Though Icus dying sat my grandfather’s vision of the future back. He didn’t have a replacement after Icus. He didn’t believe there was another monk worthy of the role. Master Tyr who was trying to be noticed at that point, didn’t catch his fancy. So, he did an unpredictable move. He started preparing Papa. No one heard him protesting other than me and Mama. He didn’t want it and never wanted it. So, it didn’t surprise me that his term as Arch Monk lasted the grand total of six hours. No, it was his actions afterwards that surprised me as you know.
A roll of thunder accented the morbid scene before Mien perfectly. It rolled on, trying to become an endless specter before it concluded with three deep booms. Something within the dilapidated building rattled. Near silence filled the space where it had been. The only sound at that point was of Kiao letting out a long breath. He remained adjacent to where she stood with a sheet in his hands and ready to aid her if she needed it. He was the only chanter in the infirmary who didn’t have death chills around a dead body. However, he couldn’t inspect a body. Kiao had to do it as the town’s mortician was busy bring another body in.
It surprised him that Enforcer Icus didn’t say anything about his presence. Then again, what wrong had he committed at that point that would warrant restrictions on his movement? Keeping silent about the matter only went so far. The entire monastery would know about it by nightfall. There would be a vigil. However, one might ask why hadn’t Valhart been restricted sooner? Now he was lying dead on his stomach on dusty dirty floor.
Mien never paid a lot of attention to the building. He gave it some mind after Soletus and Kiao were surprised attacked. Except whoever got the second warden wasn’t a misguided farm boy wielding a sling and clay bullets. Valhart on the other hand, was hit with something more horrific than that. He looked like he was in a brawl with his head bashed in. Resting by his face was the rock that was likely used.
Mien brightened his sun globe as the gloom became darker. Rain was clearly getting closer as the wind picked and the building let out a moan. Golden light touch Kiao’s unreadable face as she tried to lift Valhart’s hand and couldn’t completely. She examined his knuckles instead. His skin was broken and bruised. She moved on and reached for his head and turned it slightly. Died blood caked with dirt was under his nose, going down his chin. His jaw hung open in a way that it shouldn’t, and she put his head back down. She inspected the man’s half-closed dead eyes and settled on her knees.
Icus hovered behind her watching while the Patriarch was right outside the door watching the sky. Four Peacegaurds were in the lane, keeping back any curious onlookers from getting a good glimpse inside.
After rubbing her arms a few times, she announced, “He’s been here for nearly a day and was likely killed by blunt force. Struck more than once. Whoever did this to him beat him before that. I believe his jaw and nose are broken, so it was violent. There are some teeth over there.”
Mien searched the floor where she pointed to the teeth. He hadn’t noticed. Something then struck the young chanter as odd. The spot where Valhart was struck at was the temple. The young chanter then touched the scar at his temple. It was on the same side. Icus glanced at him, likely because of his movement. Even Icus’s expressionless face broke, becoming intrigued as he made the connection.
“How do you know he’s been here for nearly a day,” asked the enforcer.
“By the fact he’s not stiffening. I can move his head but not his arms. Should be the exact opposite if he was killed a couple of hours ago. And he was likely killed here.” A shiver went through Kiao as she became upright. “I’ll go get Brother Ruben at the mortuary when he returns. He can tell you more. He’s better at examining dead bodies.”
“I’ll fetch him. You can go back,” he said. “I just wanted you to confirm a few details for me.”
Kiao held up her hand towards Mien and he gave her the sheet he was holding. She draped the sheet over him. That allowed the Patriarch stepped in.
The Patriarch sucked in air through his teeth and examined the warehouse with disgust. He caught sight of Mien. Their gaze met, but he said nothing directly to him.
“This eyesore needs to be torn down,” he said. “And as soon as possible.”
“I’ll see to this place is securely shut up this time,” said Icus. “I’ll talk to Kent about tearing this place down.”
The Patriarch gave him a curt nod and then to the chanters.
“Ah, you two can come with me. I think we all could use a warm drink,” he said.
Mien looked at Kiao as she brushed her skirt off. “I could use just warmth.”
