When I first met him, I didn’t know what to think. I listened to him so I could figure out who he was. He was different compared to other boys I met. I could tell I made him uneasy, but he didn’t shun me. He didn’t make fun of me. He was kind. I couldn’t find a single note of ill-intent in his voice. He was a person I had no reason to fear, so I latched onto him.
Soletus didn’t make as much progress as he thought he would. In fact, he felt he made very little. The boy only spoke when he needed too and he made sure it wasn’t often. He was full of gestures that were easy to read as well as his facial expression. He easily showed what he was feeling and his emotional range was between nervous and unease.
During that time, Brother Hickory taught him how to control his phrase of light. There wasn’t a day when the boy wasn’t chanting under his breath and winking a sun globe in and out of existence. He seemed mystified by it and it gave him something to focus on which made him a little less anxious. Soletus found it was easier to let the young chanter concentrate on what he could and couldn’t do with the globe of light he wielded than getting him to talk.
When he wasn’t doing that, he followed Soletus around very much like skittish kitten. He was curious, but quick to retreat when seen. He would start to say something, but whenever Soletus made eye contact, he would shut himself and look away or down. The young monk wasn’t sure what to make of him doing that. It was odd for a boy his age to be that shy. He was almost a tod.
When Soletus took him on a quick tour of the town and the monastery, he was certain that Mien would reach out for his hand given how close he stayed by him. However, the boy wasn’t fond of physical contact either. Soletus felt awkward around him being friendly. He never had an elf objected with near terror from something as small as a pat or even nudging before.
Soletus decided to see what his basic skill sets were. He didn’t know what nobles did on their spare time. He heard they had people to do everything for them from what he was told. The young monk doubted they had someone to do everything so Soletus got two horses to exercise for the stableman. He learned that Mien knew how to ride a horse. He had to get a little help with adjusting the stirrups, but he seemed to have little trouble with pulling himself up and swing on the back of the horse. That same day he took him fishing and Onyx joined them. Mien had no fear of dogs and was delighted to have the large hound with them. She gave him distraction. He was happy to scratch that spot between her shoulder blades and Onyx sat beside him the entire time.
The following day, Soletus wanted to see how he reacted to an elven consort. His took the form of a high mountain brown bear. Like him, Khodi was a young leggy and not nearly impressive looking as other members. Soletus expected him to be afraid of it as those who weren’t familiar with the Brotherhood, instead the boy wasn’t. He was impressed, but not enough for him to ask no more than two questions that answered everything for him. He patted Khodi on the head and the summoned creature nudged and examined him sending Soletus impressions that there was an injured person in front of him.
The second week begun and Soletus expected little change. He came over after breakfast as usual. Brother Hickory was in the main part of the chapel talking to a few people by the altar. He snuck by them and went straight to the back. He stopped at the small room where the boy occupied. He peered in and saw that the bed was empty, but poorly made. There was too much tucked at the ends and the sides were tucked unevenly so his blanket didn’t lay straight. It was something he needed to learn how to do. The masters weren’t very fussy about it, but the priests were a lot more meticulous.
Soletus found Mien at the small table waiting for him. He managed to keep eye contact in his general direction. However, Soletus was sure he was looking at the wall behind him. At least it was a welcomed change. That didn’t mean he was willing to talk though. Soletus made his way to the table with the boy’s eyes following him until he sat down in his chair backwards.
“Is there something wrong,” Soletus asked.
Mien did something unusual. Instead of shaking his head, he opened his mouth and said a very soft, “No.”
Soletus was stunned, but didn’t show it. Instead, he cleared his throat and said, “You’re up early.”
The boy faltered in his eye contact and dropped back to the table top. “I wanted food that wasn’t burnt. Porridge isn’t that hard to make,” he said speaking a little louder.
Now at least the mice and the crickets can hear him, thought Soletus and said to him. “Tell that to Brother Hickory.”
The corner of Mien’s mouth pulled up slightly.
It was good to see the boy smile. He hadn’t done it much.
“What do you want to do today,” prompted Soletus.
He wasn’t expecting the boy to meet his eyes again, but he did. Mien raised an eyebrow at him. “Don’t you have anything else to do?”
“Well Hickory asked me to do this, so this is my duty for now. If I didn’t want to be here, I wouldn’t,” he answered not sure what to think about the sudden trust shown to him. It of course didn’t last the entire time. The boy focused his attention out the small grimy window.
