The door to Soletus’s room opened, His eyes flew open. What he saw in front of him wasn’t the hearth. Instead, it was the large bedroom window with the curtains still open. Confusion held him in place for a long moment until weight settled near the foot of his bed. He rolled to his back and saw his mother sitting on the corner of his bed. Her hand was outstretched, presenting him with a steaming mug.
“Here, so you don’t catch a cold from sleeping on the floor,” she said.
He took it and felt the cool air on his back and chest. He wasn’t wearing the robe he had on. That had been tossed on the floor. His mother read his confusion.
“You don’t remember getting up, do you? Figures, it took me and your father forever to wake you up,” she told him. “I was ready to leave you there.”
Soletus felt muzzy headed and it took him far too long to think about her words. “Sorry,” he said. “It was warmer out there than in here.”
“I’m not surprised, your father said you dunked yourself in the pond.”
Soletus searched her face, wondering if she got there before the princess had left. He just sipped his tea looking over his mug, waiting for her to supply more details and give himself time for an explanation.
“What’s the matter,” she asked.
“Nothing,” he said quickly.
She narrowed her eyes at him. “Then why do you look as if you were caught doing something bad.”
“You make it sound as if you two had to carry me. I remembered falling asleep on the floor, alone,” he said and kicked himself adding in the “alone.” Could he be more suspicious.
“No, your father helped you up, but you grunted and shuffled you way in bed without a word to the two of us. Your positive you’re okay. Mae told me there was a lot of blood and you started to look ill.”
Oh, that’s why she’s asking, he thought with an internal sigh of relief and said. “Yeah. Don’t worry about me. I feel great actually, relieved,” he told her. “I didn’t fall apart in a crisis. I was worried I would again.”
That was the truth. He had been afraid if something terrible happened, he would become that coward again.
Cordea cupped his face. “You expect too much out of yourself just like your father. It’s okay if you aren’t perfect.”
He nodded, “I know,” and waited to see if she would voice anymore discoveries she made last night. She didn’t and patted his hand.
“Drink you’re tea. Your father wanted me to wake you up and tell you to go to the exercise field. Bring your staff.”
Soletus hadn’t been told that in awhile. He was still a warder. Usually it was because his father wanted to assess how he was doing. It was mostly during the times Master Marth was the hardest on him and when he was doing his most physical growth. Half the time he didn’t know the space around him or his strength. It was never a sparring secession. His father would always defend and correct him how he held his staff or his stances. And then talk about what he needed to do to improve. He didn’t know what he could want now. When he got there, he became more puzzled because his grandfather and Master Yunus was there.
The Arch Monk was standing between his father and Yunus talking to each other. From the furrow between his father’s brow, it was a discussion he didn’t care for. However, when catching sight of his son, the man’s face became solemn. Master Yunus grinned and welcomed him.
“So, you finally decided to join us,” he said.
“Yeah, sorry about being a little late,” said Soletus. He ate before he left.
The Arch Monk then spoke. “You’ve been getting far too use to waking up late with six months of doing nothing.”
“I’m sorry. I only stopped a drass beast and an assassin last night. I must not be too rusty,” he said and ignored his indignation. “You wanted to see me, Papa?”
“Yes, I wanted to explain everything as of late. Yes, I told you I wanted to wait until we got home, but your actions yesterday and Yunus’s insistence has made me bring it up sooner,” said his father.
Soletus felt his stomach sink again.
“The last few days you’ve shown that you are capable of taking on responsibilities meant for those older than you.”
Master Yunus then cut in. “I think this is premature. Look, I’ve gathered a lot on your behavior and I don’t think you’re ready for field work.”
His statement stung him. He didn’t know why it did. He may have had issues early on, but not anymore. Then again, the difficulty went away because he was with Princess Arlwin the entire time and not with others.
“You work fine on your own. Bring others into it and you show the trust you lack. A solo monk isn’t what we need. I think you should switch focus and learn to be with others again. You should become an assistant instructor. Specifically, my assistant,” stated Yunus.
Soletus gave his head a shake because he didn’t think he heard right. “Excuse me?”
“It would be more than that. You would be helping tutor as well as be a liaison for the warders and the junior wardens. Maybe you spread your knowledge for drass beasts to help train better grapplers.”
