Now, I’m sure you’re thinking. Shouldn’t a good first warden catch wind of something wrong within his band and do something about it? However, Kellas wasn’t a good first warden. The two of us had a silent falling out. I wanted to leave his band after my time with him was up. That was my decision to make. Kellas stripped it from me. He didn’t want me to join another band. You see, Valhart heard me talk about leaving to Feris’Redcreast as Fenris left right as I joined. Valhart went to Kellas who believed I was being disloyal to him. That’s what he expected. Valhart, Pace, Cole, and Roy followed him like dogs. He expected me to be the same because he did me a favor by taking me. That one act should’ve been enough to grant him all the respect in the world and I should be nothing but grateful.
Soletus wasn’t as restless as Mien thought he would be. He was a light sleeper and expected to be up most of the night. However, when his shift for watch ended, he didn’t stay awake as he planned and instead stretched out on the ground and shut his eyes. The moment his eye’s lid blocked the fire, he appeared in his favorite field. This time, his guide was sitting in front of him, giving him a pleased grin.
“You’ve passed your first test,” he congratulated.
“Test,” asked Mien.
“Yes. An exercise in building confidence and give you an example of what happens if you fail you next task. It’ll become clear as soon as you meet her.”
“Dias wants his creations to be at peace, give love, and provide forgiveness. Such things lead to second chances. You were given a second chance, so you must pass it on to another.”
That was something even Brother Hickory told him. Pass on second chances. “Okay, I understand that, but who is she?”
“Each chanter’s edict is unique,” his guide continued. “They need to learn how to use their gift, but for some, they need more than just learning to use it,” he said with an enigmatic grin.
Mien sighed. “No explanation again. You’re just repeating what I need to learn about all of this?”
Given the fact that the smugness didn’t lift from his guide’s face, Mien assumed that was a yes.
“I can tell you that you are dealing with a graceless chanter.”
Mien was only told about graceless chanters only so he could avoid becoming one. They were chanter who lost their path. When a chanter did, their abilities would want or if they gave into the Maw, their voices would warp into something sinister.
“Right now, she is just lost. Her people did a great injustice to her. Now she needs a safe place, just like you needed a safe place to thrive and learn to sing. She has forgotten what it means to be a chanter and needs to relearn.”
Then her voice rode on the wind into his ears. The sound of it was stronger and, in her plea, he could make out the words, “Help me.”
“She is desperate, and no matter what she says, you are the one to help her. There is more to this, but times is up. You need to wake up and start on your way.”
With that, Mien woke up, unable to move. His heart jumped in his throat. Someone was lying on top of him and that someone wasn’t dead or trying to hold him down. Mien twisted his head to see Tyrus’s shoulder. It looked like the half-elf was trying to roll on his back and ended up leaning against him instead. Mien would’ve scooted out from under him if it wasn’t for not wanting to disturb Soletus to his other side.
He shoved Tyrus off of him. The half-elf grumbled sleepily and then fell asleep again. The young chanter then checked on Soletus. He was still sleeping soundly. Mien figured no, he wasn’t going suffer from wracking chills. The worse was clearly over. The sheen of sweat on his forehead was gone. Color hadn’t returned to his skin though. Those dark rings around his eyes had gotten darker. Mien then noticed that ever returning the thin scruff of hair that grew on his upper lip was getting noticeable. The fact he wasn’t taking care of himself grew more apparent.
Mien didn’t want to have that conversation with him. That was what Kiao was for. He left his friend alone and crawled out from under the tarp to stretch. He looked along the stream bank for a place to wash his face off. However Doran was there. His shirt, jerkin, and sash were drying on a flat rock near him. Dread twisted his stomach. He didn’t want to deal with Doran. Then again, avoiding him was moot given their situation. The young chanter fought with himself, then reluctantly went to the stream, anyway. He focused more on splashing cold water on his face. Then, Doran spoke.
“If you aren’t too tired, can you check my arm before I go?”
Mien forgot about his arm. As he shuffled to Doran, he felt a bit stupid because of it. If he could form a light globe as he had, then he could inspect a wound.
“Sorry,” he said. “I forgot all about your arm.”
“Don’t worry about it. There’s a lot going on,” he returned.
