Actions

Work Header

The Lost Revolution

Work Text:

The sudden wind that had given the port city its name centuries ago was popularly agreed to be the last unexpected thing that had happened in its vicinity, but it was not true all the same that Port Suddenwind had no weather. And indeed, on this particular day in spring, a stiff breeze was making merry with the city, the seat of Gullstruck’s government, rattling shutters and swooping through skirts, seizing hats and banging signs about.

The breeze was the only inhabitant of the city making merry, or so it seemed to the rather piratical-looking figure who disembarked from the schooner that had sailed in on the morning tide as she made her way up from the docks to the city proper. Port Suddenwind stood isolated and alone in the northeast quarter of Gullstruck; leave it to the Cavalcaste to be fool enough to build their capital here, in the only sizable cleft in the cloud forest coast. That forest and the mountains that sheltered it rose precipitously almost above the city dwellers’ heads as they made their way about the bowl in which the Cavalcaste colonists had found themselves blown off course all those years ago. For her part, Hathin had spent some minutes staring at the mist-covered mountains while her ship had rolled into port that morning. Now she glanced up at them just once before pulling her the broad brim of her hat down into her eyes and putting her head down. There were few Lace here in the northeast, and fewer still since the Lost Conspiracy had temporarily put the Lace into work camps in the southwest corner of the island a few years ago. The mountains, being only mountains and not volcanoes, would neither speak to nor listen to her. Accordingly, she set her snub features into the non-smile that she had worked so hard to develop over the last few years, and kept walking.

She marked the city she saw around her no less than the city marked her: a pirate girl, not tall but sinewy and determined, a knife thrust into the sash at her waist, tattoos on her forearms, her boots in much better condition than her neatly-mended tunic, a patch of troubled water in the middle of her brow. In all its long history, Port Suddenwind had never seen anyone quite like Hathin of the Lace before, and it was safe to say that the city had no idea what was coming for it.

Port Suddenwind was said to echo, in its architecture, the sepulchral stylings of the continental Cavalcaste capital, but most of all what Hathin marked as she walked was not the buildings, but the silence. It reminded her of nothing so much as Jealously had once looked: the living squeezed to the edges of the city, evicted from the center of their own lives by the dead. Unlike Jealousy in the old days, however, Port Suddenwind’s Ashlands were actually more like Ashcliffs, as the wet cloud forest surrounding the city rotted tombs, urns, and ashes in record time. But even the extensive necropolises in the coastal cliffs had proven too crowded for the ever-expanding population of the dead, and now the Ashlands of Port Suddenwind straggled for miles down either side of the Obsidian Trail, which ended in the city’s southwestern suburbs.

Hathin tracked through the city’s central districts, the stillness of which was broken only by the sleepy hum of the government offices just off the city’s greatest square. In those buildings, an army of clerks and officials, hamstrung by the law codes brought unchanged from the continent, whiled away their lives industriously answering questions of governance in the most recondite and slowest way possible. It was practically proverbial that the government of Gullstruck was useless, but over the past few years Hathin and her compatriots had slowly come to the determination that it was actually worse than that.

She did see two clerks on what appeared to be a morning tea break, leaning against the inside of an archway and sharing a steaming thermos between them. “More reports about the eruption of Mother Tooth three years ago,” one of them was saying as Hathin drifted closer. They spoke Doorsy with a lack of formality that was, to a Lace girl like Hathin, bracingly unusual.

Her fellow grunted. “The answer will be to dedicate a bell or something else useless.” There were no volcanoes in the Cavalcaste homeland, at least as far as the law code was concerned. “Prox and his damn reports! Why d’you think he keeps writing ‘em?”

“Search me! He’s a stickler for order, that one.” The clerk drank the last of the tea and looked around. “I wish he’d organize this place, and make no mistake.”

“Better him than that Lace pirate he hangs around with!” Hathin was conscious that the bubble of mirth inside her chest might give her away if she let it become the laughter she wanted it to be, and so she hurried along.

