Intermission: Mask pt 3

 

The rest of Mien’s time in the infirmary  was awkward at best. The blighter crazed man woke up shortly after everything settled down again. Mien wished Brother Oli’s phrase of peace put him off to sleep, longer.  Or at least long enough that he would be in his right mind. The man wanted nothing to do with him still. Mien tried to spend most of his time out of sight from him and Kiao. He felt embarrassed every time he saw her after she come back. It didn’t help that she remained at her perch by the podium overlooking the infirmary. He felt like her eyes were always on him.

Mien’s embarrassment grew because the man refused to drink the flush and spat more on him and Alder than consumed it. Kiao told them to stop and try again later. He felt he couldn’t do anything right, so he fled when his shift was up.

He thought about going to the chapel. It was still a sanctuary to him. It was the nice kind of quiet and not the emptiness and loneliness of the dark corridors of the near unoccupied priest’s wing. However, he didn’t want Brother Hickory to think there was something terribly wrong with him. He decided it was best if he just went to his room and hid.

Mien walked into his small yet cozy room and shut the door. He looked around for something to occupy his mind. There were the books in the small shelf on the floor he could study. Then there was the letter he received yesterday from his sister that sat on his desk. He snatched that up and flopped down on his bed. He pressed the letter a few times and was impressed by the thickness of it. She always rambled on forever if something good happened to her. It was the short letters that made him worry.

Of all his family, it was his sister he missed the most. They were quiet the pair when they were younger. Mien was well-behaved if she wasn’t around and she was always around then. So they always got into trouble.  One of their more memorable incidences was the day they tricked the kitchen staff to get more cookies. They were both young enough at the time that it was hard to tell a difference when dressed in the same clothing.

It was a convoluted plan that took a lot of observation, but it worked. They got a cookie from one cook, distracted that one for the other to come in and ask another cook for a cookie they never received for their treat. They did that twice. They got four cookies each and an extra one for the two of them being so helpful that day.  They would’ve gotten away with it if not for their mother getting cookies for a guest and wondering why so many were missing.

She went straight to them and found two Mienervas in their nursery eating their stolen goods. She of course took them in front of their father to be punished. All Mien could remember was his father being unable to breath. The man started laughing when their mother pushed them into the room and only paused to hear an explanation before being immobilized by amusement.  Their father thought it was too funny to punish them, though their mother did tell the staff that his sister had a birthmark on the back of her neck and he didn’t. That didn’t work long because Mienerva figured out how to paint one on Mien.

He missed that. He missed having someone who knew what he was thinking. That person he could cuddle up to and talk about anything with. He would do anything to have her there to clear his head because the image of Kiao with breasts was burned into his mind.

They were just there staring at him. And then he wondered,

Was I gawking at her or them? He couldn’t remember looking at her face. He didn’t want to be that tod who stared at girl’s body parts.  Then again, he probably wasn’t looking at her face because of how embarrassed he was which was more embarrassing, but expected on his part.

Maybe she took it that way? She probably did, Kiao smart, he decided and pulled the deal of the letter apart and tried to read it. However, he read the same paragraph of the letter repeatedly. He dropped the letter on his chest and stared at the ceiling.

Brother Hickory told him that he shouldn’t let things get to him. He didn’t as much as before, but things still liked to niggle in the back of his mind. Either he could let go of what he couldn’t control or he could work them out. This felt like something he needed to work out.

Mien as he ran his hands through his short hair. Okay think of this logically. Why do I feel this way? What’s wrong with Kiao being a young woman? Kiao is a brother of this order, a priest, and an intelligent individual who just happens to a girl. Nothing, other than myself who’s a stupid idiotic dod who couldn’t say anything decent, he thought and smashed his palms into his eyes moaning.

His picked up the letter again. As Soletus told him, he needed to stop thinking so much. He could read he just had to focus on it. However, his mind still wondered about how he could’ve handled that situation better and how Kiao was a girl. He finally gave up and closed his eyes. It was best to sleep away his awkwardness.

