Brother Hickory was the first kind person who came to me in that cell. And you would think at that point, I would've, you know, apologized, be smart. No, no, I didn't. Instead, I continued wearing the mask I created. I became that crazed boy who was angry with his mother, hated his uncle, and wanted his cousin dead. I wanted to show him I was just as indifferent as a killer. It was the easiest way to the end I thought I wanted. However, he didn't buy it. He listened, unflinching and repeated the same thing he said when he walked in. He knew I didn't want to die, and he could help me if I asked. To my ears, he sounded like that warm breeze before a storm. He was something powerful and terrifying, but his voice was full of compassion. He cracked and revealed my truth. That I didn't want to die. And for the first time in a very long time, I cried. I begged for help.
After leaving the chapel, Soletus went home. He didn't want to go back to a half-empty dormitory to be reminded that he was left behind, so home it was. It also gave him a chance to visit his mother. He hadn't been home in a few days and assumed she wasn't at the Women's Society house. His baby sister kept her from going there every day currently and will continue to do so until she was older. However, his baby sister might have grabbed most of her attention, but certainly not all of it. She still wanted to know how he was doing and would say something along the lines of, "I nearly forgot I birthed three children, not two," because his lack of visiting.
It was easier on him if he didn't come home weekly, as she liked. Training was exhausting. When he was an initiate, he came over nearly every day because he was doing the schooling portions of his training. Brotherhood specific history lessons, map reading, and creation, plant identification, and field medic training weren't that demanding. Physical training, well, that required more of him. Some days, he just wanted to rest on his bunk and pray no one wanted him for something. However, someone usually needed him, wanted to ask him something, or needed his talents. It was usually a master. They thought to keep him busy with everything.
Soletus was unsurprised that nothing changed along the narrow lane where he grew up. Change wasn't something that elves did often. The same rock fencing guided him on either side of the road he grew up with. He passed by the same steep-roofed houses with the same elves that lived in there for generations. Some worked in their gardens while others were out talking to their neighbors or watched the road. All of them waved to him as he passed. They knew who he was. They had seen him many times walking or running with his cousin at his side. Several of them had children that played with in the past. None of them joined the Brotherhood, so he hadn't spoken to them in some time.
His parent's house was in the middle of the lane and at the corner of another. It stood on a low hill and was the only house that didn't have a loft. Instead, the house spread on a large lot with a tidy garden in the back and a huge lady oak in the front for shade.
When Soletus got closer, his father's dog, Onyx greeted him. The large obsidian hound galloped towards him with her ears flapping and planted her large paws on his chest so she could be petted.
"You miss me," he said, massaging her behind her floppy ears. When he was certain she was satisfied, he grabbed her by her ruff and shook her head until she had both paws on the ground. The large dog snorted and snapped playfully at him. He chased her, and she chased him back in tight circles until the two of them had enough play. She trotted back to her worn oval shaped spot in the ground where she watched the road and he walked inside the house.
The aroma of fresh bread greeted him and chopped wood. His older sister, Fern was there reading over their mother's shoulder while holding their little sister. The two of them looked up, mirroring each other surprise. It didn’t help that they looked remarkably alike as well. They could almost pull sisters if not for Fern’s skin and hair tone. Then again, he shared a lot of his mother’s features as well.
Both siblings had her lower and shorter pointed Dyne elf ears and the same dark blue irises. The only thing that they didn’t share was her skin tone. Being from the highlands, she didn't possess the golden tones that elves of the open plains had matching sandstone and stalks of fall and winter grasses.
She was from the north where the mountains met clouds with valleys of trees with trunks so wide the Dyne built homes on them well as entire roads system in certain area. However, their great branches stretching out blocked out the sun or filtered it. A Dyne elf living in the plains had to be protected from the sun. His mother often wore the colorful headscarves of Fenndish Dyne. She often called summer "scarf season."
Thankfully, neither Soletus nor his older sister inherited the ability to burn. Like their father, they toasted. What clued anyone knowing they were dual heritage were their ears. Though Soletus was often mistaken for Dyne. While his sister had their father's sandy hair tones, Soletus's hair was a flaxen shade, devoid of warmth. Though hers appeared to be close to a pale gray.
"Well, well, well, look who sauntered in," stated Fern, adjusting their sister in her arms. The babe clung to the collar of her soft shirt under the leather vest she wore. She likely had just come home doing whatever she the huntress did. Likely dealing with a pack of wild dogs killing sheep.
"Hey, I visit when I can," he said, spotting two loaves of bread cooling on the table. He took one of the oval loves and tore half, balanced each piece in his hand, and took the bigger half. His mother's face puckered.
"Don't they feed you," she asked with her gazed fixed on him as left table and when through the doorway to the kitchen. He rummaged for the jar of honey next. It was behind a large tin can on the shelf where his mother hid it. She let out an exasperated sigh behind him as he grabbed a clean wooden saucer from another shelf.
"I was with Brother Hickory at midday," he said.
"You were around that boy," his mother asked, as if that were the worst thing in the world.
Soletus rolled his eyes before he turned around and faced her.
