I remember the day I was taken back to the tall judicial building in Arbortown alone to await my fate. I walked in feeling oppressed by it. Even more so when I was placed in a holding cell with a bed and a chamber pot that hadn’t been properly cleaned in the current age. Then I saw my mother who I chased away and told her I hated her. She come to me reaching a hand out to me and grasped it as hard as I could. I told her that I was sorry and that I loved her. I was afraid it was the only chance I would get to tell her that.
In the wee hours of the morning, Soletus was woken up by Brother Hickory. He shook him awaked. Telling him it was time to get ready to leave in his ear. Soletus rose from bed with sleep and fumbled in the dark to light the lantern on the small stand under the window. He got dressed and grabbed his pack that he left on his floor behind his bed. He managed not to disturb his bunkmates for the most part. However, Lyndon wished him luck half sleep haze.
There was just a little light on the horizon when he walked to the chapel. There were two carriages waiting. One was for Brotherhood use and the other had the official seal of the Judicial Court. It looked more like a cage with bars covering the openings. There was an officer of the Arbiter’s Office shackling Mien’s wrists. The boy looked embarrassed, but managed a weak smile when he caught sight of Soletus. The young monk stared at the chains.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine,” said the boy putting on a brave face.
“Of course you will,” said Soletus. The more reassured Mien was the better off he was being left alone.
The officer shoved Mien towards the carriage. “Come on, jump in,” he ordered. Mien gave the man a quick indignant look and climbed in without a fuss. The officer then slammed the carriage door shut locking from the outside with a large key. Soletus felt sorry for the boy. He had trouble turning himself away wishing that he could ride with him but he went over to Brother Hickory. The priest stood smoothing out his traveling priest attire. He looked strange in Soletus’s eyes. Hickory was never seen wearing the yellow priest cowl or even a robe for that matter unless he was teaching. That morning he donned both.
“You look uncomfortable,” observed Soletus.
“That’s because I am. At least it’s cool making this attire practical,” said the priest. “How are you?”
“Ready to leave,” he yawned.
“That’s what I liked to hear,” said Hickory opening the door to the carriage for Soletus climbed in feeling a mix of excitement and anxiousness as they traveled down the road. He hadn’t been outside of the Grace’s Hope much. Just to the surrounding small townships and villages. He had been to Arbortown once when he was a child, but didn’t remember it. It took them two days to arrive and when they did, Soletus was impressed by sheer size of the place. He heard it was a small city and was huge compared to Grace’s Hope.
It was a lot busier with a lot less trees as they maneuvered through the wide streets. Most of Grace’s Hope streets were narrow enough for a horse and one carriage to pass each other. The main road they traveled down was enough for three carriages to comfortably fit. However, because it was so open, it was plain looking with more stone building than wooden ones and none seemed to have a lot of character. One might say it was uniformed. The people on the streets of the small city had something unfriendly about them. They looked straightforward not saying hello or greeting each other with a nod of their head. The place was very stiff and formal.
The judicial carriage was in front of them veered off going towards what Soletus guessed was the judicial house. It sat on a hill overlooking the city with a statue of Lord Lucian’Aquila on the hill holding scales out to the small city. Soletus remembered him in his studies. He was the fen elf who established the law and the ruling cycle. Their carriage went straight the road for some way to what appeared to be a very large four story building. It took Soletus a long moment to realize the particular building they stopped in front of was an inn.
“We’re staying here,” asked Soletus incredulously.
Brother Hickory nodded. “My family still sends me money and though I’ve given most of it to the church, I still have some left for luxuries for a special occasion,” he said grinning.
“What House are you from,” asked Soletus remembering he was Mien’s cousin.
“House Thrush. Not a well-known minor house, but they do well enough,” he answered and gave Soletus a coin purse. “There should be a reservation under your name. Just tell them and pay. I need to go to the courthouse. I’ll return later.”
Soletus climbed out of the cart wishing he had put on his dress uniform already. He was wearing a monk traveling uniform that was dull against the white and bright clean streets. When he stepped out of the cart, he felt eyes on him. He just got his travel bag out and slid the purse in his pocket. He walked quickly into the inn, but stalled at the entrance. The place was brightly lit with what sounded like stone under his boots. He looked down and saw a colored tile mosaic in a pattern of running vine. In front of him was an equal polished golden wood desk with a woman standing behind the counter waiting patiently.
“Greetings,” said Soletus in a small voice. Then cleared his throat when he was close to the desk. “There is a reservation under my name.”
The woman gave him a skeptical look. “And what is the name,” she said crisply.
Her eyes scanned the ledger in front of her and her brow went up in surprise. “Brotherhood,” she asked looking at his uniform.
“It’s been awhile since I’ve seen Brotherhood in the streets let alone in this inn,” she commented walking away from her. “I’ll be five leafs and a quarter for three nights.”
Soletus took out the purse and tries not to show his surprise of how much of it was silver leaf coins and how long it took him to dig for a copper quarter. He handed those two her and she gave him a key.
“You’re room does includes meals. Dinner will be served in two hours,” she said. “You’re room number is on the tag.”
