Intermission: Unmasked pt. 2

When training was dismissed, Oeric and all huntresses went back inside for water. Soletus didn’t follow. Instead, he sank down in the shade of the house. Kiao settled down beside him. They sat side-by-side in silence while she gathered her thoughts.

She didn’t jump to speak with him as he hadn’t spoken to her much as normal. The only reason she could think of was that he might have taken issue with her lying to him. The young monk liked honesty, but given her situation, he should equally understand why she couldn’t tell the truth. He showed no animosity so she assumed he was busy. Then he had his eyes shut and his long legs stretched out in front of him appearing lifeless. She then told him softly just in case he managed to fall asleep.

“I guess you’ve some history with Briar,” she said.

He became alive all at once, sitting up straight, with his river colored eyes bright and alert.

“We’ve known each other since we were little, but she never liked me. She liked it less when I started going to the school house. She acted like she never seen me before and called me “Soletub” in front of all the boys and started oinking at me. Then they picked it up. She also played mean tricks on me. I remember she came early to class one day and sawed the legs of my chair nearly off. When I sat down…” he said and dropped his hand on his leg.

“She didn’t.”

“What made it worse, our teacher knew she did everything to me, but never called her out because she was the Patriarch’s daughter.”

“But you’re the Arch Monk’s grandson!”

“My grandfather didn’t fund the school.”

Kiao hated that nonsense of people excusing a child’s actions because of their parents. “Well that’s unfair; you’ve never been given much slack.”

Soletus picked up a pebble and tossed it. He watched it sailed over the fence before he continued, “Thing is, my parents know we don’t get along. I think they believed that time would make it all better and now they think enough time has passed and I can be friends with her.”

“And they want that because…”

“To make sure I’m not a social idiot. I need a friend who happens to be a girl.”

Kiao pointed to herself.

“I already tried that. I figured Lady Maelyra and Mama are tickled at the thought of having their children get married.”

“Are you kidding? Are you even ready for matching?”

“Mama is just worried that I look older than I really am and wants me to know things before I get in trouble or something.”

That didn’t answer Kiao’s question.

“What makes this worse,” he continued without giving her a chance to ask anything further, “Papa suggested that I spend my leave being useful and the huntresses who need better training. Since Fern and some older ones before her left, they’ve slipped.”

“And you’re on leave because…”

Soletus rolled his eyes upward. “It’s a disciplinary leave. Valhart and I had another disagreement during the last patrol. I called him some unpleasant things a junior warden shouldn’t say to his second in command and refused to listen to his direct orders.”

“Was he trying to get you killed again?”

Soletus nodded “This time he thought I could kill a beastie with my bare hands because it was just a skulker, a grappler shouldn’t need help on something that small. The thing was big and had two foot long horns. So I did it my way instead, corralling it with the bands help and I didn’t get impaled.”

Kiao wasn’t sure what kind of drass beast had horns, but she certainly didn’t want to meet it. Her run in with one was an experience not worth repeating.

“He got offended and called me undisciplined and disrespectful. Enforcer Icus used his renowned poor listening skills and ignored my concerns.  He couldn’t understand why I don’t trust Valhart neither did he let me explain. He just focused on the fact that I’m a young insubordinate, therefore punished me.”

Kiao was getting frustrated with hearing stories about Valhart. She only met him face-to-face a few times, but when she did, he had an aura of nastiness.

“Why don’t you just transfer to another band?”

“I can’t. Junior wardens have stay in a band for four years before they can transfer.”

“That’s unfair.”

“Don’t I know it,” he said and then nudged her arm with his elbow. “Enough about my misfortune, how are you doing here?”

Kiao let out a short laugh. “How do you think it’s going?”

“You’ve not quit.”

“The thought enters my mind multiple times a day,” she admitted. “They’re still testing me all the time because being male makes you mentally deficient.”

“You could tell them,” suggested Soletus and she gave him a dark stare in return. “I know you really can’t, but wouldn’t it make this easier.”

“No, I’m not comfortable with them knowing. Call it personal experience and I’ve always been told never to tell a soul.”

“I guess that’s why you didn’t tell me?”

She nodded.

“If you could’ve told Lyndon, Mien, and me, would you have,” he questioned.

“Of course, I don’t like lying. You’re my friends.”

Soletus stared ahead of him contemplating under a heavy brow. He then said at length. “So you wouldn’t be afraid of how we would react.”

Kiao thought about it. “Yes, but eventually, you’ll realize I’m the same person.”

“In a way you aren’t. We would change our perspective of you,” he told her. “In my opinion, you’re very brave. Not many have the confidence you do.”

That little girl inside of Kiao screamed with joy, hopping around pleased he thought her brave. However, she was a priestess and couldn’t go around squealing or acting like a senseless girl.

“Thank you. That’s a high compliment coming from you. You’re one of the most confident people I know.”

Soletus fixed his gaze across the yard. “I’m not sure about that.”

“Well, I think Dias gave you a great deal even if you can’t see it.”

The young monk’s eyes swung back to her face. “If that’s what you believe, I need to talk to you about something. You doing anything tomorrow?”

