Marking of the Days

by Sincline Koutaishi

Return of the Songs

For many days there is a strange new kind of peace in the palace. The only thing of interest is the daily arrival of the Gods and the temple finery. People come to see it every time and the smoke from the temple chimneys announces to the city below that there is something new to see up here on the hill. The Ministry of Information is publicizing it to the Empire and quite immediately begins a strange phenomenon... Tourism. My people have never been given to such things, usually content to make their holidays local unless family or business calls them away. Suddenly there are a good number of southerners in this northern city of Namida.

The palace gates open every day at dawn, allowing people inside the larger open courts. The palace guard have new duties—to keep the civilian population under watch and contained within these few courtyards that I have decided to keep open to the public along with the head of house and Geten. They stand watch at the inner doorways quite proudly and I notice that their uniforms are very tidy, polished... Especially those who are looking for wives.

The groundskeepers are working with the archives and the trees and plants are coming back to the interior landscape that is the palace and temple of Manaleh. The Gods will now have scenery to enjoy. The tiles have been restored to the walls of Manaleh and I begin to visit one of them each day to contemplate the images, the lessons they represent.

When there are silent moments in the night, when the gates to the palace are shut, I wander down to the temple to give my own offerings of prayer and sit on the restored benches before Vikoa and Fao to think of what they represent.

I have accepted the offer of marriage from the Tastian kingdom. My heart feels heavy at this, and yet somewhat sorted out—I have a closure ahead of me. I am disturbed by the traditions they keep that will not allow me to meet with my future bride until the marriage ceremony. I have but one image of the girl and I look to it every now and again, wondering how she feels about all of this. I wonder if there is someone that she keeps in her heart that she cannot have because of her position and having to marry me.

"And what would your advice be to me, Vikoa? To marry her for ties and let her be with the one she truly loves? Turn the other way?" He seems to keep looking upon Fao for advice himself. "Good night." I leave them and go to find myself some sleep.

In the dawn I wake to a surprise—the morning song. I vault upward, out of my sleep, sitting still in my bed for a moment and then throwing back the covers and pulling on my robes. The sound is not coming from Sachay but from many voices. I race out of my chambers. The guards stationed at my door are startled and pursue me down the hall. I come to the hall leading to the inner balcony that overlooks the main courtyard and find there are three women there. One is leading the song—a southern woman—and the other two northern women are providing amazing strength to it. There are guards standing in front of me and I pull them aside so I can have a better view.

"Who are they?" I hiss at them in a low tone, not wanting to disturb the song.

"Sire, they arrived this morning. Priestesses from the mountains, the temple of Ruichian. We did not think you would be upset if we let them sing."

"I am not upset... Shht."

They are incredible. Their clothing is strange to my eyes... Elaborately embroidered yet simple robes...They move their arms in slow waves and strange patterns as they sing and I see below that the courtyard has become filled with life. Finally the song ends and the courtyard is silent. The three women bob their heads in a quick bow to those who have come out to see them and then turn towards me, to come down through the inner hall. Arriving before me, the two go to their knees, bowing their heads. The first stands before me, regarding me with a peaceful gaze and nods a brief bow.

"Good morning, Biaka, Ishinoa." She says.

"Good morning... Thank you for your voices."

"We are always glad to sing, Majesty."

"What brings you so far from Ruichian?" I wave my guard away.

"We have heard that the Gods have come back to this place and so we have come to sing for them." She bows her head briefly again. "We see that it is true. And we are glad... You have brought them home?"

"Yes. I have asked for them and had much help to return them to their rightful places. There are still more to be returned, but every day there is something new to see at the gates here... It is my great pleasure to have them home again."

"Then we will sing for them every day and night, if it is also your pleasure."

"You will stay?"

"The sisters and brothers have asked us to come here and see if you will accept us."

"I am glad to have you here. What will you need for your comfort?"

"A simple room beside the temple. That is all we require."

"You will have that and more." I agree. Hanta has joined us in the hall now, "Have rooms prepared for these women." I ask her.

"Of course, Baika."

"I would like to speak with you, Majesty, if I may while my students go with your advisor."

"Then come along with me." And we break away from the group to go to my chambers.

She bows her head to me again when I come to her after closing the door. I marvel at her expression, very similar to Giihio. She is respectful but not afraid of me at all.

"We have been waiting for you." She says.


She smiles gently, "Waiting for you to become the King... The highest among us had thought that you might be the one, but we were not certain. You have been a very dangerous man, Baika. Very destructive. We thought you might have become an extension of your father. We hoped that perhaps your son might be the one, but now we see that it is you. You have brought the Gods home. You have destroyed the icon of your father's darkness. You have reclaimed our worlds. You have ended the war with the humans. You have brought back the songs. And so we have come to help you, to soothe your mind that you may make your way further on."

"And to teach me to worship?" I laugh.

"There is no worship. You have listened to your father somewhat. Forgive me for my supposition."

