The night that Mien comforted me was a telling moment. It wasn’t just the loss of Lyndon that made my cry like that. It was everything. How terrible of a position we were in, Lyndon being dead, but also Mien being alive. It didn’t feel real. It sunk in when he sat at my side very alive. And when I woke up, I was more afraid he would be dead than embarrassed by my blubbering. I didn’t want to take my eyes off him because I felt, at any moment, I could lose him too.
-Interview with Master Sol written by Patriarch Lord Theris’Heron.
The small home scratched into the earth was cast in gloomy of the misty morn. The three young wardens mirrored the atmosphere outside with drawn faces. Mien, unfortunately, felt it even without his abilities somehow. He figured it was through body language. It made him feel even more miserable. That was how heavy it was. Everyone there seemed to be in a state of moroseness. He was certain that Soletus sobbing himself to sleep the night before helped settled it. No one asked him about it when he woke up. They just milled around and focused on doing what needed to be done. That meant lighting a fire so they could eat.
Mien watched unable do much of anything. He tested his grip a few times and was certain a baby had a tighter one than him. He wanted to be awake but his body felt heavy and he thought about going back to sleep after he eaten. Then again, he wanted to take one then. His food tasted of dust. Lyndon lay heavy on his mind. He didn’t understand what had happened and why he couldn’t save him.
He knew he wasn’t as strong of a healer but even he could stop someone from bleeding out. Maybe he did try and it caused him burnout. Maybe his abilities weren’t enough and he failed. No one said anything to him about it and maybe that’s why they were so quiet. They didn’t want to look at someone who failed.
He looked around. Tyrus nibbled a spoonful down before stirring and scooping up more. Doran slurped down his food noisily stirring it like Tyrus, albeit in longer intervals. Soletus took two bites from his bowl and ended up scraping the rest of the contents into Mien’s. He rose from the fire pit and stood at the window becoming a brooding sentinel.
Mien spooned whatever it was that Tyrus had whipped up in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed like the others. Doran then broke the silence.
“Kellas took most of our supplies with him,” he stated. “We can’t stay here forever.”
Soletus let out a flat, “I know.”
Doran gestured to Mien. “He’s putting a strain on what we do have.”
“No offense,” said Tyrus to Mien.
Mien understood. Chanters recovering from a burnout required constant feeding and they didn’t a have lots of food.
“Noted,” said the young monk quietly. Mien could see the muscles in Soletus’s arm bulged. He was getting annoyed.
Doran then added, “We’ve only have three horses as well.”
The young man then dropped his spoon in his empty bowl and laid it to aside. “Well what are we going to do? Wait here for Kellas to come back or are we leaving?”
Tyrus let out a tired moan. “Tits, give it a rest.”
Mien then ventured to asked, “So no decision was made on what the next course of action?”
Soletus regarded him. “No. We disobeyed his orders by not following him and he told us to wait here.”
Mien then summed up everything as he understood it. “Okay, so we got involved in some kind of feud we didn’t need to, we were ambushed, and instead of leaving like a smart first warden, Kellas went on further because justice demands retribution or whatever?”
“That about sums it up.”
“So what are we waiting for? We need to leave,” said Mien, thinking that was obvious.
“There are a few things holding us back like Doran mention,” said Soletus. “My horse was killed so we have only three horses. We don’t have a map. Cole took Lyndon’s and Doran’s to keep us from leaving.”
“Well isn’t it a straight shot back to Crossing?”
“For the most part.”
“So again, why is there anything to discuss.”
Tyrus then jumped in. “Soletus said he would make the decision on what to do once we stopped burying people. Now here we are. What are we doing?”
“Leaving,” said Soletus. “The rain’s letting up, so we should leave.”
Mien shivered. His friend’s voice made him cold. He didn’t even know how he felt it, he just did. It worried him that coolness was caused by him being angry with him.
“Sol, was Lyndon’s death my fault,” he asked. “Did I fail as a battle chanter?”
The young men around him gazes fell on him looking stunned.
Tyrus then let out a chuckle. “Tits, if what you did was failing, then I want to see you at your best.”
“He’s right,” said Soletus. “You were the one person that helped all of us live. Why would you think you failed?”
“You sound cold,” said Mien softly.
Soletus then run a hand through his head. “I’m sorry,” he said with the warmth returning to his voice. “I’m tired, we’re all tired. My mind is just on the dead. There was a lot of them in pieces with fragments in them.”
Mien was reminded of the dead woman with the missing eye. “Pieces? Fragments?”
“Yeah, they were throwing clay shells at us.”
