Papa was the superior warden compared to all I have met. There have been those who come mighty close but no one is like him. I know you disagree, Theris. You served under both of us and your preference strongly swings to me. But he was the one that laid the foundation. He took the remains of a shattered band and made us strong. And really, I think that is the biggest truth you can take away with what happened. Poor decision making, hurt not only you, but also everyone within arm’s reach. I learned that lesson well. I don’t think Kellas ever did. And by the expression on your face, you don’t think so either.
There was a certain level of exhaustion where an elf no longer feels sleepy. It seemed like the body knows there is going to be no rest. There is only moving. That was where Mien was at. He was very certain that his fighting brothers and the young woman with them felt the same. They had all watched daybreak, sunrise, and morning pass them by. The sun was nearly on top of them now and they weren’t stopping. They were running on the assumption they were being pursued. Not to mention that Mien’s guide would show them were to go next.
Doran had been sent back twice to check and there was no sign of anything behind them. Even when they had first escaped, there was only the sound of barking in the distance. It got close at one point but died. Mien took it as a wonderful blessing from Dias because he didn’t want to have to deal with a bunch of poachers as well as Vlory who was starting to decline.
Her brown skin lost all its warmth and was slumping in her saddle. Tyrus began talking to her when he saw her head bob. And she told them a bit about herself. Her story was different from what Mien had expected.
“So let me get this straight, you traveled across the Shale and then across our country to put distance between you and your clan,” he asked.
“Yes, Dimples. Sometimes to still love the ones you do, you have to leave them,” she stated.
“Putting the distance of basically an entire country between you and your people seems extreme,” said Soletus.
“I felt I must. To hear again, I couldn’t be near them or him,” she said with resentment in her voice. Her experience clearly wasn’t good.
Soletus then asked. “So it was a chanter thing?”
“Indeed, Son of Lenneth. Bonded, I was, to a fool.”
Mien then looked up at her. “Does that mean you’re timbre sensitive?”
She nodded. “Timbres used to roll through my body in waves of hot or cold. Not so much now. I can pick up things, but not feel them. The blood obscures it.”
“I wouldn’t mind not feeling so much,” said Mien.
She regarded him with surprise. “A male sensitive? Explains why you are such a soft-hearted reckoner. Handling it well.”
That got Doran’s attention. “You think he handles it well?”
“Downy hair disagrees?”
“Yeah, you’ve never seen him at his worse.”
Mien looked around Vlory’s horse to given him a dirty look.
“Being able to feel is good. To become desensitized and jaded, you hide from others. Be happy that Reckoner is too hot.”
“Too hot,” questioned Mien.
“Passionate,” she said. “You are adamant. Does that bond partner know she holds the heart of a flame? We can keep them warm as well as burn?”
“I don’t think she needs to worry,” said Mien not sure what she was talking about but he had an inkling.
“Oh I think she does. Warm breezes can be very ardent and seductive.”
“I wouldn’t know anything about that,” said Mien looking away from her with his face warming it up.
“Priest being priestly but still a male. Just a bit young. You need to know it’s a joy and wonder to be connected to another by timbre. You feel so close, it hurts. Then one day your entire body will ache for her,” said Vlory wiping under her eyes along her scar. “At that point, breath. It’ll be too much.” She removed her hand and revealed a red patch. Half the pale scar on her face opened up right before them. “Reckoner, time’s up.”
Mien hadn’t even thought of what to do if her wounds came back. In fact, the last thought on his mind other than moving was waiting for his guide to show up again. And as if to answer his immediate need, further up the road, he saw a figure waving to them pointing to the left.
“Mien,” called Soletus. “Why are you stopping?”
The chanter didn’t realize he had and pointed up ahead.
The young monk looked. “What? There is nothing there.”
“Then it’s my guide. We need to go off the road right up ahead,” he told him and then to Vlory. “And then I’ll figure out something.”
Tyrus then handed her a handkerchief. “Here, it’s clean,” he said.
She looked down at the cloth and them him again. “Thank you, Dimples.”
Mien tugged on the reins of her horse and pulled it onward. When they got to the spot his guide was standing at, there lay a foot path that led them in a green tunnel into the woods.
Vlory smiled. “What a wonderful place,” she said, admiring the leaves from the tree that lined the path. They were in varying stages of green and gold. She started humming a tune. Mien didn’t know it. However, he found himself humming along with her. It wasn’t like humming with Kiao though. Such wonderful melodies they could create together for fun sometimes. With Vlory, it still lifted everyone’s mood a little though.
The path ended at a clearing and in the center of it stood a giant of a tree. It was the widest tree Mien had laid eyes on. The limbs of the tree was as thick as tree trunk. And what supported those limbs was a truck so wide that it would’ve taken all of them to encircle it.
