Sunday, April 26, 2009

Auntie Qtìmine running the Household

And now that Auntie Qtìmine was present, all of the household of the Pwéru was completely different to what it had been before. For Auntie Qtìmine, Kàrijoi’s Concubine, did not permit fighting about her, and she ensured that the handmaidens obeyed without question. Before the suns rose Qtìmine came down into the kitchens awoke the Traîkhiim and bade them what they had to prepare, and when the sickly Suns were trying to arie and the hundred handmaidens were trying to sneak out, with Asiréma as their leader, and surprise the future Emperor with giggles and kisses, they were surprised to see standing at the gate of the harem a Vestal Virgin of the Sun who could not easily be distracted, in fact one who was a blood relation to the future Emperor, and she found chores for all of them to do and sent them scurrying away.
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? –
Puîyus nodded.
– 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? –
Puîyus nodded.
– 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.

Sibling Torture

For quite a long time Akhlísa, Raven’s lastborn child, the faithful Concubine to the Crown Prince, sate in the half darkness and listened to the ticking of the khràjo grandfather clock in the corner, and the movement of the wheels and pendula and tides elastic within it. She poured for herself a tall cup of hot chocolate and drank it slowly. She thought about the coming of the night. She let midnight come. Midnight was deep and ancient and horrible in its coming. She did not need to hear the chiming of the bells and the release of the scents to know that all of the wheels were turning and revealing the ultima hour of the day. She took her last sip of hot chocolate and set the glass aside. Puîyus would be done soon with dousing the fires, by now Ixhúja would be tiring of her incendiary game, and the handmaids would be able to return to the harem, and this she could all forsee in memory and thought. And now that midnight was come she walked up unto the largest of the windows and drew open the curtains and saw just what she knew would have to come, a midnight of darkening and dying and thousands of warĥum moons, of xhnòrixhi novilunes, black clouds were bleeding upwards from the fog of the whispering mountains, and from the moons themselves was come a scintillant darkness which was deeper than the night of the seventh hour. She arose and stretched her arms, but rather than preparing for bed and slipping into the warmth beside the Princess and the dreams that were flowing out from her and filling up all the bed, she donned her tàwit tiger slippers and prepared for a rather distasteful but necessary task. But first she made sure to resolve herself and watch the sickness of the moons and the midnight, and feel just how dark the room was even as the Moons were arisen in the skies, and the Moons that were having trouble shining could never be a good sign, they could only mean the dying of an Empress and the concurrent End of the Land of Story, for without an Empress the Dreamtime cannot exist and the Moons cannot shine. She hopped down from the bed and came to the door, and the clockwork was spinning open before her. And as she slipped intot he beginning of the midnight gloam, she knew that the prophecy had been true, for with ancestrial instinct she had known that this would not be a good day.
Akhlísa came into the halls and waited, for within three seconds Puîyus would be coming unto her. The halls were empty save for a couple of acolytes scurrying like rocks, and when saw they the coming of the Cælestial Crown Prince, at once they fell upon their knees at his coming. Puîyus bowed in response just as he had done almost all the days of his life, and as he came to the door Akhlísa could see how tired her looked, and the sleeves of his garment were singed, and a slight trail of smoke was arising from him.
– Mew – Puîyus nodded.
– All done? Good. The Princess is fast asleep. I may check up on you in the night just to make sure she’s doing fine – chanted Akhlísa.
– Mew mew? –
– Oh yes. Siêthiyal and I have schedualed a little game this night. Ah, Pew, if I may say something, I think it would be best if you stayed clear of the harīm this even. I know you don’t want to enter it at all, but … well Siêthiyal and I may be running around and playing with each other’s hair, and it may all just be silly beyond words. –
Puîyus considered, but he was one to take advice from one of his Sisters, or as he reminded himself, one who would become his Concubine after the war. He took Akhlísa hand and kissed it, and bowing unto her came into the room and at once collapsed upon the floor and fell fast asleep, and his dreams were filled with burning orchestra pits and handmaids screaming and running in all directions, and Ixhúja laughing and tossing smoke and flame at them in her persuit, and in general bringing mayhem in all directions, and his dreams were flowing outwards and suffusing his clothing and even becoming part of the thick rugs on the floor.
Akhlísa made sure to make her way unto the xhùjhwe cloisterage unseen, for she knew that Siêthiyal had spies almost everywhere. This was her quotidian problem with her older Sister, for Siêthiyal had the remarkable ability to get others to work for her, to manipulate some, to make alliances with others, and in general blackmail all those who were of about the same age or younger, so that there were growing concentric rings of Siêthiyalan influence flowing out from the center of her web. This was influence had tended to be mitigated at home since they had an older Sister to break up the fights, not to mention their Father and Auntie and older Cousins and Elders who could only let a fight progress so far. However whenever Siêthiyal came to visit too long among the Khatelèstan it was only a matter of time before she had Xataríyona and Ìkhnos and Pàlron working for her, it was as if Siêthiyal were living xhmèfhu, the mana of musical skill and just charmed those her own age, she knew what others needed kept secret, she knew how to flicker and dance among others, she somehow was able to turn things her way. Why even when visiting the Saûqyufha somehow she was able to venture with empty sacks and return with sacks stuffed with old toys, and among the Tásel she found herself adored and given Eirènwa’s old garments and toys. So Akhlísa knew that by now Siêthiyal, without any parental influence to stop her, and with Puîyus unwilling to chastice the women of his family, that Siêthiyal was almost in completely control of what should have been Éfhelìnye’s harem. Akhlísa did not mind on principle, at least she knew what Siêthiyal wanted, and there were worse things in the world than attention and affection, but it did alert her to be careful. The Traîkhiim had long ago fallen prey to her charms, Akhlísa knew, they were easily suspectible to fear and order and any desire to please the Empress who had resurrected him. Akhlísa hid behind a column and looked out, she could see that crawling about the high rafters were some Traîkhiim who were watching the guards, and other Traîkhiim watching the rooms, but the majority of the Traîkhiim were watching each other, so that if anything bad happened and Siêthiyal demanded someone be punished they could point with hooked one to another and have a ready answer for her. Akhlísa wondered whether this is the way the ninja spies of the Holy City had functioned, spies spying upon spies spying upon spies, and only occasionally upon what had to be seen. Most of the Triîm high in the tnìfhe vigas and qhàlya belfries were crawling about and watching the door of the harem where honorguards of Kháfha swordsmen were standing. Akhlísa knew this is where one would be expected to enter the purdah, but she had also observed that Princess Éfhelìnye had found several ways to crawl out and escape the harem, so surely one should be able to enter it unseen. She drew out a small pebble from a tàwika tiger slipshoe and tossed it across the rooms, and suddenly half of the Traîkhiim arose and were flittering like bats in that direction and darted after it, but the Traîkhiim who were keeping their wits together were leaping outwards and heading towards the door and were looking from side to side and blinking their large eyen in the half darkness before the torches of the halls. But now that the Traîkhiim were all distracted by flying into the darkness and about the door, none was left to gaze out unto one of the left windows, and Akhlísa scampered unto there and soon was rolling up upon the lintel and hopping outwards, and she was quite glad she was wearing simple pajamas and not the bridal dress and corset, this way she would wriggle about, for wearing formal clothing, taqanáxi, contorted one into correct and straight posture, but was not always good for jumping down unto the dirt and roots and mud outside. Akhlísa kicked up some of the mud and found it good and sticky and quite excellent for the making of mud pies, and the ritual humiliation of one’s Sister was always a worthy use of one’s time, but not the first step which had to be taken in the ritual or familial vengence. She swung up unto the branches and pulled herself up upon the head of some of the ancient ancestrial statues that guarded the walls and ways outside, and she clammered up higher and higher until she came unto one of the outer windows high within the harīm halls, and finding that it was loose she pulled it open and slipped within, and she noticed that this was indeed the same window upon whose ledge Princess Éfhelìnye had been reading when Siêthiyal had taken her younger Sister out to see the one who would become her future husband, one who had been unseen by the waking eyen of both Siêthiyal and Akhlísa for quite a long, long time. Akhlísa jumped down unto the ground and beslipped the window shut, and she hid herself behind some columns and waited for the last few of the handmaidens to retire unto the rooms which had been set aside for her. Akhlísa waited in the darkness and did not even yawn. She even waited for Fhólus and Aîya to arise muttering and humming and crashing against the walls a few time before they finally thumped against the door of Siêthiyal’s room, and slipped through the servant’s door and crashed upon the floor.
And in the darkness and silence she waited, and when she was completely certain she was being unwatched, for she wanted to be a subtle as possible, she tiptoed through the darkness and and slunk in the shadows and made her way right untowards Ixhúja’s dwellings, and she slipped right unto the door and was reaching up unto the twining latch sèpina clickette, but she had to stand up upon her tippy toes, and in doing so lost her footing and slipped upwards and did not notice that her feet were falling upon some solar balls and old cans and bits of metal and piles of shells and flotsam which had been dumped within the halls, no doubt, Akhlísa realized, on Siêthiyal’s orders, no doubt, Akhlísa realized as she fell downwards, as a sort of trap. But too late she figured it out, and Akhlísa tumbled upon her back and all of the jetsam and shells and metalry and cans and solar balls and riffraff came bursting outwards with a loud and tremendous call, and Akhlísa came spinning down several cubits down the halls, and so loud was this clamor that at once almost all the doors in the harem opened upwards, and about an hundred Virgins looked outwards and found that Akhlísa had fallen right on her back.
– Oh by the Ancestors! – Akhlísa cried. – I tried to be so subtle! –
Fhólus and Aîya came pouring out of Siêthiyal’s room and looking at Akhlísa and the tremendous mess she had made, the tools and bits and jigs and junk she had knocked o'er, the Traîkhiim could do nothing else but just laugh at her and fall upon each other, and then turn and slump back into Siêthiyal’s room.
– Okay, Siêthiyal is going to have to pay for that too – Akhlísa muttered to herself, and she kicked at some of the metal peaces thunderrolling about her, for it no longer mattered how quiet she was, and she just grabbed the latch and flung the door open and walked right into Ixhúja’s room. The door swung behind her and the clockwork was spinning in response. Ixhúja was lying on her back and tossing a ball into the air and catching it, she was dressed in the pajamas which the acolytes had given her also, her hair was unbanded and bright violet, and only a few knives she had strapped to her belt, and all in all she almost looked harmless as she played almost kittenlike on her back.
Is it at all possible for you to be any louder at all? Ixhúja was telling Akhlísa in purrs and growls. One could hear your clumsy and ineffectual approach from many cubits away. Only the Traîkhiim could be fooled by the simple distraction of thrown pebbles. One should probably take care in climbing that tree by the adjoining window, for some of its south-eastron branches are weak.
– Indeed – chanted Akhlísa.
You have mud on her left slipper, Ixhúja was purring as she juggled the ball.
– Could you hear that? –
Ixhúja sniffed and pointed to her noise. And may one add, that in the wilds, your loud tripping on tins and shells and seawood would have attracted far more predators than it would have distracted. One doesn’t suppose that one could just learn to sit in a tree and be quiet and not trip o'er anything at all. In fact, not tripping is perhaps the greatest lesson one can learn. Ixhúja let the ball roll about her hands and tossed it away. One doesn’t suppose that anyone in this family actually knocks, does one?
