– Would you mind picking some apples for the Princess? – Akhlísa asked. – I know that apples are her favorite, I think there are some growing in these sky mountain forests, the trees may be dying but you should be able to collect enough efficacious apples. –
– I’ll bring back enough for Puey also – Siêthiyal chanted. Akhlísa was stroking Éfhelìnye’s hand and stroking it, the Princess was a beautiful flower in her sleep, her hair swimming about her in brilliant cosmic rays. Siêthiyal hesitated for a moment, but then she drew herself up to the foot of the bed and wrapping her arms about her Sister chanted – Are you sure you’ll be fine alone without me? I won’ t be gone long. –
– Take as long as you need … – Akhlísa intoned. How could she explain to Siêthiyal the dread she felt, the absolute certainty of what was to come, when Siêthiyal did not perceive time in the same way? So many times Akhlísa had been able to see with her eyen, one of blue and one of green, mirrors and shadows and glimmers of things for to come, and she knew that in this room, within the hour, Puîyus’ wife would threaten his sweatheart even to the death. Akhlísa sighed. For her betrayal of Puîyus to the Dragon, and her sneakiness about the Princess, she was not sure she didn’t deserve death.
– Do you want me to stay? – Siêthiyal asked.
– No … I’ll have the Traîkhiim as company. –
Fhólus and Aîya snored the snores of the content and wellfed and e'er better rested as they nestlenustled up closer unto Éfhelìnye.
– I wish you wouldn’t worry – Siêthiyal chanted, as she drew back a few of her Sister’s golden tresses behind an ear. – Éfhelìnye has a good heart, she can forgive anything. She will find a way to love you as you are. I’ll be back soon. – She bounced up and chanted – The Tèrefha are actually quite amazing, while Puey has been in slumber they’ve been able to heal his burn wounds from the Dragons. The Khlitsaîyart saurians have their uses, it seems, at least from time to time. –
– Yeah … –
Siêthiyal turned to leave, and Akhlísa continued to stroke Éfhelìnye’s hand to the gentle tempo of Traîkhiim buŋguray hrkati snorken. Before Siêthiyal left, Akhlísa turned back and chanted – I love you! –
– I love you too – Siêthiyal chanted, a little surprised at her Sister’s affection.
– Tell … tell Puey I love him, when he awakens. –
– Tell him yourself, you big baby – chanted Siêthiyal as she slammed the door behind her. The clockwork and wheels ground and whistled together, and Akhlísa sate in silence for a few moments and thought to herself just how much she was coming to hate being called the baby just because she was the youngest one in the family but now she was very important she was going to be one of the Emperor’s concubines so she wasn’t a baby any longer and Siêthiyal needed to see that. The door jammed a little and Siêthiyal ducked in and chanted – You big baby! Hah hah hah hah hah! Hah! –
– Stop calling me that! – Akhlísa growled.
Siêthiyal slammed the door, and the clockwork struggled for a few moments. Akhlísa sighed and held Éfhelìnye’s hand all the tighter and just hoped that the Princess could at least forgive her family for what she has done against her. The door crackled a little and Siêthiyal ducked in and guffawed – Have I mentioned that you’re a big baby? Hæ hæ hæ hæ hæ! Hæ! –
– Go away! – Akhlísa murmured.
– Are you getting cranky? –
– Can’t you do anything productive? –
– Making you miserable is quite productive. Fine. Baby. I’m getting apples for the Princess. –
– I’m old enough to be betrothed. –
– For some reason the door keep sticking, perhaps all my slamming as something to do with it. – Siêthiyal ducked out and the door ground its gears and began shutting itself, and Akhlísa was alone again for only a few moments before the door burst open again with sororal chuckles and Siêthiyal poked and chanted – Have I neglected to mention what a big baby you are! –
– I hope you have daughters just like you! First priory when we win the war is finding you an husband! Oh, why wait? Éfha will dance at the opportunity to start finding you an husband right now. –
– You baby! Tee hee hee hee hee! Hee! Okay, I’ll be right back. Stay here and think about how inadequate you are in comparison to the perfect and floreal Princess here, born of the holy ichor of the Pwéru. Why Puey’s probably dreaming about her right now and how much he wants to hold and kiss her all the while. You’ve seen the way he looks at her. He doesn’t think of her as a little child. –
– Are you leaving yet? –
– He thinks of her as a young woman. –
– Go! –
– But you, he considers … –
– I’m not listening. –
– Then I’m done. You baby! –
Siêthiyal screamed in laughter and ducked back to the door, and Akhlísa picked up some white pillows to throw at her Sister, but already she was gone. And Akhlísa was left alone with her fear, and certainty that Puîyus’ wife was not going to take this day’s tidings very well, and so she continued to stroke the Princess’ hand and listen to the insouciant sleeping of the Traîkhiim volk. And Siêthiyal for her part ran down the halls of the harīm even as the clinks and gears and wheels of the clockweyth door began sliding into place and locking together began to jam because of the incessant slamming and opening and closing of it. The purdah was yfilled now with many Eunuchs who were waiting about the curtains and blinking back and forth sometimes in the direction of the Princess’ room and othertimes to the doors, Siêthiyal was wondering exactly what type of emergency they were expecting, she was glad to have a bit more security in the new xhùjhwe and yet she would have been more thankful to have more slaves to boss about, and the problem she found was that now that Éfhelìnye had been found all attention was focused back on her, or rather the most exaulted position which she would one day take, and the slaves were all susurrating one to another, Empress this and Moon that and the new Moon Empress to come, and so once again Siêthiyal was finding herself ignored or even worse treated like a baby, and she grit her teeth and kicked against the curtains and stormed down the long rolling halls in frustration, and the Eunuchs barely remembered to flee away from her and hide their faces from her gaze. The lower halls of the harem were already beginning to crowd up with the various Traîkhiim refugees whom Fhólus and Aîya had been able to collect along the coastline of Jaràqtu and the khòtsa tableland and khwàfhra foothills arising before the Orbeloi, small groups of Traîkhiim who were fluttering about the dead trees, others who were wandering around upon the fields which of normal were shining emerald green, but which glistened with a thin layer of frost upon them, ragged and weary Traîkhiim who had come stumbling downwards from the heavens, among them all Fhólus and Aîya were come and walked through the long and winding gardens and sometimes found piles of their people aslumbering upon each other or coiled up before the menhirs and dolmens or crashing at the edge of dreamlands left gescorched by the wrath of the Qhíng, and sometimes Fhólus descended upon raven wings and touched a Traîkhiim and chanted – Come, the Empress is night – and other times Aîya came fluttering downards, her wings like those of a dove, and she brushed her feathers against the face of a Traîkhiim and chanted – Arise and follow me. – And so in ones and twos and in nests and clans the straggling Traîkhiim came spinning upwards in the direction-de of the great iron turms, sometimes they were too weak to make it all the way up from the green hills and the murmuring coastline whose white cliffs were speckled in ancient carvings of piasa Dragons and wellstriped diplodoci and the outline of the Patriarchs who had come and settled in this land so very long ago, in the generations of Emperor Eilasaîyan when Jaràqtu was arising from the Sea of Music, and some of the Traîkhiim ragged and weary collapsed upon chariots were which winding up this way, and others fell upon wagons, and a few were able, carrying each other and hobbling in the air, to make it up unto the footsteps of the fortress, and they lifted up their wings and hand-feet in supplication and managed to whisper the single word – Empress! – before falling into a deeper faint. And the monks and priests and the warriors and chieftains gathered up all of the Traîkhiim they could find and brought them into the walls and set them down unto the ramps of the harem. At first they were of a mind to bring the Traîkhiim down unto the kitchens and let them eat their fill, but the wiser priests knew that the scent of so much food would drive these poor souls tikälipik into an khràqa, a feeding frenzy geilt, and so it was best to bring them up unto the eunuchs and harem slaves and have them feed just a little at a time, although a few of the Traîkhiim managed to escape and came trickling down through the walls and bounced into the kitchens and played with the sharp knives before being chased away by the wives and daughters of the warriors. The Qhíng and Qlùfhem who were stationed in this rath just shook their antennæ and eyestalks in dismay to think of all the tlhàpela, of all the mischief that the Traîkhiim were going to cause, but who could deny these poor refugees struggling and straggling and begging just to be near the new Empress ? And so it was that as Siêthiyal came dashing down the lower halls of the harem and into the larger xhyiêrxhni parlors els tanrydoon that spinning all about her from the couches and chairs and about the arrassed curtains and the fluent tapestries long serpentile heads were arising, and wings were batting together, and many sets of eyen were turning and blinking at her in unison.
