Ventus – Day 58 of 135


First, you must understand that I was considered mad as a child, even as I am today. The reasons were not the same, however–in my childhood it was my sense of justice which went against me. I treated peasants and servants with the same respect as kings and princes, and this evoked great ire in my mother, with whom I warred constantly. She strove to impress upon me the war between classes and the divine rightness of this war. It was not that I sided with the lesser people against my own–which however reprehensible would mave made sense to her–it was that I saw no difference whatever between us.

And then, when I was twelve summers old, that thing happened without which I might have grown up to become an ordinary princess–ha! Yes, there is such a thing.

You see, my father kept a book–as his predecessor had, and all the kings back into antiquity. This book contained various proclamations of the Winds made over the centuries, along with interpretations and auguries. And it came to pass that the unusual weather of the springtime and a disastrous fire in Belfonre matched some of the auguries in the book, and the only interpretation that my father and his wise men could make of the augury was that the queen must die.

In later years I came to understand that this was a pretext–he had his eye on another woman, who in time he married. She turned out to be barren, but he was not to admit the fact for many years. Anyway, at the time, I understood nothing, save that the Winds had commanded the death of my mother.

I was in the gardens with my favorite duenna when word came of the arrest of my mother. My duenna immediately burst into tears, falling on her knees before me and clutching at my skirt. She being older had grasped immediately what was occurring but I had yet to. We had been idly discussing some aspect of human nature, its rigidity I believe, which she took for granted and I in my young zeal rejected absolutely. “Nothing in us is fixed”, I had pouted. My mother’s execution was now fixed, however, and this duenna cried out, “Oh Princess, your youth is forever gone now! Where is the young girl I played with in these summer gardens? Soon you will be an embittered woman with revenge against life driving you. You will cease to laugh, you will weep at life, and you will send me away for reminding you of times lost now when you could be happy!”

“Lady, this is no sense in your words”, I said to her. I could feel the emotions overspilling around, the shaking of the messenger, the crying of my older friend, and saw how the windows that opened on the gardens were closing, one after another, shutting inside the airs of grief. For that moment I was the only calm stone in the rising flood. I shall not be carried away, I resolved. In moments all that the messenger and the duenna were possessed by would strike out to possess me–their human nature, of the same order, I felt, as the artificial distinctions between class which even they supported.

It was a moment of supreme mystery. How could the brightness of the flowers, the coolth of the air, my own happiness be so swept away by an event that was, now rumor, later merely fact against which I could do nothing? I loved my mother, and knew that would never change, whatever happened. I looked into the future and saw myself weeping alone in my bedroom, and it was as a figure from a drama that I saw myself, moving to commands issued by some forgotten playwright. I felt a certainty at that moment that it was so, that my duenna’s shock, my coming grief were roles cast for us by someone, someone great far in the past. I could be other than grief-stricken, if I chose. I could go mad, in other words.

I chose to go mad. In that moment I decided that although I could not change the fate of my mother, there was no law immutable in the heavens that decreed how I was to react to it. Only much, much later in life can I look back and see that whether I knew it or not, I was under the sway of an emotion then: fury, which I swallowed so deeply that I was unable to experience it until… oh, very recently.

“Come,” I said to the duenna. “Rise, and let us practise a while on our dulcimers. The day is still fair, and the next ones will not be.” She looked at me with a new horror in her eyes, and I knew I was lost. I wondered what was to come of it, now that I was no longer playing my role in the drama begun by my father.

He was terrified of me from then on. The servants treated me with gentle respect, as one does the mad. They knew I was so overtaken with grief–although I did not witness my mother’s execution, and I had seen her a few afternoons a week since I was a babe, never for more than a few hours at a time–that I could no longer feel anything. The king, however, believed I was training myself in hate, keeping inside me a desire for revenge that was willing to wait. He thought perhaps that I would kill him in his dotage, when he could not raise a hand to defend himself. As I grew toward womanhood, he began to look for ways to dispose of me. For I was sunny and cheerful, I claimed to forgive him for slaying my mother, and I was gracious to his new queen. I harbored no instinct for revenge, in fact; on that day when I was told of my mother’s arrest I had embarked on a great journey, which I am on to this day, and there was nothing but gratitude in my heart for being given the opportunity to be alive, and yet to have left the human race behind me.

They danced around me as I daydreamed, the figures of all those storied lovers, traitors, thieves and kings and saints and I saw them all as actors even to themselves. If there was a human nature it lay buried far below such inventions as grief and love, so I was sure, and the daring of this vista intoxicated my youth.

I was not expected to become scholarly as I am, for I was a woman. I decided not to believe there was any difference between man and woman, so had tutors hired. The indulgence was given, for my father’s auguries said nothing about how to treat the mad, so I was allowed to do what others could not.

Oh I could be charming, and as subtle in my understanding as any scheming courtier–more so, since I was learning the true bounds of human nature. As I grew however my desires became less and less those of the girl I had been, became quite estranged from court and all the ambitions that ruled there. For I saw through those too.

