Icus dying sat my grandfather’s vision of the future back. He didn’t have a replacement after Icus. He didn’t believe there was another monk worthy of the role. Master Tyr who was trying to be noticed at that point didn’t catch his fancy. So he did an unpredictable move, he started preparing Papa. No one heard him protesting other than me and Mama. He didn’t want it and never wanted it. So it didn’t surprise me that his term as Arch Monk lasted the grand total of four hours. No, it was his actions afterwards that left me surprised as you know.
A roll of thunder provided excellent atmosphere to the morbid scene before Mien. It rolled on, sounding endless for a moment. Then it came to a conclusion with three deep booms causing something to rattle within the depleted building. Near silence fell with the only sound was of Kiao letting out a long breath. He remained adjacent to where she stood with a sheet in his hands and ready to aid her if she needed it. He was the only chanter in the infirmary who didn’t have death chills around a dead body. However, he couldn’t inspect a body. Kiao would have to do it.
It surprised him that Enforcer Icus didn’t say anything about his presences because he was indeed outside of the monastery. Then again, what wrong had he committed at that point that would warrant such restrictions? One might ask why hadn’t Valhart been restricted? Clearly he hadn’t and now he was lying dead on his stomach on the floor of an abandoned warehouse.
Mien never paid a lot of attention to the building. He gave it some mind when Soletus and Kiao had been surprised attacked. Except whoever got the second warden wasn’t a misguided farm boy wielding a sling and clay bullets. He was hit with something more horrific than that. He looked like he was in a brawl with his head bashed. Resting by his face was the rock that likely used.
Mien brightened his sun globe as the gloom became darker. Rain was clearly getting closer as the wind picked up. Golden light touch Kiao’s unreadable face as she tried to lift Valhart’s hand and couldn’t completely. She only examined his knuckles. The skin was broken and bruised. She moved on and reached for his head and turned it slightly. Died blood caked with dirt was under his nose, going down his chin. His hung open in a way that it shouldn’t and she put his head back down. She inspected the man’s half-closed dead eyes and settled on her knees.
Icus hovered behind her watching while the Patriarch was right outside the door watching the sky. Four Peacegaurds were on the lane, keeping back any curious onlookers from getting a good glimpse inside.
After rubbing her arms a few times, she announced, “He’s been here for nearly a day and was likely killed by blunt force trauma. Struck more than once. Whoever did this to him beat him before that. I believe his jaw and nose are broken so it was violent. There are some teeth over there.”
Mien searched the floor where she pointed to the teeth. He hadn’t noticed. Something then struck the young chanter as odd. The spot where Valhart was struck at was the temple. The young chanter then touched the scar at his temple. It was on the same side. Icus glanced at him, likely because of his movement. Even Icus’s expressionless face broke, becoming intrigued as he made the connection.
“How do you know he’s been here for nearly a day,” asked the enforcer.
“By the fact he’s not stiffening. I can move his head but not his arms. Should be the exact opposite if he was killed a couple of hours ago. And he was likely killed here. His body wasn’t moved.” A shiver went through Kiao as she became upright. “I’ll go get Brother Ruben at the mortuary. He can tell you more. He’s better at examining dead bodies. I can’t move through them like he can. It’s like trying to move through mud.”
“I’ll call him. You can go back,” he said. “I just wanted you to confirm a few details for me.”
Kiao didn’t argue. She held up her hand towards Mien and he gave her the sheet he was holding. She draped the sheet over him and then the Patriarch came in.
The Patriarch sucked in air through his teeth and examined the warehouse with disgust. He caught sight of Mien, who stood off to the side. He met his gaze, but said nothing directly to him.
“This eyesore needs to be torn down,” he said. “And as soon as possible.”
“I’ll see to this place is securely shut up this time,” said Icus.
The Patriarch gave him a curt nod and then to the chanters.
“Ah, you two can come with me. I think we all could use a warm drink,” he said.
Mien looked at Kiao as she brushed her skirt off. “I could use a warm drink and just warmth in general.”
The Patriarch took them into his home. Ignoring the business parts of the Patriarch’s house as it served as a place to take disputes as well as meeting hall for the entire town. Instead, they went left into the sitting room there. There was a fire roaring in front of the hearth. Briar sitting there with Mien’s sister, who jumped and turned around when she saw the two of them. A broad smile lifted her face when she realized it was him. Dalaen looked to be trying to make a retreat.
“You’re still here,” Mien asked.
“Mother wants to have dinner with you, remember,” his sister reminded him.
Kiao then stated. “I shouldn’t stay here long if you do intend to stay,” she said and settled down in one of the arm chairs closest to the fire. Her body released another shiver.
“You’ve the ague or something,” asked Briar.
