Standing in the courtroom was surreal. Mien felt everything that happened to him over the last six years began there. Now he cycled back around to it. However, it didn’t feel as if the journey had been completed. Just a wing of it. There was a lot more and he didn’t know what to expect. There was something he had to do that day aside from facing the arbiter and it made him even more nervous. He fiddled with the links that held his shackles, twisting them in his fingers. It was a little insulting that he was made to wear them again. It wasn’t like he was going to run off. That would be stupid. However, they did give him look at other than the Arbiter’s bench, his family, and representative of House Jay at his left side.
He did peer at the right seeing the faces that representation what he considered the best time of his life so far. Soletus, Hickory, Nimbus, and Oeric sat right behind him. Kiao a few rows back with the other elves waiting for the turn to be heard. She decided it was best to go incognito so his mother didn’t know she was there. And went with a very straw blonde and still tucked in the dark cloak she wore. She looked like any other young woman one might see in the city. Except for that cloak. The embroider on the back of it represented that side of her that like bright fancy thing and apparently peacocks.
I’ll go to town and get her a real gift to match it.
The door situated behind the Arbiter’s bench opened and he entered the room from a door with a tome under his arms and seated himself. A court officer stood near him and Mien finally looked up and took a deep breath. He knew the outcome, that didn’t make the knot in this throat vanish or his palms less sweaty.
The Arbiter cleared his throat. “I’ve got a few interesting cases to get through today and apparently the best of them all is the first. I’ve been anticipating concluding it. I want to know if the paperwork and grief I was given for not sticking to tradition was worth it.”
He then looked at Mien.
Mien gave him a half-smile and inclined his head. “Greeting your Honor, I’ve been anticipated this meeting again. I also apologize for the inconvenience my situation has caused you. I’m well aware of how unorthodox this was.”
The Arbiter’s brow rose and he bobbed his head in approval. “Well, this is a pleasant surprise. I couldn’t get a full sentence out of you the first time. You also were a bit smaller. Finally hit that growth spurt.”
“I was told that it matched my inner growth,” he said.
The Arbiter picked up a stack of parchments. “I want you to look at this. I asked the Brotherhood to document your progress and send it to me. I was expecting a few notes. But I have enough here to fill a tome because they are so thorough. They would make excellent court clerks. However, it’s not just the amount before me but what I read. Reading it all was also very heartening. It seems you’ve managed to charm your way into caring a great deal about you.”
Mien blushed a bit.
“However, all of this doesn’t matter unless you can finally explain to me why you did what you did to your cousin?”
Mien gestured to Dalaen. “It’s simple. He tossed my flute in the river and I wanted to get him back for it and everything he had done to me. I revenge on my uncle because I felt he was responsible for my father’s death. I wanted him to feel the same loss I did and I wanted Dalaen to not exist. I was in pain and I wanted it to stop. That’s the only way I knew how to stop it.”
The Arbiter frowned. “So you thought that you could go free after doing all of that. That those around you would forgive or that the law would forgive you.”
Mien took a deep breath and said, “That wasn’t the point, your Honor. I was looking to die. I wanted to die,” he said cringing at his own words. It hurt to admit that aloud and for everyone to hear.
“Do you want to die now?”
No. Talking to Brother Hickory made me realize how much I wanted to live. Also, I have done something very stupid.”
The Arbiter flipped through the pages of the stack he had. “That’s quite the admissions.”
Mien swallowed with his throat getting tight. “Yes, but I can’t deny it.”
“In these notes explain that you’re timbre sensitive and an empath claiming that the negative emotions around you helped attribute to your actions. That taking you out of the situation, you began to improve greatly.”
“That’s true too, but the responsibility is still mine.”
The Arbiter learned forward intrigued. “And here I thought these statements were exaggerated. That they found fit for a nervous little thing such as you to work in an infirmary and then I’m told you were training to become a combat chanter and then actively participating in a mission where apparently you have a grand adventure. You saved three of your bandmates from not once but two deadly situations and you could just leave it at that. But you rescued another chanter if you strip it down to the basics.”
The Arbiter then focused his attention behind him. “And you, Solgard’s grandson, look very proud.”
Soletus stood and spoke. “Your Honor, that because he’s done so much in just the time I’ve known him and I’m honored to call him my friend. Life, protecting life means a great deal to him.”
The Arbiter bobbed his head.
“And of course this was all praise from an elf I never thought I would see in this building every again. First Warden Sheldmartin. It’s a pleasure to see you again.”
Oeric stood and inclined his head. “Arbiter.”
“I should’ve known. We spoke twice now and here is a third. I’m glad it finally has nothing to do with blood sports.”
“I’m glad it’s not as well,” he said.
“So you trained him.”
“So you doing so have to do with the Brotherhood’s philosophy of passing on and extending second chances?”
“It very much did,” he said. “He passed on a second chance to the chanter he helped saved.”
“And I see no reason why to stop it then. Officer go ahead and take those manacles off. My previous ruling still stands. Mientherderic’Cyan, your custody remains with the Dias Brotherhood. At the age of 28, you will be released free to live fit in society with these charges being removed from your record.”
