What did Valhart do to me? He took advantage of the ageism in the order, the fact that I didn’t want to reveal myself, as well as Kellas turning a blind eye to his actions to spite me. Before he treated me like he would any young man, trash. However, when he learned that one thing about me, I was less trash and more like the dirt under his feet. He wanted to hurt me so that I feared him like he was the darkest thing before me on the path. He wasn’t. But, he was a shadow. The kind that’s the sign of something nasty following you. If you let it engulf you, it’s too late to act. I let him become shadow.
As if to help them, the rain tapered off, however, it left behind thick fog that limited visibility- A drass beast could easily stalk them. Mien didn’t like that vulnerable state they were in. His purpose was to give them warning from them by feeling their timbre. However, all he had was his sight to gleam something through the white shroud.
He started humming to himself to make himself feel a little better. And without even realizing it, he started moving his lip and filled the silence with the sound of his own voice. He wasn’t saying words, just vague low syllables. His ears were glad for it. It gave him purpose other than sitting on his horse lamenting their situation.
“Mien,” snapped Tyrus.
Mien felt like he was slapped awake and focused on Tyrus who was giving him a dirty look.
“I don’t want to hear your moaning. Tits, it sounds like we’re on a funeral match.”
Soletus twisted on his saddle looking behind him and said with a slight smile, “Exaggerating much?”
“What else would ya call it? Sounds like he’s preparing us to be eaten by some beastie.”
Mien opened his mouth and started on a hymn.
Tyrus interrupted. “This ain’t a church service either.”
Mien was prickled by his pickiness and then chose on a rather silly children’s song about an ermine and a dancing snow hare on a frozen lake.
“Thank you,” said Tyrus and turned around humming along with his singing. That irritated Mien even more. He thought the young man would protest at such a childish and outrageous tune. However, Mien had to admit he liked it. His sister taught him the song and considered it the first song he learned. He sung it often to himself as a child when Mienerva wasn’t around. She reminded him of the hare and it kept him from getting lonely.
One day, he was singing it in their nursery while playing with his blocks. His father had stopped in the doorway to listen to him. He noticed him right about when he was going to repeat the song for a third time. His father was grinning ear to ear thoroughly amused and found it delightful. Mien was embarrassed at being caught singing it. After that, his father encouraged him to sing to party goers and he would always hide behind him.
“You’ve a very nice voice,” he told him repeatedly. However, Mien didn’t want to sing in front of others. It made him too nervous. However, when he was ten, his father brought him a lovely silver leaf flute and started him on lessons. It went poorly.
His first teacher wasn’t fond of him. He found reading sheet music annoying and restricting that he had to follow some crusty page. However, he would listen to what his teacher would play on her flute and mimic note from note or even create something himself. She walked out on him when he added his own embellishments to a song. His next teacher, a young woman not even in her fifth decade was nicer and greatly intrigued by his talent. She encouraged him to learn songs by ear and provided sheet music as a reference point. She even let him create his own melodies and practice them.
Mien wouldn’t have minded his flute then. He didn’t carry it with him on missions though. He wondered if it wouldn’t hurt to ask his mother for a traveler’s flute. The flute his sister got for him was a lot like the one his father gave him. The same amount of love came with it and he didn’t want to lose it.
It wasn’t long after that, Soletus pulled off the road and said that he was going to stop and wait for Doran. Since they were no longer moving, fatigue sat heavy on Mien. His eye lids felt as if they were weighed down. His head sank down with his chin nearly touching his chest and then he became alert again from his horse moving under him. He scrubbed his face with his hands and clapped his cheeks. It helped for an instant and exhaustion finally won. His eyelids drooped and he let out a snore that brought him back awake or so he thought. He found himself back in the field. The sky was no longer painted with reds and oranges and was now inky dotted with stars. He heard that the wind as just air as a warm breeze breathes stirred the grass.
He felt someone rest their hand on his shoulder.
Mien rolled to his back saw nothing, and then one more time to his other side and found the older version of himself mirroring his position and yawning. He was starting to hate seeing that face. He flung himself to a sitting position.
