Alder bolted from where he stood and straddled the man that was tossed on the bed. He struggled with trying to get one arm low enough so he could strap the brother’s wrist down to the sidebar. The other two men helped to keep him from flaying Alder.
Alder then shouted to Mien. “Get Kiao,” and then said to the woman, “Madame, go upstairs and wake the priest up there.”
She sprinted up the stairs. Mien gathered Kiao by the arm and pulled him towards the first empty bed in his line of sight.
“No, private room,” said Kiao.
Mien did as he was asked, even though it was more than twice as far away than the nearest bed. When they were in the room, Kiao slid on the high bed.
“Tits, that stupid son of skane,” he hissed while slipping off his smock, wincing in pain. It revealed the shirt he wore underneath had a growing blood spot. Kiao looked down and grimaced. “He cut me in the breast, great.”
Kiao started unlacing his shirt.
“I got it,” said Mien, tossing a cloth to him from the table in the room. “Cover the wound.”
When Mien stood in front of him, Kiao took hold of his wrist and held it. He looked him in the eye and said, “You’re going to need to get me some bandages.”
“Why, I can heal the knife wound,” he said and stared working on her shirt. It was then he then saw the top of a seam of something Kiao was wearing around his chest. It looked a bit like a woman’s breast band. However tighter.
“Keep going. I need to get this off,” instructed Kiao.
Mien released his hold on Kiao’s shirt and stepped back.
Kiao let out a sigh and finished taking the shirt off himself. “I will explain later, but you need to clean this wound so I can heal it.”
The young chanter didn’t. Kiao worked on himself and undid the lacing and tossed the cloth device on the bed. Mien gaped at the two small breasts being revealed to him. The left one was lacerated at the bottom. Mien felt his face starting to burn. However, instead of continuing to be useless, he, pushed his mind everything in front of him from the forefront of his mind to focus on the injury, not the person.
The injury not the person, the injury not the person, he repeated in his mind. Kiao was the one who instilled that in him.
He walked forward and inspected to wound.
“That was a sharp knife,” he said, looking at the skin and the cut flesh. He tried not to touch it too much, but he wanted to see how deep it was. He could see a rib. “I’m surprised it didn’t chip a rib.”
Kiao swallowed hard and stretched out on the bed. “Wonderful.”
Mien then rushed to a small floor cabinet in there, pulling out a small bottle of alcohol and a cloth. Mien stood up and tried not to stare at Kiao’s chest too long, but it worried him he was taking in such short, shaky breaths. Or was it she? He shook his head, forcing the thought back, and poured the antiseptic on the cloth and dabbed it too the wound.
Kiao sucked in a sharp breath and clinched his jaw.
The door then swung up and Alder stood there and immediately shut the door behind him.
“Kiao, really…” he exclaimed.
Kiao pointed at the door. “If you don’t want to look at them, get bandages.”
The young man hurried out and slammed the door.
“Honestly,” muttered Kiao.
“I’m done,” said Mien.
Kiao closed his eyes and concentrated on healing the wound. Alder came back and tossed Mien the bandages. “Let him finish. We need to talk.”
Kiao opened one magic lit eye. “I’ll do it.”
Kiao and pointed to the door again. “Git!”
The young man threw his arms up and shut the door.
Kiao and went back to stitching up the wound magically until it looked as if it never happened. When he was done, he sat up and drew his knees towards him. Instead of saying anything else he covered his face. Mien didn’t know if he was crying or what to do. He became immobilized again and wished someone would come in there to help. Instead of continuing to stand there awkwardly, he took a step forward with his hand quivering and pated Kiao’s arm. Kiao then come back to life.
“To answer your first question, yes, I’m a girl,” she said, looking at him straight in the eye. Mien squirmed, fumbling with the bandages in his hands. “To answer your second question, yes, Alder knows. So does Hickory, Nimbus, and Oli. Now that you know, you must swear to secrecy on your blood and honor as well as the life of your first-born child. If you tell, the child is to be sacrificed to me. I will make them my minion.”
Mien blinked at her.
Kiao lips spread into a grin. “Oh, come on. I’m trying to lighten the mood. I’m serious about the not telling, though.”
That didn’t quell how stunned he felt standing there.
“I supposed I’m being unfair because you probably don’t know what to think about this,” she said, gesturing to the bandages in his hands. “I’ll tell you the long story later. But all you need to know this is where I need to be.”