“It’s quiet here,” he remarked.
“I take it you like that?”
“I couldn’t imagine you would like some place more bustling.”
“I mean in the chapel,” corrected Mien.
“Of course it is. It’s a chapel. I mean, it’s not like an estate that throws parties and servants running around.”
Mien cut him a glance. “My family’s estate is small with a tiny staff compared to most. We don’t host parties a lot. But that’s not the quiet I mean.”
The young monk tilted his head. “Then what do you mean?”
Soletus looked out of the window with him and tried to sort out that last statement. He wondered what his state he was in before that to classified his current behavior as calm. He then heard Brother Hickory’s footsteps and he stepped in wearing a frown of displeasure.
“Sorry to interrupt, but Mien, I need to say something to you.”
Mien turned from the window slowly to Hickory’s feet. “Yes.”
Brother Hickory started scolding him. “That bed is awful. Go in there and try again. I’ve only shown you how to do it a dozen times.”
Without even a cringe, the boy got up from the table and vanished. When he was gone, Hickory took Mien’s place at the table.
“So was he holding a conversation with you too?”
“Same with me this morning. He just up and started to talk to me out of the blue. Still with fidgety eyes, but talking,” said the priest. He appeared to be pleased as if that was major progress.
“How did he manage before if he can’t look someone in the face,” said Soletus. “That was something he started doing.”
“Your guess is as good as mine seeing as he was also an alchemist’s apprentice. I couldn’t imagine him being so shy around his master.”
Soletus brow shot up. “An alchemist’s apprentice at his age?”
“He’s a smart lad in the academic sense. He was allowed to test into the university. However, books can’t teach you social skills,” he told him.
“Maybe I should introduce him to someone else.”
Hickory swayed his head. “Not yet. I don’t want to scare him back in his shell like a scared turtle.”
Soletus didn’t think it was possible, but for the rest of their time together that day the boy was quiet again. The boy appeared to only have a small energy reserve for talking. If he wasn’t going to speak much, Soletus decided that Mien needed something to do as well as teach him how to fight with a quarter staff.
The next day, he brought over his light training staff and heavy staff he preferred. He knew the boy was getting chanter priest training, and they weren’t normally taught combat. They had a few combat chanters, but they weren’t taught to use staves. Soletus believed they needed to learn a little something to be better-rounded. Mien didn’t understand it at all and stared at Soletus when the young monk told him what they would be doing.
“It’ll be good for you,” Soletus encouraged. “You’ve skinny arms and wimpy shoulders. How are going to do anything with those?”
Mien eyes tightened. He parted his lips as if he was going to say something. However, he retracted and settled on staring at him looking offended.
“I meant no offense, but it’s true.”
Soletus knew Mien was thinking something by the way he scanned him up and down, but didn’t share those thoughts.
Soletus handed him the staff he would be using. “I need the practice, so you can help me.”
Mien took it in his hands, inspected the wooden weapon as if it was an foreign object.
“It’ll be fun.”
“If you say so,” said Mien.
Soletus got practice in teaching the bare basics of using a quarter staff. He wasn’t ready to be called a master yet because he wasn’t sure what to do about a student who wasn’t eager to learn and had poor reflexes. He was too timid, too hesitant, and too slow. If anything, the young monk got a great lesson in restraint that day. So many times, he wanted to take advantage of an opening with a sound strike. He softened his blows because the boy flinched a lot blocking with his arms rather than his staff. After observing the action a few times more, Soletus planted the end of his staff into the ground, and asked,
“Were you hit on?”
Color drained from Mien’s face. He looked to the side. “No!”
Soletus narrowed his eyes. “You know, it isn’t a good thing to lie. I can go and ask Hickory because I’m sure he knows.”
Mien became owl-eyed. “What did he tell you?”
“He hasn’t told me much. He probably expects you to tell me.”
“It isn’t like I was beaten every day, but please don’t tell anyone,” he begged. “He might find out I told and make things worse.”
“Who,” Soletus asked confused. When Mien didn’t answer him, he repeated the question again. “Who will make things worse for you?”
The boy looked at the ground. “Not me, my mother.”
“So he hit her too?”
“No,” exclaimed they boy with his voice becoming high and manic. He waved his hands in front of him. “He doesn’t. He can’t. She won’t let him, but he can hurt her other ways. He can still make things miserable for me, thus making things worse for her.”
