I'm sorry. I'm getting ahead of myself. But it makes me think of the future. When that time come for me to find a replacement. Or rather, when I feel the person who can lead these monks is ready. They don't have to think completely like me or share my vision of the future. However, I want them to improve this order while always protecting and aiding the people. Then, when I finish training them, I will step down from leadership. I've no intentions of letting this duty be for a lifetime. All Sheldmartins men give their lives to this place. And while I followed in their footsteps, I want to do what they weren't able to do. Step away. However, I always want at least one of them, both men and women, to step forward.
Noble life was something envied by common folk. They didn’t know all its idiosyncrasies and nuances that provided more irritation than substance. Though many enjoyed the dance of hidden meanings, the constant show of how one was significant, and how much smarter they were from their peers. Mien was probably one of the few nobles who envied those living a common life.
Commoner lives had more moments where life was fulfilling. Lives were just simpler. In complicated by politics. There was no talk about how beneficial a friendship could be. One could have a friend for friendship’s sake. He got used to it. So much so that when the bond between him and Kiao formed, he continued accepting the things presented in front of him without thought of social complications.
He also got to use the abilities he was born with. They were a part of him, and that feeling was bolstered by his edict phrase. He couldn’t hide it if he tried. The elves around him accepted them. It all became normal. Yet, his mother introduced him back into the world he he forgot about. A world that would suppress the things he learned to love.
In that world, existed a man who’s only skill to the world was to cause pain. In that world, all that waiting for him were young men and woman who would only be lukewarm friend looking for social benefit. In that world there was no being a chanter and no room consort either. And in that world, there would be no Kiao. That was the part that bothered him so much.
All of this infested his mind as he sat on the basement floor. Instead of sitting in what felt like a cold bath, he was hot with anger. How could his mother just want him to leave what he built? She never asked him about any of his friends. Even when he wrote to her, it was usually about how much she missed him with little interest in what he was doing unless she didn’t like it. And that was why his letters became vague. To her the arrangement in the order was just for recovery and doing nothing. She never said anything about him having a condition in those letters. No, she saved that for him to hear.
A bitter thought entered his mind. If she just left House Jay to swoop in and take everything back and she returned to her family, his life could have been different. His uncle would have never terrified him. His sister and him could be in Eroden together. However, it was her family, House Thrush that drove Hickory away. He may have never met Kiao or touched the Brotherhood. Where he would be, Mien didn’t know. So that was not better, it was worse. Yet coming to that realization, he was still angry. His mother was being unfair. She was suffocating him. He wanted independence and wanted no part of House Jay or House Thrush. That was the only conclusion he came to and, with that, it allowed him to fall asleep on the floor.
The blast of the morning horn woke him up. He stretched and felt the fabric of a blanket move with him. It kept him warm, but it didn’t help ward off stiffness. He moaned and hit the back of his head against the wall for sleeping there. He didn’t feel well-rested and serene. The thought of not wanting to return home nagged him still. When he went to the stairs, he was greeted by Oeric mid-way down the stairs.
He was released from bed but didn’t look as if his mood had improved from the day before. There was a critical gleam in he pale eyes.
“What part of staying with each other did you not understand,” said Oeric.
Mien didn’t bother making excuses. He gave the man a half apologetic shrug and continued up the stairs in silence. He still didn’t feel like speaking.
Oeric's scrutinizing gaze followed him. “Kiao mentioned that you has a discussion with your mother. I had to guess she had words for you. If that is the case, you can’t let what she told you affect what you do today.”
He’s right, but Mien still felt helpless as they walked out of the infirmary. He couldn’t go home. He didn’t want to. No good would come out of it. He then swallowed and searched for his voice. When they were halfway across the grounds to the mess hall when he spoke. “First Warden?”
Oeric acknowledged him.
“When you come home, did the Arch Monk want you to go back to the where you left off, even though you were in a different place?”
