Having a warden on you die is inevitable. When that day comes as a warden, there is only one thing you can do about it. Move on. If you dwell on it, you can’t be a first warden. Is it easy? No. Does it get better? Yes. But, the first death is the worse. That one feels like an iron ball around your neck. Your dead brother’s sash feels like a physical manifestation of your failure. But you have to let it go. You have to tell their families what happened and give them their sash. It’s tradition. I always do it in person. You can write notes or have the Arch Monk do it. However, I never let my father tell their family. Doing so is an act of a true coward.
Oeric’s fever refused to go down. When he was lucid, he would request something to drink before falling back into a muttering stupor. Kiao and Lionel tried to keep him hydrated as he sweated out of his shift and soaked the bed. Keeping him comfortable was difficult as the rose-colored patches spread down his right side, traveling downward. The last splotch appeared on his right hip and that was when he became very restless. It hurt him, causing him to moan for nearly a day. Then his fever reached a terrifying peak, and he went silent.
Kiao placed him under a close watch. Someone had to check in on him to make sure he was still breathing. She spoke to Cordea and the Arch Monk, stating she really didn’t know what was going to happen. Oeric had a strong constitution, but the fever was taxing it. He risked dying if it continued. After that, the Arch Monk sat with him a very long time praying and making sure if he woke up, they could give him something to drink. Kiao checked on him, praying herself that she didn’t have to tell her friend that his father died. Also, she wanted to ask him about his dream.
She didn’t expect him to remember it. It could have been fever dream. However, Kiao knew the difference between a dream and a vision. Dreams were often nonsensical. They had strange things happening and constantly changing. Visions could have an oddity, but focused. Nothing really shifted to changed the course of it like a dream. That was a vision. She wanted to know what he made of it because she did. Lyndon speaking directly to her was unheard of. Dreams didn’t work like that. Her abilities didn’t work like that either. She was just an observer; she couldn’t interact with the dream itself. The only time she should interact was to wake someone up.
It didn’t help that the Arch Priest told her to watch him. So, she had to talk to him.
On the day that Mien was expected to arrive home, Oeric’s fever broke. Kiao entered his room at the start of her shift. Morning sun streaked between the curtains. However, the priestess reframed from drawing the curtains back to keep the room dark. Instead, she undid the latch on the window and pushed the pane open. Fresh cool air spilled into the room and dispersed the stuffiness of the room.
After that, she lowered herself down on her knees to check on him. He was sleeping on his stomach with his head turned to the side. She rested a hand on his forehead. The fire that raged inside him died, leaving his skin clammy. Kiao couldn’t help but smile in relief. It grew when his eyelids cracked and then blinked. The man’s pale eyes focused on her. They were clear.
“Good morning, First Warden,” she greeted.
He responded with a very low moan.
“I know, you feel terrible,” she said as she pulled back his blankets to inspect the patches on his back and saw that the inflammation and redness had receded. “But I need to check on you. Does this hurt?”
She pressed down on a fading pink patch. He gave a faint sway of his head.
“Good,” she said.
“Cordea,” he whispered.
“She should be in soon. She came here every day to check on you. I think it’ll be a nice surprise to see you awake.”
He nodded and shut his eyes again. Kiao did a quick check. First, she examined his heart. It had a strong beat, lungs were fine, and other organs didn’t seem to sustain any injury other than what she expected to see. He would be on a broth diet for a bit and off the duty roster. Not that he was doing much. Everyone in his recent training band was picked up. He helped the huntresses instead. And since that was the case, she would have the women at the society house to chase him back home.
After she was done, Kiao went about her day, constantly looking at the door to the infirmary, or looking out the window for Mien, or any other signs of Kellas’s band returning. However, he didn’t show up. It wasn’t unusual. Sometimes bands were late. But by day’s end, it was clear that the band wasn’t arriving. It made the young woman antsy.
