Kiao didn’t want to have to worry about Soletus’s gut feeling. She wanted to believe people were reasonable. That the family would eventually let it go. In fact, both mother and sister couldn’t do other than stand on a crate and disturb the peace. The townsfolk chased the sister out of the market after an old man started debating her words. That wasn’t the end of her, though. She moved to the other side of town, not far from the society house. In fact, she was within sight of the building to Maelyra’s and Cordea’s displeasure.
When the day arrived for Kiao’s weekly visit to the society house, she thought about staying in the infirmary, but she didn’t want to. The fatigue, the bloat, and a growing ache that extended down from her navel to her knees suggested otherwise. Her time of season decided it was a good time to show after a year and a half absence. It would be in full swing in a few days and then she would be rendered a bed warmer for a week.
She ignored it all and decided to use what time she had left before then wisely. For the first time since she started her duty to the women’s society; she was glad to grab her satchel and go. Lady Maelyra had refused to change her mind. That made the girl inside of her happy. If that woman died under her care in the mountains, Kiao would’ve faced more rejection. And Edithlyn, thinking highly enough of her to correct people on what had happened, bolstered that feeling. She felt like she had a chance now.
When she started crossing the monastery grounds, she spotted Soletus ahead of her walking out the gate. The young woman paused to avoid her tall friend and let him get further along. However, the young monk turned around, spotting her. He waved her over.
“Why does he have to be so friendly,” she muttered. She needed to learn how to enjoy being his friend and not feel awkward. Separating herself from him would get hurt Soletus’s feelings. She knew from Brother Hickory that neth were funny like that. They put a lot of value into friendships. If she discarded his, he’ll likely feel betrayed and never speak to her again.
She balled up the girlish feelings into the back of her mind and greeted her friend.
“You’re early,” he said.
“I wanted to have some time to talk to Edithlyn before any patients arrived and maybe some other women there,” she said.
Soletus smiled. “It’s funny how that helps. Hearing that you’re acceptable to others.”
“We shouldn’t be that way,” said Kiao. “We should only care about what we do in Dias’s eyes and yet, we can’t help to want to be accepted by our peers. So have you told Mien?”
Soletus grimaced. “I was going to but…”
“Why would it matter to him? He isn’t going to care,” she told him.
“I know but, I ended up telling Briar of all people and I got back to my room and felt like that was enough.”
“Well, at least it helped you and Briar get along. It was nice having two people tag along with me like that. It was fun being out with others.”
“I only asked her to come to make us an even three, not because she’s a friend or anything,” he said.
Kiao could hear the grudging tone in his voice, keeping her smile to herself.
“She’s just an ally,” he said. He changed subjects and started talking about what he wanted to help the huntresses do that day. After they passed by the Patriarch’s house and rounded the corner where the chapel sat, the young monk’s gaze went up and above her head. His brow pulled together, and he stopped walking.
“What,” she asked and followed his gaze that was focused on the empty lane before them. The sun was barely over the town wall, so there were a lot of shadows around. One couldn’t see straight ahead. It narrowed and curved a little to the left before going a little to the right to go around homes and greenery.
He nudged her forward and leaned to her ear. “Try not to look too much at it, but that abandoned warehouse ahead of us, I saw movement in one of the upper windows.”
Kiao glanced at it and then his profile. She wasn’t sure how he saw that far. She figured it was because he was taller. She couldn’t see anything.
“Keep your pace beside me,” he ordered.
Kiao wasn’t sure what to think about his caution, however it was better just to listen and ask later. She just watched and waited to see what would happen. The abandoned warehouse came into full view. The long two-story building had boards over the windows and door. Vines covered the stones. It was mostly an eyesore that no one claimed the spot or tore the building down. They were nearly past it when Soletus cried out at the same time that something whizzed inches away from her nose.
Soletus pushed Kiao to the side towards a wide oak tree growing to the side. The two of them scrambled behind it just in time to hear something hit the bark with a loud crack.
“Tits,” Kiao exclaimed as she crouched and pressed herself against the tree’s bark.
Soletus settled as close to her as he could. Another crack against the tree brought him on top of her.
Kiao sunk down, trying to ball up. “What is that!”
