“What do you mean?” Inol raised an eyebrow.
Reis clasped his hands and paced back and forth, as if giving a lecture. “There is a new era coming. We all know this. The mentors train up the next generation, then must pass on and leave things to the next. The Order becomes the sole possession of the new, and they are not to be anchored by the follies of the past generation. They reinstate what laws they find worthy and they abandon the ones that are now antiquated. I think we all know…that time is coming soon. The elders have made it very clear that the Trials are nearly upon us, and it would be wise for us to consider how we will make the transition after they have passed.”
“The elders are not gone yet,” Tharol frowned. “It doesn’t feel right to talk of sweeping away their laws even while we’re under them.”
“Of course I’m not suggesting an insurrection,” Reis rolled his eyes. “We will be nothing but loyal servants so long as they are our elders. But my concern is that we might fracture ourselves after they are gone. Suppose we haven’t already worked out our philosophies beforehand, here and now, when it’s all just theory. Today it would be nothing more than competing ideals, but after we come into power it might be civil war!”
Tharol’s eyes narrowed. “Why? Did you have something controversial to propose?”
Reis matched the narrowing of the eyes. “I would think that you of all people should see the need for reform. Aren’t you always coming on the wrong side of Master Palthio?”
Tharol shrugged. “I don’t see what that has to do with this.”
“I know that there are reforms that you’ve considered. Things that you would like to change about how we do things in the Order. Like have a more proactive defense against the Invasion.”
“Curious. Even I don’t know what I want.”
“But we all heard you in Master Valthyia’s instruction the other day…”
“I was asking questions. Perhaps there are flaws in our current system, I don’t know, but I also don’t know for sure what I would replace it with.”
Reis shook his head, realizing that he was quickly descending into yet another debate with Tharol, and that was not what he wanted here and now. This was supposed to be about him.
“Never mind all that,” he said. “The point is that now is the time for us to start raising our own banner. Of course we’re going to obey our elders,” he shot Tharol a dirty look, “but we can do that and start drawing lines for the future.”
“Like…lines of allegiance?” Bovik asked.
“Yes. Why not?”
“I don’t know,” Bovik looked sheepishly to the rest of his peers. “Aren’t we all on the same side already?”
“Of course we are,” Reis said shortly. “That’s the point. We’re already aligned to each other, and that gives us a solid foundation to formally unite under a common cause. Well why not make our pledge to that here and now? Why not give a solemn oath to continuing our cause and protecting our people?”
“Oh, well that’s alright then,” Bovik said with relief. “I thought you had meant electing a leader or something like that.”
“Bovik, I’m not sure that you’re bright enough to be here,” Reis let his irritation show. “Of course we would have a leader. Not a person, though, our leader would be our cause! However it may also be wise to elect one to safeguard that cause. Someone we could trust as a steward of its principles.”
“Well of course that would be you, Reis,” Marvi said sweetly. “And I’d be more than happy to give you my oath of loyalty right here and now!”
“Well how about it then?” Reis said to the others, leaping on top of a small, broken column. “Every order has its Senior Master, doesn’t it? The last thing I want to see is the elders pass on and we’re left with a mad scrabble for power. But if you’ll pledge your loyalty to me today, I’ll pledge my loyalty to governing rightly. Together we can make the future be what it should be.”
Marvi crowed her approval, and barely had she started than Inol echoed it, too. Bovik shouted his agreement quite loudly, no doubt to make up for any hesitancy he had shown earlier. One after another all of the youth shouted their assent.
Except for Tharol.
Reis pretended to not notice the one outlier, and leaped down to the ground, extending his hand, palm upwards.
“Let’s just make it official then, and after that I’ll be able to take you into my trust and show you another of Raystahn’s secrets.”
One-by-one the youth gathered in a circle, extending their hands to rest them, palm-downwards, on Reis’s. This time, Reis could not ignore the singular absence.
“Are you against us, then?” he shot viciously at Tharol.
Tharol shook his head. “It’s not like that Reis. It’s too early to be drawing lines for or against. We can have this conversation when the time is actually upon us, but this is premature.”
Reis opened his mouth, intending to shout something about how Tharol wasn’t welcome in this place anymore, but before he could the youth had already turned his back and started walking away.
