– It may take some time for the refugees to make it unto the shores of Jaràqtu – an Elder was saying. – The Crown Prince will be busy, for he is desirous to fight in every battle to save his people. This affords the last remaining Clans time to gather up whatever daughters are left unto them. Already, too fast, the legend of Prince Puîyos is spreading among both the wibbials and also his own people. If we are to gain advantage we must open upon negotiations for concubines as stipulated in the contract for betrothal and marriage. –
– The last of the bodies are down – a Warrior chanted, bowing unto his Grandfather. – Our work here is done. Come along, little Sister, we just wanted you to see the fortress where the new Emperor is staying. As soon we get permission to bring you there, we want to send you right up unto him. –
– Forgive me, older Brother, but the child prince may not remember me – whispered the maiden.
– Then you must charm him into remembering – an Elder chanted. – Several times … – The Elders all turned at once, a wind was rushing among them, and suddenly the dark itself unfolded about them. The night descended in their midst, it was a long and falling streak of darkness, and it landed before the strangers, and lifting up its face revealed a long shock of violet hair, and it slowly drew two swords as it stood up before them. Tumbling down from the creature of the shadows came Akhlísa, and she jumped upwards and cried out – Pát pát pát! Boo boo boo! – and she almost fell o'er in her giggling.
At once the Elders and Warriors fell upon their knees and hid their faces from the children, for they knew that they were of the House of the Pwéru and even though Kàrijoi had not begotten them, nor the holy Virgin Empress bore them, one was of the blood of that family, and the other the second wife of the new Emperor. The maiden clad all in a black gown and black veils fell to her knees also. Ixhúja walked from side to side, she kept her swords out as if they were wings. Akhlísa was running from side to side, and turning to Ixhúja chanted – It’s fun to scare people. Do you think they’re scared enough? Boo! Boo! Boo! –
– Forgive us for intruding on your night walk, oh Women of the Sun – and Elder chanted as he bowed down low. – Is there any way we may serve you? –
– Purr purr purr purr purr! – Ixhúja laughed.
– Yeah, me too! – Akhlísa chanted.
The Elders looked to each other and shrugged. The warriors looked to the maiden dressed all in black, for she was the one they intended as a bridge between their Clan and the holy Pwéru, but the maiden just shook her head confused all the while.
– Purr purr purr! – Ixhúja laughed.
– Perhaps I should translate – chanted Akhlísa as she paced from side to side. – I’m terribly smart that way, as you can tell. Why I’m so smart that I taught Emperor Puey how to tie his wooden shoon and how to comb his hair and read books and do maths all in his head. Oh yes, I’m powerfully smart. What was the question? –
– ?? – Ixhúja reminded her.
– Ah yes, see here, we were just talking our nighttime walk and thinking about important world affairs, all very dignified and important et cet, and we thought that we heard you lot talking about me, the most important and beautiful Concubine, the one Puey can’t stop kissing all the time he just loves me so much, between you and me I think he prefers my company to that of the future Empress and go ahead and tell everyone that little secret, so what were you telling hmm hmm hmm? –
Ixhúja shook her sword in the general direction of an Elder in hopes of an answer. For her part this was already the longest interrogation wherein she had e'er participated without already drawing blood. She was growing antsy, she thought she should probably just start the beheading now to hasten the answers.
– Forgive us, Concubine to the rising Sun and Princess of the Pwéru – an Elder was saying. – We were just taking our young granddaughter upon the bridges so that she could catch a glimpse of the fortress where the Sun is staying with his harem. We are hoping that our humble clan may open negotiations for some concubines to be given to the Emperor. –
– Oh I don’t know how many other wives Puey is going to want, he’s already just so enamored of me – chanted Akhlísa as she hopped from side to side. – He talks about me all the time talk talk talk talk talk and the future Empress is just completely jealous of me she was throwing her comb at me and pouting and sulking and stomping around I just can’t help it that I’m so beautiful and Puey loves me so. Say, ye are all the Poriêrii, are you not? –
– Forgive us, but we represent that Clan – another Elder chanted.
– Well … I don’t know how much Puey likes you people! –
– We beg for his indulgence. We had hoped that our granting him this disused fortress of ours would soften him unto us all. We only intend respect and obedience unto the new Emperor. –
– And me too. –
– Ur … yes. Of course. –
Ixhúja yawned. She nudged Akhlísa a couple of times, and pointing with her sword right towards a warrior was asking in gestures and blinks, May I start chopping off their hands? Although the children of Khnìntha are famous for their piety to their elders and their obedience to their parents, Ixhúja did not quite feel of these strangers how she would of elders of her own family.
– Perhaps you would like to meet a virgin we are preparing for the young Emperor – an Elder chanted. – She is the prettiest of our family and will serve the Emperor all the days of her life, if he will permit her. –
Akhlísa played with one of her golden tresses. – I don’t know … maybe she could help me. I just have so much on my mind, with how popular I am with the new Emperor. –
Let’s just maim them all, or we need to go back to the fortress and start piercing your ears, Ixhúja winked and blinked to Akhlísa. Just let me hurt a few of them. How about old grey here? He doesn’t need both of his arms anymore, does he?
