I never regained my memory of what happened that day. I had the occasional dreams of ru.shing towards Soletus on the ground. And there are also rocks raining down on us. That’s it. The only memory that clings to me the most is waking up and him holding onto me. And I’m glad I don’t remember it. Watching Sol suffer through it was enough of an experience. But thankfully, he didn’t have to suffer for very long. I and many other’s wouldn’t let him
-Second Interview with Mien. Written by Patriarch Lord Theris’Heron
It was the first night in a month that Soletus could close his eyes and not see Lyndon’s lifeless eyes. That was all he saw when he was on the road, so he avoided sleep. And if he fell asleep, he kept hearing his cousin gurgling as he tried to draw in breath. He would then wake up from that, try to sleep again, and saw those vague eyes again. What made it worse was that when everything settled down, all the exhaustion he accumulated hit him. He was weak and tired from not eating properly. Anything he ate was soured by the taste of elven blood. So he got sleepy and saw the eyes again. It was a terrible cycle he lived in.
He wanted it to stop, prayed that it would stop. He could do nothing by lie in bed some days. Other days he was oddly giddy but felt poor. When he did walk around, he did nothing. He just wanted to rest. So when he woke up it again, he was surprised to see broken steams of sunlight on the floor. He tried to roll over but felt something behind him and a foot kicked him in the leg. It was Saedee.
When she learned he was staying at home for a while, she clung to his side whenever she could. Every evening she would come to his room to snuggle up with him, wanting to talk about her day at school or for him to tell her a story before he shooed her off to bed. He failed to shoo her off. In fact, he might’ve fallen asleep in the middle of talking to her.
She nestled behind him, sleeping close to his back as she could. He couldn’t roll on his back and didn’t have the heart to wake her up. Instead, he scooted further towards the wall and went back off to sleep.
The door to the room swung open and his father came and retrieved Saedee.
“Time to wake up,” he told her and helped her out of bed, then left him alone. Soletus the rolled from the wall to his back. Another hour passed before his room door opened again. This time his mother entered the room and sat on the edge of his bed as she sat down.
“Come on,” she said, patting his chest. “Wake up.”
Soletus did so and felt groggy.
“Come on, you need to eat a little something. Your father and I want to talk to you.”
He figured they would have words for him, eventually. He didn’t exactly do anything. He helped around the house when he could, but he didn’t go to the monastery or the society house to help the huntresses. Briar, Mien, and Tyrus visited him. Kiao did, mainly to fuss. He would nod his head, agreeing to do what she asked. He never did. In fact, he felt unmotivated just as much as he felt exhausted. Yet, his parents barely said a word to him about it. They just let him do whatever he wanted. That was something unheard of. His younger self would never even believe it.
He rolled out of bed. Groomed himself while avoiding looking at his reflection in his mirror too much. He changed out of the clothes he fell asleep in, finding another set of trousers and pulling the drawstrings of the trousers he picked as tight as he could. Once out of his room and sat at the table where his father was already sitting. He sat and Oeric pushed a bowl of porridge in front of him. He hoped he wasn’t going to heed the request of Kiao to force feed him.
His mother sat across from him. “Both your father and I think it’s best for you you to leave the house today. Specifically, Brother Hickory asked for you to see him today.”
He was planning to avoid the priest for a few weeks more. He didn’t want to take to him.
“We agreed with him you should speak with him. He wanted us to give you time, but I think this needs to be sooner rather than later.”
“You know I was going to talk to him,” said Soletus.
“Like you were going to talk to us about you being neth,” she returned.
Soletus wanted to argue with her on the point, but couldn’t. “It might help you a little,” she said gently. “We’re a little worried now.”
“Actually, she’s more than a little worried. I’m slightly concerned,” said Oeric.
Cordea gave him quick stare and then went on. “There are things that he’s told us you need to know being neth and we can’t help you. With that. In fact, I don’t know what else to do. We’ve given you plenty of space, but you’ve been so lifeless.”
“And now we’re pushing you to live,” said his father. “Remember what I told you about focusing on the living, you’ve not been doing that so well. You need to take a few more steps in that direction.”
Soletus spooned the porridge in his mouth. It was sweet with honey and had dried fruit in it not to mention butter. The way he liked it. There was also no taste of blood. However, his stomach clinched in anticipation, making it hard to get through the meal. He managed, drunk a cup of water and got ready to walk.
It was a chill in the air that morning. He rubbed his forearm after a breeze passed through, shower with autumn leaves. He stood there for a moment to brush off the red leaves. He could’ve done so walking, but it gave him an excuse to take up time.
He could feel eyes on him and saw his father looking out the window at him. He waved at him and walked away. On the way, he thought about what he was doing. Talking to Brother Hickory meant he had to accept that he was neth. He didn’t want to be anything else because that was all he knew. At the same time, he didn’t like it. He didn’t want to be different. He didn’t like everyone giving him strange looks in the dorms. That a stupid tod came up to him and tried to make something out of it. He didn’t like the fact that he slam the boy against the wall and threaten him. No one breathed a word to him after that. Not that he set foot in there again.
