TQ v.1:4

The Termite Queen
Volume One
The Speaking of the Dead

Chapter 4
And standing on the hearth
in webbed links that the smith had woven,
the fine-forged mesh of his gleaming mail-shirt,
resolute in his helmet, Beowulf spoke.
                                                                    from Beowulf, tr. by Seamus Heaney
       [A dark chamber.  Creatures in the darkness.  The bioluminescence of shimmering wings glitters from eye facets]

       The Council of Lo’ro’ra has been summoned.  Let us name the names so that all may know who are present.  I am No’kri, of the Worker Caste, Chief.
       I am Gwo’no, of the Worker Caste, of the Growers, Chief.
       I am Wi’tai, of the Worker Caste, of the Builders, Chief.
       I am Kwi’ka, of the Worker Caste, of the Feeders, Chief.

       Now let the Warriors name the names.

       I am Hi’ta’fu surnamed Wei’bao’zei, of the Warrior Caste, Commander.
      I am Lo’lo’pai, of the Warrior Caste, of the First Cohort, Chief.
      I am A’gwa’ji, of the Warrior Caste, of the Second Cohort, Chief.
      I am Sa’ti’a’i’a, of the Warrior Caste, of the Nasute fortress No’sta’pan’cha.  I am Liegemate to Lo’ro’ra, of the Nasute Cohort, Chief.

       Now let the Holy Alates name the names.

       I am Kwi’ga’ga’tei, of the Alates, Priest and Seer.
       I am Mo’gri’ta’tu, of the Alates, Keeper of the Holy Chamber.
       I am Di’fa’kro’mi, of the Alates.  I am the Remembrancer.

       [No’kri]:  All are accounted for.  You have been summoned to take council concerning the attack on citizens of Lo’ro’ra that took place five day-cycles ago.  Many of you already know something of this event, but we propose to relate it in the proper sequence so that the Remembrancer can pass it accurately to the future.
       You all know of the vibrations and the shakings that were perceived before this attack.  At first they were believed to be groundquakes, but some of the vibrations seemed to come from the sky.  Yet they were different from storm rumblings.  Some were afraid that this might be the End of Time of which old tales speak.
       Commander Hi’ta’fu issued the order that no one was to leave the fortress until the Warriors could determine if any real danger existed.  Holy Kwi’ga’ga’tei and Mo’gri’ta’tu the Chamberlain took counsel with the Holy One and the King.  Meanwhile, however … 

       [Gwo’no]:  The Warriors were remiss!  No warning came to the Gardens – we were overlooked.  I wish to protest!
       [Hi’ta’fu]:  tha’sask|>||  “Protest!”  You grubbers on the fungus combs can do nothing but complain!  Obey the laws of Caste!  Leave decisive action to those who …

       [A silent uproar ensues] 
       [Kwi’ga’ga’tei]:  Councilors!  This is not a moment for quarreling!  Swallow your grudges and restrain your recriminations, I implore you.  We are here to consider the good of all, not to promote our Onenesses. 

       [The silent uproar ceases]

       [No’kri, abasing its head toward the Alate Priest]:  I submit to you, Holy Seeing One, as does Gwo’no.  Does Commander Hi’ta’fu submit?

       [Kwi’ga’ga’tei]:  I see the Commander making the posture of submission, but threat is in its pheromones.

       [Hi’ta’fu]:  Threat is what keeps you safe, Alate.  It is the way of Warriors.

      [No’kri]:  Please, may we return to our consideration of this painful matter?  Gwo’no may speak.

       [Gwo’no]:  A Worker in the Fungus Garden whose name was Ti’shra left its duties at the prescribed time, but when the names were named in the sleeping chambers and in the Gardens at the next work time, it was not there.  It keeps one of the Little Ones as a pet, even naming it, and that creature returned to the fortress alone, dragging its lead behind it. 

       [A’gwa’ji]:  One of my Warriors also had disappeared.  It was a friend of the vanished Grower.  It told another Warrior that it feared its friend had not received the warnings, but it did not mention that it was leaving the fortress because that would have been against orders.

       [Hi’ta’fu]:  Near the time of the disappearances the vibrations were detected again, much stronger, much closer.  There were odors, alien and disturbing.  It was like yet not like the Enemy’s smell.  Some of us thought they might be breaking the treaty …

       [Sa’ti’a’i’a]:  Councilors!  We will never break the treaty!  I implore you to cease calling us ‘Enemy.’  Have we not acknowledged our submission?  Do we not stand with your Holy One and King and support your causes?  Furthermore, the odor of this new enemy is like no discharge the Nasutes could produce were our snouts as long as our bellies!

       [Kwi’ga’ga’tei]:  Cease to protest, Sa’ti’a’i’a.  Your loyalty is not in question here.  Commander, tell the Councilors what your investigation revealed.

