The next time Kiao found herself in the society house, Briar and Soletus were acting completely different. Soletus was talking in a normal volume and giving Briar suggestions. Briar was listened and asking questions in a way a normal individual would a teacher. Soletus even knocked her off her feet. She didn’t attack him with an insult. He held out his hand to pull her up and she said, “Thank you,” and continued with whatever they were practicing. The most they did was go back and forth with friendly jabs and they compared nothing to the spiteful attacks before.
“It’s been an entire week and they’ve not snapped at each other once,” stated Edithlyn with genuine confusion.
“Maybe they got the fight out of them,” said Kiao and smiled inwardly for fixing the situation. However, part of her was a little unsure about their deceptive arrangement. Someone might see through it because Soletus was not a good actor and while his father was satisfied by the two tolerating each other, he of all people would figure it out.
With that crisis resolved, Kiao decided that she needed to work on her and Mien. She determined the best course of action was them working together. Not only would it help her forget Soletus but also deal with his apathy for participating in lessons. He would be leaving soon, so she was trying to make the most of their time and thought a change of scenery would help. He came to the society house with her.
There wasn’t a lot of women there that day. She figured Edithlyn’s scrutinizing gaze was enough to deal with. It made Mien nervous, so he stood at the doorway observing until their last patient. It was a little girl who had patches and refused she cooperate. She hid under a chair using her doll as a shield. Her mother fussed loudly at her while Kiao tired her best to coax the girl out to no avail. She didn’t want to be examined or given any medicine for the red irritated spots that covered her. Mien watched a few moments before he stepped in. He tapped Kiao on the shoulder as she squatted in front of the chair the girl hit herself under.
“Let me,” he asked.
“Be my guest,” she said.
Mien took her spot, though he instead lay on his stomach and greeted the girl with a soft, “Hello.”
He started talking to her and like a bit of magic, he had her crawling out and seated in a chair. He sat beside and she let him examine her arm. All the while, Edithlyn’s critical stare lightened up the more he went on. Kiao however became unhappy at how easy he made it all seem. Then it got to the point when he wanted her to take a small dose of an elixir and then she held her small hands over her mouth.
Mien turned the bottle in his fingers and told her, “I made this myself because I like to help people. I consider it a gift,” he said. “However, some gifts, no matter what you do, don’t taste like strawberries in cream. Do you like strawberries in cream?”
The girl nodded her head.
“If I could make remedies taste like that, I would. However, I found the more yucky the taste, the better is going to make you feel better,” he said gently.
The girl said in a squeaky muffled voice. “But, my brother said I’ll grow fur and a tail.”
Her mother scowled and said, “What did I tell you about listening to every word he says?”
“You aren’t going to grow fur or a tail,” said Mien, contrasting the woman’s tone. “Not that it would be a bad thing, it’ll just make you cuter.”
The little girl giggled under her hands.
“It will make your aches and fever go away quicker. The longer you stay sick the less time you’ll be able to play. And you want you and your doll-,”
“Daisy,” said the girl and covered her mouth up.
“Daisy to have fun. I mean, dolls don’t have fun when they’re stuck in bed too, now do they?”
The girl looked at the bottle in Mien’s hands and the small tin cup he had. She lowered her hand and opened her mouth. Mien poured a dose in the cup and dumped it in her mouth. Kiao expected her to spit it out, instead, the girls face puckered. She let out a cry followed by her wiping her tongue with her hands.
“You’re just as brave as I thought you were,” Mien. “I’ve grown men who are supposed to be wardens run and hide just off of smell alone.”
“So I’m tougher than a warden,” she asked looked at him brightly.
“Way tougher than a warden,” he said and winked at her. To her mother he said, “Fill this cup half way and give it to her twice a day. You can pour a little water in it so it isn’t so bitter. I’ll make a rubbing oil for her rash later today and drop it off here so you can pick it up.”