The Patriarch took them into his home. Ignoring the business parts of the Patriarch’s house, they went left into the sitting room there. There was a fire roaring in front of the hearth. Briar sitting there with Mien’s sister, who jumped and turned around when she saw the two of them. A broad smile lifted her face when she realized it was him. Dalaen looked to be trying to make a retreat.
“You’re still here,” Mien asked.
“Mother wants to have dinner with you, remember,” his sister reminded him.
He grimaced. He had forgotten.
Kiao then stated. “I shouldn’t stay here long,” she said and settled down in one of the armchairs closest to the fire. Her body released another series shiver.
“You’ve the ague or something,” asked Briar.
“No, I’m just cold,” she said.
Mien walked to her side. “Do you need a blanket or something?
“Ko-ko you looked awful,” said Briar.
“I’ll be fine,” she said. Her skin had grown white at that point.
A suspicious glint shone in Briar’s eyes. “So what’s going on?”
“Nosy much,” said Mien.
“I just want to know because a peaceguard came in and dragged Pa with him.”
“That, young lady, is none of your business,” said the Patriarch with a tray in his hand. There were three mugs on it. He handed one to Kiao and one to Mien while taking one himself.
Briar studied him hard. “You’re a little green.”
The Patriarch sunk down in the chair across from Kiao. “I’m fine,” he said, and placed the tray beside his chair.
“She’s right,” stated Kiao.
“Worry about yourself. Warm up, I’ll be fine. Have a seat Mien, I’m sure your mother will show up soon.”
That was what Mien was afraid of. He didn’t want to have that conversation they didn’t finish about his future. Before she arrived, he petted Kiao’s head and left her side. Dalaen, who was trying his best to blend into the background, was now looking between them both. Mien ignored him.
“So, who did you see,” prompted Briar.
“See,” questioned the Lord Kharis with his brow arching.
“Kiao looks as though she’s been hiking in a blizzard, and you look like you’re about to be ill. So, who is dead?”
Kharis gave his daughter a sharp look. “How about a trade? You can explain your scheme with Soletus, and I’ll tell you who we found.”
Briar turned her chin up. “Fine, be grumpy. You don’t have to take it out on me.”
The Patriarch settled down in his chair. “See, you have thing you don’t want to talk about it as do I.”
Mien sipped his drink, feeling uncomfortable about being there, and his mother’s voice rose from the doorway.
“There you all are,” she said and then looked at the couch and brightened up. “Theodoric, I thought you were never going to come back before we left.” She then stopped and caught sight of Kiao.
“We actually were taken pity by the Patriarch,” he told her. “We uhhh, had to help him with something.”
“Is that something to do with whatever is going on? I wanted to speak to you again. I was told that I couldn’t see you because of some investigation. Are you in some kind of trouble?”
Mien wasn’t expecting her to start the way she did. He took a deep breath and went with honesty and told her as much as he could. “No, but there are some things that need to be looked into.”
“There are soldiers around,” she said.
“Related, but I can’t speak about it.”
“Enough secrecy,” she said firmly. “What happened? Clearly, this is more than getting lost and being disobedient? Did that Sheldmartin get you into some kind of trouble?”
Irritation rose in Mien at her accusing tone, and he mirrored it. “If not for Soletus, we would be in trouble.”
“Don’t you take that tone with me,” snipped Lady Lass. “I have a right to know. I heard someone in your band died, another young man.”
“He wasn’t just another young man, he was my friend,” cried Mien. He ran a hand through his hair. “I wanted to save him, but I couldn’t. It happened. There was nothing we could do about it.”
Lady Lass’s face became rigid. “You were there!”
“I was,” said Mien, bracing himself tirade that was coming his way.
She then became appalled. “So, they allowed you to see that sort of thing?”
“I’ve seen dead people before. What do you think I do in an infirmary? Just grind dry herbs and tend to small cuts.”
His mother thrust her hands on her hip. “I don’t have the slightest idea what you do as you conveniently leave out details. And if I had known this is what you were doing, I would’ve stopped you.”
“And that’s why I haven’t told you,” he returned.
For an instance she looked stunned and then she went on like she didn’t even hear him. “This is a place for men, not boys. You can’t handle that kind of work.”
“I handle it fine,” he said and added embarrassment to the emotional morass rolling through him.
“You’ve a condition. Why would you even think that?”
