Kiao watched the last vestiges of daylight through slighted eyes. The sky was light blue with pink clouds scattered above her. It was a beautiful start to a peaceful evening, though it contrasted with the turmoil she felt.
“Can go slower if the jostling gets to you,” said the young man from the driver seat of the cart. .
She muttered something to him and concentrated on resting without dwelling on how bad her head felt. What couldn’t be ignored was the bone weariness she felt and how awful her soul felt from having to wait for someone to die. What made it worse was the dead baby. She wanted it to be screaming into the world not silent and voiceless.
A stronger greater priestess would probably be drying her eyes with a handkerchief and moving on with her life. Instead, she stretched across the back of the vegetable cart with her head in Edithlyn’s lap for comfort. She felt like a child.
“No we’re fine,” said Edithlyn patting Kiao on the chest right below her neck. “I’m sorry to inconvenience you’re family like this.”
“It’s all good,” he said. “Pa really wanted to pay you back for helping that ewe last spring even though animals aren’t your expertise.”
“It’s fine. I like new experiences even at my age.”
The young man looked back and asked. “How’s the chanter? He ain’t said much. Not that I blame him. I couldn’t say much after meeting that ol’dod’s fist myself.”
“He hit you?”
“Yes Mama. Said something he didn’t like and he knocked me head over heels and out cold.”
Kiao managed a wry grin. “He nearly did me.”
“I can tell and you even walked that whole way back to us. You have to be careful with some folks ‘round here. They’re as mean as a drass beast.”
Edithlyn then said to her, “How’s your head?”
“My skull is fine, and not bleeding. A little pain. Nothing more than a headache.”
“You look miserable.”
She closed her eyes. “My heart aches.”
Kiao said nothing else for the rest of the trip.
It was nearly dark when they arrived to the entrance of the monastery. She climbed out on her own with her head pounding with every step she took. The best option to cure it was going to her room, cry, and sleep.
Upon entering the infirmary, she was greeted by Alder who’s dropped to concern as she stepped in and shut the door.
“What happened to you,” he demanded walking towards her.
Kiao duck down into the basement to drop off the pack that she had taken. Alder followed her.
“I was struck in the head,” she said quietly.
“The woman’s husband who had died after giving birth to a dead baby,” she told him.
He stood in the doorway blocking her. “You’re voice is doing that flat thing.”
His attention was fixed on the red spot near her temple.
“It’s just a bruise.”
“People have no right to hit you!”
“It’s nothing,” she said looking past him up the stairs. She wanted to go in her room.
“Have you eaten?”
Kiao swayed her head. Food was far from her mind.
He took her by the hand. Kiao normally would’ve fought however, she felt dead so she let him drag her out of the infirmary to the kitchen. It might’ve been late, but there were still cooks and dishwashers cleaning up. They often were able to go in there after everyone had eaten to get food if they needed. Kiao never liked going into the kitchen because it was always hot and that evening she didn’t feel like eating in the warm stuffy room that smelled of the savory food that was served during the evening.
She was hit with heat and the smell of soap. She let Alder cross the stone floor alone greeting the cooks and washers that stood in a line at the wall washing and rinsing small pile of plates while six massive stacks of clean ones were on a table drying. The cooks remained were getting things ready for breakfast. They didn’t notice her but, the cooks dead. Three ruddy faced elves waved at her. It took a lot of effort on her part to smile and wave back.
Alder returned with a plate and a large wooden mug that was probably filled with water. Instead of finding a corner to eat inside, he gestured for her to step out. She followed him to a patch of grass right outside the open door where there was light.
“Go on and sit,” he said.
“You should be in the infirmary,” she told him.
“Brother Oli, Mien, and Lionel are there,” he told her and took a seat beside her.
Alder was only a few years older than she was. They met when he was a young tod but, very much still a boy. She wanted him to be her friend like the boys she played with as a child. She thought he was very much like them but he treated hers as if she were something inferior to him. He made her feel stupid for asking him questions, and was so abrasive towards her that it wasn’t unusual for him to make her cry given she was still off balanced from her time at the Sisterhood.
