Rhythm. Swaying. Rocking. Gentle bobbling. Wherry? Boat? Wheels squeaking. Bubble dance of a janápatsa jinrikisha. First rode one in the golden streets of Eilasaîyanor. Earlier today. Seems like days, years, ages ago. Left right left right. Pulling.
Éfhelìnye was barely even able to open up her eyen. The world was shaking all about her, the seat was rattling above the huge axles of the wheels. Warm and silent and breathing deep Puîyus was wrapped up in the blanket beside her and leaning against her. They were riding in the riksha. The world was bright and sharp about her. She thought that she must be back in Eilasaîyanor or at least somewhere within the snowcities of Khniîkha, for the huge towering trees were heavy with snow, and as she breathed out frost was dancing before her eyen. But there were no streets at all, just pebbled pathways and some simple stone and wood bridge. In fact she could not even see cities, just tents upon the fields, and in the higher whispering mountains fortresses rearing upwards. The sea was sounding somewhere strong and deep behind her, for some reason she was thinking that the sea and its music should be important to her. The air was still heavy laden with the smell of salt and foam, and for some reason this also seemed important to her. The jinrikisha was was naving from side to side, bells were set about the edges of the cart and were ringing in a slight and joyous sound, the bells themselves twinkling against the icicles that were fluent downwards. She could see that the driver of this janápatsa was a large Xhthoantátlha porter of the xhthoântatlha genetic sub-caste of the Khlitsaîyart Khlaêr, and he was leaping outwards upon swift and steady and mammoth legs, his long reptilian arms, mighty-thewed, more than equal to the task of pulling the small riksha behind him along with two children and a couple of scurrying and squabbling shadows fluttering about. The xhthoantátlha was bellowing as he ran and signaling to the rest of his brother porters, as they were pulling wagons and carrying entire boxes and rooms upon their backs and heading up unto the fortresses upon the face of the hill. Éfhelìnye struggled and tried to remain awake, but she was loosing the battle. She could see that at the edge of the fortress were descending some of the larger warships of the Aûm, and they were in far better condition than the ones she had seen before, they must have been recent come from other worlds and not from the battle in the winds, and shimmering downwards almost crawling up the side of the hill were the spinning and sparkling pfhofhàpfhe, the honey gastropod vessels of the Ptètqiikh brimming with muscle and vein. The oriezio came leaping around the bend and Éfhelìnye saw that several caravans of Kháfha were walking up in the same direction, and for some reason it seemed significant to her that she was seeing so many aliens gathering together in this place in this time of fairwell, although she could not quite remember why.
Shore. Salt. Beach. No strangers, no enemies, no aliens aloud whatsoever save those sent from the Emperor or the holy Sylvan Caste or guest-friends of the warrior clans. Beheaded upon the beaches. No bridges, no clockweyth trains reach hereunto.
– I … I’m just saying – Fhólus was saying.
– Really, what are you saying? – Aîya asked.
– I’m not saying it. –
– Are you then? –
A couple of shadows flickered about Éfhelìnye, she beheld wing and feather, and she sniffled as some feathers were falling about her. The voices were giggling and disappearing. Puîyus stirred a little but was not about to wake up, and Éfhelìnye rather liked it that he was fast asleep and next to her, even though she was not entirely sure where she was, at least she remembered him. The xhthoântatlha porters were almost singing one to another, it reminded her of the íroîtor gondolistoj who plied their craft through the rainbow cannals of Eilasaîyanor, another time, another world it seemed. Some Qhíng and Qlùfhem came riding up next to them and were laughing all the while, their tentacles slapping each other in fellowship, some of the laughter deep and throaty born of heart-stomache, the other laughter high and fluted breathed out from rolling celia. The chariots were soon disappearing. The riksha continued to sway. She tried to keep her eyen open, she saw that spreading out before her were massive walls, but no longer were buidings and towers still standing at all, just charred black coal left where once had been pasture and silo and grainery. She saw that upon many of the walls were ash outlines that were in the shape of men holding up spears and women gathering children into their arms. Éfhelìnye blinked a few times. The winds were blowing upon the ash, she could see flicker by flicker as the outlines of the families were disappearing from her. The porters stopped laughing and continued drawing up their wagons and houses and jinrikishas. All of winding hills before the seas were now become black, and that which was not black was wall where the outline of folk lay, and nothing grew at all any more for ever.
– All I’m saying is that if she doesn’t eat her food, we can claim it – Aîya piped. – She may be the new Empress, but to their people she’s still but a Triîmeling barely old enough to be betrothed. She has been sleeping quite a bit, and she’ll be finicky when they tried to feed her. –
– So, you’re saying lots of unclaimed food – Fhólus chanted.
– And the Emperor, still a Triîmeling baby also, I we never saw him eat. –
– Two, two, so, so, potential meals unclaimed? – Fhólus was licking several sets of lips. – Lots of food. And not immoral for the taking of it? –
– Don’t even blink an eye. –
– Tee hee hee hee! –
– Yum yum yum yum! –
Princess Éfhelìnye tried to sit up. Puîyus was still hugging her in her sleep. All around her she saw the devastation, leagues upon leagues of that which had once been fair now all covered in soot and obsidian and volcanic ash, plantation after plantation completey dead. A few lone and blasted statues lay in the fields, the signs of the Ancestors to the Lost Peoples, they were all askew and most of the statues had tumbled down upon their faces, but someone had crept in the night and tried to set up a few of the tsàtsesan kachina statues of the ancestors unto where they should have faced, and someone had come and set the sacred sojúqa herms back in place heramaśva, so at least there were some outlines for where once gardens and fields must have been. Perhaps the Qhíng had done it themselves so as not to offend the unquiet Dead, she thought. She was glad that Puîyus was not awake, he may try, tired and confused and dazed, to go out into the fields where nothing can grow and set the kachinas into their proper alignment, she was thinking that perhaps all of their visages had to be facing in the same direction, perhaps unto the hill or cairn where the bones of their forefathers lay, or maybe unto the East where the Suns in glorious flames arise, or perhaps unto the various quarters and districts of the fields. Whatever people this was, ruined and dead and scorched by this war, she was thinking, as her eyen began droop back down again, surely Puîyus would take pity upon them, just as he felt sorry for the Qhíng whose cities were thrown into the waves and the Aûm who had no home for themselves and the Traîkhiim who were slaves unto all men. Éfhelìnye closed her eyen and held Puîyus close unto herself, and felt herself drifting back asleep.
– New Empress, isn’t she cute? – asked Fhólus. – What a lovely pair the twain the two the making. –
– I claim her food – chanted Aîya.
– Oh! –
– The Emperor’s food also! –
– Oh! –
The xhthoantátlhaxing porter cried out, as the janápatsa jinrikisha came leaping up upon paths of pebble and jaspar and jade and the fortresses of the hills arose to overlook the seas of Sqasqáli, and Fhólus and Aîya gazed out in wonder to see the white cliffsides and the green moss and upon the hillsides the brilliant xhèjetu leucipottomies where the warrior peasants had cut images of diplodoci which were visible deep anddolve upon the hills for many leagues all around. But Princess Éfhelìnye had not a chance to see the ginormous drawings of the zebra dinosaurs, for she already asleep, and Puîyus had already seen such many times here in his homeworld of Jaràqtu almost all of the days of his life.
