– When is he going to come back! – Akhlísa asked as she paused in her pacing.
– Who? – – Who? – The Traîkhiim asked as they poked their heads above her shoulders.
– My Lord Husband Puey that’s who! Who else do you think I mean! –
– Oh. – – Who knew? –
– He’ll come riding up the path, he’ll be beautiful but tired, perhaps seawrack flowing in his tresses, maybe he’ll be bringing a bounty of slaves along with him, who knows, he be richly laden with all the spoils of the conquered worlds, and hither shall he come, and me he shall see first, not his Sister and not his Wife, but me, his faithful Concubine. –
– We still talking about Puey? – whispered Fhólus.
– Sure do talk about him a lot – chanted Aîya.
– I want his attention, I want his love, I want his lips right here upon mine, it is my right as his Concubine, mine! – chanted Akhlísa. – And then Siêthiyal and Éfhelìnye can grovel towards me and I won’t be a baby in their eyen. –
– Éfhelìnye no think you a Triîmeling – Fhólus chanted.
– Siêthiyal, she just sibling, siblings can be bellicose belligerent – chanted Aîya. One of her heads licks its lips and chanted – But when Puîyos coming? He quite beautiful. Want to lick him up myself. –
– Ah, I don’t believe for a second that Siêthiyal is really the Princess’ friend, older Sister just feels guilty o'er a certain regrettable incident we dare not mention, she’ll turn on the Princess the moment it suits her. But I do have one advantage which the ballerina does not have, something better than all of Siêthiyal’s schemes, which never really work anyway, she’s so silly, she’s the real baby I tell you. What was I say? –
– You have a plan? – both Traîkhiim chanted.
– I have you-sa both – Akhlísa spun around and plucked up Fhólus and tossing her about chanted – And during your time with those funny Duchesses you were teaching me the Traîkhiim dances. Well, Puey’s never seen a Færie maiden dance in this way, he’s seen the Princess in her nice cold and classical ballet, she’s see you Traîkhiim leaping around wild and frenetic, but he hasn’t seen me dancing in the Traîkhiim ways! –
– Very complicated our dances are – Fhólus was saying as Akhlísa spun her around and around and tossed her into the air. – Take us our entire lives to master. –
– Many never do master them – chanted Aîya. – They as clumsy as the Qhíng. –
– And smell as bad. –
– And look ugly. –
– Don’t like Qhíng. –
– Stupid Qhíng. –
Akhlísa spun around, she was barefoot and came spinning out upon the very tips of her toes. She imagined that her body was water and let her shoulders roll about, she leaned upon one leg and spun about, and falling upon her knees she made her entire body swish and gurgle and undulate to waves only she could feel. Then she bounced upwards and imagined that she as fire. Fhólus and Aîya flew upwards unto either side of her and came running about her legs.
– Feel the dance! –
– Be the dance! –
– Move, and let that movement dance. –
– Don’t walk, glide! –
– Don’t glide, walk! –
– She means, don’t glide, fly! –
– Don’t fly, soar! –
– Glide on your hand-feet. –
– I am – Akhlísa chanted as she pranced.
– Other hand feet. –
Akhlísa rolled out and walked upon her hands, and she kicked her bare feet from side to side. Fhólus landed upon the soles of one of her feet and tickled her a little with the softness of her wings, and told her – Remember, the essence of good dancing is good strong flexible agile finger-toes. Wriggle those finger-toes! –
Akhlísa wriggled her toes one by one. – I’m trying! –
– Little toe little toe! –
Akhlísa struggled and grinned and the little toe jerked from side to side.
– Oh yeah, learn the dance time and the masters come – Aîya was nodding. – Quickly, dance on your hand-feet! –
– We clap to the beat – Fhólus spun off of her feet and clapped his wings together. Akhlísa was walking from side to side upon her hands, and she was kicking the air with her legs and pointing her toes from side to side.
– Dance is all life, enlivens, lifts up, permeates all living things – Aîya chanted. – We beat the drum, we light the fire, we munch on the holy weeds, and we dance before the Ancestors and the Immortals. –
– And if I can dance like that, Puey will have to love me – Akhlísa took a few steps forward upon her hands. – He’ll see how creative and grown up I am, and so beautiful too, that he’ll start calling me Concubine and kissing me. –
Fhólus and Aîya looked to each other, and their antennæ shook a little in wonderment. – Is possible. Anything possible. Puîyos grow raven wings and fly away too. –
– Yes … he must love me … – Akhlísa took a few more steps froward. Fhólus and Aîya turned and squawked, and Akhlísa looking upwards, her golden tresses spilling upside down about her head, saw several ostridges riding about her, and from one ostridge came a cape and kilt and movement which she recognized. Puîyus walked up to her and bowed to her, and Akhlísa struggled to walk upside down.
– Ciao! – Akhlísa grinned.
– Do you want to see my dance? –
Puîyus nodded. He was tired, but he took delight in seeing his family, especially when the maidens were not fighting.
– Wait … I need the drums … no this is isn’t … I’m slipping … Fhólus help me! – Akhlísa stumbled on her hands, and managed to wrap her legs about Puîyus’ neck. Puîyus caught her from falling, and she scrambled upwards and somehow managed to throw her arms about his neck and kiss him a few times. – I’m still practicing my dance for you! I’ll get ir right, I promise. –
Puîyus nodded. He carried her through the camps and up unto the steps of the courtyard and set her down near the halls that lead up to the harem, but she just jumped up into his arms and hugged him all the tighter and chanted in a voice loud enough for the passing slaves and priests to hear saying – I love you so much my Lord Husband! Oh stop kissing me so much in public, I’ll blush so! –
Puîyus reached o'er and kissed her froward. One of his hands touched her ear, and he told her glances and blinks, I must meditate after this battle. Be well, my … he almost thought baby Sister, but instead thought … my little Concubine. Dance in the path of the Ancestors. He took a few steps backwards and nodded unto Fhólus and Aîya and turned away in a sweep of violet cape. The Traîkhiim came flying upwards unto Akhlísa and lookd to her and blinked inquirious all the while.
– Oh he loves me – Akhlísa chanted.
– We need to work on that dance – chanted Fhólus.
– And the clothing also – chanted Aîya.
– He touched mine ear! I have a wonderful idea! – Akhlísa screamed.
– Do we get any extra food for tutoring you in the sacred dances of our people? – asked Fhólus.
– Who has the chocolate? – asked Aîya.
– I know just how to make myself exotic and beautiful in Puey’s eyen! Come with me! – Akhlísa grabbed the Traîkhiim by their ear whisps and dragged them into the fortress.
– We never do get a choice about following, do we? – asked Fhólus.
– This dance had better end with chocolate – Aîya sighed.
