Ah Doran. He was different back then. He was that elf. You know the type. They make themselves as unlikable as possible. At that stage in life, he was incredibly jealous of Soletus and spent so much of his time trying to outdo him. However, like the farmer trying to outdo his neighbor on the other side of the grove, his neighbor is too busy working to see his wheat. Soletus never considered Doran an equal. He told him that one day some years later. And I can understand a little why Doran thought so. Shrike and Sheldmartin might as well be interchangeable as far as the order is concerned. Two families that have been involved since the beginning. But they are two very different families.
The trials began and would continue for an entire week. Those eligible for the trials weren’t just for warders to advance to junior wardens, but for wardens to get the choice of becoming masters for an open teaching position. Newly recruited combat chanters also participated. Not only that, but it was also for wardens to work out duty slots for the peaceguards and field warden. Also, it was for warders and wardens interested in changing they duty choice. Such as a field warden wanting to become forward scouts, rear scouts, or a runner. They could show off their skills. However, Soletus and Lyndon sat in the front of the monastery grounds with Kiao and Mien instead of watching them.
Soletus didn’t want to attend. He didn’t want to be reminded of how he wasn’t there. Lyndon just didn’t want to be around a place that reeked of Doran. Kiao, being a healer, should have been there just in case someone got hurt. However, the young man said, “I’ll just get in the way. It’s better I just stay here and they bring the injured to me.”
Soletus didn’t know why the young man took a liking to them. Most young men didn’t exactly want to hang out with a bunch of tods. In their opinion, tods were too immature, and they wanted to appear to be mature adults. Kiao didn’t seem to be one of them. Then again, he was a very odd young man.
He had a friendly bed-side manner, caring, but aloof. Then again, it could just be the young man’s poise. He was a calm individual. More so than Soletus was. He began to wonder why Brother Hickory didn’t assign Mien to him. He seemed perfect.
Soletus went with Mien so he could apologize for what he did to Kiao. The young man gave him a rather cool, “I accept your apology.” However, Mien wasn’t at all put off by it at all. He looked as if he received a warm acceptance.
Soletus figured Kiao was honest as well and met exactly what he said, no matter the tone he used. Mien then told him no. He couldn’t get a good read out of Kiao’s voice. He just figured out what the young man didn’t have any hard feeling because Kiao then showed him the infirmary’s basement and their alchemy kit. Mien was excited to see it and was equally excited to read their mixing guide.
Soletus left them alone because Mien had questions and Kiao answered them. Then they started discussing alchemy and he couldn’t understand their back and forth. Clearly, Kiao would end up taking him under his wing.
All in all, Mien started to act like a normal boy of his age. He had his interests and rather be with friends than be indoors contemplating.
At the moment, they all sat together playing a game of fours. It was a game that Soletus didn’t like because he was horrible at it. Lyndon was a good player. Kiao hadn’t played it much and spent most of his time losing. Mien was superb at it. He had taken east, north, and west. Now he was working on cornering Lyndon’s soilders represented by yellow oval stones with red symbols carved in them. There was nothing he could do.
Kiao let out an impatient sigh. He rolled on his back and said, “You might as well yield.”
“Yeah, give up already,” said Soletus to his cousin. “We could’ve started and ended another game by now.”
Lyndon held up a hand. “No, there’s a way out of this.”
Soletus doubted that, given that Mien was hiding his smug grin behind his hands clasped in front of his face.
“Ha, I have escaped,” announced Lyndon, sliding the piece to what appeared to by an unoccupied point on the board that he could claim as territory. Mien didn’t even blink as he lifted his grand commander from his spot and placed it right beside Lyndon’s scout. He then leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees, and looked in Lyndon’s direction intently.
“Now what,” he said.
Lyndon’s jaw dropped. He regarded the boy with a fierce frown and pointed down. “That’s not fair!”
“You left your scout defenseless,” explained Mien. “My grand commander kills him and holds the territory.”
Lyndon stared at the board, trying to find a way out of his fate. However, Mien had won. Soletus knew he won ten moves ago, but Lyndon believed in struggling to the very end.
The young scout pouted at his defeat. “Fine. You win, again.”
A grin of satisfaction lit Mien’s face as he removed his pieces from the board.
