Soletus decided to search for Master Yunus. He found the older warden with their men not far from where he last spotted them. On his arrival, Yunus spotted him and continued to speak.
“We will make an exchange soon with Tyr and his band. We will rest and eat early before we’ll take up a second watch at dinner,” he said. “This will be the rotation we will follow until we leave. Just a few days longer brothers.”
They all looked as if they couldn’t wait for everything to be over. Soletus was certain they probably wanted to just relax. He was happy to be moving around.
“And Second Warden, I’m surprised you’re able to join us. I take it her royal highness doesn’t need you presently,” he asked.
“I’m freed. I can help patrol around,” he told him.
“The rest of you are dismissed,” said Yunus shooing them away. “How about you walk with me. I don’t have anything specific for you, so you can go where you see fit after we talk. I want to know everything that has happened seeing as you are in the center of the action.”
They walked down the pathway that he and Arlwin had done so earlier. He told him a quick version of what had occurred over the last couple of days. Yunus listened carefully and asked a strange question when he was finished.
“The Princess and you have been alone the entire time like today?”
Soletus nodded. “As I said, I was her replacement shield.”
Yunus stopped walking. “Honestly, I couldn’t tell when I saw the two of you today. You need to stop being so friendly.”
Soletus became bewildered. “What are you talking about?”
“I watched the two of you walking around. Walking beside her, holding her hand to lead her someplace and having what appeared to be a conversation. All of that is very inappropriate!”
Soletus became even more perplexed. “She ordered me to walk beside her and if she thought I was being inappropriate, believe me, she has no issues with voicing her displeasure.”
Yunus became severe. “Even if she wanted all of that, you shouldn’t be so receptive of it. You really need to watch yourself around customary females. They may interpret your actions differently than what you believe your actions to be,” he said.
Soletus forgot. He didn’t know that she was neth. “No need to worry about that. She’s very objective and focused on what is happening here. My present was to allow her the freedom investigating as she pleased.”
Yunus still didn’t look very happy. “So why did the two of you talk alone. You were sitting down on the ground and she was standing. That appeared to be far too casual for just the simple arrangement of watching her.”
So, he saw that, noted Soletus. “She’s been very curious about the order, neth males, and myself to expand her knowledge.”
That didn’t lift the man’s disenchantment. “Honestly, there is a lot for you to learn. One, there always needs to be a distance between you and someone of a higher class. I’m certain that Lady Briar’s casualness and the Patriach is the reason why you’re unable to see the what the problem is. However, don’t get too close to a noble. Especially someone like her.”
Instead of arguing further, Soletus just nodded. “Yes Sir.”
“I’m serious. Many a noble women will get a common man in trouble just because she knows the right things to say. Being neth doesn’t protect you from such accusations. And I know in your eyes, you might not see many differences in males and females but society does. You’ll be automatically seen as a perpetrator in the eyes of her house. And you don’t want a noble house focused on you.”
Soletus nodded. Not only did Yunus annoy him, but he was slightly annoyed at himself for not keeping that in mind. Then again, how could he. The young woman, albeit ever questioning and opinionated was, likable. He would go as far to say admirable if he knew more about her. He didn’t know much about her as he rarely got a chance to ask her anything about herself. In fact, he didn’t think he ever did. However, from her actions and her word, he liked her. Him telling Yunus that would’ve probably added more to the lecture.
The young monk gave his head a shake. There was no need to make life more complicated than it was. why make something so simply as take someones hand complex. He meant nothing by it other than he took her hand. In fact, she was the one who touched his hand first. He was wondering how customaries went about their lives. It was clear he needed the insight of someone customary. That meant he was going to try to find either Mien or Kiao. They were his touchstones.
He searched for Mien. The young chanter wasn’t with Yunus and the men. He knew that Mien would be helping them, but where, he wasn’t sure. Instead of patrolling around. He found Mien on the other side of the estate closest to the main road. He stood under a tree watching the back of the house. The young monk called to him, however he didn’t respond. His head was fixed forward. Soletus searched to see if Nimbus was in the distance speaking to him. However, he didn’t see the older battle chanter was no where in sight. On closer inspection, the young chanter’s irises were a hot gold without a hint of green in them. His pupils were barely visible. He was engaging his abilities in something strenuous.
