The rain poured down outside but here below, in the Mahid quarters under all the great, piled up mountain of stone that was the Marble Palace, it was impossible to tell.
The stream of kaf from the spout into the white cup, hiding delicate translucency, was enough to concentrate one’s proper attention on.
“Sera… Fenjitza…” Inensa said quietly and paused, unsure how to proceed.
“Narilla, please. May I address you by your first name as well?”
“Of course, Fen… Narilla.” She felt very incorrect addressing the highest priestess as if they were co-learners, or part of the same puppy pack. I am lightheaded without the weight of ‘you must’ pressing me down into my proper shape. This child… this butterfly inside me… is raising as many odd images in my head as my son did, in his turn. “When I requested to speak to a priest or… priestess… I did not anticipate that you and I would even meet, much less speak. I thought I should be sent… a lesser being.”
I am speaking so much… I am no longer being spoken for, by the men, by my father… by my female Seniors… I am afraid my tongue shall weaken, wearing out like overstressed metal, and snap off mid-word.
As Narilla’s lips curved in a smile under the still, silver mask, Inensa offered the two cups to her guest for her choice, and apologized as she only sipped hers before setting it aside to pour a grassy, healthy, mildly disgusting infusion from her father, for herself.
Narilla shook her head. “Not at all. I thought it would be nice to speak to you, since you are the Spark of the Sun’s Ray Elect’s mother. And most women I speak to, don’t have the luxury of being able to offer two cups for politeness’ sake.”
“And it would be unlikely in the extreme that even a madly breeding Mahid would attempt to poison the most honoured Fenjitza.” Is it allowed? I think so. Inensa let herself smile, a thin curl of lip.
Very little had changed, in her room in the Mahid quarters. A narrow bed with a gray silk coverlet. A bare floor with no rugs or carpets or mats of any kind. A bureau that was mostly clear, but on top lay a stone, a feather. More than one feather now. An open box showing the space for a mother stone to rest overnight, against black velvet. In the centre of the bed was another difference. A single unnecessary cushion lay there, a deep, intense blue/green. It was one fleck of colour echoing some of the feathers as if they were fingernail sized splashes of colour flung from the cushion somehow.
The other change was the over-stacked bookshelf, the pile of books on the night table and the table where they sat. The books were moved over, carefully out of the way of the tray and cups and plates and kaf pot.
“Of course.” The Fenjitza smiled back. “I have a wonderful group of dekinases and priestesses, so I may minister to certain people. Those close to the Crystal Throne are not relegated to ‘lesser beings’, though I do understand. A lot of women find it difficult to think of themselves as important in any way. I have years of experience in countering that kind of thinking. And ‘madly’ breeding? How so?”
Inensa sipped her herb concoction. “I… tend to wild emotional surges when carrying a child. It feels like madness.”
“Yes. You are not alone in those feelings. Quite a few women feel things more intensely during this time.”
Inensa sat back and tucked her gloves behind the fall of cloth that was an Arkan maternity dress. Most Aitza, and Mahid, would simply have stayed indoors, in their own quarters for the thirty-five eight days of pregnancy, rather than don the hoop-collar dresses that were reminiscent of the Hyerne veil, at least from the shoulders down. Hers was the traditional blue with cream lace trim and she felt uncomfortable in the bright colour. “Truly? I believed it a failing in myself.”
“No no. When your body shifts itself into a cup to hold the child, other things change and shift as well. Women tend to stretch in mind to prepare to stretch in other ways, to put it genteelly.”
Inensa pressed her lips together. “I might no longer be the perfect Mahid of the previous generation, but some things are just not spoken of.”
Narilla merely sipped her kaf, apparently neither offended or upset. “Of course. Might I ask who you hope to have with you when the time comes?”
Silence fell in the tiny room, and through the fractionally open door came the muffled trit-trot of house donkey. Inensa rose and paced, the blue overdress rippling. She turned and the hooped collar extending out past her shoulder clipped the edge of one of the books on the shelf and it fell. Inensa lunged to catch the book and the overdress ripped as she extended her hands to save the whole stack of books from plummeting to the stone floor.
She froze and then gently made sure that nothing would shift when she took her hands away. She let go, stepped back one careful, measured pace and with absolutely careful violence tore the over dress off, snapping the rigid hoop and ripped it straight forward rather than try and pull it over her hair. Inensa dropped the ruins of it, panting then froze and raised her eyes to where Narilla sat, calmly watching.
Inensa stepped over the blue-puddled wreckage, settled back into her chair as if nothing had happened, folded her hands over her middle. “I didn’t like that object,” she said, still somewhat breathlessly. “I’ve been knocking into things all day.”
Narilla nodded. “There is no reason to wear it… the blue doesn’t really change the sex of the baby, or all Arko would be birthing boys…” she set her cup down. “Mothers truly need to be comfortable and the traditional dress… well…” she gestured with one finger at the snug fitting blue dress that covered Inensa still, from neck to ankle, the knitted silk so closely fitted it delineating every muscle of her torso, her women’s beads falling in a ‘v’ over her hips, outlining her abdomen. “That is the part of the dress most women find very comfortable.”
Inensa turned away from the remnants on the floor. “I… yes. It is most comfortable. And I am not feeling clumsy and horribly awkward, knocking most of the world to the floor. Are you… as the Fenjitza… advising Arkan women not to wear the breeding shield?”
Narilla poured herself another cup and refilled Inensa’s tea-cup from the infusion pot. “I am.”
“Then, perhaps, we might be compatible to speak before the birth… and if we are -- friends -- ” How odd, to think of having a friend. “-- during that time?”
“I believe so. There are a number of dances sacred to Selina… that a birthing mother was encouraged to cultivate once.”
Inensa allowed herself another small smile. “You sound like my son. ‘…Arko used to do this… we stopped… we should start again…” She held out a plate of tiny feather-cakes for Narilla. “I will consider how best to learn these dances to the Lady of Silver.”