Ventus – Day 80 of 135

The girls left, and they were alone again. Galas gestured at the food, and smiled.

The simple act of sipping the broth released a knot of tension in Lavin’s shoulders. He indulged himself in the food for a moment, while she poured wine for both of them. By the time she had reached for her own spoon, he felt in command of himself again.

“I’ve come to make sure we can do this again,” he said, gesturing to the food. “And more.”

Galas sipped her wine, brows knit quizzically. “What do you mean?”

He borrowed from the speech he’d prepared. The idea for this argument had come from his reading of her own captured journals. “You’re acting like there’s only one possible outcome to all this. But everything you’ve ever done–the very reason we are where we are today–is because you’ve refused to accept that there should only be one way of doing things. You’ve fought inevitability your whole life. Why change now?”

She was silent for a while. “Maybe I’m tired,” she said at last in a small voice.

“Galas, you’ve used nothing but your own strength to try to change the whole world. You’ve never accepted that of anyone else. Maybe it is time for you to rest. Is that so bad?”

“Yes!” she flared. “You’re saying you’ve come to take my kingdom from me. I already knew that. Say something new, if you really have alternatives.”

“You’re acting like there’s only victory or death possible here. I’m saying it’s not too late. Victory is impossible for you now, but death isn’t inevitable. That’s what I’ve come to prevent!”

“Victory wouldn’t be impossible,” she said, “if I’d had you at my side.”

He had expected her to say it, but he still had to look away as he replied. “That’s unfair. What choice have I ever had?”

“Lavin, why did you side with Parliament?” She looked stricken. “You know I never wanted any of this. I never wished harm on my country. It was Parliament who started this war, and you who so expertly destroyed everything I’ve ever held dear. And yet, you, of all people…”

“You were going to lose,” he said. “I was trained at the military academy, groomed to be a general. When Parliament decided on war, I sat in on the planning session. I was on your side. Of course I was! How do you think I felt, sitting in the gallery, listening to them insult you, laugh about bringing you down? They were a pack of traitors. But I saw the plans they were laying out. They were going to win. Even if I’d stolen the plans, and brought them to you, it wouldn’t have helped. It would only have prolonged the slaughter.

“The night I really knew in my heart that they would win, I sat in my bedchamber and cried. What could I do? I was the highest-born graduate of the Academy. To appease both the nobles and the commons, Parliament would ask me to lead the army against you.

“I could stand aside. Or I could join you, and die at your side. Or I could lead the army myself–and then at least if I was in control, if the responsibility were mine, maybe we could salvage something, it didn’t have to come to this!” He sat back, the ache in his chest making it hard to breathe. “If anyone else led the army, how could I prevent your death?”

“There was another choice,” she said coldly.

“What? How can you say that? Don’t you think I thought of them all?” He grabbed his goblet and drank, glaring at her.

“You could have misled the army, Lavin. You could have fought badly.” She smiled sadly. “You could have let me beat you.”

“Not a single day’s gone by when I didn’t think of doing that,” he said. “Your generals never provided me the opportunity. Your nobility just weren’t a match for the Academy. But no, wait, it’s more than that. Listen, I’ve stood on a hillside, and watched ten thousand men fight in terror and rage in the valley below me. I’ve had men on horseback, waiting for my orders, and there was a moment when I could have failed to give an order to let the cavalry flank your men. The order was crucial. If I gave it, thousands would live on both side. If I didn’t, I would stand on this hillside, and watch while men who trusted me were put to the sword.” He faced her grimly, hands gripping the table in front of him. “Perhaps every day before that, and every day since, I’ve thought that I could deliberately send men out to fail and die. I’m a man capable of hard decisions, Galas. But at that moment, I wasn’t able to do it. And however much I might lie to myself every day, in the end I would act the same way again. Everyone has a moral line they can’t cross. For me, that was it.”

She stared at him in silence. Lavin loosened his grip on the tabletop, and numbly turned back to his food.

“So what are your terms?” she whispered.

“More people don’t need to die. At this moment you’ve got Parliament in a position where, if you don’t surrender, there’ll be a bloodbath. That will not be popular. Neither is regicide. With no one on the throne, the state will be in chaos. However hopeless things look, they still need you.” He looked straight at her. “I can guarantee your safety. You’ll be placed under arrest by Parliament, but it will be my men who guard you. Parliament may hold the purse strings to the army, but after all this time, the men are mine. No one else could have guaranteed your safety after all that’s happened. But I can.”

“I believe you,” she said with a touching smile. “And this house arrest–what does it mean?”

“You remain the head of state. Parliament rules in your place. An arrangement is made for a proper heir. You renounce all your political, economic and social experiments.”

“I can’t do that.”

“You must! Otherwise you remain the head of a rebel movement, who will act in your name whether you lead them or not. The chaos will just continue.”

