Despite my idiocy, Mama and Papa treated me no different. Papa just went with it. He had the most grasp of it. I was truly his son with no conditions. As for Mama, well it worried her. It wasn’t a surprise. Her concern was based on her feeling that I would have a limited life. So many experiences I would miss. And, it took her a bit to realize that my experiences would be different. That I was missing nothing and I wasn’t lonely. That’s what she was afraid of most. I suppose she figured that feeling of mine would come back.
“Dias willing, we can get through this with minimal hassle,” Oeric declared as they approached the Arch Monk’s chamber.
Mien let out a long silent yawn and rubbed his face. He was able to sleep the entire night without being woken up to watch or because he thought he felt a drass beast in the distance. However, he was still tired. Tyrus and Doran looked just about the same as the rose up from bed with a lot of moaning how they needed to sleep one more hour. Soletus, on the other hand, appeared alert however, no amount of alertness could make those dark rings vanish from around his eyes.
Brother Farley sat in his recess in the wall for once not nose deep in a book. Instead, he was knitting a pair of gloves. When they all walked up, he pointed to the desk with a knitting needle for their slip.
Oeric sighed. “Honestly Farley.”
The priest jumped and did a double-take. “You’re back,” he said wide-eyed.
“I am. Is my father free?”
“He’s been in discussion since early this morning. First Warden Tyr came back with Brother Nimbus.”
“Tyr came back?”
The priest nodded his head slowly. “You’ve no idea what’s going on do you?”
The priest looked at the Mien and the others and then to Oeric as he placed his knitting down. “Someone from the Seat came with them. They’re not happy about something that has occurred. I’ll see if he’ll take you as he didn’t want to be disturbed.”
He grabbed his cane off to the side and shuffled into the room for a moment speaking in a low voice. And then come back out and motioned for Oeric. The first warden walked in and the door was shut. Mien couldn’t hear very clearly but there was an unfamiliar voice in there. It was a female voice and she sounded upset.
The door opened again with Icus stepping out.
“This is completely unexpected,” said the Enforcer. “Come with me.”
Icus took them into the master’s hall and down the line of desk and into a meeting room. He shut the door and they took their seats at the long used for discussion. Soletus and Mien sat beside each other while Doran and Tyrus sat with him. Icus went to the head of the table and leaned on it.
“You’ve arrived home late, without your first warden, and one man down. What happened? I want a quick explanation.”
Soletus took a deep breath and spoke. “Kellas went to the Firerock Gorge to go after those peaceguards from two years back.”
Icus straightened up. “And how did First Warden Kellas come to suspect such things?”
“A merchant was ambushed on the road. They went to the site and found a broken tao stone knife. It had a brown leather hilt and a Brotherhood marking on it. That was enough for First Warden Kellas to make us all go there. I didn’t want to. I was concerned something was going to happen so, I talked to Lyndon, Doran, and Tyrus and we decided to leave.”
“Leave, why,” demanded Icus.
“The inhabitants we come across were one side of a feud. There was a group of individuals, believed to be peaceguards, training the thieves there to fight and they were causing more trouble. Some of them were afraid that the Seat would come down on them. I didn’t want to be involved in that.”
“I take it you didn’t make it out?”
“We were ambushed. Lyndon was killed, I thought Mien had died from Valhart hitting him in the head, and Kellas made us stay behind. We were supposed to wait for him. We didn’t. Mien woke up so we left intending to go to Crossings. However, the bridge was out and we traveled north.”
Icus clasped his hands behind his back. “Slowly it seems. What took you so long?”
“We couldn’t travel fast. We were down a horse, Mien was burned out, we had no map, and we came across a few obstacles,” said Soletus.
“Obstacles and what were those obstacles?”
Soletus then explained to him about Cole, then about Mien’s edict and Vlory as well as the husk and the poachers. The entire time Icus listened to him patiently and arched his eyebrow at what Mien guessed the hard to believe parts. Which was likely everything his friends told him. And the enforcer did come to that conclusion.
“This all sounds like a far-fetched child’s tale to avoid being punished. Complicated and, in my opinion, sounds untrue because you can’t provide a drop of proof this.”
