Soletus didn’t feel like speaking to anyone. He ignored all attempts to get him to speak the day after his fight. Not even Brother Hickory could console him. He didn’t want consoling. He just wanted to be alone. After him, his mother came with Fern. He showed them his back. He listened until he didn’t want to. Then he pretended they weren’t there. He wanted to rest, and he also wanted to think. Most of all, he felt an irrepressible urge to talk to his father. Until that happened, he stayed silent. Instead, he replayed the entire fight again and again in his mind.
He thought about what he could have done differently other than not expecting a fair fight. He came to no real conclusion, though. The fight was just unwinnable. He knew his chances were low from the start, but he wanted to prove a point. Apparently, his father was willing to go even further to show him his place.
In the middle of his contemplation two days later, Lyndon came to visit. He made to his cousin’s side with hesitant steps and wore an uncomfortable smile on his face.
“I’m sorry, but Aunt Cordea and Hickory wanted me to come to talk to you,” he said. “But I have the good sense to know you aren’t much for talking. So, I won’t bother you with their questions. I just came because I wanted to see if you’re okay.”
Soletus relinquished his silence for Lyndon. “Thank you,” he whispered.
Lyndon eased himself down on the bed wearing a mask of cheerfulness. “You don’t look as bad as yesterday.”
“I don’t feel as bad,” he returned.
“Is there anything I can do?”
Soletus swayed his head. “You can’t make me feel less like a dod.”
“You aren’t a dod. Now Uncle Oeric on the other hand…”
A faint smile crossed the young tod’s face briefly before it faded.
“No need to be all brokenhearted,” said Lyndon.
“I’m not,” he said. It all just hurts.
“Would it make you feel better to know they ordered him to the chamber to mediate on his actions? The Arch Monk also took away his master status, and is going to send him to the swamp post for six months?”
Soletus snapped his attention to him. “When does he leave?”
“I don’t know,” shrugged Lyndon. “When he gets done reflecting and given how much of a dod he is, that might take up untold amounts of time.”
“And no one thought for a second to let me talk to him or even have a say in what happens.”
Lyndon scratched the back of his neck. “They ordered him not to have any contact with you.”
“Dods all of them,” growled Soletus, sitting up.
Lyndon clasped his shoulders and tried to push him down. “Whoa, what are you doing?”
“I want to talk to him.”
Lyndon’s face twisted in bewilderment. “Why?”
“Because I need to talk to him!”
Lyndon’s eyes begging him to settle down, but Soletus met his gaze. It was sharp and unyielding. His cousin lowered his hands and became solemn.
“Well, I think you need to speak to the about it first to the Arch Monk,” he said.
Soletus nodded. “Fine, I’ll speak to him. I need clothes.”
Lyndon stood to his feet. “I’ll run to the room.”
That was about the time that Kiao saw him sitting up and pushing back the blankets on the bed.
“What are you doing,” he said hurrying over there.
“Leaving,” he said curtly.
“No, you’re not,” said Kiao.
Soletus his flashed his eyes at the young man. “You can either help me or tie me down to this bed.”
Kiao’s own blue eyes shifted shades becoming violet. He put the flat of his hand on his chest and his voice did the same. “Just because you pushed me once doesn’t mean you can push me again.”
The young monk took hold of his wrist gently and pleaded without a harsh tone in his voice. “Kiao, I need to talk with my father.”
The young chanter priest pursed his lips tightly and stared at him before rolling his eyes. “Fine, but you’re going to end up exhausting yourself.”
“I’m practically healed up,” he said and stood to his feet to prove he was well enough.
When Lyndon came back, they both helped him get dressed. His arm still didn’t feel right. He walked with it wrapped around his chest, as breathing didn’t feel comfortable either. Lyndon guiding him down the hall to his grandfather’s quarters was a struggle. He wasn’t there. Brother Farely took them he was in the meeting chamber with all the other masters. He decided to cut through the Masters Hall. He didn’t care if it was rude or not. Soletus swung the door open, getting the attention of all the masters sitting around the circular table. At the north end of it sat his grandfather with growing surprise.
