Mien scrambled to his feet and summing up another burst of energy as a hot light orb nipped at his heels.
“You’re slowing down,” shouted Nimbus and sent another barrage of light orbs that got very close to his back. Mien focused on his next obstacle the log. It was to test his balance. He had balance when he wasn’t trying to avoid hot death at his back. He could feel the heat of light orbs getting closer again.
“Cross it faster,” shouted First Warden Oeric running backwards beside him.
They were trying to decrease his time in finishing the course. However, both Brother Nimbus and the First Warden were made men. They thought to encouragement meant trying to burn him to a crisp. He nearly slipped and ended up jumping to the ground and sped to the second log wall on the course. He made it up and down without a problem. Then he continued on to the hurdles. He made it over the first log and then the second one and then he felt heat again going over the third one.
“You’re slowing down,” shouted the first warden who was now ahead of him. Mien pushed himself to sailed over the last hurdle, it was a long jump with a pool of mud. However, instead of sailing over the hurdle, one foot didn’t clear the wooden post and he flopped down face first in the mud with a hard splat. The last obstacle, was the bell. A rope climb was just a few feet away.
Mien pulled himself from the mud crawled forward and then dropped. With his hand stretched out before him. I’m dead, he thought. His legs burned, his chest burned, and self-confidence burned to a crisp. I don’t want to this anymore!
He felt a boot nudge him.
“Get up and try again,” said Oeric. He didn’t even sound winded. He was never winded. He was never tired. Oeric was a being made of pure energy and one that was determined to see him made lifeless from exhaustion. Mien continued gasping for air as if he didn’t hear him. He rolled to his back and stared off into the overcast sky. Oeric’s scarred face eclipse it.
“Are you giving up,” Soletus’s father asked.
Surely, his heaving chest was a clear sign that Mien was spent. He had warm up exercise earlier that day with his three laps around the training field. it was usually two, and then chanting exercises with Nimbus that went on forever. Then it was the obstacle course.
Nimbus then joined and said, “It’s clear if he runs faster he makes mistakes.”
“But he needs to build more stamina,” said Oeric.
“More magical stamina as well or he’s going to end hurting himself if he uses his abilities too much.”
“Maybe it’s not his stamina that his problem, perhaps it’s his drive. We aren’t putting the right kind of pressure on him. Perhaps have him slay two live drass beast in the pens, he’ll perform the way you want magically,” suggest Oeric grimly.
Nimbus bobbed his head considering the option. “Sounds like a good idea. Maybe you need to start him around the town wall and chase him as a wolf. Nip at him every time he slows down.”
“Teeth might be the better motivator.”
Soletus’s father stared down at him. “Mien, we are going to start with the new strategy discussed until you are able to meet the demands of what a combat chanter is expected to do.”
Mien squeezed his eyes shut. He hated it when they acted like two brothers bouncing off of each other. It was awful. Soletus found it humorous when he heard them going off one day. He wouldn’t have found it funny if he was the subject of their jesting. Though, Mien figured Soletus was happy to see his father finding another friend in the Brotherhood.
Nimbus finally let out an amused chuckle and held his hand out. “Come on stand up. We aren’t going to push you anymore today.”
Mien was too worn to move. I’ll get up when I please.
Nimbus then gauged the distance from him to the rope. “You almost made it and could’ve if you got up.”
Mien moaned and took his hand. He was uncomfortable with his shirt weighting him down. He pulled it off. The older chanter priest brow dipped.
“Have you been losing weight again?”
He didn’t know why every other chanter he came across seemed to notice his ever fluctuating weight. Kiao noticed the other day. Ever since he started training he was either underweight or barely at an acceptable weight.
The man put his fists on his hips. “I’m not going to accuse you of not eating as other’s have, but I didn’t see you in the mess hall last night.”
“I ended up falling asleep in my room and missed the horn. Kiao brought me something.”
“Good, maybe he can also make you devour a whole side of deer every week before the trial. I can give you the magical knowledge and Oeric can train your body, but if you are underweight when they weigh you, we can’t help you there.”
Mien grimaced. It was out of his control.
“I know it not your fault either,” assured the man dryly. “I think every chanter struggles with their weight at your age. It just these muscle headed monks are going to take one look at you and send you back to waste your time meditating.”
“I’ve no issue with his build,” said Oeric.
“That’s because you don’t have standards.”
Oeric grunted and him and then looked dead at Mien. “In all seriousness, Nimbus, he’s fine. Since I was given permission to lead a training band, he would be what I would look for.”
Mien face lifted into a bright smile. “You want me to be in your training band?”
The first warden nodded. “It’ll give you the opportunity to make a reputation for yourself so when the time comes that you want to transfer into a band, there won’t be hesitation.”
Mien would’ve hugged him if it wasn’t so awkward. “Thank you, Sir!”
“It won’t matter if you don’t pass the trials,” he said.
And was something Mien was determined to do. He wanted a sense of purpose than to just be there. He liked the infirmary, but Soletus told a lot of stories. He liked the sound of being part of something. Brother Hickory thought it was a good idea, however, everyone saw him as weak and unable. The Arch Priest told him if he could find a first warden or master who was willing to train him as well as a combat chanter.