– I think we who are now Pwéru have lost that particular skill – Akhlísa chanted.
Ixhúja reached out and made a noise which in the language of men meant, While you’re here would you mind making yourself useful and handing me the lyepènthe phorminx?
Akhlísa picked up the lyre and strummed a few of the strings, and the strings were almost phasing in and out of existence, ripples and phases and dances of sound arising, and the cithara was all of violet glass with veins all of silver within it, and the music of the zami lyepènthe sounded a little like canals and sands and the flowing of ice and wind and shimmering pink skies and huge dragon kites flowing in the winds. She plucked it a few times and handed it to Ixhúja, and she began to strum out a few melodies she remembered from her homeworld, the songs of heroes and great deeds of old.
– Ixhúja? –
– Purr. –
–- I need you to help me with something. –
Ixhúja continued to play.
– I chanted, I need you to help me with something – Akhlísa chanted.
Ixhúja played a few more tunes and looking up made a face that meant, I’m busy.
Akhlísa snatched the lyre away. – Well, you’re unbusy now. –
I suppose, Ixhúja growled in the tounge of wild beasts. She sate up and flicked her ear.
– You and I need to protect your cousin … how’d you do that? – Akhlísa asked.
– ?? –
– The think you just did with your ear, flicker flacker floo? –
Ixhúja flicked her ears again.
– Can you teach me? –
Ixhúja sate up and flicked her ears. Perhaps one can teach you later.
– We need to do something with … sorry, I can’t think, all my thoughts are to what you just did with your ear. –
Ixhúja stood up and stretched her arms and coming to a wall grabbed an axe. You were about to say? Should one assume that this will end in glorious battle.
– No. No. No. Maybe. –
Ixhúja set the axe back down again. So you don’t need me to kill someone.
– No, just ritual humilation. –
Does this have anything to do with your daily and endless quarrels with Siêthiyal?
– No. I mean yes. Would you do that ear thing again? –
Later. You’re argueing still, neh? Why does one even have to ask.
– Let’s discuss business. I need your help in protecting the Princess Éfhelìnye. I fear that my eccentric and crazed and devious middle Sister may be a little too zealous in protecting the family honor, and so she has been a bit … how shall one say it … a rather too Siêthiyalan in her treatment of your cousin. So I believe it’s time to teach her a lesson, Siêthiyal that is, a lessen in the harīm, something that Puey never needs to know. –
One understands, Princess Ixhúja was growling and she picked up a mace and swung it around a bit. So you want me to rough up Siêthiyal a little, right?
– No. No. No. Yes, could you? Just a wee bit. –
Broken bones?
– No. –
Broken skin, permanent bruises.
– No. –
– No. Puey must never know. –
Then … something subtle.
– Yes. Subtle. Is there a way we can frighten and humiliate her without angering Puey too much? –
One has an idea. Ixhúja set the mace down. Fear. Terror. Horror. We must teach her the meaning of fear. This night, this midnight, we shall twist and strange and bring down upon her.
– Heh heh heh heh heh – laughed Akhlísa.
– Tee hee hee hee hee – laughed Ixhúja.
– Oh we shall … revenge ourselves this night. –
– Hæ hæ hæ hæ hæ – chuckled Ixhúja.
– What are we discussing now? –
Are you sure we can’t break any bones?
– No, we can’t leave any visible marks or changes. In fact we can’t do anything which will cause Siêthiyal to go running back to Puey. It must be … subtle. That’s the word for this hour. Subtle. Tqeîrmu tqeîrmu tqeîrmu. A word one normally associates with pirates and Siêthiyal … – Akhlísa tapped her fingers together. – Subtle. –
Ixhúja nodded, and she smiled one of those grim and stern smiles which made the children of Khnìntha so feared, and it was exactly the same as the smiles which the offspring of Jaràqtu perform before their worst of deeds.
Now it came to pass that at the edge of the storming estuaries here at the creagry of Jaràqtu, out of the froth and shifting sands and tumbling waves and the horrors of the storms that a couple of gleaming figures began to crawl outwards upon their strong and grasping pincers, and they were heaving all the while, their gears and mainsprings barely contained within the ribs of their carapaces. One of the creatures had once been bright and shining silver, but all that now remained of that coloration were some spinning scales and some bits of circles twining about each other, and the gasping of his billows, and the pipes of his eyestalks barely able to functure and turn their large and focusing eyen in all directions. Beside it was crawling a creature of similar design, a being who had once been shining and gold, and as it flopped down through the waves and struggled upon its spindly limbs it was reaching outwards unto one of its skeleton keys and spinning it around, and its wheels were barely able to turn against each other, and its glassen eyen were beads of red. The wights who had once been the Khniqhátui twins Tetratríxe and Qwatríxe came crawling out of the seas and collapsed right upon the sands and lay there for some time, all of their insides exposed, their wheels rusted and moaning in pain, their claws nothing but burning knives, and heat convections arose from their bodies. Seagulls began to descend, the first curious beaks and claws reaching into their bodies and pulling out wheels and splashes of bleeding oil, and Tetratríxe squealed with his high pitched voice and wailed and tried to slap the seamews about, and Qwatríxe folled out upon his side and tried to waddle away, and whenever a seagull landed upon his head and ripped out a claw or wheel just for sport, all he could do was scream in his childish voice and tumblie about the pebbles and roll himself up like an khnétsa armadillo glyptodon until the seagulls grew bored and started hunting about the seawrack and the fishes that were rolling out upon the sands. And so, limping and wounded slowly Tetratríxe and Qwatríxe came rolling back unto each other and wound up each others’ keys and crawled, and the waves of the coming moontides crashed about them several times and dashed them against stone and the halfburried armor of dishonored dead and unrepentant reaver and the endless bones which the Sqasqáli Sea was breathing outwards from the extinction which the Emperor was bringing unto all the Land of Story. And so it was that they were dented and sore wounded, Tetratríxe and Qwatríxe, as they made their slow way up upon the sands and beneath the massive xhnòrixhi novilunes that hung before the stones and hills and whispering mountains and fortresses of the shore.
They crawled for quite some time, Tetratríxe and Qwatríxe, and sometimes they came upon rock and othertimes came they came winding unto the pònkha grooves and lreîtha feutes and xhlòtsixo ruts that were cut by the passage of wagons and giraffes and warriors for many a generation, and they tried to find the smoothest of paths as came they upwards unto the sky iron mounts of Xhyèrxhmu, and at last came they unto the long and winding bridges that came from one tower unto the next, and with their small and grinding wheels, and sometimes by crawling upon the tips of their claws and heaving themselves upwards, at long last, exhausted and bleeding oil and crackling all the while, they made their way unto the courtyard of the fortress and collapsed upon the stones, and at this time the Elders were arising from the golden halls and were wiping custard and pies from their quetzal beards and their monk robes and their celia and eyestalks and the three factions of the Xìngqo’ Oantheyùlkha the Triple Alliance were all turning unto their own place, the Qhíng were ascending unto their high towers and were looking to the Kháfha and finding them dull and servile and the Aûm hardly even worthy in any capacity, and the Kháfha were yawning and shuffling away and found the Qhíng to be ill-tempered and violent and the Aûm childish and rude, and the Aûm thought that the Kháfha were idiotic and the Qhíng were feral beasts given clothing and land and investitures of power, and as they were bowing one to another and parting and wiping the pie from themselves, globes of crust and fruit and sugar and cream were tumbling right upon Tetratríxe and Qwatríxe, and they had to struggle through the effluvium and wipe some of the goo from their already dying and clogging gears, and at last as they were waddling outwards and coming deeping into the fortress some Khlitsaîyart zintol were rushing outwards, and from the view of the small clockweyth wind up toys the world consisted of the swishing of robes and the movement of long clawed hands and the towering of the negotiators above them akólouthos Gehilfe acolytim, and the Khlìkhal Khlìkham negotiators were turning one to another and saying – I for one think that the future Empress is quite lovely and kind, she will be not just a worthy successor to her Mother, but she may well be the greatest of all the Swakaîxhren of the holy Blood of the Pwéru. It does seem that she may be too enthusiastic to bring peace unto the worlds, at least peace without sword and bloodshed and massive sacrifice, but we can at least let her try her idea. No one’s e'er tried to force all the nations of the Real People into a single Empire without some terrible and likely threat behind their words, and in the end she may do the same, perhaps the Emperor will be the sword of fire and she will be the words of peace. That seems fitting, it is the dualty of the Tusùrthir, the Royal Twins, the Sun to be War and the Moon to be Peace, Emperor and Empress together. We’d better put our large floppy hats somewhere where we shan’t lose them. Perhaps we can just toss them here in the corner. –
Tetratríxe and Qwatríxe were crawling outwards in the shadows and trying to avoid being trampled by the wellsandeled legs of the acolytes all about them, but to their surprise the umbres were growing large and darker as one by one large pétasoi were tossing right upon them and entrapped them deeply. Tetratríxe was the first one to crawl out, and when his claw first reached outwards it was immediately stamped and crushed by the passing sandle of another acolyte.
– Messengers continue to stream into the rath throughout the night – the acolyte was saying. – The Poriêrii are desparate to find the last Sweqhàngqu, the Empress’ own personal protector, though he he lost, lost, lost somewhere in time. –
Qwatríxe crawled out of the shadow of the large jaunty hats and several standles stomped right upon him also, and he cried out smintheus and loud, but the acolytes were far too large and adult to hear him. – The Elders are quite displeased with all this talk of peace that have come from the Divine Twins – another acolyte was saying. – They don’t understand why Puîyos isn’t just conquering them all at once, nor why he isn’t claiming land and territory and timelines and cattle and nations and women for himself. They realize that both the future Emperor and Empress are quite young, but surely they should be forcing their commandments upon the peoples all the more. It is quite strange, it is almost as if the Children were somehow of the Sylvan Caste which seeks harmony and to serve rather than of the most holy Pwejhoqèrti Royal Pwéru Xhámi Caste whose blood is of the Sun itself. Perhaps we should all sleep sockless this night. Come, my Brothers, let us toss our old and stinky socks in the corner where nothing but hats and shadows remain. –
– Oh no! – gasped Qwatríxe as he struggled to crawl upwards.
– Not the stinky socks! – gasped Tetratríxe. – Why do we always end up in sockment! –
– Oh oh oh oh oh! – squealed Qwatríxe the piles of the socks of many different acolyte falling down upon him adeptes akolites anes, the long and winding and complex socks fitted for the long angles and shanks of the Khlitsaîyart folk compleat with gapes for long claws were getting caught in Qwatríxe’s once aurelian pincers and about his wheels and he had to struggle for a time.
