Hara lay on the bed with her arms crossed over her head, Tizzy snuggled
against her neck, while Ky paced. It was
a tiny room so he had three steps next to the bed, a turn and another three
“Kyrus Talain,” she said finally after he brushed the bed a half a
hundred times. “Your da... He didn’t hit
you when you said those awful things to him, so why would he hit you now? He’s
a warrior and outside of war they tend to be kind of allergic to hitting people
or other creatures.”
“Maybe he should hit me, I mean he was right to yell at me for not
listening. I’m so not used to having a
da with authority over me, other than stepda but I don’t get angry at him the
same way. Why why why do I get so raging
hot mad at my real da?”
“Probably because you’re very justifiably angry at him for abandoning
you when you were a child.” She took her
arms down and propped herself up on her elbows.
Tizzy rolled into the spot behind her and uncoiled, yawning. “That doesn’t mean you should be nasty or
rude to him about other things. This
talk you have should clear that up.”
He stood with his back to the door of the tiny cubicle they’d gotten,
probably because they’d take up less space with the two of them in the one
little bed. “I really said some
unforgivable things, Hara. He has every
right to beat me black and blue for mouthin’ him in front of everybody.”
“You sound as if you’d almost be glad if he did beat you.”
“I deserve it.”
“I’ll bet you a back-rub that he doesn’t.”
“I’ll see you when you’re finished talking. It’s not like we have anywhere to go. This storm has to stop soon.”
Ky shrugged and got up so he could open the door. “I... thanks Hara.”
Da had asked to meet him in the reservoir, though a couple of kulu were
walking the pump and didn’t wave, concentrating on their work. Da looked pretty grim, what Ky could
see. “Come along, son. We should check on our birds and see how the
seep is flowing on the way by.” There
was no other place that had even a chance of privacy.
He doesn’t need a lot of room to
smack me around.
The village had actually transformed the temporary bridge into a
permanent one over the past few days, with stocks they’d had before, and stone
pulled out of the rubble piles where excavating materials had been stored. It wasn’t terrifying to sway out over the
reservoir any longer and you could check the filters all the way up.
Ky focussed on his father’s heels as he walked behind him, the water
rushing under the bridge and then to the brand new steps where the seep had
blown him out. Apparently there was
enough of the nasty puddle oozing out that the freshwater fizzed down the rock
still. I won’t think about what I said.
He did abandon us. He even said so when I yelled at him.
It was still a bit of a scramble through the water-route and up to where
the birds were still trapped in the hide.
It was dark enough that they didn’t need to be hooded and he and Da
scooped water into the trough that someone had made in the sand in front of
their beaks. I guess the storm makes everyone groggy.
After the hissing and beak clashing they did, the birds settled down
into their half-stupor, the way they would have tried to weather the storm if
they’d been stuck outside, head under protective wing, feathers fluffed to the
fullest, with only the tips of their beaks showing, settled down on their
leather and horn covered feet.
Da sat down, knelt down really, hands on his thighs. “Sit down.” Ky
nodded and faced him. His chest was in a
Kyrus threw up his hand, stopping his son before he could speak. “Yah klunk.
Fer whatfor yeh thinkit tah smear me?
Fear me? I’dda smacked yeh.” He
sighed and shifted to his normal way. “I
understand that you were angry with me, for yelling at you. I trust that you also understand that anger
from an old injury is a bad fuel for a present argument.”
“Da... I... you said... I had a point.”
“For an old argument, yes. One
that I am currently trying to make good on.
It was a distraction tactic that we cannot afford. You were trying to deflect my justified anger
at your disobedience by hurling deadly insult at me. If I’d reacted then and hit you, you would
have felt both deservingly punished, and justified in your anger, and where
exactly would that put us?”
“Um... I don’t know, da.”
“At odds with one another. I
understand it. I’m supposed to be the
tempery old guy and you’re supposed to push me till I smack you. I’m not playing that game.” He rubbed one
finger up under his veil, thoughtfully. “I
really, truly was so angry I could have.
But that’s the kind of thing that bad fathers and bad generals do. They let themselves be goaded and distracted
“Yeh mean... sider sliders? Squeak out mudge ‘n slip on by?”
“Exactly. If you can get someone
angry enough they might forget the core of what started the disagreement in the
Part of me is ticked wicked, da
yer being too dang reasonable. But he’d seen enough weasely fellows insert a word
or two into a tense situation to blow it into a full-on fight and then slide
right through the chaos they caused without a scratch, or without raising their
own hands or knives to fight. Weasels. Human oyuks and pitters lying in wait. “I... guess I see.”
