No decision can be absolute. Such I repeated to myself, using my still hand to hold down the one clawing the gritty stone table. Only the King's scrawny, jeweled fingers dominated the silence, rustling a golden-trimmed slip out of a weaved sleeve. The King tugged up a smirk, scanning we nine Justices as we kept our heads bowed, our upright postures wall-to-wall.
The King raised the slip at eye level, sitting far down at the core of the sloped hall. We all scrutinized past the dim red lighting that obscured his face. I kept my head bowed but reached my eyes to each corner to see the other Justices. There was little doubt obsequious bunch grinned under their hoods to my right. Others to my left remained still. The King set down the slip. I locked my eyes back on my hands, now still from anticipation.
The King leaned forward on his oath-engraved podium. "At ease." With a smile upon raising our heads, he said, "Nodus dismissed. I hereby decree a complete withdrawal from all direct contact with the Doson Office Society of Negotiation for the rest of the Pure Season." I hoped for a stipulation, but he added, "All forms of contact include negotiation, solicitation, and expression pertaining to or from the Doson Office Society of Negotiation. All in agreement..."
Heat warmed my face in the chilly room. I knew this would happen. Raging thoughts overtook my attention. From the brooding of the approaching pledges I would have to vow to their consequences, I remained upright, my head bowing again.
"Stand, stand," the King chuckled. I looked up to find the other Justices already standing, then pulled myself up, bowed my head, and closed my eyes. Mind over matter, I thought — for now.
"Now, repeat after me," the King turned on his tall oath voice. "I, as a Justice," — we repeated after — "will honor the decree which has been established for this moment." — and again — "I will honor the reason behind this decision and will not defy its purpose in action and word." — almost there — "And I will hold these vows true to my duty as a Justice."
As true as could be. And we sat.
This particular trial concluded as a normal trial would have. Announcements, such as plans for festivities to come within weeks, came like passing noise, soiled with my provocation toward the pure-blooded Eltreisians again. I was sure a siege would come soon if this passive policy continued. We had already allowed the Dosonites to creep into Seson and abduct Blends for research. And no one, including myself, had any last remarks to fix it. The adjourning clauses closed the session.
Subtle whispers emerged from the right of the room. I toned it out, keeping my eyes on the inclined floor ahead, away from the King's figure waddling over to the chattering bunch. It was pointless. The pure-blooded Eltreisians won again. They always seemed to deal with issues with a privileged, contrived solution, like a spoiled child who tosses his half-eaten fruit away as a starving one watches his only chance to eat plop into a pit of waste. And now the oaths were fresh. The King would look out for any slip-ups, especially from me, the lone Tritausen Blend in the Cymerian High Counsel.
A low, disappointed voice mumbled beside me. "No further action could impede this outcome." No other Justice there could talk like Justice Losse Egmen, or "Lawless Losse" to the bigots. He knew as well as I did what trouble waited, and so did economy-concerned Justice Nyce Girol, who stood with her necklace jingling against her.
"We can at least work toward an appeal," she said. Another of the King's echoed laughs broke between. She continued. "Or we can get Seson's support and request a retrial." The cost of both solutions, especially considering how much money we had already spent on this first attempt, damaged our budget. Many of us spent all our optimism through those intense debates anyway — like a Tritausen slave in the heat all day only to earn one meal's worth of food.
"Harper," Nyce said, "What do you think about starting a petition?"
I put my life's worth of reconsideration on pause, turning to her. "Perhaps we should wait and see what happens next. If the people find out about the dismissal, then they might bring up the issue again." The three of us eyed in the direction of the King's hearty chortle once more.
I sighed and stood. "I need to take a step out." The other two stood dissatisfied, silent while far-reaching glares from the conservative group at the right watched, my sandals clacking as I hurried out of the grand hall.
Guards in obsidian armor stood against the wall across the long passageway I entered. Occasional lower-rank legislators taking small breaks from the desks at which they lived studied the pastel art circled along the curved ceiling. The unsealed, pastel clay overtook each wall panel's spicy whiffs of incense with its stony pungency.
My eyes stayed ahead. I turned toward and entered into the middle of three archways, starting up a flight of stairs. Broken clay slabbed on the narrow walls basked more of its odor with each step. It obscured any anticipation of a surprise waiting at the top.
Auroras waved its boastful colors throughout the lavender sky through the top archway. Wilted, draping trees lined the horizon afar, where the mosaic stone passageway, isolated in silver-grassed plains, led to the side entrance of the building. People conversed at small tables for evening Casper fruit tea. Brushing breeze cooled my skin and led me over to the pearly balcony railing. My hands rested upon the railing's chilled surface, my head lowering and cooling off with yet another deep breath.
My father was right, I thought. If I stayed as High Commander, if I decided to fight day and night, to keep a stone-cold face as life wilted away from friends and foes, I would have been able to find more worth in myself. I would have been able to fulfill the stereotype as the Tritausen Blend, to stay silent about the laws weighing us down, to take orders from the ones who spit at us in the face. It had to have been better like that than to misrepresent as the image of ignorance and mockery sitting in the law places.
