The night of the dance finally arrive. It was the only time Soletus wasn’t required a uniform. His aunt had given him a dress tunic a few years ago for his coming of age party. It was martin purple with gray embroidery on the bottom. As well as on the right shoulder and cuff of the sleeves.
Instead of a waist sash, he donned the decorative belt made for him as well. When he walked out of his room, his mother was ready by the door and his father was in front of the mirror frowning.
“Shoulder capes are a waste of fabric,” he muttered, fighting it to hang on his left shoulder properly. It was pinned to his tunic with a silver martin that was their house emblem. It was In the order, only the Arch Monk wore one. In society, usually the head of the house and their eldest child wore one. Soletus was surprised to see his father donning it with feathered broach and all. As far as he had known, his father never had one. However, the cape wasn’t new but it wasn’t completely worn. He was also wearing his ear cuffs and necklace.
His mother presented a shoulder sash in front it. Of course, she would remember to get it as he had forgotten it at home. His mother helped him put it on. Unlike the tunic, he had only worn that during his coming of age celebration. She placed it over his shoulder and he pulled that end under his belt and she did so behind him. She then placed his pin over his left breast like his father. There was no louder statement of what family they belonged to.
“You two look so handsome,” she said grinning ear-to-ear.
Embarrassment descended him and he glanced over at his father, wishing he would step in and stop her preening. However, he just watched and gave him a look that suggested he let her do what she wanted. He rarely dressed up. It wasn’t that he didn’t like it. He did so at festivals but never as nice as he looked then.
It was the last dinner which made Soletus happy. I wasn’t going to be as pack either. Not all the guests were staying for the last dinner. Some of them left the previous day or earlier when their concerns were brought up and done with. The Brotherhood would be there at the end and probably wouldn’t leave until the Patriarch was able to travel.
That evening all the Brotherhood took a table all by themselves while the host family still had the Royal family and others of high standing with them. Briar who was supposed to be his dance partner, wasn’t there. She clearly wanted to stay by her father’s side or use it as an excuse not to be there.
Soletus was happy to be sitting with Mien and Kiao. Mien didn’t look like himself as he sat down at the table. His hair had been oiled back, making him look older. The black fabric of the knee length tunic made his eyes stand out. They glittered more gold than green. Kiao was wearing a fancy red and pink gown with her hair pinned up with a sheer veil going around her head. According to her, it was the replacement for a boring old cowl chanters were supposed to wear.
Since Briar wasn’t there, Soletus wondered if he could slide out and no one would notice him leaving. When dinner was over and everyone moved into the ballroom, he tried to act on that plan. He snuck to the side closest to the door while the Matriarch of the house greeted them all and announced that Lady Valencia was going to take her place. There was polite applause as if they they didn’t know. He clapped as well paying no attention to Princess Arlwin who attached herself at his side.
“Hello, Lord Monk,” she said.
Soletus snapped his head towards her. She was nearly unrecognizable. She was in a red high necked gown that had gold lacing at the top and embroidered vine on her bodice of vines. Her sleeves were short so to showed off the white embroidered glove that matched her gown. What stood out the most to him was the she had been wearing her hair up either in military fashion or a bun the entire time she was there. That night, she wore her hair down. In a field of dried wheat, with flaxen and golden stalks, she was the autumn doe standing in the middle.
“Greetings, Princess,” he said with a bow.
She gave him a wan smile. He thought she had more to say but she remained quiet. An uncomfortable silence hung between them. He was going to prompt her into speaking, but she blurted out, “I need to apologize for using you the way I have. Dragging you around to keep me occupied.”
“There’s no need. Sitting around doesn’t suit me,” he said.
“Even still, I also need to apologize for last night,” she continued, softening her voice, and kept her attention to Lady Valencia accepting the emblem of her house. When everyone started clapping. She did as well and he followed. When the stopped, she spoke. “I used you. You’re not a noble and are ignorant to all the rules and such. I took advantage of it will sating my own curiosity and soothing my own pain. That shouldn’t have happened.”