“As I said to all those Milar... and as I’m going to say to all of
Lainz... I did not do them right. I did
wrong for a number of reasons. I can
only try and fix that wrong now, since I cannot go back in time.” He leaned forward and put a single sharp
finger into Ky’s chest. “I will thank
you, son, for not shiving me in the
back in front of other people in the future.
You can choose your actions there.” Ky didn’t move though that finger
was a point of pain on his breast bone, frozen in his father’s stare. “I don’t CARE if you are still angry with
me. Yell at me all you like. IN PRIVATE.
We will deal with it. IN PRIVATE.”
“S...sorry, da.” For a long moment Ky and Ky were nose to nose, veil to
veil. Then da leaned back on his heels,
looking very tired. “Sorry.”
For a few moments they just knelt across from each other, Ky looking at
their knees and the darkness between them in the dim hide. The birds hissed and whistled in their sleep
slightly. “Da. I think I’dda preferred if yeh’d clouted me
inta last week.”
That got a snort out of his father.
“Yeh. It would have just been
easier to hit and settle nicely into that prickly ‘father/son’ struggle we
Lainz set up. My da and I have... had...
that. It still grieves me.”
Another long silence with the storm pounding at the roof over their
heads, howling as strongly as it had days ago.
A handful of cracks and booms made it impossible for either one to say
anything to each other. Then it subsided
to the electrical crackle that cut through the hiss of sand, turning it all
into one steady keen.
“Da... we’re heading into Lainz in a way that we’ve gotta be on the same
side, don’t we?”
“Yes, son. If we’re not together
then we’re in trouble.” He sighed. “I’m
not sure I’m the best candidate for this.
I’m still struggling with them calling me Brilliance. The generals I might handle but the Hive Lords?”
“Da... jes talk to them this way, wit’out the Basin slang and they’ll be
running in circles biting theyselves like a salt-poured peacock snake!”
“You mean confused and thinking?
We can hope.”
“Da... Father... I’m so sorry I said those things to you. I mean I’m still mad but... I don’t know how
to make it better.”
Kyrus’s veil twitched. “Like
this,” he said and caught Ky’s hand in his and dragged him into his arms. “I don’t care yer a fashin’ klunk and too big
for this. I’ve a lotta lotta kid noggin
to catch up on!”
Ky resisted at first but then burrowed his forehead into his father’s
shoulder. “I’m too big for this!”
“Na. I won’t tell anyone... even
yer war-momma bed chick my stepdaughter.”
“Amir.” Kyrus the elder’s voice was quiet, over the plish plish of the
water being pumped up and the steady creak of the water wheel. “Would you be so kind as to check and see
that we are private here?”
“Ahv course, Brilliance. Not a
The storm still raged outside and the skins of the sala’r lizards was
dim and some were starting to stink as they rotted instead of drying. Dukir could barely see Kyrus, walking in the
wheel, by himself. It was very unlikely
that anyone lurked in the water cavern but he did the check thoroughly, nonetheless. The air was full of dust almost this deep in
the cavern, driven by the relentless wind.
“You called me to speak with me, Brilliance?” His salute was somewhat less than razor
perfect, but Kyrus didn’t seem to notice, or chose not to.
“Why don’t you set aside your scabbard, Amir and join me? I’d like to talk and I thought this would be
the most private place, once I chased the boys out for a rest.”
Privacy. Well, He’s unorthodox in his choices but...
it makes a certain sense. Most Hive Lords wouldn’t think of stooping to pumping
water while pumping for information. “Of course, Brilliance.” As a bonus there is just enough noise with
the wooden wheel squeaking occasionally, the water rushing through the filters
and so forth that anyone who might have gotten some kind of bug to function
here will hear more noise than words. He waited for the iron spar to pass
and stepped into the wheel beside Kyrus. Tramp
tramp thud tramp creak
The wheel lagged a bit, before his step matched Kyrus’s, and sped up
again. At this rate the old reservoir
would be a puddle before they left, the bulk of the water filtered clean.
draped his forearms companionably over the support bar next to Kyrus and they
plodded on to infinity for a while together, in silence. Creak
creak creak. Maybe someday I’ll tell you about the stint I did as an irrigator’s
apprentice. We hauled water with every
part of our bodies it felt like. Some
days when the windblown salt was bad you’d feel like you were hauling buckets
with your eyelids and sucking air through a warbird’s cloaca. This is easy.
