It was a welcome surprise that Ajinblambia rescinded her earlier rule that barred me from looking upon, addressing or approaching Queen Udi. That rule had been in effect almost five years, and we had all become accustomed to that new order of things. Moreover, the operation performed on me at Shrongmoil Medical Center had made our earlier sort of intimacy impossible. It was in those days that Oji, Udi's and my daughter, was born. She was now four years of age, and had been adopted into the House of Vrikshaya, which consisted of eight natural-born Vrikshayas and three adoptees. I ranked 11th among the 11, while Oji was 10th.
An unspoken agreement lingered on, however, and there was a distance between Udi and myself. I was far too shy to attempt to overcome this mild estrangement, and Udi seemed content to allow it to stand for the time being. Of course, there were always hugs and kisses on the cheeks, with pretty compliments.
Eventually, she softened and warmed a little. She said that she liked to play volleyball, and that it would not be unbecoming to her to do so, even if she was a queen. She wondered if she might join the Eldor Geese. But the Eldor Geese already had six players, the charter members of the team: Barti, Mlechi, Vinja, Dhabbi, Usha and myself, Sissy. The Eldor Geese were the second generation of the Kshaddi Geese, consisting of precisely the same six players.
Leery of the possibility that Udi might be accepted by the Geese, in which case I would be sidelined, I shed a tear or two when I heard of her ambition.
It was in '386 that, returning from Dilulabad to Bihaka by rail, the train I was aboard failed in Kshaddi, a village of 2000 in central Gangawar Province, in Qazudistan. The girls, who were on a school holiday, kidnapped me and twirled me by my ankles on a Maypole in the village. This was all in good fun, and we became friends later that day.
A year or two later I had a diplomatic mission to perform in Ujjama, the capital of Gangawar. As I was strolling about town, my sweet kidnapper friends suddenly appeared. They besought me to substitute for Meruert, a girl on the team who had missed the train from Kshaddi. The Kshaddi Geese were scheduled to play the Ujjama Cranes. Despite my substitution, the Cranes shut us out 25-0. Someone photographed me on the court with the eleven gorgeous girls, and the photograph appeared in the local gazette.
Somehow, Udi, thousands of miles away, heard about the game and saw the newsphoto. Jealously, she banished me to Kshaddi and assigned me to play for the Geese in perpetuity We lived in a clubhouse at 6 Jagna Lane in Kshaddi, where I thought I'd have to reside forever.
Three months later Udi repealed the order of banishment. So I had been a member of the Geese for 9 years, if you don't count the years of our inactivity.
Everyone agreed that, even if Queen Udi's inclusion on the team's roster would have promised to enhance the team's upward mobility in the volleyball standings, still, for sentimental reasons of loyalty and comradeship, I should continue as a member. proud of my red leotard and cheerleader skirt with the self-panties. Queen Udi, were it not for Ajinblambia's veto, might have commandeered my place, inasmuch as she enjoyed royal authority, but that sort of antagonism was not in the nature of our little dispute. Udi agreed ultimately that being a Goose was "my thing", especially since I had managed to be named commissioner of the Girls' Volleyball Association of Greater Mecnita by some fluke.
Barti suggested that, since Udi would not become a member of the Geese, Udi and I should stage a number of contests and matches between her and myself to determine who was the superior athlete. I knew immediately that, in any match between Udi and myself, I would finish second, so I grimaced at Barti's new idea. But everyone in our little circle was so enthusiastic about making a mini-spectacle of these matches that I could not honorably refuse.
It was decided that a notice would be placed in Obscont proclaiming the Queen's Matches, as the planned contests were named. Udi, the Queen of Ung, and Sissy, the commissioner of Gvagma, would vie in a number of events. Judges would be appointed to grade the Queen's Matches, which would be held on several selected dates towards the end of year '395 in the central field of Gvagma Village. Anyone walking from 7 Ramdonia Circle to the Gvagma Wheel would have to stop and watch the games or make a wide detour, for a throng of visitors would gather around, in the middle of the field.
The events included tennis, badminton, archery, girls' sumo, foot races, callisthenics and ballet steps. "Oh heavens!" I thought, "I won't have a chance." I had just been embarrassed in the Epgarcs again, consigned to the ten-year-olds' bracket. How could I possibly expect to undo the ignominy of that result?
