I’m getting ahead of myself, I know. But what happened then relates to that point. Because that incident changed me. There was no way something like that couldn’t. Ahead of me was dark and behind me, well I didn’t want to look behind me. Everything behind me felt like one mistake after another. I kept paying for them. Others kept paying as well. And really, that was just the sorrow in me talking and it was heavy. When I finally came through the other side, things felt different. I also figured out a goal. I wanted a leadership position not just because it was expected of me, but because I wanted things to change.
Noble life was seen a something of envy for those who didn’t know all its idiosyncrasies and nuances. Though many enjoyed the dance of meaning, the constant show of how one was significant and how much smarter they were from their peers. Mien was probably one of the few nobles, envied those living a common life.
He was drawn into how quiet and friendly the people could be. There was no talk about how beneficial a friendship could be it and was able to have a friend for friendship’s sake. He got used to it. So much so that when he was bonded to Kiao, it made sense he continued on the path of accepting the things presented in front of him without social complications. He also got to use the skill he was born with. There was no hiding them. People accepted them. Yet, his mother believed he belonged to the world he forgot about.
In that world, that man existed and his father was dead. In that world, he would be separated from the friends he had made and love to be with those who were lukewarm and looking for benefits. There would be no being a chanter. There was no room for a consort either. And in that world, there would be no Kiao.
All of this infested his mind as he sat in the basement feeling the chill through his clothes. His anger at it all made it difficult to come to any sort of conclusion. However, it released him enough that he fell asleep on the floor of the infirmary basement.
He woke up at the breakfast horn and found a blanket had been draped over him. It kept him warm, but it didn’t help ward off stiffness. Moaned and hit the back of his head against the wall for sleeping there. He didn’t feel well-rested and serene as the fact he didn’t want to return home nagged him. He rose to his feet thinking the first thing he need was a change of shirts when he was greeted by Oeric walking down the stairs.
“What part of stay with each other did you not understand,” said Oeric.
Mien walked up the stairs in silence. He still didn’t feel like speaking. He didn’t want to explain what happened. That his mother did exactly what he thought she would do and yet he couldn’t help be feel betray and disappointed that she didn’t do otherwise.
Oeric gaze became scrutinizing and followed him as he passed up the stair. “Sister mentioned that something happened last night and probably relates to your mother. You can’t let what she told you affect what you do today.”
He’s right. He thought feeling helpless as they walked out the infirmary. He didn’t know what to do. He was certain that he could fix everything dealing with Kellas. What of his future? He would have to go back home. Sure he still had years left of freedom. But there was no point in it if he couldn’t enjoy it with now his mother’s wish over his head on top of his uncle.
Mien then stopped walking when they were halfway across the grounds to the mess hall when he spoke. “First Warden?”
Oeric looked over at him. “Yes?”
“When you come home, did the Arch Monk want you to continue where you left off?”
“Somewhat. He knew I couldn’t just start where I left off. I had to start over. Thing was that what he imagined as starting over was different from how it played out.”
“Did you feel out of place around everyone who you were familiar with?”
“I did for a very long time. I suppose you experience a bit of that last night.”
He nodded and was unable to look at the man beside him who was assessing him.
“So your mother had words for you. I figured she would because you haven’t told her much of anything. Why?”
“I didn’t want her to worry.”
“Is that really the real reason?”
Mien flinched at the question. He knew Oeric would ask it and didn’t want to answer it. He didn’t know the reason why he truly hadn’t when he did it but there was an underling reason he hated to think about.
“She treats me like a boy. I’ve always been her timid little boy. Father was the one who made me do things I was uncomfortable with doing. Sometimes she would say know and he’ll have me do something anyway to prove her wrong. But he isn’t here and now she thinks I’ve a condition.”
Oeric stopped walking short of the door to the mess hall. “And you told her otherwise?”
“She wouldn’t listen. Even trying to keep things simple for her to understand, she didn’t care. She doesn’t like that I’m a chanter. She doesn’t want to understand it.”
“I’m sure that not entirely correct.”
“She kept looking and even told me that I was something else. She barely recognizes me as her son,” he cried and ran his hand through his head and started pacing. “She wants me to be normal because she doesn’t like what she seed. It’s easier for me to have a condition. In noble society, those are things to be ignored or downplayed and dealt with terrible methods. If they can’t be circumvented by those two things, then you are kept out of sight and your presence is ignored. That’s my future.”
“No, she expects me to come back home. And when I come back, she’s probably going to start me immediately on matching. Then the bond is going to act up which will be translated to my condition causing it. And it’ll happen again and again to the point she’ll force an arrange marriage to just have a child to raise and I’ll be sent away to live away because I’m difficult.”
“I actually I would imagine she would just send you back here. Where you would be tortured by the revelation that Kiao moved on with her life and married someone who she adores. Then every day, you have to see her own child happily being her shadow while your estranged from your own.”
Mien stared at Oeric appalled.
