And me letting him become a shadow was due to the lovelace incident. Why didn’t I tell my parents or Kiao? My parents, obvious. As for Kiao, I didn’t want her to think less of me. Valhart didn’t trick me or force me to take it. No, this is the story of an idiot dod. I knew he put it in my drink. Loverlace has a certain smell to it. You can’t just put it in water and be on your way. You have to put it in something like a sweet wine to be unnoticed. I was drinking a very dry cider when I smelled it. I thought maybe, whatever the outcome, I could beat it and mess with Valhart. Why did I think that? Because I had two drinks before that. I was on my third one. I thought it was as good as a time as any. To make matters worse, I brought the packet he used. He saw me walk out of the apothecary shop. So that’s why I didn’t tell. I didn’t want to explain why I brought the lovelace and I was drunk. I handed Valhart something against me on a platter. All in all, too embarrassed and disgusted with myself to tell.
The rush of being discovered lead to another long ride without a lot of talk. If someone was spoke, Mien’s concentration was looking out for anymore consorts, drass beasts, and Kellas himself. Cole claimed he was alone, but that meant Kellas was nearby. He probably was likely at the washed out bridge or near it. However, they were clearly still ahead of him and were pulling away as fast as they could with Soletus on foot jogging.
The young monk had them slow down after they put at least four miles between them and Cole. He walked to the side of the road to a high embankment and leaned against the earth.
“Alright, that happened,” he said at length. “We know Kellas is back from the gorge. I reckon he’s waiting to cross and sent Cole out to find us.”
Tyrus dismounted his horse. “Well he did and Kellas is probably going to come for us as you shot grandpa there.”
Soletus face became taunt.
“Hey, I think he deserved it. Don’t shoot someone and not expect to be shot back.”
Doran then added. “He’s not feeling bad about it. He thinks he’s done right.”
Mien tasted sour cherries in his mouth. It made him gag.
Tyrus situated himself beside of Soletus but said to Doran. “Well I think he did. Cole was being a rat and needed help to curb that behavior.”
Soletus remained tight jawed.
“Look I know your upset about Lyndon.”
Soletus pushed himself upright. “I’m not upset. I’m perfectly fine.” He then started pacing back and forth. “Cole just rubbed me the wrong way, is all. I mean, he insulted us calling us cowards and then tried to make a deal as if we could forget he’s rotten. How stupid does he think we are?”
“Considerin’ he don’t think we’re all that intelligent…” said Tyrus watching him and then eyes flicked to Mien for him to do something.
The young chanter held a hand up. There was no need to stop him. Soletus needed to vent.
“Well we’re not. You know what likely was to happen, we come back and we would be in a world of hurt. The only way they’ll make me shut up about what happened is if he killed me.”
Tyrus nodded. “True. I’ll be shock if he didn’t mean for that arrow to hit me and then pick us off one at a time.”
“Exactly,” said Soletus slowing down a little. “Hitting his consort bought us time, but Dias knows I shouldn’t’ve done that.”
“I get it, you feel as if you took things too far,” said Tyrus. “But honestly, we gave him a fighting chance. He probably woke after we left more crotchety. The only think that happens to him is he doesn’t get to have his sooty turkey for a day. You didn’t do something cruel like shot him in the arm.”
Soletus stopped pacing and looked up at Doran. “I didn’t ask how’s the arm?”
His arm still rested in the sling Mien made for him. “Aching.”
“I can give you something if the pain gets too much,” said Mien.
“That would be nice,” said Doran.
Mien slid off his saddle and dug into his satchel. He felt Soletus’s gaze on him. “What do you want, Sol?”
“Sorry. I should’ve acted like that,” he said.
Mien glanced over his shoulder. “Your worse isn’t close to my worse.”
“Stop being my keeper,” said Mien firmly and handed Doran a packet of powder. “What do we do? Keep going north?”
The young monk nodded getting back to business. Preferably as far as we can go. I want to discourage Kellas from following us by making it a waste of time.”
“Then he’ll cross the river like we’re planning on too. Then we are back to him catching up to us because he can cross more ground quicker.”
“Not if I can get a horse.”
