A month was all the time Kiao had to figure out how to bolster her position. Problem was she had no idea on how to do that other than to stand tall and tell her side of things. That would keep it simple, however she didn’t want to tell because she had so much to lose.
She thought it was silly that Soletus was scared, but now she faced nearly the same thing and it terrified her. She still had her family to return too. However, over the years, the monastery managed to become her home even though she missed Summerset. She didn’t want to leave it. She had everything she needed. Mostly, the young woman didn’t want everyone to change their opinion of her.
Instead of running to the society house, she sought Brother Hickory. She didn’t know if he was busy or not. And that day, he was at the dais with a small group up front listening as he taught.
She wanted too as well but nausea descended her with a full assault. She stumbled over to the nearest seat, let her legs crumple, and took in deep breaths to chase the sensation away. It took a very long moment for it to abate. When Kiao was able to rise to her feet again, she made a beeline for the back, glancing at Brother Hickory who had caught sight of her and continued teaching. Instead of going to his living quarters and finding a seat at the table, she went to the small room.
She lived there when she first arrived like Mien. And both still had a habit returning to it because of its comforting security to it. It was warm and welcoming. The cot there was an excellent place to lay off her dizziness.
Kiao pushed open the window to let in some fresh air and lay down on her back. The sensation of the room spinning abated as the light breeze coming through the window cooled her clammy skin. It lolled her back to sleep for another nap. It was about an hour, when she felt weight on her bed followed by a hand pushing her hair out of her face. She cracked her eyes to see Brother Hickory’s perturbed aged face looking down at her. He wore that expression when he found her.
“Why are you here,” he asked.
“Just because I’ve flown the nest doesn’t mean I have no need for you,” she retorted.
“I suppose something came out of the hearing with the Patriarch that wasn’t good,” he said.
“Oh no, that went as good as it could get, though that woman still hates me. It what happened afterwards, the Patriarch found out the truth. He knows am female.”
Hickory’s forehead became wrinkled in surprise.
Kiao struggled to a sitting position and said, “It wasn’t my fault.”
“I wasn’t thinking that is was,” he told her.
“No, but you have that, ‘you’re such a bother, child,’ expression on your face.”
“Then stop providing me problems where there is no easy solution,” he said and frowned. “Why are you here? Has he not told anyone?”
“Because he wants me to have the advantage, bolster my reasons to be here, because he wants a priestess in the order.”
“Really,” said Hickory with genuine surprise.
“It’s surprising he wants that. Then again, Lord Kharis has started to get his footing as Patriarch. He is willing to intervene in matters now. Is that the only reason you’re here?”
Kiao then said to her hands. “Because the entire thought terrifies me.”
“Understandable,” he said giving her a kind look. “You’re dropping the mask and leaving it behind. It’s been your defense. Of course, it would scare you.”
“Everyone is going to hate me now,” she said pulling her legs to her chest. “I’m going to lose my rank. People are going to accuse me of being inappropriate because I slinked into this order for some thoughtless reason like boys. Heck, I’ll probably be kicked out.”
“Who among your friends will hate you,” he asked gently, using his reasoning voice. “They all know and support you. As for the Arch Priest, I don’t know. The priest’s assembly, yes they’ll be especially harsh towards you for lying. They’ll push that you to be removed for that fact alone. However, Mien will probably keep that from happening.”
Kiao grimaced. “You want to tell them that as well?”
“If you are going for honesty, you need to tell them. Besides, that’ll help you. They can’t separate the two of you or ignore a bonded pair. We’ve gotten one reason for you to be here.”
“I rather that not be the only reason, and won’t you and Brother Oli get in trouble as well. I mean they could take away your position.”
“They could remove me from the chapel, but who else is trained as a counselor other than me? And while Mien’s custody was given to the Brotherhood, I’m written down specifically. If you think about it, their own inactivity caused this situation. Oliver wanted more help in the infirmary, no one volunteered. He picked you as a willing individual. And that comes to the kink in this situation.”
“They won’t let me become the head of the infirmary.”
“The chances are slimmer now. However, it’s wasn’t going to happen until after you’ve been given the chance to prove yourself to Dias. Truth is with Olive’s age, I don’t think he’s going to be alive to see it done. They might keep you from doing so for a while. However, the bond throws another kink there so they can’t keep you two apart forever.”
Kiao wasn’t so much worried about the bond as she was Brother Oli’s age.
“The other day, he had me read some poetry to him after lunch, he fell asleep and didn’t wake until the next morning,” she said.
Brother Hickory grimaced at hearing that. “He’s sleeping that long now?”
Suddenly, he looked old and weary. She knew they were friends. They were the two oddities in the order and were two sides of the same coin. Brother Oli healed wounds soothed injuries and Brother Hickory healed minds and soothed hearts. They were good friends.
Kiao didn’t like the fact he grew quiet and paused far too long. “Hickory,” she said.
