It hurt Hickory a lot, having to do what he did. He didn’t want to it and expressed that point many times over. He was very concerned that I wouldn’t talk to him. I was avoiding speaking to him because I wanted to work it all out on my own. Figure out a way to come to terms with it. However, you can’t handle everything yourself. Dias found fit to have Hickory around for a reason and he became a shelter for me. Someplace where I could go to get out of the storm. Someone to talk to. And I spent many days in the back of the chapel speaking to him more or less as friends. And he would always listen, and Saffron would bring us a bite to eat. When he finally passed, I was old enough to not feel that loss too much. Then again, he trained a very good replacement, and he wouldn’t let me get sad about it.
Disbelief blossomed on Doran’s. “Why? Why would he do that?”
Mien thought the answer was obvious.
“He needed to cover is his tracks. And the two of us not getting along isn’t a secret,” answered Soletus.
“But I was helping him,” cried Doran.
Tyrus rolled his eyes and groaned.
Soletus swayed his head sadly at him. “Why would that matter? Haven’t you learned from all of this? Valhart bad.
“But Kellas was the one interested in me. He wouldn’t go against what Kellas wanted unless that is what he wanted.”
“I don’t think Kellas knew what Valhart was doing,” cut in Mien.
“I doubt he doesn’t,” said Soletus.
“It makes more sense if he didn’t,” countered Mien. “Valhart and Elnos were secretive in communicating with each other. He probably agreed to do what Elnos wanted on the side for coin. Valhart took advantage of Kellas needing. Doran provided opportunity. If it was another tod, he probably wouldn’t’ve taken the knife. And this is more conjecture than solid proof, Valhart probably didn’t mean to hit me so hard to getting close to kill me. However, he did and it made his job easy. Though he had Sol’s knife and needed to get rid of it. So, he used it and left it there. He wouldn’t if he knew about the spies there.”
Doran shock his head. “But why would Valhart agree to kill you? Was it seriously just for coin? I mean, he might not be a good monk, but he’s still a monk!”
Soletus then stated. “He tossed his moral compass in the swamp. He was swamp post fodder. I don’t know what he did that landed him there. But he was there for a very long time. The on exiting he became Kellas’s second.”
“Really,” questioned Tyrus. “Titfire, who did he have to blackmail to become a second?”
Soletus shrugged. “Kellas sees something there and my grandfather approved him.”
Doran began to look sick. “If he betrayed Elnos to hide his trail, then that means his going to me,” he asked.
“I wouldn’t get caught out alone if I were you,” said Soletus.
Doran’s became pale.
“We don’t know if it was Valhart who told them about the drawings,” said Mien. “If he just wanted coin, then that’s all that mattered to him. Doran exchanging messages for him wouldn’t change a thing.”
Soletus massaged his forehead. “Look, Papa is going to be back. Let’s wait for him instead of speculating about this.”
However, Oeric didn’t return.
No one returned to get their bowls or anything. They were just left alone in the room and given no clear permission to leave, so they just lazed and slept.
Mien awoke of his own accord before the loud bass rumble of the horn sounded to start the day. He sat up examining the dull room. Everyone sounded asleep save a single person who wasn’t. Soletus touched his foot through the blankets when he heard him stir. Before Mien could ask him what he wanted, there was a knock on the room door and it opened. Icus stood there with a lantern.
“Senior Junior Warden Soletus, Acolyte Mientheoderic, get dressed. We’re going to see the Arch Monk,” he said whispering.
Mien reached for his trousers at his feet and pulled those back on. He had slept in his shirt, making it a wrinkled mess as he tucked it in his waistband. Soletus was a lot quicker to dress to allow time to fix his hair. He didn’t braid it like he usually did when he slept. Mien watched him struggle to run his hands through it. After fighting a stubborn knot, he gave up and just smoothed it down. Mien gave his own hair a few quick run through with his hands to tame his bedhead.
Once out, Icus then explained to them what was going on.
“Brother Hickory spoke to me yesterday about your idea. It’s the best method to clarify certain aspects of this situation at this point. And we need to do it as soon as possible, which means now.”
