The large log building that served the entire Brotherhood was where Kiao decided to reveal herself. Everyone would be there and that made her more nervous. However, there was no turning back. Her friends were already at her side and the only think she could do was swallow her trepidation and stepped into the warm loud room. She strolled down the aisle at the far side of the room and stood in line as she had days earlier. All the tables around here grew silent. Also someone whistled getting the attention of the young men who stood in front of her turned around and gaped at her.
“What,” she asked.
The young man’s brow pull together as if he was about to say something and then his face went ashen.
“Move along,” said Soletus from behind her in a low threatening voice she felt in the center of her chest.
She shoved her elbow behind her and hit muscle. “Don’t overdo it.”
The young man nudged then the tod standing in front of him and whispered to them. There was a lot of that around them. She ignored the low voiced and focused on getting to the front of the line. Once there she snatched up tray, took her bowl of porridge from one of the servers. As another one handed her a slice of bread, he asked her,
“Brother Kiao. Why are you wearing a dress?”
“Oh this, I thought it would look nice and that’s Sister Kiao to you. Also, can I get an extra slice?”
He handed it to her gawking at her as if he didn’t know what to think. She walked away with her breakfast and she and her friends were going to sit at their usual table when she heard a high whistle to her left that wasn’t a catcall. She and her friends all turned to see Brother Nimbus throwing his head back and clapping his hands while First Warden Oeric curling his index finger at her.
She and the other walked over to them.
“This is the first warden table,” she told grave faced man.
Oeric pointed at the table for them all to sit. They all did with Soletus and Mien flanking her.
“I see you decided to forgo subtly,” said Soletus’s father.
Nimbus pulled in a breath sounding like a gagging donkey. Oeric kicked his leg. The battle chanter sat up gaining control over himself again. He didn’t bother with seriousness, and chose to beam at her.
“I like it. This is wonderful and unforgettable.”
“It is that,” said Oeric trying to hide the lift in the corner of his lips behind the mug he had.
Kiao glanced around her and found that she had many eyes on her. The ones that burned on her back were coming from the priest table from across the hall.
“Well, you got their attention,” said Lyndon. “Good.”
Oeric sat his eyes on him. “So, are you the brainchild of this operation?”
Lyndon pointed to himself. “Me, I’m appalled that you would think that, Uncle Oeric.”
His uncle gave him a critical stare.
“You act as if I mastermind every bit of mischief that goes on here.”
Oeric remained unconvinced.
“You have to admit, it is funny,” said Lyndon.
The man sighed and then his attention fixed over Kiao’s head. Nimbus’s face soured as well.
“Get ready for a storm, Lass,” he warned.
She heard a throat clear behind her and tilted her head up to see Honored Priest Meric glowering down at her. She wasn’t surprised to see him. He was a member of the priest assembly. She smiled at him.
“What is the meaning of this,” he demanded.
“Meaning of what,” she said.
“Why are you insulting this order by wearing a dress,” he said between his teeth.
Kiao stopped a nervous giggle from exiting her throat from his obliviousness. “Oh you’ve gotten this all wrong. I thought I would dress more appropriately.”
His face became inflamed with indignation. “Do you think this joke is funny?”
“If this were a joke, I would’ve gone out and found bigger apples.”
Nimbus stared choking on air again.
Meric glared at her clearly not getting it.
“I don’t know if I should be insulted that my feminine features are so minimalistic that you can’t tell or worried that you’ve forgot how a woman looks.”
The honored priest worked his jaw becoming dismayed.
“How about this, I finish my breakfast while you go running off and mouth off at the Arch Priest.”
Kiao settled back down and barely lifted the spoon to her mouth before she felt her arm nearly yanked out of her socket as Merrick yanked her up.
“Wretch, you’re coming with me!”
He only managed to drag her up. She leaned back using her weight to keep him from pulling her even move.
“Get you’re paws off me,” she growled snatching her arm from him. She stumbled back and she felt Mien hold her protectively while Soletus planted himself between her and Meric.
Nimbus and Lyndon stood to their feet with Oeric the only one remaining seated. The man took a sip of his drink and said, “I’m handling this.”
“By what right?”
“Because I can,” he said giving the man a frosted look.
