Between her headache and her heartache, Kiao didn’t know what was worse. She watched the last vestiges of daylight through slitted eyes. The sky was light blue with pink and golden clouds scattered above her. It was a beautiful start to a peaceful evening. A perfect stark contrast to the turmoil she felt.
“I can go slower if the jostling gets to you,” said the young man from the driver's seat of the cart.
She muttered that she was fine and concentrated on resting without dwelling on how bad her head felt. What couldn’t be ignored was how awful her soul felt from having to wait for someone to die. What made it worse was the dead baby. She wanted it to be screaming into the world, not silent and voiceless.
A stronger, greater priestess would probably dry her eyes with a handkerchief and moving on with her life. Instead, she stretched across the back of the vegetable cart with her head in Edithlyn’s lap for comfort like a child.
“No, we’re fine,” said Edithlyn, patting Kiao on the chest right below her neck. “I’m sorry to inconvenience your family like this.”
“It’s all good,” he said. “Pa really wanted to pay you back for helping that ewe last spring even though animals aren’t your expertise.”
“It’s fine. I like new experiences, even at my age.”
The young man looked back and asked. “How’s the chanter? He ain’t said much. Not that I blame him. I couldn’t say much after meeting that ol’dod’s fist myself.”
“He hit you?”
“Yes Ma’ma. Said something he didn’t like, and he knocked me head over heels and out cold.”
Kiao managed a wry grin. “He nearly did me.”
“I can tell. You have to be careful with some folks ‘round here. They’re as mean as a drass beast.”
Edithlyn then said to her, “How’s your head?”
“My skull is fine, and not bleeding. A little pain. Nothing more than a headache.”
“You look miserable.”
She closed her eyes. “My heart aches.”
Kiao remained silent for the rest of the trip.
It was nearly dark when they arrived at the entrance of the monastery. She climbed out on her own with her head pounding with every step she took. The best option to cure it was going to her room to cry and sleep.
Upon entering the infirmary, she was greeted by Alder. He watched her instantly becoming concerned the moment she stepped in and shut the door.
“What happened to you,” he demanded, walking towards her.
Kiao duck down into the basement to drop off the pack that she had taken. Alder followed her.
“I was struck in the head,” she mumbled.
“The husband of the woman who had died after giving birth to a dead baby,” she told him.
He stood in the doorway blocking her. “Your voice is doing that flat thing.”
His attention was fixed on the red spot near her temple.
“It’s just a bruise,” she told him.
“People have no right to hit you,” he held.
“Stop worrying. It’s nothing,” she said, looking past him up the stairs. She wanted to go to her room.
“Have you eaten?”
Kiao swayed her head. Food was far from her mind.
He took her by the hand. Kiao normally would’ve fought however, she felt dead and let him drag her out of the infirmary to the kitchen. It might’ve been late, but there were still cooks and dishwashers cleaning up. They often were able to go in there after everyone had eaten to get food if they needed.
Kiao never enjoyed going into the kitchen because it was always hot and that evening, was no exception. On entering the smell of heat and soap were heavy in there air. There were notes of the savory meal that was cooked that day. She let Alder cross the stone floor alone, greeting the cooks and washers that stood in a line at the wall washing and rinsing small pile of plates while six massive stacks of clean ones were on a table drying. The cooks who remained were getting things ready for breakfast. They didn’t notice her but, the washers did. Three ruddy faced elves waved at her. It took a lot of effort on her part to smile and wave back.
Alder returned with a plate and a large wooden mug that was probably filled with water. Instead of finding a corner to eat inside, he gestured for her to step out. She followed him to a patch of grass right outside the open door where there was light.
“Go on and sit,” he said.
“You should be in the infirmary,” she told him.
“Brother Oli, Mien, and Lionel are there,” he told her and took a seat beside her.
Alder was only a few years older than she was. They met when he was a young tod but, still very much a boy. She wanted him to be her friend, like the boys she played with as a child. She thought he was very much like them, but he treated hers as if she were something inferior to him. He made her feel stupid for asking him questions and was so abrasive towards her it wasn’t unusual for him to make her cry given she was still off balanced from her time at the Sisterhood.
She at first thought it was because she was a girl and hated herself even more. Alder was threatened by her and was jealous. She was a powerful healer, just like him, and he didn’t like her taking Brother Oli’s attention.
