The handmaidens were running now to stay away from the Starflower Princess, even though they could see that all of the light within the halls still lay sparkling and swirling above the Princess’ brow, but every few moments spasms of levin blast and growing helices of light were dawning from her long comet tresses, and the handmaids were afraid to cross her path. Éfhelìnye came to the bedroom which was set aside for her, the largest one in all of the harem and certainly the most comfortable, but when she pressed hre hand to the latch she found that the wheels of the lock were jamming a little. Not quite feeling in the humor for picking this lock, she took a step back and kicked the lock with one swift balletic strike, and at once all of the apparatus began spinning around, wheels and cogs clicking into place and swirling upwards, and the door dilated before her. She ran within and flung herself upon the bed, the bed was spacious and sinking about her in a sea of pillows and sheets. Unto one side of her lay some of Akhlísa’s clothing, and Éfhelìnye punched it aside and flung it unto the floor, and unto another side lay some of Siêthiyal’s half reconstituted toys, and the Princess kicked them aside. She rolled onto her back and gazed out the window. It was afternoon and she had never seen the Suns so very sickly and pathetic before. The Suns were barely even looking like xhthaêl scaochnuid, they barely even looked like something which could have at one time lit up the heavens, they were blurs of white and golden light, and eminating from them were growing and fluctuating concentric rings which were completey iformed of shadow and gas and darkness. Every few moments Suns were shimmering and were blinking like the great bulging eyen of some Khnàptu Lighthouse, and blinks of white light shot out from them, and unraveling curtains of afternoon, and growing fountains of deep and cooling violets which were spreading upwards and coiling about before crashing into the main concourse of the heavens. She watched the motion of the dying Suns for a few moments. This was indeed a very bad day. She rolled o'er and clutched her stomache and tried not to think about the pain inside her, and closing her eyen fell asleep.
When Éfhelìnye awoke again it was still a sickly afternoon. She crawled out of bed and still felt dizzy and woozy and toppled, she felt like unto khàqwuyei the wobbling movement of living ships, and she almost crashed right upon the ground. She drew aside the door of her room and looking out saw that the handmaidens were still within the harem, and she was sad that their coming had not just been some terrible nightmare, or that perhaps they had all just decided to disappear and never vex her again, but such was a vain hope after all. She knew she was not angry with them, for they had no choice at all, they were as subject to the dictates of their Elders as all other young volk and children were, moreover service to the House of Pwéru was the highest honor as any Holy Rose Knight or Imperial Concubine could testify, and Puîyus she knew was protecting them by keeping the maidens as part of his family, and yet Éfhelìnye could not help but clench her jaws and grasp the side of the door and wish that somehow their hearts would just stop and the handmaidens could all just die honorable deaths this night and leave her alone. She sniffled a little and could feel a trickle of blood flowing from her left eye. She closed the door, the clockwork was twinechiming and shutting itself behind her, and so silent had she been in opening the door and so welloiled was the mechanism that none of the ancillæs even noticed the sound or movement dienstmaagd azafata ban-òglach. Éfhelìnye flung herself upon the quilted covers of her bed and taking out her sketchbook began writing out the next scene and was imagining just how the messenger had appeared, his masque and the flowing robes and beadery of his garment, and she began inventing how the ponts and the ways and the fortress of the Poriêrii had appeared unto Puîyus and Akhlísa when they had come within, and she began losing herself in wonder and creativity and tried not to think about how quaad this day was become sordsrimdofaiur.
After the Princess had written for some hours she looked up and saw that the afternoon Suns were still sickly and weak and that slow and flickering flairs were still struggling solraxhwìngitlhu eilajároi for to arise from the quickening streams of white and gold and fire that were khnàkajho sikrons. She set foot upon the floor again and this time felt a bit more stable and less as if she were trying to negotiate the treacherous deck of a ship astorm, and coming unto the window and gazing outwards she looked unto the courtyards and the various layers of the fortress about her and saw that in some of the garths the Qlùfhem were sitting and were practicing at arms and in others the Qhíng were meditating and talking and mending their armor, and the two poploe were not intermingling at all, and she saw Puîyus not at all, and her heart was burning within her for loneliness for him. She decided to chance seeing the handmaids again, perhaps she could tolerate them just long enough to glissade down the halls and see her Puîyus once again. When she slid open the door of her somnambular accommodacioun she was rewarded with the sight of not a single handmaid at all, and she rejoiced a little to think of that, but as she walked down through the harīm and was aig dancing from side to side and sliding upon the very tips of her toes and prancing just a bit she came into one of the large halls and found that before the large glassen windows were gathered the handmaidens who of late had been supervising the Traîkhiim in the kitchens. Éfhelìnye at once stopped in her dance. The handmaidens were seating themselves about the window and were beginning to brush their long and golden tresses, and some of them began admiring themselves in mirrors and were puckering their lips and fiddling with their eyebrows in a way that Éfhelìnye found completely inscrutable, but none of them noticed the child Princess who had stumbled into the room.
– Those Traîkhiim have got to be the grossest little things I’ve e'er seen – one handmaiden was saying.
– They create a mess just as soon as they clean up another – another maid was saying. They clean up a pot and then knock o'er a barrel of chrism upon the floor, and as soon as they mop up the floor they’ve knocked something o'er and a shelf come tumbling down. –
– What an odd little child race they are. It’s no wonder our Clanfathers have never made it an habit to purchase the tnoaqteûpa slaves, they’re almost more trouble than they’re worth. How do the Qhíng and Qlùfhem even manage to get a single day’s work of them? –
– The Qhíng keep their slaves in a constant state of fear – chanted one maiden. – The Qhíng do not have loyal slaves like we have, our slaves our part of our households, our families, and we afford them honors in life and in death and treat them like distal relations. But the Qhíng always keep their immolation fields burning, that’s what I used to hear, and so the Traîkhiim know to work or be tortured alive, and then have their skin flayed off of them, and then burnt, and if they’re very lucky in that order. –
– Do Qlùfhem do the same? I’d like to see the Traîkhiim try to make a mess in an Aûm kitchen? –
– I think the Qlùfhem just fire on sight on anything that they deam to be beast and not mortal. Isn’t that hour they started their first war? –
– All that matters is that we’re proving ourselves worthy to serve the new House of the Pwéru, and Lord Puîyos shall honor us. I’ve heard that he loves all manner of bird and beast and kine, and the Traîkhiim are probably like that, little pets which he has to embrace and love. Puîyos is still a very young gossoon after all, he probably still kisses his kittens and doves before going to sleep. Do you think he’s even old enough to have kissed a damsel yet? –
– I doubt it! – chimed some.
– One can remedy that situation quite easily! – others laughed.
– He is such a young dear, but he obviously does not spend too much time with maidens, at least not with those unknown to him. Did you see how he was holding the Imperial Concubine’s hand, he was treating her just like a little Sister who has to be protected and held on the ride back home. –
– What do you think about the future Empress? –
– Oh she’s so very young and cute. It’s obvious that she and Prince Puîyos are the very best of friends, she was dancing down the halls and I could tell that she was thinking about him. But she is very young indeed. She’s probably never even kissed Puîyos, she may not know how to! –
– She may be the last one to kiss him then, tee hee hee! –
Princess Éfhelìnye was leaning against the wall and clutching her fists and trying to still her heartbeat and trying to force herself not to cry out and do anything embarrassing at all, but she kept peering outwards and looking at the maidens sitting before the windows and seeing how they were adorning their hair and making themselves look pretty, she could not help but burn with frustration at the merest thought that older and beautiful maidens should have the audacity to exist in her presence. She wondered whether Puîyus would notice whether she threw just a few of them out the window and looked down in triumph and watched them collide and explode against cobblestone and pavement, or perhaps they would land in spectacular impalement against some of the spirals of the rooftops, perhaps if she just ridded the worlds of a few of them no one would miss them. But then again, Puîyus was known to go in search for even a single little lost lamb, so how much concern would he have for one of the Virgins given unto his household?
Éfhelìnye turned in the darkness and found that leaning against the wall beside her was Siêthiyal, and she was dressed in a bright pink gown of recent weaving, and she was wearing several necklaces which the Hundred Virgins had given her, and she was sporting a new hairstyle xhlùtsile coiffure, for all of her pink tresses were arising in a pyramidal pattern, and dangling dragon coils of pink were flowing about her ears, and jewels were beaming in her hair, jewels given unto her by the Hundred Virgins, and Siêthiyal was smiling even in the shadows with a smile so bright that it scintillated incandescent.
– Yeeessssss? – smiled Siêthiyal.
– Siêthiyal? – piped Princess Éfhelìnye.
– Yeeesssssssssss? – beamed Siêthiyal as she put her arms about the Princess’ shoulders.
– I … ah … I … did you do something to your hair? –
– Yeeeeeeesssssssssss! – chimed Siêthiyal. – Like? –
– Ur … –
– Splendiferous! –
– Um … I was wondering … ur … –
Siêthiyal was playing with a few of the jewels which the Virgins have given her. – Oh aren’t they just so clever and generous, all of Puey’s extra sweethearts? I’m so glad he’s going to have so many extra wives and concubines and slave girls. Were you trying to tell me something? –
Éfhelìnye looked down. – I don’t know. –
– You look like you were trying to say something? Go on, tell me, we’re Sisters in this new family, you can tell me anything. –
– I don’t have anything to say. –
Siêthiyal stretched out her arms, and both of her arms were heavily laden with all the extra swoêrm brashelettes gragischon modrewy which the Virgins had given unto her. – Do you just want a hug? –
– Always – sighed Éfhelìnye.
