When Wes finished he said nothing. There was nothing he could say. He was sad, touched, confused. He knew what was happening, but the words he needed to say were difficult to form, his throat too tight, his tongue too shaky. He was overwhelmed by the position in which he suddenly found himself.
After several minutes, he finally felt composed enough to turn around. He walked around the heater to Falshawn, and handed the Message Ball back to her.
“No,” she said, standing. “That belongs to you.”
He nodded and slipped it into his coat pocket.
“I hope it provided some answers.”
He shook his head. “Some.” His father was right. His head was filled with questions, and he was determined to ask them. “I need to know more before I can do what you’re asking.”
“Your father warned me of your…inquisitive nature.” She smiled. “You may ask any question you like, and if I can, I’ll answer it.”
Wes thought a moment, wondering what he needed to know most. “Alright then. Why me?”
Her eyes tightened. “Because you are the Chosen…”
“That’s what I mean. Why me? Kej is first-born. He’s been preparing his whole life for this. He lives for politics. It should have gone to him, just as it always has.”
She took hold of his arm and guided him toward a wall several yards from the others, looked back, then stepped close and spoke softly. “The choice of Heir has nothing to do with birth-order. It’s not even mentioned in the Law as a criteria.”
“Why not Jat, then? He’s the fighter.”
“And what about you, Wes? Just lost in the middle are you? You think you’re not the most driven or the bravest, so you can’t possibly be the right choice. Hmm?”
“Something like that.”
“So, I ask you again, Teacher. Why me?”
“Your father chose you, as he was led to by the Creator. The rest he left to faith, as will I. As should you.”
He looked beyond the old woman and stared at the others. They were warming themselves by the heater, making no attempts to eavesdrop.
He continued in a whisper. “This isn’t something I want.”
“Want has very little to do with it.”
“That’s not what I mean. You’re asking me to take a position I don’t even believe in. I’ve always thought it would be better to allow the people to elect their leader and eliminate the…awkwardness of the dualocracy.” He searched his memory. “Do you remember when there was all that debate in the Senate about the monarchy and its relevance?”
“Ah, yes…Senatorial Proxy Jeriko and his bunch. I remember.”
“My father and I discussed that on many occasions. I agreed with Jeriko more often than with my father. Granted, I was young, but he knew how I felt, and all the schooling he put me through failed to change my mind. And yet, he chooses me. Why would he do that?”
She turned away, debating in her mind how to answer, carefully navigating the bounds between what she felt she needed to tell him and what she could.
“Your father could see in you things you’ve not yet seen yourself. But you must understand that much of this was never in his hands. God and destiny play a much bigger role here than you might imagine. Beyond that I’m afraid I can’t explain.”
“It was his choice, Teacher. He was upset with Kej, so he chose me. I don’t see where destiny came into play.”
“Only because you’re not looking at it correctly.”
“Enlighten me, then.”
A smile came across her slightly wrinkled lips. “You’re very clever, but I’m sorry. I can’t. Soon, but not now.”
She looked at his distraught face, his tired eyes down, his mind chewing on her words. He took a few slow steps away, then back, and with his index finger he spun the oversized ring around his thumb. In just a few days it had already become a nervous habit.
“I’m relieved to see that,” she said, pointing with her eyes to the ring. “When I heard about how quickly you had to leave I was worried your father might have forgotten. Praise God, he didn’t.”
He looked at it. “Why is it so important? Gell said I can never take it off.”
“Over the centuries it has come to be called the Ring of God. It’s as old as Cassia itself, and every King has worn it. Normally, it is given from father to son during the Passing.”
“What are these symbols?
“They represent your ancestors, the line of Aettian kings. The last is your father.”
Her head jerked up. “No! No, it’s much more than that. And Gell is right, you must wear it always.”
She bit her lip. “I’m sorry. I can’t answer that.”
Wes walked away again, even further, and anger followed him. She’s not telling me anything! He was frustrated by the same system of denial his father had always deployed when such topics were raised. Falshawn was answering his questions, but without providing the information he desperately felt he needed.
He stopped and motioned for her to come close, knowing no matter how he felt it still had to remain between them. “You’re just like my father, talking in half thoughts, ending your answers before you’ve really said anything. Why?”
He is persistent. “That is one question to which you already know the answer.”
He knew instantly. “Because I haven’t reached the age of Passing.”
He swallowed a lump in his throat. “Teacher, it’s been three days and I haven’t even had time to think about what’s happened. I haven’t had a chance to grieve, to even start to miss my parents. Now I’m learning things about my father and his plans that were purposely kept from me, despite the fact he knew I’d be the one who would have to carry them out. Every person in this room -- except for Jat -- knows more about what’s going on than I do, and yet, I’m expected to lead them? And when I ask for just a few answers, you hide behind the Law.”
“I’m not sure hiding is the right word.”
He swallowed again, his hands emphasizing his words. “It just seems like I’m expected to be old enough to take the Throne, but I’m not old enough to know why. Don’t you understand? My head is swirling with feelings and doubts and questions. I need answers to build a foundation on which I can deal with these things. Don’t deny me that foundation.”
“I understand how you feel, Wes, and how overwhelming this must be. But you must understand my position. It is forbidden by the Law for me to fully explain why you were the one chosen, or about the ring, or a dozen other things you haven’t even asked about yet. I’m not hiding behind anything. I realize your situation is unique and it would be easier for you if you knew. But for me to ignore Sacred Law would require me to ignore the sovereignty of the one who gave us the Law. Our people have done too much of that, and look where we are now.”
She paused. The anxiety of the moment was getting to her, as well. She wanted to give him something. But what?
“Listen, on your twentieth birthday – what, just barely a month away -- you will go through the Passing ceremony just as your father did, and his father before him, and for dozens of generations before. Unlike any of them, you will already be King. Still, it will be the most important day in your life. I promise you, on that day I will tell you everything you want to know, but not a day before. Until then, you will have to rely on your instincts and all the other reasons why your father had so much confidence in you. Most of all, you must rely on your faith. You can’t see God, but you know he exists. You can’t understand God, but you follow him. That will have to be your foundation.”
Her eyes watered. Wes could see she wanted to tell him everything, but her obedience to the Law -- to God -- kept her from doing so. He respected that, and he would not push the matter a second more.
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