The young monk wasn’t sure what to do. Any sort of touch would startle his friend. And one didn’t knock a chanter out of a trance abruptly. He could wait or slowly help him to come out of it. Soletus tested to see how deep Mien’s concentration was and snapped his finger in front of his eyes. He got no response.
“Mien,” he said. “Mientheoderic!”
That got him a facial tick. Soletus then put his hand on his shoulder and squeezed it. “Mientheoderic, I need to speak with you. Can you get yourself out.”
Mien’s eyelids drooped and he leaned forward. Soletus thought he was about to faint, but he guided himself down to the ground on his knees and hands.
Soletus squatted at his side. “Are you alright?”
Mien waved him away and he sat on the ground. He scooted back until his back was against the tree. He breathed heavily and his eyes weren’t still their normal color. Green was seeping back in as the light was dimming. Soletus waited for his friend to settling down. When he finally spoke, he said, “Owww.”
“What where you doing,” he asked.
“I was searching for a drass beast. I think it’s the same one I felt the other night. And like before, I couldn’t pinpoint it it. I tried again now and I don’t where it’s at. It’s stationary and at a distance, just enough to touching my mind, but it fades. It could be a dying drass beast, I don’t know.”
“Is that it?”
“Your eyes looked like flames.”
He massaged the back of his neck. “You know my abilities have been different since my edict and it concerns me. I’m getting build-up.”
“And that is…”
“It’s like you’ve been cooped up indoors too long and you feel restless? That’s the way I feel and I keep having moments where I need to exercise my abilities. Since we’ve been here, I’ve not done a whole lot. So I’ve been trying to see how much build up I get and what I can do to get rid of it.”
“So what were you doing just then.”
He nodded. “I thought stretching my abilities to search for it should burn some off. It’s not as draining as I thought. It is an excellent way to get a headache. Anyway, why aren’t you with your princess.”
Soletus frowned. “She’s not my princess.”
A smirk lifted the young chanter’s face. “But she does seem to have taken a liking to you. So…”
Soletus ignored his teasing and got down to business. “Is it a problem for a noble such as her to take a liking to me?”
Mien tilted his head back and forth in indecision. “Maybe. She’s not only a member of a major house, but is part of the ruling family. She’s held by their rules as well as the rules of nobility. And there are many unspoken rules on top of that. She will have to bend to them no matter who you are. If someone of higher status in her house takes offense to you, then she has to agree with them for the most part. Nobles don’t tend to go against the establishment. Only the fearless commit social suicide.”
“Am I in danger of this happening to me?”
“I doubt they see you as a threat because if you’ve not noticed…”
“She’s neth. I know, she told me.”
Mien exhaled in relief. “Good, because I didn’t know until I hear her speaking the other day. It’s not well-known. I suppose if she wasn’t and you weren’t, someone would be watching you. The Queen, likely not. She lets Princess Arlwin do what she pleases. The King, well lets be happy he isn’t here. However, I would worry about Princess Silva.”
“Because she’s young and in a position of power. She’ll quickly use a proverbial hammer over someones head for doing something she finds offensive.”
Soletus took note of that and then went to his second point he wanted to speak about. “Also, is holding another’s hand that significant among customaries? I never think anything of holding another’s hand except maybe with another male. It’s not something they like so it’s always forearm. Females, they typically don’t mind me taking their hand. Grabbing them by the forearm seems inappropriate.”
“Hand-holding signifies familiarity and is a sign of acceptance. Not only that, but it could mean that the two holding hands are fond of one another, especially if the two are walking side-by-side.”
“Okay, well Yunus seemed to think my holding Princess Arlwin’s hand to lead her in a direction was inappropriate. He also assumes she’s customary and claims that I should keep a distance from nobility.”
“He’s not wrong. You experienced how friendly Briar’s cousins are. Some aren’t that blatant with how the feel about the common folk. And even a friendly noble will have a relative spiteful relative. You can’t be too trustful and you need to watch you back.”
“She’s not like that. She too much like me.”
“Then if she’s as honest as you are, then she’s probably out of tune with customary social nuances just as you are.”
“I’m not out of tune!”
Mien then wore a wicked smile. “Really, then why are you asking me all of this?”
Soletus crossed his arms. “I’m just making sure I have an understanding of why Yunus said the things he did. All I got from this is that people complicate things to much.”
“Agreed,” said Mien with a nod.
