Tuesday, July 31, 2012

77 -Technically I'm Off Duty

Dukir handed off his reins to the girl at the new inn in Viltaria,  hitched his swordbelt into place, stepped back and waited for his Emir-al to dismount. The girl took hold of the guide reins of their whole pack-train, rapped the lead-bird on his beak with a bronze stick and led the lot of them into the stables, by herself.

“These Milari are tough!” Raghnall grinned at his Amir. “I can’t think of a single Lainz inn-servant who would even try to control a whole train of warbirds!

“Ah, Emir-al, the instant we couldn’t see, there were a dozen stable hands to take control, I stake my rank on’t.”

He laughed. “They save face and are practical all at the same time! Watch my back, Amir.”

“Of course, Emir-al.”

They wandered the wedding celebration, looking for the boy they had come so far to find. Dukir had a wooden platter of roast herbal moa in one hand and a stein full of high potency wine in the other when he found Raghnall again.

The lad, to his credit, had wetted his lips and had a bite but hadn’t indulged enough to get drunk. “Naser,” Dukir said. “Any sign of the boy we’re looking for?”

“No, Amir. Everyone is celebrating. There is no one in any of the offices.”

“I spoke to one of the cooks, Naser, and he was a Lainz expatriate.”

Raghnall raised both eyebrows. “Trust you to find a Lainz, my Amir.” He nibbled on the savory bird-meat on a spit in his one hand. “I quite like the Milari idea of a celebration. They seem to like feeding anyone.”

“Ay, Naser.” Dukir took a sip of his tankard and a bite of his pig. He knew that it was unlikely they would find their boy in the midst of the celebration. “Perhaps we should ask tomorrow?”

“Amir! The Emperor said this was important!” He sighed.  "We can do this tomorrow..."

“Yes, Naser.” Dukir watched the Emir-al forge back into the celebrating crowd. Ah, lad. Trying to find a boy in the middle of a partying crowd... Ye’ve never had to try and talk ta the drunks and the happy folk.

He took a bite of the moa and a hasty swig from the tankard to cool the spice flames in his mouth. It was so good. He had another sip and another bite and ended up sitting in a Milari woman’s lap who thought he and his uniform and veil were intriguingly exotic.

The taste of her lips when he raised his veil to kiss her was spice and wine, as he remembered. “Nasera, you are incredible.” He said, more drunkenly than he truly was. “I was here and I should have stayed here.”

She laughed and stretched up to kiss him back. “Yes. You should have stayed last time!” He put a flat hand against the fascinating silks over the woman’s breasts, then manfully resisted and looked for his Emir-al.  Ragnall had a glass of mead and was holding forth to a circle of listeners, not fighting off sexual advances. Not that he particularly wanted to fight off this woman. She wasn’t young but not old either. She had a knowing twist to her coral lips against exotically pale skin; a waterfall of wavy brown hair.

Technically I'm off duty. He threw one last glance at Shaidan and caught the ‘go on’ wave out of the corner of his eye as the woman leaned forward to raise his veil and kiss him. Well. One day, we can make up, once we find the boy. Once I figure out if he’s worthy of being trained up to be Emperor.  

He knocked back the last drops of dry, pale mead and someone re-filled the cup for him. I shouldn’t do this. The drunken spymaster is a dead spymaster. But I don’t want to find the boy is horrible and have to kill him to protect the Empire. I want the best for the Empire, for my friend. I hope... I hope he’s a 
good boy. I don’t want to kill him. He smiled and kissed the woman again and she spilled her wine on his veil and lips and smiled as he un-hooked the sheer fabric and licked his lips. Tomorrow’s problem. I hope he’s a good boy, he thought and then slotted that thought into tomorrow’s box in his mind.

Monday, July 30, 2012

76 - Lainz Arrive, Vows are Spoken

The two Lainz, leading their birds, climbed over the last rise in the Korifar pass and looked across the valley and at Viltaria.  They’d been delayed almost another full week and they’d cut across terraformed country away from the endarkened chatty Milar who got friendlier as you got deeper into the country.  All they seemed to want to talk about, as near as Dukir could figure out was either about the enormous landslide that nearly wiped out their capitol and that their surdeniliarch was getting married, despite the disaster, or perhaps because of it, he wasn't certain which.

They’d not be able to avoid the festivities in Viltaria itself and Raghnall had even wistfully wished that they could slow down a trifle, to do just that.  The parties would surely not help their search for young Kyrus, whatever woman Ilaxandal was marrying.

The village was cleared of earth and repaired, and the terribe scar of earth to one side was already blurring with terran green, as people planted it to keep it from moving again. The scent blowing across was redolent of sweet baking spices and the mouth-watering aroma of spit roasted lambs and birds, pine from the trees along the village roads and the deep sweetness of flowering meadows all around.

Above the village the Ancestor stones were polished gleaming white and white ribbons streamed from them. The whole village seemed to be festooned with white ribbons and green branches, every lamp-post along every road, and festooned posts driven into a processional way up to the stones.

“They seem to be doing well, despite their disaster,” Raghnall said.  The deep tones of the enormous Milari wooden horns echoed across the valley, perhaps a dozen. “I can’t help think more of gigantic cows rather than music,” he continued, as he gathered up the reins and prepared to leap up to his bird’s back to ride now that they were no longer climbing.