"Please do so... Carry on."

"The Gods are not like we are, Baika. They have not the egos or petty concerns that we do. They do not wish to be worshipped. They simply are. We can only contemplate them from here where we stand as mortals... Perhaps that is why your father was so offended by them. He felt that they stole the regard and respect due him. They would also not serve his whims and will as any other servant or soldier of his might."

"I believe this is true... And then what is the function of the Priestess if not to teach the people how to worship?"

"We simply retell the stories and let the people know of ways to interpret them, that they might find something that will aid them in their lives. We also have particular gifts that we learn of together and grow, also that we might aid the people."

"What is your gift?"

"I have a way of being able to tell people what it is that they need to hear, but do not want to." She smiles, "I have much to tell you, if you will hear it."

"Rrrrhhh." I stifle my growl, "So many people seem to like to try my patience that way as of late."

"And now there is another one." She nods, "They say that I have the gift of sight and the ability to carry messages from the Gods. Would you like to hear one?" She laughs a little.

"No thank you. Perhaps another day." I hold up a hand.

"Yes, Majesty." She bows her head yet again, "Thank you for your open arms."

"Thank you for your voices. You will find your own way back to the temple?"

"I know the way well."

"Do you?"

"I do. I have had this place in my dreams for years."

"Hnnn... If you need anything you may ask any of the guard. If necessary they will contact me. I will see to your care." And then I stop, "Your name?"

"Midiri Diya Indor."

"Welcome, Midiri."

She leaves me in amazement. I almost want to know what she thinks the Gods have to say to me and I am shocked that these women consider me something more than a simple man. That they have been 'waiting' for me. Interesting...

Over the next two days I watch the three women work between my meetings and other obligations. They are in the courtyards, cleaning up the area, working at replanting the gardens along with the grounds keeper, airing out the temple with incense, working with the archives to bring the last of the temple's artifacts home and place them.

In the day I wake now to the morning song. In the night I relax to the evening song. There always seems to be some new song that comes in between depending on the weather. Often I find the priestesses given to song even as they plant or just to make the children that visit, smile.

"You have been avoiding the temple, Majesty." Midiri surprises me out of a stare into the courtyard one afternoon. "Excuse me for startling you." She smiles gently.

"Hnn..." Try as I might I cannot muster anger toward her.

"Come and see what we have done." She offers and when I hesitate, "Come come. Are your feet stuck there?"


She nods and turns to walk toward the temple. I follow her along quietly and watch her movement. She leads me inside the wide open doors into the now fully restored temple. The offering fires are burning and everything is likely as it was before my father ever set eyes on this place. It is beautiful. I am almost afraid to go any further for fear I might harm something, do something that I should not, infect the pure air with the darkness that still pursues me, offend the quiet priestesses in some way... Midiri sees my stuck feet again and takes me by the hand, gently taking me into the place.

"Do not be so worried, Baika. There is nothing you can harm here. You can walk anywhere you like, touch anything you wish to. I would not suggest you touch the offering fires, however." She smiles up at me.

"I was not thinking of it, but thank you for the warning."

Midiri takes me through the temple, telling me all of what they have done, all of the things that have been returned after so many years. She brings me to the offering fires and shows me where the papers are to place your thoughts on and send them to the Gods in the flames. She shows me that each of the four walls in the main body of the temple represent the seasons that come and go.

"She is my favorite goddess. Meuo. The spring, rebirth. She brings the rains and the flowers and the warmth and new hope."

We look up at the elaborately carved wall that depicts all of what the goddess Meuo is. My father was a fool to keep this beauty from our people. A fool to be worried about the gods. This is all a treasure of our people and they should all see it.

"Midiri... Why did you come here?" I ask her, turning away from the carving to look down upon her. She is quite small for a southern woman.

"Nnh, well..." She laughs, "The reasons may not seem like reasons to you."

"I would like to hear them and decide for myself, if you would be so kind."

Midiri sighs and sits down on one of the benches, "Firstly, I have dreamed of Manaleh for years as I had mentioned to you when we met. I have always felt that this place was part of my future, though I had never stood inside of these walls before. Secondly, it was seen for me by others that I should come here, that it was my duty to become High Priestess of Manaleh. Both of my teachers said to me that I should come here."

"Who are your teachers?"

"Shaoria, High Priestess of Ruichian and Giihio, High Priest of Aligar."

"Ahht... Giihio I know."

"He is a wonderful man. I was very happy to have a chance to learn from him."

"And soon he will be here teaching my palace guard how better to defend this place."

"Yes. It will be good to spend time with him again... Thank you for letting us come here. I love this place. I feel at home at last."

"I know that feeling very well... What do you mean that you have been waiting for me?"

"All of what I had said before. For years we have felt that there was a change coming. Because of how you had been we thought that perhaps your father would be overthrown by another Diya and a new ruler would come in this way. But then you have done so much in such a short time. You are clearly the ruler we felt would be coming... May I suppose things about you? I have some curiosity..."

