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Chapter 5: God’s Will

Renent looked northward. The hills loomed larger. Before embarking, he had planned to spend the ride quietly meditating on the trip’s significance. However, his saddle’s stiffness and the road’s unevenness lowered Renent from higher contemplations to a scattered array of random thoughts. He stared at passing rocks, trees, and animal life in the surrounding fields. He traced a bird’s flight. It soared along a wispy cloud’s edge, across another, and through a gap between two more.

He shook his head. If he could not harness his mind for greater purposes, he could at least converse with his companions. He wiped his brow as it toasted under the sun and urged his horse forward alongside Philion and the priest. Renent had fallen behind them as he daydreamed.

The priest, who was about Tormeten’s age and whose father also had been a priest, escorted the prince and Renent on their initiation into adulthood. Around their age, young men (and, separately, young women) in leading families traveled to the edge of the Velian Plains, a sweeping northern area of Naithan with no cities but various villages sprinkled across its fertile land. The hills turned into shallow mountains along the Plains’ southwest edge. Embedded in them was a cluster of caves. The Umanon recorded that the Moramarg chained the Oraunt to the mountainside above those hills and then released it for its final flight. During that time, the Moramarg had likely used the caves—perhaps to house themselves, their military officers, or supplies.

Now, in Renent’s generation, the young spent the night mediating upon the Oraunt’s Fall in darkness and solitude. Nothing separated their thoughts from Qualiae’s presence. They were where the Moramarg stood just before Qualiae destroyed them. The place was holy, marking God’s sovereignty over Naithan.

“Qualiae’s presence permeates that place,” the priest told them. “I’ve felt it, as have many. Just keep your mind open. Without the city’s distractions, he’ll speak if you let him. Listen in your heart. Just listen in your heart.”

They reached the hills. Dusk settled as they climbed. They wound up a pathway Renent had not traveled before and, he knew, never would again. Only priests could live up here. The privileged young came but once. What they heard that night was enough for a lifetime.

The path narrowed and steepened. They dismounted for their horses’ sakes. The three reached a hut in a small valley between two rising slopes. Two priests emerged, and the boys’ escort greeted them. Each major moon, a different Valley city sent priests to watch the mountainside. These two said they hailed from Pelar, which lay just south of the foothills. Renent had seen it during the climb.

The Becoptonite priest was of a different city but the same life mission. He warmly spoke with his colleagues about mutual friends and news within their order. The Pelarites also greeted the prince enthusiastically. As Renent knew well, Philion’s arrival anywhere new was a grand moment.

The two priests assigned the boys to their different locations. Philion received the largest cave, one along the western ridge above them. Renent’s was on the eastern.

Dusk turned to night, and the priests handed each of them four items: a robe, small patty of bread, lit torch, and dagger.

“These are all you require,” repeated their escort, for they had reviewed all this before the journey. “Stay awake as long as you can. Once the stillness settles on you, your focus will make you wakeful. Eat only if you must. Taste, remember, is a distraction.” Speaking of the dagger, he said, “If you face a wild animal, defend yourself. Do not worry, though. They visit rarely.”

The boys nodded, embraced each other, and departed in opposite directions. Renent wound his way up through brush in the direction that the priests instructed. With the torch, he soon found the cave’s large entrance.


◙ ◙ ◙


The evening was warm. Renent spread out the cloak inside and laid the bread patty upon it. With torch and knife in his hands, he examined the cave. It was many body lengths deep and widened before curving into a back wall. He walked around its perimeter and poked the torch into all visible nooks. He found no danger.

Renent leaned the torch against a rock. The flame would burn out soon, he knew. Nevertheless, by design, these meditations occurred on full major moons. The white light was sufficient.

At the cave’s center, Renent found an even patch of soft earth. He rested on his knees and held his forearms up and back with palms flat. He was ready. Now was when the road’s distractions must disperse before his prayers. After tonight, he would never be closer to God until he died. If he concentrated, Renent would learn his purpose, his calling. This was the most important night of his life.

“Qualiae, God,” he began, speaking in a full voice. “Qualiae, God, give me this time to feel you. Give me this time to feel you.”

He repeated himself several times.

He recalled the priest’s words: “Focus on God. If anything else begins to take over, push it aside. It may own your thoughts another day.”

Renent tried. Initially, an array of irrelevancies dominated his thoughts. He pushed one back only to realize that another replaced it.

“Qualiae, Qualiae.”

He spoke the name rapidly, hoping that the combination of his mental effort and voice would suffocate the distractions.

After awhile, he changed strategy. Looking about the cave, Renent tried to visualize its history. He pictured the first Moramarg who entered, maybe with a small group of troops behind him.

