There aren’t a lot of things I regret doing. “Live your days with no regrets,” is the part of being a monk. But there are two moments that happened in my youth that I wish happened differently. Both times, my hesitancy to act on a feeling of wrongness in my gut cost me. Mama was right. I needed to ask Papa about his scars. I didn’t and I’m sure she probably wanted to beat the two of us, but Sheldmartin men are wise fools. So, what happened needed to happen. It was the path we were hurtling down. We were both selfish in wanting to do things our way. I wanted to prove my point, no matter what. Papa wanted to continue to hide the truth and was willing to do something he wasn’t ready for.
-Excerpt from Master Sol, interview written by Lord Patriarch Theris’Heron
Mien squinted as he followed Lyndon. The clamorous voices of all the rowdy elves around him caused his head to ache. When his head ached, his hearing became acute. That was why he hated crowds. Even worse, confined area. There was nowhere for sound to disperse, and it all seemed to bounce back to his ears. If they had sat down earlier, he could’ve adjusted to the sound better. The risers were full. It looked as if they would be the few having to stand and watch to the side. Mien didn’t find the prospect of standing shoulder to shoulder enjoyable.
Someone then let out a shrilled from his right above the din. He flinched and clamped his hands over his ears. Channels that he had learned to close in his mind’s ear threatened to open. He forced them to settle down once again so he could see where whistled at them. His gaze swept over the crowd until he saw the Arch Monk. The old elf sat in a box at floor level. He motioned for them to come to him.
“Well, isn’t this our lucky day,” smiled Lyndon.
“What does he want,” said Mien.
“It’s an invitation.”
Lyndon was thrilled. Mien didn’t share his enthusiasm. Not that there was anything wrong with the elder elf. He sounded friendly when he met him. In fact, he sounded a lot like Soletus but without the clearness and was as intimidating as his son.
“Come sit with me. The Patriarch and Arch Priest don’t appreciate this sort of show,” he told them.
A gate was opened for them, and they sat on either side of the Arch Monk. It was an honor and one that Mien could do without. He tried to ignore the eyes on him by focusing on the Arch Monk’s voice. It was old but still rich with strength and wisdom from a lifetime of experience.
The Arch Monk wore an excited grin and said, “It’s been a while since we had a contest such as this.”
“You sound happy even though it’s your son and grandson fighting,” replied Lyndon.
“I see it as a student facing a teacher. The student is teaching the teacher, which doesn’t happen very often. In this case, it’s a matter of learning how to let go. Even trees know when to release their fruit. My son isn’t that bright.”
The horn sounded and Mien jumped, covering his ears. He was glad he did because the moment the long note ended, everyone around them started chanting.
Hy’ruh-ha, Harhay-ha, hy’ruh-ha
He could feel the noise in his head and chest. The intensity of the rhythmic chant caused him to wrestle with his impulse to use the phrase of silence. He took a few deeps breathes and calmed the urge. If he was going to be trusted to be out of the chapel, he couldn’t let that happen.
Lyndon then shouted, “What does that mean?”
“It means to ‘rise above.’ In this context, it means ‘to rise above the teacher’ to prove that he no longer needs to be held back,” answered Arch Monk as the combatants came out.
Mien sat his attention on Soletus as he strode forward. His head was high. His placid face was now serious and showing no signs of trepidation. He had enough confidence to hide the fact he was scared. Mien was envious of his ability to do that.
His father came to a stop beside him. Mien knew little about fighting, but he wasn’t confident his friend had this. Master Oeric was leaner and yet had more muscle. Soletus was undeniably strong looking, but he didn’t have that mature body yet. He hadn’t had years of training and application, so he was a little soft in places. Mien concluded that his friend was going to have a very hard time. However, Soletus had determination, so he would at least put up a good fight.
Another elf stepped into the arena with them and explained the fight.
“Winner is the last one standing or if one yields. Both fighters use all skills learned, however, no killing blows or crippling blows. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” nodded Soletus.
“Agreed,” said his father.
The elf back away. “Take your stances!”
Mien watched Soletus stand back and took hold of his staff in a typical hand hold. His father mirrored at same stance. The horn sounded again, and the two circled each other, but neither of them made the first move. They were calculating like to predators ready to fight.
“Soletus is being cautious,” observed Lyndon.
“Well, he should be,” said the Arch Monk.
Mien would be cautious, too. Oeric movement flowed. Soletus was, while close, didn’t have that surety. Clearly the tod knew he was out matched and yet he was willing to go through it. He didn’t understand that. He also didn’t understand why his father answered the challenge as well.