"Do so. I will stop you when I feel it necessary." I take a seat on a bench across from the one she is perched upon.

"There is something around you that I see... Doors that were opened for you. It was a difficult thing to do... But those doors were opened because you wanted them to be. No matter how hard it was to have that done, you were determined to face what was behind them. It was not the old thing that your father kept as advisor, was it? She did not help you with this..."

"No. Gods, no!" I smile at the thought.

"I did not think so. I am glad it was not she. Whom ever did this for you was very skilled and you were very brave to face it."

I nod slowly, "Thank you."

"May I have your hand?"

I find myself giving it over to her without a thought. How strange.

"There are things in you that are still settling themselves. There are still doors left to be opened. Yet there is order coming from the initial chaos... Do you know, my King, that you may speak to me of anything and I am bound by what I am to keep your words between only you and I. Just like the one who helped you."

She has amazing vision. I wonder if my father's witch had something to do with the disbanding of the temples and these people. Perhaps she felt threatened by them, by their obvious abilities.

"I did not know that."

"I can help you to open those doors."

"One day I would like you to... Midiri... Am I going in the right direction?"

"You are. Trust yourself. This is a bit different from commanding armies, nnh?"

"Very. I did not like it much to begin with, but I am finding my way and enjoying the new challenges."

"What do you enjoy the most?" She smiles.

"I enjoy seeing the changes I make have their effects on our people... I have two attendants that I brought with me from Galrea. Laila is away now... You have probably seen Menoh."

"I have."

"Both of them are missing families. I have adopted them in my own way. I very much enjoy watching them grow and flourish with even the littlest bit of care I give to them."

"Menoh came here to talk to me. Very sweet girl. I showed her how to give her prayers to the Gods and told her a few stories. She said a little prayer for you for she said you had been so kind to her... Baika, you should hug her."


"You are afraid to touch her. I can see all around her that she wishes you would hug her. Treat her more like your daughter as you do the other girl. She is not worried by you at all any more."

"Ahhlll..." I sigh and frown.

She is right. I had been afraid to lay a hand on her because of what had happened when she first came to Manaleh.

"Baika, if there is anything you wish of us, please do let us know. We are grateful for your open arms and the generosity you have shown us. When you are ready, I will help you with those doors."

"Thank you. And thank you for your assistance in restoring this place... Opening the gates of Manaleh to the people so they can come to the temple every day as we have been, is that acceptable to you?"

"We are very happy with that."

"Then at night the palace guards will continue to close the gates after evening song so we can have peace. I have wanted this place to be a home to me and keep everyone at a distance... I see now that this is a selfish end, that Manaleh belongs to our people. Yet I still want this to be my home and so I can find this as a middle road."

"It is a fine thing."

"Is it offensive that I have taken this place as my home?"

"No. It is what was meant to be as much as we all can see it. Your father took this place and defiled it. You came and made this a home, brought the Gods back to their home. You have restored it. It is your rightful place. There is no priest or priestess that I have spoken with who has felt otherwise."

"Ah good. I am rather attached to Manaleh. I am glad I will not have to leave."

"You would go if we asked you?"

&qquot;I would."

She laughs softly, "You are more than what we expected."

"I hope that is a good thing." I find myself smiling back at her, such ease in talking to her. It is as though she has removed every bit of worry from me and I am speaking very freely.

"It is." She gives me back my hand now. "I have a few things I must do. Shaoria is coming here soon and I want to be sure everything is just so for her visit. I would also like Giihio to be impressed with our work. I hope you will excuse me."

I nod, "I am sure he will be very impressed indeed."

"Please do not feel that you must go. Take your time here, hnn? I am glad to see you in the temple, my King."

"I am glad to be here. Thank you."

She rises, bows, and goes on her way. I am amazed by her. She can see right through me but for some reason this does not worry me. I sit for a while and watch the flames from the fires casting wonderful golden light and shadow across the place. It is so wonderful... I am overwhelmed by this place. My spirit feels it all through. My home has welcomed me to it. I get up from the bench and tear myself away, hurrying across the courtyard. I have many things to do.

In the evening I hurry Hanta on her way home after much work has been done.

"What? Is Sachay coming to visit?" She makes a face at me.

"No. Go home to your husband. I will see you in the morning."

When Menoh comes to see to my evening needs I surprise her by having none. I take her by the hand and bring her into the main room, sitting her by the fire and bringing her tea.

"What are you doing?" She laughs.

"Bringing you tea."

"I can see that much. Why?"

"You are always bringing me tea. It is time to repay the favor." I smile at her confusion and bring her a plate with fruit pieces and confections that I have wrenched from the grip of the kitchen mistress.

"You are in a strange mood tonight, Baika."

"I am. I was hoping we could spend some time together talking instead of having you wander about my rooms picking up after me. Have you other urgent things to do?" I bring my own tea and sit beside her on the sofa.

