Chapter 33

Pt. 5 Stand

 

I was young and dumb. Tha’s the only reason why I envisioned my parents reacting to my being neth being a worst-case scenario. And even with knowing how Papa was, I probably would’ve been much the same. Because I wasn’t like him. He didn’t feel like following some preconceived time or method to follow to express his desires. However, no amount of time or person would change me. I knew that then. And some have expressed that was just personal stubbornness on my part. And I agree. When I know something’s right, it becomes that’s the hill I die on for better or for worse. If anything that life has taught me, I’m better off standing my ground than bowing my head.

– From Interview with Master Sol written by Patriarch Lord Theris’Heron


It was surreal about walking through the west gate of Grace’s Hope. Mien had wanted it for weeks and all the weight from the road dropped off of him. However, it left him exhausted. Traveling had gotten a lot easier with First Warden Oeric’s arrival. He had some supplies with him and the experience they needed. Soletus wasn’t even a full warden and had maintained them for as long as he did as well as he could. However, just having someone that 100% knew what they were doing was much better. They were all a lot happier even though it was “Master Dour.”

He knew exactly where they were and showed them on a map. Mien didn’t realize they had traveled so far north. He even educated them on where they went wrong by the fork. As blunt as Oeric could be, he didn’t blame them for it. Though he did say that if they had a map, there would be no excuse for the mistake. The only thing Oeric didn’t bring was more horses. Kiao was riding one and he was going by foot. And as they traveled, he led the way as a wolf but promised they would be stopping in Wateree.

When they arrived there, he brought a horse and procured a small cart to transport Vlory. Dragging her behind a horse wasn’t letting her rest very well. She was still very weak with her recovery going very slowly. They spent the night there to allow the four of them to clean up a little. On their way out, they were stopped by a group of soldiers on their way to see Oeric before he left.

They got to witness Oeric being admonished by the captain for getting involved in foolishness that had him speaking to several officials he wanted nothing to do with and writing a very long and thorough report. That he should have him arrested for being right good pain in the arse. Soletus’s father only smiled and assured him that he’ll try better next time. That there will probably be foolishness but no paperwork required.

Aside from that incident, traveling went blessedly smooth.

“I can’t wait to sleep,” said Mien to Soletus hoping to drive up a little conversation. However, the young man’s brow drooped down in heavy contemplation.

“Yeah, I want to rest too,” he said absently and went into his thoughts again.

Mien decided not to bother him. There was a lot he had to face now that they were back. Mien did as well. His mother. He went and thought about his own problem he had do sort out. There was his mother being the first as well as the aftermath of Kiao and Brother Elnos’s situation. Then there was the Kellas and the others. However, Oeric said they would tackle everything one thing at a time. First was getting situated without the entire monastery knowing of their return.

“Alright, since it’s evening, most won’t see us,” said Oeric. “I want the number of folks who know you’re home limited to only a handful tonight.”

“And how we going to do that,” asked Tyrus.

“You will all stay in the infirmary tonight. I’ll get interested parties to visit you there.”

“I think we need to send Mien to Lady Lass,” put in Kiao. “Hopefully, she’s still at Lord Kharis’s home.”

“Okay except Mien,” said Oeric.

“I’ll get arrangements for Vlory,” said Kiao.

Vlory soft voice rose up. “Finally a bed. Though, I’ll be heartbroken to leave my square chariot.”

Once through the gate, they cleared another hurdle getting by stablehands on duty that evening was anyone who would go around flapping their lips. The grounds were empty so it was onward to the infirmary.

When they all walked in, Alder and Lionel were cleaning for the evening. Alder teal eyes widen and fixed themselves on Kiao. Before he could go gushing out his concern for her, she started tossing out orders.

“Good, it’s empty in here,” she said. “I’ve a bunch of tired young men here who are road-worn, a bit malnourished, no serious injuries, but they need to stay here for the evening. We can tuck them all upstairs. I don’t want anyone to see them.”

Vlory then spoke as Tyrus walked her through the threshold and she said, “I’ve been seriously injured.”

