I put my life into his has a couple times after that little adventure of ours. Looking back on it, we were a bit like Lenneth and Stephren. Though we were never friends like they were. I was probably too much like Fern in his eyes. Either way, he never could call me by name. I was forever “Sister” to him, but he always said it with respect and affection. I even managed to get hugs out of him. After that first adventure, it grated me when someone referred to him as a cur. They were rude, dismiss his wisdom, look down on him, and jump to accuse him of anything they could. And certainly, I didn’t care for him at first because I thought I knew who he was too. Yet after I saw how bright he could shine, I saw a man. I saw a husband, a father, and a monk. He was both stern and kind. Both bold and wise, well after a while. He was a beautiful man clad in scars. I told him that many times before he stopped being diffident. Eventually, he smiled.
-Lady Matron Kialianna’Cyan(Kiao)
Oeric knew what he did was stupid and risked his life but it had to be done. He watched Kiao ride off knowing that she would be a target but he was what Xerius and his brainless bunch wanted.
He worked as a mercenary for just a handful of years and he had seen how they worked. He learned there were good mercenaries and bad ones. Then there were the ones who didn’t know when to quit. They could come from both types and were equally annoying to deal with. They wanted to get paid and a bounty who refused to give up was an extreme annoyance. He even hated to let a bounty go but if the chase wasn’t worth the pay, then why exhaust himself. He became what many hated and made himself more than not worth the pay. Not that there was any.
It all could’ve been avoided if he never stopped at that lodge. However, he was wet and Kiao was tired. Despite never traveling more than a couple hours outside of town, she managed to do well. She never complained and took everything in stride. She would make a good warden. However, she was still a young woman, and he felt stopping for just a night in a lodge shouldn’t be a problem and not the mess it became.
He sighed. He hoped she didn’t hate him too much for what was probably about to happen and for what had happened. He was planning to be a wolf so he didn’t have to worry about being stopped for his scars. However, he was proven yet again, not to hide things.
The young woman had reservations for him and wanted their trip to be easy without conflict. Yet it found them. At least the drama wasn’t between them. He appreciated that.
He stepped into the path again and found a soft spot of ground. He folded his legs underneath him. He sat tall with his hand resting on the tops of his legs and waited.
“Dias, let this not be a drop in that well of mistakes I’ve made,” he prayed. “You told the first monk that no matter what road you tread. I will be with you. And so you are.”
It didn’t take that long for Xerius to glide over his head and landed behind him. The distinctive sound of a sword sliding out of a sheath disturbed the sound of the empty wilderness around him. Oeric didn’t know what to expect, but the man killing him wasn’t one of him. If he wanted to straight up kill him, he wouldn’t be alone. The blade rested on his shoulder. The edge of it pointed to his neck.
“Not running and unarmed,” said Xerius moving face to face with him. “Are you surrendering?”
“No. Our last chat was so riveting, I desired for one more,” said Oeric and smiled at him. “I think I’m growing fond of you.”
Xerius rolled his eyes. “You’ve not changed a bit.”
“Sorry. Pointy objects render my self-control useless. Anyway, I came to the conclusion that my actions in our previous meeting was rude and created a barrier to proper communication. So I decided to lay myself bare before in an attempt to show you my honest sincerity.”
“So you’re being this way. Are you trying to guilt me into not killing you? I can just lie and say you come at me with a knife and I had to cut off your head.”
“Clearly, I need to repeat what I told you before. However, I will give you the short of it. Killing me won’t end well for you. If you want to find a quicker way to a hangman’s noose, this is the best way to do it.”
“Curs commit most of the murder and rape in this country. They are usually the ones who steal and encourage more drug trade going in this country. That’s why the Seat is putting an end to blood sports.”
“Good. I want it to end. I want them to burn it all in flames and free those fighters trapped and their handlers face an Arbiter like I have. I pray that some of them live and those that do, may they get the chance I have. I lived, Xerius. And I will continue living because that’s what I need to do. So is ridding this world of curs no matter what is the hill you want to die on is really what you should be doing? I’m not joining the bodies you stand on.”
The dyne elf then slid the sword up against his neck. “So where are you sending that priestess of yours.”
“She’s a tree to visit.”
“Good, we can just wait here until they bring her back.”
Oeric wiped all expression on his face. “So you finally planned on ahead?”
“I figured you must have a destination. Stopping at Fenndish places and there was a very Fenndish place that is one of Diva great sacred trees nearby, a burning ash.”
Oeric smiled. “Impressive, you’re capable of thought but it’s too little too late.”
