It hurt him a lot having to do what he did to me. He didn’t want to it and expressed that point many times over. He was very afraid that I wouldn’t talk to him more so that I already had. I was avoiding speaking to him and not because I was afraid of facing what I was. I wanted to work it all out on my own. Figure out a way to come to terms with it. However, you can’t handle everything yourself. Dias found fit to have Hickory around for a reason and he became a shelter for me. Someplace where I could go to get out of the storm. Someone to talk too. And I spent many days in the back of the chapel speaking to him more or less as friends. And he would always listen and Saffron would come and bring us a bite to eat. When he finally passed, I was old enough to not feel the loss too much. Then again, he trained a very good replacement and he wouldn’t let me get sad about it.
Disbelief blossomed on Doran’s. “No, why would he do that?”
Mien didn’t think one needed to give much thought to what was likely the case. He had a sinking suspicion that Oeric had the same idea.
“Because he’s Valhart,” answered Soletus.
“But I was helping him,” cried Doran looking to be at a loss because he knew it was likely true. “Valhart doesn’t help people as much as he uses them,” explained the young monk.
“But Kellas was the one interested in me. He wouldn’t go against what Kellas wanted Unless that is what he wanted.”
“Kellas didn’t know what Valhart was doing,” said Mien.
“I doubt he doesn’t,” said Soletus.
“It makes more sense if he didn’t,” said Mien. “Valhart probably took on Elnos’s request on the side. He doesn’t exactly like young wardens. Kellas is constantly trying to find new blood. Doran was just an easy opportunity for Valhart.”
Doran was still in denial. “If that’s the case, then why did he agree to it?”
That was a good question. Mien didn’t hadn’t thought of his motivation. Soletus then provided an answer.
“He tossed his moral compass in the swamp he was in. He was swamp post fodder for the longest time before he became Kellas’s second.”
“Really,” questioned Tyrus. “Titfire, him becoming a second sounds like someone was blackmailed.”
Soletus nodded. “What makes me sick is that Kellas had to go to my grandfather to approve it.”
Doran looked sick himself and said. “Regardless of how, we don’t have solid proof. He’s not going to kill me to hide his trail right?”
“No,” said Soletus and thought about it. “I wouldn’t get caught out alone if I were you though.”
That didn’t quell Doran’s fears at all. Given how pale he got, it made it worse.
“Look, Papa is going to be back and we can talk to him about it. Maybe he can give us more insight.”
However, Oeric didn’t return that day. No one returned to get their bowls or anything. They were just left alone in the room and given no clear permission to leave so they just lazed and slept.
Mien awoke on his own accord before the loud bass rumble of the horn sounded to start the day. He sat up examining the dull room. Everyone sounded asleep save a single person who wasn’t. Soletus touched his foot through the blankets when he heard him stir. Before Mien could ask him how he was, there was a knock on the room door and it opened. Icus stood there with a lantern
“Senior Junior Warden Soletus, Acolyte Mienthedoeric, get dressed. We’re going to see the Arch Monk,” he said whispering.
Mien reached for his trousers at his feet and pulled those back on. He had slept in his shirt making it a wrinkled mess as he tucked it in his waistband. Soletus was a lot quicker to dress to allow time to fix his hair which he unbraided because it was loose and just wore it long. Mien gave his a few quick brushes to tame his bedhead however it was far from neat.
Once out, Icus then explained to them what was going on.
“Brother Hickory spoke to me yesterday about your idea. It’s probably the best method to clarify certain aspects of this situation. Though with some modification to what purpose this serves. First off, we need to do this now.”
Mien’s mind was sluggish and took far too long to realize what he was saying. Soletus understood right of.
“Why right now and what is the change to the purpose it serves?”
“It needs to be done as soon as possible without the knowledge of Kellas and the men under him. Once you are done with this part, I will clarify why I had to do it. However, I was told to bring you here immediately as it was better if you didn’t eat.”
