Of normal Auntie Qtìmine would not have permitted the slaves Fhólus and Aîya to sleep in the same room as her nieces and nephews, and certainly not in the same bed, but she realized that these were special pets with special priviledges just like all the other dinosaurlings and kittens and dovechens and lambkins that Puîyus was of an habit of finding, but next time, if the pets had to stay, they would have to sleep upon the floor as a faithful slave should. She did not like the idea of Ixhúja sleeping with a sword strapped to her as if she were a young warrior lad, but she was of the heretic peoples, a khwiníka paynim, and did not know any better. But what disturbed her the most was that Puîyus and Éfhelìnye were sitting upon the sofa and holding each other when they should have been sleeping in separate rooms. Truth be told it reminded Qtìmine a little too much of her Sister and Íngìkhmar from a generation ago, for they were oftentides sneaking about just to embrace one another, and at least Qtìmine was thankful that the Princess had not gotten it into her head to dress up in too few veils and dance about, that would have been just too much. But the revelation of the capture of Abbá Íngìkhmar, Khwofheîlya’s beloved, by unknown hands was too terrible for the children to absorb all at once, and so she thought it best to let the children comfort each other and not worry too much about good manners, at least for this night.
In the dawnlight Auntie Qtìmine came walking into the bedroom and was helping Éfhelìnye and Ixhúja and Siêthiyal get dressed. Éfhelìnye was needing the least help, some of her hair had to be rebraided and set into new bands and enribboned, but Qtìmine made short work of that, and then she came to Ixhúja and found that she was dressing herself into some little armored skirts that clearly revealed her knees and elbows, but she thought that it would be best not to question this child’s clothing right now, there was enough shock and threat in the world than to burdhen her with customs she did not understand, and anyway, this heretic would almost certainly have to be made into her nephew’s concubine since there would be no other family to take her in and it would protect her in the days to come. Qtìmine gestured for Siêthiyal to sit on her lap and she helped her with her hair and chanted – Beloved Puîyus will be returning from prayers soon and will meet us in the dining halls. I want you to know that your little Sister is taking her duties as future Concubine to an Emperor very seriously, she’s preparing tea for all the family even as I speak and she’s doing her best. I want you to compliment her tea. –
– Yes, Auntie, even if she makes stinky tea – chanted Siêthiyal.
– It won’t be stinky tea – chanted Auntie Qtìmine.
– With all those Traîkhiim in the kitchens who knows who’s tounge or foot have been stiring a pot? We may end up with stinky tea. –
– I think not. If the Traîkhiim misbehave, they will be whipped. I can see that none of you maids have been prepared in running an household. You must learn to harden your hearts and discipline your servants. Just as Puîyus Íngikhmàrjem will be hardening his heart as he leaves for war soon, so too you must stop thinking of slaves as pets or children, but rather as creatures which crave discipline. –
– Yes, Auntie. –
– Holy Éfhelìnye, I can see in your eyen that you do not agree – chanted Qtìmine. – You are not yet of age, and I, your ritual Mother, must act as regent until you are grown. The time will come when you may do with your slaves as you wish, at least respect the wisdom of our peoples and elders while you are young, and when you are grown you may then with honor change whatever must he change. –
– Only Puey can change things, he’s the Emperor, she’ll just be his favorite wife. Wives are plentiful, husbands rare – chanted Siêthiyal.
Ixhúja started laughing. Qtìmine gave her a look for silence, and to her surprise Ixhúja fell silent, it was the same type of look that sometimes Puîyus gave her, surely, Ixhúja thought, it must have been an Otòrfhexesan glance.
– We all know dearest Puey’s personality quite well – chanted Auntie Qtìmine – and I think we can say with all due respect that the two who will be doing any actually ruling or changing are the two in mine arms right here – she chanted, her arms about Siêthiyal and Éfhelìnye. – Qtatlhaîno covenants, kàpaxha, patriarchal rule, they are just another way of saying a regime run by a man who knows when to fall silent and listen to his wives and sisters. It will be your duty to ensure that you have something worthy of his ear. Now come along, children. We all will compliment Karuláta’s tea. –
– Stinky tea – Siêthiyal muttered.
Qtìmine stood upwards and smoothed down her hair, and taking Éfhelìnye by the hand asked – Where’s your crown? –
– Puey has it, he keeps it safe for me – the Princess answered.
– From now on, you will wear it in public. –
Ixhúja came up to Éfhelìnye, and a large number of clockwork insects were flowing up and down her tresses and about her shoulders. Qtìmine tried to pretend that she was altogether comfortable with these crawling machines, this abomination brought up from the Southron Moons, but even the sound of the moving of the wheels was alien and sharp and strange. Ixhúja was fiddling with the armor of her skirt and murmuring unto Éfhelìnye and saying in the tounge of beasts, Today I’m going for a short skirt look. Do you think Puîyos will notice these knees?
– I’m not sure that’s a good idea – Éfhelìnye chanted.
One is thinking of rolling up these sleeves a bit. Perhaps one could unbutton some of my blouse.
– Ixhúja, I don’t think now is a good time to attempt southron fashions. –
Why, do you think your Mother here will object? I like her, she’s able to control Crabby and Crier with just a look. Do you think she’d be good at kickboxing?
– I rather doubt it. Vestal Virgins usually don’t spend their time in such persuits. –
Ixhúja murmured as if to say, Perhaps she’s good at hunting or wrestling or punching monsters. Surely she has to have some discernible skill. She obviously doesn’t like clockwork too much, she’s all wriggly and trying to ignore it. I think I’ll take one of my slaves …
– Don’t! – Éfhelìnye hissed.
Ixhúja picked up a wriggling clockwork locust, and in her palm it sprouted several new legs, and she let it dance about her palm, and grinning she pointed to Auntie Qtìmine and purring told her cousin, I’m just going to put this down her corset. This will be fun, trust me.
Siêthiyal slid up to the Princesses twain and chanted – Now this I’ve got to see. –
– I don’t want any part of this – Éfhelìnye whispered.
No wonder you let all the other maidens throw themselves as Puîyos, you have no spine at all, Ixhúja purred. I’m going to try and put this next to her skin.
– This will be the most. Fun. E'er! – Siêthiyal whispered.
– You’re doing this wrong – Éfhelìnye whispered. – If you really want to put this down her corset, there’s a simple way to … I’m not going to tell you. My way will work, you’ll get caught your way. –
– You’re such a little timorous poltroon – Siêthiyal sighed. – Do it! Do it! –
Ixhúja was hissing to herself as she tiptoed, and as swift and quiet as wind she snuck up right behind Auntie Qtìmine and reached up her hand and was just about to flick the crawling insectoid within, but Qtìmine’s hand whipped out and caught Ixhúja by the wrist and yanked her down. Siêthiyal fell against Éfhelìnye and roared in laughter. Qtìmine brushed the insect from herself and glared at Ixhúja.
– You do know that Auntie understands the mews and quacks and moos of Qtheûnte, don’t you? – asked Siêthiyal. – Ah, I see didn’t know. She heard everything you chanted! Hah! You thought you were playing a trick on her, but I was playing a trick on you … –
– I didn’t need to understand your growls to guess what you intended – Qtìmine sighed. – I survived Khwofheîlya’s tricks, and I’ve put up with two very disobedient nieces for many a year. I think I’ve developed an eighth sense, a warning of mischief to come. – Qtìmine released the Martian Princess’ hand and chanted – Gather up your little toy wæterbucca, damsel. We’re going to breakfast now. Walk behind me, and play tricks only to your woe. –
Ixhúja hissed and petted her rather spider locust wiht, and looking to Siêthiyal and then to Auntie Qtìmine and seeing a certain likeness between them was thinking that she did not quite like that side of the family, they were just a bit too clandestine and insular, and not at all as creative and free as the Pwéru side.
And Auntie Qtìmine was leading the way, and in such an informal passage as going through the halls and unto the dining rooms it did not matter in what order the children came, and so sometimes Siêthiyal was running out before Éfhelìnye, and sometimes Éfhelìnye and Ixhúja were walking in hand in as equals, and other times Éfhelìnye was plucking up a clockwork insect and running up unto Qtìmine’s back and in completely silent gestures showing them how one could from afar flick the insect unto some of the straps at the back, and so with careful aim and some knowledge of mathmatics easily insert a squirmy clockwork insect into the bodice of any dress. Siêthiyal and Ixhúja looked to each other and gave each one a look that meant, With the Princess’ knowledge and imagination, there is no end to what trickery we can accomplish. Do it, Éfha, do it! But Éfhelìnye just shook her head and blushed a little and put the insect back into Ixhúja’s fluent and golden hair.
