And there was darkness, black and red and deep and profound. Perhaps time passed, what time could still pass beneath the death of the Suns and the freezing of the land and the endless forcurtaining of the welkin, the midnight spanned, and there was night and day and the dance of the hours.
Princess Éfhelìnye was not a very heavy sleeper by nature. Usually it was her wont to awaken in the middle of the night, when the Stars were sparkling within the streams of the heavens, and the Moons were arising in aurulent glories and upon the swarth dance beneath the light constellate, but here upon this last day and the last hour thereof, as the Sun Emperor himself, Kàrijoi the Master of Health and Prosperity and Life, was reaching outwards and unweaving the tapestries of realities, and there was barely any time for moonlight and starlight and the dance. Éfhelìnye awoke a few times in the night and could feel the light of the hearth, the glow of coal upon the fireplace and the tumbling of the flavescent light. She scrambled o'er unto where Puîyus was sleeping. He was still and calm and his face was turned unto the gledes, caid tnuthuid. She kissed him several times in his sleep. His lips were reminding her of apples in the night, and he purred a little, and she could taste that he was dreaming of the plantation and crannog that had belonged unto his Ancestors, but which were now no longer, since the Qhíng had ojùxhmoir qlaêkh and despoiled the land. She listened to the beating of his heart and then returned and crawled up next to Ixhúja and placed her arms about her and hoped that her cousin would be well in the days to come.
There was no dawntide as of the second hour of the day, no morning tidings either, but all of a sudden several candles were lit, and Éfhelìnye was dimly aware that someone was flinging open the curtains and letting within sickly streams of light such as the crescented Suns were still able to reveal. Éfhelìnye rolled o'er a little and found that someone had placed a blanket about her and Ixhúja at some time in the night, and Ixhúja’s hands were raking back and forth as if they were claw’d things, and Éfhelìnye was almost sure that she was being warned not to awaken her cousin, for Ixhúja did not like to be interrupted from pleasant dreams of trees and clockwork and vast untamed forest.
Someone was opening up some curtains right before Princess Éfhelìnye and a ripple of sad and orange light narangiós shattered upon her. She blinked a few times and saw a blur of black and golden robes, and the outline of scales and horns.
– I’m very sorry, holy Princess, but I had to tell her. I didn’t want to get into trouble; I just had to tell some authority figure or other. –
It was Khrùkhtii’s voice, for he was standing above the Princess and opening up the rest of the curtains. He kept looking behind him. Éfhelìnye rolled around upon the pillow towards Ixhúja and was not at all sure what was happening or whether she was dreaming or not. Behind Khrùkhtii came a swirl of robes and the sound of slippers.
– You do not need to apologuise to Éfhelìnye at all, Khrùkhtii. You did right to tell me. She is not the Empress yet, and before she becomes the Mother of our Caste, I would hope that she would learn some wisdom. –
Éfhelìnye recognized the voice of Auntie Qtìmine and was not at all sure what she had done or failed to do, so she began tugging the blanket about her, wrapping herself up as far as she could go, until Ixhúja, noticing that she was being deprived of her portion of the warm blanket, began to pull the blanket back upon herself, and slow but sure shove Éfhelìnye away from her. Éfhelìnye rolled o'er and opened her eyen and could see that Auntie Qtìmine and the Master of the Dodos were standing next to each other, their heads close and whispering something, and she was almost certain that she could hear her name and Ixhúja’s name and something about sneaking off into a battle. Behind Auntie Qtìmine the door was dilating and a couple of Khlitsaîyart were walking within. One of them was a rather tall and thin Tèrefha, an Khlitsaîyart of the doctor genetic sub-caste, and he was carrying a large leathern sack with him and strapping upon himself an helmet that consisted of spectacles and glasses and prisms slipping together. Éfhelìnye blinked a few times and thought that surely this one of the same Tèrefha whom she had seen in the fortress of the mountain before, but she could not be entirely sure. She was still learning the different sizes, feathers, and lineages of the Khlitsaîyart, and was still not entirely sure of what it meant when the colors of one’s gills did change for the mood of a species.
Auntie Qtìmine and the Master of the Dodos finished their conversation, and the Master bowed unto her and spun around in a swirl of robes, and falling down upon his beak began to back away from the Starflower Princess. Falling down about him came several of his assistants among the Tájo people, each of them also engaging in ritual humicubacioun as they left her. Éfhelìnye, now completely bereft of any warm blanket, sate up and wrapped her arms about her knees and shuddered in the early day cools and watched as the Dodos left her and murmured in their passing – We live and die to serve the Pwéru, the House of the Sun. –
– Fairwell – chanted Princess Éfhelìnye.
Auntie Qtìmine came forwards. Éfhelìnye looked upwards. Qtìmine Samájhi’s hair, long and golden, was unbound and lay free down her shoulders, for she had not had time to prepare herself. She was dressed all in robes of white, very simple robes indeed, but they seemed to shine from her. Éfhelìnye was aware of just how beautiful Auntie Qtìmine actually was. Sometimes she forgot that in order to become one of her Father’s vestal concubines, one had to be a very beautiful daughter of the Land indeed. She wondered whether she would grow up to be as beautiful as Qtìmine as she grew older. She noticed that a few strands of her sunset hair rested upon her knees. She wondered whether the rumors were true, that Puîyus actually did prefer golden tressed maidens. There certainly did seem to be enough of them in fair Jaràqtu, the warrior land beyond the Northwind.
Auntie Qtìmine sate upon stool beside the Princess and chanted – I hear that Princess Ixhúja had quite an interesting night. After managing to abandon me and Siêthiyal and Karuláta and seek her own personal glory in battle, she also killed two xhraulírta scholars of Khrumaîna. Although as one of the Holy House of the Pwéru she does have every right to slay a scholar who insults her dignity, I would prefer it in the future if you inform me before you start borrowing these scholars without thinking of the results. –
– Honored Qtìmine, I just wished to … –
– I did not give you permission to speak, my child. And you should address me as your Mother, for I am one of your Father’s brides. In the future you will ask me before you start commanding any scholars, generals, or priests. Is that understood? –
– Yes, Mother. –
Auntie Qtìmine smoothed down the edges of her dress and then came to sit down next to the Starflower Princess and taking a small xòxhmu peyno began to comb her tresses. – I shall completely pass o'er the fact that you snuck out into the midst of the battle and commanded Khrùkhtii to help you in your scheme. I understand why you did so .. –
– I had to tell her! – Khrùkhtii squeaked and yelped at the same time, and then ashamed that he had interrupted a Vestal Virgin slapped his claws o'er his mouth and tried to hide his face.
– And thank you for doing so, Khrùkhtii. You are a good novitiate, and will serve Puîyos and Éfhelìnye well. –
Khrùkhtii grinned, although part of his heart burned hot within him to think that he was betraying the confidence of his dearest friends, but it was better to serve them even when they did not desire it. Éfhelìnye took a deep breath and wondered whether there would e'er be a time in her life when she was not in trouble for something or other.
– The Master has told me what he saw in Princess Ixhúja’s dreams – chanted Auntie Qtìmine. – I think I know what we all need to do with regards to her. However, I am almost more concerned with the fact that my xhàneqim nephew was grievous wounded in battle, and neither of you seem to have sought any medical help for him, rather you have gone out of your way to help your cousin. Although I commend you for your compassion, your lack understanding tells me that I need to be aware of your comings and goings. –
– Puey mewed he was fine, Mother – Éfhelìnye chanted.
Auntie Qtìmine looked up to Khrùkhtii and chanted – I believe he’s broken an ankle. –
– Ah yes … but he told me it doesn’t hurt … – Éfhelìnye blinked a few times. – We were on the point of seeing someone about it, but Ixhúja was going xhnòtsipo bearsarked and … and … we all rather forgot. –
Auntie Qtìmine lifted up a single, perfect white finger and signaled to the Khlitsaîyart doctor, who was even now removing some phials and glasses from his case. – This is honored Khràkhoi. He has examined Puîyos before, and I have commanded him for the time being to be the Crown Prince’s physician. This is of course a great honor, perhaps greater than his years make him worthy, but in this War we must make do with those left unto us. WeorÞfull Khràkhoi, would you be so good as to examine the Crown Prince’s ankle? –
Khràkhoi bowed and took out some tongs and a curving mirror. – The Crown Prince, I just, won’t mistake me for an enemy and slay me as he sleeps, will he? –
Khrùkhtii the acolyte snorted and giggled saying – That’s the chance you’ll have to take. –
– Did you say something, Acolyte? –
– No, honored Mother. –
– Good. Doctor, the Prince will not attack you. It is true that in his sleep he can detect the approach of enemies, for he can feel the murmur of an untowards heart, but he can also sense the innocent. You are in no danger at all, dear Doctor. Anyway, he can also smell his Auntie and beloved Princess here, so you have nothing to fear. –
– Quite – chanted the Khlaêr of the doctor caste as he bowed. He strapped a set of gloves upon his long fingers and then slipped another glove upon it, for it was tabu to be too close to the flesh of one who would become the Sun of all of Glossopoeia. He set down a mirror and slowly reached for one of Puîyus’ wooden shoon, for he did not have to guess which one was the injured one, it was the one completely caked in blood, and the sock torn in several places. He examined the habach with the mirror a little and then taking a tong slowly removed the shoe, and the foot began to bleed again.
– Puey told me it did not hurt him – Éfhelìnye told Qtìmine, although she was aware that she sounded more as if she were pleading and trying to make herself just rather than just explaining what had come to pass.
Auntie Qtìmine finished braiding one of Éfhelìnye’s queues shaoléyel and chanted – You must understand that Puîyos is quite a lot like his birth father Íngìkhmar, a great dragon warrior of the people who would rather die than admit to weakness and softness and pain, especially unto strangers. As his Wife you must take care of my Nephew, and if you know that he is hurt, even should he say nothing, have help rendered unto him. You must be the heart that is missing unto him, for a man is incomplete without the heart of his lady wife. –
Éfhelìnye’s face was glowing with a soft red light unto it. Qtìmine finished with her hair and standing up, in tall and consummate grace, chanted – I shall go and check upon Siêthiyal and Karuláta; those two are only slightly less trouble than you and Puîyos. I trust that I can leave you with the Doctor without anyone else getting his head shorn off and his body dismembered? –
Éfhelìnye hung down her head. – Yes, honored Mother. –
– I’ll be back soon – chanted Qtìmine as she straightened up the ruffles of her alban gown. – My heart tells me that any moment now the Traîkhiim thralls will try some trickery also. – She was beginning to sweep out of the room, a flash of white and gold, and behind her Khrùkhtii arose, his fingers twiddling about each other and one of his rosaries, but Qtìmine, without even turning around chanted – Khrùkhtii, stay with them. If there is any trouble report to me directly. Do not go to the Dodo masters or the generals; find me. Is that understood? –
– Yes, holy Mother – chanted Khrùkhtii. His teeth chattered together a little.
Qtìmine turned back, regarded Puîyus and Éfhelìnye for a moment, and nodded to Khràkhoi. Then all in a moment she was gone.
– I’m sorry, Mother – Éfhelìnye chanted to the door shimmering and closed before her. She sighed and clasped her hands about her knees again.
– Oh yes, Auntie Qtìmine is very lovely indeed – Khrùkhtii sighed.
– I don’t mean to get into trouble – Éfhelìnye chanted. – I know that Ixhúja can’t help herself and I thought that perhaps Puey would just heal on his own … I’m not sure what I thought. –
– Do you see the way that sunlight glistens upon her hair? – Khrùkhtii sighed. – Even aneath the death of the Suns, and the vast waves of dark and silver light of the crescented siqiñiQ, her hair is a radiant and precious thing. Few indeed are the women of the Land beautiful enough to be brides of an Emperor. –
– I’ll never be a khrūsokhaítēs beauty golden like unto Jaràqtu itself, sendilikahs – Éfhelìnye sighed. – I hope Puey will just love me as I am. –
– Oh, you are his Sun and Moon … and starry night – Khrùkhtii chanted. His fingers kept clattering together and to halt his nervousness he sate down upon the stool next to the Princess. He tried not to notice that Éfhelìnye was bare of foot, and the way she was holding her knees revealed quite a bit of her ankle and leg. Khrùkhtii kept finding his eyen turned back unto her, and he was forcing himself to whisper entreaties unto the former Empress, the Virgin whom no man may call by name.
– I don’t feel like a Star though – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– Holy Empress of Tomorrow, may I ask you something? – Khrùkhtii tried clasping his eyen shut, but his outer eyelids snapped open when Éfhelìnye looked to him.
– Of course, Khrùkhtii. –
– Are you forangered at me? Because I knew that I had to report to Auntie Qtìmine and I didn’t mean to get you in trouble … –
– Why would I e'er be angry with you? –
– I … I was like unto a Raven and told Auntie Qtìmine that Puey had been hurt and Ixhúja was all … – Khrùkhtii noticed that Princess Ixhúja’s ears twitched a little in her sleep, and part of him realized that she could easily kill him, with one finger, even while she slept, if he annoyed her. – Ah … and that Ixhúja was dear unto us all and precious. –
Éfhelìnye regarded Khrùkhtii with large blue guileless eyen. – But why would I be angry with you? –
– I … it’s like I told her a secret! –
– Do I have a secret? –
– You … you did sneak off into battle … and … and … –
– I’m not angry. –
Khrùkhtii sighed. – Of course not. You wouldn’t be. You are Princess Éfhelìnye. –
Éfhelìnye ran a finger through her tresses, and a few sparkles of light arose from her, and Khrùkhtii felt a slight gust of springtide as several butterflies began to sway up first about the Princess and then about him and his nostrils. He sneezed to taste the headiness of the smell, rich and deep and good. Éfhelìnye pulled back another tress behind her ear. Khrùkhtii broke out into a cold sweat and just wished that he could start thinking about something other than her hair.
