Ventus – Day 57 of 135


Near dawn, Galas stood watching from the window in her bed chamber. Behind her were the carven trees and fauna of a fantastical woodland scene. It was no regular pattern of pillars cunningly disguised, nor a frescoed wall carven and layered with images; the architect had denied the privilege of rectilinear space here. Like a real forest, the lower boughs obscured vision and prevented movement between different parts of the chamber, and the great roots of the stone trees sprawled across the floor with no regard for the cult of the level surface. There was no order to the staggered forms, nor any symmetry save the aesthetic, which made this room into a group of bowers inside the straight-edged castle tower.

The window itself looked like a gap in the foliage of a jade-carved hedge. Each tiny leaf had been faithfully reproduced in stone, and in daylight they shone with a verdant brilliance that would normally soothe the queen’s heart.

She had seldom been here in the day. As she traced the outline of a leaf with the tip of one finger, she knew she might never have the time to be, now. Odd that the possibility of never seeing this window in daylight again, should be what now struck her with the horror of her coming death.

She thought about the strange Wind, Maut, as she sat by the window to watch the moon set. He was letting her look straight into the labyrinth of eternity, at the moment when death was inevitable and imminent. She hated him for that.

She turned to her maid, Ninete, who sat slumped on a divan nearby. Ninete was required to remain awake as long as Galas, and tonight the queen had not slept at all. “He knows there is nothing I can say to him,” said Galas intensely. Ninete was startled at being addressed as a person; she said nothing in reply.

Galas fixed her gaze on the maid. “He is cruel, to put it plainly. Why is he telling me these things? I know he is only telling the truth. It is that which is so terrible. He is telling the truth. As to things which should properly be lied about.”

Ninete recovered herself. “Let me comb out your hair,” she said. The Queen rose with a nod and went to her dressing table. Ninete stood behind her and began letting down her hair into dark waves which tumbled down her back.

“Perhaps he thinks it really will not hurt me to know my whole life has been lived in vain. I wanted to change things, that was what ruled me. I wanted to change what could not be changed, what had never been seen as anything but absolute. I wanted to dissolve the absolute. Maut… Maut, says this has been done before.

“I knew that everything now absolute was once a phantasy. What is good was once evil. He is unaware how devastating such a realization is to human beings. In fact, he’s not really bothering to speak of that. He takes it as a starting point. Takes it as given that this upheaval which has been my life is like the dance of dust-motes in sunlight–just an alternation, and change in height of those motes in the galaxy of relations visible to us. He neglects that I am such a mote myself…”

Bothered, Ninete combed silently. In the mirror Galas could see her uncomprehending look. “We could die in two days,” she said.

“I know,” says Ninete simply. Galas waited for more, but it didn’t come.

“Aren’t you afraid?”

“My Queen, I’m terrified.” Ninete’s expression shifted from the neutral silence it had held to an ashen tautness. Her lips thinned, her eyes lost their focus. “I don’t want to die now.”

Queen Galas looked at her, her own eyes taking on a certain coldness Ninete had seen so frequently in them. But Galas’s hand trembles as it searched among the combs, hairpins, pots of makeup on the dressing table.

“You don’t want to die. But you understand what death is.”

“The soldiers will kill us, Lady. I’ve seen people die.”

“Resume.” Ninete brought the brush up again. “Ninete, you will die a good death. You see death so simply. Death to you is the General’s men storming the castle. It is missiles from the air, swords, vindictive rape and humiliation. Most of all never to see those you love again, never again to hold those talks, to make love… You understand death, you have studied it the way all folk do, and for your understanding you have recourse to the religious teachings, the rituals, the tragic lovers in stories. You understand it, in the lyricism of fear you have been taught.”

Galas’s hand hovered over this comb, that pin, uncertainly. “I don’t understand it at all. I don’t see those lovers, I cannot imagine the body laid in its tomb, those somber brown poems… they don’t speak to me. Death says nothing to me. I wish it did. I wish I could see what was going to happen to me, two, three days hence.

“Maut is himself death, but he can’t tell me.” She turned to look up into Ninete’s face. “He refuses to make it into a sign for me. That is what is so cruel.”

Her hand descended on a long golden hairpin. “Ninete, leave me! Work on my breakfast. See it is the best you have ever orchestrated. I have no need of you now.”

Sullen, Ninete left. Galas watched the emotions play across her shoulders, down her hips as she walked. Ninete read even this rejection like a scene in some traditional play, Galas saw. She had been sent away. And just when she was hearing the Queen’s heart speak.

Clutching the pin, she rose and went to the window. A stone bird watched from the carven boughs above her head.

“Where is this coming from,” she asked, staring at the tremble in her hand. What she had been saying just now made no sense to her. Her fear made no sense. She was angry with Maut, but did not know why. Her mind swung round and round the things he had talked about today. Behind his words she sensed a kind of…bewilderment in him, as though the engine of human speech remained incapable of rendering his experience to her, however precise the mind of the god that powered it.

Nothing explained her fury just now, however, not even the General’s campfires in the valley outside. In fact, they were rather beautiful…

She raised the long pin, and stabbed it into her left shoulder. The pain pulled her to her feet–she hissed and pulled the pin out, casting it furiously out the window.

