And then there is Kiao. There isn’t much I can say. At that point, Kiao was just Kiao. And I know you think I should’ve known, given how timbre sensitive I was. However, there is only so much I can sense from another, and Kiao has always been elusive. I appreciated that time period when I didn’t. Get gave me a chance to see who Kiao was. Hickory gave me the impression chanter had to possess all the wisdom in the world to be effective. Meeting another young chanter, well, that gave me perspective. I shouldn't be comparing myself to someone who had nearly two centuries on me. We chanters come from different places. We can also struggle with the same things. That was a commonality we had. We both struggled to be what we are. Kiao grew into a beautiful chanter full of grace and poise. And certainly, I'm a mighty one. The sun burns in me. However, when it’s dark, the light of the stars is what guides you.
The following day, Soletus brought Mien to the monastery. Lyndon met them outside of the dorm as Soletus didn’t want to take him there yet. The boy was curious about his new surroundings, looking at this and that, but stayed very close to him. Mien used his broad body as a shield when an adult passed by. The younger members eyed with overt wary stares that Mien ducked from them as well.
He needs to get used to this, thought Soletus. And they need to get used to him.
The only person who didn't have judging eyes was Warden Kellas. He hadn't returned to field duty yet. He gave them both an encouraging nod of the head. Since Mien didn't mind being outdoors, they took to practicing by one of the training fields where others could see him. It was on purpose, as he might thwart some of the most egregious of rumors. He wanted everyone to realize that he was just a boy. Soletus was putting Mien at the edge of the cliff now. He might have leaned him too far out by sitting to the side and allowed Lyndon to instruct him.
"I'm going to teach you how to talk," announced Lyndon, putting his hand over his heart as if it were some noble pursuit.
Mien turned his head and gave Soletus that "really" expression and then sat his attention back on Lyndon.
"I'm serious. You need to be able to speak clearly and precisely. It's a skill that is needed for all your future endeavors. Lucky for you, I am an expert in diction and discourse. Since I'm gifted, I will bestow my knowledge on you."
Mien nodded slowly, but Soletus could tell he wasn't taking anything he said seriously.
"First lesson, you can't give me any non-verbal gestures unless I tell you."
"Okay," said Mien softly.
"No, say yes, Master Lyndon," corrected the young man.
Mien gave Soletus a flat stare.
"Really Lyndon," said the young monk, shaking his head.
Lyndon put his hands on hips. "Well, he's my pupil."
Mien rolled his eyes skyward. "Yes, Master Lyndon."
"How do people hear you speak? I mean, I'm not trying to be a bother or anything but, you talk very low. I don't know how Soletus can hear you."
Mien looked down, his face flushing. "Sorry."
"No need to be sorry," said Lyndon. "Speak louder. You're supposed to be a chanter. How's Dias supposed to hear you?"
Mien's shoulders started sagging and wrapped an arm around himself. He was withdrawing. Soletus stepped in.
"Lyndon," he said, motioning him over to where he sat on the fence.
His cousin trotted over to his side. "What?"
"Stop being so overwhelming. He's on the verge of turtling up."
"Then I'll just force him out of it."
"No. You'll get a better response from a rock if you do that."
"But you can't pussyfoot around him forever," argued Lyndon.
"Lyn," he said in a low voice, and gave his cousin a serious stare.
"Fine. Help me out here. Why doesn't he speak louder?"
Soletus thought a moment back to something Mien mentioned before. "He doesn't like the sound of his voice."
Lyndon's face screwed up in confusion. "But he's a chanter."
"A self-conscious chanter,” Soletus added.
"That's an oxymoron if I don't know one," said Lyndon, backing up towards Mien. He laid a hand on his shoulder and said, "You're smart enough to understand why we are doing this. I mean, you need to talk to people. Not just for the Arbiter, but for the rest of your life."
"I know," said Mien, still speaking in soft tones.
"I don't think you do. You’re part of one of the most powerful group of elves. You're a chanter. You have the power over Dias's hymn to make those words mean something."
"But people are afraid of chanters," returned Mien.
"Yeah, well, people are afraid of bears, too. And bears don't stop being bears because everyone is afraid of them. They just keep on being bears."