“This will work for us,” perhaps he said. “We’ll encamp here. Signal the others.”

With a trumpet blast—which, the Umanon said, was how they signaled each other—the other lords arrived, their capes flowing behind them. Perhaps their eyes could penetrate the darkness, or maybe they just held torches like Renent’s. Regardless, within days, their armies swarmed over these hills.

They brought the Oraunt, probably from the east. On the way up, Renent had looked at the peaks and wondered from which one the Oraunt spread its sprawling wings and launched itself across the Valley. For the enemy troops, this sight must have been incredible—a last, glorious moment before their destruction by the very beast they cheered.

These images sharpened Renent’s focus, for he now could almost hear the Moramarg’s army around him. He sensed the flame as it lit up the mountainside and the Valley southward. The soldier’s shrieks echoed in Renent’s mind. The army from here to Tilial was consumed.

He looked around again. Qualiae had ruled this place then, as he did now. Unlike the Moramarg, who came once and were long gone, God’s presence neither surged nor waned. Under the appropriate circumstances, Qualiae had acted and could again.

Renent closed his eyes and paraphrased a ritual prayer.

“Speak your will, if you wish. Your will is all. I avoid it not.”

He waited, trying again to block out extraneous thoughts. He reflected upon Railif and the prophets who heeded their calling and brought down Qualiae’s enemies. All that Renent must do was follow his calling. Doubtlessly, his would require a mere fraction of their courage.

He shut his eyes. His mind was coming into focus, and trivial thoughts seemed to fall away. A thrill rushed through his veins. His heartbeat quickened; his eyes moistened.

Renent thought he felt something. In the silence and through the silence, Qualiae’s presence flowed through the room. Renent’s heart jumped, and relief flowed over him. He realized how nervous he had been that his meditation would fail—that he would leave having lost his greatest connection to God.

His mind relaxed. He sensed his own smallness, but the feeling did not subdue him. Renent envisioned the great battle stretching across Naithan long ago. He would merely have been a speck, as was everyone there that day. Nevertheless, Qualiae coordinated them all to ensure Railif’s victory.

The night wore on. The torch died. Renent felt the time arrive to learn his calling. He moved his mind away from the battle, trying to keep it empty for Qualiae to fill. Sensing God’s presence even more strongly, he rhythmically chanted.

“What is your will? What is your will? What is your will?”

His legs gave out after supporting him too long. Focused enough now to resist distraction, he almost instinctively moved back and sat against the cave wall while his mind maintained its concentration.

Renent knew generally that he was to be a leader in Becopton. Otherwise, he would not be here at all. After tonight—unless Qualiae openly rejected him, which was not happening—his life would be devoted to leadership. Henceforth, he would be Qualiae’s agent.

The task now was to discern Qualiae’s will. That will, Renent was taught, consisted of two parts. The first was collective, applying to all people. Leaders worked in concert to execute it. The second was individual. It prescribed a specific leader’s role in the collective will.

Renent’s heart thumped, and tears traveled down his cheeks. He gently rocked back and forth and cupped his hands over his face, a new posture that, he felt, helped his focus. He tried to keep his mind vacant and awaited communication.

Suddenly, thoughts arose. These were not his own, he felt. A pang of excitement struck him. He heard the crispness and purity of each teaching.

Love your city. Enable pilgrimage. Seek tranquility in the household. Encourage reverence of me.

These messages had a simple righteousness, which verified not only their truth but also their origins from God.

He attempted to reflect on each in turn. Mental images passed before him of the people for whom he now carried responsibility. His Lord. The Council. His father and mother. The men at arms. The city dwellers who needed access to food. The farmers who guaranteed that access.

A new thought arose and enveloped him. He could almost hear Qualiae’s voice.

Be a man of letters, as your father desires. Serve me with pen and paper.

Renent gasped and then exhaled slowly. That was his call.

Profound joy accompanied this realization. It confirmed a sense that grew in him over recent years. He felt comfortable and capable with scribal work. Surely God did not expect more than a person could give, and if his role was as a man of letters, he knew he could fulfill it.

After a while, Renent tried to clear his mind again. He must be sure he heard correctly. Resuming his prayerful stance on his knees, he sought confirmation.

“Qualiae, God, is truly your will that I be a man of letters? My father, in his prayers to you, has he understood my calling?”

The feeling came again. He felt immersed in reassurance. His sense of Qualiae’s presence intensified, almost as if a physical hand rested on his shoulder. Yes, surely his calling was as he hoped: he would serve Becopton as a man of letters.

