Eventually the unfortunate Zyanita was revived, apparently without lasting damage, and after profusely apologizing for her inappropriate behavior she allowed herself to be led off to bed. It was obvious that Kiri hadn't told everyone just who it was that she was bringing back, and allowing for the minor uproar that ensued it had to be said that it was a hugely successful surprise, and that a good time was had by all. Amkor Gelhinda, which I soon discovered was her full name, led us into the house to a well-furnished living room, and after providing a light supper plied us with various drinks of a potent sort. Although I usually detest parties, especially alcoholic ones, I had to admit that I quickly found myself liking these people a lot.
"This is my daughter Senara," announced Gelhinda, introducing me to the youngest member of the household.
"Please, mother, you know I prefer to be called Senaria," the girl protested haughtily, and as I took in the carefully tousled mop of hair I had to suppress a smile. There was clearly a bit of hero worship going on here, I thought to myself. "Senaria" turned out to be twenty-two and took full part in the festivities, growing rather "playful" with me as the evening wore on, much to Kiri's ill-concealed amusement.
I learned that Gelhinda was the widowed wife of the former Qozernan ambassador to Deshtiris, who had taken Kiri in when she (and apparently I) had originally fled from the Brizal takeover. Clearly a woman used to dealing diplomatically with many kinds of people, she was a charming host and a delightful conversationalist. As the evening wore on, her stories of some of the prominent personalities she had associated with acquired a distinctly scandalous edge, and some would no doubt have been mouth-watering morsels for a tabloid publication, had Qozernon had any.
Kiri regaled the group with the tale of how we met, and how she managed to get me back into shape, trained in swordsmanship, and even fluent in Deshtiran, all apparently without my suspecting a thing. I suppose I could have taken offense, but she did it in such a good-natured way that I was enjoying it as much as anyone else. "So you didn't think anything was amiss?" asked Gelhinda in amazement. "Well, I did suspect that she was a dangerous lunatic, but that's about all," I responded to general merriment.
Things became somewhat quieter when all present demanded that Kiri tell about our close call leaving Earth. At mention of the Liquidators there was a momentary dead silence, broken only by Gelhinda draining her glass in a single gulp. The description of the green bolts shot at us on our way out revived conversation somewhat, as a general sense of indignation made itself felt.
"That's no better than firearms," snapped Senaria. "What barbarians!"
"I take it you don't use firearms, then," I said naïvely. The reaction was about the same as if I had loudly broken wind at a prayer meeting. It was gently explained to me that the use of weapons that killed at a distance was regarded as a shocking crime, akin to Earth attitudes towards poison gas in wartime. (I wisely decided not to mention Kiri's little booby trap.)
Gelhinda added, "Besides, we've seen just what a nightmare your indiscriminate use of firearms, or 'guns' as you call them, has created. Well, not yours personally, of course," she corrected herself. "But that anyone can kill anyone else they want without even getting near them--" She shuddered. I certainly wasn't about to disagree, and conversation quickly turned towards happier (and rowdier) topics.
"Are you really a prince?" asked a slightly smashed Senaria later in the evening, after crawling into my lap and wrapping her arms around my neck.
"Well, so I'm told," I answered, by this time myself sufficiently lubricated so as not to feel the embarrassment I probably should have. I added wickedly, "Of course, it's only on Kiri's word. For all I know the whole story could be a complete fabrication."
Senaria looked shocked. "Kiri would never lie about anything!" she protested indignantly, and threatened to choke me. I caught Kiri's eye, and she was clearly working very hard to keep from collapsing into hysterical laughter.
"I think you deserve a place all your own," I said, picking the girl up and depositing her bodily into a free armchair, where she remained pouting for the next few minutes after which she promptly fell asleep. "So have you ever told me a lie?" I asked Kiri mischievously.
"Only one that I can think of," she replied, rather to my surprise. "Allowing for all of my undoubted talents, I didn't really invent the Deshtiran language, you know." (More laughter.)
"And that's the only one?" I said in disbelief.
"Actually, yes, at least as far as I know. I'd been racking my brains for days trying to figure out an innocent way to teach you your own tongue again, and had just about resigned myself to being your translator here on Qozernon for several months. Then you came up with that business about inventing an alphabet of your own, and it was just too good an opportunity to pass up. Sorry about that," she finished unrepentantly.
I was to find out over time that it was true: she virtually never lied. On the other hand, if you didn't ask her about something she didn't think you needed to know, she was perfectly capable of quietly leaving you in the dark. The results could be rather startling at times, as I would discover on more than one occasion.
"So why are we all speaking Deshtiran, anyway?" I couldn't resist asking. "Isn't there a Qozernan language? After all, you were two separate planets for centuries."
"There is," Kiri observed, "but the only people who still use it are members of a religious cult that worships the Virrin as gods." Gelhinda explained that for centuries Qozernon had been for all practical purposes a commercial colony of Deshtiris, which had been the first to develop interstellar travel, and Deshtiran had long since become the language of choice for everyday transactions.
Even Zyanita made an appearance later in the evening, apologizing again for her "rudeness" as she called it.
"It's just that I had no idea," she said softly. "I didn't know you were even alive," and it was evident that she was still a bit dazed. "How many years has it been, Wilorian? I just can't believe it," and that last phrase appeared in her conversation more than once for the rest of the evening. She was very different from the other women, with a somber manner and quiet voice. In appearance she was not unattractive, though lacking the vivacity of Kiri and the Amkors. In spite of her being several years younger than me, she looked considerably older and somewhat careworn. I thought I saw a kind of darkness lurking behind her sad brown eyes, which as it turned out was not far from the truth at all.
MIKIRIA. Copyright © 1998, 2000 Lamont Downs. All rights
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