Talore met his end during an what should have been a hands-off mission. A dull escort mission, he said. All I had to worry about was keep an eye out for drass beasts and then look impressive without scowling. The mission itself, was simple. It was just an emergency request from a large village in the shadow of a damaged earthen dam. The rain that year was causing problems. However, what we and the repair crew saw was more than just a repair. Water was seeping from an abutment with cracks in the dam’s face. I was certain the crew foreman was going to die from horror. It wasn’t damaged, no it was failing. The foreman advised them to clear village. They didn’t want to. It was late in the year and drying. They just wanted a drainage channel dug to release the extra water. And they needed help. Talore said we needed to stay until they agreed to something. We either help with digging or we help evacuate. I wanted to go. I hated looking at that dam. Even more so that afternoon when I saw clouds. That evening, a crack of thunder, unleashed a dam in the clouds. Then it became a race against time.
Dinners at the Patriarch’s reminded Kiao of hers Parent’s home in Summerset. Lady Maelyra treated her like another daughter and loved to have her over. Kiao couldn’t help but make the comparisons. Parts of it were open to the public and the other parts a private home. The Patriarch’s home acted like a magistrate’s house with a small courtroom and meeting hall. Her family's home was a storefront and in back a storage area where they also worked on dresses, suits, and costumes. The other two stories above the shop were where her family lived. Kiao’s room was on the third floor. She lived there with her second oldest sister and her family. Below them were her parent’s room, kitchen, and dining area.
She missed living in the home that was always full of people. From performers to lords and ladies, and the seamstresses that worked under them. It was a bustling place where one could find out who of notoriety was in town, who was performing when and where. Not to mention the people who wanted to see what colorful new dress Hera’Medowlark, her mother, would be showing as well as her two oldest daughters. Kiao, in her mother’s opinion, skills and talents were elsewhere. And she was right. Kiao could never choose good colors. Her stitches were nice, however, she could measure well or read a pattern. After three disaster dresses, her parent didn’t want to waste any more precious fabric on her. They let her figure out what she wanted to do with life.
When Kiao came to the door, she expected Briar to pull her inside like she always did. Instead, Lady Maelyra enveloped her in a warm hug.
“Hello Dear,” she said. “Dinner might be a bit late. Kharis has been hearing a dispute, and it’s still going on.”
Kiao looked to her right at the open door that led into the meeting hall/courtroom under the stairs. She could hear Lord Kharis’s raised voice.
He’s going to be grumpy, she thought, but Lord Kharis’s grumpy was rather mild in compensation to some wardens and Mien, who’s grumpy was so audible you could feel it.
“Where’s Briar,” Kiao asked.
Maelyra gestured upwards. “In her room moping about Soletus. I’m actually surprised.”
“Given that two of them aren’t close in terms of sweethearts. I expected her to be worried, not taking things this hard.”
Kiao kept her expression bare. The two being sweethearts was an absolute farce. They were, as they stated, allies. Briar was helping keep Soletus being neth a secret. And he was helping her do the same as well as train her and the huntresses in combat in his spare time.
“Well, this is their first match. They can be strange,” said Kiao with a shrug. She hated lying and wished Soleus at least would just tell his parents.
“True. I’ve considered that,” said Maelyra, her blue looking up the stairs as if she could see her. “But Briar treats Soletus like he’s a sibling.”
Kiao stopped herself from pursing her lips together. “They seem fine to me.”
“I don’t think she’s interested in him and is just using him for something I suspect. She’s never encouraged him or try to take any initiative in getting him to express his feeling for her. We’ve given them plenty of alone time to see what they would do, and you know what?”
“They act like they would when we’re around. They aren’t curious. No attempts to touch, nuzzle, cuddle, or even a kiss. They just talk or do something strange. One night, they challenged each other to see who could do the most push-ups. I was impressive, though.”
Kiao laughed. “Well, that’s what they do. They are both active and she’s just as muscle headed as he is.”
