SM, CH. 3
[This chapter is presented in its entirety. The footnotes came out properly, marked in the text with bracketed numerals. They show up at the end of this page. However, they are not linked.]
The Adventurers Arrive at To'wak
At sunset we again stopped to rest, then continued our journey at the midpoint of the darktime. It was my first experience of traveling at night and it made me instantly aware that Alates really are inferior to the other Castes in certain respects. An Alate’s reliance on eyesight seems to have weakened those additional sensory faculties that are so acute in the blind Warriors and Workers. We see well enough by our own wing-light in the walled spaces of the fortress, but in the open and insecure darkness of the outdoors, I felt sightless and vulnerable. I almost wore out my wing joints fanning and pumping up light, and even so I could illuminate no more than a tiny circle around my body. The night seemed very vast and mysterious, with the stars shining cold and distant and the two moons watching. Some call them the eyes of the Nameless One.
So I blundered along in some panic while Ki’shto’ba and the Workers trotted with their customary surefootedness, oblivious to the gloom pressing on all sides. Toward dawn we took another rest, donning our magic skins to warm us against an increasing chill. With the skin covering them, my wings were darkened, and then I truly knew what it was like to be eyeless.
There are in fact dangers in the darktime that do not exist by day. Certain predatory birds and reptiles hunt at night, and one might encounter venomous insects of both the crawling and flying varieties. The thought of those made me uneasy, since they are said to climb into one’s orifices or into the crevices between body segments and sting one’s soft inner parts. But most of the large, aggressive reptiles are active only in the daytime, and it was the wrong season for many insects to be prowling about.
I continued footsore and Wei’tu’s salve was diminishing fast. At one point, I remarked that I wished Ru’a’ma’na’ta had given us foot covers as well as the magic skins. This led to a discussion about the nature of the Star-Beings. The Workers were astonished when I related how Ru’a’ma’na’ta had once removed the coverings from her rear feet and I had seen what they looked like – strangely white and soft, and tipped by five short, flexible pegs of graduated size, with broad, useless claws upon them like the inefficient claws on her front leg palps. They are somewhat comparable to the feet of some swimming birds or reptiles, and yet quite different, really. Most bizarre and ugly. No wonder they cover them.
Twa’sei was surprised to learn that Ru’a’ma’na’ta’s feet had no hair on them; it was much taken by the small, hairy-footed wanderer in the tale about the magic ring object. Twa’sei was itself small and powerless and saw in that Champion what it would like to become.
Then we got into a discussion of how all the Star-Beings, no matter how much their varieties differed from one another, were more similar to the birds and even to the reptiles than to the insects or to the Shshi. Some of the Star-Beings actually are birds, and all of them have their soft flesh on the outside, enclosing their sclerites. They all stand upright like birds, without resting their bellies on the ground, and have four limbs of whatever type, whereas insects and Shshi consistently have six limbs and carry their support structures on the outside where they can function sensibly as a protection for the inner parts.
We call ourselves the First Created and look upon the speechless birds and reptiles and insects as beings of a secondary order, and yet Ru’a’ma’na’ta once showed Kwi’ga’ga’tei and later myself images that somewhat shook my conviction of our superiority. These images were of insect creatures from her world that were no bigger than a bush louse and yet had the form and behavior of a Shi. These tiny things were building and maintaining and defending fortresses and caring for their Mother, all without intelligence or power of speech. If we have anything like that on this world, it is not in any place I ever journeyed.
And yet if one considers the shza’zei|, one can see that they are not unlike the Shshi in form and behavior; and the tiniest of insects have body parts similar to ours. This intimation that we could somehow be related to these small verminous creatures that have always discomfited me is something that even today gives me an uneasy feeling in my gut. It puts in question that superior separateness that we have always so smugly asserted and even throws doubt on the accuracy of the myths that give us our identity.
But then, I have always viewed myths as metaphor rather than literal truth, and the fact that we are here as more important than how we came to be.
