Ch. 18: A Strike Back

Soletus told me that there was one thing he learned about some men. That hitting them was the best way to show them how foolish they were.  And I agree with him. I know that sounds wrong coming from someone who’s supposed to be a priest, but sometimes words fail or aren’t as strong as a fist to the face.


Soletus expected Doran to retaliate the next day, but he didn’t. He was bidding his time or maybe he was busy like the rest of them. The next season started. New initiates came in and the dorm was full of unfamiliar faces. Lyndon and Soletus received new bunkmates. Their names were Gail and Wic. They were cousins as well, but one couldn’t separate them and neither of them would talk to anyone else. They would be in the common room in the corner talking to one another watching the others as if scared to interact with them. From what Soletus gathered, they were the first members of their family to enter the Brotherhood. He didn’t know if they would stay. They were old enough to go into the army and perhaps were trying to avoid doing so.

Lyndon and Soletus were doing two separate things now. Lyndon was with the scouts. Soletus became a Senior Warder. It was his job to help new initiates find their way and getting them started on basic field training. He was still helping Mien when he had time. Kiao filled in when he couldn’t be there. He had a lot more spare time being freed from training and all.  Soletus felt bad that his first few weeks weren’t steady enough to be with Mien, but the boy took it in stride. He didn’t seem to need his presence every day. However, it wasn’t unusual for Mien to stop by on his own volition.

No one took issue with him slinking through the dormitory to speak to Soletus and Lyndon. Brother Hickory granted him a little freedom. He seemed to be handling it well even though he was tense and jumpy.  Sadly Gail and Wic heard about him before Soletus could even get a chance to explain. They didn’t take issue with him enough to say anything to him. No, they wanted nothing to do with him, but that was with everyone for that matter.

None of them saw Doran or heard him start anymore rumors. Lyndon was waiting for him to influence Gale and Wic, but he didn’t. They stopped worrying about him as the days passed by. They were all too busy, but soon the harvest festival was on them and it was a time of fun.

Soletus, Mien, Lyndon, and Kiao went together. Lyndon invited Gale and Wic out of politeness, but they declined and went with another group consisting mostly of initiates. They four enjoyed an outing in a small group and started going to the food stalls then watched the wrestling tournament eating roasted sweet potatoes. It was mostly the masters participating and other older elves from the surrounding area.

Lyndon’s father was one of the participants that meant listening to Lyndon jeering everyone while cheering at his father.

“Booo,” he shouted when his father was getting pinned by an elf that was strong than the mason. “You’re a cheap stoneless worm. Get your spindly arms off him go so we can see real fight!”

Soletus doubt his Uncle Hart’s opponent wanted to let him go. Grappling him down was probably the best thing he could do. He would if was the one in the ring. His uncle couldn’t get out of the tangle of limbs that locked him to the ground.

Kiao sighed beside him. “You’re into this?”

“Yeah, I’m studying grappling techniques,” said Soletus.

“I’m surprised your father isn’t participating.”

Soletus watched his uncle tap out and that caused Lyndon to erupt again.

“Aww, come on Pa, you could’ve have him if you waited a little longer. I’ve seen more muscles on a fat black slug.”

His father opponent glared at him. “Look here you loud mouth, pony-tailed little crapper-,”

“They’re warrior braids you blind cheating moron!”

Kiao started snickering. Soletus hide his face. Mien watched the entire exchanged with rapt curiosity.

“Why don’t you get off that fence and fight me you wee-bitty little girl.”

“Why should I? You’re the one getting all hot over someone who’s more confident in his masculinity, you prickless dod!”

Kiao nudged Soletus. “How is he dead yet?”

“He’s done since he was little. It’s basically tradition,” he said. “Haven’t you come here before?”

“I don’t watch the wrestling. I like the stage performances. I’m surprised your father doesn’t participate in this lovely display of masculine prowls.”

“He’s never has. Acts like he’s above it. Besides, that means he can’t dance.”

Kiao brow shot up in surprise. “Dancing, with your mother?”

Soletus nodded.

“Imagine that. Do you like dancing,” he asked.