For several years I had accepted the title the pure blooded Eltreisians gave me: the hapless Blend in an unblended society. The results of that Nodus, that bill to give our country a chance to stand against the country of Doson, almost convinced me to take no more of it, to let go of that title as the first Tritausen Blend in the Cymerian High Counsel, to allow everyone to choose for me what I was to be: an accident surviving on the thread of the Great Beasts' — the Tritausens' — mercy.
Leaning back against the railing, I watched each aurora stretch its sunny arms and vivid, rosy legs across the dusk sky. Dim stars emerged. Quiet air surrounded me, shutting out the light chatter. My eyes closed, the tickling air chilling my eyelashes as they clamped together.
I had to think. There had to be a way. My grandfather lived four miles away, so I could have stopped by there to get away for a few days. Every time I went there for one reason, especially when we took walks together, I would get something else out of it. Yet, his carpentry projects never stopped coming. It had been best to leave him be.
"Justice?" A mumble smoothed over my thoughts. I held to the moment before the voice projected louder. "Justice."
A glimpse of a snowy figure stood beside. I turned, resting my eyes on piercing, ice-colored eyes glaring back, circled with splotches of bloody paint about a white face. Damp, metallic waves let many rebel strands obey the breeze's might over them. Stained rags boxed the small body frame beneath. Claws on his webbed feet protruded within their worn sandals. A full-blooded Tritausen stood on royal grounds.
"Can I help you?" I frowned up at him.
"Salutations, Justice Celt-Sone," he bowed his neck then eased. "I am Joreph-El of Shol-Et on Traudes, higher title Ephel in the Tritausen tribe of Shol." He raised his right wrist, revealing a symbol of a square-shaped moon. The air whirred. Chatters continued. The Tritausen's eyes did not stop moving about my face after lowering his wrist. For a second I thought this was a love confession, the typical slow and dry etiquette praised in Cymerian custom. No, that would have been foolish. He most likely was a citizen — or a slave, that is — with another Nodus to raise to the High Counsel. Better yet, he could had been anticipating to hear the news of the Nodus decided moments ago.
"I'm," He started.
"Do you need someone to rescue you?" I considered he could have tried to flee from a ruthless slave master.
"No, I don't," his eyes still toggled about. "I have something to tell you."
"And... what's that?" That love confession sounded convincing now. Then he drew near, his eyes lowering, a finger stroking his pointy nose that grayed his face. He met his narrow pupils with mine. My military intuition turned on. He did say he was a Shol Tritausen. I kept my hands free and distant but maintained my eye contact and relaxed posture.
"I know you're a Blend," he said, "And — I mean — they know you are one too. The Great Elders do. And... they..." He trailed off again, and I blinked hard. He then nodded, darting his straight face down for me again.
"I'll say it straight: the Great Elders are planning to wipe out the Blends again. We've run out of options in dealing with Doson."
Squinting my eyes, I said, "Have you notified anyone else about this?"
"I haven't. The Elders sent me to wherever the nearest person with Shol was."
Shol powers — another complicated factor on the world of Eltreis. A good number of Tritausen had the capacity to use Shol powers, and Blends had their share if lucky enough to get their Tritausen ancestor's genes. The Great Elders of Shol could control the power's raw form and thus kill anyone with the powers. All entrusted the radical tribe with such indispensable power.
Then I remembered the Shol Clause. I searched the brick floor for any guilty signs of lustrous traces left by Shol power. None. It could have faded with time, a sign of a well-practiced Shol user. Or he might have appeared afar off from me. I met eyes with the Tritausen again, who moved his eyes up for the Shol auroras, each luminescent strand claiming the violet nightfall skies, he setting his hands into his pockets.
"If I can submit a Nodus on behalf of the Shol tribe, I would like to do so."
"Jerphel-El," I said, "I have no right to involve myself or any other members of the High Counsel in any matters concerning Doson until the next season. This means if I submit a Nodus regarding this, it may be dismissed immediately."
"I would be the one submitting the Nodus."
"We as Justices can face penalties, I should add. We've already sworn we would refrain, regardless if we are submitting the Nodus for someone else or not." The auroras waved many colors about his face as I watched him gulp. I felt disappointed in myself that the result of this Nodus manifested almost immediately. Helplessness consumed me, unable to help him. Slaves like him scavenged for his people's redemption for his people. And this common heritage left me with personal apprehension.
He looked back down at me, removing his hands from his pockets. "So there's nothing that can be done?"
"Well," I swallowed, "I can't say for sure right now. I'm hoping the Nodus can be appealed with some devoted effort."
"Hmm, I see. I'm sorry for taking up your time, Justice. Peace and safety to you."
"Yes," I nodded, "You as well, Jerphel-El."
He gave me a deep stare before bowing his head, turning, and starting for the flight of stairs. He gave one last look at the dark ocean above with its glaring rays, then glanced to the speculative people who glared back and then went down. He didn't seem quite worried about the Elders at all, unlike myself.
I leaned against the railing again, not turning away from the archway in which he departed. Someone as callous as me could turn down an imminent confrontation without question. Even my own life could have faced genocidal punishment. But, for sure, no decision could have been absolute. There was no other way except but to submit a Nodus myself.
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