Ventus – Day 55 of 135


Armiger closed his hand over Megan’s breast. She smiled at the touch, and lay back on the satin.

One candle burned outside their canopy bed. Its light turned her skin deep gold. He slid his fingertips along her collarbone, and kissed her belly lightly. Her stomach undulated from the touch. “Mm,” she murmured. “You are becoming a better lover every time, you know that?”

He grinned at her, but said nothing. Feeling strong tonight, he had conjured fresh strawberries, and crushed a few over her chest as sauce. He could still taste it, a bit.

He had told her that the strawberries came from the queen’s private garden. Megan would have been upset to know he was wasting his precious energies on an indulgence.

She wrapped her legs around him when he came up to breathe, and ground against him. They both laughed, ending the sound with a deep kiss. Then he entered her, for the third time this evening.

Night breezes flapped the curtains; this was the only sound other than their own. Some part of him was amazed at the quiet, but then he had never been under siege before. Perhaps silence was the inevitable response to being trapped for so long. It was the silence of waiting.

She watched as he came, then drew him down next to her. “I’m done,” she said. “You finished me off!”

He was still panting. “Um,” was all he managed. Megan laughed.

For a few hours at a time, he could exchange Armiger the engine for Armiger the man. At moments like this, he knew he treasured such times. He also knew that in a minute or an hour, cold rationality would steal over him, like a settling dew, both bringing him back to his deeply treasured Self, and driving out the warmth Megan made him feel.

Spontaneously, he hugged her tightly. She gasped.

“What is it?”

“Nothing.” For a few moments he couldn’t bring himself to let go. When he did, he flopped back, staring at the embroidered canopy. It was one of the few pieces of bedding in the palace that had not been shredded for the thousand and one needs of a military occupation: bandages, lashing broken spars together, enshrouding the dead. The queen, he thought idly, was unfair; she would never make a decent general if she wasn’t consistent with her sacrifices.

“No, what?”

He blinked. Whatever he had been feeling, it was gone already. “I don’t know,” he whispered.

“What don’t you know?” She propped herself up on her elbow, peering at him in the faint richness of candlelight.

Armiger waved a hand vaguely. “Who I am,” he said at last, “at times like these.”

“Yourself,” she said. Megan put a hand on his chest. “You’re yourself.” She looked away. “It’s practically the only time.”

He smelled strawberries. Strange; he barely remembered doing that. Something was slipping away, moment by moment. He remembered other evenings with her, when after turning away from her he had felt instead that something returned to him.

To forestall the change, he rolled on his side, putting his nose to hers. “Am I that cold?”

“Not right now.”

He ran his hand up her flank. “Why do you stay with me, then? I don’t know how to please you…”

“What do you think you’ve been doing the last three hours?”

“Ah.” But he didn’t know what he’d been doing. Something that felt to the body exactly like rage had taken him over–but it was the opposite of rage in the things it made him do, and in the purity of the release it gave. Rage he understood. Armiger had come lately to identify it as the single emotion he could recall from his time subsumed into the greater identity of the god 3340. Whether that rage was the god’s or his, who could tell? There was no way to know, any more than he could distinguish where his own consciousness had left off, and that of 3340 began.

This, like nearly everything about himself, he could never hope to explain to Megan.

She shook him by the shoulder. “Stop it!”


“You’re thinking again! It’s the middle of the night. You don’t have to be thinking now.”

“Ah.” He chuckled, and cupped her breast. “I’m sorry. But I’m not sleepy.”

“You don’t really sleep anyway.” She yawned extravagantly. “But I need to.”

“Go ahead. I’ll read.” He nodded to the gigantic stack of books by the bed.

She laughed, and lay back. For a while he watched the jumbled heap of hair snuggle itself deeper into the pillows. Then she said, almost inaudibly, “Which do you prefer?”

Armiger leaned over her and kissed her cheek. “Which what do I prefer?”

“Do you prefer making love, or reading?” Her voice held a teasing note, but he had learned there were frequently hidden needs behind her teasing questions.

“To read is to make love to the world,” he said. “But to make love to a woman is to feel like the world is reading you.”

She smiled, not comprehending, and fell asleep.

Leaving Armiger the man behind, or so he imagined, he stood to dress. Freed from the need for dialogue, his mind fell in upon itself, and the myriad other sides of Armiger the god awoke.

All night, as he made love to Megan, these other sides of his Self had been thinking, planning, raging and debating in the higher echoes of his consciousness. He had read sixteen books yesterday, and had been revising his opinions about Ventus and the Winds as he assimilated the knowledge. Now he stood for several minutes, fingers touching the leather cover of the next volume he intended to absorb. He was not so much contemplating as watching the vast edifice of his understanding of Ventus shift, and settle, and grow new entranceways and wings.

He had discovered something: the Winds were not mad. They were up to something.

Armiger cursed softly. He no longer saw the candle flame, or felt the hard cover of the book. For it was all there in the histories and philosophical inquiries, if one knew how to read the signs. The Winds acted capriciously, but everyone knew they ultimately acted in the interests of Nature. They were the guides of the terraforming process, he knew. Terraforming a planet was neither a quick process nor one that had an end. The climate of Ventus would never achieve equilibrium; without the constant intervention of the planet’s ruling spirits, the air would cool and the oxygen/carbon cycles oscillate out of control. The world would experience alternate phases of hyperoxygenation and asphyxiation, coupled with disastrous atmospheric circulation locks; parts of the globe would be under almost constant rain, others would never receive rain at all. Everything would die, in the long run.

The Winds exercised great intelligence and forbearance. They played the clouds and ocean waves of Ventus like the most grand and complex instruments. Their symphonic teamwork was perfect.

So: capricious they might be, but the Winds were not purposeless. Everyone on and off Ventus knew this. When it came to dealing with other intelligent entities, however, they did at first seem mad. The histories he had been reading, which were more extensive than those available offworld, told of massacres and blessings, following no apparent pattern, which the poor human residents of this world had struggled for centuries to justify and predict. The accepted theory was that they viewed human activity as an assault on the ecosystem, and acted to defend it. Armiger had read enough by now to know that it simply wasn’t so.

Throughout the history of the world, men and women had appeared who claimed to be able to communicate with the Winds. Sometimes they were hanged as witches. Sometimes they were able to prove their claims, and then they founded religions.

The Winds were difficult entities to worship, because they had the annoying characteristic of possessing minds of their own. Gods, one philosophical wag had commented, should conveniently remain on the altar, rather than rampaging indiscriminately across the land.

The Winds were utterly inconsistent about enforcing their ecological rules where it came to Man. He had seen it himself; there were smelters in some of the larger towns, pouring black smoke into the atmosphere, while the tiny waft of sulphur dioxide he had used in chemical warfare in one battle had cost Armiger his entire army. The Winds had obliterated every man involved in the engagement. Armiger had stood helplessly on the crown of the hill where he was directing his troops, and watched as they all died.

He had felt nothing at the time. Remembering now, he suppressed an urge to pick up the book he touched, and throw it through the window.

Something was going on here. The Winds were neither malicious, nor mad, nor were they indifferent to humanity. They were obeying some tangle of rules he simply hadn’t seen yet. If he could find out what it was…

Something made him turn. There was no one in the room, and Megan hadn’t moved. Nonetheless, he sensed someone nearby.

A woman was weeping out in the hallway.

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