The Most Important
The next days pass in a blur. They are full of sounds and tears and moving and feelings. Colors and shapes rush past my eyes, indistinguishable and unfamiliar. I do remember some things, however. Some things will remain in my memory, as clear as ever.
I remember watching Erik cry after he read what was on the paper – I had never seen him cry before. He told me that the paper was basically a transfer of power and rights from Raoul to Erik. I never asked anything more about it; it didn't seem right.
I remember the quiet moonlight in the room when I took Erik to see his child for the first time. Erik's features are sharp, outlined by the light, and I smile as I pick up Elijah carefully before handing him to Erik. With much awkwardness and hesitancy, Erik holds his son and watches him. A few moments later, Elijah opens his eyes and finds Erik. And, for the first time, Elijah smiles.
I also remember the moment that I met Claude. He speaks to me cordially for a few minutes, but he then returned to speaking with Erik. A thought crosses my mind that Claude does not like me at all.
When Erik learns of the deaths of Taurin and Nadir Khan, he hardly speaks for days; every movement and decision is stiff and forced. I cry when we finally talk about it, but his expression hardly changes. His mourning is deep and is not to be understood by anyone except himself.
And I remember one evening, very late, I lay on a couch, exhausted. Erik is writing something – I learn later that it is notes for a speaker – and I watch him lazily, admiring the graceful arch of his back and the sound of his steady writing.
"Erik," I suddenly ask. "Are we still married?"
He gives something similar to a short laugh. "Only if you wish to be." But there is a sarcastic tone to his voice.
I think of our past encounters, of the whispered words and confessions, and I am slightly hurt. "Of course I do," I say shortly.
The sound of his writing ceases, and he turns to look at me, bewilderment on his face. "You – you still wish to be wed?"
"Yes," I respond, frowning. "Did you not hear me tell you that I love you?"
There is a pause. "I – I did not believe that you meant it."
Another pause follows this. "Did you not mean what you said to me?" I ask, slightly terrified of his answer. Perhaps it was all a show, a rouse to finally achieve what he had been working for for so long. Chills cross my stomach.
"Yes, I did. It is just strange to think that you would still willingly be married to me."
"After all that has happened to us? Erik – we have a child now, and even if we did not, I would still want to be with you."
The act of Erik's assuming command came by easier than I would have ever thought. He tells me it is all because of Raoul's letter, and that without it he might still be fighting. After the first few hazy days, things settle into place. Erik completely reforms the government, destroying the "worthless, self-righteous" laws and writing up new ones that he hopes will change things for the better. The Oligarchy is formed, with Erik taking charge with unspoken agreement from the others.
The mansion is changed from its very foundations. All the men and women in black are released from their positions, and Erik generously offers them a place to stay until they find somewhere else. All the extra, unneeded clothes, bedding, and other odds and ends are distributed among the laborers, who are still wary of the new government.
"They have been promised so much for so long," says Erik one evening, looking haggard and morose. "I do not think they believe that we will be any different. A new mattress and pot will not change their lives."
But he has reduced their quota dramatically. "It is only temporary," he has said. "Those living in the city will not be able to provide for themselves for a few years, so we must give them some support. Until they learn that things are not going to be handed to them, we must give them what we can." He says that in three years the laborers should not have to turn in any quota at all. In five years, there will be no more "laborers."
A member of Erik's new Oligarchy has been visiting them regularly and making speeches, educating most of them when they are willing to listen.
The new school is actually the mansion itself. Erik has sought out the best man in each field and given them charge of teaching. The young children in the city are now required to go to the school. The laborers' children come when they are able, but, as Erik says, in five years they will come as often as the other children. Once a week, Erik goes and teaches music and a bit of religion.
Everyone is still cautious about the new rules and principles. The parents are reluctant to allow their children to go to the school, but it is now a law. Erik is displeased by his current results.
"Don't worry so much," I tell Erik one evening. Elijah sits on my lap, cooing happily. "You expect too much too soon. Follow your own advice: wait a few years."
Erik comes to my bed late one evening, without any warning at all. There is not much discussion about it – it seems to be the natural thing, and, afterwards, I feel closer to him than I have ever felt before. I still do not know everything about him; I learn every day, but I am willing to do that for the rest of my life.
The few years fall away quickly. Erik becomes thinner, more worked, but, incredibly, happier. Perhaps things are not working as smoothly as he had originally hoped, but those things are coming closer and closer to his goal. The school now offers classes in the evenings for adults; many laborers come, along with much of the city's adults. The Oligarchy manages to open a small hospital, with one of Erik's own men in charge – Aidan, I believe his name is.
And the young adults who have attended the school now work under an adult of a profession in hopes of training new workers. The new systems will not settle in for another few years, but, until then, I know I am content to wait.
Seventeen Years Later
I smile as I turn at the noise. A tall, disheveled young man hurries into the kitchen, carrying a stack of books and pulling at his necktie. He sets his books on the table and begins to scour the cupboard.
"What are you doing, Elijah?" I finally ask, leaning against the countertop. He pauses and turns toward me, his hazel eyes almost frantic.
