“Ah, Tharol! Come in, come in,” Master Palthio smiled, waving the youth into his personal office.
Tharol entered, and as he did the man that had been speaking with Master Palthio looked at him with utmost disdain.
Tharol knew the man. It was Master Olayo of the Fourteenth Gate. Like Master Palthio he maintained an Order and trained his acolytes in the arts of warfare and protection. All of the Guardmasters in this district met with one another from time-to-time, though each was solely responsible for the methods they employed at their own tower.
“Master Palthio–” Olayo didn’t try to hide the irritation in his voice– “I wasn’t finished speaking with you yet.”
“Oh, how awkward,” Master Palthio smiled, “because I was finished speaking with you.”
Tharol quickly looked to the ground, wishing he wasn’t present to see such an embarrassing scene. Eyes locked on the stone floor, he heard the frustrated huff from Master Olayo and the clattering of the man’s shoes as he stormed out of the room. Tharol waited a few moments more, then looked up to Master Palthio’s twinkling eyes.
“Thank you for coming, Tharol. I was in need of an excuse to end that conversation.”
“You’re–um–welcome, Master. I–“
“I do say, Tharol, you had a great deal to say during my procedure lesson this morning, didn’t you?”
Tharol bit back what he had been about to say. He had been going to mention the first half of what had transpired in the marketplace, the part about Beesk turning down funds for buying the mangos. He had intended to see how Master Palthio responded to that, before deciding whether to proceed with the rest of the story.
But now he was caught off guard by Master Palthio’s question. “Did I?” he asked. “I only interjected a few times, I thought.”
“Six. And I couldn’t help but notice a common theme to them all. You recommended…” he raised a piece of paper to his eyes, “counting-gears affixed to the gates to track how many times they are opened, guardsmen retaining a signed log for every entry and departure, a weekly audit of those records, issuing licenses to admitted merchants, and petitioning Lord Amathur to form a Marketplace Regulations department in his Court.”
Tharol looked sheepishly to the ground. “Today’s lesson was on security measures and how they could be improved, was it not?”
“Yes, it was. But there is a point where security becomes paranoia.”
“I wouldn’t say that it’s paranoia, Master. I’m not sure if you recall, but I pointed out that there are numerous ways our current processes could be abused–“
“Oh yes, Tharol, I recall. And I might add that I don’t appreciate you detailing them out loud for any boys who hadn’t ever considered those weaknesses!”
“Oh–yes…I see what you mean.”
“So you see flaws in our system. Do you know where our system comes from?”
“These are the proscribed measures given by Lord Amathur himself.”
“I had always assumed you came up with them?”
“I did when Lord Amathur’s father oversaw the district, but things changed when Amathur took the stewardship. Now all I have control of is how I conduct my training.”
“Well perhaps we should point out to him the flaws in his plan.”
“You’ve never seen the man, have you?”
“Well if you ever get the chance I would not recommend you critique his own plan to him. Ever.”
Master Palthio looked very meaningfully at Tharol, as if he wanted to say something that he couldn’t, but wanted Tharol to understand it without him saying the words.
“Because he–” Tharol began slowly.
“Because it isn’t your place,” Master Palthio moved on from the moment. “Because as everyone in this district will tell you, it isn’t your right to tell the man to put an Marketplace Regulations department in his own court! That is not our function, Tharol. Our function is to do as we are instructed.”
Master Palthio was quite agitated now, and Tharol knew he ought to be silent and mutter a ‘yes, sir.’ But somehow he couldn’t. Instead he felt himself growing angry, and his face grew flushed.
“Even if what we’re instructed to do is wrong!” he shot back.
Master Palthio fixed Tharol with fierce eyes. “You are part of an Order, Tharol! An Order under the Lord, for the Lord, and by the Lord. And as a member of that Order his will is your command. That is how this process works. If you’re not comfortable with that, then perhaps you should be relieved from the Order?”
Tharol bit back his first response and worked his anger out through trembling fists instead. “No, Master. I do not wish to be relieved.” To himself he added because then there wouldn’t be anyone honest keeping watching.