Mien kicked at the dirt by his feet. "But other boys don't sound like me."
"Well, because you're a chanter. It bleeds into your voice. Also, not all of us can sound like Soletus. He's a boy-man. You're still practically a kid."
Mien's face became even redder. "I'm 18."
"A late bloomer then. So, what,” went on Lyndon undeterred. “We've plenty of those around here."
The boy looked less uncomfortable, but he was still looking at his toes.
"And besides, being all quiet isn't going to make you get used to it. In fact, that's kind of odd for a chanter. Lucky for you, I'm here to help you out," said Lyndon with a confident smile.
That self-absurdity didn't last. Lyndon had him relaying mock messages and reading aloud. Mien started off okay. He had a good reading voice with a rhythm to it. Soletus could've listened to him all day, but he spoke softly. Lyndon kept stopping him, reminding him, and commenting constantly. It caused him to get nervous, and he stumbled over his words. It got to the point the boy was tripping over every other word.
"Come on, talk through it," said Lyndon, trying to be encouraging, but he was being impatient.
Mien closed the book and announced, "I'm done."
Lyndon put his hands on his hips. "Done? You can't quit. That means you’re giving up and you can't just give up when your life—"
Mien shushed the young scout by pushing the book into his chest and forced the words at Lyndon. "I'm done!"
Soletus felt them from where he sat. It was like a nudge in his mind. It was frustration. Lyndon looked as if he was slapped. He watched Mien stalked away, climbed over the fence, and left them. He didn't call him back. Instead, he regarded his cousin and clapped. "Good job. You did what I've never accomplished. You frustrated him."
Lyndon blinked and shook his head and opened his mouth to shout it after him, but snapped it shut.
Soletus’s lips spread in an amused smile. "He must be powerful to rendered you speechless."
His cousin fumbled with his book and rubbed his ear. "You wouldn't want to talk if he directed that at you."
"Oh, I felt it.”
Lyndon let out a tired sigh. "How have you worked with him this long?"
"I don't push him too hard. At least now I know he can push back."
Soletus then felt a tap on his shoulder and he turned to see Mien standing behind him.
"I don't know my way back," he said, as soft-spoken as he was before.
Soletus took him back to the chapel. Mien was silent. Not in his usual way. His face was tight and muscles tense. He was clearly upset about what happened. Soletus tried to touch him gently to reassure him and the boy slapped his hand away. It was better to leave him to fume. Afterwards, the young monk met back up with Lyndon at the entrance to the monastery.
"While you were gone, I was struck by a brilliant idea," his cousin announced.
"Really, who'd you hear it from?”
Lyndon snorted. "Har, har. Anyway, I was thinking, why not get help from another chanter?"
Soletus found his cousin's determination to help was touching however, he didn't know who he had in mind. There weren't that many chanters in the Brotherhood. It was both a world and internal problem in the order.
Chanters were rare in that age and had to be found. They would send out a party every year to find chanters coming into their own. Most parents weren't thrilled to have children taken away, and especially a first-born child. It became even harder because there weren't a lot of Fenndish elves. The Fen favored the Triad or atheism favoring the teachings of philosophers and atheistic teachings. And elf couldn't be a chanter if they weren’t open to hear Dias's voice.
Within the order itself, most adult chanter priests were disinterested in their fighting brothers. And like all priests, they rarely left the monetary and would pray and meditated to seek answers for an unbelieving world. What few young chanter priests they had were taught to do the same, except maybe the infirmary staff. They were always nice.
They did have combat chanters, but they were so few Soletus knew, they were all around his father's age except for maybe two. He was sure they wouldn't think that helping Mien would be a fruitful endeavor. They were a bit condescending. Lyndon seemed very optimistic about his suggestion.
"I know one that could help," said Lyndon, walking across the grounds.
Soletus sprung forward, falling in beside of him, matching his pace even though it felt as if he was straining himself a little. "Where are we going?"
"The infirmary," announced Lyndon.
The young monk forgot about the infirmary staff. There were just two of young ones. Brother Kiao and Alder. They were both trained by one of the oldest priests in the Brotherhood, Brother Oliver. He was, as they said, older than the hills. He was a very kind elf, though he wasn’t the one who treated Soletus as far as he could remember.
