Puîyus nodded. The ducklings were crawling all about his neck and shoulders and head now, and Éfhelìnye was wrapping her arms about him and letting him do the actual work of swimming within the pollen waves, and he was looking side to side at all of the passing vessels khèxhlo loisgestar as they were making their way closer unto the orbit of the kitchens, and he tried to lift up an arm to signal unto the Qhíng and the Qlùfhem and the Thùlwu to pick him up, but the passrenby wthókh just passed them by wthókh, and the bubbling of the barges and the burbling of the boats was all a strange and riotous storm in the pollen and paper waves. Puîyus saw that some of the Kháfha monks were approaching and when he lifted up an arm to gain their attention, he found that many ducklings were wrapping themselves about him and rubbing their faces against him and laughing all the while, and the monks were drawing up phials of rainbow sands and breathing them out in all directions, so that a gentle outpour of blues and greens and reds were breathing out from their wherries.
Puîyus was gathering up the Princess and the ducklings as he surged out of the pollen waves, and behind him all of jànkhe dining rooms were opening upwards and their windows were blinking open, the curtains parting like so many jùntoyie blépharon and revealing outside the very sickliness of the sixth hour, for all of the Suns were set upon the edge of the horizon, and bursts of twilight and gloom and sadness were arisen, and all of the torchtowers of the abbies and temples were lighthing upwards with naphtha signal flames, and acolytes were lighting the painted lanthorns about the sky ziggarat, and the raths one by one high within the orbelos Xhyèrxhmu whispering mountains were beaming with candles and lightbubbles within. And Puîyus came running outwards upon the face of the waves of pollen and jumped upwards, and streams of rainbow light rippled out from Éfhelìnye and he landed upon the boat where the Kháfha were engaged in their lyèjho sand paintings and noticed the arrival of the children and the ducklings not at all, and the ducklings cooed and quacked and fluttered, and at last Puîyus and Éfhelìnye thought that they may be coming to a place of quiet and before dinnertide.
The children could only find a single chair left upon the boat, but they did not mind at all, and Puîyus shoved the chair next to the table where the jhwaxàntu morizinz were working upon their paintings, and since the chair and table were made for the taller widerque Kháfha Xákhefha Járqnis people, the children were quite comfortable sitting next to each other in the same seat, and the table arose almost up to their chins. But at least they could have some peace, and Puîyus began to play with the ducklings and to mind his own business while Éfhelìnye watched the jhwaxàntu monachs and saw how they scooped up sands and brushed them aside and worked upon their artistry.
It was therefore inelectuable that even a few eyeblinks of peace should be shattered. Puîyus was doing his best to ignore it and just play with the ducklings, he kept feeling the deep and clawing clangor of his heart which informed him with ancestrial and instinctual precision that this day was ending up just as sour as he had feared it would be when he awoke, but he did not wish express this disquiet with Princess Éfhelìnye lest he disturb her at all, and Éfhelìnye was trying to remain affixed unto the glowing colors of the sands and whirls and circles and lines of the sand mandala which the Kháfha hieromonachs were created of their own dædal wings as they knelt downwards and spread out the colors and breathed them out of their beaks. But already the boat which was really a big puntéye sòfha lreixemòrfha couch with slight bone oars and glistening paper sails and with monks overcrowding it and clouds of ycolored dust arisen of their dexterous wings, was already rolling from side to side with some violence as it came leaping down the ramps and all of the tapestries were opening up about it, and the smell of dinner was coming, and crawling up the side of the boat were come some of the handmaidens and they were carrying dishes covered in cakes and pies and muffins and clammering up upon the oversized Kháfhan table and setting the food thereupon even as all the vessel swayed enwobblent from side to side, and the dishes and muffins were dancing in the motion.
– How did you know that Puey loves muffins? – asked Éfhelìnye as the muffins rolled out from their places and were tumbling about the table.
And Puîyus made a noise which sounded a little like unto: – ?uimbukhnulmub!ìrqu? vtsü?ìr^ru? –
– Lack of muffins can drive anyone crazy – Éfhelìnye agreed.
– b!uimbikhnilmi? *lrúri? lribwaas#i? – Puîyus nodded.
Several more handmaidens were crawling up the table and setting down sandwiches and custard and noodles before Puîyus, for these were dishes which they had made especial for him, but he just petted the ducklings and waved the food away because he was still engaged in his holy fast from the death of beloved Fhermáta, and Éfhelìnye just shook her head for she did not feel very hungry at all. And Puîyus was in fact becoming a little bit weary of all of these strangers arising and falling about him, and the handmaidens being so close unto him, and he could smell the perfumes upon their skin and the breath of their bodies, and he could hear too closely the sigh of their lungs and the longing of their hearts, and he was realizing that he far more preferred was liever to be in the presence of just a few members of his family. He reached out and tried to take Princess Éfhelìnye’s hands, but he felt the hands of the stranger ancillæ upon his neck and brow, and when he turned he found that Asiréma was slipping down and sitting upon his lap and began playing with his hair and blinking her eyelashes at him and xhlaxhlaûla billing and cooing kolombumanto unto him all the while, and other handmaidens were crawling up unto Éfhelìnye and trying to figure out ways to serve her and comb her hair and paint her fingernails and bring her food, and the Princess was squealing and wriggling and did not like being touched by anyone at all, save for Puîyus and members of her family.
Right between Puîyus and Éfhelìnye, and preventing them from holding hands Siêthiyal came slipping right down between them, and to the Princess’ surprise Siêthiyal was wearing yet another pink dress which the Princess had never seen afore, and Siêthiyal’s hair was piled upwards at least another foot, so that it seemed as if Siêthiyal were about to start toppling o'er at any moment, but of course she was not, just long tendrils of pink were spangled with so many jhyuî ornaments and khlùqai sequins, and she drew her arms about both Puîyus and Éfhelìnye and crossed her legs and chanted – I’ve been doing some thinking and it seems to be a good idea that we’re codifying all of our roles in this new family. For instance our entire society is based upon the idea of honor, harmony, and obligation. Honor is quite simple, good deeds accrue honor and that builds up within the caste and clan and family, while dishonor breeds shame and gnaws away at the honor. Harmony is all about music and dance and balance, nature and societies, warfare and caste must all be kept in balance lest one upset and whelve the other. And yet I find obligation to be the most abstract and perhaps the most inscrutable of them all. For instance the way that a clan is organized is that it is a series of families denoting more or less common ancestry and ruled by those old and wise enough to see the path before us, and the clan is held together not just by honor and harmony, see above for that, and not just ineffable affection or whatever feeling we may have for each other, but very specific obligations which we all have unto each other and which keeps the clan working together as a single marvelous clockwork toy. For instance the heir to a clan has the obligation to beget children and rear them up, and his wives and consorts have the obligation of baring the children and educating them and running the household and such. And yet within the clan the various siblings and unclettes and aunties all must give and receive certain items for each other, it keeps everything flowing. Puey, did you notice how often you would spend guarding the Khatelèstan fields, and how Fhermáta was gathering the fruit and grain grown there? Did you notice how the Tásel were supplying us with weapons as well as grooming Karuláta to be a wife for you, and that you had to deliver goods from the abby for the Tásel to keep their plantation running? Éfhelìnye did you e'er learn about how the elders of a family are constantly supply goods to their children while the children have to provide service and obedience? It’s a microcosm, one can say, of the entire relationship that the castes and dynasties have with their Dukes and Viceroy kings and Lords and ultimately unto the Emperor himself who alone is permitted to own property but out of his beneficience permits Elders and Heirs to own in his name, we all must provide for the Emperor through the priesthood, and they in turn give us all that we need. Puey, have you considered how much service you gave the Khatelèstan and the Tásel in terms of guardianship and warfare for the priviledge of marriage to their daughters? I think you’ve spent at least half your life doing something for both of those clans, and the obligation hasn’t ended, for they are still honorbound to pay you grain and goods and services in the years to come, especially when children are born again, why even though the Khatelèstan grieve because Fhermáta has passed from us, they already are preparing the next contract so that some offspring of theirs can marry some future offspring of yours by Karuláta. These obligations continue for all time, and that’s the importance of it, it is that it binds us all together, some wonderous honoraria of kinship and friendship that keep us all woven together. I find it interesting that the pàrkhqu merchant princes of Qamélo have tried to calculate the abstract value of certain items in their Pùlyul stock exchange, and yet in the end I find that a fleeting and ultimately ineffectual way of running the qompátlhe Naturalwirtschaft, because it ignores the fundamental gravity of a family, the fhongújo fhlíkh khmùturn obligations that run it all like an heart beating. Asiréma, what’s taking you so long, just start snuggle up to him and tell him how much you love him. See, we need the support of the Qwoâng and the Tlhaxoîyer and the almost certainly untrustworthy Poriêrii … oh Puey sit down! –
– Mew mew mew – chanted Puîyus as he got up and set Asiréma down, for he had had enough, he just wished to take the Princess and the ducklings and leave the handmaidens alone on their own little circus of boats and paper.
