Training was dismissed after that. Oeric and all huntresses went back inside for water. Soletus didn’t follow. Instead, he sank down in the house's shade. Kiao settled down beside him. They sat side-by-side in companiable silence while she gathered her thoughts.
She didn’t start right off because he hadn’t spoken to her much as since that day they had their minor argument in the infirmary. The only reason she could think of was that he might have taken issue with her lying to him. The young monk liked honesty, but given her situation, he should equally understand why she couldn’t tell the truth. He showed no animosity or coolness towards her when they did speak. So, she assumed he was busy.
Since he was stretched out, appearing lifeless she spoke to him softly, just in case he fell asleep.
“I guess you’ve some history with Briar,” she said.
He became alive all at once, sitting up straight, with his river-colored eyes bright and alert.
“We’ve known each other since we were little and never got along. The first day we met, she made fun of my ears. She didn’t like it when I started going to the schoolhouse. She acted like she had never seen me before and called me “Soletub” in front of all the boys and started oinking at me. So they started doing the same that day forward. In fact, that was the start of her bullying. One day, she came early to class one day and sawed the legs of my chair nearly off. When I sat down…” he said and dropped his hand on his leg.
Kiao’s jaw sagged. “She didn’t.”
“What made it worse, our teacher knew she did everything to me, but never called her out because she was the Patriarch’s daughter.”
“But you’re the Arch Monk’s grandson!”
“My grandfather didn’t fund the school.”
Kiao hated that nonsense of people excusing a child’s actions because of their parents.
“She was one of the girls who looked up to Fern and was around her. When Fern left, Briar traveled with the Patriarch. So, I didn’t see her around of often.” Soletus picked up a pebble and tossed it. He watched it sailed over the fence before he continued, “My parents know we don’t get along. I think they believed that enough time has passed so that bygones be bygones and we can be friends.”
“And they want that because…”
“To make sure I’m not a social idiot. I need a friend who happens to be a girl.”
Kiao pointed to herself.
“I already tried that. I reckon that Lady Maelyra and Mama are tickled at the thought of having their children get married,” he said, looking as if the mere mentioning of it sickened him.
“Are you kidding? Are you even ready for matching?”
“Mama is just worried that I look older than I really am and wants me to know things before I get in trouble or something.”
That didn’t answer Kiao’s question.
“What makes this worse,” he continued without giving her a chance to ask anything further, “Papa suggested I spend my leave being useful and help the huntresses who need better training. Briar doesn’t want to travel anymore and has spent the last two years or something trying to start the huntresses back up. It was my sister’s thing. When she left, they broke apart. Briar has taken to fixing that.”
“And you’re on leave because…”
Soletus rolled his eyes upward. “It’s a disciplinary leave. Valhart and I had another disagreement during the last patrol. I called him some unpleasant things a junior warden shouldn’t say to his second in command and refused to listen to his direct orders.”
“Was he trying to get you killed again,” guessed Kiao. It was a frequent thing.
Soletus nodded. “This time he thought I could kill a beastie with my bare hands because it was just a skulker, a grappler shouldn’t need help on something that small. That thing had two-foot-long horns. So, I did it my way instead, corralling it with the band's help and I didn’t get impaled.”
Kiao wasn’t sure what kind of drass beast had horns, but she certainly didn’t want to meet it. Her run in with one was an experience not worth repeating.
“He got offended and called me undisciplined and disrespectful. Enforcer Icus used his renowned listening skills and ignored my concerns. He couldn’t understand why I don’t trust Valhart, neither did he let me explain. He just focused on the fact that I’m a young insubordinate, therefore punished me.”
Kiao was getting frustrated with hearing stories about Valhart. She only met him face-to-face a few times, but when she did, he had an aura of nastiness.
“Why don’t you just transfer to another band?”
“I can’t. Junior wardens have to stay in a band for four years before they can transfer.”
“Don’t I know it,” he said and then nudged her arm with his elbow. “Enough about my misfortune. How are you doing here?”
Kiao let out a short laugh. “How do you think it’s going?”