– Ciao! – came several thousand voices.
– Hi! – chanted Siêthiyal as she ran. – Bye! –
– How the Empress! – all the voices cried at once.
– She’s fine. She’s asleep. I think she’s dreaming about my Brother. –
– Oh. Didn’t ask about us? –
– No. She tends to ask about him first and quite often and then everyone else later on. –
– Oh. –
– Bye! – Siêthiyal just waved, that was far more than enough courtesy to show unto slaves.
– Wait! – cried the Traîkhiim. – We I They know you! –
– Splendiferous! I’m going to get some apples for the honored sleepyhead. –
– You the new Emperor’s baby Sister! –
Siêthiyal halted with such abruptness that all of the curtains before her blew aside, and Traîkhiim came tumbling down about her. She whirled about, and as Traîkhiim were crawling up the sides of the couch with their angular limbs, their necks darting from side to side, their heads each with a single cyclopean eye turning unto her with inquisitive attention, their bodies thin from long flight and peregrination, she told them – I am most certainly not Puey’s baby Sister. I’m his younger Sister, but not his youngest. –
– Oh … – the Traîkhiim were all nodding their heads at the same time and to each other. – We though the heard you his only Sister now. –
– Perhaps so, but Khlís is the baby of the family. Do you remember which one she is? –
– Um … not the bossy one? –
– That’s right. She’s been wearing white and yellow, her hair is gold, she’s a little shorter than I am, a little thinner too. Sometimes she speaks and forgets what she just chanted, sometimes she just makes up stories in her mind. You can’t miss her. –
– She the Triîmeling? –
– Oh yes, she’s the baby – Siêthiyal clasped her hands behind her back and swung from side to side. – Not only is she the youngest, but she’s very qhayótlhi, very childish, very wtsòngta, very immature. Whatever idea pops into her mind, that she must do. She gets extremely hyper and runs around in circles, and sometimes, you’ll like this, she gobbles up too much chocolate and runs around until she gets sick all o'er the place. –
– She a Traîkhiim! – the Pèqlor were nodding one to another.
Siêthiyal was examining her fingernails as pink as her hair. – I suppose. Now, the problem though is now that she has a veil and title she thinks she’s far more mature, far more sophisticated than she really is, and it’s not going to take Puey and Whatsherface to figure out that she’s still the mewling screaming puking little baby Sister she’s always been. But that will all be fun for later. We’ll let those three figure out what they’re going to do, I’m just going to be the raven and start trouble and gather up whatever fruit of it I can. Say! I have an idea. –
– Fruit? – the Traîkhiim were asking and licking their lips.
– When you see the baby again, remember, golden tressed Karuláta Khniêma Akhlísa, be sure to call her Baby. She loves that. –
– We call her baby. –
– Call her that several times. She’ll adore you for it. –
– She the Karuláta Khniêma Akhlísa is a baby. –
– And try to mention all of the babyish things that she’s done. Like the time she got an hippo nicor to jump on Puey’s bed until it broke. Or when she was little and she set her tiger slippers on the lamp to dry and almost set the entire crannog on fire. Or last midsummer’s on her Starday when we got her that new gown and she had too much chocolate and ran around and around in a little Traîkhiim fashion and blech! she spit up all o'er us all! Quite disgusting. –
– She a baby. –
Siêthiyal hopped up upon a window sill and taking out a comb began brushing her long pink tresses. – I tell you, she can be such an handful. Baby sister drool is disgusting, and she’s drooled on me more nights than I can count, but baby sister spewage is even worse. –
– Baby Akhlísa. –
– I’m hoping I can just give her to Éfhelìnye. Here you go, a brand new Sister for you, do what you want. Than I can on with my real work. –
– Which is? –
– I require universal domination of everything in order to change the entire economic realities of the worlds for the procuring of toys for myself. –
– Ah You like toys? –
– I do. The problem is, since the Emperor no longer makes them, they tend to be rare and in heavy need for repair. –
– You a little childish too. –
Siêthiyal set her comb aside and hopped down from the windowsill. – Perhaps, but it does necessitate an advanced amount of craftsmanship as well as familiar acumen in order to repair and procure said toys. And since all my collection was burnt down before, I have to start from the beginning. But now that we have this nice alliance, the Qhíng and Aûm are getting along, Puey will have himself a couple of wives, it looks like we can actually have a chance in this war, and I can be left alone to be the Patroness of Toys as is stated in the Syuîkho, the betrothal and marriage contract. Then all will be bliss. –
– Oh. –
Siêthiyal was turning to leave. – Don’t misremember, call Kàrula a baby. –
– We call her baby. –
– Good. The Empress will reward you. –
– Hurray! Do we call her baby? –
– No … call her Kàrula’s Sister Wife. She’ll love that. –
– We can do. –
– I knew I could count on you. Ta ta! – Siêthiyal smiled and ducked out of the sälun.
The Traîkhiim looked one to another in confusion. – What that-sa? – they asked each other. – Having no idea. Do we they know her? Never even seen her before. Must be little child. Probably a baby. – The Traîkhiim were wondering one to another and shrugging their complex thrice-fold wings, and behind them at the edge of the halls Fhólus and Aîya were arising from bed and came slinking out the clockwork door and slammed it several times behind them, the wheels crackling and grinding from the careless force, and just to ensure that the door remained good and locked they smalled it a few more times and then, sneaking away in an attempt not to alert their fellow Triîm they began fluttering down into the kitchens for to search for food.
Even outside the harem and in the outer walls the priests and monks were barely paying Siêthiyal any attention, the only ones who seemed to notice her at all were the Jaràqtun adult units, at least they recognized her as one who had been born Íngìkhmar’s Daughter, and they were nodding to her out of respect before shuffling along on their way. Basket in hand, lmost unseen and almost completely unacknowledged came she down through the hallways and came unto the courtyards which were set all in pebbles in a most geometric design, triangles and circles and criss-crossed khwòkhyo octothorpes littered before her, and even though she did not wish to keep Éfhelìnye waiting for some apples, Siêthiyal still paused long enough to jump through the patterns in the right fashion, she tried to jump from one triangle to the next without landing in a circle, and sometimes she constituted a bit of gymnastics on her part, for the triangles were wellscattered sometimes far apart and othertimes close, they were like leaves flowing on the waters, and once or twice she had to stop and retrace her steps, for she had come to a complex of triangles to far away from others which could be reached in a jump, although Puîyus could have done so of course, and a couple of times she had to bend o'er and walk upon her hands and set her feet upon the triangles of the wall, for the triangles were seemed too small for accurate jumping, and so she made her way across the courtyard. She still wore her Father’s sword strapped upon her back, but she was thinking that now that Puîyus was returned unto her that it was just a symbol of the Sweqhàngqu now, for he could fight for them all. This was beginning to suit Siêthiyal fine, it was one thing to try and defend baby Akhlísa when my Puey was far away and there was no one else to look after her, but Puey’s back he can be the general and the master and I can go back to being the younger Sister, if I have to be ignored than at least I’ll use this opportunity to further mine own plans. Maybe Puey will let me give the sword back to him. Fine fine fine. Khlís is safe now. Éfhelìnye is not going to do anything foolish, no matter what silly threats I may claim. Honored Pòrjhoal indeed, thinking that the Princess would toss my Sister into the swamps. Hah! Éfhelìnye is far too soft for her own good. She can find a way to befriend many, to pity others, to embrace the rest. I’m hardly that nice. I still gnaw at my heart to think of what the Qhíng have done unto our people.