Really, they ought not have been surprised that Port Suddenwind would resist the innovations introduced by Minchard Prox, from installing local drop-offs for his bird-based messenger system, to adopting his system of food rationing and distribution, and most of all to reclaiming the Ashlands from the dead so that the living might not starve. Port Suddenwind had not changed since the day it began, and a little thing like life-or-death necessity was certainly not going to alter its ways now.

The differences between those in Suddenwind who clung to the old ways and those who had forced themselves to accept the distributions from Prox’s island-wide ration and redistribution scheme were clear. No one on Gullstruck precisely had plenty these days—converting the Ashlands took time and energy, and in the meantime the exhausted, hardscrabble farmland required more and more effort to produce the same or less. But there was a sizable contingent of people who shivered slightly even in the morning sun, and who were clearly wearing heavier coats than the weather warranted. Hathin knew the signs of semi-starvation when she saw them.

No one wanted to make a fight over it, but it was generally understood that the Port Suddenwind government was dead wood that was long past due for pruning. That was why Hathin was here: besides the fact that she was the only person whom all of the rest of Gullstruck trusted, she still worried, and she wanted to see the city for herself before deciding on the course of action she favored.

The outskirts of the city were far more lively than its heart, and it was there at last that Hathin heard what she had been craving: conversations in the streets, and plenty of them. Hours of wandering yielded the impression that the people of Port Suddenwind knew enough to know that things were not quite right, though they remained divided on such crucial questions as what was wrong, who was responsible, and how to fix it.

“Aye, I heard in Jealousy they have enough to eat, every one of them!” an apprentice weaver was saying to one of his master’s customers, who looked skeptical. “And no harm has befallen them, even though they are reclaiming the Ashlands!”

The weaver herself shook her head. “Blasphemy and foolishness. They’ve breathed too deep of Lord Crackgem’s vapors if you ask me—and Crackgem will take the ancestors’ revenge for them, mark my words.”

Hathin had had dealings with Lord Crackgem, and she personally doubted that he would do any such thing, but she held her tongue.

“Well, and I wish they would sweep us up!” a wiry-looking woman of middling years was hissing to the fishmonger a few doors down. “You don’t need to be a Lost to see that this place will never change on its own—and it’s killing us.”

The fishmonger frowned. He had the coloring of someone who was not far removed from the tribes, but his Doorsy was as fine as anyone’s. Hathin had not yet heard anyone speaking Nundestruth. “We’ve gotten along this long,” he pointed out. “Why all the hurry to change now?”

Because it was now or never, Hathin did not say. She kept walking.

Hathin had the name of an innkeeper who had taken the initiative on her own to install a depot for Prox’s bird-messengers, and it was there that she took herself at the end of her day of reconnoitering. There was a placard taped to the door of the dovecote with a vermillion seal large at the bottom, proclaiming that the birds housed within were in violation of a certain minor subsection of the civil code concerning livestock husbandry on the grasslands, but this was the sort of thing that everyone on Gullstruck ignored. A few coins got her ink and paper and a bird whose leg she could tie the paper to, to send her message to Prox. Hathin wrote, in careful Doorsy: The Gripping Bird makes his nest elsewhere.

As codes went it was laughably simple, but the meaning of the message lay hidden in plain sight: change needed to be brought in, rather than waiting for it to happen. Hathin knew that she could stir up the city-dwellers, given the right event to set them off; there were enough revolutionary things happening on the island already that it would be quite simple to make getting rid of the old government the next logical step. She even knew, thanks to Arilou’s Lost senses, about an impending event that would be particularly likely to upset Suddenwind’s strained equilibrium.

What she and Prox did not know was what to do after the government was gotten rid of. For that, Hathin needed a radical. Luckily, she knew where to find one.

