I don’t believe my twin is my opposite. Her inhibitions are just different from mine, making her appear fearless. Though, admittedly, she is the “loud one” between the two of us. She’s not afraid to speak her mind and has no shame to the point she comes off as silly. I’ve been told when I’m riled up enough, I can be just like her without being absurd. No, I just get unreasonable.
Soletus was allowed to return to the dorms three days later. The venom left him weak and it was obvious he wouldn’t be training anytime soon. He didn’t want to stay in the infirmary even though he should’ve. Kiao discharged him, but advised bed rest unless he wanted to keep him company longer.
His mother tried to get him to come home, but he declined. He didn’t want to speak to his father any more than he had too. However, when Soletus got to his room, he stayed in there for about an hour. It was too empty and quiet. Everyone was out training except him again. Instead of resting in loneliness, he decided it was best to go to the chapel to see Mien. The boy had visited him every day except the previous. He never showed up. He doubted that the drass beast attack send him into a downward spiral.
Soletus’s trip to the chapel was a slow one. He regretted ever starting it as the sun beamed down on him with little mercy. He stopped in every shadow, leaned up against every tree and structure he could along the way. When he made it too the door, he paused on the stone steps to catch his breath. He was unsure how he was going to make the return trip. He stood up slowly feeling his stiff limbs protest as he walked inside the chapel. There were people inside and Brother Hickory chanting rhythmically walking up the aisle. The priest didn’t stop to greet him, but acknowledge him with an aggrieved expression. The young monk didn’t understand why he looked that way unless Mien was having personal problems again. However, when he walked in the back, he heard someone playing a flute.
He didn’t recognize the tune that was being played. Whoever was playing it though, was amazing. They weren’t timid of the fast tempo of the song they played. They had quick fingers and perfect pitch. There wasn’t a single note played too flat or too sharp. Soletus stood there and listened to the song for a moment in awe. He wondered if someone had stopped to visit. When he stepped back outside, he saw there was a guest. Mien was the one playing. Sitting on the ground beside him was a fox-haired girl.
She caught sight of Soletus first and her viridian eyes widened with delight. Mien finally realized that he was standing there and stopped mid note.
“Hello,” beamed the girl.
The girl was obviously Mien’s sister as he had seen male and female twins before and most of the time they looked similar. However, Soletus never had seen them look so much alike. They both shared the same pointed noses, and tall sharp pointed ears. The only difference was eye color and that was due to the fact Mien was a chanter and his was a vivid green gold. Character wise, well she was completely different.
The girl jumped from where she sat and bound over to him.
“You must be Soletus,” she said rapidly and took his hand firmly into hers. “I’m Mienerva. Mien’s told me all about you and thank you so, so much for watching over him. Come sit down.”
She then dragged him over to Mien and sat between them smoothing out her skirt.
“Now we can have a proper lunch party,” she said business like. “Do you want anything? I brought a few things from the city. They’ve wonderful places to go to and get sweets from, like these honeyed walnuts.” She then presented a brown paper package in her hand and placed it in his. “Mien doesn’t like them, but said you might.”
Soletus opened the package up slowly so to allow his mind to catch up to the bright smiling girl in front of him.
I guess this where the term, “summer and winter twins” comes from.
“Go on. You can have them,” she encouraged.
Soletus dropped a few in his mouth. They were very good. “Thank you,” he said.
The girl’s eyes lit up. “You’re right, Mien, he does have a relaxed and rich quality to his voice. One might indeed call it husky.” Mien rolled his eyes upward and smashed his palm into his forehead. “However you failed to express his pleasant physical features.”
Soletus ran that statement through his head. He didn’t know how to feel about it. Flattered he supposed.
Mien let out an exasperated groan. “I’m sorry I didn’t notice his pleasant physical features to express that information to you.”
“Well what good are you if you don’t.”
“Don’t you have friends that help you find handsome tods?”
“Well yes, but your my brother. You’re supposed to have good-looking friends for me to ogle and warn me when they are.”
“Above and below, your still a silly-headed goose,” said Mien.
