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The manor house of Salt Inspector Castor lay across the top of the hill like a sleeping cat. Its ivied walls had never been attacked; the towers that rose behind them had softened their edges over the centuries and become home to lichen and birds' nests. Next to his parents, this place was the greatest constant in Jordan Mason's life, and his second-earliest memory was of sitting under its walls, watching his father work.
On a limpid morning in early autumn, he found himself eight meters above a reflecting pool, balanced precariously on the edge of a scaffold and staring through a hole in the curtain wall that hadn't been there last week. Jordan traced a seam of mortar with his finger; it was dark and grainy, the same consistency as that used by an ancestor of his to repair the rectory after a lightning storm, two hundred years ago. If Tyler Mason was the last to have patched here, that meant this part of the wall was overdue for some work.
"It looks bad!" he shouted down to his men. Their faces were an arc of sunburned ovals from this perspective. "But I think we've got enough for the job."
Jordan began to climb down to them. His heart was pounding, but not because of the height. Until a week ago, he had been the most junior member of the work gang. Any of the laborers could order him around, and they all did, often with curses and threats. That had all changed upon his seventeenth birthday. Jordan's father was the hereditary master mason of the estate, his title extending even to the family name. Jordan had spent his youth helping his father work, and now he was in charge.
For the first four days, Father had hung about, watching his son critically, but not interfering. Today, for the first time, he had stayed home. Jordan was on his own. He wasn't altogether happy about that, because he hadn't slept well. Nightmares had prowled his mind.
"The stones around the breach are loose. We'll need to widen the hole before we can patch it. Ryman, Chester, move the scaffold over two meters and then haul a bag of tools up there. We'll start removing the stones around the hole."
"Yes sir, oh of course, mighty sir," exclaimed Ryman sarcastically. A week ago the bald and sunburned laborer had been happy to order Jordan around. Now the tables were turned, but Ryman kept making it clear that he didn't approve. Jordan wasn't quite sure what he'd do if Ryman balked at something. One more thing to worry about.
The other men variously grinned, grunted, or spat. They didn't care who gave them their orders. Jordan clambered back up the scaffold and started hammering at the mortar around the hole. It was flaky, as he'd suspectedbut not flaky enough to account for the sudden outward collapse of stones on both sides of the wall. It was almost as if something had dug its way through here.
That raised dire possibilities. He flipped black hair back from his eyes and looked through the hole at the vista of treetops beyond. The mansion perched on the highest ground for miles around and butted right up against the forest. Jordan didn't like to spend too much time on the forest-side of the walls, preferring jobs as far as possible inside the yards. The forest was the home of monsters, morphs, and other lesser Winds.
The inspector who built this place had been hoping his proximity to the wilderness would win him favor with the Winds. He used to stand on the forestward wall, sipping coffee and staring out at the treetops, waiting for a sign. Jordan had stood in the same spot and imagined he was the inspector, but he was never able to imagine how you would have to think to not be scared by those green shadowed mazeways. That old man must not have had bad dreams.
Bad dreams… Jordan was reminded of the strange nightmare he'd had last night. It had begun with something creeping in through his window, dark and shapeless. Then, as morning drifted in, he had seemed to awake on a far distant hilltop, at dawn, to witness the beginning of a battle between two armies, which was cut short by a horror that had fallen from the sky, and leaped from the ground itself. It had been so vivid.…
He shook himself and returned his attention to the moment. The others arrived and now began setting up. Jordan had scraped away the top layer of mortar around the stones he wanted cleared. Now he swung back along the edge of the scaffold, to let the brawnier men do their work. Below him the reflecting pool imaged puffy clouds and the white crescent of a distant vagabond moon. Ten minutes ago the moon had been on the eastern horizon; now it was in the south and quickly receding.
He looked out over the courtyard. Behind him, dark forest strangled the landscape all the way to the horizon. Before him, past the courtyard, a line of trees ran along the three hilltops that lay between his village and the manor. To the right, the countryside had been cultivated in squares and rectangles. He could see the trapezoid shape of the Teoves's homestead, the long strip of Shandler's, and many more, and if he squinted he could imagine the dividing line that separated these farms from those of the Neighbor.
All of this was familiar, and ultimately uninteresting. What he really wanted to look atup closewas sitting right in the center of the courtyard, with a half circle of nervous horses staring at it. It was a steam car.