The courtyard of geometric shapes came to an end, and Siêthiyal found herself in a long and winding forest such as only could have grown in the garthlands of Jaràqtu, a forest which had once been a profuse riot of vinery and leaves and grue enswirled íyaxhat, but which arose strugglent before her gaze. Sometimes she found it hard to imagine that she had finally returned home, to see the dismal ruins where once mighty fortresses had stood, and to see the outline of grainery and silo, to see great gapes in the earth where siege-machines were come, and the craters steaming and blacksooted from the cadlong of the Qhíng fighters, and yet at other times she was made only too aware of the fragility and fertility which had been Jaràqtu, the tall patriarch trees half frozen and dying and swaying in the winds, the fields all of shamrocks with powder snow syòquqa and fresh khnutàpaqa flother encrusting them, the leaves turning and revealing where once cherry lotos blossoms had glistened, though the flowers were dead and just a few petals remained streaming in the deadwinds, and the pfhóla trees crackling and moaning and making a sound like living ships arising into the æther, even as the branches struggled for to remain upright. It was Jaràqtu and it was home, although not quite, and the great sky iron whispering mountains of Xhyèrxhmu were many leagues away from the ancestrial dreamlands of the Sweqhàngqu, and were an high and lofty ærial land, not of rolling field and hill, but of stone and crag and hill and the still chill blanket of Winter hovering in the air. Ah well, enough time for such melancholic thoughts, she wondered as she rubbed her hands together and shifted her basket to her other arm, she hunted in the ice shadows for some apple trees which might have fruit suitable for a convalescing and young Empress.
Siêthiyal clammered up the branches of one tree after the next, sometimes she only found a few suitable apples to pluck into her basket, sometimes she found nothing but rotting husks filled with dark and oily goo, and othertimes she found the peals of an apple, but when she reached out for to touch it, it popped like a bubble to reveal that it was completely hollow, and whatever had grown inside was completely evaporated away. It was taking her some time to collect enough apples to fill her basket, but Siêthiyal did want to do a good job of it, for Éfhelìnye was not part of her family and a Sister by marriage and alliance and was due a great deal of respect, and if she could make Puîyus happy, than Siêthiyal could be content to collect more apples. She was just hoping that Akhlísa and Éfhelìnye could somehow find a way to learn to live with each other or at least accept each other, it was clearly for the good of this new dynasty, and Siêthiyal was not entirely sure what all the fuss was, Éfhelìnye should be happy to have a sibling of her own to torment and boss around as a slave and force her to scrub the floors, Éfhelìnye was set for life, and Akhlísa needed someone to take care of her, the Ancestors know she can’t function by herself, she’s set also, and I can just sit back and have both of the maidens run errands for me, I can play them one off the other, and begin building my toy consortium from the ashes of this war. These apples smell bad. Even apples are dying. It is strange to consider that honored Kàrijoi used to make even the apples grow. Siêthiyal pulled herself up into an higher branch and was greated with a better view of the dying forest, she could see that the cliffs of the mountain were shining with a slight gold and right light which reminded her of the erfhrúla flowers which Fhermáta had created from the alchemy of her gardens and made for Puîyus in carouselambra of their betrothal rite. The colors shimmered just at the edge of the cliff, she reached out one hand untowards them and wondered what Fhermáta would have done to keep their family together as the Emperor continued to devour the worlds and shred time and the adults were growing mad.
A few seeds came raining down about Siêthiyal and turning around she saw that sitting upon a branch a little higher to her was Princess Ixhúja, and she was munching upon some granats and spitting out the seeds towards the trees and branches and skies and Siêthiyal herself. Siêthiyal was not too annoyed, for when she was alone with Akhlísa she had spat out many a seed and pod in her general direction, it was not something she would do in the presence of the adults, and Auntie Qtìmine would most certainly not approve, she had spent years trying to teach her nieces proper manners, and when she wanted to be polite Siêthiyal could completely blend into the crowds of maidens, but when she wanted away from adult eyen to torment Akhlísa her creativity knew no end. Ixhúja spat out a few more seeds and slipped down the branch and was examining the multicolored cliffs before them.
One could hear your clumsy climbing several leagues away, Ixhúja murmured unto Siêthiyal in the growlent language of wild beasts. It would have been simple enough to track you, if one had the desire. She offered Siêthiyal a pomegranate, and Siêthiyal broke it apart in her hands and sniffing it and finding it fresh, she began to eat of it.
– We’ve been wondering where you had gone, my Sister and I that is – Siêthiyal chanted. She took another bite. – I’ve been meaning to thank you for rescuing her. I am quite certain she would have died without your intervention. –
Ixhúja was licking pomegrante juice from her palms and purred in a rather soothing language as if to say, Where Puîyos beckons there I wend.
– Loyalty to my Puey and his Family is a virtue – Siêthiyal chanted. She spat out a pomegranate seed and watched as it turned and blurred in the sky.
Puîyos can be quite extraordinary, and my Cousin has a few fine qualities to her also, Ixhúja was murmuring as she licked her sleeves and face. She spat out a few more seeds, and Siêthiyal responded by spitting out her seeds, and they let the seeds arise in their arch and come tumbling back down again.
Do you need more apples? I can get you some from these higher branches, you would not be able to clammer upon so thin a branch and reach so high without falling, Ixhúja purred and hissed unto her.
– The apples are for Éfhelìnye. I’m hoping the scent will revive her, and we can feed her of apply goodness yummy! – Siêthiyal chanted.
Lealty unto mine Éfha and her Family is a virtue, Ixhúja was saying as she disappeared almost shooting up through the branches, and when she came spinning back down she was holding up some apples in the fold of her dress, and Siêthiyal came forwards and helped to draw the apples down into the basket. – I don’t know whether you do a lot of cooking, Ixhúja, but let me tell you, that even in the dying forest I can see apples for many different occasion. This one is a good baking apple, it should be made into a pie. This one is good just for eating now. These apples are good to be chopped up and mixed into something else, they still have the flavor but are not crispy enough. I leave behind the apples that are best for the plantimals or to feed one’s dinosaurs. All apples have their use, no matter what shape and color and size, ones that are lustrious and beauty, and even those which are damaged, all are part of Jaràqtu. At least that’s what I think. –
One is not overgiven unto gymnosphaon, Ixhúja mewed and clicked, save for philosophizing that leads to battle and severing a jugular and the hot bloody thrill of ripping apart one’s foe.
Siêthiyal pulled out a few stray apple seeds and tossed them into the winds. – One never knows where one may find new fruit, and what shall come to pass of a single seed. – Siêthiyal drew up the corbel and smiling chanted – This is just my way of saying that I think that you and I should be friends. After all, we shall all be of the same dynasty, the Pwéru, we are both blood relations to the Divine Twins, there’s no reason you and I can’t be friends? –
Ixhúja’s eyen narrowed and she blinked a few times. A few of her clockwork insects peered out of her violet tresses and crawled about, and Ixhúja snorted and growled in her own language to say, One does not make friends.
– I think you and I can be great friends. You and Puey didn’t get along too well when you first met, and now look at you. Here, I’m returning to Éfhelìnye with these apples, perhaps you can come along with me. I’m sure she’d like these pomegranates you’ve found. –
Ixhúja considered for a moment. Éfha doesn’t like the seeds. I’ll cut out the seeds before feeding them to her.
– Resplendent! See, you and I have so much in common already, don’t we? –
Didn’t you used to call me a freak and pariah heretic?
– And you called me a pipsqueak little bratty Sister! But that’s behind us, we’re all growing up now, we’re no longer babies. Anyway, consider, because I know Puey so well, we grew up together, we had the same mother to bare us and nurse us, I already understand his various patois of the flower and field and fish, I already am completely conversant in your language. So we might as well stay close. And second, and perhaps more important, I don’t think you’re going to stray too far from Éfhelìnye, the only family you have, nor will you be able to remove yourself from my Puey. –
A few mechanical dragonflies buzzed in Ixhúja’s tresses, and crawling down the side of her head came some moths which were braiding some of her porporate hair into long queues. And why can I not pull myself from Puîyos? Ixhúja wondered as she crossed her arms.
Siêthiyal leaned forwards and whispered into Ixhúja’s ear – I’ve seen the way you look at him. Oh, don’t be ashamed. –
I have no idea what you mean.