“Did my father say something to you?”
She shook her head. “He sternly warned me that I shouldn’t be out, but it was my sister who guessed assumed correctly. We had a long talk.”
While the new matriarch started her speech, he told her softly. “Remember, I asked you to stay. At any point I didn’t want you close, I would’ve said something. I wanted someone with me.”
“That makes it even worse. I took advantage of your state at the time.”
“No advantage was taken,” he pressed again and looked down at her. “It was a honor to spend time with you. ”
She kept her head forward and tilted her chin up. “You’re infuriating. Stop refusing my apology.”
A wiser man would’ve apologized at hearing the indignant tone she used. However, he chuckled at her. “I refuse because you’ve been made to apologize for by someone for me, Lady Princess.”
She finally looked at him. Her face was tight in annoyance, but her lips twitched into a grin. “You do like to push. Holy warriors are supposed to dutiful, thoughtful, and humble. You’ve gotten the former down, the latter two, not so much.”
“I’m also a very affectionate young man. I don’t often get to show the full extend of my appreciation with anyone. Customary have their boundaries and I’ve mine. There is one other I would trust, but he’s wouldn’t tolerate it. I need that as much as you do. It was mutuality beneficial.”
The Princess considered his words. “You remain stubborn, so I won’t waste your time any further on the matter, Lord Monk. I come here to speak with you not only that but, You did save my life from that thing and Lord Kharis’s. You’ve earned yourself a boon.”
The young monk looked out at the crowd of those getting ready for the first dance. “I was just doing my duty, your Highness. I’m not sure if there is anything I need.”
“It can be simple,” she said, looking out and something caught her attention. Her face soured darkly. “Do you dance?”
He followed her gaze to Princess Silva. There stood three young men, she gestured to them, all relatives of Briar’s.
“I can. I’m not any good,” he told her, figuring out too late what she was about to do.
“Very well. I must use you again. I don’t like the Gyrfalcon men and if I must dance once, I shall with you.”
She clasped his hand and dragged him to the center of the dance floor. All eyes fell on them at once. Not only nobles, but Brotherhood as well. There was muttering coming from all corners of the room. The musicians in the corner were gaping at the scandalous scene. Soletus never felt more awkward.
“Why is everyone gaping,” he said under his breath.
“Because this is the first dance. It’s an honor to be chosen by royalty,” she said aloud for everyone to hear. “Bravery needs to be rewarded. I chose you to be my acting as shield when I saw no one else worthy of it. And you proved my choice was correct by doing what a shield is trained to do. If need be, they will sacrifice themselves for ones safety. You did so easily to keep me from being harmed by a drass beast with your bare hands. Then, aided in stopping an assassin from killing Lord Kharis. As my father says, we honor those who show courage. And the Brotherhood is full of it.”
There was no more muttering after that. The princess had spoken.
The music started. Soletus looked out and focused on everyone else for a moment to get the steps of the first dance of the evening. He concentrated on evening out his steps and try to figure out how to handle her. She was shorter than he had realized. She seemed taller when they were out and about.
“So this is what causes you to tense up,” she said after watching him.
“I don’t do formal dancing,” he said, trying to make sure he wasn’t going to bump into anyone.
“How about something to take your mind off it. My boon for example. I’ve a lot within my power. I rarely use it so, more are willing to heed my requests.”
Soletus thought a moment and then told her. “Remember what I told you about my cousin. How I had to bury him in the Firerock Gorge. Well, he deserves to be buried with the other wardens under the our honor ash. Problem is, permission needs to be granted before going into the gorge and we haven’t been granted given what happened before.”
“Is the grave marked?”
“Then consider it done,” she said. “It’ll be a bit. However, if I explain to the right people you’ll have your cousin’s body back and he can be placed in the appropriate spot.”
Soletus’s face lit up. He would have stopped and embraced her if he wasn’t already going to be the talk of the evening.
“Thank you so much,” he said.
“You are welcome as it is earned.”
