Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sometimes it's Best not to sneak out of the Harem


The Princess arose through the crash of the avalenche. For a few moments she was just vaguely aware of the movement of ice and tendrils, of the huge cliffside a league above her, and of the crash of the waves just a few cubits away, the seas were sounding and along with them came the sounds of crashing living ships and burning boats, and the calls of soldiers one unto another. Éfhelìnye was popping up through the ice like a rose, her long and red hair spreading out around her as she swam upwards and began pulling herself out through a crevice of khnutàpaqa fresh snow and syòquqa powder snow, crackling ice was breaking apart around her, and strewn were the shattered arms and limbs of statues of spiders and great sea serpents. The xhyiênxhi frost drakes, have buried in the ice, were twitching a little, their claws and wigns shivering from side to side. Éfhelìnye looked around. The battle was horrendous upon the shores but at least it was coming to its end, she could see that a thousand massive Qája pyramids were floating upon the beach, some of the tribes of the Qája must have tried to invade Jaràqtu since they had heard that some resources were left therewithin, some last fruits and leaves and forests although dying, a place for qhùntatlho the final stand against the Winter ineluctable which had to come. Éfhelìnye took a few trembling steps upon the snows, she saw that that Kháfha soldiers were grappling with the last of the Ìthikusan raiders, a people of corsairs who dwelt north of Jaràqtu and prayed upon the Qája and some of the ancient ice nations thereunto, she heard a thunder of claws and tails, she saw that some of the feircesome Dragon Warriors of Jaràqtu were riding upon their fell velociraptor whispering mountains and were tearing apart the corsairs and some of the Qája insectoidwihts, and she was reminded with a pang in her stomache of Abbá Íngìkhmar who had once taken her riding throughout holy Eilasaîyanor and seen the crypts and the tomb spiders, and when Íngìkhmar used to let her see some of the pleasanter realms of Jaràqtu all shining blue and green and wonderous. The war music arose. She sniffled a little for to remember the last of her Father’s Holy Rose Knights.
Éfhelìnye grit her teeth. She could feel that at least one stitch had broken on her belly xhthitlhwewomiêrneu bambatalopguscauril gastropedal, and she felt like doubling o'er. She took a few graceful steps upon the ice, some minor stabbing pains would not keep her from walking and gliding and doing ballet all at once. A few statuesque arms tumbled about her. Hissing helmets rolled outwards. Shadows were falling upon her. The music of clicking was awakening again. Ice was breaking apart around her. Long and slightly irregular wings were bursting upwards, skin all of frost and muscles swinging from side to side, long and turning bone heads turning from side to side and echoing right untowards her. Éfhelìnye began trotting away. Before her the living ships were exploding, Kháfha were marching upwards and coming up unto some of the pyramids wheredown the qájarn fhùfhapa drones were pouring, the Qája were all ygarbed in living armor, they were holding up their sharp and barbaric weaponry, Éfhelìnye as soon as she had seen the Qája for the first time, and especially their drones in battle, had always found their weaponry to be especially frightening, they were all staves tipped in long and irregular jagged metal, they held up swords which were not quite edges, they a garden of slashing edges that seemed to reach in all directions at once to cut and gouge and rip. The battle still was waging before her, the Xhyiênxhi were crawling up before her, ocean and collapsing mountain to either side of her,and there was nowhere else to go. She took a few steps forwards, the ice breaking apart all the faster. Several Kháha were riding outwards upon wellarmored giraffes and did not notice the hissing collapse of the mountain just an hundred cubits away, it was just part of the death of the mountain they thought, and none were looking for a lone Princess walking out lost and searching. The clicking grew all the louder. Éfhelìnye grasped her side. Blood was staining the side of her dress from her cut. Large shadow wings fell upon her. The Starflower Princess was thinking that about now would be a good time for her to concoct a plan sànyuyu khathewiimùlkha.
– Now she belongeth to the Ancestors … – whispered the voice behind her.
– Ooomfh! – cried Éfhelìnye and she was hurled several cubits away. A stone statue grasped her by one ankle and held her down. A few Xhyiênxhi were arising and wrapping their thorn wings about her. Éfhelìnye struggled a little but was completely entrapped and held upwards in the crashing snows and drawn upwards higher and higher. Smoke wavered before her. A face all of incense was formulated contracting xhthìtlhewo condensing gastropodal before her, flickering capes of smoke and intestines forming, and a crown all of quavering internal organs. King Èmfha was materializing. He drew out a box of incense. He drew out a long and obsidian knife.
– It is the end now – whispered King Èmfha.
– I don’t suppose you’d like to start surrending unto me and Puey now – Éfhelìnye chanted. – We are renowned for our generosity, our mercy. –
– Humorous to the end, how one must admire that – hissed the King. He slashed the knife against his smoke palm and down came pouring sand and ash and dust. – The Queen wants your heart. –
– I’m afraid my Heart belongs to Puey; the Matriarch cannot have it. –
– She will squeeze the heart dry – chanted the King. – Your wit and dance cannot save you now, nor calling the Heir by such a ridiculous and feminine little cognomen shall lessen your fate. –
– What grim Ancestors I’ve encountered – Éfhelìnye looked from side to side and saw that the ice continued to break apart about her. Several long and grasping wings were reaching outwards untowards her. Several slabs of cliff were falling. The xhyiênxhi were screaming out all the louder. The King wiped the knife clean upon the ice, and all of the ground began to shake, as several more waves of avalenche begun tumbling about them all, faster and faster still. – I certainly hope that after Puey and I have our children, and I’ve always wanted to have a prime number of sons and a prime number of daughters by the way, but we’ll just have to see won’t we, but after I die of a full life and become an Ancestress I think I’ll be a bit more jolly than the rest of you lot. –
The King drew up the obsidian xhakeîrowu knife of sacrifice, and seeing with his incense eyen that Éfhelìnye had already been stabbed in the stomache and was bleeding a little, could only chuckle to himself to know that he would slay this wounded creature. And the ice was exploding. King Èmfha arose. The Xhyiênxhi were tumbling downwards. A few of the stone statues were turning around and grasping upwards. Éfhelìnye could feel that something was changing. The spiders and sea scorpions were rolling about and screaming all the louder and fleeing before something. The stone statues were breaking apart, the one that grasped her ankle was breaking apart into his composite joints, and the rest of the statues were at once reducing themselves unto ash and dust and sand. The statues moaned a little, their faces of blood popped open. The Xhyiênxhi were grasping unto Éfhelìnye as best they could, but their frost was melting right off of them, sloughing right away, their bodies changing into mud.
– I’m curious, King Èmfha Empúqher Khlùsyus Khmùsqus Khnàsyo – the Princess began, as the King held up his knife before her. – As soon as I am betrothed and married to my beautiful and lovely and yummy Puey, does that make you my Ancestor also? –
– The Queen refuses to have you as daughter in law – hissed the King, but already the Xhyiênxhi were moaning as they were become slime and shadow, the Xhyiênxhi were folding themselves up in their long wing capes, and they were clicking quieter quieter quieter.
– Please tell Mother Khwofheîlya that I love her very much – chanted Éfhelìnye – but I love Puey all the more. There he is. –
King Èmfha was breaking apart into incense and shadow, his crown become reeds, his cape rippling outwards and become fire clouds, and the incense outline of his body remained just long enough to whisper – The Matriarch Khwofheîlya … will strange you … before a betrothal rite … die … die … die … Empress … – But the King and the spirits and the stone statues could not remain solidic in Puîyus’ presence, they could not stand up before the Heir of the Sweqhàngqu, especially not in the burning glories of battle.
Puîyus, who had been Sieur Íngìkhmar’s Son, who was now the foster heir to the old Emperor, Saiyanoînga Kàrijoi came swooping downwards upon the tip of a rope, and before him for just a few moments the gigantic arachnids and the ocean spiders and the sea scorpions arose and hissed for a few moments, but he just glared at them, a slight red cut was upon his cheek, and he swung his sword around a few times and lopped off the claws and heads of the sea scorpions and spiders too close to him and sent the rest of the horde scampering and into the snows and rolling back into the blood froth of the seas. Puîyus spun around and caught up Éfhelìnye in his arms, and all around him a forest of stone statues exploded one by one by one, the statues swaying from side to side like so many upset trees broken by lightningflash, and the limbs fell down before him, the armor and helmets rusted and became dust before his gaze, the shattering remnants of the Sweqhàngqu were turning and breaking apart and sinking into the snows. The air was thick with smoke and incense and the face of the snows were covered in red and dread grasses bleeding out before him. Puîyus came swinging upwards upon the arch of his swoop and deposited himself and the Princess upon the ledge overlooking the wound of the mountain avalenche as a thousand Xhyiênxhi mud dragons evaporated about them and became part of another time and another world.
