– We need to tell you the tidings, Puey – Siêthiyal chanted. – I wanted to tell you away from the Princess and the Warriors and Priests. It is family business. You must hear it. –
Puîyus nodded. Akhlísa kissed his face a few times. At least Puîyus knew that he would not be greated with the shock of already finding himself married to someone without his knowledge, whatever else Siêthiyal and Akhlísa had to tell him, at least it would not strike him in that way. Siêthiyal was leading Puîyus’ ostridge by its Geschirr, its wings were fluttering a little, it was leaping up and honking as it ran from side to side. Puîyus just closed his eyen and tried to think of nothing else but Akhlísa’s arms and warmth, he tried to drown away the sound of the trees behind him, for as he left them the branches were beginning to freeze, and the leaves were become branch, and all of the tneîkhti and the jhkhàlike were struggling to remain upright and upon the verge of life now that their Sun was departing from them, the trees become thrawn and grotesque gargoyle figures set within the ice path, their branches flowing upwards and pleading for Puîyus to return. He tried to forget the refugee living ships exploding in the fire clouds of battle, he tried to forget the wailing of dying forests and the thunder of fields as the troops came pouring right out upon them, he tried to forget men lifting up their hands and crying out Kàrijoi’s name as they stumbled and were crushed by their marching brethren. Above all he was trying to forget the Dragons twisting behind the Emperor’s Crystalline Throne, and the gnarled and horrible tree of knives and swords arisen, and Puîyus walking upwards before the Emperor, every step was a shame, and Puîyus lifted up his hands and asked the Emperor that he receive the Starflower Princess as his bride for ever. And from the challenge all the War was begun.
– This may be a good place – Siêthiyal chanted as she lead the ostridges up through the dying groves and unto where the hills were spreading out unto a series of sepulchral grottos. Large and worn stones lay about the mouths of the caves and pouring down the side of the whispering mountains were cascades of water and ice, once these had been beautiful waterfalls but the weather was so interrupted that water no longer fell in its proper place and time, and sometimes the water just became icicle fangs branching downwards and jabbed into the living stone. Puîyus looked upwards and seeing the huge slabs of stone partially weathered by ice and weeping water falling about them, he was reminded of the destroyed kachina statues of their ancestors and also of the tyaôxhyang moai statues petrescent in the image of Kàrijoi’s face, and it was as if the Emperor were gazing right back at him, and all of the caverns were opening upwards and preparing for the earth to swallow him whole. Perhaps it would be best this way. Several stray snowflakes were descending, he saw some of the snow fall upon Akhlísa’s head but she did not notice, she was too busy hugging Puîyus and trying to give him her warmth. Puîyus flicked the snow away from her. He wished for her at least to remain untouched by Winter, even if he could save no one else.
Siêthiyal drew their ostridges to an halt. She brushed her mounts’ head upwards otlhexhnáxei and let it graze upon what grasses sickly blue and green it could find among the frost. Siêthiyal looked to Akhlísa and then to Puîyus. A few long and obnubilating shadows were trickling before the face of the large white and dying Suns so that shafts of light interrupted the coming snowfall, and sometimes Puîyus lay in shadow and other times his Concubine and sometimes his Sister.
– Puîyos Son of Íngìkhmar, I need your attention. – Puîyus looked up at once. He had never heard his Sister by blood use his formal name, it was a name which only those outside the family used. His heart grew cold. He turned around. He saw reeds struggling within the ice and gathering frost. He was reminded of Fhermáta’s Wraith when she had come to him in the crashing waves and the tumbling creag, she removed the roseate betrothal ring from her finger and set it in Puîyus’ hand and broke his heart that moment, and Puîyus came unto the edge of the Sea of the Dead and ripped off the runes and regalia of the Sweqhàngqu and threw them untowards his Mother’s Shade and wished no longer to be Sweqhàngqu. Puîyus’ heart was skipping a beat now. Aweful tidings were come. – Thou art no longer Puîyos the Son of Íngìkhmar – chanted Siêthiyal. – Thou art Crown Prince Puîyus the Son of Kàrijoi of the Solar Clan of Pwéru. I am Siêthiyal, Kàrijoi’s Daughter, of the Clan Pwéru. She is Karuláta Khniêma Akhlísa, the Senior Concubine of Crown Prince Puîyus, and she is also Pwéru now. All of us are Pwéru, we three. The Sweqhàngqu who were our birth clan are no more, that Clan is dead. Just as Kàrula was born of Kàlewa and Khmaryáta and taken up into Khwofheîlya’s arms and fostered into a new Clan, so too we three will never be Sweqhàngqu again, we shall be Pwéru until the end of our days. –
Puîyus nodded. He was so thunderstrook that he could no longer feel any emotion. All he could do was listen to the frost and the creep of snow and the struggle of dying grasses and trees.
– We had to do it – Akhlísa whispered. – We had to save you and the Princess. –
– In order to defeat Kàrijoi honored Íngìkhmar and Grandfather Pátifhar needed an alliance of the most powerful peoples who were surviving the War – Siêthiyal chanted. – Puey, you’ve been away for quite sometime, you don’t know what it was like when I smuggled you and the Princess from this world. Yes, you killed the Suzerain, and for that you would rightly be remembered in Song until the end of time. Yes, the Qhíng began their long retreat, a million living ships slowly turning around. But that was not ending the defeat of our people. Puîyos, look at me. We were losing the war. Khlís and I were but children, the Elders won’t tell us what is happening, but we have eyen and ears, we could see fortresses exploding on the whispering mountains, we saw the raiders come to our coasts, we saw that each war rede was lesser than the one before. It was out of despiration that we sent you and the Princess away, we knew that if anyone coud touch Kàrijoi’s heart it would be you twain. But that does not change the simple fact that all this hour Jaràqtu and all the North and all of the Real People have been sliding towards extinction. The allies had to be united under a single banner and with a single sword, and Íngìkhmar and Grandfather Pátifhar did so, but they had to kill our family name. –
Puîyus noticed that Siêthiyal was no longer calling their Father Abbá, but he knew she was about to explain why. The ostridges continued to graze upon the grasses and they found nuts and old rinds and fruit rotten upon the ground and were eating the effluvium of a dead land. Siêthiyal clasped her hands together and chanted – After you and the Princess left, Grandfather Pátifhar summoned his allies among the Kháfha, and Íngìkhmar contacted the Duchesses who were still in our land, and the Aûm and the Kháfha jointed together and pledged to do anything to save their children. They summoned dreadnaughts and warships and skiffs and huge glass and hot air balloons, they formed fleets just at the edge of the Northwind and we all set sail unto the continent of Khatlhàntikh and unto where Kàrijoi holds his court. While we were sailing the West suffered a terrible accident, when the Emperor commanded the Qhíng to hand o'er their children, it is chanted that the Qhíng refused, and that a couple of alien children fled the capitol city even as it crashed into the waves. You can tell me what happened to Khmàrsitel later, but I have heard enough rumors of an hyper Pirate Suzerain and his two children companions to guess that you and the Princess had something to do with it. Eventually the Qhíng made their way into the fleet of the alliance, and princes and soldiers of the other principalities. And so with this grand fleet floating up unto the Ice Palace, all the worlds were holding their breath while you and the Princess came descending from the candy cane forests and stood before the Emperor. We thought you were going to commit ritual suicide, or that you would challenge the Emperor to a duel, but you did something which none of us expected, you asked to take Kàrijoi’s place and marry his daughter! And so you set in motion the founding of our new Dynasty. –
Puîyus looked up, a little color was returning to his face, and in soft squeaks and purrs he told the maidens of the Pwéru, One had no intention of contesting or challenging honored Kàrijoi in anything at all, one can only respect and love the Dragon Emperor Sómpanaswaqíren, Fhìtsarakh’s Son.
– Whether or not you intended to bring war against the Emperor, the fact is, Puey, that you changed history for all time – Siêthiyal chanted. – Kàrijoi cannot ignore someone whom the people believe is the new Crown Prince, nor can his Dragons and Dæmons and Monsters. You became his Son and Heir at that moment before the gathered witnesses of the Qhíng and Kháfha and Aûm and Ancestors themselves. I remember when we had to fleet the Ice Palace because of the lightning and fire and the gathering blizzard, we were all afraid but we were not terrified, a new glimmer of hope we now had. Íngìkhmar and the Duchesses spirited you and the Princess away, we had to remove you at once lest Kàrijoi murdher you, and then the fleet arose and struggled outwards in an attempt to divert the Emperor from you. It was a masterstroke, my Puey, when you asked to be betrothed and married to the Princess, it assured both continuence of the old line and the legitimacy of it, but also the dominance of a new world order. Kàrijoi will fall, but a new Emperor and Empress will take his place, and all will be as it was before. –
One is still confused, why is our Clan dead?
– We are Pwéru, our Clan thrives because of you. It is the Sweqhàngqu who are dead – Siêthiyal chanted. – The fleet sailed away to save you. The Elders were preparing how to make you twain, you and the Princess that is, the Emperor and Empress of tomorrow, it’s a little tricky since Kàrijoi is still alive and wielding all the authority, but he’s broken his staff whereon lay the runes to govern all the worlds, and so he must fail at some time. But as we all traveled outwards, the alliance was wavering. Old factions reappeared, the ancient blood fued between the Qhíng and the Aûm was threatening to tear apart the Xìngqo’ Oantheyùlkha, just as it had torn apart the Winter Patriarchy, and the Khlitsaîyart wanted more power and all of these squabbling adults were just acting so childish. I don’t know all the details, but negotiations khwìyot, for the contract of betrothal and marriage were breaking down. The priests had us dream dragon dreams of psalms, and we caught glimpses of a labyrinth and a tower under siege. But even that was not enough to save us all. And so the fleet was about to break apart, and the Emperor would divide us up and devour us into our winter. But then someone came, a little child, and saved us all. –
– ?? – Puîyus wondered.
