Heartstone

18 – Celebration

Arwin was elated. When he’d decided to do things again after restarting, he’d never imagined them going this far. He hadn’t thought of the future beyond getting the flowers for the girls and freeing the men from their collars. Seeing real social change come about from the will of the people, seeing them stand up to make the world a better place, it moved him a great deal. 

That night, the villagers celebrated in the streets. Wine and food and well-made instruments were liberated from noble houses, along with the beaus and belles and servants therein. The world they’d known for generations was falling apart and yet they were joyous. There would be much work to do later, but this night was for freedom and reuniting with loved ones. 

Jacque was much pleased. His wife, perhaps, even more so. He bragged to any who would listen that it was Arwin who’d freed him from the collar and who’d spurred them to further action. It had been Arwin who’d given them a plan against the nobles. Bleu and Aoi likewise spread the tale of how Arwin had dared Azamont’s garden to rescue the flowers they so loved. For an hour or so, Arwin was mobbed with grateful attention. 

A while into the celebration, found himself sitting at a table in the village circle with Jacque, the two of them watching the bonfire that had gone up in the center of the circle and the dancing going on all around it. 

With a smile, Jacque passed Arwin a glass of wine. “Strange, isn’t it? Here we are, comrades who have fought together and I don’t know the first thing about you.”

Arwin laughed. “I’m just a guy who happened to be passing by. I’m nobody special.” He grew more serious. “Damn glad to have the chance to help out though. Nice to see people fighting for equality like this.”

“You have nobles where you’re from?”

“We used to. We had our own revolutions. Unfortunately, we ended up replacing nobles with merchants. Wealth inequality is worse than ever. And people are still getting hurt.” He stared into his glass, suddenly feeling blue.

“And one of those people hurt was you?” Jacque guessed.

Arwin took a deep breath. “I lost the love of my life a few weeks, to greed and selfishness.”

“I’m sorry. What happened?”

“When we first met, I felt like we were on the same page about things. It’s part of why I fell in love with her. She was so energetic and smart, charming and positive. We were both progressive and she seemed to care about the same things I did. I was a teacher and she praised me for it, said she was proud of me. We made the same salary. But, over time, she started to make more and more money. She works for big-time merchants and has the type of career that’s ultra competitive, that rewards people with money and status. So, over time, money and status is what people focus on.”

“Sounds like noble society.”

“Exactly. Everyone is trying to be as rich as they can, thinking they’re better than other people and enjoying that feeling of superiority. I think, the more we buy into that lifestyle, the more it twists us and brings out the worst in us. I never noticed while we were together, but it seems like she became greedier over time. I was madly in love with her, even thinking about marriage. And I thought she was just as serious about me. But when some really rich guy came along, she immediately jumped at the opportunity and left me for him. No hesitation.”

Jacque’s face fell. “A tale as old as time, unfortunately.”

“Do we have to keep reliving it, though? Back home, people are increasingly given a social rank based on wealth, just like nobles. She probably thought she was trading up by choosing the guy with more money because money is the standard she measured people and quality of life with. But if we lived in a society that was more equal, if wealth differences were smaller, then would she have still done that?”

“Likely, even if that guy had come along in a more equal world, she would have chosen to stay with you for all the reasons she picked you in the first place: like who you are and how much you love her.”

“Yeah. At least, I hope so. Maybe she’s pretty selfish at heart and I just never saw it. But the way our society focuses so much on money and competition, I think it brought out the worst in her.”

“So when you saw similar things happening here, that’s why you were so keen to help us.”

“I guess I saw the opportunity to strike back at that culture of selfishness and to help make the world a better place and I took it.”

“Things might easily have turned out differently. You might have died. Almost did.”

Arwin chuckled. Actually, he had died, once. “Yeah. Never been through anything like this before. Fighting and people dying and such. I’m glad it all worked out.”

“As am I. And many others are grateful as well.” He hesitated and looked conflicted. “Although, that said, I’m sorry to say that not everyone is going to be pleased at the way things are changing.”

Arwin nodded. He’d noted a sizeable minority during the vote earlier who’d never raised their hands for any of the candidates. Several people had been vocal about their opposition to the whole thing. No doubt these were either conservative people who were scared of change itself, or those who had a lot to lose once the nobles were no longer in power. 

Jacque clapped him on the shoulder, apologetic. “Know that you’ve friends here, always. I am so thankful for everything you’ve done. But, for your own safety, you might want to think about leaving the Blue Region for a while, until things cool down.”

Arwin blinked in surprise. “What?”

“There are a lot of good folks here. But there are some who would get their revenge. I and others are going to have to be careful. But, as much as I hate to admit it, a foreigner might seem an easier target, especially since all this started with you. I really wouldn’t want to wake up one day and find you laying in the street with a knife in your back.”

At first, Arwin was a little put out by the man’s words, though he didn’t let on. He felt rejected and it damped his previously high spirits. As the celebration continued through the night, many people came up to Arwin to thank him. More than one glass of wine was enthusiastically pushed into his hands. He did feel a bit better, for a while.

But once he started looking for it, Arwin could see beyond the smiling faces to some of the ones in the shadows, people who were not as happy with the change to village life as the others. They watched Arwin with hostile eyes. So he made sure not to let too much wine go to his head. 

Reluctantly, he had to admit that Jacque’s words had probably been spoken in real kindness. He’d been wrong to feel rejected. As much as he wanted to stay at least a while longer, maybe it would be safer to move on for a while. Surely he could return once things settled down and a new normal set in. Some of the bad apples might have left the village by then, too. And, after all, this was a whole new world for him; he wanted to continue exploring it. 

Still, knowing he would be leaving so soon left him feeling pretty bummed out.

With the stars overhead and the light of the bonfire still bright in the village circle, people danced and laughed together long into the night. Arwin did his best to join in and earned good-natured jeers for his inability to mimic any of the local dancing. In the wee hours of the morn, a feminine hand pulled him away from the crowd. 

Bleu smiled up at him, taking his arm. “I think, dear hero, you have earned yourself a kiss.”  She planted her lips on his cheek.

“And two from me,” Aoi said, joining them. She pecked him twice on the other cheek. 

Arwin smiled, his blue feelings melting away. 

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