Master Oeric’s voice didn’t sound like his uncle’s voice. He didn’t sound like someone who was cruel and enjoyed the suffering of another for his amusement. However, there was something odd about the way he spoke that day he heard him. Mien didn’t know what to think of it. It was the feeling one got when you would step into the path of a wolf and you didn’t know the nature of it. Running wasn’t an option, neither was taking your eyes off it. One didn’t know if it would attack or run.
It was the opposite of Soletus. Soletus was a clear river. Oeric was a river after the rain and full of mud. The thing was, Mien didn’t understand what the mud was. He didn’t understand people enough.
He wanted to confront Soletus about it, but one couldn’t just go up to a boy and say, “Your father’s voice sounds weird. Something is making it obscure.” And then he would have to explain the feeling he didn’t know how to express in words. Then again, he doubted Soletus would listen. For all his complaining about his father, the young monk greeted the man with such affection it made Mien want to love Oeric, too. Then that feeling turned to wistfulness. He would do anything to have his father back. Yet here Soletus was fighting his. It troubled him.
In a blink of an eye, Master Oeric took a step and landed the first blow jabbing Soletus in the gut.
“He left himself open,” muttered Lyndon.
“Hmmm” grunted the Arch Monk.
Soletus was still standing, but clearly smarting. His father didn’t take advantage of it, instead hung back, looking relaxed. The young monk was tense now. He backed away with clenched jaws. That was a mistake. Again, his father made another advance and Soletus moved to parry it, but his father maneuvered behind him to take hold of one of arms and twisted it behind him. At the same time, Soletus took one of his feet and hooked it behind his father’s ankle. They both went down. Soletus landed on top of him, rolled away to get back on his feet. He didn’t pick up his staff, instead took a strange stance. He held head down, arms up.
What’s was that, wondered Mien. He had seen Soletus practice before, but it was always with a staff. He looked over to Lyndon and the Arch Monk to see if they had something to say.
Lyndon smiled. “He’s going to grappling now.”
The Arch Monk's brow went flat.
Mien looked back to see what Master Oeric’s thought. He looked unfazed by the change in strategy. He didn’t modify his tactics. He rushed in again, this time his son dropped down and came back up. He flipped the man over his body and the master fell flat on his back. He lay there for a long second before getting to his feet again. He hadn’t been expecting that. As he rose, Soletus got his staff again and was circling his father again.
“Oeric hasn’t been taking this seriously,” relayed the Arch Monk. “He appears to be now.
And he showed it after that. He didn’t leave himself so easily taken off his feet. In fact, he became aggressive and came at Soletus full force. Mien watched his friend struggle at to keep up. He was on the defensive the entire time. The young monk did get Oeric off his feet one more time. His father came in too closed and Soletus rolled him over him over his shoulder on the floor. However, this time, Oeric had a response to that and kicked him hard in the gut. Soletus doubled over. Mien winced. He thought he heard a crack. Soletus fell to his knees.
Oeric walked over to him, shouting, “Are you ready to yield?”
Soletus’s reply was throwing himself at his father’s legs and bringing him down. They ended up wrestling. Soletus got him in a chokehold. Oeric fought back and landed what seemed like a very effective blow to with his elbow to his son’s torso. Soletus yelped, letting him go. The Arch Monk let out a hiss. Mien watched his friend on a knee with an arm wrapped around his chest.
“Are you yielding now,” he repeated.
Soletus rose to his feet again. He wasn’t yielding.
It was painful to watch after that. He wasn’t moving fast enough, and he didn’t even have full motion anymore. His father sped up his attacks.
And then it happened.
In quick succession, he hit his son in the head and followed by a strike to his arm that held his staff. There was another audible crack when he finished Soletus off with a strike to the knee. The young monk fell after that. Oeric kicked up his staff, holding both of them now. Soletus rolled on his back, gasping for air. Oeric backed away with distress clearly displayed on his face. The hairs raised on the back of Mien’s neck.
The elf on the side waved his hand and Oeric went to his son’s side.
“What’s going on,” asked Mien.
“Get up, get up,” Lyndon muttered.
Soletus didn’t. Oeric backed up and shouted at the other elf. Lyndon then vaulted over the wall, and Mien followed without thinking about it. When they arrived at his side. Soletus’s breathing was labored and blood was bubbling in his mouth. Oeric was now backing away to the side of the arena.