“I don’t think so,” said Roxlyn as she stepped out from the woods to in front of him. She had her head raise high so she could look down at him like he was a flea.
“I wouldn’t get any closer to him. He’s something up his sleeves. He just sat down in the road,” said Xerius.
She changed back to a woman. “He looks tired.” She then bent down in front of his face. “Perhaps whatever illness that’s inflicted you finally has taken its toll on you. Weak mind, weak body.”
Oeric put a seal on his mouth. The last thing he need was to get assaulted by her because of his tongue.
“Once we get that priestess here. I will teach her a little something about mind control,” she said wiggling a vial between her fingers.”
There were a lot of things that it could be. As far as he knew, no substance could allow a person to control another the way a chanter could. However, some substances could cut off inhibitions, hallucinate, and cause intoxication like effects. Some of those substances were very strong. If she possessed a combination of them, the substances would either make him do something to her or she would do something to him. Probably the former, they wanted an excuse to kill him and to make her see what he really was.
Oeric stayed there waiting with a sword against his neck for a bit. For all of her hate of him, He was surprised Roxlyn didn’t spit on him. She listened to Xerius’s warning. It didn’t take long for the rustling of brush behind him to be heard. He didn’t bother seeing who it was with his head but did use his eyes. The larger of the two panthers stepped out.
“Grell, where is she,” demanded Xerius.
“Gone,” answered he answered. “We were attacked by two consorts. One was a very large bear. Poe got hurt.”
“No I got slapped a very large bear, get it right,” grumbled Poe limping into view. “I think he bruised one of my ribs.”
Roxlyn shouted at them. “Why didn’t you just attack it?”
“Because it was a very large bear,” stated Grell changing back. “Look, we’ve wasted our time on a single cur and trying to rescue a girl didn’t want to be rescued. Then she turned out to be a strong chanter. Could’ve let it there. But no, you got your ears in a knot. And we continued chasing them. Then they get to a Fenndish temple that is warded and pass on through no problem because they’re Brotherhood.”
“Any Fenndish could go in there.”
“No, we were attacked by Brotherhood and that girl knew them.”
Xerius eyed Oeric. “Are you certain?”
Poe shifted into a normal body. “Fen elves don’t use their consort. The Brotherhood does. And an archer came after the two consorts. And he was wearing a uniform. Brown jerkin, yellow sash, and a patch on his shirt, that’s Brotherhood!”
Oeric then said. “Surely you didn’t think I was lying this entire time?”
“Shut up,” snapped Roxlyn and kicked him in the leg. “They could’ve been pretending to be Brotherhood.”
“The archer was very young, no scars on his face. Not a cur. His hair was nearly white, he could’ve been one of us.”
“Then he would be Fenndish Dyne. Another insult to Diva,” said Roxlyn.”
“And we aren’t at home to seek retribution on every person insults Diva,” exclaimed Grell. “Forget the girl and tie him up and drag him back. He’ll be alive for the Seat to deal with and we tell them about the priestess. You can rough him up a little on the way.”
Roxlyn shook her head. “I don’t want to rough him up, I want him dead, and that chanter humiliated.
Xerius sighed. “We’re not going to kill this one.”
The woman then poked an accusatory finger at his chest. “You’re being soft because you know this one.”
The man rubbed his temple with his hands. “I’m not.”
“Then just behead him already. He’s sitting there perfectly still!”
“Girl, you’ve should learn by now to be wary of a predator who doesn’t run.”
“Girl? I’m not some child anymore, brother,” snarled Roxlyn.
Oeric brow rose at hearing that. He wondered why Xerius would even bother with chasing them for so long. He was humoring his sister.
“You’ve never seen him fight. He’s fast and doesn’t need a weapon to disarm or kill a person. He doesn’t need to be a wolf to do it either. We do need to tie him up since he is being accommodating.”
“Xerius, heads up,” shouted Poe. “There’s a rider coming towards us.”
Oeric wished he was facing the other way to see who it was he didn’t have to wait long. The galloping horse skid to a halt causing dust to enveloped him.
“Who are you,” demanded Roxlyn.
“Doesn’t matter, and I’m not asking again, I’m telling you, let him go,” ordered Soletus loud and firm. However, there was a threatening growl to his voice. Oeric grimaced. He was counting on his son to be coolheaded. That clearly wasn’t what he was getting, but he could still work with it.
“Soletus,” he said sharply. “Is that a way to speak to people?”
“Seriously Papa! You want me to be polite when you’ve got a sword to your neck and those two just tried to hurt Kiao.”
“I said nothing about being polite just not be rude when I’ve got a sword to my neck.”