Tetratríxe was heaving socks right off of himself and his eyestalk kept getting caught within one sock after another, and he was slashing his knife forcepts from side to side and gear-growling all the while and when he was about two thirds free he cried out – Now why did Prince Jhwèsta design us with spiracles so that we can taste the air? How useful is it for us indeed to be able to smell of xhmeqaîtlho, of the smell of old socks? –
It took them some time, for the acolytes kept finding more old socks to shed from their bodies, and after the acolytes left it was a great pile of socks through which the wind up toys had to negotiate until finally they made their way outwards and came stumbling down through the halls, and they came crawling outwards and every few gearblinks had to stop and wind each other up again and pause and gasp even as their wheels were spilling out from them.
– That was one tremendous and epic battle which the crazy pirates fought with the Duchesses down through the chasms of the Deep – Tetratríxe chanted.
– Yes, we’ll have to talk about it sometime – chanted Qwatríxe.
– But for now … where are we? Surely the holy and divine Princess would have made her way here, one would think. –
– I think the Duchesses are cute. –
– Which one? –
– Both. –
– They’re nobility of the Aûm. You’re a clockwork toy. –
– So? I think I’m in love. –
– Don’t be weird. The Princess has to be around here somewhere. We must find her and sing and dance for her. – Tetratríxe came tumbling down upon his crackling spherical body and found that his billows were no longer functioning. – I just hope she’s still not with that horrible boy creature. Why should she possibly be wishing to spend time with a disgusting horrible flesh and blood young man when she has toys who will adore her all the days of her life and would never harm her at all? I just hope we get compared and fitted with weapons of awesome destructive force so that we can rip that boy into shreds and stomp upon them, I want to wear his eyen upon my claws and wrap myself up in a cloak of his skin. I don’t like him. –
– Do you think the Duchesses like me? –
Qwatríxe rolled out and crashed upon his side, and the wind up toys were only a few cubits away from the wellgated entrance of the harem. Qwatríxe managed to lift himself up upon the tips of his claws and saw some passing Kháfha swùmi swashbucklers and snapping his pincers a little cried out – Oh oh oh! Any of you seen any qlén callinymphs gliding about? –
The nearest swùmiin fencer came unto the wind up toys and picked them up and chanted – I suppose you both must belong unto some of the maidens in the harem. One of the Women of the Sun must be your mistress, I would think. I shall summon an houseslave. –
Tetratríxe wriggled a little in the long and sharp wings of the Kháfha and chanted – At least we’re getting somewhere now, and without a storm of socks upon us. Any moment now, and we shall be with the Princess. I don’t think my skeleton keys are working very well now, I fear I may start … running down … –
– Do you think the Duchesses are in the harīm? – asked Qwatríxe. He was trying to empolish his body of rust and gold and chanted – One must always look one’s best for nobility. –
The swashbuckler came unto the door of the harem and the complex lock came spinning around, tumbles and whirls and gears rustling from side to side, and as the door opened beams of light were flowing downwards, and ætherial shadow waves wavering from side to side, ensorcelled and watchful lest any male aside from Crown Prince Puîyos attempt to traverse therein. The swashbucklers waited a few moments and then from the cool lamplight of the harem came a couple of fluttering creatures yawning and smacking their lips and complaining all the while.
– This better be good – chanted Aiya. – Someone trying to sleep. –
– Sleep easier for me, only have two heads to rest – Fhólus chanted.
– Will you stop mentioning that I ate one of your heads? It’s become an obsession with you. –
– Next time I’m eating an important part of you. –
The Traîkhiim Þéowincelry were swaying from side to side on their side of the harem and the swashbuckler held up the toy before them and chanted – We have summoned you. –
– Yeah, we know – chanted Fhólus.
– Can we hie it up apace? – asked Aîya. – The sooner Siêthiyal finishes her repair work the sooner the rest of us can sleep and dream about eating each other. –
– We believe these toys belong to holy women within – the swashbuckler chanted.
– Oh oh oh – chanted Fhólus. – Drag me out of bed for this. Toys. Toys. Toys. Who’s big idea was it to give all the authority of the Land to a bunch of little Triîmeling! They always falling in love and crying and toys and starting wars. Well, what do you want of us them you! –
– Please give these to the Holy Empress of tomorrow – chanted the swashbuckler.
Aîya fluttered upwards and picked up Qwatríxe, and splashes of oil ran down her wings. – This one’s broken and disgusting. Throw it back. –
– Nuh-huh! – chanted Fhólus as he looked to Tetratríxe. – I just plumed and washed these feathers. Get the Empress to take her own toys. –
– We shall not repeat ourselves – chanted the swashbucklers. – Take the toy to your mistresses. –
Fhólus yawned. – Or what, you going to storm into the harem? Forgot, you can’t because you maling hah hah hah hah hah! – Fhólus came spinning about the threshold and danced from side to side and chanted – See watch this, this being benefit of being androgynous, can go just about anywhere. Now I’m in harem. Now I’m in hall. Now I’m in harem. Now I’m in hall. You try to enter harem, you get fried with lightening and pointy sharp fires and go ack ack ack ack die great dishonor you can’t go near the women hah hah hah hah hah! –
– Just take the toy, xá Fhólùseji – Aîya sighed as she began carrying Qwatríxe away.
Fhólus was hopping through the gate and laughing – In the harem! In the hall! In the harem! In the hall! You can’t go! You can’t go! But I can I can I can! –
– My gears are breaking, could I be repaired any time soon? – asked Qwatríxe.
– Fhólus, you’d better stop – chanted Aîya. – Kháfha entire society of crazy warrior monks. They have no sense of humor. Unlike Triîm. We dance and laugh and eat all the time, and then we get mighty tired and powerful sleep for another day of eat and laugh and dance. And the Qhíng and Aûm claim we never get anything at all done. –
– I’m actually breaking apart too – chanted Tetratríxe in the swashbuckler’s arms. – Would you mind taking me without? –
– Harem! Harem! Can’t follow into the harem! – laughed Fhólus.
– You gonna be in trouble! – laughed Aîya as she spun away.
Fhólus giggled and landed outside the gate and stuck out both sets of triple-forked tounge and cried out – Can’t follow me can’t follow me can’t follow me nyaaa nyaaa nyaaa! –
In a flash faster than the Traîkhiim could see, a fencer grabbed Fhólus by the neck and choked her. – Please honor us by bringing the toy to the Empress, or we shall inform the future Emperor that he has some disobedient slaves. Remember that the swuîke flame imperishable must always be lit, and that slaves must be burnt to feed the life of the Sun. –
Fhólus gagged and the swashbuckler tossed her downwards. Fhólus coughed out and scooped up Tetratríxe in her wings and chanted – Okay okay okay! Just a simple command. Come on, you sock stinking toy, we’ll get you repaired. –
– Thank you for your service to the Crystalline Throne and Starburst Crown – chanted the swashbucklers.
Fhólus came flying into the harem and chanted – Next time get one of the Eunuchs to do your chores. –
– The Eunuchs outrank you – chanted the swashbucklers. – And we have been told that Emperor Puîyos desires for the Traîkhiim to learn responsibility and devotion. –
– Puîyos never let us have any fun … – muttered Fhólus as he carried Tetratríxe away. – I the one missing an head, why do I have to suffer more? – Fhólus was struggling to keep up with Aîya who not lonely was far away from her and carrying the lighter of the wind up toys, but her wings had been slightly less gnawed and bitten during the altercations of the love feast. Fhólus hung back a little and saw a couple of Eunuch slaves walking through the halls, and they were trimming their lamps and closing the curtains and dashing perfumes and scents unto the walls and preparing everything for the long midnight to come, and Fhólus narrowed her eyen and chanted – You! Work harder! All you work work work work work! Can’t believe the Eunuch thralls outrank us, that just the greatest humiliation of all. I we thought Eunuch was one’s last chance to serve before being tossed into the flames. What a weird world this is. –
Fhólus, deciding that whatever this little wind up toy may be was hardly worthy of her time, decided to drop it and smash it against the walls and doors and whatever hard and uncomfortable substance she could find until she made her way unto the quarters set aside for Siêthiyal, and from the servant’s entrance Aîya poked out one of her heads and chanted – You coming or no? Such a slow one. That way it easier to catch and eat you. –
– I eat you next time, I come up with subtle trick! – cried Fhólus, and she kicked against Tetratríxe and let many of his wheels come spilling outwards, until at last, growing bored with tormenting a toy, Fhólus hauled her inside, and within was a room bathed in a soft and golden light. At a worktable Siêthiyal was seated, candles flickering about her, she was in her pajamas, and her pink tresses were piled at least a cubit on top of her head so that she almost looked like a winding spiral of fhlaê iced cream. Before her lay many wrenches and knives and tools, and Qwatríxe lay open before her. Fhólus bound up into the air and tossed Tetratríxe down and chanted – Found more junk for you. Mind if we go to sleep now, Mistress? –
– Ouch ouch ouch – moaned Tetratríxe as he rolled upon the table.
– Very interesting – chanted Siêthiyal as she took some clamps and began snapping the silvern toy open. She already began drawing out some webs and tools and began repairing the Khniqhátui at once.
– May we go to bed now? – moaned Fhólus. – We been working all day, we tired and cranky. –
– Fine, go to bed – chanted Siêthiyal without even looking up. – Sleep well, for I have many chores for you. –
– Hate doing chores – chanted Aîya as she crawled into Siêthiyal’s bed and began rustling up the pillows. – Can’t some of the other slaves work also? –
– They do work, they all work – chanted Siêthiyal as she took her spy glass and examined the structure of Qwatríxe. – You both just complain quite a bit. Your entire species must be chasticed for what it has done. –
Fhólus crawled into the blankets and chanted – Still complaining because we tried to eat the Empress? They so sensitive about their worshiped divine family. I can’t look at Éfhelìnye without watering mouth and sweet perfume taste and the aroma of her skin. –
– Puey yum yum too – chanted Aîya as she flopped upon a pillow.
Siêthiyal picked up a fhwaqhùnthe surgical tool and seeing the Traîkhiim in her bed chanted – And what do you two think you’re doing? –
– Sleep – chanted Fhólus.
– Night night – chanted Aîya.
– You are not permited to sleep in my bed, you worthless thralls – chanted Siêthiyal.
– Why we sleep in your bed many times before why – chanted Fhólus.
– All this talk make it hard to sleep – chanted Aîya.
– Get out of my bed at once – chanted Siêthiyal. – Open a window. Do you see the tree beside the walls, it leads unto a mudpuddle, cold and sticky and disgusting mud, and therein shall you sleep all this night, in the cold and wet misery. I just want to remind you of how miserable you are, for trying to hurt my Éfhelìnye and my beloved Brother. You know the law. What is it? –
Fhólus and Aîya muttered and grumbled and chanted by rote – Nobody allowed to hurt Éfhelìnye or your little Sister or your Brother except you. The rest of us are worthless stupid fatherless slaves. –
– Good, I’m glad you understand – chanted Siêthiyal. – Now do I have to open the window myself and toss you into the mud, or will you wallow of your own accord. I’ll count to three, and if you’re not deep in mud by then, Puey will be reminded that someone was biting Éfhelìnye’s knuckles today. –
– She did it! – Fhólus chanted pointing to Aîya.
– I thought her knuckles were food! – gasped Aîya. – Honest mistake! –
– One … – chanted Siêthiyal.
