The Blood of the People: VI
Politics bored the Vasaath out of his wits. He understood the necessity of it, the importance even, but he found it utterly tedious and irksome—in the company of the Vasmenaan and the Vasenon, he had nothing to say about it either way. It was not his domain.
How to govern people and creating infrastructures, that were the Vasmenaan’s and the Vasenon’s tasks. The Vasaath minded the army, the defence, the discipline of the people. Conversations about farming, role placements, and shipping plans were conversations he would rather be without.
Under any normal circumstances, he would have left as soon as the conversation had begun. The only thing keeping him from leaving the dinner altogether was Juniper. She was all alone under the scrutiny of the Great Mother, and the Vasaath didn’t have the heart to abandon her.
He tensed up when the Vasmenaan corrected her, cruelly stripping her of her titles; the Vasmenaan was not wrong, but he knew Juniper would mind. Of course, she would, he thought. She had such a strong sense of self, of identity, it would be uncharacteristic of her not to mind.
When the dinner finally ended, he waited a while before seeking out the girl. He knew he shouldn’t and it pained him so much, he could hardly bear it. He couldn’t possibly stay away from her, but he had to restrain himself.
He found her in her room, pacing. She had a scowl on her face, and her hands were curled into fists.
Upon his entering, she glared at him and huffed, “I suppose you come to defend the Great Mother.”
He furrowed his brows. “No.”
She stopped her pacing and raised her brows. “You believe she was wrong, then?”
The Vasaath shook his head. “No. She was right.” He knew it wasn’t what she wanted to hear, but it was the truth nonetheless. “Everything she said was true. The people need to be placed as soon as possible, the city needs to be repaired, and the harvest needs to be manned. If rebels get in the way of that, they need to be punished.”
“But there needs to be a—a readjustment period!” she said. “The people need time to adjust to the new rules! You can’t expect them to fall in line just like that!”
“We don’t have the time,” he sighed. “They will be taught, of course, but things need to happen at once. It may take time for them to fully comprehend the depth of the Kasenon, yes, but they need to abide by the rules from the very beginning or they will face the consequences.”
The girl huffed and started pacing again. “I cannot believe she called me ‘miss’! The nerve of that woman! I’ve been a lady all my life!”
“I told you,” said he, “we don’t have nobles.” He clenched his jaw and leaned against the door frame. “Is it that difficult for you? To let go of who you were?”
She glared at him. “Would you find it so easy, suddenly being no one? No name, no title, nothing?”
He sighed. Indeed, he, if anyone, knew the importance of titles, but he also knew the fragility of them. “Once you’ve converted, you will hold an honourable title.”
She stopped again. “Yes, once I’ve become part of the Kasenon. But I’m not that yet. I’m still a lady. I am still an Arlington. I will always be an Arlington.”
He nodded. “You’re right. You’re perfectly right.”
At those words, the girl’s grim face melted into a sorrowful frown as she sank down on the bed. “I don’t know what to think or what to feel. It’s all so… final.”
He wanted to hold her, to kiss her lips and tell her that he would protect her, but he could not—because if he did, he wasn’t certain he would be able to let go.
“I don’t think the Vasmenaan likes me very much,” she then said.
He grunted and slowly sat down next to her. “She needs to determine your character, and what role you’ll have. She will judge you harshly, but you will be placed correctly. She’s a just woman, you need not fear her.”
Juniper looked at him and frowned. “What will I be placed as?”
“I don’t know,” he said, “but you will most likely be ohkasethen, advisor of your people. With your knowledge and disposition, I’d surprised if you’d be placed as anything else.”
The girl’s silver eyes were as bright as the moon and she gently placed her hand atop his, making his heart race.
“And where does that leave us?” she whispered.
He grunted, fighting the urge to take her hand in his. “I asked the Vasmenaan to make you my vas-maasa, but she refused.”
The colour in Juniper’s face was drained within seconds and she withdrew from him. “Why did you do that?”
“Because I had to try,” he said, looking down on his hand where hers had just been laying.
She sighed. “So she knows about you and me?”
Nodding, she rose from the bed. “And we must stay apart.”
He gritted his teeth, sighing deeply. “Yes.”
