Yeah, this leads to the lovelace incident. Try not to laugh too hard. You know I was an idiot when I was younger. I know now, I should have told my parents or Kiao, whom I trusted. However, I messed up. See, I knew he put lovelace in my drink. Loverlace, of all kinds, has a certain smell to it. Once you learn it, you never forget it. Something sweet smelling can mask it. I was drinking a dry cider. Instead of dumping it, I thought I could beat it and mess with Valhart. And why did I think that? I’ll tell you why. I had two drinks before that. I was on my third one. My ability to be smart flew away at that point. And of top it all off, Valhart used the lovelace I bought. Basically, I handed him something to hang over my head on a platter. I got drunk, I’m neth, and he caught me buying lovelace. All in all, it was a situation of my creation.
The rush of being discovered lead to another long ride without a lot of talk. If someone was spoke, Mien’s concentration was looking out for anymore consorts, drass beasts, and Kellas himself. Cole claimed he was alone, but that meant Kellas was nearby. He probably was likely at the washed-out bridge or near it. However, they were clearly still ahead of him and were pulling away as fast as they could with Soletus on foot jogging.
The young monk slowed down after they put at least two miles between them and Cole. He walked to the side of the road to a high embankment and leaned against the earth.
“Alright, that happened,” he said at length after his breathing slowed.
Tyrus dismounted his horse. “Kellas is probably going to come for us since you shot the grandpa back there.”
Soletus' face became taunt.
Tyrus raised his palms up. “Hey, now I think he deserved it. Don’t shoot someone and not expect to be shot back.”
Doran then added. “Sol doesn’t feel bad about it. He thinks he’s done right.”
Mien tasted sour cherries in his mouth. It made him want to gag.
Tyrus situated himself beside of Soletus but said to Doran. “Well, Cole was being a rat and needed all the help to curb that behavior.”
Soletus remained tight jawed.
“Look, you're upset about Lyndon--” started the half-elf.
Soletus pushed himself upright. “I’m not upset. I’m perfectly fine.” He then started pacing back and forth. “Cole just rubbed me the wrong way, is all. He comes here acting like a mouthpiece for Kellas trying to buy us. How stupid do they think we are?”
“Considerin’ he’s never thought we were all that intelligent…” said Tyrus watching him and then eyes flicked to Mien for him to do something.
The young chanter held a hand up. There was no need to stop him. Soletus needed to vent. Talking to him calmed him.
“You know what’s likely was to happen if we followed him, we would be would be in a world of hurt. The only way they’ll make me shut up about what happened is if he killed me.”
Tyrus nodded. “True. I’ll be shocked if he didn’t mean for that arrow to hit me and then pick us off one at a time.”
“Exactly,” said Soletus, slowing down a little. “Hitting his consort bought us time, but Dias knows I shouldn’t’ve done that.”
“I get it. You feel guilty, but we gave him a fighting chance,” said Tyrus. “He’ll wake up more crotchety and we won’t be there. The only bad thing for him and great for is that he doesn’t get to summon his sooty turkey for a day. You didn’t do something cruel like shoot him in the arm without a healer.”
Soletus stopped pacing and looked up at Doran. “I didn’t ask how’s the arm?”
His arm still rested in the sling Mien made for him. “Aching.”
“I can give you something if the pain gets too much,” said Mien.
“That would be nice,” said Doran.
Mien slid off his saddle and dug into his satchel. He felt Soletus’s gaze on him. “What do you want, Sol?”
“Sorry. I should’ve acted like that,” he said.
Mien glanced over his shoulder. “Your worse isn’t close to my worse.”
“I’m not offended by your actions. You are a better person than that, that’s all I want you to remember,” said Mien firmly, and handed Doran a packet of pain powder. “What do we do? Keep going north?”
The young monk nodded. “Preferably as far as we can go. I want to discourage Kellas from following us by making it a waste of time.”
Doran then pointed out. “Our led isn’t going to last long. He can cross more ground quicker.”
“Not if I can get a horse,” said Soletus.
“It’s going to have to be a town that likes to accommodate the Brotherhood. Crossings was that town,” said Doran. “Anything north of here, they are going to want us to do something, and we don’t have time for that.”