– Do we have to dress up pretend we sheepment again? –
– Do you feed your sheepry chocolates? –
Akhlísa was chuckling to herself and humming an epithalamion she set one Traîkhiim upon each of her shoulders and leapt and spun and prances and waltzed and glissaded back untowards the harem and shook her arms and hips about and wondered how Puîyus was going to react to all her new dancing. It did not take Akhlísa too long to come into the upper towers. Slaves were running away, Akhlísa knew they were not fleeing away from her, the slaves were like little fishes dashing through the air as a great hawk or eagle or ice pterodactyl comes thirling thorugh the clouds, and turning around Akhlísa could see that Ixhúja was running up from battle, upon her tunic lay some stains which probably were once the faces and skin of men, and how they met their ends Akhlísa had no wish to know. Ixhúja nodded to Akhlísa and dashed into a room and behind the Khnìnthan maiden came a long trail of clockwork insects rising and falling in the air, a few of them settling back into Ixhúja’s hair and crawling about her ears. Ixhúja looked from side to side and closed the door. Akhlísa dashed about and ran up to where she knew Siêthiyal was staying, and flinging the door open cried out – Siêthiyal, I need a favor. –
Siêthiyal was pulling out a needle and thread and examining the dress on the table. – Hello to you too. –
Akhlísa looked around and saw that several statues lay upon the walls, icons and idols of Saints and Martyrs of Viceroy kings of old, and the various Ancestors of the people, and burning before them came a steady smoke of incence. Several prayer books lay open and were all set for the proper time, all upon Puîyus starday. Siêthiyal paused and took out some more string, and bowing in the direction of the statues, turned and drew up the sleeve of the dress she was mending. – Did you need something, beloved Concubine of the Emperor? –
– You owe me a favor. –
– Try ‘please.’ –
– Don’t you think you’re overplaying all this piety? – Akhlísa grinned. She gestured to the statues and icons. – So you want all the Saints and Ancestors to love and forgive you, right? –
– I have no idea what you mean, beloved Concubine of the Emperor. –
– This room is holier than Auntie Qtìmine’s! Don’t tell me you want to be a Vestal Virgin or something. –
– Perhaps I have a vocation. Not all of us are called for the glamorous life of an Emperor’s wife. –
– You wouldn’t last two minutes. Sure, you’ve helped Auntie many times, you may even enjoy temple services, but you’ll be back to your scheming and plotting and planning and … what are you doing? Question! –
– Oh honored Concubine of the Emperor, this humble one is mending the future Empress’ dress – Siêthiyal smiled. – The innocent Empress was dancing about and she tore an hole in … –
Akhlísa sate upon the table and chanted – Yes yes yes yes so you still feel guilty about almost disemboweling her, right? –
Siêthiyal snatched the dress way and placed it in her lap. – I have no idea what you mean. –
– And now you want to be Éfhelìnye’s very best friend. –
– I’ll have you know that Éfhelìnye is a very sweet and kind and innocent young girl who is in desparate need of friendship right now. When I found her weeping her sorrows out in the ice quags, she felt as if she had not a single friend in all the worlds, no one in whom she confide. – Siêthiyal opened up the sleeve and finding where she was going to put the needle chanted – The future Empress told me that she used to have a best friend, but now her friend is completely obsessed with her husband and won’t leave them alone … –
– And you’ll be sticking another metaphoric knife in her belly any day now. This false piety doesn’t bother me at all. So quit it. And you won’t be a Vestal Virgin, you’re not dressing up in white and acting all nice all of a sudden, it’s just not meant to be. –
Siêthiyal kicked the dress away and chanted – Is there any reason why you’re here, then? I told Éfha I’d have the dress finished tonight. I was planning on rubbing her back, it helps her breath, she’s been having trouble sleeping … –
– I would too with all those stitches in my belly – Akhlísa examined her fingernails. – No, I need a favor, and you’re going to comply because otherwise I’ll tell Puey that you almost impaled his sweetheart. –
– You have no proof. –
– I’ll show him the stitches. –
– You’re going lift up Éfhelìnye’s blouse before his eyen? I think not. –
– I have witnesses. –
– The Traîkhiim are crazy, and slaves cannot give testimony. –
– Ixhúja. –
– Oh, he’ll believe Ixhúja stabbed her … maybe. This won’t work and you know it. There are too many iffy iffy things floating around. Éfhelìnye demands universal forgiveness. Anyway, someone held a knife to her throat and precipitated this entire mess. –
– It’s because she won’t acknowledge that I’m Puey’s wife. She called me little Sister today. –
– You are her little Sister. –
– It’s the way she chanted it, you know what I mean. –
– You did marry him without telling her, I told you she would be very hurt, and she is. –
– And you pretend to like her. –
– I do like her. –
– Have you plundered her pockets yet? –
– Obviously. Is that relavant? –
– Here’s the deal. –
– Khlís? –
– What? –
– It won’t work. –
– Yes it will! –
– Trust me, it won’t work. You’re trying to hasten everything. Puey’s melancholy gets leaving for battle. Éfhelìnye is recovering. Whatever you have in mind. –
– I’m getting Puey’s attention, he’s going to think of me as a grownup. I need you to get me some jewelry. –
– I don’t have any. –
– Siêthiyal! –
Siêthiyal jumped out of her chair and ran to the wardrobe and drew out a few boxes. – I’ve given most of what I’ve stolen from the refugees unto the Vestal Virgins. I don’t have too much. –
– Let me see … – Akhlísa ran upwards and drew out a few necklaces and brooches. – Much of this is in bad condition, but I should be able to work with it. I need items bright and shiny, I want to sparkle when Puey sees me, I’ll be scintillant in his eyen. –
– Kàrula, I heard that sometimes it takes married people years and years and years before they kiss, especially when they’re betrothed as children. –
– I’m speeding up the process – Akhlísa chanted as she took a few rings and examined them. – Do you have any earrings? –
Siêthiyal threw herself into a chair. – No. Why? –
– Not a single pair? –
– Why would I? –
– I’ve decided I’m going to wear earrings from now on. Puey will be a fan of mine ears. –
Siêthiyal leaned sideways on her chair. – Pardon? –
– You don’t have any earrings at all? –
– No! And you’re not going to wear any! Where’s your sense? –
Akhlísa pulled out a tiara and set it on her head and chanted – You’re still secretly planning on destroying Éfhelìnye, aren’t you? –
– Yes! I mean no. No. Of course not. –
– Hah! You can’t help yourself! –
– I’m getting better! And she’s such a good person, she has forgiven me, and she makes Puey so happy and I’m not getting you any earrings. –
Akhlísa tilted a mirror towards herself and set the tiara into her hair and blew kisses at the mirror. – Puey will love this. And I’m wearing earrings. –
– The women of Jaràqtu do not wear earrings! It is forbidden by our commandments. –
– Ah, but you forget, I’m the Emperor’s woman now, and I may do as he pleases. –
– Puey won’t like it! –
Akhlísa up ended the jars and sifted through them. – You don’t have any earings at all, do you? –
Siêthiyal bound out of her chair and slammed her hands against the table hard enough to cause half the jewelry to tumble down. – Sister, listen to me! –
– I’m not your Sister anymore! – chimed Akhlísa.
– Yes you are and you know it! –
– I’m not listening! –
– Only slave girls and heretics wear earrings, do you want Puey to think that you’re a slave girl or an heretic! –
– Not. Listen. Ing! – Akhlísa set a few necklaces about her nack and shook her arms about and shook her hips before her reflection in the mirror. – Earrings will make me stand out, I’ll be exotic in his eyen. Oh, good idea about the Heretic. I’ll ask her. –
Siêthiyal sate up upon the table and chanted – I know why you’re doing this, you want to be grown up, you don’t want to listen to your elders, and I’m the only one left now that … you know … Fhermáta is gone … but I’m telling you this won’t work. –
– The Traîkhiim chanted they like to be shiny when they dance. –
– Go ahead and listen to the aliens, and not to your Sister. –
– Don’t mind if I do. You can go back to your sewing. –
– Puey’s a very traditional person, if you go before him with shiny earrings … –
Akhlísa gathered up the jewelry that she wanted and chanted – You don’t know what it’s like to be in love. –
– No I don’t. –
– Do you remember when we very little and we were making mud pies and we were playing pretend and Puey liked to pretend to be the pirate and I would pretend to be his wife and I’d make mud pies for him. Do you remember who you pretended to be. –
Siêthiyal looked up to the ceiling rafters. – I pretended to be the pet platypous. Xhwáwa xhwáwa xhwáwa! –
– Well, whenever I pretended to be Puey’s wife I used to whisper a prayer to the Ancestors and say please please please please I want to grow up and marry him please make him love me the way I love him. Now I finally have that chance, and I’m going to grab it and hold it and not let it go. –
– Sister? –
– Oh? –
– We weren’t very little when we played that game. It was last week. –
– No it wasn’t … –
– Yes it was. You were wearing the same dress you are now. See that stained on the back of your hem? –
Akhlísa kicked up the back of her dress. – I could have gotten that mud from anywhere. –
– Don’t try to grow up too fast. –
– Sure I will. Bye! Lots of love! – Akhlísa gathered up the jewelry and was giggling unto herself and tried to run out the room but tripped o'er her own feet, and had to scramble out into the halls.
– Love you lots – Siêthiyal chanted as Akhlísa fell down. – Kisses! Kisses! Kisses! –
Siêthiyal returned to her room and took up the Princess’ dress and went back to mending it, and yet despite what she was trying to tell herself, some of her thoughts were bending towards humiliating Éfhelìnye and some to hugging her and others to throwing her off of something and others to kissing her, it was all a rather confusing mælstrom, and she did even wish to think about Akhlísa at this time. But then again sometimes she did not have it. She leaned back in her chair and a few Traîkhiim arose in the cushions of the couch and leaned their heads towards her, their triple forked tounges wriggling and whispering and telling her of all that they were seeing here in the harīm which was becoming in a way her own little queendom.
