An Audience Requires a Performance

The Council Chamber doors were open wide, as Vamir Ro approached. This was unusual, for a council in session, one in which so many were in attendance. Nor was there the usual drone of a speaker to explain the semi-silence of the room. Restless shuffling, a cough here or there, a whisper to a neighbour, all contributed to the unease that emanated from the circular chamber.

When the guards moved from ahead of Vamir to his sides, he had the clear impression that they intended to flank him and make it very obvious they were his escorts. That would not do. As they fell back to take position, Vamir sped up, passing briskly through the double doors,  raising his hands in welcome as a practiced smile spread across his face. He stepped as quickly down the stairs as he dared, taking two at a time, lest the guards attempt to match pace...a minor concern, unless he truly was under arrest, for they would have to break formation in order to accost him.

Vamir's eyes swept the crowd quickly, noting that the Chamber had not been nearly so full in a long while. But he was not looking for familiar faces. His eyes swept left to right, smiling welcomes to his colleagues, doing his best to keep his happy-go-lucky facade as long as possible. He waited till he heard the metal boots of his escort hit the top step, entering the chamber. He could not see them, but he imagined their hesitation, knew they'd be looking for orders. But from who? There. A slight shake of the head from Rovaris, and a scratch of his nose. Or there? Setandra too was gazing behind Vamir, and her disapproving glare was certainly enough of a signal to stop.  Either way, Vamir had an inkling of where to expect his opposition...the usual suspect, or the Council's resident Den Mother. Perhaps both.

"My apologies all...late again! I did not receive the summons until just a few moments ago. I should have expected a session to be called considering recent events, and kept myself closer to hand!" exclaimed Vamir, clasping his hands and raising them slightly, as if begging forgiveness, though his knees bent not at  all.  He moved towards his row, as if to take his seat, muttering an apology to the Councillor Tevris as he made to pass the old man. 

"Vamir Ro!" exclaimed Setandra. "You will not need your seat. It is a safe bet that in this session, your voice will be heard more than most." 

"Oh! I'm at a loss, then...I know I assigned a bit of work last time, but I had not prepared anything so soon."  

Setandra glowered. "You will speak today. Plans change, and patience was never my strongest virtue. I suggest you not test it, Councillor!"

Rovaris smiled then, and stood. " Your directness is a strength, Setandra, not a flaw. All of us appreciate your words, and know they carry conviction. However, there is no need to make this painful for any involved." He frowned sternly, and somewhat paternally towards the young Councillor, as if to imply 'no matter how much they deserve it'. Setandra crossed her arms, and glared a moment at both Vamir and Rovaris, but sunk into her seat.

Vamir walked slowly towards the center, as if hesitant and confused...his expression begging the question ' why all the fuss?' .  He took the podium, and leaned against it, taking a deep breath, looking around the room. Rovaris was making no move to sit. Interesting...Setandra had looked more and more likely to be the adversary. Vamir played the last card in his hand before the trial began, for it was obvious that was what this was, or would become. He stared at Rovaris for several moments. He frowned, and motioned with his hand, inviting the elder statesman to sit. A small chuckle broke out from the eastern quadrant of the room, spreading to a few before dying down, as they realized Vamir was still managing to put one over on his elder. 

Rovaris blinked and frowned, realizing Vamir had managed to somehow force his hand, either to bring an accusation forward, and stand in challenge, or to find his seat, looking like a bewildered old man. 

"Vamir Ro! Much as it pains me to have to put you to  the question...for I have beheld you much like a know-it-all, upstart son to me..." (Rovaris got a chuckle of his own, there...) "I must ask you to share the secrets you have been withholding from this council."

"And to which secrets do you refer? I am young, and my indiscretions may be considered many...but most are not really the concern of this Chamber." said Vamir with a smile.

"Just the sort of flippant remark I expected..." sighed Rovaris. "You know exactly of what I speak. Your cavalier attitude does not credit you. I am trying to help you, Vamir. I fear you may have strayed from the path of right, and it is our duty to guide you back."

"Strayed...I cannot think I have strayed from any path. If I have, then it was by conscious choice, with great thought and care."  

Rovaris blinked, opened his mouth to seize the opening. Vamir gave the man just enough time to open his mouth, leaving him looking somewhat like a fish gasping for air.

