It was only in the recent year that Kiao began to feel the fear of loss. That feeling was directed at the older elf who sat beside her. She knew it was because of Brother Oli’s death combined with the former Arch Priest impending death, that she became aware of how old Brother Hickory was. He seemed to hang in a suspended state of somewhere between advanced middle aged and silver elf. More and more what was once a golden mane was transforming into a silver sheen. His face didn’t age any more than maybe an added wrinkle or three. However, those teal eyes hadn’t lost their brightness. Oli lost his in the last few months of life. Kiao never noticed is. Well maybe, she was ignoring it. However, Hickory did lose something. He wore a tired expression sometimes.
She and the other could only speculate what it meant. Though Lionel and Mien seemed to learn on him just losing a friend. Kiao took it as he was aware of his age and was losing friends and people he had known for decades. Alder said there was no point in speculating, just give him time. They at least agreed on that Hickory was mourning. And since they lost their elder to dote on, they decided he would be the next one they adopted. Friendship was very important to neth and they wanted him to know he still had plenty.
He sat with them all outside when during the dead hour of the day, so Vlory decided to teach him how to imbue. His brow knotted with concentration. Normally he would be in the chapel, but he had no council sessions at that time and Brother Brontis was a good teacher and eagerly helped other around him. Though Hickory would never call him a protégé or even his replacement. The current situation had him thinking about it and he stated to Kiao he’ll pray about it more. He didn’t feel as if he was done, far from it.
He brow went flat. “What’s with this stone?”
Vlory, the kanu chanter, made her home in town, picked up the stone and studied it with one of her black brows raising high and her gray and gold eyes narrowing.
She was a common face on the grounds now and was amassing a lot of tao stone to make different stones for different used. She was very curious about the light that Brother Hickory would produce in stone form. Kiao could make a tao stone twinkle like a star and like one, it produced little light. Alder’s stones were very much like the moon, bluish and silvery at times a nice soft light to place on the edge of your bed to keep toes from being crushed by the edge of a footlocker or chest. Lionel’s was a little brighter pale yellow, soft not much of a glow compared to Vlory’s that could be a lantern. Mien’s were dangerous. Not only were they bright, but they were hot. And the glow and the heat corresponded with his mood. When he was upset, he could shatter a stone into flaming shrapnel. When he was in a good mood, neutral, and calm, his would be a bright healthy glow with warmth that didn’t burn.
“There is nothing wrong with it,” she said. “It is just as accepting as the others. This,” she said poking him in the forehead. “Is not focusing.”
Hickory used his forehead to push her hand away. “It’s too accepting. It’s cracked. I can feel it leaking.”
Vlory picked it up again, this time holding it to the light and spinning it around in her fingers. Alder was watching her. His expression was soft with a slight smile on his face. Kiao wanted badly to tease him about his obvious infatuation with her. However, she couldn’t because neither one of them made a move. Vlory believed she wasn’t pretty because she had a scar, the shape of a lightning bolt going across her face. The only sign that remained of her being mauled by a drass beast. She was beautiful in Kiao opinion. According to Alder she had fluffy black curls and smooth brown skin covered in lovely speckles. She wanted him to tell her that, but he was such a priest. He went between fumbling to acting indifferent to her. Now, he wasn’t indifferent but mesmerized by her. It was frustrating because the joke about elven romance seemed to be holding true, that an elf could take half their lifetime to decide if they loved someone.
The truth was, Alder needed a little guidance, and he didn’t have a parent to do that for him. Kiao couldn’t do it because she was just as unguided as he was. Granted Vlory helped, but it was less about what to do in general and more of what to look out for with her bond. Lionel was the only one of them who was unattached. Maybe when he took interest, she could help him. However, the older tod wasn’t ready. The last year for him had been rough. Being an insight priest had its downfalls such as lack of sleep, sudden visions that interrupted his life, understanding his abilities.
At the present, he was focusing on his own stone in his hand, but really his attention was on the by the door of the chapel where the new head of the infirmary stood with the new Arch Priest.
“They’ve been talking for forever,” stated Lionel. “And he’s purposely too far away to hear.”
Alder broke out of his revery and spoke. “Rastor is always asks a lot of questions. But it’s probably about the Brother Lorthan’s condition. Brother Jaron was brought in specifically to treat him.”
