Master of the Winds
by John Richard Albers
In a time long past, four lords held domain over the air and winds of the earth, ensuring the turning of the seasons and the continuous patterns of rain and sunshine. They belonged to no pantheon, nor were they worshipped, save when a desperate farmer hoped for rain or a sailor caught in the middle of a gale called out for aid wherever it may be found.
Yet their presence was always known and always felt. To say that they were gods would be too confining. They were forces, given form and function by the collective will of mankind.
As the four lords of the wind watched over the works of man with fond incomprehension, they found it best to meet once a year and speak upon what they had learned. In this way could they hope to find understanding of this most vexing creature. Once again they convened at the preordained time as they had done for thousands of years, but this time their endless pattern was broken.
With a slight effort of will, a great hall was condensed from cloud and moisture, high in the sky above the ocean where their four domains met. It was an edifice of immeasurable size and impossible architecture.
Vast buttressed columns shaped like eagle feathers jutted up from thin air, holding aloft a transparent ceiling made of humidity formed into prisms, breaking the sunlight into scintillating rainbows and casting them across the interior. The hall was square, and built with a set of double doors facing all four cardinal directions.
As befitting his seniority, Eurus entered first through the east doors. A blast of desert heat and the scent of exotic spices and musks assailed the room as the doors were cast open. A short man, long-limbed, slender and willowy, glided over the steps and across the threshold. He was clad in beautiful gold-inlaid silks and jade earrings, and his voluminous outer robe was taken by spirits of air and light before they ushered him to a large square table. He sat upon a series of embroidered pillows filled with the down of monstrous birds of prey lost to the wheels of time.
A chill wind howled through the north door as Boreas entered next. He was tall and brawny, his blond hair braided with threads of silver. He wore a woolen jerkin and leggings, with an immense wolf’s pelt thrown across his shoulders, its fur as white as new-fallen snow. Two hunting dogs composed of angles and shadow trotted in after him, their eyes echoing the ice blue of his own. His arms were bound in rings of bronze, like the rich men of the peoples he watched over. Upon his brow was laid a circlet of iron.
He took his place at the table in an oversized throne hewn from rough timber, the smell of sap still fresh. The two lords and brothers did not meet gazes, not wanting to acknowledge one another’s presence until they were all assembled.
The south door creaked open in a wet wave of humidity to reveal Notus. The aged man entered, well tanned and muscled, with hair of white and storm-grey eyes that flickered with an internal luminosity. He wore a series of colorfully woven stiff cotton robes and leaned heavily upon a gnarled staff, its clacking against the transparent floor a steady counterpoint to his steps. A small crown of gold similar to Boreas’ was his only adornment. He sat heavily upon a block of carved stone with many layers of cloth to cushion it, and bowed his head as if lost in his own thoughts.
Finally the west doors opened slowly. Carried on a light breeze that bore with it the smells of springtime and flowers in bloom, Zephyria made her entrance. She was a tall woman of slight build with a long graceful neck. Straight black hair shining in the light cascaded down to the small of her back. It was swept back over her forehead by a headdress of hawk and eagle feathers. She wore a dress tailored from deer hide. Zephyria cast her eyes downward demurely as she took her place at the table, sitting on an old, worn tree stump.
Eurus stood and cast his robed arms wide in greeting. “Well met brothers... and sister” he said, inclining his head toward Zephryia. “Before we begin, let us take some refreshment.”
With a clap of his hands the table was laid with roast meats, vegetables, plates of exotic fruit, hard cheeses, sundries, and pitchers containing wine and spirits. Notus poured himself a glass of corn-brewed beer and sipped at the chicha absentmindedly.
Eurus laid claim to some fish and rice, eating with chopsticks. Boreas piled his trencher high with meat, buttered black bread, and cheese. Zephyria took a few slices of venison and cut them up with a knife before eating.
“What news, brothers?” Boreas grunted as he gnawed on a boar’s haunch.
Eurus sighed in irritation at his lack and manners and was about to rebuke him for it when Notus interrupted. “My lands are invaded and its people slaughtered,” the laconic man piped up. “They make sacrifice after sacrifice to the gods to be saved from the iron men. They are forced into the old stone cities in the mountains. Those too old or ill to make the journey are killed by the encroaching men wearing iron.”
“Men wearing iron?” Boreas asked through a mouthful before hastily swallowing. “You mean the men who live upon my lands?”
Notus nodded somberly.
“It’s the same in my domain, brother,” Zephyria said quietly, not meeting Boreas’ gaze.
Eurus cleared his throat before adding: “In my lands, the men from the north — Europe I believe they call it — arrived under the guise of friendship. Shortly after, the Europeans sought to force my people into debt and servitude.”
