For a number of reasons I have decided to place a few episodes of The Princess on a journal. This is, after all, work-in-progress, and a journal seems a good place for it. I hope some others among you will be encouraged to share your W.I.P.s with us.
Also it is easily corrigible, and I am embarrassed at the mistakes in my early draft of the last episode that I was forced at Turkish-Delight-point to hand over to the Lipstick Theatre. It seems that someblonde has mislaid the stage-door keys and the Vixen-errors are temprarily frozen there, much to the Vixen-embarrassment. This episode carries on directly from there, so if you need to catch up, go to:
Now, as they say, read on:
"I am a guest of Her Majesty," said the Captain. "Why would I go in secrecy about her house upon the business of outlanders?"
"I assure you, most honoured Captain, it is not from Her Majesty that we wish to conceal anything. You are a stranger here and know little of what passes. Will it harm Her Majesty if you hear what my mistress has to say? And may it not be part of your duty to your own Royal Mistress?"
"You speak fair, outlander, and you may have the right. Pray honour me by telling who is your mistress."
"She is the Lady Entresne Selvar, Ambassadress of the Chenri Confederation."
"You must forgive my ignorance, but what is the Chenri Confederation?"
"I think my mistress will explain matters better than I. Will you not come?"
"I see no harm in it," said the Captain.
Antala allowed herself to be led along a maze of passages, for which in itself she was not sorry. She was beginning to form a picture of the layout of the palace, which might always prove helpful in the future.
Eventually she was ushered into a pleasant suite decorated with fine statues and paintings. A few of the paintings included mascûli in a style and in attitudes that could be seen to be idealised - they looked graceful, smooth, almost human until one looked more closely. Whatever effect was intended, Antala found it rather creepy.
A mature person who had a strange look, like a blonde with something of the manner of a brunette, and with dark hair, arose from the leather chaise longue on which she had been seated and made a curious sort of curtseying reverence.
"Rayati, honoured Captain," she said. The word rayati was unchanged from Herthelan Westrenne to Astarchean, being an ancient and sacred greeting from long before the Esterlini had left Sai Herthe. On the lips of the Lady Selvar, however, it had the distinct ring of an alien greeting used for courtesy.
The Captain responded with a crisp military reverence. "Rayati, my lady," she replied.
"Thirin, you may leave us," said Lady Selvar to the mascûl who had conducted Antala to her.
Thirin spoke words in the dialect of its homeland, supposing that the Captain would not understand them: "This is a dangerous warrior, my lady. I think I should remain." The translator handled them perfectly.
Lady Selvar replied in Astarchean: "I have scarcely more strength than one of their blonde chelani. The honoured captain is a gentilmaid. She would not harm me. Please leave."
Thirin made a strange salute with its hand toward its head and left the room.
"Pray be seated, honoured Captain," said Lady Selvar, gesturing toward a chair. "Will you honour me by taking cordial with me?"
"The honour will be mine, my lady," said the Captain, taking the seat indicated.
"You look at me strangely, I fear, honoured Captain.
"I most humbly beg your forgiveness. I am just getting my bearings. I have not - that is, I have never--"
"This is the first time you have seen a femīn, perhaps, honoured Captain."
"It is, I fear, my lady."
Lady Selvar smiled comfortingly. "It is an unnerving experience, is it not? We all find it so at first. We are so very like each other - and yet so very different."
"So very different," agreed the Captain.
"And yet the same Dea made us all, in Her wisdom."
Antala touched the fingers of her right hand to her forehead and her chest, honouring the mention of the Divine Name.
Lady Selvar clapped her hands twice and a serving-maid appeared bearing a tray with beautiful small glasses and a cut-crystal decanter of golden fluid. The girl looked very like a blonde serving-maid except that she was dark haired.
"Forgive me, my lady," said the Captain, "but are all your people dark haired or is hair-colour quite random? Or has it some other significance than sex?"