For a few heartbeats they just stood together, Puîyus and Éfhelìnye upon the edge of the world, and below them the ice was breaking apart, and the fellowship of Jaràqtun warriors and the Triple Alliance were hurling down the last of the massive war machines into the blood froth of the marge, and the Qája invaders and the Ìthikusan corsairs were falling, and all things were tumbling and burning beneath the shadow light of the moons above the seas of Sqasqái, and Éfhelìnye rested her head next to Puîyus and felt his warmth and thought that it had been a thousand generations since she had held him last. Puîyus was looking around and felt as if he were waking up a little, the air had some taste again, he was noticing the wounded blues and greens of his homeland trapped in the snow and blood, and he just held Éfhelìnye for a time and knew that the battle would continue without him, at least for now. But he could not leave the pedati and the warriors for too long, and so looking down unto Éfhelìnye’s eyen he whimpered unto her in a soft language of his own creation.
– I just had to see you, Puey – Éfhelìnye whispered. – No other reason do I need. –
Puîyus looked around, a few burning living ships were struggling in the waters, Jaràqtu had no true harbors since the Chieftains were always commanding their warrior sons and grandsons to keep the alien menace out, but now that it was a new age Qhíng and Kháfha and Aûm alike were taking rope and hook and drawing the living ships up unto the shoals, and the warriors took petrified trees and made some crude ramping for them vessels. A steady rain of embers and fire still fell downwards from where some of the floating pyramids and war machines had been, and he kept brushing the fires away from Éfhelìnye, and he tried to tell her that it was far too dangerous for her down here, she should stay in the fortress with the rest of the maidens.
– I just can’t stay there all the time – the Princess chanted. – I’ve lived alone so long. I just have to be with you. – Éfhelìnye blinked a few times. She wanted to tell Puîyus that sometimes she felt like the outsider in the family, Siêthiyal and Akhlísa were too much in charge, and Ixhúja just formed her own place in the family all the time, but Éfhelìnye was left alone and she knew what the others were planning and how could she make them understand that Puîyus was hers for ever everyone was just turning against her it was horrible in the silence it was worse than she could have imagined at least when she had been a guestfriend among the Sweqhàngqu Puîyus had been around and the adults commanded some semblance of order she didn’t even know where to turn and
– Mew? – Puîyus asked. He looked down and saw a line of blood upon her side.
– I cut myself – Éfhelìnye chanted. – I was running down the pathway and stone statues arose after me, and … I don’t really want to talk about it right now. But they began breaking apart as soon as you came, just as shadows weaken and waver before the Rising Sun. –
Puîyus brushed an hand through her tresses of gold and red and whispering told her in mews and glances, I want to return you to the fortress, I’ll have a Vestal Virgin look at you. That’s a nasty cut down there.
– I would endure many knife stabs for you. Monsters and Ancestors do not frighten me, my love, only being apart from you. –
Puîyus turned around and heard the approach of many giraffes and Kháfha riding upon the spotted shoulders, and behind them were come a few of the Jaràqtun warriors upon their snarling mounts. They were bowing before the child and saying – The battle is won. The pyramids are filled with slaves who are begging for mercy. Shall we slay them or give them unto the priests? –
Puîyus lifted up his hands in ritualized khyatsáke hand signals such as all men saw in statues and in stained glass, for he had come to realize that although they could not understand the growls and snarls and mews in the language of beasts, they could recognize some of the signs one saw in artwork and in the holy sylvanhood, his forefinger and thumb rolled together in the sign of Peace, and his other hand arose open as of a palm without a knife in it, a sign for Mercy. And the men understood to gave the slaves unto the priests and not to slay them as invaders forbidden to enter this land. The soldiers and warriors did not remain longer to hear any more words, their task was to obey. Puîyus looked into Éfhelìnye’s eyen. She lifted up her hands and touched his face, and sighing a little just rested next to him and wanted nothing more than to rest in his arms.
Princess Ixhúja came swinging upwards upon a rope of cordage and clockwork and landed right before Puîyus and looking to her cousin just shook her head and quod tsk tsk tsk a few times. Ixhúja wiped some blood from her face. She was holding a severed head in one hand, it was the head of a large qájàrning drone gushing with sticky black blood, and the head itself was half as large as her body, its large compound eyen still blinking a little in spasmatic twitches. The mandibles were slowly opening and closing, one antenna was still moving, the other was broken apart and hissing came of it. Ixhúja held up the head and tried to get Éfhelìnye to admire it, but she just looked up and trembled and held onto Puîyus all the tighter.
Puîyus looked to Ixhúja and told her in glances, The battle is done here. Will you take the beloved Princess back to the fortress? I want a Vestal Virgin to look at her wound.
Ah? Ixhúja looked down. Stomache wound. Stabbing. Looks quaad. Some thètyuyu qlaêkh some dastardly caitiff dared to jab her. Barbaric. Brutal. Quās ego! I oughta! She shook her fist a few times in the air.
I can stay here and see to the men, Puîyus told Ixhúja in glances and blinks.
– No! I’m staying with you – Éfhelìnye chanted. – It’s you and I together, Puey, for all time. Wherever you go so shall I, in battle and quest and despair. I’ll only go with my Cousin if you stay with us, but if you stay here on the beach so shall I. I did not slide down the side of the mountain of skyiron and ice just to be sent back again. –
Ixhúja picked up the severed head and shook it a few times, the blinking compound eyen pfhokhànkhapa twitching and turning were glancing in quite a marvelous way, but for some reason were not quite delighting Éfhelìnye as much as her cousin thought they would. Ixhúja sighed. She kicked the head away, and playing with one of her cousin’s tresses told her, Come on, you and I can go back home. I was planning on spending the rest of the evening with you anyway. We can explore the outer regions of the fortress.
– Yes, I know. But I’m staying with Puey here. –
Ixhúja looked up. She drew out a glove and flexing her fingers one by one purred and clicked as if to say, I’ll just smack her unconscious and carry her home. I know you don’t want me to break her face too much, but if just strike her neck and back …
Puîyus held up a finger in warning to forbid her. Ixhúja stuck out her tounge and growling told Puîyus, You don’t have to be so delicate with her, she’s survived multiple dragon attacks and slid down the side of a mountain. Let me just hurt her a little.
– Mew! –
Oh! You’re no fun at all! Ixhúja growled and turning around began punching her fist against the side of the stone wall, and the stone began crackling around in circles, and although her knuckles were bleeding now, she continud to punch the stone. Puîyus and Éfhelìnye ran upwards and grabbed Ixhúja by her wrists and pulled her away and stopped her, but Ixhúja just snarled at them and pulled herself away.
Ixhúja, that’s enough. Take the holy Princess back to the fortress, Puîyus hissed at her.
– I’m staying with you, Puey – Éfhelìnye chanted.
If you want to hold her down I’ll beat her unto submission, Ixhúja growled.
Nobody’s beating anyone, Puîyus told her in mews and ritual mudras. All three of us will return.
Just a little beating? asked Ixhúja.
No beating.
A wee beatinglette?
No, Ixhúja.
On her back? The unimportant nape of her neck?
No part of the Princess is unimportant.
I’m going to pinch her ears now.
Puîyus growled at Ixhúja, but she just laughed in his face all the louder, and Puîyus despaired of e'er being able to understand her particular and fey sense of humor. Éfhelìnye sniffled a little, and when Ixhúja tried to hold her, the Starflower Princess just shook herself away from her cousin and came back to Puîyus again and leaned her head against him. She reached up and took one of his arms to wrap about her. Puîyus had to use his other arm to keep Ixhúja away, for sometimes she looked like she was about to pounce upon Éfhelìnye and other times about to kick her away and sometimes about to embrace her in filial love. Puîyus waited for Ixhúja to spend some of her energies and for Éfhelìnye to start feeling warm and loved again, and then he looked upwards and seeing a few giraffes munching upon the dead crimson grasses which had once been crowns upon the stone statuary, and he whistled unto one of them, and the camelopards came forwards and were bowing unto Puîyus and singing unto him, and the speckles upon their bodies were changing and flowing within the sea of their skin, and Puîyus picked one which was strong and swift, and he picked up Éfhelìnye and jumped up off the cliff and landed upon the back of the camelopard. He whistled to Ixhúja, and she looked around and yawned and pretended that she was bored and not about to go along with them.
Do you wish to stay, beloved twin? Puîyus asked her in mews and whispers. There may be stray warriors trying to escape, you can bound them to your heart’s contentment.
Ixhúja stretched her arms. Perchance. Mayhap. One must think.
– Ixhúja, why don’t you stay down here – Éfhelìnye chanted as she wrapped her arms about Puîyus. – I’m planning on kissing him quite a bit, and it may be awkward for you to be riding next to me. –
– Mew? – asked Puîyus.
