Yes, I eventually come to an understanding with Doran. That night spoiled any attempts at giving him an actual chance for over a decade. He just was another Dalaen. And it frustrated me that I still couldn’t deal with those who were like Daelan. Soletus had to come to save me. I should have expected it. But I run away scared. Though I’m sure if he found me in the state I was in, he would’ve treated those tods worse than he did. He was in control of himself then. Soletus not being in control is terrifying. But not as bad as me. He can’t burn things.
Soletus sat on the edge of the infirmary bed, mulling over how stupid his actions were. You could have a personal squabble with a fighting brother if you worked it out peacefully. However, getting into a physical altercation, well, that was a punishable offense. Most lads were smart not to let anyone see the bout. And if anyone witnessed it, they would snitch. It was just an unspoken rule. However, no one messed up as bad as Soletus knew he did. If is was a master or first warden that causght him, he could have reasoned with them. However, it was the Arch Monk who caught him. He had no hopes of pleading for leniency.
Dias, have some mercy on me because I’m not getting it from them, he thought as he watched Master Marth, the Arch Monk, and his father talking to each of the other tods. They spoke to Doran first and were now on the others he fought. Soletus heard the door to the infirmary open. He twisted behind him to see if it was Brother Hickory was returning with Mien. The older priest went to search for him as well as help sort everything out. Soletus wanted to be part of the group searching for Mien. However, he told to stay there so he could feel the disapproving scowl his father was periodically giving him.
Mien looked roughed up. His head was down, and he was hugging himself. They took him to one of the private rooms through the hall. After that, two peace guards filed in, guarding the entrance of the standing stiff. Then Honored Priest Meric appeared. They held out their arms to stop him, but he ducked under them and erupted into a fuss.
“What is this nonsense about my son starting a fight?”
The Arch Monk regarded him with a fierce scowl and returned, “Shut-up, Meric! If you start yapping, I’ll have one of these priests stitch your lips shut!”
Meric swallowed his tirade and silently stood beside Oeric who hadn’t spoke a single word.
Kiao slipped out of Mien’s room, followed by Brother Hickory. The older priest went towards the men. Kiao walked through them and ignored a request from the tods to look at a bruise he thought was a fracture. The young man stopped in front of Soletus.
“Has someone examined you?”
Soletus swayed his aching head.
“I’m impressed. Six boys ganged up on you and you came out the better.”
“I wish I can celebrate,” said Soletus and indicated to his grandfather with his head. He wore that familiar Sheldmartin nonsense expression on his aged face. “Find me a shovel. I want to finish digging my grave. No point in healing the soon to be dead.”
Kiao glanced over his shoulder before pulling his eyelids so he could inspect his eyes. “I’m sorry. I let Lyndon talk me into getting your grandfather.”
“Why would he do that,” he exclaimed.
Kiao then climbed on the bed behind him. “He swore up and down you wouldn’t fight anyone. That you’ll cool off before you got there.”
“Oops.” It dawned on him how out of character his actions were. He didn’t go picking fights. “Is Mien okay?”
Kiao started unbraiding his hair and said, “Now he is. We spent more time calming him down than looking. I’m not sure how you’ve managed to deal with him when he is so disquieted. Did you know they hit you in the head?”
Soletus felt his finger brushed the edge of the bruise on his scalp. He flinched.
“Yes, but they hit like little girls, so it didn’t bother me.”
“You keep favoring your right arm as well.”
“Shoulder,” he said. “I pulled a muscle during their initial rush, I think. I was too busy to notice.”
“Well, I’ll rub something on it to make is less sore,” offered Kiao.
Alder shouted out Kiao’s name and waved for him to look at the one Soletus had thrown dirt in their eye.
Kiao bobbed his head. “First, let me see what he wants me to do with these babies.”
Soletus nodded and saw the tight pack of grownups coming towards him. He did his best to salute them as the muscle in his shoulder pulled.
“Arch Monk. Honored Priest, Masters,” he greeted.
