The group sat in silence for a moment as the weight of information settled on Arthen and Talon. Arthen felt a magnificent warmth of excitement burning inside of him. He could’ve sworn the campfire felt twice as hot as before with the jolt from his heart. A revelation of innocence for his family and his father. People out in the world believed that there was a lie, that they did nothing wrong. But it seemed too good to be true. “How do you know this?”
Booker looked at Arthen, “Prince Hugen, Breagan’s brother, was on that boat with his father during that trip. He alone survived the assassination to tell the tale because the assassinators planned to let him go. They told him the truth to spread the word that his government betrayed him, his family, and his country for the crown. I have met with the prince years ago before our resistance started and I tell you, it is definitely him. He is in a very rough condition due to the long-term injuries of the attack, but he is still able to tell the truth. My mentor, Gideon the Strongarm, found him at Rock and Pillar shortly after the attack and has protected and taken care of him ever since. The betrayal of Breagan and the Council toward King Hagan showed Hugen how misguided the country is and how in need of an overall change it is. He knows he is no stature to lead a rebellion or to take his own throne from his older brother, so he decided to pass the truth to others who are to see his vision. Us few are entrusted to bring to this country a new government by one of last rightful heirs of the old one.”
Arthen felt an enormous amount of pride fill him. He felt a strong connection he had never felt before to an ideal. It felt different than a religious tie. It felt like a true understanding of the world around them. There was a subtle anger of the state of things, but an incredible motivation to change it.
Talon did not seem thoroughly convinced. “Yes, yes. So obviously this Breagan guy wanted to kill his father so he could be king, I get that. But why would Breagan and–the council, is it? Why would they want to start a war with the Reach if they set up the assassination of Hagan?”
“For one thing: Sásta.”
“Oh, you may not know what it is, but I’m sure even Hardknock has had plenty of items made from it. Sásta is a miraculous plant and the most valuable and essential commodity in this country. Every bit of it is used for strong fibers for rope, clothing, paper. The wood burns longer and hotter than any of our local trees. The oil is the most versatile–it can be used for burning lights, cooking, greasing, cleaning, and medicine.
“The Lagworth family–who run banks and lending out of Ionmur–they’re in control of the price and import of all Sásta in this country. It is also common knowledge that Lagworths also have a majority members sitting in the Council. They’ve been able to buy their way in over the last century with the rising trade of Sásta. So Sásta in the market is where the Lagworth Family, and thus the Council, get all their money.”
“And Count Veger, the head priest For Rightful Renewal has forbade worshippers from chopping any of our country’s native trees, seeing as mankind has ravaged the steppe enough already by destroying the Forest,” said Oakley. “So religious nuts now see using anything with pine or walnut ingredients as a sin. They’d rather freeze to death in the winter than use any wood other than Sásta for their fires. Our group and the Axemen of the North don’t follow that rubbish–this pinewood here in this fire is plenty good. That nutter, Veger, is probably being paid by the Lagworths to make that decree. Sásta is the only plant we’re apparently allowed the use according to him because he sees it as a less sacred and a more modest plant for not growing in the steppe.”
“Which brings me to this next point: Sásta can only grow in one region in our known world,” Booker said open-endingly.
“In the Reach,” Arthen said, eyes wide open.
“Yes,” Booker said gravely. “Sásta trade between the Reach and our country had been fine until our reliance on it grew exponentially. Rising skirmishes between traders and the Sásta mountain lords made it harder and harder for imports to get through a decade ago, and as Hugen told us, this made the Council urge for an ultimate solution: take control over the Sásta farms for good. His father, King Hagan, was against going to war to gain complete control over the Sásta in the Reach. But the Council and the Lagworths were desperate enough to have him replaced with Breagan who was someone that was more susceptible to agree with their plight.”
“Holy Mothers,” Arthen said.
“Dark hell,” Talon said.
“Now you see why there needs to be a change? Now you see why there needs a new government for us citizens? Now you see why we need to end the war in the Reach?”
Booker then stood up. For an instant, Arthen thought the campfire roared and rose up to Booker’s height. But it was Booker’s voice that rose the most. No longer low and smooth, it became bold and resounding; the firelight in his eyes even brighter than before.
“Villages being burned without retaliation. Everyday folk like you two being left to the wind to starve. Towns like Grayling and Hardknock being raided while all the country’s protection is being sent to a needless war. Power, armies, and religion consolidated under the control of one arrogant king and a council of old fools. Honest Marshalls betrayed and destroyed in their own homes. Boys being sent to die for the greed of higher men!
“So now that I’ve told you, you tell me now: Even though you will be petty cashmakers and cleaning boys, why do you want to come with us to Ionmur and work for the Broken Spirits? I believe everyone who works with us needs a purpose to be there that agrees with our mission.”
The two boys both glanced at each other awkwardly. Then Talon blurted out “I want to get rid of those idiots who run our country and get some smart people to run the government. Kill all these dumb people in power. They don’t deserve it!”
“Oh shut up,” Oakley said. “I doubt you’ll ever be able to kill anyone who holds a butter knife to defend themselves.”
“Great enthusiasm, but wrong direction,” Booker said. “I should tell you though, Talon, even though I don’t see the need for you to do so while working for us, our resistance does not allow killing. We will change this country not through war, but through truth.”
Arthen heard Oakley give a regrettable sigh at this.
“A rebellion without killing anyone?” Talon said quietly to Arthen. “Well, we’ll see how this goes.”
“So Gleim, now that you are in the know of who we are and what we plan to do, I need a reason. Why would you want to help us?”
Arthen thought for a moment, the weight of everything Booker had just told them made his mind feel surprisingly emptier. He remembered reading all the fairy tales from his childhood about the farmboy hero who lost his family and joined the rebellion to vanquish the tyrannical overlord. They were tales inspired by the workers that came to help Anlaith in his Reconquering. How true his own life now seemed to be following such a tale. But Arthen knew his answer already of why he wanted to help, he just didn’t know how much he should tell. Like Prince Hugen, he was the lone survivor of the eradication of his family. But unlike Hugen, Arthen’s father was still regarded as a nationwide traitor by many and not regarded with a mournful salute when anyone mentioned his name. Going to Ionmur with the Broken Spirits would not only give him food and shelter to survive, but possibly answers to the now growing mystery of his father, the burning of his house, and the murder of his family:
What did my father do to incur the wrath of the King Breagan and this Council of Elders if he had nothing to do with the assassination of Hagan?
He felt for the first time in eight years a purpose other than to survive. It gave him a more profound energy than any chasing wolf could ever give him. No longer would he be afraid or feel alone. He didn’t need to touch his mother’s pendant for strength anymore. Breagan, the Council, the terrorizing Golden Legion, they were all going to pay. They left one survivor in the fire of Saomur, they made one grave mistake. Arthen and the Broken Spirits had now met and had the purpose of breaking all the lies the world had been told.
“I want to help expose the truth,” Arthen said.
“Good answer,” Booker said with a smile.