Mien put his hand on Soletus's chest, and an alien sensation of wrongness rolled down his arm and into his chest. He snatched his hand away and held it in his other hand. Lyndon wasn’t paying him any attention to notice his distress and was shouting for help. Mien heard whispers of a chorus in his ears. The voices were many and neither male or female nor adult or child. He heard it twice before and now a third time. A new phrase.
He squeezed his eyes and forced his mind to shut the channel as Brother Hickory taught him, muting it. The phrase went quiet. The odd sensation he felt dissipated. He tentatively took hold of Soletus’s hand. The young monk's eyes cracked for a second before he sealed them again.
“Stay with us,” barked Lyndon.
Soon a litter arrived, and they placed him on it as gently as he could. Though, Soletus let out a whimper of pain causing the phrase burst through the mute Mien had cast over it. It was more insistent than it was before. Mien tried to ignore and focused on following Lyndon and the litter. They went straight to the infirmary. Kiao was there sitting on a stool leaning against the podium, looking bored. His eyes became saucer sized when they came in with Soletus.
He and Alder rushed to his side. He and Lyndon stopped and stood in the doorway. Then the phrase unleashed itself fully. Mien’s mind and ears became filled with it. Mien cradled his head. He clamped his hands over his ears out of habit, but it didn’t keep the demanding phrase out. He felt hands on his upper arm.
“Whoa, what’s wrong,” said Lyndon.
The phrase urged him to repeat it, to sing it. He started muttering it and caught the attention of Alder.
“Are you serious,” he exclaimed as he run across the room to get supplies. “One problem at a time.
Kiao gestured to Lyndon. “Let him go! Mien, get over here.”
Mien walked over towards him, hoping he could get it all to stop.
“You’re not going to teach him healing now,” Alder exasperated.
“He needs to use the phrase, or he’s going to suffer,” he said and took Mien’s hand and bringing him to Soletus’s side. The young monk started crying.
“He’s hurt pretty bad,” said Kiao, placing Mien’s hand over Soletus’s heart. “You want to help? I can show you how.”
Mien’s unfocused mind understood what Kiao was telling him. He felt hot. His body surging with power like the other times he learned a phrase, but he didn’t know how to release it.
“Repeat the first part of the phase you hear, Sa’rah so la, ‘see into the body,’” he instructed.
Mien did as he was told, and his vision was taken out of the seeing world and then he saw red. He saw blood, vessels, and flesh of something pulsing in front of him. He heard beating around him as well as Kiao’s voice through a sphere of white light in front of him.
“Will your mind to follow me,” he instructed. It sounded strong and oppressive as Brother Hickory’s voice, but not of thunder. Something flowing, like a deluge of water. There was also something else about Kiao’s voice. A note that reverberated through him, harmonizing with his own timbre. It tugged at him, but he didn’t have time to focus on it. There was too much going on around him, and Kiao moved swiftly.
“Go down the veins, follow the blood,” the young man instructing showing him where to do. They rushed through his friend's body and exited out of a vein. He saw white. A bone cracked and splintered. Soletus fractured arm.
“Now say the last part of the phrase, So te’la, ‘to heal’. I’ll help you mend it.”
Mien didn’t know how, but he willed the body to heal, straightening the bone placing down fragments that broke away from the bone mending them. The phrase in his head that sung as loudly as a warning bell, died, leaving him drained. He came back to the world again, and he slumped. Kiao caught him and held him.
“I’m going to slide you over to the bed behind us,” he said.
Mien didn’t object. He felt tired. Everything from his toes to the top of his head tingled. He dropped on the bed, hearing another cry from Soletus before they slid over a white cloth screen that separated them from each other.
He caught sight if his hands. They pulsed with a golden film of light. He observed the strange phenomenon until the warmth he felt that spread from the center of his chest died down. He curled up in the middle of the bed and slept.
When he woke, the screen was down. The sun had moved, casting long shadows, making it late afternoon. He sat up slowly as his body felt heavy. He looked beside him. Soletus was still there. He looked as if he had been beaten up. A bruise darkened on his face and arm immobilized in a splint to keep it still. He wasn’t awake, but wasn’t at peace. His brow was low in a grimace.
“He’s not comfortable. We can heal tissue and broken bones, but not the pain that lingers,” said Kiao from behind him.
Mien scrambled to whirl around and clutched his chest in surprise.
“I’m sorry,” said the young priest with a platter in his hands with food and a cup of water.
