I probably should clarify that. Because I still tell initiates that today, that someone beside you will not make it. They will not finish the training, or the work becomes too much for a variety of reason, or they will die on duty. And that latter one is the reason is why. And you have to pair it with the learning to focus on the living. It’s for two reasons. One, to keep you going forward and not fall into despair. Two, the living always needs help, and the living always needs saving. And that is hard when you first taste that bitter movement. Some move passed it quicker and some struggle. I struggled. Because telling such a thing in training didn't make it real. What made it real was digging those graves. In fact, it made it inescapable. However, I had living to tend to. And I had to keep moving forward even though my heart was ripped in two.
Soletus carried Mien from the gravesite. Mien legs were too weak to support him.Tyrus led the way to a dwelling carved into the cliff wall. The young man pushed aside a tattered piece of stitched leather and brought them into a bare dwelling. Inside, another young man with white hair pulled back into a low queue, was crouched over the packs that were clustered against a far wall. His jaw became unhinged at the sight of Mien.
“Above and…w-w-why is he alive?”
“Don’t question it, Doran. He just is,” replied Soletus.
He then placed Mien down on a woven mat on the dirt floor. The young chanter cradled his head and prayed that his sluggish mind would catch up. He wasn’t sure what was going on and couldn’t recall why Doran was there.
“He looks stunned,” said Doran
“He hasn’t said anything either,” said Tyrus, vanishing.
“Mientheoderic, look at me,” said Soletus. Mien regarded him. “Do you know your name?”
“It’s obvious he does, given you just said it,” muttered Doran.
The young monk ignored him. “Yes or no?”
Mien nodded. He understood why they did it. It was to check how aware someone was. He was aware enough to know Soletus didn’t often call him by his full name. It was always to get his attention or bring him out of a state where he withdrew into himself. Mien only told him to call him that because he like the same. Everyone one else before they met, called him Theoderic. Mien was the pet name his father gave him. And he wanted to keep something of his father alive.
“Do you remember my name,” asked Soletus.
How could he not. The tod who didn’t give up on him. Though no matter how awkward he made the young monk feel, he didn’t give up on him or leave him alone. He possessed a rare kind of character. One the Mien could never think of a word for. He was steady rock. Someone would give a shoulder to lean on as well as a good kick in the rear is needed. However in that moment, Soletus looked shaken to his core. His river colored eyes held some unnamed emotion in them. Relief perhaps, however from the tight grip that incircle Mien’s arms, he was scared.
“Mientheoderic,” said the young monk and then shook him to get his attention. The shake rattled his head. He fought, trying to pry the hands off his arms.
“I’m sorry, calm down,” said the young monk, and he released him.
Tyrus appeared again, this time with a satchel. Mien stared at it, identifying that the leather and the emblem carved into the surface. It was a burning ash leaf with two staff crossing along the bottom of a shield and an egret with its neck twined around the leaf. It was the Dias Brotherhood emblem.
“I need to take your cowl off,” said Tyrus.
Mien let him pull it and the young man placed it beside him. A rust-colored line going down the folds of it caught his attention. It was dried blood and most likely his own. He lifted a hand and run his fingers down his face. Some of it flaked off on the tips of his fingers. He examined the flakes. He figured it come from his temple where the epicenter of his pain was.
“He’s still disoriented,” said Soletus. “I don’t know if it’s safe to keep touching him.”
Tyrus squinted at him. “We need to clean this blood off his head, though. Even though I though we cleaned it.”
“Give him some water first. He’s probably dehydrated.”
Tyrus produced a water skin from somewhere and handed it to Mien. The young chanter snatched it and sucked down the water. His throat no longer felt parched however, it was left scratchy and raw. He needed more water and held the skin out. Doran took it and he went outside.
Tyrus produced a wooded case from Mien’s satchel and opened it, revealing the velvet-lined interior. Inside were three bottles. “Which one is alcohol?”