The dining hall was abustling with activity, but the moment Auntie Qtìmine stepped within, all became silent, for she was a vision of beauty in white and gold, her hair long and covered in jewels, the insignia of the Pwéru upon her dress, her corset of fishbones and sparkling wires, a ring upon her finger, a tall and lovely creature whose Father could have given her unto any of the warrior clans and doubled or tripled his power, and yet who had decided to let her enter the sylvanhood as she wished. In all the corners the Traîkhiim were sweeping and mopping and dusting and scurrying about and trying to look busy, and at the tables the handmaidens were arising and bowing all before her. Behind her Ixhúja and Siêthiyal were slapping each other a few times and stomping upon each others’ feet, but in a moment they fell silent and did not even attempt to fight in the presence of this silence and of such a great lady, this Holy Virgin of the Sun.
Qtìmine looked around and found that one corner of the dining hall was not quite ahustle bustle with activity, and taking up some of the tips of her gown just a little so she could hasten, she found that in the corner a couple of Traîkhiim were taking a nap and beside them lay an unused bucket and mop. Qtìmine tapped her feet, and the Traîkhiim awoke at once. Éfhelìnye and Siêthiyal and Ixhúja, the latter two pinching and tickling each other when they thought they wouldn’t get caught, ran up to the holy Virgin, and Qtìmine sighed, the bells of her gown ringing, and she chanted – Where are the chieftains of these slaves? Report to me at once! –
Fhólus and Aîya came descending from the rafters, their feathers were covered in dust and webs, they were coughing a little from all the cleaning they were being forced to do, and Éfhelìnye did not think that they were in a very merry mood, and to her surprise the two fell upon the ground and began kowtowing before her and murmured – How may we serve the Crystalline Throne and Crown of Starburst things. –
– Are you the chieftains of these slaves? – asked Auntie Qtìmine.
– Ah … well … when you ask Puîyos this dawn, he kinda sort put us in charge – chanted Fhólus.
– Our names are Fhólus and Aîya – chanted Aîya. – Sometimes forgetting which is which, but I’m the perky one with full compliment of heads, see Fhólus here by some strange accident that have nothing to do with us me … –
– Silence! – chanted Auntie Qtìmine. – You are not permitted to have names, for you have not yet earned that right. – The Traîkhiim fell silent and kowtowed to Éfhelìnye and began to whimper. Qtìmine chanted – Your only names are You and Now. If I say You I mean you. If I say Now I mean you. Do you obey? –
– We understand! – gasped Fhólus.
– Understanding is irrelevant. Obey, or die. –
– We obey! – cried Aîya.
– Puîyos put you in charge of the slaves, and yet some of your number have been napping. The reason is irrelevant. You both are commanded to have these slaves whipped at once and in public. Now. –
– Yes! – gasped Fhólus.
– We obey – cried Aîya.
– After these creatures are whipped, bring the scourges unto me, for I want to see that they are covered in that citrus blood of your folk. If for whatever reason these creatures are not whipped, I shall see to it that every single Traîkhiim in the rath is whipped before this day is through. – Qtìmine looked around at all the works and raised her voice for all the rest to hear. – You will learn to obey in small manners so that you can be trusted in greater ones. I have heard a foul story about what you have tried to do, but for the sake of my nephew your lives are spared. But from now on, all of you will be punished. You! –
– Yes – quaved Fhólus and Aîya.
– Obey! Now! –
– Yes, thank you, thank you! – gasped the Traîkhiim as they crawled away.
– Are you forgetting something? –
– Ur …? – asked Fhólus.
– Did I eat your remembering head? – Aîya asked.
– You may thank the Empress for the pleasure of serving her. She is your Mistress for ever. Thank her. Now. –
– Thank you thank you thank you thank you! – gasped Fhólus.
– Ditto what she say – Aîya chanted.
– Go – chanted Qtìmine. She turned around and did not bother watching as Fhólus and Aîya fell upon the half dozing Traîkhiim and started poking and biting and jabbing them, and from the rafters a cloud of Traîkhiim was falling to drag their member away unto the yards. She knew that the Kháfha would know what to do, to whip the recalcitrant, and there was nothing else to say. She put her arms about Éfhelìnye and Siêthiyal and chanted – I believe it might have been a mistake for the Kháfha to try to let you run your own household without maternal guidance. It is different for that people, they are quiet and dispassionate and reared from egghood to know how their tribes work, but Færie children require a bit more guidance. –
– The Traîkhiim aren’t going to be hurt, will they? – asked Éfhelìnye.
– Yes, they will be scourged until their skin breaks – chanted Qtìmine. – But they will not die. –
– I don’t wish harm to any living creature, not a single tree or insect or flower, if we still had flowers. –
– The Kháfha monarchs told me that the Traîkhiim in their festivities became a little wild. They probably bit you, or at least frightened you. It is merciful to permit that race to live, in fact you are probably the only Empress tender hearted enough to let the Triîm folk servive. We shall sit at the head table, in gold and white splendor, my daughters. Éfhelìnye, you will sit at the head of the table. – As Qtìmine was leading she chanted – Princess, you are probably too young to remember, but have you heard of a face called the Fhlóla? –
– Why yes, they are gardeners – the Princess chanted. – They looked like living flower people, although without faces or eyen, they had buds of flowers for heads, and stalks and stems for necks and vines for limbs. –
– They were perhaps the gentlest of all creatures, they only loved living things and peace. I visited them quite often, and I believe they designed the Gardens where you grew up. Ah, I remember being sent unto Fhlólexheim, their homelands, and beholding such beauty as can only exist in dreams … but what was most remarkable was the scent, can you even imagine ætherial winds, skies and cloud and weather all formed of flower dreams and scent? The Fhlóla were a precious and wonderous folk. –
– They died – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– Your Father, my lord and husband Kàrijoi whom none may gainsay put them all to death, every elder, every parent, every adult, and every fhlóltapit bulbling. No matter how silly and beautiful and fun a people is, remember, they must serve the Emperor or die for the Emperor. –
– Oh. – Éfhelìnye looked down dejected. – But … but why did my Father put them to death? –
– Lo, Puîyus is coming – Auntie Qtìmine chanted. – Those handmaidens need to behave themselves, or I’ll have them sold into other harems. –
– Older girls are just wild – sighed Siêthiyal. – They just don’t have my decorum, my dignity at all – she chanted shaking her head.
Puîyus was entering from an eastron door, and the dying Suns were spilling upwards behind him, his hair luminous blue and silver and white, and about the tables the handmaidens were forgetting their work and giggling and pointing and all batting their eyelids unto Puîyus and blowing him kisses. A few of the maidens were falling upon their knees before him, but most were continue to flick their hair at him. Auntie Qtìmine arose and coming up to Puîyus took his hand and pointed unto the table prepared for his household, but she remained for a moment and told the maidens – Have none of you any respect and honor? I see a couple of you do, you few may be worthy to serve the House of Pwéru. The rest of you will remember to kowtow before the Crown Prince, your lord and master. – The handmaidens at once began to do so and were shaking in fear, and Qtìmine was saying – And if you keep forgetting to show respect unto my nephew, I shall have to resort to sending you back to your parents in disgrace and letting them put you to death according to the customs of your family. And if any of you are thinking of somehow gaining Puîyos’ behavior with coos and kisses, you might as well forget that at once. It will not work, and I forbid it. When you are older, if any of you are worthy to be lesser wives, I shall let you know myself. For the moment you serve. – She walked among the soubrettes and coming to one maiden touched her shoulder and chanted – You were the first to kowtow before the Crown Prince. You may be worthy to serve the House of Pwéru. –
– Thank you, holy virgin – chanted the maid. – My name is Asiréma, and my parents were .. –
– That is irrelevant. You are handmaiden, nothing more. –
– Holy Puîyos put me in charge of the handmaidens, honored virgin. –
– I see that he made a wise choice..Continue. – Qtìmine was turning to walk away, and she found unto her surprise that Princess Éfhelìnye was still standing beside her, rather than with Puîyus and Siêthiyal and Ixhúja at their table. – Forgive me, I did not wish to ignore you. –
– Auntie Qtìmine, may I ask you something? – asked Princess Éfhelìnye.
