Kiao spent her weeks’ time in bed figuring out what she wanted to do. The simplest way to fess up to the Arch Priest alone. She felt it was best to get as few people involved as possible. The only ones who needed to answer for their involvement were Brother Oli, Brother Hickory, and Mien. She didn’t want to get anyone else in trouble, but she at least would tell her friends her decision. When Mien and Lyndon were back, she gathered her close friends and explained her plans to them outside on the front grounds. She relayed what had happened to them. They were surprised but became stunned when she followed that statement with,
“With the exception of Mien, I don’t want you to get in trouble because so you fellows can pretend like you didn’t know.”
Mien, Soletus, Alder, and Lyndon became bewildered. Soletus and Lyndon exchanged looks.
Lyndon spoke first, saying, “Why? That’s just leaving you to the beasts.”
His cousin then followed, stating, “Agreed. How does that even help you?”
“You of all people will get in more trouble than you can afford,” said Kiao.
Soletus crossed his arms, looking as if he didn’t care. “And?”
Alder then cut in, telling him, “You’ve a lot hanging over your head with being on disciplinary leave and it benefits you more if you act like you didn’t have a clue.”
“No, Kiao needs all the support she can get and if that is so bad, then they can expect a lot worse from me. Besides, you knew right off about Kiao. Shouldn’t that worry you?”
“It does but, Kiao’s like a little sister so I have to stand by her.”
Kiao gave him an incredulous look. “Don’t you dare start that!”
Alder rolled his eyes. “Oh, I forgot, Lady I-don’t-need-help-from-anyone, wants to do everything on her own.”
“I don’t want to do everything on my own! I’m trying to minimize damage. You fellows don’t need trouble,” she argued, while Alder mouthed her. When he was done, he then spoke, saying,
“For what? Protecting you by not telling the truth that you’re a girl? I mean, that’s the only thing we’re guilty of.”
“Alder, use your brain. You and I work side-by-side for years. You’ve been alone with me plenty of times. They’ll assume we’ve been doing something inappropriate.”
“I don’t think they will. If worse comes to worse, we can allow Brother Hickory to use the phrase of truth on us so they can question us.”
“You know he doesn’t like doing that,” she told him. He talked himself out of it at every opportunity and would likely then.
“Well, it’s the easiest way around it. Besides, they’ll be distracted by you and Mien,” he returned.
She then sat her bluish eyes on Mien. “If I tell them I’m a girl, then we have to tell them about us.”
Mien rubbed the back of his neck.
Lyndon’s ears perked up. “Us? What us,” he said, looking between them with interest.
Mien’s checks flushed pink.
Lyndon got a goofy look on his face. “Wow, I’m impressed that you reached so high.”
Soletus jabbed his elbow in his ribs.
Mien scowled at him. “It isn’t like that. It’s…” he looked to Kiao for help.
She sighed and told him, “Mien formed something called a timbre bond with me.”
“And that means,” prompted the scout.
Kiao regarded Mien at the same time as he did. “It means whatever we won’t.”
She was hoping that would satisfy the young scout. It didn’t.
“So, what do you two want it to be,” he asked.
Kiao’s eyes drifted over to Mien's right as he said sharply to Lyndon, “That’s something we need to discuss, alone!”
Lyndon looked a little taken aback by Mien’s stern tone.
“I just want to stay focused on helping Kiao. Talking about us doesn’t help her,” he replied.
“That’s fine,” said Lyndon and then to Kiao, though clearly not happy that his question wasn’t answered.
“Anyway, now that you all know what I’m going to do. I’m going to make an appointment with the Arch Priest and tell him the truth. He’ll probably want to speak with all of you.”
Lyndon put his hand to his mouth and pretended to yawn. “Borrrring,”
“It’s not supposed to be exciting,” said Alder. “It’s the proper way to do things.”
“But it doesn’t make a statement. And Kiao needs to make a statement.”
Alder swayed his head. “The less uproar, the better.”
“If the fire is burning, we might as well stoke it,” Lyndon returned.
The young man swayed his head. “What if the uproar causes someone to do something stupid like hurt her?”
“Well then, you, me, Mien, and especially this fellow right here,” he said, grabbing his cousin by the shoulder. “Make sure no one messes with her, ever.”
Kiao waved her hands at him. “Listen, I don’t want this to be a fuss.”
Lyndon then became serious. “With a show and us showing our support, you establish yourself and show you won’t be intimidated or look down on from the start. Because some stupid dod is going to get offended and belittle you.”
Kiao then smiled sweetly. “And then I’ll become the terror they’ll have nightmares about years to come,” she said, putting threat behind those words.
“Believe me, you’ve not heard the worse she can do,” said Alder.
Soletus then jumped in, telling Alder, “And they’ll need to know that the worse she can do isn’t all they’ll receive.”
Kiao couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “No,” she told the young monk. “I don’t need you to become some primitive minded moron who reacts with his fist when a wrong word comes out of someone’s mouth.”
“Did I become one the other day,” he asked.