Breakfast hadn’t been served yet. Pray would start soon though. They all entered the Arch Monk’s chambers. There wit a cup of tea sat Captain Mallard. She looked wide awake and ready to go. Brother Hickory as well as Oli stood side-by-side. Hickory’s held a flagon. To the other side of Brother Oli sat a tall chair with straps on the armrest and one where legs would be. Soletus stopped dead in his tracks.
“Don’t worry,” said Hickory gently. “I’m not going to strap you in. You’re doing this willingly.
Mien looked over the room, there were two soldiers there beside Captain Mallard as well as two peaceguard situated by the door. Both sets were armed. The soldiers with hands resting on their hilts and the peaceguard with heavy staves.
The young monk stretched and then wore a wry smile.“You act like I’m going to run,” said he said and strutted to the chair. “A little bit of warning would’ve been nice.”
“Why do you need three chanters here,” asked Mallard.
“As I told you, Brother Hickory is going to perform the truth-telling and Brother Oli is to make sure that the Junior Warden is here is okay physically. The Acolyte is here because.
I don’t understand why I was told to bring him?”
Hickory then gestured for Soletus to sit. “He more or less here for when I’m done. I suggest if we make you nervous, you leave.”
“Who said anything about being nervous,” she said.
She was though as she was grasping that cup of tea tightly and watching them the entire time. Soletus unlike her, eased himself in the chair waiting for instructions.
Mien had never seen Brother Hickory use his edict phrase on anyone. However, given how powerful the priest was he knew it’ll be something that would make him nervous. A lot of members of the brotherhood didn’t like the fact that the man who served to help mend their minds could use a single phrase and force them to tell the truth. However, he never used his abilities in that way. He didn’t want to force people to tell the truth. He rather them tell the truth to him freely or coax it out of them in a manner that wasn’t threatening and painful.
“Are you certain you want this,” Mien asked his friend.
Soletus bobbed his head trying to get comfortable in the chair. “What else am I supposed to do?”
“In my opinion anything but this,” said Brother Oli agitated. “I don’t think this is a good idea.”
“Don’t think I wanted him to do it, Oliver,” said Hickory. “It would be much easier to subject the person who is lying to this treatment. Kellas should’ve been the one chosen.”
“Wisdom is one of your many gifts,” said Brother Oli solemnly. “Yet with all these ears around here, no one is willing to listen.”
“They are looking at that bloody knife. It’s like assuming someone dressed as a beggar stole the apple from the basket while a well-dressed man is watching behind the crowd eating it.”
Icus cleared his throat. “Can you two please stop questioning my process and reasoning and start?”
Brother Oli then said. “This is not something to rush. We’re not giving him wine to sip on. This stuff will cause his body to have a specific kind of reaction that normally he wouldn’t save in a specific and probably very unlikely situation at his age.”
Soletus looked uncertain. “What are you talking about.”
Brother Oli then explained. “Neth make-up is different. Cory would be better to explain it all. However, this compound puts you in a state where you are more open and willing.”
Soletus looked a bit puzzled.
Oli then appealed to Hickory. “Please tell me you’re going to fill his gaps in his knowledge about what he is soon.”
Brother Hickory patted Soletus on the shoulder. “Think about it like this, we neth have states of being. This will put you in an awakened state where you are receptive. However, since this is forced and manipulation, you will feel wrong the entire time.”
Soletus still didn’t seem to understand. Dias, bless him, Mien thought.
“Remember what I said yesterday?”
Soletus nodded. “It’s supposed to make more trusting less guarded.”
“Yes and to do that, I have to force you to feel like your in a situation with someone you are very familiar with and trust them enough for you to be intimate with them as much a neth might allow.”
“Ohhhhh,” said Soletus becoming unsure. “A bit extreme, don’t you think?”
“Exactly,” said Oli. “There are other mixes and compounds in this family concoctions I could’ve had made. This one was the only one I could make that would be easier on you. Cory was very concerned you would fight him. The less you fight, the easier this will be on you. The more you trust the more you allow Cory to do, the less likely you’ll fight. And this stuff will help it all feel less intrusive.”
