Weeks passed without Soletus speaking to Espen again. There was a bit of improvement in that he didn’t try to hide from him, but didn’t go out of his way to say anything to him either. Soletus gave up on the thought that the two of them would be allies. He went on with his life establishing a routine that left him busy most days with very little free time to himself. He preferred it that way, because he was active. However, his father always pressed him to take breaks citing, that youth gave him an abundance of energy but, duty wasn’t everything.
Soletus decided that he needed a free day completely to himself. His plans were to spend it in his room, meditate and pray a little. In the evening, while many young men went out, he often would just go home and be with family. He could spend it with Kiao or Mien if they weren’t busy. However, he was feeling generous and leave the two of them alone together. He decided to walk around a bit and was going down the corridor and then stopped outside the boys’ dorm’s bulletin board. It was a mess.
When he was a senior warder, he kept it clean. Notices were always posted newest to oldest, currently they were haphazardly placed. Even the rooster board hadn’t been kept cleaned. The slate was covered in chalk residue causing the black slate to appear gray. He leaned into the entrance of the dorms ready to shout for someone to find the senior warder when someone behind him stated, “What are you doing tonight?”
Soletus jerked and slowly turned his body around and was greeted by Espen. He wondered where he had manifested from. “Excuse me?”
“You deaf? I wanna know what you’re doing tonight,” he said.
“Nothing special,” he said.
Espen leaned against the wall. “So nothing thing. Would you rather come to the tavern with me instead? You don’t have too. I’m just offering, you know if you wanted to talk to someone not normal.”
Soletus had to control himself for not laughing at his wording. It didn’t stop the grin spreading on his face. “I guess I feel the urge to talk,” he said.
“You don’t have to if you don’t want too,” he repeated frowning.
“I do,” said Soletus. He was curious with what Espen wanted to speak about.
They went to the tavern that most young elves preferred in town called the Tin Spoon. When Soletus walked in, it was crowded as usual with a bearable din. Not a lot of strong drinks were served there. Young elves could be rowdy enough without it. What attracted the crowd were the seasonal chill ciders and savory stuffed flat bread. Soletus got blackberry cider whatever flatbread they had ready to go. Espen did the same. They selected a table in a well lit corner as the lighting in the place was bright and warm even with all the windows open. It was stuffy and packed tavern. It was likely worse upstairs, but that is where everyone would take their sweethearts. However, it was just a place of friendship, conversation, and a place to wind down after a week of training or a hard patrol.
Soletus wasn’t a frequent visitor and so people noticed him as he walked in and ordered his drink and food. When they sat their were eyes still on him.
“You attract so much attention,” muttered Espen.
“Unavoidable when you’re so tall,” he said.
“Unavoidable when you have a mane like a pretty pony,” Espen retorted.
“Tits,” he muttered. “Are you this way with everyone?”
Soletus leaned forward. “No, you’re just special.”
Espen’s face turned red.
“Sorry,” he said leaning back. “So why are we here. Nice looking fellows normally don’t take me out to the tavern.”
“I can see why,” returned Espen, and he scooted his chair back.
Soletus sobered and pointed to the chair. “Sit down. I’ll stop.” Espen lowered himself back down. “In all seriousness, none of my friends come here often. Too crowded in Mien’s opinion. We always go someplace quiet.”
“You prefer that?”
“Nah, I’m good anywhere. However, why here of all the places to talk.”
Espen shrugged. “It’s not a real private thing I want to talk about. I got into with my brother. Everyone who knows me know we bash heads like two bulls. He always has to be right, and he didn’t like you’re suggestion.”
“Yeah, he doesn’t like the order. None of my family do.”
“Because of Kiao,” he questioned wondering how long they were going to hold a grudge over something that couldn’t be helped. He knew chanters, as powerful as they could be, they weren’t gods. They can’t do it all. When an elf is called they are called. He knew that like anyone who lost a family member. However, Espen shook his head.
“That was just another cup in a pitcher filled over time. They never liked the other and their hate got worse when my parents were killed by a beastie. I was too young to really remember it. But my brother, never got over it, so no one else did. They always bad-mouthed the order, but aren’t afraid to take advantage of it.”