Vlory beheld the branches of the tree mesmerized still singing and then all the joy washed from her face.
“It’s a burning ash,” she muttered.
Mien craned his head upward and studied at the leaves above him. He counted the leaflets. Seven in all, some leaves had nine and some were starting to turn red. It was indeed was a burning ash. The tree was the chosen symbol of the Brotherhood. Stephren, who was the first monk, would often meet the prophetess Lenneth under a burning ash and he was buried under one. It signified strength and steadfastness as the tree held its leaves even with others didn’t. In the fall and winter though, they turned scarlet. To be led to one, well it clearly met this is where they would wait for Kiao. Lenneth was a priestess. Granted, Mien was no monk and certainly not Stephren, but it felt right.
“Kiao will find us here.” said Mien.
“Or, this is my grave,” said Vlory dabbing her wound.
“Nope, no grave for you, Lass,” said Tyrus and held his hand out to help her down.
“Correct,” said Mien. “We can make you comfortable so you can rest. We all need rest.”
The kanu woman became uncertain and almost distressed. She looked at the hand given to her warily.
“Come on,” motioned Tyrus.
The corners of her mouth quirked up and allowed Tyrus to assist her. Once off the horse he guided her to the base of the tree. She sat down and gathered her cloak tighter around her.
“It is chilly. Is it safe enough for a fire,” asked Tyrus.
Soletus regarded Doran.
“I can backtrack again if you want,” he said.
“No, just set up camp,” said Soletus stretching and then rubbed his eyes that had dark circles under them.
Tyrus started gathering nearby sticks. Mien joined in. Soletus and got his bedroll and laid it out for Vlory to sit on so she wasn’t on the ground. And Doran started collecting saplings to make a lean-to. All the while Vlory watched them.
“You waste time. Should be building a funeral pyre,” she told Tyrus and Mien as they gathered enough to start a fire for her.
“For a chanter, you give up easy,” said Tyrus.
The kanu woman tightened her grasp on her cloak. “One has to accept what one has done.”
“Every chanter I’ve met been stubborn. Like this fellow,” he said gesturing to Mien.
“Sometimes the course is set.”
“Sometimes it is,” Mien told her softly thinking of Lyndon. “But Dias doesn’t give up on you, there is always hope. I don’t know what the outcome of all of this will be, but trust me when I say that the best person to help you is coming this way.”
Vlory tapped her finger on her chin becoming curious again. “Who is this Kiao?”
“She’s my bond partner,” said Mien snapping long twigs in half. “She’s also a very strong healer.”
“Does she know the phrase of purification?”
“No,” said Mien knowing that was the key to save her but yet, he felt okay about it. “The last I saw of her, she didn’t. Doesn’t mean she hasn’t learned it.”
“You are confident in her.”
“Yes, she’s wonderful and lovely. If you met her, you’ll understand,” he said focusing on what he was doing but was full of anticipation for her to show up. He wondered how she would get to them. Why was she even out that far? Kiao never left the town or the surrounding area. She had no interest in being out on the road. In fact, she hated spending more than a day outside. Or so she claimed.
Vlory smiled and closed her eyes wincing. “I shall like to meet her.”
“What is it,” said Mien looking up.
Vlory’s unclutched her cloak. Mien shuffled over to her and pulled it back from her shoulder. Blood has started soaking a spot on the front of her shoulder through the tunic she was wearing. Mien gently pulled her collar back and revealed a rake of claw marks that went under her collarbone. Mien reached for his bag and pulled out his bandages.
“These wounds won’t clot,” she told him.
“Doesn’t mean I can’t wrap them to keep the dirt out,” he said.
“My back will be the worse. It got to my spine.”
Everyone paused at hearing that. That was the one place you never wanted a drass beast to get to. It always met death.
Mien forced a reassuring but nervous smile. “Good to know. I guess I need to plan a head little bit. How badly were you mauled?”
“You see the marks on my face, my chest here. I rolled. My back was fully exposed.”
“So all on your back?”
Mien thought a moment. “Is that spare shirt of yours clean?”
“Good, because I need it. I’m going to go ahead and get you situated so I don’t have to do this again and again. I also need you to take off…” he then pointed to her shirt.
“You’re going to wrap my back preemptively?”
Mien nodded wearing his healer face and tried not be embarrassed. He was fine with men and children. Women on the other hand, well, he was still working on not blushing.
“I don’t have enough dressing to cover your entire back,” he explained. “The back of your shirt should work. I’ll use moss as another layer.”
“Luckily we have our choice of it,” said Tyrus gesturing to the bed of it around them. “I’ll warm up some water so you can use it to wash the moss.”
