But I bowed my head for a long time. And for no reason. My biggest fear of them disowning me or not understand was completely unfounded. And that knowledge made the entire situation much worse. That I could have told the truth without much worry. I’m sorry, I’m stuck on this. Because I still feel stupid about. I was young and dumb as the say. So much of what happened was of my creation. And you disagree, but had I no fear, I would’ve left Crossroads on my own.
Mien hoped donning clean clothing and washing himself so he no longer smelled like sweat and horse would make his mother less angry at him. He knew she was worried, of course. She always worried about it him. Every letter she wrote to him read like she feared for his very existence. That he needed to be careful, take care of himself, and make sure that he did this and that. It was all very carrying but increasingly annoying.
He had given a lot of thought to when he met his mother face-to-face again because they hadn’t. One of the conditions the Arbiter wanted was no contact with her. Only emergency contact. Mien didn’t like it. She didn’t like it. He really wanted to talk to her at first and then it melted away as the order gave him a surprising amount of freedom. Hickory told them he needed to around everyone and experiencing as much as he could. His mother wouldn’t have allowed some of the things he had done. Him becoming a battle chanter was one of them and he spent weeks crafting a letter to tell her what he was doing without telling her what he was doing. He was her little Theodoric. She never wanted him to do too much.
Nearly dying and getting lost fell into doing too much. And Mien didn’t have a plan for what happened. And on top of this all, he had to confront Dalaen. Another thing Mien didn’t plan for.
It surprised him when Kiao told him on the road that Dalaen desperately wanted to talk to him. He prayed that Dalaen would be after Lady Lass or not even there at all. He didn’t want to talk to him let alone see him again. Mien was certain he wouldn’t. That the young man would just start in like his uncle. Never around when you needed him and around when he shouldn’t. Which was most of the time. As Oeric led him to the Patriarch’s home, he tried to keep the thoughts in his head neat. He didn’t want to be fixated on Dalaen being his unpleasant self. Though, Kiao described him as being rather subdued.
I’ll believe it when I see it, he scoffed to himself.
He thought Oeric would at the very least, go home. However, by the time Mien had washed off and dressed, Soletus was moved upstairs. Kiao had sent Lionel to stay with him and she was seeing to the other. If Oeric was worried about his son, the man didn’t show it expression wise. However, he was being his reserved self, though, and wasn’t giving out any unsolicited advice. Mien wouldn’t mind his advice, but he remained his reserved as well.
Oeric led him inside. They weren’t greeting. They was movement upstairs and Oeric told him just to wait inside of the parlor to the left and shut the door. Mien waited by the fireplace, watching low flames and the shadows left by the lanterns burning in the room. The door opened again. The young chanter took a deep breath and turned his body, expecting his mother. Instead Dalaen stood there. He aged a bit. Looking less like tod and had grown into himself. Though he was thinner and no longer threated to become wide from indulging in too much rich food. However, he was still Dalaen. The same Dalaen who had kicked and hit him while insulting and belittling him. The same Dalaen, who he had pushed in the water and tried to drown.
“Hello, Theodoric,” he said.
The sound of his voice stirred a turmoil that Mien thought released and forgotten.
His cousin raised palm forward. “I just wanted to talk.”
Words became trapped in Mien’s throat, strangled by confusing raw emotions. He wanted to run. He wanted to beat Dalaen for all that he had done. He wanted to apologize for what he had done. But most of all he wanted him to stop talking.
Then the young man kept walking forward. “First, I want to apologize for what I did and didn’t do,” he said, not realizing the battle that was brewing in Mien. “I could’ve stopped father and not been such a rotten bastard. However, I can’t change the past—”
Word finally formed and Mien cut him off. “Stop! Just stop.”
His cousin froze. “I just thought that—”
“You thought what? That you can just appear, walk to me, and speak to me like everything is okay,” he shouted, hurting his own ears. His anger was fueling itself. It shouldn’t be like that, and he knew it. Six years should’ve done something, why hadn’t it? That he should feel sorry for what he had done to him. Why didn’t he apologize? Instead, he felt like he was about to burst into flames. He backed away from Dalaen and started pacing.
“I’m sorry,” Dalaen staying away. “On my blood and honor, I am.”
Mien kept pacing from the length of the room, from one wall to the next with his hands shaking. Why did anyone think this was a good idea?
