The young elf wasn’t in good shape. He wobbled and then fell back down. When Soletus started to reach for him Espen jerked away.
“Git,” he slurred. “I don’t need no help.”
Part of the young monk was happy to oblige and leave him there. But he lingered. Espen had been kicked, beaten in the face as his nose was bloodied, his left eye was puffy and clearly was going to be blackened, and it didn’t help he spat out blood.
Soletus crossed his arms. “In good conscious, I can’t leave you here looking a fine mess. Get yourself to the infirmary.”
“I’ll go. Not with you,” he said, struggling to his feet again. Soletus parted to the side and gestured for him to go. Espen limped passed him, but not before he gave him a dirty look. Soletus trailed him nonchalantly. When Epsen realized it he snarled. “Why are you following me?”
“We have the same destination. Hurry up now,” he said, making shooing motions with his hand. “I’m tied of avoiding stepping on the blood dripping from your nose.”
“Priss,” hissed Espen.
That was the name a few of the warders and young wardens have given Soletus to get under his skin early on. Hearing Espen say it didn’t so much as make him angry, instead it amused him.
“Takes one to know one,” he returned with a chuckle.
Espen quickened his hobbling and his ears turned red.
As expected when they entered, Kiao was appalled by Espen’s current state and tucked him in a private room. Lionel was the one to treat him. Espen wouldn’t let her touch him. He got red in the face. Soletus figured he felt justified at slinging stones at young men, however chunking rocks at a young woman was a different story. Mien couldn’t be sent in because he was Kiao’s sweetheart. During the farm boy’s first months in the order, the young chanter would give him long intense looks of displeasure when he was in sight. It was very effective in nonverbally voicing his opinion of him.
Soletus lingered to see if Espen would be okay. While he waited, Mien chatted with him. “You should take advantage of him being here. You can easily have a private conversation with him.”
Soletus heaved his shoulders. “My talking to him depends on if he wants to continue being obstinate.”
Espen’s attitude didn’t change, in fact it got worse. He insistently claimed he didn’t need to be there overnight. Barely accepted any healing. Wanted them stop checking in on him. He was trying his best to act tough and it didn’t go far. The last time he shouted at Lionel to go away and Kiao came into the room and fussed at him. He was nothing but a series of “Yes Ma’ma”’s after that. She did ask him who beat him up however, he wouldn’t reveal the culprits. Soletus hadn’t gotten a good look at their faces. If he went in the dorms he could at least pick two of them out. However, he took his new found second warden powers and went to Enforcer Icus about it. That was one thing Soletus felt okay with talking to the enforcer about. He took a slightly different approach to fighting than Marth did. He gave warnings and other means of punishment. Corporal punishment was something he disliked.
Stepping into Enforcer Icus’s office was very interesting to Soletus. It lacked any sort of decorations and was more equiped for utility and efficiency. Nothing of sentimental value on his desk. Even his father kept a little gifts from Saedee on his. There was no signs of that wife or daughter of his. Soletus had met the two of them and spoke to his daughter. They were the same age, but she didn’t live in town. His wife lived on her families lands going towards Arbortown where they all lived together and grew flax for linen. Icus cited the area was safe there and she liked open spaces than residing in a town. His daughter didn’t share that sentiment and would be moving to be closer to him.
“I’ll have a little chat with Espen, again. He’s a reputation for being an instigator. A group of boys attacking him isn’t a surprise. He was likely the one who started it,” he told him.
Soletus wondered if he knew why.
Icus stated abruptly. “Yunus spoke to him.”
“I know,” said Soletus. “I want to speak with him. But I’ll allow the two of you to say you’re peace.”
The older neth warden went about gathering his things to step out. “I’m not speaking with him on those matters. That is Yunus’s job and yours.”
“So you’re not going too?”
“No. According to Yunus, my gifts aren’t in advocacy for our kind. He blames your rebellion on me.”
He didn’t have a gift with dealing with people. He wasn’t reassuring or really anything for that matter. Soletus was unsure why his grandfather chose him to be his successor. “Good, I don’t have to worry about you being in my way.”
Icus went to his door and opened it. “Though, you may want to tread carefully. Not everyone can walk the path your walking. You are blessed to have the support of First Warden Oeric. Not everyone does.”
