I am struggling to think clearly. I am stood before the building. Excitement is perfecting the image. I don't want to run; only I have people to run to now. Angry people. Strong people. People I don't want to lose. Although I have seen this building throughout my life I have never felt this way about it. This exhilaration, this trust that every time I come here it is my refuge, my new beginning. When I look straight inside, the feelings are all new. I am no longer afraid. It was once a well-kept secret, disguised by its ugliness. People didn't want to look at it, both because of what it was but they love what it now stands for. This is no longer ugly. I have not been planning my journey to this place for long, yet I have not faced the reality of my peril. I embrace it. If I walk one more step I am a hero. I am proved worthy of my people. If I turn back I am a traitor. My decision is easily made; I will not forsake those who need me.
My stage is still being prepared. This will be an event to remember. This is the day the world will change. This is the day I will change the world. All my life I have tried to find the truth. Long years I have spent searching out the path I must follow. Now time as set it before me, now I have been prepared by the best of men for the trials ahead, now I have won the hearts of a strong people, I walk on unafraid.
Time can never be owned, but these minutes will be mine. I am claiming time itself, I will bend it from it's course. I will lift my people out of despair.
Overwhelmed by the significance of my words, I run them through my head. Perhaps I should be nervous, I ought to be frightened but I am not. My feelings are too strong to be concealed. Whatever words I use, my heart will shout out. However weak my mind, however prone I may be to making stupid mistakes, today none of that matters. My heart will speak.
Words are not as important as people like to pretend. Many words can say surprisingly little. Action, desires and emotions can tell a whole story and validate it all at the same time. Words from the mind may be eloquent but still have little effect. Words spoken from the heart are far harder to ignore. Words from the heart move people to actions. Words from hearts reach inside people.
My only regret is having to go against both Arios and Ed. Although I'm not surprised at Ed, I am concerned Arios is so opposed to this scheme. Of all people I thought he'd understand my obligations to my duty and my people. If they were here this would feel so much better. Ed grounds me with his calm, soothing ways and Arios empowers me. He hardens me against the world. Neither of them have come. This is something I must face alone.
However strong I feel, I must look exhausted. Over the last few days I've had long days ending in restless lights. To be a good leader I will have to inspire confidence. Will I gain their trust? After all I am a little weary girl. How do I look mighty? I try standing taller, I push my shoulders back, I clench my hands into tight fists. Then I am distracted. From behind me I can hear a smooth musical laugh. I feel myself being encased by a familiar warm bubble. The rises and falls of the sound lift me up and down like I'm once again bobbing on those friendly waves.
“Arios! You came after all. I am so glad you're here with me, I felt awful going against you like that. Please understand, I love you, but I have to do the right thing. I'm so sorry.” He makes no answer. Stepping closer I feel static electricity running all over my body. His energy pricks my skin. His eyes are sternly set on me. I know there is no escape but I don't care in the least. He can capture me in his stare any day. As he leans his head into me, I feel his breath run down my neck. I go tense. Meanwhile, his hand is pressing into the small of my back. As usual he is taking the weight. Carrying both our burdens.
“How could I leave you my darling. I'm so proud of you. For better or for worse I stick with you. That means however stupid you're being, I have to come along and clear up the mess. And I think this time it might be the biggest mess yet.”
“Why didn't you want me to do this? Can't you see, I'm in the perfect position. I'm not only willing to do my bit. I'm eager. Remember, I am Ed's sister, like him I can't bear to let people suffer. Why are you acting like I'm doing the wrong thing?”
“Do you want to know a secret?” his whisper tickling my skin, “I am so terribly afraid Vita.” he pauses and I stroke the backs of his palms hoping to reassure him.
“You are doing the right thing and I admire you for it so much, because you're doing the right thing even when it's hard. Give me courage Vita. I have fallen short. I am a coward.”
“No, you're certainly not a coward. Sometimes you're so strong, I forget you're human. I forget you feel fear and apprehension and doubt. Arios, I can never see any vulnerability in you, forget it's there. We all fall short at times. We all do terrible things. You're not a coward. But you are a fool in love.”
“You would reduce any man to a fool.”
“Not any man,” I protest, “you forget dear Eddie.” I can tell I've injured Arios' pride. He's always so competitive with Ed. I can tell he's not pleased.
