At dinnertime JP walked into their home and glanced at her mate. Cierra had read through perhaps one third of the stack. In front of her were two piles. JP suspected one group was the Rejects and the other one was the Potentials.
“Are you hungry?”
Cierra shook her head.
“You need to eat something. At the very least take a walk with me and get some fresh air. You’ve been at it for hours.”
Her spouse sighed and wearily got to her feet. They walked arm in arm to the communal building. JP managed to get her to eat some bread and salad.
“Reading those are really difficult for you, aren’t they?”
Cierra nodded. “Kelly wants me to choose who gets to come here. It was bad enough when everyone wanted me to be the final punishment for criminals but now I have to judge innocent people. To decide who comes here and who doesn’t. It just isn’t fair.”
“To be trite, life isn’t fair. All you can do is take it on the chin and hope life doesn’t knock you out for the count. Just know that I’m here for you, Cierra. I may not always know what you’re thinking but I’ll always care and love you.”
The shaman took her mate’s hand and gave her a grateful nod. Somehow she’d work through this problem.
Three days later she had the list down to sixty requests. The screening process had left her exhausted and Cierra still felt she was somehow cheating everyone she had rejected. She put aside the pile and went outside. She needed to do something physical before she went stir crazy. She crossed the stream and began helping with the long house construction. The sewer pipes had just been installed and now the framework was being built.
The work was strenuous, just what she needed to clear her thoughts. She was shimmying up a pole to connect one of the roof poles when someone announced riders were approaching.
Five men arrived at the village. They belonged to the Bay Otter Clan. One of them was heavily bound.
One man dismounted and addressed Cierra formally. “We request an audience with yourself and your council, Queen Cierra.”
Cierra felt a cold wave pass through her guts. This was the last thing she needed to deal with. She managed a shaky nod and the word got passed to the council members.
They met inside the communal building after everyone else had been asked to wait outside. Some were disappointed that they couldn’t listen in.
They shoved the prisoner onto one of the bus seats and everyone sat down.
As the eldest of the council members, Sharon spoke first. “Why was the man brought to us?”
The men began explaining. The man had raped a fourteen-year-old girl. The father had found out about it and went to confront the man. Over a dozen witnesses had seen him pull out a buck knife and kill the angry father.
“So you brought him to me,” Cierra said. The men nodded. Three of them looked uncomfortable and looked away.
Carey cleared her throat and spoke next. “I see three options. Taking him back to the Old World, exile, or execution.” The others agreed, hating all of the ideas. Each of them had their bad points.
They turned to Cierra, who had the final decision. “I’ll sleep on it and give you my answer in the morning. Excuse me.” The shaman stood up and left the building, pushing her way through the crowd outside. She ran into her house and slammed the door shut. JP joined her moments later.
“Oh shit Cierra. This can’t be happening.” She joined Cierra on the bed and wrapped around her. The shaman lost herself in her mate’s presence for a while, soaking up her caring then asked her to leave.
“Are you sure you don’t want to talk about this with me? Or even one of the others?”
Cierra shook her head. “JP, when we first came up with this idea of a colony we made choices. Everyone agreed I had to judge these cases.”
“Did you agree to it too?”
“No, but that’s beside the point. If I wanted to refuse the responsibility then I should have said something then—but I didn’t. I know my choices, JP, I really do. I just need the time to deal with them and give my answer in the morning. JP?”
“Could you give me a big hug and kiss then sleep in the barracks tonight? I won’t sleep tonight and I need to do some thinking, about a lot of things.”
JP sighed. “I will on one condition. You promise me you’ll eat dinner. I’ll have someone bring it to you later on. I don’t want you worrying so much that you ignore eating. JP Jr. might get annoyed with her mommy.”
Cierra managed to laugh and cry at the same time. JP bent down and held her tightly then gave Cierra a long kiss goodbye. JP grabbed some clothing and her toothbrush then left their home for the night.
Cierra sat on the bed until dinner arrived. She ate without tasting it then put the plate aside. Her mind seemed to spin around and around, avoiding the real issue.
