– What … what do you want of me! – Éfhelìnye gasped when she could finally find breath and voice.
In the forefront of the maidens was Asiréma among the Poriêrii, she was beginning to kowtow along with the rest of the maidens, but she alone spake since she had been appointed the leader of the virgins, and she chanted – We are come to serve the Tusùrthir, the holy Twins of the Sun and the Moon. –
Éfhelìnye gasped. She slumped down the side of the wall and gripped her knees and shook a little and whispered – I don’t need service. Please go away. Please. Please. Please. –
Akhlísa was whistling as she came skipping down the halls, in one hand she was holding a qiqhaqúti bergamot and munching on it, but where she had found it not even she could have guessed. She came up to Éfhelìnye and took a few greedy bites of it, splashes of juice smeared upon her cheek and lips. – Éfha fhwii! Ciao there! What’s happening? What a qiqhaqúti artichoke? –
Éfhelìnye was shaking from side to side and whispered – I want Puey. Where’s Puey? –
– Hmm? Oh he’s somewhere … kitchens or something. Probably reporting to the generals by now. So what’s been happening with you? – Akhlísa walked in the midst of the kowtowing handmaidens. – Anything new happening? Anything unusual? Anything fun? –
Éfhelìnye counted a list of prime numbers to calm herself and then stilling her breathing and fluttering her eyen looked out and chanted – Would you please tell me why there are strangers in the harem? –
– They’re always strangers, Vestal Virgins, Eunuchs, me. Well, not me. But the Eunuchs and Vestal Virgins. I suppose that’s it. And me. What was the question? –
Éfhelìnye pointed to the maidens kowtowing right before her. Akhlísa looked around and took a few more bites of her zirunzibuz and asked – What am I missing? Surely I’m missing something, surely there is something you’re trying to tell me … –
– I! Want! Puey! Now! – Éfhelìnye chanted in her growing panick.
Akhlísa leaned against the wall and almost fell o'er one of the hundred Virgins and then straightening upwards chanted – Ah! Um … this is slightly unusual. I did warn you about this, didn’t I? Oh I guess not. Ta-da! –
– I feel sick – Éfhelìnye whispered.
– Surprise! – cried Akhlísa and she opened wide her arms.
– Where’s Puey? –
– Guess what, you have handmaidens now! Isn’t that great? –
– I’m beginning to miss being lost in the wilderness and the warzone and all alone with my Puey. –
The curtains and the floo rbegan shaking again as of the coming of another stampede, and Akhlísa had to struggle to hold onto the qiqhaqúti pear in her grasp, and suddenly several doors sprung open and running out into their midst came Siêthiyal and Ixhúja screaming and giggling and dashing within and splattering each other with bread and fruit and crumbs and they were shouting so hard and running that they did not even notice the strangers until they came tumbling right upon them and knocked a few of them about. Ixhúja bounced upwards and picked up three maidens and threw them against the wall and then jumped upon Siêthiyal, but Siêthiyal pulled herself away and shouted – Woa woa woa woa woa! Halt it there, Moon Princess, something’s happening here. –
– What? – asked Akhlísa as she took a bite of her zirunzibuz.
– Maidens, lots of them, very Jaràqtun, very, very, very Jaràqtun – Siêthiyal chanted. She walked among them. – Explanation? –
– Gift – chanted Akhlísa. – Are we supposed to introduce ourselves. –
– No, we’re Pwéru and they’re dirt – chanted Siêthiyal. – No, worse than dirt. They’re whatever it is that supports dirt. They’re the dirt that gets washed off of dirt. They’re the darkness beneath the deep. It doesn’t matter who they are, they’re completely subordinate to me and for ever! – Siêthiyal walked among then and giggled unto herself.
Akhlísa helped Éfhelìnye up from the floor and asked – Are you feeling alright? You look pale, or at least paler than usual. You’re whatever is paler than snow. When snow grows pale and gets washed off of … –
– Tee hee hee hee hee – chuckled Siêthiyal as she rubbed her hands together. – This is great, all my dreams come true now. –
– I don’t like it when she gets this way – Akhlísa told Éfhelìnye – But at least it means she’s not picking on me. –
Siêthiyal wiped away crumbs and fruit from her face and walked into the midst of the Virgins and shouted out – Listen you worthless clanless slaves, I’m only going to say this once and unto your doom. I am the Emperor’s blood Sister, the same Mother bore both me and Puîyos, and he always listens to me. Anger me, and I’ll have you squished beneath my foot. I am the most important maiden in all of existence from now on. – She marched from side to side and pressed her foot against the back of one maiden and upon the neck of another, and then she poked another one just for good measure. She looked down and reached into the pocket of one maiden and pulled out some bead coins and dropped them into her pockets. – Oh I suppose I should tell you one or two little things – said Siêthiyal and she ran up and grabbed Ixhúja by the shoulder and chanted – This one is a crazy Martian Heretic Huntress Princess, I’ve heard she’s a blood relation to the Empress but no one can really figure how how and it doesn’t matter, what does matter is this one is completely insane and will bite off your faces on my whim. She’s mine own personal velociraptor, one can say. –
Ixhúja growled to tell Siêthiyal, One refuses to serve you!
– Oh calm down, this is all for your benefit! – Siêthiyal hissed. – I’m the brains, you’re the sinews, we work together perfectly. – She walked up to the head of the hundred Virgins and chanted – So just don’t annoy her, otherwise we’ll be tossing whatever is left of you into the ice mires, and that’s always a chore. Any questions? There had better not be, this is all a very simple hierarchy so far. –
Has one mentioned that one will not serve you? Ixhúja was telling Siêthiyal in snarls and hisses and spitting.
– I want to leave – Éfhelìnye chanted, but Akhlísa grabbed her about her arms to hold her back.
– Come on, don’t you at least want to meet all the rest of Puey’s sweethearts? – asked Akhlísa.
– I thought we had an agreement, you’re going to be the only Concubine … – Éfhelìnye began.
– The Elders made everything very complicated, I’ll explain later. Did I already eat all the pear? –
Siêthiyal stomped right in front of one maiden who for no reason she decided to dislike and she chanted – You! Lick my wooden shoe. Now, or you never see sunshine or Puey again, and I’ll return you in dishonor to your Clan, oh then we’ll see how pleased they are with you. – Siêthiyal waited for the maiden to start licking, and then satiated grabbed Akhlísa by her elbows and pulled her up unto the center of the hall and chanted – Now the most important thing for you to remember is that this one, Karuláta Khniêma Akhlísa, is the Senior Concubine and in charge of all you miserable worthless less than dirt slaves, and if you fail to show her respect, I’ll have you tortured, then patched up, then tortured again, then partially patched up, and then tortured in quite an unspeakable way, and whatever is left of you I’ll give to the crazy Martian Heretic Huntress Princess, and then she’ll fun. Is this understood? Good. You, in the back, grovel more. Better. Now, even though Akhlísa is as high above you as the heavens are above the earth, or above dirt, or whatever subdirt scum you are, you have to keep in mind that Akhlísa, my little Sister, is still very, very young. She still cries if she doesn’t have her nap, she is afraid of the dark, she’s liable to throw fits and be hyperactive, she exaggerates all the time and really can’t do anything right, she’s worthless when doing chores, she’ll try and get others to do her work, really she’s not useful for anything at all now that I think about it, she barely even takes a punch well, can you do a single thing right, Khlís, aside from, I don’t know, somehow you manage to stay in Puey’s good graces, that’s a skill, oh dear she’s starting to cry now. Just look at how sensitive she is, she can’t take any criticism at all. Have I mentioned she tends to do the most embarrassing things at the most inopportune times? She’ll fall asleep in the middle of temple services or be sick in one’s lap … –
Siêthiyal looked around and found that Akhlísa was leaning against a wall and beginning to sob. Princess Ixhúja came froward and patted Akhlísa on her shoulders in an attempt to comfort her, she was still not entirely comfortable with touching another mortal save in a combat situation or combatlike play, but Akhlísa was just wailing now and Ixhúja could think of no other course of action. Siêthiyal marched from side to side and threw up her arms and chanted – It’s not my fault she cries all the time, and I’ll get blamed for it even though I didn’t do anything at all. She’s such a spoilt little baby, and I have to spend all my time looking after her and washing her and keeping her from getting not crushed by giraffes or something. You three, grovel all the more! Any why isn’t anyone kissing my hands? All of you here, start kissing my fingers. That’s better. –
– Purr? – asked Ixhúja.
Siêthiyal sighed. – Whatever it is it had better be important. –
– !! – murmured Ixhúja.
Siêthiyal looked around. – Fine, we’ve lost the future Empress. Is that what you were going to tell me? I wanted important imformation, not the latest problems in the harem. Oh stop crying, you little baby! –
– I’m not a baby! – wailed Akhlísa. Ixhúja shrugged and poked her in the shoulders a few time.
Siêthiyal marched from side to side and chanted – And somewhere around here is the future Empress, I’m sure she has some importance in our hierarchy but I rather doubt it, just don’t upset her too much. All you need to remember is that I am all important here and you must do everything in your power to placate me at all times. And don’t bother the baby. That is all. Now, who wants to start getting me drinks and cookies? –
Siêthiyal stopped in her pacing, for not a single one of the hundred Virgins was raising her hand for attention. She looked around in confusion. – Not a single one of you? –
One maiden dared to lift her hand, it was Asiréma late among the Poriêrii and she asked – So when do we get to spend time with thrice-honored Puîyos, for it is for his sake that we have been gifted unto him. –
Siêthiyal looked down unto her pink fingernails and muttered – Sure sure sure, I’m certain that the future Emperor is of some importance to this harem but we haven’t quite figured that out yet not unto what capacity. I’m the only important one of whom you must be concerned. So, who wants to get me a drink? No one? Not a single one? Anyone? – Siêthiyal bit her lips when she failed to get any response. She waited in fateful silence. – Oh this is completely unfair! Why can’t I get any servants for mine own! – She ran down the halls.
Ixhúja continued patting Akhlísa on the back until she got tired of touching a mortal creature, so she punched her about a couple of times and ran away. Akhlísa was left alone with the hundred maidens. She straightened herself up and chanted – Um … our family life he can be a bit vigerous sometimes. But one gets used to it. Um, I’m leaving now. Bye! Bye! Love you all! Kisses! Ta! – Akhlísa spun around and came running down in a third direction, and the hundred virgins were left alone.
And after a time Asiréma arose and looked unto the other Jaràqtun maidens and chanted – We might as well start making ourselves at home in the new Imperial Household. At least we won’t have to worry about the melancholy and grief of our parents and elders any more, I hope. –
– They’re rather young, aren’t they? – one of the virgins asked.
– They have not had time to learn the cruelty of some of the old Masters of the World and the sad tyrant honored Kàrijoi – Asiréma chanted – and I rather doubt that they’ll e'er do so. –
And it was Princess Éfhelìnye’s turn to start thinking that this day was going to be a not very good day at all. It was later in the day, the windows were large and gleaming with sickly brightness of sad afternoon Suns, and no matter how many times she gazed up unto the skies, her eyen could not help but be drawn upwards unto the bursting shadow ripples that encircled one Sun after another. Éfhelìnye was growing sniffling a little and was angry at herself for this displease of weakness, but every time she came sneaking back into the harem it seemed that there were more stranger maidens within, all of them older and golden tressed and completely Jaràqtun, and they were reminding her of all of the portraits that she had seen the Crannog of the Sweqhàngqu that was, they were all beautiful like Fhermáta or like the wraith of Khwofheîlya and the older maidens she had seen among the Tásel Clan that dwelleth in its high arboreal dwellings. She came sneaking through the halls and looked into one room after another, she was glad at least that the strangers had all chosen rooms afar away from her own, at least then Éfhelìnye could have a single sanctuary unto herself. She looked into one room and saw beautiful maidens sitting upon the beds and combing their long golden hair and practicing their calligraphy with quill and brush and ink, and in another room the maidens were working on their flower arrangement and adorning the halls and rafters themselves, and the harem was blossoming into life as all manner of household tasks were being performed, for Asiréma had decreed that they were do their best to make the harem as comfortable for the child Empress and the rest of her young household. Éfhelìnye hid behind a statue and watched as some maidens were drawing up rugs and shaking them clean, while others were walking and were engaged in elegant conversation while they were drawing up plans on pleasing the child Emperor with their cooking. Éfhelìnye looked up from behind a statue and grit her teeth a little as she judged their blouses to be too skimpy and their hair too golden and she wondered whether it would be honorable or not to shove against this statue and send it crushing two or three or five of the maidens, for she did not think that Puîyus would miss even if eleven of them were smashed into goo, but the statues were all vast and heavy and ytipped in the finest of onyx and jade and were unbudgible even if she had tried to shove it and she had no idea what she was suppose to do, and so she just slunk from one statue to another as she watched until she was discovered and recognized and several maidens turned at once and began kowtowing before her, and Éfhelìnye had no resource but to start running in abject panick.
And it was Siêthiyal’s turn, Khwofheîlya’s only Daughter, to be struck with her own conundrum a sshe was hopping from side to side in the harem and waiting for the Handmaidens to start bowing before her, and she smiled and waved all the while, but was thinking to herself that she could really not help herself, she was no more responsible for her scheming than Éfhelìnye was for her ballet and eternal interest in Puîyus, and truly Siêthiyal was thinking that she did not want to be tqeîrmu, devious and artful and pawky and agculometepolytropopseudolos, but it was just a natural function of who she was, and when she saw Éfhelìnye running down the halls and trying to avoid the attention of the Virgins, honestly why doesn’t Éfhelìnye just want to grab power and start commanding everyone I don’t really want her to suffer maybe only suffer a little suffer wormy squirmy vermiculating, I’d better do something, we’re not going to have another Traîkhiim Dance Carouselambra on our hands again, I’ll see to that.
