SM, CH. 2
The War of the Stolen Mother
(Footnotes are grouped at the end of this page)
We prepared to leave Lo’ro’ra at the end of chi’nol| or the beginning of la’nol|, however you might wish to regard it. We wanted to begin our travels at a time when the cold was waning and a drier, more temperate period was coming on. Ru’a’ma’na’ta had been with us from the previous Time of Flowers until deep into the Cold Time. During that period death had brought the Most Holy Kwi’ga’ga’tei relief from her suffering. A’kha’ma’na’ta had died also, and perforce her King, Sei’o’na’sha’ma. The new Mother, Viz’ka’ma’na’ta, had been installed and a King found for her at the unlikeliest of fortresses, Kwai’kwai’za, which twelve years previously had been at war with us. The Healers who had come with Ru’a’ma’na’ta had worked much magic and the Star-Plague had waned. Our beloved fortress of Lo’ro’ra had grown smaller and sadder, but it was stable and peaceful and set once again on the natural path, albeit a different one.
Ki’shto’ba and I began to speak of where we wanted to go first, and …
But perhaps a word is needed for those who might read this but do not know our history. Lo’ro’ra is a fortress of the Shum’za, the most widespread of the Shshi. We do not call ourselves shum’za’zei|; that is the name the Da’no’no Shshi give to us because the heads of our Warriors are smaller in proportion to the body than theirs are. In fact, we find the designation a bit insulting, preferring to think of ourselves as the only true Shshi people. But in my travels I have learned that the world contains multiple varieties of Shshi and I have acquired some humility, and I no longer object to calling myself a “Little Head.”
Ki’shto’ba No’no Um’zi is a Da’no’no Shi, from the fortress of To’wak, which is situated northwest of Lo’ro’ra, upstream on the river called Ti’re’bu. “Huge-Head” is its surname, an honorific given to it following its first battle when it fought for its own fortress in a dispute with a neighbor. Afterward, it served as a Champion against Lo’ro’ra in the Nasute War, and finally it was summoned as Champion for Lo’ro’ra against, as we thought, the Star-Beings but actually to help combat a force of evil that had crept undetected into our unfortunate fortress. Ki’shto’ba defeated the Unnatural Commander Hi’ta’fu the Unconquerable, thus negating its surname, and the Huge-Head also killed the accursed Unnatural Alate whose name I refuse to speak, who was the cause of all the suffering. Ki’shto’ba, however, always felt regretful about the outcome of that war, because twice our Champion was taken by surprise and failed to prevent a death.
During this period of time, Ru’a’ma’na’ta the Star-Being played Remembrancer and told tales for the Holy One and the King. From the stirring tales of the adventures of the wanderer Ul’i’seit, Ki’shto’ba and I both took the notion to go wandering ourselves, helping to defend and to entertain and inform the Shshi of other fortresses along the way in return for food and shelter. Our aim was to reach the no’no’gwai’zi| – the Great Water – that Ru’a’ma’na’ta assured us really exists a long distance to the south.
Ru’a’ma’na’ta seemed to take particular pleasure in our decision, and before she and the other Star-Beings flew away in the midst of that Dead Time, she gave the Huge-Head and me gifts. She told us that she knew Shshi were adapted for spending most of their time in the dark, moist temperateness of the fortress and that our bodies were not very good at sustaining great cold or heat or dryness or long periods in strong sunlight. So she gave each of us a sheet of fiber or matting, although those words do not provide an adequate description. It was very smooth and somewhat shiny and quite light in weight, and it was cut in a pattern that fit exactly the shapes of our bodies. Mine was made to enclose my wings and fasten around my thorax and belly with a strip of a substance that marvelously stuck to itself, and Ki’shto’ba’s was made with six holes, three on a side, so that the legs could be pushed through. This was the first time in history that Shshi have employed such removable skins, which were something like the fiber coverings some of the Star-Beings use to protect their own bodies.
Ru’a’ma’na’ta said that these coverings had properties that would protect us from heat and cold and rain and drought, and Ki’shto’ba said, “Here is more of your magic, Ru’a’ma’na’ta!”
But she said, “Not magic. For if the heat or the cold or the quantity of water is too extreme, even these will not protect you from death. But they will make your lives more comfortable and allow Di’fa’kro’mi’s wings to endure more sun without drying out.”