He’s eyes focused again. “Oh, yes well. He’s an old fellow, and we should enjoy the time we have with everyone we meet and connect to,” he said brightening up again and continued. “It’s not enough time to see it all done, but I’ll try. And with the Patriarch behinds us, I think he’ll want you with some meaningful duty.”
“But what if they kick me out. Yes, I can return home but, I don’t want to.”
“How about we discuss what you should do if everything goes wrong, when it happens. I’ve faith that won’t happen,” he told her. “You were a gift given to us. They only thing that’ll keep you from staying here is pride.”
Kiao nodded, but she knew the pride of men could make entire civilizations fall into ruin.
“Now, your face is mighty flushed. If I had to guess…”
Brother Hickory patted her back. “Makes sense why you would come here now. I think with everyone knowing, it’ll get you better treatment since you don’t have to hide it.”
Kiao hadn’t thought of that. “Maybe.” She then threw her legs over the edge of the bed. “I know it’s already getting onto midday, I need to get to the society house. I wanted to go there today.”
“Perhaps you should share the truth with Edithlyn,” suggested the Priest with a disarming smile.
Of course, might as well get this over with, she thought and left to the society house.
When she got there, the woman was already been seeing to patients. She joined in saying hello letting her finish with couple that she was assisting and then took over afterwards with the last two who were waiting. Kiao saw to them putting on as friendly of a smile that she could muster. However, she was growing more and more fatigued as well as nauseated.
When the last patient walked out, Kiao opened the window and stuck her head out into the fresh air. She didn’t realize she had a thin layer of sweat on her forehead until the wind brushed it. A hand rest on her down between her shoulder blades. The older woman patted her on the back.
“Are you feeling okay?”
“It’s nothing bad.”
Edithlyn took her by the shoulders. “Come, sit down.”
Kiao straightened up. “Why?”
“Sit,” she said pointing to the examining table.
Kiao gave her a confused look.
“Sit down,” she said a bit more firmly than before. Kiao walked over to the table and pulled herself on it as Edithlyn pulled the window closed followed by the door. It was clear the discussion was private.
The wisewoman placed the palm of her hand on her forehead. “How old are you?”
“I’m 32,” she answered.
The woman then started feeling the side of her neck. “How long have you worked in the infirmary?”
“Officially? Since I was twenty.”
“Amazing. Wisewomen won’t even take an apprentice who isn’t even twenty-two. But if you are capable then you are. I supposed they made you learn anatomy?”
Kiao nodded and wondered what the woman was going on about until she reached for her hand and held it up.
“I’m sure, at some point, compared your features to everyone else, and found them to be different.”
“I’m not following.”
“You’re hands are a lot like an androgynous elf.”
Kiao snatched her hand away. And then let out nervous fit of laughter and ran her hands through her hair.
“There’s no reason to be embarrassed by it.”
“You’re the only one I’ve met who connected this little trait of mine to that,” she said wiggling her fingers and then noticed her hand was trembling slightly. She clasped them together and leaned forward on her knees. “I suppose I have a bit of a gender anomaly, but you are incorrect.”
“That I male,” she said pausing a moment to watch the older woman’s face transformed into confusion. Kiao pushed on. “I won’t go into details but, internally, there are things that aren’t proper compared to other women. Brother Oli thinks it messes with my body’s make up a bit. Like my hands, voice, and height. I suppose it’s made me appear more masculine. Not to mention my seasons are sporadic”
Edithlyn held up her hand. “You’re female?”
Kiao smiled. “Yes. We kept it a secret so I could be in this order. Don’t worry; it isn’t going to remain much longer.”
The young woman didn’t know what to expect. She figured rejection. Perhaps even anger for lying. The older woman instead put her hands on her hips.
“You should’ve told me,” she exclaimed. “Save me from devising this talk.”
“Sorry, I didn’t want anyone here to know,” she said.
“Why? You think there’s something wrong with being a woman?”
“No,” she answered. “I’m not ashamed of being a woman. It’s just other women in the past made it a point to make me not feel as if I wasn’t one. I ended up running away from them.”
“The Dias Sisterhood.”
“I’ve worked with the Sisterhood in the past. In fact, I lived and trained in High Perch before I came down here for work. I know a lot of members there and they can be just as prideful as the Brotherhood, but still good people.”
Kiao’s heart sank when she heard that. She felt fear stir in the pit of her stomach. If Edithlyn was from the area, then she probably shared the same bias as they did. “That’s because your parents aren’t Tad and Hera’Meadowlark.”
The Wisewoman brow shot up. “As in the Meadowlark Dress Company?”
Kiao nodded. “Gown designs for the performers of the arts. I’m their youngest daughter. We serve everyone, performing chanters and even Queen Nethera. And if you know who they are, you know why the Sisterhood doesn’t like my family.”
