And really, my stubbornness helped me through a lot of tough times. It’s hard to maintain one’s convictions when you’ve everything against you. Kellas and that entire mess being that sort of situation where nothing good had come out of it. Yes, I mean for Kiao and Mien that helped them. They gained something from it. For me, for years it seemed like I gained nothing. I lost more. All I could tell people was that I appreciated a life a lot more. It took a little more reflecting to narrow it down more. What I gained from it was that there are a lot of people who care about me. People who helped and showed a lot of love when they were told the truth of what happened. I didn’t go into every arm that opened up to me but, I learned, you are never truly alone in the world no matter how we feel.
Oeric took them to their room where they would be discussing Doran’s reveal. He claimed it was to give them all time to get over their astonishment and keep from brash reactions. However, the walk didn’t make Mien think Doran was less of an idiot. He made many questionable decisions the current one was the most questionable of all. What did he gain by taking Soletus knife? What excuse could the young man muster? Soletus didn’t even look willing enough. He was red again from irritation however, he didn’t say a word Oeric also ordered them into silence.
They were still holding their tongues when they entered the room. It was sparse with nothing more than a single window, four sleeping mats arranged in the center of the room, and a work desk. There was no place for them to stow their things. Oeric sat on the desk and pointed to the mats.
“Sit. We’re going to discuss this without yelling or fighting.”
They all sat and stared at Doran for an explanation.
He better have a dammed good one at that too, thought Mien.
“So explain why you took my son’s knife,” asked Oeric.
“Because Valhart told me to do it,” he said in a small voice.
Oeric crossed his arms. “So you thought stealing was okay because a second warden told you to do it.”
“No! He made me do it. That was part of our agreement.”
“Agreement for what?”
Doran sat up straight and starting regaling his story. “I was removed from my previous band. If I didn’t find one, my father wanted me to leave the Brotherhood and work for my uncle in Wateree instead. I really do want to be a monk so I asked around. And I learned First Warden Kellas was looking for a scout to replace Lyndon. I’m cross-trained so I asked him. He agreed to take me under the condition that Valhart would test me and make sure I was loyal enough.”
The severity in the warden’s stern face deepened. “He wanted to make sure you were loyal enough?”
“Yes, Sir. It isn’t like I did anything wrong. I just run errands for him. Mostly to other warden and his inner circle and I picked up things in town for him. But then he started corresponding with Brother Elnos.”
Mien brow went up when he heard that. Even Oeric became intrigued.
“Do you know why?”
“No, but Elnos was always tense and wanted to know if anyone saw me. He would also burn everything Valhart would send him. The very last thing he gave him was a small purse of coins. Then the day arrived to go out and Valhart told me that if I wanted to come, I need to pass a final test. I agreed and he told me to take Soletus’s dagger.”
“No one saw you take it?”
“No, I slipped in and slipped out with no problem.”
“And what did Valhart do with it?”
“I don’t know. I left to speak to First Warden Kellas afterward,” said Doran and raised his palm forward. “I swear on my blood and honor I didn’t even know what he was going to do with it.”
Soletus face flushed into a deep red. Mien expected the young man to throw himself at Doran and punch his face in. However, he had most self-control than he would’ve and sat stiffly.
Oeric however, didn’t restrain himself. “Did you dump your brains in a bucket? Were you that desperate that you willfully ignore rules not to mention the plethora of warning signs?”
“I didn’t think anything bad was going to happen.”
“He had you playing messenger as a proof of loyalty. You should never do something like that,” Oeric erupted.
Mien could feel Oeric’s displeasure that it made him feel sorry.
“At any point, a first or second gives a condition to join their band that doesn’t include training more, there isn’t an opening, or they want to observe you, then you should report them.”
“But, they would just deny it,” said Doran with his voice turning smaller that louder Oeric got.
“Then come to me! All of you, and tell your friends too. If at any point a warden does something that against the rules, makes you uncomfortable, and just plain wrong you come to me. And you should’ve told the Arch Monk the moment Valhart asked you to steal Soletus dagger.”
“Valhart told me if I ever told anyone about what he was doing, then he would make my life miserable.”
“So he threatened you as well.”
Doran held his head down in shame. “Yes.”
“Unbelievable. You did everything he did without question and fell for a trick.”
“But I didn’t know he was going to use the knife and especially not the way he did.”
“That’s a poor excuse,” said Oeric. “You don’t steal for anyone and think you can remain in blissful ignorance.”
“I am not the one you should be apologizing too. It’s every young man in this room. You’ve complicated this ten-fold.”
Soletus then injected. “Then do like he wants and have Brother Hickory use the phrase of truth on him.”
Doran agreed with a silent bob of his head.
