The best place to start is that night. That last night I was young. The last time I had that feeling of invincibility. That I was physically and mentally strong enough, and if I needed help, I would always have Lyndon by my side. But life isn’t about what we expect. What we plan for. Life is an experience we can’t always predict. I never imagine that moment. His arms over my shoulder, telling me he how proud he was. He started regaling about how far we made it together and that I would go even further than he would. At first, I didn’t understand where it was all coming from, but I suspected something was up. Something about how his hand gripped my shoulder. The tone of his voice was too cheery. My suspicion grew when he toasted us loudly. That was more than his usual theatrics. I asked him what was wrong. I thought he had too much to drink, and he did. Then he told me with a smile that he was going to turn in his sash. That his eyesight was getting worse. I felt betrayed. All this time I believe that we started together, and we would end it together.
-Excerpt from Interview with Master Sol, written by Patriarch Lord Theris’Heron
The music started again. Between the beating drum and the woman playing the furious reel on her flute, Mien wanted to sing. To sing what, he didn’t know. He couldn’t single out an element he enjoyed the most. Maybe it was the entire sensation of the music, the pounding feet of the audience on the ground, or the clapping hands that fueled the sense of exhilaration he felt. It was like rushing down a road on a galloping horse. He needed to learn the song. He loved it, Kiao would love it.
The barkeeper who stood behind the outdoor bar was clapping along, leaned towards him and said, “I see you like the music.”
“Better not disturb him,” answered Soletus. “He’ll be disappointed if he didn’t get to hear this song through.”
The corner of Mien’s mouth went up in appreciation. Soletus did an excellent job of diverting people away from him. He couldn’t memorize notes thoroughly and speak at the same time. He could listen to them and the music as he was trained to listen to multiple sounds and magical timbres when needed. But not when he needed to be focused. His finger started wriggling on the side of the wooden goblet of wine he held as if it was his flute.
“I see. Do all chanters look like they have fireflies in their eyes,” asked the man.
“Only when they’re using their abilities.”
“Wouldn’t want to see that in the dark," muttered the man, disturbed.
Soletus took a swing from his pint of water and shrugged. “You get used to it.”
Pleasant chills rolled through Mien’s body when the song slowed down with a long deep note from the flute. The drummer then cut off his beat and the song took on a whole new life. They were playing an elvish set.
Even better, he thought.
“Does he sing? We’re having singers tonight,” asked the barkeeper.
Singing too? Mien grinned.
“He can sing, but he’s a little reluctant in front of large crowds. Groups songs are fine, so expect him to sing along. He’ll love to listen to whomever you have.”
“Is he listening to us?”
Mien gave the man a quick glance and then went back to studying.
“He is, but his attention is always going to be on the music,” said Soletus.
“I guess he ain’t much of a dancer. What about you? We’ve some nice lasses that’ll like to thank you and your band for what you did for our town.”
Soletus declined amiably. “I don’t dance very well.”
Dias, bless him. Find a better excuse, my friend, thought Mien. Soletus could dance very well when he felt inclined. Anyone who saw him fight could see the grace in his movements.
“Reel dancing doesn’t take a lot of skill,” said the Barkeeper.
“True, but I would be a horrible friend if I didn’t keep him from doing something embarrassing again.”
The music went on refrain, so Mien regarded Soletus with an arched brow. He had no idea what he was referring to.
“Remember at that one festival, you started singing the second part of that duet that could be sung with one singer?”
Mien’s face became warm, and he knew those freckles on his cheeks were showing.
“That doesn’t count,” he told him.
“The crowd loved it. That lovely fawn appreciated it too,” teased Soletus further.
“So, all it takes is a pretty face to get him to sing,” questioned the man.
“No, a pretty voice. It’s all about sound to chanters.”
“We’ve plenty pretty voiced young ladies here,” he said excitedly.
“I already have a pretty voiced sweetheart,” said Mien when the music stopped. He drained his goblet, forgetting it was wine, until he swallowed.
