I didn’t watch Soletus get whipped. Brother Hickory knew I would feel bad about it and wouldn’t do me any good. I felt downright horrible for being a coward. Sure, I was smaller, and I hadn’t enough meat on me to satisfy a fox. Fighting them would’ve probably hurt me more than I hurt them. But I could’ve shown a little spine. However, I know Soletus would’ve repeat what he did no matter what. I could’ve been fighting them, and he would’ve come in swinging. I could’ve met him half-way and he would’ve told me to leave and dove right in. And at the end of it all, he still wouldn’t feel any remorse for what he did. To this day, after all these decades, he still won’t accept my apology for it.
Being whipped wasn’t an experience Soletus thought he would have and not one he wanted to repeat. He was left in pain on the infirmary bed. A place he felt he was becoming far too acquainted with. He lay on his stomach, trying to reflect on his action as they wanted, but he couldn’t. Doran was resting on the bed beside him, moaning. The young monk knew he was in pain however, he didn’t have to act like a baby. He was certain it was an effort to make his father feel sorry for him. It worked, as the Honored Priest wanted someone to heal his back. However, that would defeat the entire purpose of being punished. The priest kept Alder and Kiao on their feet for other solutions and now they vanished to prepare an ointment that was a lot stronger than the stuff they spread on their backs earlier. It cooled the pain down for a moment before the stinging came back full force again. It at least stopped Doran from crying beside him.
In fact, Doran started after the second strike and continued to cry out in pain afterwards. Watching wasn’t that bad. It only made Soletus flinch. Being tied to the whipping pole in the cool of the morning wasn’t that bad, either. What was bad was hearing saturated birch canes whistle through the air and strike him on the back. And that probably wouldn’t have been such a problem if the pain from the skulker bites didn’t come back alive again. Each strike made the burning sensation radiated in his arm and calf. He anticipated it and it cause him to tense up.
He knew the venom had lasting effects, but he didn’t think it would haunt him like that.
Both Kiao and Alder walked back up the stairs from the basement of the infirmary. Alder was carrying a bowl with a brown substance oozing over the side.
“That took you long enough,” snapped the Honored Priest.
“It’s not something we keep on hand because it doesn’t preserve for very long,” answered Alder. Kiao stopped short by Soletus and watched Doran start kicking his legs on the bed when Alder applied it on his back.
“That burns,” he cried.
“Well, it’s going to,” said Kiao from where he stood. “It will eventually lessen the pain, but it made more for keeping infection out.”
“Why not make the other ointment I told you about,” questioned the Honored Priest.
“That requires the use of unicorn hoof. That plant isn’t in season and what we have dried isn’t enough to spare. I reserve it for field medic kits,” reasoned Kiao. “Doran will be okay. Bed rest is best for this sort of thing.”
Brother Meric grumbled to himself and patted his son on the head. Soletus rolled his head, followed by his eyes. Kiao mirrored the expression as well before setting down on the side of his bed.
“I’m a little worried. You’ve been very quiet,” he said.
Soletus swallowed the dry cotton mouth from his throat. “My arm and leg hurt.”
Kiao examined his face. “Your pupils are a bit dilated and glassy, so you have a fever. I can get you a private room if you like.”
Soletus swayed his head. “I would rather go home.”
He pushed himself up. Kiao didn’t stop him but said, “That’s a long way to walk hurting.”
Soletus pointed to his shirt that was folded neatly on the chair.
Kiao handed it to him. “I would imagine your father might have words for you,” he added, holding onto his shirt.
Soletus pulled it out of his hands. “He won’t. He and Grandpa got into an argument last night. He never says anything to me after one of those.”
“What about your mother?”
“If I look terrible enough, she’ll just feel sorry for me.”
“You do look terrible,” admitted Kiao.