* * *
Ki’shto’ba said we would arrive at To’wak about midday. It beat a path to the river for us through the dense bu’re| so we could search for a ford. The central channel was deeper and narrower here, and the terrain was rising as we scrambled along the steep bank. We came to a short waterfall, negotiated the rocky rise over which it cascaded, and found the riverbed broadening once again. Ki’shto’ba waded out to check the depth, then beckoned us on, and we all plunged in. That was the first time I ever waded across an expanse of water, but it was hardly the last. The water came only halfway up my belly, but the flow pushed at me, and the oozy, invisible stones of the riverbed gave my claws a quite insecure purchase. I was not sorry to reach the other side.
I raised my foreparts off the ground, peering ahead. “There!” I said. “I see a hill, with a great fortress on it!”
“To’wak!” cried the Workers gleefully, but of a sudden Ki’shto’ba leaped toward a cluster of tall rocks, posturing in formidable threat.
Several equally threatening Warriors emerged from among the rocks, all Da’no’no Shshi. But the smallest of them bounded toward us.
“Ki’shto’ba! It is Ki’shto’ba! Do you not recognize it? Stand down!”
“A’zhu’lo! ni’a’zei|!” exclaimed the Huge Head, rushing forward.
The twins met with forelegs raised, coming together as if they would fight or wrestle, dancing about with legs locked and heads elevated, mandible pressed to mandible. Then they lost their balances and toppled, rolling over and over together with such abandon that I feared they would wound each another. But their pleasure in meeting again was moving to behold.
In the background, the march guards scented the air to make sure that the Workers and I presented no danger and then stood down from their posturing, although they continued to shift about uneasily, cocking antennae at one another so I could not make out what they were saying. Twa’sei pressed itself against my right side in some fear, and although Wei’tu possessed quite real courage, it also sidled up to me. Few Warriors would dare to attack an Alate.
Presently, Ki’shto’ba and A’zhu’lo stopped rolling about and scrambled to their feet, standing back from each other.
“A’zhu’lo, you seem to be flourishing! What a coincidence that you should be on march duty on this day!”
“Not really!” said A’zhu’lo. “Holy Thru’tei’ga’ma … ”
“Thru’tei’ga’ma is still alive?”
“Barely. He is quite pitiable, Ki’shto’ba. Too much bir’zha|, you know. They help him to the Councils and into the presence of the Holy One … ”
“Lo’zoi’ma’na’ta is well?”
“Oh, she flourishes still. But she is sad. She misses you, Ki’shto’ba.”
“Well, I have come, at least for a while.”
“For a while only?” A’zhu’lo hesitated, seeming to remember that others were present. It bobbled its antennae uncertainly at the group of Warriors.
“You are the Lieutenant of these march guards, A’zhu’lo?”
“Oh, no, no, only a simple Warrior still. It suits me best. Lieutenant Gwo’ju’ka, you remember … ”
One of the Warriors stepped forward. “How could anyone forget? Welcome home, Ki’shto’ba Huge-Head. It has been so long that many have believed you to be dead.”
“I did not!” exclaimed A’zhu’lo. “Not after the refugees came! They spoke about the battle – how you fought the rebel Commander and killed … ”
I stepped forward then. “Refugees? What do you mean?”
There was hesitation, and much twiddling of feet.
Ki’shto’ba said, “Lieutenant Gwo’ju’ka – honored Warriors – my twin A’zhu’lo – this is Di’fa’kro’mi the Remembrancer of Lo’ro’ra, and two little Workers, Wei’tu and Twa’sei, who accompany us. And what do you mean, ‘refugees’?”
Gwo’ju’ka spoke. “After your battle a year ago, some Workers and Warriors from Lo’ro’ra were found wandering in the marches, half dead of hunger and terror. Commander Bai’go’tha took pity on them and gave them shelter.”
“They are still here in To’wak?” I asked.
“Indeed, they are honored guests,” said the Lieutenant, prancing nervously. Next to me, Wei’tu pointed its antennae backward and sizzled skeptically. I hoped it would keep its opinions to itself.
“They could have returned home had they wished to do so,” I said. “The Holy One and the King of Lo’ro’ra forgave all who wished forgiveness after the rebels were overthrown. Perhaps when I tell them that, they will want to return.”
