That night in the infirmary, Oeric had the same reoccurring dream again. He was in the field with his wife and three toddler age children. However, this time he didn’t run to them. Instead, he watched them from afar armed with a staff in his hands and waited until his brother appeared beside him.
It didn’t take long for the image manifest. “How’s it going, Oeric,” asked his brother.
Oeric’s attention remained fixed in the distance.
“I heard you met up with Clincher and you nearly killed him.”
Oeric hands tightened around his staff. He didn’t give the image any eye contact. The man sneered and started circling him.
“You should’ve done it,” he said. “He was a threat. He killed many men in the name of coin. Yet, he sleeps being protected by the Brotherhood. Why not finish what you started?”
“Dias says not to kill.”
“That’s never stopped you before and it didn’t stop you from trying. If not for your son, you would’ve. You’re still an animal who doesn’t deserve a family.”
“Shut up,” snapped Oeric.
The figment became hurt. “Why, I’m your brother. I died searching for you. You own me to at least be in your memories.”
“My son carries my brother’s name and I regret never getting the opportunity to apologize to him. What I don’t deserve is you in my mind,” growled Oeric. He forced the tip of his staff into the man’s chest. Instead of him crumpling to the ground, it went through him. Oeric clenched his teeth.
The figment smiled. “You think you’ve formed some resolve. But how long will it be before you mess up again? Then we’ll start these conversations again.”
His brother smile widened revealing two rows of pointy teeth. “Fight all you want, but your doubts will consume you and the maw will come to eat your soul.”
Oeric spread his feet apart ready to fight.
The figment guffawed loudly. The grating sound echoed and the dream became a dark void. “You want to fight me. Something you allowed into your heart. The whispers of the Malificer are strong, Oeric. Don’t think one battle in your mind is going help you.”
Oeric swung at him again. This time his staff wiped the image of his brother away and a gaping maw replaced him.
“You can fight an elf, human, giant, and beast, but you cannot fight me. You are nothing. Your wife is losing her patients with you. Your daughter is abandoning you for a better life. Your son hates you. Your father despises you,” said the maw. It then lunged at him. “Give up and accept what you are, coward!”
Oeric become frozen in place unable to move. He was unable to will himself awake.
Then something unexpected happened. The dream started to shake and became a midnight sky lit with stars. Each one of them started getting brighter and brighter breaking the darkness.
“Wake up,” shouted the light.
Oeric still couldn’t move and the maw was only slow, but its mouth was still wide coming towards
This time the voice got was more forceful and felt like a surge of water on his mind. “First Warden Oeric, listen to me.”
A white featureless body with a set of glowing violet eyes blinked into existence beside and pushed him backwards.
Oeric’s eyelids flew open. He was greeted by Kiao pressing his fingers on his temple with his irises glowing fierce lavender. Another chanter priest was standing behind him.
“Do I need to get-”
“No, I’ve got this, Alder. Go check in on our other guest,” said Kiao. The young man’s perceptive gaze met his. “You’ve some very odd dreams, First Warden. Not the first one of that nature I guess.”
“How do you what I’ve been dreaming,” Oeric demanded.
“Phrase of insight. I’m a dreamseer.”
Oeric knew most chanters who were gifted with the phrase of insight could see either the present, past, or the future. The Arch Priest for example could see into the future, but his sight was terrible. However, Oeric didn’t think the Brotherhood had a dreamseer. It wasn’t common phase variety for a male chanter to learn. Then again, he should’ve known there was something about Kiao when they tested Soletus reaction to a drass beast. His father specifically asked Kiao to help if anything went wrong.
“Most people having nightmares are easy to spot. I prefer to wake them up than have them suffer through it,” explained Kiao. The back light that showed through his eyes died down and they became a bluish again. His composed face became thoughtful one. “And First Warden, Dias has given you a family. That is something you need. The Malicifer wants you to forget that by having you question what you do or don’t deserve. We all need to love and be loved no matter who we are.”
Oeric pushed himself up to a sitting position. “So you do dream analysis and advice on top of healing?”
The corner of Kiao’s mouth lifted. “I like to have multiple skill sets.”