I’m telling you we have to keep them in the same room. No, no we have no idea who they are, the Qhíng warriors were just out pyscadar and spreading out their weir when they found these children ragged and starved and fainted upon the shores. We’re trying to locate some priests and vestal virgins to take care of them. The lad is badly wounded, we think his wrist may be broken, at least one rib also. The lass, we thought at first that they were siblings because they were clinging onto each other in their sleep so hard that we just had to keep them in the same blanket and in the same bed, it doesn’t look like she’s had a descent meal in quite some time. She had some nasty cuts on her wrists, her lip … neither of them were wearing any of the markings, the regalia or runes of their clan or caste. The lad’s hands were burnt, but we saw about his sleeves where the clothing was torn, perhaps his ancestrial crest was taken. The maiden is wearing a ring, a very fine necklace. We think they may be orphans if indeed no family claims them on their garment, and none here in the camps have stepped froward to claim the two.
Éfhelìnye was aware of tentacles all about her, suckers touching her lips and cheek, tendrils all about her shoulder and neck. She felt warmth and then cold and then blankets about her. Some tentacles were reaching into her ears while others were soothing her fingers one by one. Her mind felt jumbled, as if it were made up of the pages of many books and all torn from their strings and set fluttering in the winds, and the leaves were slowly reassembling themselves. For some reason she kept thinking about the tentacles and was wondering what sort of creature was holding her, and her first thought was to the árim mollusk gorilla, or perhaps several of the árim, but then she thought that it could be a xhmolìqhitlha squid simian and an khyònu mollusc bear, or a lrìxheti squid gorilla of an khyór fhyór squid skunk or a fhyàyupa squid bear or a fhèyopu mollusc simian or a fhèmlit squid gorilla or a tílexe mollusc bird of a pyór squid skunk or a pwàntu mollusk agogwe or a xartèfhto squid bear or a qhanìngte mollusc bison or a jár squid bear or an aqhóli perch of a xháwèrqa badger or a fhèkhta goblin or a qikhaîto goat or a ptalwiêfha ox swaying its great horns from side to side and gazing at her with beautiful eyen and holding her up in its tendrils or a jùmpa badger or a qthìmel dromedārius or a tsiqhalíli chickadee or a qtìjhu gasteropod or a kèlyur octopedal cephalopod or perhaps even one of the Khlòqo white octopus hounds which are chanted to patrol upon the very edge of the Otherworld where Our Heart Raven keeps his dreams. Sometimes she wondered about the Khlòqo, what exactly did they look like, in the stained glass windows she had seen they looked like platypodes rushing outwards upon many tentacles and snapping at everything before them, and their skin was white and their eyen were read, but in the illuminated manuscripts she had seen they fierce blurs snapping with their suckers and breathing flame horrible to behold. Or perhaps they were persons holding her, like the Squîsar she had met before, folk so very sad and despirate to have children of their own, or the Jongèrya whose flesh reminded her of pineapples, and yet she had not seen the Jongèrya in so long, someone had told her that the Emperor had already driven them extinct but how could that be the Emperor’s task it was to protect all of his peole, the Jongèrya had to be somewhere around still fiddling with their rockets and delivering their pizza pies and as hoboes follwing caravans and trains. Or perhaps they were the Thùlwu Aûm and the Qlùfhem Aûm and the Kèlor Qhíng themselves holding her, she thought that she had seem them in great numbers all o'er the place, although she could not quite be certain. Would it not be grand, thought she, if they were the Àrkelor über-Qhíng who were holding her, the long lost colonies of the Qhíng, some of whom had been left in hiding in Khnìntha, white and calm they were, the lost Qhíng, a different civilization, a nation of philosophers she thought. Some tentacles reached outwards and opened up her eyelids with suckers to soft and gentle that it was as if she were the rarest of flowers found by large and inquisitive giants. For a moment she saw the outline of tentacles, she thought that indeed some Qhíng and Qlùfhem were towering all about her, but her vision was still blurred, and when they removed their hold on her her eyen closed one again, and she remained limp in their grasp.
Why do you say that the two orphans have to sleep in the same room?
That’s the very mystery of it. Everytime we’ve picked one up to carry into another room, the maiden will start crying, even though she was fast asleep. We did not wish to upset it, it looks like she’s survived quite a bit, both of them perhaps lost alone and parentless in a war zone, and the lad is wounded so, and when she wept it was just so pitiable to behold. So we just let them sleep next to each other. It seems the only merciful thing to do.
Perhaps they have escaped the Winter Eternal which is slaughtering all the children, if so they have come to depend upon each other. We will not separate them. Let them rest, and when they awaken they will tell us who they are.
While they were asleep we’ve tried to feed them, just to help them keep up their strength. The lass was able to sip up some water and broth, we even got her to swallow a few morsels of bread, but when we tried to set food in the lad’s face he just spat it back out. We just don’t understand. We were able to get him to drink some water, but only a little.
When they awaken we shall hear their story, if they can tell it. Keep them warm, keep them safe. The forests are all dying so there is no shortage of firewood for now. The Caste Elders of the Qhíng and the Zodiographers of the Aûm are planning their new strategies, they declare these foundlings to be under their protection, at least until someone can find Grandfather Thiêfhilos. We should have a Vestal Virgin here tomorrow, she can take care of them with maternal grace.
There is a delicate matter to mention. These children are without family or class or caste. What shall be done if no family comes to claim them? The Emperor has already driven many families into extinction, it is quite possible these little ones have no Father and no Clan at all. In normal days there would be some relation, no matter how distant to foster them, or at least the holy Sylvanhood could take them in, but even the line of priests is fading. Or suppose the children remain so shocked by what they have seen that they are unable to talk and we cannot guess unto whom they belong.
Almost every family has lost a child, and many families have lost them all. If indeed none are left who has ancestrial right to their blood, we shall be inundated with those wishing to foster these two. We will have to ask a priest to decide, in a matter like this they are supposed to be placed with their own family and caste, but in these days who can say, who can guess?
Éfhelìnye felt tentacles all about her, she could tell that she was being held upwards, and in the shuffling of sleeves and sheets she just knew that some Qhíng and Qlùfhem were drawing her down and trying to make her comfortable. In the movement of their tendrils and suckers she was aware that her clothing had been torn in many places, there was probably blood upon Puîyus’ face, she wondered whether indeed she did look like some jhonífhye war orphan without family or clan, she did not think that she would be mistaken for a slave, but she was not entirely sure. She kept thinking that at any moment doors would open up about her, in out from golden white light forms would arise, a Father and Mother coming for to gather her up in her arms and claim her as her own, or perhaps some other parents bereft in the War would come and want to take her within. Her eyen were closed, it was far too difficult to try to see, she just let the tentacles set her in her place and wrap the blankets about her. Dimly she could hear the clangor of gongs ringing outside, the movement of wagons and dinosaurs, she must be in a tower beside a pathway or maybe in a tent, she was not entirely sure, it was warm and safe, and she rolled out upon her side and could feel that the warmness beside her had to be Puîyus still in a far deeper sleep, and his presence and his sleep comforted her far more than anything else she could imagine, for if danger were to threaten her she knew he would leap upwards to slay it, but his dreaming was a sign of victory and peace.
I hope someone comes to name them. It is not right for them to be left all alone, and most of us here are not even of their own species, I have no idea how I am supposed to care and feed for such creatures or even what ages are they, these not quite children not quite adult wihts. The priests will have to notify the war clans, maybe one of these belong to them, who can say? It just breaks my heart to see them cast adrift and alone.
