Henim’s Choice

A knock at the workshop door startled Henim, and ey steadied emself before putting down the crystal pair ey had been tuning. “Yes?”

Ey turned and saw a novice peering around the door frame. “Priest Henim?” the novice asked, wide-eyed.

If the novice was a first year, they might have never seen a proper crystal workshop before. Henim shook eir head. Ey had been a priest for barely a year but still wondered if ey had ever been that young. “Yes, novice?”

“Summons for you, priest. From the testing chamber.”

Of course, it was. With a sigh, Henim started cleaning up eir table. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

After another long look around the workshop, the novice turned and hurried off.

After Henim’s anointing as a priest, ey was assigned to crystal crafting. Ey had been delighted. Henim loved the intricacy and finicky nature of the crystals, the care needed to bring out their full potential.

But Henim had impressed his superiors in his final test. Impressed them greatly. So now they summoned em at least once a week to help with a young adult who refused to accept the results of their testing. Ey didn’t mind helping — was always happy, in fact, when ey could help someone find peace with themselves and their future.

And the people ey helped seemed to appreciate em. Last sunsday ey had received a gift — a woven hanging — from Shoneng, the first woman ey had helped. To Henim’s delight (though not surprise), Shoneng had found a place in service to a sen who valued both Shoneng’s skill as a weaver and mass of curly hair. Just as Henim had promised her she would. Many of the other Henim had helped also kept in touch.

