Ventus – Day 2 of 135

Jordan still wasn’t sure what that had been about. Turcaret was from a great family and also a government appointed official, and as father said constantly, the great families were better than common folk. He had assumed Emmy had done something to anger or upset Turcaret. Only recently had other possibilities occurred to him.

“Surely he won’t remember you after all this time,” he said now.

“How can you be so stupid!” she snapped. “It’s just going to be worse!”

“Well, what are we going to do?” Turcaret was a powerful man. He could do what he liked.

“Why don’t you find some excuse to get me out of the kitchens? He comes by there, ogling all the girls.”

Jordan looked up past the scaffold at the angle of the sun. He wiped a skeen of sweat from his forehead. It was going to be a hot day; that gave him an idea.

He put his hand on Willam’s shoulder. “I’m going to fetch us some water and bread,” he said.

“Good idea,” grunted Willam as he levered another stone out of the wall. “But don’t dawdle.”

Jordan swung out and down, smiling. He would get Emmy out here for the morning, and keep his men happy with a bucket or two of well water in the face. It was a good solution.

He was halfway down when a scream ripped the air overhead. Jordan let go reflexively and fell the last several meters, landing in a puff of dust next to the reflecting pool.

Surprisingly, Willam was lying next to him. “How did you–?” Jordan started to say; but Willam was grimacing and clutching his calf. There was huge and swelling bruise there, and the angle of the leg looked wrong.

Everybody was shouting. Flipping on his back, Jordan found the rest of his men plummeting to the ground all around him.

“–Thing in the wall,” somebody yelled. And someone else said, “It took Ryman!”

Jordan stood up. The scaffold was shaking. The men were scattering for the four corners of the courtyard now. “What is it?” Jordan shouted in panic.

Then he saw, where the men had been working, a bright silver hand reach out to grab one of the scaffold’s uprights. Another hand appeared, flailing blindly. Bright highlights of sunlight flashed off it.

“A stone mother,” gasped Willam. “There’s a stone mother in the wall. That’s what made the hole.”

Jordan swore. Stone mothers were rare, but he knew they weren’t supernatural, like the Winds. They were mechal life, like stove beetles.

“Ryman reached into a hole and the silver stuff covered him,” said Willam. “He’ll smother.”

The second hand found the upright and clutched it. Jordan caught a glimpse of Ryman’s head, a perfect mirrored sphere.

Jordan knew what was happening. “It’s trying to protect itself!” he shouted to the scattered men. “Ryman was sweating–it’s trying to seal off the water!”

They stood there dumbly.

Ryman would be dead in seconds if somebody didn’t do something. Jordan turned to look at the open doors of the manor, twenty meters away. Clouds floated passively in the rectangle of the reflecting pool.

Jordan decided. He reached down, splashed water from the pool over his head and shoulders, then started up the scaffold. He could hear shouting behind him; people were running out of the manor.

He pulled himself onto the planks next to Ryman. Jordan’s heart was hammering. Ryman’s head, arms, and upper torso were encased in a shimmering white liquid, like quicksilver. He was on his knees now, but his grip on the upright remained strong.

Ryman was stubborn and strong; Jordan knew he would never be able to break the man’s grip. So he reached out a dripping hand and laid it on the oval brightness of the man’s covered head.

With a hiss the liquid poured over Jordan’s fingers and up his arm. He yelled and tried to pull back, but now the rest of the white stuff beaded up and leapt at him.

He had time to see Ryman’s blue face emerge from beneath the cold liquid before it had swarmed up and over his own mouth, nose and eyes.

Jordan nearly lost his head; he flailed about blindly for a moment, feeling the coiling liquid metal trying to penetrate his ears and nostrils. Then his foot felt the edge of the platform.

He jumped. For a second there was nothing but darkness, free falling giddyness and the shudder of quicksilver against his eyelids. Then he hit a greater coldness, and soft clay.

Suddenly his mouth was full of water and his vision cleared, then clouded with muddy water. Jordan thrashed and sat up. He’d landed where he intended: in the reflecting pool. The silver stuff was fleeing off his body now. It formed a big flat oval on the water’s surface, and skittered back and forth between the edges of the pool. When he caromed back in his direction, Jordan jumped without thinking straight out of the pool.

He heard laughter–then applause. Turning, Jordan found the whole manor, apparently, standing in the courtyard, shouting and pointing at him. Among them as a woman he had not seen before. She must be travelling with Turcaret. She was slim and striking, with a wreath of black hair framing an oval face and piercing eyes.

When he looked at her, she nodded slowly and gravely, and turned to go back inside.

Weird. He glanced up at the scaffold; Ryman was sitting up, a hand at his throat, still breathing heavily. He caught Jordan’s eye, and raised a hand, nodding.

Then Chester and the others were around him, hoisting Jordan in the air. “Three cheers for the hero of the hour!” shouted Chester.

“Put me down, you oafs! Willam’s broke his leg.”

They lowered him, and all rushed over to Willam, who grinned weakly up at Jordan. “Get him to the surgeon,” said Jordan. “Then we’ll figure out what to do about the stone mother.”

Emmy ran up, and hugged him. “That was very foolish! What was that thing?”

