Physical pain was familiar to Soletus. He had been flung, kicked, stomped on, dragged, pulled, punched, or whatever a drass beast could give him. He accepted his bruising and shrugged them off. However that night, he went to his room, stripped off his clothing, flung them on the floor without care, and dropped into bed. His side ached.
He had done training to enable him to withstand a strike to his liver. It still hurt. It grated his ego that it hurt as much as it did. It annoyed him, to a lesser extent, Briar had to save him. At the same time, he felt a great deal of pride at what she had done. It took him swinging his staff at her head many times for her to learn when it was better to duck and than to block. As the one who taught her, he couldn’t anticipate what Veshner was about to do. Then again, how many pugilist had he taunted? He wondered how good he actually was. He knew that it was a popular among young men of nobility and they called it an “exercise.” There were all sorts of rules to make it more civilized. Though it sounded like blood-sports without kicking and more rules.
Being easy to upset is becoming a hazard you idiot dod, he thought.
He had to learn how to be at peace again and wasn’t there yet. There was a reason why. Something that he was told was going to be a problem if he didn’t let go of what happened. He needed to forgive himself. Problem was he didn’t know if he could. Regret filled his heart again. This time, there was no Mien to soothe it away. He stayed awake in the blackness trying to avoid seeing Lyndon’s face. However, his exhaustion won in the end. Lyndon at least was at a distance.
When morning arrived, he was shaken awake. It wasn’t his mother or father doing it. The movement wasn’t right and neither was the voice.
“Come on, it’s time to rise,”
Soletus’s eyes flew open at the refined voice. He peer upward and was greeted by an older fellow. At first, he thought it was Master Yunus. However, the elf was a true silver elf with ancient warm blue eyes. He was wearing a servants vest but it wasn’t the gyrfalcon’s silver, white, and brown. The asymmetrical long vest was gold, red, and white. They were House Heron colors.
“Good morning, young Sir,” he said, his voice full of cheer. “I was instructed by her ladyship, Princess Arlwin, to see that you are awakened,” he said and held up a robe.
Soletus eyed it with confusion. He didn’t bring a robe.
“The house provides things, such as robes, in hospitality,” informed the servant.
Soletus held out his hand and the servant gave it to him. “And what do I call you?”
“Sorry for my lack decorum. I’m not around many individuals who don’t know who I am. You may call me Wal. I am House Heron’s head valet. I serve the queen,” he said with a bow.
Soletus found that odd. A manservant for the queen?
He left the young monk and walked so smoothly that he glided across to the large window in the room. As he went by, Soletus noticed that his hair flowed down his back to his waist.
“Princess Arlwin wanted me to help you get dressed as soon as possible. She’s determined for an adventure in the woods, I suggest you dress accordingly.”
He was neth. Soletus didn’t know how he knew it. He just did. He then stood up while Wal stared out the window. He was sure it was to give him a little privacy. Not that Soletus needed it. Being in a dorm with small quarters, one had to give up on privacy. While dressing he asked. “If you serve the queen, why are you here?
“Oh, her Majesty doesn’t need my present currently,” he told him leaning on the window seat searching for something out the window. “She is in the hot springs with the other ladies. They have enough there to see to her needs.”
“And the Lieutenant Arlwin isn’t going.”
It was then the elf faced him. “She doesn’t care for the hot springs. She thought it would be more prudent if you two plan your excursion.”
I’m happy I’ve been given a choice in the matter, said Soletus to himself and heard a knock on the door.
“Is all the important stuff covered,” shouted Arlwin from outside the door.
Soletus was tucking his shirt into his trousers.
Wal’s pleasant expression didn’t waver. “Seriously, young lady, you can wait a few moments longer so that I can answer questions he might have and save time. I’m sure this is all unfamiliar to him.”
“All the important things are covered unless toes are offensive,” said Soletus.
Before Wal could answer Arlwin strolled into the room with a spyglass in hand. “Does Brotherhood normally sleep this late,” she said making her way to the window seat.
Soletus didn’t offer an excuse. It was late. But he did exhale in annoyance.
“Are you good to walk,” she asked. Peering out the window. “Last night, I walked around the house with Lady Briar. While in midst of conversation last night, we spotted a flicker of light in the woods. I couldn’t see much but guessed the direction. I estimated that one of these rooms would give me the best view and yours seems to have done the trick. Care to look?”
Soletus had pulled on his jerkin and was working on wrapping his sash around his waist. “What are you talking about?”
