We battle people just as much as we do with monsters. Between the two, people are much harder to fight. At least with a drass beast, I can burn them and they’ll be nothing but a pile of ash. People, well, they aren’t that easy. They’re sentient.
Soletus’s mother invited Mien to dinner. Soletus decided to take that opportunity to get the boy better acquainted with other people. Thankfully, his father wasn’t present. The man went out for a quick patrol and Soletus still wasn’t having warm thoughts about him. His mind kept going back on what those words and what he had done wrong during the attack to warrant that response. He tried to figure out how having a knife would have made it better. He played the scene out over and over again.
He kept feeling teeth on his arm and the hot breath of drass beast on his face. He couldn’t shake the burning sensation of his wounds or the feeling of him falling to the ground into the claws of the monster. He forced himself to look past those things and ask himself, could he have done something differently?
His conclusion was no.
“The angle of where I was on the ladder prevented me from doing anything,” explained Soletus to Mien as they walked to his parent’s house. “I couldn’t have thrown the knife. I would’ve missed. I’m not good at throwing knives.”
Mien nodded his head to show he was listening, but didn’t seem like he understood.
“Then on the ground if I had my knife, yes I could have done something. Yes, it would have killed the monster eventually, but it wouldn’t have saved me from being bitten and poisoned. The only thing that couldn’t have changed what happened if I climbed up quicker.”
Mien arched his eyebrow, breaking his silence. “Should I be sorry for saving you because I’m not,” he said.
“No, you don’t need to be sorry for that, you should be proud of it.”
The boy blushed but instead of looking down, he looked towards where they were headed.
The young monk then explained. “It’s just my Papa. It’s either I do everything right or I’ve gotten it all wrong.”
“He has expectations. My father had a lot for me. He said I could do anything I wanted, but I need so much pushing and he always pushed,” said Mien and then he gave him a look. “Kind of like what you’re doing with meeting your family. I’m not stupid. I can figure things out.”
“You act like this is a bad thing,” returned Soletus, though he wasn’t sure if it was the best thing. “Besides, my mother and sisters want to meet you.”
Mien looked up at him surprised. “You’re the only boy?”
“Yep, and Papa focuses all his expectations on me and I already have expectations for myself. I don’t need him-” Soletus cut himself off. He was complaining and complaining was never good.
“You don’t need him to what,” questioned Mien.
The boy Mien sighed. “How is it that you pry things out of me but you won’t tell me anything?”
“I don’t need him constantly on my back. He’s always done that,” answered Soletus as he saw a black form racing towards them. Onyx had spotted them. She galloped down the road and skidded to a halt at the young monk’s feet. She tried to sit, but her entire rear end was wagging so hard that she kept on scooting forward. The three of them started a game of chase around the street. Soletus tired out quickly and he had to lean on his knees a moment before continuing. Onyx played with Mien who didn’t mind her slobbering at all. When the dog was satisfied, she went back over to her spot to guard while the two of them went to the front door.
The smells of his childhood home greeted Soletus, but didn’t feel comforting as it usually did. He felt ill-at-ease walking in. He didn’t want to be there. He let Mien inspect the place before motioning him in. It was something the boy had to do before entering a room. There wasn’t much to see. There was the table, the hearth, a wall that separated the bedrooms from the den of the house and another small room where the kitchen was. Soletus could hear his mother in there he called out and she peered around the wall.
“Dinner is nearly ready,” she said and then shouted, “Fern, we’ve guests!” She then turned to Soletus and Mien. “I would come out and give you a proper greeting, but this needs my attention.” She then vanished.
Fern came out with his baby sister on her hip and seated her in the high chair that was made for her. “Hello,” she greeted. “You must be Mien.” She held out her hand and he shook it. Her smile faded a bit and she stared at his head. “Why is your hair cropped,” she asked. “Is it some kind of new style nobles are trying out?”
Soletus had gotten use to his friend’s short hair. He still didn’t even know why he kept it short and no explanation was going to be given that evening either.
Mien tried to hold eye contact with her, but failed to in the end. “No, I just like it short,” he said curtly, pulled out a chair from around the table, and sat.
“Oh, well there’s nothing wrong with that I suppose,” she said and glanced at her brother. He shrugged his shoulders and she went on politely. “Oh I should set the table. Could you watch Saedee for a moment, Sol?”
The young monk nodded watching the one year old who was busy observing Mien. He smile at her and crossed his eyes. The baby giggled. He then offered his hand she took hold of his fingers and shook them.
