– What’s the matter, dearheart? – Éfhelìnye asked. She rubbed her head, images of stage and opera and fire and Suns swirling through her.
– You’re going to kill me – Akhlísa whimpered.
– What a terrible dream I had – Éfhelìnye shook her head and drew up her legs to hug them.
– I sent Siêthiyal way on an errand. If you’re going to do it, I don’t want her to witness it. –
– In my dream, my nightmare really, what a terrible nightmare it was, I thought that for a moment you had betrayed me. –
– Ur … it was not quite a dream. I don’t want there to be any pain. Do it quickly. Please don’t let Puey know. When he awakens … let him think it was an accident. No, that I died just like Fhermáta. –
– It was just unending horror, I remember the blood and the swirl of the knife, I remember the Suns being strangled, their crystalline hearts stopped a moment and they could no longer shine. I remember that in mine horror I had to confront the thousand maidens who had kissed my one true love without my leave and there was nothing I could do to stop them. Imagine, all those maidens, looking at my Puey and desirous of his affection. I was never so angry. –
– Fhermáta and I shall be honored in the Nethergloom. Khwofheîlya will forgive me, she has to, she’s my Mamà. And Kàlewa and Khmaryáta … they were just happy that I did not die upon the sands of the battlefield. –
– I could have reached out and snapped their necks, those damsels who were trying to take my Puey, and I’m afraid to remember the anger I felt. –
Akhlísa squealed stopped stroking the Princess’ hand and rolled upon her side to hide her face.
– What was most terrifying though was to realize that no remorse was I feeling in the Nightmare until it was too late, that indeed I was the Dragon, that my zealotry compelled me to unspeakable acts. I could have boxed their ears, I could have kicked their faces with my strong balletic limbs, I could have grabbed them by the ears and ripped out their eyen with my own small hands. –
– Oh! –
– I hated them for trying to take Puey away from me. –
Akhlísa rolled up in a little ball and shook all the harder.
– It was my nightmare, my very worst nightmare, and yet all such dreams must come to an end. And yet, that strangest aspect of my nightmare was that I knew that you were in it, the core, the center, the storm, the absent heart of it. –
Akhlísa began coughing in terror.
– In my nightmare I had the feeling that you had been planning on betraying me from the moment that I met you flickering about the edges of the Forbidden Gardens, dancing about the flying trees in an effort to find your Brother who had run off and found me. In the worst nightmare I could have experienced, you were flickering behind my back, you were whispering, a scheming shadow, all the while you were encouraging me in my love for my one and only Puey, and yet the moment when I left for the War in an effort to save you and all your family, you turned against me. –
Akhlísa screamed and stumbled out of bed. She rolled out upon the floor, and Éfhelìnye in alarum came scrambling through the covers. Akhlísa jumped up upon a chair and chanted – You’re not supposed to move, you’ve been very sick, just stay still and don’t panic! Stop panicking! Who keeps panicking you’d better stop right now, Princess, or you’re going to get in big trouble! – Akhlísa was tottering from side to side upon the chair, in her fear she almost fell down several times, and Éfhelìnye just stared at her in bewilderment.
– I’m not sick – Éfhelìnye chanted. – I was sick for a long time on the pirate ship, and my beloved Puey nursed me back to health. I don’t feel like that at all, I’m just a little tired. – She licked her lips and tasted blood and wondered where Puîyus was.
The door opened and a couple of Vestal Virgins leaned within, and behind them a few Traîkhiim were fluttering. – Forgive our intrusion, but is everything fine, future Empress and her Sister Wife? –
– I’m very well – Éfhelìnye chanted. – I’m not sick. Why does everything think I’m sick. –
– You’re probably still weak from your ordeal, precious – one of the Virgins of the Sun asked.
– I just fainted … –
– You should rest … – spake one of the Emperor’s Qhányit courtesans, her face covered in white and golden veils.
– Outa the way! –
– Let us through. –
– Move it, geisha! –
– Come on, reimonz! –
The Vestal janyaqhányit looked one to another and chanted – The tnoaqteûpa slaves can be so completely rude sometimes. – Before them came fluttering a couple of Traîkhiim, and the Vestal Nuns looked to the maidens and chanted – If you need anything we shall be right outside the door, and the Harīm is filled with Eunuchs and Slaves to protect you and lay down their lives if they must. Please, we beg you, try to rest, new Empress of Tomorrow. – And bowing they left the room as the two Traîkhiim shoved the nuns out.
– Vestal Virgins, so serious all the time – Fhólus was saying.
– Never joke at all, not even when we hide in their gowns while they wearing them – Aîya chanted.
As the Traîkhiim flew into the room with their complicated and multijointed wings twice of three, and they spun about Akhlísa a few times and smacked her with their wings and licked her face, Éfhelìnye could see that both Fhólus and Aîya were covered in soft white and orange and pink down, and that their eyen were milch white with red pupils glaring, their elbows spaced out far and angular, for both of them were in the female part of their transformation.
– Not quite sure how like the Harem forcing us all to become femaling – Fhólus chanted. – Isn’t the change supposed to be natural, the cycle of our pheromones? I feel like we I they hastened along. –
– Oh, complain complain complain – Aîya chanted. – Traîkhiim have been squeezed into female since the dawn of time, e'er since become Harem Slaves. You been working out in the fields too long, don’t know what it’s like to be in the big tent castle igluit. –
– Still … just not natural! It like forcing someone to sleep all the time and never to awaken. Or always to eat and never to drink. Supposed to be balance, for the Traîkhiim. – Fhólus landed upon the edge of Éfhelìnye bed and was opening up her long and angular wings for the Princess, and within the wings eyen were opening and blinking from side to side. – You like? –
– You look beautiful, Fhólus – Éfhelìnye smiled.
– Ah, blush me, probably say it to all we beautiful lasses. –
– Personally I like Fhólus better as triîmexhil – Aîya giggled. – Quieter, more docile, and smells lot better. –
– Khyapunta! –
– Stops eating the bugs out of my ear-whisps too. –
– Listen you, I can’t stand it when you we Aîya is tsenatriîmoxha, he all big and bossy and keeps painting me in chalk and charcoal! –
– I’m a nice male! You just don’t like dancing when female! –
– I we love the dancing! You just bossy male! –
– I for my part love being a Princess – chanted Éfhelìnye. – This gender is enough for me, and I’ll let Puey worry about being the head of the household and naming the children and fighting wars and such. I think a Princess has enough fun just as she is; changing sexes would be far too confusing. –
– We I think too confusing always to be the same – chanted Aîya. – It’s like only being half alive, or if you only used one of your hand-feet and not two. Body has two, both should be used, opposing and balancing. –
– All about harmony – chanted Fhólus. – I bet the moment we flutter out of the harem though both of us revert to the male. Then we can chase the wasps and wings. –
– You they the feeling better question? – asked Aîya and she hopped down from the posts of the bed and fluttering a little nestled right down next to Éfhelìnye and licked her and hugged her neck with long wings. – We didn’t learn until the Suns went out. So scared for you. –
– I’m feeling better, thank you – Éfhelìnye chanted. – In fact I feel fine, just weak, I think everyone else was far more scared than I. I’m not sure what happened to the Suns, I felt a shifting, a change in my dreams, not quite like your Traîkhiiman transformations to be sure. –
– Everyone scared – chanted Fhólus. – Thought you to die. Dead. Real dead. Not just play dead. –
– Join your Ancestors in the Sun. The old Emperor, fishing you back on his line – chanted Aîya.