Princess Ixhúja looked around and thought that it would be fun to find a few escaping Qája raiders and grab them by their mandibles and strangle them in the foaming froth, plus it was always a joy for her to be in the midst of the horror of battle, and to see all of the warriors of Jaràqtu gazing at her in awe as well as the Qhíng and Kháfha and Qlùfhem and Thùlwu shaking in fear about her as she swung around bits of flotsam and ripped her enemies unto pieces. But she knew that she was supposed to keep Éfhelìnye distracted and occupied while Akhlísa had her little party, it was just the way that the harem functioned, in the hierarchy of the maidens someone always had to take care of the future Empress. But Ixhúja wanted to take care of her cousin, not as much as she wanted to howl and scream in the glory of battle, but her cousin and only living kithwoman was somehow able to make her happy in a way that falling bodies and triumphant howls and burning fields and screaming clockwork just did not. Ixhúja jumped from side to side and pretended that she was going to run away, but Puîyus and Éfhelìnye both knew that she would go with them in the end, but they pretended to be surprise when Ixhúja launched herself into the air and wrapped herself around the neck of the great spangled camelopard and hung there. Puîyus who had been Íngìkhmar’s only begotten Son did not bother with rein, the giraffe understood the music of this thought,and the zarāfa spun around mewling and crying all the while and ran up unto the crowds of the chieftains, and warriors were marching outwards and dragging out whatever living ships could be scavenged, the Kháfha running upward and dousing the fires, the Qhíng and Aûm walking together tentacle in tentacle and whispering to each other about the complexities of how they would rebuild these vessels, and in the midst of the fiery confusion and the tumbling of the waves he came up unto the Tárfhas Clanfathers of Jaràqtu clasfempta, and they bowed unto him in their humility.
– Mew mew mew – Puîyus chanted, he was having to hold up Puîyus with one arm, his other hand spelling out the signs of mercy. Éfhelìnye reached o'er and stopped kissing his face, and he wished she would not do that in the presence of the Fathers of the Land. – Mew. –
– The battle is won – the chieftains were saying. – Honor us by returning to your fortress and your harem of course. I think your women eswakhíne wives have seen enough of the battle. –
– Let’s go back home – chanted Éfhelìnye.
Puîyus looked down from the giraffe and saw that lines of fhàxhos were walking down the bridges of the pyramids, and he bristled a little to see these strange creatures, the fhàxhos who were thralls of the Qája, for some of them he could see were surely of the Qája Jhpokhefhóri Masters, put were smaller than the rest of the Qája, were bent o'er as if their carapaces had been thrawn and altered, and yet others of the fhàxhos thralls appeared to be insectoid in form but were not quite of the Qája volk, they were all of large pincers and hands and were eager to hold great burdhens, others were tall of leg and were wriggling from side to side and were swift and mighty, and others looked more like hairy creatures, hirsute beings of many eyen and which had eyen inside their limbs and in their jaws, and were not quite like anything which Puîyus had seen before. He tried to get Éfhelìnye to stop kissing him so that he could ask her what they were, but the Princess was far more concerned for the smell of his skin and the embrace about her than in watching the wibbial being marched upwards.
– Mew mew mew? – Puîyus wondered, but there was none to translate for him.
The chieftains were bowing and turning and the great jhwaxàntu hieromonachs among the Kháfha were walking upwards, staves in their wings, and they murmured one to another and then falling upon their knees before Puîyus chanted – Forgive us, but these humble fhàxhos thralls wish permission for their lives to be given up in fhliráqha the perfumed blood sacrifice, their blood and hearts give up unto the divine Ása. Oh holy crown prince, will you grant such a boon to these slaves? –
Puîyus knew that for the fhàxhos to be sacrificed alive and by word of an Emperor or a future Emperor would be a great honor indeed and worthy of praise, and he bowed his head and nodded in acquiescence. The monks drew themselves upwards and the senior monk was saying – Forgive us for bothering you with our trifling words again, but the slaves are asking for an even greater boon. – The monks fell silent and waited for Puîyus to say something, he just nodded in response and pulled Éfhelìnye’s face away, he wanted to hear what what the morizinz would have to say. – The greater honor which one can be affored in blood sacrifice would be if the High Priest or the Fhárfhu himself sacrificed the victim, but the greatest honor would be if an Emperor or his Son removed the heart. The slaves were asking me whether you would consent to slay them with your own holy hand … –
Puîyus’ eyen grew dark. He had slain many men, more than he could count, most in battle, some in duels, some in cityscape and forest and at the side of the road, bandits and pirates and rogues had died by his hand, but in his time in the sylvanhood he had only been a novice acolyte and never been drawn up unto the sacrificial circles, and now for a moment he was envisioning himself before the vast stone altars, the slave being dipped in woad and drawn out before him, and acolytes bowing before him and setting the xhakeîrowu obsidian knife in his hand. Puiyus gulped, he imagined himself in long robes of red, a brilliant headdress flowing about his shoulders, and his blue tresses wild in the fire winds, the drums beating unto all sides, the music arisen. It did not bother him to thrust a knife into someone’s chest, and he had bitten out the hearts of his enemies before, but as he thought about the blood and the drums and the dancing city beneath the ziggarat, he just knew that he could not do it. He turned away from the monks. The fhàxhos slaves gazed up unto him with hopeful compound eyen, but even though they were being denied the greatest of honors, still they knew that they would become a part light of the Suns, and they turned with adoration unto their Crown Prince beloved kroonprins troonsopvolger kruununprinssi Kronprinz Thronfolger král’ovič korunný princ cárovič kronprins.
The monks leaned one to another and were whispering, and they did not know just how severe Puîyus’ hearing was as they whispered – The future Emperor is still very young, he’s almost an infant, but perhaps when he is older he shall have more endurance for such a sacrifice. It can take longer to train a sacrificial priest than a warrior of the land. –
Puîyus looked down and watched the moving of the fhàxhos slaves, and he saw that the monks were coming upwards and were taking them by mandible and claw and leading them up unto the pebble pathways of the whispering mountains and in the direction of the hexagonclad pyramid high above. Puîyus did not wish to think anymore about the battle and the slaves, he knew that Éfhelìnye just didn’t want to let him go, and that Ixhúja was getting antsy and was liable to get into trouble if he didn’t find something for her to do, as she swung around the neck of the zarāfa and kept peering off unto the froth the steaming war machines, and crawling down the side of her head were clockwork earrings crawling about and giggling. Puîyus nodded unto the monks and the chieftains, and the giraffe spun around, and they arose and turned around and rode away from the coming music of blood and sacrifice.
The xhthaêt naⁿnkogznos came leaping upwards upon some of the larger and wider of the pathways that lead up unto the mountain, it was turning neither right nor left but kept its head upwards, and Puîyus held onto Éfhelìnye and tried to keep her still and comfortable and not jostling around too much. Ixhúja was not at all interested in comfort, she just loved holding onto the edge of the neck of the giraffe and feeling the wild winds in her hair, she loved the taste of the snowflakes tumbling in the air, she barely even had a chance to notice the texture and taste in the glory of battle, she was too far concerned with blood and the taste of copper and precious iron in her mouth, but now she could luxuriate in the running wight, and so even as Puîyus was trying to keep the Starflower Princess still, Ixhúja was yanking at the giraffe’s ears and skriking at it and urging it to run faster and faster, and she kept telling it, don’t worry about how slipperythe iceflats are, just run for the sake of running just fly oh camelopard! Puîyus looked up and with a glance tried to calm down the plantimal, and Ixhúja just grumbled and was starting to be irked by her brother, it was one thing to coddle the spoiled little Princess but quite another not to ride with swift reckless abandon. Ixhúja drew an hair pin and jabbed it right into the giraffe, and it screamed and started galloping as quickly as it could, and Ixhúja laughed in glee and was thrown right down the neck and landed beside Puîyus and could not control her laughter, and she pounding her fist against its back and kicked, and Puîyus growled and tried to speak soothing words unto the wild creature. The giraffe was almost sliding right off of the pebbles, several times it was teetering and about to fall upon its side, and Puîyus had no choice at all but to arise and even while holding onto Éfhelìnye he had to hold the giraffe by its neck and brush it and tell it to calm down and not come thundering upwards in such a wild array, but he did not bother looking backwards and growing angry with Ixhúja, it was as jejune to be irked with her as it was to be angry at wind and storm and lion and typhoonsaur or any other force of nature.
– Shhh shhhh shhhh – Puîyus whispered.
– Hah hah hah hah hah! – screamed Ixhúja and she beat against the back of the giraffe a few more times. The giraffe slid a few times, but at last it was slowing, and Puîyus was able to slide down and set the Princess down in some little comfort, and Éfhelìnye reached out and kissed his roseate cheeks, as soft and delicate as so many petals. The giraffe was slowing down for it was reaching some of the outer reaches of the fortress, the guard towers were all alit with flashes of naphtha spilling upwards through tall and metallic horns, and the pyramids in the complex were alight with thousands of painted lanterns and the torches that the acolytes were clasping and bringing high within. The outer gates of the fortress were opening and out were come a few men upon ostridge back and were preparing for to form a vanguard to surround the Holy Twins Puîyus and Éfhelìnye, for swift came the message by smoke and fire through the regions of the temples and towers, but dashing up beyond the coming guards came a lone ostridge running up with reckless speed unto Puîyus and Éfhelìnye and Ixhúja. As of yet the children were not noticing the visitor coming up unto them, instead Éfhelìnye was playing with Puîyus’ hair and kissing him several times and telling him – When we get married I would love if we could somehow be married beneath Sànum the Tree of Light, for I read that of old it was called not only the Dragon Tree but also the Marriage Tree, for beneath its boughs in sparkling light and planets and shine the first marriage and imperial coronation were held. –-
– Mew mew? – Puîyus wondered, for holy Sànum had died long ago, back when the Dreamtime was young and the worlds were newly arisen from the ocean deep.
