I’ve been a warden for most of my adult life. Being a blood sports fighter was only but a short moment in my lifetime. However, the impact lasted decades. I don’t know what was worse, the shame or the fear. Maybe it was the foolish belief that I had overcome it all, yet I tried to hide it. Dias allowed me a peace when Clincher was hung. I could see things better. I could move forward and see my path ahead of me with clarity. Before that, I felt that the path in front of me was one I couldn’t walk. And then I realized everything happened to me was for his benefit. So, I would know what to do and what not to do.
-Excerpt from Confessions of the Wolf by Oeric’Sheldmartin
There were only a handful of things that Kiao regretted doing in her life. Such as decisions when she was younger, such as allowing the Sisterhood to take without more of a fight. Yet then she made a big mistakes thing and that was allowing the new Head of the Priest Assembly, Brother Elnos, inspect the infirmary without Brother Oli presence. Twice, no, three times she could’ve gone upstairs to fetch him. However, she and Alder thought it was best to leave him alone in his rocking chair, drinking a hot cup of tea. They thought they could handle the new assembly head alone.
“Why do you have so many beds,” gestured Elnos with his spindly arm. “Most of the injured stay in here a few hours and then you send them to their rooms to rest. It would be more efficient and a better use of space if you removed some.”
It was true they never had many people in there. However, there was at least someone, whether it was someone injured or a boy who just needed an excuse to hide from a bully.
“We need to be prepared for an influx. Such as sickness,” she answered. “Or an injured band or even a town emergency.”
Alder bobbed his head in agreement. “It’s true. If an illness spreads, instead of sending someone back to the dorms to make it worse, we can contain them here.”
“And if we took out the beds, what would the extra space be used for,” she asked.
“That's not my reasoning. For the sake of efficiency, you to put more focus on healing and treating. Recovery can easily be done in the rooms or homes. This is a better method to deal with you being understaffed,” said Elnos.
The priestess clasped her hands in front of her to keep from tugging at her mahogany braids in frustration. “Three people cannot run this infirmary, as the assembly has believed for so long. It’s more efficient to have priests of varying skills to share the load. And it may not seem like much right now, but this place can become very busy quickly.”
“It’s true,” said Alder. “All we need it just one more chanter or someone who wishes to learn to heal.”
Brother Elnos crossed his arms. “For what purpose?”
“So we can have a more efficient rotation,” stated Kiao.
“Then how about you use Brother Mientheodric for that,” suggested Elnos.
“Because he’s on the road and it easier for him to keep his sleeping habits as they are,” she said, suppressing a sigh.
“With him being on the road so much, what is his purpose here?”
And now we get to his purpose of coming here, she thought.
Elnos had something against Mien. Ever since that day she revealed himself, the dusty priest cleaned himself off, decided to be less of a pale useless priest and become a wedge between them. Mien was dangerous because he lacked perfect control over his emotions. For a tod, he had a lot of control. Also, he was a lascivious individual because he formed a timber bond at his age. She would be stupid to say that Mien didn't find her physically please. He wasn't neth. However, just a ten-minute talk, Elnos would figure out he wasn't trying to eagerly take her take her to the sable stall. However, his unfounded notion continued, and he continued to press authority. Mien's room changed to the boy’s dorm across the monastery wasn’t enough. Mien being on the road wasn’t enough, either. However, separated them by eliminating his position was now the new goal.
“He is our junior apothecary,” said Alder. “Yes, Lionel can do it but, Mien knows more. He makes better mixes.”
Kiao then added. “Not to mention he’s very good with the distraught, scared, and the nervous. So not only do I have use for him at the society house, but here as well.”
Alder then straightened his spine and added evenly. “See, everyone brings something to the table. Everything works more efficiently now compared to when I first arrived. But it can be better.”
“Yes, and one day, I would like for this place to be run with a duty roster,” said Kiao. “But we need more willing help. That’s why I asked the assembly for assistance, not an assessment on how to run things more efficiently." She said that last part between her teeth because she was so agitated.