Mien’s mind was sluggish and took far too long to realize what he was saying.
“Why right now,” asked Soletus.
“I don’t want Kellas and the men under him to know. This is the best way. Also, we aren’t stopping for food. I was told to bring you on an empty stomach.”
Skipping breakfast made Mien sad. Then again, it hadn’t started yet. Most were getting ready for morning pray. They all entered the Arch Monk’s chambers. There with a cup of tea, sat Captain Mallard. She appeared wide awake and ready to go. Brother Hickory and Oli stood side-by-side wearing twin expressions of displeasure. Hickory held a flagon. To the other side of Brother Oli sat a tall chair with leather straps on the armrest and one where legs would be. Soletus stopped dead in his tracks.
“Don’t worry,” said Hickory gently. ”I’m not going to strap you in. You’re doing this willingly.
Mien did a quick inspection of the room. There were two soldiers there beside Captain Mallard as well as two peaceguard situated by the door. Both sets were armed. The soldiers with hands resting on their hilts and the peaceguard with heavy staves.
The young monk stretched and then wore a wry smile.“You act like I’m going to run,” said he said and strutted to the chair. “A little bit of warning would’ve been nice.”
“Why do you need three chanters here,” asked Mallard.
Icus explained as he took his spot beside the Arch Monk. “As I told you, Brother Hickory is going to perform the truth-telling and Brother Oli is to make sure that the Junior Warden is here is okay physically. The Acolyte is here because… I don’t understand why I was told to bring him?”
Hickory then gestured for Soletus to sit. “He is here for when I’m done. And a lot of things are much easier when you have a friend present. If we make you nervous, Mallard, you can leave.”
“Who said anything about being nervous,” she said, though Mien could see her grasping the cup of tea tightly. Soletus, unlike her, eased himself in the chair waiting for instructions.
Mien had never seen Brother Hickory use his edict phrase on anyone. However, given how powerful the priest was, he knew it’ll be something that would make him nervous. A lot of members of the brotherhood didn’t like the fact that the man who served to help mend their minds could use a single phrase and force them to tell the truth. However, he never used his abilities in that way. He didn’t want to force people to tell the truth. He rather they tell the truth to him freely or coax it out of them in a manner that wasn’t threatening and painful.
“Are you certain you want this,” Mien asked his friend.
Soletus bobbed his head, trying to get comfortable in the chair. “What else am I supposed to do?”
“In my opinion, anything but this,” said Brother Oli agitated. “This sets a bad precedent.”
“Don’t think I wanted him to do it, Oliver,” replied Hickory. “It would be much easier to subject the person who is lying to this treatment. Kellas should’ve been the one chosen.”
“Wisdom is one of your many gifts,” said Brother Oli solemnly. “Yet with all these ears around here, no one willing to listen.”
“They are looking at that bloody knife. It’s like assuming someone dressed as a beggar stole the apple from the basket while a well-dressed man is watching behind the crowd eating it.”
Icus cleared his throat. “Can you two please stop questioning my process and reasoning and start?”
Brother Oli then said sharply. “This is not something to rush. This is a lovelace based concoction and will not agree with him, so it must be administered cautiously.”
Soletus looked uncertain. “What are you talking about?”
Brother Oli then explained. “Neth make-up is different. Cory is better at explain it all. However, just for you to know, lovelace disrupts it and puts you in an open and willing state.”
Soletus became puzzled. Mien wished he could go over there and just whisper a few things to him. The young man didn’t think of certain things first off. It made him appear he innocent minded.
Oli then appealed to Hickory. “This is why I don’t want to do this. He’s too many gaps in his knowledge about what he is.”
Brother Hickory patted Soletus on the shoulder. “This is a more private conversation so I’ll keep this simple. We neth have two states of being. Our normal state and a quickened state for reproduction. All lovelace substances forces neth individual into that state quickened state. It doesn’t make you emotionally drawn to an individual or create desire. It just makes you more receptive, easier to manipulate, and leave you little ability to fight.”
Soletus frowned. “So you need this to what, lower my guard?”
“Exactly. You’re chanter gifted. You’ll feel the manipulation in my voice, but this will make you not care so much. It’s just the side-effects of that’s the problem. I did mix wine in it so it will work faster.”
