My sister and I are like summer and winter. Two sides of the same coin. Once we imagined going to Eroden and adding another generation of university elves. And then taking that knowledge and using to benefit our father’s mines. My being an alchemist would have helped with refining mineral purity. She would’ve helped researcher for better methods to mine. That was what we wanted. It’s not what happened. We never imagined circumstance would separate us. We never considered it. Nothing could touch us. If we couldn’t solve with a proper plan, then we winged it. Then that all shattered when Father died. We couldn’t stop that. We couldn’t stop our uncle and Dalaen from moving in. We had to be fine with it. And we were until it wasn’t fine anymore.
Soletus returned to the dorms three days later. The venom left him weak. It was obvious he wouldn't be training soon. Not that he had any training to do. He was in a state of limbo. His status as a warden wouldn’t be discussed until he was well. Brother Kiao wanted him to stay in the infirmary longer. Soletus told him it was too quiet and Kiao discharged him but advised bed rest unless he wanted to keep him company longer.
His mother tried to get him to come home, but he declined. He didn't want to see his father. He nearly died and all he could do was berate him on the fact he left his knife. That alone was embarrassed enough, and it also piled on another rock to the wall of frustration at his father. He would rather be in the dorms seeing everyone get ready for the trail than recover at home. Maybe his staying there would stop Lyndon from apologizing every moment he could.
However, when Soletus got to his room, he rested on his bed for about an hour. It was too empty and quiet there as well. Everyone was out training except him, again. It bothered more than if he stayed in the infirmary. So, he decided to visit Mien. The boy had visited him briefly every day except the previous. He never showed up. He doubted that the drass beast attack send him into a downward spiral. However, he was curious about what happened and sat off to find out.
Soletus's trip to the chapel was a slow one. He regretted starting it. The walk across the monastery ground felt as if he trekked for hours with the sun beaming down on him mercilessly. He stopped in the shadow produced by the front gate, before hurrying to the next sanctuary of shade made by a tree on the corner. The chapel wasn't that far from the monastery entrance, but it he declared the building moved further away somehow.
When he made it to the door, he paused on the stone steps to catch his breath. He was unsure how he was going to make the return trip. He stood up slowly, feeling his tired body protest as he walked inside the chapel. There were people inside and Brother Hickory chanting rhythmically, walking up the aisle. The priest didn't stop to greet him but acknowledge him with an aggrieved expression. The young monk didn't understand why he looked that way unless Mien was having personal problems again. However, when he walked in the back, he heard someone playing a flute.
He didn't recognize the reel that was being played. Whoever was playing was amazing. They had quick fingers and perfect pitch. There wasn't a single note stumbled given the tempo. Soletus stood there and listened to the song for a moment in awe. He wondered if someone had stopped to visit. When he stepped back outside, he found that Mien had a flute to his lips. The flue itself was a silver leaf flute. Ebony colored with silver accents and keys. It wasn’t a flute for a student, those were just plain wood. It was for a performer and the boy could have been one with his skills. The young monk was so engrossed that he didn’t notice the fox-haired girl sitting on the ground beside him.
She caught sight of Soletus first, and her viridian eyes widened with delight. Mien finally realized that he was standing there and stopped mid note.
"Why hello," beamed the girl.
The girl was obviously Mien's sister. He had seen male and female twins before and most of the time, they looked similar. However, Soletus never had seen them look so much alike. Mien’s chin was a little more prominent, but the biggest difference was eye color. His sister had not a single indication she herself was a chanter. In fact, her eyes looked a little dull compared to his vivid green gold irises.
The girl jumped from where she sat and bound over to him.
"You must be Soletus," she said rapidly and took his hand firmly in hers. "I'm Mienerva. But you can call me Nerva. Mien told me all about you. Thank you so, so much for watching over him. Come sit down."
She then dragged him over to Mien and sat between them, smoothing out her skirt.
"Now we can have a proper lunch party," she said business like. "Do you want anything? I brought a few things from the city. They've wonderful places to go to and get sweets from, like these uh, uh, uh honeyed walnuts." She then presented a brown paper package in her hand and placed it in his. "Mien doesn't like them, but said you might."
Soletus opened the package up slowly so to allow his mind to catch up to the bright smiling girl in front of him. She was nearly vibrating with anticipation.
I guess this where the term, "summer and winter twins" comes from, he concluded.
"Go on. You can have them," she encouraged.
