SM, CH. 1
The War of the Stolen Mother
(Footnotes are grouped at the end of this page)
Twenty-eight years … I was hatched twenty-eight years ago, this very season. Do both of you know that? Now I lie here in a dark chamber and rarely move – I who was accustomed to wandering long distances under the sky and gazing at the stars during every darktime … I have felt rain on my wings and sand crunching under my claws … the heat-blast of volcanoes’ firestreams and the sting of the ice-field’s frozen pellets … I have seen the waves of the Great Water and I have immersed myself in them …
It is a strange end I have come to, the strange end of a very strange life …
What is it, Chi’mo’a’tu? Yes, yes, put all that down … Ru’a’ma’na’ta wanted everything I have to say – if she ever comes again …
I do not think I will ever see her again – she comes less and less often … Did you know, Chi’mo’a’tu, that the Star-Beings die even as the Shshi do? You did? Well, some refuse to believe that, but it is certainly true, because we know that Ru’a’ma’na’ta’s King died. You met Ru’a’ma’na’ta when she was last here, did you not? You are so young … Oh, an imago for nearly two whole years! So much experience! I am overwhelmed!
Well, anyway, what I started to say was – you may have noticed that the mat of hairs on Ru’a’ma’na’ta’s head was white, or mingled white and gray. It used to be a sort of even brownish-tan. She told me that that color-change is a sign of age among her kind of Star-Beings. They live long – much longer than the Shshi do. When I last saw Ru’a’ma’na’ta, she told me she was an astonishing ten years past the two-antennae count. So one day she will no longer come at all … Perhaps no Star-Being will come … That makes me feel a little sad.
I also feel sad because her King died here in Lo’ro’ra. She told me once that she had never produced offspring – that she had cared so much for her King that she refused to take another. That seems unnatural to us, but then the fortresses of the Star-Beings each contain many shma’na’ta|, so it is not essential that every one of them lay eggs. But there is something very touching in this single-minded devotion of hers. And of course her King died because of Lo’ro’ra’s aberration – because he was caught in that long-ago rebellion led by the Unnatural Alate whose name I refuse to speak. And so the memories of that will always sadden me.
Something of her King was left behind with his destroyers. When Ru’a’ma’na’ta first returned and saw what we had done, she made the sorrow-display where the water drips from the Star-Beings’ eyes. Perhaps you should write down what we did and why we did it, so it will not be forgotten.
After the battle ended, when our Workers first examined the storage cyst where the King had died of his wound, they were frightened because of the alien odors and sense of a presence. So Ki’shto’ba the Champion and Chief Sa’ti’a’i’a and Commander A’gwa’ji went out to investigate, along with Gri’a’vu’tei, who had only just received the gift of Seeing; and I went as well. And in a corner we found a bucket with tissue in it, an organ like a piece of gut or heart, and yet not like those.
Then the Commander wondered if we should eat it, or return it to the Star-Beings before they flew away so they could eat it. But I said that we should leave it there and seal the cyst, because Ru’a’ma’na’ta had said that the Star-Beings bury their dead instead of consuming them. And Gri’a’vu’tei agreed and said we should make a memorial like those we erected to Ti’shra and Gli’tha’mu, whom the Star-Beings killed in their initial ignorance of what we were. This would be even holier, because the bodies of those two Shshi were not left behind for us, and because we needed to make a reparation.
So we filled up the cyst with rocks and sealed it, and the Growers broke up the hard ground around it and worked in decayed leaves and dung, and in the next gwai’nol| they planted seeds of tho’sei| trees and of the creeping ha’fli| that smells so sweet when it is crushed underfoot. It has become a place of beauty where the lo’ro’ra’zei| go to rest and frolic with their pets, and they bring offerings of fungus and honeydew to honor the Highest-Mother-Who-Is-Nameless, and the Mother of the Star-Beings and her dead King.