“So you’re here to erase more of my memories?”
“I’m not,” he answered. “It’s just a side effect. Don’t worry, there’s nothing worth remembering.”
“What’s the point of you?”
“Glad you finally asked. I’m your guide to help you figure out your edict phrase”
“I did figure it out! It’s the phrase of protection,” declared Mien.
His guide swayed his head. “You know the name of it and used it in an act of desperation. That doesn’t mean you learned it.”
Mien tilted his head. “Wait! When did I use it? That doesn’t even make sense.”
The guide rolled on his back and his gaze went to the stars. “Singing the phrase isn’t enough, you know that. While other phrases are given to you, an edict phrase is different. You have to figure out why you learned it. What purpose it has. You can’t just call on it.”
Mien ran his hands through his hair tugging it upwards leaving his hair puffy. “Fine I get that, but you just said I used it. When did I use it?”
“In an act of desperation to save them,” answered his guide.
The young chanter covered his face and moaned. “Can you be anymore vague,” he said.
His guide traced a constellation with his finger in the air while speaking. “You’ll learn what happened, eventually. Then you understand why you need to learn this without that memory.”
“Okay, fine then. Be that way. Why can’t you just, I don’t know, teach me how to use the phrase?”
His guide game him a smug lopsided grin. “It’s not that easy.”
Mien hoped he didn’t look like that to everyone. That smirk was infuriating.
“The answer is very simple. You just need to do some self-reflecting.”
Mien hated self-reflection. He never liked what he saw.
He guide then frowned. “You need to stop not liking who you are. You’ll forever be afraid of the world around you judging you. That includes the people who you don’t need to be afraid of. In the end, your action based on what you know as the truth.”
“That’s not exactly easy.”
His guide looked at him. “Life doesn’t exist with just comfort and ease. There are hardships, sorrow, and death. But there is always light peering out in the ink of night.”
Mien looked up at the sky and then thought he heard something on the wind again. This time it was a little closer. It sounded like a whisper. A plea of some kind.
“What’s that? I know you can hear it,” he demanded.
“What you hear is something you need to prepare for. Don’t worry, you will soon understand,” he said and pointed to the horizon. “Look, the sun is rising.”
With that, Mien eyes flew open to sunlight bathing the moss in front of him. He blinked hard and fought off his blanket confused. Panic started to choke him as he didn’t know where he was. His attention started to search for familiar things around him. The leather tarp they had was stretched above his head. Their packs neatly tucked behind him. He saw the horse he had been riding tethered to a tree and saddle off her back. What wasn’t familiar were the yellowing trees around him that created a golden carpet beyond the moss. Clearly, this was his band’s campsite.
He pulled in a slow breath and exhaled. He was glad no one was around to see him. He hated getting anxious for no reason. In fact, he should enjoy being alone but it would be nice to know where his bandmates were at. There was nothing more to do than to take a good look around. As he crawled out into the sun light, he noted he felt. He tested his grip and it felt stronger. However, the world still sounded a bit muffled. He was about to test and see if he could make a sun globe when he heard something crashing towards him from the woods.
Mien instinctively stooped back under the tarp and held his breath. It was a horse from the sound of it and then Doran burst through. There was something very wrong with the acting scout. Sweat pouring down his face as well as beggar’s ticks and cockleburs clinging to all his clothing. He also had an arrow going through his bicep.
“We need leave,” said Doran leaning forward on his saddle. “Cole found me and has been following me.”
Mien started to search the trees and strained his hearing to listen for someone else coming through the brush. “How far away is he?”
“Far enough for us to get out of here,” said Doran climbing down from his saddle. “Can you heal?”
“No,” said Mien looking at his arm. “All I can do is tie it off. We need a safe spot so I can look at it.”
“We need to get the others.”
Mien called out Glen with his mind. The air beside him began to shimmer and it took shape into the form of a mountain lion. The large tawny cat greeted him by rubbing his body against his legs and nearly toppled him over.
