Kifel didn’t hear the door open, oblivious to his stewardess standing at the entrance to his office until she cleared her throat. He paused with his pen poised above paper, glancing up. She never interrupted him unless it was important; that his son stood beside her indicated a problem.
The boy’s head was down, his expression sullen, dirt smudged on his face. He held Medreal’s hand, as he was expected to, but he stared at the floor.
Frowning, Kifel put his pen aside. “What has he done?”
“I found him in the garden, Majesty,” Medreal said, sparing the child a sidewise glance. She had a sour twist to the corners of her mouth, which didn’t bode well for the news of his behavior. “He had just bloodied the nose of the Captain’s boy, tussling in the dirt. He broke the chain to the necklace you had made for his birthday, I’ve already sent it to be repaired.”
“Thank you, Medreal. You may leave him here.”
The old woman nodded, dipping in a curtsy before sliding back into the hallway, drawing the door shut behind her.
The boy winced when the latch clicked.
Kifel rested his elbows on his desk and laced his fingers together. “Come here, Ran.”
Hesitating, perhaps trying to decide if he had other options, the boy padded across the room to stand in front of the heavy desk.
“How badly was he hurt?” Kifel asked.
“He started it,” Ran grumbled, staring at the carpeted floor.
“That’s not what I asked.” Careful to keep his tone patient but stern, Kifel sat a little straighter. “How badly did you hurt him?”
Ran clasped his hands behind his back, bowing his head a little more. “Not bad.”
“And he saw you as you are?”
A problem, but not a large one. Captain Tanrys was a reasonable man; if he weren’t, he wouldn’t be Captain. A short meeting would take care of any concerns that came from Ennil’s boy scuffling with royalty. Kifel rearranged duties in his head to make room for it that afternoon. “Did you apologize?”
Snorting, Ran kicked the carpet. “He’s just a peasant boy.”
Kifel’s lips pressed thin. Slowly, he stood, turning toward the large fireplace against the far wall. It was decorative more than anything, but it was occasionally useful for destroying papers. “Come here. I want you to see something.”
His son padded along behind him, watching as he pulled the clock down from the mantel and wiped dust from the glass over its face. Kifel knelt, holding it out. “What do you see?”
Ran studied it for a moment, finally lifting his somber violet eyes to meet his father’s gaze. “It’s your clock.”
Nodding, Kifel tapped a finger at the center, where the two hands converged. “This represents us. We are the hands of the clock. We are what people see. We tell people when they are to do things. As rulers, that’s our duty. We are the face, the forefront of a kingdom. And the kingdom is a clock.”
Peering at the shifting minute hand, Ran frowned. “How do you mean?”
Kifel held up a finger, turning the clock face down into his palm, unfastening the back. He removed it carefully, mindful of the ticking and whirring gears that moved inside. “Here’s what you don’t see. The workings are very delicate. What do you suppose would happen if I removed one of these gears?”
“It would stop working,” Ran murmured, leaning close.
“And a kingdom is just like a clock. You see, a kingdom is composed of thousands of parts, each one vital. You might not see them right at first. All you see is the rulers, the face. But behind him is an elaborate scheme of gears and wheels, all of them turning, all of them working together. It doesn’t matter how large or small a gear is. If one is removed, everything ceases to turn.” Kifel stuck a fingernail between the cogwheels, tilting the clock to show how all the workings ceased.
“These are the peasants, Ran. The fishermen and the harbormasters, the farmers, shepherds, maids, servants and soldiers. The rulers may be the clock hands, but the peasants are the gears.” He pulled his finger back, letting the workings resume. “Do you understand?”
The boy nodded. “They’re all important, aren’t they?”
“Precisely. Remember that.”
Sighing, Ran gave him a sheepish look. “Does that mean I have to apologize?”
“As a matter of fact, it does.” Kifel closed the back of the clock, putting it back on the mantel. Then he smiled, reaching out and tousling his son’s dark hair. “Because no matter how big or how small the job, every job is just as important as yours. Just like what’s inside a clock.”