Kiao grinned. “Tell you what meet me on the bridge in the arboretum. I can show you something as well.”

Soletus rose to his feet. “Good, what time?”

“Midday,” she said.

“Midday it is,” he told her and stretched.

Kiao would have loved to see all the muscles and tendons pulling taunt on his body. He had perfect form. Some found his build too thick, however she believed he needed the extra weight for being a grappler. She managed to stare in the right unobtrusive way in that she was waiting for him to finish and gave him a quick embrace goodbye. She stretched herself and then felt the band going around her chest shift to an uncomfortable position and dug into her skin. She had lost the better of the specially made breast bands to the attack months ago. She was now stuck with an older one that was too tight. She couldn’t even run with it on because she would certain it would make breathing difficult.

She would love not to wear such a thing and be like any other women because the older she got, the more annoying the whole looking male for the sake of rules got. She wanted to hang the rules and walk out wearing a dress. Then again, she rather wear the battle skirts that the huntress wore. They were made from soft leather not that colorful but they looked sturdy and made for movement.

After she adjusted everything, she faced the door again. There, Briar stood leaning on the door frame.

“You boys really stick together,” said the huntress.

“Well, he’s my friend.”

“And you saw what he did to me,” she said indignantly. “He tried to make me look like a fool.”

“And I heard and saw what you did to him. I think you two equaled each other’s pettiness out.”

Kiao tried to pass her and Briar blocked her with her arm.

“So what haven’t you told the rest of us,” she asked sweetly.

Kiao stared at the arm blocking her way in before she traveled the length of it to Briar’s faux innocent face. The young woman was familiar with that expression. In the Sisterhood, it always came before a cruel joke.

“I don’t know what you are talking about. Move out of my way please,” said Kiao nicely.

“I’m sorry, was that conversation between you two was supposed to be private. You mentioned my name.”

“I’ve no time for this!”

“Keeping secrets, tsk, tsk. Should I come to the arboretum bridge?”

Kiao straightened her spine and tried to be intimidating. “I’ve no time to play with you.”

Briar held her ground and smirked. “We can stop playing when you tell me what you’re hiding.”

Kiao crossed her arms over her chest. “What does it matter to you?”

“I like people being straight with me. Besides, if you don’t tell me, I’ll find out anyway and tell my mother.”

Kiao shrugged. “Then figure it out and tell your mother. I don’t care.”

Briar’s taunt arm went slack. “I’ll tell whoever else I can too.”

“Do whatever, let me past.”

The huntress lowered her arm. “If it’s not that big of a secret then just tell me?”

“As if I would trust you with anything now,” snapped Kiao, pushing passed her and abandoned the society house. It was getting late and no one usually came at that time anyway. She had a feeling Briar would nag her more if she didn’t. She wanted to find Mien anyway. However, he was nowhere in sight when she walked into the infirmary. Alder met her and trailing him was their new minion, Lionel.

He was a recently acquired chanter who had been traveling around with a rather greedy wisewoman. She would make people pay for his “magical healing” which was against the healer’s code. Brother Nimbus met them in a small town and talked him into coming with him. He had no family to speak of and the exact same age as Mien. He was better at healing and had some alchemy knowledge, but most of his knowledge was in herb identification and basic usage.

“You didn’t stay there long,” said Alder. Lionel gangly form beside him went stiff. She found it odd he did that every time. She waved said hello to rigid Lionel and wished someone would push it into his thick skull that the Brotherhood wasn’t the military when it came to ranks.

“Slow day, so I just come back here,” she said inspecting their log. “Did you let Lionel to heal someone today without guidance?”

Alder nodded. “Yes, he did a great job. We won’t feel so overwhelmed when Mien leaves again.” He then leaned over the podium and whispered. “You need to talk to him.”

Kiao glanced up at him. “About?”

Alder didn’t know about their bond. She hadn’t told him and didn’t plan on doing so unless she had to. He was her overbearing brother who thought she was too silly headed to make her own decisions.

“He’s been weird, well, more so than usual. I wanted to talk to you about it before he left, but I held off on it because I thought he would get over it.”

“Get over what?”

“I think he likes you,” mouthed Alder

Kiao stated aloud. “And?”

“You’re supposed to be a young man,” he returned soundlessly.

Kiao saw movement out of the corner of her eyes. Lionel was watching them, but then decided the corner of the closest bed to him needed his attention. Kiao sat her attention on Alder again saying, “I get that and I understand your concerns, but let me handle it.”

“He brought you a gift.”

Kiao lifted her lips. “Really?”

Alder took a step back and looked at her as if she lost her mind. “Why aren’t you upset about it?”

“Why would I?”

“Because,” he told her as if the reason was obvious.

“How do you even know he brought me a gift?”

“Because he asked me if he should give it to you.”

Kiao sighed. “I need to speak with him anyway. Where is he?”

“In his room. I told him to rest today. He looked road worn.”