Gwo’ju’ka continued to prance and said nothing.
“So Bai’go’tha is still Commander,” remarked Ki’shto’ba.
“Certainly,” said the Lieutenant. “You forget, Huge-Head, no one is as powerful as Bai’go’tha.”
There was a reflective moment. Then A’zhu’lo said, “But we must bring these travelers to the fortress so they can refresh themselves. We can talk as we … ”
“In fact, I will take my phalanx ahead,” said Gwo’ju’ka hastily. “We can move faster alone and the fortress can be alerted to prepare … A’zhu’lo, conduct our guests with all honor.” And the Lieutenant and its company turned their tails on us and vanished among the rocks.
“I think it is a liar,” erupted Wei’tu.
“Hush,” said I.
“Of course it is a liar,” said A’zhu’lo, exuding scorn. “My twin, your return has just stabbed everyone to the gut with fear.”
Said Ki’shto’ba, “All this sounds ominous. What did you start to tell me awhile ago about Holy Thru’tei’ga’ma?”
“Oh, he had a fit in the Holy Chamber yesterday – flopped about and spewed froth at both ends. Pitiable. But he still has the gift, you know. He sent for the Chief of my Cohort earlier today and told it to assign me to marcher duty – that the Nameless One had ordered it. The Chief was amused but indulgent. So you can see that my being here is not a coincidence!”
I was impressed. “Your homecoming must surely have significance, Ki’shto’ba,” I said, “if the Highest-Mother-Who-Is-Nameless takes an interest in it.”
“What is this about Workers from Lo’ro’ra?” asked Wei’tu.
A’zhu’lo said, “Part of what my Lieutenant said is true. lo’ro’ra’zei| were found wandering in the marches, but Bai’go’tha hardly took pity on them.”
“It slaughtered them?” I said in horror.
“No, no. But it kept them captive. It has forced them to work for To’wak in the most menial manner, as befits, so our honored Commander says, the inferior race of shlam’wei’zei|. Some of the Workers were skilled builders and several were Feeders of higher rank, but our Commander put all of them to servicing the dung pit and cutting up corpses in the Charnel Hall. Several have died. The Warriors are kept in a guarded chamber and forced to perform practice combat with young, unskilled Warriors. Two or three have been killed by accident.”
I was becoming highly incensed and alarmed, for enslavement of that sort was a provocation to war and Lo’ro’ra was hardly ready for that. Wei’tu continued to sizzle. Twa’sei was scared. “I do not know if I want to go to To’wak,” it said.
“Do not worry, little friend,” said Ki’shto’ba. “No one will dare to hurt anyone under my protection. But, ni’a’zei|, what do the Holy One and the King think of all this?”
“Our Mother worries about the captives, but you know how it is – a na’ta’zei| has no real power except to withhold offspring, and that is extreme and sometimes fatal. And the King – well, we still have Yan’ut’na’sha’ma. At thirteen years of age, he can produce egg-maker like a five-year-old. And he is as thick as ever with Bai’go’tha and despises you and me. But … ” A’zhu’lo rubbed up against its twin’s side. “Everything will be better now that you are back. What did you mean, you have come at least for a while? You certainly will stay this time! You certainly mean to challenge Bai’go’tha!”
I could see all our plans vanishing like mist in the midday sun. Ki’shto’ba stomped along ponderously. “I do not know,” it said. “I had not intended to stay, A’zhu’lo.” And it told its twin of the adventure we were proposing.
A’zhu’lo received its sibling’s words without speaking. Then it said, “Do not tell anyone of these plans. If it is known that you do not intend to stay, Bai’go’tha and its supporters will simply put on a false show of friendliness until you are gone. Perhaps you can do something to help us before you leave.”
“I do not know if I will leave,” said Ki’shto’ba.
“I cannot blame you for wanting an adventure,” said A’zhu’lo, “but what was it that inspired you?”