The soldiers say that the new Crown Prince has one a major victory against the old Emperor. It is a new day, hope dawns throughout the Land. Perhaps this new Prince will find these children and lead them to a new land.
Éfhelìnye was already aware of that sound and memory and reason were fleeing away from her. She wriggled closer unto Puîyus and kept her face close to his so that she could breath in his air and taste his perfumed scent, and knew that he would be all of her hope and dream in the long night to come.
– We don’t know when Grandfather Thiêfhilos will be arriving – came the woman’s voice. – There’s been some sort of trouble at the edge of the realm, perhaps not all of the allies are happy, or perhaps the ancient invaders still continue their attacks upon the fjords. I was told that it would be a good idea to contact the Sieur Knight who is conducting the war with the Qhíng, but I have not found a way to do so. –
– We can’t make decisions like this on our own – came another woman’s voice. – We just wanted to clean up the children, to change their clothing, we didn’t realize … –
Éfhelìnye was able to hear distinctive voices hovering above her, but her eyen remained closed and she reveled in the warmness of sheet and pillow, and so the voices remained just sounds without face or color, and she never did learn exactly who were speaking at this time.
– It is important to purify them, yes – came a Qhíng’s voice. – All must be cleansed before certain holy rituals, and more so those who have witness the pollution of death. No one can blame you for touching them. –
– We will accept whatever punishment is mete – came the first woman’s voice.
The other woman chanted – The lad was sore wounded, his wrist was burnt, we knew we had to bandage his brow, plus the xhnòtan sylvan doctor was coming to examine his side. I don’t think he has bathed in some time, grime and dust were upon his clothing, and yet still he smelt of perfumes, it was the strangest of things, his breath indeed was like candy. And you can smell the maiden from here, she is a living miracle, even though her clothing is ragged, her face is shining white, and she smells of purity and holiness. –
– How did you discover this wonder? – a Qlùfhim asked.
– The lad had no identification on him, we just assumed that he was of high caste, he was armed as an adult and as a Jàrqta paragon of chivalry, he has to be of the Jaràqtun people, but even if he were not armed he just had this bearing to him, a protective courage about him. He washed his wounds and dressed him in white, we didn’t have anything quite the right size so we’ve had to hem it a bit as you can see. His dreamcloak was marvelous, we’ve draped it on the chair beside him, you can see that it is exploding with circles and volutations, it is as if someone poured paint in his mind and lit it rill and riot all about in the most fantastic of dreams. We had some difficulty in cleaning him up, it seems that the children have collected a couple of meddlesome slaves who kept eating the bandages and then fought each other to lick the medicine bowls, but they quieted down when we came to the maiden. –
– It is all our fault – chanted the first woman. – If we had known … –
– I don’t think that Grandfather Thiêfhilos will punish you at all – the Qhíng chanted. – I think he will fall upon his knees and weep for joy. Anyway, as Vestal Virgins of the Sun, you two are concubines to her Father, you are part of her household. –
– But she … she was born … of such an holy Mother – chanted the first Vestal Virgin.
– How did you know who she was? – asked the Qlùfhim.
– When we removed her rags we found that she lacked a navel. We were puzzled for just a moment, we wounded whether she had somehow been injured in battle, and yet that was absurb, she was missing a scar, but then holy dread fell upon us, and we realized that this one had to be the Princess who was somúke, who was born of the Virgin. –
– Her Mother is the one we dare not name – chanted the second Vestal Virgin. – We panicked to think that we had been touching her body. We could not leave her undressed, we cloaked her in white and ran out to find you and summon Grandfather Thiêfhilos, for he will know what to do, but no one can contact him. –
– And if she is … if this is Kàrijoi’s Daughter … – the Qhíng began.
– Then the other one must be … Kàrijoi’s Son … – the Qlùfhim finished.
– We sware by all the Royal Ancestors we did not know when we touched their holy persons – both of the Vestal Virgins were saying. – Glad will we throw ourselves down unto Grandfather Thiêfhilos’ sandled feet and beg him to sacrifice us alive to the glory of the Ása who cannot die. –
– He will leap for joy – chanted the Qhíng.
– I think you both will remember this hour for the rest of your days – the Qlùfhim chanted.
– They look so small and peaceful here – chanted the first Vestal Virgin. – Who could think that these two are toppling the Empire which has existed since the Dawn of Time? –
– And to think that some warriors found their drowning in the waves, alone and friendless! – chanted the other Vestal Virgin. – I shudder to think what could have happened, if the tides had washed them out into the great Sqasqáli, where whales and sharks sport. –
– You both have done well. We shall double our efforts to contact the Peróqhi Regent Sylvan – chanted the Qhíng. – We shall contact our Caste Elders and our friends among the Zodiographers of the Qlùfhem and ask them what we should do. –
– Just take care of them – chanted the Qlùfhim. – Perhaps you can get them to eat a little when they awaken, or at least drink something. None of us really know the proper care and feeding for a new Emperor and Empress, but you are the closest they have to parents at the moment. –
Éfhelìnye yawned a little and could feel that she was once again falling back asleep. She would not have noticed that she was wearing new clothing if she had not heard it, it was very simple clothing, some gown which one would find in an abby, not woven for any particular person, just white and pure. She could feel the weight of the rainbow about her neck, though. She wanted to open her eyen and see how Puîyus looked, she did not like the way that the strangers kept mentioning that he was wounded, but her eyelids were far too heavy to move.
– The lad does have family here – the Qhíng intoned at last. – One of my brothers by marriage was part of the task force which I am ashamed to say invaded this land in the last hour. The lad had an entire war clan situated in the north of this dimension, siblings and cousins and all that. My brother by marriage, before he died in the doctor’s tent, told me how fierce were these fighters. I think the lad had some concubines or at least was intended to be betrothed unto some. We will have to contact them. –
– This will not stay secret too long – the Qlùfhim chanted. – Even before these children were discovered I heard rumors of the various remaining war clans trying to ally themselves with the new Imperial house by concubinage. Before we were afraid that none would claim these children, now we may end up with more claimers than can fit in the fortress. –
Éfhelìnye clenched her fist against the pillow, why the very brazenness of the other tribes of Jaràqtu conspiring to take my Puey away from me, how dare they suggest such a thing I’ll find these other maidens and rip their throats out with my bare fingers I’ll chew their faces off this is completely disgusting what meddlesome families are these all wanting my Puey to marry their fatuous daughters I shall not stand for this completey intollerible, I’ll find Ixhúja she’ll knew what to do hope I’ll find Siêthiyal and Karuláta, Kàrula is so kind and helpful she’ll help me sort things out she’ll know what to do what to do what to do. She sniffed the air, she could detect the faint whisp of incense burning, for now that the adults of this room were cognizant of who she and Puîyus were, they were preparing to purify the air, and to fill it with chants and incense and holiness.
– As long as we can keep the food and drink away from the fhtóni kangaroo rats which must infest this room, it will be well – chanted the first Vestal Virgin. – For some reason whenever we bring food in here and turn our backs, a moment later there are nibble marks on everything and the jugs are half drained. –
– We thought we could hear the sound of giggling and dancing, but that can’t be accurate – chanted the second Vestal Virgin. – Fhtóni luhimuhs do not rejoice like that, and yet what else can be gobbling up the food intended for the new Emperor and Empress the Tusùrthir Divine Twins? –
Somewhere beneath the bed and in the sheets Princess Éfhelìnye could hear the distant cry of quite Traîkhiiman laughter, and someone was munching on bread and another slurping up a cup of water, and wings were fluttering all throughout the sleep falling upon her, and incense was bleeding into her very dreams.