– I want to meet the maiden – Akhlísa chanted. – Okay, all you old people can go home and do your old stinky people stuff, I want to talk to the girl. – Akhlísa ran up and took the maiden by her hand and yanked her away and began pulling her down the bridge, and turning back yelled – Okay, all the rest of you run away. I’ll see whether this one is worthy to serve my house. Ixhúja, go and chase them away. –
Ixhúja made some growling sounds. The shadow of her geminate swords fell upon them. The Elders which were slightly more alert began scrambling to their feet, and their Warrior Sons and Grandsons arose to help them upwards. Ixhúja chased after them, she did not really intend to hurt them, she just wanted to terrorize them a bit, although if anyone straggled behind she did not think she could be held responsible for a few cuts and bruises. As Ixhúja disappeared down the length of the bridge Akhlísa drew her new friend aside and clomb up unto a frozen thùkhpu stump buŕumba and almost fell o'er, her gown white and billowing and getting caught up in the snows, but the stranger held her and arrested her fall. And Akhlísa thumped down and chanted – May I take a look at you I bet you’re very pretty probably not as pretty as I am but still. – She did not wait for an answer but drew aside the black veils and saw the maiden’s face and her long and golden tresses. – Oh I know you, Puey’s rescued you on several different occasions. –
– I am yclepte Asiréma – the maiden chanted, keeping her eyen down low. – It is my fondest desire to serve the Emperor in his new harem. –
– I don’t know whether they’ll be room for you see Puey he’s my Lord and Husband, he’s so tired all the time because he kisses me all the time and won’t let me go so I don’t think he even has time for any other maidens, don’t you see how important I am! –
– Yes, honored Concubine. – Asiréma still did not lift up her eyen. – I shall wait for the Emperor for a few years then, just in case he desires to honor my clan. –
Akhlísa looked up and saw that Ixhúja was chasing the Elders and Warriors about, it was good to give her a task involving some sort of physical activity and terror and a sword. Akhlísa played with Asiréma’s veils and chanted – I thought you were a little girl like I am, but you’re all grown up. And you’re not married already? I guess not, the Emperor stopped all that the day I was born, the old Emperor that is. You’re older than Puey, aren’t you? You’re a woman, aren’t you? –
– The Elders manage not to see me as a grown woman – chanted Asiréma. – I do not believe that any of us born in the shadow of the Great War can e'er be an adult unit unto them. –
Akhlísa fell upon the ground and began playing with the white nuptial slippers which the Duchesses had commissioned for her and which she still wore as her only pair of shoon. – May I ask you how old are you? –
– I shall be sixteen winters of age on my next Starday. –
– Sixteen winters! And you’re not married! The Elders must have been sleeping, shouldn’t you be at least betrothed by now! –
– The Elders of the Poriêrii have desired to wait. With the ascendancy of Son of Íngìkhmar who is now Son of Kàrijoi, the Elders think it is time to arrange something. –
– I was intended to marry Puey right when I was born. I’m this many winters old – Akhlísa held up her fingers. – Wait, I miscounted. And you’re really not married! You’re such a grown up! You could be my older Sister. You can tell me all the things that Fhermáta and Siêthiyal never would tell me. –
– I am yours to command, Imperial Concubine. –
Akhlísa rolled about and kicked up her feet. – You’d better believe that! Command command command! I command you! You are commanded by me! We’re all commanded by Puey. What funny sounding words, tlhèfhir, kòrjhi, qlètha, fhúrt, xhmìnte, command command command. What was the question. Oh yes. Have you e'er been in love? –
Asiréma looked down to her slippered feet. – I was once fond of someone. We maidens are not permitted to meet those of other clans, but at the last Qanistókhikhu festival, metemptosis proëmptosis, I saw someone from afar. But I was not permitted to speak with him. –
Akhlísa sate up and looked at Asiréma and asked – How do I make someone love me the way that I love him even though I’ve been waiting for him mine entire life but he still thinks of me as a little child. –
– I do not know, Imperial Concubine. One cannot force someone to love someone else. Perhaps he just needs some time. – Asiréma looked up for the first time and saw that Akhlísa was not seated upon the edge of the stump and was sitting as perfectly still, or at least as still as Akhlísa could e'er get, her mouth was open, she was listening to the older maiden with almost desparite longing. Asiréma wondered what she would say to a younger Sibling who asked her such a question, but she had no other young brothers or sisters, at least none still alive. – If you’ll forgive my saying this, Karuláta – Asiréma began – But I have met your foster Brother before as well as you. I remember Puîyos’ riding about and slaying bandits, I remember when he rode out into the dinosaur stampede and rescued me from the falling saurians, and I remembered that cute little Princess who followed him around all the time and who glued her hand to his and refused to let him go. –
Akhlísa crossed her arms and chanted – She’s not so cute anymore. In fact she’s mean. She won’t let me kiss mine own husband. I’m allowed to kiss him, I’m married to him! Oh, I’m kissing him right now, perhaps even. Have you kissed a boy? –
– No, Karuláta. –
– Well, I’m married so I should be able to. –
– When I met your foster Brother and the other members of your family, I remembered just how young he was. Perhaps if the War were going otherwise, perhaps if divine Kàrijoi were acting in a different manner, than the Elders would not be trying to rush a marriage of children who may not quite understand the yoking of their lives together. From what I saw of your husband, he was a very quite and very shy young man … –
– He’s wonderful and he’s the best and I love him! –
– … and he’s all that, yes, but he is also very young and very shy. Perhaps you both just need time to grow together, like two grand trees in the forest. I am told that when my grandparents were betrothed as children that at first they barely even wanted to look at each other, and did their best to avoid each other the next couple of years until their marriage ceremony, but later in life they became companions and friends and begot two sons and five daughters. –
– I’ll give Puey sons too, if he wants me to – Akhlísa chanted. – I’ve very loyal to him, I wouldn’t betray him to a Dragon for anything at all, not even if I got very scared. –
– It may be best for you both just to be friends and to grow up together, and when you are grown up you shall look at each other with eyen reborn. At least that is what the Elders tell me. –
– I’m never letting Puey go, I love him too much. Do you really want to be given in marriage to my Brother? –
Asiréma looked down to her slippered feet. – Yes, I very much wish to serve the Emperor and be a part of his harem and bring honor to the Clan Poriêrii. –
Akhlísa jumped up and played with her hair a little. – If you could meet that young man again, the one from the high-tides of the festival, would you want to? –
– No. I wish to serve the Emperor, it is mine only desire. –
– Oh. – Akhlísa swayed from side to side. – Do you think Puey would like my hair up like this? –
– From what I saw of him, I think he likes you just as you are. –
– But I’m not getting smooched with most passionate kisses the way I am! That’s the problem! – Akhlísa spun around, and Asiréma did also and pulled down her black veils and saw that Ixhúja was trotting upwards and was carrying a small pile of objects in her arms. She approached the maidens and opening up her arms down came tumbling a group of severed Færie ears still bleeding. For a moment Asiréma was too shocked to respond, but then she screamed – Blessed Poriêrii Ancestors, no! You de-eared the Elders! –
– ?? – asked Ixhúja.
