When Puîyus opened the door to his bedroom he was greated with a scream. Akhlísa was standing beside the bed, and she was dressed in naught but her slip, and the rest of her pajamas lay upon the sheets and pillows, and she was clutching her shoulders and screamed out all the louder. Puîyus looked on in shock, and down the halls Éfhelìnye came running to investigate the emergency.
– Don’t we knock in this family! – Akhlísa shouted. – I was getting dressed, I was scantily clad and you just barge in on me and who do you think you are sneaking around my bedroom and spying on me like that! –
Puîyus blinked. Éfhelìnye leaned into the room and chanted – This is Puey’s room. Your room is with mine in the harem quarters. –
– That’s beside the point! What are you doing here! I’ll have you know I’m an extremely modest young maiden, I don’t prance around in mine underslip and expose my elbows and knees, just who do you think I am! – Akhlísa shouted. – Out out out out out out! –
Éfhelìnye covered Puîyus’ eyen and dragged him into the halls for a moment. – I’ll get her to get dressed somewhere else. –
– No you won’t! – shouted Akhlísa. – This is my room. –
Puîyus leaned against the wall. He was wondering whether there were any way he could just take his clothing and leave Akhlísa alone, and he tapped upon the wall that very question, but Akhlísa just shouted back – You should have thought of that first before invading my private quarters! Honestly sometimes I don’t understand you, Puey, you think that you’re so chivalrous and yet everytime I turn around you’re in the company of some gaggle of maids improperly clad, you’re such a little raven. –
From inside his own room he heard Éfhelìnye’s saying – Puey just wants to get dressed before the messenger arrives. –
– Too late for that! – cried Akhlísa. – I mean, I’m a shy and wellcultured mannered young lady, I can’t have any goober watching me all the time especially not my lord husband, can’t he get dressed somewhere else? Oh, that’s it! – Puîyus heard the sound of rustling sheets and pillows and cloth and then Akhlísa’s shouting – Here, give these clothes to Puey and he can get dressed in a xholíyo, in a camarilla, there should be plenty of room for him inside, and he can dress himself while I need lots of help and someone has to do something with my hair. –
– Are you telling me that Puey should get dressed in the airmoire? – asked Princess Éfhelìnye.
– Obviously, and it’s the simplest solution, I’ll get dressed in the room, and he can get dressed in the cabinet. Now let’s hurry up, my legs are getting cold. I don’t suppose you have any better ideas, do you, princessly empressly Éfhelìnye? –
– Ah … –
– I thought not. –
Puîyus heard the rustling of a door and Éfhelìnye leaned out to him and gave him a bundle of clothing and chanted – Would you like to get dressed in the xholíyo, the buuinz? I trust you will be quite comfortable within it. –
Akhlísa poked her head out of the door and shouted – And stop trying to look at me when I get dressed! I’ll have you know that I’ve never danced around in naught but jewels and veils and if you think for a moment that I have you’re delusional and lost in your own dreams and nyaaa nyaaaaa nyaaaaaa to you! –
Éfhelìnye escorted Puîyus to the schrank and behind him Akhlísa was laughing and taking up dresses and leaning them against herself and wondering which one she should wear, and Puîyus was coming to the rapid decision that after the consultation with the messenger that he would tell the maidens to return to their own rooms in the harem, for if they did try to live together in a single room they’re all go crazy. Puîyus did not enter the schrank at once, he hesitated and knocked upon it, and suspecting something, he took a step back and swung the door open and suddenly Siêthiyal and Ixhúja came tumbling out of it and were throwing crumbs at each other all the while, and they collapsed in an heap before Puîyus’ feat, and they could not control their giggles.
– She started it! – cried Siêthiyal.
– Purr purr purr! –
– Did not! –
– Purr! –
– You’re such a fibber! –
– !! –
Puîyus walked o'er the maidens and entered the cabinet and closed the doors behind him and proceeded to get dressed in the small and dark and crampt closet which somehow seemed smaller than he would have expected it to be. And outside her heard the giggles of Siêthiyal and Ixhúja as they rolled about each other, and Éfhelìnye was saying – Puey thinks a messenger is coming, shouldn’t all the rest of us be getting dressed also? –
– The messenger doesn’t want to see me – chanted Siêthiyal. – I think only the Empress and the Senior Concubine have to be dressed up. –
– Purr purr purr! –
– Yeah no one wants to see her either. We’re definitely out of the main hierarchy of the adults. –
– Purr? –
– I think that you and I can just stay in our pajamas for all this long dismal day. Let’s sneak back to the kitchens, Ixhújaji, and maybe we can sneak some some basketti up with us and pelt each other with it. –
– I want some jhyèpet sgapetti! – Akhlísa cried, and although Puîyus was struggling in the darkness of the cabinet to get dressed he could hear that Akhlísa was scrambling up upon the bed and bouncing a little even as Éfhelìnye was trying to help her get dressed. – I just love pasketii! It’s one of my alltime top eleven favorite supper foods, not counting desserts of course. –
– My hair feels stringy – chanted Siêthiyal. – It’s become quite jhyepetèthya, quite noodle-like, quod I. –
– Akhlísa, as soon as you’re still we can get these bloushes o'er you, and I thought we were going to work on some modifications unto the bridal dress – Éfhelìnye chanted. – We were going to add some blushes of summer and blue unto it. –
– Since Puey’s trapped in the cabinet we can all get dressed now – chanted Akhlísa.
– I don’t have my clothes with me – chanted Siêthiyal. – Ixhúja, do you have a change? –
– … – Ixhúja was whispering.
– Look, Ixhúja’s blushing! – squealed Akhlísa. – Are we embarrassing you, Ixhúja? –
– She didn’t bring anything but her pajamas and weapons – chanted Siêthiyal. – Don’t tease her for that, most of us manage not to bring entire wardrobes with us, Khlís, and the only reason we have your dress now is because you were prancing around last night in veils! –
– Ixhúja’s blushing! Ixhúja’s blushing! – Akhlísa cried.
– She’s a very nice and modest person – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– Can Puey hear us? Of course he can – and Akhlísa shouted – Puey! Puey! Guess what! Ixhúja’s taking off all her clothing and she’s all scantily clad and neckid in here! Want to take a look? –
Princess Ixhúja squealed and screamed and hiding her face ran out of the room. Siêthiyal shook her head and chanted – I think you have brain damage, little Sister. No, I know you have suffered brain damage. Honored Khwofheîlya dropped you on the head many times, that’s all I can say. – Siêthiyal ran out of the room.
– I wish you wouldn’t tease my Cousin so much – Éfhelìnye chanted. – She is extremely shy, and do not be fooled by her prowess in battle, I think she may be the most vulnerable of us all. –
– She likes Puey – laughed Akhlísa.
– You shouldn’t say that – Éfhelìnye chanted. – You’ll embarrass her. –
– Why, because she likes Puey? Puey was dreaming about you last night, he didn’t want to admit it but I can snatch thought out of his eye, he was dreaming something sweet and cute about you, I bet he was dreaming of married life and you were living together and running a farm or something, maybe you were with child, that sounds like the sort of sugarysweet dream he would have about you I just know it. You’re blushing! You’re blushing! You’re blushing! Puey! Aren’t you dressed yet! Come and look at this, Éfha’s face is all apple red, all I have to tell her is how much you wuv her and she all glows red. –
Puîyus was sincerely hoping he was not putting on his jerkin and kilt on backwards, but it was too small and dark and crampt for him to see for certain. He knocked on the inside of the cabinet door and waited for some sort of signal from the outside world.
– We’re all decent out here – chanted Akhlísa. – Come on out. –
Slow and cautious the camarilla door began to slink open, and Puîyus’ hand appeared above the rim, and Akhlísa shouted – Puey! Éfhelìnye’s all scantily clad! I can see all her leg! Come and take a look at this! –
The camarilla door slammed shut. Akhlísa tumbled backwards on the bed and convulsed in laughter. Éfhelìnye shouted – Don’t listen to anything that Kàrula says, I’m still in my pajamas. –
The door crept open a little. Akhlísa fell upon her side and shouted – Sure, listen to her why don’t you! Never listen to me, I guess because I’m second best, I’m a Concubine, listen to the first wife why don’t you? Puey! Close the door! I’m scantily clad too! –
– No she’s not – chanted Éfhelìnye. – I’ve gotten her back into the bridal dress that the Aûm Duchesses wove for her with their own tendrils. –
– Nope! Naked! – laughed Akhlísa.
