The mission he died on wasn’t typical in terms of what we normally do. It was an emergency request from a large village in the shadow of an earthen dam. It was damaged and my band was there to escort the repair crew. Turned out, it wasn’t just damaged it was failing and had been for some time. Water was seeping from it in multiple spots. It didn’t help it had rained a lot that year so there was a lot of water pushing up against it. The foreman of the crew advised them to clear the village. They didn’t want to. And I can’t blame them for not wishing to leave their homes they worked hard for, but it was the wisest course of action. However, they didn’t want to give up hope for the plan they concocted. They wanted to dig a drainage channel for the water to be released from the reservoir around town. That sort of thing takes time and they didn’t have it. It started raining as if the clouds had broken its own dam. Then it became a race against time.
Kiao had eaten many dinners at the Patriarch’s home since she came out as being a young woman. Lady Maelyra treated her like another daughter and loved to have her over. Kiao couldn’t deny she would enjoy it. The Patriarch’s house reminded her of her parent’s home in Summerset. Parts of it were open to the public and the other parts a private home. The Patriarch’s home acted like a magistrate’s house with a small courtroom and meeting hall inside. Their home was a store front and in back a storage area where they also worked on dresses, suits, and costumes. The other two stories above the shop was where her family lived. Kiao’s room was on the third floor. She lived there with her second oldest sister and her family. Below them were her parent’s room, kitchen, and dining area.
She missed living in the home that was always full of people. From performers, to lords and ladies, and the seamstresses that worked under them. It was a bustling place where one could find out who was in town, who was performing when and where. Not to mention the people who wanted to see what colorful new dress Hera’Medowlark, her mother would be wearing as well as her two oldest daughters. Kiao, in her mother’s opinion, skills and talents were elsewhere.
When Kiao was let in the house, she expected Briar to pull her inside. Instead, Lady Maelyra enveloped her in a warm hug.
“Hello Dear,” she said. “Dinner might be a bit late. Kharis has been hearing a dispute and it’s still going on.”
Kiao looked to her left at the door that led into the meeting hall/coutroom. She could hear Lord Kharis’s voice as it was rather loud.
He’s going to be grumpy, she thought, but Lord Kharis’s grumpy was rather mild compared to a lot of men she had met including Mien who’s grumpy was so audible you could feel it at times.
“Where’s Briar,” Kiao asked.
Maelyra gestured. “Upstairs in her room moping. I’m actually surprised.”
“Given that Soletus and her aren’t close in terms of sweethearts, I didn’t expect her to take him being missing this hard.”
It wasn’t that the two weren’t close, it was that her and Soletus were faking being sweethearts. They were, as they stated, allies in keeping each other being neth secret and weren’t exactly good at the whole sweetheart thing. Their idea of spending quality time with each other was sparring. When they argued, they sounded like a brother and sister. In fact, they acted like a brother and sister as intimacy wasn’t something they did.
“Well this is a first match for them,” said Kiao weakly.
“True. I’ve considered that,” said Maelyra looking up the stairs as if she could see her. “But Briar treats Soletus like he’s a sibling.”
Kiao stopped herself from pursing her lips together. “I figure it was their way.”
“But Briar doesn’t encourage him or try to take any initiative in doing things elves their age should do. We’ve given them a lot of time alone to see what they would do and you know what?”
“They act like they would when I’m around. They aren’t curious. No attempts to touch, nuzzle, cuddle, or even a kiss. They just talk or do something strange. One night they challenged each other to see who could do the most push-ups. Granted, I was impressed by the both of them.”
Kiao laughed. “Well that’s what they do. I mean, Soletus likes it when everyone tries to keep up with him.”
Maelyra clasped her hands in front. “Maybe your right, but Soletus is like his father but on a different extreme.”
“You probably shouldn’t say that to Soletus,” warned Kiao.
She chuckled. “Fine, Oeric did manage to explore on his own. You know we tried a relationship with each other.”
“Really,” Kiao didn’t know why she would even attempt it.
“Yes. This was before Kharis annoyed his way into my life and before him and Cordea. This was right after he became a warden. I enjoyed our time together, but it was clear he just wanted to be around another person. He was cool-natured unlike your Mien who is making all the motions a typical infatuated lad would.”