"I do know what you are referring to though." said the youngest Councillor. "You are referring to our guest, a guest now in chains despite having saved a multitude of lives. A guest who bears these chains without complaint, in the hopes that it will assuage the unfounded accusations of fearmongerers."

Setandra leapt to her feet, snarling. "Fearmongerers?! Fearmongerers?! You who all but claimed this city doomed not two days past?" An outcry of agreement and anger arose, and for the first time, Vamir felt a moment of fear. Far too many voices joined that fray, many more than expected. 

Rovaris grinned at the commotion, showing teeth that seemed far too white, and Vamir blinked...for the first time, he saw hate in the elder statesman's eyes. The grin was schooled into a solemn frown far too quickly, and to Vamir's gaze, it seemed that none had noticed the crack in the facade. How had he missed it before? This was not a play for petty council power. This was not a professional rivalry...this was personal. Vamir Ro had never  been hated before. At least not to his knowledge. He'd been disliked, confronted, avoided, dismissed, raged against, but never had anyone truly showed such enjoyment at the prospect of causing him pain.

Setandra's outburst had been expected, even goaded by the young man with his careful choice of words, but he could not respond, could not press his advantage. Rovaris, however, was perfectly fact, for once, he was better prepared than his young nemesis. 

"Yes...who can forget that last speech? Our champion here made all of us fear the darkness. He claimed we had lost our way, that we could not defeat the shadows that surround us. In essence, that we are doomed. He would have us abandon our homes, leave this place to the Horrors, despite all we have built here. He would have us flee, like thieves in the night. Isn't that right, oh brave and upright councillor?"

"N-no! That is not what I said. Those were not my words!" Vamir shook his head vigorously at the accusation...he found himself denying even though in essence, that was exactly what he had been about to propose. The groundwork so carefully laid, unravelling in a moment...

Setandra rose, an eager gleam in her eyes as she joined her voice to Rovaris'. Rovaris' lips curled in a sneering smile, covering his mouth with his hand, as Setandra had needed no coaching at all. She did not despise the young upstart as did Rovaris, but she had a healthy dislike, coupled with very little respect for the youngest councillor. She glared, and pointed at the doors. "You would have us let them in?! Open the gates, and simply walk out into their midst? In the hopes that they will spare us for the trinkets left behind?! Perhaps you propose an offering to distract the Horrors while we make our escape?"

Vamir blinked...the outrageously horrific thought clearing his confusion immediately.

"NO!" he shouted.  Even Rovaris stepped back a moment at the anger in his voice. "What lies have been told in this room while I was not present? That you would come up with such an idea at all"

"Tainted?" supplied Rovaris, as if to help.

"Yes, Rovaris. Tainted. But before you twist that into an accusation,  I am not accusing Setandra of anything." Vamir took a deep breath, centering himself.

"But the idea of leaving this place, of slinking into the darkness. The idea of giving up all we have fought for? This too is an idea that carries the stench of the Taint. Can you blame the revered council woman from supplying and attributing some horrific means to that end to the one who would suggest it?"

"Rovaris, you miserable curr..." Vamir snarled.

 "Enough!" shouted a new voice. Sarich stood.  The three verbal combatants had almost forgotten there were others present. "This will not degenerate into a tavern argument!  Shout insults in the courtyard, if you must. We are here to listen. And if we do not like what we hear, to cast judgment." 

Vamir could not believe it, he had let himself be goaded once more. He narrowed his eyes, studying his opponent, while he gathered his wits once more. He thanked the Passions for the interruption, and the opportunity to regroup. Rovaris looked momentarily livid at the interruption, a sure sign he had recognized the lost opportunity.

"You called me here to hear me. It's about time I spoke then." said Vamir, gripping the podium tight. Rovaris opened his mouth to interrupt, and re-establish his momentum, but Vamir fixed him with a glare. "I said, Rovaris...that it was high time I spoke." 

Vamir let his gaze pass over the men and women of the council, who for once looked not only alert, but riveted upon the days events. Perhaps this could be salvaged after all. 

"Let me tell a tale. It is a tale you may not believe, as it goes counter to experience. It goes counter to everything we know...and that, my friends, is exactly the point..." 

The End

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