Soletus tilted his head confused. “I’m a field warden. Sure, I can teach, tutor, and help others, but that’s not what I want to do.”
The barest hint of a smile touched his father’s face.
Master Yunus then said. “It’ll be hard for a first warden to take you on. No one wants a neth warden with trust issues.”
Soletus gripped his staff. “I can’t sit at a desk and teach. I’ll get restless.”
Master Yunus bobbed his head, acknowledging it. “You’ll be allowed to do hands-on-training or whatever you see fit. It’ll be better in the long run because Soletus because, can you name a single neth field warden. There is a reason for it.”
Soletus was going to say all of them stopped because the order was so dead set against them. Instead, he tightened his jaw and feigned ignorance. “I have no idea, Sir.”
“It’s because they don’t remain field wardens,” Yunus said mournfully. “They don’t. Neth males tend to be affected by bad experiences. They cling to them. I know you’ve proven yourself a bit more resilient but, it doesn’t last forever.”
“So you don’t want me to even try? You just want me to give up,” he said in a low voice.
“You’re unbalanced right now,” said Yunus. “The best thing, at least for a while longer, is to devote your time with me. I can teach what you need to know.”
And force me to conform.
Oeric then spoke up. “Or you can do what I suggested.”
“And your suggestion,” asked Soletus.
His father folded his arms behind his back. “I’ve gathered a list of individuals for a small band. This band is going to consist of all young men. Our patrol route is going to along the main road to the east over the river. We will be rotational short and long patrol. On short weeks, we are also going to be first responder to any crisis along with the peaceguards in town. So you’ll be on call, but home every evening. On long patrols, we will be doing three days out, three days back. I want you to be my second.”
Soletus’s jaw sagged. His father didn’t choose just anyone to be in his bands. The man was picky. Most of all, he didn’t trust many people to let them be his second and here he was asking him.
“I know this violates the distance you and I agreed to have. And I am the last person you want to serve under.”
Soletus tried to speak, but he was unable to find words and decided to be stunned longer.
“But I strongly disagree with Master Yunus. Keeping you away from it all isn’t going to help. You need to take a leadership role where you are in different situations so you can learn to make good choices with guidance. Learn to trust others again. I might be known as a tough first warden, but I’m fair. I don’t make decisions without asking opinions for all under me. A first warden is nothing without his band,” he said and then added. “Not to mention you’re strong, smart, fast, and perceptive. I want that and if everyone is so blind and only cares about how you choose to live your life, well that’s their loss, my gain.”
Again, Soletus didn’t know what to say.
Master Yunus then stated. “I think you would rather serve under someone who understood your needs.”
Oeric gave the man a sharp sideways glance. “I think I understand his needs just fine.”
“I don’t mean to doubt your abilities, Oeric, but you’re past suggests otherwise.”
“And I trusted someone who I believed knew better and look what happened. So I’m going to correct that mistake.”
“And that is why I have a problem with you doing this,” said the Arch Monk. “You’re putting yourself right back where you were before.”
“You don’t have to worry. I know I can do it now.” Oeric then unsheathed his whip canes and pointed it at Soletus. ”Fight me.”
The young monk began to believe he didn’t wake up. That he fell asleep and continued on into the surreal. He swallowed nervously thinking about the last time they fought.
Yunus was the first to speak up. “You don’t have to, Lad. If you’re that scared.”
That snapped Soletus out. “Who said anything about being scared?” I’m just uncertain, he reasoned to himself.
Oeric then added. “This is part of the offer.”
“And it’s a terrible one,” said the Arch Monk to his son. “He’s not ready for this at all. Yunus has the best offer.”
Oeric flourished one of his canes and said to Soletus. “Besides, I owe you a fair fight and when have you said no to a challenge?”
Soletus almost agreed with his grandfather. He didn’t think he was ready. He didn’t even know when he was. He never really gave it much thought of that moment other than he never wanted to repeat it. He didn’t want to think of his father as someone brutal. So he avoided it.
“Facing your fears. This was what this trip was about,” explained his father. “I wanted you to see you’re ready. And you can’t deny you aren’t, given last night.”