 

It was the Lost Council who had really held the reins of power in Gullstruck, and now that all the Lost were gone, save for Hathin’s sister Arilou, Port Suddenwind’s officials had no idea what to do with themselves. A more ambitious or inspired lot might have seized the chance to take real power on the island into their own hands, but even the best of governments have few such, and on Gullstruck most of both had been possessed by the faceless man who had thought he could defy a volcano. Minchard Prox had once hoped to be able to use Camber’s many crimes as a wedge to force some light into the gloom of the Suddenwind government, but in the four years since the Lost Conspiracy had been overthrown, he had come to think better of his initial naiveté. But Prox still held the writs of emergency and plenipotentiary power that Camber had laid out for him as Nuisance Control Officer, and he now believed that he could not dissolve his own office until he had seen Suddenwind overthrown—not for its own sake, but as a symbol of the changes that Gullstruck needed to make, if its people wished to survive.

Though Suddenwind did not know it yet, it had become a Nuisance.

Prox had allies, to be sure—the Superior of Jealousy, now happily married and happier than ever in his role as a renegade; Lady Arilou, the Last Lost; and of course Hathin of the Lace herself, who was still reckoned the leader of the Reckoning, for all that that organization remained officially proscribed. He also had a shadowy protector who bore a strange resemblance to the former leader of the Reckoning, known only as Dance, who of course had been lost in the eruption of Broken Brow. But while together, these people and their friends and allies were formidable, Prox did not wish to force any more change than he had to, lest resistance take root alongside it. He wanted Port Suddenwind’s government to fall on its own sword—metaphorically, of course.

So when Hathin’s messenger-bird arrived, Prox and a few of his closest allies quietly made their way out of Jealousy and departed up the Obsidian Trail. To anyone who asked, they identified themselves as a traveling troupe of parrot jugglers, though by now most people knew Prox’s scarred face well enough—just as they knew the harm that came to those that tried to harm him.

 

Historians of Gullstruck later made their careers arguing that the Lost Revolution was over before it began; Prox’s reforms had already made the revolution years before, they pointed out, and getting rid of the ossified government in Suddenwind was a mere afterthought. (Still later, their successors would point to environmental factors such as the reawakening volcanoes and the encroachment of the Ashlands into all of Gullstruck’s viable farmland; Prox’s reforms were spurred by harsh necessity.) But other historians pointed out what Hathin would have told them, could they have asked her: it didn’t feel like an afterthought at the time. At the time, it felt only slightly less dangerous than taking wheelbarrows of soap up the slopes of Crackgem, or leading a murderous dentist into the jungles beneath the gaze of Lord Broken Brow.

Hathin was four years older, four years wiser than she had been when she’d led the Reckoning to justice for the Lace, but she still worried; the patch of troubled water in between her eyebrows was nearly permanent now. But she felt, looking around at her companions in her rented room on the outskirts of Port Suddenwind, that there was certainly nothing more than usual to worry about.

“I can work the kind of crowd-magic that we used before,” she said at last, when she had finished outlining her impressions of Port Suddenwind and its people. “But there’s no strong consensus in the streets as to what to do. There are some people who favor Prox’s reforms, and others who don’t, and others who are desperately afraid of change. None of them are strong enough in their beliefs to risk the next step. And I’m too obviously…myself.”

It was true. Hathin still had the snub features of the Lace, though these days she could choose to smile, or not, but she now looked too piratical, too distinctive, to truly blend in and stir up the crowd in the same way she had before. She was the voice of the tide at its height, not of the waves rising.

But there was a certain lanky young man in their party who now unfolded himself from his place against the wall, adjusting the brim of his own hat. “Well, that’s where I come in, isn’t it?” Tomki too was four years older, though not much wiser; he had lost some of his passion to be wronged, but none of his passion to be in the thick of the action, which for the past four years had generally meant keeping close company with Hathin and Prox.

“I suppose it is,” Prox said now, speaking for almost the first time since Hathin had begun her story. He spoke little these days, preferring to listen and then weigh counsel in his own mind. His scarred face guarded his thoughts as effectively as the most polished Lace smile. “Can you do it?”

Tomki rolled his eyes, but he smiled. “I’m everyone’s friend,” he reminded them. “Watch me.”

Prox glanced sidelong at Hathin. “I’ll keep myself out of sight, as we discussed,” he told her quietly. Four years later, there was still an edge between him and most of the Lace, an edge that had worn down only between him and Hathin, through mutual experience and respect, and between him and Tomki because Tomki truly was everyone’s friend.

