Ventus – Day 34 of 135

§

Daylight was seeping away outside. Jordan was fairly sure Calandria would wait for darkness before making any moves, but knowing that didn’t make the time pass any easier.

The time dragged. Jordan had packed everything in the ten minutes after Calandria left, and after that all he could do was wait. August had eyed him while he worked, but said nothing. He seemed content to let Jordan speak if he wished, but Jordan was distracted, and too upset to give the man much notice.

What confused Jordan even more was that Armiger and Megan were making love next to her fireplace. If he closed his eyes for even a second, he was there, seemingly touching her himself, and the vision was so mesmerizing he didn’t want to look away. It was powerfully arousing, and he couldn’t afford that–not tonight, and not with August in the room.

August kept twisting his body, flexing his arms, and touching his wounded side. He looked puzzled. Obviously he was trying to find some motion that would hurt enough to locate his wound. Jordan seized on the distraction.

“I told you, we’ve put something on it to kill the pain. You’ll just open it up if you move about.”

“No,” said August. “I can feel everywhere around there. It seems…” He threw the blankets off.

“Stop!”

August stood up. “I’ll be damned,” he said. He pressed his hand to his side. “It feels…” he looked up suddenly.

Jordan heard something. “Quiet!” he hissed. August looked up in surprise.

“What–?” Jordan waved him silent. He sidled over to the door and put his ear against it.

August hitched his pants up and came over as well. “What is it?” he whispered.

“I heard footsteps. They stopped just outside the door,” Jordan whispered back.

August planted his ear against the door. “I hear voices. Snuff out the candle, will you?”

Jordan ran to obey. August flattened himself against the wall next to the door, and Jordan barely had time to duck down behind the bed before someone pushed the door open, and three men stepped into the room.

12

Turcaret glanced out the window to check the angle of the light. It was almost dark. Almost time.

“I sent a semaphore message to the king of Ravenon,” he said to Chan. “Shortly after you left Castor’s manor. The king had never heard of you, nor the damsel who calls herself Calandria May. You are not couriers for Ravenon. We don’t know what you are–but I did receive permission to have you arrested and sent back to the capital in irons if I chanced upon you again.”

Chan took another sip of his wine, his expression bland. “We’re alone in this room,” he pointed out. “If you wanted to arrest me, you would have already done it.”

“True.” At least Chan wasn’t the idiot he looked. “I had a better idea,” Turcaret admitted.

“I’m all ears,” said Chan. Turcaret had never heard that expression before; the image was so bizarre he laughed.

“I originally intended to turn you in,” he said. “After all, you rendered me a tremendous insult.”

Chan sat up straight. “In what way? I’m sure we intended none.”

“You intended none?” Turcaret couldn’t believe his ears. “Well, to start with, you stole my property away on a pretext.”

“What property?” The fool looked puzzled now.

“The Mason girl.”

A look of disgust slowly spread across Chan’s face. He tilted the glass, pouring the wine out on the floor. That was all right, Turcaret decided; he’d probably drunk enough by now.

“People are not property,” said Chan quietly. “They have rights, even in this godforsaken country.”

“Rights? Yes, let’s talk about rights, now,” said Turcaret. “That girl was just a thing, of no consequence, and no one would protest her fate, because no one can do anything about it. She was my right, she was the payment of a debt, and that was the beginning and end of it. “But you! You have the gall to be indignant about that little trollop when you yourself are nothing but a thief yourself–the thief of a title of Ravenon! You are the one befouling propriety here, and I’d be within my rights to have you summarily executed right here and now.”

“You and what army?” asked Chan. He shook his head stupidly; the plant extract the priests had prepared for Turcaret must be starting to work.

“You’re referring to the fact that we’re alone. Perhaps you think you could take me in a fair fight. Maybe. But you wouldn’t get far, even if you avoided my men and escaped the grounds.”

“‘Zat so?” Chan seemed to suddenly realize what had happened to him. He tried to stand, unsuccessfully.

“Oh, yes, you’ve been drugged,” said Turcaret. “But that’s not why you’ll never get out of here. The Winds have chosen you to play a part in the events that are about to unfold. The Winds are on our side. We know they favor us. By the time this evening is out, everyone will know it.”

