Yes, even after all this talk, I still avoid talking about what he had done. Even my father didn’t enjoy talking about him. It was a good way to make him to make him silent, and he was not a quiet man. Anyway, tomorrow, we can go into the details. We’ve been at this for hours now. I need a fresh mind for that. Anyway, to answer your question, yes, I did share the details to Soletus. It was on my 28th birthday over a campfire. We were more prepared, him to listen and me to talk. Telling him was terrifying and freeing at the same time. Though in the end, it just turned him into a pastry, having to hug and hold. But I could feel his taunt muscles and the anger in his voice.
Soletus understood what the second bed was for now. It was Mien’s. He went directly to it despite calming down over the course of the trip to the inn. He claimed he didn’t sleep or eat the night before. Brother Hickory gave him a sedative while Lady Lass and Nerva settled down on the couch. Soletus took one of the armchairs to the side. Both mother and daughter poured themselves a glass of wine from the bottle left on the bar. They offered a glass to both Soletus and Hickory. The priest accepted his and sat in the armchair across from Soletus.
It surprised Soletus that he was allowed to drink. He never had any before. He dipped his tongue in before taking a sip. It was bitter and burned like vinegar as he swallowed. It wasn’t something he liked and ended up just holding the glass while as Lady Lass spoke.
“Both my children are now away from me,” said Lady Lass. She wore a bittersweet smile. “It’s all for the best.”
“And yet you are still troubled,” said Brother Hickory.
“His reaction to Hugh was…disconcerting. When you wrote to me he was anxious, I thought a little bit of nerves. Then when he started shaking and sobbing, I don’t know what to think.”
“Cousin, you need to understand he’s a timbre sensitive chanter. It compounds his nervous nature.”
“I’ve no idea what that means.”
“It means sounds whether normal or magical affect his other senses. I have a hunch he’s empathic as well. So, hearing Hugh speak today evoked a strong sense of fear in him. That’s what you saw today.”
Soletus stared at his glass and thought aloud. “I want to know what Lord Hugh did to cause such a deep-sated fear in him.”
Lady Lass didn’t look as if she had the answer.
Nerva spoke up and talked into her glass. “Uncle Hugh did do something terrible, but I promised not to share the details,” she said solemnly, with her hand over her heart.
Lady Lass’s eyes grew wide and snapped. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It wasn’t my place,” she said.
Brother Hickory scowled. “You could have prevented a lot by telling either of us. Mostly me months ago when you visited your brother.
Soletus felt the same. However, she was playing the enigma for a reason. She was trying to protect her brother.
Nerva shook her head. “Theodoric is a lot like Father. His love is fierce, and has his pride. He shielded me all the way to the point I left. If I told anything, he would’ve felt betrayed.”
“His safety is worth more than his pride,” said Brother Hickory.
The girl placed her wine glass down and wrapped her arms around her middle like her brother. Only difference was she had no problem with eye contact. Though her gaze fixed on Soletus, not her mother.
“You assume that talking about it doesn’t hurt me as well? He has to want to tell it to you,” she said.
Lady Lass looked between Brother Hickory and Soletus. “Didn’t you get him to tell you everything about what Hugh did behind my back?”
Brother Hickory swayed his head. “It was difficult to get him to say anything. Everything I know, he told Soletus first.”
Lady Lass gaze settled on Soletus.
“I’m sorry, Lady Lass,” he said. “Your son only to told me one incident and you know about that one. He trusts me, but it’s hard for him to tell things.”
“We’ve a lot of work ahead of us,” said Hickory somberly. “Today made it clear he cannot be around Hugh. I’m not sure when he’ll be able to.”
The woman looked hopeful. “Maybe by the time he’s an adult, he’ll see Hugh can’t harm him. He’s just an easy target because he’s such a small lad.”
“Even when he’s an adult, that may be unlikely. I’ve helped someone who shares a few traits with him. Even with his mistreatment decades old, it’s hard for him to let go. Now he suffered longer, but don’t expect your son home at twenty-eight.”
“I would like to have him home so I can have him properly socialized and get him into matching.”
“I wouldn’t treat him like a normal heir,” warned Hickory.
Lass’s face became tired. “That goes without saying, given his social status is ruined.”
“It’s more than that. He’s a timbre sensitive chanter, Lass,” said Hickory with an earnest rise in his voice. “You can’t just choose the first girl who is willing and desperate for a rise in status. They’re going to have to know how to handle him.”