– What did you do? – asked Akhlísa. – How are they supposed to negotiate for concubines and take orders if they can’t hear! –
Ixhúja kicked a few ears about as if to asky, What did I do? Why are you blaiming me! You’re the one who brought me along on this little bridge trip, even when you saw my playing with the nerves of the dead soldier!
Asiréma fell unto the floor of the bridge and began gathering up the still bleeding ears. Akhlísa ran up to Ixhúja and chanted – I didn’t know that you were going to …–
– !! – Ixhúja told her with an hiss.
– My poor Elders! – gasped Asiréma.
Those ears don’t belong to the elders, you galoot! They’re not hairy enough. I ripped those off from the bodies I found floating in this fœtid swamp of yours. Look, some of them are not even Færie ears, they’re just whatever I could find.
– Those ears don’t belong to your elders – Akhlísa chanted. – My silly Sister here was just mutilating the corpses she found here. –
Ixhúja rubbed her nose. Although, perhaps it would be fun to cut off just a few of their ears.
– Ixhúja no, we really need Puey’s permission … –
I left my necklace of severed ears back in Khnìntha. Ears I find far more convenient than taking the heads of one’s enemies, there are only so many severed heads which I want to return with me, but I can always pack away barrels of ears …
– This is getting to be a weird conversation – Akhlísa chanted backing up. She turned back to Asiréma and chanted – I’m sad that we gave you a scare. Ixhúja, are the Elders nearby? –
Ixhúja drew a long gutting knife. I can find them.
– No. Please. Asiréma, dearest and golden, I’m sorry about this, please go back to your Elders, and you can see that they’re all still intact. I hope. –
Asiréma drew herself upwards, she was still shaking a little from the shock, but she saw that some of the ears were those of Kháfha swordsmen, and a many were the ear-globes of the Qhíng whom the Poriêrii had not forgiven for invading their land, and she was thinking that these were not the ninri of her people but was still anxious to know for certain. She bowed unto both of the maidens several times and chanted – Then with your kind permissions, Concubine and Princess, I would return to my fathers. Please, though, what shall I tell them? Is Emperor Puîyos in the market for some secondary wives? –
– He’s considering it – chanted Akhlísa. – He’s so busy kissing me though that he barely has seven minutes to spare. But it may be a good idea for him to have other brides, and thereby younger Sisters for me to command. –-
Asiréma bowed again and adjusted her achromatic veils. – Then thus shall I tell mine Elders. I think the House of Pwéru for its guestkindliness. – And turning aside, her dress swiveling and dark, she ran away down the bridges and hoped that the Huntress Princess had not harmed her Elders at all.
Akhlísa glared at Ixhúja and yanked her sleeve and chanted – Those aren’t really their ears, are they! –
They’re someone’s ears, or at least used to be, Ixhúja grinned.
– You know what I mean! –
Yes, I hunted down the old silly men and ripped of their ears and dropped them before you. Oh and I also ate the warriors bones and skin and clothing and all. I think I trapped their souls inside those skeletal trees.
– Really? –
– Are you mocking me? –
Heavens no, my dearest precious little Sister.
– Good. I hate it when people make fun of me Siêthiyal is always making fun of me she hurts me so much. Did you really cut off the ears of the Elders? –
Ixhúja wrapped her arm about Akhlísa’s and began leading her back up the bridges and up towards the labyrinthine pathways unto the fortress and chuckled to herself, and behind them Asiréma came running back to her kinsmen and found them relatively unharmed although not a little embarrassed at all being chased around by a maiden, but they took comfort in the fact that at least she was a Princess of the new Divine Family against whom no sword may be raised and with whom all alliances must be forged.
