Kiao’s jaw sagged. “Tits, what are you doing here,” she demanded.
Her father’s face lit up brightly as he scolded her. “Watch your language. Aren’t you supposed to be a priestess?”
It was then a woman flowed through the door. Her white and red dress was out of place among the plainly clothed travelers. It wasn’t dinner party fancy however it was eccentric with belled sleeves. The pheasant feathers on her hair pin were, bent but she looked to be in good spirits. She threw her arms open and made a beeline to Kiao.
“Kialianna,” she said and wrapped her arms around her. “Darling, give mama a hug.”
Kiao caught sight of Mien who was leading one of the drivers. All the blood drained from his face and pooled down to his heels.
Alder who was helping someone settled down looked between daughter and parents in bemusement.
“Why are you two on this side of the country,” Kiao asked. She hadn’t seen her parents in awhile. Sometimes she traveled across the country to spend a month or two with them during. However, she hadn’t done that in a couple of years.
“Didn’t you get my letter? I designed a dress for the Matron of House Gyrfalcon for her big whoodoo of become house head. We were invited to come. It was last night and I thought before we go rolling on to the capital to drop off a dress for the queen, we should visit you. I didn’t think our carriage would be so viciously attacked though.”
“I hit one of them, you know,” spoke Kiao’s father. “Punched it right in the muzzle.”
“Ah yes, that you did. Try not to do it again, Love,” returned Kiao’s mother.
Oeric then peered inside and hung at the doorway. He motioned Soletus and giving Kiao’s mother a wary glance. However, he caught her mother spotted him. “Oh, there he is. Our savior! We have to thank Warden Martin.”
“It’s Sheldmartin, and you can just call me Oeric,” he said, sliding fully in the doorway, but came no closer. She advanced on him instead.
“Thank you Brother Oeric for swooping in,” she said patting him on the chest. “I thought I was going to die of fright when that thing tried to eat me like I was a noon snack.”
“She gave it a good kick too,” said her father.
She lifted her skirt and revealed heeled boots. “I’ve these lovely heels. Shoes with heels are becoming popular. I had a pair made for you, Darling. It’s in the trunk.”
An expression of bewilderment formed on the first warden’s face as he’s gaze flicked between mother and daughter. “Darling?”
“Oh yes, I’m Lady Hera’Medowlark and this is Tad. We’re her parents.”
“I see,” uttered Oeric in shock. He looked as if he was questioning everything he had ever known. That and he looked as if he wanted to be back on the road dealing with the drass beasts than standing there.
“First Warden, I don’t think my parents need your assistance anymore,” said Kiao.
Her mother then hooked her arm around his like they were going for a stroll. “Don’t listen to her, we’ve visited before, and she didn’t let us speak to anyone. We want to meet everyone now.”
“She was still a boy then,” stated her father. “And claimed we would ruin her cover.”
Kiao’s ears burned. All she could to was shield her face with her hands. The girl inside of her screamed at how embarrassing they were being.
“But that was ages ago,” said her mother. “And now it’s okay. I want to brag about my daughter. You know her, right?”
Oeric pulled his arm from her grasp. “I really need to go back to get the carriages and everyone’s things.”
“Ma, please leave the First Warden alone,” cried Kiao.
“Wait, did she just call you First Warden? Ohhhh you’re that First Warden! Look, Love, we’ve finally met someone,” she announced excitedly. Oeric looked just as embarrassed as Kiao did. “She writes such long letter it’s like we basically know everyone here save their face. Granted I should’ve known this face,” she said looking as if she had just noticed his scars. “Your wife must love them. Women do love a tall strong roguish man.”
“Are you trying to steal my wife,” said her father.
Oeric stepped away from her. His ears flushed. “I’m leaving. Soletus, finish up here and meet me in the grounds.”
“Yes, Sir,” said Soleus turning his back to his father so he couldn’t see him silently laughing.
The dressmaker then clasped her hands in front of her, watching him retreat. “I feel as if I’ve might have committed an offense.”