She reached across the table, and took his hand. “My love, you’re asking me to throw away everything my life has meant. How is that different from death?”

“It’s gone anyway. Your choice is how to cope with the fact. Your options are suicide, or to rise above it, as you’ve always risen above things.” His mouth was dry now, and his heart pounding. It all came down to this conversation, and this moment in it.

She shook her head, but not at his words. “Lavin, did you just tell me that you led the army against me because you loved me?”


“Worse and worse,” she said. “Worse and worse!” She stood up; her chair fell over.

The door opened a crack, but she waved her hand impatiently, and it closed again. “Every day of my life the people who’ve guarded me have taken away some thing just as I came to realize I loved it.” She dragged her hands through her hair, flung it back, and came to stand over him. “You’ve taken it upon yourself to do that too. What do I have left?”

He shook his head.

“I loved you because you never tried to guard me,” she said. “You were never my keeper. Yours was the one face at a banquet I could look at when I needed to share a laugh, or a real smile. I would have made you my consort if I could have, Lavin.”

He shrank back from the directness of her gaze. He could hear the bitterness in his own voice as he said, “You defied every other tradition. Why didn’t you try to overthrow that one too?” Custom and politics had dictated Galas marry a royal son of a neighboring nation; she had avoided doing so.

It was her turn to look away. “I was afraid.”

“Afraid? Of offending tradition? Of Parliament’s reaction?”

“Of you.”


“Afraid of having you; afraid of losing you.” She angrily righted her chair and sat down again. “Afraid of everything to do with you. And… I thought we’d have the time… for me to get over that fear.”

“We may yet,” he said quickly. “Do you still trust me, after all that’s happened?”

“I don’t know… yes, I do. Lavin, I trust you to follow your heart, even if it leads you into an inferno.”

“But do you trust that I love you?”


“Then let me protect you now!”

Galas smiled sadly. “You know me too well. It is not I who am faced with a choice here, my dearest. You knew that when you came. You are the one that has to decide between self-annihilation and love. I’ve made my choice, and will die for it comfortably. If there is a tortured soul at this table, it is you.”

Lavin felt the words as blows. He couldn’t respond; all his strategies had evaporated.

She knew him. The greatest doubt and mystery of his life had been whether Galas really understood him; had she really thought deeply about him? Was he real to her, the way she was to him?

She understood him too well.

“Your choice, dearest friend,” she continued, “is simple. You will either join me, and turn your men against Parliament now that you have their loyalty; or you will raze my walls, kill my people, and find me dead of poison in my bedchamber.”

Her words were so simply spoken he could never have doubted her determination. Inwardly, Lavin reeled in panic. Everything was slipping away. He opened his mouth, almost to surrender to her, for the sake of a few days of bliss before they were defeated and killed. Then he remembered the thief Enneas, and his other option.

He heard himself say, “I come back to where we began. You have defied either-or choices your entire life. You can rise above this dilemma too, and regain your kingdom. Maybe you can pursue your policies in a gentler fashion, and still salvage some of what you worked for. The alternative is to lose all of it, and your life as well.”

Her expression had hardened. “Very well. There is another option, but I had hoped not to have to use it. In some ways it is the worst of all.”

“Why worst?” He shook his head, not understanding.

“Because I wanted to avoid defeating you, Lavin. I never wanted you as my enemy.” She rose before he could reply, and rapped on the chamber’s inner door.

Lavin stood, alarmed. Was she about to order his capture or death?

A man stepped into the room. He appeared stern and noble, but Lavin judged him of foreign breeding, since his hair was long and braided. He wore the uniform of the palace guard.

“Your siege will not be easy,” Galas said. “General Lavin, meet General Armiger.”

Lavin was thunderstruck. Armiger was supposed to be dead! Yet… perhaps he had defected, slipped away from his failing fortunes in Ravenon, at some offer by Galas? It made no sense.

These thoughts raced through his mind as he stepped forward to clasp the hand of his new adversary. “Your reputation precedes you,” he said formally.

“Thank you,” said Armiger. “Your own skill is respected in every land. I look forward to matching my strength against yours.”

Lavin stepped away, and bowed formally. “In that case, your highness, I will take my leave. With General Armiger at your side, I will need to make extra preparations if I am to win the day.”

She stood, hands clasped in front of her, and said nothing as he turned to go. Her face was a mask of eloquent sorrow.

Lavin barely noticed the ranks of hostile, waiting soldiers, nor did he hear his own men asking how the meeting had gone. The sun had dimmed in the sky, and touch, hearing and smell had faded like the autumn leaves. Somehow he found himself outside the palace walls, issuing orders in a steady voice as Hesty rode up. Within him raged a storm of emotion such as he had never felt. It overwhelmed reason; he could not have told anyone what he was going through, nor what it meant to him.

At the core of the storm, however, was a single mental image: of General Armiger standing at the side of Queen Galas.

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