Nevertheless, I named these coverings da’a’tas| shkei’so’zi|, because of a property they possessed that Ru’a’ma’na’ta herself had not been aware of. Here is how we discovered it.
Ki’shto’ba and I had put on the skins, which took some getting used to because they press on the bristles of our bellies and thoraces and cause strange sensations. While we were crossing the courtyard toward the main fortress edifice, we noticed odd reactions from some Workers that we encountered. They almost bumped into us, stepping away at the last moment and appearing very confused. Ki’shto’ba remarked that the coverings must have an odd smell, although it and I had detected no odor that could cause such disorientation.
Inside the fortress we went to my quarters, and No’kri the Worker Chief was in the antechamber, along with the Seer’s Steward I’mei’o’nu. No’kri’s posterior was toward us and it paid no attention as we came in, then as it received my greeting, it jumped around and backed into a corner, waving its antennae furiously and gesturing with the forelegs, expressing an agitated lack of understanding.
“Is someone there? Who is that? Is that … ? No, it is not the Huge-Head. But – can it be … ?”
I’mei’o’nu seemed equally befuddled. “If I had no eyes, I would swear you and Ki’shto’ba are not here, Di’fa’kro’mi. I cannot sense your odor or your aura – you hardly project anything. What is wrong with your bodies – your wings?”
It seemed that the magic skins suppressed the individual’s personal pheromones and presence sendings that allow us to perceive each other. When Ki’shto’ba and I experimented, we realized we could barely detect each other’s presence. We had not noticed this phenomenon at first because of those unnatural bodily sensations that I just mentioned.
The cause of this strange imperceptibility was puzzling even to Ru’a’ma’na’ta, but her large, hairy, female companion, who knows a great deal about the Star-Magic, did have an explanation, which was impossible to relate to us because our language lacks appropriate words. What they did was to cut apart a piece of this skin and show us the thin, glittering hairs within it, which have some kind of relationship to light. How that works on our presence sendings is a total mystery to me. I cannot say more except that it was clearly a manifestation of magic. 
Ru’a’ma’na’ta made the motions of humor, however, and said that some of the ancient wanderers in the tales of her world had “skins of not-seeing,” coverings that made them invisible, and that without realizing it she had gifted us with something similar. “Can you imagine, Ki’shto’ba,” she said, “wearing this covering while you are fighting another Warrior? Your opponent would be unable to know where you are! It would think it perceives you, then it would lose you, and then you could reappear at its right or left or behind it when it was not expecting it!”
Ki’shto’ba found this idea intriguing, although it was not certain that this method of combat would be entirely fair. But it found that the skin somewhat suppressed its own ability to perceive others, covering as it did so many of the sensilla, so it appeared the contest might thus be equalized.
But I saw in the skins’ magic something that might protect us from danger at some point in the future.
I have dwelt on this because the protective skins were with us to the end and they played a significant role our adventures.
* * *
Many individuals were to join us in our travels, but there were two citizens of Lo’ro’ra who began the journey with us and who were also with us to the end, or very near it. Not having a very clear idea of what long travel across empty lands really entailed, Ki’shto’ba and I had intended to travel alone; it would protect me and I would guide and feed it, and we would carry food in pouches strapped to our bodies. One day, however, as we stood talking in the courtyard, a good-sized and robust Worker approached us – quite presumptuously, it seemed to me.
This person scraped its mandibles in the dirt in a somewhat perfunctory manner and said, “If I might have a word with you, holy Remembrancer and honored Champion – I understand you intend to go wandering.”
“And you are … ?” I said.
“My name is Wei’tu, of the Builders.”
Ki’shto’ba, ever courteous, said, “What would you have with us, little Worker? That is a strange name you bear. Indeed, no Worker that exists has wings.”
Wei’tu waggled its antennae and performed a little dance of resignation. “Sometimes that question grows a bit tedious. When I was hatched, I had small nubs of tissue on my pronotum and yet tinier ones on my mesonotum, and even though one of the experienced Tenders said that was not uncommon and meant nothing, a young Namer Alate got very excited because he was sure that the nubs were signs I would have wings and turn out to be an Alate. So he insisted I be named Tuk. Of course, in the very first molt I shed those nubs and at the third it became quite clear that I was a Worker.