Soletus becoming unsure. “A bit extreme, don’t you think?”
“Exactly,” said Oli. “Since neth are practically allergic to it. It’ll likely give you a rash too. Basically, it’ll do more harm than good just to make this all less of an intrusive violation.”
Soletus blinked and regard Mien for his opinion.
“It’s alchemic manipulation. In the wrong hands, terrible. Brother Hickory would be the best person to know how to use it for some good,” he said.
Soletus nodded his head. “As far as I’m concerned, this is the only way to prove I did nothing. I’m not going to get mad at Brother Hickory for something I asked him to do. Neither you, Brother Oli. You’ve both been kind about this.”
Brother Oli bobbed his head and took the flagon as well as a small measuring cup.
“I’m going to give it to you by the fourth cup.”
Brother Hickory then told him. “The first dose will have little effect on you. We wait, give you another, and then you’ll feel a fuzzy-headed. From there, we’ll decide what you need.”
Mien didn’t like watching the process of his friend get drugged. It reminded him of his own dreadful experience. Except he was forced to ingest blighter and waiting for death that he expected to come. What his friend was taking wasn’t blighter. It wouldn’t kill him. However, that didn’t stop Mien from wrapping his arm around his middle and his stomach cramping and feeling sorry for his friend.
Soletus took a second dose and when asked how he felt, he said the same. At the third dose, that was when he began to change. His skin flushed as well as his gaze became vague. His pupils very large.
The Arch Monk walked over to them. “How long is this going to take,” he asked.
The elder healer glance at him. “As long as it needs to. I’ve been pacing the doses and keeping them small. There is a sweet spot that needs to be achieved. Too much and he’ll be incoherent.”
Soletus leaned back in his chair. “I feel dizzy.”
“Well, we know it’s working,” said Brother Hickory. ”Maybe a bit too well.”
Suddenly, the young monk’s eyelids drooped, and he leaned to one side of the chair and the armrest caught him. He jerked, looking dazed as if he hadn’t realized it was there.
“Soletus,” said Hickory.
The young monk stared at Hickory and searched his face, bemused and then stated. “I don’t feel good.”
Brother Oli then tapped Soletus on the shoulder. “Can I feel your wrist?”
Soletus held up his wrist for him. “I don’t feel like myself.”
The elder chanted patted his head. “Don’t worry about that. It’s just everything working.” He then mouthed to Brother Hickory. “His pulse is fast.”
“Half a dose and then we’ll stop there,” said the aged priest, looking uncomfortable out of Soletus’s line of sight while Brother Oli did as he was told and handed it to Soletus, who hesitated and before slowly downing it. He leaned to his left side again.
Brother Hickory took him by the shoulders and sat him up straight.
“I’m okay. How am I supposed to answer anything when I feel so muzzy headed? I just want a warm bed right now.”
As if that was the cue, Brother Hickory leaned into Soletus’s ears.
Hickory then said to Soletus gently. “Normally you are restrained but since you’ve done this voluntarily, you aren’t. No matter what happens, stay in this chair.”
“I understand,” said Soletus.
The chanter priest nodded and touched his forehead and whispered the phrase of truth in his ear. Soletus’s irises became backlit turning into a phosphorescent blue as all the blood drained from his face.
“Why did his eyes do that,” asked the Arch Monk, his voice full of concern.
Brother Oli spoke. “Soletus is chanter gifted. What magical heart he has is being engaged by Cory’s abilities. He must be on the stronger end of it to have that reaction.”
Brother Hickory speaking low, but Mien still shivered from how bearing it was. “You can hear my voice in your mind and ears. I’m not forcing you to speak right now. You will know when I do and it’s easier if you just let it happen. Do you understand?”
Soletus bobbed his head, unfocused.
Brother Hickory took a deep breath and started speaking, sounding like a person trying to soothe another than an interrogator. “According to your statement written to Enforcer Icus, you stated it was First Warden Kellas who ordered your band to enter the Firerock Gorge. Is that true?”
Soletus’s face twitched. “Yes.”