So we spoke of the Star-Beings and A’zhu’lo appeared shaken. “That explains much. It explains Holy Thru’tei’ga’ma’s visions last season-cycle – he babbled of speaking beings with feathers, and giant flying monsters that swooped down and scooped up Shshi and carried them off. We all thought it was just the bir’zha| madness, until the refugees from Lo’ro’ra arrived, and then everyone thought those ones were also mad, with the talk of flying dwellings and strange-smelling deformed creatures from the stars.”
“One should always pay attention to Thru’tei’ga’ma,” said Ki’shto’ba, and I wondered a little at that, remembering how the Huge-Head had previously dismissed the rantings of Seers.
We set out for the fortress, and as we scurried along I said, “I counsel that we say nothing at the moment about the refugees. It is unfortunate that the Lieutenant knows that we know they are here, but it may not tell its Commander for fear of incurring displeasure. Let them wonder whether A’zhu’lo told us about their mistreatment. Or, if the time seems appropriate, we can ask to speak with these honored guests from Lo’ro’ra and perhaps gain some advantage.”
Everyone agreed, but Wei’tu made a sly remark about the subtlety of Alates that I found a trifle irritating.
* * *
The wall surrounding To’wak was half again as high as Lo’ro’ra’s; in fact there was a double ring of walls, one outside the other, separated by the length of thirty Shshi. The Warriors’ exercise yards were between these walls and each entrance gate was guarded. I wondered why such heavy protection was necessary in a fortress that I had believed was at peace. Troops fell in before and behind us as we passed through the fortifications. I felt like a prisoner.
But Ki’shto’ba displayed no alarm, greeting many of the Warriors as we moved along. Some returned the greetings with genuine pleasure, some with stiff courtesy, and a few dared to turn the posterior or simply ignore their returning sibling.
In the main courtyard quite a contingent awaited us at the entrance to the principal edifice – two phalanxes of guards, including the one we had encountered in the marches, being commanded by a very nervous-seeming Gwo’ju’ka. There were also several Alates, but no Workers. I thought about how No’kri the Worker Chief always spoke for Lo’ro’ra in official situations; it seemed that in To’wak Workers were accorded far less respect.
In the midst of the contingent stood a Warrior rearing on its hind pairs of legs in a posture that bespoke both threat and bravado. It apparently sought to appear larger than it was, for while it was powerful enough, it was obviously not as mighty as the Shi that now confronted it.
“Ki’shto’ba No’no Um’zi!” it said. “What a singular pleasure! To’wak had thought never to see you again!”
Ki’shto’ba stopped before it and formally abased, briefly swishing its mandibles in the dirt. “Commander Bai’go’tha! You smell in fine condition.”
“Your senses have not failed you, Huge-Head. But we are somewhat puzzled. You come in the company of Shum’za, from Lo’ro’ra, I have been informed. I understand that the holy Alate is Lo’ro’ra’s Remembrancer. Has the exalted fortress of Lo’ro’ra destroyed itself and these individuals are all that is left? Or do you seek a King? If so, let me correct your ignorance. The Da’no’no Shshi and the Shum’za cannot interbreed, I fear.”
I stepped forward. “Neither guess is correct. I come merely as a traveler eager to see the wonders of the regions adjacent to our marches, and perhaps to offer tales that will give pleasure and even edification to people of – dare I say? – a rougher culture?” It was perhaps an unwisely insolent beginning on my part, but I was annoyed.
Bai’go’tha tossed its head, but the Da’no’no Alates bounced and flourished their antennae in amusement. One of them said, “Di’fa’kro’mi, is it not? Your reputation precedes you. I am Kru’bu’gli’sti the Keeper of the Holy Chamber. This is Goi’o’na’tu, To’wak’s own Remembrancer.”
“Indeed,” said Goi’o’na’tu, abasing, “I am honored to meet you and look forward to your tales and to speech with you in the Alates’ Assembly. It seems that incredible things have occurred at Lo’ro’ra. Perhaps you can give us the truth about them.”
Everyone shifted toward and away from Goi’o’na’tu. But Bai’go’tha said, “So, Ki’shto’ba, I believe I told you to return only when you had performed a dozen wonders. You have successfully accomplished that so soon?”