Elnos then waved his hand in the air, as if he were shoving away their request. “Our non-chanter brothers feel as if this isn’t the place for them. So, I can’t provide you with anyone else. Honestly, it’s due to your presence, Sister Kiao. Maybe to get what you want, maybe you should solely focus on a clinic in the town. You do so much of your work there, too.”
If someone else suggested it, it would sound like a good idea, but it was from Elnos’s mouth. It was a rotten excuse to get her out of the infirmary.
Before she rejected his suggestion, the infirmary door swung open and hit the wall. All of them jump to see the patriarch’s daughter, Briar, rush in covered in dust from her dark leather battle skirt to her leather vest. There was grass in her golden hair and smeared across her sweaty cheek.
She grabbed Kiao’s arm and pulled her. “Orrie collapsed while we were out and we brought him back here.”
Kiao turned back to Brother Elnos relieved to have something to do. “Sorry, duty calls. Alder, can you finish up?”
He nodded and she matched up with Briar’s speed.
“What do you mean the First Warden collapsed?”
When she walked outside, she saw the huntresses managed had him slung across a horse. By his side was one of the shepherd’s son’s keeping him balanced.
“Hey Sister Kiao,” he said.
“Greetings, Rodon,” she said, hurrying passed him. “What happened?”
“I don’t know. He and the huntresses were trying to help Ma get her sheep out of a gully. He was running around fine until he went down. Thought he tripped and got a little trampled. But then the huntress got to him and he was out cold and hot.”
With his help and Briar, they lowered Soletus’s father down to the ground. His skin, which was normally golden from long days outdoors in the summer, was pale. Kiao wiped the wisps of sandy hair that stuck to his face from sweat. He was very warm to the touch.
Briar then said from her side. “We got some water in him and he stirred but then he fell out again. I don’t know what’s up.”
Kiao’s first thought was he had been in the sun too long. But it didn’t feel right. The day was warm, but not that warm. And it was late morning, early afternoon. It wasn’t at the peak heat of the late summer day.
“First Warden,” she called, using a bit of force in her voice. His face twitched and then said to Briar. “Get me a bit of water; there is a pitcher in the infirmary.” She then patted Oeric’s face. “First Warden Oeric, I need you to wake up.”
He let out a long groan and his eyes flickered opened and then he was forced to squint from the sun. His hand reached for the button on the high collar of his shirt and then it fell limp. He was out again.
“Let me get that,” she said and got his collar for him and saw a red patch that was a little smaller than her palm on his collar bone. “Inflamed skin,” she muttered. She touched it and felt warmth form that. Then she unbuttoned his shirt further and saw another patch in the center of his chest beside the faded brand on his skin. Nothing she had seen before looked like that. Briar arrived with the cup of water followed by Alder with a litter.
Once they carried him over the threshold of the infirmary, Oeric woke up confused. Panic was in his wondering eyes. Thankfully, he didn’t move. He let them carry him to their private examination room and put him on the table there. Alder treated him, giving him more water and put a wet cloth over his forehead. He clearly overheated because of a fever.
After a short period, she and Alder came in to see how he was doing and found him sitting up and alert. However, he was still pale and was very thirsty. They let him drink again before Alder examined him. They had him take his shirt off and revealed even more patches of inflamed skin mixed in with scars on his torso. It was a collection of drass beast scratches, old knife wounds, a nick from and a wound from an arrow, and a burn scar that wasn't from the brand. Most wardens weren't that scarred. Healing from a chanter didn't cause scarring. What was displayed in front of her was a testament to his time as a cur as most of the scars were old.
Alder ran his hand over a patch briefly because Oeric flinched every time. Kiao was just there because she didn’t know what she was looking at. Alder studied him with his thumb, pinching his chin. He was better at identifying infections than she was. He asked Oeric to open his mouth and the young man peered inside of his throat and followed that up by touching one of the patches and pressing down hard on it.