Éfhelìnye hugged Aîya tight. – I’m back though. –
Fhólus sighed. – Yes the yes we all glad you back. But then we went to thinking in our many heads, what happen the happen next? Because, you back, but what you do with Akhlísa? –
Akhlísa crashed out of her chair and began crawling away.
– Are you alright? – Éfhelìnye chimed.
– I’m fine! – Akhlísa gasped as she crawled on the floor.
– We Traîkhiim been talking, they think perhaps you be angry with her – Fhólus chanted.
– Why would I be angry with my beloved best friend? – Éfhelìnye asked.
– This can’t be good – Akhlísa muttered.
– We they we don’t quite understand the ways of your Triîmaxúng – Aîya chanted. – But when you got so angry with Fhólus before, we got to talking, perhaps Akhlísa she be dancing with Puîyos when you not looking. Special ancestrial dances, with the janyàxhthael, the Double Suns of Khyixhefhiîfhes shining down down down. –
– I’m beginning to regret everything – Akhlísa muttered.
Fhólus was dancing at the edge of the bed, and reaching into her pockets she drew out an éxhèrtyafhu kitchen knife for women and slammed it against the word. – On a completely other topic, found this very sharp and leathal knife hanging around in the kitchen, very parlous, so I we thought we’d put it right here safe from any accidents. –
– We they like to do lots of thinking – chanted Aîya.
– Why would I be angry with Karuláta for dancing with my Puey? – Éfhelìnye asked, as she hugged Aîya with all her might, as if she were the softest of dovekins.
– What a dangerous and cutty and stabby horrible uluuraq this is – Fhólus whistled as she danced about the fanknife. – Would could slit someone’s throat with this far too easily. Glad we they I put it here where safe. –
– Why the dances involve lots of … how you say … – Aîya struggled for words. – Among we Traîkhiim we lick each other antennæ ears. You … you the kiss on the mouth, you færie. Like if you found Akhlísa kissing Puey, that how it feel, to learn she doing such a dance. –
– Note to everyone, stay away from horrible killing knife at edge of bed – One of Fhólus’ delicate khmistítlheu finger-toes reached out and accidently pricked itself against the edge, and a few dark citrus drops of xhepánga dribbled down her digit. – Sharp. So sharp. One could quite easily slit someone’s throat all by accident with this accident knife sharp thing. And no questions e'er to be asked, if new Empress convalescing, here in the panick after the Suns, and the other woman who caused all the problem. But, why think such dark thoughts now? Bad kitchen knife! Bad bad bad! Everyone know a maid woman too pure of heart to do anything quaad on purpose! But then again, accidents do accident. Sharp knife. Here, at edge of bed. – Fhólus was sighing as she fluttered away from it and crawling up unto Éfhelìnye chanted – Do we I get hug also? –
– Of course … – Éfhelìnye whispered.
– Still not angry with me for telling you that Karuláta is not Puey’s Sister – Fhólus chanted.
– I’ve got to get out of here – Akhlísa whispered.
– Everyone just ignore the very sharp and dangerous knife lying in the middle of the room – Fhólus chanted. – Even though here in privacy no one question what Princess do. –
– She to be Empress – Aîya chanted. – She completely female, not like us, we just poor Traîkhiim, always a mixture, but Emperor pure male, and Empress pure female. No one question what Empress do. –
– Yeah, if she beat a bad servant. –
– Or squished someone. –
– Or used that knife to slit someone’s throat. Bad person. Stinky. Betrayer. –
Akhlísa was jumping up and yanking at the doorknob and struggling all the while. – It’s locked! I’m trapped in here! –
– Probably not a good idea to bring sharp knife in here – Aîya whispered.
– Only guilty person in danger from kitchen knife – whispered Fhólus. – Only someone who really really really really really hurt the Empress. –
– I don’t understand what you’re saying – Éfhelìnye chanted as she rubbed her face against Fhólus and found the Traîkhiim to be the softest and most adorable of pets.
– Let me out of here! – shouted Akhlísa. – The clockwork of the lock is broken! –
– I can repair it – Éfhelìnye chanted. – Sometimes I can figure out the song of wheels. –
– Hugs first – chanted Aîya.
– And don’t think about the horrible throat-slitting knife at the edge of the bed – Fhólus chanted, as she licked her digit. – Look. Clean cut. Still bleeding. –
– That it is – Éfhelìnye chanted as she took the finger-toe and kissed it. – Does it feel better now. –
– Muchly! – giggled Fhólus. – I would never hurt you. –
– Never betray you – chanted Aîya. – Sure, I we panicked before the Dragon labyrinth, but never go behind your back and kiss your one true love with rings and veils. –
– You’d better not! – Fhólus growled.
– You’d better not! – Aîya laughed.
– Someone try to take mine Aîya away, I tear that little Sister to pieces with mine own bare hand-feet! I’d rip out her throat with that very kitchen knife and slice out her heart, cardioectomizing! – Fhólus chanted.
– Why are the Traîkhiim so stupid! – Akhlísa shouted. – Princess! Let me out! –
– She the Empress, no orders to her – chanted Fhólus.
– Someone try to take my Fhólus away, first I pound her pretty little face, then I cut off her golden hair, then I cut off her little ears and nose, then I rip up her bridal dress and stuff it in her mouth, I set fire to her feet, I remove her skin, I gouge out her eyen, I not let that straw headed little Sister take my Fhólus away. Aîya would torture her first – Aîya chanted.
Éfhelìnye kissed Aîya and chanted – Then I’m glad no one is trying to take Fhólus away from you, for you both seem very happy together. I’m just glad no one’s trying to take my Puey away from me. –
– What a sharp knife that is at the edge of the bed – Fhólus chanted.
– Let me out now! – shouted Akhlísa. – I can’t … Éfha! Only you can let me out! –
– She sure orders you around a lot – Aîya chanted. – Not tolerate that from a younger Sibling. Need to know discipline. Rules. Lest she break rules. Take what is yours and only yours for ever and evr. –
– I love my Karuláta – Éfhelìnye chanted. – She’s always been my best friend. –
Akhlísa came scrambling out unto the huge windows gazing unto the white Suns and scrambling to the eeves and struggling found them locked also. – I’m trapped here in maze with her! What did I e'er do to deserve this! –
– Puey and I love her so much – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– Good, because we Traîkhiim slaves, we worry about you three. Mostly her though – chanted Fhólus. – Now that you learn she to be your Sister and all, thought there could be hard feelings, what with the dance of marriage. –
– I don’t understand – Éfhelìnye chanted.
Akhlísa was pounding on the glass pains. – Let me out! Let me out! There’s no way this can end without my death! –
– What with all the marriage dance, that all we saying – Aîya chanted.
