Uncle Hugh was a parasite. Something my father believed as well.They hated each other. My uncle more so than my father. My father was the youngest son and had gained all of grandfather’s favor. Then my mother who was matched to my uncle, ended it. She then turned around and wanted to try his “know-it-all little brother,” which surprised no one given they were often scandalously seen together. And then there were the mines. Uncle liked to gamble to gamble coin but also choose to chase after precious metals. It was risky, but one could find a lot of wealth. Our father focused on low-risk mining, tao stone, and clay quarries. Uncle failed at finding precious metals, he run left town to gamble at the southern border and take part in human “entertainment” than paying attention to his operations. In fact, it was his debt that caused him to sell his mines. And it was one of those half-dug shafts my father and two other miners found their deaths.
Soletus's mother invited Mien to dinner. Soletus took that opportunity to get the boy better acquainted with other people. Thankfully, his father wasn't present. The man went out for a quick patrol and Soletus’s thoughts about him were cold. His mind kept going back on what those words and what he had done wrong during the attack to warrant that response. He tried to figure out how having a knife would have made it better. He played the scene out repeatedly in his mind. However, he kept feeling teeth on his arm and the hot breath of drass beast on his face. He couldn't shake the burning sensation of his wounds or the feeling of him falling to the ground into the jaw of the monster. He forced himself to look past those things and ask himself, could he have done something differently?
His conclusion was no.
"The angle of where I was on the ladder prevented me from doing anything," explained Soletus to Mien as they walked to his parent's house. "I couldn't have thrown the knife. I would've missed. It’s not something I’m good at, anyway."
Mien nodded his head to show he was listening, but didn't seem like he understood.
"Then on the ground if I had my knife, yes, I could have done something. Yes, it would have killed the monster eventually, but it wouldn't have saved me from being bitten and poisoned. The only thing that couldn't have changed what happened if I climbed up quicker."
Mien arched his eyebrow, breaking his silence. "Should I be sorry for saving you? Because I'm not. I don't know why you’re stuck on it. Should I have left you alone?"
"No, you don't need to be sorry for that. You should be proud of it."
The boy blushed, but instead of looking down, he looked down the road.
The young monk then explained. "It's just my Papa. I either do everything right or I've gotten it all wrong."
"He has expectations. My father had a lot for me. He said I could do anything I wanted, but I need so much pushing it bothered him, so he kept doing so," said Mien and then he gave him a look. "Kind of like what you're doing with meeting your family. I'm not stupid. I can figure things out."
"You act like this is a bad thing," returned Soletus, though he wasn't sure if it was the best thing. "Besides, Mama and my sisters want to meet you."
Mien became surprised. "You're the only boy?"
"Yep, and Papa focuses all his expectations on me, and I already have expectations for myself. I don't need him—" Soletus cut himself off. He was complaining, and he didn't want to complain to him about his problems. Mien had enough of them.
However, when Soletus didn’t finish, the boy asked, "You don't need him to what?”
Mien sighed. "You get to pry things out of me, but you won't tell me anything?"
"Fair enough. It's just…" Soletus didn't know how to put it into words so he tired. "If he isn't on my back, he makes decisions for me. He's overbearing, I guess."
The young monk didn’t want to explain it further and thankfully, a black form galloped towards them. Onyx had spotted them. She skidded to a halt at the young monk's feet. She tried to sit, but her whip-like tail made her entire rear end wag so hard that she kept on scooting forward. The three of them started a game of chase around the street. Soletus tired out quickly, and he had to lean on his knees a moment before continuing. Onyx played with Mien. He didn't mind her slobbering all over him and rubbed her floppy ears. When she finished, she went back over to her spot to guard while the two of them went to the front door.
The smells of his childhood home greeted Soletus but didn't feel comforting as it usually did. He didn’t want to be there. Mien peer in to inspect the home first before walking in when Soletus motioned for him. It was something the boy had to do before entering a room. There wasn't much to see. There was the table, the hearth, a wall that separated the bedrooms from the den of the house, and another small room where the kitchen was. Soletus could hear his mother stirring something. He called out, and she peered around the wall.
