Puîyus awoke sometime in the deep midnight winter that hung low upon Jaràqtu. He knew at once where he was, for he could hear all things about him in the instance of his consciousness, he could hear the rustling of the robes of the Tèrefha doctors that were waiting within the room, behind him was the slight movement of machine and tube, some sàlru gnoma were spinning around, and the movement of their popping levers was almost imperceptible to one who was not a fhèlya wheelmaker, but that very slight quiver buzzed in Puîyus’ ear, he could hear the movement of some insects walking upon the ceiling above him and in the rafters, outside her heard the movement of thatch, and the movement of hindges that reminded him of syòxha equerries, glass crept within the window, the frozen sand and crystal which appeared utterly still to the sight of others was to him a slight and susurrating ocean of color and sound tickling in the back of his mind, he could hear in the pad of the steps about him that one of the Tèrefha of the Doctor Caste had a slight pebble or indentation in one wooden shoe, and that affected his gait, he could hear outside the movement of the warriors as they were changing the guard, he heard a rustle of paper and quill and knew that the priests were scribbling down messages to be sent by the Raven Couriers Qràqho, Puîyus could hear the sound of the ticking of the claws of the corvid, one of the birds was rustling his wings and picking at something within, one bird was blinking his left eye, Puîyus could hear, and if Puîyus had been of a slightly more linguistic incline, he knew, if he possessed both his præternatural sences as well as Éfhelìnye’s delight in language, by this age he would have learned to hear the different sounds that stylus and pencil and quill make when painting words, and so by the sound of the scribes he could hear what was being written, but for his part Puîyus was just aware of the sound of squares and triangles and rectangles being written down, but his mind could not quite frame those into words unless he saw them, easier it was by far to hear the sound of the beetles crawling upon the table, the sound of melting wax within the candle, and the movement of books being set back again upon the shelf, and the gentle ululation gookooko’oo ohow· o’o:wai’of the long eared uqhúku owls within the branches, their celia of prisms rippling balbunz nozia from side to side. As he lay upon his back and listened to the flutter of the wings and the movement of beak and tall ear, Puîyus thought about the days before the war, when he and his family had all dwelt together in the Crannog in peace, and Puîyus used to feed the birds outside his bedroom window and let the come flying within and nestle upon his shelves and upon his bed and within the wardrobe. He remembered in particular his very favorite pet uqhúku, he had hight it Púpo and even carven out its name upon a necklace of pebbles and laced the owl’s neck with it. Púpo had been such a delightful uqhúku, Puîyus remembered, so many times he would get up in the middle of the night and crawl out to the edge of his bed and fling open the windows just to let Púpo and some other owls soar within and sing their haunting songs unto him, he found it joyous when the owls ducked about him, and he stroked their wings and felt their warmth, they gazed upon him with their large flower eyen, and in the dancing prisms of their celia he could see his own wondering gaze reflected back, and when he blinked he could see portions of his eye and lid and lash reflected in shatters of blues and blacks and violets. Púpo and he used to stay up late through the night and ululate together, sometimes upon the very edge of Puîyus’ bed, the uqhúku perched upon the rostrum of this ship while Puîyus pretended to row invisible bone oars and search for treasure to be caught and pillaged, islands long since abandoned and forgotten, unweary vessels whereon they could fire and hoot, battles of flame and mist and cloud to be fought within the crashing of the boats, fell sea serpents to be squished and fair princesses to be rescued with plenty of swinging and leaping and swashbuckling and hooting, and either times, deep in the night, Puîyus used to crawl out the window and slip down it into the trees, and Púpo and his brethren arose all about him, and they sung unto the moving branches and the dancing trees, and the Moons glistened large and white and bright before their gaze, and all of the night sparkled with life and dew and promise. Puîyus rustled in his sheets, he did not wish to disturb the Tèrefha doctors beside him, nor did he want to loose the pleasant memories swelling within him. He remembered that as Púpo grew older he used to spend more and more time with his brethren, sometimes he flew off for days and sennights at a time to ululate beneath the Moons and disappear before the forested swamps, Puîyus understood as he grew older, for he too was forced to spend greater amounts of time away from home, when Grandfather Pátifhar was training him in the Abby or taking him unto the Eyot of Apples, or he would have to leave for weeks at a time and travel in the whispering mountains with Ìkhnos and Pàlron and do battle with bandits and strangers that were come, Puîyus thought that as Púpo grew older he must also have to learn the ways of his own Owl Caste whatever that may be, perhaps he was learning how to chirp and chime and chirm unto the cries of his poploe, perhaps the Uqhúku themselves do battle with the other archæopteryces and have their own alliances and treaties and parliaments of birds, although he could understand the speech of the oef, much about this people, their nests and society and song, were still unknown unto him. Puîyus turned o'er in his sheets, and the Tèrefha doctors about him noticed, and Puîyus could hear that they were signaling one to another and checking their instruments, he could discern that some of their pipes and wheels were murmuring with his heart’s pulse, and Puîyus wondered why the doctors were so concerned with his heart. Puîyus knew how to stop his heart of his own free will, he could become completely still and quiet if he had to, in fact he tried it out right now just for fun, he stopped the beating of his heart and began counting just as he had learnt to do as a little child, but when he heard that the Tèrefha of the Doctor Caste were gasping and gesturing one to another in alarum, at once Puîyus let his heart beat again, for he had no wish to concern anyone. But still, now that he was awake and midnight lay on all things, he wished just to rest and remember. Púpo had still remained his friend throughout the years, and when Princess Éfhelìnye had come to visit his family has a guest-friend, he had come to the window and swung it open and whistled unto the howling uqhúku, and one familiar uqhúkuring came flapping downwards and blinked his large eyen, and Puîyus drew the wild plantimal up unto the Princess and let her stroke him, and feel the movement of his wings, and listen to the music of the hoot owl right before her, and Puîyus embraced Púpo and hugged him many times. The day when Púpo had gone missing was quite a sad day for him. Puîyus took up his painted lanthorn and searched the top and bottom of the crannog and within all of the schranks and in the floorboards and about the ramps, he ducked into the attic and turned all of the barrels and jars and urns and chests, he ducked into the thatch of the roof and searched within the pillars that held up the crannog o'er the waters of the loch, and he dove down into the lakes and searched all of the pastures and fields and vaccuaries of the plantation, and still Púpo he could not find. Princess Éfhelìnye helped him a little in his search, but her time was limited, her Father was signaling unto her, it was a dark hour indeed, the fires were arising from Eilasaîyanor in the East, and Éfhelìnye knew that her Father desired to draw her back unto him so that she should die. The skies were darkening with romors of war. The Noble Caste was withdrawn from their governance of the land. Puîyus no longer had time to search for one lost owl. The Elders were preparing for the betrothal rite for him and Fhermáta, a thousand tasks had to be performed, the ritual flowers and flames and festoons set up. And the Qhíng came and began burning the land fortress by plantation by field. And none was left to search for the owl. Puîyus turned o'er in his sheets, and listening to the uqhúku sighing outside, he knew that not one of them was Púpo or were even kin unto him, he could tell by the resonance of their music. He wondered whether he would e'er see Púpo again or hear tidings of his fate. Perhaps no mortal was left to care for the owls any longer. Puîyus felt very sad and covered his face in the sheets, and whispering a prayer to the Ancestors asked them to protect his family and Éfhelìnye and to care for the owls if no one else could.
When the first few tendrils of light came trickling through the windows, large and white Suns arising, and Puîyus awoke again, he knew that he was within an ancient fortress high within the mountain seas of Jaràqtu, at once by smell and sound he knew that he was close to the ancestrial fields of the Poriêrii Clan, and that all about him aliens were walking in the halls and tending the ostridges and giraffes in the stables, where before no Qhíng or Kháfha or Aûm had e'er trod, now the aliens were signaling to the living ships and conducting war exercises, and ancient Jaràqtun chieftains were commanding legions composed of their sons and grandons as well as the children of Khlitsaîyart and Qája drones and Kháfha swashbucklers. It was quite an odd mixture of sounds and sights and smells which Puîyus could detect far away from where he was resting, for all his life he had been taught that it was forbidden for these peoples uninvited to dwell in his land, but here in the last redoubt, this cliffface before the growing ocean tide of winter, the refugees were come, and although Puîyus’ heart was troubled, he did not worry as much as he thought he would.
– XaôSaiqírenaikhwaiyènwe, lo! thrice honored Cælestial Crown Prince, how are you this white shining dawntide? – a Tèrefha Doctor was saying, as he bowed many times before Puîyus and setting large clovers upon his hands, opened up his fingers, and little claws of metal and stone and hook came outwards, part of the various instruments of his caste, and he clasped Puîyus’ hand, and the hooks began spinning around and measured his heat and pulse and dreams.
– Mew – Puîyus chanted.
– Ah! Excellent – the Tèrefha was saying. He looked upwards, he was a rather small example of the Doctor Caste, slight and thin and agile. A tall bone crest was arising at the edge of his skull, his robes were white and pink, and an elaborate headdress matching his gloves was sneaking about his bones, and flowing out from them came their own clattering hooks and stones and metals. A few of the hooks slid together and magnifying glasses shimmered into place and plunked right down before the Tèrefha’s gaze, and he continued to examine Puîyus hand even while the headdress opened up and celia prismatic and owllike unfolded from it. Puîyus blinked a couple of times and the celia responded in kind as if watching him. The Tèrefha smiled with his large rectangular teeth, and the celia of his treßure spread downwards and began poking Puîyus’ face and gazing right into his eyen.