"No." She smiles happily.

There we sit and talk for a long while. I inquire about her tutor that has been coming to teach her. She has been enjoying the little classes she has been getting and from the reports of the instructor she is doing very well. For her next set of classes she has chosen to learn to write southern for she is already learning how to speak the difficult language very quickly. I had seen her room recently and she had decorated it with things she had drawn and some clippings from the paper news that comes to the palace. She enjoys the arts and so I encourage her to take some tutoring in that realm then present her with one of my books. It is a Malawai book of art. Remarkable people with great skill in the arts.

"I would be honored if you would keep care of this as your own." I say to her as she turns the pages slowly, marveling at the images. Her eyes turn to me with surprise.

"I could not!"


She shakes her head, "I... I just..."

"What are you trying to say?" I smile and reach out, brushing her dark hair back over her shoulder.

"I do not deserve this." She whispers.

"You do not deserve a gift? I cannot imagine why... I want you to have it. You will appreciate it."

"Are you sure?"

"I am."

"Thank you."

With that I hug her to me and she fades against me with a whimper. She really has been wanting me to just hold her like I do hold Laila. I am so glad that she is no longer afraid of me. She is a kind and warm girl and I am so proud of her efforts.

"My little daughter. Are you happy here?"

"Yes." Her fingers curl against my shirt. "Am I doing well in serving you?"

"Very. I am sad that you will not always be here to look after me."

"I will not?"

"Eventually you will find a husband and have a family and perhaps find what it is you want to do with the remainder of your life. Perhaps you will be a great artist!"

"I am not sure about that. I really want to stay here though."

"Then when it is time you had best find yourself a husband from amongst the palace guard!" I laugh.

She looks up at me, "That is a good idea! I will have to look at them more closely."

"Gods, what have I just done?"

"Do not worry." She snuggles against me, "I will make sure he is worthy of your harassment."

"You had better for I will harass him unendingly. Let us go to the archives tomorrow to have a look at the art there, hnn?"

"That would be wonderful."

The next day I wander the halls of the Namida Archives arts section with Menoh and several of the palace guard to see to our safety amongst the civilian population that has come to see the art here. Teuskay eventually finds us there and bows.

"My King. Have you been enjoying yourself?"

"Very much. You do fine work here."

"There is a section I would like for you to see before you depart."

"Then take me there."

"Follow me please."

She leads us down many halls until we come to what is labeled the royal wing. Inside of the entrance to this section there is an enormous full-length painting of my regrettable father.

"Suddenly I do not feel so well." I frown.

"We need to have you sit for a painting, my King. You will take your place amongst the Kings and Queens here."


"While you may be less than happy about being beside your father here, you should be happy that you are our present and he is our past. We have to learn from our past mistakes so that we do not repeat them, Baika. The surest way to that end is to remember the past. Yes?"

"I agree. I will do as you ask but do not place my image directly beside his. Understood?"

"Indeed. Your father will be removed from the entrance. I will contact Hanta to schedule the sitting. Thank you for your time. Excuse me."


We both look up at the painting. Menoh shivers and hugs herself. I place a hand on her shoulder.

"He is gone, Menoh." I say to remind the both of us.

"But not forgotten... He was not a very nice man."

"I know. I know." I sigh, remembering him, "Vao athne, father... Come along, Menoh. We have better things to look at."

We find the hall where there are paintings of the temples and again I am unhappy. Most of these places have been torn down. There will be my next task. I will rebuild the temples.

"Everything you have destroyed, I will rebuild." I growl, my whole body tightening with rage.

"Baika..." She turns and hugs me.

I relax myself, "I am sorry. We were going to have a good day together. Even though he is dead, my father has a way of ruining things." I hug her in return, "Let us go home."

When we arrive I notice that one of the palace guard has some interest in Menoh.

"I have cursed myself with my words." I smirk and watch as he tries to strike up a conversation with her, then stride over and frown at him heartily.

"Sire." He bows.


"Excuse me." He bows again.


He hurries away with Menoh on the verge of a giggle.

"Baika... So harsh. He was cute!" She claps her hands together.

"I sense a repeat of past events coming..."

She smiles happily and goes on her way. I have pleased her by acting as her father should with a suitor. It has been a good day after all.

Laila returns from her stay at Aykovas to find things very different. The temple is open and receiving visitors. The courtyards are filled with statuary. The metal rings imbedded in the brick walls have colorful banners hung in ties from them bearing the motifs of the Gods. There are also three new female members of staff in the form of priestesses.

"What's been going on since I've been gone??" She asks after hugging me to say hello. "Everything is looking very very different."

"I had been missing you and so thought to decorate for your return." I smile at her.

"Somehow I doubt that, Sifu."

And so I tell her of what has transpired in her absence over a shared meal.

"I knew you would miss me." She laughs. "At least you have kept busy."

"That I have. Ryu has come by to see if you were in residence again. He will be returning later."