Without turning his head, Kyrus began speaking to the slats in front of
them both. “Perhaps the Amir might, in
the future, enlighten me when the policy of ‘travelling fast and in secret’ is
about to change suddenly?” creak tramp
“Oh, ay, Naser.” Snide, boy.
“Good. Because it was somewhat
startling to me, when confronted with an angry Lainz basin-man with a major
reservoir pollution issue, holding my son responsible to boot, to be thrust
into the roll of Siwion.” He sighed
but it was only a pause. “Amir...it is
as obvious to me as the beak on my bird’s face, that the most honourable is
hardly an amir.” He didn’t pause and Dukir didn’t interrupt. “I don’t care right now. I am quite allergic to being tested however
much I understand the reasoning behind it.
Silly me. I thought His Radiance
would be the one testing me.” This time
he did pause, and glance sideways. Dukir
just shrugged and they kept walking.
Although Dukir fully expected Kyrus to continue, the only thing that
filled the cavern was a lot of nothing. I’m not giving up information that
easily. I can wait all day for a
straight question. Or a twisty one. They
trudged on, creaking and splashing. Creak
creak splash tramp thump creak
“I’m assuming that you either somehow achieved approval from His
Radiance, or had it before you ever came into Milar,” Kyrus said finally. Not
bad, not quite right but not bad.
“I had my ‘provals, Naser,” Dukir said, blandly. Splash thump creak creak
“I see.” More walking
silence. Dukir glanced over this time.
“Your Brilliance handled it well, should I dare tah comment. ‘n news of
your existence has been linned all over the endarkened, farkin’ Empire, pardon
my language, Naser.”
“Hmm. Should you dare to
comment? Hmmm? I have the idea that who you say what to is
an enormous part of your training, Amir. Not that I’m speculating here... but it seems
that anyone shiney needs to have people commenting on one’s behaviour with
intelligence and... discernment... shall I say.”
“’s a good idea, Naser.” Tramp tramp
“Should I perhaps be addressing you
as Naser? Should I ever meet you on
your high bird, one day?”
You really want to ask that? Children.
“Oh, never, Brilliance! No one is higher saddled than you, right now
and fixin’ to go higher still. After
all, even the moon isn’t higher or brighter than the Radiance o’ the Sun now
isn’t it?” tramp thump tramp
“Hmmm.” The inarticulate grunt
was the only answer Kyrus gave as they marched on in water-raising
silence again. Think hard, boy, how are you going to ferret this out? How are you going to finish this? This kind of mental gyration is what kept
him in the field, though to be honest he was getting tired. Creak tramp creak thump
“Amir. You’ve obviously brought
along enough officers so that the fewest of our Asses have gotten killed over
the years. His Radiance surely needs the
equivalent. Now I’m not saying that you are the man who kicks the Emperor in the
butthole when he needs it, but I can
certainly see that I’m going to need someone who is prepared to thump my skull
a few times should I need it.” He was
watching him out of the side of his gaze as they marched. “Without naming damning names or stupid,
hindering titles, I’m going to hope that you and I will be able to work
together once we arrive at the city.” A
short pause as he swigged a draught of water out of his belt flask. “With his Radiance’s oversight and approval,
of course.” Creak creak creak
Ream me fakin sideways, how in
the enlightened hells did he figure it out? I must be slipping. Scrape me raw
and stake me out, you mandering owner-minded pup! You went straight in with the stinger just
like your Granda.
“With his Radiance’s approval. He’s
dying, you know.”
“I know.” Creak creak tramp
tramp “I’m surprised anyone is still
trying to kill him. All they have to do
is wait before trying to invade the Hive and become Queen Bee. But no one alive remembers how that is done, precisely,
except the Emperor. The Emperor must be
the Queen and only he knows how that happens.
I hope he doesn’t die before we get there, however callous that
sounds. It’s not just a matter of claiming
the throne. The Hive has to agree.”
Endarken me you’re so much like
your Granda you make my anus pucker up tight sometimes. That’s the one thing that no one has said
anything about... the one thing that no one dares say a word about. Except you.
I don’t know who I am any
longer.Once I was the honourable
warrior.My honour, my uprightness, my
squeaky clean reputation only drew the attention of an old bush dragon who
slavered to gorge himself on me, ruin me for his appetites.
