Here is the first chapter of my novel, To Look Skyward, introducing the adult version of Kirelon for the first time. This one definitely needs some work--I don't think I got Kirelon's characterization quite right the first time, and the political argument itself I kind of skipped over, something that some alpha readers have told me confused them. But I still like this chapter, and I hope you will too. Feel free to leave me suggestions and comments on what you thought as you were reading.
If you'd rather read on a Google Doc and comment directly on there, you can find that link here.
Kirelon stepped into the council chambers, his simple red tana flowing as he moved. He usually didn't bother wearing the formal clothing, but today he was going to need the extra weight it would provide to his arguments. He was a Speaker--that alone would earn him some respect. But better men than him had tried and failed to affect much change where the lower class was concerned. Everyone in Argosson liked to ignore the fact that their civilized and orderly society was only made possible by the virtual enslavement of those in the valley. To be honest, most of the time they liked to ignore the Lower City completely. That was one of the main reasons the Speakers existed--to communicate with the lowborn. The rest of the nobility was too busy deciding what gaudy clothing they would wear that day to worry about the needs of half-a-million people.
Made of white marble quarried from Atra, one of the southernmost peaks, the council chamber was wide and oval, somehow giving a sense of vastness and of intimacy all at once. Pillars circled the outer edge, and a wide, flat depression in the center of the room provided a staging area where members of the Council, the Speakers, or any of the other nobility could present their arguments. Light shone through a skylight directly above it, seeming to make the white marble of the floor glow with radiance. Simple steps encircled the bright depression, and standing directly across from where Kirelon had entered, along one of the wide edges of the room, stood a long marble table formed in a half-circle, backed by several marble seats.
Various citizens of the Upper City stood along the sides of the chamber, chatting among themselves. The men wore ornate tanas dyed all manner of colors, the long, robe-like clothing decorated with silk scarves or pinned jewelry. The women wore silk gowns that were decidedly more simple in make than their male counterparts', though as widely dyed. Some of the more daring wore less silk and more skin than was traditionally appropriate, but low-cut gowns were in fashion, and the weather was certainly not discouraging it. The peaks currently held little snow, and the temperature was the warmest it had been for years.
Kirelon nodded politely in response to the bows and curtsies of the general nobility as he passed, walking along the edge of the chamber on his way to the marble table and chairs where the Council resided--one did not walk down to the speaking floor until one was permitted. Seated at the head of the table were two figures clothed in gold-dyed tana and gown, each with a gold circlet atop their head that spoke of their position. They were the king and queen of Argosson, Telus and Astis Iandos.
They were in the fifteenth year of their term as monarchs, and had ruled the city efficiently, gaining thorough support from the rest of the Council members and the Speakers. They were probably the most popular monarchs to ever grace the thrones. Well, popular in the Upper City, anyway. The Middle City didn't get much say in the elections, and no one really bothered to get a general estimation of their feelings towards a chosen monarch. From all accounts, however, the entire city ran smoothly, and civil unrest was rare and quickly expunged. The only real issue in the last fifteen years had been a dispute between two of the more prominent nobles families, and that had also been easily dealt with.
Kirelon, however, wasn't interested in winning popularity contests among the nobility, or even in running the city smoothly. The monarchy was not hereditary, and though many a monarch's child had run for office, he was not particularly interested in the throne. All he wanted was to help the people who weren't allowed a voice. The Lower City.
As a Speaker, Kirelon was responsible for communicating with the Listeners, citizens of the Lower City that acted as liaisons between the nobility and the lowborn. He had seen their plight, the way they were treated like little more than animals, and he wanted to change that. It had to start here, though, with the highest of society. They would have to be shown what it was like, to understand what the lowborn were going through, or else they could not be persuaded to vote on his proposal. Unfortunately, it was not going to be possible to just bring them all to the Clouds and have them look down. That was unheard of. And so he would have to convince them. He would have to explain to them the situation, and hope they had enough common sense to see how dreadful life was for the lower classes.