The girl stopped grinning and became offended. “I am not.”
Soletus popped another handful of candid nuts in his mouth watching this conversation. It was fascinating because of the way Mien was reacting.
A teasing smirk appeared on Mien’s face and he said, “You are too with that long goose neck of yours.”
Mienerva clamped a hand around her neck. “As if you’ve room to talk. And I’ve seen a skeleton with more flesh than you.”
For a moment Soletus thought Mien would be hurt by her words instead, he reached behind him and shoved her in the shoulder. Soletus got up so she could shove Mien back. He might as well been invisible and took that opportunity to sit and watch. They went back and forth until she got the last shove in and stuck her tongue out at him. He did the same.
“Acting like little children again,” chided Brother Hickory walking to them. His face was heavy with disapproval.
Mien became quiet and stared at the ground. Mienerva smoothed out her vest and sat up straight and proper. “I promise not to for the duration of the day, she said.
Soletus couldn’t help, but smiling at her cheeky promise.
Brother Hickory wore his stern face didn’t lift, “How about for the duration of your stay?”
“But my uplifting attitude is good for him,” she said patting her brother’s shoulder. He rolled it and leaned away from her glowering at her. “See, that’s the face of love and appreciation.”
The Priest rubbed his left temple. “May I borrow Soletus?”
“Certainly, just bring him back; Mien hasn’t played anything for him yet,” she said pleasantly.
Soletus rose slowly to his feet and wobbled a little. When the two of them were back inside, he found a wall to lean on. Brother Hickory let out a long exhale.
“Thank Dias that creature is staying at the inn,” he said sinking down in his chair. “I had no warning of her coming. She just manifested on my front steps, welcoming herself in.”
Soletus glance out the window and watched her elbow her brother playfully and he swung her arms around her neck trapping her. She fought him off laughing.
“She certainly has an effect on him. She makes him forget himself,” he observed.
“Amazing isn’t it. All that shell around him dropped when he saw her. I’ve never heard him talk so much before, but whenever I come around, he becomes reserved again. However, she’s been forcing him not to be shy around me. If I can have her here for a month, I think he’ll be ready enough to talk to me without a problem.” He then thought about that for a second and grimaced. “However, you can only take that sort of person in small doses.”
Soletus watched them. Mien was telling her something with lively gestures. “Still, maybe she knows about what happened and can help us”
“I already tried, but she isn’t very keen on answering my questions. She’s not willing to talk about her family in the same way he isn’t.”
The young monk turned away from the window. “So they’re both afraid of this uncle. Why?”
He hoped Brother Hickory would part with some of the information he knew. However, the aged priest didn’t give him any. “That’s for you to find out.”
Soletus let out a growling sigh. “Look, wouldn’t it be easier if you just tell me instead of me blindingly trying to pry it out of him!”
Brother Hickory’s brow puckered. “Then he’ll have no reason to build trust with you if I supply you with all the answers.”
Soletus rubbed his forehead. He was getting tired. “I’m sorry. That came out wrong. It’s not you, but I think it’ll help me help him more if I knew a little more.”
“You’re right,” agreed the priest. “You’re involved and committed as much as I am. I’m sorry I’ve not been respecting that. I guess I should tell you the truth. The boy is on borrowed time.”
Soletus became rigid. “Why?”
Hickory took a deep breath in preparation for a long talk. “His mother and I were exchanging letters. She suspected something was wrong with him. She wanted me to talk to him, but I put it off.”
“We’re distant cousins and every-so-often, family likes to make me feel obligated to helping them. It’s better if I keep my distance.”
He being related to Mien was news to Soletus. Honestly, he didn’t know much about the priest’s past only that being neth caused a lot of family strife.
“I let my own feeling about them get in the way and the next thing I knew it, she wrote me that he tried to kill his step-brother.”
“You feel like this is your fault,” Soletus guessed.