“This is Vlory,” said Kiao. “Put her in one of the private rooms downstairs, she needs looking after. Tyrus helped her on the examination table with Lionel fixed on her.

“Yes, she’s a chanter,” said Kiao.

“So you found her,” said Alder looking amazed. He then saw Mien. “I’m glad you’re in one piece.”

“I’m happy to be in one piece,” said Mien finding a bed and sitting on it.

Alder stood beside him counting and then frowned looking round. “I thought there were five of you missing.” He paused a moment and then said softly. “Where’s Lyndon.”

Soletus dropped down on the bed he stopped at. Tyrus and both looked away at something else that wasn’t Alder.

“Lyndon didn’t make it,” said Soletus.

Alder froze becoming distraught.

Kiao placed a hand on his shoulder. “I’ll tell you later, okay?”

Alder nodded. It was strange to Mien seeing him like that but at the same time not. Alder didn’t exactly care for Lyndon. He was a bad influence on Kiao in his perspective however, he did very little to stop him other than give him dirty look with occasional complaining. However, Lyndon provided a certain flavor of life that wasn’t in the infirmary.

“Now, let’s work on getting everyone situated. I have to take Mien to see his mother. And I don’t know if your family came, Tyrus. They hadn’t before.”

The half-elf shrugged. “They probably haven’t if they not come yet. They’re getting ready for winter and all.”

Someone then came from upstairs. “I hear familiar voices,” said Brother Oli ambling down the stair slow. He then came to a halt and smiled warmly at them. “Welcome back lads. I see you had a very long stroll.”

He then saw Vlory. “Ah, so you found her.”

“Yes,” said Kiao. “Vlory, this is Brother Oli.”

The Kanu woman gave him a wan smile.  “Hello, elder of all elders.”

“Well, you certainly look like you’ve been through it all. Don’t worry, we will have you made healthy soon,” he told her and then opened his arms wide and gave Kiao a big hug.

“Glad to have you back, Lad. There is much we need to discuss as things have happened since you left,” he told her and he shuffled his way to Mien. “And you, young sir.”

“Yes?”

“Oh, I can hear it. What phrase did you learn?”

“Oh, my edict phrase, protection.”

The old priest looked excited. “Excellent and perfect for a battle chanter. Well, we need to have a party soon. That makes Lionel the only one who hasn’t learned his yet. First thing first let’s get everyone a good look over. Alder how about you see to, Vlory and get her settled.”

Alder nodded.

Lionel went to Soletus and spoke to him softly. Kiao went to give instructions to Doran and Tyrus while Brother Oli went to him.

“How are you doing?”

“I’m fine, just tired,” said Mien.

“Good we need to have a good long talk about a few things.”

“Is it about my mother?”

“Oh no; that’s what Hickory is for. I thought I would come to you about this first before I discuss this with Kiao.”

“Okay.”

“I need you to speak to assembly about you and her. They clearly aren’t going to be listening to her.”

“Is this about Brother Elnos?”

“Yes.”

Mien told Kiao he didn’t feel like being angry about it on the road. Now he felt it was a great time to be.

“So what’s being done about him?”

Brother Oli shook his head and whispered. “Nothing. A couple of days after Kiao left, some things were found in Elnos’s room. Shortly thereafter, he threw himself off the belfry tower.”

Mien gaped at the elder priest.

“It surprised us until I learned what was found. Brother Rastor is the current head. He’s been keeping things calm as well as moving to fix things.”

The young chanter didn’t like the sound of that.

“He wants the Arch Priest to step down as his leadership is lacking. And I do agree that he is not focused anymore. However, many priests are willing to support him if he can remove Kiao. We need to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

“Shouldn’t you be talking to Kiao about all of this then?”

“I will, but you need to know before Enforcer Icus speaks to you.”