As he reached the Council, Kirelon caught his father's gaze and nodded, not trusting himself to speak. The man had dark hair like his own, but it was sprinkled with grey now, and his forehead was heavily creased from an almost perpetual frown. The king's expression did not change as he saw Kirelon, but he did nod in return. Kirelon's mother was deep in conversation with one of the other council members, Erapse, one of the most esteemed noble ladies of the court, but she did catch his eye and smile a sweet little smile at him. She had lighter hair than both of them, a sort of chestnut brown that shimmered to blonde in direct sunlight, and a kind, motherly face that had always comforted Kirelon. He smiled back at his mother, feeling a little more sure of himself.
"I hope you are ready, Kirelon," said a voice from behind him that sounded like claws on wood. Tharyon Ubeires, the new Master Speaker. His superior, and the man he had to argue against. Kirelon turned to find the rat-faced man in his own red tana, decorated almost as much as any nobleman's, arms folded across his chest and a penetrating look in his eyes. "You have...interesting ideas, but unfortunately, you just don't have the mind for the day-to-day management of this city."
The confidence Kirelon had mustered was drained from him. He took a deep breath, feeling his face turn red. He really wanted to punch this man in the throat. But no. He would not be baited like this. A fight now would look childish, immature. If he was going to have an impassioned argument with this man, it would be on the floor defending his position, not here trading insults. "I've never made the pretense of being interested in administration, Master Speaker," he said. "I simply want to make sure that certain groups are being represented. This is, after all, a somewhat...biased court." He glanced around with an exaggerated movement at the various nobles in their finery. Nearby, a group of ladies burst into laughter at some quip one of their number had made.
Tharyon scowled. "The lowborn know nothing of politics. They would not know the first thing about how to go about running Argosson. And besides, no lowborn has ever entered the Upper City--to even suggest such a thing..." He was shaking his head, his face scrunched up in disgust.
Kirelon sighed. This was getting nowhere. "I didn't suggest that, actually. Though, now that you mention it, it does seem like a good idea." He made a show of seriousness, his irritation with the man pushing him into humor. "Of course, the lowborn know nothing of politics, as you've mentioned. We would have to teach them. Where should we start? Bribes? Threats? Or perhaps stabbing your friends in the back... That one is my personal favorite."
"Mockery, Kirelon? That is beneath a Speaker."
Kirelon smiled. "Oh, I do believe mocking usually involves speaking. It seems to me that it is quite within my range." He pursed his lips and tapped his chin, as if thinking. "Though, I suppose I could stand behind you and imitate that awkward stumble of yours you consider walking. I wouldn't have to speak then, and I would still be mocking you. Quite well, actually. What do you say, Master Speaker? Would you rather I insult your walk or your talk?"
Tharyon opened his mouth as if to speak, but thought better of it, scowling instead. He turned on his heel and stalked off towards the spot where the other Speakers were gathered, to the right of the Council, beginning to confer with some of the Elder Speakers. Kirelon sighed again and stepped over to the left of the marble seats, wishing this whole business would be over with. As much as he enjoyed attempting to goad Tharyon into gibbering hysteria, Kirelon would rather not have to interact with the man at all. Master Speakers were supposed to be wise, knowledgeable, able to guide Argosson towards enlightenment. Tharyon Ubeires was about as wise as a windwood harvester who didn't tie down his crop.
Kirelon went to stand near one of the pillars, trying to look as dignified as possible. Normally, he would lean against the marble, relaxed and uncaring as to what people thought of him. Today was different. Today he was not just Kirelon--he was a Speaker, a vital member of society, a man with responsibility--he needed to be serious. He was capable of that, even if most of his friends thought otherwise. Kirelon felt a small pang at that. Friends? he asked himself. You haven't had friends for years. You pulled away from everyone after Tral and Lis' wedding. All you have here are casual acquaintances...and enemies. Even your parents--they don't really know you. Only Tral, Lis, and the others did. No... Only Aunt Mele did.
"Something troubling you, Kirelon?" His grandfather stepped up to him, brown eyes concerned. He was a wiry man with snow white hair and beard, and skin that was almost golden, causing him to look a great deal like ancient depictions of the Skyman.
