I will say that holding on to one’s convictions isn’t easy. It’s always tempting just to give up. That even when the tough times pass, you are bitter about it all. For years, it felt as if nothing good had come out of that situation with Kellas. I gained nothing. I lost. All I could tell people was that I appreciated life a lot more. It took a little more reflecting to narrow that down to what I truly felt. What I gained from it was that there are a lot of people who care about me. I didn’t go into every arm that opened up to me but, I learned, you are never truly alone in the world no matter how we feel.
Oeric told them to keep quiet as he led them to their room. The walk would all give them time over their initial astonishment and brash reactions. However, the walk didn’t make Mien think Doran was less of an idiot dod. He made many questionable decisions as long as he had known him but stealing Soletus’ knife the most underhanded action he had ever done. He didn’t say anything when he should have.
Mien didn’t even know what he even gained by doing it. What excuse could the young man muster? The young chanter glanced at his friend. Soletus didn’t even look willing enough to listen. He was red again from irritation. However, he didn’t say a word. Oeric also ordered them into silence.
They were still holding their tongues when they entered the room. It was sparse, with nothing more than a single window, four sleeping mats arranged in the center of the room, and a work desk. There was no place for them to stow their things. Oeric sat on the desk and pointed to the mats.
“Sit. And we’re going to discuss this without yelling or fighting.”
They did so and bore heated stares at Doran for an explanation.
He better have a damn good excuse, thought Mien.
“So, explain why you took my son’s knife,” asked Oeric.
“Because Valhart told me to do it,” he said in a small voice.
Oeric crossed his arms and said sternly. “So, you thought stealing was okay because a second warden told you to do it?”
“No! He made me do it. That was part of our agreement,” he said, shrinking down more.
“Sit up and talk to me like you are giving a report. Agreement for what,” he demanded.
Doran sat up straight and started regaling his story. “I was removed from my previous band. If I didn’t find a new one, my father told me to leave active duty and work for my uncle in Wateree instead. I didn’t want to give up, so I asked around. And I learned First Warden Kellas was looking for a scout to replace Lyndon. I’m cross-trained, so I asked him. He agreed to take me under the condition that Valhart would test me and make sure I was loyal enough.”
The severity in Oeric’s deepened. “He wanted to make sure you were loyal enough?”
“Yes, Sir. At first it was just simple errands for him and the other in their inner circle. Then he started corresponding with Brother Elnos.”
Mien brow went up when he heard that. Even Oeric became intrigued.
“Do you know why,” the first warden asked.
“No, but Elnos was always tense and wanted to know if anyone saw me. He would also burn everything that Valhart would send him. The very last thing he gave him was a small purse of coins. Then Kellas was called on a mission and Valhart told me that if I wanted to come, I need to pass a final test. I agreed, and he told me to take Sol’s dagger.”
“No one saw you take it?”
“No, I slipped in and out.”
“And what did Valhart do with it?”
“I don’t know,” Doran shrugged. “I left to speak to First Warden Kellas afterward,” said Doran and raised his palm forward. “I swear on my blood and honor I didn’t even know what he was going to do with it.”
Mien glanced at Soletus. He expected the young man to throw himself at Doran and punch his face in. However, he had more self-control than he would’ve and sat stiffly with the cords in his neck tightening.
Oeric, however, didn’t restrain himself. “Did you dump your brain in a bucket? Were you that desperate that you willfully ignore rules not to mention the plethora of warning signs?”
“I didn’t think anything bad was going to happen,” said Doran looking as if he was about to cry.
“He had you playing messenger as a proof of loyalty. You should never do something like that,” Oeric erupted, his voice getting louder. His displeasure made Mien feel sorry.
“At any point, a first or second gives a condition to join their band that doesn’t include training more, waiting, or a trial mission, then you should report them.”
“But he would just deny it,” said Doran in a tiny voice.
“Then come to me,” erupted Oeric earnestly. “All of you, and tell your friends, too. If at any point a warden does something that is against the rules, makes you uncomfortable, and is just plain wrong come to me.”
