A week later, Briar and Soletus's treatment of each other was night and day. Soletus used his normal speaking tone and gave Briar suggestions on how to improve. Briar was listening and asking questions. Occasionally teasing Soletus, but none of it was mean spirited. Soletus even knocked her off her feet, and she didn’t attack back physically and verbally. He held out his hand to pull her up, and she said, “Thank you,” and continued with whatever they were practicing.
“It’s been an entire week and they’ve not snapped at each other once,” stated Edithlyn with genuine confusion when she saw it.
“Maybe they got the fight out of them,” said Kiao and smiled inwardly for fixing the situation. However, part of her was a little unsure about their deceptive arrangement. It seemed too obvious. They hadn’t announced their “interest” in each other yet. However, when they did, someone would see through it. Mainly Oeric. While it appeared, he was satisfied at their new found tolerance, it was clear some kind of arrangement was made. However, that was something she couldn’t worry about of fix. Soletus would have to work on it. In fact, she was determined to just let Soletus go. Her attention should be on Mien. They had so many things to work on.
She decided to take a one step at a time approach. First was dealing with his apathy towards researching their bond. She thought maybe spending more time with him would inspire him, so she thought he needed to be introduced to Edithlyn at the society house.
There weren’t a lot of women there that day. She figured Edithlyn’s scrutinizing gaze was enough to deal with. It made Mien nervous, so he stood to the side, observing until their last patient. It was a little girl who had a child’s diseases known as patches. There wasn’t a lot they could do. There was some medicine to skin inflammation down, but she refused to cooperate with being examined and taking it. She hid under a chair, using her doll as a shield. Her mother fussed loudly at her while Kiao tried her best to coax the girl out to no avail. Mien watched a few moments before he tapped Kiao on the shoulder as she squatted in front of the chair the girl hid herself under.
“Let me,” he asked.
“Be my guest,” she said.
Mien took her spot and lay on his stomach and greeted the girl with a soft, “Hello,” at eye level.
He started talking to her and, like a bit of magic, he had her crawling out and seated in a chair. He sat beside and she let him examine her arm. All the while, Edithlyn’s critical stare lightened up the more he went on. Kiao became unhappy at how easy he made it all seem. Then it got to the point when he wanted her to take a small dose of an elixir and then she held her doll over her mouth.
Mien turned the bottle in his fingers and told her. “I made this myself because I like helping people. It’s like a gift. However, some gifts, no matter what you do, don’t taste like strawberries in cream. Do you like strawberries in cream?”
The girl nodded her head.
“If I could make remedies taste like that, I would. However, I found the more bitter the cure, the better it is at making you feel better,” he said gently.
The girl said in a squeaky voice muffled, by her doll. “But my brother said I’ll grow fur and a tail if I take anything.”
Her mother scowled and said, “What did I tell you about listening to every word he says?”
“You aren’t going to grow fur or a tail,” said Mien, trying not to laugh, but he smiled. “Not that it would be a bad thing, it’ll just make you cuter.”
The little girl giggled.
“It will make your aches and fever go away quicker. The longer you stay sick the less time you’ll be able to play. And you want you and your doll—,”
“Daisy,” said the girl and hid her mouth behind the dolls head.
“Daisy to have fun. I mean, dolls don’t have fun when they’re stuck in bed too, now do they?”
The girl looked at the bottle in Mien’s hand and the small tin cup sitting on his leg. She lowered her doll and opened her mouth. Mien poured a dose in the cup and dumped it in her mouth. Kiao expected her to spit it out. Instead, the girl’s face puckered. She let out a cry followed by her wiping her tongue with her hands.
“You’re just as brave as I thought you were,” Mien. “I’ve grown men who are supposed to be wardens run and hide just off of smell alone.”
“So, I’m tougher than a warden,” she asked brightly.
“Way tougher than a warden,” he said, and winked at her. To her mother he said, “Fill this cup halfway and give it to her twice a day. You can pour a little water in it, so it isn’t so bitter. I’ll make a rubbing oil for her rash later today and drop it off here so you can pick it up.”
“Thank you,” said the woman, plucking her daughter from the chair.
“It was my pleasure to help, Madame,” he said with a lopsided smile.
The woman returned his grin and both she and daughter left the room.