“Then one of the Namers who is known widely as a jester … I will not name her – you perhaps can surmise … this Namer bounced about in amusement and said, ‘Do you see that? After all the expectation, it has No Wing. It is Wei’tu.’ And so, honored Shshi, my name became inescapably Wei’tu.”
“Ah,” I said, “I do know who that Namer is. She is indeed given to bestowing peculiar names. Poor Ying’gwaf is an example.” 
“I would like to go with you on your journeying,” said Wei’tu, in an abrupt change of subject.
“What?” exclaimed both the Huge-Head and I, and I added, “Oh, I doubt the wisdom of that.”
“Why?” said Wei’tu, continuing to display extraordinary brashness for a Worker. “I am very strong and experienced in several types of work. I began as a Feeder even though I had the bak’zi|, because the fortress was short on Feeders at that time, but I was rather large for that and took up too much room in the refectories, and sometimes I hurt the Warrior’s mouths and that annoyed them. So they sent me back to train as a Builder and I am very good at it. Holy Alate, can you see an especially smooth patch of carefully mortared stone halfway up the side of the Workers’ Quarters? That is my work, quite well done – all the supervisors said so. And I have worked inside as well, repairing walls and ventilation ducts, and for a while I was assigned to the cistern. Just how do you expect to get along in the world without a Worker to feed and groom you and make shelter for you?”
“I plan to feed the Champion,” I said a little defensively, and with some annoyance. “Alates are perfectly capable of feeding others, and themselves as well. Besides, it would not be seemly to hurt the mouth of the Champion of Lo’ro’ra.”
“I believe my mouth is sufficiently large that such a small Worker would not hurt me,” said Ki’shto’ba, who indeed was a giant even among its own people.
Wei’tu was hopping and bobbing. “It is less seemly that an Alate go about poking his head between the dangerous mandibles of a big Warrior. And will you lick its anus clean and pick the fungus and lice from under the sclerites? Who will clean the dust from your wings, holy Alate? I know how to do all those things. And I can make shelters from poles and brushwood. Can you do that, Remembrancer? What do you plan to do when it rains? And at times of sleeping – who will watch out for the big reptiles? And I will take it upon myself to learn about wild plants both edible and dangerous. What did you expect to do for food?”
“We intended to take food with us,” said Ki’shto’ba with a certain growing alarm.
“What if a stage of travel takes longer than you expect and you run out? Will you sit down and patiently starve? Are you an expert on herbs and fruits, as a Healer might be, Remembrancer?”
I was beginning to get nettled at this Worker’s impertinence, and also disturbed, because I could see considerable truth in its words. “Well, if you persist in speaking in such a forward way, I do not know … ”
“I beg your pardon, honored Di’fa’kro’mi – I am usually quite civil, but I like to say what I think without mincing about. Even Workers are not without a sense of the power of words.”
That rather won me over, because I had a weakness for words then as I do now. “Some of what you say has merit. The Champion and I will consider your offer. Come to my chamber in the Alate’s Quarters in six turnings of the water vessel and we will give you an answer.”
And Wei’tu skipped away gleefully, frolicking along like a nymph who is happy to have finished molting.
Ki’shto’ba and I consulted, and we agreed we may have not considered all the possible ramifications of traveling alone through unknown country. We talked to Holy Gri’a’vu’tei and Commander A’gwa’ji and they thought that taking an additional companion would be a wise course. Even a party of Warriors traveling between fortresses takes a few Workers along, as well as at least one Alate to see for them. And Fi’la’la’mo, who was to take my place as Lo’ro’ra’s Remembrancer, reminded us of some of the tales that Ru’a’ma’na’ta had told – the one about the addled Warrior who fought the giant leg-whirlers (I never got a good image in my mind of that) and the one about the small, hairy-footed Star-Being who undertook to throw an evil ring-shaped object into a volcano and almost failed to save his world. Both of these Champions had devoted helpers with them, so there was a precedent in the very tales we were trying to emulate.
Once, Ru’a’ma’na’ta explained to us what these helpers of Champions were called in her speech. She said it could be translated into our language as mu’it’zei| da| soi’zi|.  Yes, that is what I said, Chi’mo’a’tu. I really cannot understand it, either. But I think it is some kind of Star-Being jest that does not seem humorous when it is put in our speech. I once told Wei’tu about it and it became quite indignant. After all, who would want a helper who kicked one on the side?