– She’s waking up! She’s waking up! –
– I know, I know! –
– Look, she’s fluttering her eyelashes! She’s yawning! –
– I can see that! –
– She is very cute. It’s hard to believe that she’s the one … –
– Oh we’re not scared of her. It’s the other one, the sailors were telling us all about him, how he thrust his sword into the wings and limbs of the Dragons, how his heart was incapable of feeling fear. –
– Is it true what they say? –
– Through the head? –
– He cut out the Dragon’s eye! –
– Half the Dragon’s head exploded! It was as if the Dragon’s head had become a quqlimùqli balloon flower drifting back and forth in the winds, but it was swollen with too much dew until it grew and grew and grew and … –
– POP! –
– Half the head, gone! –
– And the Dragon still lived? –
– Who cares! That little fellow ripped off half a Dragon’s head! And now he’s sleep in the sìmla caserns, in the barracks here! –
Éfhelìnye was yawning and stretching her limbs, for the first time in what seemed like many an age she was finally finding strength returning unto her, she was breathing in deeply and could feel that bandages were wrapped about her wrists. She rolled o'er a little and heard several voices gasp out at once, and dimly she was aware that there were probably more in the room than just a few adults looking after her in her sleep.
– The priests have been finding the lad’s family – came the first voice, and Éfhelìnye was realizing that it was an Khlitsaîyart’s voice. She wondered how long she had been asleep and how many guardians had been watching o'er her. – Are all those war clans related to him? –
– I doubt it, maybe a couple are allies, I think most are just hopeful to ally with him – another voice chanted, a gravelling Khlitsaîyart voice also. – Sometimes it is difficult to know with Færie, they all look alike to me, I have to sniff them to know who is who sometimes. –
– Did you see all of the sisters the lad has? He must have had many beautiful mothers, I counted a couple of eleven sisters in the carriages of the war clans, all of them tall and with straw hair. –
– I don’t think those are his Sisters, I think those are his lesser wives, or at least maidens whose families want them to become his lesser wives. Did you see all the young men there, the warriors ready to pledge their swords to the new Emperor? They are not his brothers either. The families are rushing froward to claim him. –
– Those are a lot of concubines. –
– A lot of concubines indeed. –
Éfhelìnye’s eyen shot open. Suddenly she felt very awake. The air was thick with smoke and incense, she arose from her pillow and stretched her arms again and heard all about her gasps and shudders and the sound of many hands and wings and faces striking the ground. She blinked a few times. She and Puîyus were lying in a bed which was probably intended for an adult Khlitsaîyart, it was about seven times too large for them, so that they were like little clippers left on a sea of white sheets. Upon the tables the thuribles were breathing out their incense deep and silvern. Large windows were gaping open before her and revealing Suns beaming upon hills of the brightest green she had e'er seen, the special pwòthno green which she associated with Jaràqtu, and not even the soft light of the vast and dying Suns could lessen the beauty of them thar hills. However, the bed, the incense, the large solar windows were certainly not the most salient feature of the tiny bedroom, it was the thousand or so folk crammed within and all shaking and kowtowing before the bed and in their eagerness to bow before her, they were leaning upon each other. The two Khlitsaîyart who had been speaking before were unto her left side, they were tèrefhe of the doctor genetic sub-caste of their people, and they fell flat upon their bills, their long claw fingers covering the horns of their head. Éfhelìnye looked around and saw that upon the floor were quivering Qhíng and Qlùfhem and Thùlwu and Ptètqiikh and Qája along with many other Khlitsaîyart, and counting them off she realized that these were representatives of the Great Races minus the Kháfha and if one counted the Thùlwu with their older Qlùfhem brethren. She did not know it, but while she and Puîyus had been in their deep wounded sleep of convalescence that the leaders of the Great Races had decreed that they and they alone would be in charge of taking care of the children until word could be given unto the Regent Sylvan Thiêfhilos and any of Puîyus’ family found. And so all of the peoples too many in this too small a room were rising and falling and covering their faces and bowing all the while at Éfhelìnye as she sate in bed and in Puîyus’ direction even as he continued to sleep.
Éfhelìnye looked to Puîyus and completely ignored it as several Fhàrnxha collater philosophers came forward and refilled the censors and the smoke arose all the thicker, and the peoples were whispering Blessed be Puîyos and Éfhelìnye, Blessed be Puîyos and Éfhelìnye, Blessed be Puîyos and Éfhelìnye, she crawled through the sheets to look at Puîyus in his sleep. Someone had banaged his head, she reached to his neck and saw bandages there, and then took his hands in his, and tears welled up in her eyen, and a few drops fell upon his hands. She noticed that he was dressed in a garment not his, it was white and simple, it was woven from an acolyte’s robes, and looking to herself she found herself dressed in something quite similar. His hair was unbound unwoven unfettered free all about him, and upon the table beside him lay his dreamcloak and his weapons. Éfhelìnye realized that this was one of the few times when she had e'er seen him weaponless, without knife or sword at all. She pulled him upwards and embraced him and patted his back and liked to feel not sheathe there, no sword, no war, and she thought that she could grow very comfortable with his being unarmed. She patted his arms and legs though and found that he was wearing a simple rope belt and that a knife was left there, whoever had cleaned and undressed him did not leave him completely unwarriored. She leaned her head against him and was happy just to be near him, and a few more tears fell from her.
– Behold, the divine Empress anoints the Emperor with her holy tears! – a Thwèqa filer cleric among the Khlitsaîyart intoned.
– Blessed be Empress Éfhelìnye, the Bride of the billion, billion worlds! – whispered the peoples.
– Behold, she continues to cry! –
– Blessed be Kàrijoi’s Daughter, the Moon of the Land! –
– And she still cries! –
– Blessed be the holy Empress Éfhelìnye! –
– And crying … –
– Blessed be … –
– More tears … –
– Blessed … –
– Crying. –
Éfhelìnye sniffled and looked at the peoples rising and falling and kowtowing about her. A few more Thwèqa filer clerics came froward and swung incense all about Puîyus, she did not know it but the peoples of the Great Races had divided up the moments and hours and days among themselves, and so this was the time for the Khlitsaîyart to protect her and Puîyus, and the so the Khlitsaîyart who were of Tofhenókeqor the First Estate were present, the Tèrefha doctors and the Fhàrnxha collater philosophers and the Thwèqa filer clerics. Their time was almost o'er, so they hoped to honor her properly.
– Forgive me for asking, but who are you kind people? – Éfhelìnye sniffled.
– The Holy Empress asks the wretched people a question! – cried the Tèrefha doctors.
– The Divine Empress commands the people to answer her at once! – called the Fhàrnxha collater philosophers.
– Answer the Empress at once or we all must die! – cried the Thwèqa filer clerics, and they drew knives from their robes and aimed them at themselves, and Éfhelìnye was so frightened that she cried out at once. Puîyus stirred in his sleep. She panted a little. The peoples went back to rising and falling around her.
– Please, I’m sorry for being all this trouble, but who are you? – Éfhelìnye asked.
– We are no one, slaves and children of slaves, walk upon our backs and beat us if you will – chanted the Tèrefha doctors.
– Wa are but humble servants chosen by lot to care for you for a few moments – the Fhàrnxha collater philosophers chanted.
