“Rolar!” Aylme shrieked as she reached down and shook the boy. Some of the dark powder slid off his tunic and he gave a small moan, but his eyes remain closed. “Cace!” Aylme called to the side. “Cace, come help me!” Then she took hold of Rolar’s arm and pulled it around her shoulder. “What is it with you boys today?” she asked wearily. “Must I spend all my time saving you?”
“Aylme?” Cace groped through the twilight, trying to make his way to her voice. “Aylme, where are you?”
“Over here!” she waved an arm. “Rolar’s unconscious, you have to help me carry him.”
“Oh!” Cace said as he scampered over the roots and saw the older boy’s head lolling to the side. “What’s happened to him?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps he was bitten by something and poisoned. Help me get him away from here and back to the camp.”
Cace ducked underneath Rolar’s other arm and together the two of them were able to start moving the lad. It was difficult over the uneven roots, and it didn’t help that Rolar would suddenly give a cry and fling his head one way or another, nearly tipping them all over as he did.
“Rolar, can you hear us?” Aylme asked fearfully. “Rolar, speak to us!”
Rolar’s eyelids opened a slit, though not enough to actually see. Still he turned his face towards Aylme and gurgled out “It’s innnn my throaaat!” before his head slumped forward once more.
“In his throat?” Cace asked in surprise. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I don’t know. Here, let’s lay him down on his back.”
They did so, not quite so gently as intended, and Aylme pulled back his lips to reveal that the same black powder that had been over his tunic was coating his teeth. Looking down she saw that his hands were black with the powder as well.
“He’s been eating it!” Aylme said in shock. “Fetch me the waterskin. Quickly!”
Cace hurried back to the camp and soon was back with their waterskin. Aylme removed the stopper and carefully pried the mouth of the bottle between Rolar’s teeth. She squeezed a palmful of water into his mouth, then turned him on his side as he gagged, choked, and finally coughed out a large pile of the soggy powder. “Blech!” he exclaimed, finally returning to full consciousness. He rolled onto his back and looked up at the other two with fearful eyes.
“Help me!” he gasped. “Help me! Get it off!”
“You’re alright,” Aylme reassured him, palm pressed against this temple. “We’ve got you now, you’re alright.”
“No! My hands! It’s still on my hands!”
Aylme and Cace looked down at his ash-blackened hands. The fingers were bent unnaturally, scrabbling wildly in the dirt, like living creatures burrowing for safety.
“I can’t control them!” Rolar insisted. “Get…that…stuff off of them!”
Aylme reached to rub the dark powder off, but paused just short, realizing she didn’t want to transfer any of the stuff onto her own skin. Cace grabbed the waterskin out of her lap, though, and doused each hand. The ash washed away quickly and Rolar’s hands finally relaxed.
“Oh thank you!” the boy gasped.
“What was that?” Cace asked.
“I don’t know, I don’t know. But it was terrible!”
“I was digging at the roots of the tree, trying to see if there’s something blocking the moisture from getting to it. And then there was that black stuff–that powder–just beneath the soil. I tried to dig through it, tried to get down to the roots, but my hands started to shake and go numb! I couldn’t feel them and then they started moving on their own, like spiders! I wanted to move but they kept lunging deeper and deeper into the soil, pulling the rest of me down to it. I tried to call for help but they grabbed the soil and shoved it onto my mouth! I clamped shut, but they smothered my face until I gasped and then pushed they pushed the soil straight in! That was the last thing I knew…and then I was here with you.”
Cace and Aylme shivered.
“We’re going to die in this place!” Aylme sobbed. “We shouldn’t have ever come!”
Cace didn’t say anything, but silent tears ran down his cheeks as he hung his head.
Rolar almost wept with them, but he snapped himself out of it. He had to shove his ordeal down, had to make himself strong for the others.
“Hey, hey, hey, it’s alright,” he said soothingly. He sat upright and put his hands around the other two. “Look, I’m okay. Something bad happened, but we made it didn’t we? Just like we have every time already, just like we always will.”
“You would have died if I hadn’t found you!” Aylme wailed.
“But you did find me! You did. One of us couldn’t make it alone, but together we’re invincible. You save me today, I save you the next. We’ll never fail so long as we’re there to save each other.”