Or perhaps the phrase means a defender – someone who stands at one’s side and kicks one’s enemies. But you are right – most Workers could not fill that role …
Well, however that may be … Ki’shto’ba and I decided that this resourceful Wei’tu might be a great boon to us.
And when it came to my quarters for its answer, it brought Twa’sei with it.
Twa’sei was a much smaller Worker, who hung both timidly and eagerly against Wei’tu’s side and quivered its antennae adoringly at Ki’shto’ba.
“Twa’sei is a Grower. It wants to come, too,” said Wei’tu. “I went to the Fungus Garden to find someone to teach me about wild plants, and this one approached me and begged me to ask you to let it join us.”
Ki’shto’ba appeared puzzled. “I seem to know your scent, Twa’sei. But how? If you are a Grower, it is unlikely that you have fed me in the refectory.”
“On the day when Ru’a’ma’na’ta toured the Fungus Garden and you lost sight of her, it was I who told you where she had gone,” said Twa’sei, abasing its head and wriggling toward Ki’shto’ba.
“Ah, that day,” I said, remembering how we suspected that the Unnatural Alate had been plotting to assassinate the Star-Mother.
“I remember!” said Ki’shto’ba. “If it had not been for your willingness to approach me, terrible things might have happened. But I never knew your name. I thank you, little friend.”
Twa’sei engaged in a paroxysm of delighted writhing. “I dare to say, Great Champion – I dare to say how greatly I admire you! I will serve you well. I have worked in the orchards, and I have knowledge of the plants in the marches and in the Apothecary Garden, and I know the smell of the wild fungi that are edible. And between now and when we leave, I will ask the Healer Alates to give me additional instruction. I promise I will serve both of you well. But I especially desire to serve you, Great Huge-Head.”
Wei’tu thrust an antennae at me and spoke confidentially. “It is da’roit’um|. But it does possess the knowledge of which it spoke, and it is very diligent. I think we would do well to take Twa’sei along, Di’fa’kro’mi – your pardon, Holy Remembrancer.”
“You continue to speak untowardly, Wei’tu,” I said with resignation.
But enough of all that. We took them both with us. And neither of them ever gave us any grief … except once … but that time was far in the future …
* * *
If we had known what was in store for us, would we still have set out on such an unprecedented course? I believe we would have, because we were both in our prime – Ki’shto’ba was eight years old and I was seven – and although we had both achieved highly and already seen more astonishing things than most any other Shi in existence, the variety and the wonders – and the horrors and the grief – to be found in the world still lay mostly beyond our ability to imagine.
Gri’a’vu’tei undertook a Seeing before we left, with the usual obscure results. He spoke of a burning pain, yet saw no fire; he had a sense of many deaths (do not Seers always sense death? For it is something that never fails to occur at some point); he looked for the end of our adventures but found them obscured behind a golden haze. He saw a rubble of stones as of an abandoned and demolished fortress, and Warriors marching in great numbers. He saw a tree growing from the top of a mountain and a huge bird flying like a tiny speck high above a mighty river.
“I experienced a great succession of emotions,” he said, “some satisfying, some tormenting. But my visions were quite general and dreamlike. I believe you will meet other Seers who will be able to perceive your path with greater clarity. I can say with full certainty only that you will learn more than any Shi has ever learned, and experience the greatest adventures that any Shi has ever experienced.”
But we knew that already, so we paid little attention to any negative implications that the Holy Seer’s visions might convey.
So we left Lo’ro’ra, the only place that three of us had ever dwelled, and we headed west and then northwest, following the course of the Ti’re’bu. One might ask, why did we set off northward if our goal was to arrive at the Great Water in the south? In fact, Ki’shto’ba wanted to return to To’wak, to check on the situation in its home fortress; if the Huge-Head were to find a need there, it would feel obligated to suspend its plans for wandering and remain. I spent much of our northward journey worrying that something like this would happen and force me to return to Lo’ro’ra.