But there is still more to that place. We go there to honor our beloved Holy Seer Kwi’ga’ga’tei, who foretold the New Time that has come and who paid the guilt-price for the faults of all those who dwelled in Lo’ro’ra. After she died, her body was corrupt from the long lingering caused by her wound, and the Star-Beings’ Healers and our own Healers counseled that we must not consume it. So we laid it in the storage cyst that was adjacent to the King’s and sealed that one also. In this way we have a memorial for her as well.
In later years, Shshi of other fortresses have commenced honoring Kwi’ga’ga’tei and they visit Lo’ro’ra to pay tribute. I have been told some even consider that the guilt-price was paid for the imperfections of all Shshi everywhere and they regard her as a worshipful being like the Nameless One. They call her Holy Daughter of the Mother and such things, and they address prayers to her, which some avow are answered. I am not so sure I approve of that, or that Kwi’ga’ga’tei herself would approve, for, however remarkable she was, she was nevertheless only a weak-bodied Alate, and a Seer like many others, struggling to find the Right Path and never sure of the way …
Well, as I was saying, Ru’a’ma’na’ta displayed sorrow when she saw what we had done to honor her King. She said, “Our Healer had to cut away part of the injured breathing organ of my na’sha’ma| and in the shock of that calamitous day it was left behind. But now I am not sorry, because you have created a thing of beauty around it.”
I speak too fast? You are probably correct! I will stop and let you catch up – I realize you are new at this. ... I wish I could write it all myself, but my claw grips poorly these days, and it would not do to make a column of illegible word-images. Humorous to think about – Alates in future generations pouring over these strips of bu’re| fiber, trying to decipher words written in haste … We cannot make words by magic, you know, as the Star-Beings can, and so we tried different substances on which to mark the images – leaves woven together, the inner bark of the tho’sei| … Leaves disintegrate and to strip so much bark killed our trees, and that would not do.
But Yus’dei – you remember little Yus’dei, who died from the black fungus disease maybe three years ago? … Oh, of course, you do not – you were still in the nursery! Yus’dei the little Worker who wove bu’re| curtains suggested beating together the inner pulp of that river grass, of which there is an endless supply everywhere in our land, to make a smooth-surfaced sheet that is practically indestructible. It is easy to make long strips of this material that can easily be slid up and down between the claws. So we can make a column of images downward and then run back up again – so, we read down, up, down, up, and so on – and then the strips can be rolled and stored in niches hollowed out between the wall stones of special chambers.
But the surface of the bu’re| sheets is not satisfactory for the scratching of characters – it is too fibrous. So we tried chalk-stone, but it rubbed off, and we tried making indentations, but they were too hard to see. Then one of the Image Workers – that whole new Subcaste that has developed just to make writing materials and maintain the storage and so on – one of the Image Workers remembered being told some plants produce juices that stain whatever they touch. The Healers experimented and found that an indelible reddish-brown stain can be made from the husks of the fruit of the son’zhuf| bush; they are pounded and soaked in water for some period of time and then combined with ti’wa’zi| and a bit of fat for stickiness. Shape up a sliver of leg chitin from the Charnel Hall for a marking tool, and one is ready to write …
Yes, yes, I know – slower … Can someone perform a dance to entertain me while I wait? Vai’prai’mo’tei, that was only a jest …
Did you know that of all the Shshi who dwelled in Lo’ro’ra when Ru’a’ma’na’ta’s King died, I am the only one still alive? Even the Holy One who succeeded A’kha’ma’na’ta – her name was Viz’ka’ma’na’ta – died younger than is common for the Mothers of fortresses. When Holy Gri’a’vu’tei died two years ago, he was twenty-three. He served as Holy Seer a very long time – twenty years – because he was only three years old when he succeeded Kwi’ga’ga’tei, and he cared well for himself and avoided excessive use of the bir’zha| fungus, so he never became weakened by the Seer’s sickness. He governed Lo’ro’ra long and well and made our fortress more prosperous and respected than it had ever been. Who would have thought it? Barely more than a nymph – younger than you, Chi’mo’a’tu! – of no noticeable gifts, a mere Light-Maker for the Holy One. It only shows the wisdom of the Nameless One when she selects those with whom she deigns to speak.