“This isn’t Summerset,” cried Kiao.
“Oh yes everyone’s a lot more conservative here. But did I really make him that uncomfortable?”
“He’s not used to people being friendly to him.”
Her mother tilted her head confused. “Aren’t people friendly here?”
“Yes, but the cur scars make people weary, so most new people have reservation about him.”
Her mother giggled. “Whatever for? I would be grateful a sturdy man such as him came and aided me. He looks different than I imagined. I was thinking a grizzled elf with wild-brows. Kind of like those old terror plays with wolf-elves we made costumes for.”
Kiao smeared her hand over her face. “I said he could turn into a wolf not a wolf-elf.”
“We saw him change, it was a bit disconcerting,” said his father and then asked to Soletus. “Does he howl?”
“Pa,” snapped Kiao. “That’s his father you’re talking about!”
The man tilted his head. “What’s does that have to do with him howling to the moon.”
Soletus had his lips pressed together with his shoulders shaking. He cleared his throat before saying. “He can. He’s very musical.”
“Your mother must an especially strong woman. I couldn’t deal with a husband who howls,” stated Hera.
Soletus couldn’t contain himself any longer and walked down the aisle guffawing. As much fun as it was to hear Soletus laughing, Kiao put her hand on her hips.
“Second Warden, I don’t need you anymore,” said Kiao, making shooing motions.
“Oh, don’t be so hard on him. They’re such a merry bunch of lads,” said Hera.
“They actually liked my jokes,” said Tad. “I learned a few good ones from them.”
Kiao just moaned.
Soletus returned to a calm state and motioned to Fenris, Doran, and Espen to leave. Mien, who managed to slink to the doorway unseen. He mouthed to Kiao. “I’ll be back.”
Soletus and he inclined his head to her parents grinning broadly. “It was a pleasure meeting you. Lady Hera and Lord Tad. If you need any more assistance, I’ll be happy to help.”
He then turned and strolled off.
Her mother then leaned towards her as he vanished through the doorway. “Is that the one?”
Before Kiao could speak her father then added, “He’s a bit too tall don’t you think?”
“No, you’re just feeling insecure, Love,” dismissed her mother.
“I’m certainly not,” grumbled her father. Tad wasn’t a tall man.
Kiao buried her face in her hands. “I wrote to you about Soletus.”
“Yes, and he’s a nice-looking lad and that voice,” said her mother taking her by the shoulders and petting her. “Imagine the spoken performances that lad could be trained to do. He’ll be famous. Not to mention, he’ll look handsome at your side.”
Kiao waved her mother off and went to treat her father. “No! He’s a friend and he’s neth.”
“I don’t see why that should hold you back,” said her mother. “Neth men are perfectly capable of being a relationship with someone. Albeit a little different.Wouldn’t that be more ideal for you?”
Her father learned around her and told his wife. “I don’t approve.”
Kiao heard something crashed to the ground shattering behind her. She turned to see Lionel picking up the handle of the pitcher he once held in his hands.
“Sorry about that,” he said. “I’ll get the broom.” He then ducked into the hall and into a private room.
Her mother watched him. “That most be the Cyan boy,” she said quietly.
“No, that’s Lionel! You already… oh never mind.”
She heard a thump and Brother Jaron darted off. Then shouted back. “One of you needs to come,” he shouted.
Kiao passed her father to Alder and followed the man to where Lionel was lying on the floor now pushing himself up breathing hard.
“I didn’t mean to drop it. I needed to get away from the shards. I keep seeing,” he muttered and then grimaced. “It’s loud and demanding. I don’t understand.”
“Shhh,” soothed Kiao. Taking hold of him. She could have dove inside his vision to see what he saw with her phrase of insight. Instead, she comforted him. “Just let it pass.”
“I don’t understand why. I can’t see it right. I see things, but not right.”
Jaron run out of the closet and then come back again with a bottle and held it under the tod’s nose. Lionel jerked. The glazed expression left his face. And he looked confused.