The first round of the Queen's Games was played on day 400 of said year. Queen Udi and I played a tennis match. Her height was 73 inches, very short for Nyatic ladies, but still 3 inches above my own height, not counting my horns. When I saw her appear in her burgundy leotard and shorts of white stretch denim fitted perfectly to her sleek shapely form, I cringed, for I understood immediately, from her magnificent musculature, her upright stature, level shoulders, broad hips and graceful gait that the game was already won.
The winner was to be the player who won the first two sets or two out of three sets of six games each, with alternate service. The score of every game turned out to be four-love or love-four, depending on who served. So we needed to play only two sets. I didn't score a single point, and considered it a minor victory if I returned a serve at all.
The crowd was very excited, chanting, "Go, Udi, go! Go, Udi, go!" This was maddening. This was embarrassing. But I was helpless against her kind of tennis. When the ball came whizzing by, I just shook my head in incredulity. Finally the match was over, and my relief was great. Queen Udi climbed three steps to the top of a platform someone hauled in for the nonce. There she smiled and bowed and thanked everyone for the cheerful support they had shown. She was gorgeous in her shorts, which shone in the sun, and her leotard. Her mildly tanned arms and legs were the color of coffee and cream. A glance would tell you she was queen.
I stood nearby, despondent and discouraged. Then I stepped up on the platform, received a faint flutter of polite applause. One kind lady shouted, "Three cheers for Sissy! She's such a good sport!" A couple more ladies clapped dutifully.
The following day, shuttlecocks instead of tennis balls went flying back and forth, but again I was no match for Udi, who beat me 21-1 twice in a row. She received wildly enthusiastic applause from the numerous crowd that had come to watch. I too received the almost inaudible murmur of polite applause due such an ineffectual badminton player. Oh well, I knew it and everyone knew it. Why should I fret and blush?
Then we tried archery. Udi could hit more targets at 150 feet than I could at 50 feet. At 150, I could hit nothing, and more often than not, my arrows pierced the earth yards short of the mark and yards astray. But I had never claimed to be an archer, so what could anyone expect? Please don't remind me that I did claim to be a volleyball player and that it was only through the grace of Ajinblambia and the Geese that I was exempt from being supplanted by Queen Udi in that sport.
On day 410, we had our girls' sumo wrestling contest. The two opponents grasp each other lightly to begin. In order to win the match, one of the opponents must floor the other--force her down until her body is on the floor or ground--within one minute, and hold her down for nine minutes. Queen Udi, tossing me prone and kneeling on the small of my back, bent my legs up at the knees and placed her right arm firmly around my ankles while grasping the nape of my neck with her left hand, so that I was utterly immobile for nine whole minutes. This was a slightly modified version of the kind of girls' sumo that is played in the Epgarcs, in which the winner must hold the loser strictly on her buttocks. The photographs that appeared later in Obscont were very dramatic. Udi really had me in an ineluctable lock, you could see.
On the next day, we had foot races, a 100 yard dash in the middle of Gvagma Village, where the other contests had been held, and a one-mile run along the southwest swath of Gvagma Village, behind the Orchid Walk and the Rose Verandah. Queen Udi won both races, but not by such landslides as had characterized the other matches. She did 100 yards in 12 seconds, I took 14. She did a mile in 4 minutes and 50 seconds, while I took five and a half minutes. But victory is victory, Queen Udi must have been thinking.
In callisthenics, Udi outdid me somewhat, scoring heavily on push-ups, sit-ups and other tests of strength.
Zhvizhvi, Halina and Cathma, of the Royal Egrets' School of Dance, and Sundari, of Gvagma's Courier Service, had been monitoring my progress in ballet for five years, and had for some time been urging me to redouble my efforts. I had applied myself with zeal recently and shown great improvement. So the four ladies had raved to Crasavitsa, the impresaria and principal ballerina of the Royal Egrets of Mecnita, telling her that I was making wonderful strides in ballet. They invited her to come with them to Rosebush Stadium on day 415. There Queen Udi and I would vie in executing ballet steps. A panel of judges would evaluate performances and choose a victress.