– Okay we sleep in cold outside but not in mud – chanted Fhólus.
– Mud wet and humiliating and slimy – chanted Aîya.
– Two – chanted Siêthiyal as she arose from her chair.
Empanicked the Traîkhiim burst out of bed and crashed into each other and dazed came to a window and struggled to open it, but only succeeded in slapping each other about. – Won’t open! Pull harder! No, push, we have to push. What’s this latch do? I don’t know, is it tasty? Open now now now now! –
Siêthiyal arose behind them and picked up a bucket beside the window. The window burst open and the Traîkhiim slipped o'er the side and dove right unto the ground, and Siêthiyal picked up the bucket and set it upon the lintel and chanted – Here’s some slime I had collected especial for you. Enjoy? – And that chanted she upended the bucket and poured out the slime right on top of Fhólus and Aîya even as they crashed into the mud. – Now I’d better find you there by dawntide, but you’ll have to take a bath before seeing the Empress, I shall permit no dishonor in her presence. –
– How’d we end up property of mean middle Sister? – muttered Fhólus as glisteglobs of mud began falling about her two remaining heads.
– If we lie in mud all night we can’t help you – chanted Aîya. – Can’t snuggle up next to you to keep your warm, we can’t help you if danger cometh … –
Siêthiyal picked up another bucket of mud and poured out the contents upon the Traîkhiim. – I’ll take the risk. Just remember, you’re nothing but slime, and if you try to harm my loved ones, you’ll wish you were as elevated as slime. – She slammed the window shut and turned aside to her work, and came unto the table and was making some real progress in rebuilding and repairing Tetratríxe and Qwatríxe by the candlelight flickers of midnight.
But just a few cubits away from where Siêthiyal was sitting and putting the Khniqhátui twins back together and trying to figure out just how exactly to make these wind up toys function and sing and dance as they should, in another room Akhlísa was pacing back and forth while Ixhúja was stretching her muscles and preparing herself with silent and stoic resignation.
– Have I mentioned that we must be subtle? – Akhlísa asked.
Ixhúja nodded.
– We msut plot the greatest revenge e'er, we must have our vengeful justice against Siêthiyal for daring to hurt the Princess. We must be subtle. Subtle. Tré subtle. But how? – Akhlísa stroked one of her bouncing golden rondures. – The time has come, Siêthiyal may not intend any harm, but no matter what she does it ends up with thousands of maidens trying to embarrass Puey and annoying Éfhelìnye and trouble pouring down in all directions. –
Ixhúja moved a listless hand and made a motion as if to say, We may just go and torture her? Tómo qlaêkh can be e'er so much amusing.
– We just can’t permanently harm her or break her in any way or somehow make Puey angry with us – chanted Akhlísa. – But we must defend the Princess. Is there a way we can be subtle about it? –
Subtle. But without breaking her skull open. This may be difficult.
– She’s been warned, but knowing her she’s ignoring the warning. How can we be subtle about it? –
Ixhúja got up and stretched her arms and purred a few times and in the language of wild beasts told Akhlísa, Why don’t we just break into her room and beat her up, but not too hard.
Akhlísa sighed and chanted – Yeah, that’s subtle enough. May we tie her up? –
Ixhúja pulled out a length of rope from her belt and grinned.
– Yes. We’ll beat her up. Beat beat beat beat beat. But Puey must never know. –
Ixhúja came to the door and it dissolved before them, and taking Akhlísa by the arm told her in blinks and sighs and gestures, One thinks that you and I are far more similar than one had of previous thought.
– Heh heh heh heh heh – chuckled Akhlísa.
– Hah hah hah hah hah – laughed Ixhúja.
– Tee hee hee hee hee – sighed Akhlísa.
– Hæ hæ hæ hæ hæ – grinned Ixhúja.
– Tee hee … are we laughing at the same thing? – asked Akhlísa. – I’m thinking about the mountain of Siêthiyal’s hair myself. –
Ixhúja lead the way down the hall, and it was quiet and dark, the maidens unseen, and she came right unto Siêthiyal’s door and examined it, the gears and rolling wheels of the lock. She considered for a moment, and then kicked right at the lock, burst right into the room. Akhlísa gently slid the door shut behind her, and found that Ixhúja was already bounding upon the table and grabbing Siêthiyal by the throat and yanking her upwards.
– What is it now? – asked Siêthiyal. – Are you angry because there are at least two other maidens whom Puey likes better than you? Hello, Fhèsya. Does anyone knock in this family? –
Ixhúja punched Siêthiyal across the jaw, and the former crumbled right upon the floor. Tetratríxe and Qwatríxe, opened and partially disemboweled and not at all entirely conscious were trying to look upwards with twining glassen eyen, and they could but see a flash of pajamas and the movement of violet hair. Akhlísa was clammering up upon the table. Ixhúja was kicking Siêthiyal in her stomache a few times, and then pulling out some cordage tied up her hands behind her back, and tossed up some of the rope about the rafters and hauled the maiden upwards. Siêthiyal swung from side to side like a pendulum and chanted in a calm still voice – So what do you two think you’re doing? It will never work. One of you is too impulsive, the other one a nithalfwhit. Just let me go now and we forget this. –
Ixhúja growled and drew a knife before Akhísa could stop her, and set it right at Siêthiyal’s throat. Akhlísa grabbed Ixhúja’s arms to pull the knife away and chanted – No cutting! No blood! We can’t alert Puey! –
– Oh my – chanted Siêthiyal. – I am. So. Scared. –
– You should be, you meanhead! – cried Akhlísa. – And I just hate your hair this way, you look like a pyramid cake or something! – She yanked out the complicated mesh of ribbons and string set within the roseate tresses, and let them fall tumblent long and free, and then retied the hair in a single long sheen. – I don’t know what you intended with that, but it doesn’t work. –
– Okay, you’ve tied me up – chanted Siêthiyal. – Does this game end soon, I have toys to repair. –
– You made the Princess cry! –
– She always cries. Not as much as you, but still quite a bit. –
– I don’t like the way you torment her, so I torment you. –
– She won’t acknowledge you as Sister-Wife! I’m only looking out for your welfare. Are you going to be sending crazy Ixhúja away? You know you can’t control her. –
– Stop talking! – cried Akhlísa. – That’s all you e'er do. You made Éfha cry. –
– She makes you cry. We’re all the same. –
– Not anymore, older Sister. The torture begins now, be’joy’. –
Ixhúja drew out an altogether different knife and held it up to Siêthiyal’s throat, and Akhlísa had to run upwards and pull the Martian Princess’ arm away to prevent any blood being shed. Ixhúja snarled a little, but Akhlísa just ran up to the table and chanted – Ixhúja, make sure the victim is watching this. –
Ixhúja grabbed Siêthiyal by her jaw and turned her face unto the board. Akhlísa yanked up a particularly large and jaunty floppy hat.
– You like? – asked Akhlísa.
– Tlhotlho’ ei – sighed Siêthiyal. – It’s just okay. –
Akhlísa began tearing up the floppy hat, and Siêthiyal gasped and squealed in anger. Akhlísa grinned all the more and ripping out the ribbons and feathers came unto a flickering candle and lit the side of the hat, and bright white and golden flames were licking upwards and dancing in the air.
– You fiend! – gasped Siêthiyal.
– How many more floppy hats do you have? – Akhlísa girnned.
– That’s the only one – hissed Siêthiyal. – Be not mistaken, Puey shall learn of this. –
– He won’t care. I’m his widdle bewuved Concubine, and I’m defending his helpless Empress who has to be cherished at all times. You’re low on this hierarchy, Siêthi. –
– The same Mother bore Puey and me! For the rest of our lives, that makes us special in a way you’ll never understand, and if you dare call me Siêthi again … get away from those pillows! –
Akhlísa was bounding and bouncing on the bed and singing – Fhwa fhwa fhwa fhwa fhwa it smells like Pèqlor dancers that’s just weird. Ixhújaji, make sure that the wretch is watching! Fhwa fhwa fhwa fhwa, well lookee here! – Akhlísa began licking aside sheet and blanket and cover and pillow until she found a hat, big and silly and floppy, and she made some slow and agonizing tears in it. – I know you like this one. –
Siêthiyal narrowed her eyen and chanted – Hear my words, you miserable little war orphan! –
– What did you say? – smiled Akhlísa as she tore right through the hat. – I can’t hear you. – She tore faster and louder. – The sound of this desecration is just so loud! –
– This little fight will come to an end. We will make up. We will be siblings once again – Siêthiyal growled. – But one day, some day in the future … –
Akhlísa ran down the bed and hopped onto the table and chanted – Fhwa fhwa fhwa fhwa, you’re going to vow some revenge on me years to come and on my children and children’s children yeah I know, it sounds like something you’d do! – Akhlísa shredded the hat before Siêthiyal’s gaze. – What are you going to do? Annoy them? You. Have. No. Power! Who do you think will be more important to Puey, the beautiful little children I bare him, or whatever wretched little offspring you have from some old stinky bigfooted husband who has rotten teeth and will forbid you to wear silly hats and have silly hairdos? – Akhlísa tossed the hat upon the candle. – Just watch how it burns. Burn burn burn burn burn. You don’t like fire much, do you? –
– You’re a vile and wicked little worm – chanted Siêthiyal.
Akhlísa reached behind her back and drew out a large pink hat. – Oh this one’s your favorite, isn’t it? –
– You know of course that Puey won’t permit you to arrange the marriages of your own children – Siêthiyal cooed.
Akhlísa tore through the pink hat but realized she had not considered this. – So what? –
– So … it’s just that often in important families, like in our own, like even in the Sweqhàngqu wherewithin we were reared, that a Father will get the help of grandmothers … and matrons … and aunties for arranging the marriage of his children. See, the Father and Mother sometimes don’t understand the wellbeing of the Clan, and a trusted … Auntie … is usually a better matchmaker. –
Akhlísa ripped through the pink hat. – I don’t care. –
– Auntie Qtìmine was quite eager to arrange the marriage of Fhermáta and … –
– Is this prating meaning anything? –
– Who do you think will be the Auntie to your children? And don’t say Ixhúja because she’s insane and stupid. –
– Grrrr! – growled Ixhúja as she drew another knife and set the edge at Siêthiyal’s neck.
– I’m still not understanding … – chanted Akhlísa as she began burning the hat.
– Who will be arranging the marriages of your children? Who’s the only person in all the worlds qualified for that? Here’s an hint, it won’t be one of his wives. –
Akhlísa blinked. – Do I know her? –
– It will be I, you thoughtless little waif! It will be mine honor to arrange the marriage of your children! I shall do it! I’m the only Sister by blood that Puey has! –
Akhlísa scratched her nose. – Ah … well I hope you pick good husbands for them. –
– For the burning of my hats, I forgive you. But unless you let me down now, I promise that your first Daughter will be wed to an old and bent and stinky old man, I’ll pick someone toothless and blind and drooling, someone for whom she’ll have to care all the days of her life, I’ll pick someone of such worthless stock that he won’t even be able to sire children! Now let me go at once! –
– You … you … you can’t do that! –
– I can I do I will. Release me! – Siêthiyal looked down and saw that Ixhúja still held a knife against her but was suddenly unafraid. – Do it! –
Akhlísa squeazed her hands tight and piped – You … you won’t! –
– Dare me! –
– Puey won’t let you! –
Siêthiyal batted her eyen and made an innocent and glowing face and chanted – But big brother I just know you’ll love having this valiant prince as a son by marriage, he reminds me so much of you and honored Íngìkhmar our beloved sire. –
Akhlísa began to tremble. – You’re so mean! –
– Release me, and I won’t say a word to anyone else. I won’t even begrudge Ixhúja here, you’ll little pet slave. –
Ixhúja held the knife closer to Siêthiyal who was just laughing in response.
