I remember that day clearly still. They took me back to the tall judicial building in Arbortown alone to await my fate. It oppressed me the moment I walked in and even more in the holding cell. I thought my last memories of freedom would be of me alone, with a hard cot and a chamber pot that hadn’t been cleaned since the beginning of the current age. Then I saw my mother who I chased away and told her I hated her. She came to me, reaching out to me and I grasped it as hard as I could. I told her I was sorry and that I loved her. I was afraid it was the only chance I would get to tell her that.
In the wee hours of the morning, Brother Hickory woke Soletus up.
“It’s time to get ready to leave,” he said in his ear. Soletus rose from bed and fumbled in the dark to light the lantern on the small stand under the window. He got dressed and grabbed his pack that filled the night before from behind his bed. He managed not to disturb his bunkmates. However, Lyndon wished him luck while in a half sleep haze.
There was just a little light on the horizon when he walked to the chapel. There were two carriages waiting. One was for Brotherhood use and the other had the official seal of the Judicial Court. It looked more like a cage with bars covering the window and doors. There was an officer of the Arbiter’s office shackling Mien’s wrists. The boy was red with embarrassment but managed a weak smile when he caught sight of Soletus. The young monk stared at the chains.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine,” he said, putting on a brave face.
“Of course you will,” said Soletus. The more reassured Mien was, the better off he was being left alone.
The officer shoved Mien towards the carriage. “Come on, jump in,” he ordered. Mien gave the man a quick indignant look and climbed in without a fuss. The officer then slammed the carriage door shut, locking from the outside with a large key. Soletus felt sorry for him. He had trouble turning himself away, wishing that he could ride with him, but he went over to Brother Hickory. The priest stood smoothing out his traveling priest attire. It was new and strange as he never wore the yellow priest cowl or even a robe, for that matter, unless he was teaching. That morning, he donned both.
“You look uncomfortable,” observed Soletus.
“That’s because I am. At least it’s cool making this attire practical,” said the priest. “How are you?”
“Ready to leave,” he yawned.
“That’s what I liked to hear,” said Hickory, opening the door to the carriage for Soletus climbed in feeling excitement as they traveled down the road. He hadn’t been outside of the Grace’s Hope much. Just to the surrounding small townships and villages. He had taken the two-day trip to Arbortown a few times. They were always short trips and never to the part of town they were at. And he was clearly too young to apricated it. Now he sat in the carriage in awe. It was a small city and huge compared to Grace’s Hope.
The streets were busier and there were a lot fewer trees as they maneuvered through the wide streets. Most of Grace’s Hope's streets were narrow enough for a horse and one carriage to pass each other. The main road they traveled down was enough for three carriages to travel to side by side. However, because it was so open, it was plain looking with more uniformed stone building than wooden ones and none seemed to have a lot of character. The people on the streets of the small city had something unfriendly about them. Their gazes forward, not saying hello or greeting each other with a nod of their head. In fact, the atmosphere was very stiff.
The judicial carriage was in front of them veered off, going towards what Soletus guessed was the judicial house. It sat on a hill overlooking the city with a statue of Lord Lucian’Aquila on the hill holding scales out to the small city. Soletus remembered him in his studies. He was the Fen elf who established the law and the ruling cycle. Their carriage went straight down the road for some way to what appeared to be a very large four-story building. It took Soletus a long moment to realize they stopped in front of was an inn.
“We’re staying here,” asked Soletus incredulously.
Brother Hickory nodded. “My family still sends me money and though I’ve given most of it to the church, I still have some left for luxuries for a special occasion,” he said, grinning.
“What House are you from,” asked Soletus, remembering he was Mien’s cousin.
“House Thrush. Not a well-known minor house, but they do well enough,” he answered and gave Soletus a coin purse. “There should be a reservation under your name. Just tell them and pay. I need to go to the courthouse. I’ll return later.”
Soletus climbed out of the cart, wishing he had put on his dress uniform already. He was wearing a monk traveling uniform that was dull against the white and bright clean streets. When he stepped out of the cart, he felt eyes on him. He just got his travel bag out and slid the purse into his pocket. He walked into the inn but stalled at the entrance. The place was brightly lit with what sounded like stone under his boots. He looked down and saw a colored tile mosaic in a pattern of running vine. In front of him was an equally polished golden wood desk with a woman standing behind the counter waiting patiently.