“It’s mostly the bond.”
The woman let out a little laugh. “He would be just as affectionate without it. He’s one of those types of men when they find who they want, they go all in. It’s rather adorable. You must be worried sick about him.”
“I am, but I know he’s alive,” admitted Kiao.
The woman looked grim. “I’m glad you have that much faith. You’re like Oeric, and ignoring the possibility that when young men go missing, the chances they are found is slim. And if Soletus doesn’t come home, I’m afraid Briar would feel the loss.”
Kiao was surprised. The first warden hadn’t even told Maelyra of all people about the dream.
“Feel the loss, why would I feel the loss of someone who can’t follow the sun and stars,” said Briar out of nowhere.
Kiao looked to see the young woman walking towards them with her baby brother in her arms. It was an odd sight to see her out of her normal clothes. Most days it consisted of a battle skirt of some kind. If she was in a dress, she never wore her hair down. It was always in a high ponytail and decorated in a fan of hawk feathers. That night, she wore her hair down.
“I’ll make an exchange,” she offered her brother. Maelyra took him. Briar then hooked her arm through Kiao’s. “Thank you for entertaining my friend, but me and Ko-ko are going to the sitting room to chat and wait for dear Pa to finally lose his mind.”
Kiao then heard his voice rise again this time it seemed as if whomever was there found the bottom of his patience.
“So what were you two talking about,” hissed Briar.
“Your mother was concerned about you. Said you were moping because Soletus was missing.”
“Moping is a strong word,” she said flopping down in her father’s large armchair. Kiao sat across from her. “Soletus is a big boy, he’s has Mien and Lyndon with him so I’m not concerned.”
Kiao’s heart ached. She wanted to tell her about Lyndon being dead. They were friends as well. However, watched Lady Maelyra enter the door to the dining room.
“I also think she might be one to the both of you,” said Kiao softly.
Briar shrugged. “I already know. That’s why I’m pretending to be more concerned than I’m really am,” she said and then gave her a mischievous grin.
The young priest gave her friend an exasperated look. “You know, they are going to find out one way or another.”
“Or I can step up my acting game. Maybe when Soletus gets back, I’ll get him to kiss me on the lips or something.”
Kiao inhaled to say Soletus wouldn’t go for it, but just released air instead. Maybe before Briar got to him, she could get ahold of him and talk sense into him. He needed time to tell his parents. Granted, it might’ve not been the time for it with Lyndon being dead. However, she was tired of covering for the two.
It wasn’t long after that, Lord Kharis appeared clearly drained from his day. He was ready to eat and ushered them to the dinner table. Dinner with the Gyrfalcon’s went by quickly and uninterrupted. Part of Kiao wanted someone from the monastery to deliver a message that Soletus and the others were back. However, no one came and no one stopped her as she walked across the monastery grounds back to her room.
She watched the sunset cast the sky into a fiery orange with red hues. The glow touched the belfry tower and roof. The color reminded her of Mien’s hair. She smiled, as it was a good representation. Currently his hair had a slight golden look to it from the summer sun. In the winter time, it would deepen into a red like a fox’s coat. She then wondered how he would look if he wore his hair the traditional length for an elven man. He still cropped it short though learning how to cut it with a pair of shears than taking a knife to it. Before he left, it was getting a little long and he said he would cut it when he got back.
She wondered how he was doing with it reaching beyond the length he tolerated. He would start getting uncomfortable when it did. The First Warden managed to get him to let it grow enough to cover the back of his neck. It was to simulate a time when circumstances wouldn’t allow him to cut it on the road. Mien managed to do it; the price was him being easily agitated. When he was allowed to cut it, Oeric helped him. Instead of just cutting it back a little, Mien had him take it all off with a razor. One of the good things that come of it was the fact that she and Alder got a study of a male elf head. The attention he garnered wasn’t. And the entire incident made it very clear he was still harboring a wound in him that she couldn’t heal.
Her concern for him grew as she walked. She was certain she was instore for much of the same when he arrived home. It was then she felt like she stepped in and empty room. It lasted for only an instant and then sound came rushing back to her ears. She stopped walking and snapped her fingers before she turned around.