Kirelon grunted. "Oh, pretty much everything's troubling me, grandfather." He held up a hand and began to count off on his fingers as he spoke. "My social life is a disaster, my relationship with my father is about to fall apart, the only people who really understood me have either died or left the city, and I'm about to have a heated discussion with a complete idiot who doesn't do his job right." He paused, and then stuck out his thumb. "Oh, and of course, the entire Lower City is being virtually raped by everyone you see around you. It's a great day for worrying, grandfather."
Pethres, Kirelon's grandfather, was a quiet man, and wasn't usually fond of socializing. He much preferred the company of dusty books and scrolls to the mindless chatter of noblemen. Somedays, Kirelon couldn't blame him. Of course, that much time in the company of books would drive Kirelon insane. He needed to be out in the world, being active, taking a hand in events, talking to interesting people. Oh, books were nice, but the world was not in words written in ink--it was all around them.
The old man frowned, almost mirroring the favorite expression of the king. Like father, like son, I suppose, Kirelon thought. Pethres did not respond to Kirelon's comments, but instead seemed to be thinking intently about something. The young Speaker sighed, looking up through the skylight to peer into the teal sky above. He saw the emerald sphere of Anillend, the Great Moon, watching down over the city like some vast green eye on a canvas of blue, its surface like a swath of clouds. From everything the astronomers could tell, Anillend was made up of one gigantic storm system, made up of shifting currents and eddies--but whether they were really clouds, or something else entirely, no one knew. Kirelon wondered if they would ever find out.
"I'm not very good at giving advice, Kirelon, but hear me out," his grandfather said, looking him in the eye with a serious expression. Not that the old man could ever not have a serious expression. "Nothing you or I say in this conversation or in the silence of our thoughts will change the reality of the issues you spoke of. They are difficult problems, and as such they will have difficult and not easily reached solutions. But there is one thing we can change, with nothing more than our words and our thoughts, here and now: our attitude. Yes, the world is a hard place, and sometimes things are not fair. Many times we cannot do anything about our situation, it is simply out of our control. But we can control our thoughts and our actions--our response to the situation. You would be surprised how much that can change things. Changing your outlook on a problem may also change the solutions you arrive at." Kirelon opened his mouth to speak, but Pethres raised a wrinkled hand from the folds of his tana. "I am not saying that you have a bad attitude, and I am not trying to treat you like a spoiled child who doesn't understand how good he has it. Everyone has difficult things to go through, and just because they might be less physical in nature than some, more unfortunate souls, does not mean they can't tear a life apart. But I am saying that change starts with you. No one else. You cannot convince others of a better way without walking for miles on that same road and dealing with the blisters and the dirt. You have to understand every rock, every crevice, every bit of danger along that path before you can understand how to convince people to follow you."
Kirelon felt tears begin to well up in his eyes. "Thank you, grandfather," he said, the words barely more than a whisper. "That was exactly what I needed." He smiled. "Why didn’t they elect you Master Speaker? You're more wise than that fool Tharyon could ever be."
Pethres smiled back at him. "I've never been all that skilled at Domination, Kirelon. Besides, I have other tasks to tend to, just as important."
"Making sure my parents don't make any horrible mistakes, you mean?" Kirelon laughed, wiping away his tears before they could get any farther. He needed to look professional, after all.
Pethres chuckled in return, though somehow he still kept a look of grim seriousness firmly glued to his face. "That's part of it, yes. Your father can be a trifle erratic at times."
Kirelon raised an eyebrow. "My father? Erratic? He schedules everything, grandfather. Meetings with his advisors, royal appointments, meals, relaxation periods. No, seriously, I saw one of his schedules once, he actually wrote down relaxation period as an item on his agenda for the day. I'm convinced that he has a master list somewhere that plans out the rest of his life, minute-by-minute."
"Your father's changed a great deal, Kirelon. He used to be a young hothead, not that much different from you. He's smoothed out considerably, but sometimes...he falls back into old habits."
