Master Yunus disappointed Soletus. Hickory appeared to be the exception. Every older neth male’s towards being what they were was the exact opposite of what it should be. Brother Hickory had taught him it wasn’t something to cower from or to hide. Yet no one else wanted to take a stand and be what they were.
Even with his displeasure with Yunus, Soletus worked alongside him well enough. The older warden acted as if nothing was even said between them. In fact, Yunus might as well have been any other warden. And since the day was uneventful, he rode beside Mien. The young monk stayed with him until they heard a high shrill of a whistle. He looked forward and found his father waving and pointed off the road to a field. It was time to set camp.
There were no homes as far as Soletus could see, or a line in the distance that indicated a fence. It was just flat land and a sparse collection of trees. That was excellent. A lookout could easily spot a drass beast. Nighttime was a different story. However, they had two battle chanters with them, and Mien was extra sensitive. He could be roused from his sleep if he felt one.
Soletus divided his men so they could help prepare the camp. He took the opportunity and learned their names and who they were. They didn’t seem as if they stood out as wardens. They were just wardens for a very long time. None of them were firsts or second. Just good men. After he spoke to them, he tended to his tent he was sharing with Mien. Afterwards, Oeric called him to the fire that he had made. He joined him, his mother, Lady Maelyra, Lord Kharis, Briar, Kiao, and Mien. He ate with them, shoving food in his mouth like he had done before after a long day of riding.
After their meal. Mien played his flute with Kiao singing along. Nimbus joined in with his drum and sang with Kiao. Their voices were pleasant together, but Mien’s was better with her. He was certain his friend would end the night singing with her. However, the long day wore on him, and he didn’t feel like waiting for that to happen. He rose and he made his way to the small fire where the members of his small band sat. He just wanted to check on them before lying down. The closer he got, the more they reminded him of Kellas and his loyal few.
They would sit around the campfire like that. Talking to each other, allowing no one in their inner circle. The younger members such as him would sit away from the fire even if it was cold. He didn’t want to think of them like that, but the one who questioned him, Tobias, reminded him of Cole. He wasn’t as old and didn’t have a cocky sneer. However, he just had that, anyone-younger-than-50-knew-about-as-much-as-a-rock, attitude. To Soletus’s dismay, he saw his approach and, as Cole had one many times, spoke in a mocking tone.
“You done sitting with the family like a good little lad,” said Tobias.
Soletus wasn’t in the mood to deal with the surly warden. The others weren’t either. In fact, they gave him a dirty look. The closest to Tobias, elbowed him in the ribs.
“That’s no way to speak to your second,” he said.
“It’s not like he’s done anything to deserve respect. You give sweat and blood as a field warden, old man. He’s not even given a pint and here he is acting as a second,” Tobias said .
The older elf then said, “Blood and sweat are a mark of a hard worker, but you need to be more than that. We need leaders who can toil and can encourage those old and young to be at their best.”
“I’ve been at my best for decades and all I do is remain a grunt,” he retorted.
Soletus stopped at Tobias’s other side. “Don’t you understand how much honor it is to be a grunt in all of this? The Patriarch choose you and here you are being ungrateful.”
Tobias leapt from his spot and poked Soletus in the chest. “I’ve got a family to look after, and a promotion would make it a lot easier to take care of them. Instead, I got passed up from some whelp still fresh off his mother’s teats.”
Soletus pushed his hand away. “And you have until the morning to get over it.”
“Is there a problem,” asked a voice. It rose above them without shouting while being smooth and firm. Soletus’s attention shifted from Tobias to his father. Oeric stood with his arms folded across his chest, waiting. Beside him stood Yunus. He looked mildly unhappy. Tobias whirled around, stepping backwards as Oeric took a step forward. “I was going to tell you all good job today. But that needs to wait,” continued Oeric, sweeping over them all before his gaze fixed on Tobias.
“I have this,” said Yunus pleasantly in contrast to Oeric’s with flames flickering in his eyes.
The first warden didn’t even look at him. “No, Yunus, I have this,” he said, holding the man back with voice alone.
“Tobias, allow me to unburden your discontent. This was my decision. The Arch Monk approved it. You see, Soletus is being tested for a promotion because I want him to. I’m correcting a failure of an ex-first warden which you, or anyone else for that matter, haven’t stepped up to do. Budding leaders need to be encouraged and supported. We all have experience; we should share it instead of wielding it as a weapon against them.”
Soletus expected Tobias to cower. He acted scared to breathe before. Instead, stupidity fueled his bravery, and he chose to argue.
“He’s not spent half my lifetime doing what we have,” said Tobias.