“You’ve not quit,” he answered.
“The thought enters my mind multiple times a day,” she admitted. “They’re still testing me all the time because being male makes you mentally deficient.”
“You could tell them,” he suggested, and she gave him a dark stare in return. “I know you really can’t, but wouldn’t it make this easier?”
“No, I’m not comfortable with them knowing. Call it personal experience and I’ve always been told never to tell a soul.”
“I guess that’s why you didn’t tell me,” he whispered.
“If you could’ve told Lyndon, Mien, and me, would you have?”
“Of course, I don’t like lying. You’re my friends,” she said earnestly. She wanted him to believe that.
Soletus stared ahead of him, contemplating under a heavy brow. He then said at length. “So, you wouldn’t be afraid of how we would react.”
Kiao thought about it. “Yes, but eventually, you’ll realize I’m the same person.”
“In a way, you aren’t. We would change our perspective of you,” he told her. “In my opinion, you’re very brave. Few have the confidence to do what you do.”
That little girl inside of Kiao squeal with joy, hopping around pleased he thought her brave. However, she was a priestess and couldn’t go around squealing or acting like a senseless girl.
“Thank you. That’s a high compliment coming from you. You’re one of the most confident persons I know.”
Soletus fixed his gaze across the yard. “I’m not sure about that.”
“Well, I think Dias gave you are a great deal even if you can’t see it.”
The young monk’s eyes swung back to her face. “If that’s what you believe, I need to talk to you about something. Are you doing anything tomorrow?”
Kiao grinned. “Tell you what, meet me on the bridge in the arboretum. I can show you something as well.”
Soletus rose to his feet. “Good, what time?”
“Midday,” she said.
“Midday it is,” he told her and stretched.
Kiao would have loved to see all the muscles and tendons pulling taunt on his body. She stared unobtrusively in that she was waiting for him to finish and gave him a quick embrace goodbye. She stretched herself and then felt the band going around her chest shift to an uncomfortable position and dug into her skin. The better of the specially made breast bands was destroyed by the drass beast that attacked her months ago. In fact, two scars remined on her back from it digging it’s claws in her back.
Now she was stuck with on of the original ones that was made for her. One that was too small. Taking in a full deep breath was hurt because it didn’t stretch right.
She would love not to wear such a thing and be like any other women because the older she got, the more annoying disguising herself got. She wanted to hang the rules and walk out wearing a dress. Then again, she rather wear the battle skirts that the huntress wore. They were made from soft leather, not that colorful, but they looked sturdy and made for movement.
After she adjusted everything, she faced the door again. There, Briar stood leaning on the door frame.
“You boys really stick together,” said the huntress.
“Well, he’s my friend.”
“And you saw what he did to me,” she said indignantly. “He tried to make me look like a fool.”
“And I heard and saw what you did to him. I think you two equaled each other’s pettiness out.”
Kiao tried to pass her, and Briar blocked her with her arm.
“So, what haven’t you told the rest of us,” she asked sweetly.
Kiao stared at the arm blocking her way in before she traveled the length of it to Briar’s faux innocent face. The young woman was familiar with that expression. In the Sisterhood, it always came before a cruel joke.
“I don’t know what you are talking about. Move out of my way please,” said Kiao nicely.
“I’m sorry, was that conversation between you two was supposed to be private? You mentioned my name.”
“I’ve no time for this,” said Kiao, losing her tolerance for the young woman in front of her.
“Keeping secrets, tsk, tsk. Should I come to the arboretum bridge?”
Kiao straightened her spine and tried to be intimidating. “I’ve no time to play with you.”
Briar held her ground and smirked. “We can stop playing when you tell me what you’re hiding.”
Kiao crossed her arms over her chest. “What does it matter to you?”
“If you don’t tell me, I’ll find out anyway. I know how to find out things.”
Kiao shrugged. “If you think you can, then do it and tell anyone you think that’ll listen.”
The huntress lowered her arm. “If it’s not that big of a secret, then just tell me?”