The young monk was happy to go to go to the infirmary as a non-patient. He never was fond of the infirmary. There wasn't much privacy between the rows of beds. It was too quiet and when that wasn't the case, there was someone in discomfort and moaning. He was lying on his back with his hand on his stomach on a bed. That didn’t stop Lyndon. He was focused as a hound would searching for a fox. Soletus was about to ask who until the young scout laid his sights on Brother Kiao, standing off to the side, washing his hands in a water basin. Lyndon smiled and approached.
Soletus knew little about Kiao. He was several years older than they were. From the braided gold and white cord around his waist and yellow smock, he was a healing priest. His dark red hair down instead of tied up like the infirmary staff typically wore, making his side profile look finer than usual.
Lyndon stopped beside him and leaned on the cabinet the basin was on.
"Kiao," he greeted heatedly. "My cloth brother, how are you today?"
Kiao glanced up and went back to washing his hands. "No. I don't have any more nova blossom. I’m tired of you sprinkling it in other’s shorts.”
Soletus gave his cousin a sharp look. “That was you?”
"Gareth threw manure on me. It was a lesson in respect," he said, seeing nothing wrong with causing rashes in places that had no right to be itchy.
Kiao pointed at Soletus. "Surely you've not come in here for him. He looks well enough."
"You think he looks pale," said Lyndon, glancing over his shoulder.
"I'm fine," assured Soletus. "We came here to ask for your help."
Kiao was clearly disinterested and paid more attention to drying his slender hands off. "With?"
"We need a chanter to help with Brother Hickory's pet project that I've been helping him with," said Soletus.
The young man arched a brow. "You know, Brother Hickory is a chanter?"
"Mien is wary around him. He's more open with people around his age."
Kiao shrugged and walked off. "I'm not really around his age."
Soletus found his attitude strange, as the young man was kind to him when he was in bed. Now he was dismissive. That didn't stop Lyndon following him to the podium, where a thick ledger lay. The young chanter priest opened the book and started writing.
"You're close enough. He needs to be less tense. He must stand in front of an arbiter. But he doesn't respond well to my instruction," explained Lyndon. "He can't handle my charm."
The corner of Kiao's mouth went up in a half smile. "Look, if Brother Hickory wanted me to get involved, he would've. In fact, he acted as if he was going to handle everything when I asked him about it weeks ago. Besides, what about Doran?"
Lyndon snorted and crossed his arms, pouting. The incident between them still slighted him.
"We're not on speaking terms with him," explained Soletus.
Kiao's head went up. "Really? Though I'm not very surprised. He spends too much time flapping his lips behind people's backs. You two have either been stupidly blind to it or hoped he would improve."
"We knew," said Soletus. "He's gone back behind each of us to talk about the other. We just put up with it."
"You're far too nice, Soletus, especially with someone who's jealous of you."
A jolt of surprise coursed through Soletus. "Me? Why?"
Kiao raised an eyebrow. "If I were a monk, I would be jealous of a tod with your form and skill. Many have to work hard for what you've been seemingly gifted."
"Yeah, he's boy man," said Lyndon.
Kiao chuckle lightly. Soletus couldn't say he found it amusing.
"Most of what I am is hard work. Not talent. Besides, how do you know Doran's jealous of me," he asked.
"It's amazing what people talk about here. They can talk as low as they want, but I'm a chanter. We all have good hearing," he said. "Anyway, I can't say that Doran has anything good to say about you. He did nothing but criticize your actions during the drass beast attack and claimed he would have been able to climb up and kill it."
Lyndon’s ears reddened and exclaimed, "He didn't do anything except signal for help, then hid behind me.”
"Well, that's not all he said. He made a strange offhand comment to me about your cousin have strange physical features as well. Something about a hairy upper lip."
Soletus's tongue swiped at his upper lip unconsciously. He could feel the start of the hairs he would occasionally have to shave off when they became too notable. It was his father that managed to find a suitable razor from a trader. They were scarce. Elves didn't have facial hair. The common notion was that it indicated human blood within a family line. Soletus wanted to avoid being singled out, so he would do so. Doran promised he wouldn't tell anyone when he caught Soletus trying to get rid of the hairs one day.