“Greetings,” said Soletus in a small voice. Then cleared his throat when he was close to the desk. “There is a reservation under my name.”
The woman gave him a skeptical look. “And what is the name,” she said crisply.
Her eyes scanned the ledger in front of her and her brow went up in surprise. “Brotherhood,” she asked, looking at his uniform.
“It’s been a while since I’ve seen Brotherhood in the streets let alone in this inn,” she commented walking away from her. “I’ll be five leafs and a quarter for three nights.”
Soletus took out the purse and tries not to show his surprise of how much of it was silver leaf coins and how long it took him to dig for a copper quarter. He handed those two to her a in return she gave him a key.
“Your room includes meals. Dinner will be served in two hours,” she said. “Your room number is on the tag.”
“Thank you,” he said, walking toward the stairs. He looked down at the brass key and saw the wooden key tag that had “Fl 3 R 2” stamped on it.
A third-floor room. Soletus couldn’t remember if he had ever been to an inn or one with a third floor. He climbed the stairs going up until he came to the third floor and found his room. It amazed him at how huge it was. There was a large sitting area with soft, padded wicker chairs and two small rooms that had a round wicker bed. He looked to the left and saw a bar with a mirror. On it sat a bottle of wine with a note that said, “For you, our special guest,” on a small table for two. He chose a bed and placed his bags on it before exploring the room a little more. There was an open door that he took as the water closest. It had a tub already inside with pluming and a drain.
This is a luxury inn, he concluded in awe. He became uneasy standing in the room, feeling like a stain. However, it was exciting still. He didn’t imagine he would have the opportunity to stay in a place like that again. So, he enjoyed himself as he cleaned up.
First, he unpacked and gave and extra polish to the boots that weas part of his dress uniform. They were black leather and stiff compared to what he wore daily. It wasn’t often the uniforms were used, but they had them ready just in case a member had to do something formal as he was. Next went about figuring out how the tub worked. It was simple. He had to twist the handle and learned that there was not only cool water but hot as well. He filled the tub as warm as he could get it and sat in the most comfortable bath he had in his entire life. The bath would’ve been perfect after he trained hard every day. He spent most of his time in there soaking before he remembered he had to scrub himself as well. He wasn’t fond of the soap provided as it was lavender scented, but it cleaned just as well as anything else.
Soletus got out of the tub, dried off, and got dressed as he let his hair dry. He pulled on the dark gray trouser, and fine high-collared shirt, leaving the thin jacket and sash for last. His hair, given the length, still wasn’t dry, so he resorted to combing it dry. He worked at it a long time before he heard a knocking sound. He jumped and turned. He didn’t notice the door along the wall. It opened and Brother Hickory stepped in.
“Adjourning rooms,” he explained. “I see you figured out the water-closet,” he said, looking very well dressed himself. He was donning a yellow open priest robe with white trim. The braided cord that sat on his waist was white, gold, and light blue, meaning he was a teaching priest, chanter, and healer. His cowl was sitting around his neck, as he wasn’t out in public to pull it on his head. His hair thrown over his shoulders and held with a place strip of ribbon tied in a bow.
“Well, I guess since you’re getting ready, you know about dinner,” he said.
Soletus bobbed his head again.
“You seem a little speechless.”
“This is a little overwhelming,” he admitted.
Brother Hickory stepped into the room. “It is. I can’t say I miss this life. After all these decades, it’s just too much.”
Soletus didn’t know about that. The chair he sat in was very comfortable.
“How damp is your hair,” he said beside him.
Soletus ran a hand through it. “Uhhh, not dry enough?”
“You’re just going to have to braid it damp. Stand up and I’ll do it. Lass is waiting.”
“Sorry. Lady Lass, Mientheoderic mother,” said Brother Hickory and started braiding it. Soletus could feel him fumbling a bit. “I’ve never been good at this. I always preferred ribbons. I’m impressed by how long you keep yours. Reminds me when I was younger. I’m surprised you kept it this length without a master shearing it off.”