"Oh good. I can hardly wait to see him! I miss his hugs."

At least my little daughter will have a proper ceremony for her joining now that the priestesses are here. I am glad to have her back and know that Ryuaki will be elated to see her.

Giihio has come along with Laila but he has made himself invisible, heading directly to the temple to see Midiri along with his family. Instead of immediately seeking them out I wait until the following day.

I find on my early morning wander that Ryu has arrived and is sitting with Laila on one of the benches in the courtyard, watching the sunrise.

"Ahhuu...Young love." I say as I approach, startling Ryu. "Ryuaki, get yourself to the priestesses today and talk with them about your joining ceremony. I will not have you sleeping in my daughter's bed any longer without being her husband. Understood?"

"Sifu!" Laila scolds.

"Tsssh... I know he remained here last night though I know I spoke quite clearly in stating that he should not... Ryu? Speak for yourself."

"Understood." He nods. "I just missed her-"

"No explanations. Obey me, boy. Make your arrangements. No more waiting."

"I have already made a good way into the arrangements. I will approve all things with you, of course."

"Of course. Do not make me wait for long, hnn?"

"I will not, Majesty."

"And do not let me find you in these walls tonight or I will make you face me for her again... This time there will be no lucky strike." I give him a hard look, pleased when his expression shows he believes my threat.

"Yes, Majesty."

"Ooh!" Laila frowns at me.

"Do not encourage him." I tell her and go off to the temple.

Here I find Giihio with his daughters and wife. They bow to me, Giihio only nodding briefly.

"Ashio ka nai." He says, "Please meet my family, Baika. My wife Katie and our daughters Anna, Jenny and Muiy. My family, this is your King."

They all greet me formally and I smile. They seem to be a fine little family.

"Welcome to Manaleh. Did you find somewhere to sleep last night in comfort? I did not see any of you come into the main halls."

"We remained with Midiri. Her understudies have given us lodging in the temple walls. We will be comfortable in this way."

"Good... If you need anything, ask. You are all welcome to roam the halls and courts here as much as you like."

"I would like to take the girls on a walk around later while Gi is working here." Katie says.

"You are free to do so. Is this the first time you have been outside of Aykovas?"

Katie looks up to Giihio who answers, "No. I have taken them to Ruichian before."

"I see. Still practicing though my father forbade it?"

"Of course. He could not change who I am, Baika."

"He did enjoy trying to change people... Be sure to take your family into Namida."

"I will do that." He nods.

"Midiri... I have asked Ryuaki to come speak to you about his joining with Laila. Will you help him with this? I want for my adopted daughter to be joined properly."

"Of course! It will be wonderful to perform a joining openly."

"Aside from the work that Giihio is here to perform, I would like to speak to you of another matter. Perhaps we can speak of it when Shaoria arrives?"

"What would you like to speak of?"

"Rebuilding the temples that my father had destroyed."

Both Giihio and Midiri smile widely.

"Wonderful! We will gladly meet with you. Shaoria will be the best to speak to about this and so I will let you know when she has arrived."

"I look forward to that. Giihio, will you be able to meet with Shilne and Akti and myself later? We would like to know of how you propose to train the palace guard."

"I am able and glad to." He nods.

"Then excuse me until later."

After a long day I find myself back in the temple, the gates are now closed, and I have peace again. I kneel in prayer and meditation for a while. Giihio is going to teach me more of how to meditate. All I know of it is centering for combat. After a while of trying to focus, I feel a presence beside me and look to my left. It is Giihio's little daughter Muiy. She smiles sweetly at me, the same calming expression on her face that her father wears.

"Hello, Muiy." I say gently to her in the human language, having heard her speak so to her sisters and not wanting to frighten her...

"Hello, Baika." She comes and settles on the meditation mat beside me. "What are you doing?"

"Trying my hand at meditation. I am not very good at it."

"You think about blades too much." She nods.

"Do I?"

"Uh huh. Think about nothing. Or if you can't do that, try thinking of something pretty."

"You are very smart for such a little girl."

She shrugs. "Maybe. I stink at math though."

I feel my smile spreading. She is a wonderful child.


"Yes, Muiy?"

"Who is the pretty lady?"

"Pretty lady? Do you mean Midiri? Or maybe Hanta? Or Menoh?"

"No. I know who they are. They told me their names. Hanta gave me a sweet bun."

"Lucky for you!"

"Uh huh. It was very good."

"I am not sure who you mean then. There are many women who work here."

"She doesn't work here." She shakes her head.


"She's the lady who stands beside you."

"That is Hanta. My advisor."

"No no..."

"You will have to help me more, little Muiy."

"Umm... She's got pretty long gold hair."

I sit up straighter, feeling my heart in my throat. "And she stands beside me?"

"Uh huh." She looks off to the right of me a bit as though she is standing there now, "Blue eyes. She's a human lady like mama. She smiles a lot... Can I meet her?" She looks directly at me again.