Mien was certain the man met it to pacify him and didn’t believe he would find anyone. It was Soletus who suggested that he ask his father. Mien didn’t want to do it. Oeric was intimidating. He heard many storied how strict, tough, and hard to please all of them were right. However, he was also fair and cared. It was Kiao who talked Nimbus to at least agree on the terms if he didn’t believe that Mien could do it, he could withdraw his support. Nimbus never withdrew his support.
After his training, Mien was given free time so he went to the infirmary to meet Kiao. However, to his surprise there was only Alder and two more patients.
Off and resting today,” he said. “Brother Oli’s orders.”
Mien studied the first of the new patients there. A woman lying on the bed curled up and crying.
“Another blighter addict picked up off the streets. Claimed she didn’t know who she was and hadn’t had a fix in three days or food and water,” Alder then pointed to the man from the previous day. He was lying in bed perfectly still with his blood shot eyes wide and unblinking. “He’s not said anything. I figure he might be too embarrassed to speak.” Alder then pointed to a corner to a boy. “He took his first dose and reacted badly.”
Mien walked over there. Indeed the boy had reacted badly to it. The skin on his arms was covered into a red blistering rash. He was glad his first contact with blighter wasn’t like that. A memory he would’ve liked to have forgotten of his uncle pushing that bitter powder in his mouth. He thought it would be amusing. The man then locked him in the cellar. Mien spent an entire day thinking he was going to be eaten by rats down there. His heart was ready to beat itself out of his chest and had chills, but there were no blisters.
His Uncle had quality blighter. It wasn’t as addicting or so it was claimed. It didn’t even give the tell-tell signs of a blighter addiction. Whatever these people had ingested was horrible. Mien was certain it had some other substance in it as filler. However, there was something wrong. The blistering was only on his arms. Mien lifted the collar of the boy’s shifter. There was none on his neck or his chest as far as he could see. Mien picked the boys arm up and noticed that the blisters stopped where his sleeves stopped.
Alder then stood beside him. “I figure you would go to him.”
The boy was young. Not even eighteen yet. He still had freckling around his nose.
“Does blighter really cause that amount of blistering?”
“It can when it’s not clean,” he said putting the boy’s arm down.
“Don’t get too involved with Kiao.”
Mien tilted his head up. “Huh?”
“He’s been getting too friendly. I mean its fine he speaks with you, but Lyndon and Soletus not so much.”
Mien stared at him. He wasn’t following.
“Because their monks.”
“You know how they are. They’re unrestrained sometimes. I’m not saying that all of them lack self-control, but most of them like to push the Brotherhoods boundaries. Lyndon can be one of them.”
Mien still didn’t understand.
“Your friends with him,” said Alder.
The young man crossed his arms. “Kiao hangs out with you so she’ll be around him and he liked her. I’m afraid Lyndon will distract him from work. This is the best place for Kiao and he doesn’t need to ruin that.”
Mien stared at him letting his words sink into his head.
Is he being a protective idiot or being a possessive idiot, he thought. He couldn’t decide which was which, however, he felt better if they didn’t talk about Kiao around patients, not even sleeping ones. He motioned for Alder to follow him. He led the young man to the basement stairs.
“You do realize she’s going to do what she wants,” he told him.
“She’s a brother in this order,” remind Alder. “You need to think about what would happen if he gets found out.”
“He said there were no rules pertaining to what gender chanter priests needed to be in the Brotherhood.”
Alder tilted his head. “Were those Kiao’s exact words?”
“No, but I took that what he met.”
Alder sighed. “So he didn’t tell you.”
“Tell me what?”
Alder rubbed the back of his neck. “Something that Kiao needs to tell you. I’m surprised he didn’t outright tell you, but I can see his reason why because it’ll make it difficult to work with you because you’re you.”
Why can’t people just be clear? Mien didn’t know what he was trying to say.
“It takes you forever to adapt to change. You’ll be awkward around her. And Kiao hates awkwardness. You display everything you feel on your face. Right now, you’re confused aren’t you? You were so uncomfortable yesterday she ended up coming to your room to talk to you didn’t she?”
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to give her away.”
“But you’re very transparent without meaning to be. You display everything about yourself all the time.”
Mien gave him a flat stare. “Really? I let you see what you need to. There are plenty of things you don’t know.”
“I don’t think that’s a bet you want to make.”
Mien didn’t feel like debating with Alder any more than he had. “Look, it’s just one more thing I have to get used to and it isn’t like I’ve not done that before. I mean life on an estate and a monastery is completely the same.”
Mien wished he could say the entire process was easy. It was difficult with all the new sounds, voices, and timbres around him. The chapel’s simple ward was nothing compared to the sensory overload in the monastery. Then there were the men, lots of imitating men looking down their noses at him. The tod and boy were cool and aloof towards him. If he didn’t have Soletus, Kiao, and Lyndon he would’ve felt very alone.
Alder winced. “I get the impression you’re upset with me.”
“Your powers of observation are getting better,” Mien started to leave. Alder grabbed him by the upper arm. Mien jerked away and slapped his arm. “Above and below calm down, I wasn’t trying to hurt you. Look, I was here when she first came here. And it was hard for me to accept her. She was very upset about. I didn’t want to put her through that again,” he said and handed Mien a slip of parchment. “Kiao wanted me to give you this.”
Mien took it.
“I told her I wasn’t going to give it to you if I thought it would be bad idea but, here.”
Mien took the paper and unfolded it. It read:
Meet me in town in the arboretum on the bridge.