– Stupid stupid stupid Traîkhiim! Idiots all of them! – gasped Akhlísa. – Don’t they know how to keep their triple mouths shut! –
– Marriage dance? – asked Éfhelìnye.
– What with her trying to kiss the Sun Puîyos all the time – chanted Fhólus.
– They’re allowed to kiss, I hope they do – Éfhelìnye chanted. – She’s one of his Siblings in his clan, it’s a mark of affectionin the family. Why, I kiss both of you because I love you also. –
– Yeah but … different – chanted Fhólus.
– She’s! Going! To! Kill! Me! – Akhlísa tried to unhinge the mechanism of the window but nothing would bulge, the clockwork was all frozen. She wished that she still had the clockweyth locusts that she had found inside Aîya and which in her regeneration had flown to rest within her golden tresses, but when Princess Ixhúja had sailed away and saved her and Siêthiyal, the biomechanical insects had come outfluttering away away away.
– How’s that different? – Éfhelìnye asked.
– You just seem really angry when we told you before that Karuláta Khniêma Akhlísa your very best friend had become Puîyos’ Sister – Aîya chanted.
– I hope no one’s mentioning the lethal knife at the edge of the bed – Fhólus hissed. – I just want to warn everyone to stay far far far away from his cutting power only for righteous vengeance justice of course. –
Éfhelìnye blinked a few times. – Wait … I’m beginning to remember. You told me that Karuláta was … was Puey’s Sister. Of course she was. She was fostered into his family as a baby, she’s been his Sister her entire life. –
Akhlísa fell from the window and crawling about chanted to herself saying – I wish I were a xhwaûrntring ninja spy lín gǔi then I could bite out mine own tounge, take mine own life in very interesting ways … oh Éfhelìnye! – Akhlísa whimpered.
Fhólus and Aîya looked to each other in confusion. – That how it work for you guys? – they both asked.
– How? – asked Princess Éfhelìnye.
– We I thought the Elders go into trance and they figure out the young people who work out well together in the dance – Fhólus chanted. – The Elders pick the bridegoom and the sister and the priests weave their oneir all jiggerypokery and pát pát pát pátifhar, they married, bridegroom and sister. –
– Didn’t know the maiden became sister even at birth – Aîya chanted.
– Pardon? – asked the Princess.
– We thought the maiden began as Puîyus’ concubine and they grew up together until the priests decide to join them and she no longer his concubine Karuláta Khniêma Akhlísa your very bested friend she no longer Puîyos’ concubine she his sister yes his sister they to be married together his sister they going to have lots of babies together – chanted Aîya.
– Is this a bad time to mention the killer knife in the middle of the room? – Fhólus whispered.
Éfhelìnye shook her head in confusion. She felt her heart beating, strong and painful. She was remembering in the swirl of dream images shadows of what she had thought was not quite real, the entrance into the harīm, the book in her hand, the charts of self-aggratating morphology, and then the bride drifting out from her room, dressed all in white and gold, just as Akhlísa was dressed right now, labyrinth swirls about her dress, and the nymph came froward and bowed down before her one and only true love and swore her eternal fealty unto him.
– You aliens so confusing – chanted Aîya.
– Perhaps it a mistake to bring the knife in here, in the locked room, closed off, and what the Empress do, no man may question – Fhólus whispered.
– You … you … you have this all wrong – whimpered Éfhelìnye, and she kissed and hugged Fhólus and Aîya all the harder. – You see, it was all just a nightmare. And ye wibbials twain, you keep getting your words all mixed up. –
– Probably – chanted Fhólus. – We not so good with words! – Fhólus laughed as she wriggled her wings from side to side and shook her elbows. – We far better with dancing. Dancing older and better than words. You like ballet, no? –
Aîya licked Éfhelìnye’s face a few times and chanted – We just think you being very generous and forgiving with Karuláta Khniêma Akhlísa, your very best friend, so kind to her, considering all that she done to you with kiss kiss kiss kiss. You should be very the angry with her. –
– Should I be angry with her? – Éfhelìnye was gasping. She felt a tear forming in her eye, but she refused to let it fall. She was no longer in the mood for lamentation.
– Kiss kiss kiss, best friend, betrayal – chanted Aîya.
– Good think you not use the deadly kitchen knife I we really shouldn’t have brought in here just a couple of cubits away from you in bed – Fhólus chanted.
– Karuláta? – Éfhelìnye asked.
Akhlísa just sniffled and she backed up against the wall and shook.
– Please sit next to me. –
– Okay! – she gasped, and too afraid to do anything else she sate at the edge of the bed, next to the Princess who had been her best cater-friend, and before them arose the kitchen knife.
– Would you please tell me again why I should be angry with her? – Éfhelìnye asked Fhólus and Aîya.
– Who, you mean the one who stole your true love from you? – asked Fhólus.
– Who, you mean the one who wants to kiss and hold him and marry? – asked Aîya.
– I’d be angry. –
– Never forgive. –
– The nightmare was true … – Éfhelìnye chanted. – I had hoped it was all part of the same stage. –
– See, and please ignore the deadly knife before us – Fhólus began. – Now that Akhlísa is married to Puîyos, no longer his Concubine but his Sister, she going to grow up and make little baby Triîmeling with him. –
– The Kháfha do tests on her, the slaves were telling me – Aîya chanted. – They make lots of baby. –
– Plenty plenty, whole passel of them. –
– That’s the whole problem with secondary brides, see, already difficult enough for the making of the child of husband and wife, usually the secondary brides of less fertility, one or two babies, sometimes one. A male husband he the taking of many brides, he of high caste, sometimes they not even give him babies at all. But fellow slaves tell me the Kháfha do all sorts of test on Akhlísa, look in her ears, they see she can make lots the fertile. Make her very valuable. –
– She contractually obligated the making the babies – Fhólus chanted.
– They saying three male children and many female ones – Aîya chanted. – She say her vows, she to be bound to him for ever and ever and ever and ever and ever all eternity. But we glad you not jealous at all. Could get mess mess messy. –
– Yes, quite glad you nice and forgiving. Never jealous. –
– Forgive. –
– Have I mentioned the killing knife? –
– All dressed in her fishbone corset and bridal gown. –
– Just as dressed now. –
– Childhood clothing tossed aside, but in silks and whites and rings. –
– Just as dressed now. –
– Veil of concubinage. I mean sororalment. –
– Just as dressed now. –
– But not jealous. –
– You, never. –
– You not hugging anymore. –
– No lovey love love kissie? –
Éfhelìnye struggled to keep her tears unshed, now that the memories and realties were reordering themselves, and she remembered Akhlísa in her concubine gown coming up to Puîyus, and he was completely surprised by her and recognized her not, and she had promised to be his for ever.
