~~ Chapter 15
When we arrived, I didn't really know what we were meant to do. Arios had gone through the plan with me a few times but I was never really paying enough attention. I have been so distracted lately, struggling to keep up with everything going on in my own head, never mind elsewhere.
“Arios, where are we going?” He looks exasperated. It's not that he thinks I'm stupid or even that he's annoyed I didn't listen to him. Rather, it's because when he has a plan he likes to throw himself straight into it. Everything's all set in his head.
“We are going to your father, Lord Binnin. He still does not suspect me traitor so I have told him that since he couldn't our wedding, I'd come and visit afterward. To cement our new bond.” He's is the last person I want to see.
Seeing my mother again, brought a fresh wave of guilt. Someone else I’ve forgotten. To find her like this, sat beside Binnin, such a dignified, intelligent woman reduced to the position of a slave. This was more than could be borne. I hated Lord Binnin more than ever, for as much as I've always been aware of his cruelty, this time he's hurting people dear to me. No more can I ignore his crimes, they are touching me directly. When I hear rumours of brutality I am shocked, now I am feeling it in earnest. Now it hurts.
Arios takes my hand. A comforting reminder he is near. This time I am not facing my father alone. No, this time I'm bringing another man equally powerful. Arios looks even more formidable than ever. Although duty always comes first to Arios, I realize he is angry at himself for putting me in danger. He cares for me equally as much as Ed does. His priorities, his entire outlook on life is different.
In stories people sacrifice themselves for love. In stories people sacrifice themselves for duty. It sometimes seems so easy to sacrifice oneself. But suddenly it becomes far harder when there are others involved. Nobody seems as eager to take responsibility for somebody else, to make decisions for them. Especially when it's someone we love. People babble on and on about sacrifice. I'd give anything for this and die for that. But what you'd give yourself up for is easy.
Most people would sacrifice self for love. Most would sacrifice self for duty. Everything becomes so much cloudier when love and duty get thrust together. Deciding whether to sacrifice love for duty or duty for love is are more difficult.
Arios chooses duty. Edward chooses love. And I'm stuck between the two, both loving me. Both having a duty that endangers me. If Ed were any less of a reasonable man we this would have been an awkward situation. I would have had to choose between my husband or my brother. Instead I go and do the right thing, Arios fulfils his duty to his people and Ed protects me out of love.
That is why Arios is so fierce. Despite the fact he is doing something he truly believes he must, he'd rather it be done quickly. He may have chosen his course but he takes no pleasure in it. Ed seems to be condemning Arios for putting me in danger, he doesn't seem to understand that Arios is afraid for me too. Maybe my brother underestimates me, he is protective; he is becoming crazy. I must do my duty as much as either of them.
Ed seems to have forgotten the brief time we spent together. That his people are my people too. They took me in when I had no one else. Indebted to them, their freedom is as much my concern as theirs. I promised I would finish the work they started. And even if it was not what Arios expected of me, I would still be bound to this course.
Binnin is sat before me. I do not call him father, I have disowned him. He is not something I am bound to. He is a disgrace. I am willing, even eager, to take this monster down.
“Lord Binnin,” I do not bother to conceal my sneer, “You are a common criminal. I say this knowing that whatever you do to me, whatever attempt you make to silence me, your own people will judge you accordingly. I voice the views of many in the hope that it will unite their voices. That the small and the oppressed will acquire the strength and power to speak out against you. You call me 'daughter' but we are not of the same kind. I am the sort of person who loves. I am the sort of person who forgives. I am the sort of person who is governed by good conscience. What sort of person are you? Look around you. You will see many more like me. People are born with inbuilt morality. You will never be able to take that from them. That is why they look upon your filthy deeds and they spit. And they sneer. And they are shocked and they are horrified. Without hearts and minds you are without power. Your power is crumbling, your rule is over. We shall not wait any longer. Though we may yet be few, we will stand no more for your wickedness. Already you have caused sufferings upon sufferings that can never be undone. You have brought misery. A man must do his duty or he is fit for nothing. Not even to live. You, Lord Binnin, have fallen desperately short of yours. You are unfit to be called human when there is so little humanity in you.”
