The Blood of the People: IX
After all those years listening to her father and learning from the fringe, she was finally a true diplomat. It wasn’t what she had anticipated as a young girl dreaming of doing something important, but she had a voice and she had the means to help her people to a smooth and fair transition, to keep them safe.
The Vasmenaan was in many ways an incredibly frightening woman, but she was fair and righteous. The Vasenon was wise and gentle, but observant and scrutinising. Between the two of them, and the Vasaath, they were a power unlike anything else. They inspired fear in the people of Noxborough, and Juniper tried her best to show them that life continued—if only they’d allow it.
It had been almost two weeks since Juniper’s placement but there had been so much to do, the days had simply flown by. The people of Noxborough were all beginning to recognise that the old ways were gone and that a new era had begun.
The nobles were called for placements first, as Juniper had suggested—and just as she had predicted, there were quite many of them who opposed the new establishment.
Many had lost family members in the mayhem, and many simply wouldn’t stand changing their lives and sharing their riches; some turned to the Builder, claiming that it would be a sin and against the Pillars to swear their allegiance to a foreign rule, and some leaned back on good old patriotism, claiming that they would never bow down to a man who was not named Arlington.
Many of them had once sat in the Duke’s council, and had held great power over the city—they were not ready to give up such power.
But the rules were harsh, and the judgments were swift; those who did not submit would die. Juniper had always felt uneasy when hearing the Vasaath speak of the dreadful rule, but when the Vasmenaan spoke of it, it sounded utterly terrifying. There was something about her voice, her soft tune but her grim words, that made the hairs stand on the back of her neck.
She tried to convince the Vasmenaan that the nobles needed a push, that they needed to understand that Death was not a ruse but reality. They would be killed unless they submitted, and better they had the chance of realising its urgency than think their sovereigns and names could save them.
“They believe the Builder will keep them alive,” said Juniper while walking alongside the Vasmenaan through Merchant’s Street. “They don’t understand the seriousness.”
“The Kasenon does not want people who submit only because they don’t wish to die,” said the Vasmenaan.
“Enough time would convince them, no?” Juniper tried. “Enough time and anyone would see the truth. You must understand, these people have spent generations opposing justice, solely because they have had the means and ancestry to do so. They haven’t yet realised that it holds no power any longer.”
The Vasmenaan sighed deeply. “So what do you suggest?”
Juniper chewed on the insides of her cheeks for a moment before saying, “If you can somehow show them that it’s not an empty threat, they might finally understand.”
“And how do you suggest we do that?”
Juniper pondered for a little while. It was a delicate matter, and a serious one. “Perhaps if we just make them think that they will die, if we—” She sighed deeply, and could barely believe she was saying what she was saying. “If we show them the gallows, they might understand that—” She huffed and shivered. No, it was too horrid a thought.
“They have already seen the gallows,” said the Vasmenaan “They’ve already seen the block. They have seen people hung from them, and beheaded. They have cheered on as poor people have been strung up for something as mortal as stealing a piece of bread.” Then she sighed. “But I do like the thought of a warning. We will execute them one at a time, and see how many changes their minds after each.”
Her breath quickened, her heart thudded in her ears, and she felt her legs cease their movements. She couldn’t walk a step further and the Vasmenaan glanced at her.
“Is something the matter, my dear?” she asked.
Juniper searched for something to say, but nothing would come out. She only stuttered, but her mind was blank.
“Come now,” said the Vasmenaan, “we will give them the opportunity to change their minds. They have you to thank for that.”
“Then why does it feel wrong?” She looked at the Vasmenaan, but the woman’s face was unreadable.
The Vasmenaan gently placed a hand on Juniper’s back and guided her along. “If everyone could do as they pleased, chaos would ensue. I am sure your father had certain strategies to maintain order.”
Juniper stuttered on words, but the Great Mother only smiled.
“My people were savages once,” she said, “fighting wars wherever we went, just to get a day’s meal or a night’s shelter, or to secure land or even a mate. We were scattered, tribal, with no sense of direction or purpose. It had been like that for aeons, so why should we change? But then, we evolved.”