Siêthiyal spun around and whispered into Ixhúja’s other ear saying – Oh I believe you do. You’re quite in love with my Brother, aren’t you? Your eyen just lit up a moment ago when I mentioned his name, this only confirms that I thought earlier in the day when you were trying to compete with him in the steeple chase and with Éfhelìnye’s crazy clockwork chariot. You’re completely infatuated with him, you think only he can understand you, and no matter how much you may long for battle, you won’t leave him too far behind. And if your cousin stays around, what a lagniappe is that. –
Ixhúja spun around, grabbed Siêthiyal by the throat with one hand, and drew out her sword with the other, she flung the Jaràqtun maiden downwards, the basket and apples bouncing upon the branch, and she held the sword point at her throat and murmured, One is not in love, one is incapable of love.
– Drawing a sword and threatening me like that won’t work – Siêthiyal smiled. – Your actions tell me all I need to know. Have you been kissing him? I know he wouldn’t intentionally kiss you, but it’s probably not too hard for you to smooch him in between battles. –
You’re a foul devious horrible little sneak of waif, Ixhúja growled. Someone should gut out all of your wheels and build you back up!
– You love him, but you don’t want to hurt your cousin. You can’t leave either of them, so you sulk in the forest, but you don’t even have too many wild beasts here or Automata for comradeship and play. This is why you and I should be friends. We understand each other. Now are you going to let me up now or not? –
The forest slays without mercy or question. I should drape your body on the branch and …
– Lwa lwa lwa! My face reminds you of Puey. You won’t hurt me too much. Now, let me up. – Ixhúja was about to put the sword away and just give Siêthiyal a good pounding, but Puîyus Sister laughed and called out – So where’d you get the concubine ring? I suppose I’m the only one who’s noticed it. –
Ixhúja spun away and just began climbing down the tree, she still held her sword in one hand. Siêthiyal bounced back to her feet and grabbed the basket and a few stray apples and began clammering after her. – I bet you got that from a priest, they’re eager to return order to the world, and if they saw you making googly eyen at Puey, and I am almost certain that you have been, they would have suggested such an arrangement. Have you even bothered to discuss this with Puey? I doubt it. Oh the more you pretend not to hear me with those ears of yours so sharp. Just stop for a moment. –
Ixhúja paused on a branch, sword in hand, her mechanical insects spinning about her head. Siêthiyal was almost dancing from side to side with excitement, she was balancing herself upon the very tips of her toes as she held the basket before her. Ixhúja was wondering how quickly she could disembowel and gut Siêthiyal alive, and yet she was a pipsqueak Puey in maiden form.
– So, you want to be married to my Brother, don’t you? – Siêthiyal asked.
Ixhúja turned her back to Siêthiyal and just wished she’d go away. Siêthiyal slipped shadowlike upwards and wrapped her arms about her and whispered – Now there’s no shame in that. Siêthiyal sees everything. I’m sure you know he’s the only one who will e'er love you, and the only hope you have of rebuilding the Pfhaqhaîtsir and the worlds of Khnìntha. I’m not a general or a priest so I don’t know what will become of the Red Moons, but if you wish for Puey to have mercy, it may be best if you show him a softer side. Battle, blood, slaughter, gore, these do not affect him as much as a beautiful young damsel. – Siêthiyal brushed her hands through Ixhúja’s hair and whispered – Do you wish to have children by him? Do you wish to have your own castle, to be known as his concubine, foreign and exotic, perhaps to have your own court in the deep south in this new Empire I shall be building? Oh, I can almost see it now, a new land of wild forest and clockwork brimming before you, cannals filled with wherries and dreadnaughts, towers reaching upwards unto the pink and orange skies, and you will dwell in a forest castle, you’ll be daudling a little blue-haired baby upon your lap, and your older children will be running around and tending the plantimals and caring for the land and learning of the thrill of battle. It will be glorious and worthy of song, don’t you think? –
Ixhúja bit her lips. Even if what you say is true, and I shall not comment on what you just chanted, my cousin Éfhelìnye will not be fain to permit Puîyos to have other wives, even though they shall be of lesser estate. I’m staying away from Akhlísa right now, she can sort out her own mess.
Siêthiyal whispered into Ixhúja ear so close that all of the earrings were dangling. – Just let me worry about your cousin Éfha. I shall find a way to make her happy. Is that fair? And you can have Puey. Is that not grand? –
One listens to what you have to say.
– That’s all I ask. I think you and I can be the very best of friends. Perhaps from time to time you can run errands for me, and I’ll whisper something into Puey’s ear, perhaps you can take care of some people for me, and I’ll begin to turn Puey’s heart towards you, and Éfhelìnye’s spirit I shall sooth. – Siêthiyal took an apple from her basket and took a bite of it and gave it to Ixhúja. – Would you like an apple? It’s crunchy and bright and good. –
One does like apples.
– This is the most delicious apple I’ve e'er had! Oh, the taste is still bouncing upon my tounge! –
One could at least sniff it.
– There are so many ways that Khnìntha can be rebuilt … your culture returned in glories anew … –
It is a lovely looking apple.
– And Puey can hold you and kiss you and tell you how much he loves you, how only he can understand you, nobody else born of woman can understand what it is to hear storms an hundred miles away and to speak with flowers and know the thoughts of dinosaurs. –
Éfha does love her apples.
– And I shall make her happy, all her days will be bliss. If you’ll you just be my friend? – Siêthiyal kissed the apple a few times and handed it to Ixhúja, and she took a few timorous bites of it and found it sweet and sugary and good, and indeed Siêthiyal was quite an expert on apples, and had picked the very best. Before Ixhúja knew it she was gobbling up the skin and pulp and juice and gowk of the apple and spat out the seeds, and Siêthiyal reached up and kissed Ixhúja a few times and chanted – I just know you and I shall be the very best of friends. –
Siêthiyal reached out and hugged Ixhúja for a few long moments, and Ixhúja could not help but embrace her back, and she realized that it felt so good to have a friend, someone who was not forced to love her like her cousin by blood, someone who just liked her for who she was. Also, Ixhúja was thinking, as Siêthiyal held her, that Siêthiyal did smell a little like Puîyus, a nice warm and cosey smell, of hearth and home and decency, and it was altogether pleasant unto her sences, although she would hardly admit it unto herself, she did not wish for the hug to end.
When Siêthiyal drew herself away she brushed her hand on Ixhúja’s cheek and chanted – Now we’ve tarried long enough, let’s get these apples and pomegranates to your Cousin. And don’t worry about her. No matter what happens, she will love you. I should be worried, I’m only the pesky little Sister. –
I don’t think you’re pesky, Ixhúja murmured to herself.
Siêthiyal just smiled. She let Ixhúja lead the way down the side of the tree, but Ixhúja was just too swift for her and was already upon the frostsparkling loam while Siêthiyal still had someways to go.
Jump! Go ahead, I’ll catch you.
Siêthiyal ran out to the edge of a branch and adjusted the basket in her arms. – Are you ready? –
Siêthiyal leapt out into the air, and true to her word, Ixhúja caught her up and set her upon the sward, and together they came running back unto the layers of the great iron rath, and they walked in hand in hand as Sisteren who had gone out for to gather some fruit.