“But it’s true,” protested Tyrus. “We brought the Kanu woman with us!”
Icus held his hand up. “That’s latter in your adventures. I speak of the beginning. However, as much as this all sounds like fabrications, I’m willing to believe it isn’t,” he said surprising them all. “While you’ve taken the long way home, my finding has pointed to me believing there is more going on than First Warden Kellas has provided. However, the proof provided tells a different story and it brought the Seat here. Right now, I want you all to stay here.”
Icus then left the room and shut the door. The four of them eyed each other.
“What do you think is going on,” asked Tyrus. “What did Kellas do?”
Soletus shrugged. “I don’t know. It might have to do what we witnessed. Remember the smoke and the explosion. The Seat wouldn’t care what went on in that gorge unless something bad happened in there.”
Doran rubbed his jaw. “Whatever it is, the Enforcer is actually listening to us and he never does that to warders and junior wardens.”
The door opened. This time, Oeric, Nimbus, and Tyr entered the room. Oeric was his usual stone-faced, but it was Nimbus’s concern that told Mien something was up. Master Tyr had something wrapped in a cloth in his hand. His gaze was fixed on Soletus.
“I asked to speak with you first before the specialist captain comes,” he said. “Give you a chance to tell the truth so you don’t have to be forced to do to her.”
He handled the bundle Oeric.
“This is one of Redcrest’s hunting knives. I know you and the Arch Monk commission him for knives that use the standard Brotherhood knives. Captain Mallard showed this to us when we ran into them out there.”
Oeric took the bungle and unwrapped it revealing a tao stone hunting knife. The blade was a rusted color. Elven blood had touched it. He frowned and looked at the pommel and asked his son,
“Where’s your hunting knife?”
Soletus reached down and removed his current hunting knife from the sheath on his side. It was a curved blade and not the straight weapon that Oeric held. He handed it to Oeric but Tyr took it and examined that pommel. He showed it to Oeric. The warden’s expression grew darker.
Tyr laid both blades down side-by-side. The end of the pommel was engraved with the same initialing.
All the blood drained from Soletus’s face. “Where did you find my knife?”
“In the center of what used to be a shanty town,” said Tyr. “It was burned, blown to pieces, and bodies were everywhere or buried under rocks and rubble. In the center were men lashed to poles. That hunting knife as stabbed in the middle one of their chests. Granted I don’t know if that was done first. Each of them had their eyes stabbed out.”
The young man let out a laugh in disbelief. “You think I did that? Why would I do that? And I didn’t have that knife on this mission. I don’t carry that knife period,” said Soletus. “I always carry this one.”
“That is this is your knife?”
Soletus’s gaze dropped down to it as if the object was unfamiliar. “Yes.”
“Then how did it end up in the chest of an ex-peaceguard?”
Soletus heaved his shoulders. “I don’t know! Again, I never carry that blade anymore.”
“Why,” he asked.
“Because it’s too small,” he said and pointed to the length of the hilt. “This one doesn’t fit my hands comfortably anymore and I wanted a curved blade. It cuts deeper and it’s sharper better made for a grappler than something given to me as a boy to learn off of.”
“Then how did it get in a man’s chest miles from here?”
“I don’t know,” Soletus held.
Tyr crossed his arms. “Look, I was taken to the gorge, I saw the bodies, and there were bear tracks around the bodies of several mauled individuals.”
Mien watched disbelief dawn on Soletu’s as the magnitude of accusations got worse. “You believe that I killed— that we…” he said gesturing to the table. “We didn’t kill anyone! And I’m not the only one who has a bear for a consort in my band! Pace does as well.”
“But you’ve a terrible habit of letting your temper get the better of you have allowed Khodi to attacked people,” pressed Tyr.
“And I’ve never had Khodi maul a person. He may have sat, roared, and swiped a shirt sleeve off here and there but I’ve never killed with him,” cried Soletus.
“I’m telling you what we saw,” said Tyr grimly. “If you weren’t there then why didn’t you come immediately home?”
“We tried. We had to travel slowly because Mien was burned out, the bridge over the Lower Branch was washed out, and then Mien’s edict took priority.”