– You gave us quite a scare then, you did – the Khlitsaîyart sikdūr chanted. – Your heart stopped beating, your entire body stopped functioning, it was just as if you ended as if your spirit just stopped for no reason. Well, there had to be a reason of course. –
Puîyus made his heart stop for a second. The doctor blinked, the celia of his headdress recoiled.
– Please stop doing that, honored Crown Prince – chanted the Tèrefha. – Breath and pulse and act normally. Now, what was I saying? – The Khlitsaîyart reached unto bag and rummaged for a few moments. Puîyus hoped that the doctor would bring him some candy, although Puîyus was still fasting it would be nice to smell something sweet again and then he’d have a present to give Éfhelìnye, to his shame he remembered that the books and toys that he had managed to rescue from the ruins of Khnìntha had been lost in the skyfought dracomachy. He was disappointed to see that the doctor was just bringing out a bit of cotton, and taking the pieces into his gloved talons he applied them to Puîyus’ lips and mouth.
– Yes yes yes your heart is already becoming linked to the Starflower Princess’. That bodes well for the future of course, and it means that after the war the betrothal rite will be celebrated properly, the priests should have no trouble at all binding your dreams together. For the moment though it does present a slight problem, if the Princess’ heart should suffer another great trauma, there is a chance you may be affected also. – The doctor removed the cotton and taking up some catoptrick khlènxho full moon lens he examined what he took. – As of yet my fellow Tèrefha do not know exactly to what degree you and the divine Princess are linked, perhaps your close proximity was enough to transfer some of her ailing health, or the dragon vapors you had inhaled was enough. One cannot say. But for now you seem to be recovering. –
Puîyus nodded. He was not entirely sure what to say, he was used to being examined by warriors and priests, an mganga among the Khlitsaîyart to examine one of the romantic warrior folk would be considered quite an honor, for a Tèrefha could examine a Duke or King or Lord or even an Emperor and dare to touch their bodies with gloved talon. Puîyus squirmed a little, the Doctor drew up a bit of cotton and cut it apart, and several different khlènyo half moon rims fell down before his gaze, and he looked down to cells which only he could recognize.
– You do suffer from a congenital heart arrhythmia, and that has not gone away – the Doctor chanted. – I don’t think that has affected you in a negative way, in fact your general state of health is excellent, one cannot hope to explain your feats of prowess and strength. I have noticed several scars on your body, the priests wanted me to make a record of them, they may need to know such things as they work on their auguries. You have an interesting mark on your side, some cicatries on your back, some marks of blood ablution onf your arms and wrist, but I think that some of those khmàrka incisions will actually fade in time. – The Doctor reached out and grabbed Puîyus ear, he could feel cold metallic claws moving within the glove, and long slinking wires spreading up into the ear.
– I beg you to relax, divine Prince – the Doctor chanted. – One can assure you that when you finally do undergo the ritual of xhreyána, of apotheosis, that we Tèrefha shall be even more ginger and discrete in how we touch your holy personage. But for now we need to make sure there is no more damage and no more Dragon vapor within you. –
– Mew? –
– Oh yes, one can never be too cautious with regards to Dragons. Long ago, and I am assuming you were asking about the pneumodracontotetrodotoxin, the breathe of a Dragon was part of the very kiss of life unto the endless worlds, it was part of the movement of air and phlogistons and the currents of the winds. But somewhere along the way the air of a dragon was changed, and the Rainbow Serpents began to breathe in the air laden with scent and petals and seeds and breath out air heavy laden with all manners of poisons. I don’t think that I detect any more in you, holy Crown Prince, but I must insist that you remain under observation. –
– Mew – Puîyus nodded.
– An Emperor of few words, now that I like – chanted the Doctor as he nodded and continued boring into Puîyus’ ear. – Forgive me, but to my shame my name is Khràkhoi a Tèrefha among the Khlitsaîyart Khlaêr. I have dwelt in many places and seen many folk in the war. – Puîyus licked his lips and felt the movement of wire about his head, it was a crackling and almost tickling feeling, and he was deciding that it would probably be to the best to remain utterly still. He was thinking though that the Tèrefha’s kàtset, his accent sforzando seemed somewhat familiar unto him, it contained a musical feel to him which seemed just at the tip of his imagination, as if Puîyus were listening to an old and very familiar tune but played sideways upon the harp or with the nosefife inhaled and nasalized. Khràkhoi was clicking unto himself and saying – We just want to take a look at your skull, one must hope there’s no damage here, or at least no serious damage that one could not mend. – Puîyus was wondering whether he should ask the priests whether he could still become the Emperor if he ended up having a skull dragon damaged, it seemed though an impious question to ask so he remained quiet. – Ah, so quiet you are – Khràkhoi chanted. – I wish all my patients were like you, when the Qlùfhem and Thùlwu are brought to me, with their own zodiographers can do nothing more for me, the Aûm start off as laconic as their reputation is, but before long when I touch my glove to tentacle or celia they start vermiculating about and squealing and complaining of the cold. Dukes tend to be difficult patients, I find. They’re of the Szlachta Caste and so have some dealings with my brothers, but they don’t realize sometimes that we are a branch of the Sylvanhood and cannot be ordered about too much, at least not in examining our patients. I don’t see any cracks at all. Your ears are ringing quite a bit, but I think that may have something to do with your sense of hearing, no? –
The wires came snapping right back into Khràkhoi’s gloves, and the Doctor spun around, masques of lenses and glasses flowing upon his face, and he glared into one of Puîyus’ eyen and then the other, and finally he stepped away and chanted – How do you feel? –
– … – Puîyus chanted.
– Is there anything out of the ordinary? –
– Can you detect anything different with your blood? –
Puîyus shook his head in negation.
– It is already changing, it is a mystery which not even the Tèrefha genetic sub-caste can understand. You are well on your way into the metamorphósis, your blood is becoming that of the Son of Kàrijoi. But I think in the meantime you are well enough. – Khràkhoi bowed before Puîyus and taking a few steps away from him came to a table where some bowls were placed, and he removed his multijointed gloves, and the lences and celia began to flow back into his headdress, and he washed his hands many times and began whispering the spells and incantations of the kurandero volk. – Cleanse me utterly from my shame as unworthy came I into the presence of the young Crown Prince even before the tyaoxhyangaxhethònta the Emperor’s stern and patrician face. –
Puîyus listened to the music of Khràkhoi’s voice and was reminded of the chiming of Princess Ixhúja in her purring, and also the speech of Prince Qlenólakh back when the nations and queendoms of Khnìntha still throve, in the last hours before the War of Heaven, and all at once Puîyus understood that Khràkhoi was not just any Khlitsaîyart of the people, he had been a descendent of some of the lost Khlitsaîyart colonies which were left in Khnìntha in the days when Emperor Eilasaîyan had turned his back and removed his love from the Red Moons, and the Khlitsaîyart there, cut off from the Winter Patriarchy, formed their own culture distinct from their brethren, and it was only in these last hours, now that the Crimson Moons were opened up like eggs that the various families of the Khlaêr were again reunited. Puîyus wondered a little about Khràkhoi, how he must have grown up in a world where the Emperor was only a rumor, the one who was feared, he who both blessed and cursed Khnìntha and whose love they were so desparate to gain again, and now Khràkhoi was finding himself in the far, far north at the edge of a war he could never have forseen and examining a lad who had not been born of Kàrijoi’s flesh and yet the Elders were determined to set him upon a new Throne of Glass. It was all so strange and dizzying. Puîyus wondered what the owls would think when he told them about the Khnìnthan doctor. He wished that he could find Púpo, and then he could tell the owls and his Sisters and the Princess all at once.
Khràkhoi removed his headdress, he was smaller without it, the lences and celia were all returning into their folds, and he was but a small and saurian creature, almost bent o'er a little. He reached into his robes and drew out a small set of spectacles and set them on the edge of his snout, but the ophthalmical optometriξ kept sliding down. He grabbed them with the tip of his talon and chanted – Holy and divine one, your body stopped when the future Empress suffered from her heart halting its beating. We may never know the full reasons for it, I believe that the dragon toxin, exhaustion, malnutrition, and shock all conspired together. The first three problems we can alleviate, as to the last we must leave her in the care of the new Dynasty which is being formed. In the meantime … – Khràkhoi’s spectacles began sliding off his beak, and Puîyus without thinking about it reached out and grabbed the falling makaaniani glasses and set them back upon the Doctor’s nose. At once Khràkhoi’s facial scales began to glow with a slight pink and violet glow, and Puîyus could feel embarrassment even within himself. – Forgive my unworthiness, future Emperor – Khràkhoi chanted as he fell upon his knees. – Although one of my caste may touch you when gloved for to examine you, it is not proper for you to touch someone as humble as I am, unless of course you mean to discipline me, slave that I am. –
– Mew! – Puîyus cried, and he tried to apologuise, he was not at all sure what a Crown Prince was supposed to do, how he was to comport himself, or even whether he wanted to be one. He only went along with these customs because the Elders kept telling him that it was right and because he wished to be with Éfhelìnye, but all of his experience with the Royal Pwéru had hitherto before this day been in temple and before their idols, he could only imagine how a Saiqíren should appear and act.