“Hmm, never mind him,” Reis tried to shake off the slight to what was supposed to have been his unanimous coronation. “If the rest of you are ready…”
They all bowed their heads and recited in unison. “We place our strength upon you.” And then pressed slightly on his hand.
“I feel the weight of responsibility,” he replied, holding his own arm firm.
Tharol had barely stepped across the stone entryway of the monastery than Master Palthio approached him from an adjoining hallway.
“Ah, young Tharol, what a pleasant surprise,” the old man smiled. Tharol didn’t believe it for a moment. There was never any coincidence when it came to a meeting from Master Palthio, of this he was convinced.
“There is something you wanted to discuss with me?” he asked.
Master Palthio chuckled softly. “Ever the one for business, young Tharol. Walk with me.”
The two of them strode to the end of the entrance hall, then Master Palthio steered them towards the garden path.
“You truly are the most vigilant and attentive student I have ever seen, Tharol,” Master Palthio began.
Then why are you wasting time on opening pleasantries? Tharol thought to himself. He verbally said nothing. He found it was the best way to get people to move on to the actual purpose of their conversation.
“But I see you don’t care to discuss that,” Master Palthio nodded. “Tell me, Tharol, do you always feel a great impatience with the rest of us? That we take so long to come around to things of substance?”
It wasn’t the first time that Tharol wondered if Master Palthio was reading his thoughts, even though such was strictly forbidden.
“I just feel…” he paused, struggling to find the words. “I feel there isn’t enough time as it is already.”
“Mmm. You are weighed by a great deal, then. And afraid of what will be lost by our laxness?”
“Well…yes. I mean, I know that we ought to embrace the moment to its fullest, ought to be able to find the significance in all things.”
“You are just reciting canon now. You don’t believe these in your heart, do you?”
“Perhaps not. I think luxury and casual enjoyment are fine things…but we’re members of the Order, we’re the guard set to watch, aren’t we?”
“To watch what?”
“Why for the Invasion, of course?!”
“Mmm,” Master Palthio nodded, then continued in silence.
Tharol kept waiting for Master Palthio to resume speaking…but he did not. The old man just kept walking along as if he had no other intention than to enjoy this walk in silence with his pupil.
“Master, didn’t you–” Tharol finally ventured. “Surely, you had something else to talk to me about, Master?”
Master Palthio smiled softly. “You really don’t believe it possible that I just wanted to spend some time in your air, Tharol?”
“Well, I thought for sure you would be here to do something important.”
“And sharing your company could not have been what was important?” Master Palthio shook his head sadly. “When I speak of your vigilance and attentiveness, must that only be a segue to things of importance, and not the matter of importance itself? You are waiting for significance to come to this moment…and don’t consider that the moment itself was already significant.”
Tharol felt both touched and ashamed. He concerned himself with the study of his feet, not knowing what else he could possibly say to such a pronouncement.
“That is all the business I had Tharol. But if there is anything else that you wished to discuss with me, the rest of our walk is all yours.”
Tharol looked back up to his Master. An open invitation to discuss anything at all? One idea chased another through his mind. The strange creature growing in the maze, Reis trying to draw lines of loyalty among the students, Tharol’s struggle to find ‘the center inside him’ that his teachers spoke of, the impending Trials that the elders always spoke so gravely of. But above them all, there was one concern that arrested his mind more than all the others.
“Well…there is something, Master.”
Master Palthio smiled broadly. “I hardly assumed there wouldn’t be.”
“It’s a matter that I discussed briefly in Master Valthyia’s instruction the other day. Perhaps you heard of our conversation?”
“Even if I did, I would rather we speak freshly from your perspective, not from some other, biased, second-hand account.”
“Oh yes…well…the conversation happened to be around the Imminence of Invasion, of how futile it is to try and prevent it, because the nature of man is to relent to it sooner or later. He was teaching how any semblance of control must be surrendered, and simply vigilance maintained instead.”
“You don’t sound particularly favorable towards that notion?”
“Well the thought occurred to me, that if the Invasion is not withstood, if it is a sure thing to come in its cycles, then what is there to prevent it from breaking out among those that are supposed to be vigilant?”
“You mean what if it began within our own Order.”
