I didn’t see Soletus a lot during that time. He was busy training. However, everyone was talking about him. They were split up into two camps; they thought he was the bravest tod alive or the dumbest dod alive. You didn’t get many people in the middle. As for me, I really didn’t know what to think about it. It seemed like he was doing the right thing, but I worried about him
Soletus had a week to get ready. It seemed like a long time, but it wasn’t. There wasn’t a lot he could learn in a weeks’ time. He could only sharpen the skills he already possessed. There was nothing new he could learn and perfect in such a short amount of time. He just needed to focus and use what he learned already. However, it was difficult given how many masters wanted to speak with him.
Some wanted him to not fight, others were trying to tell him how to fight, and some were actually helpful like Master Tyr. That surprised Soletus given Tyr and his father’s history. The man was more than happy to help him form some kind of strategy. It wasn’t much because the man stated the issue right off.
“You aren’t going to do much to surprise him. He’s trained you and has watched you train. You’re at a disadvantage. Your only option is to play with his anticipation.”
Soletus still had his duties and trained when he wasn’t doing them. It left him very little time which was good. He was avoiding looking as if he had time to go home. His father, might not say anything thing to him. What Soletus had said to him was enough, his mother, however would have words for him. His sister probably would too so he didn’t want risk it. He didn’t want them to guilt him into changing his mind. Not that he would. He was planting himself down like tree and no gale was going to uproot his decision.
There was one person that Soletus couldn’t avoid and that was Brother Hickory. To no surprise, he was requested to go to the chapel two days before his fight.
Soletus in to the familiar building that felt like his third home.
I just need to put a bedroll in a corner somewhere, he thought as he walked in.
The chapel had patrons inside praying, no sigh of the aged priest anywhere. He went straight to the back and found Hickory’s table empty. Soletus went to the too occupied room in the short hall. Hickory wasn’t in his quarters. Mien’s room was empty as well as he was probably with Kiao. The door to back was cracked so he walked out of it. Hickory was outside in sitting on the rock wall with a mug of tea in his hands.
“I needed a change of scenery,” he said amicably.
Soletus crossed his arms and sighed. “Can we get this over with? I know why I’m here.”
Hickory arched a brow at him. “Do you?”
“Yeah, you want to make sure I’m making the right decision and know the consequences of my actions. Probably even try to talk me out of it.”
Brother Hickory shook his head. “You’re wrong. I’m not going to talk you out of it. This is something you need to do. I told you, you needed to push Oeric a little.”
Soletus stared at him shocked.
“However, you do have to accept the outcome of it all whether it’s a victory, a bittersweet success, or a failure.”
“So you’re preparing me for priesthood is what you’re saying.”
Hickory laughed. “That is an amusing thought and you do all traits to be one, but you’re not a priest despite my joking and your parents.”
“Mama would always say I would make a perfect priest as a boy.”
“And you’re not a boy anymore. Children change, they grow-up, with their own ambitions and goals. And parents don’t always see it. You know this, otherwise you wouldn’t be here,” he said, placing his mug down beside him. “I summoned you here for a few reasons. One I’m not sure what to do about. Kiao brought to my attention that you’re chanter gifted?”
“Why would he think that?”
“Probably because you are. He told me twice he’s heard you direct your voice at someone. First time he wasn’t sure, but the second time he confirmed it because you used it on him.”
“He mentioned something about it. He didn’t explain it. I’ve not noticed. Why haven’t you noticed?”
“Oh I have. Since you were a little lad, you’ve always had a weak timbre that I could feel. I didn’t worry about it until you got into a fight with Mien in the attic. That’s three times. Is it a problem? Yes.”
“How is it a problem?”
“All three instanced you were angry and you’ve been getting more aggressive.”
“No I haven’t.”
“Yes, you have. I’m not claiming it’s a problem, but I don’t want it to get the better of you. You’re going to have to figure out control now that you’re aware of it and can feel it. You understand?”
Soletus nodded. “Yeah, yeah, I understand.”
Brother Hickory regarded him thoughtfully. “The last thing on my list might sound odd. I’m a chanter so I’m allowed to be enigmatic. That’s my excuse. I know how much you enjoy our talks. However, I believe that in several years, you might find my council useful.”
“I’ve a feeling about something. When you realize it, I don’t want instances like this, make you hesitant to speak with me,” he said and gestured for Soletus to turn around.
His mother was standing at the door, giving the aged priest a grateful smile.
“Thank you Hickory,” she said.
Soletus scowled at Hickory. He had been tricked.
“I wanted to speak to you first,” he explained as he stood to his feet. “And I was very serious about that last part. I only did this because it goes without saying, if you challenge your father to a fight you talk to your mother.”
Hickory patted him on the shoulder and left them alone.
Soletus squared his shoulder and readied himself.
His mother crossed her arms and said, “You still couldn’t leave your grandfather out of it.”
“He told me that months ago! I could’ve done this then, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to, but Papa gave me no other choice.”
“I want you to call it off,” she said.
“Then talk to Papa.”
