Becoming a warden wasn’t something I wanted. My father forced me into training at the age when Soletus joined willingly. Then I ran from it and returned to accept it. However, I never wanted to be someone of rank. I felt I would make an abysmal second or a first warden. How could I lead my fighting brother when I couldn’t even lead myself down a path that wasn’t riddle with mistakes? People could die from mistakes and I didn’t want more blood on my hands. However, like a lot of things in my life, Dias didn’t give me much of a choice in the matter. Either I learned to be better or those around me suffer in my doubt.
“I wouldn’t be too embarrassed about it,” advised Alder.
That wasn’t what Kiao was feeling. She was too shaken up for that. Her magical heart felt like a vibrating tuning fork.
“I don’t like things happening like this without a good reason,” she replied
“It wasn’t without reason,” he told her while examining her magical heart. It was uncomfortable since it felt as if someone was prodding her body and mind. “Though, I’m not entirely sure what that reason is.”
His vague expression turned to surprise.
“So, no new phrase,” she said.
“No. Are you sure you heard Mien’s voice?”
“That’s the thing, it wasn’t exactly his voice. I just felt him,” she said watching the young man face blossom in confusion. “I don’t know how to explain it. It wasn’t even his timbre and I don’t know how I knew it was him, but it was his emotions.”
Alder’s hot blue eyes cooled down to the teal they naturally were while he considered what she had said. He rubbed his chin then asked, “Didn’t you tell me that Mien said there was a channel between you two?”
Kiao pulled herself upright. “Yes.”
“Did you two ever figure out what it does?”
“No, I just assumed it was a proximity link. I’ve never felt the channel before so, I never could find a way to experiment with it.”
“Well I guess you found out what the channel is for”
“But he’s on the road. Why would I feel something over such a far distance like that?”
Alder shrugged. “I don’t know what to tell you other than that. This sounds like a Brother Oli thing.”
Kiao wanted to give him a good. He never liked to speculate and left their conversation there. He opened the door of the private room to see the elder priest with his knuckles raised to knock on the door.
“Brother Oli,” greeted Alder with surprise. He would always wake up when his little flock needed him. He was very doting man treating Kiao and Alder like grandchildren.
“Are you okay,” he asked, coming to her side.
Before Kiao could tell him not to worry, Alder spoke faster.
“She nearly fainted from the channel between her and Mien opening. She says she felt him.”
“If anything I felt his emotions. He was very distressed like something bad happened,” she said.
Brother Oli’s brow furrowed. “That’s a bit disconcerting. Something may have happened to his band. I will inform the Arch Monk. I do believe he’s still in the building. As for you, I want you to see the Arch Priest.”
“Why,” she asked.
“He called for you. For what purpose, I don’t know. Perhaps he felt something as well begin more connected to the chorus of the world.”
Kiao didn’t care for the Arch Priest Lorthan. He grew on her a little after he allowed her to stay and keep her rank as canter. The man was an insight chanter with the ability to see into the future and knew since they met she was female. He didn’t say anything choosing only say so when the time came. That was the nature with those with future sight. Sometimes they saw something in the waking world if it needed to be show their attention or they used the phrase of insight. All of this made it very hard to speak with him. He always seemed like he was caught in a daydream and unaware of the world around him. It made him enigmatic, distant, and vague. Most priests accepted it as it was his way. Kiao wasn’t one of them.
The first place that Kiao headed towards was the annex where he lived with his wife. It was an offshoot off the side of the priest wing. It was at the end of the corridor to the left. Their quarters were large enough for a small family to live at. The Arch Priest and his wife were a elderly couple with no immediate family. Kiao wasn’t certain where his children or grandchildren were. From what she gathered, they weren’t Brotherhood and didn’t live in town.
She got to his door, tapped on it, and waited. There were no footsteps on the other side of the door. So she turned around and went across the hall to the sun room.
She pushed open a single door was hit with humid air before entering with the room. The sun was blocked by an arched arbor twined with wisteria. In the spring, their flowers would hang from them filling the room with floral sweetness. She loved the place then, but it was early fall them and the leaves were starting to show a little yellowing. When she stepped out of the green tunnel, it opened up to the mediation mosaic. The tiles under her feet were arranged in the shape of an egret, the bird of healing. Usually the Arch Priest was off to the side tending to a series of stunted potted plants he liked to clip and shape. Instead, he stood in the middle of the mosaic before an easel. In a chair behind him sat his wife and beside her sat the Patriarch tapping a finger against the side of a tea cup impatiently.