Admittedly this was not the plan. Perhaps it was desperation. Or it could have been an outburst of anger. Around me are the astounded faces of men and women making their choice. They have all received some hope from a source utterly unexpected.
Soldiers burst in. Surely they are here to take me. I never learn. Yet I do not feel as if I am making the same mistake twice. Rather that I am making the same sacrifice- something beautiful in its worthiness.
Surprisingly, the soldiers don't seize me. They look calm and resolute. As if inner peace has washed through them all and swept away their bitterness. They seem freshly aired.
Lining up before Binnin, every man comes together in a huge cheer. And then they sing. Together in military unity they shout out. However they do not sing like an army. They sing softly. Longing seeps through their voices filling my heart with want. I wonder what it is they desire.
The song they sing is about freedom. About fighting strong. Each of them promises to push on undeterred until the world is set to rights.
“We were once hypocrites singing those words. Our test came and we proved unworthy of our promise. We were cowards. Our consciences ache with the sins they carry. Out of fear we have obeyed Lord Binnin and the officials. Now, out of virtue, we serve you. Vita you are good and you speak truth. Binnin is evil and a liar. We will no longer go along with his wickedness. Already we are soiled. No amends can be made for the part we played in this wickedness. But we will assist you. We may not be able to undo what has been done, but we can stop this madness now,” shouts their leader, kneeling before me, his eyes capturing a thousand sorrows. When he is finished his men join him on the floor.
“Vita, they will send for more guards. Very soon we will have a fight on our hands. We need guidance, direction and a voice strong enough to empower those weakest- the common people. You are our Queen. We subject ourselves to you. We trust you. You must take command; we will follow your orders. Have faith in us, we are willing to lay down our lives: no longer do we take pleasure in living.”
Shocked and flattered I do not know what I ought to do. I am not sure if this is my duty. Unlike Arios and Edward, I planned only to save a people. I never had any ambitions of leading a people. I fear I am not qualified. If I take on such a huge responsibility, I risk making some terrible mistake. Could I bear to have the fates of so many held in my hands? Suddenly my decisions would become so important and I find them hard enough as is it. Indecisive little girls like me cannot simply become powerful rulers.
Nevertheless, I fear I must. These people need me. I will never be able to neglect the needs of any who truly need me. Everything I told Binnin was true. I am that sort of person. As they have judged Binnin, they have judged me also. Whereas he was found incompetent, I have been found worthy. So it is my duty to take his place. It is not my choice. My people have already chosen.
Feeling the importance of this moment, I stand a little taller. From now on I am a leader. The least I can do is look like one.
“Arios, you must help me, I am uncertain still, guide me when I do not know the way. The world is my judge and my witness, I must fulfil my duty. And I love you Arios.”
“How is, “I love you Arios' relevant?”
“Maybe it's not. Maybe I just wanted to say it.” He may not have been challenging me but I still respond in defiance. Even Arios has to tread carefully around my temper. Today it's worse than usual. Admittedly I ought to work on my impatience, we'll have to get on with whatever it is we're doing now I've messed up the plan. Why couldn't I wait like the others?
Binnin I slowly regaining consciousness. When his soldiers sided with me, I suppose it showed him he isn't as secure as he thought he was. For the first time he understands what fear is. I hope he is beginning to relate to the people he made suffer.
It is odd seeing Lord Binnin look vulnerable. Though not surprising. At heart he is a coward, he's just been a rather fortunate coward up till now. Now it is his time to be tested. I think I should like to make him beg for mercy. To take away whatever dignity he has left. But I am not quite cruel enough. Vengeful though I am, I can't bring myself to wish true suffering on anyone. I shall not allow my anger to reduce me to something worse than he. Already I have taken on power, I only hope it is not my first step on the way to becoming my father.
Occasionally, when I really scrutinise my flaws, I believe I am doomed to become him. As much as I loathe him, I often loathe myself. My weaknesses leave me frustrated, my dreams leave me desperate. And I think, beneath it all, Binnin is a desperate man. He craves power. Power has lead him astray. Much as I hate him, right now I pity him. He deserves that much from his own daughter.