Oeric still didn’t know what to think about the young chanter priest. “Am I free to go,” he asked.
Kiao placed his hand over his heart and started chanting the phrase of healing. Oeric could feel him in his head prodding around. It wasn’t comfortable at all. His head felt no different. It still ached, but not as much.
“Now you are free to go. No physical activity for the next three days and I want you to come back tomorrow,” said Kiao handing him clothing that Cordea left for him and pointed behind him with a slender finger. “You can use the screen to dress behind is you like.”
With that, Kiao stood up going to the side of a warder who was cradling his wrist.
Oeric made decent time to his father’s chamber that morning. Brother Farley was there reading as usual and pointed towards the door without looking up.
“He’s not here so you might as well go in too,” said the occupied priest.
“Too,” mouthed Oeric aloud and sitting in one of the chairs in front of the Arch Monk’s desk was someone with a long braid slung over the armrest of the chair. “Soletus, what are you doing here,” he asked.
His son stretched out his arm holding something. Oeric walked over to him and realized he held a large napkin out.
“Mama told me to give this to you,” he said.
Oeric undid the cloth. Two biscuits sliced and stuffed with fried duck eggs. There was another with butter and honey in it. He sat down beside his son and started on the honey one first.
“You haven’t explained why you’re here.”
Soletus leaned away from him resting his head on his fist staring at the wall in front of him. “Grandpa told me to come here.”
Oeric chewed realizing that now his father was trying to push them to talk to each other. Dias was really telling him something other than the fact there were a few people who cared about his son. The only person that was missing out of the lot was Brother Hickory. Oeric rather not have waited for the priest to approach him. The problem was, he didn’t know where to start. So he started like any old conversation they might have.
“You really need to cut your hair, son. Having it long like that well…it’s not good looking, for the ladies that is.”
Soletus gave an exasperated eye roll. “Really! You leave for seven months and first thing you do is complain about my hair?”
“I’m not complaining, I’m just stating facts. I mean look at me…” he said reaching back of his head and felt smooth skin and the soft hair that grew on his neck. “I was about to say it was the appropriate length, but I look just like Mien. You might as well join us to make it an even three.”
Soletus let out a groan.
“I’m just saying it would be nice if you cared. It’ll give you a disadvantage fighting.”
“You know I tuck the braid down my jerkin. You wouldn’t even mention it if I had it tucked. Everyone needs to get over it. I like my hair long. End of story,” he snipped.
“Have you acted like this the entire time I’ve been gone or were you saving for me?”
Soletus crossed his arms and stared ahead of him.
Oeric placed his food down on the desk. “I’m off to a poor start,” he muttered and then said louder. “Point taken, I know you didn’t come here to listen to me nitpick you. That’s what your mother is for.”
His son jaw remained tight.
“I suppose you’ve not forgiven me completely for hurting and lying to you.”
“You’re forgiven,” Soletus answered without looking at him.
“I don’t believe that.”
“Can you look me in the eye and say that.”
Soletus shifted in his chair so that he faced him. “You’re forgiven,” the tod repeated. “And don’t say that I said it because you wanted to hear it. I don’t hate you. I thought that was obvious given yesterday.”
If his son hated him, he certainly would not have come to his aid, and allowed him to touch him, or touched him back. That was good though. That meant that half of his speech was invalid, however, he couldn’t think of anything to say. The room became quiet and this time there wasn’t a convenient old cart groaning to fill the empty space. Soletus then started to fill it.
“You know, you had months to think of something to say,” he said, dropping the curt note from his voice. “You can nitpick, tell me what to do, and teach me how to do something, so why can’t you just talk to me.”
“You assume I know how,” said Oeric looking at the top of his father’s desk. He remembered all the times he sat there staring at the patterns in stained wood while being berated. That was how they spoke.
“Your grandfather and I can’t sit in a room together and talk. He’s always been the Arch Monk to me and you don’t chat with your commanding officer. I attempted not to be the Warden to you, but I never allowed myself to be very open.”
“Because you find your past embarrassing,” asked Soletus.
“That,” admitted Oeric. “I didn’t want you to see or know that person.”
“You know I don’t care about who you were,” said Soletus.