“If we must follow your tale exaggerated tale, we might as well make it as dramatic as possible,” he said dryly.
Mien gaze dropped down to his feet and became still. “Am I being ridiculous , aren’t I?”
“You are. I do I understand why this upsets you. She’s controlling you because she’s thinks you incapable in make a decision. Eventually, you’re going to have to put your foot down or she will always overstep. However, you can’t do that now.”
“What do should I do.”
“You need to make some plans about your life. Point your head in a direction and try for it.”
“But I don’t know what to do? I want to be with Kiao and that’s what bothers me the most about this.”
“Then your going to have to make that narrow goal happen with wider goals. I suggest you talk to her about what she wants for her future. Then you figure out what sort of future you two can make.”
“But I don’t know if she’s ready to think that far. She was all for a future together and then it changed because of what’s been going on with her. She’s fighting to stay here while her goal to earn the infirmary is getting further and further away. Brother Oli is getting old and with everything they way it is for the priests. I don’t think she’s going to get it.”
“Then she’ll re-evaluate what she wants.”
“She will, and it’ll likely be nearly the same thing. And while she wants that and not be alone, but I cause her trouble. It’s almost better if I wasn’t here. But, I don’t want that to be forever or for me to go home.”
“You were studying alchemy and working under a master because you failed the entrance exams for the university. Why not try again?”
Mien shoulders sagged. “Because the test gets harder if you failed once.”
“But you were stressed and a lot younger. Your older and can handle yourself better. You just have to refresh the knowledge and that shouldn’t be that hard.”
“No, but I go to my mother to fund me, I’m obligated to work for her.”
“What about studying to become an apothecary?”
“I would need to study alchemy, graduate from that, and then get accepted to the apothecary college. That’s going to at least take me six full years because it’s not just school work but a lot of practical work as well to prove my competence.”
“Then I would talk to the Patriarch then. Having a licensed apothecary would benefit the Brotherhood and it wouldn’t take you very much to convince Lord Kharis of anything.”
Mien eyes got large. “You mean the Brotherhood would sponsor me?”
Mien rubbed his arm. “But, I don’t want to take more than I already have from you all.”
“But you would be giving back if you did. And isn’t there a part of you, that wants to try to finish what you failed to do?”
Mien felt in his heart there was indeed a part of him that wanted to do more. Help the Brotherhood because of the sad alchemy kit they had. Newer ones were better and with a license, he could get them a good one. In fact, he could get them all sorts of chemicals and medicines to try out. But he didn’t want to leave. Everything good in his life was there.
“I would have to think about it,” he said.
“And you’ll have plenty of time to do it when we get done with this,” he said leading him forward again. “Also, I want to make sure she hears all about what you accomplished. A good time to do it is when you face the arbiter. Those are the things you should be proud of and not be ashamed of. Your something more than the average combat chanter,” he said.
Mien heard that note of pride in his voice. And he smiled.
That man isn’t your father.
Mien shrugged off the voice in his mind. He didn’t want to feel shame for liking Oeric. He in fact rather it had been his father he spoke to. The man could do something more directly than just give advice. However his father wasn’t there and Oeric wasn’t that threatening. Sure he was a former cur, but he was still an elf. And a good one at that. However, his mother probably couldn’t get passed appearances. She couldn’t get passed a lot of things. His father’s death was one of them. Another one was the fact he had changed. He thought it was for the better.
Once they walked in, Mien searched for Soletus. He wasn’t sitting at the usual spot. A group of warders occupied it. Instead, Soletus was seated at a table away from everyone along the wall that was relatively out of eye shot of everyone. Tyrus and Doran were there as well talking to each other. He got his food and joined them with Oeric who only grabbed a mug of hot tea.
Doran was the first to acknowledge him. “So what happened? Who’s body was found. I heard it was a second warden.”
Oeric told him. “You might as well tell them. The entire Brotherhood will know about it soon.
“It was Valhart’s body,” said Mien softly.
Soletus’s hand that was stirring his bowl of porridge went still.
“Whoever he fought beat him good and clubbed him with a rock,” said Mien sitting down. “When we saw him last was probably several hours before he was killed.”
Soletus searched his face and then looked at his father.
“I just heard about it this morning,” said Oeric.
The young monk pushed his bowl away and laid his arms on the table and put his head down.
“I guess you’re relieved his gone,” said Tyrus.
“No,” said the young monk, speaking do the table. “I’m not. I wanted answers. For him to be forced to explain himself. Now he doesn’t. He’s just dead with every secret he had dead with him.”
“Maybe that was the point,” said Mien. “To silence him. I noticed something interesting while I was there. He was hit in the same side and in the same place I was by the rock.”
Oeric’s brow shot up. “Really?”
“That’s a nice coincidence,” said Tyrus.
“I don’t believe it’s a coincidence,” said Oeric and then he leaned forward and kept his voice hushed. “The purpose was not been to silence him but to punish him. If that the case, Kellas and the others did it.”