Maelyra clasped her hands in front. “It’s more than just Briar. Soletus reminds me of his father at the time when we tried a relationship.”
“Really,” Kiao didn’t know why she would even attempt it.
She nodded looking embarrassed. “This was before Kharis annoyed his way into my life and before him and Cordea realized they were made for each other. We connected when he protected me in paradise. Though this time he was wiling to talk. And that all he was. He just wanted company. However, any act of closeness would cause him to withdraw. He just needed my friendship. Someone simple to learn how to trust again. I wasn’t the person to get his heart. Very much unlike your Mien, who makes all the motions a typical infatuated lad would. He’s like my Kharis, they type of male that once they find what they like, they go all in. It’s rather adorable.”
Kiao had to agree. She enjoyed seeing Mien’s entire face lift when he saw her and him running to open doors for her.
“Soletus isn’t completely like Oeric. He doesn’t balk at closeness like his father. No, he reminds me of the assumption that I made about him. The entire reason Cordea didn’t push him as a sweetheart.”
Kiao felt the pit of her stomach sink.
“Anyway, it’s something I have to talk to Cordea and Oeric about when Soletus gets home. She’s worried about him and I suppose you are about Mien.”
“I am, but I know he’s alive,” she admitted.
The woman looked grim. “I’m glad you have faith. You’re like Oeric. Though the odds are against young men who go missing. The chances of them being found all alive are slim given the details Kharis told me. If Soletus doesn’t come home, I’m afraid Briar would feel the loss.”
“Feel the loss? Why would I feel the loss of someone who can’t follow the sun and stars,” said Briar as her foot hit the bottom step of the stairs.
Kiao looked to see the young woman walking towards them with her baby brother in her arms. It was an odd sight to see her out of her normal clothes. Most days, her dress comprised of a battle skirt. That day she was in a dress, with her golden hair flowing down. She never wore her hair down. It was always in a high ponytail and decorated with a fan of hawk feathers.
“I’ll make an exchange,” she offered her brother. Maelyra took him. Briar then hooked her arm through Kiao’s. “Thank you for entertaining my friend, but me and Ko-ko are going to the sitting room to chat and wait for dear Pa to finally lose his mind.”
Kiao then heard his voice rise again. This time it seemed whomever was there found the bottom of his patience.
“So, what were you two talking about,” hissed Briar as soon as Maelyra vanished back upstairs.
“She was concerned say that you were moping because Soletus was missing.”
“Moping is a strong word,” she said, flopping down in her father’s large armchair. Kiao sat across from her. “Soletus is a big boy, he has Mien and Lyndon with him, so I’m not concerned.”
Kiao’s heart ached. She wanted to tell her about Lyndon being dead. They were friends as well.
“I also think she might be on to the both of you,” said Kiao softly.
Briar shrugged. “I already know. That’s why I’m pretending to be more concerned than I’m really am,” she said with a mischievous grin.
Kiao gave her friend an exasperated look. “You know, they are going to find out.”
“Or I can step up my acting game. Maybe when Soletus gets back, I’ll get him to kiss me on the lips or something.”
Kiao inhaled to say Soletus wouldn’t go for it, but just released air instead. Maybe before Briar got to him, she could get a hold of him and talk sense into him. The only reason for the lie was the fact he needed time to get the courage to tell his parents. That was two years ago. Granted, if he was home, it probably wasn’t the best moment with Lyndon being dead. However, she was tired of pretending to not know the truth.
It wasn’t long after that, Lord Kharis dragged himself in the room and drained. He was ready to eat and ushered them to the dinner table. Dinner with the Gyrfalcon’s went by quickly and uninterrupted. Part of Kiao wanted someone from the monastery to deliver a message that Soletus and the others were back. However, no messenger came, and no one stopped her as she walked across the monastery grounds back to her room.
