And there it was. Unprompted, unannounced, maybe unwelcome, but not unexpected. You heard the words, you can actually see them in the air. But you... you’re afraid. You know what has to come next. “Just say it”, you tell yourself. “Just say it. You have to say it”.
“Well, if no one objects to this course of action...”, the Counselor said. His words drift off, as if it is obvious this course of action is both needed and, well, obvious.
But it’s not. And you know it. The Counselor should know it. But you... you’re just a sentry. A first-year sentry, at that. And you know why the Counselor thinks this is the best way. Because of the Subcounselor.
You scan the room. More like a hall. The Counsel asked to gather all in the Citadel to address “a grave matter”. You feel ashamed for them. Ashamed because there should be no gravity in this matter, at least not how it was presented. Then say it, a voice in my head repeats. You know it’s your conscience. Obviously. But you know it has a face, too. And as your eyes wander the crowd, you see the face.
And there is Sam. The High Sentry. Your father. And also... Sascha is there. Sascha fixes you with those eyes. Those eyes. Deep, piercing eyes like a begging pitbull puppy, the color of the late afternoon sun. Sascha is also sending the message. Just say it. You love Sascha. You are loved by Sascha. And that’s why this is “a grave matter”.
You have some thirty seconds to weigh your options. Yes, you have options. Life is all about options. Life IS options. So you weigh them. Quickly.
You could stand up and object. Loudly and clearly. Words be damned. They didn’t measure their words. “We have been informed that there are abnormalities going on within the Citadel, abnormalities that some believe could alter the very moral core of this institution.” What had any of this had to do with morality? This is absurd, you hear yourself say. There is as much immorality in the acts described as there are werewolves in the South Moor. We are driven not by any animalism, but by that very core of humankind, which is LOVE, and I shall not stand here and take it, regardless of who my father is.
You can see your father first blush, then turn mauve. Yes, mauve. You can see the Counselor nearly spit his denture. You can hear the applause from all those who support you. You can see Sascha weep tears of joy. You feel grandeur. You feel elation. You feel...
...idiotic. You know this would never happen. You have never had this courage in you. You have admired your father forever. He has been strict but fair. Not the most doting parent, but has never failed to show you affection. In his own way, of course, but it has been clear when he does so. And the Counselor? You respect the institution he represents far too much. No. Go back to page one.
You could stand and discreetly propose another course of action. Argue that forbidding Sentries to be alone after hours is an invitation to seek more companionship, this time under the undeniable attraction of the forbidden fruit. Plus, it could work against companionship. Camaraderie. Perhaps some other action would be better?
The Counselor would see this reasonable. Your father will be suspicious, but he might not ask too many questions. You could propose therapy.
And as soon as the word comes to your mind, you see Sascha’s face. You see the hurt. You see the betrayal in Sascha’s eyes. “Therapy” is a word used for a disease-ridden mind. So... counseling? Conversation? Guidance?
You are feeling sadder as each word reaches your mind like a needle. If you are thinking anyone who feels like you needs “guidance”, then you are the only one who are truly lost.
Back to page one again. If you choose to remain silent, go to page six. (If only this would be like those actual “choose your adventure” stories of yesteryear, you think. No true consequences at all.)
You stay in your seat, look down at your feet, and let the session be lifted. The Counselor would write the new societal instruction and it would be turned into law within the fortnight. And you, Sascha, and so many, would be outlaws. You would be hiding a dark secret for the Gods know how long. But you would not have to confront your father. Sam Agelthorpe would yet see one of his children follow his steps as First Sentry, in charge of protecting Statehood.
And Sascha would never speak to you again. Because you let Sascha down. Because when the first rumors of “the grave matter” arose, Sascha asked you if you would say anything. “Because of your father, you have the Counsel’s ear, no matter how much you blend yourself as ‘just another Sentry’. If they know---”
“If they know, Sascha”, you remember saying, “it could rock everything we know to the core. As much as I could have the Counsel’s ear, as you say, I also risk being expelled. That could kill my father from rage or sadness”.
“Or it could open his eyes to a new reality. Or it could open all their eyes. Do it! You have to say something! You have to! For us! For you!”
You remember staring into Sascha’s eyes. You remember how the moon shone on those hazel eyes, that skin the color of hazelnut milk, that covered a thin yet sculpted body. You felt the warmth in your body from desire, yes. You never felt so mortal as when you laid with Sascha Marvis. But you also felt whole. You felt... well, you. Because Sascha was more than a lover. Sascha was a friend. The best of friends. Sascha let you be yourself with all the mistakes you have made, with what everyone else criticized or didn’t understand.
Now you knew what course to take. You had to do it. For Sascha. But most importantly, you had to do it for you. So you stand up and say the words you have meant to say for the past eternal thirty-seven seconds, as clearly as every nerve in your system can let you. “I wish to address the Counsel, if I may”.
You are aware of the cameras live streaming this session through all Statehood. You know you are being seen not just by the hundreds in attendance, but hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of Statehood citizens. You feel the weight of the moment, and it is only increased when you see your father turn to see you, a puzzled look on his face.
But then you see Sascha. You see something that makes that face even more beautiful. You see gratitude. And you see love. So you feel the confidence, once the Counselor has granted you the floor.
--I... I wish not to waste the Counsel’s time with any hollow address, so I will speak my peace immediately. I believe forbidding Sentries to meet after hours is both unbecoming of an Institution who has upheld the greatest that humankind has offered, and has always encouraged Statehood to be the best we can.
