He pauses, grinning at the responding wave of polite laughter. The bland joke is an easy tool. I can pick out exactly who his supporters are, simply by how much they laugh or grin. A few politicians remain stoic. To my surprise, they are both Red and Silver, judging by the undertones of their skin.
Davidson pushes on, pacing as he speaks. “As we’re all aware, our nation is a young one, built by our own hands over the last two decades. I am only the third premier, and many of you are in your first terms of office. Together we represent the will of our diverse people, and their interests, and of course we work to provide for their safety. In the past months, I have done what I’ve thought is necessary to uphold what our country is, and to safeguard what our country strives to be.” His face turns stern, the lines on his forehead deepening. “A beacon of freedom. A hope. A light in the darkness surrounding us. Montfort is a country, the only one on this continent, where the color of blood does not rule. Where Red and Silver, and Ardent, work in tandem, hand in hand, to build a better future for all of our children.”
My knuckles turn white in my lap as I squeeze my hands together. The country Davidson speaks of, what it represents—could it really be possible? A year ago, Mare Barrow, knee-deep in the mud of the Stilts, would not have believed it. Could not have. I was constrained both by what I was taught and by the only world I was allowed to see. My life was limited to the bounds of work or conscription. Each a different kind of doom. Both lives already lived by thousands, millions. There was no use dreaming that life could be different. It would only break an already broken heart.
It’s cruel to give hope where none should be. My father told me that. And even he would never say it again. Not now, when we’ve seen that hope is real.
And this place, this step toward a better world, is somehow real too.
I see it before my eyes. Red representatives with their blooming flushes alongside Silver. A newblood leader walking the floor before us. Farley, her blood red as the dawn, sitting so close to a Silver king. And even me. I’m here too. My voice matters. My hope matters.
I glance across Evangeline to the true king of Norta. He followed me here because he still loves me, a Red girl. And because he truly does try to see things for himself.
I hope he sees what I see here. And if he does take the throne, if we are unable to stop him, I hope he hears what the premier is saying.
He looks at his hands, his fingers clawed on the arms of his seat. His knuckles are just as white as mine.
“And yet we cannot claim to be free, we cannot claim to be any kind of beacon, if we allow atrocity on our borders,” Davidson continues. He stalks toward the lower seats, gazing at each politician in turn. “If we can look at the horizon and know there are Reds living as slaves, Ardents slaughtered, lives crushed beneath the feet of Silver overlords.”
The royal Silvers with us do not flinch. But they don’t do anything to deny what the premier is saying either. Anabel, Tiberias, and Evangeline keep their eyes forward, their expressions locked in place.
Davidson paces back, completing a circle of the floor. “One year ago, I petitioned for the ability to interfere. To use a fraction of our armies to aid the Scarlet Guard in their infiltration of Norta, the Lakelands, and Piedmont, all kingdoms built on tyranny. It was a risk. It exposed our nation, which had been growing in secret. But you graciously agreed.” He steeples his fingers, half bowing to the Gallery. “And so I ask again. For more soldiers, more money. For the ability to overthrow murderous regimes, and for the right to look ourselves in the face. So we can tell our children we did not stand by and watch as children just like them were murdered or condemned. It is our duty to witness, and to fight now that we can.”