Ventus – Day 52 of 135

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“I said, hello.”

Jordan looked up. Suneil’s niece Tamsin stood in front of him, arms crossed, her head cocked to one side.

He was annoyed at the interruption, and almost told her to go away-but he was a guest of these people, after all. “I was meditating.”

“Uh, huh. Looked more like sleeping with your mouth open.”

Jordan opened his mouth, closed it again, and then said, “Did you want something?”

“Uncle wants a good supply of firewood in the wagon before we get to the border. Isn’t that why you’re here, to do that stuff for us?”

Jordan stood and stretched. “It is indeed.” He saw no need to say anything more to this shrew.

“Well good,” she said as she followed him into the grass. “We wouldn’t want any freeloaders on this trip.”

Jordan noticed that Suneil was watching this exchange from the vicinity of the wagon. “I’ll work my keep,” said Jordan, as he increased his stride to outdistance her.

“See that you do!” she hollered. Then, apparently satisfied, she limped back to the wagon and began arguing with her uncle about something.

As soon as he was out of sight of the camp, Jordan sat down and tried to re-establish his link with Armiger. This time, it took all his concentration to bring the voices to him; Tamsin seemed to be a bad influence on his concentration. When the voices did return, he found that Armiger and the queen were now discussing military logistics. The terms meant nothing to Jordan, so he stood up with a sigh, and went to gather the wood.

When Jordan staggered back his first load of sticks, Suneil was sitting on the wagon’s back step, but Tamsin was nowhere to be seen. “I apologize for my niece,” said Suneil. “She lost her parents and sister recently. The shock has brought all her emotions to the surface.”

“The war?”

Suneil nodded. “The war. We fled Iapysia three months ago to escape it. Now we’re on our way back. They say the queen is defeated… maybe things have settled down.”

“I don’t know,” said Jordan. “I know you can’t run away forever.” He longed for home. Once he had gotten Armiger to raise this curse that was on him, he would return to Castor’s manor.

“Well spoken,” said Suneil. “You were patient with her just now. I’m glad. She strikes out, but if you strike back, she’ll shatter like glass. Just remember that. I know it’s an imposition, but–”

Jordan waved a hand. “No, it’s fine. These things happen. We have to help one another.”

Suneil grinned. “Thanks. And thanks for the wood. We’re going to need a lot more, though, when we get to the border.”

“Why?”

Suneil glanced at him, raised an eyebrow. “Well, you said you’re from Iapysia, you’d know there’s no trees in the desert, wouldn’t you?”

“Uh… yes, of course.”

Suneil gave him an odd little smile, and walked away.

18

Two days’ travel brought them deep into the barren hills that signified the border of Iapysia. He was confident now that the Winds did not know where he was. The gauze continued to protect him, and hence the people he travelled with. That was good; but he couldn’t wear it for the rest of his life. He would have to find Armiger soon–or Calandria would, and either way there would be an end to this.

He was riding up front with Suneil when the wagon topped the crest of a particularly long hill, and Suneil reined in the horses. Standing to look at the vista below, Suneil sighed and said, “Home.”

Jordan stood too. Sun had broken through a rent in the autumn clouds, illuminating the valley below within a vast golden rectangle. Within this frame, the land fell in a series of green steps to a landscape of grass and forest cradling a long sinuous lake. The road wound down switchbacks to the floor of the valley, and vanished beyond the sunlit frame at the far end of the lake, where the valley seemed to open out into a plain.

Jordan could see some blue-grey squares and lines near the lake. “Are those ruins?”

Suneil nodded. “That valley lies in Iapysia. The desert starts beyond it.”

“It’s beautiful. Nobody lives here?” He could see no sign of settlement, though he could easily imagine dozens of farms fitting in near the lake.

“The Winds do. It’s okay to visit, but no one stays.”

They sat down again, and Suneil flicked the reins. Over the past couple of days they had talked a lot about the local countryside, and Suneil had grilled Jordan at length about the war between Ravenon and the Seneschals. Jordan had spun a long tale about the destruction of Armiger’s army and the death of the general, pretending he had heard it from other travellers.

His own eavesdropping had yielded few results, since the queen had not met with Armiger since their first encounter. She was busy with preparations for the siege, and it seemed Armiger was content to wait.

Jordan had reluctantly admitted to Suneil that he was not from Iapysia. His Memnonian accent didn’t match his story. Suneil had asked no further questions, but he had also volunteered nothing about his own past. Jordan let his curiosity lead him now, though, as it seemed a natural time to ask. “Tell me about the war. And the queen. All I’ve heard is that she’s mad, and that the great houses revolted.”

