I had a rough start as a chanter. I didn't know how to handle it. It didn't help that I didn't like the sound of my voice. I could tell there was something wrong with me. Also, one could say I had a little trouble with my perceived lack masculinity then. Especially around Soletus. He was what boys dreamed they could be tall and deep voice. And he was far more put together compared to me. At that point, I thought him better than me. Here I was small, lost in a dark place. I was scared. I felt alone with the entire world just bearing down on me. And I wanted it to stop. And while Soletus and Hickory help me out of the mind space, it was Oeric who showed me how to not go back to it.
Soletus wasn't in the best of moods when he returned to the chapel the following day. He thought he wanted to listen to all the other warders and junior wardens talk about their experiences. He had done so every year that he could, however, that year, no. It stung that he missed the experienced and lost the offers many other got to join beds. Not to mention training that would help them pass the trials. It annoyed him then, and he woke up aggravated. He honestly shouldn't have come to the chapel day, but the alternatives were doing nothing or help Doran and he wasn't easy to train with. He complained a lot. Soletus knew being grumpy would give him more reason to complain. So, he went to the chapel instead.
Brother Hickory was polishing one of the long brass candle holders at the side of the altar and greeted him with a joyous smile on his face. It faded as Soletus grew to concern. "You seem glum today. What's the matter?"
"Nothing," grunted Soletus. Only the fact that all my brothers are training for the trials or getting assignments elsewhere and I'm here babysitting.
"So, your cheery disposition has nothing to do with all the warders training for the trials while you're here," asked the all-knowing priest.
"A little bit," he admitted.
"I'm sure you father reinforced your mood. He told me what he thought of our arrangement yesterday."
"Of course, he’s an opinion about everything,” muttered Soletus and realized that was supposed to be a thought.
The priest stopped his polishing and regarded him thoughtfully. "He means well, as do a lot of parents. Part of a parent’s duty is to make sure a child knows how to navigate the world. I think of it as the age of listening. However, when a child gets old enough, the age of listening is over. The age of acting starts. It’s time for them to take knowledge learned so they can learn on their own. Some parents don't know when that time comes. That’s your father."
The old priest was a neth. A child of Lenneth. He didn’t live the life of a customary elf and lived a solitary life. No marriage and thus he raised no children. Soletus guessed it was years of looking from the outside int that made him insightful.
"That being said, maybe it's time for you to cut the leash your father has on you."
That rendered Soletus speechless. He never expected that would tell him that. He thought he would say something about sitting down and talking with him to build some sort of understanding. Be patient. Be understanding.
"You aren't a child anymore and I know you know that. Oeric doesn't see that. He doesn't see someone who is independent of him. Asserting yourself might be the only way for him to realize that."
Soletus only blinked. Pushing his father wasn't something he wanted to do just because he wanted to live a ripe old age. Soletus struggled for words for a second before he found his voice again and said, "I don't think causing conflict with him is the answer."
Brother Hickory raised an eyebrow at him. "I’m not taking about started a conflict. I’m talking about putting your foot down. Don't you feel he comes off controlling at times?"
Soletus now gaped at him, dumbfounded. He heard others say that before, that his father was controlling. He never expected those words from Brother Hickory. Truth was, Soletus didn’t feel controlled. His father rarely made him do anything he didn’t want to do. However, he wasn’t above holding him back. Sometimes it was good just to help him catch up. Other times, it was annoying when they didn’t let him do something most tods his age did.
The biggest was the bonfire held in the spring and fall. There was little to no adult supervision, and most would spend the entire night outside of the wall. The excuse was somewhere between not mature enough and wasn’t something a son of Dias should want to do. Yet a few young monks would attend. They didn’t have strict parents, or their parents weren’t present.
"He's strict," said Soletus.
"Yes, but you're at that age of action. You need to walk your own way down the path. You decide what you do along it, not your father."
Soletus crossed his arms. "I get that. But when he thinks he’s right, he doesn't listen."
The priest continued. "When he came here yesterday, he said he didn't want you to come back here. Said it was a waste of your time. Do you intend to listen to him when you've done a lot of good?"
"No," said Soletus despite the fact, he was uncertain about continuing but he couldn’t just leave. Something inside him really wanted to keep going if just to prove his father wrong. “This is my assignment."
The aged priest smiled. “Good, this is best for Mien. If you leave, it’ll hurt him. He’ll probably think it’s his fault and convince himself he’s undeserving of friend. Besides that, I don’t want another tod. Out of all of them, you were my choice.”
Soletus felt a twinge of guilt for even thinking about leaving. He didn’t know that Hickory specifically chose him.
"Anyway, refresh your mind today. This isn't exactly a good day for the lad."
Soletus groaned. "He didn't turtle up again," groaned Soletus".
"No, why would you think that," said the priest and then he reconsidered his statement. "Never mind. I can understand why you would, but that's not the case. Mien didn't sleep a wink last night. He had nightmares. Sadly, he didn’t share what they were about. I've tried to give him some lavender and chamomile to calm him, but he refused. Eventually, exhaustion will take him. He was still awake the last time I looked in on him. He told me he wanted to at least say hello to you today."
Soletus nodded walked to the back. It was dim in the foyer as Mien's room door was cracked instead of open. Soletus pushed it open and found the boy stretched on his bed with his eyes shut. The curtains over the window drawn. However, when he heard Soletus take a step into his room, he opened them. They were red.
"Hello," he greeted after a long yawn. He didn't move to sit up.
Soletus leaned against the door frame. "I come to say hi."
Mien looked grateful he was there. "I wanted to talk to you about something, but I can't keep my eyes open right now. Maybe another day?"
"Sure, whenever you can."
Mien then gathered his blanket and rolled over to the wall. Soletus left the chapel and did as Brother Hickory advised him to do. He was certain the man meant for him to meditate or something. Instead, he went back to the dormitory for his pair of padded leather gloves before going behind the front buildings of the monastery. There, the area opened to the log buildings. One was mess hall, the others were for indoor training. He chose the smallest of the buildings that was dedicated to combat practice. His choice method of reflection was by slamming his fist into one of the training stands.
He fell in love with using the wooded and leather sand filled stand when he started his hand-to hand training. After that, he found it was good to pour his frustrations on the training device. Most of his training brothers knew when Soletus entered and walked straight to the bag, he wasn't in a talking mood. They glanced in his direction but continued to spar with one another.
He went about punching with very few thoughts run through his head. He kept light on his toes and danced around it. Then thoughts leaked in his mind. Why he was even bothering. He had worked hard to get what he wanted and was unrewarded for his efforts. Did Dias even want him to be a monk at that point? He felt the was answer yes, but why was it hard still.
Soletus wasn’t an ideal candidate when he joined. He wasn’t like the lean boys or tod around him. He was chubby, according to his father. To others, he was fat. The only advantage he had was that he had fast reflexes and power behind his moments, but he was timid. He was shy. Everyone called him Oeric’s “little lad” in a patronizing tone that suggested they didn’t expect much from him. “Too much of a boy” was the phrase Marth like to use and others picked up on it.
His father was the one who encouraged him the most, saying it took time. That he needed to practice. And so, Soletus did. He practiced when other wouldn’t. A lot of his spare time at one point was him either with his father or Valen when he arrived. And things changed. He was never short but ended up being the tallest in his training clutch. He was also the most muscular. And then no one wanted to spar with him because he was the humbler. When a warder thought too much of himself, he sparred with them. He became the one they called out because of his extra effort and tell the initiates he was what hard work looked like.
Yet, somehow, his father held him back despite his achievements.
Soletus slammed his fist in a series of punches that caused the stand to bend. Everyone when sight, paused and stared at the nonverbal tirade and ended it all with a hard kick that could’ve broken a stand that wasn’t so well made.
"I would have loved some of the lads at the culling showed your ferocity on a drass beast," said someone behind him.
Soletus glared at the person who spoke to him coldly. First Warden Kellas stood there, unaffected by the chilled look. The young monk then straightened up quickly to greet him properly, but the warden held up his hand.
"No need for formalities," he said. "I just come over to sate my curiosity. I didn't mean to interrupt, maybe later."
The young monk wiped the sweat off his brow. "I'm not doing anything important, just thinking," he said, wondering what Kellas wanted. The man never spoke to him before. His father didn’t care for him. He told him he had shadows following him. He never went into details other than they were once friends and the man did something he didn’t like. Though his grandfather favored him because he was the warden, they sent out to deal with difficult situation and problems. His bands always saw a lot of actions. Soletus found him and his band kind of appealing. He didn’t know if he would like someone like his father’s brand of being a first warden. He was hard and cautious.
However, there was something about Kellas Soletus didn’t like. He and his father shared the same start iris color. However, his father eyes were expressive with depth. Kellas's eyes were insipid. Even then, as he stood there smiling, it never really reached his eyes.