Soletus shrugged. “Not really. Never had reason to and I can say I want to. What about it you. You’re what, twenty-eight and hanging out with a bunch of tods.”

Kiao shrugged. “I’m a priest. I’m celibate until I prove my commitment to Dias. That includes dancing with girls. And yes, I’m aware it doesn’t stop others, but it’s a nice thing to hide behind when some of the girls here remind me of cats.”

“Cats?”

“Yes, it’s the way they prowl around looking for an unaware target to pounce. When they get you, they find you and play with you. When you learn it hurts and try to run away, they catch you again in their claws and play some more.”

“Sounds like a personal experience.”

“No, observation.”

Soletus then caught sight of a familiar figure. They weren’t in the right clothing so he could’ve been mistaken. They walked behind two people and vanished in a split second before walking out in an empty space. Soletus recognized that acorn shaped head from anywhere. It was Valan. Soletus tapped Kiao on the shoulder.

“I’ll be right back.”

Kiao nodded and Soletus hurried off towards the streaming crowd.

“Valan,” he shouted.

The young tod stopped walking and looked around in the wrong direction before continuing on.

“Valan,” he shouted again and that was when the tall tod finally turned around and saw him.

“Soletus,” his greeting when Soletus was close, but he didn’t look happy to see him.

“Long time no see,” said Soletus noticing his reluctance and ignored it.

Valan looked behind him. “No Lyndon?”

“He’s distracted. I can take you to where we are. I’m sure he wants to see you too.”

Valan put his hands on his waist and shook his head. “Not really. I’m done with the Brotherhood.”

Soletus excitement waned a little. “I didn’t come here to talk you back into joining again if that’s what you think. You just left before I had a chance to say goodbye.”

Valan scratched the back of head and shifted from foot to foot. “I didn’t talk to you because Doran said it was for the best.”

Soleus brow furrowed. “He told you that and you listened!”

“I did it because… well because the way you are. You don’t realize it because you are you and you’re just…” he gestured to Soletus without words.

“I’m just what?”

The two stared at each for an uncomfortable long second. Soletus sighed and prompted his friend. “I’m too what?”

Valan squared his shoulder. “You’re obsessed with training and all the masters and wardens eat that up. It felt I was part of some competition even when you weren’t around.”

He stared at the tod bemused. “Really? That’s your reason. I took training too seriously?”

Valan went on as if he didn’t hear him. “I everyone wanted me to be another you the entire time we trained. It was even worse at the culling! That’s all Kellas would say how I wasn’t you or how you would do better. I left because I got tired of being in your shadow.”

“But I never treated you less than you were,” said Soletus.

That statement caused Valan’s lips to tighten. He didn’t respond.

“Anyway, what are you doing with yourself now? Being a farmer,” he asked. Given how much he complained about the thought of being behind a plow the rest of his life, he didn’t think he would.

“Actually, I joined the army,” he said. “I just come here to say goodbye to family. They’re shipping me off to Fort Heron in the east. I’ll be far away from drass beasts and this place. I can actually make a life for myself than being stuck here, guarding a wall with a bunch of zealots.”

Soletus started laughing. “In the immortal of every member of this order, find less laughable insult. Better yet, have the stones to know this is between you and me. If you’re going to insult me, insult me. Better yet, be straight with me.  Just tell me you don’t want anything to do with me.”

Valan hung his head down and backed away. “Look I need to go.”

Soletus rolled his eyes. “I give you an invitation and you still can’t do it. Look, I don’t know what Doran told you, but if you listened to that snaked-tongued bastard, then I’m done with you.”

Soletus spun around not bothering to wait for a response. He walked away and pushed through the crowd in a random direction fuming. He went away from the stalls and laughter until he found himself on the edge of the festival. He stopped. His hand ached from being in a tight fist the entire time he walked. He wasn’t as angry anymore and should’ve walked back to his friends; instead, he walked towards a rock fence and sat on it. He didn’t feel like being around anyone not with feeling of betrayal heavy on his shoulders.

His listened to the music and lost track of time. They went through three songs so some time had passed before he heard Kiao call his name. He looked up and saw the young chanter priest jogging towards him.

