I shared the details to Soletus about a decade later over a campfire about what my Uncle had done. He was more prepared to listen and I was more prepared to talk. I only did so because if I could tell him what I needed to without my nerves getting to me, then I could face my family.
Soletus understood what the second bedroom was for when they arrived back to the inn. It was Mien’s and he went directly too it despite calming down over the course of the trip there. He claimed he didn’t sleep or eat the night before. Brother Hickory gave him a sedative while Lady Lass and Mienerva settled down on the couch. Soletus took one of the arm hairs to the side. Both mother and daughter poured themselves a glass of wine from the bottle left on the bar. They offered a glass to both Soletus and Hickory. The priest accepted his and sat in the arm chair across from Soletus.
Soletus was surprised he was allowed to drink. He never had before. He dipped his tongue in before taking a sip. It was bitter, not sweet enough, and burn like vinegar as he swallowed. It wasn’t something he liked and ended up just holding the glass while as Lady Lass spoke.
“Both my children are away from me,” said Lady Lass. She wore a bittersweet smile. “At least it’s all for the best.”
“And yet you don’t believe that it is,” said Brother Hickory.
“His reaction to Hugh was a bit disconcerting. When you wrote to me that he was anxious, I thought a litter bit of nerves. Shaking and bly shaking and sobbing.”
“Cousin, you need to understand he’s a timbre sensitive chanter. His anxiety is made worse by that.”
“I’ve no idea what that means.”
“It means sounds whether normal or magical timbres affect his other senses as well as his emotions. Hearing Hugh speak evokes a strong sense of fear in him. That’s what you saw today.”
Soletus stared at his glass and thought aloud. “I want to know what Lord Hugh did to cause such a deep-seeded in him.”
Lady Lass didn’t look as if she has the answer.
Mienerva spoke up and talked into her glass. “That’s because Uncle Hugh did do something, but I promised not to share the details,” she said solemnly with her hand over her heart.
Lady Lass’s eyes grew wider. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It wasn’t my place,” she said.
Brother Hickory scowled. “You could have prevented a lot by telling either of us. Mostly me months ago when you visited your brother.
Soletus felt the same. However, she was playing the enigma for a reason. She was trying to protect her brother.
Mienerva shook her head. “Theodoric is a lot like father. He’s his pride. He likes to protect. His love is fierce. He shielded me all the way to the point I left. If I told anything, he would felt betrayed.”
“His safety is worth more than his pride,” said Brother Hickory.
The girl placed her wine glass down and wrapped her arms around her middle like her brother. Only difference was she had no problem with eye contact with her gaze was fixed on Soletus.
“You assume that talking about it doesn’t hurt me as well. He has to want to tell it to you,” she said.
Lady Lass looked between Brother Hickory and Soletus. “Didn’t you get him to tell you everything about what Hugh did behind my back?”
Brother Hickory swayed his head. “It was difficult to get him to say anything. Everything I know, he told Soletus first.”
Lady Lass gaze settled on Soletus.
“I’m sorry, Lady Lass, but, he told me only of one incident. You know about that one. He trusts me, but it’s hard for him to tell things.”
“We’ve a lot of work ahead of us,” said Hickory somberly. “Today made it clear he cannot be around Hugh. I’m not sure when he’ll be able to.”
The woman looked hopeful. “Maybe by the time he’s an adult, he’ll see Hugh can’t harm him. He’s just an easy target because he’s such a small lad.”
“Even when he’s an adult I’m not sure,” said Hickory. “Don’t expect him to come home at twenty-eight.”
“I would like to have him home so I can have him properly socialized and get him into matching.”
“I wouldn’t treat him like a normal heir.”
Lass’s face became tired. “That goes without saying given his social status is ruined by what he did.”
“It’s more than that. He’s a timbre sensitive chanter, Lass,” said Hickory with an earnest rise in his voice. “Any young lady he’s going to be with has to know how to handle him. You can’t just choose the first girl who is willing and desperate for a rise in status.”
“That’s your own personal experience talking. He isn’t neth like you.”
Brother Hickory leaned to the side on his arm rest to massage his forehead. “Since you went there, then yes. My experience is talking. You know I’m an advocate of choice because arrange marriages only work if you consider the children and not just the benefits to each house.”
Lady Lass put her hands on her hips. “And I’m not your parents who force you to marry.”