Siêthiyal jumped up and shoved Puîyus down and chanted – Just think of how much trouble Karuláta has endured to make you dinner this night, or at least dinner for the rest of us, see that’s her obligation to you, as her future Lord and Husband and Father of her forty children, she has to help run this household, and the Ancestors know that Éfhelìnye is pretty much rubbish at everything. Are you still here, Éfhelìnye? There you are. –
Puîyus got up and shoved Siêthiyal down and was reaching to take Éfhelìnye’s hand so that they could go, but several more handmaidens were reaching upwards and grabbing Puîyus’ sleeves and collar and tugging him down. Puîyus looked around and saw that Asiréma among the Poriêrii was gone, but that behind the throne Siêthiyal was standing and whispering unto the handmaidens, and he heard – Here, let me give you an hint, play with his ears, he likes that. Oh and don’t mind if he doesn’t talk to you, Puey doesn’t talk at all. In fact in many ways it’s better this way, the Elders don’t want Puey to talk e'er so that they can rule as qùnya zamptâ through him, and I’m sure you’ll find it better this way too, who really needs a talkative Crown Prince anyhow. Puey’s going to be Emperor,and he can just be silent about it. –
– Mew – chanted Puîyus.
– Oh hush – chanted Siêthiyal. – Just do as I say. Now sit here and tell the handmaidens that they’re safe in your household and that they don’t need to worry about their Fathers coming and snatching them away. You can at least be courtly and chivalrous unto them, Puey, do you not think that I’ve heard about how the chieftains crucified an hundred young men just to ensure that these virgins were without obligation unto any other clan? Obligation, yes, that word just keeps popping up again. So sit here and be polite, please. –
– Mew … –
– Who cares what Éfhelìnye thinks. Puey, Mother would have wanted you to be polite to the handmaids. –
– !! –
– Yes! Mamà would have, I know it. She thought about the welfare of our family all the time, while you can think of nothing but the Princess and your own glory. Now sit still. –
– !! –
Siêthiyal shoved Puîyus down upon his throne and chanted – Saintly Khwofheîlya would have demanded at least the barest of courtesy from you, and let me remind you, Older Brother mine, that she demanded that you be married unto Karuláta and not unto the Princess next to you, so I don’t care how Éfhelìnye feels, we’re creating a new dynasty and her family was the dishonored one, so her opinion means nothing to me. Sit still! Asiréma, where are you? Sit in his lap. Where is Karuláta? Isn’t she supposed to be making dinner for me and the rest of you? –
– I think I should leave – Éfhelìnye chanted as she tried to sit up, but she found that Siêthiyal was suddenly sitting next to her and patting her hand.
– Why so soon, Princess, I thought you’d like to see the work of your hands – Siêthiyal grinned.
– That’s a rather cryptic saying, dearest Siêthiyal – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– I’m a rather cryptic lass. – Siêthiyal patted the Princess’ hands a few more times, and then she waved unto the handmaidens and they came swirling up the sides of the boat and were pouring upwards, and they were all trying to sit next to or beside or on top of or in the lap of Puîyus until finally so many handmaids were come that Puîyus tumbled downwards and the throne shattered and goldentressed maidens were all o'er the place.
Siêthiyal was admiring her bright coralline pink fingernails and saying – These soubrettes all have obligations unto their birth families and clans also, just as we all. Now I wonder how many more handmaidens I’ll be able to obtain from the rest of the warrior clans? The number could end up in the thousands, I’m sure. I’m hoping that Puey will take at least a thousand of them to wife, and I’m hoping that each one bares him at least one child, that way I shall have power, though him of course, o'er a thousand different families, and they will have to do anything I say. You’re looking ratherly sickly there, aren’t you? I don’t suppose it’s something I’ve chanted or done or planned, or perhaps you’re reconsidering a little proposition that I offered you before. –
– I think I need to lie down – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– Oh, but the fun is just beginning. All before us shall be the obligations of the warrior clans of the iron mountains. Ah, it comes! It comes! The Even is come! –
For the long and winding procession of boats was at last come unto the deepest of the golden halls and all of the aurelian columns were spinning around and glistenent quetzalli, choruscans, chorzta, and handmaidens were dashing outwards and grabbing the very ropes of the curtains and swinging them open squamel, and in the darkening of the sickly light the very moons themselves were large and white and weak and looked as febrile as Éfhelìnye herself, and bursting out from the orbs was come a nesh and waning light, and all of the land was trembling a little before the moons which were become as sick and scared as their Princess Éfhelìnye was. And all of the boats in procession were circling about each other before the opening of all the moonlit windows, and the boats of the Qhíng and Kháfha and Aûm were sliding together, planks and boards and decks forming a large surface which was unfolding and become a great fhèntu khmosìqhalau unalesqìstii orchestral ground, and curtains were spinning upwards from it before the dying and sad moons. Siêthiyal was laughing unto herself and rocking from side to side even as she held onto Éfhelìnye and affectively was preventing the Princess from toppling over or falling or fainting, and then Siêthiyal jumped upwards and from the pink cubit tall pyramid of hair on her head she drew out a silvern ingeloîxei baton and running up and leaping about the Kháfha monks, still concerned with their sand painting and barely even noticing anything else, and who were taking up gowpens of rainbow sand and breathing them out in all direction, and she skipped about them and came to the edge of the vessel and was swinging the ingeloixeiyàjhwuxing about for a few moments, for she was the fhìstal conductor orchestrating it all, and before her all of the curtains were opening, and out came pouring a thousand Traîkhiim and they were whickering upon the nose fifes they had taken of the Kèlor Masters, and they were beating the drums they had snatched from the Kháfha monks, and they were breathing into the trumps they had borrowed of the honored Aûm, and they began playing out the beat and harmonies of a xhwó bull dance, and among the players were come another thousand Traîkhiim spinning upwards and tossing confetti upwards in higher spirals, and colors and dust were spinning around and settling and shimmering as the Handmaidens came onto the stage for to begin their dance.
It was quite an elaborate xhwó dragon dance and the handmaidens were all painted and anointed for it, as they slid out upon the stage and were dressed in bright costumes, in spangling oranges and greens and blues, and gold and silver bracelettes were set upon their arms, and bells were tied about their ankles, and complex patterns of jèmpa and qòntro henna marks were painted upon their faces and hands and wrists, and some of the paint was flowing all about their sleeves and necks, and some of the maidens even had long and swirling jàrfha marks drawn upon their limbs and stomaches, and similar cochleate patterns were made up into the jewels of their golden hair, for the handmaidens looked a little like an hundred karuláta flowers blooming upon the very last fecund hill in Jaràqtu, and the bands in their hair were all onyx and jaspar and jade vines snaking in the midst of them, and their bells and sequins were leaves and petals growing out among them, and as they came outwards and were dervishing in their bright and traditional costumes, the paintings of the henna were come alive, so that when the maidens were all turning left the henna tattoos remained in the air almost in the outline of the maidens and shadow danced for a moment before turning back unto skin and jewel and gown, and the maidens were beginning to leap upwards and spin about each other and to slide in the movements of a Bull Dance, even as the Traîkhiim began striking upon the drums all the harder and sound upon the nosefife and trump, and the ancillæ were arranging themselves so that they were jumping about each other, and a few would pick one up and toss her into the air for to catch her, and others were running about each other and were holding jars of red paint and were smearing them upon each others’ arms and faces, the great dance routine spinning outwards before Puîyus, and those Traîkhiim who were not themselves sounding upon the instruments were leaping upwards upon the stage and their wings were opening upwards and they were taking upwards unto volitation, quetzal feathers bursting upwards about them, and even though some were missing limbs or wings or heads, they were still graceful in their dance like unto fhwúqha moths, and the handmaidens all about them were papilionaceous like unto so many qemámi and kàmemi and fhaîfha butterflies swirling unto all directions. And this was a xhwóxing, a bull dance and the pipíxhi xhnenathayètyikh hundred soubrettes were indeed khmeîlwi bull dancers, and in accordance with the ritual of the dance they were spinning around as if some wild creature, an aurochs or a dinosaur or even a Dragon were somewhere upon the stage, and they were having to leap out of the way and jump about each other as if the fell beast were running about them snarling and crying and growling, and the handmaidens were breaking apart into smaller strophes and antistrophes, some of the maidens were leaping upwards unto the masts and towers of the ship while others ran outwards and were distracting the unseen beast from capturing them, and then all the maidens were dancing back together and climbing back upon each other and kicking high into the air even as the Traîkhiim were flying among them.