“Oh, Master Marth threatened once or twice.”
“So, you never cut it tail-cutting day?”
“Yes and no,” said Soletus.
Elven parents didn’t cut their child's hair unless needed and even still, they kept it as long as it could grow. Girls could keep their length if they choose. Boys were different. They tail-cutting day. It was usually around eighteen when a boy’s hair was cut to typical male elf hair shoulder length hair. When Soletus’s day came, he didn’t want to. His father tried to encourage him. However, just the thought of doing it made him upset. He was afraid he would look stupid and others would pick on him more. His father cut it to only mid-back. Saying if he wanted it shorter later, tell him. Soletus never did. He went back between the two lengths since. At the moment, he was approaching tailbone length again. When he explained that to Brother Hickory, without going into how upset it made him, he ended it with,
“Papa just tells everyone I was bound to have a quirk.”
Hickory chuckled. “I find it interesting that you didn’t want to. Most lads can’t wait to have it done.”
“I just don’t see how it makes me anymore male or even that much older than I already am. People already think I’m older.”
“It’s all about perception. What others see has a strong bearing on what they think. It isn’t wise because what you see may not be the truth. And the other reason for it, which I find a little strange. Young ladies don’t find young men attractive when they have longer hair than theirs.”
“A silly reason for changing something you like.”
“Oh, I agree, only because I’m not customary. I don’t see why a tod such as yourself doesn’t care.”
“Because girls are like stones. They’re everywhere. I don’t see what’s so special about them. Or why the sight of one is supposed to make me stupid. I don’t act that way towards my sister.”
“Is that what you think,” returned Hickory
“Yeah. Isn’t that what everyone thinks? Anyway, you need something to hold my hair with at the end,” he asked, looking for the leather strips he had made.
“No, I think I’ve something a little better I want you to have.
Soletus then felt something heavier on the end of his braid.
“I noticed you like braid charms so and thought you would want something a fancier than the beaded leather with martin feathers you usually wear.”
Soletus pulled his hair over his shoulders to check the priest's work and the brass braid clasp. It had an engraving of two staves crossed, the monk emblem.
“It’s a gift for all your help,” said the generous priest.
“Thank you,” said Soletus. He always wanted a metal clasp.
“I’m glad you like it. Now, let’s get the rest of this on you.”
Soletus pulled on the light knee length jacket on and then felt funny wrapping the yellow fringed warder’s sash around that. Hickory handed him a pair of black gloves to put on as well. He didn’t understand the formal attire at all, but he couldn’t say he looked bad when he caught sight of himself in the mirror. He looked official, like a man standing there. If only the sleeves didn’t ride so far up on his wrists. He lifted his arms up and felt the cloth get tight around his shoulders.
“Already too big for that,” observed Brother Hickory. “That was the largest warder jacket they had.”
“The story of my life. The clothier should have known better. He complains about my shoulders all the time.”
“Aye well, just don’t move around too much and maybe you won’t rip it,” said Brother Hickory.
They went downstairs and entered the large dining hall that sat to the left of the entrance of the inn. There were crystal globe lamps suspended from the ceiling over each of the tables. The tables were all covered in white cloth and everyone there was wearing fine clothing. He felt as if he stood out as he walked with his boots clapping on the floor with every step. Patrons looked up but then looked away as it was nothing usual.
The table they were making a beeline to caught his attention. There sat Nerva dressed in a straight, blue and black gown. Beside her was a woman who had the same viridian eyes. She was wearing a delicate red and orange gown and clearly Mien’s mother.
The mixed feelings that Soletus had of the boy’s mother surfaced. He couldn’t say he liked her from all that he learned. He didn’t know if she was selfish or useless, despite what Mien had told him. However, when she saw him and Hickory moving towards her table, her gaze met his. She had eyes of a fox who had lived a thousand years. She stood to her feet, never taking her eyes from him until she stood right in front of Brother Hickory. A pleasant smile spread across her face.