Mien let out a long exhale before regarding Kiao. “How was that?”
“You might’ve been laying it on a bit,” she said.
“No, that was perfect,” said Edithlyn. “See, she’ll tell her friends that she was treated by a charming chanter priest, and they’ll all come here.”
Mien rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m not that charming.”
“But you can’t deny you’re great with children.”
“That he is,” admitted Kiao begrudgingly.
“And then you have such a soothing voice. I’m surprised young ladies don’t start talking to you just to hear you speak.”
The other side of Mien’s mouth pulled up while Kiao controlled herself from rolling her eyes by staring at the wall.
There was a shout for Edithlyn, and the woman sighed. “There’s always a crisis around here. I’ll be back.”
As soon as she exited the door, Kiao started vigorously scrubbing the table with a damp rag to burn her frustration and complained.
“I’ve been here for weeks trying to work with these women and Edithlyn getting nowhere. You’re here for a day and they already like you better,” she said, dragging the cloth across a knot in the wood as if it were a stain.
“I wouldn’t say they like me more after one patient,” he told her.
Kiao let out a derisive snort and rubbed the surface of the table harder. Mien clamped his hand over hers, stopping her. She whipped her face up to glare at him and was wearing a serious expression of his own. He never looked at her than way before.
“If today is an example of what’s been going on, I don’t think the issue is so much with them, but you,” he said, in such a firm voice it made her feel as if she was struck tuning fork. He forced his voice at her. Mien never did that. He was so soft spoken she never worried about it. Soletus said he had it happen to him. Confusion enveloped her as she tried to figure out why he would do that and realized what was going on. Mien was responding to her own annoyance.
“Mien, let go,” she said. “You’re being an empath again.”
Mien jerked his hand away and took a stepped back. His face ripened like a fall apple. Kiao drew her rag in and started folding it while she worked up words to say. She could still feel the warmth of his hand and the strength of his grip.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” he said and pushed his hair back. “I-I-I didn’t feel— I didn’t think that could happen between us.”
“This is why researching how this works is important,” she said.
He shook his head. “No. Now that I realize it can happen. I’m aware of it.”
“But if you knew if it could happen before, then you would expect it.”
Mien’s eyes tightened. “You can tell a person that’s never felt water that water is wet all day long, but that doesn’t’ mean they understand.”
“Basically, you can tell me I will feel the emotion from someone else, but I don’t know what that feels like until it happens. Some people are easier than others. You are not! So, stop saying books are supposed to help this!”
Kiao pursed her lips together to keep from snapping back at him. “You need calm down. I don’t even know why you are getting annoyed because of me. Why now?”
“I’m overwhelmed is all,” he said, putting more distance between her and settled in the corner of the room.
Kiao inhaled through her nose and exhaled through her mouth. To calm herself. That was important. Getting frustrated and angry at him was going to make the situation worse.
“So, was it the mother, the girl, a combination of us all?”
He bobbed his head. “You just hit me is all. It was unexpected. I should be better than this.”
“No, it’s stupid of me to get annoyed like that and I made it harder on you. And don’t beat yourself up about it. You’ve gotten very good at handling yourself. And I’m sorry about pushing the research thing. But that’s how I learn. I don’t understand how you just feel things out. That seems awful.”
He quirked his eyebrow.
“That doesn’t mean I think you’re awful. It just, I don’t think couldn’t handle it.”
Mien sighed. “I don’t know how I handle it. And by the way, if I do that again. Grab you, slap me or something.”
“Grab? That was a grab,” she said confused.
“I don’t want to impose myself on you. I don’t realize it right now because the bond makes you way too familiar to me.”
Kiao shook her head. “Touching my hand isn’t imposing.”
He pointed down. “Then why are you rubbing it like I did something wrong?”
She didn’t even realize what her left hand was doing and immediately stopped.
“It’s not that. I’m not used to you to you of all people touching me. You go out of your way not too.”
Her words didn’t reassure him.
“Above and below, Mien, you don’t need to be so coy.”
Mien’s eyes tightened with his lips puckering. Kiao was getting all too familiar with that expression of annoyance.
“This has nothing to do with me being coy,” he said, crossing his arms. “My Uncle would grab my writs, yank me by my arms, or holding so I couldn’t move or fight back. I’m trying to be courteous and not do that to you. It’s completely different from acting like some sheltered doe of a girl!”