It was an odd statement coming from a someone who thought he was untrustworthy. Doran was relaxed as he looked at his terrible stitch work. He could feel the young man’s thoughts about him. However, he was often told that people didn’t ponder and judge his every action. Yet, he couldn’t help by feel it then. Mien focused on making sure there was nothing wrong internally with Doran’s arm and placed a hand on his chest. Just as he muttered the phrase of healing, he spoke.
“My mother was murdered by a chanter,” he said.
Mien nearly pulled out of him. He wrestled with his focus as Doran continued.
“She was the towns’ skane in Wateree where I was born. My father took pity on her and tried to help her. His feelings for her became more, and she became pregnant with me. She didn’t tell anyone who’s child I was. Not even him. The chanter, who stayed at the chapel with him, didn’t like her. Claimed she was leading my father astray and took it upon himself to end her.”
Mien pulled out, stunned. He couldn’t understand why a chanter would decide something like that. He didn’t even know why Doran was telling him that.
“He tried to kill me as well,” stated Doran with some unnamed emotion that Mien couldn’t read or sense. “Wrapped me in a blanket with rocks and with the intention of tossing me in the river. A fisherman stopped him when they heard me cry. Everything unraveled after that. He admitted to killing her and took them to her shallow grave. The order swept it all clean, giving the chanter in question to the Seat and they hung him. I had no family to claim me. So, my father took me and returned to the monetary although I’m likely not his son. I look nothing like him. I’ve dyne hair color.”
The thought of him not being Meric’s son never really crossed his mind. He only assumed Doran took a good liking to his mother, like Soletus. Granted, you could tell Oeric and Soletus were related.
“My father doesn’t care much for murdering chanters. When he heard Brother Hickory made a deal for your life, he didn’t want you in the order. He thought it was better if they put you down. Said once a chanter felt they were the judge of who lives and dies, they wouldn’t stop.”
That didn’t surprise Mien. He knew there had to be a reason for Meric to hate him. However, knowing that truth didn’t mean he thought Meric was right in the slightest. He stared at Doran, hoping he had a point to telling him what he did.
“And I agreed with him,” said Doran, looking at the water.
Is this a confession? An apology, or is he working out thoughts better kept to himself, wondered Mien.
“You know you can say something instead of making faces.”
Mien shrugged. “If I had something to say, I would say it.”
Doran’s brow pulled slightly together. “And you don’t?”
“No. I don’t need to comment about everything. I’m sorry you lost your mother like that. However, are you trying to explain why you hate me? Because if so, then…” Mien trailed off. Trying to figure out if he wanted to be blunt or not. He could do so with Soletus because he was Soletus. Doran was a different story.
“Then what,” said Doran.
“Then I don’t know,” decided Mien. “I have no opinion, no answers, no counterargument, or anything. I’m trying to figure out what to feel about this because I don’t know your point.”
Doran’s face twisted. “My point is clear. I wanted to get things off my chest. It’s not my fault you’re too stupid to get that.” He then stood up and started gathering his clothing. “I don’t know why I even bothered. I need to get going. How’s my shoulder?”
“It’s going to have to keep healing naturally. You move it around as much as you can, but don’t do too much,” said Mien, feeling bad but at the same time annoyed. “And I wasn’t trying too be obtuse. All you did was tell me your story. Sure, that explains your behavior. But what to you want? For me to apologize for scaring you and promise that I won’t try to harm you? Why should I do any of those things? I’ve done nothing to you.”
If anything, Doran needed to be the one apologizing for everything he had done to Mien. However, that didn’t happen. The acting scout pulled on his shirt and tucked it in his trousers. “I know, and that’s the problem. You’re not a bad sort but I don’t like you. I don’t like a lot of people.”
“Maybe the reason isn’t them but you,” returned Mien.
Doran had gotten his tunic and then his sash, pouting as he did. Clearly, it was something he didn’t want to hear and probably had heard.
“That hurts to hear, I know. But can I give you a bit of advice? Maybe you need to talk to—”
“If you going to say Brother Hickory, no. I have a Pa you know.”
“I wasn’t going to say Brother Hickory but First Warden Oeric.”
“Why would I talk to some feral elf,” Doran grumbled. He tied his sash roughly and marched off towards his horse.
Mien rolled his eyes. “One, he’s not feral and two, he knows what’s it like to his own problem.”
