Chapter 1: And So, They Met

After I chased my mother away and I realized I was alone. My anger and sadness fled. The veil that had fallen over my eyes, lifted. It was then I realized I had made a terrible mistake.

 Soletus expected a feral boy cowering in a corner. Instead, what lay in front of him was a boney faced boy in a cot. He used his blanket to create a cocoon around him. He looked thin and small. He didn’t strike Soletus as the sort who would attempt to kill his brother in a rage or worth the rumors and concern that had been going around for days.

Yep, a real threat here, he thought.

He looked to Brother Hickory for some thoughts. The man who had greeted him happily when he arrived, now stood there with his face heavy and grave.

“Here’s the problem, he can’t be around anyone else yet,” said Brother Hickory followed by him taking a moment to let out a loud yawn. He rubbed tired eyes before finishing. “But, he needs to be around someone other than me. That’s where you come in.”

Soletus looked at the boy again. “Why?”

“His situation can’t be easily fixed with my usual stern hand as he isn’t disobedient or ill-tempered.  He’s too…” Brother Hickory paused. His thin brows pulled together as he searched for a word.

“Too what,” prompted Soletus.

The priest gave up with a wave of his hand. “I can’t think off of three hours of sleep. You’ll see what I mean when you speak to him.”

Soletus gazing down at his new assignment again and wondered what it was that the sleepy priest was trying say. The fact he wasn’t the typical son given to the Dias Brotherhood to straighten up didn’t sound like a problem. In fact, he didn’t understand why he was chosen for this particular assignment. He was a monk in training and a strong warder of his rank he should’ve marched off the previous day to be with the other warders of the Dias Brotherhood to cull drass beasts. That was a challenge putting all his training to the test, dealing with a noble’s crazy whelp, not so much.

However, he learned from Master Marth, that Brother Hickory requested that someone calm and close to the same age as the boys to help. Soletus thought a priest in training would have been more appropriate. However, Soletus knew a bit about why he was chosen. He didn’t get in trouble. He followed orders very well. He was also, according to his training clutch, kind to the point of being a little too soft-hearted. He didn’t know how soft-hearted would help someone that should have been hung.

The boy then shifted in bed and rolled over facing them as if he was waking up. However, he settled back down, curling back up in a fetal position again. Brother Hickory tapped Soletus on his shoulder and gestured with his head for him follow. They walked through the short hall and continued their conversation in the small kitchen that acted as Brother Hickory’s dining and common room. He had his room and workroom down the hall, but always spoke to everyone in the open sunlit room. The priest gestured towards the bubbling pot that rested on the small stove there. The young monk declined. He didn’t know how long the contents had been overcooked. Everyone knew it was safer not to eat Hickory’s cooking. He instead pulled out a chair and sat in it backwards just as whatever was in the pot popped. A stream of steam billowed into the air. Hickory walked over to it and poured some water in it given causing the contents to pop and sizzle. He gave it a little stir and joined Soletus at the table.

“Just a little something for the lad when he wakes up,” stated Brother Hickory.

Poor fellow is going to starve, thought Soletus.

Brother Hickory at least had the widow Saffron who would feed him whenever he made a cooking disaster. It looked like today was no exception. Maybe she would feed the lad as well.

“I know this isn’t ideal for your training,” said Hickory.

“It isn’t,” he confided to the old family friend. “Papa doesn’t think I’ve enough, fire to go through the trials. He told me to prove myself and going to the culling would have showed him but-”

“I know, he spoke to Master Marth and kept you here,” finished Hickory with empathy. “You know he means well.  He just wants you prepared. This maybe a sign from Dias that you should enter into priesthood, you’ve great makings for that.”

Soletus frowned. His father said that too, and it was something he could do, however, priest didn’t do anything. If he were lucky, he would be sent to a small chapel in a town far away converting unbelievers. As a noble a task it was to get others into hearing the voice of Dias, it was dull and thankless.

“It isn’t exciting,” he said without giving it a long thought.

Hickory didn’t take offense at all. “I understand. I didn’t want to be a priest either, but what choice does a chanter has,” smiled the chanter priest.  “Well, at least I’ve this chapel and a good temper. Will be needing it that for this one.”

“But you said he wasn’t trouble.”

“Not all people who take patients to deal with are trouble. I’ve had him for a week and I never met someone as old as he is being so completely…” Hickory paused again and shook his head. “No, you just have to meet him. I’m too tired to think. I can assure you he isn’t possessed by some evil spirit as your mother probably told you before you came here.”

Soletus let out a snorting chuckled. He knew his mother well. “She acted as if I’m dealing with Malicifer’s spawn.”

Brother Hickory hung his head down. “For once I would like official business not gossiped it around. One would think the Brotherhood consists of a bunch of old nattering hens at this point.”

“So can I assure her that he isn’t evil?”

Brother Hickory bobbed his head. “The only issue thing that might cause concern is he’s a latent chanter coming into his abilities. If it wasn’t the phrase of light he’s fixed on, I wouldn’t be so worried.”