– Oh, Kàrula – Éfhelìnye chanted, and she stroked the Traîkhiim with absent-minded hands, but her heart was not in it. – How could you? –
Akhlísa kept her back to Éfhelìnye. – I didn’t mean to. –
– Yes you did. –
– Okay, so I did! You’re not the only one who loves my Puey! –
– My intentions were honest and open from the moment I met him, even before I met you. You knew … you knew … –
– It’s not my fault! The Elders arrange things. They made me do it. Well … actually they were going to wait a few years … I just had to do it! My family was falling apart. The only thing I could do was … please, you have to believe me, I didn’t want to hurt you, I thought I was protecting you. –
– The Dragons kept warning me of you. I think the Ancestors tried to tell me that you would betray me. –
– I didn’t betray you! Only a little. I’m sorry. I just did what I wanted, and usually it is a philosophy which works out in the end, if something goes wrong there are always older siblings and cousins to clean up the mess I don’t have to do it just be young and cute and I always get forgiven I don’t have to worry. –
– I think marrying someone is a bit more serious than a mess. –
– Yeah, you want to kiss and be bride – chanted Aîya..
– Is the leathal knife still there? – asked Fhólus.
– I think you two should remain silent for a time – chanted Éfhelìnye. – I have to talk to Puey’s Sister. –
– It’s not my fault! – cried Akhlísa. – I love everyone, my birth parents and Grandmother Tàltiin and Fhermáta … and then you and my Puey disappeared and we never found you until we returned to the Ice Palace and the Emperor went coocoo crazy because of you and we lost you again … and now nobody can find Khiêro or Grandfather Pátifhar or Abbá and I’m all alone except for Siêthiyal and the parents are all stern and humorless aliens and I’m going to lose you too! –
– Kàrula? –
– Don’t hit me! –
– Kàrula? –
Akhlísa recoiled in fear.
– You’re not going to lose me – Éfhelìnye chanted. – We shall still be the best of friends. –
– You hate me. –
– I don’t hate you. –
– You will … I broke your heart. –
– I will learn to live with a broken heart. Kàrula, may I see your face? I don’t like talking to your back. –
Akhlísa turned around, but she hid her face in her veil. Éfhelìnye pulled herself up a little out of the covers, she was still feeling very weak, weaker than she thought she would, but at least she knew she was not ill, as she been in the rainbrella vessel wherewhen Puîyus and Ixhúja had taken turns bringing her back to health. Éfhelìnye had to put the Traîkhiim aside, and pulling away the veil saw that Akhlísa was crying.
– How did you think that I would respond when I learned about your concubinage? – Éfhelìnye asked.
– Death – chanted Akhlísa.
Éfhelìnye took both of Akhlísa’s hands and squeezed them tight and chanted – I won’t pretend that I’m not exceeding sad, but I see that you must have sacrificed greatly for the good of your clan, and even for me in a way. If I can do my best not to lose you as a friend, will you do your best not to lose me? –
– I don’t know. –
– May we try? –
– I guess. Princess? –
– Oh? –
– I’m sorry. –
Éfhelìnye did something which not even Akhlísa, Raven’s lastborn child would have forseen, when she reached o'er and hugged her several times and kissed her face, and a few of Éfhelìnye’s unshed tear were released and glistened swift and free. For a time all that Éfhelìnye could do was hold her and rock her, Akhlísa was limp in her grasp as if she had been drowning too long in the sea of sorrows, but then Akhlísa felt some of her strength returning and hugged her best friend in response.
– What, no fight? – asked Aîya.
– She indeed is the Empress – chanted Fhólus. – Qhaôtriim elders not wrong about her not kidding not forgetting. Life compassion light. –
– Fight more frenetic. –
– Compassion more interesting. –
Éfhelìnye drew up Akhlísa’s face and set her hands unto either side of it and chanted – Listen, Karuláta Khniêma Akhlísa, we do not know the shape of the future nor the course of this War of Heaven, many things unforeseen shall come to pass. I do not think we should fret ourselves today, for no betrothals can be finalized until Puey is in fact and word and deed the new Emperor. For the time being, we must remain friends, I will have nothing to disturb him in this time of sadness. –
– Okay – chanted Akhlísa.
– Anyway, with Puey as the Emperor, perhaps he can dissolve the bonds set on you. You’re probably not old enough to understand marriage … –
– Neither are you. –
– The point is, this is not an insurmountable problem, and once Puey is the new Lord of Heaven and Earth and Ocean, you can be his Sister again, and I can be his wife. –
– That’s fine, except I want to be his Concubine and to serve him and you. –
– There are many ways to serve – Éfhelìnye chanted, and she leaned her head against Akhlísa and chanted – Now don’t be silly! You served him well enough before. –
– I want to serve him as his Concubine, it is my fondest wish. –
– Well … as the new Emperor Puey will need many elegant qwènti to be his Virgin Concubines and to assist the priesthood and monkage, to educate children and be Mothers to all. Why, you can be like your Auntie Qtìmine, and you’ll still dress in gowns like this, perhaps not so tight and labyrinth swirling, and you can live with me and Puey and help with our many, many children. –
– That’s all good, and I love Auntie Qtìmine very much, she’s been my Mother, and I think the Vestal Virgins are swell, but I don’t want to be one, I want to be his concubine in the flesh and have children with Puey. When I see him I see what I want my babies to look like. –
Éfhelìnye didn’t know how to respond. – Oh .–
Akhlísa turned around and spread out her hands. – See, I have this all figured out. –
Éfhelìnye couldn’t utter a single syllable.
– Puey will probably set us up in different castles, or maybe you’ll be in the new Ice Palace and I’ll be in a castle, I don’t know yet, and you and your brood of children can live with you and me and all the lapsi I’ll have for him will dwell with me. And I just know that our children will be the very best of friends, I just know it, just as you and I are. And they’ll all be siblings too because they’ll have the same Father, and you’ll be their legal Mother, they’re all call you Mother, they’ll call me Mother also, but you’ll be the Honored Mother I’ll just be the little Mother, see? Because you’re the first wife, and I’m only the senior Concubine. Now Puey being so brave and beautiful will probably have other Concubines, but they’ll be of less rank, so I get to be more powerful than they. Don’t worry, I’ll be in charge of them. You don’t have to fret about a thing, you’ll be the Empress and bare the Crown Prince and such. Won’t that be wonderful? –
Éfhelìnye shook her head in negation.
– And my children have been in the marriage contract obligated to be of the Royal Caste so they’ll be of the same rank as your children isn’t that wonderful so there won’t be any jealousy at all we’ll all be one big happy family just as you and I are with no resentment or anger or sadness. Now I’m thinking perhaps when we’re younger we’ll all live together in the same house, after all I’m still your servant and have to obey you, but we’ll get our own places once Puey conquers people and collects more women for himself, but our castles need to be very close, I want the children all to play together, maybe it can be a big castle but we’ll have separate towers in it and the children can all run out into the gardens, mine will be all golden haired and very Jaràqtun looking, warriors and pretty maidens and your children will be ballerinas and artists and brave young princes. I beg you’ll have more children, your Mother was the sacred Qwasiêla Moon Empress after all, you’ll be the very pwèrao the very fertility of the land, but that’s fine I won’t mind, just as long as I bare a few children for Puey and he will love me so much. And I’ll be carrying on the tradition of my people, I know our rhetrai are different and difficult for you, the pár jaraqtuyùlkha, our insistance upon battle and struggle and never surrending and our rather stern Ancestors but it’s important to us, I can serve him our traditional foods and all that and still keep him Jaràqtun and happy and blessed. Oh! Oh! Maybe I can live in Jaràqtu and you in Khniîkha and he’ll just travel from one realm to the next whilst fighting his battles. I suppose there will still be war, there’s always war, but I was thinking, you’re the Empress you are invaluable and cannot be replaced and special and we all just love you so much, and so I’m thinking, when there is battle you’ll have to stay in the Holy City you’ll be sitting on the throne and the priests intoning and casting incense to you in ritual supplication, but I’ll go out with Puey and live in the tents and living ships while he fights because if something happens to me it’s okay I’m only his Concubine he can always get another, but when he comes back from battle I can wash him and anoint him and hug him and kiss him and he’ll be at home because he’ll have a wife to take care of him and make him forget about war for a little time. Isn’t that just wonderful, Éfhelìnye? –
Princess Éfhelìnye withdrew from her friend, she still kept herself from weeping, but she no longer wished to see Akhlísa’s face. – I just want to make Puey happy – Akhlísa chanted.