“Why am I on the floor now,” he asked.
“Vision, I’m not sure what it meant. I’ll see about it later on. For now, go to your room now,” said Kiao.
The older tod nodded rises to his feet unsteady as first before he stared towards to door in the back behind the stairs.
“I’ll clean this up,” sad Jaron. “Get back to your parents.”
Even he was wearing a stupid grin.
“Not you too,” she moaned.
“I can’t help it. There is a such a contrast between you and them,” he said.
“Yes, I know. It’s always been that way,” she said. “Sometimes I wonder if I was a foundling.”
Kiao went back to her parents.
“So, if that was Lionel,” said her mother starting right off where they left off. “And this is young lovely is Alder. Then where is Lady Lass’s son?”
“You’ve met him or at least saw him. Anyway, don’t worry about it right now. Let’s just get you two cleaned up.”
“We have,” said Tad with his face scrunched up.
“Keep still, please,” said Kiao as she went back to his hand.
“When did we meet him,” asked Hera.
Kiao didn’t know why she bothered trying to avoid talking about Mien. “When you were saved by Oeric’s band. Remember, I wrote to you and said he became a combat chanter.” Granted that was the most she told them about Mien.
Realization then washed over Hera’s face and Tad looked just as stunned.
“You mean him. The chanter that was with them,” exclaimed her father.
Kiao met his eyes. “What did he do?”
“He saved our lives after the carriage door was ripped off. He climbed right on top it and I heard a voice and this film appeared where the door once was.”
“Yes, and it was like glass and we saw that nasty beast get hit by a ball of light and burned to bits,” said her mother excitedly. “I was expecting someone a bit older and then his head appears and says hello in soft sounding voice compared to the commanding shout we heard. I didn’t think it was him.”
“And then he jumped down and shout at another beast and burned it with light,” said his father. “Another one came, and that tall young man riding it and stabs it with a hook with a chain attached to it to keep it from running away.”
“It was all very disturbing and gory,” her mother added.
“Pretty exciting if you ask me,” stated Tad. “I heard of the Brotherhood but I never knew they were that vicious when it came to drass beast. They slaughtered six of those things. It was over just like it started. So quick and efficient.”
“And they all look so young. Especially, Second Warden Soletus,” said Hera looking troubled by it.
“You know, everyone thinks he looks older than he really is. He’s four years younger than me,” said Kiao.
“Why is that entire band consisting of boys,” asked Hera quietly.
“That’s what First Warden Oeric wanted,” said Kiao cleaning her father’s hand. “All of them save two were in Lyndon’s bands. He wanted to get them back comfortable with serving because of what happened. That sort of thing causes trust issues.”
Hera then smiled lightly. “Such a different and exciting world you live in.”
“Have you ever considered coming back home,” asked Tad.
Kiao was about to tell her parents no, but the thought that had hung in the back of her mind since Brother Oli’s death and all that happened because of it come back. However, she didn’t want to just leave. She hadn’t discussed those thoughts with anyone. She didn’t want to do so with her parents.
“No,” she told them and herself. “It’s not so bad inside of the walls. It’s nice and quiet here. And what would someone like me do in Summerset?”
“Be close to family again,” said her mother. “Merada is going to have a baby soon. I think she wouldn’t mind her sister giving birth to it.”
Kiao did like birthing babies. However, one birth wasn’t going to get her to come.
Her mother then added with a grin. “And all the young lads you were friends with are older now. You remember Ralden? Well, he remembers you and has asked about you every chance he gets. I think he’s interested.”
“Yes, I remember him, and he can get uninterested. I told you, I already have someone. And yes, you’ll meet him,” she said even though they already had.
Tad snorted and regarded his wife. “She’s still mysterious as always, Love.”
“Clearly she wants us to guess because she’s been so vague in her letters,” returned Hera.
Kiao sighed. “I haven’t because I don’t want you to go planning a wedding for something that’s not going to happen any time soon. We’ve a complicated relationship.”