That surprised Soletus. He didn’t know the boy was a chanter. They were given divine power to use the phrases of the Hymn of Dias and those chosen were said not to be evil. They could fall into darkness, but those who were chosen were said to have the desire to give and help. Attempted murder wasn’t exactly a chanter like act. Brother Hickory read his surprise and told him,

“The reason why a person was chosen to become a chanter is not for us to question. As Dias says, it’s based on what they will do. I can take a guess at what he might be able to do.” Soletus saw a twinkle of excitement formed in the old priest’s teal eyes. “His phrase of light is something special. It’s hot, very hot. A little odd given his personality, however, he could be trained as a combat chanter and it’s been a long time since we had one. But he’ll never become one unless he’s less….” Hickory gestured in the air trying to find that word again.

Soletus he saw something move behind Brother Hickory’s head. He leaned to the side and saw their topic of conversation had woken up and was peering into the room. He watched the boy run a hand through his disheveled red hair cut in the length that a half-elf would.  The boy took stock of the room as if checking it for danger. When he saw Soletus looking at him, he tried to slink back behind the doorframe.

Soletus pointed to the door and Hickory caught him just as he vanished from view.

“Oh no, what did I tell you about shrinking away from people. Confidence my boy,” encouraged Brother Hickory loudly.

The boy stepped out not looking directly at them or in their direction for no more than just a few seconds before he found the chair he selected as an convenient to focus on. He pulled it out from under the small table and sat. He looked down at the table top. It wasn’t as if Soletus could see his face. The boy’s forelocks covered up his eyes.

“Mientheodric,” said Brother Hickory to him. “This is Warder Soletus’Sheldmartin I was telling you about. His family is one of the longest serving families in the Dias Brotherhood. His father is the son of the current Arch Monk and all around a good tod to have your acquaintance.”

Soletus offered his hand. “Hello,” he said.

With his eyes still cast down at the table, the boy reached out, shook his hand once before he recoiled back and folded his arm around him with the other one. From what Soletus father told him, the lack of eye contact meant deception, but that wasn’t the case. The boy reminded him of a dog kicked far too many times. He glanced in the old priest’s direction and saw that Hickory’s brow became a line of heavy concern. Soletus then suggested, “Maybe you should leave the two of us alone for a bit.”

Hickory looked uncertain. The boy shrank into his chair. Instead of the priest having mercy on him, he stood.

“You can’t hide your face forever, son,” said the priest. “We all do bad and embarrassing things. Some worse than others. However, hiding behind a face of shame and fear is no way to deal with it.”

Salts watched the boy’s shoulders droop and he hung his head down farther, showing the crown of his fox red hair.

Hickory let out long sighed. “Don’t be afraid to talk to him like a normal boy,” advised the priest. “I’ll be at the altar if you need me.”

Soletus nodded and waited until Hickory footsteps couldn’t be heard anymore before he talked to his charge again.

“So what do I call you? Mientheodric is a strong name but a mouthful.  Unless that is what you like to be called.”

The boy stared at the table. He opened his mouth and said barely above a whisper, “Mien.”

“Short, quick, simple, alright Mien,” said Soletus leaning forward. “I don’t know what Brother Hickory wants me to do. I mean, did he tell you anything?”

Mien shook his head.

“Do you want anything? There’s something bubbling here that Hickory forgot,” said Soletus and then smelled it. He jumped from the chair and dove at the stove. He couldn’t find Hickory’s pot holder and ended having to wrap his hands around the hot metal handle. He dumped the pot on the wooden counter to his right and blew on his hand. He was sure it was all very comical looking, but Mien didn’t say anything. They boy watched silently as, what once was porridge, was now sizzling. He searched for a bowl and found a clean one as well as the square padded cloth Brother Hickory used.

Soletus poured the contents of the pot into the bowl. Most of the porridge was a blackened layer on the bottom. What was left might have been still edible. He brought the half-full bowl to Mien.

“You need a little something in you even though it’s sort of burnt,” he said.

Mien lifted his head and grimaced when Soletus placed it in front of him. The young monk handed him a wooden spoon as well as a small tin mug of water.

“Not exactly what you’re used to but it’ll fill the hole.”

Soletus watched him hesitantly eat taking a very small bite from the end of his spoon. He still refused to look at him or say anything. Not even a simple “thank you.”

The young monk then eased himself down in front of him again trying to get him to speak.

“So which house are you from,” asked Soletus.

“Cyan,” said Mien just loud enough for the mice to hear him.

“A branch from House Jay then,” said Soletus.

He tried to remember what he knew about them. The name was familiar as they were long time patrons of the Brotherhood. As far as he knew, no sons from their line were members. The only reason he figured for the support was security in the region where drass beasts often roamed. What he did know was that having a son who caused such a commotion was bad for their reputation. In fact, it was humiliating.  Soletus was surprised the boy wasn’t disowned.

Mien stirred his bowl with disinterest after a few more bites. Soletus looked around for something else. There wasn’t.

“That bowl of yuck probably isn’t very satisfying. Brother Hickory is an awful cook and gardener, but he might have something in the back worth eating.”