Siêthiyal ran up to Éfhelìnye and chanted – How are you doing? Fine? Good? Do you want to go for a walk? Dance in the gardens? Help Kàrula with her new dress? –
Éfhelìnye hesitated for a moment and blurted out – Do you think Puey likes these new Virgins? –
Siêthiyal tried to think of something comforting to say and chanted the first thing that came to her mind. – Of course Puey likes these maidens better, they’re just want he wants, they’re golden haired and utterly pluperfect. You know he’ll be spending most of his time with his haren, maybe he’ll see you every month or so, he’ll pass you in the halls and wave, maybe he’ll send you a little cake on your Starday while he’s busy combing the hair of his other beloveds and holding their hands, I think we’re going to need more Eunuchs around here. – Siêthiyal clasped her hands o'er her lips and was shocked that this was her idea at comfort even though she had tried to stop herself. She considered for a moment and started again and chanted – It’s too quaad that you can’t cook and aren’t golditressed. Did I mention that Puey finds them all excellent kissers? – Éfhelìnye was starting to cry, and it was far too easy to induce her to tears. Siêthiyal embraced her and tried to start comforting once again. – There there, there there my little Princess, it’s not your fault that you’re not golditressed and a bad cook and a terrible kisser and … I think I should stop talking right now. – Siêthiyal walked away from the Princess and stood alone and soliloquized saying – I must start being good. No more evil Siêthiyal. I shall be heavenly, I shall be Saint Siêthiyal. And now, back to comforting the weepy little Princess. – Siêthiyal walked up to Éfhelìnye and embraced her shoulders and chanted – Oh, have I mentioned that Puey chanted that he doesn’t like your writing at all? –
Éfhelìnye sniffled. – Puey doesn’t like my writing? –
Siêthiyal nodded. – No, not at all, he finds it incredibly amateurish. – Éfhelìnye burst out into tears. Siêthiyal lifted up one hand in a vague gesture and chanted – Of course with his kissy harem he won’t have much time for your scribblings, but don’t worry – and Siêthiyal looked the Princess straight in her eye and chanted – I’m sure that in the end Puey will prefer your eccentric literature to the charms of his perfumed and oiled flavicomous slave girls, at least until they bare him Sons. So, you jus tkeep on with that writing, my buddy, there’s hope for you yet. –
Éfhelìnye was weeping all the more but she managed to blubber – Will you help me, Siêthi? –
– Oh, I already am, and I don’t even mind that you called me by that horrible little nickname for which I should crush you beneath my pink little shoon. – Siêthiyal then kissed the Princess several more times and walking away she tugged upon her pink braids and stood in the center of the hall for her soliloquy once again and chanted – Don’t be wily! Don’t be wily, stop being so wily, Siêthiyal! – She walked away and already was forming several more plots on how to take complete control of the harīm, for after all, if Éfhelìnye could sneak away in the night and chase after her Brother, why couldn’t Siêthiyal carve out a little power for herself?
And the sickly noontide Suns as they were reaching unto their zenith and clouds of smoke were bursting up from them, were failing to give comfort to Puîyus and Akhlísa as they sate down beneath the pfhóla tree and watched the adults at play all around them, here in this brief respite between battle and the growing winter night. Puîyus was cleaning his weapons one by one and making sure that all of his knives and skenes and daggers were in perfect order, and then moving onto the three swords that he kept upon him. He was wishing that he could spend this brief time in playing the harp and delighting the monks and perhaps Princess Éfhelìnye, but priority always had to go to being ay-prepared in battle. Puîyus saw that Akhlísa was getting up from beside him and was running out into the withered grasses and chasing after insects and sometimes rolling in the ground and sometimes capturing them in her hands and they bounced away and she was forced to run after them. Before them lay one of the courtyards that lead up unto a smaller temple and here several Kháfha monks were kneeling upon their triple legs and were with silent wordless patience working upon one of their sand paintings. To Puîyus’ other side the warriors were practicing their technique with sword against each other and in aiming with their impaling spears. Some of the slaves were bringing out the war giraffes and ostridges and brushing them. Several crickets were chirming and escaping from Akhlísa and she squealed and dashed after them. The monks lifted up their ladles and drew out some blue sands. The warriors were chuckling as they practiced one move and were throwing down their brethren. The giraffes were licking each other, and one ostridge was escaping from its handler. Puîyus scraped off some blood from his knife and wondered what enemy had shed its blood upon it, and he sniffed it but could only guess, for the slots of many men were left upon the dao. Akhlísa ran off but stopped chasing after the crickets when they began bouncing up untowards the the sand painting, for she didn’t want to get into trouble with the monks, and rather she stayed back and little the cricket kick up the sands and colors before leaping away, and the monks did not mind at all but continued on their quest. Puîyus took out a sword. Akhlísa was climbing the pfhóla tree behind him and beginning to hang upside down, her golden tresses rolling down the side of her head. The monks in their painting, the warriors in their practice, the cricket and the giraffes and the ostridges and his youngest Sister, all of them were playing even though they might not have recognized it as such, it was not just the young who gamboled about. He set the sword down and reminded himself that he was supposed to start thinking of Akhlísa as a Consort, even if it took years for him to grow accustomed to the idea.
Puîyus was able to hear the running of the Tlhòstu envoy from miles away, but he did not bother looking upwards until the messenger was already abasing himself before the gossoon and drawing upon himself the masque of supplication and his beads were shaking as he begged for an audience. Akhlísa was hanging completely upside down, her legs wrapped around a branch, her hair a curtain of gold.
– What do you want, masquey? – asked Akhlísa. – This had better be good, can’t you see how busy we all are? –
The envoy abased himself before the children and chanted – The Chieftains of the Qwoâng have just received report from some of their outposts who have been searching in the outer north, and they bade me to report to you at once that despite all their efforst the Fathers of Jaràqtu cannot find the one who was once your honored Father Íngìkhmar the Son of Jàkopar of the holy Sweqhàngqu who were. –
Puîyus nodded in gratitude. Akhlísa chanted – Thanks, masquey. Let us know when anything happens et cet et cet and weren’t those Elders supposed to be showering me with new presents, pearls and sacred stones and whatnaught? –
The messenger turned away to return to his duties. Akhlísa’s legs about the branch slipped and she began tumbling down out of the tree, but Puîyus was already prepared for this eventuality, and without even looking upwards caught her in his arms and set her down beside him.
– Wow, you sure can be handy sometimes – chanted Akhlísa.
– ?? – Puîyus was wondering as he scrubbed bits of flayed skin and blood from a glassen sword.
– The Princess, oh I’m sure that she’s fine, she can withstand anything at all. –
– … –
– I just hope that the Ancillæ aren’t upsetting the delicate balance of power that we’ve stablished in the harem. This is the first time that all four of us Pwéru dynasty whatever it is that we are have been able to get along, at least not without giving one of our numbers a good thumping or stabbing or some other unpleasantness which I can assure you never involves me at all no matter what Siêthiyal says. –
– ?? –
– Should you send the soubrettes away? I don’t know … –
Puîyus shook his head.
– Yes, I know you want to protect them, but we can’t just start adopting all of themaidens in all of Jaràqtu from the thousand War Clans. –
Puîyus tapped his heart a couple of times.
– I know you cannot permit harm to the Princess. But it’s only about an hundred Virgins in the harem. What’s the very worstest that can happen? I think that today will be a good day. It’snot like the Ancestors have an odd sense of humor. Wait a moment. I have a thought here. The Sweqhàngqu Ancestors do have an odd sense of humor. We’re probably doomed. –
Puîyus drew his other sword and began to draw aside bits of scale and hair and crushed bone and eye from it.
And in the harem Siêthiyal was taking Princess Éfhelìnye by the hand and saying – Come on, come one, they’re all waiting for you, don’t you want to inspirect the potential concubines? As the first wife you have complete maternal rights o'er the birth genitrices of your husband’s many children. I’ve made a list. –
The handmaidens were fluttering and bowing around Éfhelìnye even as Siêthiyal dragged her her untowards a table were plates and dishes and cups were set. – Now, we should evaluate the handmaids on a scale from one to eleven – Siêthiyal chanted. – We should examine their hair and eyen and manners and cooking and kindness and weaving and intelligence and, oh, that’s not very important, they don’t have to be smart at all, just as long as they’re beautiful and fertile. –
Éfhelìnye drew her hands to her mouth and began coughing up a bit of blood. Siêthiyal was fanning the Princess lest she faint, and drawing up a chair chanted – You’re so ill, really you should take it easy. Oh look at this nice table they’ve set for us! – Siêthiyal began sampling the food, she tried bits of soup and cake and pastry and chanted – It is extremely important for a wife to be a good cook, to please one’s husband, philology and literature are not so very important. You’re not going to start fainting on us, are you? –
Siêthiyal took Éfhelìnye by the hand and lead her down the long tables which were set in the curtained halls of the harīm. The handmaids were fluttering up and down like so many butterflies, they were rising and falling about Éfhelìnye as they took up their plates and dishes and platters and pots and set them upon the tables, they were arranging the sheets and the cutlery and floreal decorations, for now that all flowers were dead and were preserved just as the memory of florescence such as the aurelian petals and the rare karuláta blooms which lay woven throughout the lamper·kin that Akhlísa wore, the leal and regal Concubine, the decorations that the ancillæ set upon the tables were of reeds and icolored grasses and whatever beautiful and rare leaves they could salvage from the shivering of the snow flothering throughout all the courtyards. The soups and pastries, the delicate cut sandwiches, the slices of manna and cake were a sweet aroma, and for a moment in the imagination of her heart Princess Éfhelìnye was transported to memories of the kitchen in the Crannog of the Sweqhàngqu, where Fhermáta used to cut and boil and cook and bake, where always the smell of fresh flowers and fruitry were the savor of the dawntide, where even the curtains had a thick and pleasant taste unto them, and she thought about all the times when she had fiddled with the ovens and caused them to explode or had tried to help Fhermáta but only managed to coat the floor in suds and make everyone slip and fall, and Akhlísa used to roll upon the table and point and laugh at them all, and all the times indeed when the Princess would attempt to help Fhermáta and try to help the illustrious Clan of Sweqhàngqu and tried to construct a cutting or boiling or cooking or baking machine of incredible power, but the apparatus always seemed to turn against her and walk out upon its long knife legs and attack her, and Puîyus would have to step in and pound it into clockweyth dust. The handmaidens were lifting up their plates unto the Princess and she could smell faithfulness and devotion and hope within, and her stomache felt like blood and she felt as if she would become ill. The windows behind the tables were all wide and far gazing, and were revealing within their prismatic membranes the large and swollen suns of morningtide, and the clouds of smoke that were turning burnent and hissing off from the face of the Suns caused the windows to dark a little, and the shadows of the cakes and honey bread and delicate cut sandwiches and the arrangement of the reeds and plantimals all grew longer. Siêthiyal drew up a chair for the Princess, it was meant to be the highest and most comfortable of the chairs at this table, fit for the Wife of the household, and Siêthiyal made sure to place many cushions about it, but the chair was just a little too high for Princess Éfhelìnye, for she was not very tall at all, she was actually shorter than Fhermáta had been, but none of the Children of the Sweqhàngqu were particularly tall at all. Perhaps this was one reason, Éfhelìnye as thinking, that she had been able to imagine herself blending into the Sweqhàngqu so well, for the last generation of that Clan was not renowned for their height, even the half generation before them, Pàlron and Ìkhnos and Eirènwa in the allied Clans, they were all taller than the ones born at the time of Fhermáta and Xataríyona, and Jàkopar and Íngìkhmar had been tall and Khangisqrírles also, but Puîyus was not, and somehow Éfhelìnye thought that even though he was still growing he would probably never grow taller than a couple of khúni digits, and that suited her fine, for she was just about an khúni shorter than he was. Siêthiyal was bringing up a couple of cushions and helping Éfhelìnye up into the chair, and the Princess had to balance a little and fidgetfiddle to arise, and when she finally sate down upon it, she sunk down a few inches, and all about her in the light of the dying morn the handmaids were indeed rising and falling like so many butterflies, their dressed in the bright sheens and colors of Jaràqtu, even their bowing flutterent was papilionaceous unto her gaze, even the way they held up their dishes for her to smell and sample and approve was all like the ballet of so many fhwúqha moths and qemámi and kàmemi and fhaîfha butterflies.
– Would you like to take a sample? – asked Siêthiyal. – Just a lick of this pastry or that candy or this most delightful confection would honor these handmaidens to a great extent. –
One handmaid drew up a dish, it was a feast of beautiful and tiny sandwiches, cheese and fruits and just the smattering of a jhpèla and pèlya apricot within, and the breads were slightly tinted with a memory of qwànang sparinichibuz. Éfhelìnye tried to look pleased. She could taste blood forming in her mouth. The handmaiden looked up to the future Empress and smiled. Éfhelìnye tried to smile in return.
– Perhaps you would care to favor this Virgin with just a taste of what she had made for you? – Siêthiyal asked. – I for one am very thankful for the present which the Qwoâng and Tlhaxoîyer and the Poriêrii have given unto us, these maidens will make life far more hellenized for us in the purdah. Just think of all the chores they’ll do, and the foods also, won’t that be fun? –
The handmaiden held up the plate and continued her bow, but looking upwards felt nothing but despair in her heart, for the Empress of Tomorrow was not even deigning to look unto her or her food, and the maiden feared to bring shame unto what family had been left unto her.