“We’ve been looking all over for you,” he said and then stopped short of him. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, I just wanted to be alone for a bit.”

“Uh-huh,” said Kiao with a dubious note in his voice. “My priest senses are telling me there’s a reason why.”

“Do I smell or something,” he asked.

“Huh?”

“I mean do I have a strange body odor I’m unaware of?”

“What?”

“Do I act like my father or maybe I’m just as stuck-up as everyone says I am.”

Kiao shook his head. “No.”

“I’m trying to figure out why people end up hating me.”

“Doran?”

“No, another ex-friend,” he said. “It seems I inspire others to get jealous of me and act like it’s my fault.”

“That’s on them not you,” said Kiao. “You can’t control how people think when they don’t see your intentions as they are. You have to wait until they change their perceptions. If they aren’t foolish, they’ll see the truth. However, it’s hard to see the truth when you’ve controlled by ego.”

Soletus arched an eyebrow. “You sound like Brother Hickory.”

Kiao smiled. “I did learn from the master himself.” He then clapped his hands together. “Now can we go back? I want to deliver you to Lyndon and get my payment of a giant pine nut pastry for making me search for you instead of listening to music with Mien.”

“Is he looking for me too?”

“No.”

Horror filled Soletus. “You left Mien?”

“I didn’t want too, but we couldn’t tear him away because he’s that kind of timbre sensitive where he’s affected by music in general,” said Kiao leading the way.

Soletus jumped to his feet. “And you left him alone!”

“Calm down. There were no chanters on stage, but the woman singing had a very mesmerizing voice. Even I had a hard time tearing myself away. No, it wasn’t wise to leave him, but he was coherent. They had a flute and he was memorizing songs to play so he’s not going to use the phrase of silence.”

Soletus followed him through the crowd of people. When they got close to the elves standing on the stage, the music stopped and Soletus then asked him. “Are you timbre sensitive?”

Kiao turned back. “Dias blessed me with normal chanter’s ears.”  The young man then stopped and stared into a corner off to the side with a heavy frown. “He was right here.”

“Excuse me,” said a woman behind him.

Both Soletus and Kiao turned and saw one of the players on the stage gestured to them to come towards her. “Are you referring to the older boy that was sitting there?” They nodded. “Your friend got him.”

“Did he happen to have two warrior braids,” asked Soletus.

“No,” said the woman. “He was wearing his hair like your friend in a low queue. His hair was a lighter flaxen than yours is. Almost white.”

Soletus felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. “You didn’t happen to catch his name.”

She nodded and reached inside her the band of the sash she was wearing around her dress. “Oh yes, Doran I believe and he told me to give you this.” She handed him a slip of waxed paper from some kind of confectionery from the festival.

“Thank you,” he said and walked away from her. He unfolded the piece of paper and say that it had something written in charcoal.  It read:

 

Want Mien? Meet me in the oak grove. Bring your staff.

 

Soletus handed the paper to Kiao and stormed off. Doran had taken it too far now. I’m going to end him. It didn’t take long for the young man to catch up to him and jogged beside him.

“I think we need to get someone.”

Soletus shook his head. “No, I’ll deal with it.”

Kiao jumped ahead of him and blocked him from going any further. Soletus nearly ran into the shorter elf. “You do realize this is a trap? The grove has plenty of cover and he’s his friends with him. All they’re going to do is gang up on you.”

“They can try,” said Soletus as he walked around him.

Kiao repeated his maneuver before, but this time standing as tall as he could without standing on his toes. He spoke with magical force behind his voice.

“Stop. Let someone else deal with him.”

Soletus put an equal amount of force in his return. “No, I deal with this. He dragged Mien in this  so he made it personal.”

Kiao shock his head and blinked at him.  “Y-y-you’re chanter gifted. How hasn’t anyone noticed?”

Soletus didn’t have time to ask him what that meant and moved around him again and said. “Find Lyndon while I’m gone.” He then sprinted off.