The weather was pleasant and the sun tempered by a little haze, so we did not wear our magic skins. Each folded into a remarkably compact bundle, with a small disk on the corner. This disk was to be kept exposed to the light at all times; apparently the skins draw in their light-magic through this object. Wei’tu and Twa’sei were fascinated with those skins and had learned how to accouter us in them quickly. Ki’shto’ba was chagrined that we had no skins for our helpers; it offered to give its own to them, cutting it into two pieces, which would have covered each of them nicely. But both Gri’a’vu’tei and I advised against trying to divide the magic; it likely would have ruined the effectiveness, especially since there was only one light-disk. And Wei’tu said that both it and Twa’sei were accustomed to working outside, so we would simply find shade to rest in when the sun was at its height.
The journey was not difficult; Ki’shto’ba had made it three times before and following the scent of a watercourse does not require eyes. The river was at its lowest ebb at the end of chi’nol|, meandering along in little channels spread over a wide bed between banks whose deep cuts gave indication of the strength of the Wet Time flow. River grass was everywhere, along with ti’re|, which gives the river its name, and shbis’mu| as tall as a Shi is long. On the outer edges of the course, wild tho’sei| mingled with stands of drought-yellowed shur’sei|.  The river grass was dried to a spikiness that made it impossible to traverse, so we skirted the outer margins of the Sweet Grass River, keeping its scent on our right. As we trotted along, our helpers capered ahead of us, scaring up birds. They threatened to exhaust their energy before we had covered half of our journey’s first stage.
We had left not long after sunrise and we walked until half the morning had passed.  We had intended to go longer, but it was I who began to flag. Alates are not accustomed to walking long distances; my claws were getting sore, and my leg joints felt like they were about to come apart. So we crawled into the shade of a grove of shur’sei| and rested in the soft leaf litter.
Twa’sei proceeded to groom Ki’shto’ba, even though there was hardly any need yet. The Huge-Head seemed to enjoy its ministrations, conversing with it attentively as it industriously scoured each individual belly hair. Wei’tu extracted a large container of ointment from the commodious pack that had been bouncing against its thorax all morning, and it started to rub my feet and leg joints with it.
“How did you happen to bring such a large quantity of thru’nev’zi|?”  I asked, splaying out blissfully on my belly.
“I knew you were undertaking something far more ambitious than you realized, Holy Alate,” Wei’tu responded, massaging diligently with its palps. “Star-Winged Ones do not have much stamina.”
I started to respond testily, then felt a twinge in a trochanter and decided not to argue the point.
“I smell fungus,” said Wei’tu. “I believe Twa’sei is feeding the Huge-Head.”
“It is, indeed.”
“Does it ever strike you as odd, honored Remembrancer, that Warriors, the most powerful of Shshi, cannot feed themselves?”
“It is the price Warriors pay for having weapons. They cannot bring their foreclaws to their mouths or their mouths to a heap of food. Even if they only want to drink, they must have a container deep enough for the immersion of their mandibles.”
Wei’tu was swinging its antennae in circles. “I know all that. But why … ?”
“It is part of the plan of the Highest-Mother-Who-Is-Nameless – the division into Castes for the good of all. Each Caste has its proper gift and no one Caste can survive without the others. Have you never attended to my tales, Wei’tu?”
“Of course I have! The lowest Caste, we Workers, have the ability to build and the instinct to care for others. The second Caste, the Warriors, have dangerous jaws and great physical strength, in order to protect the fortress and all its citizens. And you exalted Alates have eyes to see with, whatever that means – none of us lesser ones can really know, or particularly care, when it comes right down to it. But … ”
“And,” I said, “the Nameless One granted the Alates the supreme privilege of producing the fortress’s progenitors. Furthermore, we were especially favored by the Highest Mother with superior intelligence.”
“Were you? I have doubted that at times.”
Highly annoyed, I fanned my wings, flashing light across the shade cast by the trees. Wei’tu felt the wind from my wings and wagged its head. “You are offended – possibly with reason. But it is the Alates, after all, who teach all the Castes from the first moment of hatching. Sometimes I think you indoctrinate us with notions of your superiority in order to keep the power that you lack the physical strength to enforce. In that respect you really are more intelligent – at least, more subtle. It was not a Worker who corrupted Commander Hi’ta’fu and Chief Lo’lo’pai and caused the deaths of so many.”