“What about the outpost somewhere around here,” asked Tyrus.
“There is one northeast of Crossings, over the river,” said Soletus. “That doesn’t help us. And I think there is another on this side of the river near the border. But, at this time of year, it’s unmanned not to mention out of the way. We wouldn’t get much from them other than some food.”
“We need food,” said Tyrus. “We’ll be tightening our sashes soon.”
“Then how about we stay our course and follow this road as far as we can? If I remember right, there’s a fork and we’ll decide then.”
They pushed onward, even going a little farther closer to sunset. Field wardens didn’t travel past sundown. They made camp and ate when it was still light. It was safer. However, Soletus forewent safety to make sure they were a safe distance ahead before they settled down to a campfire. Mien noted that Soletus didn’t eat anything meaningful that evening. He drank water, but not eating was going to become a problem.
They were trained to deal with situations where food were supplies were low but, that didn’t stop bodies from getting worn from it. They could still go on without constantly breaking, but morale was going to get low. Mien was hoping that wouldn’t happen.
When they got to they got to the fork the next day, they were left confused. There were no stone or wooden road markers to tell them where they were at. There was no ash leave marker pointing to a brotherhood outpost. It was just one way or the other. To their right was the road that looked like a place where many ticks lay waiting to attach itself to skin. To their left was a clearer path that had a vast puddle of water stretched along its length like a miniature pond.
Doran's head swung left to right in indecision.
“Well, the path that clearly used is the way to go,” said Tyrus. “Even if it’s covered in mud.”
“Is it,” said Doran. “We’re on the assumption that the road that it is the well-traveled.”
Mien hated to agree with him, but Doran was correct.
“The right path follows the river, though,” said Soletus.
“Yes, but for how long? I think the road ends at a waterfall. The one on the left leads north, I think. We could try to ford the river but, the last time I saw the river, it was far below and still high from the rain. The decision is yours, Senior Warden,” said Doran. “This is just my observations.”
Soletus bobbed his head in consideration and said, “What do you think, Mien?”
Mien glared at Soletus. “Why do I suddenly need to have an opinion?”
“Because you’re acting second.”
At some point, Soletus told them. Mien didn’t remember. He wondered if it created an argument. Tyrus, by his horse, didn’t seem to care. Doran managed to keep his face from puckering up.
“My concern is the road going up a waterfall. How do we get up it? There has to be a road or something but if we can get up it, then we have to backtrack here. I say we go north. If the road runs basically parallel to the river, then well turn and just travel west until we hit the river again.”
Tyrus raised his hand. “Do I get an opinion?”
Soletus nodded. “Yes.”
“I don’t wanna travel down that. We’ll be diseased from the ticks and poisoned from the snakes ‘fore we make it to the falls.”
“Left then,” decided Soletus with finality.
“Do you want me to scout ahead,” said Doran.
“Yes, but don’t get ahead too far. Just tell me how long this mud slick lasts.”
“As you wish,” said Doran with his usual sourness.
Mien ran his tongue over the roof of him mouth. There was one thing he wished he didn’t regain. He reached for his water skin and swished the liquid from it in his mouth. Tyrus rode his horse close to Soletus leaning down.
“You, you could’ve just told us to head wherever,” he said.
“Maybe I want everyone to have a say. I’m not Kellas.”
“Yeah, I get you but, you have to pick better moments to do that. Doran’s had his shorts in his crack since you announced Mien being your second.”
“And you don’t care,” asked Mien.
“No, better you than me,” laughed Tyrus. “I don’t want that kind of responsibility.”
As they traveled, they talked lightly about what they wanted to do when they returned. It was then that Mien noticed something odd. They didn’t come across a village or even a hermit or sign of someone who actually used the road. It narrowed down to a dirt path before it ended at the foot of a burnt village. After that, there was absolutely nothing. A field covered in waist tall grass spread across as far as the eye could see to their west and east. To the north, ahead of them, was a dark line of trees.
“I don’t understand,” said Doran. “We followed this road straight and it should’ve taken us not here.”
Soletus slid off his saddle. “At least not here is open.”
“And everything can see us,” muttered Tyrus absently as he walking to a charcoal shell that was once a home. He rubbed his fingers down the surface of the last standing supports to a house frame. “It wasn’t recent, but wasn’t like years ago.”
