It was roughly a month since I had drugged and overpowered Tihocan, my traumatised consort, and I still wasn’t showing. There were eight foetuses in there, four sets of twin girls, one of the pairs a bad seed – Chloe of the Golden Hair and Amanda Evert. Not that I knew that then. Of course no Atlantean Queen could be asked to bring to term octuplets - so animalistic, so plebeian - and so, when the time was right and the augurs propitious, the babies would be decanted into glass jars, fed the human equivalent of Royal Jelly and watched over by winged nurses.
Our subjects may have been ecstatic at the news that one of their Royal Couples were breeding – there were graffiti on every wall and pottery statues for sale at every knick knack stall – but Tihocan wasn’t happy. Although … on reflection that’s a bit of a euphemism. A better description of his mood would be as stark raving mad, or as in an eternal hissy fit, with claws permanently drawn to scratch my eyes out and his pouting lower lip stiffened to the point that I felt that if the wind changed direction, he would stay that way for eternity. If any statues survived from that time they would show him dressed in his bishop mitre crown and his panelled kilt, his belly and heavy thighs on display, and with the most extraordinary and fleshly moue, his huge lips thrust forward below his elongated forehead, like two obscene plantains sticking out of his face.
We had set up house in the Atrium Of The Consensus, a palace on the outer shore of the Inner Circular Sea, an area usually reserved for the Administrative Class. I had been slightly horrified that we should be mingling with non-Royals, but our advisors had advised us that it was advisable to advertise the advent of an ever more accessible autocracy, and therefore we had acceded to the ceding of our royal autonomy.
Tihocan was the only person who capable of making a grand entrance small, and this particular morning was no exception. He appeared from the garden and struck a pose, a young beautiful boy hanging on each of his bejewelled arms.
“Your Royal Highness!” he said, with an elaborate bow.
I rose from my chair to return the salutation.
“My love,” I said. “The sun itself blanches at Your Kingly Presence.”
“Yes. Well. That's all very well, but I have come to inform you that I am moving out of the Royal Bedchamber,” said Tihocan, raising his weak chin, and presenting a three quarter profile.
“I didn’t know you were still in the Royal Bedchamber, My Beloved and Most Blessed Brother-Husband,” I said, sitting back down to my genetic designs.
“Well I was, and now I won’t be,” he said, adding as an afterthought “My Fertile Princess Of The Triple Seas.”
“Whatever Your Serene Highness wishes,” I said, making the stylised hand movements for compliance and content.
“Very good, My Queen,” he said, turning on his heel and walking out.
I smoothed the sand table in front of me and began to draw with my onyx stylus. After a second, however, my concentration was broken by the re-appearance of my brother.
“Aren’t you curious to know why Your Husband is deserting Your Nuptual Chamber?”
I looked him in the eye and I could see his secret dream of slitting my throat. “Of course, My Love. Whatever concerns you concerns me, Your Loyal Wife.”
Tihocan took a dancer’s half step forward and with his jewels and gestures signalling a combination of “play” and “legal enquiry” said “Maybe you can guess, Jewel Of The Earth’s Firmament?"
I smoothed my tunic over my lap. “Maybe you don’t like me watching you doing it with your gilded inamoratas, My King,” I said, gesturing at his two consorts. “You shouldn’t be shy. Your Lordship being sodomised by your boys is of no more significance to me than when I myself strap on a leather phallus and fill your ever lubricated fundament.”
Tihocan let out a snarl like an annoyed lap dog, and threw his companions to one side. He strode forward and started to wave a bejewelled finger in my face.
“I... you ... only your Royal Blood which I have the privilege to share prevents me from ...,” he spluttered. “You ...I ..."
"What is it that is troubling you, my stuttering sibling?"
"You ... what is the word ... rode? Took? Polluted me? However you term it, you joined with me without my permission.”
I was finding it difficult not to go cross-eyed with his finger an inch from my nose but I said “We married for state reasons - to produce a child. You agreed and took the vows. Besides, your accusation is ridiculous. Everybody knows that a wife cannot be accused of outraging the modesty of her husband.”
Tihocan stamped his feet. "I am not some squalling prisoner of war bewailing a just defilement by his captor," he said. "Consider One's Royal Feelings. They are injured."
“I observe your whims and moods every day, My Husband, as is the duty of a loving helpmeet," I said, "but when it came to the Succession your feelings were not reachable by logic.”
"What has love got to do with logic?" he said. "Did our best poets die in vain?"
“I hear your wailing as no doubt does Grandfather Poseidon himself, My Beloved Brother, but what were we supposed to do? Who else would do it? Qualopec is no longer able."