– We are no one, we all must die! – cried the Thwèqa filer clerics, and they drew out even long knives from their robes to aim at themselves, and once again Éfhelìnye squealed in fright, for she was not used to thoughts of violence and ritual suicide so soon after awakening, let alone a thousand strangers who had been watching her in her sleep.
– Thank you – Éfhelìnye chanted, and she wrapped the blanket about herself and shivered. – You honor me. –
– She looks cold, quickly, build up the fire – chanted the Tèrefha doctors.
– We shall burn down this entire fortress to warm her holy body – the Fhàrnxha collater philosophers chanted.
– No, we all must throw ourselves into the fire, all of us in our thousands just to give her a glimmer of heat, we all must die! – cried the Thwèqa filer clerics, and they drew out very long and threatening swords from their robes and pointed them at each other.
– That won’t be necessary – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– Éfhelìnye the gentle and kind – whispered the doctors.
– The compassionate and merciful – whispered the collater philosophers.
– The holy and wise and beautiful and perfect! – cried the filer clerics. – Quickly, let us blugeon ourselves so that we may best honor her! –
Éfhelìnye closed her eyen. – I’m sure this is all just a very weird dream. –
A couple of tèrefha doctors came forwards and from the smoking tables drew up a small golden targe whereon sweet manna bread lay sliced, and chanted they – Please, if you are hungry, eat of this. You must regain your strength. –
Behind Éfhelìnye’s left shoulder Fhólus’ three heads popped up. – I smell food – he giggled.
– I’m still a little tired – Éfhelìnye chanted.
Behind Éfhelìnye’s right shoulder Aîya’s three heads popped up. – I smell manna bread! – she sighed as she licked three sets of lips.
– Perhaps I’ll have a wee nibble – Éfhelìnye chanted.
Wings were fluttering somewhere above her, she looked up but saw nothing. A terèfhaxing doctor came forwards holding the train, but as he came through the drift of the mist, suddenly the trencher spun around in his hands, and when he came out of the mist all of the manna bread was gone, just a few crumbs left.
– For some reason the food keeps disappering – the doctor chanted. – There may be kangaroo rats in here. We apologuise, these are the best quarters we have in the barracks. –
– Forgive us, holy Empress – chanted the collater philosophers.
– We probably need to die for these shabby quarters – chanted the filer clerics.
– I’m not very hungry after all – Éfhelìnye chanted. – Forgive me for saying this, but is there any way that I can just rest here all by myself, just with Puey? –
The Khlitsaîyart looked to each other in confusion, the Qhíng and Qlùfhem were shrugging. An Khlitsaîyart chanted – But Empress of tomorrow, you are alone. We are nobody. You and the Emperor alone are light. –
– Oh – chanted Éfhelìnye, and she sank back on her pillow and closed her eyen. A few white feathers came drifting up about her face. Once again she could hear swelling up about her the faint murmur of intonation and prayer, the sound of robes swishing from side to side against the inner robes and belts and surcingles, she heard the sound of metal moving, for some of the Khlitsaîyart were arising and lighting more gledes and sticks of firewood, she heard the clangor of fire place espaliers, and then arose the aroma of smoke and burning and mixing within it the sweet song of the tsetseîlwe, the temple incense nisquë which she associated with prayer and fasting and with readings from the Holy Writ and the shuffling of the robes of the priests and the white and gold veils of the Vestal Virgins and the dancing of light in the stained glass windows and of silence and of sacrifice. She wriggled closer unto Puîyus and found him fast asleep and was not sure what to do, his sleep indicated that she was at least safe from being snatched away by some fell beast or monster, but it did not stop her from a growing sense of nervousness as the peoples in the small room continued to crowd against each other and bow and supplicate her again and again.
– Hail holy Empress our life and sweet and hope. Hail holy Éfhelìnye bride of the viceroy kingdoms. Hail our Moon and joy and light! –
Arising behind through the twisting smökams of the incense and the web of ash arising from the fires she could see that the paneling in this small room in the fortress tower all consisted of ancient wood and it was carven in quite a Jaràqtun style of twists and circles and endless torqations within rondures, many of the curves were arising and become the tailtwist and wings of Dragons, in fact the more she looked at it she could see that even the patterns of bushes and clouds and trees were also in a slight dragonish pattern, and that arising high above the bed were bands within circles which could have been the spheres of space and the movement of Suns and Moons, and yet they also seemed to be the blinking of an huge Dragon’s eyen gazing down upon her and quaffing up the feast that were her own dreams, ušumgal dreams.
– Hail, Éfhelìnye. Hail, Éfhelìnye. Hail, Éfhelìnye. Hail! – whispered the peoples.
Éfhelìnye bit her lower lip. She crawled up unto Puîyus and was just on the verge of shaking his shoulder unto awakefulness, but he was so utterly tranquil in his sleep, his face white and serene, his eyelashes long and violet, that it seemed a terrible pity for her to shake him at all, plus seeing the bandage upon his brow, and the bands on his arms made her want him to sleep and rest and recover as much as possible.
– The Empress touches the Emperor’s shoulder! – announced a Thwèqoxha Filer Cleric. – Blessed be her name! –
– She seems to be hesitating. The Empress is in deep contemplation! – shouted another Thwèqa clitach.
– The Empress bites her lips, cheilophagous, tòpwor she! May she bite her lips for all eternity! – cried another scailo filer.
– The Empress is nervous! Everyone, fall upon your unworthy faces and eyestalks and pray that she be less nervous! Oh, be thou less nervous, as you rest in silent contemplation, completely alone in your thoughts! –
– This must be a dream, this must be a dream, this must be a very odd dream – Éfhelìnye was saying to herself and shaking her head, and her tresses gold and red were billowing down the sides of her head.
Fhólus poked up a few of his heads o'er one of her shoulders and chanted – Are you going to finish everything on your tray? –
– Too late – chanted Aîya as her only none munching head arose about Éfhelìnye’s shoulders.
– The Empress continues to think and be nervous! – intoned a Thwèqoxha cliath caill.
Éfhelìnye sniffed the air, the smoke was growing all the thicker, and in the grazing haze she saw about her that somehow the numbers in the already crowded room were multiplying, as if Qhíng and Qlùfhem were tumbling down from the arrassed tapestries, and out of the very floorboards and woodworks a few more Khlitsaîyart Khlaêr came crawling upwards and were tumbling upon each other and bowing in her generatal direction all the while. She was finally understanding that this was not in fact a dream, or at least it was only so much a dream as all mortals inhabit in the vast dream and dance which was the Dreamtime, the Land of Story. She picked up a pillow and sliding up next to Puîyus hid her head beneath it and tried to will all of the strangers away from her, but she was greated only with the sound of the rustling of robes and the lighting of more incense.
– The Empress of tomorrowtides hides herself in a pillow! –
– The new Moon smothers herself in the glory of her own meditation! –
– May blessed Éfhelìnye continue to hide herself inside the pillow although she is completely alone with the new Emperor. –
Fhólus poked his head beneath the pillow and asked – Have you any more food? –
– I can’t endure this any more – Éfhelìnye chanted more to herself than for anyone else to hear.
– So, no more food at all? – asked Aîya, one of her heads snaking downwards. – What use are you then? We going to mooch gnathonic catillo on someone else foodladen. –
– Does everyone know that Puey and I are here? – Éfhelìnye wondered.