She expected that he would be. It was his first training mission away, a full week out on the road putting what he learned into practice. Training bands were usually something reserved for warders who barely passed the trials. The thing was Mien passed them. As Nimbus bragged, he was better than the average combat chanter. However, because of who he was, Mien was automatically deemed unacceptable. And to be honest, Kiao couldn’t blame them. Mien was well…she couldn’t put his oddities into a single word.

Kiao walked into the priest’s dormitory from the door that at led to the infirmary. Her room was the first door on the right. Alder’s door was across from hers. To the left of his, was Mien’s room. It was cracked. She peered in and found him curled up on his bed. He always slept in a fetal position. When she first met him, he wound himself in a  tight cocooned make from his blanket to shield himself from the world and to look small. He couldn’t do that anymore. He had grown a bit in just four years. His was taller, but still plenty thin. At least he wasn’t skeletal as before.

She loudly walked over to him and patted his shoulder.

He stirred and lifted his head slightly before jerking awake.

“Not trying to scare you,” she said, settling on the floor between his bed and nightstand while he scrambled upright. He had a twinkle in his eyes.

“What did you do,” she asked.

“Nothing,” he said struggling to keep a smile off his face.

“If you didn’t do anything, something has you pleased.”

He reached under is pillow and pulled out a tan flat rock that fitted into the palm of his hands. “I found this, it’s for you.”

Kiao took the rock and stared at it. “It’s a rock,” she said flatly. “What am I supposed to do with it?”

Mien was now grinning. “Turn it over.”

She flipped it and saw it was a rock with a dragon fly on it. At first, she thought it was drawn, but she saw its lace wings in near perfect detail.

“Sometimes, stones have dead insects and small creatures imprinted on them. They’re usually found on huge sections of rock, but this one wasn’t. I found this one when I was gathering stones for our campfire,” he said with childlike glee.

“It’s pretty,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it before,” she said relieved. Alder made it sound like he went out and brought her jewelry.  “Thank you.”

Mien grinned at her.

“I don’t have anything to give you in return aside from knowledge. I found some information pertaining to our little bond.”

His smile faded. “Really?”

“Yes, apparently it allows us a single ability.”

He sighed. “What sort of ability?”

“The bond could affect our phrases or grants us another sort of like how consorts grant elves ability. I didn’t get much on the how but, the list of abilities is extensive. There are useful ones like being able to numb pain or we can mindspeak or the worse of them all, read each other’s thoughts.”

Mien looked horrified after hearing that last one.

“Yes, I know. However, I don’t think we need to worry about that one. We aren’t exactly standing on equal levels of this bond.”

“I really don’t want anything more than I already have,” said Mien shifting away from her and laid on his back. “We spend enough time working on my other issues. We don’t need new ones.”

“Those things are important to make sure we have a healthy bond together,” she stated and wasn’t sure if he wanted one with the way he was starting to act.

“Yes I know,” he said sharply and then dismissively. “I have to make sure I communicate well enough because I’ve bad comprehension.”

Kiao sat away from him amazed of how quick he could swing to being frustrated. Part of her wanted to attribute it all to him entering todhopod, but he seemed more apt to display himself to her. And from how he stared ahead of himself brooding, something was wrong.

“You’re tired aren’t you? You’re being cranky.”

“Yes, so tired, so cranky,” he returned sarcastically.

Why does he have to be so young, she lamented to herself. She then reached out and patted his upper arm. “Have you eaten anything today,” she asked gently.

“No.”

“How about I find a place in my room to display your gift and we beg the cooks for a platter of food. We can eat alone someplace and you can tell me how your first time on the road went.”

She didn’t think the suggestion would work. That Mien wouldn’t be that easily pleased. However, he rolled his head to her with his eyes with uncertain delight.

“Really?”

“Yes.”

And then all at once, the excited puppy she entered the room seeing came back.

She should’ve been used to his ever shifting mood by then. When he first arrived, he could go from steady, for him, anxious in a flick of an eye. Now that he wasn’t an anxious mess all the time, it was from happy to frustrated. That didn’t include the times that an angry patient or relative come in and he would become equal aggressive. However timbre sensitive chanters were always emotional and something she had trouble relating to.

She liked music too as any chanter would but she couldn’t grasp how it could mesmerize him to the point of intoxication. How he could stand outside and listen to the thunder while something like a book dropping sent him hiding in a dark corner. That sometimes he could catch a person lying, while other times, it went right by him. Then there was the fact that sound could affect his sense of touch. The more heightened his sense became, the more sensitive his skin would become. She worried about that.

If they were to become mates, that was a problem. Elves being able to touch, hug, caress, cuddle, and massage their mates was important. She worried that he would shy away from it. He never really liked being touched and even as he rolled up from bed and helped her to her feet. He grabbed her pulled her up by the wrist. He didn’t take the opportunity to slide his hand to hold onto hers. His inhibitions still held. It wasn’t a bad thing now but could be later. However, he did widen the door to his room for and gave her a courtly bow to proceed out.

It was the little things like that that made her smile that there was hope for them. However, his round eyes were still large with youth. And was still boyishly energetic as he rushed ahead to get the other door for her. It was all very cute but he was young. At that point, she figured that fact would always be a point of contention until it didn’t matter.

 

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