“Someone who’s a waste of space has no right to be an authority for the priest,” spat Meric trying to reach for Kiao. Soletus clasped his hand around Meric’s arm stopping him.
“Tell your delinquent spawn to unhand me,” demanded the Honored Priest.
Oeric remained nonchalant and told him. “I will, if you promise to do something more constructive with you time such as mouthing off to the Arch Priest. While you’re at it, get the Patriarch, and Arch Monk. We need a big audience.”
“Fine and afterwards, I’ll drag with wench off the ground myself,” said the Honored Priest. Soletus let go of him and they all watched him storm off. The entire mess hall had fallen silent.
“Nothing to see here,” shouted Nimbus. When he saw everyone put their heads down eating, he grumbled, “Stupid son of a skane.”
Mien helped Kiao back to her seat.
“Did he hurt you,” he asked watching Meric’s retreat intently.
Kiao massaged her shoulder. “Not that much. I’ll live.”
Mien stood up.
“Sit down,” ordered Oeric. Mien lowered himself back to his seat. “And this goes for the rest of you lads. Don’t start or finish anything,” he said meeting his eyes with his son. “If it some stupid dod like Meric does something with a bunch of witnesses, be smart about it. Fight with reasoning first, brawns is always the last resort.”
They all nodded.
The rest of Kiao’s breakfast was uneventful. Just an endless supply of eyeballs on her focused in her direction.
When she and her friends returned to the infirmary, they were told by Lionel that she was to go to the chamber to speak to the Heads. She thought she would be speaking to the Arch Priest alone. Then again, the Patriarch wanted to help her, but she never imagined that the Arch Monk would bother getting get involved. She knew Oeric had told Meric to do so but didn’t expect him to do it. She entered the large room and saw them sitting in their perspective chairs.
The Arch Priest in his high backed chair with his eyes closed listening to the chorus of the world for guidance if Kiao had to guess. The Patriarch was in the middle. He was leaning on his armrest occupied by his fingernails. When she entered, he straightened up, and lifted his spectacles up. A very infectious and approving smile formed on his face. The Arch Monk didn’t even look at her. He was fixed on his son and grandson wearing a frown.
Brother Oli was already there with Brother Hickory keeping him supported. The honored and elder priest that made up the assembly was across the room glaring at Kiao with distain. Her stomach lurched. There were a lot more people than anticipated. She swallowed a few times to keep her breakfast down and every the priestess, she stood poised.
The Patriarch cleared his throat and spoke. “Now that’s everyone is gathered, we need to sort everything out. Brother Lorthan.”
The Arch Priest eyes were still closed.
“Brother?” The Patriarch waited for a long second before looking forward again. “I’ll lead the questioning then.” However, right as he started speaking, Brother Merrick stepped forward already on the offensive.
“Now you’ve seen the truth for yourself that we have had a deceitful wench in our order.”
Kiao bowed to the Patriarch. “Lord Kharis, he is right, I’ve dressed as a male so I could join the order.”
“And to make fools of us and mock this order no doubt,” stated another priest.
The Patriarch then asked. “Did you join this to mock this order?”
“No, I did so because Brother Oli asked me,” she said.
The elder took his place beside her and said with his feeble voice resonating.
“I asked her because the infirmary was understaffed. I went to the assembly for assistance and was met with apathy. All they offered were volunteers who did more harm than good or stopped showing up. I prayed to Dias for help and a week later, Brother Hickory came to me claiming to have picked up a child. He brought me to chapel to see Kiao. I knew that Dias answered my prayers but, she was a girl.”
Brother Hickory then added. “Our intention wasn’t to have her deceive anyone. The idea was to speak to the assembly about allowing a single priestess into the order for the infirmary and our suggestion was met by pure opposition at even the thought. Their reasoning was that a priestess couldn’t deal with the gruesome injuries that sometimes come. And so Oliver and I took matters in our own hands to prove them wrong.”
The Patriarch scratched his chin. “Interesting, and where did you find her, Brother Hickory.
“Me and several other priests were leaving from our visit to the Sisterhood and in search for food in our cart, I found Kiao. She told me that she was an orphan boy that escaped from being locked in a cellar by his guardians. I she was lying but was clearly mistreated. She was thin and crazed from being in the middle of learning her edict phrase. We couldn’t under good conscious take her back so we let her stay.”