Once inside the chapel, Brother Brontis greeting him heartily and pointed him to the back. There he found Brother Hickory sitting at his table, and standing beside him was Enforcer Icus.
“It’s about time you showed up,” said Icus pointed to the seat across from Hickory.
It confused Soletus to see him there.
“I’m not going to stay here despite the good brother wants of me. I will make this quick,” said Icus, handing Soletus a book. “I’ve a page marked for you to read. I want you to do so aloud.”
Soletus took it and opened it to the ribbon that marked the page and read:
“’The optimal specimen of the neth male are dainty in their actions and show an air of refinement in all things they do. Their best role in society is to serve others more sturdy than they. They should be man-servants, shopkeepers, scriveners, tailors, and other masculine service pursuits. However, due to their softhearted nature, hard roles such as soldier or mercenary might be too much for them to handle. They tend to be excitable and have the inability to maintain the perfect shrewd and austere nature of female neth. They are often nervous. Never have I met a neth male with fortitude. We are very much lucky their blood dies with them. Otherwise, I fear the Fen elves, who are plagued by this unfortunate defect, will die out a weak and pitiful race.’”
Soletus didn’t know what to think over than toss it in the fire. It was wrong. All of it was wrong. Before he could even look at the book cover to see the imbecile who wrote it, Icus snatched it out of his hand.
“That is what you have to put up with in society. The ideas in this book have spread around and people rather believe it than Dias’s Words,” he said.
“I don’t see why it matters to you,” said Soletus.
“It matters to me because I had to work around these assumptions by conforming myself to what they expect of a customary male elf.”
Soletus’s jaw sagged. He would’ve never guessed that Icus was neth. The man was married, somehow, and had a daughter that was a little young than he was. He was a typical monk and had the Arch Monk’s favor.
“The reasons why I choose to live this way is that I have things I want to achieve and hiding it was the only way that I could. According to Hickory over here, you don’t have the option to conform since everyone knows. I think you do and it’ll be easier if you want to remain part of the order.”
Soletus was still caught up on him being neth, let alone his options.
“This is the only time I will speak to you about this. You should decide how you go about living your life. There will be less resistance in your way if you just live like every customary male. So far, you don’t do well with resistance.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You’re indecisive. A man needs to be act on what he knows is right and not question it and be afraid. Letting go of the burden of being neth will help you more than just accepting the weakness everyone thinks you have.”
Soletus tightened his jaw. “Your wrong,” he said because he didn’t want Icus to be right.
“You would say that. You’ve already been so flagrant about it without trying,” he said taking a lock of his hair in his hands.
“If that’s the way you feel, then you can leave,” said Soletus. He had his fill of Icus that would last him many decades. “I won’t be offended.”
The enforcer let his hair strands slip through his fingers. “I will. Hickory’s the best choice in helping you. The most I can do is what have done already, and that’s all you from me.”
At that, Icus left, leaving Brother Hickory and him alone. The aged priest then shook his head.
“Don’t mind Icus. That’s his way of helping.”
“He needs to stop trying to be helpful if that’s the case.”
Brother Hickory rested his chin on his fist. “I suppose the beneficial part of him leaving is that I won’t have him debate anything I say. So. how does the world find you this morning.”
Soletus felt all his muscles tense up. He never thought what Mien had said about the priest in front of him was correct. That maybe he was being too sensitive. In front of him was probably the most powerful chanter the Brotherhood had in their order. He was used to menacing things having sharp teeth or razor like spines. Not a smiling and cheerful older elves.
“It finds me okay.”
Brother Hickory tapped his finger on the table, assessing him. “Do you know why I asked for you here?”
“You want to help me and make sure I’m okay with being what I am.”
“I’ll do that eventually, however today isn’t a counseling session.”
“No. Think of this as two elves getting together who have something in common with each other,” said Hickory with a disarming smile.
“I’m reaching out to you is all. Seeing how you are doing. How you’re really doing.”
“I’m well enough,” said Soletus.
“Uh-huh. Well enough to discuss what your plans going forward is?”
“I having given anything much thought other than not being on the rooster. I mean, Kiao has to clear me.” And it isn’t happening anytime soon.
“And after that.”
Soletus shrugged. He wasn’t motivated to do anything else.
“Do you know why I become the chaplain here?”
Soletus swayed his head. “No. I thought you were kind of born for this duty, given how well you do it.”
Hickory chuckled. “Goodness no. My abilities bad me cynical and bad mannered. I was very distrustful. I didn’t like being around other elves at all. I had a single friend in the order, Trystan. He was Saffron’s husband and another battle chanter. And he decided one day without consulting me on the matter that he would be my friend. It infuriated me. I was always trying to find something wrong with him or he had ulterior motives by asking me to come over for dinner,” a fond smile formed on his face. “He didn’t. He was just a likable fool, as he said. I refused until one day I just gave in to get him to stop. And after that one time, I never stopped. It felt so natural just to be there with him and Saffron, like I was part of a family again. I didn’t even know that it was something I even wanted again. They always welcomed me and then it happened. I’m sure you heard stories about Farthing.”