It was later in the day, the fortress was abuzz with activities and new smells, and the two Children were being ignored by the messengers running down the corridors, their braille beads clinking in their hands, and long lines of Kháfha monks walking upwards and reporting unto their superiors. Suddenly a door swung open, and Siêthiyal pulled Ixhúja away, the air was flooded with the scent of brass and leather and oil as warriors were marching outwards, and horns were blaring to open up the way for them. The warriors were making their way outwards unto the courtyards, and to Siêthiyal’s dismay were not attempting only to walk upon certain shapes or colors or designs, but were making their way unto the fhùsqre mountainpasses which lead down back unto the margeline, and the spears most impalent and the māccuahuitl and swords were glowing, and the air smelt of preparation and battle. The maidens drew themselves up unto the periphery of the halls, before them were come a few slaves who were serving within the deeper kitchen vaults of the fortress. Ixhúja only had a passing acquaintance with the fortresses and architecture xhòkhna of this land, she was aware of the towers and the military complex, but the insides of the fortress were just a labyrinth of splanchnic halls writhe about and come unto large rooms opening upwards unto spacious xoqrùjhye griannans. Siêthiyal had only been dwelling in this rath for a very short time, but she was able to divine her way around through it, it was a very ancient and traditional building, the original dwellers must have been of a very old Clan, the towers and walls were all of circles and triangles reaching upwards, the walls were arrassed and angling of tapestries, and the higher stories glint with glass and crystal and jade, the buildings reflected some of the two fold dynamism of Jaràqtun structures, the courtyards and the halls for armament and practice and chariots were large and imposing, and the dreamlands all about littered with weapons and warriors at practice, these outside areas were for the men always preparing for battle or returning from battle, yet the inner chambers and the tall towers were brighter and the tapestries were meant to be soft and warm, hither Siêthiyal was wending and taking Ixhúja with her, unto where the women dwelt and where the harīm for Puîyus had been set aside. The sound of warriors and the smell of weapons faded away a little, the inner rooms were spreading up unto the towers, and the Kháfha guards of the harem were turning aside and letting Siêthiyal and Ixhúja pass within.
One is not entirely sure that I should be entering, Ixhúja tried to tell Siêthiyal and yanked at her hand a few times. Éfha may not be happy to see him.
– You’re afraid she will suspect that you want to be wed to Puey – Siêthiyal chanted. – She is quite intelligent, the smartest person whomI know, but I think her intelligence and kindness are wed together. –
I want to return to the jungle.
Siêthiyal was nodding to the Eunuchs as they hid themselves from her. A few slaves were scampering aside, she was pleased that they were bowing, but she really wanted them to grovel before her. – I take it then that there have been some incidents. How long were you three stuck on the pirate ship together? –
Sometime. I’m going back.
Siêthiyal held onto Ixhúja’s arm. – Not so fast, my friend, we’re here to help the Princess. Now, please, I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m assuming that you were caught kissing Puey or trying to steel a few kisses from him. You were on that boat all alone, and sometimes Éfhelìnye just is burbling with imagination and doesn’t know what’s happening around her. And there my Brother was, as dashing and beautiful as e'er. Please don’t fret. Éfhelìnye will just have to grow up and realize that she can’t keep Puey to herself for ever. She’ll be the Empress, she’ll be the wife, let the other women be concubines, that just gives her more siblings to do her will. –
Siêthiyal was almost having to tug Ixhúja froward at this point, and Ixhúja was shaking and turning her head and thinking again of the joy of tree and bark and flower. Perhaps it would be best to return and just be alone for a time. No good could possibly come of this, she just knew it. But Siêthiyal was still holding onto her and pulling her up, and it was not everyday that someone offered to be her friend. In fact, aside from Éfhelìnye, no one else had e'er tried to befriend her teûrthyamat. And although she was not sure what Éfhelìnye would be able to read in her own eyen, it felt warm and pleasant to have a friend’s arm upon oneself.
The doors to the inner rooms were appearing before them and the tower where Princess Éfhelìnye lay with her leal Concubine for to guard her. Siêthiyal was still having to tug upon the Martian Princess and pull her up the ramps and was saying – Please, are you nervous? Don’t be, someone as strong and bellicose as you, mölodälik kligik dorli, you have nothing to fear. Just hold mine hand. –
So … so this is an harīm, Ixhúja whistled to herself and looked around.
– Yes. Not a very big one, but Puey’s not Emperor yet. I want to organize everything, I just know Khlís will make a mess of it, it’s her job to run the harem but I’ll helping her these first few years. I’m giving all the rest of the concubines numbers I think. –
Ixhúja looked around to the large glassen windows gazing out unto the white Suns and wondered, Is it true what one says about the harem?
– And what is chanted about an harem? –
That the beautiful young women comb their hair all the time.
– Oh. No. That’s silly. How long does it take you to comb your hair? –
I like to count while I comb.
– And what to the women do with the rest of their time? –
I heard something about perfumes.
– The women will be educating the little children and running the household. My goodness, you foreign devils and your odd notions! But then again, I suppose we don’t understand all of the intracies of your machine worlds, do we? –
No. I suppose not. Ixhúja looked around and saw that a few Traîkhiim were scurrying about the rafters of the ceiling and rolling about, and all of the pathways were leading upwards. She squeezed Siêthiyal hand and looked to the sword at her back and purred a little as if to say, Do you know how to use that blade?
– Only a little. It is not the custom of the women of our people to learn the martian arts, but Puey made an exception for me. His word is already becoming law, and all shall tremble to hear his mew. –
Is this your Father’s sword?
– Yes, it has belonged to the Sweqhàngqu for many a generation. –
I could … teach you a little, if you want. Only if you want. I am no teacher, but I think I could be at least as useful as the ninjitsu Tánin who instructed me.
– I would like that very much, my friend – Siêthiyal chanted with a smile. The last of the ramps were opening up before their gaze and the clockwork doors appearing. They could hear the slight murmur of gears grinding together. Ixhúja yanked her hand aside.
Something’s wrong. I hear voices raised. Éfha’s inside, quick!
– What’s happening! What’s wrong! – gasped Siêthiyal and she clutched the corbel of apples unto herself, and Ixhúja ran, the pomegranates dangling in her hands. Before them appeared the doors, and Ixhúja launched herself at it, and at once her clockwork insects came streaming out her tresses and began working into the latches and wheels and locks of it, and even her earrings were crawling within.
It’s jammed. I’ll get it open if I have to tear it down with my bare hands.
– It must be those pesky Traîkhiim running around and slamming the doors – Siêthiyal chanted. – I love them and am annoyed by them in equal measures. That’s the strange thing about love, it makes me tolerate what I wouldn’t before. Like Kàrula. I think the Immortals made her only to torment me, and yet I can’t help but love her, even if we were not Sisters in the same clan. –
Princess Ixhúja was busy with the door, her biomechanical insects were pouring right out of her welldamascened sleeves, some of the insects were scurrying right into the wheels and throwing them about, others of the insects were crawling up and down through the tubes and were rebuilding the inside of the door and refashioning it anew, for indeed the constant slamming of the door by Siêthiyal’s hands and the giggling wings of Fhólus and Aîya along with the concomitant grind of the fang wheels together had done a bit of damage within, and the rumbling of the doors and the crackling of the wheels began to grind outwards and made a slight ticking sound, percussive and sweeping at the same time, a grinding rouage which almost sounded like syllables grinding and wheels slipping, and the thresholds whispering their own ancient mantra in words which neither of the maidens could identify in the language of men, and the doors sounded a little like this:
Patér Nseré, jos kémeloisi essi,
Nōmn Twom sqénetoru
Regnom Twom cémietód
Woliā Twā dhidhḗtoru,
Aykana dvashmaya af bar’a
Ita kémelei jota pltéuijāi
Hav lan lakhma dsoonqanan yomana
Qāqodjūtenom bharsiom nseróm edjḗw dasdhi-nos
Ushvuq lan khaubeyn aykana d’afkhnan
Joqe dháleglāms nserḗms parke,
Shvaqan ilkhaiveyn u’la te’lan lnisyouna
Swāi skéletbhos pā́rkomos.
Ela patsan men bisha men bisha
Enim mē noms péritloi enke prōd.
Metul d’dheelakh hee malkootha ukhaile utheshbookhtha
Mō úpelēd nosēie-nos. Estōd.
‘alam l’almeen. Ameyn. Túreil.
The whirl of clockwork was opening, the door was become portal and light, and thousands of mechanical insects came leaping upwards and flying about the wheels and the springs and the latches bursting within, the metallic moths and wind-up locusts and clockweyth dragonflies spilling upwards in long and tendrillar fountains of wheels and adjustment and shadow and form. Siêthiyal came ducking inwards, the sconces were flickering from the light of the candles. Ixhúja was distracted for a moment as she signaled the wæterbucca to come flying back unto her, and the door creaked upwards.