"There are genetic factors, honoured Captain, but for practical purposes it is random, having no significance beyond the aesthetic. People who look like you, though - Estrennes, I mean - always have dark hair. Your white-haired Estrenne blondes look quite startling to us at first."
"It is true that I am from the east of my world, my lady - or at any rate my people comes from there. My particular branch has its own nation in the West - but why do you call me Estrenne, as if I were from the east of this world or of yours?"
"People who resemble you tend to gravitate to what is termed the east of a planet. It has to do with the nature of the directions. You are rising-sun people everywhere, while we are setting-sun people on any planet. You see, despite our differences, we all have much in common."
"As you say, my lady."
"But I see you are a businesslike Captain. You wish to know why I invited you here."
"Only a little, my lady. The honour of your company is more than reason enough for being here."
"I come from the world called Fearalya. You have heard of that perhaps?"
"I heard a little this afternoon."
"What have you heard?"
"That you are a schizomorphic people ruled by your mascûli, as all schizomorphi come to be in the late times of a world-cycle."
"That is but partly true, honoured Captain. The great nations of Fearalya are mascûl-ruled, it is true; but others are ruled by their femīni; in others again the rule has not been settled and vacillates between one system and the other; in still others compromises have been found, and both mascûli and femīni share in rulership, each having their areas that they govern best."
"Thank you, my lady. I understand your world a little better now."
"The great divide among the Fearalyani is on religious grounds. Some follow the mascûl God and some remain loyal to Great Dea. From this most fundamental alignment, all other outlooks upon life follow."
"Thank you again, my lady."
"I see that you came not here for a lesson in alien polity, honoured Captain. Please humour me a little further, for if you are truly a stranger to this planet and to all the worlds nearby, there are things that you were well to learn."
"I am in great eagerness to learn them my lady, and I thank you for being my teacher."
"There is another god, honoured Captain, if I dare sully the word god with that name. Indeed the name itself I do not mention, but everywhere it is known as the Dark Lord.
"Now Fearalya is a great world of many nations - great nations spanning the larger parts of continents and smaller nations both within the continents and on many islands, and in the islands to the South, the Cult of the Dark Lord is rapidly spreading northward. They have many ways of wooing people, but if they are not won quickly they simply begin killing until an island is ready to accept their rule.
"Even in some of the great nations they are gaining adherents. Most particularly in the United Republics, where a strong political party is controlled by sympathisers of the Dark Cult--"
"Forgive me, my lady, you said a political - what?"
"A political party. It is a faction or interest-group that competes for the rulership of the State. The United Republics are entirely ruled by these Parties and have no monarch at all. Other States have monarchs but are still largely controlled by the Parties. These operate on the late-mascûlik principle of perpetual opposition and adversarial government.
"But let me not trouble you with the endless complexities of the polity of the mascûlik part of my world, which, frankly, are as strange to me as they are to you. I represent the Chenri Confederation, which gathers together the femīnil nations of my world, all of which have Queens and some also mascûl-Queens, which are known to us as Kings; and all of which operate on the femīnil principles of concord and harmony rather than opposition and factionalism: principles akin to your own Golden Order, or thamë. So you see, my peoples are in some ways closer to yours than they are to the mascûliki of our own world."
"In some ways, perhaps, my lady."
"This is a long preamble, but it has been needful. Let me now come to the matters that may directly affect you. These followers of the Dark Lord are not confined to my world. Far from it. They control a mighty empire that has its centre in the far world of Nokht. The pirates that plague these worlds also are followers of the Dark Lord, and whether they are indeed merely pirates who hold the Dark faith, or whether they are mercenaries and forward troops of the Dark Empire, even I cannot yet be sure - and believe me, it is my business to know these things.