He let his mind drift on memories of his father while trying to keep Kiao out of his mind. He fell asleep and slept passed the dinner horn and would’ve continued napping if not for the door to his room opening.

He heard soft food steps coming to the side of his bed. In his drowsy and fogged state, he thought it was Soletus. However, the person didn’t wake him as the young monk would. After Soletus shock him awake too quickly and caused Mien to fly in a panic, he would always squeeze his shoulder. This person patted his back.

“Wake up, we need to talk.”

Mien came to and saw Kiao leaning over his bed. He woke up very quickly and scrambled to a sitting position. His mind racing through the thoughts of the trouble he could get in with her there. Then again, those who did know she was a female couldn’t protest too much because they didn’t want anyone to know. However, didn’t they tell her not to go in other boy’s room? Weren’t there rules in place for her on what she could and couldn’t do? Kiao never come inside his room before. Either she stood in the doorway or they spoke someplace else. Why his room now?

“I didn’t see you at dinner,” she told him, lifting up a napkin wrapped around something and placed it in his lap. “I was going to speak to you then. You also know my stance on skipping meals. Don’t do it again.”

Mien took the cloth napkin and unwrapped it three stuffed bean buns.

Kiao settled on the floor between his desk and bed. “Now to get on to business about what needs to be said.”

Mien started on one of his buns and said between bites. “There isn’t anything we need to discuss.”

Kiao gave him a quirk of her brow. “Really?  If my friend for four years suddenly revealed themselves to be different from what I believed I would be a little hurt.”

He didn’t feel that hurt.

“Seeing as you are you, you’re more confused on how you should feel about this.”

“That,” admitted Mien.

“Well I’m not here to tell you what to think. Think what you must. Feel what you must. I just want you to realize I’m still Kiao.”

Mien wished he could pick up things in her voice. It never really bothered him before however then, it because it was hard to tell what Kiao was thinking facially. She had an indeterminate face of kind composure. When they first met, she was a bit stoic and didn’t waste time with emotions. He didn’t think she liked him after the phrase of silence incident. That wasn’t the case. She held up a slight wall there that she lowered after they got to know each other.  He figured then she lowered another one by coming to him that evening.

“Ask questions if you want,” she told him. “I know you have some.”

“Is Kiao your real name,” he asked. He didn’t think it was. The name was rather unique sounding.

“No. My name is a disgusting flowery princess name. And no, I’m not sharing it.”

“Why are you here and not the Sisterhood?”

“I was in the Sisterhood,” she said. “The priests who come for me were priestess. I spent my first few years of my chanter life in a frozen mountainous wasteland where all the women treated me like I was deficient.”

“Why?”

She gestured to herself. “I’m not exactly the perfect vestige of femininity.”

Mien tilted his head, he didn’t know why that would even bother them.

“I’m a bit unusual internally and maybe a bit externally. I’m a bit taller than normal girls who have their cycle with the seasons. I don’t do that. I’m lucky, if it comes once a year.”

Mien felt discomfort in the pit of his stomach. He stared at his food. He didn’t know a lot about the female body, but he knew that was usual.  Fertility issues in elves weren’t a rare thing and they went both ways sometimes. He couldn’t understand why the Sisterhood would be bothered by something like that.

“You’re confused again,” said Kiao.

“I don’t see why that would bother them,” he told her.

“In the Sisterhood, they celebrated all that is feminine,” she said with sarcasm thick in her voice. “Doesn’t matter if you’re girl, mother, or neth, you are appreciated, but a noble’s daughter with fertility issues, well let’s look down on her.”

“Why would they do that?”

“They single me out because in their eyes, I was an undeserving of being a chanter because I was spoiled noble’s daughter. It was their job to make me feel inferior,” she said with audible bitterness. “When I thought I became woman enough for them, my cycle made me ill. The pain was bad, the nausea was severe from the vertigo, and the fatigue was crippling on top of having a fever. And it’s like that every time. From what I gathered, my body hates being female.”

“Really?”

