Ventus – Day 62 of 135


Galas was sipping a glass of chilled wine, a bowl of fruit before her on the highest parapet of the palace, when general Mattias stormed in. The leader of her defenses was normally in a foul humour–but just now he was positively livid. A small group of men and maids trailed behind him like wind-whipped smoke. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he roared at the queen as he towered over her.

Galas had eaten breakfast with Maut after telling her tale, and although she had not slept, had been feeling strangely at peace. She blinked at Mattias muzzily. “Tell you what?”

“Who he was!”

Carefully, she reached for a raisin, and chewed it for a while before saying, “Really, Mattias, I don’t know who you are talking about.”

“Oh no? You’ve been closeted with the bastard for two days now. Am I so old and feeble I can no longer be trusted with strategic information? Or were you going to present it all to me as a done thing?”

He really was angry. At her. Galas sat up straight. “Wait, wait, something is really wrong here. Mattias, I would never do anything to question your command. What is it that you think I have done?”

“General Armiger is your guest! I just had it from the maids. And you never told me!”

For a moment Galas stared at him, open-mouthed. Then she realized, and remembered last night, when she had asked Maut what he could do for her, and he had smiled and said she would know by noon.

She looked at the sundial built into her table. It was noon.

Galas began to laugh. It started as a chuckle, but as she saw Mattias’ eyes widen in outrage, she could no longer contain herself. Carelessly tossing her wine glass aside, she leaned back in her chair and let the sound of her delight rise above the siege, above the air itself, to the very heavens.


In the morning, Jordan awoke to hear Suneil leaving the wagon. Probably gone for a piss, he thought at first; but the man did not return.

This was just the sort of thing that kept one from falling back asleep. The sun wasn’t up yet, and it was frosty out there. Jordan had already been awake half the night, listening to Queen Galas tell Armiger her tale. When she finished he had fallen into a dreamless but apparently brief sleep. Now he tried several different positions–lying on his side, on his back with an arm over his face, even curled up–but he couldn’t get back to sleep and Suneil still didn’t return.

Finally he rose, shivering, and crept to the back flap to look out. The horizon was polished silver, as cold a color as Jordan had ever seen.

Suneil was standing very still, staring at nothing in particular. His hands were stuffed deep in the pockets of a long woolen coat. Every now and then he looked down and kicked a clod of earth at his feet.

Jordan eased the flap back and went to lie down again. The sight had disturbed him although at first he couldn’t decide why. By the time the sun peeked above the horizon and Suneil came back to salvage a last half hour of rest, Jordan had realized that he seldom seen so perfect a picture of a man struggling with an important decision; and it was significant that Suneil had said nothing in the past days to his niece or Jordan about any such worries.


In the middle of nowhere, with scattered fields to the left and right, Suneil said, “This is the city of Rhiene.”

“Huh?” Jordan stared at a slovenly peasant’s cottage mired in its own pigsty near the road. “That?” He had heard of Rhiene all his life. It was one of the great cities of Iapysia, fabled for its gardens and university. There was supposed to be a desal at Rhiene too, and great religious colleges devoted to its study.

Suneil laughed. They were seated together at the front of the wagon. Tamsin had decided to walk for a while, and at present she was a few meters ahead, tilting her head back and forth to some internal rhyme, her hands fluttering at her sides in time.

Suneil pointed to a tumble of low hills ahead. “There.”

The hills made an odd arc on the otherwise flat plain, dwindling in either direction. None was more than twenty meters high, and now that he looked more closely Jordan could see numerous buildings dotting the farther ones, and thin trails of smoke rising beyond them. A stone tower stood near the road ahead. Traffic on the road had increased during the past day until now they were part of a steady stream of wagons, horses and walking people, all headed towards the hills. Far off to the south, he could see another such road, converging on what he was beginning to realize was a long rampart of wavelike hills.

There was no city, however. Just those scattered buildings.

“I don’t understand. It’s underground?”

Again Suneil laughed. “No. Well, yes, parts of it. You’ll see.” He smiled mysteriously.

They followed the road around several bends. The land here looked as though it had become liquid at some time in the ancient past, and flown in waves that had then frozen in place. Giant boulders stuck up from the earth here and there; they seemed barely weathered.

Several side roads joined with theirs, until the stream of traffic was thick and loud. Vendors appeared walking up the road, offering sweet meats and fresh fish. Still there was no city in sight–but now Jordan heard seagulls, and saw several lift above the next rise.

The builders of Rhiene had wisely widened the road after that rise, because a good half of all the travellers who came here must have stopped dead in their tracks when they got there. Tamsin did, and Jordan stood up and shouted in disbelief. Suneil merely smiled.

