Princeling, I don't know if where I want to start is acceptable. The beginning is not when I was born. Not childhood either. The beginning is the end of life as I knew it. When I changed the trajectory of my life to one path to the next. So, where I want to begin is when I was in a prison cell at age 18. After I chased my mother away with nasty biting words. As harsh and as full of vitriol as I could make them. It was after all the rage inside of me was spent, the red haze cast over, lifted. It was then I realized I had made a terrible mistake.
-Excerpt from Interview with Mientheoderic, Brotherhood chaplain Written by Patriarch Lord Theris'Heron
From the rumors, Soletus expected a feral elf child raised by wolves. Someone snarling and spittle flying from his lips while cowering in a corner. That would have been interesting. Instead, what he got was a boy lying on a cot. He couldn't even get a good look at him. He was cocooned in his blanket. The part of him that was visible was the copper crown of his hair.
Yep, we've a genuine threat here. So scary, he thought, and wondered if the rumor was true. That they had caught him attempting to murder his brother in a rage.
He looked at the priest standing beside him for his thoughts. The aged elf wasn't projecting the amicable warmth he normally was. Instead, he stared at the boy grave faced. When he realized Soletus was watching him, his face lifted into a smile.
"I know what you're thinking. This isn't what you are training for," said Brother Hickory before a yawn took him. He rubbed his tired eyes as he finished. "But he needs to be around someone other than me. That's why you're here."
Soletus looked at the boy again. It was Brother Hickory's duty, as the Dias Brotherhood counselor, to deal with those who were trouble. Not only in the monastery, but in the town as well. He normally didn't involve other in his process. What was stranger was that the boy wasn't from town. He was a noble's son. A special case.
"Why," he asked.
"He doesn't trust me. He's too…" Brother Hickory paused. His thin brows pulled together as he searched for a word.
"Too what," prompted Soletus.
The priest waved his hand, giving up. "I can't think off of three hours of sleep. You'll see what I mean when you speak to him."
Soletus glanced down at his new assignment again, wondering what the sleepy priest was trying to say. It would help him understand why he was chosen. He was a monk, a warder in rank. He should have marched off the previous day to be with the other warders in his training clutch to cull drass beasts. What he was doing was something for a junior warden. Then again, a young acolyte priest would be more appropriate. Then again, they had few young priests in the order. So instead of sulking on his bunk about being left behind for no good reason, Master Marth came to him with Brother Hickory's request.
The boy then shifted in bed as if he was waking up. However, he rolled over to the wall, curling back up in a fetal position. Brother Hickory tapped Soletus on his shoulder and gestured with his head for him to follow. They returned to the foyer and continued their conversation in the small kitchen that was Brother Hickory's dining and common room. He had his bedroom and workroom down the hall, but always spoke to everyone in the open sunlit room.
The priest gestured towards the bubbling pot resting on the small kettle stove. The young monk declined. He didn't know how long the contents had been overcooking. Everyone knew it was safer not to eat Hickory's cooking. Instead, he pulled out a chair from the round table and sat in it backwards, just as whatever was in the pot rattled. With a pop, steam mixed in with smoke billowed into the air. Hickory walked over to it and poured some water in it, causing the contents to pop and sizzle. He gave it a little stir and joined Soletus at the table.
"Just a little something for the lad when he wakes up," stated Brother Hickory.
Poor fellow going to starve, thought Soletus. Brother Hickory was well-known for his kindness and burning food. It wasn't unusual to walk into the chapel with the odor of burnt food floating in the air. He stayed well fed despite it. A widow named Saffron kept him plump, so cooking disasters didn't leave him starving. It looked like today was going to be no exception. She would feed the boy when she realized Hickory was trying to kill him.
"I know this isn't ideal compared to what you've been training for," said Hickory. "This has little to do with protecting the province from drass beast, but this is helping the people."
It not being ideal was an understatement, in his opinion. He didn't voice it. Instead, he said. "I might as well do something. No one here to train with. They are all gone to the culling." And it all ruined my chance to show Papa that I was ready to go through the trials, he thought.