“Glen,” snapped Mien. He did it to everyone even complete strangers whom he liked. The magical creature soon understood the seriousness of the situation and sat on his haunches like a dog. He then told the consort aloud. “Go find Soletus and Tyrus and bring them to us.”
The mountain lion bounded into the woods. Mien could feel the consort moving away from him as if a tether was slipping through his hands. It was part of the ability Glen gave him. He had hoped for something fun like Kiao and Emmery. However, his was rather banal. The two of them could be some distance apart unlike most who had a distant limit. Mien felt no strain on his mind with Glen being far apart. One day Oeric tested out how far they could be apart. They end up being a mile apart. Even at that range, Mien couldn’t say he felt any pulling. However, it was draining.
Glen didn’t search long. The consort gave him indication that Soletus and Tyrus were following him.
“What happened,” demanded Soletus as soon as jogged out of the woods with Tyrus in tow.
Doran held his arm as Mien tied a tourniquet around it.
“I scouted back like you told me and followed the river bank,” explained Doran breathlessly. “I run into Cole half way to the main road. I run off to the road and crossed it to force him to chase me so not to bring him back to camp. I thought I lost him. And then he shot me.”
“Why would he do that,” said Tyrus pulling up camp.
Doran shrugged. “Slow me down or force me to come back here. That raven of his is following me. Strike spotted him several times.”
Mien looked around and didn’t see the small shrike that was his consort around him.
“I had to recall him. This was getting to me,” he said indicating to his arm.
The last thing they needed was for Kellas to catch up with them.
Soletus nodded and helped with gathering the camp up. “We need to put distance between him and find a place to cross the river up north. We can’t wait any longer for the water to slow down here.”
Tyrus rode and Soletus led on jogging. Mien wasn’t tired before, but those few miles down the road made exhaustion he hadn’t felt all day start coming back. Doran wasn’t doing well either. The constant jostling of riding with an arrow in the arm was slowing him down. It didn’t stop him from searching for a new spot shielded out of a bird’s eye view.
They found it in an abandoned sod hut. There was a small shed in the back where they put the horses. They stripped them of most of the gear that would identify them as brotherhood and brought it inside. There wasn’t much space but it was enough to make them comfortable. Soletus started making a fire and Tyrus helped Mien. He took a gander at Doran’s arm and whistled.
“This wound needs to be cleaned and kept clean until Mien can deal with it,” he said.
Doran had settled down against a wall in a back corner. Mien was digging in his satchel for his knife, needle, and stitching thread.
“It’ll be a few more days until I can heal. However, I can still yank that arrow out.”
Doran’s face became ashen. “Yank it!”
“Well it can’t stay in there.”
Tyrus patted Doran’s chest. “Settle down. At least he doesn’t have to dig it out.”
“What if it hit a vein or something?”
“Then you’ll bleed out,” said Tyrus.
Mien grimaced and sighed. “You’re as reassuring as a bonfire next to a mound of hay.”
Tyrus shrugged. “It’s the truth.”
“Well the less worried he is about bleeding out, the easier my job will be.”
Doran let out a moan.
“We’ll talk to take your mind off of it,” said Tyrus. “So where you from?”
Doran rolled his eyes. “You know Shrike has been part of the Brotherhood since the dawn of it. Where do you think I’m from?”
“Well I’m a Woodquill and we’ve been part of the land everywhere I guess, so I don’t know who’s been part of what since the dawn of it.”
“You had to take a Brotherhood history class.”
“I did and it was the perfect class to nap.”
Doran sighed. “Most of my predecessors have given a single son to the Brotherhood and all of them have been priest. Most of my family lives northwest from Grace’s Hope. They run a chapel and orphanage there as well as see partly to the defenses of the town of Wateree. My uncle, Halvus’Shrike is the mayor there. He was a warden before he became mayor.”
“Ah. So you aren’t like Sol over there who’s had multiple generations being Brotherhood.”
Doran glanced in Soletus direction. “No, Soletus family history is different.”