– Don’t you even want to try a wee biteling? – asked Siêthiyal.
– I’m not hungry – chanted Éfhelìnye.
Siêthiyal took the plate and smiled at the handmaiden, and she nodded in return. Siêthiyal grabbed a knife and cut into the xhnùjhi sandviĉo and held up a slice to the Princess. – You are very pale, my Sister, please, just a little bite? You don’t eat enough as it is, and I’m sure that Puey fears for you sometimes. –
– I … I just don’t feel hungry. –
– Just a bite? Fine – Siêthiyal took a bite and soon was gobbling up several small sandwiches at once. – Oh this is excellent. What’s your name? I don’t really care, I’m just asking. Oh this is wonderful! Éfhelìnyeji, please, just take a munch. If you don’t want the piece I’ll be sure to find a good home for it. Virgin, you have done well and served the Pwéru with all due honor et cet et cet. – Siêthiyal was leaning against the chair and dusting off her fingers now that the sandwich was disappeared. She looked around to the fluttering crowd and picked out a cake at random, mostly because of the arrangement, sugar danced upon the face of the cake and all about the dish in ripples and labyrinth whorls, and so delightful it was that she just clapped her hands and squealed in anticipation. She motioned for the virgin to come forwards, and she bowed and humbled herself before the future Empress and hoped for some sort of acknowledgement of her honor.
– Éfha, you can’t say no this, it’s cake! Cake! – Siêthiyal took the dish and spun it beneath the Princess’ nose. – You are fain for all manner of sweet and cuddly foods, and it doesn’t get cuddlier and sweeter than cake! –
– I don’t really need any – chanted Éfhelìnye.
Siêthiyal took a slice and offered it to the Princess. – Oh you’ll like this. I used to bake cakes for Puey, before the War that is, and he was e'er so fond of them. It was just my way of showing him how much I cared about him. I’m not at all as effulsive as you, my Princess, you have no problem with verbalizing, nay singing and screaming your love for my Brother before all Creation, but I just can’t act that way to my beloveds. – She proffered the slice to the Princess a few more times, but Éfhelìnye just shook her head in negation. – I just let the smell of the baking, the sparkling of the sugar, the aroma uprising, I let them sing for me and proclaim my love. I used to bake Puey a cake every year for his Starday, it was a custom that we had, I’d bake the cake, and Fhermáta would present him with a nice garment, and Kàrula would pledge her troth to be a faithful wife to him. – Siêthiyal took a few dainty bites and screamed in joy. – Oh this is best cake I’ve e'er tasted at least today. Éfhelìnye you don’t know what you’re missing, just try a slice, no, wait a moment, I want it all to myself. You get yourself your own handmaiden, this is delicious. Hurray! Hurray! Hurray! – Siêthiyal was soon gobbling up all the piece and nodding to the Virgin chanted – Oh, you I like, this I selcouth this is twìjhot milagik fhaîxhot tinny fhírn mak’n syeî fabik! – Siêthiyal tossed the plate down and the virgin shuffled away. – Who’s next? I’m sure one of you can manage to impress the future Empress. –
– I … I want to go and find Puey – Éfhelìnye chanted, but as she tried to arise from the too large cushions Siêthiyal just shoved her down and chanted – Please, Princess, just inspect the handmaidens with me a little while. They’re of your household and they look to you in admiration. Is that pie? I smell pie. I love pie. You there, please come forwards. –
Siêthiyal thought that she recognized this particular pie-baker, her face, her long braided golden tresses, her manner were reminding her of one of the daughters of the Poriêrii, one whom Puîyus had rescued several time before. Siêthiyal, though, suspected that the Fathers of the Poriêrii had intended at first for this virgin to be a trap, for the Poriêrii had never been friends with the Sweqhàngqu, although they had never quite been enemies, but she was thinking that the Elders might have thought that if somehow they could arrange it for the kind and chivalrous Heir of the Sweqhàngqu to keep finding himself in the company of the best of their daughters, skilled and beautiful and always in need of being rescued, then the Heir of the Sweqhàngqu may take interest in the Clan Poriêrii and wish to take her as a Concubine, and thereby end up having to fight in the ètrang, in the blood feuds which characterized the Poriêrii and some of their allies, and so the Sweqhàngqu would find themselves having to lend support to some new allies. Whether or not this theory were true Siêthiyal did not know, and she certainly did not think that, even if it were true, that this maiden would have been told or even suspected it. If such had been the original plan, than the Poriêrii must now be growing despirate indeed, for the invasion and occupation of the Qhíng had been long and terrible and broken the backs of many ancient clans, and the Sweqhàngqu had emerged victorious only the sense of surviving and driving out the enemy, but not in reclaiming their land. Siêthiyal thought that now it was quite obvious that the Poriêrii were trying to make themselves the only dominant Clan in Jaràqtu by throwing this maiden and an hundred others at Puîyus, it was the only way they could contrive for any of their blood to be mingled into the new Imperial Dynasty. Plus, this girl could bake pies, and that’s important. What was her name? Ah, Asiréma, yes! How could I have forgotten that?
Siêthiyal indicated for Asiréma to come forwards, and latter bowed a few times and held up a sample of her pie, and Siêthiyal smiled and breathed in deeply, for it was all of apple and cinnamon, quite a fortuitous pie indeed. Siêthiyal cut a slice and let her fork play with the crust and the apple slices. – Oh Princess, look at what this humble virgin has prepared for you, your very favorite flavor indeed! –
Princess Éfhelìnye could only blink in response. Siêthiyal held up the slice to the Princess – You love apples, you love cinnamon, I think you’re actually made out of apples and cinnamon, why I’m sure that if some crazed alien creatures e'er decided to eat you up, not of course as if something like that could e'er happen in these sane and daylit worlds, I’m quite sure you would taste of a conglomeration of apples and cinnamon. I just know your lips are watering to take a taste of this, and as the Mistress of our Household you have all the right. –
Éfhelìnye looked down. The smell of the pie reminded her of all the happy days in the Clan of the Sweqhàngqu. Of course, not all those days had been as apple as she was trying to convince herself, she had managed to upset the household not a few times, and Fhermáta had not been successful at all in actually inculcating culinary skills in her young ward, and there were a few times when she had managed to get Puîyus into trouble or embarrass him sorely or annoy Siêthiyal to an untold degree. But the slice of pie before her was reminding her too much of Fhermáta, and how Éfhelìnye knew that if she lived to be as old as Grandfather Pátifhar, she would never be as good and beautiful and kind as Fhermáta had been.
Siêthiyal could see that Éfhelìnye was sniffling, and she leaned untowards the Princess and whispered – Will you at least look at the maiden who’s trying to please you? Smile or nod or do anything at all. You’re not going to be very adored at all if everyone else thinks that you’re the Ice Princess who only communes with the silent and scary and utterly unknowable Feral Emperor. –
– I’m not hungry – Éfhelìnye whispered.
– Just smile. Blink. Look. You have such a beautiful smile, you don’t just have to smile around Puey, you know, the rest of us can be rather fond of you from time to time also. – Siêthiyal could see that Éfhelìnye was remaining sad, and for what reason she did not know and was beginning not to care. Éfhelìnye was looking down now, and somehow Siêthiyal suspected that she was thinking about Fhermáta. Siêthiyal was not about to remind the Princess that she had known her foster Sister all the days of her life and was more hurt by her death than the Princess was, it was enough to let Éfhelìnye grieve in her own way, and yet Siêthiyal did not wish for this grief to remain always as a cloak before Éfhelìnye, especially when they were tasked with the responsibility of forming this new dynasty. Siêthiyal took the slice of apple and cinnamon pie and took a few careful bites of it and thought about her Sister also. Princess Éfhelìnye remained perfectly still. A single teardrop was flowing down her face, a tear which was not of water but of blood. Siêthiyal did not think that it was possible to weep blood, but the Starflower Princess, the one born of the Virgin Empress, could cry of blood, and Asiréma and the hundred Handmaidens looked up and marvelled.
So Siêthiyal was clasping her hands together and talking. Princess Éfhelìnye was not entirely sure what Siêthiyal was saying anymore. She was doing her best just to concentrate on the sound of her voice and not to topple o'er. Éfhelìnye was finding Siêthiyal’s voice to be especially high pitched and beautiful, it almost sounded how she would expect flowers to sound like if flowers could talk. But flowers can talk, yes, they do all the time, and Puey listens to them and responds in kind in flower sighs and flower words. His voice like petals, his breath the very inflorescence burgenetts of music. Language of flowers, Puey just breathing it out of his nostrils, of pure breath. I wonder what she’s saying. Speaking speaking squeaking so much. The handmaidens about out. They have papers, they are unraveling scrolls. Scrolls are a funny word, prút, prùprut. Nice crunchy sound unto them. The glyphs, the runes almost dancing right upon the pages. Handmaidens altogether papilionaceous, their sleeves, their dresses fluttering about me. Questions questions words. Sliding, falling sideways awke.
– Xhwókh! – cried Siêthiyal, and she dashed and drew her arms about Éfhelìnye’s shoulders to keep her from tumbling downwards, for Éfhelìnye was so tired and dizzy that she was barely able to sit in her tall chair upright. Siêthiyal yanked the Princess a little by her collar just to keep her in position and then turning and gesturing unto the crowd of soubrettes, her hands opening upwards in hwylsome oratorial splendor saying – Now looka here, hear? I have requested the various handmaids to write essays about why they desire to serve the future holy Empress and all the divine House of the Pwéru, and why it is that they should be given as Concubines to my dashing and daring Brother for to bare children et cet et cet et cet. Now, let the first essay be read! – She held up a small lyùrijus cymbal basinüfik and struck it a few times, and from the butterfly crowd one golden tressed maiden arose and unwound her scroll and began reading in thiswise:
Dear Empress of Tomorrow most benefic Éfhelìnye
When I was very little my Sisters and Cousins were always saying that I was the pretty one in the group and that it was my destiny to be given in marriage to some important chieftain muckety muck or other. The Poriêrii Elders always made sure to keep me and my Sisters and female Cousins well guarded in our harem and we were never allowed to meet any boys at all save for some relatives and the sons of allies. Why one day we may give you to one of the Sons of the Qwoâng the Elders used to say, or even Íngìkhmar’s Son, he be perhaps the feircests one born in the final generation. They say that Íngìkhmar is no mortal man but a Dæmon who crept out of the hours and begot a Son on one of the last of the Tisweqhìmla temple dancers back in the days when the women of our Land still engaged in khmalangqakhùswo dances, a woman of the Otòrfhexes of pure blood. They say that Puîyos talks to wild beasts and roams with them, that he rends his enemies about limb-meal and bites off their faces and destroys them utter. They say that Puîyos is more Monster than Mortal, and when I heard that I did not believe such a thing, perhaps long ago in the storybook days when Tèntra and blue Unicorns and Monsters still roamed strong and free upon the face of the earth such a lad could have been born, but not now in these chiliastic and last days.
And so, dearest Empress Éfhelìnye, it came to pass that one day I did catch a glimpse of young Master Puîyos who shall become the Lord of all Life, for last year it chanced that the Elders of our Land were notified of a shipwreck at the long and treacherous estuaries that form the boundary of our dimension. Some passing boats filled with Jhèngqekh Tyénis and Xhlaûxher Tyénis were run aground and from their holds and rooms were cast off boxes and urns filled with strange books and glassen jars and ancient silk and plumed tapestries and endless curiosities, and the Warriors marched out for to meet them, for it is death to enter Jaràqtu unless permited. But the Elders, seeing that the Jhèngqekh and the Xhlaûxher people were harmless gave them leave to dwell in our land for as long as they wished, and they commanded our slaves to aid them in repairing their vessels, and some of the lords of the Jhèngqekh and the Xhlaûxher were houses as honored guest-friends of the most illustrious Poriêiri unto all praises must be given. And the Elders, seeing the curiosities that the Jhèngqekh and the Xhlaûxher had brought with them, gave them permission to set up some of their old books and jars and curiosities in a prànuka elveneland so that the children could visit and see some of the wonders of the outer worlds. So my Sisters and Cousins and I were desirous to see what the guests had brought, and so we gathered togher our tàkhye colicichets of copper, for the Elders chanted that we should pay the Jhèngqekh and Xhlaûxher of our copper sous in order to see their wonders, they chanted it would discipline us. One of my Sisters, however, did not wish to pay her own tàkhye onduennes, and so before we came to the cirque she was packing up a lunch in a basket and pretending that she was just accompanying us and not about to enter the cwm, but she kept sneaking through about the walls and into the columns and looking up o'er the walls to see the jars filled with small and shriveled severed heads and the hands and claws of monsters and the drawings of strange and fantastic creatures from far away and the turtle shells as large as a room. It was little difficult to understand why anyone would sneak into the cwm since it only cost a couple of tàkhye bead coins, and the Elders were quite generous with them. But my Sister has never gotten caught and now promises that when she grows up she shall be one of the wisest mothers in the land and prosecute children who sneak in to look at curiosities and who steal sweaters from their Sisters. Ah, I was remise in using the word never, for she did one get caught sneaking in after our third journey to visit the tall Jhèngqekh and the short and hirsute Xhlaûxher, for as she was scrambling about the walls she gave a squeal and pointed in the distance and saw that some of the children of a rival clan were in the next room and were looking upon some of the huge bones which the guests claimed had once belonged to Giants.