Finally, I had my chance to excel. So far, I had lost every contest with Queen Udi, lost quite emphatically too. Everyone had me figured for an absolute namby-pamby. Now things might change. First of all, Udi could not stand en pointe, so I had her there. My fouettés, pas de chat, arabesques, entrechats and cabrioles were adjudged "superb", while Udi's were only "good". Each of us performed for 15 minutes, and according to the grading system that the judges used, I won by a score of 51-15. Queen Udi was dumbfounded, after all her other successes. I too marveled at my own fine showing. I had hardly realized that my ballet was getting that good.
Zhvizhvi, Halina, Cathma and Sundari were proud of me, each lady claiming that she had made a major contribution to my meteoric rise. Crasavitsa was highly impressed, said that I was "bewitching" on the ballet floor, and invited me to join the Royal Egrets, not as a mere courier, but as a ballerina. When I heard that, I swooned. On coming to, I most definitely accepted.
Rosebush Stadium was made a second venue for the Royal Egrets, and it was announced that on day 350 of '396, I'd dance in a ballet suite entitled The Siege of Candle Tower. This ballet suite had an historical theme, which was Ajinblambia's deposition of Queen Oa, in Vavlu, the capital of Ufzu, a kingdom on Mli, the moon. I would dance the role of Ajinblambia herself. I was absolutely thrilled!
So I had redeemed my reputation in Gvagma Village brilliantly. Even Udi beamed with pride and admiration.
It may sound as if I had been neglecting my commissionership of the Girls' Volleyball Association of Greater Mecnita, but that is not at all the case. I was indeed busy with my plans to expand the association. Greater Mecnita, with a population of 350,000,000 souls, had 1000 volleyball teams, or one team for every 350,000 citizens. Mecnita itself, numbering 100,000,000, had 400 teams, or one for every 250,000. Because of our recent professionalization and the concomitant growth of spectator attendance, many of our games were overcrowded, and this tended to antiquate our facilites more rapidly.
I decided, after several meetings with Gvagma captainesses, that we would allow each of the 1000 volleyball districts to form a second team. Thus Gvagma would have 2000 teams, with 12,000 volleyballers. We needed to coopt 6000 new girl athletes, organize teams, design uniforms, designate and arrange improvement of volleyball courts, and schedule games.
At that time, Gvagma's headquarters were on Lanzzar Avenue, in Spranceld, in a building of 50's or 60's vintage. There, administrative work was done, and equipment and uniforms were manufactured. That was where I had had my confrontation with Olivia a few years earlier. In order to avoid that vicinity, I had been holding Gvagma's meetings in a room I had set aside in Cissi's Intimates on Shayvurddhi Circle in Frifna, the northeasternmost district of Mecnita.
I decided to start holding meetings in Gvagma Village. The administrative work then being done on Lanzzar Avenue would be transferred to Gvagma Village, and I would retire the conference room in Frifna. The old headquarters, that is, the ones on Lanzzar Avenue, would be used exclusively for manufacture of uniforms, volleyballs and volleyball equipment.
A very pretty building of ten stories, named Gvagma Tower, would be built in a conspicuous place. There, the new headquarters would be housed. My plush office would be on the ground floor, with a spacious conference room adjacent. That is where I'd meet with Gvagma's "knightesses", that is, most influential team captainesses, and we would direct the expansion of the association. It was mid-'396 before I could occupy my new quarters
Olivia, the girl from Gvagma's uniform factory on Lanzzar Avenue who had taunted me and drubbed me years earlier, had heard about Gvagma Village, of course. Everyone in Mecnita knew about it. But Olivia did not appreciate the fact that it was I who was organizing this new cultural center until she saw an article with a picture of me in Obscont. When she finally learned of my role in the development, she came down from Spranceld to Ramdonia to look about. At that time, the construction of my new quarters was just getting under way, and I was still using the office at Cissi's in Ramdonia for administrative activities. Olivia, asking about, learned where I was likely to be and when I was likely to issue from the building. She came and loitered about the entrance, hoping to glimpse me. There was nothing about her conduct that could be regarded as suspect, because there were hundreds of women and girls walking around and doing window-shopping in the vicinity. Around 7.5 Ungi (6 PM by an earthly clock), I emerged, planning to go by metro to Frifna. Immediately as she saw me, Olivia ran over and gave me a swift kick in the buttocks. Alarmed, I rushed towards the center of the field, running on the grass. Olivia came racing after, dove down to grab me by my ankles and tripped me, so that I fell prone. In a flash, she was on top of me, pommeling me with the heels of her fists. But before she could inflict any serious injury, several healthy girls from the association fell on her and pulled her off. They brought her into my office, where they questioned her in my presence. Exonerating herself by saying that she and I were old friends, and that her "attack" was just a "bit of sport", she looked at me with a sweet, innocent expression. I found myself electing to forgive her, but cautioning her not to repeat this kind of "sport". Then she was released and left.