Kiao was spotted by the Arch Priest’s wife who never made her presence known often however, she acted as if she were important. The woman reminded Kiao of her grandmother, but less bitter. She was the type of old lady who expected proper behavior out of everyone. Even the Patriarch was sitting up as if he had a stick tied to his back. If she was not familiar with that type of old woman, she might’ve walked up and fumbling.
Kiao’s appearance was always neat, but that didn’t stop her from leering at her like a moth in her linens. The woman was on the belief that Kiao needed an attendant. Kiao didn’t need someone to look after her dignity and outright refused to be subjected to such treatment. She sacrificed enough with other priests making it their business on what she and Mien could do. She didn’t want to the rest of her freedom taken away.
“Sister Cantor Kialianna, what brings you here,” she greeted.
“I need to speak with the Arch Priest, Madame.”
She insisted that everyone calling her “Lady” however, she was of no house major or minor thus Kiao refuse and it caused the woman bristled as she always did.
“Do you have a slip,” she asked.
“No, Brother Oliver sent me because I was summoned.”
“Then you better go back and get an appointment,” she snipped.
“That won’t be necessary,” spoke the Arch Priest finally. “Have a seat, Sister. I brought one out for you already.”
There was a seat beside of the Patriarch. She sat beside Briar’s father. A sympathetic smile spread on his fine face.
“You must excuse me, I felt compelled to use the phrase of insight this morning and saw something I needed to paint to get an understanding of it,” said the Arch Priest, sounding alert and not lost in the chorus of the world. It was a side-effect of living with timbre sensitive for so long. Many of them would give themselves over to the chorus in the end. They would wither away to nothing from no longer eating and sleeping. Kiao prayed that fate, was not Mien’s.
The Arch Priest stepped back from his painting and then stood off to the side so Kiao got a look at it. She wasn’t sure what the older chanter had painted. The colors were bright and clashing purples. Something that she took as a person was represented by black with long-hair streaming out behind them. She didn’t know if it was man, woman, or child, but something about the way the being was drawn didn’t sit well with her. They were on their knees on the ground, head down, and back arched.
“That’s a mighty fine doodle, Lorthan,” remarked the Patriarch.
That got him a frosted glare from the old woman sitting beside him. “How dare you make light of my husband’s work. This could be a warning for this order.”
“It’s a personal opinion. I’m allowed to have those,” he returned, with a hint of an edge in his voice.
“Your listen here young man—” started the woman.
Kiao disguised an amused snort with a short cough. The Patriarch had a silver streak that started at his temple; far from a young man. More importantly, he was a lord from a ruling house and her social better. Yet she treated him like a pesky child.
“He’s allowed to say something about my paintings skill,” said the Arch Priest now sounding as if he floated back into a dream. “So Cantor, what’s changed?”
“I hear something different in your voice.”
“Nothing’s changed. I did fell a disturbance earlier.”
The Arch Priest lowered his hand that held the brush and he turned around. His aged eyes settled on her in looking at her and past her all at the same time. She wondered if he was seeing her as if she were older or saw that little child with her again.
“What was the nature of this disturbance?”
“I felt my bond partners emotions. Something made him very distraught.”
The Arch Priest’s became bewildered.
“So you didn’t feel anything?”
“No. Channels between bond partners can’t be felt by other chanters.”
“But I never felt this channel before. Why now and how?”
“I suppose that young Brother Mientheodric opened it unwittingly and something surged his emotions to you.”
Kiao folded her hands together in her lap. “What could’ve caused that? As far as I know, he’s too far south of here?”
The Arch Priest faced to his painting, speaking to it. “He gained his edict phrase during a moment of duress.”
The Patriarch brow shot up. “Should I be worried that something happened to one of my bands?”
The Arch Priest twirled his brush between his fingers, then stopped abruptly dropping it. His eyes became vacant and then he jolted blinking and became silent.
“Yes something happened,” said Kiao to the Patriarch. “Mien wouldn’t have felt so intense if something just scared him. Maybe someone died. I don’t know.”
“Died,” said the Patriarch looking worried. “I don’t suppose you can see into this?”
“He is powerful,” said the Arch Priest ignoring the younger man. “Passion fuels him. He’s strong because of it.”