Doran didn’t reply. Instead, he just got on his horse and tapped its sides and was off on his way. Clearly, Mien hit a sore spot, and it made sense. Someone got up from behind him. He assumed it was Tyrus but when they sank on the rock that Doran had his clothing on, Mien’s eyes widened. It was Soletus.
“Hi,” he said, breathing heavily like he walked a long distance.
“What are you doing up,” he demanded.
“I didn’t want to lie down anymore. I’m dizzy.”
“Walking isn’t better,” Mien said exasperated.
“Lying down isn’t going to help with our situation,” said Soletus, undoing the lacing of the protective bracer around his left forearm. He wasn’t well. Likely not thinking right. He needed to get him back down. He looked at Tyrus for help and saw that he was still asleep.
“Let him rest,” said Soletus, as if he knew what he was thinking. “Talk to me. You brought up soft-speaking yesterday and didn’t explain it in depth. Honestly, it sounds like mind-control.”
“It’s not mind-control. It’s persuasion.”
The young monk gave him a dubious, flat stare.
Mien held firm to his statement. “Persuasion, as chanters using it, doesn’t involve maliciousness. A person still has a choice to listen or not. You are pushing your will for them to listen. To understand, to provide clarity, and to calm. With mind-control, and chanters are capable of it, you’re taking choice away. You’re pushing your will on them to controlling their actions.”
Soletus gave him a toothy grin. “It’s less questionable to persuade people with a staff.”
“Didn’t you once tell me you thought chanters should be well-rounded and get weapons training?”
Soletus glowered at him. “Don’t you dare throw that back at me!”
Mien held his head up high. “I believe chanter gifted monks should be well-rounded and learn how to accept his gift and use it.”
The young monk’s expression remained annoyed. “Other than my occasionally forcing my voice at people when I’m upset, it no one would even guess I am.”
The young chanter crossed his arms and looked at his stubborn friend in exasperation. “Does being chanter-gifted make you uncomfortable or something?”
“I don’t like being even more different. Is it enough that I’m half dyne, a Sheldmartin, and neth.”
There was a clarity to Soletus voice that he hadn’t heard in days. Mien tilted his head at him.
“What’s with the look of intrigue?”
“Nothing, your just sound like yourself,” he said, watching Soletus scoot forward and lean over the bank of the stream. He dipped his arm in it. “Does that help relieve the pain?”
His friend nodded.
“Are you okay?”
“No. I feel like I’ve been beaten with a staff in the stones. But pain means I’m alive. The world is moving. I want it to stop, though. Give me time,” he said, lifting his arm out of the water and regard Mien with his eyes glistening. “But when has the world been generous with time?”
The young chanter stood and joined him on the rock, sitting close.
“I promise I won’t do this again,” he said, pushing tears to the side of his face. “I just need to talk. Especially about that husk. It was like staring into a dark, cold void. I couldn’t look away but at the same time it wanted you to cower from it. It whispered to me. It wanted me to give in to sorrow. Let it touch me. End it all.”
“Sol, killing yourself isn’t the answer.”
“I know that. That’s not what I want. But it was trying to make me feel that was. It was bearing down on me and then it focused on Tyrus. Why?”
“It got into Tyrus’ head. Using his fear. You were probably too hard to corrupt. They say the Maw uses husks as a mouthpiece so it makes sense. Which, by the way, is a good example of mind control.”
“You don’t persuade someone to let them kill you. You are gentle and yet firm with your voice. However, you don’t want to swing too far with it and seduce someone.”
“Really? You can do that?”
“Yes,” said Mien, feeling a bit embarrassed admitting such a thing. “I can see how it’s done. It’s all about controlling your voice, because being a chanter is more than just singing a hymn. The hymn provides focus. You can say a phrase with your heart and will it.”
Soletus studied him hard, stunned. “Really?”
“It’s all about faith, understanding, and will. For example, Brother Hickory doesn’t need to say most of the phrases he knows. Brother Oli doesn’t either. Heck, he doesn’t even have to touch a person to see inside them. He just hovers his hand. Kiao’s is learning to do it.”
“And you can shield without saying a thing.”
“No, I can’t.”
“You did when you saved us,” held Soletus.
