Tondc was not the most welcoming of destinations given the circumstances, but after an initial altercation with individuals who felt wronged by the newcomers, the atmosphere had settled considerably.
Lexa had stood resolutely before her people and those that she was attempting to broker peace with, making it perfectly clear that Skaikru were deemed to be allies in the broadest of senses. Any attack would be in direct defiance to her leadership and there would be severe consequences if anyone dared to oppose her.
The threat was enough to secure safety for the newcomers, but only time would tell if the acceptance of these new rules would remain.
Without time to spare and having already stopped during the night to gain some semblance of sleep, the ritual took place within the hour of their arrival at the village. Skaikru and Trikru had gathered side by side, united through tragedy to bid farewell to the deceased. Flames licked high into the morning sky and slowly the gathered individuals began to disperse until only the blonde leader remained to witness the dying embers.
She hardly noticed the gradual absence around her, utilising the opportunity to process Finn's loss. It could be the only chance she got. The quiet surroundings were welcome as she became lost in her thoughts, staring sightlessly at the fire that she herself had cast upon the bodies.
"Yu gonplei ste odon."
The words had not been prepared beforehand, a spur of the moment action that had felt right, necessary even. They were known to be used by the Grounders before death and had been received with obvious surprise when uttered from the blonde's lips.
Even the Commander's emerald green eyes had drifted away from the pyre to observe the girl with pleasant surprise. It was a fitting end to the tragedy and marked the beginning of a new journey, one in which peace would reign between their people.
Clarke wasn't sure how much time had passed when footsteps approached and someone appeared at at her side. She casually glanced across at the intrusion, expecting to see her mum or perhaps Bellamy's sympathetic gaze, but was quietly relieved to find the Commander instead.
Dark war paint smeared dramatic patters around green eyes that remained fixated on the dying embers, not a word spoken as her presence alone conveyed all that needed to be said. A silent gesture of acknowledgement in these difficult times.
They remained like that for a while, both women lost to their own personal grievances as the world continued to move around them unnoticed.
"Who did you lose?" Clarke finally inquired, her tone hushed as curiosity distracted her from the smoking timber.
The Commander didn't react outwardly to the unexpected question, but a weight settled over her at the memory. Clearly her words the previous day hadn't gone by unnoticed. Clarke was smart enough to recognise when the leader was speaking of her own personal conflicts, even if it hadn't been stated directly.
"Her name was Costia."
The brief description of tragedy that followed only heightened the blonde's suspicion that the Commander was a far cry from the emotionless figure that she presented to the world. Although it did explain a lot. No one could suffer through such emotional agony and emerge the same afterwards. Not even her.
It was almost chilling to hear of such violent events in the even tone, only the slightest hint of emotion displayed throughout the recollection. Clarke couldn't even comprehend how the woman must've felt, to have everything you love taken and destroyed without warning. It was horrific.
The Commander may be clinging to the belief that love was weakness, but Clarke could not find it in her heart to agree. She understood the concept, but questioned its existence. Caring for people was surely the point of leadership, if you didn't care then why bother?
Clarke was driven to greater lengths for those that she loved, for them and everyone else she cared for. She didn't know who she was without it.
Towards the opposite end of the village, Abby spoke softly to Kane, keeping her voice quiet so any nearby Grounder's wouldn't overhear.
"What exactly will this banquet achieve?" she muttered, unconvinced that this was the best way to secure peace between their people. Actions may speak louder than words, but this was hardly the greatest show of confidence that could be expressed.
"If I had told you last week that these people would be sitting across from us sharing a meal, would you ever have thought it possible?"
Kane had a point. It would have been a laughable notion. Peace hadn't even been an option, only violence.
"I should speak to Clarke before it begins," the chancellor mused, glancing over to where the rest of their group were seated next to one of the huts, waiting for the event to begin. "She seems to be more acquainted with their traditions than I am."
Kane watched her retreat back to the pyre and wondered whether she would ever truly be comfortable allowing her daughter to settle into a role of leadership. The Grounders trusted her, more than they would ever begin to trust the chancellor. For whatever reason, the Commander listened to Clarke and that was all the reason he needed. Maybe Abby would see that one day.
The Chancellor swept through the village, avoiding direct eye contact with the inhabitants as she hoped that the Commander's warning was enough to prevent any unwanted attention from those who opposed the peaceful proceedings.
She received no opposition as she approached the pyre, her step faltering momentarily as she peered through the hazy smoke rising from the wooden structure and glimpsed her daughter listening intently to the Commander. The intensity of their discussion was clear to see and Abby could only guess as to the subject.
Neither woman noticed the sudden attention, so involved with their conversation that the world around them didn't seem to exist. Their eyes locked for a long moment when the Commander tore her eyes away from the pyre and towards the Skaikru leader, a lingering gaze that couldn't be deciphered by the onlooking Chancellor.