Siêthiyal leaned forwards to hug her, and so had the perfect opportunity to rifle through Éfhelìnye’s pockets, but was only rewarded with a few bead coins and some string and some glistening seashells which the Princess had collected earlier in the day, but a find was still acceptable booty no matter how paltry. She patted the Princess on the back and chanted – You just seem lonely. Why don’t you go down unto the courtyards, I can rule the harem in a while and in your holy name. Trust me, in the days to come no one will dare disobey me, in your holy name of course. –
– I … I want help. –
– Of course you do – sighed Siêthiyal and she shook her head from side to side. – Everyone always come to me for favors, and I always oblige, because I’m such a caring and giving Sister. –
Éfhelìnye sniffled. – I need help in getting rid of all of these handmaidens! I want them out, gone, banished, away from my sight! –
– But Princess, slaves can be so useful! –
– They are parasites, potential threats against Puey. I want them gone and I don’t care how. –
– Tsk tsk tsk, Princess. I think you just need to lie down. Have you taken your nap today? –
– Yes. –
– Why don’t you go for a walk? Dance about a little, go about on your princessly business, but don’t worry about the harem. –
– Can’t you just … do something and make the handmaidens disappear! – gasped Éfhelìnye. She looked back into the hall and watched the older maidens combing their hair and looking beautiful and confident and radiant for a young Crown Prince.
– Miracles have been known to occur – Siêthiyal grinned. – One can consider all options. What would you be willing to give me in exchange. –
– I … I don’t have anything. –
– Please, Princess, think not of economics in terms of tangible items but in terms of favors and alliance. Surely as the most important woman in all the Empire you can think of some sort of promise that you can make … –
– I’m only a Princess. –
– Your Mother was the divine Virgin Empress, and if you and Puey end up winning this war, you’ll end up elevenfold more beloved than your Mother e'er could have been. Now, let’s just consider this hypothetical – chanted Siêthiyal as she took the Princess by the shoulder and began leading her down through the halls. – It seems that after long last you’ve finally accepted Karuláta’s claim on Puey. If, perchance, the handmaidens should just disappear … poof! like that, would you perhaps begin to treat Karuláta as a future Sister-Wife who shall be married to your Lord and Husband? – Siêthiyal’s smile was just a little too bright in the shadows of the halls, and the bells woven in her coiffure were ringing with a slight buzz.
– No, never – chanted Éfhelìnye. – With glad heart I accept that Karuláta Khniêma Akhlísa shall somehow be part of our future household, but she shall not be a future wife in fact, though she may carry the title. –
– Tsk tsk tsk, why I’m sure the Elders will be giving Puey another hundred Virgins any time soon. Why every Warrior Clan left will want to ally themselves in marriage to the new Imperial House. Think of how many children Puey will have by all of his lesser wives, so many little kuifhaPuiyeyiîlii fhwii rolling about on the rugs and climbing trees and leaping about. Well, I’m sure Puey will have some time for you, perhaps he’ll see you at the solstices and wave. –
Éfhelìnye wiped some more blood from her eyen. – I just want those xhnènatha, those handmaidens to royalty gone. –
– And to think – Siêthiyal chanted as she clasped her hands together. – Karuláta has loved Puey all her life and you and she get along so well, really it’s an household quwejúwertlhèrtlha ideally suited for you in every way, alas that you can’t understand that. And Karuláta looks up to you so much … –
– I just want the ancillæ gone for ever! –
– And it’s such a small thing for you to start calling Kàrula your Sister-Wife of tomorrow, why if you could just call her that once in her hearing, she would be so happy, and I’m sure Puey will be less distressed when he knows for certain that there is no more fighting in his family. –
– I need them gone. –
Siêthiyal smiled. – I shall certainly consider it. –
Princess Éfhelìnye took a few steps back. – I don’t wish to stay here any longer. – She spun around and came dashing down the halls, and Siêthiyal watched her leaving and put her hands on her hips and thought for a few moments, and then without warning burst into the halls where the kitchendeparted handmaids were come, and spreading up her hands cried out – Now who wants to impress the future Emperor and Empress? And on a completely different manner, do any of you have any toys which you’d like to donate unto me-phin, the Emperor’s dear and beloved Sister? –
Princess Éfhelìnye ran for quite some time and did not care that the soubrettes were turning and fleeing from her and were spinning around and kneeling down before her in supplication, she just continued to dash until she came through the libraries and came skidding into the harem rooms whereunto the Traîkhiim were finally beginning to flood back, and some of them had grime on their faces and flicks of soap and froth and bubble upon their wings, and a few of them were hobbling for although the Princess had been able to heal their broken skin, she could not regrow hand-feet which had been eaten or wings that had been gnawed off or heads that remained missing, and yet they seemed unaware that their bodies were somehow incompleat qhayótlhi instorai, but rather they were flinging themselves upon table and cough and resting their aching muscles and saying one unto another in thiswise:
– What a hardy what a party what a celebration that was! Yet even the having the cleaning was price enough to pay for such a party such a feast such a dance! –
– Remember the little Empress she so cute and adorable and tasty really such a sweet tasty little dessert of a girl. –
– Not nearly as tasty as those handmaidens Puîyos bring unto us. Seeming verŝajne that no matter where he the Puîyos the going, always finding lots of xhnár consorts for self. –
– How many xhnár spouses you think Puîyos having? A thousand? Even an hundred? –
– He the going to have piles of nest egg Triîmeling piled all about. –
– But we still like Éfhelìnye even though she not as goldihaired pretty and accomplished and domestic as the rest. She okay. Ish. –
Princess Éfhelìnye came running out of these outer rooms indeed, and she only paused a little to examine a few books in the library for she was wanting to look up a few questions in some grammar primrens, but she did not tarry long but soon came dashing untowards the doors, and the wheels were ungyring before her, and the levels dilating upwards, and as she hopped out several Kháfha warriors came dashing upwards and were drawing up their swords and setting their long necked tlhòrputsa carynxes to their beaks and breathing out musical motes and crying – The Holy and Pure Empress departs the Purdah! All praise and honor be unto the divine Empress … where’d she go? I don’t know, I thought you were watching her! I was busy sounding the war trump, what were you doing? I was trying to keep the doors open for her! Aren’t we supposed to go after her! At least she’s not sneaking out a window this time. –
The Princess had no clear plan on where she was going and why and for how long, she just found herself spinning and skidding in the very midst of one of the larger out the outer courtyards aneath large and dying afternoon Suns. To one side of her were seated the Qlùfhem and before them were come some of their Thùlwu brethren, squatter and more insectoid than their older sibling race, and they were gathering together and whispering with their crepitatious celia and looking back and forth and pointing unto a group of the Qhíng who were seated unto the other side of the Princess. The Qhíng for their part were stroking their feather beards and their antennæ were twitching from side to side and they were lighting up their pipes and puffing upon them and looking askance unto the Aûm and shaking their quetzal feathercrests from side to side. Éfhelìnye sate herself down upon a large and cold stone bench, it was actually too tall for her so that her legs were dangling off of the ledge, and she could feel groved about her legs the glyphs and runic patterns deeply dolven within. She was not sure why the Qhíng and the Aûm should be divided at this particular moment, but for some reason her thoughts were turning unto the beth virgin Jeûr, a qlufhaîmel, the daughter of Aûrtlhi the Inquisitor, the maiden of the Kuqùlkhe Phatry schalmindibiz, and Éfhelìnye was thinking that even though Jeûr was an alien and reared in a very different land, she had to have been about the same age as the handmaidens in the harem. And yet Jeûr, who had been kind and innocent could not be protected in the end. Éfhelìnye was thinking about how Jeûr had taken her and Puîyus right into the amgidalusf household of the Kuqùlkhe and made them guest-friends, who had fed them Qlùfhem foods and let them sleep in a Qlùfhem bed and watch the various reindeer games of the Qlùfhem in their last moments of peace within their vast and continental sky fleets where tower and city and ship and wing and train were all combined together, and Jeûr had been inquisitive and gentle and generous, but then the war came. Éfhelìnye curled up unto her side and remembered when the tidings had come that the Qhíng were beginning their holy war against all who would oppose her Father, most beneficient Emperor Kàrijoi, and the Qlùfhem had responded by destroying some of the towers of the Synod of Lords. She remembered seeing the living ships of the Qhíng filling up the skies of holy Eilasaîyanor and seeing the Qháma elite pouring downwards, she remembered when the old General had grabbed Jeûr by her shoulders and began dragging her as she kicked and screamed and he pulled her up the stairs of the pyramid unto where the Swòngturakh Priests were awaiting. For it was good to begin war by sacrificing a virgin unto the Immortals who cannot die. Perhaps if Jeûr had been Færieborn and even of the Jaràqtun people, a Saqaôngta Sèqhexhe maiden indeed, she might have been golden haired just like Asiréma and the rest, she might have come from one of the frightened mountain clans like the Poriêrii and the Qwoâng and the Tlhaxoîyer who were willing to do anything to please an unpredictable Crown Prince. She was hoping that at least some little good may come of protecting these maidens, at least their parents would not start offering them unto the priests as suitable perfumed sacrifices now that they belonged unto the Emperor, and perhaps even crazed creatures such as the Tánin and the rogue pirates like Captain Khnèfhrim and the Tré Brothers may hesitate to lay wing upon a maiden of the house of Pwéru. But still, Éfhelìnye was not happy about the situation and just shivered upon the large and cold stone bench.