“Edward! You have to be joking Vita. He's the very worst. He probably wouldn't even let you walk down a street if it wasn't absolutely necessary for fear you'd trip over.”
“I think we're in danger of getting into a serious argument if you don't find a way to shut us both us.”
He does find a rather effective way of preventing further conversation, pulling my face towards his and kissing it breathless.
Even Ed comes along to support me, still in a tantrum. How could I have thought they would leave me? Harsh as it sounds, I will never like my father. It's a shame when he's making such an effort to have a proper relationship with me but he's not like Ed or Arios. His conscience is not rigid, he has not found a set of principles to live by. He may try to be a better person but he will never have the sense of duty or moral understanding better men have.
But he is not evil. Although he may never be a great man, he may never even be a good man, he is at least a man who tries. There is no harm in aspiring to be someone superior to ourselves. Even if we never get there, we will probably end up a better person than we would have been if we hadn't made the effort.
It is likely I am not suitable to be a great leader. I have no guarantee I will succeed in my new endeavors. Nevertheless, I am determined to try.
I step up onto the platform. Further hesitation will only make this harder. The less time I have to think this through the better. As I take my first step up I hear Arios whisper.
“You look good, the practice must have paid of- you're scary.” He knows he's safe, I can hardly punch him with such an audience looking on.
“Thank you darling.” I go along with the show but I put a slight hint of anger in my voice. It's so subtle only he will notice. He winks at me so I know my little touch hasn't gone unappreciated. Everything feels so normal with Arios here. Going before the crowd, I feel impossibly relaxed.
My time has come. Never have I been under so much pressure. But as soon as I push the opening words out, as soon as I take that first step, I begin in earnest. The whole story comes flowing out easily. My heart is speaking. For the first time, I'm not making any effort to hide my feelings.
I speak with all the passion I am driven by, I move the people with every sorrow that I'm hurting with, I unburden my worries onto them. There is a rare silence the whole time I'm talking. The sort of sombre silence you can feel. Those silences where everybody thinks as one, you are all gripped by emotion so strong it's as if you can feel each other’s feelings. Then I call them to action. This is the important bit. Now they understand the situation, this is the bit when they have to decide what to do about it. I can't force them to act, it is their decision. And they can choose to do nothing. It is up to me to stop that happening, it would be devastating.
Having always loved history, I know pride is the fault that too often comes with power. So many calamities stem from the pride of a bad ruler; I must not allow myself to fall into this trap. I am not the sort to rule with pompous ceremony, I am as lowly as my people. I would rather fight beside them; I want them to know me and to relate to me. So I am not afraid to beg.
Dropping to my knees before a whole nation, I let the tears come. Whilst talking to them, I had to go through everything I've experienced all over again. I only hope it appealed to their deepest emotions.
“That is all I have to say. Now you have all the facts, I hand all power and authority over to you. This decision must be yours to make. I am your lowly servant. Your leaders asked me to perform a service and I have done so. If you chose to fight I am willing to continue to serve you. I promise to do my best in your behalf, if you do not want to be slaves paying for the mistakes of a government that no longer exists, you must fight.
The choice is yours and I shall add no more on the topic. I will only give you this reassurance. We are all afraid at times. Often we feel weak. But it is when we are weak and when we are afraid we can find out just how strong we are. Look at me for what I truly am. Think not of me as a leader or a hero. I'm just a frightened little girl trying to do my very best. That is all you can do. You can do your very best.”
Judging by the cheers I got in response, I'd say I was successful. Arios, unable to stand back any longer ran up beside me and hugged me tight. I could tell he was proud. There was celebration in the air. This was the time for the people to take matters into their own hands. Every individual I’ve given the freedom to choose.
When Arios speaks, again there is silence. He has a special way of forcing people to listen. Somehow he could hush any rowdy crowd.
“Today you have been called upon to make a decision. No longer are your lives being dictated. Each man and each woman must make a stand. Our enemies by now will have found out they have been betrayed. I'm afraid you must make haste. Any delay could be fatal. Please, discuss your course of action. We will come back in five minutes to hear your decision. May you find wisdom amongst yourselves.”
The wait is tense. If they make a mistake I believe it will be my fault. Feeling so much at once leaves me hazy. I don't know which emotion is strongest. I try not to think for a while. There is nothing I can do until the decision is made. Worrying will not help. Then I remember a duty I have long neglected.