Puîyus opened the door but kept his eyen closed and hazarded opening up one eye, and to his relief saw that in the dark room in the sickly dawn that Akhlísa was dressed all in nuptual white and was rolling from side to side in peals of laughter, and Éfhelìnye was standing above her. Akhlísa opened her eyen and forced herself to be serious for a few moments and quoda she – Puey, my dearest husband, you do know that your kilt is on backwards, don’t you? And your sarks are inside out? And you’ve missed some buttons on your jerkin, right? –
Puîyus spun around in panick and started examining his kilt and trousers and sleeves and could find nothing wrong with them, and the more he pressed upon the buttons and the longer he could find nothing wrong, the more he was convinced that he must be horribly unclad to an embarrassing extent, and Akhlísa just howled in laughter. Éfhelìnye came froward and straighted up Puîyus’ sleeves and collars and helped him with a couple of buttons and chanted – You look beautiful as always, Puey, Kàrula here is just be a littlemischievous with you. – The Princess grabbed a few ribbons and pulled back some of Puîyus’ hair in long bands and chanted – I’ll finish with Karuláta soon. Do you want to see whether the messenger is arrived? It may be important. –
Puîyus nodded and was turning to leave, but looking back he murmured unto the maidens and told them in a language of purrs and growls, Tonight I think all of you should sleep in the harem and I shall remain here alone.
– What! – gasped Akhlísa. – I was getting used to spending time with you! What did I do! Does this have anything to do with all these tricks I was just playing on you, because I don’t see the connection at all! –
Puîyus bowed unto them and told them in blinks and glances, I shall see you both in the xàtlhejem, the tea room, and there we can meet the messengers. And he turned to leave, and the doors opened before him.
– No fair! – shouted Akhlísa. – I didn’t do anything but I get blamed for everything! –
– You shouldn’t tease Puey so – chanted Éfhelìnye. – In many ways he is a timid and shy creature, like a deer come to the edge of the pool only to be frightened by a spear tailed xhyàthan crocodile arising from the darkness. –
– I’m his wife, he shouldn’t be all scared of me. I’ll be as unclad as I want to, and I don’t mind embarrassing him at all, that’s my job. –
– Maybe that was your job as his little Sister, but as his Concubine you have a different role. –
– I’m not changing. –
Princess Éfhelìnye drew Akhlísa upwards and was drwing down her sleeves and buttoning up all of the layers of the white concubinal dress which honored Pereluyàsqa and revered Khosyaràsqa had woven unto her, and she was taking out the bundle of the outer gown and the corset and the wheels that made it up. – If we are to survive together, as a family, we may have to accept some temporary compromises – Éfhelìnye chanted. – You may have to be a little less mischievous, and I may have to be a bit more understanding. –
– I’m plenty not mischievous, I greeted Puey as his wife and made breakfast for everyone and I made you eat when you were being stubborn. Why aren’t you being upset that you have to stay in the harem with the rest of us? –
– Pehraps I’ve accepted that I too must compromise – Éfhelìnye smiled, although she was thinking to herself how easy a task it would be for her to wait for the rest of the maidens to fall asleep, and she could sneak out in the darkness and escape the zenana and cuddle up next to Puîyus without anyone else finding out until dawn. She drew up the corset and chanted – It is part of the ritual of your station of being Imperial Concubine that you are bound in the clockwork of the corset. Would you like me to set it upon you? –
– Most certainly yes! – chimed Akhlísa. – The xòrsajhe makes me all round and feminine and I always want to remind Puey that I’m a female and that he has to love me. –
Éfhelìnye held up the korsät and the wheels were clattering together and twisting and locking themselves together in spiral patterns, and as she began drapping them about Akhlísa and setting the threads and screws within the Princess chanted – I don’t think that Puey e'er forgets that we are female and hardly needs any reminders at all. Later when we have some time I’ll work upon lacing some blue thread into your sleeves, although I have some ideas of what we should do. – Éfhelìnye let the lace spin about and bind itself about Akhlísa’s hips and torso, and she took out ribbons and thread of the summer hews and added a few quick stitches to Akhlísa’s sleeves in preparation of artistry to come and was thinking all the while of stitching and weaving and the wheels of corsets and all of the twining music of the machinery thereof íxei and iqúfhei and xhmìnyi and khmùtur and khmufhùrkie and khmòjhi and khmàjhi and jhinùrfhet and jhína and thùkhro and fhàfhlurt and pàjhe and tnúkhe and tsàfhra agleam.
Puîyus only had to wait in the xàtlhejem chanoma for only a few minutes, for Princess Éfhelìnye was loathe to keep him alone and waiting for too long, even though Akhlísa did not find anything wrong with tarrying in the room and letting Éfhelìnye fiddle with jacinth thread and plans on adding indanthrene unto the sleeves and all of the shade and palms of summertide, and surely Akhlísa would have taken all day with her gown if Éfhelìnye had let her. Princess Éfhelìnye dressed herself in a simple white dress and took Akhlísa by the hand and they ran out into the tea room and Puîyus was sitting upon a chair and outside the tlhòstu envoy was waiting, and as Éfhelìnye and Akhlísa came to his side still the messenger, wrapped up in beads and his face ycovered in a masque did not enter. At last Éfhelìnye noticed the placement of the daises within and taking Puîyus by the hand made him sit at the highest height, and she sate down behind him and bade Akhlísa to sit at his feet, for she was realizing that the messenger was expecting them to sit in their proper arrangement and hierarchy, for after all the messenger was sacred unto the Immortals and was come to speak to the jaiSaiqírening who was to become the new Sun Emperor. As soon as the children took their place, the messenger came within, and since his face was completely covered in beads and feather and wood, he was able to look upwards towards the future Emperor, the messenger’s face hidden in the masque of ritual. And in the long sleeves of the messenger were click chink chinking the string of xhyemálo quipu, and he was reaching upwards unto his masque and pressing upon the beads, and the masque was opening upwards and revealing different faces, and one was the face of peace such as a messenger will bare when announcing armistice, and another was the face of war, all black and red and fanged, and one was the face of piety with feathers brimming downwards and tears painted in anticipation of the blood sacrifice, and one was the face of resignation, the painted eyen looking askance and in wonderment, but the face which the tlhòstu envoy revealed at this time was the face of summoning, and it was a masque gazing upwards unto the heavens, and the envoy clasped his hands together, braille beads tumbling about his wrists, and he spake in a voice in thiswise saying:
– Great Prince of Princes and future Sun of all the billion, billion worlds and the quadrillion, quadrillion souls, the War Chieftains of these whispering mountains the ancient and iron Xhyèrxhmu have strung together message unto you, xhyemálòfhwiqal asking you to visit them at your pleasure, and these Chieftains are of the most illustrious and famous War Clans of the Qwoâng and the Tlhaxoîyer whose lineage reach back unto the time of the Shield Maiden Queendoms and the most powerful Poriêrii who have given you this fortress. They beg of you to come and see them and command them so that they may offer you their eternal loyalty and appreciation, oh holy Prince, oh anointed of Kàrijoi, oh future Father of all of the empyreal Pwéru. – So the tlhòstu envoy was saying.
Puîyus nodded and mewed a little. Princess Éfhelìnye leaned forwards and chanted – My most beautiful and perfect future husband, who is the absolute superior to all other men who e'er were or are or e'er can be, thanks you for bringing this to his most exaulted attention. He says that he will visit the chieftains at once. You may go and announce that. And as soon as we find Puey’s wooden shoon he can toss off his bedroom slippers and follow you. –
The messenger bowed down low and closed some of the outer layers of his masque and spun around and in a rustle jangle jingle clitter clatter of beads was leaving and heading back out the halls and unto the bridges without. Puîyus got up from the dais and stretched his arms. Éfhelìnye hung onto him and chanted – Do you want me to come with you? You should probably have someone with you who can speak for you. –
Akhlísa ran into the room and was carrying Puîyus’ wooden shoon and cried out – Look what I found, one of the dinosaurs was chewing on one of them, and Fhólus was wearing the other one as a hat upon one of his remaining heads, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them. –
– Karuláta, do you want to go and visit the War Chieftains? – asked Éfhelìnye. – I don’t think that Puey should go alone. –
Puîyus slipped on a wooden shoe and felt a squishy crunchy crushy sound, and withdrawing his socked foot found that some very sticky candy had been left within. Akhlísa shook the shoe clean and muttered – So that’s where I hid the rest of the chocolates, I’ve been looking for them all morning. Here you go, put on your shoe. – As Puîyus struggled into this shoe Akhlísa leaned against him and chanted – I don’t see why all three of us can’t go. Nothing terribly important is happening around here. –
All three turned when they heard the sound of crashing. Doors swung open and revealed that Siêthiyal was running down the halls and holding a long purple sock and screaming – You can’t catch me nobody can catch me you won’t catch me at all tee hee hee hee hee! – And just a few cubits behind her racing upon silvern feet came dashing Ixhúja screaming all the while, and one foot was cloaked in a violet paSlogh, and the other was missing its gykboⁿyg. Puîyus slipped on his other shoe and poked his toe on something, and yanking the habach off poured out some sìswe jacks upon the ground.
– So that’s where I put those! – sighed Akhlísa. – I knew I had to have put them somewhere. –
– Someone should keep an eye on those two – chanted Éfhelìnye. – Kàrula, you know more about the war chieftains than I do, so perhaps you should go with Puey, and this will be a good opportunity for you to start learning some of the responsibilities of being an Imperial Consort. I can stay here and try to get the dynamous dyad here to get out of their pajamas and into daytime clothing, and perhaps we can get around to weaving some of the new clothing that we need. –
– Oh, staying her sounds more fun though, I don’t want to hang around with the old gerontes! – cried Akhlísa. – Old people smell funny and they’re always giving orders. –
– Do you want to help with the weaving, then? – asked Éfhelìnye.
