Oeric and Cordea were good parents. I can say that both subjectively and objectively now. Because, as a parent now, I know we get things wrong. That is to be expected. And I loved Cordea and Oeric because they weren’t perfect. Though compared to my family, they were. I loved the fact they welcomed me as one of the own when I settled down into the Brotherhood. However, regarding Soletus, they didn’t have the clearest vision of him. He went through a bit of metamorphosis between the time he was a boy to tod. Then, as a young man, some of what they both knew about young male elves didn’t apply to him. You would think it made things easier. No, it didn’t. I remember Oeric telling me he just stated taking things one day at a time. That’s really all you can do.
Soletus stalled at the foot of the path to his childhood home. It loomed over him like a dark fortress. He wondered if any other tods were like him. Still afraid of what his parents might say after finding out he did something wrong. He was willing to bet most didn’t. They didn’t have masters who would tell their father about what they did. The advantages of being Arch Monk’s grandson and the son of a master were few.Soletus took a deep breath and made his way up. He spotted Onyx to the side. She lay on the ground, watching with her head on her paws. It almost looked as if sympathy was etched on her furry brow. He paused at the door, said a pray, and then walked in. His father was at the head of the table, waiting with his mother beside him. Fern and Saedee were nowhere to be seen.
Were they just sitting there waiting for me this entire time? Soletus groaned inwardly at the thought. Hopefully, they hadn’t been waiting for him too long. If they had, they’ve grown impatient, grumpy, and impossible to talk with.
“Sit,” ordered his father, using that rough tone that meant he meant business. If he was just in trouble, he would be exasperation.
Soletus closed the door, so it hardly made a sound. He sat across from his father with graceful ease.
Oeric leaned forward, planting his elbows on the table. “Sol, please explain to me why is that I come home and had to listen to tales of you fighting with others.”
It was only two people. Not an entire army.
“Fighting with you mother is one thing, but then Tyr tells me about you trying to break the arm of another tod.”
“I’m sorry. It won’t happen again,” said Soletus quickly and scooted to the edge of his chair. He hoped foregoing any sort of defense would appease him. He wanted to leave.
“It happened twice now, what’s keeping a third time from happening,” returned his father with that all too familiar critical glint in his pale eyes.
Nothing he could say would satisfy the man. So, he remained silent. He wouldn’t like what he was going to say, anyway. However, his father didn’t accept silence.
“What’s been your problem lately,” Oeric asked.
“Nothing,” said Soletus and snipped, “I’m not my problem.”
“How are you not your problem,” his father challenged. “Aren’t you the one who mouthed off to your mother? Aren’t you the one who attacked a training brother? Aren’t you the one who snipped at Tyr?”
The irritation at his father he had dammed off, buried, and shoved freed itself. He then said slowly, “As I said, I’m not my problem. You are.”
His father’s expressionless visage dropped to a scowl. Soletus knew he walked into the danger zone. As a boy, that would’ve gotten him to back down, but now he found himself not caring at all. He didn’t want to be fussed at as if he was a ten-year-old.
Oeric’s voice then rose with every word. “How exactly am I your problem?”
His mother massaged her forehead. “Oeric,” she said. He didn’t look at her.
“You’re constant meddling and forcing everyone to do what you want and ruin what I had going for me,” exclaimed Soletus.
Oeric pointed his finger at him and shouted back, “Don’t you use that voice on me or I will knock that attitude out of you!”
“Then do it,” he challenged back.
His father started to get up, but his mother grabbed him by his sash and forced him back down. The entire table shook like the foundation of everything between his parents and him. Certainly, he had moments of eye-rolling and snide comments in his mind. However, they always stayed in his mind. Not then.
Cordea looked as if he lost his mind. “Don’t say things like that to your father and expect he won’t do it,” she said.
“Well, it’s better he does what he says than give me an idle threat! He’s no problem doing that in all other areas of my life.”
Oeric then appealed to his wife. “There, he just told me to hit him again. I’ve full permission.”
“Don’t,” she barked.
He gave her a sharp look.
She returned it with her eyes becoming slits. “I can deal with ridiculous out of one of you, not both.”
His father inhaled through his nose and exhaled out of his mouth loudly before regarding him again. He spoke calmer, but the sharpness in his voice was still there. “Now listen here, I don’t like coming home and having to hear about your nonsense and then have to hear you speak nonsense, is that clear?”
“Yes, sir,” replied Soletus through his teeth.
“If you continue this and you’ll lose the arrangement with Master Tyr as well, until you learn sense again.”
Soletus scoffed at him. “You can’t even be creative. It’s the same thing with you all the time. I started something, then take it away, and then turn around and tell me I’m not ready. Train more!”
His father scrutinized him briefly and decided. “You’re still upset about not going to the culling! With how mature you’re being now.”
Soletus felt his lips curl.
Cordea touched his father’s arm. “Oeric, don’t goad him anymore.” Then she flicked her eyes at Soletus. “Leave, now,” she said, pointing at the door.