Kirelon was about to say something more, but at that moment the king cleared his throat and held up a hand, which signaled the beginning of the meeting. Pethres nodded to Kirelon and moved off towards the edge of the room, leaving the young Speaker standing alone to the left of where the Council sat.
Kirelon glanced over at Tharyon on the other side of the marble seats, hands calmly folded into the sleeves of his tana and seeming deep in thought. The king began to speak, introducing the debate and its two competitors. Kirelon took a deep breath and did a mental check--for only the fiftieth time today--on the arguments he had planned. They had to be perfect. He had to make them see. His grandfather's words rang in his mind, and he was reminded that things would not change today. It would take time. But it would begin now. Kirelon had been afraid to speak out far too long. He was ready to take a stand--he had to take a stand.
He just hoped that the ground wouldn't crumble beneath his all-too-trusting feet.
"Speaker Kirelon," King Telus said, gesturing down the steps forward to the center of the room. "You may begin with a brief time allotment to introduce your argument." It was a little formal, but that wasn't unusual for a court proceeding. The nobility were impressed by big words.
Kirelon took another deep breath and stepped down the white staircase to the speaking area. When he reached the exact center of the oval space, he stopped, and then scanned the entire room, trying to make eye contact with as many nobles as possible. After a few moments of this, he began.
"I have come before you today to present a matter of great importance--both to me, and equally to every single one of you standing in this sacred chamber. I will not lie and say that I am--or have been at any point--a good person. I will not lie and say that I have always championed for truth and justice like I should have. But I will certainly not lie and say that I believe in this city and the way that it is run." He had their attention now--he had piqued their interest. Maybe they were thinking he was being ignorant. Maybe they thought he was naive. Kirelon didn't care.
"I will be completely honest and straightforward with you--no sidestepping the issue, no clever deceptions or beautifully prepared speeches." He spread his arms in a disarming gesture. "Here is the truth: we are horrible people. We live in gluttonous luxury while we rape society simply because we can." Without another word, he walked back up the steps to the left of the Council and resumed his previous position.
There was a long, awkward pause, and Kirelon glanced around, trying to assess the crowd's mood. Some were flushed with anger, others with shame. Most of them, however, were simply confused. No one said anything, and for a long while, no one dared even to move. The silence was so complete that it was almost tangible. Then, one nobleman coughed into his sleeve.
Kirelon's father followed that with his own cough, clearing his throat. He seemed a bit shaken, but moved on with the formalities. "Thank you, Speaker Kirelon. Master Speaker, would you care to take the floor? You have the same time allotment to introduce your side of the argument."
Tharyon also coughed, uncomfortable as the rest of them, and then strolled down the steps. "Ah, well spoken, Kirelon," the Master Speaker said, though his tone was hardly genuine. "I do believe, however, that you have a few misconceptions about the way the world works." He reached the same spot in the center and stopped, rotating to look at everyone in the crowd, like Kirelon had done. "The strong will always rule over the weak. This is how it is has always been, and how it always will be. This is not unnatural or wrong, but a simple fact of existence. Luckily, we have two of the most competent monarchs to ever rule this city." He glanced at Kirelon's parents, seated at the head of the marble table. "And a group of Speakers that do their job to mechanical perfection. Our society is extremely efficient, and though it does rely on the hard work of those below, it is necessary, and hardly harsh or evil. We do not rape society...we nurture it, help it grow and flourish. But growth sometimes requires sacrifice. And we are the ones who have to make that sacrifice." He was focused on the Council now, trying to garner their favor and agreement. "The complaints of one spoiled child will not sway you, I think. Our city, our beautiful city, is functioning as healthy as ever, and nothing young Kirelon says will change that fact. Argosson is not decaying...it is vibrant. It is alive." Tharyon bowed once, a simple bow, and then withdrew.
A smattering of applause came from a few corners of the room. Queen Astis stood to her feet and smiled, glancing at both Kirelon and Tharyon. "Speakers, thank you. We now present the floor to both parties, and welcome the debate between." That was the formal way of starting the discussion, a phrase that had been used down the centuries hundreds of times to begin passionate arguments between two dedicated groups. And with that one phrase, the contest truly began.