It was one of the first places that Kellas took Soletus too as a grappler. It was an ruined village. It had grown up with the only thing that marked the place was stone foundations and a single burning ash growing over a mass grave. There were tao stone blocks around the tree with the names of the people killed there and the name of a band. Kellas told him that was what failure looked liked. “Kellas took us to where the village was,” he said.
“He told me that they found a husk there and it caused a tragedy.”
Hickory nodded. “I was assigned to the band that went. It was a combination of three bands. Thirty men in all, armed with fire and as many chanters as they could get. Killing one husk is tricky enough. Killing an entire village of turned elves, that’s something nobody wants to do.”
“How did an entire village get turned?”
“They found a husk, killed it, but someone’s loved one was touched by it. Instead of killing him, they thought they could heal them from the corruption. They chained them to a bed, but they finally turned and touched those caring for them. It cascaded from there. The band that was out there was hunting for the husk and just happened across the town. By the time they got there. It was it was far too late. The entire village at had to be watched and quarantined for us to burn it and any husk there. Three bands of ten in all. One consisting of every battle chanter they could get. Nine of ours didn’t make it out of there alive. They were my entire band. I was the only one to survive.”
Soletus was stunned. He couldn’t deal with a single death. To have nine of them. And the entire band of those he was familiar with and worked with suddenly gone.
“We should’ve been more careful. We thought the job was done, and we got careless. We all didn’t travel at the same rate. My band was the last to leave and drass beasts have a habit of following you home. We didn’t see them coming. But what can you do when your surrounded by four husks and it’s getting dark?”
“How did you get away?”
“I stepped away to relieve myself and fill my canteen. Then I heard screaming. By the time I had made it back to came. Trystan had killed one, with the other grabbing hold of him That was when he shouted to me stay back.”
“You were a battle chanter, why didn’t you fight them.”
“Because I was no Mien,” he said. “In fact, that lad is a lot like Trystan. He was a magnificent chanter. By that point, the entire band had been touched by them. He was the last one standing, and he was getting ready to burn everyone around him. He could consecrate an area with light and it would burn everything that was corrupted with in that area. That’s what he did. Never had I seen the ground glow like that. That was pure will and power there. I can still feel the heat from it.”
Soletus didn’t know what to say about it. There was none of the pain in Hickory’s voice. He just told it like any other story. It was something that happened to him decades ago. He wished that he could tell the story of Lyndon’s death like it was another tale.
“After that, I had no desire to go back on the road. They tested to show me I could still do it. Just feeling the presence of a drass beast in my mind sent me fleeing. I hid in the infirmary for a day. That was when I became friends with Oliver. And he told Brother Gerah about me. He was the chaplain at the time and told me he felt Dias wanted me to do something different. He was getting older and thought I was a perfect candidate to take his place. I told him I hated people. He laughed at me and said that’s because I hate myself.” Brother Hickory laughed. “Yes, even I was on the other side.”
And that’s when you learned that you could help people.”
“No, I mean, he helped with the basics. I had to start with studying the word of Dias and focus on teaching others. While showing me how to deal with people. And the only way I could really do that was by having my abilities bound for a bit. So I would stop listening to people and started watching them. See patterns of behaviors and I found it all very challenging. And I liked it.”
Soletus tilted his head. “You find helping people challenging?”
“Yes, people are a lot alike but they are also very different so you have to customize your method in guiding them. About the time I start feeling on top of what I doing, someone gets pushed into my arms that’s different enough. I have to review my strategies. That requires quick assessment and observations. And how I learned was that I could make an actual difference in someone’s life was your father.”
“To see him when I met him to what he slowly become and even now, it makes me very happy.”
Soletus never considered that he truly enjoyed what he did. Then again, he knew nothing personal about the aged priest until then.
“Anyway, enough about me. Unless there is something you want to ask me.”
There were a lot of things that Soletus wanted to ask him, but none of the questions came to mind. He didn’t have the energy to. He was tired.
“No, I can’t think of anything because I’m too tired,” he admitted. “There are things I need to know. I know there is. Things that I could ask you, but I can’t. I can hardly think. Last night was the first time I slept through the night without to Lyndon staring back at me.”
“Survivor’s guilt is terrible. For a long time, I saw Trystan standing there bathed in light and I stood helpless to save him and my bandmates. So don’t think your alone or need to be alone.”
Soletus nodded. He didn’t want to be alone suffering with this.
“I don’t want to keep you here much longer. Before you leave, can you do me one small favor?”
“Go visit the huntresses today. And I think the women at the society house would like to see you. I get the impression the Lady Briar would like that since she barged in here wanting me to fix you.”
“I will, if I can talk to you again.”
Brother Hickory’s face lit up. “Of course, whenever you want me. I’ll be here.”