Soletus hated every word he read. A treatise on drass beasts, more like an egotistical rant of an elf trying to sound smart. It wasted his time, yet he forced himself to comb the book he held above his head. He wasn’t about to quit. There could have been insight there, if he crossed his eyes a bit. Also, he was trying to take up time and had nothing else to do. However, the longer he pushed, the less he paid attention. Reading went to skimming and skimming turned to his mind wondering.
He rolled his eyes to the window behind his head. His iris caught a bit of what was left of the afternoon light. It revealed his dark eyes to be an uncanny lapis blue. Though did little to brighten his hair. It lacked the warmth that so many Fen elves had in their hair shades. It come off as dull.
Usually he made up for it in styling though that day, he didn’t braid it and neither did he feel like wearing it down. He didn’t want to make himself a target for someone grumbling how it made him look like a boy. Then he would have to clench his jaw from saying something. He didn’t feel like a confrontation that day. He was doing a good job ignoring being singled out for his physical appearance. However, he wondered why was hair length so much a point of contention. More so than his low angled that established him as not Fen. He was dual heritage. He was half dyne. His mother was a Fenndish Dyne elf, people had strong opinions of them and yet, they wanted to focus on hair length. Though he supposed it was what the length of his hair was a sign of in their eyes.
He decided he had enough of reading and laid the book open over his face. Before he got settled in his nap, Brother Hickory strolled inside his workroom. He never wore a robe so there was no flapping of fabric as he walked past. His heavy steps on the floor boards was all Soletus heard. The aged priest stopped in mid-stride to take in the slumped young monk in his arm chair. His long legs dangled over an armrest, while his head rested on the other.
“How are you even comfortable like that,” Brother Hickory asked while settling down in his chair behind his desk.
Soletus shrugged. He was quite comfortable.
“You’ve gotten pretty far in that tome,” said Hickory, rolling the sleeves of his white shirt up.
“And it’s as fas as I’m going to go,” he answered.
“Well this is the first book you’ve given up on. And you claimed not to like reading.”
Soletus plucked the book off his face and laid it on his chest along with a piece of tao stone that was resting there. “It’s not that I don’t like reading, I don’t like being bored. This book, for example, is a boring paper weight. I don’t know how Grosswing is held in high regards.”
Hickory leaned forward on his desk to reached for his inkwell. He pulled out a blank parchment from his desk and said with a chuckle. “You’re such a critic.”
“He over-simplifies drass beasts to the point it’s wrong and spends the rest of his time regaling his youth!”
The corners of Hickory’s mouth lifted. “And opinionated. He can’t be to terribly incorrect. He established our system of classification.”
“Having everything being a skulker, behemoth, or husk is inadequate and archaic,” grumbled Soletus. “I thought you said you found something interesting not irritating.”
“I was trying to be supportive of your interests since you rebelled hard on poetry.”
“Because you were torturing me with love poems,” he told him and saw the priest’s his teal eyes laughing at him.
“I thought they would give you insight on the love smitten customary elf.”
Soletus responded with a snort. He sat the book on the stand by his feet and then picked up the stone. It was a piece of imbued tao stone called a light stone. Vlory, the kanu woman he helped rescue by kidnapping several months ago, had made it. She was learning to use her abilities again and had been practicing by showing other chanters how to imbue tao stone as well. She gave him the stone in hopes it would be useful for him. To activate it, all he had to do was blow on it as well as to wink it out. He did so then and watched it flicker to life. Then continue on flickering.
Hickory tilted his head in curiosity. “I should go visit Vlory soon,” he said and gestured to him to pass the stone. Soletus tossed it too him. “She’s been doing a lot better.”
“It’s sad she has to relearn everything she knew as a chanter,” said Soletus.
He often visited the kanu chanter as well as his remaining bandmates involved. Soletus was most pleased to see her getting stronger. He enjoyed the fact that she lived and relieved he didn’t have to kill her because of the corruption in her blood.