Mien answered without thinking about it and rasped, “The yellow cork. Always yellow. Clean with water first to get the dirt. I can’t heal a dirty wound.”
Doran walked back into the swelling with a bucket of water. “I got water to clean his head.”
“Thank you,” said Tyrus. “We’ve some leftover somewhere around here. This fellow needs food.”
Mien tilted his head as Tyrus started cleaning the wound as gently as he could.
“How’s his head,” asked Soletus.
Mien’s stomach twisted and aches at being empty. “Hungry,” said Mien.
“Nasty,” answered Tyrus. “Lots of matted blood. I can’t see the wound.”
Doran walked to the back of the dwelling and rummaged around for things. The only one not doing anything was Soletus. He was lingering with his hand clasped on Mien’s forearm. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he wasn’t holding on as if he were afraid to let go. Mien swallowed, to speak, but his tongue stopped working. All he could do was let out a grunt and scowl at Soletus.
“Sorry,” he said, letting go.
Tyrus then told him, “You don’t have to hover.”
“I just want to make sure he’s okay.”
“He’s not going to fall over dead,” returned Tyrus. “His heart is thumpin’ along, granted it’s rapid, but thumpin’.”
“His eyes have that glassy sheen to them, like he might lose it soon.”
Tyrus jerked his head to the door. “Go. If he does, I’ll shout.”
Soletus didn’t move.
Tyrus lowered his hand and met Soletus’s gaze. “Look, I get it. I can’t believe he’s alive too. But give him a bit of space, okay? I mean, if he needed you, would he look so annoyed right now?”
Soletus let out a long-exhausted sigh and stood. “I’ll finish the graves. When you’re done, help me finish up. Then we can decide what to do next.”
Soletus left and Doran came back with more water to drink and a steaming bowl. He handed Mien the tin mug first.
“Drink this. You can eat after Tyrus is done,” he told him.
Tyrus worked while Mien sat and drank. He could feel the cool water trailing down his head, and the monk wiped it every time it ran too close to his collar.
“So is his head that bad,” asked Doran breaking the silence.
“I’ve not found the wound yet,” said Tyrus. “I reckon it’s behind this scab I’m cleaning now.”
Mien could feel him brushing against the tender spot.
“Given how he’s wincing now, I think you found it,” said Doran.
“Speak up if I’m hurting you,” said Tyrus.
The pain wasn’t bad until Tyrus started dapping on the alcohol. Mien yelped and clenched his teeth at the stinging. Pain radiated from the spot and spread throughout his skull, clearing his head. Tyrus stopped.
Mien leaned forward, letting the sensation disperse. He sat back upright. “Keep going,” he said.
He knew the quicker the wound was cleaned the better off he would be.
Tyrus continued. “It doesn’t look too bad, like it’s already started healing.”
Doran provided him with another cup of water and stared at him hard, and then told Tyrus,
“After you’re done with that, look at his eyes and tell me what you see.”
“Done and done,” said Tyrus. “Look at me for a second.”
Mien met his gaze.
Tyrus brow rose and then his eyebrows slowly scrunched together. “Looks like the lights are gone.”
Mien became aware that the world sounded like his head was stuffed in a bucket. He couldn’t feel the tingling warm sensation around the wound on his head or any of the injuries on his body that needed healing. He noted the center of the palm of his right hand was sore. Raw flesh was showing. Mien closed his eyes and forced himself to speak the phrase of healing. He tried to pull the essence from his magical heart. There was nothing there to connect to Dias’s quintessence. There was only a trickle. It wasn’t enough to inspect his body magically, let alone heal. He bet he couldn’t even wink a spark of light into existence.
He opened his eyes and felt heavy. The world became even duller and even gray looking. He leaned to the side and sank down.
“I don’t think he can heal it,” said Doran, pulling out bandages from the satchel and handed them to Tyrus. “Bandage his head. I’ll tell Soletus.”
