Gray’s Current Plan
“And now, perhaps we should discuss the reason you’ve come—uninvited again—to my chamber today.” Shel nodded toward the book sitting next to Gray on the desk. “I know why you’re here, of course.”
“Yes, I thought you did.”
“Here is what you must understand about Islanders.” Shel shook his finger at him. “They are a people of unique traditions, Gray. Parents—specifically the father—retain authority in the child’s life until that child marries. Boy or girl, it is the same. The parents hold complete authority. Here is an example of what I mean. When he discovered she was barren, Nari’s father didn’t consult her before writing to ask me to find her a husband on the mainland; he simply did it because he sees his unmarried children as extensions of himself. Therefore, any interest in one of his children will need to be expressed to him, before anything is officially decided with the child. It is a highly offensive action on the islands for someone to negotiate with the child and leave the parents out of it.”
“Ah.” Shel studied him with narrowed eyes. “So the two of you have discussed some of this already. Well, if that’s the case, what specific question has driven you into my illustrious presence today?”
After a moment’s hesitation, Gray reached down and tapped the book with two fingers. “You have written many interesting things about the South Islands. As always, this book proves to be a well of wisdom. However, I’ve come across one point that I cannot understand whatsoever. I have not found it to be true with Nari, and so I’m having trouble placing it with the rest of her people.”
Shel slowly began to smile. “Yes? And what is that?”
“What do you mean when you say Islanders are loud?”
The sage laughed. His merriment seemed to fill the room. “This, too, I have written about in length but not in this book. That book is very old—old and trapped somewhere in a private library in Theraine. Allow me to be a reader and tell you what I wrote.”
Rocking back on his heels, Shel began: “‘Where the continent uses ink, the islands use paint. Where the continent closes doors, the Islanders throw them open and welcome the gods to come in and do what they wish. No one on the islands makes any kind of significant decision without consulting the gods first.’”
“How does this mean they are loud?”
“I do not speak of sound, Gray. I don’t mean they are loud to the ears. They are loud to the heart. This book you’re reading is the second volume in a series. If you had been able to read both books together, you would understand. Islanders are deeply fascinated with the colors and movements of the gods. They do not love quiet things as much as they love the dramatic. The bold. The unexpectedly loud, but again not in a physical sense. On the Islands, if you wish to discern the heart of another, you are expected to look at the visible signs of that person’s passion. What has that person done to show the depth of his heart?”
Shel’s brows rose up his forehead. “Islanders believe that very few people on the continent feel deeply about anything, because we rarely devote themselves to extreme displays of passion. That’s what speaks to them the most: extreme displays of passion.”
“So you are saying that I must be prepared to show what I feel for Nari. I cannot convince her father just by speaking with him.”
“You will never be able to convince any Islander of anything just with words. Yes, you will need to prove your passion.” Shel frowned. “And I don’t mean with something like flowers. Not that you were thinking of such a thing, of course, but they don’t like flowers—anyone can give a flower, and flowers die. If you ever give Nari a flower, she will be highly offended.”
“I’ll remember this.”
“Good.” Shel paused, looking at Gray carefully.
Gray’s stomach clenched. “What is it?”
“I am having an interesting thought. About the prophecy my brother gave you. This—this hope you have with Nari—may be an early step to fulfilling that prophecy. You will not be able to hide on the islands. They don’t understand hiding. So you will have to stand out. You will need to be bold and unhidden if you want to make a good impression on her father.”
Gray did want to make a good impression on her father.
They spoke for a little while longer, and then Gray slid off the desk and started the long walk to the door, his head full of Shel’s words. He often felt like this after a conversation with Shel—or with any sage, actually. It was like his mind could no longer walk in a straight line but reeled from all the information that had just been dumped into it.
He turned back around.
Shel pulled in a deep breath, let it out. “I would like to leave for Theraine in two days, and I do not believe you will have returned by then. This means Tell will need to travel with Nari and me. Without you.”
Gray nodded. “I’ll talk to him about it. I don’t think he’ll have any trouble being left with you and Nari this time, especially since I will be returning just a few days later.”
Shel glanced out the window. Momentary silence hung in the air, and then he looked back to Gray.
“Do you understand what you’ve done with this boy? Intelligence Rayme—the prince of Rak-Min. A child who is leaving behind thoughts of slavery and abuse and is finally able to step into the light of day on his own.”
Shel did not. Keeping his voice low, he said, “You saw what he needed. He needed a father—a man who was strong enough to stand in the river with him and turn the current, so it would not destroy him. Perceiving this need, you wanted to take him to his father. You wanted to repair what had been separated, thinking that would help the issue.” Shel’s brows jumped toward his hairline again. “But you didn’t realize you had the wrong man.”
“The wrong man?”