“He’s the first one of these tods to remember themselves,” grumbled Master Marth. His silver hair was uncombed, and shirt was untucked. Clearly, they woke him and it was unwise to wake up the order’s enforcer. His mouth was downturned making his displeasure palatable.
Soletus wondered what they should write on his grave. Maybe:
A true dod. Defending a friend led to his death.
“We need to clear a few things up,” said Brother Hickory. There was warmth in his voice as always, however there was also concern.
“I don’t think there is much to say,” interjected Honored Priest Meric. “We all know what happened.”
Soletus wondered why they let him listen. Probably likely because his father was there as well. However, his father wasn’t going to protect him like Meric was going to do Doran.
“The only question we have is why this situation escalated the way it did,” said Master Marth.
Brother Hickory cleared his throat. “We need to know what is going on between you and Doran.”
Soletus shrugged. “Ask him.”
“He claims you spread around rumors and caused people to tease him in an act of revenge,” said Hickory.
Soletus arched his brow. “Did he tell you why?”
“He didn’t say.”
“Of course, he didn’t. There was no revenge there, Sire. All I did was encourage him to stop thinking my friend is possessed. I can’t help it if people eavesdrop and spread rumors. Next time, he should be spoken to in a more private location.”
Meric narrowed his eyes at him. “Look at him. He doesn’t even care.”
“I can’t control what others say. That’s not my responsibility,” replied Soletus apathetically.
Master Marth rubbed the bags under his eyes. “The other boys mentioned a scuffle between you and Doran.”
“That,” Soletus scoffed and felt surly. Whatever fear he had evaporated. “He came at me with a staff and ended up hitting Kiao when he tried to pull him away from Lyndon who was trying to help me.”
“Why didn’t you tell anyone about it?”
“Because it was Kiao he hurt. He believed it wasn’t worth the fuss. I respected his decision.”
The Honored Priest then appealed to Marth. “He obviously unrepentant about this.”
“I’m truly not,” admitted Soletus. “He took Mien, who was left listening to the performers, and then had his friends gang up on me. I think it understandable why I’m not smiling about this.”
That caused a round of raised eyebrows.
“They all tried to fight you at once,” asked Marth.
Soleus let a wry smile lift his face. “You thought they lined themselves up politely and took turns?”
That was when his father spoke up. “What is wrong with you?”
“What’s wrong? Nothing is wrong. I’m talking. Stating things plainly to be understood or do you prefer me to mutter it out with my head hanging down in shame? I’ll do it all again, this exact same way. I’m not feeling sorry for defending a friend.”
Oeric moved to speak, but Master Marth hand fell on his father’s shoulder the moment he ended his statement. “Oeric, leave it. We’ve a few more things to cover,” he told him and then focused Soletus again. “Sol, to us, it seems you were looking for a fight, given that you were armed with your heavy staff. You could’ve hurt one of them severely.”
“One heavy staff against six regular one? The odds were in their favor,” he answered.
Marth frowned. “That’s all Warder,” said he said. The adults followed him to the center aisle of the infirmary and conferred amongst themselves in hushed voices. Soletus could still hear them, though.
“What did I tell you, two different stories,” muttered Marth.
“If we hadn’t allowed that boy in, none of this would have happened,” said Honored Priest Meric.
Brother Hickory whipped his head to him. “He wasn’t a problem until your son tried to make him a problem. For all I know, weeks of hard work to steady him out have been lost.”
“When can we interview him,” asked Marth.
“I would rather wait until morning, but whenever Soletus is ready,” said Hickory.
Soletus’s father swayed his head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. My son is in a…mood tonight.”
“It’ll be easier if we just use the phrase truth on them,” suggested Master Marth. “Then we wouldn’t have to figure out who’s lying.”
“I will not subject my son to be treated like a delinquent,” erupted Honored Meric.
“He is a delinquent. All of them are,” boomed the Arch Monk. “They are well within the rules for me to allow such a method.”
Meric to clamp his mouth shut. Soletus hoped they wouldn’t do it. He heard it was a very uncomfortable thing for a chanter to do to another person.