Khràkhoi held up his claws before his spectacles and face and chanted – The future Empress is being nursed by Vestal Virgins, and she and your Sisters dwell in the portions of this rath designated as harem forbidden unto all men save your august self. We shall have to monitor you and the future Empress for some time, if you both can avoid any undo shock, insofar as it can be avoided in the war, it may help your hearts to recover. When the Empress first suffered her cardiac episode, the priests and monks took her up to the nearest pyramid and began the rites of blood sacrifice, we thought it was best to try to stabalize your body, your organs were shadowing hers, almost shutting down one by one. The blood that was being shed revived her, by some grace which the Ása hold before us, her heart began again. But we cannot risk losing you children again, the priests will remain ready for blood sacrifice, if your hearts need it again. –
Puîyus shook his head in negation, but Khràkhoi was already falling upon his face and ritual kowtowing. Fhliráqha the perfumed sacrifice, Puîyus thought, should be reserved for the holy Ása, for theirs is the music and dance which cause blood to flow, and back unto them blood should return, but not unto him, Íngìkhmar’s Son, even if his heart stopped again. But Khràkhoi was shaking and could not see Puîyus’ concern. – If the Empress’ heart should stop, know that I shall volunteer to give my life for hers, for long ago mine Ancestors commited sin against her house, and few now of us are left to atone for this primal dishonor. If my blood can be shed for hers … –
– Mew mew mew – Puîyus protested. He was about to crawl out of bed and help the krōker upwards, but then thought better of it, lest he frighten the poor man born of the Heretic people. Puîyus remembered that he had been taught that a Knight of the Empire slew Pariah Heretics on sight, but the only qtòrenga selenites he had expected to meet were a few ninja spies and warriors sneaking through the crumblent walls of the quarantine, and most certainly not the Huntress Princess Ixhúja and various machine hordes or the mansuete doctor Khràkhoi.
– We cannot permit the Empress to die, nor for the Suns to blink out again – spake Khràkhoi and he backed away from Puîyus presence in the same way that Puîyus had seen men crawling back and forth before the Crystalline Throne, their faces set against the marble and mosaics of the floors. Puîyus hopped down from bed, but this only frightened the misler all the more, and shaking he continued to back away. Puîyus wanted to lift him up and bow unto him in respect just as he had been taught to do all the days of his life in the presence of his elders, but the Doctor was not prepared for such, nor could Puîyus dare to ask such a thing. As the Doctor came unto the door the threshold began to flow aside, and the door was become like intersecting arms and shields at first grasping each other and now sliding away and opening, and Khràkhoi made his way outside.
– The holy Princess who shall be your Empress along with your second xhnár consort and your other kinswomen dwell in the eastron towers in the care of the Vestal Virgins – Khràkhoi was saying. And even as the Khlitsaîyart Tèrefha was disappearing in the halls, he was taken up within the robes and arms of the rest of his brethren and was being lost within the flowing of their robes and the glistening of their mitren and the movement of their staves, and the fluttering of their servants rising and falling and all bowing in Puîyus’ general direction.
Now that Puîyus was out of bed, his feet touching solid ground as they had not in some time, he had to force his senses no longer to listen to the breathing of so many throats and the billowing of lungs and the beating of hearts and the blinking of eyelids and the movement of tapestries and the opening and closing of doors, and the movement of branches and the wind within the dying leaves and the last of the uqhúku owls leaving their bowers and finding other haunts for their daytime activities. Puîyus walked out a little and noticed that he was barefoot. He wriggled his toes one by one. It reminded him of the dance which the delightful Traîkhiim folk so loved, the people who were completely made up of their own singing and thunderous dance, a music which was without any end at all, a tapestry made up not of any threads at all, but almost a living forest of colors and notes, dance hardly simple at all, but dance that was like the movement of the waves that they feared, dance that was stone and ice storm and rolling mountain and bouncing toes at the same time. Puîyus looked around, the walls were simple, the colors of the trim were gold and green, a few tapestries were wavering and Puîyus saw imagines of the forest and the hunt, these were old icons fluent before his gaze, young shepherdesses leading their giant silkworms and lambkins and dinosaurs upon the hills, young hunters chasing after stag and blue sea scorpion, and in the tapestry the forest itself was almost dancing. And yet, despite how familiar the weavings were, although the room was like the guest quarters in the various fortresses and raths of allies wherewithin he had stayed before, something about this room and this fortress and this land made him think that Jaràqtu had been left transformed by the tides of war and time and could never be as it once was.
For a moment Puîyus fell upon his knes and bowing his head offered up prayer unto the divine Ása who cannot die and unto the spirits of the Land and the Ancestors of the People and asked for their blessing. Three tasks he knew lay before him, first he had to see the Princess and his Sisters and make sure that they were safe, and second he needed to speak unto the Chieftains and Elders of his land, he needed to know what resources were left unto the war, where men and living ships and canonry lay, he needed to know about the Khlitsaîyart legions that Khiêro of Old was leading and the swordsmaster Kháfha whom Grandfather Pátifhar was commanding and above all what the Qhíng armada were doing, where Abbá Íngìkhmar was directing the war, or at least that is what he could hear from the whispers of the soldiers in the outer rooms, and third of all Puîyus needed to know what Emperor Kàrijoi was doing and what he intended, he knew that he could never think as deep and wide and lofty as the Holy Emperor, Fhìtsarakh’s Son, nor could he begin to draw up strategies involving monsters and dæmons and Dragons and the end of time itself, but the more he could learn in this time of respite the better it would serve the remnants of the Real People. He wished that the Oracle of the ancillæ Tsàrai and Xhrèkhram Khmenèrwa were still in existence, so that at least he could ask the Immortals in smoke and shadow what he should do. His thoughts were turnd to sand and shell and the ancient marine fossils that still littered Jaràqtu in memory of the time when all the land had rested beneath the northron seas of Sqasqáli, and only in the memory of men arose and became earth and hill and ironspiked mountain, and he thought of the legends he had been told of the Patriarchs who were the Sons of Khiêro who came sailing with their families upon coracles, and the Patriarchs thrust their sword into the sand and claimed these new islands, and some of the Patriarchs became the first Chieftains and others became holy Sages to dwell in the whispering mountains, and others were anchorites who dwelt within the ferns and upon the sands of the shore, and sometimes forged weapons in the stream of the crashing froth, wave and flame beating upwards upon their anvil, the holy hermits within the fjords. Puîyus wondered whether any of these qhìwawo hermits were left, ecclesiastic orinschiel, when he was very little and Auntie Qtìmine used to take him and his Sisters down to the shores, and they would watch the flight of the seamews and the ice pterodactyls and the schools of fishes dancing in the air above the deltas, and there upon sands of red and black the hermits were come and were exercising their rights of xhùkhpo and taking up driftwood and timber for their own purposes, estovren.
Puîyus arose and came into the halls, he could see that this fortress was so old and traditional that it clearly demarcated the qtètlhi the men’s garama, while some of the newer fortresses, builded only in the last two or three thousand generations or so did not bother to set up gargoyles and herms for the selamlik, but rather the architecture implied that what was not xhùjhwe was meant for the entire family and household. But here in these very old halls, what was not glinting with ancient statuary and masques large enough to cover entire walls, were decorated with ancient garlands icovered in paint and jewels, and the various trophies of hunt and battle of long ago. In the corners of many of the rooms lay skulls either nailed to the walls or partially impaled upon the pillars, some of the skull ssitll had bits of ancient skin flakes left on them, a few of the more magnificient skulls were painted and set with jewels, and the splendor of their helmets still lay upon them, along with bits of braided hair, and memories of feathers, these were ùsqa, vathi heads nomen in battle, and Puîyus wondered what wonderous battles had granted these heads as fruit, perhaps these battles had been fought at the edge of the iron whispering mountains, or upon the reeds and sands of the shore, the battles had to have been magnificent, he could see from the decorations of the jewels of the helmets, glyphs and runes unknown unto him, the entire dynasties must have fallen once so long ago, he came into other halls, the prárm the trophies of battle were shield wellbattered and swords which had not tasted war in generations and glistening knives long and hooked. He stopped to admire these ancient weapons, they were still sharp and deadly after all this time, they were almost glistening with mist, the prizes of an elder age. But he could not stay too long, the servants and tèrefha were hovering about him and rising and falling in their ritual humicubacioun, already some of the slaves were dashing outwards and were carrying long ifeathered banners along with them, blazons whereon were set images of Sun and Moon and Dragon wellentwined, several doors were opening unto one side and Puîyus long before he saw them heard the movement of boots and the rustling of kilts and sash, he knew that these were warriors of the mountain clans, a folk bread of the stone and sky iron of this region, the men who were coming out were older than Puîyus, some of them by a couple of generations, those who had witnessed the horrors upon the crimson sands of Tsànyun, and before this day few of them would e'er have looked upon Puîyus and noticed him, and only then as the heir to the dying Sweqhàngqu, the only Son of Íngìkhmar, the child as beautiful as Khwofheîlya had once been a generation ago.