– I, silly! – Akhlísa giggled and she kissed Puîyus’ face a few more times.
– ?? –
– I remember did that I was intended to be married to you as a junior wife and I told Abbá about it and remembered him too and he chanted that I was very good and grown up about it and he made me the queen and gave me lots of candy and I missed you so much. –
– What Kàrula’s trying to say is that she volunteered to marry you early so that the masters of the alliance could have some members of the new Royal Family to keep and teach and preserve and mold in their own image. You and the Princess were far away, but the Caste Elders and Senior Monks and Duchesses needed some of the Pwéru now, they are grown sad and desparate without children of their own. And so a new contract was drawn up and signed in blood. –
Puîyus gulped. – Mew? –
– In the contract the Sweqhàngqu are dead. We are not part of that Clan. We are Pwéru now. The Vestal Virgins are probably weaving some regalia for you to start wearing. Did you see the flag of the Pwéru hanging in the fortresses? No longer shall we see the sword of the Sweqhàngqu, but the Sun and Moon entwined. He who was our Abbá had to give up all is paternal rights unto us, he is now the last of the Sweqhàngqu, his Clan nameless and heirless and dissolved. His only task now remains to protect the future Empress and … and to kill the old Emperor. –
Puîyus but wondered.
Siêthiyal struggled for words and began – You must understand … only Íngìkhmar is strong enough to kill the Qwóje, the Setting Sun … but to lift up one’s sword against the Emperor is death for one and one’s own Clan. So Íngìkhmar had to abandon us to save us. And then once Kàrijoi is dead … Abbá will … he just has to … – Siêthiyal’s words just trailed away, she could not finish her sentence. She made a vague motion of stabbing her stomache. – It’s the only way to save us. –
Puîyus understood that his birth Father intended the right of xiejùrthe disemboweling himself to atone for his sin of fighting the Emperor, and he clenched his fist and murmured unto himself, I shall not permit this to happen. Father does not need to die for our family.
– He is no longer our Father, Kàrijoi is our legal Father now – chanted Siêthiyal. – The alliance took Kàrula and adorned her and prepared her as a bride and she recited her vows, it was quite beautiful and moving, and she promised herself to you. The Kháfha examined her and found that she will be fertile when she grows older. She will provide a line to be reared up in the ways of Jaràqtu. The Elders of our People are appeased, and our alien allies were pleased.
One prefers fighting to negotiation, Puîyus was nodding and blinking. The only form of negotiation one prefers is that of complete and unconditional surrender.
– Be that as it may, we did the best we could without you and the Princess. Perhaps the alliance would have been far different if you had been present. Perhaps everything would have been better if Kàrijoi were not going insane, and we would all still be dwelling on our plantation in peace. Who can say? When Karuláta was reciting her vows Dragons came swooping down from the heavens and attacked the fleet, and the battle was terrible. I did my best to defend her, but the Dragon caught her up and was about to smite her, but it grew afraid and retreated, the Dragons soaring upwards and fluttering away. This strengthened the alliance all the more, to see the Dragon fleeing from the new Emperor’s Concubine. –
– I was very scared of the Dragon – Akhlísa chanted as she rested her head upon Puîyus’ shoulder. – But you fought it, you stuck your sword right through its eye and caused half of its skull to explode. That’s gross and fun at the same time. –
– And so the alliance was ready for War against Kàrijoi – Siêthiyal said. – Grandfather Pátifhar took the Kháfha and sailed in one direction, and Khiêro took the Khlitsaîyart, and Íngìkhmar took the Qhíng. We had to give Kàrula to the Duchesses, and I stayed with her. The Duchesses were mad and horrible. –
– I feel sorry for them – Akhlísa chanted. – I think the Emperor has poisoned their thoughts. –
– I hope they’re dead – chanted Siêthiyal.
– Mew? – Puîyus wondered, as he thought about the aid which the Duchesses had rendered unto their people and how they had smuggled him and the Princess before the Emperor’s grasping winter reach, but now his heart was misgiving him to think of his Sisters in the clutch of Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa.
– We can talk about them later – chanted Siêthiyal. – Needless to say, with the Duchesses gone, the Aûm have become far more domestic and pacified, and will with humble heart take orders from you. The tribulation aids us in defeating Kàrijoi. –
Puîyus looked at Akhlísa face and turned it and asked, Did they hurt you?
– No – chanted Akhlísa. – They were just creepy. –
– And they tried to destroy the entire fleet with us in it – chanted Siêthiyal. – Puey, they did not strike us, they barely even touched us. We’ll talk about them later. I just wanted you to hear from me that we are no longer Sweqhàngqu, we are Pwéru now. –
But we have the same Ancestors we used to, Puîyus told his Sister in blinks and nods.
– Yes, indeed … I am not considering all of the implications … I suppose the children you beget on Éfhelìnye will have two sets of Ancestors, it may be confusing for them. But we do not need to worry about that. –
– I’m pure blooded Jaràqtun – Akhlísa chanted. – The children you have by me will have the same old crazy fun Ancestors! – She rubbed her face against Puîyus’ and chanted – Can’t you just imagine how our children will look, they’ll all be so strong and beautiful and probably look a lot like us, I’ve noticed there tends to be a bit of a similarity running through the family. We have similar noses, don’t you think, Puey? –
I don’t think the Ancestors are very pleased with me, Puîyus was wondering unto himself.
– Oh don’t worry about them! – Akhlísa chanted. – They can’t fret for all eternity, the Ancestors are all just nervous because of the Emperor. I wouldn’t be too concerned, sleep losing about them. They’re just being stubborn that’s all. –
Puîyus sniffed the air. The snow was beginning to fall all the thicker. He wiped some of it away from Akhlísa’s face. Siêthiyal poked the ostridges and stopped them from grazing for rotten fruit, and taking up the reins began leading them away. Puîyus mewed and sighed a few times to ask, I do not think that the Princess will approve of my having another wife.
Siêthiyal was leading the ostridges towards a cave. The snow was falling all the thicker and obscuring the bits of dead grass and leaves, a long and stilling white blanket forming. – Éfhelìnye will have to learn to start acting in a mature manner. Éfha knew that Karuláta was promised to you since the time of her birth, or if she did not know we didn’t keep it away from her. Her love for both of you will have to overcome any jealousy she may be feeling. Let’s go in here. No, not this cave, it smells of old leaves. We’ll try the next one. –
– I have to serve Éfhelìnye also – Akhlísa chanted. – She will be my Oldest Sister. She gets a rather nice deal I think, plus I get another person to take care of me. –
Siêthiyal lead them into another cave, it was gaping open large and bright, for the walls were of dancing quartz and the glistening of glass and crystal. Siêthiyal hopped off her ostridge after she lead Puîyus and Akhlísa within, and she gathered up some dead crystalline timber and was preparing to make a small fire. Puîyus remained upon Khwixhethateîqa windstrident until Akhlísa nudged him a few times, and he helped her down and set her close to the wood, and Siêthiyal struggled with the tinder for just a moment until fire sprang upwards. – Here, Puey sit down. Khlís, go and fetch more wood. –
– I’m thinking of taking a break from orders today – Akhlísa chanted.
– Go! –
– I’m going! – Akhlísa ran outwards and disappeared into the crystal light and shadow of the antre and dancing about began to gather up twigs and bits of nests and moss and funny scurrying rocks and sea shells and some sand and a bit of flotsom about the right shape for scratching one’s back and some old arrow heads and a leaf and an hair and some snow.
– Puey, don’t think that you’re the first warrior to return home with a slight infatuation for a foreign bride – Siêthiyal chanted. – I don’t think you’ll be the last either. You’ve dwelt among the aliens and battle for so long, and the golden roots of Jaràqtu are fading from your imagination. I think many warriors feel the same way, especially if they’re carrying on their shoulder a bounty bride, someone exotic and different. Éfhelìnye is very beautiful and very different indeed. But you’re home now. Everything will start to feel normal and happy once again. –
– Look at all these colored leaves I’ve found! – cried Akhlísa as she ran to the weak fire and dumped leaves upon it. She picked up some multicolored snow and flung it on the flames, and the fires were doused. – I kill did it! –
Siêthiyal gathered up her tinder and went back to work – Just get more wood. –
– Are you angry with me? –
– No. On the contrary. For once, you’re not starting a fire in the house. –
– I’m going! Bye bye! Love you! Love you all! Kisses! – Akhlísa laughed and ran back into the quartz cave.