Behind her some golden braids were dangling upside down. Some branches were leaning down behind Éfhelìnye, leaves and īsġiċel were tumbling downwards. Éfhelìnye did not look behind her, she could hear the crumbling of the boishe, the swaying of the frost upon the bark, and hands scrambling to hold. Akhlísa was dangling upside down from a tree branch, her golden veils flapping against her hair, and slowly she was descending next to the Princess even while she was struggling to keep herself upright, and she shivered a little in her nuptual gown of white with some summer blue trim and corsetry freezing a little in the winds.
– Hi, Éfha! – Akhlísa chimed. – Are you in a melancholy mood? –
– Perhaps – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– Are you in a bad mood? Because I didn’t do it, I haven’t done anything bad today, except possibly sabotaguing an essay contest, but at least I write did a good one and slipped it within. Are you sad? I made breakfast for you and everything and I’ve been mostly on my best of behavior. Are you angry with me? –
– I’m not angry with anyone at all – Éfhelìnye chanted as she stared off unto the snow and the courtyard and the Qhíng and the Aûm separated about her. – Sometimes I just like to sit and think. –
– You sure do think a lot. Are you feeling alright? –
– I’m a little queasy. I don’t think today has been a very good day at all. –
– Puey’s been a little quiet today also. Well, he’s always quiet but he’s quieter than normal, he’s become super quiet, doublequietquiet he’s become. He’s on the verge of the quietest quiet quiescence that I’ve never heard at all. I think you know what I’m trying to say. He’s laconic even for Puey, and that’s saying something, because he can make the Qlùfhem seem like little chat chat jalp.h ranschil lovatonen xuxulim little deblatterclatterchattercarping púkhefha pyùfha tutùlkhu twaê sekhrepúkhefhaliêlu khriîrnu Puey! Chat chat chat like qaxhèqaxha he is, like teeth clattering because of the cold, he’s superduperübersilent, he is! –
– Sometimes it’s best not to talk – Éfhelìnye chanted.
Akhlísa dangled upside down for a few moments and then reached out with upside down arms and hugged the Princess a little and chanted – I’ll just be hanging dangling slipping around somewhere about if you need me. Puey’s feeding the ostridges and giraffes right now, by the way, if you were wondering, and he’s playing the harp for some of the wild creatures to help them fall asleep. Okay, I’ll just be hanging upside down if you need me. –
– That’s fine – chanted Éfhelìnye.
Slowly Akhlísa departed from the Princess’ gaze and was saying – Bye bye! Fairtheewell! Love you! Kisses! Lots, and, of them! Kisses galore! –
Éfhelìnye stared unto the snow for a time. She gathered up some of it and began tracing patterns upon her fingers, and she fashioned some of the snow into snakes and ribbons and becoiled them together, and some snow she rolled out unto the shape of flowers, and she let the various shape almost fashion themselves of their own will, and finally new kindreds and shapes began to form before her, and she started to create floating orbs and let tendrils grow down from them, and she creater smaller and sharper darting images and let them cut and curve and slide from side to side, she began creating of the snow conglomerations that were a little like fish and bird and tree all joined together and fluttering in the air, and other beings that were snow and flame and floating city at the same time, and as the multitudes were coming into being they began to glisten and change color, a few of the ice creations were beginning to flap their wings before her as she looked unto them and breathed unto them, and when she clapped her hands together the hosts of wings and ice and creation were fluttering upwards and were like fragments of rainbow coming unto life about her, they were opening up their spores and icicles and breathing out unto her, they were arising and were dashing about her hair and becoming floods of light and haloes and colors bleeding upwards, and they escaped and were fading away into the intuitive and wintery light.
Princess Éfhelìnye was coughing as the ice and light were fading from her. She looked to her left and right and suddenly was no longer alone. Several elevens of Qhíng were kneeling unto one side of her and holding up some kerchiefs and many elevens of Qlùfhem and Thùlwu were shivering and bowing unto her and holding up handkerchiefs for her also. Éfhelìnye blinked a couple of times. She reached into her own pocket and drew out a scented khnút ŋaŋgid̀a whereon Akhlísa had embroidered the glyphs and cuneiform for Éfhelìnye’s name.
– Thank you very much – the Princess chanted. – But I have mine own mankerso. – She coughed a few more times into her naztuko.
– We wish to serve the House of Pwéru – the Qhíng chanted.
– Such is our one and only desire – the Qlùfhem and the Thùlwu were saying.
– That is what the Elders of your people were saying when they began the Tlhexetsopwekùthuwo, the Flower Wars of Heaven – Princess Éfhelìnye chanted. – When the Qlùfhem began descending through the great oceans of lightning and air and began smashing down the towers, when the Qhíng began launching their fleets from their bridges and flooding the heavens with brimstone and began invading the worlds. Where your peoples went, they made the stones themselves break and corrode, they shattered the whispering mountains and opened up the volcanoes, and all this they did in my Father’s name. –
– The Caste Elders of the Kèlor Masters shall not abandon you, our Princess, oh beloved Empress of tomorrow – the Qhíng were saying.
– The phatries of the Qlùfhem and the Thùlwu shall always attend you, oh Princess, our beloved Empress of tomorrow – the Aûm were saying.
– A Princess is a rare and fragile thing – Éfhelìnye chanted. – In the same way that one cannot just yank a flower out of the soil and expect it to live upon barren stone or hot metal or upon the cools of the snow, so too one cannot abuse a Princess. –
– We would never hurt you – the Qhíng and the Aûm were saying at the same time.
– The Qhíng find themselves perfect within their wellordered farms and skyways and bridges deep within their realms, and the Aûm find themselves content within their artistry of paint and architecture and creation of crystal and glass. Both of you peoples are far more similar than dissimilar. You may think that you are two warring households opposed one to another, but I can almost imagine you as belonging unto a single family – Éfhelìnye was saying.
– We are united because of you – the people were saying.
– You are only united because of the new Imperial House – the Princess chanted. – You think that Puey and I are children who must be guided and chosen and commanded, and perhaps we must be for we are still young, but we are all part of a single tapestry which has been unravellnig for quite some time. To my mind one day Puey shall be the Father and I shall be the Mother, and if we command peace we shall have it at any cost. –
– We shall serve you as we served your Father – the people were saying.
– The Dreamtime is collapsing – Éfhelìnye chanted. – We may not have country enough to have one for the Qhíng and one for the Aûm, it may be that we shall all have to dwell in the same burg, in the same village, even in the same fortress together, just as we are all dwelling together in this rath of the Poriêrii now. It may be that one day little kelòrling and wee qhokòkhti may play together in peace even in the same house. –
The people looked at one another in wonder. – But the children of the Qhíng and of the Aûm may not play together. Such a thing has never happened before. –
– I am færieborn and have played with qhokòkhti seedlings and kelòrling Qhínglings, and I have found all of these children to be delightful to be more like me than unlike – the Princess chanted.
– That is different – the peoples were saying as they kowtowed unto her and added – You and Puîyos are divine. You walk upon thresholds which no others can imagine, to you clouds are rainment for your feet. You were sinípwo, skyborn, while we are only masters of the Great Races. –
Princess Éfhelìnye stood up and chanted – Puey and I shall be welcoming many unto our household, war refugees and handmaidens and ancient hereditary enemies. I shall find the way to end the historically and culturally based grudge whichahs plagued the Qhíng and the Aûm since almost the dawn of time. It is chanted that when they first stumbled upon each other that the Qhíng and the Aûm almost drove each other into extinction within a single generation, and drew the Kháfha and Khlitsaîyart and Qája into the same war, and that it was only the intervention of mine ancestor Emperor Pfhúrel Taroxhefhakhíno Khlakhratlhíya Koyortímel which stopped the inelectable extinction. And yet although the Emperor caused a sessation of fighting, he did not forge a lasting peace, and today we find ourselves back where we began. This cannot stand. – She began walking away. – Puey and I shall form a new family such as has never been before. –
And the adult units of the Qhíng and the Qlùfhem and Thùlwu had no idea what to say unto the one who would be Empress in the days to come. For the ways of the Póxiro the Cælestial Royalty of the Imperial House Pwéru are strange and as far above mortals as the cloudscapes and the shifting orbs of the moons and the rising and setting of the coronal suns and the vast arching expanse of Etsèrjoir the Starscapes where the Immortal and perfect and balletic Stars continue in their dance, and so the adults were slithering upwards and bowing unto the Princess all the while, their quetzal beards and their wellcelia’d shoulders all shaking a little and gasping in marvel and surprise and miracle. Xhnoet qir oâqe sefhwàkhmatlhuin xhroe, and for a few kankedorts, the Qhíng and the Qlùfhem and the Thùlwu found themselves standing together side by side and thinking the same thoughts and believing that it was impossible for their kindreds to dwell together in peace and to rear their children together, and yet it was equally impossible for them to contemplate disobeying the word of the future Qwasiêla the Moon Empress of the Dreamtime, the Land of Story.
