Ventus – Day 95 of 135


They were in sight of the palace walls when Jordan began to hear the song. It came from directly overhead, far above the smoky air and late autumn clouds. The last time he’d heard something like remotely like this, the sky had been filling with vagabond moons at the Boros estate. The sky was empty now.

Periodically as they trudged toward the siege, Jordan had paused and closed his eyes, to watch the events there unfolding through Armiger’s eyes. He knew an assault on the palace was in full swing, but beyond that everything was confused. Armiger seemed to be moving purposefully, but since he didn’t talk to himself he wasn’t letting Jordan in on his thoughts.

“Going in there is suicide,” Tamsin had said when he told her of the assault. “We need to stop and wait for it to end.”

Maybe. But Jordan feared that the seemingly empty landscape around them would erupt at any second with minions of thalience. He could easily be caught by them before they reached the palace.

Only Armiger could oppose the Winds. Compared to them, the threat of these human armies seemed almost trivial.

“We have to tell him about Mediation and thalience,” he told her. “He would have acted by now if he knew exactly what was going on. I don’t believe the queen told him what he needed to know.”

Tamsin started to answer, then seemed to think better of it. She glanced over her shoulder, eyes catching the leagues of open sand that lay between herself and her devastated home.

“None of us knows what we’re doing, do we?” she said in a small voice.

Jordan looked at her, surprised. “No,” he said finally. “Not even him, I guess.”

“What about the swans?”

“The Winds of Mediation take care of the earth,” he said. “Maybe if we can find somewhere underground to hide, we can escape the swans.”

Tamsin squinted upward. “The sun’s a funny color.”

“I don’t want to hear it.” He shut his eyes briefly, inner vision trembling between Armiger and kaleidoscopic images from the siege. As had happened at the Boros manor, the local landscape was excited, stones, wood and plants all trading images and sounds on some frequency they rarely used. Jordan could see through their eyes when they did this; he saw fighting figures on the ground from the vantage point of smoke rising above the towers. He saw both inside and outside the great hall of the summer palace, where tense soldiers waited with tinder and flint to light a new and vastly larger conflagration should Parliament’s forces breach the walls. He heard the confused shouts, the screams, and he heard weeping as he saw Armiger’s hands reach to undo the ropes that bound the Queen of Iapysia to a gilded chair in her chambers.

“Ka,” said Jordan. “I need your help now.”


“You told me the truth,” said Galas. “That is why I decided to end it.” She stood shakily, massaging her wrists where the ropes had chafed.

Armiger shook his head angrily. “We have more important things to worry about than your kingdom.” He threw down the ropes.

Galas’ maids cowered in the corners of the opulent bed chamber. Two soldiers stood uncertainly by the door; they had been placed there to guard the queen against herself, and were suffering the abuse of the maids when Armiger entered.

Galas smoothed back her hair with one hand, staring wildly about herself. “What?” She turned and looked at him in puzzlement. “What did you just say?”

“You have a greater responsibility now,” he said. “More than your kingdom is at stake.”

Galas laughed. She tried to stifle the sound with her hand, but it kept coming, and she reeled toward the window, bent over, hands to her mouth. When she could speak again, she shouted, “And what about me? What say do I have in this? Or do I have none? Who gets to sacrifice me on their altar? Parliament? Lavin? You?”

The door swung back with a crash and five armed soldiers paced in. Their swords were drawn. The last one in shut the door behind himself and threw the latch.

“Galas,” said the man at the head of the group, “I am afraid I must ask you to surrender.”

Her two guards were suddenly against the wall with swords to their throats. The other two men had their blades leveled at Armiger.

“Lavin.” She felt a deep feeling of cold wash over her. “You did come.”

“I came to ensure your safety,” said Lavin. “I said I’d let no one harm you. And I won’t.”

“Then the palace has fallen.”

“Yes,” said Lavin.

“No,” said Armiger. “He has snuck in somehow. That’s why you ordered your men not to come over the walls, isn’t it? To keep our forces away?”

Lavin nodded curtly. “Kindly kneel on the floor, general. You too.” He indicated the others in the room. “We are going to strike you unconscious; there’s not enough rope to bind everyone. Anyone who struggles will be killed.” He stepped up to Galas. “You will accompany us, your highness. If you try to call for help I have instructed my men to kill you.” For a second he looked dizzy; he clutched at the back of the chair where Galas had been bound. “I can’t do it myself. But it must be done, if there is no alternative.”

“Your highness?” said one of her men. “Give the word and we will throw these traitors out the window.”

“Do as he says,” she said hoarsely. “There is no point in your dying too.”

“But your highness–“

“Do it!”

