And then there was Grandpa. The transformation from supportive to treating me like my father was hard to deal with. I went against the ways of the order and to him, the order was everything. And he’s always been harder. He never wanted favoritism. I knew it, but I never knew how much he did until the aftermath of Kellas. He didn’t want me to be an exception to the rules. Getting married and having children helps the Brotherhood, and being someone neth who refused to conform went against helping the order. But I was the same level of stubbornness. Eventually, I won. He gave up on matching after you know who. And after he passed, no one could say anything about me. They couldn’t complain about me never being a father. Adoption has many rewards.
Oeric brought the four of them back into a room again. This time, he gathered four ink wheels and plenty of parchment. Mien became intrigued as a parchment was placed in front of him. He didn’t know what was going on.
“To make a good defense, you need to start with presentation,” stated Oeric. “You’ve failed on that part today. So, from here on out, I don’t care if Valhart or the rest of Kellas’s pack come at you with a smoking hot iron brand, don’t engage them. Is that clear?”
“Yes Sir,” they all said.
“Now I can tell you that Icus is considering Soletus’ little outburst in his assessment of the situation.”
“Why would it matter,” said Tyrus. “I mean, this is just about who done what, right?”
“It is but why. You need justification for refusing to follow Kellas orders. Yes, I know that sounds asinine but, rules state junior wardens are to never disobey their first’s orders. You’ve proven yourself unruly to the to the other wardens.”
“Is that really in the rules,” asked the half-elf.
Oeric scrutinized him. “You were told the rules and were to read and memorize them before you took your vows.”
“I must’ve forgotten. Sounds stupid.”
“Agreed,” said Soletus. “The rules are also a little vague on what to do when your first orders you to do something that goes again, your vows. Though it does say follow your second. Unclear what you do if he’s a blight on elven kind.”
Oeric cleared his throat getting their attention. “That’s why we need your statements. Icus will be giving the Arch Monk his recommendation. So, you need to write good statements.
Doran raised his hand.
“Yes, Junior Warden.”
“Sir, I know how to write a statement. They teach you as a scout.”
“You are, but they taught you how to write quick statements and observations. I expect you to use those skills in your statement. However, you four need to go into details and clear details in order of events. You may ask each other to clarify something, but you cannot, do not collaborate your statements so they read word-from-word. Each one of you should use your own words and the best words you have.”
“Yes Sir,” they all said.
Oeric looked at his son. “And Sol.”
“I want you to write your statement out, tear it up, and then write it again.”
Soletus opened his mouth to argue.
“This is not a punishment. I believe you’ll write clearer if you get your thoughts down and again after you settled,” he said.
“I am settled,” said Soletus.
Mien could feel the aggravation seated in his throat. “Far from it, my friend,” he muttered.
The young monk pushed his palm into his eyes. “They’re accusing us of going into that gorge and blowing people up. Murdering and torturing those peaceguards.”
“Sit up. Spine straight. Calm down. I know you’re scared, but Icus is going to look at your statement the hardest. When it comes time for him to present what he’s found to the Arch Monk, the Arch Monk will come down hardest on you because of your seniority. So, do your best, write clearly, and objectively.” He then rested a hand on his son’s shoulder. ”You knew you had to face this. Fact it head on.“
Soletus lowered his hands and spoke. “Can I please have a copy of the rule tome?”
Oeric nodded and left the room. When he came back, he handed Soletus a thin, tall leather bounded book that sat in the master’s hall. There was a copy in the archive, as well as one in the boy dorm. It outlined and stated the rules of the Brotherhood as well as had a copy of the vows that they took.
They all sat about, writing their statements. Doran was done first, given that he was trained to be a scout and delivered his statement as quickly as possible.
Mien stopped and restarted figuring he shouldn’t write a statement as if he was writing a letter to his sister with eight weeks of information to convey. Soletus finished, read over his statement, and tore it like he was told and restarted again. Then Tyrus was done. He gave his statement to Oeric. Mien watched the first warden’s eyes jerk back and forth with his brow quirking. He then looked over the paper at Tyrus.
