It was far too early for a civil dispute. At first, Kiao felt pushed into it with no time to prepare. However, after the rush from the attack waned and fatigue sat in its place, she just wanted to get it over with.
The Patriarch showed him into his home. The tod that was with them was taken by a guard. The living quarters for whoever was the sitting patriarch, as well as a meeting hall/courtroom was spotless and tidy as usually. Though dark looking, not from the lack of light, but the dark wooden floor and dark wall. She and Soletus were guided to the left and not the right, where a wooden sign directed them for civil case.
They were instead taken to a large parlor decorated, with what could only be described as Maelyra touching the room. The woman loved flowers, mainly and carnations of all colors. There were three vases that contained cuttings from her garden and well as several embroidered pieces decorating the wall.
There was plenty of seating. Kiao dropped into the first wicker armchair that looked to have a comfortable cushion in it. A servant came giving her and Soletus warm drinks while everyone was being gathered. She then returned a long moment later with food stating the gathering of folk would take longer than expected. Kiao ate daintily while Soletus gobbled most of what was before them. She already had breakfast and the extra food she nibbled made her even more tired. Instead of waiting with her head constantly bobbing up and down, she napped, waking up once to see what Soletus was doing. She felt bad for dozing on him. However, he sat with his belly full, and head tilted to the side. Since he was snoozing, she continued as well in the warm room.
Shortly after, Soletus shook her awake with the Patriarch’s aide standing in the doorway.
“We’ve been called,” he told her.
Kiao stretched. She felt a little better, her pain dulled at the point she could ignore it and followed the aide to the right side of the house where the meeting hall/courtroom was. Chairs had been arranged on two sides of the room. There was no center podium or a cage on a platform where an accused would stand at. In fact, the Patriarch sat at a large dark stained desk at level with everyone else instead of an arbiter’s bench above them. He didn’t where the official red robe that changed according to the ruling house. Instead, he was wearing a plain dark brown robe that didn’t diminish his refinery in any way. He watched them over the spectacles resting on his nose as they got settled.
His aide led her podium up front across from the family, who all scowled at her. Soletus was seated behind her with Edithlyn. She had her arms tightly crossed over her chest, clearly grumpy.
The Patriarch then started speaking and said, “We shall get this dispute done all in one go and as short as possible. I understand a few here have other obligations to tend to. That being said, it has come to my attention that those from the Loon farm have had a grievance against one of our own chanter priest, Canter Brother Kiao. And instead of going to my office, the family has taken action on their own by civil disruption, assault, and possession of prohibited weapons in town.”
Kiao glanced at the family. The only one who looked shameful was the tod. The sour faced mother fired off a retort.
“My daughter was talking to the people and telling them the truth!”
“Madame, I will ask you to refrain from speaking without being asked,” returned the Patriarch smoothly. “It’s not that I enjoy listening to the sound of my own voice, I just want order.”
The woman bobbed her head grudgingly.
“We will start with the death of you daughter, Madame. You belief this young Cantor is responsible?”
“Aye, by doing a lot of nothing,” shouted the woman, and she got louder as she spoke. “He could’ve saved her. She bled to death. Didn’t do anything to stop it, didn’t even do anything to bring my grandson back. Claimed he was dead in the womb. I spoke to my cousin who is in the Brotherhood. He told me that he can restart a heart. He didn’t even do that. On top of that, he wouldn’t say anything but two words to us before getting as far away from my daughter and us as he could. Edithlyn was there, and she had to do all the talking.”
The Patriarch then turned to Edithlyn. “Did you do that?”
The woman then stood. “Yes Sir, I did. I had good reason too, because she was my patient. I asked Brother Kiao to come with me because I had a feeling I needed his help.”
“And he helped with little,” spoke the woman again. “Clearly, he thinks he’s better than us. He was acting snooty, looking down on us common folk. We’re hard-working people and it is us that suffer the most out there. And when we have a chance for something good, they always choose who lives and dies like the old days!”