I lay chafing under Wei’tu’s grooming, because I totally disagreed with its point of view. But I had no answer for that last remark, and now with the passing of the years, I have come to see that what it said was just. There are stupid and subtle-minded Workers, and there are stupid and subtle-minded Warriors, and the same can be said of Alates. There is no one Caste that holds the measure on intelligence, but we seeing Star-Wings will not allow the lesser Castes to believe that, and so self-serving words are received as truth.
* * *
Ki’shto’ba set a rule that not all of us should sleep at one time. We had already seen several of the giant predatory reptiles  that morning; and some large mounds of the wild shza’zei|, which in numbers can be fierce; and one of the big flying birds that swoop down and seize smaller birds and lizards in their talons. So Wei’tu and Twa’sei took the first watch together, since Wei’tu wanted to instruct its smaller and more inexperienced sibling in what to watch for. Ki’shto’ba took the second watch and suggested that as a Holy Alate it would not be seemly for me to serve in so menial a capacity. But, still smarting from Wei’tu’s accusation, I insisted on doing my part and planned to take a third watch. In the meantime I slept, and soundly. Soundly, that is, until something startled me and I came to myself thinking I had gone half-blind in one eye. It was only a large dry-ground beetle that was climbing up my eye, but it caused me to thrash about so violently that everybody jumped up, and in its alarm Ki’shto’ba almost impaled Twa’sei.
I never have been fond of small, verminous insects.
About midafternoon, we went to the river to drink and then set out again, much refreshed. As we traveled, Wei’tu asked Ki’shto’ba why it felt the need to return to To’wak and the Huge-Head spoke a little about its earlier life.
“The war between the fortresses of To’wak and Yak’ar in which I earned my surname occurred when I was three years of age. To’wak’s long-time Commander was killed in that war, and there were many large, strong, and capable Warriors who wanted to succeed it. As time passed, the fortress split into factions, with separate groups of Warriors and even Workers, each supported by certain Alates, upholding the claims of each Chief. There was violence, I fear. It soon became clear that only the one who could kill most of its opponents would prevail.
“All of the Chiefs were older than I was, except Bai’go’tha, whose egg was laid one day after mine, but who hatched before I did. But I was exceptionally large and strong – there was not one of the Chiefs whom I had not defeated several times in the exercise yards – and I was a favorite of the Holy One and of our Seer, although not of the King or the Chamberlain. And so all the Chiefs regarded me with great distrust and uneasiness.
“But I myself felt I lacked the experience to assume such an exalted position, and furthermore I did not wish to gain power in this manner, by slaughter. If I were to command, I wanted to command because everyone agreed I would do the best job. The Nasute army had already been allowed to pass through our territory on their way to attack Lo’ro’ra, so the following year when the Nasutes sent scouts looking for a Champion to help them, Bai’go’tha, who was emerging as the most powerful of the Chiefs, strongly urged me to go. ‘You want experience,’ it said to me. ‘Here is your chance to get it.’
“And so I went, to everyone’s relief and my own, although I knew that it was only a ploy to get me out of the way, and that Bai’go’tha and others were hoping I would get killed.
“But of course I did not, and when I returned, I found that Bai’go’tha had slain all of its rivals and was in total command of To’wak, ruling by fear.
“It did not want me back, but I stayed anyway, largely because our Holy One Lo’zoi’ma’na’ta and Thru’tei’ga’ma the Seer desired it. I would not accept a small command under such a tyrant, and I tried to stay out of the way, but there were endless conspiracies seeking to force me into fighting Bai’go’tha. I resisted all of it. I was continually facing accusations of cowardice – I, who could have overcome four of To’wak’s Chiefs at the same time. And yet no matter how Bai’go’tha goaded me, it did not seem at all eager to fight me.
“It had reasons for that.
“After quite a long and rather unpleasant time, I had almost come to the point of challenging Bai’go’tha, when Kwi’ga’ga’tei’s emissary came from Lo’ro’ra requesting me to come serve as the fortress’s Champion. Bai’go’tha seemed at once relieved and scornful, and it taunted me, ‘Yes, go! Escape again! But do not come back until you have accomplished something – maybe some great wonders – a dozen of them would do nicely! Then maybe you will find the fiber to serve me as a Lieutenant, although that may in fact be too good for you!’
