A day or two after my visit with Zevanardia in Queshganc, I had some free time to sit down at my desk in Inni Villa to review my documents and make such uninformed decisions as my inexperience might conjure up.
Mortgaging my house at Shayvurddhi Circle, I had been granted a credit line of 900 drachmas--900,000 dollars--which could be borrowed in smaller amounts, piecemeal. If I had borrowed the whole 900 drachmas as a lump sum, my monthly payment, figured at the annual rate of interest of 5.12% imposed on me by the Bank of Ung, would have been 6 drachmas, since I had a 20-year mortgage. Incidentally, I have had to recalculate my figures to make them understandable on Earth, because our year has 418 days and we don't actually use months, though we have 5 moons. The aforesaid payment of 6 drachmas was the maximum. Until such time as I borrowed the whole 900, I would pay less than that.
In addition to amortizing the mortgage, I had to subscribe to insurance and pay property taxes. These came to 1.5 drachmas a month or year-twelfth. Then I'd have to pay for utilities, maintenance and landscaping. So my total bill would fluctuate between 4 and 8 drachmas a month.
My most sumptuous gowns sold for about a drachma apiece, but profit was less than a third of that amount. Many of the more economical chemises sold for as little as a florin apiece. Wages of girls working for Cissi's Intimates were included as part of the cost of the garments they manufactured. There was no need to treat them as a separate item. So, if I could sell one of our top-of-the-line peignoir sets per day, along with a number of chemises, bras, panties and stockings, I should manage to survive.
The challenge would be to make ladies aware of our existence and attract them to Frifna to buy our luscious apparel.
The Ungi word thvoscle, which the poverty of the English alphabet allows me to transliterate only very roughly, means something like a lady engaged in activities, without specification of the kinds of activities meant. Another translation is a lady of affairs. A syllable may be infixed to indicate the sphere of activities or affairs. Thus, thvodhescle means a lady of diplomatic affairs and thvobescle means a lady of business affairs. There are others too. In colloquial Ungi, however, thvoscle, without any further qualification, refers either to a lady who is active in public life--business, government and the like--or to a lady who is known for her romantic involvements. Strange that his parallels English usage!
Little did I realize that I would soon become a lady of affairs in both senses of the word. In fact, now that I was operating my own business, I was already a lady of affairs in some small measure.
About a week after my visit with Zevanardia in Queshganc, she called to say she'd like to accept my invitation to come with her teammates to Cissi's Intimates. Her teammates were named Una, Darjili, Rivia, Daxi and Dispanella. We agreed that they would come the following evening at 9 Ungi (9:36 PM).
I was hoping to seize the opportunity to turn the visit into a fashion show and soiree. I ordered canapes and drinks to be brought, and I asked Ulji and Grigbi, two lovely girls in my employ, to be present to model some of our original creations. I had set aside a clear area in the drawing room of Cissi's Intimates as a "runway." Zevanardia and the other Quails would, of course, be allowed to try on our peignoirs and chemises too, using my newly-installed three-way sets of mirrors in order to admire themselves from the front, the side and the back.
The Quails were friends of course, and I certainly had no intention of profiteering at their expense, but I welcomed the few sales that we did make.
I myself had doffed my red volleyball uniform, white roller skates and white wings, donning a beautiful mint-green peignoir. I was very self-conscious, as if I had been a silly girl masquerading as a sophisticated lady.
The show and the party were successful, and at 9.5 Ungi everyone but Zevanardia left. Zevanardia was exceedingly tall, with a fair complexion, and blonde shoulder-length hair. The sleek lines of her well-developed musculature could be seen even through the sheer gown that she was wearing. Realizing how helpless I would be if she should lay hands on me, I was frightened almost to the point of fainting.
"You are so adorable in your little green gown," she said, "especially with those lyre horns of yours! Are they real horns?"
"Of course they're real horns." I said nothing about the keratin glands that Ojimplanct had implanted in my frontal bone. "I had them tipped with golden balls because of that remark you made in Queshganc. Remember?"