"Everything works efficiently," Tharyon said, infuriatingly calm. He and Kirelon had been arguing for nearly an hour--back and forth, attack and counterattack--but still the Master Speaker showed no more passion than a clump of rocks. "No one is out of place, there is virtually no crime, and the lowborn provide for everyone. Industry is booming, our economy runs smoothly, and no one goes hungry. The placement of each man, woman, and child is strategic and vitally important to how this city is--"
"They're people, not numbers!" Kirelon said, clenching his fists in anger. His curly black hair was slick with sweat from the strain of the argument, and his face felt as if it was on fire.
The sun was now directly overhead, shining through the skylight and giving the marble floor at the center of the chamber a blinding glow. The rest of the nobility watched from the sidelines, a few looking bored, yawning and seeming distant as they leaned against a pillar, but for the most part, the audience today was rapt with attention. If there was one thing Kirelon was good at, it was giving an audience something to watch.
"Why can't you see that?" Kirelon continued. He made eye contact with a few of the gathered noblemen--most turned away from his gaze, some flushing. Most just stared at him with an unreadable expression that spoke of interest, but not anything resembling agreement or disagreement. Tharyon was rolling his eyes, but Kirelon pressed on. "We live miles above everyone, content to live in idleness while the rest of the city does everything! They grow, gather, and cook our food. They mine, they craft, they work, they slave away. All for us. And what do we do to repay them? We intrude upon their lives, invade their minds, force them into a living hell where they have no free will and no hope of escape. We are playing god with these people. Some of them even call us that! But what are we? We squabble and bicker, play politics and tell everyone else what to do, but we never lift a finger to help each other, Chridius forbid anyone 'lower' than us!
"We've made ourselves into gods. But the only difference between them and us is we're the ones nearer to the sky. Does that really mean anything? What if our roles were reversed? Would you submit to the horrors we subject the lowborn to every day of their lives? Wouldn't you scream 'injustice!' if someone came into your home, beat you senseless, put shackles around your hands and legs and neck and then forced you to live in constant fear of reprisal for the slightest infraction?" He paused, letting his words echo in the high-ceilinged chamber. When he continued, he did so as barely more than a whisper, causing everyone to lean in to hear his words. "This is what we've done to them. We've stripped their humanity. We've created a race of domesticated beasts who once called themselves men. And we did it with smiles on our faces, laughing and drinking and boasting of the wonders of this glorious city. Well...this glorious city, this paradise, was built just above a nightmare."
"Pretty words for one without any knowledge of the real world," Tharyon said after a moment. "Who has twisted your mind so completely that you still believe in ideals? Who has put the blindfold over your eyes, blocking you out from the reality of things, while they whispered sweet lies into your ears? The world is not an idea, Speaker Kirelon. It is tangible, it is material, and it is nothing like the abstract thought you cherish so much. Things do not make sense, and justice does not exist. Nothing is real beyond what we can see and touch, everything else is simple wishful thinking." He paused, as if he had just thought of something. "Ah, I think I might know where this is coming from. Our young Kirelon is seeing things through the lens of infatuation. For some time now, years even, I have seen his interest in a certain lowborn girl grow, until it became almost an obsession. He watches her constantly from the Clouds, Linking for hours on end."
"Do not bring Danas into this!" Kirelon said, even angrier now. A general sentiment of disgust began to permeate the crowd, and Kirelon noticed his father's features harden, eyes narrowing, lips pursing. Kirelon winced. Great. Now everyone thinks I'm a pervert.
"It seems to me," Tharyon continued, ignoring Kirelon's comment. "That this is the cause of Speaker Kirelon's overwhelming interest with the lowborn, and with this proposal of his. He wants the restrictions on the Lower City to be removed, making it possible for him to consummate his relationship with this girl."
Kirelon's face turned red as grumblings from the crowd reached his ears. He turned to face Tharyon, pointing a finger at him in accusation. "That is beneath you, Tharyon," he said, teeth clenched. "You can't defeat my arguments, so you attack my person?"