“Is there anything wrong, Sister Kiao?”
Kiao looked around for the source of the small annoying voice. She knew whom it was. She looked ahead of her to see a gray fluffy cat with white socks walking towards her. It was Elnos in all his fluffy glory.
Kiao frowned and crossed her arms. “What do you want, Brother?”
“You’re out late,” he said in his tiny cat voice grated her nerves. “Brother Alder said the Patriarch called you to dinner.”
“He in did. Why does it matter to you where I’m at?”
“His interest in you concerns me.”
“Why,” she asked staring at the infirmary door wishing she could just run towards it.
“He’s using you as a means to an end. A goal that he wants that’s not in the favor of this order but to his own pride.”
“Okay,” she said getting very bored of his disapproval of everything she did.
“Imagine if he were to find a better tool for his goal, he would abandon you with no patron to stand up for you as he always does. He didn’t start pushing his weight around until you come out as a young woman.”
“Or maybe he started pushing his weight around because he recognizes there is a lot of wrong here and he wants to do something right,” said Kiao, walking around him. “Seeing as you don’t have anything substantial on why I shouldn’t trust him, this conversation is over.”
A light chilled breeze come out of nowhere and cut through her, causing her to shiver. Once again, it sounded like she entered into a hollow room. This time, her world paused. To Elnos, she became still. She was unaware of him calling her name. He changed back to a man and shook her twice roughly calling her. It didn’t bring her out of the state she was in. He then took her by her hand and pulled. Her body moved involuntarily. He took her to the infirmary where the others gathered around her in confusion. She could hear, see, or feel nothing. It was like something inside of her cut off everything so her mindsear could search for something.
Then there was something warm in her hands. The surface was smooth and curved. She looked down at her hand and found herself holding a mug. Her ears popped and sound returned around her.
Lionel was sitting beside her with Brother Oli speaking somewhere in the room with Brother Elnos.
“Don’t you worry,” said the Elder Priest. “Go back and let us deal with it. You know very well that that we chanters have strange things happened to us.”
Kiao blinked. “Why am I holding a mug,” she muttered.
Lionel then pinched the tip of her ears.
“Owww! What are you doing,” she said and slapped his hand.
“Brother Oli, she’s awake,” said the tod and then to her looking apologetic. “Sorry. We did that to you earlier and you didn’t respond?”
“Didn’t respond,” she asked mystified and rubbed her ear.
“What do you remember,” said Brother Oli walking towards her.
“I remember walking down the path and then I felt like I was walking in an empty room and then I saw Brother Elnos and talked to him, then it happened again.”
“An empty room?”
“Yes, like I was hearing something that shouldn’t be silent but it was,” she said and looked down at her mug. She could see the glow of her eyes reflecting in the water. “Something engaged my abilities.”
“And we should figure out what it was,” said Brother Elnos.
“And we can without you,” returned Brother Oli.
For a moment, it looked as if Elnos was going to hold his ground. However, the elder chanter’s face was far too pleasant. In fact, Kiao noticed that the agreeable smile on his lips didn’t match the warning light his eyes had. “No Brother, I think you should go,” he said in soft sounding voice but was loud all at the same time.
Elnos swallowed and backed away.
“Then I leave your charge to your wisdom,” said Elnos walking towards the back.
Brother Oli didn’t speak until the man had vanished. “So you heard nothing like you were in an empty room devoid of sound,” he asked to himself and scratched his chin. “What were you thinking about?”
“Nothing much,” she said. “I was watching the sky and thought of Mien.”
Oli nodded. “This is just a speculation, but I think that was the bond trying to connect to Mien’s channel. Given how much time has passed since you felt Mien’s distress, it could be checking.”
Kiao became confused. “Why would it do that?”
“Your bond partner was in clear distress and he didn’t arrive home. The bond is responding to your concern.”
“I know,” he said. “But that’s the only thing I can think of as the bond can affect a chanter strangely. This could interfere with your work if it starts happening frequently.”
“Okay,” she said, feeling disturbed that she was having moments that took her out of awareness.
