Marking of the Daysby Sincline Koutaishi
Time Flies - Part 2
Shilne wastes no more time in bringing Seriku to meet his family. He places the 102 in stand down leave and as soon as she is free of her examinations at school he bundles her into his pyaton to fly to Akanu City along with Aktishan who is more eager to see Neissa than he will openly admit. I see them off on the landing pads behind Manaleh.
"His uncles may be cruel to me, but his sister... She is sweet to me." He smiles slightly and bows to me there on the larger landing pads behind the palace.
"That is what makes things worth facing. Keep care of yourself and of the two of them."
"Of course, Majesty."
"Bring me fresh katchou from the Akanu market!" Menoh has come racing up behind me.
"So much hurry, little Menoh." He says.
"I am going to teach Laila to make some southern meals to surprise Ryu! Nothing brings out the fire quite like fresh katchou!" She claps.
"I will do as you ask. May the days be good to you." He nods and climbs inside the rear hatch.
"He is so serious..." She comments with a huff as it seals shut behind him.
"That is mostly his way. Come back here." I take her arm and escort her away from the pyaton before it begins to rise and fill her with dust from takeoff.
"It is good to see High Commander Shilne so in love though. He and Aktishan are such an odd pair! I cannot imagine how he behaves with Neissa. Do you think he is less serious? I hope he would be and maybe give her some flowers and-"
"Gods girl, it is a wonder your mouth does not wear out. Hush."
"Nnhhh..." She frowns at me as we go back inside the palace but forgives me enough to have Laila's first southern cooking lesson tested on my lucky palate for late meal.
Shilne, Seriku and Akti return late in the evening 6 suns later. The arrival of their shared pyaton wakes me slightly. In the morning I go to gather the men for an early meal to find Seriku departing Shilne's chambers. She sees me as she closes the door and freezes, eyes wide, face rushing into a darker shade. I smirk.
"Is he awake or have you snuck out of his bed leaving him undisturbed?"
"I... I... Eeeehhh!"
She squeals in her upset at being discovered and runs away, leaving me laughing there in the hallway. I knock at the door.
"Come!" Shilne calls and I enter, finding him in his long morning robes. "Ahhuu... Good day, good day!"
"I have seen your Seriku in the hall..." I mention.
"So you have. We came in late last night."
"She remained here with you, nnh?"
"She did..." He smiles slowly, "I have made her late for her class!" And now he is grinning with pride. "Gods, I do love her. Did you frighten her? Is that the sound I have heard?"
"It was. She hoped to leave unnoticed."
"So shy, my Seriku." He shakes his head.
"I would think she would just hope to leave without pregnancy." I search in the remnants of their late night snack, which is still on the table, selecting a few nuts to chew on.
"No worry of that. Her mama has already made arrangements to have her far far from me when her season comes. She is determined that her daughter will finish her education path before having a child. I may yet sway her to see things my way."
"Seriku or her mama?" I chuckle.
"Seriku would be simple to convince. She is in agreement with me, yet she wishes to honor her promise to her mama... If she were in my presence during her season there would be a child for us on the way soon after. Without doubt. And so her mama is going to remove her from me. Do you know she will not even tell me where they will be going?? It is a shame..."
"You would go find her. The woman is smart. That is all. You are both young. You have many many seasons ahead of you to raise as many children as the Gods will allow you. Do not rush things."
"Speaking of which... Look at what we have bought in the market aside from katchou." He gets up from his lounging on the sofa and searches in his travel bag, producing a box, which he brings over to me, "When the time comes, we will be ready!" He opens the box to reveal their purchase of matrai—marriage bracelets.
"You have bought these so soon? She is a more than a cycle out from finishing her education!"
"I know. But the mood overtook us when we were visiting some of the metal works. They have placed the Diya mark here for us, and the design is of shekuh reeds which is part of the Diya emblem. It is quite perfect."
"She approves so of honoring your Diya and wearing their emblems for her life?"
"She does. She understands how important my family has been to me. It has been agreed that she will become part of Diya Calpuran when we marry... What is that look?"
"Are you forcing your will on her?"
"No. She selected these herself!"
"So you are subtly forcing your will on her..."
"Naiii... So cruel. You should be supporting me."
"I am supporting you. You have always said that you wanted to act in an honorable manner when you found your true love... I am attempting to make you think about whether or not you are being honorable. What of her family line? Her mother is from a long line of medical professionals. She is also southern."
"True true. Look here." He pulls out the male matrai and shows me the inscriptions—poetry all in the southern language—and the Calpuran Diya mark this time joined with the Shodaien mark. "I realize that she has a family too. Calpuran is what she will become so that is on the outside. I will keep myself mindful of her family too. Never you worry!"