Beside the hearth the doctor Khràkhoi of the exiled Khlitsaîyart of Khnìntha itself looked up. His entire head was covered in swivels of glasses and spectacles spinning around and examining Puîyus’ foot and ripping apart the sock that was caked unto blood and flesh. – The beloved Prince’s ankle is broken in three places, oh Princess. There is no doubt about it. –
Éfhelìnye stood up and gasped. – But will he recover? –
– Oh yes. I would like to take a closer look at him, if you do not mind. But he will recover. –
When Éfhelìnye stood up, Khrùkhtii’s eye could not help but notice the curve of her hip. He was beginning to feel a little light-headed at the moment, and the names of Saints were beginning to evaporate from the halls of his mind. Éfhelìnye spun around and grasped his hands and chanted – Isn’t that good news, Khrùkhtii! – He hair bobbled in sunset sheens from side to side.
– Yes, yes, the hair is good! – Khrùkhtii chanted.
– Puey will be better! –
– Hips hips hips! –
Éfhelìnye squeezed his fingers tighter, and then understanding flickered on her face. – Oh wait, I have an idea. – She turned around. Khrùkhtii tried to think of something else than the smell of her breath beside him, but as she turned her head he noticed that one of the buttons on the nape of her neck was just about to snap open. He blinked, and then the button did unclasp to reveal a glisten of the white skin on the back of her neck.
– Khrùkhtii, I’ve noticed that sometimes I’ve been able to help others heal themselves, especially in times of great duress – Éfhelìnye chanted as she turned back to Khrùkhtii. – I must have been so frightened in the battle that the thought slipped my mind yesterday. I’ll go ask the good doctor whether I may lay hands upon mine esteemed Puey. –
Khrùkhtii coughed, saying – You are the most beautiful woman I’ve e'er seen. –
Éfhelìnye stood up and turned around, but only made it a couple of steps before noticing that one of the buttons upon her nape had come undone. As she reached to her back quoth she – Khrùkhtii, would you be a dear friend and button the back of my gown? –
Khrùkhtii took a step froward and chanted – I love you I love you I am yours for ever I love you – before he collapsed and fainted face forth upon the carpet. Éfhelìnye waited for a moment, heard the acolytal thud, and turned around saw Khrùkhtii dwalm’d upon the floor.
– Oh dear one, you must not have gotten very much sleep at all last night – Éfhelìnye chanted. She looked for a cushion for the acolyte, but Ixhúja in her sleep had somehow managed to snag them all and was hugging them all to herself. Éfhelìnye found the one that she thought she could most easily snatch, and although Ixhúja half-heartedly tried to stop her, Éfhelìnye was able to pry it away and sit it beneath Khrùkhtii’s head and kiss his brow and say – Go and sleep then. Maybe you can dream about Puey! –
Even in his fainted state, part of Khrùkhtii thought that he would never wipe or touch or wash his brow e'er again, but savor the slight whiff of flowers left from the touch of her lips. And he slept in his faint and did dream a little of his childhood days with Puîyus and Paloîta also in the Abby of Saint Kàtriqan. And Princess Ixhúja in her sleep clutched all the rest of the pillows and made sure that no one else dared grab the blanket from her, lest one find oneself eviscerated and faceless for such an affront.
When Princess Éfhelìnye came to the kurandero, the elegant xhnòmomoim leech, she found that he was pulling out some bandages and applying powder and some sort of straw upon them as he began to form bandages. The doctor did not even look up as she came to sit down next to Puîyus, but since the doctor’s entire head consisted of mirrors and glasses, the merest glance of his eyen turned a thousand refractions of his eyen untowards her.
– Revered Princess, with your permission of course I’d like to set some proper bandages about the Crown Prince’s ankle. He is young and will heal soon, but he will have to heal properly. – So spake the doctor who had been born among the Khlitsaîyart exiles of Khnìntha.
– Honored Doctor, I would like to talk to you for a moment about this – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– Of course. You command. I obey. –
Éfhelìnye’s voice grew quieter. – The Elders and Regents command, I would think. –
– I shall still obey, Empress of Tomorrow. –
– I have discovered certain … abilities within me. A couple of times, when the Traîkhiim were sorely injured, I was able to touch them and help to revive them. –
– Yes, I have heard the tale. I have been treating some of your Pèqlor slaves. A few of them manage to escape during a battle and get themselves hurt, and when I aid them they are o'er-eager to tell me about the Healing Empress who soothes even the stubbed neck where an head had once been, and who mends wings without tools or craft, and who has set bones together. I have examined the thralls, and indeed I have found bones set back together and regrowing as if many sennights of growth had passed. –
– What they say is true, I believe – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– This story, oh Princess, is even being circulated among the Elders of the Qhíng and the Kháfha and the Aûm, the masters of this triple alliance. It is chanted that you are responsible for, if you will pardon my saying, resurrecting some Traîkhiim from the dead? –
– Ah … I’m not sure they were quite dead. Their souls had become mist, trapped in a laboratory … they were only partially dead. Two thirds dead, I would say. –
– Interesting. – Khràkhoi set down the bandages and slid a metallic plate beneath Puîyus’ foot and clasped some feelers about the ankle. – I take it that from time to time you have been with the Crown Prince in battle or shortly after a battle, and finding him wounded you’ve touched him, and something … unexplicable has occurred? –
– The first six or seven times were accidents! – Éfhelìnye chanted. – It’s only been in this later hour that I’ve begun to notice this pattern. I always just thought that Puey heals very quickly and very well, and since I’m almost always with him all of my data on him is affected by the variable that is I and my presence. –
– I take it you haven’t discussed this particular ability of yours with revered Qtìmine who is thy ritual Mother, have you? –
– The thought just now occurs to me. I know she’ll say that I’m not thinking clearly the consequences of my deeds. –
– Princess, doctors of the sylvan caste are not just skilled in surgeries and herbs and the lore of dreams, but are able in a small way to pull upon the healing solar powers of the Emperor and the Empress who are the life of all of the Land. It is possible that you, by some grace of the Immortals, just chanced to be born with an overabundance of the power of your family, as if several generations of this royal healing might were concentrated in you. When a doctor priest is able to heal a bone, the patient does not recover in a moment, but still must be bandaged for a time and learn to reuse his muscles. Not even the grace of the Emperor can of a sudden reknit flesh. It is entirely possible that you simply just have a natural gift for healing, and that those you healed were not as grievous hurt as you thought. –
Éfhelìnye’s face revealed that she was releaved to hear that. Sometimes when she had touched and healed Puîyus she had the slight impression that she was somehow shifting world and reality about her, and guilt would sometimes warn her. Khràkhoi however was not finished speaking. – I must say, though, that three aspects of your story still puzzle me. One, namely, you are not the Empress yet, you wear not the Crystalline Crown, you are not married, you are not the Mother of the Land, so no matter how gifted you are you should not be able to perform miracles of such extraordinary power. –
– Oh – Éfhelìnye hung her head.
– Secondly, it is chanted that the Emperor brings life to husbands and warriors and merchants and males, and the Empress brings life to wives and virgins and women and children. You, however, have been rather indiscriminate with your healing. –
– Ah … – Éfhelìnye reached out and began twining one of her tresses about her finger, and searched for other nervous activities to occupy her mind.
– And thirdly, and most salient of them all – chanted Khràkhoi as he lifted a curved reptilian finger unto her. – Nobody can return the honored Dead unto the living. Even a tìxhrikh, a necromancer is only able to revive a shadow, and just for a time, a brief time, and usually unbodied. The greatest Emperor of the past, Eilasaîyan himself, could not broke open the gates of the Dead, if such had been hid desire, nor could your Father, Kàrijoi, the most powerful mortal wiht in all the Dreamtime, possibly revive one who is dead. And yet I have treated elevens of Traîkhiim who have claimed to have dwelt in the fields of their Ancestors until you resurrected them in the flesh. –
Éfhelìnye blinked. – I’m sure they weren’t fully dead. The Traîkhiim do tend to exaggerate a bit. –
– Of course. –
– It’s just a story that they tell. –
– A story, a rather curious story, though, a story that does not quite fit into how the priesthood has come to understand the workings of the Earth and Sea and Sky of the Dreamtime. If I may ask, dearest Princess, when you do, by chance, and quite infrequently I would guess, try to heal Crown Prince Puîyos, how do you feel? –
– It doesn’t always work of course – chanted Éfhelìnye. – In fact in the last hour I’d say it’s only begun to work with any consistency. But it just feels quite natural. It just feels as if I’m creating. For as long as I can remember I’ve been creating something or other, beit it words, drawings, dance, sentences, syntax, worlds, imagination, books … I can do nothing else but create. And the one or two times when I’ve touched a broken bone of Puey’s, all I do is think of creation, and it comes to pass. –
– Did you desire to lay hands upon the Crown Prince? –
– Yes, please. If I could set his bones together, he would be happier, and I would not have to worry as much about his leaping back into the glories of battle. –
– I would caution you, Empress of Tomorrow, for no man can possibly guess how you are able to accomplish this, if the stories are true of course. It may be that you are bleeding yourself of some of the Pwèrao, the Royal Magic of the House Pwéru, in order to accomplish this, and so enweakening yourself. If you do wish to try to heal the Prince, I think that I should monitor you. –
Éfhelìnye nodded her head. – I suppose that is prudent. –
Khràkhoi the xholatèrefha of the doctor genetic sub-caste of the Khlitsaîyart Khlaêr drew out several different mirrors and some bits of glass that were all affixed unto different lengths of metal branching outwards. He adjusted several of the spectacles upon his slightly revolving headdress, and to the Princess’ azure eyen it almost seemed as if his head were a pauramfhaîryo mushroom pileus, and dangling down from the edge of it were come several ripples of gills that were alive, zoetick, almost shimmering almost as if they were musical. He drew out several more lengths of bandages and some streams of metal that almost looked cobwebs crystallized and made of metal, and as Khràkhoi began preparing these xhwùfha needments Éfhelìnye noticed that he was humming unto herself. She realized that she knew very little about music, for her Father had banished all music from her in her time in the Forbidden Gardens, and Great-Uncle Táto and Grandfather Pátifhar had done their best never to whistle or hum or sing about her at all, so that the only music that she had heard until she met Puîyus, Íngìkhmar’s Son, was the music of trees and leaves and the rustle of wind and the sigh of the rivers of cream and milch and the fiery shores at the edge of the isles and the Dragons that were set to guard her all the while, and indeed all of her knowledge of music was the natural music of language, consonant and semivowel and vowel and the pitch accent comcomitant unto Khlìjha the Language of One’s Heart, the chanting and intoning and singing by which one must speak. Most of what she had learnt of music came from listening to Puîyus as he played the harp and nose fife and whenever he could find one in these sad days of the war, an harpsichord. So she was not entirely sure of it, but Khràkhoi was humming unto himself, and the tune thereof had some of the cadences of the music that she had heard in Khnìntha. In fact the tune reminded her a little of something that she had heard in snatches and snips from Ixhúja herself, but she found that her thoughts were turned more to the instruments and tools and utilities that Khràkhoi was preparing. For he was bringing out several more bands and a gourd and the wooden back of a masque itself.
– Beloved Empress of the Day to come – spake Khràkhoi the healer. – What shall you need for this ritual of healing? When we xhmeûxar healers must prepare ourselves, we must make do with very simple rituals. Would you need a masque or perhaps one of these sacred gourds? Would you like me to start beating a drum and intoning some sacred words? Perchance you have created some poesy yourself for such a rite? –
– Ah … I never really engage in ritual at all whenever I heal anyone. –
– This emfhùnta xayacatl can be adjusted to fit Qhíng head or the shoulders of a Qlùfhim, an adult Khlaêr or a child of the Faerie. Would you like to don this? – Khràkhoi began beating a small drum and smacking a few gourds together.
– There is no ritual at all. Whenever I heal someone, it is just completely natural. It is just like creating language. Although I may be inspired by books and pages and other words, I just dream the words up and they come to be. –
Khràkhoi shook a tyúxhènthe jEgnamiot a couple more but almost seemed disappointed that such was not necessary. – Oh – he chanted. – Then I shall not be humming. – He reached into a pouch and drew out an obsidian and glass dagger.
– You don’t need to cut away the rest of Puey’s sock. I can touch him as it is. –
– Oh? No, I was … – Khràkhoi set some white kerchiefs upon a pillow and began wiping the knife several times. – This knife is for you. –
– I do not understand. –
– Surely you will have to cut yourself. All magic comes from sacrifice, all healing comes from spilt blood. And your blood, as the last surviving Pwéru, is the most valuable substance left within Glossopoeia, the Land of Story. – Khràkhoi took out a small phial of wtsèpe, Weihwasser, dwr sanctaidd, holy water, and began sprinkling it upon the knife. – Of course the Crown Prince’s blood, by the miracle of transubstantiation is already being transformed into the Dragon Ichor of the Pwéru. In fact I think that his blood may already be a majority of the dragon. Your blood, however, is also that of the Virgin Empress whom none may name, and so at the moment your blood is more precious than all the iron and jewels and silks and gold of all the worlds. I trust you will not have to cut yourself too deeply. – He sprinkled a a little bit more water upon the knife and handed it to the Princess.
Éfhelìnye had very little experience with knives. Usually at dinnertime Puîyus or one of the adults would cut the food for her. She grasped the knife and found that the holy water was actually freezing in her hands and forming spindles of frost upon the handle.
– Perhaps just a small incision upon your palm will suffice to heal the Crown Prince – Khràkhoi chanted.
– Actually, I do not have to cut myself at all. –
– I do not understand. –
– I … ah … I don’t do any ritual. I don’t chant or dance or wear rings or a masque or … or shed any blood at all. –
– I will fetch a few doves or perhaps a lamb, and we can slaughter it together and … –
– No. All I do is touch the wounded, be he Qhíng or Traîkhiim or my Puey. – She was holding the knife away from her as if it were some attor-filled feathered serpent that had somehow fallen into her hand, and she shoved it in Khràkhoi’s general direction.
