Lys ended up taking us to a meadow. It was a strange place and you wouldn’t expect it in the shadows of a mountain. But it was peaceful and lulled you into a state of relaxing you didn’t know possible. My worries melted away, the tension thrumming through my body disappeared along with the stress of the ongoing situation. This, I thought to myself, had to be magic.
“I have to thank you, Asha,” she said, turning to me, “you made them listened and see sense.”
“I didn’t make them do anything,” I shook my head, “that was all you.”
“Wick is right, you do underestimate yourself.”
I looked at him sharply, he was staring down at his feet, an uncharacteristically childlike action from him.
“Just because a couple of the men around that table were vocal about their opposition doesn’t mean everyone felt the same. A lot of the group were waiting for someone to say fighting wasn’t the only action we could take, but none of us understand Solo. Whether you like it or not you’re our resident expert and I think a lot of people rather respected what you had to say.”
I’d never really thought much about it before, but respect was never something I’d thought I’d have. It was always this abstract idea that I felt for other people but never once did I imagine someone would feel it for me.
“How come Sie backed down?” I blurted out. What did I say, definitely not well spoken. “I mean, he isn’t a Heben so he doesn’t follow orders from you.”
“Sie is an anomaly, he was banished from his home as a child and grew up on stories of me,” she seemed a little embarrassed by this, “he’s in awe of the legend that surrounds me so it doesn’t matter that he’s not a Heben, he’ll follow me whatever I decide.”
“What legend?” Elswick stepped forward, looking more than a little concerned. “Lys, what have you done?”
“Two hundred years and you can still tell when I’ve done something wrong,” she smiled at him. “The council are dragging their feet. You’re not the only one to form a rebellion, Wick.”
What? Elswick seemed to understand right away but it took me a few seconds to catch up. Why, in the name of the Regent, would she need to form her own rebellion? There was freedom here. People had rights, people were respected. There was law and order, no chaos.
Then it clicked. The council. They were the last word on anything. But that word had to come, unanimously, from ten different people, each leading a different land, each having their own goals and aims. It must take years to get anything done.
“Why, Lys? Why would you ever need to do that?” Elswick was sounding panicked.
“Because I wanted my brother back,” she was on the verge of shouting and I saw her eyes gleaming, but it was nothing to do with the sun and everything to do with emotion. “I’ve been on that council for decades, I’ve outlived all of my original colleagues, even the second lot, and we’re still talking about the best course of action to take. Can you imagine that?”
By this point I think we can all agree that my imagination was very shoddy. So the answer to that was a firm no.
“Throughout all that time you were stuck there, waiting for help, but none was coming because they can’t make a decision. The only thing they truly decided on was to still allow my people to travel there, travel into danger, because it would look too suspicious if we didn’t, because it might damage our chances at a treaty. For over a century I’ve seen my people head off to that land and none of them have ever come back. And I can’t stop them because I’d openly be acting against the wishes of the council. The best I could do was make sure they all knew what they were likely to face, but I could offer nothing to actually keep them safe.”
She stopped short of pleading. She wanted him to understand but she wasn’t going to plead.
“But you’re still working against them,” he said, barely above a whisper.
“Not that they’re aware of. I trust everyone here with my life, Wick. They believe in this just as much as I do.”
“Good, because it really is your life at stake,” he paused, struggling with emotion before he said the next part. “They can execute you for this.”
“A risk I’m willing to take,” she was defiant, sticking out her chin in another childlike mannerism. It struck me that perhaps they were children. I didn’t know what the average lifespan of a Heben was but if it was long enough perhaps these two siblings were barely out of adolescence. Although that left me reeling, I couldn’t imagine a human adolescent taking on the responsibilities these two did. “You gave two centuries of danger and constant stress, you woke up each morning not knowing if it was your last. Countless numbers of our people have lost their lives because of one man’s greed. It’s about time I gave up something.”
“But not your life, Lys,” Elswick, unlike his sister, was not above pleading, “never your life. Are you forgetting you went to Solo too. You were ambushed but you escaped. I doubt you managed that without any fatalities. Yes, there was a lot of stress for me there but at least I knew what was going on, at least I had some control over the events.
“You have made sacrifices, Lys, even if you don’t see them. You lost friends in that ambush and I’m sure you’ve lost friends who decided to brave Solo. And you thought you lost me too. It’s not an easy thing to come to terms with, the loss of a family member. But you coped by dedicating your life to stopping these atrocities from happening. You’ve given your time, Lys, you’ve sacrificed that to make things better. It’s not your fault if the council won’t listen. It’s theirs.”