First he saw the blue-hazed arc of a distant shoreline, and above that sun-whitened cliffs rising almost straight out of the glittering water. Then his eye took in the whole sweep of the place: those distant cliffs were kin to the crest their wagon had come to. In fact, the cliffs swept in a vast circle to encompass a deep flat-bottomed bowl in the earth. A lake filled most of the bowl; from here Jordan could see sailboats like tiny scraps of white feather dotting it. At the very center of the bowl, a spire of green-patched rock towered out of the water. Coral-colored buildings adorned the spire. He could see docks at its base.

“Rhiene,” said Suneil, pointing down.

The road wound down a set of switchbacks into what at first looked like an overgrown ruin. Rhiene was green with ivy, forest and lichen, and Jordan couldn’t make out the buildings until he realized the gardens he saw were all on the roofs of houses and towers. Rhiene sprawled along the arc of the cliff for kilometers in either direction, and tongues of jetty and wharf made the nearer shore of the lake into a tangle of geometry.

Seeing this made everything that had happened to him worthwhile. Jordan knew he was grinning like an idiot, but he didn’t care. He decided in that instant that Rhiene was where he wanted to live.

“It’s the most beautiful place in the world!” shouted Tamsin.

“Perhaps you would like a guided tour?” said a nattily dressed young man who had appeared as if by magic at her elbow.

Tamsin looked him up and down. “Begone, you trotting swine,” she said.

The youth shrugged and walked away. Astonished, Jordan leapt down and went over to Tamsin.

“What was that all about?” he asked.

“Everybody wants to make some coin,” she said. “Everywhere we go there’s people trying to sell you this or that.” She sighed heavily. “They hang around places like this, spoiling the moment for people like us.” The young man had approached another wagon, and appeared to be haggling with its oafish driver.

Suneil had clucked the horses into motion, so they began to walk. “‘Trotting swine’?” asked Jordan.

She blushed. “I read it in a book.”

They walked for a while, taking in the gradually expanding view. Tamsin said little more, but she didn’t seem to mind Jordan’s company either. After a while Jordan dropped back to the wagon and asked Suneil, “What will you do here?”.

The old man nodded to the city, which now spread around and above them. “I’ve got some old business associates here,” he said. “I want to see if I can call in some favours, and make a new start. The war’s over, after all.”

“Is this where you used to live?”

“No. That’s one of the advantages of the place,” said Suneil ruefully.

Jordan had a vivid idea of what a city at war would look like, based on what he had seen at the queen’s summer palace. Clear as that notion might be, he couldn’t picture soldiers in the streets of Rhiene. For all that it was a big city, it appeared sleepy and its citizens unconcerned. It took Tamsin to point out the placards here and there that were signed with a royal insignia. Jordan couldn’t read the script, so she translated. “It’s a decree from Parliament ending curfew and random searches. I guess the war really is over.”

“It’s not,” he said. “The queen is still fighting back. She’s trapped in the summer palace, but she’s got plenty of supplies and her people are still loyal.”

Tamsin looked at him strangely. “I see. You arranged this? Or a little bird told you?”

“I have my sources.”

“Oh ho,” she said. “Behold the grand seer.”

“Hey!” Suneil waved at them from the cart. “We go this way.”

They passed through high stone walls into a teeming caravansary. Here were soldiers–plenty of them–inspecting the cargoes of incoming wagons. While they went through Suneil’s possessions–with Tamsin squawking protests–Jordan took a look around. The place was just a broad quadrangle of pulverized straw with a few water troughs and sheds. It reeked of manure and wood smoke. All the visitors to the city who had no inn or friend to visit were crammed in here. They squabbled over cart space, water and offal buckets. It was wonderful chaos.

The queen had mentioned Rhiene in her story last night. Her tale had not enlightened him much as to the nature of the Winds. There was something to it, though, as of a mystery whose solution hung just out of reach. He had thought about it a lot, and was sure Armiger felt that sense of near-knowledge too; unless the general had already seen the answer Jordan himself could not.

He thought about this as he helped Suneil get the wagon slotted into a narrow space near one wall. Jordan went to find water and feed for the horses, and when he returned Suneil had changed into fine silk clothes.

“I’m going to visit my people,” he said. “Are you leaving us here, young man?”

Jordan shrugged. “With your permission I’ll stay the night and make a fresh start in the morning.”

“Good. You see to my niece. I’ll be back before dark.”

“Can we see the city?” asked Tamsin.

“If you’d like. Just don’t get lost.”

He left with a spring in his step. Jordan turned to Tamsin.

“How’s your ankle?”


“Up for some walking?”

She held out her hand, smiling. “Lead on, sir.”

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