Éfhelìnye struggled to find breathe enough to speak. – I … I just don’t wish to speak of this at this time. I need to rest. –
– Éfhelìnye? –
– Yes? –
– Are you angry with me? –
Éfhelìnye bit her lip and then whispered – No. –
– Éfhelìnye? –
– Yes? –
– What’s it like to kiss a boy? Siêthiyal was mocking me because I never got a chance to kiss Puey on his lips, and now we’re to be married and I never even saw him for so long … I mean, I know you’ve kissed him many times you don’t even care when others see you not even the Elders and I thought at first that it was rather gross but the more I think about it the more interesting it seems. What’s it like? –
– I have to rest. –
– When do I get to kiss my Puey? –
Éfhelìnye curved up in her blanket and hoped that Akhlísa could just leave her alone for a time. And the Traîkhimm came scurrying out about her and were dancing upon the sheets and before the shafts of white light from the swollen and dying Suns. Akhlísa however was completely blithe as to how the Princess her cater-cousin was feeling and was almost bouncing up and down upon the bed in an attempt to regain Éfhelìnye’s attention. This movement and infectious excitement was taken up by the goshbustified Traîkhiim who were ay-eager for spinning and leaping and dancing, and Fhólus began kicking away and prancing upon the white sheets while Aîya was rolling around upon the very tips of her wings and then falling upon her three heads was spinning about like a teetotum gyroblinding, her little toe digits pointing from side to side extremely flexible xhlàtiji, and Fhólus came leaping about upon the tips of his finger-toes and was jumping about in a very similar ballet, for the very essence of Traîkhiim dance is the kick and the spin and the pointing finger-toes khmistítlheu, and Fhólus and Aîya were quite eager to bounce upon the bed and kick about and laugh all the harder while Princess Éfhelìnye was trying to hide herself in the sheets and just wished to be alone. She was beginning to think, while Fhólus and Aîya were yanking upon each others’ ear-whisps, and Akhlísa was kicking aside pillows and insouciant dancing, Éfhelìnye was beginning to think that indeed sometimes vocalizing was completely unnecessary for it was impossible for her to describe what she felt and hoped and thought unto Akhlísa or the Traîkhiim at all, she could not possibly understand and, moreover, from the way they were acting were completely unconcerned unto what Éfhelìnye would care or wonder or dream anyway. Perhaps this is where language itself must break apart, it seemed almost vacuous now to consider that the Immortals, vast and rarified and unknowable, whatever they may be, were creatures somehow made up of dream and story and language, and yet now she was realizing that language no longer could serve its function, if e'er it truly served as a vehicle of communication. Even dance was failing, she thought, the Traîkhiim were bouncing about in joy when they should be caring about how she felt, they didn’t even both asking Éfhelìnye for her opinion at all, and she who had once been closest unto her, aside from Puîyus of course, she was now already making plans for a future life that would ruin all happiness and joy. Perhaps Puîyus’ complete withdrawel from the use of language, and Ixhúja her cousin’s also, perhaps that was the best choice, it left one alone and free, just to think pure thoughts of energy and color and movement, she had no doubt at all that Puîyus’ thoughts were all of music flowing throughout the waves and eaves of his mind, a great and tumbling tide of song where all of the winds had their chords, and the forest and red jungles bright were piping all the while, Éfhelìnye did not understand music, it had after all been forbidden unto her, one of the dictates which her dread Father Kàrijoi had given unto his servants Great-Uncle Táto and Grandfather Pátifhar, so she had to imagine olling waves of rainbow color for to respresent the music of his thought, but even that was inadaqute, she tried to think of dance, but that just reminded her too much of Fhólus and Aîya spinning all about her and giggling in foolish glee, and Akhlísa also, always little Karuláta Khniêma Akhlísa. Éfhelìnye was finding herself remembering all of her nightmares and thinking perhaps that she had made the very wrong choice, that it might have been easiest just to die then and let the Suns die with her than to learn to live with heart-brake everlasting. The pain was almost too much to withstand, it preseed against her forehead and her eyen and tugged at her eyen, she could feel it in her throat and in the shudder of her thought, a growing nagging weighing wanhope which would never leave her never never never. This could not possibly be how my Father felt after Mother died, if he felt this way he could not longer function or be a living mortal, it would destroy all of his ability to reason and rule and desire and love. Nobody else can understand, surely when Fhermáta died, my Puey could not have felt such jhenújo such mulligrubs, otherwise still he would be lying upon her tomb even at this very hour and weeping for her, he would not have been able to arise to fight the Qhíng hordes and drive them away, if truly he felt as miserable as I feel now how could he have taken the Aûmfhaikh from the geminate Duchesses and ventured off unto the raging heavens, and I came sneaking after him even though he wished for me to stay behind, and he bade farewell to his Father and Sisters for the last time and for ever, and he came up unto the heavens. And then in the ship, as it was breaking apart, as Xhnófho Khmaiqràfhta lay dead and breaking apart into crystals and fractals … and everything was exploding … walls disintergrating and bridges collapsing, he should have fallen into the explosion, but I clasped his hand. He would have died. Did he wish to die then? If I had not come, he would be with his loving family in the Nethergloom and not have to suffer of their displeasure e'er again. Who, then, shall clasp my hand when I fall into hyp and piblokto? Will Puey catch me if I fall? But he is not here now, only Karuláta and the Traîkhiim. The Prophet was right, blessed and happy alone are the Dead, for they are beyond all cares and all sorrows.
Akhlísa was making little osculatory noises as she pretended to kiss the air, but then pulling out a pillow from nowhere began aig practicing upon it, and the Traîkhiim were kicking away the pillows that buttressed Éfhelìnye’s head and smacking aside the blankets as they jumped about the Princess and shook their wings and wagged their tounges. And it was not for some time that anyTriîm at all noticed that Éfhelìnye was curved upon her side and crying but only to herself, for she did not wish to disturb the euphoria of the dance, even though she could not possibility join into it.
