A first warden isn’t allowed to mourn or to even rest and recover when something tragic happens. There is this expectation of needing to be always strong and tireless. And I wasn’t strong enough to lead a band of fourteen men. I felt like someone had beaten me with an ice block and stabbed a shard from it in my heart. None of the men cared for me. I was about to pass command when Tyr came to me and told me something that Talore used to like to say. “Put on your big boy boot and give them a good shine. They might not fit, but you can make a good show.”
Kiao wasn’t sure what she would wake up to the following day. Accusing a priest of doing something unbecoming was unheard of. If anything happened, Elnos would be sent in one of the private mediating rooms to pray and fast on his wrong doings. She would be talked with and probably blamed for him doing what he did.
It started with Brother Oli stopped her right after she returned from breakfast asked about what happened. Kiao explained it to him and he looked more than just a little unhappy. His face turned red. That was the most upset she had seen him a very long time.
“Has he lost his mind? Why did he do that and why did he say those things?”
“I don’t know. I expected to be talked too but I made it to breakfast and back. No other priest has said a word. Because the Arch Priest decides. I’m not sure what he’ll do to Elnos given that most of the assembly is loyal to him.”
“True, but whatever the decision is, it’s best if you took yourself out of the infirmary for a bit.”
“Why,” she demanded searching his face. “I’ll look like I’m running.”
She wanted to stand her ground and prove that she couldn’t be scared off.
“Lad, you need a break.”
“No I don’t!”
“Yes you do,” he said firmly. “How many times did you lapse into that state yesterday?”
Kiao pursed her lips then said. “A couple times.”
“That’s what I thought. You need time to work on this. I’ll cover for you. Don’t worry about me. I’m feeling spry today and we can handle being chanter down for a week or two.”
“A week or two is too long,” she protested and receive a silencing palm.
“Child, even Dias took a break in making the world and so shall you take a break in your duties. I think two weeks is all you need to gain control.”
“Fine, I heed to your wisdom,” she said but was at a loss of what she was going to do with herself. If she stayed in her room, she’ll end up trying to helping out. The best place for her was the chapel as Brother Hickory was willing to help her. She left her room and crossed the ground passing by at least one of the assembly priests. They never stopped her but gave her a cordial wave. She waved back and continued on her way to the chapel.
The chapel served as a personal sanctuary for her. Brother Hickory small spare room was by far the best place to sleep in when you wanted to get away from everything. The atmosphere was just inviting and comforting. Brother Hickory was understanding and provided decent sweets. Well, Widow Saffron provided the sweets in forms of pies and then melons she grew herself. She even tried to teach Kiao how to make pies at one point. However, after that experience, the older woman told Kiao she ought to stick with just consuming them.
When she stared to push open the chapel door, once again she was pulled by the door. She let go this time, but was still standing face-to-face with Oeric on his way out. She puckered her lips and him and put her hand on her hips. After they were done with speaking to Lord Kharis the previous evening, both she and Lionel instructed him to rest. He clearly didn’t listen.
His brow formed an amused arch. “I’m giving that dirty look of yours good practice.”
“You were told to rest,” she said glowering at him harder.
“And you look better from when I last left you.”
Kiao frown deepened. She rather not think about what happened the previous evening. It was embarrassing enough that it happened. However, she couldn’t deny that he looked better himself. There was warmth to his skin again. In fact, he was even less solemn than normal. His expression was light. One might say him wearing a friendly smile. She wasn’t sure what to make of it.
“Yes, let’s just pretend last night didn’t happen.”
“I can’t blame you from putting it behind you, but that was worrisome,” he said, giving her a look she was all too familiar with. Her father gave her that worried look, Brother Oli and Hickory did as well. In fact, she was certain if given a cause the Patriarch would give it too.
Kiao gave him a dismissive wave. “There is nothing to worry about. That sort of thing happens.”
“Yes happens,” she said then sighed. She rubbed one of her reddened ears wishing she could wipe her visible embarrassment away. “Sometimes a magical stimulus clings to chanters, especially one we aren’t used to.”
“So your saying too much happened to you at once,” he asked.
“Exactly and as a chanter who is nearly timbre deaf, I’m not used to it.”