Soletus dropped a few in his mouth. They were very good. "Thank you," he said.
The girl's eyes lit up. "You're right, Mien. He has a relaxing and rich quality to his voice. One might indeed call it husky." Mien rolled his eyes upward and smashed his palm into his forehead. "However, you failed to express his pleasant physical features."
Soletus ran that statement through his head. He didn't know how to feel about it. Flattered, he supposed.
Mien let out an exasperated groan. "I'm sorry I didn't notice his pleasant physical features to express that information to you."
"Well, what good are you if you don't,” she said talking around Soletus.
The boy leaned around him as well. "Don't you have friends that help you find handsome tods?"
"Well, yes, but you’re my brother. You're supposed to have good-looking friends and warn me when they are."
"Above and below, education hasn't stopped you from being a silly-headed goose," said Mien.
The girl stopped grinning and became offended. "I am not a silly goose."
Soletus popped another handful of candied nuts in his mouth, watching them. It was fascinating because of the way Mien was reacting.
A teasing smirk appeared on Mien's face. "You still honk like one and you still have that long goose neck."
Nerva clamped a hand around her neck. "As if you've room to talk. I've seen a skeleton with more flesh than you."
For a moment Soletus thought Mien would be hurt by her words instead, he reached behind him and shoved her in the shoulder. Soletus got up so she could shove Mien back. He might as well be invisible. They went back and forth until she got the last shove in and stuck her tongue out at him. He did the same.
"Acting like little children again," chided Brother Hickory as he walked to them. His face was heavy with disapproval.
Mien became quiet and stared at the ground. Nerva smoothed out her vest and sat up straight and proper. "I promise to grow up for the duration of the day, she said.
Soletus couldn't help but smiling at her cheeky promise.
Brother Hickory's stern face didn't lift. "How about for the duration of your stay?"
"But my uplifting attitude is good for him," she said, patting her brother's shoulder.
He rolled it and leaned away from her, glowering. "See, this is the face of love and appreciation."
The Priest rubbed his left temple. "May I borrow Soletus?"
"Certainly, just bring him back; Mien has played nothing for him yet," she said pleasantly.
Soletus rose slowly to his feet and wobbled a little. When the two of them were back inside, he found a wall to lean on. Brother Hickory let out a long exhale.
"Thank Dias that creature is staying at the inn," he said, sinking down in his chair. "She's just like her mother, exhausting. I had no warning of her coming either. She just manifested on my front steps, welcoming herself in."
Soletus glance out the window and watched her elbow her brother playfully, and he swung her arms around her neck, trapping her and started scrubbing the top of her head. She fought him off, laughing.
"She certainly has an effect on him. He forgets himself," he observed.
"Amazing isn't it. All that shell around him dropped when he saw her. I've never heard him talk so much before, but whenever I come around, he becomes reserved again. However, she's been forcing him not to be shy around me. If I can have her here for a month, I think he'll be ready enough to talk to me without a problem." He then thought about that for a second and grimaced. "However, I don’t want to rush things."
Soletus watched them. Mien was telling her something with lively gestures. "Still, maybe she knows about what happened and can help us"
"I already tried. She's not willing to talk about her family in the same way he isn't."
The young monk turned away from the window. "So, they're both afraid of this uncle. Why?"
He hoped Brother Hickory would part with some of the information he knew. However, the aged priest didn't give him any. "That's for you to find out."
Soletus let out a growling sigh. "Look, wouldn't it be easier if you just tell me instead of me blindingly trying to pry it out of him!"
Brother Hickory's brow puckered. "Then he'll have no reason to build trust with you. Besides, I only know a little more than you do."
Soletus rubbed his forehead. "I'm sorry. That came out wrong. I think it'll help me help him more. I don't want to just be here just to pry information out of him. He thinks of me as a friend. And I want to be a real one for him, but I feel I’m going into a fight half prepared.”
"You're right," he agreed with a nod. "You're involved and committed as much as I am. I'm sorry I've not been respecting that. I suppose, I should share the fact that the boy is on borrowed time."
Soletus drew his brow together. "Why?"
Hickory took a deep breath. "I need to start at the beginning. I knew about Mien’s situation, or as much as his mother told me through letters. She suspected something was wrong with him and wanted me to talk to him, but I put it off."