There he is! There he goes! The young one, the last hero, the miracle child, the dragon slayer, the only one who can stop ancient Kàrijoi from devouring energy and memory and time. How young he is, how beautiful and yet so sad. Do you see those eyen of his, deep and blue and winedark glint, those are eyen which have already seen too much of sorrow, have witnessed far to many battles, have seen disappointment in soldiers sent off to war, and the deaths of nations and viceroy kingdoms and timeline and hope. As Puîyus came walking down the halls, the soldiers were all turning by one and bowing unto him in salutes, and those that wore elaborate headdresses were taking them off and falling upon bended knee before his passage. Slaves continued to scurry about, slaves whom the Qhíng and the Kháfha and the Aûm had transported in their endless hundreds of thousands, slaves needed to fuel the mechanisms ship and society and travel, many Qriî rushing about upon their shaggy legs and with their compound eyen calculating velocity and leap and speed and the very bending of time, but those slaves were close enough to see Puîyus stopped what they were doing and set down their trays and books and bowed down low before him, so that Puîyus’ walking was like a rippling wave slowly folding through a busy ocean. Beyond him though the slaves and soldiers continued on their work and were completely unmindful of him, for there was too much to accomplish in making these old raths in the iron mendi useful for the coming wartides, and more of the refugees continue to stragglestruggle upwards in the last of the fjords of Jaràqtu. And yet as Puîyus walked down through the halls, and doors were opening about him, and many older Jaràqtn Warriors came running down the halls, their armor clink clink clinking from side to side on their joints, and they almost ran right into the child, but at the last moment they halted and saw wunderkind and gasping in amazement began to fall down before him and whisper their apologies. But Puîyus continued to walk on his way, and his ears too kean for his own liking, heard far too much. Why you’ve heard the stories about him and the Princess, haven’t you? The legend has taken onto itself a life of its own, at first people were calling it, The Story of Íngìkhmar’s Son and the Land of Dreams and the Adventures of Puîyos or something of that like, but then someone came up with the title Puey and the Princess and the name has just stuck, the Priests were saying that when the future Empress finishes her book, no matter what she actually ends up calling it, the scribes are just going to entitle it Puîye xhnoe Stélaring anyway because that is what the people have come to expect. Is it true what they say about her? Is she really the Daughter of the Khnesqekaîxhren, the Virgin Empress? Oh yes, everyone who has seen her recognizes her at once, milk light beams right off of her face, she is almost a creature of some other and better world, and yet some of Kàrijoi’s demeanor resides in her also, her eyen and hair remind us of the Crown Prince who held so much promise for us in the later age. And you say she was prisoned by her Father? Yes, she was far too holy at birth, and the Virgin Empress was dying, so the Emperor took her far away deep into his Ice Palace and into his imagination, he drew out garden islands in the midst of a dragon flame sea, and Dragons encircled and guarded her, and in isolation she dwelt with two old men who were her tutors, that that’s been her entire life until this day, but then our Miracle Lad came and he soared among the Dragons and the fires parted and he rescued the maiden and plucked her out of the Ice Palace. And so it was that Kàrijoi’s might began to crumble and the Dragons felt fear for the first time. Kàrijoi must have been preparing for this war for some time, then, we Spear-Jaràqtuns were still busy in our feuds with each other, when Monsters came pouring out of the castle. I think that the Emperor tricked the Qhíng and Qlùfhem to fight each other, their conflict distracted all of the Great Races and forced them to struggle for alliances, but the Qlùfhem attack on the Synod of Lords struck the Noble Caste a terrible blow. I heard that the Emperor tricked the Heretics into releasing their Tánin Automata, I heard the story that most of the Tánin were once the toys which honored Kàrijoi himself used to fashion for children, but the toys were corrupted and became war machines. I’ve heard that too. So have I. We won’t know though until the future Empress finishes her book. I can say this, though, I was on duty when the Kháfha were bringing her and the Miracle Son up unto the transport towers, and the way she looks upon the Crown Prince I shall never forget, she is quite devoted unto him, he is her hero one cannot doubt that. Perchance the isolation of her upbringing has caused her to cleave too tightly unto him, perhaps she just recognizes him as her savior from beloved Kàrijoi and the only one who can end the old Emperor, or mayhap she loves him with a pure and abiding love. Her eyen glow with a soft and empyreal light ĉielglora knam heofonliċ. And when his eyen look to her, his glow also. Some of the Tájo dodos were saying that young Prince Puîyos has a pyasyesàjhwen, a mandatorium, a compulsion to save young women, they were saying that it had more to do than just the romantic Jaràqtun upbringing where the men are sullied with the pollution of warfare, where they must struggle in the fields of battle for their families, but the household is delight and paradise, the place of women and children, they were saying it has to do with the adoration which all men feel for the Khnesqekaîxhren whom we dare not name, Notecuiyoé, Cihuapillé, Nochpochtziné. Ah, I heard a completely different tell, I heard that it all has to do with Prince Puîyos’ Mother. Who was she now? She was Khwofheîlya, right, Khangisqrírles’ Daughter, she was the most beautiful flower this land e'er produced. A dancer, right? And the new Empress is a dancer also. I see. From a young age the Crown Prince has loved the ballerina, first his Mother and now his first consort, it’s ingrained in him, imprinted by the Ancestors, it howls in his blood. And don’t you remember Khwofheîlya’s looks, fiery red hair, a slight build, she’s not too far removed from the divine Starflower, if you ask me. She died young, didn’t she, Khangisqrírles’ daughter. Oh yes, but that’s part of it, Master Puîyos learnt at a young age that he has to save the woman, especially the beautiful ballerina. And I heard when he was three winters of age one of Kàrijoi’s Dragons chased him and his Sisters down, surely that had to mark him in some way. His honored Grandmother just passed away this summer, the matriarch of his Clan. He must still be in mourning for her. Do you know the story of Puîyos’ first bride? Oh yes, the flower maiden. I remember her, she was gorgeous and pious and wise. The Qhíng murdhered her, I heard. It wasn’t the Qhíng, the Ìthikusan raiders did it. I heard the wind was too cold for her. She died as battle came to Jaràqtu, but see, that confirms what I thought, Puîyos is obsessed with saving everyone know. Well, saving the damsel that is, the rest of us galoots will have to rely upon our own targes and swords and Puîyos’ leader, but he’s not about to come swinging down upon a burning dreadnaught and sweep us off our feet. He’ll rescue the princesses and maidens and birds and fishes first and let us fight our way out. That’s fine with me, I’d rather have a leader of men etyenyaxhyoîtujha wanax andrôn, someone who respects our commandments and the way of the sword. He may be a romantic, a dreamer, but he’s quelled monsters and time dæmons and a Dragon or two, I hear. Do you remember old Íngìkhmar, now he was a warrior, probably the best this land has e'er produced. Do you think Íngìkhmar was greater than Khiêro? I think so, Khiêro might have been the first warrior, and a dragon slayer himself, we can ask old Jhwàrxhnort about that, but Khiêro came from the wild and primæval days, Monsters were everywhere, the Empire was new and weak, everything was still half formed in creation, the Tree of Light only recently gone. But Íngìkhmar grew up in a time of armies and soldiers and warriors and commandments and weapons and a strong Empire, and he proved his valor against bandit and foe and skywayman and the strongest of the Qhíng and Kháfha and Aûm, he lead the Holy Rose Knights and patrolled upon Sunset and served the Virgin Bride Empress herself all those long years, oh yes, Íngìkhmar was the best of us all. None can find him. He’s out there. The rest of the Qhíng flight will be found. We have’t even heard rumor of him, the last of the Sweqhàngqu. Now old Íngìkhmar did well to provide for his Son, even though the Clan is ended, at least he made sure that the Elders had the marriages provided and arranged. I haven’t seen the First Concubine, have you? Her hair is spun gold and sunshine, her eyen bright blue, she is the very dream archetype of the Jaràqtun maiden. The line will continue through her, our people shall not end. Do the First Concubine and the future Empress get along? I’ve heard that they are the very best of friends. That is good, one does not wish for trouble in the harem. Especially if young Crown Prince Puîyos will have to leave for battle, he can’t have his women fighting. Look, he’s coming this way. I’ve heard he can hear grass grow on the field and beard on the face. Now that’s silly, fighting a quantum dæmon one thing, but don’t be ridiculous. This way! Everyone bow. How sad he is, how beautiful, and yet so young. Our miracle child, the last hero, our Son, the dragon slayer, the only one who can stop ancient Kàrijoi from devouring energy and memory and time. There he is! There he goes!
Puîyus left the halls and was disciplining himself to ignore the whispers of the slaves and the awe of the soldiers and the various versions of his and the Princess’ biography, he was thinking it would be best if others no learn just how sharp his hearing could be and what he could in fact hear if he concentrated a little, such details of his senses he would save for glorious battle. As he came sweeping out of the halls he found himself upon a multistoreyed courtyard branching downwards untowards the stables, young men were watering the giraffes within and rubbing their legs, and several ostridges were walking out into the fields and quacking one to another. As he walked towards the equerries he could hear about him several of the Chieftains walking with their Sons and Grandsons and whispering – That one is der Märchenkönig, the Fairy Tale King given unto us from legend in our time of need. Watch him closely in battle, my children. He breaks the back of the Dragon might. – Puîyus came to the stables and as the doors swung about him he heard the giggling of servants as they ran away from him, one young Qriî was whispering to another – Oh I see him, he is Unser Kini, our darling little king, he does look like something out of storybook days, hardly appropriate to such a cold and coarse age as our own, wouldn’t you say? –
Within the stables the ostridges were bowing down before him, their plumage was brushed and washed and waxed, and a few of them were munching upon old squisht apples which the slaves had gathered from the forest floor. Puîyus could distinguish by scent some of the ostridges which he already knew, he recognized Xheresafhènitha balletic and lithe, the ostridge which the Prophet Khniikhèrkhmair used to ride when dwelt he in the grasslands of Jaràqtu, but none had seen the Prophet in some time, not since the Battle of the Quays of Ílini, for the Prophet drifted and danced in the winds. Puîyus sniffed the air and recognized a very familiar smell, and this ostridge came froward of his own accord and bowed down low unto him, for it was Khwixhethateîqa the karaqoîltu. Puîyus reached o'er and brushed the avian’s head and kissed it a few times. Some stable hands dashed upwards and were going to help the young Crown Prince set saddle and reins upon his mount, but Puîyus just jumped upon its back and began riding away, he did not have to kick or command the fogle at all, it just started bouncing and running and obeyed the music of Puîyus’ mind, and the servants just backed away and bowed and wondered as Puîyus began tantivying outwards, and he was still barefoot.