"Those must be some intense thoughts," remarked Kellas. "Maybe Oeric's tall lad isn't as placid as they say. Then again, a cool head is not something to snuff one's nose at. I like cool heads. They see things I don't." The smile dropped from his face, and he became serious. "Why weren't you at the culling?"
"Papa kept me from joining," Soletus answered, swinging at the bag again.
"You could have just run away and followed."
Soletus gave him an exasperated look.
"Ah yes, Master Dour, harsh and strict. Likes to keep his son on a short leash, they say."
Soletus's brow became a flat line. “I’m not a dog. He just doesn’t think I’m ready.”
“Then you shouldn’t let him think that and act on keeping you held back.”
"I'm not letting him," exclaimed Soletus. He turned back to the bag and started slamming his fists into again. "Fighting against him wastes my time. He doesn't let up."
"Because he knows you will back down or walk away to avoid conflict with him. That is something you need to learn not to do so easily," returned Kellas solemnly, but his exuberance welted back up into his features. "However, that sort of thing can be learned by becoming my grappler."
Soletus lowered his hands and gaped a him. To receive an offer like that wasn’t for someone unproven.
Kellas took him by the shoulders and spun him around to face all the others practicing around him.
"Look at them. They are tall and lean like any elf, but I need someone with some bulk. You have that, or as bulky as an elf can get. The other one, Dias bless him, pissed in his pants when I told him to jump on a back of a skulker."
Soletus could understand that response. They reserved the job of a grappler for the rowdiest of men. Few would wrestle with a drass beast purposely. The idea wasn't something Soletus had given much thought. It certainly wouldn't sit well with his father. He was too smart in his eyes. However, he was certain one had to possess a certain amount of intelligence not to be killed doing something so dangerous. It wasn't as if he were going to go out bare-chested in a lion cloth and a javelin made from a cut sapling. He would have armor. The thing was, it sounded challenging, and he liked challenges.
"Do you really need a grappler that badly," he asked.
"Yes. I need one as my band goes in very close to the Drass Wall and I see to the Trap throughout the year. No one has applied or tested in for the position for this coming trial. Not that there are many who enlist in the Dias Brotherhood these days. Most of these lads are from families who have been here for far too long. They don't want their kin having such ‘lowly’ duties. However, I need a grappler. I need someone large, collected, and smart. You fit the build."
"But I can't take the trial coming up."
"There is one in the Spring, and I will push you in," he promised.
That meant that he didn't have to wait an entire year. He could train all winter for the spring and breeze through the trial. However, he wasn't sure how he was going to train for a grappler position when there weren't that many. He voiced his concerns and Warden Kellas slapped him on the back.
"Don't worry about the training. I'll arrange it. You can start tomorrow. You'll be helping everyone else training for the trials, but some training is better than none."
Soletus's excitement drained. "Tomorrow? In the morning or afternoon?"
"Morning of course….ah yes, the one Brother Hickory's been helping. Perhaps you should let someone else deal with that."
The young monk felt as if Dias was testing him at that point and gave him another opportunity to back out. It would be easier on him if he did, however, his conscious screamed no.
Soletus shook his head. "No, I don't want to just abandon him seeing how hard as it's been for him."
"Hmmm," said Kellas, rubbing his chin. "Well, maybe it'll be worth it if I can get a combat chanter out of him. Do what you need to, just meet me bright an early after the daily prayer."
Soletus beamed brightly. He finally found a way in.
When I first met Oeric, I didn't see him yet. All I saw was him and Soletus. And I envious of what I saw. He had his father. There was never a day when I was young that I didn't want one more hug from my father. I wanted that badly. Because the world feels wrong when you saw someone early in the day, spoke to them, but you were too sleepy to give them a hug. Then they never came home to receive that waiting hug you wanted to give them. My heart ached for years. I could never forget that I didn’t give him that last hug. It would pop up and remind me, only to make me sad it seemed. However, I felt peace when let Dias take that regret from me. He gave me people who I needed and need me. You can’t change the past. Or, as Oeric told me, you can’t change the past, you can’t control the future. The only thing you can do is move forward.
Mien surprised Soletus that he wanted to have another go at the quarterstaff. So, he came back with them in hand.
"I started swordsmanship, but I wasn't very good at it," he explained. "Maybe I can be good at something else."
"Well, you do get better with things with practice," said the young monk. He tried to be encouraging, though the boy was horrible at it. Soletus figured he just wanted something to do. He imagined all his time spent reflecting in the chapel was very dull. During their session, he was still unfocused and constantly flinching. However, he looked as if he was enjoying himself. Even with being knocked to the ground a few times didn't stop his meek enthusiasm. He dusted himself off and tried again.
After a while of teaching him how to block, Soletus switch his style of instruction and thought Mien needed to know how to perform a simple jab.
"Just mirror my movements for now," he instructed, and Mien took his position beside him, watching him a few times, then tried to mimic. The boy's movements, while a nice attempt, appeared more like politely tapping than jabbing. There was no power behind his movements.
Everything about him is timid, thought Soletus, before he caught Mien jumping out of his stance in the corner of his eyes. About the time the young monk was about to ask him what happened, the wooden door to the back of the chapel open. Brother Hickory greeted them with a guest in tow. He had to admire the boy's sharp hearing, but it caused him to be strung tight. He didn’t know if it was the surprise of seeing someone new there or what the elf looked like.
The elf that accompanied Hickory was fresh off the road. He had a scared face. The largest going from his right ear that traveled parallel to his jaw line. His nose was crocked as well, and his left ear was missing its pointed tip. His stoic gaze locked on Mien. Stark and unwavering as that of a wolf, pale and blue. A person had to move past his face to see that he wore the brown jerkin of the order and a golden barred tasseled sash that marked him as a master first warden. To Soletus, he had seen that face since he was born. His face lit up at the sight of his father.
Despite his annoyance with him, he could help but be excited to see him. With little thought, he threw his arms around him. His father grunted but didn't pull him off or even fuss at him. Thought he told him he was getting a little too old for hugs all the time.
He let go, still beaming. "Hey Papa," he greeted.
The sternness faded a little from the first warden's face and a little warmth revealed itself in that winter's gaze.
"Sol," he greeted and patted Soletus on the shoulder.
"You're going to have to reach up to pat him if he grows any taller," said Hickory.
That was very true. The difference in their heights was becoming less noticeably. Not to mention their build was differentiating. The young monk was filling out to be heavier than his father. He had wide shoulders and thick neck compared to most elves. Elves described themselves as grace stags, but Soletus would likely be a powerful bull elk. Soletus would grow to be more like a graceful and powerful ram than a lithe and mighty stag.
"Mien," called Hickory.
Soletus forgot about him. He looked behind him and saw the boy was clutching the staff across him like a shield. At least he wasn't standing there with his arms wrapped around himself.
Oeric's brow went flat.
Soletus walked backwards, put his hand in the middle of Mien's back, and pushed him forward.
"Mientheoderic, this is Master First Warden Oeric'Sheldmartin, my father."
The tall elf held out his hand. Mien reached out, hesitated, and then shook it.
A critical glint sparked in Oeric’s eye.
"That's no way for a man to shake another man's hand," he said in measured teaching voice. "Grip my hand, like you mean it."
Mien appeared to follow Oeric's advice, as that infamous expression that gave him the name Master Dour lightened a tad. Soletus wanted to be upset at other warders and junior wardens calling him that. But he directed at him far too many times to claim it to be untrue.
"That’s better," he said, and then regarded Soletus. "You've been keeping him busy, I see."
"Yes, it's good for him and he enjoys it, right," said the young monk, giving Mien an encourage stare to prompt him into speaking. He didn't. Mien only nodded.
"Mien, you need to speak. You can’t act like a mute every time you see someone new," said Brother Hickory. "Confidence my boy."
"Sorry," said Mien in a small voice.
"Speak up, you aren't talking to mice."
"He's timid a one, that's for sure," commented Master Oeric.
Soletus found what was going on in front of him a little hard to watch.
Mien held his head down became more distressed. "Sorry," he repeated a little louder.
Brother Hickory looked satisfied. "I hate to break up your fun, Soletus, but your father wants to speak to you and Mien and I need to do some more training."
Mien's shoulders sagged.
"Could I have a bit more time? I just need to explain something to Mien and then I'll come," said Soletus.
Oeric gave his son a sharp nod and Hickory followed, leaving the two boys alone. Soletus waited until they vanished before he spoke. He was about to face Mien when he saw them watching through a window. He ignored them and turned his back to them.
"Why are you so afraid to speak?"
Mien shrugged at his feet.
"Is it because you were forced to stay silent?"
"No, I just don't like talking," he murmured.
"Well, sometimes you have to, especially when you're addressing others. It's courtesy and expected."