– Forgive me for speaking, but the new Emperor and his harem are very young – chanted Asiréma. – They may have to wait some years before acquiring new wives. –
– The Kháfha have guardianship of the Divine Twins now – an Elder was saying. – Neither Íngìkhmar nor Grandfather Thiêfhilos can protect the children. And the Kháfha, being so stern and dispassionate, may wish to negotiate the harem as soon as possible. The Kháfha are not a folk who like long negotiations for marriage. This could work for our advantage. –
– We always knew that the Clan of Sweqhàngqu would have to fall – another Elder was saying. – None of us could have forseen though that it would transform itself into the family that would save us all. –
The warriors were leading the way and taking the bridges that lead up unto the great triangular and rondured daurun of the Poriêrii, but Asiréma looked back a few times unto the fortress at the other side of the mountain and thought about young Master Puîyos who had rescued her so many times and yet was too shy even to receive a kiss from her, and she thought it sad that someone that dear and innocent could not be permitted a moment of piece with his Princess and Concubine, but had to be drawn into the ètrang the blood feuds that so marred the whispering mountains and plantations and gardens of Jaràqtu. But such was the Midnight Hour that was fallen upon all things, and against the chill Asiréma wrapped her robes tighter about herself and felt the frost arising all about her, and looked froward to hearth and ardour and flame and dreams of a life in the harīm of a new Emperor who mastered Earth and Sea and Sky themselves.
Akhlísa was leading the way back into the fortress and was almost dragging Ixhúja along with her, by now the first few glimmers of a most cunning and wonderous plan were forming within her mind, she could not quite see it all before her, it was as if she were finding herself in a very foggy morn and the abbies were lighting up their towers with their aofhàtro signal naphtha and shooting up their flames high into the welkin, and the vast and dim outline of the whispering mountains were glistening, and the slowly rise of the living ships as they were tempting for to land and rise without scraping against each other, and she could hear the marvelous sonorous song of the sea and smell the salt thereof but without actually seeing the outline of the beach, she could hear the ice pterodactyls and feadar upon the cliffsides and knew that their nests and young had to be nearby, the land and sea and sky were all a conflation of fire and grey, but she was able to guess a little the talamoilajhèkhqu the geographoarchæology of it all, glimmers of the future become the shadows of the past, legends of the past become the truth of the future, everything a swamp maze of present swinging out from her, and as she tugged upon Ixhúja Akhlísa was skipping from side to side in the various ballets she had seen Princess Éfhelìnye employ as well as the various wibbial dance of the mansuete Traîkhiim volk and even the dancing she had seen in the Undergloom when Queen Khwofheîlya was dancing before her family and ensorcelled all with the grace of her movement. Ixhúja was just being pulled along, she could not quite guess the shape of things to come, her mind was whirling more to the practicalities of forging these earrings for her clan Sister, she was thinking about some of the marvels of wheel and hook and rouage all entwirled, she was trying to imagine how she would be able to pierce Akhlísa’s ears with a minimum of blood and pain since Ixhúja herself had been too young when her own ears had been pierced by cold machine claws. She thought about heating needles and of setting of smithy in the backfields of the harem and water and mist and fire, and Akhlísa danced from side to side and was saying to herself – I have to be a grown up. Puey must see me as a grown up. I have to be his wife. I’m a grown up, aren’t I? I’m old enough to wear his wedding band, that makes me all adult. Ixhúja, you think I’m grown up, right? –
– … – Ixhúja growled.
They came unto the long and winding outer walls of the rath, and Akhlísa came scrambling up the gnarled and dying trees that were growing in the outer section where the harem wigwâm were set, she pulled herself up through the branches and came tumbling down the walls, and Ixhúja came leaping upwards behind her, and they were in a space where gardens used to thrive here within the shadow of the walls, but now wild grasses were struggling against the frost, and even the weeds were dead, the outline of paths and little streams were visible, a few waterwheels frozen in their axles, and icicles growing about the sides of the trees and hanging like knives throughout all the branches. Akhlísa spun around and clapped her hands together and chanted – I just have to be a grown up. Won’t you help me, Epóna? –
Ixhúja hopped down about her. She looked to the streams and the placement of the stone. She pulled down one of her mechanical insects and whispered unto it to start gathering materials for her, and looking to Akhlísa she told her in a language of clockworks and forging, Summon thou the Traîkhiim slaves. They tend to obey you and my cousin the best.
– How will they help me be more grown up? – asked Akhlísa. – I want to be as beautiful and graceful as Puey’s Mother Khwofheîlya. –
Summon the tnoaqteûpa thralls.
– Everyone! Triîm! Get your triple heads o'er here! – Akhlísa shouted.
Why don’t you just walk to their room and …
– Shouting’s funner. Traîkhiim! You Pèqlor dancers! Come here, we have something fun to do! –
From a dead tree Fhólus and Aîya’s heads popped upwards, and their wings spread outwards like blankets about each other, and the windows here in the outer harīm quarters were beginning to blink open one by one and out of the dilations a few straggling Traîkhiim arose and began to fly untowards the maidens, and as the doors popped open the Traîkhiim came rolling outwards, and others came falling down from the rafters and gargoyles of the roof and about some of the smaller towers in this region, the Traîkhiim were finally beginning to look a little healthier after their ordeal, many of them were runagate slaves fleeing the downfall of the Qhíng in the West, others had been property of the Duchesses and their zodiographers, some of them had wild Traîkhiim from their own frozen dreamlands deep within the mandate of the Qhíng, and not a few of them had been dead whom the Starflower Princess Éfhelìnye had resurrected herself. They were still a little ragged and thin but not as thin and ragged as they had been before, for Éfhelìnye made sure to brush their feathers and feed them of their apples, and so they were recovering just a little and slowly. The Traîkhiim began to gather about Akhlísa, for they still looked up to Ixhúja with not a little fear, but they knew that they had nothing at all to fear from the Last Born of Creation.
– Hi, baby – the thousand Traîkhiim chanted.
– Are you calling me a baby! – cried Akhlísa. – I’m no baby. –
Fhólus turned to Aîya and chanted – Don’t you we think she still have some of that chubby little baby look about her face? –
– Yes, she still little Triîmeling – Aîya responded.