"Dinner is nearly ready," she said and then shouted, "Fern, they're here!" She then turned to Soletus and Mien. "I would come out and give you a proper greeting, but this needs my attention." She then vanished.
Fern came out with his baby sister on her hip and seated her in the highchair that was made for her. "Hello," she greeted. "You must be Mien." She held out her hand. He shook it. Her smile faded a bit, and her gaze went to his head. "Why is your hair cropped? Is it some kind of new style nobles are trying out?"
Soletus had gotten used to his short hair. He still didn't even know why he kept it short, and no explanation was going to be given that evening either.
Mien tried to hold eye contact with her but failed to in the end. "No, I just like it short," he said curtly, pulled out a chair from around the table, and sat.
"Oh, well, there's nothing wrong with that, I suppose," she said and glanced at her brother. He shrugged his shoulders, and she went on politely. "Oh, I should set the table. Could you watch Saedee for a moment, Sol?"
The young monk nodded, watching the one-year-old who was busy observing Mien. He smiled at her and crossed his eyes. The baby giggled. He then offered his hand. She took hold of his fingers and shook them.
"She's getting big," said Soletus to Fern as she started going around the table, dropping forks and spoons. Mien inspected the wooden instruments curiously.
"Yeah, and I can't wait until she's bigger. Then I can boss someone around again," she said, shuffling around the table placing bowls next.
"You didn't boss me around," said Soletus.
"Wrong. I did until one day you stopped listening to me. I blame Lyndon. He's a bad influence. I'm surprised he isn't here." she said, sitting down on the other side of Saedee and studied Mien was curiously taking in everything around him again. "This little house must pale compared to the estate you come from," she said.
Mien's attention still wondered. "It is but, my family's estate is small compared to others. It was enough bedrooms for the staff, three guests, and us. But I like this. This feels more like a home than mine. I hate it."
"Oh," she said, bemused. "Everyone should like home. It's that one place you can go back to and feel rested."
"I don't think I could feel rested there, even with all the places I could hide," he answered.
Soletus felt like there should be a change in subject, but into the fire, Mien jumped. He had to handle this. He had to form some sort of social judgment. However, Fern should know when to stop and move on.
"Why would you need to hide when you're at home," she asked.
Mien’s gaze shift to the wall. "My family isn't like yours," he summed up nicely.
"Oh," said Fern, sitting back again giving her younger brother a look.
Soletus, unlike his sister, learned that nobles didn't have perfect lives. Mien might have come from privilege, but he was the most miserable person he had ever met.
Soletus let out a breath of relief when his mother came with a steaming serving bowl of what they were going to eat.
"Fern, stop yapping and help me!"
His mother didn't sound as if she was in the mood to serve a guest, but it was her idea. He stood up and helped them get everything settled. He placed the serving bowl of what looked to be fresh stewed rabbit and roots with a fresh loaf of oat bread. Fern came back with a pitcher and filled their wooden cups with water while his mother took their bowls to fill them up. Fern settled down and started slicing bread and they all handed each piece around the table until everyone had their slice. His mother blessed the food and then dinner started.
"Now I can introduce myself all proper like," said Soletus's mother. "I am Cordea'Sheldmartin."
"It is nice to meet you, Madam Sheldmartin," replied Mien, while inclining his head.
The woman's smile lifted a bit more at his politeness.
Dias, let him keep it up, prayed Soletus.
"I'm very thankful that you for saving my son. I wouldn't know what we would do if we lost him."
"He's a good friend, so it was the least I could do," said Mien.
"I heard you were from House Jay," she continued.
"House Cyan actually," he corrected.
"Is that right? House Cyan is the biggest supplier of tao stone for the Brotherhoods."