“He knew I couldn’t just start where I left off. I had to start over. But what he imagined as starting over differed from how it played out.”
“Did you feel out of place around everyone who you were familiar with?”
“Yes. I suppose you experienced a bit of that last night,” he guessed.
The young chanter nodded. “Before that, we talked about everything.”
“So, your mother had words for you. I figured she would because you haven’t told her much of anything. Why?”
“I didn’t want her to worry.”
“Is that the real reason,” he asked.
Mien grimaced, he didn’t want to say it aloud because it was embarrassing.
“Come on, just tell me. We already started, we might as well finish,” promoted Oeric.
“I’ve always been her little Theo. She would baby me while, my late father made me do what I was uncomfortable doing to prove her wrong. But he isn’t here and now she thinks I’ve a condition.”
“And you told her otherwise?”
“She wouldn’t listen. No matter what I said. She think being a chanters is a condition,” he exclaimed.
“I’m sure that’s not entirely correct,” countered Oeric.
“She kept looking and even told me that I was something else. She barely recognizes me as her son,” he cried and ran his hand through his head. “It’s easier for me to have a condition. In noble society, it’s the sort of thing that is ignored or downplayed. If that doesn’t work, they’ll keep you out of sight. That’s my future.”
Oeric shook his head. “You’re assuming.”
“She expects me to come back home,” he said and came to a halt. “And when I come back, she’s probably going to start me immediately on matching. Then the bond is going to act up, which will translate as my ‘condition’ causing it. And it’ll happen again and again to the point she’ll force an arranged marriage to just have a child to raise. I’ll be sent away because I’m difficult.”
The first warden blinked at him slowly before stating, “Actually, I imagine she would just send you back here. Where you would be tortured by the revelation that Kiao moved on with her life and married someone she adores. Then every day, you will have to see happy with her own child while you're estranged from yours.”
Mien stared at Oeric, appalled.
“If we must follow your exaggerated tale, we might as well make it as dramatic as possible,” he said dryly.
Mien's gaze dropped to his feet. “Am I being ridiculous, aren’t I?”
“Yes," he said, and motioned for him to follow. They left their direct path and slowly crossed the near empty grounds. "I understand why she upset you. I warned her myself about her attitude. All boys become men. Nothing stops it. I had to learn that, and she will too. You may have to show her that.”
“How,” he asked earnestly.
“By showing her who you are. She is going to have to get used to you. We parents do want what is best for our children. And in our minds, we think there is one way to achieve that.”
“But she wants me to go home when I’m twenty-eight. I don’t want to so that. I rather just stay here and help the order.”
Oeric’s brow arched. “I suppose she would want you home,” he said with his voice getting tight. “I forgot your circumstance aren’t normal. While helping the order is very noble of you, it’s not needed.”
“Being a chanter doesn’t mix with a noble life,” said Mien. “I don’t want to lose what I gained. I have Kiao, now my edict phrase. We have a song, and we can do so much together. I can do so much on my own as a chanter. Mother doesn’t want to understand what I am. All she wants is that normal son she’s never had. We will clash. I know we will. And then add my uncle to the mix. I can’t go home.”
Oeric became thoughtful and then said. “Well, you need to take control of your future then. Your original plan was to go to the University. Why not try again?”
Mien's shoulders sagged. “Because the test gets harder if you failed once. And I’ve not looked at any of that material in years.”
“Does that even matter with someone as smart as you? You a very good memory.”
“But if I go to my mother to fund me, I’m obligated to work for her. I still have to go home.”
“What about studying to become an apothecary?”
“I would need to study alchemy, graduate from that, and then get accepted to the apothecary college. That’s going to at least take me six full years because it's not just school work, but a lot of practical work to prove my competence.”
“Then I would talk to the Patriarch. Having a licensed apothecary would benefit the order. You would be paid for what you would do. And it wouldn’t take you very much to convince Lord Kharis to make that possible,” suggested Oeric.
