After lunch, Mien excused himself from further conversing using the pretext of being tired from our trip. I didn’t want to be stuck with his family alone, so I excused myself too and caught up him on the stairs.
“What was that,” I said.
He stopped to let me catch up with him. “What was what,” he asked.
I gestured to the room behind us. “You with them?”
Mein paused and regarded me looking unsure what I meant before he realized. “Oh, my acting like that?”
“It’s easier,” he replied and continued upward.
I tilted my head at him trying to understand. “For what?”
“For me and for them,” he said.
I wanted a better explanation but he suddenly changed his mind about going upstairs and turned around going back down.
“Come with me Princeling,” he said ordered
I followed him down a short hall into a large dim room. There was only one window and like the others in the house, the shutters were closed allowing only the thinnest streams of light in. Mien chanted softly and lit the room up revealing a mess. There were parchments blanketing books that covered a large desk hugged by even more books and rolls of parchment on the floor. I walked over to one large pieces of paper laid out on a chair. On it was a strange drawing of what looked like a winding road but there were no town markers. There were notes, numbers, and symbols I didn’t understand.
“What’s this,” I pointed.
“That is a map of a mine shaft,” he said occupied by tugging at a sheet of cloth attached to the wall. “That is what my family does, they own mineral mines.”
“I know, they give use tao stone,” I said and was about to ask him what he was doing but the cloth was pulled free before I could. A family portrait was revealed. I recognized a younger Lady Lass and that was it. In front of her was a daughter that wasn’t Rydell. Beside the girl was a boy. He looked shyly away from the painter. I looked up at the father. He looked like Mien except with blue eyes like Dalaen.
Mien smiled at it. “My mother never liked this portrait so father put it in his office. When he died, my uncle took over this room. He wanted to take the painting down and mother wouldn’t let him so he covers it up.”
I walked over beside him with my eyes to the painting. “Rydell is your half- sister isn’t she,” I asked studying the girl.
Mien nodded. “This was before she was born.”
The boy had to be Mien. He didn’t look much as he did today. It might have been the hair framing his face or that expression didn’t seem to be his. It might have been because he was around my age with a face spotted in freckles. He seemed small and meek in contrast to the rest of his family his sister mostly. The girl beside him could have been Mien if not for her being a girl. She had a smirk that played on her lips that Mien wore at times.
I pointed to her. “She looks so much like you. You’re a twin?”
“Aye, that’s my sister Mienerva,” he said.
“Why isn’t she here?”
A wistful smile formed on his face. “She lives her own life. After father died, she was invited to go to the University. She took the opportunity so she could leave home. She didn’t want to stay here with father dead and our uncle here.”
I stared at the family portrait a long time mainly at Mien’s father. He reminded me a bit of my own. It was just the stern brow. However, given how Mien never looked at anyone else in that painting, I would say his father loved him as my mother did. That was one thing made me connect to Mien. He knew what it was like to have a parent ripped away and how you walked around feeling like something was missing.
“You still miss him,” I said.
“I’ll be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes. He was brilliant. He had a solution for everything and made me feel as if I could do anything. He was starting to teach me to take his place. I’m the oldest albeit by just a few seconds,” he looked around the room. “Rocks, minerals, and gases were his knowledge. He made many discovers. Many say he was a person that died too young. When he left this world, people turned attention to me that I might fill in the hole. But that wasn’t so.”
All of his father’s lessons still showed. Mien was an alchemist and he used those skills to help him being an apothecary for the Brotherhood. It was an odd skill for a chanter priest. However, Mien actually attended school and was allowed an apprenticeship with an alchemist when he was younger. He was smart and would be making a name for himself if he didn’t do what he did. He went from a life many elves would want for their children to something very simple and unappealing. He adapted to it. He tried to teach me during mission breaks. I didn’t have his level of comprehension so teaching me any alchemy was out of the question.
“Do you miss this life,” I asked.
He regarded me with a puzzled frown. “Of all the questions to ask.”
“Because you actually have a family that loves you and wants you around,” I said. I wanted that badly at the time.