– Oh, this one leaking tears all o'er the place – Aîya gasped. – Messy messy messy. –
– What for those salt tear drops what for! – cried Fhólus. – Someone the here trying to mess up our good time our good dancing! –
Akhlísa was kicking up her feet higher and higher as the Traîkhiim danced about her and she cried out – Say, Princess and future Sister Wife, do you think Puey’s going to learn to talk now that you’ll be teaching him? I suppose I’ll be doing the cooking and serving, that’s my job, I’ll be the junior wife, but you’ll be the Empress, the center of devotion and adoration, I don’t even know what you’re supposed to do at all, I guess you’ll be teaching Puey to talk because I think that would be wonderful if you can teach my Puey to talk a little because even if he never does get my name right it would be fantasticulous if he could learn the name of the children that I’ll give him. I’m thinking boy girl girl boy girl girl boy girl girl … maybe a few more girls it depends I expect to live for a long time and Puey will be Emperor for a long time but you’ll have lots of time to teach Puey lots and lots and lots of pluperfect plethora of words yes yes yes? –
Éfhelìnye weeping was far too upset to respond.
– Say Cælestial not quite Princess not ready to be Empress, how many words are there in the fhìtyu in the vocabulary? – asked Fhólus.
– Six? – asked Aîya.
– More than six. –
– Seven? –
– You we probably say more than seven this last second? –
Aîya considered for a moment. – Is it a prime number? Nine? –
– Nine is not a prime number – chanted Akhlísa. – The next prime is eleven and then thirteen, they’re tnórxha, they’re twin royal primes. –
– You must have paid attention to that in temple – chanted Fhólus.
– The only time I did. Ooh! Ooh! Question! Do you think I’ll bare Puey royal twin primes? But as little children? Because the priests were making my offspring to be Royal Caste and royal caste numbers are prime and primes are good, so will there be twins? –
Éfhelìnye was sobbing now, and no good was it for her to hide her face and pretend that she was engaged in anything else but weeping out all of the anguish and terror and heartsickness that she was trying to keep fettered entrapped within her, and some of the pain of her loneliness was spilling out also, as well as her fear and anger at her parents, but most of all her horrible despair that no matter what she did, no matter whether the Suns shone or not, no matter whether came the Monsters and Quantum Dæmons and Moon Dragons of the War, that in the end, she would lose Puîyus and his love, that all of her life had been an horrible illusion, a mad despairing Dream, that Puîyus was not her hero and the boy of her dreams, and that life itself would become as meaningless as ballet and story and language. And as she was weeping, even Fhólus and Aîya as they were bouncing around and poking each other and licking each other’s wings and feathers and antennæ could not help but notice that the Starflower Princess was not participating. White sunlight continued to shine through the large and locked prism windows, the light fell upon Éfhelìnye’s face, and yet the little tnoaqteûpa slaves felt darkness upon their xhlòxheu gizzard hearts just as when the Suns were being extinguished one by one by one. And Fhólus stopped kicking in his dance and flexing his finger-toes, and Aîya came fluttering downwards, and they crawled up to Éfhelìnye’s face, and each drew down an head or so untowards her.
– You … you okay there, question, xaôkhmatlhan xaôxhyémonim, oh honored mistress, honored and elegant? – Fhólus asked.
Aîya reached o'er and licked Éfhelìnye’s ears and could not think of anything to say. She looked up to Fhólus and shrugged her threefold shoulders, and felt an heavy sadness in her souls also.
– Very the upset! – Fhólus whispered.
– Don’t understand the upkeep and wellbeing of future Empresslings! – whispered Aîya with one head, while another licked the Princess’ face and tasted of her salt tears.
– You! Concubine! You supposed to know something? –
– At least for the helping of something – Aîya chanted.
Princess Éfhelìnye barely felt it as Fhólus was wrapping his leg-arms about her and drawing her visageface upwards and rubbing a wing against her and one of his own faces, nor did the Princess notice it as Aîya was doing her best to lick and embrace and make her feel warm and loved again. Éfhelìnye figured that if at least she could breathe than she would be winning a small victory, at least then she could feel that she were upon these life-giving dreamlands and not sinking again into some horrible sunless nightmare where her Father waited for her upon the throne of despair. But she could taste the air, it was sharp and almost cut her, and she shivered from it and hiccoughed a little in her fear and sadness.
– Hic! Hic! Hic! – gasped the Starflower Princess, here in the midnight of the age.
– Always like it when she singultous apocope – Fhólus whispered. – She the Moon one of the few for to remain beautiful and cute even when hic hic hic she the hickock, hicket, hick·hop she. –
– Why sad? Why so sad? Sadness so sad it, sad for to say, sadding us all – Aîya sighed.
– Hic! Hic! Hic! – Éfhelìnye gasped, and after a time was barely able to look upwards and look at Akhlísa as she was dancing at the edge of the bed and kicking up her limbs and kicking pillows up upon the very tips of her open-toed bridal slippers.
– No! – Éfhelìnye whispered.
– Oh? – Fhólus and Aîya asked.
– NO! – Éfhelìnye uttered a little louder.
– Oh … – Fhólus and Aîya looked to each other and shrugged their sixfold wings.
– Fhwa fhwa fhwa fhwa fhwa! – laughed Akhlísa as she spun around and around, and at last noticing that the Traîkhiim were no longer bouncing around her, she turned around and saw Éfhelìnye’s hugging her pillow and staring at her with bright red eyen. – Somebody is a sleepy head, isn’t she? – asked Akhlísa.
– I am not tired – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– Somebody is still sick. –
– I am not sick. –
– Somebody is grouchy. –
– Karuláta? –
– Wait … wait … – Akhlísa jumped down upon the bed knees first with so much force that in the ensuent ripples Fhólus and Aîya were thrown onto their sides and came sliding outwards in a mass of feathers and pillows. Akhlísa crawled forwards and holding out one finger squished it right upon Éfhelìnye’s nose and chanted – BEEP! –
– Kàrula? –
– Beep? –
– Are you paying attention to me? –
– Beep! –
– I have something important to say. –
– Beep? –
– Please stop saying ‘beep.’ –
– Eep? –
Akhlísa kept poking and squishing Éfhelìnye’s nose and eyebrows and nose until Éfhelìnye pulled her hands away and despite herself still hiccoughed a few more times.
– I still think you should rest – Akhlísa chanted.
– Karuláta Khniêma Akhlísa, I have come a decision. You shall not bare Puey’s children – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– Well … not today. Later on. –
– Not ever. Never. –
– Eventually … –
– Never. –
– That’s impossible, because the monks did their tests on me … –
– It doesn’t matter what the … –
– But they’re expert monks they told me so they had machines that were really smart and were playing several different games of chess at the same time, and when the monks saw me they chanted that I was really smart too and they didn’t call me baby Sister or anything! –
– You will not be having Puey’s children! –
– Why? Do you think he’ll like his other concubines better? I rather doubt it – Akhlísa fiddled with her fingers and then started playing with Éfhelìnye’s hair. – I don’t think his heart will easily be swayed by others, especially since I know him so well. I think he gets rather uncomfortable around strangers, especially of the feminine flavor. –
– Master Puîyos can be powerful shy he – Fhólus chanted.