– I do not understand. If you do not dance or sing or shed blood … than what ritual do you use for healing, Empress of Tomorrow? –
– I don’t do any ritual at all. I just mend bones and skin and sinews and flesh. Here, why don’t I just show you? – She shivered a little as if she were still holding a cold knife close unto herself. She hopped up upon the hearthstones next to Puîyus and began adjusting his sock. – All I do is just touch. –
– Touch? –
Éfhelìnye looked up. – In Puey’s case there may be a few kisses, but I have not yet experimented enough to determine whether it is my fingers or my lips that heal him. I don’t think that it matters. –
– And … you don’t intone any words at all? –
– I usually think pleasant thoughts. When I see a fallen soldier I try to think about the love that his parents and family must have for him. In Puey’s case I just think about how much I love him and how I would die for him if I had to, and his body just mends. Like this. – She set her hands upon his ankle. Puîyus’ breathing in his sleep waxed shallow.
Éfhelìnye leaned froward and kissed the ankle. She sate up and closed her eyen and became very still while she touched it. Khràkhoi leaned forwards and was lifting up several different wtsèkhla looking glasses for to examine what was coming to pass, and he held up several fans whereupon were painted the images and glyphs of engàkhta catoptromancy.
– Amazing – Khràkhoi whispered. – The bones are mending themselves. The fractures are no more. I don’t understand at all. This violates the accepted lore of the tèrefha caste as well as the priesthood and … –
Éfhelìnye opened her eyen for a moment. – It is done. – And all at once she tumbled down in a swoon. Khràkhoi caught her and set her down upon right beside Puîyus. Through the elevens of spectacles upon his headdress he could see that Puîyus’ ankle was already changing, for all of the blod that lay clottered upon it was changing and breaking apart and lifting upwards in a cloud of petals.
– This can’t be … – Khràkhoi whispered. Within a moment he was checking Éfhelìnye’s wrist and forehead and found her to be a bit warmer than usual. – You! Acolyte! Wake up at once, or I’ll deliver you unto whichever high priest is in charge of the qtìjha novices who need disciplining. –
Khrùkhtii the acolyte’s eyen sprang up and he wobbled up upon unsteady feet. – I’m awake! Don’t punish me! –
– You! Find Mother Qtìmine or some other Vestal Virgin or a Matron. I need someone to tend unto the maiden. –
– Yes, honored Doctor. –
Khrùkhtii spun away and dashed out the door. Khràkhoi turned back unto Éfhelìnye and patted her head and chanted – I think you’re find, but you’d better not get into the habit of healing others like that, until at least we know exactly what you’re doing. Now, how you, Crown Prince? – He took a hot tong and prodded it against Puîyus’ foot and ankle a few times. – This doesn’t even make sense. There should be some instability along the fracture. And how is she able to accomplish this without any ritual or blood shed at all? –
The door dilated open and Khrùkhtii dashed within. – I can’t find Mother Qtìmine! Please don’t punish me! –
– Could you find any Vestal Virgins or Matrons either? –
– I can’t find anyone! –
– No women at all? –
– I saw some starfishes. Um. –
– Nevermind. Come here. –
– I looked really hard. There are some monks upon the prow, oh, and some of the Qhíng fleet is arising and heading into the seabeds and … –
– It doesn’t matter. Come. Here. Now. –
– Am I in trouble? –
– You’re part of the Imperial Household in a way, aren’t you? –
– I’ve grown up with the Crown Prince, yes. We were fellow pupils, companions at arms, cater-friends. We learned to read and paint our glyphs together by Grandfather Pátifhar. I was always welcome in his house just as he was always welcome in the Abby. We used to venture together in the wild places, in the moonlight and the darkness, especially in the days when Puey was being trained as a warrior. Puîyos I mean. Sorry, I always called him Puey of course. Dearest companions were we, friends of the heart, and when he dwelt in the Abby with me we shared the same bed and slept the same sound sleep, and when I dwelt in the crannog of his ancestors, we studied at the same desk and ate at the same board and slept in the same bed. –
– Excellent! – chanted Khràkhoi as he examined Puîyus’ toes with a tong and smelt them. – Since you are part of the Household of the Sun, you can assist me for a moment. The future Empress is a little overheated from her excursion in healing. Please remove her outer blouse from her. –
Khrùkhtii the acolyte’s inner eyelids flickered in vertical blinks. His scales, normally a slight green hew were beginning to glisten pink. – I’m sorry, I didn’t quite hear that. –
Khràkhoi was extending an instrument towards Puîyus’ ankle. – Remove blouse of the Princess, the future Mother of all your Caste. She has overexerted herself. –
– Pardon? –
– Remove her blouse. –
– Perhaps I should get Mother Qtìmine. –
– You just told me that she’s not on board. –
Khrùkhtii’s voice became a squeak. – I could check! Again! –
Khràkhoi’s headdress spun around and several different spectacles slid into place upon his long beak. – This is absolutely fascinating. Acolyte, is there a reason you are not obeying me? –
– I … I … her blouse! –
– Just remove her outer one for now. She’s wearing at least seven, I would guess, but I think she just needs some air. –
Khrùkhtii coughed. – But I don’t know … how … her clothing … feminine clothing … how? –
Khràkhoi of the Doctor Caste drew out a long glassen disk and set it beside Puîyus’ foot in the hopes of being able to detect some shadow of Puîyus’ souls and thereby guess how Éfhelìnye had been able to mend sinews and flesh and bone together. He was not even certain that he could discern Puîyus’ souls at all, although flickers of heroic halo he could see bleeding upon the glass. When the good doctor realized that the acolyte was just chattering his teeth and swaying from side to side, the doctor chanted – I’m sure there is a series of buttons down her back. Will you just follow directions or not? –
– Buttons! – gasped Khrùkhtii.
– Yes. Now hurry up! Do you want her to overheat? –
– Ah … yes. No. I don’t know. – Khrùkhtii jumped up upon the stones of the hearth and almost tumbled backwards. His tail, long and barbed swayed from side to side with nervous energies, but at least he managed to stop his fingers from clattering and his teeth from chattering. He slapped his face a couple of times to bring himself to attention. He looked down. Éfhelìnye lay in her faint right upon her back. One of Khrùkhtii’s eyelids began to twitch. – Okay okay okay okay I can do this do this do this do this … what am I doing here? –
– This doesn’t make any sense at all – Khràkhoi whispered. – Bone just doesn’t mend as if it had never been broken. The only irregularity about the Princess is that she has an elevated level of paîkhaqe pheromones, but that should not cause or affect healing at all. – The doctor sniffed a couple of times and saw that all of the clots and shadows of blood upon Puîyus’ ankle were disappearing in perfumed clouds.
– Okay okay okay okay. Just have to … just must … just have needs to … oh my! Oh all the saints by the saint oh the saints! – Khrùkhtii grit his teeth. He reached o'er and nudged Éfhelìnye to her side as if she were something flamescent and dangerous, and was able at least to see the buttons upon her back. – Oh doctor! Doctor! –
– What do you want, acolyte? –
– The buttons don’t go all the way down her back! –
– Just figure it out. I wish the Holy Sylvan Regent were present. He may be able to illucidate what exactly are the properties of this. After all he was the Holy Empress’ foster Father and … –
– Do I have to touch her! – Khrùkhtii’s voice managed to rise to an high register usually reserved for the music of the nose fife.
Khràkhoi took out a bit of chalk and began scribbling some runes upon the hearthstones all in a large circular pattern about Crown Prince Puîyus’ foot. – I don’t understand at all. Acolyte, are you finished yet? When you’ve finished removing her blouse, go ahead and take off the first layer of her dress. –
THUD came a sound somewhere beside the hearthstones, a swirl of robes and cushions. Khràkhoi looked up for a moment and saw that the young acolyte had somehow managed to faint and tumble down backwards. – Perhaps there is some nano-virus fluttering about. I would love to learn what type of authority the future Empress may have o'er fhìtru quetzallo’ viruses themselves. –
The doctor heard a murmuring about him, and slight mewling sound. He drew aside a few of his instruments and sundials, for Puîyus was shifting a little in his sleep. Clouds of red petals arose from where his wound had been, and aside from a red line upon his ankle one could not have guessed that bone had been broken there. Puîyus mewed a few times and stretched his arms and looking around saw that Éfhelìnye was lying still beside him.
– Mew mew mew? – Puîyus asked as he bowed to the doctor. The last of the blood disappeared from his ankle. Khràkhoi removed his outer gloves and began donning a different ceremonial set. Puîyus set an hand upon Éfhelìnye’s shoulder, and at once her eyen flickered open.
– Puey? – Éfhelìnye asked.
– … –
– Ah yes, Crown Prince! You ankle has been healed – the Doctor chanted.
Puîyus nodded in affirmation and tapped his ankle. He took Éfhelìnye’s hand and squeezed it, but frowned when he noticed how warm she felt to the touch.
– Crown Prince, you do realize how unnatural it is for such swift healing to take place? – the Doctor asked.
Puîyus began nodding in affirmation, then reconsidered and shook his head in negation, and then was not entirely sure what his response should be.
– Princess, how can this be? No matter what the method of healing, there should be some blood upon the wound, one still has to wipe the blood aside, but look, there is nothing there at all! – the Doctor began.
– Oh, we do have the beginning of scar there – Éfhelìnye sighed. – I know warriors do tend to be a bit fond of scars, but I am not sure that this one would be in a safe place. Let me just wipe it away. – She reached down and drew her finger down the length of the scar, as if she were wiping some frost off of a pain of stained glass window, and when she drew back her hand, the red scar was gone. – There, that’s better. –
– Mew – Puîyus nodded. He touched Éfhelìnye’s forehead and was growing a little concerned.
– Empress, we do not even have a word for what you are able to do! – the Doctor cried.
Puîyus considered for a moment. – Mew? – he offered.
– I’m sorry, I don’t quite follow you, my Prince. –
Puîyus’ fingers drew out and created an elegant sign. And Éfhelìnye interpreted it as – Syeû, khmìlaqa, xhaxhàjifha? A miracle, perchance. –
Khràkhoi the healer chanted – Very well. Since Mother Qtìmine has charged me with your well-being, I have a couple of instructions for you. Since the lore of the healing classes is not yet able to understand how you are able to heal without ritual or blood and make flesh as if new once again, you are not permitted to continue healing again in your own style, unless I or your ritual Mother give you permission. Secondly, I think that this process is weakening you and making you susceptible to a fever. You will rest for the remainder of this day and be in the charge of your Mother and Sisters. Crown Prince, remove her outer blouse and her first dress. You’ll take her outside where it’s frore and dark; I shall accompany you unto the quarters prepared for the first caste. The Princess will drink plenty of fluids and not exert herself at all, I’m sure that even fhlùxho thaumaturgists would be well adviced by their doctors to rest and drink milch and water. And finally, my Prince, although all of mine instruments indicate that you as new, since I cannot vouch or understand what has betided, I shall still bandage your ankle as if it were broken, and examine you later this day. –
Puîyus and Éfhelìnye both nodded in acquiescence. Puîyus’ petal soft cheeks were glowing with a slight rhododactylous hew as he began to unlatch Éfhelìnye’s blouse, but he was not about to shirk from helping her just from some minor embarrassment. Besides, he was telling himself, he had certainly helped his Sisters dress and undress before, especially Akhlísa who never seemed to be able to figure out which buttons fit into which ring, and for the life of her very seldom actually wore socks that matched unless someone else actually picked them out for her and slipped them upon her feet. It only took Puîyus a couple of moments to unbutton the Princess’ first blouse, and she helped him figure out the buttons, knots, and hooks that held it unto her girdle, and she had to help him a great deal with the apparatus of her first gown. Then the Princess helped Khràkhoi measure out a length of bandage and wrapped it about Puîyus ankle, and Khràkhoi painted runes upon it and scattered some incense thereupon. It was only when Puîyus hopped down from the hearthstones, and he made sure to do so in a manner to test out his newly healed ankle, and he swept up Éfhelìnye into his arms to carry her down, for such seemed the proper and chivalrous thing to do, and Éfhelìnye kissed him a couple of times upon his nose, that Puey and the Princess noticed that Khrùkhtii lay fainted upon the rugs before them.
– ?¿ – Puîyus asked.
– He must be quite sleepy indeed – Éfhelìnye chanted. – Perchance he suffers from jòfhto sleepwalking. –
Puîyus was not entirely sure, but he nudged his friend a few times.
– Why don’t you two go onto the deck? – asked Khràkhoi, as he gathered his myriad instruments together, and all of the disques and mirrors and knives in quite easy swirls fit into his small sack. He removed one set of ritual gloves, and the layers of spectacles about his headdress began to sweep upwards so that he could view with natural eyen. With a single sweep Khràkhoi yanked Khrùkhtii upwards and shook him from side to side, until the acolyte was awakened. A Tèrefha doctor among the Khlitsaîyart tends to be taller than a small, timid Khlìkhal Khlijhàloxha negotiator, and it was quite easy to dangle Khrùkhtii a few palms above the ground.
– A great deal of help you turn out to be, little nephew of the House of the Sun – chanted Khràkhoi.
– Iipa! – Khrùkhtii gasped.
– Can you not perform a single, simple task? – Khràkhoi shook Khrùkhtii a couple of times for emphasis. – Prince, Princess, I don’t suppose either of you can think of an easy chore for your friend her to accomplish? –
– Mew? – asked Puîyus.