“It’s going to have to be a town that likes to accommodate the Brotherhood. Crossings was that town,” said Doran. “Anything north of here, they are going to want us to do something and we don’t have time for that.”
“What about the outpost somewhere around here,” asked Tyrus.
“There is one northeast of Crossings, over the river,” said Soletus. “There is one on this side at the providence border. It’s probably unmanned given the time of year and out of the way. We wouldn’t get much from them other than some food.”
“We need food,” said Tyrus. “We’ll be tightening our sashes soon.”
“Then how about we stay our course and follow this road as far as we can. If I remember right, there’s a fork and we’ll decide then.”
They pushed onward even going a little father closer to sunset. Generally, the Brotherhood didn’t travel passed sundown. They made camp and ate when it was still light. It was safer. However, Soletus forewent safety to make sure they were a safe distance ahead before they settled down to campfire. Mien noted that Soletus didn’t eat anything meaningful that evening. He drank water, but not eating was going to become a problem.
They were trained to deal with situations were food were supplies were low but, that didn’t stop bodies from getting worn from it. They could still go on without constantly breaking but morale was going to get low. It didn’t make dealing with their next obstacle any better.
They got to they got to the fork the next day and were left confused. There were no stone or wooden road markers to tell them where they were at. There was no ash leave marker pointing to a brotherhood outpost. It was just one way or the other. To their right was the road that looked like a place where many ticks lay waiting to attach itself to skin. To their left was a clearer path that had a vast puddle of water stretched along its length like a miniature pond.
Doran head swung left to right in indecision.
“Well the path that clearly used is the way to go,” said Tyrus. “Even if it’s covered in mud.”
“Is it,” said Doran. “We’re on the assumption that the road that is well-traveled is the road we need get home.”
Mien hated to agree with him, but Doran was correct.
“The right path follows the river though,” said Soletus.
“Yes, but for how long? I think the road ends at a waterfall. The one on the left leads north, I think. We could try to ford the river but, what is shallow in that?”
Mien could barely make out the river through the trees but, what he saw of it, the water churned brown.
“I mean the decision is yours, Senior Warden,” said Doran. “This is just my observations.”
Soletus bobbed his head in consideration and said, “What do you think Mien?”
Mien glared at Soletus. “Why do I suddenly need to have an opinion?”
“Because you’re acting second.”
At some point Soletus told them. Mien didn’t remember. He wondered if it created an argument. Tyrus by his horse didn’t seem to care. Doran managed to kept his face from puckering up.
“My main problem is the road going up a waterfall, how do we get up it? There has to be a road or something but if we can get up it, then we have to backtrack here. I say we go north. If the road runs basically parallel to the river then well turn and just travel west until we hit the river again.”
Tyrus raised his hand. “Do I get an opinion?”
Soletus nodded. “Yes.”
“I don’t wanna travel down that. We’ll be diseased from the ticks and poisoned from the snakes ‘fore we make it to the falls.”
“Left it is then,” decided Soletus with finality.
“Do you want me to scout ahead,” said Doran.
“Yes, but don’t get ahead too far. Just tell me how long this mud slick lasts.”
“As you wish,” said Doran with his usually sourness.
Mien ran his tongue over the roof of him mouth. There was one thing he wished he didn’t regain back yet. He reached for his water skin and swished the liquid from it in his mouth. Tyrus rode his horse close to Soletus leaning down.
“You, you could’ve just told us to head,” he said.
“Maybe I want everyone to have a say. I’m not Kellas.”
“Yeah I get you but, you have to pick better moments to do that. Doran’s had his shorts in his crack since you announced Mien being you’re second.”
“And you don’t care,” asked Mien.
“No, better you than me,” laughed Tyrus. “I don’t want that kind of responsibility.”
Afterwards, they talked lightly of other things. It was then that Mien noticed something. They didn’t come across a village or even a hermit or sign of someone who actually used the road. It narrowed down to dirt path before it ended.
The four of them stood in shell of a burnt village at the foot of absolutely nothing. A field covered in waist tall grass spread across as far as the eye could see to their west and east. To the north ahead of them, was a dark line of trees.
“I don’t understand,” said Doran. “We followed this road straight and it should’ve taken us not here.”
Soletus slid off his saddle. “At least not here is open.”