Mien looked to the other young men around them. They looked just as confused as he did and they asked at the same time. “Why?”
“I’m surprised you four ask. Kellas likes loyalty among his band member equally all he likes justice. I would say, Valhart did something Kellas didn’t like and found out about it. And given Kellas’s past actions, he probably allowed the others loyal to him do it.”
“Your familiar with him doing this, Sir,” asked Doran.
Oeric glanced around him at the few eating at the surrounding seats. His presence probably made warders and junior wardens stay clear of the area. If there was a warden there, they had better things to do than listening to Oeric speak to them.
“Kellas had a body count behind him. However, not on the scale as the gorge. The first time it happened was when he was in my band early in its making. There was a cur who was accused of murder. The towns people thought he was guilty, I knew he wasn’t. Kellas, didn’t allow me to prove his innocence. Instead, allowed the folks in town to lynch him. They claimed it was a suicide. I’ve no proof that he did. However, it was clear, in my opinion was responsible.”
Mien glanced over at Soletus who had now raised his head. His brow drew together.
“He’s done this before? Multiple times.”
“Yes and it’s hard to prove given the circumstances that he involved in. The Seat doesn’t care if a suspect or a wanted fugitive dies by slipping off a cliff, drowns, commits suicide, or managed to find the jaws of a drass beast, it’s just all happenstance.”
“And the Arch Monk didn’t think is odd?”
“These instances weren’t one after the other. Years apart and certainly not in the most recent of decades. But yes, I think he questioned him on it. Then Kellas changed his duty from a long patrol to a drass beast hunting band. Going from taking established members to younger ones. Pace, Cole, and Roy I do believe are the only ones from his long patrol band. They are the most loyal to him.”
“And Val-val,” asked Tyrus.
“Added in when he switched. He was swamp fodder for the longest time and Kellas took a chance on him. Not someone who I would choose as a second.”
“Something was wrong with that fellow and Kellas so maybe that’s why,” said the half-elf.
“Likely. But Kellas…he’s something far worse than anything I seen. Normal elves don’t commit mass murder and pretend nothing happened,” said Oeric his gaze wondered away. “I need you lads to stick with each other from now on. I won’t ask again.”
Mien noticed that he was clutching the mug he was drinking out of. He was nervous.
“You think he might come after one of us,” asked Soletus.
“I’ve a sinking suspicion he might as well as Icus. And that’s all we can do is trust Icus.”
“I don’t know how we can seriously trust him since what he did to Soletus,” said Doran.
“Trust Icus to get to the truth,” said Oeric. “You don’t have to like his method and I certainly don’t.”
After they finished breakfast, Oeric led them back to the dorms and explained what they had to do.
“You will have a chance to speak to the Arch Monk before he makes his judgment. It’s better that you have what you want to say laid out. I also expect you to be in dress uniform. This all about presentation.”
Mien could handle that, but he didn’t know what he was supposed to say. They got their dress uniforms. Mien had to go to the clothier to get one. Unlike Soletus who had to get a custom fit uniform, the combat chanter jacket fit him perfectly. The priest cord they gave him was made of different material than what he usually wore. Instead of a round weave, it was flat and looked more like a belt. However, the entire uniform did one thing and that was highlight his lankiness.
When he got back to the room, he expected everyone to be writing. Instead he found Tyrus tending to his boots with a shine wax.
“He wants us all fancy, I’ll give him fancy,” said Tyrus working viciously shining his boots. “I reckon when I get done with these, I’ll have a damn fine mirror.”
Doran was on his back staring at the ceiling. Soletus was at the desk writing.
“I want to work this all out today, memorize it tomorrow,” he told them.
“You two going to write something,” asked Mien.
“I’ll wing it,” said Tyrus.
Doran shook his head. “I already know what I’m going to say. It isn’t so much of a defense as it is an admission,” he said and swallowed hard. “I’m turning in my sash.”
Tyrus kept working but swayed his head and Soletus kept writing. They already knew.
“Why would you do that,” said Mien.
“It shows that I acknowledge that I acted unbecoming of a Fenndish monk. Besides, I’m not good at it anyway, anyway.”
Soletus snorted. “Giving up is beneath you. Not good with a staff, then work with a bow, be a scout.”
Doran pushed himself on his elbows to looked at Soletus who was twisted around in his chair regarding him. “I expect for you of all people would want me gone.”
The young monk jerk his head and then went back to writing. “I want you out of my sight, but not for you to just give up on what you want.”
Doran then laid back down. “I don’t know anymore. I can’t see the path in front of me anymore. It’s just shrouded. Isn’t it for you too?”
“It is,” admitted Soletus. “I’m going to take a break after this. Maybe you should do the same.”
The day passed on slowly with each other taking turns at the desk to write. Mien settled down on the chair and stared out in front of him not knowing what to say. What exactly was he defending, his amnesia? The only thing he could do was defend Soletus’s action through the entire ordeal as well as Doran’s and Tyrus. It seemed like the right thing to do.