Akhlísa knocked upon Ixhúja’s door. – Let me in! –
Ixhúja cracked the door open and gave a look that meant, I’m busy. Leave me.
– I need a favor. –
Ixhúja disappeared and reappared with a sword which Akhlísa could not help but notice was dripping with fresh blood. Akhlísa took a few steps backwards. Ixhúja gave her kinswoman by marriage a look that meant, Whom should I kill for you now?
– Ah … not that sort of favor. –
Are you sure?
– Uh-huh. –
I’ll keep the sword with me just in case you change your mind.
– Let me come in. –
That’s not such a good idea …
Akhlísa pushed the door open and almost slipped upon the pool of blood. She scrambled backwards and horror and saw a large bleeding hulk of flesh lay right in the midst, and pouring out from it in many would came fresh blood. Several impaling spears lay within the body. Akhlísa covered her hands o'er her mouth, she felt nauseated by the sight, it was a large body but without an head, with a couple of fins and a tail and shreds of armor, an altogether incomplete specimen of something which might once have been a mortal man. And yet what was most horrifying was that despite the many impaling spears and knives which were thrust into the skin of the wiht, so that it looked a little like a jèngtu echidna, the body was spasming, the flippers were slapping from side to side, and the long tail undulating. Ixhúja slammed the door and spinning her sword around thrust it through the tail, and it quivered in violent gyrations.
Akhlísa gulped and forced herself not to faint. – Um … Sister? –
– ?? – asked Ixhúja. She drew a spear and smashed it through a flipper and leaned against it as if it were a tree.
– Do you know that … how can one say it … you have a dead body in here? –
Ixhúja nodded. She reached into a pocket and drew out an apple and began munching on it.
– Um … did you just kill it? –
Ixhúja shrugged. Who knows, I’ve killed so many. Puîyos and I were fighting on the sands and slaughtering our enemies before us, perhaps I killed this man, he was a Xaxhestàriqhe by the way, we don’t have those on Khnìntha, large and hulking and strong, three or four times mine height at least.
– Um … this may be an indelicate question but … why did you bring a body into the harem? –
Ixhúja giggled as if that were the silliest thing she had e'er heard. She yanked out a sword from the body and the entire litch shook and squirted a fountain of blood from where the brand had stood. After the battle most glorious Puîyos and I were helping the survivors and I found these portions of a Xaxhestàriqhe and found them quivering swift and spasmatic, and it was just so delightful how even without its head and legs it was still moving about like this, so I started stabbing it again and again and all of its flesh was dancing before me. I began to think, Éfhelìnye just loves to experiment, maybe I can perform an experiment on mine own, let’s keep piercing the nerves and muscles and see how we can make the flesh just writhe!
– So you brought a headless legless body here … so you can play with the nerves! –
Ixhúja spun a sword around and thrust it through the tail. Just watch how it moves! Do you think that cousin Éfha will like this experiment? Ixhúja turned and grinned.
– No she won’t. We need to get rid of this body. Here, I’ll help you, we’ll bring it to swamp … I wish I had a dress for everytime I’ve had to say that, bringing something to the swamp … –
We can flay off the skin together. Ixhúja jumped on top of the body and jabbed it with the tip of her sword, but looking down and seeing the fear on Akhlísa’s face only cut off a little bit of skin. Ixhúja sighed and slid down the corse. Akhlísa thought that she might be genuinely hurt.
– I’m terribly sorry, I’m just not eager to play with the nerves of dead things and other mad science. I’ve had a bit of mad luck with Imperial Mad Scientists. –
Ixhúja nodded, she knew the feeling. She kicked the corpse a couple of times. Say, aren’t you supposed to be my slave now since I outrank you? You can help me drag this to the swamp.
– Lucky that I am, but, perhaps we can discuss this while we dispose of this body, and don’t let’s show it to Siêthiyal either, she won’t want a fresh bleeding corpse in the harīm quarters either, I do have to ask you something? –
Would it be easier if I chop up the body into little pieces? Or should we just feed it to something. I’ll summon some dinosaurs and …
– Not in the harem, please! –
Ixhúja held up her hands.
– I want Puey’s attention, I want him to see me as an adult, a grown up woman, I’m going to dance for him and I need to stand out. I’ll be dancing the wild Traîkhiim dance. And I’m wondering whether you can help me with a small detail. Could you get me some earrings? –
Ixhúja nodded. She yanked up Akhlísa by her ear and none to gently and looking down unto the lobes and seeing that they were not pierced, she grabbed an impaling spear from the corpse, splashes of blood rolling from the skin, blood dribbling down from the spear, and she aimed it at Akhlísa’s lobe.
This won’t hurt, but we’ll have to thirl your ear.
– No! Not with a bloody old spear you yanked from a bleeding body! – Akhlísa shouted. – Is this how the maidens of your land get their ears pierced? –
One doesn’t remember, the machines pierced mine ears when I was a baby in the pure white light of the laboratory.
– Just use a smaller tool, not a spear! You’re going to cut mine entire ear off! We want me to look alluring and beautiful for Puey, not like a battle wound! –
Picky picky picky! Puîyos likes battle.
– He’ll like me more. Come along, let’s get rid of the corpse first. How many times have I had to say that? –
If you insist.
Akhlísa saw that Ixhúja had partially draped the corpse in a bit of cloth to hide it from the Eunuchs and Traîkhiim and other harem slaves, and so she grabbed the bleeding edges and threw them up, and Ixhúja tied up the bundle.
– There have been a few times when I’ve walked in on Puey and bleeding corpse lies in the field or on the veranda or before the silo, and he would tell me in glances, This one offended me, or He looked at Fhermáta, or, He had to die, and without question we would have to go to the swamp. Puey would carry the body but I’d sweep away the path behind us and try not to leave too much blood. We make a good team, Puey and I, propose dispose compose decompose that’s what we are. – Akhlísa drew the door open and looking from side to side waited for the Eunuchs to leave. She grabbed a broom from the cabinet and signaled to Ixhúja, and she began carrying the headless legless body o'er her shoulder, and Akhlísa followed behind and swept away the dead scales and falling blood.
Are you sure Éfha wouldn’t want to conduct one of her marvelous experiments on the nervous system.
– I’m quite sure! – Akhlísa piped.
Pity. She can be no fun.
– You and I can be fun though. –
– See we can play dress up together. You can help me find some nice oiralbriun and pierce mine ears and it will be so much fun, and you can help dress me up in some sort of wild and exotic dress so that Puey will love me. –
Is that fun? Do maidens consider that fun?
– Oh yes completely fun. You and I can be the very best of friends. Why, as soon as Puey falls completely in love with me I’ll … I’ll have him get you some new weapons. You’d like that, right? –
Why can’t we just ask him now?
– Because ... the weapons will be better once he loves me. And … and the Traîkhiim can teach you to dance also. –
Éfhelìnye is going to teach me to dance, at least when she feels a little better. After we pierce your ears I want to see her and make sure she’s doing …
– Here she is. Hide the body! – Akhlísa dashed upwards and flung the edge of the blanket o'er a dangling and still bleeding flipper. Ixhúja wiped some blood from her face. Akhlísa leaned against the wall. Ixhúja and Akhlísa both grinned just a little too wide and bright when Éfhelìnye came down the hall and was carrying a couple of books.
– Good evening! – Éfhelìnye chanted as she struggled with her books.
– We’re not doing anything at all I promise there’s nothing suspicious about this so stop looking at us that way! – Akhlísa gasped.
Ixhúja waved again. The dead flipper reached out from the corpse that she was holding on her shoulders and lay partially drapped in cloth.
– Oh – chanted Éfhelìnye. – I hope you’re having a pleasant night. –
Ixhúja tried to push the dead flipper away, but this only caused the other dead flipper to tumble about and smack her in the face.
– We’re not doing anything bad at all this is just an innocent little errand down the halls! Don’t accuse us of anything! – Akhlísa shouted.
