SM, CH.4

Chapter 4

The Tale of the Huge-Head’s Hatching and Nymphhood
It was difficult to keep track of the time during the period we spent at To’wak.  When one dwells mainly inside a fortress, one can know the cycles of suntime and darktime only by the circuit of the time couriers, and To’wak’s were not very dependable.  Indeed, most of the Workers seemed surprisingly indifferent to a diligent performance of their duties.  Moreover, the water vessels in To’wak are larger than those of Lo’ro’ra, so they take a longer time to drain.  I found myself constantly disoriented.
Commander Bai’go’tha did not call did not call any more assemblies, so I was given no opportunity to tell any tales in a formal setting.  But I told tales, nevertheless.  Everywhere I went, small groups of Workers or even Warriors or lesser Alates approached me with questions, and before I knew it, I would be narrating this or that.  This audience was very skittish; at the first scent of an officer or a higher Alate, they would all scatter even if I happened to be in the middle of a thought.
And if I asked any question, such as concerning the refugees from Lo’ro’ra, everyone would get doubly skittish and dart away without answering.
Bai’go’tha stayed out of the way, as if it feared contact with us.  It did keep us under watch, however, and began by setting a guard outside our chamber so that our comings and goings could never be private.  But Ki’shto’ba objected strenuously to that – “Am I and my friends to be treated like enemies under an uneasy truce?” it said to the Cohort Chiefs, and to my surprise the guards disappeared.  But nevertheless we sensed – and sometimes I as an eyed Alate could easily see – that our movements were being observed. 
Food was brought to our chamber, but it was eaten mostly by Wei’tu and Twa’sei, who were nervous about venturing out to eat with the Workers.  Ki’shto’ba usually went to the Warriors’ Quarters to be fed and I began to frequent the Alates’ refectory, where I was sometimes called upon to tell tales.  Twa’sei was content to remain mewed up, but Wei’tu soon began to chafe under the inactivity.  But more of that presently …
Usually I saw none of the senior Alates in the refectory, but one day, as I was telling the tale of the coming of the Star-Beings and of the Unnatural Alate, Goi’o’na’tu the Remembrancer came in.  When I had finished, she approached me. 
“Holy Di’fa’kro’mi, the wonders that you speak about astonish us all.  I believe Thru’tei’ga’ma saw something of all this; otherwise I could hardly believe that you speak truth.  But I would be honored if you would visit me in my chambers later in this day-cycle.  I know some interesting tales that will not be familiar to you.”
I restrained my glee and abased with all proper courtesy.  “I will be honored to come.  It is always advantageous for Remembrancers to share tales.”
So we sat alone together, on heaps of leaves that the Da’no’no Shshi find fragrant but which smell to the Shum’za like old egg casings.  Without preamble I asked when we might be introduced to our errant siblings.
Goi’o’na’tu hopped up and resettled.  “I cannot speak of that,” she said quickly.  “I am only nominally of Bai’go’tha’s faction, but it would, I think, be worth my life to speak much of those things.”
“Surely,” I said in some shock, “the situation here cannot be so bad that the Commander would kill its own fortress’s Remembrancer!”
She dared to say, “Undoubtedly you have learned something from A’zhu’lo about your siblings – more than you reveal.”
“That may be true, and so of course we are concerned to right any wrong that may have occurred.”
Goi’o’na’tu continued perturbed.  “I suspect that, had Bai’go’tha known that Ki’shto’ba was going to return home and bring lo’ro’ra’zei| with it, our Commander might have behaved differently.  Why is it Seers never provide knowledge of what their rulers might wish most to know?”
Amused, I said, “Perhaps Seers know more than we realize about what is best for our fortresses.”
“Perhaps.  Di’fa’kro’mi, do you believe that those Star-Beings you have spoken about will ever come to To’wak?”
“It is possible.  It is the intention of their leader, the one whom the Nameless One called kai’tri’ze|, to visit other fortresses.  I know she plans to travel to Nasute land.”
Goi’o’na’tu shivered.  “I do not know what will happen if they come here.”