And Puîyus felt hands upon his shoulders and a rather familiar pomegranate scent behind him, for it was Princess Ixhúja who had come descending out of the darkness and the webs somewhere within the rafters of the goldhalls, and she slunk downwards and drew out some jars and began anointing Puîyus’ face with red paint and pomegranate juice as if he himself were the beast in the very center of the dance, for such he was in the ritual of the dance, but she also reached out from behind the throne and took out an hat and a ceremonial sword and sheathe to set within his belt, so that he was dressed a little like a jhyalìqheqhe taŭrobatalisto dinosaur fighter in the arena, for in the ritual he was also the valiant fighter also. Puîyus remind silent and respectful and let Ixhúja do whatever it was she intended, and she drew Puîyus upwards and set the hame of the squidbear about his shoulders, so that fur and celia were rolling about him in a rather feircesome array, and she set upon his head the helm of fangs and thorns and horns.
And so the Traîkhiim came bursting upwards and were spinning in their dance, and Asiréma among the Poriêrii and the Hundred Virgin Handmaidens of the Mountain Clans were arising in their dance for their Crown Prince and were singing in this wise:
Beat the drums of our clans!
Stomp your feet! Kick your legs!
Feel the friendship of the clans,
May our spleens be warm with happiness
May our backbones were joyous with music
May your hearts become rainbow colored
Let us be the karuláta flowers
Dancing before our prince.
Beat the drums of the handmaidens.
Dance the flower dance of drum and beat.
Be not filled with melancholy and sadness
Let crowns of blossoms adorn your brow
Let jewels and gold and karuláta flowers
Drip down upon locks melancholy blue
Let us be the scattered karuláta flowers
Dancing before our prince.
Beat the drums of our friendship.
Beautiful is our song unto our lord
We are his quetzal bird and duckling and willow
We are dinosaur adorned in turquoise and jewel
We are oxen of beautiful eyen
We are mermaids singing unto our master
We are jingle and song and rattle and pulse and beat
We flee from the Dragon and unto our lord.
All things will fade, matter and thought and word
Only the Immortals and the Soul are eterntal
Whispering mountains become sea
And seas become dust
And dust becomes dreams
And fade away.
But today we are hot chocolate for our prince
Today we are pleasure and gladness and song
We shall dance for his happiness
Until his heart is brightened.
Let us be the scattered karuláta flowers
Dancing before our prince.
We shall dance until the prince smiles
We shall dance until Master Puîyos laughs.
We shall juggle ducklings in the air
We shall balance books on our brow
We shall hold the mast upon our nose
We shall paint henna on all our feet
We shall dye all our clothes polka dotted
We shall color our teeth rainbow colors
We shall play the harp with our toes
Until Master Puîyos laughs.
We shall lift up the flag of the Pwéru
We shall be celebrate the friendship of this family
One song one dance one family have we
Unto all the Dreamtime a single divine clan.
May our Elders and our birth clans prosper
May Jaràqtu blossom once again
May the Winter Empire be born from above and prosper
And unto all the Dreamtime a single divine clan.
So let us dance until the prince smiles
We shall be rice paper and marionette before him.
We shall purr as kittens and speak gibberish
We shall ride dolphins and fly among the porcines
We shall wear hats of sandwiches
We shall adorn our ears with chocolate
We shall enmasque all our enemies
Until Master Puîyos laughs.
Beat the drums of our clans!
Stomp your feet! Kick your legs!
Flowers are our ballet slippren and gowns
Flowers shall be our song and dance
Let us be friends and companions unto the great prince
Let us bow down unto the Heir of the worlds
Let us serve the House of Life
The master of Prosperity and Health and Life.
We shall clean and adorn his house
We shall cook for him and serve his children
Our conversation and song shall be delight unto his ears
We banish strange clockwork from our sight
We are master Puîyos’ golden tressed women
Beautiful and docile and not philologists at all.
Jaguars and lions, dinosaurs and eagles
Are friends of the Crown Prince
His crown shall be lightning, his heart flame, his strength flower
He is the master of midnight
And we serve him as best we can.
Midnight is coming, the epoch is ending
Already the Emperor, cave born, descended of Paradise
Comes to destroy all flower and light
Already maize and wheat and rice die
Already rain and mist are blood and sadness
Jewels fade, sunrise dies, only the Prince is radiance and sunlight
The Pwéru alone are nectar and ambrosia
And a new Emperor comes
To beat the drums of our clans
To stomp his feet, to kick his legs
And bring friendship unto all the clans.
Let us be happiness and music and rainbow
Let us be the karuláta flowers
Dancing before our prince
Puîyos, the Son of Kàrijoi.
And in the midst of the spinning and whirlent dance several Traîkhiim were come from the shadows of the kitchens and were bearing within their limbs dishes all of silver and light, and behind them were come some other Traîkhiim who were carrying small tables in their wings, and they came spilling outwards right before Puîyus and were creating an entire display of dishes and plates and food before him, and they were lifting up ewers and tossing napkins and utensils about, for no matter how many times Akhlísa had tried to explain to them what forks and chopsticks and sporks were meant to do, the Traîkhiim just shrugged and laughed. Puîyus was looking up and feeling very nervous in his toreador costume, paint upon his face and horns upon his head, and beside him Siêthiyal was laughing all the while and applauding the khmeîlwi chorus girls, and beside her Princess Éfhelìnye was sitting utterly still and just wishing for this dance to end so that she could be anywhere else but far away. Puîyus was only vaguely aware of Ixhúja beside him, sometimes standing next to him and sometimes sitting beside him upon the large Kháfha chair and more often then not sitting in his lap and fiddling with the paint upon his face and drawing patterns with her fingers or licking the paint off and adorning him once again. He looked up and barely noticed that Fhólus and Aîya were descending somehow above him and were bringing down a new series of plates and soon came landing upon the table, their hand-feet accidently stomping into some of the food which Akhlísa had been preparing with careful hand, and the Traîkhiim were grinning unto him with five sets of teeth and saying – Great dance, eh? –
Puîyus just blinked.
Princess Éfhelìnye felt a rustling about her, and looking from side to side found that a couple of Qhíng Elders were besquishing themselves right next to her on the chair, and about her were arising the tentacles of several of the Qlùfhem and Thùlwu, and some Kháfha were rolling upwards and kneeling upon the ground next to her and were addressing the Princess in thiswise.
– We’ve been doing quite a bit of thinking, oh Empress of tomorrow – spake the Qhíng Caste Elders. – And we’re not entirely sure that your idea of the various races learning to live in peace together could really work. The only way the Emperors of the past were able to enforce the peace was by being the strongest, and anyone who dared contradict the Emperor faced torture and then the assassination and execution of his entire family, and any species that dared to stand up risked extinction. The idea that we Real Peoples would just dwell in peace because the Empress wishes it strikes us as inefficacious. –
– It’s quite a lovely dance your slave girls are performing through – spake the Qlùfhem and Thùlwu. – At least you are continuing the customs of your people and the obligation of caste and clan. But if you truly desire for the races to dwell in harmony, you shall have to chastice them. Have Puîyos, blessed and honorable he, demand a ritual sacrifice of the tithe of a random nation, or have him scorch a beautiful city, have him crucify village after village until the people bend down in fear, and then they shall do as you ask. –
– One truly adores the dance, though – the Kháfha were saying. – The maidens of Master Puîyos’ folk are quite comely, at least as beautiful as Færie can be to the eyen of the Kháfha poploe. We hope he shall put child in them so that the dynasty of the Pwéru shall continue with many offspring in the generations to come. Some of our brethren did tests upon the little Imperial Concubine Karuláta Khniêma Akhlísa and have found that she shall be quite fertile in the years to come, she shall be very valuable and bring many honors unto the various clans of her ancestry. –
– Are you sniffling, little and beloved one? – asked the Qhíng. – You seem unwell, holy and untouchable Empress of Tomorrow. Perhaps you should lie down and rest for a time. –
– It must be a little difficult for you to have dwelt all your life in the purity of isolation and then to have found yourself the most important maiden in all the billion, billion worlds – chanted the Aûm.