That didn’t clear anything up for the young monk. “Who is he exactly?”
The boy clamped his mouth shut with his teeth clicking.
Soletus pushed his hair to the side that fell into his face. “You need to tell me so I can understand.”
Mien dropped the staff he held on the ground and covered his face with his hands trembling violently. Soletus reached for him Mien slapped it away and took a step back away from him looking frightened.
Soletus held his hands up. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”
The boy hugged himself backing away reaching out behind him until his back was to the bark of the burning ash tree.
“Mien,” Soletus called, but his voice didn’t reach the disturbed boy. His breathing became short and shallow. Mien put his hand to his chest and stared glassy eyed at the ground. Soletus was torn with getting Brother Hickory or doing something. He didn’t know if the priest would do any good. Instead, he took slow steps towards Mien making sure they were loud enough for the boy to hear that he was coming. He eased forward and stopped an arm’s length in front of him.
“Seriously, I’m sorry, I did whatever I did,” he said.
Mien was unresponsive. He hugged himself tighter.
The door to the chapel opened and Brother Hickory beckoned Soletus to come towards him. They exchanged places. Brother Hickory tried to console the boy. Soletus made a beeline to the table and sat down. The priest was out there for a long time before he came back in. Soletus tried to explain himself, but the priest held up a hand.
“Don’t worry about it. I should have warned you about what would happen if you brought up his family.”
Brother Hickory sat down and explained. “Well, it pertains to one person in specifically. I’m also afraid of you pressing the matter anymore. He might stop speaking again. That’s what caused him to turtle up the first time and I had to bring you in.”
Soletus blinked at him with disbelief. He started talking. “He’s not well in the head if that’s all it takes to get him to clamp up again.”
“I never said he was, well that is,” said Brother Hickory somberly.
“So, he’s cracked in the head?”
“No, it’s the result of fear. Fear is a powerful thing. It can control a person and force them to act in ways that seem crazy to us.”
“But you face your fears.”
“It isn’t that simple for him. This is something sated deep within him. He trusts no one. Once we get him to trust us, then we help him lift all those painful emotional scars and every time it hurts, he’s going to retreat. You hit a scar.”
“You might as well go now. He’s not going to be up to doing anything for a while. Try again tomorrow. But, don’t get discouraged. I’m not fond of these cases myself because it’s up to the person you are trying to help to want help.”
Soletus was unsure if he wanted to come back when he left. Mien’s behavior troubled him. Shy was one thing, but what he saw, he didn’t understand it. He never seen anyone act the way he did before. He sat alone in his room thinking what to do. He was patient, but not enough to be around someone who would start getting better and suddenly tumbled back down to start all over again. He liked helping people, but usually people wanted to be helped. He wasn’t sure if Mien did.
Soletus rolled on his back, wishing his cousin was in the bunk above him so he could ask his opinion on the matter. Everyone should be arriving back in a few more days. However, he didn’t feel as if he could wait. The stubborn part of him wanted to stick it out, the practical part of him wanted to find a way to excuse himself and do something that was a lot more productive if Mien didn’t improve.
However, he failed to come up with a excuse by the next morning, and continued on his new routine of going to the chapel. First, he checked the boy’s room. It was empty and his bed was better, but not there yet. He wasn’t at the table either. Instead, Hickory was there sipping on a mug of tea with a lettering his hand.
“He’s out back,” stated the priest without looking up, his brow a line of disapproval.
“Is he talking,” asked Soletus.
“He didn’t say anything to me this morning, but I did tell him not to be so inconsiderate,” said Hickory, annoyed by what he read. The priest gave Soletus his full attention. “That isn’t the right word. I told him that you are trying to help and that he needn’t make it difficult. That he needn’t be afraid. Like I said, its fear that holding him back.”
“And what did he do?”
“The usual, he stared at his feet and nodded his head.”
Why would I think anything different, thought Soletus.
“A package came for him and he’s been outside pouring over it. So he might be distracted, but don’t be afraid talk to him. I know you got a bit discouraged yesterday. However, it was only stumble.”
The priest was trying to reassure him. Soletus couldn’t wait to be done with this duty. When he reached for the door latch, Brother Hickory added, “I appreciate what you are doing.”
Soletus squeezed his eyes closed and sighed. He wouldn’t be able to excuse himself easily.