– That sounds too much like a chore, though – chanted Akhlísa. – Isn’t there a choice that doesn’t requite obedience or doing chores and the death of fun? –
– I’m not so sure such a place exists in the Dreamtime – chanted the Princess. – It’s your choice. –
– Then I want to stay with Puey, but I’m only being a little respectable. –
The three turned when they heard the sound of crashing anew. Ixhúja came tumbling right into the room for she had fallen from a great height, but she was laughing all the while, and she held up a little toy which she and Siêthiyal had been preparing the night before. Siêthiyal almost kicked the door down and looking down to Ixhúja was growling and screaming – Mine! Mine! That is an act of war! You die now! –
– Someone needs to stay with those two – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– Ah … I’m staying with Puey – chanted Akhlísa. – You three have fun now, doing whatever it is you do. –
Éfhelìnye took Akhlísa’s hand and squeezed and chanted – Just remember, when men see the Imperial Concubine, men see the Empress, so act with all calmness and balletic decorum. –
– Will do, Princess – chanted Akhlísa. – And you remember, Siêthiyal and Ixhúja, they’re your Sisters now, so they’re your problem and responsibility. Isn’t that right, Pew? –
Puîyus waved and was already arising and trying to sneak away from the maidens. Akhlísa grabbed him by the collar and chanted – Question! Question! Just one question for you, Éfhelìnye, what does páruta mean? –
– Decorum? Ah, tradition, punctilio, plütav – Éfhelìnye chanted. – Just act in accordance with úxei, in the proper manner of speech and bowing. –
– That I can do, my tqúkhiiliîxing, my little skipper! – cried Akhlísa and she stood to attention. Puîyus bowed to Siêthiyal and Ixhúja and they were no longer paying him any attention but were wrestling each other on the floor and shoving and poking each other. Puîyus turned to Éfhelìnye and took her hand to kiss it, and Akhlísa wrapped her arm about Puîysu and was leading him down the halls and saying – Have you seen my in this bridal dress, Puey, the corset makes me all adorable and feminine, I’m just absolutely cute, aren’t I, I’m totally a little nymph! I just though I should bring this to your attention. –
Éfhelìnye watched as Siêthiyal and Ixhúja were punching and rolling about each other and came rolling right out of the room and into the halls and so eager were they in their wrestling that they were shoving aside acolytes and priests and warriors too slow to get out of their way, and Éfhelìnye came running after them and was shouting – Elbenmädchenry, my dearest demoisellen, let’s not fight anymore! – cried Éfhelìnye. – There are better games than wrestling and you both need to get dressed for today, don’t you! –
Siêthiyal grabbed Éfhelìnye by the ankle and pulled her down, and although Éfhelìnye screamed Ixhúja punched her about a few times and tossed her upon the rugs, and both Siêthiyal and Ixhúja poked the Starflower Princess a few times before growing bored with her, and then rolled away more intent upon each other. Ixhúja turned back and was growling in a rather mechanical but feline language as if to say, Éfha, you know that when you have daughters of your own they’re going to be as uncontrollable as we both are, they’ll be fighting and wrestling all the time.
– No they won’t – chanted Éfhelìnye as she shook herself upwards and leaned against the wall. – They’ll all be perfect little ballerina princesses, and I won’t permit any fighting at all. –
– It can’t be help! – cried Siêthiyal as she shoved Ixhúja aside. – Look at the two sides of the family that will merge in your daughters, the bellicose Sweqhàngqu, the wild Pfhaqhaîtsir, and even the indomitable Pwéru, you’ll be lucky to have a single quiet hour to yourself. –
Éfhelìnye turned around and began walking away from them and chanted – I’m going to go read for a while. I’m doing some research on how to enter my Father’s Labyrinth and win this war. –
Ixhúja and Siêthiyal drew themselves upwards. They smiled. They clasped hands. Éfhelìnye turned around and saw that they were staring at her, and at once knew that this could be to no good. Éfhelìnye started running as quickly as she could.
– Pajetqaqhayáxeus khrin! – cried Siêthiyal. – Let’s tackle her! –
Ixhúja roared a tigrine call and bound through the air.
– Oomfh! – cried Princess Éfhelìnye as Ixhúja landed on her, and Siêthiyal grabbed her by the ankles, and as Puîyus and Akhlísa disappeared far down the halls and were following the envoy upon the delicate sky bridges, the Princess was wishing that she had decided to go with them instead rather than brave this sororal world.
And Puîyus and Akhlísa were walking upwards upon the long and spanning sky bridges that spread upwards from the frozen courtgarths and throughout the orbeloid layers of the Xhyèrxhmu Whispering mountains, and the messenger was walking up upon long pathways where fog was twining about his trousers and kilt so that he was almost swimming through it and becoming a part of the darkness and the spreading of the clouds, and Puîyus and Akhlísa were treading behind them and kicking at the mist and blowing upon it and letting it part before them, and at the edge of the bridges were standing many soldiers at attention, their impaling spears in their hands and their miec māccuahuitl hanging from the metallic twùrka rings that rested upon their necks and harness, for the maquáhuitl was not quite a weapon which could be sheathed like a sword, but rather had to be hooked and set apart since its edges were glass obsidian and flint. And beyond the soldiers were riding many warriors upon giraffe and dinosaur mount and gazing outwards unto the flowing sea of mist that clouded all this weary and sickly world. The messenger did not have far to go before he was seen from afar by the great watchtowers of the main fortresses of the Poriêrii, and at once some of the towers were lighting upwards with towering streaks of aofhàtro naphtha flames that were signaling unto the temples within. Puîyus could see that in the miles before and above them that the Sons of the Poriêrii were pouring outwards, and many of them were riding upon large diplodoci who were leaping upon their knees and elbows, their tails swiveling from side to side, their necks rising and falling, and the warriors upon them were grim and silent in their lamellar armor, brilliant cleats and barbs and sìswe jacks sprawling upwards and cutting through the air. Akhlísa was looking around and suspecting that if Puîyus commanded it, then a thousand warriors would ride up to him and offer their dinosaur to him as mount and carry him and her away right unto the fortress, but such were not the thoughts of Puîyus who saw nothing wrong with walking the way unto the next sky rath, and would certainly not think to ask for help from a stranger when he was wellcapable himself of doing what had to be done. And so before them arose the winding gates of the fortress and bursting upwards upon the spires were the various signs and regalia and honoria of the Poriêrii, and their jagged whispering mountains, and their ancient fortresses, and the gates were swinging open and revealing a fortress which was completely constructed of thorn and triangle and sharp edges juxtaposed one against the other, the doors were spinning around and revealing the clattering of wheel and barb and knife, even the windows were grinding together as if being swallowed and strangled by the walls, and the streaking boarders for all these windows and doors were layers of aôjoi lapis lazuli glistening uqnûm türkot teoxihuitl bright, and the envoy was skipping up the stairs, his beads flowing from side to side, streams of beads drifting down from his masque, and the door swayed open to reveal the thick air of perfumes within.