– He could carry something – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– ¿? –
– How about this? – Éfhelìnye tossed the first blouse and dress o'er her and Puîyus’ shoulder. Khrùkhtii shuddered and gasped and barely managed to catch the clothing, even as Khràkhoi set him down. Khrùkhtii bundled up the clothing under an arm but part of his brain could not help but notice that it indeed smelt quite a bit as of so many princessly paîkhaqe pheromones. He barely managed to stagger across the room and upon the thick carpets. Already, Khrùkhtii could see, Puîyus and Éfhelìnye were upon the deck, where cold air and crackling darkness touched them all. He coughed a couple of times and tried to free his mind of the thick and heady smell of honey and sugar from the Princess’ garment. Khrùkhtii actually did not know the word paîkhaqe, or perhaps just thought that it only meant chemicals in general, and was unaware that some chemicals are physiologically and etymologically related unto betrothal and marriage indeed. And pheromones come of the Moon herself.
Khràkhoi the Doctor peaked through the dilated door and called out to the acolyte and chanted – Are you forgetting something? –
Khrùkhtii stumbled upwards and tried to breathe and hold his breath at the same time. – Uketi? – he asked.
– Aren’t you going to escort the Moon Maiden from here? We need to go see Mother Qtìmine. –
Khrùkhtii blinked a couple of times. – Wha? –
– Jhkhér, tetesàsyar, khyayàqtufhil, xhrojúfhoar, protect, chivalrously escort! Have you forgotten about Princess Ixhúja sleeping there so peaceful and sound and dreaming her beautiful little dreams? Please wake her up. –
– Wake her up. –
– If she is feeling tired, go ahead and carry her, just as the Crown Prince is carrying the Starflower Princess. –
– You want me to wake her up and … and offer to carry her? –
– That would be very honorable. Now hurry up! – Khràkhoi spun around and clutched his leather Puey Sack unto himself and chanted – I just don’t understand the youth of today, or at least of this last day. They just don’t seem to take iniative like they should. – Khràkhoi was already spinning away, and the door remained open, so that Khrùkhtii could see that several different Qhíng vessels were veering upwards into the frosty air above them. All of the trefhejènthe gajavimāna was shaking a little, for it was arising into an higher environ of the dead sea bottoms, and before them all were rushing the raiding vessels of the Qlùfhem Aûm and Thùlwu Aûm themselves.
Khrùkhtii turned back. Princess Ixhúja was fast asleep and looked comfortable, far too comfortable he thought, since she had managed to snatch up the blankets and pillows intended for both herself and her cousin. Khrùkhtii’s teeth chattered a little, for he could not help but notice that scattered about the blankets lay a few knifes and swords that Ixhúja must have discarded through the night, but which she could quite easily grasp at any time. He took a couple of tentative steps untowards her. She was purring softly in her sleep, and several clockwork wasps lay perched and asleep within her violet tresses. Khrùkhtii sighed and just knew that this would end in tears.
– Courage, lad, courage! – Khrùkhtii told himself. – I’ll just very gently wake her up and run away and hide behind the divan. What’s the worst that could happen? Just a few more steps. Just three more steps. Just another step or so. –
Suddenly the clockweyth waspry in Ixhúja’s tresses lifted up their glassen eyen unto him and bared fangs and mandibles and hissed and scrapped their knife wings together in warning. Khrùkhtii shook and took another step forwards, and suddenly several swarms of glistening glass dragonflies were crawling upwards through Ixhúja’s locks and glaring right at the acolyte.
– Oh dear. What would Puey do! – Khrùkhtii gasped.
– HISS! – several elevens of perfect rouage insects spat unto him.
– Now listen, I’m on a mission from the Sylvanhood, practically from the new Emperor and Empress both themselves! I … I don’t have a choice! The Immortals themselves would be displeased if … –
A few insects spun upwards and began unfolding their wings and revealed that not only were the wings consisting entirely of glass within glass and knives hooked arthrous unto other knives, but that all of them were tipped in clawed and barbed in complex multifaceted way such as only could be devised by the machines classes of Khnìntha.
– I need courage. Greater courage than I’ve e'er had – Khrùkhtii whispered to himself. – Or perhaps I could just become more hyper on sugar than I’ve e'er been. Too quaad there’s only water about. Would that … – A rather odd thought came to Khrùkhtii’s mind, but it seemed the easiest way to make him think of something other than the inelectuable thrashing he was going to receive from Ixhúja, a beating being inevitable but at least the least of the punishments she would mete out unto him. And so Khrùkhtii did something which was he thought almost certainly forbidden unto him, but seemed a very, very good idea at the time.
It probably wasn’t a good idea though. For he took Éfhelìnye’s blouse, the one he held in his arms, and bringing it up to his nostrils took the greatest inhale that he had e'er taken and tried to think of something else than Ixhúja menacing and asleep. For a moment all of Khrùkhtii’s senses were blocked as his body absorbed far more princessly pheromones than any acolyte should e'er experience in a lifetime. In later days when he tried to explain the sensation, he found himself at a loss for words, save that for a brief moment he could sense all of the goodness and friendship and innocence and love of the worlds. He felt a surge of energy through him, and thought that his muscles were becoming stronger. The world shifted out of focus for a few moments, and for a brief moment ten thousand ideas were crowded in his mind, and he had the urge to sing and dance and explore and play and read and paint and write and create, create, create. And he also somehow felt as if he were becoming more of himself. In this brief moment, as all of the carpets and divan and hearth of the room in the Kháfha warship crystallized about him, and time itself slowed, he could experience a clarity of thought. He had no desire to be a warrior, he did not think as a princess, he had no insite into the Divine House of the Pwéru, but he did see sparkling before him sacramental robes, and he could smell the incense of altars drifting about him, and the wonder and desire that he too should become a priest as of the line of Khniikhèrkhmair the Prophet of yore. Khrùkhtii had to exhale the next moment, though, for his small frame could not contain all of the majestries that were glowing glorious within him, and he had to cough out a couple of times. His vision continued to swim as the worlds attempted to rearrange themselves around his new, albeit fleeting perspective. In the depths of his throat he could taste something sugary sweet, and he wondered whether this is how the fhyaxhekhápa khuîlkha must taste, the royal jelly of the House Pwéru which is death for others to taste. His nostrils were tingling from an overdose of cinnamon. And where he exhaled the physical structure of the room began to expand so as to contain the smell of the pheremones, and where he breathed out a few flowers appeared and swarmed upwards, and some gentle vines began to snake down from the ceiling, and a sense of all pervasive calm filled him and stilled his heart. Khrùkhtii took a few steps towards Ixhúja and felt as if he were walking through clouds, but at the very least felt not afraid, or at least would not until all of the pheromones fled out from him. He reached down and nudged Princess Ixhúja a few times on her shoulder.
– Princess? Princess? Martian Princess? Wakey wakey time! Time to get up! It’s day or at least dayish, and we have to go see Mother Qtìmine. –
Ixhúja yawned in her sleep and turned o'er. The clockwork insects in her hair tried to hiss at the acolyte, but they just buzzed their wings and smelt a sweet and whimsical scent, and could not just bring themselves to grumble too much.
– Princess! Princess! It’s time to go! – Khrùkhtii was singing in a sing-song voice.
Ixhúja’s lips quivered a little in her half sleep. She murmured something that sounded like the song of the forest, but at least a few growls she began to form, and since Khrùkhtii had been able to understand Puîyus’ non-linguistic abilities all his life, he was able to understood that the Khnìnthan Princess was murmuring in the languages of beasts.
Puîyos? Ixhúja mewed.
– He’s just outside. Would you like to see him? –
Puîyos, I love you. I always have.
Khrùkhtii exhaled the last of the pheromonal breath and could feel that his face was beginning to gow warm. – Let’s go and see him then. –
Oh Puîyos! Ixhúja’s eyen began to flutter open. The clockwork hornet wasps and dragonflies nestled in her hair began to rustle a little. She opened her eyen and saw that Khrùkhtii was tapping his shoulder and standing o'er him.
– Wakey wakey wakey! Rise and shine! –
For a moment all that Ixhúja could do was stare. A few twittering birds were fluttering in the air behind him, and the air reminded her of her dearest cousin. You, Ixhúja hissed. You’re one of Puîyos’ stupid little minions.
– Did you call me a minion. –
Ixhúja sniffed the air. Why are you holding one of Éfha’s garments?
– Well, ah, that’s a long story. You see, it all began …–
Ixhúja bound up with pantherine grace, because she did not have patience for any long story. Khrùkhtii the acolyte was only aware of two eventualities a moment later. First that all of the courage and strength that he had received from sniffing the Princess’ sark had completely evanesced from him, and second, that he was lying flat upon his back while Ixhúja held him down and quite methodically was thrashing him with her bare hands, and his only good chance was that she was not yet awake enough to realize that all of the knives and swords discarded about her could have made the thrashing of the acolyte even more fun. Ixhúja beat Khrùkhtii about his face, jaw, and cheeks, so that his scales light green and yellow were become black and violet, and Ixhúja was actually quite pleased with her handiwork to see that the zintol was turning empurpling her favorite of colors. She made sure to pulmit him about his arms so hard that his fingers could not even clasp, and she was yanking at his legs and double jointed knees in a way that especially could hurt an Khlitsaîyart Khlaêr. She was making sure that his tail experienced a new level of pain when the clockwork insects spun up about Ixhúja’s head and finally were quite awake and began gathering up the lariats and garottes and klezes and swords about and clasping them about Ixhúja’s person. Ixhúja was rubbing Khrùkhtii’s tail in a way that made him start wishing for death, but it was only when she clasped a sword that he began to wish that Grandfather Pátifhar had never rescued him as an infant from the ice sands of Tsànyun and brought him beyond the Northwind unto Jaràqtu.
Ixhúja tapped the khwairèqwu sword in her palm a few times and Khrùkhtii noticed that the razor sword was slowly opening upwards and revealing knives within the knives, and spinning razor fangs grinding against each other. Ixhúja punched Khrùkhtii across the face a few times just to ensure that the face was broken and bleeding, and then slowly she reached to her girdle and started to bring out some knives.
Be assured that your death will be slow and painful, little acolyte. I don’t suppose you want to tell me why you carry my cousin’s garment?
– It’s not my fault! I just do what I’m told. –
You can continue telling me that after I slice off all of your fingers and toes. Ixhúja picked up Khrùkhtii by his wellmuscled saurian neck and slammed him against the wall and wondered just how to insert some nails through his wrists and tail. Are you familiar with the death of ten thousand slices?
– Does this have anything to do with sandwiches? –
Ixhúja punch Khrùkhtii a few more times and began readying the razor sword and the nails. This shall be a slow process, and feel free to wail and beg as much as you wish. The real shame comes in the dishonor to your parents and machine class, not to mention a body left disgraced in death. After some appropriate tortue I shall begin removing your tounge, gills, both sets of eyelids, nostrils, ears, scales, and some nice chunks of flesh, bits of thigh and shoulder and tail I suppose. I’ll let you keep your eyen for a time so you can see what I’m doing.
– You’re so generous. You’re not going to roast my feet while you do that, are you? –
Ixhúja took a step back and gave an incredulous look. How barbaric.
Khrùkhtii hung his head down. – Sorry. –
Ixhúja grinned. One jest. Roasting happens after I begin removing your toes. I’m thinking of biting them off with my bear teeth. I like the feel of bone breaking and the slow relentless agony come to your mind.
– That’s swell – whimpered Khrùkhtii as Ixhúja tied up his arms to the well. – I don’t suppose you care that it’s not my fault. –
Ixhúja stook a step back and wondered how many nails she should use to impale him, and decided to use far more than strictly necessary, and the clockweyth insects in her hair buzzed in agreement. She set her hands on her hips and noticed that Khrùkhtii’s tail still tried to lash back and forth and was hiding something.
Give that back! Ixhúja hissed she darted out and yanked the long reptilian tail, writhe and serpentile.
– No! You’re going to kill me anyway! –
Ixhúja punched Khrùkhtii across the jaw, grabbed his tail and pulled away the princessly clothing that was stuck to some of the ridges.
– After you kill me, at least inform someone that I did my best to preserve the Empress’ laundry. –
Your disgusting little lizard self dares to touch her clothing!
– The doctor told me to! –
Don’t you have any manners? Time to die now! Ixhúja drew up a stake and prepared to start impaling the acolyte.
At that moment Khràkhoi the doctor swept in, his neck bobbling from side to side, and several layers of spectacles dancing upon his snout. – You! Acolyte! I told you to wake the Princess and bring her on deck. Whatever games you’re playing can wait! –
– I saved the Empress’ laundry! – Khrùkhtii screamed.
Ixhúja set the point of her sword to Khrùkhtii’s throat and murmured in a rather clicking clockwork language saying, This creature was sniffing my cousin’s clothing. I must start disemboweling him as a matter of honor. But to the doctor’s gills and ears, it sounded as if the Khnìnthan Princess were just growling and making various sounds as of forest and wheel.
– We have a transport already ready to take us to Mother Qtìmine. The Khnìnthan maiden looks sleepy. Hurry up and carry her out. We’re going! Now! – Khràkhoi spun around and left the room and wondered whether there were any competent members of the new House of the Pwéru.
Ixhúja sighed and ripped Khrùkhtii down from the wall and slammed him onto the ground. I suppose I can always torture you later. She swung swung the khwairèqwu razor sword just above Khrùkhtii’s head for a few moments in glistening and terrifying menace.
– How very good of you – chanted Khrùkhtii as he turned around and walking upon hands and knees did his best not to faint and die right on the spot. – Could you at least wait until after the successful completion of the war before slaying dear me? –
One is afraid not. Honor is a stern taskmistress. I suppose I can disembowel you tonight.
– Could you do it after vespers? I’m supposed to sing the psalms tonight. –
Ixhúja stretched her arms and swung her head from side to side. Then after vespers it is. She yawned and appeared especially feline as stretched and pulled back her arms.