“That’s your own personal experience talking. He isn’t neth like you.”
Brother Hickory leaned to the side on his arm rest to massage his forehead. “Since you went there, yes. My experience is talking. You know I’m an advocate of choice because arranged marriages only work if you consider the children and not just the benefits to each house.”
Lady Lass put her hands on her hips. “And I’m not your parents who force you to marry.”
The wine glass nearly slipped out of Soletus's fingers when he heard that. “You’re married?”
“Divorced. And a story for another time,” he said, still rubbing his eyes.
“This conversation is for another time,” said Lass, standing up and walking behind Hickory’s chair and started rubbing his shoulders. “When was the last time you went out for a nice roasted quail?”
“I don’t like quail,” he muttered.
“How about venison rib stew full of root vegetable severed with a warm loaf of fennel bread? And for dessert, an apple tart served with the side of custard.”
Hickory turned his head up to her. “You’re making my warder over there salivate.”
Soletus's breakfast comprised tea, stewed apples, and a slice of bread. That was hours ago. Nobles might eat light, but he couldn’t.
“Don’t deny you aren’t. I’m trying to pay you back and I’m inviting both of you to share a table with me. I know a lovely place in town that serves enough for Brotherhood appetites.”
They left Mien to rest. However, Hickory wrote a note they were going out and encouraged him to order something to eat. Soletus had a large lunch followed by Nerva giving him a tour Arbortown. When he came back that evening, he found Mien stretched out on the couch with two spinning light globes over his head. On the floor was an empty platter that held three empty plates.
“You can do two at a time now,” said Soletus, impressed.
“I just figured it out. You have fun,” he said absently.
“Yeah, but I felt bad leaving you here.”
“This is my hometown, so I missed nothing,” he said, concentrating on orbiting the light orbs around each other.
Soletus shut the door. He undid his sash and shrugged off the jacket. He felt like he could finally breathe again.
“Can I ask you a question,” he asked.
“Why does everyone call you Theoderic?”
The two orbs winked out of existence.
“That’s what my family calls me. Well, those who are living.” Mien rolled his head to him. “I introduced myself as Mien because that’s what my father called me. After he died, no one called me that anymore. I was just Theoderic, and I thought maybe if I could be Mien again, everything would be better and that I would be alive again.”
“You know you aren’t two different people,” said Soletus.
“You sure about that? Can’t a person be completely different from who they were in the past?”
“Yes, but is that really how you think about yourself being two different people?”
“Sometimes,” he said. He eased himself up until he had his back to the armrest. Soletus threw all his extra clothes over the back of the couch and sat on the other end. “I think maybe I think a little different from normal people.”
“Or maybe you think too much,” returned Soletus.
“True,” said Mien, searching around the room and then his attention fixed itself to the half drunken wine bottle in the room. “I want to put this all behind me.” He rolled to his feet and took the bottle from the table it sat on. Soletus watched him dig under a counter and produced two wine glasses. “A celebration is in order.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
The boy flashed his teeth at him as he poured himself a glassful to the rim and Soletus one as well, who took it tentatively. He wasn’t sure what to make of the boy’s show of mischievousness.
“I don’t see the draw to this stuff,” Soletus told him.
“You get used to it,” said Mien as he raised his glass. “A toast to having a future.”
Soletus raised glass. “To having a future.”
Soletus just held his glass as he did the first time and watched the boy drain half of his in one gulp.
“You know what’s nice? Not having to worry about dying,” he said, bright eyed.
“You look as if you a boulder rolled off your back,”
“It feels that way too,” he said. “I’m probably the only boy in existence who is happy to live the life of a priest.”
“Seriously, you lose all of this,” gestured Soletus.
Mien gave him a dismissive wave of his hand. “I’ve done fine without it so far.”
The boy was in a comfortable, jolly mood. He put his wine glass to his lips, taking a short sip before placing the cup down on floor. He snuggled back into the corner of the couch.
Soletus then tried another question. He was sure it would sour the celebration, but he had to put his mind to rest. It was what Nerva had said, as well as what he witnessed. He thought about it a little as he walked around earlier. All the things Mien seemed to be afraid of and uncomfortable with. He only recounted the detail of one of his uncle’s acts, though. That act seemed to breach boundaries and wondered if he breached a more disturbing one.
“I’ve one more question. It’s about your uncle.”
The corners of Mien’s mouth fell. “What about him?”
“What did he do to you to make you so afraid of him?”