“Papa,” said Xerius looking between them both shocked. “This man is your father?”
“He is and so help me Dias if you do not let him go I will—“
“You can do nothing,” snapped Roxlyn stepping forward. “You’re the offspring of a cur. Dirty and vile blood runs through your veins. You are unworthy to even speak to us.”
Oeric could hear the eye-roll in his son’s voice. “Do you still want me to be polite?”
Xerius regard him. “Blessed Diva, he even speaks like you.”
Roxlyn continued without noticing them. “Diva gave me a task to rid the world of curs, and I will kill everyone I see including this one. I don’t care if he calls you son. You see this vial half-breed,” she said and the air behind her began to ripple. “He knew what was going to happen and he could work with that too.
It contains madness. Just a few drops of on the skin bring out the madness of the mind. Curs are especially susceptible to it. They tend to get violent. I say we see what sort of person, your father really is.”
At the same time she popped the cork of the vial open, Khodi burst into the world behind Roxlyn. He swiped one massive paw down Roxlyn’s back and splashed the vial all over her. The woman screamed. Oeric dropped to his side and rolled away from Xerius. The two other elves shifted quickly into panthers and throw themselves at Khodi who held Roxlyn on the ground with a single paw on her chest. He roared into her face. The two cats dug there claws and teeth into the consort’s hide. The bear didn’t move.
Xerius charged with his sword and sent it through the consort’s ribs. With any other elf, Soletus who’ve been on the ground gasping from the injury. However, Khodi didn’t transfer his pain to Soletus. The bear snapped at him while Roxlyn thrashed and crying.
“Get him off her now,” cried Xerius with his sword pointed at Soletus now.
Oeric rushed between them and said to Soletus, “Let her go.”
The young man’s gaze had gone cold and hard.
“What is the matter with you let her go.”
Khodi remained on top of her still as if he were waiting for an order while his son watched and listened to Roxlyn start struggling and rasped. “Get it off, get it off!”
“You’re hurting her.”
“She was going to hurt you and I’m not watching someone else I love get hurt or killed when I can stop them,” said Soletus.
Oeric rushed to his side and grabbed his arm. “Look down at me” he ordered.
The young man did but he did look annoyed.
“Am I being threatened anymore? No. I’m right here at your side. Let her go.”
Soletus looked as if he was in conflict with himself.
Khodi rumbled and roared into Roxlyn’s face. She screamed again covering her face like she was a scared girl.
Oeric grabbed the front of his son’s tunic. “Banish him,”
Soletus gritted his teeth then shouted, “Banish!”
The consort burst into blue sparks. The spell that was over Soletus vanished and he looked horrified. Clearly, he lost control of his consort. Xerius pulled Roxlyn up from the ground. The woman quivered in his arms.
“Is she alright,” asked Oeric.
“Stay back,” snapped Xerius.
Oeric saw that leather vest she wore was scratched with deep cuts and that was it. She was lucky.
Xerius clutched Roxlyn tighter. “I should kill that son of yours.”
Oeric crossed his arms. “I’m not excusing his actions but you threatened me and she’s not dead.”
“Curse you, yours, and that stupid girl,” babbled Roxlyn.
Grell then asked. “Do you want us to grab him, Boss?”
“No, I want that boy out of my sight,” said Xerius and pointed down the road. “And you go with him or I will stick you with my sword.”
Oeric didn’t have to be told twice. He pulled the horse forward and walked away from them as fast as his legs allowed him too. He led the horse into the wood rather than stay on the path, not to lose them but to find a quiet place to talk to his son. They came to a small outcrop of rocks and faced his son.
“We need to talk, now!”
Soletus dismounted his horse, found a rock, and sat on it.
Oeric remembered when the young man was barely as tall as the rocks. If he attempted to climb the ones on the monastery grounds, he would become a bundle of nerves. He would watch every foot and handhold as his son made to make sure he didn’t slip and bust his head open. Cordea would kill him if that happened.
Now his son just sat down using his long legs to scoot him back so he could fold them in front of him. He did the same as a boy and would’ve looked proud of his accomplishment. He looked anything but proud then. His face was drawn and with slumped shoulders.
He sat beside his son. He had a long time to think about what he was going to say. He walked a great deal in silence running what he need to talk to Soletus and prioritized what to talk about first based on the state he was in. It was clear the young man wasn’t doing very well. It clearly was Lyndon’s death. Seeing the two boys together reminded him of the better parts of his boyhood with his cousin Alacai.
“How you holding up,” he asked.
Soletus’s gaze held to the distance. “Well enough.”
