“I never thought you would disappoint me as much as you have right now, Valerian”, his grandfather told him. “Did you honestly think I would never find out?”
Valerian just looked at him refusing to reply. Richard and the others had already disappeared into the night. None wanted to face the angry, claiming to be disappointed Magistrate. ‘Ah! Family! You can always count on them.’ At least, he could spot Avery standing in the darkness not too far away.
He continued to stand there, feeling strangely relieved by the fact that he had been caught. That the confrontation he had been dreading and postponing had come about on its own. He looked intently at the old man. It was funny in a way. There was a time that he would have been cowed by his grandfather’s rage. Now…
“… that you would sneak about and do this. What do you have to say for yourself? What possessed you to do so?” the old man was saying.
Now, however, he had already resolved himself. He wasn’t a child anymore. He knew what he wanted. He wouldn’t be dissuaded by anyone. He wouldn’t let himself be dictated to, to follow the whims and directions of others. Not even his grandfather.
“What is the problem here exactly? Is it the fact that I didn’t tell you or the fact that I entered my name in the Zebre?” he asked coolly.
Valan was nonplussed. This wasn’t the reaction he was expecting. “Do you not see the wrong you have committed?” he asked.
“What wrong?” Valerian said making sure to keep his tone even. “I wasn’t aware it was a crime to participate in the Zebre, magistrate?”
“Don’t play dumb boy!” his grandfather barked at him. “You willfully disobeyed my commands. I clearly stated that you were not to participate in the competition.”
Valerian remained unmoved. “Hmmmn”, he intoned. “I was of the impression that the Zebre was a competition that was to be entered independently by the cultivator himself. I know nothing about their grandparents deciding for them. Are people even allowed to bar others from entering?” he asked.
It was clear to the magistrate that the Valerian in front of him wasn’t the one he was used to. “Tell me Valerian”, he began. “If it wasn’t wrong, why hide it from me? If you were so proud of your decision and there’s no wrong in it, why the need to conceal your activities?”
Valerian did not hesitate to respond. “Perhaps, it is because I did not want a certain someone to come up to me and act exactly like he is right now. Perhaps, I have decided that I do not like the way you tend to micromanage my affairs. Perhaps, I have reached the point where I can choose for MYSELF!”
Valerian had been trying to keep himself calm the whole time but somehow the closer they got to the heart of the issue the more the feelings he had been keeping bottled up threatened to burst out. It showed most especially at the end. Despite himself, the last part came out at a near shout.
His grandfather displayed a confounded expression but he had begun to understand what was happening. “Is that what this is about? A cry for independence? Some sort of teenage rebellion?” he questioned.
“You are trying to prove that you are grown enough to make your own decisions by running out and entering a dangerous competition where people have and will continue to die or be crippled in. You quickly abandon everything I have been trying to teach you so that you put on some barbaric display in the arena?
“I must say that I expected more from you Valerian!” he exclaimed in a disappointed tone.
“I’m not sure what’s causing you to act this way. You are thirteen now, mayhap it is just part of being a teenager. However, I have always thought you better than that. To think that you would rather that brutish life. What next, heavy drinking and no bathing? Look outside Valerian, those people are a mark a dozen. I may have laid out some options for you but they are there to make you into a better man not ‘micromanage’ as you put it.
“Sadly, it appears my efforts have gone unappreciated. My hopes for you, discarded. I only wish what is best for you Valerian, you might not be able to see it but it is true. That might be why it hurts so much to see the path you are taking. Perhaps it is something you can only gain with age. Then again as you wish to remind me, you are old enough to make your own decisions. Looking at the ones you are making, I shudder to think of the ones to come.
“I hope it goes well then. I will not fight you on this. Do what you will! I will not give you greater cause to rebel. If it is independence you wish for then you shall have it. Mayhap, you will see your error in time to correct it. Until then, this micromanaging old man will only stand by”, he ended.
Valerian gave his grandfather a searching look. He found no tells in his body language or any emotion besides the sadness and disappointment he displayed. It was a masterful performance. One deserving of applause and Valerian was of a mind to start clapping.
‘What is he expecting? That by looking hurt and sad I’ll suddenly change my mind. Oh, grandfather! I see the error of my ways now. I apologise. You were right. Please take me back’, he thought disdainfully.
Valan truly was a master of speech and manipulation. The ordinary parent would have made some angry rant or used some form of clingy approach. He chose a different one. Rather than force or command and be met with opposition, he drew you in with reason and guilt. He made it seem as if he understood where Valerian was coming from and that he was sad.
Instead of being angry or raising his voice, he seemed sad, despondent and disappointed. Like he had only tried his best and was being persecuted for it. He did not try to pull him back to his side but instead made to cut him off.
This way, he avoided any true clash of wills that would result in a drawn out or angry argument. Yelling usually only invites more yelling as everyone tries to outshout the other. Besides this, he made you feel as if you were the one who was wrong instead of coming out and saying it. By being sympathetic, he took the wind out of your sails, robbing you of your momentum.
The ending stroke was perhaps the best. After invoking guilt and sympathy for himself by looking like the victim, giving up the way he had would make his opponent unsure and uncomfortable with his or her victory.
‘Did I make the right choice?’ That is the thought that is likely to come into your head after listening to him. The less resolute would immediately capitulate here, afraid that they had made the wrong choice. That kind of doubt lingers in the mind causing one to second guess everything. Combined with the other factors, it was more than enough to direct things his way.
Unfortunately, the person he was attempting this with was not ordinary himself. Valerian was his own grandson. Someone who possessed similar acumen and who he himself had trained. He might be able to tug at his heartstrings but there was no way he could sway him once he had made up his mind. Not after being trained to control his emotions and not to act on impulse.