When Soletus pulled on the loose shirt, he felt his sore muscle in his shoulder pull and the skin on his back protested. He should’ve stayed there and shouldn’t want to go home. He could to the dorms, but he didn’t feel like being interrogated by Lyndon about being whipped. Furthermore, he didn’t want to be on the same grounds as Doran. If he had to hear him moan again, he would slap him on the back, as it was his fault. If he went home, he would be at peace for most of the afternoon. His mother was at the society house with Saedee and Fern was probably out doing whatever she wanted. Though he imagined they would give him an earful the moment he was well enough to listen. But he suspected he could run off before that point.
Soletus slipped on his boots before sitting still on the edge of his bed and took a deep breath before standing. He didn’t feel terrible after taking a few tentative steps.
“I think I can make it,” he said.
“All right, stay there. I’ll do a house visit later,” said Kiao and stood up just as Meric shouted for his attention. He covered his face with a hand and muttered, “Dias, preserve me.” He then forced a grin on his face. “It might be a bit though,”
Soletus gave him a sympathetic smile before making his way home. The more he moved, the better he felt earlier in his trip. However, the various stings and aches started getting to him. It wasn’t a hot day, but the distance wasn’t very forgiving on his tired body. By the time he walked up the footpath, he was exhausted. Onyx didn’t see him and barked once, thinking he was a stranger. When she saw him, she jumped on him and nearly toppled him.
“Down,” he shouted and pushed her off. The dog dropped and looked ashamed. She sensed something was wrong and gave him an apologetic lick on the hand.
“Sorry I can’t play with you,” said Soletus, patting her head and walking in.
When he walked inside, he heard scraping coming from what was Fern’s room. He followed the sound and found her sitting on the bed running a black steel dagger across a sharpening stone.
“Where did you get that,” he asked her.
His sister jumped with a start and held her dagger up at him. He leaned against the doorway.
“Above and below, stop walking like a wraith,” she shouted.
“I opened and shut the door. You were too busy sharping that thing,” he pointed. “Why do you need that?”
“A girl needs a nice, pointed object to protect herself,” she said proudly, holding the dagger up for him to see it and then sheathed it. Fern slid both it and the stone under her pillow. “What are you doing here, anyway? Aren’t you supposed to be reflecting on your misconduct?”
“Yes, and you’re in my spot to reflect,” he said.
They converted his old room to Saedee’s room. She slept in his old bed with a few modifications, so it wasn’t so long and with a wooden bar that went across the edge. If he ever wanted to sleep over, it was always Fern’s room or on the floor. She never gave up her bed unless she was out with the huntresses.
“Don’t you have a dorm room or the infirmary bed?”
Soletus walked in and sat on the other end of her bed. “Not with Doran’s and his pa moaning.”
His sister’s brow scrunched up. “So, you walked here for what peace? I’m not sure if you’ll get it since Mama and Papa are upset. Though, not entirely at you.”
He groaned at hearing that. His sister gave him a long studying stare and then asked. “What’s wrong?”
“What do you mean, what’s wrong?”
“I mean, what’s wrong with you? You’ve been acting weird for weeks now. In fact, you’ve not been yourself since the drass beast attacked.”
Soletus debated whether to tell her what their father said to him. They weren’t particularly close siblings, being ten years apart. Not an unusual thing for elves. Sometimes siblings had twenty-year gap between them. However, it didn’t help garner the strongest of sibling bonds between the two. When he was old enough to talk and way, she would often shoo him away or use Lyndon to distract him. Lyndon was more like a sibling. He practically lived with them for some days and he with his aunt and uncle. Then she moved out. She lived with their father’s sister and sister-in-law and worked for her. The only reason she had come back was to help their mother when she was pregnant. She would leave again when Saedee was old enough. Now that he was old enough for her, he was never around, given he was training. Them talking alone was common, but never about a lot of personal things.
“Come on, you can tell me. I won’t tell Mama or Papa.”
He still hesitated.
“Was it being nearly killed,” she asked gently.
Soletus flexed his left hand while he spoke. The muscles in his arm felt tight. “No, it’s not that. It scared me, yes, but that’s not the reason. It’s Papa. He’s been difficult to deal with since the beginning of the year and getting worse.”
