“You call yourself a queen?”
CiCi stirs beside me and snarls, “Queen High Priestess, to you.”
... She’s thrumming like a live wire. I’m scared and beginning to be angry, but this is something else entirely. I feel for her hand and grasp it, squeezing. She squeezes back, hard. The two minions draw back behind the leader, watching him for a signal or something.
He looks at me for a long moment, an almost quizzical expression on his face. I gaze back defiantly. Then he lets out a little laugh, and I blink, surprised. His expression changes momentarily then, I think in response to my own expression, and he cocks his head to the side, really looking at me. Then he seems to shake his head slightly, before looking over his shoulder at the other two and saying something evenly. The black haired one looks incredulous, seems to retort, and then the leader turns with vulpine swiftness and advances on him, snapping words at him like a whipcrack. Black-hair steps back, face flushing, then dips his head for a moment and closes his mouth and wipes his face of expression, though his eyes dart between myself and his leader.
“Alright, my queen,” The leader turns back to me, and reaches out a hand in a courtly gesture and takes mine from CiCi’s. He’s wearing black leather gloves, smooth and cool. He bows over my hand, and looks up at me, his face serious but his eyes dancing. I don’t know if I should be offended or not. He holds my hand for a moment, then turns it palm up, gazing down at the scratched and dusty skin.
“Put your knives away, fearsome lady-royal and captain,” he says, still holding my hand palm up in his.
“We will not-“ CiCi starts, and try to reassure her with my shoulder against hers.
“Why should we trust you?" I speak up, "You showed up with an alien ship in our forest and your underlings tried to grab us-on your instruction.” I try to keep my voice cool, aiming for imperious.
“You fell out of a tree into our midst with a silly story about human rock pets. Spies are spies,” he responds, lightly. I’m suddenly very aware that he’s still holding my hand, his thumb now in the center of my palm, light as a feather.
I sigh, “We aren’t spies. My…captain...told me there was something interesting in the forest and didn’t tell me what before suggesting I climb a tree to take a peek. It was foolish.” I try to draw my hand back. He doesn’t release it, but doesn’t hurt me either. He looks at me again, and that smirk plays across his lips once more, but this time it’s less mocking and more amused.
In a motion both swift and graceful, he turns the back of my hand up, and bows over it, head inclined only a degree or two, and says,
“I am Imperial Crown Prince Merryt the 987th of Merr. You are?” CiCi stiffens beside me as if galvanized.
Feeling a bit surreal, I respond, “Tmonk-Tmonk, ah, High Priestess Queen Tmonk-Tmonk Beren.” He releases my hand, which hangs momentarily in the air before I withdraw it slowly.
“And this is my Captain, CiCi-“ She shoots an elbow into my side, hard. I stop, though I don’t know why she wouldn’t want me to say her name.
Imperial Crown Prince Merryt the 987th of Merr clearly sees her gesture but rather than questioning it, he bows suddenly low at the waist. The faces of his two companions look aghast, almost angry. He straightens, and his face is alight with a sort of strange humor.
He sweeps his arm out carelessly to indicate his two companions, and says, “These are my captains, Rejir Surrod and Bryl Cahrti,” At the sound of their names, they turn their surprised faces towards him, and the blond one speaks up in tones that sound at once irate but careful. The prince says something in response and their faces darken simultaneously. The one with the black hair inclines his head stiffly, then stares off to the side and up towards the tops of the trees. The blond looks stonily at his leader, jaw set, then explodes into a flurry of apparent argument. He throws his hand out, gesturing first at CiCi and then me, and sneers, eyes rolling.
I’ve had enough. I feel nettled, sensing mockery in the air. “We are going to go. We’re sorry to have disturbed you, and now, if you don’t mind-“ I turn to CiCi and see her eyes narrowed at the guy with the blonde hair-Bryl? Seeing her expression, he says something and then spits at our feet. I recoil, and CiCi’s nails dig like claws into my arm as she springs forward. The prince sees the spit hit the dirt and rounds on his man, as I dig my nails into CiCi’s upper arms and drag her back.
Everything feels suspended. Turned as he is, I see he has a striking profile, his face an expressionless mask as he stares into the face of the sneering Bryl. I sense calculations occurring under the surface, and something seems to crackle in the air as he stands utterly straight, hands open and seemly easy at his sides. Only his long tail gives any indication of his thoughts, as the tip whips side to side swiftly.