That caught Mien off guard. “Excuse me?”
“I see no need to hang these things over your head. That’s of course if you can make it to age 28 with a clean slate which you should have no problem.”
Mien was certain he was going to be able too. That much was clear.
“This case is dismissed,” said the Arbiter.
Mien was free to go. Though unlike last time the celebration didn’t start until he was outside and jumped Soletus and hugged him.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he said.
“I did nothing,” chuckled the young monk. “That was all you.”
He then moved on grabbing Brother Hickory and then Nimbus rubbed his hair.
“You didn’t wonderful lad…why are you crying?”
“Because it the only time he really does,” said Soletus. “He’s happy.”
“But I can’t help it,” he said wiping his face off and then he focused on Oeric. The man held up a hand and had already taken to going down the steps. His gaze settled behind him and then on his face.
“You don’t have to thank me.”
He was about to tell him he wanted too but felt an arm wrap around him.
“Oh Thederic that was so lovely,” said his mother. “Oh, and look at you. That uniform makes you look official.”
Mien hugged her and saw Kiao walk by. She waved and went down the stairs with her cloak billowing behind her showing off that spread of a peacock tail on her cloak. She paused at First Warden Oeric before going along the walk back to her inn.
He let go of his mother.
“We should find someplace to eat for lunch,” she said. “In fact, I’ll invite all of them as well. You too First Warden.”
Oeric was trying his best to fade away. “No, I don’t want to intrude.”
“Just let him escape, Lass,” said Hickory.
“Why would he want to escape,” she asked.
“Believe me, it’ll cause you less trouble,” he said in a low voice.
“I’ll keep him out of trouble,” said Nimbus. “You go to lunch. Take Soletus with you, he needs it.”
The young monk gave him a dirty look. The dark rings around his eyes had vanished but he was still thinner than before. Dalaen stood off to the side and announce.
“I’ll go to the inn and act lunch there,” he said.
“You certainly will not,” she said. “Theoderic has forgiven you so you should sit with us.”
Mien frowned but swallowed the words he certainly didn’t. Instead, he managed to say, “I don’t mind Dalaen, it’s been a long time since I’ve eaten as someplace fancy.”
“Good. I know of a place that serves two dishes a wonderful creamy stew and elegant seasonal dessert of their choosing. We might even get to hear one of the upcoming performers play her harp,” she said leading the way.
At that moment she looked away, Soletus pointed his index and middle fingers at his eyes and then at Dalaen. The young man gulped and proceeded down the stairs.
“If he gets out of line, what are you going to do this time,” hissed Mien to him.
“I haven’t planned that far,” admitted Soletus. “I’m sure I can think of something threatening and impressive looking.”
“Thank you for coming. You didn’t have too. I know you wanted time to yourself.”
“I started this with you, I finish it with you,” he said. “You’re leaving after lunch to talk to your old alchemy master still?”
Mien nodded. “If I do, there is no turning back.”
“Do what you need to do. Besides we still have plenty of time together,” he said.
He certainly did.
Lunch went on longer than Mien wanted to. Then they talked more after lunch and that went on too long as well. So when he was finally let go, he had to run across the city and hoped that the alchemist shop was still open. He knew the man always closed up an hour before dinner. Some days two. He hoped that it wasn’t one of those days.
To his relief, the familiar dark stone front building was still showing the open sign on the door. It was still very much the same. The only difference was the lettering on the window front. They were even fancier and swooping. However, it still read: Towhee Alchemic Wonders.
He opened the door and was greeted by the smell of something spiced. The usually dark glass bottle lined the walls of the shop holding various compounds. They were nothing dangerous. Mostly soap mixture for cleaning, oils, alcohols, and dyes. The other not so safe things were kept in the back and mixed on order. Such as acids, poisons, and other elements and compounds.
“Coming,” said a young voice and out stepped a young woman wiping her hands with a cloth. She wore the apprentice apron he used to wear. Her eyes went wide. “Hello, what can I do for you?”
“Is Master Towhee in the back?”
“Uhhh,” she said giving him a good sweep.
He realized then his cowl was over his head and he pulled it back. “Can I speak to him.”
That didn’t speed things along at all. In fact, her fact she started blushing at that point.
“Ummm, yes, yes he is. Hold on,” she said walking off. “Master Towhee, there is a young man here.”
Mien could barely make out his master voice saying. “Aren’t we about to close?”
“Well yes, Sir. But he wasn’t to speak to you.”
“I-I-I uh, did ask.”
“Lobelia, could you please go ask him?”
“Master Roland, I need to speak with you,” Mien shouted. “It shouldn’t take that long. I can do so while you close. Do you want me to slide the closed sign on the door?”
The was a pause and shuffling.
Mien went behind the counter and got the closed sign.
And older elf the came from the back wearing a magnifying glass around his head.
“Theoderic,” he muttered.
Mien opened the door and slid the closed sign in the slot and shut it.
“Greeting Master Roland,” he said.
“What brings you here. I thought…” he said trailing off. “My you have grown and you’re…It’s good to see you. I hardly even recognized your voice. I uh didn’t know you were a chanter. Well, I didn’t want to believe the rumors and that was part of it.”
