Oeric considered himself an active individual. Waking up before sunrise, out on the training fields first, and he would be the first to leave when doing paperwork because he never put it off. However, he could procrastinate if he wanted to. He did so the next day and managed to rise from bed early afternoon.
He was trying to delay the inevitable. He needed speak to the Arch Monk. His father.
He wondered if it was natural for one to dread nearly every conversation one could have with their father. Before, he wanted the attention. To taunt him. To see him flustered and frustrated. Laugh at him in his mind and hate his word while being miserable himself. When he come back from his sordid life, talking to him always led to shame on his part. Their relationship was poisoned and managed transform into uncomfortable. Speaking to each other was unproductive at times because Solgard had to be right and Oeric was made often to feel like a child. A common thing in elven culture. Children were still children no matter how old they were. It made him realize that he was probably treating Soletus like that as well.
Following his own promise of not avoiding things that left him uncomfortable, Oeric dressed. Though he wished someone was there to slow him down just a little more. However, the house was empty. His family didn’t want to disturb him. Cordea was kind enough to leave him three thick slices of mulberry bread to eat. He went to her pantry shelf to see if the jar of honey was there. It wasn’t. She moved it again. She always rotated it around to keep him and Soletus from it. He then walked into the kitchen and found the jar hidden where his wife thought he wouldn’t find it behind a sack of flour. He poured the amber substance over all the pieces and placed the jar back exactly as he found it.
Once he was done, he got his horse, and rode at a snail’s pace, to its frustration. The creature sensed it was home and probably wanted nothing more to be in its stall. However, the elf on its back kept soothing it down too a slow pace. Oeric entered the monastery through the side entrance, where the stable was to drop his horse. He couldn’t linger there and had nothing left to do except go inside. He took the long way, going back around to the front of the building and cut across the grounds.
The monetary ground was busy. It was getting on to late spring, with perfectly warm days that brought everyone outside when training was light. Men spoke to one another to the side, while the younger members were playing games with each other. Soon they would be gathered up to go to the culling. Oeric wouldn’t be attending. He had no desire to slay drass beast in the abandoned walled off town known as The Trap. A few young tods were talking about it, and he listened to their conversation as he passed. However, his attention was pulled away as he walked toward the entrance to main building of the monastery. Behind a group of warders by the boy’s dormitories, he saw a flash of tawny fur. It looked to be a mountain lion.
Oeric veered off the stone walkway and walked around the main steps and went towards the bushes where the cat had jumped. It wasn’t large. It was adolescent sized and still had spots on its legs. He wanted to be sure it was someone’s consort before he raised alarm.
The creature then popped its head out of the shrubs. The fur around its green eyes was pure white like sun rays. They were sunspots, meaning it was someone’s consort. The cat caught sight of him and vanished back into the shrubs. It ran along the side of the building to around a corner. He heard someone cry out and ran over. He found a fox-haired boy with cropped hair lying on his side, scowling at the consort now crouched by his head. The large green eyes that were trained on Oeric looked very familiar.
“What part of stay and watch the door did you not understand,” fussed the boy.
The mountain lion let out a yowl as Oeric’s shadow fell over the boy. Mien slowly turned around and looked up. All the color drained from his face. He sprung to his feet and cleaned off his priest’s tunic. He followed it up by giving him a clumsy bowed to him. Though he stopped mid-way as if realizing that wasn’t the correct way to address a senior warden. He then chose to stand still and fiddle with his fingers after that.
“Umm uhhh…greetings Master Oeric,” he said audibly.
Oeric took stock of the nervous boy. In just seven months, he became healthier in appearance. There was more of him than a skeleton stretched with skin. His complexion, albeit naturally pale, had a color to it, the freckling around his nose stand out. His eyes were still skittish, as he wasn’t sure where he needed to look. Oeric looked around to see if his son was nearby. He didn’t see him between the two buildings but was certain he could hide in any of the tall shrubs nearby. He regarded Mien again and saw the boy was now wringing his hands.
“Hello Mien,” he said.
The boy looked up through his lashes. “Hello, Sir. I see you're home,” he said nervously.
“I’m fairly certain you already knew that. Fern probably told Lyndon and then he told Soletus and you. And speaking of which, do you know where my son is?”
Mien looked over to the side, taking far too long to come up with an answer.
Oeric let out a long exhale. “Have you talked to him today?”
Mien nodded, giving him eye contact again.
“How is he?”
The question had an odd effect on the young chanter. He tilted his head and turned his head slightly, as if he was listening for something. “He’s fine.”
It was then the consort had moved from its spot and was now sniffing Oeric’s boot. It took its paw and batted it, then sprung back on all four legs.
“You recently learned to summon him,” he guessed.
Mien's shoulders dropped and his face redden with embarrassment. “Yes Sir.”
“Well, he’s responding to your uncertainty. He’s curious though. Even though consorts are an extension of us, they possess a little personality of their own. What’s his name?”