“Thank you,” said the woman plucking her daughter from the chair.
“It was my pleasure to help, Madame,” he said with a lopsided smile.
The woman returned his grin and both she and daughter left the room.
Mien let out a long exhale before regarding Kiao. “How was that?”
“You might’ve been laying it on a bit thick,” she said.
“No, that was perfect,” said Edithlyn. “See, she’ll tell her friends that she was treated by a charming chanter priest, and they’ll all come here.”
Mien rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m not that charming.”
“But, you can’t deny you’re really good with children.”
“That he is,” admitted Kiao begrudgingly.
“And then you have such a soothing voice. I’m surprised young ladies don’t start talking to you just to hear you speak.”
The other side of Mien’s mouth pulled up while Kiao controlled herself from rolling her eyes by staring at the wall.
There was a shout for Edithlyn and the woman sighed. “There’s always a crisis around here. I’ll be back.”
As soon as she exited the door, Kiao started scrubbing the table with a damp rag to clean it off. She vigorously moved her arm trying to burn her frustration and complained.
“I’ve been here for weeks trying to work with these women and Edithlyn getting nowhere. You’re here for a day and they already like you better,” she said dragging the cloth across a knot in the wood as if it were a stain.
“I wouldn’t say they like me off on one patient. Besides, the wisewoman just liked my approach,” he told her.
Kiao let out a derisive snort and rubbed the surface of the table harder. Mien clamped his hand over hers stopping her. She whipped her face to glare at him and found his very close to hers. The hairs on her arms rose up as she found herself from being torn between looking away and meeting the no-nonsense look he gave her. The more time went by, the more he seemed to be looking through her rather than at her.
“If today is an example of what’s been going on, I don’t think the issue is so much with them, but you. You’re too harsh and standoffish,” he said speaking louder and firmer than he normally would. She shivered from it as if she was a struck tuning fork. She never felt anything like that from anyone’s voice and certainly not from his. She didn’t know what to think. Her mind decided that panicking was the best response.
“Let go,” she snapped.
Mien jerked his hand away and took a stepped back. His face started to ripen like a fall apple. Kiao drew her rag in and started folding it while she worked up words to say. She could still feel the warmth of his hand and strength of his grip like it was stamped on her skin with ink.
“Sorry, that was way too forward,” he said.
“Why? You wanted to get my attention and touching someone is effective. You just surprised me because you’re not a touchy person,” she said and wanted that to be the logical reason why she pushed him away. The truth was, she didn’t know.
Mien put more distance between them and settled in the corner of the room.
“Now you’re over-reacting,” she said.
“I don’t want to impose myself on you.”
Kiao sighed and exclaimed, “Touching my hand isn’t imposing.”
“Then why are you rubbing it like I didn’t something wrong,” he asked.
She didn’t even realize what her left hand had been doing and immediately stopped.
“I’m not used to you reaching for me like that or anyone touching me for that matter.”
Her words didn’t reassure him.
“Above and below Mien, You don’t need to be so coy.”
Mien’s eyes tightened with his lips puckering. Kiao was getting all too familiar with that expression of annoyance.
“This has nothing to do with me being coy,” he said, crossing his arms. “Excessive touching grates my nerves. And it doesn’t help that my Uncle made it worse by always grabbing and yanking my arms or holding me down where I couldn’t move or fight back. I’m trying to be courteous and not doing that to you which is completely different than acting like some sheltered doe of a girl!”
Kiao’s first thought was to point out that he was being silly to think she was attacking his masculinity. She didn’t know why it continued to be a sore spot. However, she knew if she said that, he’ll get defensive, start pouting, and probably not talk to her until he calmed down.
Instead, she moved from around the table and took steps towards him. “I’m sorry. You’re courteousness is appreciated but, you’re overreacting and I overreacted. No need to get defensive because I got defensive.”
She stopped within arm reach of him and studied his head. His forelocks sagged in his eyes from being on the floor earlier. She raised her hand and wiggled her fingers in front of him.
