My father? I can barely remember him. Too many decades. It’s all about what I know. I know he was brilliant. That's how he impressed my mother. She was matched to my uncle. But they were a mismatch. She, as she put it, couldn’t suffer to breathe in the same room as him. However, she liked my father despite the twelve years different in ages. She claimed he inherited had all the charisma and charm my grandfather had and was handsome to boot. Yes, I know, the apple stayed close to its tree. Yet despite his ease with people, he was serious about his work. He wasn’t a son living off the name of his house. He wanted a name for himself. He didn’t sit in an office all the time. Sometimes he would come home covered in dust from the mine. With us, it was always love and hugs. He was full of laughter. If he lived, I imagine he would be amazed with how alike and unalike we are.
According to First Warden Kellas, Soletus needed more building. To accomplish this, he assigned him to train with Master Tyr. Soletus didn't think he was an ideal trainer, though. Tyr was good friends with his father and his second warden. Like his father, he was one the instructor on rotation between a master and a field warden. However, the man never served as a grappler. Soletus assumed he would train with one of them. It was probably his father's doing, even though Kellas had come to him. It was clear this was his way of monitoring him and what better person to do it than Tyr.
Despite that, Soletus was happy to be doing something physical again. Master Tyr gave him the role of one of the test combatants his fighting brothers would face in the trials. In the actual trials, they had to face three wardens. They were usually senior wardens, one they would have to ability to defend, one they would have to attack, and one would not be gentle to show off their skill of doing both and show how they would adapt. Soletus was acting as the one who wasn't being gentle or fair and was making his fighting brother adapt.
The young monk was used to being matched with someone of his skill and strength level. Sometimes Master Marth liked to set him against those who were weaker, on the rare occasion, to remind him of restraint. He knew how to restrain himself and had to unlearn some of it. Not only was he allowed to use his staff, but Master Tyr gave him permission to use his hand-to-hand training, as well as kicking, punching, flipping, and grappling with them. He enjoyed it. Some of his fighting brothers didn't take to it well. There was a lot of whining and complaining about what he did, and they purposely tried to get the best of him. As a result, even with padded leather armor he wore, he got bruises on top of bruises.
Most days he ended up smarting so bad, he had no desire to see Mien. It was fine, as the boy wasn't doing very well. His nightmares continued. Hickory became very concerned when Mien stopped eating. Then he became distant again, saying very little and slowly looking back up. The young monk thought it was because he changed his visiting frequency. However, Brother Hickory assured him it wasn't the case.
"There's something else bothering him. I'm going to see if he tells me without me having to prod it out of him," he told him one day.
Soletus was certain he would wait for a few decades before that happened.
After a week of Soletus's new training regime, he didn't feel as sore as he did when he first started. He felt he could do something other than collapse on his cot and went to the chapel. There was a surprise for him as it came into view. Mien was sitting on the front steps of the chapel. He sat in a beam of late afternoon sun. It highlighted his copper hair with gold, making him stand out against the dark stone of the chapel's walls. The closer Soletus walked, the more apparent that all wasn't well with him. The boy looked thinner and griped his hands in a tight clasp. Mien peered up at him through the strands of his hair that had grown longer to the point they obscured half his face. It didn't stop the boy from watching Soletus from the arch gate up the crushed stone path until he sat beside him.
"I've not seen you out here before," said Soletus.
Mien leaned forward again and rested his forehead on his fists.
"I'm sorry I've not been able to come over often," Soletus said, hoping that would be the boy's issued.
Mien let out a long exhale and said, "Tonight, there will be a star shower. They happen around this time every year."
"I guess it's a sign for something," said Soletus, uncertain where he was going with that fact.
Mien stared up at the sky. "Every year my father would wake me up and we would watch them together since I was a little. We would count them."
Then Mien's voice started quaking. "Three years ago was the last time he did that with me. Three years ago, he stayed up all night with me and I went to bed. He left that morning and never came home. This day, three years ago, I died."
Soletus didn't know what to say to that. He glanced at the chapel door, wishing Hickory would open the door and help. Mien continued his confession without noticing the young monk's discomfort.
"I cracked and broke apart. The world ended. Everything hurt. But I thought if I did something to Dalaen, if I killed him, then the pain would stop. I thought if I could make my uncle feel pain, then he would understand and stop. Now I don't even know why I believed it was a good idea."
Soletus became immobilized by that statement. It was one thing for everyone to tell him what Mien did. It was another thing for him to say the reasons.
"But that did nothing and made everything worse. I still feel hollow and stuck at the bottom of a pit. I don't want to feel this way anymore, but I can't even feel anything else," he said. He leaned forward, folding his arms over his knees, and buried his face.
Soletus sat wordlessly. His mind took a bit to free itself from its shock. When it did, he realized that Mien just told him more than he ever had. The cracks in the shell were deep enough that he could break off pieces. However, he was a little afraid to say anything. He didn't even understand why the boy suddenly told him what he did. Maybe it was what he wanted to tell him days ago, but never did. However, knowing that didn't help. He could only guess what the best course of action was. First, he reached a tentative hand out. At that point, he never touched Mien after his first response, but he rested his hand down anyway between Mien's shoulder blades. The boy was shuttering. He didn't enjoy seeing it and then realized then he didn't like to feel it either.
No one should be made to be like this, he thought.
Soletus lightly patted him and said soothed, "Mientheoderic, calm down. If you don't want to feel the way you do and you're at rock bottom, then climb back up."
Mien snapped his head up. "Why? My father's dead. I messed everything up for my mother. I'm an embarrassment to my house. My sister doesn't need me. I'm going too—" he stopped and then looked away again and muttered, "No one needs me."