The Kas woman released Juniper as she twirled her hands in front of her.
“We found Kasarath and made it our home. We realised that we had to form strict rules to ensure the survival of our people. The Mother watches over us all, so we must do what we can to make her proud. The first thing we needed to establish was order. Without it, we would tear ourselves apart.”
Sighing, the Vasmenaan gestured towards the people on the streets.
“We succeeded in uniting over two hundred clans into one strong society that has lasted for over a thousand years. We must do the same here, but such a thing does not come easy. There will always be sacrifices for the greater good.” Then she sighed again. “If one has to die to save many, then isn’t that more merciful than all having to die?”
The grim truth was hard to swallow, but Juniper wondered if they would change people’s minds or only create martyrs.
As they walked along Merchant’s Street, people looked down in fear as they passed. There were whispers, but no one dared to attack the Vasmenaan—partly because of her demeanour but mainly because of the guards that walked behind them.
Both were women, larger than any woman Juniper had ever seen before. They sported the same kinds of markings as the other soldiers, but their armours were crimson and black with gold embedded into the leather. Their features were stern and stoic, but they were both quite handsome women with high cheekbones and defined jaws. The Noxboroughers were undoubtedly frightened by them, but just as entranced.
The changes, however, were already beginning to show. People that had never seen Merchant’s Street before had sought their way there—the poor had embraced the new rule and relished in the food, medicine, and clothing that had already been distributed. The army was repairing the houses, the workers were cleaning the streets, and for someone who didn’t know a violent uprising and invasion had just taken place, this would certainly seem like a city filled with promise.
And still, Juniper felt great shame—she saw it in the eyes of the suffering, the blame. She was a traitor to her people, and to her country. If her ancestors saw her from beyond the Void, they would be ashamed as well. She had bowed down so easily and barely paid at all. She had given nothing, really, and there she was, next to the most powerful woman in all of Kasarath. Her life was not in danger, nor had it ever truly been, and now, the fates of so many others rested in her hands.
When she returned to Fairgarden, she had to close herself in lest someone saw her devastated tears as they streamed down her face. She didn’t want the shame, the guilt, or the responsibilities. She wanted none of it, and yet, she wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she neglected her people by not doing all she could to save them, now when she had the chance and the power to do so. She had disappointed them all her life—she would not disappoint them again.
And yet, she cried. Her heart ached with fear and with longing. She hadn’t seen the Vasaath since her placing and she craved his warm embrace. The thought that she might never feel it again made her cry even more.
She was a novice in politics, a meek girl with no authority or precedence. The Vasmenaan and the Vasenon would see this, would see her for the fraud she was and would punish her for it, but the Vasaath would always protect her.
A soft knock landed upon her door and she could recognise that rapping anywhere. Quickly, she dried her tears and sat on the window sill. “You may come in, Garret.”
The advisor stepped inside. Weariness was evident in his face and he seemed to have aged several years in just a few days’ time. He sighed as he joined her on the sill.
“My lady, how are you faring?”
She wanted to smile, but she simply could not. “I’m tired.”
“You’re not alone,” said he and huffed. “I was just placed, myself. I will be an advisor, like you.”
“You’re ohkasethen?” She straightened, suddenly hopeful.
Garret nodded. “At first, they wanted me dead. Reasonable, considering my position, but I assured them that I would be more useful alive than dead.”
Juniper grabbed his hand. “Please, Garret, don’t tell me you’re planning on betraying the Kas! They will find out and they will kill you!”
Garret smiled. “You don’t need to worry, my lady.” He sighed deeply. “I will always be loyal to House Arlington. I know I cannot save your father—perhaps he was always doomed—but what I can do, at least in some way, is to protect you and your brother. I know that opposing the Grey Ones is not what’s going to keep the two of you safe.”
To this, she smiled. “You’re a good man, Garret.”
He placed his hand atop of hers. “We will survive this, my dear. Together.”
He gave her hand a gentle pat before he left the room, and Juniper sighed and looked out over the city. The sun was setting, and if one didn’t know any better, one could have thought that Noxborough was peaceful.
Ohkasethen – “foreign teacher”