As Princess Éfhelìnye came dancing upon the snow and about the cold stone pillars and the ancient petrescent benches, she could not help but look down unto the columns that were leading back into the corridors of the rath, and she could see that that the corners of the garths contained ancient kachina statues gazing back down upon her, she could not help but notice that several of the walls were guarded by rows of statues who all appeared as ancient Jàrqte sword saints whose faces were covered in helmet and gnarled and scowling masque, and whose arms were still tipped in swords which although intended only for statuary display were still sharp and kept sharpened by the descendents as a sign of respect unto the Ancestors, and about some of the doors were standing huge images of Sèxe romantic warriors, tremendous statues two or three times as large as a living man, even the largest and burliest of the Sons of Jaràqtu, and the lamellar scales of these sets of armor were bright black and gold and red, and the masques that were glaring down upon her were all of large eyen and jutting fangs and beards that had been woven of feathers gathered from the fiercest of leapent alasaurs and great typhoonasauroids, and as she looked upwards and gazed unto the large shimmering alam standing before her, she felt dread squeezing her heart, and felt the shadow descending upon the statues before her eyen were aware of the dimming of the afternoon Suns. All before the statues were walking warriors and Kháfha monks shuffling upon their triple webbed feet and several of the handmaidens walking in groups and laughing together. Éfhelìnye was wondering whether there were any way for her to return inside without having to come to close to the handmaidens, so she swung around a column and grabbing the edge of it clomb up a few feet and peered o'er for to watch, and was just hoping that the older maidens would walk away and not notice her or perhaps by some fey and stray thought decide to run away and never return so she would never have to think about them again, and as she watched their movement, like the spilling of so many pwùmpa termites from their termitary, she tried to discover some discernible pattern among them so that she could time it just right so that she could sneak among them and sneak back through the door without being noticed, at least that way she could remain alone and not have to worry about them at all, but no matter how long she watched them and counted them and tried to make them fit into tartans of color and prime number or some pattern based upon glyph or cuneiform, the maidens just refused to empattern themselves, and she was wondering whatever could be the problem with them, did they not at all have any balletic sense unto them, is this the way that other áta other elbenmädchen comported themselves, just look at the way they walk they seem to have no rhythm at all, don’t they understand that legs are for sliding and hoping and dancing but hardly for anything as prosaic as just moving across the floor and look at their hands they don’t know what to do with them, they have not the slightest idea that hand and wrist and arm are all part of a gesture, one must always be in movement, one’s entire body should be expressive, oh this is just completely intollerible, is this the way that they acted at home, just moving without any grace? Oh look, I think they’re parting a little. One can just slip down in the midst of the Kháfha monks, they’ll be sure to leave me alone, and then I can just run inside and try to ignore the strangers. Words for strangers can be very interesting, most of them, pùtsaru, thalqamikafhlétha, khnènti, also mean enemy, but qyikhóxhiti can be neutral for it means guest-friend, perzimzio, and yet one hardly needs too many participles to denote strangers in some situations for the participles for giving and receiving change forms depending upon whether one gives or receives something from one’s friends or family or unto a stranger, if I tása a book it must be to a friend or family member, but if I tasája a book it must be untowards a stranger or someone who is not considered family or a close friend. One can with all confidence denote these qhùxhwa, these àtan, these ákila, this royal xhnènatha soubrettes as pùtsaru mgemi and thalqamikafhlétha neflens and khnènti grānša enemies unto me.
Dashed she. Princess Éfhelìnye, the only blossom of the Virgin Empress Khnoqwísi, foster daughter of the old Sorcerer by the forest, came slipping down the column when she saw her chance and ran in the midst of the Kháfha monks and the warriors and ignored them as the monks fell down upon their faces and bowed for to worship her, and the warriors drew their swords to lay them down at her feet in order to sware unto her their eternal fealty, but all that she cared was to slip among them and avoid coming too close to the handmaidens. However she was finding it difficult to find open places, for the monks were almost hurling themselves down at her feet in an effort to be pious and adoring unto her, and the warriors were shouting out as she came and cried out – Behold the future Empress of all the Land! Let us life up impaling spear and māccuahuitl and sword and praise her holy name! É-fhe-lìn-ye! É-fhe-lìn-ye! É-fhe-lìn-ye! Hail! –
The Princess spun around and found herself before several Khlitsaîyart of the Khlìkhal Khlìkham negotiator genetic sub caste, and they were irobed as zintolry and three of them were wearing large floppy petasoi but one was hatless and they were bowing unto her and falling upon their knees, and as the Princess tried to escape them she heard the rattling of their claws and teeth and one asked her – Forgive us for speaking, but have you thought about what we discussed the other night upon the long sky ponts of the pyramid? –
– Oh? – asked Princess Éfhelìnye. She was backing up a little, but turning behind her she saw that the warriors were continuing to draw their weapons and build a mound of them as they bowed down unto her in the ritual of xhyautánis of spiritual surrender, and the senior monks were continuing to kowtow before her and were beginning to recite their mantras right untowards her.
– Have you considered our words, oh holy Empress of tomorrow? – the acolytes were asking.
– Ah … would you remind me … I’m very busy right now. I have to avoid the handmaidens. They’re so pretty and horrid, and I pity and fear them at the same time. –
– Messengers have been dashing into and out of the rath all this day – the acolytes were sighing. – Another fleet of refugees may be arriving. The Emperor your most august Father is winning the war. Soon there may no longer be land and resources and stories and time left for fighting, but all things shall be drawing back unto him. –
– Just who do those handmaids think they are, being so pretty and sophisticated and unballetic. I’m going to have to marry them all of just to get rid of them. Why couldn’t they just leave me alone? I think I have just enough heart left in me to withstand the playful antics of Karuláta, but I do not know what I can do with an entire harem. Can’t I just shut them into boxes and jars and mail them away via Raven Courier Express? No, alas, the Pòta Fhrérwo Telàqhawa is no more, disbanded in the chaos of the war. –
– Do you love Master Puîyos enough to give him up? –
– One can’t even get any more postage stamps, and I used to love collecting them, they were mine only access to the outer worlds, mine own dreams. –
– Can you release Master Puîyos? Can you be the opposite of your Father who cannot release you at all but has to keep you trapped and dying in his gardens, can you be the one to set your beloved free? –
Éfhelìnye was rubbing her brow and saying – What a terrible day this is becoming. Everyone is turning against me, the monks and warriors and handmaidens, I think all of them just want to keep me miserable for ever, I don’t know what Siêthiyal and Karuláta are planning, everything could have just been fine, I would have been able to accept Karuláta yes just her just one just one other person in the household for ever and that’s it, I’d invent some title for her little imperial Sister I don’t know, but all the rest of these maidens I just cannot stand them at all! –
– Our bodies are only flesh – the monks were saying. – The alchemists tell us that we can all be reduced unto simple swèlkhi cells of silicon and water and carbon and blood, that our bodies are mutable and fragile and so in the end we must fade and die. Focus, thou, oh beloved one, upon the eternal. –
– Puey is eternally mine, that’s the truth – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– Whether or not your lord husband has two wives or a thousand is immaterial, what is important … –
– A thousand wives! – cried Éfhelìnye. She took a step forwards. – A thousand wives! Who chanted that! Who chanted that! –
At once the acolytes fell silent. Behind the Princess the warriors looked up from their honorable surrender and the monks remained quiet and still in their kowtowing. Suddenly Éfhelìnye’s hair sparkled into living flame. All around her whisps of lambent light were beginning to twin about the columns, and a slight golden light was beginning to suffuse through all the stained glass windows. – Did somebody say something about my Puey having a thousand wives? –
The acolytes remained silent. One acolyte nudged the other on his sandle and the other shoved the other in his ribs and the third punched the fourth and hatless one who had uttered such an unfortunate phrase, and the tremulous unhatted acolyte chanted in a quaverous voice – Forgive my unworthiness, oh Emprses of Tomorrow, but by thousand wives one just intended a figure of speech to denote the impernance of life and … –
– A figure of speech! – cried Princess Éfhelìnye. – How can a thousand wives be a figure of speech! Do you want to hear a figure of speech, then? How about this! If any maiden even dares to touch my Puey, I shall see to it that she suffer as only I can conceive, and she will beg for death before I deign to release her! Is that metaphoric enough for you! Is it! Tell me! –
The acolyte just qualed and hid their faces all the more, and the three that had hats were bending the ribs upon their beaks, and the hatless one kept his claws across his eyen. Princess Éfhelìnye glided downwards, and lightning blossoms were flowing out from her hair, she was almost pacing from side to side, and the warriors and monks behind her moved not at all.