“Hickory, you’re so much dear for coming,” she said on greeting him. The woman hugged him and stood on her toes, kissing both his cheeks. She then became bright eyed with delight when stopped Soletus. “Oh my, is this he?”
“Ah yes, Lass, this is Warder Soletus’Sheldmartin. Soletus, this is the Lady Lass’Cyan, Theoderic’s mother.”
Soletus bowed. “Greetings Lady Cyan.”
“Oh my, he’s such a handsome dear,” she said and kissed him on both cheeks before he had a chance to straighten up. The friendliness of the woman was a stark contrast compared to her son. She was her daughter’s mother. “My, you’re so tall. The Brotherhood always have such impressive looking lads. Come sit down, sit down. So much I have to tell you in such a short time.”
Once settled, she didn’t continue with pleasantries. She jumped right into business.
“I’m sure you know Hugh is motioning to have my son go to the Pit. I couldn’t convince him otherwise. When it comes to his pride, he can’t be brought by usual means.”
Brother Hickory grimaced with sympathy.
“Don’t give me that look, Hickory,” she said grimly. “I made a deal with a fiend and married him. I can deal with the consequences of my folly.”
Brother Hickory sighed. “You don’t have to suffer for it. If your son and daughter gave me the chance, I could’ve—”
Lady Lass stopped him with a dark look. “I made this mess, so I’ll handle it,” she said and gave Soletus brief glance. “We can discuss that later. I’m more concerned about my son. I tried to hold off the trial as long as I could. However, that Arbiter carved that date into stone. He wouldn’t budge.”
“So, I noticed. I delivered my notes to his office today. He didn’t seem interested in reading them. I think he has decided how to handle this.”
The Lady Lass spun the wine in the glass she held. “It isn’t as if my request is for him to go free. I’m giving up custody of him.”
Soletus's brow shot up.
Hickory read his expression. “We spoke about this. If all goes well, Mientheoderic will be given to the Brotherhood. I become his guardian and find fitting penance for his crimes.”
“And you can continue making him well,” said Lady Lass. “He’s better, but that wrongness is still there, no matter how he tried to hide it today.”
“He needs time,” said Soletus. “Given more of it, I could have done a little more.”
The woman smiled at him.
“See, I told you Theodoric was in good hands,” said Nerva patting Soletus on his shoulder.
Soletus wondered why they didn’t refer to him as Mien.
“You’ve done wonders,” said Lass, becoming animated. “He was so glad to see me. Held my hand the entire time we spoke. He’s not spoken that much in years. However, he hardly said a thing about himself, but spoke about you and everyone else he met.” The woman watched the liquid in her glass again with remorse. “If I hadn’t let everything get out of control, then he wouldn’t have spoken to me between bars. This is what happens when you think yourself smarter than the Maw’s fiend.”
“Don’t worry,” said Hickory, laying a comforting hand over hers. “Dias is going to help him. He’s never let a chanter down when they need help.”
Lady Lass smiled a little. “That faith and conviction you have is heartwarming, Hickory. I’m far too lost to have it anymore.”
“Keep what faith you have; you don’t need much. This will all be made right,” he said.
Mien’s mother then regarded Soletus. “My husband had lovely eyes like yours. Dark blue, but yours are sharp eyes. I image if one of Dias’s observers was sitting in front of me. They would be assessing me as you are.”
Soletus blinked. He didn’t think he was doing anything but listening. If he was displaying anything, he thought it was confusion. She was different than he imagined.
“I’m sorry, I just was noting where Mien gets his sense of pride from.” He hoped that hoping that would suffice as an answer.
A smirk lifted her face as any fox who knew how to survive. “You’re a terrible liar.”
“I imagined you differently,” he amended with a gulp.
“I imagined you did. I’m the woman of a son who went mad. That’s something a mother should never allow. Don’t deny it; I know how the Brotherhood thinks.”
How does the saying go, ‘the vixen always knows,’ thought Soletus. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend.”
“None taken. You believe in truth. The truth is, I have no excuses that justify what happened. And now I have to make things right as far as my position allows me. I refuse to be a tragedy. Do you believe that?”
“Good. Though can I give you some advice?”
“You’re honest. Own it. Never apologize for being so.”