“I want to avoid using Brother Hickory, I still don’t know if he will do it. Either way, Junior Warden, you need to speak with Icus, now! Mien, I was told to bring you to him so you can speak with Honored Priest Rastor.”
Mien didn’t know he was going to have to deal with that as well. He was hoping food would be brought to them first. He could feel the first shadows of a headache starting.
Oeric lead took them to the priest’s wing. He thought for a moment they were going to see the Arch Priest, however, they walked into a small meeting room. Mien was familiar with the room. It was a bright room with a tapestry hanging from the wall that was a woven rendition of the monastery. He didn’t know how old it was as it was missing buildings and the town was rather small. There was no wall.
Seated in front of the tapestry at a desk was a priest who Mien was unfamiliar with. He had seen him around. Probably the only rather robust priest he had seen. The way he sat sitting straight up and the way he observed him with a steady gaze when he entered the room screamed monk to him. Kiao told him that he was a former one. Unlike all the other priests who have, he kept his form.
Mien’s attention went to Kiao. She was there sitting primly in her seat wearing one of the newer dresses sent from her mother to her. It was dark purple and white. Mien suppressed a smile. Wearing a simple shirt and trousers must have bored her and she needed color again.
“Thank you First Warden Oeric,” said the priest. “You seem to do what you do very well when it comes to finding people and bringing them back.”
Oeric just inclined his head and spoke to Icus in a low voice presenting Doran to him. Icus nodded his head and pointed to the door. Oeric motioned for Doran to follow him. Icus remained in the room and whispered into the priest’s ear. While Mien took his seat.
“We may have another piece to what Elnos was planning, but we will go through this first.”
Mien tried to mirror Kiao. She wore no expression other than patiently waiting and didn’t respond to hearing what was said. He didn’t possess that ability and his brow pulled together on hearing it. He also straightened his spine but failed to be poised as well. He felt too ill at ease to sit nonchalantly with his hand his lap like her.
Icus spoke first. “Greetings Acolyte. We’ve got a matter I hope that I can clear out as quickly as possible so I can get to more pressing ones,” Icus said and gestured to Rastor.
“You might not know me but I’m Honored Priest Brother Rastor,” he said in a voice Mien felt completely ambivalent about.
“Greetings Brother,” returned Mien.
Brother Rastor’s raised his brow intrigues. “Oh! I wasn’t expecting that much of a lit from you. You and the Priestess here sound so much stronger than the late Elnos.”
He didn’t know how to respond to that statement. He agreed but he didn’t want the man to get the impression he was conceited.
“Anyway, Acolyte Mientheodric, I wanted to talk to you and Cantor Kialianna about the late Brother Elnos,” said Icus.
“I’ve been told how he died as well as what he did to my bond partner,” he said. Rastor didn’t seem all that surprised
“Well, that cuts down a lot of explaining. I’ll get to what you don’t know. While Sister Kiao was away, it was suggested by an anonymous source, that I allow the Enforcer to search his possession. Wha we found caused him to throw himself off the belfry.”
Rastor then pushed a leather sleeve in front of them holding papers. Kiao picked it up and opened it. Mien leaned in to see what it was. It was full of sketches. Elnos was known to being a sketcher and would go out of his way to make his own paper, charcoals, and inks. Mien had only seen his landscapes and day-to-day life of the monastery draws. However, what she held wasn’t anything of that. There were rough sketches of Kiao.
Mien watched her flip through them slowly at first. Most of them were portraits of all angles as if he were practicing to get her features correct. Then the drawings turned to full-figured drawings. They started with her healer garb. Then her outfits she wore during festivals or outings and even horseback riding. It was disturbing. She came to a drawing of her in one of their favorite spot to sit alone and talk. It was under a tree in the arboretum.
And rose in Mien seeing what he saw. The only way Elnos could’ve drawn that if he had watched them as a cat. However, it was the last handful of drawings that had both of them shocked. They were all Kiao but she was sketched nude in various poses. She flipped through them all once she realized they would all be the same thing and then tossed them on the desk. She sat with her teeth pressing into her bottom lip.
“Cantor,” said Icus.
She regarded him, her eyes unblinking.
“There is more,” he told her and handed a book to her. “Most of it is simple supplications he wrote to Dias however, his pleas change around the place that I marked.”
“In what way?”
Icus handed her the book. Mien leaned to see what else could make him more upset. He scanned the page and as the drawings indicated, he was obsessing over her. Most of his writing was him questioning Dias why she was there wondering if she was a gift or something insidious. Kiao flipped from page to page on scanning the words. He only caught a few of Elnos’s statements all of them disconcerting as the previous one.