“Warder, what are you doing here,” he asked.
Soletus ignored eyes and the frowns that sat on him. “I need to speak to Papa.”
The aged elf stood up from his seat slowly. “Excuse me,” he said to the masters, who all looked offended by the impolite interruption. When the Arch Monk shut the door behind him, he said to his grandson, “This couldn’t wait until you're stronger?”
“I heard you don’t want me to talk to him,” said Soletus. He also didn’t want to over think about everything and end up not saying what he wanted to say.
“It might be better if you didn’t,” he said. “You or he might say something you might regret right now.”
“I would regret not talking to him.”
His grandfather examined him. “Alright, but don’t take very long. I need to get back to this meeting.”
“I don’t need you there. I prefer if no one was,” he said, hoping he wasn’t pushing too far. They kept those who were sent to meditate secluded as long as possible. Any visitors were escorted and observed. Soletus didn’t intend to do anything that would cause trouble. He just wanted to talk.
The Arch Monk laid a hand on his shoulder. “Are you sure? Dias teaches us that it’s unwise to speak to one another when we’re upset, and you look it.”
Soletus resolve didn’t waver. “I need to talk to him alone.”
His grandfather nodded. “Very well,” he said, and led him away from the room. To down the door that led down to the archive. From there they went into the very back, going passed the stacks and shelves to a dark corridor that led to the rooms for reflections. His father was in the room at the very end. The room was tiny and only had a rolled mat for meditation, a table to eat at, a flat bed, a lit lantern, and a copy of Dias’s Words. Oeric was on the floor on his back with his arms behind his head, contemplating the ceiling. When he saw Soletus standing in the doorway, his eyes became so round they looked as if they were going to roll to the floor.
“I’ll leave you two alone,” said the Arch Monk.
Soletus stepped in and closed the door behind him. His father stood to his feet quickly and took a step towards him.
“Don’t,” barked Soletus, holding up his good hand.
Oeric froze. His face became blank. “Fair enough.” He settled back down. “I’m surprised to see you. Your mother said you weren’t talking to anyone.”
“I didn’t want to talk to her. I’ve words for you!”
“That doesn’t give you the excuse to treat your mother—”
“Well, I did,” he shouted. His own anger took a hold of him, and he didn’t care. He waited for his father to make a remark about his tone. The man didn’t. The young tod continued. “I’ve words to say to you and only you!”
His father nodded his head and resigned. “I figured as much.”
Soletus took a deep breath and started on his tirade that had been built up over the days. “Why? I can’t understand why you fought me like that. The only thing I come up with is that you hate me.”
Oeric’s face transformed into dismay. He shook his head rapidly. “Above and below, why would you even— No! I don’t hate you. You need to settle down and—”
He frowned. “So, you intended to come in here and think I would listen to your hollering.”
Soleus gestured his good arm in his direction. “And there you go, being patronizing as usual.”
“Patronizing? How is this patronizing and when have I ever been that way towards you?”
“When have you not! You dismiss every word I say. Even when I woke up after being bitten, the first thing you went on about was how sloppy I was. You even fought to demean me!”
Oeric’s lip trembled a little. The hardness in his voice vanished, and he spoke very slowly. “First off, I wasn’t angry at you. That monster nearly killed you, then ruined your future and promise of being a warden. I’ll admit it’s easy to look back and say what should’ve been done. That was all I saw then. As for our fight…” he stopped and looked down at the floor. He spoke quietly. “That wasn’t my intention. You have all right to hate me for what happened.”
Soletus about said it then. That he hated him. He wanted to shout it to his face, in his ear, and down his throat. However, the words caught and hung right below his tongue. He clenched his jaw instead.
His father inhaled and exhaled a long breath before continuing. “I know I crossed that line into being stupid father.”
“No, you’ve plowed through it,” retorted Soletus.
Guilt transformed his father’s often stoic appearance. That quelled a Soletus’s a rage a little. Pain still nestled in his heart.
“Come sit down before you fall over,” said his father, gesturing beside him.
Soletus remained where he stood.
“Bullheadedness is not good trait.”