Mien's widened. “You mean the Brotherhood would sponsor me?”
Excitement grew inside of the young changer as well as becoming uncomfortable. He rubbed his arms. “But I don’t want to take more than I already have from you all.”
“And you will be giving back buy remaining active in the order,” said Oeric. “And if you need to go back home, you are close.”
Mien stood there thinking. He never gave trying again any thought. He was afraid to fail again. However, that seemed to be his only option. He at least would get some benefits out of it like being able to spend time with his sister. Not to mention if her managed to graduate, as a licensed apothecary he could get a better alchemy kit. The one in the basement was so sad with thin glass. The glass used for newer kits were thicker and better in every way. In fact, he could get them all sorts of chemicals and medicines to try out. But he didn't want to go to the city. Cities were huge and any sort of change scared him. It would take him weeks, maybe even months, to get used to it all.
“I would have to think about it,” he said. “But it sounds better than the alternative.”
“And you’ll have plenty of time to think of the future. I need you to focus on the present,” he said, leading him forward again. “Also, I would like to come with you when you see the Arbiter. Perhaps, write something in your favor. Perhaps then she will hear what you have accomplished. You’re a above an average combat chanter.”
Mien heard that note of pride in his voice. And he smiled.
That man isn’t your father.
Mien shrugged off the voice in his mind. He didn’t want to feel shame for liking Oeric. His father was dead. Oeric was alive and willing to listen and help. And he was certain the reason his mother had a problem with him was his scars.
Once they walked into the mess hall, Mien searched for Soletus. He wasn’t sitting in the usual spot. A group of warders occupied their table. Instead, Soletus was seated at a table away from everyone along the wall that was relatively out of view. Tyrus and Doran were there as well talking to each other. He got his food and joined them along with Oeric, who had a mug of hot tea in his hands.
Doran was the first to acknowledge him. “So, what happened? Whose body was found?”
Oeric nudged Mien. “You might as well tell them. The entire Brotherhood will know about it soon.”
“It was Valhart,” said Mien softly.
Soletus’ hand that was stirring his bowl of porridge went still.
“Some killed him. Beat him to death. He was clubbed him with a rock,” said Mien softly. “When we saw him last was probably several hours before he was killed.”
Soletus searched his face and then looked at his father.
“I just heard about it this morning,” said Oeric.
The young monk pushed his bowl away, folded his arms on the table and plopped his head down. He let out a moan.
“I guess you’re aren’t relieved he’s gone,” said Tyrus.
“No,” said the young monk, speaking to the table. “I wanted answers. Now he’s just dead with every secret he had dead with him.”
“Maybe that was the point,” said Mien. “To silence him. I noticed some poetic justice. He was hit in the temple like I was.”
Oeric, who was in mid sip of his tea, choked and then rasped out, “Seriously?”
“That’s a nice coincidence,” said Tyrus.
"That's not a coincidence," stated Oeric grimly. He then leaned forward and kept his voice hushed. “I’ll bet my entire commission for a year that the purpose was to punish him. And the one who did it was Kellas.”
Mien looked at the others. They looked just as confused as he did and they asked at the same time. “Why?”
“Kellas has acted out in vengeance before. Though, his behavior wasn't so extreme that he's killed an entire gorge of inhabitants.”
Soletus raised his head. "What?"
Oeric studied his cup of tea as if he was pulling thoughts from it. When he gathered them all, he looked up at them. "Like myself, Kellas spent time in the swamp for his actions. He’s history of being involved in the death of someone of sordid nature. The one I witnessed was a former cur who was accused of murder. I made the mistake of leaving Kellas to guard him from the town who wanted to kill him out right. And when I can back with a way to prove his innocence, he appeared to have hung himself in my absence. From what I gathered, he allowed the villagers to have their justice. I had no proof he did it."
"Is this why you didn't want me to be under him," questioned Soletus.