The carriage sat in front, separated by a card-shaped wooden wall from the onion-shaped copper boiler. A smokestack angled off behind the boiler. The tall, thin-spoked wheels made it necessary to board the carriage from the front, and the gilded doors there had been painted with miniatures showing maids and plowmen frolicking in some idealized pastoral setting.
When the thing ran, it belched smoke and hissed like some fantastical beast. Its owner, Controller General of Books Turcaret, referred to it as a machine, which seemed pretty strange. It didn't look like any machine Jordan had ever heard about or seen. After all, if you weren't putting logs under the boiler it just sat there. And last year, on Turcaret's first visit, Jordan had watched the boiler being heated up. It had seemed to work just like any ordinary stove. Nothing mechal there; only when the driver began pulling levers was there any change.
"Uh-oh, there he goes again," grunted Ryman. The other men laughed.
Jordan turned to find them all grinning at him. Willam, a scarred redhead in his thirties, laughed and reached to pull Jordan back from the edge of the platform. "Trying to figure out Master Turcaret's steam car again, are we?"
"Winds save us from inventors," said Ryman darkly. "We should destroy that abomination, for safety's sake.…And anyone who looks at it too much."
They all laughed. Jordan fumed, trying to think of a retort. Willam glanced at him and shook his head. Jordan might have enjoyed a little verbal sparring before, when he was just one of the work gang. Now that he was leader, Willam was saying, he should no longer do that.
He took one more glance at the steam car. All the village kids had found excuses to be in the courtyard today; he could see boys he'd played with two weeks ago. He couldn't even acknowledge them now. He was an adult, they were children. It was an unbreachable gulf.
Behind him Chester swore colorfully, as he always did when things went well. The men began heaving stones onto the rickety scaffold. Jordan grabbed an upright; for a moment he felt dizzy, and remembered last night's dreamsomething about swirling leaves and dust kicking into the air under the wing beats of ten thousand screaming birds.
A group of brightly dressed women swirled across the courtyard, giving the steam car a wide berth. His older sister was among them; she looked in Jordan's direction, shading her eyes, then waved.
Emmy seemed in better spirits than earlier this morning. When Jordan arrived at the manor she was already there, having been in the kitchens since before dawn. "There you are!" she'd said as he entered the courtyard. Jordan had debated whether to tell her about his nightmare, but before he could decide, she bent close. "Jordan," she said in a whisper.
"Help me out, okay?"
"What do you want?"
She looked around herself in a melodramatic way. "He's here."
"You know…the controller general. See?" She stepped aside, revealing a view of the fountain, pool, and Turcaret's steam car.
Jordan remembered Emmy crying at some point during Turcaret's visit last summer. She had refused to say what made her cry, only that it had to do with the visiting controller general. "I'll be all right," she'd said. "He'll go away soon, and I'll be fine."
Jordan still wasn't sure what that had been about. Turcaret was from a great family and also a government-appointed official, and as father said constantly, the great families were better than common folk. He had assumed Emmy had done something to anger or upset Turcaret. Only recently had other possibilities occurred to him.
"Surely he won't remember you after all this time," he said now.
"How can you be so stupid!" she snapped. "It's just going to be worse!"
"Well, what are we going to do?" Turcaret was a powerful man. He could do what he liked.
"Why don't you find some excuse to get me out of the kitchens? He comes by there, ogling all the girls."
Jordan looked up past the scaffold at the angle of the sun. He wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead. It was going to be a hot day; that gave him an idea.
He put his hand on Willam's shoulder. "I'm going to fetch us some water and bread," he said.
"Good idea." Willam grunted as he levered another stone out of the wall. "But don't dawdle."
Jordan swung out and down, smiling. He would get Emmy out here for the morning and keep his men happy with a bucket or two of well water in the face. It was a good solution.
He was halfway down when a scream ripped the air overhead. Jordan let go reflexively and fell the last several meters, landing in a puff of dust next to the reflecting pool.
Surprisingly, Willam was lying next to him. "How did you… ?" Jordan started to say; but Willam was grimacing and clutching his calf. There was a huge and swelling bruise there, and the angle of the leg looked wrong.
Everybody was shouting. Flipping on his back, Jordan found the rest of his men plummeting to the ground all around him.
"…Thing in the wall," somebody yelled. And someone else said, "It took Ryman!"