– The Masters of this fortress, mostly Kèlor and Aûm decided to keep it a secret, so naturally about ten thousand knew within an hour of the discovery that is you – Fhólus chanted. – Really, that’s quite secret for the Masters. If they had tried not to keep it secret, I’d say the first million would already be here. –
– They couldn’t command it to keep everyone away. Not enough honor in all the worlds – chanted Aîya.
– I have to awaken Puey – chanted Éfhelìnye. – I really don’t want to disturb his sleep, but what else can I do? I don’t think that these strangers mean any harm, but … –
– The Empress continues to hide inside her pillow! – shouted the Khlitsaîyart. – Perhaps she is communing with the Khyòmli, the Solar Ancestors as she prays all alone! –
– That’s it, I’m waking him up – Éfhelìnye whispered.
– I we took the liberty of searching his pockets too. No food, no food at all – chanted Fhólus.
– Do you two know that you’re dressed in bath towels? – asked Aîya.
– I we think they’re acolyte robes. –
– Look like towels to me. Do your kind always wear towels? –
– Not very flattering. –
– What do you expect from towels? –
Éfhelìnye threw the pillow away from herself, and the groveling Khlitsaîyart and Qlùfhem and Thùlwu backed away a little, the Qhíng were gasping, and the Ptètqiikh and Qája were hiding their compound eyen. Éfhelìnye was just about to start shaking Puîyus’ shoulders, she was not entirely sure what he would do in such a situation, maybe he would just throw everyone out of the room, but suddenly the doors to the chamber came swinging aside, and the fresh cold air beat against the too thick smoke and incense arising with the hearth and censor. For a few moments Éfhelìnye was coughing, and from the fresh air came waddling a few of the Kháfha, the only ones of the Great Races not currently adoring the new Emperor and Empress.
– One may well trust the Khlitsaîyart to make a mess of the situation – sighed the head hieromonach as he crawled out upon his three legs, and around him were gathering junior monks. – All of you out, especially you Khlaêr! Your time here in meditation is finished. By some fey accident you’ve ended up adoring the new Empress for twice your allotment of time. –
A few Thwèqa filer clerics were bowing and bearing their fangs at the Kháfha and saying – An innocent mistake, we assure you. – – We must remind the most honored and respected Kháfha monks that we of the Xhlitsàrta people have been afforded mostly time in watching the Empress asleep – spake a fhàrnxha philonoist. – But now that the blessed bride is awake, we can better honor her with … –
– Your time is finished – chanted the Kháfha monk. – Out. All of you. –
– The Empress is still weak – chanted the two tèrefha doctors. – She should rest. –
– She will, but she will have to leave for the moment. There are some rather important visitors, perhaps even some who may take custody of her. –
– We are the khruwàxhya, the custodians of the new Divine Couple – the Khlitsaîyart were saying, and they were all arising from their prayer and advancing upon the monks.
– We are afraid not – spake the head monk. – Qhíng! Qlùfhem! All of you, out now! –
The Qája and the Ptètqiikh arose and were bowing their compound eyen and were tripping upon the Qhíng and Qlùfhem in an effort to leave. The Khlitsaîyart were arising and snarling at the Kháfha. The Qhíng and Qlùfhem arose and twisted their tentacles about in anger, and the Thùlwu were arising in confusion, but followed the lead of the Qlùfhem and remained.
– We do not take commands from the Kháfha Confederacy – the Khlitsaîyart were saying.
– Behold the betrothal and marriage contract, signed in blood and sealed with concubinage and sacrifice – the head Monk chanted, and he drew out from his wings a scroll. – The leaders of this alliance are the Qhíng and Aûm and Kháfha, you Khlitsaîyart are junior members of this partnership, and our patience with you thins. Go out and gather yours sailors, you may have to transport the new Emperor and Empress. –
The Khlitsaîyart hissed a little, but they knew better than to argue with the Kháfha or with the contract which their Elders had negotiated and signed, for it was the place of the Khlitsaîyart to provide goods and arms and transportation in the War but not to lead, for it was believed that their people were still shamed because of the Great War against Tsànyun a generation ago. Éfhelìnye looked up from her pillows but could not exactly what was written upon the scroll, save that the letters were bright red, and glyphs of black were dancing upon the parchment.
– What is this syuîkho, this contract of betrothal and marriage of which the monach speaks? – Éfhelìnye asked Fhólus. –Were you there for its signing? –
– Ah … one would think that one would have paid attention … don’t know nothing, maybe it was a tìrxho, a recipe for something – Fhólus chanted.
– A receipt? – Éfhelìnye asked.
– A recipe for cake? – asked Aîya.
– Ooh, that would be good – chanted Fhólus.
– Sometimes I don’t think I can sensible answers from you two – Éfhelìnye sighed.
– What would be the fun of sensible? – Fhólus coughed.
– Yes, ye Khlaêr, hasten to your living ships – spake the head monk. – Qhíng, Aûm, your presence here is no longer required. –
– May we remind you that our two peoples the Qhíng and the Aûm are equal members of … – the Qhíng began.
– You may not. The Aûm protected the Sisters. The Qhíng the Protector of the Empress. Now we Kháfha keep the new Emperor and Empress. Do not fret though, we shall only have them for a little time. In fact, we may only be there to guard them in transportation. –
– It wouldn’t hurt to adore her just a little longer – muttered the Aûm. – We could have danced about in a frenzy and had visions … – Already the Qhíng and the Qlùfhem and the Thùlwu were arising though and leaving, they knew that their time was o'er and the Kháfha were quite correct, in that annoying and officious way of theirs, a dispassionate people whom it was almost impossible to coerce and blackmail sometimes. –Do we even get to learn who the new visitors are? – the Qhíng were muttering to themselves. – I just hope they aren’t more concubines – chanted the Thùlwu. – It seems like every aristocratic of the warrior caste that has a strawheaded daughter has been sending her down here. How many concubines will the new Emperor need? – – He’s going to need numbers to keep track of them, it’s just not sensible. – – Surely just a couple of elevens will do. –
– Out out out out out – the senior monk chanted, his nine pupils sparkling, and as the Qhíng and Qlùfhem and Thùlwu shuffled out of the bedroom in what he thought was too slow a manner, he began kicking them with his webbed feet, and the junior monks shoved the rest of the adorators aside. At last the senior monk breathed a sign of relief, and the smoke and incense cleared a little.
– The Khlitsaîyart can’t even do the simpliest of tasks, can they? All they had to do was light some incense, and they had to invite all of the other races here save ours, they probably informed all their nest kin about the new Emperor and Empress. At this rate Grandfather Thiêfhilos will be the last to learn of the location of the children – the monk was muttering unto himself.
Princess Éfhelìnye was sighing in relief also now that she was relatively alone, just a few monks with her and Puîyus and the fluttering Traîkhiim about her head, although she was still confused and dazed about the entire situation. At first she thought that the nightmare would begin again, for the monks were coming to the edge of the bed and kissing the sheets and bowing down before her, but rather than striking gong or light more incense, the chief monk just opened the door all the wider and signaling to someone unseen to her cried out – Have the warship ready. Puîyos and Éfhelìnye will be home in just seven minutes. –
– Home? – asked Éfhelìnye.