“Valhart told me if I ever told anyone about what he was doing, then he would make my life miserable.”
“So, he threatened you as well!”
Doran held his head down in shame. “Yes.”
“Unbelievable,” muttered Oeric. “You did everything he did without question and fell for a trick.”
“But I didn’t know he was going to use the knife in the way he did.”
“That’s a poor excuse. You don’t steal something for someone else and think you can remain in blissful ignorance of their actions afterwards.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, not looking up.
“You should apologize to every young man in this room. You’ve complicated this tenfold.”
Soletus then injected. “Then do like he wants and have Brother Hickory use the phrase of truth on him.”
Doran agreed with a silent bob of his head.
“I wanted to avoid using Brother Hickory but we clearly don’t have a choice now. Doran, you need to speak with Icus, immediately. Mien, I was told to bring you to speak with Honored Priest Rastor.”
Mien didn’t know he was going to have to deal with that as well. He was hoping food would be brought to them first. He could feel the first shadows of a hunger headache starting.
Oeric lead took them to the priest’s wing. He thought for a moment they were going to see the Arch Priest, however, they walked into a small meeting room. Mien was familiar with the room. He was taken to the room when he first arrived. He didn’t remember it being so bright. Then again, anything during that period felt foreboding. Now he could take in the room and the tapestry hanging from the wall. It was a woven rendition of the monastery. He didn’t know how old it was as it was missing buildings and the town was rather small. There was also no wall.
Seated in front of the tapestry at a desk was a priest who Mien was unfamiliar with. He had seen him around and he know him as one of the only robust priest he had seen. The way he sat sitting straight up and the way he observed him with a steady gaze when he entered the room screamed monk to him. It was Brother Rastor. Kiao told him that he was a former one. Unlike all the other priests who have, he kept his form.
Mien’s attention went to Kiao. She sat primly, wearing one of the newer dresses sent from her mother. It was dark purple and white. Mien suppressed a smile. Wearing simple shirt and trousers for so long must have bored her, and she needed color again.
“Thank you First Warden Oeric,” said the priest. “You do what you do very well finding people and bringing them back.”
Oeric just inclined his head and spoke to Icus in a low voice, presenting Doran to him. Icus nodded his head and pointed to the door. Oeric motioned for Doran to follow him. Icus remained in the room and whispered into the priest’s ear. While Mien took his seat.
“We may have another piece to what Elnos was planning, but we will go through this first.”
Mien tried to mirror Kiao’s inexpressive visage and didn’t respond to hearing what they said. However, he didn’t possess that ability and his brow pulled together on hearing it. He also straightened his spine but failed to be poised as well. He felt too ill-at-ease to sit nonchalantly with his hand in his lap like her.
Icus spoke first. “Greetings Acolyte. We’ve got a matter I hope we can clear out as quickly as possible so I can get to more pressing ones,” Icus said and gestured to Rastor.
“You might not know me, but I’m Honored Priest Brother Rastor,” he said in a voice that Mien felt ambivalent about. That didn’t happen often.
“Greetings Brother,” returned Mien.
Brother Rastor raised his brow, intrigued. “Oh! I wasn’t expecting that much of a lit from you. You and the Priestess here sound so much stronger than the late Elnos.”
He didn’t know how to respond to that statement. He agreed, but he didn’t want the man to get the impression he was conceited.
“Anyway, Acolyte Mientheoderic, I wanted to talk to you and Cantor Kialianna about the late Brother Elnos,” said Icus.
That surprised Mien. He didn’t think more needed to be said about it. “I’ve been told how he died as well as what he did to my bond partner,” he said, thinking that was what they were there for.
Rastor didn’t seem all that surprised. “Well, that cuts down a lot of explaining. I’ll get to what you don’t know. While Sister Kiao was away, an anonymous source suggested that the Enforcer search his possessions. I’ll let him show you what we found.”