Soletus chuckled. He knew his father never did anything without a reason. Clearly he “You’re right. I’ve never said no to a challenge,” said Soletus gesturing to the open field.
Oeric flourished the other whip caned. Soletus never questioned his father’s change of weapons even though he was a traditionalist until then. He always used a staff and hand-to-hand. Soletus thought that his father only did it to help teach the huntresses. It was a weapon traditionally used by shield sisters. They required a bit more finesse to use and they weren’t about brute strength. Smashing the weapons against another too hard would shatter them. It was then he realized that was the point. His father wanted to learn control. That was his way of doing it.
His father raised one of the canes up so Soletus could tap his staff against it showing that it was a mutual match. He did so and the both of them took their stances.
“We can start whenever you want to,” said his father.
Soletus took a deep breath and started out with something simple. It came off as timid, but he wanted to test the man in front of him. He started with a jab. His father was quick to respond and swatted it away. The sound of the clap of their weapons made told Soletus how much force his father put behind it. Not very much. In fact, he appeared to be relaxed. Soletus wasn’t staring in the eyes of an angry wolf with his jaws open to engulf him. He wasn’t in the same situation where his only choice was face the onslaught. In fact, the first warden looked bored.
“Oh come on now,” said Oeric, swinging at Soletus’s head and brought his other cane to his shoulder. He parried. “Enough testing. Make this interesting.”
Soletus decided to give him what he wanted. For him and the wood clapping on wood out louder with each strike more frequent. The assault came in the form of someone who was older and more experienced than him. Who surprised him and kept him on his toes going for his weak spots and blind spots. Not to hurt, punish, or kick him down. No, it was a test of skill.
“Come on. Stop tiptoeing, dance,” taunted his father.
Soletus did the way he knew how and they became a whirl of two elves clashing. The sound of their strikes had a beat to it and Soletus followed along it excitedly. However, unlike dancing, there was a winner and a loser. Soletus tried his best to win against his father. And in the end, they locked weapons and Soletus realized his mistake far too late. He let his father get too close to him and the man had one arm free. And in the next moment, he had an elbow in his ribs and was flipped to the ground. His staff was gone and he hurt, but when sparring didn’t? He moaned.
His father tapped his chest with his cane. Blue eyes amused. Not of hint of that wild beast that raged at him the last time.
“Fighting with Briar should make you aware of tricks like that. Not to mention everything I taught you,” he said.
He was right. The young monk groaned. He pushed himself up and found his father’s outstretched hand. The young monk took it letting his father pull him up.
“Am I some someone worthy enough to follow? Respect goes both ways, it has to be earned. You can give me your answer when we get back.”
He nodded. He had something to think about.
Oeric then motioned for him to walk away from the two older men. “Before you go, I want to know, what happened, last night,” he asked. His all-knowing pale gaze sat heavy on him.
“When, a lot happened last night,” he replied.
“Last night I had to perform a mini search for the Princess. I found her on the way back to her room coming out of ours,” he said crossing his arms.
Her stealth skills were clearly not up to task from his father. Soletus took a deep breath and explained.
“Well, she almost cut my head off as she patrolled the halls. I was waterlogged, so she escorted me back to my room. I cleaned up, she made a fire, and we talked after that.”
His father arched an eyebrow at him. “So you brought a young lady back to your room and sat in front of the fire?”
Hearing that from him made Soletus realize how typically customary it sounded. It hurt his soul a little.
“Given the circumstances, that was the logical outcome. She’s a soldier. They get trained in basic survival skills too. Shared body-heat and a fire stabilizes one’s body temperature.”
“Yunus brought concerns to me about you and her to me. Royalty isn’t to be treated like a girl from town.”
“Had she been a girl from town, would you think I would’ve allowed her to drag me around as she had? You know I don’t like bossy females. However, we formed an understanding. And wouldn’t you prefer that than what usually happens when I’m around someone I’m at odds with? I imagine that wouldn’t look good for the Brotherhood.”
Oeric exhaled through his nose. “You sound like me.”
Soletus smirked. “I learned that to become a good warden, one must think about their answers.”
His father massaged his forehead. “The point I’m trying to get across is, don’t get caught alone with young women in a personal space.”