Lyndon's eyes narrowed. "You know what? I figured out what he’s suggesting. He’s suggesting I go flatten his nose,” growled Lyndon. He tried to stalk off, but Soletus grabbed his collar and held him back.
“You don’t get to flatten his nose,” said the young monk.
“Okay, I’ll hold him, and you can,” said Lyndon, trying to squirm out of his hold.
“No,” said Soletus.
“He promised not to tell anyone,” reminded his cousin.
“You should let him go,” advised Kiao. “If it isn’t Lyndon, it’ll be someone else. He’s well on his way to a broken nose.”
Lyndon kept on struggling to get Soletus’s hand free from his collar. “I don’t see why you aren’t upset about this.”
“I am,” Soletus snapped. His voice carried and echoed. Lyndon flinched. Brother Alder, the other young priest there, looked their direction. The person lying on the bed stopped moaning and popped his head up to see them. Soletus ignored them and reasoned with Lyndon through his teeth. “What good would it do anyway? If you and I get into a fight with him and Papa find out, we’re both worse off than we already are. Let it go!”
Lyndon put his hands up. “Okay, I will… for now.”
Soletus released him and gave him a parting dirty look, then looked as pleasantly as he could muster to Kiao. “Don’t tell anyone.”
“About a physical abnormality? Ha, everyone has those. As a chanter, you learn physical perfection is a flawed ideal. As for the boy, I’m serious. Hickory didn’t want me to worry about him. He said I have enough here to worry about. But I want to talk to him again. Maybe I can help suggest something to him. What do you want me to do?”
“He needs to be around another chanter who’s comfortable being one. Also, he doesn’t like the way he sounds and talks really softly unless he’s around someone he’s really comfortable with.”
Kiao considered that for a second. “I noted he was shy, but that shouldn’t make him not like the way he sounds. That not right for a chanter.”
“We know. But I think once I get him to be all right with his own voice, he’ll do better. If you meet him, you’ll understand how he isn’t.”
"I'll help when I can. I'm busy with this, a lot," he gestured infirmary. "How about you see me tomorrow in the mess hall at lunch and bring him? I'll determine what I can do then."
Soletus didn't tell Mien about the reasons they were meeting Kiao for lunch. He already figured it out.
"Another person to help," he asked.
"You've met Kiao, so you know he's nice," Soletus explained to him as they walked between tables in the mess hall. The line of wooden tables made from logs for seats and woven branches for the tabletops were mostly empty. Training groups had been extended that day. Only the priests eating with a few wardens here and there. The older ones clustered together. The combat changers sat with each other, and the younger ones sat scattered. Kiao was already seated to the side alone and had three seats already waiting for them. Soletus noted in the distance was Doran sitting with his new wader friends, watching them. Lyndon spotted him as well, and the two glowered at each other.
Kiao snapped his fingers at Lyndon. "We've business that has nothing to do with him."
Soleus sat and pulled Lyndon down with him by his sash to the bench. Mien took a seat beside of Kiao who looked at his plate of food. There was about as much food as a baby rabbit could eat.
"Seriously, that's all you eat," said the young priest.
"He doesn't eat much," said Soletus.
"Food is everything to a chanter. That's how we sustain ourselves when using our abilities."
Mien cast his eyes on his plate. His face was becoming red.
"He's not using his abilities much," said Soletus, trying to help.
Kiao took a bowl off his tray and placed it on Mien's. "Even so, you need to eat a lot more. You're thin."
The boy started on his tray, glowing in embarrassment.
Kiao sighed. "You have to excuse me. Being a healer makes me want people healthy. I don't mean to belittle. I'm just concerned."
"It's okay," said Mien, still keeping his gaze cast away.
Kiao studied him for a moment. "Do you just know the phrase of light?"
Mien nodded and started eating.
"When did you learn it?"
Mien lowered his fork from his mouth and stared at his food.
"During something bad that had happened, but not during the incident that brought you here," he guessed.
That surprised Soletus. He never thought to question when the boy had learned the phrase.
"I guess you hid the fact you could from your family, didn't you," went on Kiao patiently. The exact opposite of Lyndon.
Mien nodded again, keeping his eyes downcast.