Soletus never questioned where the tao stone the order used came from, let alone ask what kind of patrons Mien’s family was. Without tao stone, they couldn't kill drass beasts. They used it for the order’s weaponry, such as arrowheads, spear tips, and hunter knives like the one he carried.
It was then his mother noticed Mien wasn't eating.
"You should dig in. I imagine you'd be starving after living with Brother Hickory for this long. I'm surprised you aren't faded into nothing."
Mien picked up his spoon. "I figured out how to cook porridge."
"You're so thin," observed Cordea.
Soletus couldn't say he wasn't. He noticed that while they were swimming. The boy was mostly ribs and very little meat on him. It troubled Hickory a little because it wasn’t like he didn’t eat. The priest suggested it could be because he was a chanter.
"Maybe you can see about him eating at the mess hall, Soletus. They've enough food to feed one more."
"I'll see if I can," he said. Though Mien didn’t leave the chapel often.
His mother then sat her ever observant eyes on him. "You look pale. Have you been properly resting like you were told? Your first taste of venom isn't something you recover from in just a day."
"I'm well enough," he replied. Wishing she hadn't noticed. He was the one who had to look at himself in the mirror.
"Even so, sometimes you don't recover from things like that, no matter how strong you think you are."
"Mama," he groaned.
"I'm serious. Grown men have suffered skulker bites and become unable to fight and couldn't do much of anything else. Some can barely walk afterwards."
"I think it's safe to assume I'm able to walk and nothing's wrong with my arm. The bone is healed up," he said, though his arm remained bandage. His skin there was still healing. The scar was sensitive to touch, light, and even temperature.
"I know how it is when you're young. You think nothing can touch you," started his mother, using her voice of wisdom. They grated on his nerves, which were already a little thin from being somewhere he didn't want to. "But you can get hurt and badly."
"Well, that's obvious," he snapped. "You don't need to remind me every other day!"
Her eyes became narrow slits. "You don't need to use that voice at this table."
Soletus mirrored the expression. "I wasn't aware I was using any voice but my own!"
A hush fell over the dinner table. Fern, who was in mid bite, froze. Mien became engrossed in his meal, inspecting a pea. Saedee played in her food, unaware of the fact that her older brother broken a simple rule, no shouting at mama during dinner.
Cordea pointed to the door with her spoon. "Go step outside and come back in when you learn to talk in front of others again."
Soletus didn't move. He was tired of being told what to do.
She then spoke in a dangerously soft tone, full of threat. "Don't think I won't pick you up from that chair and drag you out of my house."
The ire that rose in Soletus faltered. He knew she would do it. However, that fear wasn't enough for him to apologize to her. Instead, he pushed out his seat, pushing the table roughly and rattled it. Before he could close the door, he heard Fern question, "What's his problem?”
"He’s at that age, when he cools off and he'll be reasonable again."
He didn't feel like being talked about, so he started walking down the road with no destination in mind. All he knew was he didn't want to go back to his dorm.
Instead, he went through of the small side gate on the west side of a wall. He followed a footpath to one of the many places young folks like him snuck off to avoid work or meeting some girl. It was just a small dark grove of trees on a short hill. One could see anyone coming from the wall, so it gave plenty of time for those hidden in the brush to sneak off. Granted, he wondered where they could sneak off to. The land was open plain on that side of the wall. There was a tree line almost a mile away. That was likely why the masters did little to stop those from going there and cutting down a few of the trees. Those who snuck out couldn't get far. Soletus didn't have to worry about anyone watching the wall. It was late afternoon, so duties had ended, and the mess hall filled. No one would care.
Soletus found himself a spot at the base of a tree. It had a clear view of the gate he exited. He leaned against the smooth bark and observed the sky through the canopy. His mind was blank at first, however, the longer he sat there, the more he realized how stupid he just acted at dinner. He could have easily just walked back inside and apologized, then everything would have been okay. Until his mother told his father when he returned home. Then he would get a lecture about how he isn't ready to take even take on orders and should leave the order.