Mien nodded and found that his plate was suddenly very full of things he needed to deal with. He watched Brother Oli left to speak to Kiao feeling overwhelmed. He watched his bond partner present the staff she found in front of him. If they were going to talk about Elnos, it would have to wait until Brother Oli stopped being amazed. He wanted to watch Kiao’s excitement but instead stretched out on the bed he sat. However, he didn’t get settled enough to rest before Oeric returned with Honored Priest Meric, Lynhart’Pintail, and another man who was remarkably similar to Tyrus. He had the same bronze-colored hair but his ears were small without much in the way of a long tapered tip.

When Soletus caught sight of his uncle, his gaze dropped to between his feet. Mien watched wondering if he should walk over there for support. However, Lynhart was a kind man. His gaze was fixed on Soletus bit he wore a sad welcoming simile.

“Oh come on, Nephew, I know you can still speak,” he said.

Soletus stood and lifted Lyndon’s sash that was resting on the bed beside him. He draped it over his hands and presented it to his uncle to take.

“I’m sorry,” he said hiding the pain in his voice that Mien could feel it in his heart. “He was killed trying to save me.”

Lyndon’s father closed the gap between himself and Soletus. His hand hovered over the cloth.

“Don’t blame yourself. We knew what he was getting into when he joined the Brotherhood. It’s a dangerous job. I’m thankful that you returned” said the Lynhart. “Was it quick?”

Soletus swallowed, there was no good way to answer that question. And for a brief moment, Mien thought he would choose silence or just lie. However, Soletus liked to be honest.

“He didn’t want to give up on living. We just didn’t have the time.”

Lynhart then picked up the sash. “Was Kellas there when he died?”

“No, Sir.”

“Were you with him?”

“Yes, Sir. I was holding him.”

“So where did this all happen,” asked his Uncle with his voice getting tight.

“In Firerock Gorge. We were there under Kellas’s orders,” said Soletus. “We buried Lyndon including the other dead around us.”

Meric then spoke. “What happened for there to be dead?”

“Agreed,” said Lynhart.

Oeric then stepped in. “Explanations are going to have to wait.”

Lynhart looked sharply at him. “I deserve to know what happened. I’ve waiting weeks to hear it.”

The man that had come with Oeric then spoke. “I dunno what ta think ‘bout all this. I come ‘ere to check on me, brother and ya all talkin’ nonsense.”

“Well, I’m alright,” said Tyrus. “You can go home and finish digging up sweet potatoes or whatever.”

“We were worried after Kay read that letter ‘bout you bein’ missin’. Someone had ta come ‘ere to make sure they were lookin,” he said, pointing to Oeric. “I didn’t even know he was out lookin’ in holes for ya.”

“I didn’t either, “said Tyrus.

Meric cleared his throat. “I suppose we own you thanks, First Warden Oeric.”

Oeric raised his hand. “There is no need. This is hardly over. Now,

I can give you some time alone with the lads. However, they need to stay here except for Mien. When you are ready we can head to the patriarch’s house to see Lady Lass.”

“Can I clean up first,” said Mien. It’ll give him time to go ahead and think about what he was going to say to her. Granted he rather deal with Dalaen first.

Oeric nodded.

Mien used the infirmary’s water closet to bath. He smelled like sweat and horse. One didn’t present themselves smelling of those two things to their mother. Oeric had taken the liberty of gathering a pair of nice trousers and a clean white shirt for him to wear. As he dressed, Kiao spoke to him outside the washroom door.

“Before you speak to your mother, you need to speak to Dalaen. I already checked he’s still here.”

Mien didn’t think he heard right and stepped out after he pulled his shirt on. “Come again?”

“I know, you just got back and you’re tired but, this needs to be done.”

He ran a hand through his hair. “I just want to speak to my mother and leave.”

“He wanted to talk to you and this is a good opportunity to see where you stand,” she said walking up to him and sweeping his forelocks to the side. “They need to see where you are. I don’t want to send you home without you being prepared.”

Mien took her hand and weaved his fingers through hers to hold them. “You know I’m not planning to step foot in that house as long as he still breathes.”

“You might want to inform your mother about that,” she said lock her gaze into his. In the lantern light, they took on the appearance of alexandrite and couldn’t settle on a hue. “You should also take this time to explain our bond.”

