Ventus – Day 46 of 135

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The room where she chose to wait was really an old air shaft constructed to cool the Hart Manor, which was the center of the palace. Originally several other floors had openings onto the shaft, but some paranoid ancestor had walled them off. Galas had discovered the place as a girl, but it had gained new, symbolic significance for her after the desals placed her on the throne.

She came here sometimes to pace the three-by-three meter square floor, or scrawl insults on the walls, or scream at the clouds framed by tan brickwork far overhead. She had torn her clothes here, and wept, and done all manner of unmentionable things. Now she lay on her back, and stared at the stars.

Her visitor should be approaching the walls now. Its instructions had been simple: let down a rope at the centerpoint of the southern battlement, and be ready to pull. She had wanted to meet it there herself, and even now her hands pressed against the cool stone underneath her, eager to push her to her feet. But whatever happened she must not blunder out like a gauche ingenue. If this was a Wind coming to see her, she must meet it as an equal. She would wait.

But she wasn’t dressed for this! With a groan she stood and left the shaft. One of her maids curtsied outside. Galas waved at her. “Our black gown. The velvet one. Be prompt!” The girl curtsied again and raced away.

Galas entered the shaft again and closed the stout door she’d had made for it. “Why now?” she said.

She kicked the door with her heel. “I’m almost dead! A day, two days.” Crossing her arms, she walked around the room. “Bastards! You strung me up, after putting me here in the first place!”

Well, it’s not like I haven’t done everything in my power to disobey the Winds, she reminded herself.

She’d been wracked with tension for weeks now; so had everyone here. Her courtiers and servants were true Iapysians, and had no idea how to discharge such emotions. Galas showed them by example: she laughed, she cried, she paced and shouted, and whenever it came time to make a decision, she was cool and acted correctly.

But it was all too late. Lavin had come to kill her–of all people, why him? She had loved him! They might have been married, had not an entire maze of watchful courtiers and ancient protocols stood between them. She wondered, not for the first time, if this was his way of finally possessing her. She grimaced at the irony.

“Come on, come on.” She hurried back to the door. Ah, here came the maids, bearing gown and jewel box.

“Come in here.” They hesitated; no one but her ever entered this place. She was sure all manner of legends had grown up about it. “Come! There’s nothing will bite you here.”

The three women crowded in with her. “Dress me!” She held her arms out. They fell to their task, but their eyes kept moving, trying to make sense of what they saw. Galas sometimes spent whole nights in this place. She often emerged with new ideas or solid decisions in hand. The queen knew, from faint scratches around the hinges of the door, that at least one person had given in to curiosity and broken in. She imagined they had reacted much as these women to discover there was nothing here–no secret stairway, no magic books, not even a chair or a candle. Only a little dirt in the corners, and the sky for a ceiling.

They had wondered about Galas her whole life. Let them wonder a little more.

“Has the guest suite been prepared?” she asked.

“Yes, your majesty.”

“How are the supplies holding out?”

“Well enough, they say.”

“Reward the soldiers who bring our guest over the walls. Give them each a double ration. Also convey our thanks.”

“Yes, your majesty. …Ma’am?”

“Yes, what is it? Bring me a mirror.”

“Who is this person? A spy of some sort?”

“A messenger,” she said brusquely. Satisfied with her appearance, she gathered her skirts and swept from the chamber. They followed, casting final glances about the shaft.

Out of a sense of devilment, Galas decided to leave the door open–the first time ever. She hid a smile as she paced toward the audience hall.

As a girl she had made up stories about the figures painted on the audience hall’s ceiling. Later she learned the struggling, extravagantly posed men and women were all allegories for historical events. By then it was too late; she knew the woman directly above the throne as the Smitten Dancer, not as an idealized Queen Delina. The two men wrestling on the clouds near the west window were the Secret Lovers to her, not King Andalus overthrowing the False Regent. Every time she entered this room she glanced up and smiled at her pantheon, and she knew that those observing her assumed she was drawing strength from her family’s history, and knowing that made her smile again.

She composed herself on the throne and waited. When had she had a visitor who had not closely studied the history of Iapysia? If this stranger was truly from the heavens, would he know whom the frescoes represented? Or would he be in the same state of innocence as she when she wrote her own mythology on them?

Or would he know all histories, the way that the desals had? She scowled, and sat up straighter.

The doorman straightened. He looked tired and confused, having been ousted out of bed for this one moment. “Your majesty…” He read the card he had been given with obvious puzzlement. “The lord Maut, and lady Megan.”

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Maut? Megan stopped in her tracks. “What name is this?” she hissed at him.