"But I don't like it," he held.
"I know, but you shouldn't be afraid, especially if you're a chanter. What is it? Oh, Dias give chanter's his power, while a chanter's voice is the instrument of his will."
"I know. Brother Hickory keeps telling me that, but I sound like a girl."
Soletus arched a brow. "Why do you think that?"
"Well, my cousin—I mean my step-brother would tell me that all the time," he admitted with his shoulders sagging in shame
"Is this the same one you…"
Mien bobbed his head. "He also said I acted like a girl too because I played with my sister all the time."
I wonder if that cousin of his didn't deserve a little of what happened to him.
"Well, you'll be happy to know you don't sound like a girl," said Soletus. He left out the fact that he had a distinctive sounding pitch to his voice that could be mistaken as a young woman. Then there was the chanter's lilt he had. All chanters sounded one. Many described it as them sounding empowered, and Soletus had to agree. If Mien spoke loud enough, it would have been more audible. "You also don't act like a girl," he added. Just plain strange.
The older boy wore a very dubious expression. He then leaned to the side to peer around Soletus. His large eyes widened. "Why are they watching us?"
Soletus gathered his staves before placing them both over one shoulder without looking at the window. "Because adults don't know when to leave well enough alone.
Mien reached for his shirt sleeve to stop him. “Also, that’s your father?”
“He’s strong looking.”
Soletus smiled. “Yeah, he’s one of the best.”
Mien looked impressed and followed him back into the chapel. The two adults had ambled their way to the table and were discussing something. Soletus only caught the tail end of it.
"I just wanted to make sure," said his father. He glanced at Soletus and added. "This isn't what I had in mind."
"Talk to him about it and let him decide," said Hickory.
Soletus stopped by the door, getting a sinking feeling they were talking about him. The fox-headed boy darted by them all and going straight for the foyer. He said goodbye to Soletus with a lopsided smile. When Oeric started to walkout, he ducked into the shadows.
The young monk waited for his father and the two of them exited the chapel side by side in silence until they were out of the chapel's yard and walking along the paved road.
"I'm not sure what you think will come of this, but he's not something you can handle," said his father.
Thanks for the confidence, Papa, thought Soletus and stated more amiable. "You've met him for an instant and you already think that."
"Once an elf loses their grip on what's rational, it’s hard on them and other around them. Many of them become burdens. Sometimes it’s themselves holding them back or because the right person doesn't help them," stated his father.
Soletus felt insulted.
"He's weak and—"
"Aren't we here to help the weak,” interrupted Soletus. “And help encourage their own? Is it not our duty to Dias to help those of this world to hear his voice? It isn't just the burden of the priests, but we as monks?"
"True. What you are doing is for someone more experienced. You aren't a teacher, Sol," he said. "A more mature elf would be better. You're barely ready to be a junior warden, let alone helping someone through their turmoil."
And then he was reminded why he was unhappy with his father.
"I would have more experience if someone didn't make it impossible for me to gain it," Soletus snipped back.
"I don't appreciate that tone."
"Well, I don't appreciate being blocked without explanation," said Soletus and then he realized he said what he was thinking aloud. He swallowed his annoyance and spoke more mindfully. "Can you explain to me why I can't take the trials this year?"
His father stopped walking. "You aren't ready," returned his father bluntly. "Certainly, you have the skill, but there’s a still a bit of boy left in you. You can't be a boy as a warden."
Oeric continued onward. Soletus followed with the tight ball of irritation blooming in his chest.
“I'm a tod now and I’m not the boy I was,” challenged Soletus.
His father stopped again. "Certainly, there is a lot about you that has changed, however you aren't there yet. There are a lot of things you must be ready to face. And you are not there yet."
Soletus let out a snort. He didn't like getting into arguments with his father. He could never win. He never knew how to win. This one appeared to be unwinnable because there as no dissuading him.
"At least Brother Hickory doesn’t think I’m a boy. He would've chosen someone else if I were," he told him and left his father's side.
He was lucky that the side path to go the back door of the dormitory was there or it'll look as if he was only marching off in frustration. Well, he was, doing so and was surprised his father didn't stop him.
There was a time when the two of them could talk with ease. Well, they had their own way of communicating because the two of them didn’t saying much. His father wasn't exactly a conversationalist and Soletus wasn’t talkative as a boy. He was a bit like Mien, shy. He also didn’t see reason to open his mouth at every opportunity. However, his training demanded so much communication that he learned to talk with his ease.
His father was glad he was more vocal, however, that didn’t make him more talkative. In fact, it just made Soletus realize how hard it actually was to talk to his father at times. He was a man of few words until he wasn’t. Then it was many and usually critical. It didn’t help that at the beginning of the year, an unnamed tension formed between them. He didn’t know what to do about it. He suspected something was wrong with his father. But, his parents never let him be privy to their problems.
When he entered the dorms, Soletus's irritation dropped. All the other tods and young men brought life to the dormitory again. It was stuffy and smelled of sweat, unwashed clothing, and road dust. Soletus smile. He couldn't wait for the stories. Most of the boys weren't out in the common area of the dormitory, though. They were in their rooms talking or resting. As he walked by the rooms, most of the curtains weren’t drawn and revealed most of them stretched out on their bunks, exhausted. Soletus went to his room in the back. He noticed only two of his roommates were there, Doran and his cousin, Lyndon. They were both laid out but perked up when they saw him.
"What happened," demanded Lyndon from above him from his bunk. "We waited as long as well could and then First Warden Kellas said you weren't coming. He was pretty upset about it too."
"What do you think happened," said Soletus, placing his staves behind the bunk bed and then flopped down on his bed.
"Master Dour," stated Doran with understanding. "We could have had so much fun. Lyndon and I started a killing competition. I won, of course."
Soletus looked across from him to the empty bunk. "Where's Valan?"
Doran and Lyndon exchanged grieved looks.
"He didn't get killed did he," asked Soletus, thinking the worse, but the two wouldn't have been so cheerful to see him. In fact, that would have been the first thing they told him, as it wasn't unusual for someone to die during a culling.
"No, he got the shivers an' shakes and hid in his tent the entire time," explained Doran. "Master Tyr tried to get him to take another position in the order, but he packed his things and headed home as soon as he stepped foot here."
That was disappointing. Soletus really liked Valan. He was a good friend and sparring partner. Both of there were the same build, strength, and skill level. He was someone to talk to because he came from a strict family too and a father that was hard to please. He was a farmer who rather Valan stand behind a plow. He had something to prove and was excited about going to the culling. His enthusiasm got them all eager. It was disappointing he left.
"It always happens to someone," sighed the young monk. He lay down on his bed and folded his arms behind his head. Why hadn't he waited to say goodbye? If I was there, I could have kept him here.
He felt uncomfortable and cracked his eyes open. Doran was staring down at him from his bunk and Lyndon's head was hanging upside down, with his two braids dangling on the side of his head.
Soletus regarded them. “What?”
"We heard about you and the newest nobling, the one who killed his brother," said Doran.
"His step-brother is plenty alive," corrected Soletus.
"So, what is he like," asked Lyndon with interest. "Does he talk to himself? Have fits? Tear wings off of flies?"
Soletus gave his cousin a bewildered look. "Why would anyone want to tear wings off of flies?"
Lyndon shrugged. "Because he's mean. He attempted to kill someone."
Soletus rolled his eyes. "He's not mean, just very shy and awkward."
Lyndon looked disappointed. "Awww, not that interesting, huh?"
"Sounds like another boy the order is going to toss out when he does something stupid then," muttered Doran.
"He's a chanter. They'll keep him as long as they can," said Soletus.
"That little fox-headed nobling is a chanter," asked Doran, surprised.
"How do you know he's a fox top?"
"I saw him when they first brought him here. The Arch Priest was laying down the rules for him. I just saw his back. Why is his hair cropped?"
Soletus shrugged. "I don't know. I've not bothered to ask because it's not worth getting him upset over. He not well in the head and gets all shaky when he doesn't want to talk about certain things. I don't like it. It's hard to be around him."
Lyndon then gave him a funny look. "Then why keep helping him?”
Soletus narrowed his eyes at his cousin. “What I want to know is how you know that I’ve been helping him?”
“Fern was out on the road. She and the huntress rode back with us. She told me about what you were doing.”
Soletus swung his pillow at his cousin. “Stay out of my business.”
Lyndon pulled his head up in time. “I just wanted to know if you have free time because Doran needs all the help he can get training for the warden trials," suggested his cousin.
"What about you?"
Lyndon’s head appeared again. "No staff for me. I get to train with the scouts now," he said, beaming proudly.
"Congratulation," said Soletus. He was happy for his cousin. That's what he always wanted. However, that gladness was overshadowed by jealousy nestled in his heart right beside the frustration of missing out on an opportunity.