"No, I don't recall any remark I made in Queshganc. I believe you though. But let me examine those horns more carefully. I've never met anyone with horns before. We sat together on a couch so she could scrutinize the base of my horns. She was so tall that she had to bend way over in order to see. "Here, let me boost you onto my lap."
Without waiting for an answer, she placed her left palm on the right side of my midriff as I sat on her left, reached her right arm around in front of me in order to place her right palm on my left side, raised me a few feet as she stood up again, and twirled me quickly so that she was now holding me in mid-air, facing her. Then she sat back down, telling me to spread and bend my legs, as she seated me on her own legs above her knees. My legs were now flexed, with my shins on the upholstery of the couch and one of my thighs on each side of Zevanardia's hips. In other words, I was kneeling and sitting backwards in her lap, gazing into her beautiful blue eyes. Putting her arms around my waist and holding me tight, she said, "Now what are going to do?"
I was really scared at this point, but Zevanardia said, "I just want to look at your horns." She did inspect my horns quite a while and seemed to be satisfied that they were genuine. Then she said, "There's one other thing I want to ask you."
"What is that?"
"May I kiss you?'
"Of course you may kiss me," I said, as if she really needed my permission.
Gripping me by the horns, she pulled my head towards herself till my mouth was where she wanted it. She was so strong that it was if my head had been locked in place. Then she fell to kissing me again and again, fervently, passionately, rapturously. A heavenly feeling surged through my entire being, and for the longest time I felt that she and I were one being. This was paradise! This was nirvana!
Finally, she released me and stood me on my feet, as she herself rose. I was blushing shades of purple, knowing that I was completely at her mercy, and knowing that she knew it.
"I must be getting back to Queshganc now, but we'll be seeing each other often."
I could foresee what would happen between Zevanardia and me. Knowing that I feared and worshipped her, she would possess me, own me, rule me. If she spoke, I would listen. If she beckoned, I would come. If she commanded, I would obey. If she entered, I would be in ecstasy. If she departed, I would be in tears. I knew this, and she knew it too. My seams were sewn, and I was her new garment.
A couple of days later, Barti, Dhabbi, Mlechi, Vinja and Usha, those five amazing Vrikshayas who were my teammates, visited Cissi's Intimates at my invitation. Again Ulji and Grigbi modeled gowns and negligees, and I had hors d'oeuvre delivered for the occasion. The gorgeous Gangawaran lasses were delighted with our handiwork, and I made a number of sales.
Apparently, Barti later described my little fashion show to Ajinblambia, who had not appeared at Shayvurddhi Circle since the arrest of the Pantheresses. Ajinblambia conducted me to her office one evening, after my ritual appearance in Udi's library, and said that she would like to visit Cissi's Intimates with Queen Udi, relaxing for one day the rule that I remain at least 50 feet from the Queen. However, she wanted me to wear a blindfold, just loose enough so I could peep out the bottom and see the floor and the hems of the gowns hanging in the salon. I agreed to this and promised to bring the blindfold the following evening for her approval.
Back in my sewing room later, I doubled a length of white jersey with the wrong side out, sewed a quick seam to make a tube, and turned the tube back right side out, tucking in the ends and sewing them together in such a way that, once I put this blindfold on, I could see nothing more than a yard above the floor. To assure that the blindfold would not slip from before my eyes, I added some lacy ribbons that would lie on top of my head, left to right, and front to back. The blindfold slipped right over my horns. The next time I saw Ajinblambia, she had me put the blindfold on, granting her approval when she saw it in place.
The following evening Ajinblambia and Udi came to Cissi's Intimates. I met them at the door with my blindfold already around my head, covering my eyes. Again I served hors d'oeuvre and drinks. The girls modeled gowns once more.