Oeric swayed his head in disappointment. “I don’t often question the Patriarch’s choices. However, your character has been clearly misjudged.”
That statement did not chagrin the man and he huffed onward towards the cliff edge. “I’ve been working my way up for decades and here you are pushing your son through like some noble military general, making sure his son gets a comfortable rank.”
“There’s nothing comfortable about being a second warden. Only that shallow minded see it as nothing more than a coveted position of power and more coin in their purses.”
Tobias spat at his feet. “Why should I listen to a cur whose pappy pushed him on up?”
Soletus waited for his father to react more strongly to his words. Instead, he looked bored. Tobias took another swipe at him.
“Don’t like hearing the truth? You going to knock me out like you did your son?”
No one dared to breathe, save the fire. Master Yunus swayed his head in disappointment. Soletus watched that wry wolf’s grin lift his father’s face. Tobias walked into his teeth.
“My son has skill. He could beat me. Almost did. You, on the other hand, would be like hitting a babe. Such a tantrum you’re having for nothing,” said Oeric using that deathly quiet voice of his “Come on, be a man. Show me your valuable intelligence that’s grossly overlooked. Give me a good reason why you should be in his position.”
“I’ve worked long and hard for a promotion, but I don’t have a pappy pushing me.”
Oeric shook his hand in the air. “No, no, no, I want specifics. Have you mentored a warder or a junior warden? Spend your personal time taking a peaceguard shift when needed? Are you in the fire brigade? Do you help in the archives? Talk to the children in schoolhouse? Help local farmers? Work with the women’s society? Escort the infirmary staff out so they can get herbs? What have you done or are you just a good grunt?”
To no one’s surprise, Tobias insulted his father more. “Better a good grunt than being sick in the head. Probably why you birthed some worthless prickless whelp. Probably just like him. Nothing but a neth could beat up their own child.”
Soletus bristled and a hand clasped his shoulders.
“Let it go, Lad,” whispered Yunus. “I know it’s hard, but let him handle it.”
Soletus watched his father, wondering if he was just as insulted. However, the man became stone face. His eyes though reflected more of the flame. “Clearly the order has failed you. You need a duty worthy of someone of your fine skills. Starting tomorrow, you’ll be given the duty of pack mule.”
Tobias’s face darkened. He parted his lips, getting out half a sound before he was spoken over.
“Shut your pie hole and listen,” snarled Oeric, baring his teeth. “I asked for specifics but, you wasted my time with pettiness. Now you get to prove you’re more than a noisy, dumb beast.”
Oeric grabbed the collar of his shirt and yanked him to his face. “I can do whatever I want. Don’t like it, well, we can spar right here to prove your worthiness.”
Tobias looked as if he swallowed a whole frog.
“Come on,” taunted Oeric, his voice quiet. “You’ve so much experience, you can handle someone as sick in the head as I am. What’s a little ol’cur like me going to do to a grunt like you?”
Soletus would’ve paid his entire commission to see Tobias fight his father. However, the man slunk back like a submissive dog. “Sorry First Warden.”
Oeric released him and he focused his attention on Soletus. “And you.”
The young monk stiffened. He was expecting to be yelled at as well. “Yes, Sir.”
“I’m going to ask for you to wait for a full explanation why I wanted to do this.” Soletus bobbed his head. “Good, I’m going to go to the other camps now. After that, I’m off to bed. If you need me, talk to me before then,” he said and marched off.
Yunus then spoke. “Honestly Toby. I’ll be surprised if you’ll ever be considered again with your lack of respect, self-entitlement, and uncreative insults. You are supposed to be one of the best. This makes everyone here look bad.”
Tobias deflated to the ground without mustering a word in his defense.
“That goes for the rest of you. The Brotherhood historically has never picked leadership based on age alone and sometimes not reflecting on time spent. I’ve talked to you men before about this and I will say it again. Soletus is my second in command. He is being tested and observed. He is here to learn, and if all you can teach him is vitriol, then I’ll gladly give Oeric some more pack mules.”
Soletus’ mind whirled at the fact that his father was the one who suggested that he become a second. He had no clue why he would do that.
Yunus then said to him. “I can handle the men if you wish to rest.”
Soletus was happy to take the offer. He left and attempted to sleep. However, his mind became busy working on what he had learned. Hearing his father push for his promotion shouldn’t be a surprise. In fact, he should be insulted that he did such a thing. He was forever going to be a “papa’s boy.” But being a second was not easy. It was a challenge and a chance for him to learn more. He learned a great deal about drass beasts and could stand to learn a lot more. However, people were one of his weaknesses. He relied on Lyndon to deal with different personalities. He was both charming and fast thinking. If he was alive, he could offer him some advice or at least think of a prank to pull on Tobias.
