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Vila scoffed upon seeing Arowden’s copy of the ‘Book of Gods’ open to the first page on his desk. Everyone in Hewenia had the words of the ‘greatest sin of all’ memorized, especially Arowden. So why was he rereading the bold-inked words that were ruining his life?
Arowden conspicuously peered around to see if anyone had seen her enter before closing the front door. “Now that your laws have passed, can we start discussing our exit strategy?”
Vila nodded, doing her best to hide her otherwise prevalent irritation. She dropped her overcoat on top of the scorning pages of the book and prepped for their obligatory conversation; Arowden stood in silence on the other side of the room.
If tensions grew any hotter, she was going need to take off another layer of fur. Looking at him was a difficult task for her. She scanned the walls instead, noting that everything on them had pertained to his life as a devout follower of the Trenthean religion. His communion cup was mounted on the wall, beside it were rotating images of him playing in one of the many ceremonial bands. The opposite wall had more photos of him as a child at day camp, where young Trewanians were brought to first learn of the teachings that didn’t interest her. His whole life had been about following the laws of his religion, at least until he fell madly in love with her.
The walls were free of any hint of his secret love-life. She knew that she meant everything to him, but if Arowden had invited anyone over for dinner, they’d have no clue that she ever existed. Her walls were just as barren.
“I didn’t see you at the polls,” she said with a voice as stale as hardened bread.
“Why would I have been there? The Separation of Religion Act won’t pass in the state senate, and those tax allocations won’t take effect until long after we’re gone.”
Vila groaned. She spent weeks wishing that she could find the words that best described how she felt about her personal life. She wasn’t used to having one. She always thought they were overrated, and with all of the stress spurned from her love life with Arowden, she still didn't think that she was wrong to believe so.
He stepped toward her. Although calm, his face drooped. He placed his hand on her gut, causing her to quiver. “Our time here is almost up. We've got about what, two weeks left? One? Do you think we even have that?”
“I'm not trying to evade conversation about the decision on whether or not we leave this place, I'm just—”
“Whether or not we leave? We're going. We don't have a choice.”
Vila stalled and frowned.
“What I want to know is why we're still here,” he said. “We're putting ourselves at risk of being discovered more and more every day. If someone notices you, it's over. We need to leave.”
She knew he was right. Still, that didn't make much of a difference to her. “I'm not ready to leave yet.”
Arowden shrugged. “When will you be? When your water breaks? When you’re being rushed to the hospital to give birth to a kid that’ll be born looking like Gods-only-know what?”
Vila turned around and grabbed her overcoat, knocking the ‘Book of Gods’ on the floor in the process. It wasn’t done intentionally, but she couldn’t help enjoying the fitting irony. She thought that it was finally appropriate to have the talk, but her feelings told her otherwise. “I don't know, Arowden.”
“What do you think the doctors will say? We don’t know if our kid will come out green or blue. We don’t know if his skin will be scaly or smooth, or even how many arms he’ll have.”
“I think it’s a girl,” Vila said.
“Heh! Well we can’t know for sure now, can we? If we go to a doctor we might as well condemn ourselves to death, or at the very least a lifetime sentence in the Circle of Judgment!”
She went to walk by him but he grabbed a hold of her hand.
“Your life isn't the only one at risk here, Vila. Mine is, too, and so is our baby’s.”
She bit her lip and gazed up at his bright purple eyes. She could tell that he wanted to say something endearing to her. At the very least he wanted to tell her that he loved her, but would she say it in return?
Vila had to recall the happier times; like their awkward first encounter when she knocked on his door asking for his vote, only to learn that they disagreed with every one of her platforms. She thought about that argument, and how dinner spurned from it, and then somehow a kiss goodnight. As wrong as they’d both felt about the decisions they’d been making, they couldn’t help but be drawn to each other, and the secrecy had been more of a turn on than anything.
Things were different when she got pregnant. As the bump of a child in her womb grew, so too did the reality of their situation. They were both all-too-aware of their bleak circumstances. The dissimilarity in the Henthean and Trenthean religions that governed Hewenia made their laws fall outside of the Norean Common Law: the global set of rules that governed the other eleven city-states. They couldn’t flee and ask for asylum elsewhere. Their sin came with a lifelong punishment, possibly even execution. When the child came to term, they would need to disappear.
She closed her eyes and felt Arowden’s hand pressed against the heart of their unborn child. The thoughts of their plight returned to the back of her mind. “Just give me a little more time, okay? I’m not due just yet.”