That got the man’s attention and he regarded his son.
“That’s all everyone would talk to me about who you were. They wanted to make me disappointment and angry with you when all I wanted was to forgive and forget. And again, you are forgiven.”
“I’ve a hard time believing you want to let all of this go given the state you were in when I last saw you months ago.”
Soletus’s face flushed and he rubbed the back of his neck. “Well that was then, this is now.”
“Yet that’s all I would see when I thought about you. That sort of betrayal of trust sticks with you. It doesn’t just go away.”
Soletus exhaled. “It doesn’t hurt so much when you have something else going on that hurts more. Between the moments when I just wanted Kiao to kill me and wishing I never agreed to Ealdred’s experiment, I kept thinking about when you first started teaching me defense.”
Oeric winced. “I don’t see how that made it better.”
“Well you were used to training older boys so yeah, you would keep knocking me down and give me bruises. It’s not like I didn’t have extra padding. But you kept telling me ‘shake it off, the more time you spend on the ground the more time they have to hurt you’ over and over again. The more time I stayed on the ground, the more everything would hurt and I didn’t want to be the ground.”
Oeric was impressed by his son’s wisdom.
“That not to say there were moments when I loathed the thought of you. That Tyr’s words would get into my head and I wanted to hate you. But then there was that part of me that would remind me of that time when I became an initiate and just started training. All the boys would make fun for being fat.”
“You weren’t fat! You had a little extra weight.”
“That’s my point,” said Soletus. “I remember you taking me aside after training to tell me that it was okay.”
“You weren’t eating.”
“And Marth wanted you to take me on an extra run. Make sure I ate smaller portions.”
“And at the same time he would tell me weren’t confident enough. Then I had to tell him picking at the one thing that makes you unconfident isn’t going to make you more.”
“And you didn’t do any of those things.”
“Because I knew for a fact you would eventually drop it. I wasn’t skin and ribs either when I was younger. Your uncle would get on my back about it and I wasn’t about to treat you like that.”
A grin spread on Soletus’s face. “You know why he stopped saying anything about it, right?”
“Other than you growing out of, no.”
Soletus nodded. “He was the one who would go on and on about elves are built like deer not bears. So I choose a bear as my consort.”
Oeric found himself chuckling at that. “No I remember. He came to me later that day telling me that you had a bit of impudence in you. I told him that was you mother coming out.”
Oeric realized that one thing in the swamp. Soletus had not only his mother’s face, but took mostly her personality as well. She didn’t like being told what to do when she was younger. She did what she wanted. She calmed down when she was older, but she was strong-willed. It of course made the first few years of their marriage interesting. She was frustrating to deal with. She would kiss him and go over his head to prove him wrong in the same instance. Learning to dance with her was challenging, but he learned the steps.
Soletus was a lot more subtle. He was willing to hang back as long as authority knew better. If they didn’t, well he figure and do it himself. It wasn’t done in rebellion as Oeric constantly thought. No, it was done because while Soletus could follow, until someone showed too much weakness. He wasn’t the sort of warden one wanted in the low ranks. He was first warden material.
Marth warned him his son didn’t need control he needed someone to mentor him in being a leader. Oeric felt very unqualified to be that person. He needed a first warden that was just as intelligent as he was and not judgmental. A tall order given that Oeric could think of a few for one or the other, but not both.
Oeric reached for his breakfast to eat and Soletus told him.
“You’re not as bad as you think you are. You remind me of Mien to honest.”
Oeric was about to take his bite out of his food but choose to stare at his son. He was bewildered by that statement.
“You both walk around as if the entire world is watching and waiting for you to make a mistake. I think that makes you make bigger mistakes because you don’t allow for yourself to make smaller ones.”
Oeric wanted to argue with that assessment, but it was hard to argue with the truth.
“I made a mistake in fighting you like I did. I’m sorry about that. I thought I had everything figured out. Maybe one day, I can challenge you again.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Oeric.
“Not right now,” said Soletus and he looked down at his hands. “I need a bit more time before I can do that again.” He then raised his head back up and pleaded, “Don’t feel bad about it. It’s just that…I don’t know.”