"I have not indulged in idle speculation, Kirelon," he said, eyes hard. He glanced at the Council. "I have watched you obsess over this girl for many years now, ever since the beginning of your training. And I have a witness who overheard you explaining to another Speaker your plan to get the restrictions lifted so you can meet with the lowborn girl!"
"Now you're spying on me?" Kirelon asked. "Besides, I made one idle comment about her--the entire discussion I had that day was about the proposal, not about Danas."
The Master Speaker turned to the Council and nodded. "I believe we are done here. Let us vote on the proposal."
Kirelon started. What? He's ending now? What does he think he's accomplished? Half-heartedly slandering me? He started to say something in protest, but then decided against it. Fine. If he wants to stop on that point, then more power to him. I made the stronger point, and he knows it. Everyone knows it.
The Council adjourned to the private room set in the wall behind them to discuss the proposal amongst themselves, and so Kirelon and the Master Speaker stepped out of the speaking floor and went to their opposite sides. The murmuring of the crowd continued, and Kirelon felt an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach that would not go away. As much as he wanted to believe that the Council would vote in his favor, he still didn't know. He had obviously won the argument, but would that sway them? Or were they simply too content with their indulgent lives to risk upsetting it through change? Kirelon hoped, no he prayed that they would see, casting his thoughts towards Chridius in a desperate attempt to have an influence on things that he could not. It was a fool's hope. No one even knew if the Skyman had ever really existed, let alone if he was still around, watching over them.
The Council returned several minutes later, filing in one by one--the king and queen, Erapse, and various other nobles with differing importance and positions in the government. Tharyon was technically on the Council, but because he was the opposing party in the argument, he was forbidden a vote. As the Council sat down, Kirelon took a deep breath. This was it. The defining moment. Please...please, help them see...
Telus, who had remained standing, held up a hand to quiet the idle conversation that had filled in the silence while the Council had been deliberating. When the nobility had ceased their talk, the king cleared his throat and began. "The Council had reached a verdict. Speaker Kirelon's proposal, to lax restrictions on the movement, opportunities, and enforcement of the Lower City has been denied, ten to one."
Kirelon felt the blood drain from his face. They had all voted against it. Every single council member. His own parents... Kirelon felt tears well up in his eyes. He had failed.
A few among the gathered nobility murmured in agreement at the verdict, but most remained silent, as if unsure whether or not they liked the outcome. Not that it would matter if they didn't. They had no vote among the Council. Kirelon glanced at Tharyon on the other side of the Council. The Master Speaker stood with his hands folded across his chest, returning Kirelon's gaze with a smile that made a show of benevolence. Kirelon stiffened. The man did not deserve his title. Speakers were supposed to care about people--that was the whole point. This man was a self-centered pig who gloated over anyone and everyone. This man was the representation of everything that was wrong in the world. And this man was smiling at the fact that half-a-million people would continue to live in slavery.
Sky above, he was smiling.
Kirelon charged him, raising a fist and striking the Master Speaker across the face before the man knew what was happening. He fell to the floor with a curse, looking absurd as his ornamented red tana flew about him like a drape. Gasps and cries of alarm rippled through the chamber from the nobility, but Kirelon ignored them, spitting out a few choice epithets at the sprawled Tharyon before turning and storming off. He ignored propriety, walking straight through the center of the room towards the door. He was done. He would not wade through any more of this pompous ceremony when people lived in perpetual terror of those who were supposed to care for them.
"Speaker Kirelon!" His father called out to him as he left, his tone one of stern command. "Spea--Kirelon, you indignant child, get back here!"
Kirelon didn't respond, didn't even look back, but blocked out everyone's cries of alarm or shock or anger as his own rage boiled within him. They were all fools. Every last one of them. Too power-hungry and satisfied with their comfortable lives to think about anyone else but themselves. As he reached the threshold of the door, he shrugged off his red tana, leaving him in a simple black shirt and trousers. He didn't care what anyone thought about him--he didn't care about propriety or ceremony or the niceties of the court. He was sick of all of it.
As soon as he was outside the council chambers, he began to run.