“Do you have any idea how many times I’ve done this throughout the years? I’ve left countless small symbols, miracles, and omens all across the land. I’ve charmed rulers and peasants alike, leaving men and women mindlessly looking through their windows, waiting for me to return. I go to sleep every night, fearing that somewhere, people are suffering because of me. I fear that one day I’ll see the men in black at the gate, and I’ll know that the sins of my past have finally cought up to me. I fear that I’ll hear their prayers calling our names, and I won’t be able to do anything. I’m not used to feeling fear, Ozren. I don’t like the chill. It’s so… human.” - Lada told him.
“Years ago, I was welcomed in any court. Kings kissed my hands while their wives knelt at my feet. In a certain way, I had just as much power over them as Perun, and I didn’t always use that power for good. Beauty is a cruel mistress. Ever heard of this?” - the goddess continued.
“Can you ask someone else to help us? We can make sacrifices, whatever they need.”
“I’m afraid it’s not that simple anymore. Everyone who could have helped you is either dead or more hateful towards your people than you can imagine. Perun is nowhere to be found, and Svarog takes no interest in things that aren’t made of steel.”
“We must do something. We can’t let this go on. Forget about the garden, after what I saw in the village I couldn’t care less about it. We need to do something about the people.” - Ozren said.
“You can do something, Ozren.”
“Not without the support of my father.”
“Did your brothers need his support to do what’s right? Sometimes the true leader isn’t the one with the crown on their head. It’s the person fighting the battles no one else wants to fight. It’s the person having the conversations no one else wants to have. You don’t need permission to do what’s right.” - Lada told him.
“But my father’s the boyar. Why don’t we talk to him? You could come with me, and we’ll explain everything about the garden!”
“How long do you think old Ivan will wait before hanging me when I tell him I’m a goddess? Do you think he will listen even if you try to talk some sense into him? I can imagine the conversation when you tell them that the apples feed on love instead of water. He will be delighted to hear it.” - Lada said, draining the hope away from him.
“For the sake of your house, for the sake of your people - you must make a choice. You’re born to rule, and that comes with the burden of making difficult decisions. You’d be wrong if you think your father has some divine guidance. He’s made his choices, and you see where that has led him. You have to make yours now.” - Lada told the boy.
“I can’t harm my father.”
“I’m not asking you to. Patricide is a sin with consequences far worse than you could imagine. Once you take life to gain power, you will start solving all your problems this way. No, you’re the son of the boyar, and you still have influence over the people here even if you don’t have a crown on your head.”
Lada left him in the garden, but the boy was not alone. The images from the village still branded in his mind kept him company for the rest of the night. He sat staring at the moon, the only other witness to those horrors, silently hanging there each night. She couldn’t say a word, she couldn’t look away, but she kept appearing anyway.