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.
“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.”
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.