Well, I might as well learn how to become a ditch digger, he moaned in his head. It's a job that requires no skill or an apprenticeship to learn.
Soletus decided it was better to watch the sky deepen into evening than to think about his mistakes as of late. They all seemed to pile up. After a while, a lone horse exited the town and instead of heading to the northwestern road, it veered towards him. Soletus didn't know who it was. He didn't care. He relaxed back. As they got closer, he recognized the dark coated horse. The man on the horse was wearing dark brown monk colors with a dark green shoulder cape with gold trim. The sun was sitting, and the last rays of orange light highlighted the red sash with gold embroidery around the man's waist. There was only one person who wore those colors, and that was the Arch Monk.
Soletus pulled himself from up from his slouched position and started cleaning up his appearance a little. He had brush on his shirt and leaves on his trousers. An unfortunate bug was exploring the tip of his boot off, so he thumped it off. When his grandfather entered the grove, he got to his feet.
"No need to stand," stated his grandfather, dismounting.
Soletus froze, unsure what to do or say. It wasn't often that the aged monk left the walls. He was in his late silver years. His hair lost its golden hue long ago and had a face full of lines with a cluster that spread out from his eyes from smiling. Despite the age, he was still strong looking with sharp eyes the color of asters. In a few decades, he might even start looking for a successor. There was a lot of speculation of who that might be. The Arch Monk mentioned it wasn't to be his father. Though his father equally voiced, he didn't want the job.
Soletus didn't know what side he was going to get. His grandfather’s stern monk side or the understanding grandpa. He couldn’t tell as the old monk wore his stoic face.
The Arch Monk stopping right out of arm's reach from him. Soletus inclined his head to him and put his right hand over his heart. "Arch Monk."
"No need for formalities. You already know why I'm here," he said and sat down on the ground with a grunt. He patted the moss for Soletus to sit. He eased down beside his grandfather and steeled himself for a long talk. Then again, his father made it very clear to his grandfather that he wasn't to interfere with raising him. When he stepped in, it would always lead to an argument between them. So, his grandfather took it as no lectures while he was around. His father wasn't there. His mother wouldn't see or hear the lecture, so there was no actual proof it took place. Not that Arch Monk liked to use the word "lecture." He just liked to "converse" with his grandson about all matters.
"I feel as if we've not seen each other in a while. I visited you in the infirmary, but you were resting, so call this a follow-up visit if your father should ever ask."
"So, how are you?”
"I'm surprised. While many get over a drass beast bite quickly in body. However, they affect the mind. Many have nightmares for months after an attack."
Soletus swallowed his moan this time. "Like I told Mama, I'm fine."
He gave him a disapproving sideways glance. "Ah yes, before you got angry at her for no reason and stormed away."
"I walked away," corrected Soletus.
His grandfather's disapproval didn't let up. "Well then, you walked away in anger and left a friend behind."
He forgot about Mien.
His grandfather put him at ease. "Don't worry, he was understanding. He told me that something was bothering you."
That still didn't give me the right to just abandon him, he thought.
The aged elf nudged him with his elbow. "My son is lucky to have a son like you. You just storm off. When he was your age, his temper flared up easily and everyone had the right fuel for it. We fought all the time. To him I was being unfair, so he refused to follow rules."
It sounded unbelievable that his strict father wasn't one for following rules.
"He never told me that," said Soletus.
His grandfather sighed. "I see he still hasn't shared a lot about himself with you," he said, becoming pensive and looked at the wall in front of him again. "He these past things as nothing to be proud of. To give you the simple gist of it, ran away and came back bloodied and broken, but wiser, in a sense. He confided that he would love to have three girls because he feared any son would be like him," said his grandfather.
"He seriously wanted all girls?" Soletus never heard that before either.
"Silly I know. His concerns make him blind to see how blessed he is. As a baby, being you were quiet and never really fussed much. You've retained that quality. You don't raise a fuss and you've been taught not to waste time fussing over things out of your control and being grateful for what you have. But sometimes, my boy, you’re allowed to make a fuss," then Arch Monk then gave him a meaningful look. "You would be wise to not direct that fuss at your mother."
