I didn’t see much of Soletus as he trained. He needed to focus, and I spend most of my time in the infirmary and I gave me a great opportunity to listen to everyone’s opinion. There wasn’t a monk who didn’t talk about it. And they were split up into two camps; ones who thought he was the bravest tod alive or one who believed he was the dumbest dod alive. I found a few in the middle. As for me, I really didn’t know what to think about it other than I hoped he knew what he was doing. It seemed like he was doing the right thing. But I was worried. I knew there was something odd about Oeric’s voice. And then thought about sometime later. His voice was weighed down. He sounded like me.
Soletus had a week to get ready. There wasn’t a great deal of anything he could learn in a week's time. He could only sharpen the skills he already possessed. It didn’t help that any training he did was interrupted by many masters wanting to speak with him.
Some wanted him to not fight, others were trying to tell him how to fight, and some were helpful, like Master Tyr. That surprised Soletus, given Tyr and his father’s history. The man was more than happy to help him form some kind of strategy. It wasn’t much because the man stated the issue right off.
“You aren’t going to surprise him. He’s trained you and has watched you train. You’re at a disadvantage. Your only option is to play with his anticipations.”
Soletus still had his duties and trained when he wasn’t doing them. It left him very little time for anything else, which was good. He was avoiding going home again. His father might not say anything to him, but mother and Fern would have words for them. He figured both would try to talk him out of it. After the first day he tried to talk himself out of it. However, he wanted to say his course, plant himself down like a tree and no gale was going to uproot his decision.
There was one person who Soletus couldn’t avoid, and that was Brother Hickory. To no surprise, he requested him to speak with him two days before his fight.
Soletus felt the chapel became his third home.
I just need to put a bedroll in a corner somewhere, he thought as he walked in.
The chapel had patrons inside praying, though there was no sign of the aged priest anywhere. He went straight to the back and found Hickory’s table empty. He wasn’t in his quarters. Mien’s room was empty as well. He was probably with Kiao. The door to back was cracked, so he walked out of it. There Hickory waited for him. He sat on the rock wall with a mug of tea in his hands.
“I needed a change of scenery,” he said amicably.
Soletus crossed his arms and sighed. “Can we get this over with? I know why I’m here.”
Hickory’s brow wrinkled. “Do you?”
“Yeah, you want to make sure I’m making the right decision and know the consequences of my actions. Probably even try to talk me out of it.”
Brother Hickory shook his head. “No. I feel this is something you need to do. I told you, you needed to push Oeric a little.”
Soletus stared at him, shocked.
“However, you have to accept the outcome of it all whether it’s a victory, a bittersweet success, or a failure.”
“So, you’re preparing me for priesthood is what you’re saying.”
“Mama would always say I would make a perfect priest as a boy.”
“And you’re not a boy anymore. Children change, they grow-up, with their own ambitions and goals. And parents don’t see these things clearly. You know this, otherwise you wouldn’t be here,” he said, placing his mug down beside him. “I summoned you here for a few reasons. Kiao brought to my attention that you’re chanter gifted”
“Why would he think that?”
“because you are. He told me twice he’s heard you direct your voice at someone. First time he wasn’t sure, but the second time he confirmed it because you used it on him.”
“He mentioned something about it. He didn’t explain it. I’ve not noticed. Why haven’t you noticed?”
“Oh, I have. Since you were a little lad, you’ve always had a weak timbre that I could feel. I didn’t worry about it until you got into a fight with Mien in the attic. I believe it may become a problem.”
“How is it a problem?”
“All three instanced you were angry, and you’ve been getting more forceful.”
“No, I haven’t,” denied Soletus. Though probably challenging one’s parent to a fight wasn’t what he would call a passive action.
“You have. Clearly it is influenced by your strong emotion. Perhaps after all this, we’ll see the extent of your ability.”
Soletus nodded though he didn’t believe it was very much.
Brother Hickory regarded him thoughtfully. “The last thing on my list might sound odd. I’m a chanter so I’m allowed to be enigmatic. However, I believe that in the future, you might find my council useful.”
“Given the fact that you’re chanter gifted and didn’t seen aware of it. There are other things about yourself you are unaware of. And I just want you to know the door is open. And I tell you this now, because I don’t want instances like this to make you hesitant to speak with me,” he said and gestured for Soletus to turn around.
His mother was standing at the door, giving the aged priest a grateful smile.
“Thank you, Hickory,” she said.
Soletus scowled at Hickory. They had tricked him.
“I wanted to speak to you first,” he explained as he stood to his feet. “And I was very serious about that last part. I only did this because if you challenge your father to a fight, you talk to your mother about it.”
Hickory patted him on the shoulder and left them alone.
Soletus squared his shoulder and readied himself.
His mother crossed her arms and said, “You still couldn’t leave your grandfather out of it.”
“He was the one who told me about it. That was months ago! I could’ve done this then, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to, but Papa gave me no other choice.”
“I want you to call it off,” she said.
“Then tell Papa to let me alone.”
His mother let out an exasperated sigh. “Apparently, I’ll get better results in getting two tired mules to pull a cart of bricks than to get the two of you to talk with each other.”