Outside the courtgarths before the towers which were set aside as harīm for the women and household of the future Emperor, Princess Éfhelìnye was walking with slow and ginger steps. Her wound in her stomache was healing nicely, she could feel, but she felt weak, and walking too much was still painful. With sad realization she knew that dancing would be out of the question, at least for this day. Ixhúja kept running up and wanted to help her, but Éfhelìnye just shooed her away and wanted to walk on her own. Siêthiyal was returning to the courtyards and was leading two ostridges by their reins, she had picked two beautiful and strong birds and set glistening and long ribboned saddles upon them with her own hands, for she had always been skilled at riding ostridges and giraffes as well as khmànguki dinosaur roading itself. Bouncing behind Siêthiyal came Akhlísa, and she had made trebly sure to be pretty this dawntide, and set extra jewels in her tresses and was leaping around with excitement.
– I wanna ride with Puey I wanna ride with Puey I wanna ride with Puey I wanna ride with Puey! – Akhlísa hopped.
– Hush! – chanted Siêthiyal.
– But I wanna ride with Puey! –
– You will. Let’s help Éfhelìnye up first. –
– I wanna ride! –
– You’re riding! Look, my spies tell me that he’s coming right here … –
– You have spies? –
– I’ve always had spies. Usually you’re my spy. –
Akhlísa stuck out her tounge and chanted – I’m not your spy. –
Siêthiyal drew up the ostridges towards Éfhelìnye and in a low voice whispered – You’ve always been my ninja spy and always shall be, how do you think I’ve kept track of Xeîtei and Eirènwa all these years, but through you and your inability to keep a secret. I must watch and control the family, it’s what I do. –
Akhlísa crossed her arms and chanted – I want to ride with Puey! It’s my right, I’m his wife and he’s my husband and I want to ride! –
– You’re going to ride – Siêthiyal chanted, putting her hands upon her Sister’s shoulder. – But I also want Éfhelìnye seated on the other ostridge, he has to see that she’s well, or at least looks well so he won’t worry about her. Then you can ride off, but I can’t let him worry about her, don’t you understand? –
Ixhúja took Éfhelìnye by the hand, for she was afraid that Éfhelìnye in her weakened state would topple o'er. There was no need to pick her up and set her into the ostridge, for it bowed down before her, gentle and docile, and its wings folded upwards for to envelope her and bring her upwards. Éfhelìnye found herself upon nesh strouthian back, and the wings were comfortable and warm. Ixhúja strapped her into the saddle and adjusted it for Éfhelìnye’s petite frame.
– I just want to greet my Puey – chanted Éfhelìnye. – I feel like I’ve been away from him so long. –
– That’s good – chanted Siêthiyal. – Let him hug you and kiss you if you like, but you’re far too weak to ride out with him. But none of us are going to say that, now are we? In fact, it would be best if we had just a very ginger and delicate hug, we don’t want to open up any wounds. But then it’s best that Puey and I and Khlís go riding out. I need to tell Puey about our Father and the dissolving of our Clan name, it’s best that he hear it from me. – Siêthiyal whistled to the ostridge and it bent down a little, and she began helping her Sister into the saddle. – It won’t take me long, I want Puey and Kàrula to spend some time together, due to some unforeseen events, they really haven’t spent any time together at all since … – Siêthiyal was about to say, Since Fhermáta’ death, but instead chanted – … since the Qhíng were driven away and Puey became an Ancestor. These two need to become reacquainted. They’ve both changed. –
Akhlísa giggled – Yeah, I’m a married woman! –
– I trust it you will be accompanying them the entire time – Éfhelìnye piped.
– Nope – chanted Siêthiyal.
– Someone has to say with them. –
– Puey will just ride to the forest and back. He can defend himself and Fhèsya against the kiyúqha chipmunks with their seven legs and metallic fanblades. They’re not very big. –
– I’m just thinking it would be more appropriate someone else were present – the Princess chanted. – Perhaps one of the Vestal Virgins should come with them. Ixhúja, don’t you think that’s a good idea? –
– A Vestal Nun? – asked Akhlísa. – Won’t that be awkward what with all my attempts to kiss Puey? –
– Fetch a nun quickly – Éfhelìnye chanted, her face darkening a little.
– Princess, they’ll be fine – chanted Siêthiyal. – Remain calm, Puey will be here any moment, and nothing will happen. –
– Siêthiyal, didn’t you used to spy on me when I rode off with Puey when I was your guest-friend? –
– That’s different – Siêthiyal chanted as she hopped onto the ostridge. – You’re completely untrustworthy around my Brother. And I don’t just mean your attempts to kiss him, I also refer to your plans for adventure, hidden treasure, and exploration of lost dreamlands. To be frank, I’d rather have Puey and Kàrula kissing but not getting too far away from home, than you’re schemes to travel through the swamps and into the wild ruins of the hills and up into the lost ántor cities. –
– I’d rather Puey kissed me and explored the deserted cities … – Éfhelìnye chanted.
Ixhúja came froward and placing one hand on her hips and other other hand pointing to Siêthiyal growled and in the tounges of wild beasts asked, Remind me why we’re all taking orders from the likes of you?
Siêthiyal could see that the hand on Ixhúja’s hip was close to one of her many knives, for Ixhúja was now fully armed again, not only partially enweaponed as she had been during a recent and regretible incident in the Princess’ recovery room, and yet the finger parlous close to the knife hilt did not stop Siêthiyal from smiling, and looking down from the ostridge mount chanted she – My dearest Ixhúja, my Sister, may I call you Sister, beloved, we must all work together for the good of this new dynasty we are forming and none is more important to the Pwéru than you, I promise you. –
One refuses to take orders from you.
– My Sister we all know that your beloved Cousin will be the new Empress, she will be the most important female in all the land, of course her rank is holy and untouchable, she runs this household of course. And we all agree that my baby Sister here … –
– Don’t call me a baby! – cried Akhlísa.
– Hush, baby! We all know that she is the lowest of us four. She’s the youngest born. That makes her dust, that makes her dirt. Go ahead, treat her like a slave, Ixhúja, in fact I encourage you to. You definitely outrank her. –
Ixhúja shuffled from side to side and considered and mewling unto herself in a barely intelligible language quoda she, I suppose I do outrank the micromorphling.
– Of course you do, and if you have any chores, any favors, feel free to dump them on Kàrula’s head, she’s really your slave by the way. –
– I am not! – cried Akhlísa.
– Hush, slave! I saw an interesting smithy at the base of the mountain, perhaps you and Kàrula can travel down there and watch how the weapons are forged, and Kàrula can help you carry packages and fetch you lutch and do all such servile and sequious things. She is dirt. –
It would be nice to have help sometimes, Ixhúja was wondering and she scratched an ear and considered, Sometimes I could use help in cleaning and oiling my clockwork slaves.
– Then I insist you command Kàrula here, your slave. In fact, tonight, tie her up and beat her up. She’s just a little wormy little sibling. –
– Stop it you horrible evil older Sister! – Akhlísa cried.
Siêthiyal turned around and clasped her hand o'er Akhlísa’s and whispered – Do you want to see Puey and kiss him? Then be quiet and play along. Tame the wild beast. She’s the beast. Hush! And for the last time, stop licking my fingers! –
Siêthiyal removed her hand. Akhlísa stuck out her tounge, but slumped down and crossed her arms and remained quiet. Siêthiyal grinned saying – That’s good, my dirt. Just remember your place. Ixhúja, thrash her about tonight, then you’ll really be part of the family. –
– Are you talking about playing chess? – asked Éfhelìnye. – I love chess. –
– Of course we’re talking about chess – Siêthiyal grinned. – What else could we be meaning. –
– Now I’m confused – chanted Akhlísa.
Good, Akhlísa can be my personal slave, Ixhúja purred unto herself. But you and I, what are we? Are we equals in this dynasty? Do you dare to think you can outrank me, a Princess of the Pfhaqhaîtsir, one whose blood is holy dragon ichor?
– Of course you outrank poor little me – Siêthiyal chanted. – Your family line is venerable and unassailable. My humble Brother though is defeating the old Emperor, he is carving up a new Empire, so I think I as his blood relation am afforded some little respect. And let’s not forget that this is a patriarchy, so my Brother can change everything on a whim. But one doubteth that he will, oh Princess Ixhúja, I am yours to command. –
Ixhúja crossed her arms and purred as if to say, Than I command that I accompany the Concubine Slave on her outing, just to assuage my cousin’s febrile mind.
– Ah but Ixhúja, you are the only one I trust enough to guard my precious Sister by marriage Éfhelìnye. Please, I beg you, keep her safe in the harem, if not for my sake, for Puey whom we all love. I need to tell him about the tragedy of our Father Sieur Íngìkhmar … who had to give away his own children … – Siêthiyal sniffled in loud operatic sniffs. – And none have seen him or his half of the Qhíng fleet in some time. And now … I’m left all alone … alas … alas … – Siêthiyal covered her face.
– I miss Abbá too – Akhlísa chanted, and she hugged her Sister.
Ixhúja’s clockwork devices were crawling about her hair and chattering all the while, their wings and spinnerets grinding against each other. She looked to Éfhelìnye upon her ostridge, pale and tired Éfhelìnye, bandages wrapped tight about her belly beneath the new robes, and she chanted – I feel so sad for Siêthiyal. Come along, Ixhúja, let’s not distress them, I don’t want to intrude upon their private grief. You and I can stay in the harem, and you can tell me more stories about the inner worlds of Khnìntha. –
Ixhúja uncrossed her arms, she was still not convinced that she should be trusting Siêthiyal, but she did not wish to upset Éfhelìnye all the more. She had no more time for considering as it was, though, for up the other side of the courtyard upon Khwixhethateîqa came riding Puîyus, in the white brightness of what dawn was left unto mortals, and his feet were bare.