The old priest raised him. As far as Alder was concerned, that was his family. It took a good long sitting down with Brother Oli, telling him that Kiao was staying and now she was his sister. He needed to get over himself and stop being an ass. It seemed like basic understanding of Kiao. But Alder never learned that as a child and he had no clue how to be a brother to anyone. Once he figured it out, he became that irritating kind, always helping and protect. He was acting that way then, staring at her, looking like he was going to force feed her. However, Kiao didn’t mind it then.
“If you don’t eat up, you’re going to feel terrible in the morning,” he told her.
“I feel terrible now,” she returned, picking at a bit of bread.
“You’ve had people die on you before.”
“But I never held a dead baby before. It didn’t feel as if it was anything, you know. Just kind of like a doll. A fleshy doll,” she said and started sniffing. She fought from crying any further, but tears were streaming down her face. “Then the mother had to die on top of it.”
“How did she die,” Alder asked quietly.
“She hemorrhaged and lost too much blood. She was gray skinned when I walked in there. The baby was dead in her womb and that stress didn’t help. If anything, I think she just gave up on living. I wished I could’ve sung life back into the both of them. Then the husband just hit me in the head and the family threw me out as if I could’ve done something.”
Kiao scooped out of her eyes and picked out something from her plate to chew. It was a carrot.
“Childbirth is hard on women. Every woman and husband know that,” he told her.
“But I’m a chanter. I should be able to do everything imaginable,” she muttered sarcastically.
“They don’t understand that, and I’m not saying that to excuse their actions. It’s just is. Though, you would think by now, we wouldn’t have to explain it all the time.” He patted her on the back and asked. “Are you okay now?”
“No,” she said between bites. “Everything around me keeps going downhill.”
“The women’s society?”
“That and other things,” she said vaguely.
“And those things are…” he said, giving her a thoughtful look. Kiao didn’t answer him and so he added. “We’ve known each other long enough that by now, I can ask what’s wrong and you can tell me.”
She wasn’t going to tell him a thing however, she kept too much of it bottled up for weeks and it spilled out of her. She told him about Mien, Soletus, and about Briar finding out that she was really a young woman. The only thing she didn’t tell him was the fact that Soletus was neth. When she was done, he gaped at her wide-eyed for a moment before drawing his knees up to his chest and leaned on them in contemplation.
“The Mien thing is weird. I mean, really weird,” he told her.
“I know right,” she exclaimed.
“He’s too young for that.”
“It might not be a bad thing.”
Kiao’s jaw hung. “What?”
“You understand him more than the rest of us in the infirmary. You two can go on and on for hours with each other when you find something interesting. Besides that, he’s oddly mature for his age.”
“True but, he is not what I imagined. Hence why I like Soletus. He a warden. He’s everything that I imagined I would like. He’s just not interested in me.”
“He’s First Warden Oeric’s son,” Alder countered.
“So? It’s not like he’s his father.”
“That’s not my point. He attracts a lot of attention. It would be hard to keep your secret around him. Besides, I don’t think you and him would be a good couple.”
“Because you want someone who matches your intelligence. I’m not saying that Soletus is stupid, but he’s a monk. The world is material to him. It’s not with us especially Mien. Normal people don’t understand what it means to feel a timbre.”
“He’s chanter gifted.”
“And how much does it really matter other than him occasionally force his voice on people when he gets upset. He could hone it, I think, but he’s made very little motion to do so.”
“And I hope you aren’t getting mopey because you think he doesn’t like you because you aren’t pretty enough.”
Kiao stared at the pastry she held and started plucking flakes off, not wanting to admit that thought entered her mind. It was stupid given the fact, she didn’t believe that neth cared or could be attracted to another elf following what society though was attractive.
“You realize that you’re…” he paused, looking at her head and then sweeping his eyes down. He remained silent and thinking.
“You’re really helping my self-esteem taking that long,” she told him.
“You’ve a good personality and beauty radiates from that. Most tods aren’t going to pay attention to it. They just want something pleasing to their eyes.”
“So, you’re saying I’m ugly,” she teased.
His eyes widened and his face started to get red. “N-n-no, what I’m saying is most tods are shallow and lots of them share the same shallow ideals until they are matched. And you don’t fit into any.”
Bless him Dias, at least he tries, she thought. “Then what does Mien see? Or is his attraction to me just based on magic?”