The Patriarch then spoke again. “That all good and well but—”
“Sister, did you know that chanters were the most revered elves in Asteria. Second to them were those who were neth?”
“No,” she said looking at Lord Kharis who looked mildly miffed that his attempts to guide him to a subject failed.
“Neth were loved for their dedication and perspective. Chanters served kings and nobles as council. We served the army as champions of righteousness. A noble would gladly have a chanter in their family or employed under them. It gave chanters much power and as the saying goes, power corrupts.”
Kiao then glanced at Lord Kharis for help. “Your excellency, I don’t see the relevance in this.”
He kept going as if he didn’t hear her. “One particular chanter found her way to become Queen. She claimed to be on a mission for Dias and perhaps she started out that way. However, instead of spreading Dias’s voice for peace and love, she misguided chanters in becoming harbingers of Dias’s wrath. They became judges and executioners. They alone decided who liveds and who died. Mostly it was the weak, the poor, and the common people. They used their voices to manipulate nobles controlling them. It was so bad that a handful of chanters could stop an army.
“However, Dias had a way to correct this. It was the phrase of silence. It had always existed, but no chanter had seen the true potential of it until then. These chanters, who didn’t believe in the way of this queen, gathered themselves together to cleanse the mistakes of their kind. Joined with half the ruling houses they and stopped the Queen and her chanters. And that that ended the golden era for chanters as well as Fenndishism.
“From its ashes birthed many restrictions for chanters you know of today such as chanters being unable to hold any official post and wariness of chanters having children together. The common fold became distrustful of them to the point they murdered entire bloodlines. Some went as far as to kill children who came into their abilities. Nobles feared them or turned their nosed up on family members who birthed one. And chanters themselves feared a chanter who knew the phrase of silence. They saw it as a sign of Dias’s wrath.”
The Patriarch’s brow wrinkled. “I am a little confused here. I’m not certain how this relates to our situation.”
“I’m explaining why the priests here are nervous about Brother Mien. Someone has acted irrationally and I—” The Arch Priest stopped talking. “Ah too early for that. I suppose, I need to back up.” The old man then bowed his head and looked behind him. “I’m sorry Kharis.”
“No take your time. I’ve nothing but time today,” he said with a reassuring smile.
The Arch Priest regarded his painting. His wife picked up his brush and handed it to him. The elder then started applying another layer of colors.
“What I was originally getting to… ah yes, don’t worry Kharis. I believe that even with what Sister Kiao has felt, Brother Mien will prove himself.”
That wasn’t at all what the patriarch wanted to hear. However, he didn’t say anything. He took a sip from his tea cup and sighed.
“What do you two think of the painting,” asked the Arch Priest. Kiao considered the clashing colors and the ominous figure in the middle of it all. “Tell the truth.”
“I don’t like it,” said she said. “It’s all wrong. Looks like pain.”
“It is a bit of an eye sore,” commented the Patriarch and got another death stare for the Arch Priest’s wife. “It’s clear I’m not one of you magical types. I’m terrible at this sort of thing.”
The Arch Priest then said to Kiao. “Keep an eye on Solgard’s son.”
“He dreams,” was all he said to her and then to the Patriarch. “Ah Kharis.”
The man regarded him over his cup that was held to his lips.
“It’s not time.”
“Not time?” The Patriarch dropped his cup on the saucer. It clanged loudly, sounding like it cracked. “When will it be time? I cannot under good conscious tell a family to send their girls to the Sisterhood anymore after learning what happened to this young lady!”
Kiao was surprised that he was still pushing for change within the order. He didn’t seem to be making headway with it at all.
“I think it would be prudent if we reconsider our stance on women in the order and allow for the training for female chanters at least.”
“And what has the Arch Monk said about the matter,” that Arch Priest asked.
The Patriarch became displeased and said softly, “He refused to support my idea. Claims that dealing with one distraction is enough.”
Kiao gave him a questioning stare. “I’m not sure how I’m distracting.”
“You’re a lovely young woman, my dear,” he said to her and then his face dropped to a full scowl directed at the Arch Priest. “Why not tell him to teach them more self-control! Why would it matter if he agrees or not?”
“Solgard will never change his mind on the matter,” stated the Arch Priest dipping his brush in dark paint and seemed to be adding in a dark shadow to the mix. “The past holds him and I can’t. The sun has set. You stand alone and it will fail.”