“Are you flinching because it hurt,” he asked.
“It feels strange. Tingling and burning,” answered Oeric.
He stepped back and folded his arms, muttering, “If you rule out everything else, the unlikely must be the answer. First Warden Oeric, have you ever had patches?”
The warden stared at him, confused.
Kiao said from off to the side. “That’s a childhood infection.”
“You mean rose patch,” asked Oeric.
“Again, that’s a childhood disease," said Kiao. "That leaves small circles on the skin about the size of your fingerpad."
“If you’re a child,” stated Alder.
Realization then formed on Oeric's face and then he massaged his forehead. “No, I’ve never had them.”
Kiao’s jaw sagged.
Alder became stunned. “You managed to go all this time and three children without catching this?”
“I got through two children,” corrected Oeric. “Saedee just got over her bout with it. Is that what this is? I felt odd when I left home this morning. I didn’t sleep well last night. I kept feeling stabs of pain around my brand. Also, I didn’t have these spots.”
“They tend to form rapidly after the infection takes hold,” said Alder. “It’s rare to make it to adulthood and not have them. And you want them as early as you can because it affects adults differently. The patches are sensitive to touch. Not to mention it comes with a high fever.”
Oeric blinked at him becoming stoic. “Anything else?”
“Also, those red patches can travel up or down your body. If one appears around your eyes, we have to put you in a very dark room because you will be very sensitive to light. Right now, it seems to be staying on your upper torso and there are no patches on you back. So, it's traveling downward. I’m concerned it might spread downward to your pelvic region.”
Oeric stiffened. “Why?”
“Rose patch is known to cause infertility in adult men.”
The first warden’s brow twitched. “What sort of infertility are we speaking about?”
Alder glanced over at Kiao.
She held up a hand. “I don’t make the First Warden uncomfortable in the least.”
Ever since she revealed herself a young woman two years ago, quite a few wardens were no longer comfortable around her to do examinations on them. Oeric wasn’t one of them. In fact, it had the opposite effect. He trusted her more. He didn't dispute it. In fact, his pale gaze locked on Alder.
“Even still, this is a touchy subject,” said Alder. “Many males feel strongly about their virility. Someone his age is still very intimate with their wife. Not being able to please her in the most traditional way would make a man insecure. Especially from a childhood infection you should’ve gotten before age 10.”
Oeric pinched the bridge of his nose. “Yes, I understand, Brother. Anything else?”
“Chronic pain is also very common in adults.”
That was when Oeric’s brow met in concern. “Chronic pain?”
Kiao stopped Alder there. She didn’t want to make him become too distressed.
“Yes, it could happen, but these are concerns are situational. You will experience pain after the sickness has left you. The only time to worry if it goes chronic. And that determination is only made after six months of pain that doesn’t fade. We needn’t worry about that now. I'm concerned about the fact you have a moderate fever, and it needs to be controlled, so it doesn’t get out of hand. I think it's best if we keep you here.”
She hoped that would’ve quelled him a little. It didn’t. The man still looked troubled.
“And if the pain remains, will it affect what I can and cannot do duty wise?”
“Yes,” said Alder. Kiao kicked him in the calf. He then forced a reassuring smile on his face. “However, I think it's best we hold off concern until we cross that bridge.”
The two of them tucked Oeric into a private room upstairs. He would be close to Brother Oli to monitor. The priest wanted at least a single patient to look after, even though he spent more and more time sleeping. She could also observe him as well, since her room was across from his.
She rather kept her room in the priest wing still, but the Arch Priest insisted she move. When Elnos took charge, he wanted her to sleep off the monastery grounds in an effort to push her out. Kiao refused, and the Patriarch supported her, stating that she needed to be close to the infirmary. If an emergency occurred, running to get her wasted time. So she remained on the grounds.