The girl started pacing again, her face thoughtful. “Neema did say that whatever we have would have to stop once the Vasmenaan and the Vasenon were here, and now they are.”
The Vasaath’s gaze darkened. “Neema has nothing to do with what you and I have.”
“But it’s not allowed.”
“It was never allowed.”
She sighed and sat down on the window sill. “I need you to tell me the truth,” she said. “What are the consequences of our actions?” Slowly, she wrapped her arms around her belly and looked down. “And for what our actions may have caused?”
The general grunted and sat down opposite her. The sill was a bit too small for him, but he made do. “Are you still worried about a child?”
“I know that if there is a child, it will never see the light of day,” she muttered quietly. “I have made my peace with that, but what about the consequences?”
He furrowed his brows and sighed. “Thus far, there will be none. I have been scolded, but nothing worse than that, and since you weren’t part of the People when—” He tightened his jaw. “It’s not our task to judge you for what happened before.” He sighed. “If we were to continue, however, I would be reprimanded, harshly.” He frowned and looked out the window. “As Vasaath, I should not crave or want something for myself. To display such traits would be to display weakness, and it would compromise my people’s respect and call for challengers.”
She was silent for a moment before murmuring, “Of course.”
“And once you’re part of the People,” he continued and looked at her, “whether you’re ohkasethen or something else, intimate meetings with a vas would be prohibited unless you’re vas-maasa, or chosen. You’d be re-educated.”
“And what is re-education, exactly?”
He grunted. “You’d be repositioned for a period of time, often doing labour to serve the People. Farming, serving, cleaning—if and when your original role is lacking without you, you’d be reinstated. If never, you’d be repositioned permanently.”
Bitter defeat echoed in her face. “So, it is a prison sentence?”
The Vasaath scoffed. “No. You’d still be free. You’d only have a different role, one that will benefit the collective.”
Juniper huffed. “I’d be a labourer, a worker. I would toil until my body gives up.” She sighed grudgingly. “And you, as a leader, cannot be re-educated?”
“No.” He sighed heavily. “Any vas is positioned for life. If I neglect my duties or break the rules, I would be challenged and possibly replaced through that. Or, I’d be executed through the vote of the Vasmenaan and the Vasenon.”
Juniper’s eyes widened. “They could do that?”
He chuckled coldly. “It has never happened, but yes. They could. They could sentence me to die.”
The girl drew a ragged breath but nodded steadily. “You’d lose your head.”
“Not necessarily,” muttered the Vasaath. Surely, he thought, there were less grim things to speak of.
“Then how do you execute people?” Her voice was dark, bitter. “Do you hang them? Do you disembowel them? Oh, no, I nearly forgot—you do both.”
The general sighed deeply. “Juniper.” He furrowed his brows. “We may choose to die with honour, with respect, or we may choose to die with strength. Beheading is the way of honour, poison is the way of respect, and a fight to the death is the way of strength. We only hang those who have committed the most heinous of crimes.”
Juniper glanced out the window. “So you will let my father choose, or will you hang him?”
Clenching his jaw tightly, the Vasaath sighed. “No. It will be the way of honour.”
She snapped her head to him, her eyes brimmed with tears. “So you only let your own people choose, then?”
“It’ll be a quick death, a merciful death,” said the Vasaath. “The strike will be hard, true. He will be there one moment, and the next, he’ll be gone. There will be no suffering.”
The girl dried her eyes, sniffled, and nodded. “And if you and I were to—” She took a sharp breath. “You could die, too.”
“Here, we would never sentence kings to die unless they were overthrown.”
“It’s a safety measure and applies to every member of the Triumvirate. It’s to make sure we stay away from corruption.” He wanted to reach for her but refrained. “To make sure we always put the People before ourselves and our own desires.”
The girl sighed solemnly and gazed out the window. “At least we’ve had love.”
The Vasaath could not help himself as he leaned forwards and pulled her to him. He kissed her longingly, determinedly, while trying to suppress that this might very well be their last kiss.
When they parted, he placed his forehead against hers and said, “You will forever have my heart, menaan.”
Menaan – (ma enaan); “my love”; “an ardent confession of my deepest care”
Ohkasethen – foreign teacher
Vas-maasa – “healer of leaders”