“This isn’t my home, it might’ve been but not now,” he said.
“Why,” I asked.
“That’s a very good question,” said Rydell from the doorway. The two of us didn’t even notice her. She walked in and shoehorned herself between Mien and me wrapping her arm around his.
“You don’t need to hang onto me. You aren’t a child anymore,” he said trying to tug his arm free. Rydell just squeezed tighter.
“Come home more often and I won’t,” she said.
“And give you and her more opportunities to nag me, no.”
Rydell looked at his short hair with disgust. “She and I are worried.”
“About trivial things that have no meaning,” he said tying again to free his arm to no avail.
“You avoiding everyone isn’t trivial. You making excuses to remain at the Brotherhood isn’t either. When you do come home, you’re ready to leave the moment you step in isn’t either.”
Mien let out a long sigh. “You know why. I’ve tried to stay longer with the same result. I fight with him, I leave, and everything is back to normal here until mother writes again wanting me to come home.”
Rydell looked pained. “I know father can be…unbearable but it would be nice if we could see you more than a tight shell. I want to see you laugh. Do you even laugh?” She turned to me. “Does he?”
“He does,” I replied.
“Why can’t you do it around us,” she said shaking him. “You always walk around as if these walls are going to swallow you up. Why can’t you be happy,” she looked over to me again. “Is he happy?”
“He is,” I answered.
“Then why aren’t you happy here,” she pressed.
Mien finally pulled his arm out from hers. “Because I am here,” he snapped.
She lowered her hand to her side. “There’s nothing wrong with here,” she murmured.
Mien looked back up at the painting going back to his father. “There is plenty wrong here.”
* * *
After our talk, Mien retreated to his room for the day leaving me alone with his sister. Rydell made it her duty to entertain me. She gave me a tour of the Cyan estate indoors as well as a history lesson. It was boring but there was nothing else to do. I listened to her ramble as well as kept an ear to the storm’s performance outside. The wind had died down, but it was still raining. They sky had darkened making the dullness even more gloomy. There were lanterns lit along the halls but the rooms were dark. I knew the phrase of light and chanted up my starlight to help. It wasn’t as nice as Mien’s globe of golden sunlight. Like a star, it sparkled and didn’t illuminate a wide area, as I couldn’t make it bigger. However, Rydell was delighted that she didn’t have to carry a lamp around.
I didn’t learn much more about House Cyan. They were a minor house that branched for the major ruling house of Jay. They were envied among the minor houses because they owned a lot of land. They also had they had a love of pottery. The sheer amount of vases and decorative plates on pedestals around me was nerving. On every corner, something breakable was placed. In every room, there was a fragile centerpiece.
We ended up in the study where she pulled out a dark wooden box that folded into a board covered in many squares and a sack of red, blue, black and white pieces. The game was called corners. I’ve seen Mien and Soletus play but I never did, it seemed boring. She explained the game while she sat the board up. The adjective was to capture all the white pieces and claimed it was a very fun game. It would have had more fun if I wasn’t constantly being crushed by a girl. She knew strategy and took much delight in defeating me repeatedly. I only kept going just to beat her once. It didn’t happen, but it did pass the day quickly into dinner.
Mien met us in the dining room. His clothing was wrinkled from lying down, but it didn’t look as if he slept. His face was drawn and he was quiet again. We were served soup and honey rolls. He didn’t touch the roll or the butter handing too him. He stirred his soup with that faraway brooding look in his eyes I seen over the years. He was in his head unaware that between small talk, everyone was glancing at him. I was watching him just for the fact he hadn’t eaten a thing the entire day and used his abilities the previous night. Chanters needed to eat. If the shoe was on the other foot, he would be force feeding me.
What tore us all away from him was a commotion outside of the dining room doors. The front door was opened letting in the sound of heavy rain momentarily before it became muffled and a loud voice to be heard.
“Salvus! Lass,” shouted a man.
Everyone at the table spines went straight except for the Wife. She sat there smugly as if her savior had walked in the door.
