Oeric, Soletus, and Clincher were brought straight to the infirmary. They place father and son were on two different examination tables. Soletus was on the right side of the door. Oeric sat on the left. Clincher was walked through the infirmary aisle to one of the private rooms adjacent to him. The Arch Monk was speaking to Soletus, gathering what happened while he was getting tended to.
There wasn’t much to be done to Soletus, thankfully. The chanter treating his son left and came to the right where he sat. He dug in the cabinet for bottles before walking around and headed off to the private room where Clincher was deposited. The Arch Monk made a beeline towards him.
“What were you thinking,” said his father.
The chanter priest, Brother Kiao, put pressure on his head to lower it, so Oeric had to speak to the floor.
“Hello. I’m fine. Thank you for asking,” retorted Oeric, bracing himself for his father’s tirade.
“So, nothing. Not that I’m surprise. You never think! Why didn’t you call the guards, or come to me or, I don’t know, do anything sensible?”
“Calling the guard means nothing to a desperate dog intending to make someone’s life miserable.”
“And I can make his equally so,” returned the Arch Monk with his voice rising.
“You don’t know Clincher.”
“I know he had you tied to a tree. What were you planning to do while being lashed to a tree?”
Oeric didn’t know how long his head could take his father’s erupting. His head throbbed with every syllable. “I was handling the situation. I needed to know how desperate he was given he come here looking for me or someone like me.”
“So, you walk in there alone? Why? You were armed with a black steel dagger. How were you going to deal with him? Kill him and bury the problem?”
“I thought about,” admitted Oeric. “He’s a threat to my family.”
“And you don’t think I’m capable of protecting my own,” shouted the Arch Monk. “I sent you away, so you’ll learn a lesson. Not come back and repeat past mistakes! You never learn.”
Kiao backed away. Oeric lifted his head and got the full view of his father’s anger ripened face.
“Clincher lives by different codes than we do,” he explained. “You don’t chase him out of town with a stick.”
“I’m sending a message to Fort Fisher. They’re going to take him as soon as he’s well enough to travel. You might as well have ripped his arm off.”
“Then cut it off and sent him away. The faster he’s out of here, the safer I would feel.”
His father’s eyes began to bulge.
“Get hot with me all you want, but he already knew who I was married, Fern’s name, as well that she was old enough to send to some human brothel.”
“You’re going back into a chamber and reflect on your actions!”
Oeric let out a short, wry laugh. “Oh, so you’re sending me to my room? Wonderful. I’m glad nothing’s changed between us.”
“Oh, I’m going to do a lot more than that,” said his father, but before the aged elf could add anything else. Soletus manifested behind him.
“Grandpa,” said Soletus. That sharpness in the tod’s voice made it clear to Oeric that his mood hadn’t improved from earlier.
“Let me handle this, go sit,” ordered the Arch Monk.
Soletus continued as if he didn’t hear him. “So, you’re blaming him for everything and fueling the scheme to get him kicked out?”
Kiao had returned with tweezers in hand and Oeric raised his hand to hold him back. “What is he talking about?”
“Oh, so he didn’t tell you,” said Soletus. “Master Tyr’s been going on for weeks after you left thinking of ideas on how to force you out of the order.”
“Soletus,” barked his grandfather.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts it up again and Grandpa wouldn’t stop him like before.”
Soletus then fixed a cool gaze on his grandfather. “Do I look like I’m on duty?”
“You will do as I say when you are on the grounds of this monastery!”
Oeric jaw hung loose watching the two. His past was playing out in front of him like a well-practiced performance.
And then that same wry grin he wore appear on his son’s face and even employed that same smooth taunting voice he often used. “Why should I? You allow everyone else to do stupid things all the time.”
“Soletus,” Oeric exclaimed.
The tod flashed his eyes at him.
Oeric pointed to a chair against the wall. “Please sit down over there!”
He expected a clash. Instead, Soleus turned on his heels and marched over to a chair and sat with his arms folded over his chest. That display worried him. How much could his son mimic him? Did he even realize it? At least his fury wasn’t directed at him.
A wry smile spread across Oeric’s lips. He couldn’t help himself and he said to Solgard, “Affronting him isn’t as rare of ability as I thought. We finally have something in common.”
The Arch Monk’s face soured, and he sat his attention on Kiao. “Brother, how bad is his head?”
“Head injuries are a little fickle,” stated the young man. “This injury worries me.”
“Does he need to stay in the infirmary?”
“Preferably overnight. But would it be safe to have him and that man in the same building?”
“I’m not doing anything else,” assured Oeric.
