In an interview I did with A Smiling World (www.asmilingworld.com), Bill Moore asked me if Vila and Arowden’s relationship is reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet. Like with Romeo and Juliet, Vila and Arowden’s relationship would be met with great conflict if anyone ever found out. Hewenia, the city-state in which Vila and Arowden live in, is co-habited by the Hennian and Trewanian races. The two races bear much in common, unlike their human counterparts, and thus, the city-state of Hewenia was erected in order for these two races to have a place to celebrate their culture and fuse church and state.
This is a great concept for both races, but it comes with a few unique twists. Most notably (and as the story progresses, the most important) is that the city-state of Hewenia does not fall under the Norean Common Law. Due to religious differences, the Global Alliance of Noreis discovered that, in order for Hewenia to exist, they would have to have special laws that were pertinent only to them and thus cannot by governed by the rest of Noreis. In Vila and Arowden’s case, this means that they cannot be protected by the government if it is revealed that, not only are they lovers, but Vila is pregnant with a “child of mixed breed.”
In this chapter, we learn that Vila is one of the most liberal political leaders in Hewenia. She has cleverly replaced the word “religion” with the word “culture” in order to get her point across that Hewenia exists so that Hennians and Trewanians can celebrate their unique way of life. She is also, brazenly, pushing for the Separation of Religion Act, which would provide a way for her city-state to not be governed by their religious text, the “Book of Gods.” Obviously, there are a lot of parallels that can be drawn between Hewenia and various countries in our world, but I’m not even going to get into that subject just yet.
The point is that Vila has a clear goal from the very beginning of this story: she lives in a land dominated by religion, and yet she is still pushing forward and making great headway as someone who doesn’t follow the social norms of her people. The first paragraph in her chapter talks about the Well of Repentance, which is a major symbol in Hewenia. Hennians and Trewanians come from everywhere across the world to partake in a ritual that is deeply ingrained in their religion. Vila lives just a few minutes from the Well and she has never once partaken in the ritual herself. She is an outsider for her beliefs, and an even bigger outsider for committing the Greatest Sin of All.
“The greatest sin of all is for a Trewanian to love a Hennian, and for a Hennian to love a Trewanian in return. Such a love will bring about a child of mixed breed—and with the child bring about the destruction of the Trenthean and Henthean ways of life.”
Vila has that quote hidden behind a picture so that she doesn’t have to stare at it all day. She knows that she’s gotten into enough trouble already, and she doesn’t know how to get out of it. So, yes, in a way Vila and Arowden have a Romeo and Juliet relationship, but in her next chapter it is revealed that, while Arowden makes an excellent Romeo, Vila’s Juliet loves more than just Arowden. As complicated as her circumstances already are, the pot gets sweetened for her when she’s presented with a once in a lifetime offer that—well, I shouldn’t get too ahead of myself.
The second part of this chapter is the re-introduction (well, a re-introduction if you’ve read “The Interview”) of Eliza Bennihan. In this scene, Eliza reveals herself to be a younger, more spastic version of Vila herself. She’s intrigued enough by the girl’s audacity to hear her out while Eliza is requesting an internship for her, even though she knows that she’s going to tell Eliza “no” from the very beginning. Eliza reminds Vila of herself if the Vila had the freedoms brought by not being in Hennian and living in a city-state that isn’t governed by religion.
When she does reject Eliza, the girl is heartbroken, but Vila cannot let her leave looking distraught. Vila reveals to the girl that she’s had to make compromises to get to where she is, even if it doesn’t look it. Eliza is shocked by this, and refuses to make those compromises in her future. Of course, Eliza is half Vila’s age and hasn’t had any real experience in the political sphere, so she has no idea what her future is going to hold.
Before leaving, Eliza suggests that Vila is pregnant and that that’s the reason for why Eliza is getting an internship (because obviously Vila intends to take some time off for maternity leave. Eliza has no idea that Vila’s “maternity leave” would involve disappearing with Arowden forever). Vila is shocked by this allegation and refuses it. Still, the very comment resonates in both of them, and becomes a crucial part of the story as it progresses.
When Eliza leaves, Vila returns to a speech that she has to write and deliver later that day. Yes, she’s going to have to disappear before coming to term, but if she can least start the conversation of separating church and state, it will have to be enough.