Clay shells were an explosive mostly used in mining. They were filled with burning powder. The military used them on occasion to clear barriers but not weapon grade clay shells. They were illegal and anyone discovered transporting, making, and distributing them was put to death. Mien questioned himself if he wanted to remember.
“We made it because of you. So don’t think Lyn’s death had anything to do with you,” said Soletus with a reassuring sagging smile.
Doran held his head down. “We on the other hand were a bunch of useless dods in that fight. We were too scared to do anything.”
Soletus then said. “We’re trained to kill drass beast and to fight to disarm and disable. We aren’t trained to kill men and neither are we supposed to. It goes against our vows.”
Tyrus then said, “You’re saying that hoping you can believe those words after seeing what Kellas said and did. Maybe make yourself feel better too.”
Soletus stared at him blankly becoming rigid. Mien knew if Lyndon was there, he would’ve said something to help his cousin. Except he wasn’t and there would be no Lyndonisms. Mien’s heart ached.
Soletus pushed himself from the window. “What’s done is done. We need to get out of here. Is that okay with you?”
Tyrus shrugged his shoulders. “Do whatever, First Warden.”
“I think we do what best,” said Doran. Granted he didn’t say leaving was best.
“Good. If it’s raining, then the others are slowed down from returning. That gives us a head start. It won’t be much because we have three horses. Mien will ride one and we’ll rotate who rides the other two.”
“Nope,” said Doran with a shake of his head. “I’ve a scout horse who is very picky about who rides her.”
“And pets her,” added Tyrus. “I tried to rub her head yesterday and she snapped at me.”
Soletus rolled his eyes. “Fine, Tyrus and I will rotate. I would like to wait an extra day but, if it stops raining before midday, we move out.”
Mien didn’t think he was strong enough to ride. He could barely stand to relieve himself. Sharing a saddle with someone might’ve been better, but the next lightest person was Doran. He didn’t want to ride with him. Tyrus and Soletus were nearly the same height and build thus too heavy. They would just have to make do.
The young chanter hoped that he would get that extra day of rest, however, the sun broke through the clouds at midday. With the sun, came mugginess, which made packing uncomfortable. It would clearly rain again so there was an urgency to leave and grab all they could. The only thing Mien carried was his satchel and had his bedroll tied to his saddle. Doran had his shoulder pack along with his own. Soletus walked with his shoulder pack while Tyrus had his bedroll so no one was too weighted down.
They still had their weapons for the most part. Tyrus had his spear and lasso. Soletus didn’t have his staff, but he did have his lunged daggers and his hunter knife. He didn’t appear to have his armor for slaying drass beasts. They were probably kept with the mule that Kellas and his men had. Doran had his bow and full quiver as well as one of the few tao stone and steel alloy made dirks. They weren’t a standard Brotherhood weapon. They were entirely too hard to make. But throw enough coins at a skilled blacksmith one could have one made. They weren’t ideal though. The alloy made it possible to make a fatal wound on a drass beast. However, the steel would still corrode on contact with drass beast blood and would still change colors with elven blood. Just not as dramatically for both.
Before they left, Soletus took Mien to Lyndon’s grave. On the back side of what earthen dwellings, and sod houses, were the graves that Soletus and the others had dug. They were dug in a mass line where each head was marked with a stone. However, there was one plot that was separated from the other fifteen markers of the mass grave. It was Lyndon’s. There was a stone and two broken arrows crossed together marked it.
“It’s wrong leaving him here,” said Soletus holding what appeared to be Lyndon’s shoulder sash. His thumbs rubbed the brown sash right above a dark stain that was likely blood. “It does. I feel bad that I don’t remember how he died,” said Mien softly.
Soletus’s eyes became dark and distance. “Remember after I was bitten when you first arrived and we were sitting eating that melon behind the chapel?”
Mien nodded. He was given that melon from widow Saffron for being a good brave lad. He loved melon and could’ve eaten the entire thing himself. He shared it instead because he liked the cousins.
“He promised that the next time I needed saving, he’ll do it. He did.”
Mien’s grimaced on the inside. He understood why Soletus was sounding and acting the way he was. He was certain the young monk probably wanted to exchange places and be the one who couldn’t remember. He didn’t have to say it. Mien knew that was likely how he felt. He wonder how much of Lyndon’s death did Soletus see.
Soletus grasped his shoulder. “I promise to tell you everything when we get home. Right now, I think it’s better for you if I don’t.”
From his tone, it was clear it had a lot of impact.
So why didn’t I heal him? Why couldn’t I save him, wondered Mien.