“And begin controlling is?”
Oeric then summed up. “So, I’ve been unreasonable and unnecessarily harsh towards you. Now you feel you must be that way towards me.”
“No, I’ve just very little respect for a man who hurts his own son all for the sake of putting him in his place.”
Soletus wanted that cut to hurt. He wanted to get some reaction out of him. He wanted his father to fight back. He didn’t. It just made him more troubled. Soletus latched onto it.
“What? You have nothing to say. Remind me to be that obedient child who questions nothing and just says ‘yes Sir’ and following your every whim, uncaring to what I want?”
“You’re proving my point,” he said. “I have been unreasonably harsh and trying to wrestle you for control over a simple thing I should have given you. But I thought me way was better because when I was your age, I didn’t have much respect for my father.”
Soletus let out a humorous laugh. “And you ended up with the thought that beating me senseless would make me respect you more when I already did?”
“N-n-no, that wasn’t my intention,” his father exclaimed. His voice was now at a stuttering plea as he tried to speak faster than he could. That wasn’t all what Soletus was expecting. He expected him to go on the offensive. Why didn’t he try? It then Soletus realized his father’s hands. His knuckles were white. He was tense. When he ran a hand through his hair, Soletus saw his hand trembling.
He looked at the floor and said, “Sit down anywhere. We need to talk about something.”
Soletus took the offer to sit then and walked to the flat bed against the wall. He felt relieved being off his feet. Just as Kiao warned him, he was getting tired. Shouting apparently took a lot out of a person. He leaned his back against the wall and waited. It took Oeric a bit to gather his thoughts. When he regarded Soletus again, his pale eyes exchanged sharpness for candidness. It struck Soletus as odd, seeing as it made his father look younger. Then again, he wasn’t that old.
“I wanted to have this conversation when I felt you could understand. But I kept avoiding it because I never could figure out what to tell you,” he said. “I suppose it begins with your grandmother’s death. She died when I was five. With her gone, Papa decided I would be better off living with my brother and his wife so he could focus on work. My brother decided my sister, who was barely Fern’s age, to look after me. Problem was, I was a right brat. I would do things to upset the two of them to get your grandfather's attention. He could do nothing but yell, punish, and seen me back to my siblings. I hated that. I resented that. So, by the time he took interest in me, I wanted nothing to do with him or the order.
“He forced me into the order because he thought the discipline would do me good. It worked poorly. After that and another event, I ended up running away. I stumble out in the world wanting a life on my own, but I had no trade skills. So, I did mercenary work for a while. It was hard to compete with well-known bands of mercenaries as a single tod lying about his age. Sure, I got jobs, but they were few and far between. One day I came to a town with a man recruiting for blood sports. There was coin to be made there, so I joined.”
Soletus gaped at his father in shock. He figured his father became some sort of mercenary. But not a cur. When the Arbiter said he met his father, he figured that what it was because some of them had issue staying within the law. Being a blood sport fighter, that was different. That was unthinkable. It was an illegal sordid sport. And the fighters themselves, curs, were awful.
It made the scars on his face and body make a lot more sense. He never asked because he thought they were from drass beasts. Then there was what looked like a brand on his chest, however mercenary bands had brands too.
“Is that so hard to believe,” his father asked.
Soletus was speechless. His father was no cur. He wasn’t some villain to be chased out of town or some rapist waiting to be castrated. He wasn’t illiterate with speech that border on unintelligible from too many strikes in the head. Then again, his father did have a stutter. But father didn’t ignore or defied laws. He didn’t treat his mother like some skane and beat her. He wasn’t crazy, uncontrolled, uncouth, and nasty individual who turned their back on helping hands.
His father continued as if he didn’t see him struggling to come to terms with something like that.
“It was a different world than this. Life was unstructured. Chaotic. We never fought at the same stop and moved constantly when it was fighting season. There were only had two rules: win and don’t lose. Losing met you owed more coin to your handler. Losing met you were getting closer and closer to touching death. After a bit, you cared only about that and became a beast.”
“So why not just leave,” said Soletus.