“She’s getting big,” said Soletus to Fern as she started going around the table dropping forks and spoons. Mien inspected the wooden instruments curiously.
“Yeah and I can’t wait until she’s bigger. Then I can boss someone around again,” she said shuffling around the table placing bowls next.
“You didn’t boss me around,” said Soletus.
“Wrong, I did until one day you stopped listening to me. I blame Lyndon, he was a horrible influence,” she said sitting down on the other side of Saedee and studied Mien who was bright-eyed and curious taking in everything around him again.
“This little house must pale in comparison to the estate you come from,” she said.
Mien’s attention still wondered. “It is but, my family’s estate is small compared to others. It was enough bedrooms for the staff, three guests, and us. But I like this. This feels more like a home than mine. I hate it.”
“Oh,” she said bemused. “Everyone should like home. It’s that one place you can go back to and feel rested.”
“I don’t think I could feel rested there, even with all the places I could hide,” he answered.
Soletus felt like there should be a change in subject, but into the fire Mien jumped. He had to handle this. He had to form some sort of social judgment. However, Fern should know when to stop prying and move on.
“Why would you need to hide when you’re at home,” she asked
Mien was caught off guard with that question. He found the wall as a focus point than her face. “My family isn’t like your family,” he summed up nicely.
“Oh,” said Fern sitting back again giving her younger brother a look.
Soletus, unlike his sister, learned that nobles didn’t have perfect lives. Mien might have come from privilege, but he was the most miserable person he had ever met.
Soletus let out a breath of relief when his mother came with a steaming serving bowl of what they were going to eat.
“Fern, stop yapping and help me!”
His mother didn’t sound as if she was in the mood to serve a guest but it was her idea. Now she didn’t appear to be in the best mood so he stood up and helped them get everything settled. He placed the serving bowl of what looked to be fresh stewed rabbit and roots with a fresh loaf of oat bread. Fern came back with a pitcher and filled their wooden cups with water while his mother took their bowls to fill them up. Fern settled down and started slicing bread and they all handed each piece around the table until everyone had their slice. His mother blessed the food and then dinner started.
“Now I can introduce myself all proper like,” said Soletus’s mother. “I am Cordea’Sheldmartin.”
“It is nice to meet you, Madam Sheldmartin,” replied Mien and inclined his head.
The woman smile lifted a bit more at his politeness.
Dias, let him keep it up, prayed Soletus.
“I’m very thankful that you for saving my son. I wouldn’t know what we would do if we lost him.”
“He’s a good friend so it was the least I could do,” said Mien.
“I heard you were from House Jay,” she continued.
“House Cyan actually,” he corrected.
“Is that right? House Cyan is the biggest supplier of tao stone for the Brotherhoods.”
Soletus never questioned where the tao stone they used come from. It surprised him because he was told they his family were patrons, but not ones who were that important. Without tao stone, they couldn’t kill drass beasts. It was used for most of Brotherhood weaponry such as arrowheads, spear tips, and hunter knives like the one he carried.
It was then his mother noticed Mien wasn’t eating.
“You should dig in. I imagine you’d be starving after living with Brother Hickory for this long. I’m surprised you aren’t faded into nothing.”
Mien picked up his spoon. “I figured out how to fix myself something. Mostly porridge.”
“You’re so thin,” observed Cordea.
Soletus couldn’t say he wasn’t. He noticed that while they were swimming. The boy was mostly ribs and very little meat on him. Honestly, he wouldn’t until he got to that age where he started to fill out.
“Maybe you can see about him eating at the mess hall, Soletus. They’ve enough food to feed one more.”
“I’ll see if I can,” he said.
His mother then sat her ever observant eyes on him. “You look pale. Have you been properly resting like you were told? Your first taste of venom from a drass beast isn’t something you recover from in just a day.”
“I’m well enough,” he replied.
“Even still, sometimes you don’t recover from things like that, no matter how strong you think you are.”
“Mama,” he groaned.
“I’m serious, grown men have suffered skulker bites and become unable to fight and couldn’t do much of anything else. Some couldn’t even walk.”
“I think it’s safe to assume I’m able to walk and nothing’s wrong with my arm. The bone is healed up,” he said though his arm remained bandage. It was scarred and the skin was sensitive to touch, as sometimes was an effect issue with drass beast bites.
“I know how it is when you’re young. You think nothing can touch you,” started his mother using her voice of wisdom. It started grated his nerves. “But, you can get hurt and badly.”
“Well that’s obvious,” he snapped. “You don’t need to remind me every other day!”
Her eyes became narrow slits. “You don’t need to use that voice at this table.”