       [Hi’ta’fu]:  A phalanx of Warriors went out to search soon after the disappearances.  In a small clearing among the tho’sei| trees they found evidence of a great struggle.  The ground was torn up.  There was a mire of hemolymph mixed with leaves and soil and blossoms.  And another substance mingled with it, something like the body fluids of the birds or the reptiles.  There were lingering pheromones of terror, pain, and threat.  And we found on the ground what is lying before us in the center of our circle.

       [Kwi’ga’ga’tei]:  Can you discern what it is, those of you who do not know?  It is the foreleg of Ti’shra, severed at the first joint!

       [Disturbed movements throughout the chamber]

       [Gwo’no]:  Where did it go?  Where is the rest of my Grower’s body?  

       [A’gwa’ji]:  Where is my Warrior Gli’tha’mu, who may have wounded its foe but whose hemolymph soaked the ground?

       [Hi’ta’fu]:  Invaders have taken away our citizens, Councilors!  They have slaughtered them and not even left the bodies for our sustenance!  Not the most distant society of Shshi – not the Nasutes themselves – are so barbarous that they would not leave their enemy’s dead to be reverently consumed for the benefit of the Holy One and the fortress!

       [A’gwa’ji]:  They leave the foreleg as a mockery to us!  We must destroy these blasphemers against the Highest-Mother-Who-Has-No-Name! 

       [Lo’lo’pai]:  I defecate on them – I trample!  We must seek them out and hack up their bodies!  We must leave them to rot in the heat of the suntime!

       [Swaying, swinging of heads, clatter of claws on stone and gnashing of mandibles]

       [Kwi’ga’ga’tei]:  Stop all of this at once!  Bravado and bluster yield us nothing!  What thing do you threaten, Warriors?  This enemy has disappeared!  It is nowhere to be found!

       [Nok’ri]:  The search parties discovered only a frightening track of unfamiliar odors and a place among the rocks where the ground and the plants growing upon it were flattened, as if a great monster had descended from the sky and crushed everything.  The same was found near the abandoned Nasute outpost where wild Little Ones have made a home.  And yet there was no trail between the two flattened places.  It was as if a monster jumped down from the sky and landed in one spot, then leaped up again and came down in another.  Commander, how would you fight a flying thing bigger than the water cistern that leaps many times the compound’s width with a single bound?

       [Hi’ta’fu]:  Councilors, we will not be intimidated.

       [Kwi’ga’ga’tei]:  Then you are a fool, Commander, for every Warrior will meet its match.  It is the wise Shi who knows when to fight, when to give ground – and when to think about what it must do.


       [Kwi’ka]:  Is this the time to think, Holy Seer?

       [Wi’tai]:  Have you had a Seeing?  Is the End of Time coming?
       [Kwi’ga’ga’tei]:  During the sleeptime following the discovery of the place of slaughter, I consumed the bir’zha| fungus and the Highest-Mother-Who-Is-Nameless sent me a vision.  I waited in darkness for a long time.  Then I saw a broken wall, and water flooding the plain.  I saw what some of you can never know – the sky.  I saw a new light in the sky, neither sun nor moons nor stars – the things some of you can never know.  I saw a battle between Shshi.  Then I saw single combat – I saw a Champion.  I could not see who the Champion was, nor was I shown what its adversary looked like.  Then I saw the huge and fecund body of the Highest-Mother-Who-Is-Nameless spawning the stars, as I have seen it before.  She spoke to me, saying, Patience will bring the speaking of the dead.  The time is new.  Something was pressing against my head, against the roots of my antennae.  There was pain – not from that pressure but from some other source – and I knew that someone was dying.  In the vision I shared the death.  Then it passed and I was in the bir’zha| chamber once again, and I still lived.


       [Mo’gri’ta’tu the Chamberlain]:  The Holy Seer impresses us; she fans her wings, she stamps her feet.  But her speech is obscure.  I beg you, Holy Kwi’ga’ga’tei, clarify the meaning of your words for us less favored ones.

       [Hi’ta’fu]:  In fact, she tells us nothing!  This means nothing!  Why do Seers never speak except in riddles? 

       [Nok’ri]:  You hang on the edge of impiety, Commander.  Hold your speech within the vessel of your head!

       [Hi’ta’fu]:  Patience will bring the speaking of the dead!  The time is new!  How can the dead speak?  Has the End of Time come?  Of what value is patience?  We need action!  If an unknown enemy is upon us, we must make ready!

       [Kwi’ga’ga’tei]:  Speak less!  The eyeless are not always aware that they are ignorant!  You do not even know the will of your Holy One A’kha’ma’na’ta and your King Sei’o’na’sha’ma and yet you would curse yourself by opposing it! 

       [All bow at the holy names.  Hi’ta’fu cringes.]

       [Gwo’no]:  Have the Holy One and the King pronounced their will?