The blonde man utters a single word, then my eyes can barely follow an arc of silver and Merryt is eye to eye with the captain, and in his hand is a long, thin blade, which is pressed at the crook of the man’s jaw beneath his ear. With his other hand, he grips the blond man’s collar, but his fingers look oddly loose, despite the instant stiffness of the man he holds, whose face is flushed and startled. As I watch, a trickle of blood runs down from beneath the man’s ear. I can hear him breathing, short bursts, as if he’s trying to move as little as possible. Rejir, the dark haired one, looks strangely pensive, as if unsure what he should be doing. His eyes travel to CiCi, then to me. We lock eyes and he seems to take me in for a moment before looking back to his leader, waiting. I realize Merryt is speaking rapidly, in a very low, cool tone. He seems to ask a question, and when Bryl doesn’t respond he shakes him, unmindful of his blade jabbing the guy’s neck again. A second rivulet of blood begins sliding down. Merryt raises his voice slightly, and this time the guy gives a jerky little nod. Merryt releases him suddenly, giving him a little shove backwards. Turning back towards us, he takes out a piece of linen from an inner pocket and wipes the blade, and casually lifts his coat back from his hip and slides the knife back into a small sheath. Dropping his coat back over it, he looks at me, and his face is very serious.
“Please forgive Captain Cahrti for his shameful display. He apologizes-“
“Does he?” CiCi speaks up. I turn to look at her. With a blazing expression, she looks straight into the prince’s face. He looks at her for a long moment, then turns and says something to Bryl, who is standing stiffly, blood still slowly staining his collar dark as the trickle slows. He hesitates, then looking off to one side, mutters something.
“Not very sincere,” CiCi says, but her voice gives away a bit of satisfaction. How does she even know?
Merryt looks at her appraisingly, then back at me. I notice he isn’t smiling. He looks troubled.
“I have a lot of questions-about this place, about you and yours,” He inclines his head towards CiCi, “If my captain hasn’t disgraced me too badly, would you be willing to meet again? These two,” glancing at the blond and black haired companions, “will not be with me.”
His dark eyes look almost black, but glint with gold as the sun breaks through the reaching foliage overhead. I say cautiously,
“Why are you here? Why do you need to know anything I would tell you? I don’t believe idle curiosity brings people from space to question the locals. You look like military, you say you're a prince. Why aren’t you meeting with the government? That’s what other ETs have done.”
He nods. “The Vogwen have not yet acknowledged the Earthen as worthy of official contact. We are here to, ah,” He appears to search for a term, “-check things out-“
“You’re here to see how easily we could be tipped over.” CiCi says, her tone even and calm, but I glance and see that her blue eyes are flinty.
He inclines his head, and shrugs, “That is part of it, yes. But the Earth has been acknowledged as part of the newest tier of galactic citizenry, on the lower level,”
“What does that mean, ‘on the lower level?’” I interject.
He holds his hands up, palms out in a soothing gesture, and says, “It just reflects how many other worlds officially acknowledge and trade with your own. Less than fifteen in your case.”
“We’ve only made contact in the last fifty years,” I say, feeling strangely defensive.
He nods. “I also am very curious as how two, at least two, Vogwen females came to be here, in...Brazil, right?"
I nod, barely registering his question, really. Vogwen females. Hmm. My eyes travel to his pointed ears, and those of his men, so much like mine, and like CiCi’s. And the tails. Mine is a very pale golden blond, whereas all of theirs have very dark brown, almost black fur. I had always imagined that I was the unwanted product of a human and alien coupling. It’s common enough; a lot of ETs come to Earth and of course relationships start. And there’s a bit of discomfort at the idea of a human woman taking an inhuman man, probably because it’s still strange to our society to not be the only intelligent beings in the universe. Halfling kids sometimes get put up for adoption, or just dumped, which is what I assumed about myself when Veta told me how she found me half drowned in the river as a toddler.
I’m shaken from my reverie by CiCi.
“I don’t think we should talk to you. I think you should go to the embassy in Rio. They will be able to answer your relevant questions. Let’s go, Queenie.”
That seems rude, but I have no concrete reason to object, except that I’m curious now. CiCi turns to leave, lightly tugging my arm, and I move with her, but say over my shoulder,
“I don’t promise that anything I tell you will be useful to you, but you can come to my house tomorrow morning to talk. I live in the village south of here, in the pink house at the end. Only because I’m curious about the Vogwen,” I add, more towards CiCi, who sighs, a strange, resigned look on her face.
I take a last glance over my shoulder as we leave the clearing, and Imperial Crown Prince Merryt the 987th of Merr is standing there, watching us go. I can’t read the expression in his dark eyes as they bore into mine for an instant before I turn and press into the forest after my friend.