She was constantly fixing, tucking, and folding things that didn’t need messing with. She went down the rows of beds, making certain those that weren’t occupied appeared neat. Lionel had made them hours before, but she tucked the edges of the blankets repeatedly. She even dusted the inside of their glass cabinet with all their frequently used items. All the while, Alder watched. When she was in the middle of rolling up their bandages for the third time, he snatched her current roll out of her hands.
“What’s wrong,” he asked.
“Nothing’s wrong,” she said, re-taking the roll from him. He seized it back before she undid the entire roll again. He spun it in his fingers until it was a neat roll and put it back in its spot, shutting the door.
“You’re being restless.”
Kiao sighed. “I was expecting Mien to be back today, and he isn’t.”
“It’s not unusual for bands not to be back at their projected time, you know that.”
It was then the door to the infirmary opened. Kiao’s heart jump in excitement and then crashed when Cordea stepped in. She had come by earlier and then left. This time she appeared with what appeared to be a small kettle in her hands.
“Madame Sheldmartin,” greeted Alder. “I didn’t think you would be back.”
“Oh, I just stopped by again with some bone broth. He wanted some. I figured that would be okay with you. He never likes what gets prepared here because of what you put in it.”
Kiao smiled. “I should stick in the usual herbs in there but, I’ll let him off for one evening. Hopefully, he’s awake.”
She then escorted Cordea to Oeric. He was awake despite Alder washing him, dressing him in a new shift, and put a new set of sheets on his bed. Normally, that would tire a patient out, however he looked more bored than tired. His face lifted when he saw Cordea. Even his sallow eyes looked better. She put her kettle on a plate that rested table and produced a spoon and bowl from the satchel she carried. A twinge of envy nudged at her. It was a foreign feeling to her in the context she was in. She never looked at another couple and wished it was her with Mien. Instead of lingering there, stewing in emotions she didn’t know how to feel about, she snuck out and went along the wall until she found a spot to lean on. She scrubbed her face to wipe away her disappointment. Not just because Mien wasn’t there, but for jealousy? Longing? She like Mien well enough. He was fun to be around. It was just what young ladies like her wanted love. However, she didn't think she was that far with him to have those feelings.
She was over-thinking things. Something that Mien accused her of often.
Oeric then whispered something softly to Cordea that caught her attention to Cordea that caught her attention.
“I had a death dream,” he said.
Kiao held her breath.
“Please don’t tell me it wasn’t Soletus,” she begged.
“It was Lyndon,” stated Oeric.
Kiao’s mind went into a frenzy. So, it was a vision and if it met that Lyndon was dead, then something did indeed happen to the band. Kiao concentrated, closing her hearing off to all sounds. To hear him clearly.
There was a brief pause before Cordea hissed, “Are you sure?”
Kiao didn’t hear him say anything. She assumed he nodded.
Cordea then demanded. “Are you certain it wasn’t a fever dream?”
“It was typical. Coming by my bed. He was sitting right where you are.”
“You need to tell my brother or your father or someone this time!”
“This time,” Kiao muttered, and slid herself closer to the doorway to hear a little better.
Again, he said nothing. There was only Cordea’s grief wrought voice.
“Why? That’s my brother’s son,” she said with earnest.
The priestess’s heart went out to Cordea. She loved her brother and her nephew.
“I can’t tell him,” he explained.
“Oeric, you know Lynhart has never judged you. He's always treated you like a brother.”
“It’s not that! I— Okay, I’ll tell him after I understand what I saw. It wasn’t like others. Lyndon told me a lot of things that make no sense. He wanted me to travel north, among a few other things. None of them have context.”
She let out a sob.
“No crying you,” said Oeric. “I know he was our other son, but ours is still alive.”
Kiao stopped listening. There was nothing left but comforting and soothing. She crept to her room, organizing what she had learned. What she felt the other day was connected to what Oeric saw. Lyndon’s death would cause Mien anguish. The Arch Priest was right, Oeric dreamed. The easiest solution was for her to march into his room and demand that he tell her about what she had seen. Emmery then manifested in her arm that she wrapped around her chest. The consort rubbed the bottom of her chin with her head.
“What? Oh, I guess I’m in a bit of conflict with myself. I know confronting them isn’t right, but why is he being secretive,” she muttered to herself.