"I'm sorry about that. I suppose it was your father?"
Soletus nodded. He didn't think his unhappiness was that obvious. But then again, Hickory was all-knowing.
Hickory then told him with empathy. "He means well. He just wants you prepared. And I know you are going to disagree but, perhaps this is a sign from Dias that you should enter into priesthood,” he said with a bright smile. “We need more young folks. You've some making for it."
Soletus frowned. His father said that recently. "Is that something you come up with or Papa tell you?"
"It's something I've always thought to ask of you," said Hickory.
It was the other option he could have taken if he didn't get through his monk training. Many thought he wouldn't survive it. He wasn't, by a few standards, a suitable candidate. His father told him that the training wasn't about ability, it was about if you were willing. He knew he said it to encourage him. All he ever wanted was to be a field warden. Priest, as he found out, didn't do anything. If he were lucky, they would send him to a small chapel in a town far away, converting unbelievers. As noble a task as it was to get others into hearing the voice of Dias, it was dull and thankless.
"It's not very exciting," he said without giving it a thought.
Hickory didn't take offense at all. "I understand. I didn't want to be a priest either when I first came here. Granted, there is no other choice for a chanter, but that’s beside the point. However, over time, I've learned to form a good temper and keep an eye on the very large flock of mine. I feel I will need all I learned with this one."
"But you said he wasn't trouble.
"Not all people who are troubled are trouble themselves. It's just that I've had him for a week, and I never met a lad as old as him being so completely…" Hickory paused again and shook his head. "No, you just have to meet him. I can assure you he isn't possessed by some evil spirit."
Soletus let out a snorting chuckled. "Everyone seems to think you are dealing with Maw spawn."
Brother Hickory hung his head down. "For once I would like official business not gossiped it around. One would think the Brotherhood comprised of a bunch of old nattering hens at this point."
Soletus smiled in an effort not to laugh.
"The only issue that might cause concern is he's a latent chanter coming into his abilities. If it wasn't the phrase of light he's fixed on, I wouldn't be so worried."
Soletus was surprised to hear the boy was a chanter. Then again, Dias didn't choose a person to become a chant and wield the phrases of the Hymn of Dias based on mortal standards. The common thought was that those born chanter weren't evil. There were many examples of those who did fall into darkness. Not to mention, Dias exact words were: "those who are chosen have the heart and desire to give and help."
Attempted murder didn't exactly show that in Soletus's opinion.
Brother Hickory read his surprise and told him, "The reason why a person is chosen to become a chanter is not for us to question. As Dias says, it's based on what they have the potential to do. We have to act towards that potential. And he has the potential to do great things." Soletus saw a twinkle of excitement formed in the old priest's teal eyes. "His phrase of light is something special. It's aligned with the sun and hot. A little odd given his personality, however, he could be trained as a combat chanter. It's been a bit since we had one. But he'll never become one unless he's less…." Hickory gestured in the air trying to find that word again.
Soletus saw movement behind Brother Hickory's head. He leaned to the side and spotted their topic of conversation. The boy had woken up and was peering into the room as if checking for danger. He run a hand through his disheveled hair. It stuck up all over the place since it was cut to the length a half-elf would wear. When he spotted Soletus eyeing him, he slunk back behind the doorframe.
Soletus pointed, and Hickory caught him just as he vanished from view.
"Oh no, what did I tell you about shrinking away from people? Confidence, my boy," encouraged Brother Hickory loudly.
The boy stepped out, not looking directly at them or in their direction for no more than just a few seconds before he found the chair as his object to focus on. He pulled it out from under the small table and sat. He looked down at the tabletop. It wasn't as if Soletus could see his eyes. The boy's forelocks covered up them up.
"Mientheoderic," said Brother Hickory to him. "This is Warder Soletus'Sheldmartin I was telling you about. His family is one of the longest-serving families in the Dias Brotherhood. His father is the son of the current Arch Monk. He is a good tod to have in your acquaintances."