His mother let out an exasperated sigh. “Apparently, I’ll get better results in getting two tired mules to pull a cart of bricks than to get the two of you to talk with each other.”
“I can’t talk to him. He doesn’t listen.”
“Have you actually tried,” his mother shouted. “I mean sit him down or pull him to the side and actual talk with him.”
“I don’t have anything to say that I’ve not said already,” he said, wondering if she was going to actually listen to him this time.
She gave him an incredulous stare. “And he claims you’re the male embodiment of me, but from where I stand you inherited all his bullheadedness. If I tell you what to say, will you do it?”
“After the fight,” said Soletus. He was holding his ground. His father expected him to back down. He wasn’t going to do it this time.
“I rather you do it before. But you want your choice, fine. Ask him before the fight or afterwards about what he did to get those scars on his face.”
“He won’t tell me. He’s never talks about it.”
“He will and if he refuses, come to me, and I’ll make him.”
“Then why not make him do it now.”
His mother’s mouth pulled up on one side. “Because I promised him that I wouldn’t.”
Soletus considered her words for the rest of the day. He never acted on them. On the last day, he saw his father watching from the fence. Neither of them said a word to each other. They only regarded each other saying nothing when they probably should’ve said something. Soletus decided that evening, he would wait until after the fight.
However, that night, he couldn’t sleep. He felt anxious and listened to Lyndon shift in his bunk above him every time Wic would snore. When he did manage to drift off, he had a nightmare about the attack again. He woke up in a cold sweat and couldn’t fall asleep again. He played out strategies in his mind until he got drowsy. However, by that time, the morning horn was blown.
He got up and was unable to focus on the morning pray. He didn’t even eat breakfast because of a nagging feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach. After a few hours, he found himself standing in the preparation room in the back of the indoor arena.
Since it was a public spectacle, so other might learn, the stands in the arena were full of warders, wardens, masters, and the Arch Monk. Soletus could hear their voices. It made him even more nervous.
He tugged at his clothing to make sure his fighting trousers were going to stay up and his sash was tied correctly for the tenth time. He had no other clothing to check. Hy’ruh-ah wasn’t done in full dress so he bare-chested and barefoot. At least he wasn’t alone. Lyndon there to spoke to him and Mien was there to give silent assurance.
“Stop fiddling around already. You’re as ready as you ever will be,” said his cousin then the tod looked at him solemnly. “If you die, I will hand carve a monument in your honor for you with an engraving speaking of your bravery and courage. I’ll even write a song and have Mien sing it.”
“Thanks for your confidence of my demise,” said Soletus dryly.
Lyndon put his arm around his shoulders. “If you do win, I’ll have the entire dorm throw you a party with drinks of course.”
Soletus gave him a slanted glance. “I’m going to hold you to that. You better bake a cake served by you in a frilly apron.”
Lyndon make a face. “How about Mien? He’ll look better in an apron.”
The boy who was deep in his own thoughts snapped his head up and retorted. “You’re the one wearing pig-tails.”
Lyndon became outraged. “These are warrior braids! Do you see feathers and bows decorating them? No!”
“No one wears double-warrior braids.”
“And no one asked for your opinion.”
“I’m free to give my opinion whenever I want,” said Mien.
Soletus’s brow shot up. Well he’s certainly getting a lot more comfortable with Lyndon now.
An excited grin spread on Lyndon’s face and he threw an arm around Mien’s shoulder. They boy eyes went wide.
“Isn’t this wonderful! He’s all feisty now,” said Lyndon.
Mien took his arm tossed it off. Instead of looking scared, he looked like he was going to kill Lyndon.
“Oh come on,” said Lyndon throwing his arm back on. “This is how me and Soletus show our brotherly affections. We’re both huggers.”
Mien reply was pinching Lyndon right under the arm pitch. The young tod let out a yelp and jumped away from him.
Mien smiled proudly and said. “Kiao was right, you are ticklish.”
Soletus started laughing.
Lyndon recovered and gave his jerkin a dignified tug. “I forgot. You’re Kiao’s minion now. He’s taught you bad things. Though, it’s nice that Sol has finally stopped looking like he’s facing death.”
“Do I look that bad?”
“I’ve been expecting you to throw-up any moment now.”
Soletus was surprised he didn’t as well given how much churning his gut was doing. A horn sounded meaning everyone needed to find a place to sit or stand. Lyndon and Mien had to go.
“Well good luck,” said Lyndon embracing him and patting his back. “What kind of cake do you want? Apple or honey?”
Soletus smacked his back. “You’re baking it so whatever is easier.”
“Both then. I’ll make it work,” said the young tod.
“Good luck,” said Mien before Lyndon threw his arms over his shoulders again to drag him out.
“Come with me, we’ll find the best seats so Soletus can hear us shouting,” said Lyndon as they vanished.
Soletus was alone. He took his staff in his hand and paces around. He then got on one knee and prayed. The sense of dread was getting heavier and he hoped that would make him feel better. It didn’t so he paced around the room again. The horn sounded signaling him it was time to go. He took a deep breath becoming the warrior he was trained to be and walked out in front of the chanting crowd.