As for myself, I was never a Seer like Kwi’ga’ga’tei, but I was also given a gift – a gift for speaking words and remembering the past. And so I was always interested in the strange manner in which the Star-Beings use language. What did you say? That’s right, Vai’prai’mo’tei – they have no antennae. Ru’a’ma’na’ta told me once that they speak by blowing air out of their mouths – what? Yes, that is what I said. I do not know how they do that – their mouths are somehow connected to their breathing apparatus. Yes, it mystifies me, too, so shall we leave that subject? No, Chi’mo’a’tu, I do not believe we could learn to speak with our spiracles. Please do not squat there, Vai’prai’mo’tei, trying to expel air from your crop – it is disgusting! I do not want your regurgitation all over my floor!
Where was I? Oh, yes. This blowing out of air causes some kind of vibration that is felt by those petal-edged holes on the sides of their heads, and that is how they receive words. Ru’a’ma’na’ta once let me place my antennae on her neck as she spoke, and I could feel a quiver that is an element of that vibration. She said the Star-Beings have a sense the Shshi lack – something like our detection of vibrations with the sensilla but yet not like it, and something like the signals that go out of our antennae, but yet not like them. I do not believe any Shi will ever understand it fully. But perhaps that is why the Highest-Mother-Who-Has-No-Name called Ru’a’ma’na’ta kai’tri’ze| kei| shprai’mo’zi|, because the Star-Beings speak through the air in the manner of wind.
But they also express their language in images. I only understood that many years after Ru’a’ma’na’ta first came. During one particular sleep-time when I was not sleepy, I was thinking about all those knowledge boxes, or magic boxes, as some persist in calling them, that the Star-Beings have, and I thought about the rows of markings that would appear on the surfaces of some of them as we spoke. And it came to me that those markings were language and stood in place of the words that we had just spoken, and that it might be possible to do the same thing with Shshi words. And it was a revelation – a revelation from the Nameless One, as sure as any vision comes to a Seer!
I immediately jumped up and pulled a large tho’sei| leaf from my bedding and scratched an image on it with my claw. I tried to draw a tree. Clearly, one would think of seip| when one saw that image. And I tried to draw a river, with waving lines. That clearly could be bu|. And so I became obsessed and to everyone’s consternation I did little else for many days but scratch on leaves. They all thought I had lost my wits.
It quickly became clear that my methodology was unworkable. No two Shshi would draw a tree in quite the same way. There had to be one quite simple form that all could use. So I prescribed that seip| should be imaged by a vertical line topped by a circle, and that bu| was two vertical lines with one wavy line between.
But clearly this was also inadequate. How does one draw a simplified image of a fortress, for example, and distinguish it from a mountain? And, while one might draw images of a Shi walking or eating, it becomes very complex; and it is impossible to make images of ideas like honor or fear or loyalty. I could not recollect that the Star-Beings’ word-images at all resembled the things they represented.
So I pondered, and finally I realized that it could all be conventional. For mu’zi| one might easily draw a claw, but for “to walk” one might draw that same claw and put two short vertical lines in front of it, imaging the word krio|. That was when I realized that our spoken language uses something similar. When we speak a basic word of action, like “to walk, “we preface it with a marker that is not really a word, and yet it tells us what kind of word we are speaking. My fervor to proceed grew stronger than before.
It was at that point, about four years after I returned to Lo’ro’ra, that Ru’a’ma’na’ta came for a visit, and I sought her advice, for I was still dissatisfied with my results. She was impressed – I could tell by her body postures and by the pleasure pheromones that came from her – and she said that I was right about the nature of the image marks on their knowledge boxes. But she refused to advise me. She said the Star-Beings seek to influence as little as possible the peoples that they encounter among the stars. She was sure that we would have achieved this innovation at some point in our development, but that the coming of the Star-Beings had caused it to happen sooner than perhaps it should have, and that I must find my own way.