Soletus mirrored the expression. “I wasn’t aware I was using any voice but my own!”.
A hush fell over the dinner table. Fern, who was in mid bite, froze. Mien became engrossed in his meal, inspecting a pea. Saedee played in her food unaware of the fact that her older brother crossed a line, no shouting back at mama during dinner.
Cordea pointed to the door with her spoon. “Go step outside and come back in when you learn to talk in front of others again.”
Soletus didn’t move. He was getting very tired of being told what to do.
“Don’t think I won’t pick you up from that chair and drag you out of my house,” she threatened.
The ire the rose in Soletus faltered. He knew she would do it. However, that fear wasn’t enough for him to apologize to her. He didn’t feel like apologizing. He didn’t want to. He pushed out his seat pushing the table roughly and rattled it. He stood right outside the open door.
“What’s his problem,” asked Fern.
“He’s at that age,” answered his mother. “He’ll cool off and he’ll be reasonable again.”
He didn’t feel like being talked about, so he started walking down the road. He didn’t know where he was going, but he didn’t want to go back to the monastery or be at home of that matter.
Instead, he went through of the small side gates down the footpath to one of the many places boys snuck off to avoid work or meeting some girl. It was just a small dark grove of trees on a hill. One could see anyone coming from the wall so it gave plenty of time for those hidden in the brush to sneak off. The masters knew about the spot. They’ve did little to stop those from going in it other than cutting down a few of the trees, making it easier to spot someone sneaking off in the day time. It was late afternoon so duties were ending and the mess hall was opened. No one would care.
Soletus found himself a nice spot at the base of a tree at sat. It had a clear view of the gate he exited. He leaned back staring at the edges of the trees canopy mulling on nothing particular. However, the longer he sat there, the more he realized how stupid he just acted at dinner. He could have easily just walked back inside and apologized then everything would have been okay. Until his mother told his father when he returned home. Then he would get a lecture about how he isn’t ready to take orders.
I should just become a ditch digger. It’ll be easier.
After a while, a lone horse exited the town and instead heading to the main road, it veered towards him. Soletus didn’t know who it was and he didn’t care. He relaxed back. As they got closer, he recognized the dark coated horse. The man on the horse was wearing dark brown monk colors with a dark green shoulder cape with gold trim. The sun was sitting and the last rays of orange light highlighted the red sash with gold embroider around the man’s waist. There was only one person that wore those colors and that was the Arch Monk.
Soletus pulled himself from his slouched position and started cleaning up his appearance a little. He had brush on his shirt and leaves on his trousers. He even thumped an unfortunate bug that was exploring the tip of his boot off. He was on the process of standing up when his grandfather entered the grove and then dismounted.
“No need to stand,” he shouted.
Soletus froze unsure what to do or say. It wasn’t often that the aged monk left the citadel. He was in his late silver years. His hair lost its golden hue long ago. His face was full of lines with a cluster that spread out from his eyes from smiling. His fighting days were over, but he was still strong looking. His blue eyes were still sharp, the color of blue asters. In a few decades, he might even start looking for a successor. His father wasn’t it. He was too inflexible for a job that required equal amount of unwavering sternness and compassion. Soletus didn’t know what side he was going to get. The man wore his stoic face.
The Arch Monk moved thoughtfully towards his grandson stopping right out of arms reach from him. Soletus inclined his head to him and put his right hand over his heart. “Arch Monk.”
“No need for formalities. You already know why I’m here,” he said and sat down on the ground with a grunt. He patted the moss for Soletus to sit. He eased down beside his grandfather and steeled himself for a long talk. Then again, his father made it very clear to his grandfather that he wasn’t supposed to interfere with raising him. That meant no lectures while he was around. His father wasn’t there. His mother wouldn’t see or hear the lecture so there was no real proof that it took place. Not that Arch Monk liked to use the word “lecture.” He just liked to “converse” with his grandson about all matters.
“I feel as if we’ve not seen each other in a while. I visited you in the infirmary, but you were resting, so call this a follow up visit if your father should ever ask.”
“So, how are you,” asked the aged elf looking out towards the citadel.
“I’m surprised given you were bitten by a drass beast. You can get over it quickly in body. However, they do affect the mind. Many have nightmares for months after an attack.”
Soletus swallowed his moan this time. “Like I told Mama, I’m fine.”
“Ah yes, before you got angry at her for no reason and stormed away.”
“I walked away,” corrected Soletus.
His grandfather gave him a slanted look of disapproval. “Well then, you walked away in anger and left a friend behind.”
