And then there was Grandpa. It was rough with him after that. He was supportive one moment and in the next, I might as well have been mud. I went against the ways of the order and to my Grandpa the order was everything. I knew it but I never knew how much he did until the aftermath of Kellas. He didn’t want me to be an exception to the rules. Getting married and having children, helps the Brotherhood, and being someone neth who refused to conform went against helping the Brotherhood and he couldn’t have that. But I was the same level of stubbornness. Nothing changed our minds when we decided something was the right thing. Eventually, I won. He gave up on matching after you know who. And after he passed, no one could say anything about me. They couldn’t complain about me never being a father. Adoption has many rewards.
Oeric brought the four of them back into a room again. This time he gathered four ink wheels and plenty of parchment. Soletus and Mien sat beside each other while Doran and Tyrus sat across from them.
“To make a good defense you need to start with presentation,” stated Oeric. “You’ve failed a little bit on that part today. So, from here on out, I don’t care if Valhart or the rest of Kellas’s pack come at you with a smoking iron brand, don’t engage them. Is that clear?”
“Yes Sir,” they all said.
“Now I can tell you that Icus is considering Soletus little outburst in his assessment of the situation.”
“Why would it matter,” said Tyrus. “I mean, this is just about who done what, right?”
“It is and the why. You need justification for refusing to follow Kellas orders. Yes, I know that sound pointless and asinine but, rules state junior wardens are to never disobey their first’s orders.”
“Is that really in the rules,” asked the half-elf.
Oeric scrutinized him. “You were told the rules and were to read and memorize them when you took your vows.”
“I must’ve forgotten. Sounds stupid.”
“Agreed,” said Soletus. “The rules are also a little vague on what to do when your first orders you to do something that goes again, your vows. They say follow your second, even if he is a blight on elven kind.”
Oeric cleared his throat getting their attention. “That’s why we need your statements. Icus will be giving the Arch Monk his recommendation. So you need to write good statements.
Doran raised his hand.
“Yes, Junior Warden.”
“Sir, I know how to write a statement. You are taught as a scout.”
“You are, but you are taught how to write quick statements and observations. I expect you to use those skills in your statement. However, you four need to go into details and clear details in order of events. You may ask each other to clarify something, but you cannot, I repeat do not collaborate your statements so they read word-from-word. Each one of you should use your own words and the best words you have.”
“Yes Sir,” they all said.
“I want you to write your statement out, tear it up, and then write it again.”
Soletus opened his mouth to argue.
“This is not a reprimand. I believe you’ll write clearer if you get your thoughts down and again after you settled,” he said.
“I am settled,” said Soletus.
Mien could feel the aggravation seated in his throat. “Far from it, my friend.”
The young monk pushed his palm into his eyes. “They’re accusing us of going into that gorge and blowing people up. Murdering and torturing them.”
Oeric picked up the parchment and place four pieces in front of Tyrus and Doran before going to Mien and Soletus saying, “I know you’re scared but Icus is going to look at your statement the hardest. When it comes time for him to present what he’s found to the Arch Monk, the Arch Monk will come down hardest on you because of your seniority. So, do your best, write clearly, and objectively.”
He then rested a hand on his son’s shoulder. Soletus lowered his hand and said. “Can I please have a copy of the rule tome?”
Oeric nodded and left the room. When he came back, he handed Soletus a thin tall leather bounded book that sat in the master’s hall. There was a copy in the archive, as well as one in the boy dorm. It outlined and stated the rules of the Brotherhood as well as had a copy of the vows that they took.
They all sat about writing their statements. Doran was done first given that he was trained to be a scout and delivered his statement as quickly as possible.
Mien stopped and restarted figuring he shouldn’t write a statement as if he was writing a letter to his sister with eight weeks of information to convey. Soletus finished, read over his statement, and tore it like he was told and restarted again. Then Tyrus was done. He gave his statement to Oeric. Mien watched his eyes jerk back and forth with his brow quirking. He then looked over the paper at Tyrus.
“You said in my own best words,” said Tyrus with a grin.