Lo, there they are, the progeny of Íngìkhmar, my Sister was saying, and so excited did she become that they toppled o'er the side of the wall and fall inside, and my Cousins and Sisters and I burst into the room, in the midst of the gaggling of the Jhèngqekh and the Xhlaûxher rolling about. My Sister had toppled o'er some ancient mandala which were depicting sunking continents and secret passages and lost worlds, and tumbling about her were the headdresses of viceroy queens of forgotten dreamlands. My cousins and I crawled through the window and toppled down after my Sister, and before us we could see some of the eldritch and agrestick children of the Sweqhàngqu. They were running around and chasing each other and tagging and hiding and ducking about the huge bones of orcs and dragons, they were scurrying under the tables where huge sarcophagoi were setting and walls covered in runes which no living man could decypher this day. One of the sarcophagoi was opening, and out from it came a shadow yrobed in night, long and rippling cobwebs were his hair, a slight blue sheen he had, cobwebs and ind dust were falling off from him. I saw him. He saw me. All was falling silent. Spiders were crawling about his hair, I saw a few skinks and squids crawling about his shoulders and hissing at me with their long tounges, but he held up his fingers in silence, and the wild beasts obeyed. The young heir’s Sisters behind him at once fell silent, for they knew that the children of different clans were not supposed to mix of meet one another. Puîyos was coming forwards. A few bats and winged wihts were fluttering about him. He came forwards, a gentle rainfall of cobweb dripping off of his shoulders, and coming up he helped my Sister upwards and drew aside any webs that might be sticking unto her, and escorted he us unto the large halls where the Jhèngqekh and the Xhlaûxher were waiting for us. And little lambkins were arising behind Puîyus, and he turned and was rubbing their hands and feeding them out of the palm of his hand.
And I knew at that moment that Puîyus was no dæmon and no monster and no guardian spirit, he was something completely other, and if I could serve my Sisters and Cousins by being given in marriage unto him, then I would be happy.
– I think that’s a very good essay – Siêthiyal chanted. She held up her hand. – Now, you may pay me for the priviledge of reading it aloud. – And when Siêthiyal received her cooper sous she clasped her palms again and chanted – Now did you pay me for the honor of your writing the essay? I thought not, there’s a fee for that too. Now, who wants to ready next? –
Princess Éfhelìnye was tottering from side to side, she felt as if she were an khruintèplujhein upside down pyramid and liable to tumble down at any moment, but just when she began to slide, Siêthiyal would grab her by arrassed sleeve or damasked collar and drag her upwards to hear the next reading.
Dear Empress Éfhelìnye,
That’s not exactly what happened. My Sister here was the one who snuck into the halls of the cwm because she didn’t want to pay her own tàkhye p”atu, paltry though they may be. In fact my Cousins and I were outside with the Jhèngqekh lords and were playing a game and tossing our solar ball through hoops and rings of precious iron. After my shot and the dispute that the ensured regarding its trajectory, we were forced to call the Capting of the Jhèngqekh for to hear our evidence. Our entire team promised by the Ancestors that the ball indeed flew through the iron. We also promised the Capting of the Jhèngqekh that, should he rule correctly, we would never again sneak into the curiosity halls while he was on duty. He did, and we won. The next day we sneaked by him in the cwm, and when the Capting found us he called for the Xhlaûxher to throw us out again, and that is when I came sliding through the window and fell down before young Master Puîyos and his sibling and foster siblings. For a moment I feared that Puîyos and his siblings would be thrown out along with the passel of us, and I feared lest that embarrass both the Sweqhàngqu and the Poriêrii, but Puîyus arose from the spiced tomb and with spiders and lambs brought me and my Sisters out, and the Jhèngqekh were completely mollified.
And that little play of ours was magnified with Puîyos as the main actor and that was witnessed by me and my sisters and cousins and therefore is considered an Historic True Event and it dwelleth e'er upon the lips of all who saw it, and we walked together upon the snodgrass and into the shade of the trees.
– Thank you for the clarification – Siêthiyal chanted as she held up her hand. – And now for my khleqhímu, my bribe? Ah yes, thank you kindly. Well, my Sister by marriage, we have a large stack of essays before us, perhaps you’d like to choose one for me to read? Anyone will be fine, I would think, just pick and point. Disinclined to choose, are you? Then let’s do pick this one, the scroll is wrapped up in bright blue ribbon and has been scented with perfume. Ah! I’m sure whoever wrote this will be quite loyal to my Puey after all. –
Okay now, I don’t know what type of stories the handmaidens are telling while I’m away with Puey, I just thought I’d give Éfhelìnyeji a little bit of time alone I don’t need to be pestpestpestering her all the while she’s got her hands full with being the Mistress of this new Dynasty, don’t you think? I just know that whatever it is that Siêthiyal is scheming will probably come to a bad end, I know she can’t help herself, and even when she is trying to be good she will scheme and plot and conspire and malengine all the while, I’ll just sit here and listen to the coming and leaving and fluttering of the heralds pfhuî pursuivants and hear what aputēs loud-voiced they have to say.
And it all didn’t quite happen that way, I should know I was there and I was seeing with mine own eyen right because Fhérma and Siêthiyal were chasing me all around and we were hiding about the huge giant bones and the drawings made by explorers unto the horizon frontier and the little models of living ships and outlines of merfolk and strange sea serpents and all that, and these Poriêrii maidens just came sliding through the window and making all sort of ruckus, quite a frightful mess really, but Puey was there and he was able to sort everything out, he opened up the box and the spiders and ravens and lambs were dashing all about him, I think there were little xèjhwo maggots crawling upon the floor and about his feet and swarming upwards up unto the great statues which the Jhèngqekh had gathered from many dreamlands and the masques which the Xhlaûxher had found and were bringing along with them. But Puey drew the maidens outwards and kept them from getting into trouble, which was good because we had been warned not to annoy the Poriêrii or the other mountain clans because they’re ugly and not a little stupid.
Now later that day after leaving the qhùmlet gymnasium Puey and I and our Sisters and Cousins got together to play a game of Xhwongeîthe, so we came unto the bright green frields at the edge of the Khatelèstan ancestrial dreamlands, among the huge kachina statues and the walls which were sunk so far deep into the ground that they were barely little ridges, and new walls were set upon and beside those, and ancient stone barbicans so gnarled and weathered that one could barely even guess that these had once been intended for defense. And our older cousins Ìkhnos and Pàlron were picking teams, now the problem is that Puey is by far the most bestest player and so whoever picks him wins, and yet whenever Puey offers not to play, the rest of us just want to watch and not play because it’s no fun, so Ìkhnos and Pàlron take turns, we had Puey this time and you can have him next time. Now whenever Puey plays he insists that the girls get to play too, see, he’s very kind and chivalrous like that, in fact he says that I’m always the very best player of them all but he can’t tell the others because then they’re all get jealousified. So the team was divided up. Khrùkhtii and Paloîta and some of their brother acolytes were parceled out. Of course Fhermáta was on Puey’s team, he always picks her even though she’s a lousy player, she can’t hold the mallet right and she squeals in fright whenever anyone tosses the ball to her, so Puey always had to pitch and he’s barely even throwing it at that point, he treats he like such a baby. But not me, I’m such a super player that whenever I hit the ballet with the prèkat mallet I always hit it far far far far away and I slide unto all the diamonds unto the field even though I don’t have to but I do anyway because I’m the very best player.
Oh it had been a hard fought game, except for me because I’m awesome. Twenty three dumbclucks in our team had scored for the other side, except for me, I’d never do anything like that. Yes, Empress Éfhelìnye, tensions were running high and every buddy was a bleeding from getting hit by uthery owlhoots. And then all to the sudding I run up and I kick my knee right square into Puey’s gizzard and grab the ball from him and run. Because I was supposed to, you see, it was all part of the plan, it was not some random act of violence. Puey is running after me. Siêthiyal is shouted at the top of her voice and in retaliation trying to smack me upon my head. Khrùkhtii and Paloîta try to tackle me by just crashing into each other. Ìkhnos and Pàlron were running. At this point we were all forgetting who was on whose team. Now the game was so boisterous and I was playing so well and shoving the rest of my Siblings right into the mud, that some pool fool got the idea of appointing someone to be the khwúlit, the arbiter of this game, wuqta’ cho’’oDwI’, although I don’t see why everyone knows that I was clearing winning and it’s not my fault that someone shoved Siêthiyal in the mud and dancing pruîthe tripudiating cutting capters and making somersets all about her khoropaíktēs I can’t be blamed for every little thing, and so my Cousin Eirènwa was picked because everyone thinks that she’s guileless and unbribable which is such a pity she’s my cousin so she’s supposed to be taking my side and so the next time I kicked Puey in the shins and smacked him with my mallet and started running everyone came running up to Eirènwa and were bawling their eyen out and saying that I had broken some arbitrary little rule and that Puey had been struck first and that’s what all the other little geeks were saying. And I chanted, Nosirreee I didn’t do anything wrong at all in fact I saw my Puey here slapping other people right upon their heads first and I was just playing fairly and didn’t do anywrong wrong at all so could I please have some free ponts please? It was about then that our civilized game of Xhwongeîthe turned a lot more fun and we just started punching and kicking and roaring one at another, and Siêthiyal did steal the ball from me and was heading towards the hoops and Fhermáta was throwing frisbees and I was the only one at all completely playing by the rules and if anyone says that I ran up to Puey and punched him in his neck and tripped him up and shoved him and tickled the ball away from him why Siêthiyal just spreads these stories about me because she’s such a fibber and then I grabbed the ball from Puey’s giggly battle and I threw it about seventy two cubits right into the other goal and the precious iron hoop was turning Swish Swoosh Swash and it was perfect and I won the game by an hundred points and that was it and everyone ran up and declaired me to be the heroine of the game and the best player in all of mortal history and to this day Puey is always nodding to me and saying that I’m the winner and always play by the rules. Now, Siêthiyal, haint that zactly what happinged?
Siêthiyal was folding up the essay and tying it back into blue ribbon and tossing it o'er her shoulder and muttering to herself saying – I don’t know how Kàrula smuggled this silly little drivel of hers in this stack of otherwise fine essays; we shall just have to punish her later. Now, Éfhelìnye, let’s do pick another essay and find what we shall find. Isn’t this quite a lovely one, all banded together with gold and rings of thread, surely this was written by some honest handmaiden worthy to become a secondary wife unto a future Emperor. –
It seems that Khiêro of old is an okay sort of hero all very archaic and old and stinking of caducity and paracme I guess he killed that old dragon Jhwàrxhnort yes but that was a long time ago I’m sure dragons were smaller and less wildsome in those days he’s not at all like Puey who can thump and kick and rip apart several differing Dragons at the same time, in fact I was watching Khiêro just the other day he was fighting several roaming gangs of pirates and ninja scouts and he was just about to impale them with his spear when a little fellow hight Puey snuck up behind him and kicked him in his back. This spoilt Khiêor’s aim and he hit a little old pie baker who felt dead in tins of pies. Khiêro was beside himself o'er the tragedy. So Puey ran up and kicked him in the head also. Puey ruiled the day once again! Hurray for Puey Day, for Puey Day, hurray!
Secondly, least week, just about every night or so I was watching Khiêro in his battles high within the whispering mountains, and he was doing fine I suppose, he was at fighting maybe seven or eleven opponents at the same time. Now ifn you could take Khiêro and Emperor Eilasaîyan and King Qhiikhèrkhmair and Khniikhèrkhmair the Prophet and mix and blend medly and put them altogether as to be one goomer, that would be the hero Puey. Let me tell you something last night high in the whispering mountains ther ewas a bunch of bad galoots that went around hurting people and children and little dinosaurlings and big dinosaurlings and cat and old uqhúku hu! hu! and old squid bisonry, well, Éfha, one time Puey was riding through this here shanty town where the old squid bison were sifting for gold. For the bad guys had come and destroyed all the poor sifters’ huts and hats and sieves and tin pans and party dresses and hair ribbons and fancy shoon. So one of the survivors ambles down into town to get more supplies that the galoots had wrecked. When he come out to the supply store, the galoots were at waiting for him, and they took some kìqhuwo curtels and sqór hatchets and they were very bright and shiny and they started beating him and whomping him and whipping him til he felled down. Now what happinged next was that Puey who is just so heroic and scrumptious and he secretly likes me more than all the other girls in the harem but he just won’t mention it he come out of the nother store and he saw what was being did to this poor chap and he got madder than a tyítlhir miovon what had fallen into a jar of water. Puey grabbed the hatchet handle and he strode out twixt the six bad guys. Well he started aig swinging and at whaling and aig twanging and er that you can bat you eyeball they were all layn everwhichwhere and were at begging for mercy. Wow, now I’m telling you, that there was a good fight. Now Puey being so nice and I decided to show mercy to them and made them sware kindness and lealty and all that, and he went to look o'er the wrecked huts of the sifters and he found out that the galoots had dun kicked a little dinosaurling that belonged to a pretty little golden haired maiden hight Karuláta Khniêma Akhlísa who is really the prettiest and best of all the girls in this harīm and Puey loves me the most, and when Puey learnt of what had happened he just got him all angeredup again and he went into town and beat up every poor fool what he saw and some he didn’t see. Puey wore out eight axes and used eight hundred and thirty four sticks on them and forty four knives. One time he took up a tsùqhikhin slingshot and he killed fourteen geeks in a row, but he only put eight shells inside the slink, I guess he kilt two or three with each shell. I killed more men than Khiêro of Old and King Èmfha Empúqher Khlùsyus Khmùsqus Khnàsyo put together. I haint kidding you, Siêthi.