A wave of disappointment rolled through him. He was hurt and insulted even though he knew his mother would think that, but that didn’t mean he wanted her to. He liked the way he looked. The face in the mirror looking back at him was almost manly. He wasn’t a boy anymore and at least sounded his age. If anything, he wanted to at least acknowledge that he worked hard and that she could see that and be proud of him. Clearly, none of that mattered. He was just some weak mewling to her.
“Stopped insulting him,” cut in Kiao. Her voice rang through his mind and unfroze him. Her voice was firm and raised. “He has dealt with enough of that from others, and his own mother shouldn’t be one of them.”
Lady Lass stared at her as if she had just noticed her. “Excuse me.”
Kiao rose from her chair. “The First Warden told you stop insulting your son and yet here you are still doing it. It took me, Soletus, his father, and not to mention a whole host of other people, to get him to stop thinking so little of himself. Here you are tearing him down, saying things like he’s a condition. He doesn’t have a condition!”
Lady Lass looked at her darkly. “I don’t know who you think you are, but you don’t have the right to interfere with this conversation.”
Kiao straighten her spine and crossed her arms, ready to battle the woman. “I have every right, since you’re not having a private conversation here.”
The Patriarch, who had been watching over his mug, spoke up. “Excused me, Sister Kiao, but I think perhaps that you need to sit back down.”
“No,” she said.
Mien wrestled every emotion he was feeling his and everyone else’s in the room down. He found his voice again. “So, it’s okay to defend me, but I can’t defend you,” he said, not wanting her to antagonize his mother and ruining what little hope there was for his mother to accept her.
“That’s different,” snapped his bond partner.
“How is it different? You think I’m too feeble minded to deal with my own mother,” he said, softening his voice.
“No,” said Kiao, facing him. and looked as if he said the craziest thing she ever heard. “She’s hurting you.”
“Those priests hurt you and you wouldn’t even allow me to be offended by it,” he countered.
“This is happening now,” she said with a sweeping gesture of her arms. Her reasoning was weak, but that didn’t stop her from holding tight to her stance.
“True,” he agreed. “But, to keep things equal, can I please handle this,” he asked, with his voice low and firm. He didn’t want to have a quarrel with her in front of his mother. He already revealed too much talking with her the way he was. His mother was watching them the entire time.
The young woman let out a snort of frustration. “Certainly. I need to get back to the infirmary anyway,” she said and was on her way out the room when heavy rain beat the window. “On second thought, Briar, can I have your room until that lets up?”
“Yes, and I’ll go with you,” she said.
Nerva then announced. “Evening rain makes me sleepy, I’m going to the guest room.”
“I’ll join you,” said Dalaen.
Mien watched everyone one scatter away, abandoning him. Even the Patriarch silently rose out of his chair. He took his drink and tray, leaving the two of them alone. Lady Lass the strolled to the hearth and sat down in the chair Lord Kharis was sitting in. She gestured to the chair in front of him with a sweep of her hand to sit. He did so obediently, sitting straight and falling back on what he was taught by his father before he died. A young lord didn’t slouch or pout. You sat up straight with your hands in your lap. If they must rest on the armrest, then you could, and that’s where he put his.
“We need to have a serious chat,” she said. “Since my arrival, I’ve had surprises regarding you. To me, it appears that since you’re not in my supervision, you can do whatever you want.”
“No. Not that. I didn’t want you to worry about me,” he told her.
“Don’t pretend it was that. Everything I heard sounds like selfishness on your part. You wanted something from this. Prestige? Perhaps to look good in front of friends?”
Mien gripped the armrest of his chair, trying to arrange his practiced reply. He did what Soletus often told him, spew out honesty. “What I wanted was to stop feeling like a sissy. So yes, it was selfishness on my part.”
“Why you would feel that way,” she asked, appalled. “Did the men here make you feel that way?”
“No, I felt that way long before I came here. You can thank Dalaen for that.”
Her expression became opaque. “Well, you don’t have anything to prove to other males.”
“Have you considered that I have things that I want to prove and improve myself? That was why I was brought in the first place, so I can improve. This isn’t not just for the Arbiter. I didn’t come into this and just server my time. You do a lot of good. And working in the infirmary as a half-trained alchemist is nice, but I wanted a challenge. And I saw no better way to do it than become a combat chanter. That way, I could actually help people beyond these walls.”