– The Poriêrii – muttered Akhlísa. – I’ve never trusted this clan. – She squeezed Puîyus’ hand. – I don’t suppose this has all been a trap from the beginning, has it? Poriêrii. I don’t even like the sound of their name. It sounds like nothing, just a lot of íjukh vowels dancing around and doing nothing at all, or-ee-eh-ee-ee, ridiculous little vocables struggling to say anything. –
Warriors were bowing before Puîyus as the doors were sliding upwards, and several layers of senior warriors and patriarchs were falling upon their knees as Puîyus and Akhlísa walked into the halls, and yet what the children found most remarkable about these rooms was the dazzling of gold that spiraled about the columns and the tumbling spandles of turquoise and peridot and chrysoprasus and onyx and the massive obsidian statues of the Ancestors of the Poriêrii gazing down upon the children, but the heavy smell of perfume in the air, it was as if a constant rainfall of khmùnthe scents and qhòkhqo empasm and jhpàse perfumes were always falling upon all the walls and tumbling columns, and the air was scintilliant with waterdrops arising and falling, and as the children walked out upon thick plush rugs they found that several large fountains were set within, and scented water was spilling upwards, and making everything vivid and pleasant. The envoy continued to walk upwards and warriors were opening upwards inner doors, warriors falling upon their knees even as Puîyus came towards him and averting their eyen from his holy face, warriors who were holding impressive battle axes and knives and macana were set in their belts, and within came air even thicker with perfumes and with the dreams of scented oil, and here were kneeling the crowds of the war clans of the Poriêrii and the Qwoâng and the Tlhaxoîyer and were humbling themselves before the coming of Puîyus and his second Consort. Puîyus looked upwards through the columns and unto the edge of the halls were the daises arose, and breathed in several scents all at once, the smell of Elders upon their chairs, their long white beards and wisdom and age, and tripods burning coals behind them, and the rustling of tapestries depicting the glories of the mountain tribes of long ago, and the Generals of these Clans kneeling down and taking out their swords and setting them down before the future Emperor, and before the high chairs a few Qriî slaves, their brustling thorns and fur dripping with wax and oil were wrestling and jawing and biting each other for their Masters’ amusement, but when the crowds noticed that Puîyus was coming, at once the signal was given and the Qriî slaves stopping their fighting and drew themselves upwards and fled back into the outer rooms where the rest of the Qriî were waiting, And yet what was most interesting or perhaps most perplexing about the these halls where the Qwoâng and the Tlhaxoîyer and the Poriêrii were gathering was that kneeling down at the feet of the daises, as Puîyus could smell from afar, rested about an hundred maidens, and he could smell that they were wellbathed and their skins covered in perfumes and oils and adornments which he had never smelt before. It was several more before Puîyus saw them but he knew what to expect, as the envoy lead them left and then right, and the sea of warriors hid their faces before Puîyus, and then before them arose the wtsóyas of silks and precious metals and the War Chieftains of the Qwoâng and the Tlhaxoîyer and the Poriêrii and a few of other clans, and above them their Sires and Grandsires the Elders of these peoples, and all around the platforms the kowtowing of their very beautiful and very goldentressed daughters and nieces and granddaughters and great-granddaughters, and the maidens ranged in age to about a year or two older than Puîyus to about seven years older, and the smell of their perfumes and oil was very strong unto his nostrils. And the maidens were dressed in the various bright colors of their clans and in the Jaràqtun style, shimmering greens and blues and golds, most of them had braided tresses and jewels woven into their golden hair, some of them had complicated coiffures of ribbon and gem, some had jewels in their bodices and about their long damascened sleeves, and not a few of them were wearing shirts which were a little shorter than Puîyus was used to seeing so that he could almost see their elbows, and skirts so that he could amost see their knees, and he wondered whether that was a tradition among the mountain tribes of his people, or whether the warriors of river and loch whence his own people were come were just more orthodox in their manner of dress. And Puîyus was thinking that he had never seen so many maidens at once, certainly not so many of his own generation even within a few years, and he was barely noticing that upon the dais a throne was being drawn up for him by the strong arms of the brothers and uncles and fathers of these maidens, a throne to tower even above all the Elders, and slaves were running up and setting cushions upon it and sprinkling perfumes and turning aside and hiding back into the curtains. Puîyus gulped and was thinking that his waking premonition just had to be coming true, for surely this was not going to end up being a good day.
And the warriors and the virgins and the generals and chieftains and elders continued to kowtow before Puîyus for a time, and even the messenger did so, and then the messenger arose and coming up upon the barag called out through his masque of supplication and chanted for all to hear – The future Emperor is come to grace us with his presence, come, let us adore him, and let him sit inthronised among us all – and the envoy fell upon his knees and masque and hid himself, and Puîyus looked up unto the parakkum and the throne set up there, a pthronos all of qàxhera barmba and enhydrous khmèjhi and crystalline tsùqri quartz. Puîyus could see nothing else to do but approach the throne, and he hesitated, but Akhlísa squeezed his hand and whispered in his ear saying – By future Emperor he means you, so let’s go sit in the throne, it looks big and comfy. Do you think they’ll get us a drink if we ask? –
Puîyus was not sure but was loathe to ask any favors of others. Akhlísa face was covered in her golden veils, and as Puîyus approached the platform he wished that he could hide his face from others, even though the maidens about him were keeping their eyen away from him, he still felt bare before them. The maidens were a sea of ribbons and jewels and golden hair, and he recognized just a single scent among them, the virgin of the Poriêrii whom he had rescued a few times before, but of whom he knew very little. As soon as he stepped foot on the platform beside the Elders he felt uncomfortable, for this was not the place for children to be standing as equals with their parents, but the throne arose even above the elders, a tall throne and no steps were set up before it. Puîyus was not a very tall young gossoon, hardly as tall as his Father, he was only an inch or so taller than Ixhúja, and the maidens in his family and the Starflower Princess were not to tall at all. He remembered that both of his acolyte friends Paloîta Fhloêt Jhworàqta Khwakhtailasàkhna and Khrùkhtii Khráfhi the last of Khróm had grown taller than he even at an earlier age, and it was a little embarrassing because Khrùkhtii was a khlijhàloxha of the negotiator sub-caste of the Khlitsaîyart Khlaêr and not known for their height, and Paloîta had always been thin and gangly er that he died in the War of Heaven, and he doubted that either of them would have trouble and sliding up and negotiating into such a large throne. He scrambled upwards and sunk a couple of feet deep into the cushions and was almost smothered at once, and struggled to arose, perched upon the tip of the throne, and his wooden shoon were almost a cubit above the ground and just bobbled from side to side. Akhlísa was not sure where she was supposed to sit, but Puîyus wanted her to be close to him, so he pulled her up beside him and she almost drowned into the thick cushions also until she found a comfortable way to sit with legs across Puîyus’ lap and her arms about him, upon the throne which towered above the elders and which in turn towered large about the children themselves.
– The Emperor of Tomorrow and his Senior Concubine honoren us by their presence! – intoned one of the first of the Elders. – They hold court among the Masters of the Qwoâng and the Tlhaxoîyer and the Poriêrii, túreil túreil túreil! –
And the Elders and Chieftains and the Generals were bowing down and answered – Túreil túreil túreil! – And then the Elders and Chieftains and Generals sate upwards, although they kept their faces down and at a respectful distance from the future Emperor’s eyen, and the Fathers of these ancient and powerful clans were taking up bells and chiming them and drawing all men’s attention unto the Cælestial Crown Prince, and slaves came outwards and cast out perfumes and oils and scents in these glistening halls. Akhlísa leaned her head upon Puîyus’ shoulders and was beginning to wonder whether Éfhelìnye were not in fact having more fun with their Sisters back in the fortress, and Puîyus was wondering whether there were any way he could convince some other young man to take unto himself the Qhaûnthe the Crystalline P-Skhent.
The oldest of the Árnan great-grandfathers of the Poriêrii, the Dakilang, was coming forwards, his walking staff scraping against the perfumed rugs of the platform, his beard a long curl of hoarfrost, bells woven into his sleeves, his robes were long and formal, and he was wearing complicated and ceremonial tsàtqu galligaskins that rippled about his ankles, and bowing all the while towards the throne chanted he – We thank you dearly for honoring us by visiting the humble Qwoâng and the Tlhaxoîyer and the Poriêrii. We wish to speak unto you in person rather than unto the Kháfha who are qùnya zamptâ unto you and your wives and sisters, and the Kháfha have with most gracious word agreed. Please tell us, gracious Rising Sun, whether the fortress we have provided for you is adequate for your needs and unto the grand coalition of soldiers and warriors that you are gathering. –
Puîyus nodded. He whispered into Akhlísa’s ear, and she chanted – Puey’s like, the rath is okay for now, but we are already gathering way lots of refugees and soon they’ll be spilling outwards and et cet. –
– Are you provided with enough slaves? – asked the Dakilang.