Mien reached up and held the wrist attached to the hand on his shoulder. It wasn’t a gesture for everyone and certainly not another male. Soletus was this grand exception to a few rules. Where one could do such gestures and he would understand. Mien didn’t have words to say. He couldn’t say anything. They were all choked up in a stew of emotion.
“I didn’t bring you here to start crying,” said Soletus with his own voice shaking.
Mien didn’t bother correcting him. The young man knew perfectly well he wasn’t and didn’t cry. Well, only when he was very happy and he wasn’t happy at all standing there. However, he did force himself to speak just to get Soletus to move on. He also patted his hand to get him to remove it. It felt like a vice on his shoulder.
“You think they can come back for him,” he asked. “I mean if he saved you then, he needs to be buried under the Honor Ash.”
“It not something the Brotherhood normally does, but maybe, I can see it happen,” said Soletus. “Come on, time to leave.”
Mien looked back at the long lump of soil that covered his friend. He closed his eyes turning away. He should’ve said a pray being a priest and all, however, words were lost to him. He didn’t think he would say goodbye to a friend like that. In fact, the cousins were the friends he wished he had growing up. They did everything he imagined other boys would do. Getting into a little trouble, picking on each other, roughhousing, arguing, and just all around acting like him and Mienerva but masculine and he liked that.
Somehow, Mien just blended in with them despite being weird. The two took his oddities in stride and as Lyndon said, they were going to make him a man-boy out of him. Other times he didn’t blend in well at all. The two would forget he was there. They knew each other to well and Mien didn’t know how to insert himself into a conversation without being awkward about it. Lyndon helped him out with that. He was boisterous compared to Soletus. The young monk had the ability to be just as animated but, for the most part, he was the reasoning calm one. The one having to reign Lyndon back in.
Soletus wasn’t that person currently. However, the young chanter would give anything for his abilities to be back to hear the sound of his friend’s voice instead of the strange thing that was going on. Mien couldn’t sense a thing via his abilities. However, when his friend got back to the others, he didn’t show that vulnerability he showed him. He was acting far too the point and ordered Doran and Tyrus to their horses. The two exchanged looks at his snappy tone. He sounded angry, but Mien could feel the young man aching. He shouldn’t have been able to do that recovering from burnout.
Doran told him,” Yes sir.”
Mien tilted his head ever so slightly trying to figure it out. He knew that there should’ve been a sour taste in his mouth from the young man’s tone, but he didn’t. He felt like he was walking around with a bucket over his head still. He didn’t know what was going on with that. He had his suspicions that maybe it wasn’t him but it was his friend. Mien wouldn’t know until he was well enough again.
Soletus was quick to get away from the empty dwellings. After they vanished from view, they fell into listless silence. No one else seemed to be eyeing the trees and dark places for someone to hide. But Mien watched. He might not have his enhanced hearing but he could still see. He guessed that only certain parts of the gorge were inhabited. He imagined the entire place being desolated and not so green. While red and tan sheer rock wall towered over them, vines with scrub bushed clung to the sides in some places. The floor was covered in thick growth of grass.
Mien could see stomps around them where larger trees were obviously harvested. There was even a broken weathered ax handle leaning against one of the trees. It had been there for years given how washed out the gray thinned wood looked. His attention wondered around him because there wasn’t anything else to do. No one was speaking. In fact, there was more life in the trees as squirrels darted from tree to trees bringing down water droplets on them.
The young chanter liked nature’s natural noise as they were softer and anything out of place could be heard, however, he was uncomfortable from the heavy atmosphere around him. Lyndon would be the one lightening it up. He would start with Tyrus as he could help liven things up. Then the both of them would say off-handed things to Doran to poke at him. Soletus wouldn’t have to be spoken too. He would join in trying to wrangle in the chaos. Mien would watch the entire thing play out amused. It happened before when they were riding to their mission. The memory made Mien smile. It waned as they travel along in a tight quiet pack.
It was mid-afternoon when the group came to the winding road that led out of the gorge. Mien followed the zig-zagged path going upward in a sickening narrow slope. Uneasy stirred in his chest. It wasn’t that he was scared of heights; he just didn’t like high unsafe places.
“Why ya wearing that expression again,” asked Tyrus bringing his horse to a stop beside him. “We’re going up not down this time.”
“That doesn’t change the slope or narrowness of the road,” replied Mien.
“We’ll rest before tackling it,” announced Soletus
Doran eyed the slope and then the sky. Like a good scout, he made his assessment and said, “I don’t know if that’s safe to go up on horseback.”
Soletus crossed the distance between them and spoke to him in a hushed voice.