“Suspicious activity,” said Arlwin. “I apologize. I’ve been in my head thinking about this too much.” She handed him the spyglass. “You see that shadowed spot over there. You can see a spot cleared out.”
Soletus took the glass from her and in the corner of his vision she gave the valet behind them a meaningful look and he gave her a nod. He then focused on what she pointed to and indeed, nestled among the trees, was a spot that was unnaturally cleared out. It couldn’t be seen from ground level for the most part. However, the window had a great view of it.
“I wish to scout it. There appears to be no one is there currently.”
“Okay,” said Soletus handing her the spy glass and went for his boots. He strapped on his hunting knife and got his staff.
Wal then asked by the door. “Do you require me for anything else, Princesss?”
“No, we will be back just before lunch I suspect,” she said.
He nodded and handed Arlwin a nondescript wide brimmed hat. She tucked all her hair in. It the occurred to Soletus that she wasn’t dressed in house colors or her army uniform. She was wearing a very plain clothing. Even more so than he was wearing. When they got to the front entrance, a warden stood there guarding the door.
“Where do you two think you’re going,” he asked.
Arlwin then told him in a thick western’s accent that mimicked Tyrus’s. Not only that but she brightened up and took on a exuberant tone. “We’ve been told ta go down the road a bit. Lord Kharis’s orders. Chose me ta go dealin’ wit the sneks and such. He saw somethin’ needs investigatin’. The Junior Warden here is checkin’ it out and needs me to go with ’im.”
Soletus cleared his throat. Partly because he thought she was overdoing it. She looked at him with bright eyes and then looked a bit ashamed. “Oh, sorry.”
“Yeah, I’m also on orders by the Princess,” said Soletus to the warden in front of him. Honestly was better.
The warden tilted his head. “I yhought you and Yunus were working together?”
“I’ve been acquiesced since yesterday by Princess Arlwin.”
The warden chuckled. “Does your father knows about this?”
“Yes. If I wasn’t doing this, I’m sure he would have me running around.”
The warden bobbed his head. “Fine, but come back here as soon as possible. Otherwise, I’m looking
for you. You have until lunch.”
Soletus gave him a curt nod. “Yes Sir. This shouldn’t take very long.”
Arlwin led the way outside, but veered off the path to go down the length of the house. She stopped under one of the balcony’s and pushed her way between the branches of some bushes. “You catch on quick,” she said.
“And you acted a little too well,” he said and watched her digging something out. She let out a cry of excitement and pulled out a belt with a sword.
Arlwin smiled. “I watch a lot of stage performances. I was taught by a few actors. They liked me because I was good at imitation. I feel like I did that westerner’s accent a little too thick. I’ve heard it enough from the staff here. However, I couldn’t mimic yours. You’ve a very distinctive cadence. I guess you have an education. I didn’t think people around these parts did.”
“The Brotherhood requires you to read well,” said Soletus suppressing the snarky comment he wanted to make.
They walked in silence again for a bit. Soletus kept his gaze forward, making sure nothing came from the grass and bushes on the side of the road. They were still in drass beast country, but there were too many birds singing and none of them were cries of alarm for there to be one nearby.
Arlwin then broke the silence with a question. “So you’re part Dyne. You could pass for full-blooded. The sun doesn’t bother you?”
“No, but it does Ma— my mother. She wears hats if the sun gets too much.”
“And your father married her. Dyne usually don’t marry outside of their people from my knowledge.”
“Fenndish Dyne don’t care nearly as much. Besides, my mother married my father without her parent’s approval.”
“And they had you?”
“No. I’m a middle child. I’ve an older and younger sister.”
She looked surprised. “So you’re their only son?”
She stated as if she was making an observation. “And you happen to be neth.”
Soletus regarded her wondering when she figured it out. “Correct.”
She then stopped walking. “You really don’t care about social standing at all do you?”
Soletus kept walking. He didn’t want to talk to her about that of all things. “Isn’t time of the essences right now? I mean, you’re sneaking out without permission. Someone is bound to notice you’re gone.”
Arlwin caught up with him saying. “It’s not that I don’t have permission. I just don’t want to be questioned and held up because I didn’t choose a red guard to escort me. My personal shield isn’t here.”
“And why aren’t they?”
“She’s a hindrance at times,” she said sounding unhappy. “ The Shield that came with my mother and sister can’t watch me too. He told me to stay inside unless I could get an escort.”
“And you didn’t think they would approve of me?”
“Gracious no. He rather me be with a Red Guard and they rather me sit in a chair listening to boring talk all day. Certainly it’s something I need to get used to being a general one day, but as of now, I’m a soldier. I need to keep moving.”