“The fact you want to know so bad. Not great for building trust,” said Kiao, pushing past her and abandoned the society house. It was getting late, and no one usually came at that time anyway. She had a feeling Briar would nag her more if she didn’t. She wanted to speak with Mien. However, he was nowhere in sight when she walked into the infirmary. Alder met her and trailing him was their new minion, Lionel.
He was a recently acquired chanter who had been traveling around with a rather greedy wisewoman. She would make people pay for his “magical healing,” which was against the healer’s code. Brother Nimbus met them in a small town and talked him into coming with him. He had no family to speak of and was the same age as Mien. He was better at healing and had some alchemy knowledge, but his knowledge in herb identification and usage was impressive.
“You didn’t stay there long,” said Alder. Lionel's gangly form beside him went stiff. She found it odd he did that every time she walked near him. She waved said hello Lionel. She wished someone convince him to relax.
“I’m tired so I just come back here,” she said, inspecting their log. “Did you let Lionel heal someone today without guidance?”
Alder nodded. “Yes, he did a great job. We won’t feel so overwhelmed when Mien leaves again.” He then leaned over the podium and whispered. “You need to talk to him.”
Kiao glanced up at him. “About?”
Alder didn’t know about their bond. She hadn’t told him and didn’t plan on doing so unless she had to. He was her overbearing brother who thought she was too silly headed to make her own decisions.
“He’s been weird, well, more so than usual. I wanted to talk to you about it before he left, but I held off on it because I thought he would get over it.”
“Get over what?”
“I think he likes you,” mouthed Alder.
Kiao stated aloud. “And?”
“You’re supposed to be a young man,” he returned soundlessly.
Kiao saw movement out of the corner of her eyes. Lionel was watching them, but then decided the corner of the closest bed to him needed his attention. Kiao sat her attention on Alder again, saying, “I understand your concerns, but let me handle it.”
“He brought you a gift.”
Kiao lifted her lips. “Really?”
Alder took a step back and looked at her as if she lost her mind. “Why aren’t you upset about it?”
“Why would I?”
“Because…” he told her, as if the reason was obvious.
“How do you even know he brought me a gift?”
“Because he asked me if he should give it to you.”
Kiao sighed. “I need to speak with him. Where is he?”
“In his room. I told him to rest today. He looked road worn.”
She expected he would be. It was his first training mission away, a full week out on the road, putting what he learned into practice. Training bands were usually something reserved for warders who barely passed the trials. The thing was Mien passed them. As Nimbus bragged, he was better than the average combat chanter. However, because of who he was, Mien was automatically deemed unacceptable until proven. And to be honest, Kiao couldn’t blame them. Mien was well…she couldn’t put his oddities into a single word.
Kiao walked into the priest’s dormitory from the door that at led to the infirmary. Her room was the first door on the right. Alder’s door was across from hers. To the left of his, was Mien’s room. His door was cracked. She peered in and found him curled up on his bed. He always slept in a fetal position. When she first met him, he wound himself in a tight cocooned make from his blanket to shield himself from the world and to look small. He couldn’t do that anymore.
He had grown a lot in just four years. He was taller, but still plenty thin but far from the near skeletal frame he was before. She never realized how much he stressed himself when he first arrived. The few days after they accepted him into the priesthood, he out ate everyone at the table for days afterwards.
She loudly walked over to him and patted his shoulder.
He stirred and lifted his head slightly before jerking awake.
“Not trying to scare you,” she said, settling on the floor between his bed and nightstand while he scrambled upright. He had a twinkle in his eyes.
“What did you do,” she asked.
“Nothing,” he said, struggling to keep a smile off his face.
“If you didn’t do anything, something has you pleased.”
He reached under his pillow and pulled out a tan flat rock that fitted into the palm of his hands. “I found this. It’s for you.”
Kiao took the rock and stared at it. “It’s a rock,” she said flatly. “What am I supposed to do with it?”
Mien was now grinning. “Turn it over.”