Soletus blinked and regard Mien for his opinion.
“It’s alchemic manipulation and in the wrong hands. Brother Hickory would be the best person to know how to use it for some good.”
Soletus nodded his head. “As far as I’m concerned this is the only way. No one will listen to me. Ask me anything you want. I’ll take anything you want as well. I’m not going to get mad at Brother Hickory for something I asked to do. Neither you, Brother Oli. You’ve both been nice about this.”
Brother Oli bobbed his head and took the flagon as well as a small measuring cup.
“I’m going to start giving it to you by the fourth cup.”
Brother Hickory then told him. “The first dose will have little effect on you.
We wait, give you another, and then you’ll feel a fuzzy-headed. From there we’ll decide what you need.”
Mien didn’t like watching the process of his friend get drugged. It reminded him of his own dreadful experience of waiting. Except he was forced to ingest blighter and waiting for death that he expected to come. What his friend was taking wasn’t blighter. It wouldn’t kill him and Brother Oli would make sure he didn’t take too much. However, that didn’t stop Mien from wrapping his arm around his middle and his stomach cramping.
Soletus took a second dose and when asked how he felt, he said. At the third dose that was when he began to change. His skin flushed as well as his gaze became vague.
The Arch Monk walked over to them. “How long is this going to take,” asked the Arch Monk.
The elder healer glance at him. “As long as it needs too. I’ve been pacing the doses and keeping them small. There is a sweet spot that needs to be achieved and there is no rushing it.”
Soletus leaned back in his chair. “I feel dizzy.”
“Well, we know it’s working,” said Brother Hickory.
Suddenly, the young monk eyelids drooped, and he leaned to one side of the chair and the armrest caught him. He jerked looking dazed as if he hadn’t realized it was there.
“Soletus,” said Hickory.
The young monk stared at Hickory and searched his face bemused and then stated. “I don’t feel good.”
Brother Oli then tapped Soletus on the shoulder. “Can I feel your wrist.”
Soletus held up his wrist for him. “I don’t feel like myself.”
The elder chanted patted his head. “Don’t worry about that. It’s just everything working.”
He then mouthed to Brother Hickory. “His pulse is fast.”
“Half a dose and then we’ll stop there,” said the aged priest looking uncomfortable out of
Soletus’s line of sight while Brother Oli did as he was told and handed it to Soletus who hesitated and before slowly downing it. He leaned to his left side again.
Brother Hickory took him by the shoulders and sat him up straight.
“I’m okay. How am I supposed to answer anything when I feel so muzzy headed. I just want a warm bed right now.”
As if that was the cue Brother Hickory, leaned into Soletus’s ears.
Hickory then said to Soletus gently. “Normally you are restrained but since you’ve done this voluntarily, you aren’t. No matter what happens, stay in this chair.”
“I understand,” said Soletus.
The chanter priest nodded and touched his forehead and whispered the phrase of truth in his ear. Soletus’s irises became backlit turning into a phosphorescent blue as all the blood drained from his face.
“Why did his eyes do that,” asked the Arch Monk sounding concerned.
Brother Oli spoke. “Soletus is chanter gifted. What magical heart he has is being engaged by Cory’s abilities. He must be on the stronger end of it to have that reaction.”
Brother Hickory speaking low, but Mien still shivered from how bearing it was. “You can hear my voice in your mind and ears. I’m not forcing you to speak right now. You will know when I do and it’s easier if you just let it happen. Do you understand?”
Soletus bobbed his head looking ahead of him unfocused.
Brother Hickory took a deep breath and started speaking sounding like a person trying to soothe another than an interrogator. “According to your statement written to Enforcer Icus, you stated that it was First Warden Kellas who ordered your band to enter the FireRock. Is that true?”
Soletus’s face twitched. “Yes.”