“My handler. Everyone’s handler kept you there with a leash, a contract. You start off with a debt. A payment for the training you received. ‘It’s a business, not a charity,’ they would say. You had to pay that debt off with interest, of course. On top of that, when you lost, you owed your handler the money they lost in bets. And if you had a handler like mine, he had a way of making you feel that the only thing you had to give to the world was your flesh in a fight. It was exploitation at its finest for those with no self-worth. The only thing I had was fighting, and I fought to win and rarely lost. I toppled older, experienced fighters. I became undefeated and held that spot for a long time. Then one day, a tod no older than you, stepped in front of me except not a drop of kindness in him. He had something to prove, and he proved it by thrashing me.”
“Was he why you come back?”
“No,” he chuckled. “That was your mother’s doing.”
Oeric nodded. “She and I were childhood friends. I met her while dodging my angry brother. From that point on, I visited her, and I would take her with me when I was being a nuisance to everyone in town. However, I…” He tailed off, paused and shook his head. “We don’t need to get into that. All you need to know is something happened.
“My running away was for the betterment of her. She needed to forget me and I needed to forget her. But she didn’t and never gave up on me. After many years, she managed to track me down to a tavern before my last fight,” he said as a rueful smile cross his face. “To this day, I still believe she took flight and flew across the room because in a blink of an eye I saw her by the door and in another she was planting her fist in my jaw. I never heard a woman roar until that day.”
Soletus heard his mother talk sternly to his father before, but he couldn’t imagine her shouting and hitting him. She absolutely adored him.
“Her being there made it very clear I was a lost little boy who wanted nothing more than to go home. And she made it very clear someone actually cared about me. But there was no way. After I fought that young man, I couldn’t win fights consistently. My confidence was lost, and I racked up a debt with my handler because of it. Your mother tried to buy my contract. I wasn’t up for sale. My handle would make more coin from my death. And that’s what he did. I put me up against some brute I couldn’t win against and made a profit off my defeat. He dumped me in a ditch because I couldn’t fight anymore. It terminated my contract. Your mother put me on a litter and dragged me behind a horse until she could find someone to look at me.”
Soletus never heard any of that or how his parents met. They never told him. The most he knew was, unlike most Elven marriages, it wasn’t arranged. It was choice. And just a few months ago, he learned that his mother’s parent detested Oeric, they disowned her. He understood why now. His father was a cur. The worse kind of elf.
“During my time away, I learned my brother was killed, my sister and sister-in-law left because of his death. They wanted to live a safer life. Papa was alone, so I stayed and rejoined the order. He thought I could just start my life where I left it. However, once an elf loses all sense of what makes him elf, you have to work to get it back.
“It was difficult for me to spar with others because sometimes I would see that tod’s face and the way he looked at me as if I were nothing more than just a step. I would fight to survive, be that cur again, and end up hurting someone. And that was the least of all things. The order decided to push me into the care of Brother Hickory. With his help, I was able to move past it, or so I thought.”
His father stopped again, looking around the room and settling on the lantern that flickered on the table.
“I thought everything was good and buried. I thought I could handle you quickly. But then you had that same look in your eyes. I was just a step. You had something to prove, and I slipped right back into it.”
Soletus now understood why his mother pleaded with him to ask his father about his scars. He wouldn’t have challenged his father at all. He didn’t know what he would’ve done. He still didn’t know what to think.
“Why now? You could’ve told me this years ago,” he said.
“It’s not something I’m proud of and not something you should entertain the thought of doing.”
Soletus rolled his eyes. “So, you couldn’t trust me to know what is and isn’t stupid!”
“What’s does that have to do with it,” Soletus erupted.
“You think differently when you’re young. Did you think about consequences when you fought those boys? No, you were only thinking of saving a friend. Then there is the fact, you enjoy combat. You jump to a challenge. That sort of desire can easily become an obsession.”
Ire blossomed in Soletus's chest. “You know nothing about me! And I’m not you!”
His father’s brow quirked up slightly. “Really? I’m fairly certain that you’re displaying a bit of me right now.”
