Chapter 113 Convincing
The new church was really a solemn building. As if trying to show off the power of the territory, it was adorned with luxurious decorations…or was that explanation a bit too forced? Thinking these self-deprecating thoughts, I smiled at myself.
It was my first visit to this place. The reason I hadn’t visited before was the reason for this building’s construction. To protest the substitute territory leader’s activities against the church, I had abandoned my work and became a hermit at home–with all my other colleagues.
If I were to put my mood at the time into words, it would probably be outrage. Iris abandoned the church. This showed us the correct way to proceed…I believed that justice was on my side. That’s why I took action.
Even though I knew that a new church had been built, I viewed this as Iris’s way of covering up her mistakes and refused to visit the church.
…Even after it was declared that she was innocent.
No, precisely because it was declared. That caused an even deeper sense of denial–”We’ve already come so far!”
At the time, I abandoned her in the role of substitute leader. That much was true. Even though I wasn’t exactly on the side of the people from the church who victimized her directly, I stood on the side that spurned her.
No…it was because although I stood by her, I had still abandoned her that my actions were even more despicable. That’s what I thought, at least–when everything had gone to chaos, if I were to really condemn her, I shouldn’t have holed up in my home, but advised her in person…
Even though it might draw the rage of the substitute leader, I should have used my words to speak out against her, instead of abandoning everything in the very beginning because I felt that my words couldn’t express what I had to say…
But with how things had turned out, it was already too late.
That’s why I maintained my attitude. Before long I’d have to resign from my position. Even if I didn’t, I would be fired anyways…
That was when the invitation arrived, from that same substitute territory leader…Iris Lana Armenia. It wasn’t quite an invitation, but a group summoning; the moment I saw it, I smiled bitterly.
This was probably related to whether I would stay or leave. Although it wasn’t spelled out, it was easy enough to guess. The only question still remaining was: why would she put the meeting place in the church?
It was time to bring things to a head.
Yes. I pumped myself up with enough courage to come here today.
Looking around, I saw that the church filled slowly with people who had abandoned their positions like me.
I knew some of them. But because of the heavy atmosphere, none of us were planning to chat each other up, making the atmosphere even more crushing.
“Thank you for coming today.”
As if to rip apart this atmosphere, she…Iris, appeared.
With a warm smile on her face, she looked around.
“Although some have not yet arrived, the time has already come. Allow me to begin.”
Her voice echoed through the church, ringing in my mind.
“Everyone here abandoned their work as an officialwhen I was being threatened with expulsion. Today, although I came here to communicate with all of you…do any of you have anything to say to me?”
No one said anything. Even so, I wondered whether I should speak up, announce that I was quitting. But her heavy tone of voice shut me up.
“Then let me ask everyone. What is an official?”
Her expression didn’t change. It was still a smile. But somehow, this put even more pressure on everyone.
“You, over there.”
Perhaps feeling a bit impatient toward all of us who remained silent, she started to call on people.
“Yes. Officials are essential as hand and feet to the ruler of a territory, in helping them handle matters.”
The person answering had a smile on his face that seemed to say “I’ve been waiting for so long” and made a model answer.
“Is that so…then, what about you?”
She pointed to someone who was frowning because of that answer.
The one who was pointed at started to shudder.
“I…I think so too.”
“If that’s the case, then in this riot, none of you are officials anymore.”
Just like other noble women, she covered her mouth with her fan and began to giggle.
“Because, isn’t that what you did? You betrayed me, the brain, the mind. Abandoned your job as officials. If listening to the commands of the mind is your job, then I don’t need any of you disobedient limbs. Isn’t that right?”
The color drained from both of their faces.
“Then let me ask you a different question. Why is it that in this riot, you abandoned your job and stayed home in protest? You over there, can you answer me?”
Finally she pointed at me. I couldn’t look away…even though I knew that, I couldn’t help but want to avoid her gaze because of the pressure her mere presence exerted.
“…Apologies for whatever offense I may cause, but may I ask you a question instead? What is a territory leader?”
Just as I had gathered up my spirits and wanted to answer…I was planning to answer in a way that wouldn’t enrage her, but I ended up speaking up in accusation. Even I was shocked at how brazen it was.
“I don’t like it when people answer questions with questions.”
“But for my answer, your response is important.”
Perhaps it was a strong idea, rooted too deeply in my mind to be rolled back.
It had nothing to do with pride or anything else. Just as she said, when I abandoned my job as an official, we had already lost that. All we could do was act out like this in an attempt to self-sabotage.