“Perhaps not,” said Ki’shto’ba, “although what I have done and seen may equal twelve in its strangeness. But I have missed my twin and the Mother, and so I have returned to visit them.”
There was a speculative pause. Then Bai’go’tha said, “Accommodations have been arranged. Ki’shto’ba, A’zhu’lo will conduct you to the Warriors’ Quarters. The Remembrancer will want to take housing with the Alates, and as far as the Workers go … ”
Wei’tu and Twa’sei cringed against me as Ki’shto’ba said quickly, “With your indulgence, the four of us will all take quarters together here in the main building. It is more agreeable to us.”
Again, Bai’go’tha stood without words. Then the Chamberlain Kru’bu’gli’sti said, “By all means! I will see to it! It will undoubtedly be more convenient for everyone!”
Bai’go’tha said then, “When we have guests in To’wak, it is customary for us to feed while we converse. In two turnings of the water vessel, the assembly chamber will be ready. I believe you know where it is, Ki’shto’ba! Chamberlain, make the arrangements!” And it flourished its mandibles and vanished into the fortress, with one of the phalanxes trailing after it.
A’zhu’lo spoke gleefully for my private reception. “It is flummoxed. This is the happiest day of my life, merely to see Bai’go’tha discomfited.”
* * *
Of all the varieties of Shshi I encountered on my travels, the Da’no’no are really the least different from the Shum’za. Our languages are similar enough that no interpreters are needed, and we keep many of the same rituals and customs and tell comparable creation tales. I learned during my sojourn at To’wak that, whereas we Shum’za have our origins in the southeast, the Da’no’no Shshi believe that they arrived in the valley of the Ti’re’bu from the northeast. They were here before the Shum’za, as they tell it, although it is well known that Remembrancers’ lore is notoriously inconsistent. They were settling the north bank of the Ti’re’bu about the time the Shum’za arrived, so the Da’no’no Shshi never built fortresses south of the river. To’wak, Yak’ar, and the other fortresses on the north bank form a frontier defense for the more northern settlements. Perhaps that accounts for their uncommonly belligerent attitudes.
Certainly the Da’no’no Shshi are larger than the Shum’za. Even the Workers have heads that are rounder and more domed, whereas the heads of the Shum’za are flattened and more squared. The mandibles are of a different shape, particularly in the Warriors. A Da’no’no Shshi Warrior has a matching pair of barely curved blades that are rather short and heavy, with sharply pointed and slightly hooked tips; in the Shum’za one mandible is longer than the other, and the horizontally crossing blades are thinner and more curved. These differences make for distinct fighting styles; Da’no’no Shshi tend to slash and stab, while the Shum’za hook the jaws into the opponent, snap them shut, and then twist.
And of course the Warriors of Ki’shto’ba’s people have rock-hard heads nearly as big as their bodies. I have always marveled that they are able to lift them.
The Da’no’no Shshi cultivate a type of plate fungus that is quite similar to ours and perfectly agreeable to our digestion, and they are great husbanders of Little Ones and consume vast quantities of honeydew. They do not cultivate orchards, but instead forage for the leaves and fruits of several wild shrubs and trees, some of which are totally inedible to the Shum’za. Indeed, Ki’shto’ba took great delight in one of these unfamiliar vegetable treats, whereas the taste of it made me and our little helpers spew.
I find the custom of combining eating with conversation to be quite odd. After all, eating is not a social activity among comrades but, particularly for Warriors, a messy necessity with many strangers present. But perhaps the Da’no’no Shshi find it puts potential adversaries at a disadvantage and gives an opportunity to send subtle signals of disrespect or approbation. Our big relatives seem to expect to find adversaries everywhere.
On that first day, Kru’bu’gli’sti, with much affected abasing and scraping, installed the four of us in a rather cramped chamber somewhere in the vicinity of the Alates’ Quarters, then at the proper time conducted us to the Assembly Hall. Ki’shto’ba insisted that Wei’tu and Twa’sei come with us, much to their relief. I took an instinctive dislike to Kru’bu’gli’sti; I have never quite trusted Keepers of the Holy Chamber since my experiences with the Unnatural Alate, who served Lo’ro’ra in that capacity. But Ki’shto’ba said that it was no secret Kru’bu’gli’sti was an ally of Bai’go’tha and the King.