She was a typical member of a military noble house. All the men, and some women, strove to be the highest rank they could be. However, there weren’t a lot of women generals if any.
“Now I’ve been wondering why a young man such as you haven’t considered the military,” she asked.
Soletus thought about Lyndon, the clay shells, and the blood and death around him. He hated the smell of elven blood. He had been covered from head to toe with drass beast ichor. Could slice one cleans through and it didn’t bother him like elven blood did. Sure, it made him feel ill afterwards, but not sick down to his soul. The military was a place to show pride for his country, kill bandits, hunt down trespassers and poachers, and pursue fugitives. Death was inevitable there. Not that Brotherhood was clean from seeing brutality. He had seen his first dead body as a burn lump of an elf. Three of them, in fact. A young family that didn’t make it out of their burnt home. Soletus had found one of them. The older men had found another. Kellas had found the remains of the baby. He wouldn’t let the junior member look at them. Not that he wanted to. The adults alone made him sick.
Maybe I’m too soft for this after all. He pushed the thought away. “I never considered it,” he told her.
“I think you could make a fine soldier.”
Soletus shook his head. “No. I really dislike the smell and taste of elven blood.”
Arlwin stared at him in wonderment at that statement. Afterwards, she didn’t question him further. Her attention then turned to watching the side of the road where they would veer off. Sure enough, in the grass, was what appeared to be a deer trail going into the trees. There was an indication of a boot print in the loose dirt. It struck Soletus as strange because of the size of the print compared to his.
“This fellow has some small feet,” he said. “They are either a boy or a woman.”
She studied the print. “I’m certain I saw a man. I didn’t get a good look at them but they had short hair and a flat chest.”
“A resourceful woman can look and act the part of a man if she wants.”
She then looked down at herself. “I can’t see how. Perhaps if you’re narrow and young enough for it.”
“Sister Kiao made a very good young man when I met her,” said Soletus standing.
She arched an eyebrow. “You mean, you didn’t know?”
“No one knew, save those who were told and found out. I found out during an adventure. She was attacked by a drass beast and was torn up pretty good.”
“Interesting. Maybe I should ask her for tips. It may help me in my future endeavors. For now, let’s go in and see what can be found,” said she and scurried into the woods. Soletus followed. He looked at the ground trying to find more tracks but it seemed that was only track made leaving the path. For a moment, he thought the trail wasn’t the right one until he saw the spot ahead of him. It’s wasn’t a camp. There appeared to be a fire pit that held a single fire. There was no indication of a tent, or a body sleeping in the leaves. It was as if it was made to look like a camp.
Positioned right in the back and in clear view of the path was a thick growth of honeysuckle tangled together between two sets of trees. He didn’t see the vines running up the trees, or twined around them. The tendrils didn’t even reach for an obvious low hanging branch. In fact, the leaves were wilted. Between the tendrils, the young monk saw something that went against the chaotic mass; shaped piece of wood.
His gaze shifted downward for the signs of a trap. Less than three feet ahead of them, was something long glinted in the light between two trees. He wrapped his arm around the princess pulling her back to his chest and pointed down with his staff.
“Sorry,” he told her. “You were about to step on something. Look down.”
She followed the staff to a taunt wire.
“We need to get off this path,” said Soletus leading the princess behind a thick trunk tree and sunk down shielding her with his body.
He waited for her to protest or berate him on the way he handled her. She didn’t and crouched down. “Who sets a trap in a camp?”
“I don’t think this is a camp so much as they are trying to protect something. We can’t go in there until we makes sure there are no more traps.”
“What do you suggest we do,” whispered Arlwin.
“I’ll send my consort in and I’ll tell him to secure the area.”
She had nothing to say about chanters, but the talk of consorts made her stiff. “Are you sure that’s safe?”
Soletus nodded. “If Khodi gets hurt, I don’t feel it. He also numbs pain if I get hurt.”
She became intrigued. “That must give a you huge advantage fighting.”
“It can, but I have to choose moments when it’s appropriate to use. One can abuse a consort to the point you lose control over them,” he said, concentrating.
A large nebulous form took shape glowing blue before color and substance filled him in.
Arlwin gasp. “Titfire, that’s a bear!”
Khodi stretched his head around Soletus to sniff in Arwlin’s direction. She shrank back from him. “He could fit his jaws around my head.
“He’s not going to hurt you,” said Soletus patting Khodi on the shoulder grinning. “He’s a piece of me.”