“Thank you,” he said walking toward the stairs. He looked down at the brass key and saw the wooden key tag that had “Fl 3 R 2” stamped on it.
A third floor room. Soletus couldn’t remember is he had ever been to an inn or one with a third floor. He climbed the stairs going up until he came to the third floor and found his room. He was amazed at how huge it was. His family could live in the room. There was a large sitting area with soft padded wicker chairs and two small rooms that had a round wicker bed. He looked to his lest and saw a bar with mirror. On it sat a bottle of wine with a note that said, “For you, our special guest,” on a small table for two. He chose a bed and placed his bags on it before exploring the room a little more. There was an open door that he took as the water closest. It had a tub already inside with pluming and a drain.
This is a luxury inn, he concluded in awe. He became uneasy standing in the room feeling like a stain. However, it was exciting still. He didn’t imagine he would the opportunity to stay in a place like that often. So he enjoyed himself as he cleaned up.
First he unpacked and polished the boots given to him for his dress uniform. They were black leather and stiff compared to what he wore on a daily basis. It wasn’t often the uniforms were used, but they had them ready just in case a member had to do something formal as he was. Next went about figuring out how the tub worked. It was simple, he had to twist the handle and learned that there was not only cool water but hot as well. He filled the tub as warm as he could get it and sat in the most comfortable bath he had in his entire life. The bath would’ve been perfect after he trained hard every day. He spent most of his time in there soaking before he remembered he had to scrub himself as well. He wasn’t fond of the soap provided as it was lavender scented but it cleaned just as well as anything else.
Soletus got out of the tub, dried off, and got dressed as he let his hair dry. He pulled on the gray trouser, fine white shirt, and brown vest leaving the thin jacket and sash for last. His hair, given the length, still wasn’t dry so he resorted to combing it dry. He worked at it a long time before a door he didn’t see along the wall opened. Brother Hickory stepped in.
“Adjourning rooms,” he explained after Soletus jumped in surprise. “I see you figured out the watercloset,” he said, looking very well dressed himself. He was donning open priest robes that was yellow with white trim. The cord sat on his waist was braided white, gold, and blue meaning he was a teaching priest, chanter, and healer. His cowl was sitting around his neck as he wasn’t out in public to pull it on his head. His hair thrown over his shoulders with a black tie wrapped around it.
“Well I guess since you’re getting ready, you know about dinner,” he said.
Soletus bobbed his head again.
“You seem a little speechless.”
“This is all a bit overwhelming,” he admitted.
Brother Hickory stepped into the room. “It is. I can’t say I miss this life. It’s all too much.”
Soletus didn’t know about that. The chair he sat in was very comfortable.
“How damp is your hair still,” he said standing beside him.
Soletus ran a hand through it. “A little.”
“Well it’ll be alright if you braid it damp. Stand up and I’ll do it. Lass is waiting.”
“Sorry. Lady Lass, Mientheoderic’s mother,” said Brother Hickory and started braiding it. Soletus could feel him fumbling a bit. “My hands are getting old. I don’t suppose you ever think about cutting this length back a little?”
“Why? I like it long.”
“Young ladies don’t like young man’s hair longer than theirs. Something to consider for the future,” advised Hickory.
“That’s a stupid reason not to do something you like.”
Hickory chuckled. “Males will do anything for the hope of getting a lady’s love.”
“Well what if you don’t care about a lady’s love?”
“Then I would say that’s youth talking.”
“When does youth stop talking and you start saying things that about yourself that you know is true,” Soletus asked. He didn’t know why he asked it, but felt the need to.
Brother Hickory paused. He let out a wistful sigh. “I believe when you start asking questions like that.” It sounded like the priest had more to say, but Soletus couldn’t see his face. He just finished up braiding very slowly and attached something to the end of his braid.
“I noticed you like braid charms so and thought you would want a heavier charm than the beaded leather with martin feathers you usually wear.”
Soletus pulled his hair over his shoulders to check the priest work and saw silver braid clasp. It had an engraving of two staves crossed, the monk emblem.
“I at least thought it would be appropriate. It’s a gift for all your help,” said the generous priest.
“Thank you,” said Soletus. He always wanted a metal clasp.
“I glad you like it, now, let’s get the rest of this on you.”
Soletus pulled on the light knee length brown jacket on and then felt funny wrapping the yellow fringed warders sash around that and his waist. Hickory handed him a pair of black gloves to put on as well. He didn’t understand the formal attire at all but he couldn’t say he looked bad. He caught sight of himself in the mirror. He looked impressive and official, like a man standing there. If only the sleeves didn’t ride so far up on his wrists. He lifted his arms up and felt the cloth get tight around his shoulders.
“Already too big for that,” observed Brother Hickory. “That was the largest warder jacket they had.”
“The story of my life. The clothier should have known better.”
“Aye well, just don’t move around too much and maybe you won’t rip it,” said Brother Hickory. “We better not keep Lady Lass waiting.”