– Puey is mine. I’ll hear no more talk about sharing him or the impernance of life or anything else. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, here in the ruins of this war, I shall be the one to … oh no! – The Princess looked upwards. She blinked a few times and could hardly believe it, but in the delay caused in avoiding the monks and warriors and in her little conversation with the acolytes she was finding herself trapped in a growing flood of handmaidens. – No no no no no no! There are too many of them! What am I going to do! –
The acolytes looked up and suddenly Princess Éfhelìnye was far less scary unto them, for several Jaràqtun handmaidens were running outwards and swarming about the Princess and laughing and saying – Oh what a cute little Empress we shall have. Have you see her, she’s just adorable! You’re going to be our little Sister, aren’t you? –
– Pardon? No! – gasped Éfhelìnye. – Wait a moment … –
One handmaiden was bowing unto the Princess and taking her hand and saying – Your future Sister Wife is preparing dinner and making quite a mess with the kitchen slaves, but we took it upon ourselves to help you and approve the menu for you. Here, come inside with us. Oh doesn’t she just look so cute? Her cheeks are like apples, and she just appears so young doesn’t she, it’s hard to believe that this one wil become the Empress, neh? –
– Ah … where are you taking me? –
The doors were dilating open, and Princess Éfhelìnye was finding herself whisked away from the acolytes and monks and warriors, and the sparkling golden light which had wroth grown about her twining and shifting was all fading away, and the monks and warriors looked one to another and got up to continue on their business, and the acolytes helped one another up and all kicked the hatless one and chanted – I can’t believe you chanted that, a thousand wives, she was very upset for a moment! Come along, let’s not cause any more trouble! – And the acolytes came shuffling outwards upon their sandles and soon were sliding away.
Princess Éfhelìnye found herself within the golden halls and were finding handmaidens all about her setting up the tables and bringing out dishes and goblets and arranging beautiful plantimals and opening up the windows and making the halls more beautiful than they had been before. She was surrounded by flowing dresses and the swishing of golden hair and the perfumes that the daughters of the Poriêrii and the Qwoâng and the Tlhaxoîyer make of the leaves and trees and last blossoms of their land. Every few moments a flood of Traîkhiim came running out from the corner where the kitchens lay, and Éfhelìnye found that running about her legs were come Fhólus and Aîya screaming one to another and barely even noticing the Princess in their midst.
– She they we wants extra loaves of honey bread! –
– Tell the concubine to get it for her themselves! –
– Sending us to get them! –
– Can’t the concubine see how busy we they are! –
– Then send an handmaid! –
– Which one! They all smell the same to me! –
– Does it matter? –
– Matters to me! –
– You three! Bekós békkos now! –
– Get the bread get the bread the bread we get we get the bread get it got it go go go! –
– I go! –
– You the slow one! –
– You the slow one! –
– Stop biting me! –
– Stop biting me! –
Éfhelìnye found herself in the midst of the swirl, and she found that Asiréma was leading her forwards and unto the center table and upon the table were several sheets of papyrus and some pieces of qhàtre canvas, and it took the Princess a few moments to realize that these were drawings which she had made with her own hand, and they were images of tree and forest and the greenery qràsa of Jaràqtu yidiŕ and some were portraits which she had made of Fhermáta in the last hour, when she was dressed all in greens and golds, and then a painting of her in her crimson betrothal dress, and many drawings there were of Puîyus sometimes when he was playing the harp or just sleeping and othertimes in glorious battle with reavers and clockweyth Tánin and monsters about him and splashes of red crayon were bleeding upon some images, and the handmaidens were taking turns looking at the pictures. The Princess blinked a few times and then realizing what they were tried to scramble froward and gather them up, to roll them about and hide them and she whispered – No, these were not for anyone to see. I haven’t finished that one. Who took these? I did not wish for anyone to view them yet. Please, why is everyone looking at these? –
Asiréma was flipping through a pile of pages and chanted – Some of us were trying to read your manuscript but we can’t get through the first page. Are you just creating your own language? –
– I … I’m not done yet! –
Asiréma picked up a qeû sourcebook and chanted – Are you writing your own dictionary? I don’t understand this at all. –
Éfhelìnye dropped some of her drawings and dashing upwards snatched the ledger away and chanted – This hasn’t been proofread yet. Please, I do not mean for any of this to be read yet. –
– We like your drawings, and since we don’t understand your writing, we were given permission to enjoy the pretty pictures – Asiréma chanted. – Loved Siêthiyal was very generous in allowing us into your room and to look at all the images you’ve made. You’re quite a gifted artist, did you know that? –
– Those are my pictures of Puey! Give them back! – cried Éfhelìnye.
– We can’t help but notice that half your drawings are about him – Asiréma smiled. – It seems to be a recurrent theme with you, but his face appears almost on every third or other page, plus there seem to be an inordinate number of drawings where he’s carrying you or your leaning against him and leaning your face next to his, you seem to be very affectionate of him, at least in your drawings. –
The Starflower Princess could feel that her face was warming and reddening, but she was caring not. – I love drawing Puey, yes, he’s my favorite subject of all time and I always adore him now and for ever. I think I’ve drawn a picture of him for every day I’ve been old enough to hold pastel or pencil or crayon! – She piped and her cheeks were beginning to blush bright red.
– Isn’t our little Sister so adorable? – several of the handmaidens were whispering and giggling. – She’s incredibly in love with her future husband. –
– Of course I love him! – Éfhelìnye’s voice squeaked. – I love Puey more than I love air and food and light and I’d do anything for him! He’s the center of all my affection and the hero of my story. –
Asiréma patted the Princess on her head and chanted – Little Sister, when you grow older and more mature we are certain that Prince Puîyos will begin reciprocating all of your affection. He is very quiet and withdrawn, and none of us heard a single word of him on the voyage back to the rath, the khmeîlatau sky voyage upon the ponts, spake he not a word. We’ve all heard stories that he does not speak at all. –
– Puey does too speak! – Éfhelìnye was shouting without even realizing it. She was dropping her drawings and canvas and the handmaidens bowing and papilionaceous were gathering them back up unto her. – Puey talks whenever I kiss him! And I’ve kissed him hundreds of times, thousands of times, millions of times, and upon his lips too! We kiss all the time. It’s true. –
– Of course it is – smiled Asiréma and she patted the Princess on her hand and chanted – Your future Sister Wife Akhlísa was saying the same thing. –
– She was fibbing … – Éfhelìnye whispered. She looked around and was finding herself getting lost in a new swarm of Traîkhiim rolling out about her and carrying upon their spherical bodies and wings several trenches and creating of themselves a long procession of jars heading untowards the kitchens.
– Coming through! Make way! Get out of the way, honey child! We’re bringing the grub here. Out out out out out! Look someone has to help the Concubine in the kitchen, and we’re the only people with enough sense and intelligence and hardworkingness to help her! Do you think Master Puîyos forgetting about the cannibal feast that we held in disobedience to our Elders? No better give him an hour or so. Forgetting then! – the Traîkhiim were saying and laughing one to another as they made their ways to the kitchen.
– I really do kiss Puey all the time – chanted Éfhelìnye as she watched Fhólus and Aîya arise about her, and the sight of Fhólus flying about with only two heads and not at all appearing to be missing an entire neck and head was rather perplexing unto her.
– Have you kissed Crown Prince Puîyos this day? – asked Asiréma.
– Ah … no. But I’m planning on it. We kiss all the time though. We’ve been married before, at least that what the Traîkhiim told us when Puey and I first met them and caused all the Triîim clans to engage in joyful dance, and Fhólus told us that thus were the youths of the Traîkhiim given in marriage by their community and elders. Puey and I kiss all the time, this is just one small brief tiny moment of unkissing, and he has spoken in mortal words before after some very powerful and dragonish kisses from me. –
– Of course, anything you say, little one – chanted Asiréma. – I remember when you glued your hand to his just to keep him close to you. –
– I simply changed the harmonic frequencies of our palms – Éfhelìnye chanted. – There was no true adhesive applied. – She looked around and saw that of a sudden she was the center of attention, a couple of eleven handmaidens all gathered about her and examining her drawings despite her wishes for them not to be seen yet save by just a few whom she considered to be family, and the maidens were giving her a look which she did not quite recognize at once, but was reminding her a little of how Fhermáta used to look to her when trying to teach her and listen to her and humor her without always believing her, when she was being the lwoêng, the older and motherly sister jytLu. Éfhelìnye sniffled a little. The feeling of so many eyen upon her at once was in itself whelving, let alone the older maidens treating her as one newly born was making her feel anxious and malcomfortable.
