Chapter 4: Those Who Return And Those Who Leave

 

I was a little jealous to see Soletus with his father at first. Then that envy turned to sympathy later on. It wasn’t what his father ended up doing but the way Soletus said something to me. He didn’t live that simple ideal life I thought he did. Instead of it being a discouragement it actually pleased me.

 

Mien didn’t go back into his shell again as Soletus thought he would. Instead, the boy surprised him and asked if he could have another go at the quarterstaff.

“I started swordsmanship but I wasn’t very good at it,” he told him when he brought his staves again.

“Well you get better with things with practice,” said the young monk trying to be encouraging even though the boy was horrible at it. Soletus figured he just wanted something to do. He imagined being left alone to think and reflect in the chapel was pretty dull. At least he was trying to do something even though that doing was unfocused with him 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 enthusiasm. He dusted himself off and tried again.

After a while of teaching him how to block, Soletus switch lessons and thought Mien needed to know how to perform a simple jab.

“Just mirror my moments for now,” he instructed and Mien took his position beside him watching him a few times then tried to mimic. The boy’s movements appeared more like was politely tapping than jabbing.  It was a nice attempt but there was no power behind his movements.

Timid as usual, thought Soletus with a sigh.  He then heard the wooden door to the back of the chapel open.  Brother Hickory came towards them with a guest in tow. Mien who noticed first as he was strung tight still and his ability to hear a single blade of grass bending didn’t help. He jumped out of his stance becoming uncertain at the tall man behind Hickory. Soletus figured it was the man’s appearance. His face was scared with the largest going from his right ear that traveled parallel to his jaw line. His nose was crocked nose, his left ear was missing its pointed tip. His pale eyes were the color of asters and they locked on Mien examining him a little too sharply. However, Soletus knew that’s how he his father was and was used to it. He was a presence and one to quickly establish himself no matter if it came off unfriendly or aggressive. Despite how much his father told him he was getting a little too old for hugs, he approached the man and embraced him. His father grunted but didn’t pull him off or even fuss at him.

He let go and smiled. “Hey Papa,” he greeted.

The stern expression faded a little from Master Oeric face. “Good to see you lad,” said the man patting his son on head.

“You’re going to have to start reaching up to pat him if he grows any taller” said Hickory.

That was very true. The difference in their heights wasn’t much not to mention Soletus was already starting to fill out looking to be a little more muscular than Oeric. He had wide shoulders and thick neck compared to most elves. If a comparison could be made, Soletus would grow to be more like a graceful and powerful ram than a graceful and powerful stag.

“Mien,” called Hickory.

Soletus forgot about him. He looked behind him and saw the boy was clutching the staff as if it were a shield.

At least he wasn’t standing there with his arms wrapped around himself.

Oeric’s brow went flat. “This is him, I take it?”

Soletus walked beside Mien, put his hand on his back and pushed him forward.

“Mientheoderic, this is Master First Warden Oeric’Sheldmartin, my father.”

The tall man held out his hand and Mien shyly took.

Master Oeric frowned and his typical critical glint sparked up in his eyes. “That’s not the way for a man to shake another man’s hand. Grip my hand, like you mean it.”

Mien looked down at his hand and followed Oeric’s advice. His father looked passive but Soletus could see the start of that infamous expression that gave him the name Master Dour by those who trained under him. Soletus wanted to be offend by them calling him that but he that look directed at him far too many times to claim it to be untrue.

“There’s a good, lad,” he said. “You’ve been keeping him busy I see, Soletus.”

“Yes, it’s good for him and he enjoys it, right,” said the young monk trying to encourage his friend to speak but he didn’t. Mien only nodded.

“What have I told you about acting like a mute every time you see someone new,” said Brother Hickory. “Confidence 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 and more uncomfortable. “Sorry,” he repeated a little louder.

Brother Hickory looked satisfied. “I hate to break up your fun but Soletus, your father wishes for you to come with him. Mien and I need to do some more training.”

Mien’s shoulders sagged.

“Could I have a little 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 he was sure they were gone before he spoke. He was about to face Mien when he saw them watching through a window. He ignored them and turned his attention to troubled boy in front of him.

“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 said softly.

“Well sometimes you have to, especially when you’re addressing others. It’s curtesy 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? Dias give chanter’s his power, while a chanter’s voice is the instrument of his power.”

“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… or rather my step-brother told me that all the time,” he admitted.

“Is this the same one you…”

Mien bobbed his head shamefully. “He also said I acted like a girl because I played with my sister all the time.”

I’m starting to wonder if that cousin of his didn’t deserved 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 if he didn’t speak so low could be mistaken a young woman. Then there was the chanter’s lilt he had. All chanters sounded very distinctive. If he spoke loud enough it would have been more audible. “You also don’t act like a girl,” he added. Just plain strange at times.

“If you say so,” he said sounding very unconvinced. He then leaned to the side to peer around Soletus. His then became disturbed. “Why are they watching us?”

Soletus gathered his and took the other from Mien before placing them both over one shoulder without looking at the window. “Because adults don’t know when to leave well enough alone. I should probably go now before papa has something to say about me taking my time.”

Mien bobbed his head and followed him back into the chapel. The two adults were sitting at the table now discussing matters only the higher-ranking individuals in the Brotherhood concerned themselves over. The fox-headed boy however didn’t stay in the room. He went straight for the hall where he said goodbye to Soletus with a thankful lopsided smile.  When the sound of two chairs scooted away from the table, he ducked into the shadows of his room.

