Ventus – Day 81 of 135

28

The horses had found a road, and Jordan had let them take it. Now he faced the consequences of that decision.

Spreading out below them lay a shallow valley where yellow grain stalks still jutted in regular patterns from sand. The dunes were reclaiming this oasis, and it was just as well, he thought. No one would want to live here now, not among the sad wreckage of so many lives.

This must have been one of the experimental towns. He glanced sidelong at Tamsin, but her face was impassive. Was this collection of burned, broken walls, filled with the wind-tumbled remnants of broken household items, her town?

The scent of charcoal still hung over the place. It didn’t help that the sky was leaden grey, had been for days now, and the air cold. Back home, it was probably snowing.

“They didn’t even bury them,” said Tamsin. She pointed, and he could see that what he had thought was a pile of old clothing, actually had yellowed hands and feet jutting from it. And those rounded shapes… His stomach lurched, and he looked away.

“This was Integer,” she said. “The scholar’s town. It was entirely self-sufficient, they didn’t have to burn it.”

“I don’t think they did this because they had to,” said Jordan.

“I grew up here,” said Tamsin, so quietly that Jordan almost didn’t hear her.

He looked over quickly. “In this town?”

“No. Another, nearby. I lived there my whole life. And then Parliament burnt it to the ground. They burned them all, I guess.”

“But why?”

“The queen,” she said, her mouth twisting bitterly. “Queen Galas is a sorceress; she commanded the desals, and the desals made water sprout in the dunes. In those places, she made towns. She offered people land and seed if they settled there. My parents went. A lot of people did–but once you went you couldn’t leave. And every town was different. Different rules, and nobody was allowed to travel between them or even know what the other towns’ rules were. She used soldiers to move stuff between the towns, like wood and grain and livestock. And the soldiers wouldn’t talk to you.

“Uncle used to visit, when I was small. He used to bring me presents. I remember fruit, and little pieces of jewelry mother disapproved of. He was the only person who visited anyone in Callen. Father said it was because he was important to the queen that they let him do it.

“I liked Callen, my town. I didn’t think there was anything horrible about it. We worked, we had festivals. Boys and girls went to school. But then one day all these strangers came–people from the other towns. They were fleeing the army. We put some of them up in our house. They were strange… married, but men to men and women to women. Though they had children too. They said the soldiers had burned their town and killed everyone else. We didn’t know why.

“I asked my father about it,” continued Tamsin. “What had we done that was so wrong? He said it was all the history he’d made me learn, about people being prisoners of the Winds. That they’re our enemies.” She watched Jordan warily as she said this.

Jordan nodded slowly. Some of the things Armiger and the queen had talked about were starting to make sense. The queen wanted to change the world. That was why her parliament had revolted.

“One day,” said Tamsin, “I was hoeing the garden. It’s on the edge of town, by the dunes. Suddenly uncle was there. He said I had to follow him quickly, run. We ran into the dunes, and he had a horse there. We rode away to a nearby hill, and there we stopped to look back. The soldiers had come. They looked like ants overruning Callen. I could hear screams, people were running about. Then the houses started to burn.”

For a while she stared off into space, knotting her hands together. Her eyes were dry, but her mouth was a hard line.

“I wanted to go back,” she said finally. “I couldn’t see my parents anywhere. But uncle said we would die too. So we rode away. The next day we came to another oasis, where there was this wagon. And we drove north. That was three months ago.” She glanced at him, looked down, and winced. She didn’t look up again.

Jordan thought about the story. There was nothing good he could say. “Your uncle brought the soldiers,”

She nodded, still not looking at him. “Or at least he knew exactly when they were coming. And he didn’t warn anyone. He just came and snatched me away. I tried to tell myself he had no chance to warn the others. I tried and tried… I let myself believe he had saved me because he was a good man.

She shuddered. “After all, he’s just a merchant trying to get back his shop, isn’t he? And the soldiers who murdered everyone in this town? After this is all over,” she said, “they’ll all go back to their farms and shops too, won’t they? And they’ll live long happy lives, and no one will be the wiser about what they did here.”

“We will,” was all Jordan could think of to say.

Tamsin flicked the reins, and guided her horse off the road. She didn’t want to go down there, he saw with relief. He couldn’t have prevented her without using force.

The horses objected to entering the sand. Both animals were tired and seemed sick, though from no cause Jordan or Tamsin could discern. They rolled their eyes now and blew, but as the wind changed and they caught the scent coming from the valley, they accepted the new path.

“If this was Integer, that means we’re close,” said Tamsin at length. “The desal should be a half-day’s journey that way.” She pointed southeast.

“How do you know?”

She shrugged. “The towns are all built around a low plateau; it’s almost invisible unless you know what to look for. See what looks like walls out there?” She pointed into the heart of the desert, where he did indeed see some reddish lines near the horizon. “The land steps up and up for a while in little man-high clifflets like that. In the center is the desal.”

“Good. We could be there by nightfall.” He tried to bring an optimistic tone back to his voice.

They should all die.”

He kneed his horse to bring it next to hers. The animal wheezed and made a half-hearted attempt to buck, then complied.

Tamsin was crying. “They should all be hung,” she said. “But they won’t be. They’ll get away with it. They’ll laugh about it and then when they’re old they’ll tell their children how noble they were.”

“Tamsin–”

“They killed my, my parents–” She buried her face in her hands. Awkward, he rode alongside her, scratching his neck and scowling at the sands. He might have said something sharp–Jordan had his own miseries, after all, which Tamsin seldom acknowledged–except that he sensed something different in her tears today.

Eventually she said, “It’s true. I didn’t want to believe it, all this time. I just let Uncle drag me around, and I said to myself, wait, wait, it’ll end soon. Like I’d be back home at the end of the adventure, with mom and dad and everything okay again. But it won’t end. They burned Callen to the ground like they burned Integer. And I saw it, I remember looking back and seeing smoke coming up over the dunes, and I didn’t believe it. Like I didn’t believe Uncle knew what was going to happen.”

She hesitated, looked away, and said, “I’m a fool.”

“A victim,” he insisted. “They’re the fools.”

He thought of the pile of bodies they had seen. Fools, or monsters? For a long moment Jordan felt lost–real men had done that, they were out there still. If men could do that… were the Winds any worse? Maybe their rule was more just than Man’s would be.

He closed his eyes, and pictured the queen of Iapysia, standing lost within the fine clutter of her library. But I had to try, she had appealed, to end this long night that has swallowed the whole world.

Tamsin continued to weep, and there were no words he could have said to take away her pain. Some things, once broken, could never be healed.

End this long night…

In an age of miracles, would men still massacre their neighbors? Maybe they would just do it on a far greater scale, once they could command the oceans to drown continents or the earth to swallow cities.

It seemed it must be true since the powerful, who wanted of nothing, were the very ones who commanded these massacres.

The thought filled him with fury–the same fury that had made him run into the night after Emmy, that had made him taunt the Heaven hooks into leaving their destruction of the Boros mansion to chase him. He would not accept this truth. Let them kill him, let the whole world come crashing down when he told Armiger the secrets of the desals. Despite all evidence, he would never accept that such miseries were destined to happen forever.

A short, vertical line wavered on the horizon. The spire of the desal? He would find out soon enough. Then, he would demand that the Winds answer for the burned towns, the sundered families, all his and everyone’s miseries in all this long age of night.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)