“No.”

Kiao pursed her lips in annoyance.

“I don’t want my uncle to know about you. Furthermore, I know how my mother thinks. She won’t like you and make excuses such as you’re too much for me.”

“I’m not and you’re not incapable and feeble-minded like she thinks you are.”

“You do boss me around,” he said pressing his forehead against hers. They were tucked in the shadows of the hall on the first floor. He didn’t think anyone could see them.

Kiao sighed. “And how effective will I be right now if I tell you to stop?”

“Not very much,” he said kissing her on the forehead. “Aside from that, she’s no understanding of my being timber sensitive or a chanter. So how are we going to explain us?”

Kiao didn’t look pleased but relented. “Your right, but you can show her you don’t have some condition.”

“That’s not going to be something easy to dispel.”

“Why?”

“To her, I will always be her tiny Theodoric no matter what. I’m surprised she’s even allowing me to speak to Dalaen. Let alone you.”

“I need you to do this. You need to do this. I don’t expect it to be pretty. I’m expecting you to yell at him possible hit him.”

“You don’t know, I could handle this all with poise,” he told her.

Kiao turned from him. “We should go. I sense the First Warden wants us already,” she said.

Oeric was watching his son from a distance and then he looked in their direction. Mien knew it was time to go. He hoped he could get in and out with his cousin. On his way, he prepared following Oeric’s suggestion on not letting his anxiety get the best of him in a fight. Just focus ahead not the thoughts in his head. He didn’t want to be fixated on Dalaen being his unpleasant self. No, Kiao described him as being rather subdued.

I’ll believe it when I see it, he scoffed in his mind and followed Kiao into the Patriarch’s home. She led him into the parlor on the left. Mien stood there waiting at the fireplace. The door opened again. He froze. All the prep he had done before took flight.  He might’ve aged, was a little thinner, but who stood in front of him was still Dalaen. Dalaen who he ran from. Dalaen, who had kicked and hit him. Dalaen, who he had pushed in the water and tried to drown, stood in the Patriarch parlor.

“Hello, Theodric,” he said.

His voice hit Mien and stirred the brewing turmoil to the surface.

“You,” Mien rasped.

His cousin raised his hand up. “I just wanted to talk.”

“You,” was the only word he was able to retrieve. Words were trapped in his throat. He wanted to run. He wanted to attack the person in front of him. He wanted to apologize. None of that happened just raw anger boiled in him again

Then the young man backed putting a chair between them.

“First, I want to apologize for what I did and didn’t do. I could’ve stopped father and not been such a rotten bastard. However, I can’t change the past—,”

Mien cut him off. “You can’t come to me with a stupid that can’t undo everything!”

“No, a sorry can’t undo everything, I just thought that—”

“You thought what? That you can just appear and speak to me like everything is okay,” he shouted, hurting his own ears. His anger was fueling itself. It shouldn’t be like that and he knew it. Six years should’ve done something, why hadn’t it? Why did he still feel like he was about to burst into flames? He then began pacing.

“I’m sorry. On my blood and honor, I am.”

Mien kept pacing from the length of the room from one wall to the next shaking. Why did she think this was a good idea?

When Mien got to the far wall, away from the door, he sank down, breathing as if he had run a lap around the town wall. He closed his eyes wishing that if he opened them, Dalaen wouldn’t be there. Instead, he opened them and his cousin slowly sank down in front of him on his knee. Mien pressed his back against the walk.

“I’m not going to do anything to you,” assured Dalaen. “But we need to talk.”

Mien sung his head. “No we don’t, leave.”

“Theodric it’s important. You do realize that you are still your father’s heir.”

Mien pointed to the door. “Get out!”

“The main house rather that not be you.”

“So you came here talking about property and money I don’t give a damn about it.”

“It’s fine that you don’t,” said Dalaen keeping his voice level. It irritated him that he did. “However, it matters. Aunt Lass was trying to fix it that if something happened to my father, you would get everything so they don’t. However, they don’t want you as the heirs. So she tried to fix it.”