Tyrus wound the bandage around his head, cleaned his hand, upper arm that had been nicked by an arrow. The young man also helped him out of his clothing. Then Mien saw something disturbing, the front of Mien’s jerkin was stained. It was more blood and it soaked down to his cream colored shirt. Even the top of his trousers and cord around his waist as a blotch of blook on them. As each article of clothed was splayed in front of him, it told a story of a sickening amount of blood. He wasn’t sure who it was from as Soletus mentioned graves and the dead woman he saw when he woke up.
The ache in his stomach became nausea instead. However, liked a good field medic, Tyrus forced him to take a bite or two before leaving him and laid a blanket across him, carrying his bloodied clothing away. Mien did the only thing he could do, and that was sleep. His mind started to clear, but there were very little signs of remembering what had occurred. He slept a dark sleep and woke up to heavy rain pouring outside. The home was filled with the smell of smoke from the fire burning in the pit in the center of the home. Its light pushed away the gloom to but it still hung in the atmosphere.
A hand rested on his upper arm, patting him. Mien followed it to Soletus, who was leaning against the wall, watching the flames. The dirt that was smeared on his face from sweat, had been cleaned off. In fact, Mien could smell the faint scent of soap coming off him. He then looked ahead of him and saw his clothing stretched near the fire to dry.
He reached for the hand resting on him and patted it. The young monk’s faraway gaze vanished, and he looked down, surprised. His features relaxed in relief, and he asked, “I didn’t think you would wake until tomorrow. You need anything, food or water?”
Mien swayed his head.
“How do you feel?”
“Tired,” he moaned, wishing he could just fall back off to sleep.
Soletus pulled his hand from under his and rested it on top. “I’m sorry we thought you were dead. You didn’t even look like you were breathing, and I couldn’t feel a heartbeat. You even got cold. I can’t say you feel that warm now.”
He felt cold even though a fire blazed.
“You’re burned out,” he added.
“Burned out,” said Mien, becoming alert. “How am I suffering from burnout?”
Brother Hickory, Nimbus, and Oli warned him about chanter burnout. It happened when a chanter used too much of themselves to the point of exhausting themselves and their abilities completely. He didn’t even know what he could’ve done to use himself up magically.
“You did a lot after—” the young man paused and then became rigid. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
“We were at the inn discussing coming to that gorge, and then I had a edict vision in the middle of it,” said Mien and tried to recall what happened after that. “I don’t remember anything else. It’s like the other time I had a vision. I don’t remember coming back to the inn. But this is worse. I’m missing an entire day.”
Soletus hung his head down, gathering his thought.
Tyrus then spoke from somewhere in the room. “You seriously don’t remember?”
Mien pushed himself to a sitting position and saw the entire small dwelling cast in shadow. Lightning flicked through the window around the doorway and thunder rolled. Doran was in the corner and even he looked reluctant to say anything.
“What happened,” he demanded.
Soletus then spoke, mimicking his father’s measured voice. “I’ll give you the short of it all. We left town days ago to go to the gorge. That’s where we are now. We come across some friendly folk here and they were in a situation we should’ve never been involved with. Kellas wanted to help them as it helped us. I wanted to leave. When we were leaving, there was an ambushed. Lyndon was killed.”
All the blood drained from Mien’s face. He looked around the dwelling. He didn’t realize that he hadn’t even seen Lyndon until then. Then his eyes drifted back to his clothing that was drying.
“How did he die,” he breathed. Why didn’t I save him?
Soletus’s gulped and said with his voice sracking. “Don’t worry about it.”
“Anyway, I disagreed with Kellas on our next course of action. He wanted to continued on with who was left. I wanted to deal with the dead and leave. Valhart and I got into it. You argued with him, too. And then I got into a physical fight with him, and he got a rock from the ground. You came to shield me and then he struck you on the head. I thought he killed you. I refused to go, so Kellas abandoned us.”
