Sienna pulled her cloak further against her body. The children huddled close in the cold, seeking comfort.

“Sienna?” Ivan asked. “Do we do it now or…”

“Not right now, Ivan.” Sienna looked around Vladisburg, and winced. “Let’s get to the carriage first.”

The one town in Konstantin Valley had no real name. Or, more accurately, it held one every generation. Konstans, Victorie, Gratistown, all had been names for the town. It changed with the new ruler to reflect their emotion, or power. Currently Vladisburg, after the previous Count, as Viola had not taken the time, or inclination, to change it herself.

The town was supposed to be the pinnacle of the Valley’s achievements. A center of growth, industry, culture. However, all Sienna could see were the crude pictures of Viola. Suggestive cartoons on the backs of buildings. The leaflets against tyranny spread across the street. Another crowd gathering around that same upstart, standing right outside the Serpent and Rose.

Sienna hurried the children into the carriage, and closed the door. The driver had the horses going, and as soon as the blinds were closed, Sienna could breathe a sigh of relief.

“Are you okay, Sienna?” Pietr asked.

“No, not really.” Sienna said. She straightened, and cleared her throat. “Can you tell me why? Ivan?”

Ivan squirmed in his seat. He was the youngest, and was always picked on first for this test that Sienna called a game. He thought about it for a few moments, and nodded.

“Because people do not like countess Viola?”

“Very good, Ivan,” Sienna said. “But we need more than that. Why don’t they like countess Viola, Pietr?”

“Because people are telling them not to.” Pietr poked at the curtain, already bored. “Dirty pictures and drawings, bad speeches. That stupid man howling.”

Sophie poked him. “Hey!”

“We need to be more eloquent than that, children. This is a concentrated effort against the countess, openly mocking her rule and decisions. It’s meant to make people hate her, question her ability to rule.”

“And what kind of people are meant to question?”

Ivan scrunched his eyes shut. He knew it was his turn again. “Regular people?”

“Can you expand on that?” Sienna asked. Pietr started to open his mouth, but Sienna stopped him. She wanted Ivan to answer.

Ivan looked away, and murmured something. “What was that, Ivan?” Sienna heard it, but she wanted him to say it more clearly.

“People like we used to be.” He said.

Sienna hugged him close. “You are still like that, Ivan. All of you are.”

“We’re not!” Pietr protested. “We’re like you, Sienna! We’re…” he trailed off, suddenly bashful.

“You’re what?” Sienna asked. “You’re better?”

The children all looked one way or another, suddenly unsure. Sienna shook her head, sad. A few months was apparently all it took to burn away their common cause with the townsfolk.

“Why are we better?” Sienna asked. “Because we were born right? Because we had opportunities that many didn’t know they had, or never truly did?”

Sienna drew open the blinds, and looked out as Vladisburg passed them by. “These are all people, children. Trying to figure their way through this life, and make the best of it. We play this game to learn how to be aware, to better understand what we are doing, and how to improve. We are able to do so because we do not need to worry about food, or shelter, or comfort.

“Don’t judge those who do not have those chances. Find ways to bring them to your level.”

“But if they hate countess Viola, how are they going to change?” Ivan asked.

Sienna smiled. “That’s one of the questions, Ivan. But it is not the question. Anyone know that?”

Sophie nodded. “Who is trying to make them hate the countess?”

“There you have it.”

copyright 2018 Jack Holder

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