"We're cousins. And I am not on good terms with my family,” he said, the light in his teal eyes changed to regret. “In the past, they’ve would force me to help them out of family obligation. Saying they allowed me to live as I do. It would always be something trivial and I’m not tolerant of it. Not good for a priest of my standing and I assumed it was the same. I looked away and I ignored serving my purpose. And the next thing I knew it, she’s begging for my intervention because he tried to kill his step-brother.”
Him being related to Mien was news to Soletus. The priest spoke little about his family. It was a known fact it was because he was neth.
"You feel like this is your fault," Soletus guessed.
The aged priest bobbed his head. “I could have stopped it before it happened. Taken him away months ago. I did what I could as quickly as I could. When we met, he was manic from emotional pain. He tired to act angry and callous with me but I saw pasted the act.”
“Why was he acting like that?”
“He wanted to die. Though after just speaking with him a little he was clearly a terrified boy who wanted nothing more than to live. Then he just closed himself off. When he was in front of the Arbiter, he was unable to speak to defend himself. I intervened. He’s a chanter, and the Brotherhood has the right to come to the defense of one. I convinced the Arbiter to have mercy. I was allowed to bring here him so he could clear his mind just to speak.”
Soletus searched the priest’s face. "Why didn't you tell me this before?"
"I wasn't sure how you would react to him. This is a lot to ask someone your age. I was counting on you possessing your mother's heart."
"What," said Soletus, confused. "She acted as if she I couldn’t even do this and didn't even want me to try. She did something like this?"
Hickory sighed and swayed his head. "You should ask her about it. What I can say is that she, specifically, helped in the first case that I dealt with. They weren’t easy to deal with, but she was persistent. She wanted to see someone made whole again."
"True," said Soletus. He wanted that as well.
“Anyway, we've until the first of winter to get him ready to speak to the Arbiter. If all goes well, then the Arbiter will heed my request."
“And that is?"
"I want him to stay here until he's of age. He needs more time to heal than six months. This is something that's going to take a year or two. Then needs to hone his abilities as a chanter. I don't want him to hurt himself or anyone else. That's going to take time as well. And if he is serving a penitence here, he'll learn all about being a force for good and spread Dias's voice. Once all that’s done, he can walk in the world better at handling himself."
"And if the Arbiter doesn't."
"He act according to the law. His House may intercede because the crime was against one of them. That can choose loss of his title and servitude. However, since House Jay is a prideful bunch, they’ll send him to the Pit."
"Why can't the Arbiter say House Cyan only decides," asked Soletus. He didn't understand why nobles made things complicated.
"They are a minor house and you wouldn't want that. His step-father is Cyan's House head."
Soletus turned back to the twins. Mien was still talking.
"I'm sure you figured out that his step-father is a swine. His mother married him in order to protect everything Mien’s father worked for. However, she knew Hugh'Cyan to be unscrupulous, but she never dreamed he would act so viciously towards her children. In fact, I fear for him even when he is older. He would be safer in prison.”
"Yes, in prison, he'll be dead within a week, not tortured. I'm certain Hugh has. Mien won't admit to it. But I’ve seen enough hurt people to know what has caused their injuries.”
Soletus looked at Mien again. It didn't seem fair to be punished for something that wasn't entirely cut and dry. He had to make sure Mien had a fair chance.
"So, I shouldn't be afraid to push him a little?"
"Not at all. He's stable now. Even that attack didn’t affect him other than send him worrying about you. Now every master wanting to speak to him about what he did, is a different story."
"He's scared of men even though that's what he's going to end up being," said Soletus.
"That's the thing about fear is, rarely is it very logical."
Mien started playing the flute again. They listened to the long, gentle melody. He played it with warmth and care. It was as if he put in pieces of himself into the song. Soletus could listen to him play all day. Brother Hickory spoke after he finished before the silence could settle in.
"Nerva told me something interesting when she arrived. Their father, Julius, had suspicions Mien was a chanter. So, he gave Mien a flute because he was too afraid to sing in front of others," said Brother Hickory standing. He made his way beside Soletus and continued speaking. "Usually, a chanter finds their voice when they are young. It gives them confidence. Yet he's not found his. Perhaps if the Arbiter has mercy on him, he'll get a chance to find it. Standing here listening to him play tells me he's a fine singer."
Soletus hoped the Arbiter did.
