Thursday, April 30, 2015

115 - White Kittens, White Rats

I love the music, mother Goddess.  I never thought there would be music. That’s silly though.  Where am I that I didn’t expect music? I don’t know.  It doesn’t hurt me, though. That’s not my job. It’s never been my job to speak to the Gods. That’s Minis’s job.  The boys. Mother is it my job to sometimes spea to the girls?  The female Gods of the Ten, oh, all right. Is that the Imperatrix’s job? Other than carrying the next Spark of the Sun’s Ray.

I won’t think of that right now.

The flowers are beautiful.  All white with brilliant yellow centres and spindly white and gold petals that make them look like white puff balls surrounded by a globe of gold wires. And the sky. It’s so blue. I’ve never seen the sky that brilliant a blue.

The wheat field all around me stretches as far as I can see and there are white birds everywhere. A white owl softly lands on my hand and turns its head around so that it looks at me upside down. “I only have these three wheat heads,” I say. “I didn’t think owls ate wheat.”

I hold out the hand holding the three golden, gleaming stalks even though part of me is somewhere screaming no.

Why am I screaming? No. Two of the three are split from the same stalk and are perfect. The third is separate and smaller, it isn’t gold, but the colour of copper. It has been blighted and I hear it, feel it weeping. The tips of the kernels are withered and blackened and I feel so sorry for it. I am suddenly desperate to keep them, all three. But the withered one does not want to be what is now.

I toss the owl into the air and it flies away from me. I follow it through the endless wheat and I leave no track, all the stalks that I step on spring up again behind me.  Lives. They might be lives and my stepping on them could be troubles in their…


“Hello, Mother Selinae.” I don’t look at her. I just know that she’s beside me. “I didn’t think I should be here yet.”

“And so you should not.”

“So why am I here talking to you?”

“See the City?” She waves her hand in front of my eyes and I can see the shining buildings but they are too bright for me to see and my eyes tear up so that all I can see are glittering crystals, like raindrops.

“Mother, help me. Please.”

“There you will find more help.” She points to a tower that reaches up through the blue sky to where the stars shine bright against the black of no air.

“Mother, I can’t climb… not holding these…” I wave the stalks of wheat and see with horror that the smallest is almost completely black.  It is starting to taint the stalk next to it.

“No, oh no, oh no!”

I am flying up to the top of the tower, held pinched in Her almighty fingers and She drops me in a place of whiteness.

There are cages all around me, stretching away as far as the wheat field did.  White kittens wash their paws and blink their pink eyes at me, white rats running on wheels or turning things with their clever hands pause to scrub their pink ears with pale hands and gaze at me.

A white monkey, wearing a small white cylindrical cap swings down from above, hangs from its tail, claps all four hand-paws and screeches and says “Break!”

All of the animals reach through the bars and open their cages and come pouring down to ring around my knees. I’m kneeling and a ten of white kittens purr and settle all around my knees. I realize that I have been cold. My legs have been so cold. Now they warm up and I put a hand down and three rats bow and clamber up onto my palm.  “Give us. Give us. Give give give!”

What do I have but the wheat, but I cannot give them my precious kernels. “Give,” they squeak. “We cannot help you, unless you give.  You decide! Give, give!”

“Wretched stupidity!” I can hear the Divine rage even as far as She is from me. “We give those miserable ones the short-term solution and what do those ones do? Go galavanting away from US! Stupid!”

“Mother of Knives. Please help me. I didn’t realize. I didn’t think.”

“That one certainly did not think!”

“This one is here, oh Divine Thinker. As a child this one is foolish and thoughtless and helpless in the face of all that the Great Maker has given these ones in Her beneficence.”

“I made you polyoviparous on top of it all!”

“The Great Healer is wise.”

“Give Me the Blighted one.”

I sit, shivering. Terrified, and weeping. “Yes, Mother.” And open my fingers so that all three stalks lie across my palm.  A white kitten reaches up and pats my thumb with its little hand, as the rats pick up the blighted grain and in solemn procession take it away through the crowd. All I can hear is purring. All I can feel is my tears. What have I done?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

114 - Hope and Family

Minis and Gannara’s heads snapped around as the Fenjitzas beckoned them from the hall to the rooms behind, and they scrambled to their feet almost as one, clinging to each other.