“Well, what do they want?” Boreas asked.
“Gold,” Notus said simply.
“New lands to conquer,” Zephyria said.
“Mastery over other men,” Eurus finished.
Boreas sat for a moment, his brow furrowed in unaccustomed thought. “Why would my people need or want any of those things? Gold is a metal, but it’s too soft for anything but decoration. If a man has mastery over another, he is responsible for that man’s well-being. Why would he want that? As for land, they already have plenty to live on, why would they need more?”
Eurus sighed again. “I do not know why, brother,” he said as he tried to hold onto his patience. “That is why we are trying to understand them, so we will know. Perhaps if we were able to coordinate our efforts daily we would succeed.”
Notus smiled to himself when he saw where the debate was headed.
“Oh. So this is how it starts, is it?” Boreas said belligerently as he came to his feet. “Every time we meet you insist that a leader be chosen, and every year our contest ends in a draw. Why should we bother?”
“Because we must make the effort,” Eurus insisted from his seat, looking up at the larger man’s face completely unperturbed. “We have the power to make a difference. So we must use that power for more than just our own benefit.”
Boreas nodded, feigning boredom as Eurus repeated the same speech he’d given countless times before. “All right,” he said, “let’s get on with it.”
The three brothers stood and faced the center of the table, from which arose a globe of green and blue, the earth in miniature. Eurus looked over at Zephyria. “Will you be competing this year, little sister?” he asked out of courtesy rather than expecting her to join.
Zephyria raised her eyes for the first time any of them could remember. “I will, brothers,” she said firmly. Another little smile was brought to Notus’ lips at this.
“I’ll start,” Boreas said without waiting for the others. He squared his shoulders and inhaled deeply. He leaned forward and let out a full throated roar, hoar frost forming around his lips as chill winds blew down across the northlands, freezing them in a solid prison of ice.
Zephyria let out a laugh like tinkling bells. Boreas looked up in confusion. “Your strength is great indeed, brother. But look what you’ve done to the lands. Winter must come every year, this is true, but it need not kill every living thing in its path.”
Boreas glared at her in anger, his hunting hounds curled up near the door growling in response to their master’s displeasure. He held his tongue, though just barely.
Eurus came next. He breathed deeply, a dry burning wind sweeping through the land. The hot air came in a blistering wave from the east, the outskirts of it encroaching upon the northern blizzard. Where hot and cold met, thunder shook the earth to its roots, but neither wind would give ground. Finally Eurus relented, leaving a heat haze over the land.
Zephyria laughed again. “Brother,” she said. “You have sought to combat the force of Boreas’ wind head-on with your own. Your strength matches that of your northern kinsman, and neither side gives ground.
“But look,” she pointed back toward the east from where the burning winds came from. “You have parched the lands of your dominion in the process. All the rivers, lakes, and wells have dried up. Livestock dies of thirst, and crops wither upon the vine. Look what destruction you’ve caused.”
Eurus’ face turned red at being chided while Boreas chuckled at his elder brother’s discomfort.
Notus stepped forward without a word to take his turn. He inhaled deeply and let a fine mist out through his nostrils. The mist grew in size and density as water vapor condensed within it. It drifted down to the globe and formed thunderclouds.
Lightning cracked the sky and torrential rains beat down upon the land, attempting to drown out the brothers’ winds and justify Notus’ claim as the strongest of them all. As the rain lashed down, passing through the winds without effect, Zephyria snorted in amusement. Notus looked up, an unspoken question in his eyes.
“Noble brother,” she said, “you have attempted to water the land and beat back the winds of the lords of the North and East. Your strength has become your undoing, just as it was the others’. The rain in the north has become snow and buried that domain even more in cold. The parched lands to the east cannot withstand such sudden and ferocious rains. Rivers and lakes have overflowed and taken much topsoil with them, further inhibiting man’s attempts to farm and draw nourishment from the soil. Coastal regions have flooded and many homes and communities have been destroyed. Where the three fronts meet, a thick fog has been created, obscuring man’s surroundings from view and confounding him further.”
Notus simply nodded his head in comprehension, but Boreas was not so gracious. His ire at Zephyria’s mockery of him and his brothers could be contained no longer. “If you think you can best us then cease your infernal giggling and do it!” he bellowed.
Zephyria responded with a simple nod and stepped up to the table. She pursed her lips and blew gently upon the earth. She dissipated the all-encompassing fog. She broke up the storm clouds that ravaged the sea and flooded the coastal lands. She blew bits of them across the parched nations of the earth, where their slow drizzle nourished the soil and dying plants. She blew the hot winds of the east against the freezing winds of the north, neutralizing them and freeing the northlands from their icy prison.