“Oh,” she said, sounding surprised. “What did he do?”
“For starters, when Master Marth told me I was ready to take trials, but I needed to go to the culling to prove myself. But I didn’t go because of Papa. So, no trials for me this year. And then I thought I had a shot becoming Kellas’s grappler, but no, how dare I get attacked by a drass beat. He acted as if I purposely tried to kill myself.”
“Papa was terrified. We all were,” she said. “I’ve never seen him not himself like that.”
Soletus gave his sister a dubious stare. He didn’t want to believe her because if it had terrified him, he completely forgot about it when he woke up. “And you know what he said when I woke up, that I was sloppy!”
Fern winced. “Sometimes he’d not good at expressing himself.”
“There is a difference between reticent and a bastard,” he snapped. “He’s been one this entire year! I’m still a boy to him. Not even mature enough to help Mien and I’m doing right fine with that!”
He didn’t mean to yell or sound so angry, but he was. The undercurrent of frustration made it to the surface again. At this point he needed to shout to the stars and maybe then the frustration would just expel itself out of him. Maybe he would be free of it. Maybe then he wouldn’t feel so hurt. Maybe if he saw his father remotely upset by him being bitten, it wouldn’t feel so bad. It was then, he wondered why he even let it bother him. He was a monk; it shouldn’t. He pressed his palms in his eyes to keep tears back and was frustrated at himself for feeling the way he did.
He was about to tell Fern to leave. Instead, he felt her hand rest on his outstretched leg. The urge to just latch on and hold her was strong but he stayed where he and tried to wrangle himself in.
“Have you ever thought about leaving,” she asked at length.
He shook his head.
“I mean, it worked for Mama and me. We don’t butt heads about everything anymore. She’s even okay that I didn’t do what she wanted and doesn’t think I did a bad thing about creating the huntresses. In fact, that was why we fought.”
Soletus lowered his hands. He knew of his sister and the huntresses but didn’t speak to them. Thery were interesting. Some junior wardens were insulted by them siting they were playing Brotherhood. Soletus didn’t see what was so strange about them wanting to help protect the land as well. However, not everyone felt as he did.
“She was always against us,” she continued. “And then, I guess, we proved her right about it being dangerous. The girls and I decided to go after a couple of petty thieves. It ended up being in a mess. Two of the girls got hurt. We ended up being hostages, but I got us out without being saved and caught the thieves. Papa was proud of me, and Mama told me no more. I disagreed, and we had a huge fight. And I decided to runway to High Perch to join the Sisterhood.”
They kept Soletus in the dark about all of that. He remembered something happening with his sister. He remembered being taken to his aunt to look after. His mother and father left to “get her.” However, he didn’t know what had happened. After what happened, he remembered her getting up and leaving early in the morning. He didn’t know why.
“I thought I was so smart because I left early enough not to wake anyone. I was on my way to get a ticket for the caravan. But leaning beside the ticket counter was Papa. I thought he was going to sling me over his shoulder to carry me back home yelling at me. Instead, he told me to walk with him. He gave me two choices. He said he could take me home and I could argue with Mama from now and until never, or if I could spend some time away. I could go live with our aunts and cousins for a while. What he didn’t want was for me to run away and get in a situation I would regret. And he was scared then, too. He held my hand the entire way home. Probably kissed my head enough for a lifetime between that day to the moment he dropped me off at our aunt’s house.”
“Good for you. He didn’t kick you when you were down,” said Soletus with his head down. She was first-born. She was their parent’s fist love, and she would always get their support. He only had their doubt most of the time. Their questions.
She sighed. “This is what I’m talking about. You of all people being all cynical. When I return to Aunt Cyris, I want you to come with me. They’ll love to have you help with the orchard.”