It was enough to be crushed under
the talons of a retreat, left in the snow, Nivika with me, our blood pouring
out and turning the snow into red slush under us.The cold saved us.Who would have thought that in the tsingy we
would find more snow and cold than any Lainz or Trovian had ever dreamed
of?Deep enough to kill you, even if you
weren’t flayed apart by armoured warbird claws of our own?D’molfe had charge of us.He ran me down.
Then Ilax.I was supposed to hate him but he was as
squeaky clean mander warrior as Milar could get.Brilliant and we’d fought across his country,
his razor sharp mountains with soft terran pockets.The old ones... Nivi knowing he was dying,
the Unity baying for proof of my execution... They were more blood-thirsty than
they accused us of being.
Grieving him as he took my armour
and my place.Ilax actually sat with me
the night after as I howled my grieving and my rage at d’Molf for killing him
in his attack on me.All because I would
not sleep with him, lie down for him, kneel for him.Why couldn’t I have just humbled myself, let
him spend his watery seed into my body and forgotten it?How many wives and zardukar are
joined to one they dislike?How
different would that have been?
I was a stiff-necked idiot with
strange ideas about what sex meant.It
meant nothing but control to the general.It meant surrender and destruction for me.Destruction.I wanted to die and even though I was so gravely injured the great fall
would not come for me.Like the myth of
the doctor treating the First Owner, who flung himself from so great a height
that he burned in the air like a falling star; the glittering ice melting and burning in, every day.
Now I have a son and a
deovar.Ilax.Milar have such loose ideas about sex.Really. But I’m comfortable enough to marry
the man. At least now I am.I’ve not
been happier.It’s like I’ve found my
wholeness, able to dispense with secrets. Then these Hive Birds show up just as
I’ve found out the harm one of my secrets did.My boy.My Dag and my boy
alone.I never thought in an eon that my
cursed father would fling her off without recourse. I still miss Water’s
Hope.Mama... she and grandmother have
been the quiet, gentle backbone of our family.I miss them more than the place.I want to see Dag again.I was
such a coward, running from her.I owe
her.I owe her more than a mere apology,
more than reparations.
Champion my endarkened, shamed
ass.My son is more honourable than
I.He’d make a better Kraghanz than I
would but I know the slime he’d be heading into, at least the edges of it.His running with Basin rats will stand him in
better stead than he knows.
His Radiance just cannot
understand what he is getting with the two of us.A shattered and splinted, splintered champion and his rodent
son.We cannot be the hope of the
Empire, my son and I.
Ilax and I... we are
married.Neither of us can abandon our
homes, though I do not want to go back.This whole journey is torture for me because I am walking back into my
destruction lead by the Amir.
Who is close enough to his
Radiance to have fought with him, I am certain.The young Emir-al is doing well enough with the Amir to wipe his nose
and rear for him but it is the Amir who knows what is going on.
Well, everyone knows what is
going on now.Everyone is speaking to
everyone else an secrets are falling out of the capped hives where they were
stored in wax as if someone had taken a hive knife and cut them free.This Amir is almost laughing at the amount of
information being linned around.
The Amir, who handed me the title
‘Brilliance’ in front of someone else, threw me into deep desert to survive or not, trotted me out like a prize stud bird or
a rare horse to dung the fields for the fecbees. I need to talk to him in private, while this storm rages, find out exactly how
close his Radiance and he are.I
am starting to realize that my life... and the life of my son and Dag may
depend on it.
It was another late night but this time it was Mariush who sat awake,
with the baby nursing. Homa, though too
young to realize how close she’d come to having her so-short life snuffed out,
was clinging and fussy as though to insist that her mother hold her, care for
her, protect her.
Mariush was about to scream with exhaustion but she could barely let the
baby out of her sight, so they kept each other awake in mutual fear and love,
both needing and wanting one another and neither willing to let sleep
intervene. The great bed was filled with
snuffling noises of an urgently nursing baby and Diryish’s snores. Mariush rocked in place with her eyes closed
as if she could sleep while upright, broke Homa’s suction and shifted her to
the other side before she could do more than mew the beginning of a complaint.
Then she let herself lean back against the cushions, after patting them
down for dust. She was terrified of any
dust or dirt that could harbour mico-assassins and was too disorganized in her
sleep deprived thinking to frob more than the most basic of protections, her
ants diligently patrolling the floors and walls of the bedroom, as the drones
kept the upper walls, curtains and ceilings safe.
With a snort and a cough Diryish’s snores stopped. Her eyes popped open, afraid of what she’d
see, to find his open as well, watching her nurse the baby. He smiled and she burst into tears.