"As yeh say, Naser."

"So they light up their big central fountain for such a big wedding?”

“Ay, Naser.  Them odd torches that green you can see even in daylight." Raghnall unhooded his bird's eyes, scratching behind its crest. It was tamed down enough that it accepted the caress, stepping off slowly rather than charging down the road ready to kill everything in its path. “You know a lot about Milari customs, Isfahsalar.”

“Yessir, mostly from the war, Naser.” Dukir answered, his own bird following more gently than it had at the beginning of its journey. The village was full of people and the processional all the way to the Stones, a mass all in their festival reds, the roads before them empty. “It’s the surdeniliarch’s wedding then, we’ve managed tah hit it bang on.”

Ragnall hid his sigh well and they stopped at the tiny guardpost with its gate raised. “Good day, Cragman.” He spoke in his brand-new, careful Milari.

The guard, stepping out, seemed completely used to warbirds. Of course any public servant who could not deal with foreigners coming into the capitol would not have lasted. This deep in the country, she wore no armour but her insignia.

“Good day, Feather-Spitter. If I might see your road passes?”

The Emir-al handed over the packet with the ease of long practice and the Cragwoman scanned them. “If I might ask, Crag—“ He blushed still when presented with women warriors. “—woman… is that Ilaxandal Vania who is getting married today?”
“Oh, you didn’t travel here for it? It’s a second marriage for him, and a second Lainz too!”

“Ah. We shall be happy to represent Lainz at his nuptials then!” He's marrying another Lainz woman? Diryish will be interested to hear that.

“Have a good end of journey… Naser.” She said in careful Lainz and smiled as she handed back their papers. “Careful at the second bridge… there’s a bit of water over it since the land-slide, making it harder for your birds.”

“Thank you, Cragwoman.” They were at the second bridge, looking at the hand-span deep bit of water flowing over the stone-bridge before them before he spoke again. “You think we’re going to actually find the boy, Isfahsalar?”

“We have a good chance, Naser.” And I hope he is something like his father’s reputation. He might actually be good for the people on the Empire, rather than a sacrifice to the moa-lords. “If I might suggest, Naser, we hood them to a crack and urge them. They should cross the water more easily.”

“Good thought.”


Light and Dark am I dreaming? Ilax’s smile... his beautiful smile...and he’s got the goblet in his hands, matching the one in mine. He drinks out of the cup in my hands, I raise my veil and drink out of his. I put my hand on the goblet and he on mine. Remember, deovar, we smash yours, not mine... We are being married. We are being married.

My heart is so full. I never thought I would be so happy. Is this real? Is this some happy ending by someone in the Basin bellowing a tale to a noisy crowd? Oh Enlightened, may this be real and not a dream.

My son. My beautiful, magnificent boy found me. And Ilax and I are being married. Ten years ago, I lay in the snow, thinking I was only fit for death because I loved a man and now we are being married. Enlightened, how is so much happiness possible?

The glass smashes into the stone bowl into a brilliant glitter of shards, each shard supposedly a year of happiness together. The whole crowd cheers and I raise the other precious goblet in my other hand and we bundle it and place it in our wedding box, wrapping our fingers together in the silk ribbons, laughing together.

The scariest part, for me, is coming up. My soul has been naked before my love, and I will bare myself before his beloved people. Thank goodness the children did not insist we disrobe at the Stones and walk nude down the mountain. The bird’s feather I clipped into my love’s hair flutters in the warm breeze as he removes his shirt, matching me, unlacing. I have to take the veil off next and he is unveiled and waits for me, smiling at me. I want to kiss him but not yet.

Enlightened, blessed blessed Light. Our soft boots... we tug off each other's to the yells from the crowd and showers of wine and mead the streams soaking us, mixed, Milari wines and Lainz mead. Our trousers next and the wind caresses parts of me I’m not used to being touched like that.

Oh, EnDarkened, I can’t stop it, I’m getting hard and as much as I blush and want to cover myself up I can’t because Ilax has seized my hands. The crowd is cheering us and singing their wedding song and he’s erect too. I look at the pink head of his penis, the slightly lower erection of a mature man, wanting to kiss him there. Not yet.

“It’s seen as a good sign! A good omen, inamor!” He has to use his battlefield voice for me to hear. 

“Let’s finish, and get clean, then you can show me how well you can perform with that Faidan! One of their many untranslatable words that means firm flesh, male, in Lainz.”

I don’t care that the fountain is cold and I shrink, we pour the cleansing palm-full over each other’s heads that means we are a couple and then everyone who can reach the fountain starts splashing us.

Mercifully I can sit and splash back and Ilax whoops and we end up back to back in the water spreading blessings with our newly coupled hands. Clean water. Clean air. Light and Dark thank you, thank you. We leap out of the fountain to be enveloped by our children waiting with enormous towels and are hustled to Ilax’s house... my house now too. We will have to apply to the Unity to add another room to it.

I am so happy. I am so happy. We will dress in dry clothes and the children will take us out to our feast and we will then vanish up to our cave. How on the planet did I ever deserve such happiness? The cave has been cleared out and we will go there for our honey time... and no one will bother us... barring an international incident, no one will look for Ilax.