Soletus wished it wasn’t that way. He then thought about what Arlwin had told him about changing things. In a way, he was already on that path of trying to change things for himself. He didn’t want to conform. He didn’t want a complicated life. Brother Hickory’s way was better for him and was told expect push back from others. Even the priest received a little pressure to conform when he took over the chapel. However, they backed off because as nice and kind Brother Hickory was, he didn’t budge. Soletus respected him on that and made him his example and wished others would as well. And if others would follow his example, changing the Arch Monk’s perspective wouldn’t be hard. It would improve the quality of life for other young monks like him. In fact, there was another like he that could help. In fact, maybe ally with him.
“Hey Mien, I learned there’s another neth monk around my age. I know it’s something you would sense, but wouldn’t say anything about.”
The young chanter rubbed the back his neck. “I have. Do you remember that farm boy who attacked you and Kiao and actually stayed in the Brotherhood?”
Soletus shoulders sagged. “Noooo, why,” he cried. What he wanted seemed impossible now.
Mien’s lips widened with a wry smile. “Dias has a sense of humor, it seems.”
“But he avoids me like I’ve lice to the point I don’t even remember his name.”
“It’s Espen. Why do you want to know who it is?”
“I was thinking it’ll be in my best interest to speak to him. Ally with him if you will.”
Mien let out a bark of laughter. “You’re going to have to catch him to do that.”
“Great,” muttered Soletus.
He didn’t know if he could become allies with him. He didn’t like him. He would have to learn to get over himself and give him a chance. Then again, he might not even realize he was even neth yet. He should know by that point. He was a farm kid. Animals made you more aware of aspects of life from what he was told. But there was a chance he he didn’t and it wasn’t Soletus’s right to tell him. That could do more harm than good. And if he already figured it out, would he accept it or struggle with it? What if he didn’t want to talk to Brother Hickory? He was starting to see why Brother Hickory didn’t confront him.
Mien stood to his feet and stretched. “I’m going to actually walk around now and patrol. I’m assume you’re invited to listen to the Queen sing this evening?”
Soletus bobbed his head. “Arch Monk’s grandson and all.”
He was looking forward to it. He should have asked the Princess about her mother. He knew the Queen didn’t come from noble blood. In fact, she was a performers daughter. One of very high standing and would perform for the all the major houses and the ruling houses. It was there at one of the performances that the king, who was a general at the time, saw her and couldn’t forget her. Or that’s how the story went and what a lot of young common women liked to tell. They envisioned one day of rising through the ranks, impressing a noble. It was a romantic thought that Soletus didn’t understand. The likelihood of that happening was slim.
Time passed by quickly to the afternoon when it was time to prepare for dinner. Soletus took his time to get properly dressed. He would do the same the following day as it was the night of the dance. He decided he would look the way he wanted to. That meant tail combed out to a long mane. He did give his hair a trim as it had become uneven and too long. He liked it long, but not sitting on it. He brought it back up to the beginning of the small of his back.
When he finished preening himself, he walked out to see his father pinning up his mother’s hair up while chiding her.
“Stop touching it! It was fine before,” he told her glancing into the stand mirror in front of them and then back down at her head.
“But the Queen is singing tonight and one doesn’t go to a concert looking like a hen,” she said.
“You never look like a hen, Mama,” said Soletus. Though she might’ve acted like one and that was the thought in his head as he stood behind her.
She looked at him through the mirror and narrowed her eyes at him. “I see that smirk,” she said.
“What smirk,” he said, beaming innocently.
Oeric gave him a glare through the mirror the did nothing but made him show his teeth. The older monk told his wife.“There. I’ll cut your hand off if you move that pin again.”
His mother reached for it and he smack her hand. “No.”
“It’s crooked,” she moaned.
“Nitpick, it’s supposed to be at a diagonal so it can’t be crooked,” he said, turning to Soletus and taking a step back looking him over. He pointed to his head. “Your grandfather is going to complain.”
“He’ll have to learn to get over it. I like it this way,” stated the young monk.
Cordea turned around and adjusted his collar. “I like it. If anything, it makes you look dignified.”
Someone knocked at the door.
“Come in,” they all said unison.
Briar walked in. She was wearing a very green gown with wide bell-sleeved that engulfed her entire arm and hands. She also wore a deep frown.
Soletus looked her over and let out a snort. “You look pleased.”
