Ventus – Day 54 of 135

“How are you feeling?” he asked Tamsin.

“Good.” She stopped and massaged her shin. “Still hurts, but it’s okay to walk on.” The wagon vanished behind them, but the fire remained a diffuse orange landmark.

As they walked on, he tried to think of something more to say. For some reason, his mind had gone blank. Tamsin seemed to be having the same problem. She walked with her hands behind her back, head down except at intervals when she made a show of peering through the fog.

The low grey lines of the ruins coalesced ahead of them. Tamsin stood on a low wall that once must have supported a large house. She raised her arms, making the mauve poncho fall into a broad crescent covering her torso.

“Your uncle’s not used to travelling,” Jordan observed.

“He was a cloth merchant back home,” she said. Tamsin lowered her arms and stepped down. “He was really rich, I think. Before the war. When he had to leave home, he took some of his best cloth. We’ve been selling it to buy food and stuff. But we’re all out of it now.”

“Did you live with him before?”

She shook her head. He wanted to ask her about her family, but could think of no way to do it.

“He saved me. When… the war came to my town, the soldiers were burning everything. It was a surprise attack. I was trying to get home, but the soldiers were in the way. Uncle… he appeared out of nowhere and took me away. He saved my life.” She shrugged. “That’s all.”

“Oh.” They walked on.

“Thanks,” she said suddenly.

“For what?”

“For coming with us. For helping out.” She hesitated, then added, “and for putting up with me.”

Jordan found he was smiling. She walked a few steps away, her face and form softened by mist. She was looking away from him.

“You uncle told me you had a tragedy very recently,” he said as gently as he could. “It’s understandable.”

“It’ll be all right, though,” she said a bit too brightly. “When we get to Rhiene Uncle is going to introduce me to society there. There’ll be balls, and dinners, and the rest of that. So you see, I’m ready to take up a new life now. Uncle is helping me do that.”

“That’s good,” he said cautiously.

She took a deep breath. “My foot feels a lot better.”

“Good. But you shouldn’t use it too much yet.”

They took a faint path down a long slope to a pebbled beach. The sound of the waves was strangely hushed here.

A vast translucent canopy of light hung over the lake now, and in the heart of it… Jordan and Tamsin stopped on the shoreline, staring. Impossibly high in the air, a crescent of gold and rose as broad as the lake burned in the morning sun. The crescent outlined the top of a deep cloud-grey circle that seemed to be punched in the mist overhanging the water. Jordan could see a long, nearly horizontal tunnel of shadow stretching to infinity behind the thing.

The sense of free happiness Jordan had felt only moments ago collapsed. He backed away, hearing his own breath roaring in his ears, and aware that Tamsin was saying something, but unable to focus on what.

The vagabond moon was utterly motionless, its keel mere meters above the wave tops. There was no way to know how long it had been here, though it must have arrived sometime after Jordan had fallen asleep.

Tamsin stared up at it with her mouth open. “It’s a moon,” she said. “A real moon.”

“Hush,” he said. “We shouldn’t be here.”

“This… was this what destroyed the…”

“The Boros household.” Jordan nodded, looking up, and up, at the kilometer of curving tessellated hull above them. The thing was so broad that its bottom seemed flat above the wavetops; only by tracking the eye along the curve for many meters could he begin to see the curve, and then its dimensions nearly vanished in the fog before the circle began to close. If not for the sun making its top incandescent, he could almost have missed its presence, simply because it was too large to take in without turning one’s head and thinking about what one was seeing.

The important question was what was going on under its keel. Nothing, apparently; there was no open mouth there now, no gantried arms reaching for the shoreline.

Whatever reason it had for being here, it must not have to do with Jordan. It could have plucked him from his bedroll at any time during the night, after all.

The fog was lifting, but it didn’t occur to Jordan that this would make him more visible. He had no doubt the thing could see through night, fog or smoke to find him, if it chose to.

“It’s beautiful,” she said after a minute in which the moon remained perfectly motionless. “What’s it doing here?”

“It looks like it’s waiting for something.” The skin on the back of his neck prickled. Could it be waiting for reinforcements? No, that was silly. Jordan was no threat to this behemoth. It didn’t know he was here; he kept telling himself that, even as he fought to slow his racing heart.

“Uncle said he heard the one that attacked the Boros household was looking for someone,” said Tamsin.

“Really?” Jordan felt his face grow hot. “I hadn’t heard that.”

The rising sun slanted into the interior of the vagabond moon, and the entire shape seemed to catch fire. From a diffuse amber center, colors and intricate crosshatched shadows spread to a perimeter of gaudy rainbow highlights that glittered like jewelry on the moon’s skin. That was ice, Jordan realized, frosted on the upper canopy so high above. It must be cold up there.

A faint cracking sound reached his ears. At the same time, he saw a tiny cascade of white tumble from the sunlit side of its hull. The falling cloud grew quickly into a torrent of ice and snow that struck the water with a sound like distant applause.

“Maybe we should leave,” said Tamsin.

He nodded. He was afraid, but he wished he didn’t have to be. The vagabond moon was so achingly beautiful, the way wolves and other wild things were. How he wanted to make peace with such beautiful, dangerous creatures.

I could speak to it, he realized. A mad idea; its wrath would descend on him for sure then.

“Let’s go.” Tamsin took his hand.

“Wait.” He shook himself, stumbling over the words he wanted to say, to express what he was feeling. Then he thought about what Calandria had told him about the Winds, and his awe deepened even further.

“We made that,” he whispered.

Neither said anything more as they walked back to the camp.

They arrived to find Suneil frantically hitching the horses. They didn’t speak, but fell to decamping alongside him. It was nice to have Tamsin’s help this time, since she knew where everything went. As they worked, each would pause now and then to stare at the gigantic sphere standing over the lake. Now that the sunlight was filling it, it was beginning to slowly rise.

The other two seemed increasingly frightened, but Jordan was calm, more so as the mist burned off completely, leaving them exposed to the gaze of the Wind. It had no interest in him; unlike Tamsin and her uncle, he was certain that today at least it was no threat. So when he paused, it was to admire it rather than to worry.

The road led along the edge of the lake, under the shadow of the moon. Suneil wanted to go the other way, backtracking until it was safe. Jordan did his best to calm the old man, and eventually convinced him to go forward. Still, he couldn’t shake a feeling of unease as they passed beneath the now sky-blue wall of the moon. Maybe it hadn’t acted because there was no way he could escape; when he got too far away, it might just waft after him and pick him up.

They were about two kilometers down the curve of the lake, just starting to relax, when thunder roared behind them. This is it, thought Jordan, and turned to look.

The clamshell doors on the bottom of the vagabond moon had opened. What must be thousands of tonnes of reddish gravel and boulders were tumbling into the lake, raising foaming whitecaps in a widening ring. As he watched, the waves reached the shore and erased the distant thread of footsteps he and Tamsin had left in the sand. The water washed up the hillside nearly to the ruins, and receded only when the last of the stones had trickled into the water.

Lightning played around the crown of the moon. It began to rise, and in a few minutes it had become a coin-sized disk at the zenith. The nervous horses trotted on, and no one spoke.

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