Khrùkhtii attempted to stand but toppled o'er a few times. – I suppose I should mention, loathe though I am to say it, but the good doctor told me that since you were probably sleepy that I should probably carry you princess-style out of here. Now that I think of it, that’s a terrible idea. –
Ixhúja sheathed a couple of swords and made sure that all of her knives and garrotes and lariats were in place. She felt a prickling in her pocket and drew out several severed ears from folk she could not even remember slaying. She looked up to Khrùkhtii and raised a single purple eyebrow to him in questioning.
Khrùkhtii spread out his hands in protest. – It wasn’t my idea. –
Ixhúja took a step froward, regarded Khrùkhtii, and then, taking a knife, slashed him across the cheek. She drew his head up and gave him a look that portended, Do I look like someone who looks like she has to be carried?
– Ah … no. –
I’m going to tell you this once in glances, and if I have to tell you again, you will learn what the inside of your own gizzard looks like, feels like, and tastes like. Éfhelìnye is the one who likes to be carried and coddled. She likes it that Puîyos carries her from time to time and does all manner of menial tasks for her. She finds that very natural and princessly. I, however, do not. Do not e'er attempt to touch me.
– Fine. Understood. –
I am not the delicate flower that she is. She has bouts of ill-health you know.
– Good. No arguments here. –
If I were injured in battle, Puîyos could pick me up, but he’s the only one, we understand each other. But don’t you dare … why, don’t even look at me!
Khrùkhtii turned his head away. – I’m not looking. –
Ixhúja came froward, snatched the maidenly garments from Khrùkhtii’s tail and growled, And gimme those! Now let’s leave!
– At thy command, oh Princess. –
Idiot! Quisquilian idiot!
– Quite. –
Ixhúja walked up to the door. Behind her she heard a sound like unto THUD! She looked around and found that Khrùkhtii was sprawled upon the carpet. Ixhúja for a moment considered just chopping off his head now and saving herself the trouble later. But then again, if she killed him later, she would have time properly to plan the fun.
What. Is. It. NOW? Ixhúja wondered in the growls of beasts.
– Ah, Princess, most respected and honored et cet, when you were thrashing me about, and let me compliment you on the good job of it, I think you managed to break both of mine ankles. –
Joyous. Let’s go.
Khrùkhtii tried to walk but stumbled a few more times. – This may take some time – he growned as he crashed upon his face.
Ixhúja turned back. She already knew that she would regret this, but could think of no other alternative. She kicked Khrùkhtii into submission. He was a bit taller than she, but she did not mind if his tail dragged out behind her, for she hefted him upon her shoulders and began carrying him out upon the deck.
The air was cold and sparkling in the morning tide, and at the edge of the deck several smaller transport vessels were landing. Khràkhoi was speaking to Éfhelìnye who looked extremely content in Puîyus’ arms as he carried her. A few Dodo masters were swinging flags from side to side in the patterned rituals of khyoqhíki vexillology in signal to the other vessels. It was only a moment’s work for Ixhúja to carry the ailing acolyte outwards.
And Khrùkhtii whispered to Ixhúja. – Thank you for carrying me, oh holy Princess. Oh, and on a completely other topic of discussion, if your cousin commands me to find you an husband, do you have any ideas of what type of beaux you would prefer? –
Ixhúja shuddered and all of her clockwork insects veshuddered in response. She could think of nothing at all to say to express her displeasure at the moment. One of her larger dragonflies, the glowing one hight Qìfhte crawled down through her tresses and lookd to Khrùkhtii and chanted – You know of course that now she’ll have to make you suffer in ways that no mortal has suffered before. –
Khrùkhtii sighed and shrugged. – It’s been a good, albeit short life. –
– Your funereal rites, then. –
Ixhúja carried Khrùkhtii up to Puîyus and Éfhelìnye. A smaller ship was landing beside them. Khràkhoi turned back and seeing that the Martian Princess was carrying the acolyte just chanted – I’m not even going to mention what’s wrong with that. I’m letting beloved Qtìmine deal with you. –
– Good morning, Ixhúja – Éfhelìnye chanted. – I trust that you slept well. –
– Mew mew? – Puîyus asked.
Ixhúja shrugged. Before Khrùkhtii had awakened her, rather rudely in her opinion, she had been dreaming that Puîyus was sweeping her up in his strong arms and kissing her with tender, sweet kisses right upon her lips. Reality had proven to be a bit more disappointed, with an annoying acolyte, and being prevented from killing said acolyte when she willed it, and then having to carry said acolyte away. She wondered if she fell asleep at this very moment whether the dream would return to her, and Puîyos could be whispering into her ear and telling her how special and beautiful she was.
– Ixhúja! – Éfhelìnye whispered. – The swain is supposed to carry the princess, not the other way around. Khrùkhtii should be the one to … –
I don’t want to be carried, Ixhúja growled.
– Mew mew mew? – Puîyus asked Khrùkhtii as his tail thrashed from side to side at some unnatural angles.
– Yes, I was in a bit of a battle. In fact I was outnumbered, the last time I counted – Khrùkhtii sighed. His broken lip was bleeding again, and he was wondering what other types of fun injuries Ixhúja might have decided to give him in blessing.
– If you’re injured, Khrùkhtii, perchance I could take a look at you – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– No you won’t – chanted Khràkhoi the healer. – You will rest for the remainder of the day. –
– Yes, hieratick doctor – Éfhelìnye sighed. She leaned her head against Puîyus, and then discovering a better idea, turned a little in his arms and began to kiss his cheek and chin and nose. Ixhúja had to turn away from her cousin, and Khrùkhtii was the only one who noticed that a few unbidden tears trickled down her face, but Khrùkhtii was wise enough to give not even the slightest hint that he had noticed anything at all, for he would surely not even live to regret it.
A ship like unto a brilliant fhtàyo blue carbuncle was folding up at the edge of the deck and out came pouring out some monks and then some vestal virgins. Puîyus and Éfhelìnye looked up with a single mind and saw that within the ship was seated Auntie Qtìmine and beside her were Siêthiyal and Akhlísa. Some monks arose and helped the Prince and Princess within. Ixhúja shoved Khrùkhtii aside and did not care where he fell or whether he lived or died at that point, and refused the help of the vestal virgins that tried to bring her into the nafgrofnηm. Khràkhoi came up to Auntie Qtìmine and whispered to her for a few moments, and she nodded in understanding. Some dodos came down and picked up Khrùkhtii and carried him within and deposited him upon a comfortable seat. Qtìmine signaled unto Ixhúja to have her sit down close unto her. Princess Ixhúja for her part was still not at all sure about the entire concept of parenthood and mothers in general, but she found herself curling up in her seat next to the imperial concubine, and Qtìmine began to stroke her hair.
– We’re going to try to leave these gorges of the seabed today – chanted Auntie Qtìmine. – It seems that the enemy, whatever it was, has been trying to block us. –
Ixhúja looked up and saw that Éfhelìnye was reaching o'er and kissing Puîyus several times right upon his face, and Ixhúja began to grip the edge of her seat and growl a little. Qtìmine however wrapped her arms about Ixhúja and kissed her on the brow and chanted – Princess, I want you to understand that you are a part of our family and will never be alone again. Now, let’s just sit together and watch the seabeds flicker about us. –
Ixhúja looked to Auntie Qtìmine and found her a bit too similar to the vision of Khwofheîlya the Queen of the Dead who had risen up the Ancestors against her. But the Dead lay somewhere far away, beyond sea and time, and Qtìmine was here and now and warm, and so Ixhúja let herself relax for a moment.
Puîyus and Éfhelìnye were giggling together.
– Your hair does smell especially candy-cane sweet this morning, I must say – Éfhelìnye laughed.
– … –
– Perhaps your hair becomes sweeter after dreams. Do I smell like candy to you? –
– ?? –
– It does seem to have a pervasive cinnamon smell. Smell me again. –
– Mew mew. –
– Let’s sniff each other. –
– … –
Éfhelìnye inhaled and then looked around to see who was seated closest to her. – Khrùkhtii, do you want to sniff Puey? I think he smells rather candied today. –
– NO! – gasped Khrùkhtii.
– Just sniff me for a moment. I just feel very sweet. –
– NO NO NO! – cried Khrùkhtii.
– It just seems like a sugar day. –
Khrùkhtii in his faint rolled out before Siêthiyal and Akhlísa. Akhlísa reached out and nudged him a few times with her white-slippered toe, for she was dressed in the finery and articles of an imperial Concubine. – What’s the matter with him? –
– Who? – asked Siêthiyal, for she was attempting to repair a toy bird in her lap and did not look up.
– It looks like Khrùkhtii’s just fainted, big Sis. –
Siêthiyal still did not look up. – Is he here? –
– He fell down at our feet. –
Siêthiyal glanced down. – Oh. I thought we left him at the mountain rath or something like that. Or that he was already dead. Who knew? – She turned back to the clockwork toy and tried to figure out how the labyrinth of its wheels worked together to create lift and volitation and flight.
Cracles of light and time were bouncing at the very edge of the dead sea bottoms. Princess Éfhelìnye was standing upon the deck of one of the war vessels of the Khlitsaîyart people, and upon the lower decks were rushing about the Khlitsaîyart in their various jhipàrjo genetic sub-castes were scurrying about and busy upon their errands, and if Éfhelìnye had not read of the Khlitsaîyart before escaping the Forbidden Gardens she would have thought that she were witnesses groups of one and eleven different reptilian species upon their business rather than just a single species that by the design of the Immortals had twice six forms, for she could see the large xhthoântatlha porters thundering around and lifting up mast and rope and moving great towers, and taîpil seedsingers drawing their wagons, and tèrefha doctors busy with their cases and bags and mending the wounded the hordes of tèrpa navigators upon the prows watching the darkness and the constellate Stars that peaked through the morning darkness, and the tyèntha reavers were practicing with sword and impaling spear and māccuahuitl and the qrór racer runners and the qrúr interceptors were dashing from side to side and bringing their messages, the fhàrnxha collater philosophers were aiding the fhél wheelmakers in the apparatus of the vessels, whilst the thwèqa filer clerics were consulting the books and aiding the priests. Éfhelìnye was not entirely sure what the function of the khlìkhal khlìkham negotiators should be, but they seemed to be nice and small and inoffensive and everywhere, and such was the sub-caste that Khrùkhtii was, and she was truly wondering about the xhrèqha xhrèxa embalmer zombies did, and thought that perchance they were part of the priesthood and did honor unto the dead, but she did not wish to learn the details. The day was still profound and deep and red and black. The vast dead sea bottoms were rippling outwards, and arising o'er the creags of the whispering mountains were the black and crescented Suns whence wind and torrent were fluttering upwards. Forests once had dwelt here at the edge of these khniêfhe dead sea floor, and bits of dead metallic tree clung to the edge of salt pillars and through the massive fossilized ribs of what had once been orc and whale and monster. Ripples of black light burst upwards through the east. In the distance the Princess could see that the clouding swarms of the enemy continue to arise, and she thought that whatever the labyrinth creatures touched was changing, and that the whispering mountains in their shadows were become the edge of spiral and labyrinth slowly outmazing upwards and beyond.
Princess Éfhelìnye was seated in a large chair that had been intended for a Qrúr Interceptor, so it was not exactly the right shape for her, but at least it was vaguely the appropriate hight for a child of the Færie, and since Auntie Qtìmine had managed to find some pillows she had managed to fluff up the pillow and make it suitable for her ritual Daughter. Beside her was a table, a cup and a book. Khràkhoi was wearing a masque and whispering to Auntie Qtìmine and telling her that the Starflower Princess should rest this day.
– Honored Châtelaine, I wish her to be constantly monitored for any sign of a pùkhruru fhìfha mneme fever or an enyèmlamet dream fever – Khràkhoi nodded his head and brushed side side of his gill.
Éfhelìnye shivered even though she was feeling slightly warm, and for some reason kept thinking that the word fhìfha, mneme fevers, gripoj, reminded her of Fhífha, one of Ixhúja’s names.
– Grand Thiêfhilos may be able to explain some of her abilities – Auntie Qtìmine chanted. – He and mine husband Kàrijoi were the only ones to know the Empress whom we dare not know, perhaps they could guess. But beloved Kàrijoi is cut off from me. I hope that we can rescue Thiêfhilos from these shadow creatures. –
– I have heard other rumors of her abilities, but now I can see that these stories may be true, at least to some extent. –
– Whenever I wash her I notice that she has no belly button – Auntie Qtìmine chanted. – Do you think that’s relevant? –
– I have not been able to discover any healing properties from Real People who have navels. I am inclined to think that her parantage itself, some sort of property of the blood of the Pwéru is working its away through her. Let us monitor her at least. I have asked for an healer from the Qhíng and the Kháfha and the Aûm to look at the Crown Prince’s ankle. –
– Have they discovered anything at all? –
– I am afraid not, holy Mother. – Khràkhoi shook his head. – The fhàrnxha collater philosophers and the thwèqa filer clerics continue to search through the literature to discover anything in the lineage of the House of the Sun to explain this. We do have a mystery. –
– Perhaps we can solve the mystery after the war – Auntie Qtìmine chanted.
– Perhaps we need to understand the mystery in order to win the war – Khràkhoi chanted. – We must find Great Thiêfhilos. –
Éfhelìnye shivered in her blankets and suddenly felt a little cold. She was not at all comfortable in having the adults talk about her as if she were not present herself, and even though she could not hear everything they were saying, she could guess enough to know that they were worried about her health. She looked down unto a lower deck. Puîyus was seated upon a stool while a master from the Qhíng and the Kháfha and the Aûm continued to poke his foot and whisper to each other as they consulted some scrolls. Siêthiyal and Akhlísa and Ixhúja were chasing each other on the deck and playing a game that they were inventing as they went along, and sometimes they bumped into each other and sometimes into the doctors and upset their scrolls, but the doctors did not care in the least.