“For now you should go to bed and rest. Also,” he said walking over to the shelf of the blankets and pulled out something between two of them. “First Warden Oeric came by and told me to give this too you. Said you can have it for three days and then he has to take it back.”
“Oh, I forgot about that,” she said.
He handed her the book she requested. “The wisdom written here will help you with the circumstances that have risen up. However, I’m not sure about your intended purpose.”
Kiao was confident that it would.
However, the next day, the more she read, the more she learned she was no closer to a solution in contacting Mien. The text in front of her claimed what she wanted was impossible. There was a range limit. The only way that Mien did what he did was because it was bolstered through the distance. However, it did speak of exactly what she was going through.
The elder priest was right, it was the bond opening the channel trying to check for Mien. And according to the book, there was no stopping it unless she came into contact with him again. Kiao lowered her forehead on the top of her desk with the girl inside her screaming on her knees at the new development.
“Stupid bond,” she said pounding a fist on her desk.
The timbre bond felt like a separate entity from her. Mien felt that way at the beginning. In fact, it scared him. He didn’t like it claiming it made his feelings for her a lot more intense. He went from crush to wanting to commit himself to her in a span for a few seconds. And for someone who was as awkward as he was, that was more than he bargained for. However, once she told him that it was okay, his behavior started to shift. He steadied out a little bit more and embraced the bond saying that it was just another part of him. Kiao didn’t get that at all because she felt the bond was uncontrollable. She hated not being in control.
She lifted her head up and caught sight of the insect imprint on the rock that Mien had given her. She picked it up, admiring the details of wings. It was his first gift to her. She remembered the look of delight on his face when he had given it to her. She never received a gift from a boy before that. It was a rather boyish gift to give someone. But it was hers and she loved it. Too bad he wasn’t there and her world sounded empty without him. Then as sudden as the first time, once again, she stopped hearing sounds around. It felt like she stepped into nothing again and the lack of sound hurt her ears. A part of her then started listening and feeling for Mien’s timbre around her. There was nothing but silence.
She forced herself to back into awareness. Her desk took shape as an unfocused blur. She tried to move and scream but nothing happened. She couldn’t even feel herself sitting down, neither the rock in her hands. However, she felt her wrist of the hand holding the rock hit the edge of her desk. The pain of it made her blink just in time to see a hand appearing in her line of sight. Whomever it was, picked up the book. She blinked again and felt a hand on her shoulder. A voice replaces the silence and it was the last voice she wanted to hear.
“Are you okay, Sister?”
She whipped her head up and saw Brother Elnos.
“Brother, why are you here—” she started and he waved the book under her nose.
“I was wondering why you visited the archive. When I told you to stop pursuing knowledge of your bond that meant don’t use others to get books for you as well.”
She grabbed the book and pushed it from her face. “Well it’s a good thing I didn’t listen. There are things I need to know like what’s happening to me!”
Elnos pulled the book away from her and gave her a look of sympathy. “I know exactly what’s happening. The bond is starting to affect you. This is a burden you shouldn’t have to bear. Your work in the infirmary depends on you being clearheaded.”
“I know this.”
“Are you certain,” he said walking away from her towards her window. “Do you truly know? You have an important duty perform,” he told her and turned around. He eclipsed the light coming in from the window.
At least I don’t have to see his face, she said to herself. She tried her best to keep the resentment out of her voice and told him. “Then don’t continue to let me be ignorant. I cannot pretend we aren’t bonded.”
“But you shouldn’t indulge in it.”
“I’m not indulging in it,” she argued. “I just want the right to figure out how to approach us appropriately. Despite what you believe, keeping us apart doesn’t make it better but worse.”
Brother Elnos shook his head. “Yes because Brother Mientheodric doesn’t like it. However, he doesn’t because he’s emotional and is driven to act according to them. It makes him unsafe.”
Kiao couldn’t help but let out a short sharp laugh at the only argument he ever made against Mien. “He’s not dangerous.”
Brother Elnos sighed and walked from out of the shadows towards her. When he was close, his face was full of sympathy still.
“Sister, if passion gets the better of him he can act rashly. Maybe even force himself on you.”
