She Names a Nation

Content Warning: Suicidal ideation, discussion of slavery, ableist language

I would drown, she thought to herself. Of course I would drown. Staring into the dark, blue-black depths of Lake Van, she swallowed the prickling of fascinated dread in her throat and tried to banish the thought of casting herself into the still waters, of letting the ripples close over her. Sinking down into the darkness, silence enveloping her and cutting her off from the world, she could find rest and peace below, if only for the last few moments preceding her inevitable death.

Yes, inevitable death. The crunch of stones under foot recalled her to the cold, dry air that still filled her lungs, and to the arrival of the man she had come to meet. Turning, she advanced to meet him, leaving the yawning mouth of the lake behind.

“You are a long way from your camp,” he said, smiling as he extended a hand toward her. “I could kill you now, and end this conflict.”

“Leave the strategies to me,” she said, clasping his hand briefly, then releasing it. “You are better on the field.”

His smile grew a little broader. “And will you, then, leave the field to me? Cast aside your weapons and put this foolishness behind us?”

Her shoulders stiffened, and she took a half-step back from him. “What has changed, that makes my ‘foolishness’ less foolish?”

“If you would just return with me,” he said, taking an eager step toward her in turn. “If you would just turn back from this futility. All can be well between us again. Just come back—”

“You’re doing this badly,” she broke in, her jaw hardening.

“What was best of us went with you,” he said, adopting a conciliatory tone. “You were right—I see now that you were right. I don’t know how to survive without your presence, your wisdom, your—”

“You can find a way forward on your own,” she said. “Step outside yourself, and you can see the way.”

“No, you were my eyes,” he said, spreading out his hands in appeal to her. “I am wounded without you. Lamed, crippled, like an ox who can’t plow because his partner will not pull.”

“I did my best to plow with you,” she said, heat rushing into her face. “But you decided to go your own way. How could I create anything of value without cooperation?”

His voice rose as he pointed a finger at her face. “You are the one who has destroyed what we built,” he said. “You were the one who crippled me, and I won’t let you bring a whole city to its knees.”

“Did I cripple you, or was it losing your slaves that upended your world?” she accused in turn. At the word slaves he opened his mouth to retort, but she cut him off. “Did ‘we’ build, or did I build, while you inhabited? Now is the time for you to find out. Go back to your crippled city and teach it to walk. If you come out against me tomorrow, I will make you only a memory.”