When I first met Oeric, I didn't see him yet. All I saw was him and Soletus. And I envious of what I saw. He had his father. There was never a day when I was young that I didn't want one more hug from my father. I wanted that badly. Because the world feels wrong when you saw someone early in the day, spoke to them, but you were too sleepy to give them a hug. Then they never came home to receive that waiting hug you wanted to give them. My heart ached for years. I could never forget that I didn’t give him that last hug. It would pop up and remind me, only to make me sad it seemed. However, I felt peace when let Dias take that regret from me. He gave me people who I needed and need me. You can’t change the past. Or, as Oeric told me, you can’t change the past, you can’t control the future. The only thing you can do is move forward.
Mien surprised Soletus that he wanted to have another go at the quarterstaff. So, he came back with them in hand.
"I started swordsmanship, but I wasn't very good at it," he explained. "Maybe I can be good at something else."
"Well, you do get better with things with practice," said the young monk. He tried to be encouraging, though the boy was horrible at it. Soletus figured he just wanted something to do. He imagined all his time spent reflecting in the chapel was very dull. During their session, he was still unfocused and constantly flinching. However, he looked as if he was enjoying himself. Even with being knocked to the ground a few times didn't stop his meek enthusiasm. He dusted himself off and tried again.
After a while of teaching him how to block, Soletus switch his style of instruction and thought Mien needed to know how to perform a simple jab.
"Just mirror my movements for now," he instructed, and Mien took his position beside him, watching him a few times, then tried to mimic. The boy's movements, while a nice attempt, appeared more like politely tapping than jabbing. There was no power behind his movements.
Everything about him is timid, thought Soletus, before he caught Mien jumping out of his stance in the corner of his eyes. About the time the young monk was about to ask him what happened, the wooden door to the back of the chapel open. Brother Hickory greeted them with a guest in tow. He had to admire the boy's sharp hearing, but it caused him to be strung tight. He didn’t know if it was the surprise of seeing someone new there or what the elf looked like.
The elf that accompanied Hickory was fresh off the road. He had a scared face. The largest going from his right ear that traveled parallel to his jaw line. His nose was crocked as well, and his left ear was missing its pointed tip. His stoic gaze locked on Mien. Stark and unwavering as that of a wolf, pale and blue. A person had to move past his face to see that he wore the brown jerkin of the order and a golden barred tasseled sash that marked him as a master first warden. To Soletus, he had seen that face since he was born. His face lit up at the sight of his father.
Despite his annoyance with him, he could help but be excited to see him. With little thought, he threw his arms around him. His father grunted but didn't pull him off or even fuss at him. Thought he told him he was getting a little too old for hugs all the time.
He let go, still beaming. "Hey Papa," he greeted.
The sternness faded a little from the first warden's face and a little warmth revealed itself in that winter's gaze.
"Sol," he greeted and patted Soletus on the shoulder.
"You're going to have to reach up to pat him if he grows any taller," said Hickory.
That was very true. The difference in their heights was becoming less noticeably. Not to mention their build was differentiating. The young monk was filling out to be heavier than his father. He had wide shoulders and thick neck compared to most elves. Elves described themselves as grace stags, but Soletus would likely be a powerful bull elk. Soletus would grow to be more like a graceful and powerful ram than a lithe and mighty stag.
"Mien," called Hickory.
Soletus forgot about him. He looked behind him and saw the boy was clutching the staff across him like a shield. At least he wasn't standing there with his arms wrapped around himself.
Oeric's brow went flat.
Soletus walked backwards, put his hand in the middle of Mien's back, and pushed him forward.
"Mientheoderic, this is Master First Warden Oeric'Sheldmartin, my father."
The tall elf held out his hand. Mien reached out, hesitated, and then shook it.
A critical glint sparked in Oeric’s eye.
"That's no way for a man to shake another man's hand," he said in measured teaching voice. "Grip my hand, like you mean it."
Mien appeared to follow Oeric's advice, as that infamous expression that gave him the name Master Dour lightened a tad. Soletus wanted to be upset at other warders and junior wardens calling him that. But he directed at him far too many times to claim it to be untrue.
"That’s better," he said, and then regarded Soletus. "You've been keeping him busy, I see."
"Yes, it's good for him and he enjoys it, right," said the young monk, giving Mien an encourage stare to prompt him into speaking. He didn't. Mien only nodded.
"Mien, you need to speak. You can’t act like a mute every time you see someone new," said Brother Hickory.
"Confidence my boy."
"Sorry," said Mien in a small voice.
"Speak up, you aren't talking to mice."
"He's timid a one, that's for sure," commented Master Oeric.
Soletus found what was going on in front of him a little hard to watch.
Mien held his head down became more distressed. "Sorry," he repeated a little louder.
