Chapter Thirty One

 

Chapter Thirty One

By the time he stumbled up to the Gate, Jacques was more focused on his aching side than on the mission ahead. He stood in front of the Gate—the two small mounds leading to the Courtyard, and more specifically, the person-sized gap between them—totally unsure what to do. He cleared his throat. He may not know much about the intricacies of dicey talks with incredibly prickly Irkas, but he did know that he would vastly irritate them by striding right into their land without asking. I’m not Zena—I have no plans to piss Atkin off. God, it is a good idea to not send her. How horribly would that go! He then spent several amusing seconds imagining how that would look. Then he sobered up as someone appeared at the Gate. A man.

What the hell? They have grown-ups here?

“Name and purpose,” he demanded grandly.

Jacques drew himself up to his full height, still completely baffled. “I’m Jacques Deptishun. I’m the delegate from the Slope on the Council of the Colony.”

“And your purpose?”

I was just getting to that, bastard. Jacques wasn’t sure what irritated him so much about the man. Maybe just that he was an adult. “I’m here to discuss the current situation with Atkin.”

The man surveyed him squintily. He was trying to narrow his eyes, but his eyes were narrow anyway, so he just ended up with his eyes nearly shut and it looked ridiculous. Jacques didn’t tell him that. He felt some satisfaction at knowing he could probably look just as intimidating in the eye category, but still on edge, with the odd feeling that having the adult here threw this whole thing out of perspective. He felt as though he were being judged in a contest. A children’s contest.

“I will inquire if he will see you.”

Just a bit too late, Jacques smiled cordially. “Of course.” I sound stupid. He better see me. I have not come all this fricking way just to get turned away by Atkin because he isn’t in the right mood, like some kind of king or something. And the first thing I’m asking is who the hell that man is.

***

“There’s a Jacques at the Gate for you.”

“Jacques?” Atkin straightened up on his seat. He had seen Rouk go to the Gate—the Courtyard was really quite small—but hadn’t been quite sure who it was. “What does he want?”

“To talk.” Rouk hesitated for a brief second. That’s odd, he’s usually so forward, Atkin thought.

“I don’t know if it’s a good idea, son of Merq. He could try and weasel you into leaving again.”

“No,” Atkin disagreed, “let me see him.”

Rouk nodded solemnly, just like usual. Or was it? He seemed very against this idea. But I must appear cooperative.

***

The man led Jacques forward into the Courtyard.  Atkin was sitting next to a tent on some kind of make-shift stool made out of sticks and canvas. As Jacques and the man came face to face with him, he stood up, and took a simple and un-sanded staff from the side of the tent, where it had been leaning.

Jacques and Atkin stood looking at each other. The man stood right next to Jacques, who was painfully aware of how much taller he was than both of them. Stop supervising us, he thought bitterly.

“Rouk, leave us, please,” Atkin said solemnly, not taking an eye from Jacques’ face.

“Leave us?” That’s the stupidest line I’ve ever heard. He’s ordering this guy around? How did that happen? The man strode away, into the snowy hills. Jacques watched him sideways. He wasn’t wearing traditional Kenazian clothes—instead he had brown and ratty pants and a shirt, looking suspiciously army-like. He did, however, have a light brown cloak which swirled very appealingly. So Atkin’s ordering around a dude from the army wearing a cloak? He hates cloaks—the Usomians wear them.

“Sit down,” Atkin said. He took the lead, seating himself carefully on the stool-thing. Jacques eyed the ground. “I’d rather stand.”

“Suit yourself,” Atkin said coldly, “now, Jacques. Say your piece. But we aren’t leaving. I am not willing to go into talks of trade at this point either. However, I will hear you out, and we can discuss relations.”

Oh thank you, high and mighty Atkin. How gracious. Jacques forced himself to focus. Time to face the minefield. He cleared his throat. “Ahem. The Council of the Colony wishes to reestablish relations with this new community, no matter what form they may take.” Atkin nodded solemnly; what Jacques had carefully and deliberately said was clearly just formality. Choosing his next words, Jacques realized that the girls hadn’t really told him what to say, specifically. “Just get in their good books,” Zena had urged. They hadn’t exactly realized that ‘their good books’ had become the favor of Atkin.

Jacques tried again. “Whatever our previous actions, we place the well-being of the Colony above all.”

“Yes.”

“We never meant to drive you out.”

“You admit that you did, though,” Atkin said.

“Actually, we–”Jacques immediately rethought where that sentence was headed, “—we, well, the situation really went out of our control. And we didn’t help matters.”

“I would say you didn’t,” Atkin replied, “and running over here to make up doesn’t erase that.”

He’s pretty pissed off, Jacques thought. “You can’t expect us to ignore the desertion of a whole part of the Colony.”

“Desertion. I see.” Atkin cocked his head and wetted his lips. “You don’t mention the desertion of your attention toward our own culture.”

Ok, he is royally pissed off. When did he get so—so evil? This observation in mind, Jacques resolved to ditch the fancy words and go for aggressive negotiations. “We were doing the best we could have. We weren’t expecting you to just blow the whole place when you felt like it. And furthermore,” he raised his voice just a pitch, “it’s a little unrealistic for you to expect us to totally dismiss centuries of, well,”

“Complete and unfounded racism and discrimination?” Atkin offered.

If you all become assholes when you get any power, then I’d say they aren’t completely unfounded, Jacques thought. He did know better than to say it though. He really didn’t know what he should be saying at this point. “What exactly are you trying to do here?”

Atkin stood up with a grand, sweeping motion. Jacques took a step back and then regretted it. “What are we trying to do here?” Atkin repeated, “we’re trying to change the world.” Clearly he found this an incredibly profound statement. He stood poised, almost as though he expected applause.

Jacques didn’t buy it. He very nearly opened his mouth to retort, but was enjoying the awkward silence too much.

Atkin, on the other hand, wasn’t enjoying it at all. He elaborated, “We’re trying to be rid of the prejudice and the rules. We don’t need to live under your rule anymore.”

“So…instead you’re going to completely isolate yourselves from us?”

“Choosing our own fate is not a crime,” Atkin said stiffly.

“You say you want to lose the prejudice…” Jacques could sense an opportunity to completely turn Atkin’s words against him and didn’t want to mess it up, “aren’t you just cementing the differences by being alone?”

“You can’t seem to grasp that we are entitled to a place of our own!”

“You can’t seem to grasp that you’re only making things worse. What we had in the colony wasn’t great, but at least Nora and Cragg could see each other! At least you were on the Council, and we were trying for something better; by moving, you’re giving up all hope of cooperation and integration. We could have made the Colony into something great, but you just had to go and ditch us!”

The poise and the manners fell from Atkin like a robe. He looked Jacques in the eye and he spoke, not as a self-elected king, but as a leader fed up with the treatment of his people. “If cooperation means getting put down in the Council every day, it’s not worth it. If integration means being ridiculed and laughed at and dishonored constantly, it’s not worth it. If standing up for our laws means being beaten at a wedding, it’s not worth it. If living in your community makes my people feel bad about themselves and their faith every single day, it’s not worth it.” He spoke the words right to Jacques’ face, and Jacques took them without a sound or a movement.

“Come back later and maybe I will discuss trade. But until we are seen as no different from you, until you can pass one of us in the street without a blink or a thought, until we can truly be among and with you and not just as a separate piece, we will not come back. Make your great and peaceful Colony,” he spat, “I want no part of it.”

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