“That really confuses me still,” said Kiao. “It they had and known to have such a strong healer in the order, why not have pulled him from field work before this?”
“Likely because he was one of the few chanters they had out in the field,” answered Hickory. “Also, he may not have wanted to return.”
Brother Jaron was Nimbus’s age. Rugged from all the years of living a nomadic life going between a series of town in the southern provinces as a traveling healer on a route. He had settled down, got married, and had a child three years ago. He chose a town close to the southern boarded that needed him the most and was uprooted by a giant excursion that left the town annihilated. From there, he, his wife, and daughter were roaming again until he received a message to return to the monastery to help treat the Arch Priest. He said yes arriving in town and was given the position of infirmary head so he could treat the Arch Priest as best as he could.
That one act ignored all the work that Brother Oli had put into Kiao. They didn’t ask, didn’t talk to her, in fact, assembly didn’t even talk to any of them. Brother Oli had written everything down that pertained to his death and they ignored it. The message they sent was loud and clear, no female would take the infirmary.
Kiao was disappointed and defeated. She felt directionless. The bridge going across a canyon had been unfinished had now crumbled. The clear path was inaccessible now. Part of her wondered if she should have remained in High Perch or maybe gone back home to Summerset instead of following the unicorn. She wouldn’t be so disheartened. However, as a priestess, she should be happy with just aiding others. That was a righteous goal. A chanters gift to the world. The show of Dias’s love. Yet it wasn’t enough. She wasn’t happy, inside, she was furious still.
“True,” said Kiao. “I’m not sure if I had the freedom to do as I wanted, I would come back to this order.”
Brother Hickory’s face did a tick. She seen it before in Mien when someone said something that caught his ear. Her guardian studied her for a moment. She knew he was trying to come to some conclusion about her voice and said, “Well, he does have his little one to worry about. And besides, I do believe he wanted to come here again. This is his original home. He does have family here.
It was true, he did have family. When he said goodbye to the Arch Priest and walked towards them, Kiao didn’t know if she liked the fact that he looked so much like his brother, Enforcer Icus. However, at least Brother Jaron knew how to smile.
“It’s unusual to see such a large collection of healers all in one spot,” stated Jaron when he was close.
“We are waiting to see how Brother Hickory does with imbuing tao stone with the phrase of light,” said Alder.
Vlory handed him another stone. “Try this one.”
“The phrase of light isn’t a strong one of mine,” stated Hickory.
“You could try a phase that resonates more,” she said.
Hickory nodded holding the stone in the palm of his hand and with his other hand, circled the flat side with his index finger. His teal eyes became blue, and he held the stone up to his mouth and blew on it. It was a different technique than everyone else. They spoke at the stones or concentrated on the stone itself. Feeling the rough smooth surface of the stone with their minds. They felt it down to the pores it held where they fill with their words. What Hickory gave to the stone wasn’t clear at first then Kiao heard the stone. It sounded like a wind chime.
He then handed the stone to Kiao. “I think that’s enough from me today,” he said, standing up slowly. Jaron helped him not that Hickory really need it. Being around Soletus had given him some newfound vigor. Not to mention the want to grow his hair long again like when she met him.
Kiao held the stone in her hands. Vlory reached and picked it up. Her eyes went wide. “Here I teach you child’s work and you can do wonders, Aged One.”
“What is it,” asked Jaron.
“Phrase of peace,” said Kiao. She got the impression he was sending her a message.
Alder and Lionel looked stunned.
Hickory gave them a light smile. “I think just about any phrase can be used. You just have to figure the shape of it.”
He then said his goodbyes and Jaron stood in his place but didn’t sit among them. “How much longer is this lesson going to last,” he asked. He might have been born in town, but he had a strange mix of western and southern dialect that made any vowel he spoke sound too long. In fact, if he wasn’t enunciating properly, then he would have sounded incomprehensible.
“Long enough to teach you,” said Vlory patting the ground. “The wise need to be wiser.”
He grimaced. “I didn’t grasp this the first few times.”
“If you learn then, he will understand. A dull knife can’t get sharp if you keep them away from the whetstone,” she said.
Jaron he then told her apologetically. “I’m sorry the Arch Priest doesn’t appreciate your presence. He’s determined to keep the women in the order to one.”