When Mien got to the far wall, away from the door, he sank down, breathing as if he had run a lap around the town wall. He closed his eyes wishing that if he opened them, Dalaen wouldn’t be there. Instead, he opened them, and found his cousin slowly sank down in front of him on his knee. Mien pressed his back against the wall.
“I’m not going to do anything to you,” assured Dalaen. “But we need to talk.”
Mien shook his head.
“Theodoric it’s important. You realize that you are still your father’s heir–.”
Mien pointed to the door for his sake and Dalaen. “Get out!”
“–and the main house rather that not be you.”
The young chanter looked at him incredulously. “So, you came here talking about house politics I don’t give a damn about it.”
“It’s fine that you don’t,” said Dalaen keeping his voice leveled. “However, it matters. Aunt Lass was trying to fix it that if something happened to my father, she could get everything so they don’t. However, they don’t want you as the heir. So, she tried to fix it. She and father had a baby.”
Mien’s racing mind collided with the wall of shock. “She what,” he rasped.
“Look, the main house wants to remove you from being Cyan’s heir. Under their rules, it has to be a male to take your place. Aunt Lass tried for one. She didn’t have a boy. She had a girl. Now she’s in a mess of who gets what if my father dies. She needs a male heir, and I didn’t want to do this without your approval. I want Aunt Lass to espouse me.”
Mien stared at him blankly. This mind went blanket.
“I know that’s a lot to take in, but that’s all I wanted to ask. If Aunt Lass does, she doesn’t lose everything. And in return, I promise you that I’ll take care of her and our sisters. I’ll make sure that father doesn’t hurt them.”
Mien didn’t want to believe him. He never thought his mother would give that bastard a glimpse of her, let alone contact enough to make a child.
“Please Theodoric, I need you to make a decision. I know you hate me and rather me be dead but, Aunt Lass needs help and I’m the only one who is in the position who can.”
Mien massaged his brow to get his brain to work. “Give me a moment.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
“Shut up and sit somewhere not in front of me,” he snapped.
Dalaen went over to the chairs by the hearth. Mien worked on pushing his heart out of his throat. He breathed through the turbulence. He focused only on that. Once he felt well enough, though he was cold, shaken, and exhausted, he stood. The young chanter rather crawled into bed and cocoon himself from the rest of the world. Instead, he sank down in the empty armchair across from Dalaen. He recovered what little dignity he had and put on a business face.
“You want my mother to adopt your worthless carcass to help her? Give me one good reason why I should believe that you are her loving altruistic nephew.”
Dalaen stared at him, astonished. “She wasn’t joking.”
Mien narrowed his eyes at him. “What are you talking about?”
“That priestess. She said you’ve grown. I didn’t think it meant you would sound like late Uncle Julius.”
Those words struck Mien. He liked them. Never in a lifetime did he think he would be compared to his father.
“You favor him a lot, too.”
His elation dropped. All the things Mien loved about his father, his uncle hated. The fact he was his father’s son was one thing. Now he sounded and looked like him. Things couldn’t be worse.
Dalaen sat up straight in his chair. “Should I get someone?”
Mien clutched the armrests of the chair, digging his nails into the wood, and let the trembling in his body do its thing. He swayed his head.
“I’m sorry. I really am,” said Dalaen. “But we need to talk about my father too. He and I had a fight. I kicked him out. Well, as much as I could. He went into one of his ‘moments’ when Aunt Lass was pregnant and he tried to lay hands on her.”
Mien flashed his eyes at him.
“I stopped him,” assured Dalaen. “We fought. Thought would be easy given how thin he’s gotten.”
Mien knew all too well how deceptively frail his uncle could look. “He knocked you senseless, didn’t he?”
Dalaen nodded. “He knocked me around, but I got him out the door feeling and looking like I was trampled. I told the staff not to let him back in.”
Mien knew that would not last forever. It never did. “Where’s he now?”
“One of our cousins took him to his apartment to Havenwood. Claimed they’ll clean him up. Stop him from at least drinking,” said Dalaen. “The main house is tired of his behavior. With him struggling, they want to assimilate House Cyan back in. Aunt Lass doesn’t want that.”
Mien let out a humorless laugh. “So, they didn’t wait for him to murder the king to get ‘tired’ of him, shocking.”