“You said in my own best words,” said Tyrus with a grin.
The first warden added it to the stack swaying head.
Soletus finished and handed his parchments to his father. The man read over it as he had done Tyrus’s and Doran’s. He regarded him and lifted the page up with his fingers and ripped in two. He handed Soletus the remains.
“Write it again,” he ordered.
“Why,” demanded Soletus.
“Your tone. You can keep everything you’ve written, just be matter-of-fact.”
“So other than that, it’s acceptable,” he asked.
“Certainly, it explains your actions as well as theirs while shedding light on the situation at hand.”
The grimness on Soletus’s face lessened.
“However, just to be clear, you’re kicking a sleeping drass beast.”
“It needs to be kicked.”
Mien was curious about what his friend had written.
Oeric leaned forward on the desk. “Despite the fact that you are skilled, I doubt there will be a first warden that’ll take you after this.”
“I don’t care,” he returned.
Oeric studied his son for a long moment.
“What would you rather have me say,” said Soletus, sounding defensive again.
“I rather you not experienced this to have to say something like this,” his father stated, and gestured for him to take his seat.
Soletus did so one more time. Mien finished and handed his to Oeric. The young chanter used two of his pages front and back.
“You did say I needed to be thorough,” said Mien.
Oeric bobbed his head and read it through it. “It’s fine, just, well, they are certainly very different from the quick statements Kellas and his men wrote.”
Mien settled down and folded his arms on the table so he could lay his head down. He wanted a nap. Tyrus and Doran followed suit, drowsing in the stuffy room as well. Once again, Soletus handed his father his statement and instead of tearing it down the middle again, it was added to the stack.
“Stay here a moment. I need to know where to take you four next.”
When Oeric shut the door, Mien voiced his curiosity. “What did you write, Sol?”
Soletus leaned back in his chair. A wry smile crossed his face. “Aside from telling what happened, I listed every violation that Kellas had done that day as well as quoting rules that supported my actions and condemning the ones that are vague and ineffective. I pointed out that it’s a failure on my grandpa’s rule. I really should have it framed.”
Mien agreed with Oeric’s assessment. He was kicking a behemoth.
Doran’s jaw went slack. “Why say anything like that? You risk everything you’ve trained for.”
“Because it needs to be said,” answered Soletus.
“But calling this a failure on the Arch Monk’s part doesn’t seem wise considering he’s the one who decides what happens to us. And we have no proof. It’s our word against Kellas and a knife,” said Doran.
“The blade shows the heart of the wielder,” he returned.
Mien knew his friend wouldn’t budge on that.
“Then who used it,” asked Tyrus. “I’m serious. Which one of them bastards did it?”
“It wasn’t Kellas,” stated Soletus. “He, in his own way, does have a sense of honor. If I had to guess, I reckon it was likely Valhart.”
“But why did he have your knife in the first place? How did he get it,” Tyrus wondered.
“Probably blackmailed some poor warder or something,” shrugged Soletus. “Either way, I have to figure something out. I’m not about to let you fellows take the blame for something that I caused.”
Mien slapped his hand on his forehead. “This isn’t your responsibility.”
“It is. I could’ve said no. I could’ve held my ground. I could’ve—”
“Stop,” snapped Mien, slapping his hand on the table. “I could’ve this, I could’ve that. No. I told you to stop thinking about what you could’ve done. We made the choice of not speaking up as well. We could’ve done something too!”
Soletus shook his head in disagreement.
“He’s right,” stated Tyrus. “I voted to go after them. So, if anyone who could’ve changed anything, it’s me.”
“We need to work together to sort this out because all of us will be punished, not just you,” stated Mien.
Tyrus agreed with a curt nod. “I mean, we’re practically a band and we started this together. We might as well finish it,” said Tyrus.
The young monk then bowed his head smiling a little. “True.”
The door to the room then opened back up and Oeric strolled in. “Alright, I spoke to Icus. He wants the four of you inside the monastery walls until further notice. No exceptions. I will escort you to your room.”
“In the dorms,” asked Soletus.