"The dark ones have taken many worlds by many means. They appeal to the weaknesses in all schizomorph peoples. They appeal to the worst natures of mascûli. They preach a creed of violence and the rule of the strong over the weak, and where they cannot tempt they threaten, and when their threats fail they begin to destroy, and when destruction does not bring submission, they destroy all."
"I can see my lady that they are a terrible danger to your people and a considerable nuisance to this world."
"They are a terrible danger to all peoples, honoured Captain; schizomorph and intemorph alike. You know nothing of these worlds, but if you are from where you claim to be from, I think you will know the name of the Dark Lord if I speak it."
"Then speak it, my lady."
"It is Mordhûl."
Antala's eyes grew wide. "That one."
"I see you know the name, honoured Captain, for you do not speak it."
"It is accursed, my lady. It is the name of the arch-demon that tried to overrun my world three thousand years since. Is that one not dead?"
"The Dark Lord cannot die. Its followers call it a god; but your people and mine know it for what it is. And believe me when I say that it intends to overrun all the worlds including this one, and eventually your own homeworld. Recently the pirates abducted a whole ship full of Astarcheans and the Government here paid a massive ransom to get them back safely and prevent them from being sold into slavery on darkheld worlds. Such attacks only become more frequent and more audacious; and all this is only the beginning. I know. I have seen; and your people also have seen."
"Madness to pay these people," exploded Antala - "it only makes them stronger. Who was advising the Queen?"
"What can one do, honoured Captain? Allow one's own people to be sold into the horrors of the Darkness?"
"What can one do, my lady? Blow them out of the sky. That is what one can and must do."
"Spoken like a Caeren, noble warrior. And I hear tell you have begun this policy yourself."
"What mean you by that, my lady?"
"Rumour holds that you blew the great flagship of Kang-Shahtha out of the sky."
"Does it indeed, my lady?"
"It does, and if that were true you have placed yourself in great peril. The Kang are a terrible warrior-tribe and they will not rest till they have destroyed the perpetrator of such an outrage upon them."
Antala shrugged. "Why should I care whether they rest or not?"
Lady Selvar laughed almost gleefully. "Oh, I like you, honoured Captain. But I also fear for you. I hear tell that a mascûl was found dead on the road not far from here and that you came in bearing a Kang sword. Why do you not bear your own sword Captain?"
"I have my reasons, my lady."
"Then have a care also. Next time they might not send a single assassin."
Antala snapped her fingers in scorn for her enemies. Then she blushed, stood up and made deep reverence, for this was the sort of gesture she made naturally among her friends, but it was wholly out of place in a royal court.
Lady Selvar took advantage of Antala's discomfiture to press a more personal question. She laughed kindly and reassuringly and then said in the friendliest of tones: "Forgive me, noble warrior, but how comes one so young to be full Captain of an Imperial ship?"
"Perhaps I am less young than I look," said Antala.
"Who has sent you here, honoured Captain? What is your mission?"
"No mission, my lady. I am far from home by accident having entered an aethyr-crease. I have no business here. I wish only to return my crew and passengers."
"Your passengers, honoured Captain --"
"Indeed, my lady," said the Captain, determined to cut off this line of questioning. "And if I may respond with a like question, how comes a girl so young to be Queen of Astarche?"
"Her honoured mother, the late Queen, and several royal personages took a State-ship to Cathria Mena to negotiate alliance. The ship was destroyed by pirates." She bowed her head. Antala touched her forehead and her chest.
"I am distressed to hear that, my lady. And if I may ask one further thing: who was charged with the education of the Princess, before she became Queen?"
"The Lady Telmarine, Vizier to the old Queen and to the young, who fortunately was unable to be present on the fated ship."
"I have not yet had the honour of meeting her."
"She is away at her lodge in the mountains entertaining delegates from the United Republics. She does much of her work there. But, honoured Captain, our time grows short and there is more that I would have you understand."
"I am learning much, my lady."
"Have you considered the question of why you were invited to the palace and granted immediate audience with the Queen herself?"