“I was unaware of my being caught,” returned Soletus quickly and bit his tongue. He cleared his throat and amended. “I understand. I should’ve been more thoughtful. However, what trouble can a neth male get into with someone with that in common with them.”
His father’s brow rose. “I was unaware she was neth.”
“Not something she denies, but not something she openly talks about.”
“You can drop that tone now. I’m not mad at you,” he stated.
“Oh,” said Soletus, showing his surprise.
“I don’t want to see you in a situation where you get accused of being inappropriate. Believe me, that’s not something you can easily walk away from as a male. If you are shown to be innocent, you rarely get an apology for being lied about. The most you get is people doubting your innocence. And the stronger and rougher you appear, the worse it can get.”
His father folded his arms behind his back. “Also, everyone petty will make you a target just because they will believe you’re lying about being what you are. I’m certain Brother Hickory told you this, but I want to reiterate it. I know you want to take the opportunity to learn what you can from a kindred spirit, but be smarter about it. You may go on with your day.”
The young monk remained where he was in shock that nothing else was said or done.
His father arched a brow at him. “Is there anything else you need?”
Soletus saluted him with a hand over his heart and retreated. His mind reeled.
Who was that man? It looked like his father. It sounded like his father. But there was none of his attitude there. Then, a thought entered his head. Did his mother know about him and Arlwin? She didn’t act as if she did. Did his father actually not tell her something so he could talk to him first? Actual respect? Then again, his father had been giving him a great deal of it and still wanting to be there for him. He wondered if that desire was built out of the fact his own father, never gave him the respect he wanted. The man had changed. He knew he had, but getting the exact opposite of the reaction he expected still threw him off.
Soletus came to a stop. He didn’t know where to go. He hadn’t been given orders. The princes dismissed him a day ago, so he was free. He wouldn’t have minded seeing here then. Maybe talk about their little experience last night. He enjoyed it overall, but he was questioning himself why he did it. It all made sense last night. He decided not to over-think it. Lyndon always told him he needed to stop thinking all the time. He would let is one go and decided he needed to speak with Kiao about the Queen. The young priestess was likely sleeping so he did what he usually did. Went to the place that he would find her and wait. In that instance it was the Patriarch’s room.
When he arrived, he knocked on the door expecting someone to open it. Instead, he heard Briar shout it was unlocked and he walked in tentatively. She was curled up in a chair staring at the open door of her parent’s bedroom.
“What are you doing,” he asked.
“Watching father,” she said.
Soletus studied the perspective of where she was. There wasn’t much to watch. All he could see was the fabric of the canopy. “Wouldn’t it be easier to watch him in there?”
The young woman heaved her shoulders saying nothing.
“Is he stable?”
“He is,” she said, hugging the cushion. “He was stabbed six times trying to save Aunt Valencia.”
“She is his sister.”
“I can hardly tell. This entire household hates him, they hate me, my mother, and all he does is be docile idiot dod. And now they suddenly they care when he nearly dies.”
“That doesn’t explain why you’re out here.”
“I don’t want to be in there. I shouldn’t be. This shouldn’t have happened. He should’ve saved someone who deserved it! Not a bunch of nasty prissy cocks.”
Soletus wanted to slap her in the head, however, he knew she said those thing because she was upset. Her eyes were pink from crying.
“You don’t like seeing him like that do you,” he said gently.
“I bet you wouldn’t want to see your father with a bunch of holes in him,” she muttered into the cushion she held.
Soletus stroked her head and left for her father’s room. He was surprised to see that someone was in there. Lady Maelyra, of course. She was sleeping on the window seat with a blanket tossed over her. Captain Gyrfalcon was sitting in a chair with his arms crossed and head slumped. Lord Kharis was awake. He was blinking slowly, staring in the direction of the window.
“I knew I needed to bring you,” he said when Soletus got close.
Soletus sat by his feet at the edge of the bed. “How do you feel, Sir?”
“Tired. But I need to stay up because the moment I sleep, I’ll get asked, ‘Kharis, do you want something to drink?’ I’ll say ‘no’ and they give it to me anyway. Same with food but since it’s broth, it might as well be a drink.”
“That’s good Sir. You need to regain your strength.”