The Arch Monk became grave. “Son, I’m not sure you understand the significance of this situation. If that man dies, what you did would be murder no matter how few people will miss him or how much he’s scum of the world. Murder is murder!”
Oeric massage his forehead right as Kiao reached for his head again. The young man backed off again and waited.
“I didn’t attack him until after he attacked Soletus. That’s coming to the defense of another. I didn’t provoke the attack. I had him tie me to the tree.”
“Unbelievable! You were aware,” the Arch Monk shouted. “Aware of what you were doing and yet in the end you used that ability, knowing very well how it affects you.”
Oeric slammed his fist on the table and roared back, “You don’t know who that man is.”
The room became silent. He became surprised by his own outburst. His throat felt raw. Pain spread through his hand. He flexed his aching fist and a soft sigh came from behind him. Kiao stepped around and took his hand. He pulled it back. He wasn’t hurt.
“Sorry,” he said to no one in particular.
The Arch Monk recovered himself and said firmly, “Then tell me who he is?”
Oeric froze. He never told his father about Clincher specifically. It was always “a man” or “that man.” He never went into details about what happened to him, and his father didn’t ask. He just saw what it did, and it seemed to be enough. It was prudent for Oeric to tell him in then, however, his tongue became stuck.
The Arch Monk turned around and stepped to the side of Oeric’s line of sight. The tall golden haired Patriarch had entered the infirmary and walked towards them. He saw to the town’s needs, finances, and acted as an arbiter to the locals, and was a liaison to the Seat. He was a busy man and during certain months, out of town for weeks traveling.
“Greetings,” he said with a pleasant smile across his fine face. His green eyes on the other hand, didn’t have that friendly crinkle that spread for the corner of his eyes. Instead, he looked like a hawk who was flying overhead to drop on prey.
The Arch Monk's eyes became wide. “Lord Kharis, I didn’t know you in town again.” Oeric was surprised that he was home, but not by the fact he was there.
“I’ve not been home very long. I walked in and got an earful. I come here directly,” explained the Patriarch. “I heard you caught someone.”
The Arch Monk smoothed out his robe. “Ah yes, First Warden Oeric decided to take it upon himself to deal with a law-breaker. A Clincher, I doubt that’s his real name.”
The smile faded from the Patriarch’s face. “His real name is Castain’Finch. He’s a history of participating in unlawful acts including gambling rings, blighter trade, elf trafficking, exploitation, and murder. The slim covered snake has been arrested, but never found guilty. No witnesses left alive or willing to speak against him, according to Arbiters he loved to bribe.”
The Arch Monk became stunned. “And you know this, how?”
“Personal reasons fueled my interest in finding who this scoundrel was,” said the Patriarch.
“Maelyra sent you here,” said Oeric softly.
The Patriarch regarded him. “You know how it is. They can get you to do anything.” He then said to the Arch Monk. “Solgard, you asked who that man is. I happen to know a story about him. You see, Clincher pursued a runaway fighter who left a debt with him. The man started living an honest life. Had a little house, married his love, and had a daughter. Clincher came to get his debt repaid and did so by killing the man’s wife in front of him and his daughter. The man tried to fight him, failed, and his daughter had to watch him be disemboweled and burned along with her mother and their house.
“He had all the plans in the world to sell the daughter. Humans like elf girls. They’re a novelty. However, the border was being heavily watched and he couldn’t sell her. He dumped her in the possession of his youngest fighter. He claimed her to be perfect for him to take his frustrations out of.”
Oeric watched his father glance over at him and shifted uncomfortably at the story being told.
“Turned out this sandy-haired young man was one of ours. He became lost but didn’t lose all his sense of good. She was left on his floor naked, and he gave her his shirt he was wearing and his extra pair of trouser. Later, he brought her clothing. Nothing fancy, but a wonderful act of kindness. He gave her his bed, while he slept on the floor for the months they were together. Funny thing is, he never said a word to her. She didn’t think he could talk until she heard him threaten and beat a man for leering at her. He would always look at her as if he wanted to speak, but she figured he was too afraid too.
“One-night months later, he told her to follow him and there she saw waiting was a horse and he gave her a bag of coins. He told her to ride northwest to a town named Grace’s Hope. She didn’t want to leave him. What did you tell her, Oeric?”
Oeric stared at the floor. “I told her you know better than I that you don’t run from Clincher.”
The Arch Monk face him held him by the shoulders and shook him. “If you had the ability to buy a horse, you didn’t think for that you could come back here, and I would protect you.”