He forgot about Mien.
His grandfather put him at ease. “Don’t worry, he was worried, but understanding. He seemed to know something was bothering you.”
That still didn’t give me the right to just abandon him, he thought.
The aged elf nudged him with his elbow. “My son is lucky to have a son like you. When he was your age, his temper flared up easily and everyone had the right fuel for it. We fought all the time. To him I was being unfair and he refused to follow rules.”
It sounded unbelievable that his strict father wasn’t one for following rules.
“He never told me that,” said Soletus.
“I’d imagine that he wouldn’t seeing as he did a lot of things he’s not proud of. He ran away and came back bloodied and broken, but a lot wiser in a sense. He confided in me that he would love to have three girls because he feared any son would be like him,” said his grandfather.
“He seriously wanted all girls?” Soletus never heard that before either.
“Silly I know. He’s a worrier and it makes him blind to see how blessed he is. I remember you as a baby being very quiet and never really fussed much. You’ve grown retaining that same quality. You don’t like to raise a fuss and you’ve been taught not to raise one, but sometimes my boy, you are allowed to make a fuss,” then Arch Monk then gave him a meaningful look. “You would be wise to not direct that fuss at your mother.”
Soletus looked ahead of him. “I didn’t mean to, it just happened.”
“Understandable as there is something bothering you. Care to share?”
“It’s Papa. He said some things to me when I was in the infirmary. He didn’t even ask if I was okay or anything. He was mad at me because he thought I handle everything sloppy. But, there was nothing I could have done better. That’s what I’m upset about.”
“Then why don’t you tell him that?”
Soletus drew his knees up and rested his arms on them. “Wasn’t in much of a state for explaining things,” he muttered.
“You’ve could’ve done it afterwards, before he left.”
Soletus shrugged. “Why bother, you know how he is. He’ll just turn it back around on me.”
His grandfather tapped him in the shoulder. “Sit up. No sulking,” he said using his lecturing voice. The young tod straightened back up. “Soletus, there is a time when you’re just going to have to put your foot down and stand your ground with him.”
“Then I’ll get the whole disobedient speech.”
His grandfather then wore the familiar Sheldmarten critical frown. “You aren’t a child anymore. I expect an upcoming member of the Brotherhood to no longer be attached their cord.”
Brother Hickory told him the exact same thing, but when he said it, it wasn’t as insulting. Soletus found himself casting his gaze away from his grandfather’s condemning face. He tightened his jaw closed to keep himself form saying anything. He didn’t want to argue with someone else that evening. He could feel his grandfather scrutinizing gaze on him. He waited for the man to order him to face him or condemn him for acting like a child or something. Instead, he stated,
“Back before our people became the Fen and heard Dias’s voice, sons and apprentices would challenge their authority to prove themselves. Whether it was a young farmer proving himself with the better crop than his father’s or a weapons smith making a sword worthy of the most honored of warriors, it was their right. From that ancient rite of passage, we of the Brotherhood have kept that tradition in the form of Hy’ruh-ha, where a warder can challenge one who is holding him back in fair combat to prove he can stand on his own.”
“I’ve never heard of that.”
“Well, why do you think we give golden staffs to those who become masters and put them up for display in the training hall? They are for the challengers. To be honest, it’s been a while since the last one.”
“You would think that is something masters would tell warders.”
“A controlling master would pick and choose what knowledge their student ingests.”
Soletus regarded his grandfather with surprised that he would even imply his father was controlling. “Do you really think he’s controlling me?”
The Arch Monk considered his words a moment as he scratched his chin and settled on the simple truth. “He is because he doesn’t want you to be him. Whether you accept that fact or not is up to you. What you do about it is up to you. I’m just you’re old grandfather trying to find his grandson and certainly not spreading advice,” he said with a wisp of a smile.
Soletus reflected on those words before concluding, “I don’t think I’ll have to do that. You choose your battles. Sometimes it isn’t worth the fighting when you can just reason with them.”
“Yes, but you shouldn’t use that as an excuse of being afraid to fight,” said his grandfather sagely.
It wasn’t supposed to be a cut but it felt like one. What he was saying went against what he was taught. Dias didn’t approve of fighting with one’s parents.
The Arch Monk then added. “Challenging one’s teacher also benefits the teacher when they’ve become blinded. People learn best when they are shown the error of their ways.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” said Soletus.
The old elf patted his shoulder. “Of course you will. Now let’s get back. I don’t want Cordea to worry. She’s like my son.” He then stood up and thought about his statement. “However between them both, I’m not sure who the worse is.”