We all know Soletus comes from a very long line of monks. It’s impressive. That everyone, one of his great fathers were monks. From High Perch to Graces Hope. Not all of them were of high status in the order. However, they were always significant, but they didn’t always live. In fact, I think most didn’t live to be a ripe old age. Solgard’s father, brother, and grandfather died nearly at the same time. In fact, he was effectively an orphan. Sacrifice is no stranger to them. Saving others has been their way. Their brave actions and deeds in the face of death, are written in the archive of the order and held in high regards. However, Soletus isn’t known for sacrifice in order to save people. Compassion is his office. Because the might of a monk is just not their use of their body and staff. Dias gave us a voice. And what he did for me that day showed it.
Soletus imagined he would be inside the courtroom, not ushered into a stuffy waiting room. It irked him because he had no clue what was going on. At least he wasn’t alone. Five other tods and two adults sat there. Brother Hickory was allowed to stay with Lady Lass, Nerva, and an assortment of other people walked into the lobby of the judicial building. He didn’t know why they lumped him together with witnesses and herded into the white room.
There was a single long slim window to let in light. Chairs lined the wall for the comfort of those there. There was a door leading in and a door leading out. Beside the door stood a court office dressed in a red guard uniform. She stood there to make sure that no one talked to each other. The young monk wondered if the hand resting on the rapier at her side would draw it if anyone spoke. Stabbing seemed a little extreme.
The only thing to occupy his mind while sitting there as observing everyone before him. Especially the group of tods. They sat with their arms crossed, looking bored between staring at him. One of them particularly caught his eye. He was a fox top with blue eyes and a familiar square chin that screamed Cyan. Soletus wondered if that was the cousin. He was older than what Soletus imagined. He pictured someone the same age as Mien, but what was in front of him was an individual maybe a little older than him. His suspicion was confirmed when a court officer opened the door across from the one they came in.
“Dalaen’Cyan, it is time for your testimony,” she announced.
He was the first out of the room. Shortly after that, the other four tods filed out one by one. Then the two adults left as well. He found himself alone with nothing else to do but watch the sun clock under the window. The shadow of its dial crept along to the next hour. He wondered if there was any point to him coming. As long as it was taking, it was clear the Arbiter wouldn’t be calling him at this rate. He closed his eyes in an attempt for a nap. Then the door opened.
Another woman officer opened the door. “Warder Soletus’Sheldmartin, you are to follow me.”
Soletus rose from his seat and followed the woman out the door. He found himself walking into the back of the courtroom. The officer led him down the aisle covered in a red and gold strip of rug. The wooden benches where parties sat were half filed. Mostly on the left than the right. There was muttering already when he walked in. Some of them hushed and watched him before murmuring again. There was something wrong. The young monk looked forward. There was no Arbiter on the podium and Mien wasn’t on the prisoner rise in front of the podium either. He searched for Hickory’s head in the crowd but didn’t find him in time. The court office’s pace increased. He gave up and hurried after her through the door behind the Arbiter’s bench. She led him down a short hall and motioned to walk into a room on the right. There Mien was sitting in a chair, shaking. In front of him was the Arbiter adjusting the robe he wore over his thin frame.
“I heard you had a knack for calming him down,” said the Arbiter.
Soletus dropped to Mien’s side on one knee. “What happened,” he demanded. The boy was hugging himself tightly and was acting as he did when he made the mistake of bringing up his uncle.
This is bad, he thought. “Mien,” he said, giving him a gentle shake. “Was he out there, your uncle, I mean?”
The boy tried to pull away from him. Soletus held him tighter. “Mientheoderic, I need to know. To help you help yourself,” he said firmly.
Mien became still. He raised his head and nodded slightly. Soletus kept the questions coming to get him back to the present.
“You know he can’t hurt you in front of everyone, right? The court wouldn’t allow it. I wouldn’t allow it.”
The boy nodded again. His trembling lessened.
“Then what did this?”
“It was his voice.”
“But Brother Hickory told you how to deal with voices.”
Mien tightened his hold around himself again. “I don’t like the way he sounds. It reminded me of what he said. What he did.”
Soletus paused a moment to decipher what he meant. Then just shook his head and left it alone. If only Hickory and he had more time, what was happening could have been avoided. The young monk had to work with what he knew how to do and salvage what he could. He clutched the boy’s forearm.
“Hey, look at me,” he told him. Mien didn’t listen. “Okay, then listen to me. I’m here. I came here to help you to make sure you keep your end of our bargain. I promised to teach you how to fight. You can’t do that if you vibrate this chair apart.”