She at first thought it was because she was a girl and hated herself even more. Alder was threatened by her and was jealous. She was a powerful healer just like him and he didn’t like her taking Brother Oli’s attention.
The old priest raised him. As far as Alder was concerned, that was his family. It took a good long sitting down with Brother Oli telling him that Kiao was staying and now she was his sister, and he needed to get over himself. It seemed like basic understanding to Kiao. But Alder never learned that as a child and he had no clue how to be a brother to anyone. Once he figured it out, he became that irritating kind always helping and protect. He was acting that way then, staring at her looking like he was going to force feed her. However, Kiao didn’t mind it then.
“If you don’t eat up, you’re going to feel terrible in the morning,” he told her.
“I feel terrible now,” she returned picking at the selection of food in front of her.
“You’ve had people die on you before.”
“But I never held a dead baby before. It didn’t feel as if it was anything, you know. Just kind of like a doll. A fleshy doll,” she said and started sniffing. She fought from crying any further but tears were streaming down her face. “Then the mother had to die on top of it.”
“How did she die,” Alder asked quietly.
“She hemorrhaged and lost too much blood. She was gray skinned when I walked in there. The baby was dead in her womb and that stress didn’t help. If anything, I think she just gave up on living. I wished I could’ve sung life back into the both of them. Then the husband just hit me in the head and the family threw me out as if I could’ve done something.”
Kiao scooped out of her eyes and picked out something from her plate to chew.
“Childbirth is hard on women. Every woman and husband knows that. It’s such a common thing now,” he told her.
“But I’m a chanter, I should be able to do everything imaginable,” she muttered sarcastically.
“They don’t understand that and I’m not saying that to excuse their actions. It’ just is. Thought, you would think by now, we wouldn’t have to explain it all the time.” He patted her on the back and asked. “Are you okay now?”
“No,” she said between bites. “Everything around me keeps going in a downhill slope.”
“The women’s society?”
“That and other things,” she said vaguely.
“And those things are…” he said giving her a thoughtful look. Kiao didn’t answer him and so he added. “We’ve known each other long enough that by now, I can ask what’s wrong and you can tell me.”
She wasn’t going to tell him a thing however, she kept too much of it bottled up for weeks and it spilled out of her. She told him about Mien, Soletus, and about Briar finding out that she was really a young woman. The only thing she didn’t tell him, was the fact that Soletus was neth. When she was done, he gaped at her wide-eyed for a moment before drawing his knees up to his chest and leaned on them in contemplation.
“The Mien thing is weird. I mean really weird,” he told her.
“I know right,” she exclaimed.
“He’s too young for that.”
“It might not be a bad thing.”
Kiao’s jaw hung. “What?”
“You understand him more than the rest of us in the infirmary.”
“I do, but I want to build a relationship with someone put together and not putting himself back together. Hence why I like Soletus because he is who he is. Just not interested in me.”
“He’s First Warden Oeric’s son,” Alder countered.
“So? It’s not like he’s his father.”
“That’s not my point. He stays in everyone’s eyes all the time. It’ll be hard to keep your secret around him. Besides, I don’t think you and him would be a good couple.”
“Because you want someone who matches your intelligence and understand the preternatural. I’m not saying that Soletus is stupid, but he’s a monk. The world is material to him. It’s not with us especially Mien. Normal people don’t understand what it means to feel a timbre.”
“He’s chanter gifted.”
“And how much does it really matter other than him occasionally force his voice on people when he gets upset. He could hone it, I think, but he’s made very little motion to do so.”
“And I hope you aren’t getting mopey because you think he doesn’t like you because you aren’t pretty enough.”
Kiao stared at the pastry picked up and started plucking flakes off not wanting to admit that thought entered her mind. It was embarrassing she had to be such a girl about it all.
“You do realize that you’re…” he paused, looking at her head and then sweeping his eyes down. He remained silent and thinking.
“You’re really helping my self-esteem taking that long,” she told him.
“You’ve a good personality and beauty radiates from that. Most tods aren’t going to pay attention to it. They just want something pleasing to their eyes.”