– 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, and Siêthiyal blinked a few times, her fingers slipping away from the corbel of baskets. Ixhúja forgot that she was even holding the pomegranates in her hands. Time crystallized, and Akhlísa growled and held the kitchen knife closer to Éfhelìnye’s throat. Siêthiyal gasped and dropped her basket, the apples bouncing outwards were trying to escape from her, ripples of red flowing outwards. Ixhúja’s pomegranates were melting from her grasp.
– Don’t call me a baby! – Akhlísa whispered through clenched teeth.
– Stop it, Kàrula! – Siêthiyal shouted.
Princess Ixhúja bound away in a blur. Siêthiyal jumped upwards and tried to stop her, her fingers just barely grasping the purple hem of her sleeve Ixhúja bound away and in a single motion grabbed Akhlísa by one hand, kicked the knife as far away from Éfhelìnye as she could, and rolling off unto the other side of the tackled Akhlísa and held her down, both hands upon her neck, and was just a blink away from snapping her neck.
It was in moments like this, when all the heart stops and yet the blood continues to flow, when everything is horror and danger before one’s gaze, that one finds oneself for a moment enthused with far more speed and strength and agility that one should normally have. All that Siêthiyal knew was that by some grace of the Ancestors, perhaps in recognizition for all of the pious offerings she had left them, or just because they wished to continue their line, or perhaps because they could feel Siêthiyal’s love, that Siêthiyal flew through the air, and even as Ixhúja was about to snap Akhlísa’s neck in two, Siêthiyal grabbed Ixhúja by a throat and held her Father’s sword right at the nape of her neck.
– Let her go, my friend! – hissed Siêthiyal.
No one who threatens my cousin may be permitted to live, Ixhúja growled.
– She’s just a little child! Let go or die! –
– I’m not a baby! – cried Akhlísa.
– Shut up! – cried Siêthiyal. – Do what you’re told! –
Aîya poked her head up from the sheets. – Anyone noticing that the Empress having trouble breathing! She was being choked! –
– Empress probably need air in order to breathe – Fhólus chanted. The Traîkhiim came rolling around and saw that Éfhelìnye’s face was turning a slight indanthrene. Éfhelìnye struggled to gasp. Fhólus jumped up to ther chest and hopped up and down a few times, and Fhólus reached out and licked her lips a few times, and at last Éfhelìnye coughed up and rolling onto her side began to weep and breathe in struggling measures.
– If anyone care, the Empress breathing again – chanted Aîya.
– They don’t even listen to us – chanted Fhólus.
– Love triskelia are so messy. –
– This no triangle, this a jíqhàxhnu, a pentagon it is! –
Éfhelìnye gasped a few times and forgot where she was. Aîya reached out and hugged her a few times and kissed her face and chanted – Poor poor poor little Empress. Not so fair that everyone fighting about you. –
Fhólus scurried about at the food of the bed and drew out the kitchen knife and chanted – So, does anyone still want this? –
– Get rid of that! – Aîya gasped.
– But … –
– You cause nothing but trouble! Bring that back to the kitchens! –
– Should I just … –
– Go back to the kitchen and give the ulu to someone and … –
– Should I summon Eunuchs for help? –
– Fight in the family? Private affair, that. –
Éfhelìnye gasped out some more air, and slowly vision was returning unto her, and she saw that at the other side of the room that Akhlísa and Ixhúja and Siêthiyal were all grappling together, and Ixhúja’s clockwork insects were spinning in the air and trying to yank Siêthiyal away from her and especially to draw her sword away.
– Say, it just like spending unalikhelìsti messidor, the thanksgiving harvest with your family – Fhólus told Aîya. – Everyone fight fight fight fight. –
– Sad but true. Fight, and most of them dead too – Aîya chanted.
Éfhelìnye tried to jump out of bed to stop this, but she was so weak that she just rolled out and crashed onto her side. – Stop it! All of you! Let go now! –
Ixhúja kept her hands tight about Akhlísa’s neck. Siêthiyal jabbed the edge of the sword against the Martian Princess’ neck, so that blood was drawn and flowing in little crimson trickles, and Siêthiyal hissed in her ear – Just let her go now and we forget it e'er happened, my friend. I won’t let you harm my Sister though. Trust me, I won’t hold this against you, I’ve thrashed her about a few times myself. But you must let go now. –
Ixhúja just growled to think of someone daring to threaten her beloved cousin, her only family, the only one who had e'er loved her, and of all the creatures who would dare to do this, it had to be that sniveling mewling puking little brat who had accomplished nothing and had no good reason to live. She squeezed her throat all the harder to just feel Akhlísa writhing beneath her.
– Everyone, halt! – Éfhelìnye screamed. – Listen to me now! –
Siêthiyal turned around and hissed – Stay out of this! –
Ixhúja eyed Éfhelìnye and told her, You don’t need to see this, Cousin. After I remove her skin the true screaming will begin!
Akhlísa pushed one of Ixhúja’s hands away and screamed out – I’m not a baby and I’m going to bare Puey lots of children and hold and kiss him all the time he’s mine too mine mine mine mine mine! –
– Princess, eat an apple and leave us alone – chanted Siêthiyal.
– No! – chanted Éfhelìnye. – No fighting! –
Siêthiyal growled but she was not about to release her grip on Ixhúja, not even to sooth the Starflower Princess’ feelings. – Princess! Go to bed now! –
Fhólus and Aîya fluttered upwards and grabbed Éfhelìnye by the hands and tried to lead her back to the bed. – Better do what she say, she running this family you know – Fhólus chanted.
– We are not permitted to fight in our family – Éfhelìnye chanted. – And I shall be the Mistress of this Family and no one else. –
– Princess, go away! – Siêthiyal shouted. – Go dance ballet or something. If you haven’t noticed, we’re a bit busy here! –
Ixhúja kicked Siêthiyal off of her and punched Akhlísa across the face a few times, and Akhlísa, through years of practice knew that her best defense was to roll up into a little ball and prepare to hide and flee. Siêthiyal jabbed her sword down, she only nicked Ixhúja’s neck, but it was enough to break the three apart. Ixhúja jumped up to tackle Akhlísa again, and now the fight began in earnest.
This was not an elegant or classical fight such as Puîyus had learned from the stern hand of Grandfather Pátifhar, it was not a fight in the swashbuckling tradition of the Kháfha masters who when they swing their swords around are almost like birds awinged, whose robes and flowing dreamcapes ripple in the winds so that when the contenders come together it is more akin to a dance than force itself. Nor was this like a duel such as Puîyus had learned from his Abbá Íngìkhmar, the contenders walking upwards upon opposing sides of the bridge, the waters rushing beneath them, the snowflakes fluttering downwards, a sage is casting incense before their faces and scenting them, and the feuders are both dressed in robes dyed with qhósyui aloeswood, the funereal smell, so that should one or both of them fall this moment, their bodies would be a sweet smelling prize to honor the victor, and the family of the one who died may expect to pay a ransom for to preserve the body and bring it home unto their ancestrial crypts and whispering mountains. Nor was this a boisterous joyous row such as Puîyus had learned from Khiêro of old, the First Ancestor of his people, who without a thought would laughing all the while throw himself at the enemies and just expect everything to work out, swords and staves spinning in his hands as he punched his way through the enemy lines and builded up mounds of their corpses falling about him in walls. Nor indeed was this fight filled with chaotic humerous almost frenetic energy such as when Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho find themselves in the very wrong tea tavern and applauding the wrong toast, and Fhèrkifher is picked up and thrown down the tavern, and Xhnófho is punching the barrels and pouring himself a drink as he fight three or four enemy at the same time, and as chairs and tables are tossed in all directions, Fhèrkifher still finds time to wink at a few tavern wenches and introduce himself to them, and Xhnófho gobbles down peaches and pillages all the treasure that’s not glued or affixed or nailed to the floor, and even when Fhèrkifher gets thrown out a stained glass window, and Xhnófho comes rolling out a wall and cracks it open with his head, they still manage to get away with a few extra drinks and perhaps some furniture they can trade for passage out of there. And not in the least was this fight in the style which Princess Ixhúja had been introducing into Puîyus, the sten and relentless mechanical fighting of the ninjitsu Tánin, endless and soulless and merciless, the machines pouring downwards and seeking for to grab and smash and slash all that stand in their way, and for a mortal to withstand the Automaton hordes one must fight in a similar clockweyth pattern. No, when Siêthiyal and Ixhúja classed together they did not fight in any of those styles, nor could either of them hope to fight in the storm wind dæmonic way that Puîyus could when he was infuriated and spasms of lightning and light flowed out from him, and thunder was his step and blizzard was his roar and flame haloes blossomed of his brow. No, Siêthiyal and Ixhúja just fell upon each other grappling around and around punching and kicking and slapping and rolling across the floor, and Akhlísa screamed and came bouncing back onto the bed and hid herself behind Éfhelìnye.