"Good. I am hungry. Put on some clothing so we can go claim Akti."
"Food! I will hurry." He puts the matrai safely away and hurries to clothe himself.
The two fill me with the tale of their journey to Akanu. Akti is quieter than usual—I presume from being parted from Neissa again. Shilne is trying to offer him some cheer through his usual enthusiasm.
After our meal is done Hanta comes to gather me then for a day of sitting with her contingent of intern advisors, local representatives and higher members of the temples to discuss the details surrounding the Harvest Festival—the first in many many years.
The planning for the festival began in earnest when Muiy began speaking to her father of the small celebration they usually had at Aykovas. I decided that it was time to have a proper celebration and so put Hanta and her troop of interns to work on the project. They, combined with the many priests and priestesses who have been visiting Manaleh, have already done great works to organize the citywide event here in Namida. Many more minds have been involved in extending the celebrations across the planet. It will be remembered for many seasons afterward, I am sure.
There are other things I have arranged to celebrate, with the help of Hanta. It is time for Menoh to have a Diya name and so shortly before the festival, I bring her with me to the Senyuoken Diya Kaitenshi to add her's to the book of names. She is welcomed by most of the women of the Diya. I am glad that at least they seem to have some sense for many of the men still sneer at me and espouse their purist opinions given her northern heritage. I ignore them to celebrate for my adopted daughter who has found herself with an enormous extended family. She wears a dress that Laila has made for her though she could not come along this time. I have much work to do yet before they will accept Laila into the Diya or even allow her inside the gates of the Kaitenshi. Still, I will own her as my own just as I will Menoh.
"I am so full." Menoh makes a face.
"You should have stopped eating those little pastries long ago." I smile as she holds my arm while we walk along the Kaitenshi garden path.
"I know but they were so good! I am glad this Diya is filled with good cooks."
"Is that the only reason you have joined?"
"Of course not. I joined because you make a fine father in your own strange way. You have done so many wonderful things for me... I am sorry we had to start in anger."
"Ehnn... I am not for at least it was a start."
"Now about Nagan..."
"Ohhh... Here you go, practicing at being my father." She laughs, "Nagan is a good man!"
"You did not have to so quickly go about examining the available palace guard when I let my tongue get away from my senses and suggested such a thing. You have years ahead of you to meet many fine men."
"I know... But I like Nagan." She shrugs. "He makes me feel... Things."
"That is precisely what I am afraid of."
"Now... If he was not a good man you would not have him as your palace guard! Correct??"
"Nnh... He has skill in defense. That is all he is hired from the military because of."
"Shame on you for telling a lie to your new daughter!"
"It is not a lie."
"It is not all of the truth!"
She has been spending all of her free time with the man, or with him combined with Laila and Ryuaki. The one pair is helping the other with the final details of their joining, which will happen at the Harvest Festival in a short number of days now.
"Tomorrow we will be going to visit with my old friend Banrek who has found himself some free time to come home to the south. It will be a good thing for we will be attending a matching pool at his Diya... Perhaps you will find yourself a man who is more suitable for your attentions."
She sighs and rolls her eyes.
"It would not hurt you to look at a few more men... Men from a fine Diya too!"
"They are southern men. They will not want me."
"Sha sha, so you think... Yet Ryu is taking a woman from a different species!"
"Nnnh... I am looking forward to going back to Numaiial Palace to have a swim before going to sleep. It is so hot here!" She fans her face a little.
"I could not agree more. I will join you. Shall we go?"
"Yes, I think so."
Much as I try to convince her otherwise, she is fixed upon Nagan as her future. We visit the open markets at the seaside the following day and then attend Diya Maioashid matching pool. Young men do indeed gravitate to Menoh, despite the chastisement of their mothers. Banrek chuckles and watches the scene beside me.
"She is a beautiful young woman. You will have some difficult times ahead." He remarks.
"I know. I already do." I explain to him.
"Saich... I know that man. He served out of the 55th under Kuvadon. He is not an old man but rather old for her, nnh?"
"I agree. She does not. There is the problem." I nod, "What of you? You are slightly older than he! Here you are, looking for a wife. For true?"
He smiles slowly, "It is time that I married and had a few children. I look forward to it. The eastern border war is over, the pirates are well contained, our military support contracts are steady..." He shrugs his shoulders.
"For a fact, I have found a fine woman... She is sister to young Damanu's father. She is a doctor that serves at the Ministry..." He trails off.
"And northern." He agrees, "My mother is not pleased. My father is even less pleased."
"Very much so. She is a wonderful woman and the moment I saw her I knew I wanted to be a husband." Again he shrugs. "That is all."