"I do not know... Muiy... Why does she stand beside me?"

"Because she lives in your heart." She pats her little hand on my chest. "You miss her."

"I do... I miss her very much." I sigh.

"It is almost her birthday. You should get her something nice."

"Is it?"

"Uh huh... Baika?"


"Can I put braids in your hair?"

I put aside the empty feeling and laugh, "Do you think it would make me a better person?"

"No. I just like doing braids and I'm not good at doing them in my own hair, just other people's."

"Perhaps some other day. Forgive me."

"It's okay. I wish daddy's hair was longer so I could braid his. Grandpa has good hair." She nods with conviction.

"What of your mother's hair?"

"It's all wavy so it's hard to do."

Giihio arrives now, "Muiy... It is time for sleep."

"All right." She gets up, "Goodnight Baika."

"Sleep well, Muiy."

And they are gone. She is so young and already she seems to have such ability. She is fortunate to have Giihio as her father. I wonder what it is like for her to be able to do these things... If it frightens her. She does not seem to be affected by it. Perhaps because her father has treated it all as being rather normal. I wonder too if it really is the birth anniversary of the Altean Princess coming soon. If it is, I should send her something as it is tradition for the humans. But what? And how to get it to her? I sigh and look back to the meditation round, thinking.

Shortly I am on my feet and hurrying back to my chambers. I have not been watching the human news feeds for awhile, as I have been very busy, so I take up my katsuna and have a look, hoping for inspiration.

Indeed it is her 'birthday' coming—the news is filled with this story. It makes me cringe with remorse. This will be her 18th birth anniversary and apparently it is some sort of rite of passage in a human life. It marks her passage into womanhood. She is now considered eligible for marriage. It is no wonder they were so taken with offense at my insistence that she become my wife! I was trying to take her well before her time.

"Gods..." I sigh again, shaking my head for not having realized this human sentiment.

There is much conjecture in these articles that she will soon announce a suitor that she prefers. A number of possibilities are listed there for her and I frown as I read through the names of assorted human 'royalty' and other highly placed young men. I wonder if she actually favors any of these men. Or any other for that matter. I feel sick inside. At least she will not be sent immediately into an arranged marriage. They are giving her a chance to find someone that she can care for. I am grateful for this at least.

Gifts are already arriving in the castle there on Altea. There are images of the Princess examining them... I notice that there is something strange in her expression. She does not look to be her usual happy self. I wonder why...

Maybe she misses me. That is why she looks unhappy... Yes... That is it. She misses the man who was constantly trying to take her into being a woman before her time. The man who she told repeatedly to leave her alone. What a charming creature I was.

I smirk. Menoh goes wandering past where I sit, picking at this and that in my rooms, tidying. Her motion breaks me out of those thoughts and into others.

"How old are you?" I ask her.

"Nnh? How old am I?"


She smiles, "I do not know, actually."

"You do not know? Why not?"

"Well... I told you I was sold to Galrea very young. I never knew when I was born."

I put the katsuna down for a moment and turn my complete attention to her, "Really... What is your Diya?"

She shrugs and I am shocked. I had not known this.

"If it helps I decided a day I like and I pretend it is my birthing anniversary. The first day of Meuotais."

"And so your birthday has passed for this cycle."

"Yes. I suppose it has."

"I did not give you anything in tribute."

"You gave me a book. It was late, but I forgive you." She smiles at her joke and I smile back.

"How old do you think that you are?"

"Perhaps 17 cycles."

And so she fancies that she is about the age of the Altean Princess. Our standard years are longer and relatively she is younger, not having yet gone into her first full season and therefore still being considered by our culture a girl instead of a woman.

"Is a book a good gift for someone of your age?"

"I liked it. Are you trying to decide on something as a gift?"

"I am. What do females prefer as gifts?"

She shrugs again, "It is different for each girl. I like pictures. Laila likes pretty fabrics so she can sew things..."

"Nnh... You women are difficult."

"Men are no different." She makes a face at me.

"We are simpler. Very straightforward."

"When is your birth anniversary?"

"I will not tell you. I detest the celebration of it and live in terror you might try to do some such thing." I wave a finger at her in warning.

"No fun!"

"Perhaps not... Menoh, I will give you my Diya name if you will take it for yourself."

Her eyes go wide, "Really?"

"If you like. If it makes no difference to you to have no Diya, I will not force it upon you. I would however be proud to have you as one of my own. As my Sianta as Laila is."

"That would be wonderful. Thank you!"

She laughs, swooping down upon me in my chair and hugging me, kissing my cheek. My katsuna goes flying from my leg where I have laid it but I am not concerned. It is a solid thing and I care more for Menoh's happiness.

"You are quite welcome."

Hanta arrives soon and I tell her that I will be going into the public market in the morning.

"What for? I can have anything you like sent for..."

"Naii... I would like to have a look there with my own eyes. It has been a long while since I have been to that place."

"Very well. I will arrange it."