At times, I do not deny it, I was indeed mad, locking myself in my tower and singing to the owls. I would lie upon my bed for days staring at the ceiling, bereft of purpose or understanding and at times weeping over what was lost: grief itself was lost to me, and love and the innocence of romance. Handsome princes and true love meant nothing to me on the journey I had undertaken, but they were believed in by all about me. I longed for an understanding that was no longer possible from these people. Of all those at court it was still the servants and lowly laborers whom I loved the best, for they loved me. They knew I was not mad, but daring in a way even kings were not. The poor have no love of roles, and so they appear callous even with their own; they can love better than we, though, for they are honest in what they do feel. They saw I had in an instant rejected the whole world in which I was brought up, if it led to senseless death and thence to fixed orbits for all involved forever. Too, I championed their causes to the king, and was often indulged by him when no other suitor would succeed.

At length he, noticing my unwomanly interest in sciences and historical studies, hit upon a means of disposing of me. If I would be a scholar, he would give me full reign to be one. In fact, he would allow me to command an expedition then being mounted by the University of Rhiene to measure seismic changes caused by the deep movement of the desals.

The desals occasionally set off thermonuclear charges deep in the mountains, or in ocean trenches. For as long as records are extant, the Winds had been conducting such explosions, one or two a century at different places. Traditionally, we have forbidden any mining in the region affected for ten years after the blast, after which we let people dig as they wish. When they do, rich mineral or metal finds are always the result. I knew from my studies that the explosions were not solitary, but vast coordinated chains set off to drive precious materials closer to the surface of the earth, for our benefit. It is but one of the services that the Winds perform for us.

–Yes, Maut, they do serve us. They simply do not realize it. If you let me continue, you will understand what I mean.

I well knew my father’s intent. He wished me far away from him, politically powerless, and demonstrably unmarriageable. I simply did not care what his plans were. I acquiesced to his proposal for reasons of my own. In truth, I was eager to see new lands and to experience life as a man would for at least a time. I indulged myself as men did. I remember on the day appointed for sailing I sauntered down to the docks in leather breeches and a man’s tunic, a heavy chest across my back containing all my scientific instruments and books, two fluttering duennas at my side unprepared for ocean life and unsure what to make of my new turn.

The hereditary scholars from the university were even less pleased to see me. They regarded my presence as an imposition–quite rightly–and myself as a scandal. They made it plain to me from the moment I stepped on deck that I would receive no aid from them, that they would obey none of my orders nor in any serious way consider me the leader of the expedition. I found it impossible to reason with them.

This was perhaps the first time since childhood that I had not been indulged instantly in my desires. I was furious and stormed down to my cabin. I believe I fumed for all of six hours before I realized that once again, I was reacting to form. What kind of reaction should I have expected from these men? They were shrewd in the maintenance of their positions and knew nothing about the composition of the real world; I was already aware of that. Why should their rejections surprise me?

I had been romanticizing, hoping that here at least there might be people to understand me. Had I expected to be able to pursue those studies I intended with these men? Surely not; for what concerned me, they had no head. So I laughed and resolved to make the best of it. This proved hard, as they chose to be cruel in the following days.

I do not know how things would have gone had we not had the good fortune to be wrecked. In order to test the extent of the explosion’s effect, we had sailed far out along a chain of islands leading into the blank ocean. We were to reach one in particular, a U-shaped isle that supposedly represented the end of the archipelago, and plant our seismographs there. It was to be the journey of a week. On the third day, just after I had been ejected from the mess for eating with the sailors–they had invited me, and tradition be hanged I had agreed–I was seething at the bow as far from the captain and his supercilious mate as I could get when a squall came up. It nearly heeled the ship on its side, but that was only the presage of a worse storm that now loomed up over the horizon, black and terrible. I was bade go below, and refused until the captain lost patience and had me carried down.

As I pounded on my cabin door the storm hit. For hours I think we were tumbled about like matchsticks in a pocket. My duennas were ill and panicked. I chased my chest of instruments as it slid from side to side of the cabin. As night fell the ship gave a strange shudder, and I heard the sailors shouting that we’d hit a rock. Where we had been driven I did not know, but the hold was filling rapidly and the captain, unable to control the ship, determined to save himself.

There was a single longboat, and he commandeered it, with his mate and a few of their cronies. He had no concern for me, princess though I was, for he well understood my father’s intent in sending me on this expedition. There would be no brave knight to save me. My duennas clung to their embroidered cushions and refused to move. I forced open the cabin door and made for the deck.

The crew had realized their captain was abandoning them. Under savage skies, with blue light roving along the masts, and sails and lines lashing free like whips, they mobbed by one rail with every kind of weapon and tool in their hands, fighting to get to the longboat which was now over the side but not yet cut free. I stood in the door under the madly turning wheel and watched as they killed one another. The line was suddenly cut and the boat began to heave away and those left at the rail dove for it in their frenzy to escape what they were certain was a doomed ship.

In moments the deck was vacant save for the dead, who with strange animation slid from rail to rail. The longboat vanished behind enormous waves. Alone save for my cowering maids, I and the doomed ship drove into the open ocean.

The rock we had hit was part of an out-thrust of the archipelago few navigators knew of. It lay in a direction no sane man had need to venture. But before the ship could sink, it was driven aground. In the terrible light of the storm the coast we were upon was visible only as a jumble of black shards. My duennas refused to leave the familiarity of the cabin even though the deck tossed under them as the ship bucked to free itself from the rocks that held it. I cursed them for fools and, binding my long hair behind me and taking a knife and matches, climbed out along the foremast and leapt into the dark.

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