"I have some advice for you." He mentions and takes a long drink before dispensing it, "You are a fool if you marry that Tastian." He gives me a serious look, "Do not be a fool." Then he walks away to let me absorb his words and give his mother the hope that he is making an effort to find a southern woman to marry.
Menoh grows tired of the attention soon and asks if we can depart. She wants to go home and show Laila the fabric she bought at the market in hopes that it might be suitable for a dress to wear to her joining ceremony.
"I wish that I could sew... But I am useless at it." She sighs and looks out the window as we fly over the ocean, heading home to the milder climate of the northern continent.
"You have your own skills." I assure her.
"Yes..." She sighs again.
"Gods, girl... Stop that."
"I wish Nagan could have come with us."
"Ahhlll... You have been away from him for two days only!"
"I know. You have never missed someone??"
"Then just let me miss him." She makes a face then returns to looking out the window.
Nagan meets us at the landing pads along with Laila. Both hug her in greeting. Luckily I am allowed one as well from Laila before they all go off together... My little family is growing.
Menoh and Laila are given new rooms to live in that are larger and on the other end of the palace. I have decided that there should be some renovation in the servants' residence of the palace and all of them are moved to better quarters... Yet not as fine as those I have given to my own.
Now Laila will have enough room to raise a child or two and keep a large husband whose books for school take up a room in themselves. Menoh is simply in awe of having a separate sleeping chamber instead of just a room to sleep in as she had before.
"Sifu... Did you know that my rooms have a balcony?" She asks me.
"No. I did not know." I try to play at ignorance, as though they had simply been given random rooms.
"I do! It is wonderful for I can sit there while I study and it gives me perfect light for my painting class."
"I am glad then."
Laila and Ryuaki join themselves as one life in the fall, during the height of the Harvest Festival, in a peaceful ceremony lead by Midiri. I can no longer find fault with young Ryuaki for he has done all he spoke of to see to their combined futures. Even his family looks as though they might be feeling forgiveness for her species as they witness their shared emotion during the speaking of bond. If only it could last, if only they would welcome her into their family... But in the end it is most likely that the majority of them will not. At least they have this moment of peace to share and remember during difficult times that may come.
The first full Harvest Festival our people have celebrated in many many years has proven a fine idea to have reinstated as ongoing tradition. The royal coffers were opened to fund it and bring in vendors from even the farthest prefectures to show their wares in the marketplace, which is expanded into the adjoining lakeside park for the occasion. The Priests and Priestesses come from all the far temples to make the occasion complete, filling the air with their voices. We are all amazed.
As part of the Harvest Festival tradition, the Priestesses choose symbolic suitors to escort them for the day that remains once they are finished with their many songs and beautiful dances. Midiri surprises me by making me her choice from the crowd.
"Hnn, Baika. Will you be a good suitor for me?" She smiles as she takes my arm.
"I could not tell you this. What do the Gods say?"
"They and I say that I am not the one for you." She nods, "But they tell me that we will have a good time even so, while we each wait for our right ones."
We leave the palace grounds to visit the celebrations in the city below with the rest of the population. I am continually amazed by the ability of our people to recover from even the worst of times. The city seems reborn.
By the end of the night I am exhausted from the effort of trying to take it all in. I return Midiri to her home in the chambers beside the temple, falling onto her couch with a groan.
"You are tired." She states what is plainly obvious.
"As you should be. So much work for one man... Would you like some tea?"
"I would. Thank you kindly." I sit up long enough to shed my coat then fall back again, "Ahhllll... Such a long day. I am too old."
"Old? Not so old! Still young and handsome as I am young and beautiful at nearly your age!"
"Yes yes. Young..."
"Wait until you are past your first ten tens. Then be feeling old." Pot in the fire, Midiri begins to shed her own clothing that feels to be weighing on her, the elaborate robes of her profession. Down to a simple under dress, she leans against the fireplace, "You are right... I am too old too. So tired!"
"We will both feel better in the morning. At least you are still standing."
"You have a few years more than I. As soon as the tea is ready I will be beside you."
And so she is, stretching her legs out in front of her and wriggling her toes once she has kicked off her shoes.
"Much better." She smiles, her head lounging back in the cushions beside mine. "I am glad that there are others to sing the morning song tomorrow. I will not wake in time, I am certain."
"I will not be awake to hear it. No worries." I muster the energy to raise the cup to drink the tea she has made. "Very good."
"I bought it in the market today." She yawns.
"Hnn... Midiri... Before you begin to sleep..."
"You have said you can carry messages from the Gods..."
"When they are willing to speak."
"And now? What have they been whispering to you about me?"