“I don’t care. Get out of my sight,”

“She and father had a baby,” Dalaen snapped.

Mien’s racing mind collided with the wave of shock. “She what!”

“Look, the main house wants to remove you from being Cyan’s heir. Under their rules, it has to be a male to take your place. Aunt Lass tried for one and she didn’t have a boy. She had a girl. She’s stuck in a mess of who gets what if my father dies.  She needs a male heir and I didn’t want to do this without your approval. I want Aunt Lass to espouse me.”

Mien stared at him blankly.

“I know that’s a lot to take in but that’s all I wanted to ask. If Aunt Lass does, she doesn’t lose everything. And in return, I promise you, that I’ll take care of her as long as she, our sisters, and make sure that father doesn’t hurt either of them.”

Mien didn’t want to believe him. He never thought his mother would give that bastard a glimpse of her let alone contact to make a child.

“Please Theodric, I need you to make a decision.  I know you hate me and rather me be dead than be even related to me. But, Aunt Lass needs help and I’m the only one who is in the position who can.”

Mien rubbed his brow considering what was said. “Give me a moment.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—”

“Shut up and sit somewhere not in front of me,” he ordered.

Dalaen went over to the chairs by the hearth. Mien worked on pushing his heart out of his throat.  He breathed through the turbulence and once it subsided, he was left feeling cold. He stood up, found an empty arm-chair, and sank down scowling.

“You want my mother to adopt your worthless carcass to help her. Give me one good reason why I should believe that you are her loving altruistic nephew.”

Dalaen stared at him astonished. “She wasn’t joking.”

“What are you talking about?”

“She said you’ve grown. I didn’t imagine that meant you sounding like late Uncle Julius.”

Those words struck Mien. He liked them. He never thought he could be compared to his father.

“You look a lot like him now too.”

His elation dropped. All the things Mien loved about his father, his uncle hated. The fact he was his father’s son was one thing, now he sounded and looked like him. Things couldn’t be worse.

Dalaen sat up straight in his chair. “Should I get someone?”

Mien clutched the armrests of the chair digging his nails into the wood and let the trembling in his body do its thing. He swayed his head.

“I’m sorry. I really am. But, we need to talk about my father. He and I had a fight. I kicked him out. Well, as much as I could. He went into one of his ‘moments’ when Aunt Lass was pregnant and he tried to lay hands on her.”

Mien flashed his eyes at him.

“I stopped him and I fought him. Though it’ll be easy given how thin he’s gotten.”

Mien knew all too well how deceptively frail his uncle could look. “And he knocked you senseless.”

Dalaen nodded. “He knocked me around but I got him out the door with four busted ribs. I told the staff not to let him back in.”

“Where’s he now?”

“One of our cousin’s took him to his apartment to Havenwood. Claimed they’ll try to clean him up. Stop him from at least drinking,” said Dalaen. “The main house is tired of his behavior.”

Mien let out a humorless. “So they didn’t wait for him to murder the king for once.”

Dalaen nodded. “He was like that when he was married to my mother. You know, I saw her a few years ago. She didn’t want to talk to me. Said I was too much like him. Since then I stop taking blighter and stopped being friends with Crane and the others. I’ve been working with Aunt Lass in the office. I don’t know why the main house hates her. She’ll be a perfect house head. Despite everything, she’s treated me well. She could’ve treated me just as he treated you but she hasn’t. I want to be useful to her. You will always be her son. I don’t want to take that away from you but, I need to help her.”

Mien sighed. Why couldn’t he stay a loathsome creature? He knew his mother needed help. He couldn’t be there. He wasn’t going to be there. “Fine yes, you have my permission, do what you must.”

“Thank you,” said Dalaen bowing his head. “I’m in your debt. I’ll do anything you want me to do for as long as you live.”

That wasn’t a light promise. “You can start by leaving.”

Dalaen rose out of his seat without question. Mien wanted to leave it as that but his conscience bugged him not too. Mien rolled his eyes at himself and stopped him.

“Cousin,” he said forcing himself to speak.