– Forgive my metaphor, it was just a matter of speaking – chanted the head monk as he bowed his head before her, his twisting headdress flowing downwards and covering his arched back and revealing the braids of his black feathers. He squeazed his three wings together and chanted – We Kháfha have managed to do what all of the Qhíng and Aûm and Khlitsaîyart and others have been unable to do, while you were convalescing and they were busy not keeping your presence a secret, but telling all of their phatries and kin by marriage and bowing, we Kháfha traveled outwards and found a couple of members of Emperor Puîyos’ family. It’s time for you to go home. The Khlitsaîyart sailors will bring you there, and we Kháfha shall guard you. We have no desire to try to be parents and regents to you at this time, the greatest lesson you can learn is the joy of returning to the arms of your loved ones. –
– Home – Éfhelìnye whispered. For a moment her thoughts were turned to images of the burning of the plantations of the Sweqhàngqu and the tumbling of the crannog of Puîyus’ fathers, but the barns and silos were quickly becoming the black embers which she had seen in the ruins on the shores of Jaràqtu. Home, she knew, would consist of family members in a city of tents or in a warship, but it would be harm enough. – Oh, xhèkhmufha, homecoming indeed. –
– We beg you, Empress, please awaken silver tressed and empyreal Puîyos; we are not permitted to touch those of the Pwéru family. And then arise, and in seven minutes you will be home, in a way,as best we can provide. –
– I thank you greatly – chanted Princess Éfhelìnye.
The head monk bowed his beak and chanted – We live to serve the Royal Family of Kayipóxiro Taotepwepùrlta Lranepwéru – and he too fell upon his knees and bowed down before the bed.
Éfhelìnye reached out and touched Puîyus’ shoulder. At once he awoke and sate up in bed. Fhólus and Aîya jumped up and shoved him down and began licking his face and fingers. Éfhelìnye chanted – Puey, these monks are ready to take us home. –
Puîyus nodded. He kissed Fhólus and Aîya a few times and looking around saw where his sword and dreamcloak and weapons and what remained of his tunic lay, and he reached outwards and gathered up his items. Puîyus held his golden torc in his hands, it was one of the few times when Éfhelìnye had seen him without it, and as she helped him don it she could see on his back some of his marks from whipping and discipline in the past. She helped him to clasp the dreamcloak about his shoulders, and he set the weapons in their place, later he could worry about his tresses. Fhólus and Aîya brought their wooden shoon and ballet slippers to them, and after they slipped the footwear on, Éfhelìnye came to the edge of the bed. The monks continued bowing before her, and she saw that the bed, intended for far larger creatures than the Færie, was very high removed from the ground.
– Walk upon our backs – the monks told her.
– Please, I do not need to do that – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– We would not have you stumble and fall, oh precious treasure. –
Puîyus slipped unto the edge of the bed, he could feel that his muscles were sore, bandages were around his side, and one wrist was aching just a little. He was a fast healer though, and pain was just one sensation which a warrior had to learn to accept. He wanted to help Éfhelìnye off of the sleepships sgeng, and as he was carrying Fhólus and Aîya on his shoulders and wrapped his arms about Éfhelìnye, rather than sliding off the bed, they tumbled a little and crashed upon the monks, but the monks remained serene and still and did not mind at all.
– If the Khlitsaîyart still here, announcing to all, Empress has fallen! Empress has tumbled! – giggled Fhólus.
– Gong! Gong! Gong ring the cymbals lyùrjiju, basinüfs – Aîya giggled.
Puîyus and Éfhelìnye arose struggling to help each other upwards, and slidding right off of the backs of the monks fell right out of the small bedroom and into the hall of the tower. Although tired and weak and confused, as they held onto each other, they both felt a renewed hope swelling up within them. Puîyus was blinking a little and thinking, Home. Home. And Éfhelìnye could feel some of the warmth of his heart and knew that everything would be better than it was before.
And as the Kháfha morizinz were swaying outwards and leading the way through the rooms and all of the windows were blinking open and revealing outside the blue and green fields and the undulation of the tòrrs and the sparkling of the heavens, and the large and bloated dying Suns, Éfhelìnye was thinking about how finally she could begin to set their horrors aside, perhaps the invasion and occupation by the Qhíng could start to become but a memory, an important one which could not be forgotten, but no longer the sole focus of thoughts upon Jaràqtu, perhaps she and Puîyus could think in wonder upon this marvelous journey they had taken together throughout the last of the dreamlands of the wartorn Empire, from the canals and volcanos of Khnìntha to the skyways and fields and oceans of the outer West, to Qámelo and the frozen waterfalls of Eréjet and the massive root structures of Xhlaîra, and the Empress’ Cenotaph and the wasteland of the north and the winding coastline of Syapàkhya and the Sword Mountain, perhaps now in the arms of his family, who were her own family also, they could lay down their sorrows and burdhens, they could be held and comforted and rest at home. Home. Home.
It did not take long for the sylvan monks to escort the children from the tower, already the field before them was being vacated, as the Kháfha, officious and stubborn were shoving aside the Qhíng and Aûm who kept falling upon tentacles and sphere-legs and tried to adore the children from afar, but the Kháfha had no time for this, it was best to send the children onto their loved ones, and the adults could fret another day. The head monk came walking outwards and was waving with the very tip of his wing, and the Khlitsaîyart sailors were bringing down a small warvessel, not the best one left in their fleets but a very fast one, the ship was plunking downwards and crawling out from it were long and crawling legs and a long unraveling gunwale, and the Khlaêr sailors were waving their flags from side to side and communicating with other sky ships and ancient towers upon the fortresses. Puîyus was blinking as reality was slowly dawning unto him, and he was realizing that these were some of the ancient fortresses abandoned when the clan were dissolved with male issue, and now foreign devils were making it into their dwelling, and he was not quite sure how he felt about this. But concern was fading away, his heart was thundering, the monks were embarking upon the gangplank and guarding the children all the while with spear and knife were escorting them upwards, where a contingency of swordmasters remained utterly still to guard the children and yet remain as statues, and Puîyus was remembering that it was from such swashbucklers such as Master Fhleîse of old that Grandfather Pátifhar had been taught and made an expert of the blade.
– You two shall be home in five minutes – chanted the head monk. – Rest and prepare yourselves. One quest ends, another task begins. –
– Honored Monk, Puey and I thank you for returning us – chanted Princess Éfhelìnye. – Do you know which relatives they are whom we shall meet? –
– That I do not, my children – the monk chanted. – There are many stories, many myths already growing up about you both, Puîye xhnoe Stélaring, the peoples are saying, Puey and the Princess, and what the truth is I cannot even guess. I have heard that the lad is the Son of Kàrijoi and the Son of Íngìkhmar and the Son of Raven and the Son of Heaven, I have heard that he is both like a beast and dæmon and like a saint and priest. And you, Princess, you are the stowaway, the runagate, you are the dancer and writer and artist, you are the one who always stumbles into trouble and discovers new worlds, you are a Thief and Bride and Ballerina and Inventor and Pirate. –
– We have not seen my Puey’s family in so long – Éfhelìnye chanted. – We saw them briefly in my Father’s throneroom, but it was just for a moment, we last really spoke with them at the beginning of midnight when the Qhíng were invading this land in full force. So long. So long. –
The head monk bowed unto the children and chanted – You two young ones need your plìwet, your privacy. I go now. Rest and prepare yourselves for journey’s end. – And the monk arose in the shuffle of his robes and came swaying back unto the rest of the other Kháfha, and Puîyus and Éfhelìnye were alone upon the deck. They came walking together and sate upon a bench. Fhólus and Aîya came fluttering upwards from Puîyus’ shoulders and soon were chasing each other about the ropes and ducking about the barrels and landing on the heads of the monks and biting at their headdresses and feathers and playing with their sleeves and prayer wheels and rosaries and poking around for food and mischief.