– The Kháfha thank you for the opportunity of being allowed to guard and observe the Children of the Pwéru, and we have hoped that in permitting you to make your own decisions that you have begun to understand, if just a little the gravity of your situation and estate. Oh Holy Empress of all tomorrows, you must learn to live with your choices just as your Ancestors and Mother did, for this is the very font of all the rest of your days. –
The Elders of the Qhíng and Kháfha and Aûm were fallen silent and looked up and watched the bull dancers for a time and were marveling at the beauty and grace of the handmaidens whom the Poriêrii and the Qwoâng and the Tlhaxoîyer had igiven unto Puîyos who would grow up to be Lord of Earth and Sea and Sky. And after a time, even as Fhólus and Aîya drew out several more dishes whereupon were set various freshly baked and still cooling pies prepared by the mansuete hand of Akhlísa the Faithful Concubine, and the smell was arising thick and creamy and sweet, at last the Princess gazed upwards and it was as if she were waking upwards, and she looked to Asiréma and the Virgins and chanted – I shall have peace among all of the War Clans of Jaràqtu just as I shall have peace among Qhíng and Kháfha and Aûm alike. I can imagine something which no others can see, household and clan, nation and empire, future and time itself shall change before my gaze. I cannot quite explain it, it is as if I am painting a large canvas and setting some of the background colors and from the murky and drying hews the outline qràqai of an entire new Dreamtime is coming unto me. When I dwelt in the holy isolation of the Forbidden Gardens I remember drawing countless images of Puey and my adventures with him in dreamlands of clockwork automata and aliens and dragons, and although I could guess much of where we would be going, I could not quite see all the end of it in my drawing, and yet I know that it will all be good. –
– Perhaps you shall be able to reärrange all of the qlalaquwejúwertlhèrtlha Pwéru according to your likeness – all of the Elders were saying. – But neither the War Clans of Jaràqtu, at least those that shall survive the war, nor the most ancient and revered nations of the Qhíng and Kháfha and Aûm will be able to change in a single lifetime. And by the time you are old enough for your voice to be heard, it will be too late, too late by far to change anything at all. –
– Okay, enough of all of this – chanted Siêthiyal and she drew herself upwards and began pulling aside the grandaĝoj of the Qhíng and the masters of the Kháfha and the tendrils of the artists of the honored Aûm so that she was seated right next to the Princess and leaning her head very close unto her and saying – Do you like the dance? I’m having them all dance for Puey, for he needs to understand that our family is far more than just how he may be feeling about you at the moment. He is átsafhr, kalos k’agathos, beautiful and strong, and yet he is Jaràqtun also and subject to the obligations of all the various clans and elders. Would you like an apple? –
After a few moments Éfhelìnye spake saying – And how much of this did you orchestrate? Did you arrange for the Traîkhiim to have all of these instruments and the flooding of the goldhalls with paper and dust and pollen and the Elders in their barges here in the fading of the night? –
Siêthiyal grinned and clasped her hands together and then reached out unto the tray which Fhólus and Aîya were holding up unto her and she selected the brightest and reddest apple that she could find and she tossed it up and polished it shining and chanted – I just can’t help myself sometimes, I just am a spontaneous creator of mischief. No matter how good I try to act, I just see how everything is knit together, I always know what Karuláta is doing, she’s usually enmeshed in my gnarly web, why most of the time she has to serve me as my personal handmaiden because I have so much blackmail against her, and Puey can be quite easy to move, piety and music and chivalry and cute little fluffy wihts are usually enough to motivate him, and those are not enough I’ll just send some Princess or other colliding against him, and you yourself are such a marionette in my fingers dancing from side to side. Here, take of this apple. It is scrumptious, trust me. – Siêthiyal examined her reflexion in the apple and shifted her smile just a little so she would appear cute and sincere and harmless all the while.
– I’m not hungry – Princess Éfhelìnye chanted.
– But apples are your favorite, tsk tsk tsk … –
– I just want to lie down. –
– You’re not permited to be sick during family events. Illness is a luxury wherein you can indulge in your own spare time, but not now, not ever. – She tossed the apple from side to side and chanted – This was in especially sweet and fresh, I’m sure it’s just as juicy as the apples from the harīm wherewithin you grew up, all those beautiful and ensorcelled trees fed with nectar and milk, marvelous gardens were everything was soft and delicate and sugary. Are you sure you don’t want to take a bite? I’ll take a little bite first, if you want, and then you take take a little nibble. –
– I don’t feel like eating. –
Siêthiyal breathed upon the apple and watched the dancing. – Those maidens sure are beautiful, don’t you think? Plus they’re tall and skillful and hardworking and I just know they make you feel inadequate in every single way possible. If Puey needs a pie baked, and little Karuláta is busy, why he has all these servants who can do it far better than you could hope to do so, why you’ll just make an huge mess of the batter and try to create some strange clockwork apparatus to help you out in the kitchen and it will of course turn against you murdherous and fell and unwieldy and Puey will have to come and save you, you’ll be weeping all helpless, so very sad, but any of these virgins could fashion him a pie before I could even spell it. Pie pie pie pie pie pie. I just love that word, don’t you? Pies can be wonderful. Too bad you can’t bake one or do anything useful at all. –
– I … I can dance – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– You can’t dance like they can, they’re all grown up and nubile young women, they can dance a lot better. I’ve never seen you able to help toss up another maiden and catch her, I think you’d just tumble down and cry and probably break an important bone or two. Are you sure you don’t want this apple? I don’t think you’ve e'er had an apple as satisfying as this one. –
– I just wish to be alone. –
– Now what use will that be, leaving Puey alone just allows me more opportunity to assault him with more maidens, it is fated of course. If you don’t want this apple I’ll take a bit, just a little one, because I want you to smell just how perfect it is. This is truly the apple of apples, the very epitome of red sweetness. Yum yum yum yum! – sighed Siêthiyal as she licked the apple and took a slight bite of it, and she squealed in delight and shouted out – This is the very best apple in all of Jaràqtu! You’d better take a bite of it, oh beloved Empress of Tomorrow, because there will never be another apple like unto it. –
– I will be fine imagining the apple. –
– Oh! You’ve never had an apple like this! Oh Princess! Ah yes yes this apple burgeons upwards from the very dreamy silken wellspring of all of Jaràqtu, it is like all the romance and mystery of this land has seeped upwards through the xylem and phloem of the trees and is swollen into this very apple, a dance of blushes given form. Oh, I can barely contain myself. I may have to take another bite, my darling. – Siêthiyal held up the apple right before the Princess and draped her arms about her and made sure that Éfhelìnye could taste the whiff of apple goodness arising and reddening before her. Siêthiyal smiled and licked the apple again and then chanted – Princess, would you like me to end the dance? I could end it in five seconds. Would you like me to reduce all the handmaidens to common servants or to banish them from your sight? I have that power. But above all, do you really want to keep Puey all for yourself? You know that only I am clever enough to figure that one out, only I know how to disappear in the crowds and be forgotten by the Elders, and when I reappear all of the worlds will rearrange themselves before your eyen. Princess, you are a dreamer, you may even be a saint, your heart is filled with more longing and love than I can understand, but you lack the knowledge, the wherewithal, the talent to change everything about you. I only ask for one thing, such a tiny itsy bitsy little thing, a trifle, really. Oh, this apple is perfect. I’m just going to place it in your hand, just right here, in case you want to take a bite. –
Princess Éfhelìnye sighed. – You don’t understand how I feel. –
Siêthiyal rested her head upon the Princess’ shoulder and chanted – Perhaps I don’t feel as you do, but I can understand. You are so blinded by affection for my brother that you can’t think straight, and now that you find yourself in the real world, out of the nightmares of the war zones, from the horrors of monsters and quantum dæmons, you have no idea how to navigate in the economies and marriages and Elders of the Land. Princess, your infatuation and your tender kindess to my Brother do you justice and tell me that you will be a worthy wife and mother to our family, and that Puey is right to love you, but you are not a practical person and you don’t understand how an House must work. I can arrange it that only Karuláta become Puey’s Concubine, she will be his only other wife, and the handmaidens and all the other women who shall become his property will remain servants, or better yet you and I together will find suitable husbands for them all. You shall never have to compete with anyone else again, you shall be surpreme, the Khmàtlhan Mistress of all this Clan, and one and only one Sister-Wife will you have, only one other woman in all the billion, billion worlds and quadrillion, quadrillion souls will call him husband. I’m not counting Fhermáta of course, but just as you were forced to accept her, you must accept Karuláta, you must, you must. –
Éfhelìnye was heaving. – What shall betide if I refuse? –
– Truly thou art Kàrijoi’s Daughter – Siêthiyal chanted. She fiddled with some of Éfhelìnye’s ringlettes and chanted – Then we shall have unending chaos until Puey comes up with a xhenthuyàjhwen compromise which pleases no one in our family at all, and you know he will try to be chivalrous and fair and quiet and it just won’t work because he’ll be thinking of you but also of the honor of all these other women and Puey does not quite understand the complexities of family relationships in the way that you and I do. We both alone know, this is what makes us so similar, that not everything is as it appears, while Puey may desire everyone to get alone and be polite and quiet, you and I know that a war can be fought in the shadows and glances of a family, a war that will destroy Puey just as much as any weapon of glass and crimson steal. And none of us wish that, Puey must not worry about his women, especially since the messengers have been pouring in all day now and reminding us that we are still losing the war. But consider what will happen if you refuse to submit. Can you control Ixhúja, can you truly tame her? Sometimes she’s fighting in the field, sometimes she’s quite and friendly, and othertimes she’s grabbing Puey by the neck and trying to kiss him, and there’s not going to be much I can do about her. If mine attention is constantly being diverted with you and the handmaidens in an eternal contest to catch Puey’s eye, I won’t be able to keep my spies in your cousin. Why any minute now … where’s she go. Ixhúja? – Siêthiyal drew herself upwards and Éfhelìnye looked around from side to side, and they saw that someone was dashing among the elders of the Aûm and Kháfha and Qhíng, plates and tea pots and bits of fruit and fhùngqo tea cozies were flying about, and the maids twain could see a flash of violet hair, and someone was picking up a long-bearded Qhíng and hurling him aside, and sometimes was yanking up a Qlùfhim and Thùlwus by the eyestalkand swirling them around and around and tossing them down, and Ixhúja was arising and picking up the Kháfha and kicking them into the air, and when Ixhúja had finished causing a bit of merriment and chaos, she turned and saw that Puîyus was petting the ducklings before him and kissing them, and he was forgetting that he still had paint upon his face and was dressed as a jhyalìqheqhe dinosaŭrobatalisto, and a long and thorned and horned helmet crested upon his head.