Why one time Puey had a gal pal who wasn’t doing her chores and it wasn’t her fault because Fhérma and Siêthiyal were being really mean to me and I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to and so I threw the waterbuckets down and ran away and screamed and Puey came running after me and there were monsters coming up from out of the bed and they had teeth about this big perhaps ten or eleven khúni in length and the monster was lunching out and bit Puey and the teeth were like fang knife blades reaching into him. But Puey was touch. Not even monster bites bothered him. This is just a lil sample of how rough touch and hard to bluff ole Puey is. And Puey just pulled the teeth out of him and grabbed the monster and hurled it down and ripped it into pieces, and he did all this with out raising one drop of sweat nor meassing his melancholy blue hairs up. Now see, there are enough stories and legends and myths about Puey so that we can write nine or three epics all of them staring him as the Ax Handle Wielder or the Swordswisher or the Māccuahuitl Master and they’ll all end up with him as the hero and the wilds of Jaràqtu and the Horizon Frontier as a better place for humanity to live and eat squished candy all they wanted to, and Puey will clasp my hand and say Oh this one is my very favoritest concubine and I love her the most and she’s a lot cuter than Siêthiyal whose mean all the time and couldn’t get a sweetheart if her life depended on it why this one time when we were on the Duchesses’ big balloon ship thang there were some kissie mutants and
Siêthiyal’s face started turning white. She started crumbling up the sheet of papyrus and looked around for some convenient hearthfire wherein to dispose of this epistle. – For the life of me I don’t understand how Kàrula managed to smuggle another bit of her drivel here in the midst of these finely written essays by the handmaidens who are destined to become wives for Puey. Sometimes I just think that Kàrula wants to drive me crazy. –
Princess Éfhelìnye coughed a little. – I’m not quite sure I understand all that you read. Karuláta was bouncing from one idea to another, and sometimes I think that memory and fancy were blending together. I am a little curious about what she meant at the end, though. –
Siêthiyal hopped down from her chair and almost shoved some of the handmaidens aside as she came to a fire and tossed the sheet of paper upon it, and words were dancing upwards within the fire, splashes of ink and glyph and rune sparkling and becoming tendrils arisen. – When Khlís returns from whatever she’s doing outside, I’m going to beat her like I’ve never beaten her before. –
Éfhelìnye tried to keep herself from coughing but could not quite stop herself. – What did she mean at the end? She was referring to some incident on the Duchesses’ temple balloon, I think, and she mentioned metamorphic mutants. –
– Fibs! – shouted Siêthiyal. – Fibs fibs fibs fibs fibs! – Siêthiyal shoved aside the handmaidens fluttering about the table and thrust her hand into the piles of essays and muttered – Just don’t believe anything that Kàrula says, she’d invent any manner of story just to embarrass me. Now, let’s find an essay written by some other handmaiden who wants to serve you and bare children for your future husband. –
Éfhelìnye swayed a little in her chair, and was having to wipe the tears of blood from her face quite often so that she could see, and the handmaids were looking up in fear, for they wanted to run up and steady her, for they could not help but think of her as a younger Sibling or Cousin who was chronically ill, and yet they feared even to look upon her face, even though only those of the Household of Pwéru are permitted to view the women of the Pwéru, and they afraid to lay hands upon her whose very flesh was holy and whom only the Emperor could touch.
Siêthiyal was digging deeper into the piles of papers and saying – I just know the next one will be a nice scholarly essay. Who is it who says that all handmaidens are dumb? I don’t think they’re dumb at all, they were smart enough to end up in the Divine House, weren’t they? –
– I’m not feeling very well – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– You’re feeling fine – chanted Siêthiyal. – Now, which essay should I read, this one written upon pink paper, or this complicated one all folded up origamic, or perhaps this delightful scroll covered in feathers? –
Éfhelìnye was coughing in her hands, and blood came flowing from between her fingers. – What did Karuláta mean when she wrote that you could not find yourself an khatála, a lesnan, a dearheart? Do you wish to have a sweetheart for yourself? Why I think that would be quite a marvelous idea. – Éfhelìnye coughed up a bit more blood and chanted – Then you can have a nice young swain to sing love poems to you and tell you how special you are and rescue you from all manner of monster and gift you with all fine manner of presents from the most distal of dreamlands and … –
– Forgive me, but no thank you – chanted Siêthiyal. – How about this essay written all in flower golds and pinks? I love the perfumes wherein it was dipped. –
– What did Karuláta mean when she wrote about kissie mutants? –
Siêthiyal jumped upon the table and kicked aside a few bowls and shouted – Lies! Lies! Lies! Lies! Now listen to this essay written by the future mother of your husband’s children! And stop coughing! –
Éfhelìnye sniffled. – I don’t feel very well at all. Is there anyway for me to lie down, and you can read these essays? I don’t believe that today will end up being a good day. –
– Oh boo hoo for you – muttered Siêthiyal and she crawled up into her seat. – I don’t understand how you can be so nonchallent with picking your husband’s concubines, he’ll be spending all of his time with them and not with you. Now stop bleeding or I’ll punch you. Here’s a delightful little essay. Ahem. Ahem. –
– I don’t feel very well – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– Silent lips, please. Ahem! –
Why I Wish to Serve the Empress and Become Wife to the Emperor
By an Handmaiden
Yeah well you thought you could escape me, Siêthi, didn’t you? Well, we all just knew that I would be up to no good before we knew it. I’m back at home, back in the saddle again, back upon in the treehouse. Yep, alright. So I’ll embarrass you in front of the Princess about your utter and complete kissie devotion to the mustants later. Now it’s time for me to get back to work on all my lil projects and hobbies. I haint did nothing for a sennight or so, and things are piling upwards. Sniff.
So as I was saying, Puey is definitely the very bestest hero in the history of all the worlds, now just imagine putting King Èmfha and Abbá Íngìkhmar and Khiêro of Old and feral Khràyul all together and Puey is still greater than they, or perhaps they can all be on the same side and fighting the bad guys and metamorphic mutants. I’d give a sou to see that there, yep, Siêthi, I would. Nix Nix. They were tough those heroes but Puey was tougher too.
Now see, since nobody at all in this harīm is doing any chores at all I guess I’ll just have to step up and do them all, since I’m the only responsible and pretty one. I’ll plant the yard and stir it up and pat it down and seed it and water it and sing songs to it at night and make everything bloom all nice blue and green again. My next really big job is to redo all the trails within Qwaiqhèmlo the Painted Forest and make sure that they are big enough for a small cart that I’m building so as to take Siêthiyal and the mutants into the forest, plus I have to give a tour of it and show all the handmaidens the hundreds of places in multicolored Qwaiqhèmlo where Puey has kissed me even on the lips. Oh my land, Puey, you can’t kiss me in front of all these trees! Yep, Kàrula, I’ll sure kiss you because I love you of all my concubines the best. You’d be surprised at how the forest grows back whence you quit insulting it. Well, I don’t care a whit!
Okay now looka here. I went to see the doctor Khràkhoi today, he’s one of the saurian Khlitsaîyart fellows you see Puey wants me to be in the best of health all the time because I’m his very favorite female of them all he loves me way more than the rest of the maids in the harem and a lot more than Siêthiyal who’s just so crabby and actually he likes me more than Éfha I just can’t help myself being so cute and all I mean sure Éfhelìnye is beautiful but she can be a little moody and distant but not like me and the Tèrefha took a look at the little goosefreckles on my right elbow I told him I’d be dancing around all the time in strange and exotic costumery so we have to make sure that my angle kisses aren’t too bright. And so I had to examinify my freckles, yes he did. Four tools he used: a ball pen hammer, an ankylotic ankush, an khlókisai adze, a twìmo wire-plier, a sqorikhìpwu screwdriver key, some purple glue for to fuze the most formidable femur to its thwaôjos hypotneuse. Yes, I was brave and fierce with feudalism. And honored Khràkhoi gave me a medal, the polka splattered Star on a red white and blue banner. He did! Hurray! You know I don’t understand at all why some maidens are so afraid of doctors, if I were as sickly as Éfhelìnye I’d just get used to being examined by leeches and doctors and vestal virgins et cet there’s nothing to be escaped of just all their saws and needles and drugs all sniffy and pun and the Doc towering o'er one, a large Khlitsaîyart with his squamous claws and talons and his deep alien breath. I would think, were I Éfhelìnye, that I should just get used to it, I mean as sickly and weak as she is she probably won’t be able to bare Puey any children at all not even a daughter but I’m just brimming with life I can run around really fast and hop about and I don’t get tired too quick and the doctor chanted I was really brave. And when revered Khràkhoi was done with me, actually I was so smart that I was telling him what to do, and I was finding all the right books and scrolls for him and he’s just a dumb cluck next to me, he told me to return to the harem and eat lots of kumquats and candy and that I was the prettiest girl at the dance and obviously Puey loves me the best. Hoofy! So now I’m going to take it easy for a few days while Siêthiyal makes a mess of everything in the harem. I have such cute little freckles. Singing beep beep beep all day! I’m as fit as a mermaid!
Now Puey is cleaning his weapons and listening to the messengers as they run up to him and beg their excuses and tell him about how they can’t find Abbá anywhere and the messengers are trying to tell us all about the situation among the various war clans, but they’re all kinda dumb so I have to help them out. It seems that the War Clans what survived are all quite desparate since the Qhíng have ruined our land and the Emperor has poisoned it and withdrawn his love and Winter is coming and destroying all things, my capesturs, and me having been saying this for a long time. Do you know just what Qhixiêje the Winter Eternal is doing? Well, I’ll told you. Listen up. Sniff. Qhixiêje is causing the following things to be:
1. Ugly beetles
2. Xixhaxikhaxhraxókhertqeqastitusqoiqhiefhukapujurakayokhójokeplikafhojifhrerqhojhepurfhejhepielajhepekheujhakhneuthafhiisafhapatlhaqhesixhwasqokhnèxhre, tio estas, chronic hiccoughs or coughs
4. Yucky vegetables and no desert
5. Cominal nano-illness
6. Dirty trees
8. Have you noticed that some of the Elders have ears in their hairs, I mean hairs in their ears, and the Elders are talking and you have to be utterly still and not squirm or move or do anything but the whole time you can’t but look at their ears and say, That’s just totally gross they have hair in their ears that’s disgusticating! Yeah, Winter Eternal is making ear hairs.
9. Pwumpaîkhe ice-hornets
10. Droughts and floods
12. Khmùsqit gadflies
13. The color orange. What a weird color.
15. One mean older Sister who is probably tormenting the Princess at this very moment. Now I’m telling you, none of these halfbaked embesills would have existed at all without Winter Eternal. Now these are the factoids of the situation. And Puey’s kittens are smarter than all of them put together. Oh I almost forgot.
16. Mutants. Yep, they come from winter also.
Why the only honest and forthright and trustworth person that we have at all in our camp and worthy to replace revered Kàrijoi is Puey himself because he’s the best and he’s not itchy at all. Now are there anybodies who can dare argue about this,huh? Puey is just all the best and few sniffs and puts. And now you have the full story. Well I suppose there are other trustworth persons in our camp I mean someone our own age and worthy to be the Crown Prince. Does anyone know what happened to Khrùkhtii? He is okay. Sure, Siêhtiyal, he reminds me a bit of Puey, a straight arrow, but not really the protective warrior type chap. But the big problem it seems is that the Winter Eternal is only the sympton of a much greater problem, the utter negligence and apathy which the parents of our generation and grandparents have permitted upon the Land. It’s almost as if before the Great War, just as the last of us were being born, that they just threw up their hands and gave up. When the Empress died, their hearts died also, and they cannot at all be awakened from the horrors of the nightmares that prisom them. Doesn’t surprise me noe. Why should it surprise anyone of our generation, huh? The mentors have failed, the let the Empress die, and so they can barely even look upon their own children, they hain’t got a cluew what they hain’t doing right. The Elders seem more concerned with the wars of the Qhíng and the Aûm and whatever machinations were coming out of Khnìntha than they were to the welfare of their offspring. Nuthery thang or two, if most peoples have belief in the Prophet in fairness in honoring the Ancestors and love the Winter Imperium and pay their tithes and bow towards Noble and Warrior and try to live decently, if all the above peoples really believe in the Emperor and all that, why were they so eager to begin this War which none of us can hope to win? Puey’s doing his best, he’s the only candle we have alit in the blizzard, and we’re all huddled about him and rubbing our hands, but already I can feel the dragons crawling outwards untowards us and all manner of monster and spirit approaching.