The glass of wine nearly slipped out of Soletus fingers when he heard that. “You were married?”
“A story for another time,” he said still rubbing his head.
“This conversation is for another time,” said Lass standing up and walking over to where Hickory sat. She stood behind his chair and started rubbing his shoulders. “When was the last time you gone out for a nice roasted quail?”
“I don’t like quail,” he muttered.
“How about venison rib stew full of root vegetable severed with a warm loaf of fennel bread. And for desert, an apple tart served with the side of custard.”
Hickory turned his head up to her. “Your making my young warder over there salivate.”
Soletus breakfast consisted of tea, warm apples, and a slice of bread. That was hours ago. Noble’s might eat light, but he couldn’t.
“Don’t deny you aren’t. I’m trying to pay you back and I’m inviting both of you to share a table with me. I know a lovely place in town that serves enough for Brotherhood appetites.”
They left Mien to rest. However, Hickory wrote a note they were going out and encouraged him to order something to eat while they were gone. Soletus was fed as well as got a tour Arbortown and a history lesson as Mienerve chose to be a chatty guide. When he came back that evening, he was surprised to see Mien awake. The boy was stretched out on the couch with two spinning light globes over his head. On the floor was an empty platter that once held food.
“You can do two at a time now,” said Soletus impressed.
“I just figured it out. You have fun?”
“Yeah, but, I felt a bit bad leaving you here.”
“Better you than me,” he said concentrating on orbiting the light orbs around each other.
Soletus shut the door. He undid his sash and shrugged off the jacket. He felt like he could finally breathe again.
“Can I ask you a question,” he asked Mien to clear something up.
“Why does everyone call you Theoderic.”
The two orbs winked out of existence.
“That’s what my family calls me. Well, those who are living.” Mien rolled his head to him. “I introduced myself as Mien because that’s what my father called me. After he died, no one called me that anymore. I was just Theoderic and I thought maybe if I could be Mien again, everything would be better and that I would be alive again.”
“You know you aren’t two different people,” said Soletus.
“You sure about that? Can’t a person be someone completely different than they were in the past?”
“Yes, but is that really how you think about yourself being two different people?”
“Sometimes,” he said. He eased himself up until he had his back to the armrest. Soletus threw all his extra clothing over the back of the couch and sat on the other end. “I think maybe I think a little different than normal people.”
“Or maybe you think too much,” returned Soletus.
“True,” said Mien, searching around the room and then his attention fixed itself to the half drunken wine bottle in the room. “I want to put this all behind me.” He rolled to his feet and took the bottle from the table that it sat on. Soletus watched him do a little digging under a counter and produced two wine glasses. “A celebration is in order.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
The boy flashed his teeth at him as he poured himself a glassful to the rim and Soletus one as well who took it tentatively. He wasn’t sure what to make of the boy’s show of mischievousness.
“I don’t see the draw to this stuff,” Soletus told him.
“It’s not bad when you get used to it,” said Mien as he raised his glass. “A toast to having a future.”
Soletus raised glass. “To having a future.”
Soletus just held his glass as he did the first time and watched the boy drain half of his in one gulp.
“You know what’s nice? Not having to worry about dying,” Mien said bright eyed.
“You look as if you a boulder rolled off your back,”
“It feels that way too,” he said. “I’m probably the only boy in existence that’s happy to live the life of a priest.”
“Seriously, you lose all of this,” gestured Soletus.
Mien gave him dismissive wave of his hand. “I’ve done fine without it so far.”
The boy was what could only be described as a comfortable jolly mood. He put his wine glass to his lips, taking a short sip before placing the cup down on floor. He snuggled back in the corner of the couch.
Soletus then tried another question. He was sure it would sour the celebration, but he had to put his mind to rest. It was what Mienerva said as well as what he witnessed. He thought about it a little as he walked around earlier. He thought about all the things Mien seemed to be afraid of and uncomfortable with. He only recounted the detail of one of his uncle’s acts though. That act seemed to breach boundaries and wondered if he breached a more disturbing one.
“I’ve one more question. It’s about your uncle.”
The corners of Mien’s mouth fell. “What about him?”
“What did he do to you to make you so afraid of him?”