“Mother, I came to save you. I'm sorry. I love you. Remember that. I tried to free you from him, before it all got so complicated.”
“Vita, please believe me, I am happy with your father. I have spent too long being angry, now it is time to forgive.”
“Surely you cannot love that man?”
“Remember Vita, I chose to marry him. As you must allow your people to make their decision, you must allow me to live with the consequences of mine. I loved him once; maybe there is still a way. I am willing to try again. As you yourself said, all we can do is our best. I am not his slave as I know you presumed. Somewhere, buried beneath all that scum, I believe your father still cares for me. I have to see what's left of the man I once loved, but first I have to tear back all the filth gathered over the past few years. Wouldn't you do the same for Arios?”
That last sentence strikes me hard. It forces me to remember what Arios went through to get me back. To try and strip me back until he found the girl who loved him. The pain he endured trying to see how much of my mind was left, desperately willing me to remember.
“I wish you all the best mother. If anyone in this world is truly deserving, it is you. You love my father like no other woman would or could. May you find the man you loved.”
She embraces me and for a while I feel like a child. But when the decision is made, I must return to being a responsible adult. Lives are at stake; this is not the time for me to be overcome by sentiment.
If the people have acted on my words, then I have done my duty. I will have changed the world, proven that common people are capable of ruling themselves, that no man is any better or any worse than any other. Binnin was a powerful leader, then pressure came and he crumbled.
When I look at these people, though neither elegant nor regal, I have faith they will succeed. They do not try to face the future alone; they have not a ruler’s pride. Instead they have all drawn close together and are thinking as one.
“Your decision please,” I ask, nervous at last. Then with one mouth a thousand people shout. All so different, every voice unique, but the message the same.
“No decision has been made,” I panic, I trusted them so much, I was sure I'd done enough, “no decision has been made because there was no decision to be made. There is only one thing we can do. We can not stand by and do nothing. We are not cowards. We shall stand for it no more. Hear our voice, we speak as one. We must fight before it is too late. Nothing more shall be taken from us. Look around. You are seeing a people stood together. We are determined we are fierce. With your leadership we will succeed. We will succeed. Again I repeat, WE WILL SUCCEED!”
Maintaining their new found unity they cheer and dance together. They are right. We will succeed. I will not allow them to fail.
I glance around looking for Edward. Hopefully I have done enough to gain his approval. To my surprise I find not only my brother but a long lost friend.
When I see him at last, he is somehow completely oblivious to the crowd around him. He is not swept away like the rest of them in a tide of celebration and joy. Rather his focus is on a small figure cradled in his arms. I see a familiar tangle of black curls- Zayna. I am so happy even I forget the overpowering crowd surrounding us. Stood so close, I can see they are looking straight at each other. I wish I could see their eyes. Then again, this moment is theirs not mine. Nothing could be more perfect. The friend I thought I had lost will become my sister. I had let myself believe our paths had gone different ways, how did I not think of it? They came to the wedding together but I was too wrapped up in myself to notice them. And when he got so angry at Zac, surely I ought to have noticed how possessive he was being. Before knowing his true identity, my prejudice blinded me. When I saw his hand resting against her cheek, I'd assumed he'd slapped her. Now I see it as it truly was a tender gesture. Obvious if I'd been a little more reasonable. At last I can fully forgive him.
Here I can forgive him entirely. They have been secretly loving each other for so long. Now they kiss before all. I am so glad for Ed, she is perfect for him. She will be good for him. While he is always so cool and mellow, she is even more of a wild fire than me. Together I know they will complete each other. He can heal her wounds. Tough as she seems, I know she is vulnerable. She needs his gentle touch, he can mend anything broken.
The people have decided. Now I must guide them. I am not afraid. Until now I have not failed. Suddenly I have become important. Today I really have changed the world. The order of things is changing. I not only embrace it, I am leading the way. Even if we fail we will teach future generations an important lesson. We will show the world our strength. We will show the world our power. And finally, we will go forth and show any rulers who dare underestimate their own people, who bring oppression and corruption to their own country; we will show them they are doomed to fail. We will show them the strong will of ordinary people. And I have rekindled that fortitude.
Time will know me now.