Jordan stood up. The scaffold was shaking. The men were scattering to the four corners of the courtyard now. "What is it?" Jordan shouted in panic.
Then he saw, where the men had been working, a bright silver hand reach out to grab one of the scaffold's uprights. Another hand appeared, flailing blindly. Bright highlights of sunlight flashed off it.
"A stone mother," gasped Willam. "There's a stone mother in the wall. That's what made the hole."
Jordan swore. Stone mothers were rare, but he knew they weren't supernatural, like the Winds. They were mechal life, like stove beetles.
"Ryman reached into a hole and the silver stuff covered him," said Willam. "He'll smother."
The second hand found the upright and clutched it. Jordan caught a glimpse of Ryman's head, a perfect mirrored sphere.
Jordan knew what was happening. "It's trying to protect itself!" he shouted to the scattered men. "Ryman was sweating-it's trying to seal off the water!"
They stood there dumbly.
Ryman would be dead in seconds if somebody didn't do something. Jordan turned to look at the open doors of the manor, twenty meters away. Clouds floated passively in the rectangle of the reflecting pool.
Jordan decided. He reached down, splashed water from the pool over his head and shoulders, then started up the scaffold. He could hear shouting behind him; people were running out of the manor.
He pulled himself onto the planks next to Ryman. Jordan's heart was hammering. Ryman's head, arms, and upper torso were encased in a shimmering white liquid, like quicksilver. He was on his knees now, but his grip on the upright remained strong.
Ryman was stubborn and strong; Jordan knew he would never be able to break the man's grip. So he reached out a dripping hand and laid it on the oval brightness of the man's covered head.
With a hiss the liquid poured over Jordan's fingers and up his arm. He yelled and tried to pull back, but now the rest of the white stuff beaded up and leaped at him.
He had time to see Ryman's blue face emerge from beneath the cold liquid before it had swarmed up and over his own mouth, nose, and eyes.
Jordan nearly lost his head; he flailed about blindly for a moment, feeling the coiling liquid metal trying to penetrate his ears and nostrils. Then his foot felt the edge of the platform.
He jumped. For a second there was nothing but darkness, free-falling giddiness and the shudder of quicksilver against his eyelids. Then he hit a greater coldness and soft clay.
Suddenly his mouth was full of water and his vision cleared, then clouded with muddy water. Jordan thrashed and sat up. He'd landed where he intended: in the reflecting pool. The silver stuff was fleeing off his body now. It formed a big flat oval on the water's surface and skittered back and forth between the edges of the pool. When it caromed back in his direction, Jordan jumped without thinking straight out of the pool.
He heard laughter, then applause. Turning, Jordan found the whole manor, apparently, standing in the courtyard, shouting and pointing at him. Among them was a woman he had not seen before. She must be traveling with Turcaret. She was slim and striking, with a wreath of black hair framing an oval face and piercing eyes.
When he looked at her, she nodded slowly and gravely and turned to go back inside.
Weird. He glanced up at the scaffold; Ryman was sitting up, a hand at his throat, still breathing heavily. He caught Jordan's eye, and raised a hand, nodding.
Then Chester and the others were around him, hoisting Jordan in the air. "Three cheers for the hero of the hour!" shouted Chester.
"Put me down, you oafs! Willam's broke his leg."
They lowered him, and all rushed over to Willam, who grinned weakly up at Jordan. "Get him to the surgeon," said Jordan. "Then we'll figure out what to do about the stone mother."
Emmy ran up and hugged him. "That was very foolish! What was that thing?"
He shrugged sheepishly. "Stone mother. They live inside boulders and hills and such like. They're mecha, not monsters. That one was just trying to protect itself."
"What was that silver stuff? It looked alive!"
"Dad told me about that one time. The mothers protect themselves with it. He said the stuff goes toward whatever's wettest. He said he saw somebody get covered with it once; he died, but the stuff was still on him, so they got it off by dropping the body in a horse trough."
Emmy shuddered. "That was an awful chance. Don't do anything like that again, hear?"
The excitement was over, and the rest of the crowd began to disperse. "Come, let's get you cleaned up," she said, towing him in the direction of the kitchens.
As they were rounding the reflecting pool, Jordan heard the sudden thunder of hooves, saw the dust fountaining up from them. They were headed straight for him.