“Just grooming,” she told him and swept his hair back across his forehead neater.
Mien leaned away from her hand.
“Even this bothers you?”
“No, it just tickles,” he told her and reached a hand out to deal with the hair that fell down in her face. He pushed it behind her ear. Kiao then smoothed out the top of his head. He then followed that by plucking a fallen strand of hair off her shoulder. She continued their nitpicking game by brushing the dust from the floor off his chest. It then occurred to her how strange it was to do that. She had done his shoulder and back before. If she did touch his chest, it was just a quick pat and playfully sweeping her hand across his chest.
She started to pull her hand back making it look as if she was done and not because she felt suddenly self-conscious. Mien however cupped his hand around hers and placed it back down over his heart. The girl inside of her started having a fit on what to do next as he stared at her the same way months ago on the bridge. He was about to say something but went stiff dropping her hand.
“Edithlyn is coming.”
Kiao stepped away from him right before the wise woman entered the room. She didn’t notice their proximity and the fact that they were both blushing. She was too busy reaching and gathering things.
“Brother Kiao, I need you. I’ve a birth that’s not going well.” The young woman and grabbed her satchel from the corner. “Don’t worry about any more supplies, I’ve got everything I need,” she said gathering her own pack.
Kiao held onto to it anyway and told Mien to go back to the infirmary. She followed Edithlyn out the front door and saw a wagon was waiting for her. There sat in the driver’s seat a young woman who looked frayed. She eyed Kiao with suspicion as she climbed onto the back.
“He’s a chanter, he should help,” Eidithlyn told her as she got settled.
“Need all the help we can get,” said the woman slapping the reins of the large horse and sped down the street.
Kiao’s gripped the side of the cart as she went over her knowledge of childbirth. It wasn’t extensive given how few women came to the infirmary. Most depended on older relatives or Edithlyn for that sort of thing. What few warden’s wives who came to the infirmary were more comfortable with Brother Oli handling their birthing. He let her attend the few she seen, but he did most of the work and rarely had her do anything aside from stand to the side holding something.
She felt excited that she was giving the opportunity to actually help with one, but given the how the woman cut sharp corners that left her nearly left her flat on her back and tumbling to the other side, something was wrong. Once outside of the gates, they went westerly towards farm country. When they got to the house and Kiao could hear screaming from somewhere in the large farm house, her stomach quivered at the woman’s anguish. Something was very wrong indeed and the atmosphere inside of the house was somber.
Three men were sitting as well as a young girl that sat over to the side on the floor. One of the men was pacing. She gave them little eye contact and focused on following the young woman as she described the issue.
“She’s been pushing for hours and nothing happen and then the bleeding started getting heavier,” spoke the woman leading them towards the back of the sprawling house. They stopped in an unadorned bedroom. There a woman with an engorged stomach lay on the bed and an older woman gripping her hand. The woman’s skin was pale bordering on gray. There was blood soaked on the bedding as well as saturated the air. Edithlyn rushed over to see what she could. Kiao was stilled by the scene and her heart became chilled.
“Come on don’t just stand there! I brought you here to be useful,” snapped the wisewoman.
Kiao took a step forward trying to keep focus on her task and ignoring the chill of death in the stuffy room. She sat on the edge of the bed touching the woman’s other hand.
“Good afternoon, Madame,” she said.
“Are you a chanter,” gasped the woman.
The mother became hopeful. “You’ll be able to do something? Help my daughter?”
“I have to see first,” she said and positioned her hand over the woman’s heart. She didn’t have to touch anyone to see inside them. She only did it when she was growing tied. “I’m going to look at you magical. It’s a bit obtrusive, but I have to know a few things before I can see what I can do. Is that alright?”
The two women nodded.