– You … you … ! – gasped Akhlísa as tears began streaming down her eyen.
– Let me down, or I tell you what I’ll do to your second daughter, the one who will have long melancholy blue hair just like Puey, the one who reminds you so much of your beloved husband. –
– You are the meanest mean who e'er … –
– I think she’d make a good love slave to some barbarious chieftain, among one of the nations Puey will no doubt be pacifying … –
Akhlísa was crying now and was angry that she should be revealing such weakness before her Sister, but she drew herself upwards and took a few deep breaths, even as Siêthiyal chuckled in quite a musical tintinabulous way, and Akhlísa sighed – Ixhúja? Help me, dearest. Come to the table. –
– Grrr … – Ixhúja set her knife away but left Siêthiyal with a few good smacks across her face.
Akhlísa chanted – Pick up a mallet or chair or rock or something. –
Ixhúja hauled up a rock and chair and mallet and clammered up unto the table.
– Start smashing toys – chanted Akhlísa.
– I’ll make you suffer for the rest of your life! – shouted Siêthiyal.
– Leave not a single toy unsmashed – sighed Akhlísa.
– I’ll sell you into slavery! I’ll burn your clothing! I’ll humilate you for the rest of your life! I’ll make sure you never bare Puey a Son, and I’ll marry of all your daughters to horrible and stinky and … don’t you dare touch my toys! – cried Siêthiyal.
Akhlísa made a pile of the toys which the ancillæ had given her. – Ixhúja. Destroy. –
– You die! – growled Siêthiyal.
– Tee hee hee hee hee! – laughed Akhlísa.
Ixhúja took a rock and was smashing through tin soldier and broken trains and half repaired dolls and marionettes, and she took the chairs and began breaking little dollhouses and solar spheres against them, and she took mallet and with swift and stern and rhythmic strikes was breaking the toys apart one by one by one.
– You will never bare Puey any child at all! – Siêthiyal hissed. – I shall ensure that Éfhelìnye banishes you to the desert! I … stop that! I shall encourage the Empress to … stop that! Not my dolls! I make sure she flays you alive and hurls you into the ice swamp and … stop it! Now! –
– Did you like this doll? – Akhlísa grinned as she held up one with long pink hair and she kissed it and hugged it. – If you don’t want it, I’ll keep it. –
– Stop it! –
– Say ‘please!’ –
– Never! –
– Smash. –
– No! –
Ixhúja shattered the face of the doll and kicked it aside, and Akhlísa was making a long line of dolls to be broken and husked and harvested one by one. – Too bad you just can’t be civil unto the future Cælestial Empress. Alas. What nice dolls these are. –
– Sister, stop! – gasped Siêthiyal as she began to whimper and shake.
– Eh? – asked Akhlísa as Ixhúja continued slattering the ēoreds of the wthìjha dolls. – Are you calling me Sister? – Siêthiyal was bursting into tears. – Why I thought I was a miserable little orphan, the little Sister whose position was to be abused day in and day out. What was it you were saying about my future unborn daughters? –
Siêthiyal was whimpering xhwáwa glastings and was far too upset to talk. Akhlísa picked up a couple of golden haired dolls and chanted – Were you saying something about how you would arrange the marriages of my future daughters? I thought you had chanted something about that, unless I am very seriously mistaken. –
– I … want … my … toys! – cried Siêthiyal.
– Now, my oldest daughter, the very apple of mine eye … is she going to be married to a prince or to some stinky old man? –
Siêthiyal sighed. – Prince. –
– Good – chanted Akhlísa as she set the doll down. – Now my other Daughter, what shall become of her? –
– Prince – chanted Siêthiyal. – Let me down. –
– Good. We’re making some progress. Now, who’s the dominant Sister now? –
– Éfhelìnye – chanted Siêthiyal.
– Okay, but after her. –
– Ixhúja. –
– Fine. Then next? –
– Well … I’m next. –
– Wait a moment, how do I always end up at the bottom? –
– You are a Concubine while Ixhúja and I are blood relations to the Emperor and Empress – chanted Siêthiyal. – You’re just a junior wife. –
– Wait wait wait, you’ve turned this around on me again, you always do this! –
– If you let me go now, I’ll make sure that Puey kisses you, tomorrow, before sunset, I’ll have him sweep you up in his arms and pick you up and kiss you on your lips. Let me go. –
– You … you’re a temptress, that’s what you are. –
– I’ll make sure that Éfhelìnye acknowledges you as Sister-Wife. –
– Ah … um … –
– You and I can capture Éfhelìnye, we can tie her up and force concessions out of her … –
Akhlísa tossed the dolls down and chanted – You … you’re just wily! Stop talking! –
Ixhúja smashed through a doll and drew a sword and was advancing untowards Siêthiyal, but Siêthiyal just sniffled and chanted in a steady voice – Without me, Khlís, you will be nothing. You can’t control Ixhúja, e'er. You need me, only I can hold the family together. Ixhúja will just cause an explosion, a battle, a war. Only you and I together can save us who were once Sweqhàngqu and are now Pwéru. Do you want Ixhúja arranging the marriages of your children? Assuming your little ones survive, Ixhúja will just marry them off to some bizarre clockwork mutants from her heretic world. Is that what you want, weird clockwork pariah heretics for grandchildren? –
– We’d better let her go then … – chanted Akhlísa coming forwards, but Ixhúja held her back and shook her, and Akhlísa shook her head and chanted – Stop talking, Siêthi! You make everything so upsidedown! Ixhúja, slay the toys! Ooh, look at these! –
– Not those, please! – cried Siêthiyal.
Ixhúja held up Tetratríxe and Qwatríxe, the wind up toys were wriggling about and trying to close up their carapaces even as streams of wheels were falling down out of htem. Ixhúja hurled them down unto the table and took up the mallet and swung it around.
– I just started on those two! – gasped Siêthiyal. – This is unfair! –
Tetratríxe and Qwatríxe were wriggling on the table, their weak limbs flaying from side to side.
– What’s happening? – asked Tetratríxe.
– Why isn’t someone repairing us? – asked Qwatríxe.
– Why is the Heretic holding a mallet above us? –
– Anyone else notice all the broken toys istrewn about us both? –
– Smash the toys! – shouted Akhlísa.
– Help! – cried Tetratríxe.
– What did we do! – cried Qwatríxe.
Ixhúja giggled and smashed right through Tetratríxe’s carapace, she began plucking out Qwatríxe’s limbs one by one and tossed them aside, and drawing a knife she gouged out their eyen and dropped them into the fire, and the Khniqhátui were wailing in horror and pain as they were being dismantled tormented alive.
– You’re the mean Sister – whimpered Siêthiyal as she cried.
– The ritual humiliation beings now – chanted Akhlísa, and she drew up a chair and sitting upon it chanted – Ixhúja, you can do whatever you want with that junk later. For now we have important work with the Emperor’s Sister. –
Ixhúja shoved aside the table. Akhlísa chanted – Bind her up, tighter, very tight. Dangle her upside down. – Ixhúja grinned and came unto Siêthiyal and made it so, so that Siêthiyal’s pink trees were swinging from side to side. Akhlísa came upwards and took out a feather and began tuckling Siêthiyal about her bound arms and upside down neck, but was just rewarded with Siêthiyal sticking out her tounge and saying – You’ll have to do better than that, you dope! –
Akhlísa tossed the feather aside. – Fine. Buckets. Ixhúja? –
Siêthiyal was trying to look from side to side but could not quite see what was happening, she heard the movement of furniture, the tumbling of buckets, and chuckling of Ixhúja and the flutelike giggling of Akhlísa. Ixhúja came back to Siêthiyal and reaching unto a pouch on her pocket and opening the pochette up she scattered her victim with dreamdust and sparkles and light. Siêthiyal was coughing.
Akhlísa shoved several large buckets towards Siêthiyal, and slipping some squamous gloves upon her hands, she began drawing up large steaming heaps of mud. – A couple of very helpful Traîkhhiim have gathered this for me. I hope you like sticky gross and old gross disgusting gross mud. –
Siêthiyal was not going to give her Sister the satisfaction of any response at all, as Akhlísa began dripping mud right upon her, and all about her pajamas and her long and beautiful pink tresses. Ixhúja scattered more dreamdust upon her, and Siêthiyal just shook and tried not to move at all. Akhlísa poured the mud down. Siêthiyal squeezed her eyen shut and imagined that this was all just a nightmare and she was somewhere else right now, in a warm bed with so many dolls about her.
– Are you feeling digusting yet? – asked Akhlísa. – As gross as a metamorphic mutant? Not talking, eh? Ixhúja, do you have the tubs ready? Let’s drown her. –
The mud was cold and steaming and smelt of horrible mucilaginous fungoids, a slight Traîkhiim miasma drifting about it all, but Siêthiyal endured it, the mud pouring and pouring throughout her fingers and neck and all throughout the streams of her hair. Siêthiyal was almost not even caring that she was upside down, she had clomb trees many a time and swung from the branches and in the rafters of a large house, but she was not at all certain that she liked the idea of growning. She could feel that Ixhúja was loosening the ropes, and suddenly Siêthiyal found herself falling and crashing right into a tub of water, and many hands were holding her down. The mud began loosening about her, but Siêthiyal was gasping for air and screaming all the while.
– You were doing this to Éfhelìnye, weren’t you? – chanted Akhlísa. – She doesn’t even know how to swim! –
– Let go of me! – cried Siêthiyal.
– Dunk her. –
Ixhúja held Siêthiyal down and then drew her up, still upside down and dangled her from side to side.
– Do you have any idea how much you frighten Éfhelìnye? – Akhlísa asked.
– Who cares! – gasped Siêthiyal. – I was doing it for you. –
– Dunk her. –
– You ungrateful little whelp! –
Ixhúja thrust Siêthiyal down into the waters, in the midst of thrashing mud and water and foam and pulled her out long enough for Akhlísa to say – Promise to be nice to Éfhelìnye.
– Never! –
– Dunk her. –
– Vengeance will be mine! – cried Siêthiyal before she was forced down and then up again.
Akhlísa crossed her arms. – Promise to be a good Sister. –
– Shut up! – shouted Siêthiyal. – I’m not scared of you. –
– Dunk her. –
– Puey will hear of this! You’ve gone too far! –
– Oh please, considering all you’ve done, I’m just an amateur. Didn’t you once try to sell Fhermáta into concubinage? –
Siêthiyal was hurled upwards. – Puey! Puey! Wake up and save me! – she cried.