“I can’t talk to him. He doesn’t listen.”
“Have you actually tried,” his mother shouted. “I mean sit him down and actual talk with him.”
“I don’t have anything to say that I haven’t said already,” he told her.
She gave him an incredulous stare. “And he claims you’re the male embodiment of me, but from where I stand, you inherited all his bullheadedness. If I tell you what to say, will you do it?”
“After the fight,” said Soletus. He was holding his ground. His father expected him to back down. He wasn’t going to this time.
“No before. You need to ask him what he did to get those scars on his face.”
“He won’t tell me. He’s never talks about it.”
“And if he refuses, come to me, and I’ll make him,” she said earnestly.
“Then why not make him do it now?”
She let out a long sigh. “Because I promised him I wouldn’t. Because I know how much it hurts him. He’s afraid of what you will think. However, you’re old enough to know. So do yourself—no both of you a favor and speak to him.”
And that was all she had to say to him. She walked to him and gave him a hug. That made Soletus considered her words for the rest of the day. He never acted on her suggestion. He decided he could talk to his father after the fight.
On the last day of training he had, he saw his father watching from the fence. He didn’t call him over. Soletus didn’t walk to him. Though, he got the feeling that words should have passed between them.
That night, he couldn’t sleep. He felt antsy like he needed to get up and pace around or run. When he relaxed enough, his sleep was disturbed with every shift Lyndon made in his bunk and every snore Wic made brought him back to wakefulness. When he did manage to drift off, he had a nightmare about the attack again. He woke up in a cold sweat and couldn’t sleep. Instead, he played out strategies in his mind until he got drowsy. However, by that time, the morning horn blasted.
He rose unable to focus on the morning pray. He didn’t even eat breakfast because of a nagging feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach. After a few hours, he stood in the preparation room at the back of the indoor arena. It was dark and sparse back there. A few buckets stacked in the corner. Up against the stone wall was a pile of snapped training staves.
The match was open, so others might learn from it. That meant every initiate, warder, junior wardens, masters, and the Arch Monk sat out there. Soletus could hear their voices. It made him even more nervous.
He tugged at his clothing to make sure his fighting trousers were going to stay up and his sash was tied correctly for the tenth time. He had no other clothing to check. Hy’ruh-ah wasn’t done in full dress, so he was bare-chested and barefoot. At least he wasn’t alone. Lyndon there to speak to him and Mien was there to give silent assurance.
“Stop fiddling around already. You’re as ready as you ever will be,” said his cousin. He then stated solemnly. “If you die, I will hand carve a monument in your honor for you with an engraving speaking of your bravery and courage. I’ll even write a song and Mien will sing it.”
“Thanks. I appreciate your confidence in my demise,” said Soletus dryly.
Lyndon put his arm around his shoulders. “If you do win, I’ll have the entire dorm throw you a party with drinks, of course.”
Soletus gave him a slanted glance. “I’m going to hold you to that. You better bake a cake to be served by you in a frilly apron.”
Lyndon made a face. “How about Mien? He’ll look better in an apron.”
The boy, who was deep in his own thoughts, snapped his head up and retorted. “You’re the one wearing pig-tails.”
Lyndon became outraged. “These are warrior braids! Do you see feathers and bows decorating them? No!”
“No one wears double-warrior braids,” he returned.
“And no one asked for your opinion.”
“It’s an observation and one you can’t prove wrong. There isn’t a single tod who does,” said Mien.
A grin spread on Lyndon’s face and he threw an arm around Mien’s shoulder. The boy's eyes went wide.
“Isn’t this wonderful! He’s all feisty now,” said Lyndon.
Mien took his arm tossed it off. Instead of looking scared, he looked like he was going to throttle Lyndon.
“Oh, come on,” said Lyndon, throwing his arm back on. “This is how me and Soletus show our brotherly affections. We’re both huggers.”
Soletus started laughing.
Lyndon released him. “Good, Sol finally stopped looking like he’s facing death.”
“Do I look that bad?”
“I’ve been expecting you to throw-up any moment.”
Soletus wasn’t surprised too given how much his gut was churning. There was a blast from a horn. Everyone needed to find a place to sit or stand. Lyndon and Mien had to go.
“Well, good luck,” said Lyndon, embracing him and patting his back. “What kind of cake do you want? Apple or honey?”
Soletus gave his back a smack. “Since you’re baking it, the one you won’t mess up.”
“Fine, I’ll do both in the same cake. I’ll make it work,” said the young tod.
“Good luck,” said Mien before Lyndon threw his arms over his shoulders again to drag him out.
“Come with me. We’ll find the best seats so Soletus can hear us shouting,” said Lyndon as they vanished.
Soletus was alone. He took his staff in his hand and paced around. He then got on one knee and prayed. The sense of dread was getting heavier, and he hoped that would make him feel better. It didn’t, so he paced around the room again. The horn sounded, signaling him it was time to go. He took a deep breath, becoming the monk he trained to be, and walked out in front of the chanting crowd.
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