Icus pushed a leather sleeve in front of them holding papers. Kiao picked it up and opened it. Mien leaned in to see what it was. It was full of sketches. It was well known that Elnos sketched in his spare time. He would make his own paper, charcoals, and inks. Mien had only seen his landscapes and day-to-day life of the monastery drawings. They were impressive. However, what was before them wasn’t anything of that. Instead he saw rough sketches of Kiao.
Mien watched her flip through them slowly at first. Most of them were portraits of all angles as if he were practicing getting her features correct. Then the drawings turned to full-figured drawings. They started with her healer garb. Then her outfits she wore during festivals or outings and there was even on of her horseback riding from a distance. She even came to a drawing of their favorite spot to sit alone and talk. It was under a tree in the arboretum. He wasn’t there. Who was beside Kiao looked like Elnos himself.
Fire grew in Mien’s chest. And increased with every other drawing after that. It was then the last handful of drawings that had both of them shocked. They were all kiao, but she was sketched nude in various poses. She flipped through them all once she realized they would all be the same thing and then tossed everything on the desk. She sat with her teeth pressing into her bottom lip.
“Cantor,” said Icus.
She regarded him with an unblinking gaze with violet lit eyes that were less blue and leaning hard on red. The very tips of her ears had darkened to a dark cherry.
“There is more,” he told her and handed a book to her. “Most of it is simple supplications. However, his pleas change around the place that I marked.”
“In what way,” she said, her voice hard.
Icus handed her the book. Mien leaned to see what else could make him upset. He scanned the page. And as the drawings indicated, he was obsessing over her. Most of his writing was him questioning Dias why she was there, wondering if she was a gift or something insidious. Kiao flipped from page to page on scanning the words. He only caught a few of Elnos’s statements about him. They went from her leading her astray to him praying the Dias remove him.
Kiao suddenly snapped the book shut, nearly hitting Mien in the nose. She tossed it on the table on top of the disgusting drawings. Mien was thankful the man was dead. Otherwise, he would hunt him down and do what he didn’t know. A hot globe to the crotch sounded acceptable. In fact, he wanted to form one then and burn everything in front of him. Then again, he was certain the surface of Kiao’s skin could’ve done that. Her head and neck were burning a right red and her ear tips looked as if flames would start licking up from them.
Rastor then spoke. “I’ve not shared this all with the assembly. Just Brother Oliver and Hickory. I wanted to speak to you first. These drawings are very true to life.”
Mien let out an annoyed exhale then Kiao’s hand came down hard on his forearm, clamping it. He remained silent and let her handle it.
“A skilled artist doesn’t need their subject in front of them,” she said sharply.
“True, but I was concerned he coerced you into doing this.”
“Honored Priest, do you think I’m so pathetic that I can’t handle a single weak-spirited and willed priest,” she asked with her lit getting stronger. “Shame on me for letting him grab me, but this… I would have Elnos on his knees eating those drawing.”
There was a treacherous undertone in her voice that scared Mien a little. Even Brother Rastor heard it as he went pale. Kiao didn’t survive in an order full of men by being passive. She meant that and probably would’ve done it if she found out. And Mien would’ve helped her shove his drawing and charcoals down his gullet.
Rastor considered the two of them while Icus spoke.
“If late Honored Priest Elnos were still alive, he would be removed completely from the order and some other corporal punishment. However, since he isn’t, I just want to assure you we are looking into who he involved in a plot.”
“What do you mean,” asked Kiao.
“I went through this journal of his and he claimed to have been whispers from Dias himself of a ‘solution.’ He didn’t go into detail about the solution, but he wrote that someone took his offer. Paid someone to do what he couldn’t because he feared if his hand had done it, you would know.”
Kiao glanced at Mien but said nothing.
“He felt strongly against the Acolyte here. He kept referring to him as “reckoner” and as a certain entry suggests, he felt as if his death was confirmed by your reaction,” explained Icus.
All the blood drained from Mien’s face. Then Icus added.
“He clearly hired someone to do that. And I highly suspect that Second Warden Valhart was that someone.”