Oeric unbuttoned the top four buttons of his shirt. Right next to his sternum was a brand. It had faded, but he could still remember the hot iron brand searing his skin. It was a heart being squeezed by a fist with “Clincher’s in curving text going around it.
He swallowed hard, speaking words he never wanted to say to his father and not for Soletus to hear.
“You get this brand after you’re taught to be nothing because you are nothing. Clincher raises you up from nothing. He owns you, and he’ll take care of you. You win fights for him, and he will be generous. He’ll give you extra coin, an apartment to live in during the winter, food, and clothing. He is master and we are his dogs, eager to please. Loyal to the end. I was very eager to please. He would call me son and I would fight harder.”
The Arch Monk brow met, disturbed. “Tell me you didn’t believe that?”
“Yes, your son believed this because he was weak, stupid, and scared. He was too afraid to come home. He thought you hated him.”
The Arch Monk was stilled by those words. He stared at the door that hid Clincher as if he could see through it. The old man clinched his fist.
The Patriarch laid a hand on his shoulder. “I feel the exact same way. Perhaps some fresh air is in order, and we can discuss how we are going to deal with him. Besides, young Brother Kiao is starting to get beside himself.”
“Thank you, Lord Kharis,” said Kiao from behind Oeric.
Solgard stared off and then stopped. “Oeric, instead of you going to the chamber, you speak to me tomorrow. Soletus, with me.”
Oeric watched the Arch Monk saunter off, with Soletus trailing him before the two met each other gazes and then his head was forced down.
“You’re not in as bad of a shape as Soletus was when you sent him here,” stated the young chanter priest in a sterile voice.
Oeric was too weary to be insulted by that statement. Kiao was pulling something out of his wound before pouring on something that sat it on fire. Oeric clinched his teeth to keep from yelping as he wiped his head.
“Sorry,” he said. “I can’t heal a dirty wound.”
Kiao then stood at Oeric’s side and placed his hand over his chest.
“I’m doing some minor,” he explained. “I’m going to finish the healing process tomorrow when the swelling will naturally go down. What worries me is you’ve been struck in the head in that area before. There is damage there.”
“I already know about it.”
“The brain is a funny thing, First Warden. The damage stacks up. Who knows how many more untreated head injuries you can take before it triggers something that can’t be healed. You may lose your memory. You may lose the ability to control the movement of your limbs.”
“Or I go blind.”
“That as well.”
“It’s happened before,” he clarified. “It’s the reason I’m here today. Most fighters tend to die young. The few who grow old are they’re plagued with blindness, tremors, poor speech, and failing memory. I stumble over my words and speak slower than I used to.”
“And yet knowing that you still fought?”
“I still fought.” Oeric rubbed his eyes. The light was bothering him now.
Kiao let out another soft sigh before saying, “First Warden?”
“I…” he paused a moment and laid a tentative hand on his shoulder. “I spent a lot of time with your son over the last seven months. He was often in my care, and I witnessed a lot of things when he was. Many members of this order said a lot of nasty things about you, and they weren’t afraid to say them in front of him.”
Oeric lifted his head. “Well, their words do have some truth to them.”
“According to Soletus, they didn’t,” said Kiao and he folded his arms behind his back. “Your son doesn’t enjoy hearing that you are a bad father. And he doesn’t like being thought as being thick because he refused to hear otherwise.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because he’s my friend,” said the chanter. “And I want to help him. And I believe in order to do that you need to hear this. That that son of yours loves you and he doesn’t want to be ashamed for doing so. Talk to him, please,” he begged. “He’s been insufferable with his moodiness. I suspect it’s because how unresolved everything is between the two of you. He needs.”
Oeric found himself just nodding.
“Now, I bet you want a bed,” said Kiao clapping his hands together. “I think you’ll be more comfortable in the bed closest to the door. Any objections?”
It was the farthest bed from Clincher’s door, in direct view of the podium where the priests often stood, and on the same side of the room so Oeric couldn’t even see the door. Oeric shook his head at the shrewd young chanter priest.
“Good,” said the young man. “Rest here a moment. I’ll get a shift for you to wear.”
Oeric was finally alone. He leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and eyes closed. He then felt arms gather him up. The scent of honeysuckle greeted him, and he rested his head on her shoulder.
“You’re such a brilliant dod,” said Cordea in his ear.
“You married me.”
“I did. I see my mistake and demand an exchange,” she said, rubbing his back. “Maybe someone a bit older and remembers to get eggs. But then age tends to decrease passion and I don’t want that.”
“Then get someone younger,” he suggested, hugging her.
“But then I have to teach them everything and that’s exhausting,” she said, kissing the top of his head.
“That means you’re stuck with me.”