– I hope you have pleasant dreams!– Éfhelìnye smiled.
Ixhúja pulled away the dead flipped. She heard the crackling of bone above her. The Xaxhestàriqhe’s dead fin broke right out of its socket and came rolling out right before Éfhelìnye, and blood squirted out from the fresh wound.
Éfhelìnye gulped. – I think I’ll go back to my research now. I feel faint. –
Ixhúja grinned and kicked the dead limb away.
– I’ll have you now I am not planning on undermining your authority in the harem and I shall not be conspiring with the Traîkhiim and I’m not trying to kiss Puey on the lips because he’s my lord husband and I love him and I’m not up to anything at all! – Akhlísa cried. – Why is everyone looking at me that way! –
Éfhelìnye hefted up her books and chanted – Have a wonderous night! – She slowly made her way down the halls.
Should we help her with those books? Ixhúja wondered, and another dead fin tumbled about her shoulders and crashed upon the floor.
Akhlísa took a few steps upwards and almost slipping in the blood shouted – He’s mine mine mine mine mine he’s not yours any longer he’s mine husband hah hah hah hah hah! –
Ixhúja gathered up the disparite limbs and flung them on the body on her shoulder and turning to Akhlísa gave her a look that meant, This is going better than I thought.
– I know, I’ll be kissing Puey before I know it, and then I won’t be the baby of the family any longer and …– Akhlísa almost slipped in the blood again, and looking up saw that she was almost walking right into Siêthiyal. – What do you want? –
– It won’t work, I’m telling you – Siêthiyal chanted.
Akhlísa frowned. She wrapped her arms around one of Ixhúja’s and chanted – I’ll have you know that the martian Princess and I are the best of friends and nothing can stop us! –
– Oh what an ephemeral alliance that will be. –
– What are you doing here? –
– I’m going to rub the Princess’ back to help her sleep. You two … both of you … you’re very childish. –
– Be quiet! –
Siêthiyal swung aside in a sweep of robes but as she left she held up her left hand and chanted – Take the third left bridge to the swamp, the vultures there are quite excellent. Also, the Poriêrii are on the first to bridges, avoid them. Be swift about it. Puey worries about you two. –
– Oh yeah, well … I’m going to be Puey’s Concubine and …and I worry about you! –
Siêthiyal slipped into Éfhelìnye’s room but before closing the door chanted – Goodnight, but please don’t be stupid, my babies. –
– I’ll be as stupid as I want. Isn’t that right, Ixhúja! –
Ixhúja nodded in agreement. She looked to Akhlísa and they bowed to each other and clasped their hands as a sign of alliance, and turned around and began running through the halls as they carried the corpse along with them all the while. They came out into the night. Akhlísa was sniffling and shivering from the cold. Ixhúja carried the body but reframed from any outward sign of acknowledging the cold. Part of her training in becoming a warrior, under the stern commandment of her Father, and by the kean claws and pincers of her Automata Slaves, had been the requirement that she be able to weather all which the wilddeerness could muster against her. She learned to go without food and water for long periods of time, she had to find shelter in the storming forest when rain and snow first began to fall, she had to learn to sleep upon the cools of rock and jade and obsidian, she had to learn to sit still rest upon the deserts of ice and sand that stretched throughout the void among the snaking canals of Khnìntha, the once fertile land which had been made sterile by the thought of Emperor Kàrijoi and the traditions left unto him from Eilasaîyan of old, she learned to withstand the beatings which the Automata gave her almost everyday of her girlhood until she grew strong enough to beat them abck, she survived the winters in Khnìntha when grass and reed and flower were afraid to grow lest they offend the Emperor. So as she carried the body of the still twitching Xaxhestàriqhe soldier o'er her shoulder, blood trickling down her neck, muscles twitching in spasmatic thumps against her, as the snow fell she barely even noticed it at all. Akhlísa came running outwards upon the long and winding ærial pontes that arose sky bridges throughout the upper towers of the rath and spreading outwards unto one tower to another, she kept looking around and thought that she was being very swift and clever in the way that she was scouting for the warriors of the Poriêrii, although Ixhúja could see just how clumsy and hear just how loud she was. Ixhúja did not particularly care. If anyone dared to inspect the Women of the Sun as they ventured out upon their errand, or even questioned by the Empress’ Cousin was carrying a corpse along with her, Ixhúja knew she could slit the men’s throats and throw the bodies down the side of the zelezo whispering mountains, and the bodies would shatter at the tips of the creag and fang of the whispering mountains and explode in ripples of flesh and sinews and blood which Ixhúja would find most satisfying indeed. And yet there was one aspect of this journey which was bothering Ixhúja, and she had no idea what to do about it. Akhlísa was running off into one side and getting lost in the shadows and spinning around and then running outwards and bouncing around the huge and ancient patriarchs which made up the spokes and newels of the bridge, sometimes Akhlísa was running up the small steps of the gephurai and almost swinging herself around, and othertimes as the frost was growing all the thicker upon the bridge she jumped upwards and began sliding down the length of it and swirling about in little balletic flourishes which reminded Ixhúja a little of the spinning of some of the machine fighters she knew so well from her childhood and whose battle were acrobatics most deadly, but the motion was also bringing to mind some of the leaping grace of the Traîkhiim and the movement of their wings and the bobbling of their necks, motion and chance all at once. Akhlísa skipping about did not bother Ixhúja at all, on the contrary, the only thing which was wellbothering Ixhúja, not the cold and the wet nor the darkness of the long night or the twitching bleeding body yhoisted upon her shoulders, no it was when Akhlísa stopped leaping around and gazed out into the darkness and began to sniffle a little. Ixhúja was hoping to herself that despite her name, Akhlísa’ ánátayapònya’ akhlíse tnaqnastayàswaor, the maiden who weeps for all wihts, that her younger Sister sired by Our Heart Raven was not about to start crying. Ixhúja could not withstand tears. She still remembered when she had first entered her Father’s gardens and everything was too bright and too sharp for her, the trees and leaves were like glass, the grasses and reeds were sharp crystal, she pricked herself many times and had to learn to eat food plucked from the tree and breath air borne by the winds and withstand daylight fashioned not by candles and painted lanthorns but from the Suns themselves who were the Tneûfhta Qeranúra, the Eyen of Heaven, and she remembered when she used to hurt her fingers and sucked on the tips of her fingernails and bruised herself and used to cry to herself in the darkness, she thought she was alone and could just curl up and grasp her knees and wish away the acerbity of the garden and the worlds, but she was never alone, and always the automata would find her and punish her for such weakness as crying. So she learned to let the emotion die in her, or at least she let the emotion sleep and rest, and only poked out just a little when she was absolutely positive that she was alone, now that she was slipped away from the dead fields of Khnìntha, now that her Father was dead or at least mostly dead, and only his Locust presence could remain. Sometimes she made a ritual of, when she was soaking in the bathtube, and the bubbles were spilling up high and thick all about her, she would slide down, and let herself completely rest every sinew and muscle of her body, she would slow down her heart and close her eyen, she would sink into the waters and let her hair, long and violet and never touched by scissors in all her life, save one rather unfortunately incident with the Queen of the Dead, but Ixhúja did not allow herself to think about that memory at all if she could help it, and only when she was completely still and calm would she permit herself to feel the emotions that she could not let herself express otherwise, grief and longing and sadness and pain. Usually she counted away the seconds, a minute or so was more than enough time to feel anything as ephemeral as an emotion. When Ixhúja had ventured out into the barbarious outerworlds where Kàrijoi ruled from his barren thone of ice, Ixhúja thought that all she would feel for these people was disgust and pity and not any remorse at all when she slew and tortured those her Father bade her to end for him, but now that she had spent almost an entire day within Wthirpàlqa, the Winter Patriarchy, now she had gotten to know Puîyus whom she had been ordered to shadow, and Éfhelìnye whom she had been ordered to watch, sometimes she found herself feeling emotions which she could not even name. She felt a great deal more tenderness to Éfhelìnye than she did for any of the mechanical dragonflies and leaping dinosaurs she had know before, and with Puîyus sometimes she was not sure whether she wanted to break his arms or to kiss him upon his mouth. Not a few times though Ixhúja had woken up, in the pirate ship or now in the quarters of the harīm in the fortress and found that her pillow was wet with tears, and that the last few shreds of her