“But you were in the gorge?”
“Yes because Kellas led us there. Look, he wanted to go in there to get those former peaceguards. I didn’t want to go. I tried to get it put to a vote and those of us who didn’t want to go were outnumbered. When we got there, the people there were in the middle of feud I wanted no part of. That evening, Me, Lyndon, Mien, Tyrus, and Doran decided to leave. But we didn’t because the other faction of them came and attacked. Lyndon was killed. Kellas went on in the gorge. He ordered us to stay behind. We left after Mien woke up after we thought he was dead.”
Master Tyr attention fell on Mien. “He thought you were dead?”
“Valhart struck me in the head after I said something to him,” he said. “I don’t remember. The last thing I remember was the meeting in the morning when we left. I woke up to Soletus digging out graves.”
“So let me get this straight, Kellas decided to go after former peaceguard into a thieves den, gets Lyndon killed, Valhart tries to kill Mien, and he just continues on, ordering you all to stay behind. Then Mien magically comes back to life again with no memory of what happened?”
“Exactly,” said Soletus with Doran and Tyrus nodding in agreement.
Mien didn’t know why the more he heard it aloud, the more ridiculous it sounded.
“Okay then, why did he order you three to stay behind after he led you there?”
Tyrus then spoke up. “’ Cause Sol was pissed about Lyndon and Mien. He wouldn’t listen to Kellas orders. They got into a fight and Soletus still wouldn’t budge so he left ordered us to stay. He took me aside and told me to talk sense into him. Most I did was calm him down.”
Tyr blinked and stated, “But none of that explains this knife. So tell the truth to me. She’s not going to be easy on you.”
“We are telling the truth,” shouted Soletus. His voice bounced off the walls and into everyone head. Mien clapped his hands over his ears in reflex. Not so much of the volume but the fact that Soletus projected the earnestness in his friend’s voice. He sounded desperate to be heard. A feather could’ve dropped in the room and everyone could hear it. They all stared at him. Soletus looked between them all and said softly.
“That’s the truth.”
His father then spoke. “There you have your answer, now stop pushing this nonsense, Tyr.”
“He only has his word Oeric, we have his hunting knife,” said Master Tyr.
“Then why not his lunge daggers,” said Oeric.
“They are made of black steel. Blood doesn’t stain it. So why use a weapon that’s too small for his hands and stains.”
Master Tyr gestured to the door. “Out, you don’t even need to be here.”
Oeric crossed his arms. “You’re the one who told me to come. You just want me gone because I’m poking holes in your logic. I’ll poke a few more,” he said. “Anyone could’ve gotten hold of that blade. My son is predictably out of his room. Anyone could’ve went inside of his footlocker and got that dagger.”
Mien saw movement in the corner of his vision and Doran sank low in his chair.
Nimbus then spoke, “I tried to tell him that.”
Master Tyr shoulders. “Their story is outrageous. Look, Kellas might be quick to action but he wouldn’t do anything like this.”
“So you think a bunch of young men would slaughter gorge dwellers?”
“Well he is your son,” said Master Tyr.
That statement rocked Soletus. The young man looked betrayed. Tyr trained him. He of all people should’ve known that Soletus wasn’t savage. It Soletus had any respect left for Tyr it was gone now. The hurt expression on the young man’s face hardened.
“It’s not such a far-fetched idea given the evidence,” said Tyr doubling down on his statement no matter if it was callous.
“You’re an idiot,” said Oeric.
“His weapon is bloodied. And he needs the truth now! He and all these lads are very close to death!”
The door to the room opened. “That is a very true statement, ” said the woman Mien heard earlier.
Everyone’s attention shifted to her. She was dressed in a military uniform with a bright red jacket and white pants and knee-high black boots that clapped against the floor as she walked. She, like all soldiers, wore a topknot. Hers wasn’t pulled so tight that it stretched her narrow face. However, it was clean and had a precision about it that matched her sharp gaze.
She made a beeline for Soletus and settled by his side looking down her nose at him. Icus entered the room followed by the Arch Monk.
“I’m Captain Mallard. I am a commander of a specialist unit. Our mission is simple, we monitor illegal trade within this country. What is your name?”