As a consequence of this embarrassing episode, I decided to install security guards at Cissi's. Komoloko, Tatakuha and Tongomani, three very large beautiful women from Ungonesia, were dressed in white Cissi-like gowns with the word "Security" embroidered on the back in rose-colored italic letters. They were instructed to keep an eye on all customers they deemed likely to be difficult, and they were given photographs of Olivia especially.
Gvagma Tower, with slightly tinted windows mounted between piers of maroon marble rising the whole height of the building, stood almost perfectly in the center of Gvagma Village, the lovely entrance facing northwest, towards 7 Ramdonia Center. A walk was laid that extended from 7 Ramdonia Center, through Rosebush Stadium, to the Gvagma Wheel, where, previously, there had been grassy lawn only. The walk bifurcated in front of Gvagma Tower, forming two semicircular walks that reunited behind the tower, continuing to the admission booths at the wheel. In the semicircle, in front of the tower, a fountain was built. Water jetted upward before spilling back down, as a transparent curtain, into a large sculptured stone crater-shaped pool, which served as a birdbath for flocks of white pigeons that were brought from Vingolilo. These pigeons were the now-grown squabs of generations of pigeons domesticated by the flying ladies that rule that island. I meant them to symbolize the eternity of Gvagma Village that I hoped to usher in.
In the tower, on the first floor, that is the floor above the ground or zeroth floor, we created a hall of fame, celebrating the heroines of our association, not only those who showed great athletic ability, but also those who contributed to the prosperity and stability of the association. I fitted into this second category, but chose not to include any pictures of myself, lest I be accused of arrogance or vaingloriousness. I had a reputation for modesty and affability that I preferred to maintain.
Zevanardia would spend mornings at the Rose Verandah and afternoons at Cissi's Intimates in Frifna. Quite often we had time to brunch or lunch together at the Rose Verandah, before she caught a train to Hozhgranga Station in Frifna.
As Gvagma Tower neared completion, I began to rehearse for my debut as a ballerina. Because of the limitations of live theater, it was necessary that The Siege of Candle Tower be choreographed minimalistically. The ballet suite began with only two dancers. Playing the role of Ajinblambia, I would dance in a white gown, with white panties and bra underneath, which, in my case, were irrelevant, for my gown would remain on my form. Perhaps the intimates would peep out briefly as I swirled and twirled, but nothing more.
The role of Queen Oa would be played by Casmerodia. She would wear a black gown, and, underneath, panties and bra of soft black kidskin. The panties would be furnished with a sheath or scabbard for a dagger. In her case, this was important, because, in the ballet, I would tear her gown from her body, whereupon, attired in the black panties and bra, she'd face me with the dagger.
Casmerodia would dance on a high circular platform representing Candle Tower, trying to leap off and escape. I would circle around, preventing her flight. Finally, though, she would manage to jump down and glissade away, as if to safety. However, I'd execute a number of grand jetés, engaging her by a throwing a lariat about her. Then I'd disarm her and wrestle her to the floor, just as my partisans appeared and took her into custody. Confined in a wheeled cage shaped like a large birdcage, Oa would be rolled off the stage, and the ballet would end. Of course, the disarming and wrestling I would do were only terpsichorean charades, not real contests of strength.