Mien swung himself off the back of his mare and his legs buckled. He caught hold of the saddle right as Tyrus grabbed him. The then guided him to a flat rock.
“Here,” said Tyrus unwrapping a cloth and provided him with a single stale travel cake. Mien took the disk. Before he bit down on his he tested a corner of it with his teeth and was met with rock solid resistance. He gave Tyrus an unhappy look.
“Just break off a piece and suck on it,” instructed Tyrus. “That’s what I’ve been doing.”
The young chanter wasn’t sure how he was supposed to do that. He started licking it because he was hungry, but an old travel cake wasn’t going to sate him. He needed rest as well because his entire body ached with his head throbbing the loudest.
“Can you walk, Mien,” asked Soletus.
Mien jerked his head up and then regretted it. A stab of pain traveled from between his eye and the back of his head. “No.”
Soletus studied their path with discontent. “I didn’t want to linger down here. We’ve a better view up there..”
“Then I ride,” he told him.
The young monk’s head jerked to regard him. “It’s not safe. I don’t want lose you to stupidity again.”
“And I’m not going to hold the band back,” Mien said with as much finality as he could muster.
That’s what everyone expected out of him, even in Oeric’s training band. Early on, they thought he was the weakest member. A few of them pointed out every fault they could to make that statement true. Most of the time, it was their own action that caused issues and First Warden Oeric had no trouble pointing it out. However, Mien tried to be the best he could be and he wasn’t going to be a burden then.
“We need to keep going, Sol,” he reasoned. “That’s what you want isn’t it?”
“Yes but I’m not taking any risks.”
“It’s going to rain more given how humid it is. And if it rains, we can’t make it up. Then where would we be?”
Mien thought Soletus would be placated with that logic, but he swayed his head stating, “I just don’t want to do anything reckless.”
“And I don’t need my stupid big brother sheltering me,” he returned.
Soletus glowered at him.
“Look, I know you’re upset about Lyndon—”
The cords in Soletus’s neck tightened. He spoke in a low voice that was far too defensive to suggest otherwise. “I’m not upset.”
“You’re clear as a river. I don’t need my abilities to know you are,” he told him gently.
Mien didn’t want a confrontation with Soletus. His friend wasn’t as much as a steady rock as he had thought. After the hy’ruh-ha he had with his father, the beating he took released a more visceral part of him. He had little self-restraint the months following. He became sharped tongued and hostile at points. Pain made him lash out and in a way it was better than how Mien dealt with it. Keeping it buried inside of him until it exploded.
Kiao was better at handling him when he was at his most surly. Honestly, a gentle touch on his shoulder or arm got his attention and Kiao talked him down. Lyndon could do it too because he was Lyndon. Mien was good at calming scared people not angry people. Then again, Soletus wasn’t angry but hurting so he could still be direct with him.
“Lyndon has nothing to do with my decision. You’re weak,” reasoned Soletus.
Mien sighed and gave him his best look of annoyance he could muster. “Wow. So I guess all these years of training hasn’t raised your opinion of me.”
Soletus bow lifted in confusion. “What are you going on about.”
“I’m burned out. Not weak. I’m not a boy anymore. You don’t have to step in for me or hold my hand.”
“I know that,” he said and then pushed a hand through his hair and Mien could see his lips forming and was about to tell him “but” and stopped him.
“I’m serious! Do I really need to have an entire discussion with you about this or do I hit you to get you to stop?”
Mien was indeed serious but he more or less wanted the young monk to stop thinking about him but the bigger picture as well. They needed to get home and he didn’t need special treatment.
“Can we talk about this later,” said Soletus.
“If you let me ride, then yes.”
“Fine. I’m going with Doran to see the how the trail is fairing. You two stay right here.”
Tyrus saluted him. “Yes Sir, First Warden.”
Soletus shot Tyrus a dirty look before he followed Doran up the hills to the foot of the trail.
Tyrus then stated, “Tits, how did you tame that beast? I can’t reason with him without a spat.”
“That’s because he doesn’t like you,” said Mien plainly and then thought, I’m not sure how much I like you.
The young man rubbed the back of his neck. “I guess I’ve given him more than a few reason not to but, I hung out with Lyndon a lot. That should count as me being okay?”
It didn’t as Soletus was growing apart from Lyndon a bit. It wasn’t because they stopped liking each other. Soletus’s time was split between the band and the huntresses. You could count on Soletus more for work than play. The most socializing he did was take Briar with him when Mien and Kiao wanted to do something together. Lyndon started to gain separate set of friends from Soletus who was always busy.
