Sometimes I like to think back. I like to remember how the things used to be in my life. Back when Alena was not in charge. Back when Father was still alive. Back when there was light in my life.
Alena and I were twins. We never thought of one another as older or younger, merely just as the same age, and sometimes, the same person. We did everything together. I remember one time, when the two of us were playing in a sand box, and Prince Heath walked up to us. His blond curls contaminated with dirt and rocks from playing with the other little princes, he looked down at Alena with green eyes full of malice.
"Get out, Princess," he ordered. Alena looked up at him, confused.
"Why?" she asked. Alena was a sweet girl, and was easily confounded by any act of violence or anger. Stupid Heath knew to just take advantage of this, for Alena would be too taken by surprise to fight back. He roughly grabbed her wrist and yanked her past him onto the grass by the side of the sand box. She turned back slightly, watching him laugh as he worked on unearthing a horse he had left there days before. Watching the pitiful look on her face and the victorious look on his, I was overtaken with a sudden blind rage. I ran up to the little prince, and mightily shoved him aside. With a cry, he fell to the side, and stayed there for a minute, trembling with rage.
"Stay away from my sister!" I yelled at him angrily. He looked up at me, his eyes narrowed with a sudden dislike. I had never liked him before, but now, it took all my strength not to kick him in the face. He suddenly whipped around, kicking out his leg and knocking my feet out from under me. I fell quickly to the ground, losing any chance to stop myself. My head slammed on the ground with a solid smack, and stars burst out in front of my eyes. Trying to keep the tears that sprang to my eyes from falling (I wasn't much of a crybaby, ever in my life), I forced my eyes open to look up at Heath, who was getting up and walking towards me. Alena suddenly flew at him from the side, tackling him to the ground.
"Stay away from my sister!" I heard her growl. Climbing slowly to my feet, I realized that day that not only would Alena always be by my side, but also that when intimidated, she was not a force to be reckoned with.
In those days when we were still young, the religion of our country was called Concord. It was the belief in peaceful coexistence between all humans, with the eyes of a loving God watching from afar as we lived our lives, and He chose not to interfere or micromanage. Father brought us to sermons every day, and that was how we lived our lives. The local leader of the religion was a man named John DeCollet. In Alena's and my eyes, he was a symbol of good, and of peace. When the two of us were about seven years old, we stopped attending his sermons. I had no choice but to wonder why this was, but I didn't question it, letting things run their course. About two weeks after we had stopped going to sermons for Concord, I noticed Alena pull on my father's pant leg as we walked through the hallways of the palace.
"Yes, dear?" Father had said patiently, looking down at Alena's upturned face as we ran to keep up with his huge strides.
"Daddy, why don't we ever see John D. anymore?" Alena asked, calling DeCollet our name for him him back then. Father stopped and sighed. He stooped over and picked Alena up, putting her on his shoulders.
"Honey...you, too, Delida," Father began, turning and beckoning to me. I tripped lightly over to him, wondering what this could be about. He put out his hand and gripped my tiny fingers in his large, coarse ones. "Look," he said, struggling to find the right words to use. "Girls...there comes a time in all of our lives when there is something we have to break away from, because it means that we will be happy."
"Was John D. not making you happy?" I asked, and Father smiled sadly at me.
"Mr. DeCollet is a bad man," he answered. "He doesn't know how to let people follow him peacefully. He causes division in his congregation, but turns a blind eye to these issues. Worst of all -" My father stopped, choking on his words. "W - Worst of all, he will not provide funeral rites for your...for your m - mother." His voice died out as his shoulders shook with tears. I wasn't sure what to think. Anything that could make my father cry could not be good...but this was DeCollet. He was like an uncle to us. I could tell Alena was against this, too.
"But John D. isn't a bad man," she said quietly. She was too young to understand what was going on. We both were, but I realized it within the next couple of years. Alena never really did learn, though, as she told me from time to time.
The religion of our country became Liewanne, named after the house of my father, the king. The changes that took place took place gradually, and looking back, they were almost drastic. Eventually, the belief in peaceful coexistence began to crumble away. Our one God became a supreme being with the aid of lesser deities. The hierarchy of our religion changed, too; there were no longer just local preachers. What existed later was a hierarchy of supreme authority going down in general degrees to the preachers. They answered to higher-ups, as they had never had to with Concord.
I, personally, liked Lieuwanne. It was a more pragmatic approach to the world. People had to answer for their mistakes, and the gods who oversaw the world made people face reality. Although it did not preach peace, like Concord did, peace was brought with the practicality that Lieuwanne did preach.
DeCollet was forced from his pulpit, and lived in squalor for years. Without Concord to preach, he was left with nothing. On my and Alena's sixteenth birthday, I remember him coming to the palace to beg for a return to Concord. My father had merely glared at him silently, and his look was something that Alena and I had learned to fear.
"DeCollet," Father said sternly, "you have offended me. Why would I go back to what you want now?"