– We may have to build a representation of the Tree then – Éfhelìnye chanted. – Crystalline timber and craft shall be the wood of the tree, and we shall create its glassen leaves of our own hands. The priest shall stand in the shade, Grandfather Pátifhar I hope, and a pool of fresh pellucid and cascading water will flow downwards and embrighten all things. –
Puîyus looked upwards and saw that riding up untowards them was coming Siêthiyal upon ostridge back. She was dressed in a bright pink party dress of her own creation, her hair was rolling outwards swift and free, and she was causing the ostridge to gallop down long and winding ice pathways, and Puîyus was thinking of arising and helping her to slow down before she hurt herself.
– Or perhaps, my love, we can find a way to make the original Tree bloom again – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– Mew … – Puîyus was watching Siêthiyal, his Sister’s face was unreadable to him.
– If we can defeat my Father, I’m sure we can do anything at all – Éfhelìnye wrapped Puîyus’ arms about her tight and leaning closer and puckering up her lips chanted – Now kiss me, my Puey! –
– … –
– Then kiss me before Siêthiyal gets here. –
Puîyus tried to push Éfhelìnye away, but that only encouraged her all the more, and just leaned closer and closer unto him. Siêthiyal for her part was not even waiting for the ostridge to stop, as soon as she was close enough to the ostridge she just swung herself off of its saddle and jumping up grabbed the long lengths of saddle ladder upon the giraffe and pulled herself upwards. Éfhelìnye was leaning in to kiss Puîyus, she was hoping to touch her lips to his, but Siêthiyal jumped right up and shoved Puîyus’ face away and grabbed Éfhelìnye by the chin and shook her entire head and none too gently.
– Where have you been! – Siêthiyal cried. – Answer me! –
– You’ve ruined my kiss! – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– There are more important things than your princessly romantic fantasties, I’ll have you know that I’ve searched the entire harem and all the fortress for you, I’ve sent all the servants and slaves I’ve threatened all the Eunuchs to find you, oh how I love threatening Eunuchs they just cower and scatter before me as far as I’m concerned they’re the least useful member of the harem but that’s not the point right now. Where have you been! –
– I … I … I just had to be with Puey! –
– Did you sneak out of the harem! – Siêthiyal shouted.
Puîyus tried to calm his Sister down, but Siêthiyal jabbed her elbow into his face and grabbed Éfhelìnye by a tuft of her hair and shook her. Puîyus tried to rap his arm about Siêthiyal but without looking at him she shouted – Leave me alone, Brother. Just get the plantimals back to the fortress. Did you sneak out of the harem, my sister – And Siêthiyal hissed to emphasise that last word, xhàmim.
– Yes … only because I had to sneak out of the fortress and into the battle … – Éfhelìnye gasped.
Siêthiyal slapped Éfhelìnye across the face and chanted – Have you any idea how much trouble you’ve found! Puey, leave me alone! While you’re out in battle we’ve had a battle here, we have an Empress missing, do you have any idea what it was like down there! Look at the naphtha flames! Do you know what they’re saying, We found the Empress! No alarum! This one snuck out! – Siêthiyal slapped Éfhelìnye across the face again.
Ixhúja drew a knife and flung herself through the air and was intending to rip out Siêthiyal’s heart, but Puîyus caught up Ixhúja and held her down. The giraffe which was carrying the four children as well as the ostridge which had borne Siêthiyal looked up to each other and decided that best it would be to return to the stables and not to get too involved with the children, and anyway they could see that soon the other plantimals would be coming, the guards mounted coming out of the fortress.
Siêthiyal slapped Éfhelìnye a couple more times and cried – Are you even sorry for what you did! Akhlísa has been weeping her eyen out for you, did it e'er occur to you that sneaking out of an heavily armed fortress and into battle would somehow upset someone? The priests were knocking aside all the chairs and looking for you, the Traîkhiim have been searching beneath every bed and in the attic, Fhólus started the rumor that Puîyus had eaten you, and the Traîkhiim were all panicking, do you know what it’s like when a thousand little brainless Traîkhiim start panicking they’re wrecking the entire fortress because the Empress is gone! That’s you in case you haven’t figured it out yet. –
– I … I just wanted to be with Puey! I’ll die without him! I’m a flower without any sunshine! – Éfhelìnye started weeping. Siêthiyal lifted up her hand and was about to strike again, but Puîyus caught her up, even as he was trying to hold Ixhúja down with his other arm. And Ixhúja was biting his fingers.
– Enough with your silly poetic metaphors – Siêthiyal chanted. – The fact of the matter is that you ran away into the greatest possible danger and now Akhlísa is screaming and terrified because she thinks that she lost her best friend or that you were eaten. Puey! Let me go right now! You bare some responsibility in this. –
– Mew! – Puîyus grabbed both of Siêthiyal’s hands just to keep her from any more slapping and he hoped that Ixhúja would manage not to fly into a murdherous rage for longer than five seconds. As it was Ixhúja slipped upwards and embraced Éfhelìnye and rubbed her back and tried to calm her down. Siêthiyal shoved herself out of Puîyus grasp and stared at him.
– You need to tell her not to engage in any other crazy machinations from now on! – Siêthiyal hissed. – I realize the two of you were trapped in the wilderness for far too long, you’ve braved dangers I cannot even imagine, but you’re in civilization now, at least what’s left of it, and she can’t upset every single adult in a fortress and make them think that the Empress, the entire reason they’re fighting, is missing! And you can’t permit her to risk her life any longer. Am I the only one trying to keep us Pwéru together? –
Puîyus barred his teeth at her. Siêthiyal did the same and shouted – Do you know what you’re going to see when you go back home? Karuláta has been crying all this time because of her. She doesn’t cry when your martian sweetheart goes into battle, oh Ixhúja don’t look at me like that, we all know you secretly love my Brother so just admit it, your darling little wife has been pacing the halls and … do you know how worried she was for your future senior wife? Forget about the priests and soldiers and the Poriêrii who will no doubt want something from us for this nice fortress they’ve given us, just think about Kàrula, you know, the one who promised to marry you as a child! –
– I’ve promised to marry Puey too! – gasped Éfhelìnye.
Ixhúja took a kerchief and began drying her cousin’s tears and purring told her, You’re not really helping, my dear.
– She won’t listen to me, your future first wife, so you need to tell her, no, you’ll be the lord and husband, you don’t tell your wife you command her – Siêthiyal chanted – and forbid her from entering battle and sneaking out of a fortress and all manner of stupid things … –
– Mew mew mew … –
– I don’t care if she missed you! Does anyone care? You giraffe, what do you think? Too smart to get involved in the argument I see. Ixhúja, I know you agree with me but won’t admit it because you don’t like me. Puey, tell her to stay with her Sisters where it’s safe. Or let me tell you, she will end up dead because of you, she’ll create some weird little invention or sneak of on some treasure hunting expedition and you’ll have a dead Princess o'er whom to mourn for the rest of your life! Is that what you want, Pew? Is it? Tell me now! Answer me! –
Puîyus roared at Siêthiyal, it was a sound a little akin to the growling of lions but also like snapping alasaurs and typhoonosaurs also, for he was telling his birth Sibling, One does not strike a relative in our Family, let alone one of divine blood. He narrowed his eyen. We do not hurt each other in this family.
Siêthiyal smacked Puîyus across the face. For a moment he was too stunned to respond. Siêthiyal was panting, she was on the verge of slapping him again, but he caught up her hand and squeezed it. He whimpered unto her in a voice only she could hear, and told he her, Fhermáta never struck any of us.
But Siêthiyal leaned froward and whispered – Fhermáta was not as perfect as you think she was. She poked me and Kàrula around when she thought she had to. But I am not Fhermáta and never will be. – Puîyus released her hand. Siêthiyal had to rub feeling back into her wrist, but she did not care, at least she had Puîyus’ attention, a lasting impression she hoped, better than any of Éfhelìnye’s sighing and fainting and kissing. Siêthiyal pointed to Éfhelìnye behind her and chanted – If you love her, you should beat her for sneaking out into battle. As it is, when you get married you’ll probably have to beat her at least once a month until she finally starts learning obedience, she’s extremely undisciplined, she throws the entire household into tumult, and she only thinks about herself. The Empress disappeared. Puey! The Empress disappeared and no one could find her. Just … just slap her about a little. –
Ixhúja knew that no real damage had been done to her cousin, the sound on her stomache was the real concern, Éfhelìnye’s face was just a little red, a slight apple blush, but it was enough for Ixhúja to be planning what type of horrible death Siêthiyal warranted. Ixhúja drew a knife and clamped it in her jaw, and her clockwork creatures began pouring down the side of her head, and she arose with pantherine grace.