“No, I’m just cold,” she said.
Mien walked to her side. “Do you need a blanket or something?
“Ko-ko you looked awful,” said Briar.
“I’ll be fine,” she said. Her skin had grown white at that point.
A suspicious glint shone in Briar’s eyes. “So what’s going on?”
“Nosy much,” said Mien.
“I just want to know because a peaceguard came in and dragged Pa with him.”
“That, young lady, is none of your business,” said the Patriarch with a tray in his hand. There were three mugs on it. He handed one to Kiao and one to Mien while taking one himself.
Briar stared at him hard. “You’re a little green.”
The Patriarch sunk down in the chair across from Kiao. “I’m fine,” he said and placed the tray beside his chair.
“She’s right,” stated Kiao.
“Worry about yourself. Warm up, I’ll be fine. Have a seat Mien, I’m sure your mother will show up soon.”
That was what Mien was afraid of. He didn’t want to have that conversation they didn’t finish about his future. Before she arrived, he petted Kiao’s head and left her side. Dalaen, who was trying his best to blend into the background, was now looking between them both. Mien ignored him.
“So who did you see,” prompted Briar.
“See,” said the Lord Kharis.
“Kiao looks as though she’s been hiking in a blizzard and you look like your about to be ill. So who died?”
Kharis gave his daughter a sharp look. “How about we discuss your dishonesty instead? You can explain why your scheme with Soletus and I’ll tell you who we found.”
Briar turned her chin up. “Fine, be grumpy. You don’t have take it out on me.”
“See, you don’t want to talk about it. Neither do I.”
Mien sipped his drink feeling uncomfortable about being there and his mother’s voice rose from the doorway.
“There you all are,” she said and then looked at the couch and brightened up. “Theoderic, I thought you were never going to come back before I had to leave.” She then stopped and caught sight of Kiao.
“We actually were taken pity by the Patriarch,” he told her. “We uh, had to help the Patriarch with something.”
“Is that something to do with whatever is going on? I wanted to speak to you again. I was told that I couldn’t see you because of some investigation. Are you in some kind of trouble?”
Mien wasn’t expecting her to start the way she did. He took a deep breath and went with honesty or as much as he could. “We came back later than our first warden, so that needs to be looked into.”
“There are soldiers around,” she said.
“Related but I can’t speak about it.”
“Enough of this secrecy. What happened? Clearly this is more than getting lost and being disobedient? Did that Sheldmartin get you into some kind of trouble?”
Irritation rose in Mien at her accusations and took on her sharp tone.
“If not for Soletus we would be in it a lot more if not for him.”
“Don’t you take that tone with me,” snipped Lady Lass. “I have a right to know. I heard someone in you band died, another young man.”
“He wasn’t just another young man, he was my friend,” cried Mien. He ran a hand through his hair. “I wanted to save him but I couldn’t. It happened. There was nothing we could do about it.”
Lady Lass’s face became rigid. “You were there!”
“I was,” said Mien, bracing himself tirade that was coming his way.
She then became appalled. “So they allowed you to see that sort of thing?”
“I’ve seen dead people before,” he exclaimed. “What do you think I do in an infirmary? Just grind dry herbs and tend small cuts.”
His mother thrust her hands on her hip. “I don’t have the slightest idea what you do as you conveniently leave out details. And if I had known this is what you were doing, I would’ve stopped you.”
“And that’s why I haven’t told you,” he returned.
His mother covered her face up and chide him some more. “This is a place for men, not boys. You can’t handle that kind of work.”
“I can handle it fine.”
“Your a timid boy with a condition, why would you even thing that.”
Mien felt hurt more so than he felt insulted, but he was both. He didn’t think he looked like a child. Didn’t think he even acted like a boy. The face in the mirror looking back at him was almost manly. He at least sounded like his age. If anything, he wanted to at least acknowledge that he worked hard and that she could see that and be proud of him. Clearly none of that mattered.
“Stopped insulting him,” said Kiao suddenly from being him. Her cut through his mind unfreezing him. Her voice was firm and raised. “It’s one thing he had to deal with it from others, but his own mother shouldn’t be one of them.”
Lady Lass stared at her as if she just noticed she was there. “Excuse me.”
Kiao stood from her chair. “The First Warden told you not to insult your son and yet here you are still doing it. He’s a chanter. He has no condition. It took me, Soletus, his father, and not to mention a whole host of other people to get him to stop thinking so little of himself and here you are tearing that work down!”
Lady Lass looked at her darkly. “I don’t know who you think you are but you don’t have the right to interfere with this conversation.”
Kiao straighten her spine to appear taller, which wasn’t difficult and crossed her arms. “I have every right since you’re not having it in private.”