“You don’t know what you’ll do because your instincts become stronger than your reasoning. I understand. You have to be ready to tackle that sort of thing, but don’t give yourself too many excuses. Then you’ll be me.”
“Then you should learn so when certain people try and put you down, the whole of the order doesn’t agree with them,” advised Soletus.
“I suppose you mean Tyr?”
“Yeah, and Grandpa is just letting him say anything he wants about you,” said Soletus.
“That’s because I’m a big boy and he shouldn’t have to swoop in and stop all the other lads from picking on me. He clearly wants me to handle the situation. No need to worry about me, you should be thinking about your future.”
“You’re a junior warden. You’ll soon be assigned a training band. Then you get to go out on missions, see a bit of the people, and learn about the world. You should try to become a Senior Junior Warden. That opens doors to become a Second. Grant it, grapplers rarely jump rank, but it’s a challenge I believe you can overcome.
“Oh, you mean work my way up in the ranks. I thought you met other things,” he said looking towards the ceiling.
“Mama kept going on and on about how I need more friends and claims I need a friend that’s a girl. Why would she do that?”
“For obvious reasons,” he thought wondering why Cordea would even suggest and encourage him. He wasn’t twenty-eight. There was plenty of time for girls. Maybe she was worried about him on the road. It was a concern, but Soletus could figure out what to say and what not to do. He was smart. However, his son couldn’t look more confused.
“What obvious reasons?”
“To get you comfortable with being around them. I mean you’ve only been around your mother and sister. It’s one of the issues with starting training so young in the Brotherhood. You’ve mostly been around men.”
His son’s bewilderment didn’t lift. “Okay that doesn’t explain why wouldn’t I be comfortable around them? They’re elves too.”
“Well yes, but some elf girls are pushy and they like to tease and fluster a young tod. You have to be around it to know how to deal with it.”
“Or ignore them and they’ll stop teasing you.
“You could do that, but they might find it rude.”
Soletus then said very quickly. “They do and they leave you alone. I’ve done it before. I’ve no interest in girls.” He then took a deep breath and said in a normal talking voice. “Anyway, can you tell Mama, I want to focus on getting settled and then work on rising in rank? She won’t listen to me.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” said Oeric feeling relieved and worried all at the same time. He wanted to question Soletus about what said, however, he didn’t get the chance. The door to the room opened and the Arch Monk strolled rubbing the knuckles of this right hand. He shot the two a glare before he dropped down in his chair letting out a long tired exhale.
“I hope you two haven’t been just lounging in silence while you waited,” said the Arch Monk.
Oeric took a bite of his breakfast and said to his son between bites. “Were his instructions for to you to talk to me or him?”
“I was only told to come to his office. I wasn’t told to speak with you,” returned Soletus with the corner of his mouth working its way up despite himself.
Oeric looked at his father. “You’ve still not improved your clarity after all these years.”
Solgard gave his son a flat stare. “I’m not in the mood for your jesting, just as much as I’m not going to tolerate you causing unnecessary grief!”
“I’m sorry about what happened, Sir,” apologized Oeric. “I shouldn’t’ve gone after Clincher, but at the same time, Papa…”
The elder elf gave him a dismissive wave of his left hand. “Don’t worry about it.”
Oeric’s spine became stiff. “What?”
“The source of your misbehavior is going to be taken care. The Patriarch is handling the legal matters this all entails. The most you might have to do is testify if that’s need. And since the source of your misbehavior is being taken care of, you aren’t going to repeat this.”
“Thank you,” said Oeric feeling a great sense of awe as his father never gave him leeway.
The Arch Monk swung his eyes to his grandson. “Soletus, step out a moment.”
The young tod left without a word.
The Arch Monk leaned back in his chair and started tapping the top of his desk all the while studying Oeric.
“If you haven’t noticed I’m getting a little old,” he finally said. “I’ve spent many decades thinking about things and never saying them because I felt they were never worth saying. However, there are things I need to say before the end springs up on me.”
Oeric found himself subdued by those words. The thought of his father getting old to the point of death never crossed his mind. The man was strong in mind and even strong in body for his age as far as he knew. He didn’t know what his father was getting at.