– Even I don’t know what she’s going to do – Siêthiyal chanted. – She’s such an unfettered one. I can make your life a little easier, but you and I need to work together to work after her. You know what I want, and you will thank me one day when years from now you find yourself with just a single Sister Wife, someone who already loves you and will be loyal to you and Puey. –
Ixhúja came up to Puîyus and the ducklings were arising and chirming all about her and she was singing unto them in their own language, and seating herself next to Puîyus she drew off the war crown from his face and plunked it down upon her head, and it was far too large for either of them, and not a little heavy, as large and sharp and barbaric as it was. And Éfhelìnye could see that the tsenàxhwó was coming to an end, and that the Virgins were spinning about at the end of their ballet, and the Traîkhiim were piping at the end of their tune, and running off of the orchestratial stage in the center of all of these barges floating upon the pollen waves came Asiréma and she came up to Puîyus and bowed unto him and felling at his feet kissed his hand and asked him – Did the dance please you, oh Prince? Will you at least smile for us? –
Puîyus nodded and offered an half smile, and Asiréma kissed his hands a few times, and then slipping upwards she ran her fingers through his hair, but Puîyus was feeling too melancholy to tell her that he did like other others touch his hair, in fact he was only now getting used to the idea of Éfhelìnye’s touching and adorning his hair in the way that Fhermáta used to, but he did not wish to be rude unto the handmaiden who just wished to serve him. She was reaching unto Puîyus’ face as if about to kiss him, for after all Asiréma was the leader of the Hundred Virgins, the only one that Puîyus himself had recognized and chosen, and so she should be the one to approach him, but Ixhúja growled, the large helmet flowing about her brow, and she jumped up and grabbed Ixhúja by the bright and delicate khmàmfhu picadils of her dance gown and she punched Asiréma right across her face and knocked her unconscious. Asiréma tumbled down right before Puîyus’ feet, and the now lwólwo sanxhoyètyikh backed off a few feet in shock at what Princess Ixhúja had done. Puîyus got upwards. Ixhúja shoved Puîyus down, punched him across his face, and then kissed him right upon his lips. Siêthiyal and Éfhelìnye jumped up at the same time, but Ixhúja just ignored them. Puîyus managed to shove the Martian Princess away, but not until after she had planted a few more rather embarrassing kisses upon his lips, and then she turned unto the Handmaidens of the mountain tribes and stuck out her tounge and growled unto them as if to tell them, Nobody is better at Ixhúja at anything at all! The rest of you can leap and prance and do whatever it is that you do, but one sees what one wants and takes it! I win, the rest of you are nothing to me! She stuck out her tounge a few times, and shaking one wrist out came spinning out a length of harpoon and rope. Puîyus got up and helped Asiréma upwards and found that she was only dazed but was rather frightened by the sudden violence of the heretic of the Red Moons. Ixhúja swung some rope outwards, and the hook clasped about a rafter, wheels and clockwork spinning upwards, and she yanked up it and flew into the air and landed right into the midst of the orchestra, and leaping down in the midst of the handmaidens, she spun around and shouted at them, and the virgins had no recourse at all but to scream and run. Ixhúja drew out a sword and plucked down a torch from the wall, and hurling the flambeau down she set fire unto the stage and was laughing all the while.
Siêthiyal grabbed Éfhelìnye by the collar and chanted – Don’t you see what I mean? You and I need to work together to control your crazy cousin. Now promise to me that you will acknowledge Kàrula as your Sister Wife, and she will be the only one for ever. –
– I … I can’t … – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– You know she’s trouble! I see it in your eyen, but you’re just too polite and nice to her to realize that she will destroy you! Do you really want little Ixhúja Puey babies running about, because I sure don’t, that’s just too weird to contemplate! And just look around you! Do you really want Puey carrying scared Asiréma back to the harem, she’ll just snuggle up to him all the while just like you, only nobody minds when you do it, because you shall be the Empress! –
– I … this is all … I don’t want to think about this. –
Puîyus picked up Asiréma, and she dangled limp and dolllike in his grasp, and he came up unto Éfhelìnye to bow unto her and tell her in blinks and glances that he would have to carry her back to the harīm. Éfhelìnye just looked on in horror. Siêthiyal put her arms about her and chanted – Is there anyway you could get the strong Kháfha monks to carry her instead? I think the Princess just needs to be with you for a time. –
Puîyus nodded and pointed to a jhwaxaxàntu morizinz and he came forwards in the rustling of his robes and picked up Asiréma, and all about the monk were come many of the other virgins and they began to follow him down the the long spans and planks upon these barges and through the seas of these golden halls. And Puîyus walked down among the monks to make sure that someone was taking care of the handmaidens who were scattered about the barges and the burning orchestral pits and the raging of the Ixhújan storm somewhere behind him.
Fhólus and Aîya came fluttering upwards and were shouting – Dinner ready dinner ready dinner ready plus there’s more pie! –
– Thank you – chanted Éfhelìnye.
Siêthiyal picked up the juicy and blushing apple and sniffed it a couple more times and then held it up to the Princess and whispering into her ear chanted – Are you sure you don’t want a little bite? You won’t taste an apple better than mine own, it is chanted that the Sweqhàngqu always were a good judge of apples. –
– I just … can’t … – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– Just one concubine, just one co-wife, it’s not such a terrible fate. Think of our blessed and loved your children shall be with an Auntie always there in the household – Siêthiyal whispered in her ear. – And think of how happy Puey will be with a consort to love him also. We all work for the same thing, the future of our family and Puey’s happiness. Why deny him such a little thing, and why shame Karuláta? Only two fates are left unto her, either she shall be Puey’s wife or she must be put to death by his hand. Please take a bite of this apple. –
– I … I have to think … – chanted Éfhelìnye.
Fhólus and Aîya were carrying some small triangular tables with them and shouting – Here comes dinner! Dinner all served. Dinner would have been sooner but someone some Siêthiyal or other we not naming names got rid of an hundred of our helpers, and we Traîkhiim a bit rubbish in making Færie food. Concubine won’t let us serve raw stuff or burnt stuff. Why, huh? –
Siêthiyal took a bite of the apple and then drew it close to the Princess’ lips. – Just a little bite. Say yes. Yes. Yes. –
Éfhelìnye burst out into tears.
Puîyus came swinging up somewhere above her and landed upon the stage and began stomping out the fires, but for everyone he was extinguishing Ixhúja was starting at least two, and she was running around and chasing after the handmaidens and shaking her sword and torch at them and growling wild and free and laughing all the while. Puîyus stomped the orchestral ground a few times and blew upon the fires and began extinguishing them in suchwise, but Ixhúja was still managing to find new ways to occupy herself, in tumbling down the columns and shoving down the barges one by one by one.
– Just say yes – chanted Siêthiyal. – Yes? –
– Just one little yes? –
Éfhelìnye shook her head.
Siêthiyal placed her hands upon Éfhelìnye’s ears and squeazed them in a way she knew would elicit a great deal of pain without leaving a mark at all. – Say yes. Say it now! –
Éfhelìnye just blubbered.
– Call Karuláta Sister Wife! Promise me! Yes! –
Éfhelìnye shook her head.
– Answer me! – Siêthiyal boxed the Princess’ ears. – Yes! –
Éfhelìnye whispered – Never! –
Siêthiyal sighed. – Then I promise Puey will have a thousand wives and you shall have none of his affection. Say yes! –
Fhólus and Aîya came fluttering upwards upwards about the maidens twain and chanted – Is this a good tide to mention that dinner is ready and served and? Or should just be mentioning that later? Perhaps mentioning it later a better idea. Yes. – The Traîkhiim turned around and started whistling and tried to discern a way not to get into too much trouble.
Siêthiyal was not sure what to do, so she just hugged the Princess and gave her a big kiss and embraced her and chanted – Then I shall just have to make you suffer until the end of your days as only I can devise, you shall be the sacrificial victim of all my plans, you shall be the subject of all my woes, you shall I treat as a Sister with whom I have grown up all my life. –
Éfhelìnye was crying. She took a step backwards and bumpt against one of the triangular tables which the Traîkhiim had brought out for her, and she did not notice that the Qhíng and Kháfha and Aûm were looking to the pies in the dishes and were hissing at each other and gazing askance at each other as slowly they each began to reach for the same slice of the same pie, but they kept their eyen one to another and not to the piework of Akhlísa’s hand. But Éfhelìnye was far too àlii λaki szomorú malgaja upset to watch the Elders aig watching one another.