Why this reminds me of the time when Siêthiyal was kissing all of her mutant sweethearts in the temple balloon of the Duchesses and
Siêthiyal kicked the chair aside and shoving aside the soubrettes before her dashed to the fire and tossed the essay within and cried out – I shall teach Karuláta the meaning of pain such as she has never experienced before, I don’t know how she manages to do this, but she always just seems to find a way to bother me and she won’t relent at all until I’ve tied her up and dunked her into a pool of water or slapped her around or the time I tied her to a post in the back fields and left her there all day until she promised not to make fun of me any longer, she’s just asking for the worst type of beating, I don’t care whose Concubine she claims to be, she was my little Sister first and if I have to reäquaint her with knuckle and fist and pain and … – Siêthiyal looked up and saw that Princess Éfhelìnye was trying to slip down from her chair. – And what do you think you’re doing, Éfhelìnye? Get back there! –
– I don’t feel very well – the Princess chanted. – My stomache tastes like blood. –
– Too bad, it’s good to suffer. Now stay. We’re going to hear an essay from a worthy handmaiden next, someone who should become one of Puey’s wives. –
Éfhelìnye wiped some tears of blood from her face and chanted – I thought we had agreed that Karuláta would be the only one who would be permitted the title of Puey’s Concubine. The rest of these handmaidens here can remain as maidens in the household, but certainly not as wives. –
– I made no such agreement – Siêthiyal chanted as she dusted off her hands, and the handmaidens were fluttering about her. – And what exactly do you mean ‘title of Puey’s Concubine,’ especially since Kàrula is Puey’s wife, or at least she will be as soon as he becomes the Emperor. I don’t want you to be thinking of any clever way to keep her from not being his wife, that’s just completely crazy, who knows what sort of proposed legaslation you have mind here. Handmaids, you all agree with me right? They’re the harmony section of my little hula quire. You all want to serve the Empress and be my personal slaves and bring honor to your respective clans, right? –
The handmaids were looking one to another in confusement and not a little fear, for they had not quite been prepared when they were given unto the Crown Prince to find themselves in the clutches of a sickly future Empress and a rather eccentric Sister who was bossing everyone around. Asiréma decided to speak for the group since Puîyus had chosen her among all the group with his own hand, and she chanted – We all long to serve the Crown Prince Puîyos and all those of his family. –
– Of course you do – chanted Siêthiyal, and hopping back unto the table she chanted – And all of you do wish to become his wives, don’t you? –
– Yes, holy and regal Siêthiyal – the hundred virgins were saying.
– Good because I’m sure the only Jaràqtun virgins, who are not related to Puîyos by blood who do not wish to be one of his lesser wives are surely all imposters of some sort, dead, ugly, clockwork pagan, from pathetic little dishonored clans, or perhaps clanless fatherless orphans, slaves and thieves and robbers and killers and gansters and mob members and toothless little nincompoops who are ugly and such! Not at all like this fine harem that we have aseembled before us now, isn’t that right? –
– May I go lie down now? – asked Princess Éfhelìnye.
– Are you still talking? – asked Siêthiyal. – I thought you were feasting upon this glorious banquet which the handmaidens prepared for you.. It’s important that the mothers of your husband’s children be good cooks, just think of how many children they’ll have to feed. Now if each of these maidens bares Puey three children … –
– I really need to lie down – chanted the Princess.
Siêthiyal was pacing back and forth and saying – Now let’s get this straight with the factoids. First of all, I keep track of all of my various schemes and plans and I must say that they are pretty much the only things holding our family together, why just look at this fabulous fortress and all the ancillæ ready to serve us. My plans are far better than yours, Éfhelìnye, you ask help with your new lexicon all the time. Do you e'er get a response? No, no, no. Not nary a pronoun. But I keep a running togal of all my incoming plans and my outgowing parables, and so far I’ve been the one looking after Kàrula and keeping you from wandering away all the time. Of course my schemes are not perfect, how and where have I failed to enscounce the potency of the situation on hand and to provoke and amend the sniffness of the problem? Ah, as the Prophet Khniikhèrkhmair once chanted, I don’t know why that is. I now know just what he meant. –
Siêthiyal grabbed a plate of pie and sate down at the edge of a tripod and contemplated just how she would boss and direct and torment the capestures. – There are so many uses for an harem of maidens, Princess, I just don’t think you understand the possibilities of it. These maidens can help me find toys, repair said toys, repaint and regloss and regulate said toys, they can polish all the beads and glass and feathers, they can fix the spokes of a unicycle they can kick hind-ends with either feet, they can work in the garden and trim bushes and weeds, I can send them into a crowd and them to swipe jewels and rings for me, I can teach them to juggle and how to collect milk from the flowers, at least back when we had some, and we can play card games and we can climb up into trees and throw acorns and smote old Elders at the back of their heads. Princess, in truth, have you considered any of these possibilities at all? We can send the handmaidens unto the rivages for to collect shells and sandycrabs. And we can get the handmaidens to do all our chores, oh Princess, then we’ll have to do diddly-squat, and diddly-squat is even less than nothing. Now, stop sitting there and being so miserable, we’re going to listen to one more essay, and then I’m sure you’ll be convinced that at least some of these maidens are worthy wives for Puey and deserve to be my slaves for all time. Ah, this looks like a nice essay? I’ll read it. And you’d better stop crying there! Ahem. Let’s begin.
Why I’ve always wished to be one of Puey’s wives for as long as I can remember. I can’t remember the beginning of my remember because I was very young them but when I started remembering to remember I remember that the Elders always made sure that I wore a pink ring upon my tqiês they used to tell me that it was my betrothal finger although I didn’t understand why at that the time I just knew that it was a special finger and that I had to wear the ring there. Your Mother wanted you to wear this ring, so you must never take it off, Auntie used to tell me. Honored Khwofheîlya wanted me to wear this cold ring? I used to ask. Yes, and your birth Mother Khmaryáta also, for it was her dying wish. You will thus do honor unto the spirits of your birth parents and unto all of the Sweqhàngqu, for you were taken in even as a newly born and fostered into an aristocratic clan and clothed and fed and given an illustrious name and a Father’s protection. And in time you shall be one of Puîyus’ brides and a mother unto his children, you shall be a Matron of the Sweqhàngqu. These were the types of words that I have been hearing all my life.
I remember when I was very little and Auntie dressed me in a little party dress of white and blue and wove flowers into my hair and plaited my tresses and spent so much time fussing o'er me. I was tiny, I barely even knew how to talk, but I remember the adults just towering high above me. The Elders were always sitting upon the daises, I cannot even possibly imagine their not sitting in their chairs of honor, and in their long and fluent robes, and their beards whisping in the winds, some of the Elders were taking up masques of the Ancestors and setting them upon their faces, others were wearing the most elaborate of headdresses resplendent in feathers and ribbons and colors. The Fathers and were moving some of the statues and the Mothers were adorning them with robes that were ywoven for just this very day, so that all of the Ancestors may be present. Auntie clasped her large hand in mine and I leaned against her half walking and half stumbling as they took us to the great Pfhóla tree. When I close mine eyen I can still remember the trees as they were when I was very tiny, the trees had a certain music to them as they swayed from side to side, and I kept running away from Auntie Qtìmine and I ran to a great pfhóla tree and hugged it and kissed it many times, and she or one of the matrons kept having to pull me away. I don’t know whether I can explain to you how I feel about such trees, oh Princess Éfhelìnye. I wellremember the trees that beheld I in the Forbidden Gardens, I remember the floating trees and the masses of branches and leaves and bowers and rownsepyk and petals rising upwards unto all of the marvelous whispering mountains within the dragonshrowded gardens, I remember the smell of those trees and the texture of root and branch, but the Trees of Jaràqtu I can assure you are very different. The Forbidden Gardens were something strange and wild which the thrice-honored Emperor planted deep within the imagination of his heart, they were part of some selcouth sweven of gardens and streams of milk and honey and plantimals which were all female, for nothing male at all could grow within the Gardens, but the trees of Jaràqtu were ancient and had come marching up the hills upon their own accord, the trees had grown within the whispering mountains and about the aonach and creag and before the plains and the vast ice quags and all about the luich when the first generations of the Patriarchs and the Woad Folk and the Shield Maidens had come unto this coralline land, the trees were their own nation of sorts and watched as the Shield Maidens and the Woad Folk and the Patriarchs became Ancestors and their children became the children of Jaràqtu, and the forests migrated from field to field, and sometimes one prairie became battleland and othertimes it became swamp and sometimes Khùntrat the Blight where Monsters dwellen, and one warrior clan after another arose and fell and the dreamlands were partitioned unto plantations and descent were born throughout the hundreds of thousands of years. And such were the trees that wree growing and turning and gazing upon me in my littleness as all of the Fathers and Mothers were making the statues ready and the Elders were waiting, and Auntie Qtìmine was running after me and yanking me from a branch and trying to keep me from spoiling my party trees. She had to carry me up unto Pfhonyíta the Holly Hills deep within the Sweqhàngqu dreamlands, the cnuic were brimming with Jheîkhpu holly-trees, tall and fantastic hollies such as are famous for growing upon Sweqhàngqu land, or at least our Jheîkhpu used to be breme unto all of our land was destroyed and scorched and undone. Do you like the Pfhóla trees, oh Princess Éfhelìnye? I imagine you had never seen a Pfhólaxing until this day, for none grow within the Forbidden Gardens, the Pfhóla is a tree like the golden karuláta flower or the sweetsmelling samájhi or the pinkbrimming siêthiyal blossom, it is a plantimal which can only thrive in its natal soil and when tended by the hand of a child of this land. The many xhajhyaPfhóla were almost dancing upon the hills that day, I remember reaching out and touching the bark, actually I did far more than that, I grabbed a branch and started gnawing on it and Qtìmine had to smack me around a bit to make me stop lest I anger the Elders. But the Elders were seldom angry with me long. Auntie straightened up my bows and trees and tried to empretty me up again. The Elders were waiting, and behind them the Pfhóla trees were reaching outwards and were like unto the shadow of Sànum the Tree of Light which had once linked together all the billion, billion worlds back when the Dreamtime was young, the Land of Story. And before the tree lay a field all of golden and red flowers. Puey was standing, he was young also, but he at least knew how to stand still without fidgeting. He was dressed in bright crimson and black robes such as were befitting the heir of a great clan, the ptairèltu pyairèletlhu susyaîngqa khnafhilaîngpe ènteron saiyanoînga hæres. Roses were woven in his hair just as Abbá Íngìkhmar used to wear in battle. And although he was standing still and obedient, one could see a bit of movement about him, for he was feeding a few stray birdlings with his hand, and every few moments a lampkin was lifting up its head from his robes where he hid it and it licked his face and he kissed it, but Puey was careful to hide the lamb whenever the Elders were looking. Fhermáta was standing beside him, she also wasn’t fidgeting too much. She was dressed in a bright green dress which her sickly grandfather Fhànwos had given unto her, a fine and imported garment. Auntie brought me up unto the tree. And the Pfhóla tree was in bloom. Blossoms began to fall about us in a gentle rainfall, sparkles of pinks and golds and bright kelly greens. The Suns were shining, they were aig beaming high within the welkin. The Fathers and the Mothers finished adorning the statues. The Ancestors were ready for us.
And I remember, even though I was very little, the sound of bells and gongs ringing. A procession was arising from the base of the pfhonyíta the holly hills of the Sweqhàngqu, and I remember the sound especial because it startled me and made me yelp. It was no longer clutching Auntie’s hand, I was supposed to be standing still behind Puey and Fhérma, but the sound was too much for me. Fhermáta turned and gave me an angry look. I stuck out my tounge at her. Puey however just lifted up his hand, and for some reason Fhermáta became unangry with me. Puey put his finger to his lip and winked to me, and I understood that he was going to share a secret with me. He opened up his robe a little and revealed the lambkin he had smuggled within him, and he winked to me as if to tell me that if I remembered very quiet than he’d let me play with the cade khnèpla. I started giggling, but he motioned me to silence. The procession was coming. Some priests were striking large and frightening gongs. At the head of the procession was come Grandmother Tàltiin, she was wearing a large masque that was flowing with the ribbons and runes of the Sweqhàngqu, a staff she carried in one hand and it was dripping down with many joyful fhaqinùpfha tintinnabula, it was as if she were all of the Sweqhàngqu themselves walking upwards, and when I grew older I realized that it was quite an honor for such a respected widow as herself to be leaving the Abby. The bells were ringing, some acolytes were swinging their thuribles and scenting all things. The Elders were burning sacred leaves. The procession came forwards beneath the large and beautiful Pfhóla trees high within the hills, and the masques and bells and incense and statues were all becoming as one in my small childish understanding. I wondered when I could run out and play some more, perhaps I could find some new trees to climb, and didn’t Puey just promise me a new lamb for petting and playing? The procession came to an end. Grandmother Tàltiin came unto us in the shade of the tree. She walked up unto Fhermáta and took her hand and place it into Puey’s. I don’t remember what Fhermáta then chanted aloud, it had to be very simple because we were so young, but she promised to be a good khnernèpwoi, a good first wife to Puey. Then Grandma took my hand and took me into the shade of the tree and set it into Puey’s. I think she told me just to say, I love you too, Puey, but whatever it was I just shouted as loud as I could. The Elders were impressed and the ritual was done. I’m sure I was wearing the betrothal ring, if I can remember I was surely old enough to be wearing it, but I am certain that it was not too long after when Auntie told us that we could change from our formal clothing and play for a time. Fhermáta’s dress was so fine and expensive that Eirènwa had to undress her and take the pieces off. I tried to undress in the yard, but Auntie whisked me away inside and stuffed me into some play clothes. Somehow Siêthiyal had already managed to steel the lambkin from Puey and was chasing after it and trying to ride it and getting thrown from it and laughing all the while. Puey helped me into the pfhóla tree and we all started climbing up higher until it was time for cake and presents. I was too young to understand that today was Puey and Fhermáta’s Starday, I just assumed that all the presents and cake were for me.