Hathin nodded. “And when the time comes, I won’t.” She put on her Lace smile, the inlays in her teeth winking. Prox had learned to look past the smile, to read the small telltales around a person’s eyes, and he could see that while Hathin was worried, she was also determined, and confident.

The rest of Gullstruck looked to Minchard Prox for its directions, these days. But Minchard Prox looked to Hathin whenever he doubted that anything could be done. She had never let him or Gullstruck down yet.

 

Revolutions are tricky creatures, no less tricky than the Gripping Bird himself. Sometimes they seem to come about overnight; at others, everyone knows that they are years in the making. And though the history of Gullstruck afterwards recorded that Minchard Prox the Unforgiven and Hathin of the Lace led the revolution that brought down the Port Suddenwind government, the truth was much more complicated. To be sure, Hathin and Prox and their friends all played their necessary parts, and had they not done so, there would have been no revolution. But no revolution succeeds—or fails—entirely because of its leaders, and the Lost Revolution was no exception. Revolutions require not just people with ideas, but people to believe in them, and in themselves. The rest of Gullstruck had already realized that its traditions had become shackles that needed to be thrown off. When the people of Port Suddenwind came to believe it too—well, that was when the Lost Revolution indeed became the foregone conclusion it already seemed.

Some of those same historians would later claim that Hathin and her friends had been carefully orchestrating events in the capital for months, even years beforehand—that the overthrow of Port Suddenwind had been their first and foremost goal, rather than what it was, an afterthought that had grown out of their efforts to reorganize the world in the same way that an awkward bump grows out of a tree trunk while the tree is focused on taller things.

In the end Tomki didn’t even have to do that much talking; all the citizens of Suddenwind really needed was for someone else to say what they were all thinking. That that someone was a stranger was convenient.

There were enough bird-hubs around Port Suddenwind that it was possible to do what Hathin had told her former Reckoning friends around the island to do, which was to send messages on a prearranged day, all telling different aspects of the same story, all marked “urgent.” The imminent eruption of Lord Crackgem was on the entire town’s lips almost immediately, as well as what the bird-rumors said that Minchard Prox and the Superior of Jealousy planned to do to ensure the safety of everyone in the town. That was the sort of thing that Suddenwind wasn’t used to hearing.

There was no eruption of Lord Crackgem imminent; Hathin herself had personally begged the volcano to hold off, though she had no particular confidence that the Lord had listened any better than he usually did, which was to say, indifferently. Sometimes she wondered whether too much time hauling soap up Crackgem’s slopes had not permanently altered her outlook on the world.

Still, it got everyone talking, and two days later, the real news got everyone into action.

Arilou’s skills as a Lost had improved dramatically since she had become the Last Lost of Gullstruck. She had been, to put it politely, an indifferent student at the Beacon School at best, and she had rarely used her skills for anything more strenuous than sending her senses to her chosen home in the Sours village nearby. But now that everyone wanted things from her that only a Lost could provide, her range and stamina in projecting her Lost senses had improved considerably.

She still had not bothered to learn Nundestruth, Doorsy, or Lace, but enough Sours spoke the first two now that no one would force her to do so. It often wasn’t Arilou’s concern whether she was understood.

She’d made an exception in this case, when she’d noticed a ship flying unusual flags, a true ocean-going ship, approaching Gullstruck at a great distance. Hasty consultation between Jeljech, Therrot, and several volumes of the Superior’s library had revealed that the ship was flying Cavalcaste flags, flags no ship had flown since the armada arrived centuries before.

Arilou’s message was also marked “urgent,” and like news of the volcano, it went to every bird-post point in Suddenwind. By the time the ship in question was sighted at the edge of the harbor on the morning tide the next day, the whole town had been up half the night discussing what it all meant. Hathin stepped out of the inn that morning cautiously, but with a certain lightness too. Beside her, Minchard Prox tugged his neckcloth higher and tilted the brim of his hat a little lower, but there was no mistaking the anticipation crinkling his eyes.