“Well enough,” Oeric grunted. “You don’t look well and certainly aren’t acting it. What was that back there? Honestly, I took a risk and counted on you know being competent!” He then stopped himself. Swallowed his fussing, and tried again. “That’s not how you act. You know better. Is this because of Lyndon’s dying?”
Soletus stared at him stunned.
“Yes, I know he’s dead. Him dying sent an icy knife through your heart didn’t it?”
Soletus eyes glistened. “He died while I was holding him.”
That was worse than he expected.
“Your first death is the hardest. Even worse, when it’s someone close. How he die?”
“Saving me,” stated Soletus at a whisper.
It was as if he was going down the lists of the worse death situations. Being the one left alive always came with guilt.
“The first fighting brother who died on me was First Warden Talore. He was a good man, the best mentor a young man could ask for. And he died saving me from a torrent of water from a broken dam. I didn’t even have a body to get his sash. I was devastated.”
Soletus looked at his feet.
“But I had a bunch of men, families, orphans, and elderly to look after. I bottled up my sorrow and marched us back home. I talked to Papa about that happened and then spoke to his wife and sons. I came home and found your mother. I think I spend an hour sobbing in her lap. Afterward, every one commended me on my actions. It earned me a promotion. And I hated it. Talore saved an entire village from being swallowed by a breaking dam and it felt like I got all the credit. It wasn’t bittersweet, just bitter. It took a bit for me to find peace with it through Dias’s and with Brother Hickory’s guidance. I learned from it all we should be thankful for the time spent with those we’ve lost and then focus on the living.”
Oeric paused as his son’s face becoming embittered.
“That does include you.” Soletus regarded him. There was a little spark of light in them. He was listening and not just hearing. “What happened? Why are you all the way out here of all places?”
Soletus then proceeded to tell him what led them there. It was Kellas’s doing as he thought and wasn’t surprised by any of it. He had experience with Kellas wanting to take justice in his own hand but never on the scale that Soletus described. It seemed outrageous. “I don’t blame you for what happened. A first warden should never force his junior members into a situation that they can’t handle.”
Soletus pulled his legs up to his chest and rested his head on his knees. “I should’ve left earlier. If I had stood my ground at the inn then Lyndon wouldn’t be dead.”
Oeric patted his back. “There is very little in life you have control over. And when it comes to decision making, you have to do with what is best for yourself and everyone around you at the time.”
Soletus voice shook as he spoke. “I wasn’t thinking about everyone. I hesitated because of what Valhart threatened to say.”
“He threatened to say something about me.”
It was about him being neth. How Soletus could be so stupid to let that be in his way? But then again, he knew what fear could do. He swallowed the knee-jerk statement that almost made it out of his mouth and work with what he had though-out during his travels.
“I understand why you feel so guilty about this. I’m not going to lie and say that that you remain blameless here. What I am going to tell you is that being neth shouldn’t be something to be afraid of.”
Soletus went stiff. Oeric didn’t think he was even breathing as he became wide-eyed.
“Why are you shocked? If anyone of us should be, it’s me. Why would you think I would have a problem with it?”
Soletus ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t know I didn’t think you would like it.”
“I assumed with all the pushing to get me socialized you wanted for me to be like everyone else. That you didn’t consider it.”
“We pushed to get you socialized because you weren’t acting your age,” he said.
“Your mother suggested we introduce you to Briar again and I thought the huntresses would be a better measure. And I’ve never seen a more oblivious young man in my entire life. The way your reaction towards Briar was telling. You didn’t treat her like she was a young woman, but someone on equal standing. Not to mention a great annoyance. No conflict there with the fact she was grown-up. In fact, you treated those girls like a group of warders. But what was the most telling was when you started to pretend you were with Briar.”
“Why didn’t you say something if you knew,” said Soletus becoming agitated. “You could’ve said something instead of experimenting with me.”
“If we confronted you, would you have told the truth and don’t lie.”
Soletus winced, “Eventually. The reason I pretended with Briar was that I just needed time to figure it all out.”
“You could’ve asked Brother Hickory or even come to me.”
“I did tell you,” he said quietly. “That I wasn’t interested in matching a couple years back.”
Oeric shook his head. “Yes and that single statement is what led me and your mother do what we did. Next time, try being a little more straightforward.”
“I’m sorry,” said Soletus with his voice cracking. “I didn’t know. I was just afraid. I didn’t want to be disowned. I don’t know what else to do!”
Oeric rested his hands on his shoulders and held him. “When you were born, I promised you that I would always be here as long as you need me. You’re my son. Nothing changes that.”
“But I killed Lyndon. He was your nephew.”