He shrugged sheepishly. “Stone mother. They live inside boulders and, and hills and such like. They’re mecha, not monsters. That one was just trying to protect itself.”

“What was that silver stuff? It looked alive!”

“Dad told me about that one time. The mothers protect themselves with it. He said the stuff goes towards whatever’s wettest. He said he saw somebody get covered with it once; he died, but the stuff was still on him, so they got it off by dropping the body in a horse trough.”

Emmy shuddered. “That was an awful chance. Don’t do anything like that again, hear?”

The excitement was over, and the rest of the crowd began to disperse. “Come, let’s get you cleaned up,” she said, towing him in the direction of the kitchens.

As they were rounding the reflecting pool, Jordan heard the sudden thunder of hooves, saw the dust fountaining up from them. They were headed straight for him.

“Look out!” He whirled, pushing Emmy out of the way. She shrieked and fell in the pool.

The sound vanished; the dust blinked out of existence.

There were no horses. The courtyard was empty and still under the morning sun.

Several people had looked over at Jordan’s cry, and were laughing again.

“What–?”

“How could you!” A hot smack on his cheek turned him around again. Emmy’s dress was soaked, and now clung tightly to her hips and legs.

“I–I didn’t mean to–”

“Oh, sure. What am I going to do now?” she wailed.

“Really–I heard horses. I thought–”

“Come on.” She grabbed his arm ran for the nearby stables. Inside she crossly wrung out her skirt in a stall, cursing Jordan all the while.

He shook his head, terribly confused. “I really am sorry, Emmy. I didn’t mean to do it. I really did hear horses. I swear.”

“Your brain’s addled, that’s all.”

“Well, maybe, I just…” He kicked the stall angrily. “Nothing’s going right today.”

“Did you hit your head when you landed?” The idea seemed to still her anger. She stepped out of the stall, still wet but not scowling at him any more.

“No, I don’t think so, I just–” A bright flash of light in his eyes startled him. He caught a confused glimpse of sunlit grass and white clouds, where straw and wooden slats should be.

“Jordan?” His elbow hurt. Somehow, he was on the floor.

“Hey…” She knelt beside him, looking concerned. “Are you okay? You fell over.”

“I did? It was that flash of light. I saw–” Now he wasn’t sure what he’d seen.

Emmy gently felt his skull for bruises. “Nothing hurts here, does it?.”

“I didn’t hit myself, really.” He brushed himself off and stood up.

“You looked really weird there for a second.”

“I don’t know. It’s not anything.” He felt scared suddenly, so to cover it, he said, “No, I was just joking. Come on, let’s check on Willam. Then we’d better get back to work.”

“Okay,” she said uncertainly.

Willam and Ryman were still with the surgeon, and nobody knew what to do about the stone mother, so Jordan told the rest of the men to take an early lunch. He went to the kitchens and found a stool near Emmy. They wiled away some time near the warmness of the hearth.

Jordan had just decided to round up his men and get back to work, when he suddenly felt a horse under him, and saw grasslands sweeping by. A thunderous sound, as of many mounted men, filled his ears. This time, he was lost for what seemed a long time.

His hand gripped the reins tightly, only it was not his hand, but the sunburned hand of a mature man.

In an eye-blink the vision was gone, and he stood again in the kitchen. He hadn’t fallen, and no one was looking at him. Jordan’s heart began to pound as if he’d run a kilometer.

He waved at Emmy urgently. She was talking to one of the bakers, and ignored him until he started to walk over. Then she quickly intercepted him and whispered, “What?” in that particular tone of voice she used lately when her interrupted her talking to young men.

“It happened again.”

“What happened?”

“Like in the stables. And outside. I saw something.” Her skeptical look told him to be careful what he said. “I–I do think I’m sick,” he said.

Her look softened. “You look awful, actually. What’s wrong?”

“I keep seeing things. And hearing things.”

“Voices? Like uncle Wilson?”

“No. Horses. Like in the dream I had last night.”

“Dream? What are you talking about?

“The dream I had last night. I’m still having it.”

“Tell me.”

“Horses, and grasslands. There was a battle, and the Winds came. All last night, it was just like I was there. And it keeps happening today, too. I’m still seeing it.”

Emmy shook her head. “You are sick. Come on, we’ll go see the surgeon.”

“No, I don’t want to.”

“Don’t be a baby.”

“Okay, okay. But I can go on my own. You don’t have to come with me.”

“All right,” she said reluctantly. He felt her concerned gaze on him as he left.

The surgeon was busy with Willam’s broken leg. Jordan stood around for a few minutes outside his door, but the sound of screaming coming from inside made him feel worse and worse, until finally he had to leave. He sat in the courtyard, unsure whether to go back to work or go home. Something was wrong, and he had no idea what to do about it.

He couldn’t stay idle, though. If he went home, his father would treat him with contempt at dinner; Jordan always felt terribly guilty when he was sick, as if he was doing something bad.

He thought of the walk home, and that made him think of the forest. There was someone there who could help him–and maybe solve the problem of the stone mother too. It was a long walk, and he didn’t like to be in the forest alone, but just now he didn’t know what else to do. He stood up and left the manor, taking the path that led to the church, and the house of the priests.

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