The first few days Wes and Jat spent in the cave were hard. They rested, learned their new surroundings and some of the people who lived and worked there, but mainly they grieved. They found their hearts too wounded to do much else.
After that, Jat was able to move on faster than his brother, but he also seemed more altered by their loss. He visibly changed. Robbed already of most of his youth, the loss of his parents further accelerated his aging. In just a matter of days he added ten years of maturity, false as it may have been. Already a fit and athletic young man, he began training with the Pantheons. He shaved his hair to within a quarter-inch of his scalp per military regulations, forgot how to smile, and took on the persona of a soldier, one much older than his sixteen years should have allowed.
With no official duties or responsibilities, his mind was free for the taking, and hate quickly moved in and claimed it. Always the more emotional and quick-tempered of the three brothers, this new Jat wanted nothing from life but revenge, and he was quite open about his desire with anyone who would listen.
Usually, that was Wes. Every morning, like this morning, they would run together through the caves and talk about what they could or should do to avenge their parents. Wes wanted to as badly as Jat, but the Crown felt heavier each day and the decision Jat so badly wanted his brother to make grew more difficult. For Jat it was all about emotion: do the act and damn the consequences. For Wes, consequences were all he could think of. The palpable lust for vengeance had been replaced by thoughts of practicality and timing and – as much as he hated himself for it – making sure he didn’t make the wrong decision. And this reluctance – this fear – was becoming more obvious to those around him. Especially Jat.
“I still say waiting for Spring is a mistake. Just because it was Father’s plan doesn’t mean it has to be yours,” he argued. “We weren’t coming here to hide, remember? We’re here to fight.”
“I haven’t forgotten, but what do you expect me to do?”
“Well, we’re supposed to be a resistance. Let’s start resisting. And soon.”
Wes slowed to a stop, breathing heavily, his hands at his waist. “Attack the Naborn? Just like that?”
Wes leaned against a wall and examined his brother closely. He could hardly recognize him. “Do you have something specific in mind, or does that even matter?”
“No, it doesn’t. Let’s just do something, Wes. We’re all tired of waiting.”
“We’ve been here, what, less than a month? And you can already read the mood of people you hardly even know? Don’t tell me ‘we’re all tired of waiting’. You have no idea what these people want.”
Jat wiped the sweat from his face. “If they didn’t want to fight, they wouldn’t be here. And don’t forget, they’ve all been waiting a lot longer than we have. They want to fight now, and you’d know that if you spent more time outside your quarters.”
Wes knew what he meant. He had kept himself too isolated. Each day after his run with Jat he’d have breakfast with Gell, get his daily briefing from Colonel Lo and other officers, and then spend an hour or two with Falshawn studying and learning more about the various royal protocols he felt so awkward with. After that, he’d disappear into his quarters for most of the remaining day.
He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter what they want. It’s my decision.”
“Then make it, already. Your advisors have given you plan after plan, some they’ve been thinking about for months. Pick one. Just pick one so we can get on with what we’re here to do.”
Wes stood stiff. “It’s not that easy!”
“It’s not supposed to be.”
“You’re right.” He paused. “It’s not.” He shook his head and waved his hand. “But how they feel, you feel, or I feel…it doesn’t matter. The fact is we’re just not ready.”
Jat stepped close and asked, “Who’s not ready?” And then he walked away.
He was right. Wes wasn’t ready. Being King was a heavy load he never expected to carry, and leading a rebellion was something he never even imagined he’d have to do. Deep down he wished he could be more like Jat, free to focus on the hate he felt just as much. But he was King, so he kept it hidden, buried beneath a pile of self-imposed caution.
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