Her parents exchange dubious expressions.
Kiao thrust her hands on her hips. “Don’t be that way!”
“You think we’ll scare him away,” accused her mother.
“No,” said Kiao with a warble in her voice. “He just needs a little time to prepare before meeting…whelming people.”
“Hear that Hera-Love, you’re right,” said her father.
“Arg, it’s not the same thing! Look, I think you guys also might need time to consider him. I was, eventually, going to tell you more about him first. And honestly, I rather you not meet him because again, you might think it means something more than it is right now.”
Hera then said. “I know you aren’t going to get married in a day or even in three decades for all I know. If you’re ready, then you will tell us.”
“But I want to meet this young man,” said Tad. “I want to make sure he’s worthy of you and tell him what will happen if he’s not.”
Kiao took in a long inhale. “Please don’t. He’s going to be nervous enough without you making him more nervous.”
Her father’s brow dipped. “Doesn’t sound very worthy.”
“He is,” snapped Kiao. “The thing is, I didn’t want him to meet you this way. I wanted to eat dinner and see a performance together.”
“Fine, fine,” her mother. “Hurry and heal your father up, we need to find a room for the evening and tomorrow and then the day after that we will be on our way to Asteria.”
“Isn’t that enough time to prepare,” her father asked.
It wasn’t. In fact, knowing Mien was never going to be a good time for it.
Her father’s bite was small. More like a nip. It would be a little slow healing, but he was free to go. Soletus and the others come back with their luggage. Mien slunk in and pulled the hood of his cowl over his head and went downstairs. When Kiao heard his footsteps fade, she clapped her hands.
“I have a place in mind you two can stay. I know the woman who runs the Mossy Oak Inn. She told me any time I needed food and board, she’ll give it to me for free. It’s a nice place. They have a dining room that serves breakfast and dinner. It also has outdoor heated tubs if you wish.”
Her father’s face lit up. “I could use a heated outdoor bath.”
“We will consider it,” said her mother.
“I’ll even walk you there,” said Kiao. “But first, I need to go to the basement.”
Kiao turned wiping the sweat off her face while she walked down the stairs. She found Mien sitting on his stool. When he was first brought down there, the tips of his toes barely touched the floor. He was adorable sitting on it as he flipped through the infirmary’s mixing manual. She remembered him studying intensely the first day he was allowed down there. After going through several pages, he announced that it was outdated and offered to write a new one. Now that supposed same boy sat on a stool with his legs stretched in front of him. He was the same and yet different.
He couldn’t look her in the face for longer than a few seconds then. Now he sat tsking amused, eyes laughing at her.
“You didn’t tell your parents about us,” he said with lopsided smile. “And you gave me the hardest time for not telling my mother.
“I mentioned there was someone in my life,” she countered. “I was going to introduce you on a time of my choosing. We can still do that, maybe right before they get on the carriage and leave. My folks are nice, but they are talkative to the point of exhaustion.”
“Oh, I know. Your father talked to me the entire time we made our way here and so did your mother. They’re adorable.”
Kiao was caught off guard by that statement. She never imagined for a moment Mien would say that about her parents. She imagined him being intimated. Somewhat cautious. Not say they were adorable.
He chuckled at her as she stood mutely. She never realized how gentle his laugh was until then. It sounded musical even. “They have warm voices. Your home must have been full of love and excitement. I see why you missed them so much.”
Kiao blinked at him wondering if she was hearing his voice right. It was never that remarkable to her. She then spoke to keep him talking. “Yes, home was fun and a mess at times. With my sisters there, it was also chaos. They would argue about designs and try to outdo each other. Pa would fuss at them about the fabric they wasted on dresses that just didn’t work. Ma would always soothe him. Sometimes I would feel like an outsider though.”
“I would imagine,” he said. “You’re very much not like them. Save your love for colorful things. Speaking of fashion. I want to see you in heeled boots. See if they’ll make you as taller than me.”