“So you’re saying I’m ugly.”
“N-n-no, what I’m saying is tods look at attraction very shallowly and lots of them share the same shallow ideals and you don’t fit into any.”
Bless him Dias, at least he tries, she thought. “Then why does Mien even bothers? Or is his attraction to me just based on magic?”
“I suppose you have to ask him. If it all based on magic then shouldn’t you feel the same for him?”
“No his voice is about as unremarkable to me as yours. The only one who’s ever sounded interesting is Soletus. I don’t even know how I am supposed to be with someone, when I hear and look at someone else and think that’s who I want”
“Are you sure his voice is remarkable or is it just appealing?”
“It’s appealing sure but-,” she struggled to say something passed that other than saying, “He has a great personality.”
“Soletus is a nice fellow and that makes him likeable. He also happens to have a voice on him. I even like it. Imagine if we could get him to read some philosophical text with too much navel gazing for patients with trouble sleeping.”
Kiao laughed at the thought of him droning on with such text. “He’ll fall asleep himself.”
“I’m sure he’s just a simple fancy you’ll eventually forget.”
Kiao covered her face. “I know, but why do I have to be a girl about this all?”
“You’re just ready to move to that next point in your life and you want someone to share it with,” he said. “We all reach that place. It’s not easy deciding who you want.”
She peered up at him. “And do you want someone?”
The young man cast his gaze on the sky looking at the stars. “It’ll be nice, but when it happens, it happens. Dias will show me the person who it right for me.”
Kiao nudged him with her elbow. “Or you can just say yes, I’m lonely despite being surrounded by wonderful friends and stinks.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “That. You’re lucky, Dias has apparently shown you yours.”
Kiao didn’t understand why that person was Mien. She found herself questioning their entire bond more and more especially if it was just magic based. And was it even fair that he enjoyed being with her but might’ve not even liked her in the slightest before the bond took effect. It all hurt her head and she didn’t want to think about it then. She in fact didn’t want to think about it at all.
When going to her room however, she was reminded of it right as she got to her room door. Mien opened his door, and spoke to her.
“Hi, you’re back late,” he said.
Kiao tried to slink into her room and glanced over her shoulder. “I got back earlier, but I needed to eat and now I want to sleep. Goodnight.”
To her horror, Mien stepped out of his room and crossed the hall. “I wanted to talk to you about- what happed to your head.”
“It’s just a knot,” she said giving up on trying to close the door. Mien stared at her head.
His expression became darkened as well as his voice falling into a threatening octave. “From?”
“Just the man whose wife and newborn son died. He thought I should’ve done more.”
“That doesn’t give him the right-,”
Kiao cut him off. “Yes. I know. I’m fine. I’m tired though and my head hurts so I’m off to bed.”
Mien face ticked. A sign she didn’t like because that meant he was struggling with his anger.
“There’s no point in getting angry about it,” she told him.
“I’m allowed to be pissed off,” he told her. “Do you need anything?”
“No, I just want to go to sleep and forget this day even happened,” she said, hopping that him seeing her walk inside on her bed to give him the hint that he needed to leave. Instead, he followed her and sat beside her. Even she didn’t do that in his room. The girl in her had another fit. He of all people should understand the basics of personal space. He was sitting on her bed with no one around in the near dark with only his sun globe keeping the shadows away. Then again, she invaded his room often so him being in hers shouldn’t have made her feel weird but it did.
“That’s not something you’re going to shrug off.”
“I’ve been hit before.”
“So, it still hurt just as much as the first time,” he said and his gaze fell on her bed. For the second time that day, his face ripened. “I uhhh…you know what. I’m going to go to bed too.”
He jumped to his feet.
“I thought you had something you wanted to talk to me about,” she said.
He answered her by looking confused.
“You told me that earlier.”
“Oh, yes, sorry. It can wait,” he said now standing by the door wearing his self-deprecating expression. She would’ve paid coin to know what was going on in his head but she didn’t ask him.
“Sure, goodnight,” she said and watched him leave.