Cace blinked back his tears. “How do you know?”
“Believe me, Cace,” Rolar smiled back. “I just know. We didn’t make it this far just to fail now. But we’ve got to keep our faith in each other. We have to keep our trust alive.” He held out his hands to the other children in a pledge.
Aylme sniffed deeply and wiped away her tears with the side of her hand, then took one of Rolar’s hands in her own. “Well I’m scared…but I do promise I won’t let you two get lost. I promise I’ll take care of you.”
“That’s the spirit,” Rolar nodded. “And I promise I’ll take care of you two, too.”
“And I’ll take care of you two, too” Cace affirmed, grabbing the others’ free hands with his own.
“Doubly protected,” Rolar said.
“Doubly protected,” the other two repeated.
And with that Cace decided…he would go back to the Ether that very night.
Reis and Tharol walked to the end of the central dais and to the other side of a wide column, which nearly shut them out of view of the other youth.
“Alright, what is it?” Reis demanded as soon as they were around the pillar.
“I don’t want to embarrass you, Reis,” Tharol explained, “that’s why I had us come here, you understand? I just wanted to ask you why you told the others those–those stories about me. That I was the one who wanted to investigate them, that that was my own idea and not yours?”
“It as good as was your idea. You made it clear that you don’t trust all the rest of them either.”
“Reis…that’s not true. I’m worried for them, but I think that they’re good. And it wasn’t my idea, not even a little. It was yours.”
“So that’s what you’re here for? To accuse me? Try and get some dirt to make the others doubt me?”
“Reis, please stop this!” Tharol sighed in exasperation. “No one is here to hurt you. I just need us to be on the same footing. Why are you so convinced that I’d be a traitor anyway? Why are you telling them things about me that aren’t true?”
“Well I–I still don’t know that you’re not a traitor–“
“Well I don’t, I just know that someone is. It could be you.”
“What makes you so sure that one of us is? I only saw elders attacking us back there.”
“Raystahn…it told me!”
“It did!” Reis was speaking very quickly and excitedly now, unable to hide his eagerness to share his secrets with Tharol. It’s what I was showing to the rest of them here at the centrifuge after you left that day. There was that first set of symbols you heard about, the ones that change whenever you move, but there were also symbols that changed much more slowly. They would stay the same for days at a time, and then shift ever so slightly.”
“And you interpreted them?”
“Not all the way. I had my suspicions, but I wasn’t sure of them until I saw what happened today in the amphitheater.”
“What were the symbols.”
“Just shapes, circles and triangles. But the triangles were breaking the circles, pressing their points into them and splitting them in two! From when I first saw it I could tell whatever that meant it wasn’t good.”
“And after what happened today…you believe the triangles are the elders and we’re the circles? I suppose that could be…though it’s not sure. And I don’t see where the theory of a traitor comes from that either.”
“Because there’s always been another symbol among the circles. One that is also circle, but which has a triangle inscribed within it.”
Something about that struck Tharol very deep.
“I suppose you think that doesn’t mean anything either,” Reis shook his head. “But I can’t explain it to you. It does have a significance, I can just feel it.”
“No, I believe you,” Tharol said, his mind trying to make sense of his intuitions. “But–but it isn’t just elders against acolytes and a traitor in our midst–that’s close, but that’s not quite it.”
“It’s an invasion.”
If possible, Reis’s eyes went wider than before.
“You think–? You think this is what the Invasion looks like?”
“I–I think so…”
Reis looked skeptical. “But what the Cryptics described made the Invasion sound far more…extreme.”
“I think this is how it starts. And from here it gets even worse.”
“Well…then we would still have a traitor. Even worse, actually. Someone among us who’s actively being taken over by the Invasion.”
“And you assume that it’s me.”
“Well–yes? I didn’t think so at first, but then…you were the only one who wouldn’t make a pledge. And you ignored me when I told you about my suspicions.”
I didn’t agree with you, so you assumed I was evil. Tharos thought to himself in exasperation.
“But…you see the importance of what I’ve been saying now, don’t you?” Reis continued. “Now you understand why we need the pledge, now you see why we need to investigate and root out any Invaded. Don’t you?”
Reis was offering to let Tharol back into the circle, but Tharol couldn’t help but sense the implied threat if he didn’t.