Tyrus was Lyndon’s friend after they come to terms. There were a lot alike, but the young man in front of him didn’t have his grace, was louder, and sometimes crass. Many girls in town loved him. Kiao claimed young ladies like him because of his confident and dimpled rascal smile and unrestrained behavior.
Mien felt inadequate because he had none of those things even though Kiao didn’t seem to desire any of them. She found Tyrus annoying. He came into the infirmary on day and tried his charm on her. It went about as far as an oak branch would through a sowing needle. In fact, Kiao had taken that oak branch and verbally beat him with it. It was one of the most glorious and terrifying things Mien had ever witnessed. Though from that day, Tyrus and several of the other junior wardens dubbed her Sister Spice.
“Soletus has a long memory,” Mien told him. “He’s a nice fellow but, you have to prove that you’re okay.”
Tyrus chuckled. “Ya know I imagined you to be a lot different.”
Mien crocked a brow at him.
“Just from what everyone has said about you,” he said. “Well just Quill. You know Quill?”
Mien nodded. He was the scout in Oeric’s training band.
“He’s sleeps in the room beside me in the dorms. He would tell me all sorts of stories about you.”
That jackass, thought Mien.
“He kept talking about how strange you were. Said that you went from mouthy to tongue tied in an instant or anxious to the calmest one among them.”
Mien was comprised of contradictions. Being under Soletus’s father’s wing is what started the contrasts in his behavior. Then it was the bond between him and Kiao made it worse. On the field, everyone noted some situations didn’t bother him as much as others. Right now, their current situation didn’t worry him much. They were a couple days from town and they could get supplies. It was mostly Lyndon’s death that concerned him. What was going to happen with that? Who was going to tell his parents? What would he say to Kiao? When was Lyndon’s death finally going to hit him? He didn’t want it to. He didn’t want that feeling of loss to strike him as it did when his father died.
“That’s how I am,” said Mien. He felt nauseous suddenly and he slumped forward.
Tyrus got down on his knees in front of him. “Remember, I’m crossed trained as a field medic. If there is something I can do, tell me.”
Mien nodded. “How about food and a bed.”
“I want a good dose of that too,” he said turning his head. “They’re back.”
Indeed Soletus and Doran were.
“The road looked fine as far as we could see,” stated Soletus. “Doran is taken the lead followed by Tyrus, and Mien and I will take the rear.”
Mien scowled at him.
“I’m not being a mother hen. Logically, the strongest person should take hold of your horse if something happens,” he said.
Tyrus looked insulted. “You saying I’m not strong?”
A wry grin quirked the corner of Soletus’s lips. “I didn’t see you scale the back of that behemoth.”
“That’s ‘cause I don’t like soiling my shorts,” returned Tyrus. “I’ve my dignity, you know.”
The trek up from the floor of the gorge was slow going. The incline wasn’t bad at first. Mien was able to handle his weight being pulled behind him. However, his legs were getting weary and his horse was getting restless. The creature kept letting out nervous snorts and jerking her head at every time it slipped just a little.
The young chanter’s hand gripped the saddle horn making as his knuckles turned white. He looked to the side and saw they were a good hundred feet in the air. It was a straight drop with nothing to slow down his descent if he fell. He swallowed the lump in his throat that was determined to choke him and looked forward.
When they made it to what appeared to be their last turn. Doran stopped and looked across the gorge. Mien followed his gaze and saw smoke rising in the air.
“Soletus,” shouted Doran.
“I see it,” he said.
“What do you think it is, a camp,” Tyrus asked. The smoke started to thicken into a great dark billowing cloud. “Not a camp then.”
It’s a structure, thought Mien.
They all stood there watching the smoke becoming ominous as it thickened. Then a boom shook the air and Mien’s inner ear. The three others flinched at the sound. However, it was very familiar to Mien. I sounded like an explosive used in his family’s mining operation.
Tyrus then guessed. “It sounded like a clay shell. A really big one.”
There was another explosion not as loud and then several popping noises in the distance.”
“I wonder if that’s where the rest of those people were hold up at,” said Soletus to no one particular. Mien’s mare tossed her head, yanking Soletus arm in the process. “The horses are getting nervous,” he said, rubbing her neck. “Let’s keep going, we’re almost to the top.”
“What was Kellas planning to do there,” Mien asked.
“He said, he was going to clean and burn the filth out of the gorge,” said Soletus.
“I hope that includes himself,” muttered Tyrus.
The young chanter twisted back into his saddle and watched the black smoke billow upward reaching for the sun. His heart felt sick. He got the sinking suspicion many met their deaths down there.