That was a hint. It was the prospect he was afraid of. Espen was part of a farming family and they were angry about the Patriarch’s decision to force Espen in the order a punishment. They protested to the point they exhausted themselves and anyone who would listen. Espen shared their sentiment and tried to be as taxing and obstinate of an initiate as he could be. He refused to improve his reading, mouthed off at authority, and was either spiteful or lazy when fighting. Something changed. Soletus didn’t know what, but he started to comply. Now he was a member of the order and one Soletus was discovering he knew nothing about. What he did knowwas that not having one family member who didn’t understand hurt. To have all of them, that was another story. It was that reason of not having family support, that he decided that he would try to speak with him. He waited a day.
Soletus entered the infirmary and saw Espen in bed on entering and there was a group of 4 warders around him.
“I don’t care what he says,” he said proudly. “He’s a lying sack of crap. I whooped ’im good,” he said. “He’s the one who was the coward and called a bunch of his friends over to him to help. If not he would be here not me.”
Soletus arched his eye brow in amusement. That wasn’t what happened from what he saw. The boys were too caught up in Espen’s bravado to even question him if it was truth.
The tallest among them then punched his fist into his palm. “Then we’ll give them a fair fight.”
Espen’s started to laughing and then his broad smile vanished when he caught sight of Soletus. He walked noiselessly to stand behind the warder doing the talking.
“How about it fellas? Get them outside of the gates when they’re on the way too the market, ya? I know the short cuts that Bray and his gang take all the time,” he said.
Soletus cleared his throat and the warders went stiff. “Plan your ambushes in private. Not in the infirmary.”
The tall warder spun around and stood face to face with him.
“Second Warden Soletus,” he greeted in a nervous salute. “Sir, you found me instead of me finding you. I want to talk to you.”
“I’m Rusk, Tyrus told me to talk with you.”
Soletus took a good look at him. There was a slight curl to his hair and that when he noticed his ears didn’t taper to a long point. They barely had a point and his eyes were a deep brownish amber. He was an half-elf. Of course Tyrus knew him.
“Greetings, Rusk, what can I do for you other than persuade you not to get into fights.”
“I want to be a grappler. Master Tyr said I needed to talk to another grappler and Tyrus told me to speak with you if I wanted a chance of surviving the training.”
Soletus found it interesting that he did. “And you have no trouble with me teaching you?”
“Why would I? I mean look at you,” he said, slapping Soletus’s shoulder. “Who wouldn’t want to be taught by a legend?”
Soletus chuckled. “I wouldn’t consider myself a legend.”
Espen rolled his eyes.
“Why not,” said another boy. “You’re the youngest second warden they got. And I heard you single-handedly wrestled a drass beast and an assassin at the same time.”
Soletus was caught off guard at that statement. He had never been seen as someone to admire. “That’s not how that happened, but it felt like it,” he said unsure what he felt about it.
“And Sister Kiao was telling us how you carried her for ten miles after she was attacked by a drass beast,” spoke another.
He looked across the infirmary and found his friend with a wide grin on her face as she swept the floor. Slight exaggeration.”
“Also, you survived a drass beast attack and are a grappler,” said Rusk wrapping his arms around his shoulder. “See legend.”
Soletus stared at the friendly young man and everyone around him. He was always expecting people laughing at him and looking down on him that he never even considered the opposite. In an attempt to not be bashful and awkward, he patted Rusk on the back. “Well, I have done some things that many my age haven’t. Anyway, if you want me to help you survive, meet me in the training field an hour before evening meal. Bring you’re heavy staff.”
The warder beamed. “Excellent!” and then turned Soletus around so his back was facing Espen. “Also talk to him. He’s being stupid. Claims that being you know what makes him weak.”
“Rusk,” snarled Espen.
Soletus ignored him. “Okay.”
“Look, I know what he is,” said Rusk not keeping his voice down any longer. “Everyone here knows it. He just won’t admit and is being a big chicken about it. I don’t want him to be all afraid. As his friend, I think he needs to be like you.”
“Friend, not anymore,” snapped Espen.
Soletus looked at the group of boys. “How about you all find something productive to do. No fights on the grounds. I don’t care about shortcuts if I don’t see it.”