“They are very peaceful and want only good for the Shshi.  Ru’a’ma’na’ta – our name for the leader – acknowledges that they made some mistakes in their first visit, but it was only that they did not understand what we were any more than we understood them.  There was never any intent to do us evil.  Indeed, we committed the true evil against them, but they forgave us – we forgave each other.”
“Perhaps if they were to come here, it might change …  But I speak more than is wise.”  Abruptly, Goi’o’na’tu changed the subject.  “Do you never wonder, honored Remembrancer, why Bai’go’tha, who rules by oppressing others and by inspiring fear, itself seems so fearful when faced with its sibling of the mighty head?”
“I have wondered about that, and some other things.”
“Shall I tell you the tale of Ki’shto’ba’s beginnings?”
“I would be deeply in your debt if you would do so!”  Seriously thrilled, I settled myself to attend.                
“Eight years ago, Thru’tei’ga’ma – who was my hatchmate, by the way – you can see how differently the years have treated us – Thru’tei’ga’ma had been Holy Seer only about one season-cycle.  At that time To’wak was less dominated by its Warriors, and its Castes lived in greater harmony.  There was not even a hint yet of the conflict with Yak’ar, although that was not too far into the future. 
“One day Thru’tei’ga’ma had a vision.  He ambled into the Council and announced that he had dreamed of two Kings – that he had seen two Kings in the Holy Chamber with Lo’zoi’ma’na’ta.  Everyone asked him what this meant, for he was already getting the reputation for speaking nonsense more so than most Seers.  He said he had seen Yan’ut’na’sha’ma sleeping at the side of the Holy Chamber, and the other King, who looked very much like him, had mounted the Holy One’s belly and infused her with egg-maker that glowed with mysterious light. 
“Well, this caused considerable astonishment, and of course Kru’bu’gli’sti, who has been Chamberlain for twelve years, had to rush out and inform the Holy One and the King of exactly what the Seer had said.
“Lo’zoi’ma’na’ta was amused, but Yan’ut’na’sha’ma was quite perturbed.  He said he had indeed been sleeping next to the wall of the chamber at that particular time, but there was no way any Shi could have entered, let alone a King.  ‘What King?’ he said.  ‘There is only one King in To’wak.  And Kings stay in their Holy Chambers, even if they are not too large to fit through the doors.  This is dung-talk.’  
“All the usual Tenders had been present.  But it seemed that all of them had been asleep at the same time, something regarded as highly improper.  And Lo’zoi’ma’na’ta said that she also had slept soundly during that period of rest, but that definitely she would have known if a stranger had been thumping around on her back and there was certainly no trace of glowing egg-maker upon her.  She was dismissive of the whole thing.
“That was when Thru’tei’ga’ma said quite conversationally, as if he were announcing an everyday event, that it was a Spirit King – the King of the Bright Sky – Prai’mo’na’sha’ma – so of course nobody was aware that he had been there."
I rose up on my claw-tips, all the hairs on my legs bristling.  “Ah!  So that accounts … but surely … ”
“Now you know why the Holy Seer said what he did to Ki’shto’ba.  I am aware that the Shum’za accord no name and no power to the King of the Highest-Mother-Who-Is-Nameless, but we regard him as not so much dead as continuing to exist in bodiless spirit form and we worship him, although not with the same fervor as we do the Mother.  Anyway, now nobody knew what to think, although Lo’zoi’ma’na’ta continued to make light of the whole idea.
“Everyone waited with apprehension to see what might develop from this supposed spiritual insemination, and in the proper course Lo’zoi’ma’na’ta laid a very strange egg.  It was the only one she laid that day, and it was enormous, so that she had to strain vigorously to expel it.  And it was not perfectly round as the best eggs are, but misshapen, bulging on one side, as if two eggs had been pushed together. 
“When she was done, she asked to see this thing that everyone was exclaiming about, and she took it between her claws and observed it thoughtfully.  And she began to lick it and clean it herself, as no Mother ever does, and although she said nothing then and has never said anything where I could receive it – she may have talked of it to the Seer and to Ki’shto’ba – I think at that moment she began to believe that this egg was indeed the result of a visit from Prai’mo’na’sha’ma.