He then reached out and she crossed the room let him hold her hand. It was one of the few shows of affection they could do.
“I wouldn’t mind talking to them,” he told her softly.
Again, Kiao was stunned. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, I get the impression my reputation has proceeded me.” He brought her hand to his lips and kissed it. “Maybe I should take the time in talking to them alone them.”
Kiao pulled her hand out of his grasp and then felt his forehead. “Are you feeling well?”
“I’m fine,” he held solemnly “I just need to explain a few things to them. I think it would be better if you weren’t there.”
She frowned. “So, you’re saying something you don’t want me to hear?”
Mien thought a moment. “There is something I want to talk to them about and would be easier if you weren’t there. It’s nothing you don’t know already. I can do it alone as long as I pretend I’m not nervous.” He let out a giddy laugh. “Did I mention I’m nervous?”
“You don’t have to speak with them.”
“But I want too.” She then saw that amber glow his eyes flicker a little. “After that, I would love to spend a little alone time with you tonight. If that’s possible. Sit under the stars and I can talk about my favorite one and tell her how beautiful she is.”
Kiao sighed. “Mien,” she said smiling despite herself. “We are supposed to be projecting distance. Things are good with Jaron. If he doesn’t see things are getting too intense, he won’t say anything to Rastor.”
“Saying you’re lovely has nothing to do with intensity,” he said eyes still smoldering.
She still hadn’t told him about his irises shifting shade like that. The first time she noted it was when he was missing, and she found him. She figured out quickly what it met. He was a typical infatuated tod and his feelings for her grew. As mindful of a priest as he was, he couldn’t hide what he felt about her. If someone was around, he never did that because he was watching himself. When he was alone with her, he was less restrained and that already caused an issue. There would be more issues in the future but in the present, she wondered if she should tell him. She didn’t want him to get self-conscious. Besides that, she liked it in that it was something only for her. She kissed him on the forehead.
“I’ll try find some time,” she told him grabbing his hand and holding it. “Are you done for the day?”
“Yes, came here to drop my satchel off.”
“Then let’s go up.”
He then let go of her hand and she went to the stairs. As she planted her foot, on the bottom step, she saw her parent peering down at her.
“Oh, stop it,” she said.
“We were just curious who you were talking too,” said her mother.
Mien peered up and waved at them. “I’ll be up in a moment.”
It was then her mother eyes narrowed. “So that was really Lady’Lass’s son.”
“Yes,” she said.
“Still very amazing what he did,” said his father in awe. “The ground was even lit up where he stood and burned anything that stepped into it. I didn’t think chanter could do that.”
“He’s a combat chanter,” stated Alder and then yelled down. “And it sounds like he was showing off.”
From below came a “Bah.”
Kiao walked full to the first floor and her parents stepped aside. Alder then told her, “The Arch Priest wants to see you.”
“As soon as possible,” he said.
That seemed like a good excuse not to go with her parents. Mien followed and gave them both a smile. All of them stood there mutely taking each other in for far too long before he stated. “Where do I take you parents?”
“Oh, you’re not coming with us,” asked Hera.
“No, I’ve been summoned,” said Kiao and patted Mien’s arm. “He’s going help you get settled and then I will come, and we can all eat dinner together.”
Tad immediately narrowed his eyes at Mien with suspicion. “By ‘we’ do you mean with him as well? Do you have some sort of claim on my daughter.”
“I wouldn’t use that word,” said Mien softly. “Claim makes it sound like she’s some sort of property. I’m just trying to find a place in her heart.” He then smiled charmingly.
Kiao glanced at her father and the man stared at Mien, sized him up and then when, “Hruph. I suppose you’ll do in carrying our things. Come on, Boy, I don’t know my way across town.”
Mien gave Kiao a nervous glance. “I don’t think he likes me,” he whispered.
Hera waved her hand at him. “You shouldn’t be bothered by him. I’m all for young lads helping me,” she said.
Mien nodded, grabbing the things he could carry by himself and headed on out.