“I’m not done speaking to him,” argued his father.
“You are now,” she told him. “We need to talk!”
Soletus stood and from his chair and slid it under the table roughly and slammed the door to his parent’s house. He stalked down the path to the road and fuming. Being called out and then being dismissed with nothing settled annoyed him. It was like when he was a boy wasn’t being taken seriously. He had the mind to walk back in there and make them listen. Then his self-awareness pushed aside the frustration. It asked, why was he so upset? He didn’t even want to talk to them in the first place. Now he was free. Why was he upset? Why had he told his father to hit him? And now he wanted to go back in there to give them a piece of his mind for dismissing him. All he could do was stew in his own confusion about what had transpired.
He walked away and sat on the embankment to the side of the house. It was shady and out of sight from his parents. It was then, he realized, he had dug his fingernails in his palm. He flexed his hand as he rubbed the crescent marks. It was clear he needed to stay away from home when he could. Being there made him upset. Arguing with his parents was a futile effort. They wouldn’t bend. Neither would he, apparently.
Soletus looked up at the sky and exhaled to release all the tension tight in his chest. It didn’t. There was no reason for him to linger there anymore so he made his way back to the dorm. On entering his room, he found Lyndon was on his bunk, resting. Soletus ignored him and flopped down on his bed. He shook the bunk and his cousin jolted into wakefulness.
Lyndon then spoke the moment he settled down. “So, you tried to break Tyrus’s arm.
The young monk moaned. “Why can’t you not know something for once?”
Lyndon gasped. “You make it sound as if I was nosing around. I’ll have you know I just happen to be in the infirmary and was privy to him calling you an angry brute.”
Soletus massaged his forehead.
“What he did was unacceptable?”
“He was doing the whole ‘papa’s boy’ thing,” admitted Soletus with a sigh.
Lyndon shifted above him and then jumped off the ladder to the floor. “Why are you sighing? It’s a good thing your stomped on him. It’ll keep the dods from walking all over you.”
Soletus then said. “You know I don’t like fighting over dumb stuff. And I’ve just been on this angry high all day. It started with Tyrus. Then I became annoyed with Brother Hickory. I said something unkind to Mien, and then it ended with me being angry at Papa. We fought to the point Mama told me to leave.”
Lyndon’s eyes became wide. He reached pinched Soletus’s side.
“Ouch, why you do that!”
“I’m making sure you aren’t a ghost,” he said, amazed. “I knew you were upset with him, but not to the point you had a death wish.”
“I don’t. I just didn’t want to hear his stupid voice, telling me I’m stupid, and then punishing me like I’m some stupid kid.”
Lyndon touched his forearm. “I don’t know what to tell you. Why didn’t you just take it and move on?”
“I don’t know,” said Soletus, smashing his palm in his eyes. “It would’ve been easier. I’m sure I made it worse.”
There was a tap on the frame of the doorway. They both turned and saw Kiao standing there with a slip of paper between his fingers. “I hope you didn’t summon me here about revenge on Doran.”
“Forget that. Soletus is a dead man,” said Lyndon.
The young man's brow rose. “Why?”
“He got into a fight with his Pa!”
Kiao studied them before letting out a sigh and walked into the room. He made himself comfortable on the empty bunk that Valan used to occupy. “So. Tods fight with their father’s all the time. What’s the worse he can do?”
“What can’t he do is the better question,” said Soletus. “The one time I helped Lyn out with a prank, I was caught and he had me clean out stable stalls.”
“A little hard labor, so what?”
“I had to use a hand trowel and a bucket.”
Kiao pressed his lips together and looked to struggling to keep a straight face.
“Then there was that time I tried to sneak out of the dorms past curfew with a bunch of other boys and got caught.”
“So, they do it all the time.”
“Sure, but that’s for lads who aren’t taught better,” said Soletus and then used his father’s voice mockingly. “You’re not one of those. You’re better than that.”
Lyndon shivered. “You do that far too well.”
“It’s what happens with you live with him. Anyway, what made that entire situation worse was some of them were drinking. I didn’t. However, just being there landed me an entire month of working in the fields. Then last time I did a punishable offense, I had to dig out the drain trench for the latrine. And that was because I accepted a dare to steal a horse, ride through town naked, and spook the guards.”
Kiao covered his hand over his mouth. His eyes were bright with laughter.
“And no, he didn’t catch me in the act. He just caught us on our way back to the dorms.”
Kiao lowered his hand for a moment and said to, his voice cracking. “Lyndon, I know you were involved.”
“I was the one who convinced him to go through with it,” he said proudly. “His honor was at stake.”
“But to the Maw with my dignity. Even with Lyn and everyone keeping silent that it was me, Papa knew. Didn’t even interrogate us. Just lead us back in. Next morning, he woke me up and handed me a shovel. Why are you trying not to laugh?”