Their crisis continued on.
“Mien, it’s okay to touch me. You were trying to get my attention. Maybe if you do so more often, it wouldn’t surprise me when you do,” she told gently. “Besides, just because your uncle did that to you doesn’t mean you will follow down that same path.”
“You sure about that,” he whispered and looking scared.
She stopped within arm's reach of him and studied his head. His forelocks sagged in his eyes. She raised her hand and wiggled her fingers in front of him.
“Just grooming,” she told him and swept his hair back across his forehead neater.
Mien leaned away from her hand.
“Do you think I will hurt you,” she said.
He studied her for a moment and then reached a tentative hand to deal with the hair that fell down in her face. He pushed it behind her ear.
“No, you’re just a little woman. It’s me you have to worry about.”
Kiao then smoothed out the top of his head. “You’re not even a hair taller than me and suddenly, I’m little.”
He then followed that by plucking a fallen strand of hair off her shoulder. “That’s how it goes.”
She continued their nitpicking game by brushing the dust from the floor off his chest.
“You assume that I make stupid decision all the time. Only 25% of my decisions are stupid. And I already made one recently, so clearly, I’m making a good one by saying I’m not afraid of you because there isn’t anything to be afraid of.”
“My worst is bad.”
“If you are as bad as you think you are, I would tolerate you as much as Sol did Briar a week ago,” she said resting a hand on his chest.
It then occurred to how much she was in his proximity and touching him as she had. She lifted her hand and tried to make it seem as if she finished what she was doing and not at all because she suddenly self-conscious.
He let out a chuckle and was about was about to say something, but suddenly became stiff.
“Edithlyn is coming,” he hissed.
Kiao stepped away from him right before the wise woman entered the room. She didn’t notice their proximity or them blushing. She was too busy reaching and gathering things.
“Brother Kiao, I need you. There is a birth happening soon than expected and it is going poorly.” The young woman and grabbed her satchel from the corner. “Don’t worry about any more supplies, I’ve got everything I need,” she said, gathering her own pack.
Kiao held onto to it anyway and told Mien to go back to the infirmary. She followed Edithlyn out the front door and saw a wagon was waiting for her. There sat in the driver’s seat a young woman who looked frayed. She eyed Kiao with suspicion as she climbed onto the back.
“He’s a chanter, he can help,” Edithlyn told her as she got settled.
“Need all the help we can get,” said the woman, slapping the reins and sped down the street.
Kiao gripped the side of the cart as she went over her knowledge of childbirth. It wasn’t extensive, given how few women came to the infirmary. Most depended on older relatives or Edithlyn for that sort of thing. What few warden’s wives who came to the infirmary were more comfortable with Brother Oli handling their birthing. He let her attend the few, but he did most of the work and rarely had her do anything aside from standing to the side holding something.
She felt excited that she was giving the opportunity to actually help with one, but given the how the woman driving cut sharp corners that left her nearly left her flat on her back and tumbling to the other side, something was wrong. Once outside of the gates, they went westerly towards farm country. When they got to the house, Kiao heard muffled screams from somewhere in the large farmhouse. Her stomach quivered at the woman’s anguish. Something was very wrong indeed, and the atmosphere inside of the house was somber.
Two men were sitting, with an older tod, as well as a young girl that sat over to the side on the floor. One of the men was pacing. She gave them little eye contact and focused on following the young woman as she described the issue.
“She’s been pushing for hours, and nothing happened and then the bleeding started getting heavier,” spoke the woman, leading them towards the back of the sprawling house. They stopped in an unadorned bedroom. There, a woman with an engorged stomach lay on the bed and an older woman gripping her hand. The woman’s skin was pale, bordering on gray. Blood soaked on the bedding as well as saturated the air. Edithlyn rushed over to see what she could. Kiao was stilled by the scene and her heart became chilled. Not because of what she was seeing. But she senses something she didn’t like feeling.
“Come on, don’t just stand there! I brought you here to be useful,” said the wisewoman sharply.
Kiao took a step forward, trying to keep focus on her task and ignoring the chill of death in the stuffy room. She sat on the edge of the bed, touching the woman’s other hand.
