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Authors: Jo; Clayton

Irsud (5 page)

BOOK: Irsud
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Smoothing his kilt over his thighs, he stared thoughtfully at the water. “I never wanted to be here.” He mused for a while, then leaned back and gazed dreamily into space, his voice slow and thick with memory.

“My family lived in the high country among the pines. We were herders of immeranu. My mother was well known. All over the island the name of Dannana meant the best of blood line, firm taut flesh, long silky fleece, spirit and intelligence. We lived quietly but well, with buyers from the cities coming thick in the fall and breeders when winter turned to spring so that our holding was filled with bustle and excitement twice a year. I remember.…

“My mother. She was strong, vivid, alive. So alive her strength flowed like a river through us all, warm and blessing. And she was tender, gentle as a male, not like these river pigs. She was secure in what she was so she could afford to show a male tenderness. My father. He was gifted. His weaves and designs brought high praise and high prices and the things he carved from the wood he seasoned himself … even traders from the star city came looking for them. It was a good time. I was happy.…

“One day.…” He shivered. “Kanuu, Gammal, and I had the black herd out. I remember it was just after foaling and the young ones were wobbling about, chasing each other and bumping into things, falling and getting up with sheepish sly sets to their gangly bodies. Even though spring was still new, it was quite warm in the patches of sunlight although the chill lingered in the shadows. The pine branches had pale green needles at their tips and a few poppies shone deep orange in the tender new grass thrusting up through the old year's yellow matting. When I close my eyes I can see the smallest detail.…

“Kanuu saw the skimmers first and yelled a warning. We ran under the trees but it was already too late.” His mouth tightened. “The bitch queen was bored again, sent raiders out for young males, sent them in the skimmers the starfolk sold her. She still hated us on Sep for throwing her out and they pandered to her hatred for their profit.” He closed his eyes and leaned against the stone back of the bench. For a moment he was silent. Aleytys waited patiently.

“Kanuu … they shot her … caught me … Gammal … he fathered the last daughter … Gapp … the hag bitch was irritated with him for some reason … or she had one of her cruel whims … she enjoyed hurting people … some stupid reason … made him host the egg … Gapp … that's her name … his daughter.…” His antennas dropped dejectedly and he swallowed again and again.

Aleytys stroked the short crisp curls at the nape of his neck, then moved her hands over his shoulders, trying to comfort him with her touch. “Ai Burash, isn't it odd. My world's so far from here the distance loses meaning, but you and I … we're more alike than you and these … these river pigs you called them. I'm going to get away from here. Come with me.”

He dropped his hand on her knee, a tired droop at the corners of his mouth. “I've spent a lifetime in this place, Leyta. There's no way out. The kipu knows everything that happens, maybe even knows what we're saying right now. She keeps a tight grip on the country around here. Even if you could get out of the mahazh and out of the city, where would you go?” He pulled her hand down and turned it palm up. “Look, narami, what has this hand ever done?” He trailed his fingers across her pale gold palm and flicked her rosy fingertips. “Soft as a butterfly's wing. And you want to go against an army?” With a shake of his head he closed the hand into a fist. “Even I'm stronger. This hand against one of the sabutim?”

Aleytys stretched and yawned, pulling her captive hand free. “The slaver I!kuk spent some time polishing me so I'd get a good price. Burash, I fought my way across half a world, alone and pregnant. I got off that world and I'll get off this.” She sat up and wriggled her shoulders, her eyes sparkling with determination.

He flirted his antennas into a lively little dance. “One of the sabutim could tear you apart like wet paper.”

“You said that before.” She lay back with a laugh and scratched along the crease beside her nose. “Mmmm. I'll just have to be smarter.” She turned her head and looked lazily around the garden. Across the stream the mahazh rose like a great gray beehive, blocking out a big piece of sky. As she watched an oval shape leaped into the air from the flat roof. She poked Burash in the ribs. “What's that?”

He looked up, eyes following her pointing finger. “Skimmer.”

Together they watched the disc shrink to a black dot between two cloud banks. “Do you see now how impossible it is? How far could you get before the kipu found you?” Burash kicked at the sand. “There's no way out, Leyta.”