Fhólus and Aîya were scampering about and fluttering upwards and clucking qakhéxher qakhéxher qakhéxher, their wings aflappent whinnywhickering all the while kagöls kravöls tyirpöls tyipöls griköls rukulöls upwards as behind them came a swish of silk and white and the jangling of some ancient Qlùfhem jewelry woven into the clockwork of a corset. Akhlísa was marching forwards and was holding a rolling pin in one hand pìnta and she stormed right up unto the tables and the dashing of the Traîkhiim who were trying to set up plates and dishes and ewers and avoid the escaping of the handmaidens and the onrushing storm of Princess Ixhúja and the Elders of the People who were snatching up pie and growling at each other and each thinking that the other camp was stealing the best and sweetest pie. Akhlísa saw that Siêthiyal was hugging Éfhelìnye and trying to feed her an apple and saying – Yes? Yes? Yse? – and Akhlísa was not at all happy. She marched right up to Siêthiyal and poked her on the shoulder and screamed – You! Stop it! –
– Go away, you little worm – chanted Siêthiyal.
Akhlísa’s face reddened and she kicked aside a chair. – I am not a little worm! I’m the only one whose done any work this day. –
– She did work – chanted Fhólus.
– We saw and watched and hindered a little – chanted Aîya.
– Then it’s the only work you’ve done in your entire life – hissed Siêthiyal. – Go away! –
Éfhelìnye was crying. Akhlísa yanked the apple out of Siêthiyal’s hand and threw it towards the sea of pollen and confetti, and the Traîkhiim skriked and arose to dive after it.
– That was a delicious crimson apple! – cried Siêthiyal. – It was good too! –
– What are you doing to the Princess, if I may ask? – Akhlísa did ask.
– Nothing! – chanted Siêthiyal. – I’m looking after our family. –
– Why is it that everytime you claim to be looking after our family you’re really just trying to procure more toys for yourself? –
– Oh I resent that. –
– I don’t care. Stop making her cry! Look, obviously this is all your work, you’ve somehow inspired the handmaidens to go a little crazy, and you convinced them to do a little song and dance and not help me with dinner, and obviously it has something to do with getting toys for you and tormenting the Princess, and I don’t really care what you’re trying to accomplish at this point. –
– Can’t you just go away? – asked Siêthiyal as she leaned her head against the Princess’ shoulders. – Don’t you see how upset she is, you’re making it worse. –
Akhlísa kicked aside another chair and shouted – I don’t mind the years of your tormenting me and punching and kicking and tickling me because I learned to tickle and kick and punch you back and I’m a bit tougher than I look, I’ll survive anything, but don’t you dare start playing your sororal little tricks on Éfhelìnye, she’s far too delicate for your weird little games. Just look at her! You’re the only person I know who can create, with a minimum of planning, a flooded hall, a bull dance, and a weeping Princess, and you were probably just making it all up as you went along. –
Fhólus and Aîya came fluttering back but and each were gobbling up part of an apple and kept looking to the other distrustful that the other was getting the larger and sweeter portion, and they could barely even enjoy what they were eating as they spied upon each other.
– Your part filled with worms and grubs – Fhólus mutterd as she chomped upon apple crust and goo.
– Good, mine have all the flavor then – chanted Aîya.
– My part smell like Empress, all cinnamony, she licked my half. –
– Yeah, my part smell like you and you yummy. –
– Should we be reminding them that dinner still ready? –
– Let’s go investigate these pies before the Elders gobble them all up, those old and silly elders! –
Siêthiyal yanked Akhlísa aside and hissed to her saying – Don’t you understand what I’m doing? Just give me a few more moments with the Princess and she’ll be acknowledging you as Sister Wife, she’ll be begging you to love her and help her get rid of the handmaidens, and then your future will be secure. –
– No, no more! I forbid it! – cried Akhlísa.
– You forbid nothing! – Siêthiyal chanted, thrusting her face towards her Sister’s.
– Siêthi, you’re not as clever as you think you are. First of all, I don’t permit you do this, holy Princess Éfhelìnye will either accept me nor not accept me of her own free will and love and not because of some elaborate trick of yours. –
– Trick! Love! There’s not difference! –
– Are you sure Raven wasn’t your Father? –
– We trick each other all the time! Fhermáta used to trick Puey into eating fish. Except for today, you’ve tricked me and Puey into do all our chores. At least my tricks are mostly altruistic, and if I should get a few toys out of them, all the better. –
– Why are we even having this conversation? Trickery and love are not the same thing. Anyway, second of all, and this is just as important, as Emperor Puîyos’ Concubine, I’m taking charge of this situation. –
– Oh hush you little baby. –
– Sorry, but where men see me, men see the Empress, and I speak for and represent the Empress when she is too upset to speak for herself! Now I’m telling you, go back to your room. Or better yet, eat some of the food that I’ve been preparing and go to your room and leave Éfhelìnye alone. –
Siêthiyal grabbed Akhlísa by her ears and began boxing them and chanted – I still outrank you, you little micromorph, I always have, and always will! Submit to me! –
– Ouch! Never! –
– Obey me! –
– Stop it! – Akhlísa and Siêthiyal grabbled with each other until Akhlísa flung herself onto a chair and was able to shove Siêthiyal away, but Siêthiyal managed to push her onto the table and shove aside several plates of cream and cakes and pies. Behind them the elders of the Qhíng and Kháfha and Aûm were gobbling up their pieces of pie and barely even noticing the two maidens rolling upon the table and splattering each other in cake. Siêthiyal was the stronger and the better fighter, and it did not grieve her at all to pick up the ewer and smash it against the side of Akhlísa’s head, but Akhlísa from long practive new that she did not have to be stronger than her older Sister, she just had to survive long enough to hide. Akhlísa managed to twist herself away, and she kicked aside some of the dishes which she had spent so much time in preparing, but it was enough of a distraction to save her. She came bouncing off the table and hid behind some of the larger Qhíng elders with their spreading quetzal feathers, and Siêthiyal picked up a pie and hurled it right towards her Sister and only managed to splatter the Kèlyora Master right in the midst of his beak.
– These are not ideally designed projectiles – Siêthiyal sighed. – But still, just to be fair – and she took up another pie and threw it right at the nearest Kháfha monk and then she tossed another towards a Qlùfhim deligate.
Akhlísa clammered upwards upon Puîyus’ throne and chanted – Siêthiyal, you listen to me. I don’t like how cruely you’ve been treating Princess Éfhelìnye. You shall be punished, oh middle Sister. I shall topple you as Puey topples honored Kàrijoi. I shall come for you in the night. You might as well have a nice meal and a good nap, because I have something bad in mind for you. –
– You stupid little mewling puking little orphan! – shouted Siêthiyal. – I’ve spent mine entire life looking after you! You’d better hope that I don’t get you in the middle of the night! –
– No, you! –
– You! –
Fhólus came fluttering by and chanted – You? –
– You? – asked Aîya.
A quire of handmaidens in their bright fripperies came running from the burning stage and were shouting – You? –
And behind them and pursuing them with a sword and flaming torch came Ixhúja who asked – Mew? –
Princess Éfhelìnye was drying her blood tears with her kerchief and saying – How recursive life is, how déjà vu. You you you. –
Siêthiyal jumped onto a table and for spite picked up several more platters, and now with better aim splattered them against Akhlísa and shouted out – You’d better hope I don’t catch you tonight! I’m getting the feeling that nothing is going to go right this day! Now leave me alone, all of you! – She spun around and reached unto the cubit of pink hair piled tall upon her head and drew out some qyaînga pogo stilt shoon and unfolded them and clasped them upon her feet and soon came bounding away and was laughing all the while as she jumped about the barges and the tumbling of the boats and the shadows of great and ancestrial statues deep within the golden halls.
Akhlísa shook her head and wiped some custard from her face and chanted – If anyone had asked me, I would have chanted that today was going to be a xhlèqta uabhasach execrable tripleplusmalgood day. – She jumped down from the throne and came unto Éfhelìnye and taking her hands and squeezing them chanted – Are you alright? Siêthiyal can get rather carried away with herself, it’s a Sweqhàngqu trait. Puey’s the same way, he goes beserk in battle, or he can be way protective of the women in his family so that we have so sneak behind his back a little, it’s all the same thing. With us it’s all one or a million, we’re not so good at being in the middle. –
– I’m fine – Éfhelìnye sniffled. – But I do have one question. –
– Oh? –
– Ah, I hope I don’t offend you, but may I ask … what exactly is Siêthiyal doing with her hair? –
Akhlísa burst out into giggles. – I have no idea. It’s a lot of pink and a lot of hair and all puffy upwards like a tree. It reminds me of Grandmother Tàltiin’s puffy puff puff hair, but her hair was blue and big. I think it’s all a little silly. –
– Yeah, a little silly … – Éfhelìnye sniffled. Akhlísa was taking the Princess froward while behind them the Qhíng and the Kháfha and Aûm elders were grabbing pies and hurling them at each other, and ducking behind tables and chairs and the throne and custard and sugar and fruit came flying in all directions.