She couldn’t argue with that. Though he knew she would.
“Even so, you shouldn’t be putting yourself in harm’s way where you can die.”
“Believe me, I didn’t purposely put myself into harm’s way. That’s one of many lessons drilled into you. However, if you are talking about Kellas. Well, I can tell you he was he was irresponsible. He put us in a situation that the Brotherhood would never allow. Soletus tried to get us out, and it was too late. That’s all I can tell you.”
His mother’s critical look deepened. “So, this cur that trained you didn’t suggest you become a combat chanter?”
“First Warden Oeric used to be a cur,” corrected Mien. “And no he didn’t. He was hesitant to train me. Soletus and his cousin encouraged him to do it. I got the idea from Hickory talking about when he was one. And even then, it wasn’t a suggestion. He was shocked that I even tired.”
“I have a hard time believing that and the fact you would even let him near you.”
Mien was puzzled by her hard focus on Oeric. “I didn’t even realize he was a former cur until I was told. I just heard about cur scars. I never seen them before. He was always Soletus’s father, and he loves his father. And I like him. He’s good for advice.”
“That man isn’t your father,” his mother said firmly.
“I know that,” he returned, bemused.
“And did he give you advice on how to deal with young ladies? Did he encourage you to be with her?”
Mien absolutely didn’t want to answer that. Oeric had taken him aside the day the bond was revealed. He wasn’t so much as he was encouraging as he was assistive. He just wanted to make sure that Mien was not being an idiot, thinking with his crotch and not his head. And told him three things he always needed to remember. Be responsible, be reliable, and be respectful. He told him to learn to love her as a friend at first and trust her. Everything would come naturally after that. Mien didn’t tell his mother all of that.
“He gave me some advice on how to treat a girl as well as a dozen other and friends, with most of it being unsolicited. I didn’t ask any of them.”
“And that’s something you need to explain to me about. Why her?”
Another question he didn’t want to answer. She didn’t understand the basics with it came to chanters, let alone the more complicated aspects of it.
“To keep it simple, being timbre sensitive means that I sense magical timbres more acutely than other. When it comes to elves, I’m draw to those who have stronger timbres like other chanters and even someone chanter gifted like Soletus. I’m also drawn more to chanters who’s timbre harmonizes with my own. Kiao is that person.”
“She’s older than you.”
“I’m well aware of that fact. From what I was told, I’m too young for a timbre bond, but it happened. And I was the one who bonded with her. She had nothing to do with it.”
Mien held his breath as she watched the fire for far too long.
“Six years is a long time to not see your son. So much can change in that time when you are young. Your sister has changed, but she’s just growing to the person I thought she would be. But you, you’re almost unrecognizable.”
Lady Lass looked at him. “You sound different and not just the deepened voice. It’s that lit and those eyes. There was a time when they were the same color as your sisters. Now they’re so…different.”
“No,” said Mien, leaving his seat and crossed the space between him. He settled on his knees by her feet. “I’m not really that different.”
“No, you are,” she said, taking a lock of his hair in her fingers. “The way you even look at me is different. It’s unnerving sharp.”
Unease settled on Mien again. She wore that same expression on her face she had when he first saw him. Like she thought him to be a stranger. Some unknown entity. Brother Hickory warned him that some parents had a hard time coming to terms with their child appearing normal, and then suddenly they were a chanter. Some never got over it. It was too uncanny for them.
He pushed her hand down and held it. “Is it so bad that I’m walking a different path than before?”
“I want you to have a good future,” she said. “One that doesn’t have you abandoning all that you are just like our cousin.”
He wanted to ask her would it be so bad. To live the life of a chanter. He couldn’t live the life of a typical noble now. He couldn’t just forget he was a chanter. He earned his edict phrase, passed the test Dias sat before him. He was more and could help people. Something he couldn’t do just watching mines. And yet, she wanted him to return to all of that. To go back to that estate. That empty home where his father wasn’t there, but replaced by some who didn’t deserve to live there. A danger. A threat. Some who would hurt Kiao. She could ward him off with her voice, but he was spiteful. He would figure out some other way to get her. Then Mien would react, and he didn’t know what he would do. And he didn’t have to worry about it if he stayed far away from that place.
