Ventus – Day 68 of 135

23

They were ten alleys away from the Boros house before either spoke. “Wait,” said Jordan, holding up his hand. “Gotta rest.”

“They’ll come after us.”

“Not for a while.” He had an odd distracted look on his face. He’d had it back in the hall, too. Bemused, almost sublime. “Everything’s quiet.”

She didn’t ask how he knew that. “I’m cold.”

“Yes, we’ve got to find some shelter.”

Tamsin nearly said, “We just left shelter,” but that would have taken too much energy. It didn’t make any sense to go anywhere; there was nowhere to go now. She supposed there might be for him. But why had he come for her?

Jordan closed his eyes, tilted his head back, and smiled. “Yes,” he said, “you’ve done well. Now please return to your master. I’m sure he’ll be frantic without you.”

He opened his eyes and looked at her. She knew he was anticipating a question. Tamsin just stared at him.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

The question was so ridiculous she laughed. “No, no I’m not.” She opened her mouth to say more, but the words tripped over one another. And she didn’t know where to start, or why telling him would do any good.

He spoke, touched her arm. But something distracted her, a nuance of emotion like a thing seen out of the corner of one’s eye. Where to go. That was it.

Tamsin looked around. Nothing was familiar. She had no idea where she was. The buildings looming high around were nothing like the ones in her town. Even the air tasted different. She was lost, sliding. Drowning again. “I–” she said. Jordan had hold of both her wrists now. He was speaking to her, low and urgent, but she didn’t understand him. She had no idea who he was.

“We have to go!” Finally words she understood.

“Yes, yes.” She nodded, not to him but to herself.

Jordan began to lead her through the alleys. “Out of the city,” she said. “Take me to the desert. I have to go home.”

“Home?” He tightened his grip on her arm.

“Home, I have to go home, I have to…” She wanted to cry so badly, and she wasn’t able to. It was the most awful thing she had ever felt. She gasped for breath.

“Tamsin, don’t think me cruel for saying this,” said the young man leading her. “But your family is dead.”

“I know.” But she quailed at his words; until this night, she knew, she had never really believed it. Even now… if she could get home, find out the truth. “Maybe somebody survived. They couldn’t have killed everyone–”

“Yes, they could.”

“But you need to get to the queen anyway. To find this Armiger person. Do you know the way? No. The way lies through the desert. I can guide you. We have to go that way anyway.”

“We’ll talk about it. I promise. For now we’ve got to find somewhere to hide.”

He wasn’t really listening. Tamsin felt, if possible, even more alone. That sense of drowning came back, like a roaring, unstoppable noise in her head.

Jordan stopped, and put his hands on her shoulders. She blinked, suddenly seeing the grey crescents of his eyes gazing on hers. “I am listening,” he said. “And I’ll do everything I can to help you. We just have to take things one step at a time.”

This time she followed him attentively, and to her surprise, after she had gone ten paces in his footsteps she began, at last, to cry.

§

Jordan stood on the wall of an alley near the vertical uplands of the city. It was deep night now, but the moon was still up, and he could see its light glinting off the spires of the desal that waited half-submerged in the bay.

“You want to talk to a desal?” It was the first thing Tamsin had said since they had bedded down here. She stood below him on the nest of trash they had made. She still appeared stunned, distracted, her hair a bird’s nest and her hands grimy. Even a little curiosity from her now was an encouraging sign.

“It sounds crazy, doesn’t it?”

She didn’t answer for a while, merely chewed her knuckle and looked around herself aimlessly. Jordan returned his own gaze to the desal; ghostly in Diadem’s glow, its pinions rose from the middle of the lake like something discarded there, a sunken building or, he imagined, the shipwreck from Queen Galas’ story. Except that the spires were perfect, undamaged by time or the elements. The waves slapped against their sides as peacefully as they did the docks; there was no sign of preternatural life to the thing. Just now an ornate barque from the temple was anchored near the giant central tower. He could see the torchlit figures of priests moving about in it, but couldn’t tell what they were doing. Some kind of ceremony.

“I thought you were crazy when I saw you,” said Tamsin, so long after his own rhetorical question that it took him a moment to connect the two. He glanced at her; she summoned a smile, like an unpracticed conjurer, and hid it as quickly. “With, with your gold underwear and, and talking to things and all.”

As they ran he had given her a very sketchy rendition of his story: that he could talk to the mecha because of something Armiger had done, and that the Winds were after him. She would have heard some of it from through her uncle, if Suneil had bothered to explain why Brendan Sheia wanted him. Jordan didn’t know if she believed any of it yet.

“I can’t think of any other way to put an end to all this,” he said. “I can’t go home, because this curse will just follow me there. The Winds are hunting me because of the mecha in my head; the Boros want me as a scapegoat. The only one who can do anything about it is Armiger.”

“What can he do?” She crossed her arms and looked away; but she was listening and talking now.

“The first time I saw Armiger–saw through his eyes, I mean–he was commanding an army. It was so strange, but part of it was that he was strange. The things he looked at, listened for, and the things he said… they weren’t what I would have done. He didn’t seem to care about the battle, or the people he was commanding, he just gave orders, and they were always good. When the Winds sent the animals to destroy his army, I remember he was totally calm during the retreat. He escaped because he was as confident and calm in the middle of that butchery as he had been standing on the hillside watching from a distance.

“I’ve been watching him for weeks now, and he’s not the same man anymore. I think Calandria was right, he came here to conquer the Winds. He was the agent of some other creature even more powerful. But that one is dead, and Armiger is free.”

