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The queen was about to pass judgment on the man kneeling before her, for his crimes against the OZ, when Azkadellia swept into the room. She had been in hiding much of the time since the eclipse, but upon hearing that Zero was being sentenced, she knew she had to speak up. “Stop! Please. There is something I need to say before you pass judgment on this man.”
The queen gave her that same sad look that she always gave her eldest daughter. “Dear, as I have told you before, you were under the power of the evil witch when you did the things you did. This man was not.”
“You’re wrong mother. We all were. Please, hear me out.” Az was standing beside Zero and put a hand on his shoulder, whether to brace herself or him she wasn’t sure. Her mother made the slightest of nods and the princess began her story.
“Most of this is not going to be easy to hear. Believe me when I tell you, it will not be easy for me to tell or for Zero to endure but it must be told. I ask only that you hear the whole story before speaking. The witch liked to…entertain men. Or rather to be entertained by them. There was a different man in her bed almost every night. She did have favorites and Zero was one of those.” She felt the shoulder under her hand tense and Zero made an attempt to speak. She looked down into his eyes and spoke. “No, this has to be told. If we are to truly heal the OZ, we have to heal all of it, not just the pretty parts.” The man looked down at the floor and made no attempt to speak again. The elder princess squared her shoulders and continued with her story. “The witch tended to go to sleep after she was done with the man of the evening. It was during those moments that I was free. I often rolled over and cried. I was so angry at her for using my body to do all the evil she did. I was angry at her for using my body to take her pleasure with the men. I was just angry. One night though, I actually looked at the man in the bed beside me, and I saw some of that same anger in his eyes. I reached out and touched his face and he asked me, in this so careful voice, if there was anything more he could do for me. He thought it was still the witch, you see. I told him she was asleep and it was just me. At first he didn’t understand, no one knew I was possessed back then. I explained, in brief detail, what had happened. After a while a bitter laugh escaped his lips and he said we were all possessed in one way or another. It took several nights of talking to Zero before I got his entire story but it is one you must hear before you decide his fate. Zero was born in the Realm of the Unwanted. His father was an abusive man who was his mother’s pimp. When his mother died after one too many beatings, his father used Zero to take her place…in all ways.” Azkadellia felt the man beneath her hand begun to shake but she couldn’t stop now. “He was told many times that he was worthless for anything but sex. When his father was killed by a rival pimp, Zero ran. He ran as far as he could run. He ran into the long coats. He had spent his life feeling helpless, had watched his father beat his mother to death, and had been used and beaten repeatedly. He had to lay and let men use him, fuck him mother in case you were unsure. He had to live a life that no boy should have to endure, that no being should have to endure. The long coats gave him a chance to escape that feeling of helplessness. When the witch began using him for her pleasure, it brought it all back. That’s why I was able to get his story out of him. We were two rape victims clinging to each other and spilling out our sorrows. Zero had no more choice than I did in what he did in those dark days. Even before the witch took control there were terrible things being done to your subjects and you turned a blind eye and let them happen. You are as much to blame for what Zero did as he is. If you are going to convict him of crimes against the crown and the OZ then you must convict yourself as well.” Azkadellia’s brown eyes locked with her mother’s lavender ones and waited.
The queen sat in stunned silence for several moments before rising and moving to stand in front of her daughter and the prisoner. She reached down and took the man’s chin in her hand. Although she forced his face up, he refused to meet her eyes. She was not really surprised to find tears on his cheeks. “Look at me.”
His eyes snapped up to meet hers with a look of defiance. “Pass your judgment; send me to prison or execute me; I don’t care. Just don’t pity me. I survived.” Lifting his chin a look of pride crossed his face. “I survived.”
The queen met her daughter’s eyes over the kneeling man’s head. “Yes, you did. We all survived. I am not the naïve woman I once was. You are right my darling. I should have seen the corruption in places like the Realm of the Unwanted. Unfortunately, my eyes were so filled with the beauty of my world, I didn’t see the ugliness. That will change. We have all survived and become stronger for it.” Looking back down at the man at her feet she asked, “Will you help us to heal our land? Will you allow us to help you heal?”
A sob escaped from Zero before he could hold it behind his teeth. The queen had released his chin and he looked down at the floor again. Could he heal? Did he know how? Could he battle his demons and become a better man? He felt the hand on his shoulder tighten and knew he would not be alone in the battle. He lifted his head to look into the queens beautiful eyes. “Yes.”