The sunset that evening was a fiery orange with red hues. Its glow touched the belfry tower tiled roof. It was the color of Mien’s hair. She smiled, as it was a good representation. Currently, his hair had a slight golden tint to it from the summer sun. In the wintertime, it would deepen into a red like a fox’s coat. She then wondered how he would look if he wore his hair the traditional length for an elven man. He still cropped it short, though learning how to cut it with a pair of shears than taking a knife to it. Before he left, it was getting a little long, and he said he would cut it when he got back.
She convinced him to grow it enough to cover the back of his neck. It was to simulate a time when circumstances wouldn’t allow him to cut it on the road. Mien managed a full month with his hair that long. The price that paid was his agitation that got worse as time went. When he was allowed to cut it, Oeric helped him. Instead of just cutting it back a little, Mien had him take it all off with a razor. It disturbed her that he went to such an extreme. It made it clear that the wound his Uncle made was something she couldn’t heal. The only good thing that come of it was the fact that she and Alder got a study the shape of a male elf head. The worse thing was that it caught Elnos’s attention. He called him unstable and showed an ability to seek comfort in Dias. She was likely going to have to face the same thing when he arrived home. Instead of holding his composure, he was unstable and sent his turbulence to her.
Her thoughts on how bad it could be ended when it sounded as if she stepped into an empty room. It lasted for only an instant and then sound came rushing back to her ears. She stopped walking and snapped her fingers to check her hearing. She turned around and nothing, but the path cut into the grounds and the always open gates behind her. The air was still and calm. However, she felt the hair on arms rise up.
“Is there anything wrong, Sister Kiao,” asked a diminutive voice.
Kiao looked around for the source of the small, annoying voice. She knew whom it was. She looked ahead of her to see a gray fluffy cat with white socks walking towards her. It was Elnos in all his fluffy glory. She wanted to know why Dias had found it fit to give him the consort ability to shapefshift into feline,
Kiao frowned and crossed her arms. “Why are you a cat, Brother?”
He did what he usually did and evaded her question. “You’re out late,” he said in his tiny cat voice grated her nerves. “Brother Alder said the Patriarch called you to dinner.”
“He did. Why does it matter to you?”
“His interest in you concerns me.”
“Why,” she asked, staring at the infirmary door, debating on bushing passed him. However, she didn’t want him swatting at her dress with his claws and catch her.
“He’s using you as a means to an end. The goal he wants to achieve isn’t in the best interest of this order. He just wants to inflate his pride.”
“If that’s what you want to believe, go ahead,” she said, shrugging. His disapproval of everything she did was beyond tiring at that point.
“Imagine if he were to find a better tool for his goal, he would abandon you. Then you would have no patron to stand up for you. He didn’t start pushing his weight around until you come out as a young woman.”
“Or maybe he started pushing his weight around because he recognizes there a wrong he wants to right,” said Kiao, walking around him. “Seeing as you don’t have anything substantial on why I shouldn’t trust him, this conversation is over.”
A light, chilled breeze came. She wished Mien was there. He would offer his cloak or an arm. Then the silence of a hollow room engulfed. This time, her world paused. She became still unaware of Elnos calling her name. He changed back to a man and shook her twice, roughly calling her. It didn’t bring her out of the state she was in. He then took her by her hand and pulled. Her body moved involuntarily. He took her to the infirmary, where the others gathered around her in confusion.
She couldn’t hear, see, or feel nothing. The only movement was her abilities activating. Some part of her stretching out, searching. It was the channel, trying to connect to something. Then her sense of touch came back. There was something warm in her hands. The surface was smooth and curved. She looked down. Everything came into focus again. In her hand was a mug. Her ears popped and sound returned.
Lionel was sitting beside her with Brother Oli speaking somewhere in the room with Brother Elnos.
“Don’t you worry,” said the Elder Priest. “Go back and let us deal with it. You know very well that we chanters have strange things happening to us.”
Kiao blinked. “Why am I holding a mug of warm water,” she muttered.
Lionel then pinched the tip of her ears.