Mien lifted his eyes and meet his gaze with an indignant look.
Soletus smiled at him. “If you can be insulted, then you can do this. You’re going to make yourself sick if you don’t steady yourself. Deep breaths.”
He patted Mien on the knee and look at the Arbiter. He didn’t know if he should apologize or explain. However, the man was studying him with heavy brows knitted together, intrigued. He gestured for him to sit in the other chair in front of his desk. Soletus bowed and sat.
“Are you the warder assigned to him,” he inquired.
“Yes, Your Honor. I’m Warder Soletus’Sheldmartin,” he replied.
The Arbiter’s brow rose up in recognition. “Sheldmartin, as in Arch Monk Solgard’Sheldmartin? Are you one of his grandsons? Who’s your father?”
“I’m Oeric’Sheldmartin’s son.”
The man let out an amused snort. “So ol’Oeric had a son. I remember him sitting in front of me like your friend is now, avoiding explaining himself. What does Oeric do with himself?”
“He’s a Master First Warden,” said Soletus.
The Arbiter’s amusement grew. “So, he ended back where he had run from. Few like him do. He was lucky that I knew Solgard. That elf saved my father’s life. A good man, you must take after him being able to cope with this mess,” he said, gesturing to Mien.
“He was fine until now,” said Soletus.
“Really, given what I’ve seen and reading the other Arbiter’s who presided this case notes, I’ve a hard time believing that. I’m sure you know how little remorse he showed for what he showed during his arrest and then broke down in a crazed fit during his first hearing.”
“He told me everything,” said Soletus, giving Mien’s forearm a gentle squeeze.
The Arbiter leaned back in his chair while pressing his fingers together. “Did he now?”
“Well, he told me what he could. It wasn’t easy for him because he was ashamed. He knew what he did wasn’t rational and regretted it,” answered Soletus.
“Do you believe this disturbed creature is a threat to others?”
“No, people intimidate him.”
“He’s not afraid of you.”
“He trusts me,” said Soletus. “And I had to gain that trust. Look, I realize that this doesn’t look good. He probably looks as he did before, but his uncle is out there. Every time he comes up in conversation, Mien gets the shakes. I never given thought to what would happen if he actually heard him.”
“He’s a timbre sensitive chanter. Voices have an odd effect on him. He likes some people’s voices and doesn’t like others.”
For a moment, Soletus thought the man wouldn’t believe him or not understand what it meant to be a chanter. Instead, with a brow raised high, he asked, “Why doesn’t he like his Uncle’s voice?
“His Uncle hurt him.”
Soletus glanced at Mien. The boy remained drawn into himself to say anything just yet. “First time I asked him about that, this happened. Then he told me I was better off not talking about it. I was told only a single incident where he came into his room one night to terrorize him. He ended up knocking him out. There were more incidences, but he’s never told me. All I know about him acting against his cousin was an effort to scare his uncle into no longer hurting him.”
The Arbiter flicked his eyes towards Mien. “Is that true? You were trying to get to your stepfather by trying to kill your cousin?”
Mien swallowed, keeping his eyes down. “Yes.”
“I was told Dalaen bullied you,” said the Arbiter gravely.
“It wasn’t a… I…” Mien’s words hung there.
“Mientheoderic,” urged Soletus. The boy looked at him. “Head up, eyes forward, and speak. Your life depends on it.”
Mien shifted in his seat and regarded the Arbiter directly. “Dalaen picked on me a lot. There wasn’t a day that went by that he didn’t do something nasty to me and my uncle let him because he didn’t like me. I thought I was killing two birds with one stone and…” Mien stopped and squeezed his eyes shut.
“Keep going, you’re doing good,” encouraged Soletus.
“It doesn’t make sense,” finished Mien. “It made sense then, doesn’t so much now. It’s wrong now.”
The Arbiter exhaled. “Crazy ideas don’t make sense. If I received this case the first time, we wouldn’t be here a second time, but my colleague felt it was fair to wait until you were sound for sentencing. I’m not sure why.”
Mien hung his head down. With the way things were going, the end result would be a death sentence for him. Soletus didn’t want that. Mien had worked hard, and a failure on his end. He as given the duty to help him as a member of the Brotherhood and also did so as a friend.
A life for a life. Soletus suddenly said, “Mercy is why, your Honor. That might be an assumption on my part, but that’s the reason why we help those who can’t help themselves. By law, he should be sentenced to the Pit. His attack was pre-mediated. He told me this. However, the circumstances of why he acted the way he did isn’t so cut and dry.”