"Oh – good morning, Mother. I cannot find my final mathematics paper. I spent over two hours working on that problem, and I can't think to look anywhere else." He resumes his searching. With another smile, I go to the table, pick up the flimsy little brown book, and pull out a sheet of paper.
"Elijah," I say, holding it out to him. He turns, sees the paper, and seizes it.
"Where did you find it?" he asks ecstatically.
"Perhaps if you didn't leave your school work lying around the house for me to pick up, you would know where it is. Now sit down – your breakfast is cold, and you must be straightened out before you go."
He takes his plate and sits at the table, looking over his problem while I straighten his necktie, flatten his hair, and smooth the pleats on his shirt and jacket. He suddenly says,
"Simon Lunceford said that I would pass today only because of Father. He told me that I wouldn't even have to show up, and I would still pass with good marks."
Having heard this for nearly ten years, I simply say, my voice soft, "You know very well your father would not intervene with your schoolwork – even if you received bad marks. Your marks are what you have earned, and not because your father is who he is, but because you have worked hard for them."
He nods absentmindedly. I think he simply needs a reassurance of this every now and again; he believes me, but he still must hear it.
"Is – is Father going to be there this afternoon?" There is some hesitation in his voice, though he tries to act nonchalant.
I pause momentarily, leaving my hand to rest on his shoulder. "I know he wants to be there, Elijah, but you do understand that he cannot just leave whatever he is doing." Elijah nods his agreement. The greatest desire in Elijah's life is for Erik to be proud of him, to be able to congratulate Elijah with full honesty and joy, and I understand that Elijah sees his proem as his first chance. Somehow, Elijah is deaf to my insistence that Erik is, indeed, proud of him.
Leaving a half-eaten breakfast behind, Elijah stands (my head now reaches his chin), bends down to press his lips quickly to my forehead, grabs his books, and hurries out the door, his dark hair becoming mussed once again as the wind catches it.
I turn back to the kitchen and begin to clean up the breakfast. Every morning there are two plates that look as though they were played with more than eaten. I sigh and begin to wash, humming slightly as I do so. This suits me. I am happy. My decisions are now my own. This morning, I chose the dress I would wear. I chose what to cook for breakfast. I chose to be with my son. And this afternoon, I will choose what to do, and what I will eat, and what I will think. These decisions are best, because they are mine.
I decide to change my dress to something more formal after cleaning the kitchen and straightening up Elijah's bedroom. Then I make my way to the mansion. The sight still makes me uneasy. I am grateful that I am not required to come here daily, like Elijah. Erik still visits weekly, but I avoid it at all costs. Elijah has not been kept in the dark concerning the events of his birth. Erik put his foot down when I suggested telling Elijah that his birth was considerably normal, and that life has always existed as he knows it. But I do not think Elijah particularly cares that he was born in the mansion. He sees it, and will always see it, as his schoolhouse. As for Erik, he is, and will always be, mute on the subject of his feelings.
The mansion's courtyard has a few other carriages. When I step out, my arm is instantly taken by the school's supervisor, who leads me, blushing and protesting, to the front row of a crowd of chairs. He speaks to me for a few minutes while other adults file in and take seats. He then excuses himself, and I sit patiently and wait. A slight platform is in front of me, with a crowd of chairs on it, facing the audience. In a few minutes, a group of nervous-looking young men file into the room and take the seats on the platform. There are only one or two young ladies sitting in the seats.
"Sexism is more difficult to overcome than a government," Erik has said to me. "You must know that it will be years before mothers are willing to let their daughters go." I know he is right; I can imagine a little daughter for myself, and the thought of sending her away to school instead of keeping her home with me is slightly disgruntling.
It does not take me long to find Elijah. He catches my eye and smiles nervously. His gaze then scans the seats near me, and his face falls slightly. When he looks at me once again, this time questioning, I only shrug and smile apologetically. Elijah looks away. I know he is upset, and I make a mental note to speak with Erik this evening.
The school supervisor then steps onto the platform and addresses us briefly, and then he begins to announce names. These are the boys who have been deemed eligible to leave the school, those who have passed their final examinations with good marks and are now worthy to take their place amongst the people. Even though I know that Elijah's name will be called, I cannot help but feel anxiety creeping in. There is slight applause for each name, and the young man called stands and smiles, relieved, before sitting back down. Finally, Elijah's name is called, and his face breaks into a wide grin as he stands. I smile at him and clap appropriately, but I suddenly feel much more saddened by the fact that Erik did not come. When the announcing is over, Elijah makes his way to me, and I wrap my arms around him, forcing him to lean down to allow me to kiss his cheek. He grumbles his embarrassment and then straightens.
"Would you like me to take you home?" he asks.
"Of course not," I say, smiling. "You should be with your friends. Just please don't cause trouble!"