“I just think that if I were the Corrupt Mind, our monastery is the very first place I would focus all my efforts. Especially if I knew that our Order will do nothing to prevent it.”
“Do we not train minds?”
“But you see that as only a defense, and you would rather we take a more aggressive stance?”
“I know that is contrary to everything the Order stands for. But wars cannot be won by only defending, can they? At some time or another one must attack!”
“Hmm, you make an excellent point. I suppose the Order must be wrong.”
“I thought you’d be relieved. Don’t you feel a great burden lifted?”
“Because–I don’t mean to destroy the Order. Obviously I wasn’t arguing for that!”
“What if the Order should be destroyed? What if it’s entirely wrong?”
“I can’t accept that.”
“It’s–it’s the only foundation we have.”
“Mmm,” Master Palthio said again. “Quite a conundrum. Our Order is your foundation, but you find yourself at issue with some of its foundations.”
Tharol bit his lip uncomfortably.
“No, don’t feel that you must hide such misgivings. There is no shame in this. If each of the Masters was being honest with you, you would learn that we all have our difficulties with one of the Order’s precepts or another.”
“You have? Well…what do you do about that?”
“Oh dear, you have struck upon the question, now haven’t you? Let me see if I can provide a coherent answer. Give me a moment…”
They continued on in silence. An awkwardly long silence, one where Tharol began to wonder if Master Palthio had entirely forgotten their conversation. Just as Tharol was about to speak up Master Palthio answered.
"When I continue along my way
And I come across a rock that I can push
Then I push it
And continue along my way.
When I continue along my way
And come to a rock that I cannot push
Then I go around it
And continue along my way."
Whatever reaction Master Palthio expected, he evidently had not anticipated the utterly confounded look that Tharol now gave him. The old man’s face split into a wide grin and he laughed out loud.
“I’m sorry, I suppose that sounds like a riddle to you. But honestly I can’t think of a more complex answer that I can give to help you.”
“Complex?! I’m looking for something simple!”
“No, you’re not. You’re trying to tie yourself in a knot, connecting two competing beliefs together in one. You wanted me to give such a profoundly intricate solution that you could do just that. But I didn’t give you that. I gave you something too simple for you to abide. And I am sorry, but that it is still my answer. It is the only one I have to offer.”
“I–” Tharol shrugged his shoulders helplessly. “I can’t.”
“No, I see that. To be fair, there are few who can. And tell me, do you feel that this conversation has been fruitless?”
“I’m even more muddled than when we began!”
“I am not surprised. Forgive me for being so blunt, but you do not understand because you are not ready to. You have a notion in your head of what form the answers to your questions must take, and so long as you hold to those preconceptions, nothing that I can say to you will mean a thing. You will never find the words to make sense of a paradox.”
“Well what am I supposed to do then?” Tharol could not keep the frustration out of his voice.
“Stop being the paradox.”
And with that Master Palthio turned and walked away.
On Monday I spoke about how some stories began with an extended introduction, before they get to their main arcs. I suggested that my previous section in The Favored Son was just such an introduction, where we became acquainted with the world and characters, but really don’t have a catalyst to drive them forward.
Today we started to tease at those main arcs, as we explored Tharol’s struggle to understand his Order’s dogma, which suggests an arc that will resolve his dilemma. And, ultimately, the story will, but not in the way that he anticipates.
But we’re not fully into the meat of the story even now. We still have our great inciting incident yet to come, which will occur when we reach the Trials that turn pupils into masters.
Before we get to that, though, I want to take a look at my characterization of Master Palthio. The elder is written to be kindly, even-keeled, and assured. Whether or not the audience is not able to make sense of what he is saying, my hope is that they will feel like they should agree with him. Because he seems good-natured, we naturally assume that he is right. Just as we tend to take the advice of real-life people when we perceive them as having our own interests at heart.
There is a particular trick that I used to give Master Palthio the voice of truth, though. He calls out Tharol’s status as being exactly what we, the audience, have likely determined ourselves: the boy likable but conflicted. By having Palthio speak aloud the same notion as is in the reader’s mind, we trust him as having sound judgment.
With my next post I’d like to further examine this technique of setting up the reader to think something, echoing that thought in your story, and how this builds a connection between reader and writer. Come back on Monday to see how that turns out.