The first warden added it to the stack swaying head.
Soletus finished and handed his parchments to his father. The man read over it as he had done Tyrus’s and Doran’s. The regarded his and lifted the page up with his fingers and ripped in two. He handed Soletus the remains.
“Write it again,” he ordered.
“Why,” demanded Soletus.
“You’re tone. You can keep everything you’ve written, just change the tone. Be matter-of-fact.”
“So other than that it’s acceptable,” he asked.
“Certainly, it explains your actions as well as theirs while shedding light on the situation at hand.”
The grimness on Soletus’s face lessened.
“However, just to be clear, you’re kicking a sleeping drass beast.”
“It needs to be kicked.”
Mien was curious about what his friend had written.
Oeric leaned forward on the desk. “Despite the fact that you are skilled, I doubt there will be a first warden that’ll take you after this.”
“I don’t care at this point,” he returned.
Oeric studied his son for a long moment.
“What would you rather have me say,” said Soletus, sounding defensive again.
“I rather you not experienced this to have to say something like this.”
Soletus did so one more time. Mien finished and handed his to Oeric. The young chanter used two of his pages front and back.
“You did say I needed to be thorough,” said Mien.
Oeric bobbed his head and read it through it. “It’s fine, just, well, they are certainly very different than the quick statements Kellas and his men wrote.”
Mien settled down and folded his arms on the table so he could lay his head down. He wanted a nap. Tyrus and Doran followed suit drowsing in the stuffy room as well. Once again, Soletus handed his father his statement and instead of tearing it down the middle again, it was added to the stack.
“Stay here a moment. I need to know where to take you four next.”
When Oeric shut the door, Mien voiced his curiosity. “What did you write, Sol?”
Soletus learned back in his chair. A wry smile crossed his face. “Aside from telling what happened, I listed every violation that Kellas had done that day as well as quoting rules that supported my actions. There weren’t many and I pointed that out as well. There is simply very little guidance for what junior wardens are supposed to do when both their superiors ac unbecoming. It a failure on my grandpa’s as well. I really should have it framed.”
Mien thought he was kicking a behemoth.
“You’ve some stones to do that,” said Doran. “Why risk everything you’ve trained for to say something like that.”
“Because it needs to be said,” answered Soletus. “If words are all I have, then I’ll use them. They might not be nice words but they need to be said.”
“But calling this a failure on the Arch Monk’s part doesn’t seem wise considering he’s the one who decides what happens to us. And we have no proof. It’s our word against Kellas and a knife,” said Doran.
“The blade shows the heart of the wielder.”
“Then who used it,” asked Tyrus. “I’m serious. Which one of them bastards did it?”
“It wasn’t Kellas,” stated Soletus. “That blade was held by someone careless and doesn’t care about sullying anything. Kellas, in his own way, does. If I had to guess, I reckon it was likely Valhart.”
“But why did he have your knife in the first place? How did get it,” Tyrus wondered.
“Probably blackmailed some poor warder or something. Either way, I have to figure something out. I’m not about to let you fellows take the blame for something that I caused.”
Mien slapped his hand on his forehead. “This isn’t your responsibility.”
“It is. I could’ve said no. I could’ve held my ground. I could’ve—,”
“Stop,” snapped Mien, slapping his hand on the table. “I could’ve this, I could’ve that. No. I told you to stop thinking about what you could’ve done. We made the choice of not speaking up as well. We could’ve done something too!”
Soletus shook his head in disagreement.
“He’s right,” stated Tyrus. “We could’ve done something instead of just following along. I voted to go after them. So if anyone who could’ve changed anything it’s me.”
“We need to work together to sort this out because all of us will be punished not just you,” stated Mien.
Tyrus agreed with a curt nod. “I mean, we’re practically a band and we started this together, we might as well finish it,” said Tyrus.
The young monk then bowed his head. “True.”
The door to the room then opened back up and Oeric strolled in. “Alright I spoke to Icus and he wants the four of you inside the monastery walls until further notice. No exceptions. I will escort you to your room.”
“In the dorms,” asked Soletus.