Kiao laughed at him. “He can’t even take my hand without asking for permission. He’s too much respect for me and himself than to do that.”
“Right now when he is young, certainly, but what happens when he gets older. He won’t be a tod forever.”
That was true, but that had nothing to do with what he was saying.
“If you truly hold the power over it, then you should make the bond a spiritual one and work towards being a respectable priestess.”
“Last I checked I was one,” she said to him.
“No, you’re just a mere shade of one. You could be greater if you put all of yourself into your duty and not wasting time with a boy!”
Kiao’s entire body twitched. She started to hate it when people made it a point to mention his age. She was starting to feel bad about it. That maybe she never should’ve. However, she wanted a chance for a relationship. She knew it was going to be hard to find someone.
They would have to accept her as being a chanter. They would have to accept she committed to her duty. Then they would have to accept her condition. That was the hardest part of the entire thing. And in reality, a young woman like her would never find anyone. However, she had to be a girl about and wanted a chance for love. It was given to her like a gift, but it came with a price. One that wouldn’t matter in two decades, but it wasn’t two decades yet. It was just her against priests that thought they had a right to tell he what she should and shouldn’t be doing.
With that, Elnos walked towards the door. “If you want to become the priestess that you should be, come to the green room. Meditate there and then I’ll show you what you could be.”
When she couldn’t hear his footsteps anymore, she started pacing the room.
“How dare he,” she exclaimed to the air.
She was the priestess she should be. Why couldn’t she be a priestess and have a bond partner? Why was it such a problem? In moments like that, she wished she never dropped her masked and continued hiding as a young man. If she had, Mien would’ve never changed his perspective. But he would’ve never called her beautiful either.
She stopped circling the space between the wall and her bed. Her mind slowed down enough to realize she didn’t want to be there or in the infirmary. She needed to get out. She needed to be alone. The best place to be was in the towns’ arboretum.
She pulled off the plain dress she was wearing and went into her trunk searching through her clothing and found the outfit she first revealed herself to Mien. She pulled on the harem trousers, her favorite white airy blouse, and the red vest embroidered with golden peacock feathers on the back. She even called out Emmery and changed her hair color to black. She didn’t want to look like herself.
She left her room and before she could set a foot on the stairs she heard someone clear their throat behind her. She twisted around to see Brother Oli, standing with his hand folded together in his robe sleeves.
“An old man can’t sleep when busy bodies start yammering,” he told her.
“I’m sorry. Can I get you some tea and something to eat so you can get comfortable again,” she offered.
The elder priest shook his head. “No, I need to get up and take my daily walk around to keep the blood flowing. Brother Elnos just motivated me to come out sooner.”
“That’s the first time he’s been useful,” she said.
He grinned. “Very true. Anyway, do you know why I never interfere with you and Mien?”
“No,” she said.
“Because it’s okay for you to like a boy. Both Cory and I talked about it. It was unexpected. We assumed that we choose someone who wouldn’t become distracted. However, you aren’t neth like Cory and neither are you an elderly man like myself. We assumed you would be satisfied with what you are doing. And if there was need for someone, Alder would be that person.”
She grimaced. Of all the people, why Alder?
“However, we don’t pretend to know the heart of a young woman and tell her what she should do when she knows what’s right and wrong. And we would say more if he hurt you and was bad for you. However, if there was anyone who would respect you and honor you, it would be Mien.”
“Then why can’t the other priests not see that?”
“Because they don’t know you like I know all my children, Lad,” he said smiling.
Kiao retuned it with one of her own. “Thank you.”
“I’m always here for support,” he said staring down the stairs. His face became grim. “You aren’t headed where he told you.”
“No, I’m going to the arboretum to walk.”
“Ah a better place to go,” he said with the seriousness on his face lifting only a tad. “Now, I’ll be on my way so you can go about yours.”
“What’s wrong,” she asked.
“Let an old man be grumpy. Just run along.”
Kiao nodded. He was concerned about Elnos that much was clear. If he was younger, he would probably chase the priest out of the infirmary and out monastery. However, the Elder was frail, but not frail enough that he lost his ability to observe the room around him. In fact, he reminded Kiao of an angry father that had chased away an unworthy lad from his daughter.