When I first met Soletus, I didn't know what to think of him. I never heard that kind of clear voice before. It was like walking to the edge of a river and looking into the water and see all the stones. However, the problem with that is I didn't know what those stones were because I didn't know him. What I could hear and understand was the unease in his voice when he spoke to me. Yet, he tried to be my friend. So, I tried to understand him. Soon I learned when he was happy and when he was growing frustrated. When he was joking. His voice matched his mood. He was an honest person. He was predictable. Someone I had no reason to fear. So, I latched onto him
Soletus didn't make as much progress as he believed he would. In fact, he felt he made very little. The boy only spoke when he needed to, and he made sure it wasn't often. Though he was full of gestures and had easy to read facial expression only because he had the emotional range between nervous and unease.
During that span of time, Brother Hickory also taught him how to control his phrase of light. There wasn't a day when the boy wasn't chanting under his breath and winking a sun globe in and out of existence. He seemed mystified by it, and it gave him something to focus on, which made him a little less anxious. Soletus found it was easier to let the young chanter concentrate on what he could and couldn't do with the globe of light he wielded than getting him to talk.
When he wasn't doing that, he followed Soletus around like a skittish kitten. He was curious, but quick to retreat when seen. He would start to say something, but whenever Soletus made eye contact, he would shut himself and look away or down. The young monk wasn't sure what to make of him doing that. It was odd for a boy his age to be that shy. He was almost a tod and didn't act it.
When Soletus took him on a quick tour of the town and the monastery, he was certain that Mien would reach out for his hand, given how close he stayed by him. However, the boy wasn't fond of physical contact. That caused Soletus to feel awkward because he was, as other described, friendly. He was all hugs and arms over the shoulder. He never had an elf objected with near terror from something as small as a pat or even nudging before. There was little he could do about that so, he worked on what he could.
Soletus decided to first see what basic skills he knew. He didn't know what nobles did in their spare time. He heard they had people to do nearly everything for them. The young monk doubted that, so he got two horses to exercise for the stableman. He learned that Mien knew how to ride a horse. He had to get a little help with adjusting the stirrups, but he had no trouble with pulling himself up and swing on the back of the horse. That same day, he took him fishing, and Onyx joined them. Mien had no fear of dogs. He was delighted to have the large hound with them. She gave him a distraction. He was happy to scratch that spot between her shoulder blades, and Onyx sat beside him the entire time.
The following day, Soletus wanted to see how he reacted to an elven consort. All elves could learn to summon the magical companions. Most didn't, but all members of the order were taught and trained to use them. The summoned creatures provided an elf with a single magical ability. His took the form of a highland brown bear. However, unlike a real bear, Khodi had a round moon spot on his right shoulder where his fur was silver. And like Soletus, Khodi was a young leggy looking and not impressive looking like older members whose consorts were the same type of bear. Soletus expected Mien to be afraid of him. Many elves didn’t like them, but he wasn't. He found the consort fascinating. But not enough for him to ask anything. Though questions sparkled in his eyes. He patted Khodi on the head and the summoned creature nudged and examined him, sending Soletus impressions that there was an injured person in front of him.
The second week begun and Soletus expected no change. He came over after breakfast, as usual. Brother Hickory was in the center of the chapel, talking to townsfolk. The young monk snuck by them and went straight to the back. Before he walked in, he paused Mien’s room. It was empty, with the bed poorly made. There was too much blanket tucked at the ends and the sides, so it lay unevenly. It was something he needed to learn how to do. The masters weren't very fussy about it, but the priests were more meticulous.
Soletus found Mien at the small table. He managed to keep eye contact in his general direction. However, Soletus was certain he was looking at the wall behind him. It was a welcomed change. That didn't mean he was willing to talk. Soletus made his way to the table with the boy's eyes following him until he sat down in his chair backwards.
"Is there something wrong," Soletus asked.
Instead of shaking his head, he opened his mouth and spoke, "No."
Soletus was shocked that he answered. He swallowed his surprise. He didn't want to scare him back into hiding. Instead, he cleared his throat and said, "You're up early."
The boy’s eye contact faltered, dropped back to the tabletop. "I wanted food that wasn't burnt. Porridge isn't that hard to make," he said a little louder.
Now the mice and the crickets can hear him, thought Soletus and said to him. "Tell that to Brother Hickory."
The corner of Mien's mouth pulled up slightly.
It was good to see the boy smile. He hadn't done it much.
"What do you want to do today," prompted Soletus.
He wasn't expecting the boy to meet his eyes again, but he did. Mien raised an eyebrow at him. "Don't you have anything else to do?"
"No. Hickory asked me to do this, so this is my duty for now. If I didn't want to be here, I wouldn't," he answered, not sure what to think about the sudden trust shown to him. It didn't last. The boy focused his attention out the small grimy window.
"It's quiet here," he remarked.
"I take it you like that?"
"I couldn't imagine you would like some place more bustling."
"I mean in the chapel," corrected Mien.
"Of course it is. It's a chapel. I mean, it's not like an estate that throws parties and servants running around."
Mien cut him a glance. "My family's estate is small, with a tiny staff compared to most. We don't host parties a lot. But that's not the quiet I mean."
The young monk tilted his head. "Then what do you mean?"
"It's calm. I'm calm."
Soletus looked out of the window with him and tried to sort out that last statement. What state was he before that classified his current behavior as calm. Brother Hickory stepped in, wearing a frown of displeasure.
"Sorry to interrupt, but Mien, I need to say something to you."
Mien turned from the window slowly to Hickory's feet. "Yes."
Brother Hickory started scolding him. "That bed is awful. Go in there and try again. I've only shown you how to do it a dozen times."
Without even a cringe, the boy got up from the table and vanished. Hickory took Mien's spot.
"So, was he holding a conversation with you, too?"
"Same with me this morning. He opened up. Still with fidgety eyes, but talking," said the priest. He appeared pleased, as if that was major progress.
"How did he manage before if he can't look someone in the face," said Soletus.
"Your guess is as good as mine, seeing as he was also an alchemist's apprentice. I couldn't imagine him being so shy around his master."
Soletus’s brow jumped. "An alchemist's apprentice at his age?"
"He's a smart lad in the academic sense. He’s smart enough to get an invitation to take the entrance test to the university in Eroden," he told him.
"Maybe I should introduce him to someone else since he is talking."
Hickory swayed his head. "Not yet. I don't want to scare him back into his shell like a scared turtle. This is more than the lack of talking skill."
Soletus didn't think it was possible, but for the rest of their time together that day, the boy was quiet again. The boy only had a small energy reserve for talking. If he was going to be reserved, Soletus decided that Mien should do something that didn’t require speech. So, he taught him how to fight with a quarter staff.
The next day, he brought over his light training staff and the heavy staff he preferred. He knew the boy was getting chanter priest training and they didn’t receive weapons training. Neither did the few combat chanters they had. Soletus believed they needed to learn a little something to be better-rounded. Mien didn't understand it at all and stared at Soletus when the young monk told him what they would be doing.
"It'll be good for you," Soletus encouraged. "You've skinny arms and wimpy shoulders. How are going to do anything with those?"
Mien's eyes tightened. He parted his lips as if he was going to say something. However, he retracted and settled on becoming offended.
"I meant no offense, but it's true."
Soletus knew Mien was thinking something by the way his gaze scanned him up and down but he didn't share those thoughts.
Soletus handed him the staff he would be using. "I need the practice, so you can help me."
Mien took it in his hands and inspected the wooden weapon as if it was a foreign object.
"It'll be fun."
Mien gave him a dubious look.
"Don't worry, you'll be fine," said Soletus.
The session turned into a practice in teaching the bare basics of using a quarter staff. He wasn't ready to be called a master yet because he wasn't sure what to do about a student who wasn't eager to learn. He was too timid, too hesitant, and too slow. If anything, the young monk got a great lesson in restraint that day. So many times, he wanted to take advantage of an opening with a sound strike. He softened his blows because the boy flinched a lot, blocking with his arms rather than his staff. After observing the action a few times more, Soletus planted the end of his staff into the ground, and asked,
"Were you hit on?"
Color drained from Mien's face. He looked to the side and said quickly. "No!"
Soletus narrowed his eyes. "You know, it isn't a good thing to lie. I can ask Hickory because I'm sure he knows."
Mien became owl-eyed. "What did he tell you?"
"He hasn't told me much. He probably expects you to tell me."
"It isn't like he beat me every day, but please don't tell anyone," he begged. "He might find out I told and make things worse."
"Who," Soletus asked confused. When Mien didn't answer him, he repeated the question again. "Who will make things worse for you?"
The boy looked at the ground. "Not me, my mother."
"So, he hit her too?"