The man then pulled out that old bloody golden sashed trimmed with red. Oeric groaned inwardly. He studied the familiar brown old blood stains as his father laid it across the table.
“Tell me what you are thinking, because you’ve this amazing gift of being completely unreadable when you don’t need to be.”
“You already know what I think about that sash,” he answered.
“You’ve voiced your opinion, yes, but why have that opinion for a keepsake? Your words make it sound as if it hurts you every time I bring it out. It does, doesn’t it?”
“You’re lying. You always tighten up around me and even more so if I put this in your line of sight,” he said holding up the sash. “And maybe you’ve a right to feeling that way. I imagine you think I’m always lamenting the favored son I lost and wishing you were he. You’re wrong of course. I don’t want you to end up like this.”
Oeric examined the sash again.
“He was nearly torn in two and unrecognizable surrounded by carcasses of the pack of skulkers that fell on him. His spear broken in half with each end in two different drass beasts and his dagger through the skull of another. All that to save a group of travelers.”
“An act worthy of a Fenndish monk and one I will never repeat equally,” replied Oeric.
“Giving your life up selfishly for another is one of the greatest acts in Dias’s eyes, however, that isn’t something I expect out of you. You’re late brother had one of the highest casualty rates as a first warden. He wasn’t afraid of death and it made him stupid.”
Oeric sat back in his chair and was shocked by those words. He couldn’t ever say he ever heard his father call his brother stupid.
“One should not fear death. We all die, however we shouldn’t tempt it either. He would make stands when he should’ve run. Give chase to bandits when he was better off leaving alone. It was all driven by personal pride. He believed he was doing what was best for the order, but it was pride in him and the order. After he was killed, I learned that the people he had saved were well on to safety. He didn’t need to engage those drass beasts. He faced them because he thought what it would be a good show of strength.
Oeric reached out and picked up the sash. He felt the worn fabric of the sash between his index finger and thumb. He remembered watching his Brother tie around his waist proudly.
“Now, you, my son, you’ve one of the lowest casualty rate among the first wardens. I’ve never have to tell you to fight smart. I never worry about you not coming home in the same way I worried about your brother. You never try to act alone or rash on duty. What you do on your own is a different story.
“What I’m trying to say is that you know what a band is and that a warden is nothing without his band. We are brothers. We work together not for glory of honor or pride, but for the people so they might hear Dias’s voice. You understand that and that makes you the superior monk. You can see it in how you raised Soletus.”
Oeric didn’t know what to think at his father’s praise. It was something rarely given to him. It’s not something he sought or even desired now. When he was younger that’s all he wanted. Now he could never even convince himself he deserved it. Perhaps his father met it as encouragement, but being the diffident person he was, all it did was make him uncomfortable.
His father went on. “He enlightened me on a few things this morning. The one you call Clincher. He thought I would be interested in what he had to say about you.”
Oeric arched his brow.
“Seemed to be under the impression you’re livestock. He was trying to convince me you weren’t worth the trouble to keep around here. He told me several tales about how he kept his prized wolf in a collar and chain to accentuate his point.”
Oeric clutched the sash. “I would’ve told you whatever he said to you eventually.”
The Arch Monk leaned forward. “He tried to make a deal with me. If I let him go, he’ll take you off my hands, so I wouldn’t have to worry about you losing your mind. I then I had to explain to him pointedly that my son wasn’t for trade.”
Oeric arched an eyebrow. “Pointedly?” He looked at his father’s right hand. His knuckles were red and raw looking from the bruises that covered them.
“Yes, he was scheduled to leave in two days. Our discussion may have led to him being held in our possession for a few more. I’m sorry.”
“You’ve nothing to apologize for,” said Oeric folding the sash back up making each fold as neat as he could.
Solgard watched him. “I remember when I taught you to do that. You showed very little care for ceremony.”
Oeric grunted and concentrated on what he was doing. When he was finished, he placed the sash gently on the Arch Monk’s desk. His father’s hand took his and said,
“Oeric, you don’t live life in a bubble away from me. You’re the only child of mine who hasn’t left my side by death or by choice.”
Oeric squeezed his father’s hand in return. “I don’t intend to. You deserve that at least.”