Draconis Silicia Chishikia

I drew this, pen and ink, and Blue coloured it, she rocks... oh, her link? http://bluewingedcoyote.deviantart.com 

The scales are mobile and they usually jam themselves into cracks in the rock and puff up, locking those scales into the rock so nothing can haul them out without severe damage.  They glitter like this when they are breeding, and then they reverse the crack-sitting and leave their tails hanging out, flailing and snapping and wagging around.

More vermin to come soon.  I sketched a few more and they need colour too.

Friday, July 27, 2012

75 - Pissing in Bottles

The whole enlightened field was infested.  The young postal courier was able to stagger out the narrow path Dukir had made, with Shaidan’s assistance.  The string of postal packbirds… what was left of them… were flattening into the soil as the pitters worked on the undersides of the corpses.   

It was odd, the vile little yellow lizards seemed to crave meat and blood, even as mildly acid as humans were. At the same time all you had to do was piss on them and they reacted like you'd dunked them in quicklime. Of course you couldn’t do anything like that to the big ones.  The Lainz had a saying for the big pitters the size of a man or larger, ‘pissed on is pissed off.’

“Calmly, you crotch rotted bird,” Dukir said, soothingly as he drew the kid’s bird along with the goad hooked into its beakbreak.  It was as young as the kid, barely taller than a man, all raw bones and nerves, and kept trying to flap its trimmed wings and kick with its bloody feet.  It had one toe all but bitten off and limped more and more heavily until, at the edge of the infested field, it sank down and refused to move again.

The kid made to get up from where the Emir-al was checking to see how badly he’d been chewed up and got pushed down.
“Your leg is not going to let you just ride merrily off to do your job, kid,” he said. “And the other has that one bite high enough you’re lucky you didn’t either bleed out or lose your wedding tackle.”  Shaidan looked up as Dukir choked.   


“Um, Naser Emir-al, the term ‘wedding tackle’ is perhaps a bit rude?”

Shaidan just shook his head, not letting go the bandage he was wrapping around the kid’s thigh.  “It will do.  I’m the Emir-al Shaidan Raghnall and this is my Amir Isfahsalar, enroute to Viltaria.”

“I’m Tahm Gregori,” the kid said, giving only his basic pantronymic without the clan line name.  “I’m the fastest postal courier in this district…” he looked mournfully at his bird as it stretched out its neck along the ground, lying on its keel, panting its distress.  “At least with Ahoo I was the fastest.”

“We’ll see you back to the last village –“

“That would be Stambul,” Tahm cut in, flinching.

“We’ll see if your Ahoo can limp back with us, but I fear she won’t be able to keep up.”  As Shaidan was talking, Dukir handed the kid his flask, that had mead-laced water in it. He took a healthy swig, stopped with a startled look on his face, then took another.

“My mail, Nasers.  I have to go on with the mail to Viltaria.” He was weaving where he sat already.  He’d been pretty dehydrated and exhausted to begin with and had lost a lot of blood.  

“We’ll send someone back for your mail, Naser Gregori,” Dukir said.  “The vermin probably won’t eat that unless someone wrote on vellum, and not that if they have fresh meat first.  We’ll testify about this with you.  Somebody has been neglecting this field for a very long time to have this big an infestation that they’re drawing bush dragons.”

The bushies had drawn back to the closest outcropping of tsingy and settled nearly invisibly into the vertical cracks except for their wildly lashing tails, metal edged scales glittering.  “If they’re flashing like that, they’re breeding.  They’ve been here a while,” Dukir said thoughtfully.  “The biomat is falling apart all along the edges of the fallow, instead of spreading.  It could be someone couldn’t be bothered to haul his compost all the way out here.”

Tahm spread his hands.  He was pale as a sheet and shocky.  “That’s criminal!  That’s… that’s wrong.” 

How flippin’ Milar.  They don’t have rapacious Hive Lords living on the ownership of human safe fields? How community minded of them. Except they don’t always do what they should.

“They… whoever it is… owes the district all my pack birds and my Ahoo!  Is she all right?  I love that bird!”

“s’okay, kid." He stepped between Tahm and his possibly dying bird. "We’ll get you safe back to Stambul and send someone out to get the mail… and investigate.”

Shaidan gave him a look.  If they stayed any length of time to assist with the investigation they’d have to interrupt their search for His Radiance’s... um... boy.  He nodded to show he understood. They were charged to find Kyrus as fast as possible.

“We’ll see, Amir.  Come along, Naser Gregori.  Do you know your family name is the same as a Lainz… Amir… how would I say ‘mythical’ in Milar?  Ah -- a Lainz mythical figure?  We may have to make a sworn deposition and continue on our way.  We are in somewhat of a hurry.” He and Dukir got Tahm to his feet with his arms around their shoulders.  It almost didn’t matter what  was said, it was more to keep him on his feet once they got him there.  “We’ll put you on one of our pack birds…”

And I’m going to start pissing in bottles if there are bushies around.  With our Endarkened luck, we’d find the largest pitter to ever invade human ground.  Nightmare size of course. Diryish, the last time you sent me out of the Empire I ran into those endarkened swarms of glass bugs and whole colonies of oyucks. You owe me, old man, you owe me lots.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

74 - Pitters and Bushies

Raghnall let his reins go, bringing his bird to an abrupt halt.  He rose in his saddle, looking up into the sky.  They were less than a week away from Viltaria now, and the roads were more and more often in the open, terraformed valleys, so they had no sheltering rock over their heads.  “Amir.”