“Anyway, I will talk to you later. Maybe this evening after your shift you can swing over to my house. Cordea will have a meal ready. I’ve had some thoughts.”
“I can come earlier, I’m on leave.”
The slight smile on his face disappeared. “Why?”
“What you saw happen. I need to get control of my abilities. Brother Hickory told me he could help a little.”
“Well I hope he can assist you, until later, Sister,” he said with an incline of his head and then strolled away.
Kiao watched him, wondering if she should be annoyed that he kept calling her “Sister.” For some reason, he had the inability to use her name. When she entered the chapel, she nearly walked into the chest of a tall middle aged priest coming out. He looked surprised and then a wide smile lifted the man’s entire face.
“Greetings Sister Kiao,” he said jovially.
“Greetings Brother Brontis,” she said leaning to the side so she could see around him. “I’m sorry I can’t converse right now. I need to speak to Brother Hickory.”
The man deflated becoming disappointed. “Oh. A lot of people seem to trust Brother Hickory a great deal. I can’t seem to get them to be comfortable around me.”
Kiao felt a little sorry for him. Out of all the assembly, he seemed to be the only one who was sincere.
“It’s because he knows their situations more. It’s easy to speak to someone who knows all the details.”
The man’s shoulders sagged. “He said that too. All I wish to do is to help around him. But the most I’ve been able to do is greet patrons.”
“Well that’s important. It’ll make people more comfortable with your presence.”
“He also said the same thing.”
“Sorry, if I echo him, I picked up a lot from him over the years.”
“There are worse things that could happen,” he said and then tilted his head. “Shouldn’t you be in the infirmary?”
She parted her lips to answer him but then spotted Brother Hickory beside the altar.
“I’m taking some time off, I’m sure within the hour, you’ll know what happened,” she told him. “Now excuse me, it was nice talking to you.”
As she walked down the aisle, the door to the chapel opened and heard someone call Brontis and saying, “Come with me, the assembly is having a meeting.”
She wanted to see who it was but thought it best if she didn’t. Instead, she watched the expression on her patron’s face. Displeasure tugged his brow together for a moment as he looked past her. When he focus on her his expression lifted into a meager smile. He led the way to his living space behind the chapel. He sat two slices of pie down and a cup of tea between them both on his table.
“What brings you here,” he asked.
“You know exactly why. I run into Soletus’s father on my way out. He looked happy. What did you tell him?”
Hickory chuckled at her. “Nosey much?”
She didn’t want to talk about her just yet. “Well I ordered him to say at home and he isn’t heeding it.”
“He’s terrible at staying still. At least rode a horse here. He came here about you. He told me what happened after I turned my back. Also, we discussed some personal things.”
Kiao saw the wrinkle between his eyes become as more visible. “That good, huh?”
“It’s was about Soletus.”
Kiao took a bite out of the crust of her pie. “So he came here to ask what to do about it?”
“He more or less wanted to know what more could he do. He and Cordea have known for a bit.”
“Really,” she said surprised.
“Yes, I told them to watch him because I know what to look for.”
“What is there to see? I didn’t even realize it until he told me,” she admitted.
“I’ve an inside point-of –view don’t you think,” he said grinning. “There are also neth specific traits such as not wanting to adhere to custom such as choosing to wear his hair long. Not to mention I went on a limb and gifted him a braid clasp. He took it happily. Most males don’t accept jewelry form another male. In fact, it was one reason why I picked him to help with Mien. I actually thought Mien was too given his shyness. A lot of neth start out being shy as children and when they get older, they tend to open up suddenly.”
Kiao arched a brow. “Hard to believe Soletus being shy and just as hard as you believed that Mien was neth.”
“I’m not perfect.”
“So why didn’t you confront him on it?”
Brother Hickory pointed his fork at her. “Talking to him isn’t easy. He’s a come to you, not a you come to him person.”
Kiao started back eating her pie. “I’ve tried to direct him to you when he came to me.”
“I’m glad he did seek you. One can start feeling a little isolated and then resentful when you’re different. And I don’t want that to happen to you,” he said with a meaningful look. “Elnos come by with instruction on how I should handle you this morning.”