“Go to hell,” muttered Chan. He didn’t seem afraid at all. Angry, maybe. Turcaret supposed he was stupider than he looked, after all.

The controller smiled, not trying to hide his smugness. “You have been sent to us, sir. You might think you were the author of your own actions, but you are not. A higher power has sent you to us.”

Chan shook his head sloppily. “Yer delusional.” He tried again to stand, unsuccessfully.

“Feeling a bit weak?” Turcaret asked. “Good. Stay there, I want to show you something.”

He reached behind the orange tree and brought out the wrapped packages his man had delivered just prior to Chan’s arrival. He leaned the long cloth bundle on his own chair, and put the smaller package on the table. He unwound the cloth that wrapped it. Chan blinked at him owlishly as he did so.

Turcaret spared a glance outside. The sun was down. It was time.

“Recognize any of these?” Turcaret unrolled the smaller bundle to reveal a dagger, a cloak pin, and a wide, ornate belt.

“Hey!” Chan fell forward over the table top. “Those’re mine! You stole ‘em?”

Well, that was finally a satisfying reaction. Turcaret casually unwound the cloth from the longer bundle. He held up the sword and let the last drapes of cloth fall from its tip. “And how about this?”

Chan stared at the blade. He said nothing. He had obviously expected to see his own sword revealed under the wrap, correctly assuming that it had also been stolen from his room. This was not his sword, but rather a much more ornate, finely made epee. “Yuri’s favorite sword,” Turcaret said. “He keeps it in his bed chamber. I’ve only borrowed it, don’t worry. It’s going to be back there in an hour or two.”

Shaking his head, Chan tried to rise. “Hey, wait. Just wait a–” He fell back, head lolling.

“You should see yourself,” Turcaret said. “You look pathetic. That’s no way to die, Chan. I would have expected more of an ‘agent of Ravenon’.”

He raised the sword, aiming it straight at Chan’s heart. “I’ve been told to kill you neatly and quickly,” he said. “And I will. But not before you tell me something.”

“Huh?” Chan levered himself up with his arms; his legs seemed unresponsive. Turcaret stepped forward and kicked him behind the knees. The man went sprawling off his chair.

Turcaret raised the sword, turning it so that it gleamed in the lamplight. Chan’s eyes were fixed on it.

“Tell me this, or I’ll make it a slow death rather than a quick one,” Turcaret said.

“Why are the Heaven hooks coming to take Jordan Mason?”

§

August’s epee flashed in the dimness. One of the men who had entered the room screamed and fell, clutching his leg. The other dove forward, reaching for his own blade. This brought him up against the bed.

Jordan looked up into the startled eyes of a man wearing Turcaret’s livery.

“Run, Jordan!” August’s thrust clove the air where the man had been an instant ago. Jordan rolled sideways and ended up in the middle of the room. He could see the other two struggling, hands locked to wrists. The man August had stabbed was crawling toward the door; his left calf streamed blood. August had ham-strung him.

“Run!”

Jordan staggered to his feet, and ran. He was in shock from the unexpected violence, and didn’t even bother to check whether there were more men in the hall. He stumbled down the steps, mindless, until stopped by a heavy thump above him. A dark silhouette with a sword appeared at the top of the stairway.

“Jordan!” He stopped, and let August catch up to him. The man was clutching his side, where he had been wounded last night.

August grabbed Jordan by the shoulder and shook him. “What’s going on?”

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t you try that with me,” said August in a deadly tone. “My sword-wound!”

“What about it?”

“There’s a shallow cut there that looks fresh, but I can’t feel anything deeper. It’s healed!”

“Uh…”

“And why were two of Controller General Turcaret’s men invading your chamber?”

“I don’t know!”

“You! Stop!” Several men with swords had appeared at the top of the stairs.

“Later, then. Go!” August shoved Jordan down the last few steps. This time Jordan didn’t hesitate, but ran. The ring of steel echoed after him as he shouldered open the door to the courtyard, and then he was dodging between statues, as the sounds of the fight faded behind him.

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