"Look out!" He whirled, pushing Emmy out of the way. She shrieked and fell in the pool.
The sound vanished; the dust blinked out of existence.
There were no horses. The courtyard was empty and still under the morning sun.
Several people had looked over at Jordan's cry and were laughing again.
"How could you!" A hot smack on his cheek turned him around again. Emmy's dress was soaked, and now clung tightly to her hips and legs.
"II didn't mean to"
"Oh, sure. What am I going to do now?" she wailed.
"ReallyI heard horses. I thought"
"Come on." She grabbed his arm ran for the nearby stables. Inside she crossly wrung out her skirt in a stall, cursing Jordan all the while.
He shook his head, terribly confused. "I really am sorry, Emmy. I didn't mean to do it. I really did hear horses. I swear."
"Your brain's addled, that's all."
"Well, maybe, I just…" He kicked the stall angrily. "Nothing's going right today."
"Did you hit your head when you landed?" The idea seemed to still her anger. She stepped out of the stall, still wet but not scowling at him any more.
"No, I don't think so, I just" A bright flash of light in his eyes startled him. He caught a confused glimpse of sunlit grass and white clouds, where straw and wooden slats should be.
"Jordan?" His elbow hurt. Somehow, he was on the floor.
"Hey…" She knelt beside him, looking concerned. "Are you okay? You fell over."
"I did? It was that flash of light. I saw…" Now he wasn't sure what he'd seen.
Emmy gently felt his skull for bruises. "Nothing hurts here, does it?"
"I didn't hit myself, really." He brushed himself off and stood up.
"You looked really weird there for a second."
"I don't know. It's not anything." He felt scared suddenly, so to cover it, he said, "No, I was just joking. Come on, let's check on Willam. Then we'd better get back to work."
"Okay," she said uncertainly.
Willam and Ryman were still with the surgeon, and nobody knew what to do about the stone mother, so Jordan told the rest of the men to take an early lunch. He went to the kitchens and found a stool near Emmy. They wiled away some time near the warmness of the hearth.
Jordan had just decided to round up his men and get back to work when he suddenly felt a horse under him and saw grasslands sweeping by. A thunderous sound, as of many mounted men, filled his ears. This time, he was lost for what seemed a long time.
His hand gripped the reins tightly, only it was not his hand, but the sunburned hand of a mature man.
In an eye blink the vision was gone, and he stood again in the kitchen. He hadn't fallen, and no one was looking at him. Jordan's heart began to pound as if he'd run a kilometer.
He waved at Emmy urgently. She was talking to one of the bakers and ignored him until he started to walk over. Then she quickly intercepted him and whispered, "What?" in that particular tone of voice she used lately when he interrupted her talking to young men.
"It happened again."
"Like in the stables. And outside. I saw something." Her skeptical look told him to be careful what he said. "II do think I'm sick," he said.
Her look softened. "You look awful, actually. What's wrong?"
"I keep seeing things. And hearing things."
"Voices? Like Uncle Wilson?"
"No. Horses. Like in the dream I had last night."
"Dream? What are you talking about?
"The dream I had last night. I'm still having it."
"Horses, and grasslands. There was a battle, and the Winds came. All last night, it was just like I was there. And it keeps happening today, too. I'm still seeing it."
Emmy shook her head. "You are sick. Come on, we'll go see the surgeon."
"No, I don't want to."
"Don't be a baby."
"Okay, okay. But I can go on my own. You don't have to come with me."
"All right," she said reluctantly. He felt her concerned gaze on him as he left.
The surgeon was busy with Willam's broken leg. Jordan stood around for a few minutes outside his door, but the sound of screaming coming from inside made him feel worse and worse, until finally he had to leave. He sat in the courtyard, unsure whether to go back to work or go home. Something was wrong, and he had no idea what to do about it.
He couldn't stay idle, though. If he went home, his father would treat him with contempt at dinner; Jordan always felt terribly guilty when he was sick, as if he was doing something bad.
He thought of the walk home, and that made him think of the forest. There was someone there who could help him-and maybe solve the problem of the stone mother, too. It was a long walk, and he didn't like to be in the forest alone, but just now he didn't know what else to do. He stood up and left the manor, taking the path that led to the church, and the house of the priests.
• • •
The church lay several kilometers within the forest. Jordan relaxed as he walked, frightening as the forest was. Father Allegri would help him.