“And you saw how he reacted and was still trying to fight me. Stupid men will try to overpower someone even if they can’t and will overpower a woman in a heartbeat.”
Kiao crossed her arms. “You make it sound like I’m taking off all my armor and going in drass beast den.”
“Because your kind of are. So in that case, we will be your armor,” said Soletus.
Kiao looked between them. She was touched, but at the same time. She didn’t want them to do that. “No, you fellows don’t need to do that.”
“You know, most girls would be happy to have four handsome fellows guarding her.” said Lyndon.
“I’m not most girls,” she exclaimed.
“At least let us do this until the dust settles,” said Alder.
“Tits,” she groaned.
Mien then said spoke with the softest of voices and pleading eyes. “I would feel better if you let us.”
Kiao wanted to say no, but he looked like a cure puppy looking up at her, wanting something and ready to start whimpering at her if she didn’t.
“Stop looking at me like that,” she said.
Lyndon studied Mien for a second and then pasted on the same expression and said, “But Kiao, we like you, so please let us be chivalrous fellows.”
“No! Stop it! Both of you! I refuse to be pressured like this,” she said, slapping her hands over her face.
“Please let us do this,” said begged Mien. She could hear it in his voice.
“Fine, yes, I don’t care. Now stop!”
She opened her hands to see Mien looking satisfied and Lyndon looking way too pleases with himself. She settled back down and took a deep breath.
“Still, this entire thing makes me nervous. Now I’m going to make a show of it.”
Lyndon then suggested, “Then we’ll keep it simple. Why not just do what you did to us, three, come out wearing a dress,” said Lyndon.
“You enjoy dressing up.”
Kiao did indeed like it. Despite her playing with boys, getting muddy to rescue a critter, and climbing trees just to watch bird’s nests, if her parents told her to come to a party or wanted to go out to the performance hall, she would slap on whatever dress her mother made for her because they were pretty.
“The tradition continues,” she decided. “But I can’t go in anything I have. It’s all too colorful and not priestess attire.”
“I can ask my mother to make you something priestess like,” Lyndon offered.
“I don’t want to trouble her because dresses take time.”
“She can do it. She makes dresses for people from time to time,” he told her.
“Fine, ask away and see if she agrees,” she told her.
What she didn’t expect was for Lyndon would get the ball rolling as fast as he did. She was told to come to the society house the very next evening. She arrived there right after dinner. She expected there to be lots of women there, however, Cordea welcomed her from the table and Varessa’Pintail, Lyndon’s mother, beaming at her.
“Don’t worry, it’s just us two chicks,” said Lyndon’s mother. Who liked her son wore the same mischievous smile.
“I shooed everyone away this evening. They wanted to throw a party. I figure you would appreciate quiet,” said Cordea.
“They’ll just get in the way of our alone time. I don’t get to see you often, girly,” said Varessa, giving her a hug.
Kiao liked Lyndon’s mother. She was a tiny woman with a big personality, like her own family.
“I hope I’m not taking you away from actual work,” said Kiao.
“A small place like this doesn’t over run me with work. I’m lucky to get work,” she said, standing to her feet. “Though the quicker I can take you measurements, the quicker I can get to planning.”
Kiao nodded. “Can you make it something that I can move around in easily and thin enough that to wear a smock over? It also needs a raised hem, so I don’t trip over it.”
“Let’s see, breathable, moveable, and practical. Priest colors are yellow, white, and blue?”
“Yellow and white for normal priest,” she corrected. “Blue is the chanter color,” she said, pointing to the cord around her waist. “The Arch Priest wears the most yellow. And honestly, to match everyone, maybe blue and gray.”
The woman twisted her mouth at the mentioning of the colors. “What colors does the Sisterhood chanter priestesses wear?”
“Red and white.”
“The Sisterhood doesn’t differentiate between priestesses and chanter priestesses.
“Interesting,” she said, as if taking a mental note and then put her hand on her hips.
“You’re going to have to take off whatever it is you’re wearing on your chest and the trousers so I can get all my measurements right.
Kiao sighed and pulled her shirt off. The seamstress cocked her to the side while Kiao undid the lacing of her breast band.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
“My sister designed it,” she said as she pulled it off and her skin and her skin cried out for joy.
Varessa examined it. “My word, how do you breathe wearing this thing?”
“I had a better one, but it met an unfortunate end. That’s the one I used when I was younger, and I found nothing much had changed.”
“Good thing you don’t have to worry about it anymore. Hold your arms out.” She measured Kiao’s chest. She studied the measuring tape and wrote what she saw down in a ledger. “You’re small, yes, but some men like them that way, easier to hold.”
“Varessa,” chided Cordea.
“What,” she said. “She’s not a little fawn of a girl and I’m pretty sure she’s heard worse from Lyndon.”
“Actually, he’s well-mannered,” said Kiao. “Soletus keeps him in line.”
“See, my son is always the good one,” said Cordea, grinning.
Lyndon’s mother snorted out a short laugh.
“Let me have my fantasy,” returned Cordea.