Dalaen nodded. “He was like that when he was married to my mother. You know, I saw her a few years ago. She didn’t want to talk to me. Said I was too much like him. Since then, I stop taking blighter and stopped being friends with Crane and the others. I’ve been working with Aunt Lass in the office. I don’t know why the main house hates her. She’s a perfect house head. Despite everything, she’s treated me well. She could’ve treated me just as he treated you, but she hasn’t. So, I want to be useful to her. You will always be her son. I don’t want to take that away from you, but I need to help her.”
Mien sighed. Why couldn’t he just stay a loathsome creature? He knew his mother needed help and he couldn’t be there. He wasn’t going to be there. As long as his uncle was alive and not divorced from his mother, he couldn’t.
“Fine, you have my permission. Do what you must,” he told him softly.
“Thank you,” said Dalaen, bowing his head. “I’m in your debt. I swear on my blood and honor, I’ll do anything you want of me as long as you live.”
That wasn’t a light promise. Mien really wanted to see how far he could take it. Instead, he asked for something simple. “You can start by leaving,” he requested.
Dalaen rose out of his seat without question. Mien wanted to leave it at that, but his conscience bugged him not too. Mien rolled his eyes at himself and forced himself to speak.
Dalaen paused. “Yes.”
“I’m sorry about earlier. I am sorry about what I did that day but, I don’t know how to put it all behind me. I don’t want to hate you, but…”
“I made it hard for you not too,” he helped. “You know, didn’t expect to be able to talk to you, let alone you allowing me to do this. Maybe, we’ll talk about it later.”
“Later then,” said Mien, keeping his back to him.
“Later,” said his cousin, and he closed the door to the parlor behind him, but Mien could hear voices. He stretched his hearing and could hear his mother whispering, but not her words. He only heard Dalaen.
“Aunt Lass, don’t worry, he’s calmed down now…Well, I wasn’t expecting him to hug me. What did you imagine…A little bit…Well given what was done to him…He did say yes at least.”
“Let me go in there first. I’ll see how he is,” said Oeric, opening the door.
The young chanter stopped stretching his hearing. He slid further down in his chair. He felt wrung out. The only thing he could do was listen to the sound of the first wardens boots getting closer to him. He stopped short of him.
“You let him in first, didn’t you,” asked Mien unhappily.
“I did, only because I thought you would handle it better. It didn’t sound like you were.”
“I didn’t,” said Mien.
“Well, this was your first meeting with him since. And you aren’t known for your soft-reaction. Are you ready to speak to your mother now?”
He bobbed his head.
Oeric stepped aside and waved at the door. Mien hoped he had more time to get ready. He clambered to his to his feet and smoothed out his clothing.
“Theodoric,” his mother said with her arms spread wide. Mien embraced her in a tight hug and realized something was off. He was looking down at the top of her head. She was never a tall woman, but he didn’t remember her being so short.
The woman then held him at arms lengths away. “Oh my.” His mother touched his face and then patted his arms. “Above and below, you’ve grown so much! Not only tall, but solid.”
“Well, this is a bother,” said a voice feigning unhappiness. He looked across from him and saw his twin with her hands on her hips. Looking not far from the girl he last saw her as. “We have to figure out a new game to play on the staff. We definitely can’t fool them now.”
Mien’s entire face lit up. “Nerva!”
He ran over to her and enveloped her in a hug that lifted her off her feet. She let out a squeal as he spun her around. He didn’t know she was there.
She laughed in joy, hugging him. Mien dropped her and rubbed the top of her head.
“Why are you so short,” he said, wondering, when did he get so tall compared to them?
She swatted his hand away. “Why are you so tall,” she returned. “Sister Kiao did a poor job of describing you to us.”
“Agreed, she understated a few things,” said Lady Lass, and she looked towards Oeric, who had edge his way closer to the as if was trying to sneak out. “I’m impressed First Warden Sheldmartin. You did as you promised.”
“I never make promises I can’t keep,” he said, standing tall, but weary.
“You have my thanks,” she said.
“There’s no need. The order owed you a debt,” he returned.
She cleared her throat. “I met your wife briefly. We spoke. She was very confident in your abilities. I did not share her beliefs. I should have never doubted and misjudged you since our first meeting.”
“We all have our perception of things, Lady Lass. Those who are wise will always see the truth,” he said, sliding even closer to the door.
Lady Lass then looked Mien over again. “I’m so happy to have you in my arms again. I never would’ve imagined you…like this.”
Mien didn’t like that pause of uncertainty in her voice. Something was wrong. His smile faded and his unease came to the surface.