She squinted at the roof, a thoughtful glint in her eyes. Then she shrugged impatiently and turned back to Burash. “Is there someplace very, very private where we can meet?”


Aleytys pulled the tapestry aside and confronted the guard.

“Parakhuzerim?” The guard was a stone wall of indifference blocking the arch, the ornamental lance butted against her instep slanting in a long diagonal across her body. The single word—egg bearer—daunting in its implications hit Aleytys a solid blow, only the slight question lift at the end marring its heavy forthright rejection.

Choking down the sudden surge of anger and damper-induced confusion, Aleytys tipped her head back and focused her blue-green gaze on the glittering black facets looking through her as if she were a ghost whose existence the guard refused to acknowledge. “I need to see the kipu,” she said sharply.

The nayid pulled her thin lips into a disapproving knot of blue-purple flesh. Her antennas twitched back and forth. “Why?”

“There's something I need from her. She's the only one can do it.”


Spurred by anger and growing frustration Aleytys' mind leaped to touch the guard, a lifetime's unconscious conditioning overcoming her conscious knowledge of the futility of trying. Grimly she fought to regain control while the figure of the lanky horse-faced nayid blurred as her fierce battle with the damper blanked out everything but the turmoil in her head.

After a minute she blinked slowly. Her voice uncertain, words slow and thick, she repeated, “I want to see the kipu.”

“Not at this time.” The guard reached out to pull the tapestry between them. “The kipu does not sit to the public in the morning.”

Aleytys thrust up her arm, blocking the nayid's hand. “No. I need to see the kipu.”

With her thin austere frown the guard considered Aleytys. The minutes dragged by. Finally she nodded, the faintest jerk of her head, wheeled, and strode off down the hall, her boots clicking rapidly over the slick blue-green tiles. Aleytys sucked in a long breath, heart pounding in excitement. She ran after the nayid, her bare feet counterpointing the crisp military rattle with a fleshy slap-slap.

The corridor ended abruptly in an uncurtained arch. The nayid vanished around the corner. Stomach tightening with the outriders of panic, Aleytys ran full out and skidded through the arch just in time to see a polished black boot disappear upwards behind the central core of the stairwell.

The stairs crawled up and around in a white worm hole, the plaster ceiling a single handspan above the reddish knobs on the nayid's stubby antennas. After a half dozen turns scrambling up steps meant for legs twice the length of hers, Aleytys was trembling with fatigue, her left leg cramping around the half-healed wound.

By the time she stumbled out onto the second floor corridor's scarlet tiles she was limping badly and panting like a wind-broke horse. She leaned against the wall and scowled at the departing nayid who strode mechanically away, her straight spare body cosmically indifferent.

Aleytys rubbed her thigh absently, feeling the twitching jerk of the muscles. Sighing, she limped as quickly as she could after the retreating figure.

Two guards, hefty hard-faced amazons wearing deep-red tunics, stood on either side of an arch hung with a crimson tapestry. The blue-green guard halted in front of them, stood rigidly erect, and brought the butt of her lance down with an audible thump. She waited for the senior of the guards to speak.

“Your business?” Cold eyes flickered past the blue guard, resting for a minute on Aleytys as she limped up to them.

“The Parakhuzerim to see the kipu.”

The red guard frowned, intensifying the angles of her hatchet face. “You have spoken for time?”

“No.” The single syllable was leached of all expression. “The Parakhuzerim demanded.”

“I'll see.” The red guard pushed the' tapestry aside and stepped briskly through the arch.

Aleytys glanced up at the blue guard's immobile face, shrugged, wandered over to the wall to take the weight off her quivering leg. The floral design burned red into the white wall tiles went up and over the arch in a convoluted pattern of leaf, flower, and vine that turned constantly back on itself in an intricate tracery like the background on the tapestries hanging in the bedroom. She traced a bit of the pattern with her finger then looked with puzzlement at the remaining guard. Strange, she thought. How can such … such … things as they produce this delicacy of line?

The guard came out and held the tapestry aside. “Come,” she said brusquely. “The kipu will see you.”