– Puey, it’s a simple equation – Siêthiyal chanted still pointing to Éfhelìnye. – Either make her cry now, or you’ll be crying o'er her crystalline sarcophagos later. But she’s not sneaking away any longer. It was foolish of me to leave her alone for three minutes, I’m keeping a guard about her. Unless you want to live in the harem quarters and look after her, like one of her favored pets, a kitten perchance, that’s perfectly fine, but … –
– Mew – Puîyus wondered, almost more to himself than to any of the other women of the Sun. Ixhúja was flying through the air and trying to pounce upon Siêthiyal again, and Puîyus had to spin around and throw Siêthiyal aside and grabbed Ixhúja by her throat and hold her down, and Ixhúja growled and thrashed about a little and was doing her best to reach outwards and stab Siêthiyal who for her part was brushing dust from herself and walking right up to Ixhúja and placing her shoe right upon the Martian Princess’ head as if in triumph. Ixhúja just became all the angrier, and Puîyus had to work hard to keep her down, even as Siêthiyal was laughing at her, and Éfhelìnye arose and dried her tears and ran up and threw her arms around Puîyus neck and cried out – I didn’t mean to cause any trouble at all I just missed you so much and can’t bare to be away from you please don’t be angry with me please please please please please! –
– Purr! – cried Ixhúja.
– Maybe you should be this one too – Siêthiyal chanted, and she kicked Ixhúja a couple of times. – Just for good luck I’d say. –
– Puey, I was so scared when I went off in search for you I came sliding down the side of the ice mountain and there were all these terrifying statues of stone and their weapons were sparkling alive and the statues were arising of their own accord and glaring at me with their bleeding wound faces … – Éfhelìnye began.
Ixhúja snarled and punched her way out of Puîyus grasp and fell right upon Siêthiyal and began kicking her in the stomache, and Puîyus had to wrestle the two maidens from each other even as Éfhelìnye refused to let go of Puîyus at all. For few eyeblinks everything was confusion , the swirling of sleeves and gowns, and Siêthiyal and Ixhúja were ay on the verge of using even the slightest purr or glance as an excuse for holy war, and just as Puîyus managed to grasp Ixhúja by one her arms and Siêthiyal by her collar, and Éfhelìnye was holding onto his neck and just getting in the way, the giraffe coughed a few times in warning, and the four children saw that the guards were coming untowards them, mounted men upon ostridge and not a few giraffes, and they were forming corridors to usher the new Imperial family back into the fortress, and the children looked behind them and saw that only an hundred cubits behind them were marching upwards the Kháfha monks and the fhàxhos slaves singing their death songs and prepared to meet the Immortals in the glare of the Sun, and behind them were arising huge warships and the gloom of Qhíng and Kháfha and Aûm. And the maidens at once knowing that adult eyen were about to fall upon them pretended that they were not just fighting and Siêthiyal and Ixhúja slid down and clasped each others’ hands, and Puîyus and Éfhelìnye sate down together, and together they came riding right up unto the gateway and the priests and servants were all waiting for them and rejoicing that in fact the future Empress was found again, the little lost lamp of the Pwéru.
Siêthiyal and Ixhúja did not even want to look at each other, but they kept doing so, each one measuring the other one up as potential adversary, for even though Ixhúja had strength and military experience, she was yet to gain a clear advantage o'er Siêthiyal in the world of the harem, but Siêthiyal for her part was unable to persue her agenda, which was the acknowledgement of Akhlísa as wife to Puîyus as well as any ancillary benefits of procuring toys on a massive scale, and she was not sure whether inimical relations to Ixhúja could help or hurt that cause. Éfhelìnye was just glad to be with Puîyus again and did not mind the ancestrial statues and the sea scorpions and the great spiders, just so long as she could lean next to Puîyus and be with him always. And as they came unto the frost of the courtyard a thousand Traîkhiim came rolling out and were shouting in joy, and in the midst of the wing flutter Fhólus and Aîya were arising and laughing one to another.
– They found the Empress! Not under the dark scary bed any more! Everyone, count to three and we rejoice at once! One! One! One! Three! –
– Hurray! – cried the thousand Traîkhiim.
Puîyus slid down the ladder saddle of the giraffe and was carrying Éfhelìnye in his arms, and no sooner did his wooden shoe touch the courtyard than the doors swung open and Akhlísa came running out, and her eyen were red from weeping and she ran right towards Éfhelìnye. Neither Siêthiyal nor Ixhúja needed help getting off of a giraffe, although they could not help but notice that Puîyus did not offer to help them down, so concerned was he with Éfhelìnye. A few slaves came running upwards to help the maidens down the zarāfa, but Ixhúja just kicked the slaves across their faces in warning for them to stay away from her, and she ran off into the shadows. Siêthiyal jumped upon the back of the slaves and tried to trample o'er as many of them as possible, but stopped when she saw that Akhlísa was come, her clockwork earrings trailing up and down her ears, and she flung herself into Éfhelìnye’s arms and held her tight and started crying all the harder.
– Oh my beloved cater-cousin my Sister wife my favorite Princess in all the world I was so frightened because of you! – Akhlísa cried. – I thought that some dæmons had come and princessnapped you and I didn’t know what to do! I haven’t been this scared since the Duchesses were making all the fleet explode or the Dragon caught me and made me look into its eyen and the Qhíng were burning Jaràqtu and … and you know … when older Sister was taken from us, I felt just like that again, when Fhermáta left us and I was left all alone. –
– I’m still here – chanted Siêthiyal.
– I would be all alone with you, Éfha! –
– Ignored ignored ignored … –
– Did you run off into the battle! –
Éfhelìnye looked around in confusion. – I used to sneak out of the crannog all the time and no one e'er noticed. –
– You weren’t the future Empress then! – chanted Akhlísa. – You’re going to be the Mother of the Land. We can’t lose you. – She knew she was on the verge of tears again. – You’re … you’re going to be the Qwasiêla, the Moon Empress! Men go to war for you, they die by … by the ékh tìjhwa, by the thrillion for you! –
Puîyus could see that he was being ignored and that suited him fine, he wanted to check on the plantimals in the stable and make sure they were not frightened by battle. He reached o'er and took Éfhelìnye’s hand and kissed it, and Éfhelìnye tried to lean froward so that Puîyus could sweep her up in his arms and kiss her in a suitably romantic way, but Puîyus was already turning around and leaving in a violet ripple of his dreamcloak, and burbling within the mantle were imagines of the Qája pyramids and the fires raining down from the heavens, and the crackling of tide and froth and blood.
Siêthiyal was growing frustrated because the slaves just weren’t groveling any more, she wanted to walk upon a few more backs but the slaves were just backing away from her, and when she tried kicking at them, she thought that they were ducking, the insolence of them! She was about to do something about it, but she saw that Akhlísa was holding Éfhelìnye and the Princess did not look like she was learning her lesson, and Siêthiyal was not about to endure the rigamarole of searching the entire rath again because Éfhelìnye couldn’t behave herself. Siêthiyal came stomping upwards and shoved her finger right into Éfhelìnye’s face and chanted – You’d better not do that again, Princess! Don’t think that I couldn’t find a way to replace you if you died, I’m sure Puey will be upset but I’ll find him more brides! Don’t run off into battle. –
– Siêthiyal, just leave her alone – Akhlísa chanted. – Can’t you see she’s upset. –
– She’s not upset enough, she needs to learn her lesson … don’t tell me you’ve forgotten how you were screaming and weeping because of her! She has no right to do that to you! Éfha! Listen to me! –
– I’ll be good from now on – Éfhelìnye murmured.
– You’ll be perfect from now on – Siêthiyal chanted. – My Sister was blind with grief because of you, my Sister the one who promised to marry Puey when she was still a little child, the one promised to him since birth, you must afford her respect, you have no right to treat her in such a fashion! –
Éfhelìnye burst out into tears. Akhlísa wrapped her arms about her and glared at Siêthiyal as if to protect the Princess from her Sister. One of Akhlísa’s hands spelt out the signs, You’ve made your point. Scram.
The future Empress cannot do this again, Siêthiyal signed right back.
– Go count your toys or something! – Akhlísa chanted.
– When you stop breaking them I’ll have some worthy of counting! – Siêthiyal cried.
Akhlísa rubbed Éfhelìnye’s back but was glaring at her Sister, her free hand writing, Go away! I’ll patch everything up with her. You’re making this worse, you always do!
I do not, I found her! Siêthiyal signed at her. If you were in charge you’d be crying in bed and clutching Tét the Acceptible to yourself rather than doing anything at all!
– I chanted go away, you mutant sweetheart! –
– You stupid little orphan! –
The three maidens spun aside at the sound of a crashing wall, and looking upwards saw a wave of Traîkhiim fluttering towards them, and they hoped that they were lucky enough that this were only a kitchen accident frightening them, but out of the shadows they saw the gleam of metal, a long and crooked jòkhtiti reaping shotel, and out from the shadows came walking Ixhúja, the sickle was swung o'er her shoulder, and some fresh blood was dribbling down her skirt. She held up a few severed heads just so the Sweqhàngqu Sisters Siêthiyal and Akhlísa could see them, blood flowing from the shattered necks, and taking out some spikes with calm but precise determination she began nailing the heads to the walls where all could see them. The Traîkhiim were fleeing away from Ixhúja in all directions, she was taking her time, she wanted to make sure that Siêthiyal heard the sound of the nailing and had time to contemplate her fate. The Traîkhiim screamed and fled unto all the quarters of the courtgarth, and then when she was finished wiht her grim chore, Ixhúja turned around and pointed the drepánē right to Siêthiyal and smiled as if to say, You’re next.