– Puey does kiss me all the time though – Éfhelìnye chanted. – Oh, and I’m sure he’ll tell you that he really doesn’t need any handmaidens at all. In fact I think he may be on the way here at the moment to tell the rest of you that you can all go home now, for the harem was already large enough. –
– Isn’t Prince Puîyos feeding the beasts in the syòxha equerries? – asked Asiréma. – Oh little baby Sister, you don’t have to tell stories to us, when you grow up we’re sure that revered Puîyos will kiss you all you want. –
– I am grown up! – piped Éfhelìnye. – Siêthiyal and Karuláta are younger than I, they’re the babies! I’m most certainly not a baby, I’m thin and tall and have lissome hips. –
– You’re a little short. –
– Am I? No I’m not, I’m Puey-sized! I’m exactly the right proportion for one Puey. One could express this all as a pàrfhi, as a ratio, I’m sure. Perhaps it’s related unto wtsaûng, the golden ratio which is beauty itself. I may have to perform some slight calculations. – Éfhelìnye was trying to figure out a way to escape, but the handmaidens were all sitting around her and gazing upon her in sororal adoration and smiling and not at all allowing her any avenue for escape, and the Princess närvodik was growing jittery jumpy tnauqòntu desperate, for too many faces were turned untowards her, too many eyen, too many strangers, and she just had to find Puîyus somewhere or her heart would just stop beating, and she would start losing all feeling in her limbs and fingers. She almost flung the last few drawings she was clutching right towards Asiréma and launched herself from the table and ran as quickly as she could, she was leaping and spinning about the Traîkhiim in their endless formic sàfhat travails λuq’a kitchen to and halls fro, she found herself skidding about Fhólus and Aîya for a few moments, and the Traîkhiim just came spinning up about her and laughing and saying – Look at how the Empress is blushing don’t you the thinking she the thinking about Puîyos the thought? Blush blush blush blush blush! The children of Xhámi what odd big little folk they can be! –
Éfhelìnye did not even notice that she was weeping until she ran right into Siêthiyal, the only friendly and not semi-crazed presence in all the halls. Siêthiyal at once hugged the Princess and kissed her a few times and taking her hand began leading her away. Éfhelìnye was sniffling, and Siêthiyal wiped some blood from the Princess’ eyen, and the Princess noticed that Siêthiyal was now wearing a fancier dress with golden and jewels brimming in the pink hems, and that Siêthiyal’s hairdo was at least a foot higher now, as if it were a growing pyramid assuming towers and links unto itself, and rivers of her hair were cascading about her shoulders with new finery woven into it. – What’s the matter now, little Princess? Oh come, why don’t you return with me, you can take a nap before the fhàxhnu póyoi, the cenatory events. Now, I don’t want you to be worrying about anything at all, my Princess. Your future Sister Wife is taking care of dinner, it is her duty to serve you. I hope you don’t mind but I let the handmaidens see your drawings, but, Princess, you have to understand that everyone is curious about the future Empress. Oh don’t be such an aiyentíjei xhmaûrqin, such an eccentric artist, everyone just loves the drawings, truly Now stop crying. If Puey should come to spend some time with you during the dining hour, would you want him to see you with tearred eyen? –
Éfhelìnye shook her head in negation.
– I thought not – chanted Siêthiyal. – Here, let’s leave these halls, then – and saying such Siêthiyal was leading Éfhelìnye out unto the greater golden halls that domed the very center of the fortress, and all about them the Traîkhiim were arising in greater clouds of feathers and beaks and giggles.
– I just want the handmaidens gone for ever! – Éfhelìnye gasped.
– Tsk tsk tsk – Siêthiyal chanted and she drew the Princess aside and invited her to rest her head against her neck, and Siêthiyal stroked the Princess’ head and neck and back and whispered – I’m sure you’re finding these older maidens to be so trying, aren’t you, they just task you, don’t they? Would that there were some sort of solution to this conundrum, would that there were anything that we could do. –
– May we dump them into the swamp? – asked Éfhelìnye.
– Sometimes I think you’re more Jaràqtun than the rest of us – chanted Siêthiyal. – And your recourse to the body dumping in the swamp only confirms my suspicion. I am reminded of how Auntie Qtìmine used to tell me that the women who married into the Sweqhàngqu were oftentimes more Sweqhàngqu in their behavior than their own husbands. No, Princess, we’re not dragging any bodies into the swamp, not yet at any rate. Anyway, the handmaidens all like you. It would be rude to kill them, as of yet anyway. –
– I don’t want them around my Puey – whispered Éfhelìnye.
– When you see Karuláta tonight I think it would be best for you twain to sit together, and you can hold hands, and perhaps you can call her Sister Wife a few times, it would so brighten her day. She just longs for some sort of acceptance from you. I’m confident that if you could just trust her just a little teensy tiny bit, than perhaps we can come to some sort of arrangement. –
– I need for the handmaidens to go and soon. –
Siêthiyal drew the Princess’ head up and stroking her golden red hair chanted – I know we shall all end up as a nice and happy family. Trust me, your dearest little Siêthiyal, and I myself shall take care of the handmaiden problem. Just leave it all to me. Ahem. Ahem! Tee hee hee hee hah hah hah hah hah! –
– I love you, Siêthiyal. –
– Of course you do. Now go run on out. And think about Kàrula and how she’s your own hope for saving Puey from the endless misery of many beautiful and wellmannered golden tressed wives! Now go and run along now. Bye! Bye! Bye! – Princess Éfhelìnye was turning around and waved a few times to Siêthiyal and then dashing into the halls and all the light was following her, and Siêthiyal was left alone to smile and contemplate and lean against the wall and think about how perhaps this day was getting better and better, and by the end of it surely Éfhelìnye would relent and would start acknowledging Akhlísa’s right to be wed unto Puîyus her beloved and hope.
And it was as if the fhàfhya, the carnival had come unto a small town, and all things were swaying unto the orbit of it. And the kermis had three shafts of light focusing down within it, in the center was Princess Éfhelìnye sometimes looking up and othertimes around and sometimes reading in her book and othertimes trying to see what the handmaidens were doing. In another shafts of light was Siêthiyal and she was marching from side to side intent upon her own business, and sometimes she came storming out of the kitchens and clouds of Traîkhiim were flowing about her and swaying from side to side and were giggling all the while, and sometimes Siêthiyal was flinging herself into a chair and the handmaidens were gathering all about her and laughing, and othertimes Siêthiyal was drawing herself away and walking back unto the doors of the kitchens where Fhólus and Aîya were continueing for to flutter and wher Akhlísa’s voice arose within the claor within. And the third shaft of light was shining in the corner, for Puîyus was seated just at the edge of these great and golden domes khmùrtse khlaxeyaxhmikhusqrunaojhàyengut and a few lambkins were resting in his arms and a couple of doves upon his shoulders and he was feeding them with his own hands and cooing unto them all the while. Sometimes Éfhelìnye got up and stretched and spun about in dance and then sate back down again to read and spy upon the handmaidens. Othertimes Siêthiyal burst out into laughter and came running into the kitchens and all about her the Traîkhiim were shouting in glee. And Puîyus stroked one lamb and kissed it and brushed the feathers of the dove. And the domes were brimming with the handmaidens all talking at once and preparing the tables for supper and aiding Akhlísa in making everything ready, and behind Puîyus the large and scintillant glassen windows were all reflecting the light of the vast afternoon suns waning a bit, and layers upon layers of shadow claws breaking apart from the surface of them, and the sickly suns slowly setting in glories of reds and violets and growing black, sickly ripples of light presaging a long and sad night upon all the fortress. The Traîkhiim, many of them missing heads and wings and limbs and hand-soles were whistling happy tunes and not at all noticing how trepitatious Éfhelìnye was or how Siêthiyal was chuckling unto herself, and that Puîyus while he was taking care of the plantimals was sighing a little and feeling that this day was just not good at all.
A few of the Qhíng and the Aûm came slithering into the halls and seeing all of the handmaidens were turning one to another and saying – Have we missed something or is the Emperor just collecting nations of wives wherever he turns? This is going to be a noisy and complicated household, isn’t it? –
Siêthiyal came running forwards and bowing unto the Qhíng and Qlùfhem and Thùlwu chanted – Welcome! Welcome! My illustrious Brother’s Concubine is preparing dinner for us all, but in the meantime you can see what a nice and wellrun household we have here. Please, make yourselves comfortable, the handmaidens were wanting to impress the Emperor with a feast, but he is still engaged in an holy fast, and the Empress is not feeling well, so they shall just be feasting themselves this even. –
One of the Qhíng Caste Elders looked upwards, he was leaning upon his staff and watched as some handmaidens were hanging new drapery upon the all, and others were washing the tables, and some of the soubrettes, lest they disturb the future Empress in her reading, were picking her up in her chair and cleaning the tables all about her and setting her down and bowing all the while. – You shall have to forgive our ignorance, beloved Imperial Sister – spake the xenítsena grandaĝo – But both we Qhíng and we Aûm always marry in triads and an husbands do not collect unto themselves harems of the opposite sexes, so we have never quite understood the ways of íngajo, the high castes of the aristocratic Jarjhíxhoxe and the noble Posqéje and the Royal Pwejhoqèrti. But how is it possible for Prince Puîyos to create order in an household of so many wives? –
Siêthiyal laughed a little and swaying from side to side chanted – Oh it’s not so difficult at all, Puey is quite an hero and so all maidens just naturally fall in love with him and want to be wed unto him, I mean just think about how brave and strong and wonderful he is, the way he wins battles and slays dragons, he’s surely the very dream of many a maid. And as for actually running an household, Puey is leaving all that to me. He trusts me. I am eminently trustworthy. –
– Forgive us, but how many wives does a single hero prince need? – asked a Qlùfhim bioartist.