“We’re taking dinner, Hugh,” shouted Lady Lass taking her glass of wine and drained it completely down. A long moment later, a shadow of the man in the painting walked in rolling up his sleeves up. He was thin bordering between underweight and sickly underweight.
“Nice to be home with soup waiting for me,” he said smiling happily at his family until his gaze sat on Mien. The smile fled and a sour frown replaced it. “Mientheoderic,” he said low and unfriendly.
“Sir,” Mien greeted a whisper.
“I see you insist on keeping the appearance of a muddy,” he insulted.
I immediately didn’t like Lord Hugh. He took a step towards his seat at the head of the table then paused. He finally felt me glaring at him. I was told by others I was hard to ignore when looked at someone that way. It unbalanced adults because they said I was too young to have such a piercing gaze. He wasn’t though to my annoyance. He met me steadily. I didn’t dare look away.
“Prince Theris, I presume,” he said.
“You presume right,” I said, wearing a cool smile.
“Why have you graced us with your presence,” the man asked taking a seat at the head of the table.
“I was traveling with your son. We were at where the village of Two Springs use to be and we were caught up in the storm. Mien took brought us here because there wasn’t any place else to go,” I said amiably knowing much better than to sound curt. People like him wanted someone to attack them so they could attack back.
Mien finally spoke up. “I risked intruding. We’ll be gone as soon as the roads are cleared enough to travel.”
Lord Hugh was given a plate of steaming food. He thanked the servant. He took spoonful of soup, slurped loudly, and then spoke. “Isn’t this place a little out of the way from Two Springs?”
“The Southern road was washed out and the bridge to Stead was gone as well. It was either come here or go to Aurbortown,” explained Mien.
Lord Hugh looked at Mien sharply. “I guess since Prince Theris was with you, you had no choice.”
“No I didn’t,” he said to his plate of food.
There was a momentary pause for more slurping before the house head spoke again. “So when are you coming home?”
That statement caused Mien to look up completely baffled.
The man repeated himself slowly. “I’m asking you, when do you plan on coming home?”
Mien blinked at the man wordless disbelief.
“You’re fifty now not some young tod anymore,” barked Lord Hugh. “A male elf your age should be thinking towards the future by now. You don’t have many options.”
I opened my mouth and shut it when Mien touched my arm and shook his head at me. His hand was trembling a little. He then said to Lord Hugh. “Coming home isn’t possible right now.”
Lord Hugh turned to Lady Lass. “See, he’s still being foolish. Can we please stop this nonsense of getting him home? He’ll come home when he is good and ready and hopefully by the time I’m dead.”
“Hugh,” the woman exclaimed. “I told you to talk to him reasonably.”
The man looked at his wife incredulously. “I just got home from being nearly washed down the river. Can I please eat without having to deal with your whelp.”
Lady Lass glared at him unwaveringly. The man puffed up. “Listen woman, this is my house…”
“This is MY house,” she said roaring over him. “When Julius died it was given to ME. The only reason YOU sleep here is because of a piece of paper says we are married, if not for that, your bones would be resting in a river bed!”
I glanced at Rydell. She looked sick and picked at her food.
Lord Hugh slapped his hands on the top of the table. “I’ve wipe up the mess YOUR son caused. It would have been less of a hassle if YOU just let him dangle from a tree.”
It was worse than lunch. I sunk down in my chair. There was nothing more uncomfortable than sitting with an arguing family at a dinner table.
“Father,” shouted Dalaen and he gestured to me. “We’ve a guest here. Can’t you reframe from arguing about Theodric for once?”
The man turned to his son with ire still in place. “Maybe if he didn’t insist on sitting there with his head hanging down like a kicked dog.”
“Maybe if you stop kicking him,” exclaimed Dalaen.
“You don’t like it, leave,” shouted Hugh and pointed to the door behind him.
Mien covered his face and muttered. “This is why I don’t stay.”
“You say something, Theodric,” asked the Wife.
Thunder rattled the house again from the walls to the glasses on the table causing everyone to jump.