– I hope those heads were taken in battle – Akhlísa chanted. She rubbed Éfhelìnye a few more times but was looking to Siêthiyal and saying – Was there anything you wanted to tell me? –
– No, of course not – chanted Siêthiyal.
– Have you, I don’t know, somehow made Ixhúja angry with you? –
– No. She’s crazy. Who cares what she thinks. –
The Traîkhiim were screaming, even though Ixhúja was not attacking them, her look was enough to petrify them with grief, and Ixhúja was walking outwards with a long spirlizim and taking it from her shoulders was swinging it from side to side and catching up feathers in the air and slicing them in twain, and snowfall flothering before her was breaking apart at the edge of the yebaneif, and she was grinning right at Siêthiyal.
– Help help help the Huntress is crazy insane mad! – screamed Fhólus.
– Help help help the Huntress acting herself! – screamed Aîya.
– Quotidien craziness scary enough! –
– Every Triîm for his or her or ær self! –
Akhlísa kissed Éfhelìnye a few times and chanted – Beloved, did mean and cranky Siêthiyal do anything to you out there? –
– No … – whimpered Éfhelìnye, and she hid her eyen.
– Starflower, you can tell me. –
– Siêthiyal didn’t do anything. –
Akhlísa looked to Siêthiyal and hissed – Would you mind telling me before Ixhúja disembowels us all? –
– So I slapped Éfhelìnye around a little, it doesn’t matter who cares, Ixhúja is sooo sensitive about everything! – Siêthiyal crossed her arms. – Are you hungry? We never got to eat because someone decided to run away from home, and not for the first time I may add. –
– Siêthi! –
– Don’t call me … –
– You slapped Éfhelìnye! –
– Just once! –
– Siêthiyal! –
– A few times! Does it matter? –
– Um, isn’t the punishment for touching the Empress death? –
– And you’re hugging her? Sorry, we’re the Pwéru, we’re allowed to touch one of our own … am I the only one who’s actually read the Holy Writ! –
– You don’t understand, do you, you dumbcluck! You smacked her only relative and only friend! And she’s running right towards us with a sickle! –
– Must you overact to everything … –
Traîkhiim askrikent were fluttering unto all sides of the maidens, Siêthiyal was keeping her back to Ixhúja, Akhlísa was trying to get Éfhelìnye to stop crying but Akhlísa was still on the verge of tears and she shouted – Sickle! Sickle! Sickle! –
– When isn’t Ixhúja threatening us with a sword or knife or some other sharp and parlous weapon? – Siêthiyal asked. – The moment she isn’t about to run us through, that’s when I start panicking. Ixhúja, stop it right thereon, otherwise we’ll all start screaming and Puey’s not an hundred yards away … –
Ixhúja started ululating, she was spinning through the air in brilliant acrobatics, the sickle itself almost sheering through all the air and slicing it open, and making all things ring with its own music, she was running back from battle, and slight stains of paint lay on her face. Fhólus and Aîya were doing their best to stay out the way, but here at the edge of the courtyart there was not too far for them to go and they did not wish to flutter too high away and leave the Empress their beloved, and all of the aliens were screaming, one princess was screaming, one princess was crying, two Sisters were argueing, and warriors came marching right through the courtyard upon their thunderous ostridges and giraffes and lines of intoning monks were come and behind them all came the fhàxhos slaves singing deep and thunderous and proud the lines of their death songs as they marched out for honored blood sacrifice. Ixhúja took a few swings with her sickle, and Siêthiyal fell upon the ground, rolled about and kicked Ixhúja, who was about to pounce on her, but Siêthiyal hid herself right behind Éfhelìnye and kissed her and chanted – Tell your cousin how much you love me! –
– I love you, Siêthiyal! – Éfhelìnye chanted.
Siêthiyal shrugged and looking to Ixhúja chanted – Sorry, you can’t hurt me. –
Ixhúja threw the sickle down, but she reached into her into her pocket and drew out a rusted hook and wondered how many yards of Siêthiyal’s intestines she could rip out before Puîyus dragged her kicking and screaming away. Siêthiyal just grasped harder unto Éfhelìnye and chanted – I’m sorry we just don’t fight in this family isn’t that right Éfha my beloved darling, we’re all family here. –
Éfhelìnye sniffled. – No, we don’t fight. –
– And nobody blames you at all for sneaking away to see Puey see we’re all forgiven now so Ixhúja just back down we all love each other … –
– Yes, Ixhúja, nobody’s angry at anyone else – Akhlísa chanted. – Why if I were just a tiny bit braver I’d be running off into battle to see Puey because he’s beautiful and shining and handsome and I want him to hold and kiss me too because he’s going to be the Father of my children too. –
– See all friends – grinned Siêthiyal. – Now, if I recall correctly, Ixhújaji, weren’t you going to take care of Éfhaji and go exploring and playing while the rest of us do chores? –
Ixhúja wondered whether she could at least rip out Siêthiyal’s throat, somehow Ixhúja could not quite win whenever Siêthiyal started talking to quickly, it did not quite seem honorable, and come to think of it, Siêthiyal’s hiding behind her cousin should be a shameful act, but difficult it is to be continuously angry with someone who loves my cousin even if for selfish ends. Ixhúja set the disemboweling hook into her pocket and thought about killing Siêthiyal another day, long and slow torture, but not right now.
Akhlísa came froward to dab her own eyen and Éfhelìnye’s dry, but when she came to her Sister Wife Éfhelìnye whimpered and chanted – You’re not having his children. –
– Huh? – asked Akhlísa.
– I say, I refuse to permit you to have Puey’s children, I reserve that right only to me. You shall be his holy virgin. –
Siêthiyal leaned her head on Éfhelìnye’s shoulder and chanted – Beloved Sister, do we have to discuss this right now? –
– Puey’s mine and I think we all need to acknowledge that! – Éfhelìnye chanted. – He always has been mine, he is now, and he always will be, mine mine mine mine, and I don’t mind if you have his name and title, as my best friend I’ll let you have them, as well as any other honor, but Puey himself is completely mine … –
– Éfhelìnye, we’re not discussing this now – Siêthiyal chimed. – Ixhúja, don’t you want to play with her. –
– Puey’s mine too – chanted Akhlísa. – I’m going to be the mother of his children and the vestal virgins told me that when I grow up I get to sleep in the same quarters where he sleeps and in the same room and I’m going to make a fortress out of the pillows let me tell you that and they chanted that when I’m grown up I’ll sleep in Puey’s bed. –
– Okay we’re not discussing this at all – chanted Siêthiyal.
– I’ll have a palace builded for you – Éfhelìnye chanted. – You can have anything in the Empire except for Puey, he is mine, his eyen and ears and lips, they are mine, so don’t even dream about it … –
– Okay I won’t. But he’s mine too – chanted Akhlísa.
– He’s my true love! He has to end up with me, I’m the first maiden he’s e'er kissed! –
– Sure, and when you start acting moody and operatic about him he’ll go and come visit me because I won’t be causing lots of trouble like running off into battle … –
– I just had to see him I’ve missed him so much … –
– Getting yourself killed in battle won’t impress him or make you a better Empress … –
– I’ll die without him! –
– And if you get squished by a crashing ship I’ll be left as his first wife and then you’ll have no choice at all and I’ll have to have his children … –
– No you won’t, if I die first I’m coming back as a ghost and killing every maiden who dares to look at him! –
Siêthiyal and Ixhúja looked to each other and shared a look. Ixhúja shook her head as if to say, There is no way this conversation can end well.
– I’m out of ideas – chanted Siêthiyal.
I’ll take Éfha, you take your Sister, we need to separate them now.
– And I’ll tell you another thing! – Akhlísa shouted. – I was a little girl, as soon as I learned to talk do you know what I was saying! –
– I’ve heard the story – chanted Éfhelìnye – and trust me, you don’t love him a thousandth as much as … –
– As soon as I learned to talk I would promise Puey beneath the tree, yes, beneath the Tree in the abby that I would be a faithful and loving wife to him … –
– The Elders made you say it! –
– So what? I meant it! –
– I love Puey of mine own free will, no one made me do anything, I ran away from home for him, I’d brave a thousand dæmons and Dragons for him, I’ll throw myself into any battle I please for him! –
– I braved a Dragon for him! –
– And you lost! I helped defeat a Dragon! –
– Fine. You can be first wife. I’m the younger and prettier second wife. That means he’ll like me better when you get as moody as you are right now! –
– I am not moody! – Éfhelìnye shouted.
Siêthiyal and Ixhúja looked to each other and thought, At least they’re not crying. Siêthiyal tried to pull Akhlísa away, and Ixhúja picked up Éfhelìnye, but the Sister Wives were drawing themselves closer together as if they were two Suns in constant orbit.
