Choice or Destiny?
‘You must decide.’ That was what the Elders always said, and I was beginning to doubt them.
Rather, I was beginning to doubt that my choices made any difference. For nearly two decades I had been choosing: choosing to be different, choosing to fight where others fled, choosing to lead. And at every turn I have felt that I had no choice, only one possible route I could envision taking.
Now Remon had said it: “It seems like you’ve been guided—or forced—to this point, Tama.” It did. Everything I ever did brought me back to the question I now faced: fight, or submit. Was it even a choice any longer? And if not, what had taken my choices from me?
As far back as I can remember, our kingdom has been under threat from one force or another. When I was very young, it was coastal raiders. I chose to stay with Father when Mother fled with most of the other women and children. I had fought alongside the men, in my own childish way: gathering arrows and using a sling to fling stones at the enemy.
Later, there was the time of plague. Father and I both fought and fled that time: we ventured into the wild hills and risked much to collect the herbs the healers needed. We had to fight there, too, so I learned both herb lore and more of fighting. There were other times, as well, and each time I chose to do something, rather than nothing.
I had never chosen acceptance, always struggle, and now I wondered if that in itself had been a choice—or my doom. Had I ever truly made any choices?
Did I have a choice now?
Our tiny kingdom faced its biggest threat yet, and there were far too few fighting men in the kingdom to face down the neighboring kingdom, when that ruler decided he wished to control all the lands. This threat required a different solution, one which neither the old king nor his young son could offer. It was perhaps best addressed by a woman still young, who had spent her life honing all types of skills: fighting and herb-lore and thinking. Even the feminine skills of seduction and deception mattered here. If I chose, I could save the kingdom, but at what cost to myself?
“Remon, if I have spent my life being pushed to this point, is it even a choice now?”
“What else?” he asked. “Destiny? Do you even believe in Destiny?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Do you?”
“For myself, no. But for you? Maybe. You are different, Tama, and you know it.”
“I do,” I admitted, though I hated to. “It’s not much fun.” Then I gave a bitter laugh. “I know. No one ever promised life would be fun. But this—” I couldn’t finish. This was horrible.
“It is necessary.” The deep voice belonged to Lord Ervin, the Eldest of the Elders. I made a face, but I am far beyond the age when I could let him see it, so I kept my back to him and my face to the wall—and Remon.
“It is necessary that I sacrifice myself for the kingdom,” I said without inflection, controlling my anger.
“Destiny, then,” I said to Remon, and turned at last to look at the Elder.
Lord Ervin fixed me with an eagle’s gaze from eyes that should have been too old for that. “Not destiny, you young fool. What is necessary is not what is destined. The choice is yours.”
“I don’t see that.” It made no sense to me. If I had to do it, what was different from Destiny in that? Remon, too, looked doubtful.
“Listen!” Lord Elvin pounded his staff against the stone floor to get our full attention. “Fate may play a part. You may be in a position that gives you few or no options. But that does not mean there is any force—or Destiny—that guides your path. It may well be luck, or chance. And ever the choice, however limited, is yours.” He calmed himself as I nodded. I did understand, up to a point.
“And yet,” I said, and this time I could not look at Remon, “it is really no choice at all.” If I did this thing it would hurt him, too.
“I know,” Elvin said more gently. “No Destiny has led you to this point, but your life has. All the choices you have made, all that has gone before, has shaped you into the one person who can—perhaps—stop King Karlon.”
“By marrying him. And then slaying him,” I added with deliberately brutal directness. “No one says so, but marriage in itself would not stop the invasion, even were I royal. But I could stop Karlon.”
“If you so choose,” Elvin repeated.
And then I would be tried in Karlon’s courts and executed. I should embrace it, or at least shrug it off, if it was Destiny that drove me.
Choice was harder. Would I choose to commit murder and then die for the sake of the kingdom?
I made my decision some weeks later: I would kill, but not die, not then. King Karlon lay dead in a pool of his own blood, but the window stood open, and Remon’s boat lay off the coast. I left the tiny knife—a weapon too small to be noticed, but large enough to do the job—in Karlon’s hand, below the slit throat. Let them think he had slain himself.
I stripped and climbed through the window. It was perhaps 20 feet down to the waters of the high tide; a distance great enough but not deadly. The splash as I struck was lost in the general crash of waves, and the rough surf tumbled me for a moment before I could gain control and strike out for deep water and Remon’s single light. I had chosen.
©Rebecca M. Douglass
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Halitor the Hero is a slightly tongue-in-cheek fantasy for 10-year-olds of all ages!