"Nothing to be ashamed of," said Kiao. "I hid my abilities from mine." It was then Mien regarded him. Just a little. And Kiao spoke as if it didn't matter. "I knew what it meant. I knew the priests would come and they would take me away and my parents would let them. However, your abilities have a way of showing whether you like it or not."
"You don't sound like you're from this region," said Mien softly.
"You've good ears. I'm from Summerset. The center of performances, or that is what we like to think. Chanters are often performers there and they sing, act, or other spoken work performance. Queen Nethera herself singing in the grand hall there. She's a chanter too, you know. Hearing her sing is an experience," Kiao looked sadly out in front of him. "However, here I am as far from home as I can get."
"You don't like it here," asked Soletus.
Kiao stirred his food. "I do, but there's nothing like Summerset. It's colorful and full of life," he said and then to Mien. "I suppose you're the opposite of me. You probably want to be as far from home as you can."
Mien bobbed his head.
"I can tell how much of a terrible place it was. I hear it in your voice. It's not often that I do. It's scared like vivid wounds on your flesh," said Kiao. "It's just as vivid with how much you don't like yourself."
Mien swallowed hard with his hand trembling in distress. Soletus didn't know if their conversation was a good one to have in public.
"Peace my friend, Si lei'so. No need to fear what no longer can hurt you. This is one thing about this place. Despite the drass beasts, you're safe here."
Kiao had used the phrase of peace. Using phrases on another chanter normally didn't work. Soletus guessed it did because Mien was untrained. However, the boy blinked hard, but didn't seem that anxious anymore, as he was puzzled.
The young priest looked apologetic. "I'm sorry. I thought I could use that without you feeling it. But it brought you out of whatever state you were falling into. You can’t keep doing that, you know. It stresses your body."
"I know," mouthed Mien.
“Of course, you do. You've been probably hearing it from Brother Hickory for weeks now,” said Kiao, starting on his lunch. “He’s probably giving you the confident speech constantly.”
Kiao chuckled and leaned towards him slightly for an instant. “Annoying, isn’t it? ‘Have confident,’ as if it is something that can just be obtained by just hearing it. I remember locking myself in that little room in the chapel and refused to come out after he went through his spill.”
“Why,” asked Mien, growing a little more interested in him.
"I didn't like myself and I didn't enjoy being a chanter. My abilities were unstable from not being able to exercise them properly for a long time. I would get terrible headaches and feel like my chest was burning. Some days I wished I could be normal again and Dias picked someone else to be a chanter."
Mien tilted his head at him.
"We aren't all born and bred Brotherhood like Lyndon and Soletus here who accept everything so easily," he said, and then suddenly frowned. "You're still glaring at him."
Soletus didn't even notice. He was too busy listening to Kiao. His cousin’s hateful gaze was indeed fixed in Doran's direction. Doran sneered in return. The group of warders with him saw the silent antagonizing exchange as well. Soletus elbowed his cousin.
"Stop it! I don't feel like him coming over here."
Mien looked over there. "Why is Doran over there?"
"Because he's a jackass," snapped Lyndon.
Soletus jabbed his cousin with his elbow in the side again. "Seriously Lyn, let it go."
Lyndon rubbed his side. "You know, back in the day, they used to string traitors up by their toes and slash their wrists to bleed them out."
Soletus rolled his eyes skyward. "That was the army, and they cut their hands off."
"Lyndon, you are here for a reason," said Kiao, gesturing to Mien.
Lyndon gave Doran one more quick glance before settling down again. "Please continue," he said.
"Anyway, Mien, I think I know something that might help. I'm part of the brotherhood chorale. Well, there are only three of us right now and we’ve not sung for weeks now. There would be more if things weren't complicated right now. Perhaps we should come to the chapel, and you can listen to us."
"Listen, why not have him join you," questioned Lyndon.
He shook his head. "It should be his choice to join us. Chanters not only use their voice, but they use their ears. Listening is just as good as singing. So, do you want to come?”
Soletus got the impression that the boy didn't mind Kiao at all. He warmed up to him a lot quicker than he did him. The young monk couldn't help being optimistic about the new arrangement. The more allies he made, the better chance Mien would have in his mind. Plus, Mien needed another friend.