When he stepped outside the boy sat in the grass under the tree with a book in his lap. He glanced up and then looked back down turning the page. Soletus crossed the yard closing the distance between them by taking measured steps. Mien was still reading when Soletus eased himself down in front of him minding the letters that was placed where he sat.
“Hello,” greeted Mien.
“Hi,” replied Soletus. “I see you’ve something from home?”
Mien looked through his fringe of red hair. “My mother forwarded a package for me from my sister.”
“Is she older than you?”
“No, we’re twins.”
Soletus couldn’t imagine a female version of him would be a good thing or that he would start rambling.
“Her name is Mienerva. She’s lives in Erodon. She goes to the university there,” he said closing the book and looking up at him. “She doesn’t know what happened yet because she didn’t yell at me in her letter.”
“Okay,” Soletus wasn’t sure what to make of his talkativeness.
Mien’s pale face flushed. “I’m sorry about yesterday. It’s just easier if I don’t think about things because that happens. It isn’t that I don’t like you. I do. You’re nice. You don’t point out things like my hair and say I’m crazy. Well…you probably do now. I’m not! I don’t think I am. I just…you ever get so scared, that your heart starts beating really fast?”
“Well I feel like that, a lot, but not here. This place is quiet. Nothing’s here to hurt me,” he said, sounding like he was trying to convince himself of that fact.
“Well there isn’t anyone here that would hurt you,” assured Soletus. “Grace’s Hope is kind of a sanctuary. People come here for refuge and we don’t tolerate those who bring trouble with them. Besides that, members of the Brotherhood protect and outside influences don’t have much power here. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“Brother Hickory says the same,” returned Mien.
“Then you shouldn’t get so nervous about talking to me.”
Mien looked down ashamed. “I wasn’t always like this. Things changed, and I became different.”
“Well what exactly changed,” Soletus asked.
The book in Mien’s hands started shaking.
Soletus stated to stand. “Should I get, Hickory?”
“No,” cried Mien alarmed. “It’s alright, this is good. Talking I mean, I think.”
Mien loosened his grip on the book he had and placed it beside him. He leaned against the tree. “You know my father had blue eyes like yours, not as bright though.”
He became quiet after that and left that thought unfinished. Soletus didn’t know how to reply. He did catch something. The boy said “had” meaning his father was dead. Instead, of fishing for details, Soletus looked beside the boy at the book and read the title.
“Wrenhold’s Comprehensive Guide to Alchemic Compounds, sounds like a great bed time story.”
Mien’s green eyes lit up. “It’s the best guide out there for alchemy. My sister must have done something magnificent for her to get a copy for me.”
“So you understand this,” said Soletus amazed as he flipped through the book. It was nothing more than a jumble of words, numbers, diagrams, and descriptions that might as well been in another language.
“This is simple stuff. Alchemy is nothing more than what a wisewoman would use to cure people. Alchemist however doesn’t just use those compounds to cure people.”
It was a crazy man’s trade as well. From what Soletus understood, alchemist did dangerous things to get what they wanted, even dying for their work. Their fellow alchemists might see such a thing as a success.
“So what do you want to do today,” asked Soletus.
“Rest,” answered Mien as he closed his eyes.
“I take it you didn’t get much being at home?”
The boy’s eyes cracked open. He didn’t deny anything this time. “No, I didn’t.”
“Surely your mother didn’t like it.”
“She didn’t have a choice. She did what could without making it worse. I probably made it worse for her.”
“Everyone has a choice,” returned Soletus.
Mien shook his head. “You don’t understand because you don’t know.”
“You can tell me,” prompted Soletus.
The boy regarded him wary.
“Or we can save it for another day.”
Mien regarded him with a gracious look in thanks. He then asked in a meek voice. “Can I call you, friend? I didn’t have many before. Most thought me strange.”
“Sure,” said Soletus a little too slow and Mien caught his tone to his surprise.
“Why you say it like that?”
Mien then gave him a look. “I’m not stupid. I know what I must act like to you.”
Soletus was speechless. He didn’t want to deny it to be polite, but at the same time, the boy showed awareness. He was sure a crazy person wasn’t very aware or their awareness came and left. Maybe the boy wasn’t cracked as Brother Hickory said.
“You’re different,” he said not refuting that. “I’m not use to different, but I can handle it.”
“That’s why I like you,” announced Mien, but didn’t explain himself. He became silent again and Soletus didn’t prompt him again. He figured that Mien had spoken enough for that day.