Ventus – Day 63 of 135


Rhiene was much bigger than it seemed from above, and much dirtier too. The everpresent foliage hid a great deal, and Jordan supposed that was part of the idea. The overriding purpose for the greenery, however, was to keep the Winds at bay.

An ancient statue near the docks showed a man and woman raising their hands to the sky, holding flowering branches. Tamsin read off the plaque at the base of the statue. “The city was destroyed by the desal seven hundred years ago,” she said. “They rebuilt in secrecy, using wood harvested without killing trees. They struck a balance between creation and destruction, and the Winds let them continue to this day.”

“There’s supposed to be a desal here,” said Jordan. The statue stood in a busy square surrounded by ivied merchants’ houses. The city sprawled for kilometers in either direction, a fact visible from here because this square was emplaced on a knee of land that thrust out of the cliff wall. The cliff itself towered majestically above, and the vast sweep of it to either side was intoxicating.

“There is a desal,” said Tamsin. “I saw it on the way down.”

“Where is it?” He wasn’t sure whether he wanted to visit it or not, after what Galas had said about them. Knowing where it was, though, he would be able to avoid it.

“You can see it from here.” She stepped up on the plinth of the statue. “See?”

He followed the line of her arm. There was something out in the bay, offset slightly from a line he might have drawn to join the city to the spire at the lake’s center. From here it was visible only as a set of white spikes thrusting from the surface of the water. There were no boats near it, so judging its size wasn’t easy.

“I recognized it because we had one near where I grew up,” she said. “My father took me to see it once, when I was young. That one stood alone in the desert, like it was abandoned, but he said it was alive, and we shouldn’t get too close. It’s strange to see one underwater.”

“Well, at least it’s not in the city,” he said.

“Hey, get off that!” shouted a passing woman. Tamsin jumped down from the statue’s base. A few heads turned, but no one else stopped them as they ran down the hill to the docks.

In stories Jordan had read, a city’s docks was always the place where lowlife sailors and prostitutes waited to prey on travellers and lost children. He had always pictured the wharves of a seagoing city as full of one-eyed men with swords and nasty dispositions, with bodies in the alleys and kegs of wine rolling down from visiting ships.

Rhiene was not like that. Of course, it was an inland port; most of the traffic here came from barges that simply shuttled between the city and the far end of the lake, a distance large enough to cut a day or so off the travel time of wagons coming from the south. There was supposedly a river that emptied into the lake somewhere, and boats went up that too, but not, apparently, pirate ships. The docks were clean and well kept, and other than one disciplined work gang unloading a shallow single-masted ship, there was no great activity.

“This is pretty stale,” said Tamsin. “Let’s find the marketplace.”

“There might be more than one,” he pointed out.


They wandered in the crowds for a while, and though Tamsin looked quite blasé about it all, Jordan felt overwhelmed by the huge press of people. Hundreds visible at any time, and around every corner there was a new hundred. Most of the people in sight were dressed similarly, men in fashionable townsman’s jackets, the women in long pleated dresses that swept the road gracefully. He had to conclude that they all lived here. Could he live in such a place, with so many neighbors?

For a while they stood at the gates of the University of Rhiene, gazing at the sun-dappled grounds and ivied buildings. Queen Galas had walked here, he thought, and knowing this suddenly made her seem real in a new way. They had shared something, Jordan and Galas, if only the fact of having stood here.

In a flux of troubled emotions, he let himself be swept along by Tamsin, until they came to a market.

If Jordan had thought there were many people in the streets, this place was as crowded as Castor’s during a wedding, only the mob went on and on, dividing and subdividing into alleys and sidestreets. Lean-tos and carts stood along all the walls, and some enterprising men and women had simply laid their goods out on blankets in the street. A roar of voices welled from the press of people, animals, and running children. Smells of incense, manure, fresh-cut wood and hot iron filled Jordan’s head, making him dizzy.

Tamsin laughed. “This is the place! See, Jordan, this is the place to be in Rhiene!” She ducked into the press.

“Wait!” Shaking his head but grinning, he ran after her.

The chaos had an infectious energy to it. You could not walk slowly in this place. After a few minutes, Jordan found himself darting around like Tamsin, poking about on tables of turquoise baubles, then flitting over to a fruit seller, nearly stumbling over a one-legged woman selling cloth dolls from her mat–wishing he had more than the few coins in his pockets.

The only problem was, the roar of voices tended to trigger his visions. Every now and then Jordan had to stop and shake his head, because he would hear Armiger’s voice coming at him from within his own skull, or that of a doctor with whom the general was speaking. Such moments no longer frightened him, but they made it hard to concentrate on the here and now.

Then, in the very middle of the market, he was stopped in his tracks by another voice that rang sudden and clear in his mind:

“Go to the woman with the brown knapsack. Tell me what’s inside it.”

“What?” He looked around, blinking.

“I didn’t say anything,” said Tamsin. “Oh, look. A magician.”

There he was–a lean, well-groomed man standing on a little stage at the back of a short alley. A large audience stood in silence, listening as he recited something. His eyes were closed, and he had one hand touched dramatically to his forehead.

