Ventus – Day 94 of 135


Calandria rolled over. Her head was pounding, and her shoulders and right arm were very sore. She looked up, saw smoke, raised her head and heard shouting and the roar of muskets.

She lay on the parapet of one of the walls stretching from the gate to the main tower. Rocks and flinders of stone lay all around her. Several bloody bodies dotted the walkway nearer the gate.

Where was her gun? Levering herself up, she spotted the microwave gun lying a few meters away. It appeared unharmed. She was superficially battered, her helmet dented, face and shoulders bruised, but otherwise unharmed.

She crab-walked over to the gun, then crouched under the crenels away from the sweep of the steam cannon below. They had stopped their deadly barrage in any case; it looked like the assault on the tower had failed.

For a while she stayed there. She didn’t want to think about where she was or what she had done to get here. The things she would have to do next might be worse.

She knew what Armiger looked like from Jordan’s descriptions. He might be anywhere within the acres of palace grounds. She was betting he would be in the tower, with the queen.

It seemed insane to move, but her use of the microwave gun might bring the Winds down on the palace anyway. Using it, she could clear a path through any number of defenders. She couldn’t bring herself to turn it on human opponents again, however. She would find another way in.

Something was burning in the courtyard near the main doors. The smoke was rich and grey, and it made a smothering pall that hid the spot where her wall met the outside wall of the keep. Steps led down at that point, but she wouldn’t use them; no doubt the main doors were securely barricaded by now.

There was a row of narrow windows seven meters above the point where the wall met the keep. Later there might be soldiers at those windows firing down into the courtyard; for now they were open and unmanned.

Calandria took off her boots and tied them over her shoulder. Then she started to climb the chipped and cracked face of the keep.


“I can’t believe our luck,” said Lavin. They were at the doors to the audience chamber. There was no one about.

One of his men shrugged. “Your plan worked perfectly, sir.” His tone suggested no other outcome had been possible.

The sounds of the siege penetrated, as did the smell of smoke. In all his plans, Lavin had assumed the tower would be a hive of running men and hawk-eyed commandants. His strategy in this battle had been to draw the queen’s force out to minimize the numbers here, but he had never dreamed it would work so well.

He revised his plans. They might be able to smuggle the queen out of here after all.

A scout eased the door open a crack and peered through. “I see no one… wait, there’s one man.”

“What’s he doing?”

“Walking. Must have just gone up the stairs ahead of us and paused here for a second or something.”

“Let me see.” Lavin motioned him aside. They had agreed on how to deal with simple soldiers: they would walk right by them. Lavin might be recognizable to some officers and the generals, but to few others. And they were all dressed in the queen’s livery.

So this man should present no problem…

Lavin cursed under his breath when he saw who it was. General Armiger walked slowly, his head down as if musing, hands clasped behind his back. He wore scrolled black armor, with a commander’s flag jutting over his shoulder. He would notice any commotion, and Lavin had no doubt he knew where all his troops were supposed to be. They would have to kill him now, and as quietly as possible.

Your invincible queen has tried to kill herself.”

For an instant Lavin felt the words had been spoken to him; his heart almost stopped. Then he spotted the woman who had spoken. She stepped from the shadows of the doorway to the antechamber where Lavin had dined with Galas.

General Armiger took her in his arms, and she rested her cheek against his breastplate. “It is my fault,” he said.

“What?” She drew back a little, looking up at him.

“I told her the truth. I took away her hope.”

“She’s only human, after all.” The woman sighed. “Does that disappoint you?”

Lavin blinked. It couldn’t be true. She would have held faith to the very end, in the face of any opposition. He knew her. Nothing could shake her confidence in her own ideals. Had he thought she could fall prey to despair, Lavin would have done anything he had to in his negotiations to ensure this assault did not happen. He would have made concessions.

If Galas despaired, then they had both lost, for that would mean the woman he had come to rescue no longer existed.

He forced himself to focus on the present situation. “We will walk in casually. Kasham, step behind him as we pass. Bahner, do likewise with the woman. A blade in the heart, then drag them behind the throne.”

The men nodded. Lavin stood straight and swung the door open.

Armiger was walking quickly towards the far door. The woman stood where they had embraced, looking after him.

Lavin raised a hand, and his men halted in silence. Armiger reached the door to the antechamber, and passed through it without looking back.

Lavin caught Bahmer’s eye and shook his head. Bahmer shrugged. Then they entered the room.

The woman turned, noted them with indifference, and walked to one of the tall windows on the right. She stared out as they passed by. Lavin led his men left to the antechamber, and they were through, as simply as that.

He stepped boldly into the corridor beyond the antechamber. A stone staircase led up to the left, and two broad wood-paneled corridors radiated right and ahead. There was a deep carpet on the floor, and portrait paintings on the walls. These must be Her apartments.

A man in servant’s livery ran up. Lavin forced himself to stand perfectly still, although his heart was hammering. “Are you looking for the general, sir?” asked the servant.

“The queen, actually.” He felt his men shifting uneasily behind him. They were close to breaking strain, he knew–any slight provocation now and they would unsheath their swords. He prayed they would remain as cool as he pretended to be.

“The queen is… indisposed,” said the servant. “General Armiger is with her.”


“Her closet, at the end of this corridor, but sir, General Armiger said they were not to be disturbed. He ordered even the duennas to leave.”

Lavin sniffed. “This is critical to ending the siege,” he said, and walked on.

They passed two more servants and five of the queen’s maids, one of whom Lavin recognized. None looked at them. Then they were at the queen’s door.

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