Brother Hickory cleared his throat. “That’s too heavy-handed method for this instance, Solgard. I wouldn’t mind doing so for a dire offense, but this is a personal disagreement that’s gotten out of hand. Also, I can tell who is lying without the use of my edict phrase.”
Soletus’s grandfather scratched his chin. “You’re right; this is too petty even for me to be here. Yet here I am.” Soletus grimaced inwardly at that statement. “I want to finish this tonight.”
“I still feel we should get someone else,” pressed Oeric.
“It’ll be better if Soletus comes,” said Brother Hickory. “He’s spent more time with him and as much as Kiao works well with him, he trusts your son more.”
Brother Hickory motioned for Soletus. He followed the group of adults. He had gotten stiff sitting there and felt more aches as he walked. On top of the, he felt the gazes of the tods he fought scrutinize him as they made their way to the back. Brother Hickory knocked on the door and opened the door at the same time. Soletus expected to see Mien curled up in a corner, but he was sitting in the middle of his bed with his legs drawn up and his head down. He looked up at them when the door opened. His eyes were clear but became wide as dinner plates. He scooted back until his back was pressed against the headboard.
“Hey,” greeted Soletus.
Mien relaxed and tilted his head as if he didn’t recognize him. “Soletus?”
The young monk gathered his hair together and pulled it all back. He rarely wore his hair down. He always received comments about it. Ranging from those who told him he looked like a child to those saying it made him look different. He wasn’t sure what Mien’s opinion of it was. His gaze became fixed on the adults again.
Soletus leaned over to Brother Hickory and said into his ear. “I think maybe we should go someplace more open.”
“We’ll go to the foyer,” said the chanter priest to the others, then to Mien. “Don’t worry. You’re not in any trouble.”
Mien crawled off the bed tentatively and didn’t move until Hickory pushed Marth and Oeric away, opening up the hall and the door. Soletus gestured him forward, and the boy glued himself to Soletus’s side. Once they were in the waiting area of the infirmary, Brother Hickory guided him to a comfortable chair. Soletus sat next to him.
“They just want to ask you some questions about what happened,” he told him.
Master Marth stepped up to question him. “We just want to know what happened after Kiao left you.”
Mien hung his head down. His cheeks reddened. “I don’t really remember,” he said with his voice sounded unusually hoarse. “I was listening to the music and lost myself. All I know someone was shaking me and then they took me away. I come to because they splashed water in my face. It was Doran.”
“See, my son didn’t do anything wrong,” cut in the honored priest. “Honestly, Hickory, you shouldn’t even allow him to leave your sight if he’s that timbre sensitive,” scolded Meric.
Mien whimpered softly.
Soletus gripped his forearm. “Ignore him,” said Soletus and heard the man huff. “It was your first time out alone. I shouldn’t’ve left your side. Go on.”
“I don’t think I was causing any trouble. Doran just wanted my attention because after a tod came behind me and gagged me. Another put a sack over my head and carried me off.”
Soletus glanced at Meric, whose face was now puckered and getting riper.
“I don’t know where they carried me, but they put me down and pushed me against a tree and yanked my arms to force me to hug it so they could tie me to it. Doran called me a kin killer and started going on about how elves who killed family were tied to a pole and beaten then hung.”
“Now, my boy wouldn’t do anything like that,” exclaimed Meric. “Besides that, he’s right. That is an appropriate punishment for someone murdering another.”
“Above and below! For the last time, his step-brother is alive,” erupted Soletus and then he looked down at one of Mien’s wrists. They were red and raw. “And these look a lot like rope burns for someone trying to get free.”
His father then muttered. “This is why he didn’t need to be here.”
Mien folded his arms and tucked his wrists so no one could see them.
“Meric, I will stitch your lips myself,” threatened the Arch Monk. The man pressed his lips together, nodding. “And Warder, I’ll have you removed if you say anything else to inflame the situation, is that clear?”
Mien flinched beside him at his words. He started shuttering.
