The sound of the gong reverberated through the empty hallways of the Laize Soraman, or the Tower of Dawn as it was so-often called, sending the perched birds in flight, an entire empire beneath them, seemingly calm and serene tonight, deprived of its war-torn state, dazzling under the massive moon with the hopefulness of peace, a promise that hung high in the air.
The gong reached Palmeida a few seconds after its inception, where she stood at the balcony of the Tower, gazing at her world below, and seeing not the dazzle of an empire or the hopefulness of peace; instead she saw a pause – a time suspended between the sways of the pendulum, where destruction lay at both ends, and this brief time, this ether, was all there was – all the peace that this empire – that any empire would find.
It was just the law of nature, it occurred to her, for war and peace to alternate in the sands of time. Indeed, history had been observant of the shifting sands, where empires had risen, colossal in sight, and fallen, ashes once more, the fabric of time stitching war and peace as alternates, but the fabric itself being eternal, consequently something neither war nor peace could bear forever. However, despite her morbid thoughts on the future, she was happy that the pendulum was suspended for now, and a smile crept upon her, and she sighed, reveling in the moonlight, and praying, she didn’t know to whom, for the pendulum to remain suspended.
The second gong sounded, and Palmeida turned, not at the sound of the gong, but at the soft tune which had begun floating, almost invisible behind the gong, but becoming more distinct by the instant. Instinctively and unthinking, she moved towards the source. It was a tune she had heard many times before; it bore the sounds of life, of joy, of revel interspersed with darkness and madness and grief, finally resting in wisdom, in drive, in ambition. She listened to it in its entirety, engrossed and in imbibition, and only once the final strokes had been pressed did she enter the room.
The Sovereign, Vyanaar Tark, heard the applause before he saw her enter the room. He smiled, and took a bow. “Still awake?”, she asked as the stepped into dim incandescence of the room. “So are you…” replied Vyanaar. Palmeida laughed. “Yeah… It’s beautiful out there tonight, isn’t it?” Vyanaar nodded. “Peace is always beautiful…” and after a pause “Also, always elusive…”
“Yes indeed…” said Palmeida. “I was just thinking the same… Heard anything from Kerii yet?”
The Sovereign shook his head. “The last I heard was a few days ago. About the emperor signing over the Vatarian empire. I am not expecting any new communication. Anything else would indicate something being wrong. So… silence, in this case, is truly gold…”
Palmeida nodded in silent agreement. “I wonder how long the peace will last though…”
“Well, ‘factually’ speaking – the emperor won’t have enough military strength to wage another attack. And since we own most of his dominion – he won’t bother to… But, ‘philosophically’ speaking – peace for Carane could end tomorrow with a new foe…”
“The Vatarian war was horrid enough” Palmeida shivered.
“Not quite” said the Sovereign. “Jankaha was the only state that they managed to capture. A miniscule borderland compared to the vast Carane, and inhabited only by tribes – and there too we managed to minimize our damage by taking everyone underground and having the planes fly in regularly with supplies. No – this was but a shadow of a war, even their attempts at assassination were half-baked” he said with a smile.
“Not funny” For a moment, Palmeida was transported back to the interrogation room, with its dazzling white walls, the misshapen clock, and the assassin’s screams…
“No.. the real war had happened many years ago” The Sovereign’s voice brought her back. “There were two of them actually – The Great War, which Armyan the III had fought… And the rebellion…”
“…In which you had fought” Palmeida completed the sentence. She shook her head. “Yes those were truly adverse times, no word can truly define the darkness of those years …”
The Sovereign nodded. “But it taught me a lot of things. It brought me the mental strength that I needed to become a ruler. It taught me to be immensely patient. And it showed me my true purpose in life. And…” he took her hand. “…it brought me everyone that is dear to me today. You, Jermiaani, Kerii… Each of you joined me at a different point in the rebellion. When I had started, I had started alone… The rebellion took a lot from me… But I am ‘The Sovereign’ today because of it, not just ‘Vyanaar Tark’ ”
Palmeida nodded comprehending. “And what defines ‘The Sovereign’?” she asked smilingly.
“It’s just like the tune I was playing before…” The Sovereign started to play again. “…life begins with hopefulness, with earnest eyes, with empathy… And then ambition strikes, juvenile at first and bordered on the trivialities of life, but it teaches you things… Some of the intricacies of life… You begin to see the world beyond and you grow pessimistic, cynical even… This is where most of the lives stop… But this is not the end – no, this is only the chasm, the gulf – between how you begin life and how you choose to end it… And it here that you identify your true purpose in life, the drive, the ambition, not bordered on trivialities this time but fueled by the wisdom and sagacity to make the world a better place, and the abundant strength that you derive from this coupled with the intellect you have by now… This is enough to make your mark on the world, take you to dizzying heights – not for the power or vanity it may bring with it – but because from that pedestal you can truly make a difference.”
“This is what the rebellion taught you” Palmeida said “The many years in misery went on to create something beautiful for the world. It gave them a great ruler.”
Vyanaar nodded, without a hint of arrogance. Without being proud or insolent, just purely acknowledging the fact.
“And that is what defines the Sovereign…” he pondered, his fingers still on the keys, the music still afloat.
“You should chronicle it all sometime…” Palmeida said smilingly. “The many years of the rebellion, the darkness, the war, your origin, the decline of the empire, the rise of the Sovereign, the beginning of a new era… It would serve as a beacon of strength to others. It would teach them a lot of things. Like it has taught you. Most of Carane believes you are some sort of God, born in greatness. But the truth is you have built yourself this way… over the many years… and you are still not there yet, if you ask me.”
Vyanaar laughed. “All right… And what would you have me call this story, this ‘chronicle’ that you speak of?” He stopped playing the music, looking expectantly at her.
“The Sovereign’s Ambition” she said.