“I hate this dress. My aunt thought would look good on me. It doesn’t. She only did it because she doesn’t think my arms and hands are ladylike enough.”
“You should tell her you’re a lady of combat and they suit you,” he told her. He knew she was having a terrible time of it and he couldn’t be with her like he planned.
“Your flattering me feels wrong,” she said and grinned. “But don’t ever stop doing so.”
Soletus walked up to her and held out his elbow. “Sorry. My flattery is only for the evening.”
Everything went a lot like the last dinner he attended, except nothing happened. He let all the older adults do the talking. He thought he was going to get through dinner unaddressed. However, he knew there were eyes on him. His grandfather was one of them. He didn’t speak until pleasantries and talk had quieted down.
“Soletus,” he said.
He regarded him.
“Is there any reason behind your choice of appearance this evening?”
“Well, you told me to do something about my braid,” returned Soletus.
The Arch Monk became annoyed, but before he could retort, the Patriarch cut in.
“I think you look marvelous. It’s made you a handsome fiend and put the rest of us to shame,” his voice was pleasant, but his gaze held warning. The compliment was sincere. Soletus thanked him for both it and stamping out his grandfather’s criticism.
Dinner went to dessert and afterwards, everyone traveled towards the back of the estate to the amphitheater. The walkway was lined and the entire estate grounds were decorated with round lanterns. The were green and yellow for spring. The Princess caught him and Briar and whisked them away to sit with her. Mien and Kiao were already there with Nimbus.
“Chanters get special seating,” said Kiao when they arrived.
“And anyone I deem worthy,” stated the Princess.
Briar then leaned into him. “She’s making a statement and one I don’t mind.”
She gestured to her cousin Via who looked green with envy. Veshner didn’t look pleased as well. Soletus turned away deciding he didn’t want to amplify their displeasure of him and focused around him instead The stage was decorated in more spring objects. And arch was placed in the center of the stage decorated with white spring lilies and ribbons. Round lanterns hung on strings around the arch were frosted white. It was there Queen Nethera would stand. She sashayed out in a gown that the color of the night sky with silver trim and lace.
“Odd, she’s not in house colors,” muttered Briar.
Kiao leaned towards her. “That’s because the queen likes dark blue and silver. My mother designed that dress.”
“Correct,” said the Princess. “That’s her favorite dress.”
The Queen then opened her arms to them. It looked like she was unfurling a pair of wings full of stars.
“Greetings sisters and brothers. It is a glorious night to sing,” she said her voice reaching their ears, but it didn’t sound as if it was raised at all. She projected her voice as if she were standing right in front of them.
There was a round of hearty applause. Soletus was certain the loudest were those in the Brotherhood. That included his friends around him and himself. It was always exciting to listen to a chanter sing.
“I don’t get to travel a lot, especially this side country. However, when I do, I always sing for those around me. For Dias, gave us chanters the greatest gift. He gave us the ability to reach others through voice. And I do so with song. What to sing? What to sing,” she said look out at the crowd sweeping her arms out. “What song shall I start weaving for you tonight. What tale should I tell. Should I entertain or should I make you feel. How about both?”
A chorus rose up from the crowd, saying yes. Most of them were masculine voices.
“Such a vocal crowd,” beamed the Queen. “I know a grand song in Melodic, something beautiful and sweet that goes a lot like this,”
Out of her mouth came three haunting notes that sent a shiver down Soletus’s spine. The wind stirred his hair and suddenly it was like he was no longer awake. However, it didn’t worry him as the song the queen sang was captivating. It was unfamiliar. He didn’t even understand what she was saying. However, she stretched her hand to sky as if she was holding it up to someone reaching out of them wanting them to take hold of her outstretched hand. There was sadness, a lamenting in her voice. However, there was hope a brightness there. There was the living. And it was then he thought of Lyndon.
He remembered his cousin crouching down with his arm outstretched. Soletus took him by the wrist and then it happened. It happened so quickly. He wanted nothing more than to pull his cousin down. Or shout at him to stay in the doorway he and Mien were crouched in. That he should not have been so afraid to speak despite it all. And he was left alive to deal with that mistake. It was his fault. The world around him became distant. The queen sounded very far away. Even his body felt displaced. He was still sitting somewhere bathed in lantern light. The wind stirred again. He felt pressure on his shoulder, as if someone hand gripped them.
Seriously, you’re the only one blaming yourself, cousin, said Lyndon.