He then looked disturbed. He became alarmed and tensed, looking at Brother Hickory betrayed. The aged priest laid a hand on Soletus’s right forearm. “Don’t do that. Don’t fight. I know that was different from anything you felt, but you can’t fight me,” said the priest, using his voice on him.
Soletus face twitched. Hickory then massaged his forearm.
“I’m not trying to control you. You need to do this. You felt strongly about doing this. You care about the other lads who followed you. You said so in your statement. You’re doing this to help them. Remember?”
“Good, keep that in mind.”
Mien was impressed and terrified at the same time by the priest. He didn’t know if anyone other than him knew Hickory was treading a very thin line. Mien never wanted to be able to do something like that but at the same time, he was curious if he could ever reach that point. If Soletus was aware of what had happened, he didn’t show it. He just went with it. Mien peered out the corner of his eyes at the Arch Monk to see what he thought. The old monk’s face was unreadable. However, his hand at his side was drumming against his leg.
Mien listened to Hiskory’s questions. Most of them were yes or no questions. Nothing that required an explanation. And most of it was already things Mien knew true. Kellas did lead them into the gorge. He did, in fact, refused to listen to any reasoning why they shouldn’t get involved any more than they had. However, the yes and no question stopped when Hickory came to the part of Soletus’ statement about the ambush.
Brother Hickory then said, “According to your statement, you were already in the gorge before you decided to leave and disobey your orders. Why did you change your mind?”
Soletus’ face ticked and he his jaw tightened. He struggled a little.
“Don’t think about your answer, just answer,” said Hickory.
“I didn’t feel safe. It felt like a storm was coming,” said Soletus. “Lyndon told me that we should leave alone. But I hesitated. I believed Kellas would figure it out. He didn’t. When it was dusk. Lyndon then reported to me he had seen movement above us on the cliff wall. I brought it to Kellas’ attention, but the leader of the gorge dwellers insisted it was one of his lookouts. Scout Warden Cole claimed he saw nothing and dismissed Lyndon’s claims. Pace and Roy did so as well. I believed Lyndon, so I ordered him and the others to leave.”
The young monk sunk in the chair, looking exhausted.
“In your statement, you said, quote ‘Kellas and I got into another argument about leaving. Then Second Warden Valhart jumped in and insulting and embarrassing me in front of everyone calling me a nethling. Saying all neth males weak cowards and that I lacked the stones to do the true work that Kellas does’ Is that what was said?”
“You also claim that Valhart said that First Warden Kellas wasn’t shy about getting his hands bloodied because Dias gave him the fortitude and charged him to kill monsters both drass beasts and mortals. That he was the only first warden worth following. Is that true?”
That one statement made Oeric’s reaction to Kellas make a bit more sense. The man knew something. Mien glanced over at the Arch Monk again to see what he was thinking. Once again, his face was impassive. It was then Mien realized that Soletus’s father wasn’t in the room. The young chanter knew for a fact that he would be there, yet he wasn’t. His attention landed on Captain Mallard. She listened intently but still gripping that teacup.
After that, there were only a few more questions before Brother Hickory stopped and spoke to Icus. “It’s pointless to ask him further. I believe your doubts have been quelled. I don’t even feel him lying about any of this to press his statement.”
Icus then said. “I just want to be clear is that Soletus indeed guilty insubordination by refusing to follow First Warden’s Kellas’s orders. That he trespassed into the Firerock gorge, and he is negligent in the death of Junior Scout Warden Lyndon’Pintail. But did not lead or take part in the massacre that occurred in the gorge?”
Soletus, even though exhausted with sweat trailing down his face, managed to look directly at Icus and said,
“Everything I said was true, and if that makes me guilty of all those things, then so be it!”
“Then I defer to the Arch Monk,” replied Icus.
“I’ll withhold my final judgment,” he said. “I believe a full hearing is in order. I want First Warden Kellas and his men gathered and held in the monastery as well. The hearing will be in two days.”
“Very well. You can take the junior warden back to his room,” instructed Icus.
“Actually, Mien, take him to the infirmary,” instructed Brother Oli. “I have a room for him. Alder has my instructions. I’ll follow shortly.”