Brother Hickory looked satisfied. "I hate to break up your fun, Soletus, but your father wants to speak to you and Mien and I need to do some more training."
Mien's shoulders sagged.
"Could I have a bit more time? I just need to explain something to Mien and then I'll come," said Soletus.
Oeric gave his son a sharp nod and Hickory followed, leaving the two boys alone. Soletus waited until they vanished before he spoke. He was about to face Mien when he saw them watching through a window. He ignored them and turned his back to them.
"Why are you so afraid to speak?"
Mien shrugged at his feet.
"Is it because you were forced to stay silent?"
"No, I just don't like talking," he murmured.
"Well, sometimes you have to, especially when you're addressing others. It's courtesy and expected."
"But I don't like it," he held.
"I know, but you shouldn't be afraid, especially if you're a chanter. What is it? Oh, Dias give chanter's his power, while a chanter's voice is the instrument of his will."
"I know. Brother Hickory keeps telling me that, but I sound like a girl."
Soletus arched a brow. "Why do you think that?"
"Well, my cousin—I mean my step-brother would tell me that all the time," he admitted with his shoulders sagging in shame.
"Is this the same one you…"
Mien bobbed his head. "He also said I acted like a girl too because I played with my sister all the time."
I wonder if that cousin of his didn't deserve a little of what happened to him.
"Well, you'll be happy to know you don't sound like a girl," said Soletus. He left out the fact that he had a distinctive sounding pitch to his voice that could be mistaken as a young woman. Then there was the chanter's lilt he had. All chanters sounded one. Many described it as them sounding empowered, and Soletus had to agree. If Mien spoke loud enough, it would have been more audible. "You also don't act like a girl," he added. Just plain strange.
The older boy wore a very dubious expression. He then leaned to the side to peer around Soletus. His large eyes widened. "Why are they watching us?"
Soletus gathered his staves before placing them both over one shoulder without looking at the window. "Because adults don't know when to leave well enough alone.
Mien reached for his shirt sleeve to stop him. “Also, that’s your father?”
“He’s strong looking.”
Soletus smiled. “Yeah, he’s one of the best.”
Mien looked impressed and followed him back into the chapel. The two adults had ambled their way to the table and were discussing something. Soletus only caught the tail end of it.
"I just wanted to make sure," said his father. He glanced at Soletus and added. "This isn't what I had in mind."
"Talk to him about it and let him decide," said Hickory.
Soletus stopped by the door, getting a sinking feeling they were talking about him. The fox-headed boy darted by them all and going straight for the foyer. He said goodbye to Soletus with a lopsided smile. When Oeric started to walkout, he ducked into the shadows.
The young monk waited for his father and the two of them exited the chapel side by side in silence until they were out of the chapel's yard and walking along the paved road.
"I'm not sure what you think will come of this, but he's not something you can handle," said his father.
Thanks for the confidence, Papa, thought Soletus and stated more amiable. "You've met him for an instant and you already think that."
"Once an elf loses their grip on what's rational, it’s hard on them and other around them. Many of them become burdens. Sometimes it’s themselves holding them back or because the right person doesn't help them," stated his father.
Soletus felt insulted.
"He's weak and—"
"Aren't we here to help the weak,” interrupted Soletus. “And help encourage their own? Is it not our duty to Dias to help those of this world to hear his voice? It isn't just the burden of the priests, but we as monks?"
"True. What you are doing is for someone more experienced. You aren't a teacher, Sol," he said. "A more mature elf would be better. You're barely ready to be a junior warden, let alone helping someone through their turmoil."
And then he was reminded why he was unhappy with his father.
"I would have more experience if someone didn't make it impossible for me to gain it," Soletus snipped back.
"I don't appreciate that tone."
"Well, I don't appreciate being blocked without explanation," said Soletus and then he realized he said what he was thinking aloud. He swallowed his annoyance and spoke more mindfully. "Can you explain to me why I can't take the trials this year?"
His father stopped walking. "You aren't ready," returned his father bluntly. "Certainly, you have the skill, but there’s a still a bit of boy left in you. You can't be a boy as a warden."
Oeric continued onward. Soletus followed with the tight ball of irritation blooming in his chest.
“I'm a tod now and I’m not the boy I was,” challenged Soletus.
His father stopped again. "Certainly, there is a lot about you that has changed, however you aren't there yet. There are a lot of things you must be ready to face. And you are not there yet."
Soletus let out a snort. He didn't like getting into arguments with his father. He could never win. He never knew how to win. This one appeared to be unwinnable because there as no dissuading him.
"At least Brother Hickory doesn’t think I’m a boy. He would've chosen someone else if I were," he told him and left his father's side.
He was lucky that the side path to go the back door of the dormitory was there or it'll look as if he was only marching off in frustration. Well, he was, doing so and was surprised his father didn't stop him.
