“And? What did you end up telling him?”
“Hmm? The merchant?”
“Yes! What did you end up telling him?”
I was desperate to know.
Lorent smiled at me, taking a sip from his goblet—gold glinting wickedly off his irises as he took his time.
He sipped, and he grinned. Wicked, like a sidhe cat, before he spoke.
“Before I made a decision, I asked if I could test it out.”
I’m quite sure my eyes bugged out of my head. Merely because the thought of holding such an item enticed me so.
To hold the shield of the gods?
The unbreakable shield that cracked the earth?
That split the moon from our side?
To hold such a thing would be…
“Did he let you?” I asked, over-excited, like a dog when his master returns.
The older king smiled at me kindly. Appreciating my investment in the story.
“He did not.”
At my disappointment, Lorent laughed a bit. Easing my mind with how gentle the sound was.
“When he refused—making up all sorts of honeyed excuses, of course—I told him that I needed to test the shield first.”
“How so?” I asked, probably interrupting.
Not that Lorent minded.
“There was another merchant in the other room. He had come to me—not moments before—boasting that he had an unbreakable, unstoppable spear. I had him brought into the room, and told the two that I’d like to test their wares on each other.”
Again, Lorent sipped his goblet, causing me to wait.
…not very patiently, I’ll admit.
“And? Did they let you?” I asked.
This time, Lorent gave a full, hearty laugh. “Gods no! Of course not!”
At the time, my fifteen-year-old mind was enticed. Wanting to hear the outcome of two, powerful objects clashing.
But then, Lorent broke through my fantasies. Dashed them to pieces.
“They didn’t let me because, of course: no such objects exist.”
It took a moment to sink in.
“What? What do you mean?”
Lorent gave me another patient smile as he explained. “If one exists, then the other cannot. You see, their claims were completely contradictory—and they knew it, too. Even if they were speaking what they thought to be truth, it was obviously a lie. One of those objects cannot exist if the other does as well. By the simple rules of nature and logic, it isn’t possible. If there’s an unbreakable shield, then there cannot be an unstoppable spear. And, if there is an unstoppable spear, there cannot exist an unbreakable shield. It makes no sense. It’s too contradictory—wholly and completely contradictory. Either one of them was lying, or—as was the case—both of them were lying.”
I could find no fault in his logic. No argument to bring against him. In the end, I felt that he was right.
“…so…what did you do to the merchants?” I asked.
Lorent looked at me from the corner of his eye, sipping from his goblet before answering.
“Beheaded them both.”
Actually spat his wine, he laughed so hard.
And, when he recovered—shaking his head as he wiped his sleeve—he told me, “That was a joke, Taren, a joke.”
A few more chuckles escaped before he gave me a real answer. “I stripped them both of their wares and had them removed from my kingdom—banished, in fact.”
“Wow. Isn’t that… a bit extreme?”
All remnants of humor were wiped away in a millisecond.
“Absolutely not!” he replied fervently, voice dire as he continued. Shuffling himself so that he was facing me, so that the full gravity hit me, dragged me beneath his logic.
Perhaps so that it could save me some day.
“Taren, listen,” he said, leaning intently into his words. “Those men—they were conmen. Does that, alone, make them deplorable? No. But: if either had succeeded—if either had successfully sold me their item—it would’ve killed me. I would’ve rode out to battle—thinking I was unbreakable—only to be proven wrong in the next instant. Killed. Slaughtered. The ruler of a whole country—dead. And, for what? Stupidity? Lies? Yes.”
Setting his goblet down, he put it in perspective for me. Broke it down, to its roots, so that I could understand.
“Taren, what those men were doing wasn’t just stupid, it was dangerous. Someone’s life could’ve been taken. Wasted, for greed. My life could’ve been wasted, if not for my sound thinking. My logical mind. Do you understand Taren? Things are not always as they are presented to be. One—especially one who is a king—must take all facts, all statements into consideration. Mash them up. Spin them around. Turn everything over and over until you reach a conclusion. If something smells fishy, Taren, then its probably fish, yes? Use your own mind. Don’t rely on others to think for you. Don’t accept everything as fact. It might be a simple mistake, might be something that can easily be fixed, but:
“One day, it might kill you.”
And I’ve never forgotten that lesson.
Even as I stare at the poorly-cloaked assassin bowing before me. Even as I hear the call for blood in my ears. Even as I hear those sickly-sweet words, I know.
I’ll make my own conclusion.
Find my own answer.
Reach my own solution.
I won’t let anyone think for me.
Because, after so many years of being mentored by Lorent, I know:
I am no fool.
Day late! Sorry about that! Also: not edited! Busy weekend. All I want is a nap.