“Yes, Naser?”  Dukir urged his bird up to the Emir-al’s flank and stopped it.

The Emir-al pointed with his bird-goad at the acrid green flashes against the pale blue sky.  “Those are bush dragons, aren’t they?”

“Aye, Naser, not common this far inland.”

“They tend to follow sand pitters don’t they?”

“Aye that.  They don’t like growin’ dirt, Naser.  Really rare here, but they do like to eat human things.”  Those winged sons of crotch itch cause so much damage in Lainz we’ve got to step up the spread of our biomass, drive them all back into the deep sand.  Or get more water to drown them all.

“We have any ammunition for them?”

“Two packs, Naser, one crossbow rigged to fling it.”  As you well know, since you packed that with your own hands this morning.

“So let us go see if we can be good treaty partners to Milar, hmm?  That mess appears to be in our way, anyway.”

“Aye, ‘ser.” Dukir snapped the first packet of urine-filled pellets loose and thumbed the first into the tube on the crossbow.  The pellets would shatter on the scales of either bush dragons or sand pitters, hissing and bubbling holes in their armour.  Either that or you got luckier than a Gregori and hit them in the face and the thing would go squalling off to rub its face in the nearest acid sand it could find.

The birds were already acting up, probably able to smell the bushies on the wind. They were able to force them up the hill to the edge of the valley’s rim so they could see what was going on, before they were forced to tether the birds and go on foot. As they got down, the Emir-al pulled out his sling and slotted a pellet into it, at the ready.

“Let us take it carefully my Amir, hmmm?” He said and signaled for the lowest approach.

“Naser.”  A hotspur young officer not wanting to charge in screaming his war-cry?  Surely the water flows in the desert today.

It was very different crawling on one’s belly when there was so much growing there.  Human green vegetation seemed to have almost as many sharp bits as the Rock’s plants, though their sap didn’t tend to burn skin. Dukir raised his head over a clump of grass to see what had drawn the bushies.

Across the valley a young Milar postal courier clung to his bird, both of them with dried bloody streaks on their legs. clinging to a spire of tsingy poking up on the edge of a field.  The rest of his string of birds were lying dead, their packs of letters askew.  Their corpses were scattered across the field, not moving except to twitch as pitters pulled feathers or flesh out from underneath.  Both the boy and the riding bird were bloody as clotted bites broke open when they moved and he had his sword in his fist keeping the bushies off as the bird clung hard to the rock face higher than the pitters could climb.

The field had obviously been infested by sand pitters, but what was appalling was the road had been dug into as well. The boy had tried to skirt the obvious pock-marks and found out the hard way that the infestation had spread into the dirt.  “Hey!  Help!  Somebody!  Is there anybody in earshot? Help!”  His voice was tired and rough, his arm sagging unless a bushie dove at him.  There obviously had not been any traffic along this road for quite some time.

The Emir-al stood up.  “Hang on, boy!  We’ll get you out of there!”  His Milari was passable enough, Dukir thought as he got to his own feet.

“Oh, thank the ancestors!” The boy’s face lit up, he could see that all the way across the field.

“Amir, stamp out a path for us, would you?  I’ll keep the dragons off.”

It wasn’t a hard fight.  Just a tedious chore.  Popping a piss pellet with his thumb, into the hole, following up with  a splash of water from his bottle had the  pitters come boiling out of their hidey holes one at a time so he could stomp them into acid slush.  He heard a screech a time or two over his head, knew the Emir-al had hit a bush dragon, keeping the flock off him.

Dukir was running out of pellets and water, and was seriously considering unlacing his trousers by the time he’d stomped out a landing space for the postal courier and his bird, with some decent bites clipped out of his boots.  The kid hit the ground and if it weren’t likely that his rescuer had missed a pit, might have gone down to kiss the dirt, even full of piss.  “Ancestors bless you, Nasers,” he said in passable Lainz.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

73 - Like a Stink-Tight

Kyrus senior waved his hand up toward the pennant on the top of the spire.  “This is your assignment.  The four of you have to figure out how to get that down, before you can head back to the school to get cleaned up.  I did say figure out.  I also want you to put your plan into action.  No running back to get equipment.  No recruiting anyone else to help you.  You have what you need right here.  Make a plan.  Carry it out.  Bring the pennant back to the school with you.” His eyes, over his beard, were sharp on them as he let them think about it.  “I’ll see you all later at dinner, then.”  He nodded at them, still a little grim from the yelling he'd gotten from Nasera Oash, and left them standing there.

Nobody said anything for a while after he left. Ky felt like he was just blinking like a new-hatched chick, his head swivelling between the road where his Da had walked away and the white pennant snapping in the wind on top of the spire.

“Well,” Ver said at last.  “I never thought great warriors and teachers ever thought crap like that about themselves.”

“Don’t be an idiot,” Werfas snorted.  “They don’t quit being human, and most of them are decent humans, so they must have low times too.”

