Training with Nimbus and Oeric was cancelled because the field wardens had returned from the culling. First and second wardens were having a meeting to discuss their findings for that year and Oeric needed to attend. Nimbus just wanted to chat with his combat chanter friends. Mien didn’t have duty in the infirmary because he was supposed to be training. It might’ve been wise for him to go there, given all their patients. However, like Nimbus, he wanted to chat with his friends as well.
He was glad he had friends. He didn’t have any growing up. It was usually him and his sister. He was too quiet and too awkward for the other boys. It didn’t help that he was short and an easy target for their bullying. He expected the same thing to happen when he joined the Brotherhood. Everyone was taller, older, and gave him leery stares. However, if one said anything to his face or even touched him after the Doran incident, they would have a short meeting with Soletus and Lyndon.
Their action garnered Soletus a reputation of being that one tod you didn’t mess with. It wasn’t because he was the Arch Monk’s grandson or his father’s first warden status. No, it was the fact that Soletus could get mean really quick. Not that Mien could say he had seen anyone beaten. They just seemed very aware he was the strongest tod in the dorm. His cousin Lyndon had a bit of a covert reputation. He was the Brotherhood’s prankster. He would do glorious things to mess with the masters and anyone else who happens to offend him.
Mien paused at the threshold of the monk’s wing and took a deep breath before diving in. The monk’s wing was livelier than the priest’s wing. It was silent, as if the dead lived in those halls. Even when coming across another priest in the hall was a quiet affair. They would pass by giving each other nods. There was no hello, waving, or hearty handshake or even an embrace. The monk’s hall was different. Mien never thought he would appreciate being bombarded by loud and often boisterous tods and young men more than silence.
Mien received many warm greetings as he walked down the hall. Most knew who he was. They had gotten used to him slinking in to see Soletus and Lyndon and stopped him out of curiosity. Now, he just wove through the bodies, with lads there greeting him. It was noisy, crowded, smelled like sweat and smelly boots, but it was better than musty stones and dust in the priest’s wing. It met there was life there.
Most of the returning warders and junior warden were lying down. A few walked out ready to go bath. Mien thought Soletus would be dressed in a bathing robe like the ones he passed. He liked to wash the road off him at any opportunity he could. Instead, he was lying on his bed with his arm across his eyes. Lyndon was on the floor talking avidly to their roommates, Gale and Wic. They were all smiling until Mien knocked on the doorway.
Lyndon beamed. Gale and Wic smiles dropped.
Mien wiggled his fingers at the young scout. “Hey Lyn,” he said and pointed to Soletus, who didn’t stir at the sound of his voice.
Lyndon looked at his cousin with a shrug.
Mien always thought they could pull off being brothers. They had the same low ears as someone of Dyne elf heritage, the same flaxen hair, and even the same dark irises. They were both friendly with Lyndon being the exuberant one, while Soletus was more restrained. Well, mostly when he wasn’t irritable.
“What brings you to our humble domicile,” asked Lyndon.
“I wanted to see if you two got back in one piece.”
Lyndon gestured to himself with his hand on his chest and head high. “I have arrived injury free from our perilous adventure. But I tell you, it wasn’t easy. Drass beasts were everywhere snapping at my heel. They were snarling in front of me trying to kill me. However, I had Dias on my side and my trusty mighty bow that—”
A pillow slammed into Lyndon’s face, cutting him short.
Mien didn’t even see Soletus move until the object flew from his hands. He was sitting up and said to his cousin, “Please, you were up in a tree the entire time, safe as you could be.”
Lyndon tossed the pillow back. Soletus caught it. “Jealous? You should’ve been a scout.”
Soletus repositioned his pillow and sank back down on his bed. “I’m reconsidering my choice in duty now.”
Mien quirked a brow for an answer.
“Soletus had an incident,” Lyndon explained. “Kellas’s brilliant second Valhart paired him off with the most unreliable grappler in the order to wrangle a behemoth,” said Lyndon.
“I got rammed and flung into an old house. Luckily, the glass in the window had been busted out long ago so the wall cushion me. Then what remained of the roof collapsed on me like a blanket.”
“How were you rammed,” asked Mien.
“The other grappler let go of his line to sneeze. The wise and wonderful Valhart didn’t set-up the kill properly. He was too busy still barking orders and confusing people when it happened. I of course, was yelled at for dropping my line despite the fact we’re trained to let go so we don’t get dragged. I was taken to Master Tyr with a busted rib explaining what happened. Kellas looked on dumbly as if Valhart’s idiocy is something new.”
“Valhart is going to get someone killed,” said Lyndon. “At least Master Tyr had enough sense to get someone to look at you.”
Soletus laid his hand over his eyes again. “Yeah, but Terin’s a horrible healer.”
“You’re just used to Kiao giving you special treatment.”
“I’m sorry. I actually like being treated like I’m a person and not a burden.”
Mien then said. “I’m going to guess you’ve a headache.”
“Yep, and it’s fueled by a never-ending supply of stupidity,” Soletus muttered.
“Speaking of kiao, we should show him we’re in one piece,” said Lyndon getting to his feet.