“Oh, don’t mind me. I’ve not seen you in six whole years. Last I saw you, you and Nerva were the same height. You went through a growth spurt. Even that lit has grown.” Her attention then locked onto his head. “Your hair is so still short. Why didn’t everyone around you stop you from cutting it?”
Mien rubbed the back of his neck. “No one could stop me. It was either give me a pair of shears or I would cut it with a knife. Looks better with a pair of shears. Besides, I like it. Feeling the wind on your neck is refreshing.”
The woman looked at Oeric as if he had answers.
He straightened up. “Lady Lass, I and three other people have tried to get him to not associate long hair with—”
Mien cut him off. “You’re just going to tell her!”
Oeric didn’t look the least bit apologetic. “Honesty is something you need to be comfortable with, even when the truth makes you feel uncomfortable. If you want them to understand you, at some point you are going to have to reveal what happened.”
He stepped away and started pacing the length of the room.
Oeric then said gentler. “It hurts, it’s embarrassing, you don’t want people’s pity, and you’re probably going to shear your hair shorter tonight because of it. But you can tell your mother this one thing?”
She was the only one in the room who didn’t know.
“I can tell her,” offered Nerva. “I already know.”
Mien ran a hand through his hair. He swallowed the melon-sized lump in his throat and started rubbing his arms to warm himself again. He ended up waking to hearth and stared into the coals.
“You had to go to the main house that day and wouldn’t be back until the next day. It was late. Uncle got his tin, something to drink, and I was trying my hardest to be out of sight, but he called me to him. He was off his mind to know where to relieve himself and did so on the floor. Being the ingenious person he was, who better to clean it up than me.” He pointed to his head. “If that wasn’t humiliating enough, he locked me in the cellar dripping with piss until it dried in my hair. Bard found me and brought a bath up, but I couldn’t stop smelling like him. I couldn’t stop hearing him laughing. I hated it. I cut it off because I hated myself for letting him do it.”
The room was quiet, and he could feel their gazes on him. Then a baby started crying above him. The sound of her cries that brought his mind to focus. He straightened up and breathe, “I didn’t wake her up, did I?”
“No,” his mother said. “She’s been fussy all day. But Theodoric, I think we need to talk about what you just said. Mostly, why didn’t you tell me before?”
“Can I see her,” he asked.
Lady Lass looked taken aback. “I think there are more important things than—”
“She’s more important than the past,” he pressed. “So can I see her?”
Nerva went out and got his mother’s aide and she came in with her. He held out his arms to hold her. His mother started to tell him how to hold her, but Mien had held a baby before. Lady Maelyra liked to give her boy to him when he was born because Mien could put a child to sleep by just speaking to them. The only one who didn’t hold their breath from his household was his sister. Dalaen was peaking in from the doorway.
“What’s her name,” he said, deciding she looked like his mother. That was good. She didn’t have to carry the face of an evil man.
“Her name is Rydell.”
“Rydell huh,” he said, letting the baby hold his finger. “She’s prettier than another sister of mine. She’ll be a swan instead of a goose.”
Nerva stuck her tongue at him. He flashed a smile at her and then at Rydell. He touched her checks. They were squishy, and she cooed.
“I’m surprised you’ve nothing to say to me about her,” said Lady Lass.
“Why would I,” said Mien, tucking his bitterness that his uncle got her pregnant. It was unfair to her and his sister.
“You are old enough—” started his mother.
“Yes, I know what this means,” said Mien tersely, keeping his voice soft. “And why should I get mad at you? You’re my mother.”
Lady Lass became silent.
He then told his baby sister in Melodic. “Let Dias’s voice always guide your path with love and light your way so you may never fall into the Maw and descend to darkness.”
His mother became stiff. “What did you just say?”
“It’s called the new life blessing,” he said, kissing her on the head. “I’ll do it now as I’m not coming home any time soon.” He didn’t add that he didn’t think he would ever live with them again.
“And what of the Arbiter this year,” she questioned. “Is what’s happening now will affect that?”
“No,” spoke up Oeric. “It does not. I’ll make sure it doesn’t. This will all clear up in a couple of days.”
“I can handle the Arbiter,” assured Mien, handing Rydell to her.
“Good, maybe when this all ends, you can tell me what Hugh did to throw you over the edge. It could help still.”
Mien’s face ticked. He didn’t want to think about it. As he told Soletus that evening in the inn, it was more than one thing. However, there was one event that set the course. And from that day, he was never the same.