The Arbiter leaned forward on his desk. “Very well, tell me, Sheldmartin, why should I show mercy?”
“Because Dias says we give second chances. To the Dyne, he is the demigod of god of second chances. You may not be a believer but, such a concept is a universal one. One doesn’t have to Brotherhood to help the weak, the downtrodden, and the broken to build their spirit back up. Because that’s all he needs. His family failed him. They let him get to this point.”
The Arbiter arched an eyebrow. “So, you’re saying I should turn a blind eye to his actions because it’s his family’s fault he did what he did?”
“No, Mien’s responsible for his actions, but at the same time, their actions opened that dark path to him. And Mien could’ve turned away from it. But he was mercilessly pressed down on it until he became that darkness and lashed out.”
“Then what do you suggest I do for such a miserable creature?”
Soletus bristled at the Arbiter’s words. “He’s not miserable. He’s more than what those who hurt him, turned him into.” The young monk pulled up his sleeve and revealed the ugly scar. “He saved my life. He did what two trained warders weren’t unable to do. What many are incapable of. He killed a drass that could have killed me. And he put his all in that orb of light he used to kill it. Bright and burning to the point, he left that monster smoldering. So don’t tell me he’s a miserable creature.”
Soletus knew that wasn’t the tone he should take with an Arbiter. However, he refused to back down and continued to look him in the eye, waiting.
The Arbiter studied him for a long time with an unblinking gaze. “How old are you,” he asked.
“I’m twenty-two, Your Honor,” answered Soletus.
“Thank you,” he said. “I’ve heard enough. You will be taken back to sit with the others. I consider this a testimony. As for you, Mientheoderic, are you ready to go back out?”
Mien bobbed his head.
“Then we shall get on with sentencing. This case had taken up enough of my time.”
The office led Soletus out first and seated him in the back of the courtroom, away from Brother Hickory. The man met his gaze with an odd hopeful expression as if questioning him how it went. Soletus gave his shoulders a heave and then wondered, why wasn’t he back there. Mien came out still shackled and then secured to the rails that surrounded his rise like bars to a cage. The Arbiter sat down.
“This entire situation has felt like a family feud than a judgment proceeding,” he said, moving all the parchments to one side of his bench. “Testimony after Testimony to condemn a small lad when he had pleaded guilty. A house head, trying to remind me of the law and how to make judgements. However, in the end, I make the judgments. And not every act deserves a death sentence.” He pulled his record book towards him. He opened the book to a ribbon marked page and picked up his pen, dipping it in ink. “And my judgment is this, it is by order of the Judicial Service of Asteria, under the reach of the Seat, that the custody of Mientheodric’Cyan be relinquished from Lady Lasyara’Cyan and given to the Dias Brotherhood. Hickory’Thrush from this day forward will become his guardian.”
There was a hush in the room, but Soletus could feel the shift in the atmosphere in the room. There was a mix of relief, shock, and disapproval. The Arbiter went on.
“However, at age twenty-four, he shall be brought up to face this court again. If I observe no improvements to his behavior and state of mind, he will receive the maximal sentence of death for his crimes.”
Soletus felt his stomach twist. The Arbiter raised the stakes if they failed, but there was plenty of time to help Mien.
“If there is sufficient growth on his part. He will remain in the Dias Brotherhood’s custody until the age of twenty-eight.” The Arbiter then looked in Soletus’s direction but said to Mien. “If the Brotherhood can send an articulate young man of twenty-two years old to explain to me why I should spare you, I expect they’ll have something to show me by then. That is my judgment. If anyone has an objection, you can file an appeal within two weeks. This case is adjourned.”
It was then the murmuring started and Soletus found himself the center of attention with heads turned in his direction. He met the eyes of a few of them, however a set caught his attention. A tall red-headed man that shared his iris color gave him a frigid stare. He had Mien’s and Dalaen’s chin. In fact, he could’ve been an older Mien, as he was thin. But he was pallid, with an aura nastiness about him.
That must be his uncle.
Instead of being intimated by the glower, Soletus let it slide past him and gave the man a curt nod before making his way to where Mien stood. He was getting his shackles removed. Once he was free, his mother showered him with kisses. He was fine with the first few, but then wrinkled his nose as she kept going. His sister threw her arms around him, squeezing his thin frame tight. Mien held her in return. Soletus watched them happily. He figured he should leave them alone and slid his foot out to turn when Mien’s gaze fixed on him. His eyes began to puddle. His sister released him, and he went straight to Soletus. The boy wrapped his arms around him, squeezing him surprisingly tight.