A young woman in peasant’s garb emerged from the audience. She went hesitantly up to stand beside the magician, and at his urging, opened the pack she’d been carrying. As she displayed each of the items inside, murmurs then applause ran through the audience. Shortly thereafter a small rain of coins landed at the magician’s feet.

Jordan and Tamsin watched for a while. The magician was guessing the contents of people’s bags, pockets or just what they held in their clenched fists. He was always right. The crowd was amazed, and all too willing to pay to watch the performance continue.

Every time the magician was presented with a puzzle, Jordan heard something no one else seemed to hear. This man had the same power Turcaret had possessed, a limited power to speak with the Winds–or at least with mecha. When Jordan concentrated he could see, almost as if he were imagining it, something like a diaphanous butterfly hovering above the crowd. When the magician commanded it, the invisible thing wafted over to the satchel, bag, case or box, and penetrated its surface with fine hairlike antennae. Almost like a mosquito, he thought.

Jordan’s heart was pounding with an excitement he had not felt since he had sat by the lakeshore and learned how the waves spoke. There was no trick to what this man was doing; Jordan could do it. What was amazing was that the little mechal thing allowed itself to be commanded–and the Winds did not rain fury on the magician for commanding it.

“Come on, let’s go,” said Tamsin.

“Wait. I want to try something.”

“Oh, forget it, Jordan, you’ll lose your shirt. He’s got the game rigged somehow.”

“Yes, and I know how.”

“Go to the jewelbox held by the man in green and tell me its contents,” commanded the magician.

Jordan closed his eyes and, in his mind, said, “Come here.”

The butterfly was clearly visible now, like a living flame over the dark absences of the crowd. It was like no mechal beast he had ever seen; it was more like a spirit. It hesitated now over the man the magician had ordered it to, then drifted in Jordan’s direction. It circled his head, as though inspecting him.

Return.” It was the magician, calling his servant.

Who was the stronger here? Jordan smiled, and said, “Stay.”

Return! Return now!

The crowd was beginning to mutter.

Ka! Return to me at once!

What are you?” Jordan asked the fluttering thing.

I am Ka. I am test probe of the Ventus terraforming infrastructure. I am a nano-fibre chassis with distributed processing and solar-powered electrostatic lift wires. I am–

Jordan had been wondering for days what he should ask the next thing he spoke to. “Do you speak to the Heaven hooks?

No. I report to desal 463.”

Faintly, he heard the magician announcing that today’s performance was over. The crowd broke into guffaws and jeers. Someone demanded their money back.

“Jordan,” hissed Tamsin. “What are you doing? Let’s go?”

“Wait.” Then, to Ka, he said, “Will you tell desal 463 that you spoke to me?


No, don’t do that!


Jordan opened his eyes. Okay?

“The show’s over,” said Tamsin. “Let’s go.”

“I’m doing something.”

“No you’re not. You’re standing there like a slackjawed idiot. Now come on.” She pulled on his arm.

Ka, where are you! Please Ka, come back!

You are not empty,” said Ka.

It took Jordan a moment to figure out what it meant. When Jordan closed his eyes, he could see the mecha all around him, a ghostly landscape of light. The crowd, the magician and even Tamsin were visible only as shadows, holes in the matrix.

Am I mecha?” he asked Ka.

You have mecha in you,” it said.

“Ka!” cried the magician, aloud this time. He stood alone in the alley, hands clasped at his sides. He seemed on the verge of tears.

Jordan wanted to know more, but Tamsin was pulling at him, and he felt pity for the poor magician, who did not know what was happening. “Return to your magician,” Jordan told Ka.

Ka fluttered away. A moment later Jordan opened his eyes to see the man raise one hand into the air as if caressing something. His shoulders slumped in relief, then he began swearing and looking around.

The magician’s gaze fell on Jordan, and stopped. What could he do? Jordan met his eye, smiled ironically, and shrugged.

The magician recoiled as if Jordan had slapped him. Then he backed away and raised one finger to point at Jordan. “You get away from me!” he shouted. “Get away, you hear?”

“Jordan!” Tamsin shook him. “Come on!”

They ran together into the crowd, Tamsin worried, Jordan stunned with new possibilities. He wanted to ask the magician where he’d found Ka, how he had discovered he could command the thing, why the desal tolerated his manipulations of a minor Wind. Above all, Jordan wanted to know why the Winds would speak to him and this man, and no one else here.

Ah, but that’s just the question Armiger came here to answer, he reminded himself. Armiger himself can’t speak to the Winds.

Though they were now two streets away, he concentrated and said, “Ka, why are the Winds after me?

The reply was faint, but he was sure Ka said, “You are not empty. So you may threaten Thalience.”

That was a new name. Or had he misheard it? “Ka, who is… Thalience?

He heard a mutter, but could not decipher it. Tamsin had dragged him to the gates of the market.

“What was all that about?” she demanded as they stepped into the quiet street. Jordan laughed, shaking his head.

“I’m not quite sure,” he said. “Maybe we’d better get back to the wagon.”

She gave him a long look. “Maybe you’re right,” she said.

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