“It’s okay,” said Mien.
Kiao was serene at the moment, but Mien wondered if it was a well-practiced mask at times. He couldn’t read his timber as he could with others. It made him hard to figure out.
“Here, don’t want you to go into shock after your first healing,” he said, offering the platter to him.
Mien didn’t realize how cavernous his stomach was until Kiao laid it down. The platter was full of food with three rolls, a couple of slices of cheese, dried fruit, roasted nuts, and a few slices of some cured meat. He consumed it all. Normally, he would not have eaten half of it.
Kiao watched him with an expression that suggested he had a question. Mien kept his eyes down. He didn’t feel like answering questions.
“Three phrases, two learned within the same year. It isn’t unusual, but silence, light, and healing are a strange combination,” said Kiao.
Mien looked over at Soletus.
“Don’t worry, he’ll be okay physically. I’m not sure about his confidence as a fighter. Sometime defeats messes with the mind a little, especially those who are young, with very few defeating them.”
Mien didn’t think his friend would suffer much on that end. He was more concerned about him with his father.
“Now,” said Kiao, folding his hands in his lap. “What did you think about it?”
Mien arched an eyebrow at him. He wasn’t sure what he meant.
“Healing for the first time,” he clarified.
“It was amazing,” he said without thinking about it.
A broad smile lit Kiao’s face. “That’s why I work in the infirmary. Of all the phrases given to a chanter to use, it’s one of the greatest. Of course, I’m bias; it’s my edict phrase. Eventually you’ll get one too.”
Mien didn’t know if that was the greatest of all phrases.
Why not stopping pain from happening in the first place, he thought. He would rather do that.
“You’re contemplating. Anything you wish to share,” asked Kiao.
“No,” answered Mien.
“You probably have questions, don’t you?”
True, he did.
“Can I heal myself?”
“How long before I actually get to practice healing others?”
“Well, it’ll take a bit. You need to memorize the parts of the body and you’ll be given permission to heal minor wounds such as cuts and things. That way, we’ll learn what type of healer you are. I can give you a suggestion to learn quicker.”
“The first part of the phrase, see into the body. Practice that and observe your own. Maybe then you’ll see why being tense all the time is so bad.”
Mien heard Soletus shift in bed. He turned around just in time to see his eyes part slightly. His head turned towards Kiao who stood to his feet and came to his side.
“Well, the combatant awakens,” he said, patting Soletus’s good arm. “If you feel like it, we can move you in a private room.”
The young monk looked away.
“Don’t be ashamed. We can’t all win our battles, but you took a lot of hard blows.”
Soletus eyes tightened. So did Kiao’s. His disenchantment leeched in his voice.
“Oh, so you knew how hard he was striking you.”
Mien saw the muscles in Soletus’s jaw tighten. He was upset about it, too.
“Well, just so you know, I told the Arch Monk about your injuries. I told him that in my opinion that Master Oeric wasn’t there to teach you a lesson as much as he wanted to teach dominance.”
Mien watched as the young monk blue eye lock on Kiao’s, becoming two piercing orbs of ice.
“He didn’t break your jaw, you know. I suspect he would’ve if he could’ve.”
“You didn’t have the right,” rasped Soletus. His voice had a note in it that Mien couldn’t place, but he didn’t like it.
Kiao’s brow knitted together. “There is a line between fighting honorably and fighting like a savage. He crossed it and you went on hurting yourself like an idiot.”
Soletus looked away from the chanter priest’s face.
Kiao sighed. “I’m sorry. I know you aren’t thick, but you should have stopped the fight.”
“I needed to prove a point,” answered Soletus in a low voice.
“Above and below, no point is worth the injuries you received,” Kiao shouted.
“Then what should I have done,” snapped Soletus. His eyes suddenly took on a glassy sheen. “He blocked every path I tried! This was the only path left to me.”
“Shhh calm down,” soothed Kiao. “I didn’t mean to shout, but—” Soletus gripped the young priest’s smock sleeve.
“No one listens. No one ever does. I did what I was told, the only thing I could do, and I end up hurt. Dias above this hurts. It burns. Why does my arm burn?”
Mien took an involuntary step back.
“Don’t worry, it’s the pain talking,” said Kiao over his shoulder.
“Even you aren’t listening,” cried Soletus.
“I am,” said Kiao. He pried Soletus’s hand off his sleeve and stood. “Alder, stay here and watch him. I’m going to get Brother Hickory,” he said and darted out the room.
