I made it through the door just in time to see a flash of tawny fur appear at my side. Lord Hugh opened the door and then let out a cry of surprise. When I spun around, Mien’s consort Glen stopped his step-father in his tracks. The large cougar was on his hind legs with his claws resting on Lord Hugh’s shoulders. The man’s eyes were wide with surprise and laced with little fear. My mentor stepped off the stairs and stood between Glen and me.
“You may insult and hurt me all you want,” he said steadily. “Not Theris. If you hurt him, I’ll lock you in a room, burn your eyes out, so the only thing you can do is hear your cries of terror while I tear your skin off with my fingernails.”
Glen bared his teeth at Lord Hugh to bolster the violent threat. However, the man was all shades of stupid. He held onto his swagger even with two-inch fangs being barred in front of his face. “How dare you…”
Mien narrowed his eyes and from Glen’s chest came out a deep rumble of a snarl followed by him kneading his claws into the man’s shoulders. The man snapped his jaw shut.
Lady Lass appeared behind Lord Hugh with Dalaen beside her. “Theodric, what are you doing,” she cried alarmed.
I moved around my mentor and stood between him and his consort.
To say that Mien was over protective of me was incorrect. He didn’t shield me from much. He didn’t coddle me and he let me fight my own battles. However, if you were someone with ill intent towards me, Dias have mercy on your soul. Mien nearly killed a man for holding me at knifepoint. It would have been less terrifying if he used his fists instead of his chanter abilities. He could actually burn someone with one of his light orbs and can summon more than one at a time. It took Master Sol a lot of convincing why burning a man’s head off wasn’t worth it.
Mien standing there reminded me a lot of that moment. He had that same empty uncaring glazed eyes. The green fading while gold started to bleed through. His lips were slightly parted as he had been muttering a phrase ready to use. He already justified his actions without the slightest hesitation. It was a little much over grabbing me roughly and chasing me. Lord Hugh didn’t act as that desperate cruel man with the knife did. He didn’t even scare me. Yet the fixation Mien had was just as intense. He now had Glen out and the consort was responding to his anger. The large cat ears flattened and yowled.
I reached out and grasped Mien by the upper arm.
“Mien, don’t,” I pleaded.
He glanced at me sideways, his eyes looking clear again. I swayed my head side to side imploring him to stop.
Glen released the tall elf and positioned himself in front of me. “Glen, leave,” Mien ordered and the large consort dissipated leaving Mien facing Lord Hugh alone. Of course, Lord Hugh became brave again and advanced forward snatching Mien by the collar with his fist drawn back. My mentor stared at him dead in the eye.
“Papa don’t,” shouted Rydell pushing between her mother and brother to Lord Hugh’s side. “Leave him alone!”
“Rydell, my dear, please go back and sit down,” urged Lord Hugh not lowering his fist.
“Not until you leave Theodric alone. Prince Theris didn’t mean any harm.” She regarded me to confirm that I didn’t mean any harm.
“I didn’t mean any harm,” I said and added. “Though, if I wasn’t threatened, no harm would have been done.”
Lord Hugh let go of Mien and tried to move towards me. Rydell reached out and grabbed his arm. “Father please, he’s a guest.”
He pulled her off roughly and pushed her to the side. Dalaen caught her.
“Go back to the table and sit,” he ordered firmly.
Mien did the same. “Princeling, go to your room.”
Both she and I hesitated despite the fact there was nothing we could have done. I was liable making the situation worse and Rydell would probably get hurt. She was the first to relent and walked backwards to the doorway keeping an eye on everyone. Lady Lass took her in her arm and led her back into the dining room. That only left me. Mien indicated with a sharp nod of his head for me to go. Pern unsummoned himself as I slowly went up the stairs constantly glancing over my shoulders. They didn’t move. Mien just stood there watching me go. Lord Hugh glared at him. Dalaen stayed in his spot. At the top, I kept looking down the rails until the hall came. I walked through the arched way and stopped. They couldn’t see me where I stood and neither did they wait to make sure I was gone before I heard a slap. It was the sound of the hand making contact against the face. I didn’t know why it had to make such a distinctive sickening noise.
“Every time,” raged Lord Hugh. His voice rose with every word. “Every time you are here, you embarrass this family but this, this time I’ll make sure you get what you deserved years ago. I’ll see you locked up. I’ll see you dead! Instead of mercy, that Arbiter should have seen you hung!”
There was another smack, another involuntary flinch, and another moment where Mien was silent.
“Don’t you look at me that way! I want you out of here, now!”
Mien finally spoke his voice low. “I’ll leave tomorrow, Sir.”