– My hero! – gasped Éfhelìnye and she clasped her hands together.
My twin! purred Ixhúja.
– My Brother – chanted Siêthiyal smiling.
– Where’s my candy? – asked Akhlísa. – I left it around here … – She rummaged into her pockets and looking up unto the dawn chanted – Lo! My lord and husband Puey. I hope he brought me some candy. –
Puîyus rode up ot them, and the windstriding ostridge Khwixhethateîqa bowed down low before the maidens, and Puîyus bowed in kind. Akhlísa shoved Siêthiyal away and almost entangled them both in the reigns of their ostridge, but somehow she managed for to launch herself from her mount and land right into Puîyus’ arms and hug him and kiss his neck many times.
– Hi, husband! – chimed Akhlísa. – Did you miss me, I missed you powerfully while you were gone fighting the battles and I waited and waited and waited until I grew bored and hungry but you’re back and I’m back and we’re all here! –
Puîyus nodded and kissed Akhlísa on her brow, and the ostridge road up towards Ixhúja, and Puîyus leaned down to take her hand and kiss it.
– Puey, question, my lord husband! – cried Akhlísa. – Aren’t you going to stay with us in the harem now that you’re feeling better! It will be far more comfortable in here, we have books and cushions and drapery of all sort, plus you won’t be hustlebustled by the soldiers and priests and all. The men’s quarters are okay, but they’re not soft and warm and nice. Come and stay with me, we can make fortresses out of the sofas too. –
Puîyus shook his head, and in blinks and glanced told her, One does not believe that one shall enter the harem again, at least not in the duration of the War. You women need a place of silence and peace away from the fighting, a place just for yourselves. I shall stay with the troops.
How fortunate it is that no one e'er fights in the harem, Ixhúja told Puîyus with a raise of her violet eyebrow.
– Now isn’t that just chivalrous that’s very chivalrous you’ve quite a paragon my Puey – Akhlísa chanted, as Puîyus rode up unto Princess Éfhelìnye. – None of the comforts of home please him, just desire to lead his troops and glory for valour. Oh, if I were Puey though I’d be living in the harem, I’d have my harem slaves peeling apples as I lay my head in their laps and they’d be pouring me water and pink lemonade, I’d have my concubines dance before me and ring their chimes, why I’d never get any work done at all, but Puey, he’s staying in the dirt and grime of battle. How honorable that is. I’d say with the fun and candy myself. Did you bring me any candy? –
Puîyus came to Éfhelìnye and taking her hand kissed it slowly many times. He gave her an inquisitive look, she appeared weak and pale unto him. She closed her eyen for a moment and chanted – I feel better, my Puey, but I won’t be able to ride out with you. Ixhúja will take care of me. Go out and ride with your two Sisters. I’m sure your two Sisters have much to discuss with you, family matters and the like, appropriate to you and your two Sisters. –
– ?? – Puîyus asked.
– I want you to go. You need to spend time with your two Sisters, there are some family interests you need to know. – Éfhelìnye reached up and touched Puîyus’ face, she liked the feel of his flower cheek.
– … –
– Oh? A terèfhaxing from Khnìntha? That’s very interesting. –
– … –
– You can tell me later, after you’ve ridden out with your Sisters. – Éfhelìnye traced her finger on Puîyus’ face. He reached o'er and embraced her, but sensing how weak she was not too hard. – Go and have a good time with your Sisters twain, I shall be here when you return, here, your future wife, and mother to your children. Go, go with your Sisters. –
Since the embrace was lasting just a little too long Akhlísa squeezed herself between the two and chanted – Actually Puey can’t call me Sister any longer since I’m now one of his wives. Do I get an hug too? –
– No – chanted Éfhelìnye and she drew aside.
Akhlísa turned to Puîyus and asked – I don’t know whether this is a good time to repeat it, but I’ll still trapped in this clockweyth xòrsajhe korsät. – She snatched up his hands and rubbed them upon the wheels and gears about her waist and up the length of her corset. – When we ride out would you mind removing this from me? –
– I’ve changed my mind – Éfhelìnye intoned. – I’m going with them. –
Ixhúja hopped up and hissed unto ho mégas strouthós in its own language phororhacos, and the ostridge began to turn and flutter its wings and dart away and carrying Éfhelìnye along upon it. Éfhelìnye turned back and chanted – Cousin, I’m staying with Puey, I don’t want to go back … –
– Purr! –
– No, I don’t need my rest. –
– … –
– It’s not all in mine imagination, I can’t help it that most of the maidens in the world are conspiring against me to steel my Puey’s love from me! –
Ixhúja turned around and waved to Puîyus and spared Siêthiyal a nod and looking to Akhlísa wondered about all the chores and errands she could heap upon her small shoulders. Ixhúja bound out unto the ostridge and was leading it and the Princess to the stables even while Éfhelìnye was protesting all the while. – I’m not in the mood for playing chess today, in fact I’m thinking that you and I can go riding out, perhaps we can shadow Akhlísa and just watch her and make sure she doesn’t get into any trouble, or perhaps you want to search for khmàrfhta and xhmàrpta purple granats I think that would be fun don’t you think so? Ixhúja! Don’t let’s leave them alone! –
Siêthiyal waved from her ostridge and smiling chanted – I’ll take good care of them. Don’t you worry! – Her smiled remained on her face even as Siêthiyal and the ostridge and all of the courtyard were fading away from Éfhelìnye’s gaze, and Ixhúja took her up into the upper courtyards unto the small hanging gardens and the stables and rest.
– That went well – Siêthiyal chanted, her smile remaining riant upon her face. – I love the Princess so much. – She turned around and saw that Akhlísa was clinging about Puîyus’ neck and almost dragging him off his ostridge. Siêthiyal had been scheming somehow to get Puîyus and Akhlísa to ride together, she thought she’d take then into the forests and beneath the apple trees, and perhaps they could have a snack, and Akhlísa and Puîyus could ride on the same ostridge together, but with Akhlísa already taking the initiative it was already too easily done.
– We’ll ride out – Siêthiyal chanted, tapping her ostridge and setting the gait. – We have some family issues to discuss. Kàrula, go and sit in Puey’s lap. We have much to discuss. –
Akhlísa crawled up into Puîyus lap and flung her arms about him, and Puîyus tried to pull her away to sit down next to him and he murmured a little in a rather avian language.
Siêthiyal did not look back but chanted – Pew, for the last time, xá Puî Puîye fhwii, do not call her Sister, she is no longer fostered into our family, she’s one of your junior wives now. Please do not shame her. If the word ‘wife’ or ‘concubine’ embarrasses you, just call her by her name. –
– Call me wife and beloved – chanted Akhlísa. – And you didn’t bring any candy with you, did you? – She pouted and rested her head next to his and chanted – Well, when you become the new Emperor you’d better keep candy all about you, it only seems right and mete and fair. Candy cane locks and candy smelling skin and candies innad thy pockets, that should be the new order of things. –
Siêthiyal was leading the way as she rode her ostridge up through the courtyards, she wanted to choose a long and scenic way so that she and Akhlísa could tell their Brother and Husband respectively about what had befallen the Sweqhàngqu here in the last hour of the old age. The ostridges were stepping up high and flapping their wings and letting their jewels and ribbons jingle in their passage, and the soldiers and warriors in the courtyards were giving them all quite a wide berth and bowing low before the children. A few slaves were sweeping up the leaves and snow that had accumulated through the long midnight darkness, they too were backing away and hiding their faces away from the one who would become the new Sun Emperor. Siêthiyal decided that it would be best for them to ride away from the great daurun, she wished to reïntroduce her Brother both unto Jaràqtu and also unto Khmaryáta’s Daughter, the one who had been promised to him since her birth, for Puîyus had been away far too long and left in the horrors and winters of the War, perhaps he was become wild and feral in his long venturing outwards back unto the cannals of Khnìntha beneath the heavens of orange and pink, and throughout the fields of the west where the skyways arose in marble and stone and cities were placed embridged upon the very face of the waves, perhaps he was grown far too alien when he came unto Qamélo whose fields of Kám were of sands of many colors, and into the frozen cascades where he did battle with Lord Qàrqhin the Dragon and did rip off his arm and jaw and slay him for trying to harm the Starflower Princess Éfhelìnye, perhaps Puîyus was become too distant when he and the Princess traveled upwards into the wilds of intertubular Xhlaîra where the Tánin Automata were trying to stablish their own nation away from revered Kàrijoi’s moai gaze, and Puîyus had perhaps become far too bold when he came through the Pèlqui Candy Cane Forests and bowed down before the Emperor upon his throne of rainbow steps and asked for the Princess’ hand in betrothal and marriage, and Siêthiyal could not hope to imagine what he and the Princess had endured, when their beloved Abbá had taken the carcanets from the janyaTùrkhaka Duchesses Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa and set them about the necks of his Son and the Princess and sung one of Empress Khnoqwísi’s forbidden songs, a song which no mortal man may sing, and the children were translated far away unto the dæmon haunts of the winterclad Cenotaph and unto the endless battlezones beyond, crumbling ruins spread outwards throughout all of the welkin leading up unto the North, and the laboratories of the Xeriîqe and the Fractal Labyrinth and the Dragons swirling downwards from the Mountain Sword of Syapàkhya, bits and pieces of these stories Siêthiyal had gathered up from many sources, from priests and monks and travelers and wanders and questers and refugees, and as more and more stragglers were come washed up into Jaràqtu, those who had seen the children in the clockwork pyramids before the Theîkon were come, stray pirates who remembered Captain Euqliîna and his welljuggled rooster raptors, refugees who had seen the children about the watchfires or being protected by Qìtien the Acolyte or before the battle rages of the Warlord Khnèfhrim, Siêthiyal was able to imagine some of the most remarkable and wonderous metaphor and story, but she was glad that she only had to endure the Triple Alliance and the attention of the Duchesses and their mutated hordes. Puîyus was silent. He was always silent. Even when his visage communicated, it was very little, not as much as real conversation, she was thinking. His were eyen that had already seen too much. The war was not yet o'er, and yet Siêthiyal could feel from him a terrible and yearning melancholy which she knew she would not be able to cure of herself. Both Éfhelìnye and Karuláta are going to have to take care of him if he is to survive this war, his spirit is too bent, his heart too weary. I’ll even take help from Ixhúja. Everything is too dark, too heavy, too dead.
