Ventus – Day 9 of 135

§

Jordan awoke to the smell of cooking. The lady had prepared a stout meal for him. He avoided her eyes as he ate. She watched him expressionlessly for a while, then said, “You sister is safe.”

He sat up, eyeing her suspiciously. “Tell me.”

She explained that she had gone to a nearby road and intercepted a courier she knew was scheduled to pass. She’d told him of the girl’s plight, and he went in search of her. Later, he’d sent another runner back with news she’d been found.

“How could all that happen in just a few hours?” he wondered sullenly.

“You needn’t believe me. Axel said he found her in some kind of kid’s fort, a hundred or so meters in the forest. Does that sound familiar?”

Jordan looked down. It did. He hadn’t thought of the place in his own rush; the other kids had used it more than he, because of his fear of the forest. Emmy probably had more memories of it than he.

That meant he’d passed her almost immediately last night.

He ate silently for a while, his mind paralyzed in a catalog of “if-only’s”. Finally he said, “I want to see her.”

“When we’ve finished with our job,” she said.

“What job?” He felt a faint spark of hope; she hadn’t suggested before that she was going to let him go at all.

“You have to help me find the man I’m after,” she said. “Armiger. Do you know him?”

“No. Why would I?”

“He knows you.” She leaned forward, squinting a bit as she appeared to examine him over the small campfire. “He visited you years ago, and left something of his behind. In there.” She pointed at his forehead.

Jordan reared back, eyes wide. Was there some kind of thing in his head? He pictured a worm in an apple, and touched his temple with suddenly trembling fingers.

This had to have some connection with the visions. Was that thing their source? But if it had been there for years, he would have had visions for years, wouldn’t he?

“You’re crazy,” Jordan said. “There’s nothing in my head but me. Plus the headache you gave me!” he added.

She scowled, but he’d seen her do that before, and she hadn’t beaten him then, so she probably wouldn’t now. She stood up, stretching her slim arms over her head. “We’ll figure this out later,” she said. “Put out the fire, will you? We have some walking to do.”

He sat obstinately for a few seconds, until she fell out of her stretch and snapped, “I can carry you if I have to. You’ll be safe, and you’ll see your sister again, but not until I’m done with you.”

Reluctantly, he moved to obey-for now.

§

Jordan crashed through the trees, his heart pounding. There was no way he could run quietly in this brush. It didn’t matter anyway; he knew she was right behind him.

The first time he’d tried to escape, he had slipped away while Lady May was engaged in her toilet behind a bush. She had caught up with him half a kilometer away. That time, she had simply stood in front of him, and frowned fiercely, her hands on her hips. He had tried to laugh it off, and followed her for a while. It was obvious she was faster than he was, though, and he no longer believed there would be a moment when he she slept while he did not.

So, when he spotted a stout but dead branch right in his way, Jordan had reached up with his free hand and snapped it off. May did not look around.

He had tried to transcend his exhaustion, summoning what strength he could behind the blow that he landed on the back of her head. She fell, and he was free.

His legs were like jelly from walking all night over uneven ground, and now, only minutes after he struck her, he was only able to stagger from tree to tree, following no path but only trying to get away.

Suddenly his legs went out from under him and he was face down in the leaves. “Huff!” Lady May squatted on his back, and twisted his right arm painfully behind him.

She spat some word in a language he didn’t recognize, then said “Nice try,” in her slow measured way. Her voice was full of menace.

“Let me go, you witch!” he shouted into the dirt. “Either kill me or let me up, because I’m not going with you! Let me find Emmy! You took me away from her!”

He heard her muttering angrily in that strange language. She said, “You damn near broke my head, boy.”

“Too bad I didn’t!” He tried to struggle, but she had him completely pinned.

She sighed. “Okay, I guess I had it coming.” Without loosing her hold, she left his back in a crouch and rolled him over. Her free hand rubbed the grit away from his face; his wrist was still pinned at an awkward angle. If he moved to much, he was sure it would break.

She let go of Jordan’s wrist. A trickle of blood down the center of her forehead lent her a fearsome aspect, as it seemed to point at her eyes, which were narrowed accusingly at Jordan.

“I have done you a great disservice, Jordan. I know that. But you must understand, it is a matter of life and death, for everyone we know, your family included. Your friends will call you a hero when we’re through. And I should only need you for a few days. Please trust me about your sister. Will you please wait a day or so, until I can give you proof that she is safe? All this running is doing neither of us any good.”

He thought about it. “I will wait for a day.”

She nodded wearily, rubbing her forehead, and winced. “Then get up. We only need to walk a little more today, I’m tired too. A rest will do us both good.”

§

Soon she was smiling in her enigmatic way, asking him to name the various trees and birds they passed, and letting him pause for breath when he wanted. Her anger was swift and volatile, and though he had hurt her, she fell out of anger quickly. He expected the unforgiving smolder he had always seen in his parents, and had feared because he’d always felt each bad thing he did diminished their love for him permanently; this woman had flashed into fury, dragged him back to her invisible path, and then forgot her anger. He hated her for what she had done to him, but she seemed incapable of hating him, and this confused him. He decided to be insulted by it.

The countryside they passed through was deeply forested by black oaks that trailed moss, muffling the birdsong. The forest floor was bathed in a secretive green twilight, broken by dust motes sparkling in infrequent shafts of sunlight. The air was warm, but held the expectant fullness of late summer, as if Life were resting. They were far from the habitations of men.

When darkness fell Lady May decided to camp again. Jordan was worn out, and grateful for the respite. She made a quick fire and roasted some more rabbit, and he ate his and fell asleep immediately. His mind had been going all day, running up against walls of fact and memory, and it was mental exhaustion more than physical that put him under.

The last thing he was aware of was Lady May watching him with something like sympathy in her eyes as she languidly fed the fire.

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