As Haraklez drew breath, Verpiccaus cut in, hastily.  “Of course, of course anybody could be low... especially with awful commanders and really bad situations – You know,” he continued right on in the same breath, “I could melt ‘cline holes in the rock but that would take me all day to come up with a precise enough command code.”

“Um... I... um,” Kyrus stammered.  “I suppose I could take the rock you’re clining and build hand holds, but that would take me just as long and we’d both be wiped out at the end.”

“Yes, he said us, too.  Obviously he wants us to work as a team.” Haraklez said, as Werfas nodded.

“How much strength would it take to make climbing gear for all of us?” Werfas asked.

Haraklez waved a hand around at short meadow grass and bare rock around them. “Too much. To mander rope out of so much short green grass would be crazy.”  They knelt looking at their target. “Free climbing might do if we can find a crack to start.”

“No.” That was Werfas and he sounded totally serious.  “Just, no.  You can’t free-climb tsingy.  I got cut up that way.  Nearly bled out.  Just... no.” So that’s how he got his scars. It was worse than just bleeding I think. Kyrus didn’t look at his wing-brother.  There’s a ragged slash right across your spine that looks like it nearly cut you in half.

“What if...” Ky paused.  “You know how Stink-tights walk up walls and over ceilings?” I haven't seen one in Milar.  I wonder if they have them.

“No,” Haraklez said, just as Ver asked “What’s a Stink-tight?”

Ky waved his hands.  “Little red lizards... well, not so little.  They can get up to man-size in the lower canyon and they walk up smooth polished walls and across ceilings even when they are big like that.  If you bug them, they spit a stink on you that sticks... and leaves burns.  But they eat peacock snakes and glass-bugs which are worse than just stink, so people in the Basin say they’re good luck.”

“How is this little biology lesson going to get us showered and to dinner?” Verpiccaus asked.

“What if we... you and I made pitons like stink-tight feet, for all of us?  That’s four things smaller than our hands, for each of us.  Surely we can work together to make them?  Climb up and get that darn flag?”

“If you could make sure that these sticky pitons didn’t let go on us half way...” Ver looked dubious and Werfas said “I’m pretty big...”

Haraklez just said, “See if you can make them at all, and I’ll test them.  I’m in a cooling sweat and getting hungry.  Let’s do this. Hey, he said the four of us had to work as a team, he never said all four of us had to climb.  That means climbing gear for one of us and I'm the lightest.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

72 - 'You Made My Inamour Cry'

“Shion!” Kyrus senior's call cracked out, stopping his class mid sword-stroke. Ky, facing Haraklez, stepped back, let the sword vanish as she did and they nodded to each other.  Werfas and Verpiccaus stepped apart.  Sweat ran down Ky'ss face and back and he was trembling in every limb but everyone seemed to have a smile on their faces.  This was the good part of this weird training, that his father had learned and added to his own over the past ten years.

If my Da was a great champion then, he's downright scary now.

"Everyone.  Outside.  We're running to the white spire on the other side of the valley.  Quickly now." He ran them out of the school and down the valley to where it hit the tsingy, though nowhere near the road. The air was cool and damp, the sun bright in the pale sky.  It was a high water day and no one’s skin tightened or cracked in the outside without filters. He had everyone kneel at the base of the pale white spire of roce, smooth and sharp enough to cut the wind off the mountain. It was also taller than the school.

“Today you are going to attempt to climb this spike, freehand.”  He waved at the spire next to them.  “It looks impossible, but you see up there?”  He pointed to the top of the spire, that was perhaps a hand-span wide, where a long, trailing white banner blew out with a crackling sound from that point.  “I put it there myself, last night.”

Behind Kyrus senior, Zon Elemfias’s inamour, Oash, rounded the meadow on the road, and stopped to look up at them.  She set her basket on the stone and watched them.  Then she left the road to climb up toward them.  Ky closed his eyes. Oh, no.  Not again. People have been going out of their way to yell at Da pretty steadily, even since the Unity debates.

“Kyrus Talain,” she snapped, coming up behind him.  He rose to his feet and turned to face her.

“Yes, Nasera.” His voice was very calm.

“You might have calmed everyone else down, with your explanations and your apologies for your faking your own death but I’m still not finished saying my peace to your face, you know.  You made my inamour cry.  She grieved for you for years.”

Kyrus twitched a little but nodded.  “I understand that my fear-based decision hurt people...”

“Just shut up and listen!  It’s part of you paying for it!  You agreed!  It was not a decision that  I thought a grown man, a warrior and a champion of your ‘oh-so-honourable’ people would make!  You truly believed that your parents would rather you were dead than gone over to the Milari?  You figured that dead was better than with a partner the same sex you are?  You know... there are letters from Lainz to people here... word gets back... you DO know that your Immutable, Radiance, Queen-Bee, the-sun-shines-out-his-ass decendant of a stinking OWNER has now declared that men and men and women with women is no longer an exposable offence?  Hmmm?”  She poked a finger into his chest and all he did was rock back a bit. “Where was your courage?  Why didn’t you just up and spit them all in the eye?”