“So I went to Lo’ro’ra and you all know the outcome. Now I am ready to embark on some really great wonders, but I cannot escape thinking that perhaps after more than a season-cycle, something may have happened in To’wak that would make my presence necessary. If Bai’go’tha has not become a better leader, I do not think I will be willing to allow it to remain in power, especially after what I have learned in Lo’ro’ra.”
I had not known all this about Ki’shto’ba’s earlier life and I trudged along thinking for a while. But then the Huge-Head really surprised us.
“Besides,” it said, “I want to see Lo’zoi’ma’na’ta again before she dies, and I want to find out what has happened to my ni’a’zei|, for I worry about it, left alone in To’wak.”
“Your what?” I said, and Wei’tu and Twa’sei both cried, “What does that word mean? I do not know that word!”
“I know what that word should mean,” I said, “but I did not think such a thing really existed. I know of it only in tales.”
Ki’shto’ba bounced and swung amused antennae. “It is rare, but it certainly occurred in my case. One day my beloved Mother Lo’zoi’ma’na’ta labored mightily to bring forth only a single egg. It was a huge egg and it was of a strange shape, bulging on one side. There was quite a bit of excitement, for I believe that the Seer Thru’tei’ga’ma had been having significant visions.
“Then when the egg hatched, out I popped, twice as big as the usual nymph. But that was not all. Below me in the egg case was another, smaller nymph. Both of us were quite alive. Naturally, it and I grew up as the closest of friends. All of the citizens of a fortress are siblings, but we are the only twins anyone can recollect.”
“And your twin is still alive?” I said with intense interest. “What is its name?”
“A’zhu’lo. The Namers were sure I would be a Warrior because of my size, so they named me Shto, but with my twin they were not so certain, so they named it Zhu – it was sure to be famous because of the manner of its hatching. But Zhu did turn out to be a Warrior, and so we were given the imago names ‘Of the Invincible Mandibles’ and ‘Famous Strength.’” 
“Do you think it was safe to leave your twin in To’wak while you were gone?” asked Twa’sei. “Would it not be in danger because of its close relation to you?”
“That is one reason I must go back. But A’zhu’lo is not a very large Warrior, and although it does not lack fighting skills, it does not really like to fight. So I believe that Commander Bai’go’tha does not see it as a threat.” But Ki’shto’ba pranced a little in a way that suggested anxiety.
I said, “What were those visions that your Seer was having at the time your egg was laid?”
But Ki’shto’ba, ever modest, would not say. “I put little faith in the tales of Seers, unless it be Holy Kwi’ga’ga’tei’s. What matters is what one accomplishes in the world, not what others say ought to happen because one exists.”
 Magic skins
 The protective gear created a dampening field that interfered with the chemoreceptors and bioelectric signatures that are part of an isopteroid communication system.
 Ying’gwaf : Dancing Belly, or Belly Dancer
 Mortar gland; Workers of the builder Subcaste possess cephalic glands that secrete a saliva-like fluid used as a binding agent in the construction of stone fortresses.
 Sidekick; literally, one who strikes with the claw on the body’s side; I must confess that I occasionally indulged myself in a word-jest at the Shshi’s expense.
 Struck by hero worship, infatuated (literally, twist-headed)
 ti’re|: sweet grass, a short sedge with an odor pleasant to Shshi, if less so to humans
shbis’mu| (pl. of bis’mu|): literally, five-claw, a cycadophyte with five-lobed, sharply edged leaves
shur’sei| (pl. of ur’sei|): literally, flat tree, a riparian tree with an umbrella-shaped crown and narrow, drooping leaves
 The termite planet has a 40-hour rotation; hence when Di’fa’kro’mi refers to traveling for half a morning, the period of time is about five Earth hours.
 Literally, pleasant ointment; a generic designation for a whole range of medicinal salves
 A word on lizards vs. reptiles: I have translated dut’zei| (a generic term for small reptilians) as “lizard,” and ar’zei| meaning literally “heavy creature”) as “reptile.” However, the Shshi distinguish dozens of different varieties of saurians , which occupy many of the niches on G. Gwidian that mammalians fill on Earth.
 Nymphs are given one-syllable names at hatching, and when the third molt reveals their Caste, their names are expanded; Workers receive two-syllable names; Warriors, three; and Alates, four. In names, a is a meaningless place-holder, employed to achieve the proper number of syllables.