“And did all of you know she was a girl?”
“I figured it out, the same evening I found her. Brother Nimbus found out later on the trip but bother of us choose not to tell anyone or her for that matter. She didn’t trust us more than she needed too and I didn’t want her to run away. It wasn’t until I got her settled in the chapel did I confront her about it. Then I was told a very disturbing story to find the Sisterhood took issue with her because of her parents. I wasn’t about to send a child back into that kind of environment. I thought it was better if her parents took her. They come here originally to claim her, but…”
Brother Hickory looked at Kiao.
“I was told to say here by Dias,” said Kiao. “Edicts end with a chanter being told something important and my guide told me I needed to stay here. So I stayed with really the intention of being Brother Hickory’s ward as a girl but….”
Meric’s voice rose again. “Instead this unworthy creature from the Sisterhood.”
Kiao swung her head to the outspoken priest. “The last I checked, Dias doesn’t choose a chanter based on our terms of who is and isn’t worthy.”
“Meric,” said Patriarch sharply. “Please stay quiet so we don’t waste time. I don’t intend to sit here all day. Allowing them to share their reasons wasn’t done by me to prove her unworthy and remove her from this order.”
Another priest then raised his hands. Kiao knew him as Brother Elnos, one of the useless chanters who practices shutting oneself in their room. It didn’t help He looked it because he was a spindly fellow and paler than the moon.
“May I speak, Lord Patriarch,” he asked.
The Patriarch tapped his arm rest impatiently. “A quick statement,”
“We can’t have priestess or priest here willing to deceive anyone no matter the reason,” he said a priest. “How are we to trust her word when Dias demands honesty from those who serve?”
“That is an interesting question and one you can mull over as well as this thought. This situation could’ve been solved by simply by listening to Brother Oliver’s and Hickory’s request. I see nothing wrong with it especially with an unwilling lot.”
Kiao watch the priest assembly become bewildered by his reasoning. Brother Meric of course was offended.
“You’re blaming her presence in the order on us,” he exclaimed.
It was then Arch Priest opened his eyes. They were a shimmering bright blue brimming with magic. “No need to be so offended by her presence, brothers. I knew she was here.”
There wasn’t a person in the room that wasn’t shocked by that statement.
“Sometimes with certain individuals, I see glimpses of the future walking in the waking world,” he told them. “The day she was brought to speak to me as a boy, I saw a young woman sitting before me in a dressed as she is right now.”
Kiao believed that they managed to fool the old elf this entire time. They weren’t sure if they could. He was the real test and the elder never said anything or treated her any differently.
“So you purposely let this, devious little vixen stay here,” exclaimed Merrick.
Kiao heard someone growl behind her over the Patriarch’s rising voice.
“You call this young priestess one more inappropriate name and I will have you tossed out of here by your ears,” he told him.
“Oh come on, let’s not pretend that you believe that she hasn’t been romping off with one of the lads that she calls friends with.”
“I thought you were senseless crass dod in the mess hall today,” shouted someone from behind Kiao. She recognized the voice, but not the volume or angered tone. She turned her entire body around to see Mien berating the man. “Now you’ve shown yourself to be nothing more than a prickless bastard grasping for every petty reason you can,”
“Mien,” she hissed and then she noticed his eyes where molten gold.
“What right do you think you have to speak to me that way, boy,” said Meric.
“Oh shut up,” said Mien. “You are nothing more than a foolish man trying to grasp for power by putting yourself in the middle of everything. No one has ears for someone who speaks nothing but vitriol dripping in their voice.”
“Now he’s speaking crazy nonsense,” pled Meric to the Arch Priest. “She was supposed to be his senior and curb this behavior. And give how much offense his taken to me suggesting she’s been acting against the rules, we can assume they have.”
Kiao managed to wrap her arms around Mien’s torso right as he threw himself toward the priest.
“Stop! He trying to make you upset,” she said.
He stopped struggling but he remained taunt. Kiao didn’t know how much longer she could hold him back when he reacted that way. Every time she grabbed him, she always felt muscle on him.
The Patriarch looked towards the guards. “Would you please remove the Honored Priest?”