"You seem to think they speak to me in words that can be repeated."
"They do not? How do they give you these messages then? Write notes?"
"Now... Do not joke so."
"Then educate me."
"It is not words... It is nothing I could describe to you." She sips her tea. "It is more a feeling."
"Very well... Then how do the Gods report to you in feelings regarding myself? Am I pleasing them?"
"They do not report to me." She rolls up her eyes.
"You are not making this simple... Then what?"
"Patience patience." She sat up and put her tea aside, going to sit on the floor with her legs folded.
"What are you doing?"
"Shhht." She smiled and closed her eyes. Meditation.
I sip my tea and patiently wait, sitting forward as I can see changes coming to her. Her muscles begin to relax and I wonder if she has fallen to sleeping for the way that her breathing has slowed.
"Midiri?" I inquire, "Have you fallen asleep?"
Her eyes open and mine widen in surprise. Her eyes are like mirrors. The strangest feeling washes across my spirit, very much like that which I felt when the doors to the temple reopened and it took its first breath in many years. Midiri is no longer with me. This is someone else. Something else... And it is speaking to me in its own way, just as she had described. I am not afraid. It is not like those dark voices or the powerful stare of my father's old witch. It is warm and inviting and soothing and accepting. I am surrounded and filled with the spirit whisperings. Her hand reaches out and touches my face. I can feel the power without ego.
"Fao..." I breathe and watch a soft smile come, "Great mother, I am so blessed that I have pleased you."
Suddenly her eyes darken and then Midiri's muscles completely give way. She crumples to the floor fully even as I try to catch her up.
"Huuuaaa." She sighs.
"Are you alright??"
"Tired." Her eyes open again, returned to their saffron tone.
"What happened? What was that? How did you do that?"
She shrugs slightly, looking wearily up to me where she lays half stretched out on the floor and half in my arms.
"I do not know. What did happen?"
"Your eyes... This feeling... I could swear I was in the presence of the Great Goddess Fao."
"Perhaps you were. I have not been this tired in a long while." She smiles up at me, "How inappropriate of me to lay here on the floor."
"I am not offended." I smile and gather her up, carrying her to her bed, "It is time for an old woman to be sleeping."
"And an old man too." She sighs.
"Thank you for this effort... And for all you have done to help the Harvest Festival come back to our lives."
"You are most welcome. Thank me further with a large morning meal inside the palace, somewhat later than usual."
"I will see to it. Sleep well."
The bells on her door chime as I close it behind me and return to the cool night air. Another long but satisfying day is done. The courtyards are quiet now but the breeze still blows the colorful banners. Soon the snow will come to cover the land and I look forward to peaceful nights spent by the fire. I will enjoy them as much as I can for Hanta has my schedule filled with travel plans for the winter months.
Before I realize time has passed, there is another palace resident on the way in the form of a little girl for Laila and Ryuaki. I am amazed by how she carries their child so happily as she grows fat. Even Ryu's family is pretending to be happy with her regardless of her genetics. She often comes to sit with me on new winter nights, back propped up on cushions and stroking their child through her round belly. She was amazed by how quickly her pregnancy began to show itself and so Doctor Navatmal spent some time with her explaining the cycle of such things for the alien child she is carrying.
She has been making little clothing for their daughter and shown great skill with needle and thread. Her skills have even been noted by the palace tailors and her duties changed to match. She is now a member of the tailor's guild and wears their mark quite proudly.
"Is Ryu being good to you?" I inquire.
"No matter how many times you ask, the answer will always be the same. He is wonderful to me. He is studying so hard for his final exams for the season. Otherwise I wouldn't be here talking with you like a beached whale on your sofa."
"Big fat beached whale. It's a huge sea animal. Or a cow. Mooo."
"Odd girl." I smirk.
"Did I mention it's nice to have you back home for a while?" She laughs.
"It is good to be home! It will not last though. In another few days I am traveling again, this time to Vioal."
"It never ends." She sighs, "Ryu tells me that I get to pick the Sifu for our child."
"By tradition yes you do."
"Will you accept? I want you to be Sifu for all of our children."
"Are you sure of this?"
"Umm humm." She nods, "Ryu thought it was a good idea too."
"I accept this gladly. Thank you." I am touched by the sentiment, the trust and the honor.
"You know what?"
"It's my birthday next week. I've been keeping count of the days since I knew it was Christmas back home." She looks rather sad.
"How many years will you have in you then?"
"18." She sighs and I am shocked.
"Laila... I did not know this. I thought you to be older!"
"Nope. Why are you so upset?"
"Because I had learned not too long ago a particular custom of your people... That women are not women until 18 years!"