“Yeah Sheldmartin men have mostly been monks,” said Soletus. “If there is a priest there, it was after they finished serving.”
Doran then asked Tyrus, “Why are you in the Brotherhood?
“It’s a good wage”
“The best motivation to be in the Brotherhood,” retorted Soletus.
“It’s better than farming on salt like my Pa. A lot of my pay gets sent home because he’s too stubborn to do anything else,”explained Tyrus.
Soletus arched a brow at him. “If its coin you want, the army pays more.”
“The army isn’t safe. The Brotherhood are exempt from fighting in wars and if you’ve not noticed, we’ve a Heron as king. They love them some war.”
There hadn’t been a war yet, but there was potential for it. There was a lot of illegal trade pouring in from the human kingdom of The Sunder Lands or as the humans called it, Sutherland. No one wanted a war with the humans as much as they wanted them to change their laws making slavery of all kinds illegal. Then there were the giants who were growing restless again. Their new warchief was ordering attacks on vulnerable villages and small towns by the borders as well.
Tyrus then added. “Aside from that, I get a roof over my head and food in my belly. Not to mention the Brotherhood is more accepting of half-elves than where I am from and the army.”
Both Soletus and Mien regarded each other stunned and said at the same time, “Half-elf?”
Tyrus exhaled and said, “Yeah, I’m a quarter human.”
There wasn’t a single human feature on him from his pointed ears to his moss colored eyes. He was lithe like most elven men. In fact, Soletus struck a more human build than Tyrus because he was part Dyne. The only claim to being was his hair. It was warm bronze that one shade darker could be considered brown if someone was picky.
Soletus was the first to recover from that statement. “I didn’t know.”
“Well it ain’t something I tell. Kinda like how you don’t go around sharing about how you’re neth and all.”
Soletus stirred the food in the pot. “Understandable.”
Mien looked between them both bewildered. “Sol, why does he know?”
“Oh, yeah, you don’t remember. Valhart blabbed it to the entire band,” he explained.
Tyrus then declared. “Well I don’t care. As far as I see it’s less competition with the ladies.”
Soletus looked over his shoulder. “And you need all the advantages you can get.”
“And I’ll take every bit of it.”
“So who was the half-elf? Your father,” asked Doran.
Mien could feel him calming down.
“Nope, my Ma. I wish I could see her one more time. After my youngest sister didn’t need her, she left.”
He shrugged. “Just up and run away leaving my brothers and sisters alone.”
Soletus quirked an eyebrow. “Brothers and sisters?”
“Yeah, there are seven of us in all.”
Mien was still shocked that she had six children. He imagined she would have the same issues that elven women did. They could only give birth to two or three children. Some only one.
“And you mother, she had you seven one after another,” questioned Mien.
“For the most part. I’m her youngest son.”
Soletus grimaced. “That’s way too many siblings.”
“Tits, you know what I think it’s strange that everyone else have single a sibling 10 or more years apart. I grew up with a sister who was a year older than me and we played together a lot.”
“I’m glad I wasn’t the only one,” said Mien.
Tyrus gave Mien a curious look. “Are you a twin?”
Mien nodded. “I’ve a twin sister.”
Tyrus’s interest piqued. “So what’s she like? What does she do?”
Mien became bristled at his interest. “She’s lives in Erodon and goes to the university there.”
“Nice,” said Tyrus considering something.
Mien glowered at him.
“Why you given me the stink eye.”
“He does that with everyone,” said Soletus. “Over protective brother.”
Tyrus laughed. “Oh come on. If she looked like a female version of you, I’m sure she’s very pretty.”
Mien expression darkened. While Tyrus gave him a goofy grin in response.
“You know she probably has a lad or two she likes to flirt with.”
“And they better not be around her if I come visit her,” he told him.
“Would you care if they were half-elf,” asked Tyrus curiously.
“Why would I care about something like that?”
Tyrus brow rose in surprise. “Well because nobles get offended by the thought of anything having a drop of human blood.”