That did lighten his steps and he spun her around lightly. He caught sight of Briar’s aunts looking peeved because their sons were looked over. Princess Silva was scowling and then he caught sight of his grandfather watching him specifically.
“The older adults look unhappy,” he told her.
“Of course they would be. It’s best we part ways after this. I stirred my little pot too much.”
The music soon stopped shortly and everyone parted for a rest. Soletus ended his night of dancing with a full sweeping bow. “Thank you for the honor, Princess,” he said.
“It was a pleasure to meet you, Lord Monk,” she said with equal respect and then held the side of his face before he bent up and kissed the top of his head. “I hope we meet again and have another task that we can resolve together.”
“I look forward to it,” he said and left. He grabbed a goblet of perry off a tray of a passing servant. He decided he needed a little wine as it was from his Aunt’s winery. He stood off to the side alone and listened to the music. His grandfather who had been at the old matriarch side, left her and made his way to him.
“I see you and the Princess have conspired for a bit of a show,” he said on arrival.
“One cannot deny the Princess a request,” he told him.
“You can still dance with someone else instead of standing here.”
“After that experience, I don’t think I’ll dance with another female again,” he said, feeling giddy.
His grandfather watched the crowd and then spoke, holding his own drink to his lips. “I expect you to grow up one day.”
Soletus did the same with his cup and glanced at the man beside him. “In what way do I need to grow up?”
“You need to learn real responsibility and compromise. To care about someone other than yourself. You’ll learn this from marriage.”
Soletus took a long sip of his wine. He knew this confrontation would happen. He hoped it would be at home. However, his grandfather chose a very public place with his father occupied. That was fine. Soletus didn’t need him or privacy.
“I’m going to be dead honest with you,” he said, keeping his voice low. “Like stones, women are everywhere. What makes them so special that I should pick one up and carry it with me my entire life?”
His grandfather brow pulled together. “Because that is how it is.”
“If your customary,” he returned.
His grandfather then said, “So you think you’re above every man in this order.”
“Having different needs than everyone else, make me different not better.”
His grandfather became quiet and then tired a different attack. “Do you realize I know all the monks who are neth right?”
Brother Hickory told him that the Arch Monk didn’t know. Unless, Yunus told him. He couldn’t hide his surprise and regarded his grandfather fully.
“Those who are old enough, choose marriage. So I know you are fully capable of living a customary life.”
Soletus took another sip. “Good on them for being better at adapting.”
“You have no issue with being around the Princess.”
“And I’ve no issue with working with the huntress. So what’s your point?”
His grandfather then stated. “Prince Silva told me about her sister. Princess Arlwin was very interested in you. She went out to ‘patrol’ and came back sometime later. After some digging, she found out she was with you.”
There was nothing the young monk could do, but stare at his drink and laugh at the ridiculousness of his situation. “She was and we talked. Her interest in me is nothing more than she never met a neth male her age before. She was curious about that.”
“Curious enough to your hairs on her.”
Soletus sighed, growing annoyed. “You know, if I tell you nothing happened, it wouldn’t matter. You’re trying to use it as wood on you’re platform, that I’m capable of being in a relationship. And I’m telling you now it won’t work. I might want to talk and comfort someone akin to me, but that in no way shows I want to shackle myself to someone. Marriage is a sacred act and one reserved for those who understand what it means. Not to be doing it because it’s useful.
His grandfather snorted. “You’re too much like your father when he was younger.
Thought he knew everything. He claimed that was incapable of being with someone. Then when he was put in a situation where he couldn’t hide, he stepped up and did what he had to.”
“Nice try, but Papa and I are very different. He was burden with self-doubt and feelings of unworthiness,” he said. “He was full of so much fear and shame. He was broken. He likely wanted nothing more than to have someone, but who would love him? So, no we aren’t alike. I’m not incapable of being with someone, but I’m incapable of being with someone on customary standards. And no, I don’t have to give you the reasons why. They are personal and given me how much you’re pushing this, you would not understand.”
