~Chapter Twenty Eight- Rhivon~
Sunlight streams into the room. As I wake, I feel my body ache. Slowly but surely, I sit up in bed, my old bones telling me to lie still. I lean to the other side of the bed to give Ofelia a kiss but find it empty. She’s been gone for years, but it’s become habitual for me to check on her.
I sidle my legs off the bed and stand to my feet, being careful to keep my balance. Every morning, I’m reminded that I’m not as strong as I once was. Oh, how I miss youth!
I cast the window curtains aside and take in the view of the shore. I eye a clearing on the beach. Fifty years ago, I proposed to Ofelia at that spot.
Wait, was it forty? No, no. It was before that. Fifty-five? I proposed when I was... 25. No, 27. I was definitely 27 years old. It was 1970. So that was... fifty. Oh yes. It was fifty years ago. I was right the first time.
I do a brief stretch before going to the restroom. My white beard is starting to thicken; it’s time for a shave. Fortunately, I still have my hair; I wasn’t balding like Elian or Felix. I dress myself for the day. Normally I’d wear a suit, but with Xander taking over my duties lately, I don’t think I will.
Wait... No, I proposed to Ofelia when I was 26 years old. So it was forty-nine years ago. Depending on which month it was.... It was April 27th, 1970... No, it was fifty years ago. I was right the first time.
I step out of my room and find soldiers standing guard there. Ever since the war with Miro started, they’ve insisted I stay in the capitol for safety. I’ve been staying on the top floor of the capitol, one of the only floors that could see over the Capitol’s defensive wall.
The defensive stone wall around the capitol has turrets manned all around it and is many stories high. Many believe the capitol be an impenetrable fortress, but I know better. I’ve witnessed it fall when I was a child. It can happen again. This Miro seemed determined enough.
I take a stroll around the capitol, marveling at the beautiful architecture. At the eastern end of the building, I take a look outside at the green plains leading to a nearby city. Back in the days of King Dalec, that land was falling into decay from the great famine. People seem to forget how far we’ve come since then. Maybe this war wouldn’t be happening if they remembered.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the old throne room. I think about taking the stairs, but they’re far too intimidating for me now. The elevator will do. I take it to the first floor and found a boarded-up room. I ask the nearby soldiers to open the room for me. Inside is a long room with light shining in from the sides and a bronze throne covered in cobwebs at its end. It’s been decades since it was last used by King Dalec, the last King of Damin.
Dalec became king in 1935 after all other heirs had passed, sometime before I was born. He was content living a privileged life within the capitol, ignorant of the people struggling to survive outside. His neglect allowed the famine to become as severe as it did.
Our family was strong, and was able to withstand the famine to a point. But my mother wanted to do her part to help those less fortunate. One day, my mother’s generosity got the better of her. Her life was taken by those she tried to help. The famine turned people cruel.
My Grandfather Gregor and Uncle Angelo were angered so much by the loss that they went to war with the King, seeking to improve the state of the country themselves. What followed was a terrible war which raged on from 1948 to 1955. The war was known as the Veran Rebellion.
After King Dalec was killed, my Grandfather renamed the country Rhivera, after my mother. He became the first Emperor of Rhivera. For the next few years, he went to great lengths to end the famine plaguing our country. But... nothing seemed to be enough.
When grandfather passed, Uncle Angelo became the new emperor and created Population Control. In the first year of his reign, he reduced the country’s population by a third. I hated Uncle for many years after that. But a few years after he created the PCC, the famine finally ended, and the country began to recover.
I’ve always understood why people struggled against the PCC. When I was young, I was the same, abhorring the cruelty of Population Control. I thought, there must be another way. But I’ve come to accept it.
Yet... here we are, in another war. I’m sure Miro and his followers see us as no different than we saw King Dalec. So many have died already. I only hope it’ll end soon.
I look at the throne covered in dust and cobwebs. King Dalec never once tried to reason with my Grandfather during the war. If he had just once tried to speak with us, maybe those years of fighting could’ve been averted.
I don’t want to make the same mistake.
There’s a war meeting today. I have been leaving it up to the Generals and Xander to manage it, but perhaps it’s time that I get involved. I leave the throne room and ask the soldiers to board it back up.
I take the elevator to the floor of the conference room. I enter the room and find Xander and several others with a conference phone at its center. The Generals are on the battlefield and were unable to attend the meeting directly and had to phone in.