“Then the next day she also laid only one egg, but everyone believed that event was of no significance.  It was a perfectly normal egg, and the uniqueness of it could have been only the result of exhaustion.
“But Yan’ut’na’sha’ma was highly annoyed and upset.  He did not like the idea at all of a Spirit King usurping his place.  He wanted the large egg destroyed, saying it was obviously a sport and would produce a deformed nymph.  Thru’tei’ga’ma was indignant and seemed quite worried; he set Alates to constantly guard the egg in the nursery.
“Then our Holy Seer had another vision.  This time the Nameless One herself spoke to him and said that whatever egg hatched first on a certain day would produce the next Commander of To’wak, although that Warrior would have to fight for the position.  There are many of us who wish Thru’tei’ga’ma had kept his Seeing to himself until after the egg was hatched, but he has said the Nameless One demanded that he reveal it.
“The day in question was the end of the normal incubation period for the large egg.  So Yan’ut’na’sha’ma and Kru’bu’gli’sti laid a plot.  The Chamberlain issued some false orders and drew off the Alate guards and the Chief Tender of the Incubation Chamber.  Then he confused an inexperienced Tender, who was overawed at this attention from the Chamberlain, and got it to jostle and roll about and overstimulate the egg that had been laid on the day after the misshapen egg, until it hatched one day prematurely.  And he instructed the same Tender to pack the deformed egg in wet leaves to chill it, convincing the Tender that the nymph would be in danger of death if the hatching were not delayed.
“Well, the result was, Bai’go’tha hatched first on the day in question.  The lumpy egg hatched almost immediately afterwards, but that was still too late.  What are you thinking, my friend Di’fa’kro’mi?”
“I was thinking how manipulative Keepers of the Holy Chamber can be.”
“Well, I suppose that results from being cooped up all the time with Holy Ones.  They have nothing constructive to do.  Anyway, when the egg case split open, out popped this enormous nymph with mandibles that were very large for a new hatchling.  But the real wonder of it was – after the Tenders had pulled it out, another little face appeared beneath it.  There were two hatchlings – twins.  Never happened before, at least not in this fortress.”  And Goi’o’na’tu proceeded to explain how the new hatchlings had been named, even as Ki’shto’ba had already informed us. 
 “What happened to the Tender that the Chamberlain misled?” I asked.
 “That was sad.  Of course, other Tenders had noticed how it was fussing with the eggs and it told everything.  There was an uproar about what the Chamberlain had done – the Holy One was furious!  But one cannot discipline a King, or the King’s favorite, for that matter.  One can, however, take out one’s fury on a defenseless Worker.  The Tender was found dead, with its neck cut.”
I sat in horrified silence, but Goi’o’na’tu continued as if she had simply stated that the Tender had been reprimanded.
“As I said, Lo’zoi’ma’na’ta was furious.  She has never liked her King since the day his scheming was revealed.  She is forced to tolerate him, but they never nuzzle or lie close together or talk intimately to each other, as I understand some other Holy Ones and Kings do.  What is your experience?”
I thought of how close A’kha’ma’na’ta had been with all her Kings and I said, “Yes, my experience has been that they grow fond of each other.”
“So our King hates Ki’shto’ba, who may actually be his offspring for all we are sure about, and he has always favored Bai’go’tha.  But the Nameless Mother spoke to Thru’tei’ga’ma again and expressed her displeasure with what had happened.  She said that what she had ordained could not be altered, but that the foretelling would now be extended.
“This is what she said, if you can believe Thru’tei’ga’ma:  Bai’go’tha would indeed become Commander, but no Shi would ever witness the death of the second-hatched nymph, nor would anyone ever eat its dead flesh.”
There was a moment of no words.  Then I said, shaken, “What does that mean?”
Goi’o’na’tu’s wings twitched.  “I thought you might have a fresh interpretation for us.”