“Owww! What are you doing,” she said and slapped his hand.
“Brother Oli, she’s aware again,” said the tod and then to her, looking apologetic. “Sorry. We did that to you earlier, and you didn’t respond?”
“Didn’t respond,” she asked, mystified, and rubbed her ear.
“What do you remember,” said Brother Oli walking towards her.
“I was walking down the path and then I felt like I was walked in an empty room for an instance. Then it went away. Brother Elnos stopped me, we talked, then it happened again,” she said, frowning.
“An empty room?”
“Yes,” she said and looked down at her mug. She could see the glow of her eyes reflecting in the water. “Something engaged my abilities. The channel was reaching out.”
“And we should figure out why,” said Brother Elnos.
“And we can do so without you,” returned Brother Oli.
For a moment, a stubborn glint rose up in Elnos eye. However, the elder chanter’s face was far too pleasant. In fact, Kiao noticed that the agreeable smile on his lips didn’t match the warning light his eyes had. “No, Brother, I think you should leave,” he said, forcing the word “leave“ in Elnos’ face.
Elnos swallowed and backed away.
“Then I leave your charge to your wisdom,” said Elnos, walking towards the back.
Brother Oli didn’t speak until the man had vanished. “So, you heard nothing like you were in an empty room devoid of sound,” he asked to himself and scratched his chin. “What were you thinking about?”
“I was…” realization hit her. “I thought of Mien.”
Oli sighed. “And this is why you don’t just leave chanter abilities alone. Now, this is just speculation. But believe the now active channel on you end, it’s trying to connect to Mien’s channel to finish establishing itself. However, Mien is not here.”
“But I felt him days ago. Why not start now?”
“Our abilities have their own time,” he explained sagely.
“This is ridiculous!”
It felt like she had moved backward as a chanter. That once again she was having moments that took her out of awareness again. It happened with her edict. She was crazed from not being trained properly in how to handle her edict. She would basically fall into a trance trying to find someone to heal. It was like sleepwalking. Now she wasn’t even walking. No she was prone. She didn’t know what was worse.
“Monitor this because it could be very disruptive. For now, you should rest. Also,” he said, walking over to the shelf of the blankets and pulled out something between two of them. “First Warden Oeric came by and told me to give this to you. Said you can have it for three days and then he has to take it back.”
“Oh, I forgot about this,” she said, holding her hands out, excited for the chance to figure things out. She had more of a reason to know.
He handed her the book. “The wisdom written here will help you with the circumstances that have risen up. However, I get the impression that you wanted it for something else.”
“There is,” she said. “When I finish researching, I’ll share you what I find. It should be helpful.
It wasn’t helpful.
In fact, she discovered how unhelpful it was the day, in fact, the text claimed it was impossible. There was always a range limit to how far two bonded chanter’s channel went. The max was a few miles. The only way that Mien did what he did was because it was bolstered through the distance. She didn’t have that. she did learn about exactly what she was going through.
Oli was right, their connection wasn’t properly established. They should have been around each other practicing the moment it happened. And according to the writer of the book, there was no stopping it unless she came into contact with him again. Kiao lowered her forehead on the top of her desk with the girl inside her screaming on her knees at the new development. All she could allow herself to do was pound her fist on her desk and mutter, “Stupid bond.”
The timbre bond felt like a separate entity. Mien felt that way at the beginning. In fact, it scared him. He didn’t like it, claiming it made his feelings for her a lot more intense the night he connected with her. He didn’t think he could handle it and though she would hate it. However, once she assured him it was okay, his behavior towards her shifted. Less shy and more forward. Someone more than he intended. He embraced the bond. It became another part of him. One more thing he had to deal with and master. Kiao didn’t get how. How could he accept something that was uncontrollable?