– Anything, of course. You shall be the new Empress, and anything which you need to know to become the Myth of the Empress must be open to you. –
– Why did my illustrious sire put all the gentle Fhlóla to death? –
Qtìmine paused for a moment and chanted – The Fhlóla disobeyed. So they all had to die. It is difficult to say in a way that you will understand, for you are so young and your heart is so soft and warm, but I shall try. Your belove sire, my lord and husband, asked a tribute of the worlds, youths and warriors and heros to be honored by giving up their lives in blood sacrifice. But the Fhlóla themselves, the beloved gardeners, did not wish to give up their Fhlóltapet podlings, their children. And so the Emperor put them all to death, the old and young, the wise and artists and priests and bulblings, all of them lovers of tree and forest and flower. Your Father was quite merciful, those who were great were permitted to die upon the altar, but most of the garden worlds he just reduced unto ash and horror, he sent down his black sailed fleets and broke apart the heavens. It was necessary, and the slaughter of the hundred billion Fhlóla served as a lesson to the Qhíng and the Aûm and all the rest, it told them obey the Emperor or only a few of you will die with honor and the rest of you in darkness and despair. And so your Father continued peace for a time. –
Éfhelìnye looked down for a time, but Auntie Qtìmine put her hand upon her shoulder and chanted – You do not need to understand yet, in fact you may not e'er have to understand, just to obey, even you must obey your lord and husband Puîyos. Come, let us venture unto breakfast. –
– I still don’t think they had to die – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– Perhaps if you had been Empress, you would have spared them, like you spare the Traîkhiim, and then only the Masters of the Fhlóla would have been scourged. But I don’t think you shall be the same type of Empress that your Mother was. –
Éfhelìnye thought for a moment and chanted – Did my Mother know about … the extinction of the Fhlóla … and the death of all their little babies? –
Auntie Qtìmine paused for a moment and chanted what she did not wish to say. – Your Mother, my Sister-Wife knew. Your Mother, my Sister-Wife, approved. It was a long time ago. Some say an handful of Fhlóla survived, but not enough to renew the people. –
– I shall be a very different Empress – Princess Éfhelìnye chanted. – I do not wish all this death. –
– Then you will be admired and pitied and loved more than your Mother could have been. Come along, Princess. Your future Sister-Wife has prepared breakfast for you. –
– Yes, my Mother. –
They came unto the table, and Auntie Qtìmine gestured unto the two chairs which were set aside for Puîyus and Princess Éfhelìnye. Puîyus arose and brought out the chair for the Princess and helped her within. Qtìmine was arranging the reads and buds and found this entire table to be quite simple indeed, not at all the elaborate beauties which one should expect for the holy House of the Pwéru, but when the war was done or at least when it was won, even if Puîyus still had to leave and venture out for battle for many a year, at least some semblance of civilization could be builded up again. Siêthiyal and Ixhúja were sitting across from each other and were eyeing each other and the bowls of pourige which were being brought out unto them, and dangerous looks were sneaking across their faces, but Qtìmine reached out and grabbed their hands in warning. Ahklísa was returning some several more plates, the Traîkhiim about her were helping her with the larger dishes, while she was bringing out the pitcher of tea and pouring it unto all the cups. A few of the Traîkhiim were carrying a table upon their backs whereon lay set some of the statues and images of the Ancestors of the Sweqhàngqu, and Puîyus and Siêthiyal were bowing unto it, and he arose, as the last son and heir and scooped up some food to set in the plates before them in offering and thanksgiving and blessing. He was making a sign of blessing about the food in gratitude to this bounty, but he could not help but notice, when Akhlísa came and poured some tea for Éfhelìnye, that outside many cubits away, he could hear the sound of a sjambok khmipìqla crackling, and the screams of some gentle Traîkhiim.
Puîyus gave Éfhelìnye a quizzical look, and she grasped his hand as if to tell him, I’m told this is mercy to them, or at least this is adult mercy.
Qtìmine took her cup and sipped of it, and the tea was very bitter, appropriate for the news that she had to give. The windows all to the east were opening upwards and revealing the large and sick red Suns, struggling and bloated and sad, and the dawnlight and dying smoke crackling upwards.
– Did you have a productive time at prayers, my beloved? – Éfhelìnye asked as Akhlísa set some apple slices before her and sate down at the end of the table reserved for servants and concubines.
Puîyus nodded, and his hands, being free, since he was still fasting, began to twine about each other and in elegant motions spelt out, One prayed unto the Immortals for the safety of Íngìkhmar, our Father.
– Kàrijoi is your Father now – chanted Auntie Qtìmine. – Íngìkhmar used to be your Father, and now … he is a Father in the sense of being an older and honored man –
Akhlísa was pouring tea for herself last, as was appropriate, but her hands were shaking when she thought about her Father, and she spilt tea upon herself and began whimpering to think that once again she had been so careful and only at the end messed everything up.
– Please, my Mother, will you tell us how honored Íngìkhmar disappeared? – Princess Éfhelìnye asked.
Qtìmine took a sip of her tea and chanted – Bitter and unspeakable are the woes that lie upon our land. When the Qhíng came to take our land for their own in my lord husband Kàrijoi’s name, I stayed in the Abby with the rest of the holy Courtesans and Acolytes and Priests, and I remained there, even when Puîyus opened up the heavens and unleashed my lord husband’s weapon and broke upon the skies with nightmares and fractalization. And so I was dwelling in the very heartland of the plains and hills and lochs when the Midnight Hour came, and darkness covered all the land, and Jaràqtu is fallen. As blizzard blasts began to pour out from the snowworlds of Khniîkha, came the Qhíng and the Kháfha fleets travellig high above the seabeds and coral and ancient fossils. At the head of the Qhíng fleets was beloved Íngìkhmar, he had been engaged in many battles, and the Qhíng were opening upwards some strange and ingenious devices. It is chanted that Grandfather Thiêfhilos was somewhere among the Kháfha but I did not see him, only Íngìkhmar came down to visit me when he came even up unto the Abby of Caddos Kàtriqan. By then the skies in the center of Jaràqtu had been greatly transformed, the Emperor’s singularity was no longer whirl and dust glancing somewhere in the upper stratosphere, but rather it was time itself devouring the heavens and whispering mountains and trees and land itself. I saw the Qhíng armada arising, but they were being persued by a strange fleet, living ships that were almost like creatures and that were able to flicker flitter about even at the edge of the black waves of the Aûmfhaikh. I am unsure whether I can describe what I saw, they were ancient living ships whose likeness is only remembered in books, but some of them looked a little like conglomerations of horns and were breathing out long trails of dust, and the living ships almost appeared to be breaking apart and folding upon themselves, and leaving behind them trailtails of burning fractals. I was a little disturbed to see that some of the vessels were leaving behind them strange geometries of squares and rectangles, and that sometimes the skin of the living ships were revealing dream spirals and labyrinths, for it seemed that they were come of a different age, and their arrival can bespeak no good portents unto us now.
Puîyus and Éfhelìnye looked to each other and understanding came into their faces. – Do you really think those could have been the same? – she asked. – At least there must be a connexion. –
– Have you encountered such vessels before? – asked Auntie Qtìmine.
– When Puey and I were lost in the warxones we saw titanic living ships wrestling each other apart and shredding land and city and realities. We rather got stuck in a coralline laboratory where we ended up resurrected a few thousand Traîkhiim – Éfhelìnye chanted. – Aîya was among those whom we returned from the brink of death. We were able to learn that the masters of the laboratory were the Xeriîqe among the Archaic Xakhpàlqe, but we never actually saw one of these persons, if they still live and breathing within these life-giving dreamlands. Perhaps just their machines remain. –
– Do you think Abbá was captured by the Xeriîqe? – asked Siêthiyal.
– It could have been any of the kindred of the Xakhpàlqe – Princess Éfhelìnye chanted. – Once there were four kindreds, the Emlalàqta and the Pèrithe and the Xeriîqe and the Xhàkhmat, and they banded together, long, long ago, to started constructing my Father’s labyrinth before they all disappeared. –
– These Xakhpàlqe, whatever tribe they may be, might also have captured Grandfather Thiêfhilos – chanted Auntie Qtìmine.