And in the passing years the ritual was repeated, but it grew more elaborate as we grew older and wiser in understanding. In the coming tides I realized that a Starday does not occur very often, it is a precious event, that day when the heavens align again as they did for one’s birth, and surely it is a day worthy of song and celebration. And as I grew older again and again we came up unto the trees and Fhermáta promised to be a good khnernèpwoi and I promised to be a good altèrtraikh, and usually Puey managed to smuggle some adorable plantimal with him, and sometimes he let me play with it, and sometimes we ran about the trees, but always Puey helped me into the pfhóla trees. And last year, before Grandmother Tàltiin started growing ill, before any hint or rumor of war was breathed in the garden air of Jaràqtu, when Puey helped me up into the pfhóla tree after our ritual and before it was time for cake and presents, Puey squeezed my hand in order to told me that when we were grown up that he would give me as many Pfhóla trees as I wanted, and that some of the Pfhóla would grow from seeds that he would plant with his own hands, and others would be saplings which he would carry with him from all of the far reaches of Jaràqtu and others would be fullgrown Pfhóla patriarchs whom he would charm with his own voice and send bowing and nodding and dancing before me for my pleasure, for nothing would he deny me, my Puey, the last of the Sweqhàngqu, and the one who shall be the new Emperor of all the Land.
Siêthiyal folded up the essay and chanted – At least if she’s going to smuggle some of her writing she has the decency to add one that was actually worthy of being read. This one actually made sense rather than rambling about unto the tune of some strange windswept music. –
Princess Éfhelìnye was rubbing her brow and still felt altogether dizzy. She had done her best to listen to the words of the monographic enchiridion, but she had been unable to focus upon the words and just had to listen to them as music and imagine the hollies and the pfhóla and the ringing of the bells and the smell of the incense for herself. She could see that Siêthiyal was grinning a little and about to put the sìmul aside, and looking up a little the Princess chanted – There appear to be a few words upon the back and writ in Kàrul’s dancing and blue hand, perhaps they are a thingoîxe coilliuch or a pfhòxha reason or a qlúte conclusion. –
Siêthiyal turned the paper around and chanted – Let’s see what we have here. Ah! My Sister Siêthiyal is a big ugly meany who will never be betrothed beneath the Tree not even if Puey has to start a war and drag some hapless fool kicking and screaming to you because you are so mean and … I’m afraid she hasn’t written anything at all on this side – Siêthiyal smiled, and she crumbled up the paper and tossed it o'er her shoulder, and all of the words came snaking and swiveling and falling out of the paper and sprang aside and fluttered free and bright into the air. She looked around and chanted – Have we heard enough essays? I don’t suppose any of the rest of you have anything worthy of reading, and if any of you dare to insult me in your writing, I’ll punch you right in the nose! Then we’ll see how much my Brother likes you! Oh what a lovely situation that will be, Salutations Brother here’s a new handmaiden for you, I’m afraid she has a broken nose because she’s very naughty. Princess, stop being all woozy dizzy there, just sit still. What do the rest of you want now? –
Asiréma was lifting up her hand and bowing and saying – If it please you, oh Imperial Sister, I have an essay that I would like to read aloud. –
– Hmm … – Siêthiyal was saying as she played with her pink tresses. – I suppose I could be qlalasoîma’ akhaléna, the Royal and Imperious Sister, that sounds like a good title to have. But one does digress. Oh go and read your paltry little drivel, I sure it can’t possibly be worse than anything that my idiot little Sister wrote. Éfha! If you faint on me, I’m going to leave you there in the chair, and I’m sure it won’t be very comfortable at all. If your flesh weren’t so holy I’d give you such a thumping, I just may. You! Whatsyourface! Read something! Or I’ll have you coated in honey and sent running through the squid bear infested forest. Or I’ll have you all dropped in the loch to search for sandcrabs for me. Or I’ll have you all of you look after the Traîkhiim and a certain vexatious couple, and trust me, there’s no task in the harem quite as bothersome as looking after the Triîm. No, go and read before I start inventing idle threats! –
Asiréma among the Poriêrii drew out a sheet of paper and began reading in this fashion:
The Lament of the Poriêrii
My Foster Parents tell me that if I had been born not of Jaràqtu but of one of the outer nations, perhaps in the long hills of Khàtsar or in the forest villages of Khúpel or even in the enlightened east of Khniîkha that I would have been sold soon after birth unto a Concubinage House to be trained in the arts of music and dancing and cooking and conversation, and when I came of age I would have been sold to a Prince and made a part of his household, and I would have found honor therein and bore him children. My Foster Parents tell me that if I had been born just a couple of generations ago then soon after my birth the Elders would have tried to foster me into another clan so that the Poriêrii may in time reap the benefits of alliance and marriage, that perhaps I would have been honored to be brought up among a family of aristocrats and even grown up with my future husband and called his Older Brother until the time came for our yoking in betrothal, but alas in the last few generations Jaràqtu has become very poor in children, entire branches and helices of our family have withered away, and with the death of so many scions more and more sky iron fortresses lie untended, derelict, and emptied of life. My Foster Parents tell me that if I had been born even a generation or two ago, even if I had many older Sisters who were more valuable in terms of being given in marriage, I might have had a chance of catching the eye of a dashing young hero by becoming a tsetseilwejhepaîpa, a temple dancer before the steaming altars of mist and incense, but those days are long ago, and with the death of the Virgin Empress and the long defeat in victory of the Great War that ended with her, Jaràqtu has not witnessed any lissome maidens dancing about the temples or even wishing to remember such dances, but have fallen silent in ritual mourning. In olden times, so my Foster Parents tell me, the Poriêrii might not have been so concerned with having too many Daughters, for that just gave them more leverage in negotiating contracts of betrothal and marriage unto the other families, but even the Sons are dwindling and now that no children can be born the end of the Poriêrii is coming. And so the Elders have withdrawn themselves into shadows and bowed their heads, and they painted their sand paintings before the statues of the Ancestors and find little solace therein, and are barely able to look up and witness the events of the outer worlds. And so sometimes I wish I had been born a generation ago, or many generations ago, or even in a distal and alien land, for at least then the Elders would have known what to do with their Daughters and how to find families for them. But as it is, all they can do now is meditate and dwindle and die and wait for the honored Emperor’s Extinction to come unto us all.
Only a few times in my life have I had the opportunity to see a young swain of a Clan not allied unto the most illustrious Poriêrii. Usually all that I knew of other clans, or at least thought that I knew, came of stories, thrice-told among my older Sisters and Cousins and the Matrons and the Elders themselves. The Qwoâng and the Tlhaxoîyer I knew a little from their vast raths here within the sky whispering mountains, but sometimes I would hear of how strong the Jiîkh were and how cunning were the Khàmlei, and the Khlakhiîxha were loyal and the Khlòrfha were lovely as their hight implied, and the Khnapòmpal and the Khnàtlham had beautiful golden tressed daughters, and the Taôfha were pious, and the Saûqyufha were great farmers, and the Khwatèstan were as mighty and stubborn as stones, and the Tásel builded tremendous fortresses high in the trees of their forests, and the Khatelèstan were altogether eccentric and fiercely leal unto their neighbors, the most enigmatic Sweqhàngqu. And I used to ask my nurses about who these Sweqhàngqu were, for no matter what story I heard about another warrior clan, someone would add, The warrior slaughtered a thousand men, but if he had been honored Íngìkhmar it would have been ten thousand, or, In the days of the Great Peace, when Emperor Kàrijoi caused all things to bloom, and Sieur Íngìkhmar scourged the land of the dishonorable, or, The Sweqhàngqu and their beautiful child whose face is like that of the Temple Dancer of long ago, or The Sweqhàngqu and their dæmon child who can charm the very beasts and cause the trees to uproot themselves and bend themselves into geometric patterns for his pleasure, or The Sweqhàngqu and their miracle child who slew a dragon when he was but three winters of age, and who was armed as a warrior at seven winters, and who is destined for great glory. And so I would inquire of my older Sisters and my nursemaids as to who these Sweqhàngqu truly were. Was honored Íngìkhmar truly such a great hero? Did he really serve the Emperor himself, was he really knighted by the Empress’ own moonmilkwhite hand? And who is this Son of his, why do some liken him unto a guardian Khrìqanai spirit and others unto a Monster, and does he really speak unto flower and tree and dinosaur and all living thing? How is it possible for a Mortal person not to talk, one who is illoquent is not Mortal, and how is it possible that he will escape being burnt alive when he comes of age for the Uxèmatiit? But the nursemaids did not know and my Sisters could only giggle and sigh, and the Elders would only tell me, Sly Íngìkhmar has already won the race to the betrothal, or rather the Khatelèstan and the Tásel gave their daughters unto Íngìkhmar so as to fuse their families together. Ah but how can we expect otherwise? The eccentric clans, heteroclite, should remain together, perhaps that is right. The Otòrfhexes were a rather odd people, their plantation was fantastic in its produce of grain, the sages of the whispering mountains came to dwell with Khangisqrírles and gifted him weapons of marvelous make, and his Daughters were as beautiful as princesses of the second caste, and yet although old Khangisqrírles could have bartered with the most powerful of the war clans, although he could have wielded unto himself a super-alliance in marrying off both of his daughters unto the very best of us, one daughter he came unto Jàkopar to be bride to his son, and the other he gave to the Emperor to be a vestal virgin, and old Khangisqrírles was content to plant his flowers upon Cnoc a’ Chléirich, and go hunting after fantabulous lwúnìqte beasts rather than forcing the strong clans to bend to his will. The Elders tried to explain to me that Khangisqrírles’ plantation was so powerful and his daughters were so beautiful that if he had willed it and married them off unto a couple of the mountain clans, han Khangisqrírles would have been like unto the King of all of Jaràqtu and been able to weild such power through his grandchildren that no alliance of clans would e'er be possible enough to stop him. Never has Jaràqtu had a king, all of our families retain their own rights and strength by the arms of our fathers and brothers and sons, but Khangisqrírles could have been Master of all this Land if he had been wiser in marrying off his daughters. Perhaps you are too young to understand just how silly old Khangisqrírles was, in giving away one of his daughters to the priesthood, and the other one, the pretty dancer he gave to Íngìkhmar who despite all of his glories and honors in serving the Emperor still hailed from a dying clan without any other brothers at all. What sort of household could Khwofheîlya have expected, she who could have been as a queen if she had been wed unto one of the sons of the Poriêrii? But we remember it well, in the days before Tsanyuxòpwe the Great War la der des der, that Khangisqrírles and what Elders were left unto his family that he intended to give his Daughter to a dying Clan. She already has her heart set on him, what else could I do? He was surely mad. So let the Khatelèstan and the Tásel send their daughters unto such a mad group of people, those two Clans are barely any better, the Tásel dwell in their long and wandering forests and swing around in their branches, why some say that the Tásel are all descended of sky pirates anyway, what a strange group of families, and the Khatelèstan are a child people, they weave their silk and make their desserts and in general bother the rest of us. Yes, let all the odd people stay with the Sweqhàngqu and mingle into their strain, we shall have none of that, we are a mountain and sensible people.
I knew of course that the Elders meant it nothing at all, for they were far too interested in Íngìkhmar’s Son and were zealous of any information they could obtain upon him, and it is well known that the Poriêrii themselves, glorious and daring and strong, are also a bit of an eccentric people high within our sky hills and ancient tòrrs and long and winding goldhalls. Many a time I would be drawing water at the well or weaving with my Sisters and I would hear that the Matrons and the Elders were speaking, and I heard about how young Master Puîyos had been staying high in the whispering mountains with some young warriors in training and some acolytes and come across some bandits and he slew them terribly and took their heads as prizes, or that Puîyos was seen racing through the badlands with dinosaurs and terror birds running unto either side of him, and heat and cold and fire did not affect him, or how Grandfather Pátifhar had taken the young lad out unto the Eyot of Apples and was teaching him the mysteries of impaling spear and māccuahuitl and sword, and I heard of how protective Puîyos was of the women in his family and how sometimes young men who came to visit the Khatelèstan while Puîyos and his Sisters were dwelling with them, how sometimes these young men just disappeared and all were afraid to inquire, and we heard about how he was growing up to be mighty and strong and fierce in battle. And although I had some elevens of foster brothers among the Poriêrii and more kith within the Qwoâng and the Tlhaxoîyer, many times I heard the Elders whispering one to another and say, How we wish we had Íngìkhmar’s Son as Heir unto our family, for then we would be the grandparents of heroes, just as Khangisqrírles should have been.
By chance I only saw Puîyos a few times before this day. Once I was with my Sisters and visiting with the Jhèngqekh and the Xhlaûxher and looking at the curiosities that they had brought along with them from distal and windswept nations, and by happenstance we managed to slide into the room in the midst of the statues and unidentifiable mummies and strange wonders and Puîyos arose from the sepulchral dust. Another time I saw him in the zócolo, my Sisters and I were supposed to be gathering some spices and herbs, and we were wandering around a little, and I came into the shade of the trees and found Puîyos sitting upon the roots and petting a stray peacock that was come wandering up untowards him, and was pruning its feathers and opening up its wings and chirming a little. Puîyus and I did not speak, for I knew that I was not supposed to talk to a strange young man of another clan, and he never spoke at all, but I could see in his winedark eyen that he was no Monster and certainly no Dæmon at all, he was a creature for which we have no word at all, something gentler and stronger and fiercer than anything that the warrior elders of my land could have imagined. The elders of my family, I do not know whether they saw my encounter with Puîyos that day. They might have seen that some of my Sisters were trying to attract the attention of some of the other young men at the market, for this communication was all brought to an end when the Elders had all those young men crucified last night. I do not know whether Puîyus remembered seeing me when in latter days bandits came raiding through the whispering mountains and I was captured by the Xhwìtwa rock creatures and taken out of Jaràqtu for the only time in my life, and I ended up deep within the ruins and cenotaphs of Syapàkhya where Puîyos came for me and fought down the petrescent Xhwìtwa and rescued me and brought me home. I do know that it was eft after I had been rescued, after Puîyos and his family returned from the tintinabulous Holy City and the first rumors of war were come from Solúma that the Elders were beginning to fear for the continuation of Jaràqtu and the Poriêrii and they asked honored Íngìkhmar whether I could be given unto Puîyos as a Concubine. But by then Íngìkhmar was already preparing for battle against the Qhíng, and the Elders were unable to start the invasion and occupation, and all of our dreams for a future were being dashed away. And as the Qhíng began to boil away our lochs, and as the Elders sent out their grandsons to die in glorious battle, and we set up bone fires and began scorching our own plantations rather than let them fall into the tendrils of the Kèlor Masters, we knew that the end was come unto all things unless a new Prince should arise within the Land.