Soletus didn’t want to. His last memory of his relatives was them trying to talk him out of becoming a warden. Running to them would prove them right and disappoint his father’s nephew Alacai. He had more of a right to tell him not to become one, but encouraged him despite the fact, his father, and Soletus’s namesake dying to a drass beasts.
Now he was so close to becoming a warden. Running away would ruing all the hard work he had done.
“No,” he decided. “I want to keeping doing what I have been.” A chill then coursed through him. The ache in his arm flared up.
“Because you’re doing so much here. Aside from helping Mien, what are you doing, really?”
“Hey, that counts for a lot. They never said a monk needed to staff to help others,” he said and gestured to his back. “Can I lie down now?”
Fern took her dagger and stone to place them underneath the bed.
“How did you get that,” he asked, stretching out on his stomach.
“I’ve been saving coins,” she said. “I’m going to be helping with deliveries. Desperate people do try to steal pears.” Fern then lifted the edge of his shirt and whistled through her teeth. “Ouch, it’s all swollen and raw looking.”
“It feels that way too,” muttered Soletus.
“Is there anything I can do?”
“Yeah, stay here and talk to me,” he said, closing his eyes.
Fern took his place at the end of the bed and started talking about what she did for the festival. In the middle of her ramble about something funny that happened during her dancing, their mother come home calling for Fern. She left for a brief period of silence before he heard her returning footsteps and voice her voice whispering in exasperation.
“Mama please, he just went off to sleep,” said Fern. “He was all poor pitiful me when he walked in.”
His mother lifted his shirt and checked his back and hissed, “You should’ve sent him back the way he came.”
“He didn’t want to be there. Please don’t wake him.”
His mother touched his forehead and then cheek. “He is a bit warm.”
The front door opened again, and his father shouted to see if anyone was there. Soletus kept himself from flinching but was sure his mother saw him tense. She went to the doorway and let out a low whistle. Heavier footsteps followed and stopped at the doorway.
“What do you make of this,” asked his mother.
His father didn’t say anything. Maybe he shrugged. Soletus didn’t know. He didn’t care. He just wanted them gone.
Fern let out a groan. “Good grief! Can’t he come home if he wants? You know how tods are. They want space, but they’re still boys.”
Soletus wasn’t sure if he should send praises to Dias for what she said or feel insulted about her calling him a boy. However, that seemed to work on getting his mother and father to leave him alone. He felt his mother’s hand smooth out the back of his head and then she left him alone to sleep.
Rest was hard to maintain. The pain in his back dulled only because the ache in his arm and leg flared up. He was restless until exhaust led him to a nasty nightmare.
Her dreamed of being attacked again. This time, all the skulkers had Doran’s face on them and they killed him, Lyndon, and Mien before he woke up with a start to the sound of someone knocking on the front door. He jumped into a sitting position, clutching his chest. His heart felt like it was trying to beat itself out. The gloom of the room in late evening created shadows that distorted the world around him. He didn’t know where he was until he heard familiar a voice. The fear that threatened to strangle him died down. He focused on his breathing to calm down before anyone saw him. However, his sister arrived with Mien behind her with a sun globe that hung it in the air right above his head.
“Hey Sol, Mien’s here. He bought something for… are you okay?” Soletus's left hand was clutching his chest while he clamped the right one around his scarred forearm.
“Should I get—”
He swayed his head, “No, just a bad dream.”
Fern was about to turn around.
“I’m fine,” he said sharply. “Bad dream is all.”
His sister wore doubt on her face. “Anyway, Mien brought you something for your back.”
“If you need any help, I’ll be at the table,” she said and then retreated.
With the light Mien provided, Soletus’s felt his anxiety lift as he saw nothing was out to get him.
“Are you okay,” asked Mien.
“Like I said, bad dream,” Soletus answered. He let go of his arm and sat up straighter. “What’s that?”
Mien’s face brightened. He held up the squat jar. “I’ve something for you.”
It smelled strongly of mint.
“What is it?”