He chuckled weakly. “How’s Briar doing?”
The patriarch managed a wry smile. “I’m glad her mood hasn’t changed. I don’t want her depressed.”
“Did you hear what she said?”
“I got the gist of it. If you ever get the opportunity to be a father, know that making your child unhappy is unavoidable,” stated Lord Kharis. His eyelids drooped. “I understand her frustration. Truth is, they have no power over me which is why they are harsh. I serve Dias. In noble society, you serve your family. You see the issue here.”
“And I don’t get mad at them because, I love them. I get disappointed with them. Angry, no. Anger wastes time. I’ve so much to do in such a little amount of…” he said trailing off.
Soletus then heard a snort. Captain Gyrfalcon’s head was now up with his gaze on his younger brother.
“You think he was a priest talking like that,” he said. The man grunted and stretched. “I understand. As an army man, I can’t always do what our sisters wish. They don’t understand. I’m only hard on him because he needs some brains to go with that brave heart of his. I need to get all these kinks out and see what’s going on with that fine lady we found.”
“I can keep an eye on him,” offered Soletus.
“Good lad,” he said rising up and placed a hand on his shoulders. ”Thank you for coming to our aid.”
“No need to thank. That’s what I’m here for, Captain,” he told him inclining his head at him.
Captain Gryfalcon gave him a look of approval. “I expect you to be just as great as your father.”
Soletus was taken aback. He never heard anyone say much of any good about him. However, he bobbed his head in agreement. “My father is a good man.”
The captain nodded solemnly. “And interesting one. I don’t think there’s been a time he didn’t incite something when I was around. At least he didn’t bring the roof down on me this time.” With that, he left. Soletus took his seat and wondered if he was speaking literally or figuratively. He wanted to take it figuratively, but the way he suggested, his father did do such a thing.
Soletus’s vigil lasted for an hour. While he watched, he took the opportunity to rest his eyes but remained alert. When the room door opened, he cracked his eyes open to see Kiao entering and give the Patriarch a visual inspection.
“What are you doing here,” she asked when Soletus became alive again.
“Waiting for you. I need to talk to you about something, but finish up here first,” he said.
Kiao nodded and went to Maelyra and woke her up. The woman rubbed her face and decided that she would take Soletus’s seat to be by her husband.
He and Kiao went outside to be in the sun. They went to the where they had eaten lunch with the queen.
“Is this about why you ran off last night,” Kiao asked.
“Good guess,” he said and told her about what happened.
Kiao took a deep breath and started to explain. “First off, force of voice can be used in other ways other than just projecting will. The Queen can project a song written in Melodic. You can see what she sings. It’s a rare ability and one she’s skilled in. Last night the song she was singing was about a woman saying goodbye to a dead love. That is what we experienced. It’s why the Sisterhood is at odds with the performing arts in Summerset. They don’t believe a chanter’s voice should be used in that manner.”
“Okay, I didn’t see that at all.”
“I don’t know how she did that. Something that happened to you is what happens when someone doesn’t know what they were doing. She did it on purpose. That song, isn’t one a performer would start off with. That’s a mid-performance song. I suspect she’s an insight chanter as she would’ve never gotten to it last night. Furthermore, she did a lot of gesturing in our direction. Which I guess was you.”
“I didn’t notice. The song caught me right off,” he said.
“That shows how potent of a chanter she is. Mien compared her to a tower bell. And she was able to summon the dead to the chorus of the world,” she said sounding impressed and uneasy. “I wonder who taught her. Anyway, are you okay? Hearing the chorus of the world can be overwhelming for a trained chanter sometimes.”
He nodded. “I’m not envious of Mien at all. That nearly crippled me.”
“It puts things in perspective doesn’t it when he says, the world is being noisy,” she said and stared at him. “Are you sure? You also dove into the pond. I felt that water, it was frigid.”
“I’m okay, not a bit of chill in my chest,” he assured with a grin.
She still studied him. “I’m surprised. You’re in a good mood given what happened.”
“What else am I supposed to be? It was a strange experience, not a bad thing,” he said. “It feels as if I can forgive myself.”
That was what Brother Hickory wanted him to do. Forgive himself and move forward. He could not and he had a decision to make on where he wanted to go now.