– Oh make no mistake about it, Puey will be the Father of my little babies – chanted Akhlísa. – Do you think you can really dissever me from him? I’ll be with him all the the time, I’ll be sleeping in his bed, and I have big Sister here to protect me and my rights and honor. –
– I’m not getting into this any more – chanted Siêthiyal. – You two, back up. –
– Oh Puey is mine, body and mind and soul for ever – chanted Éfhelìnye – I will tare down the entire Empire, I will scorch this earth and boil the sea and rend the skies to keep him by me, and there’s any chance we won’t have an happy ending I’m clawing my way out of the underworld and dragging him down with me, he’ll be dead before I permit him even to look at another maiden, and I have my older Cousin here to protect me and my rights and honor. –
Let’s go and play, Ixhúja was murmuring. Come on, Éfha.
– Oh so you’d rather Puey die than be with me is that what you’re saying? – asked Akhlísa. – That’s very loving of you, very mature, I must say! –
– Yes, I’d rather he die than end up with anyone else – chanted Éfhelìnye. – I’ve been saying that all day! I’ve been open and honest with my intentions, Puey and I will be together for ever or we’ll die. Period. That’s our entire story, and anyone who gets in my way will die. He is mine. I do not compromise. –
– Sure, very honest. –
– At least I’m not sneaking around behind someone’s back and … and betraying my best friend … and marrying Puey! – Éfhelìnye burst out into tears.
Ixhúja picked up Éfhelìnye and carried her o'er her shoulders as if to say, This is our signal to go.
– Sure, very mature! – cried Akhlísa. – I’m not looking for you next time you run away! –
– Sister, shut up – chanted Siêthiyal.
– At least I’m not stabbing anyone in the stomache! –
– Mention that again, and I’ll make Puey think you did it. Capisce? –
– I thought I’m not taking orders from … –
– Oh we all know that won’t last. Let’s just go and leave crazy and the princess alone. – Siêthiyal turned back and grinned to Ixhúja and chanted – Okay we’re all friends, we just need some time alone. Khlís, go! Now! –
– Fine. I’m kissing Puey right on his lips! – Akhlísa squealed.
– No you’re not! – Éfhelìnye cried. – I’m his one true love, a man can’t have more than one true love! – Ixhúja was carrying her o'er her shoulders, and Éfhelìnye was kicking and squirming all the while.
– Fhwa fhwa fhwa fhwa! – cried Akhlísa and she shook her head and her earrings were running up and down her face. – Just keep saying that, I hope you’re still saying that after I bare Puey his third son, and after his handmaidens have a few of his children! –
– Can you not be quiet! – chanted Siêthiyal.
Éfhelìnye flung herself off of Ixhúja and started running up to Akhlísa. Ixhúja caught her cousin by her ankles to stop her, but not before Éfhelìnye shouted – Don’t you dare think you’ll bare him a single … –
– It’s my right! – shouted Akhlísa.
– If you touch him I’ll … I’ll do something bad! – cried Éfhelìnye.
– With all due respect, you don’t make a very scary threat – chanted Siêthiyal. – Ooh! Scary ballerina! You’re going to dance my Sister to death. Now we’re all tired, some of us have been searching the fortress all night … –
– You owe me respect! – Akhlísa shouted. She ran up and poked Éfhelìnye with her toe. – Respect! Respect! –
Ixhúja jumped up, grabbed Akhlísa by her throat and drew a knife. Do not touch my cousin.
– That’s my Sister, you freak! – cried Siêthiyal, and spinning around she grabbed the sickle and leveled it against Ixhúja’s stomache. – Let her go, we have heretic guts on the snow. –
I’m warning you two, do not touch my cousin! Ixhúja growled.
– She didn’t mean anything by it, you fool! –
– I’m just trying to protect myself! – chanted Akhlísa. – I’m important! I’m valuable! I’m Puey’s favorite concubine and he’s going to kiss me all the time! –
Éfhelìnye burst out into tears. Siêthiyal tried to keep threatening Ixhúja, but both she and Ixhúja were affected by the music of the tears, and slowly Ixhúja set Akhlísa down, and Siêthiyal put the sickle away, and all three of them drew Éfhelìnye up and hugged her and tried to get her to stop crying.
– I promise I’ll be a good Sister Wife, just stop crying – chanted Akhlísa.
– And we’re not angry at all, we were just scared because you disappeared – chanted Siêthiyal.
Don’t cry, Ixhúja purred. Smite your Enemies and grind their skulls into powder. One does not imply that you two are enemies of mine of course. But still.
– Hic! Hic! Hic! – gasped Éfhelìnye. – Puey’s mine! For ever! –
– I’m jealous of you – Akhlísa chanted. – I wish he loved me like he loves you. You don’t have to be afraid because of me. –
– It’s getting late – chanted Siêthiyal. She was the first to pull herself away from the Starflower Princess, and she set Éfhelìnye’s hands into Ixhúja’s. The Traîkhiim came fluttering upwards, their wings spinning from side to side, just a few hundred of them at first, and Fhólus and Aîya were among them and were spinning around Éfhelìnye and dropping pollen and leaves about her in growing haloes. – Princesses, I think you were going to play far, far away. I’ll stay with golditresses here. Now I want you to have a good night. –
Ixhúja was leading Éfhelìnye away, but she pulled away and ran up to Akhlísa and embraced and kissed her several times. – I’m so sorry we quarrel – chanted Éfhelìnye. – I love you. –
– I love you too. Now go have fun with Ixhúja. I’m staying to kiss Puey. –
– What did you say? –
– She didn’t say anything! – chanted Siêthiyal. – Why is my Sister a noodlehead? –
– It’s the main reason I’ve been prancing around so scantily clad around him and did you see the belly in my jewel I look so cute and exotic! – Akhlísa squealed. – So bye now! Have fun! Love you! I’ll be with Puey. –
– I’ve been meaning to ask about your lack of clothing … – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– Yeah, I’m beautiful aren’t I? You know Puey can’t keep his eyen off of me. Bye! –
– Puey’s mine! –
– Oh I don’t think he belongs to any of us. Anyway, I’m his personal property now. He’s going to be kissing me all night. On my lips. Right here! On my big cherry lips. See? He’s kissing me. Bye! – Éfhelìnye just stared at Akhlísa for a moment, but Akhlísa grinning and already thinking about her plans for the party, and her earrings were chattering a little and rising and falling about her ears. When Éfhelìnye was moving away Akhlísa just shoved her a little. – Okay! Bye! –
Ixhúja growled, pickedup Akhlísa by her throat and set a knife to it. Don’t shove my cousin!
– It’s another harem fight! – screamd Fhólus.
– But this time in the courtyard! – cried Aîya.
Siêthiyal snatched up the sickle and set it at Ixhúja’s belly. – Let her go! – Siêthiyal shouted.
– Fight fight fight fight fight fight! – laughed the Traîkhiim as they orbited around Siêthiyal and Ixhúja, and Akhlísa was wriggling back and forth, caught up in Ixhúja’s arms, and Éfhelìnye was trying to shove her cousin and her sister by marriage apart from each other and all the while avoid the sickle.
– Oh you just know the Empress going to get stabbed again – Fhólus chanted.
– That’s her function in the family – chanted Aîya. – It’s an hierarchy. Empress, loving but bad things happen. Sneaky mean sister. Warrior huntress. Spoilt baby. –
– Scary would be if they switched roles. –
– They grow into what they become. –
– Let her go! – shouted Siêthiyal, and she jabbed Ixhúja a couple of times with the sickle to remind her she meant what she was saying.
– Stop it you two! – cried Éfhelìnye.
Akhlísa was dangling from side to side. – Yes, let me go … I’m just the baby! –
– We don’t fight in this family! – Éfhelìnye chanted. – We … – the Starflower Princess looked up. A glimmer of melancholy sunlight was falling upon them. – Puey – she chanted.
Puîyus was walking right to them, he was no longer in his armor but was wearing the white robes of an acolyte, and a tlhòkhlo tlhòkhpomet, an argentiferous fillet was strapped ornalzanzia about his brow. Under one arm he held some blankets and a pillow strapped together. He looked right up to the maidens, his eyen large and blue and sad. At once Ixhúja dropped Akhlísa. Siêthiyal tossed the sickle away. The Traîkhiim were fluttering up in all directions, the maidens and aliens and princesses all pretending that they ahd not just been fighting. Puîyus swallowed a few times, but then saw that Akhlísa and Siêthiyal and Ixhúja were all embracing Éfhelìnye and leaning next to her and smiling.
– Mew? – Puîyus asked.
– We’re fine – chanted Siêthiyal. –
– Couldn’t be better – chanted Akhlísa.
Anyone have any food? wondered Ixhúja.
– I love you for ever, Puey! – gasped Éfhelìnye.
– Someone mentioned food? – asked Fhólus.
– We follow the food – chanted Aîya.
– Mew – Puîyus concluded.
– Where are you going, Puey? – asked Éfhelìnye. – And may I go with you? –
– Mew? –
I’ll take her to the Vestal Virgins first, Ixhúja nodded. They’ll examine her cut.