“No you leave now,” roared the man back.
Mien then became assertive and bold again. “You might be satisfied if I find my death out there but King Auberon wouldn’t be so content if his son found his too.”
It was met with another strike. This time I heard a thump. Mien was probably on the ground.
“Be out of here before I wake up,” was the last I heard of Lord Hugh that night. The door to the dining room swung open leaving them alone. There was a short pause of silence before I heard Dalaen say something surprising.
“I wish you would break his jaw already.”
I didn’t hear Mien’s reply. I didn’t think he did. He was mute. All I heard was food steps coming towards the stairs. I thought about running to my room and pretending as if I heard nothing. I stayed though and listened to Dalaen scold Mien.
“Theodric really, how long are you going to put up with him,” demanded his cousin.
“As long as I have to,” replied Mien.
Their footsteps and the floor creaking got closer.
“So it that what the Brotherhood taught you, passivity to the point of insanity!”
“They taught me to handle painful things a lot better. Besides, you did nothing either.”
“Not well enough, you’re cracking. I’ve seen that look in your eyes before. That was that same look you gave me they day you ambushed me on the bridge,” said Dalaen.
Mien walked through the doorway first. “That’s because he threatened Theris. I’m more than just a little protective of him when…” he stopped walking and turned around seeing me.
The bruise starting around his eye didn’t surprise me one bit neither the blood leaking from his nose. It probably would be gone by morning. Mien would heal it and no one would know except me. I saw it. It didn’t seem to bother him none. That was the thing about Mien nothing really embarrassed him. Though, just because he didn’t look ashamed didn’t mean he was proud. He had that slight puckering of his brow that signaled he was irritated with me.
“I really didn’t need you defending me like that Princeling,” he said.
“Well you aren’t getting an apology,” I said. My annoyance with him surfaced. “Your step-father uncle thing is a rat-faced bastard of a swine. As far as I’m concerned he deserved Pern nipping at him and more for what he just did!”
Mien let out a groan. “Princeling language and listen…”
“No you listen! You were just sitting there like some three-legged deaf dumb dod letting him insulting you. And don’t give me some bunk about him being the head of the house. That was rude! Why did you let him do that?”
“You don’t understand,” he returned.
“I think he understands very well,” cut in Dalaen calmly.
Mien scowled at him. “You don’t know anything either!”
Dalaen returned the frown. “I know that everything between you and him is getting worse. I know that the period of you coming home and you and have at it is getting shorter. This is the first time you two fought just after one day. What’s going to happen the next time you come home, you’re going to let him go at you after an hour? Then what’s going to happen, are you going to kill him?”
Mien’s lip quivered and his jaw became clenched. He was going to say something but all the tension drained from him. He looked tired. “I don’t feel like fighting anymore,” he muttered. “I’m going to bed; you should to the same, Princeling.”
“Mien,” called Dalaen stopping him. “One day you’re going to have face him or he’s going to tear you down if you don’t.”
Mien remained quiet and continued down the hall. I started after him however, I felt a hand take hold of the back of my shirt collar and pull me back.
“Hold on,” said Dalaen. “You’ve some stones for a little lad.”
I tried to reach behind me to pull his hand off but my slight arms didn’t have the strength to pull him away. “Let me go! And I’m not little!”
He chuckled lightly. “You better leave him alone.”
“No,” I said pouting that I couldn’t get him to let me go and fought some more.
“Believe me Theodric does best alone when he’s upset.”
“No he doesn’t,” I squirmed. “He gets all moody and the best cure for that is a good swift kick in the rear!”
Dalaen released me. “You seem to know him then.”
“Well, he’s my mentor,” I said straightening my shirt collar back into place.
“That doesn’t me you’ve a right to know him,” he said.
“If I ask, he tells,” I assured him.
“Did he tell you the full story about him and me,” questioned Dalaen.
“He told me enough.”
I honestly didn’t want to know more as it was a little hard to hear when he told at the young age as was. Even as old as I was there, it didn’t sit well with me.
Dalaen looked down the hall. “Not enough if you didn’t know that Theodric is his name. That’s what we’ve always called him. The only person who didn’t was my Uncle Julius.”
“Then why did Rydell say it was silly.”
“Because it’s a pet name. He called Theodric, Mien and Mienerva, Nerva. When calling them bother he would just say Mien-Nerva. It annoyed Aunt Lass. Uncle Julius wasn’t fond of them having matching names. Giving them more separate identities would have been more fitting. They are summer and winter twins.”
“They can’t be that different,” I said remembering the painting I saw and it suggested otherwise.