Beyond the curtain the room was half a large octagon whose side walls were lined with machines cased in cold gray-green metal interrupted by flickering dancing lights and a nayid-eye-level tier of screens, some alive with land unrolling like a ribbon beneath a hawk's gaze, some with static images of interior rooms, some black eyes of greenish phosphor. More red guards stood or sat before the instruments, their velvety tunics glowing strangely sensuous against the harsh lines and textures of the metal.

Gathered around a massive table set across the angle opposite the arch a motley scatter of nayids turned their goggle-eyed faces toward her so that she walked alone, feet scuffing louder and louder on the crimson tiles, toward a ragged line of cold alabaster masks. In the center of the standing figures, dominating them with the cold force of her personality, the kipu sat rigidly erect, hands resting lightly on the highly polished red-brown wood, antennas flicking in tiny irregular jerks.

“This is a busy time for me.” The kipu's fingers tapped rapidly on the wood. The corners of her mouth jerked down as her glittering black eyes fixed on Aleytys, her nostrils pinched in as if a bad smell irritated them. “Well?”

“I want …” Aleytys shot a rapid glance at the kipu. “I want Migru.”

“Migru?” The kipu's impassive face broke into a startled looseness, waking a secret glee in Aleytys. “How did.…” She frowned and started over. “Never mind. Why?” She snapped her mouth shut, then continued slowly with some difficulty finding words. “We're different species with different evolutionary histories. There is no possibility of interspecies fertility. Even … even copulation.…” Her mouth twisted in disgust. “Even that seems unlikely.”

Amusement frolicked in Aleytys until she nearly lost her grip on its tail. Lowering her eyes demurely to the floor, she said, very softly, “Oh no. He pleases me. He's proved.…” She paused deliberately, once more sneaking a sly glance at the kipu.

The nayid leaned tautly against the high carved back of her throne-like chair, her hands pushing stiffly against the edge of the table while her thin pointed face had a withdrawn look as if she divorced herself both mentally and physically from anything that smelled of sex.

Aleytys filed this as a possibly useful betrayal of weakness and went on briskly, lifting her head to stare eye to eye with the seated nayid. “He's proved himself capable. I want him.”

The kipu shifted uneasily in her chair. “I don't believe …” She hesitated and looked down at her hands. Aleytys saw her start then fold them precisely in front of her. “Another could serve as well.”

“No!” Aleytys straightened her body, her laughter turned grim. “My people don't trade our lovers about like playing cards. I want him and only him.”

“No!” The word leaped from the mouth of the nayid standing to the right of the kipu. Aleytys glanced at her, surprised first at the interruption, then at the grotesque bulk of the speaker. She was the first fat nayid Aleytys had seen, a blubbery mass of flesh, repellent, sickening. Her pudgy face twisted into a malevolent scowl as she looked rapidly from the kipu to Aleytys. “The sarasipu is already set.”

The corners of her elegant nostrils twitching in a faint betraying tic, the kipu ignored the fat one's outburst and gazed thoughtfully at Aleytys. “I suppose it's possible.” Translucent inner eyelids slid momentarily over her protuberant eyes. She leaned back again, her body more relaxed, tapping her small square teeth with her thumbnail.

“You should have drugged her. I told you.” The fat one's husky querulous voice broke into the kipu's musing.

“Belit Asshrud.” A kind of weary patience crept into the kipu's deep rich voice, an indication of contempt flaying the fat one until she quivered under the lash. In a brief flash of irrelevant wonder, Aleytys thought, that voice … it's one of the keys to her power. Then she focused again on the conflict between the two nayids. The kipu's antennas were jerking back and forth in an impatient flick-flick that said stronger than words how unimportant she found the fat nayid's wishes and advice. “That was the council's decision. You know why. I myself have explained why we don't drug her. More than once, if you remember. Do I have to do it again? It shouldn't be necessary to remind you.…” Her words lashed the bloated face into twitches of pain and fear. “Of the need for discretion.”

A sudden shrill giggle jerked Aleytys' intent gaze from the kipu. Standing at the left of the chair a young nayid grinned maliciously at Asshrud. She had a gawky unfinished look, a round face marred by a spoiled self-indulgent softness.

BOOK: Irsud
13.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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