Clarke's involvement with political affairs was already progressing at a far greater rate than her mother cared for and she was not reassured to witness her daughter conversing with the Commander in such a manner. These were dangerous people, especially the fearsome leader. Any involvement was certain to be dangerous and it would only place her daughter in peril.
Abby resumed her march towards the pyre, intent on rescuing her daughter from the fragile situation, but her efforts were unrewarded when the Commander retreated even before she had stepped around the burning remains.
"What was that about?" she inquired, a hint of suspicion gracing her tone as she observed the Commander's retreat.
"Nothing," Clarke said curtly, evading any further questions with a brusque dismissal. "The banquet has been prepared, we shouldn't keep them waiting."
She stepped around the chancellor and headed towards the gathered Sky People, sensing that her mothers incessant curiosity would not be sated. It was not a conversation that she wanted and didn't intend to hang around long enough to hear any lectures about the danger of engaging with the Grounder leader. She was more than aware of the precarious position.
The banquet hall was a foreboding setting for those who were not well acquainted with the Grounders. They were lined against the opposite side of a long table, impassive expressions and looming presence urging a cautious display of respect from the Skaikru visitors.
A gift of alcohol was proffered by Kane and two cups were subsequently filled to mark the beginning of the feast.
"Clarke, let us drink together."
"It would be my pleasure."
The two leaders sipped from their cups, taking care not to grimace as the sharp taste assaulted their taste buds. Kane's earlier warning about not consuming it quickly now made sense to the Commander as she wondered why the Sky People enjoyed the burning aftertaste. Perhaps it was an acquired taste.
"Today we celebrate a new alliance between our people," Lexa projected, her voice carried powerfully throughout the hall. "With this feast, we honour those that have been lost and those yet to be found."
The Commander swept her gaze over the gathered allies meaningfully before sitting gracefully in her chair, a signal that the feast could begin.
Platters of meat and fruit were piled along the length of the table, more than Clarke had ever seen at Arkadia. Their expertise in hunting and gathering was only a glimmer of what the Grounder's could achieve.
Clarke reached for her own plate and confidently began to fill it with a selection of fruit, a subtle encouragement for her people to follow suit. Before long, there were full plates on either side and light conversation broke out between each group, if only to break the dramatic silence that had taken hold of the hall.
There was only the faintest of common ground between the Trikru and Skaikru, but Clarke would ensure that it grew exponentially in the coming months. One day their people would converse openly, mingle without fear, and these uneasy gatherings would be a thing of the past.
Lincoln spoke briefly to his people on the opposing side of the table, his polite questions met with only curt responses as it was made clear that few agreed with his open consorting with those who had once been the enemy.
Towards the far end of the table Raven was intently staring at her plate with a dark gaze, shuffling berries around her plate without any interest in eating. Octavia had been strategically seated beside her, hiding her concern with detached interest in the surrounding conversations as she hoped the girls silence would continue.
Abby and Kane sat either side of the Skaikru leader, subtly moving conversations away from controversial topics that might cause offence and ensuring that this feast was nothing short of a success. It was no easy task, not with hostility apparent from both parties.
Clarke chewed forcefully on a slice of meat, taking great interest in the display of food before her as she refused to be drawn into a confrontation with the warriors opposite her. Indra and Gustus flanked their Commander, dark glares simmering without caution at the Skaikru leader. It would seem that they would require more convincing than their leader of Skaikru's good intent.
"Lincoln was explaining some of your traditions to us," Kane recalled, projecting the conversation to the entire table in an attempt to overcome the vague hostility that was tangible in the air. "We have a lot to learn from each other."
"A bold statement," Indra growled, turning her attention towards the man. "From those who stand to gain the most from this alliance."
Abby was quick to present her opposing beliefs, carefully defending Skaikru's contribution to peace as if there was anyone at the table who wasn't painfully aware of their potential. This was not the time to be competing with each other, this was meant to be about unity.
Clarke reached for her drink and took a swig of the strong liquid, hoping that the burning aftertaste would dampen the growing frustration that was seeping into existence. She caught the Commander's eye as she placed her cup down onto the table with a hint of unnecessary force, an action that went by unnoticed as her people continued to trade subtle insinuations with their new allies.
The blonde leader found a similar hint of disappointment in the forest green eyes, a silent acknowledgement of the great effort that would be required to fully unite their people. There was still a long way to go and the feast was already beginning a slow descent towards failure.
"It's not about what we will each gain separately," Clarke interrupted before voices could rise and irreversible harm could be caused. "It's about what we will achieve together."
The words broke through the intense conversation and brought attention back to the leader, a scornful expression already searing onto the war chief's face at the fanciful idea.