Akhlísa stomped her foot against the snow. – I’m not a baby! If you call me that again … I’ll do something very awful to you! I’ll put acorn butter on your heads and make you run in the fields … and then everyone will chase you to eat the acorn butter because it’s sooo good. Ixhúja, do you have any acorn butter? –
Ixhúja blinked as if to say, Let’s get to work.
– Just don’t call me baby! – Akhlísa shook her hand towards the Traîkhiim in what she thought was a menacing fashion, but not a single Traîkhiim was afraid at all.
– We call you Puîyos’ younger and prettier wife – Fhólus chanted.
– Yes, I like that – Akhlísa chanted. – Let the joyous word be spread among the Traîkhiim that I am Puey’s better and prettier and better cooking and younger and better wife! I want everyone in the harem to know! –
– Should we start telling the Eunuchs? – Aîya asked.
– The Eunuchs don’t pay us any attention – Fhólus chanted. – Vestal Virgins think we’re a child race. And … that’s everyone else save for the Divine Empress and the holy Sister. –
– We’re pretty much the entire harīm – Aîya chanted, and about her the thousand Traîkhiim nodded.
– Fine, we’ll have to start cramming the harem with lots more wives for my husband – Akhlísa chanted. – And all day long they’ll be telling me what a grown up I am. I don’t want to be a little child anymore. Mine entire life people have ordered me around or patted me on the hand and given me candy. – Akhlísa sniffled a little. – I’m not a baby – she chanted, and she started licking her thumb and then sucking on it.
Princess Ixhúja decided that she would have to take charge if anything were going to happen, for the Traîkhiim were a leaderless people and needed strong commands, and Akhlísa was having trouble concentrating. Ixhúja came froward and affixed Fhólus and Aîya with a stare, the same type of look she gave tigers and white panthers when she wanted to frighten them into submission. Fhólus and Aîya tried to turn their six heads away from her, but Ixhúja just glared at them all the longer. Fhólus tried to blink and Aîya cried out, but at last the janyaTraîkhiim bowed down before her, and around them the rest of the Traîkhiim began to fall upon their elbows. The Huntress snarled at them in a language partially of growls but also of metal and forging and clicks and told them, Bring me fire, bring me water, bring me basons, I forge this night. And so frightened did the Traîkhiim become that they understood the important of her snarls.
– We making weapons! – Fhólus asked.
– We no like weaposn! – Aîya shook. – Peaceful people. –
– Except against our Masters. –
– Yes, masters bad. –
Ixhúja took a few steps backwards and wrapped her arms about Akhlísa and told the Traîkhiim in blinks and glances, We make earrings for her. We shall adorn her like a young woman of my people. Ixhúja batted Akhlísa’s thumb out of her mouth, but Akhlísa began to cry, so Ixhúja let her pop it back in, and then looking to the Traîkhiim her eyen flashed with fire, and the Traîkhiim scattered before her to do her bidding. The Traîkhiim were so eager not to incure Princess Ixhúja’s wrath upon them that they were bumping into each other, their wings crashing against each others’ heads, some of the Traîkhiim trampling others down into the snow, and all of them dashing right back into the windows and doors and almost shoving down all of the Eunuchs and Vestal Virgins before them. Ixhúja looked to Akhlísa and found her still sucking her thumb and this time, very gently she pulled her hand away, and rested her head upon Akhlísa’s head and realized that Our Heart Raven had spoken true words unto her, and that this little one was going to be the only younger Sister that Ixhúja would e'er have. The Martian Princess never did quite understand theology, and she used to ask her tutors Táper and Tselèriter to explain unto her the Holy Writ many times, and when she had traveled away from her Father’s gardens and met Syeîteko the High Priest of Ùxhajan the Blue Tribe she had posited him many questions, as best she could, given the difficulties she had with language. Honored Syeîteko had told her that the Immortals cannot lie, and yet also that Raven the Immortal was a trickster and a liar and no man could quite reconsile the two facts. So for many years Ixhúja had just assumed that Raven was just mocking her in her dreams when he called Akhlísa his other netherly daughter, but perhaps Raven had been trying to tell her something she would need to know in the years to come. Akhlísa tried to suck on her thumb again, and this time Ixhúja was not too gentle at all, and when Akhlísa resisted her, Ixhúja reached into one of her pockets and took out a small phial of noxious fungoids and dipped Akhlísa’s thumb into it and stuck it in her mouth, and Akhlísa coughed and gagged and her eyen watered from the horrible taste.
– I just want Puey to love me, that’s all – Akhlísa chanted. – Let’s make some pretty earrings. Oh look! Birdies! Lots of birdies! – Akhlísa pulled herself from Ixhúja’s grasp and came running upwards, and saw that a few Ravens were descending upon the snow and were pulling apart a small xhaûrlro mouse squirrel that they had caught, and pools of blood were rilling out from the body. The Ravens were thrusting their golden beaks within and pulling out still quaverous muscles. One Raven pulled out the beating heart and began impaling it, and a few other Ravens came forwards to fight for the heart, they were jumping up and jabbing each other with their claws and skriking all the while. – Pretty Ravens! – Akhlísa squealed. – When Puey ventured into the wilderness to see his totemic plantimal, he saw the Raven, he’s the only one to do that so his spirit is like a Raven. Maid children don’t go into the wilderness, we get married to be all grown up. I am grown up, aren’t I? –
Ixhúja watched the Ravens tearing apart the flesh and decided that since the High Priest Syeîteko and Treîtel were dead along with all the rest of the males of Khnìntha, that if she e'er had any questions about theology she would ask them of Puîyus himself. The Ravens looked up and eyed Ixhúja a little, but she knew they would not attack her, at least not now with so much fresh meat and blood before them, although what the Ravens might have thought of her she could not quite guess.