– I just knew this would be a terrible, terrible day – chanted Akhlísa. – When Puey woke up I could see it in his eyen. – Akhlísa pulled the Princess down as a pie came whirling through the air, for Akhlísa did not even have to look behind her, a lifetime of growing up with Sweqhàngqu antics had given her a sense for food mayhem although hardly any immunity to it as the splatters on her corset and gown and golden veils could attest. – Puey was too polite to tell me how he felt, but this is just one crummy day for everyone. –
– I … I do have one idea – Éfhelìnye chanted. – Siêthiyal was talking about how pies don’t make very good tyànti projectiles, and that’s true in their present form, however, if the pies could be baked in a slightly different manner or if I could design a jètithus frisbee tin of a slightly better and air-conducting shape, than I believe I could create a pie projectile which could be hurled with swift and accurate efficency. –
Akhlísa was picking up the fallen tables and stroking her golden tresses and saying – Interesting. –
– I’ve worked on a trébuchet before, at least before it exploded and almost kill me with it, but I believe I could make a pie-hurling trébuchet which could be loaded up with a thousand specially prepared pie projectiles, and then we could aim them at Siêthiyal and then splat splat splat splat splat! –
– This is a good idea; I like it – chanted Akhlísa. – Let’s keep it to ourselves though, we’ll surprise Siêthiyal with our ultimate revenge when she’s least suspecting it. Could you build a machine that could shoot mud pies? –
– I think I could create an entire mud apparatus that could spew streams of it wherever you wish, and differing types of mud, hot and sticky and more viscuous and drippy mud. I have many different types of contraptions in my mind, but we’ll have to have a workshop and peace before I can build them. –
– Then we’ll have to win the war and we’ll build them together. Or at least I’ll watch and gather up the materials, I’m not too skilled with hammer and nail and anything at all. – Akhlísa leaned against a table where the Elders were plummeting each other with pies and she chanted – Did Siêthiyal hurt you? You can tell me, please. –
– No – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– Did she strike you? –
– No. –
– She probably hit your ears. –
– No. –
– Siêthiyal means well, but she can go crazy, a little, a lot. Well, I don’t want you to worry about her any more. Tonight I’ll … – Akhlísa slid down as the table thundered beside her, for the Elders were now growing more earnest in their pastry battles, they were hurling dishes and plates and phatries of pies against each other, the Elders waving their tendrils and wings, they were ducking heads and eyestalks, they were wiping cream from their elegant and ancient sendaline garments, the pies that Akhlísa had prepared and baked with the help of the handmaidens flying in all directions.
Fhólus and Aîya were fluttering upwards and were munching upon a large chunk of pie, glistle globs of sugar and fruit and pecaons dribbling down their five heads and the twain were saying – Don’t suppose we should mean to be saying that dinner is served we the chanted that yet right oh? –
Éfhelìnye catch an apple which was about to roll out of its dish and she looked to the Elders and chanted – I had been wishing to learn wisdom of the Elders and that they would listen to me, and that all of the peoples would learn to live in peace one among the other. But perhaps this is indeed just an illomened day, and disaster looms down upon us from the heavens. –
Akhlísa took the Princess by the shoulder and was leading her down the planks and levels of the boats and among the screaming handmaidens and Ixhúja running after them with sword and torch in hand, and Puîyus was blowing out the fires, and Akhlísa caught Puîyus by the sleeve as he dashed by and chanted – Lord and husband, I need to take my Sister Wife to bed now because she’s not feeling well. I think it would be best for her to sleep in your room this night. –
Puîyus nodded and told them in blinks and glances that he may be in the golden halls all night putting out fires. Behind him were come several Traîkhiim carrying buckets of water and sand, and they were trying to douse everything which Ixhúja was kindling.
– That’s fine, beloved lord husband – Akhlísa chanted. – But it’s time for the tomorrow Empress to sleep. –
– Mew? –
– Oh I’ll be staying up. I’ll be in the harem tonight with Siêthiyal. We’re going to be playing a game. –
– Mew! – Puîyus chimed.
– No, not Xhwongeîthe, you know we’d only play diamond ball with you. No, Siêthiyal and I will be playing a girlly game, you wouldn’t like it. We’ll probably be trying on different dresses and playing with our hair, you won’t miss anything at all. But Éfhelìnye is quite tired, and I’ll be bringing her to sleep soon. –
Puîyus nodded and he took the Princess by the hand and kissed it, and then he kissed Akhlísa on the brow. Éfhelìnye however was loathe to leave until Puîyus gave her a nice and long hug, and he acquiesced, but the embrace was hardly as long as she would have liked it, for Puîyus knew he had to draw himself away and tend to the crashing of the boats and the burning of the sets. He bowed unto them and turned away and unto duty, and every few moments the handmaidens came running in terror while Ixhúja pursued them, and by now the Elders of the Qhíng and Kháfha and Aûm were engaged in quite a pie splatter fight, and behind them was come Puîyus trying to clean up the mess and douse the fires, and Fhólus and Aîya were skating upon soppy wet sponges and wiping up what they could.
– I love you, Puey! – cried Éfhelìnye.
– He knows. He knows – chanted Akhlísa as she patted the Princess’ shoulder and lead her downwards, and they came into the midst of the drifting boats and the cascades of pollen and the rising and falling streams all of confetti and papyrus light and the large and beament windows that were leading outwards unto the temples burning their saffron flame and the ziggarats arising in phosphorous gleams, and all of the ancient iron mountains sprawling outwards and revealing the hidden ways of fortress and hill and pont, and Akhlísa lead the Princess downwards and out of the halls and into the main quarters of the fortress where monks and warriors alike were preparing for sleep, the monks in the temple quarters and the warriors in the barracks, and the maidens came walking out right in the middle of all things. Akhlísa was about to turn and head off unto the qtètlhi selamlik, but she heard a familiar laugh beside her, for Siêthiyal was standing just a few cubits away and leaning against the wall and convulsing in laughter. Handmaidens were dashing in all directions, but Akhlísa just did not care, she shoved away at sleeve and arm that came too close to her. Siêthiyal was just merry in her laughing, she could barely even lean upwards against the walls.
– You’re so naughty – chanted Akhlísa. – It’s like the Immortals made Puey extra nice so they had to give you all his naughtiness. –
– No, Puey’s the naughty one, he doesn’t have the heart to send all these maidens away … I just watch and see what others will do! Tee hee hee hee hee! Did you see the dance! Did you see just how sick the Princess was getting? I don’t have to do a thing, don’t you understand? I never do anything in this family, I just let the rest of you go about on your weird little business. You had a cannibal feast. Ixhúja is completely unsocialized, she’s altogether nuts. And Éfhelìnye, she’s so lovesick I can feel it a league away. I just have to whisper here, promise there, and everyone else goes crazy! And nobody noties me! –
– Naughty naughty naughty! – chanted Akhlísa as she wagged her finger. – You go to bed! –
– I can’t help myself! This is how I act when I try to be good. Now if I really set my mind to it … –
– I wasn’t joking when I told you I’d be coming for you in the night. If I were you I’d be getting what sleep I could. You’ll be sorry. –
– I call this one, Operation Drown the Princess in her own Tears. Why, think of it, just the merest thought that an unmarried, beautiful damsel is anywhere within Puey’s presence is enough to break her. Oh, I’m going to have a good thousand years of tormenting her … and you too. –
Akhlísa tried to make a brave and angry face but Siêthiyal just laughed at her all the harder. – This time you’ve gone too far! – shouted Akhlísa. – You were really mean to her. –
– Oh Éfha deserves it, she can be so selfish – Siêthiyal chanted. – Anyway, notice how now she’s a little lamb following you about? –
– Yeah! Shut up! You’re ugly! –
Siêthiyal leaned froward and whispered into her ear and chanted – This is the perfect time to start reminding her of how loyal and loving you are. Hour by hour, day by day, let her accept you as a little Sister, and then little Sister becomes Sister Wife, and she won’t even realize that she’s stopped resenting you. And you will have me to thank. –
Akhlísa shook her finger and tried to think of something mean and clever to say, but could only remember the old parental maxim and blurted out – I hope you have a daughter just as clever and mean as you are, and she torments you so much! –
Siêthiyal chuckled all the harder. – Grandma Tàltiin used to tell me she told Mamà that all. The. Time. And Mamà had me! And if anymaid thinks she’s going to be trickier than I, she won’t know the meaning of tricky until I tricksy trick trick her trickstersome. That sentence didn’t make any sense, but it’s getting late. –
Akhlísa threw up her hands and chanted – You just wait. Tonight. Midnight. Bad Day incarnate! – And storming off and grabbing Éfhelìnye by the elbow she thundered – We have just got to get her an husband. We need to marry her off as soon as possible. –
– I’ve brought up the subject with Puey – Éfhelìnye chanted – but he forbids me to discuss it with him. I suppose we’ll have to start looking for someone on our own. –
Siêthiyal stuck out her tounge and made several faces to her Sister and Sister by marriage as they descended into the men’s quarters and then spun about and ran unto the harem to see what new mischief she could weave, as above them all the six hour was turning and waning and drawing all of its illluck back unto itself.