All-in-all it seemed that her giving up her disguise made things worse for her. It came with a few benefits. Women weren’t afraid to come to the infirmary. They were mostly the wives of wardens, however, it was a start. Only a few women would come in there before, like Coredea’Sheldmartin. The woman had all her children delivered there. So, she easily came to see her husband.
She brought Saedee with her. The girl was beside herself in tears. She had made her papa sick. Kiao stood to the side, watching the entire scene. Oeric used a softer voice compared to the measured stern one he used for everyone else. It was a strange thing to see. In fact, it seemed unfathomable. He carried the name Master Dour for a reason because he was always so serious. Never a smile on his face and when one it appeared it was far from friendly. There wasn’t one there, however there was a gentleness there. However, uneasiness settle in her chest. She knew there was no reason for it other than all he had done to Soletus. They fought each other in what was a fair match for Soletus to prove himself capable of deciding his own path from the over-protective father. However, Oeric harbored a dark secret in that it turned out his scarring on his face wasn’t because of a drass beast. He was a former blood sports fighter or a cur. The young man was someone who could actually defend himself. And he failed to stand up do him. Saedee wasn’t even half the size of her brother. She looked tiny and vulnerable sitting on someone Kiao couldn’t help but considered a brute.
Even though Soletus was taller with his muscles concentrate themselves on his torso. Yet Oeric remained more intimidating. His muscles were evenly distributed throughout his body, making him strong and fast. He had the stamina to match and could keep up with the youngest of warders in training when running distances. Fighting wise, he had a combination of skill taught by the brotherhood and what he had learned in the ring. That included fighting using his consort given ability and turning into a wolf. A form he didn’t have a lot of control with anymore. She saw the injuries he could inflict on a person when he let the animal take control in a protective rage. In fact, he was more of an emotional problem than Mien ever was. Mien showed what he felt when they got too strong for him to manage. He was easier to managed than someone who could be seething below the surface. Oeric didn't. He kept them buried and they would burst out, it seemed.
Cordea though, had no trouble sitting there listening as he went through a list of very logical reasons Saedee shouldn’t be upset. The woman possessed a canyon's worth of tolerance for her husband. Kiao was impressed by that. That not to say he didn’t frustrate her, but she didn’t give up on him. She saw something there. A love she couldn’t understand. There was a smile on her face as the little girl nodded and hiccupped.
She had told Kiao that Oeric was the softest around Saedee. Had the least amount of distance between her than his other children. She joked it was because their daughter looked remarkably like him. She shared his ears, iris color, and nose. From what the priestess could see, it held true as he did something she never thought she would see him do. He nuzzled to the top of his Saedee’s head vigorously until she laughed and followed it with a kiss. The child gave him a peck on the cheek and then he kissed her and nibbled on hers until she squealed and laughed again.
Kiao smiled despite herself.
Cordea then said to her. “So how long will it take for this to pass?”
Kiao snapped out of her thoughts and told her, “It might be a week or two. But I think the First Warden will be better in a week or at least well enough to go home.”
Oeric sank down in his bed. He finished talking. Cordea got up and kissed him. She left after that, promising to see him later. Told him to rest a little and she would come back up to look in on him. When she returned downstairs, she saw the tall figure and silvered head of the Arch Monk talking to Alder, probably about his son as Cordea was there. When she could hear her friend painting a dark picture with his concerns about the future of Oeric’s health.
She opened her mouth to stop him from saying too much as he had done with Oeric. However, a thousand singing voices entering her mind. She clapped her hands over her ears, but that didn’t stop the chorus of the world flooding her mind. It flowed through a channel she had never felt before. Above the voices, joined someone’s cry of anguish. It was strangled and hoarse. Even so, she knew that voice anywhere. It was Mien. She could feel his sorrow squeeze her chests followed by his anger, fear, and then lastly desperation followed by determination. It all caught her breath and held it. She stumbled to the ground, trying to draw in a breath. Just as black spots appeared in her vision, the channel closed and left her fainted on the floor.