Kiao still had his mouth covered up and let out a snort through his nose. He relaxed his facial muscles and said, “I’m not. I’m just surprised because you’re so restrained.”
“I’m restrained. Please, more like sick of digging through fecal matter. You know what I did during my month in the fields? Spreading manure from the stables.”
Kiao burst out laughing.
Lyndon snickered. “Uncle Oeric was trying to send him a message.”
“Yeah, stop being a muckhead or that’s all you’re going to work with,” grumbled Soletus.
Kiao pulled in a deep breath that was a good impression of a donkey and giggled. “Okay, I get it,” he said after controlling himself. He’ll come down on you for getting in trouble. But I’m stuck on the fact you did all of that.”
“That was during my first year. Since I was no longer living at home, I thought I had the concept known as freedom. Then I learned I had less of it.”
Kiao then regarded Lyndon. “And what did your father do?”
Soletus let out a short laugh. “If Uncle Hart could, he’ll hand him a medal for each of his deeds.”
“I only get lectured if Uncle Oeric lectures my Pa on his lack of disciplinary skills,” said Lyndon as if it were the worst thing in the world. Soletus would love to get just lectured.
“See how unfair it is,” said Soletus to Kiao.
Kiao nodded. “Agreed. I would love to listen to more stories, but I need to get back so the infirmary. So, Lyndon, why am I here,” he asked, standing.
Lyndon gave Soletus a look.
“Go,” he told his cousin. “If Papa comes here, it’s not like he’s going to let you defend me.”
Lyndon then joined Kiao and threw his arm around Kiao’s shoulders. He led him out the door saying, “My dear cloth Brother, I was wondering if there is a substance that you can make that’s clear and sticky enough that can hold someone, to say, a chair.”
The dorm room fell silent and, for once, Soletus didn’t mind it. Exhaustion took him. So, he decided his day could be fixed by a quick nap. Instead of a dark rest, he started dreaming of the day of the attack. Everything happened as before. They were in water and Mien spotted the drass beasts. However, their growling and snarls were replaced with them repeating, “sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.”
When they pulled him down from the rope ladder, the skulker, with its mouth full of his leg, still repeated the words. When he was being chewed, Mien didn’t save him. All he felt was the burning and the arm. The entire conversation of what his father said was repeated while consumed him with teeth and venom.
Then he felt something clamped tightly around his arms. He tried to fight them off.
“Stop! It’s me,” said his father.
His firm voice broke through Soletus’s half-woke mind. His nightmare receded, and he was back in the waking world. The young monk became still, with only the movement of his chest rapidly expanding and contracting. His father released him when he saw the look of recognition on his face. Soletus sunk down in his bunk, gulping air until his hammering heart to crawl back down his throat. A shadow of the burning pain from his dream remained in his arm.
“So how many nightmares have you gone through since the attack,” his father implored.
“None,” answered Soletus.
His father studied him doubtfully.
“Oh yes, you like to tell the truth. Since you are being so honest, tell me what you honestly think I should do for your behavior towards your mother, peers, and me.”
Soletus’s heart jumped up again.
“Oh, come on, you were so sure of yourself earlier,” baited his father.
The man was ready for a fight.
He swallowed the lump that replaced his heart. “I’m sorry about earlier, I was—” Then, all at once, the burning he felt became more pronounced. Soletus grabbed his arm as the pain increased.
Oeric held on to him. “Breathe, the pain will pass.”
Soletus rolled on his side and curled up. He clenched his teeth to keep from crying out. He laid there for what seemed like forever, for the burning sensation to let it. Went like it came. The attack left him breathing heavily again. Soletus wiped the sweat that threatened to roll into his eyes. He felt sapped as he had weeks before.
His father took hold of his upper arm as if to help him up. “Do I need to usher you to the infirmary?”
Soletus pulled away from him and shook his head.
“Has this happened before?”
“No,” he said.
The older monk leaned back. “Drass beast venom lingers even if you blood is purified,” his father said. “Your body has memory of it and nightmares bring that memory forward. Most desperately try not to get bitten again because of it.”
Soletus tried to sit up. His father pushed him back down.
“I’ve talked to a few people around here. I learned you had a bit of a falling out with a friend of yours,” he said. “That he’s been saying things about you and, according to Master Tyr, other lads have been giving you a hard time about it. Friendly jesting, as he put it. It must’ve not been too friendly if you ended up hurting someone for it. I’ll let that outburst slide.”
Soletus’s brow shot up in surprise. His father went on. “Your mother told me you did apologize, and you at least did so to me. You get a warning, but this is the only one you get. Don’t step out of line again.”
Soletus waited for another stipulation. However, the man had nothing else to add, instead patted his shoulder.
“Get rest,” he said, standing up and left.
Soletus waiting until the man had gone through the curtain before he closed his eyes and exhaled. That could’ve been worse. He managed to dodge a single arrow. He didn’t know if he could keep do so with the remaining quiver full his father always had.
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