Mien sat back in his chair and felt his chest tighten. Someone tried to kill him again. Valhart tried to do it and nearly did. Kiao grab his hand squeezing.
“Mien,” she hissed.
He let out a chuckle and then he broke off into a fit of manic laughter. “This is ridiculous. This isn’t some plot to some terrible human play,” he said, pushing the hair from his face.
“All the evidence suggests it,” stated Icus.
“Then why let everyone believe Soletus led us to massacre an entire gorge to ruin.”
“I rather the entire monastery think we suspect you boys than give Valhart and Kellas any indication that I suspect them. Those who need to know the truth know it.”
Mien’s disbelief waned as the irritation he felt before came back. “And Soletus doesn’t need to?”
“It’s imperative he doesn’t know. I needed a genuine reaction from him. Though I didn’t count on him being so unstable.”
“You need to tell him,” said Mien. His friend was suffering enough.
Icus clasped his hands behind his back, his voice becoming stone-like again.
“I thought my assurances earlier were enough. I’m not his mother. I don’t need to pat his head and tell him everything is going to be alright.”
Icus made Mien feel confused. He didn’t understand how there could be a man who sounded so much like air on slate become the next Arch Monk. Solgard was a lot of things, indifferent wasn’t one of them.
“I can see you disagree. However, understand this is a delicate situation. My telling you this, along with Sister Kiao is enough. You can sense lying. I didn’t want to create distrust and since you two are bonded, it just easier to tell her as well. So, I expect you two to hold your tongues.”
Mien’s eyes flickered gold and looked meaningfully at him. The urge and the compulsion to speak took him. Works he didn’t have to think and arrange spilled out of his mouth. “Unyielding and unfeeling like the boulder is your strength as well as your weakness. And I hope he never chooses that path and becomes too afraid to feel. That he never loses his warmth because that is what you have done to be accepted.”
Icus’ hands crumpled. His arms hung from his side. Expression leaked through; he was disturbed.
Mien then added. “You’re as clear as a river, just like him. You can’t hide from me.”
The urge then left Mien. It left behind a feeling of being emboldened.
Icus cleared his throated, steadied out again. “I suppose you being able to sense lies you would can speak truths.”
Rastor looked at them both. “Is that what that was? I’ve never seen a chanter do that other than the Arch Priest.”
“Not all chanters can. Those who are timbre sensitive are more prone to it. It’s one reason why you have a bunch of priests who don’t care for the acolyte here,” said Icus to him while meeting Mien’s gaze. “The truth scares people. They want to protect themselves. To do what they wish to do with no hindrance. Is it right? No. But it’s the way it has to be.”
Rastor looked between them. “Do I need to leave you two alone to converse?”
“No, I’m done here,” stated Icus. “I need to speak to First Warden Oeric.”
With that, Icus left, closing the door behind him. The high Mien felt plummeted, leaving him heavy and exhausted. He hated getting like that. It seemed that Vlory was in that state all the time. Listening and reacting to voices and she wasn’t even at her full power. He wondered what she was like when she was at full strength. It was then he felt the honor priest stare at him. Green eyes assessing him.
“So you are the infamous Brother Mientheodric’Cyan,” he said.
He wondered what all he had heard about him.
“I promise I’ll try to keep this short. As I told Sister Kiao, I know little about chanters and timbre bonds. Most of what I do know comes from the assembly. They disagree with the Arch Priest catering to you two.”
Kiao then asked. “How have we been catered too? The only thing we been given was the allowance to be together. The assembly has done its best to hinder us to our detriment.”
“What do you mean,” asked Rastor. “You to remain together free to do whatever you want.”
What’s her angle on this, wondered Mien. He hadn’t got a chance to talk to Kiao about what they were going to say to Rastor.
“We aren’t allowed to hone our bond. They are against that. And had we’ve been allowed to learn and train the channel between us, I wouldn’t have been left vulnerable for Elnos to attack me.”
Rastor rubbed his chin. “That’s what you believe.”
