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