He then looked disturbed. He became alarmed and tensed looking at Brother Hickory betrayed. The aged priest laid a hand on Soletus’s right forearm. “Don’t do that. Don’t fight. I know that was different from anything you felt but you can’t fight me,” said the priest using his voice on him.
Soletus face twitched. Hickory then massaged his forearm.
“I’m not trying to control you. I just want you to calm back down. You need to do this. You felt strongly about doing this. You care about the other lads who followed you. You said so in your statement. You’re doing this to help them. Remember?”
“Good, keep that in mind.”
Mien was impressed and terrified at the same time by the priest. He didn’t know if anyone other than him knew Hickory was treading a line. Mien never wanted to be able to do something like that but at the same time, he was curious if he could ever reach that point. If Soletus was aware of what had happened, he didn’t show it. He just went with it. Mien peered out the corner of his eyes to the Arch Monk to see what he thought. The old monk face was stern and unreadable.
Most of the questions were yes or no questions. Nothing that required an explanation. And most of it was already things Mien knew true. Kellas did lead them into the gorge. He did in fact, refused to listen to reasoning why they shouldn’t get involved any more than they had. However, the yes and no question stopped when Hickory came to the part of Soletus statement about the ambush.
Brother Hickory then said, “According to your statement, you were already in the gorge before you decided to leave and disobey your orders. Why did you change your mind.”
Soletus face struggled a little.
“Don’t try to think about your answer just answer,” said Hickory.
“I didn’t feel safe. It felt like a storm was coming,” said Soletus speaking fast. “Lyndon told me that we should leave. But I hesitated as always. I believed Kellas would figure it out. He didn’t. When it was dusk. Lyndon then reported to me he had seen movement above us on the cliff wall. I brought it to Kellas’s attention but one in charge of the gorge dwellers insisted that it was one of his lookouts. Scout Warden Cole claimed he didn’t see anything and dismissed Lyndon’s claims. Pace and Roy did so as well.”
The young monk sunk in the chair looking exhausted.
“In your statement, you said, quote ‘Kellas agreed with the dismissal. We got into another argument about leaving. Then Second Warden Valhart jumped in and insulted me calling me a nething in front of everyone and then proceeded to embarrass me in front of everyone. Saying that all frigid males were cowards and that I lacked the stones to do the true work that Kellas does and take care of all problems’ Is that what was said?”
“You claim that Valhart said that First Warden Kellas wasn’t shy about getting his hands bloodied because someone has to do because there is more to killing monsters than just drass beasts. Is that what he said.”
Mien glanced over at the Arch Monk again to see what he was thinking. Once again his face was impassive. It was then Mien realized that Soletus’s father wasn’t in the room. The young chanter knew for a fact that he would be there yet he wasn’t. Mien wondered what was going on while Hickory picked out more places from Soletus’s statement. His attention landed on Captain Mallard who was listening intently but still gripping that teacup. The soldiers with her hands gripping their swords waiting to unsheathe a weapon.
After that, there were only a few more questions before Brother Hickory stopped and spoke to Icus.
“It’s pointless to ask him further. I believe your doubts have been quelled. I don’t even feel him lying about any of this to press his statement.”
Icus then said. “I just want to be clear is that Soletus indeed guilty insubordination by refusing to follow First Warden’s Kellas’s orders. That he trespassed into the Firerock gorge, and he is negligent in the death of Junior Scout Warden Lyndon’Pintail if what he says in his statement is true.”
Soletus even though exhausted with sweat trailing down his face managed to look directly at Icus and said.
“Everything I said was true and if that makes me guilty of all those things, then so be it!”
“Then I defer to the Arch Monk.”
“I’ll withhold my final judgment. I believe a hearing is in order. I want First Warden Kellas and his men to be held in the monastery as well. The hearing will be in two days.”
“Very well. You can take the junior warden back to his room.”
“Actually, Mien, take him to the infirmary,” instructed Brother Oli. “I have a room for him. Alder has my instructions for him. I’ll follow shortly.”