Kiao had to control herself from rolling her eyes at that last statement. It was always the old days. It was a stain on chanter history. The common folks never let it go.
The Patriarch swung his head towards Kiao. “I am familiar with what you can do. You’re an amazing chanter in terms of age and skill. As stated, you’ve saved warden’s lives by that way, why not with her daughter?”
Kiao ignored the hateful eyes on her and explained. “Her grandchild was long dead. Death hung thick in the room. I can only speculate that he was in distress right after her daughter went into labor. If a person is too far gone, I can’t do it. As for her daughter, she lost too much blood. Her heart stopped because of that. My restarting it would’ve been a temporary heroic. It would’ve stopped again, and I probably couldn’t restart it one more time. I would be too exhausted.”
“Please explain why that is,” he gestured.
“The simplest way I can explain it is that it’s a magical process in which I have to slow down my own heartbeat so I can echo it into the stopped one. It takes a lot of concentration and I put myself in a weakened state. I usually pass out from it. And I can only do it because my edict phrase is healing. But I also must feel a strong desire that I can’t ignore to do it. It’s almost uncontrollable. I didn’t feel it then. All I felt was death.”
The Patriarch leaned back in his chair with his fingers forming a steeple. “There are a lot of quirks that chanters have,” he said. “I think we can agree many don’t understand them.”
“Agreed, Sir,” said Kiao.
“So, one of those is also feeling the dead or a dying person?”
“Again, my edict phrase being that of healing makes me more sensitive to death.”
“Did you think to tell them or explain it to them?”
Kiao swayed her head. “No, because in the heat of the moment, you focus on the wounded, not explanations and questions. I did what I could and stopped her bleeding. To live, she needed, and she refused to drink when she was conscious. Even with trying to force water in her, she didn’t take it. It felt as if she had given up on living. I can’t force a person to live.”
“I see. And why let Edithlyn explain the situation and not you?”
“Because being around death is hard on me. Talking isn’t something I want to do.”
“It’s like a bleak winter's day where everything is gray around you, but it’s inside you. I have heart palpitations and other sensations. It’s uncomfortable.”
“You’re a chanter, you should be used to it,” said the mother.
Kiao didn’t deign the woman with an even a glance. She didn’t have time for contemptuous people.
The Patriarch then stated, “Whether you like it or not, it does bother him.”
“Well, just because he felt my daughter dying doesn’t me, he should’ve let my daughter die!”
Kiao ran out of patience with the woman. “My Lord, she would’ve died even if I wasn’t there,” said Kiao and stated clearly and slowly. “Her daughter lost too much blood. She even admitted to that fact. And I cannot put blood back inside the body. While the body can make more blood, I can’t speed that process up. I’m not that kind of chanter. A rare kind of healing chanter can too it.”
“But you’re a chanter,” snapped the woman. “You were blessed by Dias, you can ask Dias to do such a thing.”
Kiao turned to the woman and told her gently. “And you can do the same. But if the answer is no, then what will happen will happen. I’m sorry.”
The woman suddenly burst out in tears. The action didn’t match up with her anger. Kiao wasn’t sure if it they were real, or she was trying to garner sympathy because of how loud she was wailing. Even the Patriarch appeared to be uncomfortably confused. He waited until her crying subsided a little and spoke.
“I am extremely sorry for your loss. I do not believe that Brother Kiao let your daughter die. Death is unavoidable and sometimes it comes earlier to those we love than we wish. However, that doesn’t mean you disrupt my town and spread lies. That also doesn’t mean you encourage your lad to hurt another person.”
The husband that hit Kiao stood up with his hand raised. “Milord, that’s my brother.”
“Where’s his father? I instructed for him to come.”
“He’s dead, Sir.”
“So, the responsibility to raise him is yours?”
The man nodded.