dreams were of longing for Puîyus in a way that she knew would never come to pass, and it shamed her to think that part of her was still thinking of him in that way. She told herself next time she took a bath she would think about Puîyus for one minute and then never for the rest of the day, but even thinking about not thinking about Puîyus was thinking about him after a fashion. Moreover somehow that devious little dæmoness qthurtlhernàlyir tqeirumuyiîlii had somehow been able to see right through her, somehow Siêthiyal had been able to intuite from a few innocent glances and sighs and chariot race and a foot race and a few accidental kisses, which really could happen to anyone in truth, that Ixhúja still harbered some unresolved feelings for Puîyus despite her attempts at hiding them, and Ixhúja could feel her eyen growing hot, and her anger and shame at Siêthiyal were burning within her, and Ixhúja just hoped she wouldn’t have to acknowledge any other stray emotions e'er again for the rest of her life. And so it was that as the snow was falling down all the harder, and her breath was arising hot and sticky, that she was not at all eager to withstand Akhlísa when she came sliding down the edges of the bridges and wrapped herself about a post and leaning against the freezing wood began to cry a little. Ixhúja closed her eyen and adjusted the corpse on her back and just hoped to wish Akhlísa away, or perhaps if she just continued carrying the litch on her back and minding her own business she would make her way to the burbling ice quags and dispose of the body and Akhlísa would be back to her chipper joyous self and one could just ignore all the
She’s gushing now. Unsplendid. I should box her teeth out. She’d better stop crying. I’m going to hurt her. I don’t have a choice. If she doesn’t shut up now, I’m going to start kicking her teeth out. If she dares weep about some fatuous emotions, I’ll give her solidic excruciating pain to distract her from She’s looking at me she’d better not be Yes she sees me she’s giving me the helpless look that wounded and duckbilled lwìjhal dinosaur gives its mother Can’t stand it when she looks at me like this really should just drag her back to Éfha let her deal with her she’d better not touch me she’s running towards me by all the Ancestors if she dares to touch me I cannot be held responsible for
Akhlísa threw herself into Ixhúja’s arm with all of the force that she had and cried out – Éfhelìnye and Siêthiyal hate me! You’re the only friend that I have. You love me, right Ixhúja? You’re my best friend in all the worlds, aren’t you? –
Ixhúja felt Akhlísa’s arms about her neck, and the Moon Princess had to be rather careful last the corpse come sliding off of her back and crush them all. As it was Akhlísa was completely forgetful of the dead Xaxhestàriqhe body and its twitching muscles, she only cared about being held and at crying. Ixhúja wiped some snow and blood away. She wondered, if she picked up Akhlísa now and just threw her off the bridge, how many times would she bounce about the ice crags? Perhaps Akhlísa would be impaled at the first fall, or maybe she would leap about like a solar ball at play. Or perchance even more wonderful, Ixhúja could start bashing Akhlísa’s brains against the side of these petrescent walls, and the blood and goo would all unravel and become unfolding wings, and Akhlísa would arise and begin to fly with brilliant necroplasmic wings and become like unto the Khweî Khrìqanai guardian spirits who everdrift from one reality unto the next and protect the peoples within. Akhlísa wept upon Ixhúja’s arms and shoulders. Ixhúja stroked her back and wondered just how the vertebræ were jointed, how many should could break before Akhlísa would scream for help. One could always just throw both the body and Akhlís o'er the edge. After all, it’s not like this creature deserves any better, she draws a knife on my cousin whose only fault lies in loving people without any discrimination, and now the little one thinks hers is the honor to bare Puîyos his children? What sàkhyaya qlaêkh, with illogic is this? I could just let the body slid down and squish her in the crumbling of its twitching bones, and then I could break the bonds of the bridge and let us all plummet down, I’ll just barely survive and crawl up, exhausted and ragged and with a few broken bones for my struggle, but alas little Akhlísa who has no discernible purpose or talent at all in life would not survive the cold or the fall or the knife I stick through her brain. Why does she even bother crying at me? Why should I have any sympathy at all for her whatsoever? Let me just grab the edge of her head, I’ll begin squeezing until blood and brains explode from her eye sockets, I’ll burn away those golden tresses of which she is so proud.
– You do love me, Ixhúja, right? – Akhlísa whimpered.
Her Mother sheared my hair off, brilliant and violet and flowing, hair which I woud not even permit one of my pwànkhafha thralls to touch lest I grab and smash it unto pieces, the Matriarch cut it off and this little one watched all the while and chanted nothing. She challenged it not at all. She did not plead at all, I was like some poor sacrificial plantimal being cut and clipped and prepared for the slaughter. Akhlísa did not care at all. Only her Sister, already dead, dared to show me any compassion at all. I should kill her on sight just for that, let alone for daring to draw a knife on my saintly Cousin, the only one who has e'er loved me without reservation, my precious Éfhelìnye.
– My Sister is so mean to me she ‘s been mean to me mine entire life but there was always Fhermáta to take care of me and Auntie and Abbá and Grandma and all the rest of the Elders so she couldn’t be too mean but now that Fhermáta is gone and Siêthiyal is Oldest Sister she’s just crazy half the time and won’t leave me alone she doesn’t realize that I’m no longer a baby and she can’t treat me like a baby any longer I’m all grown up now or at least a little grown up I’m old enough to have an husband and he’s mine now and she has to start being nicer to me. I don’t like being the little Sister any longer it was nice to be young and protected but now everyone is being mean to me. Éfhelìnye refuses to acknowledge me as her sàrngqa sister wife she just wants me to be her little Sister or a vestal virgin I would make a terrible nun I already fall asleep during service it’s so long and boring I can barely keep mine eyen open and now when I’m in service I can’t stop but think about Puey all the time and I know that the khùromu aclla cuna are the concubines of the Emperor but they’re his distant and virgin wives and want to be an actual wife that’s the only thing I’ve wanted all my life aside from making mud pies and humiliating my Sisters and Éfhelìnye and I used to be the very best of friends and we’d tell each other everything and she’d read to me from the book that she was writing in secret she didn’t share it with anyone at all not even with Puey at first well just a little but I’ve read far more of it than he has although I didn’t understand a lot of what I read but she used to tell me about how she had trapped kisses out of him and all of her schemes and the clockwork chariot that she invented but now she doesn’t say anything like that she just doesn’t want me to be close to Puey but that’s the only thing that I want because I’m not a little child any more I want to make my muffins for Puey and it won’t be because I’m just the pious little orphan in his household it’s because I’m his wife and I love him and want to show him a token of my love but Puey’s really shy around me he didn’t used to be this shy he used to help bathe me and wash me and dry me off but now he’s very formal and kisses my hand and he’s NEVER called me his wife even though I’m his wife I just have to make him call me wife just once I love my Puey so much I …–
Ixhúja pressed her hands against Akhlísa’s mouth and made her fall silent. For a moment Ixhúja thought that she would just start beating Akhlísa and toss her wretched body aside, and she lifted up her hand and clasped it into a fist and made an hissing sound, but Akhlísa began whimpering all the louder and became so limp that Ixhúja just had to hold her up, and without intending it, Ixhúja was holding her and embracing her, and all thoughts of violence were fading away. After all, how could she harm someone who had so much affection for Puîyus. And indeed Ixhúja knew something which Akhlísa was forgetting, something which Ixhúja knew from the depths of her spleen, that Éfhelìnye was not ignoring and not hating Akhlísa at all, but loved her now perhaps more than e'er.
– I just want to be a good wife to Puey – Akhlísa chanted. – I’m been waiting and practicing and longing all my life for him. I’m his Starday present after all, I’m the present which Abbá and Auntie and all the Elders wanted to give him when he came of age, I’m the only present which Kàlewa and Khmaryáta my birth parents had to give. I must have Puey call me wife. I must have a kiss from him. It is his Starday after all, and all of the heavens are turning and aligning themselves again for the moment of the dance of his birth. –
Ixhúja brushed some of Akhlísa’s golden tresses away and was thinking, This day is also my Starday also, but I did not receive anything at all which was of mine heart’s desire, save for the purpurate sword of Khnìntha, and this I stole from my Father. She reached into a pocket and drew out a bit of cloth which she used to clean her weapons, and she wiped some of the tears from Akhlísa’s eyen and wiped her nose a little, she could think of nothing else to do.