Mien took Soletus to the infirmary. Alder led them to a room upstairs that had one of the more comfortable beds. The room also faced the away from the morning sun so the room was dim with the curtains drawn. There were plenty of blankets provided as well as an extra pillow. However, Soletus ignore them all and flopped down. Mien was going to leave but Alder told him to stay. He settled down on the stool in the room and scooted it beside of Soletus’s bed.
The young monk remained speechless. He was awake but not present. He laid on his side facing the far wall blinking. His hand that rested on this pillow would knead it and then occasionally clutch it for a moment before it went back to its original motion.
Nearly a solid hour had passed. Soletus clutched his pillow and he took in a sharp intake of air that got brought Mien back from drifting. He lifted his head and was met Soletus looking apathetic.
“Hey,” he said.
Mien “I was getting worried. You hadn’t said anything since you came here.”
Soletus pushed himself up and looked down at the bed. “I don’t feel like myself.”
“I don’t think there is anything I can do about that. Maybe I can talk to Kiao about getting it out of your body quicker. She wasn’t here when I came in though.”
“It’s hard to think I just want…” he trailed off and laid back down.
Mien became alarmed. “What’s wrong.”
“Nothing, just stay here,” said Soletus and he left it at that.
Mien rested a hand on his forearm and patted it. Soletus visibly relaxed and his vagueness switched to content vagueness. The young chanter thought his friend would suffer a lot more than just watching the wall. Then again, he didn’t know what internal turmoil that was rolling inside of him.
That was the only reason he figured that Soletus would be so quiet. The only motion he made was occasionally kneading his pillow.
Someone knocked at the door. It wasn’t anyone from the infirmary so Mien answered for them to come in. Tyrus’s head peered in and then the young man fully stepped into the room closing the door behind him.
“How is he?”
“Lethargic,” said Mien. “They let you in?”
“Well, I had to debate a bit with Brother Alder, but he said I can check but not touch. Not that I was.”
Tyrus’s voice caused Soletus to lift his head then placed it back down on the pillow he was laying on. He then asked using his usual tired and long-suffering voice he reserved for him. “What do you want Tyrus?”
The dimples of Tyrus’s face appeared again. “I just wanted to make sure you weren’t scrambled in the brains.”
“No,” he said absently and for the first time closed his eyes.
Mien thought is he was willing to talk he could get Soletus something.
“Do you need anything. We can get you anything you want.”
Soletus kneaded the pillow he laid on pulling his brow together in thought. However he looked as if he was struggling with it. Then said,
“Is there any chance you can get my mother here. I need to talk to her,” he asked.
“I can see,” said Mien. “Do you need me here?”
Soletus shook his head. Mien got up from the chair and Tyrus took his place. Mien walked out of the room and found Doran standing outside.
“I figured he didn’t want to see me. How is he.”
“As I told Tyrus, lethargic. I need to get his mother.”
“Oh,” said Doran. “She downstairs. Both his parents are.”
Mien walked down to find Cordea sitting on a bed with Oeric stretched out on it. He had a bandage around his head appearing very annoyed.
“First Warden, Madame Sheldmartin,” he greeted.
Cordea fixed her attention on him. “How is he?”
“He said he wanted you.”
Without asking for permission or saying anything, she left her husband’s side and made her way upstairs. Mien settled down where she was at. The man sighed.
“Sorry about not coming back yesterday. An inconvenient incident occurred,” he said tapping the bandage.
Mien heard Kiao let out a loud sigh from across the room.
Mien studied the bandage. “What caused you to hit your head?”
The man just stared coldly at him.
His hip, Mien decided. “I’m sorry if Kiao fussed at you too much.”
“It was deserved,” snapped Kiao behind him.
Mien gave him a faint apologetic smile. “We managed. Though I think Icus may have taken advantage of your absence.”
“I gathered that as well when we tried to ask for Soletus and they said he was occupied. So, is he okay?”