And he didn’t know how to voice all of that to her. She didn’t appear as if she would care. However, he tried. He had to try.
“It’s not like I’m abandoning anything,” he told her. “But the trajectory in this life changed. I can’t live a life that I took away from myself. I can’t be that past me. I can only live as me.”
“And you want to live as you are being with that girl that I’ve not approved of in a place with influences who aren’t beneficial to your station. I don’t like her or what this place has done to you. It’s changed you.”
“Wasn’t that the entire point? To change to be better? Just because you don’t like it doesn’t, there is anything wrong with it,” he said. The annoyance was audible in his voice. Those words slid out of his mouth so quickly, and he didn’t care. He didn’t want to retract them. He needed to stand his ground.
His mother just blinked at him and told him. “So you’re going against me because of a girl! What you think you feel is nothing more than just a boyish infatuation.”
“This has nothing to do with Kiao,” he returned.
“She and this place aren’t good for your condition. We will work on it when you get home. I’ll find someone more appropriate for you. Because you are coming home. If you need more time after you turn 28, I’ll give you a year, but after that, you’re coming home. You need to prove yourself capable to house Jay to get your title back. Because they took that away from you. You need to marry someone of greater standing to get it back.”
Mien felt kicked in the gut. He wanted to kick back. Anger and frustration boiled in him. However, he didn’t act on it. He didn’t say anything. He fell into silence disagreement. He knew wore his defiance on his sleeve. His mother looked uncomfortable, for instance, before she recovered herself.
“I am leaving tomorrow. I would like for us to have dinner tonight as I’ve been allowed to see you. After this, we’ll be estranged again. I don’t want to end it with use fighting because of your childishness.”
“You’ll see me again in several weeks,” returned Mien with his voice at its natural state of softness. However, there was a bite to his words. “But sure, we’ll have dinner.”
Mien, as promised, he sat down at the Patriarch’s dinner table dinner with his mother after that. He barely touched his food and said even less than that. He didn’t want to be there. Conversation was about things he didn’t know about, people he hardly remembered, and just overall feeling like a stranger at a table full of familiar faces. His mother asked little about the Brotherhood. She avoided the subject all together. It was almost like she was trying to undermine its significance by ignoring it. In fact, the subjects that she presented was like she was proclaiming that the world of minor nobles, trade deals, and business was where he belonged.
Nerve sensed something was wrong. She was beside him and nudged him when he didn’t appear to be listening or when he was asked a question to answer. When he left, she gave him a hug and whispered in his ear.
“I’ll visit before I go back south and tell you what she says to me,” she promised.
He kissed her forehead and walked back alone with water dripping from surfaces both made and nature creating the only sound as he walked down the lane and into the monastery grounds. He lit his way with his globe of light. He didn’t even get to show his mother that he could do that. Or any of his abilities. Though it might’ve not been a good thing. The globe of light hovering about his head was a blinding beacon as he walked. He could feel the heat from touching his scalp. He should have headed towards the room he occupied. Instead, he went to the infirmary mostly just to see if Soletus was gone.
When he entered, it was warm. The lamps had been turned down with only one on at that point. Lionel was at the podium, holding his hand up to block the globe. Mien winked it out. He figured Kiao was already in bed. However, she leaned out of Vlory’s room.
“You’re back. Soletus was waiting for you to return, but he ended up leaving,” she whispered and then leaned back inside, said a few things to Vlory before finally exiting and shutting the room. She wore a weak smile already, and it sagged when she got a proper look at him. “What’s wrong?”
Mien didn’t want to speak. He was afraid he would sound like a maelstrom to her ears. Instead took her hands in his and just held them. They were no longer icy as they were before. He should’ve been helping her warm them back up and stayed by her side.
Kiao pulled her hands from his. “What did she tell you?”
Mien didn’t say anything. He kissed her on her forehead before walking away. He didn’t think it was wise to even be near her or anyone at that time. Instead, he just walked away, going into the basement. It was dark down there and quiet. He needed quiet at that point. Before he made it down there, he heard Lionel whisper to Kiao.
“You know, I don’t think I’ve seen him that angry before.”