– I don’t know why I’m telling you any of this, I don’t think you’d understand at all you’ve never been in love you don’t know what it feels like – Akhlísa chanted. – I don’t think you’re as cold as Éfhelìnye is nor as tricky as Siêthiyal but you have no idea what I must endure. –
Ixhúja brushed a couple more xanthic tresses aside. She shifted the body upon her shoulders and took Akhlísa by an hand and together they began to walk down the length of the bridge. The snows were falling all the heavier now, the frost was bitter and mounting, and it began to crackle beneath the wooden shoon of the maidens, the frost sometimes sliding apart and become like layers of earth and skin buckling together and sinking downwards and become some new gelatinous element partially of dirt and partially of flesh but altogether within the domain of frost. Akhlísa kept herself close to Ixhúja partially so as to absorb as much warmth as possible but also because she needed to feel contact of some other person’s hand, and she had no desire to spill out her feelings before Éfhelìnye and Siêthiyal, neither of them could possibly love her at all. – You just don’t know what it’s like to wake up and to know that all the purpose of my life is going to be fulfilled, that at long last I am no longer just the crazy little Last Born of Creation, the very bottom of the hierarchy, I was everyone’s Granddaughter and Grandneice and Little Baby Cousin and Little Baby Sister but no more now I’m the Concubine to the one who will be the most powerful man in all the Land of Story I know exactly what I have to do I just have to keep him happy and not set the palace on fire I can do that I just know I can how could you understand what it’s like to see some funny goslings and some waddling dinosaurs and think to oneself, I just have to tell Puey about this he’ll laugh to see it, but then to know that I can’t see him he’s busy fighting on the shore, or you wouldn’t understand what it feels like to see some leaping Kurkuîlo in their acrobatiξ or some Qrór and Qrúr Khlitsaîyart dashing about to know that I have to watch them and remember every detail for if I tell Puey of them he’ll be happy again and stop being so melancholy you wouldn’t understand what it’s like I just need to make him happy but he just doesn’t smile any longer he’s like Abbá I don’t think that I’ve e'er seen him smile did he even smile when I was a baby I know that I was a cute baby everyone saith that I was probably the prettiest and cutest of all the babies not just in Jaràqtu and yet I don’t think that Father smiled even once and Puey is becoming like that he doesn’t eat at all I understand he still desires to fast because Fhermáta was taken from us all and I know she would have been a better wife to him and all and I’m sorry that I can’t love him in the way that Fhermáta would have I can’t even love him like Éfhelìnye but it’s all the love that I have I just have to try why won’t he smile at all he just has to smile we’re all going to die of despair if he doesn’t smile I just love him so much and then we shall be no more and the Emperor will win. But you wouldn’t understand. You’ve never been in love with anyone at all. –
Ixhúja held onto Akhlísa’s arm and lead the way as they came down the long and freezing lengths of the ice bridges. Ixhúja murmured a few times in the whispers and sighs of Qtheûnte the Language of Wild Beasts and told Puîyus’ Senior Concubine, No, no I have no idea like unto what that must feel, and I shall endeaver never to fall in love löfnönokik kùsyequ at any time in my life. It all seems messy, inefficacious, malconducive to being the utter surpremecy of warriorhood. Come, I smell the ice mires before us. We shall dump the body. Wild beasts may feast upon it.
– Will you help me? –
– How will you help me? –
I shall forge for you earrings, and my beloved Puîyos will see you garbed in jewels, and tenderness shall thirl his heart. And he will see you for the beautiful young woman that you are.
– His wife, he has to call me his wife! If he calls me Sister … I’ll … I’ll punch his eye! –
Idle threats do not move me. He will call you what he must, it may take him some time to adjust to your new marital status. Here, down this way. Ixhúja was carrying the corpse o'er her left shoulder while she partially held up Akhlísa with her right arm, and they came running down some long and winding bridges that were trickling up about some of the lower fanghorns of the whispering mountains. Ixhúja came sliding down the ways and drew Akhlísa down unto her, but looking unto her a few times gave her a look that meant, Yes, I shall do this for you, but I must tell you something, you must do something in return, you must believe what I purr unto you.
– I’ll consider it. –
You must believe that neither Éfha nor Siêthiyal hate you. One thinks they may have more affection for you now than they have e'er had before.
– What did that purr mean? Please don’t tell me that little squeak meant khmót xupwayùtya, some affection, an example of affection! Fondness cion is not the same thing as love. You don’t have to defend those two. I’m not going to listen to them any longer. –
Sometimes I wish I had Siblings to care for me, the Automata were slaves, and the wild plantimals were friends, but I wish that I had a brother and a few sisters. It is written that a family with only a single child may be as cursed as a family without a son, for the child needs siblings. One is thankful to have found Éfha, she understandeth what it means to have grown up alone.
– Puey can be your Brother if you want, you’re already almost twins – Akhlísa chanted. – We can probably get Puey and whatsherface to start calling you sister if that’s what you want, and then you can be happy with your new little family. It’s not like Puey would e'er consider taking you as Concubine, you’re completely the opposite of anything that he would want, just not at all the type of maiden which would strike his fancy. He tends to like the innocent and lost waif princessly types, either that of the golden haired Jaràqtun maiden. Why, you’re such the opposite of anymaid that Puey would e'er consider taking as a wife of lower rank, I mean, maybe if all the maidens of Jaràqtu grew sick and died, and Puey were just completely despirate, and if we kept dyeing your hair and civilized you a little, I don’t know, maybe if Puey partially lost his mind then he might possibly consider taking you as a concubine at the very bottom of the hierarchy in the harem, but that’s such a remote never will happen chance that one should probably not even mention it at all. I’m glad that at least you’re not chasing after Puey, I’m really the only one that he needs, see, it’s all part of the triskelia plùjhein, üçgen müselles iⁿgeⁿbaⁿna, it’s all a part of triangles and circles and artifacts … I had this all worked out. We’re the primary colors, Puey is Blue, Éfhelìnye is Red, and I am Yellow. We are the elements, Puey is blood because he fights, Éfhelìnye is rainbow because she is royal divine and I am word because I talk a lot. We are the essence of myth, he is the Poet Warrior, she is the Starflower Princess, and I am the Dream Enchantress, see, we’re the big three, so it only makes sence that Puey has to love me and kiss me I’m his Starday present after all. –
Princess Ixhúja was not entirely sure whether she could or intended to or even wanted to refute what Akhlísa was saying, she was not entirely sure what she believed any more, she knew that she had to protect Éfhelìnye at all costs and that Puîyus was meant to be the Emperor, perhaps even her Father the Khan Jhkhaîxhor had been planning and intending for Puîyus to take grand and old Kàrijoi’s place all this while and wanted to control Puîyus through his machines and locusts and even his daughter Ixhúja. Ixhúja could not even hazard a guess. She tried imagine herself dressed in silks and perfumed and dwelling in the musical halls of a new Emperor’s harem, and yet no matter how close she wanted to remain to Puîyus and Éfhelìnye she could not quite imagine herself in such a life. Was it even the life which Akhlísa wanted, or did she want to return to a ruined and sorrowful Jaràqtu which could only be great again in memory and song, or would she herself be happiest to dwell in a rebuilt crannog upon a loch, for Puîyus to be a simple warrior dwelling upon the dreamlands which supported their caste, and Akhlísa would be rocking a couple of babies and struggling to prepare dinner and run the farm, while her husband was sometimes present and sometimes out to fight bandits and conquer the proud? The merest thought though of Akhlísa and some mewling crying infants though almost brought a bit of a rye smile to Ixhúja’s violet lips, she herself had not know any infants, the Emperor had seen fit to end childbirth throughout all the eormengrund and not just in his dying Imperium, but Ixhúja had seen enough of baby insects and young birdlings and the fluttering of flying fishes within their nests of thatch and cobweb to guess just how troublesome an infant among the Færie must be.