Auntie Qtìmine clapped her hands together and from the shadows came hobbling out Khrùkhtii, who was dressed in a new set of robes, rings and feathers woven into it, and an headdress of ribbons lay upon his dome rather than a slightly battered helmet. He staggered outwards and fell upon his knees before Auntie Qtìmine and hid his face before the future Empress. – I obey! – Khrùkhtii gasped.
– Bring the Starflower Princess a new drink – chanted Auntie Qtìmine.
– Yes, holy Mother. – Khrùkhtii’s double joints struggled as he tried to arise from Ixhúja’s thrashing, but he managed to come up to the Princess and looked to the table and the book and the glass with jhàti honey tea in it. – But look, she’s barely even taken a sip. –
– I chanted get her a new drink – Auntie Qtìmine chanted.
– I can finish this one – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– Khrùkhtii, I gave you a command – Auntie Qtìmine chanted.
Khrùkhtii grabbed the glass. – I obey. – He was about to turn around, but Éfhelìnye snatched the drink away and chanted – I’m sorry, but I’m thirsty now. –
– She’s thirsty now – Khrùkhtii chanted.
– When she’s done, get her a new drink. –
– I could just finish this one – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– Just get her a new one – chanted Auntie Qtìmine. Khrùkhtii looked back to her and thought it best to obey so he took the glass from the Princess. His eyen kept glancing back to Auntie Qtìmine and especially at the clockwork corset that she wore, all of wheels and white bones glistening and set together in a most marvelous pattern.
– I wonder how she’s even able to breathe – chanted Khrùkhtii. He had seen the corseted vestal virgins and concubines for the Emperor every day of his life, but he was just now noticing just how radiant Auntie Qtìmine appeared, with her glistening and golden hair.
– May I have my drink back, please? – Éfhelìnye asked as she took it from Khrùkhtii’s claws.
– I wonder how wide her waist is – Khrùkhtii chanted allowed.
– Pardon? – asked Éfhelìnye as she took another sip.
– I just wonder how wide Mother Qtìmine’s waist is. It’s a perfectly normal question to have! – Khrùkhtii’s voice squeaked.
– I have no idea – Éfhelìnye chanted. – Puey can quite easily clasp his fingers about my waist, but then again neither Puey or I are particularly tall. –
– Have you gotten her a new drink yet? – Auntie Qtìmine asked.
– Sorry – chanted Khrùkhtii as he snatched the drink away.
– I’m still drinking – chanted Éfhelìnye as she grabbed it back.
– Khrùkhtii! Are you just having difficulty in obeying? – asked Auntie Qtìmine!
– I’m not staring at her hips, honest – Khrùkhtii chanted as he took the drink back. Éfhelìnye grabbed it back and tried to take a sip. Khrùkhtii forgot to take his eyen away from Auntie Qtìmine, so when he tried to take the drink back, and Éfhelìnye tried to take it back, they only managed to spill the rest of the contents upon themselves.
Éfhelìnye wiped some tea from her shoulders. – I suppose I should go get some more mead tea, then – she chanted as she scrambled out of the blankets.
– Ah … yes – chanted Khrùkhtii, as he found himself crawling upon the deck and searching for the dropped cup. He could hear the shuffling of lengths of skirt behind him and the pitter patter of little slippers and just knew that Auntie Qtìmine was coming for him. He managed to scoop up the cup before Auntie Qtìmine came right up to him and chanted – Perhaps I do not make myself clear, Khrùkhtii, fosterling of Grandfather Thiêfhilos. You are the one who is supposed to be serving the House of the Pwéru, rather than revered Éfhelìnye getting up to get her own drink. –
– I know! I love you! I mean I love her. I mean I worship her, the House the Pwéru! – Khrùkhtii managed to drop the cup from his tray again. Qtìmine pointed in the general direction of the pantries and the kitchen slaves, but was already losing interest in reprimanding the young acolyte.
Khrùkhtii came trotting out into the pantry where he found that a couple of Traîkhiim were lounging around in the sinks and slowly ladling out some honey and tea and water into a pitcher. Éfhelìnye was holding a small cup and saucer while one Traîkhiim setting some cookies upon a plate for her.
– Oh yeah we all hear lots the stories about the battle in the sea beds – chanted Fhólus. – Everyone singing the praises of the great the prince the great prince the crown prince. He foughting the mist and blobs and light all with his own hand-feet. Pow pow pow! –
– Very exciting – chanted Aîya. She set one cookie upon Éfhelìnye’s plate, then gobbled up one for herself, and then set another cookie upon the Princess’ plate and then grabbed a cookie from the Princess’ plate to eat it. – It very important that we test your food in case there’s a worm or maggot or secret in it. –
– You look rather tired, future Empress lady person – chanted Fhólus as he or she set the cup down for her. – Getting enough sleep, the question? –
– I’m fine – chanted Éfhelìnye. – But I do feel a bit fatigued. –
Khrùkhtii came stumbling into the kitchens and almost crashed against a large barrel, and his platter and cup came spinning around only to be rescued by Aîya. – So, questioning, any reason why this one keep following you around like a little platypusling? – she asked as she poked Khrùkhtii with the edge of her wing.
– Khrùkhtii is very concerned for Puey of course – chanted Éfhelìnye as Fhólus gave her a new drink.
– I’m supposed to be getting you a new corset! – Khrùkhtii gasped.
– Pardon? – asked Éfhelìnye, her cup half raised to her lips, a single red eyebrow half raised in exactly the same way that Ixhúja had looked at him before.
– Sorry? – asked Khrùkhtii suddenly aware that he had chanted something terribly wrong but not at all sure what he had just chanted.
– I must have misheard you – chanted Éfhelìnye as she took a sip of her tea.
– Thank all the Saints – sighed Khrùkhtii as he sank down against a pillar. – For a moment I thought I mentioned how lovely your hips are. I mean how loverly your lips are. I mean … I don’t mean … I mean … I’m supposed to be getting you a drink. –
Fhólus poked his or her two remaining heads from the sink and chanted – Good job, buddy! I already got her a drink, and a splendiferous tasty one if I we do say something of it myself! – Fhólus was already preparing a second cup and setting it upon a tray and was about to hand it to Khrùkhtii, but then noticing that the acolyte was shivering a little, perhaps a little febrile himself, decided not to risk the tumbling of any plates and utensils. – Perhaps Aîya and I can bring the drinks. –
– Yes, you’re right – sighed Khrùkhtii. –That would be an appropriate white neck. I mean a cute nose. I mean her perfect white ankles. I’m not talking now! –
– I we they have an idea – chanted Aîya as she fluttered up upon the tips of her wings and swept out of the kitchen for a moment.
– I’m going back to the deck – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– Aîya and I can take care of you, oh worshipful Éfhelìnye – chanted Fhólus.
– I worship her too! – squealed Khrùkhtii. – I worship every single part of her lovely and perfect and lovely and … I don’t know why I’m saying this. –
The sound of Aîya’s chuckles preceded her as she fluttered back into the pantry. – Auntie Qtìmine she the saying that you acolyte that you can go ahead and wash all the dishes. That was my and Fhólus’ the job. But Fhólus and I have decided to take a break from being slaves. –
– You can’t take a break from being a slave! – gasped Khrùkhtii.
– Ur … Fhólus and I changing the rules – chanted Aîya. – We tired of washing dishes. Too much suds and water and wet things. Come on, Fhólùseji! –
– I’m coming – chanted Fhólus.
Aîya bit Khrùkhtii’s sleeve and drew him towards a sink stacked with the multisided multisized plates that one would expect from the Khlitsaîyart, a species with one and eleven different genetic sub castes of all shape and size. – You can wash this and this and this and this, and to be serious Fhólus and I didn’t do a good job washing the dishes that we did wash so you’d better wash them again. –
– Plus we had a spitting contest on all the bowls – chanted Fhólus. – Except of course the bowel we just gave the new Empress. –
– Who won? – asked Éfhelìnye as she held the bowl away from herself.
– Both of us – chanted Aîya. – So, whatever your name is, we got a ship of gross dishes. Wash up! –
– Bye! – cried Fhólus. He and Aîya were arising and linking their finger-toes together as they flew, and Fhólus turned back one of his heads to Khrùkhtii and chanted – Oh some of the dirtiest of the plates with the dirt and grime on them, they getting the attention of some tsìstetsi nutrias. Aîya and I had a big fight, lots of snapping and biting and clawing. Giant maulwurves attacking us. Epic battle of feathered mice. Bye! –
Éfhelìnye sniffed her tea cup again but could not smell at all any scent of the Traîkhiim upon it, and considering how many times Fhólus and Aîya had licked her before, didn’t think that she could be hurt if the two of them had been a bit careless in their cleaning. As she left the kitchen, and without meaning to was ignoring Khrùkhtii all the while, her own natural healing abilities were already sterilizing the cups and glasses and saucers anyway. And so it was that Khrùkhtii found himself alone in the kitchen and with the awesome task of cleaning up all of these dishes without any help at all. He began rolling his robes upwards, though, and told himself that if he was going to serve the new Empress, he would serve her to the best of his abilities and with all of his heart.
Princess Éfhelìnye came back unto the deck and to the chair and cushions set aside for her. Auntie Qtìmine was behind her but was speaking to some of the Lords of the Qhíng and the Kháfha and the Aûm concerning the strange labyrinthine figures that were appearing upon the horizon and changing the face of the whispering mountains. Éfhelìnye was about to turn back to her book, but before her came thundering Siêthiyal who was holding a small flag and running around about the barrels and then about the Princess and then came bounding away. In a few moments Akhlísa and Ixhúja came dashing upwards, half racing and half fighting each other, and every few eyeblinks they crashed together, punching and wrestling the other one down, and trying to stop the other one from arising first. They both crashed down right before Éfhelìnye in her chair, and looked up to her and grinned with barely concealed mischief.
– Do you want to play? – asked Akhlísa.
– Purr? – asked Ixhúja.
– What are you playing? – asked Princess Éfhelìnye.
– Ah … we don’t really have a name for it. The game does change a bit. Right now we’re chasing Siêthiyal because she has our flag. –
– What will you do when you catch her or the flag or both? – asked Éfhelìnye.
Akhlísa and Ixhúja looked to each other and shrugged. – We haven’t thought that far ahead yet. Why don’t you go play with us? –
– I suppose I could – Éfhelìnye began pulling herself off the cushions, but Auntie Qtìmine was coming upwards and put her hands upon Éfhelìnye’s shoulders to keep her down.
– I’m afraid that the Starflower Princess has to rest this day, such have I and the Khlitsaîyart doctor decreed – chanted Auntie Qtìmine. – Now you two shoo and play. –
– I could play just a little – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– Go and read from your book, divine Princess – Auntie Qtìmine chanted, and she helped Ixhúja and Akhlísa up to their feet and prodded them in a direction away from the Lords who had come to tell her about where the fleet was heading. Ixhúja bound away and began persuing Siêthiyal in somersaults, but Akhlísa was running backwards and blowing kisses to Éfhelìnye and saying – See you later, Sister-Wife! I love you love you love you! Bye! –
– Fairwell! – Éfhelìnye waved back.
Qtìmine smiled as Akhlísa left, and became a blur rising and falling about the deck. – She is young and strong – the Vestal Virgin chanted. – She will serve your future Lord and Husband as a good concubine, and bare you many children. –
– Hmmmfh – Éfhelìnye growled.
– Did you say something, holy Princess? –
– No, Mother – chanted Éfhelìnye as she grit her teeth.
– Good. Rudeness does not suit one. As you grow older, I would hope that you begin to appreciate the honor of your position. It will be quite efficacious for you to have at least one Sister-Wife. How shameful it would be if I were jealous of the other million vestal virgins who are ritual concubines to thine own beloved Father. Do you think I e'er thought anything untowards about thy Mother? –
– I suppose not – chanted Éfhelìnye as she narrowed her eyen and crossed her arms. – And I’m not jealous at all! – she piped.
– Good. – Éfhelìnye noticed that Auntie Qtìmine was watching Ixhúja as she ran up and down the deck. – When you grow older and if you really do want to enmesh the Clockweyth Heresy back into the Empire, you may wish for your husband to have at least one other Concubine; such is only common sense. –
– If a man is to have more than one wife, he should have three at least. Three seems quite a natural number for Sisters and Wives – Qtìmine was saying. – Perhaps this has something to do with the three Immortal Viceroy queens Wthàntare the herbalist and Tnerújha the scroll keeper, numeralogist, and Jhpoikhàltu, the weaver, the ornamentalist. If would be wise for the House of Pwéru to be able to control Khnìntha, especially by siring an heir and bringing the blood of the dragon unto that land. –
Éfhelìnye coughed again.
– We can talk about this later – chanted Auntie Qtìmine, and she kissed Éfhelìnye on her brow and turned back to the Lords and almost bumped into Khrùkhtii as he carried a small silvern charger. – Aren’t you supposed to be slaving away in the kitchens with the Triîm? –
– The Triîm thralls are resting now and ran away – chanted Khrùkhtii. – And may I add that they are the laziest, least efficient slaves I have e'er met? Oh, I found some chocolates in the pantry and was going to bring them to the Princess so that I could worship her. –
– Fine. Just don’t bother her. –
– I won’t. –
– Learn to worship her from afar. –
– Understood. – Khrùkhtii came up to Éfhelìnye and offered her some chocolates. – These are for your delight, oh my Princess. –
– Thank you … – chanted Éfhelìnye as she reached for the tray. She was about to thank him by name, but for some reason it escaped her. – Thank you, acolyte – she chanted and she took a piece and began nibbling on it and found it sharp and sweet.
– I’ll just worship you now – chanted Khrùkhtii.
– Yes … ah … acolyte … – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– I’ll go fall on my knees right here. –
– Thank you, ur … Khlitsaîyart. –
– Worshipping begins now. –
– Yes. –
Khrùkhtii slammed his head against the deck as he kowtowed towards the Princess several times. – I thee adore! –
Éfhelìnye was already turning through the leaves of her book and her thoughts were far away.