She lifted her head up and the fossil rock of an insect stared back at her. It was Mien’s first gift to her. She picked it up and felt the texture of the wing. She remembered the look of delight on his face when he had given it to her. Before then, never received a gift from a boy before that. Her second oldest sister did before she settled. Gifts from admires. Though she got flowers and hair boys. Not a rock, but it was hers and she loved it. Then, as sudden as the first time, once again, sound was cut from her. The channel activated, her mind search on it’s own feeling for a connection. There was nothing but silence.
She forced herself to back into awareness. Her desk took shape as an unfocused blur. She tried to move and scream, but nothing happened. She couldn’t even feel herself sitting down, neither the rock in her hands. However, she felt her wrist of the hand holding the rock hit the edge of her desk. The pain of it made her blink just in time to see a hand appearing in her line of sight. Whomever it was, picked up the book. She blinked again and felt a hand on her shoulder. A voice replaces the silence, and it was the last voice she wanted to hear.
“Are you okay, Sister?”
Her ears popped, and she whipped her head up and saw Brother Elnos.
“Brother, why are you here—” she demanded and he waved the book under her nose.
“I was wondering why you visited the archive. When you were told to stop pursuing knowledge of your bond, that meant don’t use others to do you bidding.”
She pushed the book from her face. “Well, it’s a good thing I didn’t listen. And the explanation of what is happening to me is in that book! Now, why are you here?”
Elnos gave her a look of sympathy. “I know exactly what’s happening. The bond is starting to affect you negatively. Your work in the infirmary depends on you being clearheaded.”
“I know this.”
“Are you certain,” he said, walking away from her towards her window. “Do you truly know? You have an important duty to perform,” he told her and turned around. He eclipsed the light coming in from the window.
She tried her best to keep the resentment out of her voice and told him. “I do. And this is a hindrance. And it wouldn’t be if you and the assembly didn’t interfere in the first place!”
“It wouldn’t be an issue if you didn’t encourage him to form the bond with him.”
“Then I simply shouldn’t exist. Stop with the excuses and listen! The timbre bind isn’t going away. And clearly us letting it alone isn’t helping.”
Brother Elnos shook his head. “We’ve stopped you from developing it for your own good. Don’t you see that. He is too emotionally driven. It makes him unsafe.”
Kiao couldn’t help but let out a short sharp laugh at the now trite argument against Mien. “He’s not dangerous.”
Brother Elnos sighed and walked from out of the light towards her. When he was close, his face was full of sympathy still.
“Sister, if passion gets the better of him, he can act rashly. Maybe even force himself on you.”
Kiao laughed at him. “I will admit, Mien probably will be a very passionate man. But right now, he’s a tod who thinks the greatest thing in the world is to hold my hand.”
“He’s young right now. But what happens when he gets older? He won’t be a tod forever.”
She smirked. “Then I expect that we will have great fun kissing behind a shrub.”
Elnos’ expression darkened. “That is not the words of a respectable priestess.”
“You might have vowed yourself to a life of committing yourself only to Dias. I, however, did not. It’s not a requirement. Dias clearly has stated we find one another. I found my other. Get over it,” she said through her teeth.
“You could be a greater priestess, though,” he appealed. “If you would only ignore distraction and focus on your duty and Dias instead of wasting your time with someone younger than you.”
Kiao’s entire body twitched. She hated it when people made it a point to mention his age. It was like they were trying to make her feel bad. However, the opportunity for a relationship with someone who liked her was more important to her than other discomfort. Finding someone was difficult for someone like if. If she found someone in Grace’s Hope, then her being a chanter and a priestess wouldn’t be a problem. The biggest hurtle was her condition. Infertility was growing more and more unacceptable for both males and female. Female elves were already limited to the number of children they could have. Successful pregnancies dropped significantly after a third child, to the point it was impossible. She was limited to one by a miracle but likely none. Normal men wanted legacies. Mien, who wasn’t normal. In fact, he was a Dias given gift. He didn’t care. More so once she showed him the extent of her problems internally. He was more worried about her condition killing her.
Elnos walked towards the door. “If you want to become the priestess that you should be, come to the green room. I’ll instruct you on what you could be.”