"My sentiments exactly," the Commander said in support before more accusations could be thrown, inclining her head towards the blonde in approval. It was more important than ever that they remained united in their leadership. Without it, this entire arrangement would swiftly fall apart.
All arguments fell from Indra's lips, unwilling to project her disapproval so openly against the Commander's wishes. Instead, she settled for casting her dark gaze at the gathered allies. One day they would slip up and she would ensure that it was the last mistake they ever made.
The latter half of the feast ended without further disruption, a surprising outcome considering the volatile figures present at the event. With a few parting words to mark the beginning of the fragile alliance, the banquet was over and the unlikely gathering parted ways.
With an end to the banquet, the Chancellor was eager to return to camp Jaha and inform her people of the peaceful union with their neighbours. It was important to control the response, to nurture a sense of respect towards the Grounder's rather than hostility. The violence had to end.
"Are you sure about this?" she asked her daughter softly, half wishing that there was someone else who could remain behind to engage in war meetings with the Grounder's. It was a vital task, one that could not be delayed, but Abby remained sceptical that her daughter was the only one capable of stepping into the role.
They stood together at the centre of the village as the remaining Skaikru attendants waited nearby to depart. Peace may have been achieved, but no one wanted to stay here longer than absolutely necessary. Everyone except her daughter it would seem.
"Yes. You must return to camp, let everyone know about our progress today," Clarke insisted, recognising the concern in her mothers eye. "Major Byrnes will stay with me. We will return to Camp Jaha once the meetings are over."
Abby was reluctant to leave the girl here with these people, even with the Major remaining to provide support. Political tension would be unavoidable and there were bound to be clashes with the intimidating warriors. It was a terrifying thought. She briefly glanced over the girls shoulder and observed the Commander standing resolutely a few metres away, watching the interaction with a keen gaze.
The Chancellor hadn't yet decided whether the woman could be trusted and certainly didn't appreciate the interest directed at her daughter.
"Don't let your guard down," she said in a hushed voice, leaning closer to the young girl to prevent the nearby warriors from overhearing. "Not for anyone."
Clarke was far from impressed by the lack of faith displayed by her mother. It would not do any good to present such conflicting views before their people. She would have to learn to trust in the alliance, or else doom it to failure.
"Spread the word to our people," the blonde girl said with purposeful volume, addressing the rest of her people inclusively with the statement. "Trikru are no longer our enemies and soon the Mountain will fall before our combined strength."
Abby nodded, sensing that her window of opportunity had been vanquished. Her daughter was dedicated to remaining at Tondc to guide the peaceful negotiations with the Grounders and no warning from the Chancellor would deter her.
With nothing more left to say, Abby retreated back to their small group and propelled them into action. It was going to be a long journey and they could waste no more time if they wanted to return to camp before nightfall.
"Raven?" the blonde leader called after a short hesitation, wondering whether the dark haired girl would even acknowledge her existence when she seemed not to hear the cautious communication.
"What?" the mechanic finally said through clenched teeth, turning her head without bothering to look back at the girl. So far her composure had reigned without fault, but her patience was wearing thin. It had been a long and difficult day.
"Thank you," Clarke said simply, not intending to provoke the girl into further violence. She stepped closer, keeping her voice low to to take advantage of what limited privacy the exposed clearing could offer. "For being so understanding and-"
"I didn't do it for you," Raven hissed, spinning to fix the blonde with a heated stare. "I could've said my piece at the banquet, told your new friends exactly what I think of them, which is almost as little as I think of you. Instead I kept quiet and played my part, because everyone back home is relying on us to prevent a war. Our people deserve peace and I couldn't ruin it for them. Enough lives have been ruined already."
The speech was muted but projected with enough fury to make Clarke internally wince at the pure force with which the girl spoke. Any concept of a placating response was forgotten when the scorned girl spun on her heel and marched after the rest of her group, sweeping past the openly concerned gazes to take the lead back through the forest.
Abby smiled sympathetically at her daughter, pausing only briefly before pulling her rucksack up over one shoulder and leading the others after Raven, leaving Clarke and Byrnes as the only Skaikru remaining within TonDC. It was not the most comforting thought.
With the banquet complete and the alliance successfully formed, it was time to begin planning for the future. More specifically, how the allies could combine their strength against the Mountain Men.
Clarke turned away from the departing visitors and found herself the subject of several stares, most prominently the Commander who was flanked by several advisors. A brief nod was the only signal given between the two leaders before Lexa made her way towards the meeting hall, unwilling to waste any more time on pointless civilities.
"Do you really think this will work?" Byrnes asked softly, watching the surrounding Grounder's with caution. It was becoming all to noticeable just how monumentally outnumbered the two Skaikru woman were.