Once she was done and satisfied with her work, she stood back to regard her brothers with a sly smile.
“Why do you smile, sister?” Boreas asked, confused. “All you did was undo our works.”
“Aye, brother,” Zephyria said with a nod, “but our contest was and always has been to see who is the greatest amongst us. All you’ve done is show your strength. You are all to be commended on your strength and mastery of your domains, but strength is not the same as greatness.”
“Is it not? Who says this?” Eurus demanded hotly.
“Is it not evident?” Zephyria asked. “We have watched this world for thousands of years, and contested with one another for every one of them. We have seen one supposedly invincible empire crumble after another. Were they not all strong as well?
“It was never the might of these empires that commanded respect; it was their ability to maintain themselves. Stability was the key. Those who lived the longest are those who are remembered.”
“Then how was what you’ve done a show of greatness?” asked Notus. “In accordance with this new definition, I mean.”
“With a simple breeze I turned each of your strengths against the other. You used all your might to outdo one another, but I bested you all with my wits. Rather than attempt to cause great change across the earth, I restored it to equilibrium.”
The brothers looked at her with newfound understanding and respect in their eyes. “Is it not far harder to create than destroy?” she demanded of them with steel in her voice and fire in her eye.
“It is,” replied Boreas softly, the only one of the three lords with enough bravado to overcome his sudden feelings of apprehension.
“Is it not far harder to maintain one’s creation than to let it be taken by time?” she demanded again.
“Yes,” they said in unison, cowed.
“Then will you deny that I have won the contest and claimed mastery over the winds of all the earth?” Zephyria stared them down.
As one, the three brothers knelt. Notus removed his circlet, as did Boreas, and Eurus took off his earrings. Each wordlessly lifted them up to their younger sister, who had proven herself their superior.
She took each of them. The new mistress of the winds then welded the gold crown atop the iron one. She made a framework of the jade earrings, jutting up from each side of the crown, into which she placed the feathers of her headdress. It shone in the prismatic light of the hall with splendor and power.
But she did not place it upon her head. Instead she leaned forward and slammed it down, embedding it into the substance of the table at its very center. The three kneeling men looked at her in confusion. She bade them rise and smiled, her eyes twinkling with light and mirth.
“I did not win this contest so that you would bow to me, brothers. I won it so we could finally set it aside. We exist because man believes in us and needs us. Let us help him.”
“But we’ve been doing that since we can remember,” snorted Boreas. “How would this make things any different?”
“Because we assume that mankind knows what it needs to survive and prosper,” replied Zephyria. “We’ve been thinking that they are united in a common cause. They are not. They are just as divided as we are, and know even less than we do the reason for existing.
“And so we’ve been granting individual prayers, aiding one, and harming hundreds of others in the process. What we will do is aid mankind by withdrawing. Their business shall be ours no longer. Instead it will be our task to ensure equilibrium between the seasons and the winds so that the land will prosper.”
Notus nodded as he thought it over, his eyes flashing a moment before his face broke into a smile. Unfortunately, Eurus did not look so pleased. He took a half step toward Zephyria, a finger raised in that overly erudite way of his as he opened his mouth.
Boreas stopped him. His thick paw caught around Eurus’ slender wrist and tugged him back, firmly but not unkindly. “Brother,” Boreas said before Eurus had a chance to shout in indignation. “I know you would have us continue to aid man as we have done, in hopes of understanding him. None of us questions your learning. But let us stop thinking of ourselves. Zephyria is right. We seek to understand men for our own reasons. But we will never understand them, because we were created by them, not the other way around. We came to being when they needed us. But somewhere along the way we became lost, drunk on our own power.”
Boreas let Eurus go. Eurus massaged his wrist and looked up at the bigger man, the reason of the words he’d heard from the normally brash and headstrong lord warring with his own sense of need to understand and learn more. Eventually he gave a shrug and sighed. “If this great oaf can learn to speak sense, then certainly I can learn to listen to it.”
The four chuckled as Boreas gave Eurus a slap on the back. “All right, then” Eurus said. “How do we go about maintaining this equilibrium of yours?”
“Simple,” Zephyria responded, waving a hand at the square table. “Dissolve our separate territories and watch over the earth as a whole.”
Notus spoke up, looking through the transparent floor as his mind turned over Zephyria’s words. “With no territories we’ll no longer be the four winds. But we’ve always been the four winds. What will happen then?”
Zephyria shrugged. “I don’t know. I imagine we’ll simply become the wind, no more, no less. If our task is to watch over and aid mankind as best we can, then it matters not one bit what we are or who we become.”
Copyright © 2009 by John Richard Albers