The Patriarch lifted one of the clay bullets between his fingers for the husband to see. “Do you see this? This object, a little bigger than a peach pit, can kill a person. Do you understand that?”
“I do, but—”
The Patriarch, punctuating each word while pointing the bullet in the son-in-law’s direction and repeated, “It can kill a person! Your brother went out, waited for someone, and tried to scare them out of revenge using these.” He then held up the knife. “And was going to finish his mission with this. Do you know what this is?”
The husband was at a loss for words.
“This is a drass beast bone knife. Where did he get this from?”
Again, the man offered no reply.
“I know he didn’t buy it in town with chore money. They’re illegal! Not just in this town, but throughout this country. It’s written in law and ordered by the Seat of Asteria, these weapons are illegal. Do you know why?”
“Because the wounds they leave are difficult to heal.”
“Yes, and your brother tried to ‘scare’ one of my chanters to ‘show ‘im’ a thing or two. I suppose you assaulting him the day he tried to help you wasn’t enough vengeance?”
“Sir, I didn’t tell my brother to do what he did. He wouldn’t’ve done that if the chanter didn’t—”
The Patriarch cut him off again. “If the chanter didn’t what? Provide himself to being a suitable scapegoat?”
The man knew better than to offer him an answer, so he just stared.
“I’m no supporter of people trying to find fault and excuse their actions with a make-believe high ground. And I’ve done this, unsuccessfully, might I add. I had to cope with the death of my first wife. However, instead of staying angry with the chanter or with Dias or using my family’s influence to tear this order down to its foundations, I sought solace in the very place I thought ruined my life. I stopped blaming others for what was.”
Kiao watched the husband's eyes tighten with bitterness.
The Patriarch leaned back. “Not happy with what I just told you. Well then, you will not be happy with what I’m going to do. No wrong committed by Brother Kiao. Your complaint is dismissed.”
Kiao could feel anger radiating from the other side of the room.
“As for this young man,” he said, pointing to the tod. “What he did is unacceptable.”
The husband then cut in speaking tersely, saying, “What are you going to do, whip him, waste his time digging trenches when he needs to help with harvest? He’s my brother, and I will find suitable punishment for him.”
“No, I will not allow that,” said the Patriarch. “So, from this date to the same date next year, your brother, Espen, is a member of the Dias Brotherhood. In this year, he’ll be doing a great deal of learning about respect, for not only rules, but for himself and others. After that year, he’ll tell you everything he’s learned and maybe teach you something as well. I’ll allow him to gather his things with an escort, and he’ll return with that escort at sundown. That is my judgment. You are all dismissed.”
The tod hung his head down while the rest of his family started protesting all at once in outrage.
The Patriarch shouted above them. “If you all don’t shut up and leave, I will put you in the hold below the guard house for a week!”
That silenced them. The peaceguards herded the family out. Before the mother left, she gave Kiao a venomous stare that made it clear she wasn’t going to be forgiving her. The young woman hung back until the family was gone. Before she took her first steps out the doorway, the Patriarch spoke, returning to his friendly manner.
“Don’t leave. We still need to have that conversation.”
Kiao turned around on her toes and was greeting by an inviting smile. He gestured to a chair placed in front of his desk. The peaceguard, who sat it down for him, exited the room, leaving them alone. The door closed with an echo. She tried not to flinch and sat down. She felt like she was speaking to the headmaster of the school she attended as a girl.
The Patriarch leaned back in his chair, exhaling, and massaged the back of his neck.
“Now that mess is over, I wanted to discuss two things with you. First off, my wife has been acting a little odd lately. She pushed me out of the house this morning, because she thought it was best if I went out riding after I’ve not seen her for a few weeks. She’s never like that. Then there is the fact she avoided contact with me last night after arriving home.”
“Lord Kharis, I’m not sure if I’m the most appropriate person to advise you on marital things,” she said.