“Good afternoon, Madame,” she said, noting how cold it was.
The woman gasped. “Are you a chanter?”
The mother became hopeful. “You’ll be able to do something? Help my daughter?”
“I have to see first,” she said and positioned her hand over the woman’s heart. She didn’t have to touch anyone to see inside them. She only did it when she was growing tied. “I’m going to look at you magical. It’s a bit obtrusive, but I have to know a few things before I can see what I can do. Is that alright?”
The two women nodded.
Kiao closed her eyes and chanted so the woman could hear her. She took a deep breath and dove in, flowing down with her blood. From what she saw and heard, the woman’s heart was rapid, blood pressure low. Her blood was sluggish because there was too little of it. When she got down to the woman’s pelvic region, she heard her breath catch. And then Kiao broaden her view so she could see everything, and she saw something alarming. A lot of things weren’t right.
“Don’t push, anymore,” said Kiao.
Edithlyn told her, “This baby needs to come out!”
Kiao prodded at the baby and shined her light on it, hoping what she felt wasn’t true. That somehow, it was dying and not dead. However, she couldn’t hear a heartbeat. She didn’t see any movement.
Kiao swallowed, trying to force the knot in her throat away so she didn’t choke when she spoke. She took exhaled and breathed out, “It’s breech and dead.”
The woman on the bed started gasping. Kiao figured she was sobbing and stayed focused, seeing what she could do for the mother. And she wasn’t sure if there was anything.
“Surely, there is something you can do for my grandchild,” demanded the grandmother.
Kiao shook her head and pulled back into the waking world. She leaned back, telling the woman well practice words. “I can’t bring a soul back into the body. I’m sorry.”
Sorrow filled Edithlyn’s eyes. “Alright, then we need to do all we can to save her.”
“The baby is being blocked by the afterbirth, which is the reason for the hemorrhaging. That I can stop but, she’s already lost a lot of blood.”
She then gave Edithlyn a meaningful look. Kiao wasn’t sure if the woman would make it. They didn’t have a whole lot of options.
Edithlyn stood up straight and told the mother. “I need clean water to wash my hands and soap. When you return, you leave, understand?”
Her daughter then gripped her mother’s hand.
“Si lei’so,” said Kiao to the woman. “Calm down please.”
The woman’s terror ridden face relaxed. Her mother gave Kiao a startled look.
“Please get what we need,” she told her and tried to swallow the bad taste in her mouth.
Time rolled on slowly after the baby was removed. The bleeding was stopped. Kiao was given the baby boy and wrapped it in a swaddling cloth. It was then that the chill of death hit her hard. Edithlyn’s attention was on the woman, so she didn’t notice her shuttering every-so-often. Kiao was glad for it. She wanted to fold the little body in the swaddling cloth in peace. It was hard enough with the mother kept asking repeatedly to hold her baby. Kiao relented before she wasted what little energy she had left. Holding the little boy quieted her down, and she went to sleep. Afterwards, Edithlyn took the swaddled body out of the room.
The young woman could hear her talking to the family, saying the outcome was grim. That she would live or she could die at that point. The husband stepped into the room soon after and took a spot on the edge of his wife’s bed. He gave her no eye contact. Kiao decided it was best to wait outside of the room and be sentinel. She didn’t want to stand there waiting for the inevitable. The woman was dying. It was something she just knew and sensed. Her heartbeat wasn’t right, and neither was her body temperature. The woman’s skin remained sallow, and she refused water.
When Edithlyn came down the short hall and saw her. She put her hand on hips.
“Why are you out here? You should always watch your patient,” she told her.
“I can do it from out here. Besides, I can’t be in there,” said Kiao and then lifted her hand up. “Feel my hand.”
The wise woman touched it and gasped. “Above and below, why are you so cold?”
A shutter went through Kiao. “I’m a strong healer, lover of life. Death is tangible. I can feel it coming and it’s like a bleak winter’s day. It’s not always this bad. I think it’s the circumstances. Birth should be about life.”
Edithlyn pointed towards the door. “Go outside to walk around. I’ll see if they can make you something warm.”
Kiao's heart skipped a beat and then another. She swayed her head. “No, no. We need to go in,” she told her at the same time the husband’s voice rose. The two of them and watched him trying to wake his wife.