"Because this is madness!" DeCollet screamed, the sound suddenly bursting from his lips. "It is sacrilege to have more than one deity, but this new religion of yours seems to find it alright!"
"That is because this is not Concord anymore!" Father retorted, the volume on his voice gradually beginning to rise. I snuck a glance over at Alena, who was staring intently at the ground. I could tell that this was hurting her, as mention of DeCollet always did. She hadn't brought up her hesitancies about Lieuwanne in years, but she had never given any indication that she had given them up, either. To her, the breaking away from DeCollet had meant the disintegration of part of her belief in humanity. How, she would ask herself, could a person who seemed so good to us turn out to be bad?
"Lieuwanne is our religion now," Father continued, leaning back in his throne.
"I know, but can't I just worship in peace and preach again?" DeCollet begged, his hands clasping together as he fell to his knees. His voice dropped to a pitiful whine as he added, "I need money to survive."
"I'd like to help you," my father said, taking in the ex-preacher's disheveled appearance. DeCollet gasped and leapt to his feet, but my father held up a hand to interrupt him. "The rest of the country is now Lieuwanne," he added, and DeCollet flinched. "I can't suddenly just revert back to Concord. It would make no sense. Thus, you can preach, but he country will no longer be paying for it."
"What? How am I supposed to live?"
"You get a job of your own," Father replied, then made a motion with his hand. Guards came from behind and roughly grabbed up DeCollet's elbows. Despite his howls and cries of protest, they dragged him out. Alena and I stood in shocked silence as Father sighed, falling back in his chair heavily. He turned slightly to face me. "Delida, would you grab me a glass of water?" I nodded slightly, and began to move off toward the kitchen.
I froze in my tracks, not turning around. Alena's voice echoed around the all but empty throne room, her question rebounding off the stone walls and returning to hit my ears.
"Why not what, Alena?" Father asked, his voice cold.
"Why can't we return to Concord?" I turned back around, realizing the danger in this question. Father's facial expression hardened, his eyes like ice.
"Don't talk like that," he ordered quietly. Alena opened her mouth, as if to explain herself. I mentally begged her to stop. "Alena!" Father exclaimed sharply, and she flinched, closing her mouth. "The religion of our country is Lieuwanne. That's not going to change. What I have suffered at the hands of DeCollet, preaching at his Concord pulpit, is unforgivable. Concord is gone, Alena. It's time to move on." Alena's eyes filled with tears. Not only was she upset about not getting her way, she was also clearly upset about about how Father had treated DeCollet. Alena turned her face to the ground and ran up the stairs to her room.
"Alena!" I shouted after her. I glanced back at my father briefly. She didn't understand this, that much was true. However, what Father was doing wasn't fully right either. He was letting his own daughter wallow in her own confusion. I pulled up my dress off the ground and followed Alena up the stairs.
By the time I had reached her room, she had thrown herself on the bed and was sobbing into her sheets. I quietly walked around her bed and stood on the side her head was on. Leaning against the nearby wall, I crossed my arms, looking to the side.
"Come on, Alena," I said quietly. "Don't do this." Alena didn't reply. I glanced up, my eyebrows pushing together when I saw her shaking shoulders. I moved forward and knelt by the bed, laying a hand on her shoulder blade. Shaking her gently, I said, "Alena. Get up. I don't understand why you're so upset. It's just a hiccup in our social system."
"Maybe to you," Alena retorted, her voice muffled by the sheets, "but DeCollet is a man whose life depends on the preaching of Concord. And Father is just taking that away!"
"No, no, he's not," I crooned, playing with Alena's hair. "Don't worry. DeCollet will find another job. He won't die just because he can't preach Concord. Besides, remember why we changed to Lieuwanne in the first place? DeCollet was a bad man. Not only did he refuse to provide funeral rites, but he also refused them to the queen. All on a whim. This is his fault that we switched to Lieuwanne. Don't pity him so much."
"But Delida, he's done nothing wrong!" Alena cried, turning her face up to look at me. "What kept him from performing funeral rites was his religion, not a whim! John D. is not a bad man!" At the mention of our old name for DeCollet, I nearly leapt in the air, rising to my feet. My patience for Alena was quickly gone, mainly due to the fact that she was giving DeCollet the pity he didn't deserve and the fact that she called him John D. Once again, I hiked up my dress slightly and began heading back out the door, resisting (with difficulty) hitting her on my way out. I stopped in the doorway, turning back to look over my shoulder.
"Look, Alena, it's your choice," I said. "You can either spend the rest of your life in here, crying your eyes out over the loss of DeCollet and Concord, or you can get up, grow up, move on, and learn to accept that the country's changed. We can't have people living in the past anymore. It's time to grow up and decided. The rest of the world won't sit around and wait for your choice." I exited the room, leaving Alena in a stupefied silence. Things seemed to get better after that. After about a week of staying alone in her room, Alena returned to our regular social life, refocusing on her studies as we both trained to take over for Father, as we had all along. Not only were we not expecting to take over for him for another twenty years at least, but we also didn't want to. Neither of us had really had any experience, and we didn't know how to delegate like he did.