Soletus felt it was better to ask him now that everything was over and his uncle had no way to get to him. However, part of him was afraid that Mien would go into another anxious fit. Mien swallowed hard and run a hand through his hair thinking the question over before saying,
“It’s not one thing. And maybe one day, I’ll tell you some of them, but not tonight,” he stated with a bit of finality in his voice. He wanted the subject dropped
Soletus took a small sip from his glass and pushed the conversation. “I think I know.”
Mien tilted his head and added a dubious arch of his eyebrow. “Really? No, you just think you do. Brother Hickory thought the same thing.”
“And that is,” prompted Soletus. He felt uneasy about broaching the subject, let alone even saying it. He just wanted to know because he thought that Mien had moved beyond that sort of reaction and earlier it was clear he didn’t. He couldn’t help but think the worse because of it.
That vulnerable childlikeness that Mien always displayed vanished. “No.” His chanter’s lilt was heavy in his voice. “If he had done that kind of violation, I would’ve killed myself. If he had done that to my sister, I would’ve killed him so that everyone would see me do it.”
Soletus felt those words in his mind. He meant those words.
Mien then added. “And he wouldn’t’ve done that. He’s too much pride in himself to be castrated and burned.”
“You can’t have too much pride to hurt another person the way he hurt you.”
“Some people have their own personal codes on what is below them. That’s below him. Pissing on the floor and making me clean it up before locking me in the cellar wasn’t below him,” he said touching his hair. “That’s why I cut my hair short. His piss dried in my hair and I couldn’t wash the smell out. Now every time it gets long I can still smell it. I still feel that humiliation. If I could be bald I would.”
Discomfort became heavy in Soletus’s chest. “You don’t have to tell me anything else.”
A manic light shined in Mien’s eye. “But you and everyone else want to know everything so bad. None of you even considered I don’t want to talk about it because I don’t want people to look at me the way you are now.”
How am I supposed to control the way I look after hearing something like that, he thought.
“To answer your question about my being hit on, he rarely did. The few times he did, it was with a broom handle. He stopped because my mother made me take off my shirt one day and saw the bruises. Dias only knows what she did to him, but it didn’t stop him from going on to other things less noticeable,” Mien picked up the glass of wine. His hands were shaking as he took a sip but he managed not to spill any of it. He continued talking. His voice started to crack. “I preferred if he hit me. It was quicker than being left out in the rain naked all night when my mother was away or being afraid to eat anything for nearly a week because he threatened to poison it. If he just hit me, then that meant he wasn’t trying to kill me.”
After that reveal his entire body started to quake and he wrapped his arms around his middle. He held his head down.
Soletus struggled to think of how he could respond to that. By the time he found his voice again all he could muster was, “I’m sorry.”
He looked down at his hands. He felt stupid for bringing it up.
I couldn’t even give him an evening of relief.
He glanced at Mien just in time to see him drawing his knees to his chest. “I can get Brother Hickory if you want.”
Mien shook his head.
“Do you want me to leave?”
Soletus expected him to nod his head, but it swayed instead.
“You probably want me to stop talking don’t you?”
He got the same response.
“Do you want me to do anything?”
“No,” said Mien. He reached down and tilted his head back consuming the rest of the wine in his glass. Soletus took a sip of his and put it away after sticking his tongue out in disgusts. He felt Mien watching him. He had something to say but was probably working out on saying it. That vulnerability didn’t return. Mien let out a sigh, sat still enough time for the tremors to abate, and then he spoke.
“I shouldn’t have told you that. Any of it. I really don’t want your sympathy. No, that’s not right. I don’t want you to feel like I’m always, you know, this, a sissy who’s completely out of his mind.”
“I don’t think you are. The only person I see in front of me is someone hurt. And that’s why I react the way I do. I don’t like it. I like it even less when I do more harm than good.”
Mien grinned and let out a short chuckle. Soleus couldn’t say that he heard him laugh since they met.
“I keep waiting for a moment when you aren’t sincere,” he said. “I don’t think you know how to be anything other than honest.”
Soletus searched Mien’s face for a reason why he suddenly found it amusing. “I don’t see any other way to be.”
“Of course you wouldn’t,” he said still grinning and let out what could only be described as a giggle.
Soletus glanced at the wine bottle.
“I might’ve drunk a little too much.”
Soletus gave him an exasperated look.
“I won’t get anymore,” promised Mien with another toothy grin.
Well that’s a smile I can’t trust. Though one he welcomed. Soletus took it as a sign that those vivid scars that Kiao described were healing.