As such, he merely took in the performance, remaining impassive and composing his own argument. When his grandfather was done, he begun.
“A man I considered wise told me once, ‘Power is the most important thing in Verre!’ At the time I did not understand but as time went on I did. In doing so, I have learnt a few things along the way. The most surprising thing I have learned is that the man who informed me of this great fact is the one that is preventing me from gaining the power he advised getting”.
He felt a small amount of satisfaction at the stunned look that flashed across the man’s face.
“I’m sure you know who the man I speak of is”, he added.
“What do you mean…” his grandfather tried to get out however Valerian raised his hand, the first time he had done so to the old man, shocking him into silence and continuing.
“For someone who claims to understand the world and what is right, you seem strangely conflicted. You revere power and place it as the standard. ‘Verre’s measure’ I remember you calling it. Yet, every time you talk about cultivators and martial might you try to demean them like they are something distasteful and hateful. Like it is beneath ‘a proper gentleman’.
“I say this because I know. I know full well that if you could, you would. Or am I wrong grandfather? If you could participate in the Zebre today, wouldn’t you?” he asked.
“I am afraid I do not understand what you are talking about Valerian” the old man said.
“Sure you do. The great and wise Valan Steelborn understands everything under the heavens does he not? Answer the question then!” Valerian interjected.
“I think we are going on a tangent here Valerian. Let us get back to the issue at hand”, his grandfather avoided.
“Answer the question grandfather!” Valerian restated.
The old man looked at him as if seeing him for the first time. Nonetheless, he knew Valerian would not let it go so he answered, “No! I would not!”
Valerian sighed and shook his head. “Now, I am the one disappointed in you. It is sad that you would rather lie when both of us know the truth. You have opened my eyes today. In return, I will tell you another of the things I have learned.
“The man I spoke of has a serious problem. Like the fox in the fable, he is unable to reach that what he truly wants and thus spends his time disparaging it. You might not admit it but if you had the power grandfather … I do not need to say. You might insult cultivators and try to look down on them but it is only because they have what you do not!
“Or do you truly think that combatants are ignorant brutes? Truthfully, I often wonder whether you realise that you include grandmother, Richard, your own father and more than half the clan when you say that.
“Also, I have thought long and hard about why you would want to stifle me as you do and I have only one conclusion”. Seeing that the man wanted to interrupt, he quickly added.
“Let me finish!”
“I admit that you might indeed have some misguided notions of protecting me. However, it does not explain why you would not let me garner the power I need to protect myself. Why you have ‘laid out options’ that seem to end with me either becoming some cushy court official or array master with little to no combat power besides the ability to create and sustain shields.
“It was only until I realised that you weren’t doing it for me but yourself that it begun to make sense. You want to groom me into a more successful version of yourself. To prove to everyone, especially yourself that one does not need to be capable of battle to have worth. That intellect trumps strength! It is funny then that whilst the ‘options’ are indeed intellectual there is none that does not require a powerful cultivation base.
“The contradiction in that is quite worrying. Even more worrying is the fact that you are willing to manipulate, lie and worst of all disregard my own wishes to accomplish your goals. You would rather I do not have ideas or aspirations of my own. I am still uncertain as to how I feel about that.
“I do know one thing though. I refuse to be subject to anyone’s wishes but my own. I do not ever want another situation where I would be surrounded by enemies and have nothing but shields to fall back on. I do not want to have to flee my foes. They should run from me! You might not realise it but I would have died on that camping trip if grandmother had not taught me the things she did. Things you did not want her teaching me.
“In a way, I am thankful for that trip as it was the straw that broke my back. It let me see things even more clearly. I came close to death and discovered that I have never lived. So now I will do so. Live that is. For myself, how I wish and may the Heavens damn whoever thinks otherwise!”
“Wait, Valerian I think you misunderstand, I’m not trying to…” the old man tried to come in.
Valerian did not let him do so. Having come this far, he could tell that if he stopped now he probably would be able to continue. He had to get it all off his chest now.
“It doesn’t matter anymore grandfather. I have made my choice. You might not like it. You might be disappointed but that does not matter to me anymore. I am more than your grandson. I am my own person and I will do as I wish. If you choose to sever ties with me, so be it. Just know, I’m done as well and unlike you, I am willing to fight on this issue.
“In fact, I’ve come to realise that I quite like battling actually. It is extremely exhilarating. The way it makes the blood pump might even be addicting. Something you would know if you weren’t always calling the grapes sour”, he ended.
“Valerian, I…” his grandfather tried again. Somehow everything was going out of hand. This was not what he had wanted at all.
“I’m done, grandfather! I am done! Good night!” he said walking away. He did so ignoring all of the old man’s imploring calls. Speaking his mind had felt good but it was also draining. He was tired. He just wanted to rest now.
Valan just stood there watching his grandson walk away. Nothing had gone like he had expected. Nothing had gone anywhere close to right. He was confused, hurt and worried at the same time. ‘Was Valerian right? Was what he said true? Am I the one in the wrong?’ he couldn’t stop the thoughts streaming in his head.
He just knew that he had made a mistake. A great error. One that had possibly cost him his grandson. However, he did not know what to do or say to correct it. ‘Can I even make it right?’ he asked himself.
A hand slid into his. Startled, he spun around only to come face to face with his wife. Clara stood there as if she had always been there. Valan did not have to ask to know that she had heard everything.
“I…I…I just…I only tried to…” he mumbled.
“I know”, she simply said, drawing him close.
“You were right”, he finally got out.
“I always am but that is beside the point. We need to have a talk of our own”, she told him.