Siêthiyal slowed down the gait of her ostridge, as they came riding near the edge of the rath, the long and winding serpentile walls spreading down the sides of the rugose mountain, tall and spiraling turms all of circles and triangles slowly making their way upwards, and flowing upwards emblazoned upon the towers were the various insignia of the Taotepwepùrlta, the Divine Pwéru Family, the House of the Sun, and Siêthiyal was reminded again of this rather difficult conversation she would have to have. Now is the time. Perhaps if I can make him smile a little it would help. As they were approaching a wall the slight sound of bleating arose the bleating sound of khmàryor khmàryor khmàryor. A few sheep were running out upon the frost and the dying grasses, the sheep were a bit smaller and scrawnier than they should have been, and some of them were wearing bells that seemed too large for their heads, but here even in the very last day the pastoral people of Jaràqtu was doing their best to care for their loved ones, and some of the sheep had ribbons tied into their fleece and bows in their hair. Behind the sheep and the very last of the lambs that were born were come some of the shepherd maidens of the mountain clans, crook staves in their hands, their hair curving crimpt rondures, and the maidens seeing the approach of Siêthiyal and the one who had been Íngìkhmar’s Son but who all the sylvan priests were saying was now the new Saiqíren, and the maidens stopped what they were doing and began falling upon their knees.
Siêthiyal rode right up to the shepherdess and waving her hand chanted – Don’t do that, it embarrasses my Brother. Just stand up and act normal. Oooh! Pretty plantimals! My Brother loves plantimals. Puey! Look at these! So many adorable khnèpla lambkins! –
Puîyus striding ostridge ran forwards a few steps and honked a few times as it ran right into the midst of the sheep, and the ostridge chased after them, the sheep were wagging their furry flouncy tails and bouncing a little. Akhlísa began to laugh to see the dreamlands leaping mwana lakeakkandoo, and she cried out and chanted – Sister! Give me a lambkin! No, give Puey a lamb, he wants to hold and cuddle one. –
Siêthiyal hopped off of her ostridge, she had the same easy riding gait that her Father had, and bowing to the shepherdess chanted – Is it alright if my Brother just cuddles a lamb for a moment? Have I mentioned he’s quite fain of all living things? –
The shepherdesses were all nodding at once, the younger Sisters all looking to the oldest, and she bowed in acquiescence, for theirs was a smaller clan of the whispering mountains and was few of vassels and were humble even to the great aristocrats such as the Poriêrii and the Qwoâng, but unto the new Pwéru they could deny nothing. Siêthiyal found it harder to boss others around in her Brother’s presence, especially those of her own kind who had never been cruel to her or her Sister or invaded her homeland, perhaps if the Qhíng or Aûm had shepherdesses of their own she would have been less polite and courtesy unto them, but with these maidens she bowed and waited for the older Sister to lead a beautiful blue lambkin upwards unto the ostridge whereupon Puîyus was perched, and blowing her nose fife the lamb became completely still and bowed before the stranger, and the shepherdess picked it up and set it into Puîyus’ arms. Akhlísa moved a little out of Puîyus’ lap so that he could embrace the lamb all the tighter and feel its warmth and goodness and happiness at being a sheep.
– These are some of the most adorable little khneplayiîlii that I have e'er seen! – Siêthiyal chanted. – But when we had our own ancestrial plantation sometimes Puey just used to follow the lambs about in procession and sing out khmàryor khmàryor khmàryor all the while! I remember when Puey was very little and used to wander away from Auntie Qtìmine’s arms, and everyone would go in search of him and start panicking, they thought that he had rolled into the loch again or gone chasing the birds or was trying to fly like the fishes, but then we all heard the khmàryor khmàryor and found him in the fields playing with the lambs. – Siêthiyal had to wipe her eyen a few times, she was getting a little bit more emotional than she had intended. – Even when I was a little a babe and crawling, I remember Puey with the lambkins poking their heads up through his collar and kissing him. –
– Khmàryor khmàryor khmàryor! – sighed the lamb. Puîyus wrapped his arms about it and kissed it a few times.
– The beloved Crown Princess is welcome to keep that lamb as well as all our flock – spake the oldest Sister of the shepherdesses. – As Emperor all things shall be his property of course. –
– Oh, Puey will give it back. We won’t be able to take care of it, he’ll be going back to the war … the little xhnáxei, the domestic plantimal will be happiest with you shepherdesses to care for it. – Siêthiyal looked back and could see that Puîyus was coming to the same conclusion, although he was delighting in tossing the lamb up and catching it and holding it, it would not be right to take it into the fortress, for Puîyus knew not where he would be staying and for how long, the honoraria of battle prohibited him from collected too many pets, and without any ancestrial land left unto him he had no place to send them. But still, it was nice to hold the lamb, if even for a little while.
Siêthiyal picked up a fallen khnasòrsil shepherding crook and leaning upon it chanted – So, damsels, I see that none of you are betrothed yet. Do any of you have sweethearts? None of you? Why that’s quite remarkable if you don’t mind my saying it, I think all of you are quite lovely in form, I love the way your hair just curls like that. Puey! Put the lamb down, have you seen these maidens? Aren’t they just pretty? –
Puîyus kissed the lamb a couple more times and glanced at the maidens but could think of nothing to say. Siêthiyal came forwards and placed her arms about a couple she thought were quite adequate and bringing them up to Puîyus chanted – Did you take a good look at them, the xhelèthyaje theupíya, the shepherdess maids? Puey! Are you even looking! Go ahead, don’t be shy. –
Puîyus nodded and partially hid his face behind the lamb he was hugging. The shepherdesses just looked to each other and giggled. Siêthiyal turned to them and hissed – My Brother and I are still very young, the Elders still consider us children, but I have to think about his future. Eventually I’ll be buying him concubines, I’m just trying to get him to open his eyen and laugh a little. I don’t suppose any of you would want to be a concubine to an Emperor, would you? –
– I would! – chanted one shepherdess.
– I also – chanted another shepherdess.
– Me too! – chanted a third.
– Do we have to give up our task of shepherding? – asked another.
– I don’t think so, I think Puey wouldn’t mind having a nice, large plantation again. You can serve Puey and look at the lambs, that shouldn’t be too difficult. – Siêthiyal pointed to Akhlísa who was busy petting the lamb and playing with its fleece and chanted – That one, my Sister, will be the Senior Concubine and in charge of the Harem, but she has a very kind heart, I wouldn’t worry about her. The Empress will be the ritual Mother of your children, but she’s the sweetest person I know. Anyway, just think about it. A new, beautiful Emperor will need plenty of wives. –
– I like the way the lamb’s tail wriggles! – cried Akhlísa as she petted the cade lamb. – Eiya! Siêthiyal, what are you doing there! Puey, I think she’s trying to find more wives for you. Sister! You’re just going to embarrass him! –
Siêthiyal clasped one shepherdess by the hand and bringing her forwards chanted – We’ll have to go, I suppose. Puey! Look at her, isn’t she pretty! You can give her a large flock and let her tend them, and then you can regale her with tales of all your prowess and fighting the Dragon … – Siêthiyal turned to the shepherdess and chanted – You’ve heard about my Brother and the Dragons, right? –
– Yes, Lady Sister – the shepherdess chanted as she kept her eyen down.
– I like her. One day I may have to talk to your Father and Elders and purchase you for my Brother. Puey, do you like her? It’s okay to look at her. Put the lamb down, please? Please, Puey? –
Puîyus kissed the lambkin and set it down, but he still did not want to look at the shepherdesses. He drew Akhlísa to himself and hugged her as if she were a barrier, and Akhlísa did not mind at all, she was wellaccostomed to her foster Brother’s ptaû, his verecundity.
Siêthiyal let go of the shepherdess and taking the lamb by his bow lead him back to his mistresses and chanted – I thank you very much for permitting us this little conversation. Maybe my Brother will be shy all his life, be that as it may, but I will have to find him more wives. Back to shepherding, fun fun fun fun fun! I remember spending hours looking after our sheep, mostly because it was her job, that one, my baby Sister’s job, but she kept wandering away or falling asleep so I had to take o'er. Lovely days. The plantation we used to have. – Siêthiyal sighed unto herself and remembered these happier days.