“My family employs a lot of half-elves at our mines and stoneworks. Heck, half the indoor staff at the estate are half-elves. They’re people too.”
The only reason why Mien wouldn’t want his sister to marry one was life span. Tyrus potentially wouldn’t live as long as an elf. However, that was something for his sister to decide if love was worth spending half a life time with someone.
Doran shifted getting Mien’s attention. “I don’t think you’re going to bleed out but you won’t be able to use your arm.”
Mien held up a piece of wood for him to bite down on.
Doran nodded his head. “Just get it over with.”
The process was short. He sawed off the arrow head with his knife and pulled the shaft out of Doran’s arm. The young man kicked and let out a muffled scream. That was the easy part. The hard part was the stitching. Mien hadn’t done a whole lot of it. Most wanted to be magically healed as it was mostly painless. Kiao had him do it at every opportunity because he couldn’t do a lot of healing. However, it clearly wasn’t enough. Mien didn’t think his work would impress a physician but it closed the wound.
Doran curled up restlessly. Soletus finished cooking. He ladled food into their bowls. Mien was starving and was eager for anything and would even probably eat Brother Hickory’s burnt meals. However, when he took his spoonful, he was greeted with was bland cloudy water. Even with the most meager ingredients, Tyrus managed to make anything taste good. Soletus just made their scant supplies edible. However, Mien stomach felt like an empty cavern and he sucked all down regardless. Doran’s ate some trying to use his good arm but opted to roll his back to them after a while. Soletus ate a few spoonful’s between stirring his meal around before he dumped it in Mien’s bowl.
“I’m done. I’ll watch first tonight. Then you can Tyrus. Also you’re riding.”
The half-elf smiled and said between slurps of his meal. “Good, I can sleep in my saddle tomorrow.”
Mien glanced down at the contents of his bowl that was nearly spilling out.
“You need the food more than me. I’ve padding,” explained Soletus patting his stomach.
Concern nestles in the young chanter’s chest. Once again, he heard that off note in his friend’s voice. It might’ve appeared that his friend was trying to help him gain his abilities back faster. However, Mien knew better, there was something wrong. He chose not to confront him on it and let it go.
Night didn’t last long before Mien knew it; he was woken up by Soletus.
“It’s time to get going,” he said.
Mien peered in the gloom to the window of the hut. The blue light of morning barely passed. He rubbed his face. “Why we’re leaving so early.”
Doran yawned out, “’Cause Soletus doesn’t believe in sleep,”
“Yep he’s a pure strictarain,” said Tyrus with a yawn.
Soletus gave Tyrus a flat stare. “That’s not even a real word.”
“That’s something a strictarian would say.”
Mien then heard something rustle and then saw an object fly into Tryus’s body and bowled him over.
“Ow, you trying to kill me! What you keep in this pack, rocks.”
“Yeah and I’m giving them to you so you can fill your empty skull.”
Tyrus flung it back at him. Soletus caught it in the air. “You’re proving my point with your cruel words and actions.”
“Quit whining and get the horses ready,” ordered Soletus without a drop of seriousness in his voice.
“Yes Master. As you wish, Master,” said Tyrus bowing and pulled the tattered leather aside as an arrow whizzed by his head. The half-elf dropped to the ground and crawled to the side of the doorway. His ashen face looked at the wall where the arrow was buried.
“Hey lads,” shouted Cole. “I thought we could have a little chat before you go.”
Mien blood ran cold.
Doran scooted into the shadows. “Dammit, I thought I lost him.”
Soletus scurried to the side where Tyrus was. He stood and peered out by rolling his head to see him. “What do you want Cole?”
“It not what I want, it’s what you need. I may have accidently gimped one of your own yesterday. Hard to travel with one man down, ‘specially your scout.”
“We’ll manage,” said Soletus. He pointed to Doran’s bow and quiver.
“You know, Kellas is willing to talk things through. He specifically wanted me to explain that.”
“Where is he?”
“Don’t worry about him. You three need to worry about his offer.”