He stared dead at his grandfather waiting for a good answer. The fact of the older elf’s face was bright red. Out of the corner of Soletus’s eye, he saw Mien and Kiao dance into view. It wasn’t a poor unsubtle attempt to watch him. Mien must heard him speak and heard his frustration.
An unhappy frown pulled the Arch Monk’s face. “You’ve a lot of conviction, that’s admirable. However, this is not a hill you want to die on while trying to become a second.”
“This has nothing to do with becoming a second!”
“This has everything to do with it,” spat the Arch Monk. “The role you are taking is designed for mature wardens who have proven themselves responsible. Yet here you are acting like Oeric being ridiculous.”
“I’m not being ridiculous,” he hissed, wondering if the man heard what he said.
“You take an adult duty, you need to start acting like one. Making compromises and do things that you don’t want to do is being an adult. I won’t have an exception to the rules. This order is built on families. You will eventually need one. And since your father has no interest in doing it, I will as the head of our family.”
“You’re just saying things because you don’t like me being neth,” he challenged.
His grandfather scowl bore down on him. “You’re right. I don’t. Grow up and learn to act normal. End of discussion.”
Soletus was left alone to come to terms with what he was said to him. Yet part of him wasn’t surprised at all. He knew that his grandfather had a problem with him he just never heard him say it. He had no heart to stay at the dance. It wasn’t something for him. It wasn’t something he liked. He found a spot to put his wine glass down and made his way to his room.
He never sought complete solitude until after Lyndon died. He then found himself spending a lot more time alone and that moment was one of many within the last several months he didn’t want to be around anyone. He didn’t want to be around his Grandfather or in a room full of customary elves.
When he walked in the room, shrugged off his shoulder sash and removed his belt, dropping them on the bed. The window seat looked to be the most comfortable place to brood so he sat there. The last remnants of light faded from and the first stars to come out while he emptied his mind to think of nothing.
The door to common room opened up with the door closing softly. The young monk listened to the light footsteps come to his room. His mother spoke. “Soletus?”
“Yes,” he shouted. He watched her through the reflection on the window as she crossed the room slowly towards him.
She settled down on the other end of the window seat. “Mien pulled me over to the side and told me you were upset over a conversation Solgard was having with you. Oeric is speaking to him. I just wanted to see if you were okay.”
“I’m disappointed,” he told her.
“At your grandfather?”
He nodded and said blandly. “I already knew he wasn’t happy about finding out the truth. I thought of the three of you, he would most okay with it. But, he told me he didn’t like it.”
His mother placed a hand on his ankle and he withdrew his legs away from her. She wore a light smile that threatened to sag down and then spoke.
“Solgard has been there for us since the beginning, starting the day my folks kicked me out of the house for proposing to Oeric. My mother, called me a skane and my father pushed me out of the street and tossed my things at me. And then your grandfather appeared out of nowhere and led me away. He told me not to worry about a thing. I was family in his eyes and arranged our wedding since my parents refused. So I’m disappointed as well.”
When he chose to remain silent, she went on.
“Don’t think for a moment it’s because he hates you. If anything, he’s acting the way he is because he loves you and he thinks his way is the best.”
Soletus scoffed. “I can’t tell. He sat himself against me the moment I arrived home from Kellas and his mess. He doesn’t even want to try to understand.”
His mother slid closer to him. “I know you really want his approval and honestly, he doesn’t have to approve anything you do. In fact, your father and I don’t need to do it. You can live life without the approval of anyone including us. And take it from someone who wasted her time trying to meet her parent’s approval, you can’t please everyone.”
Soletus sat up straighter. He never heard much about his other grandparents. There were stories here and there from his uncle, but never from his mother. She was disowned and never spoke about them.
“Growing up in a Fenndish Dyne household was an experience. They might be Fenndish, but they aren’t orthodox. They still follow a lot of traditional customs to the Dyne. And in Dyne society, parents choose the roles of their children based on their birth month. The months are based on the patron demi-gods. I was born in the 4th month of Hearth. She represented fertility, warmth, and home. Therefore, I was to devote my life into being the perfect wife and mother. So I was trained as such.”