“Glen,” answered Mien.
Glen approached again, this time standing on his back legs so he could fit his head into Oeric’s hand. Mien stared at his consort with his face flushing even deeper.
Oeric glanced at the boy and then back down at the consort. He petted it. “I think he’s trying to tell you something.”
The boy looked as if he heard that statement before. Perhaps from a certain priest they both knew very well.
“Anyway, if you see Soletus again, tell him hello for me.”
With that, Oeric headed back to the entrance of the monastery. Feeling relieved to be away from him. He didn’t like nervous people. They made him uncomfortable.
Being away made him appreciate the gray stone walls of the monastery. It wasn’t because he loved it. It was the familiarity, a sense he belonged to something. It took him a long time feel that. However, the question if he truly did rose in his mind while he was in the swamp.
He stopped in front of the statue of Dias in the center of the front foyer and looked up at the faceless god. Dias welcomed all who were willing to listen. Sometimes Oeric wondered if he heard the god’s voice correctly that the order needed him. So he became a monk though he felt poorly designed for.
He let others far wiser guide him down that path. It seemed to work. He earned the right to become a first warden even though he had trouble giving orders when he first started. Then he agreed to become a master, despite telling them no good would come from it. Like a prophecy, it came true. He left with all his brothers, looking down their noses at him for his action.
You don’t deserve to be one of us.
That’s what they told him. And a question formed in his mind that day and remained there the entire time he was in the swamp. Who did he deserve to be? He couldn’t answer it. And maybe standing there, he thought an answer would be given to him. No answer came. Then again, it could be the answer was given to him. He turned away from the statue and made his way towards the Arch Monk’s quarters.
Oeric found Brother Farley in his recess in the wall doing what he usually did, reading some book on history. Most of the priests seemed to care more about the history of their glory days than the present. Farley held out his hand for an appointment slip without looking up.
Oeric cleared his throat.
Farley glanced up and his expression became very cool. “Oh, you’re back. How was the swamp?”
Oeric face became opaque. “It was muddy. Is the Arch Monk free?”
“No, he’s in talks right now. Stand around, I’m sure they’ll finish soon,” dismissed the priest. He went back to reading.
Oeric took his place in the recess across from Farley and waited. It took nearly a half an hour before the door to the Arch Monk’s office opened. To his surprise, Tyr and Ealdred walked out. They were discussing among themselves and Oeric was going to let them pass without calling attention to himself. However, Tyr glanced to the right and saw him. The two masters stopped.
“Oeric,” he said with an ambiguous smile spreading on his face. “I didn’t know you come back.”
Tyr was a friend. A good friend and father too, so it was no surprise he came down on him. The man thought he had more self-control. He didn’t make a single attempt at standing up to him when he faced the other masters, as he had done for him in the past. He was just as harsh as they were towards him. If they could’ve, they would’ve kicked him out of the order that day. It wasn’t his first infraction and probably not his last. However, Tyr didn’t look so infuriated then. However, his violet eyes didn’t have that same understanding as before. Oeric might as well been a stranger.
“I got back last night,” he said.
Ealdred eyed him with scrutiny. “You’re a month late.”
That was an understatement.
“You don’t look well,” added Tyr with a brisk note in his voice.
“Traveling for long distances will do that,” he returned just as curtly. He was told many times he come off curt, unfriendly, or condescending. However, he just wanted to get to the point of a conversation. At that point, he did. He heard his voice wobble a little, which made him want to end it quicker.
“Neither do you sound it.”
That same shame he carried in his heart until it became a weight on his shoulder formed again. He wanted to voice his remorse, but he stalled. He couldn’t form the words. That obstinate part of him refused. It confused him. He didn’t even want to deal with Tyr at that moment. He chose to run instead.
“I need to speak to the Arch Monk,” he said, pushing himself off the wall. “It’s good to see you.”
He opened the door and walked in, but not before hearing Tyr say to Ealdred, “Never thought there would be a day he would be at a loss for words. Maybe he’ll be less of an ass now.”
Friends come and go as they say, he thought.
Oeric shut the door and faced his father. The man sat at his desk with his pale eyes fixed on him. In his hands was his late brother’s blood-stained sash. Their talk would be just as bad as he imagined.
“Isn’t it about time that you bury that,” said Oeric as he strolled up to his desk.
“You’re a month late,” started the Arch Monk gruffly. “You were to strictly follow my order.”
“On arrival, Mobious got sick and couldn’t be in command.”
“There is always a second warden who can take over.”
“He was sick too. I got away before I caught whatever nastiness was going around that time.”
The Arch Monk gestured for him to sit.
Oeric rather stood so he could be as far away from that golden cloth. However, he walked over and sank down in one of the chairs in front of the man’s desk, anyway.
His father scrutinized him. “You look ragged.”
“You sent me to a swamp to command a bunch of grown children,” Oeric returned. “I’m tired.”