Mien hid deeper in the shadows. He doesn’t know I’m still alive.
Doran tossed Soletus his bow followed by his quiver. The young monk pulled an arrow out.
“What can he give me?”
“Kellas can keep everyone from finding out your neth if you agree to his terms.”
“He’s going to sow Valhart’s mouth shut?”
“You wouldn’t have to worry about him if you come along.”
Soletus notched his arrow. “I don’t care about that.”
“What about Tyrus and Doran? Scouting in this band is Doran’s last chance. He’s about to be relieved of duty for being unfit. He needs this chance.”
Mien glanced at Doran.
“And Tyrus,” continued Cole. “He’ll lose the most from insubordination. He’s got a home, a job, and things that half-elf like him don’t normally get. Being disciplined means no pay and months without pay will hurt his family.”
Tyrus eyes widened with his jaws slacked. He tried to move around Soletus. The young monk held him back with his arm.
“Think about, it. All of you can maintain everything you want, secrecy, job security if you come back with me. I even apologize for shooting Doran but, I needed to get your attention.”
Soletus eased back the string the bow. “I already lost by listening to Kellas once. I refuse to do it again.”
There was no agreement to the offer from Tyrus and especially to Doran who clutched his arm.
“Don’t be rash, Boy. Think about this. You don’t even know what the offer is.”
“Keep it to yourself and tell Kellas to shove it,” he shouted and spun out aiming the bow and shooting upward. Cole cried out in pain at the same time something fell into the grass.
Tyrus jumped and grabbed Soletus by the shoulders and shock him. “What did you do?”
“I shot his consort. Get the horses, we’re leaving,” ordered Soletus coolly.
Mien stood to his feet. “Sol, you can’t do that.”
Soletus whorled on him. “I just did. It’ll keep him from following us.”
“But there are drass beasts around here. They could find him and kill him.”
“Well he should’ve thought about that before shooting Doran,” said Soletus exiting the hut.
Mien stood in front of him. “Sol, you could’ve handled that differently.”
The young man then bore his voice down on him like someone pushing against him. “List me my options in any order you like.”
Mien stared at him mutely. Not because of his words but the way he spoke.
Soletus moved around him. “That’s what I thought. Get on your horse.”
Mien felt irritation creeping from the edge of his mind and washed over the astonishment at what he witnessed and felt. The anger wasn’t his, but knowing it wasn’t didn’t stop it from happening.
“Why do you have to be such a bastard,” he snapped.
Soletus stopped and regarded him. “I’m not fighting you.”
Mien’s eyes flickered gold. “I don‘t want to fight. What I want is for you to get your head from out of your rear.”
Soletus tried to stand over him. “I’m not doing this.”
Mien pushed him back. “And you just shot someone’s consort!”
Soletus threw his arms in the air. “Then he shouldn’t come here, acting like we could be bought!”
Mien then forced his voice at him and sounded like and angry rolling gust. “So what!” Soletus flinched. “I don’t care if he tried to sell you your own piss as spring water in a bucket. You should be better than him. You should be better than Valhart.”
Mien watched his friend bristle with his fist balling up.
He smirked and said in his normal speaking voice. “Get hot all you want, you know I’m right. If you don’t think I am, then hit me and get it over with or are you done being a brainless brute?”
Mien never believed the day would come where he was at receiving end of one of Soletus’s chilled stares. Where those river colored eyes turned frozen and treacherous. However he didn’t back down, he stood his ground. Soletus’s gaze flickered over at Cole and then to where his consort had fallen. Only a wing was poking up from the brush and it was now transparent blue. Soletus took a deep breath like he remembered to breathe.
“Get Cole and tuck him inside the hut before anything else happens,” he said. “Cover him and the entrance.”
They dropped him inside and out of sight. They found some young hickory trees and chopped them down. They covered him in the spicy smelling leaves in hopes to hide his scent. They also piled long branches and chopped spindly sapling to create a barrier so he could be easily overlooked. Then they left hurrying farther up north.