“Am I controlling? Harsh? Make assumptions? Do I act like an uncontrolled beast,” Soletus gestured wildly. “I don’t see anything of you in me!”
His father stayed annoyingly calm. “You’re doing a poor job convincing me.”
“Of course, you would say that. Everything is always my fault.”
“I didn’t say that, and I am not your problem,” said his father sternly, and then his expression softened. “But I’ve done all I could to release that under the surface temper of yours. That anger would be there if someone else tapped into it.”
Soletus started shaking his head.
“No listen. All I see is you making the same motions I did with your grandfather. Frustration is easy to find. You want to be an adult and taken seriously. You’re just at that age.”
Soletus was done. He didn’t want to hear anymore. He rose to his feet too fast. The room spun violently. If not for the wall, he would’ve fallen flat on his back. His stomach twisted, and he let out a few dry heaves before his father grabbed hold of him and guided him down on his back.
Soletus swallowed hard and closed his eyes, trying to force the sensation of whirling away.
His father clutched his arm. “Just because they healed you doesn’t mean you can get up and walk around doing everything.”
Soletus pulled his arm away and glared at him. “I wouldn’t be here if you listened to me. If you didn’t act like I was trying to kill myself.”
“Are you really that upset...” he tailed off. Confusion was heavy on his face before it transformed into regret. “That day, seeing you mauled was a waking nightmare. EverythingI feared…I’m sorry.”
Soletus pushed him away and smashed his palms into his eyes. This wasn’t going the way he imagined. He prepared for another fight. His father wasn’t fighting at all. The man was a cur, something awful instead he was being caring. He felt tears coming and put more pressure on his eyes so the turmoil wouldn’t come pouring out.
His father shifted away from him, but he stayed close. “I suppose you know I’m being sent away. I think it might be best if you had time to be independent of me.”
Soletus wiped his eyes. He hated crying. He leaned against the wall hoping that would steady him out. “And when do you get back?”
“I imagine after you take the make-up trial in the spring.”
Soletus became confused. “But I lost. I told you if I lost—”
“The original agreement is void. I broke the rules. Either we fight again, or I can say point taken. You’re allowed to decide your future in this order. You no longer have to yield to me.”
Soletus felt his throat knot up. His vision blurred. That was all he wanted to hear, but it might as well been the sound of dirt pouring from his hands. He felt nothing. If anything, he was more conflicted. He scrubbed his eyes and mopped his face with his shirt sleeve. The man laid a gentle hand on the crown of his head. Soletus slapped it away.
“Don’t touch me,” he snarled.
Oeric leaned back. “With all my heart, I’m sorry.” He stood up and made his way back to the center of the room. “I do love you. You know that, right?”
He never heard those words very often. It wasn’t something that Soletus could say he desired or ever needed to hear. It was something he assumed. He accepted it easily, now he questioned it.
Soletus watched Oeric make his way back to the mat and laid flat on his back. He went back to contemplating the ceiling. His pale eyes looked haunted. The door to the room opened. His grandfather stepped in. His eyes sweeping the room before settling on Soletus, who eyes were still red. A heavy frown caused his aged face to droop.
“It’s not what you think,” said Oeric.
Soletus stood up slowly, using the wall to support himself. His grandfather went to his side to help him. Soletus waved him off.
“I can walk,” he said, sniffing and rubbed his nose on his sleeve.
“I’m taking you back to the infirmary. There we can talk,” offered the Arch Monk.
Soletus cleared his throat. “You can walk me back, but I don’t need to be talked to.”
“I believe you need to hear a few things—”
Oeric cut him off. “Let him be, Papa.”
“And you, of all people, think you can advise me to do that,” the Arch Monk said sharply.
“As you always say, no need to stir the pot when it’s time to simmer,” retorted Oeric.
Soletus saw a vein on his grandfather’s forehead bulge, but he relented. “Aright then, if that’s what you want, Soletus.”
Soletus gave him an appreciated bob of his head. He stopped halfway out the door and looked back. He had one more thing to say. However, the words that would’ve reassured his father were caught in his throat.
He walked away silently.
End of Book 1