“Your being timid doesn’t reflect when playing games or at least this one,” observed Kiao.
Mien focused on cleaning up his portion of the board. “It’s a game. I don’t have to be timid.”
“You don’t have to be timid here, and especially around us,” said Lyndon.
“Not what I met,” said Mien softly. “When I do something like this, it’s like I can forget to be shy because playing four corners isn’t fun when you’re afraid.” He glanced up at everyone, then looked back down. “That makes little sense, sorry.”
“No, it makes sense,” answered Kiao. “In fact, it’s something you should do when you are around others. Forget that you are afraid.”
“I’m not that brave,” he answered.
Soletus nudged him with his elbow. “You’re a lot braver than you think, saving me and all.”
Mien tried to hide his flushing face by looking down.
“We need to teach this boy to take a compliment,” said Lyndon.
Kiao nodded in agreement, but something caught his attention. He pushed himself up on his elbows, becoming tense. Soletus twisted around to see what he was seeing. It was Doran, dressed in his fighting uniform, covered in dust and sweat fresh off the trial field. He scowled with his attention fixed on Soletus. Lyndon’s lips curled up in a snarl. Doran ignored him and swung his staff down at Soletus. The young monk caught it in his hand before it hit his face.
“What are you—,” he shouted.
“You,” was all Doran grunted through his teeth as he tried to tug his weapon from Soletus’s grip. Kiao rolled away from the two. Mien scurried to his feet, backing away. Lyndon came around his cousin and shoved Doran back. The young tod stumbled backwards. Soletus tossed the staff to the side and clambered to his feet to stop Lyndon from attacking again.
“This has nothing to do with you,” snapped Doran.
Lyndon got in his face and spat, “When you mess with my cousin, it has everything to do with me!”
Doran tried to shove him back, but Lyndon dug his heels into the ground and shoved Doran back again. Doran then shoved back, and then they started scuffling with each other. Soletus wrapped his arms around Lyndon and pinned his arms at his side. Kiao grabbed Doran by the arm.
“Stop it,” he shouted. Doran yanked his arm free and swung around, hitting Kiao’s face with his fist. The young healer dropped to the ground. Dornan retrieved his staff from and came at Soletus and Lyndon. The two parted from each other and Doran stumbled into a group of older tods who appeared out of nowhere. Soletus recognized them as the one who took Doran under their wing. Two grabbed one arm each and another took the staff away from him.
“This is why we said it isn’t worth it,” one of them said, dragging him back.
“What’s not worth it,” demanded Soletus.
“Your father failed him,” answered one of them.
Soletus’s gaze snapped to Doran's face. “And that has what to do me?”
Doran struggled and snarled. “It’s everything to do with you. You told him to fail me.”
The young monk scoffed and told him coldly. “A blind elf can see you’re a piss poor monk.”
He turned his back on him. He didn’t have time for Doran.
Another one of Doran’s friends was trying to help Kiao along with Mien. The boy took hold of him without issue. But when Doran’s friend tried to help, Kiao lashed out and swatted the junior warden away like an angry cat.
“Get your paws off me,” he snarled at a shrill.
Mien let him go.
“Not you. I don’t mind your paws,” amended Kiao in a low voice.
Soletus joined Mien and pulled him up. It gave them a good look at him. Kiao had a bloody hand to his face to control blood flowing from his nose. He gave Doran a venomous glare.
“Help me to the infirmary,” he requested softly.
They hurried away.
The infirmary was empty with the only individual occupying the room was Brother Alder. He was by the shelf that held their blankets in the corner. He was staking them in his arms. He didn’t notice them until Kiao barked at him for a mirror. The chanter priest regarded them and dropped the load he was carrying on the floor appalled.
“He broke my nose,” said Kiao.
“Who,” Alder asked, turning to the tall wooden cabinet holding other healing supplies.
“Honored Priest’s Meric’s son,” answered Kiao, crossing the room himself and plucked out a rag and held his nose with that.
The priest stopped his search for a mirror. “Why? Do I need to get Brother Oli in here?”
Kiao swayed his head as he cleaned his hands and face off.
“I think you should,” protested Lyndon.
“It’ll be a waste of time,” said Kiao.
“Because he is Honored Priest Meric’s son.”
Soletus exchanged a glance with his cousin. He didn’t know the significance.