Xander and the others simultaneously stood at the sight of me, surprised to see me. I’ve been leaving Xander to take care of these meetings for quite some time, he’s clearly been stressed by the war.
“Father! I wasn’t expecting you!” Xander says.
“I thought I’d join you today,” I say, taking the seat next to my son.
Through the conference phone Elian speaks jubilantly, “Is that my cousin?”
“It is little cousin,” I answer with fervor, “How goes the war?”
“We’ve been doing well in the north. We’ve taken a strong defensive position here and have been allowing Miro to exhaust their forces attacking us. Without the advantage of a surprise attack, Miro has been having trouble taking more territory.” Elian explains stiffly.
Another gravelly voice I don’t recognize comes over the conference phone. “This is General Raul Rios of the south; I don’t believe I know who your cousin is.”
I smile, I have been staying out of the public for some time, “Nice to speak with you, Raul. I am Rhivon Veran.” I answer him.
“Rhivon? Like Emperor Rhivon?” Raul stammers.
“That would be correct,” I answer simply, enjoying his surprised reaction.
I know my time is drawing to an end. So in the last few years, I’ve delegated more of my duties to my son Xander, grooming him to succeed me. I haven’t been in the limelight of the public for a few years now. There are rumors that I already died and the government was concealing that fact. But I’m still very much alive.
“My apologies for not recognizing your voice earlier, Emperor,” Raul stammers again, seeming embarrassed.
I give a small laugh, “It’s nothing to worry about. How are things going in the south?”
Felix comes in over the conference call, “Raul and I have been fighting Miro’s forces in Joldair. However, they’ve been pushing into Sotra. They’re using the jungles to the south to aid them.”
Raul adds, “We need more troops to help us in the south without compromising the defense General Elian has built in the north.”
Elian is about to speak, but his son Victor interjects, “It’s far simpler than that. If you burn down the jungle, you’ll be eliminating a utility of Miro.”
Victor was always rash and destructive. I immediately shoot down the idea, “It’s essential that those jungles be maintained. We won’t stoop to such methods to win. Elian, can you part with some of your forces to aid our southern forces?”
“Yes, but only so much,” Elian responds flatly.
“With the rate that things are going, Miro will likely reach Sotra’s military base within a few weeks,” Felix explains sternly, “We are planning to pull our forces back to the base. Raul will head the defensive there and end their advance.”
I lean back in my chair and think for a moment before leaning in and asking, “Has any contact with Miro been attempted?”
There is silence from all parties. Xander finally breaks that silence, “No. Why would there be?”
“I’m just thinking, maybe there’s a compromise we can reach. Maybe all of this fighting is unnecessary.”
“What sort of compromise?” Raul inquires.
“Well, Miro and his followers want to end Population Control as it is today. Maybe they have some alternative method of controlling the population. I’d like to hear them out.” I explain, hoping one of them agrees.
Victor feverishly responds, “The last time we tried to make a compromise with these people, it ended with my sister being crippled. They don’t deserve mercy. ”
He’s referencing the Equality Zone Conference and Lena. One of the hardest decisions I had to make as Emperor was having Population Control take her life. But I can’t show favoritism, even for a member of my own family.
There are mutterings at the table and over the phone against any compromise. Many hate the PCC as it is, but just as many have developed faith in the system. I have faith in the system as well, but I’m not blind to the prospect of an alternative.
“It was the RLA that crippled Lena. Not Miro,” I remind him, “I’m personally tired of all this fighting. The last war we had went on for years. I’d like to avoid that again.”
Elian carefully interjects, “Cousin, I don’t think that will be necessary. If we can defeat Miro’s southern forces, they’ll be unable to recover. We’ll be able to put forth our undivided attention to the north and end their rebellion. However, if you truly believe we should try and make a compromise with them, I’ll support it.”
Ever since we were kids, Elian has always supported whatever decision I made. He doesn’t realize how much I appreciate that.
Before I can speak, Xander leans in, “That’s very good to hear. Raul’s defense must Sotra succeeds then,” He says, disregarding the comment about compromise. My son may have supported the Equality Zone a few months ago, but is much more rigid now.
They continue to speak about specific positions across the country, tactics to employ and anticipate, while I sit back in my chair and think. I don’t think I’ll be able to get them to support any sort of compromise with Miro. Not without forcing them... I may have to take matters into my own hands.