Ventus – Day 45 of 135


Galas waited in her garden. It was a cool night, the air laden with water after evening thunderstorms. Their clouds still mounted up one horizon, giant wings lit by occasional flickers of lightning. The rest of the sky was clear, and stars were thrown across it in random swatches. The moon had not yet risen, but the night flowers were opening all around her, giant purple and blue mouths appearing from dense hedges that ringed deep pools. The garden was made around its pools, each one isolated by some artifice of growth so that it seemed a world unto itself, and a thousand years of tradition had dictated as many rules for its seeming disarray as the Queen had for her court.

She had decided to pause beside a long rectangular pool. Diadem, the moon, would rise directly above this pool tonight; that was what this pool was for, to catch the rays of its light on this and the following two nights of the year, to prove that harvest time was over. Throughout the rest of the year it was tended carefully by men and women whose lives were dedicated to the garden, but who would never see this nocturnal vision. All the night flowers would bow to Diadem, all transformed at the critical moment into a magical court, the queen herself its centerpiece. She loved this pool, and this garden, as few other places in her land.

She pulled her shift around her and delicately sat on the stone bench that was hers and hers alone to sit upon. Her maids had woven diamonds into her pale hair, in anticipation of the lunar light; her shift was purest white, belted with onyx squares, and she carried in her right hand her short staff of office, carved of green jade.

Queen Galas smiled at the placid water. Total silence blanketed the garden. She knew quite well that Lavin was encamped within sight of the garden walls, but he was forbidden to attack on this and the next two nights by ancient custom more strict than law. It was the Autumn Affirmation and war was forbidden for its duration. It was a fine irony, she thought, that she should have this time to prepare for his coming. She smiled at the pool’s beauty. Aware as she was that death and ruin lay in wait outside her gates, she marveled that such peace should maintain itself within.

“Flowers will grow on your grave too,” she said to herself. “The moon also smiles on slaves and cripples.”

The smile broke, and she lowered her eyes.

For a long time she sat like that. When she looked up again, Diadem was fully visible, like a brilliant jewel held aloft by the arms of carefully tended trees. Its reflection came slowly down the water towards her, lighting up the curves of bole and stem and creating that lovely illusion of animation that happened only once every year. She had missed the beginning of the event. She frowned a chastisement to herself and sat up straighter.

But a flaw had appeared in the full whiteness of the moon. She stood up quickly, as it resolved into a giant black night moth, two hand-spans across, of the sort that inhabited the mountains many days east of the palace. It dropped from the moon and fluttered across the surface of the pool, directly to Queen Galas. It paused in the air before her.

She sat down. “What do you want, little one?”

It dipped down, then up, and then appearing to gather its courage, landed on her knee. She had never feared insects, and sat admiring it, trying to pretend it was some sort of omen. That was no good, though–she was well past the stage where omens could tell her anything she didn’t know. Lavin was coming; nothing would change that.

The moth beat its wings, but didn’t rise. Suddenly it seemed to sprout another pair of wings, and then it gave one flap and… unfolded.

She blinked at the single sheet of paper that now lay on her lap.

Galas’ fingers trembled as she reached to touch it. The sheet was square, smooth and dry, and slightly warm. Writing was faintly visible on it.

The skin of her neck crawled. She had never seen anything like this, never heard of such an occurrence. The morphs could change animals, she knew, but they didn’t understand writing. Could this be a message from some new Wind, whom she had never met? Or had the desals, the Winds who had helped her take the throne, decided to intervene again in her life?

She picked up the letter by one corner, and turned it to the moonlight. She read.

May I humbly beseech Queen Galas, wife of this world, to grant an audience to a traveller? For I have not rested on green earth since before the ancient stones of your palace were laid, nor have I spoken to a kindred soul since before your language, oh Queen, was born.

I came as a falling star down your sky, and now feel again what it is to breathe. I would speak to one such as myself, whose eyes encompass this whole world, for I am lonely and own a question even the heavens cannot answer.

Signed: Maut.

Below this was another line of text. She read it and shook her head in wonder. Here were clear instructions as to how she could meet this being who had written her. Meet him or her tonight.

Galas looked up, wondering if she would catch sight of a trail of light across the skies. She looked at the paper in her hand. Of course I will speak with you.

She restrained an urge to leap from the bench and race inside. Who could she tell? Her heart was thudding and she was suddenly lightheaded. She buried her face in her hands for a moment. She breathed faint rain-scent from the paper she still held.

Galas commanded herself to become calm. She turned her attention back to the pool. All along its edge now waited handsome and graceful courtiers, fair and clothed in dewdrops and ivy. The garden’s plants were cultivated just so they would appear this way for a few moments on this night. Ever since she was a girl, she had marveled at the human ingenuity that could create such art, and in the past the sight had served to strengthen her resolve to cultivate her land as though it too were a garden.

The shadowy figures all faced towards the rising moon, and the pool appeared like a flow of glass between them, a mirrored way down which Diadem’s reflection moved to meet her.

This contemplation was uplifting, but sad this time. She imagined the faces of her real courtiers on these ephemeral shapes, and fancied herself the reflection of the moon. All brief, a mere shadow play soon to be ended by the blades and guns of the insolent general waiting outside. One shadow overtaking another.

Fear surged in her, and she closed her eyes. Stop, she told herself. I am not the reflection. “I am Diadem herself. All things take their light from me.” Even the general who comes to kill me.

She looked down at the paper, and laughed a little giddily.

Then she stood to go inside.

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