So my days were hectic at that time. More and more, I left Cissi's in Ramdonia to the direction of Rubia of the Ramdonia Roses. I had neglected Cissi's Vintage Intimates, Cissi's in Piljandar and Cissi's in Eldor somewhat lately, and, therefore, had to find time to pay a visit at least. All was well with Ellennamandia and Venedora, of course, and Jilzi, my manager at Cissi's in Eldor, seemed to be doing fine. Because of the burgeoning economy of Gvagma Village, I was able to distribute bonuses to these and other girls who worked for me.
Now Cissi's Intimates had more than 100 locations in Mecnita. I was not the owner of all of these. I had merely granted franchises to most of them. Such a franchise entitled them to use the name Cissi's Intimates and to feature the apparel manufactured by us, which they were under contract to buy to the exclusion of other labels. But our commission was a token fee; I did not see this as an occasion for profiteering, but rather as an opportunity to propagate my cultural ideals. Sales volume did require us to open new factories, putting the creation of intimates on a mass-production basis.
Even metro stations, many of which had already had small stores, were the locations of a few of our mini-establishments. We had some shops in malls, and, of course, many were connected with association clubhouses. Gvagma and Cissi's seemed to blossom together. I was making a definite statement in the arts and entertainment.
Still, when you compare volleyball and apparel sales with exploration of outer space, titanic reclamation of desert wastes, laying of roads and railroads, foundation of universities and hospitals, kingdomwide finance and the like, they are secondary. So I remained the sixth-ranking member of the Royal Council of Ung's six ministresses, and was always the target of merry teasing and affectionate patronization. Even my scheduled ballet debut could not put me on an equal footing with Vinja, for example, with her dozens of nuclear stations in the west of Ub, or Usha, who governed the Bank of Ung, with its millions of talents.
To accelerate the pace of my already busy day now, Ajinblambia, calling me into her office, said it was high time that she and I start work on the second volume of her biography. The first volume, entitled The Lady of the Continents and Seas, which had appeared more than two years before, concerned Ajinblambia's rise to power in Ung and her companionship and marriage to Queen Udi, with some sketches of her childhood years. In the second volume, she wanted to dwell more on her childhood and young womanhood, that is, on the years she lived on Mli, the moon. I still had plenty of unexploited notes on her girlhood, but Ajinblambia had further insights to confide.
I resumed my three-hour sessions in her chambers, helping her bathe and dress. Of late, the sessions had fallen into desuetude, or slightly so, with sporadic rendezvous. I was elated once again to spend three earth-hours helping the gorgeous Vrikshaya bathe and dress, and listening to her silver syllables and golden words.
I had noticed a brass vessel or tub in a foundry store. It was a beautiful piece, ornamented with cast festoons and swags, chaplets and bouquets, and furnished with little legs. I bought it and took it to Ajinblambia's chambers. After her regular bath, sometimes when she was sitting in her wing chair reminiscing aloud about her youth, I would fill the vessel with warm water, adding fragrances and oils. Then I'd have her submerge her feet and I would massage and fondle them. She seemed to love this, especially when I planted a kiss on her instep or her ankle.
If I was giving Ajinblambia a footbath or relaxing in her lap, with the side of my head resting on her shapely bosom in its peach silk chiffon peignoir, I would record her words on my audio device or my wrist computer. But if I was sitting opposite her in her boudoir chair of crushed velvet and ivory, I would jot down notes instead. I preferred having notes, as I could spot a passage I was looking for at a glance, whereas with the recordings, I would have to play them through, sometimes several times, before I found the passage.
So I started organizing the material and writing drafts of the narratives of episodes we chose to string together. It was important to understand that a history, chronology or biography has no plot except in the hand of a tendentious writer or propagandist. To create an accurate portrait, one must seek and relate the facts without wittingly presupposing that the subject is heroic or that the course of events conveys a moral. The authoress merely paints a faithful picture. But even a faithful piture of Ajinblambia must needs seem divine, so wondrous were her beauty, intelligence and character.
The name we chose for the second volume of her biography was In the Fields of the Sun, an allusion to Mli, which turned in the fields of the sun, that is, remote from Nya, our planet.