"Arrange what?"

"I will contact Local Enforcement to ensure that the streets are kept clear."

"Nonsense. Why are you always so insistent upon separating me from the people I serve?"

"Because I do not want someone who is not of their right mind to separate you from your life, stubborn thing."

"I am not worried. The palace guard will come with me and I will ask Giihio to come along as well."

"At least that makes me feel better about it."

"Huuaaa, now I can certainly sleep better tonight!" I laugh at her.

"Gods save me for caring so much." She rolls her eyes up.

In the daylight I dress, have a brief morning meal and then go to find Giihio. He is having his morning tea with his daughters in the courtyard under a tree. It is getting to be quite a warm day already and they are settled there in the shade trading stories. He loves his girls, that much is obvious. He does not show a preference for his own flesh over that of the girls he had adopted. Little Anna is in his lap now, drinking from her father's cup when he offers it. Though she is the middle child in age she is much smaller than her youngest sister Muiy. It is the way of humans to grow slowly.

"Good morning, family Miyutenshi."

"Ashio ka nai, Baika. It is a good day today. What will you do with it?"

"Today I will venture into the city, to the open market by the lake to have a look about. I ask that you come along with some of the palace guard. It will give them a bit of practice in keeping watch over my movements and give you a chance to teach them more. Will that be possible?"

"It will. Will you be going alone or with company today?"

"Alone. Why do you ask?"

"I ask as one of the guard has developed a keen interest in Menoh and I fear he would be distracted by her presence."

"What is his name?"


"I will speak to him myself. I have chased him away from her once already."

"Ahhll, do not chase him. He means well by her." He laughs.

"It is my duty. You know this. You will chase some suitors away yourself one day for you have three lovely daughters."

"True. I look forward to it. I am glad though that my daughters are still in the place where they think that boys are messy, smelly things."

"They are." Jenny nodded.

"Baika, would you like braids today?" Muiy hopes.

"Not today, yet I do thank you for asking."

"My daughters, take these cups inside and find your mother. Let her know that I have some things to do. I will be back soon enough."

They all get up without question, one by one kissing him and walking away together toward the temple with their teacups. Giihio smiles after them.

"You are well settled with your life, yes?"

"Very well. By Gods, I love them all. My beautiful little girls. I am so proud." He sighs and gets up off the ground where he had been sitting with them, brushing bits of leaves and grass off of his elaborate robes. "I will have much work to do to keep their suitors on the run."

"Yes you will. I suspect you will find your military skills useful after all."

We go together to the barracks of the palace guard and gather a few of them including Nagan. He bows to me deeply, having remembered my displeasure with him before. Giihio gives them some instruction, telling them that if all goes well I should hardly notice their presence as I wander about.

In this way we venture to the city, to the expanses of the open market. I wander at will here with the palace guard moving about me. Shortly I do not even notice them for how well Giihio is conducting them. The morning crowds part themselves as we pass, entertained by seeing their King and a High Priest amongst them. I am entertained by seeing so many people in a civilian setting.

The smells of the eastern marketplace are wonderful especially as we pass the areas in which merchants are cooking the produce from the local farms. I am still hungry from the light morning meal I have had and so I stop at one of the places where the smells seem particularly wonderful. The food is delicious and the merchant tries to say that I may have it for no cost. I leave coin behind even so, then venture further into the market finding all manner of item that might be given as a gift. With my mind clear of worrying about the guard I can notice now that I still have no idea what to offer my favorite colonial Princess as tribute for her birth.

My mind works on this problem as I pass amongst the stands and tents that have been set up, the awnings over the street from the buildings that create a break in the expanse of the low structures of the market. I want her to see this place... For her to see the people, the colors, to take in the scents. If I could give that gift to her it would be quite wonderful for me at least.

I find that in my cloud of thought I have come to the end of a row and my way is blocked strangely enough. Usually all paths are open in this place but there is a pile of pottery blocking the passage that would have existed.

I look off to the side, to the merchant that is there... And smile. The pottery is for the plants that are being sold here. Now I know what to give her. Something that she can care for, something that she will find beautiful, different. I select a flowering plant and the merchant takes up a pot from the pile blocking the way.

"You will like this." She says, "Look here." She shows me the inside of the pot, "I make these myself... Put blessings on the inside."

It is indeed that. She has written in southern characters a Gods Blessing of joy and long life.

"Perfect!" I announce to her pleasure.

"Ahht! I have sold something to the King!" She shrieks in announcement to the neighboring vendors and then contains herself, "Excuse me!"

"Of course." I laugh.

"I knew that this would be a good day." She calms herself enough to carefully pot the plant for me. "Do you know about this plant?"

"Nnh... No. What should I know about it?"

Giihio has drifted closer and is smiling at my purchase.

"It is a quolia plant."

"Is it? I have only seen the enormous quolia in the south."

"This one is a northern miniature variety. It will still flower with all of those colors you have no doubt seen and it will still bear fruit, just very tiny ones."