She shrugs, "Well... Some of us grow up faster. Some of us never grow up. I think it's all relative really."
"I should not have let you marry. I have done poorly as your father."
"No... I should have told you... But I didn't want to. I knew what you would say. I'm sorry... I just didn't want to wait any more to be Ryu's wife."
"Ahhll... You have deceived me with a purpose then."
"Yes... A couple months won't change anything. I'll always love Ryu... Do you forgive me?"
"I suppose that I must though I fear your family would not forgive me for allowing this."
Laila comes and settles into my arms, "I know you tried really hard to find my family for me... Whether or not I ever have them back, you have been the best new father I could have hoped for. Thank you so much for everything."
"You are more than welcome, little one. You have made me a proud father indeed. I am so pleased for you and your happiness."
Shortly I am again a Sifu and Laila a tired, sleeping mother. Ryu is a proud, overwhelmed father. He holds their little daughter in his arms while Laila sleeps after the long birthing, his face wet with tears. I watch his look of awe, his look of love for his child. He has not wanted to disturb Laila's much needed rest and so has been kneeling on the floor beside their bed, too overcome to stand. His fingers caress the tiny features of his daughter's face.
"My daughter... My beautiful little girl. Look at how perfect you are."
I go and gather him up from the flooring, bringing him to a chair so he can sit with her and there I lean over, looking down upon her along with him. She is a tiny blessing upon us all. Her fair blue skin is flawless, her eyes clear and golden and her hair dark as is Ryuaki's own. As with the other mixed children she has no ridge upon her forehead. Of course she looks to be a perfect northerner though her father is fully southern.
"You are a fortunate man, Ryu. She is beautiful. What has Laila chosen to call her?"
"Aiyuni. Laila chose this from many names... Such a feeling. I am so very in love with her. I feel as though I can hardly breathe."
I can understand his feeling for I ache to hold the little girl myself. I will have to wait for a good while before this will happen. I think that Ryu will hold her until he passes into unconsciousness. Fortunately Laila wakes soon and takes a turn holding their baby. Exhausted Ryu falls asleep sprawled beside her on the bed.
I settle on her other side, still fascinated by the little bundle.
"Was Ryu happy?" She whispers, not having had much of a chance to talk to him since he passed so quickly into sleep.
"Very. Very very happy."
"Oh good." She places a kiss upon her little forehead, "Hello my daughter. Did you like your daddy? He will wake up again soon to talk to you. What do you think of your Sifu? He can be loud but he is very sweet inside."
"Ahhll... Do not lie to the child so soon after she is born." I smile, "Thank you for allowing me to stay. I have never seen a birth before. You are very strong! I am impressed."
"I am exhausted." Aiyuni makes a little peep and then yawns. "You too huh?"
"We are all tired. I will call the matron in to keep watch over Aiyuni so you can both rest."
"Thank you. That would be wonderful."
In this way I leave them be and find my own bed and exhaustion. I had no idea that these things took so long. Almost a day! Laila looks to be quite the delicate thing but now I have a new understanding of her. She is strong indeed.
In the morning Menoh wakes me carefully at first, "Baika... Baika wake up."
"Mmh?" I really must get back to waking up in the morning on my own.
"Come and wake up. Tell me about the baby. Sifu!!"
She is nudging me now with a pillow, hoping it will keep her at a safe enough distance should I react sharply to being woken. I would be very angry if not for the fact that I understand she has been waiting to hear some news.
"Her name is Aiyuni. She is a beautiful little girl with hair like her father but lighter skin like mine. She is healthy and sleepy and her parents are very tired." I turn onto my back and look up at her. "You will see her shortly for yourself."
"The matrons are all up and down the hall. They will not allow anyone to pass."
"Do not worry yourself."
"I am so excited to see her! A little girl. I can hardly wait to hold her!" She jumps up and down as my eyes drowse, "Baika! Do not fall asleep again! Come eat your morning meal and show me the baby!" She grabs me by the wrist and pulls.
"Aich! Settle your excitement, Menoh!"
"I cannot!" She wails.
I sigh and get up, trudging to the main room to sit down and take my meal. Menoh is in a frenzy, talking and talking more than she usually does with Laila. She shows me the tiny ceremonial robes she has bought for the baby to wear to the birth blessing.
"Do you like it? Is it right? Do you think Laila will like it? Will it be too big on Aiyuni? Are the colors too bright for her skin tone? You said she is lighter like you, not darker like Ryu so these might not be right on her."
"Menoh... How can you move your mouth so much??"
"I am so excited!!"
"I can tell this!"
"Oh! I will get your clothing ready." She scoots away.
