He leaned forward and spoke thoughtfully. “For this movement to be successful, it can’t be just a Cassian military exercise -- as belated as it may be. This has to be a movement of the people. For our numbers to grow, for our strength to increase to where it needs to be, we’ll need ordinary people fighting right along with the military. That has to begin now.”
Gell said, “Well, we do have a good number of civilians here who have been in training, some for a long time now. I’m sure we can put together an effective force from their numbers, as long as a good percentage of the team is military.”
“Who do you have in mind to command?” Lo asked Gell.
Wes answered for him. “Major Seret will lead the team.”
Gell looked around the room, a little surprised. But he would do as ordered. “That’s fine with…”
Wes cut him off. “And I’m going with you.”
* * *
The room exploded in loud disagreement. Several in the group shouted out reasons why Wes had to stay at Base One.
“Don’t be foolish,” said Falshawn, clearly more worried than anyone else. “You can’t possibly be serious.”
“What are you thinking, Wes?” added Kej.
“I agree,” said Lo. “We can’t put you in that kind of position.”
“Why not?” he asked.
Falshawn jumped in before Lo could answer, leaving her chair and walking to his side. “You absolutely cannot go, Wes. You know how badly Sha’ad wants you, and you know why. Your father sent you here to keep you from him. I can’t allow you to even consider such a thing.”
Teagan finally spoke up. “That’s not your decision, Teacher.”
Falshawn stared back. “Are you saying you think he should go?”
“And what purpose would it serve other than to possibly get him killed, or worse, put him in the hands of Sha’ad?”
Wes answered. “How can I order people to fight -- and maybe die -- for our cause if I’m not willing to do the same? I can’t be just some kid born into this position without having earned it. I need to earn the right to order them into future battles; in their eyes and my own.”
“No one questions your willingness to fight,” said Falshawn. “And no one expects you to.”
“That’s not the feeling I get,” said Wes. “Everyday, from almost everyone I see, I get the same look. They’re wondering what I’m made of, or if I’m cut out to be their King. Oh, they’re polite about it, and try to hide their feelings behind a smile or a respectful nod. But it’s there; a look that goes straight through your skin. I’ve even seen it a few times from people in this room.”
“You can’t base your decision on your perception of what other people think of you,” said Lo.
“I’m not. I’m basing it on what I think of myself.”
“Have you even prayed about this?” asked Falshawn.
“Of course I have,” said Wes, somewhat offended that she would think otherwise.
“Wes,” said Gell. “I have to agree with them. It’s a brave gesture, but…”
“It’s no gesture,” he interrupted. “I’m going with you. Now, I’m not saying I’m going to lead the mission -- that’s for you to do -- but I am going to fight. That I can do. I’ve had my own share of military training, don’t forget; one of the benefits of being a son of royalty. And when our people hear that I fought for them, they will be more willing to fight for me and this cause. Their cause.”
“And what if you’re killed?” asked Kej.
The room went silent.
“I’ll make sure he isn’t.” Heads turned. It was Jat.
Falshawn threw up her hands. “This is ludicrous! Look what you’ve started, Wes. Neither of you have any business doing any such thing. I can’t…I won’t allow it!”
“Wasn’t it just as dangerous to have my father sneaking around for the past year? Did you try to stop him?”
“Of course not,” she answered, shaking her head. “He was Ki…”
She didn’t finish the word. The room got quiet again.
Wes looked up at her and then scanned the faces around him. “You’ve just made my point, Teacher.”
Falshawn went back to her seat, embarrassed over what she had let slip. She spoke slowly and softly. “I’m sorry, Wes. I…I didn’t mean to imply…It’s just that I know what’s really at stake here, and, well…having Jat watching you may not be enough.”
Jat looked across the table at his oldest brother. “What about you, Kej?”
Wes looked too, and Kej knew what he wanted to hear, but… “I…I think it’s best I monitor things from here.”
“Kej, please…” started Jat.
“I want to as badly as you, but…”
Wes dropped his head. It wasn’t what he hoped for, but deep down, it was what he expected. “That’s all right, Kej. We can’t all rush off. At least one Aettian should remain here, to provide some… continuity, just in case.”
“At least one of you is thinking straight,” chided Falshawn under her breath.
“I’ll take his place,” said Teagan. “I’ll watch your back.”
“And what good will that do?” asked Falshawn, her vigor back.
“Well, since I’ll be at his side and not just sitting around praying, I’ll at least be in position to do something.”
Wes smiled and shook his head, amazed at Teagan’s ability to be constantly abrasive, and yet so…so… He cleared his head.
“No changing your mind about this?” asked Gell
“No. The decision is made, Major. This operation will be designated Oil Fire, and you have three members of your team right here. Get about picking the rest.” He stood up. “My father’s war begins in six days.”
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