Mien glanced up showing his face a little when he shook his head. It was still young looking as he had freckles around his nose.

“I take it you’ve seen it?”

Mien bobbed his head.

“There might be something, come on. Getting out and doing something will make you feel better.”

The boy followed him outside wordlessly. He didn’t appear to be so guarded when they walked out in the open. In fact, he relaxed a little as he came to a halt slightly behind Soletus at the sight of the choking nest of weeds.

“I think there are some carrots in there, we should weed them out. Maybe Brother Hickory will share one of Widow Saffron’s baskets she makes for him for cleaning this mess out.”

Soletus got down on his knees and started working. Mien followed carefully, pausing at each plant and pulling them up from the base slowly. Soletus ripped everything up in front of him with abandon. He spent many a day weeding his mother’s garden. She expected her plants free to grow as big as it liked and he was sent out to make sure that happened. He pulled up anything he saw, even ones that had thorns on them.  He had thick enough callouses on his hands to protect them from training. However when he reached for a particularly fuzzy plant, Mien’s hand shot out and gripped his wrist.

“I wouldn’t pull that up barehanded,” the boy warned. He wasn’t looking at him directly, but he was speaking to him as such, as a shy individual could. “It has a toxin in their pubescence that if it gets in your eyes, causes temporary blindness. Harmless when small but once it starts flowering you need to be careful.”

The weed was well passed flowering. There were withered white petals scattered beneath the plant.

“Thanks for the warning,” said Soletus studying him in awe. He doesn’t speak like a boy.

Mien withdrew his hand as quickly as he placed and begin working again. “A spade would be better to remove it with,” he added speaking low again.

Soletus left to search for any garden tool Brother Hickory had. They were all places in a dusty shed not touched since spring. Mien stood aside and let him take care of the plant. Once it was removed and tossed aside where it wouldn’t harm anyone, the two of them continued cleaning out the entire plot. There were carrots there, some turnips, and onions. The carrots and turnips weren’t anything to look at. The onions somehow managed but onions didn’t taste good alone. There was a wild briar hidden containing a few late season blackberries for their hard work. They worked on those.

The entire time the young monk talked to him about the Brotherhood and the town of Hope’s Glory. The entire time Soletus studied Mien. His father taught him it was a good skill to study people and figure out who they are. Soletus was a lot better at it than he was though. From what he gathered the boy listened. He asked no questions.  He only glanced at him if he had too. He didn’t say anything at all for the rest of their time out there. Most of all, he was strung a little tight. He was guarded, kept his distance from him. The slightest of noise would take his attention away until he found the source.

When Hickory sought them out, Mien teased up again. He was sitting on the ground and got to his feet the moment the priest appeared. Soletus watched Mien back up placing himself behind him. Brother Hickory was fixed on his clean garden plot to notice the strange reaction, or he had seen it and chose not to respond.

“I was saving that for when they suffered me with another badly behaving boy, but they wouldn’t do such a good job,” he said impressed looking straight at Mien. “I wouldn’t think you would do such work.”

Mien cast his gaze down at his feet.

“He was fine,” said Soletus slapping the boy on the back. Mien scooted away from him. “Well, he was before that.”

“That was just a friendly slap, lad,” Hickory said to Mien.

He didn’t act as if it was friendly.

Hickory the pointed over his shoulder and said, “Why don’t you run inside and get prepared for your training. I want you to go to the altar and pray. Recite the Hymn of Dias in Melodic. I’ll be there shortly.”

Mien regarded Soletus with a long stare before rushing back inside the chapel. The young monk figured that was about as good of a goodbye he was going to get.

Hickory watched as well scratching his head.  “So what do you think?”

“It’s like he’s in a shell,” he assessed.

Brother Hickory bobbed his head in agreement. “That’s surprisingly accurate. Couldn’t have said it better myself.”

“Was he always like that or do you know?”

“From what I understood, he was reserved before, but he’s retracted since everything happened.”

Soletus thought about that for a moment about what he learned and then declared, “I’m confused.”

“About?”

“Why would someone that timid try to kill someone?”

Brother Hickory looked at the door as if he could see Mien through it. “Why do normal people do bad things? They do it because of greed, anger, and fear. Once those things are in control, they make an elf desperate and they do things they normally wouldn’t do.”

“So he was afraid because I don’t see him doing it out of rage.”

“It was anger,” corrected Brother Hickory.  “The wrath of a quiet man can be very terrible because a quiet man thinks. What he did was premeditated.”

“If that’s the case, then why is he here and not at the Pit or dead?”

Brother Hickory cut him a side-glance.  “His situation isn’t a clear cut case. There’s no need to worry about him repeating his actions as you can see. What I am concerned about it that shell you mention.  He keeps things locked tight and unmanaged. Your job is to get him out of that shell. I work on the managing. Do you think you can do that?”

“I can,” said Soletus confidently. It didn’t seem out of his realm ability.

The priest regarded him with approval. “You are a very self-assured young tod, Soletus. That’s why you’re good for this. He needs someone with a head on them.”

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