“Why is the King your enemy?” I asked in considerable perplexity, but Ki’shto’ba only shuffled and gave no satisfactory answer.
In the Assembly Hall we found Bai’go’tha ensconced on a stone riser along with its three Cohort Chiefs, a couple of Lieutenants, the Remembrancer Goi’o’na’tu, and a few other Alates. The Hall was high of ceiling and gloomy, very poorly lighted by only two or three extra Alates. The Names had already been named when we arrived, so, after we guests were introduced, we all settled down to be fed. The Worker Chief itself, instead of sitting on the dais with the leaders, was required to feed Bai’go’tha and the Chiefs; the Feeder Chief fed the other Warriors and the Alates. We guests, even Ki’shto’ba and A’zhu’lo (who stuck to its twin like a mortared stone), received our food from subordinates. Personally, except in cases of ritual – oath-sealing, that kind of thing – I prefer to feed myself, or did when I was young and supple. But I went along with the custom.
The little Workers who carried out the feeding seemed nervous and Wei’tu said to one of them, “You do not seem happy with your task, my friend.” But the Feeder only quivered its antennae, rammed a gobbet of fungus-mash down Wei’tu’s throat, and scurried away.
Abruptly Bai’go’tha said, “So you have visited our ma’na’ta|, Ki’shto’ba?”
“I have not yet found the time, Commander. Does she know I have come back?”
Bai’go’tha slanted its antennae at Kru’bu’gli’sti, who said, “I believe not, Huge-Head. I will make sure to inform her when I return to the Holy Chamber.”
Goi’o’na’tu the Remembrancer said, “May we prevail upon you, Holy Di’fa’kro’mi, to tell us about what has been happening in Lo’ro’ra? We understand that our Huge-Head acquitted itself with honor, although some treachery prevented the outcome from being everything one might desire.”
“Indeed,” I said, deciding to take the plunge, “you must have learned all about that from the lo’ro’ra’zei| who are residing here at To’wak. Lieutenant Gwo’ju’ka mentioned that they are being treated as honored guests. Yet I do not see them in this hall. I would have thought, when their fellow citizens arrive … ”
There was uneasy shifting, but Bai’go’tha crouched rigid and said, “Oh, this is an occasion for the fortress leaders only. I assure you … ”
“I hope to greet those citizens of Lo’ro’ra soon,” I said. “It is perfectly safe now for them to return home. But perhaps they have become so content here that they will wish to stay. We want to thank you for making them welcome and caring for them so well. They were rebels, after all, although only because their Commander led them astray.”
Nobody said anything. I kept looking at Goi’o’na’tu, who put her mouth down between her claws to avoid my stare. Then Kru’bu’gli’sti began, “Give us the tale, honored Di’fa’kro’mi. Let us receive your version of what … ”
He paused abruptly. Everyone’s attention turned toward the entranceway, which was hung with a weaving of bu’re| fiber. There was the definite sense of a presence approaching, and a smell that was not particularly appealing.
Bai’go’tha began firing words at Kru’bu’gli’sti. “tha’sask|>|| Chamberlain, did I not order you … ?”
“Commander, you know I cannot control … ”
Ki’shto’ba rose up. “Holy Thru’tei’ga’ma!”
Two Alates pushed under the curtain, supporting a third between them. This Alate staggered as he walked, keeping his head elevated in an unnatural posture and turning it from side to side as if searching for something that eluded him. He appeared to be somewhat blind, with a growth of some kind partially covering his right eye. Drops of whitish foam fell from his labium.
Beside me our Workers’ antennae sizzled in bewilderment. A’zhu’lo abased its head. And I was much moved by the sight of the old Alate, who was clearly fast approaching the World Beyond and surely must suffer under many jests and much disrespect.
But Ki’shto’ba stepped forward.