The princess gulped in awe. “I’ve never seen a highland brown bear alive and so close before. Granted, he’s not real one, but damn close to one.”
She reached a hand of him to sniff and the giant bear sniffed her palm and nosed her hand to be petted. Her mouth lifted in a nervous smile as her hand glided across his fur. “This feels weird given that he’s a piece of you.”
“It’s okay,” he said. “If he was sending me impressions of you doing so it would be.” He got to his knees and motioned for Khodi to come to him. He leaned on the bear’s shoulder burying his face in the bear’s fur. Khodi nudged him with his snout.
“Yes, that’s how they communicate with you. Just concepts and images. Sometimes smell and touch,” he said in his fur.
“So why are you clinging to him?”
“I’ve not summoned him for some time.”
He hadn’t because the bear responded to his emotion too strongly for everyones comfort. They knew about him nearly losing control of him and thought it best for him to restrain his use of the consort to non-combat uses. Well. until he could prove he wasn’t going to react the way he did to Kellas months ago. True, he wanted the man to die. He wasn’t sure if he didn’t want that still. However, they acted like the smallest amount of irritation might lead to Khodi becoming uncontrollable. That wasn’t how it worked.
Soletus closed his eyes and gave the bear instructions. When he was done, he rested there for a moment feeling whatever channel that cycled through each other. It wasn’t anything he needed to do. It just made him feel better. After a state of comfort enveloped him, he rocked back and let Khodi go and scooted behind the tree and said, “He’s going to trip the trap now.”
Soletus held his breath and peered behind the tree as a Khodi hooked his claws on the wire and pulled it. It broke easily from the added pressure. The was the sound of something crashing down to their side. He couldn’t see it, but the noise would’ve caused someone to search the direction of what had fallen. The was a whirling noise and he caught sight of a bolt position chest high whizz through Khodi’s ears and buried itself in the ground.
The bears snorted and lumbered into the cleared spot. Arlwin moved to go towards the bolt. Soletus held her back with his staff and swayed his head.
“It’s far from safe,” he said.
Khodi gave him an impression the smell of iron. Something metal was nearby him. The bear sniffed the ground and pawed at leaves until there was a snap and the bear cried out. And then he growled angrily at something. Soletus could feel pressure on his hand. He leaned over with Arlwin peered over him as well. Khodi was in a bear trap.
“Is he alright, are you alright,” said the princess horrified, looking between them both.
Soletus stood and planted his staff in front of him. “Stay here. Khodi’s fine, he’s a little angry,” said Soletus.
“I thought he was just a piece of you?”
Soletus inspected the trap. There was a film over the teeth. He pushed the end of his staff between the teeth and stepped on the traps springs. “He has a personality.”
The consort was freed. He lifted his paw and gave it a shape. There was no blood on it as a consort couldn’t bleed. The bear nudged him and continued on searching. He went behind the setup for the crossbow.
“No, it’s mine just. I suppose, an unadulterated form of it. He is unchanged by my experiences. My friend has a mountain lion who is very outwardly friendly and loving, but he can be very reserved when he wants too.”
Arlwin inched forward and unsheathed her sword. “So why does he have a consort who is the exact opposite of him.”
“I said he was reserved, but he’s plenty loving. You’ll find no loyaler of a friend. What made him reserved was his upbringing and being the kind of chanter he is. Or that’s how I see it.”
Khodi then gave him the impression of a hollow tree and a bag. He didn’t like the smell of it.
“He found something,” said Soletus and motioned to her forward. Arlwin hurried to where Khodi was standing at. He pointed like hound to a large tree with a hollow base.
There was indeed a small sack. Soletus wound the drawstrings of the sack around his staff and lifted towards him and laid it gently on the ground. It clanked. Monk and Princess gave each other speculative looks.
The young monk kneeled and undid the bag and peer inside of it. It was full of tube flasks. There were about ten of them in all. He pulled out his handkerchief and took hold of one. He held it too the light. There was a thick greenish liquid inside.
“What is this,” said Arlwin.
“I don’t know. But the cork is sealed with colored wax so poison? My friend might know. ”
The corner of the princess’s mouth dipped. “Then we take the bag. I don’t want to leave it out here. Whatever this is, someone was willing to kill for it.”
Soletus place the flask back down and tided the sack to his staff. “I’ll say, that traps’ teeth had a film on it. It was poisoned. If it was a person, they would die.”
“Let’s go back and show our find to Captain Gryfalcon,” stated the Princess.