What Henim didn’t like were the constant interruptions. Maybe ey should request a transfer?

~~~

In the testing halls, a grumpy senior priest directed Henim to one of the small ‘consultation’ rooms. “Haoza,” the priest said, “And denying it.

“I don’t know why we waste time trying to talk them around. It’s not like their complaints will change anything. Send them to auction and let their sen sort them out.”

Henim wanted to argue–haoza belonged to the gods and should be treasured as such. And it wasn’t only haoza who needed help adjusting after the testing. But Henim didn’t have the rank to challenge a senior priest and ey refused to leave the new haoza waiting in distress because Henim got emself in trouble.

So ey bit eir lip, bowed to the other priest, and entered the small chamber.

Only to stop in surprise. The haoza waiting knelt on one knee, her symbolically bound hands resting lighting on her raised thigh. It was unusual for a haoza who contested their role to kneel at all, never mind with this calm stillness. But that wasn’t what stopped Henim.

It was her eyes. Piercing eyes, even in one so young, that judged and challenged em.

Before Henim could find eir voice, the woman said, “Thank you for coming, priest. I am Osang, and there has been a mistake.”

Her voice wasn’t anywhere near as calm as her face. Henim heard anger, frustration, and a hint of fear.

“I think,” Henim said after a moment, “that you may be right.” Ey moved slowly to sit beside the woman, as ey did for all these… consultations. For the first time meeting with one named haoza, ey had to resist the urge to duck eir head.

Up close, ey could see tear tracks on the woman’s cheeks and reddened eyes. The knuckles on those clasped hands were white.

“Will you sit, Osang, and tell me what you think is wrong?”

The woman blinked and her shoulders hunched, looking for the first time like the scared young woman she must be. But she collected herself and slowly sat down. “I am sen,” she said after a moment. “I don’t know why the crystal said I’m haoza, but I don’t care. I’m not. Crystals aren’t always right!” That last was said with more defiance than conviction.

Henim, too, had been taught that testing crystals could make mistakes. It had made for a great deal of late-night philosophy debates in the temple studies. Did a flawed testing indicate a failing in the testing priest? The crystal itself? The work of the priest who tuned the crystal? A test sent by the gods to keep their followers alert? In the abstract, it was a fascinating, if fruitless, discussion.

In practice, Henim had never seen a failed testing. Had almost been starting to believe they didn’t happen, or only happened impossibly rarely.

Now…

“Crystals aren’t always right,” Henim agreed, “And I would say that you aren’t acting like haoza at the moment.”

She looked at him in surprise, distracted from her upset. “What do you mean? I was kneeling. And I tried to be respectful…”

Henim grinned. “For now, let’s say if your second test confirms you are haoza, you will have a lot to learn. But I don’t think that is very likely.” From the moment Henim had entered the room, Osang had tried to take control of the conversation. She’d faltered, and was now letting Henim lead, but that was the inexperience and habit of the young for an ‘elder’. Though Henim was barely a decade older, ey remembered how old the testing priests had looked to em.

Sen, quite probably. Wahin, possibly, but if so a stubborn one who would bow rarely and to few.

Osang blinked at em. “I told you. But the other priest didn’t want to listen.”

“Well, I am not him. I promise you, I will always listen. And you may ask for me in the future if you need a priest. I am Henim.” Ey paused, and she nodded that she heard em. “Now, you will need to wait here a bit longer, but I will arrange for another test and come get you when it is time.”

“Thank you.”

Her voice wobbled a bit, and Henim offered her a hand. “You’ve been very brave. And you’ve handled yourself well.”

She sniffed and wiped at her eyes, then took Henim’s hand. “If I start crying, that doesn’t mean I’m haoza.”

“Sen cry too. Especially young sen who have done a very difficult thing and know they are with someone they can trust.” Henim squeezed her hand and a moment later the young sen was crying on Henim’s shoulder.

Being forced into the wrong role, a life at odds with everything you were… it was horrifying. Many had faced fear in this room, but they had known deep inside themselves that they were truly on the right path. It was the path itself they feared.

For Osang… she truly would have been trapped. That lazy-ass excuse for a priest — senior priest, no less! — would have condemned this woman to that for the rest of her life, because he didn’t want to ‘coddle’ new haoza.

As ey held Osang and soothed her, Henim made a promise to emself. Ey would request a transfer to work full time with those going through testing. If it was in eir power, they would all have whatever help and support they needed.

And one day a certain senior priest would find emself banned from the testing wing and never allowed back.

Return to:
Vehan
Henim’s Test

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Dominic

Henim’s Test

Decided for now I’ll share Vehan stuff both here and on newsletter as it’s written. If that isn’t working for anyone, let me know. There’s be a few more Vehan posts in the next week or too, as it’s a writerly ‘Ooh-shiny!’ at the moment and I have ideas for several more short pieces like this. No idea what long term post frequency will be.

Content notes: fictional slavery, bondage, hurt/comfort, assault reference, parental abuse reference


The woman was standing with her hands bound to the floor. The length of the rope would have been comfortable if she was kneeling, but she refused to kneel.

Henim had been told the woman became violent after testing, refusing to accept her placement as haoza. Ey understood. Henim had rejected eir placement as well, not realizing it was only a first step on a longer journey. A journey that might end today.