The ermine continued to try to comfort her.
“Why does he try to hide everything about him? I mean, hiding the past from his son worked out nicely. Soletus definitely didn’t suffer from his secretiveness.”
It was then the consort bite Kiao on the chin.
“Ouch! You know I’m right.”
Emmery nipped her again.
“Oww! Okay. Maybe I am being unreasonable, but why not tell anyone if he knows Lyndon is dead? What does he gain from hiding the fact he saw him? Why is he having vision? I know he has particular dreams, but this is beyond it.”
Emmery then nipped her in the ear.
“I’ll let it alone for now,” she told the consort, not sure how long she could wait. Until Oeric was better, was the obvious answer. However, she didn’t know how long it was until he would be strong enough. He slept through the following day and then the next he requested to be sent home. Brother Oli saw no reason not to and he was shuffled out while Kiao was away at the women’s society house. A brief thought appeared in her head to get him while he was home, however she decided against it. In fact, it wouldn’t be until a week later, after he had woken, that she spoke to him again. That was when First Warden Kellas arrived home.
No one woke her when he did. The previous day was taxing. She worked in the infirmary and then had to go to go out for an emergency with the town’s wisewoman, Edithlyn. It was an early labor, and she wanted her there. It was a long one. In the end, a small but healthy, a little girl was brought into the world, and of course she had to count all those little fingers and toes. Afterwards, she had to deal with the panicked father. A young warden who was hit with the realization that he was a father and paced back and forth that he didn't know what to do. At least he didn't get in the way of the labor as some husband did. After she slowed him down and they shared a cup of tea. When he saw the babe, all he could do was be amazed at the little girl. On her way out, he realized the baby was a girl, and he grew up with brothers. There was another round of hot drinks this time in the form of warm spiced wine curtsy of Edithlyn. She stumbled into the infirmary right as Lionel was going to bed. She told him she was going to sleep in the next day. And she was determined to do so until Alder came knocking on her door.
She groaned and pulled her blanket over her head.
“Kiao, I know you can hear me,” he shouted.
She continued to ignore him.
“Look, I know you told Lionel not to disturb you, but you didn’t tell me. Anyway, one of Kellas’s men is downstairs.”
Kiao flung her covers off the bed and scrambled to her feet. “Where’s Mien,” she shouted at the door and getting tangled in her sleeping gown. If Alder saw her, he'll likely wouldn've started laughing at her still rather gangly form, struggling and flaying around. Of course, then he would be embarrassed and run outside of town.
“Well, here’s the thing. I was told to take you straight to the Arch Monk’s chambers.”
Kiao finished her battle and paused. “Why?”
“I wasn’t told why and I didn’t ask,” he explained. “I promise you that if I find out anything on my end, I’ll tell you. Just get dressed.”
Kiao continued tossing on cloths. She smoothed out her frock, slipped on her slippers, and tied her girdle on her way downstairs. wondering what was going on. It was Scout Warden Cole, who was sitting on the examination table. He glanced up in time to see her pass by him and their gazes met. She couldn’t read anything from it. It was just the grumpy faced look that some of the older warden wore time to time. She hoped Mien and Soletus were at the Arch Monk's chambers. However, when she entered the room, there was a suspicious collection of people in it.
Brother Hickory was tucked to the side and the first person she saw. He waved at her. Then her eyes fell on Lyndon’s parents. They were standing behind the chairs in front of the desk where Oeric was sitting down. Cordea was sitting beside him with a hand resting on his. Brother Meric caught sight of her and then turned away from Kiao the same time she did. They had been taking a new approach in dealing with each other, ignoring the other person. He practically lost his position as Assembly Head because of her. They wanted someone less bias towards her. Elnos stepped up and exchanged that bias to Mien.