"No," exclaimed the boy with his voice becoming high and manic. He waved his hands in front of him. "He doesn't. He can't. She won't let him, but he can hurt her other ways. He can still make things miserable for me, thus making things worse for her."
That cleared nothing up for the young monk. "Who is he exactly?"
The boy clamped his mouth shut with his teeth clicking.
Soletus pushed his hair to the side that fell into his face. "You need to tell me so I can understand."
Mien dropped the staff on the ground and covered his face with his hands, trembling violently. Soletus reached for him. Mien slapped it away and took a step back away from him, frightened.
Soletus held his hands up. "Sorry. I didn't mean to pry."
The boy hugged himself, backing away, reaching out behind him until his back was to the bark of the burning ash tree.
"Mien," Soletus called, but his voice didn't reach the disturbed boy. His breathing became short and shallow. Mien put his hand to his chest and stared glassy eyed at the ground. Soletus was torn between getting Brother Hickory or staying. He didn't know if he could do any good, though. However, he tried and took slow steps towards Mien, making sure they were loud enough for the boy to hear that he was coming. He eased forward and stopped an arm's length in front of him.
"Seriously, I'm sorry for whatever I did," he said.
Mien was unresponsive. He hugged himself tighter.
The door to the chapel opened and Brother Hickory beckoned Soletus to come towards him. They exchanged places. Brother Hickory tried to console the boy. Soletus made a beeline to the table and sat down. He didn't know why that made him ill at ease, but it did. Never in his life had he seen someone react to a question like that. He didn't know if he needed to help, leave, or stay there and wait. In the end, he waited. The priest was out there for a long time before he came back in. Soletus tried to explain himself, but the priest held up a hand.
"Don't worry about it. What did you ask him?"
"I asked him if he was hit on," said Soletus.
Brother Hickory bobbed his head in understanding. "I should have warned you not to do that. He doesn't enjoy talking about what happened or anything connected with it."
"Well, it's made him afraid of someone," said Soletus. "He wouldn't even name the person."
Brother Hickory sat down and explained. "I know who he speaks of. Don't you worry about and don't press the matter anymore. He might stop speaking again. That's what caused him to turtle up the first time and I had to bring you in."
Soletus blinked at him with disbelief. He started talking. "He's not well in the head if that's all it takes to get him to clamp up again."
"I never said he was, well that is," said Brother Hickory somberly.
"So, he's cracked in the head?"
"No. What you see results from fear. Fear is a powerful thing. It can control a person and force them to act in ways that seem crazy to us."
"But you face your fears."
"It isn't always that simple. Most people can do such a thing. For others, it's a lot harder. I've found that the deep-sated fears are harder to deal with. Right now, the wounds are too fresh. Once we get him to trust us, then we help him lift all those painful emotional scars. Every time it hurts, he's going to retreat. However, I don’t want him to retreat, thinking he’s alone. I want him to learn that he has Dias and us here.
"You might as well go now. He will not be up to doing anything for a while. Try again tomorrow. But don't get discouraged. These cases are the hardest. You must be persistent to get through so many barriers he’s created to get to the heart of everything,” stated Hickory, and then added. “In fact, the first individual I was assigned to was much like him. They were hurt, distrustful, and fearful. However, they didn’t behind silence, though. They were very surly."
Soletus didn't know if he would like that anymore. Then again, at least someone who was surly was responsive. However, when he left, he didn't know if wanted to come back. Mien's behavior troubled him. Shy was one thing, but what he saw, that was different.
With nothing else to do, he settled alone in his room to think. He was patient, but not enough to be around someone who would start getting better and suddenly tumbled back down to start all over again. It hurt a little that his mother was right. However, he liked helping people, but usually helping people met doing something tangible. Something that could be fixed with physical strength. What he was doing wasn't anything like that. This was something of the mind. And while he received some training to aid his mind to deal with ugly and terrible situations, it didn’t extend to someone else.
Soletus rolled on his back, wishing his cousin was in the bunk above him so he could ask his opinion on the matter. Everyone should be back in a few more days. However, he didn't feel as if he could wait. The stubborn part of him wanted to stick it out, the practical part of him wanted to excuse himself and do something that was a lot more productive.
However, he failed to come up with an excuse by the next morning and continued his new routine of going to the chapel. First, he checked the boy's room. It was empty and his bed was better, but not there yet. He wasn't at the table either. Instead, Hickory was there sipping on a mug of tea with a lettering his hand.
"He's out back," stated the priest without looking up, his brow a line of disapproval.
"Is he talking?”
"He said nothing to me this morning, but I told him not to be so inconsiderate," said Hickory, annoyed by what he read. The priest gave Soletus his full attention. "That isn't the right word. I told him you are trying to help and that he needn't make it more difficult scaring you. That he needn't be afraid. Like I said, it's fear that holding him back."
"And what did he do?"
"The usual, he stared at his feet and nodded his head."
Why would I think anything different, thought Soletus.
"A package came for him, and he's been outside pouring over it. So, he might be distracted, but don't be afraid to talk to him. I know you got a bit discouraged yesterday. However, it was only stumble."
The priest was trying to reassure him. However, Soletus couldn't wait to be done with this duty. When he reached for the door latch, Brother Hickory added, "I appreciate what you are doing."
Soletus squeezed his eyes closed and sighed. He wouldn't be able to excuse himself easily.
When he stepped outside, the boy sat in the grass under the tree with a book in his lap. He glanced up and then looked back down, turning the page. Soletus crossed the yard, closing the distance between them by taking measured steps. Mien was still reading when Soletus eased himself down in front of him, minding the letters spread out in the grass.
"Hello," greeted Mien.
"Hi," replied Soletus. "I see you've something from home?"
Mien looked through his fringe of red hair. "My mother forwarded a package for me from my sister."
"Is she older than you?"
"No, we're twins."
Soletus couldn't imagine a female version of him would be a good thing or that he would start rambling.
"Her name is Mienerva. She's lives in Eroden and goes to the University," he said, closing the book and looking up at him. "She doesn't know what happened yet because she didn't yell at me in her letter."
"Okay," Soletus wasn't sure what to make of his talkativeness.
Mien's pale face flushed. "I'm sorry about yesterday. It's just easier if I don't talk about things because that happens. It’s not that I don't like you. I do. You're nice. You don't point out things like my hair and say I'm crazy. Well… you probably do now. I'm not! I don't think I am. I just… you ever get so scared that your heart starts beating really fast?"
"Well, I feel like that, a lot, but not here. This place is quiet. Nothing's here to hurt me," he said, sounding like he was trying to convince himself of that fact.
"Well, there isn't anyone here that would hurt you," assured Soletus. "Grace's Hope is kind of a sanctuary. People come here for refuge, and we don't tolerate those who bring trouble with them. Besides that, outside influences don't have much power here. There's nothing to be afraid of."
"Brother Hickory says the same," returned Mien.
"Then you shouldn't get so nervous about talking to me."
Mien looked down, ashamed. "I wasn't always like this. Things changed, and I became different."
"Well, what exactly changed," Soletus asked.
The book in Mien's hands started shaking.
Soletus started to stand. "Should I get Hickory?"
"No," cried Mien, alarmed. "It's alright, this is good. Talking I mean, I think."
Mien loosened his grip on the book he had and placed it beside him. He leaned against the tree. "You know my father had blue eyes like yours, not as bright though."
He became quiet after that and left that thought unfinished. Soletus didn't know how to reply. The boy said "had" meaning his father was dead. So, whoever had hurt him wasn't his father. Instead of fishing for details, Soletus looked beside the boy at the book and read the title.
"Wrenhold's Comprehensive Guide to Alchemic Compounds, sounds like a great bedtime story."
Mien's green eyes lit up. "It's the best guide out there for alchemy. My sister must have done something magnificent for her to get a copy for me."
"So, you understand this," said Soletus, amazed as he flipped through the book. It was nothing more than a jumble of words, numbers, diagrams, and descriptions that might as well be in another language.
"This is simple stuff. Alchemy is nothing more than what a wisewoman would use to cure people. Alchemists, however, don't just use those compounds to cure people."
It was a crazy man's trade as well. From what Soletus understood, alchemist did dangerous things to get what they wanted, even dying for their work. Their fellow alchemists might see such a thing as a success.
"So, what do you want to do today," asked Soletus.
"Rest," answered Mien, as he closed his eyes.
"I take it you didn't get much at home?"
Soletus realized what he asked after it was out of his mouth. He was not good at avoiding speaking about things he shouldn’t as well.
The boy's eyes cracked open. He denied nothing this time. "No, I didn't."
"Surely your mother didn't like it."
"She didn't have a choice. She did what could without making it worse. I probably made it worse for her."
"Everyone has a choice," returned Soletus.
Mien shook his head. "You don't understand because you don't know."
"You can tell me,” prompted Soletus.
