I hopped out my chair and turned to face the speaker (decorum dictates no discussion may continue where one has finished his meal). Based on the nature of the question, and the voice that had asked it, I anticipated a youth closer to my brother’s age than my own. I was mistaken.
Arden was a beautiful child—covetously so. If he stood next to a thing of less perfection than himself, he did not lend its form a greater grace but rather laid bare its every flaw. Of his face what can be said but that all parts worked in harmony: a woman’s eyes, blue as the spring sky, watched beneath delicate brows; full lips, redder than those of any lady with her chemical artifice, pouted above a pointed chin; and at the center sat an aquiline nose, upturned at its tip. His hair and skin shone soft gold, like white light passed through honey. He wore a white doublet above white tunic and white leggings; the simplicity of the georgette fabric attested to his wealth better than any ostentatious ornamentation. The only color upon him was found in his belt, which was richly woven in twisted pattern and possessed of the same wheaten luster as his skin.
I regarded him as one regards a prophet. He spoke to me in a language epithymetic.
“Why do you stutter?” he asked again. The lines of his brows curled in cherubic confusion.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“You did not stutter there.”
I felt myself nodding my head. A pleasant numbness had spread through my body. “I don’t always. It comes and goes. I think it depends who I’m talking to.”
“Or what you’re talking about?”
“Yes, that too. I’m sorry but I don’t believe we’ve met. Who are you?” I knew the answer to the question but I wanted to hear him say it.
“Of course, pardon me.” He smiled without any hint of apology. “Alexander Ardenont Dubois, Firstson of Xavier Dubois. Pleasure to meet your acquaintance.” My father would have praised his bow: of chest depth and held for half a breath, no more.
I returned the gesture but it felt infantile, little-used in comparison. “Kadon,” I said.
“Just Kadon?” The hint of laughter danced at the corner of his lips.
“You are afraid of your father.”
More than his beauty or the singularity of his purpose or even the strength of his will, Arden’s clarity of speech and the daring with which he pursued the unspoken remains in my mind his most distinctive quality. In time, I would come to embrace it as with the rest of his nature.
“What? Of course n-not!”
“Truly? You are braver than I if that is true.” The glint in his eyes made clear he knew otherwise. “My father terrifies me.”
I could not help but marvel at the ease of his honesty. “Why would you do that?”
“Do what?” The questioning look he gave me appeared sincere.
“Admit such a thing. That you’re afraid of your father.”
“Voicing a lie does not turn it into truth.” He shrugged beautiful shoulders at the sentiment (is such a thing possible? With Arden, it was).
In a sentence he had captured me, and like any first love, mine was a wild passion. “No, you are brave,” I said. I believed it too, before I had any reason to do so.
His face darkened but the cruel bent of anger which sat then on his features only enhanced their loveliness. His eyes, sunken in shadow, flashed a yet brighter blue. “You should not say such things before they have been deserved.”
“And you will deserve them?”
“Of course. I will be known as the bravest man of my era.”
As I unspool my life and weave its memories’ threads upon this sheet, I find myself accompanied by good humor more often than I ever expected. How seriously we took ourselves! Talking of our greatest fears, our grandest hopes—as children of five and six! On a whim we gave flight to the most daring of ambitions, imbued them with not only wings but belief. If you fail to grasp the extraordinary element contained therein, I propose the execution of a simple experiment. When you next find yourself in the company of another (for surely you read my account with the clarity afforded only by privacy), flatter them with the vulgarities of common conversation and when they are of agreeable disposition, pose to them a simple question: where lie your dreams?
See how they hem and haw, how they mutter and stutter! If they ask for time to reflect, give it. To grant them reprieve but not escape, there rests the crux of the matter. From the cleverer fellows beware the rhetorical device—the forgetfulness of epanalepsis or the circularity of diallelus. The cleverest, for they most of all possess no answer, may daringly turn the tables on their judge; for this you must not come unprepared. Never pose a question whose answer you do not know. Those who consider themselves seekers of knowledge, know that I hear your objections at the last statement—and know I laugh at their misguided nature. From whence comes knowledge you may ask. It appears clear to me the answer lies in action. Without experience, what is knowledge but information lacking the wisdom’s transformation?
I’m reminded of a dignitary’s story I heard at The Grand Court during my rule as Sovereign (forgive the lengthy digression; I shall return to our tale in short order). A hard woman from a kingdom too far north to be drawn on the Empire’s maps, she spoke of a disaster that had befallen a mercenary group of some repute. Their leader, a man whose perception of his talent surpassed its reality, had chanced upon a wanderer’s diary. In it the nomad had detailed the existence of a wondrous forest located in the far reaches of the kingdom I speak of. Inside it waited trees which, made not of wood but ice, bore not fruit but precious stones—opals and moonstones the size of one’s heart.
I tell you this and in return ask only that you answer a simple question: Would you risk the journey? Perhaps you would require proof before saying yes, is it not so? A wise decision, one much in agreement with the thoughts of the mercenary leader. In this the diary’s author possessed foresight, for among the pages of his written memories he enclosed mementos attesting to their truth: diamonds and sapphires, not quite of the promised size, but far too precious to be discarded for a petty trick.
I ask again. Would you risk the journey?
For the mercenaries, who saw themselves as the last descendants of the pioneering race of man, the choice was one easily made. They announced their plan in the kingdom’s capital city, and invited the bravest amongst those who listened to join them. In the end two hundred men set out on the expedition, each with a fourgon to hold his fair share of the treasure. Two years later, one returned—the leader, naked and babbling in a tongue none could understand. He dropped dead in front of the city’s gates. From the clutches of his hand fell a topaz brighter than the noon sun overhead.
A third and final time I ask you, dear reader. Would you risk the journey? Thrice she asked and thrice I declined.
I know Arden would have said yes each time—would have said yes and meant it; and in this sincerity lies the difference between his courage and the one exhibited by the common man, who answering yes thrice, does it because he understands the danger to be of a hypothetical nature, one set in a future unlikely to be encountered. Bring that future to his doorstep and he shall cower inside his home. Arden would have met it before it reached his front gate. To do otherwise would have struck a blow to his pride and purpose, upon whose immutable bedrocks he built the legend of his life.
And at the mention of his purpose I am reminded once again of my own. Let us continue without further interruption.