Puîyus whispered unto Akhlísa’s ear and she chanted – Oh yes we’re swimming in slaves, we have lots of Traîkhiim and they’re not naughty at all. –
A few of the Elders chuckled a little, but in general the halls were silent and respectful. The ancient Dakilang lifted up an elegant sleeve and chanted – Sometimes the tnoaqteûpa slaves are more trouble than they’re worth, in fact many times the Traîkhiim are more valuable as burnt sacrifice than in any service they can render. Just say the word, oh great Prince, and we shall provide you with slaves of the Færie folk, or if you like Qriî technicians and tall Khmàfhlort or whatever other people you want. –
Puîyus shook his head. Akhlísa chanted – No, we’re good. Thanks. –
– We are concerned that you do not seem to have any female slaves, and we wish for you to be comfortable, especially as you are the only one who is managing to win victory for us. Please tell us, if there is anything we can provide for you, oh great Prince, and we shall do our best to grant it. We have sent word throughout all of Jaràqtu on your behalf, we are trying to gather together all of the War Clans who have survived the invasion and occupation of the Kèlor Masters, for our peoples have been grievous injured in the War. We hope to give you as many soldiers and men and errant knights and war giraffes and ostridges and dinosaurs and living ships as possible. We may not be what we once were, and in the center of our land the skies are breaking apart and whispering mountains are beginning to shatter and die, but here in the outskirts we can make our final stand. –
Puîyus whispered into Akhlísa’s ear and she chanted – If you would serve Puey you can give him some tidings of the center of Jaràqtu because that’s where he was born and growed up and we haven’t visited thereunto since the Qhíng started to leave and they were sore afraid of my Puey because he shattered the skies and the Qhíng were all wriggling their antennæ and saying make way make way because Puey is coming and he’s like super powerful and he punched a dragon in the face and exploded its skull but that came later. What was the question? Oh yes, what’s happening in the center of Jaràqtu? –
The árnan achtontli was bowing his head and saying – When the Crown Prince awoke the Aûmfhaikh weapon fashioned of the nightmares of Kàrijoi thy Father, the heavens began to shimmer and change and break, all of the clouds were souring and burning, the plains were dying, it was as if the sky and mountain and zevannah were papyrus folding and being burnt away and become the wasteland. It would be best for you not to investigate in that direction, we are trying to save all that we can there and bring them unto you. –
Puîyus whispered unto Akhlísa’s ear and she chanted – Have you heard of the Abby of Saint Kàtriqan and of Auntie Qtìmine within and some of the other priests and acolytes there oh and of Khrùkhtii he’s a young Khlitsaîyart about this tall, he’s Puey’s friend but I think that sometime’s he’s a bit of a goober. –
– We have sent masqued messengers unto the Enganíka Tsìnterat Katriqànejikh, but we have not yet received word of them. –
Puîyus whispered into Akhlísa’s ears and she chanted – Have you heard from Abbá Íngìkhmar and Grandfather Pátifhar because we haven’t heard from them in a long long long long time really long. What, Puey? Do we really have to call Abbá Sieur Íngìkhmar he’s still our Abbá no matter what the Elders may say, does anyone know what’s happening to our Abbá and Grandfather Pátifhar? –
– The war fleets of the Qhíng and the Kháfha were last seen heading north along with their commanders Íngìkhmar, the protector of Empress Éfhelìnye and Grandfather Thiêfhilos the foster-grandfather of Empress Éfhelìnye, but no matter how we have tried we have not been able to contact them – so spake the árnan prapitaamahaH, and he lifted up his hands in a sign of ritual mourning, and the generals began to thump their staves upon the platform and the warriors were striking the ground with their impaling spears and making a sound of respect for the greatest warrior of the last generation, the last of the Tùqhalu the Holy Rose Knights who served the old Empire and Kàrijoi of whilom, but the Dakilang lifted up his finger, and the generals and warriors fell completely silent, but the warriors kept their swords drawn and set down before the throne, for before the Emperor himself could the warriors engage in xhyautánis, in spiritual and honorable surrender without having to take their own lives, and Puîyus knew that this was a sign of highest respect, for earlier in the hour, when he had come to see Kàrijoi upon his Crystalline Throne he had made the very same gesture and drawn his sword and bowed down low before the old Emperor, and then asked for the unthinkable by asking for the hand of the virgin Éfhelìnye’s hand in betrothal and marriage. – As soon as we learn word of the fate of the northron fleets and of Sieur Íngìkhmar and the Peróqhi Sylvan Regent, we shall inform your Kháfha guardians and your most exaulted and holy self at once. –
Puîyus looked from side to side and found it a little strange to see shields and sword and helmets about him but no faces at all, and the shaking sea of golden hair at the lowest of the platforms, and with his ears sharper than all others’, save Princess Ixhúja’s, her could hear that some of the maidens were weeply very softly unto themselves, and yet dared not raise their voices from fear, and he was wondering whether these maidens required any protection. He listened as the Árnan pupo pupo papo walked upwards, the rustling of his robes, the movement of his staff a slight music unto him, and Puîyus could hear somewhere within the shimmering of the mountains most murmurant the wailing of slaves, and the lamentation of men many cubits away as they were dying upon crosses or bleeding to death upon huge impaling claws, and his heart warned him that it was his duty to protect all damsels if he possibly could. He pointed to the shaking sea of golden hair and lifted up an hand in querry.
– Puey wants to know what’s going on with them – chanted Akhlísa. – Did they stub their toes? Bite their tounges? Are they being punished? I bet they all have mean older Sisters who make them do all the chores and steel their candies when they’re not looking. –
The great-grandfather of the Poriêrii chanted – If the Qwoâng and the Tlhaxoîyer and the Poriêrii can provide no other service for the future Emperor and his Wives and Household, then we beg you, on behalf of all of he Elders and Chieftains to accent a present suitable to a young man starting his own dynasty. The Chieftains and their allies have gathered up for you their unbetrothed golden haired daughters and nieces and granddaughters, please, we ask you, choose of our daughters and take whomever you wish. –
Puîyus gulped and was not sure what to do. He looked to Akhlísa and hissed and she started spelling out signs and pressing his hands to tell him, I don’t know what to do either, none of us have learned how to deal with the scary old Elders, we’ve only been taught how to obey orders! You’re going to be the Emperor, you tell me what to say!
Puîyus cleared his throat. In the distance he heard the sound of men dying upon the cross, and then the swish of an axe, and shaking of flesh, and from experience he knew that some poor souls were bring brought up unto the stone and were being decollated with single perfect strikes. The great-grandfather of the Poriêrii leaned forwards and Puîyus cleared his throat again, and the warriors were certain that Puîyus was about to say something of import, but he could not think of a single thing to say.
– I don’t know, say anything – Akhlísa whispered.
– !! – Puîyus shrugged.
Akhlísa looked up and chanted – My Lord and Husband wants to know whether these maidens are in any sort of trouble. Puey is able to sense something which is disturbing him. –
– The maids are in no trouble whatsoever – chanted the Amau of the Poriêrii. – They are all beautiful virgins who had not been joined in betrothal, and the Crown Prince may, if he wish, inspect them all, for they have beautiful eyen and teeth and skin and necks and ankles and have all been trained in the arts of running an household, of being honorable and wise wives and the mothers of heroes. –
Puîyus drew out a few more signs to Akhlísa and told her, I sense death behind us. The mountain clans are finishing some mass execution and assassination. They are not telling me something, and I sense it is connected to these poor virgins.
Akhlísa’s eyen lit up and she spelt out signs meaning, Do you think they’re hiding something from you?
One does not know.
I’ll find out.
The Elders were beginning to look one to another with concern swelling up in their spleens, they were absolutely certain that a young vigorous young man would accept at least some of the maidens and promise friendship unto all these families rather than wait, especially a young man without the guidance of a Father or Grandfather any more. The Generals and the Warriors were beginning to shake, for some of them had seen with their own eyen the wrath that Puîyus would execute in battle, they had seen his crushing the skulls of enemies with his small childish hands, not to mention slaying the unrepetent reavers upon the beach, and the stories they had heard of the great dracontomachy high in the heavens, and the way that Puîyus and his Second Consort were communicating without words, but just with blinks and looks and fingers were beginning to concern them in the vast and awkward silence.
– Well, I’m finding out the answer for you then – chanted Akhlísa out loud. – I’m your wife, and you spend all your time fighting a war to protect me, so let me help you as much as I can. – She slipped out of Puîyus lap and hopped down the cubit from the perfumed and oiled cushions unto the floor of the highest platform, and swaying a little on unsteady feet she marched down the ramps and unto the Rbotibdr of the Poriêrii and yanking him by the sleeve and bowing unto him she shouted out – Excuse me! Excuse me! Puey wants to know why the virgins down there are in trouble. He’s quite adamantine on this point, and I would not start angering him, he can get very fiery when he’s angry. –
The Elders had not been expecting anything at all like this, and remaining kowtowing were hoping that the Árnan of the Elders would be able to mollify with quick answers the Crown Prince they needed. – Honored Concubine, these virgins are not in any trouble at all. –
– … – Puîyus whispered.
– Puey says that some of them are crying, and he wants to protect them if they’re in trouble – Akhlísa chanted.
– They are lonely … but happy … that they should be given to the new Emperor and can serve him – chanted the Árnan Dakilang. He looked around and wondered, for it was impossible that even if the maidens were weeping, that Puîyus should have been able to hear it from that height, but perhaps the stories of Kàrijoi’s Foster Son were true, and he were partially Dæmon rather than mortal.
– … – Puîyus whispered.
– Oh that’s gross – chanted Akhlísa.
– … –
Akhlísa yanked upon the Elder’s sleeve and chanted – Puey hears death, lots of death, but I don’t want to repeat the details, and he won’t tell me what he hears. He mentioned removing skin from eyen, and that’s all I need to know. –
The Árnan decided to hazard telling the truth. – We have had to crucify some of our members last night and this day. We had to ensure that we were giving the Emperor a proper gift. –
– ?? – Puîyus asked.
