Chapter 1: The Call to Action
A room. A large, dark room.
Pain. Lots of pain.
Screams. Soul- tearing screams.
And then there was darkness. From within, someone yelled at him to open his eyes, to wake up. To run away.
“You must never open the gates.”
“The gates are the seal.”
Whose voice was this?
“Do not break the seal. No matter what you do, do not break the seal.”
Why did it sound so familiar?
And then it appeared. A massive, magnificent gate. His hand materialized before him, stretching at it. But he stopped it. After all, that gate was off limits.
No matter how magnificent it was, no matter what secrets it held; it was off limits.
Suddenly, he felt his consciousness being pulled out. And he didn’t resist. Because he knew where he was being pulled to.
The gate was becoming smaller and smaller; drifting away from his reach.
Yes, he wanted to return. He wanted to open that door.
Did he? Ye- No.
No. No. No.
He did not want to open that door.
Why? Why did he not want to open that door?
Because it was dangerous.
No, because someone had told him that.
Yes, maybe. But did it matter in the end?
No, it didn’t.
He woke up in a river of sweat, and in an unfamiliar place. His thoughts were disjointed and foggy. A cramp was pulsating in his temple.
In a second, the fog cleared up and he recognized his room. The sun had just risen, apparently; as everything was bathed in a red glow.
He had a gnawing feeling that he was forgetting something. But he left it alone, because he was going to remember sooner or later.
He sat up and looked out the bedside window; seeing that his prediction was correct. The sun, as a warmly red ball; looked back at him from the dark skies. The streets were mostly empty, save for a few merchants opening shop; and a few drunk youngsters stumbling through to their homes. The Annual Adultship Exams had ended just yesterday.
And that was when he remembered.
He was supposed to help out the Masoners’ Organization today. The request had come in last night. And he had been designated the task.
He stepped onto the wooden floor and approached the door. Within the next thirty minutes; he took a bath, brushed his teeth and brewed himself a nice cup of coffee.
He took it to his room. Opening the windowpanes, he put the cup on the table and took his seat. He quickly read through the calculations and notes that he had made last night; making slight corrections wherever necessary.
Once that was done, he read through it one final time; with sips of coffee in between. Finding no faults therein, he put down the sheaf of notes, finished his coffee and left the room with the cup.
After washing and putting it in its proper place, he decided to go for a walk around the castle courtyards. It was spring now, and the air at this time of the day had almost miraculous properties.
The air really was quite fresh, with the revitalizing smell of earth and the rejuvenating fragrance of the Comela flower blowing away the last dregs of sleep inertia from his mind; waking it up completely for this new day.
It was at Centre Square Garden, where he met him. And he changed his home-bound course immediately- entering the garden instead.
The man was sitting on the neatly trimmed grass, leaning against the Comela tree, and with a steaming cup in his hand. His eyes were closed. There was an air of profound exhaustion around him. But still, he somehow seemed to be at peace.
Even in exhaustion, he seemed to be brimming with energy. And that truly was just who he was.
“Good morning, Arden!” he said as soon as Arden stepped into the garden; without opening his eyes.
“Good morning to you too, Brother,” he replied in a perfectly unfazed manner; taking his seat next to him.
“So, out here to enjoy the breeze?”
“More or less.”
“Me too. I had left the windows in the office open, you see. And as soon as I felt this breeze this morning, I knew I had to sit here.”
“Were you working up late again?”
“You guessed it.”
“Is it the new Employment Improvement Project?”
“Yes, it is the new Employment Improvement Project. It’s killing both of us.”
“And you are absolutely certain that you can’t quit it?”
“No, I most certainly cannot. Because, it’s not about me or her. It’s about the people.”
“It always is.”
“Yes, it always is. And it always will be.”
And for a while, they were both quiet. The wind blew, the leaves rustled and the flowers danced; and for that unknown span of time, the two brothers just watched. They watched as time itself vanished, and the world lost itself in its own magnificence.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it,” said Melvin softly.
Arden agreed silently. It did feel very sublime, sitting in the middle of that garden that surpassed even fields in length; sheltered under the branches of the Comela, as the grasses waved and the wind spoke.
“Can I ask you something, Arden?”
“What is your dream?”
" I don’t really know.”
That was a lie. He did know. He had known since that moment 16 years ago.
But why did he lie?
“That’s a shame. Didn’t you sit for your Adultship Exam this year?”