Two years after the DeCollet event, Father took ill. The doctor said it was terminal, but Alena and I didn't believe him. This was our father, and the doctor was talking as if some microscopic germ was going to kill him off. Our father was invincible.
Two weeks after we had received what seemed like our father's death sentence from the mouth of a kook in a white jacket, we were summoned to his quarters. Unsure what to expect, we paused before entering the room, making brief eye contact with each other and taking deep breaths. We entered the room, and I couldn't help a gasp from escaping my lips.
Father lay on his bed, with two servants by his side. His face was pale, and beads of sweat were forming on his forehead. Shallow breaths were taken in seemingly painfully through chapped lips, and his eyes, rimmed by red, were closed under a furrowed brow. My father was weak.
He was going to die.
This reality hit me harder than a sledgehammer. My father was going to die, and there was nothing I could do to change that. I felt myself begin to shake as my vision blurred from tears. a ripping sob escaped me, as I continued to simply stare at the decrepit form of my father on the bed. The room moved around me when my toes pushed off the ground, propelling me, towards my dying father. The servants looked up, noticed me flying towards the bedside, and rushed forward.
"Let me go!" I screamed frantically, as soon as I felt their arms close around me. I attempted to fight through them, but they dodged my flailing limbs barely as they restrained me. I tried to get past them, to run to my father, collapse by his side, heal him with my warmth, and feel the warmth returned as it always had been. "Let me go!" I repeated loudly, trying to fight through the servants. "I need to see him! Let me through!"
"No!" shouted the servant holding my right arm, with his leg locking my foot in place. "You can't, or else you may catch the disease as well!"
"I don't care!" I shouted back.
"His Majesty needs his rest!" the other servant who held back my left side cried.
"And I need my father!"
We went silent. The pitiful call from the mattress had reached all of our ears, but we were almost too afraid to look around.
"Father," Alena sighed, sounding relieved. I looked around, eyes wide. I was falling into shock again, and out of this world. It didn't seem to have struck Alena quite yet, but I knew, and it was affecting me.
He was going to die. And there was nothing we could do to help him.
When I fell to my knees, I was still reeling. My hands hit the ground, taking me by surprise. Alena was usually the one to cry, to lash out from emotions. I hadn't cried in months. She, however, was currently calm and collected. Alena strode over to my father's side slowly allowing her dress to swish back and forth gently.
"Father, you'll be alright," Alena murmured, kneeling beside the bed. "Delida and I will - " She was cut off by a raspy cough that burst from Father's throat. It took us a moment to realize that he was attempting to let out a dry laugh. It sounded painful, and I begged him mentally to stop.
"Alena, you almost always believe the best," Father sighed, his voice scratchy and low. "Know that the world is not as beautiful as you wish." He sighed, relaxing his head back. His eyes closed peacefully, and I feared the worst for a moment as I rose and walked to his side. A moment later, though, his eyes opened part way, and they looked to Alena, then turned back to me.
"I'm dying, girls."
The tears in my eyes fell silently, and I tried to keep my face from scrunching up into its usual crying grimace. I looked up at Alena, who was solemn-faced, but not shedding a tear. Once again, I was moderately surprised.
"Don't worry, Father," Alena said quietly. "We'll find a cure." She reached out slowly to touch Father's forehead.
"Don't," he commanded quickly. Her hand froze. "I do not want to find out. Don't touch me. Please." Alena nodded, withdrawing her hand and placing it back by her side. "Daughters," father added, and both of our eyebrows pushed together as we strained to hear when he said. "I am so proud of you. You have become more and achieved more than I ever could, or than I ever dreamed. I am going to die, girls, and I know that together...you will be...so...great..." His eyes closed, and the servants rushed in.
"What's going on?" Alena asked, her brow furrowing.
"Father?" I called, as the servants began pushing us away. "Father! What's happened?"
"He's merely unconscious," a servant told us, bringing over a basin of water. Once they had taken a cloth that dripped small droplets everywhere out of the basin and laid it on Father's forehead, they turned back to us.
"You need to go now," the other servant said, pushing us out of the door. "His Majesty needs his rest." The door slammed shut behind us, leaving us alone in the hallway. We stayed frozen in silence for a while.
"He's going to die," I mumbled numbly. The reality that one of us would have to take over for him had not fully set in yet, but it sat uncomfortably in the back of my mind.
"He's not going to die," Alena replied, and she began walking in the direction of her room.
"Alena -" I sighed, but I stopped when she whipped around, fire in her eyes.
"Don't talk to me!" she shouted at me. I was taken aback, surprised that Alena was allowing anger to overcome her emotions, as she rarely did. I let Alena go without another word, standing in the hallway silently for another while.
We didn't see Father again for another week.
One week later, Father died.
One week later, our world changed.