– Is Khiêro okay? – asked Akhlísa.
– Yes, I have heard report from him among the Khlitsaîyart warriors – chanted Auntie Qtìmine.
– He’s family also – chanted Akhlísa. – First family, old and loud and laughing. I like him. –
– I like Khiêro also – chanted Éfhelìnye. – So the Xakhpàlqe have invaded the heartland and taken at least Sieur Íngìkhmar with them. –
– Yes, that is true – chanted Auntie Qtìmine. – The Xakhpàlqe have been gone for many an age, and their reäppearance after all this time cannot be to the good, what allegiance they may have unto the Emperor no man may guess. I’m sure they will learn from Íngìkhmar and the Qhíng. Children, I want you to be brave, but I also want you to embrace the truth. Íngìkhmar may be dead now and there is none we can do about it. He may not be dead, but we know almost nothing about the Xakhpàlqe from the time of storybook, the beings who were once Labyrinth Folk. –
No food or drink were set before Puîyus engaged as he was in his holy fasting, and so Éfhelìnye reached out and took the her tea to drink it for him. It was very bitter indeed. No one spoke. Ixhúja poked at her food. Éfhelìnye was finding that her apples were losing their sweetness.
– Father’s not dead – chanted Siêthiyal. – He’s not. So don’t even say it. Don’t think it. –
Ixhúja picked up a bowl of pourige and was slurping it like a wild plantimal. Auntie Qtìmine cringed to see such rudeness, and so Ixhúja began slurping all the louder. Finally she threw the bowl o'er her shoulder to be caught by a passing tnoaqteûpa slave and she growled and hiccoughed as if to say, Íngi is not dead. If he were, he would die in glorious battle worthy of praise for an hundred years and song for a thousand generations. We will know of his passing.
– Did you call my Brother by marriage ‘Íngi?’ – asked Auntie Qtìmine.
– Don’t call him Íngi – chanted Siêthiyal.
– Abbá is not dead! – cried Akhlísa. – I’ll pop anyone in the nose who says otherwise. Puey! Abbá’s not dead, is he? –
Puîyus shook his head. He was wondering what Fhermáta would tell her foster Father when she met him on the netherside of the River of Death, and he hoped that his Father would not be too ashamed of him. But surely Íngìkhmar were alive now.
– What are we going to do? – Princess Éfhelìnye asked.
All eyen turned to Puîyus, for he was the heir and head of this new household and his word was unquestioned law, Siêthiyal and Ixhúja and Éfhelìnye and Akhlísa turned unto him and expected him to have the perfect answer at the very barrier of his teeth.
– We should let him decide for a moment – Auntie Qtìmine chanted. – After the attack of those who must have been the Archaick Xakhpàlqe Pwénejhis, much of the land was left in ruins. Messengers were swarming outwards and what chieftains were left unto us were trying to urge all of the refugees to gather in the heart of their plantations. I was taken away by some messengers when word came that someone had found the future Emperor and his intended wives and brought up here. Jaràqtu is in chaos, and none is left to unify the sons of the lochs as they used to be. –
Puîyus closed his eyen. He remembered steam and frost and snowflakes, dragons and chess peices and a large and strangling tree arisng behind a throne all of glass and pouring out from the throne were rainbow steps and bursts of light. Emperor Kàrijoi upon his throne was sitting and the blizzard was beginning to dawn behind him. Kàrijoi was opening up his hand, and his hand was quest and the quest to find the flower. Íngìkhmar was no longer his legal Father, Kàrijoi was his Father now as if he had begotten him. Darkness was falling upon Puîyus’ thoughts, and the throne opened up in his mind and became a vast clockwork spiral and in the midst of it was a labyrinth crowned with a fractal tower surrounded by dragons.
Puîyus opened his eyen and drew his sword and looking unto the maidens, a masque of resolving coming unto his face, told he them in sounds and mews and gestures that they could understand, We fight. One shall rescue Íngìkhmar. We leave at once, for we walk upon the path which Kàrijoi has set before our feet untowards the Abby itself and the Ancestors who know where we must wend. Revered Kàrijoi told us all that the Ancestors would point the way to salvation, and it seems we shall have to pass there to find the one who was once our Father.
Puîyus stood up and sheathed his sword and bowing purred unto them told them, Another thing one must tell you, one would like to keep this family together for as long as possible, but it may not be possible for us to be encamped together during all this War. Whatever shall come, Princess Éfhelìnye andI must stay together, for the Emperor lay the same holy Quest upon both of our shoulders. Perhaps Kàrula will stay with us both, perhaps not, I do not yet know. Siêtheiyal and Ixhúja, you may have to take a different path to protect the family, but you two will probably stay together at least. The Hundred Virgins I shall have to give to honored Auntie Qtìmine so that she can protect them with the cloak of the Sylvanhood.
By now the sound of the whipping outside was complete, as Puîyus could hear with his über-sharp ears, but a few Traîkhiim were crying outside, and he wished that they were not. None of the maidens were eating any longer, so he bowed unto the Ancestors and stepped down from his chair. Auntie Qtìmine and the rest were arising from their chairs, and Puîyus was coming untowards Ixhúja and Siêthiyal to take them aside.
– How soon may we leave, Mother? – asked Princess Éfhelìnye.
– I shall ask the Elders at once – Auntie Qtìmine chanted. – They will permit us to start forming a caravan today, but they will probably not want us to leave unto tomorrow, so that they can send messages to the other temples and clans and so make a safe passageway for us. –
– Oh. –
Puîyus looked back to Auntie Qtìmine and bowing unto her told her, One must speak with one’s Sisters, and so one craves obedience to go. Qtìmine bowed unto him, and Puîyus took Siêthiyal and Ixhúja by the sleeves and lead them into the nearest courtyard near the kitchens. He looked around and could taste dark xhepánga in the air, and the snow was splattered with the Traîkhiim citrus that floweth in their xylem and phloem. A few Traîkhiim were fluttering about but were afraid to meet his gaze. He turned back and saw that a few Kháfha monks were approaching Auntie Qtìmine and holding up a mastigoneme unto her, and shadow bled right off from it. He took the maidens across the courtyard and closer unto the stables and he drew out some boxes where he had kept a few of the old books he had found on his travels and had not yet gotten around to giving to anyone. He turned unto Ixhúja and Siêthiyal and told them, I have a special task for you two.
Ixhúja was playing with an earring. She plucked it out and let it play about her fingers and palm and then flicked it back into place, as clockwork marvels continued to crawl about her head.
I may have need for both of you to protect the family, especially if I must leave you, thus I mewed truly unto you, Puîyus was telling them in the language of wind and tree and beast and time. He reached into a box and drew out some sendal sheets and took out the ancient tridential Sepùrke Khaxhapúrxhriqe, the sword of the Sweqhàngqu and set it into Siêthiyal’s hand. And he told her in mews and sighs, I gave you this sword to keep, just as Kàrijoi gave me his sword. Although only one Son Mother bore unto our family, we may need more then one set of arms to defend us all. Ixhúja, I wish for you to teach her the way of the sword.
Ixhúja scoffed. She threw up her arms and started walking away. Impossible! Ridiculous! Time wasting. Silly. She does not have the warrior spirit.
I need you to do this.
Ixhúja stopped in her tracks in the middle of the snow. I have no patience. I am no teacher.
– Puey, I’m not so sure this is a good idea – chanted Siêthiyal. – I’m not really shield maiden material. I like toys and the color pink. –
We shall just end up killing each other, Ixhúja sighed.
– Yeah, I’ll probably impale her the first chance I get – chanted Siêthiyal.
Puîyus sighed and looking to her feet murmured, One just thought that you both loved me enough … to try …
– Oh we love you, Pew, of course! –
Of course one loves you! You’re the only one truly like me.
Puîyus played with a strand of his hair and sighing murmured, One merely thought you adored Éfhelìnye enough to try and protect her family. She thinks about you both all the time.