“Well of course I see that things have to be different now,” Tharol said. “We’re on our own…we’re facing extinction. We need to be bound to each other, yes, of that I’m certain.”
“So you’re willing to make a pledge to me now?”
“A pledge to everyone. I want all of us to make a pledge to each other. Me to you, and you to me, both of us to Bovik and him to both of us, and so on and so on.”
“What? Well that wouldn’t mean anything,” Reis scrunched up his nose.
“That would mean everything. We’d all be bound in every direction. We’d all be equal, as we should be.”
“No, that’s not it. You just don’t want to follow my lead still. Why not?”
Tharol bit the inside of his cheek. Reis could be a pompous fool, but when it came to a shift of power, he didn’t miss a trick. He was right of course, the last thing Tharol wanted was to be directly bound to Reis. Reis was too proud, too distrusting, and Tharol would rather follow anyone else instead.
“It’s–it’s like you said before, Reis. We all have different strengths, and we’re meant to unite them together. This is how we do it, by sharing the responsibility together equally across us all.”
Reis snorted. “Please. The others need a leader and you know it. And that’s my particular strength: leading. That’s how we band together. Everyone else sees it. Everyone else has already made their pledge. Whether you like it or not, Tharol, the new order has already been formed, and the only question is if you’re with it or not.”
Reis was right, the other youth had already committed themselves. And if Tharol couldn’t convince Reis, there wouldn’t be any convincing them either. They would just defer to whatever they were told, and view any argument against Reis as an attack against them all.
We have to stay together, Tharol thought to himself. Even if it’s an imperfect banner, what matters is that we all stand united under it.
“Alright then, Reis. I’ll make a pledge.”
A few moments later and the two of them came out from behind the stone column, over to the dais where the rest of the youth were collected. Reis was practically beaming with his triumph.
“Well you were quite a while,” Marvi pouted. “I was starting to get worried.”
“It’s fine,” Reis waved his hand dismissively. “I told you that I’d handle things.”
“So what’s the situation with him,” Inol tipped his head towards Tharol.
“We’ve talked things over, and it seems there was a misunderstanding between us. Tharol sees the importance of what we’re doing here now, and he’s made his pledge to our new Order.”
“Are we really our own order now?” Bovik breathed in awe.
“Well certainly we’re not part of the old one anymore,” Golu said bitterly.
“I still don’t understand what happened,” Inol spoke up. “I just can’t believe that every order is supposed to end with its elders trying to kill all of their followers.”
“I don’t think it is,” Tharol shook his head. “They were supposed to just pass on. Did you see how most of them meditated into nothingness? That’s what they were meant to do, resign their lives so that there was space for us to take over.”
“But not all of them did.”
“Yes, well, clearly not every elder was as ready for such a sacrifice. I think Master Orish anticipated that when he made his speech. Maybe that’s how it is every time. Maybe there’s always those who would rather keep their place, even if doing so meant killing the next generation.”
“But why would those be the only choices?” Bovik demanded. “Why can’t they just live alongside us until they die naturally?”
“I…don’t know. Somehow it doesn’t work that way.”
“And would that mean that the elders who defended us were in the wrong, too?” Marvi added. “Do you mean that they should have just blinked away into nothing instead of helping us?”
“I don’t know…maybe.”
“Yes, he doesn’t know,” Reis cut in, frustrated that Tharol had become the center of questions. “And making idle guesses isn’t going to help us right now. What we need now is to act swiftly and strongly. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’d say I saw five times as many elders trying to kill us as trying to defend us. It’s only natural to assume that anyone who was going to be a help is already dead. If we see an elder from this point on, they’re our enemy.”
Reis paused a moment to let that notion sink in.
“So…if we see an elder…you want us to kill them?” Bovik asked slowly.
“It’s kill or be killed, simple as that.”
“We could run,” Tharol countered.
“Not a chance!” Reis spat. “This is our Order now. Our chance to earn our future. You heard what Master Orish said, it’s ours, but only if we’re able to take it.”
“But we don’t know how to move and fight like they do,” Tharol shook his head. “They’ve had so many more years and learned so much more.”
“Yeah, they’re old! And weak! Sure, they got the jump on us earlier when we weren’t expecting anything, and things didn’t look so good then. But now, when we know what we’re facing, we’ll cut them to pieces! Or is that not how you escaped?”