Soletus shooed him away. “Go visit him without me.”
“Kiao is probably really busy,” said Mien. “The other reason why I come here relates to him. I need to discuss something with you two in private.”
Gale and Wic didn’t move.
Lyndon rested a hand on his shoulders, concerned. “Is there something wrong with Kiao?”
“No, sh-he’s fine. Yep, he’s fine,” said Mien and watched as Lyndon’s eyebrows shot up.
“It’s just, well, there’s a bit of a situation going on in town and we’ve a lot of sick people in the infirmary.”
“How about you tell me all about it and I’ll tell Soletus later on?”
Lyndon then said to Wic and Gale. “I’ll get with you two later.”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Wic settling down in his bed. “I need to re-learn how to sleep without looking over my shoulder for a drass beast.”
“Me too,” said Gale and shot Mien a short, annoyed glance.
Aggravation blossomed in Mien’s chest. Lyndon turned him around and pushed him out of the room. When they were out in the hall between rooms, Lyndon spoke.
“Don’t mind them. They come from that stock of elves who think all men should be—”
“Not a crazed, nobling pansy,” Mien snapped.
Lyndon stopped walking and looked down at him. “Do you believe that?”
Mien wrapped his arms around his torso. “It’s hard not to believe something when everyone thinks you are.”
“Ignore them. They just don’t like you because you’re too unique for their bland tastes.”
“I doubt that. They knew about what I did before anyone could explain it and they’re hung up on it.”
“And they need to get over it and get used to it,” he said, using that same firm voice Soletus used. He then said, more like himself. “Now, if you want to encourage them to do so, I’ll gladly help.”
Mien didn’t feel like getting involved in any prank that Lyndon had in mind. His last one stunk up the entire monastery.
“No thanks,” he said.
Lyndon’s mischievous grin faded to disappointment. “If that’s what you want.”
When they made it outside of the boy’s dormitory to the grounds, Lyndon then said, “So how did you find out about Kiao?”
Mien winced. “I nearly slipped up there.”
“Well, it’s hard to not think of him as a her when she is a she. Have you seen her in her most natural of states?”
Mien nodded. “She’s cute,” he said and snapped his jaw shut. That comment come out so quick Mien didn’t have time to amend it to something else before Lyndon latched onto it.
“Look at you, finding a young filly to acknowledge as pretty.”
“Fine, I acknowledge it,” he said, wishing he could control his blushing face.
“I bet it makes working in the infirmary a totally different experience,” he said, wagging his eyebrows.
Mien scratched the back of his neck. “I’ve been trying not to think about it too much. Anyway, that’s not important.” He then explained to him about the blighter, what he and Kiao suspected as well as he found out. When he finished, Lyndon thought about it before stating,
“There isn’t anyone in the peaceguard I can probe. They don’t like us field wardens. I start asking questions, they’ll wonder why I’m asking those questions.”
“Basically, it’s a measuring contest between them and us field wardens. They feel inadequate, so they puff themselves up like tiny mean cocks and are pissy to every field warden they speak too.”
“Is that why Soletus didn’t want to be a peacegaurd?”
Lyndon nodded. “They would’ve eaten him alive if he transferred there.”
“You would think being the Arch Monk’s grandson would protect him.”
Lyndon laughed. “Are you kidding? They would relentlessly harass him. They’ve a bad pack mentality, so it’ll always be his word against theirs. Most of them are just lazy leftovers. It makes sense if someone there is covering it up.”
“And this doesn’t raise the Arch Monk’s suspicions?”
“As long as the town isn’t falling apart by the seams and the Patriarch doesn’t say anything, he trusts them to do their job. We could go to the Arch Monk, but I’ll bet they’ll deny everything, and go out and ‘discover’ where it’s being made and destroy it.”
Mien churned what he learned in his head. He then said at length, “If that is the case, the easiest course of action is to find out where they are making the blighter and destroy it on our own.”
Lyndon jerked his head in surprise. “What?”
“Whoever is making it is doing a terrible and careless job.”
“Yeah, I get that. You want us, as in me and Soletus, to help you?”
Mien crossed his arms. “What’s so surprising about that?”
“Because you’re about as bad as Sol is about following the rules,” he said.
“Last thing I want is a noose being tied around my neck for breaking rules.”
Lyndon threw his arms around his shoulder. “Lighten up. I thought you had to show personal improvement and you’ve shown that ten folds.”
“It doesn’t feel like it sometimes.”
“My dear fellow, you need to look at yourself as the mirror does. So how do we go about searching for where they’re making the blighter?”
That was a good question. “I don’t know. I don’t know the area well enough, and I guess there isn’t a surveyor’s map, as my father would use. All I know is they sat up near an aquifer or something.”
“Is the cave you gone this side of the river or across from it?”
“It was across it, a bit to the northeast. It’s a little far, but not far enough to keep a bunch of kids from it.”
Lyndon thought about it. “I might have an idea where we should start looking.”
Mien knew his friend could help him, but not that fast and not in that way.
Lyndon showed his teeth in a wide grin. “Don’t give me that skeptical look. I just have to make sure that my suspicion is correct and then you can marvel at my brilliance.”