– Many! Hundreds! Thousands! – cried Siêthiyal. – More wives mean more favors for me and more concomitant toys for me. Yes, definitely thousands of wives, thousands upon thousands of them … look at how sickly the Princess looks. For some reason the idea of all these other maidens steeling her lord and husband’s affection bothers her, what an odd notion. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some khwìyot, some negotiation to conduct, tee hee hee hee hee. – She jumped up upon a table and cried out – Gather around me, come around, everymaid unto me me me! I and I alone have something very important to offer unto you, and you’d better start pleasing me soon. –
The Qhíng and the Aûm looked unto each other and shook their heads in confusion and chanted – We despair of e'er being able to understand the children of the Xhámi, how strange, how inscrutable such Færie are, Þe Xòkhwe Tàlamain Fheîya Fhèyofha Syòle Jhiîs Xhiî Xhìtlha Xhrìta folk! –
Siêthiyal drew up a staff and spun it around to gain the attention of the Hundred Virgins and was saying – Buy kisses, buy kisses, buy kisses while you can! Catch the future Cælestial Emperor’s eye! Kiss Prince Puîyos, with my leave, with my peace! As the future Emperor’s Sister, I’m in charge and I alone. Oh don’t go looking for the Concubine or the Princess, nobody cares what they think, all eyen to me, and if you wish a kiss than go no further. Now, who wants to start paying me for Puey’s osculations? –
Siêthiyal slid down the table and among the gathering handmaidens to see what they had to offer her and began making a pile of beads and shells and penants and jewels. In truth Siêthiyal was not at all sure what value if any khwòlet jàxhna fhàmijhi such jewels and penants and shells and beads still had, at least if she were actually to venture unto the Merchant Princes in Eréjet and have the Mercantile Caste measure and weigh and account for such things, perhaps the Ptètqiikh had dossiers and charts that permitted them to assign völads, or perhaps, and this was the suspicion that had been dawning upon her all throughout this day when she had first left Jaràqtu and seen the barbarious and outer worlds, and seen if only a little the ways of the Khlitsaîyart and the Qája and even dwelt with the twin Duchesses Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa for a time, and seen just how the qompátlhe the Naturalwirtschaft of favors and honors and feudalistic socalism actually functioned among the poploe, and it was concluding unto her that truly only marriages and alliances had any real value, and that shells and beads and sparkling jhìpyo orichalcum and feathers and jaspar and gold were only worthful because of their beauty and their usefulness in the creation and maintaining of toys. But still she was glad to collect the shells and beads that she could, and she figured it was only a matter of time until she found a way to wrest control of all of the sugar trafficking and khmànit tulpenmanie bollengekte and other peiratical persuits, and then all of the workshops would open and reveal their treasures of toys unto her.
– Get your kisses! Barter for kisses! Buy your kisses, here here here nigh hand and nigh lip! – cried Siêthiyal. – All ye handmaidens, direct yourself Siethiyàlutakh weards and buy your kisses kisses kisses kisses! Quickly, buy them while the lips are candied and ready, quickly now before the Empress notices what we’re doing. Just pile all your valuables to me, all of you, no need to be shy at all, we all know why you’re here. Your Parents and Grandsires and Elders all wish fhàrso sweet ahaman noble salīmātum alliance with the brand scintillant new Imperious House of the Pwéru, and we have here a young man whose very nod will decide the destinies of worlds. Can one even begin to contemplate what vast power he shall weild? All of you handmaidens gather around me, I want to ensure that you understand what’s happening now. –
Asiréma and the Virgins who were not actively preparing the halls for dinner were swarming about Siêthiyal who was taking it upon herself to jump back upon a table in order to proclaim unto all of the crowds, for after all, she was thinking, there was just something about this day that demanded leaping upon furniture and in general being tall and loud and operatic and burstent with hwyl.
– Now we all know the tale of old and honored Kàrijoi, do we not? – asked Siêthiyal as she spun around and pointed to the handmaidens one by one to gain their attention. – Was there e'er a more blessed and creative man than honored Kàrijoi the Son of Fhìtsarakh, was there e'er a Crown Prince more promising, was there e'er an Emperor who proved himself more valiant in battle, was there e'er a Rising Sun who reigned o'er a longer era of peace? Can any of you even contemplate the power that old and honored Kàrijoi had? –
– He was strong! He was powerful! He was the Prince of Princes! – the Hundred Virgins were saying.
– He was all that and more, it is chanted that in olden days, almost storybook days that Crown Prince Kàrijoi would ride off upon his trusty giraffe and hunt the terrible beasts in the whispering mountains of Khatlhàntikh, and no greater hunter was he, hide and fang and tush still hang in the knightly quarters of the Ice Palace, and I should know, I have seen them with mine own blue eyen. It is chanted that in our parent’s days that Emperor Kàrijoi himself fought in the frontlines of the wars against Tsànyun, while all of the heavens were trembling, while the crimson sands were quaking, as living ships were crashing and exploding all around him, he himself was holding up his sword and impaling spear and charging against the hosts of the Tsànyunmen who dared to try to leave the Empire and stablish some sort of hideous democracy of their own, oh Kàrijoi was there and he never stopped from battle, a thousand he slew with one hand, ten thousand with another, the sands became a sea of living blood, crushed Khlitsaîyart and their slaves beneath the feet of war giraffes and the metallic shoon of saurian mounts. Oh my Virgins, it is chanted that Emperor Kàrijoi was so powerful that by his word, by a nod of his head, his ambrosial tresses flowing down the sides of his head, that entire nations quaked and died, it is chanted that in the days when I was still a babe and the holy Empress passed into the protection of her Ancestors that Kàrijoi slaughtered with the merest of thoughts the thousands of thralls that for him swinked in Twiêkes the Ice Palace, that he blotted out springtide and summer and autumn sheen from his Holy City the great ecumenopolis Solúma Jheirqtàlpa Khelèlkhonor Ausélinor, it is chanted that he crumbled out some of the light of the heavens with his strong fist, just like this, and he shoved aside cloud and mountain like this and this and this, and then he shut himself up into outer darkness for all time. And oh my Virgins, we all have heard tidings of what the dying Emperor is doing now. We see now that the Suns are failing, that can only mean the End is come. We know that Winter extinction is falling upon all the land. We know that midnight and death are creeping outwards. We know that no longer fettered are the monsters of madness and the quantum dæmons and the moon dragons piasa. We know that Kàrijoi vast and ancient and mighty is unleashing the very last of his power upon us poor children of mortals. We know all this and more. And yet I know something which not even the Wise know. Would you like to hear my secret? –
– Please tell us, oh Imperious Sister! – the Hundred Virgins implored.
Siêthiyal grinned and played with some of her roseate tresses. – I don’t know whether I should tell you, mine older sisters. I don’t want you to spread any stories. –
– We won’t tell anyone at all, we promise! – cried the Hundred Virgins.
Siêthiyal swayed from side to side at the edge of her toes. – Well, since you’re promising so sweetly, I suppose I can’t but help myself. Here, everyone lean froward, it will be just our little clandestine secret, and it shall travel just from the fence of my teeth to the cochleate of your ear. Is everyone listening? It is quite a remarkable secret, the most important you shall e'er hear! –
– Do tell! Do tell! –
– The secret is this, and don’t go spreading it out to everyone else, I warn you, this is just between me and you, but, and this is the secret, my Puey, my Older Brother my blood, for the same Mother bore us both, blessed and saintly Khwofheîlya, agèd Khangisqrírles’ daughter, and the secret is coming, there are just a few danglent clauses adancing before it, but the secret is this, are you ready, it will come and go as a flash of light, like a corsair directed his vessel through treacherous storms and stopping only long enough to plunder all the sugar he can get, and the secret is following, it just has to warm up a little, he can be so incredibly shy this secret, quite a blushing little secretling, it likes to keep its head down and look at its feet and just be so quite and modest et cet et cet, but this is the secret, and I hope you’re ready for it, for it will only slip out of my throat once, the greatest secret in all the billion, billion worlds and the quadrillion, quadrillion souls in all of the Dreamtime, the Land of Story. Have I mentioned the secret yet? –
– No! –
– Are you ready to hear it? –
– Yes! –
– Very ready? Most ready? Pluperfectly ready? –
– Yes yes yes! –
– Okay, secret time is now! –
– Yes! –
– This is the secret! –
– Yes! –
– I’m about to say the secret! –
– Yes! –
– Do you remember just how glorious, how honorable, how magnificient Emperor Kàrijoi is? –
– Yes! –
– Puey is without a doubt eleven times more glorious and more honorable and more magnificient, and he’s not even fully grown yet. –
– Yes! –
– That’s the secret! Not even the Wise have figured it out yet! But Puey shall make Kàrijoi’s reign and the nightmares at the end of it seem like some strange and shallow dream! –
– Yes! –
– All that boasting you will hear from the future Empress Éfhelìnye, all that you hear from her about Puey being the best at just about everything, it’s mostly true, but what’s completely true is that Puey shall be an Emperor such as has never sate upon the Xhmèrpa, the Crystalline Throne! Puey slew a Dragon when he was three winters of age, all I remember from that age was biting Karuláta all the time and stealing her toys, but Puey! Slew! A Dragon! And he could barely even hold a sword up! He didn’t even know how to say a word or scream, he actived and slew! He didn’t even know how to tie his own laces yet, and he slew one of the most terrible of creatures in all the worlds. He was armed as a warrior by seven winters of age, and now he’s slain another Dragon and crushed the might of a Dragon host and is toppling down an Empire which has stood since the Dawn of Time and the Tree of Light. Tell me that such a lad as my Brother will not be at least elevenfold as honorable as Kàrijoi e'er can be! –
– Yes! –
– And if you want to catch his eye and please him, you must please me! –
– Yes! –
– Who will be the greatest Emperor of all times! –
– JongarPuîyos! –
– And who’s his Sister? –
– Little Siêthiyal! –
– And who wants to start paying her shell wanpanpiak now? –
– We do! –
– Give me all you have! Hurray! –
– Hurray! –
– Hurray for Puey! For Puey, hurray! –
– Yes! –
– All your shells and all your beads and all jewels for me me me me … – Siêthiyal was drawing the maidens unto herself and fashioning for herself larger piles of booty but she could not help but notice the kvagöl chirm of qwèqweka qwèqweka qwèqweka behind her, and for a moment she durst not look behind her, and yet was almost afraid not to, for she could hear the tapping of wee little webbed feet and the fluttering of wings and feathers drifting all behind her and the sound of wooden shoon scampering outwards. She spun around and saw that a few kawónìyufhein were running outwards and laughing qwèqweka qwèqweka qwèqweka all the while, and that behind the döks came running Puîyus with hands outstretched, and when the ducklings came sliding beneath a table he divedoved right after them, and when the duckchen came leaping upwards right upon the surface of the table and were spinning about and flapping their wings black and green betipped, Puîyus jumped right next to them and was trying his best to snatch them up and kiss him, and for a moment the Hundred Virgins stopped buying kisses and watched as Puîyus sometimes chased the ducklings, and othertimes the ducklings were chasing him, and sometimes he was capturing a duckling and was rewarded with a few honking bites upon his nose, and he had to drop them and give chance once again, and othertimes the ducklings caught him and leapt up into his arms and kissed him many times with soft smew luschia bill and Puîyus was giggling all the while.