Rusk gave him a curt nod and the warders left leaving Espen alone. Soletus hooked a chair with his foot, and sat in it backwards, resting his arms on the backrest.
“Greetings, Farm Boy,” he said.
Espen glowered at him and remained silent.
“Oh I get the silent treatment now. Fine, it’ll be easier for me to talk. To start off, what you did to Kiao when we met, is water under a bridge. I don’t care. What I’m here for is to talk about you know what. Sure talking to the likes of Yunus seems like help, especially if he’s been teaching you the ways of shielding yourself, but it doesn’t change what you are.”
Espen’s face became red. “Shove off.”
“Trying to act tough can’t hide it. You’re over-compensating. Stop it.”
“Why should I listen to a weak priss like you,” he snapped.
“Am I weak now? A grappler, being weak. If I’m so weak, why am I wearing a second warden’s uniform? I can out run, out lift, out fight, out swim, and out climb you any day. I’ll even do so looking simply marvelous,” he said, flicking his hair.
Espen face colored even more.
“Or are you talking about my behavior. Because I’m friendly, like hugs, and I might cry a little bit. Being a feeling individual doesn’t make you weak. You know what does, bowing to fear and letting it control you. Letting it eat you until you trap yourself. Not asking for help when you need it. Sure, there are things you can do alone, but not everything. I want to help you.”
“I don’t need you’re help,” he muttered.
“Fine, my door is opened. If you need someone to talk too, I’m here. I’ve customary friends and I love them but, sometimes I need to talk to someone with my mindset. That’s been Brother Hickory, but I would like someone my age.”
Espen’s round eyes went wide before then, looked down. He tightened his hold on his blankets saying nothing. Soletus stood to leave. It was then, he blurted out a question.
“So is it true your Pa just lets you alone? He seems the type to say something.”
Soletus thought about what to say in regards to his father. He needed the right words. “That’s because he knows what it’s like being different. He’s compassionate.”
“Yunus told me he was failing you. Said he was letting you live life the hard way. That all you have to do is choose a female you trust and you can live a good life without anyone knowing. All you have to do is say you were wrong.”
A female he could trust? He didn’t know who that could be. Then Arlwin appeared in his mind. Her experiences, they mimicked his in a way and he liked their time spent together. If there had to be someone, they would have to be just like her. Someone with their own life far away. They needed their own goals and life with no expectation other than what he could offer. That would be his brand of care and love. Anything beyond that was something he couldn’t envision.
“It won’t work. I know myself too well. I like my duty and I want the freedom to pursue what I want. And most of all, I don’t want to live a lie. I want to do what I need to do. And isn’t that what you want?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“Okay, what do you want to do duty wise? You need to take the trials right? You should become a field warden.”
“Yunus claimed I wouldn’t make a good field warden, ’cause, you know. He said take the trials, but apply as a peaceguard. I get paid a good wage. I don’t see what the problem with that. I’ll go home every day and I can help my family. They need me there too. That’s why I hadn’t taken the trials. I don’t want to be in a band the keeps me from helping my folks. That’ll make me trouble for them and I don’t want be more.”
Soletus bobbed his head and then asked. “What if I can get you in my band. It might be a long shot because you need to be better than you are. You need to be exemplary.”
He gave him a questioning look. “For just your band?”
“I’ve seen you fight, you’re good in my opinion. However, my father, First Warden Oeric is critical. He’s always a judge for a reason. He’s an eye for fighters and wants young men who know how to survive and listen. You can’t be stupid, you need to be at you’re best. In exchange, you’ll be home everyday most weeks except a six day long patrol. Three days out, three days back. If you need to help with harvesting or whatever, you can ask for time off easily. If that’s what you want.”
“I’ll think about it,” he answered.
“That’s all I ask.” The young monk stood again. Espen looked at his hands. He didn’t know if Espen would consider his words. All it mattered was the door was now opened.
He then stopped him again saying. “How do you not feel embarrassed?”
Soletus spun around. “About?”
“When I stopped thinking there was something wrong with me. I learned the hard way that living a lie has consequences. Now, I don’t want to live a lie. I’m not hurting anyone or myself with the truth.”
With that, Soletus finally left.