“My name,” Armiger said simply. “One of them, anyway.” He smiled and strode into the vast, lamp-lit chamber as if he owned it.

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Galas restrained an urge to stand. Now that he stood before her, she had no idea what she’d been expecting. This was no monster, nor by appearances a god.

He seemed mature, perhaps in his early forties, his hair long and braided down his right shoulder, his face finely carved with a high brow and straight nose, and a strong mouth. He was a little taller than she, and was dressed in dusty travelling clothes, with soft riding boots on his feet, an empty scabbard belted at his waist. As he paused four meters below the throne, she saw the light traceries of character around his eyes and mouth, indications of both humor and weariness.

Behind him, like a shadow, stood a peasant woman. Her face shone with a mixture of timidity and defiance. As Maut bowed, she curtsied deeply, but when she raised her eyes she looked Galas in the eye. There was no hostility there, nor respect; only, it seemed, unselfconscious curiosity. Galas liked her immediately.

Galas held up the folded letter. “Do you know what this says?” she asked the man.

He bowed again. “I do,” he said. His voice was rich and deep, quite compelling. He gave a quick smile. “May I humbly beseech Queen Galas, wife of this world, to grant an audience to a traveller? For I have not rested on green earth since before the ancient stones of your palace were laid, nor have I spoken to a kindred soul since before your language, oh Queen, was born.”

Galas saw the woman Megan start and stare at Maut as he spoke. Interesting.

“What are you?” she asked. “And–maybe more germaine–why do you speak of me as a kindred soul?”

Maut shrugged. “As to what I am–you have no words for it. I am not a man, despite appearances–”

“What proof do you have of that?”

For a moment he looked angry at her interruption. Then he appeared to consider what she had said. “My moth was unconvincing?”

“There are people who make a life’s work of tricking others, Maut. Your moth was highly convincing–but just because something is convincing, that does not make it true. It is merely convincing.”

He waved a hand dismissively. “It cost me energy to perform that minor miracle. I have very little to spare, and no time to recover any I lose now.”

Galas leaned back. She felt betrayed, and suddenly cynical. “So you have no more tricks? Is that what you’re saying?”

“I am not a trick pony!”

“And I am not a fool!”

They glared at one another. Then Galas noticed that the woman Megan was covering a smile with her hand.

Galas forced a grim smile of her own. “You know our situation. This is not the time for frippery, or lies. Is it so strange that I demand proof?”

Grudgingly, he shook his head. “Forgive me, Queen Galas. I am much reduced from my former station, and that makes me tactless and short-tempered.”

“But unafraid,” she said. “You are not afraid of me.”

“He is not afraid of anything,” said Maut’s companion. Her tone was not boasting–in fact it was perhaps a little apologetic. Or resigned.

Maut shrugged again. “It seems we’ve gotten off to a bad start. I am very weary–too weary for miracles. But I am what I say I am.”

“But, you have not said what that is!”

He frowned. “There is an ancient word in your language. It is not much used today. The word is god. I am–or was, a god. I wish to be so again, and so I have come to you because, of all the humans on Ventus, you are the only one who has caught a glimpse of the inner workings of the world. You may have the knowledge I need to become what I once was.”

“Intriguing,” said Galas. It was still unbelievable, on the face of it. But… her fingers caressed the letter in her lap. She had seen what she had seen.

As to his flattery–well, she knew, as an absolute certainty, that no one in the world had the knowledge she held. It was perhaps slightly charming that he recognized it.

“And why should I tell you what you wish to know–even assuming that I have the knowledge you need?”

Maut put his hands behind his back. He seemed to be restraining an urge to pace. “You have looked up at the sky,” he said. “All humans have done that, at one time or another. And you have asked questions.

“You want to interrogate the sky. And you of all people, Queen Galas, would interrogate nature itself, everything that is other, in your human search for understanding. Everything you have ever done proves this. You are human, Galas, and your madness is very human: you wish to hear human speech issue from the inhuman, from the rocks and trees. Could a stone speak, what would it say? Your kind has ever invented gods, and governments, and categories and even the sexes themselves as means of interrogating that otherness.

“That the world should speak, as you speak! What a desire that is. It informs every aspect of your life. Deny it if you can.

“Allow me my ironic bow. I am here, madam, to perform this deed for you. I am everything you are not. I was blazing atoms in an artificial star, have been resonances of electromagnetic fire, and cold iron and gridwork machines in vast webs cast between the nebulae.

“I am stone and organism, alive and dead, whole and sundered. I am the voiceless given a tongue to speak.

“I will speak.”

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