~Chapter Thirty Five- The Emperor~
A pleasant breeze runs across the bridge past me as I wait. I place my hand on the sturdy stone beneath me, I’m always impressed by this particular bridge. The longest in the country, connecting the regions of Desi and Illesto.
When I was a child, Illesto was considered the dead end of the country. One would have to risk fording the great river separating the northern regions from the south. That or passing through Norino and Tolesta before reaching a bridge that would take one south. It’s probably why Illesto has the lowest population of any region and is still quite rural. When my Uncle became Emperor, he saw the need for such a bridge and demanded it be built.
Only a few meters from me stands several of Miro’s soldiers, each armed and clad in black. I take a seat at the side of the bridge, waiting to hear back from them. I only wished to speak to their commander. Whoever that may be.
Even after Miro’s death in Norino, their army hasn’t waivered. We remain at a stalemate. The war could go on for years unless something was done.
None of the Generals would ever seek to make peace with Miro. Especially General Raul who was distraught after the death of his daughter. I’m sure the notion of speaking to the enemy was unfathomable to him. So, I’m taking matters into my own hands.
When I tried to pass the military’s line of defense toward Miro’s army, of course they tried to stop me. But once I made it clear I was intent on going ahead, they could do nothing. A perk of being Emperor.
One of Miro’s soldiers seems fidgety, his hand hovering around the trigger of his rifle. I know it’s likely that Miro’s forces would kill me. It was why I couldn’t tell the Generals about my trip today, they never would’ve let me endanger myself like this.
If I’m killed today, so be it. Everyone will know that Miro’s forces are beyond reason then. There are worse days to die.
Miro’s soldiers turn their attention northward on the bridge. I see a
a black cloaked figure in an ebony helmet and a white figure with a silvery helmet and blue visor walking towards us. Miro is alive? No. This must be someone else donning the same guise. But why is Nirivo with him? Last I heard he went missing after the battle in Sotra.
I place my hands on my knees and push up, raising myself until I stand upright. With age, such a simple thing becomes much more difficult. Miro and Nirivo speak to those soldiers briefly before passing them by and heading towards me. Miro is walking rigidly towards, while Nirivo seems much more relaxed.
I smile graciously, “Greetings. I didn’t expect Miro himself to meet me. Or Nirivo.” I say, “I was under the impression you were killed in Sotra, Miro.”
“Perhaps I was.” Miro says derisively, his voice unnaturally deepened from within the helmet.
“I never thought I’d get the opportunity, but I’d like to thank the both of you for saving my family from the RLA back at that Equality Zone incident. It’s thanks to you two that my son is alive.” I say. I’ve been hoping I’d be afforded an opportunity to thank them.
“What’re you doing here?” Miro asks impatiently.
I stop smiling, “Well, I don’t know about you. But I’m tired of people dying.”
Miro abruptly says, anger pervading his words, “If you’re tired of people dying, you should’ve destroyed Population Control decades ago.”
“Calm down. Let’s hear what he has to say.” Nirivo says to Miro, trying to keep him in check.
“Thank you Nirivo. What is your real name? I can’t recall it.”
“Juaquin Neruda.” Nirivo responds in kind. I dare not ask Miro the same question with how tense he is.
“Juaquin. Good name. Do you mind if I sit?” I ask. “I’m quite old, and I’d prefer to sit if you find that acceptable.”
Miro hesitantly answers, “Go ahead.”
I take a few steps back and sit on the ledge of the bridge again, “Personally, I’ve never been fond of Population Control either.”
Miro scoffs again at me. I can’t blame him. It must be odd to hear the Emperor say such a thing.
I continue, “It’s true. In my youth, I spent much of my time speaking against it. I was the one who formed the original Equality Zone. It was meant to be a proof of concept that we didn’t need Population Control. But that certainly didn’t pan out. Only when I became older did I come around to Population Control’s side. Although...” I pause, ” When the PCC was first created, there was a failed rebellion. People have never ceased to protest against it. For the last 20 years, there have been people fighting against the PCC. My Cousin, General Elian, believes that after this war, Population Control will go uncontested. But I don’t think so. Even if we quash this rebellion of yours, in a few decades someone else will rise up and try again. Why do you think that is?”
Miro doesn’t hesitate to answer, “Population Control is evil. Simple as that.”
I was hoping for a bit more tact from Miro. Just when I’m about to provide my own answer, Juaquin provides his own. “I think there’s an inherit desire to protect those weaker than you. Population Control kills those deemed to be weak, so of course people will want to protect them. And maybe killing may only begets more killing.”