Renent found himself leaping up and pounding his fist against the wall. His chest felt unrestricted, and his hands and feet tingled. Pacing around, Renent could not contain himself. He leapt in the air, crouched to the ground, and drummed his hands on the earth. He arose again and paced around the cave’s perimeter over and over—cycling scores of times before even noticing.

He stopped. Moving to the cave mouth, he crouched, looking out. Both moons had shifted. Surely, Qualiae was with him, for time had passed quickly. A cool breeze blew into his face. Renent’s heart still raced. He took slow breaths and sat, looking toward the Valley in the darkness. He now knew his role in that wide landscape.

Renent realized that he was quite hungry. He tried to ignore the feeling but could not. Reentering the cave, he took the patty. Better, he thought, to eat it quickly than to have hunger remain a distraction. Renent consumed the food and wrapped himself in the cloak to keep the deepening chill at bay. He leaned against the stone. All he wanted now was to sit in Qualiae’s presence.

“Thank you,” he said aloud.


◙ ◙ ◙


Renent woke with a start. Dawn illuminated the cave. He did not remember trying to fall asleep, but he had done so nonetheless. A conflicting tug of emotions emerged. In a way, he was ashamed to waste time here asleep, but he also felt content. His experience was complete, for he had learned what he came to learn.

The priest had instructed them to return when the sun was halfway between dawn and noon. He spent the remaining time praying and thinking. He waited one last time to see if Qualiae wished to correct anything. Nothing happened, and a sense of peace settled on him. He was ready to leave. When the time came, he began his descent. He looked back at the cave. He would never see it again.

At the hut, Renent learned that two young noblemen from the city of Baldenac, which lay west of these mountains, had arrived after him and Philion. They now occupied other caves. Their escorting priest sat with the others around a fire and ate porridge. Renent joined them. He did not realize how thirsty he was until he drank from their water supply. Soon Philion and the two from Baldenac returned. They were all now young men.

The party from Becopton readied for departure, and everyone else expressed warm regards to the prince. Renent, Philion, and the Becoptonite priest led their horses down the slope.

“Do not speak of your experience to anyone for a while,” their priest told them. “What you learned was for you. Let it settle for a time. Wait a few days.”

Renent looked at Philion. They had embraced warmly that morning, but Renent could not gauge the prince’s thoughts. They reached the bottom and rode home in a serene silence.


◙ ◙ ◙


Leaning over the dining table, Renent was half done with the letter. Xzax had arranged for Renent to perform some of the treasury’s written assignments. This was one. When he was done, an elder scribe would review Renent’s work. This quality-control measure eased pressure on Renent as he began his first scribal duties.

Now seventeen years old, he completed his Umanon after several major moons. The experience was profound, and his knowledge of the scriptures grew significantly. Still, the mechanics wearied him. His application of the ink to the paper needed to be just right so that a line was neither too thick nor thin, and his rows must be straight lest the entire document appear eschew and awkward. His hand would numb, stiffen, and then throb. He found himself frequently walking around in the courtyard, clenching and unclenching his fist to ease the pain and return his fingers to life. However, after all the toil, he had achieved his goal. An elder scribe reviewed Renent’s Umanon and wrote him a certificate of recognition. He was now a man of letters.

What followed were many short assignments. This present one—a letter to the Coastal city of Keklias’s lord confirming certain import taxes—was typical. Unlike his practice with the Umanon, these projects required not just transcription but also composition. Renent had to weave clauses together to produce a coherent and accurate document. Too often, he required a second draft, which was both wasteful and the mark of an inexperienced scribe. Today, he hoped that if a redo was necessary, the changes would at least be minimal and show progress.

Philion walked into the room. Renent exclaimed his companion’s name, causing Farant to enter and greet him. The prince visited the capital occasionally, and he was now returning from such a trip.

Renent sensed his friend’s distraction. Once the two were alone, Philion asked if they could take a horse ride.

“Sure. Let’s go.”

Renent paused his project. He could complete it that afternoon.

The two walked to the stable across the courtyard. Philion had tied his horse there before entering the house. Renent saddled one of his father’s, and soon the young men trotted down the street toward the southern gate.

They rode to an abandoned field. Philion stopped on its edge. Renent came alongside and did likewise.

“So what’s happening?” asked Renent without making eye contact. He did not want Philion pressured into speaking prematurely.

“Well. There’s been sort of a change of plans.”


“I’m recalled to Arnrian. Father wants me back there. There’s been another attack on the pilgrimage guards. Rioters killed two soldiers.”

“I heard my father say something about that. Where’d it happen?”

“About halfway between Kelceb and the Steps. Several were injured, too.”

