The council of Carane streamed in solemnly over the course of the morning, occupying the wide but otherwise nondescript hall of the Carsanion Senate with their presence, their thoughts and their fears. Palmeida greeted them all as they entered and observed the gamut of expressions their minds portrayed, even though their faces through years of enactment remained impassive. She said nothing consoling however, for nothing was required to be said. The council was looking for results today, not hope. So she smiled instead, spoke politely and enquired about their well-being. She noticed something else in the behaviour of the nobles. Each took one look at the hall and enquired about their fellow councillors before stepping in. If they couldn’t find them, they chose to wait instead and proceeded only after a few of them had gathered, like a flock of birds who are only comfortable in packs. Fjor, the first to arrive in the morning, was comfortably seated and was more than amused at the behaviour of this flock who chose to stay far away from him. His frail form breathed it all in: the fear and the power. At long last, he had become a lion in the minds of the people, even if for a short time. At long last, he had made his mark on the world. He smiled to himself: a warm, true smile. Life, after all, was not in vain.
Palmeida observed Fjor’s arrogance from a distance. Only one word rose to her mind. Pity. She distracted herself by looking for others. Almost every councillor had arrived. Just two were left. From the ones that remain. Her thoughts went back to the charred remnants of the three dead councillors that lay in her hospital morgue. Mere bones where once there had been lives. The fire had taken everything from them. And there was only one person responsible for it.
Palmeida looked at Fjor again who was talking to the companion he had brought with himself, a young lad from his carpentry shop. Palmeida looked for signs of nervousness from the boy, but found none. If he were fearful of the consequences today, he was sure hiding it well. Palmeida smiled and watched the last two councillors arrive. She addressed Stizlam Tepalmi. “We are graced by your presence” The councillor smiled back although his haggard eyes betrayed his true emotions. “Today is the day for justice” he said. “This needs to end today”
Palmeida nodded. “We are confident that it will”. Stizlam nodded back. Palmeida smiled at a person behind the councillor. “So how does it feel to be alive?” The councillor turned around to find Vyanaar. “My Sovereign” bowed the councillor. Vyanaar continued “Kerii tells me you are recovering well.” The Sovereign paused. “Since after the failed assassination attempt that is”
Stizlam nodded. “The trauma still remains, but yes she is right. As you are already aware, I owe my life to her. Their attempt would not have failed, had she not aided me. Is she here today? I’d like to thank her again”
“Yes, she should be here shortly” Vyanaar said. Stizlam exited presently. “Look at them all” the Sovereign said to Palmeida when just the two remained. “The councillors are supposed to be the foundation of Carane. The combined strength on which the future of this empire rests. And look at them now.” He observed them all and added after a pause. “Weak”
“Not everyone is” Palmeida replied, titling her head to Stizlam. “Less than a week ago, he was almost killed. Most likely by a supporter of Fjor. And yet, he is here today” After a pause she said “He must have contemplated the possible consequences that the day encompasses. He knows what hangs in the balance today. The decline of certain people versus the demise of an empire. And he knows the scales can tip either way”
The Sovereign nodded. “Yes, I wish more people could show such strength in times like these.” His eyes went from the councillors and glanced over at Fjor who was still talking to the boy with elaborate gestures. There was a strength in Fjor even though he was in his final few years, the Sovereign noted. Or maybe the strength existed because he had little time left. And little to lose. The Sovereign remembered Jermiaani’s remembrance of Fjor’s conversation with him. “I might fail but I have nothing to lose” The Sovereign passed his glance from Fjor to the boy near him, the youth from his carpentry shop. Unbidden, his thoughts went to the dead girl in The Burnt Market, the one that had died during the procession. She was probably just as young as him. The thought distracted the Sovereign. He looked away from the boy. His eyes scanned the room once again.
Palmeida had followed his gaze. “Look at me” she said to him, holding his hand. “I seek vengeance as much as you do.” She could almost feel the fire that had charred the councillors, the fire that had reduced power to ashes. “But we can only have a singular goal going in there.” She paused and looked the Sovereign. “And we need to understand clearly what that is going to be”
The Sovereign nodded. “There are just so many things that can go wrong.” he said gazing in the distance.
“I understand” Palmeida said, squeezing his hand tighter. “We cannot focus on everything that can go wrong.” She smiled and recounted a tale from another era, surprised at how pertinent it seemed today. “We just have one arrow…” The Sovereign smiled. He knew where this was headed. He let Palmeida continue nevertheless. “The one arrow. It’s the last arrow. That is it, that’s what separates us from being the hunters to becoming the hunted. Everything can go wrong while firing the last arrow… But if it hits the mark…” She trailed off waiting for the true owner of the words to recite them.
“Then we push the end for another day” the Sovereign completed. “I’m surprised that you remember” he smiled.
“I couldn’t forget it if I wanted to” Palmeida replied. “The rebellion was the darkest time we have gone through” she said, shivering.
She looked at the Sovereign as he nodded. “So what is our singular goal for today, our singular target for our last arrow?”
“Justice” said the Sovereign.