He became confused. “How does that work?”
“When I was old enough, I was given the responsibilities of the house. I cooked and cleaned for my entire family some days. No exceptions and no help from my older brothers. And when I got older, I was given the responsibility to watch children of friends so I could learn how to care for them. And when I got older still, I had to dress a certain way and wear face paint. I was told to eat less because Fen males like thin waists. Then it was the training. It ranged from how to serve tea and pick out the best flavors for the occasion or food presented to balancing a ledger. I had to be perfect. I didn’t get to have friends they didn’t approve of and certainly not friends with a certain wolf-eyed boy.”
“When did you even have time to be with Papa?”
“There were times I was free to be with friends I didn’t have. I think they preferred that. I would stay home in the yard reading or I would go out for a walk. Oeric would hide in the bushes to talk to me. When I was out ‘walking’ we would do things. Some times he snuck me out at night. It was easy enough. And I know how that sounds, but those time Oeric come at night was because he had a fight with his brother. He wanted, to be with someone. Mostly, it’ll just to stop him from doing something spiteful. It felt nice being needed that way, and then it came crumbling down. I was the cause of him running away.”
She nodded. “We had gone farther than usual outside of town. There was once a pit of twisting spines to the northwest. There is a farm there now. But this pit was a good ten feet deep. Oeric got curious about the drass beast that fell into it. Instead of going back and reporting it, he got closer. I got too close and the ground gave way. I broke my ankle, hurt my head, and was covered in scratches. You’re father crawled in and carried me out of that nightmare right into town. Problem was, I wasn’t in the clothing I was last seen in. I was covered in bruises and cuts. My parents came in ready for war. They made a bunch of outlandish assumptions ranging from him forcing himself on me to dressing me his own enjoyment. It was a lot to accuse someone like Oeric of. That moment actually scarred him. It wasn’t until after we married he admitted to me that moment, among a few reasons, was why he avoided relationships.”
“Why didn’t you tell them that?”
“Because I wasn’t even conscious to defend him. When I woke up, I had the previous Patriarch’s wife asking me all sorts of questions. All I wanted to know if Oeric was okay, and they told me he had run off. I was so angry at everyone they chased my only friend off. From that point onward, that life was just poisoned for me. And I realized it wasn’t Fenndism, but my parents. Their stupid beliefs bound and choked me. I didn’t want Fern, you, or even Saedee to be bound by a month and the traditions that surround it.”
“So is all of it bad,” he said.
She stretched her legs out. “You were born in the month of Thawn. The demigod of betwixt. Between winter and spring between good and bad. Female and male children of that month can be a joy and bring prosperity. They can also being misfortune and heartache. They will be your best and worse child. Most Dyne go out of their way to make sure they never conceive a child that’s born in that month.”
“Aside from that, every year, you have your scroll read to you. It tells you what to expect that year. Some Dyne let their lives be dictated by their patron through the scroll.”
Soletus scooted until he sat beside her. “I’m glad you didn’t.”
“Well, this is rare,” she said.
“I could make it rare again if you want,” he said nudging her.
The door to the room opened again. This time the steps clapped as the person walked.
“We’re in here, Oeric,” shouted his mother.
His father’s head peered in before he fully stepped into the room.
“How did it go,” she asked.
Oeric sat on the other side of Soletus and unclipped his shoulder cape. “Very nostalgic. We still wax and wane like the moon. He didn’t listen to a word I said.”
“So he’s just going to proceed in matching me,” asked Soletus.
Cordea crossed her arms. “That’s not his concern!”
“Haven’t you realized yet, my judgment is poor and I need to heed to his wisdom being the head of the family and all,” said Oeric massaging his forehead.
“I love Solgard with all my heart, but he’s stepping out of line,” she said.
“He wants every man of this order to do their duty to the fullest. The Brotherhood survives because of committed families. He, doesn’t want exceptions to that rule. Do I think it’s stupid, yes. Does he care, no.”