I was disappointed, but I determined to press on. And after a great deal more thought, I saw that I had been missing something. There are similarities among the various words that the Shshi utter and it would be useful to build upon that fact. For example, the sendings for krio| and mu’zi| are not at all alike and yet I was using essentially the same image for them. krino|, which means to walk about aimlessly or without purpose, is much more like krio|. Similarly, mu’zi| is more like mugo| and has a related meaning. It was more sensible to add the action marker to the claw image for the word mugo| than for krio|.
Then I spent much time contemplating our language, and I concluded that what I was trying to do was to depict the ideas of the words when what I needed to do was to depict the forms of the sendings. I observed that we often clump several words together to make other words and that we use other markers besides the one to denote action. By assigning arbitrary images to sendings and markers and using them consistently, I could limit what threatened to become a much larger body of knowledge than anyone could comfortably memorize. For example, the signal for the word pai| forms part of the words for “Warrior,” for a “fight” and “to fight,” for “battle” and for “single combat.” To make five separate images would produce a confusing complexity. One need only make an image for pai|, which happens to be crossed hooks, like a pair of mandibles. Follow that image with a circle, which marks it as a person, and one has represented “Warrior”; place a dot before that word and it becomes more than one Warrior. If crossed lines are placed after pai|, it becomes a thing – a “fight.” Two vertical lines in front – “to fight,” an action word. A “fight among many” is shown by writing the image for pai| twice and adding the marker for a thing. Finally, pai’o’kwi’zi| can be explained as a shortened form of pai’zi| o| kwi’sho’zei| for which one can utilize the images … 
What? Why are you stamping about and flaring your wings? I am well aware that you know all this already! I suppose I am boring you! But I am not finished analyzing my thought processes. A Remembrancer should always finish what he has begun to tell – that is a cardinal rule! That is the trouble these days – you young ones are in too much of a hurry, impatient to be finished. You have never learned how to pay attention, and words do not have the fascination for you that they should.
Please do not display such indignation, Chi’mo’a’tu – I am well aware that you know how to pay attention. Would I have chosen you as my principal scribe for this undertaking if I had thought you could not pay attention?
Now what? Time to eat? Ridiculous! Oh, bring it in! What do I have? The same old thing! Predigested plate fungus and watered honeydew. You could at least bring tho’sei| blossoms, but I know – I know what season it is! I was hatched in this season! Pardon me if I am not enthusiastic. I was used to variety – wild fungus, wild fruits, the exotic foods of barbarous peoples.
I understand A’kha’ma’na’ta much better now. shna’ta’zei| always get weary of having to eat continually so they can lay healthy eggs. Well, here is my mouth, wide open – stuff it in! I must keep up my strength if I am to lay the egg of a tale that will not bore you.
 The Shshi count by threes and sixes; each of their moniliform antennae has 18 knobs, so they name no number above 36. Any larger amount becomes simply “many.”
 Plural of ma’na’ta|, mother, the Queen, the only fertile female denizen of a Shshi fortress
 The Wet Time, one of six seasons of the year recognized by the Shshi; gwai’nol| is followed by shra’nol|, the Time of Flowers; su’eish’nol|, the Time of Drying; weio’nol|, the Dead Time; chi’nol|, the Cold Time; la’nol|, the Time of Waiting
 The King, the fertile male consort of the Queen in fortresses of any species of Shshi
 Honeydew, the sweet fluid secreted by the shza’zei| or Little Ones, domesticated formicidiforms
 A wind going out from the stars. The name wasd supposedly revealed to the Holy Seer Kwi’ga’ga’tei by the Nameless Goddess. The word kai’tri’ze| uncannily reflects my own given name (Kaitrin).
 mugo|: to scratch
 pai| is the root for “war.” Warrior: pai’zei|; Warriors: shpai’zei|; fight (noun): pai’zi|; to fight: paio|; battle: pai’pai’zi| (literally, “many fights”); single combat: pai’o’kwi’zi| (literally, “a fight with one”). pai’zi| o| kwi’sho’zei| is, literally, “a fight with an individual” (i.e. , single combat).
 Plural of na’ta’zei|, literally, Holy Female Person; the Holy One, the usual respectful term of address for the Queen of the fortress