She looked towards the Arch Monk. “Is that so? Well Soletus, you were unaware that I had three men stationed in the gorge. We were going to apprehend a trafficker who could’ve given us routes, hideouts, and names. However, you seem to have had a fit and killed my men as well as many others to go in there to flush out three members former members of the Brotherhood then brutally torture them and then kill them. That knife wasn’t just used to stab into someone heart, it was used to gouge eyes out. A clear example if you will in the middle of a burned-out gorge. What do you say to that?”
Soletus tilted he head up and looked her square in the eyes. “I want to talk to the person who did it. They sullied a gift.”
The captain sighed and held the knife in front of Soletus’s face. “So let’s say someone stole your knife. Why would they take it to the gorge? There were no plans to go there right? Yet someone had the forethought to blame you for it.”
Soletus’s gaze was fixed on the wall. “There’s no reason for that knife to have been there,” he said.
She patted his cheek. “Come on, try to think a little harder. There had to be a reason why it was there. Maybe you didn’t want to carry it back because you stained it.”
“I don’t know. I didn’t have it.”
She grabbed his chin and held his face up placing her a fraction of an inch from his.
“Then tell me what you do know?”
“That knife was a gift that meant a lot to me. My dad gave me that knife when I became a warder. It’s special because Redcrest wrote a quote under the braided leather. It reads ‘This blade shows the heart of its wielder.’ It comes from my favorite story about the first monk. He came to a town where a murder had taken place. He found the killer who shoved his knife in its sheath uncleaned covered in blood.”
“I didn’t come here to listen to stories,” said Mallard.
“This blade shows the heart of its wielder. Whoever did this was careless, uncaring, and cruel. They’ve no respect life. And you don’t know me, Captain Mallard, but this isn’t how I wield a weapon.”
Mallard didn’t let him go. “You can look a person in the eyes and lie.”
“I’m not lying,” he held.
“Then tell me, how this knife got to the gorge?”
“I don’t know.”
She then ran a hand down the length of his ear. Soletus squirmed. “You know, I’m given special permission from the Seat to use certain techniques to get men and even little boys to tell me the truth. Not all of them are nice.”
“Captain Mallard,” said Icus. “I ask you not to use torture. There are more effective was to get answers and we need them just as much as you do.”
She stood up and placed herself behind Mien. “Fine. Maybe I don’t want to arrest you four for setting foot in the gorge.”
“Then want do you want,” asked Soletus.
“I want a reason for this knife you claim as yours but didn’t use in the fashion I described.”
“I don’t know.”
Mien then felt a hand rest on his shoulder. He glared at it.
“Maybe I should ask the other lads around this table,” she said. “What about you here?”
Mien rolled his shoulder. “Don’t ask me. I don’t know what happened.”
She jerked her hand off him and wiped it on her jacket. “You never said one of them was a chanter.”
“Brother Mientheodric isn’t going to bite you,” said Icus. “And what is this about you not remembering?”
“He doesn’t,” said Oeric. “I asked him on the road. He told me he remembers the discussion with Kellas about going to the Firerocks but waking up a day later with Soletus digging graves.”
Mallard brow shot up. “And why doesn’t he remember?”
“I was hit in the skull with a rock while going through my edict,” said Mien.
“By whom,” asked Captain Mallard.
“Second Warden Valhart.”
“Do you know why?”
Mien looked at his bandmates. “They told me I made him upset.”
She then pointed to Soletus, Doran, and Tyrus. “I want these three to step outside,” she said.
“Go take them out Oeric,” said the Arch Monk.
The man hesitated giving his father a look before pointed to the door for Soletus, Tyrus, and Doran to walk out. Soletus turned around when he was at the door at Mien then shut it behind him.
Mallard then pulled out a chair and sat beside him where Soletus had sat. “So you don’t remember a thing that happened and you just followed them blindly believing everything they told you?”
“Where were you hit in the head,” she asked.
“He’s probably healed it so you can’t see it,” said Tyr.
“I never did,” said Mien. “Well, it healed internally on its own but the scar is still there,” he said pointed to the scar that remained. Mallard examined his temple.