        [Mo’gri’ta’tu]:  We have in fact conferred with them about this obscure Seeing of the Holy Priest.  They have ordered us to rebuild the outer wall and repair the leaking watercourse.

       [Hi’ta’fu]:  What?

       [Kwi’ga’ga’tei]:  Since the truce ended the Nasute Siege, we have allowed some of our holdings to languish in disrepair and this Seeing seemed to warn against that.  The Holy One and the King want the fortress ready.  We will make it ready.  You would have practical work, Commander.  The Warriors can guard the Workers as they perform these tasks.

       [Hi’ta’fu]:  I beg you to believe,  Holy Star-Winged Seer, that I am not irreverent when I ask, how will all this get the stolen bodies back?

       [Kwi’ga’ga’tei]:  It will not.  But perhaps it will prevent us from losing more.

       [Gwo’no]:  We do not even know that Ti’shra is dead.  The loss of a foreleg segment is rarely fatal.

       [Kwi’ga’ga’tei]:  In my Seeing someone died and I was not shown who it was, but I believe that it was, or will be, Ti’shra.  And I believe The time is new does not signify that the End of Time has come.  Time can be divided into parts, even as the darktime is divided from the suntime and the Shshi are divided into Castes, for the good of all.
       But there is more to speak of concerning the will of the Holy One and the King.  The vision showed me a Champion.  The Holy One and the King have called for a Champion.

       [Swaying, touching of bodies, pheromones of surprise and excitement]

       [Hi’ta’fu]:  A Champion!  You have a Champion already!

       [Nok’ri]:  Such a defensive odor, Commander!  No one is taking anything away from you.  You are held in honor among the Shshi of Lo’ro’ra and you will lead our Warriors until the Nameless Mother receives you in the World Beyond.  But this unfamiliar threat calls for an unusual response.  And when has Holy Kwi’ga’ga’tei ever seen such a thing before?  It is clearly a directive from the Nameless One that we should seek a Champion.

       [Hi’ta’fu]:  When did you, Nok’ri, eyeless Worker Chief, become an authority on the interpretation of Seeings?

       [Kwi’ga’ga’tei]:  Hi’ta’fu, you strain that patience to which I was enjoined.  But this thing will be so, and in fact it has already been done.  It is even now at our doorway.  Keepers, roll back the stone.  Let the Champion have entrance!

       [Excited dancing.  The circle opens to admit the Champion]

       [Several]:  Ki’shto’ba!  It is the odor of Ki’shto’ba No’no Um’zi! 

       [Ki’shto’ba]:  Yes, I am Ki’shto’ba surnamed Huge-Head, of the fortress To’wak, no leader of Cohorts, because To’wak has enough Chiefs!  But I fight well – you Warriors of Lo’ro’ra know that because I fought against you in the Nasute …

       [An outburst of pheromone – rage and threat.  A launch of a body through the darkness]

       [No’kri]: Commander!  Stop!  Chiefs, restrain it!  Restrain your Commander!

       [Ki’shto’ba]:  No need!  I restrain it myself!  I am a third again as large as this your largest Warrior, Shshi of Lo’ro’ra, and the chitin of my head is hard as stone.  And though my mandibles are shorter and do not cross, they are twice as stout and twice as finely honed as yours.  Commander Hi’ta’fu, the slash marks on your thorax make you remember me.  Must I tighten my jaws on your neck, or will you treat me with courtesy if I release you?

       [A scuffle.  A scurry for new positions]

       [Hi’ta’fu]:  I am speechless with shame for my people!  This outcast who killed so many of Lo’ro’ra’s defenders – will you permit it to fight on our side?  tha’sask|>||  It is a being without fidelity or honor!

       [Kwi’ga’ga’tei]: You have said it yourself, Commander.  It is the time for action.  We are not now at war with any fortress, Shshi or Nasute, yet we are under dire threat from an unknown foe.  Shall we not have the best and strongest to fight with us?

       [Hi’ta’fu]:  I will never agree to its participation!  I will never cooperate with it!  I will never sit on a Council with it.  But I will fight with it!  I will fight it now, or at any time of its choosing!

       [No’kri]:  Commander, there will be no fighting!  Must I order you to leave this chamber?

       [Hi’ta’fu]:  A Worker cannot order me to do anything!

       [Kwi’ga’ga’tei]:  But I can, and I do, Hi’ta’fu.  It is the will of A’kha’ma’na’ta and of Sei’o’na’sha’ma that Ki’shto’ba Huge-Head of To’wak be our Champion on the field of battle, engaging in single combat for Lo’ro’ra for as long as the need exists.  You can do nothing to change that.  You can turn your command over to one of your subordinates and you can sulk, or you can keep your command, obey your Holy One and King, and cooperate with the Huge-Head.  To fight with it is not permitted.  What is your answer?