– Harem fight harem fight harem fight harem fight! – laughed Fhólus and Aîya as they leapt up into the air and danced upon the tips of their wings.
– Stop it, my Sister! – Éfhelìnye shouted. – Both of you, stop this instant, I command you! –
Akhlísa leaned her head upon Éfhelìnye’s shoulder and chanted – Don’t let her hurt me! You have to protect me! –
– No one will be hurt, I promise – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– Don’t let your cousin hurt Siêthi! Make her stop! Can’t you do anything! – Akhlísa shreaked.
– Ixhúja! Siêthiyal! Listen to me! – Éfhelìnye cried.
– Harem fight! Harem fight! – giggled Fhólus and Aîya.
– I don’t want to be hurt! – Akhlísa mewed. She rubbed her face upon the Princess’ shoulders a few times.
– Kàrula? –
– Huh? Oh … I should probably mention that I’m sorry for … you know … going crazy there. –
Éfhelìnye patted Akhlísa’s hand a few times. – Don’t worry. I will not let Siêthiyal or Ixhúja hurt each other. –
– Oh, go ahead and get rid of Ixhúja now that you have the chance. She’s just trouble I tell you. Do you want my help? –
– No one will be hurt, my dearheart. –
– Okay, when Siêthiyal holds her down, we can all grab a vase or something and smash it on Ixhúja’s head … all we need to do is knock her unconscious, we’ll drag her down into the quag, and no questioned asked. Puey will never have to learn! –
– Harem fight! Harem fight! – giggled Fhólus and Aîya.
– You Jaràqtuns have an interesting metaphor there – Éfhelìnye chanted. – I’ve noticed several times you’ve compared punishment to hiding someone in the swamp or dropping someone in the bayou. I suppose you just associated a quagmire with despondency. –
– Ur … yeah … metaphor – Akhlísa chanted.
– I’m just glad that you don’t really drop people in a swamp, I would guess it would be difficult to swim out of the muddy waters, and then when one returned one one would all sticky and late for supper. –
– Ur … yeah. We … never drop anyone in the swamp. It’s never happened before, Princess. It’s just a story we tell foreigners. – Akhlísa looked to the Traîkhiim and winked a few times, and they nodded in understanding. – Why once there was this young man and Puey didn’t like the way he was looking at Fhermáta, so he gently took him and dropped him the nice swampy waters and he sank and was very late to go home to his Mamà. – Akhlísa mimicked to the Traîkhiim Puîyus’ strangling and cutting someone, and she pretended to be dumping a burdhen into the waters. – So, Princess, I think Ixhúja would enjoy our swamps quite a bit. I’d be happy to give her my personal little tour. I know a place, very comfortable and sunny, why she may decide never to return and … –
– Harem fight! Harem fight! – giggled the Traîkhiim.
Siêthiyal enraged punched Ixhúja across the face even though it broke the skin on her own knuckles, but she was ready to endure any pain for her family, or at least she liked to believe so. She tried to kick Ixhúja in the stomache and cried out – Never strike my Sister! I’ll kill you for that! – Ixhúja caught her foot and twisted it around and rewarded Siêthiyal with a few blows across her chin and toppled her down.
Your Sister threatened my cousin! None may harm my family and live! Ixhúja growled, and one did not need to understand the language of beasts to guess the meaning. Her flesh is forfit unto me. I shall play with Akhlísa until I’m done with her.
– Nice boast, pariah heretic! – Siêthiyal sprang to her feet and ducked a blow.
You little manipulative acerbic vexatious fool! Ixhúja growled. Ixhúja kicked into the air and knocked Siêthiyal down again, but the Jaràqtun maiden was far too afraid not to jump up and defend her Sister.
Akhlísa squeezed Éfhelìnye and chanted – You have to save me, Éfha! Ixhúja is too big and scary for me! Well, not big but too scary for me. –
– Harem fight! Harem fight! – giggled the Traîkhiim and they spun about the rafters and ducked about the windows and pointed sometimes to Siêthiyal and sometimes to Ixhúja.
– Okay, Ixhúja’s got to win this one – Aîya chanted.
– No way, it’s Siêthiyal all the way – Fhólus chanted.
– I saw her, she was fearless before blue Unicorns and the Dragons! –
– Yeah, but Siêthiyal is very clever, and she fought a Dragon too. –
– Ixhúja won’t admit to pain, she pound her bones out! –
– Siêthiyal’s tricky when she needs to be. –
Akhlísa hugged Éfhelìnye and screamed – You have to save me! I’m the baby of the family! Everyone else has to protect me! –
– Just stay behind me – Éfhelìnye chanted, and as Akhlísa burst out into tears, she rolled up into a ball and shaking all the while hid herself beneath the Princess’ pillows and covers.
– Okay, Ixhúja breaks her legs … – chanted Aîya.
– Siêthiyal comes up with cunning distraction, breaks her face – chanted Fhólus.
– Enough, all of you! – Éfhelìnye shouted and she staggered upwards at the foot of the bed and proclaim did as loud as she could. – Look at you, all of you! –
– What? – asked Siêthiyal and she punched Ixhúja across her face.
– ?? – asked Ixhúja, and she kicked Siêthiyal in her stomache.
– This is my family! All of you, lo, this is my family! – Éfhelìnye shouted. – My cousin fights everyone and everything with a pulse, including both me and my Puey, she saves my life and starts fights wherever she goes! My Sister by marriage stirs up trouble and then steps back and lets everyone else deal with the consequences while she shifts alliances and blaim and she also starts fights wherever she goes. My baby Sister … –
– Sister wife! – cried Akhlísa. – And don’t hurt me! –
– My little Sister is so young and hyper that she can’t help but get in trouble and involve me with it. To be honest I don’t even mind it when she drew the knife on me, I’m far more concerned with you two fighting in the … –
– Harem fight! Harem fight! – laughed Fhólus and Aîya from the rafters.
– Tug each others’ hair! – laughed Fhólus.
– Rip each others’ sleeves! – laughed Aîya.
– Fight and fight and fight! – giggled Fhólus.
– Then cry and cry and cry! – giggled Aîya.
Éfhelìnye held up her arms in exasperation. – Even my family slaves urge on my family to fight! All of you, I command you, in the name of the Crystalline Throne and Starburst Crown, stop this fighting at once! –
Akhlísa poked her head up from the pillows and chanted – You’re not Empress yet, so ththththththtpt to you! Oh, I’m marrying Puey by the way, just thought I’d be clear. –
Ixhúja and Siethiyal turned and both gave Éfhelìnye the same utterly annoyed look. Siêthiyal put her hands on her hips, and Ixhúja played with her violet hair and they stared at Éfhelìnye in shock.
– Princess – Siêthiyal chanted. – You’re still sick. Go back to bed. Ixhúja and I have business. –
Yes, go back to sleep, Cousin, this doesn’t concern you, Ixhúja told her in blinks and nods. I shall dispose of the bodies.
– You have very delicate health, Éfhelìnye, you need your rest. –
You don’t look so well. Lie down and close your eyen.
– I can defend the family honor on my side. Didn’t you just have a cardiac episode? –
What happened to your heart? Ixhúja gasped. Why didn’t someone inform me.
– Remember when the Suns were extinguished! – gasped Akhlísa. – And it was absolutely not my fault by the way, it was becomes of some other concubine not me I was minding mine own business and picking flowers when it happened, in fact I was the one who sounded the alarum, I told the Immoratls O mē misseram why could it not be I who am suffering such a downfall! Oh earth gape open and take me, let me not take another breath … –
Someone should have informed me at once, Ixhúja murmured. I am her closest living relative, aside from her Father of course.