“So he needs you back there?”

“Yep. We’ll conscript more into armed service, and father thinks they need to get used to seeing me. It makes sense, I suppose, with Vaulan out in the Coast so much. I’ll miss Becopton. It’s been great. Really has.”

He paused and then smiled.

“But there’s good news.”


“You can come back with me.”

“Oh, by Qualiae.”

He wasn’t sure how to respond.

“What would I do there?”

“Live there. You’d be in the castle with the rest of us. We’d figure something out. There’s plenty of scribal work.”

Renent hesitated again and said, “Shouldn’t someone in the Lord’s family do this?”

“Who? You’re my friend.”

Renent’s heart jumped.

“Besides,” Philion continued, “there’d be another Becoptonite in the castle. That’ll make Crailis happy.”

“I guess. I just wouldn’t want friction.”

“There won’t be! Everything’s arranged. It’ll be great. So, what do you think?”

“I don’t know. I’m amazed. I’m amazed. Thank you, of course. Thank you.”

“Ha! Don’t mention it.”

“I’ll talk with father. He’ll have to be all right with it.”

“Of course.”

 “How long would I be there?”

“As long as you want, I suppose. You should be named to the Court, as far as I’m concerned. You’re just as smart as anyone else there was at your age—more so in some cases.”

“But how would another Becoptonite fair at Court?”

Renent knew that most courtiers were local to Arnrian. Only a few were Becoptonites, and he could not guess how the capital would receive him.

“I’m sure it’d work out. You just learn to hold your own and assert yourself. It’s a process, and you’d figure it out.”

Renent felt lightheaded. This conversation was surreal. He and Philion had never discussed a move to Arnrian except in jest. He could feel his life’s framework transform before him. He said that Tormeten must approve the decision, but he knew his father would. Any father would.

“We need a loyal Court,” Philion continued. “Too often we just don’t have it. You’ be great there.”

Renent looked across the farmland at the various people going about their business. The thought that he would soon be gone stunned him. He sat speechless and then managed some words.

“When’ll we go?”

“I’d need to leave in a major moon. I’ll tell that to Crailis tonight. You could wait a bit if you needed.”

Renent thought this latter option unlikely.

A major moon. Renent looked back at the city walls. He had lived in Becopton his whole life. All that remained was a major moon.


◙ ◙ ◙


Tormeten was exuberant at the news. That night he, Farant, and Renent sat and talked.

“This is a great moment,” Tormeten said. “You know how special an honor it is for someone from here to go to the King’s castle?”

Indeed he did, Renent replied.

“You’ve a good chance now of being named to the Court. Just behave yourself, and be smart. You’re in the royal family’s good graces. If you handle yourself well, you’ll be superbly situated.”

Renent fretted about his new place amongst strangers—strangers disinclined to honor the son of another city’s treasurer. Still, he would have the prince at his side, and Philion counted greatly.

With a nervous tone, Renent promised to preserve the family’s good name.

“And don’t worry,” Tormeten went on, “about your future here. If you join the King’s Court and must remain in Arnrian permanently, you’ll have done more for Becopton than if you stayed.”

In has daze, Renent had forgotten Becopton’s Council. He might not succeed his father. He remembered the cave and his subsequent conversations with his parents.

“But my calling. I thought God wanted me here,” Renent interjected.

“No,” his father relied, “I think this is your calling. It’s just bigger than you expected. You’ll be a man of letters, and you’ll serve Becopton. You’ll just do it from Arnrian.”

That made sense, Renent supposed. Qualiae must be preparing him for a calling across Naithan rather than just in Becopton. This excited him.

Before Renent went to bed, his parents agreed that he should leave with Philion and not tarry behind. In the next days, Renent concluded his writing projects and said his few goodbyes. He went out to the stream once to recall childhood memories.

Several councilmen who had ignored him before now wished him Qualiae’s blessing. Even the Lord himself pulled Renent aside one day in Council Hall to express his best wishes.

Tormeten bought Renent his own horse, a vibrant brown animal. Renent named him Raigalf, who, according to the Umanon, was Railif’s cousin and a great cavalryman. Horses were often his namesakes.
On the designated day, Renent embraced Tormeten and Farant in their courtyard. They promised to visit. Xzax saluted his young master, as did Lahall and the other servants, one of whom would follow with a wagon carrying Renent’s clothes, writing implements, and a few personal trinkets. Mounting Raigalf’s saddle, Renent waved and trotted to the Lord’s house, where he met Philion. The two exited the city through the northern gate. The landscape stretched out before them. They looked at each other and then rode toward the capital.