Another projectile smacked into a rock and skipped across the ground in their line of sight. Kiao studied the object. It was a smooth and the size of a peach pit but looked like a rock.
Soletus became mystified and studied it. “That’s a clay bullet,” he said.
“What’s a clay bullet?”
“For a sling. I have one. It was one of the first weapons Papa taught me to use.”
“The boys I knew just used river rocks.”
“Yeah, well, they were probably just playing with them. Clay bullets fly better and are used for hunting.”
There was one more crack and then Kiao heard someone running towards them. Soletus pulled away from her, coiling into a crouch. From around the tree appeared a tod. He reached for her at the same time Soletus sprung on him and then snatched him by the front of his shirt.
Kiao scurried out of the way to her feet right as the young monk slammed him against the tree. The tod was a farmer’s son given how patched and ill-fitting his clothing was and how sun toasted his skin was. He struggled wildly, cursing.
Soletus sighed and summoned his consort.
Elves tended to choose elegant, beautiful, distinctive, and graceful creatures for their consorts. Soletus went with distinctive and chose a bear. And not just any kind of bear. One of the largest in the known lands, a highland brown bear. Now that he had stopped growing and filled out, Khodi did the same. He was less leggy, had stopped and became impressive looking on four legs. When he stood up on his rearlegs, then became a brown shaggy furred giant.
The tod cowered, becoming wide eyed when the magical creature manifested. He shrunk when it roared in his face.
Soletus then told him calmly. “You have two choices. Stop struggling or he holds you.”
Kiao straightened up and put on her best intimidation face and folded her arms tightly across her chest.
“Who are you,” she demanded.
The tod spit in her direction.
Khodi took one of his massive claws and raked it down the tree by the tod’s head. Kiao was sure he had wet himself.
A humorless smile spread across Soletus’s face. “I’m going to explain how this works. If I don’t think something you say or do isn’t polite, Khodi doesn’t think it’s polite either. So please reframe from spitting at my friend.”
“That chanter killed my brother’s wife,” said the tod.
Kiao gaped at him, appalled. “So, you think that gives you the right to sling clay bullets at us? You could’ve killed him.”
The tod, for an instant, looked remorseful, but then he bucked up again. “Then he shouldn’t’ve been with you,” retorted the tod. “I was going to teach you a lesson.”
Soletus snorted. “And you’re doing an outstanding job.”
“Let me go an’ I’ll show you. I’ll beat both of you.”
The young monk barked out a laugh.
The tod was thin and all limbs. His family could probably use him like a stake. Soletus was meat and muscles.
Soletus then dropped one of his arms and held him with just one.
“Now look here, Farm Boy, what are you going to me,” said Soletus. “And I’m not showing off…well a little. My is, I’m being very polite. Otherwise you’ll be crying for your daddy while I beat you to the ground.”
In response, the tod spit right in Soletus’s eye. The young monk threw him to the ground and the farmer’s son tried his best to scramble upright, but in a flash, Khodi slammed his forepaw down in the center of his back to keep him on his stomach. The tod screamed the entire time as if he was being murdered.
Kiao gave her friend a disapproving stare while he wiped off his face in disgust. It was moments like that he reminded her of his father.
“He’s not hurt,” said Soletus.
“He’s hurting me,” cried the tod, kicking his legs.
“Waa, waa,” said Soletus, leaning against the tree. “I can watch him while you get someone to take him. There should be a peaceguard by the chapel.”
Kiao glowered at him hard.
“Don’t give me that look. I know I’m not supposed to use my consort on other elves, but he’s a knife concealed on him.”
She studied the boy and saw nothing. “How do you know he has a knife?”
Soletus gave her a cocky smile. “Get someone and I’ll show you.”
Kiao jogged back down the lane where they came from and made a left. She saw the chapel, but not a peaceguard. She did see someone even better. The Patriarch had stepped out of his house, looking sharply dressed in riding attire. He tucked his riding crop under his arm and walked with his tall black leather riding boots clapping against the stone.
“Lord Kharis,” she shouted.
Briar’s father spun around on his heel, revealing a puzzled expression of his refined face. When she got closer, he recognized her and greeted her cordially.