“No. You’ll be placed in a separate room for now. It’ll take you to the dorms. It’s empty now so you can grab things like a change of clothing and then you’ll get escorted to go bath. Then I’ll make some arrangements for food. We will talk again.”
Soletus frowned. “Let me get this straight. Kellas and the others get to move around where they want to since they came home, but we get restricted,” asked Soletus.
Oeric nodded. “That’s how it is for now. Don’t worry, we’ll work this out.”
Mien wasn’t sure how they were going to work anything out. Things seemed to be set against them. The knife and the bear tracks were damning evidence. However, it wasn’t strong evidence. All it did was put Soletus there, not everyone else. In fact, Mien noted that there was no evidence of anyone else being there. And as his friend pointed out Pace had a bear too. And for that reason, Kellas and the others needed to be kept in check as well. It was stupid in his mind that they weren’t. However, they were so focused on Soletus which was odd. Despite all that his friend was, he was no killer.
In fact the entire time Mien spent a lot of time washing up and waiting for the others it bothered him. He gathered his things and it still rested on his mind. In fact, he hurried because wanted to make sure Soletus was hanging in there. When they first entered the dorm, he attracted the attention of everyone there. They watched them as they passed but never confronted them. Then again, Soletus strutted through there with his head high and shoulders squared. He projected the aura of a young man who would punch anyone who said even hello.
Mien went to his second floor room and grabbed everything he needed quickly and then hurried down to the first. When he walked in, he was happy to see the bunks of Soletus’ roomates empty. Soletus was by his foot locker stowing his gear.
“You’re taking you time,” commented Mien.
The young monk shrugged. His eyes were red. Mien’s attention wandered to the top bunk where Lyndon slept. Often times he sat up there playing up a mission and making it sound more harrowing. Soletus, of course, would be rolling his eyes and correcting his over-exaggerations. It was hilarious. They were the perfect dynamic. Mien smiled. He almost wished the young man would round the corner and asking them why they left him behind. It was Soletus sniffing that cut through his thoughts.
“I’m fine,” he answered, wiping under his eyes. “I’m glad we’re sleeping someplace else again. This room feels empty.”
Mien bobbed his head in understanding.
“I can’t go back out like this,” he said furiously, cleaning his face and sitting on the floor.
Mien felt like he cried a lake worth of tears in the darkness of his room until he couldn’t cry anymore. He learned out the doorway to see if Tyrus or Doran were on their way. No one was in the hall, so he eased back in and down beside Soletus.
“When this is all over, we need to go somewhere. I was thinking Arbortown,” he told him.
The corners of Soletus’ mouth quirked. “You need to examine your priorities. Shouldn’t you be offering this sort of treat to Kiao?”
“This is a pity offer,” Mien returned. “I figure I would because no one will ever offer it to you.”
His friend let out a short chuckle and asked, “Do you treat her like you treat me?”
“No, I actually love her. You’re just okay,” said Mien, patting his back. “Seriously though, when I go back to the Arbiter, we should go to a particular place. Just the two of us. It’s a natural monument. Right outside of town. A pillar of tao stone just resting on top of a high knoll.”
The young monks brow tugged together. “I don’t see what’s so special about that.”
“The view and the tao stone pillar is said to sing.”
“Again, this seems really like a you and Kiao thing.”
“I don’t think she wants to spend another moment outdoors for any length of time any time soon. It’s a long trek to get there. Besides, it’ll be a nice break. You need one. And why not do it with a friend.”
Soletus then threw his arms around him. Mien was expecting it. He baited the hug. He then slapped him on the back. “Come on, pull yourself together. You don’t want someone walking in here seeing you being a pastry.”
Soletus let go of him, but rested his forehead on his shoulder.
“I’m scared. I wasn’t this terrified on the road,” he said with a humorless chuckle that died into his voice quaking. “That was my knife Papa gave me. I treasured that knife. And someone went out and killed people with it and they think I did it. That I led you and the others down there.”
“Well, clearly you didn’t,” said Mien to erase any doubts in his friend’s mind that he didn’t believe him.
“You don’t even remember what happened and you believe me. You trust me. Why not these are men who knew me since I was a child. Trained me even. Yet they are so willing to condemn me over a knife.”