Siêthiyal clasped her hands together and addressing the soubrettes added – Now don’t forget, just because my Brother plays with fowl and rescues some Princess or other, that doesn’t make him any less fierce. In fact I think that makes him all the more powerful, to think that he would care for the life of a single silly waddling cackler even as he ruins an entire Empire. Buy your kisses from me! I’m his Sister by blood, I’m the most important maiden in the harīm, and if you want to bring honor to your Father you’d better please me first. Who has any more shells? –
Puîyus managed to capture a couple of ducks but just then several lambkins began chasing him out from beneath the table and he ran around through the bevy of the Hundred Virgins and was laughing all the while as the lambs were baying khmàryor khmàryor khmàryor all the while, and he caught up a few and set them upon his shoulders and began running back unto the outer tables where he could be alone with the plantimals. He looked upwards and saw that Princess Éfhelìnye was coming up to him and was bringing him a tray of milk so that he could feed the lambs and ducks, and he saw that her face was sad for some reason, but she did not say a thing. Puîyus drew out a chair for the Princess so that she could sit and read from her book of fairytales, and Puîyus sate upon the floor with the creatures and petted and kissed them for a time.
– What greater honor can there be than for any of your to become one of my Brother’s altèrtrakh junior wives? Any of you could be the potential Mother of a prince or princess of the holy ichor of the Pwéru! Consider how your parents and guardians and elders will feel to know that their blood mingles with that of the Holy House Kayipóxirot! – Siêthiyal was walking from side to side upon the length of the board and taking whatever treasures she could find. – Kisses kisses kisses for presents, kisses kisses kisses for the Crown Prince! –
Puîyus for his part, he who had been born Íngìkhmar’s Son and was now fostered into the House of the Sun, could certainly hear anything which his birth Sister was saying if he cared to pay any attention, but having grown up in the same crannog with her and his foster Sisters and often having dwelt with various cousins and distaff sides of the family, he knew when it was best not to pay too much attention, and especially it was good to let others forget how kean his hearing could be if he truly wished to hear into grass and wind and gathering storm leagues away. At this moment only two sounds were concerning him, the lapping sound of the lamb on his lap as it was licking up the milk, and the slight sniffling that was come of Princess Éfhelìnye as she sate in her chair and slowly turned the pages in her book. He could sense that she was uneasy about a great many things, but he was not at all sure exactly what was the source of her unease save for the general disquiet in the family and the coming sense of dread and the rumor that they were in fact losing Tlhexetsopwekùthuwo the Shibboleth War of Heaven. The lamb continued to lick the milk and the sound of its lapping was quite calming unto him, and its sweet baa baa baaing khmàryor was almost a purr unto him. He stroked its ears and fleece and was sighing and was about to get up and put his hand upon Princess Éfhelìnye’s shoulder to comfort her, but he heard the sound of fluttering all about him, as of so many fhwúqha fire meeth rising and falling about his sleeves.
Princess Éfhelìnye turned around and looking unto him and seeing that he was dressed in the simple white clothing of an acolyte, and jade and ruby and onyx and diamond were his buttons and he was feeding one lamb while another was licking his ear she chanted – Puey, may I ask you something? –
– Do you really love me? –
– Do you love me more than all of these older girls who are better than I in just about every feminine art? –
Puîyus nodded, and a few of his tnónu ambrosial tresses flowed down the side of his head in affirmation.
Princess Éfhelìnye sniffled a little. – I’m not feeling very well this even. Perhaps I should go to bed early. –
Puîyus was about to arise to help the Princess out of her hair and escort her unto the gates of the purdah, but he found several arms wrapping about him and the lambkin was bleating to find strangers about it. One handmaiden was cluthing Puîyus by one arm, and one was hanging about his neck, and a third was taking his hand and kissing his knuckles and fingers one by one jhùqyayoi. Éfhelìnye started screaming. Puîyus shook the handmaidens away, but they just laughed at him and were encouraged all the more. Puîyus stood upwards and several golden tressed handmaidens were running up unto him and grabbing him about his waist, and the bolder ones were leaping up and kissing his neck and chin and face, and Éfhelìnye started screaming all the louder. Puîyus stood up and shook the handmaids aside, but when he walked he found that his legs were weighed down one maidens grasping him. He was trying to put the lambkin down, but whenever he turned he was getting accosted again and again, sometimes with kisses upon his hands and other times maidens grabbing his knees and he was almost having to wade them them and the screams that arose from Princess Éfhelìnye as she clomb up upon the table and began shreaking as if thousands of tomb spiders were pouring out of bone and dust and sarcophagous, and the maids were hideous mummified creatures clinging unto her beloved.
Puîyus shook the maids aside and jumped up upon the table next to the Princess, and all about him was arising a growing sea of golden tressed maidens reaching out untowards him and trying to pull him down. Éfhelìnye would not stop screaming, and the mere fact that she was continuing to scream for many moments without stopping to take a breath was enough to warn Puîyus that he needed to take care of her, and even when he put his finger to her lips she would not stop screaming in terror, and so he just took her into his arms and let her rest her face against his neck and only then would she grow quiet, and yet even that did not stop the maids from reaching outwards in waves and grasping untowards him. Puîyus turned and saw that at the great gates of these halls Siêthiyal was standing like the xhthaníqu claviger artist, and she was unlatching all of the wheels and swinging the door open and crying out into the outer darkness – Come on in, Handmaidens, there’s plenty more of Puey in here! Everyone, flood within, and don’t forget to pay me in shells and beads and toys galore, tee hee hee hee hee! – And Siêthiyal was rubbing her hand and hopping from side to side and gesturing for the rest of the daughters of the Poriêrii and the Qwoâng and the Tlhaxoîyer to swamp within.
Puîyus decided to keep Princess Éfhelìnye’s gaze downwards and away from the coming tsunami of handmaidens. Bobbling upwards upon the island table in the midst of the growing sea of silk and golden hair came drifting a small coracle whose bone oars Fhólus and Aîya were plying from side to side, and standing up in the midst was Akhlísa tapping her feet and crossing her arms. Puîyus saw that this was Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho’s own jhaûrquil corwgl such as they had been using when he and the Princess had first met them in the castles of enhallowed Eilasaîyanor when the pirates were aplundering the house Atlhamáxha, back when the Pirates had been on the run from the Candy Mafiosa and in the employ of the Khan of the Red Moons, Ixhúja’s Father, and in general trying not to get caught for the fiasco of the Syìplet Gold, and Akhlísa drew the kowas upwards and looked to Puîyus and cried out – Someone here is trying to be a good and faithful concubine and make dinner for you and the rest of this miserable harem, and what type of chaos is this I ask you hmm are you even going to tell me? Because I’m hoping you have some great explanation, do you know how difficult it is to keep the Traîkhiim in line? Especially since I just can’t threaten them with torture like the Qhíng and Aûm would, for some reason you won’t let me just kick them around, and these handmaids of yours are just flocking away from me. Say, what do they even think they’re do, hmm? This is all a mess. Hi, Princess! –
Éfhelìnye shivered against Puîyus’ neck and did not look up. – Wes ðu hāl, Kàrula. –
– Okay so I’m trying to make dinner here and I’m concentrating on unsplatterible food in case a couple of owlhoots get it into their devious little minds to start throwing the food do you want some cake because I think you look like you need some cake. –
– I’m not hungry – Éfhelìnye whimpered.
– I’ll make you cake, then you’ll feel better – Akhlísa clapped her hands and Fhólus and Aîya came fluttering all about her and were changing the configeration of the kùxhyu bone remiles and drawing the coracle away. – Okay fairwell! Bye! Bye! See you! Love you! Kisses! –