Soletus let out a sigh and took the goblet away from him. “This is why I have to stay with him. Music makes him careless. He can get intoxicated on it like wine.”
The older elf grinned roguishly. “Oh, I can keep the drinks coming if I can get a chance to hear a chanter sing.”
“Your town is full of good musicians. Kept that up and you don’t have to make me drunk,” Mien said, smirking and that brought a growling sigh from Soletus’s chest.
“How many have you had now,” he asked.
“That’s the only goblet I’ve had,” said Mien. Wine worked quickly on him. Especially strawberry, and that was what he was drinking.
Another poor choice on my part, he thought.
“And that’s enough,” said his friend, looking him over. “I’m surprised to see you this lively after today.”
“There’s music, and I didn’t make a fool of myself today on my first official mission. Then again, how could I? I was tending horses and horses tend themselves.”
Soletus rolled his eyes skyward and said sardonically, “But a behemoth isn’t the best way to test your skills. Besides, it’ll help the grappler too much.”
Mien burped and said, “What if I tell them that the larger the drass beast, the brighter they burn, and I like burning things.”
“Yep, enough drinks for you,” said Soletus.
“I can handle one more,” said Mien and made a shooing motion with his hands. “You don’t have to hover at my side. Go somewhere.”
“That’s what I’m saying,” exclaimed the barkeeper.
“Well, my arm was nearly pulled from my shoulder today. I can’t die of a shoulder spasm if I’m near you.”
Mien gave his friend a flat look. “If a pulled shoulder muscle sends you to death’s door, I’ll be doing you a favor by letting you die.”
Soletus shoved him.
“You have a good friend there, Brother,” said the barkeeper. “Otherwise, I would keep the drinks coming until you agreed to something.” He then gave him a wink and left to tend to someone on the other end of the outside bar.
Mien sighed contently. He scanned the crowd and his gaze landed on two more members of their band. Soletus’s cousin, Lyndon, and Tyrus. They had come off the dance area and dropped into the seats around the table they occupied. There were entertaining two girls, twins, and they were laughing like idiots. The two started to get along well together since they both had a strong interest in girls.
“Those two are at it again,” said Mien.
Soletus glanced at them briefly and searched around the crowd before stopping. Mien followed his gaze and saw Doran off to the side eating a platter’s worth of food and talking to a group of towns’ folks.
Soletus then said, “Tyrus figured out why he was added to the roster.”
Mien had waited a long time to work with Kellas’s band. He would not have done so if he knew Doran was going to join up at the same time. He remembered the grins dropping off the two cousins’ faces when they saw Doran show up in full gear, ready to join them. The three of them had avoided each other since the fight Soletus had with him, and now they were in the same band. When they asked Doran why he was there, the young man told them it was none of their business.
“I know he didn’t ask Doran, so how did he find out,” asked Mien.
“Cole told him when he was grumbling about Lyndon. He claimed that Kellas is looking to replace Lyndon and since Doran is crossed trained…”
Mien was stunned. “What’s wrong with Lyndon?”
“He’s a good forward scout, but his archery is poor. I mean, you saw that today.”
Lyndon’s shots had come up short before he landed them like he couldn’t see a thing. Yet he had no trouble spotting a pretty girl. Lyndon looked their way as if he heard his name from that distance and raised his cup at him. Mien gave him a nod.
Soletus held his cup to his cousin. “If he gets rid of Lyn, I might as well get ready to be kicked out of the order. He’s the only thing keeping me from punching Valhart in his jaw.”
Mien heard a lot of stories about Valhart over the last four years. All of them were tales of his vast stupidity and rudeness towards junior members, especially Soletus. Mien was prepared for his biting words and insults. He wasn’t disappointed. Valhart wanted a “real” man as a combat chanter. Not some sniffling, manic whelp. Kellas told him to deal with it and left it at that. He didn’t stop him from being insulted even when Valhart did it right in front of him. It didn’t help that the first warden kept him out of combat and had him spend most of his time taking care of the horses. It made Mien like Kellas even less. He never had since the moment he had met him. There was something about his voice that sounded wrong. He couldn’t put his finger on it.