--It is precisely because of that, young Sentry, that these aberrations must be uprooted and stopped-- spoke Etienne Marxston, Subcounselor. It was she who had used the words “grave matter”. You obviously expected her to speak against you, but she is an imposing figure, and you briefly falter. But a brief clearing of the throat, and you continue.
--If I... ahem... if I may address the Subcounselor directly, why would you call them aberrations?
You see her eyes flash in anger. She’s not used to being questioned. Much less from a First Year. But she answers anyway.
--Are you implying that they should be called anything else, First Year? I would think not. It goes against all rules in Nature and man. And it is written in the Great Texts! “Mand and woman”, it states. Never “man and man”. Never “woman and woman”. It always refers to “man and woman”.
--Forgive me, Subcounselor, I would never dare to question your knowledge of the Great Texts-- you astound yourself saying-- but would I be incorrect to point out that much of what is written in them is not followed to the letter?
--Are you questioning the validity of the Great Texts, First Year? Because that is the way to blasphemy, and I will not allow you to speak in such a way in front of the Counselor!
She bellowed this last response with the force of a hurricane. You feel your confidence withering away. But it comes back from a source you did not expect.
--I have raised this First Year well enough to know that, Subcounselor-- your father says--. The feelings inside are strong enough to elicit a response, but there is no disrespect. I assure you.
Your father turns to see you in the eye as he ends. You see all the love in his stern eyes. And you see... pride. Does he know what you are about to say? You can’t tell, but it is enough to steel you forward.
Etienne Marxston is too stunned to speak. Sam Agelthorpe shares her rank, but while she is feared, he is respected. You are thankful for his presence. But there is one who outranks them all.
--I... May I speak freely, Counselor?
You see the venerable old man size you up. You feel vulnerable again. Small. But there is no sternness in the Counselor’s eyes. Only curiosity.
--I will hear your free words, First Year.
You don’t scan the room again. You just lock eyes with Sascha for a second. It’s all you need.
--What the First Sentry speaks is true-- you start--. I meant no blasphemy in my words. I was raised to know the Gods were merciful with those who followed Them, and fierce protectors. But above all, they were known as love. To sin against them as terrible a crime as... as killing a puppy.
Dogs were close to sacred in the Citadel. Everyone aspired to have one in their household. You chose this image for a reason.
--A puppy, in fact, doesn’t care who it loves. If you show it kindness, feed it, play with it, it will reward that love unconditionally. The Great Texts, in fact, say the Gods reward angels by turning them into dogs so they may serve and protect us. That is how much they represent love.
--Yes, yes, we all love dogs, it is true-- Etienne spoke, irritated--. And yet they only mate with their kind. Do they not?
--Absolutely, Subcounselor. But they are hardly the only creatures in the world, if still the most important to us, besides our cattle and poultry. Penguins routinely have mated with members of their same sex. As have butterflies, snakes. There is even a case where two lions --two male lions-- began acting as a couple.
She opened her mouth to protest, but you raise your hand to shush her, instinctively. You cannot believe it and neither can anyone else seeing it, considering the muted gasp that goes in the hall. So you quickly continue.
--Forgive me, ah, Subcounselor, I know these are exceptions. We are superior creatures to all of them, to all others. We can reason, a trait that seems exclusive to us. But we cannot reason, it seems, love. No more than our dogs can. So to forbid us from who we love, it would seem to me that it would be the true aberration. I said that with all respect to the Counsel and the High Sentry.
You pause, the weight of your words covering you like a blanket. You feel all eyes on you, but you only look at the Counselor. That round face, those tiny eyes, you could mistake him for any old geezer from the countryside. But there was all the wisdom behind that face. Your eyes lock in a moment, You feel studied, like a bug under the microscope.
--You speak with passion, First Year. I am sure it took some bravery to defend such a delicate subject. I believe your father’s influence... --he turned to looks at your father, nods at him, is answered in kind, returns his gaze to you-- .. is most evident. Although I sense there is more to this display. Is there not?
You swallow. You realize what could happen in the next few seconds. But you are not quite ready to come out in front of so many people. Yes, they might know already, but still, why make a show of it? Please don’t say it, I think. Please don’t.
But before I answer, the Counselor is speaking again.
It’s later that night. You share a hovertrack with Sascha and your father. They had been congratulating you over and over again. But now, you’re all silent. And just when you open your mouth to break said silence, your father speaks first.
--It is amazing that we are still having these debates five hundred years after Stonewall-- he says, almost to himself.
Sascha shares a glance with you. You had no idea your father even knew what Stonewall was about.
--But then again, it took that long to eradicate systemic racism... Maybe it’s time for gay rights to be next.
He looked first at Sascha, then at you, like awaiting a response. Or an agreement.
--Father-- you say, averting his eyes--. There is something you should know.
--Oh but I do know.
You and Sascha share in two seconds a glance at each other and then to him. --What do you know, First Sentry?-- Sascha asks.
Your father puts a hand on Sascha’s shoulder and on yours. You smell his cologne, a whiff you will carry with yourself for years after he went to the Gods’ palace. And it takes you back to this exact moment.
--I know I have a son who loves like no one. A son who is as kind as a pup, as loving as a dog. And that pup-- he turns to meet Sascha’s tear-filled eyes-- has found someone to love him back. And that is all I need to know.
You have maybe hugged your father six times till that day. You make number seven count.
After all, you can now love anyone you decide without obstacles, per decree of the Counsel. It is only natural, that you show open love to the one man you have always loved.