“So this is a hopeless cause,” muttered the Patriarch.
“No, when Solgard’s time ends and his successor takes his place, then you will move forward.”
“His successor? Who is it, an outsider,” laughed Lord Kharis. “None of these wardens will do such a thing. They’ll follow Solgard unquestionably. He has to change for them to.”
“He won’t. However, his replacement is here. In fact, strength and love are here with us. Wisdom, has yet to walk the world. Strength needs to understand and learn so much. Allow them to. Do not seek them, or push them towards your idea. He walks it now. It’s all been set. All he needs is your support.”
The Patriarch’s eyes went wide as well as Kiao’s because the Arch Priest rarely spoke so plainly about the future.
“And your just telling us this,” asked the Patriarch.
“Yes. You were about to give up. I can’t have that. If it eases your mind, you’ll see it all through, Kharis,” he told him and then looked at his painting with a dark expression. “You two should leave, I want to finish my painting.”
The Patriarch stood up and held out a hand to help Kiao to her feet. She took it and followed him outside instead of back in through the priest wing to the infirmary. He still had his tea cup and saucer in hand. Kiao imagined the liquid in it was cold.
“Strength and love are here with us. I assume that’s Solgard and his replacement. Mine isn’t even born yet,” he muttered. “At least he didn’t speak in riddles the entire time.”
“I didn’t know you were still pushing for other women in the order,” said Kiao.
“It pays to be persistent if you want to be a Patriarch who doesn’t just count the coffers and doles out judgments all day.”
The qualifications for a patriarch were a little lost on Kiao. She knew that they were neither monk nor priest and needed to be selfless. So it was a bit unusual for a lord to be a patriarch let alone one from one of the ruling houses. Major houses didn’t let their children get involved in things that didn’t provide them with standing such as the Brotherhood. They didn’t adhere to nobility ranks, so they weren’t considered worthy to give a child to them.
However, Lord Kharis was a fourth child. He would get the last of everything and his only duty to his house was not to be an idiot. Many thought he failed spectacularly on his end by marrying a common woman with nothing to her name. Even if they didn’t care for him, Kiao liked Lord Kharis. He was elf, not a figurehead acting the part of a role. He cared a great deal about those around him with a special interest in her.
When a warder passed by, he raised his cup to them and they gave him a warm salute.
“Two of them are already here,” he muttered when they passed.
“Does that surprise you,” she asked.
“Yes and no. Yes, because I’ve never gave it much thought and no, because I’m the only spring chicken here.” The man then thought a second then added, “This isn’t easing my mind as it should. The next Arch Monk is chosen by the masters. They all love Solgard and they would choose the one most like him.”
“Then everything stays the same.”
“I’m more afraid of it all getting worse. Having a couple of rotten apples in the town’s peaceguard was enough to make me wary. The field wardens like to think of themselves as better, but that sort of arrogance is how you blind yourself to problems in your ranks.”
The monks were blind to the ageism in their ranks. Kiao learned that from Soletus.
“Change is needed for the priest just as much as it needed for the monks,” said Kiao. “Maybe the next arch priest can get the rest of the priests in doing something than spiting me.”
“I’m afraid of much of the same. The next Arch Priest favors them and try to oust you for some reason or another.”
Kiao looked across the grounds of the monastery that had been her home for two decades. “I’ll just leave if it came to that. I don’t need to be in the order to serve Dias.”
“Agreed, but we can’t appreciate your skill if you did.”
Kiao gave him a wary stare. “You’re flattering me a lot today.”
The man gave her a thoughtful smile. “It’s a horrible habit of mine when I’m in the presence of a lady. It benefits me to be polite in court. Lucky for you, that’s a dance you don’t get to learn, grant it, I think you’ll be marvelous at it.”
She stopped walking and put her hands on her hips. “What do you want? You’re daughter does the same thing.”
The corners of his eyes crinkled. “I sense Brother Mientheodric is going to have quite the time with you as a wife. My family wishes for your presence for dinner a week from now. I do believe Maelyra is going to be giving you a ‘gift’ for you and your bond partner. I’ve no clue what it is. She thinks I’ll tell you given how I hate surprises and whatnot. He should be back by then as well as Oeric’s lad if nothing terrible has happened.”