Master Palthio excused Tharol and he left the room with a storm raging around his head. His feet plodded heavily across the wooden floorboards and his hands were clenched in tight fists. His eyes were fixed on the ground in front of him, so that he didn’t notice anyone nearby until his name was called out.
“Tharol, you headed out for patrol?”
Tharol turned in the hallway and saw Reis approaching. The boy was coming from the Western Lookout, the pet falcon that belonged to their order perched on his shoulder.
“Yes,” he answered.
“And you’re Marshall today?”
“No, Beesk is.”
“Okay, well Bovik told you about the statue woman we met last time we were out there?”
“Yes. He said you wanted to find out more about what she wanted.”
“I mean I can’t imagine it’s something good. Otherwise she would just petition for entry by normal means, right?”
“It does sound suspect.”
“I’m glad you see it the same way,” Reis smiled, but then it turned to a frown. “But, uh…you said it was Beesk who’s Marshall today?”
“Oh, no reason.”
They stood a moment in silence, each looking long and hard at each other, as if evaluating how much to confide.
“Do you suspect Beesk of something?” Tharol finally asked.
“I might, too.”
“It might even be more than just ‘might suspect.'”
They nodded to each other.
“He has a deal with the merchants,” Tharol blurted out. “He’s been letting outsiders enter in exchange for their goods.”
Reis sighed. “I thought it was something like that. Does Master Palthio know?”
“Well…no. I had actually been about to tell him about it. But–I guess I got distracted.”
Reis squinted. “Are you not sure you can trust him?”
“Um, well…I don’t know….”
“Yes. It’s very hard to tell, isn’t it. Can’t be too careful after all.”
“Do you have your doubts, then? Is that why you didn’t tell Master Palthio about the statue woman yet?”
“Exactly. Only I can’t handle these threats by myself, either. We can’t do our job here without a team, and we can’t operate as a team if we don’t know whom we can trust.”
“What did you think of the ideas I was raising in class this morning?”
“Oh, excellent! All of them. A system of checks to help weed out the bad, it’s exactly what we need! Unfortunately, we don’t get to call the shots in those areas, do we?”
“Master Palthio just got done telling me the exact same thing.”
“Right. So I’m all for the order, but really there’s got to be an order within the order. A secret brotherhood that’s built on trust, that’s committed to actually doing the things that keep us safe. And Tharol, you’ve been honest with me, and I trust you. And you can trust me.”
Tharol nodded solemnly. How strange that it felt like agreeing to treason. A treason to be honest in protecting the City, though.
“So what do we do?” Tharol asked.
“I don’t know. Still trying to figure things out. But I do know that the first step is to figure out who can be trusted and who can’t. You and me are on the right side, and Beesk is obviously not. But what about the others?”
“Okay, so that’s what we work on figuring out. And listen, maybe today with the statue woman is a good opportunity for you to see where the other boys’ loyalties are. Try and give them a chance to show their true colors, whether for good or for bad. Find out what she wants, but also see how the others are taking it in.”
Tharol nodded. “I’ll do my best.” And for the first time since the trip to the marketplace with Beesk he felt a small rise of hope. Maybe he wasn’t so alone in this after all!
“Alright, so she was just up beyond there,” Bovik nodded inconspicuously to the tree line.
Bovik, Inol, Tharol, Beesk, and Avro were out on their patrol. They had spoken of little else but the statue lady.
“Easy boys,” Beesk said to the others. “We just act like this is any other patrol. If they’re going to speak to us, they’ll start it on their own. And whatever they say, we act like we’re going along with it, okay? See what it is we’re really dealing with.”
They were drawing very near to the line of trees now and each of the boys kept flitting their eyes from left to right, trying to be the first to catch any sign of the strange woman and her guard.
“Are you all looking for me?”
The boys jumped and whirled around, looking for where the voice was coming from. There, seated in the tall grass behind them was the woman. Only her head was high enough to be seen properly and it was blending in with the rocky outcropping that she had been laying against.
The boys continued to look left and right, trying to see where her guard was hiding.
“It is only me today,” she said softly, gliding up to her feet. “You need not fear any ambush.”
