Aaspa and her family are to move into the Citadel. But…
The identical looks of disgust on Owl and Moonflower’s faces would have been amusing if they weren’t so deserved. The Citadel was beyond filthy. Everywhere.
“We cannot be moving into this shithole,” Owl declared vehemently.
I smiled my agreement. “Well not until it has been fumigated. Bring as many drones as you can trust and I will assign you some fighters to ensure the lazy ones in this place shape up.”
“You mean to trust me with this undertaking?” Owl sounded amazed and a little in awe.
“I do. When we move here the household will be in your charge as it is in our present nest. I have neither the training nor the aptitude, and Moonflower will be busy acting as Papa’s hostess.”
Both females looked at me with their mouths agape.
Moonflower was the first to pull herself together.
“Aaspa,” she said faintly, “surely you will act as The Master Hunter’s hostess.”
Before I could frame a suitable reply the sound of masculine laughter alerted me to the fact we were no longer alone. I turned my head to see my Papa and my Mate who had contained their laughter but were still grinning as if their cheeks would split.
I put my hands on my hips. “Okay you two. What is so funny?”
Aascko took me in his arms. “You, my beloved, know precisely what is funny.”
Papa, on whom the Master Hunter’s chain of office still looked a bit like something from the imps’ dress-up box grinned unrepentantly.
“Yes Aaspa. You know as well as I do that the second civic reception you were obliged to hostess would doubtless end in a bloodbath.”
I pushed out my lip in pretended sorrow. “How can you think that of me Papa? Am I not beautiful and feminine enough to grace society. Can I not charm if I so choose?”
Both males started to look at me as if I had grown a second head, but then I spoilt the tease by laughing so hard I all but voided my bladder.
Just as I got myself together, Aascko bent his head and whispered a rude suggestion in my ear. Which got me started again.
“See,” he said dramatically, “wholly unsuitable.”
Owl and Moonflower gave the males the stink eye, which made me laugh even more.
“I’m a Hunter,” I said, “and not a bit inclined towards either society or domesticity. You two have the enthusiasm and the know-how. And you even like talking to assorted females.”
Moonflower’s smile was a beautiful thing to behold. “You, Mate of my son, are an inspiration to us all. You understand that everyone has their strengths and have no fear of promoting those around you to best use those strengths. In addition, you have no jealousy in your heart, and no envy in your soul. If only we could all be like you.”
I felt a flush mantle my cheeks and Aascko turned me fully into his embrace. “Truly spoken Mother of mine. The huntress who holds my heart has great virtue, not least of which is her dislike of praise.”
Owl rescued us from the morass of emotion into which we were sinking.
“This is all very admirable. But it isn’t going to get this shithole of a citadel scrubbed…”
Of course, she was right, and the shitadel, as Aascko dubbed it, took an enormous amount of concerted effort to get it clean enough to meet her exacting standards. Me? I helped a bit with bullying lazy and impolite drones, but other than that I just let Owl have her head.
By the time the moon had turned once, she announced that the Citadel was clean but it now needed furnishing. My Papa gave her a bag of gold coins and told her to go to it. And, bless her steady little heart, she done just that.
From the shelter of the beloved nest we were about to be leaving, and which was now being turned upside down in Owl’s search for furnishings suitable for the Citadel, the imps and I watched in varying degrees of horror. Owlet was firmly of the opinion that Mama had run mad, as was Tiger. Puma and Silver were more tolerant of the upheaval. I mostly kept my own council only putting my head over the parapet when I thought Owl and Small Cat were not taking sufficient care of their health. Small Cat was sensible when reminded, but I had to sit Owl down and talk to her very seriously about her own wellbeing and that of the imps she carried under her heart before she could be brought to slow down.
Another moon of turmoil – and some tantrums – saw us about ready to move into the forbidding grey pile of the Citadel. A dull misty morning found Aascko and I following Owl from room to room. I will admit that it all looked splendid – if not precisely homely. When we finished the tour of the grand public rooms my mate looked at our nest sister and frowned a little.
“You have worked wonders. But I won’t be living in anything this cold and perfect.”
Owl grinned her cheekiest grin, and for a moment she looked almost pretty.
“No. Nobody has to live in this bit, it’s for public consumption. Come with me.”
She led us down a wide staircase at the bottom of which was a long corridor. It had doors on one side and a wall of windows the other.
“This is the family wing. I’ll show you all of it later. If you are interested. But for now.” She almost ran ahead of us throwing open the penultimate pair of doors. “Me and Cat’s workplace, with sewing place and office.” She didn’t stop there, though. Throwing us a smile over her shoulder she opened the huge deeply carved doors at the end of the corridor. “Aascko and Aaspa’s new nest.”
It seemed for a moment as if we had been transported back to our old nest except this was all on one level with huge glass doors opening into a high-walled garden. I threw my arms around Owl and gave her a huge hug.
“You are a clever girl.”
“When I saw these rooms they seemed ideal to me. Even if they do seem to me to have some sort of a bad reputation.”
“What sort of a ‘bad reputation’? Aascko was obviously intrigued.
“This was used to be something called a seraglio.” Owl’s little face crumpled with confusion. “Cat and me think it has something to do with mating, because of all the nudging and winking that went on among the older drones and the guardsmen, but we never asked. Because…” her voice trailed off.
“Because you were embarrassed,” Aascko gave her his kindest smile. “A seraglio, little mother, is the place where a ruling despot keeps his whores.”
“Whores? But the only people living here was some very old males. Though they didn’t seem like full males to me and Cat.”
Aascko spread his hands in a gesture of defeat and I took over. “Males can be whores too. Especially those who are neutered.”
Owl looked at me in dawning comprehension. “Oh,” she said and sat down plump on the floor. “Oh. Have I done a bad thing by assigning us these rooms?”
Aascko laughed. “Not by my way of thinking. The rooms are suitable so.”
“And no ladders to hinder Silver’s progress. You have done a good thing here, my sister, never think anything else.”
Owl leapt up and threw herself into my arms. “I so love you Aaspa,” she sobbed. “Nobody never had a better nest sister.”
I gave her a hug and a little shake. “I love you too. But for now how about we get moved in before the imps become impossible to handle.”
Aascko growled and Branwen arrived, almost as if it had been awaiting this signal. It carried Silver on one narrow shoulder and Owlet, Tiger and Puma trailed a little nervously in its wake.
Predictably it was Owlet who summed up the situation. “Mother,” he said in his gruffest tones as he came to lean against my leg. “We was worried about moving here. But is just like Home. Only not got ladders.”
I bent to pick him up. “It is Home now. And I’m sure we will all live happily here.”
Puma stood in the middle of the entrance space turning slow circles as she surveyed her new home. After the third turn she smiled lighting her delicate fairylike features with impish glee.
“Owlet says true,” she declared. “Me likes.”
Tiger absentmindedly scratched at his itching wing buds and regarded his new home from beneath the beginnings of brow ridges. “Me likes too,” he declared in as deep a voice as he could manage.
Puma slapped his wrist. “Not scratch. Might damage wings.”
Sensing an imminent sibling fight I opened the door behind which common sense dictated the eating place would be. I was right, so I cocked my head at the rest of the family who followed me in – including Branwen, who looked a bit shy but was being inexorably dragged along by a determined Puma.
Inside the eating place a veritable feast awaited us, as did Small Cat, Papa, and my motley selection of brothers.
Once the imps were provided with brimming plates of unsuitable delicacies the rest of us stood around eating snacks and drinking fermented fruit juice.