“I’m not asking for advice. I’m explaining why I’ve come to the conclusion she’s hiding something from me.”
Kiao pursed her lips together, not sure what he was getting at.
“She thinks she’s good at hiding things. In fact, a lot of people think they are good at hiding things,” he said, giving her a long, meaningful stare before continuing. “In fact, my wife and daughter think I’m a clueless, helpless man because I can lose my spectacles when they’re on my nose. However, I’ve grown wiser over the years. I know how to listen to their whispers. They were giggling over a particular subject this morning.”
Kiao pursed her lips.
He then grinned with bright, hopeful eyes. “I get the impression I get to add one more to the fold. I know she going to you, and she’ll tell me in her own time. But I want to know if it’s a boy or a girl. I hate surprises.”
“When I can give you an answer, I will,” she promised.
The man relaxed. “Splendid! I hope it’s a boy. The more daughters a man has, the more silver hairs he gets.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Really,” he said, straightening up. “It doesn’t really apply to women. You all have this ability to become more radiant.”
Kiao failed to muster the fake outrage she had readied the moment she was found out or accused. Instead, she became petrified. It was one thing is if a tod or young man found out, she could work with that. Not the person who was one of the heads of the order.
The Patriarch leaned forward on his desk, his friendly eyes sharpening as a falcon would on a mouse.
“Here I thought I was making a bold statement that would make me privy to that sass many have complained to me about. Or is my statement so insulting that you’ve become tongue tied?”
Kiao jolted back to life again, with her mind working quicker on her responses. “I’m sorry. I just never had anyone accuse me of that before.”
He then did what Kiao could only describe as the noble squint. Her father figured it was from spending too much time in court trying to decipher passive-aggressive behavior.
Kiao knew he could read body language, so she crossed her legs and folded her arms over her chest. “I’m serious. I know I’m a bit fine on the features. Even you are, Lord Kharis and I wouldn’t dare accuse you of being a woman,” she said amicably while the girl inside of her was panicking.
The man arched his brow at her. “You’re quite the stubborn dear.”
“Now you are being insulting,” she said, hoping she could convince him.
“Despite being young, you are an objective thinker and thus appreciate when others do the same. So, I’m going to tell you how I come to this conclusion. Let’s start with a few events over the past year. My wife entreated me about getting a chanter priestess to be brought to the society. A woman there died rather unnecessarily because of an infected wound. She felt if she had gone to the infirmary, the wound could’ve been treated better. Even Edithlyn the wise woman believed so as well. It wasn’t a small wound, and she didn’t want stitches.”
“I’ve heard this story.”
“Good, so you know I’m not pulling this out of the wind. So, I decided I should use my feeble influence I have in that lovely mountain hold, in High Perch, and ask the matriarch for a chanter priestess. It was a very politely worded letter, dripping with so much charm my mother was proud of me and she’s a hard woman to please. She even kissed me on my head and called me a good lad.”
“Sir, I don’t see how this relates to me?”
“Patience, young one,” said and leaned back in his chair. “Where was I? Oh yes, I sent my letter off with the post and waited, and waited, and waited until Maelyra got annoyed and sweet-talked you into helping. I honestly forgot all about it until last night. There was a letter waiting from the Matriarch on my desk and you know what it said,” he asked, looking her in the eye.
“I’ve not a clue, Lord Kharis.”
“It stated in a very rude fashion that we already had our very own chanter priestess,” he said. He pushed his chair back to open the top drawer of his desk and removed a letter that had a red wax seal with an “S” stamped on it.
He slid the letter to her and Kiao got up from her seat and took it.
“Open it,” he ordered mildly.
She skimmed it. She read her physical description. Her hair was the giveaway there. She also saw her name scrolled out, with the following sentence mentioning Brother Hickory. And then her face turned pink from the detailed reason on why they got “rid” of her.
“Kialiana,” he said.