– I think that when Íngìkhmar was returning from the battles before the Great War he probably felt the way you do now – Siêthiyal chanted. – His thoughts were probably filled with all of the strange and beautiful Princesses he had met in the cold Khniîkha dreamlands, he had seen monsters in the Sunset and fought battles which the warriors here could not understand, for they were not the Empress’ knights. And yet he found happiness with Khwofheîlya. And you will be happy in Jaràqtu, once again. –
Puîyus just shook his head, for he was not sure whether he would e'er feel joy again. Wind tasted different unto him, air and cloud and sky were not as sweet, somehow the whispering mountains and plateaus and dreamlands were all transformed in a way he could not quite define, he saw the ruins that lay wasting throughout the coastland, the physical change he understood, but something else was different, it was as if Jaràqtu were just lessening about him, and there was nothing he could e'er do. Why did Fhermáta have to die? Why did Winter have to come upon the land so early and so deep and so cold? Was there anything he could have done to have saved her life? He slew two dragons, he plucked burning living ships out of the heavens, he turned aside the dragon fleet, and yet he could not think of anything he could have done for her. He thought about when his Mother had died, when he was very little, when she lay upon her bed all of glistening white. He thought of the Ancestors flickering in their halflands of grey, the shade of Tàltiin and Jàkopar, of Khangisqrírles tilling in the fungal fields, and the long and storming ocean of the Dead across which his Mother waited wroth for him.
I can never feel joy if the Ancestors hate me. I can never lift up mine eyen to the heavens if my Mother’s Wraith remains displeased with me. I can never eat bread again and break my fast until I know that Fhermáta has forgiven me.
Siêthiyal took Puîyus’ hand and squeezed it. – All of this shall pass. One way or another, the War cannot last for all time, with the dissolution of principalities and resources and time itself, it may be ending sooner than we would like. – She was unbuttoning his sleeve and pulling back some of his shirt to see what she had expected, that among the older marks she could see some fresh ritual khmàtlhokin scars brought about by blood ablutions. – I think you’ve been bleeding yourself too much for the Ancestors – Siêthiyal chanted.
One can never give the Ancestors too much of one’s heart’s blood.
– Perchance, but I am a maiden of the Pwéru, I can cut myself if the need be and bleed for this family. You’ve bled far too much. Let’s button this up before Kàrula comes back. –
I do not wish to be the Emperor.
– It doesn’t matter, the marriages are arranged, and you will be Emperor. None of us has a choice in these matters. The Elders decide, you reign, we obey. This will be the new order of things. You will feel joy again, Puey, I promise. This may not be the Jaràqtu that any of us remember before the Qhíng came to devastate the land, it is qhiJaràqtu qhiyíxoi, the Jaràqtu of Farewell. All things pass. Something new is coming. –
Akhlísa came runnig upwards but in her arms rather than carrying crystalline timber, she was bringing as many reeds as she could find, some of the reeds were broken and frayed, many of them were dripping with frost, they were red and blue and green, and sliding right up to the small fire she tossed the reeds into it in ones and twos and threes, and the fires arose and became living petals all of red and orange, greater and hotter than it had been before. She did not toss all of the snowclad reeds into the flames, she kept some of them to make into a nesh festoon for herself and set it upon the veil on top of her head, and as she woven together a few more reeds into a garland she chanted – The röhr are a symbol of marriage, aren’t they, Puey. Actually, I think they’re the very most oldest of them all, because at the very beginning of everything the first Husband Emperor and the first Wife Empress were married beneath the Tree in Xhámiwiil the place of reeds, and they wove for each other little crowns just like this, neh? I think Grandfather Pátifhar was telling me something about nuptial rings but I’ve forgotten it. – She played with her ring a little and turned it around and a few times and chanted – Maybe the very first wedding rings were made out of little reeds all twisted and braided together. It would have been scratchy and tickly I’m sure, but I guess it was before metalcraft had been invented. – She fingerfashioned the crown of reeds and set it upon Puîyus brow and adjusted it a few times, and the dead seeds and pods were drifting outwards in a long and flowing bands. Akhlísa set herself down next to Puîyus and lay her head next to him. Outside the snow was falling all the harder, the bushes and leaves were beginning to be weighed down, the dying forest was gnarled and old and still, and several large almost elephantine branches broke down and fell upon the sward, and their cascading sounded a little like the sad music of the whales. The fire crackled for a little time. Akhlísa played with the reeds and fashioned a little reed family in her hands, father and mother and little baby reeds and she let them dance about each other until she grew bored with them and tossed them all into the fires. At long last, and after much thinking, Puîyus looked up and saw the fire for the first time and felt the warmth of it. He wondered how the lambkins outside were fairing and whether Púpo the owl were still alive and whatever had happened unto all of the kittens he used to have, and he hoped that Éfhelìnye were warm and happy back in the daurun. And at last he had something to mew.
One would like to visit Fhermáta’s grave.
Siêthiyal and Akhlísa looked to each other. Siêthiyal rubbed her hands by the fire and chanted – Her grave is in a not very good state right now. We shall wait to visit it, and only when you are a little happier and in your former humors. Fhermáta can wait.
Puîyus bowed his head. He hoped that what he had seen in the Dragon’s eyen had been a true apparition, and that indeed in petals and winds, that Fhermáta did not hate him, and that all of the family were not left in vain.
Puîyus took a nap before the crackling flames, both Siêthiyal and Akhlísa were thinking that would be the best thing to do with him at the moment, at least he could feel warm and safe in their presence. The snow continued to fall for a couple of hours. Siêthiyal fiddled with a broken toy that she kept in her pocket, it was a little model dragonfly which she had never quite been able to make function. Akhlísa slept on top of Puîyus but not for too long, for she wanted to explore inside the cavern and play about the quartz and fiddle in the crystallight. Puîyus did not sleep too long, nor did he experience any dreams, just a vast and deep heavy darkness pressing down upon him, and huge shadows which could have been whales or the Ocean of the Dead or Emperor Kàrijoi with his Dragons, he could not possibly guess, it was just a great and terrible tèfha qlaêkh, a wanhope beyond all language itself. But when he arose the amorphous dream was fading away also. The snowfall was passing. Siêthiyal was tending to the ostridges and preparing them. Akhlísa was running about in little circles and was sometimes in the antre and sometimes dashing out unto the snows and trying to catch snowflakes upon the tip of her tounge and crunch them in loud and delicious bites.
– Yummy yummy yummy tìlqo qùqte utéti yum! – danced Akhlísa in her narrowing orbits. Siêthiyal walked the ostridges outwards and motioned for her Sister to hop onto one of the mounts.
– We’ve been gone long enough – Siêthiyal chanted. – We don’t want the Priests and Elders to worry unduly about us all, we who are the Children of the Pwéru. –
Puîyus picked up Akhlísa and set her on an ostridge as she chanted – I still can’t get used to the sound of it, Pwéru so we’re all Pwéru it just sounds weird that’s a clan of princes and princesses who are all beautiful and perfect and divine and that’s the complete opposite of me in every way. I’m a bit of an anti-Princess, stélaraxúnging, if one can say such a thing, I’m just un-Pwéru Pwérùyaxúng if one can keep using that little negative affix so many times. What do you think, Puey Pew Pew Pew? –
Puîyus picked up Siêthiyal and licked the air. He turned around, and the still falling snowflakes were turning in their hexagonal and heptagonal patterns, all of time pausing as he considered. The huge iron whispering mountains were fading away, as well as all of the hanging pasturelands and winding pathways, the obelisks and menhirs that were dotted up here in these high regions, he let it all fade away, the land and sky breaking apart, as if they were particles of papyrus drifting in the air. All at once he could see the long and winding coastline that lay just a few leagues away from these whispering mountains, and sparkling before him were huge vessels glistening with mollusk shells and long wavering tentacles feeling from side to side. Lances of light were appearing, the firstfruits of sky bombs blossoming up from one tower unto the next. Suddenly a rush of sound and sensation came unto Puîyus, he almost felt as if he himself were upon one of the failing vessels, and glowing orbs of heat were buckling beneath him, and that he were the one clasping impaling spear and snatching up sword from a fallen brother. A fleet he could feel was struggling within the fjords of Jaràqtu, a few living ships were already crashing one against the other, some of the vessels were barely managing to scrape against the long sand shores, while other living ships were bursting against the iron whispering mountains while other living ships fire one upon the other. He heard the cries of Khlitsaîyart and Xhmaûmumum and Kurkuîlo among others, he realized that these groups of refugees had no idea that they had been brought together in the same alliance. Bursting upwards behind the Kurkuîlo vessels were long and winding shadowships fashioned all of fins and slashing claws, and various Xaxhestàriqhe were looming up upon the decks and blasting against the Kurkuîlo who had been their foes a thousand generations ago.
Puîyus hopped upon Khwixhethateîqa and took up his arms, twin swords green and of glass he drew out. One must leave to save them, he told his Sisters in a language only they could understand. All must be invited unto Jaràqtu.
– Be safe – chanted Siêthiyal.
– Bring me a present – chanted Akhlísa.
– I’ll tell the Princess. –
– Have we told him about your mutant sweetheart yet? –
– Mew? – Puîyus asked.
– She’s just being her silly self, isn’t she? –
– No. –
– Do you want a pounding? – Siêthiyal hissed.
– Do you want a mutated sweetheart? – Akhlísa laughed.
Puîyus caused Khwixhethateîqa to whicker and jump up higher and spin around in a flourish, and as he bowed unto his Sisters and prepared himself for battle, his thoughts were turned unto acerb longing, for he wished that his Father Íngìkhmar were here for to guide him, even if he were no longer his Father in accordance with the rituals of the Land. He had no desire to think about marriage and household, those were for the Wise and the Elders. He just nodded and turned and rode off into battle, and behind him Siêthiyal and Akhlísa made themselves comfortable upon their yathayatha·u, and turned back and began to ride back up the pathways of the iron mounts.