Kiao closed her eyes and chanted so the woman could hear her. She took a deep breath and dove right in flowing down with her blood. From what she saw and heard, the woman’s heart was rapid, blood pressure low. Her blood was sluggish because there was too little of it. When she got down to the woman’s pelvic region, she heard her breath catch. And then Kiao broaden her view so she could see everything and she saw something alarming. A lot of things weren’t right.
“Don’t push, anymore,” said Kiao.
Edithlyn told her, “This baby needs to come out!”
Kiao prodded at the baby and shined her light on it hoping what she felt wasn’t true. That somehow, it was dying and not dead. However, she couldn’t hear a heartbeat. She didn’t see any movement.
Kiao swallowed trying to force the knot in her throat away. It didn’t and she choked on it. She took exhaled and breathed out, “It’s breech and death.”
The woman on the bed started gasping, Kiao figured she was sobbing and stayed focused seeing what she could do for the mother. And she wasn’t sure if there as anything.
“Surely, there is something you can do for my grandchild,” demanded the grandmother.
Kiao shook her head and pulled back into the waking world. She leaned back telling the woman well practice words. “I can’t bring a soul back into the body. I’m sorry.”
Sorrow filled Edithlyn’s eyes. “Alright, then we need to do all we can to save her.”
“The baby is being blocked by the afterbirth which is the reason for the hemorrhaging. That I can stop it but, she’s already lost lot of blood.”
She then gave Edithlyn a meaningful look. Kiao wasn’t sure if the woman would make it. They didn’t have a whole lot of options.
Edithlyn stood up straight and told the mother. “I need clean water to wash my hands and soap. When you return, you, leave, understand?”
Her daughter then gripped her mother’s hand.
“Si lei’so,” said Kiao to the woman. “Calm down please.”
The woman’s terror ridden face relaxed. Her mother gave Kiao a startled look.
“Please get what we need,” she told her and tried to swallow the bad taste in her mouth.
Time rolled on slowly after the baby was removed. Kiao too it and wrapped the boy in a swaddling cloth. It was then that the chill of death hit her hard. Edithlyn’s attention was on their patient so she didn’t notice Kiao shuttering every-so-often and she was glad for it. She wanted to fold the little body in the swaddling cloth in peace. It was hard enough with the mother kept asking repeatedly to hold her baby. Kiao relented before she went into hysterics and handed her over. She didn’t want her to waste any energy. Holding the little boy quieted her down and she went to sleep. Afterwards, Edithlyn took the swaddled body out of the room.
The young woman could hear her talking to the family saying the outcome was grim. The husband stepped into the room soon after and took a spot on the edge of his wife’s bed. He gave her no eye contact and Kiao decided it was best to be sentinel was outside of the room. She didn’t want to stand there waiting for the inevitable. The woman was dying. It was something she just knew. Her heartbeat wasn’t right and neither was her body temperature. The woman’s skin remained sallow and she refused water.
When Edithlyn came down the short hall and saw her. She put her hand on hips.
“Why are you out here? You should always be watching your patients,” she told her.
“I can do it from out here. Besides, I can’t be in there,” said Kiao and then lifted her hand up. “Feel my hand.”
The Wisewoman touched it and gasped. “Above and below, why are you so cold?”
A shutter went through Kiao. “I’m a strong healer, lover of life. I feel death and in that it’s like standing in cold rain. It’s not always this bad. I think it’s the circumstances. Birth should be about life.”
Edithlyn laid a hand across Kiao’s forehead. “Go outside to walk around. I’ll see if they can make you something warm.”
Kiao swayed her head. Her heart skip a beat. “We need to go in,” she told her at the same time the husband’s voice rose. The two of them and watched him trying to wake his wife.
“She stopped breathing,” he told Edithlyn who rushed to the woman’s side and then he locked eyes on Kiao. “Don’t just stand there, do something,” he shouted.