“With such a change to one’s body and soul, you cannot expect to be the same person and chanter you were before. She’ll likely have to go through another edict,” explained the priest. He blew on the stone and it went out before it flickered back to life again. His brow wrinkled. He blew on it again. It went out and then flickered to life again. “Anyway, can I make an observation about you?”
“If your observation is that I’m annoyed, your right,” admitted Soletus. There was no point in lying to him. It wasn’t because the aged priest was justice chanter could detect a lie easily. No, if he denied it, Hickory would turn into a secession. He didn’t want to get into a deeper discussion on his feelings at the moment. He just wanted to be around another neth male for a bit.
“So what has irritated you?”
It’s a secession anyway, he thought with an internal sigh. “Stupid dods who think their funny.”
Soletus sat up. “I found a gift on my bed. A clay phallus that had a note that said, ‘use this instead.’ I was so thrilled about it, I wanted to thank the dod who done it. He was easy to find as he was doing a good impression of a donkey in the common area. So I showed him my appreciation with my fist.”
“Soletus,” chided Hickory.
The young monk gave him a looked of innocence. “I didn’t hit him. I simply stuck the wall beside his head.”
Hickory gave him stern look. “Sol, really.”
“There’re no rules stating I can’t punch a wall.”
The priest shouldn’t have be surprised. He knew Soletus had grown less accepting of other’s stupid behavior. Hickory did keep that shortness with others from getting worse. However ,his temperament changed. The death of his cousin, Lyndon, fueled it. His death sent what his father rightly described as an icy dagger in his heart. It froze all of him. He could barely feel anything, like his mind when numb from it all. He cared about his remaining bandmates. He didn’t care if he hurt another if they tried to hurt them or someone else. He didn’t care that he shot Cole and attacked the mercenaries until after it happened. And even still that haze remained. The full extent of how much it clouded his mind was made manifest when he was ready to kill Kellas for what he had done. It was only afterwards he realized he was crossing a line he didn’t need to breech. Instead of correcting it, he became apathetic. It was then his parents intervened and made him talk to Hickory.
Soletus thought talking to the older neth male would consist of lecturing, pray, and meditate. Overall make him feel as if there was something wrong with him and making all the shame much worse. That he needed to be fixed. There was praying and there was meditating. There was a lot of talking, however there was a lot of laughing. A lot of stories to be had not to mention a look into the life of a man that was known for what he did and not much of who he was. And it turned out he was a very kind elf who loved food. He had just as much of a sweet tooth as Soletus save the priest wasn’t as active as he was. Soletus decided that he needed to help him with that in exchange for Hickory to give him books to read for quiet time. Soletus was sure from all the walking and showing him how to do simple forms, the priest was the thinnest he had been in a long time.
The other reason for him to speak with him was learning what it meant to be neth. Soletus had no idea what that truly meant. The only other male elf he knew that was neth was Enforcer Icus. He chose to pretend he wasn’t to further his own advancement in the Brotherhood thus no help to him. It there were more, then they hide as well as. Most males were ashamed of being Neth.
The prophetess Lenneth was the first, thus the name. However, over the centuries, misconceptions arose about what that meant. One being that those who were born neth were all females. Neth male are said to be rare like unicorns. In other words, they didn’t exist. It wasn’t seen as masculine. A weakness to be frowned on. That was something Soletus couldn’t understand.
He was physically strong and in his opinion had a superior form than most other males. Long hair aside, he looked more masculine. Most male elves had fine faces. And there was no external difference between a neth male and a customary one. There was an internal difference no one but a trained chanter would notice. It was the behavioral difference he was certain they were caught up on. Not wanting to be with a female was unusual for a male. He accepted that. However, in what way did it make him weak, inferior, or stupid. However, they were the assumption that he faced.