And who’s fault is that?
Soletus closed his eyes and saw Lyndon’s dead eyes looking back at him. He opened them and opted to stare into the darkness. After a while, golden light touched the corner of the tent. The light lowered and dimmed down in an effort not to disturb him but allowed Mien to see. He crawled to his to his bedroll. The young monk turned his back towards him. His mind began to replay those past events. To examine them. He should have called Khodi and used him as a shield as they made their retreat. Why hadn’t he done that? The bear could withstand bolts. No, he lay there scared, unable to think at all.
He heard the young chanter pause from taking off his boots. Soletus could feel his eyes on him.
“Do you want to talk about it,” asked Mien.
The chanter laid a hand on his shoulder. Soletus rolled it off. That didn’t deter him at all. He just changed tactic.
“Nimbus taught me a song tonight. I don’t really remember the lyrics. I do remember the basic tune. Want to hear it?”
His friend didn’t give him a chance to answer before he started singing in syllables. His voice swept over him and Soletus felt at ease. He felt the influence. Feeling the suggestions to rest. However, he couldn’t fight it. The young chanter’s will had grown stronger since learning his edict. In some ways it was disturbing. No matter how it was dressed up, chanter performed mind-control. The only thing that separated what they did from being something terrible was intent.
When Hickory started instructing Soletus on how to use his voice, he learned how Mien could charm people with his words and he was doing it then. His singing voice was pleasing, and he magnified it by adding his will to it. Mien wouldn’t label what he did as mind control. He just wanted his friend to stop hurting. The tod had seen the worst of his sorrow and what it turned him into. That he was close to stepping over the edge that Mien had. Maybe that’s why he allowed it. He didn’t want his friend to worry anymore.
Soletus' eyelids became heavy as the chanter voice surrounded him in a warm blanket. “You don’t have to do this,” he muttered.
Men stopped singing. “I’m a spoiled nobling. I do what I please,” and he started singing again.
The young monk let Mien’s voice loll him to a black sleep. When morning arrived, he wanted nothing more than to stay under the warmth of his blanket. If he moved, it would be to stretch out in the grass under the sun. However, he got up when the lookout shouted to everyone to rise. He was in a better mood to face the morning. Seeing his father had kept his promise made that day better. The man walked with a pack containing various objects that Oeric gathered. What added more insult to injury was the fact his father had a pack of his own. As they walked, he was always ahead.
At the start of the next day, Soletus watched his father hand Tobias his pack. He couldn’t help but smile a little at the sight. Dias would have to forgive him for it. His father was standing with his back straight while Tobias stood slumped and winced as he pulled the pack on his shoulders.
For a warden, he certainly lacks form, thought Soletus as he adjusted his saddle.
“I feel sorry for him,” said one of his men.
The eldest among them, their scout, let out a snort. “Why? It’s his own fault for mouthing off.”
“Fine, but First Warden Oeric doesn’t have to humiliate him by showing how weak he is in comparison.”
Soletus laughed. “That’s how he treats warders and junior wardens who think too much of themselves. He runs with them so they can’t say ‘he made me run around the town wall and probably couldn’t do it himself’.”
“I think he’s just showing off,” retorted the man.
Soletus frowned. He watched his father again. He stood with his arms crossed, with Tobias in front of him pleading for mercy.
“To whom exactly,” asked Mien.
The man looked at him as if they noticed the young combat chanter for the first time. And to be fair, he had been quiet for most of the trip.
“To us, like he’s trying to be a big bad alpha wolf,” explained the warden.
Mien rubbed his tongue on the roof of his mouth before saying, “It might look that way if you’re insecure.”
“Who you’re calling insecure, boy?”
The young chanter pulled himself on his saddle. “Check your hearing. I didn’t call you insecure. But you implied you are.”
The man scowled.
Soletus then motioned for him to be silent and then went to Mien’s side. “Now, now, no need to get all sassy.”
“Let’s see how amicable you’ll be if you have the taste of tart cherries in your mouth every time someone shares a stupid opinion,” he returned loud enough for all the men to hear.
Being empathic had very few benefits, especially being sensitive to anger and other negative emotions.
“Do you need to step away from everyone,” he asked.
Mien massaged the base of his neck and nodded. “I’ll be by Kiao’s carriage,” he said.
Soletus sent him off with a slapped his leg and addressed his men. “We’re getting to the estate today, so our minds should be on that and not on the actions of our commanding warden. Like him or not, we’ve a duty to perform.”