Lord Hugh looked upward. “See Dias is even saying we drop this nonsense. I’ll be willing fight all of you after dinner.”
Lady Lass didn’t talk back. Instead, she regained her poise and started eating again. The table fell silent after that. It only made Mien scooting his chair away from the table even louder.
“I’m not feeling well,” he said. “Thank you for dinner. I’ll be in my room.”
I watched him leave. His hands were balled up into tight fists.
Dalaen watched him too and made an inaccurate observation. “Makes me wonder if being at the Brotherhood has worked at all,” he muttered.
“Perhaps he fooled Brother Hickory into believing he is better,” said The Wife.
“Maybe something still bothers Theodric,” said Lady Lass.
For the first time that day, she showed some perception skills.
“He doesn’t’ think highly of himself still. I really need to find a willing lady to marry him. A wife and starting a family will straighten him out.”
I slapped a hand on my forehead. “Oh come on,” I exclaimed. All of them focused on me. A lump formed in my throat as I didn’t have anything to follow up my outburst. It was just one of my thoughtless moments but I went with it. “You ever given thought that it’s you that bothers him?” They looked bewildered at my statement so I clarified. “If you are you like this the every time he has come home that, maybe just maybe, that’s why he doesn’t stay here”
Lady Lass said to me gently. “Prince Theris, my son is very timid. He gets very comfortable with having things a certain way and shies away from change. He never liked the fact that Hugh and I were married and never really got over his father’s death. He’s never spoken about it. He never speaks about anything. He hides, he runs, and it caused a very bad thing to happen,” she said to me as if I were a stupid child.
“I’m aware of this bad thing.”
She looked surprised. “It was before you were born. Surely people aren’t still talking about it.”
“I didn’t hear about it from rumor mills, Mien told me,” I explained. That was one of the first things he told me when I met him. “He wasn’t very shy about it either. He was pretty straightforward and it actually scared me a little that he was. In fact, Mien has the tendency to be blunt. He’s never quiet, well, like he’s been.”
Lady Lass let out a sigh and look at her empty glass of wine on the table. “I wish he would show us this courtesy he’s shown you.”
“Maybe he would if you didn’t nag him and stop calling him Theodric. No one calls him Theodric. He introduces himself as Brother Mien or just Mien. The only person who calls him differently is Master Sol and he uses Mientheodric if he’s being an idiot.”
“It’s a silly name,” said Rydell.
“Silly or not, he’s Mien. I don’t think you know who he is,” I said and slid out of my chair deciding it was time to leave. “Now if you excuse me. I’m going to take my leave for tonight. Thank you for the lovely meal.”
I walked up the table passing Lord Hugh. As I did, he grabbed my arm and gripped it tightly. I glanced down at his hand and arched an eyebrow at him.
“You are a very articulate boy,” he said. His voice was low and warning.
I met his eyes again. I wasn’t afraid of him. “You’ve an issue with that?”
He tightened his grip to the point it hurt. “You should be more mindful. Just because you’re the King’s son doesn’t give you the right to speak out of turn.”
The door to the dining room opened slightly.
“Let go,” I advised.
Lord Hugh scoffed. “Or what.”
I was warning him because I was afraid Mien was going to do something but Pern came to my defense. He manifested right above where Lord Hugh’s hand was and bit down hard. The man released me screaming and flaying his arm to shake Pern off.
“Pern,” I cried while getting hold of Lord Hugh’s arm. I wrapped my hand gently around my consort’s body. “Let go!”
Pern obeyed but continued to make angry squirrel noises at him from my enclosed hands. I turned and retreated. I heard chairs back away from the table but mainly Lord Hugh’s rage filled curses behind me.
“Damn it, you muddy headed son of a skane.”
That wasn’t something you said to the King’s son, but it wasn’t as if my father’s Red Guard was going to swoop in with swords and halberds drawn from the insult. In fact, if my father were there, he probably would have let Lord Hugh do whatever he wanted. However, he wasn’t. Mien was.