“Is it’s just a condition I suppose. Nothing you can do about it. I was told I should avoid having children. That of course got passed around to the wrong young women and they made me think I was an abomination. The older women tried to help. Said sometimes when you’re young it’s erratic so they tried to help it along with herb concoctions and whatever old nonsense they could find. I refused to ingest any more of their rubbish after they made me eat a ewe womb.”

Mien looked at the bun he had been nibbling. It became a bit unappetizing.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I just haven’t had anyone to talk to about all of this.”

Mien wished he had enough sense to end the conversation there.  Instead, he furthered it.

“Sounds horrible. All of it, I mean, you can’t control what you are, right? You’re smart and strong. ”

Kiao’s lips lifted up. “You know, I wanted to tell you when I became your senior the truth, but Oli told me not too. I told him it was a mistake. That a he was being too cautious,” she said and rose to her knees so she could lean on his bed. “I thought having a person like you knowing would make it a bit easier for me. It’s been Alder, Oli, or Hickory and sometimes Nimbus helping me. Do you see an issue there?”

Mien shook his head.

“There all not very intuitive. Oli is old, Nimbus gets all squirmy about everything, Alder is a dod, and Hickory while he’s insightful just doesn’t get a few things because he’s neth.”

“And you believe I’m intuitive?”

“Of course you are. You’re sensitive to the world around you as well as others. Grant it, you just don’t know what to do with the knowledge sometimes.”

Mien looked down. “Ah yes, being sensitive, the most manliest of traits.”

Kiao frowned. “I can’t say I find it a feministic trait given nearly the entire order of woman weren’t very sympathetic.”

Mien got uncomfortable with the look she gave him. He felt she was about to give him a speech and quickly asked, “How did you go from there to here?”

“Brother Hickory.  The Brotherhood does visits the Sisterhood. Every-so-often and they happen to come when I was there. Hickory was one of them. When I first saw him, I didn’t know what to this because he wasn’t wearing a robe, just the travel cowl, and a combat chanter uniform. The sisterhood doesn’t have combat chanters. I wanted to know what that was but also, I was drawn to him because he was different too. No one believed he was neth because, only females can be neth occurring to the Sister. I mean we are the superior sex and all. We’ve supreme control over our desires and men are animals.”

Mien tipped his head to once side again feeling disturbed. That wasn’t all what Dias taught. “Is that what they teach?”

“The Brotherhood and Sisterhood might as well be two different sects of Fenndishism. The Sisterhood’s superiority made the Brotherhood more than a little uncomfortable especially with all the hostility they were giving Hickory. Unicorns don’t exist, you know. But like the stories about girls running after unicorns, I was compelled to follow him. I disguised myself as a boy and snuck their luggage cart.”

“And he didn’t know you were there?”

“Well, they found out once they settled down to camp for the night. They didn’t want to turn around and bring me back. I made up a great story about being an orphan and being a chanter made them hesitant.  Problem was I ate like a noble and was too proper for a street rascal and Hickory being from a minor house as well noticed. He also figured out I was a girl too but didn’t tell anyone. He was more concerned about the fact I had come into my edict phrase and not wanting to be a chanter, I never told the sisters. So I was pretty crazed at that point with the yearning to heal people. So he took me with him.”

“Do your parents know you’re here?”

“Of course! Brother Hickory wrote them and brought them here and ask if it would be all right if I stayed here. I choose here because all they were going to do was take me home and really, I’ve no future with them being a chanter and all,” she said, looking wistful. “I wanted to go home, but Hickory said I needed training. He had all intentions of having me around as a ward, but then Brother Oli heard about my healing ability. He talked Hickory into me joining the Brotherhood as a boy.”

“Aren’t you afraid of being kicked out if the Arch Priest finds out?”

Kiao gave him a sly grin. “No, there are no rules in that Brotherhood that state to be a chanter priest must be 100% male to enter the Brotherhood. Neither Brother Hickory nor Brother Oli wanted to take any chances. It’s not as if I’m uncomfortable. Everyone here is nice to each other and most of my friends were boys  so it wasn’t like you were foreign being to me.”