Kiao explained further. “No one talks bad about his perfect son, and neither can he do anything bad. He gets him out of everything,” he said and took the mirror that was handed to him and winces.
He chanted the phrase of healing, then closed his eyes and started mended his nose. However, Alder took his hand.
Kiao eyes snapped open, brimming with magic and annoyance. “Alder!”
“I really think you should go to him,” said Alder. “This isn’t an excusable offense.”
“Agreed,” exclaimed Lyndon.
Kiao tugged his wrist back. “If Lyndon didn’t escalate the confrontation further, I would gladly tell Brother Oli. However, Brother Meric would make sure it’s his fault.”
Lyndon’s bluster deflated.
Soletus then told his cousin. “Didn’t think about that now, now did you.”
His cousin crossed his arms and looked at his feet. “No. Thanks, Kiao.”
Alder then held his chin up. “No, if you won’t tell them, I will.”
Kiao grasped the side of his smock and held him back. “Don’t. No one will see swelling after a day. If anyone asks, I ran into something.”
Kiao started healing his face again.
The priest looked at him incredulously. “So, you’re letting him get away?”
Alder threw his hands up in the air. “Of course, protect Lyndon! That makes perfect sense.”
Kiao’s went from annoyance to exasperation. “Why does it bother you so much that I won’t tattle-tell?”
“Because no one has the right to hit you,” said Alder.
Soletus then stepped in. “Listen, I know it’s a bad idea not to say anything, but it’s better if we don’t.”
Alder looked as if he just noticed Soletus standing there. “So, you just want to keep this quiet, too.”
“I know this goes against better judgment, but hear me out. It’ll end up being his word against all of ours. If what you say is correct, that’ll make reporting this pointless. In the future, he’ll get his.”
“I’m tired of that boy getting out of everything,” pressed Alder.
“Well, you’re just going to have to let him go one more time,” said Kiao. He finished healing his face. The swelling around his eye was still there, but his nose had stopped bleeding.
Alder then declared. “You’re being a dod, Kiao.”
“Let me handle this,” he said firmly.
Alder scowled and marched away from them.
“I didn’t know Doran had a reputation here,” said Lyndon.
“Well, you didn’t have to grow up around him. Alder did. They used to be friends and Doran basically spat in his face,” explained Kiao.
“Imagine that,” muttered Lyndon.
“He and Alder got into trouble over something, and Doran lied to his father about what happened,” explained Kiao. “The man got him out of any sort of repercussions. Alder, however, got the brunt of all of it. He tried to go on an all-out mission to prove Doran’s guilt. It didn’t work.”
Soletus then asked, “Would he go to his father because of our fight?”
“Tits no. He instigated it and will be too embarrassed that he hit me. He’ll wait for someone to say something, then play victim.”
Soletus had no desire to say something. That would get him in trouble with his father.
Kiao then added. “What he will do is go to his father about his failing score and get it changed.”
Soletus’s face twisted in bewilderment. “How?”
“I don’t know. There is an obvious excuse to say your father wasn’t objective. Your father was critical of the fact that Doran didn’t do more to save you when you were attacked.”
Soletus let out a short laugh. “That’s not going to work. His pa can raise up as much of a stink as he likes, but he won’t get far.”
Kiao lowered his mirror to give Soletus a dubious look.
“I’m serious. If Papa gives a low score to someone’s fighting performance, he won’t budge. And I’ve heard him tell a warder why he gave them a low score. It hurt me just hearing it.”
Both of them were right. Doran tried to raise a fuss and Soletus got the pleasure of hearing how far it went from his father.
Honored Priest Meric pushed the notion Doran was scored unfairly for the reason Kiao stated and the other judges concurred because of Oeric’s influence. And like any other disgruntled Brotherhood parents who was displeased by their child’s assessment, his father laid it out for them.
Doran passed the obstacle course part of the assessment. He was proven fit enough. It was the practical assessment he failed. All a warder had to do was fight against three wardens at the same time. One was testing them on defense, one offense, and the other was a combination for combined skill. It tested a warders ability to quickly assess a situation and managing a fight.They had to tap the one who was defending, block the offensive, and tap them, and disarm the one using both skills. It was times so clumsiness, nervousness, and uncertainty counted against the warder.