They walked leisurely, hearing the city awaken around them for the first time in centuries. People were streaming towards the port, many of them stopping in the great square overlooking the harbor where the ship was tying up. By the time Hathin and Prox reached the square, half of Suddenwind was choked into the streets between them, and the other half was coming along behind.

Hathin and Prox made no effort to hear the captain of the ship themselves; the crowd carried it soon enough. “Says she’s from Cavalcaste—“ “But not Cavalcaste—“ “Not Cavalcaste! How can that be?” “The Cavalcaste code is dead! There’s an emperor now—“ “An emperor?” “But what about the ancestors?”

“He burned them!” People whispered it to one another, in fear, in amazement, in outright glee, and then they repeated it, until the shout seemed to echo all around them.

“What does the Governor think of that?” Hathin muttered to a woman beside her, the one who’d been complaining to the fishmonger the day she’d first arrived.

“That’s a good question,” the woman said, almost to herself. “What does the Governor think?” She raised her voice, and shouted. “What does the Governor think?”

Her shout became a murmur, and then a cry that echoed throughout the assembled crowd. Of course the Governor had to hear them—the Governor was the only living soul who still dwelt in the city’s central districts—but his staff had evidently decided that paying the rabble heed was a recipe for disaster. Hathin had already seen the clerks streaming out of the government buildings, clutching their tea thermoses. Whatever happened next, the Governor was more or less on his own.

It took nearly an hour for a terrified secretary to poke his head out a side door, at which point it became clear that the Governor had no intention of leaving his house. The weaver’s apprentice shouted that the people of Suddenwind wouldn’t leave either, and so the stage was set.

(The captain of the former Cavalcaste watched all of this from the deck of her ship bemusedly. She’d been sent to inquire about the possibility of opening diplomatic relations with the ancient colony; no one had considered the possibility that Gullstruck would still be clinging to the ways of the olden days, because it was frankly ludicrous.)

The sun set on a raucous scene: half the population of Port Suddenwind gathered in the city’s central square beneath the windows of the Governor’s mansion, practically picnicking: the mood was festive, even buoyant. Hathin searched the crowd for the faces of people who were opposed to whatever was about to happen, and found none. “Why not let it change?” the weaver was saying drunkenly to her husband, spots of color high on her cheeks. “What’s wrong with the world changing?”

It was nearly midnight when the secretary reappeared, pallid in the light of the hundreds of torches and lanterns people had lit, to ask shamefacedly for a list of demands, or at least minimum requirements to disburse. The shorter of the two clerks Hathin had seen gossiping over tea offered to transcribe said list, which after a few hours of feverish discussion resolved into a beautifully simple list: disband the government, relinquish the Governorship, go peacefully.

The Governor—or most likely his secretary; according to Prox, the man wouldn’t have known initiative if it had been a flicker bird and stolen his soul—negotiated for a day’s grace to vacate the residence, which request was approved. As dawn came, the flag of the Cavalcaste was lowered over the Governor’s mansion, and the offices of the government of Gullstruck, for the last time. When the colorful pieces of cloth disappeared, the crowds erupted into cheers. Hathin and Prox were seized and hugged and pounded on the back by everyone around them, out of their minds with the swift resolution of a situation they’d barely imagined such a short time ago.

It was easy enough, after the initial burst of euphoria, to make their way to the steps of the Governor’s mansion, where the people who’d been acting as speakers for the assembled townspeople were sharing a bottle of the Governor’s finest alcohol, compliments of the same secretary. They all looked rather dazed, though not more so than anyone else.

“What will we do now?” the fishmonger was asking as Hathin and Prox approached. “I mean—I guess the rest of the island ought to know that the government’s gone. And then what do we do?”

Hathin cleared her throat noisily, and all eyes flicked to her. She was used to this sort of scrutiny by now, and bore up under it. “I believe we can help with that,” Prox said quietly, at her side.

“Yes,” Hathin told them. “My name is Hathin, you may have heard of me, and this is Minchard Prox; I’m sure you’ve heard of him. We’re—well, we’re the rest of the island, the new Gullstruck. We’ve been waiting for you.”