– Stop being mischievous! – chanted Akhlísa.
– Never! Puey! Save me now! –
– You’re just untrust worthy. –
– Puey! –
– Even when you try to be nice, you end up … you arranged all that dancing, didn’t you? –
– Puey! –
– You’ll be given in marriage to an old stinky old man with big stinky old feet, and I’ll be the one to arrange the marriages of your daughters. –
– No you won’t, my husband’s family will! –
– The Pwéru are dominant! I’m marrying off your children unto mutants! –
– Puey! –
Akhlísa shoved Ixhúja aside and grabbed her Sister by her hair and chanted – I want to dunk her myself. Ixhúja. Build up a fire. We all know what her greatest fear is. I want a big bone fire. We’ll tie her up in the middle. The fires will be tall and hot and bright. I want her to feel the wrath herself! –
Akhlísa shoved Siêthiyal down into the water several more times, and yanking her up found Siêthiyal spitting right in her face and saying – You’re nothing but a wthùyefha’ ùyo qlaêkh, the wicked and youngest Sister! Puey! Puey! Puey! –
Ixhúja was making a pile of toys and set them aflame, smoke and choking flame acrid arising. Akhlísa was smacking Siêthiyal about and dunking her faster and faster without any warning at all, even as Ixhúja was opening up the windows and pouring oil upon the toys. Tetratríxe and Qwatríxe were rolling out upon the waxing conflagration of dolls, they held onto each other and screamed as their skin ripped off from them, leather and metal tumbling downwards and their eyen falling right out of their bodies.
– Puey! Puey! Puey! – gasped Siêthiyal.
– Tee hee hee hee hee! – chuckled Akhlísa, as she plunked her Sister down and shouted – We all know he’s not going to enter the harīm quarters, he’s far too shy and nice. Now confess! Tell me you’re a naughter older Sister! –
– Never! Puey! –
– Confess! –
– Puey! –
Akhlísa threw herself into the tub and was dipping her Sister down again and again and again and shouting – Confess! Confess! Confess! Confess! Now! –
The wind blew through the open windows. Princess Ixhúja turned around to the door and thought she heard the movement of wheels and clockwork of the door, for she thought she could hear movement and approach and thunder. She looked to the window, the wind came again, and then night descended among them, kaj li estis simila al nokto. For a few moments Ixhúja could feel all of the worlds reördering themselves about it, she almost felt as if she had been dwelling in a world of shadow and murky waters and had been hooked out and caught in a thaoptùnthe weir such as she had seen in this barbarious worlds and yanked outwards and held the face of water for the first time, and tree and hill and sky and cloud and sun for the first time and learned that one’s entire world before were just a small pond in a world all of color and wonder and rainbow, or perhaps, she thought, as Puîyus came bouncing about about her and breathed in the scent of the burning toys and the smell of mud and waters and rope, it was a little like when Ixhúja had spent the first six years of her life in pure white bubbles within her Father’s laboratories and had never seen felt embrace or hand or witnessed any living creature whatsoever, and then she was taken up and thrust out of the cave and saw the gardens and dragonflies for the first time.
At once Puîyus blew upon the bone fires and extinguished the flames. Tetratríxe and Qwatríxe were burning and tumbling downwards and rolled about each other and had to extinguish themselves in the mud. Puîyus came forwards. Akhlísa was shoving Siêthiyal down, bound and shivering into the tub and smacking her about and dunking her and was shouting all the while.
– Mew? – Puîyus whispered.
Akhlísa plunked Siêthiyal down and shouted – Stop being naughty! Don’t be naughty! Stop being so mean! –
Puîyus placed an hand upon Akhlísa’s shoulder. Akhlísa chanted – Not now, Ixhúja, I’m just about to break her. Then I will be the older Sister, and … Puey, what are you doing here? –
Puîyus pulled Siêthiyal out of the waters, and she began coughing up upon him.
Akhlísa shouted – It’s not as bad as it looks, Puey! Ixhúja and I were just defending Éfhelìnye! –
Siêthiyal was weeping harder than Puîyus had e'er seen her cry before, and all he could do was hold her and rub her back. Akhlísa screamed – Siêthiyal tried to drown Éfhelìnye and she humiliated her before all the handmaidens, and I’m not even mentioning a certain incident with the kitchen knife. Puey, it’s not all my fault, Ixhúja was here the whole time and … where’s she going? Puey! Ixhúja is just as guilty! –
Puîyus looked around and found that Ixhúja was swinging up about the window and trying to sneak out into the night, but he gave her a look to stay. Ixhúja pointed to Akhlísa as if to say, This was all her idea, one is only interested in defending one’s cousin’s honor!
Siêthiyal just wept all the harder, and Puîyus kissed her many times, and with just a glance of his melancholy winedark eyen, all of the ropes were frayed and broke and slithered aside. He looked around and saw that Akhlísa was trying to sneak away, she was sliding up unto the window, but he glanced at her also.
– What? – asked Akhlísa. – I … um … someone’s calling for me. –
Siêthiyal sniffled. – Thank you for saving me, beloved big Brother. –
Akhlísa backed away but Fhólus and Aîya bounced up around her and grabbed her by the arms. – What do you want us to do with her, Crown Prince? – the tnoaqteûpa slaves asked. – She’s a naughty, naughty, naughty Concubine. –
– Pew Pew? – asked Siêthiyal as she shivered in Puîyus’ arms.
– Mew? –
– I’ll hold Kàrula down if you want to beat her up for me. –
– She’s the bad one! – chanted Akhlísa, but already the Traîkhiim were crawling about her and biting her fingers and holding her down. – Why am I being punished, I’m the one defending Éfhelìnye’s honor! –
– Yummy ears! – chanted Fhólus as she licked Akhlísa’s ears.
– Yummy finger-toes – sighed Aîya as she bit Akhlísa’s fingers.
One was just defending Éfhelìnye’s honor also, Ixhúja growled and hissed in the language of plantimals.
– And I was defending your honor – chanted Siêthiyal. – So all of us are innocent, except for Kàrula who’s as filthy as dishonor. Please beat her. You need to learn to start beating your wives. It will bring harmony to our new Clan. –
– I’ll beat you! – cried Akhlísa, but the Traîkhiim threw her down and held her fast.
Tetratríxe and Qwatríxe came waddling downwards, hissing and steaming from the flames and chanted – If anyone’s wondering … we’re doing quite fine. Has anyone seen our eyen? – The wind up toys crashed against each other and were knocked altogether insensate.
Siêthiyal burst out into a new series of crying and chanted – Karuláta chanted that I’m going to be given in marriage to an old stinky man with horrid feet! Puey, please don’t let that happen to me! –
– Stop turning everything against me! – cried Akhlísa. – You dried to drown Éfhelìnye! When I undressed her I found bruise marks upon it, and I recognize them as the same ones you used to give me! –
Siêthiyal was crying so hard that she could no longer speak. Puîyus swept her up into his arms, and motioning unto Fhólus began murmurning unto her in a language of purrs and growls and squeaks. Fhólus could not quite understand Qtheûnte the tounges of wild beasts, and Aîya just shrugged, and Ixhúja was crossing her arms and looking sullen. Akhlísa kicked aside some smoldering toys and chanted – Okay you dumbclucks, Puey wants us all to go back to his room. He has some stupid and sentimental idea that we’re all going to be nice about Éfhelìnye and I don’t feel like being his translator right now. What an horrible day this has been. Can anything else go wrong? – Akhlísa stormed outwards and plucked open a tyàxhru drawer and yanked out another set of pajamas and muttered – Normally the acolytes would be cross with us for going through so much clothing so quickly, but because somebody has been temptampering with the pwèrao fertility of the Land, few enough children are left. –
Fhólus and Aîya were fluttering upwards, their feathers glistening with a slight muddy light, and they were about to begin unlatching the door, but as Puîyus approached it, Siêthiyal still in his arms, the door began to hiss and dissolve of its own accord before him, and behind him came walking Akhlísa and Ixhúja who were shoving and poking each other all the while, yanking each other’s hair and pointing to the other in blame, and at last came Fhólus and Aîya giggling one to another. As they came down the halls of the harem quarters, a few of the doors opened and the Hundred Virgins looked out and sighed and batted their eyelashes, and Asiréma among the Poriêrii winked at Puîyus and blew him a kiss. When they came unto the gates, the Kháfha swashbucklers were parting and kowtowing before their Cælestial Crown Prince, and they were not surprised at all to find that somehow Puîyus had managed to enter the xhùjhwe seraglio without any notice at all, for they had always thought that Puîyus was like gravity and storm and came and went as he pleased. Fhólus lingered back for a moment and looking unto the Kháfha wriggled her wings about a bit and chanted – So, what do you think about this slave now, eh? I we with the new Emperor now, eh? I we very important now, oh? So, I we not nearly as worthless as an Eunuch, huh! –
– Slave, your master wants you – an Kháfha swashbuckler chanted.
– One moment – chanted Fhólus and she turned and stuck out both her tounges and wriggled her three leg-arms.
– Mew mew? – asked Puîyus.
– I want to mock them! – gasped Fhólus.
Puîyus pulled up Fhólus and managed to hold her and Siêthiyal at the same time, but Fhólus was still wriggling and pointing to the guards and saying – This has got to be the worst parthenṓn in the history of parthená, you have aliens and folk and maidens sneaking in all the time, it’s like porous seawrack and cheese … and cheese … sweet and sharp cheese … yummy cheese. –
– I want cheese – chanted Akhlísa. – You’re not angry with me, are you, Pew Pew? –
– Please don’t give me in marriage to an horrible stinky old man – whispered Siêthiyal.
– … – Puîyus purred unto her.
Siêthiyal grinned and chanted – Did you hear that, Khlís? Puey says I don’t have to marry anyone I don’t want to. –
– What! – gasped Akhlísa. – That’s not fair! Puey, our entire society revolves around arranged marriages. How does she get out of it! –
– I don’t have to marry anyone I don’t want to! – Siêthiyal sighed.
– Puey! What are you saying! –
Puîyus paused before they came down unto the acolyte quarters, and looking unto Akhlísa gave her a look that meant, We shall not discuss this any more.
– Puey, Siêthiyal is your Sister and your property and you can do anything you want with her, and you can give her to anyone you choose not her, and it’s not like any other maiden in this history of the world has had this prodigal Brother who … –
– Mew mew mew mew! –
– I don’t care how upset she is, Puey, and that’s your argument for everything, if the maiden is upset than you always have to give into her, do I have to remind you that she tried to drown Éfhelìnye don’t you think she’s upset too, and I’m upset also and …I always got eaten by these two slaves! –
– Who me? – asked Fhólus. She pointed to Aîya.
– What! Didn’t do nothing! Burp! Sorry. Take a long time to digest Traîkhiim – chanted Aîya.