Soletus imagined Doran assessment showed his slow reflexes. He was told that in training again and again he was slow. But, he didn’t listen. There was always an excuse for it. He was unfairly paired, the sun was in his eyes, his staff wasn’t balanced right, or some other excuse. That might have worked on a training field but not with Oeric.
He had a good eye for fighters and knew a great deal about combat. He was the hardest of the masters to please. Everyone who trained under him complained about that fact. No one ever got a perfect score from him. He would tell them one could recover from a bruised ego; they couldn’t recover from death.
“I’ve never seen a parent put up this much fuss about their child,” stated Oeric as they ate dinner. “I finally had to lay it out to him. That his son had no finesse in his movement, did a poor job planning his attack, and had no patience because he was too nervous and rushing. If he can’t fight in front of those who trained him, how will he do so on the road?”
Cordea nodded understandingly and just let him rant. Fern, for some reason, was still interested in such things and listened. Soletus was envious of Saedee. She was too young to understand and took more joy in rolling her peas across the plate. Soletus, who normally didn’t mind such talk, absently poked at his food. He vacantly focused on the wood grains of the table.
The time had passed of him enjoying eating with his family. It wasn’t no long a sanctuary for him. It became something he had to suffer through. He only did it for his mother. She started talking about having two children when she knew she birthed three again.
She would shift her gaze to him but didn’t say anything. That was good. Soletus didn’t know if he could keep the resentment that stirred low in his chest from manifesting into words if she did. He just sat in silence.
His father then ended his rant with, “Sloppy, completely sloppy.”
Soletus dropped his fork. All he could think of was lying in bed in the infirmary, scared that he nearly died, and all his father could talk about was what he didn’t do. He wanted to leave.
His mother finally said something. “Sol, you haven’t touched a thing.”
“I’m not very hungry,” he said, picking his fork up and chewed on a single slice of carrot.
Both his parents exchanged a brief glance before his father gave him an accusing stare. “Have you been having nightmares?”
“No. I just had that one,” Soletus answered. Before the conversation of his sleeping habits, someone tapped on the door. “I’ll get it,” he said, scooting from the table. Thank you Dias.
He flung the door opened. Mien’s boney face greeted him.
“Lyndon said you might be here,” said the boy. His eyes shifted behind him, then to his face again. “I’m interrupting, aren’t I?”
“Please tell me you need me,” pleaded Soletus in a hiss.
Mien became confused. “Well, yes and no. I just wanted to ask you something, but if you’re eating with your family, it can wait.”
“Is that Mien,” said his mother.
“Yes,” said Soletus shouting to her, then whispered to him. “Be urgent like you need me. I don’t want to be here.”
Mien’s eyes widened. “Uhhh…”
“Tell him to step in a moment,” she requested.
Soletus stepped aside and Mien tried his best not to be nervous. But he fiddled with his fingers and wore an expression that reminded Soletus of a frightened rabbit.
“Greetings, Madame Sheldmartin,” he said, and at the sight of Soletus’s father, he became stiff. “And to you as well, Sir… uh Master Oeric.”
“What brings you here,” said Soletus’s mother.
“Your son, actually. I-I-I need to talk to him. It’s important,” he spilled out as fast as he could.
“Surely you can stay a moment. I can fix you a little something on your way back to the chapel.”
Mien swallowed and shook his head rapidly. “No uh thanks. I’ve eaten.”
Cordea gave him a warm smile. “Oh yes, I guess you’ve been eating at the mess hall now.”
Mien nodded. “Yes, Lyndon’s been making sure that I do.”
Master Oeric raised his brow at Soletus. “You’ve Lyndon in on this now?”
“I didn’t ask him. He jumped right in,” said Soletus.
Fern laughed. “That sounds like Lyn.”
“Well, I suppose you should hurry and finish up. No need to waste food,” said Oeric.
Soletus had nearly a full plate to empty. He sat down and crammed it down in six large bites. With the last bite, he picked the place up and shoved the contents down his throat. When he stepped outside, he felt relieved. Though his stomach ached a bit.
“Look at you, holding a polite conversation while rescuing me,” congratulated Soletus, punching him in the shoulder.
Mien rubbed his arm, looking at the street. “It’s easier now. Brother Hickory taught me a trick, so I don’t find voices and noises so distracting. I can talk to people without hearing them so much.”