Kiao dropped her fork. “Why does he think he has that sort of power especially after last night?”
“He’s pretending like nothing happened and sounded even more cracked than before. There is something wrong with him.”
She couldn’t imagine what could be wrong with him that made him believe he could do what he did. And it wasn’t that terrible of a thing. She was embarrassed that it being grabbed like that made her unstable. She touched the side of her head. There was only a shadow of pain left from what happened.
She never had a man do that sort of thing to her. Elnos didn’t even look that strong. He was wiry and thin. She couldn’t fight against that without hurting herself more. And yet at the same time, someone much stronger than Elnos had the ability to soothe her. She rather those hands belonged to Mien too.
“Kiao,” called Brother Hickory.
The young woman regard him and was met by concern in his eyes.
“I’m okay. My head is a little tender. It’ll go away,” she said mostly trying to assure him.
Before Hickory could question her more, there was a tap on the doorway. Kiao turned around to see Briar standing there.
“I’ve come to fetch Ko-ko. My father wants her. Lady Lass’Cyan is at my house.”
Kiao’s heart dropped in her stomach. “Is she really?”
She nodded. “Father thought it would be best if you spoke to her.”
Kiao didn’t know what to think. She hadn’t planned on meeting Mien’s mother for a long time and wasn’t even sure if she wanted to. She had uncertain feelings about her. The state her bond partner was in when he arrived disturbed her greatly. She couldn’t imagine a mother allowing her son to be put in that condition. She had to powerless for it to happen however, Soletus described her as shrewd. Noble elven women were forces to contend with normally. Though she didn’t understand what sort of force she was given the situation she was in.
She only heard of stories of dealing with a house who choose its male members, no matter how idiotic, brutish, sleazy, and crass they were, first. House Jay was one of those and by default House Cyan. Then again, there were houses that were just the opposite and were just as bad.
“We’ll talk later,” said Hickory. “Rest assured, Elnos will be dealt with.”
Kiao nodded and followed Briar in silence until they were outside. The huntress took her hand and dragged her forward as if keeping her from escaping.
“What happened? Father was on a war path early this morning.”
“He was hot enough that he was shouting at the Arch Priest of all people. He and Brother Lorthan are friends. He was going on and on about having a well, a harasser in the order.”
“Harasser,” said Kiao as they got to the door to her home.
“Those weren’t his exact words. They weren’t nice at all. Did someone do something to you,” she said with a sharpness in her eyes that suggested she was thinking about hurting someone.
Kiao stopped walking. “Brother Elnos just stepped out of line. He grabbed me by my hair and threatened me.”
Briar’s green eyes became inflamed. “He did what!”
“He did a few other things and I think that made your father uncomfortable.”
“Well of course it made him uncomfortable. Did you tell him just as matter-of-factly as if nothing had happened?”
“Look, it happened. I can’t stay upset at it forever,” she said walking off.
Briar took her by her shoulders. “At times, like these, I wish you weren’t a priestess. You could just get upset just like any other woman. And really, you’re more useful to the order than the order is useful to you. Maybe you should leave.”
Of all the people who would tell her that. She didn’t expect Briar too.
“I mean, you’re an honorary huntress. I could make something out of the huntresses and you could be our chanter. Well if worse come to come worse.”
Kiao didn’t know what to think about that offer. She didn’t want to think about after such relatively small incident. Maybe if she were attacked by several priests. However, in that case, she would probably just go home.
“Thank you,” she said. “I’ll consider it, but I rather fight to stay here. I belong here.”
Briar then hugged her. “That’s what I wanted to here. Fight on, Sister, fight on.”
Kiao hugged her back and then went on inside and entered the parlor. However, she stopped misstep when she saw Mien’s family. Lady Lass was easy to spot and she was holding a baby. As far as she knew, Mien only had a single sibling and she was his twin. This was a new development she didn’t think her would be happy with. Behind her stood a young man with a wide chin who looked too closely related to Mien that it had to be his cousin Dalaen. Beside Lady Lass sat a fox-haired young woman that was a feminine version of Mien. It was uncanny how similar they look save one feature. Her viridian eyes lacked the golden brightness her brother had.