The Patriarch, who had been watching over his mug, decided to speak up. “Excused me Sister Kiao, but I think perhaps that you need to sit back down.”
“No,” she said holding her position being stubborn.
Mien found his voice again, having heard enough he said softly. “So it’s okay to defend me and I can’t defend you.”
“That’s different,” snapped his bond partner.
“How is it different? You think I’m too feeble minded to deal with my own mother?”
“No,” said Kiao facing him and looked as if he said the craziest thing she ever heard. “It’s just that she’s hurting you.”
“You were hurt by those priests and you wouldn’t even allow me to be offended by it.”
“This is happening now,” she said with a sweeping gesture of her arms. He stared at her, knowing her reasoning was weak, but that didn’t stop her from holding tight to her stance.
“Can I please handle this,” he asked with his voice low and firm. He didn’t want to have a quarrel with her in front of his mother. He already revealed too much. The young woman let out a snort of frustration.
“Certainly, I need to get back to the infirmary,” she said and was on her way out the room when heavy rain began to beat the window. “Briar, can I have your room?”
“Certainly, and I’ll go with you,” she said.
Mienerva then announced. “Evening rain makes me sleepy, I’m going to the guest room.”
“I’ll join you,” said Dalaen.
Mien watched everyone one scatter away like ants. Even the Patriarch silently rose out of his chair and took his drink and tray, leaving the two of them alone. Lady Lass the strolled to the hearth and sat down in the chair Lord Kharis was sitting in. She gestured to the chair in front of him with a sweep of her hand to sit. He did so obediently, sitting straight and falling back on what he was taught by his father before he died. A young lord didn’t slouch or pout. You sat up straight with your hands in your lap. If they must rest on the armrest, then you could and that’s where he put his.
“We need to have a serious chat,” she said. “Since my arrival, I’ve had surprises presented to me regarding you. To me it appears that since you’re not in my supervision, you can do whatever you want.”
“No, that’s not it. I didn’t want you to worry about me,” he told her.
“Don’t pretend it was that. Everything I heard sounds like selfishness on your part. You wanted something from this. Prestige? Perhaps to look good in front of friends?”
Mien gripped the armrest of his chair, he didn’t want to talk about any of this but he need too. “What I wanted was to stop feeling like a sissy. So yes, it was selfishness on my part, just not what you think.”
“I don’t understand why you would feel this way. Is it the men here that tell you this?”
“No, I felt that way long before anyone here told me,” he admitted. “You can thank Dalaen for that.”
Her expression became opaque. “Well you don’t have anything to prove to other males.”
“Have you considered that I have things that I want to prove and improve for myself? That’s was why I was brought in the first place, so I can improve. I saw no better way to do it than becomes a combat chanter.
She couldn’t argue with that. Though he knew she would.
“Even still, you shouldn’t be putting yourself in harms way where you can die.”
“Believe me, there was no purposely putting ourselves into harms way. That’s one of the first rules you learn. All I can tell you is that the first warden in charge of our band was irresponsible. He put us in a situation that the Brotherhood would never allow. That’s all I can tell you.”
His mother’s critical look deepened. “So this cur that trained you didn’t suggest it?”
“First Warden Oeric used to be a cur,” corrected Mien. “And no he didn’t I asked him to train me. Soletus and his cousin were the ones who encouraged me to do it. Besides, what happened to us would never happen under him, he’s the best warden there is.”
“I have a hard time believing that and the fact you would even let him near you.”
“I didn’t even realize he was a former cur until I was told. I just heard about the scars, I never seen them before. He was always Soletus’s father. I like him. He’s good for advice.”
“That man isn’t your father,” his mother said firmly.
“I know that,” said Mien just as firm with his own voice wondering why she even had to say that.
“And did he give you advice on how to deal with young ladies, did he encouraged you to be with her?”
Mien absolutely didn’t want to answer that. Oeric had taken him aside the day the bond was revealed. He was so much as he was encouraging as he was assistive. He just wanted to make sure that Mien was well prepared for it. And by that, not being an idiot thinking with his crotch and not his head as Oeric put it. And told him two things he always needed to remember. Be responsible, be reliable, and be respectful. To him to learn to love her as a friend at first and trust her. Everything would come naturally after that. Mien didn’t tell his mother than, instead he said,
“He gave me some advice on how to conduct myself. He wanted to make sure I wouldn’t hurt Kiao.”
“And that’s something you need to explain to me about. Why her?”
Another question he didn’t want to answer. She didn’t understand chanters with just the basic things, let alone the more complicated aspects of it as it did get complicated.
“To keep it simple, being timbre sensitive means that I’m drawn to another chanter who’s timbre harmonize with my own. Kiao is that person.”
“She’s older than you.”