“So, how did it feel?”
“Crossing the boundaries of childhood?”
Arden paused for a moment. How had it felt? What had he felt? Was it wonder- the wonder of entering a new stage? Was it sorrow- the sorrow of leaving the old life behind? Or was it something else entirely?
Why did he lie?
“If I’m being honest, I think it was joy.”
And he was right. It was joy. The joy of finally reaching his dream. The joy of finally being able to truly serve him.
“Oh, and why is that?”
Why had he lied? To him, it felt like that was the question. No, somehow, he knew that that was the question. Why had he concealed the truth?
It was not a question born of anger or disappointment.
His eyes were now open. And in them, was only concern and pity.
“You know that I lied, don’t you?”
“I do. But why did you, Arden?”
“I don’t know. I just...... don’t know.”
His tones were hesitant, uncertain, shaky. But, to his relief, at least they were honest.
Why had he lied? Yes, he was not exactly an honest saint; but hadn’t he always been honest to this brother of his? So why?
And suddenly, Melvin patted his shoulder. “Arden, It’s okay. We all lie at times.” His tones were soft, and kind. “And there are times when we don’t even know why we did it. It just happens. But when we do, it becomes our responsibility to correct the lie with the truth.”
But was it a lie? Yes it was. He knew his dream. It was to serve him. But did he?
Was that truly his dream? Of course it was. This was absurd, wasn’t it-
“So, I’ll ask you again Arden. What is your dream?”
What was it? What was it? What was it?
“Can I give you the answer later?”
“Of course you can.” He was smiling. He was smiling in his compassionate, understanding and brotherly way. “In fact, why don’t you go and think about it for some time?”
“I think I’ll do that.”
“As for me, I think I’ll enjoy this beauty for a while.”
Arden was looking at his notes. The sun was fully up and running now. The golden rays from the sun were giving the entire room a warm and fuzzy look. But his attention wasn’t fully invested in that, nor was it fully invested in the notes before him. His time was running out. But he also wasn’t too worried about that.
He was reading the various calculations that he had made, strategies that he had formulated and diagrams that he had drawn- but he also wasn’t at the same time.
No, what his mind was truly focused on was the question.
What was his dream?
For the longest time that he could remember, it had always been to serve Melvin.
To be useful to him, to aid him. He had studied for that. He had trained for that.
And, he had prepared for that.
He knew this. But then, why had he lied? He had lied before. He had lied to his parents to save his siblings. He had lied to his classmates to save himself from their programmes.
But he had never lied to him.
So, why now? And why about this subject?
What was his dream, truly?
Was it really, to serve him? Yes (No).
What was that? Was he actually doubting himself? Why was he doubting himself?
And that was when a sharp knock rapped across his door- bringing him back to reality.
“It’s open,” he proclaimed.
The door opened to reveal a butler.
“The King has asked to see you, my Lord.”
He paused for a few seconds.
“Tell him that I shall be there in no more than five seconds.”
The Royal Court was located at the center of the castle. And today, Arden found himself standing before a fully assembled court. In fact, even his parents were there- seated on either side of the current king and queen.
“I have come, my King,” Arden declared, and kneeled. The king did not like it when his subjects kneeled before him. But Arden was an exception; as he had never managed to stop him from doing so.
“Stand up, Arden,” commanded Melvin. And Arden obliged.
“Why have you summoned me, my King?”
The king was silent for a second. And from his eyes, radiated both concern and resolution.
“As you may or may not know, the Queendom of Bangadesh has officially asked us to send an envoy to renew our diplomatic relations. And, I have chosen you as our envoy.”
For a few seconds, there was complete silence. A dumbstruck silence.
Both of his parents had an expression of mingled horror and understanding. His queen had an expression of reluctant understanding. And his brother had an expression of utmost determination.
Bangadesh was a country ruled by women, and it was one of the most unsafe places in the world for men. That was common knowledge.
So, why had Melvin chosen him?
The silence was broken by the king.
“But, it is still your choice, Arden. Do you wish to go, to take this mission?”
And it happened again.
He could feel his thoughts. And there was something else, hidden within the question. It was a plea.
But it was not for renewing the diplomatic relations of the Kingdom, it was for him.
It was a plea for Arden, to take the journey.
“If you deem me worthy my King, then I choose to go.”
That was his choice.
He looked directly into those eyes.
He believed his brother, and so he was going to go. Even if it were hell itself; he would still go.