– Oh Empress of Tomorrow! – gasped Khrùkhtii.
Auntie Qtìmine’s voice arose clear and loud. – Go back to the kitchens now, Khrùkhtii! –
– Yes, holy Mother – chanted Khrùkhtii as he staggered back to his knees.
Éfhelìnye looked up and was a little ashamed to think that she had forgotten Khrùkhtii’s name. Upon the deck below here, where several different Khlitsaîyart æronauts were bustling about, she could see that the doctors among the Qhíng and Kháfha and Aûm were finished examining Puîyus foot and were bowing untowards him as she crawled away. Puîyus waved to Éfhelìnye, and she waved back.
– I’m just leaving now – Khrùkhtii told Éfhelìnye. – Just in case you need something. I’ll be right there. In the kitchens. Not twenty cubits away. –
– Puey! – Éfhelìnye smiled.
– I won’t be far – grinned Khrùkhtii. – So … I’m going now. –
– Oh Puey! –
– I’m gone. –
A few crackles, dangerous and bright, continued to play at the edge of the seabeds, that were reaching out untowards the middleheart of Jaràqtu. Éfhelìnye put her book down for she could see that Puîyus was swinging up some ropes and soon was coming up right untowards her.
– Actually, I can think of a very simple solution – Éfhelìnye was saying. She was seated upon a large cushion and was wrapped up in a blanket. It was cool here in the depths of the dead sea bottom, but since she had begun shivering Puîyus had brought her a blanket and was bringing out a tripod for her, since she did not wish to retire inside a room but remain outside to see what her Sisters were doing.
Ixhúja was seated at the edge of the blanket and was cleaning a knife but was listening to what her cousin had to say.
– I think it would be a good idea for you to be the one to train Siêthiyal – chanted Éfhelìnye. – She has only received a smattering of martian training so far, mostly from her Brother and from observing him. But it may be a good idea for her to learn from a maiden her own age, and as her clan Sister you’d be the perfect choice. –
Ixhúja looked down to her violet fingernails but could not help but feel a little skeptical about this entire enterprise. She looked up and saw that Siêthiyal was dressed in the pink armor that Puîyus had forged for her, rather cute and feminine armor Ixhúja thought, and Siêthiyal was swinging a broomstick around and striking Akhlísa who was doing her best not to get struck too many times.
– Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! – gasped Akhlísa. – I hope this is teaching you something! Ow! –
– Teaching? – asked Siêthiyal. – I just like beating you up. –
Ixhúja turned to Éfhelìnye and gave her a look that meant, I do not believe I would be a good teacher.
– I’m sure you’d do a better job than Siêthiyal’s attempt to teach herself with a broom – Éfhelìnye chanted. She turned back. Auntie Qtìmine was seated upon a dais and completely surrounded by candles, and around her were standing the matrons of the Wthòrthna and the Khnèrthem and the Daughters of Ifhrúri, some of the ptànta matrons and khmàxhekh madams that were left among the tribes of the Crimson Moons of Khnìntha. This time, however, Auntie Qtìmine was seated a little farther away from Éfhelìnye so that she could not hear them, but she could see that sometimes Qtìmine turned and looked to Ixhúja and then to Puîyus. Éfhelìnye was tempted to ask Princess Ixhúja whatever it was that was being intoned and chanted, but decided that perhaps she did not yet wish to know. A few of the khlìkham khlìkhal negotiators among the Khlitsaîyart came running upwards and were whispering to the matrons. Éfhelìnye was hoping that somehow this had nothing at all to do with her and Puîyus at all.
– Perhaps you could at least try to train Siêthiyal – Éfhelìnye chanted. – You would at least have some valuable experience tos hare with her. –
Ixhúja scratched the side of her ear and gave her cousin a look that meant, For you, Éfha, I will try, but only because of you. She got up and signaled unto Siêthiyal and Akhlísa to jog up unto her. At once Siêthiyal stopped beating her younger Sister with the broom.
– Uh-oh, the freak wants to see us – Siêthiyal smiled and muttered through clenched teeth.
– Auntie says that we’re going to be punished for calling Ixhúja a freak – Akhlísa chanted. – Ow! Stop hitting me. –
– I’ll call that freak a freak if I want to – chanted Siêthiyal. – It’s a term of endearment. Like how I call you brainless. All of my dearments are truthful of course. – Siêthiyal took her Sister by the hand and they jogged up unto Siêthiyal and bowed unto her and pretended that they had not just been talking about her.
– Are you doing alright, Éfhelìnye? – asked Akhlísa.
– You look tired – chanted Siêthiyal. – If you have any toys, heavy valuable toys, I’d be happy to hold them for you. –
Éfhelìnye reached into her pockets but only found some bead coins. – I only have some heavy money on me. –
Siêthiyal’s palm reached out and clasped about the coins and they disappeared into her pockets. – I’d be honored to hold onto that for you. I of course keep track of everything that I borrow from you, my beloved Sister. –
– Do you want me to get you another drink or pillow or something? – asked Akhlísa.
– I … – Éfhelìnye heard a clattering of dishes and trays somewhere behind her, and suddenly out came running Khrùkhtii the acolyte, a couple of dirty dishes balanced upon his head and shoulders, and in his hands glistened a large tray covered in drinks, sandwiches, a couple of books, and a pillow.
– I live to love! – gasped Khrùkhtii. – I mean I love to serve! I mean I live to serve! How may I serve? –
– I’ll take the pillow – chanted Akhlísa.
– And you don’t have any toys? – asked Siêthiyal. – What a pity. –
– I’ll get you a toy – chanted Khrùkhtii.
– I’m fine, thank you – chanted Éfhelìnye. – Sisters, I was just thinking, perhaps it would be best if Ixhúja train Siêthiyal in the way of sword and shield. It would be at least an idea to consider. –
Siêthiyal tugged upon her pink rondures, which bounced and twirled about her fingers. – I don’t know … this does sound a bit complicated. And there are no toys involved. –
– Ixhúja is in a unique position – chanted Éfhelìnye. – Why don’t you two just give it a try? –
– Yeah, give it a try – chanted Khrùkhtii.
Siêthiyal began to smile. – Well, I suppose … it is a rather interesting idea. –
– It’s a wonderful idea! – piped Khrùkhtii.
Ixhúja made a fist and clenched her arms and made a growling sound that meant, One has been training to be a warrioress since one was six winters of age, so one hath an advantage in strength, endurance, and experiencer. However, I could at least teach you the rudiments of defense and thrust and the dance of sword and shield. You have natural wileness that will be an advantage in battle. And Ixhúja flexed her arms a couple more times.
– Wow, are those really your muscles! – Khrùkhtii gasped.
– Perhaps Puey and you can train Siêthiyal together – Éfhelìnye chanted.
Siêthiyal nodded. – That seems splendid. But since he’s not here at the moment, Ixhúja and I could go ahead and get started. –
– Yeah, this will be fun! – Khrùkhtii chanted. He pulled out a cushion and made himself comfortable beside Princess Éfhelìnye’s chair. Ixhúja examined the broomstalks and found them to be suitable stèkha bokken and tossed one unto Siêthiyal.
Akhlísa was looking around for a comfortable cushion and finding one was about to sit on the floor when she noticed that Khrùkhtii was lounging upon the deck and saying – This is far more interesting than watching the Vestal Virgins weaving and chanting and tending the flames! Hurray! –
– What are you doing here, Khrùkhtii? – Akhlísa asked.
Éfhelìnye, still shivering in her blankets looked down and asked – Oh! I didn’t know you were here? –
– I’m … worshipping … serving … I’m just about to leave … – Khrùkhtii chanted. – I don’t suppose that anyone needs anything. –
Ixhúja and Siêthiyal smacked each other a few times with broomsticks and wondered who was talking, but since they didn’t see anyone important around them, just shrugged and returned to their mock battle. They swung their brooms about, and the Kháfha cadlong was arisen and making its way through the vast dead sea beds in the midst of the fleet of the Triple Alliance here gathering in the Middleheart of Jaràqtu.
And Princess Ixhúja showed remarkable self-restraint. She and Siêthiyal practiced with rudis and then wrestled and engaged in hand to hand combat, and it took almost an hour for Ixhúja to fly into a completely uncontrolled battle rage.
– My face! My toof You punched out a toof! – cried Siêthiyal as she spat out blood. For some reason she had trouble keeping one of her eyen open and was only vaguely away of blood flowing down her face.
– Someone, get a tèrefha doctor at once! – Akhlísa squealed as she ran up to Siêthiyal.
Ixhúja shook and looked around in confusion and wondered how much of this blood was hers and how much was Siêthiyal’s. It seldom mattered in the end.
– I’m here! – chanted Éfhelìnye. – Siêthi, I’m coming for you! – chanted the Princess as she dashed out of her blankets.
– I’ll get honored Khràkhoi! – piped Khrùkhtii who had been lingering beside and behind Éfhelìnye the entire time, and was woefully behind in his washing and cleaning duties, and he spun around and disappeared.
– Don’t call me Siêthi! – Siêthiyal shouted as Éfhelìnye ran up to her and hugged her.
– What’s happening? – Auntie Qtìmine thundered. She jumped down from the dais and signaled to the priests to come to her at once.
– KHRÀKHOI! HERE! – shouted Khrùkhtii. He came swinging down unto the second dais where the other doctors were still perusing their scrolls and trying to figure out what exactly the Starflower Princess had been doing. Khràkhoi was already dashing upwards, his instruments and tools flying up to his palms, and he swung through the air.
– We don’t need to worry about a doctor – chanted Éfhelìnye as she kissed Siêthiyal’s face several times. She licked Siêthiyal’s face and suddenly her eye was unswollen and could see.
– Do I get my toof back? – asked Siêthiyal’s tounge was noticing a rather worrisome gap between a couple of teeth.
– I found the toof on the ground – chanted Akhlísa. – Can I keep it? –
Qtìmine pinched Ixhúja’s ear. – What happened? –
Ixhúja hissed. One cannot help oneself. One just has the overwhelving desire to destroy one’s enemies, to grind them into dust, bone, and horror beneath my feet.
– PUEY! – Khrùkhtii was shouting. – COME UP HERE! –
Éfhelìnye picked up the tooth, placed it in her lips, and kissed it into Siêthiyal’s mouth. Siêthiyal was not at all happy to kiss Éfhelìnye no matter for what circumstance, but the kiss was sweet, and Siêthiyal suddenly found it that it was as if her tooth had never been knocked out.
– Mew? – asked Puîyus as he appeared from nowhere at once.
– It was just an accident – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– It was SO FUNNY! – chanted Akhlísa. – Ixhúja was succeeding in beating up Siêthiyal, and her toof got all knocked out and Siêthiyal was like whistling through the gape and she was all blood and it was hilarious you should have seen it. –
Siêthiyal touched her face but all of the blood was disappearing. – I feel fine. I feel better than fine. Ixhúja, you and me, we fight now. –
– No you don’t – chanted Auntie Qtìmine.
Just a little fight? Ixhúja was asking in blinks and glances.
– I … I think I need to sit down now – chanted Éfhelìnye. Her eyen were rolling back, but Puîyus was there to catch her and hold her up.
Khràkhoi came running upwards, glasses and spheres bubbling all about him. He almost slid down next to Siêthiyal and was already bringing out some wires to examine Siêthiyal, but looking upwards saw that Puîyus was already standing there. – Crown Prince, you were three leagues away down the ship. How did you get here so quickly? –
Puîyus just shrugged. Akhlísa was fanning Éfhelìnye.
Auntie Qtìmine turned to the matrons and ladies of Khnìntha and chanted – We shall talk later. –
It only took Khràkhoi a moment to examine Siêthiyal’s mouth and jaw and face. – We could consult a Ptètqiikh who is engiîqheqhe, of the dentist class, but I suspect we already know the truth. – He took out a small sliver of wood and looked at her tounge and the ridges of his teeth. – It is as if the tooth had never been dislodged. Let me look at your face. We you wounded anywhere else? –
– One of her eyen was all swollen shut and she looked so goofy! – Akhlísa giggled. – Plus she was covered in lots of little bruises! –
– I can’t see a single scratch – chanted Khràkhoi. He stood up. – Our attention should be turned unto the holy Empress who is to come. Prince, why not carry her into bed. –
– I do not need to go to bed now – chanted Éfhelìnye. – It is barely the fifth hour of the day. I can just rest in the chair and watch everyone else play. –
– Mew mew – Puîyus nodded, telling her that he would stay with her for the rest of the day.
– I’ll just be comfortable here. –
Khràkhoi pressed his hands upon Éfhelìnye’s brow, and taking out a few instruments was examining the ripple in temperature. – You must be more careful in the future, holy Empress. We just do not know what you are doing. –
– I could not bare to have Siêthi suffer if even for a few moments. –
– I can tend a lost tooth and a swollen eye – chanted Khràkhoi the healer. – But none of us among the living and the Real People can guess how to tend you if you should be drained of yourself. –
Siêthiyal was licking her restored tooth and trotting upwards patted Éfhelìnye on the shoulder said – Thank you for healing me, but don’t call me Siêthi. –
– Do I get a hug, my beloved Sister? – asked Éfhelìnye.
– Hardly, no. –
Puîyus growled at Siêthiyal.
– I’m just not an hug giver! – Siêthiyal chanted.
– Would you at least kiss me a few times? – asked Éfhelìnye.
Siêthiyal grimaced and adjusted the ribbons in her hair. – I’d rather hug you than kiss you. –
– Mew mew mew! –
– That doesn’t mean that I’ll do either. I’ll just tap her on her hand. – Siêthiyal reached out and patted the back of Éfhelìnye’s hand. – See, that’s just as good as a hug, right, but with far less … princessly touching. –
Éfhelìnye reached out and flung her arms about Siêthiyal and squealed – I love you, Siêthi! –
Siêthiyal muttered – I’m … extremely … not unfond of you too. – She managed to twist out of Éfhelìnye grasp and added – But just do not call me … –
– Did I miss anything! – cried Khrùkhtii as he came dashing unto the higher deck, and was huffpuffing all the while.
