Ventus – Day 5 of 135


After dinner Jordan took a walk to the spot where he planned to build his own house. He was heartsick. He strolled the rutted, red tracks that joined the houses of the village, but it only took a few minutes to cover them all. He stopped to talk to a few people, family and friends who sat in the lazing sun and talked while their hands busied with spinning and mending. He was distracted, however, and soon resumed walking again. The Penners were fixing their roof, along with a mob of relatives. Jordan avoided them; they would just want his advice.

This village was his home, always and forever. Jordan enjoyed hearing tales of the outside world, and often dreamed of a life as an traveller. But outside the village waited the forest.

The forest appeared in the fading daylight as a ragged swath of green-black across the eastern horizon, exhaling its hostility across the reach of fields and air to Jordan. The forest was a domain of the Winds, and of the morphs that served them. Unlike the morphs, the true Winds had no form, but only a monstrous passion sufficient to animate dead moss and clay. They drove the wall of trees forward like a tidal wave, slowed to imperceptibility by some low cunning, but just as unstoppable. The previous summer, Jacob Walker had gone to the back of his fields to cull some of the young birch trees that had invaded his fields. His son had seen the morphs take him, and the way Jordan heard it, the trees themselves had moved at the morphs’ command. Walker’s farm was abandoned now, saplings spiking up here and there in the field, the crops turned to woodsage and fireweed, poison ivy and thistle. The Walker family now lived in another village, and did odd jobs.

Some things could not be avoided, or confronted. There must have been a time, Jordan felt, when he was unaware of the pressure of the sky on him, of the eyes of conscious nature watching from the underbrush. He vaguely remembered running carelessly through the woods when he was very young. But he was swiftly educated out of that. Once, too, he had run and laughed in the corridors of the manor, but he knew now that however familiar Castor might be, he was something different than Jordan and his people, hence in his own way a force of nature like the Winds. To be obeyed, his anger sidestepped if possible, else accommodated. Jordan could not become that.

Better not to think about it. His pace had increased as his thoughts drifted back to the manor, and the visiting Lord. Jordan slowed his pace, consciously unclenched his fists. From here, at the edge of the village, he could see the roof of his parents’ house over those of the neighbors. Everything looked peaceful in the goldening glow of evening. He had come to a fence, past which a row of haystacks squatted, surfaces alive with attendant grasshoppers, wise blinking birds sitting on their peaks. He sat down on the stile, and propped his chin on his hands.

Across the road was a expanse of unruly brush, interspersed with trees. It was far from the forest. Jordan had decided when he was ten years old that he would build his house here. Although he had yet to buy the land, only just having begun to earn a wage, he felt the place was already his. Lately he had begun drawing up plans for the building. Father had laughed when he saw them. “That’s a bit optimistic, isn’t it?” he’d said. “Better start small.”

Jordan had kept the plans as they were. His house would have a big workshop where he could do stonework. Why limit himself to repair work? People would need detailing for new buildings. He could do that. So he needed that extra space, regardless of what Father said.

Evening canted slowly over the village, lighting and deepening the roofs as planes and parallelograms of russet and amber. There came a time when there were shadows, and Jordan knew this was when he should go back. The hammering from the Penners’ had stopped, and now only a few lazy laughs drifted in, mixed with the barking of dogs called on to herd the goats back home.

Jordan heard a sound behind him. It was only a blackbird taking off, but he realized it too late to stop a cold flush of adrenaline. He stood up, brushing dust off the backs of his pants, and glanced at the dark line of the forest. Yes, go back.

He did feel better now, his mind calmed of any bad thoughts. His father was sitting in the doorway of the cottage, whittling, as he did sometimes. Yawning, Jordan bade him good night; his father barely glanced up, only grunting acknowledgment. Jordan saw no sign of his mother or sister inside. He padded up to the attic and threw himself on his narrow bed.

As he drifted off, he saw and heard flashes reminiscent of his nightmare last night. Every one would jolt him awake again, a little pulse of fear setting him to roll over or hug the blankets tighter about himself. He imagined something creeping in through the little window and whispering in his ear. He was sure someone had touched his face while he slept last night, and that this had set the nightmares off. What if it had been a morph?

Jordan sat up, blinking in the total darkness. It had not been a Wind. It was a person, someone unfamiliar whom he had seen, sometime today. Turcaret? He couldn’t remember.

He had been so absorbed in battling memory that he hadn’t noticed the sounds coming from downstairs. Now Jordan could plainly hear his father and his sister arguing, it sounded like in the back room.

“I won’t go back there,” she said.

“What are you saying?” said their father. “What will you do instead? There is nothing else, nowhere else to go. Don’t be silly.”

“I won’t.”


“He’s an evil man, and he makes Castor evil whenever he comes. They were… they were looking at me. I won’t wear this.”

“Castor commanded it. He’s our employer, Emmy. We owe everything we have to him. How can you be so ungrateful? If it weren’t for him, where would we be? Huddling in the forest with the windlorn.”

“You’d let him… you would…” She was in tears.