She stopped, hands on her hips, waiting for him to answer.  Ky just tried to be very unnoticeable though he could see Ver kind of grinning... even if he’d become a sort of friend since the avalanche he was still a bit of an ass when it came to Lainz/Milar differences.  Haraklez and Werfas were just listening.  He felt so embarrassed for his father.  But it had been a dumb decision.

“Naser Oash.”  He looked her straight in the eyes. “I was in a very low state.  My general had not only put me and my unit in a near suicidal position, he ransomed me back thinking that he could rape me as he wished since he thought I was dying.  He did not wish to take my no for an answer.”

Ky’s mouth dropped open, then shut with a click.  He’d only surmised the possibility from what his Da had said, but never thought he’d hear him say it so straight.  So like a Milar -- and to admit to being despondent?  Just... admit it?

Oash looked taken aback by that but before she could open her mouth, he continued.  “My best friend had just sacrificed his life to let me fake my death so I could be with Ilax and let everyone get over my ruined life, as I saw it.  I was badly injured and might never fight again. My life was destroyed, my reputation in ashes, my country would best be served – as I saw it... by my death.  My life was worth nothing to anyone and would only bring grief to my parents, shame to my country, and agony to me.  I was in that state for quite some time and it was only due to your zon on the mountain that I was convinced otherwise.” He shifted where he stood, his hands clenched hard behind his back, and continued.  “That still does not make it right.  I was a craven then and no reason will make it right, but for the pain I caused your wife, and others who were my friends... my once enemies... I am sorry.  I will do my best to hear you no matter how many times you feel the need to tell me.” His voice was steady, even though he'd gone an ashy colour.

Oash stood for a long moment after that.  “Kyrus... aw, shit on my ancestors...” she flung her arms right around him where he stood hard enough that he had to step back to catch both of them, his arms coming up around her. “I’m sorry.”—“I’m sorry.”—“I’m sorry.”  Both of them said over each other.   

Neither of them was weeping, for which Kyrus was profoundly grateful but they stayed knotted together longer than was comfortable... at least for him.  They seemed fine with it. It was good as well that Ver’s grin had fallen off his face and broken on the stone they were kneeling on.  He looked thoughtful rather than smirking, now.

She let go, finally, buffeted Kyrus senior on the shoulder.  “I’m interrupting your class.  Sorry.  We need to talk, ‘Fias, Stey and I and you.”

“I’ll come around to the school at your convenience then.”

She nodded firmly, spun on her heel and went back down to pick up her basket.

Kyrus turned to his students, still kneeling.  “As you can see, any warrior can find they are at the end of their strength and their wits.  At that point, even the best of friends or enemies cannot save you from yourself.  So.  This exercise we will do today is against your weakest part.”

Monday, July 23, 2012

71 - Shashi visits Mother

Mother sat outside her private cocoon, right on the edge of the open wall over the drop to the river, enjoying the view. Clouds were piling up behind the city, and since her windows faced south the white fingers of water vapour painted the edges of the blue sky on either side and gave the afternoon sunlight a rich greenish golden hue.

The water was high and everywhere in the city there was the sound of fountains. The Basin was full to the brim and plants cascade down the stone walls from every window. When the deep dry came there would be banners instead but for now it was living green.

The air was full of the scent of earth and the sweetness of flowers. The hives were empty and the plants were full of bees so the whole city buzzed with them. The dark green vines trailing down into the opening were full of pink flowers and the busily humming black and gold insects.

“It is the time of sweetness,” Mother said quietly to Shashi. “A good time for weddings and births.”

“Mariush might give birth early. It is her first,” Dukir’s daughter answered, just as quietly as she massaged Mother’s feet. The wind, promising another rainstorm, teased the women’s silks and face veils and strands of hair pulled loose from elaborate braids.

Mother had black and white spotted moa down feathers woven softly around her wrinkled old face, and her eyelids were painted shining silver, giving her the blank, ‘royal’ look when she closed her eyes to think, though no one but the Emperor would dare use gold.

“She and the baby are healthy.”

“The Emperor has her surrounded by his bees. She is as protected as if she were the Empress rather than a disgraced zardukar carrying a bastard.”

“Our Emperor is most generous to forgive her, her indiscretion.” Shashi’s voice was dry.

“It is interesting that she is as protected so well. Has the court noticed the bees?”

“Not really, because he is keeping her close, though pretending to disdain her. It is difficult to see his protections as separate from hers.”

Mother stretched. “That’s good, child. Thank you, enough. Have some tea yourself. How is your father doing?”

“His health is better,” Shashi smiled at Mother as she said this, both women knowing very well that Dukir’s supposed ‘ill health’, made it perfectly plausible for him to be away from the court for extended periods. “He wrote me about how his garden is doing.”

“I hope it is doing well.”

“Yes, indeed. He has a particularly promising young tree flourishing and he is going to spend some time cultivating it.”

“Indeed. A Raghnal, I presume.” Everyone cherished the water trees that could filter the dirtiest water and allow tapping.  It grew a sweet, hard-shelled nut as well.  It was a tough little tree that made do with little light, extending long, wild tendril roots over the cold, dark rock to reach the water.

“Yes, Mother.”

“Excellent. Is he still researching the family line?”

“Yes, Mother. He feels confident that he has found a long-lost scion of the household and hopes to bring that line to the world’s attention very soon.”