Unexpectedly, my mother steps in front of him and pleads for him.
“Listen Vita, your getting totally carried away here. You don't understand what your doing. The political situation in this country is far more complicated than it seems on the surface. If you trust me at all, then you must stop this at once. You will get yourself, and the rest of us for that matter, into deeper trouble than you can ever imagine. Your father has tried to do what's best for his people. He's made mistakes of course, to be blunt, he's done some terrible things, but he really is trying. And you have to let me explain. There is so much you don't know about.” Binnin himself interrupts her.
“It would be a shame to stop her now. I'm actually rather proud of her right now. Look how powerful she is. She's not a helpless child any more. Vita I'm sorry to have ignored you so long. Sometimes we have to sacrifice those closest to us to our duty properly. But now you're older, now you've found your way, I will explain the situation we're in to you and you can help sort it out. You don't know how long I've been waiting for you to find REFORMATION, I trusted they'd help you find your way. I was rather concerned to discover how quickly you left them but it seems you have managed to complete your training by yourself. Your stronger than I expected. I can't believe your my daughter. I know I have a lot to make up but we'll have to leave that for a while. There are still matters of urgency to sort out.”
I was so confused. Trying to put all the pieces together. Surprised too, after all I'd spoken against him, he did not seem angry. He even seemed a little amused. Not that I could see what could possibly be amusing in our situation.
“Oh, and I haven't congratulated you yet on your marriage, if any one can handle you, it's Arios. He's been unknowingly working for me for years now. And he probably still things I'm the enemy. You would not believe what a mess we've got ourselves into.”
My mother was holding his hand and I cringed as I noticed this gesture of affection. I was not to be so easily persuaded.
“Arios, Edward, if either of you have any idea what is happening this is the time to kindly share that information with me so we can all go on understanding one another.” Surely I could get to the bottom of this. Judging by Arios' face, I was more likely to get some kind of explanation from Ed. And I was right.
“Vita, your father really isn't the fairy-tale villain you've been pretending he is. In fact, we've been working together for years now. I didn't want to leave you behind, but you were so so young. Basically, our father was one of the officials who together ruled the country before the new system came in. As you know the country was facing huge debts and all sorts of other problems.
All at once, those we owed money to asked it back. The government could not afford to pay so they secretly sold control of the country. Technically we are ruled by a group of the worlds wealthiest men who have managed to buy us all. But to keep it secret (because of the ethical issues it would raise) we were to appear as if we were still ruling ourselves.
When Dad had managed to secure his role as the over all leader he asked me to form the REFORMATION to oppose his government (which is actually ruled by outsiders.)
Your father has had a hard job, he has been trying to appear loyal to his superiors whilst actually working on behalf of his own people. Ever wondered why you weren't executed? We had to let you face some violence but I did so trusting Arios to take care of you. He was working for me from the inside...”
“That will have to be all for now. Poor Vita has had a lot to take in. Jane, would you show Arios and Vita to their room. We will have plenty of time for discussion in tomorrows meeting. Before you go, Vita, I should thank you. You did me quite a favour stirring up the common people like that. When the true cause of their suffering is revealed, they will be ready to fight. Angry and passionate. But for now, goodnight.”
My mother obediently led us out. She is far better at playing the meek little wife than me. It's a shame we don't get more time to talk. It seems that whenever I manage to resolve one problem, another urgent crisis takes it's place. For so long I have always had something to worry about. I wonder how I will feel when I have no more pressing concerns.
“Well that was certainly not what I'd been expecting. You're lucky you didn't land yourself back in that cell you seem to be so attached to, or worse. You must be more careful, you may care little for your safety but I do. I'd rather have a living wife if that's not to inconvenient for you to manage.”
“I am afraid I am but a mortal so you'll just have to make the most while you've got me.”
“Believe me, I will.” Already he is kissing me. The words barely escaped his mouth in time. I don't feel defiant or powerful any more. My strength is nothing in comparison with his. But I am safe while he holds me.
Exhausted, I fall asleep in his arms. When I am pressed against his warmth, I am no longer confused. I know it is the one place on earth made specifically for me. We belong together. I need him and he goes as far as to want me.