“It happened last year maybe,” said Mien inspecting the ground and his gaze wondered up to the trees.
“Lightning, accident, or intentional,” asked Soletus.
Doran guided his horse to the edge of the village and said, “I don’t know, but here’s a mass grave.”
Mien jumped from his saddle and approached where Doran was. He found a long strip of piled earth covered with tao stone powder. He rubbed the grit between his fingers and studied the markers. They were all made from ground tao stone that was fired. Obviously, the Brotherhood had some hand in marking the graves. He couldn’t recall a mission calling for such a thing. He looked to Soletus. If anyone knew, it was him. But he looked just as puzzled. There were twenty stones, however, there wasn’t room for twenty bodies. It was too small. He stood up and the hairs on his arms stood on end at the unusual sight. He rubbed his arms. He didn’t feel safe at all.
Then the wind stirred. It rustled through grass and brushed his ears. Within the breeze, he heard the voice. It was a desperate plea for help. It was clearer and was coming from direction of a dark line for trees.
“Maybe everyone here burned in a fire,” Tyrus guessed.
“No, I think this place was intentionally burned. The burnt areas don’t extend past the village. So, it wasn’t a brush fire,” said Soletus.
“I say we turn back around,” suggested Doran.
“We need to go north,” said Mien.
“I would prefer that,” agreed Soletus.
Doran shook his head. “North is just a rough estimate to get us home. We need to get back to the river. There is always a town, village, or something by the river and clearly there is something nearby. Someone had to set the markers. We need directions and supplies. We’re running on mushrooms, and leaves.”
“I don’t know how safe we are to backtrack,” said Soletus, sounding very uncertain.
Doran trotted his horse in front of Soletus, blocking his way. “It’s now a race against time. Kellas could beat us home and likely lie and claim we committed insubordination. You might be okay with offenses hanging over your head. I don’t.”
Mien then spoke louder and firmer. “We need to go north. There’s a voice on the wind. I need to go towards it.”
The rest of his companions all turned their heads at the same time to him.
Soletus walked around Doran’s horse to where Mien was standing. “What kind of voice?”
“I don’t know, other than desperate,” he said as it touched his ears again. His feet moved on their own accord towards it before he stopped himself. “It’s a plea for help. I’ve heard it a couple of times. Now it’s much stronger. It’s part of my edict.”
“Isn’t your edict something for you to do alone and not involving anyone,” asked Doran.
Mien could feel a pull in that direction. “I can’t ignore it.”
Doran pointed down the road. “We need to get home.”
Soletus wiped the sweat off his face and massaged the back of his neck. “Believe me, I want to go home too, but if the chanter says we need to do something, then we do it.”
Doran’s face puckered. “So, you two are just going to let Mien follow a timbre that has nothing to do with us going home,” he exclaimed, sending a new wave of bitterness in Mien’s mouth. He started spitting and wiping his tongue on the roof of his mouth.
The young monk nodded. “Yes. It benefits us if Mien finishes his edict and learns how to use his phrase.”
Mien had enough and spun around and faced him. “Every word you say is so tart it’s making me sick.”
Doran's scowl deepened. “What are you talking about?”
Soletus cleared his throat. “He wants to know what’s your problem is. I want to know too because you're opposing this for no good reason.”
Doran’s face flushed. “Why should I trust a chanter who tries to kill people?”
Soletus started clapping. “Well, it took you six years, but you’ve finally got that fact correct. Maybe now you can realize that there is someone in need of our help and we can’t deny them that.”
The young man then waved his good arm in the air in frustration. “We are in a hurry. You acknowledge that before. Now we have to stop because of Mien! You know, the moment you’ve met him, all you’ve done is cater to him.”
Soletus crossed his arms with this brow knitting together in confusion. “What are you getting at?”
“It’s like he’s your pet or something.”
The young monk let out a humorless chuckle. “Maybe if you stop believing that friendship equals keeping a dog, you’ll have a few yourself.”
Doran’s entire face flushed but his embarrassment didn’t shut him up. He went back to his previous course.
“Chanters shouldn’t try to kill people. That’s my point, Sol. He could turn on us at any time because we made him upset or do something that offends him. It isn’t hard to do if he’s ranting about me making his mouth sour.”