“It’s an ointment I helped Kiao make. He wanted to come here but he never could get away from the infirmary, so he told me to bring this with me as well as this,” said the boy and produced a small brown packet from the underside of the jar. “This is something for the pain and it’ll help you sleep.”
“Tell him thanks,” said Soletus, noting that the boy was in a good mood. “You seem to be alright given what happened last night.”
“Eh, I had worse happened,” he said, looking uncomfortable, but then focused on him. “Could you take off your shirt so I can rub this in?”
Soletus pulled his shirt over his head and glimpsed the boy’s face blanching. He became appalled.
“They don’t hold back with punishments,” he breathed.
“Yeah, it doesn’t happen often.”
“Because most aren’t stupid enough to be caught like me.”
Mien swallowed. “It looks really painful.”
“I don’t suppose you were ever…”
Mien became quiet.
“You don’t have to answer that.”
“No. This is too obvious,” he said, then started applying the ointment.
Soletus didn’t press anymore information out of him. His back wasn’t hurting as much as it was before, but whatever Mien smeared along the wounds the lashes had made cooled the pain from it. It was the most relaxed he felt all day.
“What is this stuff?”
“Unicorn hoof, mentha oil, clay, and a few other things I added in to help.”
Soletus looked over his shoulder. “Other things?”
He couldn’t see Mien’s face, but he was sure it had that “really” expression on it.
“I know what I’m doing,” assured the boy. “It was something for scaring. It was fun to make. I’ve not mixed anything in a long time. Not exciting as making burning powder, but it’s something.”
Soleus flinched when Mien ran into one of the raw sore spots in the middle of his back.
“Sorry,” he said and continued applying the mixture as gently as he could.
Soletus’s mother then came right as he finished.
“I could’ve done that if you asked,” she said.
“I didn’t want to interrupt your dinner more than I already had,” he said and handed her the jar. “Brother Kiao told me to you to tell him to stay put and give this to you. He someone needed to reapply it again when he wakes up.”
“I’ll see to it,” she said, taking the jar from his hand. “I take it you’ll be on your way now?”
He nodded. “It’s getting late.”
“Well, before you go, I need to tell you something,” she said, holding him back. When he regarded her, all her pleasantness dropped, and she stated to him sternly. “I don’t need you getting my son in trouble.”
Soletus pushed himself into a sitting position. “Mama,” he cried.
Cordea ignored him. Her lapis eyes fastened on Mien. “Now, I’m not blaming you for what happened, but part of it could’ve been avoided if you did something more than let fear control you.”
The boy hung his head down. She then put a hand under his chin and lifted his head up. He averted his gaze to the side.
“I know something terrible happened to you given you can’t look an adult in the eye. However, learn how to protect yourself without it hurting others.”
“Yes, Madame,” he whispered.
“Look at me,” she ordered.
“Promise me you won’t allow my son to get injured again because you are too afraid.”
Soletus tried to get to his feet, but his mother held a hand to stop him. He didn’t know how the boy would respond to his mother’s firmness. He expected him to cry, or at least become shaken up the way he did around Brother Hickory. However, he pushed her hand from his and gripped her hand between his. He spoke in a normal speaking voice.
“I promise on my blood and honor that I won’t let it happen again,” he said, and bowed his head.
It was clear Mien took issue with men than with women.
Cordea laid a hand on the crown of his head and stroked his hairs down. “I’ll hold you to that,” she said.
Mien brushed her hand off and tried to hurry out of there. “It’s late. I need to go now.”
“Well, at least let me make you something for you to carry back. You’re still so thin.”
“I don’t…” he started.
Soletus coughed, “Take it.”
The boy cleared his throat and said, “Actually, I would like a little something.”
“Good,” said Cordea. She then said to her son. “Do you need anything? How about a bowl of something?”
He swayed his head. “No, I would like something to drink.”
She nodded and Mien followed and waved goodbye to Soletus. He waved back before settling down again on his stomach, thinking about the promise that Mien had made. It was a bold one, but not impossible to keep, especially if he got the chance to live.