"I have meditated upon that question, my lady."
"And what answer have you found?"
"Only that the Astarcheans are an extraordinarily hospitable people."
"You are playing games, honoured Captain. Are you unaware of the stir you have caused by your claim to be from the True Raihir?"
"In truth I assumed that to have something to do with the invitation."
"Do you not see how it could change everything? If the True Raihir still exists, if you represent it, if indeed there were a Princess of the Blood Imperial in your party --"
"Who has suggested that?" asked the Captain.
"Mere vulgar rumour. I take no cognisance of it, of course. But if it were true, or were believed to be true, it would place a claim upon the loyalty not merely of Astarche, but of the Cathrias and their allies; even upon that of Esterline itself. It might upset many ambitions in Astarche, but give rise to new and greater ones. And then there is the story that you have killed Kang-Shahtha. Do you not realise that to some of the younger officers of the Royal Fleet you will appear like a Daughter-Knight of old Caere smiting the enemy as they have long wished to do?"
"I had no intention of causing such a stir. I merely flew off course into an aethyr-crease."
"And there is one more thing. Part of the power of the Cult of the Dark Lord lies in its reputation for invincibility. Once a nation or a world is breached by them it is only a matter of time until it falls. Once it falls it can never be reclaimed."
"My lady, the True Raihir was breached millennia ago, but the Hordes of Darkness were utterly destroyed there."
"That is well known, honoured Captain. But they were destroyed not by mortal maids but by the Sun Herself come down upon the world of things palpable."
"By Sai Rayanna: that is true. But centuries later they came again."
"And everyone here - except a few - believes that the Raihir was then destroyed."
"It is not so. The descendants of Sai Rayanna came close to defeat, it is true; but they rallied and destroyed the Hordes. The Dark Lord itself, if not killed as it now seems, was certainly laid low."
"And if that is known, the hypnotic belief in the inevitability of the Darkness once it takes hold will be destroyed."
"If so, my lady, I shall regard that as my good deed for the week."
"You are playing in a game with stakes far higher than you knew, young Captain."
"They always say high stakes make a game interesting, my lady."
"Whoever has sent you here, be sure to obey her and be not tempted upon some wild enterprise of your own."
"No one has sent me, my lady. I am simply off my course. It may be that Providence has sent me, but no person has."
"I could wish you had been more frank with me, honoured Captain, but I understand that frankness toward me may not be your first duty. If you ever need my help, please return here."
"Thank you, my lady. I may indeed avail myself of your kindness. Rayati."
"Rayati, honoured Captain."
Antala was conducted back to her rooms by Thirin - a procedure that was hardly necessary since her fine directional sense had already assimilated the pattern of the tortuous corridors. Still, her instinct told her not to be too free in showing her strengths.
Back in her tastefully opulent apartment she lay on a long couch and found herself suddenly very tired. She rang the bell and a little blonde serving-maid appeared. She ordered a light repast, for it was long since she had eaten.
The blonde returned shortly with a tray most artistically arranged. How pleasant it was to be in the company of a simple, genuine blonde after these strange femīns who were neither blonde nor brunette.
She spoke to the serving-maid, who instantly knelt and touched her forehead to the floor. She had expected to have a little conversation with her as she set out the food from the tray on a little carved table, but the blonde finished her work with great deftness and then knelt demurely before the Captain to answer her questions. Antala asked about her work, her friends and her family. It all seemed very sweet and normal. Suddenly Ranyam Astarche felt rather a lot like home.
She finally dismissed the maid, who cleared the things and left. Antala turned toward the great canopied bed where a silken nightdress lay neatly folded on the pillow. It was a curious thought that the last time she had slept had been in a little hotel in County Ushasti, Novaria in dear Distant Sai Herthe.
There. I hope you enjoyed it. Do leave your comments (or roses). Do join Livejournal and become a member of this community. That is your duty to our Aristasian Outreach, soldier.
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