The blood on Minis’s whites had crusted brown even on the gold trim, dried hard into a crackle on his hands.  “Gannara… come sit with your wife,” Radas said, softly.  “She’s still unconscious but you both should sit with her.” He turned to Minis.  “Why don’t you send for some other clothes, Minis? You can get cleaned up while they’re fetching them, then you can sit with Farasha and Kyriala.”

“What? Oh. I suppose.” He didn’t want to let go of Gannara but he couldn’t keep wearing this.  Gan hugged him hard.

“Hey, you need to have servants clean you up, you woolgatherer?” He teased, weakly.  It was hardly funny but he was trying.

“No, thank you.” Minis tried to find strength in him somewhere to tease back and found that there was nothing there. “Sorry, Gan. I’ll be in to sit with you in a moment.”

This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening. There’s supposed to be a happy ending to all the disasters and troubles. This isn’t fair. Don’t be stupid, you bonehead. Shen happens. Mahid own you. Cities get sacked. People die. People get hurt. I don’t deserve better because I suffered. It just happens. Especially when its an illness.  Mother said it was passed on by the males. If that’s the same in people then I did this by not insisting we sleep in the Temple until the babies are born. It’s in my body.

The monster that is attacking my children came from me, and it is threatening Ky. Oh, beloved. Oh, Ten, oh Ten, don’t take her from me. I love her. I need her. I’m… I’m bereft without you. I always have been. I love you. I love you. I love you. Don’t die beloveds. Farasha… oh Ten.

His mind ran in circles as the water poured down over his head, icy because he’d just turned on the water and watched it slowly scour her precious blood off his hands, before stepping into the priests’ cascade.

The water felt unreal and he stared at his hands on the stone wall, unseeing.  Come on, boy. Move. Do what you can. Keep breathing. Help Gan. Keep praying. That’s all you can do.

Outside he found an acolyte… one he didn’t recognize... with towels and a plain priest’s robe.  “This humble one thought it would be quicker, since the Exulted’s clothing hasn’t come over yet,” he said faintly.

Minis took the towel blindly and pressed his face into it. “Thank you,” he said, through it.  “Here, I’ll just throw this on and you can take me to my family.” He managed a tremulous smile for the boy.  “I’m certain the Ten will hold their hands over us all,” he said.

Is this how good priests learn their unearthly calm? Carrying on in the face of pain and fear? Holding fast to hope? Somehow, hope.

As he stepped out into the hall there was a wild squawking and Doof landed clumsily on his shoulder, slid down into his arms, cuddling him.  “Sad. Sad. Sad!” She exclaimed and pushed her head up under his chin. “This isn’t a disaster,” she said in Yeoli, in Chevenga’s voice.  He lost a child in the stream. He nearly lost his marriage in that stream.

He cuddled the parrot in his arms as she made weeping noises and nodded his thanks to the acolyte who opened the door for him.  “Thank you,” he said.  “Is she awake, Gan?”

“Yes, I am, my dear,” Farasha said from the bed, raising her hand to him.  “The baby and I are fine.” Gan had her other hand in both of his. Akminchaer looked up from the table next to the bed.

“I don’t know what the Temple did, but it stopped the miscarriage,” he said.  “And fixed the problem.  She should be fine.  Excuse me, I’m going back to Kyriala.”

“Is she all right, should I come with you?” Minis had dumped the bird on Farasha’s bed and taken her hand and made to get up from where he’d sunk down.

“No, no… she’s still comatose and…I need to go. The Fenjitza  is fighting to save this baby too.”

“Go, go on, do all you can.” Minis settled back, his eyes locked on the door as it closed behind Akminchaer. Doof crawled up to Farasha’s head and rubbed her beak on her cheek, cooing. 