And as they were coming unto the room which the acolytes had set aside for Puîyus Akhlísa sighed and told the Princess – If I have anything to say for it, I think we should find Siêthiyal and old stinky man with old stinky man feet. –
– We have to choose someone whom we would not mind having as a jhpaîfhes, as a brother by marriage. –
– This would require careful thought then – chanted Akhlísa. – We’ll have to pick a warrior we can tolerate and dominate, someone who can withstand Siêthiyal, her tounge and trickery, and above all whom Puey would not slay on sight. – Akhlísa tapped the door and the wheels spun before her and realized that she was part of the young master’s household, and so the door spun open, and then began clasping and shutting behind the maidens. At once Akhlísa came to the cabinet and gave the Princess some sparkling water to drink and added – The last item may be the difficult one. Puey will not like the idea of Siêthiyal seeing a young man. Ever. Ever. Ever. –
– We’ll think of something – chanted Éfhelìnye. – The War still must be one, and there must be many valiant young men in the field, warriors brave and true who may develop friendship with Puey, and if he can grow accustomed to one, perhaps then he will grow comfortable enough to let the women of his family see this paladin. –
– Let me help you undress – chanted Akhlísa and she began unlooping the buttons upon the Princess’ gown. Akhlísa saw a few red marks upon the Princess’ arms and shoulders and could only guess what Siêthiyal had been doing to her in this last hour, but she thought she could see the outline of rope or net, but Éfhelìnye would surely not say anything ill about a maiden in her own family, and Akhlísa did not wish to persue the topic. – The problem is complicated of course – chanted Akhlísa. – Despite his friendliness and general innocent and pious demeaner, Puey does not make too many friends. He best gets along with wild plantimals, so that won’t be an help unless the plantimals know of an unmarried young man we can bring into the House of Pwéru. –
– Ravens and flying fishes and whales guided Puey unto me within the flames of the islands in the Forbidden Gardens – Éfhelìnye chanted. – So it coud be possible, there have been heroes of old, there may be another one right now. –
– Among mortals Puey best gets along with his own family, or the extended alliances of clans which are our family – chanted Akhlísa – and I say he gets along better with the grandmothers and matrons and aunties and female cousins than he does with the grandfathers and fathers and uncles and male cousins. Perhaps someone in the distaff side of the family could help us find someone. Lift up your arms please. Thank you. –
– I get the feeling that even when he does make friends, among non-plantimals and quite mortal Real People, that it’s mostly among the acolytes he met at the Abby of Saint Kàtriqan or among aliens such as Jeûr. I don’t think he’s friends with too many marriagible young swains his own age – chanted Princess Éfhelìnye.
– Jaràqtu like all the rest of the worlds has been running out of Sons for the last three generations or so – chanted Akhlísa. – It’s part of the death of all the Land. Alas. Well, this problem is too big for us to solve this night. Mayhap in the days to come we can use your skills as a twór, as a consulting detective and find someone who will drive Siêthiyal as crazy as she’s driving us all, because I don’t think there’s e'er been a jhamìqhama matchmaker in all the billion, billion worlds who could find a man for her. –
It did not take Akhlísa too long to undress Éfhelìnye and set her neĝblanka gown aside and to dress her in pajamas of similar albescent glow, and as the Princess was sitting at the edge of the bed, Akhlísa mixed her some hot chocolate to sooth her, and for the first time in a good long while on this very crummy day, Éfhelìnye was able to enjoy silence and the music of her own thoughts, and she could let herself forget a little the dance of the quire girls and the hundred virgins of the Poriêrii and the Qwoâng and the Tlhaxoîyer and the flowing cascades of the pollen and dust and when Puîyus was struck by the prow of the Elders and thrown deep within, and Ixhúja’s quite aggressive kiss right upon Puîyus’ lips, and all that Siêthiyal had whispered into her ear, of doubt and trepidation and fear.
Akhlísa was standing before the windows and was closing the xhmùrta kùrti qhùntu squamels one by one, and looking outwards unto the huge and sickening white moons that hung throughout all the welkin shadow, dark and dying crystalline webs trickling outwards and become almost like fingers and claws dancing from one moon unto the next. She filled the oil of a single lightglobe and set it upon a table, so that the bedroom was bathed in just a slight golden light, and she began undressing herself from the fine and nuptual dress which the geminate Duchesses Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa had woven for her of their own dædal tendrils, and which the Princess Éfhelìnye had adorned with blue ribbons and summer fineries. Éfhelìnye had to help Akhlísa out of the clockwork corset, for the wheels were fine and constricting and complex, for it had been a device which the matrons of the lwèrma khlùpyo larginchzint had designed many ages ago for the daughters of their phatries, but which had been modified for a daughter of Færie kind, and made in the fashion of a xòrsajhe such as an Imperial Concubine weareth. Akhlísa also dressed herself in a set of pajamas, simple and white qaôs pāy jāma that the acolytes of the whispering mountains had provided unto them, since most of the fine clothing which the children had had was lost in the war. And the simple white garments were already changing as they were being worn, for the clothing of the Dreamtime is only meant to be worn by either for the person for whom with loving hands it was woven, or for a small group of persons, or as ceremonial garments provided by the holy sylvanhood, for clothing absorbs the thoughts and emotions of the wearer, and even years later, after the original wearer has died and passed into the protection of the ancestors, clothing can still eminate the memories of one long gone, and so it was usually best to keep clothing in a single family, so that one’s grandsire’s thoughts may be experienced in one’s descent, and clothing was quite liable to drink up dreams and reflect it all. Éfhelìnye’s clothing was glowing with a slight pink and purple hew, placid and fading as she was already falling asleep as she drank her fharnáto hot chocolate, her clothing was breathing out the dreams of pillows and clouds and pollen and safety. Akhlísa was not entirely sure she wanted her pajamas to reflect too much of her thoughts, but when she looked down all she was were cutting images like knives and scissors and slammering doors, and images of sharpness and water and midnight.
– I like hot chocolate. It’s a tradition with me – chanted Akhlísa as she sate down upon the bed. – It’s good to have some with breakfast and then later in the day, nice warm and hot chocolately goodness, yummy yum yum yum. –
Éfhelìnye yawned a few times. – Did you mean what you chanted before? –
– About liking hot chocolate and it’s being a tradition? No, that can’t be it. –
– No, that’s not it. – Éfhelìnye finished sipping her chocolate, and when she set the cup down it sprouted little spindly legs and it began crawling away sua sponte and was bowing all the while.
– Or perhaps when I claimed that our family is crazy and we may want to try and find an husband for Siêthiyal, and oh what a task that will be? –
– When you came from the kitchens, and the Traîkhiim were trying to serve us, and the Elders were tossing pies one at another, you mentioned that you wanted me to accept you as you were and not from some devious trick. –
– Yes, I chanted something like that. I don’t quite remember the words, but it was of that kindred. –
Éfhelìnye curved up against a pillow and closed her eyen. – But did you really mean it? – asked the Princess.
– Yes, of course. I’m not going to force you to do anything you don’t want to. I’m not like Siêthiyal, why I’m not even like Fhermáta, she was good but zealous with the family also, she would have forced you to accept me as Sister Wife by now. I can’t be like that. Either you will or you won’t. I wish those Elders were not picking up the pies and throwing them one at another. One should not waste good food like that. Whenever I see a pie or make a pie or think of pies or taste of pies or am in a rather pielike mood or even say the word pie I can’t help but think of Fhermáta, beloved oldest Sister of happy memory. She was quite jetràtlhatlham pie-fain, you know. She love love love loved pies. I’m quite fond of pies myself, but she was a mæstro of pies, batter and crust and fruit and sugar all leaping upwards in her hand, all spinning about, all mixing together, a dance and music of her hands. –
– Sleepy … – whispered Princess Éfhelìnye.
Akhlísa drew up the blankets about her and whispered into her ear – Whatever you do this night, do not enter the harem. Sleep here. In the dark. In the comfort. Home. –
– I … I want Puey to be happy. –
– Sleep now. We don’t have to think any more this night. – – I don’t know how to feel. This is all too complicated for me – chanted Éfhelìnye. – This is not how our envisioned our family. – The Princess closed her eyen. Akhlísa arose and came unto a light bubble and doused the oil a little, and the room began to darken. And as Éfhelìnye was falling asleep, the last words she chanted were – I wish Fhermáta were here also. –