Neither Siêthiyal nor Akhlísa had a very good view of the battle being fought several leagues away, it was really more a skirmish as far as they could tell, the living ships that were come struggling out of the blasts of the Northwind were crashing against each other, and the peoples were firing and trying to prevent the others from making a safe harbor upon the shores. Siêthiyal urged the ostridge on all the faster, for these was nothing really to see from their high ærial coiling mounts, and moreover she wanted to get Akhlísa back into the harem and before some roaring fires. The skies were darkening a little, and as the fortress appeared before them, bright and gnobbed and gnarled, a strange confluence of circles and sword and triangular patterns branching upwards almost like a crown of horns, they could see that floating up from some of the tall towers were the warships of the Qhíng and the Aûm, their fleets mixed up and blent among the three peoples, and they were making their slow way unto the coast to rescue all whom they could find. Siêthiyal came dashing right through the courtyard, the marble and mosaics were completely covered in frost and the movement of men so that one could not see the ancient standarts and crests of the clans which had once dwelt up here. She came up unto the stables and sweeping downwards danced right upon the ground and began helping her Sister down. Pouring out from the stables were stariz warriors upon giraffe and ostridge and not a few dinosaurs leaping upwards. Siêthiyal grabbed Akhlísa by the hand and lead her right up unto the northron courtyard where the ancient gargoyles and mummies of armor were giving way to frozen gardens, and as they approached the steps they saw that waiting at the top of them was standing Princess Éfhelìnye, shivering all the while, and quilt wrapped about her, and in one hand a painted lanthorn blazing. Ixhúja stood behind her, she was leaning on her sword, a living and tutelary statue she was guarding her cousin.
– Sweetheart, tell me you’re not waiting for Puey – chanted Siêthiyal.
– I’m waiting for Puey – chanted Éfhelìnye, her teeth chattering a little. – I can wait a thousand years if I must. –
– You mustn’t. Come along. All of you, Khlís, Martian Girl, we’re going inside and beside a roaring fireplace. – Siêthiyal took Éfhelìnye’s hand but the Princess resisted her. – I’d rather wait for Puey. –
– He’d rather you not freeze to your death – Siêthiyal chanted. – Ixhúja, do we need to carry her inside? I don’t know how long this battle will last. –
Ixhúja hung her head down in sadness. It sounds like quite a glorious battle. She sniffled a little to think that she was missing it. And Puîyus was having all the fun. Just Puîyus. Alone. Untwinned in the battle.
– And how tragic it is that Ixhúja has to stay here and guard you when she could be enjoying herself in battle – Siêthiyal chanted as she tugged on Éfhelìnye’s hand. – To quaad the Princess won’t go inside, and then Karuláta and I could take care of her, and Ixhúja could go out and have fun … –
– It’s cold! I’m going inside! – cried Akhlísa rubbing her hands.
Sounds like a fun battle, Ixhúja sighed.
– Do you think Puey will be gone long? – asked Éfhelìnye.
– I don’t know – chanted Siêthiyal. – Too bad there’s no strong and capable warrior in our family who could ride out right now and protect him. Too bad there’s not a single brave fearless warrior who’s not busy guarding her cousin but instead could be looking after Puey while living ships are exploding about him and the earth gaping upwards, and probably at this moment someone is thrusting a sword right through his shoulder … –
– We can’t let that happen! – gasped Éfhelìnye.
– Without some loyal Khnìnthan Princess out there, he’s probably going to end up in a ditch, right now, at this very moment – Siêthiyal shook her head. – There, I chanted. Puey is probably dead right now. Dead dead dead dead dead. –
– No! –
– But Ixhúja has to stay here and guard you on these steps … as you wait … in the cold … have I mentioned Puey’s in a ditch right now? –
Éfhelìnye gasped and turning to Ixhúja chanted – I can’t wait here in the snow! I’m going after him! –
– Ur … wrong conclusion, Sister by marriage – chanted Siêthiyal.
Akhlísa poked her head out the door and chanted – It’s really warm inside and I’m giving you warning that I’m drinking all your hot chocolate. By drinking I mean I’ve already drunk it all. Fair warning. That is all. – She slammed the door behind her.
Éfhelìnye rubbed her hands together and breathed her frost breath upon her fingers and chanted – I’m marching off to save Puey. Ixhúja, if you could wrap some more cloth about my belly lest my stitches open, than I can go and save my Puey and … I’ve got to do something. –
– Or, and this is another idea, how about you go inside where it’s warm with me and Kàrula, and we’ll tell you all about the ride, and while you’re safe and warm and mourning the hot chocolate you would have had, Ixhúja can go and out and fight. –
That is a good plan, Ixhúja nodded.
– I think Puey may need me – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– Princess? You can barely stand. You’re going inside. We’ll send Ixhúja. –
Still a good plan, Ixhúja nodded.
– While you were out, Karuláta didn’t kiss Puey, did she? –
– Just a few times. We can go inside and discuss it. –
– I’ll consider it … – Éfhelìnye muttered.
Akhlísa flung the door open and cried – The fire’s really hot right now! Oh and someone came and ate up all the cookies meant for us, but this time it wasn’t completely my fault I think the Triîm are just gobbling whatever they can find I only ate about thirty or forty cookies so there’s none left for you sorry bye bye bye love and kisses to you all! – Akhlísa ran out and left the door open.
– Ixhúja, if you want to help Puey in the battle … – Éfhelìnye began.
Ixhúja howled with glee, and drew out her sword of violet and her sword of white, and screaming a few times she came rolling down the steps in perfect sommersaults, and she ran right up to the warriors garbing themselves for battle and clammering up their giraffes, and she punched several of the grown warriors in their faces and scattered them about, and leaping upon the nearest giraffe she kicked off the men from it, and screaming all the while and grabbing the reins, she thundered outwards and cried out to all the rest of the giraffes to follow. A great zarāfa stampede was begun, the giraffes were calling out one to another, some of them were rearing upwards and knocking off their warriors of their backs, some of them were running out before they could be ridden, all of the camelopards were glistening in barbaric trappings of steel and silk and armor and the runes of the war clans, and as she ululated all the while, Ixhúja road outwards down the paths of the mountain and unto the fjördhr far below.
– Someone’s hyper bakeyhead – sighed Siêthiyal, and she held Éfhelìnye’s hands tight and drew her into the threshold. – I’m sure Ixhúja will sleep well this night. –
The door was shutting behind them and clammering shut with the movement of shields and wheels rolling about, and Éfhelìnye, weak and tired was wriggling out of Siêthiyal’s grasp and saying – Were they really kissing out there? I knew I should have gone with them. I can’t trust her out of my sight. –
– Yes, Princess, they were kissing with most passionate osculations behind every tree and I had to pry them apart! – Siêthiyal shouted in a voice loud enough to cause some of the slaves to pause in their duties. – I’m just joking, Princess. Hah? Hah? –
– I can’t leave him alone. Ever. –
– You must. – Siêthiyal was almost having to tug Éfhelìnye along, but it was not too difficult at all, for the Princess was pliant and weak as a kitten, and she was shivering despite the large quilted blanket that lay ydraped about her. The halls were emptying, for most of the thralls and servants were dashing outwards to help the warriors on their great task. Siêthiyal followed the music of the chiming and the long and rolling tapestries of orange and red and pink and took the Princess up unto the upper halls were everything was warming and the Eunuchs were bringing firewood for the blaze, and the hearth was blazing, and upon the thick carpets and the furs of northern squid bears and other ferox plantimals Akhlísa was rolling from side to side and tossing acorns and nuts into the fire and squealing to see the blazes arising, streaks of blue and gold spinning upwards and sparkling up unto the ceiling.
– Here’s our little lost lambkin Princess – Siêthiyal chanted. – Come and warm yourself here. –
– You weren’t kissing my Puey, were you? – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– Only all the time and on his lips most yum! – cried Akhlísa.
– She’s just joking also – chanted Siêthiyal.
– I am not! He’s mine mine mine mine mine! – Akhlísa rolled from side to side and giggled unto herself.
– I don’t feel so well – Éfhelìnye chanted, and Siêthiyal helped sit her down closer to the fire.
Akhlísa popped out of the blankets and chanted – Princess Sister Wife, I have a question for you! You’re quite intelligent, not quite as smart as I am, but we all can’t be as perfect and golden tressed as I am, but I’m wondering, my stomache really hurts right now and my ribs also and I don’t know why and it really hurts me. –
– Oh? – asked Éfhelìnye. She wiped a few of her golden red tresses from her face. – Is there something wrong with your stomache? –
– Yes! I’m all squeezed and constricted and my tummy is boxed in! –
Éfhelìnye drew the quilt away from herself and sitting down next to Akhlísa chanted – You’re still wearing that corset, aren’t you? How long have you been wearing that? –
– For ever and a day! All this hour! Always! I’m strong and tough though, I can handle anything. –
Éfhelìnye’s deft fingers began to fiddle with the bands and wheels of the corset, and examining it she looked at how the wheels were all stitched together, and turning gyres of bones and pfheixhekhaxhaîyithe fishbone knives, and she saw that this was all fashioned together in a labyrinthine design in accordance with some of the most complex and artistic crafts of the Aûm themselves. – Let me help you out of this. No wonder you feel crushed, the corset changes and breathes with you, it is a living and shifting labyrinth all of dream spirals. What a marvelous design. –
– I had a key that would have released me, springing me out, but somebody lost the key! – Akhlísa pointed both hands to Siêthiyal.