He knelt down and rested his head upon her shoulder.
It had been weeks since she’d felt any sort of embrace from him. She’d forgotten how warm and cared-for he made her feel.
“I will. I know that this is tough for you.”
Her telecom started to vibrate.
He removed himself from Vila and gave her adequate room to look at who was trying to contact her. It was Dane.
Vila answered the call and Dane’s puzzled face appeared in the 4x4 inch screen. “I thought you already left for today.”
“I was about to,” Dane said, “but then I got to the most interesting call.”
Arowden’s body tensed up in front of her. Dane couldn’t see him, but he could hear the words her secretary said.
“What’s going on?” Vila asked hesitantly.
“Advisor Havelin just called. King Cirion has requested your presence.”
“The king!” Vila gasped. “What for? When?”
“He didn’t say, but he wants to speak with you immediately—before the ceremony tonight, even!”
“Thanks, Dane…” her uncertainty rattled her words. What could the king of Hewenia have possibly wanted with her? The legislation she’d fought for had been a hot topic, but was hardly worth a meeting with the leader of the entire city-state. King Cirion must have thought otherwise.
She turned the telecom off and exchanged glances with Arowden, whose face was glossed with worry.
“I guess we can't have this conversation right now even if we wanted to,” he said.
“I… I’m sorry…”
“No, don’t be. These are extenuating circumstances. They shouldn’t be, but I know that all of this is still important to you.”
She bobbed her head and slipped passed him without giving him so much as a pat on the shoulder. “We’ll talk more tomorrow?”
“Of course,” Arowden said, but by the time he finished she was already out the door.
Vila rushed to Hewenia Temple as quickly as she could. Thankfully, Arowden didn’t live far from it and the streets were quickly emptying out. Hennians and Trewanians must have been preparing for the Ceremonial Circle rituals. That was yet another reason why Dane’s message had puzzled her. Whatever the king wished to talk about, they would barely have time to discuss. The ritual would be starting within the hour.
Hewenia Temple came into view from between two convex adobe structures. It was made of wood and gold, and in the shape of an asterisk. The outer ends were only one story tall, but further toward the center the stories grew, making the temple appear to be in the shape of six staircases or a jagged pyramid. Torches that spouted orange flames were hung on each of the corners of every story.
She rushed toward the entrance and stepped inside, finding herself in an elongated room with a royal blue carpet that had gold kanji written on the sides. They were scriptures that came from the 'Book of Gods.' On one side it was written in the language of the Hennians. On the other side was the same scripture written in Trewanian. Marble columns held the glass ceiling up a full fifteen feet above her head. She was able to catch Hela as it began to set from above, as if she hadn't stepped inside of a building at all.
In the next room was the largest of the many prayer chambers within the temple. It was a square room the size of an arena and lined with statues of gods and other prominent figures. There was a gentle, euphonious hymn coming from a prayer circle to her right. Hennians and Trewanians knelt, bowed, and even cradled into fetal positions before whatever gods they wished would answer their prayers. She took her eyes from them and ventured further into the temple, quickly approaching the monarchical chambers where King Cirion and Advisor Havelin were waiting for her.
She reached the final hallway and stood before two brute guards at the door: one was a Hennian, and the other a Trewanian. She bowed before them, and in turn they then bowed to her.
“Greetings, Representative Pirral,” the Hennian guard said. “King Cirion and Advisor Havelin will see you now.”
The two guards stepped aside.
“Thank you,” she said as the Trewanian guard opened the door for her.
Advisor Havelin rose to his feet while King Cirion remained seated on his maroon fur coated throne. Despite the fact that the Hewenians kept most things about their world evenly balanced, both the king and his advisor were Hennian. The majority of the secondary government officials were made up of Trewanians. That was likely the main reasons why both Hennians kept their jobs.
“Representative Pirral,” the king was smiling. He lounged across the throne in a way as if he was a part of it. His body was relaxed, but somehow his informality only seemed to allow him to exude more power. She was half-expecting a pair of servants to appear before him and fan him with heavy leaves while a third fed him fresh fruit. “Please have a seat.”
Vila bowed while still at the entrance of the doorway of the king’s grand chambers. She did her best to focus on stabilizing her breath. She clasped her bottom two arms behind her back in an attempt to keep them from shaking. It only kind of worked, but 'kind of' was going to have to do for this meeting. As she cautiously walked across the room she kept her eyes on the king.