– Okay, Puey’s not understand this at all – chanted Akhlísa and she place an hand on her hips and was partially speaking with one of her hands just from the force of habit. – You see, usually when an Elder gives Puey a gift it’s a newly knit pair of socks or a new knife or perhaps a reprieve from chores, usually his presents don’t consist of crucifying someone, and I should know, I’ve given some rather goofy presents in the past and sometimes Puey just lets me keep them especially if they only fit me. –
Puîyus hopped down from the throne and was about to turn and investigate the crucifixions tsolaqayàjhwen in the back courtyards of these fortresses, and the Elders were about to arise in panick, for Puîyus was most definitely not doing what they had intended. The great-grandfather Dakilang chanted – Please stay here, Crown Prince, there is nothing to see, just the crosses and the blood and the young men we had to kill for you. We learned that it was your Starday and we just wished to procure for you the best present that we could, so we gathered up all of the virgin daughters that we have, all those who have not been intended for betrothal as of yet, and we inspected them and anointed them in oils and perfumes and picked the very best of them, please, my Prince, take a look at these maidens, for each one that we chose here we rejected eleven others, we wanted you to have the very best of them all. – Puîyus looked unto the maidens and by now the sound of their lamentation was unmistakable, the continous mention of death crucifixionque was upsetting them, and no matter how many times they had been ordered not to cry, they could not help themselves but surccumbed to tears. Slowly Puîyus drew his sword and was about to march outwards, and the Árnan cried out saying – You have to understand that these maidens are the very flower of our land, and some of them had attracted the look and attention of young men, perhaps we Elders have been negligent, but now that we have an Heir to the Dreamtime it was the appropriate time for us to purify our clans. Any young man whom we knew had been speaking to a maiden without the permission of our families, or whom we caught looking at one of these maidens in a way that displeased us, we had to put to death last night, so that you would know that all of these maidens are unattached unto anyone else but you. Do not worry about a few young men, they are dross, they are nothing unto us, it is better for them to be dead now. Any young man foolish enough to try and meet a young woman unyoked to him, he deserves death, even upon the claw. – Puîyus was leaning upon his sword, it was once again the Emperor’s sacred Eilwiyusàrtyai Dragon Sword, and bursting up from it were flairs of gold and red so bright that they were illuminating all of Puîyus’ face, tendrils of light weaving about him and spinning up above his head. He was still of a mind to go and see the crucified men, perhaps he could save them, no, he knew, they were already dying, and seeing the Crown Prince may just shatter their spirit.
– Mew? – Puîyus asked.
Akhlísa tugged upon the Elder’s sleeve and asked – Puey my lord and husband wants to know whether any of the maidens loved their sweethearts. –
The Árnan bristled and said – These maidens have had no sweethearts, they belong only to the new Emperor. –
– Did they love the young men? – asked Akhlísa.
– Love is earned through marriage, and if the future Emperor takes them into his household, he will find that they will all love him and him alone. – The Elder tapped his staff upon the dais in warning, and the maidens who had been crying a little louder at once fell silent, for they knew that the Qwoâng and the Tlhaxoîyer and the Poriêrii were not very pleased right now. – And let me assure the Emperor that these virgins are not weeping from sadness, but rather for joy, joy that they may be taken into the harīm of an Emperor and may even be honored by baring him children, if he will permit it. So please, young man, why don’t you walk down these ramps and inspect these maidens, surely you will find five or eleven to take back with you, if not all of them. They will serve you without question all the days of your life, the daughters of the Poriêrii and the Tlhaxoîyer and the Qwoâng. –
Puîyus sheathed the sword and arisen about him were long gasps of fire and anger and melancholy sadness. He never quite understood it why the Khatelèstan and the Tásel had never trusted the Poriêrii, nor why Akhlísa his not quite Sister not quite Concubine had some instinctual aversion against them, but he was not at all happy with the idea of so many deaths coming to pass because of his name, especially young men who would be useful in warfare, or who perhaps should have been betrothed to the young women. Puîyus walked up to Akhlísa and looked down to the shaking maidens and whispered a little.
– Puey’s like, will the virgins be punished if they are not taken into the Imperial Harem? – asked Akhlísa. – That’s what he chanted, or mewed rather, he’s making lots of fun and cute little noises, it’s fascinating really. –
– Quite – chanted the Árnan Elder. – The maidens here who fail to charm you with their grace and beauty will still have a place in our family, but their standing may be reduced. We have not yet decided what to do with young women whom the Crown Prince rejects. Perhaps we can sell some of them into slavery to some of your alien allies, we are in dire need of some weaponry and grain following the collapse of Jaràqtu. –
Puîyus was lifting up his hands to Akhlísa and telling her, One will not permit the virgins here to be punished for one’s sake, especially when they have not done anything wrong.
Akhlísa spelt back, Would you have been so merciful if you found out that honored Íngìkhmar was planning on giving me to some Princeling, and I wept for myself and my Sisters?
You were bound to me, such cannot happen.
So our family was more careful with us, yes, the Sweqhàngqu were really aristocratic and tried to arrange everything when wer were babies, we were very lucky, Pew. What if Siêthiyal found a sweetheart, would you give her away to another man and crucify her sweetheart just to make the deal nice and clean.
Does my little precious innocent Siêthiyal have a sweetheart?
No, of course not.
Are you sure?
Oh I’d be the first to know.
She’d better not.
Okay, this was a bad example. But still … Akhlísa let her hands trail away and looked and saw that the Elders were all waiting for an answer.
The maidens are very lonely, Puîyus was signing.
Perhaps we could use servants, Puey. That’s a good thing.
One will not have any more strife in the family. Princess Éfhelìnye can sometimes be displeased with unmarried women at about her age.
– She’ll be fine – Akhlísa chanted aloud, and the Elders had no idea what was transpiring between Puîyus and Akhlísa. Akhlísa looked to the Árnan and chanted – If Puey takes them, he’ll probably just give them to the Empress. He can be very partial to her. –
The Árnan Great-Grandfather bowed and chanted – The maidens would be pleased to be handmaidens to the Empress, they would be happy to be servants unto the House of the Pwéru, they would be overjoyed to the jhpàrfho love slaves to the new Emperor and bare him children. Here, take a look at them and pick some to take back with you. –
Puîyus walked down the ramp but was quite unpleased to do so, but Akhlísa took his hands and on his palm was spelling out, We can’t afford to offend the chieftains and elders of our people. If Éfhelìnye were here she might not realize that, she may be moved to pity the maidens, but I doubt she’d let them into our house. We’d better do something.
Puîyus hopped down upon the lowest of the platforms. All around him the maidens remained in their ritual humicubacioun and were doing their best not to gasp into tears but to keep their heads low and still. Puîyus walked among them, he could see that they were very beautiful indeed, and the smell of their perfumes and oils was exceeding thick, and despite how he wished he were responding, he could not help but in his imagination guess that if Fhermáta were still alive and had been permitted to grow up, that she might have ended up looking like one of these fair flowers.
– The Virgins are ready to sware eternal obedience unto – the Árnan great-grandfather chanted. He tapped one maiden at random upon her shoulder and chanted – Would you sware your trothplight to obey the new Emperor in all things? –
The maiden, perhaps just a year older than Puîyus was shaking and in a voice choked with tears saying – I promise to be faithful …and to serve … the Prince … and bare Sons unto Puîyos … –
Puîyus shook his hands back and forth in a signal that the maidens did not have to promise him anything at all. Akhlísa was about to explain, but Puîyus came forwards and seeing that the stranger maiden was so afraid she was liable to faint, he did the first thing that came to mind and touched her on the shoulder before realizing that it was forbidden for him to touch a maiden not of his household, and he backed off and bowed unto her.
– I see that this vrizoil gains your approval – the Great-Grandfather chanted. – She belongs to you now, body and song. Pick some others, and they will promise to serve you. –
Puîyus shook his head and was feeling powerless, but hoping at least that he was saving this maiden. She was walking backwards from the group and keeping her head down and standing behind Puîyus and Akhlísa. Puîyus looked to Akhlísa to ask her for her opinion, and she shrugged to tell him, At the very least we could use servants.
One just wants to keep them from being punished. Why, we could put the zave in charge of the Traîkhiim. Do you think that is a good idea, dearest Fhèsya? So Puîyus was spelling and signing unto Akhlísa.
– That seems bestest – chanted Akhlísa.
Puîyus bowed unto her to tell her, Do as thou wilt. It is time to leave. The messenger bade us visit the Elders at our pleasure, but our pleasure is concluded now, I would return to the fortress and prepare for warfare, the defense of my people is mine own joy. And at that he spun around, his dreamcloak rippling about him like the wings of a flittermouse, and he turned to leave.
– What’s happening? – asked the Árnan Dakilang.
– The Future Emperor has put the maidens under my charge – chanted Akhlísa. – I’ll start picking some. Okay, virgins, let me get a good view of you. You’re all so old look at you! You have to be as old as my cousin Eirènwa, do any of you know here? She’s old enough for marriage I tell you, but we don’t have to talk about her right now, she’s difficult I think, she just has to have everything her way, always a big space opera for her. She used to take care of Puey when he was a baby, did you know that, so she’s always coddling and spoiling him, I guess because she doesn’t have a lot of male cousins, we’ve all been having problems baring Sons these last few years, we’re just having lots of problems. But enough about me. Okay, who wants to enter our household? Everyone? Oh my. How many do I get to pick? –
– You may pick them all, if it is the Emperor’s will – chanted the Árnan. – They may be either handmaidens to an Empress or love slaves to the Emperor, it is Puîyos’ choice. –
– I think they’ll end up as soubrettes. Okay I pick you and you and you and not you because you’re too tall and I think I picked you, okay all you on the right, everyone raise hands if you’re Sisters I want to preserve whole family groups, these and these and those and let me count let’s see one eleven and two eleventy and three elevens and I’m already losing count. –
– May one ask where the Crown Prince is going? – the Great-Grandfather asked when he saw that Puîyus was walking out of the halls.