– Ah … why would someone want to inform you? – asked Akhlísa. – You’d probably go nutsie and kill the messenger. –
– Oh my, why would someone not tell you? – Siêthiyal asked. – Even if someone knew where you were, it’s because, one, you’re weird, two, you’re an heritic, three, you’re ugly and Puey doesn’t like you, four, I don’t like you, and five, nobody likes you. Oh look, a reason for each finger. –
I thought you wanted to be friends.
– That’s before you tried to kill my Sister! –
That’s before she tried to kill my Cousin!
Éfhelìnye clapped her hands together and chanted – Nobody was hurt. So the fight ends now. –
– Go back to sleep, Princess! – Siêthiyal shouted.
Yes, back to bed, I’ll purr to you later, Ixhúja nodded.
– Oh my! What’s out there! – Siêthiyal looked at the window.
Éfhelìnye turned. – What’s outside! –
Siêthiyal chimed – Why Puey’s out there, he’s bright and healthy and beautiful, he’s just swinging through the air, and his hair is all a rustle of sky and light. How lovely is his face! Look at how comely and handsome he is! –
Éfhelìnye began stumbling down the length of the bed and chanted – I want to take a look! –
– Me too! – chanted Akhlísa. – Maybe he’ll wave to me and blow me a kiss! – She tossed the pillows aside.
Ixhúja pretended like she had something better to do, but she began slipping towards the window. Behind her Siêthiyal smiled. Young women can be so predictable, especially when they are thinking about my Brother.
– Maybe just a look – Aîya chanted as she ducked down from the rafters.
Siêthiyal grabbed a chair. My my, Puey even turns a few alien heads and wings. She snuck up behind Ixhúja.
– Actually, now that I we femaling, kinda want to see Puey too – Fhólus muttered as she came descending from the rafters.
Éfhelìnye was first to the window and behind her Akhlísa and Ixhúja was jostling for position. – I don’t see Puey anywhere – the Princess chanted.
Siêthiyal broke a chair right across Ixhúja’s back. Ixhúja growled, and Siêthiyal yanked up a few pieces and broke them o'er her head. Ixhúja jumped upwards, and Siêthiyal slipped out one of Ixhúja’s own scimitars and tossed it from hand to hand.
You just don’t play fair, do you, Ixhúja asked Siêthiyal with one raised violet eyebrow.
Siêthiyal bowed and held up the badelaires and chanted – Welcome to the Family. –
Éfhelìnye was almost pressing her face against the glass in her despiration to see Puîyus, and her breath was condencing and become frost. – I still don’t see him! Oh Puey, I would wait for you beside this window for a thousand years of night and day just to see your smile one more time! Oh Puey, oh my Puey! –
Akhlísa chanted – I can’t wait that long! I’m going back to bed. –
– No Puîyos anywherewhen? – asked Aîya. – Now I we never get a chance to marry him. –
– Life so tragic sometimes – sighed Fhólus. – Now that I femaling, Puîyos look far cuter. Make me want to tame him somehow. –
– Well, if can’t marry Puîyos I’ll marry and eat you, Fhólus – chanted Aîya. – Second choice, consolation choice I suppose. –
– That okay – chanted Fhólus. – If I we can’t marry and eat Puîyos, I marry you. You my fifth choice though. –
– Really? If Puîyos is number one, who’se number two and three and four? –
– Ah … long story. Lots of Qhíng nations with their colonies and slaves … Puîyos is a pirate, he comes to many ports, I meet many Traîkhiim, that all. –
– And who are these others? –
– Um … probably shouldn’t have mentioned them. –
– Oh, I we get the story from Puîyos or the Tushed Elders! You not talk your way out of this one, sailor Triîm! – Aîya bit Fhólus on one of her ears, and together they began fluttering up into the rafters and as Siêthiyal and Ixhúja started pounding on each other, the Traîkhiim became the chorus singing – Harem fight! Harem fight! Fight fight fight fight! –
Ixhúja drew her sword and Siêthiyal parried the thrust. They circled each other before the bed, and every few moments Siêthiyal picked up jar or urn of whatever she could grab with her free hand and threw it right at Ixhúja’s face.
– Oh look! Puey’s at the door, I hear him! – Siêthiyal cried.
Ixhúja turned to the door. Siêthiyal hurled several jars across her opponent’s arms and shoulders. – You sure do have a strong constituation – Siêthiyal muttered.
You fight without honor, Ixhúja sneered.
– Oh? – Siêthiyal made a sniffling sound.
You are nothing like your illustrious Brother.
– The one you’ve been kissing behind Éfhelìnye’s back? – Siêthiyal smiled.
– What? – asked Éfhelìnye as she spun around.
– You’re secret’s safe with me, Ixhúja dearest – Siêthiyal grinned.
You completely lack honor! Ixhúja lunged.
– Do I? Guess what! Puey and I are nothing alike! We’re actual blood Brother and Sister born of the same Mother! Of course we’re opposites! How would you understand, from what I hear you had a grandfather clock as a parent, and your soulless tutors only taught you how to withstand pain. Were you even held once as a child? –
– Did anyone e'er sing you to sleep? – Siêthiyal was ducking and parrying as Ixhúja swung the violet sword from side to side, Siêthiyal had no chance of winning in an outright fight, but she could at least frustrate her enemy. – Did anyone e'er once hold you and tell you how much one loved you! –
Ixhúja slashed her sword through a bed post and splinters exploded. Siêthiyal tried to scramble away, but Ixhúja caught her up by the collar and shaking her about growled in clicks and mews and growls, Éfha once told me that she loved me, hers is love enough for me. And now I shall give her your body as a present in appreciation of that love. I’m ripping out your heart! Ixhúja screamed and jabbed her sword down, but Akhlísa was threw her pillows, and although she missed the Moon Princess, she did distract her long enough for Siêthiyal to roll around.
– You’re so twisted – Siêthiyal laughed. – No wonder you can’t get a real sweetheart. I mean, think of it, the closest you’ve come is the boy your Father sent you to track and possibly kill and assassinate. That’s it, and half the time you’re competing with my Brother and trying to kill him, the other half you’re trying to get his affection. You’re completely mad! –
Ixhúja picked up the sofa and threw it right at Siêthiyal. Now you’re completely dead!
– Don’t harm my Sister! I’m the only one allowed to thump her! – screamed Akhlísa. She jumped up and tried throwing herself right at Ixhúja, but with a contemptuous flick of her wrist she hurled Akhlísa across the room. Ixhúja approached the sofa. Killing Siêthiyal would be the banquet, but to kill Akhlísa who had threatened her dearest and most beloved cousin, that would be the sumptuous desert. Ixhúja licked her lips in anticipation. She wondered whether the rumors of the swamps would warrant a visit thereunto, deep and dark and fetid dreamlands, devoid of all joy, yes, how wonderous it would be to remove all of Akhlísa’s organs and make her watch as they slip into the quag, and her screams would become a part of the music of bubbles and mud.
Siêthiyal rolled out from beneath the sofa and jumping up upon it shouted – Missed me! Missed me! Puey won’t kiss thee! He has better taste in women than thou, purple freak heritic cow! –
Ixhúja ripped the coach in twain with her bare hands. Siêthiyal broke another chair across Ixhúja’s back and then realizing that there was no longer any furniture, save the bed itself, she drew her knife from her pocket and jumped up to wrestle Ixhúja as best she could.
Éfhelìnye sighed as she gazed out the window. – I don’t see Puey anywhere. When is he coming for me! –
– Empress? – asked Fhólus from the rafters.
– Um … Moon? – asked Aîya.
– That just a trick. –
– A ruze. –
– A joke. –
– A play. –
– Go back to bed. –
– Yes, bed, you’re very sick. – – I’m not sick – chanted Éfhelìnye. – Where’s Puey? – She turned around and saw that Siêthiyal and Ixhúja were rolling about each other, pounding and kicking and thumping and trying to strike each other with knives. – What did I command you concerning fighting! – Éfhelìnye chanted. – We do not fight each other in this family! –