Secretly, the young chanter had wanted another field warden to invite him to a band. Being with friends was nice but, being in a better band could help them out as well. However, after a year and a half of serving under Soletus’s father’s training band, it did nothing to ease the trepidation about him. He became a floater, like Nimbus who worked with multiple bands. Kellas needed a chanter for this mission and he was the only one free.
“You two really like standing around doing a lot of nothing,” said Lyndon suddenly beside him.
Mien jumped and clutched his chest.
“Sorry,” said Lyndon, with merriment dancing in his eyes. He threw his arm around his cousin’s shoulder. “I bear a message from Tyrus. You two need to join us.”
Mien and Soletus peered at the table; there were two more girls over there. All of them waved them over.
“They look boring,” said Mien as a twinge of repulse coursed through him. It was the bond reminding him they weren’t Kiao. Not that he needed it. “Besides, I’m preoccupied with music.”
“I’m preoccupied by not being pre-occupied,” said Soletus. “And as you Senior Junior—”
Lyndon interrupted him with a snort. “Sorry, but it’s a stupid title.”
“Anyway, I need to keep an eye out. Kellas isn’t here.”
Lyndon spun around, pointed to the left and then lowered his hand, becoming confused.
“Strange, Cole, Pace, and Rhys were just sitting over there belly laughing. Kellas pulled Valhart away earlier,” said Lyndon with a shrug. “I thought he got tired of seeing his ugly face and dropped him in a ditch.”
Soletus’s brow went flat as he placed his drink down.
“You’re not going to look for them, are you,” asked Lyndon.
“I’m thinking about,” said Soletus, being as sentinel as ever.
Lyndon let out a long-suffering sigh and tightened his hold around him. “Seriously, you’re beginning to travel down the river of dour. Soon you’ll catch up with Uncle Oeric.”
Soletus scowled at his cousin. “I am not!”
The air pressure around Mien changed. His ears popped and a sensation of heaviness warmed his chest. He turned his chin upward and looked at the sky. The night was clear. There wasn’t a storm above them or nearby.
“That Sheldmartin grimness is strong with you. You need to relax and enjoy life every-once-in a while.”
“I am enjoying life," exclaimed Soletus.
“Like an old man. Come on, be young. They really want to speak with you.”
Soletus glanced over at the table and looked uneasy. “They’re going to expect something.”
A smirk spread on Lyndon’s face. “Are you really still stirred up by that father wanting you to take his daughter as a wife?”
Soletus groaned. “Why did you have to remind me of that?”
Mien laughed to himself. He was told the story by Lyndon, of course. Soletus was just too “healthy” looking for a nomadic Fenndish Dyne father to ignore.
“At least you can just strut around getting offers. The rest of us have to work. And it helps us get them off of you if you help me by you being the less dull you,” said Lyndon. “You too Mien.”
“No. I’ve a reputation of bizarre to uphold,” he said, cradling his head and wobbled. The world started spinning. He didn’t know if it was the wine getting to him or what. Soletus held him by the shoulders to steady him. Mien could hear the young monk’s breathing. The volume of the surrounding voices increased. Instead of an open town square, it sounded more akin to a crowded hall with the noise trapped inside instead of dispersing.
“Too noisy,” he told his friend.
Soletus let him go and the young chanter stumbled away from the bar. He walked away from festivities to the darker, quieter, and cooler road. To get his get his mind's ear under control quickly, he couldn't be around a lot of sounds. Timbre sensitivity made that and his normal hearing more acute to the point it was painful. Even though there were crickets and other night critters around him, it didn't compare to the clapping, foot stomping, and instrument played upon. He closed off channels created by timbres all around him. Then control the volume which he heard the world in so he could figure out what had happened.