– Oh he’s preparing for warfare, he’s always thinking of fighting, that’s why he realies on mine intelligence I’m super intelligent I’m way super intelligent why once the Empress was like working on this mathematical thing and there were lots of numbers and graphs and she was eating a lemon and crying and saying I can’t figure out my theory of everything I’m just too stupidified woe unto me, and I was like, Okay little baby child, listen to me Éfha, all you need to do is transmogrify the divine Sine wave and add the 2pi and subtract the honey mustard and, lo, all the universes make sense, and she called me a genius and chanted that I was her favorite Sister Wife and gave me lots of candy and chanted she would take me to Eipóxhe with her someday that’s what she chanted yep. –
– I see – chanted the Elder. – And know that we shall also be sending the Divine Couple along with all these handmaidens many thousands of white pearls and large blue carved stones and statuery newly completely and many yards of complex brocades set in the tartans of the House of Pwéru. –
– Oh? – asked Akhlísa. – Very good. Now, maids, I’ve lost track. I think I picked you all. Is there anyone I didn’t pick? No? Okay, let’s go meet your Master. He’s already leaving, he’s a bit laconic and spartan and really strong when he flexes his arms he has really strong muscles and sometimes he lets me punch his muscles just for fun, that’s a true story. I just know you’ll love my husband, everyone does, especially young women, he’s just so pretty and beautiful, but don’t listen to any rumors about a cannabilistic feast from last night because I had nothing to do with that. – Akhlísa was already marching down the long and thick rugs and leaving the halls and behind her arose all of the virgins, and the Elders and Generals and Chieftains were left looking one to another in confusion, for they now had no idea what to expect from Emperor Puîyos, whether or not the gift of the virgins would cause him to honor the mountain clans or whether he would just ignore the maidens, or perhaps he just wished to fight the war and dwell with his family and save the maidens, they could not possibly guess. The Árnan, the Great-Grandfather was among the very few who could remember what Kàrijoi had been like in the days when he was just a few winters older than Puîyus’ age, and the Crown Prince Son of Fhìtsarakh, and he turned to the Elders and chanted – Young Kàrijoi in his youth was quite enamored of the one who became his Empress and did not even bother looking at other maidens, and perhaps Puîyos will be similar. And yet Puîyos could never be a birth Son of Kàrijoi, he is silent and hidden, he fights a war as a child, and he already has a secondary consort running his harem. Whatever type of Emperor this Puîyos will be, it is like nothing else which e'er has been experienced by the Dreamtime, the Land of Story. – And at that the Dakilang fell silent and all the Elders were nodding in agreement, as Akhlísa left the Masters of the Qwoâng and Tlhaxoîyer and Poriêrii and walked out of the halls thick with perfumes and oils and into the sickly light of morning.
Puîyus could not help himself, though, as he left the fortress alone and unheralded, and the guards were looking at him in surprise to see the Crown Princess walking without any accompaniment whatsoever, but he swung up into a tree and hopped up unto the outer walls and gazed unto the inner domains within these ancient and gnarled fortresses and saw within long lines of claws and trees where impaled lay many young men, and licking the air he could discern that they were all dead by now, and he could feel nothing but sadness for the families which had been forced to lose Sons in the name of Emperor Puîyos’ harem not to mention the virgins who had lost their friends. He resolved that if he should resolve to become Emperor that he and Éfhelìnye would work harder at encouraing betrothal and binding families together with marriage so that there should be no more misunderstanding concerning it all. He turned around. He could sense that Akhlísa was already returning and she was bringing quite a many virgins with her, and he could feel himself teetering upon the verge of panic and fainting at the same time. He swallowed. There just had to be a way to assure Éfhelìnye that she had nothing to fear, and yet to protect the virgins, but he could not see his way through it. He hopped down from the walls and swung through the branches, and all about him arose birds and quetzalfeathered fishes and not a few otter-monkeys, and he jumped downwards right before Akhlísa and the gaggle of young women, and so swift and unexpected with his landing that some of the maidens gasped in surprise. This of course had not been his attention and he regreted it at once, he forgot that his Sisters and the Starflower Princess were quite inured to his coming and going at swift and random intervals, but that other young women were not. He looked to them, all of them were beautiful and fair and quintescential Jaràqtun. He cleared his throat and sought for something to say, but nothing came unto him.
One maid turned to another and whispered – He’s cute. – – About time we had a cute young Emperor. – – He’s young, do you think he’s even kissed a girl yet? – – He looks very grave though, I can believe that he’s fought Dragons and survived them before. – – He’s challenged honored Kàrijoi and he’s so young! Imagine what he’ll be like eleven years from now. – – I’m kissing him first. –
Puîyus could feel heat arising on his face and knew that nothing on earth or in heaven could stop a blush from covering his cheek no matter what he did, and even though he turned his face from the maidens, they could see that his ears were turning pink, and so embarassed was he growing that he had to hide his face in his hands, and the maidens all fell into hushed and awed silence at the merest idea of an Emperor of Tomorrow showing embarassment.
Akhlísa was shoving herself through the bevy and saying – What’s happening? Everyone’s quiet. Does this involve mud pies because if so I want to help. – She came to the head of the crowd and saw that Puîyus was failing to hide his blush, and Akhlísa shook her head and chanted – Oh Puey! They’re just an hundred beautiful golden-tressed maidens all of whom are ready to kiss you and serve you and have children for you, why be embarassed at that? – Akhlísa turned to the maids and chanted – My husband is very shy and quiet, we’ve very much the opposite, I just love attention all the time and for all eyen to be on me towards me untowards me always at me me me me me! Okay, look what I can do! – Akhlísa burst out into laughter and started dancing around and swaying her hips, and without any warning at all threw herself into the air, and Puîyus without even thinking about it caught her lest she fall. She clammered upon his shoulders and standing there chanted – See, I love attention! Hurray for me, the Imperial Concubine, Karuláta Khniêma Akhlísa hurray hurray hurray for ever! –
Akhlísa, Khmaryáta’s only Daughter, let herself slide down Puîyus’ arms and into his grasp and chanted – But don’t be fooled by how chivalrous and pious he pretends to be, it’s all a masque like what the messenger was wearing, why even this morning when I was getting dressed and barely had anything on Puey came barging into my bedroom and I was sore embarassed because I was all scantilly clad and Puey was saying, Just give us a kiss because I’m Puey and I can’t keep mine hands off of you, and I’m saying, Oh please this is all so sudden you can’t do that who do you think you are, oh husband mine, see he’s a always skulking around my bedroom and when I’m taking baths he can’t be trusted at all, why last night at his Starday party he was making me wear this most outrageous getup, let me tell you, it consisted of nothing but veils and … –
Puîyus put a finger to Akhlísa’s lips just to silent her for a few golden seconds. He looked around and saw that the warriors were preparing a couple of wagons and hitching them unto diplodoci so that the hundred Virgins did not have to walk all the way unto the fortress, and they set up lamps to give them and set oil within, for the day was still sickly and shaded beneath the struggling of the Suns. And Puîyus was about to release his finger from Akhlísa’s lips but was not entirely sure whether he should, for she was liable to say any crazy thing at any moment and perhaps mention some of the details of the veil dance from the night before, but then he sniffed the air and at once smell and memory and though conjoined together in his mind, and he recognized someone in this group. He picked up Akhlísa and set her down walked right into the bevy of the virgins, and the maidens were all bowing about him, and looking around searching he came right up unto Asiréma among the Poriêrii whom he had rescued from the Xhwìtwa Rock Creatures of Syapàkhya, the strange wights whom he thought might once have been a race of beings of the Otherworld, and he bowed unto her and took her by the hand for he knew her and drew her up to the front of the line, and the other maidens were whispering and saying – That was quick. The Prince already has a favorite. Didn’t Asiréma like that guard? Maybe honored Puîyos was her guard, he used to be Íngìkhmar’s Son at once time, who knows how many maidens he’s rescued. – And from the towers and walls of the gnarled thorn fortress of the Poriêrii the Elders were looking one to another and were glad that Puîyus at least appeared to be showing favor unto some maiden.
– Mew mew mew – Puîyus chanted as he bowed to the maiden taken from one of the families of the Poriêrii.
– I do not understand, but I shall obey you in all things – chanted Asiréma as she kept her head low.