– I love Éfhelìnye, she’s the only pure soul I know! Despite our occasional antigonism, which is all her fault of course, and it was her fault she fell in the pollen waves, not mine, I think she’s the best thing which has happened to you. –
Éfha is pure and tender and sweet and kind and good, she is mine holy cousin and one would do anything for her for all the rest of my days, and if anyone seeks to harm her, I shall hunt him down and slaughter him and all his village and all his children and childrens’s children and children’s children’s pets and dolls and toys and favorite playthings and glass balls and urns and box kites and …
Puîyus clasped his hands together and murmured as if to say, One just thought, Siêthiyal, that you were wily enough to learn some of these martial arts, perhaps they could be like unto dance for you, like all those times when you’ve dressed up in Mamà’s clothing and danced before the mirror. Alas, only someone very clever could learn how to use a sword and …
Siêthiyal grabbed the sacred Khaxhapúrxhriqe and spun it about and chanted – I’m the cleverest and trickiest and dædalest maiden who’s e'er lived, I’ll learn anything that dope can teach me. –
Puîyus brushed some snow from his sleeve and murmured, One just hoped, Ixhúja, that you were glorious and strong enough to win for yourself the fame of being the illustrious teacher to an Emperor’s Sister and …
… and favorite books and carpets and whatever you call those little bowls were plantimals grow, oh yes all that I will hunt down and destroy if anyone harms Éfha. What were you mewing?
One just thought you were glorious enough to teach swashbuckling to …
Glorious! I’ll show you glory. Siêthiyal! Your first lesson is now. Attack!
Ixhúja jumped high in the air, and Siêthiyal screamed and started running away, but Puîyus caught the martian Princess in midjump and shaking his head told her, Not yet. Perhaps one needs to get some armor for my little Sister.
Armor? Why? How decadent.
– Yes, I want armor! – chanted Siêthiyal. – Look what you’re wearing. –
Do you like my knees? Ixhúja grinned.
Puîyus was leading the way and turning back mewed as if to say, Let us go find a … how does one say it, and he spelt out xhonípla.
– An armorer – chanted Siêthiyal. – Let’s go. I want pink armor! Puey, I only wear pink! –
Ixhúja brushed some snoe from the violet scales of her armor and murmured, Pink? Pink armor? Purple armor is far more sensible. What an inscrutable request!
Puîyus lead his way into some of the outer courtgarths of the fortress and followed the sound of clinking metal and steam arising and the rushing of flames, for it was not too difficult to find the xhòpla armorers hard at work. He came up around a bend before some lustral streams they were working, and among them were the some of the jhwùxe mountain sages who dwelt high within the venerated whispering mountains and sometimes swinked to the forging of weapons and sometimes lived lives of quiet meditation, and sometimes came down from the mountain to give weapon and wisdom unto the children of men, and sometimes these jhwùxe muni were of the sylvan caste and sometimes they were just old wise men and sometimes they were creatures who did not fall into any of the classes and nations which wights knew. At this moment the armorers were heating up their billows and dipping metal and bamboo and lamellæ into the waters, and the sages were chanting a wordless song, and the waters were fizzing a little, the ice breaking apart upon the surface, the metal itself reflecting some of their song. And from afar the sages and the armorers were bowing down in the snow before the approach of Puîyus and his two Sisters and remained still and ready to be commanded.
– … – Puîyus chanted.
– My Brother wishes for a set of armor small enough for me – chanted Siêthiyal. – This is, he wants the armor for me, not just small enough for me. I’m sorry, the mews he sighed were actually ambiguous when translated, I have to be careful of that, his words are of a different shape to ours. One grows accustomed to it. –
The armorers were drawing out some greaves and loricæ and links of metal and examining them one by one and were saying one to another – We do not have any armor for the size of a child. We shall have to think upon this. –
Puîyus picked up a breastplate and held it around himself and found it just a little too large, for even he had to wear special armor since he was not fully grown. He remembered, with a pang of sadness, the day when Abbá Íngìkhmar had armed him as a warrior, and yet he had not been given a set of armor, just a couple of plates and an helmet so large for him that he had to cast it off, and it was only in the last year or so that any armor had been forged for him. He looked to Siêthiyal and made some sounds which meant, This may be a difficult request for them.
– I understand – chanted Siêthiyal. – Oh, and the armor will have to be pink. –
– Pink? – asked the armorers.
– Pink? – asked the sages.
Puîyus nodded and drew out some signs that meant, My Sister delights in pink.
The sages turned to their wagons and ruffled through all of the shells and links and scales which they had been forging high in the whispering mountains and they held them up to Siêthiyal and yet still they were too large for her, and only one or two of them were pieces even small enough for Puîyus, and none of them were pink at all.
This will be a difficult request, Puîyus was deciding.
– We wish to leave as soon as possible – Siêthiyal told Puîyus. – Perhaps you yourself may want to work on forging the armor. They can help with the flames and billows, but with your strong arm it shouldn’t take too long. –
Ixhúja drew out some of her clockwork insects and let them dance on her arms, and she told them, I’m quite handy at the forge. I can build up the fire very quickly. Puîyos, if you can bend the materials into shape, I can help with the detail work, my little creatures here can cut out grooves and runs, and Siêthiyal and paint it as pink as she likes.
Puîyus was thinking that this may be a good idea, and he was about to tell the armorers that he could help them, but they were still giving him looks of confusion to think that they would be forging armor for someone who was both a maiden and so young and surely not a warrior, as if this were indeed the age of the Stàran Oiorpata once again. Siêthiyal however took Puîyus by the sleeve and drew him aside, even as Ixhúja started juggling her little clockwork wihts, and leaning close to Puîyus and hoping that she was out of the earrange of the old men she whispered – Puey, I think after the gerons start the flames, you and Ixhúja should do all the forging themselves. –
– ?? –
– I’m not sure you’re going to want them to make armor for your Sister. –
– ?? –
– Puey, how shall I say this, I think they’re used to making armor for big strong burly men just like Father, why the armorers were barely able to make anything for you, and you yourself had to make all those changes, remember at your last Starday when you were fiddling with the shoulders and padding you helmet and hoping to grow an extra foot taller just to stand up straight? It will be even more difficult for them to make something for me. –
– … –
– Plus, Puey, and I rather hate to mention this to you, but I am a slightly different … shape to you. I’ve been growing up, I know you haven’t noticed, but both Khlís and I are a bit … older than we were in months past. If the old men make the armor for your shape, it won’t fit right. –
– Mew? –
– Puey … I … there’s a … a feminine figure! –
Puîyus was silent for a moment. At last he asked – Mew? –
Siêthiyal leaned close to Puîyus’ ear and whispered – I have hips! –
It took Puîyus a moment to realize that his Sister had hips. Siêthiyal grabbed Puîyus’ ear and turned him in Ixhúja’s general direction and whispered – Do you notice the way the armor hangs on her? That is not the same shape as the armor that our people forge! It’s made for … a girl’s shape! She’s wearing a skirt of armor. It’s all … feminine! Look! Women weave garments for women. But do you want … men … to forge something … that will touch me? Puey? Protective older Brother? –
Puîyus stroked his chin for a moment and finally looked to Siêthiyal to tell her, I have decided that I do not wish for these men to make such a garment which will touch your body. I shall forge it myself, with Ixhúja’s expert guidance.
– That’s what I thought. Let me go and inform Auntie of what we shall be doing so no one worries about us. – And Siêthiyal came scampering away and came back into the fortress to inform the rest of the family of what was being done. And so the day passed, with Auntie Qtìmine and the Elders and the Kháfha regents preparing for the Holy Family to venture into the warzone in the Middleheart of Jaràqtu, and Akhlísa and Éfhelìnye packed, and Puîyus had the sages bless the metals and the armorers build up the flames before he sent them away, and he hammered all throughout the day and Ixhúja carved and polished and cut and sealed and dug runes into it, and Puîyus forged and Siêthiyal painted the skirts and lorica pink and set jewels within, and thus it came to pass that for the first time in o'er three thousand generations a set of armor in the Winter Empire had been forged for a virgin, and it was done by Puîyus’ hand. And at the end of the day Siêthiyal was wearing a more conversative version of the skirts and scales that Ixhúja sported, albeit new and pink and very lightweight, and she was spinning around and admiring herself in the mirror and winking a little to herself and playing with her long roseate hair, and Puîyus sate in one corner to watch her, he was tired from his labors but found it good, and Ixhúja was lying on her back and fiddling with her clockwork creatures.
Princess Éfhelìnye came to Puîyus and chanted – You seem very tired, my Puey. –
– Mew – he nodded.