“And everything can see us,” muttered Tyrus absently as he walking to a charcoal shell that was once a home. He rubbed his fingers down the surface of the last standing supports to a house frame. “It wasn’t recent but wasn’t like years ago.”
“It happened last year maybe,” said Mien inspecting the ground and his gaze wondered up to the trees. We watched the top
“Lightning, accident, or intentional,” asked Soletus.
Doran guided his horse to the edge of the village and said, “I don’t know but here’s a mass grave.”
Mien jumped from his saddle and approached where Doran was. He found a long strip of piled earth covered with tao stone powder. He rubbed the grit between his fingers and studied the markers. They were all made from ground tao stone that was fired. They were recently placed there maybe earlier that month. There were twenty stones, however, there wasn’t room for twenty bodies. It was too small. He stood up and the hairs on his arms stood on end at the unusual sight. He rubbed his arms. He didn’t feel safe at all. The wind rustled bringing a voice with it. The timbre he dreamed about was mingled into it as well It was coming from the direction of the menacing looking forest on the horizon.
“Maybe everyone here was burned to death in a fire,” Tyrus guessed.
“No, I think this place was intentionally burned. The burnt areas doesn’t extend out from the village. So it wasn’t a brush fire,” said Soletus.
“I say we turn back around,” suggested Doran.
“We need to go north,” said Mien.
“I would prefer that,” agreed Soletus.
Doran shook his head. “North is just a rough estimate to get us home. We need to be following the river. There is always a town, village, or something by the river and clearly there something nearby. Someone had to set the markers. We need directions and supplies. We’re running on mushrooms, and leaves.”
“I don’t know how safe we are to backtrack.”
Doran trotted his horse in front of Soletus blocking his way. “It’s now a race against time. Kellas could beat us home and likely lie and claim we committed insubordination. You might be okay with offenses hanging over your head, I don’t.”
Mien then spoke louder and firmer. “We need to go north. There’s a voice on the wind. I need to go towards it.”
The rest of his companions all turned their heads at the same time to face him.
Soletus walked around Doran’s horse to where Mien was standing. “What kind of voice,”
“I don’t know other than desperate,” he said as it touched his ears again. His feet moved on their own accord towards it before he stopped himself. “It’s a plea for help. I dreamed the other night about it, but I hear it now.”
“Isn’t you edict something for you to do alone and not involving anyone,” asked Doran.
“I can’t ignore it.”
Doran pointed down the road. “We need to get home.”
Tyrus wiped the sweat off his face and massaged the back of his neck. “Believe me, I want to go home too but if the chanter says we need to do something, then we do it.”
Doran’s face puckered. “So you two are just going to let Mien follow a timbre that has nothing to do with us going home,” he exclaimed, sending new wave of bitterness in Mien’s motuth. He started spitting and wiping his tongue on the roof of his mouth.
The young monk nodded. “Yes. It benefits us if Mien finishes his edict and learns how to use his phrase.”
Mien had enough and glared at him. “Every word you say is so tart it’s making me sick.”
Doran scowl only deepened. “What are you talking about?”
Soletus cleared his throat. “He wants to know what’s your problem is. I want to know too because your opposing this for no good reason.”
Doran’s face flushed. “I stated my reasons logically and all he’s done it say, ‘I feel this’ and ‘hears that’. Why should I trust a chanter who tries to kill people?”
Soletus started clapping. “Well it took you six years, but you’ve finally got that fact correct. Maybe now you can realize that there is someone in need of our help and we can’t deny them that.”
The young man then waved his good arm in in the air in frustration. “You know the moment you’ve met Mien, all you’ve done is cater to him.”
Soletus’s crossed his arms with this brow knitting together in confusion. “What are you getting at?”
“It’s like he’s your pet or something.”
The young monk let out a humorless chuckle. “Maybe if you stop believing that friendship equals keeping a dog, you’ll have a few yourself.”
Doran’s entire head turn pink but his embarrassment didn’t shut him up. He went back to his previous course.
“Chanters shouldn’t try to kill people. So why do we trust him. That’s my point, Sol. He could turn on us at any time because we made him upset or do something that offends him. It isn’t hard to do if he’s ranting about me making his mouth sour.”