When she couldn’t hear his footsteps anymore, she started pacing the room.
“How dare he,” she exclaimed into the air. “And he came here to my room too, arg!”
It was enough for her to wish she never revealed herself to being a young woman. If she had, Mien would’ve never called her beautiful either. Well, he probably would have. But it was so much better hearing him say it when she wasn’t disguised.
She stopped circling the space between the wall and her bed. It wasn’t a large enough space to fume and expel her angry She needed to get out. She needed to be alone. The best place for that was in the towns’ arboretum.
She pulled off the plain dress she was wearing and went to her wardrobe, searching through her clothing and found the outfit she first revealed herself to Mien. The wide leg trousers, the white airy blouse, and the red vest embroidered with golden peacock feathers on the back was her favorite. She even called out Emmery and changed her hair color to black so she didn’t like herself.
Before she could set a foot on the stairs, she heard someone clear their throat. She twisted around to see Brother Oli, standing with his hand folded together in his robe sleeves.
“An old man can’t sleep when busy bodies yammering,” he told her.
“I’m sorry. Can I get you some tea and something to eat so you can get comfortable again,” she offered.
The elder priest shook his head. “No, I need to get up and take my daily walk around to keep my blood flowing. Brother Elnos just motivated me to come out sooner.”
“That’s the first time he’s been useful,” she said.
He grinned. “Anyway, do you know why I never interfere with you and Mien?”
“No,” she said.
“Because it’s okay for you to like a boy. Both Cory and I talked about it. It was unexpected. We assumed we could help steer you in the right direction. However, you aren’t neth like Cory and neither are you an elderly man like myself who spent his life so devoted to a cause, he forgot to have one himself. We didn't know what we were doing. We thought if you would attach yourself to someone, then it would be Alder.”
She grimaced at such a sickening thought.
“However, we don’t pretend to know the heart of a young woman and tell her what she should do when she knows what’s right and wrong. And we would say more if he hurt you and was bad for you. However, he is not and he makes you happy. I’ve seen you two talk like two mockingbirds singing at each other.”
A light smile lifted her face. “Then why can’t the other priests see that?”
“Because they don’t know you like I know all my children, Lad,” he said, smiling.
Kiao returned it with one of her own. “Thank you.”
“I’m always here for support,” he said, staring down the stairs. His face became grim. “You aren’t headed where he told you.”
“No, I’m going to the arboretum to walk.”
“Ah, a better place to go,” he said with the seriousness on his face lifting only a tad. “Now, I’ll be on my way so you can go about yours.”
“What’s wrong,” she asked.
“Let an old man be grumpy. Just run along," he shooed.
Kiao nodded. Clearly, he was not happy with Elnos. And wanted her to leave. If he was younger, he would probably chase the priest down the stairs, making sure he left. However, the Elder was frail, but not frail enough to have the look of an angry father.
I'm quite aware that this is late. And the fault is entirely mine. Sometimes I leave a chapter I have trouble with for when I post, because that's enough time to clear my mind and find a solution to my problem. The chapter was too long and I needed to work on Kiao's reaction. I should have at least read this chapter yesterday, but I got distracted when I should have been working. I found a new and original show to watch. It's call Pantheon.
It is an animated Sci-fi show for adults. Think of it like an anime, but done by American writers and animations. It's not flashy, it's story driven, doesn't have soap opera level of drama, makes you think a little, and is kind of suspenseful. It's a great show and something I've needed for some time. In the tone I like. I'm tired of gritty, I'm tired of Marvel, fantasy shows that consist of IPs don't need any more made with them, and I just want the Mandalorian and not stories no one asked for. So I ended up binge-watching episodes until AMC+'s player messed up and I couldn't get it to works. Sadly, that is the only thing on AMC+ worth watching for me. They really don't have a whole lot in their catalog. A bit sad. As far as I know, AMC is the only place to watch it. Thought, the first episode is free to watch on Youtube.