He had to forge that thing twenty seven times, Ixhúja sighed. And I had to help.
– Why so many times? –
– I didn’t like how it fit on me those first twenty six times – Siêthiyal chanted. – If I’m going to be a shield maiden, I want to look good. This is extremely comfortable, it’s not at all like those corset contraptions that Auntie and Khlís wear, this is very breathable. –
Good, because we won’t do it again, Ixhúja breathed out.
– I may ask for another set for my next Starday. –
Puîyus was hoping that Siêthiyal would just ask for another toy. He got up and took the Khaxhapúrxhriqe musical blade and put into Siêthiyal’s hand and then showed her how to sheathe it upon her back, and then he kissed her upon her forehead and bowed unto her, and she bowed back, and he turned aside and took Éfhelìnye by the hand to walk into the dying of the sunset. And Siêthiyal struggled to draw her sword and spun it around and tried to be very clever with it, but she only managed to run forwards a few feet before Ixhúja tripped her up and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed. Siêthiyal rolled onto her side and laughed a little and bounced upwards, for Puîyus had made the armor of such a marvelous design that it hardly weighed upon her at all, and she snatched up the sword of her Father’s and set it within its place, and Ixhúja slipped upwards and began to show Siêthiyal basic stances of standing and moving and running and being a warrior and encased in steal and scale and cotton and gold and rune and pink. And so as night was beginning to fall, Puîyus and Éfhelìnye were back within the fortress, and Akhlísa was walking from room to room and tossing clothing into boxes and all the books and toys that Siêthiyal in mountain piles had found, and the Princess’ manuscript, and even Tetratríxe and Qwatríxe, and Fhólus and Aîya were helping in the endeaver of uprooting the family and sending them unto the malknown in the center of the land.
When Night came tròyo, nuschanz, the dark and ancestrial hour, it fell heavy upon all of the turms and crennelations and spirals of the fortresses high within the Xhyèrxhmu mounts, when Glooming tide fell it was a palpable and sad feeling, and the smoke that was arising throughout the thousand chimneys of the rath came slithering from side to side and were almost coughing as they were struggling for to arise, and the naphtha flames that appeared within the watchtowers were become timid things, small and whispering rays of light attempting for to snake upwards and thirl through the veils of the last hour of the day, but the night was precipitous and longing. As Puîyus came walking down through the halls, and he could see that the stained glass windows were blinking dark as if they were great eyen shutting all about him, as he could feel the approach of the midnight hour as it came unto his spleen, more than he could sense it with any mere visual sensation, as he watched deep and black clouds billow down through the fog of the mountain and swamp about all of the towers, as the fortresses high within the fang whispering mountains were become delicate and tàfhal lonely islands, as the heavens themselves were like unto curtains being drawn down unto him, he was very aware of being indoors èxhixe, and that the walls about him were as thin as paper, and the stained glass windows were but delicate membranes, the roof stretching above him was all like unto eyelids, in fact all of the mighty fortress of stone and jaspar and jade was less than papyrus, less than paper in comparison to the vast and heavy darkness which was the Midnight come unto all the worlds. And as the winds began to sweep outside, and the slow murmur of howling came even unto those who shuffled inside, as he heard the snowflakes tumbling downwards, and the movement of monks and acolytes rushing indoors as if the Emperor himself were outside and about to capture them, it seemed unto Puîyus that the fortress and the walls and all of the works of the hands of man were even less than papyrus, less than skin itself, and he knew just how fragile skin was, for he had been cut and wounded many times, and he had slain many men and knew that skin was hardly boundary at all, but it occurred unto him that all of the towers and temples and towns of Jaràqtu, all of the clockwork trains of the Seven Central Realms and the spanning bridges and the floating cities and even the crystal spirals of Eilasaîyanor were as unto soap bubbles arising evanescent and ephemeral and nothing in comparison to the storm and darkness and land and heavens and immortality itself.
Came he into the saffron halls, Puîyus the Son of Íngìkhmar, and before him the very tapestries were rustling from side to side as if the winter’s blast had somehow found itself within, even though all of the windows were shut tight against the Emperor’s winds. A slight crimson glow danced upon the tapestries and the curtains as the handmaidens came upwards and shut them, and all of the corners of the room were filled with large and leaning statues of the Ancestors, and many of them were ancient alam weatherworn and glistening, and holding reeds and floreal swords in their hands, and veils across their faces. In the center of the room were some tall daises and chairs, and upon the lowest of these were the Kháfha who were the Regents of the future Sun and Moon of all the Land, and they were arrayed in accordance with their triple castes, and for they were jhwaxàntu monks and pùngei sentinels and khleûremun chancillers. Beside the monks was standing Auntie Qtìmine, all in white and gold, her face glowing and empearled, her hair a bright golden shine, and she was clasping her hands together. Below her and the Kháfha Xákhefha Jàrqnis folk were kneeling the Hundred Virgins who had been given unto Puîyus as his personal property by the chieftains of the Poriêrii and the Qwoâng and the Tlhaxoîyer and their allies. Puîyus came entering through an outer side of the halls and he found that Princess Éfhelìnye was walking up unto her. She took his hand and claspt it tight.
– Everything has been prepared for us – Éfhelìnye whispered. – Your Aunt was able to convince them. She is a very beloved Concubine of my Father, and the Kháfha can deny her nothing. All we have to do is play our part of the ritual. –
Puîyus nodded. Éfhelìnye squeezed his hand. They walked out together into the saffron halls. The fireplaces were roaring as Eunuch slaves were coming upwards and tossing crystalline timber upon the flames, but no matter how high the tendrils came or how loud the atra roared, the halls were become none the warmer, and some of the older Kháfha, their feathers whisps and whiskers almost, were shivering beneath the copious cocoons of their robes. And as the two children entered, the Hundred Virgins, fell down upon their faces and engaged in ritual humicubacioun before the twain, and the Kháfha, the khleurèmun chancillers and pùngei sentinels and jhwaxàntu monks fell upon their faces. Puîyus hopped up upon the dais and picked up Éfhelìnye and they came to the edge and sitting down dangled their feet o'er the side.
– Mew – chanted Puîyus, and he looked unto the Hundred Virgins and smiled.
Auntie Qtìmine came upwards, her the flowing of her skirts a rhythmic music and she whispered to the children – You are not supposed to sit upon the dais, you are supposed to sit upon the throne that towers above the chairs of all the rest. –
Puîyus and Éfhelìnye craned their necks behind them and saw a chair, or at least something which they thought was being used as a chair, but was surely a sofa wherearound three tall kachina statues of the Ancestors arose and in their petrescent arms were holding up a fhtòfhe celure, jewels and crystals were flowing down from it-then, and behind the selar arose a great canopy that looked almost like a Sun and Moon entained upon golden solar sails, and before the pthronos were hanging the ancient runes and regalia of the Holy House of the Pwéru.
– !! – Puîyus gasped, for it was very large chair indeed, far bigger than the one which the Elders of the Poriêrii and their allies had prepared for him and Akhlísa.
– Go ahead, climb up there – Auntie Qtìmine chanted. – Shoo! Go! –
Puîyus jumped up at once, for he was quite used to receiving orders from his Elders and his beloved Auntie and obeying them at once, but as he helped Éfhelìnye upwards the Princess tugged upon Qtìmine’s sleeve and whispered – Mother, that chair is far too large for us. –
– It’s a throne, my Daughter. Get used to calling the seat of authority a throne. –
– Puey and I are just going to sink into it. He and I are not very big, and I think that throne would be more suitable unto a child of the Khlitsaîyart Khlaêr. –
Auntie Qtìmine was almost shoving the two children past the Kháfha dignitaries and unto the steps of the throne and whispering – Just make do. Sit any way which may be comfortable. –
Puîyus clammered up the side of the kußûm like an atalesqiyìsqu waitoreke, and coming unto the edge of it he pulled the Princess up after him and together they sate upon the surface of the guza for a few moments before sinking right into it. The monks and sentinels and chancillers were remaining still and quiet and patient as the Kháfha folk were famous to be, and so it was that Puîyus clammered upwards and tried to pull the Princess up beside him, and sometimes they just flopped about the edge, and they were struggling to hold onto the sides and back of the throne, and Auntie Qtìmine walked up unto a pungeîyei sentinel and asked – May one please have some large and hard cushions for the future Emperor and Empress? – And at once several pùngei sentinels dashed outwards in a flurry of wings and robes and from somewhere none of them could remember afterwards they brought out about three times too many hard cushions than were strictly needed, and the sentinels clomb upon each other’s wings and backs and leaned up against the throne and stacked the cushions within, so that the children were almost finding themselves inside and upon a fortress of cushions, but at least they could sit and tower above the Kháfha and the handmaidens without tumbling down. And once that was all settled the Kháfha could return down to their high daises and their places of serenity, and Puîyus was almost wishing that he could just kneel upon the floor as he had been used to doing since earliest childhood when he was in the presence of those older and greater than he, which was just about everyone actually, but Éfhelìnye was happy just to sit beside him and be in his presence.