“Politicians,” she said. “Like cockroaches. Can’t get rid of them with a hammer. Tehammo,” she purred. Farasha and Gan snorted a laugh that fell off them and sank into the floor as Minis tried to smile.

“I need to be more careful what I say around you, bird,” he said softly, cupping Gan’s hand over Farasha’s hair. Hope and family. I need to be strong, somehow.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

113 - Summoner Go, I Abjure You

The Temple was doing something. Farasha and Kyriala were both seemingly unconscious, though neither of them let go of Gannara or Minis. They sat, thighs touching, and Akminchaer examined first Farasha and then Kyriala.

“Let the dekinae take Fara, Gan,” Minis said.  He couldn’t bear to move because he could feel Ky’s blood spreading over his legs, turning the Imperial whites into a gory mess and he knew if he moved he’d have to acknowledge it. His throat was knotted tight.

“Please, let us put her to bed… here in the Temple,” Narilla said, quietly.  “She’s not cramping any longer, she’s asleep.”

Minis held his breath to keep from whimpering, or weeping. His middle was iron, even as his hands held Ky gently.  I will be strong for her. “It will be all right, love. It will be all right. The Ten will hold you in Their hands.” Ten hold her in Your vast and protective arms. Please. Please save her. Please save the baby. Please please… an unending drone of prayer in his head. 

“Imperator, please let us tend the Imperatrix. Let go of her, please. Imperator. Minis, let us help Kyriala. Let her go.”

They managed to pry her out of his hands, revealing the congealing blood all over the back of her nightgown, and him. Gan and he turned to each other and clutched. Gan uncaring of blood, or tears.  Minis bowed his head and hid his face, Gan as well.  Gan wept, freely, openly, sobbing but saying ‘They’ll be all right. They’ll be all right.”

“Yes, Gan.” He could barely hear anything but the deafening clatter of the Summoner. He’s here. He’s here. The Ten are taking a life to Selestialis and I cannot stop them. I can hear him. Summoner, go. Go back to Selestialis. Go back to the vacuum of darkness where nothing lives. I abjure  you, go back to the place out of which we fell so long ago. Be a shooting star against the night. Go. Cradle some other soul in the cage of your claws. Elegant bone, who is inside us our whole lives, stay hidden inside the living flesh. Protect the loving, beating heart, please. You who are the spirit of bone who is the father of blood and the container of the human sea.

He let himself shake, but his face was calm, even as his breath shuddered in and out.  He could hear the new Mahid blocking writers who would dare, even in the Temple itself.

“What’s happening? What’s going on? Honoured Mahid, please let us know. I realize, I won’t bother them, I won’t talk to them but can you tell me what’s going on?”

“Sers and Seras,” Fifth Traforan’s voice was calm but brooked no attempt to push past him.  “The Marble Palace will issue a statement,  in a timely fashion.  I request that you give the Imperial family a bit more space.” He and First Emilia eased them back, away from where Minis and Gannara sat before Risae.

Ten save them. Save them. I’d give my own life for theirs if I may. Ten save them. Ten…

Ky's new sleeve puppies, Cuddles and Snort, along with ancient old Socks began howling somewhere in the Temple, distantly, three tiny voices echoing from the stone ceilings and the unchanging stone faces of the Ten, grieving disaster.

Monday, April 27, 2015

112 - Shake Some Glitch-Taken Sense Into Her!

The House of the Sleeping Dragon was quiet this late. Though not as quiet as if everyone were asleep.  Lixand sat at the chef’s table in the kitchen, the board in front of him set up to make a sandwich.  He picked up the bread knife, put it down. Poked the jar of mustard, tilted the bowl of sliced pickles and tomatoes, looking into it as though he’d never seen it before.

He sighed and pushed the board away from him, picked up the heavy mug still half full of tea, leaned over to fill it to the brim from the samovar bubbling to itself at the end of the table.  It was something that mother had approved of, even before she’d brought them home from Arko… having easily prepared food in the cold cellar every night, should someone wake up hungry.  She had had too many deprived nights when she was a child herself.  He and Ardas had sneaked down the first night in F’talezon and eaten themselves almost sick, because they couldn’t believe that someone would just leave food out that they could eat.