They went down stairs and entered the large dining hall that sat to the left of the entrance of the inn. There were crystal globe lamps suspend from the ceiling over each of the tables. The tables were all covered in white cloth and everyone there was wearing fine clothing. He felt as if he stood out as he walked with his boots clapping on the floor with ever step. Patrons looked up but then looked away as it was nothing usual.
He then focused on the table there were headed too. There sat a woman with what appeared to be Mienerva dressed in more familiar if not more fancy female elven dress of a straight blue and black gown. Beside her was a woman who had the same viridian eyes as her daughter wearing a delicate red and orange gown.
Soletus had mixed feelings about Mien’s mother. He couldn’t say he liked her from all that he learned. He didn’t know if she was selfish or useless despite what Mien had told him. However, when she saw him and Hickory moving towards her table, her gaze met his. She had eyes of a fox who had lived a thousand years. She stood to her feet never taking her eyes off of him until she stood right in front of Brother Hickory. A pleasant smile spread across her face.
“Hickory, thank you so much dear for coming,” she said on greeting him. The petite woman hugged him and stood on her toes kissing both his cheeks. She then became bright eyed with delight when stopped Soletus. “Oh my, is this he?”
“Ah yes, Lass, this is Warder Soletus’Sheldmartin. Soletus, this is the Lady Lass’Cyan, Theoderic’s mother.”
Soletus bowed. “Greetings Lady Cyan.”
“Oh my, he’s such a handsome dear,” she said and kissed him on both cheeks before he had a chance to straighten up. The friendliness of the woman was a stark contrast from her son. She was her daughter’s mother. “My you’re going to be tall when you stop growing. Not that you already aren’t. Come sit down, sit down. So much I have to tell you in such a short time.”
Once settled, she didn’t continue with pleasantries. She jumped right into business.
“I’m sure you know that Hugh is motioning to have my son be sent to the Pit. I couldn’t convince him otherwise. Apparently when it comes to his pride, he can’t be brought with gold or lascivious means.”
Brother Hickory grimaced with sympathy.
“Don’t give me that look Hickory. I married a fiend willingly and I can deal with the consequences of my folly.”
Brother Hickory sighed. “You don’t have to suffer for it. If your son and daughter gave me the chance I could’ve-”
Lady Lass stopped him with a dark look. “I made this mess, so I’ll handle it,” she said and gave Soletus brief glance. “We can discuss that later. I’m more concerned about my son. I did try and hold off the trial. I held it as long as I could. However, the date was sat and no matter how many times I wrote this Arbiter he wouldn’t budge.”
“So I noticed. I delivered my notes to the Arbiter today. He didn’t seem interested in reading them. I think he’s already knows how he wants to handle this.”
The Lady Lass spun her wine in the glass she held. “It isn’t as if my request is for him to go free. I’m giving up custody of him.”
Soletus brow shot up.
Hickory read his expression. “We spoke about this. If all goes well, Mientheodric will be given to the Brotherhood. We will be his legal guardians and find fitting repentance for his crimes.”
“And you can continue making him well,” said Lady Lass. “He’s better, but that wrongness is still there no matter how he tried to hide it today.”
“He needs time,” said Soletus. “Given more of it, I could have done a little more.”
The woman smiled at him.
“See, I told you Theodric was in good hands,” said Mienerva patting Soletus on his shoulder.
Soletus wondered why they didn’t refer to him as Mien.
“You’ve done wonders,” said Lass becoming animated. “He was so glad to see me. Held my hand the entire time we spoke. He’s not spoken that much in years. However, he hardly said a thing about himself, but spoke about you and everyone else he met.” The woman watched the liquid in her glass again with remorse. “I wish I could have not let it all get out of control. I guess this is what happens when you think yourself smarter than the fiend.”
“Don’t worry,” said Hickory lying a comforting hand over hers. “I feel that Dias is going to help him. He’s never let a chanter down when they needed help.”
Lady Lass smiled a little. “That faith and conviction you have is heartwarming, Hickory. I lost it somewhere down the line.”
“We all do, but keep you strength up because one day, this will all be made right,” he said.
Mien mother looked at Soletus. “My husband had lovely eyes like yours. Dark blue, clear like a lake, intelligent, but yours are a lot like staring in the eyes of one of Dias’s Observers. Grant it, I’ve never seen one, but I imagine they would look at a person as you are assessing me.”
“I’m sorry, I just was noting where Mien gets his sense of pride from,” said Soletus hoping that would suffice as an answer. Really, he didn’t know what to think about the woman. She was different than he imagined.
A smirk lifted her lips. “You’re a terrible liar.”
“I imagined you differently,” he said.
“I imagined that you did. I’m the woman of a son who went mad and that something a mother should never allow that to happen in your mind. Don’t deny it; I know how the Brotherhood thinks.”
How does the saying go, ‘the vixen always knows,’ thought Soletus and he said to her. “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to offend.”
“None taken. You believe in truth and that is the truth. I’ve not a single excuse. And now I have to make things right as far as my position allows me because I refuse to be at tragedy. Do you believe that?”
“Good. Though can I give you some advice?”
“You’re honest. Own it. You should never apologize for being so.”