The path opened onto the church lands abruptly: Jordan came around a sharp bend where towering silver maple and oak trees closed in overhead, and there was the clearing, broad and level, skirted at its edges with low stone buildings where the ministers lived. In front of the church itself, a broad flagstone courtyard, unwalled, was kept bare and clean.
The priests' house stood off to one side, under overhanging oaks. It was a stout stone building, two stories high, with its own stable. Jordan had been inside many times, since his father helped in its upkeep.
With relief he saw that Allegri was outside, seated on the porch with his feet up, a news sheet in his hands. It must be something important he was reading. The priests received regular news about the Winds from all over the country.
Allegri looked up at Jordan's shout and quickly walked to meet him. Now that he was here, Jordan ran the last part, and appeared on the porch huffing and puffing.
"Jordan!" Allegri laughed in surprise. "What brings you here?"
Jordan grimaced; he didn't know where to start.
"Is something wrong? Shouldn't you be at work?"
"N-no, nothing's wrong," said Jordan. "We're taking a break."
Allegri frowned. Jordan shrugged, suddenly unsure of himself. He pointed to the paper Allegri held. "What's that?"
"Copy of a semaphore report. Just arrived." Allegri sent Jordan another piercing look, then sat, gesturing for Jordan to do the same. Jordan dropped on a bench nearby, feeling uncomfortable.
"It's fascinating stuff," said Allegri. He waved the paper. "It's about a battle that took place yesterday, between two very large forces, Ravenon and Seneschal."
Jordan looked up with interest. "Who won?"
"Well, there hangs the tale," said the minister. "It seems each side lined up, on the edges of a great field east of here, on the Ravenon border. They camped, and waited all night, and then in the morning they donned their armor, took up their weapons, and marched against each other. Very deliberate. Very confident, both sides."
Jordan could picture it clearly; this sounded so similar to the nightmare he'd had last night. In his dream, the mounted horsemen had clashed in clouds of dust on the ends of the lines. Bracketed by the horror of dying men and screaming horses, stolid infantry marched up the center. In his dream, Jordan could tell from the angle of the sun that it was nine o'clock in the morning. He had stood on a hill above the battle, surrounded by flying pennants and impatient horses.
"What colors?" he asked.
Allegri raised an eyebrow. "Colors?"
"What were the colors of the pennants they were flying?"
"Well, if I recall correctly, Ravenon flies yellow pennants. Those are the royal colors, anyway. The enemy were the Seneschals, so they'd be red," said Allegri. "Why?"
Jordan hesitated before speaking. To say this to Allegri would be to make it real. "Your semaphore…does it say that the Seneschals had these steam cannons hidden behind their infantry? Like fountains in a way, gray streams of gravel flying up and into the back ranks of the Ravenon foot soldiers."
"Yes." Allegri frowned. "How did you know? I just got this. We're relaying it on to Castor's place right now." He gestured to the farside of the clearing, where one of the brothers was yanking the pulleys on a tall semaphore tower.
"I dreamed this battle." There, he'd said it. Jordan looked down at his feet.
"Is this why you came to see me?" Allegri asked. "To tell me you'd dreamed today's news?"
The priest opened his mouth, closed it, and said, "Where were you in this…dream?"
"On a hillside. Surrounded by important people. I think I was an important person, too. People kept looking at me, and I said things."
"What things?" Allegri prompted.
It wasn't like remembering a dream. The more Jordan thought about it, the more like memory it became. "Orders," he said. "I was giving orders."
He closed his eyes and recalled the scene. His own lines were wavering, and the infantry fell back even as his cavalry outflanked the Seneschals on the right. A group of his cavalry rode hard at the steam cannon, and cut down their operators, but some were lost in the last moments as the cannons were laboriously turned against them. Ravenon now had the Seneschal forces bent back like a bow, but their own lines were stretched thin. Jordan described this to Allegri.
Allegri shook his head, either in surprise or disbelief. "What happened then?" he asked. "The news just reached usbut it's unclear. Unbelievable. What do you know about it?"
Jordan squinted. He didn't want to remember this part; he could see bodies strewn across the grass below, some writhing, and in places where the line of battle had passed, women walked to and fro, cutting throats or administering first aid depending on the color of a helpless man's uniform. Jordan saw one man play dead and then leap up and run down a woman who had approached him with her knife drawn. Three others converged on him and cut him down in turn.