“Well, we both tried, but I think this young lady can keep them both in check,” said Varessa.
“I hate to inform the both of you, they don’t listen to me,” said Kiao.
“Well, after I get done with you, all you have to do is flutter those lovely eyelashes of yours and they’ll listen to your every command.”
Kiao’s face warmed up. She’ll never do something like that to them. It would be degrading. Not to mention, it’ll work only work on one of them.
“I finally made her blush,” Varessa said. “My job is done.”
“Focus, she’s needs to get out of here and think of what her strategy will be when approaching the Arch Priest,” said Cordea.
Clearly, neither of their sons told them. I guess it is better that way, thought Kiao.
“Her strategy is becoming the monastery flower. They will want her to stay forever.”
Kiao doubted that would help her. It’ll be stupid if it did. What would keep her there was clear reasoning.
Time flew by after that. The dress that Varessa’Pintail had made arrived in all its priestess glory a week later. The woman had to work all night to get that dress done. She studied the dress for a long time. Not just because she liked the use of red in the bodice and a white skirt trimmed with blue. It was because of the significance of it. It was time for a change. Time to drop the mask that she had been hiding behind or that’s what she tried to tell herself.
She had Emmery out, on her hip as she lay on her side.
“I didn’t want to do it,” she told the consort.
Emmery crawled forward, resting her paws on her shoulder and licked her earlobe.
“I don’t like being made to do this. I want more time. More experience so they can’t question me. I might lose my rank, my duty… my home,” she mumbled.
She didn’t sleep much that night. She had dreamed where she was stuffed into a jar and placed in a corner of the infirmary with “fool” etched across the lid for display. The horn woke her up, and she started her morning routine. She prayed a little longer that morning, mostly that the hearts of the men that she had healed and saved were open as the vow they took suggested. Then she dressed, pulling off the sleeping shift she wore and tossed it on the floor. She picked up the trousers and shirt she wore the previous day. It felt as if she would was leaving it behind like an old skin. She dropped the clothing and reached for her dress and worked on putting that on. Kiao was impressed that Lyndon’s mother made a girdle that was made done in the same colors as her cord. Priestess didn’t wear cords around their waists.
Instead of wearing the que she normally did, she choose a more feminine hair style and braided her hair in a goddess braid around her head to keep it out of her face so people could recognize her. When she was done, she looked like a stranger. It was something she needed to get used too even though it scared her.
Kiao took a step back from her mirror on the wall and sank back down on her bed. Her stomach fluttered with her nerves. She listened to her own rapid heartbeat.
“Maybe I should wait one more day,” she told herself and sat there for a long time, unmoving.
There was a light knock at the door, and she told them to come in. Mien head appeared.
“You ready to go? Soletus and Lyndon are here.”
Kiao stared at him wordlessly.
“Should I give you more time,” he asked.
“Yes,” she said, laughing at herself. ”I dreamed of this day and that I would yell at the top of my lungs, ‘I’m a woman.’ Instead, I’m sitting with my hands shaking thinking the worse. It’s sad. That I think that, that I grew so comfortable with hiding now, that I’m afraid to step out of it all.
Mien stepped into her room, closing the door. He gave her a quick look over. He was wearing that same expression he wore on the bridge.
“You’re doing it again.”
He tilted his head as if he didn’t understand.
“What’s going on in your head?”
His face went red. “Nothing.”
“Something is because you’re wearing that face again.”
The tod fiddled with his fingers a moment before lowering them to his side and told her.
“I think you need motivation to walk out. After we’re finished, I’ll let you be privy to my thoughts for this day.”
“For a day,” she said, surprised that he would make such an offer.
He nodded and beckoned her to take his hand. “You can ask me any question you want, and I’ll try to answer it the best I can. Including the one you asked before.”
Mien wasn’t an open person. It took her forever to pry anything out of him and when she got anything out of him, he was vague and unable to express his thoughts clearly. And yet, he made her an offer that would make him so uncomfortable. She wasn’t sure it was even a great idea.
“Any question? Even things about your uncle?
“If that’s what you want, but would you waste time on questions that’ll be hard for me to answer and take up time?”
Kiao knew it was obvious he brought up that point to protect himself. She wondered if she should allow him to do that.
I’ll figure it out later, she told herself, and took his hand. “I accept. Let’s get this over with.”
Kiao entered the infirmary with Mien at her side. She was greeted by the amused grins of Soletus and Lyndon. Alder raised his hand to his face, becoming distraught.
She put her hands on her hips and asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Couldn’t you wear something less eye catching and nice looking,” he told her.
She rolled her eyes and then caught Lionel’s double take with his jaw hanging. She forgot about him. The only thing she could do was push his jaw back up and tell him,
“Yes, I’m a girl. Sorry I lied to you, and you are lucky you didn’t know before today. Do me and you a favor and pretend you didn’t see me before breakfast.”
A strangled noise issued from his throat, and he nodded.
“Good, proceed out of the infirmary a little after me as well,” she said and headed off with her entourage of boys towards the mess hall.