“Brothers,” shouted Oeric. Soletus turned his body around and saw his father was right behind him, with Tobias shadowing him. “Get yourselves on your horses already, or do you want to join Warden Tobias?”
“I was handling it,” said Soletus.
The first warden used his head to indicate behind him. Soletus followed his gaze and saw the Arch Monk riding towards them.
“Oeric, aren’t you done tormenting him yet,” he said with annoyance heavy in his words. “He’s slowing us down.”
Oeric cleared off all expression on his face and faced the Arch Monk while adjusted the pack on his back. “Wasn’t it you who wanted us to start holding ourselves to a better standard? I’m helping you achieve this.”
“I did, but he’s done nothing more than take a personal swipe at you.”
“You are incorrect, Sir. He acted as an ingrate to the honor that was bestowed on him. More importantly, he disagreed with what you approved. My purpose is to remind him of respect. Besides, today I want to have a heart-to-heart.”
The aged monk gave his son a disapproving scowled. “You always have an answer, don’t you?”
“You don’t become a first warden without thinking things through.”
The Arch Monk inhaled and exhale loudly through his nose. “You don’t need all day to give a ‘heart-to-heart.’ When we take our halfway break, you will change into better attire, as will he. I want to make a good show when we arrive.”
“Yes Sir,” said Oeric.
Soletus’s grandfather turned to him. “You will be riding up front after the break. Yunus will take charge back here. Also, is there anything you can do with that blasted braid? It’s a boy’s hair and you’re certainly not one anymore.”
“Well, it’s a man’s length now,” retorted Soletus. His grandfather moved to speak, but his father was quicker.
“I want him as he is. This isn’t about what you want.”
The Arch Monk brow pulled. “Then what is it about?”
“It’s what I want,” stated his father in a firm and measured voice. Not that exasperated and long-suffering tone he usually reserved for the man. “His hair length doesn’t bother me. Him doing what he is trained to do matters more.”
If his grandfather made a bigger deal out of it, Soletus would wear it down, so it flowed behind him just to spite him.
“I’ll braid it a little tighter when we rest, Sir,” said Oeric. The Arch Monk studied his son for a long moment, as if he was trying to decide what to say and do. Oeric then added. “Time is of the essence, is it not? We should get started, Arch Monk.”
To Soletus’s surprise, the Arch Monk let him win.
“Fine. Get on your horses already. We need to move out.”
Yunus maneuvered his horse to Soletus’ side and spoke to Oeric. “Taking a pair of sheers to it isn’t that much trouble, First Warden Oeric.”
His father kept his direct stare on Yunus. “Junior Warden, do you want a haircut?”
“No Sir,” said Soletus.
“Then I see no need,” said Oeric. “It isn’t hurting anyone except our expectation of what is normal for customary males. He doesn’t fit into that mold. He needs to fit into the mold of what he is. A few quirks are expected.”
Soletus was surprised to hear those words from his mouth. Every senior member, including his father, had gotten on his hair's length in the past. Then again, Oeric had stopped insisting he cut it. Though the young monk never got the impression he accepted it until then. It was the first time, in a long time, he listened to a commanding officer without bitter thoughts.
It was near dinner time when Soletus caught sight of a steepled rooftop meeting the crest of a hill. As soon as they cleared the trees and hill, the Gyrfalcon estate revealed itself to them. It was a huge three-story manor. The reddish cobble stones with white mortar almost glowed in the golden hour of the afternoon. Its roof, like a lot of elven architecture, ended in points and sharp edges despite having round wall features. In fact, the entrance of the home looked to be a circular atrium given all the glass.
In front of the house was a walkway for carriages that was edged by a garden full of spring flowers. To the left side was a pond that situated itself between that manor and what the Gyrfalcon’s were known for, the three-story inn known as the Gyrfalcon Lodge. Its white stone wall dark wood accents were impressive as well as cozy in appearance. He supposed that was the point of it all. Briar told him it had over two hundred rooms for guests who wanted time away from life and to relax in the hot spring, use the hunting grounds, and watch performances in the amphitheater. Both the inn and the house had a worker’s village to keep both in beautiful condition. He thought he had a good image of it, but seeing it was another story.
Soletus thought they were heading to the guest lodge. Instead, they went straight up to the main house where, at the top of the stairs leading to the front door, stood a familiar figure. He possessed the same golden hair of a Gyrfalcon. In fact, he was an older looking stronger jawed and sharper gaze Lord Kharis. Soletus then remembered why he didn’t recognize him fully. The elf was free from the top knot of a soldier. It was Captain Gyrfalcon. They met in passing that had fussed at his father when they were on their return trip to the monastery.
“Captain Gyrfalcon,” greeted his father warmly.