– Don’t blame me, Sister, I told you not to leave anything in the bedroom because we weren’t going back. –
– Yeah but then when you slipped among the Duchesses and found Khosyaràsqa spinning around and you saw the key … –
– She took it away from me, you little micromorph! She wouldn’t have had it in the first place if you hadn’t have left it in the room! –
– You should have kept the key safe! –
– So I not only have to safe guard your person but I always have to keep track of all your junk! – Siêthiyal bounced upwards. – Princess! –
Éfhelìnye opened up her sleeves and out came rolling some of the complicated surgery tools which she used sometimes for her inventing and othertimes to pick locks, and at this time to pop a maiden out of her corset. – Yes, Siêthiyal? –
– I’m tired of looking after her. I’m finished. I give her to you. She is your personal property after all, she’s your Concunbine. Crush her, beat her, throw her in the swamp, I don’t care anymore. I have mine own crime syndicate to form! Bye! – Siêthiyal hopped up and began skipping away from the fire and let her pink braids swing from side to side.
– Someone’s grouchy! – cried Akhlísa. – Probably because she lost the key. –
– I didn’t lose the key, taê khlàmpema, you goober! – Siêthiyal shouted back.
Éfhelìnye lifted up a screwdriver and opened up the tip of it and revealed some grinding teeth. Akhlísa rolled onto her side and chanted – She’s just mean because she can’t get herself an husband unlike us. The only one who has e'er shown the slightest amount of interest in her was a monstrocity with far too many heads and eyen and tentacles. –
– I heard that! – cried Siêthiyal. – Princess, don’t listen to anything she has to say! –
– Siêthi is in love with mutants! Siêthi is in love with mutants! – laughed Akhlísa.
– Mutants? – asked Éfhelìnye.
Siêthiyal was about to leave the room, but she poked her head back within. – What are you saying! – gasped Siêthiyal. – And don’t call me … –
– I saw her kissing mutants – chanted Akhlísa.
– Mutants? – asked Éfhelìnye.
Siêthiyal rolled up her sleeves. – You die now. –
– I don’t understand … – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– Princess, if you want to start strangling her in the corset, feel free. I’m going to pound her … –
– No! Help! – cried Akhlísa. She tried to get up, but she rolled o'er so quickly that Éfhelìnye still had her hands and tools stuck within the bands of the corset. Akhlísa tried to crawl away. Éfhelìnye struggled to pull her hands out of the wheels. Siêthiyal arose and grabbed Akhlísa by the collar and yelled – What have you been telling the Princess! –
– We don’t fight in our family – chanted Éfhelìnye.
Akhlísa made little kissing sounds and sighed – Oh mutant! I love you! Oh this is so sudden, should we go and elope! How scandalous that would be! We can have a little cottage and have lots of little mutant children with octopous tendrils and pink hair and burbly bubbly skin heh heh heh heh heh! –
– My I ask something? – Éfhelìnye wondered.
– Wait until after the beating – Siêthiyal growled as she shoved Akhlísa down.
– Are you referring to xhmoêr khmòlra, unto metamorphic mutants? – asked the Starflower Princess. – Where are mutants still being created? They’re not even Xhámi, how could they show affection for a Færie Maiden? –
– Kiss kiss kiss! – laughed Akhlísa.
– They can’t, she’s just being stupid! – chanted Siêthiyal.
– Kiss kiss kiss! Hah hah hah! –
– Siêthiyal, I didn’t know you wanted a dearheart – chanted Éfhelìnye. – I’ll find you an husband. –
Akhlísa howled in glee. Siêthiyal wondered whether she would regret thrashing both of these maidens. Eventually both Puîyus and Ixhúja would return, but at least for moment she could hurt them. Akhlísa continued to laugh, but looking to Éfhelìnye chanted – Would you mind finding someone for her? She can be so immature sometimes, we need to get rid of her. Plus I want to see Puey beating up the hapless fool who wants to court her. –
Siêthiyal bounced away. – Princess, you can keep the Concubine. She will drive you nutsy. Go ahead and help her out of the corset. Kàrula, tell her how much you want to kiss Puey. –
– I want to kiss Puey on his lips! – cried Akhlísa.
– Fun! I’m leaving! – Siêthiyal stuck out her tounge at Akhlísa, and she did the same. Siêthiyal skipped out the room and slammed the door behind her, and decided to go about on her own business. Éfhelìnye was patient and dædal as e'er drew out her tools and set them all before her in a long array like the ivory teeth of a pipe organ or harpsichord, and she picked them up one by one to examine them as if they were knives such as Puîyus were about to inspect and clean. She looked unto the flowing dream spirals and wheels and bands of the corset and began to calculate how to change the very wheels and hours of it all.
– I’m sure you were just playing when you mentioned the mutants – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– I’m kidding, tee hee hee! –
– So, what did you and my Puey do on your ride? – Éfhelìnye picked up a very long and sharp surgical tool, and pulling upon the levers out appeared little gnawing edges.
– Well Puey spent most of the time kissing me and telling me that I’m his most favoritest wife. He kept putting his arms around me and holding me tight and when he wasn’t busy kissing my mouth he was saying, Oh Kàrula I love you the best, I’m going to kiss your lips with my lips and it will be all lippy. –
– He chanted that, indeed? –
– Oh yes, he kept putting his hands behind my head and about my neck and kissing me all the time oh he luuuvs me so much and he got me lots of presents such as candies and chocolates and reeds and … – Akhlísa found herself rolling o'er as Éfhelìnye pushed her down and began stabbing some of the wheels upon the back of her corset. – You … are you sure you want to stab like that? –
– I’m fine. –
– Yeah but … this sure looks dangerous! – Akhlísa saw that Éfhelìnye was stabbing the back of her corset again and again and again. Akhlísa yawned and rested her head on her hands. Éfhelìnye gutted out a few wheels and began strangling them out, and brilliant springs were flowing about her, as if she were disemboweling a very complicated voluted creature. – So anyway, Puey just couldn’t stop kissing me. He was kissing my ears and my eyen and my lips and nose and kissing my other ear and kissing my mouth and I can’t saying, Oh Puey stop it you’re embarrassing me so much in front of the shepherdesses look at how bashful they are, you have to stop it I’m just bashfulified and Puey chanted, Oh my sweetest and most darlingest concubine, I love you the most of any other maiden and I just can’t stop kissing you all the time because you’re mine and I love you so. Here, let me demonstrate all the love I have for you, I’m wrapping mine arms about you and kissing you … are you okay back there. –
Éfhelìnye thrust together several of her surgical tools and held it together like a knife. – I’m fine. – She continued stabbing the corset back and forth harder and harder.
– Puey says that he’s going to have lots of wives. He says … ouch! That hurts a little. –
– Oh? –
– Puey was telling me that he wants to have lots of children with me. He told me that … this is beginning to hurt me, Princess. –
– Hmmm … –
– Do you want to hear what Puey told me? –
– Hmmm! –
– Puey was telling me, in those brief moments of not kissing me all the time and on my lips, he was telling me that he wants to have seven sons and seven daughters by me. That’s twice seven. Imagine that! –
– Imagine that – Éfhelìnye muttered. She grabbed the rib bones of the corset and found where the springs were jointed. She slipped one hand about Akhlísa’s throat and the other about the ribs and chanted – Now that I consider it, I don’t think this is tight enough. Let’s see what happens when I squeeze this. –
– Puey told me that he’s going to name the seven Sons Akhlísa and the seven Daughters Akhlísa I suppose that would be very confusing but we can always give them other names now that’s a whole lot of children to have don’t you think but I think I’m quite worthy of the attention, all these children I’ll be … oh … all the children … I can’t breathe! Princess! I can’t breathe! You have to help me! –
– Tighter … tighter … –
– My insides hurt! –
– Crush … crush … –
– Princess! –
Éfhelìnye clasped both of her hands about Akhlísa’s neck and began squeezes. She was blinking, all of the air was becoming red unto her, blues and whites bleached away and become but red, and even Akhlísa’s fluant and aurelian locks were changing grown etiolated but red and red and red, and she choked the throat all the tighter.
– Puey … wouldn’t … stop kissing me! – gasped Akhlísa.
– I have to protect Puey … – Éfhelìnye hissed.
– He has tasty lips! –
– The maidens won’t stop looking at him. I must ruin them. I have to throw them before the Dragon’s jaws. I must keep him for myself for ever. –
– Puey is yummy! –
– Mine mine mine mine mine! –
– Ouch! Princess! –
Éfhelìnye released Akhlísa by her throat, and looking down all at once understood the thousand wheels and bands and dream spirals of the corset and understood how the labyrinth ran through it, and the patterns of prime numbers. She grabbed some of her smaller tools and began unhooking some of the wheels and changing the bands until all at once the labyrinth popped open. Akhlísa coughed a few times and felt air pouring back into her throat, and she felt as if she were being reborn, and lifted out of an egg. Éfhelìnye performed a few rough calculations, but she knew with instinctual grace where she had to change the tightness of the springs, and she unhooked the corset and drew it aside. Akhlísa rolled around a few times and then sate upwards and breathed in deeply and lifted up her arms and sighed.