Meric then kept going. “Mark my words, allowing her here will end in ruin!”
Kiao felt Mien bristle again and she hissed in his ears. “Don’t, let him alone.”
Once he was gone, Mien immediately relaxed.
Brother Elnos then raised his hand. “Arch Priest, Brother Meric raised a good point. That elicited a strong reaction from the boy that I feel that needs to examined, but not in the way he suggested. The boy reacted to his words.”
“Mien reacts to harsh tones,” said Kiao lowering her arm. “Though he’s never reacted like that. I know why and I need to discuss that too.”
The Arch Priest grimly studied both Mien and then Kiao. “Indeed, as we just witnessed interesting development. It seems that our young acolyte’s timbre sensitivity is strong enough that he’s formed a timbre bond with our young female cantor.”
The Patriarch met Kiao eyes surprised. “When did this happen?”
“A few months ago,” answered Kiao.
“How did it happen?
“When I was attacked by a drass beast, I was too worn to heal alone and I asked Mien to dual heal with me. That triggered the bond.”
“How long has he known you were female?”
“A few weeks prior to that.”
The assembly to the side started muttering to themselves.
“This is one of the reasons why I felt it was best to tell the truth,” said Kiao.
Brother Hickory then spoke. “It’s my fault. It didn’t even occur to me that this would happen.”
“Exactly,” said Kiao. “I guided him healing others plenty of times and it triggered nothing.”
“There is a time for everything,” said Arch Priest. “He didn’t know the truth then. Once it was revealed, he saw you for what you are.”
“That makes no sense. Chanters respond to voice. My voice isn’t different from before.”
The Arch Priest started chuckling. “My dear, it’s simpler than that. It was a simple change in perspective. He saw something pretty and he liked it.”
Kiao glanced at Mien. He was blushing.
“I was told the bond can be spiritual.”
“They can be. That sort of timbre bond is more subtle. Romantic ones, they come on quickly and normally if the timbre sensitive chanter is older.”
Then one of the priests spoke. “This isn’t the natural way of things.”
Arch Priest then stated with patients, “Among chanters, it is. You don’t see here as the Brother and Sisterhood thought it best if we keep our male and female chanters separated. Mostly because of the Seat thinking we’re breeding a chanter army because two chanters are guaranteed to have children who are chanters, isn’t that right Brother Oliver.”
The elder nodded.
Kiao smiled sadly. “Well, I don’t think people have much to fear from Mien and I if we do get married, I can’t have children.”
The Arch Priest chuckled. “I wouldn’t put too much stock into what you’ve led to believe.”
Kiao swayed her head. “No, I’m very certain that’s impossible.”
“Have a little faith child. You will be a mother because recently, I’ve seen faint images of little one following you down the halls. I assumed it to be yours as they were calling after you as a child would their mother.”
Kiao found herself involuntarily turning her head to beside her. She wondered if her face became as ashen as Mien did.
“Now I didn’t tell you two that to throw you both into shock.” Mien didn’t look as if he was in shock as much as he was about to be sick. “This confuses me on why this happed with such a young tod. However, I suppose it’s Dias’s will so and I feel its Dias’s will that the girl remain.”
A jolt of surprise went through the Patriarch. “What?”
“Kharis, do you have anything against her being here?”
“Well, no. I think it’s wonderful. I’m surprise that you just come to your decision so quickly,” he said.
“Ah, so that much you didn’t plan for,” said the Arch Priest giving the man a long knowing look. “Don’t deny it. You’ve grown wiser but not subtler.”
The Patriarch’s cheeks got a little pink in them. “Ah I’m transparent as always.”
The Arch Monk cleared his throat and said, “I’m certainly not happy with this development or the fact there was a very extensive cover up.”
Kiao then spoke. “I’m sorry Arch Monk, I didn’t want half of these people to know, and they all found out in their own way.”
“And we can sort it out later,” said the Patriarch. “Do you wish for her to be here or not?”
“As I said, I’m not happy about it. This is going to cause a mess. I’ll have a bunch youngsters acting stupid and a bunch of Masters who will feel that they should’ve had say in this.”
The Arch Priest sunk back in his chair with his eye closed. “Dias has guided her here and so she stays here. End of discussion. She will also be keeping her post and she shall remain a canter. Both were earned in Dias’s eyes.”