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. Soletus steeled himself while it was good and quiet because he knew his father had an opinion on what he was doing.

“I’m not sure why you’re continuing what you are doing. He’s not something you can handle,” his father stated.

Thanks for the confidence, Papa, thought Soletus and said more amiably aloud. “Why’s that?”

“He’s ill in the head. Once an elf losses their grip on what’s rational, they never truly gain it back. They can hide it, they manage it, but some never do and become burdens,” said his father.

“How do you know for certain he will,” asked Soletus feeling a bit insulted that he father didn’t seem to think he could help someone.

“He’s weak.”

“Aren’t we here to help the weak,” said Soletus. “Aren’t we to be their strength and encourage it? 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 priest be we as monks?”

“There’s no need to remind me what I taught you,” snipped his father. “What you are doing is for someone more experienced. You aren’t a teacher, son.”

“I would have more experience if someone didn’t make it impossible for me to,” Soletus snipped back.

“I don’t appreciate that tone,” his father said darkly.

Well I don’t appreciate being lied to, he thought and managed not to let it slip out like his previous statement. Soletus swallowed his annoyance and spoke more mindfully. “You could have just told me that you didn’t want me take the trials this year instead of creating a situation that wasted my time.”

Perhaps that didn’t come out as mild as he thought it would as his father stopped walking and glared at him.

“Drop the attitude. You could have gone to the culling if you tried harder,” returned his father without remorse. “It just proves you’re not ready to become a warden if you can’t deal with a little roadblock.” Master Oeric continued onward. Soletus continued to follow him aware that the tight ball of irritation in his chest grew larger as his father continued to berate him. “You give up too easily. You can’t give up or let up as a warden. You defend Dias’s people. You fight drass beast.  You can’t stop pressing forward when things get rough.”

“Or have the wisdom to know when it’s better to compromise and figure out another strategy,” retorted the young monk.

“You being left behind was you’re doing,” his father returned.

Soletus didn’t like getting into arguments with his father. He never won them. He wasn’t winning this one as the man was good at twisting everything around back at him. Plus a smart obedient boy would just accept the scolding and normally he would. However, he didn’t want to this time.

“Well then if it was my doing, I’ll just accept what has been given to me. Also, I’m not teaching Mien anything, I’m just trying to be a friend,” 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 marching off in frustration even more. He was surprise his father didn’t stop him from getting in the last word and berate him some more. There was a time when the two of them could talk with ease but every conversation they had sense the start of the year annoyed Soletus in some way. Introducing Mien to his father was about as close as it got those days.

However, Soletus’s displeasure with his father dropped when he saw other young tods again in the dormitory bringing it back to life again. It was stuffy, it smelled of sweat, unwashed clothing, and dust. However, Soletus didn’t feel alone anymore. Most of the boys weren’t out in the common area of the dormitory though. They were in their rooms talking or resting. The only thing that was out all over the place was gear and packs. As he walked by the rooms, most of their curtains were still drawn back revealing most of them were 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 stretch out looking drained but they perked up when they saw him.

“Why didn’t you come,” demanded Lyndon from above him. “We waited as long as well could and then 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 bunks and then flopped down on his bunk.

“Master Dour,” said 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.”

That was disappointing. Soletus really liked Valan. He was a good friend and was his sparring partner as both of them were the same build and strength. He was someone to talk to as well because he had a hard father too. His was a farmer who rather Valan standing behind a plow than join the Dias Brotherhood. He was also the one that talked the other two into going to the culling. They weren’t going originally as Doran wasn’t a good fighter and Lyndon had his heart set on becoming a scout with very little luck getting their attention. He wasn’t that great of a shot.

“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?

He felt uncomfortable and cracked his eyes open. Doran was staring down at him from his top bunk and Lyndon’s head was hanging with his two braids dangling on the side of his head.

“What,” Soletus asked regarding both of them.

“We heard about you and the newest nobbling, the one who killed his brother,” said Doran.

“His step-brother is plenty alive,” corrected Soletus not questioning how they knew.

“So what is he like,” asked Lyndon with interest. “Is he crazy? Does he talk to himself? Have fits? Tear wings off of flies?”

“Why would anyone tear wings off of flies?”

Lyndon shrugged. “I don’t know, because he’s mean. He did attempt to kill someone.”

Soletus rolled his eyes. “He’s to  shy and awkward to do that. And as for being crazy, I don’t know. He’s not well in the head, that’s for sure.”

Lyndon looked disappointed. “Awww, not that interesting huh?”

“So sounds like another boy they’re going to try to help then kick 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 nobbling is a chanter,” asked Doran sounding 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’s his hair cropped?”

Soletus shrugged. “I don’t know and I’ve not bothered to asked. It’s not worth getting him upset over. He gets all shaky when he doesn’t like something. A person has no right to be like that. I don’t like it.”

Lyndon then gave him a funny look. “They why not just say you don’t want to do that and do something else?”

“Like what,” asked Soletus.

“Well Doran needs all the help he can get training for the warden trials,” suggested his cousin.

“What about you?”

“Me? No staff for me. I get to train with the scouts now,” he said proudly.

“Congratulation,” said Soletus happy for his cousin. That’s what he always wanted but his heart sunk because he didn’t get what he wanted. All he accomplished was missing out on probably helping Valan stay. He knew if he was there, he would have gotten the young man to remain. But now, he was going to be pushing that plow his father wanted him to as he was being held back as his father wanted.

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