He eased himself up higher on his pillows, with some effort and opened
his arms to them both. “Shhh, shhh
Mariush, Mai mai maiush... shhhh.
Beautiful, strong woman, shhhh. You’ll wake our daughter.”
Homa had only suckled a moment or two before sliding into sleep the way
babies do, and Mariush pulled an enormous, quivering breath and then a second
to control her sobs before she scooted over on the krashnall silk and laid her
head on his shoulder. He adjusted the
pillows to cradle her there and then settled with a sigh. It was so hard to do the simplest things. He was so tired. The bees buzzed down and those that didn’t
check the people settled to touch feelers with the ants on the perimeter of the
“It’s all right little sisters.
You can help me, or Mariush but don’t wake the baby, hmmm?” The droning buzz rose and fell as if in
answer to his words.
“Diryish... since... since you’ve said Homa’s your siwion... one of your
siwion... you’ve never said she was yours but...”
“I realize that you lied to me, Mai.
I’ve seen a few pregnancies in my life and I realized about the same
time you did.” He raised his hand and
drew the tears from her eyelashes with one finger, gently. “You and your Emir-al did a wonderful job of
confusing things for this court and I’m glad you did. We’ve found one assassin and gotten rid of
him.” Lorchan had gone to his exposure in stony silence. He’d fought to stay awake and hang on, for
three days before the sun shone through the bars of the empty traitor’s cage.
“But not all of them. Why do they
all want to be Emperor? Don’t they know
how hard you work?”
“No, Mai. They think I sit at my
ease up here, being waited on hand and foot, with every delicacy and every zardukar at my beck and call. That’s why all of the nasty stories being
linned around that my decaying tastes have made me include boys in the ranks of
zardukar and make the sexing of one’s
own sex no longer tapu. They believe I
am up here, bloated with water and food and sex. Like they wish to be.”
She laid her forehead against his bony old shoulder and he sighed. “I’m sorry my dear could you shift? Thank you.
My bones hurt me all the time now.”
“Sorry. Diryish... since you’ve
been in bed, Shashi has been overseeing the terrace rebuilding and a dozen
“Good. I realize you cannot go
down to the offices, as long as I insist on keeping you here in the safest room
in the Loggia. But I cannot get up yet
and you are not going anywhere where someone might seed you with more killer
He ran his hand over her hair thoughfully. “I’m starting to regret introducing this LIN
rather than a press. A press is just so
much more controllable. But the
information is out and in free fall, we’ll have to see where it all lands.” He
chuckled slightly. “I begin to see what
the First Owners thought when they first came.”
She raised her head to look at him.
“First Owners? Like what that neo-zardukar is linning about? Mother is sending someone to the Endarkened
to inquire about her and her training, now that they’ve de-bugged her
enough. She’s obviously stumbled on some
long lost data.”
“Hmmm. Yes. She’s actually the mother of my grandson...
did you know that? Shashi told me just
the other day.”
“Really? But... but... oh. She was a failure? Went to just sex work?”
“Say rather that someone hacked her work as a zardukar and tried to burn her out or kill her.”Mariush said nothing, her mouth pursed thoughfully.
I’m glad she found herself in the mess then.”
“So am I.”
“First Owners?” Mariush went back to that. “What exactly did they think?”
“That they should be the only ones with knowledge. They brought their builders with them... who
had to know enough to run the programs... but once the planet was livable
people who wanted to live here had to stop teaching their children, stop
communicating with one another except face to face... in short, to give up the
very abilities that let them start to re-make this world into a new home.”
“That... seems wrong.” She wiped her own face and dropped the
handkerchief over the side of the bed where it was carried away by her
ants. “Certainly not what you are doing.”
“No. Its the first reason we are
out here... as free Lainz and not under the Prime’s total control.”
“Do any of the Hive Lords know this, Diryish?”
“I’ve mentioned enough that they could have asked me. But they seem to think that warbirds and loot
are the sweetest honey.”
She sighed and closed her eyes as he rested his head against the top of
her head. The baby smacked her lips in
her sleep, on her mother, with Diryish’s hand on her bottom to keep her from
sliding down between them. “It seems...”
she yawned. “Very short sighted.”
“It is. Rest, my dear. For tonight, we are defended well enough. Sleep.”
Though she fell asleep almost immediately, he lay contemplating the warm
darkness behind his own closed eyes for a very long time.