“I…did kill two of them. But it wasn’t me. Master Palthio was helping. He was…honestly I don’t know how to say it other than he invaded me! But he was doing it to help, just for a very brief moment. I wouldn’t have had a chance on my own.”
“Well…I guess martial skills never were your forte,” Reis scoffed. “Plus you’re forgetting the most important matter of them all. This is the Invasion. I’ve seen it in Raystahn. So it wouldn’t matter if we were outmatched a hundred-to-one, the simple fact is we have a duty to do. We make our stand here and now. Stand to protect the world from being Invaded because we’re the only ones that have the training to do it.”
Tharol opened his mouth, intending to point out that fighting the Invasion just created strife, which the Cryptics taught could only further Invasion. But before he could say a word Marvi shouted “Hear! Hear!” and then all the other youth rushed in to join her.
Well that’s that, Tharol thought ruefully. The leader has spoken.
Tharol kept himself aloof from the rest of the conversation that evening, while Reis and a few of the others planned how they would retrieve weapons and launch a counterattack against the elders. Tharol felt muddled inside, more than ever before, and he preferred to have some time alone.
So he took up watch at the eastern edge of the centrifuge. There were two youth assigned to watch at every forty-five degrees of the clearing. One youth roamed outside the centrifuge, patrolling the halls of the hedge maze in that area, while the other stood within, demanding a password when the patrolling youth came back inside.
Then the two would swap places and continue their joint patrol/watch. Passing back-and-forth through the centrifuge was exhausting work. Every time you exited, the only way to return was through some totally new mechanic. It became a great mental taxation then, puzzling out one solution after another.
Perhaps the inconsistency of approach was the reason why none of the elders had attempted to invade the centrifuge yet. It couldn’t have taken them long to scour every other corner of the Abbey, and it wasn’t as if the youth’s fascination with the area was much of a secret. But how could the elders plan a proper assault where every member of the attacking party would have to come into the centrifuge by a different method, and thus break into it at different times? The youth would be able to cut them down one-at-a-time.
That was just as well as far as Tharol was concerned. The fact was that he had no desire to kill the elders at all. He had seen how Master Omil’s face had changed from hate to remorse right before he had vanished at the end. He felt that he had seen the real Master Omil in that final moment. Not a monster trying to eat him, but a man who was regretful and broken. Tharol got the sense that Master Omil had not been in his right mind when he attacked. There had been a shadow over his face, and it was that image which convinced Tharol most of all that this was the work of the Invasion.
And perhaps some of the elders had done something wrong. Perhaps they had not been vigilant enough. Perhaps the Invasion had taken them over because they were too naïve or stupid or careless. Perhaps it had taken advantage of their fears, had been invited in by their hesitancy to move on. But now were they to be executed simply for having been human?
“Brilliant,” Reis clapped Inol on the shoulder over at the central dais, praising him for some scheme the youth had just concocted. “They won’t be able to draw near without being cut to ribbons!”
On Monday I spoke about stories that exist in more than one iteration. I even shared how I was considering releasing more than one version of The Favored Son, just so that I could explore all the possible different variations on it that I was thinking of.
And I may yet do that, but for the time being I will write this version to be the fullest, most complete vision that I can, and perhaps after I’ve done that I’ll no longer feel the need for a new interpretation. I’ll see when I get there, and until then I am free to write this first version exactly the way that I want.
That freedom has helped me a great deal to let go of the old ideas, and build on the new. And with that freedom I have worked a recurring pattern into the story that was not in my original design. And that recurring element is the youth in the centrifuge. The story began with them there, contemplating the changing of the Order. Then, after the attack they have returned to it to take stock of the situation and plan their next step. Next they are headed off to battle, and I will have them return to the centrifuge a final time at the end to review the aftermath of that effort.
Thus I will have used the centrifuge as a place for the youth to recollect themselves after every major plot development. It is a place to pause, reflect, and solidify themes and intentions. Of course, mine is not the only story to feature a recurring location like this, a safe zone where characters and readers can collectively gather their thoughts. This is actually a very common trope. Come back on Monday where we will examine the value of a recurring refuge in a story, and how it has been utilized in other tales.
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.