Dalaen paused. “Yes.”

“I’m sorry about earlier. I don’t know how to put it all behind me. I don’t want to hate you, but…”

“I made it hard for you not too. I didn’t expect to be able to talk to you, let alone you allowing me to do this. Maybe, we’ll talk about it later.”

“Later then,” said Mien keeping his back to him.

“Later,” said his cousin and he closed the door to the parlor behind him. Mien could hear him talking to his mother.

“Aunt Lass, don’t worry, he’s calmed down now…Well, I wasn’t expecting him to hug me. What did you imagine…a little bit, I mention father and he got shaky…well given what was done…He did say yes at least.”

“Don’t worry Lady Lass, I’ll see how he is,” said Kiao opening the door.

The young chanter stopped stretching his hearing. He didn’t want to talk to her either. Instead, sunk down in his chair, feeling wrung out and listened to the sound of her slippers get closer to him.

She reached to grasp his wrist checking his pulse.

“I really dislike you right now,” he told Kiao.

“It had to be done,” she told him. “You were very loud and very angry. It’s worrisome,” she said getting on her knees beside his chair.

“Better than crying,” he said.

“So you want to speak to your mother now?”

He bobbed his head.

Kiao patted his knee and stood up. She waved someone to her. Mien hoped he had more time to get ready but he got to his feet and smoothed out his clothing.

“Theoderic,” his mother said with her arms spread wide. Mien embraced her in a tight hug and realized something was off. He was looking down at the top of her head She was never a tall woman, but he didn’t remember her being so short.

The woman then held him at arms lengths away. “Oh my.” His mother touched his face and then patted his arms. “Above and below, you’ve grown! Not only tall but solid.”

“Well, this is a bother. We have to figure out a new game to play on the staff. We definitely can’t fool them now,” said Mienerva with her arms on her hips.

Mien’s entire face lit up. “Nerva!”

He ran over to his twin and enveloped her in a hug that lifted her off her feet. She let out a squeal as he spun her around.

She laughed in joy. Mien dropped her and rubbed the top of her head.

“Why are you so short,” he said.

She swatted his hand away. “Why are you so tall,” she returned. “Sister Kiao did a poor job of describing you to us.”

“Agreed, she understated a few things,” said Lady Lass gave her a look that made Mien uncomfortable.

Kiao stood to the side and was very close to the door.

“I suppose I could’ve detailed his physical description, but seeing is believing.”

Lady Lass nodded her head. “True, I never would’ve imagined any of…this.”

Mien didn’t like that pause of uncertainty in her voice. Something was wrong. She didn’t like what she heard through the door. His smile faded and his unease came to the surface.

She then reached out touching his arm. “Oh don’t mind me. I’ve not seen you in six whole years and went through a growth spurt. Even that lit has grown.” Her attention then locked on his head. “Your hair so still short. Why didn’t you stop him from cutting it?”

Mien rubbed the back of his neck.

“We can only make him do so much,” said Kiao.

“Even still you shouldn’t allow him to do it,” she said.

“She couldn’t stop me, Mother,” said Mien. “It was either give me a pair of shears or I would cut it with a knife. Looks better with a pair of shears. Besides, I like it. Feeling the wind on your neck is refreshing.”

The woman looked at Kiao as if she had answers.

“Lady Lass, three other people aside from myself have tried to get him to not associate long hair with—”

Mien cut her off. “So you’re just going to tell her!”

“Well, she should at least know something,” said Kiao with her voice stripped of any discernible emotion. He hated it when she did that. “We’ve jumped over a lot of hurtles being honest with everyone around you, but you need to be honest with her so she’ll understand.”

He stepped away and started pacing again.

Kiao then said gentler. “It hurts, it’s embarrassing, you don’t want people pity,  and you’re probably going to shear your hair shorter tonight because of it, but I need you to put all of that aside and tell her just this one thing.”

“I can tell her,” said Mienerva. “I already know.”

Mien ran a hand through his head and shook his head.

“Don’t turtle up,” said Kiao.