“I already said enough about it,” he said sounding as gentle as he could, forcing finality in his voice.
His mother looked taken aback. “Well, if you aren’t going to answer to that. Then answer why you were even out on the road,” she returned sharply. “Why haven’t you been telling me the truth about what you’ve been doing?”
Mien had expected that question and gave her his rehearsed answer. “I didn’t want you to worry. I wanted to prove myself first. Furthermore, what happened shouldn’t have happened. A responsible warden would’ve never let what happened, happened. Besides, I can’t stay cooped up all day for my penitence.”
“You work in the infirmary,” she said.
“It’s not challenging enough,” he said with a weak smile.
She didn’t look convinced. “I don’t believe you need that sort of challenge in your life.”
Mien didn’t want to get into what he was thing. He wasn’t going to smooth anything over with her in a single evening. Then his sister helped.
“Mother, he’s getting tired,” said Nerva.
Mien nodded. “I’m very road worn. How about we talk about this later?”
“I suppose we will,” she relented. “I’m staying here for a few more days. We have time to have dinner together.”
He didn’t want dinner with her for that reason but agreed to it.
“Before I go, I want to talk to you alone,” said Nerva.
Their mother then left with the baby and Oeric followed her, leaving the twins alone.
Mien dropped himself into the nearest chair. His sister then slipped in behind his chair and poked him in the scalp. “Dear brother, I believe you owe me.”
“Owe you,” he said, bemused.
“It took me a lot of talking to mother to letting go of digging for information about you and your sweetpea.”
Mien’s chin went up, and he looked into his sister’s pleased face. “You’ve been here that long to be able to do that?”
“We did go back home. In fact, we arrived here just today because the Arch Priest told mother not to worry, and that you should arrive today. And you did. Anyway, I like Kiao. She’s smart and picked up on your mess quickly.”
He grinned. “I said you would.”
She extended her hand and patted his chest. “Apple didn’t fall from the tree. Going for older fox tops like father.”
“Am I really that much like him?”
She grinned. “You sound like him.”
Mien smiled at that despite himself.
“So? Are you and her just being friendly still? Have you moved to more interesting things?”
“And my relationship status concerns you because…”
“Because letters can only do so much, and I want you happy. It’ll make me happy because it’s been a long time since you were,” she told him quietly.
“She likes me, but she’s a priestess. She’s tempered and I appreciate it because things can move slow. It’s everyone else not making it easy for the both of us.”
His sister stroked his head and said with regret in her voice. “You know mother doesn’t like her.”
“You’re going to have a difficult time convincing her why she should allow you together,” she said and walked to the side of his chair and sat down on the armrest. “Maybe you should do something she might approve of. After you get released, you could come with me to Eroden.”
Mien stared at her, surprises at the offer.
“I mean, I can’t get you in the university, but I could find you a willing master alchemist or even an apothecary to apprentice you.”
Mien looked down at his hands. “I don’t know. One of us needs to be nearby. I don’t trust Dalaen that much.”
“Dalaen isn’t the one you need to worry about,” she said, taking his hand. “But I feel bad that I left you behind.”
Mien took her hand and held it. “Don’t. His filthy friends were around and if one of them touched you, I would have committed murder. No, you needed to get out of there.”
Nerva sighed and hooked an arm around his neck. “But it’s unfair.”
“How? You need to be happy, too. Don’t you like the city?”
“Don’t you have plenty of knowledge to collect, friends, and boys to observe?”
“Well yes to all but, boys there aren’t as strapping as brotherhood lads,” she lamented.
He rolled his eyes. “Aside from that, aren’t you happy?”
“Yes, but you’re not with me,” she said, leaning her head on his.
“True,” he said, patting her arm. “But I got to learn how to be manly and slay drass beasts. I’ve actual muscles and it’s great.”
His sister gasped. “Be a man! Slay drass beasts, bah. What about education? Knowledge?”
“You can’t get biceps with education,” he said, grinning at her.
“You’re right, I take you with me and they’ll think I brought in a barbarian,” she said, smiling in return. “And yes, I think it was for the best.”
This long chapter. But not the 6,000 it was with the other part on it. I really don't have much to say about this chapter. It is what it is. The next chapter is where all the fun begins. Not fun for the characters, but next update, the mystery will start. Also, not that I did remove a few things from the site, The categories, and the archive. Reasons being, I think it confused more people than helped with site navigation. I will try to figure out something better other than the system I'm currently using.