"The better care you take with it the more beautiful flowers it will make. So keep the soil moist, but not too, and give it sunshine. It will show you great rewards for your care of it. They say that the Gods made the quolia to show us how we should treat each other."

"Oh?" I turn to Giihio.

"It is true, Baika. You will often see these planted about the temples."

"I live in a temple and have not seen these." I raise an eyebrow at him.

"They were torn out along with the other plants as you know."

"Have them put back in with the plants that are being restored to the grounds."

"Gladly." His smile is a happy one indeed. "Have you many of these, good woman?"

"I do! We had them volunteer to grow themselves on our farm a few years back."


"Yes. They simply began to grow in one corner of the property that we had not used for some time. When I first saw them I had no idea of what they were so we let them grow because the leaves were so pretty. When I gave them some red tea that is when we found out what they were. The next day we had mountains of flowers!" She throws up her soil covered hands dramatically. "We have sold them in the market for a short while. We had brought one here to the stand for a display and simply everyone wanted one for themselves."

"They have not been seen in Namida for many years." Giihio nodded, "We grow them at Aykovas."

"Another thing you have likely done to defy the will of my father."

"Indeed." He smiles.

"Woman, will you work with this priest to bring some of your plants to the palace?"

"Of course I will! I am honored!" She almost knocks over the pot in her excitement but catches it, "Excuse me."

"If my new plant survives you, hopefully the others will too." I smirk.

"I will take much better care. You must stop telling me good things until I am done!"


She finishes potting it, places the pot in paper wrapping, then gives it to me.

"There. Now it is safe in your keeping. Be good to it!"

"I will. Thank you for your efforts." I offer her coin to find that once again a merchant will attempt to reject my payment, "Woman, I have the funds to pay you and so I will. There are many who do not. If you accept this from me, you may in turn pass it to someone who has nothing and so make our city a better place. You want our city to be a better place, yes?"

&quoquot;Nnh... If you put it that way." She takes it from me, "Thank you Baika!!"

"You are welcome. Good day."

Back at Manaleh I place my prize in the temple for Muiy to look at.

"This is the perfect thing." She smiles and strokes the leaves then begins to sing over it.

The people who have been milling about come and gather around to hear her song—this little girl who will no doubt one day be a powerful priestess. I ask Giihio about this once her song has ended.

"She already is a priestess." He says.

"So young?"

"Yes. Muiy came to have such strong things happening to her so early that it was necessary to place her in the temple. I have given her as much as I can myself and so it helps that she spends her time learning the traditions at Ruichian with others like us. She has learned many of the songs as you have heard. Everything seems to come to her very naturally yet there are many who are surprised by her. They say she is the rebirthing of a High Priestess from before your father's life. She had great ability. Much more than I."


"It is very true. My daughter amazes me. The song she gave to your plant, I did not teach her that. I know that none of the priests or priestesses would have taught it to her for it is very very old and very difficult to master... Yet she sang it as though it was a part of her."

"You think that she knew it inside of herself somehow then..."

"I do." He sighed. "I never imagined that my gifts would be passed on to my child."

"What of your wife? How does a human feel about having a child who has become so much a part of our culture and spiritual traditions?"

"Katie does very much love our daughter. I think that is your concern. She is human but she does not look at things in such a way. She has always supported my calling and now she supports Muiy. We try not to treat her in a different manner than we do her sisters. I had agreed with Katie that this should be the best thing to do, and so far it seems to have been." He watches his daughter as she continues to surround the plant with her warm energy, humming yet another ancient song, "Excuse me while I remind her to be a child." He smiles as he bows to me slightly then goes to her and scoops her up into his arms. She squeals with delight.



He whirls her about in circles as his wife comes to see what is going on from all the noise. She watches them playing with a look of great contentment on her human face.

Giihio is someone that I admire indeed. He has great power yet he does not feel it necessary to display it. It is something that I struggle with constantly for I have not been that way. I was raised to show my ability and power to keep my position solid. Now I can clearly see in his example that there is often greater honor in containing the display of power. I have much to learn from him.

While I sort out how to send the quolia to Altea, the little plant sits in the temple. I hope it will absorb some of the good feelings that seem to reside in the place. I am sure that the song Muiy gave it will keep it safe.

It turns out to not be quite so difficult to send the plant on to the Princess. I simply use a skip generator and take a lucky shot toward her world based upon some internal schematics of the castle and the images showing where her gifts are being accumulated. On the day of her celebration, the news feeds show that I have been very successful. The plant has made it perfectly intact and not been noticed as out of place. I feel a tightness rise in my throat, seeing her expression change as she finds my small gift to her. She is smiling now... Smiling for my little tribute. Her look was well worth having Shilne mock me for doing this.

Gods I miss you... This feeling... I... Can hardly bear it...

My own tear splashes on the view screen and I click the katsuna shut on it. I cannot stand to watch any longer.

On to 22