He didn’t mind questions from people who wanted to learn and were curious. He just hated the illogical assumptions. Like he couldn’t feel joy or pleasure and lived a sad stone like existence. Then there those who believed he was child-like and innocent. Some took it to an extreme and thought he was supposed to be a simpleton. And then there was this group of older young man who made his personal life was their business. They wanted to help him achieve manhood. He declined, thankful that they didn’t believe his genitalia was absorbed by his body or withered away. And those were the worse. They thought if they got near him, they would turn into a eunuch. He made it a point to always touch them.
Hickory then told him. “I can talk to Icus about it.”
Soletus swayed his head. “So he can tell me to get over it? No. I can handle fresh warders who think they are funny.”
The old priest. “I don’t want you to get into a fight about it.”
“Don’t worry. I’ve started practicing the art of the stave discussion. Papa told me when in disagreement, spar it out.”
Hickory wore a knowing smile. “And of course you always win.”
Soletus chuckled while he stood to slip his shoes back on. “Right about that. They’ll beat me if they trained more and spend less time watching girls.”
“You’re heading off already?”
“The Patriarch wanted me to see him at the monastery any time before dinner,” he said straightening up his appearance.
“Oh, you’re not eating with him tonight?”
“No Sir. If I ate dinner there, I’ll be tempted to spend the night,” he said. “I’m still being a big boy and sleeping in my dorm room.”
Hickory nodded with approval. “So this makes what, the sixth night you have. It’s not so bad is it.”
“No,” he admitted. “The room switch helped and Tyrus and Fenris aren’t bad roommates. Just messy. Their first room inspection with me there is going to be rough. I’ve warned them.” Being the Arch Monk’s grandson didn’t have a lot of perks. Just everyone being harder on him and by extension roommates.
Soletus said his goodbyes and left. He had an idea of what the Patriarch wanted. He didn’t even know why the Patriarch was where he had found him. It took some questioning to find him out in the training fields. Others watched from afar with him being the only one closely watching the middle-aged elf sparing with Master Tyr. Soletus didn’t know whom he felt sorry for as he leaned on the fence. The Patriarch kept stepping back causing him to fight in a circle while parrying Tyr. He has seen warders do such things when they had no idea what they were doing. Master Tyr stopped and forced the end of his staff in the ground and exclaimed loudly, “How is it possible that you’ve gotten worse?”
“I’m unpracticed,” offered the Patriarch with winning grin that had no effect on Master Tyr exasperation.
“This isn’t unpracticed! A babe would have a better performance than you. At this rate, we are going to have to give you a personal bodyguard at all times even when you sleep.”
“You know my lady won’t stand for that,” said the Patriarch still with a mild smile.
The master monk took the staff from his hands and pointed the tip at him. “We’re going to do this every evening until we leave. I want you to be able to not only disarm me but disable me as well. I’ll end here for today seeing. You’ve a guest, cousin.”
The Patriarch caught sight of Soletus and waved him over. The young monk vaulted over the fence and acknowledge Master Tyr with a curt nod. The man still wasn’t his favorite person in the world after all that happened. He focused his attention to the Patriarch. One of the few older adults he respected. He wasn’t the strongest looking man. In fact, Lord Kharis often looked more suited royal court than the monastary. He was a noble by blood and acted as one. Right then he was in a sleeveless training shirt and pants and covered in dust and sweat. He didn’t have his spectacle on then and used his handkerchief he used to clean them to wipe his brow.
“It’s unusual to see you here,” he said.
The Patriarch spoke while cleaning his face. “It’s a necessary at the moment that I brush up on my fighting skills. I’m, sadly, a shade of Tyr and probably not even in the same class as you.”
Soletus became immediately suspicious at the compliment. “You would improve if you weren’t so afraid of his staff,” he told him.
The older man beamed at him. “You always have excellent insight. That probably due to the face that you are intelligent with good manners to boot.”
“You’re laying the flattery on thick. You want me to do something I’m not going to like.”