“Dias bless you a thousand times and more. Thank you, thank you,” he said.
Soletus hugged and patted his back. “None of that now. That was for saving me. No need to thank.”
Mien released him so he could wipe his eyes out before he wrapped his arms around himself. “It’s cold in here,” he said.
The court room was very warm, so in fact that Soletus wanted to yank the coat he wore off.
Brother Hickory came beside him and threw an arm around his shoulders. “We’ll go back to the hotel, and you can warm up there.”
Soletus maneuvered to his other side and saw movement in the corner of his eyes. Dalaen was trying to push through the crowd towards them Mien. The tod had cold determination in his eyes. However, the mass of people all trying to get out one door slowed his progress down. Soletus slackened his pace, allowing Mien and Hickory to move on ahead until he was between them and Dalaen. Once he was outside of the door, he side-stepped and waited. The older tod came out of the doors and shouted, “Theodric, you—” was all he managed before Soletus yanked him by the arm and spun him around. He slammed him into the stone wall of the building. Dalaen cried out and tried to fight him, but Soletus twisted his arm behind his back.
“Fight anymore and I’ll dislocate your shoulder,” he said coolly.
“Let me go, you son of a skane.”
Soletus put more pressure on his arm, Dalaen yelped. “My mother is a good woman, thank you very much,” he said with a passionless voice.
Dalaen struggled more. “If you say so, prick snot.”
Soletus bent his arm up further. The young man cried out, trying to push himself off the wall. Soletus pressed him against it more.
“My father will…”
Soletus leaned forward and hissed in his ear. “You’re Pa ain’t here. So, you get to stand here and listen to me. If I catch again trying to say, do, or sneeze anything hurtful to Mien, I will come down on you like Dias’s fist and break you.”
Soletus released him just as Brother Hickory shouted up to him in warning. The young monk started down the steps just as Lord Hugh walked out of the building with the others from House Jay trailing him.
Brother Hickory’s face was heavy with disapproval. Soletus shrugged his shoulders. The priest shook his head and suddenly his eyes becoming wide. Before the young monk could mouth, “What?” he felt something slam into his back.
“What are you going to do now, cur,” hissed Dalaen in his arm and wrapped his arm around Soletus’s neck. The young monk nearly toppled down the remaining steps but managed to shift his weight properly to keep his balance as well as breath. He took hold of Dalaen’s arms to make sure he didn’t slip and unbalance him. He needed to get down to the street level, so he didn’t hurt the idiot on his back more than he needed.
Once Soletus was on flat ground, he dropped on his back and used Dalaen as his cushion. The tod’s breath rushed out by his ears and he went limp. Soletus sprung to his feet, taking his stance to fight, but he had nothing to worry about. His adversary was gasping and coughing.
Soletus expected for Mien’s uncle to rush to his son’s side or attack him. However, the man started guffawing loudly from where he stood on the stairs.
“What did you think would happen,” mocked the man between breaths.
None of the other family members moved to help Dalaen either. They just stood there with critical eyes on him as he struggled to crawl to his feet. Brother Hickory laid a hand on Soletus’s shoulder and said, “Get in before he causes more trouble.”
Dalaen stumbled forward like an angry ox ready to attack again. Lord Hugh continued to mock his son. “What are you going to do against a Fenndish monk? Carrying your foolish arse down the stairs was a light exercise to him. He’ll lay you flat with one punch. Stop being foolish and come on.”
Soletus felt a sliver of sympathy towards Dalaen as he watched him being humiliated by his father. However, that vanished when Dalaen spat at his feet. Soletus gave him an icy stare before Hickory pushed him inside the carriage. He settled down inside and said to Mien,
“So that’s Dalaen?”
Mien has the widest of smiles on his face. “Yes, that was Dalaen.”
“You enjoyed that.”
“I’m glad to be of service,” said Soletus, giving him a courteous bow.
Brother Hickory slid in and slammed the carriage door closed, getting both their attention. He wore a heavy scowl.
“Soletus, while I appreciate your dedication to helping Mien, but that was uncalled for,” said Hickory.
“He wanted to start something, so I prevented him. He shouldn’t start something he couldn’t finish,” shrugged Soletus.
He knew Brother Hickory wanted to be mad from the way he glared at him. Instead of berating him, the aged priest poked his head out of the carriage window and shouted up to the driver to go back to the inn.