“No. You’ll be placed in a separate room for now. It’ll take you to the dorms. It’s empty now so you can grab things like a change of clothing and then you’ll get escorted to go bath. Then I’ll make some arrangements for food. We will talk again.”
“Let me get this straight, Kellas and the others get to move around where they want to since they came home, but we get restricted,” asked Soletus.
Oeric nodded. “I don’t agree with it but that’s how it is for now. Don’t worry, we’ll work this out.”
Mien wasn’t sure how they were going to work anything out. Things seemed to be set against them.
Bathing didn’t take very long neither did them gathering their things. It seemed silly that they couldn’t just stay in their rooms at first until they walked into the dorm. Mien stayed at his friend’s side. He attracted the attention of everyone there. They watched them as they passed but, never confronted them. Then again, Soletus strutted through there with his head high and shoulders squared. He projected the aura of a young man who would punch anyone who said even hello.
Mien expected his roommates to be there, but thankfully they weren’t. He made his way to the worktable in the room while Soletus unlocked his footlocker and stowed his gear. Mien’s attention wandered to the top bunk where Lyndon slept. Often times he sat up there playing up a mission he was on making it sound more harrowing. Soletus, of course, would be rolling his eyes and correcting his over-exaggeration. It was hilarious. They were the perfect dynamic. Mien smiled. He almost wished the young man would round the corner and asking them why they left him behind. It was Soletus sniffing that cut through his thoughts.
“I’m fine,” he answered wiping under his eyes. “I’m glad we’re sleeping someplace else again. I don’t think I can sleep here now. It just feels empty.”
Mien bobbed his head in understanding.
“I can’t go back out like this,” he said furiously cleaning his face and sitting on the floor.
Mien felt like he gave a lake worth of tears in the darkness of his room until he couldn’t cry anymore. He wondered why if that was the reason he didn’t cry when he was sad now. It was odd. He left the chair and walked over to the doorway to see if Tyrus or Doran was anyway where to be seen. No one was in the hall so he walked back and settled down beside Soletus.
“When this is all over, we need to go somewhere. I was thinking Arbortown,” he told him.
The corners Soletus’s mouth quirked. “You need to examine your priorities. Shouldn’t you be offering this sort of treat to Kiao?”
“I figure I would out of pity because no one will ever offer it to you,” returned Mien.
“Do you treat her like you treat me?”
“No, I actually love her. You’re just okay,” said Mien patting his back. “Seriously though, when I go back to the Arbiter, we should go to a particular place. Just the two off us. It’s a natural monument. Right outside of town. A pillar of tao stone just resting on top of a high knoll.”
“I don’t see what’s so special about that.”
“The view and the tao stone pillar is said to sing. I want to go there anyway because well if there is something someone like me can do, it is hear singing.”
“Again, this seems really like a Kiao thing.”
“I don’t think she wants to spend another moment outdoors for a long period of time any time soon. Anyway, who else is going to put up with you?”
Soletus then threw his arms around him. Mien was expecting it. He baited the hug. He then slapped him on the back. “Come on, get yourself together. You need to keep that reputation of being big and tough. Don’t want someone walking in here seeing you being a pastry.”
Soletus let go of him how but rested his forehead on his shoulder.
“I’m scared. I wasn’t this terrified on the road,” he said with a humorless chuckle that died into his voice quaking. “That was my knife Papa gave me. I treasured that knife. And someone went out and killed people with it and they think I did it. That I led you and the others down there.”
“Well, clearly you didn’t.”
“You don’t even remember what happened and you believe me. You trust me. Why not these are men who knew me since I was a child. Trained me even. Yet they are so willing to condemn me for what, not coming home first?”
That’s what it appeared to be the case. What had Kellas told them that made them want to believe him more?
“I need to think of something. We need to find anything that’ll prove we didn’t do this,” said Soletus.
There was knuckle tap on the doorway and the two of them raised their heads to see Tyrus and Doran standing there. Soletus straightened back up.
“Came in here cause you two are taking forever,” said Tyrus looking around. “You keep a neat room. Even Lyndon’s bed is neat.”