Ixhúja was trying to sneak away, and with one lose finger Puîyus had to draw her back, and by now both Siêthiyal and Akhlísa were crying and Fhólus and Aîya were shouting and Ixhúja was trying to wriggle away. Puîyus was finding himself very tired, and he was almost remembering the cannibalistic feast of the Traîkhiim with some fhúnàlwaur xhmàyakhot, some gentle nostalgic, gutmütig hiræth, for at least the lyuî khafhrùrlupa had been quieter in comparison. There before them all were come the walls and rolling doors and windows and the nitches were the flickering light bubbles were floating. Puîyus did not have to descend too deep within the halls before Princess Éfhelìnye came running up towards him, for she had slept in silence and peace for much of the hour, but now that Puîyus was gone and she knew not where, she awoke of her own accord and came to a desk and began writing love poetry to herself and forged Puîyus’ signature upon it, for when she saw him again she was going to return to teaching him how to talk, and she hoped to hear tyeît love songs directed unto her from Puîyus’ own lips, but even from afar she had known that Puîyus would be coming, and she set down papyrus and quill and came running down the halls and came right up to Siêthiyal in Puîyus’ arms and gave her a long and warm hug even though she was still in dripping wet pajamas, and then for good measure she hugged Ixhúja and Akhlísa and then petted Fhólus and Aîya on their heads.
– I’m not in trouble, am I? – asked Akhlísa. – I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m the youngest in the family, I don’t know any better. –
Puîyus swept into the room and set Siêthiyal down at the edge of the bed and gave Akhlísa a signal to clean her Sister up. He looked around for a place for himself to go, and deciding that the day might as well end up as it began, he slipped into the wardrobe and waited. Akhlísa paced back and forth and flung the pajamas into Siêthiyal’s face and stuck out her tounge and refused to help. Éfhelìnye took it upon herself to debag undress Siêthiyal and dry her off and dress her again. Fhólus and Aîya were yawning and crawling up into the bed and claiming all of the pillows for themselves. And when Puîyus came out of the wardrobe he found Siêthiyal dressed in a new set of roseate pajamas, and Éfhelìnye was sitting next to her and combing her hair back and kissing Siêthiyal many times and telling her – Whatever it is, we shall all endure it together. We don’t have to have any more tears in this family. –
– I didn’t do anything wrong! – Akhlísa shouted. – It’s always Ixhúja’s fault, she’s the oldest and she tempts my innocent and sweet little mind. I didn’t do anything! –
Ixhúja was drawing her knife but not exactly sure whom she should attack first. It was far simpler in the forest, there were either predators or prey and one hunted or was hunted, but one did not have to navigate the constricting and turning cannals in one’s own family.
Siêthiyal was crying far more than Éfhelìnye had e'er imagined she could do, for the Princess had always thougtht that Siêthiyal was the one who was beyond tears, the last of the Sweqhàngqu to expose her emotions. Éfhelìnye rested her head upon Siêthiyal’s shoulders and kissed her several more times. Akhlísa crawled into bed and chanted – Could you pipe it down? Someone is trying to sleep, and it’s way past my bedtime. –
– Mew mew mew – Puîyus chanted and he sate down next to Siêthiyal and took his hands.
– Puey wants to make an announcement – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– I’m listening – chanted Akhlísa as she shut her eyen.
Puîyus picked up Siêthiyal and let her sit upon his lap and hugging her all the while told her and the rest of the family in sighs and purrs and meows as if to say, One wishes all of you to know that Siêthiyal my beloved Sister, whom Khwofheîlya bore as she did me, will never be given in marriage unless she wishes so. I decree it to be law, now and for all time.
– How come I get forced into marriage but she doesn’t! – cried Akhlísa. – I’m not complaining, I want to be married to you and have your children, I’m glad that Mamà Khwofheîlya picked me for you, but why does she get this huge exception! –
– Puey all of the Dreamtime is based upon arranged marriage – Éfhelìnye chanted. – Children can be burnt alive for … suggesting something else. –
– Mew mew mew – chanted Puîyus as if to say, Then let me be clear. If the time comes to marry her off, I myself, the Emperor shall arrange the marriage. But I don’t want the rest of you interfering. Siêthiyal is far too young and dear to be thinking of marriage, my darling middle Sister. –
Siêthiyal flung her arms about Puîyus’ neck and kissing him and chanted – My best Brother! –
– Mew mew mew – Puîyus looked to Akhlísa to tell her, And we will not be playing rough games in this family any more, or at least not a game too rough for that person. You and Ixhúja can play as rough as you want, but keep water and fire away from Siêthiyal.
Akhlísa grabbed a pillow from Fhólus and chanted – You spoil her so, but that’s okay, you spoil me more. –
– Mew mew mew – Puîyus looked to Fhólus and Aîya.
– Fine we get the idea – chanted Fhólus. – No more eating each other. –
– Burp! – coughed Aîya.
– Um … why am I missing some feathers on my wing? –
– Having no idea. Burp! –
– Mew mew mew mew – Puîyus turned to Éfhelìnye to say and took her hand and squeezed it for as if to say in the language of men, The Hundred Handmaidens of the mountain clans are distressing you. I shall get rid of them, if that is what you desire, although it must be done with honor. Know that I would never take one of them to wife, they can be servants in our family but never be of the blood of the family.
– I know, Puey – chanted Éfhelìnye. – At least I know in my mind, but my spine and spleen sometimes fill themselves with fear. I … I don’t really know how to be an Empress. I don’t even know how to be a wife or a grown up woman. –
– Mew mew? – Puîyus asked Akhlísa.
Akhlísa rolled about in the blankets and chanted – Éfhelìnye and I have been getting along rather well this day. We’ve decided to mend our opinions after we win this war. –
– Mew mew? – Puîyus asked Ixhúja.
Ixhúja was playing with some of the wind up dragonflies and creatures that dwelt in her hair, and she shrugged, for she was not at all certain what her standing in this family should be, she just looked to Éfhelìnye and chanted, One will be happy as long as my cousin is protected, and one can find glory in the horror and blood of battle. Do you want to wrestle now?
Puîyus shook his head in negation, for it was late in the seventh hour and the day had not been a good one. In some ways he was realizing that the burning of the leal Fhàxhos slaves had almost been a sign of what was to come, for it is written that happy and blessed are they who dead, creative and whhhimsicoracal, for then they are beyond all care but within the safe embrace of the Ancestors. He looked unto the lares and penates upon the stand before the wardrobe and was wondering what the Sweqhàngqu Ancestors may be doing at this time, and how disappointed they must be in him, from Khweisalápa and King Èmfha and all the while day unto Queen Khwofheîlya.
– Mew – Puîyus nodded, as if to say, Then it has been mewed. Éfhelìnye will ensure that my command is obeyed. Siêthiyal is free from any yoking not arranged by me. The Traîkhiim shall not eat each other and one another and others. We shall remove the Handmaidens. Éfhelìnye and Karuláta shall not fight.
– I shall obey your word and see that it comes to pass – Princess Éfhelìnye chanted.
– Mew – Puîyus nodded, and some of his candy-cane tresses, ambrosial smelling, tumbled down the side of his head, for he told them, divine Princess Éfhelìnye is in charge of this harem. If there are any problems, they must go to her, and I shall support her decision.
– Fine – chanted Siêthiyal. – That still leaves me second in charge. –
Ixhúja held up three fingers.
Akhlísa picked up a pillow and smacked it against Aîya and chanted – Fhus, that still puts me at the bottom of the hierarchy. Can’t we keep the handmaidens about to be my slaves? –
– We still better than the Eunuchs, right? – asked Fhólus.
– We smarter and more adorable than Eunuchs, right? – asked Aîya.
Thùngqu thùngqu thwákh thwákh thùngqu thwákh came a sound. Puîyus looked to Siêthiyal and Éfhelìnye in confusion. Ixhúja shrugged. Akhlísa picked up a pillow and started smacking Fhólus and Aîya about. Thwákh thùngqu pum bum bam zart zart tap tap tap came the sound at the door.
– Someone is knocking, raping upon the bedroom door, xhnípeyoâqen xhnàjhijhi xhroe xhyòkoko xhwiî xhroe – Princess Éfhelìnye wondered.
Tap tap tap tap tap.
The sound was so strange, so unusual, so unknown, and nobody could react for a moment. At last both Siêthiyal and Akhlísa chanted at the same time – Nobody knocks in our family! –
– Then, one can suppose it’s not a family member – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– See, we don’t need a lyairiîtye when we have the Princess around, a Ptètqiikh cremator and assistant and detective – Siêthiyal chanted. – She is right smart, like paint, or something else which is smart. –
Tap tap tap tap tap.
– Should someone open the door? – asked Akhlísa. – I’m tired and in bed, so I can’t get it. –
– We slaves fast asleep – Aîya chanted, and she and Fhólus wriggled together and closed their eyen and pretended to be fast asleep and as still as possible.
– Ixhúja should get it then – chanted Siêthiyal.
Ixhúja stood up, drew out a sword and a knife and was about to kick the door down.
– Perhaps I should get it – chanted Éfhelìnye – especially if I am to be the Mistress of the Household. –
– You’re holy and unseeable – chanted Siêthiyal. – Let me get it. –
Ixhúja leaned against the door and growling told her, Let’s have a wrestling contest and the winner can get the door.
– I’ll get the door – chanted Éfhelìnye as she stood up.
– No, Puey, don’t let her do that, she’s not a slave – chanted Siêthiyal. – Karuláta! You! Concubine slave, get up! –
Tap tap tap tap.
– I’m tired! – cried Akhlísa.
– Sleepie sleepie fast asleep! – cried Fhólus.
– Can’t hear … asleep! – cried Aîya.
Ixhúja held up her sword and grabbed the latch and was about to swing the door and sword at the same time to cut down whoever was at the other side, but Puîyus took Siêthiyal from his lap and gestured to Ixhúja to depart from the door.
– Puey, you can stay with her – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– The lowest ranking should get the door – chanted Siêthiyal.
One must disagree, higher ranking should open the door, Ixhúja was purring. This is the Emperor’s room, one of his consorts should address the stranger.
Tap tap tap.
Puîyus slipped among the maidens and bowed to them and slowly touched the latch and wheels and clockwork, and the door began to slide open, and Éfhelìnye walked out next to him in the halls, and before them, pressed masquefirst upon the floor, was the messenger from the morningtide, his long robes flowing about him, beads flowing all about his sleeves and hands.
– Holy and wonderous Cælestial Emperor, forgive me for disturbing you in your sleep – the messenger whispered. – I shall of course take mine own life for this crime, but I beg you, the Envoys have found something, and we need you at once. Please, if you’ll come unto the courtyard, you will see why we had to awaken you. –
Puîyus nodded and murmured a little making sounds completely unintelligible to the messenger. Princess Éfhelìnye chanted – The future Emperor bids you not to take your own life, you have no reason to be ashamed. –
– Please, but I must kill myself for awakening you! –
Princess Éfhelìnye took a step forwards and chanted – The Emperor demands that you not slay yourself. Are you about to tell me you’re going to disobey the future Lord of Earth and Sea and Sky? –
The messenger covered his masque with his hands and trembled so hard that Éfhelìnye thought he would die at the moment. She touched his shoulder and chanted – Puey is not angry with you. He comes with you at once. I’ll stay with the maidens here. –
– Mew mew? – Puîyus asked Éfhelìnye.
