All right, so maybe the point is that they have to grow up, and do so over the course of completing their task. But still, I can't help but wonder what would happen if they were already grown up when their guide/mentor came to claim them. And just what the would-be mentor's reaction would be on discovering they weren't dealing with a green youth.
He’d been eloquent (as he’d practiced long and hard to be), and no person in the boy’s position should have done anything but thrown his hammer aside and claimed his birthright.
A Good Man
by Brat Farrar
He wasn’t sure where it had gone wrong. He’d had the ring, and it had been the right ring (he’d checked rather compulsively throughout his journey to the village), and he’d found the boy, and it had been the right boy (he’d checked his genealogies rather compulsively, too), so he wasn’t sure what had happened.The village had been small and unprepossessing, as expected, and the house had been the smallest but neatest, also as expected. He’d observed the man and woman, and they were poor but honest, as they should be.
He’d had a little bit of trouble tracking down the boy, which had worried him at first. Going by everything he’d been told, the boy should have been living with the man and woman, but he wasn’t. For a few days he’d been in despair, certain that his quest had failed and the boy was dead–or worse. And then he’d noticed that the woman visited the village blacksmith regularly, and had realized that the boy must have been apprenticed. That had been such a relief that he’d almost been careless and simply waltzed up to the smithy in broad daylight. However, that wouldn’t have done at all, so he’d forced himself to wait for a more opportune moment.
At last, the boy had been left alone at the smithy, his master gone for several days on some errand. That’s when he’d gone down to meet the boy, to tell him of his true place and nature. He’d been taken aback when he discovered the boy working at the anvil. Somehow it had never entered his mind that the boy might actually dirty his hands with iron-mongery, but then he’d told himself it was a sign of good character and that made it acceptable.
He’d been further taken aback when the boy had taken him as simply another customer, but he’d soon put him straight. He’d spoken of kings and traitors, of births and desperate plans, of rings and coincidences. He’d been eloquent (as he’d practiced long and hard to be), and no person in the boy’s position should have done anything but thrown his hammer aside and claimed his birthright.
That’s when he’d realized things were going wrong.
The boy, far from throwing aside his hammer, had gripped it all the harder, and looked at him with unreadable eyes. In an even, emotionless tone he had asked questions, and had followed up those questions with further questions. He’d answered as best he could, eagerly at first, but more reluctantly as it went on, the sense of something being not-quite-right growing with each further explanation he offered.
Finally the boy had put down the hammer, looked him cooly in the eye, and asked what it was to him.
At this point, he’d lost his nerve. He realized this as he looked back on the whole affair, but really, what could anyone expect? The boy had, in spite of everything, refused to go with him! And when further appealed to, had spouted some nonsense about family and community, and needing to fulfill his obligations.
He’d tried pointing out that the boy had obligations to the larger community, and indeed to the whole country, but the boy had only laughed. And when he’d tried pressing the matter, the boy had repeated his refusal and picked up the hammer.
It had been a very large hammer.
The boy had finally accepted the ring, but he’d had to beg to get him to do even that much. And then the boy had turned back to his anvil, all thoughts of king and country apparently gone from his head. He’d stayed a little, watching him work, and had realized rather mournfully that the boy was no boy, but rather a man. A fine man.
He’d left then, silently, bearing his shattered hopes away with him. But even now, as he left the village behind him, he felt a new hope begin to grow somewhere. Even though he had no future king to take back with him, the world seemed a better place for the knowledge that there were such men in it as the one he left behind him.
And perhaps royal heirs weren’t the only people who could overthrow a tyrant.