The year that we lost Airun, the rainy season was longer and colder than usual and food was scarce. We Midlings are a resourceful people, and we’ve always been able to meet our own needs. Both our men and women are exceptional hunters, but it is difficult to hold a bow and arrow straight when the wind chill is ten below. For the first time since before I was born, we were rationing food, supplies, and medicine. The men were disallowed from hunting alone for the sole benefit of their own families and were instead, required to join scheduled hunting parties that divvied up every catch so that each family would get a share. The few women who grew herbs and root vegetables were required to bring a portion of their scant harvests to the armory on weekends so that those without would get a share.
That was a difficult time for us because the Midlings of my generation had never known real hunger or deprivation. It was a good time as well, as we were forced to remember that it was the solidarity of our wooded community, derived from a decade’s old desire to divorce ourselves from the war between the Scientists and Believers, that was our strength.
The unusually cold weather and poor diet took its toll on the weakest of us. Three children and one of our most cherished elders became sick with pneumonia. One of the children, a little girl named Mira, fell into a fit of seizures when her fever reached one hundred and three degrees. Airun sent for Old Mother, who came without a moment’s hesitation. I remember how she cared for our Midling ill, as if she were handling precious goods, as if our loved ones were her loved ones. She ate and slept in the infirmary for three days, hovering over the beds of our ill until finally she reported that she had done all she could with her herbs and that for our ill to survive, conventional medications would have to be procured.
I didn’t know it then, but Airun had been prepared for this eventuality. The day he sent for Old Mother, he’d also sent a scouting party out into Sinistral in search of the easiest target to steal the medication and supplies we needed. He led the mission to raid the transport freighter carrying medical supplies at the Sinistral City Airfield. Eesa, an elder and his second in command, tried to convince him not to go. Besides the Supreme Scientist’s very own compound, there was no other place in Sinistral as heavily guarded as the Airfield. Airun knew, as well as all of us, that this was a dangerous mission and that he was likely not to return.
They were ambushed. Of the six people in his party, only two returned; me, and Airun’s wife, Evera. The only real saving grace is that we managed to bring back IV antibiotics and fluids, needles and lines, bandages, stitching kits, sterile gloves and a lot of other medication and supplies that Old Mother said would be helpful.
Our sick recovered, but we were left without a leader.
Eesa was the next natural choice to lead the Midlings after my brother’s disappearance. He was Airun’s second in command and as much as I hate to admit it, he understood my brother’s vision better than I did. We assembled the elders and all of the generals in Airun and Evera’s place and without discussion we took an anonymous vote. The person whose name had been entered most often would take over as leader of the Midlings. It was no surprise that Eesa’s name appeared almost unanimously.
Eesa declined. “I’m too old and too smart,” is what he told the assembly that night. “I have a warrior’s heart but I am exactly what I appear to be. An old man.” We tried to convince him, our voices overlapping into a single loud cry, that he was the best among us to lead, but he raised his hand and silenced us. “If I were another man, I’d agree with you all, but I have no taste for glory and as such I have the wisdom many men of my generation never gain. I am not the right man for this post.” He passed out scraps of paper to everyone. “In my opinion, the best person to lead where Airun left off is Evera. But, you can all vote for who you wish, as long as it isn’t me.”
With Eesa’s endorsement, it was a guarantee that Evera would be chosen. I was the only person in the assembly to vote for myself. I never had a chance. If not for the fact that Evera is my brother’s wife, I would have done more than oppose Evera. I would have removed her by coup a long time ago.
Evera has done well by our people, always putting the needs of the majority over her own. I am ashamed to admit though, that despite it all, I have stood in opposition to her the whole way. I’ve tried to discredit her, belittling her efforts and questioning her intent, and it was all unwarranted. My jealousy blinded me to the whole truth, that while not perfect, she is the best among us to lead in my brother’s absence.
Now, with the news that Airun is alive and my people’s decision to join the war on the side of the Believers, the time has come for me to set my own greed and petty grievances aside. I have already done this in my heart, but just as my efforts to undercut Evera have been public, so too, I believe, should be my declaration in support of her.