“There you are!” said the Seer. “I see, but I do not always see. I saw you, child of Prai’mo’na’sha’ma,but I could not find you.”
“Do not call me that, Holy Seer,” said Ki’shto’ba, laying its enormous head at the old Alate’s feet.
Indeed, these words puzzled me, because I had thought the King of To’wak and so Ki’shto’ba’s male parent was named Yan’ut’na’sha’ma. And among all the traditional King’s names that I knew, I had never encountered Prai’mo’na’sha’ma.
“Why not?” responded Thru’tei’ga’ma. “It is the truth, no matter what others have decided to believe. It is good to see you again – I had thought once that your time had come. But lately I have learned that it is too soon. Too soon … too soon … A-i-i … The fire must come first, but no flames.”
This made me shiver, for it reminded me of Gri’a’vu’tei’s vision.
But To’wak’s half-demented Seer had begun to babble, emitting sendings without meaning, although one never knows with a Seer which words have meaning and which do not. Bai’go’tha bounced impatiently and turned to Kru’bu’gli’sti, who said, “Goi’o’na’tu and I will conduct the Holy Seer … ”
But Thru’tei’ga’ma had recovered a modicum of coherency. “The No-Wing … the Wood-Cutter as well … a tricky little lizard, I fear … five, five … a good Healer but so gullible … A Warrior named for a dung bucket can hardly be good-natured! But that is not of the twelve … They do not come all at the same time – that explains much. You understand now? Of course you do not … A-i-i-i … A-i-i-i … ”
Wei’tu and Twa’sei were clearly astounded that he knew their names. Even those who were familiar with Thru’tei’ga’ma’s eccentricities displayed bewilderment. Yet the old Seer’s rantings held everyone spellbound.
Recovering suddenly, Thru’tei’ga’ma came a step closer to me. “fa’krovo| dit’il| ya| ku’a| mik’zi| ||. Can that be true? Who comes happily to To’wak? Besides, Di’fa’kro’mi Remembrancer of Lo’ro’ra, you should be named ‘Di’ma’kro’mi.’ Are you not an Alate and so have gender? Do you not find some of our traditional names ridiculous?”
“In fact, honored Holy Seer, I do,” I responded.
“Now take ‘Thru’tei’ga’ma.’ That is a decent name for a Seer. But it is no longer a good fit. I no longer take delight in Seeing, nor even in simple dreams. There is too much pain in the reality of them. And Bai’go’tha – it is not fated to force anyone back, only to send away, to eliminate … ” 
Bai’go’tha’s fury had waxed until its pheromones were overcoming even the bir’zha| stench of the Seer. “Who told this old fool that these visitors had come?” The Commander displayed its threat stance to Kru’bu’gli’sti, who shrank nervously.
Thru’tei’ga’ma bounced as well as he was able and rotated his antennae in glee. “The old fool knew without being told, Bai. And he has told the Mother, who should have been informed right away, and she awaits with impatience her favorite offspring’s visit.”
“I also am impatient to visit her!” said Ki’shto’ba.
“Get this babbler out of here!” said Bai’go’tha.
Kru’bu’gli’sti scurried forward, but Ki’shto’ba barred his way. “With your permission, I will conduct the Holy Seer to his resting chambers. Come, Holy Thru’tei’ga’ma, I will help you and then I will go to Lo’zoi’ma’na’ta. A’zhu’lo, when this meeting is coincluded, will you escort the Remembrancer and our little helpers back to our quarters?”
“I will indeed!” responded A’zhu’lo in great satisfaction.
Ki’shto’ba gently enclosed the frail Seer’s neck in its fearsome mandibles, even as I had seen it do for Kwi’ga’ga’tei in her times of need, and almost carried him out of the hall. Over the top of his head, Thru’tei’ga’ma was still talking. “When I speak with you, Remembrancer of Lo’ro’ra, we will have a discussion of names. Goi’o’na’tu can join us. It will be amusing. There is not much left that can amuse me. Mothers are dying everywhere, you know. Not ours – not ours! And Kings refuse to die. The time is new. But perhaps you can change some of that, Ki’shto’ba – I am never shown quite everything … I am tired … I must eat bir’zha| so that I can sleep. Do you know that now when I eat bir’zha| I sleep deeply and do not dream? The visions come only when I am in this world … ” His word-sendings faded from perception down the corridor.