Across from King Cirion, Advisor Havelin stood over a chair designated for him while a seat beside him remained vacant. Advisor Havelin didn’t look nearly as intimidating as the king, but he stood straight as an arrow and appeared confident to a fault. When he took his seat, she quickly followed.
“Thank you for getting here on such short notice,” King Cirion said. His voice was deep and rippled with strength and assertion. “I wasn't sure if I gave you enough time to get here before tonight's ceremony.”
Vila wasn't planning on attending the ceremony that night, but neither the king nor his advisor needed to know that. When she spoke, her voice was timid and meek, like that of a disorderly child speaking to their headmaster. “It wasn't a hardship at all, Your Grace.”
“Good to hear.” He was still smiling. If he had disapproved of her legislation, he probably wouldn’t be. He was the king, and she was just a district representative. He could have crushed her if he so wished. “Since we obviously don't have much time to converse before I'm needed to start the ceremony, I will keep this meeting short.”
Vila nodded. She went to say ‘okay’ but the word got stuck in her throat. Deep breaths, Vila. Deep breaths.
“I have an offer for you. You're welcome to take your time and think about it, but I would like an answer from you by the end of the week at the very latest.”
She cocked her head inquisitively.
“Advisor Havelin is retiring,” King Cirion said, eying the advisor as he spoke. “He already put in his letter of resignation. It will be effective immediately upon the hiring of a replacement. We want to offer you the position.”
Vila clutched onto her chair’s armrests with all four of her hands. She stared blankly at the king for a moment, fully taking in what he just told her. Surely, she must have been hearing things. He couldn’t have called her in to offer her the second most powerful seat in all of Hewenia! “You... you are serious?”
“You're the first to be asked,” Advisor Havelin said to her. His voice didn’t exude the power that came from King Cirion, but at that moment it was no less intimidating.
Vila leaned forward to make sure that she could hear every word that Advisor Havelin was about to say as clearly as possible. “Both the king and I are very impressed with how you run your district. While there's been debate about your liberal policies with regards to our desire to keep this city-state's religious traditions our highest priority, we cannot ignore all of the positive changes you've made during your three years of political service.”
The king continued where Advisor Havelin had left off. “I could have asked someone from the senate to be my personal advisor, but I wanted to look outside the government's inner circle when coming up with a possible candidate. And we want you.”
“However, we would also like you to keep this to yourself until you've made a decision. If word about any of this gets out, well...” Advisor Havelin clenched his teeth, “a few politicians are going to have their feelings hurt. I would like my retirement and this transition to be as seamless as possible.”
“Obviously you're going to need to think about the opportunity that's been placed before you, so please take the next few days to ponder where you'd like your political career to take you.” As the king concluded, he looked in Advisor Havelin’s direction again. Vila followed the king's eyes and, at first, thought he was looking at the advisor. She saw that the king's fixation was actually on the seat that Advisor Havelin occupied, implying that it was hers for the taking.
“Thank you, and yes, I think I will need a few days’ time.” She was shocked that she went through the full sentence without a fumble. “Thank you—both of you. The mere fact that you believe that I'm the best candidate for the position means more than you could possibly ever fathom. You really do believe that I'm the best candidate for this position? I'm sorry,” she felt a rosy color spread across her cheeks. “I think all of this is still settling in.”
King Cirion answered with the hint of a smile. “Representative Pirral, you are as vibrant as you are intelligent. You have a unique and youthful perspective on our city-state and how things should be run. Yes, in my personal opinion, you are the best candidate for this position.”
Hearing those words almost made Vila hit the floor. She thought that, at best, it would be another ten-to-fifteen years before she’d get a shot at higher government. How was this happening now? “Thank you. Your words mean a lot to me. I will definitely consider the opportunity.” She didn’t know what else to say.
“Let us adjourn then,” King Cirion rose to his feet. Advisor Havelin and Vila followed suit. “The ceremony will commence momentarily. I trust that you will be there.”
“Yes, of course.” She hadn’t planned on it, but with an offer of that magnitude on the table, she couldn’t refuse him. “Thank you, Your Highness.” Vila bowed and left the room.
As she walked back down the halls of Hewenia Temple, she remained stunned at the notion that the king was interested in her being his new advisor. It wasn't until after she left the temple that she'd remembered the life growing inside of her.