“I remember the grumbling when I was there. They didn’t like the fact they supported chanters who choose to use their voices to perform. Though it was just grumbling then.”
“Half of them wanted me in the ranks to show my parents, the other were offended that Dias made me a chanter. They thought me to be too snobbish because I grew up as a minor noble. And when that didn’t really affect me, they moved onto something that hurt. They found out I had fertility issue and told everyone,” she said feeling her eyes started to water. She forced herself not to cry and continued even though she hated talking about it in detail, because it also made her angry. “They let the girls my age spread rumors that I had male parts or that I was actually a boy with girl parts. I didn’t look like a girl so they started calling me toddy-girl. I was a freak to them and there wasn’t a woman there that didn’t make me feel deficient on some level.”
The older woman let out a snort. “And here we give our daughters to a bunch of, excuse my language, high-headed skanes.”
Kiao was a bit surprised to hear her say that.
“It’s shameful that they missed out on having such a strong young woman because of her parents. You’re intelligent, observant, and not squeamish in the least, patient…well that needs to be worked on. There needs to be more priestesses in the world like you. It’ll be even more shameful if the Brotherhood didn’t as well. You need to march yourself over to the Patriarch and tell him.”
“Well he’s why I’m telling you. The Patriarch found out from a stupid letter,” she said and realized she was losing her battle to not cry. “I didn’t think they’ll bother remembering me, seeing as they didn’t like me or even want me back. But it certainly doesn’t stop them from trying to ruin me at every chance.”
Kiao ran the palm of her hand over her eyes in an attempt to free her face from tears. She wanted to hide them, but it was far too late for that.
Edithlyn responded by petting the top of her head and said, “I suppose Mae and Cordy know?”
“Of course, that explains why they come to me like two squealing school girls and told me you were packaged as a young man. I mean, their reaction to you should’ve been a sign what everyone else’s would be.”
There was a tap at the door. “Can I come in,” said Maelyra from the other side.
The wisewoman regarded Kiao. The young woman cleared her voice, “Come in.”
Maelyra stepped in bright eyed and then it fell. “What’s wrong,” she said rushing towards Kiao. “Why are you crying?”
She wiped the tears off her face with her smock sleeve. “It’s nothing.”
“It is very much well something,” stated Edithlyn. “Why didn’t you just straight up tell me, Mae.”
The woman pulled out a handkerchief and started cleaning Kiao’s face. “I promised not to.”
“You’re husband found out,” said Edithlyn.
Maelyra’s face grew red and regarded the young woman she was mothering. “Did Kharis bully you?”
“No,” assured Kiao. “He was beyond respectful, but, he told me I had about a month to prepare because I had to come out with the truth. He wants me to stay as a priestess and figure out a way to bolster my argument to stay.”
“Then we’ll help,” offered Maelyra. “I know we’ve very little sway in that stone fortress, but we know men who can. We’ll figure it all out. Right now, I need you to do me a little favor.”
“I just need you to ease my mind. Before this, Kharis and I had another little one. However, the pregnancy ended in a very late miscarriage and he’s been terrified at the thought of me having another child. I figured if I have this one watched more closely by a chanter, he’ll not be so anxious.”
Kiao completely forgot they wanted her to do that. She wondered if it was a good idea to inform them it was her sitting among them disguised the other day. If Cordea figured it out without a word, then she probably told her.
“Well, certainly, I can. But I don’t know what to look for if there is something wrong. How far along are you?”
“Oh, I’m getting closer to three months.”
“I’m not sure if you can hide it much longer,” said Kiao sliding off the table and helping Maelyra up.
“No, but I just need to know everything is well before I do tell him. Reassure him, I’m not going to die. He was to be married to another woman before he met me.”
Oh, that was what he spoke of, she thought and hovered her hand over her heart.
Maeylra continued speaking saying, “She was killed in a carriage accident. He didn’t try for another mate for nearly ten years. Then he saw me on the streets and decided that pestering a woman was the best way to go about finding a mate. I told him to leave me alone for months before he figured out how to charm me.”
Kiao smiled concentrating on traveling through Maeyra’s veins. “And how did he do that?”
“He figured out how to dance proper. Well, Orrie taught him and I would’ve paid gold to see how he did it.”
Kiao would pay gold to see that as well. She finally observed Soletus’s parents dancing to reels. It was exhausting just watching them but at least they had fun. When Kiao got to her destination, she held her breath hoping that she wasn’t going to see something dead. She something very small was no bigger than a large nut with little pink hands and more importantly, it felt alive. It sounded alive. She was certain she could hear a little heartbeat from it.
“I’m going to guess everything is okay so far from that smile you’re wearing,” she said.
“It’s really small but it does have a heartbeat,” she said. “It’s too tiny to tell what it is gender wise, but it’s alive.”
Kiao pulled out coming back to the seeing world feeling lightheaded and euphoric. Edithlyn was right; she did need to touch life.