Mien shrugged. “He’s been lethargic but I don’t think there have been any negative effects”
“Good, what happened with Icus?”
He shared with him what had happened earlier that morning. When he got to the end of what Icus has asked Soletus about his guilt, the monk’s face darkened. “Wait, he said he was guilty of those things?” Oeric rolled his eyes and struggled to sit up. “Of all the underhanded actions he’s stooped to do, this is the lowest.”
“I take it that’s not a good thing?”
“No, it’s not.”
“Oeric,” snarled Kiao.
Oeric flinched and Mien saw Kiao swooping in on them. With her smock billowing from how fast she moved. She stood at his bedside with her arms crossed.
“I told you I will strap you down if I have too. You have a concussion. You can stop trying to do everything for one day and lie down!”
“I’m not doing everything, just the stuff I need to do,” he said. “I need to speak to Soletus as soon as possible.”
“Not right now! The effects on what he’s taken and what Brother Hickory did lingers,”
Kiao then swung her attention on Mien. “And you’re supposed to be with him!”
Mien swept over her noting that she was frustrated and a little more than she normally would with a situation such as that. He then said as benignly as he could. “He asked for his mother. Tyrus was up there when I left to ask for her. She would be much better for him than me.”
It was then Tyrus and Doran returned downstairs.
“You two, over here now,” said Oeric curtly. “Did Icus speak at length with either of you?”
“I told you to rest when we got back and you’re not and you saw what happened!”
Oeric started at her with his gaze becoming sharp like an icicle. He was done tolerating her. Any warder, junior warden, and probably any other warden would’ve back down. Kiao answered him with one of her withering glare. Mien thought he had to step in. Not that he wanted to. He didn’t want to annoy either of them. Tyrus and Doran looked as if they were considering just walking away.
Oeric sunk back down on the bed. “See I’m lying down resting. And I can talk while resting. Besides, this concussion isn’t the worse I’ve had and you know it.”
“Head injuries stack!”
“And you are a skilled healer capable of treating me. I will even take a nap after this,” he said stressing the last part.”
Kiao massaged her forehead. “Fine. After you, nap, then I will see about you talking to Soletus. And you,” she said pointing to Mien. “Would you please get back in his room. I’ll explain why you are needed there later.”
“Actually,” said Tyrus. “I would leave them alone. She shooed me out after he whispered something to her.”
Kiao considered that.
“Then explain to me why I was told to stay with him.”
“Brother Oli, Alder, and I figured you would be better because he’s going to get a bit needy. He’s more comfortable around you.”
“The same could be said about you.”
“I was told it would be inappropriate despite the fact I’m clearly with you and he’s neth.”
Mien didn’t know why he liked hearing him claim her but he did. She then placed her hands on the top of his shoulders and squeezed them.
“I would appreciate you checking in on them again, okay,” she said softly.
Mien nodded and she kissed the top of his head and left. He also liked that as well knowing that his face was now red. Tyrus and Doran watched her leave. Oeric cleared his throat and got their attention.
“As I explained to Mien. I’m sorry for not coming back. I had an incident. However, I need to know if Icus said anything to you without me being there.”
“No, he just said we’re free to go anywhere within the monastery but Doran was not unless he had someone escorting him.”
“And you Doran.”
“He told me that I needed to stand in front of the Arch Monk to defend myself. He said that the Arch Monk wants a hearing.”
“Did you declare yourself guilty at any point with him?”
“Okay, only Soletus,” he said relaxing. “From here on out, if Icus want to speak with you, I’m to be there.”
Tyrus and Doran nodded.
“If the Arch Monk wants to have a hearing then he’s coming down on all of you. Icus will decide on appropriate punishments and the Arch Monk will approve of them. He’s likely to come down hard on you Doran due to your history as well as my son.”
“What about me,” asked Tyrus.
“Don’t do anything stupid for the next could of days and defending yourself will be easy.”
“What about me,” asked Mien.
“The same but you might get commended for what you did.”