"Well, what about you then," said Soletus. "Don't you think you're worth enough to not be like this? Brother Hickory and I have been trying to help, but you're going to have to help yourself a little too and stop going into pity-patties!"
The young monk clamped his jaw after that spilled from his mouth. He didn't mean for that to come out the way it did, but he was getting frustrated. Mien continued down a path of what he saw as self-destruction. The boy was clearly not eating and not sleeping. Now he said he felt as if he wasn't worth anything. However, he shouldn't have said that. Soletus tried to apologize, but the boy did so first.
"I'm sorry," he said earnestly. "I didn't mean to be ungrateful." He cast his gaze down at his feet. "I thought maybe I could just tell someone, say it all and it would come out right. It isn't. I never know what to say."
He then buried his face in his arms again.
I might as well be proving Papa right, Soletus thought, and then said aloud to Mien. "I'm sorry if I sounded mean. You just spoke what was on your mind and I did too. That's how people talk to each other."
Mien lifted his head, showing a single eye. "But you keep giving me this strange look."
"Because of this," Soletus gestured at him. "The way you act. I've not met anyone before who wasn't normal." The young monk then pressed his lips together. I'm an idiot dod. Where's a hole to swallow me up?
Mien didn't take offense at the statement and further explained. "I tried to be normal for three years. I tried to be all right. It was easy at first. My mother told my sister me to be strong for her. I didn't want to show her I wasn't."
Mien looked at Soletus as if the reason was obvious. "She's my mother. My father’s death devastated her. That alone caused issues. She didn’t need problems from me. I would cry in my room at night so she wouldn't see me sad. I never stopped though, I just cried over everything."
Mien paused, squeezing his eyes shut. Soletus thought he finished regaling his past. However, he only swallowed hard once and took another deep breath so he could continue.
"Then my uncle came to live with us, shortly after my father died. She thought it was best, politically, if she married him. He inherited everything, and she didn't want him to lose what father worked so hard to build. My sister and I didn't like him. We didn't want to live in the house with him there. She won a scholarship to attend the university in Eroden. I didn't want her to leave but, I pretended to be happy for her just so she wouldn't worry about me."
"Aren't you smart enough to have gone without a scholarship?"
Mien's face filled with shame. "I failed the entrance test. After my father died, I couldn't think as I did before. Then Uncle and my cousin Dalaen came to live with us. I couldn't focus. I knew then something was wrong with me, but I never said anything."
Again, Soletus found it difficult to respond other than just listen and observe. There wasn't a tear in Mien's eyes, however, there was regret on his face and in his voice.
"Then Dalaen tossed the flute father gave me in the river. It was his gift to me. After that, all I felt was rage," said Mien.
"You feel really bad about it now, don't you?"
Mien nodded and went on. "It seemed so logical to hurt them both. I planned it all out for about a week. I waited for him on the bridge between my house and town and I followed my plan to a point. I let him get in one insult before I pushed him against the rails of the bridge, and we fought. Somehow, I managed it, but I flipped him over the rail, and he fell into the water. That's what I wanted. For him to drown. He's a horrible swimmer, but instead of sinking under, he flayed his way to the shore."
That statement made Soletus's stomach twist. Brother Hickory told him it was a pre-meditated attack. He just didn't realize it was that much.
"I remember little after that," admitted Mien. "This red haze formed over my vision. I've never felt enraged before, to the point I felt nothing else. I was told what I did. Apparently, I jumped him when he got to shore and pushed his head into the mud. It took his friends and an adult to pull me off of him," he said, then paused and became distraught. "There's that look again. You're probably scared of me now."
Soletus swayed his head. "No, I'm…" he searched for a word and settled on, "surprised."
"But I tried to murder someone because of a flute," exclaimed Mien.
"I would be more worried if you didn’t see anything wrong with what you did," he returned.
"Well, you probably think I'm weird now."
Soletus gave the boy a consoling pat on the back. "No more than I already did."
"Really? You still sound like I’m horrible."
"Well, you did just explain to me how you went about trying to kill your cousin. That’s disturbing."
Mien whimpered. "I'm sorry."
Soleus winced. "No, don't apologize for the way people think. I'm not scared of you, but I never met someone like you,” he said, hoping that repaired everything.
Mien stared at his feet. "Because no one is crazy like me."
"No, you're not. You're just…" Soletus stopped to think of a nicer word but then realized there wasn't. Mien was, and he felt sorry for him.
"If you want to go, I understand," said Mien, burying his head again.
Soletus put an arm around his shoulder to try to make him feel better. "I'm not. Why do you think I will?"
Mien pushed away from him. "Sometimes… I-I get the feeling you're just here because you were told to be."
"And how can you tell that?" He didn't think he was that transparent.
Mien just blinked at him.
Soletus laid his hand on Mien's forearm. "To be straight with you this is hard for me. I had the opportunity to get out of this more than once. But I don’t like the thought of abandoning you. If I left, who will then be your friend. Everyone needs at least one.”
Mien peered up at him briefly before his eyes watered up. He buried his face again.
Soletus bent down and heard him sniffling. "Are you crying? Why are you crying?"
Mien said something garbled.
He lifted his head up and said between sniffles, "I was afraid you were going to leave if I told you the truth."
"Well, see, I didn't. And just so you know, you shouldn't be afraid to tell me anything. The worst thing you get from me is me putting my foot in my mouth."
Mien scrubbed his eyes. Soletus noticed his shuttering abated.
"Are you okay now?"
Mien straightened up, hugging himself and rubbing his arms. "I feel cold."
"Do you want to go back in?"
"No, I want to feel the sun," he said just as the door creaked behind them. Soletus twisted his head to peer over his shoulder. The wooden door closed instead of opened. Brother Hickory had been listening.