– Home – chanted Éfhelìnye, and she leaned her head against Puîyus.
– Mew – sighed Puîyus.
The ship was abrew with activity. It was an Kháfha vessel which the Khlitsaîyart wheel makers had been able to refits, so it was an amalgamation of sleek and almost ichthyian design with some of the stronger and almost reptilian wings indicative of the Khlitsaîyart living ships. Flowing out from it were long chimneys out which waves of color were burning, the engines working in miniature like some syèmlo sky machines. Khlitsaîyart sailors were rushing up and down the ropes and opening up the great wings of the solar sails, and Puîyus, still yawning and half asleep, was wondering at the design, the confluence of solar sail and wing, a sharp and sleek design.
– Home – whispered Éfhelìnye.
– Mew – Puîyus nodded.
Éfhelìnye closed her eyen. She was still drowsy, it did not quite seem like a time for wakefulness, perhaps it would be best to go home and to sleep for a good long time in the arms of her loved ones. She was too tired even to notice the changing of the scenery, the seascapes fading away, the hills of mist and greenery giving way to anoachs and rock foothills and the growing splendor of great iron whispering mountains, huge twisting walls that looked not a little like bones and patterns of dream spiral and circle all interlocking in dragonlace patterns. Tall fortresses were arising as antlers up from the whispering mountains, and some of the towers were turning and revealing platforms upon them where living ships were buzzing about like so many insects. Although the Suns were arising in the skies, their light was still cool and dim, and so the towers themselves were having to provide some light for to guide living ships unto them, great lighthouses and bonfires blazing, crackles of white and gold.
But Éfhelìnye, even as she embraced Puîyus and thought about thee scent of warmth and baking and all that was good, still could not help but gnaw upon her heart in growing fear, for all throughout the time of her resting she had been hearing rumors about a concubine or concubines and did not quite understand what she had heard or thought she had heard. She wished that these had been days of peace, for then when she and Puîyus were out traveling together in the wildernesses and alien capitols at least shew oudl hav ebeen able to send epistles to Akhlísa like she was wont for to do, for she and Akhlísa used to be quite active quillpals, even when they were living together in the same crannog they used to leave little notes for each other and sign them with sketches and kisses, sometimes Éfhelìnye would write long and wonderous letters, and Akhlísa would answer in shorter and cryptic verse, and now in their seperation Éfhelìnye was realizing just how much she missed her and hoped to see her soon and to hug and kiss her very best friend, after Puîyus of course, her best cater female friend at least. She hoped that Siêthiyal was present too, she was so clever and funny and was always taking in interesting in whatever the Princess was doing. Éfhelìnye thought about Xataríyona and Ìkhnos and Pàlron and Eirènwa, and the adults also, oh whoever was there waiting for them would be beloved unto her. She hoped that her cousin Ixhúja were well wherever she was, perhaps she had wandered away to visit in the dying forests, wherever she was, Éfhelinye missed her.
– Home – she whispered.
– Mew – Puîyus agreed.
– Do you think they have been thinking about us? Wherever they have been, in battle or in tents or in travel, have they been thinking of us as we have been remembering them? Not an hour has passed when I have not prayed for your Sisters, Puey and the rest of your family, and I remember all the joy I experienced with them and how they treated me as one of your family. –
Puîyus hoped that his friend Khrùkhtii were well, he had not seen him in some time, the Acolyte he had left at the Abby. Puîyus and Khrùkhtii and Paloîta had spent time together in their training with the priests and monks, three good friends for a time, but Paloîta had fallen in the War and had no family to mourn him save Puîyus himself. He thought about his more distant kin among the Saûqyufha and the Khatelèstan and the Tásel, allies and guest-friends and elders among them, but moreso his thoughts returned to the times when Khrùkhtii and Paloîta were trying to sneak out of doing the chores that Grandfather Pátifhar had assigned unto them, and Paloîta tried to sneak away and spy at the maidens who were being educated by the vestal virgins, and Khrùkhtii used to sneak sweetbreads from the kitchens at night to share with his friends. But Khrùkhtii was not a warrior, not an ally of the Saûqyufha and Khatelèstan and Tásel, he was a war orphan, and Puîyus had last seen him at the steps of the Abby of Saint Kàtriqan.
– Your cousin Eirènwa used to tell me stories about Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho – Éfhelìnye chanted. – I think she loves Fhèrkifher but would not admit it to someone like me, a guest-friend and younger also. She used to sit me in her lap and comb my hair and tell me about all the times when she used to take care of you as a baby, especially when your Mother was still getting used to taking care of a young one. –
– … –
– Oh, she’s never told you those stories? She told me that you were a particularly affectionate little baby, always hugging and kissing anything that came into contact with you. Eirènwa chanted that you seemed far too playful and happy to grow up to be a warrior. –
– ?? – Puîyus wondered, for he did not realize how much cousin Eirènwa thought of him and had taken care of him, she was always a part of his life but did not think about her too much sometimes, she was like Ìkhnos and Pàlron in that way, half a generation older, not older enough to be parents themselves, but old enough not to play the same games as their younger cousins.
– Xataríyona used to let me arrange flowers with her, she told me that when you were little all of the relatives were quite worried about you since you never learned to talk, they grew concerned with Siêthiyal was speaking whole paragraphs and Karuláta was gurgling words, and you piped not a word save for the sounds of wild creatures. Grandfather Pátifhar used to test you all the time when you were young, he brought you to Kháfha masters to examine your ears, but they never quite discovered the anamoly in you. –
The Kháfha vessel was slowly turning around a vast forest heavy laden with icicles, the trees were all leaning down, some of them were frozen waves of ice and braided queues of bark, the forest scintillant all the while was beautiful in its sadness, dead trees breathing out their last and become monuments in the ice. The fortresses in the iron whispering mountains were burning their landing fires bright, some Khlitsaîyart were running out upon the embrasures and signaling unto the ship, and attendants and officers were running out unto the platform to guide the vessel.
– Almost home – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– Mew. –
– I miss Siêthiyal and Karuláta. –
Puîyus nodded. For a moment he wondered whether his Sisters would even want to see him, since it had been his own fault that the Emperor began his horrors and blizzards, he himself had become the War unto them, his guilt burnt in his spleen to remind him that no matter what doom lay on him it was no worse than he could deserve for turning his back upon his Ancestors. Khwofheîlya. Fhermáta. Sick, abed. Fhermáta gasping out to breathe. Fhermáta.
– It’s alright, Puey – Éfhelìnye chanted and took his hand and patted it. – Fhermáta is always with us. The honored Dead never leave, and I don’t think they’re as angry with us as they want us to believe, for they love our honor, and we honor their love. –
The ship was already sliding down to an halt, long and strong reptilian legs branching outwards for to cushion the fall, and the Khlitsaîyart sailors came pouring outwards and were securing the lines and were calling one to another. The Kháfha monks were arising one by one, tall and yrobed and dark, and they were forming a vanguard and surrounding the children, and even er that the ship was completely landed, the Kháfha were flowing down the gangplank and tasktaking up the thùnwi fasces of authority were fanning outwards stamziz d’ima, and Puîyus and Éfhelìnye were walking outwards upon a large and cold stone platform glistening with last night’s frost upon it. Puîyus sniffed the air and could taste Sweqhàngqu on it.
– Home? – asked Éfhelìnye. – Mew – Puîyus nodded.