He didn’t think Doran would hurt Mien, but he knew the boy would be scared given how he was bullied by his stepbrother. That was why he hurried back to the monastery and went straight to his room. He picked his heavy stave from the wall and left. There was no one in the dorm, the halls or anywhere on the grounds to question where he was going because of the festival.

Once outside again, he could hear the drums in the distance signaling that the Brotherhood was about to entertain the crowd with singing and acrobatic feats. He rather be there watching them than chasing a dunderheaded dod.

He headed toward the left side of all the buildings where most of the trees stood. In the center was a monstrous oak with stretching limbs. It was late in the evening. The sun was down, making the area around the trees dark with deepening shadows.

Soletus stopped his approach when he got to the edge of the trees’ canopy. He scanned the ground underneath it to see if anyone was hiding behind anything. He didn’t see anyone, but the year old leaves on the ground had been disturbed and overturned making areas of the ground darker. It was stirred up enough that there was a clear sign there was a struggle, especially around the base of the tree to the side where there was a rope. Soletus walked over there and examined it. The rope found it was in pieces with the ends blacked from being burned. He then inspected the ground closer to the large low limbed oak. There were twigs on the ground with green leaves. At the base of the tree was bark and lichen on the ground.

There was movement above him. Soletus gripped his staff and looked up. Doran and about five other tods were there all armed and sneering at him.

Soletus laughed, flourishing his staff in his hand. He shouted up, “I suppose fighting all of you will make it a fair fight.”

Doran came down first jumping down to the lowest limb and then to the ground. The others followed one at a time. Soletus decided to be polite and wait. It gave him time to figure out how he was going fight six tods with five of them being junior wardens. Doran wasn’t a threat.

Once on the ground all six boys were on the ground, they came at him once. They all struck him at different places on his body as he couldn’t block them all. One struck him in the calf going for the back of his knee so Soletus dropped down to his back and they all tried to swarm him. He ignored their strike and struck the closest in reach of his foot to the side of his knee. That junior warden made the mistake of falling forward. All in one motion, Soletus caught him, rolled, and tossed him to one of his friends. Both toppled to the ground in a tangle.

Soletus rolled to his stomach to only have to roll again to get out of the way of Doran trying to strike him in the back. He rolled into the legs of another tod. He wrapped his arms around them. They lost there already shake balance and fell. Soletus got to a crouched position, grabbed a fist full of dirt, and tossed it into the face next tod that came to him and then used his staff to sweep his feet out from under him. Soletus was now on his feet.

“Where’s Mien,” Soletus demanded just as another boy came in trying to jab him. The young monk pivoted on his left foot out of the way, and struck him in the face with his fist. It stunned his opponent long enough for him to take the staff they were holding and kick them in the side away from him. They crumbled to the ground and he tossed the staff in the woods taking his stance again.

“You five are supposed to be junior wardens. I expected better,” he mocked.  He felt exhilarated and waited for them to take the fight seriously. Now they seemed very hesitant to get back into the fray after watching how easily he got out of them surrounding him. Doran didn’t. He just growled and came at him with everything he could.

Soletus parried through Doran’s tirade. Twice the others tried to interfere, but Soletus was faster than they were. He was behind them, causing Doran to hit them or he just danced out of their way. He even used the large oaks lowest branch to maneuver out of their reach. They choose a poor area to fight not to mention an even poorer time of day. It was getting darker. They were trained not to fight at night. They hesitated even more. Soletus wasn’t bothered by the dark. He could see them just enough to know where they were. Doran, being the horrible fighter he was, fumbled even more.

“Really, you wasted my time by baiting me here and you can’t even beat me,” Soletus jeered. “You’re just as slow and sloppy as my papa said you were.”

Doran came at him spinning his staff at him. He was tired, frustrated, which caused him to do something stupid. He tried to come in for a jab and Soletus deflected the blow. He didn’t react before Soletus stepped in and struck him hard in the side. He took another step and struck Doran on the back.  The tod went to the ground sputtering.

“ENOUGH!”

Soletus froze. He knew that voice. He then realized that light was now bathing the area. He turned to see the Arch Monk standing there with two other masters at his side holding lanterns.

Of course, he thought and dropped his staff. He was in trouble now.

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