Mien helped Soletus to the infirmary. He wobbled as he walked the entire way. When the got there, Alder helped them to a room upstairs. It had one of the more comfortable beds. The room also faced the away from the morning sun, so the room was dim with the curtains drawn. There were plenty of blankets provided, as well as an extra pillow. However, Soletus ignore them all and flopped down. Mien pulled off his boots and pulled a blanket over him. He was going to leave afterwards, but Alder told him to stay. He scooted the stook inside of the room beside of Soletus’s bed and sat.
The young monk didn’t speak. He was awake but not present. He laid on his side facing the far wall, blinking. His hand that rested on his pillow would knead it and then occasionally clutch it for a moment before it went back to its original motion. Mien adjusted his seat so that he could lean against the wall and napped.
Early morning passed. Soletus took in a sharp intake of air that got brought Mien back from drifting. He lifted his head and was met Soletus’ apathetic gaze.
“Hey,” he said. “I was getting worried. You hadn’t said anything since you came here.”
Soletus pushed his chest from the bed, wobbled, then lowered himself back down. He rested in forehead on his fist. “I’m still muzzy headed.”
“I can probably make you some sort of flush. I don’t know which one will be the best. I need to talk to Kiao. She wasn’t here when we came.”
“It’s hard to think I just want…” he trailed off and said nothing more. He didn’t even move.
Mien became alarmed. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, just stay here,” said Soletus and he left it at that.
Mien rested a hand on his forearm and patted it. Soletus visibly relaxed and his vagueness switched to content vagueness. The young chanter thought his friend would suffer a lot more than just watching the wall. Then again, he didn’t know what internal turmoil that was rolling inside of him. That was the only reason for him to be so quiet. The only motion he made was occasionally kneading his pillow.
Someone knocked at the door. It wasn’t anyone from the infirmary, so Mien answered for them to come in. Tyrus’s head peered in and then the young man fully stepped into the room, closing the door behind him.
“How is he?”
“Lethargic,” said Mien. “They let you in?”
“They let us out to stretch and they brought us here. First Warden Oeric is downstairs. I’m only up allowed here after I argued with Brother Alder, but he said I can check but not touch. Not that I was.”
Tyrus’s voice caused Soletus to lift his head, then placed it back down on the pillow. He then asked, using his usual tired and long-suffering voice he reserved for him. “What do you want, Tyrus?”
The dimples of Tyrus’s face appeared again. “I just wanted to make sure you weren’t scrambled in the brains.”
“No,” he said absently and for the first time closed his eyes.
Mien thought is he was willing to talk, he could get Soletus something.
“Do you need anything? We can get you anything you want.”
Soletus kneaded the pillow as his brow puckered in thought. However, he looked as if he was struggling with it. Then said, “Is there any chance you can get mama here? I need to talk to her.”
“I can see,” said Mien. “Do you need me here?”
Soletus shook his head. Mien got up from the chair and Tyrus took his place. Mien walked out of the room and found Doran standing outside.
“I figured he didn’t want to see me. How is he?”
“As I told Tyrus, lethargic. I need to get his mother.”
“Oh,” said Doran. “She downstairs. Both his parents are.”
Mien walked down to find Cordea sitting on a bed with Oeric stretched out on it. He had a bandage around his head, appearing very annoyed.
“First Warden, Madame Sheldmartin,” he greeted.
Cordea fixed her attention on him. “How is he?”
“He said he wanted you.”
Without asking for permission or saying anything, she fled from her husband’s side and made her way upstairs. Mien settled down where she had been. The man sighed.
“Sorry about not coming back yesterday. An inconvenient incident occurred,” he said, tapping the bandage.
Mien heard Kiao let out a loud sigh from across the room.
Mien studied the bandage. “What caused you to hit your head?”
The man just stared coldly at him.
His hip, Mien decided. “I’m sorry if Kiao fussed at you too much.”
“It was deserved,” snapped Kiao behind him.
Mien gave him a faint apologetic smile. “We managed. Though I think Icus may have taken advantage of your absence.”
“So, I gathered. Is he okay?”