The girl’s brow’s rose up as Mien’s would when he was intrigued. She then broke into a wide approving smile. When Briar introduced her.
“That was quick,” said Mienerva.
Briar took a seat across from her father who was inspecting his spectacles.
“Hello,” Kiao bowed, and wanted to kick herself. She could never remember to do curtsy. Mien would have laughter in his eyes and tease her the moment he got a chance. Lady Lass gave her an auspicious look though.
“I’m honored to finally meet you. Mien spoke so highly of you. Said you were noble born as well,” she said and then became bemused. “However, I was under the impression that you were a young man.”
Kiao joined her in confusion. “Well I didn’t let that fact known that I was female until a few years ago. Didn’t Mien tell you?”
Lady Lass swayed her head. “My son has been vague in his letters for the last two years to tell you the truth. I assumed it was because he became busy with fieldwork. I assumed that’s why he hasn’t disclosed everything he’s been doing.”
Kiao tilted her at the tart note in her voice. “So he’s told you he passed the trials?”
“Yes. He was very pleased with himself.”
“And he told you about being in First Warden Oeric’s training band?”
“Oh, yes. And stories of being in the infirmary too,” she said and added. “Multiple times.”
Kiao didn’t know how to feel about Mien not telling her the truth. The only course of action was to work off of what she knew. Mien didn’t want his uncle knowing about them. It never crossed her mind that it extended to his mother as well.
“I suppose it gives you something to bring up when he returns,” she said.
“Yes, we have a lot to talk about. I arrived earlier and had a short chat with the Arch Monk about what happened,” she said. “He called it an incident of insubordination. And my son would have very little reason to be involved in something that could ruin his chances for freedom. And furthermore, why is he in the position to go over the Lower Branch? I assumed he was going to continue staying close and local.”
“Mien had to take a position as what’s known as a floater. No one wanted him in their band and First Warden Kellas was the only one willing. His band is known to go out far, but all our monk friends are in that band.”
The woman passed the baby to Dalaen. “So you think he can make decisions with his condition.”
Kiao bristled. Even his own mother thought something was wrong with him. She clamped tightly down on it and said conversationally, “I understand why you may think that given the state he was in the last time you saw him. However, you’ll be pleasantly surprised of his progress. Overall, he’s as normal as timbre sensitive chanter can be.”
“That’s good to hear,” she said. “Does that mean he’s told you what Hugh has done to him?”
Kiao swayed her head. “He’s told me very little. Just remarks and brief statements. I’ve figured out what a few things from off-hand comments and his behavior. If I press the matter, he’ll avoid a direct answer and snap at me if I keep going. I’m not going to lie, I do avoid making him upset. He gets unreasonable.”
“So do you think at 28 he’ll be willing to come home?”
Kiao knew the answer. He wouldn’t. He already stated he didn’t want too. He didn’t want to be anywhere near his uncle.
“Will his uncle be there,” she asked.
Mienerva looked at her mother. Dalaen looked at the sister he was holding then at his aunt. Lady Lass looked her in the eyes.
“We can’t answer that. Hugh is currently in the south. He’s a place there he likes to go to. He’s been known to stay away months or even years.”
“No. I know he’ll be older, trained to defend himself but, Lord Hugh is the center of his issues. He will rub Mien’s empathic tendencies the wrong way.”
“What’s that,” asked Lady Lass.
Mienerva answered her. “It means he can feel other’s emotions.”
Kiao nodded. “Yes. Think of him as something that absorbs water except, he absorbs negative emotions easily such as aggression. For example, if someone is attacking another verbally, it affects him. It’s not instantaneous. The person has to keep going with harsh and negative tones while being aggressive, demeaning, and belittling. Before it suppressed him, now he lashes out. As of right now, we don’t know how to stop him from doing that.”
Mienerva then asked. “So you’re saying that if Uncle Hugh were to yell at Mien he’ll yell back?”
“Yes to the point he will become the aggressor.”
“Theodric would’ve never do such a thing. Aside from Dalean, he’s never hurt a soul before,” said Lady Lass.
“He’s not repressed anymore,” said Kiao wanting to hit that point home.
Dalaen then asked. “What would happen if I were to speak with him alone?”