– I feel much better now! Look at my breathing! Look at this! – Akhlísa gasped as loud as she could and stretched her young muscles. Éfhelìnye looked down and began rebuilding the corset and setting her tools aside. – You’re so smart, you know that? How did you do that? –
– It’s simple manner of understanding mathmatics and the complexities of the labyrinth … – Éfhelìnye chanted.
Akhlísa sate upwards and shook her hips from side to side. – I’m growing up, look at me! I’m old enough to be betrothed now. Watch me as shake my hips from side to side! Shake shake shake! Shake shake shake! I’m glad to be out of that, I felt like I was being strangled for a moment there. I wish I were as smart as you are. You can build things and invent things and create things, your hands so creative and wonderous and fun! –
– Don’t mention it. –
– Puey’s going to have smart babies with you. Assuming of course that your Father has completely cursed you and left you barren. But not me, the Kháfha say that I’ll be fertile! Are you feeling alright? You don’t look alright. –
Éfhelìnye set her tools aside and hung up the corset upon an hook. – I … I just need to think. I was going to run an experiment on some dragonscales I collected … –
– I can’t wait for Puey to return, then I can kiss him and … are you okay? –
– Please stop asking the same question – Éfhelìnye chanted as she turned her face away from her best friend. She covered her eyen for a moment. Akhlísa slipped upwards and looked to Éfhelìnye’s belly and chanted – I don’t think your stitches are coming loose, so you’re okay there. –
– I … I just need to be alone. I have to think! – Éfhelìnye spun around and came running out the room. She dashed into the halls, precipitous and heedless and barely even paid attention to the Eunuchs who were trying to avoid her. Several Vestal Virgins came running outwards and tried to gather up the Princess into their arms, for they could see that she was trying not to cry but not doing a very good job of it. Éfhelìnye came slipping out of the halls. Akhlísa poked her head out of the room and chanted – Where’s she going? What’s the matter with her? –
Siêthiyal was carrying some boxes from one room to the next when she saw Éfhelìnye’s weeping and running down the halls, and behind her the Vestal Virgins were running. Siêthiyal growled to herself and tossed down the boxes, but when she looked out the Vestal Concubines and the Princess were all the way down the halls. She looked back and saw that Akhlísa corsetless after all this time was dancing all by herself and spinning around the fire careless and flouncy and insouciant as e'er.
– What did you do to her? – Siêthiyal asked.
– Who? – asked Akhlísa.
– You! Her! What! –
– I didn’t do anything! –
– You did something. –
– Nothing! She helped me out of the corset! Puey was going to be too bashful to do it because then he’d have to touch my beautiful body even though his hands are superstrong, only Éfhelìnye can figure out all those dancing numbers and such … stop looking at me like that! I didn’t do anything at all. –
Siêthiyal made fists with her hands. – Karuláta Khniêma Kàlyakh Wthekhasarauníya Trìwie Fhèsya Jhaûqru Khèkate Khraîtwe Khlís Khlísa Khniêm Khnitsíweyánii Xhàsyi Xhèyol Elísa’ Elìxhya’ Atrùtone Kàrula Akhlísa, daughter of Kàrijoi, of the Clan of Pwéru! –
– Don’t call me by my full name, I didn’t do anything wrong! –
– You did something and you knew it. –
– Who cares! – Akhlísa swiveled her hips from side to side. – You have to take my side anyway. You’re my Sister. –
– We’re all in the same family now. –
– Oh don’t be all pious all of a sudden! – Akhlísa hopped from side to side. – You’re the naughtiest most dishonestest of us all. –
– I will not have trouble in Puey’s family! –
– Go kiss a mutant! –
– Now listen here … –
– No! I don’t have to obey you any longer! You keep reminding me that I’m married … well so I am, I only have to obey Puey! So back off! –
Siêthiyal pointed down the halls and shouted – You go march yourself down to her and apologuise! When Puey comes back from battle I will not have him greeted by a weeping Princess! If you haven’t noticed he’s extremely vulnerable right now. The war is destroying him. I will not have him die from despair. –
– So … are you planning on stabbing Éfha in the stomache again? That was probably the worst thing you’ve e'er done. And you’ve done some horrible things before. You’ve beaten me, tried to sell me, pretty much always put yourself ahead of me … –
– Just apologuise to her! –
– Ah … nope. I don’t want to. I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to. –
– You ungrateful little orphan! –
– Not anymore. Concubine now. –
Siêthiyal took a few deep breaths and tried to calm herself. – This is not going to end well. You listen to me. –
– Nope. –
– I am through with you. I won’t have you fighting the Princess … that’s it. Go ahead and do whatever you’re doing. I don’t care anymore. Just … just leave me alone! –
– Good, leave me alone! –
– Fine, we’re in agreement! –
– Sure, but I’m prettier and better than you, plus have an husband! –
Siêthiyal ran down the halls and grabbed the first Eunuch she could find, and shaking her by the collar chanted – Where did the Divine One go? –
– Towards the ice quags, Lady Sister! – gasped the Eunuchs.
Siêthiyal turned around and looked at the rest of the pariziz gathering about her. – The rest of you, fall on your knees and grovel in my presence! In fact, just keep groveling, it will be good practice! –
The Eunuchs began falling down upon their knees and wings one by one and kept their heads low before her and began the process of lowering their heads one by one. But Siêthiyal knew that she could not stay. She can running down the halls and was almost sliding right down the long and rustling carpets, and came dashing down through the door and skipping down the courtyards and into the harsh acerb cold of the falling midnight, and looking around set her face towards the ice quags. She dashed unto the end of the garth and looked around, sharp winds were smacking against her face, her pink tresses were become a wild whirl, the ribbons were unraveling themselves as if so many tiny fingers were set within. Far off down the whispering mountains she could see large looming living ships floating upon the very edge of the telbië, it was almost as if the cadlongs and skiffs were ifrozen in amber, as fires arose about them, and the war exiles struggled to reach the shores alive. Siêthiyal turned around and was about to come running back unto the harem and just hide herself in the deep and warm blankets and the crackling hearth, it would certainly be fun to give Akhlísa the beating she deserved, but she was not about to let Éfhelìnye sit and weep by herself in the coming night, all alone in the ice mires. What a messy situation this is. Kàrula fights me with everything she does, I don’t blame her, I’m the only one she can fight, now that Fhermáta is gone. Éfhelìnye is blinded with love for Puey, and he’s falling into the worst melancholia I can imagine. Maybe Ixhúja can help. But what can she do? If I need some fighting or someone thumpt about she can be quite useful, but what can I do to save this family? Where’s Auntie Qtìmine? Maybe we can find her, perhaps Khrùkhtii Khráfhi of Khróm I can find, Puey’s acolyte friend. Our cousins. Anyone, I have to keep everyone together. Father is lost, none can find Grandfather Pátifhar. I can’t have him visiting Fhermáta’s grave, he may just lie down on her sepulcher and never arise again. Oh Princess, I’ll find you and bring you back. You’ll be the only one who can save us all.
Siêthiyal came running into the darkness, and the huge cleaves of the mountain where the ice swamps lay, and her thoughts were whirling about and trying to feel the shape of the future. The lightning of the battle crackled a little about the higher spirals of the Xhyèrxhmu Whispering mountains, light sinking into the stone and sky iron and flashing all about the glassen windows of the raths left miles above the sea. And looking out through glistening windows, storm and battle glowing, Akhlísa was standing and rubbing her hands together and rubbing her ribs and feeling far better than she had before, and taking in several deep breaths she spun around and cried – Fhólus! Aîya! Where you are! –
Fhólus came rolling out upon the floor, two of his three heads were gobbling on an apple. Aîya was fluttering in the air but she kept crashing against a wall, one of her heads was sipping a cup which smelt of pink lemonade. The Traîkhiim struggled to progress in a straight line and crashed down right before Akhlísa.
– Eh? – asked the little Traîkhiim Fhólus and Aîya.
Akhlísa ran up to a mirror and spun it around. She admired herself from one side and then the other, she spun her head and caused her golden tresses to flicker from side to side. She practiced her smile. – I’m no longer a baby, and I’m going to make Puey realize that. I don’t care what Siêthiyal or Éfhelìnye or whatsherface say. I’m going to make Puey mine, and you’re going to help me. –
– Urp … – chanted Fhólus.
– Whatever you say. Hic! – hiccoughed Aîya.
Akhlísa reached into a drawer and drew out some candy and rubbed it upon her lips and about her ears and her neck. – I have a grand masterplan, it’s going to be the most cunning and devious and brilliant thing in all the history of the worlds, it’s a plan grandiose enough to make all the nations and classes tremble in fear! I … do you know what I’m going to do! And you’re helping by the way. –
– Have no idea – gurgled Fhólus.
– You talking so loud. Hic! – hiccoughed Aîya.
– I’m going to force Puey to acknowledge me as his favorite concubine. I’m going to make him kiss me on the lips, and I hope right before Éfha. Then I shall be the dominant Sister in this family, I shall be the most important Pwéru. –
– That a stupid plan – Fhólus chanted and he tried to arise and crashed right against the wall.
– Not quite sure that will work. Hic! – Aîya tried to turn around but just fainted, her three heads falling upon the thick carpet and drooling.
