“So what’s this great plan that you have?” Brandon asked when he and Jason reached their shack. It was one of several old forgotten structures built into the city wall that had originally housed garrisons of soldiers. They had become unnecessary and been abandoned when Michael Sultana had taken control of the area and forbidden infighting between the barons. Now they stood empty except for the illegal peasants that lived in them.
“I haven’t exactly come up with a plan yet,” Jason answered. “These things take time, you know.”
And normally you promise a plan to a mob until you already have one, and a dang good one at that,” Brandon retorted. “Excuse me for thinking that you were smart.”
“I am smart,” Jason countered, “just not always prudent. There’s a difference you know. Now be quiet so that I can come up with something before tonight.”
Brandon gave a huff of exasperation and flopped down on his cot. When Jason got like this, there was nothing to be said until he had gotten all of his thinking out of the way. In certain respects, his intense concentration was a good thing. He could sit down and solve a problem, come up with a plan, think through all of the aspects of an endeavor all in one sitting. Nothing could distract him when he got started and he would not rest until he finished. On the other hand, Brandon saw the distinct disadvantages of his friend’s unshakable concentration. He was incapacitated for as long as he thought leaving him vulnerable to any number of outside influences. Which was exactly why Brandon stuck as close to his friend as he did. If he was absent, the perfect combination of events could be the end of Jason.
With these thoughts floating through his brain, Brandon drifted off into a light sleep. He was woken an hour and a half later by light footsteps. He bolted upright, reaching for a small knife on the floor under his bed while simultaneously casting his eyes around the room, searching for a threat. The noise had been caused by Jason crossing the room. Brandon glanced out of the window and judged that it was about time to get back out to the fields.
“Well, are you going to sleep all day or are you going to get up so that we can get back to work?” Jason asked. Evidently he had finished his thinking which was good news. Promising a mob a plan that you didn’t have was never a good idea. Brandon had the scars to prove that particular point and as a painful reminder that he couldn’t think as quickly as Jason could.
“I’m coming,” Brandon grumbled and staggered out of bed. The knife went into his belt where he covered it with his shirt. He grabbed tools and water skins on his way out the door, wishing, not for the first time that Jason was not so absent minded. The two friends made their way to the fields outside of the city where they continued the work that they had left earlier. They worked until the sun dipped below the horizon. Brandon began to gather the tools, but Jason stopped him.
“We don’t want to go to the tavern just yet, and we might as well do something useful while we’re waiting.”
“And why exactly don’t we want to hit the tavern?” Brandon asked.
“It’s too early,” Jason explained as he continued to work the soil in front of him. “If I’m going to get the people to agree to what I’m proposing, I’m going to need a mob mentality on my side. If we get there too early, there won’t be enough people, and my idea might not make the impact that I want it to.”
“What do you mean?” Brandon asked.
“What I’m about to propose is going to take more guts than most people have by themselves,” Jason explained. “In groups, however, people tend to have a lot more courage then they would otherwise have.”
“Courage or stupidity?” Brandon asked.
“It doesn’t matter which,” Jason answered. “So long as it is driven by a logical and well thinking person, both work almost interchangeably.”
“I hope that you know what you’re doing,” Brandon said as he retrieved his tools and continued to work.
“So do I, Brandon, so do I.”
Brandon and Jason entered the city about an hour after sundown. Jason argued that it wasn’t early enough to go to the tavern yet, so they visited their house first and stashed the tools there. After taking a few minutes to cool down, they headed for the tavern, arriving a little more than an hour after sundown. As Jason had predicted, the place was packed when they arrived and he almost back down. Almost. He had already committed himself to this, and he would certainly not be backing down now. Even so, he took a few moments to compose himself before entering.
Brandon led the way into the tavern, forcing a path through the crowd for Jason. The small man walked close behind, head up and a look of confidence on his face. He knew that if there was one thing that these people needed, it was to see confidence in him. Confidence that his plan, whatever it was, would work. If he believed hard enough, he knew that he could get them to believe as well.
“There’s the guy,” he heard someone say.