“I wouldn’t allow it,” said Kiao simply.
The young man shifted the baby on his shoulder. “But I really need to speak with him. Aside from apologies, there is a matter I need to speak to him about.”
Kiao didn’t know what to think of the young man. She expected someone arrogant. Someone who had the look of a bully and not bouncing a baby in his arms. Maybe like Mien, the person in front of her had changed. She thought about it for a long moment and told him,
“I’ll have to ask Brother Hickory if it’s safe.”
“Safe for him?”
“No, safe for you.”
Dalaen face transformed into the same stricken expression Mien could. “Why? He’s not going to try and kill me again.”
“No, that’s not a problem at all,” Kiao assured. “I really need you all to understand he’s not that slight shy boy you last saw. He’s grown a fair bit and, well, he’s probably stronger than you.”
Dalaen didn’t exactly strike Kiao as someone who spent a lot of time on his physical form. He was wiry without Mien’s lean muscle.
A wicked smile spread on Mienerva’s face. “You mean he can beat up Dalaen? I can’t wait until I see him.”
Lady Lass glanced at her daughter with disapproval. “He doesn’t sound like he’s improved.”
Kiao sighed. “Your son is a very gentle. He’s very sweet. Children love him and women think he’s adorable because he’s so polite. But he’s a tod. An emotional one at that,” she said. “He’s grown a fair bit and he sounds light a chanter. He’s a strong one at that. What is likely to happen, he’s going to get loud and he’s going to yell. If you are on the receiving end of an angry chanter, it will sound like they are trying to verbally beat you and you will feel it. If Dalaen wants to speak with him, he needs to be prepared for that.”
“Maybe I can have Mienerva with me,” said Dalaen.
Kiao swayed her head. “He might feel betrayed seeing you two together. No, you must be alone. He won’t hurt you as long as you don’t threaten or touch him. Also, I’m not sure if he’s ready to forgive you or will trust you.”
Kiao knew he wouldn’t. He was still very wounded.
“I really don’t care if he forgives me or not,” said Dalaen. “I want the opportunity to apologize and speak with him about something family related. Can I do that?”
“I’ll get Brother Hickory to arrange something when he comes home. If anything I can see how he reacts to you. That should indicate his response to his uncle.”
The baby in Dalaen’s arms began to fuss and he passed her back to his aunt.
Lady Lass then started back on her prodding. “I see. I suppose you know my son well,” she said.
“Yes, I became his senior. We work well together,” she said.
“Why wasn’t he kept with Soletus?”
“Soletus is a monk and had his own duties to focus on. He was still a big influence they became really good friends. Then his father, First Warden Oeric, helped out as well.”
That was when his mother’s brow shot up in recognition. “Mien wrote me about him. He certainly seems to like him a whole lot.”
“He’s written to me about him as well,” said his sister. “Is there any way we can meet him?”
“Maybe. He’s a bit occupied.”
“I can go get him,” announced Briar. “He’s at the society house anyway.”
The Patriarch came alive again. “Is he really? I thought he was supposed to be off his feet and all.”
Briar stood and waved her father off. “Please, you know he can’t be still. And he could probably tell Lady Lass a little more about what happened. He’s the Arch Monk’s son after all.”
Kiao wasn’t sure if he would disclose anything that he knew. While Briar was gone, the Patriarch then spoke to reassure her and she asked him about House Gryfalcon and his mother and siblings. Kiao ignored most of it. Her mind was still reeling on the fact she was speaking to Mien’s mother. It wasn’t the meeting she wanted and she couldn’t tell if had been going well or not. She got the impression it had not because that tart unhappiness was still in her green eyes. In fact, the woman was probably downright displeased and worried given what had happened. Though so far, she hadn’t become irate.
Oeric didn’t take long to arrive. He had pulled his hair back in a neat but quick braid and tucked in his shirt. However, he couldn’t straighten out those scars. While Briar introduced him, Lady Lass’s gaze became sharp and wary. Mienerva was less surprised about the scars. In fact, she beamed as if she were finally meeting someone of notoriety. Dalaen gulped.
Soletus’s father bowed. “Greetings Lady Lass. I’m sorry for my appearance. I wasn’t expecting a meeting.”