The aged priest bobbed his head. There was a light of regret in his teal eyes. “I was in the position to stop it before it happened. I managed to make it before his trial. I could tell right off that something wasn’t right with him. He was playing up the angry callous youth by insulting me at any chance he could. He was in pain and wanted an end to it. It was all a mask he wore. It didn’t take me very long to remove it and I found a very scared boy who wanted nothing more than to live. He just couldn’t live the way he was anymore. I convinced the Arbiter to have some mercy and he be brought here so he could clear his mind.”
Soletus leaned against the wall and let that sink in a moment before asking, “Why didn’t you tell me this?”
“I wasn’t sure how you would react to him. Most wouldn’t put a lot of effort into someone who appears to have a poor chance of pleading their case.”
Soletus frowned. “You should have told me. I could’ve been able to do more.”
Brother Hickory swayed his head. “Given how you two had to get used to each other, I doubt you would’ve done more. Besides, he’s moving at the pace I want. We’ve until the first of winter to get him able to speak to the Arbiter or I don’t think the Arbiter will heed my request.”
“And that is?”
“I want him to stay here until he’s of age. He needs more time to heal than six months. This is something that’s going to take a year or two. Then needs to hone his abilities, that’s going to take time as well. By the time he’s a young man, he’ll know what’s best for him.”
“And if the Arbiter doesn’t.”
“He may let his House decide his fate which will be loss of his title and servitude. They may even request that he be sent to prison. Given his house is a branch house, House Jay decides and they are a prideful bunch. It’ll be the latter than the former.”
“Why can’t the Arbiter say House Cyan only decides what to do,” asked Soletus. He didn’t understand why nobles made things complicated.
“You wouldn’t want that. His step-father is Cyan’s House head.”
Soletus turned back to the twins. Mien was still talking.
“I’m sure you figured out that his step-father is a swine. His mother married him in order to protect the house name. However, she knew Hugh’Cyan to be unscrupulous at times, but she never dreamed he would act so viciously towards her children. She was able to get Mienerva out of there, but not Mientheodric. If returned to the house, he’ll make sure Mien suffers. He’ll be safer in prison than back there.”
“Well in prison, he’ll be dead within a week.”
It didn’t seem fair to be punished for something that wasn’t entirely cut and dry. He had to do something to make sure Mien had a fair chance.
“So I shouldn’t be afraid to push him a little?”
“Not at all, he’s stable now. Even that attack affected him other than him worrying over you. Now every master wanting to speak to him about what he did is a different story.”
“He’s scared of men even though that’s what he’s going to end up being,” said Soletus.
“That’s the thing about fear, rarely is it very logical when you think about it.”
Mien started playing the flute again. They listened to the long gentle melody. The boy was a very good musician. Brother Hickory broke the silence.
“Mienerva told me something interesting when she arrived. Their father, Julius, had suspicions Mien was a chanter. So he gave Mien a flute because he was too afraid to sing in front of others,” said Brother Hickory standing. He made his way beside Soletus and continued speaking. “Usually a chanter finds their voice when they are young. It gives them confidence. Yet he’s not found his. Perhaps if the Arbiter has mercy on him, he’ll get a chance to find it. However standing here listening to him play, tells me he’s a fine voice.”
Soletus hoped that the Arbiter did. He felt Mien’s sister being there will bring them closer to achieving their goal. And since she was there, Soletus hung back. He felt that he would just get in the way of their fun, not to mention his little trip to the chapel cost him.
He went back to his room and slept the rest of the day as well as most of the next. Lyndon tried fussing over him, but gave up when all Soletus would do was mutter incoherently at him. His father came in as well. Soletus acting as he was still sleeping to avoid questions. The man didn’t stay very long. Just long enough to say a pray and rest a hand on his head. He pushed back hairs that fell in his face then left.
The following day, Soletus felt stronger and decided to see how Mien was. He found him sitting on a stool outside with Mienerva taking a pair of shears to his hair. She cut it off his neck a little bit, but mostly away from his forehead so his eyes and eyebrows were no longer hidden.
“You don’t need to hide when you’re as good looking as me,” she said.
Mien studied his reflection in the mirror that she held up when she was finished. He grimaced at his reflection.