“I’m not of this order. I just owe it,” she said. “And I do so by teaching all I can. He should understand debt.”
“He doesn’t understand a lot of things,” muttered Alder.
Everyone else in the infirmary, wasn’t happy about the decision to not respect Brother Oli’s wishes especially Alder.
“Well, this is the course everything is going to follow,” said Jaron. “Past can’t be changed. Anyway, I think this is enough teaching for today. You all have been out here for over an hour.”
Alder still looked unhappy. In fact, one might describe his usual serene face, a pout.
“Why don’t you walk Vlory back home,” said Jaron to him. Alder expression lightened and Lionel head snapped up.
“I don’t think you have time,” he said.
“Time,” asked Alder. “Time for what? There is nobody here right now?”
It was then Kiao caught sight of a rider speeding through the gate and galloped towards them. Kiao recognized the figure as Doran.
“First Warden Oeric sent me on ahead. There was an accident on the road. The caravan from Arbortown to here got attacked by drass beasts.”
The caravan went between towns carrying travelers, messages, and goods. If a drass beast attacked it, they could be overrun with injured. Kiao stood to her feet. “How many injuries?”
“They’re all minor. The worse one was a man got bitten. Nonvenomous, but with the amount he was muttering and acting nervous. Aside from him, 12 others including the drivers. They managed to just get just bruises and scratches. Some of them are deep.”
“Well, we need to make sure everything is ready,” said Jaron and her at the same time. They regarded each other. And Kiao wore a smile and apologized.
“Sorry, this not being in charge is taking a while for me to get used to,” she said. She wished she were in charge. She should be.
They never told Brother Jaron there was someone fully trained on how to run the infirmary. He had been told that there wasn’t anyone who could do the job. He was warned that they had a priestess in the order, and he was to use his own judgment on what to do with her. Though on arrival when viewing all of them. He thought them to be too young. The only one who was acceptable in his eyes was Alder. He was the oldest. Kiao barely scrapped by. Mien and Lionel, confused him greatly, they were just tods. He was completely unprepared for them and didn’t see their value as a competent team. He then went on a mission to find more adults. He learned there weren’t that many chanters in the order to begin with. He could have chosen among the combat chanters however, most of them had no interest in the infirmary. The only one who could and sometimes did, if he remembered, was Nimbus, but everyone wanted him to join them on a mission. So, then Jaron tried to run things the way he thought best.
He and Alder took in most of the patient work. That placed Mien and Lionel aside to do menial tasks of keep up their medicine supply, keeping the infirmary clean, and washing bedding and bandages. And Kiao. Well, she was put on administrative duty of organizing their work that didn’t need organization. The logs had been kept by her everyone. The medicine and herbal supply inventory should have been just kept by Mien and Lionel., but he apparently didn’t trust them without her playing supervisor. She spent a lot of her time at the society house because she didn’t need want to be there doing nothing.
It was rather frustrating to her that she could spend time treating women at the society house. Heal children’s little scrapes, give birth, and treat all sort of maladies. However, she was trained to handle everything from shattered bone to someone mangled arm that was better off amputate and she could do the amputation. He needed her there, it took a single incident, a roaming pack of drass beasts that terrorized the countryside. What he thought was sound management was detrimental. Not to mention, he learned the reason why she was there. She wasn’t some little girl to shove away. A mistake in judgment by the pervious Arch Priest with allowing her to stay they could do nothing about. The Sisterhood likely regretted treating her as they had, then again, they probably wouldn’t think she was worthy of the ability given to her. In Brother Oli’s eyes, she was a treasure. She was a chanter who could revive.
“Think nothing of it,” he said benignly.
It just added more to Kiao conflicted feelings about him. She didn’t want to like him. However, he didn’t make himself unlikable. In fact, he was agreeable. Though he was clearly used to working on his own.
It didn’t take long for the injured to arrive. Soletus and Tyrus carrying the man who had been bitten on a litter.
“The pain,” he moaned muffled by the handkerchief he pressed to his face.
“Don’t worry we have the best people here to help you,” reassured Soletus with an amused grin.
“Just get him on the examining table,” said Kiao making her way over there.
The man was helped up and he sat himself down lowering the wet cloth from his face. Kiao walked to him and smiled.
“Let me see your—” she said as he looked up and found she was looking into the stressed face of her father.