“Nice scar you have there. How do you know someone like Braidy there didn’t do it?”
“Braidy is my friend,” he said told her. “I trust him with my life.”
Icus then asked. “Did he tell you everything that happened?”
“He told me eventually.”
“So he withheld information from you from the beginning,” asked Mallard.
“He didn’t want to talk about it in detail is all.”
“And why is that,” asked Icus.
“Because he’s taken Lyndon’s death hard.”
“He could be wracked with guilt that he caused the entire thing by going to the gorge,” said Tyr.
“He is but not for the reason you all think. Maybe you should ask him about that and help him through it instead of accusing him,” said Mien. “You felt it too. I know everyone in the room felt him. You know he isn’t lying.”
“He could be lying,” said Tyr. “Because despite everyone assuming he’s honest, that boy can lie just as well as anyone else can.”
“He isn’t. I would know if he is lying.”
Icus then became intrigued. “You can tell when others are lying?”
“Yes. Not all the time though but I can tell when he’s lying the best,” said Mien softly. He never wanted to explain this quirk in his abilities. “Since I met him, I sense things from the sound of his voice. Him lying catches my attention because he’s a very…” Mien looked down.
“A very what?”
“A very pleasing voice so when he’s lying, it sounds like he’s off-key. I trust him because of that. He’s a very easy read.”
Icus studied him a moment. “It must be an interesting world to you live in with everything associated with sound. How about other people,” asked Icus.
“Depends. Some people sound muddy, some in the middle, others are clear too. And you sound clear, Sir. I know what you want, you want the truth, you focus on it so much,” said Mien focusing the man’s own personal timbre. Everything had one. Chanters were the loudest as well as magical objects. However, there was something brought to his attention he never heard before. It was very familiar and something he heard off of Soletus’s voice and that was something he probably had no right to knowing or mention.
“Could you tell that I’m lying?”
“Maybe, but I wouldn’t know what exactly the lie was and just you lying.”
It was then Mien heard a raised voice of someone laughing from the outside of the room. It sounded a lot like Valhart. Icus glanced at the door as well.
“This is all very enlightening, but how is this going to find who killed my men,” said Captain Mallard.
“You let me conduct the investigation,” said Icus. “And the Arch Monk decides what is done form there. Just give me a couple of days to unravel this all.”
“Look, I don’t want the usual, keep someone from justice to reform them nonsense as usual. It’s a high crime to kill a soldier during peacetime.”
The Arch Monk then spoke. “We are well within our right to do so. Whether they killed soldiers or not. However, I for one will release them to your custody.”
Mien was surprised and the raised voice from the outside was getting more and more of his attention. Captain Mallard became stunned. “Really, even though your grandson in involved?”
“Because he is who he is mean he knows better,” answered the Arch Monk. “This is beyond actions unbecoming of our members.”
Mein could hear shouting and then there was a fist pounding on the door.
“Arch Monk,” shouted Tyrus.
“Come in,” he said.
Tyrus stepped in, “You are needed out. There’s been a fight.”
“Let me guess, Valhart and the Senior Junior,” asked Icus.
Icus sighed. “I should lock both of them under the gatehouse.”
The Arch Monk strolled to the door. “Let’s see what going on.”
Mien followed. He wasn’t told to sit and wait.
Mien stood up unsure what he wanted to do and what he was about to see. There were some masters there. Most of them were standing to the side keeping Valhart back. Oeric had Soletus with this back to the wall and a hand to his chest. There was wild fury on Soletus’s face. And there was a sharp cold threat in Oerics’s gaze.
“Apple don’t fall far from the tree, men,” said Valhart spitting and wiping the blood from his nose.
“They tend not to,” spoke Icus getting everyone’s attention “However, it makes it much easier to spot a parasite because both tend to affect by the same one.”
Valhart greeted Icus with a sneer and then saw Mien shadowing the Arch Monk and all the blood drained from his face.
Icus caught the look and arched an eyebrow. “What’s the matter Second Warden, you seem unwell suddenly. Please explain to me why you are instigating fights.”
His eye’s kept shifting to Mien. “I didn’t instigate anything. I’m just stating a fact about how we’ve the deviant over here with his deviant neth son.”