Soletus felt it was better to ask him now that everything was over, and his uncle had no way to get to him. However, part of him was afraid that Mien would go into another anxious fit.
Mien swallowed hard and run a hand through his hair, thinking the question over before saying, “It’s not one thing. And maybe one day, I’ll tell you some of them, but not tonight,” he stated with a bit of finality in his voice. He wanted the subject dropped.
Soletus took a small sip from his glass and pushed forward. “I think I know.”
Mien tilted his head with his eyebrow arched dubiously. “No, you just think you do. Brother Hickory thought the same thing.”
“And that is,” prompted Soletus. He felt uneasy about broaching the subject, let alone even saying it. He just wanted to know because he thought that Mien had moved beyond that sort of reaction and earlier it was clear he didn’t. His mind couldn’t help but think the worse.
That vulnerable childlikeness that Mien always displayed vanished. “No.” His chanter’s lilt became heavy in his voice. “If he had done that kind of violation, I would’ve killed myself. If he had done that to my sister, I would’ve killed him so that everyone would see me do it.”
Soletus felt those words in his mind. He meant those words.
Mien then added. “And he wouldn’t do that. He’s too much pride to risk being castrated and burned.”
“You can’t have too much pride to hurt another person the way he hurt you.”
“Some people have their own personal codes on what is beneath them. That’s below him. Pissing on the floor and making me clean it up before locking me in the cellar wasn’t below him,” he said, touching his hair. “That’s why I cut my hair short. His piss dried in my hair, and I couldn’t wash the smell out. Now every time it gets long, I can still smell it. I still feel that humiliation. If I could be bald, I would.”
Discomfort became heavy in Soletus’s chest. “You don’t have to tell me anything else.”
A manic light shined in Mien’s eye. “But you and everyone else want to know everything so bad. None of you even considered I don’t want to talk about it because I don’t want people to look at me the way you are now.”
How am I supposed to control the way I react after hearing something like that?
“To answer your question about my being hit on, he rarely did. The few times he did, it was with a broom handle. He stopped because my mother made me take off my shirt one day and saw the bruises. Dias only knows what she did to him, but it didn’t stop him from going on to other things less noticeable.” Mien picked up the glass of wine. His hands were shaking as he took a sip, but he managed not to spill any of it. He continued talking. His voice started to crack. “I preferred him hitting me. It was quicker than being left out in the rain naked all night when my mother was away or being afraid to eat anything for nearly a week because he threatened to poison my food. If he just hit me, then that meant he wasn’t trying to kill me.”
After that revelation, his entire body quaked. Again, he used his arms to hold himself together while his head drooped.
Soletus struggled to find a response. By the time he found his voice again, all he could muster was, “I’m sorry.” He looked down at his hands. He felt stupid for bringing it up.
He glanced at Mien just in time to see him drawing his knees to his chest. “I can get Brother Hickory if you want.”
Mien shook his head.
“Do you want me to leave?”
Soletus expected him to nod, but it swayed instead.
“You probably want me to stop talking, don’t you?”
He gave the same response.
“Do you want me to do anything?”
“No,” said Mien. He reached down and tilted his head back, consuming the rest of the wine in his glass. Soletus took a sip of his and put it away after sticking his tongue out in disgusts. He felt Mien watching him. He had something to say but was probably working out on saying it. That vulnerability didn’t return. Mien let out a sigh, sat still enough time for the tremors to abate, and then he spoke.
“I shouldn’t have told you that. Any of it. I really don’t want your sympathy. No, that’s not right. I don’t want you to feel like I’m always, you know, this, a sissy who’s completely out of his mind.”
“I don’t think of you like that. The only person I see, is someone who is hurt. And that’s why I react the way I do. I don’t like it. I like it even less when I put my foot in my mouth. It feels like I punch you in the gut.”
Mien grinned and let out a brief chuckle. Soleus couldn’t say that he heard him laugh since they met. “I keep waiting for the moment when you aren’t sincere,” he said. “I don’t think you know how to be anything other than honest.”
Soletus searched Mien’s face for a reason he found it amusing. “I don’t see any other way to be.”
“Of course you wouldn’t,” he said, still grinning, and let out a giggle.
Soletus glanced at the wine bottle.
“I might’ve drunk a little too much,” the boy admitted.
Soletus gave him an exasperated look.
“I won’t get anymore,” promised Mien with another toothy grin.
Well, that’s a smile I can’t trust. Though one he welcomed. Soletus took it as a sign that those vivid scars that Kiao described could be healed.