Before I can finish my glass of water she is pulling on my arm to drag me toward the bath. Shortly I am bathed and clothed and only half fed and half awake. She pulls me down the halls with her to the amusement of the guards. The other housekeeping staff members are also eager to see the baby and they are lining the halls leading to the home of Ryu and Laila. The Matrons only refuse my passage for a moment and Menoh squeaks past their protection by clinging to my arm.
Laila is awake and feeding Aiyuni when we are allowed in. She smiles upon seeing us but I can see that she is still weary. Ryuaki is bringing her some water.
"Good morning." Laila says.
Menoh is like a rock on my arm. She has stopped moving and is just staring at Laila and her little bundle.
"Menoh?" Ryu tries to snap her out of it.
"Can I come over?" She whispers.
She crosses the floor slowly, eyes wide. Laila holds out a hand and she hurries up and takes it, coming to sit beside Laila.
"Ahuuu... She is so beautiful."
Ryu stands beside me and we watch the two rest their heads together and gaze upon the little girl.
"How is she feeling?" I ask Ryu.
"Still tired. I can hardly blame her. I have never seen anything like that. My wife is strong."
"Mmmh. Are you happy, Ryu?"
"A happier man has never been known." He smiles, "I got to feed her last night when she woke up. And I read to her from my law texts until she fell asleep again. I bored her to sleep. It was wonderful."
I clap a hand on his shoulder, "I am happy for you. Glad that you love Laila so much."
"Yes, well I know you had your doubts."
"I did not have so many as I pretended to."
"I hope that you will one day have this joy that I feel. Do you think you will find that with the Tastian Princess? Laila has expressed her doubts of this. While I know it is none of our business, she does worry for you."
"Mmh... The two of them have been interviewing women for me. They seem determined to find me someone that they approve of prior to my departure for this arranged marriage. They have a while yet to try their best." I smile.
"You do not mind it?"
"No. I know that they do it out of caring for me. They want to see me happy and they think they know me well so... They have even been trying to dress me better that I might attract some women on my own. It makes me laugh. Any females that come into court to meet with me, they come to me later with a rating or a report on what they think of her."
"They do mean well."
"Yes... When does your family arrive?"
"Tonight. We will try and rest as much as we can today. Thank you for bringing Menoh. The matrons have been keeping everyone away and Laila has been wanting to see her."
"I had no choice! She would not leave me be until I brought her."
Menoh kisses Laila's forehead and smoothes her hair down, "I am so happy for you little sister."
"Thank you. I'm so glad you're here."
"Oh let me show you the blessing robes I bought." She brings them out of her satchel.
"They're beautiful! I am so lucky. What do you think Aiyuni? You will be the most beautiful baby girl ever."
Shortly they are back to chattering away as usual but more quietly. We two men sit together on the sofa and watch, talking about the exams that Ruy is facing and his future goals. He is searching for a home for them that is not too far from Manaleh with enough room for two or three children and an office that he might be able to work out of the home. He wishes to be close to his family.
It seems that his own family life has been rather cold, his family very dedicated to their careers and forcing him toward goals and future, proving himself. They have often put him into a position where he had to do for himself in very difficult circumstances with no support at all. He and his siblings have not enjoyed much compassion over the years, just a very strict parenting. He is determined to provide his children with as much affection and time as they can stand. He is also determined to give as much support to those without substantial means as possible for he intends upon going into public defense. Seeing his goal is honorable I have assured him of position working for my interests and those of our people, leaving his spare time to see to the needs of lower income families. I have been very impressed with him.
After a while I extract Menoh from the room to leave them to rest. She is looking on the verge of tears with a smile on her face.
"Come... Let us go visit the temple and leave a few prayers for them, nnh?"
"A very good idea." She sniffles and smiles.
And so we go and sit in meditation there for a while amongst the many others who have come. She seems more relaxed and as the last of the prayers is taken by the fire from her hand she turns to me and goes to her knees in respect.
"Thank you for being more to me and to my little sister than Baika. We will always honor you, Sifu."
I take her arm and make her stand with me, "Thank you for being more to Laila than a co-worker. And for being more to me than a servant. I hope to be there for your joining and to see your children born." I stroke her cheek and bend to kiss her forehead, "We will have to work on finding you a husband. Not Nagan."
She sighs and smiles, ignoring my harassment of her chosen one, "I am not worried. Laila told me that I had better get back to work on finding you someone! Come and we will see who is in the gardens."
"If I must."
She drags me out into the gardens and for a while she scans the crowds of visitors before declaring there are no fit women there.
"You can go back to work now." She announces.
"Be sure to come get me when the family of Ryu arrives."