– … a lot of times maidens call Puey a Raven because the Raven has the reputation of chasing after lots of girls and Puey’s always rescueing girls and getting kissed by them that’s why he’s like a raven also and so it’s okay for him to have more than one wife right because he’s like a Raven so I can be his Raven bride and don’t you think that they’re pretty birdies huh? – Akhlísa asked.
Ixhúja did not respond. The first few Traîkhiim were returning. Akhlísa laughed and began running right up to them and soon forget about the Ravens and the feast and the blood behind. Ixhúja came to the Traîkhiim and they set up basons and filled with with frost, they began setting up several fires, and it took several Traîkhiim all straining and fluttering to bring up a qyùtlhong anvil dâca upwards and thump it down into the ice, and Fhólus and Aîya were bringing many different khmèrotsa hammers with them, and so the Traîkhiim were giggling one to another and bobbing up and down and taking up driftwood and building up the fires high. Akhlísa set herself up upon a barrel that the Traîkhiim had brought and began sucking on other thumb and playing with the tips of her hair, and Ixhúja looked from side to side and contemplated how to begin this work of creation.
And the Traîkhiim builded up the fires hot and were giggling all the while, and Ixhúja walked among the pieces of metal they had collected and took the best of the pieces, while other Traîkhiim were bringing out the jewels they had found within the lockboxes and chests of the harem, and Ixhúja spread them out upon a barrel and examined them one by one. Her clockwork creatures were crawling out of her hair and shedding themselves of wings and gears, some of the claws and wings of the insects came spilling downwards and were hooking themselves together in new patterns. Ixhúja rubbed her ear and tried to think of what would be the very best characteristics for Akhlísa to express her new life as her feral Twin’s Concubine, as well as her own summertide joyous glee, the maiden who had been born upon Tsíxhar the midsummer’s day in the old colony of Qroât which was no more. And so Ixhúja rolled up her sleeves and and took a shaft of metal and dipped it into the flames and taking upon the mašūr began to beat it again and again into blazing hot coils.
Clang! Clang! Clang! Clang!
The Traîkhiim were laughing all the louder, some of them were galloping in the snows now and they were taking up the jewels and trying to link them together with their very dexterous wings and lips, other Traîkhiim were taking up more wood and feeding the flames. Fhólus was taking some of rings and slipping them together, and Aîya discovered a large emerald and began polishing it with her tounges.
Clang! Clang! Clang! Clang!
Ixhúja paused to wipe some of the sweat from her face. The snow was still falling, and she was toiling outside, but the fires were so hot, for the work that she was doing was so fine, that she was getting a little too warm here in the traditional Jaràqtun dress she was wearing. She would have to alter it. She popped open some of her buttons and threw aside the first couple of blouses that she wore. She wished that the gown did not quite reach to her ankles, she knew this was the tradition among the peoples, but she would rather wear one of the shorter skirts she used to wear within the ice deserts and jungles of her homeworld. She looked around just in case Puîyus were wandering around in his own harīm, and so unbuckling her girdle she kicked the outer skirt away, and decided that she could probably just wear three or four layers and not offend anyone too much. She rolled up her sleeves as far as she could and unbuttoned the first few buttons of her blouse though, and taking up some burning bits of metal began beating them against the smugal qyùtlhong.
Clang! Clang! Clang! Clang!
And so Princess Ixhúja continued upon her monumental task of crafting clockwork earrings just for Akhlísa in the manner of the daughters of Khnìntha, and Akhlísa gurgled as she sate at the edge of her barrel and watched as Ixhúja set down one burning wheel after the next, and the Traîkhiim set jewel after jewel about the rings, and the mechanical insects began to knit together spring into wheel. And Ixhúja was working just as hard as if she were forging axe or brand or honored sword, for creation itself was a source of joy and all work must be done right.
Aîya drew up the blue tajhwònthe she found, the quetzalxoquiyae and fluttering upwards came up unto Akhlísa to show it to her. – This is marvelous it is, oh Puîyos’ prettier and younger wife. This would make a beautiful crown for you or a carcanet, it may be too large for an earring my dearest. –
Akhlísa grasped the marakata and saw its blue luster and it reminded her of so many summer days and the blue dress she used to wear before the Qhíng made her burn it, along with all of the vestiges of her childhood, and for a moment her heart panged her and she wished that she were no longer a Concubine but a little Sister once again and that everything could be as it was. – I love it. It’s beautiful. And yes, I am Puey’s prettier and younger wife, and I shall bare him more children than his other wife, and he will honor me and all my children will love me and hug me all the time and I’ll always be their favorite. Let’s save the laimaril, there may be so much we can do with it. –
Clang! Clang! Clang! Clang! Ixhúja was laughing to herself as she drew up several more superheated wheels she had created and she dipped them into snow and water. The Traîkhiim drew up another bason, this one left empty just as she wanted it, and Ixhúja turned to Akhlísa and gave her a look that meant, This part is secret. Turn away, do something else.