Aîya licked Fhólus’ wings and drew her about Éfhelìnye’s head, so that their wings were like an halo and pillow for the Princess, and Aîya chanted – Perhaps this one the time when you and I not talk, duckprating the batter caput! –
– You will not bare Puey’s children – chanted Éfhelìnye. – I am perfectly happy to share him with you as a Vestal Nun, perhaps we can even grant you a title as Wife, but you will not be his wife in fact. He is mine. –
– And mine. –
– Just mine. –
– Me too. –
– No … just for me. –
– And me. –
– Only for me. –
– And the two of us. –
– No … you don’t understand. –
– I think that Puey will be a very affectionate Father to the children I give him. –
– You will not give him any children. –
– Just a few. –
– Just none. –
Akhlísa put her hands on her hips and chanted – Oh, I know what this is all about, I read about it in a book, like the great Lords and Emperors of old when their wives could only supply a child or two and they were worried that they could not supply an heir, I understand completely. –
– No you don’t. –
– You’re afraid that as the First Wife you won’t be afforded all of the respect of your position from me, and let me assure you that I’ll treat you just as I do all my older Sisters and Cousins, why you’ll be bossing me around like a slave in no time, and I promise that the children I have will be yours in name and will have to obey you too! –
– You don’t understand at all. –
– You’re afraid that if you are unable to provide Puey with a Son just like your Mother was … –
– I don’t want to talk about my Mother. –
– … and I bare him a Son or so that he won’t be acknowledged as your Son and the Heir to your Family and Clan, but I promise, if you can’t bare a Son I will so you don’t have to worry about anything at all. This will all be very cosy and homely. Does anyone have any candy? I don’t have any in this bridal gown. –
– You misunderstand completely. –
– I know we’re young, but we have many years to grow accustomed to each other and … –
– You’re not baring him any children at all! How can I be clearer? You will not be his wife! Puey will not be your husband! You will not be his! He will not be yours! You two shall not be betrothed and married to each other. You shall not be given in marriage to him. Your hand shall not be placed in his. You two will not be lord husband and lady wife! –
– Ah … – Akhlísa chanted.
– Do you understand. –
– I’ll be concubine. Concubines are better than wives. You have all the solemnity of the responsibility of the Clan, while all I have to do is be pretty all the time. I think I’m well suited to such a vocation. –
Éfhelìnye grabbed Akhlísa by the ears. – Listen to me! –
– Beep? –
– You’re not marrying my Puey! –
– What are you saying? –
– You shall not hug him, kiss him, marry him … you will not be his wife or concubine … you will not marry him! –
Akhlísa blinked a couple of times. Fhólus and Aîya drew up their heads behind Éfhelìnye’s shoulders and looked at each other for a few moments, and held their collective breath.
– You’re not suggesting … – Akhlísa began.
– Oh? – asked Éfhelìnye.
– That we’re going to lose the War and your Father will kill us all, that would be horrible, I’ll never get a chance to be a married wife. Tragic, tragic beyond all measure. –
– I’m not talking about the war. I’m saying that you and Puey will not be married. –
– The Ancestors approved. –
– I’ll dissuade them. –
– I was promised to him at birth. –
– I’ll change that. –
– We have a betrothal and marriage contract. –
– I will be Empress. –
– And I’ll be the Concubine. We get along well together. –
– Please listen to me. –
– Could we cut this short, I want to awaken Puey and start learning to kiss him … –
– You won’t kiss him! You just won’t! You will never be his concubine or wife, you shall remain as you were, his little Karuláta, his little baby Sister! – Éfhelìnye shook Akhlísa’s head a few times for emphasis.
Akhlísa remained silent for a few heartbeats. – I’m not a baby. –
– You’ll be his baby Sister. That’s the end of it. –
– Stop calling me baby. Siêthiyal thinks that I’m a baby but I’m not. –
– Puey is mine, all mine, mine for ever! You can’t have it. –
– He was mine before I met you. –
– You will always have a special familial bond, as Siblings, older Brother and baby Sister. –
– I’m not a baby! –
– I forbid you to marry Puey! –
Akhlísa yanked herself away. – What are you saying! –
– I’m putting an end to this nonsense! You will not marry him! Is that clear enough for you! –
– Yes I will. –
– I command it! –
– You deny nothing! –
– I’ll be Empress! – Éfhelìnye piped.
– The Empress has no power, everyone knows that! And more importantly, you won’t become the Empress without my help! –
– You’re not helping! –
– Yes I am, without me there would be no alliance to save you and Puey, you’d be washed up here friendless and unheralded … well moreso! You’d be dead now were it not for me! –
– Sophostrical reasons aside, Puey will become Emperor because it is his destiny, it is the strength of his hand! You just wanted to be married to him and are using this as an excuse. Fine. I’m tired of this little dance. I end it now. I forbid you e'er to mention or imply or think that you’ll e'er be married to … –
– You forbid nothing, Empress. –
– Didn’t you just say that as the Senior Wife you had to obey me in all things? –
– Acknowledge that I shall be Puey’s Concubine and my love for him, and then I’ll obey you. But until you do, I’m not listening to anything you say! –
– You didn’t listen before! –
– Did you say something! –
– I’m not in the mood for this! If you didn’t notice, my heart stopped. I almost died! Don’t bother me now, Karuláta! –
– Good. Rest. I knew you were sick. I’ll visit Puey, and later on when you’re feeling better and well rested and bit less cranky … –
– I’m not cranky! I forbid you to … –
– Fhwa fhwa fhwa fhwa! –
– Karuláta! –
– I’m marrying him and there’s nothing you can do about it! –
– The only marriage I shall accept is the spirital one of a vestal virgin! –
– I’m not going to be a nun and you and I know it! I’ll be his little concubine and have a few children and you’ll fall in love with them as soon as they’re born and you’ll thank me for sneaking around behind your back and marrying him without telling you. You’ll laugh and say how foolish you were to have kept a grudge … –
– I’m not forgiving you for this. –
– Sleepy sleepy sleepy! I’m getting tired too. – Akhlísa smacked her mouth a little. – Do you think Puey will get me pretty jewelry when he burns towns and brings boatloads of treasure? The joke is that you’ll get the nice things, but I’ll get the silly and shiny ones, and that suits me fine. –
– You’re not marrying him. –
– It’s a fait accompli, it will be. –
– No you won’t! –
– You’re starting to annoy me! I thought we were friends. –
– You’re not having his children! –
– Uh-huh! –
– You’ll remain fostered into his Clan, or rather our Clan, you’ll be our baby Sister and … –
– I told you, stop calling me a baby! The Elders and priests and the Duchesses thought I was old enough to be ready for betrothal, that doesn’t make a baby anymore! –
– Please, Karuláta … –
– I’m not a baby! Leave me alone! – Akhlísa partially rolled and partially jumped away from Éfhelìnye as if she had almost tred upon a wellfeathered serpent.
– I don’t mean to upset you – Éfhelìnye chanted, sniffling a little.