The boy regarded him warily.
"Or we can save it for another day."
Mien regarded him graciously. He then asked in a meek voice. "Can I call you, friend? I didn't have many before. Most thought me strange."
"Sure," said Soletus a little too slowly and Mien caught his tone to his surprise.
"Why you say it like that?"
Mien then gave him a look. "I'm not stupid. I know what I must act like to you."
Soletus was speechless. He didn't want to deny it to be polite, but, at the same time, the boy showed awareness. He was sure a crazy person wasn't very aware, or their awareness came and left. Maybe Brother Hickory was right.
"You're different," he said, not refuting that. "I'm not used to different, but I can handle it."
"That's why I like you," announced Mien, but didn't explain himself. He became silent again and Soletus didn't prompt him again. He figured that Mien had spoken enough for that day.
Brother Hickory was the first kind person who came to me in that cell. And you would think at that point, I would've, you know, apologized, be smart. No, no, I didn't. Instead, I continued wearing the mask I created. I became that crazed boy who was angry with his mother, hated his uncle, and wanted his cousin dead. I wanted to show him I was just as indifferent as a killer. It was the easiest way to the end I thought I wanted. However, he didn't buy it. He listened, unflinching and repeated the same thing he said when he walked in. He knew I didn't want to die, and he could help me if I asked. To my ears, he sounded like that warm breeze before a storm. He was something powerful and terrifying, but his voice was full of compassion. He cracked and revealed my truth. That I didn't want to die. And for the first time in a very long time, I cried. I begged for help.
After leaving the chapel, Soletus went home. He didn't want to go back to a half-empty dormitory to be reminded that he was left behind, so home it was. It also gave him a chance to visit his mother. He hadn't been home in a few days and assumed she wasn't at the Women's Society house. His baby sister kept her from going there every day currently and will continue to do so until she was older. However, his baby sister might have grabbed most of her attention, but certainly not all of it. She still wanted to know how he was doing and would say something along the lines of, "I nearly forgot I birthed three children, not two," because his lack of visiting.
It was easier on him if he didn't come home weekly, as she liked. Training was exhausting. When he was an initiate, he came over nearly every day because he was doing the schooling portions of his training. Brotherhood specific history lessons, map reading, and creation, plant identification, and field medic training weren't that demanding. Physical training, well, that required more of him. Some days, he just wanted to rest on his bunk and pray no one wanted him for something. However, someone usually needed him, wanted to ask him something, or needed his talents. It was usually a master. They thought to keep him busy with everything.
Soletus was unsurprised that nothing changed along the narrow lane where he grew up. Change wasn't something that elves did often. The same rock fencing guided him on either side of the road he grew up with. He passed by the same steep-roofed houses with the same elves that lived in there for generations. Some worked in their gardens while others were out talking to their neighbors or watched the road. All of them waved to him as he passed. They knew who he was. They had seen him many times walking or running with his cousin at his side. Several of them had children that played with in the past. None of them joined the Brotherhood, so he hadn't spoken to them in some time.
His parent's house was in the middle of the lane and at the corner of another. It stood on a low hill and was the only house that didn't have a loft. Instead, the house spread on a large lot with a tidy garden in the back and a huge lady oak in the front for shade.
When Soletus got closer, his father's dog, Onyx greeted him. The large obsidian hound galloped towards him with her ears flapping and planted her large paws on his chest so she could be petted.
"You miss me," he said, massaging her behind her floppy ears. When he was certain she was satisfied, he grabbed her by her ruff and shook her head until she had both paws on the ground. The large dog snorted and snapped playfully at him. He chased her, and she chased him back in tight circles until the two of them had enough play. She trotted back to her worn oval shaped spot in the ground where she watched the road and he walked inside the house.
The aroma of fresh bread greeted him and chopped wood. His older sister, Fern was there reading over their mother's shoulder while holding their little sister. The two of them looked up, mirroring each other surprise. It didn’t help that they looked remarkably alike as well. They could almost pull sisters if not for Fern’s skin and hair tone. Then again, he shared a lot of his mother’s features as well.
Both siblings had her lower and shorter pointed Dyne elf ears and the same dark blue irises. The only thing that they didn’t share was her skin tone. Being from the highlands, she didn't possess the golden tones that elves of the open plains had matching sandstone and stalks of fall and winter grasses.
She was from the north where the mountains met clouds with valleys of trees with trunks so wide the Dyne built homes on them well as entire roads system in certain area. However, their great branches stretching out blocked out the sun or filtered it. A Dyne elf living in the plains had to be protected from the sun. His mother often wore the colorful headscarves of Fenndish Dyne. She often called summer "scarf season."
Thankfully, neither Soletus nor his older sister inherited the ability to burn. Like their father, they toasted. What clued anyone knowing they were dual heritage were their ears. Though Soletus was often mistaken for Dyne. While his sister had their father's sandy hair tones, Soletus's hair was a flaxen shade, devoid of warmth. Though hers appeared to be close to a pale gray.
"Well, well, well, look who sauntered in," stated Fern, adjusting their sister in her arms. The babe clung to the collar of her soft shirt under the leather vest she wore. She likely had just come home doing whatever she the huntress did. Likely dealing with a pack of wild dogs killing sheep.
"Hey, I visit when I can," he said, spotting two loaves of bread cooling on the table. He took one of the oval loves and tore half, balanced each piece in his hand, and took the bigger half. His mother's face puckered.
"Don't they feed you," she asked with her gazed fixed on him as left table and when through the doorway to the kitchen. He rummaged for the jar of honey next. It was behind a large tin can on the shelf where his mother hid it. She let out an exasperated sigh behind him as he grabbed a clean wooden saucer from another shelf.
"I was with Brother Hickory at midday," he said.
"You were around that boy," his mother asked, as if that were the worst thing in the world.
Soletus rolled his eyes before he turned around and faced her.
"Yeah, and boy, is he a crazy one," he said in mock horror. "All that evil shyness and wicked silence he was doing. He couldn't look at me, so he settled on burning holes in the table with his evil gaze of awkwardness."
His mother's blue eyes became a thin line of annoyance. "Mock me all you want, but there are evil people out there. A boy has no right to kill his brother."
Soletus pour honey in the saucer and dipped his bread in it. "It was attempted murder. And if there was something evil about him, why would Brother Hickory have him? Plus, didn't you tell me to withhold my judgment for things I don't understand? The only thing I understood is that he’s the shyest boy I ever met."
Fern then came beside and bumped him with her hip. "I suppose you would be an expert on shyness given how much you were."
Soletus scowled at her. She just walked on circling the table, bouncing Saedee, who was giggling.
His mother didn't look very relieved. "Why were you even there?"
"Brother Hickory wanted me to meet me so I could help with him," he explained.
"You aren't going to help, are you?"
"Well, given that it's either that or twiddling my thumbs alone in the dormitory. He's not trouble," he assured her. "Seriously, he's the shyest fellow I've ever met. Wouldn't say much and when he actually spoke, I could barely hear him. Tense, jumpy, and scared, like a turtle."
The woman sighed. "I don't think you should. What you are doing isn't easy."
"Now that's very unFenndish of you," said Soletus, surprised. "Didn't you just get through telling me a week ago that Dias wants us to help all, not just those like us?"
He waited for his mother to argue that point. She only sniffed and him and admitted, “I've may have said something along those lines."
Soletus grinned. "The only reason I'm going over there is because Brother Hickory wants him around someone his age to get him talking. How hard can that be?"
"Harder than you might think. If he is as closed off as you say. He doesn’t know or trust you. And even if you prove are trustworthy, that doesn’t mean he’ll accept you as a reasonable person would," said his mother sagely. “You have to be patient with them. Because even if you make progress, they’ll slip back, struggle at the next step, and fail a few times. And you can only sit and watch. It's not something everyone can do it. It's easy to get disappointed and annoyed at them when they do. Feel they aren't trying hard enough. You must learn to not to be frustrated because it isn't about you, it's them."
Soletus wanted to tell her that getting a boy to talk wasn't such a dire situation she made it sound like. However, she seemed to be talking from experience.
“So, you’ve helped someone like him?”
His mother then said enigmatically. “I knew an individual, yes, long ago.”
The young monk waiting for her to say more. She didn’t. That was typical. His parents were odd about that. They never spoke a great deal about themselves or their past. His mother avoided talking about her family life a great deal. It had to be something to do with them, he guessed. He decided to move on and took another large bite of bread. While he chewed, he thought about what he wanted to say. She could clear something up for him.
"Do you know why Papa made it impossible for me to go to the culling," he asked.
His mother's eye narrowed. "So, he didn't speak with you?"
He shook his head.
She shook her head in annoyance. "About a week ago, he told me he was concerned about you being ready for the trials and all."