Brother Elnos then stated. “She needs a chaperon not to mention their bond monitored.”
“I’m not some child. I’m an adult,” snapped Kiao.
“You’re at age. It means very little other than your ate marrying age. He however is not. And he clearly has no control over this bond or acceptable control over his timbre sensitivity. He could be a danger to himself and perhaps to even her.”
“How is he a danger to himself,” said Kiao.
“The boy’s empathic,” said the priest. “In fact, probably a great deal more than you realize. Just observing him for the time I had, I suspect that his actions against his kin were cause by that fact. I suggest a fastener should be placed on him.”
“I’m not allowing a fastener to put on him. Those are only reserved for out control chanters, he’s not out of control,” stated Brother Hickory.
“One should be applied at least for the bond. He’s too young and neither of them have proven themselves to Dias for them to have a relationship.”
Kiao pursed her lips. He had made an excellent point.
The Arch Priest spoke still looking like he was resting. “Fasteners are never to be used for that reason. The boy also has other duties he performs and we cannot hinder than.”
“But we can’t have them together!”
“Well the fact they are bonded pretty much a sign that Dias’s finds that they are committed to serve him. However, they can’t get married because of the obvious and neither do you have to worry about them trying to hurry. Young Mientheodric has a burden on his shoulder. Something he can’t let go. And the time will come that he can, but not now.”
Brother Elnos’s shoulders sagged. “At least consider doing something about these outbursts.”
The Arch Priest opened his eyes again and became annoyed. “These excuses are trying. Admit it his demonstrating his intuition about people scares you a little. Perhaps I’ve given the assembly enough time to come to terms over their failures and you start improving yourselves and not worry about what a single chanter can tell about you from hearing you speak.”
“I beg of you to at least give him to train with another priest. I mean, Brother Hickory is wonderful in all things he does but, his being neth caused him to make a mistake. It’s always been his short-coming.”
Kiao heard the older priest let out a long-suffering sigh. Brother Hickory then said to him. “These two young folks would’ve end up together anyway. Their timbres resonate too closely together.”
“I’m ending this discussion here,” said the Arch Priest firmly. “There will be no fasteners applied to this acolyte. We timbre sensitive chanter learn better when we aren’t inhibited. As for their bond, I do want it monitored. Perhaps their quarters proximity needs increased. Sister Kiao will not be given an escort unless needed. And if anyone of you harasses her, then you might find yourselves joining Meric if he keeps his foolishness up.”
“We should have the right to have some say,” argued Elnos. “All of the assembly would agrees with me.”
There were voiced of agreement.
The Arch Priest frowned. “I’ve told you what going to happen. If you have something reasonable and no excuses, see me in my chambers later today. Now, I need to go back there and finish communing with future. I thought I saw something interesting and I need to paint it out.”
They were shut off and unhappy. The assembly filed out first all giving her long looks.
“Great, I’ve enemies everywhere,” she muttered.
Before she could step out, the Patriarch called her singing out her name.
“Oh, Sister Kiao, stay right there,” said the Patriarch wearing a broad smile. “That went over easier than I thought.”
“I didn’t anticipate the Arch Priest would be fine with it either,” she said.
“All the opposition as contained with the assembly. I fear they won’t let Lorthan get away with what he did so easily. That being said, if you ever need anything. I mean anything, come to me first.”
“I mean that. If you need a sanctuary, please, feel free to come to my home.”
Kiao nodded her head taking his words to heart.
“Good, now run along. I think you’ve an infirmary to go back too.”
Kiao nodded and exited the speaking chamber and was immediately grabbed, hugged, slapped on back, and cheered for.
“Oh stop it,” she told them trying to wave them off however, her two favorite cousins both had one arm over her shoulder.
Oli was the last one who came in and kissed her on the head.
“That went well,” he said. “We need to celebrate later of course. Right now, I’m sure there is work to be done. I left Lionel alone with a patient trusting he isn’t too in over his head.”
Kiao looked around for Mien. She didn’t see his copper head anywhere. “Where is Mien?”
“He ducked out with Brother Hickory,” said Soletus. “He said he needed time alone.”
Kiao nodded. She would talk to him later. She had work to get back too