When the Arch Monk entered the room. He was old. Silvered hair but had the gait of a middle-aged elf. He was sharp eyed and sharp minded. And following him was his replacement, Enforcer Icus. The monk had now fully taken over from Master Marth as the monastery’s enforcer. She knew that all the older monks might praise him. However, not a single warder or junior warden liked Icus, especially Lyndon. He assigned monitors to make sure those in the dorms were acting properly. It made it even more difficult to weave together pranks. He couldn’t charm the monitors. She didn’t have a problem with Icus. However, she didn’t want to see his presence there.
If Icus is here, then there is something very wrong, she thought.
“I called you all here to share some unfortunate news,” started the Arch Monk. “This morning, First Warden Kellas returned with only half of his band. The members who didn’t return were Senior Junior Warden Soletus’Sheldmartin, Junior Warden Tyrus’Woodquill, Junior Warden Doran’Shrike, Junior Scout Warden Lyndon’Pintail, and Acolyte Mientheoderic ’Cyan.”
The room became hushed. No one breathed. Kiao felt a sinking feeling hit her. She swallowed and looked around. She imagined that a bunch of parents being told their children were missing would erupt into questions and demands, especially from Soletus’s father. However, he remained silent with the lot of them.
Lyndon’s father cleared his throat and voiced his confusion. “You mean he lost every junior warden he had and a chanter?”
“Correct,” said Arch Monk. “I can’t give you the details on what fully happened, because I'm still sorting everything out. However, it was an act of insubordination.”
Seems like an excuse to withhold information, thought Kiao. She could guess what had happened, given that Icus was there. Some sort or upheaval in the rank given how clean the line between who had come back and who was missing. If she had to guess, Second Warden Valhart was probably at the center of it. However, where did Lyndon’s death fit into it all?
Oeric finally spoke. “So, you can’t tell us if they are alive at least?”
Arch Monk bobbed his head. “I can tell you, yes, they were last seen alive.”
“All of them?”
“Yes, Soletus was alive when he was last seen," returned the Arch Monk.
“I wasn’t asking specifically about my son,” retorted Oeric.
Kiao could barely see his profile. However, from the corner of his mouth dropping, he was scowling.
His father sighed. “Look, I don’t know everything at this time. All I know is they are all alive. That is what Kellas told me, and that is all I’m willing to say.” He then pointed a finger at him. “I want you to stay out of this.”
Oeric crossed his arm in challenge. “I think we all have the right to know what happened to our sons, Sir.”
There was a round of agreements with that statement.
“After all the related parties are here and the statements I need, I will share more information.”
“So, you can’t tell us if you are sending out a scout relay to search for them?”
“No,” said Arch Monk, and that was when every parent in the room reacted with demands of why they weren’t.
Kiao spoke over the voices, using her abilities to make herself louder. “I thought if a band was a week late, then we search for them.”
Icus step forward, holding his palms forward and motioning for everyone to be quiet. He then said, “I know you are concerned, but let us handle the situation as we see fit. I will have a search party gathered soon. We've a location.”
“Yes,” agreed the Arch Monk. “I just wanted to inform you of what was going on before rumors got to you first. I promise I will keep you informed on when I learn more about what happened. Also, don’t talk to Kellas or any of the other wardens under him for now. They have been told not to tell you anything and I don't want anyone," he said, looking at his son. "Interrogating them. You are dismissed except you, Sister Kiao.”
Kiao was curious why she of all people was made to stay. She sat down in front of the Arch Monk's large desk. Enforcer Icus addressed her.
“I just wanted to ask you a few questions,” he said. She concluded he sounded like what she imagined a stone would sound as it talked, deep and rough. It didn’t help he wore the same expression as one.
“You are good friends with Senior Junior Warden Soletus, correct?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Two years ago, when you were injured because of the cowardly acts of four former peaceguards, was he upset by that?”
“How upset did he get?”
“He was upset enough to help search for them. He doesn't like his friends being hurt.”
“And afterwards, when we didn’t find them?”
“He accepted it. I was more unhappy about it longer than he was. They hurt a lot of innocent people.”
“I see. And has he shared with you about his inability to work with Second Warden Valhart?”
Even though Kiao couldn’t hear as Mien could, she knew when someone was using specific words to get a specific answer.