“It sounds as if Ki’shto’ba cannot die, at least not by another’s mandible.”
“That is what many of us believe.  “That is what many of us believe, and Thru’tei’ga’ma maintains the same thing, although he may know more than he tells – he cannot express himself other than in conundrums.  Now you know why Bai’go’tha is afraid to fight Ki’shto’ba.  If the Huge-Head cannot be killed in the presence of any other Shi, it must be invincible.  Bai’go’tha fought and won the Commandership, but there was no prediction that it could never be defeated afterward.  If Bai’go’tha could have arranged  Ki’shto’ba’s death so that no other Shi was present to witness it – poisoning it, or luring it over a cliff or into the path of a flood – it would have done so.  But it was never able to concoct any plot that would work.  Ki’shto’ba can seem a bit naïve, but it is astute enough not to get caught in traps of that sort.”
“You are right in that, honored Remembrancer.  But let me ask this – in such an atmosphere of suspicion and death-lust, how did Ki’shto’ba, and its twin for that matter, grow to be such courteous and noble Warriors?”
“Because Lo’zoi’ma’na’ta educated them herself in a way no Mother ever does.  She comes from a fortress with a far different social tradition … ”
“Wait!  Are you saying your Holy One is not a to’wak’zei|?”
 “I had forgotten – the Shum’za take their shma’na’ta| from among their own nymphs and bring in an outland King.  With the Da’no’no Shshi it is the opposite – we beg a fertile female Alate from another fortress and elevate one of our own nymphs to the Kingship.”
I had not known that and I was astonished.  But it somewhat explained how the Holy One might so oppose the ruling powers while the King sided with his siblings.
“As I was saying, normally, the Holy One never sees her offspring until after they are imagines and come to serve her in some way.  But she had Shto and Zhu brought to her immediately after they were hatched and she cleaned them herself and watched them being fed at the same time that she was eating and on the same food.  As they grew older, she spent much time with them, talking to them and instructing them on right ways of thinking and behaving.  Some citizens protested that this behavior was unnatural, but Thru’tei’ga’ma said that in this case it was natural and proper.  The Seer was much more revered in those days than now when he is unquestionably mad, and so this strange situation was tolerated.”
“I can understand now why Ki’shto’ba is so fond of the Holy One and why it wanted to return to To’wak before we set out on our journey.”
I always did have a loose antenna and this was not the first time nor the last that that weakness betrayed me.  Goi’o’na’tu said, “Journey?  I realized that you, Di’fa’kro’mi, would not stay forever, but many of us have hoped that Ki’shto’ba meant to remain and perhaps challenge Bai’go’tha.  Surely it does not believe that this ridiculous quest for wonders our Commander set upon it constrains it in any way!”
Embarrassed, I told of our plans to journey to the Great Water, but I said, “I believe Ki’shto’ba has not made up its mind.  It does not like what it has found here in To’wak.  I would appreciate it if you do not tell anyone in the King’s faction that the Huge-Head’s original intention was to depart.”
Goi’o’na’tu was bobbing her head.  “You can rely on me to say nothing.  I manage to keep my post only through discretion.  But there is another remarkable incident from Ki’shto’ba’s nymphhood that I want to relate for you.
“Before first molt, Shto and Zhu were sleeping in the nursery, carefully guarded as usual by both Tenders and Alates.  Now it happened that the guardians were also sleeping soundly – does that state seem to occur unnaturally often in these tales?  All at once a great ruckus roused them and here was Zhu, emitting pheromones of extreme terror and jumping around like a sand-hopper.  Two enormous wood reptiles were chasing it – what do the Shum’za call them? – the big ones with the tiny legs and the long, muscular bodies and the thin pointed tails.  Some of those have a highly venomous bite, you know.  How they had gotten into the fortress and all the way to the nursery is difficult to understand.  But these were even more uncommon, because they had glowing, golden eyes and bodies all striped and splotched with colors.  That kind has never been seen before nor since, inside nor outside the fortress. 