– Maybe I should wear a large bow, that way it will remind Puey that I’m his present – Akhlísa chanted. – One would think that he would be a bit more flattered and happy, it’s not everyday that he wakes up and says, Oh goodness me it’s my Starday so everyone has to get me lots of marvelous presents and he gets as present someone who will love him all the days of his life that’s a really splendiferous present plus I’m so pretty and I can run really fast if I have to and cook and clean and I definitely look a little like Khmaryáta and she was pretty too and I have this wonderous and just perfect fluent aurelian hair it really is marvelous I’m glad at least that the Ptètqiikh recognize the value of my hair I’ve been telling Siêthiyal for years that my hair really should afford me more privilidges in this family and that’s one reason I shouldn’t have to do all these chores but she always says no I have to do these chores even though they’re boring and pointless I mean the goats are just going to get hungry again tomorrow why do I have to feed them can’t Siêthiyal do it too I just want to rest and Fhermáta wouldn’t let me help her with some of her recipes and everyone was being mean to me but no longer now I’m in charge of the harem I’ll keep Éfhelìnye out if she bothers me too much I mean it I’m the altèrtraikh I’m the Senior Concubine all the rest of Puey’s brides will be only atànxha they’ll be lesser concubines really no better than slaves they’ll be little Sisters to me in the same way that I had to be little Sister to Siêthiyal and Fhermáta and Xataríyona and Eirènwa and everyone else I’m very important after all. –
– … – Ixhúja chanted, and she hefted the body upwards and came down unto long and flowing pylons all of ice. The bridges were coming to an end as they rounded the edge of these creagry, and before them arose long and crystalline sheets of ice which were sliding about each other, constantly breaking apart, great slabs of ice arising and bubbling upwards upon layers of superheated waters, and huge and burbling bubbles were arising somewhere in the depths and causing the ice to buckle, deform, and sink back down again. Within all of these environs trees were growing, or at least labyrinth objects which had once been trees, but which were now so withered and grotesque that they were more like metal and skeletons than trees themselves. Ixhúja made her way through a crumblent and grinding pathway of the skeleton trees and scrambling up deep into the mires saw where the ice was shooting upwards, and steaming gushes of mist swirling around and around each other, a slight vortex forming and drawing ice and flotsam down unto itself. She lifted up the body. Part of her was sad to think that it would not have a proper burial but would be food for the creatures within the waters, but she still had no sympathy for a wight which had arisen for to attack her, it was come to the logical end of one who arose against the Huntress of the Moons. She dumped the body within. The muscles continued to twitch and bleed even as the body slid sideways within, and large shadows were appearing and swallowing up the remnants of that which had once been a xholaXaxhestàriqhe. Ixhúja dusted off her hands and turning back to Akhlísa took her hand and began leading her out through the swamps, and was already planning on what type of earring to make for her younger Sister, the lastborn of Raven’s ruses.
– I want big and pretty earrings with lots of loops and gold and hoops and jewels, and Puey will see the earrings and have to sweep me into his arms and kiss me all the more – chanted Akhlísa. – That is, far more than he’s already kissing me all the time he can barely stop himself from kissing me all the time he’s just so Puey-esque! –
Ixhúja looked around, her ears almost pricking up. She did not mind meeting other visitors, perhaps it would be fun to break their necks and throw them into the swamps, and she did not particularly mind if Akhlísa witnessed an horrific and bloodthirsty battle culminating in Ixhúja’s biting off the ears of her enemies and drowning them in the grinding ice swamp, but her thoughts were returning to Éfhelìnye and she did not want to keep Akhlísa far away from her new family no matter how disjointed they may appear at the moment. Ixhúja tried to hasten her little netherly Sister onweards, but Akhlísa was running down the side of a frozen tree and was waving her arms and balancing them and humming a silly tune unto herself which reminded Ixhúja of an old epithalamion she had heard for the Empress long ago whom no mortal child may name. Ixhúja came jumping upwards and swept up Akhlísa, but as they came skipping down through the dying and matted trees they saw that a few figures were standing at the edge of the trees, and in the shadows were outlines of taller and larger folk, and of a thinner smaller one leaning against the tree. Ixhúja pulled Akhlísa behind herself and poked her head upwards above the bole of the roots, and squinting watched the darkness.
They are warriors of this barbarious land. I do not know the symbols of your people, but I think I’ve seen them in the neighboring fortress, maybe a mathematical symbol. One of the figures is a young maiden, golden tressed.
– Can you hear them? –
They’re talking about Puîyos.
– We’d better investigate then. Or maybe you should investigate and I’ll run back for help. Or you can do the spying and I’ll go to bed now, but you can tell me what you discovered in the dawnlight, or later one, after I’ve had a good rest, tomorrow perchance … what are you doing? –
You’re staying with me.
– I’m tired! I need at least five hours of sleep to preserve my fabulous pulchritude, and there are only seven hours in a day! –
Ixhúja signaled for silent, yanked up Akhlísa and drew her up higher into the crackling dead and skeletal tree, and looming forwards they drew closer unto the figures, and the mist gloom of the ice swamp about them.
– It looks like Íngìkhmar’s Son already has the important members of his harem chosen – one of the older warriors was saying. – If one were suspicious one would think that Íngìkhmar had this all prearranged, in order to deny any of the mountain clans power in the new regime. –
– Íngìkhmar was just following the old ways – another warrior was saying. – We must adapt quickly and scramble for position. Puîyos is being housed in our whispering mountains, the barbarian aliens infest what’s left of our land, they must recognize that contributions of our clan. –
– We cannot make any demands on the young Crown Prince though, we can’t command that he take one of our maidens as a concubine, no orders at all may be directed unto the Crystalline Throne and Starburst Crown. –
– At the very least we can off him one of the daughters of our Clan as a gift, and that may make him more lenient unto the war Clans of Jaràqtu in the generations to come. The fortunes of the Tásel and Khatelèstan shall be secure for his second wife is of mixed blood of those two bellicose peoples, and they shall be blessed to have Princes and Princesses of Royal Caste related unto them. The Saûqyufha we’ve heard wish to offer some of their daughters unto the new Emperor, Íngìkhmar was always friendly to that people, and the Clan Khwatèstan are thinking of … –
Akhlísa was leaning down from the dead and ankylotic branches of the ice tree and was almost bouncing back and forth with excitement, such that Ixhúja kept having to pull her back lest she stumble and fall out of the tree. – Do you hear that! Ixhúja! Ixhúja! Ixhúja! Ixhúja! Ixhúja! Ixhúja! Ixhúja! Do you hear that! Do you hear that! Do you hear that! Do you hear … –
Ixhúja picked up Akhlísa by her throat and began squeezing and almost bashed her brains out against the tree, but she kept imagining Puîyus and Éfhelìnye’s faces in her mind, moreover Akhlísa, even as she was bouncing up and down and become incredibly vexatious somehow reminded the Martian Princess of some lost baby fishes that had wandered out of their high ærial nests where the avian Wthòrthna used to dwell, in their great tree cities leagues upon leagues within the thin upper pink stratosphere of the Red Moons, and the fishes would bounce about and struggle for to fly and sometimes end up flopping about the dust and funguses of the nārum canali, and she remembered when she used to wander away from the crumbling plantation of her Locust Father Jhkhaîxhor and come unto the mist vales and search for the Dragons in their great lunar dances that sometimes she came unto the canals and gathered up the little lost fishes and helped them to flap their wee fins and set them back flutterent unto the heavenry. Akhlísa was alittle like that, with her large eyen and small body, to Ixhúja’s mind she suggested someone who was wandering too far from the nest but the parents were far away and the older nestlings pàxhmo were already wandering away and searching for their own nuts and berries and playing their games, and the baby was trying to fly all by herself. Ixhúja set Akhlísa down and tried to remind herself that she just had to be gentle with Puîyus’ junior wife. After all, the last accident had been almost unthinkable.
– They’re talking about me! – Akhlísa gasped.