– Puey’s putting you in charge of these virgins – chanted Akhlísa. – And since I’m in charge of the Harem that means you report to me. Oh this hierarchy is so very neat and clean, isn’t it? Oh and then we all belong to the Empress and then to Pew here. Oh last night so there was really wild party and Puey couldn’t keep his hands off of me I guess because I was just wearing these veils and … – Puîyus clasped his hands upon Akhlísa’s mouth again for to silence her. And the warriors drew up the wagons and opened them up and Puîyus began helping the maidens within and for a few eyeblinks Akhlísa managed not to talk at all until all were settled within and began to ride upon the long and tremulous bridges, and the seas of fog continued to roll billowing about the buttresses, and at last Akhlísa broke the silence by singing – Off to the harem! Off to the harem! Fhwa fhwa fhwa fhwa, what’s the worst thing that can happen? I suppose the wagons could explode and we could all be dashed to pieces down the bridges but aside from that? Or a series of asteroids and bombs and dragons arising about us. Or giants hands squishing us. Or toes. Gigantic toes stomping the side of the bridge. That would be just horrible, don’t you think? –
A couple of the virgins were still sniffling a little to be leaving home for the first time in their lives, even if the were just travelling unto a different mountain within the range, and those who had lost friends or sweethearts did their best not to weep too much for them, but they were beginning not to fear Puîyus as much as they thought they should, for he did not seem the large and terrible conquering hero who ground up nations in his palm and struck dragons with his shin and toppled the old Emperor from the heavens. Puîyus remained wordless for all the trip back to the fortress and was glad that he and Akhlísa were in the same wagon so that whenever she started talking about a subject he did not wish discussed he could silence her, but only for a minute because soon she was bouncing back and talking about all the maidens he’s rescued before and all the times he had been caught in an embarassing situation with some damsel or other, and as the entered the fortress and the maidens took up their lamps and trimmed them with oil, he was wondering anew just how he had managed to inherit all these maidens and how Princess Éfhelìnye would respond. It would probably be easiest just to start with the simpliest and the needments, and so he lead the maids through the halls, and the wagons and guards who had accompanied them were turning back to return unto the Elders of the Qwoâng and Tlhaxoîyer and the Poriêrii, and as Puîyus came walking down the halls, the warriors and soldiers, the Qhíng and the Kháfha and the Aûm were all parting and looking on in wonder and to each other and saying – Finally the Crown Prince is making an harem unto himself, now this-sa we can understand. Next thing we know he’ll be talking in words and sentences and even in language, what an happy morn this shall be! –
Puîyus lead the way down the halls and right towards the kitchens, and for a few moments he allowed himself the qyìwo the khlùrtlham the luxury of enjoying the smell of the oils and perfumes of the maidens who had been prepared for him. A few of them were carrying some small bags for him, but they were mostly provisionless, but if they required anything their birth clans would send for it, and the Poriêrii were furnishing all this fortress anyway would doubtless be bringing dresses and needments. He lead the way unto the kitchens and the thick smell of scented lye soap began to drown out the perfumes of the maidens. The halls were growing darker and a few of the virgins were holding up their lamps to light the way, and other maids were noticing that Puîyus’ own eyen were glowing like a lion’s in the night, and if they had stopped growing afraid of him because he was young and small and blushed, they began fearing once again to see mortal eyen glow in a way they should not. Suddenly the kitchens were before them, the doors bursting upwards and a flood of suds pouring outwards, and some small dishes floating upon them like boats, and a few Traîkhiim balancing themselves upon them and shouting all the while.
– This one’s a gusher! – cried Aîya as she skipped from plate to plate. – Okay I claim all these plates as my personal prize my booty and you can go form your own little flotillaling. –
Fhólus popped his head out of another floating pot and cried – I’ll have you know I’m the greatest Traîkhiim pirate who’s e'er sailed the sudsy seas, I’m tough, I’m rough, I’m scrumptious and crunchtious! – Fhólus floated out in some small pools and crashed right upon Puîyus’ shoon and cried out – What I sees I take what I take I want what I want I have I’m Fhólus the great pirate of … uh-oh. –
Puîyus waited. Several more doors of the kitchens came flooding open and several more troops of Traîkhiim were washing outwards upon the suds, and Puîyus was glad that the waters at least were shallow enough so that the Traîkhiim were not afraid of them, but shirking from their obligation was not something that Puîyus found good. He crossed his arms.
Aîya fluttered upwards. – Now, you’re probably wondering why we not cleaning the kitchen, have we mentioned that we love and miss you quite a lot, but we just taking a nap and waiting and getting right back to work. –
Fhólus fluttered upwards and spreading his two necks looked to the group of virgins behind Puîysu and chanted – Aîya! Aîya look at this! Puey got sweethearts and lots of them! –
– This I gotta see … AAAAAAH! Lots of them! –
Akhlísa fought her way through the group and chanted – I know look at all these women who belong to him, Puey really is special isn’t he? –
– That’s like a million! – cried Fhólus.
– Or even an hundred! – chanted Aîya.
– You’re way off, it’s a least a thousand! – chanted Akhlísa. – Or ten thousand! Or a billion! –
– Those are a lot of girls – chanted Fhólus.
– Does the Crown Prince really need that many sweetheart? – asked Aîya. – Just think how many combs they’re going to have to use in the harīm, there are not words for so great a number. –
Puîyus opened up the doors to the kitchens and several more waves came washing up about his feet, and peaking within he saw that some of the Traîkhiim were licking pots clean and others were dancing with sponges on their hand-feet, but none of them were working too hard. He turned back to Akhlísa and Fhólus and Aîya and already found their still talking about him but further down on some unknown conversation about him.
Akhlísa was running an hand through her tresses and saying – … I mean, I’ve always known Puey’s prefered blue eyed golden tressed fair maidens, it’s inevitable the way he doubted on Fhérma and me, but now he’s got an hundred more of them, he’ll just be enamored of them all, plus I can order them around although he obviously likes me the best. –
– And you don’t forsee any problems with the new Empress? – asked Aîya. – She rather protective of her one true love Puey. –
– No! – Akhlísa laughed. – Éfhelìnye’s accepted me, so she’ll accept all the rest. I mean, Puey will probably only be kissing a few elevens of them today, not the whole group. –
– The new Empress to be rather possessive from what I we have seen – Fhólus was saying.
– I have no idea why everyone is so afraid of her – chanted Akhlísa. – It’s not like Éfhelìnye’s some crazed semidivine royalty with dragon blood in her xylem and phloem and … wait a minute. This isn’t good at all. –
Puîyus came up to the maidens and asked them – Mew mew mew? –
– Wait, I’m thinking – chanted Akhlísa as she rubbed her brow. – Someone else can translate. –
– We I they don’t speak fhriîm, the arcane meows, mrow, murfr’mr, mrrr, mkgnao, mrkgnao, mrkrgnao – chanted Aîya.
– We I they barely speak anything intelligible at all – chanted Fhólus.
– We could the guess what he the say – Aîya nodded.
– Do we have to – chanted Fhólus.
Akhlísa’s face lit up. – Does anyone think that Éfhelìnye may fall into a fit of insane murdherous jealousy o'er have an hundred aurocephalous maidens in the harem and whose position is entirely dependent on how the Puey may favor them possibly with lots of passionate kissies? Why didn’t someone warn me of this before? –
Puîyus pointed to Fhólus and Aîya and made some clicking sounds.
– He probably asking any of you experpience with aliens? – asked Fhólus.
– Loyal aliens he love very much and would never punish again in any way? – asked Aîya.
Only a couple of maidens held their hands, and even then without much conviction, for they were not sure whether experience with alien slaves was the qualification that Puîyus was seeking. Puîyus pointed to those maidens, and they came froward and he began mewling and murmuring unto them.
– He probably want you they us to help us in please the kitchen cleaning – chanted Fhólus.
– We could watch and rest and give the orders – Aîya chanted.
Puîyus shook his head and put a mop into Aîya’s jaws and a broom into Fhólus’ and directed the brave maids to come with him and into the kitchens, and he picked up the heaviest pots himself and began setting them into place and pointing Traîkhiim to and Traîkhiim fro so that they would go where they had to.
– Let’s do get back to the harīm so I can show all the rest of you around, and I’ll lead you and boss you around and everything – chanted Akhlísa. – Oh Pew, before we go, let me mention that the Qwoâng and Tlhaxoîyer and Poriêrii and the rest of the high mountain war clans are also sending along with all these handmaidens many thousands of white pearls and large blue carved stones and statuery newly completely and many yards of complex brocades set in the tartans of the House of Pwéru. Maybe they’ll be bringing candies. That would be fun. –
Puîyus nodded, and Akhlísa signaled unto the rest of the maidens to follow her. She turned to Asiréma and chanted – Why look even when toiling in the kitchens look at just how elegant, how wellgroomed, how soigné my Puey is. Have I told you about his philibeg? Why this very morning while he was trying to spy on me when I was getting dressed, he’s always trying to spy on me and kiss me when I’m not looking, and he was donning his qetlhekhlajhangétsu filleadh beag he put it on backwards, I think he was buttoning everything just upside down, see that’s a sign that he’s lovesick for me because he’s usually just so perfect in his garments. Come along. – Akhlísa came swaying outwards and signaled unto the rest of the maidens to come following her through the suds and puddles and the pots where the Traîkhiim were licking them clean and sponges splashing all about and various other Triîm chicanery. And Puîyus stayed in the kitchens to help the slaves and perhaps the braver of the maidens who had some experience with aliens, and he picked up the large pots and slid the tables away and several moments passed er that he realized that he should probably warn the Princess Éfhelìnye of what was to come, but he was loathe to enter the xhùjhwe parthenṓn once again, and the Triîm and maidens could use a little bit of help before he had to leave again and rejoin the warriors for the War Unending.