– Yes, it will be absolutely brilliant – chanted Akhlísa. – I will not have Éfhelìnye and Ixhúja and Siêthiyal and Akhlísa underestimate myself! Um … I didn’t mean to include myself there. But still, none will ignore me, and the Traîkhiim shall dance at my right hand. – Akhlísa danced up upon a pile of pillows and shook her hips from side to side and watched the movement in the mirror, and then running down to the doors and flinging it open shouted – Come on in, Traîkhiim! We have plans to do! –
Several thousand Traîkhiim came fluttering flickering giggling into the room, bursts of feathers arising about their wings, and they were saying – Ciao, baby! Hello, baby! We’ll help you, baby! You’re such a cute baby! We love you, baby! You are such an adorable baby! What do you need, baby! I we they think that Master Puîyos still think of you as a baby. –
Akhlísa slid the door shut behind her and clasped it shut. – He won’t think I’m a baby any longer. I’m going to be the sweetheart of his heart. Quickly! When he comes back from battle, I’m going to be all dressed up as a beautiful adult. No, not the corset. I don’t want to look like his bride. I want to look like … um … what does he like. Don’t say Princess! I’m tired of Princesses. Dress me up as a shepherdess. Puey won’t forget this, heh heh heh heh heh! –
Fhólus and Aîya struggled to lift up their heads, and looking from side to side asked – Do we have to do anything? – they both asked.
– You’re going to be my sheep – chanted Akhlísa, and she began tearing off her outer robes. – I’m going to be a grown up now. Puey will kiss me! –
Fhólus turned to Aîya and whispered – Not following this at all. –
– Me either neither. Hyper little baby she – Aîya whispered.
– Better help though. Pwéru maidens, they can be very tempermental sometimes. –
– Ah. –
Akhlísa ripped off an outer blouse and chanted – I want to wear seven necklaces. You! Let’s start dressing me up shepherdesswise! – Fhólus and Aîya came tumbling and rolling and crashing right down before Akhlísa, and the rest of the Traîkhiim came dashing outwards and drew out a gown and took out needle and thread and scissors and as they began to dance upon the gown and draw up cloth and woof, they danced the dance of the pastourelle dress.
It was quite late when when the last of the refugee living ships finally made their way unto the storming firths at the edge of Jaràqtu, and the warriors of Jaràqtu were taking up rope and butterfly net and doing their best to draw the smoldering boats within. It had not been an easy battle, it had been a little frustrating for the Khlitsaîyart had come in many weakened vessels and were doing their best to reach the fjords the first, but behind them the Kurkuîlo and the Xaxhestàriqhe had begun firing upon each other, their living ships become like lances striking against each other and against the Khlitsaîyart also, and so battle was waged even as the living ships were crashing against the stones and the huge stone monuments and the bits of bridge that were left upon the marge. Puîyus came riding out in the forefront upon his faithful ostridge stead, and the ostridge came leaping upwards above some of the crystalline railroad tracks that branched ankylotic out of the stone and the sands, for long ago, back when Prince Jhwèsta had been crafting his clockwork trains and setting down his lines and stations throughout the Seven Central Realms, under the orders of the Synod of Lords to bind the center of the Empire together, and when the Imperial Mad Scientist was finally come unto Jaràqtu and set down his rails thereunto, the chieftains arose in wrath to think that their dimension should physically touch another, for no aliens were permitted into their holy land without their permission, and so their Sons marched out and destroyed all of the trains and tracks and stations utterly and left naught but smoldering ruins and some of that wrack lay upon the sands and the edge of the shore, some of the ancient outlines of tower and ramp, and Puîyus came riding right o'er them all. Behind him came Princess Ixhúja and the warriors that had been gathered within the wrath, and unto the shore came the crashing Khlitsaîyart vessels, and the panicking Kurkuîlo and Xaxhestàriqhe. Puîyus lifted up his hands and tried to bid the strangers welcome, but seeing a Jàrqta arisen before them, the refugees arose enraged and hurled their impaling spears right at him. The Khlitsaîyart reavers arose and were wellgarbed in swords and spinning scythes, they came thundering outwards, and began falling upon the Kurkuîlo and Xaxhestàriqha and crushing them utterly, and so battle was begun here in the crashing sands and the falling vessels, here where sand and sea and sky met.
When battle was finally completely, and the fighters were setting down their weapons, and the warriors of Jaràqtu were walking among the survivors, Puîyus was gathering up some of the severed vathi heads which he thought would be suitable prizes, those which he had decollated himself, and he took them and tied them by their ribbons and plumage about the neck of Khwixhethateîqa. Ixhúja was walking upon the beach, when she saw her enemies still twitching and barely alive upon the bleeding sands, she pounced upon them and strangled some and slit others across their throats, and then turned back unto the giraffe which she had commandeered and whistled unto it, and it came running back untowards her, and she ran up its wellspeckled side and began riding back unto the daurun. Puîyus looked around and found that the warriors were nodding and bowing unto her. He clasped several more severed heads and tied them up in string as presents for his warrior family, and a few moments later he rode back unto the fortress, Khwixhethateîqa bellowing and honking all the while, thunderous mountain and cold dying forests and gaping antres and grottos spilling catacombic out before her. And late in the darkness Puîyus was returned unto the lower courtyards of the fortress, the warriors were marching up behind him, the exiles of the Khlitsaîyart and Kurkuîlo and Xaxhestàriqhe a little behind. Puîyus looked about from side to side, he could hear that the aliens were turning and pointing unto him and gesturing to the severed ùsqa that were tied unto his ostridge, and the peoples were looking at him askance. Who can understand the ways of the Warrior Caste? Their very architecture is sharp and severe, their land is part fangs and uncompromising agony. Still they are the only chance for winning this war, and theirs are among the last of the dreamlands to withstand the horror of Winter come against them.
Puîyus looked through the gathering crowds. Ixhúja was sliding down the neck of the giraffe and was wondering where Éfhelìnye was, and looking unto Puîyus gave him a quizzical look of the same meaning. Puîyus scanned the Vestal Virgins and Eunuchs but did not see his Sisters anywhere, and he wondered. Ixhúja looked around and saw a stranger walking right up in the crowds, a pastourelle she appeared by her look, in a long and flowing dress, a crookstaff in one hand, a large bonnet upon her head, and she was leading her lambkins along with her rope were some of the strangest sheep which Ixhúja had e'er seen, for they were a couple of fluttering Traîkhiim walking upon the tips of their papilionaceous wings, a little woolen hats lay upon their six heads bubblebobbling from side to side.
– Khmàryor khmàryor khmàryor! – bleated Fhólus.
– We’re sheep! – chanted Aîya. – Look at how ovine we are! – she laughed.
Fhólus bounced around and shook the bells upon her heads, and Aîya shook her wings and the bells that dangled thereupon.
– Purr? – asked Ixhúja as she raised a single violet eyebrow.
Akhlísa took a handfan from her pocket and fanning herself chanted – Kàrula? I have no idea who this Kàrula is. I’m just an humble shepherdess tending my sheep. Stop calling me Karuláta, I’m sure I’m not that incredibly gorgeous young woman who’s not a baby and should be kissed many times. –
Puîyus looked around and was wondering where Siêthiyal and Éfhelìnye were and was rather hoping that they would rescue him from whatever was about to happen, he sniffed the air just remind himself that the pastourelle was indeed his younger Sister, or rather his junior wife he had to keep reminding himself, and he knew that Akhlísa was sometimes given unto strange humors that he could not help to anticipate. He brushed Khwixhethateîqa’s feathers a few times, but when he turned back he could see that Akhlísa was almost upon him.
– Mew? – Puîyus wondered.
– I’m a sheep! – cried Fhólus.
– Fleecy flouncy sheep! – laughed Aîya.
Akhlísa fanned herself a few times and batted her long golden eyelashes right at Puîyus and he was wishing that she wouldn’t. – Oh, so you must be the hero of the battle, the strong and brave new Princess! Oh I am but an humble shepherdess, I know nothing of adventure and excitement and danger … and love … – She puckered up her lips at him. – I don’t suppose the conquering hero wants to reward himself and kiss me for a time? –
Puîyus shook his head in negation. Akhlísa tossed her fan o'er her shoulder. She shook her head and let her bonnet tumble off of her, and along with it a long and flowing tendrillar mass of golden hair, and perfumes arose thick and heady from her. Puîyus clammered onto the back of his ostridge, but Akhlísa was crawling up and forcing herself into his lap, and grabbing Fhólus and Aîya by their necks she threw them into Puîyus’ face and chanted – Don’t you want to hug my lambkins? –
– … – Puîyus wondered.
– I have lots of wool – chanted Fhólus.
– We’ve been eating grass all day – chanted Aîya.
– Enough shepherd talk! – chanted Akhlísa. – Let’s kiss! –
Puîyus plucked up Fhólus and Aîya and held them up between him and Akhlísa, he thought they should engage in more shepherd talk, he found it interesting, as the Princess had told him, that ofhàthweu, men’s language was often called shepherd’s language emeutula for reasons she had not quite been able to discover. Akhlísa shoved the Traîkhiim aside, they came crashing right upon their heads and wings, and she began wrapping her arms about Puîyus’ neck and drawing her face right towards his.
– Time for long arcadian pastoral jàrqto kisses! – Akhlísa whispered. Puîyus could smell that she had covered her lips in his favorite candies. He lifted up an hand to hold between them and slipped out of her arms and almost fell out of the ostridge. Akhlísa tried to hop down after him. He looked around and seeing the severed vathi he had tied to the ostridges’ necks, he drew out a few of them and tossed the heads right to Akhlísa as if they were solar balls.