“If it isn’t neat, I get yelled at. The advantage of being Arch Monk’s grandson,” said Soletus wiping his face again.
“Are you okay,” asked Doran.
Soletus bobbed his head. “Yeah,” he said lamely.
Doran gaze then dropped on the footlocker and he stared at it in Mien’s opinion far too long.
“What’s wrong,” asked Soletus.
“Nothing, just so much is happening at once,” he said.
Mien felt the area between his shoulder go cold. Doran was lying. Instead of calling him out in it, he rose to his feet and wrapped his arm around his stomach. They didn’t have a large breakfast just some buttered bread and water and it didn’t settle well in his belly. Like Soletus, he was worried too. Kellas had trapped them. He even had the proof that should not have exist backing it up. If that knife wasn’t where it was supposed to be, then it was going to be used for something else. Then what was that something else? What could they prove to be worth more than that bloody knife?
It was then the young monk announced. “I have an idea that’ll end this all quickly.”
“What is it,” said Tyrus sitting on Soletus’s bed. “Why is your bed so soft?”
“Brother Hickory. He can force someone to tell the truth. Granted he doesn’t like doing it. However, if one of us volunteers then we prove ourselves.”
Mien thought about it. He was probably their only way out.
Tyrus was in the process of lying down and then sat up appalled. “He can do what?”
Mien then explained. “You know how my edict is protection; well his is the phrase of truth. He can force people to tell the truth. In fact, he’s good at sensing lying.”
“And people just talk to him!”
“He has to be listening for it. The lying that is. As for using the phrase of truth, well, he doesn’t like using it because he’s a very potent chanter.”
“He doesn’t sound like you,” said Doran.
“After a while, you can control the lit. He controls his to be polite.”
“Is that another example of mind-control,” askes Soletus.
“Yes,” said Mien. “That why he doesn’t like doing it.”
The room became silent after that. Soletus considered what he learned. Tyrus looked at the floor to hide his terror at the prospects of it. Doran rubbed the back of his neck.
“If you have nothing to hide, then it’ll be okay,” asked Soletus.
“Yes,” said Mien.
“Then we should do it.”
“It sounds drastic,” said Tyrus.
“It is but, we need to show how far we’re willing to go. I’ll even present myself in front of Brother Hickory. I got nothing to hide and if it clears your fellows of wrong-doing then it’s worth it.”
“Better you than me,” said Tyrus.
Soletus clapped his hand together. “Good, we should tell Papa.”
They all went with Mien to get his things in order. When they came back, they found the first warden leaning with his back against the wall. He looked a bit irritated that they took so long but when Soletus explained his idea he became intrigued.
The older monk crossed his arms. “That’s drastic.”
“See,” said Tyrus.
“I don’t know if Hickory will agree to it. He always talks his way out of doing it. Who did you have in mind to do it?”
“Me,” answered Soletus.
“I know for a fact he’ll refuse to do it.”
“Why,” cried Soletus. “He should understand the situation and why.”
“I get that, but, maybe present someone else he’ll be willing to work with.
We should be prepared that he may refuse to do that. Not because he doesn’t care for your situation, but of how much it’ll mess with your head.”
“Then what do we do?”
“Figure out who took your knife. That is where we unravel this because something else is clearly going on. That’s our counter to this entire thing. It’ll push ever back to Kellas and the others. Whoever it was will have to explain why they took it and how it ended in the gorge.”
“And if we don’t find who took the knife,” asked Tyrus.
“Then we will have to go the Brother Hickory route and it narrows the scope who can do this down to you or Doran. However, if I present this idea to Icus, he’ll probably want all of you.”
“Why not just one of us and one of Kellas’s men. That’s fairer,” said Soletus. “And since it’s my knife and everyone wants to punish me anyway, I’ll do it.”
“No, I’ll do it,” said Doran.
Everyone looked at him.
“Why,” asked Soletus.
“Because this isn’t your fault, it’s mine,” he said taking in a deep breath. “I took Soletus’s knife.”