– Did you hear them! They’re talking about me! The old warrior chaps were talking about me. Ixhúja! Ixhúja! They were talking about me! –
Ixhúja motioned her to silence. She leaned forwards and nodded and tried to clear her mind, the strangers were a few warriors and a couple of elders and a maiden standing upon the edge of a bridge. The ice was crackling and hissing beneath them, and Ixhúja knew that the warriors had dumped a few bodies into the mire, and the serpents and monsters that dwelt deep in the shadows were already reaching outwards and grasping unto the dishonored Dead and feasting upon their bodies. Ixhúja played with her eyelobe and her oiralbriun were crawling about and opening up their carapaces and jewels, the earings mechanical gazing from side to side and clicking their wheels and pincers into place. Ixhúja was wondering at the children of Jaràqtu, she found it so charming where her own people would simply decollate its enemy and toss it into the desert to be torn away by the ice and the winds and the wild beasts that slough outwards and devour all in their wake, but the children of the lochs of Jaràqtu liked to dump their bodies into the swamps. Perhaps these twin peoples, both descended of Khiêro of Old, were more alike than dissimilar, she thought. The children of Khnìntha would not think of just dumping a body in the canal, for the long and branching canals were the life’s blood of the Crimson Moons and one would not pollute them with death, no more so would the children of Jaràqtu dump their unneeded corpses, not honorable enough to be given proper burial or to be made into the columns and rafters of a fortress or great cabin, they would dump them not in the freshlettes and luich of the land but in the blasted and horrid ice quags that snaked about the ancient iron whispering mountains and in long marges of the forbidden dreamlands and about the ancient battlefields where the Patriarchs long ago had fought, and the dreamlands have been left xuláran fallow and untouched by the living. For her entire life she had been taught to hate and fear the peoples of the Winter Patriarchy and above all the children of Jaràqtu who should be slain on sight, and yet as she watched the bodies bubbling down into the swamp, she could not help but feel some affection for such a warlike and practical people.
– Did you hear that they’re talking about me! – gasped Akhlísa, and she tugged upon Ixhúja’s sleeves a few times. – That means that I’m important, I’m more important than the Empress herself I’m that important. Are you listening to me? –
Ixhúja nodded. A few gasping bubbles arose from the steam and ice foam of the waters, she could not help but feel quite the alien stranger in such a land, she knew that when Puîyus had come to visit the saffron fields of Khnìntha that he had been constantly amazed by the difference of color, the reds and oranges and pinks, and here she was assaulted by green and blue, and a soft powder of white falling from the heavens and into the swamps. Éfhelìnye had been the happiest and most amazed of all when she ran about the fields of Khnìntha and examined the ferns and boscage and flowers that only grew within the Red Moons, she used to laugh as she ran. Ixhúja looked around. Akhlísa was still tugging upon her sleeve and pointing in the direction of the Elders. Ixhúja could see massive piles of stone left at the edge of the bridges and up the sides of these sagala mounts, well she could believe that in the earliest of days that Giants had walked throughout these hills and climes, and that while the Dragons were carving up vales with their wings and their tails mounded the heavens, great Giants tred and left pool and loch where heal was pressed, and stochastick piles of rock just lay ystrewn throughout the hills and jutting through the coastlines in long and rumbling patterns. Jaràqtu was old, she knew, the garden land beyond the Northwind, but it was not as old as the Moons of Khnìntha, for they were ancient and primal satellites and in truth had been among the very first of places to be settled when Emperor Khriîno and Empress Pfhentókha lead out their migration at the Dawn of Time and stablished the Empire beneath the Tree of Light, Ixhúja knew for her clockweyth tutors Táper and Tselèriter had told her many times that in comparison to Khnìntha that all of the Seven Central Realms were recent worlds, and Jaràqtu still glistened at the edges from the time when it arose from the seas, and so Khnìntha lay at the edge of geolotical dreams, older ruins crushing down the ruins upon the surface of the world, endless cyclic layers of civilization sprawling upwards catacomb upon catacomb and spreading up unto the surface world. When Ixhúja had broken into the khmùset xhmùsqa musæa that arose in the great towers of Khàqra the City of Volcanoes and Wheels where she had been created before she was transported in the egg of white light unto her Father’s domains, when she used to walk among the glassen cases she used to look at the massive fossils of the creatures which once had roamed upon the land and now migrated only within the inner worlds, she used to walk among the cases where weapons were left, and occasionally break in and take stone dagger and wooden staves and play with them, the remnants of ancient civilizations before breaking them or growing bored and tossing them upon the ground, and sometimes she would press her eyen against the glass and look at ancient kinetoscopes and hypnobioscopes and electrophones and wonder at these primitive machines and wonder how the Red Moons could have functioned in such primitive wonder, and yet now as she walked within the bridges and about the fortresses of tradition bound Jaràqtu and saw a world where even time pieces were a rarity, it was a way of life she could barely even imagine. It was almost as strange as if she had come to a world without birds or dinosaurs or flying fishes, or where the skies were the seas and the seas were starlit heavens, and all that she had known before was some strange illusion. It was a completely baffling world, this Jaràqtu, where the Sons of Khiêro had come to stay, far away from their Sister Ifhrúri the first Queen of Khnìntha, and the matriarch of the Noble Houses of her land.
– Ixhúja! Are you even paying attention to me! – Akhlísa was shouting far too loud than stealth would permit, but the Moon Maiden did not think that they were in any particular danger, or any danger which would be too difficult whence to extricate herself and Éfhelìnye’s new Sister Wife.
– ¿? – sighed Ixhúja.
– You’re daydreaming about your homeworld again, aren’t you? I find Jaràqtu far more interesting, plus it has Puey and he’s most yum, so the Traîkhiim keep reminding myself. Don’t you hear the strangers, they’re talking about me. –
Ixhúja plucked up Akhlísa and came sliding down the side of the skeletal tree, and looking around gave her a dismissive look which meant something like, Do you wish to hear more?
– I suppose. You have good hearing, you can tell me what they say? –
That’s no fun at all. Let’s just go and ambush them.
– Pardon? –
We’ll march right up to them and demand that they answer us. And if they ignore you, I’ll chop off their fingers one by one. And if they give you the wrong answer, I’ll claim an hand.
– But … but we just can’t walk up to them! –
Ixhúja was already hopping back unto the grē·ed and almost dancing from side to side in anticipation of running and fighting, and looked back in genuine surprise to see that Akhlísa was hanging back and hugging the skeletal trees and looking up in fear.
– ?? – Ixhúja asked.
– We … we can’t go to them! – Akhlísa squealed, and she slapped both hands o'er her mouth as if about to say something forbidden.
– Purr? – Ixhúja ran an hand through her porporate hair and wondered.
– Abbá and Auntie and Grandma were always telling me never to talk to strangers, especially not strangers of clans not allied unto our own, plus adults aren’t supposed to see children, at least not children of their own family. –
– Purr? –
– Okay … so I’m not a child … but I’m not that much of a grown up just to walk up to them! Fhermáta and Siêthiyal always told me that I have to have an adult with me and I’m not allowed to talk … are you crazy! I’m not going up to them! –
Ixhúja blinked a few times, a few of her clockwork creatures were whirling down the side of her hair and opening up their mechanical wings and snapping from side to side. She placed an hand on her hip and told Akhlísa in looks and glances, You and I don’t have to follow rules, anyone’s rules, now do we? We’re completely grown up and independent, why you’re old enough to be the wife of a future Emperor, are you not?
– I guess … –
You don’t have to listen to anything that Siêthiyal tells you, right! If she tells you that you’re not old enough to wear earrings, even though earrings will almost certainly guarentee instant and unconditional osculatorial love from Puîyus, than you should ignore her, neh?
– Right! Siêthiyal’s dumb! But but but Auntie Qtìmine told Éfhelìnye that she’s too young to wear earrings also and Éfhelìnye’s at least a year older than I am and so I probably should wait for her because she’s the older one and she’s my new Older Sister and I have to obey her and … –
You’re getting earrings tonight!
– I’m getting earrings tonight! –
And before you know it, Puîyos will hold you and kiss you!
– Yes, this is the best plan e'er! –
Now let’s march up to the strangers and find out what they’ve been saying about you. And if we don’t like the answer …
– We’ll pop them in the nose! –
That’s fine. One was going to suggest ripping out an arm by its socket and beating them with it, there’s nothing quite like terrifying one’s enemy with a former piece of its own body. But a good nosethump can be just as effective.
– And even if we like their answer, let’s still punch them in the nose! –
– Rules stink! Do you hear me, Siêthiyal! I’m not following any rules anymore! –
Let’s go assault some Elders.