And so it is that I would beg Puîyos to take me as a Concubine even of little standing so that I may give homage unto mine Elders and honor unto the Clan that has nurtured and fed me even though my parents were dead in early days of the Great War. I would beg Puîyos who has already shown munificence and mercy upon me before that he would at least show his face unto me and permit me to serve him and the future Empress. And when I lie down to rest and sleep and dream, I shall dream that the time is just a generation or two ago and that mine older Sisters are already given in marriage and that I am a tsetseilwejhepaîpa temple dancer and that Puîyos is a young warrior of recent returned from the Holy City and perhaps my dance shall please him. And when I sleep, I shall dream that the tide is just a few generatios ago and that soon after my birth the Elders had taken me from the Poriêrii and fostered me into the Sweqhàngqu and that I had grown up among the aristocrats and Puîyos had been called mine Older Brother until the time of our yoking in betrothal, and that neither the Poriêrii nor the Sweqhàngqu should be withering away, our rathers empty and derelict and unloved. And when I shall sleep, I dream that the time is many generations ago and that I was born not of Jaràqtu but of the outer nations mayhap in the windende hills of Khàtsar or in the forest villages of Khúpel or even in the empyreal east of Khniîkha and that after birth I had been sold unto a Concubinage House and there I had learned skilled conversation and cooking and grace and dancing and music, and when I came of age a Crown Prince came for me and purchased me and made me part of his household, and I did honor unto Cælestial Crown Prince Puîyos unto all the end of my days.
– Now that’s an essay – chanted Siêthiyal. Asiréma was bowing and sitting down, and even as she finished reading words were arising and fluttering up from the page and were swarming about her head. Siêhtiyal clapped her hands and chanted – Would that all of the essays were so good. Ah, what am I clattering, I think all of the essays were good, even Kàrula’s driveling. So far I’m awarding all of the essays an Eleven, and I shall recommend unto Puey that he should take all of these maids unto wife. –
Asiréma smiled and the rest of the soubrettes continued to arise and flutter about her. Éfhelìnye was swaying from side to side and was on the verge of falling out of her chair, but without even looking upwards Siêthiyal steadied her upwards and chanted – Why, no time for fainting now. – She was drawing out a tape ruler and saying – Oh, now it’s time to measure their white necks and the curve of their ankles too. Everyone knows one can tell a woman’s beauty by her white ankles. – Siêthiyal was hopping up upon the table but she paused for a moment to yank of one of Éfhelìnye’s ballet slippers and to regard her ankle with a quizzical look. – Ah, your ankles are rather spindly though. You’ll be lucky to bare a daughter or two. Asiréma, let me measure your feet! –
– As you wish, Imperious Sister – Asiréma among the Poriêrii chanted nodding.
Siêthiyal was tossing away the wooden shoe and measure Asiréma’s ankle and saying – But look at how lithe, how beautiful, how feminine her ankles are. She shall bare many Sons indeed. Are you taking notes, Princess? If you are not, rest assured that I have been keeping notes copious. – Siêthiyal drew out several sheets and Éfhelìnye could see that they were covered in scheming runes. – Ah ah ah, ankles, hair, eyen, I think you’d be a suitable present for my Puey. Asiréma, I award you an Eleven. In fact, I think that all of these maidens are an Eleven. –
Princess Éfhelìnye tumbled out of her chair in concern and faint and shock. Siêthiyal was trying to ignore her, and as the rest of the handmaidens continued to flicker about her, she muttered unto herself, as she measured ankle after ankle and chanted – She really is sickly, isn’t she, the divine Princess Éfhelìnye? – And the ancillæ were all nodding in agreement.
Princess Éfhelìnye staggered unto her feet, and yet for her even falling and staggering was all graceful and balletic and poised. She spun about her chair and chanted – I believe now would be an apropos time for me to express myself in a soliloquy. –
– Go ahead and soliloquise all you want, Princess – sighed Siêthiyal as she measured the neck of another handmaiden. – But don’t expect the rest of us to listen. –
The only hope I have left is Puey. II can’t help but feel that everything is falling apart no matter how hard we cling unto each other and forge a new family of ourselves, but the fact remains that Winter is devouring all things, and even those who were once natal unto Jaràqtu are finding themselves aliens. We do not know what horrors will come arising out of the seas of shadows that loom throughout all of the Sqasqáli, all that we know for certain is that my Father is coming, vast and ancient and merciless and dread and Winter Extinction is his cape and wake. The Elders are unable to point us upon the path which we must take. Khiêro of Old is somewhere fighting along with the Khlitsaîyart fleets. The Duchesses are gone. The Chieftains of the Whispering mountains are planning something, though I know not what. Grandfather Pátifhar is gone, and Abbá Íngìkhmar is missing. Those two perhaps I understand the least, even though I grew up with Grandfather Pátifhar, and he was permitted to visit me even in the Forbidden Gardens that were. Does Grandfather Pátifhar struggle with any inner conflict, does he e'er feel shame? Does Abbá Íngìkhmar, laconic and stern, does he feel as hopeless as the Chieftains of the Poriêrii? Does Abbá Íngìkhmar e'er feel guilt about all the deaths he caused, the battlefields he left broken and bleeding, entire families that he slew and executed, young men whom he nailed alive to wall and tree, viceroy kings whom he slaughtered just for singing my Mother’s music. Is my Father even capable of feeling anything at all? Or is he just void? I could never answer for him. Only Puey inspires hope in me.
I must admit that Karuláta’s doubts about the Elders frighten me, for one is not permitted to question the Elders or Parents of the Land, and yet one cannot help but see that they did not prepare their children very well and were a little too eager to begin this War. Everyday we children are fed honor and moralty and commandments and filial piety, we feast upon the Holy Writ and prayers are our banquet, and yet one would think that that we would then live in quite a just Land and all stories would end up with happy endings, but despite Puey’s victory o'er Prince Kherènxhuqhe, the Dragons will return again, and Jaràqtu is dying if not already dead. Perhaps the Noble Caste intended to remain noble and honorable unto the end, but as it happened they were the ones who helped the Khnìnthans in their initial invasion, and moreoever the Gentry were unable to stop the Qhíng and Aûm from following one upon the other in war. Perhaps outside of the warrior clans and aristrocratic families of the Dreamtime there are many tribes that bend the rules of honor as one would pluck the string of an harp and let it wibble wobble. Perhaps the lower in estate a family is, the less honorable in behavior it becomes, and the rules become suggestions and guides and sayings and thoughts. Oh, but I exaggerate to think so, and yet the tnoaqteûpa slaves were all giggles and smiles and are very relaxed in their dance and speech and interactions with one another and those of higher status, and they appear to have little fear of saying something that others would dare not say or even of holding a ferocious and primal cannabilistic feast for the Crown Prince of all the Land. I do find Traîkhiiman ballet very interesting, especially when the Triîm are not actively engaged in gobbling each other up, and later I would love to spend more time delving into it, I remember when I first met Fhólus and he or she was bouncing about me and trying to show me all of the positions, and I was just completely overwhelmed with seeing such a small and alien creature that at first I did not know how to respond and could not think about how movement and rhythm and balance must work for them. I wonder whether I’ll e'er get any more wind up toys like the Khniqhátui twins. I love the way they used to spin about and dance for me, their voices were so high pitched, so effeminate and childish and unpredictable. I suppose even wind up toys are victims to the War into which all the Elders have thrust us, or at least permitted us to be thrust. It does not seem like there are too many options at all left unto us children at all, one has no choice but to stand up and fight against monster and dragon, and yet the castes and classes have already sent most of their Sons off in war to fight each other and left few enough to guard house and home.
Still I would hope that there can be an happy ending even though I cannot even envision how that can come to be. Somehow or other I will have to find some sort of last piece with Akhlísa. I don’t understsand why everyone was so worried about how I would react when I found out that Karuláta had stolen my one true love, everyone was thinking that my loyalty and true devotion to Puey would cause me to reject Karuláta even though she may deserve it, rather than that I would reforgive her enough and understand her wish to protect her brother by following the tradition expected of her. This isn’t to excuse her completely, she did set this up and plan it all from the beginning, even when she met me in the Forbidden Gardens. And truth be told Karuláta does deserve to have her face cut off, her skin boiled away, and whatever is wriggling left of her dumped into the ice swamps, it’s only fitting and just and mete, but one must not dwell too much on what we deserve, rather on mercy. And perhaps it is only in mercy that we can make our way to the happy ending which I am so desparate to find for ourselves. To be honest I just want it all to end in a betrothal feast, but not with any extra wives or concubines hanging around, why I would even be happy for some Elder to be telling me, You’ll hear this parental maxim many times, Éfhelìnye, but I hope you have daughters just as troublesome as you are. And then I would know that everything was fine, and that the family should continue. Young persons are often difficult, I suppose the Elders just keep thinking that we should be more disciplined and mature and we are trying, but no matter how wise our parents may be they sometimes just don’t understand us all all. I just want a grand party, I want there to be honey and cake and cookies and pies, I want everyone to be there, Siêthiyal and Karuláta and Puey and his acolyte friend and the Pirates and the wind up toys and all manner of aliens whom we’ve befriended on the way, I want there to be running and playing and celebration, and I wand Grandfather Pátifhar to be there even though by then he may be older than the dust that falls upon dust and quite emfeebled and shouting like a cricket, perhaps he can be yelling at Uncles Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho and at Abbá Íngìkhmar and all the others of their time, for it is the sworn duty of the senior generation to remind the middle generation of just how crazy they once were as the younger generation. Or is this all just a vain fantasy? Perhaps happy endings are no longer possible in the Dreamtime, in the Land of Story, and it is selfish of me to keep trying to envision one. In the end I shall probably die in the Quest of Heaven. We shall find where the Emperor my Father meant to send us, we shall see before us the growing sprawling light of the flowers. We shall reach out for it. But I myself shall surely die. We all know this is how the story will end. After all, mine is the doomed family, the failed dynasty. I am the sickly Princess. My Father was the Sun, my Mother was the Moon, and I was yclepte their little Star. The War shall end with my death, I shall be the broken flower upon the altar, blood pooling out from me. Perhaps men will mourn, but not for too long, for I am not the legend that my Mother was. Puey will be the Emperor. I don’t think that Karuláta would be Empress, I would probably still have the title even in death, but she will be the Mother of his children. I hope they’re happy together. In death shall I arise. The Suns shall open up before me, great orbs of coronæ, fire and plasma and lava and light trickling upwards about me and becoming part of my hair. It would be glorious to join the company of the Sun, Martyrs will be beside me and the Perfumed Sacrificed shall trickle up before me and all of the Solar Ancestors shall arise beaming before me, the holy Pwéru through all their generations, and I shall be welcomed into their presence and embraced and loved for all time. Even if we win the war, and I become a sacred Virgin for all time, I shall still lose, for I shall gaze down unto these mortal dreamlands and see Karuláta holding a babe in her arms and I will know that she has usurped the place that should be mine, and no husband will e'er call me beloved and no child shall call me mamà e'er at all.
– Are you still talking there, Princess? – asked Siêthiyal. She was sitting in a chair and the handmaidens were carrying her about. – I don’t suppose you would be so good as to try to interpret any of the writing you’ve done so far. From what I’ve read it’s all a rather incomprehensible mess of dreams and thoughts and memories. – Princess Éfhelìnye was dancing down the halls and saying – One should not ask me to analyze, to interpret the great work. It would be best, I believe for each reader and each character in the drama and every person in the story to explore interpretations for himself. I think that before the end Siêthiyal and Karuláta will be asking me, What happened, Princess, what really happened? But their own theories, their ideas, their own dreams are just as valid as anything that I may offer. Some may focus upon philological aspects, others upon philosophy, some may create allegories and metaphors and dreams of color which I the Authoress did not intend, and others may just dream out the myth of it all. I would be happy enough if it just sinks into the minds of those who read it, and that they worry not about untangling the dream of it all. – She came dancing deeper and deeper into the halls, and yet Siêthiyal and the Handmaidens could not help but notice that all of the gold and color was fading away and only following after the Princess as she came spinning before the huge windows that gazed out unto the orbeloid Xhyèrxhmu whispering mountains and the ruins of so many large and silent fortresses and the gathering sky mounts where the last of the Poriêrii were gathered, and above them all in the dying light the dying Suns were risen in the skies, and weak light was dribbling outwards, the song of a dying Emperor and the End of the Land of Story, and as she left the Starflower Princess just knew that this was not being a very good day at all.