A strange expression formed on Lady Lass’s. If Kiao had to guess it might’ve been the fact Oeric’s voice didn’t match his appearance. He didn’t have a rough sounding voice that one might think he had. He and his son nearly sounded alike but Oeric’s voice was smoother.
Lady Lass relaxed a little. “Greetings. I met your son, he was a wonderful boy and I am not going to lie to you, I’m a bit surprised. I expected someone Dyne.”
“My wife is. He takes mostly after her.”
“I see. I didn’t realize he was half. He looks full,” she said squinting at him. “You have to excuse me but, Mien never mentioned that you were a former cur.”
Oeric fold his hands behind his back tucking away any expressions. “I don’t see why he wouldn’t mention it other than it not being relevant.”
The woman’s eyes narrowed at his unapologetic tone.
“And you just swept him under your wing?”
“I accepted him as being part of my son’s life as they became friends. He then came to me because he wanted to be a combat chanter. You need a first warden or a master to assist with field training. I was the only one willing to give him a chance.”
“And you thought he was well enough to do it?”
“The heart of the brotherhood training isn’t about waiting for one to be well enough, strong enough, or fit enough to start it. It’s about what you are willing to do. The training will shape you. He wanted it enough, so he did the training.”
“And you should’ve stopped him,” she snapped and the hissed angrily as if not to disturb the baby in her arm too much. “He’s a meek boy! He’s always been jumpy and anxious of the world around him. He’s fragile minded and everyone around here has just let him do whatever he wants. And look where it landed him. He’s lost! If he’s dies, it will be your fault. His blood will be on this orders hands.”
Kiao marveled at the woman’s change in mood. That’s where it comes from, she thought. Compared to his mother, Mien’s mood swings weren’t that bad. His facial expression always gave warning he was about to go off and you could stop the worse of it.
The Patriarch sat up straight and was ready to take control of the situation however Oeric cleared his throat and used his steady voice. “I can understand you being upset that your son is missing. Mine is too. However, don’t belittle you son like that.”
The Patriarch then intervened. “Given the circumstances, Oeric, I don’t think it’s fair to say.”
Lady Lass ignored his words and was fixed on the first warden in front of her. “Oh so you know better than I do about my own son,” said the woman.
Kiao thought Lady Lass was about to kill him. Oeric went on speaking to her.
“If he was a fragile minded meekling, I would’ve never trained him. Sure I had to deal with his fear of being around men, his lack of confidence, and variety of other things that would crop up. However, he wanted to do it. He wanted to change for the better. And he did that and more.”
“My son came to this place broken. He lost his minds and only had fragments of what he was back. Nervous, shaky, jumpy, and above all not even elf anymore. And he just recovered all his facilities and is the same as he was before enough to go marching across the countryside.”
Kiao at that point was becoming very annoyed at her. How did she dare continue to believe that Mien was incapable of doing anything? Maybe she herself was part of the problem. She couldn’t’ve just started believing he son was incapable of doing anything. Maybe the woman babied him. It made sense if she did. However, forever the priestess, she sat there with her gaze on Soletus’s father and tucked her own displeasure in the back of her mind.
“I didn’t say that,” said Oeric shifting his weight to his left side. “He can never be the boy he was before. He can only go forward as the man he is becoming.”
That did little to soothe the woman’s irritation in face she became even more upset. “And I suppose a cur like you is an expert on what a man actually is.”
Even Kiao felt the sting of that insult. She waited for him to display anything more than his patience. Oeric like her was forever a warden. And like a warden, he said a thing that a warden would say.
“The measure of a man is not who he was in the past that cannot be changed. It’s who he is in the moment he stands in and the choices he makes while walking forward down the path before him.”
“Sounds like an excuse a cur would say,” she said complete remorseless on what she thought about him.
“Your son is no different from me. Except, he doesn’t wear his bad choices like a badge on his skin. And these are my scars. I don’t hide them in shame. I let others see them in hopes that they might see what a person such as me can become,” he said. “And what I’ve become is the sort of man who will correct the failure of this order. Who will correct the failure of a fellow first warden. I will go and find your son. And I will bring him home.”