“It’s what I know. We are a bonded pair; nothing is going to change that. And it’s a well-known fact that you don’t ignore chanter abilities. It will eventually create problems.”
“So, it could be problematic again?”
“Yes, if we aren’t allowed train. And you want to know what we can do? I can access Mien’s dreams and he can send his emotions to me. Mien knows my location if we’re close enough. Nothing unscrupulous about any of that. Which has been another point of contention.”
“That’s true,” said Mien once he figured out where she was going. It should’ve been obvious. The most objective angle she could think up. “And it isn’t as if we are going into this blindly experiment. In fact, the Arch Priest led us to someone who can help us.”
Realization hit Rastor. “You mean the chanter you found?”
“Correct,” said Kiao. “She herself was once bonded to another chanter, and she is timbre sensitive. She warned me and will probably warn you as well what happens when outside influence interferes with a bonded pair of chanters.”
“From what I’ve learned about her, she was corrupted. How can you trust someone who allowed themselves to become such a thing?”
“It wasn’t by her choice,” said Mien, wiping his sweaty palms on the top of his legs. “Though she continued it and nearly died because of it. However, I passed on my second chance to her. She knows that. And besides her being corrupt, showed us what we can do together.”
Kiao nodded. “Bonded chanters can sing a song together. And ours is one for healing and purifying. In fact, Mien light globe is a purifying light. That’s how we saved Vlory. Being corrupted as she wasn’t something a single chanter alone can heal. Now any badly poisoned warden has a chance for survival instead of a death watch.”
Rastor tapped the desktop with his fingers in consideration. “There appears to be a disconnect between what I’ve been told and what I am seeing and hearing in front of me.”
“Of course, there is,” said Kiao. “None of those priests have ever talked to us on a meaningful level. They just rather tell us what to do, make assumptions, and deny what is going on in front of them. Again, it’s all about punishing me. Their egos are bruised and I can’t treat those.”
“And all you two want is the right to train your abilities together?”
“Yes,” said Kiao.
“I see no issue with that,” he said. “Brother Mien demonstrated control over himself that I didn’t think he would given what I’ve been told. If someone showed me drawings of my wife being done by another man without permission, I would’ve ripped everything I saw to shreds the moment I lay eyes on it.”
Mien smiled inwardly that he didn’t just burn them. He really wanted to still.
“Furthermore, the responsibility of the two of you isn’t me. Sister you are responsible for yourself. Brother Mien on the other hand, isn’t completely out of the guidance of others. He is still Brother Hickory’s responsibility as per the agreement made with the arbiter. After that, he is at the whims of his house and what he wants. Since I trust Hickory, I’ll leave it to him.”
Kiao inclined her head to him. “Thank you, Sir.”
“You are welcome. I’m glad to have one thing off my plate. I’ve more things to worry about than young two chanters. You two can leave.”
Kiao rose to her feet and Mien followed. When they were away from the door, Kiao clapped her hands quietly with glee, then held her fists in triumph dancing around. Mien just stood back, admiring her excitement. That was all she wanted for a long time. She then hugged him around the neck and kissed him on the check.
“You are wonderful,” she whispered.
He kissed her on the forehead in return and gently tugged her away when he heard coming footsteps. Oeric appeared around the corner. He spotted them immediately. “Come on, Mien back to the room,” he said and then acknowledge Kiao with a slight smile. “Greetings, Sister.”
Kiao waved to him while Mien joined him, realizing that Doran wasn’t with him.
“Speaking to Icus still and I was told to take you back to the room,” he told him. As they rounded the corner to exit the priest’s wing, someone was waiting for them by the door. It was First Warden Kellas.
I tried to get this done earlier, but time got away from me. This chapter has gone through a number of revisions, including making Icus' plan actually clear. I didn't really know when I first wrote this and cobbled some poor reasoning. However, to be clear, Icus doesn't want Kellas and others to know what is going on. They would be a flight risk. He doesn't want what happened before to repeat itself. Now I need to go to bed. I took allergy medicine to stop my itching, and my brain is slowly turning into mush.