There was a time when the two of them could talk with ease. Well, they had their own way of communicating because the two of them didn’t saying much. His father wasn't exactly a conversationalist and Soletus wasn’t talkative as a boy. He was a bit like Mien, shy. He also didn’t see reason to open his mouth at every opportunity. However, his training demanded so much communication that he learned to talk with his ease.
His father was glad he was more vocal, however, that didn’t make him more talkative. In fact, it just made Soletus realize how hard it actually was to talk to his father at times. He was a man of few words until he wasn’t. Then it was many and usually critical. It didn’t help that at the beginning of the year, an unnamed tension formed between them. He didn’t know what to do about it. He suspected something was wrong with his father. But, his parents never let him be privy to their problems.
When he entered the dorms, Soletus's irritation dropped. All the other tods and young men brought life to the dormitory again. It was stuffy and smelled of sweat, unwashed clothing, and road dust. Soletus smile. He couldn't wait for the stories. Most of the boys weren't out in the common area of the dormitory, though. They were in their rooms talking or resting. As he walked by the rooms, most of the curtains weren’t drawn and revealed most of them stretched out on their bunks, exhausted. Soletus went to his room in the back. He noticed only two of his roommates were there, Doran and his cousin, Lyndon. They were both laid out but perked up when they saw him.
"What happened," demanded Lyndon from above him from his bunk. "We waited as long as well could and then First Warden Kellas said you weren't coming. He was pretty upset about it too."
"What do you think happened," said Soletus, placing his staves behind the bunk bed and then flopped down on his bed.
"Master Dour," stated Doran with understanding. "We could have had so much fun. Lyndon and I started a killing competition. I won, of course."
Soletus looked across from him to the empty bunk. "Where's Valan?"
Doran and Lyndon exchanged grieved looks.
"He didn't get killed did he," asked Soletus, thinking the worse, but the two wouldn't have been so cheerful to see him. In fact, that would have been the first thing they told him, as it wasn't unusual for someone to die during a culling.
"No, he got the shivers an' shakes and hid in his tent the entire time," explained Doran. "Master Tyr tried to get him to take another position in the order, but he packed his things and headed home as soon as he stepped foot here."
That was disappointing. Soletus really liked Valan. He was a good friend and sparring partner. Both of there were the same build, strength, and skill level. He was someone to talk to because he came from a strict family too and a father that was hard to please. He was a farmer who rather Valan stand behind a plow. He had something to prove and was excited about going to the culling. His enthusiasm got them all eager. It was disappointing he left.
"It always happens to someone," sighed the young monk. He lay down on his bed and folded his arms behind his head. Why hadn't he waited to say goodbye? If I was there, I could have kept him here.
He felt uncomfortable and cracked his eyes open. Doran was staring down at him from his bunk and Lyndon's head was hanging upside down, with his two braids dangling on the side of his head.
Soletus regarded them. “What?”
"We heard about you and the newest nobling, the one who killed his brother," said Doran.
"His step-brother is plenty alive," corrected Soletus.
"So, what is he like," asked Lyndon with interest. "Does he talk to himself? Have fits? Tear wings off of flies?"
Soletus gave his cousin a bewildered look. "Why would anyone want to tear wings off of flies?"
Lyndon shrugged. "Because he's mean. He attempted to kill someone."
Soletus rolled his eyes. "He's not mean, just very shy and awkward."
Lyndon looked disappointed. "Awww, not that interesting, huh?"
"Sounds like another boy the order is going to toss out when he does something stupid then," muttered Doran.
"He's a chanter. They'll keep him as long as they can," said Soletus.
"That little fox-headed nobling is a chanter," asked Doran, surprised.
"How do you know he's a fox top?"
"I saw him when they first brought him here. The Arch Priest was laying down the rules for him. I just saw his back. Why is his hair cropped?"
Soletus shrugged. "I don't know. I've not bothered to ask because it's not worth getting him upset over. He not well in the head and gets all shaky when he doesn't want to talk about certain things. I don't like it. It's hard to be around him."
Lyndon then gave him a funny look. "Then why keep helping him?”
Soletus narrowed his eyes at his cousin. “What I want to know is how you know that I’ve been helping him?”
“Fern was out on the road. She and the huntress rode back with us. She told me about what you were doing.”
Soletus swung his pillow at his cousin. “Stay out of my business.”
Lyndon pulled his head up in time. “I just wanted to know if you have free time because Doran needs all the help he can get training for the warden trials," suggested his cousin.
"What about you?"
Lyndon’s head appeared again. "No staff for me. I get to train with the scouts now," he said, beaming proudly.
"Congratulation," said Soletus. He was happy for his cousin. That's what he always wanted. However, that gladness was overshadowed by jealousy nestled in his heart right beside the frustration of missing out on an opportunity.