“You cut your hair?”
Oeric felt the back of his neck that his sandy hair barely covered. “I didn’t want to walk around with mold in my head.”
“You’ve lost a bit of weight, I see.”
“Because I had the runs every other week. Between the lack of basic hygiene and the water, I don’t know what was worse.”
The old monk looked pleased. “I suppose you learned your lesson.”
Oeric did at least do that. He never wanted to find himself in a place where he had to pull back his bedsheets every night to make sure there wasn’t a snake coiled under it. It wasn’t because snakes slithered in his room. No, someone place one there just to hear him scream.
“I’m holding this right now just to remind me of what your brother told me,” he said, holding up the golden sash. “That just because you do wrong doesn’t make you my son any less.”
It surprised Oeric that his late-brother would say that. To say they didn’t get along was an understatement.
The Arch Monk scratched his chin in contemplation. “Now my son is home again. What should I have him do?”
“Love him and let him rest,” suggested Oeric.
“You can rest after you fix that chasm you wrought between you and Soletus,” said his father.
Oeric sank into his chair. “I will, but not by force.”
“Well, fix everything in whatever fashion you like before you can even think about going back on duty.”
Oeric wondered then if he failed to see the separation of father and superior officer because of the man in front of him. His father was both to him for so long that he couldn’t detach the two.
“Since we are on the topic of my going back on duty, Sir, I rather not any time soon. I want a six-month leave.”
His father brow sunk low. “A six-month leave? For what purpose?”
“Your master's position is filled. Your first warden spot has not. I rather not split your band up.”
Oeric barked out a laugh. “As if they will follow me now. I know how they think. I’m lucky they didn’t talk Cordea into tossing me out in the streets.”
“Six months is far too long, and I won’t give you a new band. If you lost their respect, earn it again.”
Oeric knew his father would argue, so he spent many days rehearsing this conversation. “Then you risk their lives. If they decide not to listen to me out of spite and they get hurt, are you going to hold them responsible for their actions, or are you going to blame me?”
His father looked at him solemnly. “Son, I need you on duty.”
“Let Tyr lead them. He’s an excellent second and would be an excellent first warden. Promote or move someone to be his.”
“He’s been leading. He came in here earlier to have Ealdred as his second. They’ve worked a lot together with Soletus these last few months and find each other easy to work with. I have no plans for Tyr’s position to be permanent and that I expected you to take over.”
“I want to start over, and I need three-month recovery time from this and another three for self-training. Before you tell me to train with everyone else, they’ll start a fight with me, and it’ll be my fault no matter what.”
The Arch Monk shook his head. “You really don’t think highly of your brothers.”
“No, I just know how they are,” he reasoned. “I know what they do to someone who doesn’t fit in.”
“Perhaps you would if you didn’t feel the need to lash out like a wild wolf from time to time,” snapped his father.
Oeric was sure he had everything buried, under control, and forgotten. However, it was engraved into his soul. Of all people, he never thought that his son would wake it up.
“You don’t have a snappy retort? You aren’t going to argue,” baited his father. “I’m surprised. You never miss a chance to defend yourself.”
Oeric bite his bottom lip and felt resentment bubbling up in him. He didn’t defend himself seven months ago. Took everyone’s harsh criticism. He deserved it then. That didn’t mean he wouldn’t grow tired of it.
“Oeric,” called his father for his attention.
He didn’t look at him.
“I’m sorry, that was a kick below the belt,” he said, the harshness from before gone.
Oeric lifted his head. “May I have my request?”
His father didn’t look pleased. “I don’t think it’s the right course of action, but very well,” he relented.
“Thank you, Sir. May I leave now if you have nothing else for me?”
“I’ve nothing else, but you’ve not asked a thing about your son.”
Oeric purposely didn’t. “I know he’s alive.” That’s all that mattered to him. His affairs in the Brotherhood were his own now.
“I was worried about him,” admitted the Arch Monk. “His first month was rough. I thought it was all a failure, but he insisted we let him go on. The reactions peaked and then lessened.”
“That’s good, so he can be around drass beasts?”
“For the most part. He’ll start his grappler training again soon.”
Oeric sat on the edge of his seat. “For the most part?”
“He’s not cured. He still reacts to drass beasts. Sometimes they make him angry, sometimes they make him ill. The wound still bothers him. He’ll be under a lot of observation before I will let him join a band with him as the only grappler.”
Oeric couldn’t help but feel bothered by that. However, he had to let it go and be proud of his son.
“Now, that’s all I’ve to say to you, Oeric.”
Oeric stood to his feet and his father followed. He walked around the desk to embrace his son. Oeric stiffened. He like being touched when he wasn’t expecting it.
“You know I love you, but next time you do something like this, I’m just going to tie you up and beat sense into you.”
Oeric patted his father’s back awkwardly in return. “I’m surprised you didn’t do that this time, Papa.”