“Why were you hiding though?” Tharol demanded.
“I had to ascertain first whether you intended to ambush me. Suffice it to say that after our last meeting I wasn’t sure what your intentions would be.” She quickly rotated her head to examine each boy. “But when I saw that you didn’t have the ‘angry one’ among you my hopes for a reasonable conversation greatly improved.”
The other boys slowly looked up to Beesk. As Marshall it was his responsibility to negotiate with any potential threats encountered on the patrol.
“We were told you are looking for access to the city?” he asked.
“That is correct. Just for me and my bodyguard.”
“You know that there are already methods in place to petition for access, don’t you? Any citizen need only present–“
“But I am not a citizen.”
“No. And as I’m sure you know, there is no method for a non-citizen to sue for admission. That is the whole reason why I am here speaking to you and not your master.”
All the youth looked sideways to Beesk again. That was essentially an admission of illegal intent! Beesk thought for a moment, licking his lips as he considered what to say next.
“I see…” he began slowly. “Well of course…that makes things difficult…”
“I don’t think so. I think we have only to come to an understanding with each other. Perhaps you and I could have a word in private?”
“Standard Procedure states that no patrolman is to ever venture out alone, for fear of ambush,” Bovik quickly recited.
Tharol stared at him in awe, surprised that Bovik even knew the Standard Procedure, let alone would recite it.
“Yes, of course, usually that would mean my Sub-Marshall,” Beesk looked to Tharol, regarding him with raised eyebrows. “Unless…you didn’t think that was necessary?”
Tharol understood. Beesk wanted Tharol for a friend. He had been making an overture in the marketplace, slightly showing his dishonest hand, just to see what Tharol would do with that. Tharol hadn’t reported or confronted him, and so Beesk thought Tharol might be condoning him. Here was another test.
“Well,” Tharol waved dismissively. “You could just give us a report about it later, and that would be basically the same. Perhaps I could ask that each of you leave your weapons behind though?”
“Gladly,” the woman nodded, unclasping a dagger from her waist and handing it over. Beesk nodded to Tharol and turned over his sword as well.
There you go Beesk, Tharol thought to himself, enough rope to hang yourself with. Let’s see where your loyalties really lie.
He took the two weapons in hand and turned to lead the rest of the patrol off to a safe distance. For a moment his eyes met Bovik’s, and he found the boy was looking to him with an expression of confused hurt.
On Monday I shared how I occasionally look over what I have just written and am amazed at how wrong it feels. But upon closer examination I am usually able to find the reason why I wrote it that way, and what I need to change in my approach to write it properly.
With this post I found a few moments difficult to convey just the way I wanted. The first was when Master Palthio explained the hard facts to Tharol, about how the Guardsmen are little more than puppets of the district lord. The second tricky scene was when Tharol and Reis are each trying to hint at their suspicions of Beesk without entirely tipping their hand. And lastly when Beesk is asking Tharol what he thinks they should do about interrogating the woman and Tharol realizes he is being tested to see where his true colors lie.
And as I paused to consider these moments, I realized there was little wonder why each of these scenes was being troublesome, they were inherently the most complex moments in my entire chapter. You see, every single one of these moments featured characters who were trying to communicate…but also trying to leave things unsaid. They were hinting, or conveying a double meaning, or luring the other party into tipping their hand first.
These are some of the most intricate forms of communication we use, so of course writing them would prove a challenge. When we say one thing, but imply another, it is a very delicate process. And many of the tools that we use to accomplish it, facial expressions and body language for example, are not so readily available in a written context.
Now in this case, realizing what it was that made these areas so tricky didn’t really make correcting them any easier, but it did give me a sense of reassurance. There wasn’t anything wrong with me, these patches were hard simply because they were hard.
It did make me curious how other authors have handled this same conundrum, though. How do you write characters that say one thing but imply another? How do you have an obvious interpretation, but also a clear subtext? How do you make sure the audience is “in” on the greater meaning without hitting them over the head with it?
Come back on Monday as we look at a few examples of exactly that. Then we’ll continue weaving our web of mixed communication between Tharol and the others on Thursday.