When his ability took a will of its own, it was to bring something to his attention. This wasn’t one of those moments. Which he found odd. However, there wasn’t anything distinctive in the mass of sound. Not even whispers of the chorus of the world or some ancient ward. There wasn’t even a drass beast slinking in the distance.
He walked until he stood at the edge of town. Something still felt off. His mind ear felt like it was straining, reaching to listen to something. Mien thought it might be something odd around him. It was dark around him so he chanted the phrase of light to see around and light in the shape of a golden sun globe manifested. It not only lit the road in front of him, but the entire world around him became daylight.
Mien became still.
He the road he was on vanished and now he was standing in a field of golden grass at sunset painted in autumn hues. There was no music, just the wind whispering around him. He spun on his toes to look behind him; there was no town. Just grass going all the way to the horizon. A quake worked its way from the center of him. He took an involuntary step back into someone. He spun around. Before him was a shadow of his late father and a less spindly version of himself. Long copper hair framed his face that held green eyes backlit with gold. The man’s mouth lifted from one side first in a fond smile.
“No need to get all shaky. You’re safe. We need to talk,” said the being before him.
Mien tilted his head and narrowed his eyes at the mature image of himself. Something wasn’t right with his voice. His lit was stronger, but there was something else there. He then walked around himself trying to see any other difference other than age. He met his eyes again, and they flickered into something that was all the colors at the same time.
“Who are you,” Mien asked.
“Who do you think I am," the being returned.
“Not me,” he offered. He had no idea what was going on and why he was seeing his older self. Had the wine he was drinking been bad? Was he hallucinating?
The being’s eyes crinkled. “Stop being suspicious. I’m a glimpse of you some decades in the future. We’ve never been one for visions, I know, but we’re having one right now. An important one at that.”
Mien's stomach sunk. He had an idea that was learning a new phrase. And not just any phrase and it couldn’t come at a worse time.
“You should know by now, you never get a phrase when you want it, but when you need it,” he said in response to his thoughts. “And nobody learns their edict phrase at a time of their choosing, but a time when they need to learn it.”
Mien felt a lump forming in his throat. Brother Hickory felt he would learn his edict phrase next. Granted, he didn’t know what the phrase would be out of the ten phrases of the Hymn of Dias. Mien knew if a chanter dreamt of themselves in the past, future, or even the present in a vision, they would learn insight. Here was what Mien assumed was his future self. That probably met he would see the future. A prospect he didn’t look forward to. The phrase of insight was easy to learn, difficult to master concerning how abstract the visions were.
The being in front of him laughed at his thought. “No, you’ve something more special to learn,” he said and took him by the shoulders and turned him around to face the sunset. “Listen to the wind. What do you hear?”
Mien heard a phrase whispered in many harmonious voices. He couldn’t tell what it was. It touched the edge of his understanding and when he reached to grab it, the phrase left him.
“I can’t hear it.”
“Listen hard,” instructed the being firmly in his ear. “You need to listen and understand.”
The young chanter concentrated on the voices around him. He knew the phrase; he repeated the Hymn of Dias each day as he was taught. However, his understanding of the words was gone.
“A chanter can sing the hymn as much as they like, but they have to understand the meaning with their soul and why it’s important to them.”
Mien closed his eyes and tried to listen nut understood nothing.
“Of course, you can’t learn everything at once. However, you need to learn.” Mien opened his eyes and saw the sun sink below the horizon. “You see, when the sun goes down, darkness comes, and evil is about.”
Suddenly, the landscape became cold. He could feel a drass beast’s presence creeping in the back of his mind, getting closer to them. He could hear it rustling the grass.
“Drass beasts are indeed scary; however, evil comes in more forms. They come as people around you.”
Mien then saw his uncle appear several feet in front of him holding a lantern, casting his dark shadows on his. Mien felt his heart thumping wildly in his chest and his breath became short.
“One day you will face him,” whispered his older self in his ear. “And learn that he is nothing more than a crooked man. He is the least of all things in the world out to destroy. So, you must learn to trust Dias and protect those you can. This is your edict. Learn your phrase.”