“I’m well aware of that fact but age has nothing to do with it. From what I was told, I’m too young for a timbre bond to happen, but it just did. It’s really out of both of our control.”
He sat determined waiting for her to say something else. Instead, she watched the fire.
“Six year is a long time to not see your son. So much can change in that time when you are young. You’re sister has changed, but she’s just growing to the person I thought she would be. But you, you’re almost unrecognizable.”
“How,” said Mien.
Lady Lass looked at him. “You’re taller, you sound different and not just the deepened voice that lit and those eyes. There was a time when they were the same color as your sisters. Now they’re different.”
“No,” said Mien, leaving his seat and crossed the space between him. He settled on his knees by her feet. “I’m not really that different.”
“No you are,” she said taking a lock of his hair in her fingers. “The way you even look at me, you’re something else.”
Unease that Mien had worked away came back. Once again, she had that look on her face she had when he first saw him. He didn’t like that uncertainty as if he was some unknown entity. Brother Hickory did warn him that some parents had a hard time coming to terms with their child appearing normal suddenly wasn’t beyond their first decade.
He pushed her hand down and held it. “Is it that bad that everything has changed where I’m walking a different path than before?”
“I want you to have a good future,” she said. “One that doesn’t have you abandoning all that you are just like our cousin.”
“I’ve not abandoned anything. It’s just this is my life right now. It’s hard to go back,” he told her but thought, Especially to a place I don’t even like.
“And that’s being with that girl who I’ve not approved of is where you want to.”
Mien frowned. “That’s just part of it. And her companionship means a lot to me. However, that not everything.”
“I don’t like her.”
Mien knew she didn’t. Figured she wouldn’t. “Why?”
“Because what you think you feel is nothing more than just a boyish infatuation.”
We’re bonded together. There is always going to be a part of me that-”
His mother then cut him off. “You can bond with someone else. I’ll let you continue what you are doing here even thought it might not be good for you condition,. But you will end this whatever it is between her and trust me to find someone more appropriate for you. We will work on it when you get home. Because you are coming home. If you need more time after you turn 28, I’ll give you a year, but after that, you’re coming home.”
Mien felt kicked, and he wanted to kick back. Felt that he should. However, instead, he fell into silence. He didn’t agree with it, but neither did he disagree with what she said. And she didn’t wait for him to agree to it as it was just understood that he do what she asked.
“Now, I am leaving tomorrow. I would like for us to have dinner tonight as I’ve been allowed to see you because of these circumstances. After this, we’ll be estranged again.”
“You’ll see me again in several weeks,” said Mien quietly. “But sure, we’ll have dinner.”
Mien, as promised, had dinner with his mother after that. He barely touched his food and said even less than that. He didn’t want to be there. Conversation was about things he didn’t know about, people he hardly remembered, and just overall feeling like a stranger at a table full of familiar faces. His mother didn’t ask much about the Brotherhood. She avoided the subject all together. It was almost like she was trying to undermine its significance by ignoring it. In fact, the subjects that she presented was like she was proclaiming that this was the world where he belonged. It was a world he didn’t want to go back to.
Kiao of course wasn’t there. She left as soon as she could and having her there would have made it better. His twin did sense something was wrong. She was sitting beside him and nudged when he didn’t appear to be listening or when he was asked a question to answer. When he left, she gave him a hug and whispered in his ear.
“I’ll visit before I go back south and tell you what she says to me,” she promised.
He kissed her forehead and walked back. He lit his way with his globe of light. He didn’t even get to show his mother that he could do that. The extent of which the light hovered by his head could glow. In fact, at that point the light was a beacon as he walked. Probably very hard to even look at. He should have headed towards the room he occupied. Instead he went to the infirmary mostly just to see if Soletus was gone.
When he entered, it was warm and the lamps had been turned down with only one on at that point. Lionel was at the podium holding his hand up to block the globe. Mien winked it out. He figured Kiao was already in bed, however, she leaned out of Vlory’s room.
“You’re back. Soletus was waiting for you to return but he ended up leaving,” she whispered and then leaned back inside, said a few things to Vlory before finally exiting and shutting the room. She wore a weak smile already and it sagged when she got a proper look at him. “What’s wrong?”
Mien wasn’t sure how to vocalize what had happened. He didn’t want to speak. Instead took her hands in his and just held them. They were no longer icy as they were before. He should’ve been helping her warm them back up and stayed by her side.
Kiao pulled her hands from his. “What did she tell you?”
Mien didn’t say anything. He just walked away from her. He didn’t think it was wise to even be near her or anyone at that time. Instead he just walked away, going into the basement. It was dark down there and quiet. He needed quiet at that point. Before he made it down there, he heard Lionel whisper to Kiao.
“You know, I don’t think I’ve seen him angry before.”