– Ooh! – cried Fhólus.
– Careful, that one’s a gusher! – Aîya cried.
Akhlísa held a severed head above herself. – Now this is an honorable present! He’s given me the trophy of battle! That’s love, that’s true love! He loves me! He loves me the most! – Akhlísa slipped down from Khwixhethateîqa’s back, and the strouthokámēlos just sighed and snorted. Akhlísa dragged the bleeding heads after her, long streaks of red flowing in lines upon the courtyard, and the Traîkhiim rolled up to follow her back into the harem.
– Everything is just working out splendid, don’t you think so? – asked Akhlísa. – He’s giving me severed heads! He thinks I’m a worthy Jaràqtun wife! –
– I’d hate to see one of her plans go awry – Fhólus chanted.
– Aliens are just weird – Aîya blinked.
Puîyus came running out in the opposite direction, he was beginning to guess that the next few days were going to be far too interesting for him to withstand, and he dashed towards the stables and came crawling up the sides of the walls and set down upon the roof and rested in a nest of ice pterodons and birds squawking and arising all about him.
Puîyus Íngìkhmar’s Son was strapping on a metallic jhàkhtur gauntlet and feeling the fingers one by one, the scales and metal were clattering into place. He could feel the weight of his swords upon his bauldric and the slight susurrating heat eminating from the solar sword upon his back, the one which Emperor Kàrijoi had placed in his hands. He was armed and ready and dashing out to patrol and to stay as far, far, far away from the harem as he could without offending any of the women in his family. He just knew that something was happening in there and just did not want to offend anyone or get involved in anyway, in fact he kept asking the generals if they could find his Auntie Qtìmine somewhere in the heartland of Jaràqtu, she was the one who had been like unto his Mother after blessed Khwofheîlya had fallen into the shadow protection of the Ancestors, she was the one who had held and comforted him all these years, and now he wanted her to be in charge of the harem and to keep his female relations from fighting and crying and scheming and whatever it was they were doing. The generals, he was sad to admit, did not seem to be able to understand the purrs mews and quacks of the Language of Beasts, so he kept having to fetch Princess Éfhelìnye to translate for him, but since he was loathe to enter the harem quarters he just had to wait for her, and when he finally had her she just wanted to hold him and not let go, and he felt sad sometimes, and when she was near him he forgot what he was supposed to be doing. It took some doing but the generals were sending out their messengers unto the wasteland in the center of the dimension, the environs where once Puîyus and his Clan had dwelt, but which the Qhíng had made sure to ruin utterly, and there was nothing to do but to continue his duties here in the fortress and to help the refugees make it to shore and to fight those who were trying to stop them and shoot them out of the heavens.
Éfhelìnye wrapped her arms about Puîyus’ neck and refused to let him ago. At last she looked up to him with her large moon eyen and whispered – You do love me, don’t you? –
Puîyus nodded in affirmation.
– And you don’t love any other maiden as much as you love me, right? –
Puîyus considered for a moment. He began mewling unto her and tried to explain that he loved her and he also loved Siêthiyal and Akhlísa and Ixhúja and he honored Fhermáta and missed Jeûr and …
– But you can’t love all of them! – Éfhelìnye gasped, and covering her face she turned around and ran back up into the harem. Puîyus was not entirely sure what he had chanted. He strapped on his other gauntlet and was testing out the fingers, and turning saw that Akhlísa was standing right beside him. She had some chocolates in her hand and slowly rubbed the chocolates upon her lips and then turned and puckered towards Puîyus.
– Hello, husband! – Akhlísa chanted.
– Mew – Puîyus chanted.
– Please, my name is just so formal! Call me your Concubine. –
Puîyus wasn’t quite sure that he wanted to. He backed away a few steps and almost bumped into Siêthiyal, who was crossing her arms and glaring right at Akhlísa.
– What did you say to her this time? – Siêthiyal chanted.
– I didn’t do anything at all! – Akhlísa cried.
– She’s on her bed and weeping! I didn’t do anything, Ixhúja is playing with some xhaûrlro mouse squirrels, and the Immortals know that no stranger is wandering around upsetting her. You had to do something. –
– Mew mew? – asked Puîyus.
– She’s on her bed saying Puey doesn’t love me any more. I think I know who the culprit is. Go to her and apologuise! –
Akhlísa made a pouting face. – I didn’t do anything! I told you! –
– You big baby! We don’t fight in this family! –
Puîyus lifted up his hands and spelt out the signs, Did you mention xhaûrlro tokpodzevos? One would be quite interested in playing with them.
– If I’m such a baby than why do I wear this ring! And I can do this to! – Akhlísa flung her arms about Puîyus neck and began licking his face and nose and kissing them with her chocolate lips. – Oh I love you so much, kiss me, my Puey! –
– I just want there to be peace in the family – Siêthiyal hissed.
Akhlísa drew herself away from Puîyus and narrowing her eyen chanted – Because you don’t want me to tell him that you … – she made a motion of stabbing and cutting.
Siêthiyal’s face was turning as pink as her hair. She spun around and storming right up towards the harem kicked all of the Eunuchs too slow to get out of her way. Akhlísa jumped after her and shouted – Oh you see it, don’t you! You’re afraid that I have all the power now! You’re no longer in charge! – Akhlísa slammed the door of the harem after her. Puîyus sighed and wished that Qtìmine Samájhi would hurry. And where were these xhaûrlro mouse squirrels anyway?
Puîyus walked out unto the courtyard and just wished that everything was the way it had been before, when they had dwelt in the crannog of their forefathers, back when Fhermáta was the older Sister and could keep everyone from fighting all the time. But now Jaràqtu was changed, it was becoming for him more alien than the fleets of the Qlùfhem and the bridges of the Qhíng and the cannals of Khnìntha and the great clockweyth machines of Xhlaîra. He looked around and tasted the air. Several minor battles had already been fought around the Iron Whispering mountains, no, not even battles he thought, skirmishes as the refugees fought each other for the right of entering Jaràqtu and not being devoured by the Emperor. The true battle had been high in the winds against the Dragons. As he walked out the stones of the courtyard were rattling so swift and heavy was his trod, and he barely even noticed the movement of the priests and scribes as they were bowing down before him and calling him Emperor, and his heart misgave him, how could he tell them that he did not even wish to be Emperor he justed wanted to be with Éfhelìnye, but none of them could understand his language, and he could not make his way through the labyrinthine customs of preparing the Cælestial Crown Prince for apotheosis. He looked up through the orbeloid whispering mountains. He wondered whyever it was that nobody was mentioning that these mounts of the ironstained hills were near the cliffs of the Poriêrii Clan, and were spread out beneath the skies which were all become the Aûmfhaikh black hole of art which Puîyus himself had released against the Auxhètra despoilers among the Kèlor Masters. He was surprised that Siêthiyal had not been mentioning how close they were to the Poriêrii dreamlands, in fact this ancient disused fortress probably belonged to the Poriêrii or their allies or some portion of their family which heirless had gone extinct some generations passed. Or perhaps Siêthiyal was only too well aware of the involvement of the Poriêrii, but she just wanted to share her Brother the shock, especially after informing him that he was married and his Father was gone and his clan no more, it was best not to mention the Poriêrii at this time. Puîyus as he was walking towards the edge of the courtyard was remembering that his Father had never been too friendly with the Poriêrii and chanted that in some generations they had been quite distrustful, Puîyus did not know the details of any past dealings with them, only that the marriage proposal that the Poriêrii had offered between him and Asiréma had been with all polite courtesy declined, but he could see at least that some of their clan had indeed survived the occupation of the Qhíng. As he came towards the red pebbled swarths he saw that the fortresses of that Clan were all alit with their painted lanthorns, and the runes of that Clan were bright and emblazoned, and he had no doubt at all that they had to be sponsoring this fortress or at least the servants and goods of it. At the edge of the stones Ixhúja was seated, her violet dress billowing about her legs, and a few little xhaûrlro luipist bouncing about her and wagging their tails and chattering with their big and fluffy cheeks. Ixhúja was brushing their fur and grinning a little. Puîyus sate down beside her.
Here. Play. Ixhúja picked up a few sefhwaxhaûrlro to set before him.
Puîyus picked up a xhaûrlroxing and brushed his face against their fur. He did not have to tell Ixhúja anything at all, she knew that he was upset and that it was not just the downfall of his people and the loss of his family and father and auntie, but because the women of his family just would not stop fighting.
Do you want me to beat them for you, Ixhúja told looked up to Puîyus and punched her hands together. I can do it without leaving any marks upon their alabaster flesh.
– !! – Puîyus gasped.
Joking! Although …
If you change your mind, just let me know. Ixhúja rolled o'er and stretched herself and chuckled a little. Puîyus turned around. Ixhúja hopped it and was hearing it also. Puffs of smoke were arising from the Poriêrii fortresses higher in the iron whispering mountains. Puîyus set the xhaûrlro mouse squirrels down and kissed them a couple of times. Smoke was arising from the towers of their own fortress, and the pyramids were beginning to blaze with huge naphtha fires. Puîyus whistled outwards and several ostridges came running out untowards him. It was time to ride out into the night. Ixhúja jumped up upon another ostridge and together they rode out to fight upon the thunderous shores and did not return until midnight was cold and heavy and dark upon all things.