"We have to try, at the very least," Clarke offered, unable to provide any guarantee that their negotiations would be acknowledged let alone be successful. "The Commander is smart, she won't let our differences define the alliance."
Byrnes didn't look convinced, but her role was to ensure the girls safety, not to involve herself with the political negotiations. If what Clarke said was true, then the Major hoped that her protection wouldn't be required but wasn't about to drop her guard. These people posed a great danger to the Skaikru leader and many amongst them didn't agree with the alliance.
The two woman crossed the central clearing without another word and followed the Commander into the dark depths of the meeting room. This was where it would all begin, where the future would be made.
Three days of intense meetings passed and very little progress had been made. Distrust was rife amongst the Grounder's and it didn't help that many viewed Skaikru to be closer in relation to the Mountain Men than anything else. It was near impossible to break the illusion that was casting the peaceful discussions towards hostile arguments.
Clarke stood her ground against the tide of suspicion as any decent leader would, exhibiting her strength as a leader before those who doubted her ability. It was an impressive display, meeting any traditional views that the warriors held about leadership with firm opposition. One hint of weakness would only lead to destruction, Lexa had witnessed it many times before, but she was confident that the blonde girl would exceed all expectations.
Yet another disappointing meeting had dissolved into further arguments and a short break had been proposed to alleviate the tension. The world beyond the underground room was ashen grey, a suitable setting for such desperate times as the two leaders spoke quietly near the entrance.
"Actions speak louder than words, especially amongst my people," the Commander was saying, aware of the blonde's growing despair as her ideas were consistently disregarded by the Trikru warriors.
Clarke crossed her arms with a sigh, tilting her face back to observe the dismal sky even as streaks of sunshine fought to break through the concealing clouds. "Will it ever be enough? I feel as if I'm fighting a war on two fronts, against your people and the mountain. Neither of which I'm winning."
It seemed near impossible to gain the Grounder's respect and it was yet another battle that Clarke would have to win before her people were safe. She just wasn't sure how to achieve her goal.
"You promised to turn Reapers back into men. I believe it's time that my people learnt this process," Lexa suggested, recalling the original terms of the alliance.
"Of course," Clarke said in a hushed voice, excitement overtaking her despair at the intriguing idea. "Your warriors believe that Reapers are lost forever, never to recover their humanity. What could be more convincing than saving their loved ones and bringing them home?"
The Commander nodded, pleased to see the negativity falling away from the blonde girl as she clung to this new hope. "A Reaper will be difficult to capture alive, but not impossible. I'll gather my warriors for departure."
"The faster we act to retrieve a Reaper, the sooner we can resume our war council."
Clarke straightened resolutely and crossed her arms. "Then I'm coming with you."
A frown dipped Lexa's brow at the statement, several reservations flowing to mind in an instant but the appearance of the blonde's bodyguard inhibited her immediate rejection of the prospect.
"Your warriors grow impatient to resume the meeting," Byrnes informed the Commander, trailing into silence when she noticed the unnatural silence that had fallen upon her approach and glanced questioningly between the two women. "What's going on?"
"The meeting will have to wait," Clarke responded decisively, her gaze not leaving the Trikru leader who had adopted a reserved silence. "We have a Reaper to capture."
The major's initial confusion vanished as she realised what this new plan involved.
"It will be a dangerous task," Lexa noted, recalling the disastrous interactions with the savage creatures that had occurred throughout her lifetime. Many of her people had been taken or killed during her reign and beyond, without mercy or consideration of life. There was a good reason why the Grounder's were so fearful of the savage beasts.
"How can I expect your people to respect me if I hide here and let them risk their lives in my place? No. I'm coming."
It was not an argument that the Commander could win, understanding Clarke's strong-willed nature well enough by now to recognise when her opposition would only be a lost cause. The girl had decided that she would join the hunt and nothing would sway her decision.
"Very well, be ready to leave within the hour," Lexa conceded, returning to the underground chamber to inform her people of the unexpected change of plan.
In no time at all, a party of warriors had been formed to undergo the mission and there was only one thing remaining to be done before they left. Lexa approached the apprehensive blonde leader and signalled for the nearest warrior to return the weapons that had been confiscated upon their arrival.
"Both you and your bodyguard will be permitted to retain your weapons within our territory. A sign of good faith from my people to yours."
"Thank you," Clarke said sincerely, aware of the monumental meaning this gesture held to the warriors. To allow the leader of their former enemy to wield a gun in the heart of their village was the strongest message of all, a sign that the Commander trusted in the new alliance. Hopefully others would soon share her belief.
They departed without delay, four warriors accompanying the Commander and the Skaikru counterparts on the quest to locate and capture a Reaper. If successful, this act could be the difference between failure and success of the war effort and Clarke refused to accept defeat.
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