“I noticed that. And it’s odd to the point—”
There was knuckle tap on the doorway and the two of them raised their heads to see Tyrus and Doran standing there. Soletus straightened back up.
“We came in here ’cause you two are taking forever,” said Tyrus looking around. “You keep a neat room. Even Lyndon’s bed is neat.”
“If it isn’t neat, we get yelled at. The advantage of being Arch Monk’s grandson,” said Soletus, wiping his face again.
“Are you okay,” asked Doran.
Soletus bobbed his head.
Doran’s gaze then dropped on the footlocker and he stared at it in Mien’s opinion far too long.
“What’s wrong,” asked Mien.
“Nothing, just so much is happening at once,” he said.
Mien felt the area between his shoulder go cold. Doran was lying. Instead of calling him out in it, he rose to his feet and wrapped his arm around his stomach. They didn’t have a large breakfast just some buttered bread and water. It didn’t settle well in his belly with everything going on.
It was then the young monk announced. “I have an idea that’ll end this quickly.”
“What is it,” said Tyrus sitting on Soletus’s bed. “Why is your bed so comfortable?”
“Brother Hickory. He can force someone to tell the truth. Granted, he doesn’t like doing it. But if one of us volunteer, then we prove ourselves.”
Mien thought about it. He was probably their only way.
Tyrus was in the process of lying down and then sat up, appalled. “He can do what?”
Mien then explained. “You know how my edict is protection? Well, his is the phrase of truth. He can force people to tell the truth. In fact, he’s good at sensing lying because of it.”
“And people just talk to him!”
“He has to be listening for it. The lying that is. As for using the phrase of truth, as stated, he doesn’t like using it because people would be scared of him. He’s a powerful changer already without it.”
“He doesn’t sound like you,” said Doran.
“After a while, you can control the lit. He controls his to be polite.”
“Is that another example of mind-control,” asked Soletus.
“Yes,” said Mien.
Soletus considered what he learned. Tyrus looked at the floor to hide his terror at the prospects of it. Doran rubbed the back of his neck.
“So if you have nothing to hide, then it’ll be okay,” asked Soletus.
“Yes,” said Mien.
“Then we should do it,” stated Soletus.
“It sounds drastic,” said Tyrus.
“It is but, it shows how far we are willing to go to be heard. I’ll do it so you don’t have to. I’ve nothing left to hide and if it clears your fellows of wrong-doing, then it’s worth it.”
“Better you than me,” muttered Tyrus.
Soletus clapped his hand together. “Good, we should tell Papa.”
They left the dorms together and found the first warden across from the entrance leaning with his back against the wall. He sounded irritated when he asked what took them so long. When Soletus explained his idea, he became intrigued.
“That’s drastic,” he remarked.
“See,” said Tyrus.
“I don’t know if Hickory will agree to it,” he continued. “He always talks his way out of doing it. Who did you have in mind to do it?”
“Me,” answered Soletus.
The older monk shook his head. “He’ll refuse to do it.”
“Why,” cried Soletus. “He should understand the situation and why.”
“I get that, but he will have reservations about you. Not because he doesn’t care about your situation, but of how much it’ll mess with your head. He does have reason to talk to you specifically in the future.”
Soletus’ shoulders sagged. “Then what do we do?”
“Figure out who took your knife. That should be the unraveling point in all of this.”
“And if we don’t find who took the knife,” asked Tyrus.
“Then we will have to go the Brother Hickory route. The only candidates it would leave is you or Doran.”
Tyrus shook his head. “Nope, not gonna do it.”
“Why not one of Kellas’ men? The burden of truth shouldn’t just be on us,” said Soletus.
“I’ll do it,” said Doran loudly.
Everyone looked at him.
“Why,” asked Soletus.
“Because this isn’t your fault. It’s mine,” he said, taking in a deep breath. “I took Soletus’s knife.”
Whelp, Doran, you've a lot of explaining to do and I still need to do taxes. I dislike this time of year. Taxes and pollen makes Spring one of my least favorite times of year.