Kiao flinched at her name. She could deny it and thought about it as she scanned the letter that reeked with spite. Her options were limited. She could bolt out of the room and run off to live in a cabin by the river. She might as well, because everything was ruined. Instead, she squared her shoulders, folded the letter, and slid it back towards him.
“She’s lying,” she said to him, meeting his sharp gaze.
“The part where she says she got rid of me. I ran away,” she said, owning the truth.
The Patriarch plucked the spectacles off his face. She expected something from him. She didn’t think he would be outraged or insulted. He could easily call the peaceguard back in there to drag her out. Maybe a public shaming and flogging would follow. Instead, he looked towards the window for a moment as if gathering his thought, then leaned forward and asked gently. “How long have you’ve been in this order?”
“Since I was nineteen.”
“That’s an incredible long time,” he said, resting his chin in his palm. Most nobles don’t let their children stay here for that long. Most get called back.”
“My parents don’t mind.”
“Why,” he aside, genuinely curious from what she could tell.
Kiao took a deep breath. “I’m third born. My oldest sister is going to inherit the business. She’s good with books and calculating expenses, and she has children. My second oldest sister is a seamstress and works on the designs. All the performers in Summerset love her dresses just like they love my mother’s.”
“I suppose being a chanter doesn’t translate well into that line of work.”
“My mother claims I’m color blind with numb fingers. My father stopped letting me even looking at books after a few incidences with inkwells. I was useless with my only talent being nursing animals back to health.”
“And how did they find out you were a chanter?”
“I forced my voice at two of my friends when they started fighting and I wanted them to quit. They got scared and told their parents, who in turn told a lot of people. The priestess at a nearby chapel outside of Summerset, heard the story and sent priestesses out to see me. After that, they took me away.”
“And your parents had no issues with it?”
“No, there was nothing they could do. I was marked a chanter. Every female chanter goes to High Perch until they are at age, then they can do what they want. And they knew finding me a husband would be very hard for other reasons as well.”
“So, what’s written in this letter true? You’re—”
Kiao bristled. “Given how my body is getting ready to expel unused lining in my womb, that obviously makes me a female. You’re welcome to check if you don’t believe me.”
“Ah, the sass finds you,” he said. “No need to get your hackles raised. I’m just figuring out my options. No girl has gone on as far as you. I’m at a loss for what to do. You’re a female chanter and you should be sent back to the Sisterhood.”
Horror filled every fiber of her soul. “No,” she exclaimed with force behind her voice. “I hate that place.”
The Patriarch face twitched before it transformed into a heavy frown. “Don’t use your voice on me.”
“I’m sorry. I just—,” Kiao hung her head down. “That happens when I get upset.”
The man took a deep breath. “I have no intentions of sending you back. I would be a fool to remove a skilled, intelligent, fully trained healing chanter from this order. You are needed,” he said, and Kiao raised her head. “As of right now, no one knows the existence of this letter save me. I could ignore it.”
“You could do that,” said Kiao and hoped that he would.
“But I’m not. I want a priestess. It’s ultimately the Arch Priest’s decision, but I want a chance to make this order what it should be.”
Kiao’s eyes widened.
“We are all brothers and sisters of Dias. It’s time this order be reminded of that. And you are my key,” he said, taking the letter and sliding it into his drawer. “My predecessor never made much of an attempt and advised me not to when I voiced my thoughts on it. He’s wrong and I’ll do as I wish. I’ll make a deal with you. I won’t tell anyone as long as you tell.”
He then folded his hands on top of his desk. “My Dear, if I out you today, I have the advantage and I rather you did. I want you to have the high ground because we are going to be opposed.”
“So, if I’m to understand, I’m to reveal myself, so you can make a case for me to stay because you want me here?”
Kiao wanted nothing more than to reach across the desk and hug him. “Thank you,” she told him.
“I’m going to give you a month. That should be enough time to figure out what you want to do. Hopefully in that time span, no one else will find out.”