– Let me stay with Siêthiyal and Karuláta – Éfhelìnye chanted. She took Ixhúja’s hand and chanted – Would you go down and escort your twin? Just in case some of the mountain clans have not learnt just how powerful Puey is, I’m sure they’ll think twice seeing a Martian Princess standing behind him. Anyway, if there is trouble, he shouldn’t always have all the fun. –
Ixhúja grinned. She helped the messenger upwards, and he was bowing and tremebling and nodding in Puîyus direction all the while and saying – Please, come this way, holy one. Please, I beg you, and be not angry with me. –
Puîyus hesitated for a moment, but Éfhelìnye gave him a little hug and nudged him towards the messenger and her martial cousin, and she smiled unto him, and the smile was an hint of light and rainbow shine and perhaps the only ray of beauty that he had seen in all this long and tired and rather bad day. He reached o'er and took her hand and kissed it with kisses three, and then he turned to follow his feral twin Ixhúja and the harbinger in the flicker of torchlight and shadow and midnight gleaming.
Princess Éfhelìnye made sure that the door was firm behind her, the wheels and gears twining in a gentle music, and then she crawled into the center of the bed and chanted – Siêthiyal, Karuláta, quickly, I must speak with you. What I have to say is for you alone, and not for Puey to hear. –
– We not listening at all – chanted Fhólus as she hid herself beneath the pillows.
– Burp! – coughed Aîya.
– I don’t mind if they hear – chanted Éfhelìnye. – Sit next to me, Kàrula. –
– Okay – chanted Akhlísa. – I’m tired. –
– I’m sorry I tried to drown you. Several times – chanted Siêthiyal. – Plus all the other bad things I’ve done to you and you’ve never found out. –
– I’m sorry I tortured you – chanted Akhlísa.
– And I’m sorry I’m so stubborn – chanted Éfhelìnye. – While Puey’s not here, I think I need to tell you that he’s not going to be able to win this war by himself, I can just feel it. If we are to save our Family and all the billion, billion worlds, I think we should form a lyàyas, a triumvirate of sorts, Siêthiyal, and Karuláta, and I. –
– I agree – chanted Siêthiyal. – If the three of us can get along, the Family will survive. –
– If the three of us can work together, we’ll be happy happy – chanted Akhlísa.
– No, it is more than that – chanted Éfhelìnye. – If the three of us can work together, my Father won’t have a chance of winning this war, he might as well surrender, because this triptych will be able to help Puey topple dread Kàrijoi from the heavens. The three of us can each do something else. Siêthiyal, I think Puey was right to give you his Father’s sword and make you heir of the Sweqhàngqu, but now that the family has changed, I think you may end up being the one actually to lead our armies. –
– I don’t know anything about that – chanted Siêthiyal. – I play with toys. –
– Puey gave you a sword, I’m sure that’s the best toy. –
– Hmmm … I should get back to practicing. –
– Kàrula, your Father was Our Heart Raven, but since Raven is missing, someone needs to be running the Otherworld. If you can find a way to rescue the Otherworld, than we’ll have the resources of nightmare itself to help us in the war. –
– I’m just a puny little child! I don’t even know how to tie mine own shoon! I get Puey to do it. –
– I believe in you. –
– I’m too little, and it’s hard. –
– Kàrula, if you can help us win the War … I will be very grateful. –
– How grateful will you be? – asked Siêthiyal.
– Let’s not start that – chanted Akhlísa.
– I’m just saying … –
– And I shall the Empress’ Flower – chanted Éfhelìnye. – And so save the world. It is what my Father told us, find the flower and save the Land. –
– How are you going to do that? – asked Akhlísa.
– Are you going to start acknowledging my Sister as your co-wife? – asked Siêthiyal. – It’s going to happen, I’m telling you. –
– To find the Flower, to save it and all the Dreamtime … – Éfhelìnye looked out into the flickering light of the light bubbles and the gold and darkness of midnight. – It lies beyond the Underworld and lies through the entrance of the Labyrinth. –
– Karuláta will bare children for Puîyos, it is part of her contract – chanted Siêthiyal. – Father has given his life to ensure that her offspring will be of the highest caste. –
Éfhelìnye too Akhlísa’s hand and chanted – You and I will have to come to accord. Puey cannot reject you, for otherwise hewill have to put you to death by his own hand, for you are his property, but I shall not permit that. Let’s just hug. We can discuss the future in days to come. –
Éfhelìnye and Akhlísa embraced for a few moments, and then they both hugged Siêthiyal and they kissed each other as a sign of their agreement, and no one objected when Fhólus and Aîya arose from the blankets and hugged them all and licked them and cooed and sighed, but it was only when Fhólus and Aîya started biting the Princess’ hand and ears and were drooling upon her, that Siêthiyal picked up Aîya and Akhlísa picked up Fhólus and carried them kicking away and tossed them upon the floor, and then they hugged the Princess and were thinking that perhaps this day had not been so absolutely terrible after all.
Fhólus and Aîya were plopping down to sleep, and Siêthiyal and Akhlísa were leaning against each other, wavering just a little, blinking and fluttering their eyelashes just like Traîkhiim wings should, especially unmunched Traîkhiim wingment, but Princess Éfhelìnye found herself suddenly not sleepy at all, she could feel the last few moments of midnight slipping through the air, and some deep and strange ancestrial longing was gnawing at her heart. She got up and approached her desk and looked to the papers there and shuffled through the pages of love poesy she had written unto herself in Puîyus’ voice. She heard movement without. The darkness was so thick and heavy that it lay palpable upon all things. She stood up before the door. She heard a slight scraping. The door swung open before her, blinking apart before she even had to touch it, and she found that rolling out before her were the rolling capaces of a couple of wind up toys which she remembered quite well, only they were quite damaged and were steaming as if they had just been in a great fire, and their eyen were in backwards and inside out, their claws were opening and closing and struggling for to move, but she gathered up Tetratríxe and Qwatríxe into her arms and swung them from side to side and kissed them, and their hot metallic bodies did not bother her at all, for she used to put her hands into living fire even as a child, even though Great-Uncle Táto kept telling her not to, and she never quite realized why she was not supposed to do so, and had always concluded that touching fire must somehow be rude and the others wore unprincessly and quite wellflamible garments. She set the toys down upon her escritoire and examined some of their working and found them in very brimborian shape, but the task of their rebuilding would have to be accomplished in the next day, and the door shimmered closed behind her, in the deep and grasping midnight darkness.
And then a slight mewling sound came from the other side of the door, and Princess Éfhelìnye arose, for she heard what she thought must surely be bells. It was a crystalline music coming closer untowards them, and the sound of the movement of fine and silken garments, and the pattering of legs about it. Éfhelìnye stood up before the door. The wheels were moving, pistons and gears swinging from side to side, and the door was become cloud and gas and dust and faded away from her. And she beheld the qràqai outline of a woman dressed al in whites and golds, and long golden tresses were falling down the side of her head and the way down to her waist, and her corset was all of jewels, and feathers were woven into the golden veil of her head, and for a moment Éfhelìnye was reminded of the angry wraith of Mother Khwofheîlya, only the figure before her was goldentressed and alive, and behind her were coming Puîyus and Ixhúja, Ixhúja was quiet, she was like a dark xátar rose turning its petals in upon itself, and Puîyus was sad, at once she could read his face and saw that something dreadful had happened. Puîyus’ eyen were red.
Siêthiyal and Akhlísa looked up at once and cried with the same voice – Auntie Qtìmine! –
She opened her arms, Qtìmine Samájhi among the Otòrfhexes of Pwéru, Khangisqrírles’ younger daughter, the younger sister to Khwofheîlya, and at once Siêthiyal and Akhlísa ran up and launched themselves at her and hugged her and were kissing her and holding onto her. Éfhelìnye nodded to the holy Vestal Virgin who was her Father’s Concubine and a woman of the household of Pwéru, and she dashed into the halls and saw that Puîyus was not entering, he was sinking down and leaning against the wall and running an hand through his hair. Ixhúja’s expression was unreadable, a machine masque, a cold resolve.
– Puey? – asked Éfhelìnye asked as she knelt down beside him and took his hand. – What’s the matter? What’s happened? –
Ixhúja pointed down the halls towards the courtyards and murmured, Messengers have been searching among the refugees all day. The barbarian mountain tribes have been searching for Puîyos’ family, they were not sure, so they had to find him. Ixhúja’s expression became unreadable again, she gazed off listless into the darkness.
– This has been a bad day after all, hasn’t it – chanted Éfhelìnye. She reached out and hugged Puîyus and to her surprise he was hugging her back, but rather then letting go, he clasped her with warmth and strength.
One supposes we’ll have to leave the fortress soon, Ixhúja murmured at last in her own language of growls and machinery and desert storms.
– Puey, you don’t have to tell me if you don’t wish to – Éfhelìnye was saying – but I do enjoy this embrace. If we can just stay like this, for ever, than I shall be the happiest I’ve e'er been. – The Starflower Princess, skyborn, knew that she could not be held all the night long, and yet she could sense that at least this once Puîyus almost wished that could be true.
It would be best for the Virgin of the Sun to say, Ixhúja was growling. She is the adult. One supposes that she is the Regent of this family, she even outranks you, my cousin.
– I really don’t mind at all, just as long as we are at peace again – Éfhelìnye chanted. She drew Puîyus upwards and came into the room, and within Auntie Qtìmine was sitting, Siêthiyal and Akhlísa next to her, and Qtìmine was almost a living shaft of light, white and glowing peace rolling out from her. But the Vestal Virgins’ face was grace and sad, although her face still remained beautiful and fair, for she was one of the loveliest of women whom Princess Éfhelìnye had e'er seen.
– Children, close the door behind you – chanted Auntie Qtìmine. – Puîyus, sit down. Princesses, sit beside him. I have something to tell all of you. It is difficult to say, but you must hear it. –
Puîyus was resting his head upon Éfhelìnye’s shoulders, for he already knew what was to come. Éfhelìnye stroked him and kissed him and held him. Ixhúja crossed her arms and was wishing for someone to strike and fight and kill. Siêthiyal and Akhlísa remained perfectly still.
– Children, Princesses, your Father, your birth Father for whom Khwofheîlya bore you, Puîyus and Siêthiyal, your foster Father who was bloodbrother to Kàlewa, little Karuláta, the man who best served your sire as an holy rose knight, blessed and holy Princess Éfhelìnye, the man who accepted you as guest-friend upon his ancestrial fields and took the place of a father for you, Princess Ixhúja, your Father Íngìkhmr, Jàkopar’s Son, whom Khwofheîlya my beloved loved from girlhood, he is missing. Your Father was captured in battle by unknown forces. We do not know who did it. Your Father may be dead at this very moment, may the Ancestors preserve him. – Akhlísa cried out. Siêthiyal ran up and punched the wall and shouted and began kicking at the tables and chairs until Auntie Qtìmine made her stop. Puîyus just held onto Éfhelìnye and cried, and she held him long through the night, and stayed up late listening to the lamentation of her family, as this dark and horrible day came to an end, and even the Ancestors seemed verŝajne to forsake all their descent.