“The job of a leader is to stay prideful, protect citizens, be kind and merciful, push the territory to become rich and fertile for growth, guarantee a certain quality of life for their people, have a sense of belonging for their territory, lead but also be led…this is what I think that a leader’s duties should be.”
“Exactly. Exactly because that was what makes a leader a leader, I abandoned my job.”
“That wasn’t a very good explanation.”
As if very dissatisfied, she frowned.
“Excuse me. I also…I also think that a leader should lead and protect the people. That’s precisely why I abandoned my job because of this riot. The church is a support for our spirits, and someone who is accused by the church cannot lead the people. Leading reforms and such is fine. But that whole event is enough to make the people question and doubt the leader’s…in other words, your reforms. So, I withdrew into my home to protest your actions.”
“Hard to believe, that you can still say something like that. Aren’t you a capable one?”
Her words ignited a flame in my heart. Before I could continue arguing, she continued to speak.
“Do you dare say that there’s nothing in your heart that just hates being bossed around by a little girl as if she knows everything there is to know?”
But what she said next cooled the flames in my heart.
Deep down in my heart, where even I hadn’t noticed anything…no, in a place I hadn’t wanted to notice in the first place…she had exposed me.
It was true. I couldn’t deny what she had said.
I had always opposed her from taking the position of substitute leader. Why was she the one that the royal family noticed, yet wasn’t punished? And how did she still become leader after that? I thought that this had to be our leader’s whims, to grant her a decorative position.
She started to continuously interfere in territorial politics. Although in the beginning I was very unhappy with this, our territory became much more vibrant after that. When I learned that she had been praised by the queen, I stifled my dissatisfaction.
This dissatisfaction reemerged once again amidst the riots, and I joined the others who were stubbornly staying at home.
“I can’t deny that I’ve had those thoughts before. But what I just said is completely true, with no pretense of deception.”
“Is that so…then, what is an official to you?”
“The limbs of the leader in protecting the people and enriching the land’s development.”
Hu~she exhaled. I sensed that in response to her reaction, my shoulders began to shudder.
I watched her expression shakily.
An expressionless, emotionless face. But in the next moment, she revealed the most dazzling smile yet of the whole meeting.
Her true smile should be beautiful enough to inspire fixation. But in that moment, instead of being beautiful, I felt that her smile was grand, magnificent, larger than life…I couldn’t help but start shuddering a bit.
“I see. I see. Then you shouldn’t have any reason to look like that, as if you’re about to be sentenced to death.”
It was only after she pointed it out that I realized that was my expression.
“Officials are limbs. If they betray me, the head, they will not be forgiven. But not reflecting and feeling remorse for one’s people is a sin even greater than that. In that case, you should feel proud for protesting against me. There’s no need to feel shame. But it’s better to say that by remaining inactive now, causing the political and economic spheres of the territory to fall into disarray, you are not protecting the people as you should. If you are officials who exist for the sake of the people, that, if anything, is your sin.”
“But…I…you had no fault, and I…”
“With all that’s happened, please do not harbor useless emotions like regret for accusing me. If you’re still hanging onto feelings like that after so long, you’re actually causing more trouble for me. Because from the very beginning, I never viewed you as companions.”
“Then what are we?”
Her words were a shock to the system.
“I don’t seek loyalty from you. All I want is the fruit of your work.”
She said this as if singing.
“If you believe you live for the people, then work for them. Not for me, but for them. Your current position isn’t just a protected one; but one that stands on the side of protecting the people. Be proud of that.”
Her words became more and more powerful.
It was almost as if they were jumping out at me.
My heart swelled, scalding hot. A fire had been kindled, one that was completely different than the one beforehand.
No, I could see it behind her as well.
It was strange. A slender woman like her, so fragile-looking that it seemed a gust of wind would knock her over–where was she hiding all that energy? I couldn’t help but try to puzzle it out.
“I don’t want your loyalty. So I won’t continue investigating this incident. Go back and get to work.”
“Are you saying that you’ve forgiven us?”
Another man asked this very courteously. It was a meaningless question–I couldn’t help but doubt myself for having that thought at all.
“Forgiving or not…I don’t demand your loyalty, so that’s a meaningless question. Those who acted out of anger toward me, or just followed the flow of everyone else’s actions…no matter what you were thinking doesn’t matter. As long as you don’t betray the territory, betray the people; that’s all I ask. Now, all of you standing here, I assume are the former…so, I invite you back. If not…”
Hearing that, she laughed.
I wanted to know, but at the same time I really didn’t.
“None of you need to know. Or, do you want to experience it for yourselves?”
Everyone there immediately began to shake their head.
“Is that so? That’s good. Then go back to work. Our time is limited.”