She was eyeing him now. He shook his head. “I can’t explain it. You have to be there, you see, to see the difference. But he has a woman now, and he cares about her. And he’s affected by things around him now, where he wasn’t before. The siege, he’s really bothered by it. People are dying, you know, starving and injured, and he’s realizing he can’t do anything to help them. He’s not thinking about conquering the world anymore.”

Tamsin frowned. “So how can he help you? Can he make the Boros’ go away?”

“Maybe. If I can convince him to help me.”

“How are you going to do that? By letting that,” she nodded to the desal, “eat you?”

Jordan took a deep breath. “Well, this is the crazy part. He went to Queen Galas to learn from her why the Winds are the way they are. Why they persecute people. She told him enough to give him an idea of where to look–but he can’t talk to the Winds, and he’s trapped in the palace with her now. But I can talk to the Winds. And I can search the places he needs to go.”

“So you want to be his errand boy!”

He winced. There was a little of her former haughtiness in her voice, though, and the thought cheered him. “Errand boy for a god is not a bad position,” he said. “I want to trade him the information in return for him getting the curse off my back.”

“Why should he trade? You said yourself he no longer wants to subdue the Winds.”

He hesitated. She did seem interested; he wondered if what he was going to say would make her dismiss him as crazy, and turn her back on her own misery.

“The thing is,” he said at last, “I think he should.”

Tamsin didn’t answer. She just cocked her head, and waited.

“This is the crazy part, Tamsin, and you have to promise to think about it before you laugh at me. See, I think we all of us could originally command the Winds. Everybody was once like I am now.”

Tamsin snorted. “If everybody could do anything they wanted, it would be chaos! Why pay for anything, if you can just summon the Winds to create it?”

“The world began in chaos,” he said. “Calandria told me Ventus was originally made for us, not for the Winds. Nobody in all the ages has ever been able to change it back, not even people from the stars like her. But Armiger could do it, if only he knew what their secret was. Before, when he was trying to find the secret for his own master, it would have been a disaster to have him win. Now it’s different.”

“You think he’d set things right?”

“He might. The man he’s become, would try.”

She didn’t answer, just made an odd noise, and thinking she was laughing at him again he turned to fire a retort back. She wasn’t looking at him, just pointing at the mouth of the alley.

“There they are!” Jordan saw a confusion of torches in the street, and the dark figures of a number of men.

“Brendan Sheia!” He knelt down. “Quickly, grab hold.” Tamsin boosted herself up and he pulled her onto the wall.

“That won’t do you any good,” said a smug, familiar voice from the ground on the other side.

Jordan looked down, into the eyes of the magician from the marketplace.

“Thief! I’ll have your head for stealing my power.”

For a second old habits took hold: “I didn’t steal him!” yelled Jordan. “I borrowed him and I gave him back.” Then he saw moonlight glint off the blade in the man’s hand.

There were six men on the alley side of the wall, and four including the magician on the other, which was someone’s garden. The wall itself ran between two buildings; there was no exit to be had by running along its top.

Three of the men in the alley had torches, as did the magician.

“Let us go!” said Jordan. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

The magician laughed. “Nice bluff.”

“Get ready to jump” Jordan hissed to Tamsin. “Torch, crack!”

Sparks and burning wood flew everywhere as the torch in the magician’s hand exploded. He screamed and fell, batting at the embers in his hair.

“Now!” Jordan and Tamsin landed in the dirt next to the magician, whose friends were smacking him on the head to put out his hair. There was an open gate at the far end of the garden, so Jordan made for that. Tamsin kept up easily.

They entered a moonlit street. In the distance he heard running feet; the others were coming around the end of the block. “Ka! Come to me.

Ka.” The ghost of a butterfly wafted through the open gate.

Tamsin tugged at his arm. “They’re coming!”

“I know. We can’t stay here. Ka, we need horses. Find me two of them, right now!”

This way.” The butterfly flitted off down the street–thankfully away from the sound of running feet.

“So now I am the thief he accused me of being,” panted Jordan. “He deserves it though, the bastard.”

“What’s going on?” They entered another alley, this one shadowed by the high walls of buildings to either side.

“There! They went down that alley!”

It was too dark here to see anything. Jordan closed his eyes and looked with his other sight. “This way.” He followed Ka to a stable door; inside he could see the outlines of two sleeping horses.

Ka, speak to the horses. I want them awake and ready to go with us if you can do that.”

I have no power to compel. But I can present you to them as a Wind, if that is your desire.

Yes!”

Torches appeared at the mouth of the alley. Jordan made these explode as well, and their pursuers retreated in dismay. Jordan proceeded to saddle the sleepy horses in complete darkness, relying on touch and the ghost-light of his mechal vision. The horses were pliant and appeared unsurprised at this intrusion.

Tamsin had craned her neck out the door to watch the alley mouth; as he was cinching the second horse she said, “They’re waking the people in the houses. This house too. I think they know what we’re doing. Smelled the horses, maybe.”

“Well, we’re ready. Come on.” He led the horses outside.

“But where are we going? What about your plan to visit the desal in the bay?”

“You said there was another one in the middle of the desert,” he shot back. “You wanted to go home, Tamsin. Well, that’s where we’re going to have to go.”

He dug his heels into the flank of the horse and it bolted through shouting men, and when he looked back Tamsin was following, crouched low on her horse, wearing a grin that could be terror or satisfaction–and maybe was a bit of both.

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