Vlory sighed and shook her head looking sad. She didn’t rebuff their efforts again. Mien knew she appreciated it. However, she clearly didn’t think it was worth it.
When Doran and Soletus were done, they moved her, under the lean-to. There Mien prepared her back. At first, he saw nothing but freckles and old scars what weren’t notable like the ones on her face. However, as he laid his layer of moss down, he saw those pale lies become pink, and read as well as grow jagged with purple edges. He had a permanent lump in this throat at that point and it dropped down to his belly. There it grew to the size of a watermelon. He didn’t say anything, but continued to work. When he was done, he had her lay on her stomach and covered her up with her cloak.
She had the heat of the fire and Soleus who was in the lean-to with her sitting behind her. He didn’t have a fever anymore. However, he wasn’t back to himself. He talked to Vlory about his family and was doing it with his eyes closed leaning more and more on the root beside him.
“Two sisters, only boy. What happens we you all are in one room,” she asked.
Soletus chuckled. “Fern still treats me like her little brother, bossy me around. Saedee listens to her before me when she’s over and joins in with the bossing. Mama does nothing about it.”
Vlory laugh. “What about your father.”
“He’s smart enough to not be there.”
“So outnumbered and abandoned,” she giggled.
“One. He is an older brother. Let me get away with everything or nothing at all. He freed me. Helped me pack to follow the wind and stars. “
“Yes, after my bond partner betrayed me, I was kept separate from my clan or as much as a bunch of nomads can. I was tied to the cart and slept under it. I was given food and water, but I couldn’t be near them.”
“Why,” asked Mien.
“When a bond goes wrong, everyone feels it. The closer they are to you, the more they feel the shadow of resentment that takes over your heart. The only way to quell it is for the bond to be fixed. However, they helped fractured it. None of us could make it whole. I had to leave.”
“What all happen?”
“He betrayed me. Used me. He lied and tricked me, for the clan. Forced me to sing to kill people. Not my clan, another,” she said becoming pensive and looked regretfully at the fire. “They had things my clan needed and they stole from them, and he forced me to silence them so no one heard their screams.”
“How could he force you to you to do that,” Mien wondered.
“You know not that part of the bond? Good. She’s probably has yet to figure it out. She will and has a choice. It’s the channel but you can fight it. Not like me,” she said sniffing. “Terrible chanter I am. I’ve no will for anything.”
Soletus patted her head. “No crying. That takes energy and you need to rest.”
“You’re one to talk about rest,” she retorted.
“Then be better than me,” he returned.
“Soft-hearts, the lot of you,” she muttered.
Soletus kept stroking her head until she drifted off to sleep. He became grave “How much time does she have?”
Mien shrugged. “I guess until all the damage reverts. I don’t know how long it’ll take. The wound on her face isn’t getting worse.”
“Okay,” he said. “I needed to know just in case, I have to deal with her. And we need to immediately burn her body so we should have a pyre ready.”
Mien shook his head. “Don’t. No. I was told I need to save her. Kiao is on her way here. She’s a healer. Dias wouldn’t bring her here is she was dying.”
“Good point, but I’m worried. I really don’t want to kill someone. I want her to live but…”
“You need to sleep. So sleep. I’ll watch.”
“Uh no,” said Tyrus. “If you are involved in helping keeping her alive, then you need to rest too. Doran and me will watch. You two sleep.”
Soletus settled against the root of the tree. Mien stretched out in front of the flames on the ground. Immediately, his eyes got too heavy to keep open. The moment the sunk down and shut, he heard the fire pop and he cracked them. There was no fire in front of him, just the feet of his guide. Mien’s gaze traveled upward and found the being proudly looking down at him.
“You’ve done everything expected of you well.”
Mien point at him in annoyance however, he lowered his hand. As long as he was doing what he need to be doing, there was no need to fuss at him.
“Now that this test is far from over,” he said. “You know you’re phrase, you need to learn one more thing. The gift of the chanter bond.”
“And that is,” wondering if his guide would even tell him or this was something he needed to learn in a day. If he needed to, he would if saved Vlory.
And since his guide could read his thoughts, his guide’s smile broadened. “Determination is good. Especially with something like this. A chanter’s relationships depends on what the chanter needs. Some need a support as a friend some need something deeper. If either or is strong enough, they can do great things together.”
It was then that the air rippled behind his guide. Mien eyes became wide and he stepped back. His guide turned around and laughed.
“All the pieces are in place,” he said stepping back and out of the ripple popped out a figment into his guides arm. It was familiar even though they were made mostly of light. However, the timbre off of them was clear. It was Kiao.
End of Part 3