Mien could hear the nervous note in his voice.
“Why are you here?”
“I need to ask you a favor. Is there any way you can get a hold of a current copy of the entrance exams for the university for me?”
The man was surprised. “You want them?”
“Yes, I need something to study off of. I won’t be taking the test again in a couple of more years but, I need to start refreshing everything.”
“I can only give you the current set and the test get more difficult if you failed once. They test you on a lot more than the field you choose. Are you still doing alchemy?”
“Yes. I want to get into the apothecary college,” he said.
“Ambitious. You seemed satisfied with learning with me. And I would take you on again if I could, it’s just…” he trailed off and then started shuffling things around. The young woman there started sweeping.
“You have a new apprentice,” helped Mien. It’s not the fact you don’t want to because it’s you think I’m crazy
“Yes, yes. I heard you went into the Brotherhood. Is that way you want to try to be an apothecary?”
“Does your mother know about this? She came in wanting to know if I would take you on again when you got out. I had to tell her no. Then she asked how successful I believed you would be if she could persuade you to go to the university. I told her I didn’t know.”
“I talked to her earlier about it,” said Mien.
“Oh? I’m sure she’s proud,” he said. “Working for the family business and all.”
“I’m not so she was a little upset. She’s not even going to be my sponsor. I’ve other arrangements.”
“I see. Well, I’ll send you the materials. Do I send them to the estate?”
Mien pulled out a slip of paper and handed it to him. “No to this post.”
“Grace’s Hope huh? I guess you aren’t coming home?”
Mien shook his head. “Not right now.” If I’m lucky, I’ll never have to live in that house ever again.
He then said his goodbyes and then left. He walked back to the side of the city he was staying at. However, he stopped in a shop that caught his eyes and went in to get a few things. He didn’t go back to his room just yet. Instead stopped by the inn that Kiao chose to stay at. He followed his own senses and found her out in the dining area alone. If he had to do to her room, it might’ve been a little awkward.
Her face lit up when she saw him. “I’m not surprised to see you.”
He sat across from her and place the package in front of her.
“You know if anyone should be gift buy, it’s me,” she said putting one of her own on the table.
“You didn’t have to get me anything,” he said.
“It’s not just from me. Alder, Lionel, and Brother Oli helped pay for it. I just had to pick it out. Open it.”
Mien wanted her to open his first but he was too curious and opened the wooden box and didn’t inside on a velvet cloth was a very odd-looking device. It was golden with a compass face as well as something else he wasn’t sure he was looking at.”
“It’s a time compass. It shows you your direction and there is a printed dial in the back that turns showing you the time of day. Right now it’s close to sunset and the picture is colored as such.”
Mien picked it up out of the box and held it. “Ohhh,” he said, examining the chain. “Thank you.”
“I thought this would help you to not get lost again,” she said with a giggle. “So what did you get me.”
Kiao opened it and then she blinked at it.
“I thought you needed something to match your cloak.”
It was a hair comb made with peacock feathers and freshwater pearls.
“You didn’t need to give me this,” she said.
“But you like them.”
“I do but this coast a lot.”
“And this didn’t.”
“It’s a tool,” she retorted.
“And you need nice things priestess or no. You’re mine. I don’t care what my mother thinks and that’s what I need to speak with you about. I have a plan.”
Her eyes narrowed and had a suspicious glint in them. “This better not include us running away together because I can’t. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but, you know Brother Oli isn’t doing well anymore.”
“Yes, I know,” said Mien. “This plan involves me leaving when I turn 28 and going to the university.”
Kiao arched an eyebrow at him. “Really?”
“Yes. It’ll take me six years to finish and then I’m going to return to the Brotherhood. Try to help out the infirmary a bit. Having a trained apothecary would help a lot and the town. Maybe it will keep out peddlers with their peddler water.”
Kiao rolled her eyes. “Why did you have to remind me last week. Did Lionel ever figure out why it made your mouth numb?”
“He told me that there are four known plants that could do it and he was certain every single one was used in it. Or that’s what I gathered. He ranted for a very long time.”
“And after that,” Kiao said turning serious.
“Depends. I’ll return home for a little bit of course. See if being out on my own will make mother think more of me. Maybe by then, my uncle has left or the blighter kills him.”
“And if that doesn’t happen. If he’s alive and kicking and she’s found a match for you what are you going to do, delay it? Because that sounds like what this all is.”
Mien swayed his head and then nodded. “It’s that but mostly, it’s to prove myself to her. Also, to make me less of a problem for you. There are things you want to do, right.”
“And you should have the freedom to do them without having the burden of me around,” he said softly. “I cause you trouble.”
Kiao leaned back in her seat. “This is about Elnos. You’re trying to protect me!”
“What about the bond,” she exclaimed and then said more gently. “I mean, can you spend six years away from me and then whatever amount of time after that?”
“It’s doable,” he said, reaching his hand out palm up for her hand. She stared at it for a moment and clasped it. “It’s what I’m willing to do to make this work. I set a few things in place for our future. I have one now.”