Mien’s jaw dropped in bewilderment and worked to speak. Soletus spoke first with his voice taking on a deeper and threatening note. “So now he’s untrustworthy? Is this really you’re problem?”
Doran held his chin up. “It is. You and everyone else have been bending over backwards for a crazy person. Why would do that for someone you don’t even like at first.”
If that was supposed to be some revelation, it wasn’t. Mien knew that Soletus was frustrated with him early on when they met. In his defense, the young monk didn’t know what to do with a person he couldn’t relate too. In fact, it wasn’t until he save his life did Soletus begun to work with him. That was the only thing connecting them. That act of bravery that Soletus latched onto. It impressed him. And since then, Soletus just took him under his wing, a lot like a little brother. They became friends over time. Doran, for whatever reason, didn’t understand that.
Soletus gaze shifted to Mien while he spoke. “Fine I admit to not liking him at first but he saved my life. That’s my reasoning. My reasoning for stop being friends with you is because you act like the bastard child you are.”
The young man’s face colored brighter than before.
“At least I’m not half feral brute and low-ear. That’s probably the reason why you’re a prickles coward who lets his own cousin die,” snapped Doran.
Mien felt his friend rage cascade over him. He dammed it and contained himself. The young monk on the other hand, reached for Doran to rip him off his saddle. Mien jumped between them. Instead of him holding Soletus back, he was spun around and thrown to the ground. He landed flat on his back, knocking the wind out of him. Before he had time to draw a full breath, Soletus was on top of him. He grabbed him by the front of his jerkin and held him down.
Mien clamped down on his own terror and locked his gaze to friend’s fury filled eyes. He only looked away for an instance at the fist that was raised ready to strike him. Soletus hesitated.
“Come on now. I’ve told you before. If you’re going to hit me, then hit me,” rasped Mien.
It wasn’t a taunt but, a way to knock sense back into his friend. However, there was a risk that Soletus took it as one. The storm as enveloped his friend, fled. The young monk released him and backed away. Mien caught a glimpse of shame on his face before he whorled around and trudged off into the waist high grass. Mien pushed his hair out of his face and gulped in air. Tyrus’s head eclipsed his vison as he crouched at his side. He heard Doran grunt as he got off his horse.
“What do I do,” asked Tyrus.
Mien let out a giddy laugh. “Praise Dias he didn’t hit me.”
“You got the shakes,” said Tyrus searching his face.
“Don’t worry,” he said sitting up and Tyrus reached for him and Mien batted his hands away. “It can’t be helped. Don’t touch me.”
The half elf then sprung up and slapped Doran across the face. “Now I’m not saying that Soletus was right by saying what he did but, do you have to be the bastard that you are.”
Doran held his face and sneered at him.
“You don’t see me acting like an ignorant muddied-eyed fool ‘cause I don’t like someone.”
“You don’t understand,” snapped Doran.
“I do. I didn’t like him either. I never have. He’s uptight and acts better than everyone on top of being master’s pet from the beginning.”
Mien was stunned to hear that given he was trying to get alone with him.
Doran face lit up. “Finally, someone who gets it. And don’t forget he’s a nasty temper.”
Mien was about to cut in at that statement but Tyrus spoke first.
“I figure he had too many people like you and me in his life or somethin’ so he comes down hard. He should do that with Mien though,” said Tyrus looking at him.
“My worst is worse than his,” said Mien dusting himself off.
“He just attacked you for no reason.”
“I got in his way.”
“And you aren’t pissed at him.”
“I’m not happy with him. But I understand why he’s upset.”
“Yeah, I get it. But someone like him should be above acting like a jackass.”
“Be patient, Tyrus. This isn’t easy for him.”
Tyrus rolled his head back. “I know. But—arg forget it. I’m not second, not worrying about. Just order me or something.”
“Just wait here, and keep an eye out. Expect to move out when I get back,” said he said.
The young chanter waded into the grass following his friend’s footsteps. Soletus was lying on his back and peered vacantly at the sky with eyes that appeared sunken. At first, he didn’t notice him until Mien cleared his throat. The young monk sat up with a start. Mien kept his distance.
“I’m sorry,” said Soletus remorsefully. “I should’ve done any of that.”