“I can cut it shorter if you want,” she offered.
“You’ll just cut the front shorter,” he told her.
“Exactly,” she said grinning. “I want people to see my brother and say, that’s a fine looking chanter. I bet he’s a nice looking sister,’” she said and winked at Soletus. He guessed she was fascinated with him. Though, he wasn’t sure why since she wasn’t staying.
She did finally leave. She was off to see her mother then it was back to Erodon. Mien was sullen to see her go. A house carriage came to pick her up in front of the inn she stayed. Soletus watched off to the side in the shade.
“Maybe one day, you can come with me to the city. You’ll love it. All the knowledge in the world shoved into one huge library,” she told him.
“It’s probably crowded and loud,” replied Mien.
“Well of course it is, silly. It’s a city full of life. Not some boring small place like this,” she said and then over his shoulder. “No offense, Soletus.”
The young monk shrugged his shoulders. It was small and boring sometimes.
“Maybe,” said Mien.
The girl’s face became heavy with regret. “You should’ve written me…no I should have found some way for you to come. I tried to see if they would let you work as a technician or assistant so you could earn enough status through them to attend.”
“Those positions are hard to come by and you know it. Don’t feel guilty. I did this to myself,” he said softly.
Mienerva kissed his forehead and hugged him. She released him and then sashayed her way over to Soletus. “I’m going to borrow your friend for a moment.” She wrapped her arm around the young monks arm and proceeded down the road dragging him along.
“I’m sorry to ask more of you, but you’ve done him good. I mean from what mother described I thought he would be different.”
“So he’s not different than he usually is,” questioned Soletus. It was something he wanted to know for a long time.
“Oh no, he’s definitely different. He wasn’t so anxious. He’s tried to hide it from me, but I can tell and I can’t help, but feel it’s my fault,” she said taking a deep breath and slowing her speech down. “You see, when were little, he was quiet and I became his spokesperson and sibling leader. It made me feel like the eldest, but it made him co-dependent. I left him alone without him knowing how to handle himself, but I needed to leave. I couldn’t live in that with that man.”
Mienerva’s face darkened. “He isn’t father, that’s why,” she said vaguely, but then looked at him earnestly. “You have to make up where I failed. If he’s afraid, shove him off the cliff. If he’s nervous, make him walk through the fire. If he’s anxious, guide him, but he has to come out of the dark himself.”
“That I can do,” he promised.
She beamed brightly, and then the expression faded to her became serious. “Also, Brother Hickory has been pressing me to disclose some private information. I know he’s trying to help my brother out, but he can’t focus his efforts to help Mien by trying to condemn Uncle Hugh. That will turn it all around on my mother. We would never forgive ourselves if that happen.”
“Don’t you think you should do everything to help him,” said Soletus.
The girl stopped walking and he stopped as well. “But it isn’t necessary and it’ll create bigger problems. Tell him that and tell him, no. Uncle Hugh has never done anything to me that I couldn’t handle. Okay,” she smiled. “I’m glad we agreed on this.”
She tried to spin him back around, but Soletus planted himself. She ended stumbling forward without him. She looked surprised, but mostly insulted.
“I didn’t agree on anything,” said Soletus.
The girl gave him a funny look. “A show of assertion and here I was beginning to wonder if you were anything. I was questioning the reasons why my brother wouldn’t shut up about you. If anything, you were being just as quiet as he is.”
Soletus crossed his arms. “I was being polite before. I don’t feel like being polite now.”
“I don’t think you’re right about what you want to do. Brother Hickory knows what he’s doing.”
“I doubt he’s dealt with many boys who were completely wrecked to the point they nearly lost their minds.”
“I’ll give you that. And maybe, if I knew more about this Uncle and what he did, I would understand your caution.”
Mienerva’s eyes lost their warmth. Her small fists tightened into balls. “Do you really need to know more about that festering destructive parasite? You can see all he is and done by looking at what he’s done to my brother.”