“Grandfather, I mean no offense, but you need to keep your voice down,” said Soletus, putting a comforting arm around Mien.
The Arch Monk head swung to Hickory.
“The boy is timbre sensitive, and he responds poorly to loud critical voices,” said Hickory.
The Arch Monk nodded, though he looked annoyed.
“That was directed at me, Mien,” said Soletus.
Mien swallowed. “I know.”
“Focus on the now. No one is going to hurt you. They just need to know what happened. Did Doran hurt you any more than that?”
He swayed his head. “I escaped before they could do anything else. They just made popping sounds with a belt to scare me. They never hit me with it. I burned the rope and tried to run off until one of them grabbed me by the collar.”
“They said you used the phrase of light on them,” stepped in Marth again.
Mien's gaze dropped to the floor. “I didn’t mean to. I just reacted.”
“Why didn’t you find someone to get them after you were free,” asked Master Marth gentler.
Soletus patted his back. “Come on, you can look up. Master Marth is a good man. He taught my training clutch. He’s fair and kind, just like Brother Hickory.”
Mien then answered, barely audible enough. “I ran and hid somewhere. I was too afraid to move.”
Soleus was sure they would ask him to repeat, but no request came. Instead, Marth got down on his knee in front of Mien. “May I see your wrists?”
Mien complied, holding them out. The old master inspected them. “There isn’t much in the way of meat to you for a lad your age. Talk about an unfair advantage those six boys had.” Marth stood. “I’ve seen enough, Solgard. You know what I’m going to say.”
The Arch Monk shook his head. “Let the boy go. I’ve heard enough. Gather Doran and those junior wardens. Soletus, come with me. We’ll settle this tonight.”
As they all filed out, Mien quietly asked the young monk. “What happened to you?”
“I’ll tell you later,” Soletus promised.
They parted. Hickory took him back to the infirmary. Soletus followed the adults down the hall. They all gathered in what was the Head’s hall. There sat three tall chairs in the center of the room. In the middle was where the Patriarch would sit and, to his right, the Arch Priest’s chair. Both were empty. The Arch Monk sat in the chair on the left and folded his arms across his stomach. The old elf wore a heavy frown in disappointment.
“What were you thinking! First and foremost, you should have gone to someone about all of this before everything led to tonight,” he said.
“I know, sir,” said Soletus.
“But you didn’t. Why?”
“He made me mad,” stated Soletus. When he took all the reasoning away, that was it.
The Arch Monk narrowed his eyes. “That seems to be your reaction to a lot of things lately, and it stops tonight.”
The door opened again, and the others filed in. Soon all seven of them were standing there, up for display.
“I was having a very merry evening in town,” started the Arch Monk. “I had a nice tankard of freshly brewed autumn ale in my hand, listening to the surrounding festivities. However, I was dragged away to deal with childish petty behavior of two warders who will one day represent this order to the people.”
The Arch Monk’s brow drew closer together, as he gave them all a stern look, but Soletus felt he was directing it mostly at him.
“Warder Doran’Shrike, you will stand up in front of your brother and your infraction told to them and whipped for your spitefulness.”
“You can’t be serious,” exclaimed Doran’s father.
The Arch Monk fixed his attention on him. “His behavior is unbecoming of a monk. Not only did he take someone by force who was defenseless, humiliated them, and then used them as bait, and he and his friends lied about it.”
“That boy could’ve been lying about all of that,” exclaimed Meric.
The Arch Monk pulled out the note that Doran left for Soletus. Kiao must have given it to him. “You don’t have to be a chanter wielding the phrase of truth to know who is and isn’t lying.”
Meric took it and looked down at the paper.
“Whose handwriting is that? You should know better than I do.”
Meric gave his son the darkest of glares.
“If Doran doesn’t learn how to work with his brothers and respect others different from him, how can he work for Dias and spread his voice? The boy will be lashed four times.”
Doran's face soured, but he knew better than to hold his head up.
Then his grandfather's sharp gaze landed on Soletus. “As for you, Grandson, you should know better out of all of these lads. You will be lashed eight times.”