He chuckle and said. “Very astute of you. I know Briar educated you, though mockingly, about the formal dinners and meeting. It’s time for the Western Summit. I choose a number of worthy monks to attend. The best of the best. I want you to come.”
Soletus was stunned. He hadn’t expected that at all. He didn’t know what to say. The only thing he could say rolled out of his mouth. “I’m not on the roster right now.”
“Don’t you think it’s time you place yourself on it. The conference is only held every five years. The mayors, large landholders of significance, governors, and other houses both minor and major well be meeting at my house’s estate to report about the region. Solgard and I will be going. We’ve reports to give, tax rates to re-calculate for the province, drass beast summaries for the last five years, and other tiresome activities that numb the mind. There will be representatives of the priesthood going as well. Brother Rastor will be going as Brother Lorthan can’t. He also asked Sister Kiao if she would like to come to show off a well-trained healer. There will be a representative of the Seat there as well. Not the King himself but Princess Silva and his Right Hand from House Aquilia.”
A knot of unease formed in his chest. What he was being asked was a simple mission. There was no reason for his trepidation, but it was there, and he didn’t like it. So he ignored it and acted like everything was fine.
“So you want me to come because Briar thought it would be funny to force me into these lessons to watch me squirm?”
“I also want to make a good show. You are a very impressive looking young man. Also, for protection,” he said ending his statement grimly and folded his arms behind his back. “There have been a number of threats towards my House. Someone wants a Gyrfalcon head.”
“Should you be going if that’s the case?”
“My family hosts the conference and this one particularly is important. It’s the reasons for the threats. My mother is choosing her successor. I’m expected to be there. Since she’s a late winter hen, I want to see her. There aren’t a lot of seasons ahead of her.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“We all live and die. Her time is coming up.”
Soletus didn’t need the reminder. He had spent all winter and it was now going onto mid-spring because Lyndon’s death haunted him. He hadn’t had a taste for being a field warden again. Kellas’s actions had taken away his desire to be under someone’s command. Yet, he couldn’t think of anything else he wanted to do, he wanted to be a warden. He didn’t understand hating what he trained to be and wanting to try again. He had been on his way to speak to his grandfather about being placed back on the roster again and finding a new first warden. However, he always talked himself out of it. He didn’t know whom he could trust.
“Even with the threats, it’s probably going to be uneventful. Maybe a little dull for you,” the Patriarch.
Doubt also joined the unease however, his heart was telling him to go.
“What will I be doing?”
The corners of the Patriarch’s eyes crinkled. “I want you part of the guard for the women.”
It was then the young monk became confused. “The women? And not your honor guard?”
“I honestly I would love to have you, but your father agreed to come as well. I wanted his experience he said no at first then came back and gave a puzzling condition.”
“And that’s what?”
“I asked you to come and be given a meaningful role.”
“And that’s the women?”
“It’s very important to me that my wife and child are safe as well as your mother, our lovely priestess, and others who are coming. You will be in a band of five. I do believe Master Yunus is going to be acting First Warden. It’s been requested that you’ll be acting second for him. As far as I know, your father is taken up the mantle of Chief Warden during this operation. He will be your commander overall and will be given all orders and directions.”
Soletus couldn’t say that he ever wanted to be in a leading position again. He could see why his father avoided leadership roles. So much was at stake and there was a pressure for him to get everything right. He barely handled it being pushed on him out of circumstance, now he was going to do it purposely.
“Aside from that duty, there will be a dinner held every night, and on the last night a dance. At dinner, you will be sitting with the Arch Monk. It’s tradition that you bring a young lady.”
Soletus made a face.
Lord Kharis gave him a reassuring grin. “You’ll be with Briar. She’s fine with it given it’s either you or a cousin. She doesn’t want that.”
“I guess that’ll work.”
The Patriarch’s brow rose. “So that means you are going?”
“I’ll have to think about it,” answered Soletus. He didn’t know if he was ready to go on the road again or not.