“The Tenders were terrified and did not know what to do.  But they did not have to wonder long, for Shto leaped out of its bedding niche and seized each reptile behind the head, one in the mandibles and the other with its little claws, and Shto proceeded to bite off the head of the one monster and to beat the other on the floor until it was senseless, and then bite off its head as well.  Shto then rushed over to Zhu and began to groom and comfort it.
“And then,” concluded Goi’o’na’tu triumphantly, “when the Tenders worked up the courage to remove the dead shtwa’ar’zei|, they discovered only small, thin thread lizards, the green ones that are found peacefully eating fruit in trees everywhere – perfectly harmless creatures, you know.  There was much skepticism – some thought the Tenders had gotten into the bir’zha|.  Of course the little nymphs had not yet learned how to speak and could not say what had happened.  But every one of those Tenders and Alates swore all their lives that they had really witnessed what they said they had witnessed.”
Much astounded, I asked, “What did Holy Thru’tei’ga’ma have to say about this?”
“He merely swung his head as if he were not at all surprised and said with great satisfaction, ‘It is the beginning.’  And that was all anyone could ever get out of him.”
We sat in thoughtful silence for a while.  Then I said, “I knew that Ki’shto’ba was a special Warrior from its size and its exploits as a Champion, but I am beginning to think it is even more strangely favored of the Nameless One than I had believed.”
“If you can find a way to save your captive citizens, Remembrancer of Lo’ro’ra, and to do good for our oppressed fortress at the same time, there are many in To’wak who will honor your name.”
When I next saw Ki’shto’ba, I told it what Goi’o’na’tu had related to me.  It made gestures of embarrassed modesty and said, “One does not go around broadcasting the possibility that one cannot be killed in a normal way; it is hardly strategically wise.  That is why I was reluctant to fight for the Commander’s post.  There is no honor in overcoming an opponent who does not believe it can win; it is slaughter, not victory.  Please do not tell this story indiscriminately, Di’fa’kro’mi.  It is after all only the rambling of an addled Seer.”
“What of the shtwa’ar’zei|?  Do you remember killing them?”
Ki’shto’ba groomed its mandibles reflectively.  “In fact, I remember it rather well.  Zhu was very frightened and in true danger.  I could not let it be harmed.”
“But you were only a first-stage nymph!”
“I do believe,” said Ki’shto’ba, “that it was a test of some kind.  Thru’tei’ga’ma told me so once.  But I do not know what those creatures were.  They were not thread lizards, of that I am sure, nor even normal wood reptiles.  And they were not a bir’zha| dream.  I have never eaten bir’zha|.”
I was considerably overawed, and it takes much to overawe me.  But Ki’shto’ba only turned genial and made some jokes, and we went about our business.

Notes on the life of Hercules, abridged from Robert Graves' Greek Myths:
       Zeus lay with Alcmene, the mother of Hercules, in the guise of her absent husband Amphitryon  and begot Hercules, a circumstance revealed by the Seer  Teiresias.  The jealous Hera tricked Zeus into swearing that whoever was born first on a certain day would become the King of the House of Perseus.  Hera then laid spells on Alcmene to delay the birth of Hercules, until the son of Sthenelus, whose name was Eurytheus, was already born.  Zeus, who had intended the Kingship for Hercules, could not renege on his oath, but he persuaded Hera to agree that, if Hercules would perform 12 labors set upon him by Eurytheus, Hercules would then be allowed to become a god.
When Hercules was born, he had a twin (named Iphicles), whom some say was Amphitryon's son, but others say the twin was also the son of Zeus.   The jealous Hera continued to scheme, sending two prodigious poison-fanged, flame-eyed serpents to destroy the infant Hercules and his twin.  When Alcmene and Amphitryon heard Iphicles screaming in terror, they rushed in with a light, to find their help was not needed, for the infant Hercules was strangling a serpent in each hand.     
       Later it was prophesied: "No man alive shall ever kill Heracles; a dead enemy shall be his downfall."  (Robert Graves, Greek Myths, v.2, p. 202)] 

Coming Soon!
Chapter 4
Di'fa'kro'mi's First Adventure

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