Mien’s jaw dropped in bewilderment. Soletus’s voice took on a deeper and threatening note. “Is this really your problem?”
Doran held his chin up. “It is. You and everyone else have been bending over backwards for a crazy person. Why would do that for someone you didn’t even like at first?”
If that was supposed to be some revelation, it wasn’t. Mien knew that Soletus was frustrated with him early on when they met. In his defense, the young monk didn’t know what to do with a person he couldn’t relate to. In fact, it wasn’t until he save his life did Soletus worked with him. That was the only thing connecting them. That act of bravery that Soletus latched onto. It impressed him. And since then, Soletus just took him under his wing, a lot like a little brother. They became friends. Doran, for whatever reason, didn’t understand that.
Soletus' gaze shifted to Mien while he spoke. “Fine, I admit to not liking him at first, but he saved my life. That’s my reasoning. Since you want honest, my reasoning for stop being friends with you is because you act like the bastard child you are.”
The young man’s face colored brighter than before.
“At least I’m not half feral low-eared brute. That’s probably the reason why you’re a prickles coward who lets his own cousin die,” snapped Doran.
Mien felt his friend's rage cascade over him. He dammed it and contained himself. The young monk, reached for Doran to rip him off his saddle. Mien jumped between them. Instead of him holding Soletus back, he was spun around and thrown. He landed flat on his back. The wind was punched out of him. Before he had time to draw a full breath, Soletus was on top of him. He grabbed him by the front of his jerkin and held him down.
Mien clamped down on his own terror and locked his gaze to his friend’s fury filled eyes. He only looked away for an instance at the fist that was raised, ready to strike him. Soletus hesitated.
“Come on now. I’ve told you before. If you’re going to hit me, then hit me,” rasped Mien.
It wasn’t a taunt, but a way to knock sense back into his friend. However, there was a risk that Soletus took it as one. The storm that enveloped his friend fled. The young monk released him and backed away. Mien caught a glimpse of shame on his face before he whirled around and trudged off into the high grass. Mien pushed his hair out of his face and gulped in air. Tyrus’s head eclipsed his vision as he crouched at his side. He heard Doran grunt as he got off his horse.
“What do I do,” asked Tyrus.
Mien let out a giddy laugh. “Praise Dias he didn’t hit me.”
“You got the shakes,” said Tyrus, searching his face.
Mien was aware that he was vibrating. It couldn’t be helped. “Don’t worry,” he said, sitting up and Tyrus reached for him, and Mien batted his hands away. “It can’t be helped. Don’t touch me.”
The half elf then sprung up and slapped Doran across the face. “Now I’m not saying that Soletus was right by saying what he did but, do you have to be the bastard that you are?”
Doran held his face and sneered at him.
“You don’t see me acting like an ignorant, muddied-eyed fool ‘cause I don’t like someone.”
“You don’t understand,” snapped Doran.
“I do. I didn’t like him either. I never have. He’s uptight and acts better than everyone on top of being master’s pet from the beginning.”
Mien was stunned to hear that given he was trying to get alone with him.
Doran face lit up. “Finally, someone who gets it. And don’t forget he’s a nasty temper.”
“I figure he had too many people like you and me in his life or somethin’ so he comes down hard. He shouldn’t do that to Mien though,” said Tyrus, looking at him.
“My worst is worse than his,” returned Mien, dusting himself off.
“He just attacked you for no reason,” exclaimed Tyrus.
“I got in his way.”
“And you aren’t pissed at him.”
“I’m not happy with him. But I understand why he’s upset.”
“Yeah, I get it. But someone like him should be above acting like a jackass.”
Mien became solemn. “Be patient, Tyrus. This isn’t easy for him.”
Tyrus rolled his head back. “But—Arg forget it. I’m not second, not worrying about. Just order me or something.”
“Wait here and keep an eye out. Expect to move out when I get back,” he said.
The young chanter waded into the grass, following his friend’s footsteps. Soletus was lying on his back and peered vacantly at the sky with eyes that appeared sunken. At first, he didn’t notice him until Mien cleared his throat. The young monk sat up with a start. Mien kept his distance.