Soletus didn’t push for details any further. There was hate in her eyes just like there was fear in Mien’s. She would probably unleash her anger on him in the same way Mien would turtle up if he went further. He felt he should apologize, but she let the anger flow out of her. Most likely, she buried it like her brother. Her expression lifted back into a bright smile again, though he could tell it was forced.
She patted him on the arm and said politely. “If you like, we can walk back now.”
This time they walked back side to side instead arm in arm. When they stood in front of the carriage again, she kissed him on the cheek. The young monk forced his hand down from wiping it off. Mienerva flounced back over to her brother with opened arms and gave him another great hug.
“Are you done harassing my friend,” he asked her.
She responded by planting a kiss on each of his cheeks. “I’m going to miss you,” she said.
“Me too,” he told her and gave him kiss on her forehead.
“Ta-ta,” she said climbing into the carriage shutting the door out of the hands of the driver. “Home, my good sir,” she said to him and waved goodbye.
Mien stood there waving to her until she disappeared out of sight. Soletus stood there politely waving. And then wiped what was left of her kiss with his shirt sleeve.
Mien then said in a flat voice. “She fancied you by the way.”
Soletus gave Mien a sideways glance and saw that the boy’s disgruntled expression. He was standing straight trying to make himself as tall as he could.
“I guessed she did.”
“And you let her.”
Soletus crossed his arms. “And what did you expect for me to do? Be rude? I think if I was mean to her, you’ll probably fight me.”
Mien’s green eyes lit up in a fierce glow.
“Oh don’t deny it. You look like you are now,” Soletus laughed.
“I see nothing funny about this,” said Mien with his chanter lit coming out.
“I just find it funny how heated you’re getting about nothing. I mean she’s just a girl. Girls are everywhere.”
A jolt went through Mien and his face flushed. “Oh. You don’t…”
“What like her? No.”
The scarlet color Mien’s skin started to deepened and his bluster deflated.
“Don’t be embarrassed. You two are close. I get that. I didn’t come around much these last few days because I figured you just wanted to be with her.”
Mien shrunk down in shame. “Sorry,” he said to his feet.
“You’ve nothing to be sorry for. I told you that you don’t have to hold back with me.”
“You did, but…”
“But nothing. Look, I was jealous of other kids making friends with my cousin when I was a kid. They would want to play with him because he was the friendly one of the two of us. We grew up together and for the longest time it was just the two if us. When we started school, he wanted to make as many friends as he could and I was happy with just him. It took me a bit to realize it was okay, but for the longest time I wouldn’t have anything to do with the other kids.”
Mien glanced back up. “Were you a shy kid?”
It felt like a long time ago to Soletus, however, like Mien, he had no issue with the act of speaking he just didn’t want to. However, he grew out of it. “I was,” he admitted.
Mien tilted his head.
“I don’t see how that’s surprising. I mean I was a bit awkward given I was chubby. The older boys liked to bully me because of it.”
The boy scanned him over from head to toe.
“Is it that hard to imagine me short and fat,” he said grinning. “How about the fact that I hated fighting?”
“Now you’re lying.”
Soletus held up his hand solemnly. “On my blood and honor, I didn’t want to even fight off my bullies. I just took it hoping they would get bored. They didn’t. I couldn’t avoid them. Then one day they ended up chasing me until I was tired and tripped. They all held me down with the largest one sitting on me trying to shove a burr up my nose.”
“Did you fight them off then?”
“No,” said Soletus smiling at the bittersweet memory. “My Papa came. He tossed the one sitting on me off, and the other two he pulled them up by the ears. He told them he was going to eat their quivering little hearts if they messed with me again. They run off squealing because most kids were afraid of him. I expected to him to lecture me for not standing up for myself and crying like baby. He didn’t say anything to me other than telling me to get on his back. He carried me home. A few days later, he gave me my first quarter staff and started teaching me defense.”
Mien tilted his head in disbelief. “Really?”
“Yeah, ask anyone,” Soletus replied.
The boy’s expression lit up a little. “Here I thought I was the only quiet boy out there whose been bullied.”
Soletus patted him on the shoulders. “No, not by a long shot.”