Kiao snapped the book shut and handed it back to Icus. Mien was thankful the man was dead. Otherwise, he would hunt him down and do what, he didn’t know. A hot globe to the crotch sounded acceptable. In fact, he wanted to form one then and burn everything in front of him. Then again, he was certain the surface of Kiao skin could’ve done that. Her head and neck were burning a right red and her ear tips looked as if flames would start licking up from them.
Rastor then spoke. “I’ve not told the assembly about this because I wanted to speak to you first. These drawings are very true to life.”
A gruntled noise of annoyance issued from Mien throat and Kiao hand came down hard on his forearm silencing him.
“A skilled artist doesn’t need their subject in front of them,” she said sharply.
“True, but my concern here is just I was afraid he coerced you into doing this.”
“Honored Priest, do you think I’m so pathetic that I can’t handle a single weak-spirited and willed priest,” she asked with her lit getting stronger. “Shame on me for letting him grab me, but this… I would have Elnos on his knees eating those drawing.”
Brother Rastor’s face tightened. There was a treacherous undertone in her voice that Mien was certain even Brother Rastor heard it. Kiao didn’t survive in a order full of men by being passive. She meant that and probably would’ve done it. Mien would’ve helped her do it. Maybe shove his charcoals down his gullet as well.
Rastor considered the two of them while Icus spoke.
“If late Honored Priest Elnos was still alive, he would be removed completely from the order and some other corporal punishment. However, since he isn’t, I just want to assure you we are doing something about what he has done.”
“What do you mean,” asked Kiao.
“I went through this journal of his and he claimed to have been whispers from Dias himself of a “solution.” He didn’t go into detail about the solution but he wrote that someone took his offer. Paid someone to do what he couldn’t because he feared if his hand had done it, you would know.”
Kiao became confused. “That I would know his hands had done it.”
“Clearly he felt strongly against the Acolyte here. He kept referring to him as “reckoner” and as a certain entry suggests, he felt as if his death was confirmed by your reaction.”
All the blood drained from Mien’s face.
“You’re telling me that Elnos wanted Mien dead,” she said.
“Yes,” said Icus. “He clearly hired someone to do that. And I’ve high reasons to suspect that Second Warden Valhart was the individual who did it.”
Mien sat back in his chair feeling the backing rest against it back. He could feel the bars of the chair. Someone tried to kill him again. Valhart tried to do it. He took in a heavy breath and that was when he felt Kiao grab his head.
“Mien,” she hissed.
He let out a chuckle and then he broke off into nervous laughter.
“This is ridiculous. This is the plot to some terrible human play,” he said pushing the hair from his face.
“It’s true. All the evidence suggests it,” stated Icus.
“And you just told us that what we went through sounded ridiculous.”
“Yes, but I need to keep the number of people who know the truth to the minimal. I rather the entire monastery think you boys are suspected than give Valhart any indication that I suspect him multiple wrongdoings.”
Mien’s disbelief waned and irritation replaced it. “That includes Soletus?”
“It’s imperative he doesn’t know. He’s unstable right now and he’ll likely act out against the second warden this time doing something more than break his nose.”
“Well if you know he’s unstable, how is allowing him to be accused of murder going help that,” snapped Mien. “You need to tell him, reassure to him that you’ll do whatever you can to help him.”
Icus clasped his hands behind his back his voice becoming stone-like again. Mien found it patronizing.
“I thought my assurances earlier were enough. Also, keeping that woman from impeding our investigation was clear enough as well. Do I need to treat him like a boy and pat his head and tell him everything is going to be alright.”
Icus made Mien feel conflicted. He didn’t understand how there could be a man who sounded so much like a stone to his senses. Like his abilities reached out and touched a bit of slate from the bottom of a stream. Not a drop of care in him or that’s what it sounded like.
“This is a delicate situation. Valhart knowing you are alive is enough. My telling you this along with Sister Kiao is enough. So I expect you to hold your tongue.”
Mien’s eyes flickered gold and looked meaningfully at him. “Unyielding and unfeeling like the boulder you sound. How do you do it with a wife and child? Compared to the other like you, it like winter and summer. And I hope he never becomes likes you. That he doesn’t become afraid to feel. That he never loses his warmth.”
Icus’s hands crumpled apart. His arms hung from his side.
“You’re as clear as a river. Hide as you may. I know what it’s like to speak to two. Why do you think you can hide from me?”
Icus gave him a curious look. “How are you doing this?”
“Sometimes I just know things from people’s voice,” said Mien. “I just let it come. I just speak.”
Icus regarded Brother Rastor with a sideways glance and not for the reasons that Rastor took it.
“Don’t look at me. I know nothing of chanters. However, I have an entire assembly coming to me worried about this young man.”
“Probably because the same reason they don’t like Brother Hickory but even less since he has no control over it,” said Icus to him while meeting Mien’s gaze. “The truth scares people. They want to protect themselves. To do what they wish to do without any hindrance. Is it right? No. But, this is the way it has to be. As for him. I hope he doesn’t. That he can be the man I cannot.”