Fhólus fluttered up to Akhlísa and took her by the hand and chanted – We can continue with your alien dance lessons. Here, kick off those bridal slippesr. We they dance in the snow. –
– Okay – Akhlísa chanted, but she still looked backwards and looked to Ixhúja and the anvil sconz a few more times, but Fhólus drew her out into the middle of the field, and the Traîkhiim began spinning around and opening and closing her wings in strange patterns, and Akhlísa began to imitate her, and soon was prancing around upon her bare feet, her toes spinning around and kicking, and the Traîkhiim was become completely wild, she was crying out as she jabbed and spun and ducked and kicked, and Akhlísa was trying to do the same although she lacked a couple of heads and wings, and her dance was sometimes a little like fighting and othertimes she was leaping about in the flight of ballet, but othertimes she was shaking her hips about and clasping her hands just like a temple dancer from before the Great War and maidens still danced before the blazing altars of sacrifice.
– Yeah, you getting it, shake those finger-toes, make your toes so prancy and flexible! – shouted Fhólus. – The dance is life, the dance is Ancestor and thought and mysticism, the dance is how we know our siblings and how we find our other dancing souls. –
Akhlísa was jumping up and down like a rabbit and now spinning her head about. – What do you mean by that, do you find your spouses in the dance? –
– Yes – chanted Fhólus. – It is as simple as that. The dance brings together the souls. Once long ago the Nomothete Akhàkhma was complete, both husband and wife and mother and father, and he and she begot the Traîkhiim people, but the rest of us incomplete, we can be male or female, but not both at once, or at least not both very well. We must find our other one. There is always a second Traîkhiim, our souls have been cloven in two, but when we meet up in the dance, we are complete one again, and are like Akhàkhma the Onomatothete. –
– So in the dance Puey will recognize me as his soulmate and be forced to love me! –
– Perchance haply mayhap not the same with you Færie Folk, Puîyos is Sun and Éfhelìnye is Moon, so what that make you? –
– I am the corona of the Sun then. I am his Summer light. Éfhelìnye can be his winter bride, that’s fine, she’s all cold, but I’m the wind and typhoon and green field and the singing plantimals, I am the joy of the Summer day, Karuláta Khniêma Akhlísa. –
– Puîyos’ younger and prettier and summery wife – Fhólus grinned with all three of her sets of teeth.
Ixhúja continued to beat upon the qyùtlhong anvil, and as the last bason was set up before her, she cried out in a loud and skriking voice, and the Ravens were descending about her, and some of the Ravens were come to her with freshly severed ears and they wrung the blood from the flesh and let it fall into the buziz, and other Ravens drew up severed heads from battle and let the blood flow, and some were bringing up xhaûrlro mice squirrels and snapping their heads back and letting the blood fall, and so it was that the Ravens produced a bason all of fresh blood and began fluttering aside, and Ixhúja fashioned her clockwork, as the Traîkhiim were crawling about her and setting jewels and rings within and the insects were creating machinery for it, and Ixhúja took the pieces and dipped them into frost and water and blood. For after all, it was imperative for one to do one’s best in the act of the joy of creation.
Clang! Clang! Clang! Hissssss!
And then she had all of the pieces ready and set them upon a long slab of metal, the wheels were hissing and the jewels were absorbing the blood. Ixhúja tossed aside the hammers, and the Traîkhiim and the clockwork insects came crawling upwards to set all of the wheels and gears into place. Ixhúja knew exactly how the clockweyth earrings should look, they should be of rings and hoops, for Akhlísa was a Concubine now and wore the wedding band of one linked to an Emperor, and the earrings should be as blue as the summer and the joyous dress which she once wore, and in the flash and sparkle and giddiness of the earrings, Ixhúja put together fluttering pieces that were in the image of the Raven, so that each earring could remind Puîyus of the bond which he and Akhlísa shared, they were all creatures of Our Lord Raven the Alestìsqi, the Trickster of the worlds artifikisto troubleprankmaker. And the Traîkhiim came rolling away in wonder at what Ixhúja had made, and the insects set their wings and gears upon it, and Qìfhte the phasing dragonfly breathed his mandibles upon it, and the clockwork jeweled earrings came alive. Ixhúja drew them up and set them her palms, the blue Ravens beat their wings from side to side, and Ixhúja thought that now Akhlísa would look not just like a grown up but like an Heretic Princess of old.
– Purr! – Ixhúja called.
Fhólus was prancing from side to side, and Akhlísa danced barefoot on the ice and beshivered her hips from side to side. – I like doing this. I’ll get Puey’s attention somehow. –
– Puîyos’ twin summoneth you – Fhólus chanted, and she arose and went to rejoin Aîya and the rest of the Traîkhiim. Akhlísa gathered up her mismatched socks and her nuptial slippers and ran unto Ixhúja’s work barrels, and the Traîkhiim were all laughing in excitement and watching the oiralbriun glistening as zoetic insects orelornamringoj and opening and closing themselves.
Ixhúja drew a needle from her girdle. It was time to pierce the ears. Ixhúja reached o'er and cut the edge of her finger open just to test the sharpness, but decided it was not kean enough, so she dipped the needle into the flames and let it burn, and then cooling it into the fires tested it a few times on her palm until it was hissing hot, and blood ran red.
– Ur … maybe I don’t want to get mine ears pierced … – Akhlísa chanted as she backed way upon the crunching snow, and she saw steam arising from the needle.
Ixhúja looked upwards and gave her younger netherly Sister a look which meant, I shall not hurt you. Come here. Let me hug you.
– I don’t know … steam is still coming out of the jhèxhni sailscon! Can’t you see that? –
Puîyos will see you as an adult woman when you wear these earrings. Now embrace me, Sister.