“Dias made it clear that neth are to be among us despite them as being strange and unusual. And as for Oeric, whatever do you mean?”
Oeric sighed. “You know exactly what he means.”
Icus clasped his hands behind his back. “Well if he’s willing to point it out then he should have no problem explaining that as well as why his gaze keeps twitching to the acolyte as well.”
Valhart became rigid. “I’m not twitching.”
“Really, the moment you caught sight of him, you’ve been sweating.”
Valhart’s hand shot up and wiped his brow. He looked down at his hand. “I’m not sweating.”
Icus stepped up to Valhart an arm’s length apart. “Then answer my questions.”
Valhart then quickly said, “It’s nothing.”
“Good, you and your gang can go play elsewhere.”
“We’re looking for Kellas.”
“He’s not here. So go. That goes for everyone else unless you have business here,” said Icus.
The room cleared out Oeric released Soletus.
“Honestly, Junior Warden, you aren’t acting very worthy of your rank,” said Icus. “I hate to have to take it away because you let some spineless worm get under your skin.”
Soletus’s eyes went dark and his voice came out like low rolling thunder. “Then do something about him.”
“He’s just a single man. You can’t act like this or you’re going to find the world very difficult to live in as a neth male. There are thousands of Valharts out there.”
“And in the Dias Brotherhood there shouldn’t be a single one,” he shouted. Mien clamped down on his own emotions before he joined in the tirade. “I shouldn’t have to worry about my life when I’m on duty. Not because of the beastie I’m trying to kill because I have to plan around the second’s stupidity and spite. And beyond all else, on my personal time, I shouldn’t be harassed! If I speak out against it, I get punished and ridiculed. Do you see how one-sided that is?”
“You’re the only one who has trouble out of Valhart, that’s a personal problem,”
Soletus shoulders sagged. His frustration was palatable and he looked as if he was about to scream. Then Tyrus spoke up.
“About everyone who transferred out of Kellas’s band, had problems out of him,” said Tyrus.
Icus sat his gaze on him. “No one else has ever stated this.”
“Titfire, of course not. We junior warden say one bad thing about a first or second warden we get treated like we’ve lice. And with Kellas, you don’t ever tell him you’re leaving. He’ll make it impossible to even try. Ask Fenris’Redcrest about that.”
Icus’s mouth downturned. “Look, all I’m saying is that his actions have aggravated this situation at this moment.”
“So your just going to dismiss everything that Tyrus just said to you,” said Soletus with disbelieve. “That’s what happened to me. I can’t stand being in Kellas’s band because of Valhart. He heard me one day telling Fenris I wanted to leave and he determined to drag me through maw for it.”
“That doesn’t excuse the way you been acting,” said Icus sternly.
Oeric then clapped out Icus’s name and the enforcer regarded him.
“We have a situation here where we need to listen.”
“I’m well aware that we need to do and your son is making the situation worse. He needs to learn to control himself or is he just as inept as you are with controlling yourself?”
Oeric pulled his lips back from his teeth. “The only ineptitude I see is your hard hearing. Not listening to what these boys have to say isn’t going to get you to the truth.”
“I already know what the truth is,” said Icus. “I can’t prove it if your son is going to lose his temper at ever mindless dolt who calls him a name. He needs to think about how he is acting because it reflects badly on him. Kellas has acted unruffled this entire time. They expect the same maturity out of him. I expect him to have more maturity than this.”
Oeric crossed his arms. “So at his age, you possessed the composure of a warden who has had decades of experience at lying.”
“I expect for him not to hit people even if they deserve it,” said Icus.
“I’ll give you that, but Valhart doesn’t need to have free reign to walk where he pleases right now and stirring up trouble,” said Oeric. “You need to do something about him. He saw Mien which was something I wanted to avoid.”
“You were told to stay out of this,” reminded Icus.
“I will let you run your investigation and have been. However, at this point with everyone acting like idiot dods, the lads need help. I intend to act as counsel. It’ll free up your time.”
Icus nodded his head. “Very well. Get them to write their statement. Captain Mallard and I need to speak alone.”