“Mienerva is sassy, smart, bossy. As a child, she always had a plan and assumed you would follow it. Mientheodric is quiet, shy, and dutiful. Always in his head, always listening but never speaking more than he has to,” he explained.
The only trait he listed I could agree on was the dutiful part. Mien wasn’t very soft spoken that didn’t mean he was loud. He blended in a crowd well without bring notice to himself. He did speak when he needed too, but really wasn’t afraid to when not asked. One might say, Mien was more than happy to give his opinion whether you wanted it to or not. I wonder if his openness with everyone was he making up for lost time. I didn’t bother trying to correct Dalaen on that fact. I just let him reminisce.
“They were inseparable,” he continued. “When Mienerva was around, you didn’t touch him. She chased me around the house with two hot fire pokers for pushing him one day. Then she came after him for letting me do it. She was the only thing that kept me from him because I liked to pick on him.”
“He never did anything about it. I could lie about him and punch him all day and he would just take it. Things changed when Uncle Julius died. Both were unhappy and the clung together until Mienerva passed the entrance exam to go to the University. She left after father married Aunt Lass. Mien had his apprenticeship and stayed behind. I wasn’t happy with it at all. Father treated my mother so badly she wanting nothing to do with him or me. I took my frustrations out on Mien,” he said and then looked regretful. “I was so much of a brute. His downhill spiral started because of me. I used to pull his hair as a leash and that action marked the start of it. Aunt Lass found him with her shears cutting his hair to the scalp. He never explained to her why but I knew why he did it. Father did something. He was always doing something to Mien. Aunt Lass brought him a hat. Shortly after that, I tossed his flute in the river. That’s when he snapped. Of all the things I did to him at that point, it was throwing a in a stream. I guess it was because his father gave it to him.”
From that comment, I took it Dalaen didn’t really know why Mien cut his hair. He mentioned Dalaen using his hair as a leash but his father humiliated even worse by pissing on him and making him mop it up with his hair. I also guessed he never lost someone. He didn’t know what is was like to cling to a simple object touched by someone you loved only because it felt as if their essence was still in it. It was a reminder of how much they loved you. Losing such a thing to a stupid bully would upset anyone with half-heart to care.
“I know the rest,” I said. “He waited for you on that very bridge and pushed you off. You swam to shore and he jumped you and held you under water until you stopped breathing. Then your friends managed to save you. ”
Dalaen looked at me a little disturbed. “He spared nothing from you. I’ve never been so frightened in my life. Father was beyond furious. He told the Arbiter to lock him up until he could make a judgment. I remember him screaming behind bars he wished that Father had died instead of Uncle Julius, that he hated Aunt Lass, and wished I had stayed dead.”
“He didn’t mean it, you know that right,” I said.
“Yes he explained it the very first time he came home as he apologized to me first,” said Dalaen. “Before, I thought he should’ve been hung like Father wanted. That he was a crazed cracked person because he didn’t act the least bit remorseful. He even told the Arbiter just to kill him. I would have been happy if they just sent him to The Pit. He would’ve been a dead man going there so young. Then Aunt Lass wrote her cousin.”
“Brother Hickory,” I said.
Brother Hickory fought to give him a second chance with Master Sol’s help.
Dalaen nodded. “From what I heard, he was the man that fixed him.”
It bothered me that they kept saying that. It made it sound like something deathly abnormal with him. However, from what Brother Hickory told me, all that anger he lashed out with was just pain. Everyone felt pain. Most don’t keep it in to the point it all acuminates and they became desperate to ease it. Removing Dalaen was Mien solution. He thought about it methodically. He even shared those reasons of why murdering Dalaen was best. I was eight when he told me this. Not exactly, something you tell to an eight year old but he wanted me to understand something. He wanted me to know that emotional pain, could wreak havoc on everyone around me as I was mourning my mother’s death and hadn’t been taking it well.
“I’m worried he’s going down that same path again. He was staring at father the same way he looked at me he came at me,” said Dalaen.
“I don’t think so,” I said.
Dalaen didn’t look as confident. “Oh, he would. If my father raised his hand and brought it down on you, he would have.”
“He wouldn’t,” I said assuredly.
“Because I won’t let him,” I said.
It’s one of the assurances that I still have today. Mien won’t do anything in my name that I don’t want him too.
Again, Dalaen looked at me as if my confidence had been misplaced. “If you belief so,” he said. “I’m sorry you had to see the ugliness that is this family.”
“It’s okay,” I said. “Not everyone has a perfect life.”
I certainly didn’t.
With that, Dalaen left me to return down stairs. I left to return to my room only to find Mien standing around the corner with his arms folded across his chest.
“I’m not apologizing,” I held firmly.