Soletus didn’t bother protesting. More proof that being the being the Arch Monks grandson gave him the privilege of having harsher punishments. He half listened to the other tod’s punishments. They would not be lashed, but would serve extra duties. And then a heavy hand fell on his shoulder and held him tightly. His father’s voice hissed in his ear.
“I gave you a warning, and you ignored it. You think your grandfather was hard on you? Master Tyr will be looking for another assistant. You’ll be spending this entire season working in the kitchen. I’m I clear?”
The man started to leave when the Arch Monk stopped him, “Oeric, don’t you take one more step. You stay as well as Soletus.”
Everyone else left, leaving son, father, and grandfather alone.
Solgard sat his attention on his grandson first. “What did your father tell you?”
“That I will serve the mess hall for the next season and that Master Tyr is to look for another assistant,” he answered.
The Arch Monk then gave his son a curious look. “What gives you the right to punish him further?”
Oeric squared his shoulders. “He’s, my son. I warned him if he made another misstep, there will be consequences.”
The Arch Monk quirked a brow at him. “And you think the punishment I gave him isn’t sufficient?”
“He needs to be broken of acting out of anger,” he reasoned.
“I agree in that that behavior needs to be curbed,” corrected the Arch Monk. “Taking things away is punishment for a child. This isn’t a child. This young tod came to a friend’s rescue. He also fended off six boys from him and was the least injured of them. That is a display of skill. It needs to be honed and directed away from acting out of anger. That can’t happen with him washing dishes.”
Not that my skills are currently being honed right now, thought Soletus.
“Master Tyr’s position was a privilege,” argued his father.
“Privilege implies that this was the best option available to him,” retorted the Arch Monk. “He had a better one if he went to the culling and showed Kellas his skills.”
Oeric’s shoulders slumped. He looked like any son arguing with his father. “It wasn’t a good idea. More so with what happened to him. He suffered a drass beast bite, Sir. He’s a severe intolerance to their venom.”
“You can’t protect him from everything, Oeric,” said the Arch Monk.
Soletus watched his father’s face tick at hearing that. However, he went on as if he didn’t hear it. “He needs to face another drass beast again to make sure that is the only effect. Usually fear is instilled there.”
Even with that sound reasoning, the Arch Monk disagreed. “So, you want to waste his talent until then?”
“He needs to train his mind. As you said, he, isn’t a boy anymore. He displays this every day, especially with his current actions.”
Soletus waited patiently for one of them to notice him again. They never did when they started arguing.
His grandfather then began using his sage voice. “If a horse starts bucking and rearing, do you wrestle control over it by hobbling? No, you figure out why it lost control in the first place and fix it without antagonizing it further.”
Oeric pinched the bridge of his nose. “The horse analogy is getting old, Papa.”
The Arch Monk waved his arm in the air. “Well, maybe if you listened, I wouldn’t have to repeat it so much for it to get old! You’re making the same mistakes I made with you.”
“I’m not making the same mistakes as you. I didn’t pawn him off to be raised by his sister,” snapped Oeric.
Soletus stifled a groan. Here we go again.
“My point is, he doesn’t need a disciplinary. He needs guidance.”
Oeric wiped his face with his hands in frustration. “I am guiding him!”
“How? By blocking his way and pushing him down a narrow path of your creation and not one guided by Dias?”
“I pray for guidance every night when dealing with my children,” defended Oeric.
“And yet you act out of fear,” his grandfather returned.
Soletus then saw the cords in his father’s neck tighten. “I just want him on the right path.”
“And he’s still on it,” said the elder firmly. “He is to remain Master Tyr’s assistant. I don’t disagree with your logic of testing him, but he should continue on with some sort of responsibility that is a bit more engaging. However, I do see what you mean, he’s starting to act—” his grandfather paused and finally took notice of him. “Warder, go back to your bunk. You need to get sleep for tomorrow.”
Soletus gladly scurried away and let the two double doors shut behind him.