"Yeah, and boy, is he a crazy one," he said in mock horror. "All that evil shyness and wicked silence he was doing. He couldn't look at me, so he settled on burning holes in the table with his evil gaze of awkwardness."
His mother's blue eyes became a thin line of annoyance. "Mock me all you want, but there are evil people out there. A boy has no right to kill his brother."
Soletus pour honey in the saucer and dipped his bread in it. "It was attempted murder. And if there was something evil about him, why would Brother Hickory have him? Plus, didn't you tell me to withhold my judgment for things I don't understand? The only thing I understood is that he’s the shyest boy I ever met."
Fern then came beside and bumped him with her hip. "I suppose you would be an expert on shyness given how much you were."
Soletus scowled at her. She just walked on circling the table, bouncing Saedee, who was giggling.
His mother didn't look very relieved. "Why were you even there?"
"Brother Hickory wanted me to meet me so I could help with him," he explained.
"You aren't going to help, are you?"
"Well, given that it's either that or twiddling my thumbs alone in the dormitory. He's not trouble," he assured her. "Seriously, he's the shyest fellow I've ever met. Wouldn't say much and when he actually spoke, I could barely hear him. Tense, jumpy, and scared, like a turtle."
The woman sighed. "I don't think you should. What you are doing isn't easy."
"Now that's very unFenndish of you," said Soletus, surprised. "Didn't you just get through telling me a week ago that Dias wants us to help all, not just those like us?"
He waited for his mother to argue that point. She only sniffed and him and admitted, “I've may have said something along those lines."
Soletus grinned. "The only reason I'm going over there is because Brother Hickory wants him around someone his age to get him talking. How hard can that be?"
"Harder than you might think. If he is as closed off as you say. He doesn’t know or trust you. And even if you prove are trustworthy, that doesn’t mean he’ll accept you as a reasonable person would," said his mother sagely. “You have to be patient with them. Because even if you make progress, they’ll slip back, struggle at the next step, and fail a few times. And you can only sit and watch. It's not something everyone can do it. It's easy to get disappointed and annoyed at them when they do. Feel they aren't trying hard enough. You must learn to not to be frustrated because it isn't about you, it's them."
Soletus wanted to tell her that getting a boy to talk wasn't such a dire situation she made it sound like. However, she seemed to be talking from experience.
“So, you’ve helped someone like him?”
His mother then said enigmatically. “I knew an individual, yes, long ago.”
The young monk waiting for her to say more. She didn’t. That was typical. His parents were odd about that. They never spoke a great deal about themselves or their past. His mother avoided talking about her family life a great deal. It had to be something to do with them, he guessed. He decided to move on and took another large bite of bread. While he chewed, he thought about what he wanted to say. She could clear something up for him.
"Do you know why Papa made it impossible for me to go to the culling," he asked.
His mother's eye narrowed. "So, he didn't speak with you?"
He shook his head.
She shook her head in annoyance. "About a week ago, he told me he was concerned about you being ready for the trials and all."
"Well, the culling would've been a fantastic way to prove that I was," argued Soletus.
"You need to talk to him about this. I'm just as confused as you are about it as I told him to speak to you."
"So why doesn't he think I'm ready," said Soletus. "I'm the best fighter, hands down in my training clutch, as well as all the others. I should have been able to go."
"Again," she said more firmly. "You need to speak to him. This isn’t a problem with your skill. He's proud of your skill. It's just… he just wants you ready."
Soletus blinked at his mother, knowing she was trying to lighten her words. "He thinks I'm still a boy, doesn't he," he asked her flatly.
"It's not that," she said quickly and stood. She took the jar of honey and looked for a new place to hide it. "He's better at explaining that sort of thing. I'm not the one who taught boys and young men to fight for the time he has."
She then walked into the kitchen and place it. It sounded like she scooted it on the far shelf over the bin of grain. Soletus noted that and kept eating. She then appeared again and walked behind him.
"All I know about is the one I do have," she said, hugging him from behind. Soletus could feel his face warming up in embarrassment but didn't have the heart to push her away. He took it. "Talk to your father when he gets back. And don't let him give you one of those poor explanations."
He nodded, but he didn't understand. Everyone always complemented on his ability to fight and the rate that he had learned. They even talked to him about doing the trials that year. His father wasn’t much different. Thought he mentioned something about him rushing forward and that he needed more time to grow. Soletus didn't know how much more prepared he needed to be.
He obeyed orders. He did extra training during personal time to get ahead. If a master wanted help, he would do it. If another warder wanted to spar, he would be their opponent. Soletus wondered if his father even wanted him to be a field warden. However, there was nothing else he wanted to do with his life. He didn't want to become peaceguard and protect the town. Neither did he want to take one of the many trade jobs the Brotherhood provided. No, since a child, he wanted to be a warden, and that was what he was going to be.
For now, he would wait until his father got back. Until then, Mien would be a good distraction, but he didn't know how long. It won't be too hard to break the boy's shell, he thought. In his youthful mind, anything he had been put through physically was harder.
He was wrong.