“I don’t expect you to,” he said.
“So why the act and how about answer it properly this time?”
He straightened up and gestured for me to follow him. “I promised my mother that I would let her handle everything and that I would tough this out for father.”
I arched an eyebrow not seeing what that had to do with his behavior.
“It’s really his legacy and of my grandfather and our small minor branch of House Jay,” he explained. “We are a young minor house; we must hang onto what we earned. Reputation is everything. My grandfather started all of this and when died he left the bulk of what he earned to my father.”
“My father was the youngest son. Uncle Hugh couldn’t handle responsibility. He couldn’t even manage the single mineral mine he was given. He was about to lose it all. My grandfather wanted everything to stay in Cyan name so Father started buying it off of him. In fact, the mine my uncle owned was the one he died in. No inspections were done for stability and a mine shaft collapsed. My father was killed by his brother,” said Mien bitterly. “Not that he cared. He was always envious of everything father had, including mother, who hated him.”
“Then why did Lady Lass marry him?”
“To make sure he didn’t ruin things even more. My Grandfather’s Will had a provision in it. If my father died, the entire business, land, and mineral rights would go to the other brother. That was Uncle Hugh. Even though my mother is capable of doing everything, she got none of it. All she received was this house and what my father saved for us. She stepped in when Uncle Hugh would have used all those assets to pay debts and end up creating more. My Aunt Chel, divorced him because of the debts he made. He probably would have ended up on a riverbed tucked in a sack with rocks if not for my mother. She agreed to marry him to pay off his debts, run the mines. She didn’t want my Grandfather’s and Father’s work ruined.”
Suddenly, Lady Lass didn’t seem so stupid anymore.
“And they don’t know about Kiao?”
“They know she’s there but not about the bond in that we’re very devoted each other.”
“So has she seen this? Your family?”
“No, she’s only met my mother twice as well as Dalaen and Rydell.” Mien stopped at my room door. “It’s a bit unfair,” he said “I got out of this place while mother has to live with that rat bastard. So I do what I can and as long as I keep being something he hates, he’ll leave her alone.”
I stared at him for a long moment blinking turning what he said in my head. “That’s stupid,” I decided. “Isn’t there something else you could do or are you that afraid of him?”
Mien regarded me steadily. “I’m that afraid of him hurting my mother given what he did to me.”
“Does he do that all the time,” I said and pointed to his face.
He shook his head. “No, this is nothing. I prefer to get hit. It’s quick and shows he doesn’t have then energy to do anything else.” I had a hard time believing that. Even harder given what he said next. He opened my room door. “Get your things gathered and we’ll share a room tonight.”
“He hurt me not you. So just in case that didn’t satisfy him, stay with me. You don’t need feel what I did.”
At the time, I didn’t know what he had done to Mien other than a few little things. He told me later and I felt right about stayed awake for a great deal of the night listening for footsteps outside of the room. I even summon Pern to make certain no one came. You would have thought my mentor would have been alert as well. He fell out quickly though. I figured it was from the anticipated of the worse and the worse was done. I sat up in bed listening to him breath. There was no other noise aside from that. The storm lifted. The rain had stopped. The wind became still. The last sounds of thunder were distant and soon too far away to hear. It was silent. Before I finally went to sleep, I saw a thin shaft of moonlight come through the cracks of the shutters. When morning came, it was replaced with a warm ray of sunlight that fell across the bed. I scooted over to it and lay there thanking Dias that the sun finally parted the clouds. I didn’t get a chance to enjoy it long. Mien jabbed me with his elbow to wake up.
“Up, Princeling,” he said.
I dragged and he got ready to go quickly. He left me by the time I started putting on my boots. Once downstairs, I realized that we weren’t going to be released so easily. Mien was waiting on me with his mother by his side taking his hand earnestly.
“Stay a little longer please,” she begged. “We rarely get to see you as is.”
“Duty is duty and besides, Uncle wants me gone,” he said stepping away from her and regarded me coming down the stairs. “You ready?”
“Aren’t you even going to say goodbye to Rydell and Dalaen,” asked Lady Lass as Salvus was about to open the door.
“I don’t need a parting parade and Uncle will be up soon,” said Mien. He gently guided her off to the side by her shoulders. “I’ll try and make plans for a visit,” he said taking hold of the door latch himself.
“You won’t,” stated Lady Lass suddenly. Mien froze. “You’ll only come if I beg you and then you come through the door ready to leave. Why bother coming at all?”
Mien’s grip loosened.
“Can you at least tell me that,” she demanded raising her voice. “I would rather have a son who never comes at all than one who only brings half himself.”