Father’s voice became softer, placating. “Emmy, nothing is going to happen. We have to trust Castor. We have no choice.”

“It is! It is going to happen! And you won’t see! None of you!”

“Emmy–” Jordan heard the door slam open, and quick footsteps recede into the night. He leaped out of bed, and went to the window. A slim form raced away from the house, in the direction of the black forest. Jordan’s scalp prickled as Emmy vanished in the shadow of the great oaks.

His father had heard the boards above his head creak. “Go back to bed, Jordan!”

He remained standing. Downstairs, his father and mother spoke together quietly; he couldn’t hear what they were saying.

Jordan fell back on the bed, his heart pounding. The murmured conversation continued. Why weren’t they following her? He listened, a tightness building in his chest as his parents’ inaction continued. After a few minutes he realized they were praying.

There were morphs in the forest, and maybe worse things. Jordan felt a sudden certainty that Emmy was going to stumble into its arms. She must be trying to get to the church, but the path was difficult even in daylight. At night, the forest was so dark you couldn’t see a tree trunk centimeters from your face, and, he knew, every sound was magnified so the approach of a field mouse sounded like a bear was coming.

Emmy had never feared the woods. He should have told her what had happened to him today. Jordan put his hands to his eyes and squinted back tears. At that moment, he felt terribly, awfully helpless, and abandoned because she was abandoned. Their parents were doing nothing!

And neither was he. He went to the window again.

“Jordan.” His father’s voice filled him with sudden loathing. His father was afraid of the forest. He wouldn’t follow Emmy because he was scared of the dark, and he was sure inaction would cure whatever was wrong.

Jordan sat on the bed, seething with hatred for his parents. The tightness in his chest was growing, though. Do something, he commanded them silently. Sitting in the dark with his fists clenched, he tried to move his parents with sheer will power.

The tightness had him gasping. Finally, he admitted to himself that they would do nothing–not tonight, not tomorrow, or ever. Their desperate fear of any disturbance in their carefully ordered lives paralyzed them utterly–and it always had.

He hurriedly dressed, not caring how much noise he made, and thudded down the steps. Candles lit the kitchen, where his parents knelt on the gritty wooden floor. Both looked up as Jordan appeared.

His father opened his mouth to speak, then closed it. He met Jordan’s eye for only a moment, then looked down. His mother nervously fiddled with the bow of her night dress.

Some spell had lifted, and Jordan walked past them with no feeling of compulsion to stop, obey or even heed what they might say. He stepped into the cool August night, and turned toward the forest.

He took the lantern that always hung outside the door, fumbled for the matches that were stuffed in a crack nearby. Frowning, he lit the lantern as he walked. Behind him he heard a shout, but he ignored it. Somehow, the action of lighting the lantern, of picking the likely path his sister had taken, absorbed his attention and he felt no emotion as he walked. No emotion at all.

Once he was under the trees, the lantern seemed to create a miniature world for him. This little universe was made of leaf-outlines, upstanding lines of grass, and grey slabs of trunk, all stuck in the pitch of night. Without the light, he would be stuck here too. It was inconceivable that Emmy could go any distance in here; but he had to admit she knew the paths. He had once asked Allegri what he would do if he lost his light in here, and the priest had said, “It happens now and then. But the trees are cleared near the path, so if you look straight up, rather than ahead, and sweep your feet ahead of you as you walk, you can do it.” It was like walking backward using a mirror. Emmy knew this.

But she could have fallen, could be lying two meters away, and he would never see her.

He opened his mouth to call her, heard a croak come out, and his own voice, circling around to his ears, somehow broke the dam of numbness that he had preserved as he left home.

“Emmy!” His shout was louder than he’d expected, and his voice cracked on it.

A few meters into the blackness he saw a small footprint in the mud; she had come this way. Emmy must be making for the church. She wouldn’t go to the neighbors; they would just bring her back home. And she wouldn’t go to the manor. The church was the only other refuge.

“Emmy!” He started to say, come back, but what came out was “Wait for me!”

He walked for a long time, calling out now and again. There was no answer, though once he heard a distant crashing in the brush which froze him silent for a long moment.

She couldn’t possibly have gone this far! Had he missed her in the dark? Maybe she hadn’t come this way at all, but just skirted the forest, and was even now back home, waiting for him with the others. That thought made Jordan’s scalp prickle, as if he were the runaway… but that was silly.

The lamp was starting to gutter. “Shit.” He was going to wind up huddling the night under some bush; in the pit of his stomach he knew he’d lost Emmy. And now he was alone in the forest.

He bent down, placing the butt of the lantern on his knee, and opened the glass to check the wick. There was probably enough oil to get a kilometer or so. It was more than that back to the village. The church was probably closer.

So he had to go on. Somehow he felt reassured by this. He stood up to continue.

A little star bobbed within the blackness ahead of him. He stared at it, biting his lip and remembering stories of spirit lights that led travellers off cliffs. But such lights were supposed to be green, or white, and to flicker and dodge about in swampy country. This light was amber, and swayed just as a lantern would if someone were walking with it.

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