I didn’t think his words were getting through, but if I were Lys my heart would be breaking. The agony of her big brother was there for us all to hear. She was risking her life for him, for her people and he just wanted to protect her. And why couldn’t he? After all this time spent protecting others surely he should be able to protect the one person that matters most to him.
At some point she’d turned her back on him, she was refusing any emotional reasoning. She couldn’t face her brother, almost ashamed. But she had nothing to be ashamed of, at least not yet. But I did understand why the people respected her and were happy to follow her orders. She believed in this cause, her whole life had been spent dedicated to it and, even though it was a betrayal of the council she’d drawn clear lines and refused to step over them. Things could have been so much bloodier but she saw what would happen if she started a civil war while the whole Continent was figuring out what to do about Solo. The result wouldn’t have been good. Yet, over time those lines became blurred. Faded with age.
“Lys,” it felt strange to hear my voice interceding on a sibling spat. Her back stiffened and I felt Elswick shooting a look at me. If I looked back I knew my resolve would crumble and my hastily constructed argument would dissolve. “The council is there for a reason. They might be dragging their feet but you can’t bypass them. What we were talking about earlier, as much as it’s the right path to take, we all know it’s going to lead to fighting and that really mustn’t happen without their support.”
I paused, my mouth was really dry and my whole body trembling. I felt how important the next few moments might be and Elswick’s persistent gaze really wasn’t helping. Yet, I did allow myself to feel some hope. If I was reading her body language right then Lys was listening.
“If you make that decision. If you take it out of the council’s hands and hold it in your own, then you’re fundamentally no better than the Regent. You might not be imprisoning Hebens and taking their magic, you might not be oppressing people, but you’ll be making those decisions single handed. and they’re the ones that shouldn’t be.
“There’s potential for success but there’s also a hell of a lot of potential for things to go wrong and blood will be on your hands. Everything you’ve tried to do for so long will be undone and you won’t be remembered for any of that. You’d just be remembered for being the person to betray the council, for sending innocent people to slaughter.”
I winced as I got a bit emotive with my language. That could be hit and miss. Either it would get through to her or it would drive her further away. But there wasn’t anything more I could do, I’d said my piece. I did finally look at Elswick though and there was something in the way he stared at me, it made me think I’d gone too far.
A rustle of grass and flowers told us that Lys had turned back our way. Tears were leaking out of her eyes but she didn’t bother to wipe them away. She too was staring at me, her blonde hair billowed out as a breeze rushed past us all.
“You know,” she cleared her throat, “it’s a sad day indeed when someone with a lifespan as short as yours turns out to be much wiser than someone with a lifespan like ours.”
She smiled sadly and I heard Elswick give a single faint laugh, mostly in relief. Lys slowly walked over to us and my heart rate returned to normal.
“You’re right, of course, Asha. this isn’t my decision to make, it still belongs to the council.”
She didn’t sound very happy with that, but it was better than her starting down a path that didn’t suit her.
“We’ll have to go to them,” Elswick said, grabbing his sister’s arm and pulling her to his side, a protective gesture. “you know what they’re like. I doubt they fully understand what’s going on.”
“But how do we convince them? We need to have a really good argument if we’re going to get them moving. We need something they’ve never seen before.”
Oh crap. Crap, crap, crappity, crap. I really know how to walk myself into some stupid situations.
“Me. I guess.”
They both looked at me, confusion clearly pouring out of every fibre of their being. I shrugged.
“They’ve never seen me,” I tried to explain. “I’m from Solo. You said it yourself, I’m the only one here who’s been in the middle of it. Experienced life as full-fledged citizen. Maybe if they see that someone who was relatively content to carry on with life unchanged has come all the way here to help change things, maybe they’ll understand.”
“It’s a long shot,” Elswick countered immediately.
“Oh, completely,” I agreed, “they might even decide to execute me. But at least it’ll take the focus away from Lys. Hey, if things go south you can even say I was the one influencing her and she’s innocent of whatever they want to accuse her of.”
It was an incredibly lame attempt at a joke but, evidently, neither of the Hebens were in a joking mood.
“Neither of you are going to be executed,” Elswick said, exasperated at the amount of death wishes he was surrounded by.
“But she has a point,” Lys was back to her sharp self, looking for a solution to an impossible problem. “She’s our argument. She’s the key to saving our people.”
If they weren’t careful I was going to start inflating at my own self-importance.