"I just didn't want you to become a grappler. I trusted him to have changed."
"Why did you think he did?"
"The next incidences that caught the eye of the Arch Monk. Kellas liked to involve himself into fugitive hunts. And they would die instead of being found alive. They would lose footing and fall down a rocky ravine. One just happened to think swimming across a rapid river was safe. The final incident that got Kellas sent to the swamp post, was the fact he pursued a fugitive into the jaw of a drass beast.”
“And he wasn’t arrested for it,” asked Doran.
“The Seat doesn't care if a fugitive dies. It's all just happenstance to them. However, the Arch Monk wasn't that forgiving as there were witnesses. That makes us all look bad. He was sent to the swamp to learn that justice is ultimately for Dias to decide. And it appeared that he learned that lesson. Nothing happened after that incident. Then again, the Arch Monk kept him away from fugitive capturing mission. He became a monster hunter."
"But why kill Valhart,” asked Mien. “If Kellas act in the name of justice, then he should have struck Valhart down in the gorge for hitting me.”
"Valhart might’ve claimed hitting you that hard was an accident. However, he would change his mind if he found out that Valhart was hired to kill you. Sadly, we will never know those details.”
Soletus made a disgruntled noise in his throat. Mien turned to his friend,. The expression on his face was dark.
"I'm sorry," said Oeric. "Had I known he would slide backwards, I would have pushed for your removal from his band.”
Soletus broke out of his state. "No. That's not your fault. You gave him a second chance as you were given one. It's up to him to honor it. Are we in any danger? More specifically Doran?"
Oeric regarded them all. "I want you lads to stay together. Normal elves don’t commit mass murder and pretend nothing happened. He is also willing to kill here. So, he’s gone over some edge. Again, I need for all of you to stick together, I won’t ask again.”
Mien noticed that he was clutching the mug he was drinking out of. Hearing that made him nervous. He wouldn't sleep easily that night. It would be like him waiting for his uncle.
“Kellas is being kept on grounds now, at least. He’s probably confined in a room like we are,” said Soletus.
“Good. Now we just need Icus to come to the right conclusion about you for and not punish you doing what you did.”
Mien exhaled loudly. Oeric didn't know the truth. He wanted to keep the promise he told Icus. However, Icus told him to keep his mouth shut. Mien didn't remember actually agreeing to it. So, he whispered. "When I spoke to Brother Raster, Icus admitted that everyone knew that Kellas had done it. He's trying to keep Kellas in the dark so he doesn’t run. He was trying also by us time to keep Captain Mallard from taking us. She was there when Soletus told what happened under Hickory's influence."
Oeric frowned. "So, the instance with the knife was all for show?"
"Yes," hissed Mien.
Oeric sighed as if a boulder was lifted from his shoulders. He leaned forward on the table with his hands woven together, shielding his face. He took a breath and stated. "This changes a lot. Then there isn't much for you four to do. However, I expect you to be in dress uniform. This is still about presentation.”
Mien felt they could handle that.
I apologize for how long it took me to post this chapter. I'm not 100% happy with it. However, I can't keep messing with it.
I've reworked this more times than I wanted to. I need to walk away now. All I wanted to make Mien's motivation for not wanting to go home and what he wants for the future better in going forward.
Before, it felt like his biggest reasons were due to him wanting to be with Kiao. And Kiao, while being a major part of his future, isn't the only reason. I want to make it clear, he is likes being a chanter just as much. That is his life to him. He wants to be part of something greater than himself. He is a priest and he needs to fit into that because it works well with Kiao.
And I know what you might think, well wouldn't he be more motivated to be with his girl because he is young? No, it doesn't feel right to me, as elves aren't exactly overly romantic. They would make bad YA protagonists. And this was really unintentional. My not being the biggest romantic probably rubbed off on the characters more than I would like. And instead of me correcting this clearly apparent part of their nature, I just decided to leave it. Mind you, there are exceptions.