– Did she just call me a baby again? – Akhlísa asked. She poked Puîyus upon his golden torq and chanted – I hate it when she calls me baby, Puey, can’t you see that I’m not a baby any longer? –
The winds were rushing in the tneîkhti scoiaz, the branches wavering from side to side, the leaves were long and rushing tendrils that looked like frozen teardrops blent together with lichen and moss. All of the trees themselves were caught up in this moment of mourning, the trees could no longer grow, they could no longer draw up water and nutrients from the once good earth, their leaves were dying one by one, their branches were struggling crackling and sad, and as the weeping tneîkhti were turning opening up their branches beneath the huge and dying Suns alban they could feel that the Emperor was no longer granting them his photonic energy whence all life was sustained. Siêthiyal walked up to her ostridge and hopped right onto it, and the tneîkhti trees were aware of her presence, and their roots were slowly drawing themselves out of the frost loam, the trees were waddling from side to side, their bark sniffling the air, for although beloved Kàrijoi was withdrawn from them they thought that they could detect something else, similar and yet very different, a new wellspring of fountainous light. Siêthiyal was about to urge her ostridge onwards but she could see that the great weeping tneîkhti were drawing themselves out of the ground in greater numbers and were all turning one by one and spreading out their branches all in the direction of Puîyus upon his striding ostridge. Siêthiyal signaled unto Akhlísa to remain still. The weeping willows drew themselves closer and closer to Puîyus and all of the tips of their branches were opening and exhaling some of the sadness which they felt, clouds of bark particles and dead spores were arisen up from them. Akhlísa was squirming in Puîyus’ lap, she was both excited to see the movement of the trees as they swam froward and did honor to her future Husband but also a little nervous. Puîyus was not looking upwards, he felt too tired and sad and felt too strong the melancholy of the trees. Siêthiyal jumped up from her saddle and running up unto Akhlísa yanked her backwards so that none of the whipping branches of the willows would strike her, she knew that the trees did not intend any harm, but she did not wish for her careless Sister xhthùngat to be hurt by an inadvertent vine. The ground was breaking apart before the ostridges, the birds were stepping back a little as large roots came spilling upwards in long splanchnic flows, and upon the frost pastureland the shepherdesses were looking on in shock and were falling upon their knees and their sheep did the same and set their muzzles upon the cold ground. Puîyus could feel the weeping branches touching his face and twining about his ears, one tree strove to hold him for a moment and branches then came in between them and in the growing chasm several smaller willows were arising and were seeking for to touch the lad and feed off of the light pouring out from him, for the trees were hungry again to taste the solar light which once Kàrijoi free and noble and prodigal had gifted unto them but which was now all dried up withered parched dead. Puîyus sniffled a few times. He was dreaming of preparing for battle, of taking up helm and shield, of clasping his buckler and drawing his sword, he thought of endless fields of annihilation, where the enemies would come pouring out from their fortresses and termitaries and living ships as if they were the coming tide, and he alone stood before them, his sword in hand, and waves of foe came and came and crashed against him. In such a battle either he would win glory and song or the sweet comfort of death, he would find himself floating above the fields, his body lying somewhere in the smoldering wrack of armor and stone and sand and shattered brand, no longer would flesh weigh him down, he would be an ærial creature flowing in windtides, his hair free, and raven wings fluttering upon his back. How wonderous it would be to fly. To feel the air beneath oneself, to soar into the winds, to be at peace with the flying porcines and the leaping birds and the fluttering fishes, to sing with the whales in their own deep and kind voice, what bliss that would be to feel for ever and ever. Several more weeping trees were branching about the ostridge Khwixhethateîqa, the ostridge was grown skittish at the movement of the trees but was not sure what to do. The pebbled path broke apart in several more places, in Jaràqtu there were no true roads save for in some of the higher whispering mountains, but generations of wagons and deer and sheep and marching troops had made some winding paths throughout the fields and plantations, and up through a burst of colored stones came several of the Jhkhàlike willows, their boughs swaying from side to side in most lissome grace, and their branches were long and embracing tendrils, and these trees were bursting with huge halos of shedding leaves, coils of reds and golds and silvers tumbling down all about Puîyus and his ostridge mount, and the Jhkhàlike were singing out their own melancholy songs and reaching outwards just to touch the lad who had been hight for them, Puîyus Jhkhalìkekhaun, the one who was breathing out the light that they needed for living. Puîyus shed a few tears, and the trees lapped up the water and let it soak up into their branches and become sap and honey and life, and a new forest was beginning to thrive even in the very center of the pebblestrewn path.
The shepherdesses looked one to another and shook in fear and religious dread, they looked one to another and their lambs were too afraid to bleat. The beautiful boy makes the trees live again, the virgins were whispering. Do you see that? Where the trees were just struggling branches and rotting roots, now a new sacred grove is forming. We must go and tell our Papà of what we have seen. Did the Lady Sister serious when she chanted that the new Emperor will be needing concubines? I can be a concubine. I don’t think that the task is terribly difficult, do you? It would bring honor to our Clan to be allied unto the House of the Pwéru. How is he making the trees grow? Will he make all of Jaràqtu bloom? Our land is dying. I think he’s weeping. Let’s turn away, we must not let him know that we saw a new Emperor cry.
Siêthiyal batted away at the branches and leaves that were growing too thick, for her entire life she had known that wild creatures and plantimals could be a little too enthusiastic with regards to her Brother, sometimes she thought she was the only young person in all the billion, billion worlds who sometimes had to defend her Sibling from rock and flower and joyous tree. Most of the branches were parting when she struck them, but a few of the sprouting jhkhàlike were growing just a little too thick and were lapping up the salt tears that fell off of Puîyus’ face. Siêthiyal knew that if she did nothing, Puîyus may well remain here in his melancholy with the trees for all the rest of his life. She drew their Father’s sword and swung it around, and the trees began to part, the Sepùrke hissed, only its hilt was solidic, the brand itself was made up out of soundwaves that rustled and sang with the call of the clàrsach, and the trees began to part a little before the growing music. A few branches were lingering about Puîyus’ face, they were more eager to feed off of his sorrow than to fear the sword reaching out for them. Siêthiyal hacked away at the branches, and the trees all hissed and turned and glared at Siêthiyal. Siêthiyal stuck out her tounge at the trees, and the upper leaves burst out into flames.
– Learn to do homage to Emperor Puîyos from afar – Siêthiyal chanted. – An Emperor is untouched by his people and his trees. Qtheqwì! Timpè! Fhefhulòn! Lwiê! Jhetlhefhì! Khmimefhù! Obey! –
The trees all turned at once and bowing began to withdraw from Puîyus. Words for obedience, jhpèqri, qèkhat, thàngqi, jhetlhefhíxei, khlòpet, ojúru, are among some of the most important of language, and children tend to learn those among the first words they hear from their Mothers, along with sleep and milk and hold there is obey. And Siêthiyal was using the sùnta the abrupt forms of the participles with the grave accent on the last vowel save for the diphthong, and such an inflexion was suitable only for emergencies and strict commands and when talking to little children. The trees had no choice but to obey, and they could hear although they were earless, the word of the Pwéru.
Akhlísa was leaning behind Puîyus all the while, but now that the branches were no longer twisting about him, she pulled herself upwards and sate in his lap and hugged him and asked him – Are you okay, Puey? Do you want to go back? Sister, I think we should go back so Puey can rest. –
Siêthiyal looked around and saw that the shepherdesses were fleeing, the sheep scattered all about them and slowly making their way back up the fields. She was wondering what the shepherdesses would tell their Father and what the Elders would say, already more stories were being told about Puîyus than anyone could record in a lifetime. She turned back and was glad that Akhlísa was comforting him, she would be a good companion and concubine.
– Puey if you want to go back home just say so – Akhlísa chanted. – We can ride any time. –
Puîyus looked down and was silent for some time. At last a little flicker of light danced upon his long eyelashes and looking up he gave her a look that portended, Where is home?
– I am your home – chanted Akhlísa. – I always have been, even when we were very little. –
Puîyus fell silent again. At last, in glances, in shy blinks, in the turn of his head he told her, In the battles before the clockwork cities I tried to save living ships filled with refugees. Some living ships I could guide unto safety. Many fell. All the heavens were fire. I think I only saved about a third, and of those few I have seen struggling reach unto Jaràqtu. I cannot save them.
– To save a single life changes all the billion, billion worlds – chanted Akhlísa. – Think of how many you have saved. –
When Éfhelìnye was sick in the rainbow vessel, there was nothing I could do. She almost died. Winter was poisoning her. Beloved Kàrijoi was following us all the while.
– His reign will end, Puey. I remember when I was very little and Grandfather Pátifhar was teaching us history stories and he told us that honored Kàrijoi had reigned for almost an hundred million years and I thought that was for ever and that the Emperors of old like Qthùpan and Eilasaîyan were Kàrijoi but with different names. But no, they were Emperors for a time, and they set with their Suns and a new Sun arose. You will be that Sun for us. –
I do not wish to be Emperor.
– If you want to be betrothed and married to Éfhelìnye, you must be Emperor. Anyway, it’s the only way to end the War of Heaven. –
I cannot be Emperor.
– Oh Puey. –
Siêthiyal rode up towards Puîyus and Akhlísa and took the reins from their ostridge and began leading it forwards. – Does he want to return to the fortress? – Siêthiyal asked.
– I don’t think so – chanted Akhlísa. She looked up, the clouds were silver and darkening. Black flashes were appearing upon the distal mountain peaks. – We can’t stay too much longer. – – The snow comes. It always does, this day at least – Siêthiyal chanted. She looked around. The air was grown still and crispy, every sniff that she took warned her of more snow coming, and yet it was become such a familiar feeling, the quotidian fall of snow whether in Jaràqtu’s plantations or here in the whispering mountains or within the vast armāta and skyfleets of the Triple Alliance, that it almost was a feeling unremarkable, it was just the coming of Qhixiêje Winter Eternal the Ritual Mourning for Empress Khnoqwísi who was lost unto all men. Akhlísa was leaning o'er and hugging Puîyus’ neck all the tighter, and at least he responded by wrapping his arms about her and cuddling her as he would a wild creature, and Akhlísa held him back for he was her little lost lamb finally returned unto her.
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