Soletus looked ahead of him. "I didn't mean to. It just happened."
"Understandable, as there is something bothering you. Care to share?"
"It's Papa,” he admitted. “He acted as if my getting bitten was my fault. Didn’t even ask is I was okay, just I was sloppy and failed. That's what I'm upset about."
Soletus knew that wasn't everything. He didn’t mention about having his chance to be a grappler ripped from him. Or being unable to go to the culling. Him doubting that he had the ability to help Mien.
"Then why haven’t you told him?"
Soletus drew his knees up and rested his arms on them. "Wasn't in much of a state for explaining things," he muttered.
"You've could've done it afterwards, before he left."
Soletus shrugged. "Why bother? You know how he is. He'll just turn it back around on me."
His grandfather tapped him on the shoulder. "Sit up. No sulking," he said, using his lecturing voice. The young tod straightened back up. "Soletus, there is a time when you're just going to not accept defeat. You have to stand your ground with him."
"Then I'll get the whole 'you need to listen to what I'm saying' speech."
His grandfather then wore the familiar Sheldmartin critical frown. "You aren't a child anymore. I expect an upcoming member of the Brotherhood to no longer be attached to their cord."
Brother Hickory told him the same thing, but when he said it, it wasn't as insulting. Soletus found himself casting his gaze away from his grandfather's judging gaze. He tightened his jaw closed to keep himself from saying anything. He didn't want to argue with someone else that evening.
His grandfather scrutinized him even while he waited for the man to order him to face him or condemn him for acting like a child or something. Instead, he stated,
"Back before our people became the Fen and heard Dias's voice, sons and apprentices would challenge their authority to prove themselves. Whether it was a young farmer proving himself with the better crop than his father's or a weapons smith making a sword worthy of the most honored of warriors, it was their right. From that ancient rite of passage, we of the Brotherhood have kept that tradition in the form of Hy'ruh-ha, where a warder can challenge a master or a mentor in fair combat to prove he can stand on his own."
Soletus perked up. "I've never heard of that."
"Well, why do you think we give golden tipped staffs to those who become masters and put them up for display in the training hall? They are for the challengers. And to be honest, it's been a while since the last one."
"You would think that is something masters would tell warders."
"Master's pick and choose what knowledge their student ingests. Most of them don't want to bother with warders who think too highly of themselves waste their time. And that is true. Most wouldn't put up a good enough fight to make it worth it. Then again, it could just be them controlling everything."
Soletus regarded his grandfather with surprised that he would even imply his father was controlling. "Do you really think he's controlling me?"
The Arch Monk considered his words a moment as he scratched his chin and settled on the simple truth. "He doesn't want you to be him. Whether you accept that fact is up to you. What you do about it is up to you. I'm just your old grandfather trying to find his grandson and certainly not spreading advice," he said with a wisp of a smile.
Soletus reflected on those words before concluding, "I don't think I'll have to do that. You choose your battles. Sometimes it isn't worth the fighting when you can just reason with them."
"Yes, but you shouldn't use that as an excuse for being afraid to fight," said his grandfather sagely.
It wasn't supposed to be a cut, but it felt like one. He didn’t want to fight his father. The man was one of the strongest wardens in the order. He was fast and fought with precision from what he had seen him practicing out back. Not to mention, Master Tyr filled him with stories of his father abilities. Soletus was close to his strength but didn't have his speed or reflexes yet.
The Arch Monk then added. "Challenging one's teacher also benefits the teacher when they've become blinded. People learn best when they are shown the error of their ways."
"I'll keep that in mind," said Soletus.
The old elf patted his shoulder. "Of course you will. Now let's get back. I don't want Cordea to worry. She's like my son." He then stood up and thought about his statement. "However, between them both, I'm not sure who the worse is."