Suneil nodded. “I suppose your countrymen think it’s a scandal that we’re deposing our queen.” He scowled at the road that rolled down before them. “We do too. Even the soldiers in Parliament’s army. But things got… out of control.”

Jordan waited for more. After a while, Suneil said, “Iapysia’s a very old country, but it was one of the last places settled. At the beginning of the world, they say the Winds made Ventus–and they’re not finished making it yet. But they didn’t make Man. Some say we made ourselves, some that we came from the stars, and some say that renegade Winds created us as an act of defiance. That’s what I believe. How else to explain what Queen Galas has done?

“The first people spread across the world from one original tribe. They had great powers, and they wanted Ventus as their own. They fought the Winds, because the Winds were still sculpting Ventus, and would not let the people build cities or cultivate the land. Men defied them, but the Winds beat them down, until at last there were only scattered communities, who learned to get along with the Winds by obeying their laws. We learned to stay out of the Winds’ way, and appease them when we went too far. Your general Armiger went too far–they took notice of him, and swatted him like an insect. There’s a lesson in that.

“In the early days after our defeat, some folk wandered to the edge of the desert. There they found the desals hard at work, flooding the sands to strain salt from ocean water that poured in from the Titans’ Gates–those are the Wind-built dams at the seaside. They pumped the newly freshened water deep into the earth. We know now that it comes up again through springs all across the continent. Back then, it was just another miraculous and incomprehensible activity of the rulers of the world. Our people huddled on the edge of it, watching the floods in awe.

“Iasin the first, ancestor of all the kings of Iapysia, was the man who realized that the desals were utterly indifferent to the plants and animals that struggled within the flood plains. The ocean water brought nutrients from the sea, the desert sands strained the salt, and fresh water poured up and out through a thousand channels into rivers that flow into your lands, or that vanish into bottomless lakes. A thousand kinds of life thrived during the flooding, and when the Titans’ Gates closed to draw strength for another great gasp, they withered and died. Iasin led his people into the heart of the inundated lands, and they began to grow huge crops there, in open defiance of the Winds.

“Our people have always believed that we have a silent pact with the desals. All our laws were made to preserve the pact. As far as we can see, the desals will always use the desert to purify water for the continent. What was in the beginning, will be always. So it should be with our laws, our kings and our traditions.

“The laws are harsh. They dictate everything from our professions to the size of the family. Our cities have grown only so big as the desals will tolerate, and can grow no more. We cannot divert the Winds’ rivers to suit our needs. The nobility trace their lineage back to the time of Iasin, as do people in the guilds and trades. All life is fixed. While your nations have been in a constant uproar of change and growth all these centuries, we know you will reach the same point eventually. Humanity cannot rule Ventus. We are merely tolerated. In my country, people believe that life will always be like it is now, for all eternity.

“I should say, we used to believe that. Then came Queen Galas, to upset a thousand years of tradition.”

“What did she do?” asked Jordan. The swath of sunlight that had blanketed the valley below was gone, leaving the landscape blued by lowering clouds. More rain was coming.

Suneil pointed along the road that led past the long lake. “Our lives are tied to the floods. We prosper insofar as we can predict them. We have always relied on observation and our records to do that. Galas had no need of such indirect means. She negotiated with the desals, and the desert flooded when and where and by how much she said it would. No sovereign has ever had such power over nature. We prospered as we never have.

“It wasn’t enough for her. Galas despises the Winds. She sees humanity as the rightful rulers of the world, and the Winds as usurpers. People find her views shocking, but who could argue with her success? She gained a great following, and began to erase a thousand years of law and tradition, replacing it with daring and unsettling edicts of her own. She wanted to remake the world in her own image.

“She went too far. About five years ago, the desals turned against her. Her predictions for that year’s flooding were tragically wrong. Thousands died in the waters or the famine that came after. Whatever she had done to alienate the Winds, their rebuke simply hardened her heart. She pushed ahead with her reforms, although for our own survival we now had to fall back on our old ways of predicting the floods.”

“You supported her,” ventured Jordan.

“At first, yes. I won’t pretend I didn’t profit by it. By the time the Winds turned against her, I had become entirely her creature. I’m not a fool, I could see what was coming, but there was nothing I could do to stop it. Parliament tabled a document demanding Galas cease all her meddling, and rescind the edicts that had broken centuries of tradition. She refused. The war… I think no one really believed it would happen, or that it was happening, until it came to visit one’s own town or relatives. I believed. I ran. To stand and fight… well, she lost. She’s probably dead by now. I wish I knew, that’s all.”

Jordan could have told him, but a new caution, perhaps learned from his experience with the Boros’, made him hold his tongue.

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