Soletus offered his hand. "Hello."
With his eyes still cast down at the table, the boy reached out, shook his hand once before he recoiled, and folded his arm around him with the other one. From what Soletus's father told him, the lack of eye contact meant deception, but that wasn't the case. The boy reminded him of a dog kicked too many times. He glanced in the old priest's direction and saw that Hickory's brow became a line of heavy concern.
Soletus then suggested, "Maybe you should leave the two of us alone for a bit."
The boy shrank into his chair. Instead of the priest having mercy on him, he stood.
"You can't hide your face forever, lad," said the priest. "We all do bad and embarrassing things. Some worse than others. However, hiding behind a face of shame and fear is no way to deal with it."
The boy's shoulders drooped. He hung his head down farther, showing the crown of his fox-red hair.
Hickory let out a long sigh. "Don't be afraid to talk to him like a normal boy," advised the priest. "I'll be at the altar if you need me."
Soletus nodded and waited until Hickory's footsteps faded before he talked to his charge again.
"So, what do I call you? Mientheoderic it’s a strong name, but a mouthful. Unless that is what you like to be called."
The boy stared at the table. He opened his mouth and said barely above a whisper, "Mien."
"Short, quick, simple, alright Mien," said Soletus, leaning forward. "I don't know what Brother Hickory wants me to do. I mean, did he tell you anything?"
Mien shook his head.
"Do you want anything? Something is bubbling here that Hickory forgot," said Soletus and then smelled it. He jumped from the chair and dove at the stove. Hickory's potholder was nowhere in sight. There was nothing else to do but grab the metal handle and dumped the pot on the wooden counter to his right. The heat stung his hand but didn’t burn it. Shaking his hand in the air sufficed to cool it down. The young monk was sure it was comical looking, but Mien remained silent. What once was porridge was now sizzling burnt goo. He searched for a bowl and found the square quilted potholder bowl together.
Soletus poured the contents of the pot into the bowl. Most of the porridge was a blackened layer on the bottom. What was left might have been still edible. He brought the half-full bowl to Mien.
"You need a little something in you even though it's sort of burnt," he said.
Mien lifted his head and grimaced. The young monk handed him a wooden spoon and a tin mug of water.
"Not exactly what you're used to, but it'll fill the hole."
The boy scooped a tiny amount on the end of the spoon and tasted it with his tongue. The young monk then eased himself down in his chair and waited for him to say something. He didn’t. A simple thank you would've been a nice start.
"So which house are you from," he asked.
"Cyan," answered Mien, just loud enough for mice to find him amicable.
Soletus tried to remember what he knew about them. They were a branch of House Jay, a ruling house. That, however, made him a minor noble. House Cyan were long time patrons of the Brotherhood. They supplied them tao stone from their mines, but no sons were members. The only reason he figured for their support was security from drass beasts. Having a son who caused such a commotion was bad for their reputation. In fact, it was humiliating. It surprised him that the boy wasn't disowned.
Mien stirred his bowl with disinterest after a few more bites. Soletus looked around for something else. There wasn't.
"That bowl of yuck probably isn't very satisfying. Brother Hickory is an awful cook, but he might have something in the back worth eating."
Mien glanced up, showing his face. He was young looking with freckles around his nose. However, there was something about those eyes of his. There was a sharpness in them that held intelligence, as he was wearing a dubious expression on his face.
"I take it you've seen it?"
Mien bobbed his head.
"There might be something. Come on. Getting out and doing something will make you feel better."
The boy followed him outside wordlessly. He wasn’t as guarded when they walked out into the open. In fact, he relaxed a little as he came to a halt slightly behind Soletus at the sight of the choking nest of weeds.
"I think there are some carrots in there. We should weed them out. It'll get us something to do."