Mien didn’t understand. The prospect of him being able to do something like that was unthinkable. In fact, according to his guild, he used the phrase in an act of desperation. Surely, it wasn’t something to be relied on. However, it didn’t change the fact he could do it. Both Brother Hickory and Oli were strong aged chanters. He had none of their experience and wouldn’t for decades. Yet, in desperation, he could wield a phrase without speaking it. He knew what his phrase meant on some level. To protect. It begged the question what was he protecting them from.
Mien looked at the running water and weighed in his mind whether he should ask Soletus to tell him what happened. He didn’t think he was in a state for it. Yet, he had to know. He then said as gently as he could.
“I’m not that skilled. That takes years of knowing your voice as a chanter and your phrases.”
Soletus looked at the sky. “I don’t want you to feel guilty. You had to make a choice.” He swallowed and continued without looking at him. “Remember when we said they were throwing clay shells on us? Well, my horse was killed by one. I was standing behind it and it took the blast, but I was trapped under it. I was too disoriented and afraid to move. You and Lyndon left the shelter that Tyrus and Doran huddled inside to get me. You two managed to get the horse off me and on our way back was when Lyndon was shot. He took a bolt in the neck.”
Mien started shaking his head in confusion. “No, no. I can heal someone with an arrow in them. He would’ve lost blood, but I can close an artery!”
Soletus rested a hand on his shoulder. “Let me finish.”
“We carried Lyndon back, and he was gasping, struggling to breathe, and you were working as fast as you could when a clay shell was tossed in the doorway. I thought we were dead. I heard you shout ‘no’ and then it exploded. It brought down the entire face of the home and it should’ve buried us if we weren’t killed by the blast. You shielded us, but you also kept all the rock and dirt from crushing us.”
Mien’s jaw sagged at the thought of what that implied. He worked his jaw until he found his voice again. “No. How could I? Do you know how much force a clay shell releases? Not to mention the weight of rocks and dirt! That the phrase of protection isn’t even a sustained phrase! My will maintains it!” Hearing himself saying it made him pause. It required the will of the user. That was the moment of desperation.
“You managed to hold back a blast. You were on you back with your hand stretched out, keeping the shield from breaking, and formed a sun orb so we could see to dig our way out. It was either us or Lyndon.”
“And what was the choice there,” he demanded. “There was nothing I could do in that situation.”
“You didn’t think so then. You kept telling Lyndon that you were sorry and hang on, but you couldn’t let go. The rest of us dug as quickly as we could but, Lyndon stopped breathing before we were done,” said Soletus. His voice cracked, and he put his arm around Mien’s shoulder. “Kellas didn’t even know what happened. He was too busy fighting and killing the attackers to force them to retreat. There was just so much death around us I lost it. I argued with both him and Valhart. And you tried to stop me. I didn’t even see the rock in Valhart’s hand until he swung and hit you. It was intended for me and you took in the head. You dropped like a rock. You weren’t breathing or had a heartbeat or so I thought. I refused to go with them.”
Mien’s heart ached. He didn’t understand how he was even the least bit amazing if he couldn’t even save a single life right in front of him. Why hadn’t he learned the phrase sooner to keep Lyndon from being struck? He didn’t have much time to dwell on it before Soletus wrapped him in an embrace.
“No! Stop being a pastry,” shouted Mien, struggling very little on his end. A hug felt appropriate. However, he could still complain about as it was a Soletus bone-crushing hug. “I told you, no hugs until we get home.”
“I want to make it clear I don’t blame you for it,” he said, sounding pitiful.
Mien patted his back. “Yes, I get your appreciation now let. I don’t need you fever sweat on me.”
Soletus released him.
Why couldn’t I save him, he thought as he smoothed out his uniform.
“You’re still upset about it, aren’t you?”
“Not at you, just that I couldn’t save a friend.”
He then remembered what his guide told him very early on. That he couldn’t save everyone. He knew that from working in the infirmary. There was life and there was death. You had to get used to it. It was just a different feeling when the dead person was a friend.
How was your Thanksgiving? Mine was disappointing. I was sick Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I didn't get to eat Thanksgiving dinner. I even missed desert with was banana pudding. :(
Anyway, this particular section didn't take long for me to go through. Which I was surprised given the fact that I deleted some chunks of dialogue.