“You really aren’t my favorite person right now,” he told her swallowing a melon-sized lump in his throat and started rubbing his arms to warm himself again. He ended up waking to hearth and stared into the blackened coals so couldn’t look at her.            “You had to go to the main house that day and wouldn’t be back until the next day. It was late, Uncle got his tin, something to drink, and I was trying my hardest to be quiet and out of sight but he called me to him. I think he was too off his mind to know where to relieve himself and did so on the floor. Being the ingenious person he was, who better to clean it up than me,” and then he pointed to his head. “If that wasn’t humiliating enough, he locked me in the cellar dripping with piss until it dried. Bard found me and brought a bath up but I couldn’t stop smelling like him. I couldn’t stop hearing him laugh-,” Mien cut himself off and leaned against the stones. “I hated it. I cut it off because I hated myself for letting him do it.”

The room was quiet. Kiao approached him from the side. She didn’t touch him. He didn’t want to be. He wanted to be alone and then a baby started crying above him. The sound of her cries that brought his mind to focus. He straightened up and said softly.

“I didn’t wake her up, did I?”

“No,” his mother said. “She’s been fussy all day. But Theodric, I think we need to talk about what you just said. Mostly why didn’t you tell me when it happened?”

“Can I see her,” he asked.

Lady Lass looked taken aback. “I think there are more important things than—”

“She’s more important than the past,” he pressed. “So can I see her?”

Mienerva went out and got his mother’s aide and she came in with her. He held out his arms to hold her. His mother started to tell him how to hold her but Mien held a baby before. Lady Maelyra liked to give her boy to him when he was born because Mien could put a child to sleep by just speaking to them. The only one who didn’t hold their breath form his household was his sister. Dalaen was peaking in from the doorway.

“What’s her name,” he said deciding she looked like his mother. That was good. She didn’t have to carry the face of an evil man.

“Her name is Rydell.”

“Rydell huh,” he said letting the baby hold his finger. “She’s prettier than another sister of mine. She’ll be a swan instead of a goose.”

Mienerva stuck her tongue at him.  He flashed a smile at her and then at Rydell and touched her checks. They were squishy and she cooed.

“I’m surprised you’ve nothing to say to me about her,” said Lady Lass.

“Why would I,” said Mien tucking his bitterness that he got her pregnant. It was unfair to her and his sister.

“You are old enough—,” started his mother.

“Yes, I know what this means,” said Mien tersely but managed to keep his voice soft. “And why should I get mad at you? You’re my mother.”

Lady Lass became silent.

He then told her in Melodic. “Let Dias’s voice always guide your path with love and light your way so you may never fall into the Maw and descend to darkness.”

His mother became stiff. “What did you just say?”

“It’s called the new life blessing,” he said kissing her on the head. “I’m not coming home even after I turn of age.”

“Why,” said Lady Lass.

“Because of how I reacted tonight,” he told her. It was a reasonable excuse. “I need more time.”

Mien watched his mother. He knew she was disappointed but that look of concern never left her. He didn’t think he would ever be able to live with them again.

“I can handle the Arbiter,” he said handing Rydell to her. “No worries there but I can’t go back, not yet anyway.”

“Then have all the time you need,” said Lady Lass. “I would like to know what Hugh did to throw you over the edge. It could help still.”

Mien’s face ticked. He didn’t want to think about it. As he told Soletus that evening in the inn, it was more than one thing. However, there was one event that set the course. And from that day, he was never the same.

“I already said enough. I’m tired. I just got home, “he reminded.

“Which begs the question, why were you even out on the road,” she returned. “Why haven’t you been telling me the truth about what you’ve been doing?”

Mien expected that question and gave her his rehearsed answer. “I didn’t want you to worry. Mostly I didn’t think anything like this would happen because I trained with a responsible warden. I thought Kellas would be like him. Besides, I can’t stay cooped up all day for my penitence.”

“You work in the infirmary,” she said.

“It’s not challenging enough,” he said with a weak smile.

“I don’t believe you need that sort of challenge in your life.”