Mien shrugged. “He’s been lethargic, but I don’t think there have been any negative effects. ”
“Good, what happened with Icus?”
He shared with him what had happened earlier that morning. When he got to the end of what Icus has asked Soletus about his guilt, the monk’s face darkened. “Wait, he said he was guilty of those things?” Oeric rolled his eyes and struggled to sit up. “Of all the underhanded actions he’s stooped to do, this is the lowest.”
“I take it that’s not a good thing?”
“No, it’s not.”
“Oeric,” snarled Kiao.
Oeric flinched and Mien saw Kiao swooping in on them with her smock billowing behind her. She stood at his bedside with her arms crossed.
“You have a concussion. You can stop trying to do everything for one day and lie down!”
“I’m not doing everything, just the stuff I need to do,” he said. “I need to speak to Soletus as soon as possible.”
“Not right now! The effects on what he’s taken and what Brother Hickory did lingers,” Kiao then swung her attention on Mien. “And you’re supposed to be with him!”
Mien swept over her, noting that she was frustrated and a little more than she normally would with a situation such as that. He then said as benignly as he could. “He asked for his mother. Tyrus was up there when I left to ask for her. She would be much better for him than me.”
It was then Tyrus and Doran returned downstairs.
“You two, over here now,” said Oeric curtly. “Did Icus speak at length with either of you?”
“I told you to rest when we got back and you’re not and you saw what happened,” snapped Kiao.
Oeric started at her with his gaze becoming sharp like an icicle. He was done tolerating her. Any warder, junior warden, and probably any other warden would’ve backed down. Kiao returned it with one of her withering glares. Mien slinked back. He didn’t want to annoy either of them. Tyrus and Doran looked as if they were considering just walking away.
The stalemate continued until Oeric sunk back down on the bed. “See, I’m lying down resting. And I can talk while resting. Besides, this concussion isn’t the worse I’ve had, and you know it.”
“Head injuries stack!”
“And you are a skilled healer capable of treating me. I will even take a nap after this,” he said, stressing the last part.
Kiao massaged her forehead. “Fine. After you nap, then I will see about you talking to Soletus. And you,” she said, pointing to Mien. “Would you please get back in his room? I’ll explain why you are needed there later.”
“Actually,” said Tyrus. “His mom shooed me out after he whispered something to her.”
Kiao considered that.
“Then explain to me why I was told to stay with him,” said Mien.
“Lionel, Alder, and I figured you would be better because he’s more comfortable around you. I didn’t know if he needed a shoulder to cry on or someone just to hug on.”
“The same could be said about you.”
“I was told it would be inappropriate despite the fact he’s neth and you’re mine.”
Mien didn’t know why he enjoyed hearing her claim him, but he did. She then placed her hands on the top of his shoulders and squeezed them.
“I would appreciate you checking in on them again, okay,” she said softly.
Mien nodded, and she kissed the top of his head and left. He also liked that as well, even though he was blushing. Tyrus and Doran watched her leave. Oeric cleared his throat and got their attention.
“As I explained to Mien. I’m sorry for not coming back. I had an incident. However, I need to know if Icus said anything to you without me being there.”
“No, he just said we’re free to go anywhere within the monastery, but Doran was not unless he had someone escorting him.”
“And you Doran.”
“He told me that I needed to stand in front of the Arch Monk to defend myself. He said that the Arch Monk wants a hearing.”
“Did you declare yourself guilty at any point with him?”
“Okay, only Soletus,” he said, relaxing. “From here on out, if Icus wants to speak with you, I’m to be there.”
Tyrus and Doran nodded.
“If the Arch Monk wants to have a hearing, then he’s coming down on all of you. Icus will decide on punishments and the Arch Monk will approve of them. He’s likely to come down hard on you, Doran because of your history.”
“What about me,” asked Tyrus.
“Don’t do anything stupid for the next couple of days, and defending yourself will be easy.”
“What about me,” asked Mien.
“The same, but you might get commended for what you did.”
This was one of my roughest points in the story and that was revealing what happened and possibly Kellas' motivations. And honestly it took me awhile to thinking what was his motivation was. I hoped I made it bit clearer. I want to talk about it a little later.