Soletus got down on his knees and started working. Mien followed carefully, pausing at each plant, and tugging at them slowly. Soletus ripped everything up in front of him with abandon. He spent many days weeding his mother's garden. She expected her plants free to grow as big as they liked, and she sent him out to make sure that happened. He pulled up anything he saw, even ones that had thorns on them. He had thick enough callouses on his hands to protect them. However, when he reached for a fuzzy plant, Mien's hand shot out and gripped his wrist.
"I wouldn't pull that up barehanded," the boy warned. He wasn't looking at him directly, but he was speaking louder, or as loud as a shy individual could. "It has a toxin in their pubescence that if it gets in your eyes, causes temporary blindness. Harmless when small, but once it flowers you need to be careful."
The weed was well-past flowering. There were withered white petals scattered beneath the plant.
"Thanks for the warning," said Soletus, studying him in awe. He doesn't speak like a boy.
Mien withdrew his hand as quickly as he placed and begin working again. "A spade would be better to remove it," he added, speaking low again.
Soletus left to search for any garden tools Brother Hickory had. There was a shed place in the far corner. It was dusty and clearly not touched since spring. Mien stood aside and let him take care of the plant. Once they removed it and tossed aside where it wouldn't harm anyone, the two of them continued cleaning out the entire plot. There were carrots there, some turnips, and onions. The carrots and turnips weren't anything to look at. The onions somehow managed, but onions didn't taste good alone. There was a wild briar hidden containing a few late-season blackberries for their hard work. They ate those.
The entire time, the young monk talked to him about the Brotherhood and the town of Grace's Hope. It gave Soletus enough time to study Mien. From what he gathered, the boy listened, asked no questions. He only glanced at him if he had to. Most of all, he was strung tight. The slightest of noise would take his attention away until he found the source. Only then he would relax again.
When Hickory sought them out, Mien was sitting on the ground and jumped to his feet the moment the priest appeared. Soletus rose and Mien scooted over and used him as a shield. Brother Hickory was too fixated on his clean garden plot to notice the strange reaction, or he had seen it and chose not to respond.
"I was saving that for when they suffered me with another badly behaving boy, but they wouldn't do such a good job," he said impressed, looking straight at Mien. "I wouldn't think you would do such work."
Mien cast his gaze down at his feet.
"He was fine," said Soletus, slapping the boy on the back. Mien scooted away from him. "Well, he was before that."
"That was just a friendly slap," Hickory said to Mien.
He didn't act as if it was friendly.
The priest then pointed over his shoulder and said, "Why don't you run inside and get prepared for your training. I want you to go to the altar and pray. Recite the Hymn of Dias in Melodic. I'll be there shortly."
Mien regarded Soletus with a long stare before rushing back inside the chapel. The young monk figured that was about as good of a goodbye he was going to get.
Hickory scratched his head. "So, what do you think?"
"It's like he's in a shell," Soletus assessed.
Brother Hickory bobbed his head in agreement. "That's surprisingly accurate. Couldn't have said it better myself."
"Was he always like that?"
"From what I understood, he was reserved before, but he's retracted since everything happened."
Soletus thought about that for a moment about what he learned and then declared, "I'm confused."
"Why would someone that timid try to kill someone?"
Hickory looked at the door as if he could see Mien through it. "Why do normal people do bad things? They do it because of greed, anger, or fear. Once those things are in control, they make an elf desperate, and they do things they normally wouldn't do."
"So, he was afraid because I don't see him doing it out of rage."
"It was anger," corrected Brother Hickory. "The wrath of a quiet man is terrible because a quiet man thinks. What he did was premeditated."
"If that's the case, then why is he here and not at the Pit or dead?"
Brother Hickory cut him a side-glance. "His situation isn't a clear-cut case. Mercy was on his side. There's no need to worry about him repeating his actions, as you can see. What I am concerned about it is that shell you mentioned. He's locked tight. Your job is to get him out of that shell. I'll work on the managing. Do you think you can do that?"
"I can," said Soletus confidently. It didn't seem outside of his realm of abilities.