“But he’s just a kid,” someone else responded. “What does he know?”
“Nothing. I told you so earlier.”
“We can’t listen to him; he’s going to get us all killed.”
“Why are we even here?”
Jason could see Brandon tensing at all of the comments, and laid a hand on his friend’s shoulder to calm him down. The last thing that he needed was for Brandon to start on his brand of protection. Jason himself felt nothing. He used to have jittery nerves, but they had been replaced by nothing. Either this plan would work, or it wouldn’t. If it did, he might be able to save the city, perhaps the whole nation. If it didn’t, he would die one way or the other, either sooner or later. No matter what happened, he couldn’t force his mind to care. Soon, this would all be over.
By the time Brandon had forced a path to the bar, the whole tavern knew that they were there. Jason glanced at the institution’s owner, Mr. Sharidon, an old friend of his. Mr. Sharidon was elderly and several times Jason and Brandon had helped him with various things. He nodded to Jason and motioned to his bouncer who stepped into the tavern’s doorway and kept watch in the street. The last thing that they wanted was for the city watch to stumble upon them when this meeting was going down. They could easily be charged with conspiracy against the baron and thrown in prison. And not many people had ever returned from those prisons. Jason climbed up onto the bar and turned to face the crowd, all of which was looking at him. For a moment he felt a twinge of fear, but he shoved it away instantly. Now was not the time to back down.
“You said that you had a plan,” one of the crowd called out. The voice was not unfriendly, though the next one was.
“You want us to go fight for the baron and yet you said that you want us to do it for ourselves, not for him,” the dissenter from before called out. “You are crazy, aren’t you?”
Jason tried to speak, but he was interrupted by someone from a different section of the tavern.
“You’re a friend of the baron trying to manipulate us to do his will. We should take you out a string you up.”
Voices from different parts of the tavern began to chime in until Jason could not understand anything from them except that all of their tones were angry. He let it continue for several minutes, allowing the villagers to get it out of their systems. Finally, when it appeared as though things might get out of hand, Jason reached down and tapped Brandon’s shoulder. Brandon brought his fist down as hard as he could on a table, rattling the glasses on it and even some on nearby tables. At the same time, he bellowed for silence and gave a dangerous glare to all parts of the crowd.
“Thank you, Brandon,” Jason said to his friend before turning his attention to the crowd. “Now, it is true that I recommend going to fight for the baron, but it is not for the reasons that you think. We know that if we do not do as the baron orders, when he returns he will pay vengeance on all of us. We will not be able to stand before his army.”
“Unless the baron dies in battle,” the leader of the dissention called.
“The baron may be a cruel man, but he is by no means a stupid one,” Jason reasoned. “While he would stand to gain from deposing the king, he will be trying to play both sides of the game. He may commit some of his forces to the cause, but he would never irreversibly tie himself to it. No matter which side wins, he will return, probably stronger than he left.”
“You’re suppositions are unfounded,” the opposition called. “The baron has set himself up against the king and the king will kill him. That is the only logical outcome.”
“That’s quite the speech from someone who can barely count to ten much less know about the political scene,” Brandon said. “I am as clueless as you in this area, but Jason is not. We have had much taken from us, first by the barons and then by the king. If we are to reclaim any of it, and we must if we want to maintain any self respect as men, Jason is the only one who can lead us to do that. I’ve known that from the day that I met him and I stand by it now. Sit here like cowards and do nothing to stand up for yourselves or listen to Jason and learn how it is that you can earn some respect. You came here to hear the man talk, now let him talk.”
There was silence in the tavern for several moments as Brandon’s words sunk in. No one said anything else and Jason was about to speak when the bouncer stuck his head through the door.
“The town watch is coming on one of their patrols,” he warned. In moments, everyone was sitting down, and business in the tavern was back to normal. Brandon pulled Jason off of the bar and sat him on a stool there. For several minutes, drinks were sold and people drank and laughed together, though tension hung in the air. After what seemed like an eternity, the bouncer signaled that all was clear. Jason climbed back onto the bar and began to speak.