She flipped it and saw it was a rock with a dragon fly on it. At first, she thought it was drawn, but she saw its lace wings in near perfect detail.
“Sometimes, stones have dead insects and small creatures imprinted on them. My father would collect them when he come across them and would sell them. I have once at the estate. They’re usually found in seams of rock, but this one wasn’t. I found this one when I was gathering stones for our campfire,” he said with childlike glee.
“It’s pretty,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it before,” she said, delighted. She never gotten a gift from a boy before. Alder made it sound like he went out and brought her jewelry. “Thank you.”
Mien grinned at her.
“I don’t have anything to give you in return, aside from knowledge. I found some information pertaining to our little bond.”
His smile faded. “Really?”
“Yes, apparently it allows us a single ability, or we get one each. I don’t know, the writing was unclear and faded. The book wasn’t well kept.”
He sighed. “What sort of ability?”
“The bond could affect our phrases or grants us another sort of like how consorts grant us something. I didn’t read much on the how but, the list of abilities is extensive. There are useful ones like being able to numb pain or we can mindspeak or the worse of them all, read each other’s thoughts.”
Mien looked horrified after hearing that last one.
“Yes, I know. However, I don’t think we need to worry about that one. Neither of have shown any sort of affinity towards thought reading.”
“I really want nothing more than I already have,” said Mien, shifting away from her and laid on his back. “We spend enough time working on my other issues. We don’t need new ones.”
“Those things are important to make sure we have a healthy bond together,” she stated, and wasn’t sure if he wanted one with the way he was starting to act.
“Yes, I know,” he said sharply and then dismissively. “I have to make sure I communicate well enough because I’ve bad comprehension.”
Kiao sat back, amazed of how quick he could swing to being frustrated. It was part of the fact he was a timbre sensitive tod. Or the nice way that Brother Oli put it, a little closer to his emotions. It wasn’t something that Kiao hated. It was just odd to have him more apt to display himself to others but mostly to her. And from how he stared ahead of himself fuming, something was wrong.
“You’re being cranky. You’re tired, aren’t you?”
“Yes, so tired, so cranky,” he returned sarcastically.
She then decided to figure out what was wrong with him like one of her patients.
She patted his upper arm. “Have you eaten anything today,” she asked gently
“How about I find a place in my room to display your gift and we beg the cooks for a platter of food? Then we can eat alone someplace, and you can tell me how your first time on the road went.”
She didn’t think the suggestion would work. That Mien wouldn’t be that easily pleased. However, he rolled his head to her with his large eyes growing with delight.
And then all at once, the excited puppy he was before came back. That wasn’t a surprise. Mien never wanted to discuss her research into their bond. In fact, he never seemed interested in participating in it. He didn’t seem to think there should be any reason to research it. In fact, he claimed it made little sense to him why she would. She wondered if it annoyed him that she did so. She couldn’t understand why. She wanted to know what to expect and be surprised by anything. She thought he would be the same.
Maybe it was youth because he was still young but when it became to gaining knowledge over something unusual, he would be all for an investigation. Soletus mentioned to her when she first became his senior that he suspected Mien wasn’t as much of a boy as he seemed. And he was right in a way and in another way he was wrong. A lot of youth was gone from Mien. He had to grow up. Forced to, even. It made her happy to see him excited like a puppy. Doing things a male elf his age would do.
It made her want to give him a pair of fox ears and a tail to fit with his beautiful red hair. That was one thing he had over Soletus. Colorful hair. The young monk’s hair was flaxen. Cool toned to the point it looked flat. Mien’s hair reminded her of a sunset in autumn.
Mien rolled off the bed. and helped her to her feet. He grabbed her pulled her up by the wrist. He didn’t take the opportunity to slide his hand to hold on to hers. She decided his whole thing about not like being touched and avoided touching others if he didn’t have too was going to remain awhile. However, he did widen the door to his room and gave her a courtly bow to proceed out.
She smiled. His boyish antics continued as he rushed ahead to get the other door for her. It was all very cute. Though not it made her wonder, if he would be capable at keeping things just friendly.