“Really? How very interesting. Thank you for telling me, my dear.” Both women knew very well that the household referred to was the Emperor’s.

“There is someone dabbling in untrained mandery and direct assassination, Mother. They have attacked my husband and the Emperor both.”

“Oh? Not that someone attacking your husband troubles me greatly, sweetheart…” Shashi grimaced and shrugged it off. Mother didn’t have to tell her how childish her husband was, very needy for a grown man. “And Mariush cannot trace it down because all her strength must go to the child.” She sighed and tapped her jewelled nail against her teacup.

“No, Mother, I first thought it could be my brother-in-law, but I can discern no signs of it.”

She rose and brought a platter of candied purple blossoms to set between them. “Shashi,” Mother said, floating a sweetly sinking flower in her tea, “You need to write your father and let him know about all of this, if you already haven’t. I will release two of my graduates to be your husband and his brother’s zardukar and we will have more eyes and ears in your household.”

“I have and will write him, Mother.” She smiled faintly. “The men will both be tremendously flattered to be chosen for the honour of having new zardukar. Have the new children settled in well?”

“I’m sure.” Mother said dryly, watching the purple flower dissolve its colour into her tea. “I am also thinking of you, my dear. I know it isn’t easy and you should have a sister in the house,” she didn’t respond to the question.

"Mother,” Shashi gave her the minor salaam. “I love you.”

“I love you too, dear.”

Friday, July 20, 2012

70 - The Wedding Planners

“… All right. We can’t have my father ride up on his horse or yours on a bird. They’d either just try to kill each other or the bird would try to eat the horse,” Haraklez said.

“Not our dads…” Kyrus said absently only half hearing her, chewing on his pen. The marriage vows from Lainz were just going to have to be re-written entirely, given that there were only one male set of vows that would be silly if spoken twice. The man to the woman specified a woman’s body parts rather than a man’s. “Maybe they can just say the men’s vows simultaneously. Yeah.”

“No, silly, the riding animals!”

“Um… they can walk up to the Ancestor stones?”

“That works.” She made a note.

The two sat outside the house on a blanket thrown onto the grass, facing one another, legs outstretched. Most of the mud and muck had been cleared away and the flattened houses. Fortunately few people had died in the slide. Kyrus the Elder was at the school speaking to the Zon there about teaching. They’d asked him. Ilax was at the Unity offices working.

Up the hill they could hear the chanting as people worked to clear the last of the mud and rubble from higher up the slope where it still threatened the town, and higher still, if they walked around the house they would have seen the baffles being re-built stronger, thicker.

“It’s going to be more crowded with your dad living in the house rather than up on the mountain,” Haraklez said.

“Yeah. That cave is almost entirely plugged up with mud and it will be a while for it to be cleaned out. Probably one of the last things on the list.”

“The slide scoured away a lot of secrets.”

“Yeah. What are we going to do with the wedding cup problem?” He asked, going down to the next thing in his notes.

In Lainz the glass wedding goblet that the couple drank out of for the first time as a couple was sacred and carefully kept as a symbol of the enduring bond of the marriage, while in Milar they smashed it, to show that they chose to end their single, separate lives.

She leaned back on her elbows, putting her own notebook down. “You know you’re avoiding the really big problem, solving all these little ones.”

Ky put his own notebook down and clutched his hair with both hands. “It’s not like the problems I had showering or bathing communally!  Him having to get up there and strip naked?”

“How is that different from the Enlightened or EnDarkened Priest unveiling them to each other?”

“It’s behind a screen and it’s just to each other! Not in front of anyone who happened to be in town that day and came to the party! Or the whole country if they decide to come because it’s Ilax!”

“It’s not going to be the whole country. And it will only be most of Viltaria… and your grandparents, if they come from Lainz at all.”

“Wonderful. Naser Aetavvar and Nasera Samennaz. Neither of them like me. They aren’t going to be thrilled with their son marrying my father.” He threw his hands over his mouth 

“What am I saying? This is just so crazy. This is madness. At home they’d expose both of them!  Well, they would have.”

“Good thing they aren’t in Lainz then, hmmm?”

Kyrus actually ripped at his hair a little until she reached over and caught his hand. “You stop that. It’s normal here. People fall in love no matter what sex they are and they aren’t treated like bird poop. Look. What if we get both of them to be face-veiled, and then our Eldest can act as priest and remove the veils while they’re facing each other. Then they can take off the fancy clothes, take each other’s hands, walk the circle and step into the fountain together. They can pour water over each other’s heads just like the last part of the Lainz ceremony.”

He stopped yanking on his own hair and put his one hand over hers. “Haraklez… will this marriage make us siblings?” Part of him… part of him really, really didn’t want her as his sister.

“Oh. Well. Yes.”

“Oh shit.” He took her hand down from his head and looked at it.

She stared at him... then smacked him. “What do you mean, ‘oh shit?’ Don’t you want me as a relative?”

He could feel himself blushing all the way to the roots of his hair, as if the skin of his face were on fire. “Um… well… not that kind of relative… I… um…” He put his one hand over hers. “But… I’ve not… I’m not… um…” She smiled though he couldn’t see it, since he was studying their joined hands so intently.