Mien became confused how he could forget something like that. He didn’t even know what to say. He then understood Soletus’s clinginess.
“Are you okay,” he asked.
Soletus fixed his gaze on the flames. “I’m… well enough.”
Mien’s face ticked. He was lying. He might’ve not had his enhanced hearing, but the pain in Soletus’s voice was clear.
When Mien's stare didn’t waiver, Soletus regarded him again. “Don’t worry about me. Focus on getting better.”
Mien sunk back down, looking at the faces of what remained of their band.
“Just get rest,” said Doran curtly, and sank down to sleep.
Tyrus, who was the closest to the fire told him, “Do like the grump suggests.”
The young chanter began to wonder if what was going on in front of him was the waking world. It was just as surreal as it was earlier. Maybe he was dreaming and hadn’t woken up. He did as he was told but drifting again was hard. Thoughts about death entered the corner of his mind like an old friend there to remind him how his father was ripped from him. A knot formed in his throat. When his hands started trembling, he stuffed them under the blanket and balled them up into fists.
I’m not fifteen anymore, he thought. That time of sadness had passed. Crying wasn’t something he was about to do when he was sad anymore. Yet, tears ran down his face. He didn’t want to be sad. Not like he was with his father. That sorrow consumed him, and it was the start of his path to where he was todays.
After the numbness of learning of his death faded, the aching started. He felt the full brunt of it after his father’s last rites were performed. He remembered walking into his father’s office and standing there looking over his desk, covered in mining maps. On the corner lay his father’s ledger with his last entry marked with a black tassel.
Mien remembered picking up that black leather-bound book and opening it to see his father’s handwriting across the page. It was messy and incoherent. His mother always complained about it and yet to him it was beautiful in that moment. It was art. His writing was one of the few representations of his personality left in the world. He hugged the ledger, wishing he could use it to bring his father back. He fell to his knees, wanting the words to be the sound of his voice instead. He wanted to get one more hug.
Mien forced those memories out of his mind. He didn’t need them to invade his rest that night as they had in the past. After he arrived at the Brotherhood, the man’s death hurt less and less. There was no need to renew or replace Lyndon’s death with it.
He focused on what he was hearing and used the drizzle turning into a steady rain to focus. To stop thinking. He listened to the droplets collecting right outside the door into a puddle. Normally, such a sound would become too annoying with his sharper hearing. However, his hearing was dulled down and he could enjoy the white noise around him. He slept lightly. It was something he couldn’t stop from doing. A part of him was always alert for off sounding noise and heard it in the form of gasping.
He opened his eyes to darkness and pushed himself up, so he was resting on his hip.
“Soletus,” he hissed, wondering if his friend heard it. There was no reply, but the gasping sound was clearly coming from his direction. The young chanter reached out in front of him. He felt nothing but dirt, scooted forward, and continued to grope in the dark until he struck Soletus’s back. He laid his palm on the flat of the young man’s back, and felt him shaking. He used what little strength he had to scoot closer and found Soletus’ arm. For an instant, he became alarmed and believed the young monk had caught some sort of sickness, and then he heard a sniffle through the grasp.
Mien had seen Soletus cry. Usually when he was physically hurt, and it was always silent tears. At that moment, he sounded like he was dying. He would’ve worried more if he hadn’t done the same thing when his father died. Grief felt like it was trying to kill him. The memory he didn’t want to continue remembering, rested in the forefront of his mind. He lay on the floor of his father’s office, hugging that ledger. It was then his sister found him. She didn’t try to pick him up or move him. Instead, she just laid across him and mourned with him. She whispered to him so he didn’t feel alone.
Mien scooted beside Soletus, sitting upright. He found one of his arms and gripped it. Soletus took hold of it and held it to his chest. A knot formed in his throat. It threatened to choke him, but he managed to repeat the words his twin spoke to him.
“I wish he was here, Sol. I wish he was here, too.”