Since Mien’s sister was there, Soletus hung back. He felt would just impede their fun. Then there was the fact his brief trip to the chapel exhausted him. He went back to his room and slept the rest of the day, as well as most of the next. Lyndon poke and prodded him and asked him if he needed anything. He gave up when all Soletus would do was mutter incoherently at him and swiped at him to go away. His father came in as well. Soletus acting as he was still sleeping to avoid questions. The man didn't stay very long. Just long enough to say a pray and rest a hand on his head.
After three more days resting, Soletus felt strong again. However, he learned that Nerva was also leaving. He found her getting ready to depart with a house carriage parked in front of the chapel. Mien was seeing her and had gone through a bit of a transformation. His hair was cut a bit shorter in the back, but it was the top of his head that was different. Soletus wondered if his sister had taken a pair of shears too it and got the hair away from eyes and eyebrows, so they were no longer hidden.
Nerva was standing there and watched Soletus gaze.
“So do you like it,” she said gesturing to her bother.
“Yes,” he said.
Mien looked away. His sister grabbed his arm and shook him. “See, you don't need to hide when you're as good looking as me. I want people to see my brother’s face and say that's a fine-looking chanter. I bet he's a nice-looking sister," she said and winked at Soletus.
It was safe to say that he fascinated her. Though he wasn't sure why she wasn't staying. She still had to see her mother, and then it was back to Eroden.
"Maybe one day you can come with me to the city,” stated Nerva. “You'll love it. They have an enormous library with all the knowledge in the world shoved inside of it. It's great," she told him.
"It's also probably crowded and loud," replied Mien.
"Well, of course it is, silly. It's a city full of life. Not some small boring out in the sticks place like this," she said and then over his shoulder. "No offense, Soletus."
The young monk shrugged his shoulders. It was small and boring, not to mention, as his father liked to say, passed the sticks at the last fork.
"Maybe," said Mien.
The girl's face became heavy with regret. "You should've written me—no, I should have found some way for you to come. I tried to see if they would let you work as a technician or assistant so you could earn enough status through them to attend."
"Those positions are scarce, and you know it. Don't feel guilty. I did this to myself," he told her softly.
Nerva kissed his forehead and hugged him. She released him and then sashayed her way over to Soletus. "I'm going to borrow your friend for a moment."
She wrapped her arm around the young monk’s arm and proceeded down the road, dragging him along.
"I'm sorry to ask more of you, but you've done him good. I mean, from what mother described, I thought he would be different."
"So, he's not different from the usual," questioned Soletus. It was something he wanted to know for a long time.
"Oh no, he's definitely different. His nerves weren't so wound tight. He's tried to hide it from me, but I can tell, and I can't help but feel like it's my fault," she said, taking a deep breath and slowing her speech down. “I abandoned him. But I needed to leave. I couldn't live in that with that man."
Nerva's face darkened. "He isn't Father, that's why," she said vaguely, but then looked at him earnestly. "Make up where I failed. Don’t abandon him. Be there for him. If he's anxious and scared, guide him, but he has to come out of the dark himself."
"That I can do," he promised.
She beamed brightly, and then the expression faded to her became serious. "Also, Brother Hickory has been pressing me to disclose private information. I know he's trying to help my brother out, but he can't focus his efforts by trying to condemn Uncle Hugh. Somehow, everything will turn around on my mother. She would lose what little she has, and we would never forgive ourselves if that happened."
"Don't you think you should do everything you can to help him?”
The girl stopped walking, and he stopped as well. "But it isn't necessary. It’ll just create bigger problems. Tell him that and tell him no. Uncle Hugh hasn’t done anything to me I couldn't handle. Okay," she smiled. "I'm glad we agreed on this."
She tried to spin him back around, but Soletus planted himself and she ended stumbling forward without him. She looked surprised, but mostly insulted.
"I didn't agree on anything," said Soletus.
The girl gave him a funny look. "A show of assertion and here I was wondering why my brother wouldn't shut up about you. You were being just as quiet as he is."
Soletus crossed his arms. "I was being polite before and I don't feel like being polite now."
"I see," she said, eyeing him as if she never met him before.
"You aren't right about what you want to do. Brother Hickory knows what he's doing."
"He doesn't. He's not dealt with a boy completely wrecked to the point they lost their minds because of a swine whose heart is as black as coal."
“Maybe, but if I knew more about this uncle, I would understand.”