       [Hi’ta’fu]:  That it should come to this!  That I should take such humiliation!  I will leave the chamber.  I will leave alone.  I will give you my answer at a later time.

       [Hi’ta’fu departs]

       [Ki’shto’ba]:  Esteemed Councilors, perhaps you should have warned the Commander of my coming.

       [Kwi’ga’ga’tei]: Then we would only have had to contest with it sooner and thus longer.  Now the deed is done and it can only comply.

       [Lo’lo’pai]:  I am distressed for my Commander.  My fealty is to Lo’ro’ra and to the Holy One and the King before all else, but my allegiance to Hi’ta’fu is strong.  I will never put my Cohort under the command of another, and especially an outlander.

       [A’gwa’ji]:  Lo’lo’pai speaks good words.  The Commander has never done other than honorably serve its Holy One.

       [Ki’shto’ba]:  I do not seek its command!  I have much respect for Hi’ta’fu – I bear the marks of its weapons on my belly as surely as it bears mine.  And although the Commander insults me with the name “outcast,” I am not an exile from my own fortress.  I look abroad only to find a place to serve with honor in this time of peace.

       [Sa’ti’a’i’a]:  As far as the Nasutes are concerned, my Cohort has sworn fealty to the Holy One and the King of Lo’ro’ra.  If this means fighting once again beside our former Champion, we can only utter thanks to the Highest-Mother-Who-Is-Nameless for giving us the opportunity.

       [Kwi’ga’ga’tei]:  We will seal it then.  It would have been better if Commander Hi’ta’fu had been here for the partaking, but I leave its compliance to persuasion and the cooling of time.  We have the leg of Ti’shra; let us consume it as token of our oath to protect Lo’ro’ra’s safety at any cost.  I hold in my crop the honeydew of the Alates’ Holy Flock.  After the eating, I will distribute it myself as blessing for our enterprise.

       [Sa’ti’a’i’a]:  I cannot take the token, since I am not Shshi and I cannot assimilate the flesh of your dead.  But I will partake of the ti’wa’zi| if your customs allow, because I am bound in fealty to fight for Lo’ro’ra’s good and I would receive blessing in that endeavor.

       [Ki’shto’ba]:  I will be presumptuous and request the token, because I am Shshi, although of the Da’no’no people.  I swear myself to be a citizen of the Strong Flower fortress until the Council and the Holy Seer should release me from this oath.

       [No’kri]:  Kwi’ka, make the distribution.

       [The Chief Feeder takes the leg of Ti’shra, breaks the chitin, extracts the edible muscle, and fragments it into ten morsels.  Then it approaches each Councilor, masticates each morsel, inserts the paste into the mouth of each Councilor, its head at risk between mandibles]

       [Kwi’ga’ga’tei]:  The oath is consummated.  Now receive the honeydew of the Highest-Mother-Who-Has-No-Name from the crop of her Priest, that she may bless and protect the Shshi of Lo’ro’ra and ensure that the Seeing of her Priest is fulfilled, as it always must be, whether for good or for ill.

       [Kwi’ga’ga’tei of the shimmering eyes fans luminescent wings.  She approaches each Councilor, inserts her head between the mandibles, regurgitates a drop of sweet liquid into the gullet, resumes her original position]

       [Kwi’ga’ga’tei]:  Let us return now to our daily tasks.  Even as the vision directs, we will wait with patience.  No’kri, break the Council!

*          *          *
       [The chamber is empty, except for the Alates Mo’gri’ta’tu and Di’fa’kro’mi.  The Chamberlain intercepts the Remembrancer as he is leaving]

       [Mo’gri’ta’tu]:  Do you sense, Di’fa’kro’mi, that the Priest grows powerful beyond the bounds of precedent?

       [Di’fa’kro’mi]:  I like plain speaking, Chamberlain.  These words have a sour smell of disloyalty.  The Holy One and the King confirm the truth of Kwi’ga’ga’tei.

       [Mo’gri’ta’tu]:  I know the Holy One and the King as well as anyone.  They may have eyes, but they have no Seeing.  Kwi’ga’ga’tei is crafty.  They go willingly where she leads them.

       [Di’fa’kro’mi, indignant]:  I will not receive such words!  I will pay no attention to sacrilege!  You tread not only beyond the bounds of loyalty, but beyond the bounds of reverence, even while the holy honeydew still drips from your jaws!

       [Mo’gri’ta’tu]:  I submit, Remembrancer!  I lay my head before you!  I am disordered in my thoughts.  It was an impertinent insinuation and we will wipe it from our memories. 

       [Mo’gri’ta’tu remains behind after the Remembrancer leaves]

       So we are entering a new time, the Seer says.  In fact, this time may not be so new unless the shrewdest of us choose to make it so …

Coming Monday
Chapter 5
Kaitrin confronts Prf. Griffen Gwidian -- and a dying termite ...

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