“Oh,” said Soleus. It didn’t surprise him. “That’s not uncommon. Comes with the territory of service. You can never be good enough, but they’ll use you when it’s convenient. There are full towns that hate us, but they are the firsts to come crying when something happens.”
He nodded. “I guess I was like that, but I see how it really is, I like the thought of serving. I want to get out there. At least it’s better than farming,” he said. “It’s hard work in the fields. Not that being a field warden is any better. But it’s just feels better.”
Soletus sipped his cider and started pulling pieces of the large flat bread between them. “So if they don’t like us, how you convince them to let you finish you’re training?”
He spun his drink on the table. “I told them about the coin you get. They like that ’cause, I would be here for harvesting. But when I told them about how field wardens get paid more than peaceguards, my brother said no, and what he says, goes.”
“I mean I can talk to them or have another warden to if that helps.”
“Nope,” he said quickly. “Don’t bother. Heck, there is no reason to worry about them finding out about you know what. I can do what I want now,” he said taking a long drink.
Soletus’s brow furrowed. “Did they kick you out?”
“Nah, I walked out,” he said with proud cocky grin.
Soletus frowned in disbelief.
Espen gave him a dismissive shrug. “It’s not a big deal. Maybe this time he’ll mean it. He’s not apologized yet like he usually does and in the same breath to remind me to help him with something on the farm. I’m tired of it.”
Soletus didn’t understand how he could be so matter-of-fact about it. “So you’re okay with this.”
“We’ve done this song and dance before. Just one of the things I put up with like they think I’m better than them and look down on me. Then the next day, their joking with me and acting as if they said nothing. Typical stuff.”
“Okay,” said the young monk slowly trying to work it all out. “That doesn’t sound very typical to me.”
“Don’t you argue with you’re parents.”
“Yeah, but I don’t get kicked out if I disagree with them or mock me. The worse thing that’s ever happened wasn’t…it wasn’t typical,” he said.
Epsen looked across the tavern and laughed at someone’s attempted at dancing without music he smiled weakly at it.
“Well it’s normal for me. They’re just like that. They think that all you can be is what you’re born into. If you’re born into farming, then all you can be is a farmer. Working the land is an honest elf’s work.”
“An honest elf can work anywhere,” countered Soletus.
Espen snorted. “Preaching to the choir here, Second Warden.”
That was the first time he heard him address him. It didn’t help that he was called by his rank. It was something the young monk hadn’t gotten used too.
“So, you’ve a plan,” he asked.
“Yeah, just don’t go home,” laughed Espen. “Simple. I’ve my things, That’s all I need.”
“Really,” he said with doubt clear in his voice.
“Look, I’m fine with it,” said Espen gesturing around him. “I’ve the freedom I’ve always wanted. I can do the work I want without worrying about what they want me to do. I can participate in the autumn trials while thinking about dumb ol’harvest. And I can become a field warden, too. I’ll be my own elf finally.”
It didn’t sound like he was trying to convince himself of the benefits. Yet it bothered Soletus. There was nothing he could do about it.
They talked a little more after that mostly about what he had to do for the trails and Soletus gave him hits on how to impress his father specifically. They got up to leave and then Espen said.
“We should do again,” he said. “You seem the type who already an old man. You’re still young.”
It surprised Soletus that he wanted too. Then again, he didn’t have much to lose now seeing as the fear of his family finding out was gone. However, it seemed too easy. That Espen was taking advantage of the situations and not confronting it. That one day, he’ll have to pay. But then there was the order itself. For the most part, it quieted down to a form of acceptance. At least within the term of those his age. It was entirely different with those of his rank.
“That find by me,” said Soletus.
“But leave the teasing at the door.”
“Fine, I’ll leave it at the door at the door of the tavern,” said Soletus holding the door for him. Espen looked satisfied. “I’ll have plenty of time while we walk,” he said to him as he walked out.
Espen whorled on him. “You know what I mean!”
“I’m only following what you said,” he said with a grin.
“I changed my mind, we’re never doing this again,” he glowered.
Soletus nudged him his shoulder. “I’ll see you next week then. Enjoy the rest of you’re evening.”
Espen, without any hesitation, agreed.