The oldest of the hieromonachs arose, they took up cymbal and bell and rang them, and they intoned saying – The holy Crown Prince wishes to speak unto his people, he wishes to venture off unto the war in the heart of the realm and has orders concerning his property in the fortress. Speak, oh holy Crown Prince, and we your poor subjects ask only for the honor of total obedience. –
Puîyus looked around but was not entirely sure whether he should speak yet. Since he had never learned the arts of language, he was never quite sure how conversations were supposed to work, for unto him it was quite simple to shift from mew to thought to gesture to blink to sigh and gestalt and wink and dream, and sometimes he could do that while another was talking, sometimes all could be speaking at the same time, and sometimes his Sisters would be talking or he would be trying to understand the Elders, and their words were just start becoming like unto Qíperakh, like unto gibberish unto his ears. He looked to Éfhelìnye since he knew she was an expert on language itself, but she also sometimes had trouble fathoming verbal communication, for she had been growing up in a world where she only had to consider at most three people talking, and Great-Uncle Táto never raised his voice and Grandfather Pátifhar never argued at all, and she used to think that the wind and trees and flowers themselves had voices and were worthy of listening unto their song. But in this case she realized that it was Puîyus’ turn to talk, and she shook his sleeve a little, and so he looked around unto the kowtowing Elders and the Handmaidens are below him and spake in this wise:
– Mew. –
And Princess Éfhelìnye chanted – My beloved and darling future husband is saying … –
Auntie Qtìmine was coming up unto the throne and leaning upwards and saying – Daughter, you are too high up for anyone to hear. It is better this way, for the voice of the Emperor and Empress should be too cold and rarified for the rest of us. Tell me, and I shall tell the rest. –
– That’s a good idea. I’m not very good at shouting – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– An Empress does not need to shout. Anyway, I am considered jaiyAnetàrthaxing sòlpe, your legal Mother, for both you and Puîyus, at least until you come of age, for I am one of your Father’s Concubines, and I am Puîyus’ xhroxekhpaxhmoxéxhe maternal maizfia, and so the Kháfha will hear my voice. –
– I already forgot what I was going to say – Éfhelìnye chanted.
Auntie Qtìmine pulled down the lengths of her golden veils, so that she was altogether a piller of white and gold, perfect and bright and regal in her own way. Puîyus and Éfhelìnye shifted in their seats all about the large and actually rather malcomfortable cushions, and then Puîyus leaned o'er and whispered into Éfhelìnye’s ear and then she leaned down the side of the throne, and Auntie Qtìmine came forwards unto the jhwaxàntu monachs and pùngei sentinels and khleûremun chancillers and chanted – Crown Prince Puîyos wishes to express his admiration for and devotion unto the Hundred Virgins whom the magnificient Poriêrii and Qwoâng and Tlhaxoîyer have given unto him, and he would like to thank these handmaidens for their service unto him and all of the House of Pwéru. He shall not forget their devotion, and he honors them. –
The handmaidens cooed and sighed a little to hear that, and were glad that they had brought no dishonor unto their parents and guardians, and in fact were genuinely coming to like this child Emperor and his wives and family, for they were far less scary and far more forgiving than what they were used to experiencing before.
Puîyus whispered unto Princess Éfhelìnye who leaned down the side of the throne, and Auntie Qtìmine in shines of gold and white told the Kháfha and the crowds – Crown Prince Puîyos, the Son and Heir unto Kàrijoi my Lord and Husband desires that these handmaidens be placed under the protection of the priests. These maids shall be as unto junior qhányit courtesans of the Sun, they shall remain Puîyos’ property and shall never be sold or harmed; they shall remain part of his household with all the rights entailed by that. Thus are the words of the Crown Prince. –
The Kháfha arose and took up cymbol and bell and rang them again and chanted – Be it unto the maidens according to the word of the Emperor of tomorrow – and then the Kháfha knelt down again and bowed lowed unto the throne and the fortress of cushions and the children sunken therewithin.
And Puîyus whispered unto Princess Éfhelìnye who turned and clammered down the throne, and Auntie Qtìmine, Khwofheîlya’s younger Sister, came unto the Kháfha and the demoisellen and told them – The Crown Prince is thankful unto the Kháfha for acting as regents unto him and his wives and Sisters. He asks, however, a single boon. He craves permission to leave these fortresses and to head off untowards the middleheart of Jaràqtu where the war is turning. –
The Kháfha arose and took up cymbol and bell and rang them again and chanted – The Masters of the Kháfha can continue to rescue any war refugees who may continue to pour in through the seas, and we shall protect those who are ill, and those who can fight we shall send unto the middleheart of Jaràqtu to serve the Crown Prince. Long have we thought that the war must be returning and spiraling somewhere in this land, and the strange tidings come unto us bespeak of terrors unknown and unnamed. The Crown Prince should leave, if he thinks that is how he can save his people, however we would ask a question or two of him or shall become the Lord of Earth and Sea and Sky. –
– They want to ask you a question – Éfhelìnye told Puîyus.
The Kháfha turned unto Auntie Qtìmine and chanted – Please tell the future Emperor that we have heard reports that Grandfather Thiêfhilos and Sieur Íngìkhmar the future Empress’ personal protector have gone missing in the middleheart of Jaràqtu, and ask him whether he intends to search for them. –
Auntie Qtìmine leaned up against the throne and whispered – Did you hear the question? –
– Yes – chanted Éfhelìnye. – And the answer is yes. –
Auntie Qtìmine told the Kháfha – The Emperor intends to do so. –
The Kháfha bowed unto the throne and were saying – The welfare of the people is the prime concern of the Crystalline Throne and Starburst Crown. Please ask the Emperor who will be what he intends to do. Does he seek to hold together our Triple Alliance in order to topple the old Emperor his Father? Will his eyen be turned only towards his old family, Grandfather Thiêfhilos and Sieur Íngìkhmar who was once his Father? Or will he seek to obey the riddle which honored Kàrijoi gave him from the old throne of glass, when revered Kàrijoi told him that only a Flower would end the Winter? –
Auntie Qtìmine came unto the throne and whispered – I think with your sharp hearing you heard all of that, ne? –
– Please tell them that Puey seeks a different path. He will … do something completely unexpected. –
– What … shall I say? –
– Tell him he shall become Emperor Puîyos. –
Auntie Qtìmine was not sure that she would e'er understand the riddles of the former House of the Pwéru, but she came down from the throne and turned unto the Kháfha and told them – Puîyos and Éfhelìnye will find their own and different path, and they shall themselves become Emperor Puîyos and Empress Éfhelìnye. –
The Kháfha bowed, and Qtìmine wondered whether they understood this riddle, and when the Kháfha arose they asked – May we ask one more question? –
– One last question, please – chanted Auntie Qtìmine. – I want my children to be wellrested before the journey begins on the morrow. –
– Please ask them whether they learned anything about running an household, when we Kháfha left them alone do as they willed, but watched them the entire time lest they harm themselves or dash foot against snow or stone. –
Auntie Qtìmine came up unto the throne and asked – Did you learn anything? –
Puîyus nodded and whispered into Éfhelìnye’s ears and she chanted – You can please tell the Kháfha that both Puey and I have a greater appreciation of just how difficult it is to run an household, to be like unto Oldest Brother and Oldest Sister in a family of siblings and servants and slaves. –
Auntie Qtìmine came down from the throne and bowing told the Kháfha – My children are beginning to learn how difficult it can be to grow up, but they know they still have a long path ahead of them. –
And the jhwaxàntu and pùngei and khleûremun monks and sentinels and chancillers arose and chanted – That is all which we wished the children to learn at this time, for we thought that far more valuable than trying to teach them manners and how to hold fork and chopstick and when to bow and how to be silent. We are content. They shall become in truth Emperor Puîyos and Empress Éfhelìnye. Go unto the Middleheart and rescue your Grandfather and your Father, the ones who shall always be Grandfather and Father unto you, no matter what the rituals may say. We shall deliver the virgins unto the priests, and they will be protected from all of the machinations of their clans. Nothing can e'er be as it was before, everything shifts, and changes, and becomes, until chiliastic Ùkheta, the Final Dissolution of Dreams at the End of Tyme. – And so the khleurèmun and pùngei and jhwaxàntu chancilers and sentinels and monks were arising and striking cymbol and bell and turned and were shuffling down the dais and into the cold and dark halls.
