“You didn’t say he’d lose one of his legs!”
Tirchaer sniffed at Ili, holding onto the jar where Sofi lurked, cycling through brown and black and white and dark red, Jia on her shoulder, matching Sofi’s colours, as she stepped out of the carriage from the Winter Palace. “I gave you the book and the essays about domoctopus breeding! I thought you’d read that!”
“Ooooh, you know I’m not that bookish! You could have just told me!”
“I thought you were intelligent enough to do the research yourself, Ilesias, and yes I know you’re upset, I’ve only just arrived and you’ve exclaimed about his missing leg four times already! It will grow back just as good as new!”
“Why didn’t you say that first?” Ili reached for Jia, who cheeped at him, beeping and flushing through his happy colours, waving tentacles at Sofi in her brooding jar, proudly. “Yes, yes, you’re going to be a dad, I know Jia Klem. I get to be an uncle, in – um –“
“Two years,” Tirchaer said. “Assuming you didn’t read any of the things I gave you.”
“That’s a long time!”
“Yes, but it has something to do with the way they were bred, to start with, to get smarter pets.”
“They’re plenty smart as it is. Did you hear? There was a ghost in the Palace that my brother and the Fenjitzas had to lock away.”
“A ghost?” Tirchaer looked skeptical. “That’s not very scientific.”
“I saw... well, the Mahid hallway that used to be the White Corridor was totally wrecked and they have to seal the bottom of the door because stuff keeps oozing out from underneath. You wouldn’t say my brother and Radas are both liars?”
“Of course not!” She stopped and looked at him, in the middle of the Marble Palace hallway, the servants with baggage going on ahead of them, to the guest suite where her fathers and mother were staying. “You don’t have to keep telling me wild stories and exciting things all the time, you know.”
He looked down at his hands, sulkily. “You’re acting like you don’t like me very much.”
“Um. We’re not very much alike. I thought I was helping you giving you my textbook on domoctopus and other sefalos! Then you have to just blurt out that you didn’t bother reading about your pet and mine and the thousands of babies they’re going to have... there’s only going to be a few that survive if we try as hard as we can to make it easy for them to breed!”
“Well, I kinda thought that you already knew all that stuff and I’d be the muscle guy and carry things and do the cleaning things and getting all the fish and meat she’s going to need.”
They started walking down the hallway again. “So you read some of it.”
“The bits about the ‘physical care’ stuff. You know that I groom Killer and Nasty too? I could get the stableboys to do that but I want the horses to be happy with me.”
They climbed the stairs slowly, so as not to slosh Sofi. “You know if you did more reading or let people know that you’re reading the stuff they give you, they’ll be happy with you.”
“I do enough paper work to make my brother happy and Gian and Ailadas. Mostly I like making animals happy with me better than I like making people happy with me.”
“Really?” At the top of the stairs there was a new tank that had piles of rocks and thickets of plants, a sun-tube shining brightly in one half, the other in dimness. There was a click and a burst of bubbles foamed up through the stones. Several schools of tiny gold feeder fish swam, glittering in the dim half.
Tirchaer stopped where she stood as Ili said. “Wait, I have to re-set the bubbler!”
He trotted over to where a ladder gave him access to the top of the tank and a device that had a spring-loaded bellows at its heart. He took a bucket from near his feet and poured the sand into a box at the top. “It’s weight driven, see? Every time the sand runs through... like a bead clock really... the bellows blows air up through the rocks... so the water never gets stagnant around her nest. There’s a couple of places where Sofi might want to move stones around a bit.”
Jia buzzed happily and slapped onto the glass top of the tank, found the same latches as on his own tank, flipped them, and slipped inside with an exuberant splash.
“My... goodness.” Tirchaer handed Sofi’s jar up to Ili who unstapped the travel strap, flipped the lid open and carefully lowered it in so the water mixed slowly. “You had this built?”
“There was an empty old tank in the archives and I asked for it to be set up. I talked to the inventor boy working with my grandfather and pseudo-mama about the bubbler, Ubi. This was the quickest way to do it, and have someone come by and re-set it.” He eased a bit more water into Sofi’s jar and she stretched her tentacles waving in the opening. He set it down on its side on the floor of the tank and she sat tasting the water.
“You know, Ilesias Aan, you don’t have to pretend to me that you’re dumb.” He hesitated, blushing, as he latched the lid down, though both domoctopi could open it from inside, then just kept on as if it were the most important job in the world.
“Um. Well. I’m not nearly as smart as I’m supposed to be. Um. All right. I won't.”