When he was eight years old and called Nadav Arman Theophilus Hatta (or simply Dav when he wasn’t in trouble) he was determined not to have to sit through another ‘Keeping of the Balance’ ceremony again. It was boring and predictable, and he didn’t understand why everyone got so excited about it.
So he followed along with everyone else in the congregation as the Prioress of Ersi and the Prioress of Etna gave their arguments for chaos and order, respectively. He watched more eagerly when they began to fight, a carefully choreographed dance than sent numerous sparks into the air without a blow landing on either woman, and then went back to following along with crowd when the Prioress of Eshe appeared.
This was a boring bit, despite the way the crowd all leapt to their feet and screamed like she hadn’t made almost the same speech last year.
“And as it is written, I want burning, burning!” the Prioress cried, only able to be heard over the howling of the people before her because of the way she projected her voice into the tubes that ran through the priory. “Be friends with your burning! Burn your thinking, and your forms of expression!”
Afterwards, when the ceremony was over (the balance still being largely in the favor of order; everyone was told to be more chaotic this year) people began to disburse to sporadic choruses of “Frabjous Denbora Nanshe!”, leaving in small groups so as not to attract too much attention. He and Dad waited around while Mam went to go see the Prioress of Eshe as her cousin, rather than her congregant, and that’s when Dav sprung his request.
“You don’t want to come to the ceremony next year,” Dad repeated slowly.
“No I don’t,” Dav said. “I already know how it goes, I don’t see why we need to get up before the sun and hear about how awful the Queen is and how much we want her gone again.”
“I think someone might be just a little tired and cranky,” Dad said.
“I’m not!” Dav protested. Dad smiled. “I’m not,” he insisted.
“Who said I was talking about you?” Dad asked.
Dav rolled his eyes.
“Look, Dav,” Dad said, pulling him up onto one of the pews so they were at about eye level. “The answer is no, but you need to understand why. Do you know why we don’t recognize the Queen of Hearts?”
“Because she’s a terrible ruler?”
“That’s why the deuces don’t recognize her,” Dad said. “But we’re not deuces, Dav. We’re citizens of the Grand Chess Alliance. Your Mam and I are rooks, and you are a pawn.”
“But there is no Grand Chess Alliance anymore,” Dav protested.
“Not on maps, no,” Dad said. “But a country is more than borders; it’s in its people. As long as we remain, so does the Alliance.”
He was in full-on professor mode now, so Dav didn’t reply and let him get on with it.
“You see, Dav, the Queen didn’t conqueror the Grand Chess Alliance. In order to do that, she would have needed to capture our Queens and Kings, and she didn’t. The Red King swallowed poison before she storm the Throne Room; the Red Queen remarried before she was killed, and her husband, the current Red King lives on with his heirs in exile beyond the Terys Ocean. As for the White Queen and King, they went into hiding after the bloody Queen of Hearts forced us into the city, and they haven’t been caught yet. So, our Knights and Bishops may be lost for now, but not forever. It’s why we’ve been teaching you to handle a sword since you could walk. It’s why we risk our necks lighting up fireworks of St. Ciassa’s Day. And it’s why we come down here, every year, even though the sun has only just begun to rise. It’s so that we know who we are. That we are still here. That we still exist. Do you understand?”
“I think so,” Dav replied, brow furrowing as he thought. “Does that mean that I could be a Knight when I grow up?”
“That’s what your mother and I are working for,” Dad replied.
Then Mam finished talking to her cousin, and with a final round of “Frabjous Denbora Nanshe!” they left for home.
(He never did go to another ‘Keeping of the Balance’ ceremony. His father had been executed before they could even get to the next St. Ciassa’s Day; his mother had held herself together long enough to see him safely to the Great Library, then traded her sanity in for a shot at vengeance. And that was that.)