It is time for us all
To decide who we are
Do we fight for the right
To a night at the opera now?
Have you asked yourselves
What's the price that you might pay?
Is it simply a game
For rich young boys to play?
The color of the world
Is changing day by day
Odessa stood and listened to the silence as the last of the crowd dispersed and wandered home, spectacle forgotten. She had somehow expected more, perhaps, some kind of an outcry, some weak protest. But even her voice was silent, on that day that was neither fall nor winter, at the back of the crowd, listening to stale mandates and sharpened fears, watching the people around her breathe and swallow.
Odessa could not breathe. Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth, her cold hands sweated in her thin gloves. She had cried before, but now even the grief had leaked out of her, and in the hollow center of her body there was a only a welling weariness, lapping at the corners of her world.
It was over. He was dead. There had been no justice-- the great ruling force of which her brother spoke so highly, and there had been no divine mercy, the kind she had always believed in. They were dead and her lover was dead, and there was only herself, small and cold and red-eyed, her nose drippy from the chill wind.
"No," she said, or would have said, as her fingers curled into fists and dead leaves rubbed listlessly against her boots. It was lost in the wind, the one word of protest, for all that the heart behind it beat more fiercely and the blood behind her eyes burned hotter than all the poor passions of the now-absent spectators. Idlers and the curious, they had come to hear how a man died, maligned and innocent, merely to pass the time. Then they walked away, talking of economy or children or far-away wars, blind and comfortable. They had never been beyond the gates of Gregminster, had never had hunger in their bellies or dead children in their arms.
They knew nothing.
But Odessa knew too much, as the leaves wavered in her vision, as the wind billowed out her borrowed cloak. She should not be here, she knew. There were no words of comfort, only more anger and more lies, but all the same she came to hear it, if nothing else so that one person in the crowd would hear the news and know it was all an elaborate trick.
She had thought of taking the stage single-handedly, of running her sword through the emperor's belly and not caring what became of her. It would solve nothing. Barbosa would be a martyr, and she would be a traitor, not the other way around. And she would have no heart to go to her lover's arms if there was a meeting place beyond, and say she had failed in the one thing she had been asked to do.
Odessa peeled back her glove and looked at the rune in the palm of her hand. It was no true rune, no great hope of the people. And her hand was small, there was blood still under her nails, her knuckles raw where she had scraped them against the armor of an imperial guard.
But the rune had been his, and the gold earring, and the sword at her side. Even her clothes were not her own, stolen instead from a laundry-maid's basket. Her dress she had left to float down the river, with his blood seeping out of the tattered silk and the memory of his face burned into her mind. There was little enough to be called Odessa Silverberg, her cause abandoned by her brother, her lover dead by the hands of his own country. She was a forgettable small figure in the town square, and no one paid her any mind.
"One," he had said to her once, in that hour of night when neither lover sleeps, "is the most powerful number of all. It need not fight for the right to speak; it requires no discourse or meetings of committee. When it first speaks it is quiet, but because of the difference in its words it will be heard quickly. Two is a strong number, and ten, and ten thousand, but all those numbers begin with one, and without that one to speak first and lead them, there will be no numbers after."
Odessa’s face hardened, her hand clenched around the rune. "Achilles," she said, and this time her voice was not so quickly stolen. The wind stirred her hair, and as she lifted her head to the gray sky the leaves at her feet moved and rushed behind her like an army, sweeping over the cold stone and surging towards the gates of the capital.