Surely this is not happening. What I am seeing doesn't make sense. My mother, she was taken. They must have killed her, but she's alive. He's here too. Evil, evil Binnin sits in the same room as my sweet, gentle mother. She doesn't even seem to be his prisoner; she is dressed as a fine lady. Seated beside him. This is disgusting, this is wrong. Even Arios is here, he looks so different but I still recognize him. Despite the overgrown beard and the precarious spectacles perched on top his nose. He must be wearing a wig too. His hair, usually black, is a rich red. Nothing makes any sense, this whole situation has got simply out of control. All the people in my life seem to have been flung together in some strange fantasy world.
In person, Lord Binnin is even more ghastly than his reputation. However little I expected of this man, he falls short dramatically. As if this was a fairy tale, the villain is indescribably hideous. It's not his appearance I find so offensive, although he really does look the part, rather it's the way he wears his self-importance with unbearable pride, the way he looks so totally secure and unconcerned when our country, his country, is in turmoil.
"Vita, my darling, I've missed you so much." My mother rushes towards me, arms outstretched, tears in her eyes. For all the joy I ought to be feeling right now, I am only angry. She left me thinking she was dead, I give up everything to try and find her only to find she's with him. It's cruel but I push her away. I need an explanation before I can accept all this. Whatever could my lovely mother be doing around him. She seems like a beautiful princess imprisoned by an abhorrent
monster or a corrupt king. Oddly enough neither of these are far from the truth. My mother really does have the charm and grace of a Princess. Binnin, though he does not have the title, is a king in the sense of having power and sovereignty. Yet I believe he is more truly the monster. Inhumanely cold, lacking any sort of decent emotion. Whilst committing countless abuses everyday this man sits undisturbed, his conscious suffering from lack of use.
“Vita, I can explain. I know you must be angry I left you like that with no explanation but it was an emergency. I thought you'd be able to carry on without me, to be independent, I never knew you'd cause all this trouble. I know it's my fault.”
Was my own mother really disappointed I'd tried fighting for her? That I stood up for what I believed? I suppose she had to at least pretend in front of Binnin and his friends.
“Listen Vita, it was family business. For your sake I left everything, I wanted you to have a proper family.” Still confused.
“I'm so sorry. Everything that's happened, it's been hard. There's something you should know. It's good news. Really good news. When you were little I always said you didn't have a Daddy and it was true, your father had gone. However, you obviously do have a father.” Binnin cut her off.
“Your taking too long my dear, I'm sure the poor girl's dying with suspense. Vita, meet your father.”
“Who?” I ask still unsure what is going on. I'd never thought about who my father was. I never really cared. Mum and I were perfectly fine on our own.
“Vita, I know it's a shock but try to understand, I really am you're father. Technically, I'm still married to your mother.” What? Surely I didn't come from him. My mother too, his wife. At least, even as his daughter, I would not be forced to spend a life time with the man I loathe so completely. I'm sure my mother can't feel any differently to myself. The man is evil.
“Believe me I am delighted to have both the women in my life restored to my side,” dazzling the reporters with an obviously fake grin, “My wife and my daughter. What more could I ever want?”
Still in disbelief I remained utterly speechless. If this is true, I owe my life to the only person in the world I truly hate. I hope I am not like him; I promise to be the very opposite to him. Where he is cruel and savage, I will be kind and gentle. While he seeks to cause harm I shall strive to heal and restore.
At last I have found some sort of direction in life. It is not obvious, outright opposition to the government that will do must good. Rather I am better off secretly assisting the victims of this system. I can make a difference. Or at least, when I get away from here I can. All I need is my freedom and then I shall use it to help anyone suffering. If I am the daughter of an evil man, my only hope is to be a truly good woman. I must not be anything like my father.
Arios is still here. He must have heard everything my mother and Lord Binnin said. It's so humiliating; he's the last person I'd ever want to know about this. I'm sure he will be disappointed. Even I am starting to dislike myself, to fear what I may become.
Lord Binnin has more to say.
“Oh, and just one more little point we need to clear up. I know your mother stopped using my surname but now we've kissed and made up, (my mother’s obvious discomfort suggesting the kiss was literal) and now we have agreed that you should both resume using my name. So from now on your mother shall be addressed as Lady Binnin and you shall be Miss Vita Binnin.”
So now I have to bear his name too, the name I so despise. Whenever I say the name I can't stop the contempt in my voice, yet now it is to be the name by which I am called.
“I understand this has been quite a shock and I understand what you must be going through. I can hardly expect you to talk yet so I'll get your maid to show you to your new room. I have arranged for us all to have dinner together on Thursday night so we can chat then. I know you'll need time to take this in.”
As much as I wanted to tell him I hated him, however much I wanted to show all his admirers how little his fake charms worked on me, I remembered my new resolve. Work subtly. I clenched my teeth together, avoided eye contact and left the room.
Soon I was met by a young girl who presumably was to be my maid. Quite a transition really, from prisoner narrowly escaping execution to leaders daughter. I'm hardly sure what to think. Life is so strange I have stopped trying to even speculate as to what's going to happen next. I'm always wrong. Nothing I presume to be true is ever true and everything I ever presume to be impossible happens.
My new room is beautiful. It makes such a contrast to my cell, having a bed at all is a novelty. Surely as soon as I arrived Lord Binnin knew who I was. If he was content with holding his daughter prisoner before, why has he all of a sudden changed his mind? Only a few weeks ago he was planning on executing me. He must be up to something; I just don't have any idea what exactly. Being Binnin though I know it's probably something wicked. For all the show he managed today, I know he is not a nice man. Sometimes he replicates proper feelings so well it's hard to remember he has no real emotion.
I'm sure he must be using me for something. Maybe it’s only a popularity boost, trying to make himself look more human, more approachable. He does need some support to keep his power. I fear there is something more going on. From now on I must remain on guard.
