6. JustinMature

Obedience to one's father was expected. Doing what your father wished for you was a pressure that lingered on a son throughout the whole of his life. Every man had his freedom, but separating from your father came at a price that was seldom worth paying. You'd usually lose your family, your honour and the majority of the constants in your life. In other words, when your father decided a part of your future, it was set in stone.

Justin's father had summoned him a few nights after Cadence had finished the majority of her ceremonies. She had left on a short excursion into the country to learn more of the world around her. Nature and geography were deep interests of hers. When the time came that responsibility rested its full girth upon her, she would have no time for hobbies. Although she was unlikely to rule land in her own right, she was a prime suitor for a few lords scattered across the country, so would most likely go to rule in those provinces within a few years.

It was not often that Justin spoke with his father on a one-to-one basis. He was a busy man, and, as of late, a sick man, who did not have time to waste with his second son. Justin knew that whatever his father was going to tell him was going to be important and he doubted he'd like it. He did not hate his father, but they were different men. The Lord of Flava relished in his duty, enjoying the command and the authority entwined to it. Justin was not that sort of man. He wasn't sure he liked to be led by others, but he knew he didn't want to be the one to do the leading. He considered himself to be more of an independent - a lone soldier - which suited him just fine. Justin enjoyed friendship and companionship as much as the next man, but he didn't like it in overwhelming amounts.

Walking alone, Justin strode down the cold stony corridors illuminated by the blue moonlight from the distinctive kite windows that decorated the whole of the castle. He met a few low men and a few servants on his travels, but no one of any importance. Part of him had a crazy urge to run away and not speak to his father, but that was folly. He was not a child any longer. Sure, he had not come of age officially, but he had learned most of the facts of life. The only thing he had not done yet was take a woman.

The large wooden, iron-encrusted door of his father's chambers approached him with such abrupt suddenness that he almost collided with it. He knocked twice and waited.

The door was opened by his father's low man, named Bert. He was a goofy-looking man with a shock of orange hair sprouting wildly in all directions, but his pale blue eyes showed distinct awareness and wisdom where it was important.

His father was in his favourite chair, a broad red throne-like thing with oversized mahogany arms and harshly carved feet. Once, seeing his father in that chair had struck Justin with fear and pride for his father's dominance, but now it was not the case. Justin saw only a man, haggard and savaged by age and ill. His hair was limp, plastered to his blotched scalp. A pungent smell wafted from the chambers, catching in Justin's throat, making him want to gag. It was the distinct stench of death.

Justin realised his father was much more ill than he'd have people think. He was, in fact, living on borrowed time.

"Justin," said his father in his distinctly deep voice, "Please, sit."

Justin did as he was obliged, unsure of how he was to handle the situation. Part of his brain was already imagining his brother Jonah taking the throne and ruling, but another part did not wish to comprehend the sickly image in front of him, preferring to remember the Lord of Flava as he had been in his prime: a man of steel, a man of strength.

He did not trust himself to speak, so he waited.

"I know you see what others do not," he said quietly, "The truth of the matter, that is. That has always been the case. Jonah has the strength, but you have the wit. In my time I have learned that it is the mind that matters the most, Justin. Any man can wield a weapon, but it is only a wise man who knows which heart to pierce."

Justin nodded, unsure of whether it was the appropriate response.

"Jonah is heir, and will rule this kingdom after me," he stated, "But it would be a shame for your ambition to go to waste."

"So what should I do?"

"I know you seldom delve into politics, which is a shame by the way - I expect your skills of diplomacy to be quite something - but you know the north is weak at present," he said, "I wish for you to go there."

"For what purpose?"

"To assert the dominance of Flava there. We are a strong nation, and could be stronger still. There are a few women in powerful positions that are coming of age soon, so the option of marriage is available to you. If not, battle is also considerable. Our forces are powerful and with Jonah at their head you could easily mount a defeat against some of the provinces of the north."

"Why do you say this?" asked Justin.

"I am dying," he said briefly, "I have to make assurances. You have great prospects, Justin. You are a second son, so it is unlikely you will have power handed to you on a plate. You have to seize it. I know you could, should you take the opportunity."

But that's not really what I want, father Justin thought. But what did he want? What goals did he have in life? He thought of himself as mature, a man grown, but he had no future plans.

"I am not asking you to decide your life before me in this room," said his father, placing a hand on Justin's, a rare gesture of compassion, "I just wish that you will think on it. Life is a mightily precious thing. Do not waste it. And do not shy away from ambition and leadership."

Justin's eyes dropped to the floor," But what if a man does not desire leadership?"

"Then he is no man," said his father harshly, withdrawing his hand.

Justin tensed his fists. Perhaps his father had the right of it. Perhaps he was no man.

Justin suddenly hated himself and his pathetic apathy for his future.

"What should be the first steps I should take?" asked Justin.

"Those are for you to decide. At the moment, you are not of age, so there is little you can do to further your position. But you can prepare, which means learning and understanding the world around you. If you have knowledge, you have power. It would please me if I saw you at more meetings of state."

"As you wish, father,"

"No, Justin. It is not as I wish. It has to be you that wants this. You will want this, if you don't want to be crushed. Know this, Justin: leaders live, followers fall. You may not enjoy the complexities of life, but it is what it is, and it cannot be changed by simply denying your responsibilities. Your future will be a battle, full of loss, pain and hurt."

"So why live at all?" asked Justin.

"Because Justin... it is most unlikely that death will offer anything better."

The End

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