“Ah, Brother Kiao, I’m surprised to see you out and about.”
“I’m sorry to impose on you, Sir, but I need you to come with me,” she said.
“Certainly, though this is highly unusual,” he said as she led him down the lane.Most tend to stop me the moment I step into the monastery. Though, this is convenient, as we need to have a conversation.”
“Is it about an angry mother who’s not happy with the death of her daughter and grandchild?”
“Yes, and some of the impact from it, as well as another thing,” he told her.
She took him to the tree and pointed to the tod. “Well, here’s some more impact. He was in that old warehouse slinging clay bullets at us.”
“Help me, he’s killing me,” cried the tod.
“Oh shut it,” snapped Soletus and then greeted the Patriarch with a toothy grin. “Good morning, Sir.”
Lord Kharis looked at Khodi who had settled down with his forelegs and chest on top of the boy. “You know it’s not proper to use your consort on another elf, Junior Warden.”
“Junior Warden,” questioned the tod.
“He attacked us with a sling and was using these,” explained Soletus. He handed the Patriarch one of the bullets. The man studied the object neutrally. “Kiao and I hide behind the tree and then he came at us.”
“He grabbed me, and his bear tried to maul me,” cried the Tod.
Soletus pointed to the tree bark that Kiao had racked with his claws. “He was being rude to Kiao.”
The man leaned over to study the marks.
“He’s also armed. I supposed he met to threaten Kiao alone or something. He’s a belt knife tucked under his shirt.”
Kiao saw Briar’s father face because grim. “I’ve been told you are getting to be troublesome, Junior Warden.”
“Trouble often seems to find me, Sir,” replied Soletus nonchalantly.
The Patriarch's green eyes were heavy with disapproval. “That better be so, because I hate the thought of my daughter being around someone like that.”
“I worry about that as well. This town will burn if you daughter meets someone like her.”
Kiao couldn’t control the snort of laughter that came out of her nose. What happened to him set him in a defiant mood. Even with the father of his pretend sweetheart scowling at him, the young monk let the look roll off as if he had nothing to fear from the wrath of a protective father.
The staring contest ended with the Patriarch’s glaring at him hard for an instant and then focused his attention to the tod on his stomach. “Do you mind letting this lad up for me?”
Soletus looked intently at Khodi and the bear rose off the tod. As he did, the farmer’s son dug his toes into the dirt and tried to push himself up to escape. The Patriarch snatched him by the back of the shirt and lifted it to reveal a concealed knife that was strapped to a woven cord that acted as a belt. The man removed the knife from the sheath. It was ivory colored with dark purplish veins running through it. It wasn’t tao stone, and it wasn’t black steel. Whatever it was, Kiao didn’t like the look of it and took an involuntary step away from it.
The Patriarch’s jaw hung loose. “Above and below, where in the name of all did you get this?”
The boy’s jaw muscles tightened.
“What is it,” asked Soletus as he was handed the blade. He turned it over in his hand.
“It’s a drass beast bone blade.”
Soletus dropped the knife as if it burned him.
The Patriarch became apologetic. “Oh sorry, I forgot. Though, I rather not leave it there. Rumor has it you can instantly kill a chanter with a drass bone knife. Not true, of course, however, chanters have a lot of trouble healing wounds cut with drass beast bone. It’s also very illegal in my town.”
“This ain’t your town, Cock,” said the tod.
Kiao knew if he had said that to any other noble, he would’ve been slapped. Lord Kharis didn’t even show a drop annoyance. He went on amicably.
“Yes, my town. I’m Patriarch Lord Kharis’Gryfalcon. Perhaps you’ve heard of me.”
The blood in the farm boy's face fled, and he started apologizing. “I’m sorry,” he cried. “I wasn’t trying to kill the chanter, just show ‘im, you know. It won’t happen again, I swear!”
“Where’s your sling,” said Lord Kharis.
“In my right pocket.”
The Patriarch fished it out and studied the brown leather. “Nice craftsmanship and skills on your part. I was never good at using a sling. Though, this should be used for hunting animals, not on my monks and priests,” he said and then told Kiao. “You two come with me. It seems we’ve a civil dispute to managed today.”