Among other things, we would review her curricula in her pursuit of her dozen college degrees, as well as the enticements and allurements that led her to quit Ufzu and come to Nya. We would also chronicle her years as the invisible hand that led the Jvashnas in their rule of Qazudistan.
I got out a couple of hundred pages, in the form of a rough draft, and gave them to Ajinblambia, who liked them. We were hoping to have the second volume ready by the end of year '396.
At about this time, Ajinblambia attended some of my rehearsals for The Siege of Candle Tower, in which I would impersonate her in her conquest of Ufzu. She was amused and delighted by my dancing, which she said was very artistic and graceful, but more of the nature of a pantomime than of an accurate portrayal. The Geese attended the rehearsals too and were in raptures at the idea of my dancing Ajinblambia. Nonetheless, with their comments and suggestions, I was able to mount a reasonable similitude of our lady king. My horns certainly added a dramatic effect, though Ajinblambia had never had horns herself or worn a helmet outfitted with animal horns. The music was composed by Santjanella and the choreographer was Vanadu, both of the Egrets.
Obscont devoted a good deal of advance publicity to the ballet, so that Rosebush Stadium was packed. I was very nervous lest I blunder before such an audience, but everything turned out just fine. After the performance, some people jokingly referred to me as mini-Ajinblambia. Anyway, my career as a ballerina was launched. Strange it is indeed that I should be so lame on a volleyball court and so graceful on the ballet floor.
A few evenings later, Ajinblambia invited the Geese, myself included, to a dinner party in the intimate dining room in her apartment in Eldor Palace. Queen Udi was there too, of course. For major banquets, Ajinblambia had a separate dining hall in the palace. There, banquets for 50 to 500 guests could be accommodated conveniently. The dining room in her apartment could not hold more than a dozen or so. It was a beautiful hideaway in dark colors, with service in sterling silver. Candelabra held long white candles, and there were ice pails for the wine and braziers for the food. The little dinner was in my honor.
Ajinblambia again expressed her amusement, pleasure and delight in my portrayal of herself in The Siege of Candle Tower. Her only concern, she said, was that I may have overdone it, making her look grander than was actually the case. Whether she meant this in earnest or was speaking with tongue in cheek was a question that I did not want to explore, thinking that perhaps, after all, she was teasing me. So I did not inquire. I just thanked her with a grateful smile as all the ladies raised their goblets in a toast.
As all of us got tipsy and our tongues loosened, Barti remarked that the eight of us were like a royal family, with king and queen and six princesses. Ajinblambia liked this idea and said, "So be it!" From that day on, Obscont and the other periodicals of Ung used the phrase the Royal Family just as it had been proposed by Barti. It was slightly embarrassing to me when I recalled being the Prime Minister of Ung, but there was precious little I could do. The die was cast. I distributed intimate apparel to all the ladies present as a token of gratitude and esteem for their cooperation and indulgence in my various projects.
Six thousand miles west of Mecnita, just north of Fwascren, which is Ung's third city, the Hoixud Mountains rise, some of the peaks reaching heights approaching 100,000 feet. Far down the slopes, at around 6000 feet, the village of Vunu Vunu lurches. This village has existed for 50,000 years, and its musicians, songstresses who accompany themselves with viols, pipes and lutes, have created the most beautiful songs on the Nyatic planet. Their remote location makes it difficult for most people in Mecnita to see and hear them live, though of course video and audio recordings are available. I wondered if the sonorous Vunu Vunuans would consider moving to Mecnita, where they could perform in a special chamber we would build for them in Gvagma Village.
I was afraid that for reasons of tradition and nostalgia, the ten ladies would decline, preferring the peace and seclusion of Vunu Vunu to all the pomp and circumstance of Mecnita. How wrong I had been! When I called them on my scroll phone and presented my ideas, they fairly leapt at the chance to relocate in the capital. They would be allowed generous vacations for trips back to Vunu Vunu.
Their names were Zilla, Marda, Glemba, Tanahu, Torzha, Dappidoni, Cocala, Dampsi, Gastaneva and Lilihai. If their names sound exotic, it's because the Vunu Vunuans once had their own language, Nori, from which the names are derived. In fact, their songs were sung in Nori, which few understand today. They were billed as the Vunu Vunu Singers.