Someone is knocking at my door but I really don't want to talk to anyone right now. Not even my mother. As much as I've missed her, I am so angry right now. I'm not even sure why exactly, I know things can't be what they seem. Maybe it's because she didn't tell me about this sooner. It didn't have to be such a shock.
Arios, still in his odd disguise, comes in anyway. OK, I can't pretend I'm not glad. Arios is always welcome. Especially at a time like this.
“Allow me to introduce myself, I am the King of Mylian, at your service.” He gave me a sweeping bow and kissed my hand.
“Another identity! However do you stay in character?”
“Do you need me to prove I am still Arios again?” I nod, already breathless, knowing what he's planning.
And I was right to be speechless, again he took my head in his hands, letting his long fingers frame my face, the heat from his skin making my cheeks burn. As he brings his whole body closer I feel as if I am going to ignite. This time is different from the last, this time we have the luxury of time.
Very slowly he bends his head down towards mine, my forehead begins to tingle. My eyes are still open, he stares back. Neither of us flinch, we are not afraid of being so close. Being so weak in his arms is, surprisingly, not at all unpleasant, I don't feel uncomfortable relying on him.
The kiss is so tender and reassuring, he holds me gently but I don't care if he thinks I'm fragile. For a little while I forget everything else, it seems as if his hold is supporting me through life, I feel strong. All my worries seem far less important than this one precious moment.
“What happens if we're caught,” I whisper, though secretly I am enjoying having a guilty secret.
“That's the best bit. If we're caught I'm sure that nasty father you have will be overjoyed. I'm ever so sorry but it seems you're going to be pushed into marrying me. I understand it must be horrible to discover a horrid father and a horrid suitor in one day but...” I jumped straight in.
“This is wonderful, I can't believe it. This is wonderful news. Why? How? I mean how did you persuade him? I love you so much. I can't wait. I can be with you forever. Are you OK with this? Is it too fast? We haven't really got to know each other again yet? Are you sure you don't mind being stuck with me? Do you love me? I mean, if you do it's brilliant. It works out great because I love you and would have married you anyway. I can't live without you.”
I had to stop to breathe. Surely I had misunderstood. This was too good to be true. Why would Binnin be so kind? I'm sure he still hates me, I may be his daughter but I still mean nothing to him. Then it clicked, the story. The tale I’d loved so much of the King of Mylian and Binnin’s daughter. How’d I been so slow?
“Wow, I'm so happy, I thought you'd be horrified. I mean you're so young and getting married is such a big step I thought you'd be worried. It's so sudden too. But then I tell you and your overjoyed and it's such a relief. I really want to be with you. You're the same person I fell in love with all those years ago. Better still you've learned so much since then, developed as a person. I respect you even more now than I did then. Just please don't seem so happy about it when Binnin tells you. I think, since he can't execute his own daughter without causing a scandal, this is meant to be your punishment. For all he knows I am an odd looking foreigner and we have never met. Forced marriage to a complete stranger and being as good as exiled in an unfamiliar palace is the best punishment he can get away with for you. The more devastated you can act when he breaks the news, the more likely he is to go through with it. We all know he's a cruel, cruel man. Besides our marriage will also bring him an ally, or at least he thinks it will.”
“I understand entirely, but I don't have to act just yet.” I fall back into his arms, now I have a chance I want him more than ever. This opportunity has demonstrated how much I need to be with him. Any normal person would have doubts in my situation yet I agree to marry him with no hesitation. Before today, I was already certain he was the one, only I hadn't had to admit it until now. I never even really thought about our future; there would have been little point given the situation we were in.
Then I wasn't even sure if I had a future to look forward to but now that's all changed. We're going to be married and he is going to take me far away from here. How I long to spend every day with him, to wake up beside him every morning and to pass my days in his company. Then to be able to fall asleep again peacefully wrapped up in his arms. It is too wonderful, too extraordinary.
Arios, my husband. Me, his wife. Mrs. whatever his surname is. I know everyone says they want someone to call their own. Not me, or at least, I do want to call him my own, but I am far more eager to call myself his. In all my life I have never had a feeling of belonging. Rather I have been out of place and discontented with life.
Belonging to Arios, on the other hand, is a beautiful thought, I will be his, totally devoted and adoring. I want him to claim me for himself. Then I will know, for the first time, my place in the world.
“Vita,” he says gently, “Are you alright? You haven't said a word in ages. You suddenly seem so distant.”
“No, no I'm fine. I was just lost in my own world.”
“Are you sure? Because if you're worried or upset about this I'd rather know sooner than later so I can call the whole thing off. Don't go along with anything you're uncomfortable with. I don't want you to be unhappy.”
“Stop worrying about me. You leave me with no other choice. Although I'd rather not, I am going to have to admit that I spent all that time having appallingly soppy thoughts about you. Don't you dare threaten to call off our wedding because I spent a little while thinking how much I want to be your wife!”
He looked up at me, forcing him to meet my eye. For once he was completely serious. He didn't even have that ghost of a smile that normally lingered on his face.
“I hope you know what you're getting yourself into. Married life isn't easy. Even to a fantastic guy like me. Don't fool yourself, any couple who spend too much time together have their disagreements. We're not always going to see eye to eye. But I'm sure we can resolve our problems because I for one simply couldn’t bear to lose you.”
“Arios, I realize you're not perfect and that throughout our married life you will do stupid things. I am prepared to shout at you and tell you all your faults like any good wife. So please stop nagging me like some woman and kiss me like the very attractive man I know you are.” I could see his usual smile reemerge. Obediently he kissed me again, starting on my neck and then sliding his mouth slowly to my lips. Here with him, I could have no doubts that we should be together. He enriches my life.