Mien remained motionless. He hadn’t sorted out his feelings about what had happened. He wasn’t so much mad as he was disappointed.
“I get it. I hurt you. That’s something you shouldn’t have to worry about from me. And if you can’t trust me anymore, then I understand.”
He approached Soletus and sat close beside him. “Know I can trust you to not be able to control yourself right now.”
Mien was certain his ears drooped. “I’m sorry,” he repeated.
“Instead of telling me sorry, do something,” exasperated Mien. “Grief is getting the better of you. You’ve not been eating, and now your more irritable. You’ve been using your voice or projecting emotion or something. I don’t know what, but I feel way too much from you. And it’s going to get worse if you don’t do something.”
Soletus sunk back down to his back and watched the sky. “I don’t know what to do. If I could train, I could fuel what I feel it into that.”
“Then I’ll train you to control your voice. The uncontrolled forcing needs to stop.”
Soleus rolled his head towards him. “I’m just chanter gifted.”
“You can still control it.”
“I don’t feel it happening though.”
“That’s because you’ve never been shown,” said Mien and poked him below his sternum. “I want you to hum.”
“Take a deep breath and hum.” Soletus inhaled and let out a long humming in note. “You feel the air in your throat right. But you feel something here. A reverberation and a warmth there.”
“That is where a chanter’s magical heart is located. Even those who are chanter gifted possess a very small one. And if you were a normal person, you couldn’t feel that.”
Soletus stopped humming
“Activating it is second nature to most chanters. It’s more of an exercise to figure out the situations where to use it. Most will do so when we’re upset. And you very much are.”
“I don’t even get why I can.”
“It’s how your chanter gift manifested, in your voice so you need to learn to use it with purpose.”
Mien nodded. “And since you like challenges I will give you the hardest method to learn. I want you to focus on soft-speak.”
Soletus tilted his head. “What?”
“You’ve a lot of will and when you use your voice it slams into the mind. Instead of sounding like some vengeful watcher of Dias, I want you to focus on using your voice in a calm tone.”
“What does that even do?”
“You use it to persuade others.”
Soletus rubbed his face. “This sounds too complicated.”
“It isn’t. Learning how to use your voice requires you being aware of yourself and feeling how you speak as well as the words you use.”
Soletus gave him a suspicious glint. “You’re trying to get me to calm down basically. You’re asking too much of me right now.”
“I’m not. Trust your sensitive empathetic friend who’s tired of seeing his friend hurting. You can do this.”
“You asking me this because I’m making you uncomfortable,” Soletus returned.
“No because I care about you,” admitted Mien. “You’re the first person I actually became friends with and stayed friends with. I never thought I could do that.”
All Soletus did was blink at him.
Mien started to get embarrassed. “Why are you looking at me like that? I don’t hate you. And I should hit you because once again for insinuating that I can’t handle you at you’re worst. My worse is worse than you’re worse.”
That brought a twitch to his lips. “You never tried to hit me.”
“I did hit you,” corrected Mien.
Soletus frowned in confusion.
“You know in the chapel attic. You were acting like an ass like you are now.”
“Oh yeah, you did. I didn’t remember because it wasn’t a very good hit.”
Mien hit his fist against the palm of his hand. “How about I make it memorable this time.”
Tyrus then shouted at them. “Hey you two, come over here!”
Mien and Soletus stood up and walked over to where their other two bandmates were standing. Doran was looking off into the distance and Tyrus pointed to it.
“Look, there about a mile someone’s there.”
Indeed, there was a person standing afar with grass waving around them but there was something wrong. Mien couldn’t figure it out though. Soletus stood there staring at it. His brow met.
“Have they moved,” he asked.
“Well they had too because they weren’t there a moment ago,” said Tyrus. “I figured maybe they were a sleep there and saw us. Maybe they need help.”
All the blood drained from the young monk’s face. He spoke using his father’s measured tone again.
“Tyrus, is there a structure around us that still has a loft to hold us,” he said without looking at him. Fear was so heavy in his voice it made Mien’s the hair on his skin starting to raise.
Tyrus looked around. “No. Why would a bunch of simple sod huts have a loft?”
Soletus gulped, saying quietly, “Because that’s not a person, that’s a husk.”