Kiao hated the feeling of feeling a something that was filled with life becoming a shell. She hated death but she walked forward and said very softly, “I can mend bone, knit flesh back together, and renew skin of a freshly burnt wound. However, I can’t put blood back into a body. Your wife lost too much of it.”
She didn’t tell him that she could restart a heart with a lot concentration on her part, but she didn’t try it with the woman. It would be nothing more than just heroics. Her body had failed her as well as her will. Instead, she got on her knees and bowed her head. Speaking in both in Melodic and then in Elvish saying with her voice cracking, “You’re time is done, sister. Fly home to be with our creator and master. Find peace and love with Dias.”
After that, Kiao rose to her feet, unable to control her own shuttering anymore. Edithlyn started making shooing motions while the she comforting the husband who just stared in front of him vaguely in disbelief.
“Tell the rest of the family,” she told her.
Kiao nodded, walking in the den and announced the death to those giving them condolences before darting outside. She was away from the dead body so the feeling of frost lifted from her.
Kiao muttered the phrase of light and a cluster of white twinkling stars winked into existence around her head. They arranged themselves into one of the many constellations in the sky dependent on her mood. This time the collection of stars formed into a seven star cluster known as “the widow.”
The light was not necessary for her to see. It was just comforting, as it was times like that she truly felt mortal. Chanters were given power granted by a god and Dias had a will that was better off left unquestioned. However, it was hard not to wonder why wasn’t she allowed to save someone. If she had only been there earlier, perhaps she could’ve saved one of them. A husband wouldn’t be without a mate. And elves rarely sought another out if theirs had died.
Kiao found herself at the water pump in the back of the house and worked the handle until water come out. She held her hand under it and splashed it on her face in an effort to re-focus her mind on the living. She should’ve been comforting people and spreading Dias voice. It was one of her duties as a priestess, but the only thing on her mind was the dead. She pumped more water in her cupped hand and splashed more on her face. She rubbed more on the back of her neck.
The young woman didn’t hear the door open to the house until she saw the husband approaching her. There was no expression on the man’s face and Kiao started to offer him another apology however, the words didn’t get half way out of her mouth before his fist slammed into her head.
Kiao found herself ground with colorful lights and darkness feeling her vision. She tried her best to get up but couldn’t the disorientation she felt as her blurred vision came back into focus. There was shouting and someone yelling as well as the sound of a little creature squeaking in rage.
Kiao was able to push herself up and twist around to see Emmery guarding her. While Edithlyn was pushing back the husband with a bucket. Kiao dropped down and rolled to her back. She could feel warmth blossoming in her head signaling an injury. She didn’t have the focus to see how bad it was. However, if she was conscious then it wasn’t bad.
The wisewoman’s face then filled her vision and her hand slapped her on the side of her face.
“Look at me,” ordered the woman. Kiao didn’t have much trouble focusing on her. “How badly are you hurt? Brother, come on talk to me.”
“He needs to go,” shouted the woman who had driven them with Kiao’s pack in hand and dumping it on the ground.
Kiao sat up. “Gladly,” she muttered.
“You ungrateful wretch,” snapped Edithlyn. “He can’t walk back not that I would’ve made him your brother nearly knocked him out cold.”
Brother Hickory had told her stories about his time on the road. He often told her many like the thought of chanters until a chanter couldn’t do the impossible and they turned on them. She never thought she would experience that.
Kiao touched Edithlyn’s arm. “No need for that. I can walk back.”
“You most certainly will not,” returned the wisewoman. “Let him stay here while I get the Starraven’s to give use a ride back.”
“No,” said Kiao. She didn’t want to stay there. She didn’t feel safe. “I can walk if they aren’t far.” She sat up and then stood and let the world come back to center. Edithlyn held her for a moment and then took her hand.
“Come on, I got our things,” she said.
Emmery scurried up Kiao’s body to her shoulder squeaking as the passed by the two of them. Kiao did glance at them as she walked by. The man eye’s narrowed bitterly at her before he walked back towards the house in silence.