Nerva's eyes lost their warmth. Her small fists tightened into balls. "Do you really need to know more about that festering parasite? You can see all he is and done by looking at my brother. Sure, he was quiet and a little shy, but he liked to be mischievous. Curious about everything. Experimenting with this while explaining it all to me as if he were an authority on a subject. He should be at the university with me. That bastard killed all of that! If anyone should be put on trial, it’s him! He murdered our father!"
There was hate in her eyes, just like there was fear in Mien's. She would probably unleash her anger on him in the same way Mien would turtle up if he went further. He felt he should apologize, but she let the anger flow out of her with a long exhaled. Her face lifted back into a smile again, it wasn’t bright or reached her eyes.
She patted him on the arm and said politely. "Can we walk back now?"
This time, they walked back side to side instead of arm in arm. When they stood in front of the carriage again, she stood on her toes and jumped to leave a kiss on the cheek. The young monk forced his hand down to wipe it off. Nerva flounced back over to her brother with opened arms and gave him another great hug.
"Are you done harassing my friend," he asked her.
She responded by planting a kiss on each of his cheeks. "I'm going to miss you," she said.
"Me too," he told her and returned her kissed on her forehead.
"Ta-ta," she said, climbing into the carriage shutting the door out of the hands of the driver. "Home, my good sir," she said to him and waved goodbye.
Mien waved until she disappeared. Soletus stood there politely, waving. And then wiped what was left of her kiss with his shoulder. He didn’t mind being kissed by family, not a stranger.
Mien then said in a flat voice. "She fancied you, by the way."
Soletus gave Mien a sideways glance and saw that the boy's disgruntled expression. He was standing straight, trying to make himself as tall as he could.
"I figured she did."
"And you let her."
Soletus crossed his arms. "I was being polite and nothing more than that? Should I have been rude? If I was mean to her, you would fight me."
Mien's green eyes lit up in a fierce glow.
"Oh, don't deny it. You look like you are now," Soletus laughed.
"I see nothing funny about this," retorted the boy with his chanter lit coming out.
"I just find it funny how heated you're getting about nothing. She's just a girl. Girls are like stones, they’re everywhere. Nothing special about them."
A jolt went through Mien, and he stared at him moment blinking as his face flushed. "Ohhh, so you don’t—"
"What like her? No."
The scarlet color Mien's skin deepened, and his bluster deflated.
"Don't be embarrassed. You two are close. I get that. I didn't come around much these last few days because I figured you just wanted to be with her."
Mien shrunk down in shame. "Sorry," he said to his feet.
"You've nothing to be sorry for. I told you, don't hold back with me."
"You did, but—"
"But nothing. Look, I was jealous of other kids making friends with my cousin when I was a boy. We grew up together and for the longest time it was just the two if us. They would want to play with him because he was the friendly. When we started school, he wanted to make as many friends as he could, and I was happy with just him. It took me a bit to realize it was okay. But for the longest time, I wouldn't have anything to do with the other kids. I was too shy.”
Mien glanced back up stunned. "Were you a shy kid?"
"I was," he admitted. “It’s not that I didn’t have issues with the act of speak. I could never say the right things, or I didn’t know how to act in certain situations.
Mien tilted his head.
"Is it that surprising that I was an awkward chubby boy? The older boys liked to bully. In fact, I was fat when I started training too."
Mien arch of his brow and then stared hard at him looking him over again.
"Is it that hard to imagine," he said and added pile of the unbelievable. "How about the fact that I hated fighting?"
A smirked worked on Mien's face and he shook his head. "You have to be lying."
Soletus held up his hand solemnly. "On my blood and honor, I didn't want to even fight off my bullies. I just took it, hoping they would get bored. They didn't. One day, they ended up chasing me until I was winded and tripped. They all held me down with the largest one sitting on me trying to shove a burr up my nose."
"Did you fight them off then?"
"No," said Soletus, smiling at the bittersweet memory. "They held me down pretty good. The only way I got out of it was Papa. He tossed the one sitting on me off, and the other two he pulled them up by the ears. He told them he was going to eat their quivering little hearts if they messed with me again. They run off squealing. Most kids were afraid of him. I expected to him to lecture me for not standing up for myself and crying like a baby. The only thing he told me was to get on his back. He carried me home. A few days later, he gave me my first quarter staff and started teaching me defense."
Mien's brow went up. "Really?"
"Yeah, ask anyone," Soletus replied.
The boy's expression lit up a little. "Here, I thought I was the only quiet boy out there who's been bullied."
Soletus patted him on the shoulders. "No, not by a long shot."