The maids and the two guards knelt in a line. Two of Lavin’s men stepped behind them. Galas flinched as the crying maids were struck down one by one, and the men who had stayed to protect her life. In moments they lay silent on the floor. One of the women had stopped breathing; blood pooled behind her ear. Galas stared at it until Lavin took her arm.

“Goodbye, General,” Lavin said. The soldier standing behind Armiger raised his sword and slammed the pommel down on the back of Armiger’s neck. There was a loud crack, but Armiger didn’t even blink.

Armiger held the man’s sword-arm before anyone could react, and then he was on his feet. With a casual motion he tossed the man out the window. For a shocked moment no one moved.

“No noise!” commanded Lavin. He grabbed Galas by the arm and pulled her out of the way as his other three men raised their swords to stab Armiger.

One staggered back, his own sword in his gut. The other two whirled, for Armiger was no longer where he had been.

Hands like iron clamped onto Galas’ wrists, and then Armiger was hauling her towards the door. Lavin leaped to intercede, and Armiger side-kicked him. The general was sent flying into a wardrobe, shattering it.

“We must get you to safety,” said Armiger. His voice was flat, his grip on Galas’ arm like iron. He towed the queen out into the corridor, where several servants stood, looking bewildered and offended at his handling of the queen.

She was still half-stunned. Had that really been Lavin? It looked like him. “How did he get in here?” she heard herself ask.

Armiger stopped abruptly, making her stumble. “Good point,” he said. “I’ll interrogate him. You find Megan.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s time to leave.” He took her by the shoulders and looked into her eyes. He seemed completely unruffled by what had just occurred. “The Diadem swans are coming,” he said. “They may well obliterate Lavin’s army. I broke the rules of war, Galas. I deliberately involved the Winds.”

Galas shook her head. “Don’t hurt Lavin.”

For the first time he looked surprised. “If you wish.” He let her go and turned.

“General Armiger?”

The voice was that of a woman. They both looked up, to find what at first seemed to be a soldier boy standing by the doors to the roof. It was a woman in bloodied armor. She had an oval face, dark brows and black hair that lay now in dusty tangles. She held something like a mirrored crossbow in her hands.

“Get Megan,” said Armiger. He thrust Galas behind himself just as the woman’s gleaming weapon spat fire.

Armiger screamed. Galas made herself run and not look back–around the corner, the way they had come.

And there stood Lavin, truly him this time, grim with his sword drawn.

“Come,” he said, and reached for her.

Galas snatched her hand back. All her confusion and resentment boiled over. “Never! You destroyed me!”

“In time you’ll understand why I had to do it,” he said as he reached for her again.

“Help me!” At her cry, all the doors in the corridor opened and her servants poured forth.

Then Lavin had her wrist and twisted her arm behind her painfully. She felt the blade of his sword slide past her throat. “Back off!” he shouted. The servants stopped, their makeshift weapons raised.

“Idiots!” she screamed. “Kill him!”

In the moment while they hesitated Lavin pulled her to the end of the corridor, where it met the one that led to the stairs. She caught a confused glimpse of shattered wood and stone here, smoking embers on the carpet. A loud explosion sounded somewhere nearby; she felt a wave of heat and suddenly the ceiling split open like a ripe fruit. Lavin pulled her back just in time as beams and stonework clogged the corridor behind them.

She coughed; Lavin’s sword nicked her throat. She heard him panting, heard herself cry out in pain from the way he twisted her arm. He dragged her along the hall, spun her around, and suddenly she saw Armiger. He lay on his face at the foot of the stairs. His armor was smoking. Over him stood the black-haired woman, weapon aimed at his head.

A musket shot spiked Galas’ ears. The woman spun around and fell, limbs akimbo. Soldiers were coming down the stairs from the roof; one threw aside his smoking musket and drew his sword as he approached her.

Galas saw the woman’s foot lash out to trip the man, then Lavin had her through the door into the antechamber of the audience chamber.

Lavin spun her around again, shoving her ahead of him now. She was dazed, but beginning to think again. She should just let him kill her. Or just fall like a dead weight that he could never carry. They entered the audience chamber. Megan stood by the throne, hands clasped nervously. “Your highness…?”

“Go to Armiger,” she shouted. “He’s hurt!”

Megan ran past them. Lavin picked up his pace, so they were trotting when they reached the main doors.

She needed to know what had happened to Armiger, Galas realized. That he and his woman survive was suddenly as important to her as Megan’s survival had been to him. It was simply this that made her decide not to slide her throat along Lavin’s sword, and vindictively bleed to death in his arms.

“You’re a snake,” she said. “I can’t believe I loved you.”

“I don’t mind your cursing me,” he said. “As long as you’re cursing me, at least you’re still alive.”

“And I will curse you, as long as I do live!”

They were on the marble landing. “I know,” he said. “I knew the price when I took on the task.”

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