There it was, the agony of terror and fury. It came boiling up from some hidden source inside her, taking form in blinding tears, as she curled around herself, holding her shoulder. She tried to escape the pain, turning, turning, but it moved with her. Slumping onto a stone root, she began to cry in great gusts. There it was: confusion, chaos. She wanted to run, run anywhere, and it was her body that was telling her this. Run, escape.

Her body was afraid, it was her body which was speaking in her anger at Maut, and in her fear of death. She had been neglecting it, living in her understanding and within that realm she had just accused Ninete of inhabiting: the realm of the story. How could she fail to see in her mind’s eye, the riders coming through the gate, the expressions on her people’s faces as they ran from her, to join the other side… It was the story of her death she had been telling herself, even as she tried to listen to Maut, tried to see his images, his life.

She could no more escape into his life than she could bring her death to herself here, now, by her worry.

She watched the line of blood move down her breast. The pain was intense. She revelled in it, for with it the phantasms of the day after tomorrow had fled, and Maut’s story was mere words again.

In tears, the wonder of despair and release welled from her with the blood. She remembered that once, she had loved her life.

Afraid that Ninete would hear her and come running, Galas put her head out the window. She let herself cry out, once, then hung her head.

“Your highness?”

The voice came from below. She blinked away tears, and looked down the battlement fifteen feet below. A man stood there, his form outlined in the silver, rose and black of predawn light. It was Maut.

She cleared her throat. “Are you sleepless too?” Her words sounded unsteady, frightening to herself.

“Yes.” He seemed cool as the night air, as always. “I was helping in the infirmary.”

“Really?” Galas wiped at her eyes. “How are my men?”

“Holding up bravely.”

“And you?”

He didn’t answer, but turned to look out over the courtyards of the palace.

“Maut,” she said on impulse, “join me in my chamber.”

His silhouette nodded. He vanished from sight like a ghost, and she pulled herself inside, wincing.

First, she must bandage herself. Galas tore a piece of embroidered linen and wrapped her wound clumsily. Then she selected a high-necked black gown and wove herself into it. Without a maid to help, she couldn’t do up the back. So she sat back on the divan, feeling the cool velvet against her back. The sensation set her skin tingling.

She gnawed her thumbnail, a habit her mother had never cured her of, and waited.

Presently there came a polite tap on the door. “Enter,” she said.

Maut’s hair was disheveled, and faint lines were etched around his eyes and between his brows. He had discarded his jacket and rolled up the sleeves of his white blouse. He nodded to her like an intimate, and sat on the chair near her bed. She glimpsed Ninete peeking around the edge of the door, and waved her off impatiently. The door slid closed.

Neither spoke for a while. Outside, she heard the first voicing of a morning bird.

“Will you join me for breakfast?” she said at last.

“I would be honored.”

“No, Maut. Don’t say that. Will you?”

He smiled wanly. “I would like to, yes.”

“Good.” She gestured impatiently. “I have no more time for ceremony.”

Maut drew up one knee and clasped his hands around it, like a boy. He could only look more at home, she thought, if he sat sideways in the chair.

He cocked his head and looked at her appraisingly. “Ceremony has never suited you, has it?”

She laughed shortly. “No. It’s only familiarity that gets me through it. The words come automatically. Even if they’re so often like ashes in my mouth.”

“I find it hard to believe that this alone is the root of your passion. Because your passion radiates from some deep source. It catches up everyone around you. That’s why they follow you, you know. Not because you’re queen.”

“Ah.” This was a compliment she had never heard before. “I’m sure you know my story. Am I not the scandal of the kingdom?”

He shrugged. “I’ve heard things. They were obvious distortions. I came to you because I wanted to hear the story from the source.”


He considered, staring out at the amber sky. “I have been reading the books in your library. They all point to something… a mystery. I mean a mystery in the religious sense, almost. A meaning. When I came here I thought I was after facts, but now I see I’m after more than that. I want answers.”

“You? The man whose very mind is an impregnable fortress of history?” She laughed. “You astonish me.”

Serious, he said, “In the bits and pieces of your story that I’ve heard, I catch echoes of that mystery. I believe you know more than you realize. You have wisdom you have hidden from yourself.”

“And can you show me this wisdom?” Her hands trembled, as they had in the garden when his messenger fluttered down to land on her knee.

“I don’t know.”

“You toy with me!” She had leaned forward in anger, and felt the folds of her dress fall apart at her back. Galas sat back again quickly.


“And what will you give me in return for my story? I think I no longer wish to hear your own tale.”

He looked at her for a long moment. Something like a smile danced around his lips. Galas found her heart racing at his examination, and her eyes traced the muscles in his arms, the set of his shoulders.

Then he did smile, rather impishly. “I should be very much surprised if you do not have the answer to that question by noon,” was all he said.


Maut leaned forward, the weariness returned to his eyes. “Tell me your story,” he said.

Galas closed her eyes. In her life, only one other had asked her for this–not the story, but her story. Grief choked her momentarily.

“All right. I shall try to tell it as a tale–as I’ve often wanted to. I… I pictured myself sometimes, setting my child on my knee and telling it. There will be no child. But here is the story.”

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