– You’re upset! Are you crying because of me? –
– I don’t want you to be hurt. –
– I’m not hurt, I accept the situation for what it is. –
– You can’t marry him! –
– Say that all you want but it doesn’t change anything – Akhlísa stuck out her tounge at Éfhelìnye. – Why don’t you go back to sleep? I’m going to go find Puey. –
Akhlísa hopped off the bed. Éfhelìnye felt more tears coming and whispered – I liked it better when you were my baby Sister too . –
Akhlísa spun around. – Stop calling me that! Don’t you e'er call me that again! I’m not a little micromorph any longer! I was promised to Puey at birth, he’s mine and I’ve always known this and you have no one to blame at all if you feel all babyish about it! You can go and cry, but we’re going to be co-wives so there there there nyaaaah! –
– I shall not discuss this any longer – Éfhelìnye chanted. – Traîkhiim you may stay with me or not, I care neither way. But the baby Sister may leave. –
– I don’t listen to you any longer – Akhlísa chanted, and she skipped about and placed her fingers in her ears and cried out – Fhwa fhwa fhwa! –
Éfhelìnye crossed her arms and looking to the Traîkhiim chanted – She’s such a baby. –
– STOP CALLING ME THAT! – Akhlísa screamed. This time when she wheeled about, her eyen were sparkling with their own unshed tears. – Don’t you care that I’ve waited mine entire life to be wed to Puey? Don’t you care that my birth parents died desiring this, that most of my Clan is dead, that my Grandmother and older Sister have died in the hopes that I would continue the Clan? Don’t you mind for a single second that my foster Father has bartered away his future and freedom so that I may live? Puey is all the family I have left, aside from Siêthiyal and you. I’m marrying him. So get used to it. –
Éfhelìnye’s eyen crossed. – I wouldn’t upset someone whose blood is the same as a Dragon, whose parents ended the reign of peace. –
– I’m not scared of you. Are you going almost to die on us again? Go ahead and snuff out the Suns while you’re at it, that’s terrible mature of you. –
Éfhelìnye felt heat and blood swelling up within her. She didn’t wish to say it, but the word slipped out almost of its own accord. – Baby! – she hissed.
– STOP IT! – screamed Akhlísa. She began marching right back to the bed, fury building up within her. She looked around and looked for any type of object whichby to start bludgeoning the Princess, perhaps a shovel such as they had used to dig up the time capsule khnèntrot or perhaps a mallet prèkat such as one used in the game of Xhwongeîthe, or even a pie tin jètithus, but glancing around saw only a long glistening sharp and utterly leathal kitchen knife partially embedded into the foot of the bed, sprinkles of Traîkhiim citrus dripping off of it. Akhlísa yanked up the uluuraq and advanced on the Princess.
– What are you doing, Kàrula! – gasped Éfhelìnye.
– Take it back now! –
– Kàrula! –
– Don’t call me baby! – Akhlísa jumped upon the bed. The Traîkhiim screamed and tried to protect Éfhelìnye with their wings.
– Karuláta! Stop it! – Éfhelìnye shouted.
– I’m not a baby! –
– Put the knife down! –
– Don’t call me a baby! –
– You’re going to hurt yourself!–
– I’m no baby! – Akhlísa ducked as Fhólus flung herself right at her, but Akhlísa just shoved her aside like a rambunctious pet playing a little too hard. Aîya was jumping upwards and trying to bite at Akhlísa’s sleeves and draw away the wrist the held the ulu fanknife, but Akhlísa kept punching and shoving her aside.
– Please don’t be upset – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– You were the only one who didn’t treat me like a baby when we lived together! I wasn’t a baby then and I’m one now! – Akhlísa shouted.
– Fine! – chanted Éfhelìnye as she held up her palms. – You’re not a baby! –
– Not good enough! You don’t believe it, you just don’t want me to poke you with stiff! –
– Stab? Slice? Rip? Cut? It’s not the poking that bothers me! –
– Crazy concubine! – cried Fhólus, and she jumped up and tried to slap her wings against Akhlísa, but she grabbed one of her heads and kicked her aside with her bridal slippers, and when Aîya arose and hissed, Akhlísa just turned and growled at her.
– I’m not a baby! – Akhlísa murmured.
– We’ve got trouble in the harem – Aîya whispered.
– Who was the platokap, the khwòqheqhe luddy-duddie who left a very sharp and leathal knife just lying out there just practically begging to be taken up and jabbed into someone? – Fhólus asked. – Bad planning indeed. Or no planning. None of us really the good with plans. –
Akhlísa lunged forward. Éfhelìnye screamed and tried to cover her face. Akhlísa grabbed the Princess by a chunk of her sunset hair and threw her down, and before the Princess knew it, Akhlísa was sitting right on top of her and holding the kitchen knife right at her throat.
– I’m not a baby – Akhlísa hissed.
– You’re not a baby – Éfhelìnye whispered.
– Do you think I’m a baby? –
– No, not at all. –
Akhlísa leaned forwards. – Tell me how much you approve of my coming marriage to Puey. –
Éfhelìnye clasped her lips shut. Her eyen darted down towards the glint of the knife, but she was beginning to think that physical pain was far less anguish than that in her heart.
– Say it! – screamed Akhlísa. – Tell me how you’ll love having me as a Sister Wife! –
Éfhelìnye shook her head in negation.
– I shall be baring Puey’s children. Tell me all the reasons why you desire this. –
– No! –
– Say it! –
– Never! –
– SAY IT! –
– Puey’s mine! All mine! Only mine and for ever! –
– You’re driving me crazy! –
– Put the knife down! I can’t breath, you’re on my chest! –
– Puey is mine too! –
– No he’s not! –
Akhlísa decided that a slighter great force of cohersion was going to be necessary. She wrapped one hand about Éfhelìnye wrist and held her down low and helpless, like a lambkin being held down for the sheering, and she kept the knife right at the Princess’ throat. – Acknowledge my love for Puey! – cried Akhlísa. – Now! –
Fhólus and Aîya came crawling upwards, but Akhlísa was kicking them away.
– Is that knife question as sharp as it looked? – Aîya whispered.
– Ah … perhaps I we exaggerated just a little little – Fhólus chanted.
– Say it! – cried Akhlísa. – Tell me that you will love it when I kiss Puey! –
– Kàrula! – gasped Éfhelìnye as she struggled for air.
– What! – Akhlísa leaned forwards so that she could hear the Princess a bit more clearly.
– Puey’s mine and only mine and stop acting like a baby and let me go before you hurt yourself! – Éfhelìnye shouted in a single breath.
– DON’T CALL ME THAT! – Akhlísa skriked.
Neither of the maidens were noticing the slight sound of clockwork on the other side of the door, the whirl of mechanical insects crawling up and down the surface of the latches and adjusting the wheels within, and the doors long and slow creak withinwards, and the shafts of candle light from the sconces araînya dolven in the halls, and the two outlines, the maidenly silouhettes appearing for a moment.
– I’m not a baby! – screamed Akhlísa as she sate upon Éfhelìnye’s chest and held the knife right o'er her throat, and Siêthiyal and Ixhúja walked right in on them, Siêthiyal arms carrying a basket of apples, and Ixhúja with a few pomegranates in her hands. For a moment time stopped, as the two saw Akhlísa threatening Éfhelìnye so. Siêthiyal dropped her basket and the apples came rolling out. Ixhúja’s pomegrantes were spilling around in little orbits. – Don’t call me a baby! – Akhlísa whispered through clenched teeth.