, although the liquid was full of substances foreign to them. That in itself was normal for Ventusian wine, Axel had discovered.

“Hmm.” He dismissed the paranoid thought that Turcaret might try to poison him, and took another sip. It was delightful stuff, so strong it seemed to dissolve into his soft palate before reaching the back of his throat.

He smiled at Turcaret and raised his glass. “All right,” he said. “Now what did you want to talk about?”

“Ah, that.” Turcaret steepled his hands and smiled. “It has to do with the little matter of your being an imposter.”

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