“Yes.” Shel pointed at him. “Tell didn’t need Tallus Rayme. He needed you. You could have remained hidden in this matter, if you wished. That is true. But instead, you chose to stand in the river with a boy who was lost, and you gave him the incentive and the means to rediscover his footing. That is what a father does, Gray. Though he must pay a heavy price at times, it doesn’t matter the expense or the time involved; it doesn’t matter if he must throw himself off a cliff to catch the one who is falling. It doesn’t matter if he must change his plans or—” The corners of Shel’s mouth twitched. “—step into the light, so he can be seen for the first time. A man who carries the divine blessing of fatherhood will fight for his child. It is a bond like iron, one only the gods truly understand. I will be able to speak to Tell now, because of you. I will be able to lead him and make certain he is ready for his throne, because of you. It is no small matter to turn a slave into a prince. But you have made the process easier.”
Gray didn’t know what to say. Clearing his throat, he murmured, “You give me great honor.”
Shel smiled fully, amusement glinting in his eyes. “Be careful. Honor makes it very hard for a person to hide.”
“DID YOU SEE THIS?”
As Gray walked into the sitting room, Tell held up a news announcement, one of the weekly papers printed all over Ra-Faal to update the local populace on what occurred in other parts of the province. Several provinces, as well as King’s Barrow itself, regularly printed such announcements, and Gray had found them to be useful in his profession. Not because of the information they provided him, but because of the information he could provide others. He had “used” a news announcement for the king’s business on more than one occasion.
“No, I haven’t read it yet,” he replied and sat down on the couch opposite Tell.
“The prince is officially investigating Areth, my former master, for abuse and battery. It says here, ‘For the willful neglect and intent to cause harm to men and women lawfully protected by the throne.’” Surprise widened Tell’s eyes. “The writer even suggests that Areth might go to prison. I just— I didn’t realize the prince would do this.”
This, Gray realized, was partly what Shel meant when he said it was difficult to turn a slave into a prince. “Why are you surprised?” he asked the boy. “You are a member of the king’s family, an heir within the House of Rayme. That is what Areth and his sons lifted their hands to abuse. It doesn’t matter that they didn’t know who you were. Neither does it matter that you didn’t know at the time. No one can lay a hand against a member of the House of Rayme and expect to remain unscathed.”
Gray gestured toward the paper in Tell’s hand. “But even if you had no family, no support whatsoever, the prince would have responded in similar fashion, for this is the very thing he is trying to abolish in the province. He has no patience for slave abusers. Any person who owns slaves in Ra-Faal is already out of favor with him. So whenever he finds a landowner who is abusing the men and women in his charge, Lukas responds with force.”
“But Areth pays some of the highest taxes in the province,” Tell insisted. “I heard him talking about it once. I had no idea the prince would be so aggressive with a man who provides key financial support for him.”
Gray shrugged. “Lukas does not consider key financial support when making his decisions.”
Tell blinked. “He is the sole ruler of the province. He must care about financial support.”
“I mean, it is not what compels him. He doesn’t put himself in positions where he must choose between following wisdom and making a profit. He will choose wisdom every time, even at the expense of profit. And that is just one reason his province is the wealthiest in Dasken.”
The sitting room grew quiet. Tell frowned at Gray for a moment and then lifted the paper and started reading again.
As Gray prepared to speak, the door opened and a servant appeared, carrying a large and ornately decorated tea tray. The man slid it onto the table between the couches and then bowed and departed.
Neither man moved.
“Tell,” Gray said, “I need to go away for a few days. Will you be comfortable staying by yourself with Shel and Nari? I don’t believe I will be gone for more than three or four days. At the most.”
Tell looked up. “The moment you walked in, I felt that you were both overly pleased and apprehensive at the same time. It isn’t fear, of course, but more like a low-level concern, while your pleasure is great indeed. This is a peculiar mix of emotions. I don’t often feel that you are nervous about anything.”
Tell adjusted position on the couch. The motion somehow appeared somewhat anxious, as if Gray had inadvertently shared his nerves with him.
“Where are you going?” Tell asked. “Is it a place you can tell me?”
Gray sighed. “I am going to the islands.”
Tell stared at him. Then the boy started laughing. He laughed until he had to wipe his eyes. “You think her father is going to say no to you.”
“Come now, Tell…”
Tell laughed harder. “You think he might refuse you! You—the man who could give him anything he wanted. An e’nethaine. Someone he doesn’t expect at all and would no doubt give his right arm to impress, and yet here you are trembling.”
“I am not trembling.”
“But yes,” Gray replied. “Giving him anything he wants is my current plan.”
– H –
Comment below or click here to find us on Facebook. The next chapter will (probably) be posted next Friday, a week from today. Sign up for our mailing list below so you won't miss an installment.
Copyright notice: © 2019 by Lauren Stinton. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.