Soletus grimaced, taking notice of Mien. “Why are you scared?”
Mien took tentative steps towards him until he eased himself down on his bed. He tried to hide trembling hands in his lap. However, even when driven by pain, Soletus was still observant.
“Seriously, why are you scared,” he asked, looking a little like himself again.
“I don’t like seeing you like this.”
Soletus squeezed his eyes shut. His face flushed.
Mien didn’t think he had ever seen Soletus embarrassed. “I’m sorry,” he apologized.
“You don’ t need to apologize.”
“Yes, I do. I never know what to say, but I know how this feels. You’re angry with yourself, aren’t you? You trusted in yourself, but also in someone else too and that’s gone.”
Mien watched his friend’s eyes become wet and immediately regretted what he said. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
Soletus sniffed. “You’re horrible at this, you know that?”
“I’m not good at helping as you are.”
The young tod let out a whimper. “This hurt so much.” He was falling back down into the pain.
Mien was at a loss about what to do. He didn’t know what else to do. He then did the only thing a chanter knew how to do and that was sing. Kiao and the other priests singing was one of the best things he ever heard. Their voices became too much for him to listen. Yet, soothing at the same time. He was sure he could mimic. He picked out the most soothing song he knew and hummed it. However, that didn’t feel natural or enough. He started to sing very low at first, but the volume he sang at didn’t feel acceptable. He got louder until he could hear his voice reverberating in the room.
Soletus‘s eyelids lowered themselves and all his features relaxed. Mien was glad. He didn’t know when the last time, he made the attempt at singing. He always sung to himself to learn how to play songs on his flute. He never once tried with someone else around. It felt right, though.
It’s a good thing, he decided right as he realized he had an audience. Brother Hickory and Kiao had paused at the doorway and stared at him in awe. Mien clamped his mouth shut.
“You two ruined it,” said Alder. “Never knew the little fellow sounded like that.”
Mien forgot about him too. He felt his face began to radiate with heat.
Kiao recovered first and strolled over to his side. “Seriously, learn how to take a compliment. Singing like that and everyone will throw them at you left and right.”
“He’s right, confidence my boy,” said Brother Hickory.
Mien moaned softly.
Kiao sighed. “He’s liable never to sing ever again now.”
Brother Hickory crossed his arms. “My teaching your confidence worked out well.”
“Only because I was tired of you preaching it,” he retorted and took Mien by the shoulders. The boy jerked away from him a little. He wasn’t used to Kiao being touchy. He was kind enough to remove his hands when it was clear Mien was uncomfortable.
“Sorry,” he said. “I think you can sing with us in the chapel one day. It doesn’t have to be anytime soon, but you sound as if you’ll make a good tenor.
Mien didn’t know why he found those words pleasing, but it did. He smiled a little.
“See, he’s tasted what it’s like to sing as chanter and he’ll continue,” said Brother Hickory. The mirth on his face left as his eyes sat on Soletus. “I never imagined this situation escalating to this point.”
“You should lock Master Oeric in a cage for this,” said Kiao. “Having bruises is one thing, but broken bones, organ trauma, and a concussion is another!”
“Oeric’s situation isn’t so easy to deal with. Like Mien and like you, Oeric was one of mine to help,” revealed Brother Hickory. “He was a decade older than you, Kiao when I was told to help him.”
“Doesn’t seem like he took your words to heart,” muttered Kiao. The sound of his displeasure was so thick Mien could taste sour cherry in his mouth.
“You needn’t be so critical over,” returned the aged priest sharply.
“Why? So, you can handle this situation like every other involving a member of a founding family by a whole lot of nothing!”
“The Arch Monk is taking care of it,” affirmed Brother Hickory, keeping his voice low.“You’re only concern is treating Soletus, and I don’t want to disturb him with the two of us arguing.”
Kiao frowned but gave a begrudging nod of his head.
“Lyndon is on his way here with Cordea. As for you, Mien.”
The boy regarded at him.
“Go back to the chapel. You still look weary.”
Mien glanced at Soletus.
“He’ll be fine,” said Kiao. “And if Madame Sheldmartin is coming here. I don’t know how her mood is going to be. She was an enraged she-bear earlier. And I’m sure seeing her son will make her upset again. It might be best if you go.”
Mien understood angry mothers. He had seen his so incensed that she could’ve made a tempest pause. The boy squeezed his friend uninjured hand. To his surprise, Soletus squeezed it back.
Rest easy, my friend.