This wasn’t about the rapist. She knew what had to be done. Her problem was admitting her own fears and shortcomings. She had been ignoring the role everyone expected of her, merely making small decisions along the way. It was easy to pretend it was just a temporary thing. That others were already strong leaders and the women would naturally follow them. That they would eventually allow her to live quietly and not expect anything from her.
Now reality slapped her along the head. For better or worse she was a leader.
A knock at the door startled her from her thoughts. Sharon stepped inside and asked if they could talk. Cierra shrugged and moved over so the older woman could sit down.
“I figured you were in here brooding and thinking.” Sharon sighed and got to the point. “Do you want us to make this judgement for you? I know someone as sweet-natured as you are would hate the very idea of deciding a man’s fate.”
Cierra laughed without humor. “No, I know what needs to be done. I just to bring myself to believe I have the right to make that decision. Everyone keeps looking at me to point the way even though it’s everyone else who’s gotten us this far. I just came along for the ride.”
Sharon grunted. “You don’t know yourself very well. Who was the woman who finally found the courage to leave her lover when her needs wasn’t met?” Cierra started to speak and was shushed by the older woman. “Who was the woman who charged back into that crowd of soldiers and rescued Laura? Not to mention you were the one who insisted on the way everyone would raise the children in this community.
“Leadership isn’t about bossing people around, Cierra. It’s about being a role model and doing what is necessary to help others. Shall I give you one of my favorite quotes? Eleanor Roosevelt said it way back when.
You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
“Just do what needs to be done. You don’t need to be a loud, bossy thing like me to get people to follow you. Just be your true self.” Sharon patted her knee then stood up.
“I’ll see you in the morning, dear.”
Cierra sat there quietly for a few minutes then changed into her pajamas. She slipped on her shoes and robe and walked to the barracks. She found JP leaning back on a pillow and awake. Without a word Cierra tossed off her robe and snuggled up to her spouse.
The next morning everyone gathered in the open area outdoors to hear Cierra’s judgement. The prisoner figured he’d get off easy. They would toss him back into the Old World and he could go where he pleased.
They pushed him forward and then held him in place about ten feet from the shaman.
Cierra looked at him then at the men who brought the prisoner to their village.
“You’ve brought him to me for judgement. He’s guilty, no doubt of it, yet your own leaders hesitated to do what they knew was right in their hearts.” She saw the guilty looks on the men’s faces and continued. “We can’t put him in prison. That rules out that possibility. We could exile him but what is to stop him from entering a village in the night and committing a crime again? We would have to all sleep with one eye open.
“Then there’s the choice of just shipping him back to the Old World. He’s a rapist and killer and to release him among the population is a criminal act in my mind. Therefor, we only have one real choice. You were chosen by your leaders to bring this man to me, so you are guardians of your citizens’ protection. Take him back with you so your own people will see justice served. I sentence him to be executed.”
The crowd began talking among themselves, surprised Cierra had looked the prisoner in the eyes while telling him he was to die. His fate was decided by her, absolving the leaders of the Bay Otter Clan of the decision. They would obey her judgement. They dragged the cursing man away and left the village a short time later.
JP took her wife’s hand and led her to their home. Cierra closed the door then promptly ran for the water closet and vomited.
Cierra heaved until nothing more could come up and rinsed her face and mouth. JP wrapped her arms around her gently. “I’m damned proud of you, Cierra. That was the hardest thing you’ve ever done and you did it with dignity and strength. I’m a very lucky woman.”
Cierra wept while clinging to her mate.
“On this day, three hundred years ago, Queen Cierra the First made a leap in reality and discovered this world. The journals left behind in trust tells us of their early years and the hardships everyone endured. Building a new culture and a better future for following generations wasn’t easy. Our ancestors had a dream of a world where communities respected our Mother Earth and lived peacefully.
“Scholars tell us that our people once lived in fear of their neighbors, killed in masses, and hated without reason. Those are difficult concepts to understand but knowing them, we realize why our forebears struggled to make a new home. We are the children of these brave people.
“In celebration of this mark in time we dedicate this shrine to those who worked so hard to give us a future of peace and prosperity.”
The young woman, Cyd Phillips White, cut the red ribbon that barred the entry to the small building while the crowd applauded.
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