Miro silently nods at Juaquin’s response. I smile at Juaquin. At Nirivo. “My thoughts exactly.” I say proudly, “However its of utmost importance that our country remains strong. Population Control as it is now serves that function, but if it will bring about war after war, it may not be worth it. I’d like your help in finding some alternative.”
Miro drops his arms, and stares at me, “Are- Are you serious?” Miro utters, clearly flabbergasted.
“I’m a man of word.” I say, “Now, I don’t think this bridge is an ideal place to discuss things. I’d like to invite you to the Capitol in Desi in two weeks from today. Miro, your commanders can meet with us to negotiate over things-”
Miro begins to laugh, unsettling both me and Juaquin, “So that’s it.” Miro laughs again as he begins to pace back and forth. “You plan to draw us into a trap in Desi.” Miro says, believing he’s unveiled my true intentions.
“No. No not at all.” I say hastily. “You can bring whatever number of troops that you feel necessary. You could bring your whole army! Anything to make you feel comfortable. I plan to ask the General to pull back our forces to the capitol so you can travel to the capitol unimpeded.”
“You really expect me to believe that?” Miro accuses.
I respond in a harsh tone, “You do realize that pulling back our forces would put us at disadvantage don’t you? We’d be leaving ourselves more vulnerable in order to have this meeting with.” I tell him, trying to convince that I’m sincere. “If you’d prefer we can meet in the north. Or anywhere else of your choosing.”
Miro continues to pace back and forth. He’s much more frantic than I expected. Juaquin turns to Miro.
"Miro." Juaquin says calmly, “After everything we’ve lost, isn’t a chance at a compromise worth it?”
Miro stands in silence for a moment, arms folded.
“Come on man.” Juaquin urges him as if speaking to a good friend. I may have to look into that if I get home.
Miro speaks, “When would this meeting at the capitol take place?”
“Two weeks from today at noon would be ideal. It’ll give us both time to prepare for the negotiation.”
Miro thinks silently again. “I’ll be there.” Miro bitterly answers.
I stand and extend my hand to him, “You won’t regret this.”
Miro simply stares at my hand, “Don’t get the wrong idea, I don’t trust you. You’re clearly a hypocrite. But if there’s a chance we can work this out, I’ll entertain it.”
I retract my hand, “What makes me a hypocrite?”
Juaquin says, “Your age. You are oldest person either of us have ever seen, yet you’re untouched by Population Control. My grandpa was barely 60 when Population Control they took him. So many have been taken by PCC, yet you’ve gone unscathed.” Juaquin has a hint of resentment in his voice, but he’s controlling himself much better than Miro.
They weren’t the first to accuse me of being a hypocrite. I sigh, “On March 31st, 2021, Population Control will take my life. My son, Xander Veran will succeed me as Emperor at that time.” I continue, “I became Emperor after my Uncle’s unexpected passing. I wasn’t prepared and made many mistakes early on. I didn’t want to same to happen for the next Emperor.”
“That doesn’t excuse it.” Miro says flatly.
I slowly nod, “Maybe you’re right. Well, if you’ll allow me, I’ll be returning to Desi. I’d ask that you cease all attacks you have planned up until the meeting, and I’ll ask my military to do the same.”
“Very well.” Miro responds.
I re-enter my carriage and return the way I came... That worked out better than expected. I didn’t expect them to actually agree to a peace meeting. I was barely optimistic that I’d return alive. Unhindered I return to Desi and am met by the military who were preparing a rescue mission on my behalf. They expected Miro’s army to kill me or at the very least take me hostage.
As soon as I reach the capitol I tell everyone of Miro’s agreement to a peace meeting, and I’m met with a wave of differing opinions. Victor and Felix are both strongly opposed. Even Xander seems unsure. General Raul, peculiarly enough, is silent on the matter. I expected some backlash from him.
Ultimately Elian was the one to finally convinced them to take my side.
“If we can’t come to a compromise, we’ll just have to go back to fighting.” Elian tells everyone.
Elian takes me aside privately, “Are you sure about this cousin?”
“It’s worth talking things through.”
“Okay. Okay.” Elian says doubtfully, “We’ll have to be prepared in case they use this meeting as an opening to attack. Both at the capitol and at other key locations.”
“Of course. But if fighting breaks out, we can’t be the ones to have instigated it.”
Elian answers, “I’ll make sure of that. But if it comes to a fight, we’ll be the ones to end it.”