"Well, the culling would've been a fantastic way to prove that I was," argued Soletus.
"You need to talk to him about this. I'm just as confused as you are about it as I told him to speak to you."
"So why doesn't he think I'm ready," said Soletus. "I'm the best fighter, hands down in my training clutch, as well as all the others. I should have been able to go."
"Again," she said more firmly. "You need to speak to him. This isn’t a problem with your skill. He's proud of your skill. It's just… he just wants you ready."
Soletus blinked at his mother, knowing she was trying to lighten her words. "He thinks I'm still a boy, doesn't he," he asked her flatly.
"It's not that," she said quickly and stood. She took the jar of honey and looked for a new place to hide it. "He's better at explaining that sort of thing. I'm not the one who taught boys and young men to fight for the time he has."
She then walked into the kitchen and place it. It sounded like she scooted it on the far shelf over the bin of grain. Soletus noted that and kept eating. She then appeared again and walked behind him.
"All I know about is the one I do have," she said, hugging him from behind. Soletus could feel his face warming up in embarrassment but didn't have the heart to push her away. He took it. "Talk to your father when he gets back. And don't let him give you one of those poor explanations."
He nodded, but he didn't understand. Everyone always complemented on his ability to fight and the rate that he had learned. They even talked to him about doing the trials that year. His father wasn’t much different. Thought he mentioned something about him rushing forward and that he needed more time to grow. Soletus didn't know how much more prepared he needed to be.
He obeyed orders. He did extra training during personal time to get ahead. If a master wanted help, he would do it. If another warder wanted to spar, he would be their opponent. Soletus wondered if his father even wanted him to be a field warden. However, there was nothing else he wanted to do with his life. He didn't want to become peaceguard and protect the town. Neither did he want to take one of the many trade jobs the Brotherhood provided. No, since a child, he wanted to be a warden, and that was what he was going to be.
For now, he would wait until his father got back. Until then, Mien would be a good distraction, but he didn't know how long. It won't be too hard to break the boy's shell, he thought. In his youthful mind, anything he had been put through physically was harder.
He was wrong.
Princeling, I don't know if where I want to start is acceptable. The beginning is not when I was born. Not childhood either. The beginning is the end of life as I knew it. When I changed the trajectory of my life to one path to the next. So, where I want to begin is when I was in a prison cell at age 18. After I chased my mother away with nasty biting words. As harsh and as full of vitriol as I could make them. It was after all the rage inside of me was spent, the red haze cast over, lifted. It was then I realized I had made a terrible mistake.
-Excerpt from Interview with Mientheoderic, Brotherhood chaplain Written by Patriarch Lord Theris'Heron
From the rumors, Soletus expected a feral elf child raised by wolves. Someone snarling and spittle flying from his lips while cowering in a corner. That would have been interesting. Instead, what he got was a boy lying on a cot. He couldn't even get a good look at him. He was cocooned in his blanket. The part of him that was visible was the copper crown of his hair.
Yep, we've a genuine threat here. So scary, he thought, and wondered if the rumor was true. That they had caught him attempting to murder his brother in a rage.
He looked at the priest standing beside him for his thoughts. The aged elf wasn't projecting the amicable warmth he normally was. Instead, he stared at the boy grave faced. When he realized Soletus was watching him, his face lifted into a smile.
"I know what you're thinking. This isn't what you are training for," said Brother Hickory before a yawn took him. He rubbed his tired eyes as he finished. "But he needs to be around someone other than me. That's why you're here."
Soletus looked at the boy again. It was Brother Hickory's duty, as the Dias Brotherhood counselor, to deal with those who were trouble. Not only in the monastery, but in the town as well. He normally didn't involve other in his process. What was stranger was that the boy wasn't from town. He was a noble's son. A special case.
"Why," he asked.
"He doesn't trust me. He's too…" Brother Hickory paused. His thin brows pulled together as he searched for a word.
"Too what," prompted Soletus.
The priest waved his hand, giving up. "I can't think off of three hours of sleep. You'll see what I mean when you speak to him."
Soletus glanced down at his new assignment again, wondering what the sleepy priest was trying to say. It would help him understand why he was chosen. He was a monk, a warder in rank. He should have marched off the previous day to be with the other warders in his training clutch to cull drass beasts. What he was doing was something for a junior warden. Then again, a young acolyte priest would be more appropriate. Then again, they had few young priests in the order. So instead of sulking on his bunk about being left behind for no good reason, Master Marth came to him with Brother Hickory's request.
The boy then shifted in bed as if he was waking up. However, he rolled over to the wall, curling back up in a fetal position. Brother Hickory tapped Soletus on his shoulder and gestured with his head for him to follow. They returned to the foyer and continued their conversation in the small kitchen that was Brother Hickory's dining and common room. He had his bedroom and workroom down the hall, but always spoke to everyone in the open sunlit room.
The priest gestured towards the bubbling pot resting on the small kettle stove. The young monk declined. He didn't know how long the contents had been overcooking. Everyone knew it was safer not to eat Hickory's cooking. Instead, he pulled out a chair from the round table and sat in it backwards, just as whatever was in the pot rattled. With a pop, steam mixed in with smoke billowed into the air. Hickory walked over to it and poured some water in it, causing the contents to pop and sizzle. He gave it a little stir and joined Soletus at the table.
"Just a little something for the lad when he wakes up," stated Brother Hickory.
Poor fellow going to starve, thought Soletus. Brother Hickory was well-known for his kindness and burning food. It wasn't unusual to walk into the chapel with the odor of burnt food floating in the air. He stayed well fed despite it. A widow named Saffron kept him plump, so cooking disasters didn't leave him starving. It looked like today was going to be no exception. She would feed the boy when she realized Hickory was trying to kill him.
"I know this isn't ideal compared to what you've been training for," said Hickory. "This has little to do with protecting the province from drass beast, but this is helping the people."
It not being ideal was an understatement, in his opinion. He didn't voice it. Instead, he said. "I might as well do something. No one here to train with. They are all gone to the culling." And it all ruined my chance to show Papa that I was ready to go through the trials, he thought.
"I'm sorry about that. I suppose it was your father?"
Soletus nodded. He didn't think his unhappiness was that obvious. But then again, Hickory was all-knowing.
Hickory then told him with empathy. "He means well. He just wants you prepared. And I know you are going to disagree but, perhaps this is a sign from Dias that you should enter into priesthood,” he said with a bright smile. “We need more young folks. You've some making for it."
Soletus frowned. His father said that recently. "Is that something you come up with or Papa tell you?"
"It's something I've always thought to ask of you," said Hickory.
It was the other option he could have taken if he didn't get through his monk training. Many thought he wouldn't survive it. He wasn't, by a few standards, a suitable candidate. His father told him that the training wasn't about ability, it was about if you were willing. He knew he said it to encourage him. All he ever wanted was to be a field warden. Priest, as he found out, didn't do anything. If he were lucky, they would send him to a small chapel in a town far away, converting unbelievers. As noble a task as it was to get others into hearing the voice of Dias, it was dull and thankless.
"It's not very exciting," he said without giving it a thought.
Hickory didn't take offense at all. "I understand. I didn't want to be a priest either when I first came here. Granted, there is no other choice for a chanter, but that’s beside the point. However, over time, I've learned to form a good temper and keep an eye on the very large flock of mine. I feel I will need all I learned with this one."
"But you said he wasn't trouble.
"Not all people who are troubled are trouble themselves. It's just that I've had him for a week, and I never met a lad as old as him being so completely…" Hickory paused again and shook his head. "No, you just have to meet him. I can assure you he isn't possessed by some evil spirit."
Soletus let out a snorting chuckled. "Everyone seems to think you are dealing with Maw spawn."
Brother Hickory hung his head down. "For once I would like official business not gossiped it around. One would think the Brotherhood comprised of a bunch of old nattering hens at this point."
Soletus smiled in an effort not to laugh.
"The only issue that might cause concern is he's a latent chanter coming into his abilities. If it wasn't the phrase of light he's fixed on, I wouldn't be so worried."
Soletus was surprised to hear the boy was a chanter. Then again, Dias didn't choose a person to become a chant and wield the phrases of the Hymn of Dias based on mortal standards. The common thought was that those born chanter weren't evil. There were many examples of those who did fall into darkness. Not to mention, Dias exact words were: "those who are chosen have the heart and desire to give and help."
Attempted murder didn't exactly show that in Soletus's opinion.
Brother Hickory read his surprise and told him, "The reason why a person is chosen to become a chanter is not for us to question. As Dias says, it's based on what they have the potential to do. We have to act towards that potential. And he has the potential to do great things." Soletus saw a twinkle of excitement formed in the old priest's teal eyes. "His phrase of light is something special. It's aligned with the sun and hot. A little odd given his personality, however, he could be trained as a combat chanter. It's been a bit since we had one. But he'll never become one unless he's less…." Hickory gestured in the air trying to find that word again.