He laughs and then turns, heading over to a group of other young men who hail him as he comes. People force their way over to speak with me when Elijah is gone; it is well-known that I am married to Erik. It is near-dark when I finally arrive home, and I change and then make dinner. Elijah bursts into the house near eight o' clock, looking windswept and radiant. He actually eats most of the things on his plate and then disappears up into his bedroom. After preparing a plate for Erik (however highly unnecessary), I go to my room and begin preparations for bed.
At long last, Erik enters the room, and I allow him a few minutes to become settled.
"How are you this evening?" he asks me, pulling off his jacket.
"Well," I say. "How are you?"
He shrugs, elegantly and yet somehow completely casually.
"How is the new hospital coming?"
He sighs tiredly. "Let's not talk of business tonight, Christine."
I seize this moment, grateful for his cutting off the beginning pleasantries. "Very well. Did you know that your son passed his final examination today?"
Fumbling with his necktie, he murmurs, "Hmm. Good."
There is a slight pause. "He was very disappointed that you were not there."
"I cannot seem to get this blasted thing untied. Come here, Christine, and help me."
With a roll of my eyes, I approach him and reach for the tie. Swiftly, he takes my hands and then kisses me. Every time he does something like this, I fall in love with him even more. Erik pulls away and looks at me. His golden eyes search mine, looking for something.
"I was there this afternoon," he finally says. "In the back, where no one could see me."
"Perhaps you should tell Elijah this. He cared more than I did."
"I don't feel much like speaking to anyone else tonight except you," he says blatantly. He rubs three fingers over his masked cheek slowly, watching for my reaction. But before I am able to say anything, there is a swift knock on the door, and Elijah enters.
"Mother, I have to – Oh." He stops short at the sight of Erik. "Good evening, Father." Elijah's voice changes from affectionate to strictly respectful as he switches to whom he is talking. "I didn't know you were home. I'm sorry I intruded." He steps out of the room.
"Wait, Elijah," I say, glancing meaningfully at Erik, who glares sourly at me. "Your father wishes to speak with you about some things."
Elijah watches us carefully, nodding as he does so. "What is it, Father?"
I slip out of the room, closing the door behind me. There have been many times when Erik and Elijah have spoken privately, but I know that this will be one of the most significant. They will speak about government and being men, and I am happy to let them do that. I want to continue to care for the two most important people in my existence.
My mind drifts back to the others that I cared for. Nadir Khan and Clara and Taurin…Raoul. Somehow I feel as though they knew their fates, and yet they continued, hoping that life would eventually come to what it is now: a father and son talking about things that are now so ordinary: school and work and other simple things. I cannot feel disappointed in the way my family has turned out, because there is nothing to be disappointed about. When I remember the turmoil of those years ago, it seems impossible that that life was once lived by me.
The things we have struggled and fought for, they have all led down to these simple, easy things, because they are the most important. They build and grow, and they will eventually turn out to be big things. In the end, it was not so much a change in the government: it was a change in the people. It was their willingness to accept the change and try. It is the fact that their families will prepare them to deal with new things. If these few generations fall away, and the government turns back into what it once was, there is the fact that those educated will realize what it is and denounce it. The securing of the future begins with the smallest of children, who grow up to know and see and experience, and they will be taught to understand and think. And when I think about Elijah and all that he knows, I cannot worry about what will come. I know that the goodness will prevail, and that there will be a person like Erik to bring us to the light. Perhaps it will not always be by the most obvious means, but we will get there, in the end. And the end will come, no matter what we do.
I don't usually like doing author's notes at the end of stories, but I feel that I need to for this one. First off, I'd like to really thank everyone for staying with this story until the end. I know it was confusing, but hopefully everything makes sense by now. For the sake of some of the biggest questions, I will give you answers. Hopefully you already know this, however.
Erik did not shoot Raoul in Chapter 22. If you remember, Raoul had both guns. Raoul was not able to have children. He was infertile, which could not be allowed with his position of power. Near the end, he suspected this, which is why he tried so hard to impregnate Christine. He knew that Elijah was not his child, but he was willing to keep him to placate the other members of the Oligarchy, who had control over Raoul and used him endlessly.
Clara was Faye's daughter. In chapter 4, Clara says, "My mother was not born here… not everyone is under the rule of the Oligarchy. My mother came from a free place; she never mentioned where…she was found...He forged papers and married her." Faye never told her daughter that the "free place" (the village) was destroyed, so Clara still believed in its existence.
Erik and Elijah did not have some kind of big problem. Elijah was simply a son who wanted his father to be proud, and Erik (being who he is) loved his son but had a hard time telling him. Christine was kind of the medium between the two.
This was a small country, with a unitary government. I think James Madison was right when he said that small countries are usually taken over by factions, and most of the time they are not good people. Mr. Madison said that the only way that a [republic] country can really succeed is if it is large enough to have many different-minded people. When this (obviously fictional) country first started, a faction took over, and, although they had good intentions, they fell away and others came in to take over. A small, unitary, totalitarian (to some extent) oligarchic government that became more of a dictatorship under Philippe, then fell back into the hands of other men when Raoul took over.
If you still have questions, please PM me. Thank you SO much for reading. I hope you enjoyed.