– I think we need to give Princess Éfhelìnye a bit of room – chanted Auntie Qtìmine. She was taking Akhlísa and Siêthiyal by the hand and leading them away from the chair. Khràkhoi was humming to himself and drawing out some disques so as it examine the Princess. Khrùkhtii was walking around the chair and saying – Everyone, give the Empress some room. Room, please. Room. Room. Room. Lots of room. –
– Puey, I feel fine – chanted Éfhelìnye. – I just need a bit of rest. –
– Mew mew? –
– I’m not hungry at all. –
– I think you should eat – chanted Khràkhoi.
– You did a good job in summoning the doctor – Auntie Qtìmine chanted. – Now go and bring the Empress some honey bread and wash dishes. –
– Yes, holy Mother. –
– I take it you’re making good progress in cleaning the dishes. –
– Ah … progress … some progress … good progress. – Khrùkhtii was backing away. – I’ll get the corset. The bread! The bread. Getting the bread. – Khrùkhtii spun around several times and bumped right into Puîyus, who only barely managed to keep them both from tumbling down.
– Fine, just when I was actually starting to learn something now I won’t be allowed to train anymore – Siêthiyal chanted. – Just my luck. Get pulmetted a couple of times, and now everyone is afraid. –
– Oh! Puey! – Khrùkhtii gasped as he looked around. – An idea is come unto me. With all due respect, there’s only one person both crazy enough and strong enough to train your Sister Siêthiyal. –
– Mew? – asked Puîyus.
Khrùkhtii pointed to him.
Puîyus pointed to Ixhúja and asked – ?? –
– No, not Princess Ixhúja! – Khrùkhtii jerked his thumb towards Puîyus gain.
Puîyus pointed to the healer Khràkhoi and asked – ¿¿ –
– No, not the doctor! I mean you will have to be the one to teach Siêthiyal yourself! –
Puîyus blinked a couple more times. – Mew? – he concluded.
– I don’t see who else can do it. I see nothing wrong with giving Ixhúja another chance, but she needs discipline and supervision. –
Puîyus considered for a moment and stroked his chin. – Mew – he concluded.
Qtìmine came upwards and wrapped an arm about Puîyus and kissed his brow and chanted – I think that would be a lovely idea. Go to your Sister, then. And Khrùkhtii? –
– Yes, honored Mother? –
– Get the Princess some food. –
– Yes, honored Mother. –
The crescented Suns were already westering upon the edge of the sea beds, and several transport vessels were arising and searching for the mist and labyrinthine spirals that were infecting part of this land. Puîyus took Siêthiyal by the hand and lead her unto the center of the deck. He took a few steps away, bowed to her, and then lunged at her. Siêthiyal squeaked, for he was rushing at her with a speed she had not at first considered, and she was afraid that he would hit her just as Ixhúja had. Puîyus though did not strike her at all. He drew her back to the center, took a piece of chalk and drew a circle and then lunged at her again, and Siêthiyal cried out and tried to hide herself. Puîyus decided to take a different tactic with her. He took her arms and showed her how to hold them, he began to show her how to stand, and how to turn, and slowly, one by one, as if he were teaching her the steps of a dance, he began to show her the positions for lunging and ducking and parrying and striking and rolling o'er for to fall lest she hurt herself.
Princess Éfhelìnye ate some honey bread and soon was drifting back to sleep. When she awoke again she found that it was already late in the sixth hour of the day, twice-light and starlight glistening about in curtains before the crescented suns. Off in the distance all of the seabeds were flame, and she could see that a thousand raiding vessels were streaking through the heavens and were firing at the great and growing labyrinthine wall forming out of the forest.
– We’ll be taking you inside soon – Auntie Qtìmine. – Battle is resuming again within the sea beds. –
– Oh … – chanted Éfhelìnye. – I must have slept longer than I thought. I’m sure that it was at least interesting to watch the beginning of it. –
– There was the beating of drums, the flickering of torchlight, the first living ships arising, and phalanxes forming of the Qhíng and Kháfha and Aûm alike. Our Puey has already lead a group of Jaràqtun warriors outwards, and with them have come some of the warriors of Khnìntha. Ah, there is he. –
Puîyus came swinging down from some ropes and bowed before Auntie Qtìmine, and taking the Princess’ hand kissed it a few times. He pointed outwards unto the flickering light of the seabeds and smiled, and his glance told the Princess all that she had to know of the battle. How I wish that Khiêro of Old our Ancestors were there, to help in the defense of Jaràqtu, so the twinkle of his eyen was telling her, for now that the Sons of Khiêro and the Daughters of Khiêro have joined together for the first time in history, it is as if the Clan can be whole again after ten thousand years of sundering.
Puîyus kissed Éfhelìnye’s hand a few times, and then they embraced. And then it was time for Puîyus to turn and go off into battle. Auntie Qtìmine and Akhlísa helped the Princess upwards and lead her into the quarters of this Khlitsaîyart vessel, and Éfhelìnye barely came to rest upon a cushion before she fell asleep and missed the lights and glories of the battle.
In her sleep, in her dreams, Éfhelìnye was dimly aware of snowflakes spinning and vast forests that consisted entirely of white hills and the death of trees. She lay down in the snow and was rubbing her arms from side to side, and rolling upwards looked down and thought that perchance she was as if one winged, wings that could appear only in the midst of the alban tsèpya síobadh sneachta blizzarding all about her. She walked upon the snow, or rather the soles of her bare feet floated just half an inch above the snowfield surface, and as she floated outwards before her all of the trees were parting. Some of the trees were as of metal and were twisted in ancient and gaunt geometric designs, and some of the trees were the selfsame warrior trees that she had seen within her Mother’s mauseleum, where armory and bits of flesh and man still hung, all of those warriors who had commited ritual suicide at the death of her Mother, so great had their love for her been. As Éfhelìnye walked outwards the trees were changing and were becoming bone and the bodies that she had seen within the Seas of the Dead, bits of glave and helmet were floating upwards about her, and in the streams of the bubbles she almost thought that she could see Mother Khwofheîlya drifting downwards in the ravenblack darkness, and the Ancestors fluctuating vast and strange behind her.
Pitter patter pit pit pit came the whisper. Éfhelìnye felt a slight drip upon her shoulder and could taste the slight hum of whimsical rainbow sky iron and whimsical rainbow onduenne at the tip of her tounge and in the back of her throat. She drew her hand to her shoulder and drew up some blood. She looked upwards. The trees were bleeding, and some of the holy suicide warriors upon the trees were quaverous as they were impaled. She gazed up unto them for a few moments. In the rustle of robes she could see that Khrùkhtii hung impaled high above her, and his blood was bright red and black and flowing right down unto her.
– Hi! – grinned Khrùkhtii.
Éfhelìnye attempted a smile, but it died, sickly and sad on her lips. She managed a wave. She spun around and ran away from him.
– Bye! – sighed Khrùkhtii.
Éfhelìnye ran all the faster. Thousands of large ice crackling spiders were leaping down from the trees about her, and the trees were springing upwards and becoming the walls and archways of a tremendous ædifice all of crystal and ice. A tremendous ripple of rainbow was melting upwards, as if it were of wax, and as it took the form of a great and wellramped throne, a figure was appearing upon it in sighs and storms. Behind him several Dragons were lifting up their heads and turning their baleful eyen unto the Princess, obsidian mirror eyen gazing untowards her. One of the Dragons she recognized as Lord Kherènxhuqhe, for he was missing half of his skull from where Puîyus had grievous wounded him, and the eye left unto him was a great white bowl glistening and steaming and blinking and reflecting Éfhelìnye back unto herself. Several long and twining branches were spilling about the throne, a tree all of crags and fang and snapping leaves and squamous scales, and the tree was hissing with the music of dragons, even as Éfhelìnye felt herself drawn up to the throne and her Father white and inthronised in the center.
– Éfhelìnye – so spake the Sun Emperor.
– Father – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– The Ancestors. –
– What am I supposed to do. –
– The Ancestors. –
– Must I find them? Will they tell me something? Are they going to lead me somewhere? What do they want? –
Emperor Kàrijoi lifted up the edge of his crimson cape and began wrapping it about him, and the cape was become crackle and dragon wing and blood all at once. – The Ancestors – he intoned once again, and all things became dark and shimmering and quite cold indeed.
But when Princess Éfhelìnye awoke she found herself not very cold at all, for she was in a large bed beneath many blankets and being held by Auntie Qtìmine. Several fires were blazing in the tripods. In a different bed Akhlísa lay fast asleep, although several different books were open upon the blankets, so that Éfhelìnye was wondering whether she had been trying to read several different books at the same time and had fallen asleep in the midst of them all. Éfhelìnye looked around. Qtìmine was fast asleep. Her face was serene and gentle and good, and Éfhelìnye felt a little sad that she had had to wait her entire life thus far before meeting someone who could have been as a Mother unto her.
White and golden light was come through the stained glass of the window. She slipped a little out of Qtìmine’s arms and looking outwards could see that a thousand different fires were sparkling up and down the length of the dead sea bottoms. Before them were gloom looming whispering mountains that lay just at the edge of the ancestrial fields of the Saûqyufha war clan. She thought that somewhere beyond the whispering mountains that one could see that pathways and bridges that lead up unto the courtyards of the Abby of Saint Kàtriqan. And the battle was no more, save for the living ships arising and picking up the warriors, and the clouds of retreating labyrinth, and a tremendous forest.
Éfhelìnye heard a slight rapping at the door. She slipped out of bed and came to the door without thinking at all about getting someone to protect her or even find out who was at the door, and slipping the door open she saw for a moment a shadow and a rubescent cape such as she had seen her Father wearing in the dream, but the shadow took a step forwards and was Puîyus come from battle, mud and grease and blood smeared upon his face, and the crimson cape was the ripple of the mantle that his Father had given unto him.
– Mew – Puîyus meowed.
– The battle is concluded – Éfhelìnye whispered.
Puîyus nodded. They fell into each other’s arms for a moment and rested. They looked out together unto the stained glass window, and watched the arising of the living ships, and the huge silent majesty of the forest about them.
– … – Puîyus whispered.
They gazed on in silence for a time. It was the very Death of the Forest, thousands upon thousands of gnarled and crackling trees spreading outwards unto so many thousands of white and dead leages. The trees were hunched and enmeshed in ice and dust and death. I twas Ìlun itself, the dark Forest of the Worlds, the silence of the trees. After a time Puîyus lifted upwards and pointed unto the shadow of some long and purple sickly trees, and as the fleet began to drift above them, the Princess could see that these were thousands upon thousands of Pfhóla trees such as wherein Akhlisa used to build her treehouses. But these layers of trees leaning tree to tree and tumbling upon the death of the cliff were extending outwards in white majesty.
– Then the enemy are gone? – Éfhelìnye asked.
Puîyus shrugged and made a vague motion upwards and then clasped an hand upon his heart, for the were now come unto the very middleheart of the land.
And after a time Puîyus escorted Éfhelìnye back to bed and drew the blankets down about her, and then as silent as the night he disappeared, and Éfhelìnye found herself sinking down deeper and deeper into dreams of snow and light.
– The Ancestors – Emperor Kàrijoi chanted, the Sun Emperor, the Dragon Emperor.
Princess Éfhelìnye was standing before the throne. Several dragons were lifting up their heads and licking black triple forked tounges untowards her.
– Thrice honored and hieratick Father, oh Master, dread, of the nations – Éfhelìnye chanted. – Are you telling me that the Ancestors where I must go? –
– The Quest – spake the Emperor. Kàrijoi’s ambrosial tresses were streaming down the side of his head, clouds and blizzards were forming great icicles about him. He was partially of wind and storm rustling through him, and all of hoarrime was his beard.
– Most honored Father, you have mentioned the Quest before. When you banished me and Puey and sentenced us to death, you told me that only the Quest would save us. –
Kàrijoi lifted up one hand, and it was the shredded tapestry of the worlds. His other hand revealed a growing labyrinth that was spinning upwards and growing great crystalline towers branching outwards in huge coralline splendor. – The Labyrinth – he intoned. And the labyrinth grew about the Emperor until it encompassed all of the Dragon Tree and the Crystalline Throne and all of the fractalizing Ice Palace about him. Éfhelìnye found herself at a growing, arch gate before the mouth of the maze.
– Do you wish for me to enter? – Éfhelìnye was on the verge of taking a step forwards, but then remained frozen, for she was unsure whether her Father was commanding her to do so, moreover she was not at all sure what the Elders of the Triple Alliance truly intended for the Labyrinth, and what exactly was the purpose of the Xakhpàlqe mazecrafters and the Emperor himself. She knew there was a great deal that the Elders were not revealing unto her, but she was not sure whether she should reveal what little she knew unto her Father.
Éfhelìnye looked upwards. She was walking beside her Father. In one hand he held a long wooden staff, and he held her hand in his others. He wore a traveling cloak and a large wide-brimmed pétasos hat such as old men sometimes done. – The Elders misinterpret my maze – Kàrijoi chanted. – It is only natural of course. But the path must lead there. –
– Where are we going, Father? –
– Our generation must end in order for yours to begin. Remember the Quest. Remember the fairy tale that the Wise tell. –
– And which fairy tale is that, my Father? –
Kàrijoi looked down to her. – Why the story of me and your Mother. I gave her a flower. –
– Yes, Father. –
– That’s the story. – Kàrijoi looked upwards. The labyrinth was swaying upwards before them, and thousands of towers were flowing upwards unto the clouds, and the black suns were fading away to reveal a bright golden orb. – The Flower is heaven. – – Oh – chanted Éfhelìnye, but she was not entirely sure whether that was a proper story at all.