“Tell him that and not me,” said Mien.
Rastor looked between them. “Do I need to leave you two alone to converse?”
“No, I’m leaving. I need to speak to First Warden Oeric,” said Icus. “I’ll be right back. You needed to speak to these two together, correct?”
“That I do,” said Rastor.
Icus left and shut the door. Mien felt whatever high he was plummeted leaving him heavy and exhausted. He hated getting like that. It seemed that Vlory was able to all the time. Listening and reacting to voices and she wasn’t even at her full power. He wondered what she was like when she got well.
The honor priest stared at him.
“So you are the infamous Brother Mientheodric’Cyan.”
“Greetings,” he said wondering what all he had heard about him.
“I promise I’ll try to keep this short. As I told Sister Kiao, I know little really about chanters and timbre bonds. Most of what I do have come from sources in the assembly. They disagree with the Arch Priest catering to you two.”
Kiao then asked. “How have we’ve been catered too? The only thing we been given was the allowance to be together despite not proving ourselves to Dias. The assembly has done it’s best to hinder us to our detriment.”
“What do you mean,” asked Rastor. “You to remain together free to do whatever you want.”
What’s her angle on this, wondered Mien. He hadn’t got a chance to talk to Kiao about what they were going to say to Rastor.
“We are not free to do whatever we want. We are not free to learn. If we were my entire experience with learning about the channel between us would not have been so disruptive,” she said.
Rastor rubbed his chin. “That’s what you believe.”
“It’s what I know. Look if we are to be a bonded pair, we need training and guidance.”
“So you want the Brotherhood to support you together as a couple.”
Kiao pursed her lips a sign that she was becoming frustrated. Mien knew what she was trying to get at. The most objective angle she could think up in the time they were there.
“What she is saying is that we want to be allowed to have a trainer guide us,” stated Mien. “The Assembly has been so caught up on a bunch of stuff that doesn’t matter and they forgot we are chanters. You don’t let chanters remain untrained.”
“Exactly,” said Kiao. “We need someone with experience.”
Rastor leaned forward on his desk and wove his fingers together. “And who do you have in mind?”
“Vlory,” said Kiao. “She’s the chanter Mien and I helped save. She was once in a timbre bond. Her people help guide and support them. They even welcome them. It’s seen as a blessing because bonded chanters can sing a song together and that’s helpful.”
“So you do are going to learn one.”
“We already did,” said Kiao. “That’s how we saved Vlory. She had so much corruption in her that it took us and a staff to be able to do.”
Brother Rastor gave his head a shake. “Excuse me. A corrupted chanter? You brought a corrupted chanter here?”
“She’s not corrupted anymore,” said Kiao and then had to explain to him the entire story. Mien had to also relay a great deal about what had happened to him. By the end of it, the older man was leaning in his chair flabbergasted.
“That’s very amazing,” he said and tapped the desktop with his fingers. “I doubt that your song will get much use.”
“I’m sure it can be used to help again,” said Kiao. “I’m sure we can shape it to be more versatile. However, we can only do that if we are allowed to learn about our bond the way we need too.”
“Agreed,” said Mien. “As much as the emotional stuff is part of the two of us, again, we are still chanters. Our abilities don’t waiting around for us to be old enough.”
Kiao nodded. “They appear when the chanter is ready and that isn’t the most convenient time. And while Mien might be too young to be bonded to me, it happened because it needed to happen.”
“Yes, I get that. But the concern is whether or not he’s responsible enough to handle being with someone more mature such as yourself. That you two wouldn’t get tempted by youth and do something you shouldn’t do.”
“You’re going to have to trust him and me,” said Kiao. “I know that might sound irresponsible but it was irresponsible to allow us to go on unguided.”
“I understand your position. However, given the circumstance, I can’t make a decision right now. A conclusion needs to be made on what has occurred here,” he told them standing to his feet. “Though I have to say, your two are interesting, to say the least. I’ll go fetch Icus to see where he wants you two.”
Kiao and Mien watched Rastor leave. He didn’t close the door behind him but was speaking to someone. They regarded each other. Kiao patted his hand and mouthed.
Mien swayed his head. “Exhausted,” he whispered and pulled his hand from under hers and put his on top of hers squeezing it. “Need proper food.”
Oeric then entered the room. “Come on, Mien back to the room,” he said and the acknowledge Kiao. “Greetings, Sister.”
Kiao waved to him and Mien walked beside the man and realized that Doran wasn’t with him.
“Speaking to Icus still and I was told to take you back to the room,” he told him. At the rounded the corner to exit the priest’s wing, someone was waiting for them by the door. It was First Warden Kellas.