"Thanks to your bizarre creations."
I ignored this. "Maybe you suggest that I mate with one of the Ten Kings? Your father, for example?”
Tihocan blanched. “Don’t be disgusting,” he said.
"So?" I said, raising a haughty eyebrow.
“Couldn’t you have chosen … a nearby Prince, or something?”
“There are no nearby Princes,” I said, trying to control my irritation. “May as well go out in a field and have my furrow ploughed by some hoary-handed helot.”
A thoughtful look came over Tihocan’s face. “Yes, well obviously would defeat the object," he said.
“I’m still upset!”
I had begun a very elaborate bow, combined with an elaborated son et lumiere indicating “condolences in the event of an inconsolable loss” when a strange and strident sound stopped us in our steps.
"Braaaaaaw!", it said. "Braaaaaaaaaaw!"
Tihocan and I exchanged alarmed glances.
“Come on,” I said, grabbing his hand and running out of the Tertiary Throne Room of the Palace of Mneseus and Autochthon and onto the shore of the Inner Circular Sea.
There we were met by Captain Hellas of the Lapithae Regiment.
“Apparently there is some sort of distress klaxon from the Central Island,” he said.
“The Kings?” said Tihocan. “Is there an attack?”
“I have little or no information, My Lord.”
“Take us over,” I said.
“Yes, My Lady.”
“Our fathers,” said Tihocan, as we hurried down to the dock.
“I hear you,” I said.
Tihocan had drawn his sword and was sharpening it on a whetstone as we were skulled across the Inner Circular Sea whilst I, caught by surprise and therefore unarmed, armed myself with a hoplite’s spear and gazed across the water at whatever. Tihocan’s two boys strapped on armour and stood ready to defend their princes.
“Our brother,” I said, shielding my eyes and observing a craft on a parallel course to our own.
“To the Lords of the Sea and the Sky applause,” said Tihocan. “We may soon need his killing claws.”
Within a short space we Royal three met on the Central Isle, our handful of soldiers wondering what the hurly-burly was all about.
"Well met, weird sister," said Qualopec jovially, or as jovially as a man can manage when he is encased in a grotesque machine.
I was glad to see him, sad not to be able to embrace him. "Greetings, Theion of the Atzlan Confederacy," I said, all grace and favour, my lights and jewellery a-twinkle.
"Let us to Poseidon's Temp and see that which our peace unkemp," said Qualopec.
We tripped - or in Qualopec's case clumped - up the green to the scene of the emergency.
As we entered the portico, the soldiers fanning, it seemed as if the Ten Kings had dispersed, or maybe they were having a day off.
"Can we silence these clamorous harbingers of blood and death?" said Tihocan, his hands clapped o'er his ears.
"Things at the worst will cease," I replied, flicking a switch, and silencing the trumpets.
We crept in, weapons drawn, and cover sought, but there were but two figures standing over the trapdoor to the Omphalos, and bizarre creatures they were too.
The first, an etiolated barbarian with unkempt bleached hair and war paint around the eyes, looked as if she had been dragged through a bush backwards. Her clothes were a bizarre collection of strange materials and scraps and bobbins, and she started like a guilty criminal.
The second looked like a warrior from hell, Cerberus's trainer or Hades' food taster, dressed in black shine, studded, silvery and dead-eyed.
"Declare yourselves,"` said Qualopec, clicking forward on lobster legs, claws clacking.
"Who disturbs our peace?" said Tihocan, an engineer's chill masking his features, weapons calibrated.
"How on earth did you get in here?" I said, fiddling with my fireballs.
The blacked haired one said nothing, eyes aglow, and the white haired one said "Ooga booga booga ooga boogily oogily," or words very much to that effect.
But then they did something that impressed us. The white one drew from her bag a golden object - a lamp? a bottle? - and within it appeared a tiny figure, a figure that spoke.
"Greetings to the Imperial Triumvirate of Atlantis," said the homunculus, bowing. "We, humble travellers from a distant place, fall on your mercy and pray your forbearance."
"You know us?" said Tihocan.
"Who has not heard of Tihocan, the Smithy of the Gods, Qualopec, the Crab God of Atzlan and Natla, the Mother of Invention?"
"Ooga booga booga ooga boogily oogily," chimed in the white one, and it was impossible to say if she was scared or angered or both. The dark one looked blackly enigmatic, and held her stygian tongue, if she had one.
I held out my hand, and the white one hesitated. The black one stiffened and drew what might have been a couple of projectile weapon but in the next instant her face was grimacing silently in pain.
“This one does not speak,” remarked Qualopec, holding her up in his claw. The black warrior struggled but the giant claw dug into her waist and she was in danger of being snipped in half.