– I’m fine! – Éfhelìnye chanted. – I just want to be with Puey, and where are you going? –
Puîyus was having difficult expressing himself, he looked upwards and made a few vague signs and murmured a few chords of song and told them that he had been doing some thinking about the fhàxhos slaves among the Qája and how they were going to be sacrificed alive and so be greatly honored, and although he did not wish to perform the rites himself as the future Emperor, he thought it would be best if he at least stayed with them, so that they died with a friendly face. He did not want anyone to die alone, never if he could help it.
– That’s so kind and wonderful, Puey, I love you so much you’re so thoughtful kiss me now! – Éfhelìnye pulled herself away from the three other Women of the Sun and ran up and almost knocked Puîyus o'er. She held him and made no sign of letting go.
The thralls will die with honor, Ixhúja nodded. You shall be Emperor, my Twin, but you shall not cease being a chivalrous warrior. This is just what the worlds need. There will be no more Heresy and Patriarchy, there will be a single rule under you.
Puîyus was trying to tell Éfhelìnye, I want you to go see a Vestal Virgin, Ixhúja will take you, but Éfhelìnye was not paying attention, she was rubbing her face against him and drinking in his perfumed scent. At last she asked – And why are you bringing your pillow and blankets? Are you going to sleep in the sìmla caserns so far away from me? Or after the sacrifice, are you going to enter the harem? You’re going to sleep near me, right? That’s got to be it, we’re always going to be together and … –
Puîyus began murmuring and tried to tell her, I don’t know how long the sacrifices will take, I may be up there all night, and inbetween the rites I may be able to take naps. I don’t want you to follow me up there, the blood letting can be very intense especially for maidenly eyen. I want you to go with Ixhúja and have someone look at your cut.
– This is all very sensible – chanted Siêthiyal.
– I shall go with Ixhúja then – chanted Éfhelìnye. – It’s very nice of you to go with the slaves. I wish I had thought of that, but I’m far too mean and selfish. –
– And disobedient and greedy and sly and quite a fibber too – added Siêthiyal. Ixhúja gave her a look, but Siêthiyal grinned and chanted – I just want to be complete. Oh, and she throws herself at the first boy she’s e'er met, and does she really respect her sister by marriage as much as she should, shouldn’t she be giving her lots of toys and … –
Puîyus was trying to disentangle himself from Éfhelìnye, but he as he did so he found himself weighed down with one arm, and found that Akhlísa was wrapping herself about one arm, and kissing his hand and wrist and now reaching up to his neck. – Hello, my lord and husband! – chimed Akhlísa. – I’m very obedient, I won’t sneak out to battle or sacrifice or nothing! – Akhlísa laughed and leaned her head against Puîyus, and he tried to take a few steps, but was finding himself weighed down and dragged down, with Akhlísa wrapped about an arm and Éfhelìnye holding him down by the neck.
– Mew! Mew! – Puîyus told them.
Siêthiyal and Ixhúja looked up. Puîyus was telling them in glances and blinks, There can be no strife in our family. All four of you shall dwell together in peace. I shall go up to the pyramid, I do not know how long, but if it is late and I stay up there, I want all four of you to go to bed the very best of friends and sisters.
– All four of us shall sleep in the same bed tonight – Siêthiyal chanted. – No problems there. But you’ll be up there in the cold, probably sleeping in the dirt. It doesn’t quite seem just for the Crown Prince to be out there in torchlight and ritual. –
One is content, Puîyus told them.
Fhólus landed upon Siêthiyal’s head, and Aîya landed upon Ixhúja. – You can’t stay up there all night though – Fhólus laughed. – You’ll be missing the party if you do. –
– And we need you to attend the party we’ve been planning it for so long and it’s for you! – Aîya chimed.
– Very secret surprise Starday party just for you –chanted Fhólus.
– But nobody supposed to tell Empress Éfhelìnye about it big hush hush because she not invited – chanted Aîya.
– Very embarrassing if she know – chanted Fhólus.
– Yeah because the Concubine is planning … oh my Stars the Empress right in front of us all the while! I didn’t say nothing! – cried Aîya.
– Didn’t say nothing either! –
– Me either neither! –
– Um … we gotta go. –
– Lots to do and such. –
Siêthiyal grit her teeth, and if Puîyus and Éfhelìnye had not been present she probably would have kicked Fhólus and Aîya a few times, but as it was she did not want to alert her Sister by marriage to the possibility of any real carouselambra without her. No wonder the Qhíng were all a little nutty, among having these little kangaroo bilge rats as slaves. As it was Siêthiyal grabbed both Fhólus and Aîya by a neck and drew them down and chanted – Don’t you want to help me sweep the courtyard? We have lots of chores to do, while Ixhúja and the holy Empress play. –
– Chores before or after the party? – whispered Fhólus in a voice louder than her normal speaking voice.
– Party to which holy Empress not invited – whispered Aîya in an even louder voice.
– Don’t want to hurt her feelings. –
– No, mustn’t remind her that husband probably love younger and prettier wife more than she. For some reason, Empress really sensitive about that. –
– Can’t imagine why. –
– Although the Concubine is very cute. I’d be jealous too. –
– Concubine so popular. –
– More popular than Empress. –
– Probably should go ready to prepare not to ruin the party. –
– Empressless party without her completely lacking her not even invited or mentioned at all. –
Siêthiyal kicked Fhólus and Aîya a few times. – Who can possibly understand the gibberish that these little microbes are sprouting? Lwa fhwa lwa fhwa fhwa it all sounds to me. Bar bar bar bar. Quite charming in its own way. So, on a completely different top, Puey you’ll be going, and Ixhúja why don’t you take the new Empress away and I’ll stay here with Khlís and we’ll do something boring chores and all … –
Akhlísa planted a big kiss on Puîyus’ cheek and then put her hands on Éfhelìnye’s shoulders and chanted – Now you can and have fun with your cousin after you see the holy Virgins. We’ll do all your chores, or at least I’ll get the slaves to do them. And I hope you weren’t listening to the slaves, they’re all cooky! –
Ixhúja pulled Éfhelìnye away and purring told her, Come along, let’s go back into the towers, don’t you want to do that.
Puîyus gathered back up his pillow and blanket which had been shoved aside when Éfhelìnye and Akhlísa tried to drag him down, but before her left he looked to Éfhelìnye and placed his hand on her face and asked her in a silent and wordless language of gestalts, Will you be fine without me?
Éfhelìnye nodded. – It is very noble of you to stay with the slaves. You’re a better person than I am. –
One only wishes to be the type of person worthy of you. Dearhearts, be loving one to another. He took Éfhelìnye’s hand and kissed it with kisses three, and then he picked up Akhlísa, and although she puckered up her lips, he kissed her thrice upon her brow and set her back down, and taking up his bundle he turned and walked into the outer courtyard, and already the sound of the intonation was begun, and the deep rhythm of the percussion of sacrifice, and the fires were lit one by one, and far off he listened to the fhàxhos folk as they were singing their lyófhe, their death elegies and pæons threnodic. And his heart was moved by the death of the people but also by the strife he could feel among his beloved and the cold deep dread within him that told him that something had happened to Grandfather Pátifhar and his Father Íngìkhmar, but Puîyus knew not what the doom could be. His hands twined together and were spelling out signs which meant, Sàthnil ei Saiqíren úxing, it is difficult being the Cælestial Crown Prince. And he was finding it waxing even more difficult when he realized that there was none to teach him what he was supposed to do. Siêthiyal clapped her hands together. – This all went about as well as could be expected. Khlís, tnoaqteûpa slaves, let’s start cleaning up the halls. Ixhúja, you and the holy Princess I hope you have fun, exploring and playing in the upper towers. – Siêthiyal smiled, and and came up and gave Éfhelìnye one last hug, and chanted – Now don’t have too much fun without us. – And Siêthiyal placed Éfhelìnye’s hands in the grip of her cousin, and Ixhúja began leading the Princess out. They were coming unto the outer walls. Battle living ships were arising just o'er the walls, battle had come and gone far too close to the fortress, and now a new music was arising, the pyramids alighting for the blood sacrifice. And the walls were shaking, and the windos rattled, and the drumbeat upon the ziggarat was great enough that all of the rath was breathing as if struck by heavy mallets. Siêthiyal lead Éfhelìnye and Ixhúja to a large door that lead unto the outer quarters, and guards were drawing it open. Siêthiyal waved. As the doors closed behind Éfhelìnye she could hear Akhlísa crying out – Now let’s get ready for my party! As soon as sacrifice is done, I’m getting Puey! – Ixhúja clasped Éfhelìnye’s head and took her into the warm safety of the fortress. Princess Éfhelìnye no longer cared. She almost wished to be alone and hiding under her bed. Ixhúja gathered up some bags filled with books and blankets and food and was genuinely smiling in happiness, Ixhúja liked disappearing and searching about, she was almost Jaràqtun in the way, for the children of Jaràqtu consider ixháqayàjhwen wandering wǽfre qthotlhiyàjhwen vestigön zipölön exploration to be an artform. Éfhelìnye was not quite sure how she felt. Perhaps it was best just to be alone and away from all flavors of pain.

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