In the dream Jordan had looked away then, and spoke. "We deployed a new weapon," said Jordan now.
"Describe it." Allegri's hands twisted in the cloth of his robe. He sat hunched forward, eyes fixed on Jordan.
"We had the breeze to our advantage. My men set fire to some sort of long tubes filled with…sulfur, I think. They made a horrible reddish-yellow smoke." Jordan didn't want to talk about it any more, but once he had started it was hard to stop. And Allegri was staring at him as if he could force the story out of him by willpower alone. "The smoke went over the Seneschals. They started to fall down, they choked on it. The lines broke. We had time to regroup, we got ready to charge."
Jordan swallowed. "And then the Winds came."
From the hillsides all around the battle scene, a cloud rose as the birds, the bugs, the burrowing animals, and the snakes all rose and marched into the valley. The grass itself began to twist and come to life, and the earth trembled as great silvery boulders wrenched themselves out and sprouted legs. The men and horses around Jordan milled in panic. He could see they were screaming, but their voices were drowned by a tumbling, roaring, and shrieking mass of life descending on the battle lines.
"It was the sulfur," he said quietly. "They smelled the sulfur and became angry at us. It was okay as long as we were cutting each other up. Beating each other to death. But the smoke…" Jordan relived a feeling of terrible helplessness, as he watched both armies dissolve under a tumult of fur, feather, and scale. Only a few stragglers and quick horsemen escaped. The steam cannons exploded with ringing bangs, and mist and sulfur clouds hung low for many minutes until, drifting away, they revealed an encampment of the dead. The animals slunk away into the hills, shaking the bloody fur of their backs as they passed the stunned witnesses.
"It's okay, you're safe," Allegri was saying. Jordan came to himself Co find the priest at his side, arm around his shoulder. He realized he was shaking. "It wasn't your fault."
"But I was the one on the hill. The one who gave the order!"
Allegri shook him gently. "What are you saying? That you got up in the middle of the night, grew some centimeters and an army, and commanded the battle yourself? It's more likely that you've been using that fantastic imagination of yours." The priest laughed. "Maybe you heard something last night, from Castor or his men. After all, he might have the news from some other source. Did you maybe sit near some conversation last night, that you maybe didn't realize you were listening in on? Some word or phrase you caught that came back to you as you were going to sleep?"
Jordan shook his head. "I went straight home." He wiped at his eyes.
Allegri stood up and started to pace. "The semaphore said there was a battle yesterday, near a town called Andorson. Everyone died, it said. We looked at that and didn't understand it. Everyone died? But who won? What you've just said clears it up. It could be this was a true vision you had."
The priest chewed on a fingernail, ignoring Jordan. "A vision, for the son of a mason. Won't this upset the applecart. Do we tell Turcaret and Castor? No…no, that wouldn't do at all."
Jordan stood up and grabbed Allegri's arm. "What's going on? What's this about visions?"
Allegri scowled. He was more animated than Jordan had ever seen him. "You know some people can talk to the Winds. Turcaret claims the power; it runs in his family." Jordan nodded. The whole foundation of sensible government was men like Turcaret, who had a proven connection to the Winds, hence the authority to guide the hands of economics and bureaucracy. "The Winds often speak in visions," said Allegri. "Or dreams. But they rarely speak to someone of your class."
"What does that mean? Am I like Castor?" The thought was absurd; Castor was hereditary salt inspector for this province. His pedigree was ancient.
"I admit it's unusual, but most of the great families got their start with somebody like yourself, you know." Allegri pointed toward the church. "Let's talk in there."
"Why?" asked Jordan as he followed the rapidly walking priest.
Allegri shook his head, mumbling something. "It's a shame," he said as Jordan caught up with him.
"What do you mean, a shame? This means our family could get a government post, doesn't it?" Was that really the voice of some spirit that had entered his dreams last night? The idea was both exhilarating and terrifying. Jordan found himself laughing, a bit hysterically.
"Am I going to get my own manor house?" As he said it, he realized something: "But I don't want that!"
As they entered the church, Allegri frowned at Jordan. "Good," he said. "I had higher hopes for youyou've always been inquisitive. A lot of the ideas you've spoken to me about are like ones from the very books Turcaret bans. I'd hoped you would show an interest in the priesthood. After all, it's the one thing you could legally do besides being a mason."