“It was less about his inability to work with him and more of how he doesn’t trust Valhart. He vented a lot about that. The more he doesn’t trust someone, the less inclined he’s willing to work with them.”
“Interesting,” said the man holding his austere expression. “Also, I’ve a question about Acolyte Mientheoderic.”
“What about him?”
“When was the last time he had a fit of any kind that would hinder his ability to act?”
Kiao thought hard about it. “It’s been a while. He’s not had one since he started training with First Warden Oeric. Even before that, he’s had moments, but nothing like when he first arrived. His uncle isn’t here.”
Icus then arched an eyebrow. “His uncle? How does he relate to him and his condition?”
Kiao stamped down a forming rant about how there was nothing fundamentally wrong with her bond partner. Instead, she tried to explain a short as she could.
“He doesn’t have a condition. Brother Mien is very timbre sensitive. It is a natural state for a chanter. He was shy and empathic and his uncle created a negative and difficult environment to live in. Mixed that in with the fact he was an untrained and coming into his abilities was a disaster waiting to happen. We took him out of that, made him feel safe, build his confidence with training which allowed him to grow, most of the damage reversed. Not all of it, but most of it. He can be anxious, but he can perform his duty excellently.”
“So, you’re saying he wouldn’t fall into a panicked, fearful state over just anything?”
“No. I doubt he would fall into one if he saw his uncle now. He has nothing to worry about when he goes in front of the arbiter later this year.”
The stone face of Icus broke, and he tilted his head, becoming intrigued. “This year?”
“Yes, in a few months, Mien’s due back in front of the Arbiter for his sentencing.”
“Is that so? Why would he go back?”
“You have to ask Brother Hickory the details. However, Mien didn’t receive a traditional sentence for attempted murder. He was given to the Brotherhood on the condition they bring him back and show his progress. If he doesn’t show enough improvement, he’ll be sentenced to death.”
Icus considered her words. “One more thing. The Arch Monk mention that you felt him?”
“Yes, I felt his anguish. I suspect something happened.”
“Have you felt anything else from him?”
“Thank you. That’s all for now. If I need to speak to you again, I will find you.”
Kiao nodded to him and left the room, wondering why he asked what he did. She got the feeling that this wasn’t a simple case of insubordination. On her way out, she said hello to Brother Farley who was sitting in his recess in the wall behind a table. He gave her a warm smile and then went back to reading. She was certain he had gone through the entire archive now. She tried to see what he was reading and wasn’t paying attention when she rounded the corner.
When she finally looked forward, she saw someone in front of her and let a short high yelp as her heart leap to her throat. She held her chest as she looked at Soletus's father scarred face. He leaned against the wall on his shoulder. She knew he wasn’t trying to, but he looked imposing. Soletus could lean against the wall like him and would be a ray of sunshine. Oeric, on the other hand, was a winter wind.
“What did Icus want to talk to you about,” he whispered.
No greeting, apology, or no thank you for helping him, just a demand. It annoyed her.
“Good morning, First Warden. I see you’re well,” she said, walking away from Brother Farley’s line of sight and told him what Icus asked her. He deserved to know, since he had asked about his son.
A wry smile touched his face. “He’s already starting on an investigation if he’s asking questions like that. There is something very wrong here, especially if they separated from like that. Given the context I see forming, it makes little sense.”
“My son, Lyndon, and Mien have a connection to those peaceguards. However, Doran, and as far as I know, Tyrus, don’t.”
“That’s interesting,” noted Kiao to herself aloud.
“Indeed. I’m going to find out what happened.”
Kiao arched her eyebrows at him. “Really, despite the fact you were told to stay out of it.”
Oeric righted himself with effort. “I'm staying out of Icus’s way and I won’t interrogate anyone. That leave me to use the resources I have at my disposal,” he said, giving her a meaningful look.
Kiao pointed to herself. “Why me?”
He crossed his arms and whispered. “I know about what you felt from Mien. More importantly, you know about the dream.”
Alder giving off sibling vibes there. Also, I will get navigation properly set-up here. For some reason, it doesn't work the way I think it should.