“I’ll be there,” she told him knowing that Mien wouldn’t want to sit a dinner with the Patriarch after coming home. He would want to attempt at spending evenings alone with her until he left out again. Not that, they could. Brother Elnos would find a way to keep them separated. It wasn’t necessary. They’ve not done anything above hugging and holding hands. She was trying to move things slowly and Mien was fine with that.
* * *
Kiao’s shift went by quietly. They had a few injured initiates who had gone out scaling an embankment. One lost his footing and tumbled on to two others. There was some bruising and a fractured or two but nothing serious. It was enough to keep her mind off of wondering about Mien, as concern still rested on her shoulders.
Before she left for dinner, she went upstairs to check on Oeric. He wasn’t alone. Lionel was there sitting in the chair beside Oeric’s bed reading softly. When he saw her, he stopped.
“I just got him to settle down again,” he whispered. “Sorry I disappeared earlier. He just didn’t feel comfortable.”
Kiao stepped in walking on the pads of her feet and examined that the first warden.
“He’s not gotten any warmer,” he told her and took the cloth he had on the man’s forehead and dipped it in water. “But he felt sapped and wanted to sleep, but he’s been restless from the patches. Some started forming on his back.”
He seemed at peace then shifting a little to get comfortable. Lionel however, didn’t. Kiao was never sure what to think of the newest acquisition to their ranks. Lionel was an odd one. He was a blonde Mien. Not as timbre sensitive and not in the same way. He could heal, but Kiao knew he wasn’t a healing chanter. His edict phrase would be something else and she wasn’t sure what that something else would be. However, sometimes he had eyes like the Arch Priest. They weren’t just looking at you.
“As long as the patches aren’t spreading down,” she said.
“I wish we could do more,” he said rubbing his hands on his trouser.
Kiao rested a hand on his arm. “Lionel, if him being uncomfortable makes you uncomfortable, it’s okay to get one of us.”
“No,” the tod said and cradled his head. “I’m fine. It’s just gets in my head a little. Is it dinner time?”
“Yes. Since he’s sleeping, let’s go,” she said.
The two of them ate with Alder and made arrangements for the evening. Lionel would be staying up downstairs until midnight. Alder went to bed first. Kiao followed soon after to her room upstairs. She started to undress when she heard a voice coming from Oeric’s room.
She walked out sing for stars to light her way. They arrange themselves in the constellation known as the Watcher. She opened the cracked door and saw first the warden on his side. His hand lay on the bed as if he was cupping his hand over someone’s. He was probably having a dream and given from his twitching face, it might’ve been a nightmare.
“No,” he muttered. “North? Why north?”
Kiao eased herself down at the edge of his bed and tried to find a way to get to his heart. There was no good way for her to touch it. She could through his back. However, the better anchor point for what she was about to do was his temple. She didn’t like doing it that way because pulling out instantly for someone’s mind left her feeling sick. She would make an exception to try to comfort him. She placed her index and middle finger on the side of his head and chanted the phrase of insight. She was pulled into whatever his sleeping mind was seeing. And she found herself in a room. In fact, it was the very room they were in.
She glanced around in confusion at the odd vivid dream. It was a perfect mirror to reality granted it was cast in an eerie blue light with the edges of the room fuzzy and muddled. She could also, see the entirety of the room without sections of it fading into blackness. However, the interesting think there was the figure on their knees in by Oeric’s bed. It was his nephew, Lyndon.
Kiao didn’t know how she knew it was Lyndon because, it didn’t really look like him and yet it did. She couldn’t even see him clearly. He wasn’t even wearing his warrior braids. His hair spilled down to his shoulders and blocked her from seeing his face. However, she knew his voice and he was telling something to Oeric. She could hear it but couldn’t understand.
She walked forward wondering if decreasing the proximity would help. When she was within a few steps of the foot of the bed, Lyndon stopped talking and he turned his head towards her. He sat his colorless gaze on her.
“He needs to go with you,” Lyndon told her and the dream broke apart into darkness. Kiao gasped and found herself back into the waking world. She leaned forward and rested her forehead on her hand, waiting for the dizziness to subside. Oeric’s eyes had snapped open and he stared in front of him with the vein in his neck pulsing. He then rolled on his back and started to struggle into a sitting position.
“No, no, no, First Warden,” she said to him pushing him by his chest. He looked scared for a moment and then his face relaxed. She whispered the phrase of peace at him and he settled back down closing his eyes. Soon he was fast asleep again as he was before.
The young woman then leaned back in her chair and muttered, “What was that?”