They stood now in the pillared space of the church. Allegri gestured at the cross that hung between the tall windows at its far end.
"If Turcaret and his like had their way, this place would not exist," Allegri said, gesturing around.
"What do you mean?"
"Turcaret and his kind have power because they claimclaim, mind you, that's allto know the will of the Winds who rule this world. All they know, really, is merely how far the Winds can be pushed before they push back. The inspectors and controllers use that knowledge to control the affairs of men. They claim to serve Man; really, they serve either the Winds or themselves. And those who serve the Winds do not serve God.
"Jordan, I hope you don't become such a one. Whatever the Winds tell you, you can choose how to use the knowledge. But beware of becoming their tool, like the controller and his men."
Jordan looked around at the quiet space, remembering many evenings he had spent here with Mother. Father did not attend church; he was not a believer. Only about half the people at Castor's manor were. The rest adhered to one or another of the Wind cults.
"What should I do?" asked Jordan.
"I'll consult by semaphore with the church fathers. Meanwhile, tell no one. If these visions disrupt your day, claim sickness. I'll back you up. Hopefully we'll get some guidance in a day or so."
Jordan brought up the subject of the stone mother. Allegri called one of the brothers over and they consulted, returning after a few minutes with some suggestions for handling the mechal beast. Jordan thanked Allegri, and they made their farewells.
He felt as if a great weight had been lifted off him as he walked back to the manor. Whatever was happening to him, he had put it in Allegri's hands. The priests would know what to do.
• • •
The usual bustle of the hallways was muted today, out of deference to Turcaret, whom they needed to impress, if for no other reason than that Castor wanted not to seem too provincial to his rich visitor. The silent summer air weighed heavily in here, as outside, and when he had stopped puffing Jordan headed straight for the back stairs to the kitchen.
"She's quite a filly, eh?" That was Castor's voice, coming from behind the wood-inlaid door to the library. "Turn around for Turcaret, Emmy."
Jordan stopped walking. Emmy. He looked around, then put his ear against the door.
"A fine girl." Turcaret's dry, sardonic voice. "But hard to appreciate in all that getup."
"Emmy, you hide your beauty too much," said Castor. Jordan heard a faint whisper of motion as someone walked across the room. "Turn around."
An appreciative noise from Turcaret. "Clasp your hands behind your neck, girl."
"It's all right, Emmy," said Castor. "Do as the controller general says. Stand up straight."
Something about the tone of the voices made Jordan uncomfortable. He put his hand on the doorknob, hesitated, took it away. He had no excuse to be entering the library.
"Emmy, whatever happened to that dress you had last summer? The off-the-shoulder one? That was quite pretty."
"I-I outgrew it, sir."
"Do you still have it? Hmm. Why don't you wear it tomorrow, then?"
Emmy said something Jordan didn't catch. Dry laughter from the men. Then she gave a little shriek: "Oh!"
"Here comes the lady," said Turcaret suddenly.
"All right, Emmy. That will be all," said Castor in a distracted tone. "Remember what I told you about tomorrow."
Jordan heard the door on the far side of the library open. Castor started to speak, but he was cut off by a strong female voice Jordan had never heard before. "All right, gentlemen, what about our agreement?"
Another door, this one around the corner of the same hallway Jordan was in, opened and closed. He left off eavesdropping and ran around to find his sister leaning against the wall underneath a watchful portrait of one of Castor's ancestors.
"Emmy!" She looked up, then away. To his surprise, she turned and started to walk away without even acknowledging him.
"Hey! What are you doing?" He caught up to her. He felt a fluttering uneasiness in the pit of his stomach. "I talked to Allegrieverything's all right. There's nothing wrong with me."
Emmy rounded on him, grabbed him by the shoulders, and pushed him against the wall. "Where were you when I needed you?" she shouted. "Everything is not all right. It's not!" She thrust herself away and ran off down the hallway. Jordan stayed leaning on the wall for a long moment. Then, still feeling the prints of her hands on his shoulders, he slouched back the way he had come. What had happened? It was as if last night some veil had been withdrawn from reality, showing behind it an ugly mechanism.
For just a second, he saw blue sky, clouds, heard the snorting of a horse. "Oh, stop," he murmured, squashing the palms of his hands against his eyes. "Just stop."
Copyright © 2000 by Karl Schroeder