“You’re still my son.”
“But Mama and Uncle Hart are going to be mad at me.”
“Your mother wants you home no matter what. As for your Uncle, I can’t speak for him but he wouldn’t care. And even if they hated you, I wouldn’t. You’re not going anywhere. We will work this out,” he told him. “You’re still my son.”
Soletus started back breathing more steadily. “And you really don’t care?”
“My weak heart can’t even stand knowing your missing. How am I supposed to disown you?”
“And you’re not going to try and fix me.”
“Fix? Don’t tell me you got it in your head something wrong with you?”
A wisp of a wry smile appeared on Soletus’s face. “If I say yes, are you going to lecture me more?”
“There is nothing wrong with you. Above and below, even if you are like me and slow, I would try to fix, push, or do anything to you. I got enough from your grandfather about acting neth.”
Soletus blinked at him stunned.
“As unbelievable as it may sound, you’re mother thought I was neth for the longest time. The other fighters liked to rib me and called me frigid. Maelyra thought my being a cur had created an aversion to relationships. And your grandfather didn’t understand it as he wanted me to be normal and do normal things once he deemed me back to normal.”
Soletus then returned. “Grandpa thought you were acting too neth and had a problem with it.”
Of course, he would get caught on that point.
“Yes. The Brotherhood is supported by family and all that. But, what he thinks and believes doesn’t matter. My point is, I’m not going to fix you or harasses you to do something you don’t want to do.”
Soletus was still giving him a look of disbelief.
“What are you caught up on?”
“That they thought you were neth. Didn’t you say anything to them about it?”
“Of course I said things about. Mostly to your grandfather. He got on my back for not wanting to become more responsible. However, I wasn’t about to be with someone to gain it. And yes, my being a cur made avoid getting close to another as well as having an aversion to physical contact. I wasn’t Brother Hickory.”
“So you just started liking women one day?”
“It isn’t like one day I woke up and thought your mother was beautiful. I already knew she was. It was my gradual descent into helpless frustration that made it clear I was capable of feeling something for her. I didn’t like the way her family treated her. Matching her with men who I thought were unworthy. But I never thought of myself worthy of her.”
“You really thought that? Mama adores you. I guess that was you being you.”
“That’s a good way of putting me being me,” said Oeric not really wanting to tell more. However, he got the impression his son needed to hear it. “And with me being me, your mother being herself, determined she liked me. I denied having any sort of feeling for her until one evening I went off on her. Because I saw a resourceful and brave woman being walked over by her entire family. I got it she loved them but they knew nothing of boundaries. She, of course, got just as angry at me if not more. My response to that was to kiss her. From that, she determined I liked her back. And I avoided her.”
“Because I’m an idiot and a coward. Her older brothers and father took advantage of this and convinced me with the threat of physical harm that if I loved her, the best thing was to end our friendship. However, your mother being the determined person she is, decided that I needed encouragement. So she proposed to me, in front of them before I even got a chance to push her away. And instead of being emasculated, it was the first time I felt truly loved.”
Oeric smiled at the memory of it. One of those things he hoped to hold in his heart forever. Granted what happened after that moment wasn’t nearly as nice.
“My point in all of this, is that as customary as I might seem, I went about a lot of life in an uncustomary way.”
“So I really didn’t have anything to worry about,” said Soletus and buried his face.
“No, you didn’t. And I didn’t tell you this just so you can get guiltier. All the guilt in the world isn’t going to change a thing. It isn’t going to help you move on.”
“I’m stupid,” he muttered.
Oeric putting an arm around him and gave his shoulder a quick squeeze. “Stupid or not, you’re still my son. We’ll work through this because the moment we get home, there are a lot of things you’re going to have to face head-on.”
His son visibly relaxed. He calmed down but that didn’t make Oeric less worried. Soletus wanted to hurt Roxlyn. It made him feel sick that he taught him that. To stop someone, hurt them. However, it was more than just that. He looked as if he didn’t care that he had. And then he went from anger to being a sobbing mess. As moody as his son could be, it was like six years about all over again. He was hurt and it was his fault then and he never really saw what everyone else did. He wasn’t able to fix it then but he could now.
Oeric rested a hand on Soletus’s shoulder. “You should probably take me to your camp. There I can talk to the rest of the lads. Also, to say sorry to Sister Kiao.”
Soletus chuckled. “She’s wasn’t happy with you at all.”
Oeric was certain that was an understatement. He stood up and Soletus reached out and grabbed his wrist.
“Thank you for finding me,” he said.
Oeric’s face softened. “You’re my son. If anyone was going to find you, it’s going to be me.”