Soletus saw movement behind Brother Hickory's head. He leaned to the side and spotted their topic of conversation. The boy had woken up and was peering into the room as if checking for danger. He run a hand through his disheveled hair. It stuck up all over the place since it was cut to the length a half-elf would wear. When he spotted Soletus eyeing him, he slunk back behind the doorframe.
Soletus pointed, and Hickory caught him just as he vanished from view.
"Oh no, what did I tell you about shrinking away from people? Confidence, my boy," encouraged Brother Hickory loudly.
The boy stepped out, not looking directly at them or in their direction for no more than just a few seconds before he found the chair as his object to focus on. He pulled it out from under the small table and sat. He looked down at the tabletop. It wasn't as if Soletus could see his eyes. The boy's forelocks covered up them up.
"Mientheoderic," said Brother Hickory to him. "This is Warder Soletus'Sheldmartin I was telling you about. His family is one of the longest-serving families in the Dias Brotherhood. His father is the son of the current Arch Monk. He is a good tod to have in your acquaintances."
Soletus offered his hand. "Hello."
With his eyes still cast down at the table, the boy reached out, shook his hand once before he recoiled, and folded his arm around him with the other one. From what Soletus's father told him, the lack of eye contact meant deception, but that wasn't the case. The boy reminded him of a dog kicked too many times. He glanced in the old priest's direction and saw that Hickory's brow became a line of heavy concern.
Soletus then suggested, "Maybe you should leave the two of us alone for a bit."
The boy shrank into his chair. Instead of the priest having mercy on him, he stood.
"You can't hide your face forever, lad," said the priest. "We all do bad and embarrassing things. Some worse than others. However, hiding behind a face of shame and fear is no way to deal with it."
The boy's shoulders drooped. He hung his head down farther, showing the crown of his fox-red hair.
Hickory let out a long sigh. "Don't be afraid to talk to him like a normal boy," advised the priest. "I'll be at the altar if you need me."
Soletus nodded and waited until Hickory's footsteps faded before he talked to his charge again.
"So, what do I call you? Mientheoderic it’s a strong name, but a mouthful. Unless that is what you like to be called."
The boy stared at the table. He opened his mouth and said barely above a whisper, "Mien."
"Short, quick, simple, alright Mien," said Soletus, leaning forward. "I don't know what Brother Hickory wants me to do. I mean, did he tell you anything?"
Mien shook his head.
"Do you want anything? Something is bubbling here that Hickory forgot," said Soletus and then smelled it. He jumped from the chair and dove at the stove. Hickory's potholder was nowhere in sight. There was nothing else to do but grab the metal handle and dumped the pot on the wooden counter to his right. The heat stung his hand but didn’t burn it. Shaking his hand in the air sufficed to cool it down. The young monk was sure it was comical looking, but Mien remained silent. What once was porridge was now sizzling burnt goo. He searched for a bowl and found the square quilted potholder bowl together.
Soletus poured the contents of the pot into the bowl. Most of the porridge was a blackened layer on the bottom. What was left might have been still edible. He brought the half-full bowl to Mien.
"You need a little something in you even though it's sort of burnt," he said.
Mien lifted his head and grimaced. The young monk handed him a wooden spoon and a tin mug of water.
"Not exactly what you're used to, but it'll fill the hole."
The boy scooped a tiny amount on the end of the spoon and tasted it with his tongue. The young monk then eased himself down in his chair and waited for him to say something. He didn’t. A simple thank you would've been a nice start.
"So which house are you from," he asked.
"Cyan," answered Mien, just loud enough for mice to find him amicable.
Soletus tried to remember what he knew about them. They were a branch of House Jay, a ruling house. That, however, made him a minor noble. House Cyan were long time patrons of the Brotherhood. They supplied them tao stone from their mines, but no sons were members. The only reason he figured for their support was security from drass beasts. Having a son who caused such a commotion was bad for their reputation. In fact, it was humiliating. It surprised him that the boy wasn't disowned.
Mien stirred his bowl with disinterest after a few more bites. Soletus looked around for something else. There wasn't.
"That bowl of yuck probably isn't very satisfying. Brother Hickory is an awful cook, but he might have something in the back worth eating."
Mien glanced up, showing his face. He was young looking with freckles around his nose. However, there was something about those eyes of his. There was a sharpness in them that held intelligence, as he was wearing a dubious expression on his face.
"I take it you've seen it?"
Mien bobbed his head.
"There might be something. Come on. Getting out and doing something will make you feel better."
The boy followed him outside wordlessly. He wasn’t as guarded when they walked out into the open. In fact, he relaxed a little as he came to a halt slightly behind Soletus at the sight of the choking nest of weeds.
"I think there are some carrots in there. We should weed them out. It'll get us something to do."
Soletus got down on his knees and started working. Mien followed carefully, pausing at each plant, and tugging at them slowly. Soletus ripped everything up in front of him with abandon. He spent many days weeding his mother's garden. She expected her plants free to grow as big as they liked, and she sent him out to make sure that happened. He pulled up anything he saw, even ones that had thorns on them. He had thick enough callouses on his hands to protect them. However, when he reached for a fuzzy plant, Mien's hand shot out and gripped his wrist.
"I wouldn't pull that up barehanded," the boy warned. He wasn't looking at him directly, but he was speaking louder, or as loud as a shy individual could. "It has a toxin in their pubescence that if it gets in your eyes, causes temporary blindness. Harmless when small, but once it flowers you need to be careful."
The weed was well-past flowering. There were withered white petals scattered beneath the plant.
"Thanks for the warning," said Soletus, studying him in awe. He doesn't speak like a boy.
Mien withdrew his hand as quickly as he placed and begin working again. "A spade would be better to remove it," he added, speaking low again.
Soletus left to search for any garden tools Brother Hickory had. There was a shed place in the far corner. It was dusty and clearly not touched since spring. Mien stood aside and let him take care of the plant. Once they removed it and tossed aside where it wouldn't harm anyone, the two of them continued cleaning out the entire plot. There were carrots there, some turnips, and onions. The carrots and turnips weren't anything to look at. The onions somehow managed, but onions didn't taste good alone. There was a wild briar hidden containing a few late-season blackberries for their hard work. They ate those.
The entire time, the young monk talked to him about the Brotherhood and the town of Grace's Hope. It gave Soletus enough time to study Mien. From what he gathered, the boy listened, asked no questions. He only glanced at him if he had to. Most of all, he was strung tight. The slightest of noise would take his attention away until he found the source. Only then he would relax again.
When Hickory sought them out, Mien was sitting on the ground and jumped to his feet the moment the priest appeared. Soletus rose and Mien scooted over and used him as a shield. Brother Hickory was too fixated on his clean garden plot to notice the strange reaction, or he had seen it and chose not to respond.
"I was saving that for when they suffered me with another badly behaving boy, but they wouldn't do such a good job," he said impressed, looking straight at Mien. "I wouldn't think you would do such work."
Mien cast his gaze down at his feet.
"He was fine," said Soletus, slapping the boy on the back. Mien scooted away from him. "Well, he was before that."
"That was just a friendly slap," Hickory said to Mien.
He didn't act as if it was friendly.
The priest then pointed over his shoulder and said, "Why don't you run inside and get prepared for your training. I want you to go to the altar and pray. Recite the Hymn of Dias in Melodic. I'll be there shortly."
Mien regarded Soletus with a long stare before rushing back inside the chapel. The young monk figured that was about as good of a goodbye he was going to get.
Hickory scratched his head. "So, what do you think?"
"It's like he's in a shell," Soletus assessed.
Brother Hickory bobbed his head in agreement. "That's surprisingly accurate. Couldn't have said it better myself."
"Was he always like that?"
"From what I understood, he was reserved before, but he's retracted since everything happened."
Soletus thought about that for a moment about what he learned and then declared, "I'm confused."
"Why would someone that timid try to kill someone?"
Hickory looked at the door as if he could see Mien through it. "Why do normal people do bad things? They do it because of greed, anger, or fear. Once those things are in control, they make an elf desperate, and they do things they normally wouldn't do."
"So, he was afraid because I don't see him doing it out of rage."
"It was anger," corrected Brother Hickory. "The wrath of a quiet man is terrible because a quiet man thinks. What he did was premeditated."
"If that's the case, then why is he here and not at the Pit or dead?"
Brother Hickory cut him a side-glance. "His situation isn't a clear-cut case. Mercy was on his side. There's no need to worry about him repeating his actions, as you can see. What I am concerned about it is that shell you mentioned. He's locked tight. Your job is to get him out of that shell. I'll work on the managing. Do you think you can do that?"
"I can," said Soletus confidently. It didn't seem outside of his realm of abilities.