There was a moment of no speech. Then Kru’bu’gli’sti slumped in the middle of the floor, perhaps relieved that the Seer had revealed no secrets. Bai’go’tha heaved and danced. Goi’o’na’tu stared at me, as I had stared at her earlier. Then abruptly the Commander brought this peculiar council to an end, stomping out of the hall.
On the way back to our quarters, I said to A’zhu’lo, “I am quite touched. How aged is Thru’tei’ga’ma?”
“Not so old – only fifteen,” replied A’zhu’lo regretfully. “He was Seer when Ki’shto’ba and I were hatched, but not long before that. His condition is truly painful to behold, but yet his Seeings remain meaningful. Bai’go’tha fears him more than anybody, because nothing intimidates him and because most of the to’wak’zei| revere him and give credence to what he says.”
This bir’zha| madness destroyed the predecessor of Holy Kwi’ga’ga’tei. And it incenses me even now to think of how the Unnatural Alate maligned Kwi’ga’ga’tei, suggesting that she was verging on that same delusional condition.
“Why did the Holy Seer call me a tricky lizard?” said Twa’sei plaintively. “I am not that. It hurt my feelings.”
“Oh, I do not think he meant that for you,” I said, watching A’zhu’lo posture in amusement. “Seers are often not logical. They string together words that have no common reference.”
“I am not a tricky lizard,” repeated Twa’sei, “nor am I dishonest.”
Wei’tu poked its belly affectionately and said, “We know that. Do not be so sensitive, my friend.”
I said to A’zhu’lo as we entered our chamber, “There is one thing I do not understand. I thought the King of To’wak was named Yan’ut’na’sha’ma.”
“He is,” said A’zhu’lo, shifting weight.
“Who is Prai’mo’na’sha’ma?”
“You do not know who Prai’mo’na’sha’ma is?”
“Would I ask if I did?” I retorted.
“You must have a different set of tales about the Nameless One. Does your Highest-Mother-Who-Has-No-Name not have a King?”
“Of course, or rather, she had one whom she ate so that Creation could begin.”
“Does yours not have a name? We call the Highest King ‘Prai’mo’na’sha’ma.’”
“But in that case he is a worshipful being who existed only briefly at some very ancient time. How can Ki’shto’ba be called the ‘child of … ’?” I understood the name now, but I was still thoroughly confused.
A’zhu’lo seemed discomfited. “I cannot talk much of these things. They are the province of the Remembrancer and the Seer. Perhaps you should speak with them.”
And I was determined to do so at the very first chance.
 The Shshi word consistently translated throughout these tales as “sizzle” indicates a wordless biopulsive emission from the antennae that is roughly equivalent to static; it conveys various emotions – doubt, fear, frustration, etc. It cannot be perceived as sound by the human ear.
 A derogatory term that the Da’no’no Shshi apply to Di’fa’kro’mi’s people, meaning “Tailless Ones”; the Shum’za lack cerci.
 A common curse-word, literally, “far-curse.” The word da’sask|, which will be employed frequently throughout these tales, is the adjectival form, meaning “cursed” or “damned.” sask’zei| is a personal noun meaning “cursed one.”
 The Seer’s initial Shshi sentence means “It comes happily to this place” – an expansion or explanation of Di’fa’kro’mi’s name, which is formed from the root words for “happy,” “it,” “come,” and “place.”
Note that the Shshi consistently refer to the sexless Workers and Warriors as “it” – fa| – whereas the Alates, who still secrete some sex hormone even as neuter imagines, are referred to as “he” and “she” – ma| and ta|.
Thru’tei’ga’ma: “He delights in seeing and speaking”; Bai’go’tha: “Forces far back.”
 The word dut’zei| has two meanings: “lizard” and “thief.”
The Tale of the Huge-Head's Hatching and Nymphhood