Henim had studied and learned for several years as an initiate of the priesthood. Eir grasp of the magics and crystal manipulation was strong. Now ey faced one last test.

And ey was angry. The woman was needing, hurting. She should be getting real help, not being a test for a novice, no matter how complete eir training.

Still, here they both were. Henim’s test was to help her accept her role as haoza or to determine that retesting was needed — that the crystal used to test her had failed.

Henim approached her, making sure she saw em coming. “Greetings, haoza.”

“Rodents eat your bones!” the woman yelled. “I am not supposed to be here! I am not supposed to be haoza!

“Let me go!”

Stopping out of her reach, Henim shook eir head. “You attacked the priest who did the reading,” ey said. Slowly, ey sat down on the floor.

Ey knew ey had read her right when her face filled with confusion. No longer faced with an authority figure looming over her, she didn’t know how to react.

“Why did you hurt the priest?”

“I… I…” Suddenly she was sobbing. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt him. Just… I’m… I’m supposed to be sen.”

Supposed to be, Henim noted. Some haoza wanted to feel trapped. This woman sounded like she already was trapped. “Why are you supposed to be sen?” ey asked.

“My parents are sen,” she said, “I shamed them in front of the whole city. It wasn’t my fault!” she started yelling again. “That priest was wrong!”

Henim’s heart went out to her, but ey didn’t reach for eir yet. While children followed their parent’s role half the time, it was far from guaranteed.

“Your parents shamed themselves, haoza,” ey soothed. “They had no right to push you into any role. You are not ‘supposed’ to be anything but yourself.

“I know you feel it — the urge to submit. You have been submitting to your parents all this time, trying to be the sen they wanted.”

“No,” she jerked back. “No, that’s not true. That’s not what…”

Fear filled her eyes now, instead of anger. “You’re wrong. You have to be wrong. I’m going to be sen! I promised them… I mean… I wanted…”

“What did you want?”

Tears now, trembling in her eyes. Henim clenched eir hands inside eir sleeves.

“I wanted to make them proud.”

Now ey reached out, reached up, and wiped the tears off her cheeks.

“Oh, my poor haoza. It is not your fault. Any parent should be proud of such a daughter. But you are grown now, and it is time to be yourself.

“It is only us here. Your parents will never know what you do. Let go of ‘supposed to’. ”

As ey spoke, the woman’s frantic breathing leveled out. She shifted back and forth a few times. “They’ll be angry.”

“They aren’t here. You have been so good for so long, haoza.” Henim cupped her cheek. She nuzzled into it, seeming unaware of what she was doing. “Show me yourself, beautiful one.”

With a slow sigh, she folded her legs under her and knelt.

“But it’s not just for now, is it?” she asked plaintively. “If I… you want me to go out there. And my parents will know…”

“They don’t ever need to, haoza.” Instead of protesting, she relaxed into the word now, leaning into Henim’s touch. “We can take you straight to your new quarters.”

She started a bit. “All of my things!”

“Were never yours. You knew this. Those things belonged to your parents. Now you will earn your own things. Things no one can take from you.”

“Not even my loom? The woman sighed again and nuzzled his hand. “My mother hated how much I wove…”

Henim chuckled and brought his other hand up to pet her dark curls. “I think I can find you a new loom. I’d like to see your weaving. It must be beautiful. Just like your hair.”

She sniffed and bent toward Henim. “It’s supposed to be sen’s hair. Haoza can’t have long hair. Especially with curls. Too much work.”

“Nonsense,” Henim said, with perhaps too much heat. The woman flinched, and Henim tried to speak more softly. “If you were mine, I’d have you with me all the time, so I could play with your hair. You’d kneel next to me while I worked, with your head in my lap, and I’d do everything one-handed because my other hand would be buried in your curls.” Ey chuckled a bit, acknowledging the double meaning of the words, and ey felt her shiver even as she pressed herself into em.

“Come,” ey urged, “Give yourself to me. Lay your head in my lap and submit. Give in to your desires.”

There was a hesitation. Another little sigh, and, bit by bit, the woman bent down and lay her head in Henim’s lap.

“What is your name?” ey asked after a few minutes stroking her hair.

“Aphshona,” she murmured. Then stiffened. “No.”

Henim’s hand stilled. “No?”

“That’s the name my parents gave me,” she said, “If I’m not keeping anything they gave me — I’m not keeping that.” Then, her voice took on a tinge of hysteria. “They can’t find me–they can’t punish me–if I have a new name.” She lifted her head and looked at em, pleading. “Right?”

Henim leaned over and hugged her. “Ah, beautiful haoza. You make me proud. Be who you want to be, and I promise we will keep you safe from them.”

She was quiet for a few minutes. Breathing, relaxing. “Shoneng. I’m Shoneng. I’ll keep part of that name because they helped to make me. But they don’t get to keep me.”

“No. Beautiful Shoneng, strong haoza. They don’t.”

Henim said nothing further. Only sat with her head in eir lap and fingers tangled in her hair.

At one point, she asked, scared, “I’m in trouble, aren’t I? For hurting the priest?”

Henim didn’t stop stroking her hair. “Only a little trouble.”

She accepted that and said nothing more.

Sometime later, ey stood and released her hands from the floor.

“Come. Let’s get you settled into your new life.”

It was only much later that night when Henim realized that from the moment ey had begun speaking with Shoneng, ey had completely forgotten it was a test. Eventually, ey realized that that was why ey had passed.

But by then, ey didn’t care.


I rather like Henim. We’ll be seeing more of em. Possibly more of Shoneng also.