Puîyus got up and hopped out of the fortress of hard cushions and when he came unto the platform he stretched out his arms and Éfhelìnye jumped out of the throne and was quite comfident that he would catch her, and her confidence was quite justified. Auntie Qtìmine wished that the two of them would be a little less playful in public like that, although she could not help but smile a little behind her masque of veils aurelian to see the two, but still, she had never heard of Princesses who just jumped out of towers and trees sometimes without looking and just expected to be caught, or Princes who stayed about and expected to catch a Princess. It was quite one thing for Fhermáta to jump out of windows or Akhlísa to tumble out of bed and be caught by a slightly hapless Puîyus, but even they did not do so in the presence of their regent elders, and neither of them were Princesses of the holy tnún ichor of the Pwéru.
Puîyus jumped down the layers of the daises and when he came unto the wellrugged floor he held up his arms, almost listless and unthinking and caught Éfhelìnye within them. Auntie Qtìmine came walking down the ramps, and Puîyus made a motion to help her down, but Qtìmine just shook her head and let Puîyus carry the Princess about, and Éfhelìnye was kicking her feet from side to side just because it was fun to be held. Auntie Qtìmine came unto the Hundred Virgins and told them – Thank you again for your service unto the Xhelkhajàkhta, the House of the Sun. You will be escorted back unto the harīm where you may pack and sleep, and the Priests will take custody of you in the morn. Puîyus, was there anything else you wished to say unto them? –
Puîyus shook his head, for he usually did not have too much to say.
– I did like your essays – Éfhelìnye told her. – And, although I was a little sick at the time, I thought the dragon dancing was very interesting. Perhaps at a later tide I can watch the dance with eyen anew, or you could teach me to dance as you do. –
The handmaidens bowed their heads at that. Auntie Qtìmine turned to leave, but among the soubrettes Asiréma came running upwards and she took Puîyus’ hand, even though he was trying to hold onto Princess Éfhelìnye, and Asiréma squeezed the hand and kissed the fingers and chanted – Thank you for saving us. –
– Mew? – Puîyus asked.
Auntie Qtìmine came to the door and chanted – They all would have been put to death if you had rejected them. But you saved their lives, both of you, Puîyus, Éfhelìnye. –
– We shall never forget what you have done for us – Asiréma chanted, and her tears fell upon Puîyus’ fingers.
Puîyus had no idea what to say. His face began to glow with a soft pink light that was dawning upon the center of both of his cheeks, so that it was almost as if his face were a field of snow and a few drops of blood splattered right in the middle, and all of the white was glowing and changing, concentric pink flowing outwards. All of the handmaidens were arising from their bowing and could see that Puîyus was blushing bright red and was trying to hide his face in Éfhelìnye’s hair, and he had no recourse at all but to turn and carrying Éfhelìnye and run far away with her down the halls.
– Good night, maidens, may Raven bring you crystalline dreams – Auntie Qtìmine told them.
– We like him – Asiréma chanted as she arose.
– I know. All girls do. His Father was a little charming also, but not as much – and the Vestal Virgin nodded unto them and left the halls, and the Vestal Virgins were turning aside and fluttering back unto the harīm of this ancient and once abandoned rath and sleeping therein for the last time.
And when it grew darkest and it was time to sleep, all in the household of the Pwéru were curling upwards and dreaming different dreams. Puîyus snuck out in the night to sleep upon a cot in the stables with the wild plantimals, for he wished to spend some time with the dinosaurs and giraffes and ostridges and striding Khwixhethateîqa and balletic Xheresafhènitha for perhaps the last time, but Auntie Qtìmine came unto him, a painted lanthorn in one arm, her gown glistening as the moonlight, and she made him sleep in a real room with a proper bed, and she watched o'er him until he was fast asleep, and then she slipped upon the floor beside him lest he awaken and fall, and Puîyus was dreaming about the fields of Jaràqtu and the growing singularity and darkness upon the middleheart and fears for the man who had once been his Father, and in the harīm Fhólus and Aîya were chasing about each other until they grew completely exhausted and then tumbled down in an heap upon the Princess’ wellquilted bed. Akhlísa was finishing up her packing, or rather she was finshing packing for Siêthiyal for although it seemed that by some strange fate much of Siêthiyal’s floppy hats and toys had somehow been destroyed, and Akhlísa had no idea how that could have come to pass, somehow Siêthiyal still had unto her ginormous heaps of offerings which the soubrettes had given unto her, and Akhlísa by this time had grown quite tired and was just throwing them into bags. One bag in particular was rolling out, and silvern claws and golden pincers kept poking outwards, and occasionally an angry metallic eyestalk arose and a squeaking high-pitched clockwork voice would mutter some dire threat and metchennacht unto the world in general and demand to dance and sing for the Starflower Princess, but Akhlísa just kicked the sack a few times and tossed in her dirty and sweaty and stinky socks within and shoved it tight, and then crawled into bed and fell down fast asleep. Siêthiyal and Ixhúja were running around and chasing each other and sometimes playing with swords and othertimes throwing food at each other and sometimes kicking furniture and trying to strangle one another, but in the end they too were yawning and eyeing each other and trying to catch the other one at yawning and blinking as if that were a sign of weakness, and so at the same time they came into bed and curled up next to Princess Éfhelìnye. And Éfhelìnye was drawing in bed, she was working upon colors and patterns and swirls, she was trying to paint out the path that was to come, and as Ixhúja and Siêthiyal were beginning to close their eyen, and already Akhlísa and Fhólus and Aîya were fast asleep, and from their bags of dirty socks Tetratríxe and Qwatríxe were rolling about and their skeleton keys unwound and they found themselves immobilized once again, the Princess was drawing the coming storm and the Abby and the Middleheart of Jaràqtu and the man who had been like unto a Father for her, Íngìkhmar, the Son of Jàkopar Khmàntro. She looked around in the darkness, and she thought it a little melancholy that she would probably never again sleep in this bed or dwell in this fortress e'er again, perhaps at some other time in the future she may visit these long and winding iron whispering mountains that are the fhtoînxhe spine of all this land, but probably she would come unto one of the halls of the Poriêrii and rather than this old fortress being used as a gathering place for the war refugees, and she thought it a little sad to think that she would probably never sleep again in the same company of people, these same handmaidens in the harem, along with the Eunuchs and the Vestal Virgins already present, and the Kháfha factions and the Khlitsaîyart who were put in charge of transportion and medicine, not to mention the warriors and stables and the crowds of refugees and the Traîkhiim who had somehow been relegated unto kitchen staff. It was all a little disquieting, it was a little like knowing that one were coming through a beautiful town, the buildings all glowing pastels, the trees winding among them, cobble stone streets of bright greens and pinks, and merry birds and fishes fluttrent in the air, and yet one would know, even as friendly people were walking by and bowing and waving, that one would never see them again, that one would never again wend so west or so north, but that this were the end of a journey at least in that direction. And yet even stranger still was to think that when she left this fortress it would not be for any home she had known before, for the Forbidden Gardens were destroyed by her Father’s wrath and even the crannog of Puîyus’ Ancestors had been toppled and ritually scorched and hurled into the loch, but rather she would have to venture out again unto khwaên, unto unknown dreamlands, with only the ties of her new family to act as home unto her. She hoped that Abbá Íngìkhmar were surviving captivity, and she whispered a prayer unto the blessed and creative High Ones who cannot die that Puîyus come for the rescue, and when her drawings were done she lay down and all grew silent and still and oneiric here in the lonely fortress beside the sounding sea of Sqasqáli.