Mien's mind was still stuck on the fact that Kiao was a girl let alone had time to question why she was in the order. Of course, her saying that made his mind race. Was Kiao really her name? And why didn’t he notice before then? Kiao looked like a young man though his features were fine, but what young male elf’s features weren’t. Well, Soletus’s, but he was the exception. He had strong masculine features. Kiao was very lean. Even with her breast exposed, she didn’t have much of a body of a female. Her hips were narrow. As Mien help her with the bandages, she took on that narrow shape even more with broad shoulders.
“Don’t wrap me too tight. I still need to breathe,” she said.
When he was done, she got dressed again, oblivious to him assessing her as she inspected her torn smock and put her fingers through the knife hole.
“I’m glad he didn’t manage to stick me with that knife any deeper,” she said. It was the first time Mien noticed her slender hands. No one in the infirmary ever questioned those nimble fingers. He never questioned them, as he had long fingers himself with narrow hands himself.
Her voice, he thought. His mind whirled again.
Why hadn’t he read anything off her voice magically? How many lies had she told to cover for herself? Why hadn’t he felt them? Were his abilities just that unreliable? Then there was just the pitch of her voice. Such a mundane compared to magical timbres. How hadn’t he notice anything there?
It then occurred to him her voice was androgynous. Deep enough to be a male sounding but it was also in the pitch range of a female. Her sing voice didn’t give it away either as she couldn’t climb to high octaves either. Not ever young woman could do it. The most famous of singers could. High voices were loved among the elves. Maybe that met she herself was an androgynous elf.
Kiao placed the smock on the bed and faced him. “Okay, I’ve had enough of your staring,” she said and then grimaced.
She needed to sit, so he pushed her back down on the bed.
“Your silence is unnerving too,” she added.
Mien exhaled and inhaled, feeling the air go through his throat, but his tongue and larynx refused to corporate. He couldn’t reconcile with what he felt. He was surprised. Everything that he knew about what he thought was Kiao wasn’t wholly correct. Then he started to feel liked too. Then again, could he blame her for not telling him? That wasn’t something one should tell or go spreading around in an all-male order. Why was she in an all-male order? Why not the Sisterhood?
Kiao’s brow flattened, changing her expression to concern. “Mien, do I need to get Brother Hickory. Find your voice. Say something, anything.”
Mien swallowed and tried. “I…you’re…” Kiao rolled her hand in the air to encourage him. He worked his jaw out and then just sputtered out. “I’m surprised.”
A wry grin spread on her face. “I would be too.”
“You don’t look like a girl,” he said, then grimaced at his statement. Great, not only am I tongue tied, but now I’m being insulting.
To his surprise, Kiao's mouth spread wide in a smile. “I’ve been blessed with looking and sounding masculine.”
“You’re smiling,” he noted. That didn’t seem like an expression one would wear after being discovered. However, Kiao wore, and it lifted into her checks.
“Well, yes, I do smile,” she said. “I’m relieved that I don’t have to hide this from you anymore. I didn’t like it.”
There was a polite tap on the door and Kiao become somber again.
Brother Oli stood in the doorway. His distraught eyes locked on Kiao. “Are you alright?”
She nodded. “Yes,” and stood to her feet. “I’ve still a little pain otherwise, I’m okay.”
The older elf shuffled in past her and inspected her torn smock and blooded shirt she wore, as well the breast band she had been wearing.
“It wound was deep, but he went downward, thank Dias, and not straight,” she assured him. “Is he okay?”
“I put him off to sleep for now,” said Brother Oli and directed his attention to Mien said to him sternly, “You’re not to say a word to anyone. Kiao is a brother of this order, got that?”
Mien bobbed his head.
He then switched attention to Kiao and turned into a doting father. “Lad, you look pale.”
“I’m fine. I need to get back to work,” she said.
“You need to change shirts. I’ll get you a new smock, but go to your room, rest, and then come back,” he said.
“I feel okay,” she assured.
“Room, new shirt, and rest. You were just stabbed, lost a bit of blood, and in pain.”
She resigned with a sigh, “Yes Sir.”
“As for you, Mien, I need you to make a flush for me.”
Mien nodded and escaped from the room. He didn’t make eye contact with the disturbed man’s family members and went straight to the basement stairs that led to the infirmary’s alchemist table. Once he was at the bottom of the stairs, he stepped to the side and leaned on the wall to breathe. The cool stone wall made him colder. His heart was in his throat again. There was no reason for him to be so anxious feeling and yet he was. At least he wasn’t hyperventilating.
He breathed through his nose for a count of three and exhaled the same way, just as Oeric taught him to do. Soon he found his heart slowing down, but his belly still churned, and the chill he felt still clung to him. He rubbed his arms while he gathered his thoughts. They didn’t go very far from where they were before. Kiao was a girl. And he didn’t know what to feel about that.
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