His father was a stubborn man. Of course he was, he had to be. Stubborn resolve was what kept him hardy through famine and drought. It kept him alive despite choking on poisoned air and drinking tainted water. It meant choosing a course despite children dying of disease and hunger. His father would not cave to what he had called the religious tyranny of the West. The technology to save their land and their people was not worth the compromise of everything that made an Easterner an Easterner. Stubbornness is the key to tradition and in tradition is identity.
Now, at eighty-five years of age, he was still stubbornly clinging to life. It had been months since he had taken ill, and a week since death had become imminent. Estill and his elder brother had not left their father’s side; they were waiting for a sign. Who would be the next leader?
Miquel was the spitting image of his father, from the tip of his proud forehead to the heavy footfall at the end of each lanky stride. He looked on Estill with the same judgement in his eyes his father had. Actually, it was harsher. He knew his father loved him despite being the less accomplished of the two brothers. Estill was not sure Miquel held the same love. How does one esteem someone who disappoints the man one worships?
It always infuriated Estill to see that look in Miquel’s eyes, only two years his elder. On the other hand, it motivated him. There was nothing like being the black sheep of the family and then embracing it as destiny, as identity born of a new tradition. Miquel’s eyes are vacant now though, staring off into a nothingness and edged with weariness. What must he be thinking?
“What?” Miquel mouthed.
Estill shook his head. He had been caught staring again. The problem with being introspective was that he tended to stare at people without realizing it. Estill knew he was considered off.
Miquel was the obvious choice for Leader of the United EastWest Territories. Still, according to tradition, a sign was required. Each brother sat on either side of their father while his advisor watched from the foot of the bed. Should his father never speak again, his final position during his last breath would be the deciding factor. It was not like Estill wanted this position. He had other plans, work that was far more important and waiting for him.
While Estill knew he was required to maintain silent solemnity, his bottom kept falling asleep. Every time he shifted, the stool creaked. The more Estill thought about trying to keep still, the more impatient and restless he felt. Miquel, as always his opposite, was a perfect statue.
Finally, his father drew a haggard breath, turning his head slightly as he did and then fell silent. They both looked at him, staring at his chest, waiting to see if it would rise again. It did not. A million thoughts flashed through Estill’s suddenly panicked mind.
Oh no, it can’t be. His heartbeat quickened.
The Advisor cleared his throat, “The new Leader is…Miquel”
The three men looked at each other and at the man in his bed, who was ever so slightly leaning toward Estil. The advisor looked at Estill as if to ask, Dare you question my decision and Miquel seemed to be saying, This is for the best. Although Estil had to agree with his brother, he also realized, they had been planning this all along.
So much for tradition.
“All hail the Leader of the United EastWest Territories.” Estil rose, bowed slightly, and left with a purpose growing inside him stronger than ever. The black sheep indeed.