The captain crossed his arms with the corner of his lips working up. “They released you out into the countryside again after the mess you caused. Irresponsible.”
“My wife, the strongest of all my leashes, is present,” returned his father.
“Maybe she can unleash you, so you can handle the trouble we’ve been having. Where in Dias’s name is Kharis.”
“Over here, Liamus,” said the Patriarch coming from around the carriage holding Lady Maelyra. He slid off his horse. “What sort of trouble are we having?”
“Assassination attempts,” stated the captain. “I’ve men combing the grounds for vipers. The other day it was looking for crossbows inside of cabinet doors.”
The Patriarch gave his head a shake in disbelief. “Excuse me?”
“We’ve a dead manservant and a fevered maid who might not make it because of this nonsense.”
The door to the carriage flew open and Kiao jumped out. “Can I see this maid? My bond partner and I can help if it’s venom.”
The captain’s brow rose in surprise, and he bobbed his head. “Oh yes, Sister Kiao. Glad you’re here. Yes you and Brother…”
“Mientheoderic, you can just call me Mien,” said Mien, dismounting his horse.
“Well, go inside and ask the doorman to take you to see Ambri, she’ll show you where to go. Now, as for you, Kharis I think—”
The captain was then cut off by an aged voice coming from the front door. “Liamus!”
Captain Gyrfalcon bowed his head as an elderly woman shuffled her way down by the aid of a cane. A middle-aged elf followed her, looking frazzled.
“Mother, please, Liam can deal with them. Sit and rest already,” begged the woman.
“Mother, Valencia” said Kharis with his arms spread and the old woman sped up her shuffling. Soletus couldn’t help but smile.
“Kharis, it’s about time you got here,” she said, hugging him and taking his hands. “Liamus doesn’t know what he’s doing, and I want you and your men to search this place for anymore nonsense.”
The captain let out a long-suffering sigh.
“I will have Solgard divide his men up to help,” he said, and she gave a little sly wave to the Arch Monk. Solgard winked and waved back. Oeric turned to Soletus and rolled his eyes. “But are there really have been attempts on your life?”
“My life,” she said and laughed. “Oh no. I’m a winter hen. No one cares about me, just my successor.”
“And we know that Kharis is far from that,” muttered the elderly woman’s daughter.
Soletus knew that Kharis heard it, and he gracefully ignored it.
“Well, I care, and they do too,” he said, gesturing to his siblings. “Why don’t you walk inside where it might be safer? Maelyra and Briar will come with you.”
“Oh, Briar is here,” the woman’s frail face perked up. “I get to have some good old family amusement before I leave this world.”
“Now don’t say that,” Kharis’ sister. “Maelyra, get over here and be useful. Help her.”
Lady Maelyra walked out with Cordea trailing her, wearing a tight frown of sharp disapproval.
“Don’t Cordy,” whispered Maelyra before they got out of earshot of Soletus.
“Junior Warden,” snapped the Arch Monk.
Soletus turned to him.
“I’m taking you from your charges. Master Yunus will handle your men. You help Master Tyr and Brother Nimbus in securing the grounds.”
The Arch Monk then turned to Captain Gyrfalcon. “These men are yours. First Warden Oeric, you are with me to get these horses to the stables and luggage taken to rooms.”
After that, the groups broke up with Soletus left at Lord Kharis’ side.
Captain Gryfalcon sat his attention on Soletus. “Junior Warden?”
“Senior Junior Warden, Sir,” said Soletus.
The man inspected him. “You’re Oeric’s son?”
“How old are you, 30 and you still get lost?”
“I’m 29, so I’m still allowed,” he returned with a smirk.
The captain chuckled. “How are you with young women?”
“They’re elves too,” he answered. He wasn’t sure why he was being asked the question.
Master Tyr then spoke. “You’re going to have to excuse him. He’s perfectly respectful to young women. He spends a great deal of time with your niece,” he said.
The Patriarch then helped. “He’s the one that my girl was supposed to be with.”
It was then that recognition blossomed on his face. “Excellent, he’s perfect,” said the captain. “Aside from our troubles, we’ve 75% of the royal family present. I need him to watch one of them.”
No matter where you go or do, there is always a complication.
Hello folks, I'm sorry to have to do this, but the archive is going to one chapter a week for a little bit. As you know, I've a project I've been working on and I would like to finish it. I'm in the last act of a WIP and I've literally less than ten chapters to go and heavily focus on a story when I get to this point. I want to finish this novel. I've talked about it off and on. But I'll finalize plans on what I want to do with said novel eventually. No, it's not related to the archive. The next novel was put on hold so I could deal with this.