The night is punctuated by explosions and bangs, whistles and crackles, shouts and cheering and singing. People in high spirits are celebrating, lighting off firecrackers now that the bombs and gunfire have ceased, as if they have not yet had their fill of the violence noise of destruction. People will celebrate. I will not.
A prudent woman would celebrate. A prudent woman would catch the mood of the people and join in it, so as to indicate to any who watch that her head is empty and her heart properly aligned. The prudent woman shows no outward sign of any internal struggle or internal rebellion, not in times of outward rebellion and treason. Perhaps I am not prudent. But I am alone, in this moment, high above the battered city. I am waiting in my tower room, for what, I do not know.
They say in the streets that my father was a traitor. (I say was, for I harbor no illusions that he might have survived.) I know the truth of the matter. My father was no traitor; his crime, if any, was that he was intensely loyal. But he was loyal to the wrong side. When the winds of change blew, the prudent men dropped their loyalty. They whispered in corners, and allegiances shifted madly, but my father remained true. So when the fall came, all those who had, in the preceding weeks, turned traitor, were suddenly the most loyal to the realm, and those like my father were rounded up and carried away.
Such a thin line between truth and treachery! For if things had gone the other way, my father would be rewarded beyond the dreams of any man for his loyalty, and those who changed with the wind would be the ones in irons. And it could have gone the other way. Any chance event, a messenger delayed, an intern taking ill, a bottle of wine spilled, anything could have tipped the balance. Many men gambled, my father among them. Many men threw the dice and won. My father did not.
They say also, in the streets, that my mother was a whore. I know the truth of that as well. The losers are always slandered by those who seek favor with the winners. My mother gambled as well, I know. She did feel the winds of change, better than my father did. She sought to protect him, to shelter him from the gathering storm. A bribe here, a stolen touch there; she used the tools she had available. It was a high and wide gamble, and in the end, it was not enough to save my father or herself. For those people she attempted to sway were also gambling, and hedging their bets, leaving options open. In the end, they needed the favor of the winners more than they needed the favor of my mother, and they threw her to the wolves.
She knew the risks.
I, on the other hand, took no sides. I hid myself away in books and studies, and pretended to neutrality. I tried so hard not to gamble. The stakes were too high. So I have survived to this point. Yet now that there is a definite outcome, I am a loose end. They have not named me traitor, yet, but neither have they named me ally.
I watch the people in the streets celebrating. Most of them would be celebrating no matter who won, because those who celebrate can be said to be aligned with the winning side. Those who do not celebrate this night will be named traitor. And now, finally, I must make a choice. It is not a gamble, for me, because I know the outcomes of my actions. This is what my hard-fought neutrality has bought me. I decide tonight if I declare for the people who destroyed my family, and live, or do nothing, and die. I should have gambled.
There are footsteps on the stairs. They are coming.