“You can’t force a child to be matched when they don’t want too. That’s not even the way we would’ve gone about it!”
Soletus wondered what way would they have gone about it.
“I know, said Oeric.
“It’ll be a disaster!”
“Again, I know.”
“Solgard doesn’t though.”
“I know,” snapped Oeric and then he stared out in a low measured voice. “I explained that to him, but in his eyes, he’s right and I’m wrong. He told me I don’t know how to raise children. But none of mine have run away from home, because I can’t listen. None of mine are abrasive and unloving to their siblings to the point they hate each other. And I certainly don’t love this order before I love my children! And yet he thinks he has the right to tell me that I don’t know how to raise a family,” he said nearly at a shout.
“That’s because you let him,” she snapped back. Soletus looked at the bedroom door to escape. He didn’t want to be in the middle of their argument. His mother evened out her tone. “I know you feel obligated to him, but you need to draw line.”
“Agreed,” said Soletus. “I don’t even understand why he so set against it.”
His father gave him a sideways glance. “I don’t know. He’s always been like that. Two years after I come home, he started questioning me on when was I going to take the nobel step of caring about someone besides me. I wasn’t acting normal. Of course I asked why and that was the answer I got. The answer he gave you. It’s just something you do. And certainly it is, but an elf needs to want to do it. And you don’t even want to try.”
“So what do I do?”
“Focus on what matters to you,” said his father advised. “Isn’t that what you’ve always done.”
Soletus couldn’t deny that. “Yes, and I want to be in your band.”
Soletus was certain that the shadows were distorting his father’s face somehow. However, his face lifted and brightened. He looked excited. However, as quickly as it appeared it settled down, maturing into a man who was pleased.
“Good. When we get at home, we can put it into motion. The Arch Monk won’t be pleased by it, but you’ve a path to follow.”
It was then, Soletus was hit with the realization. His parents loved him. They put up with a lot the last year and a half and just accepted it all. He then leaned forward and wrapped his arms around his mother’s shoulders. He didn’t squeeze hard. She wasn’t as big as he thought as a child. She was kind of short and like all elves, fragile. Skin was weak. Once that was penetrated, blood would spill out of them. He thought of the Patriarch. He never wanted to look down and see her blood on his hands like that. He held her a little tighter.
“Well this is unexpected,” she said surprised. “I figured all I had was your eternal annoyance.”
“You have my love too,” he told her bowing his head. Unlike everyone else he hugged, his mother didn’t struggle free or squirm. She let him as long as he wanted.
His father was satisfied with just placing his hand on his shoulder and squeezing it.
Fragile, every single last one of them, he thought.
Lyndon appeared in his mind again. He wasn’t that lifeless body staring at him with empty eyes. He stood in the distance watching.
“Sol,” his mother asked. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” he said far too quickly and withdrew. His eyes teared up betraying him.
She clearly wanted to pry, but his father cleared his throat.
“You’re tired,” she said, kissing him on the head.
His mother stood and his father followed. They told him goodnight. Soletus did the same and once against sat on the window seat with his legs stretched out before him alone. He closed his eyes. Lyndon motioned to him and faded. He sighed and stared back out in the gloom of night. He had to accept there was a rift there between him and his grandfather. A man who was once at his side when his father was the opposing force. It flipped. How much had things changed. But life was ever changing. That thought led him into wondering, if the order needed more members, then they should allow women in the order. All interested females in doing something in the name of Dias, had to travel to the mountains. However, he had a bunch of young women that were capable at home. If they were in the order, they would get proper training and armor. Not to mention pay. The ability to support one’s self made it easier for families to exist.
But how could he even do such a thing. He was too young and decades away from granting any sort of influence and support for such an idea. It would have to be a long term goal and he would have to become a master or a good first warden.
“It’ll be better if I could become Arch Monk,” thought Soletus aloud and then laughed. He doubt they would ever accept him as an Arch Monk. “I should stick to attainable goals.”