“I’m sorry,” said Soletus remorsefully. “I should’ve done any of that.”
Mien remained motionless. He hadn’t sorted out his feelings about what had happened. He wasn’t so much mad as he was disappointed.
“I get it. I hurt you. That’s something you shouldn’t have to worry about from me. And if you can’t trust me anymore, then I understand.”
He approached Soletus and sat close beside him. “Know I can trust you to not being able to control yourself right now.”
Mien was certain his ears drooped. “I’m sorry,” he repeated.
“Instead of telling me sorry, do something,” exasperated Mien. “Grief is getting the better of you. You’ve not been eating, and now you’re more irritable. You’ve been using your voice or projecting emotion or something. I don’t know what, but I feel way too much from you. And it’s going to get worse if you don’t do something.
Soletus sunk back down to his back and watched the sky. “If I could train and spar, I could fuel what I feel it into that.”
“If that's what you need, then you can train controlling your voice. The uncontrolled forcing needs to stop.”
Soleus rolled his head towards him. “I’m just chanter gifted.”
“You can still control it.”
“I don’t feel it happening, though.”
“That’s because you’ve never been shown,” said Mien and poked him below his sternum. “I want you to hum.”
“Take a deep breath and hum," he instructed. Soletus inhaled and let out a long humming in note. “You feel the air in your throat right? But you feel something here. A reverberation and a warmth there.”
“That is where a chanter’s magical heart is located. Even those who are chanter gifted possess a very small one. And if you were a normal person, you couldn’t feel that.”
Soletus stopped humming
“Activating it is second nature to most chanters. It’s more of an exercise to figure out when you are using it. Most will do so when we’re upset. And you very much are.”
“I don’t even get why I can.”
“It’s how your chanter gift manifested, in your voice, so you need to learn to use it with purpose.”
Mien nodded. “And since you like challenges, I will give you the hardest method to learn. I want you to focus on soft-speaking.”
Soletus tilted his head. “What?”
“You’ve a lot of will and when you use your voice it slams into the mind. Instead of sounding like some vengeful watcher of Dias, I want you to focus on using your voice in a calm tone.”
Soletus became confused. “How does that even work?”
“You use it to persuade others.”
Soletus rubbed his face. “Doing that is asking way too much of me right now.”
“You can handle it. Trust your sensitive and empathetic friend who’s tired of feeling his friend hurting. You can do this.”
“Want me to do this because I’m making you uncomfortable,” Soletus returned with a suspicious glint.
“No, I care,” stated Mien, and then he admitted. “You’re the first person I actually became friends with and stayed friends with. I never thought I could do that.”
Soletus looked touched.
Mien's cheeks started to warm. “Why are you looking at me like that? I don’t hate you. And I should hit you because once again for insinuating that I can’t handle you at your worst. My worse is worse than your worse.”
That brought a twitch to his lips. “You never tried to hit me.”
“I did hit you,” corrected Mien.
Soletus quirked a brow in confusion.
“You know, in the chapel attic. You were acting like an ass like you are now.”
“Oh yeah, you did. I didn’t remember because it wasn’t a very good hit.”
Mien hit his fist against the palm of his hand. “How about I make it memorable this time.”
Tyrus then shouted at them. “Hey you two, come over here!”
Mien and Soletus stood up and walked over to where their other two bandmates were standing. Doran was looking off into the distance, and Tyrus pointed to it.
“Look, there about a mile someone’s there.”
Indeed, there was a person standing afar with grass waving around them but, there was something off about them. They looked very thin. Soletus studied it with his brow slowly meeting.
“Have they moved,” he asked.
“Well, they had too because they weren’t there a moment ago,” said Tyrus. “I figured maybe they were asleep in the grass and saw us. Maybe they need help.”
Then all the blood drained from the young monk’s face. He spoke using his father’s measured tone.
“Tyrus, is there a structure around us that still has a loft to hold us,” he said without looking at him. Fear was so heavy in his voice it made the hairs along Mien’s neck and arms rise.
Tyrus looked around. “No. There’s nothing but burnt stone wall s if that.”
Soletus gulped, saying quietly, “We need to think of a plan fast. Because that’s not a person, that’s a husk.”
Huh, what a cliffhanger to leave at over the weekend.