I took the genie in the jar and peered at it. It seemed oddly familiar if miniature.
“Name your masters,” I said.
The homunculus wrinkled its brow in thought and then said; “I do not have the vowels to render the names in High Atlantean. However the lady is white is known as ‘She-who-has-been-turned-out-yet-must-be-loved’ and the lady in black as “The-pea-in-a-pod-who-sells-herself’.”
“And you, little mouth. Who are you?”
“Merely a machine. A vision. A projection. A device.”
“But your face. It chimes.”
“I am yourself,” said the homunculus. “You have created me in your own image.”
I was so shocked that I dropped the bottle. The white visitor cried out, whilst Tihocan stepped forward to retrieve the genie from the marble floor. The white one stepped forward and grasped his arm, and animalistic look of craving on her face.
“Ooga booga,” she murmured piteously. “Ooga booga.” And she fell to the floor, grasping Tihocan around the knees and bursting into tears.
“My brother,” I said. “Maybe I should interrogate the tiny ambassador further, whilst you examine She-who-must-be-loved?”
“It is grasping at The Royal Thighs,” said Tihocan, with intense horror. “Shoo, oafen beast! Shoo!”
“I think it likes you,” I said, retrieving the bottle from his flapping hands and retreating a few paces.
“Speak the truth, miniature me,” I whispered. “Whither you come, weird travellers three?”
“From your old age,” it replied.
I made no sense of this statement, and began to wonder if this visitation was something to do with Olympus. “You look not like the inhabitants of the earth,” I said.
“We are human. As I say, by strange routes and tunnels from your future.”
“And I, in this future, made you?”
“As a guide for the white one, with the black warrior as her guard.”
I glanced at the others. “Why does she weep?”
The homunculus hesitated for a rather long time. “She greets her father … if he but knew it. But you, his sister, must not reveal it!” it added.
“You command me?”
“You command yourself,” said the sprite, with a lopsided smile. “But you will want to hear my prophecy.”
I drew myself up to my fullest height and adopted my snootiest tone of voice. “I sneer at prophecy,” I said. “Prophecies are for fools who would give up control of their own destiny. I forbid you to utter them.”
The homunculus obvious had its own agenda. “Tihocan will be king hereafter,” it said quickly, before I could dash it to pieces on the ground.
I glared at it, and it giggled nervously.
“Lesser than Tihocan, and greater,” it continued. “Not so happy, yet much happier. Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none.”
That finally annoyed me and I snapped. I threw the bottle against a pillar, smashing it into smithereens, crying “Go, imperfect speaker, and tell me no more!”
“Oo-gaa!” wailed the white one, running over and scrabbling among the fragments. Her face darkened and began to redden as she looked at me. “Ooogily boogily,” she snarled, throwing the white hair out of her black eyes and drawing a blue pendant from between her breasts. “Oogily boogily!”
At that moment there were some explosions from the other side of the Temple. The black warrior had fired something at the face shield of Qualopec, causing him to drop her.
“Arrest it!” yelled Tihocan, and I heard him “oof” as the air was knocked out of him.
However my whole attention was now fixed on ‘She-who-has-been-turned-out-yet-must-be-loved’. A blue vaporous horror was emerging from her necklace jewel and coalescing in front of me. The thing roared, and before I could let off a fireball, it was smothering me and clawing at me.
My head crashed against the floor and I blacked out. My last sense caught the triumphant laughter of the one in white.
A few days later, I awoke in the Charnel House Of Aesculapius, one of our local hospitals, and Qualopec and Tihocan were summoned as a head splitting fanfare of salpinxes announced my return to consciousness.
“Disaster postponed,” said Qualopec jovially.
“Our fathers intervened,” said Tihocan.
The Ten Kings had reappeared at just the right moment and the visitors had been thrown back down into the Omphalos, the entrance sealed for eternity.
That woke me.
“You met your fathers?” I said.
Tihocan and Qualopec exchanged a glance, one shuffling his effete slippers and the other his crab legs.
“We’ll tell you later,” said Qualopec, but I don’t recall that they ever did. “'Til then, Tihocan has something to say.”
Tihocan swallowed as if he was being forced to eat something unpleasant. “I feared for your safety, My Divine Sister,” he said,” and for the sacred and precious cargo you carry in your belly, our children.”
“Say that last phrase again.”
“Our children,” he said, somewhat reluctantly.
I looked at him thought ‘you’ll be king over my dead body, you charmless man.’
But I said “And your eight daughters thank you, Your Royal Godhead,” and wondered how disappointed he’d be if I told him that he’d already met one, and that the augurs were not propitious.