“But I’m very good at it.”

“But you’re a very good apothecary. Imagine if I could set up something so you can finish up your apprenticeship with that alchemist you were tutoring under. He very much enjoyed you.”

“Maybe I will,” he told her. “It’ll benefit the Brotherhood to have a licensed alchemist,” he said.

“It’ll benefit your family as well,” she said.

Mien swallowed. His mother was being stubborn. He didn’t want to fight her. It was clear though, the moment he stepped home, it would. He then pulled out his final card. He knew it would be useless, but he tried it anyway.

“Being a chanter though doesn’t,” he reminded her. “I can’t pretend I’m not.”

“You can live a normal life while being one. Hickory was living a normal life until that other part of him got in the way. And I know you aren’t neth,” she said with her last sentence full of accusation. He wasn’t going to smooth anything over with her in a single evening. His mother wanted to be right and then his sister helped.

“Mother, he’s getting tired,” said Mienerva.

Mien nodded. “I’m very road worn. How about we talk about this later?”

“I suppose we’ll talk about it later. I’ve been told by First Warden Oeric you would need time to sort this out,” said Lady Lass. “You should go back now.”

“Before you do, I want to talk to you alone,” said Mienerva.

Their mother then left with the baby leaving the twins alone.

Mien dropped himself in the nearest chair. His sister then slipped in behind his chair and poked him in the scalp. “Dear brother, I do believe you owe me.”

“Owe you?”

“It took me a lot of talking to many people about letting you handle the discussion about you and your sweetpea.”

Mien’s chin went up and he looked into his sister pleased face. “You’ve been here that long to be able to do that?”

“We were here long enough. To be honest, we did go back home. In fact, we arrived here just today because the Arch Priest told mother not to worry, he sent the person of great skill to bring them back home and that you should arrive today. And you did. But you didn’t tell mother and Kiao was rather surprised but she picked up on it quick. She’s smart. I like her.”

He grinned. “I said you would.”

She extended her hand and patted his chest. “Apple didn’t fall from the tree. Going for older fox tops like father.”

“I never even thought about it. Am I really that much like him?”

She laughed. “You have his cadence and his brilliant mind.”

Mien smiled at that despite himself.

“She certainly is relentless. Does she really like you yet?  Are you two just being friendly still?”

“And my relationship status concerns you because…”

“Because letters can only do so much and I want you happy. It’ll make me happy because it’s been a long time since you were.”

“She likes me but not the best at showing it. She’s a priestess. Everything is moving slowly. It’s not as easy for the both of us.”

His sister stroked his head. “You know mother doesn’t like her.”

“Figured.”

“You’re going to have a difficult time convincing her why she should allow you together,” she said and walked to the side of his chair and sat down on the armrest. “Maybe you should do something she might approve of. After you get released, you could come with me to Eroden.”

Mien stared at her surprises at the offer.

“I mean, I can’t get you in the university but I could find you a willing master alchemist or even an apothecary.”

Mien looked down at his hands. “I don’t know. I think one of us needs to be nearby. I don’t trust Dalaen that much.”

“You’re right,” she said taking his hand. “But I feel bad that you were left behind.”

“Don’t. You’re very pretty for a goose and if his filthy friends were around, I would have to commit murder. No, you needed to get out of there.”

Mienerva sighed and hooked an arm around his neck. “But it’s unfair.”

“How? You need to be happy too. Don’t you like the city?”

“Yes.”

“Don’t you have plenty of friends? And boys to observe.”

“Well yes. Plenty granted though none of them are strapping as Brotherhood lads,” she lamented.

“Aside from that, aren’t you happy?”

“I am but you’re not with me,” she said leaning her head on his.

“True but I got to learn how to be manly and slay drass beasts. I’ve actual muscles and it’s great.”

His sister gasped. “Be a man and slay drass beast, bah, what about education?”

“You can’t get biceps with education.”

“Your right, I take you with me and they’ll think I brought in a barbarian to town. And yes, I think it was for the best.”

It was a bittersweet realization but a truth that neither of them could argue with.

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