29 Coloine (continued)
“Listen to me, you idiot,” I said in a low voice that didn’t carry any farther than the three of us, “you can either be a hero in this, or I can make you look so foolish no one will obey you ever again. This is the new world. That village is not a threat to you. They are allies. Now, here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to…open diplomatic relations with them. You’re going to start learning their language, or teach them yours—doesn’t matter which way that goes. You’re going to trade with each other.
“And in a while, I don’t know how long, an army is going to march down that road, and you are going to help keep that village from being overrun. You’re going to do all of this because what you want, more than anything in the world, is respect. Up until now you’ve been getting it because you’re a bully, but I think you’ve just learned that that only works until a bigger bully comes along. If you want respect for a lifetime, help people get what they need. Right now, they need direction. It’s a new world and everything’s different. You get to choose what happens next.”
(I cleaned all that up and made myself sound more eloquent than I actually was. A lot more eloquent, actually. I was getting angry again, which makes me stammer, and when I tried to regain some self-control, I stammered more.)
“What are you?” he said.
“I’m a mage of the shadow world,” I said, “and I’m the wife of a Castaviran mage, and I don’t want both my worlds destroyed. Please see sense.”
I knew the moment he decided to disregard what I said by the way his lips thinned and his eyes narrowed. “Hold him,” I told Jeddan, and while the mayor thrashed around trying to get away from someone a foot taller than he was, I walked slowly toward the watching villagers. I felt so weary then, all the anger gone, leaving nothing but cold sorrow. “Hi,” I said. “Sorry about the fire. I really was just trying to get your attention. Can I ask you just one question? Who struck first, you or the, um, invaders?”
They looked at each other, mute. “Just tell me,” I said.
“We did,” said one of the men. He looked ashamed, and that lifted my spirits just a tiny bit.
“And you all thought that was okay? Because they were strangers, and didn’t speak your language, and were mysterious, and that frightened you?” I said. I looked at the man who’d spoken, and said, “What’s your name?”
“Aiden,” he said.
“Aiden, was it right, what you all did?” I said.
He raised his head to look at me directly. “No,” he said in a loud, carrying voice. “It wasn’t right. And I knew that, and went along with it anyway, because I was afraid. And I’m ashamed of that.”
“Thanks, Aiden,” I said. “What do you think you all should have done, instead?”
He shrugged. “Try to talk to them. Find out why they’re here.”
“Did you all hear that?” I said. A lot of nodding happened. “Do you agree with Aiden?” Murmuring, all of it agreement. I felt even more relieved. “Then this is what you’re going to do,” I said. I repeated what I’d told their mayor, but since I was calmer it came out more reasonable-sounding and I’m sure it was more effective. “It’s going to be hard,” I said. “But winter’s coming and I think you can both use all the help you can get.”
“We’re experienced at fading into the hills,” Aiden said, “and we’ll help the newcomers do the same.”
“You’re both newcomers,” I said, “and you shouldn’t forget that.” I glanced back over my shoulder, where the mayor hung unresisting in Jeddan’s hands. He didn’t look unconscious, just like he’d given up. “But I think this town needs new leadership,” I said. “Aiden, I’m appointing you mayor. I think you’ll do a good job for the immediate crisis. Then you can have an election, or however it is you choose your town leadership, and maybe they’ll keep you, or maybe it will be someone else, but it had better not be him.” I jabbed my thumb over my shoulder.
“You don’t have the right to do that,” someone said.
“Really? How would you like to go about it?” I said. “Because I’m interested in your suggestions.”
The voice subsided. No one else seemed inclined to speak. “Then that’s settled,” I said. “We’ll go back and tell the Balaenics what you’ve decided, so they won’t attack you when you visit them. Make peace. Make friends. You might even make marriages. I did.”
That was all there was to say. Jeddan let go of the ex-mayor and gave him a kick to the seat of his pants to propel him on his way. I pretended not to notice. We went back to the Balaenic village and explained the situation, which took far too much time because they had all these irrelevant questions they wanted to ask, but eventually we were back on the road and, coincidentally, ended up camping in the exact same spot we did last night.
Huh. I was done writing, but I want to put this in too. I was about to curl up in my bedroll when Jeddan said, “I wish I’d been able to understand what you were saying back there.”
“Maybe I should teach you Castaviran,” I said. “It’s less difficult than Balaenic.”
“Not so I could follow along,” he said, “because I could guess the content. But I’ve never seen anyone control a crowd just with words before.”
“I did nearly set all of them on fire, you know,” I said.
“That just got their attention. Whatever you were saying…they knew you meant it. If you’d told them to follow you to Hasskian, they’d have done it.”
I thought about that for a while until I had to get up and write it down because it was keeping me from sleeping. I’ve never been a leader. Haven’t had anyone to lead, for one thing, and leaders stand out, which I’ve tried not to do my whole life. I think Jeddan must have been wrong.
And yet…talking to those people, even talking to that idiot mayor, I felt…I’m not sure what. Rightness, maybe. As if I’d touched on something true and had the power to show that truth to everyone around me.
I wonder if that’s how Cederic feels. I only know a little of what leadership means, from watching him, and it seems more a burden than a blessing, all that responsibility. But it comes so naturally to him, how he listens so carefully to what people say, and sees solutions where other people see only problems. How he can command a room without saying a word. It reminds me of the day Vorantor was killed, just before the convergence, and he held everyone together even though I’m certain he was just as afraid as anyone because we still didn’t have the right kathana. I miss him so much.
I hope I dream of him tonight.