My mentors hand dropped off the latch. He pointed for me to leave. I spun on my heels deciding that I would go to the kitchen and ask for some food.
“No, you stay RIGHT THERE, Prince Theris. I won’t you to see the coward you have for a mentor,” she spat. The woman turned venomous so fast that Mien stagger back.
“Why? Tell me why we have to do this dance every time you come,” she demanded. “Why do you seem to be two different people?”
“Mother I,” started Mien softly.
“Speak up,” she ordered.
Mien and I flinched at the same time. Salvus had vanished, smart man. I wanted to make him my example and began to inch back towards the kitchen. Lady Lass looked at me with her viridian eyes furious as an engaged giant and as sharp as a dagger point. I stood still.
Mien let out a long tired sigh. “You want the truth, here’s the truth,” he said talking normally doing all his normal gestures. “The only reason I come here is to check on you to make sure that dog of an uncle hasn’t done anything to you otherwise, I wouldn’t. I would stay away and never return!”
Lady Lass’s tight expression dropped into astonishment. She looked at him as if he lost his mind. “You’re father’s work would be in the hands of that idiot if something were to happen to me. He would lose it all.”
“Father’s work be damned! The only thing that matter to me is you,” exclaimed Mien.
Lady Lass’s face became red. “If the only thing that matters to you is me, then why do you stay away?”
“Because Uncle Hugh hates me,” barked Mien. My mentor took a deep breath, exhaled, and then explained calmly. “He never stopped Dalaen and kept you from doing anything because it gives him control. He thinks that he is responsible for our estrangement and thus that gives him power in his mind. Every time I come home and he runs me off, it reinforces that feeling of control and power he has. As long as thinks he’s in control, it keeps him from hurting you in ways much worse.”
Lady Lass opened her mouth then shut it. She studied her son a second and then concluded. “You’re shamefully manipulative,” she said smiling and reaching out and touching his face. “I was hoping that Hickory would have taught you not to think like me.” Her expression darkened. “However it’s a layer of protection I don’t need.”
“He’ll kill you if he could,” Mien pointed out.
“Let him try,” challenged Lady Lass. “He will no longer be living this comfortable life touching things he was once envious of.”
Mien removed her hand and held it. “That may be so but, I can’t be around that man. Last night made that clear,” he said. “Forgiving him for what he did hasn’t been easy. He chooses to be confrontational. Staying here, I know I’ll do something I’ll regret.”
Lady Lass searched his face. “Why didn’t you tell me this before? All that time?”
“You’re my mother and you would worry,” he said plainly.
Lady Lass snatched her hand out of his and smacked Mien hard on the upper arm. She waggled her finger in his face. “I’ll worry about you if I want too and you’ve no right to stop me!”
My mentor rubbed his arm. “Fine, if it’ll stop you from abusing me, worry all you like.”
The woman then returned to fussy mother self. “I worry about so many other things about you,” she said tugging at a lock of his hair. “So unattractive. How are you ever going to get a wife this way?”
“I mean look at you. You’re a fine looking man but that hair.” She looked over to me. “Does he ever grow it out?”
“Only in winter,” I answered.
“Women like long hair but not longer than hers, remember that.”
“Yes mother,” sighed Mien.
“I wouldn’t even care if you found someone. She doesn’t even have to be a noble. I doubt you would put up with someone’s prissy daughter.” She then regarded me again. “He wouldn’t like that sort of woman would he?”
“Probably not,” I said. Granted he had one ready to be betrothed.
“Mother please,” he said with his shoulders sagging. “I don’t want to marry right now.”
Lady Lass looked disappointed. “You’re still full of yourself. Rather go out being dragged by Soleus doing whatever it is you do. Please don’t wait until you’re a hundred,” she pleaded. “It will be so much easier on your wife to have your first child before then.”
“Okay,” said Mien opening the door. “I’m going to be on my way.”
“Theodoric, wait,” she threw her arms around him. For once in his life, he didn’t seem too put out being hugged. He wrapped his arms around her without hesitation. “I love you so much,” she said letting go of him so she could kiss both his checks.
Mien gestured for me to come forward. I thought was safe but then the woman took hold of me. I didn’t bother fighting.
“I’m so very sorry, that you had to witness all of this.”
“No need to apologize,” I said.
“You are such an adorable child, such a little man,” she said kissing my forehead. “Maybe when we meet again, I can give you a real House Cyan welcome.” Lady Lass straightened up and said to Mien. “I’m sorry about this all. If there was another way aside from stabbing Hugh in the back, I would have done it.”
I know,” he said and left her a loving kiss on her forehead before leading me to the stables.