She hitched forward where she sat, so their thighs, parallel though pointing opposite directions, so she was face to face with him, touched. “You Lainz are so sweet, sometimes, but so slow!” Haraklez leaned forward and as he looked up, startled, kissed him.

Her lips were soft and warm and sweet and he found himself leaning in to her. He made himself pull away. Her lips were perfect compared to some of the wrinkled older men he’d sexed and he didn’t have to touch himself to spring up, excited. “I… um… I know how to please men better than young women! And your father is going to kill me if I corrupt his oldest—“

“—Shut up, Lainz. I think I want to find out just how corrupt I can get you to be.”

“—But… if you’re my sister…” he let go her hand, leaned all the way back onto his elbows, his body fighting him, to move closer to her, heart hammering. “This… would be… wrong…” He clenched his eyes shut tight, struggling to seize control of himself. If she’s my sister… this would be very, very wrong.

She grabbed him by the shirt collar, both sides just under the chin, his green eyes popping open to stare into her gray eyes, so like her father’s, pale as her barely tanned skin. “That’s not how it works with heart’s marriages instead of marriages for children. You’d be my heart’s brother and I your heart’s sister, but if we try and decided we wanted to more than just roll in the grass, we could. Not illegal, not immoral, got it?”

He stared into her eyes and began to smile, slowly. His grin broadened whitely as she stared at him nose to nose and she began to blush, finally, so beautifully pink. “I suppose that we should try the kissing again and see if we want to roll in the grass… though maybe not in the middle of town next to your father’s house where all the world can see?”


Even before the door closed behind them, Ky’s good sense had come back. “Wait, I shouldn’t have… I mean… what if I get you pregnant… I can’t support a wife, I’ve just begun earning my name I mean… I’ve got my dad but… but… but..”

“Oh for my great-great-great left-handed grandmother’s sake!” Haraklez didn’t stop pulling him into her room by the wrist. “Look, Lainz… Our health ‘cliners have basically blocked us kids when we go through our fertility ceremony… We get ‘unblocked’ when we get married… and then blocked again after we have our kids… I don’t want to get into the politics that goes on in every community, every generation… when people figure out how many kids we need… It’s just polite…”

“What? Blocked? What are you talking about? You mean you can’t get pregnant? What about… ummm… disease?”

“You don’t get checked before?” She raised her eyebrows. 

“You mean you were doing all the sleeping with old men to pay your way here and didn’t get your health checked after?” He sank down on her bed, as if her words had jabbed him in the gut.

“How? How can you just spit out such things without even blushing, naked faced?” He could feel his own face on fire. She sat down next to him on her bed.

“Hmm,” she said thoughtfully. “I don’t see it as shameful or embarrassing. And when I think about it, when you started at the school did someone give you a health check?”

“Un-huh.” He was still embarrassed by remembering it. Probably because he had expected it to be more invasive, given the reputation Milar healers had. “It was Zon Witten.”

“Then you’re all right. He wouldn’t let you keep any pet illnesses of any kind to take into the school. And you should ask if he ‘blocked’ you… um--blocked your ability to engender children… probably not without asking you, especially since you’re so allergic to mandery or clinery… but it’s seen as polite to control your semen you know.”

“Errr…. I suppose. At home we just control the whole person, I guess.”

“Or try. That kind of explains a lot.” He found himself staring at her lips. He really, really wanted to kiss them again.

“I like women better than men.”

She grinned. “I understand. So… do you want to test out how sturdy my bed is?”

“I … I’m not sure how to, with a girl. I… might be terribly jealous of other boys who taught you stuff…”

Haraklez put her hand softly against his lightly fuzzed cheek, trailed her fingers down to the edge of his collar and over and up to his bottom lip. “I would love to show you,” she said, smiling. A real smile, not just a grin. Serious. Then she kissed him again, teased his mouth open with her tongue.

Oh, good. Kissing I’m good at.

He kissed back, running his tongue just behind her teeth, tasting her tongue with his as she threw her arms around him and he pulled her close against him. He was aware of her breasts pressed against him, as if they were warmer than the rest of her, even through her shirt.

He daringly slid one hand down her back, hesitating as he got to the waistband of her trousers. She smiled against his mouth and took a deep breath. “You may,” she said teasingly as if he were hesitating to raid a sweets jar. His hand slid down, slowly, to cup the big muscle there, and she wiggled and said, ‘oh, that’s nice.’ His other hand found her other hip then her buttock and he could feel… he hadn’t thought he’d gotten that much bigger this last year but her bottom fit so sweetly in his hands and he couldn’t think, couldn’t think, couldn’t stop.

Haraklez’s hands tugged his shirt up, and he was forced to break off their kiss as the cloth rode up between them and over his head, mussing his hair, leaving him reddened, breathless and bare-chested. “Oh, Zon,” he teased. “I’m going to love these lessons.”

“I like the way your smile is so bright. You don’t smile enough, Ky.”

“I’ll learn. Life’s been getting a lot—” she cut him off again, kissing his neck, just at the soft spot at his throat. “Oh, yessss!” He threw his head back and they somehow ended up tangled together, fallen back against her pillows.

“You have too many clothes on, Hara.”

“Yes. That should be fixed, don’t you think?”