Ryuaki is rather nervous about their arrival and so I will be certain to be present before they come to him. They can be rather demanding of him and this is not the time for such things. They should simply be happy for him... But then again they should have simply been happy for him on many occasions that I have know of, and they have not been. Their introduction to Laila left her in tears as his father told him that she should be cleaning his shoes with the name of slave, not taking the name of wife. Theirs is just as old and strict a Diya as mine and perhaps this I why we have always been at odds. Menoh knows their ways too and does her best to clothe me in a very authoritative manner before we go to stand with them.
The family arrives and bows in respect to their king then goes to inspect their new family member. His brother Anyoaki and his wife are now good friends with Laila and act as a shield between the two and the angry parents.
"Surely you will come back to the south now and finish your schooling at Baiaryu." His father says.
"No, father. I will stay in Namida."
"I do not understand you. Baiaryu is a far better University for law. And little Aiyuni should know her family better. Hikatsu is her Diya, Ryuaki."
"We have not decided this yet... Until Hikatsu accepts my wife, they will not have my daughter to their name. She will know her family, however. She will know Laila and myself. She will know those who do not speak with anger toward her mother or make rude comments about her lack of ridge. This is where we will live, we will bring her to visit the family on the holidays, but make no mistake... It is my intention to raise our children alongside my wife. Not to have them moved about through the family as I and my siblings were. I was always wondering where my home was. And to that end I am looking for a home for us outside of Manaleh. Baika is giving me a fine commission for the work I am doing for him when I have time and Laila needs to be close enough to come here daily."
"You are going to allow her to continue to work here?" His father is shocked and Ryu looks a little surprised that he has focused on that over anything else he has said.
"My wife wishes to work."
"It does not appear correct, Ryu. Your wife should not be a servant."
"My wife... Is an honored attendant to the King. She will do as she pleases...Before you said she should be a slave, now you are disturbed that I will allow her to work for wages. You do truly confuse me."
"I am trying to help you salvage some dignity from this mess you want to call a life." He growls.
"Father if you have only to tell me of what to do, I ask that you hold on to these thoughts until another time. We are happy today and sharing our daughter with you all. Please be happy along with us and we will worry about Aiyuni and her future another time."
I am surprised by Ryu's calm even as his father looks to be rather annoyed by him.
"She does not even speak southern..."
"Enough, father. Laila is learning."
"Rehyo... Let us have a walk together." I come between further discussion. "We will have a talk about your new family member, you and I." I clap a hand on his shoulder. He cannot refuse my invitation and Ryu looks rather grateful for the interruption.
I take him outside into the courtyard with me for a smoke.
"You seem to have some very definite ideas of how Ryu and Laila should raise their daughter... How they should live their lives." I mention.
"That I do." He nods.
"And you are in a hurry to bring the human wife of your son to live nearer to your Diya?"
"If she must be human then we must live with that. I still have hope he will see the foolishness of this decision."
"You speak with such distaste of her."
"What am I to do? Embrace her?" He scowls.
"I would say so. She is your family now. Your blood line is there in Aiyuni along with hers."
"My son should have married into Koketsun!"
"Your son should have followed his spirit. And so he did. Now you have a beautiful new granddaughter, yet all you can do is find fault. I am sad for you Rehyo. That you cannot find the joy in this moment. It is a shame."
"I am not surprised you feel this way, being half human yourself." He exhales smoke with passion, glaring at me.
"I suppose you have measured my genetics on some sort of scale to say half? Do I look human to you?"
He looks at me for a moment, "No."
"Have I fought proudly for the Empire? Have I taken the throne and done well for my people?"
"Yes." He frowns at admitting this truth.
"Then keep your mouth shut about my percentages, Hikatsu!" I snarl and he takes a step back from my sudden show of anger, "For such a well known defender you are very small minded. You may have your opinions of your son and his life. Keep them to yourself! If you cannot be happy for him, then leave as you did before. If you cannot care for Laila because of your ignorance, then you are a fool. Think things through carefully. You may lose this chance to be part of the life of your son and his children. From what I can see of you in this moment, Ryuaki may be your only life achievement." I turn my back on him and go back to the rooms of Laila and Ryu.
Not too much time passes before Rehyo returns. He does not tell Ryu what to do again. He speaks with kindness to Laila. I am satisfied.
The entire palace watches Aiyuni grow from a small helpless bundle to a wandering curious baby. Laila is amazed by how quickly this change happens. Human children take so much longer to find their ways in the universe. When Aiyuni gets out of her nest of blankets by the fire and begins to crawl away after only three days of life, Laila shrieks with surprise. Ryu has to calm her and explain that it is normal. Doctor Navatmal comes then and explains many things to Laila that she had never thought of. Her baby is not human, and her dark hair shows waves much like mine.