Akhlísa ran upwards and hugged Ixhúja, and Ixhúja held her back and hoped that this would not hurt, and reached up and cupping one of Akhlísa’s ears she drew the needle towards it. She did not even touch the lobe at all though before Akhlísa screamed out in horror and began wailing. Ixhúja did what was natural to her and punched Akhlísa across the face and sent her sprawling right upon the snow and decided just to take charge, and she was not about to waste all of her labors in forging the janyakhlìneru, nor deny Akhlísa this opportunitas to impress Puîyus with her glamour and beauty.
Ixhúja looked to the Traîkhiim and hissing told them, Hold her down. Beat her if you must. Keep her still.
– I changed my mind! – screamed Akhlísa. – Let me go! Stop it, Ixhúja! I don’t wanna do this! –
Ixhúja kicked Akhlísa right in her stomache just to silence her, and as Akhlísa rolled onto her side, Ixhúja dashed into the snow and grabbed her by her chin and shook her hard and hissing told her, I can pierce your ears with your being unconscious I must. Be quiet and behave. Obey me.
– Don’t hurt me! – whimpered Akhlísa.
Ixhúja smacked her face a couple of times. Be still. This won’t hurt more than it needs to. Slaves! Hold her down. For everytime that she wriggles, I break one of your wings for each and every single one of you.
– We need our wings for dancing – whimpered Aîya.
– Don’t break our wings, please – chanted Fhólus.
Ixhúja sate down right on top of Akhlísa and held the needle up. Then keep her still. Remember, her flesh is holy, sanctified for the Emperor himself. I would not err in this task.
– Please stay still – Aîya whispered into Akhlísa’s ear.
– We really want our wings for dancing – Fhólus whispered into Akhlísa’s other ear.
– I don’t want my ears pieced anymore! – Akhlísa screamed.
I purred to you, keep her still, Ixhúja told the Traîkhiim in a look that all of them could understand. Trust me, I shall receive no pleasure from breaking your wings. Some pleasure perhaps. Not too much.
– I don’t want to be a grown up, I’ve changed my mind! – Akhlísa cried.
Ixhúja drew her hands and the needle down and brushed her finger upon Akhlísa’s ear, and Qìfhte the Dragonfly held up his glassen wings like unto a mirror, and with deft hands Ixhúja began cutting into the lobe and the coil of the ear in the exact same pattern wherein her ears had been pierced. Akhlísa could not help herself but jerked from the fiery pain a few times, but the Traîkhiim continued to rub their wings and hand-feet upon her and tried to sooth her as best she could, and they murmured and sought for to calm her. Ixhúja worked quickly, she pierced the other ear several times, and Akhlísa could feel trickles of blood running down the side of her face. The Ravens came fluttering upwards and held up the bejeweled earrings, they shone with a bright blue luster which contrasted with the spreading midnight despair which was all the heavens. Ixhúja drew the clockwork unto the lobes, and for a few moments Akhlísa hear the whirling of wheels and the clicking of gears together, and felt metal digging into her ears, and hot fire. And then all of the Traîkhiim gasped in wonder and began flying away, their wings spreading out in joy. Ixhúja pulled herself away from Akhlísa and nodded in satisfaction, and leaning down pulled Akhlísa up, and Akhlísa could feel feel a few dragonflies wiping up the blood from the side of her neck. The Traîkhiim looked to each other and sighed and chanted to themselves – Look how beautiful she is! She look like Wthekhasarauníya, the Queen of the Night. She like a bride now. Look at the way the jewels move, they changing with her eyen. Puîyos will love her now. –
Ixhúja purred and in the language of wild beasts chanted, Now you are a grown up. Ixhúja snatched up a passing dragonfly and holding up its large mirror wings revealed unto Akhlísa her new face.
– By Khiêro and Khweisalápa and all the Ancestors, is that I! – gasped Akhlísa. She ran a finger to her still tender ears. The earrings were living clockwork of jewels and bridal rings, they were blue and they breathed out green, and when she looked to one side she could see a small jewel Raven opening and closing his wings, and she lookd to her other ear and saw another Raven, and crawling up and down the side of her head were smaller jewels fitting themselves and changing all part of the mechanics of the loops. – Puey is going to love me for sure, I’m definitely his younger prettier wife now. Oh Ixhúja, thank you I love you so much! I have to go and start kissing Puey now, but I love you too thank you thank you thank you I love you! – Little Akhlísa flung herself into Ixhúja’s arms and kissed her several times and then came running away and chanted – I’m so busy I have a thousand things to do! Thank you! Oh oh oh oh oh! –
Ixhúja looked down and saw the anvil and the hammer and the barrels and she cried out to some of the Traîkhiim to help her clean up the mess, and so they labored in the frost and snow of the courtyard, and were wondering all the while of what was going to come. Ixhúja picked up some hammers and tossed them to some unsuspecting and soon wellthumped Traîkhiim and picking up the bason of blood walked up unto the edge where the dying trees and statues of the Ancestors stood, and she wondered unto herself whether she would e'er try to attract Puîyus’ attention in a similar fashion. She thought not, Puîyus and Éfhelìnye needed a guard more than they needed another concubine, but still she had to wonder. She tipped the bason and poured the blood all upon the statues and let it soak into the earth and dying grasses and frost, and she bowed to the Ancestors even though they could not acknowledge her, the Queen of the Sweqhàngqu had forbidden that as well as their own ancient customs. Still though, working in precious iron and flame did allow one an excuse not to have to wear all these layers. Ixhúja drew a knife and begun cutting off a few inches of sleeve and hem and challenged any of the Traîkhiim to protest her actions. They of course did not, she was their Huntress, and their thoughts were to the dance.