“She stopped breathing,” he told Edithlyn. She rushed to the woman’s side and then he locked eyes on Kiao. “Don’t just stand there, do something,” he shouted.
Kiao hated the feeling of something that was filled with life becoming a shell. It chilled her even more, with her chest feeling constricted. She hated death, but she walked forward and said gently, “I can mend bone, knit flesh back together, and renew the skin of a freshly burnt wound. However, I can’t put blood back into a body. Your wife lost too much of it.”
She didn’t tell him that she could restart a heart with a strong urge to do so, and a great deal of herself. But she didn’t feel it with the woman. It would be nothing more than just pointless heroics. Her body had failed her as well as her will. Instead, she got on her knees and bowed her head. Speaking in both in Melodic and then in Elvish saying with her voice cracking, “Your time is done, sister. Fly home to be with our creator and master. Find peace and love with Dias.”
After that, Kiao rose to her feet, unable to control her own shuttering anymore. Edithlyn started making shooing motions while she was comforting the husband, who just stared in front of him vaguely in disbelief.
“Tell the rest of the family,” she told her.
Kiao nodded, walking in the den and announced the death to those giving their condolences before darting outside. She was away from the dead body, so the frost lifted from her.
She muttered the phrase of light and a cluster of white twinkling stars winked into existence around her head. They arranged themselves into one of the many constellations in the sky, dependent on her mood. This time, the collection of stars formed into a seven-star cluster known as “the widow.”
The light was unnecessary for her to see. It was just comforting. It was at times like that she truly felt mortal. Chanters were given power granted by a god, but they were far from gods. Dias had a will that was better off left unquestioned. However, it was hard not to wonder why she wasn’t allowed to save someone. If she had only been there earlier, perhaps she could’ve saved one of them. A husband wouldn’t be without a spouse.
Kiao found herself at the water pump in the back of the house and worked the handle until the water come out. She held her hand under it and splashed water on her face to re-focus her mind on the living. She should’ve been comforting people and spreading Dias' voice. It was one of her duties as a priestess, but the only thing on her mind was death. She pumped more water in her cupped hand and splashed more on her face. She rubbed more on the back of her neck.
The young woman didn’t hear the door open to the house until she saw the husband approaching her. There was no expression on the man’s face and Kiao started to offer him another apology. However, the words didn’t get halfway out of her mouth before his fist slammed into her head.
She found herself ground with colorful lights filling her darkened her vision. She struggled to get up, pushing herself on her side. Disorientation held on, and she had to wait until her blurred vision came back into focus. There was shouting and someone yelling, as well as the sound of a little creature squealing in rage. She pushed herself up and twist around to see Emmery guarding her. While Edithlyn fought back the husband with a bucket swinging in her hands. Kiao dropped and rolled to her back. She could feel warmth blossoming in her head, signaling an injury. She didn’t have the focus to see how bad it was. However, if she was conscious, then it wasn’t bad.
The wise woman’s face then filled her vision and her hand slapped her on the side of her face. “Look at me.” Kiao didn’t have much trouble focusing on her. “How badly are you hurt? Brother, come on, talk to me.”
“He needs to go,” shouted the woman who had driven them with Kiao’s pack in hand and dumping it on the ground.
Kiao sat up. “Gladly,” she muttered.
“You ungrateful wretch,” shouted Edithlyn. “He can’t walk back! Your brother nearly knocked him out cold.”
Brother Hickory had told her stories about his time on the road. He often told her many like the thought of chanters until a chanter couldn’t do the impossible they wanted. And then all the kindness in them would turn to anger. She never thought she would experience that.
Kiao touched Edithlyn’s arm. “No need for that. I can walk back.”
“You most certainly will not,” returned the wise woman. “Let him stay here while I get the Starraven’s to give use a ride back.”
“No,” said Kiao. She didn’t want to stay there. She didn’t feel safe. “I can walk if they aren’t far.” She stood and let the world come center. Edithlyn held her for a moment and then took her hand.
“Come on, I got our things,” she said.
Emmery scurried up Kiao’s body to her shoulder, squeaking as they passed by the two of them. Kiao did a glance at them as she walked by. The man eye’s narrowed bitterly at her before he walked back towards the house in silence.