"I thought I would have so much longer before she was walking." Laila sighs as Ai is investigating everything in my chamber that is within her reach.
"Twenty suns is all that it takes." Hanta smiles and coos to Aiyuni to attract her attention.
"We've moved everything up off the ground in our rooms. She has so much energy."
"And mama has none left as a result." She laughs and scoops the little girl up into her lap when she is close enough. "Oh, hello little one. So beautiful little one. Look at your pretty hair with the little flower clip. Soon your hair will be long enough to have lovely braids."
"Aiyss... Ehds..." Aiyuni cocks her head to the side, trying to copy Hanta's voice.
"Mama." She offers something simpler.
"Maaaammmaaaaaaa." She smiles proudly.
"I was her first word at least." Laila smiles wearily and rests back on the sofa.
"You have plenty of people here who will gladly take her off your hands so you may rest. I will be the first to volunteer!"
"Thanks a load. She's a wonderful baby but I am so tired! Menoh has been a huge help with her and I think she's trying to get Nagan used to the idea of having babies by making him hold her." She laughs.
"I would like to have a chance to care for her myself." I nod, watching my lovely new Sianta.
"You?? With a baby??" Hanta laughs heartily.
"Saich... I am no expert, but I am curious."
"I suppose all men eventually feel the bonding urge, the parenting urge. Even one like you."
"Like me? What does that mean?" I scowl.
"You know what I mean."
"I do not..."
"Hanta, why don't you let Sifu hold Ai?" Laila tries to stop our argument. We are all speaking in human so Ai will learn this language too, and apparently Laila does not want her to learn any hostile words quite yet.
"A good idea." She gets up and brings Ai to me, "Ready?"
"What do I do?" I feel suddenly flustered for some strange reason. She is just a baby...
"You hold her gently. You've seen everyone holding her for many days. Just do that."
Apparently I have not been watching closely enough for Hanta has to help me arrange myself to accommodate Aiyuni.
"And give this to her... And this toy."
She gives me the baby blanket and a stuffed toy. I watch in amazement as Aiyuni makes a little nest in my lap then curls up to sleep with her toy.
"It seems I am boring for her." I smile.
"She's just comfortable." Laila says. "You can touch her, yanno. Stop being so stiff. Now I know why you've never taken her when we've offered her up to you. You just don't know what to do with her."
"I admit, I have never spent time in the presence of a baby. I am afraid I might harm her for she is so small."
"She's pretty tough, Sifu. You're not going to hurt her. She doesn't even cry when she topples over."
In a few days I am much more comfortable with holding her and ask for her whenever I am able. Laila begins to leave Ai with me while she does her daily work and Ryu is in his classes. I bring her about with me to meetings of all kinds to the surprise of those I have to meet with. She tends to calm the waters of even the most difficult discussions. She has no concept of when it is appropriate to speak or not to and so she interjects her opinions quite frequently in her strange baby-speak of human and northern and southern to the amusement of all.
"Aiyuni... You are a wonderful little girl." I tell her as the last of my visitors depart and lift her to be nose to nose with me, "You will have a wonderful little life too. Your Sifu will see to that for you. Never worry."
"Huuuahhh." She smiles and touches my face then sniffs at me, fading into bonding.
"Nnnh..." I sigh and return the sentiment, breathing her in, marking her in my mind and spirit as my family.
Laila comes to find her daughter later as I am sitting at my desk and going over piles of paper.
"Sorry to interrupt... Is Ai napping?" She whispered, not seeing her in the vicinity.
"No." I chuckle, "She is with me. Come around and see."
Laila gives me an odd look and comes around to my back, "Oh my gosh! What is she doing?"
"I have no idea. She decided that climbing me was a good idea. I did not tell her otherwise. What is she doing? She stopped moving a while ago."
"She's just hanging there on your back. She's half buried under your hair." She removed little Ai from my back and kissed her, "What are you doing, little monkey?"
"Yes I bet he is."
"So she is using me as a heat source."
"Apparently. Thanks for watching her."
"It is always my pleasure."
"Sifu kiss!" She squeals and her mother holds her out to me for a parting kiss. "Love Sifu."
"Of course you are. It's dinnertime. Let's go see your daddy. He's home from school."
"Yay. Love daddy."
"You love everyone."
"I love you too, sweetie... You know, if you can smuggle a baby in your hair, it's time for a trim!" She smiles at me.
"Perhaps you are right."
"G'night Sifu. See you in the morning." She kisses my forehead before leaving me to my own devices.
"Hnn... I want a daughter of my own one day." I smile to myself.On to 24