“See, I was right about him helping,” said Soletus. He bent down to scratch Onyx behind her ears. “So, what brings you here?”
“I’m worried about Doran.”
Onyx rolled on her back and Soletus scratch her stomach. “Why?”
“Not for his wellbeing. I think he might do something.”
“What do you mean, do something?”
Mien looked around him at the road as if someone was there, then explained. “I was with Kiao today and he came to the infirmary to apologize to him off to the side,”
“Well, it took him long enough,” remarked Soletus.
“That’s not all he did. He was whispering. I didn’t want to make everything so loud to hear what he was so saying, so I didn’t catch everything, but he doesn’t like me. In fact, I don’t think a lot of people do.”
Soletus avoided telling him that because he didn’t want Mien to focus on not being liked. He couldn’t avoid it now. He stood up and gestured for Mien to follow down the walk to the road.
“He doesn’t. He thinks you’re just a…” said Soletus searching for a better word.
“Nobling,” Mien helped and hung his head down.
“That. Doran takes it to another extreme and thinks you’re evil.”
Mien jolted as if he were struck in the face. “Why,” he exclaimed and then turned his head around at the road behind them.
“Because of what you did to the drass beast, I guess. And something his father told him. It was nonsense.”
The boy tilted his head. “That makes no sense. How is killing something soulless and evil make me evil?”
“Plain stupidity, that’s what. He thinks you like killing things because of your step-brother.”
Mien became wide-eyed. “But I don’t! Just because I… I wasn’t even in my right mind. And that drass beast was different. Brother Hickory said it wasn’t a bad thing. He said it was a chanter thing to want it dead.”
“A chanter thing?”
Mien bobbed his head. “Chanter can feel the wrongness that is a drass beast. Some become afraid, but others like me don’t. We move to kill them.”
If that was the case, someone like an honored priest, like Doran’s father, should know better.
Mien still looked stricken. “Everyone else doesn’t think I’m evil, do they?”
“No, their issue is because you’re the son of a noble house. They’ve seen their fair share of boys from a highborn family who are given to the order to discipline, and it goes poorly.”
“But I am trying,” said Mien earnestly.
Soleus placed his hand on his shoulder patted it. “Don’t worry about those dods. They’ll get over themselves. Doran, however, he’ll end up doing something dumb. I know it.”
Mien’s gaze shifted to behind him again.
“Why do you keep doing that,” asked Soletus and twisted around to see behind him. He caught the tail end of a figure vanishing behind a house.
“That’s why,” whispered Mien. “A boy has been following me since I left the infirmary. I came straight here.”
Soletus frowned. “You should have gone to Brother Hickory.”
Mien shook his head. “It’s one of Doran’s new friends, so I figured you might know something. Brother Hickory doesn’t know what’s going on.”
Soletus couldn’t argue with that logic.
“So, what do I tell Brother Hickory now that I know what’s going on?”
That was a good question. Soletus didn’t even know why Doran would bother having Mien followed. Make sure he isn’t summoning some dark fiend from the Maw, he guessed.
“I’ll walk you back to the chapel,” offered Soletus, and then added. “As for what to tell Brother Hickory, tell him that Doran takes issue with you and thinks you’re evil and tell him about what he told Kiao and leave it at that.”
“Okay then what?”
“That’s it,” he said with a nod of assurance. There’s a good chance this will get the response I want.”
Mien gave him a skeptical look. “And that is?”
“You’ll see,” promised Soletus with a toothy grin.
The next day, Doran received a private lecture from the Arch Priest and Brother Hickory about his fears. And because nothing stays a secret very long in the priest’s hall, it spread around the Brotherhood just like Doran’s gossip on Soletus. Everyone teasing him about everything being evil.
“Are you sure you want to use that staff? It might be possessed,” said a tod to him within earshot of Soletus. Everyone laughed. Doran stood there doing a great impression of a ripe summer cherry. Lyndon started laughing when he heard it as well.
“Seriously, that was genius,” said Lyndon.
“Completely unFenndish of me, but he deserved it,” said Soletus.
Doran, however, the young monk knew that probably wouldn’t be the end of it. However, Doran was the type who had to have a final say. This time, Soletus hoped it wouldn’t involve Mien.