Mien then looked her over and asked, “How have you not been caught? How do you bath? The baths are public!”

Kiao smiled widened. “You get so excitable. I use the infirmary’s water closet. Plus you saw my body shape. You can find more curves on a workbench.”

“And no one’s grabbed you by accident from horsing around.”

“If you’ve not noticed the priests are a dull bunch and I didn’t start hanging out with non-priests until I met you.”

“And no one read it off your voice!”

“Can you,” she asked.

“No and I don’t know why! I’ve never being able to sense anything from you.”

Kiao tapped her finger on her chin in thought. “Given how timbre sensitive you are, you should. I was afraid you did earlier on. Something for you to look into because that’s a bit odd.”

Mien then had an uncomfortable thought that appeared in his mind of something she did the other day. He grimaced at it and Kiao saw it.

“What is it? I told you, ask me anything.”

“The other day you were flirting with that girl who was hurt and wouldn’t calm down…”

Kiao’s face ripened as she became horrified.

“No, no, no, I was just asking or saying that you’re really good actor,” said Mien trying to recover.

She recovered a little. “I just do that stuff to blend in. It’s easy. I’m a girl. I know what they want to hear.  I should probably stop that if you notice I’m doing it. That’ll make it more difficult when my period of celibacy is over. I’ve not thought that far ahead and I don’t want to be part of their pool of prey.”

Mien felt bad about that statement. He tried one a little less mortifying for her.

“So when did Alder find out?”

“Actually, Brother Oli told him out right. Alder wasn’t going to say anything. I mean, he’s an orphan. He grew up in the Brotherhood and above and below it makes him infuriating. He’s about a priestly as a priest can get at times caring about my soul all the time.”

“What?”

“I’m technically a priestess, so that means I should be careful about my chastity because I’m surrounded by enticing young men. His words by the way and he made himself my protector.”

Mien couldn’t say that Kiao acted as if she needed protecting.

“It was a lot worse when I first arrived. He lightened up a lot until I started talking to Lyndon.”

“Why would he get upset by that?”

“Because Lyndon found out.”

Lyndon never even hinted that Kiao was a girl. He always come to her for his prank ideas. And Alder would always give Soletus’s cousin dirty looks when he appeared in the infirmary.

“He found out during an embarrassing incident when he pulled a prank on some other boys,” she explained with her ears flaring up red again. “We agreed that we saw nothing. However, he made it a point to talk to me because he knows how dull Alder is. That got Alder thinking he likes me. It didn’t help that Lyndon called me pretty to flatter me into doing something I really shouldn’t have agreed to. And that’s been a pain having to deal with the last few weeks. I don’t know what he would think if he knew that I liked Soletus because of his voice. It’s strong and husky.”

Mien had to admit, Soletus did have a nice sounding voice. One he wouldn’t mind having. His voice was distinctive sounding in all the wrong ways. His sister claimed he sounded like a breath of wind. Mien took that as he spoke too soft and sound like he was trying to breath on everyone.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ve been dumped all of this on you. I actually just come here and to tell you not to be awkward around me.”

“I don’t mind,” said Mien. “It nice to be something other than the helpless one that needs preaching to and help all the time.”

Kiao lips quirked up. “Helpless, pffff, don’t think I didn’t notice you disarming that man today. The First Warden trained you right up. Thank you for that.”

That acknowledgement pleased him. Months of training had finally paid off.

“You’re welcome. I guess the next time we’ve another blighter crazed idiot, we should search them.”

“I remember there was a time when you couldn’t even take a compliment without getting all bashful.”

Mien’s face still felt warm and he did find is easier to examine the bun he hadn’t devoured than to keep eye contact with her.

Kiao stood to her feet. “What are you doing tomorrow? Any training with Nimbus and Oeric?”

“A little, but I should be free by the afternoon, why?”

She gave him an enigmatic smile. “Come by the infirmary tomorrow when you get away from them. I want to show you something.”

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