Megan had caught them, both of them, hands and mouths full, sitting in the cold room, unable to swallow another bite but also unable to feed any of the food to the entourage of dogs they’d let inside to the holy-of holies.  Lixand smiled and sipped his tea, remembering.

She’d sat down and picked a sandwich from the wreckage herself, without a word, and stuffed half of it into her own mouth. The three of them, mouths full, hands full, had burst into half terrified laughter.  “There’ll always be something to eat here,” she’d said finally, putting her smoked meat sandwich down.  “If I have anything to say about it.  Neither of you have to ‘watch your figures’ anymore. Two rules.  Don’t make yourself sick and vomit it all up. That's a waste. And clean up after yourself.”

He looked up at the kraumak over the table that he’d unhooded, held up his hand and wished for more light.  The five silvery sparks danced around the tips of his fingers and he shook his hand to make them go away again. “What in Arko’s flea-bitten bottom have you done, mother?” he said to himself.

He wished for light again and then clenched his hand shut on the sparks as the kitchen door opened.  “Oh! Lixand, you’re up.” Rilla stepped in and plucked her mug from the wash-rack.  Even for a huge household in Brahvniki, they did a lot of things for themselves.  Lixand was glad that the paid servants came and went home to their own homes every day.  She poured tea for herself and added a generous dollop of cream. “I couldn’t sleep either.”

“Ardas’s ship should be home soon,” he said, pulling the board back across the table and starting to slice up the bread. "And Sova's expedition, too."

“Yah,” Shkai’ra’s sleepy grumble came from the door.  “I’ve been having nightmares about my wife getting eaten by manrauq.”

“You too?” Rilla sat down across from Lixand while Shkair’a sat on the stool facing the window.  Even if they were half way up the hill from the harbour, with a glorious rock-face below them and a garden at the bottom of that, old habits weren’t allowed to die. “She’s gone and done something, in Arko.  I can feel it.  She’s been horrified by how much the manrauq has aged her these past few years.”

“I want her to stop.” Shkair’a said bluntly, spearing a whole pickle out of the pottery jar on the counter with her belt knife. “It’ll kill her.”

“Do you still sleep with a dagger under your pillow?” Lixand said, nodding at the knife she’d just put back on the belt around her waist.  “I never see you without it.”

“Habit,” she grinned at him and scratched between her breasts.

“Barbarian,” Rilla said, and tossed her the end of the loaf, grinning.

“Shyll got up when Ashmita woke up,” Shkai’ra said.  “Nobody but the little kids are sleeping tonight.”

Shyll’s entrance was heralded by the baby’s fussing.  “Viktor and Vlad and Runald are all still asleep. Here she is,” he said passing her to Shkai’ra who was suddenly transformed from a mountain-cat quickness to an almost graceless stiffness as she set their daughter to her breast.

“Latch on, then, you little grub,” she said, looking away, looking down, looking away, then looking around at her sootchistveniki, her family. She blinked, hard.  “This one makes me feel too much!” She exclaimed and wrapped herself around the new baby.  “I’m so confused!”  She twitched as if to straighten, as if to push the baby away from herself but it was only a twitch.  “Mi kheeredo isn’t here and somethings wrong and I can’t make myself hand this…Ashmita… over to a crèche minder and…” She sniffled, looking down at the baby who managed to smile at her even around her nipple latch.

“I’m here with you, Shkai’ra,” Shyll said.  “Rilla’s here until her expedition leaves.  That’s a whole moon away.”

“We don’t have anyone to go after our wife and find out if she needs back up, or to shake some Glitch-seen sense into the sheep-brain!”

Lixand cleared his throat as everyone listened to the silence after Shkai’ra’s outburst, drawing everyone’s eye to him.  He looked down, tapped his fingers on the table. “I think I need to to go to Arko and find out what’s going on with Mata,” he said softly.

“To Arko?” Rilla leaned over the table, looking up into his face.  “Really?”

He nodded.  “Really.” He turned his hand over and held it up illustratively, and wished for light.