“Mien isn’t most tods. He’s a chanter. He has to like your voice, and beyond that, well, you have to ask him because it can’t be all based on magic. If anything, the bond likely just enhances.”
“It’s so odd, because I can’t feel any of it. His voice is about as unremarkable to me as yours. The only one who’s ever sounded interesting is Soletus.”
“Are you sure his voice is remarkable, or is it just appealing?”
“It’s appealing sure but—,” she struggled to say something past that other than saying, “He has a great personality, so I’m attracted to that.”
“Soletus is outwardly friendly, open, and that makes him likeable. He also happens to have a husky velvet baritone that me and every other young man in the order is jealous of.”
Kiao laugh lightly at him.
“I’m serious. I imagine there is more than one lad in that door praying that they have a voice like his. He could make boring philosophical text with too much navel gazing enthralling.”
Kiao laughed at the thought of him droning on with such a text. “He’ll fall asleep himself.”
“Okay, singing. What if we taught him to sing. I want that. Everyone has to want that. Anyway, he just a simple fancy you’ll eventually forget.”
Kiao covered her face. “I know, but why do I have to be a girl about this all? Fancies are annoying and distracting.”
“You’re at that point in your life where you want someone to share a life with,” he said. “We all reach that place. It’s not easy deciding who you want.”
She peered up at him. “And do you want someone?”
The young man cast his gaze on the sky, looking at the stars. “I do. It’ll be nice to meet someone but, I’m not going out of my way. I’ve enough to do. Brother Oli needs me since he’s only getting older. I think it’s best to focus on that for now. But if Dias shows me the person who it right for me. I’ll go for it.”
Kiao nudged him with her elbow. “Or you can just say yes, I’m lonely despite being surrounded by wonderful friends, and it stinks.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “That. You’re lucky. Dias has apparently shown you yours.”
“We don’t have to be anything more. For all I know, this could end with use being very close friends.”
“Sure, but is that what you need?”
Kiao didn’t know. She couldn’t answer the question on if it was what she needed. She didn’t no. But finished her meal with that on her mind. Did she need someone like Mien? There was just a lot she didn’t understand or could find answers to. Sure, timbres resonating and all, but why Mien. Was he being controlled by what amounted to his strong senses? Was it really fair to him because of that? It all hurt her head, and she didn’t want to think about it then. She, in fact, didn’t want to think about it at all.
When going to her room, however, she was reminded of it all right as she got to her room door. Mien opened his door.
“You’re back late,” he said. “I was getting worried.”
Kiao tried to slink into her room with a glance over her shoulder. “I got back earlier, but I needed to eat and now I want to sleep. Goodnight.”
To her horror, Mien stepped out of his room and crossed the hall. “I wanted to talk to you about… what happed to your head?”
“It’s just a knot,” she said, giving up on trying to close her door. Mien stared at her head.
His expression became darkened as well as his voice falling into a threatening octave. “Who hit you?”
“How can you tell? For all you know, I hit my head on a tree limb.”
“Who hit you,” he repeated.
“An upset man. His wife and newborn son died. He thought I should’ve done more.”
“That doesn’t give him the right—”
Kiao cut him off. “Yes. I know. I’m fine. My head hurts, so I’m off to bed.”
Mien's face ticked. A sign she didn’t like because that meant he was struggling with himself.
“There’s no point in getting heated about something that already happened,” she told him.
“I’m still allowed to be pissed off,” he told her. “Do you need anything?”
“No, I just want to go to sleep and forget this day ever happened,” she said, hoping that him seeing her walk inside on her bed to give him the hint that he needed to leave. Instead, he followed her and sat beside her. The girl in her had another fit.
He of all people, should understand the basics of personal space. He was sitting on her bed with no one around in the near dark with only his sun globe keeping the shadows away. Then again, she invaded his room often, so him being in hers shouldn’t have made her feel weird, but it did.
“That’s not something you’re going to shrug off.”
“I’ve been hit before.”
“So, it still hurt just as much as the first time,” he said, and his gaze fell on her bed. His face ripened as if he realized what he was going finally. “I uhhh…I should leave you alone. You need rest.”
He jumped to his feet.
“I thought you had something you wanted to talk to me about,” she said.
He answered her by looking confused.
“You told me that earlier.”
“Oh, yes, sorry. It can wait,” he said, now standing by the door. She would’ve paid coin to know what was going on in his head, but she didn’t ask him.
“Sure, goodnight,” she said and watched him run away.