It just so happened that Queen Udi paused at a counter where I had panties on display. We had about fifty styles to choose from. She selected a pair, saying, "Oh, these are simply gorgeous!" I flushed with embarrassment and pride, as I had personally designed and made that particular pair. In fact it was the only pair out of the fifty that I had created all by myself. I told Ajinblambia as much, and she relayed my message to Queen Udi, whom I was not allowed to address directly.
Queen Udi placed a standing order for fifty pairs of such panties a month, stipulating that they be made by me personally. She also named me Panty-Maker to the Queen. A couple of days after her visit, she granted a royal warrant with this title, which I was entitled to display on my building, my merchandise and my letterhead. My coat of arms consisted of a conventionalized likeness of myself, blindfolded and dressed in a peignoir, placing an offering at the feet of the Queen, as she sat in the throne of Ung. It was in shades of yellow, lavender and pink.
I was honored and exhilarated at these good news, for my new appointment would undoubtedly stimulate my business. I had been transformed from Udi's prime minister to her panty-maker, but if the change facilitated in any small measure Ajinblambia's rule of our continents and isles, it was heartily to be welcomed.
Incidentally, Ajinblambia had placed 5 million talents--5 trillion dollars--in a special fund in the Bank of Qizilot, now a branch of the Bank of Ung, in Qizilot, the capital of Tuva Province, which once upon a time had been an independent country. Tuva and eight other provinces in the west of Ub, namely Jongaria, Qidan, Gergez, Tensan, Oirad, Kazgar, Turfant and Kokan, were collaborating in two monumental desalination and reclamation projects, the Turfant-Tuva Project and the Oirad Project. Hundreds of nuclear stations and geothermal wells would be built over an area of 3,000,000 square miles that was being converted from subdesert to farmland.
Qizilot, which once had been no more than a nomad camp or aul, was now growing by leaps and bounds. Ajinblambia foresaw a population of 20,000,000 within a decade. She anticipated this by starting housing developments, laying streets, excavating for a metro, and erecting utilities installations. There was a calculated risk that her judgment would prove erroneous, but her record showed that such a thing had never happened. Anyway, the money was hers to spend as she saw fit. According to law, Ajinblambia was the owner of the planet and the kingdom. She could exercise the right of eminent domain if and when she saw fit. She could spend the kingdom's money in any way she chose. Her word was final. There was no course of appeal.
I couldn't keep abreast of all the happenings in western Ub; I was too busy filling the Queen's order. But I felt that the horns that Ajinblambia had put on my head should have reached the sky by now. She was building nuclear stations faster than I was making panties. What an immense difference!
I tried clocking stockings by hand, but it was much too laborious in view of the lifespan of the average pair of stockings. But I had programmable sewing machines that could clock a stocking in seconds. So the desire that I had conceived the evening that Ajinblambia and Udi decided the fate of the Pantheresses was fulfilled to a degree, though I would have loved to do the work by hand, if I had had the time.
I reported daily to Sundari, directress of Gvagma's Courier Service, to pick up the packages I was to deliver. The money that I earned from this was negligible, especially in light of the profits I was beginning to realize at Cissi's Intimates. The deliveries gave me the opportunity to see Mecnita and meet the girls in our Volleyball Association, and this made it all worthwhile.
One morning I had a parcel to be delivered to Ellennamandia, of the Piljandar Swans, in the Piljandar District, about 40 miles north-northeast of Eldor Palace. The 40 mile-ride took 10 minutes on a "golden comet", as we nickname the bullet trains of Mecnita Metro. Ellennamandia proved to be a gorgeous, statuesque young lady of 25 or so. But weren't they all?
After I made the delivery, Ellennamandia proposed that, if I had a few minutes, we take a stroll around Piljandar Mall, next door to the Swannery, as the Swans called their clubhouse. This she said was a mall that offered intimate apparel. I had not mentioned Cissi's Intimates, so this was a mere coincidence. We walked around casually for a few minutes, and, though, in the past, I'd have been awed by the array of lingerie presented, I now took a more critical view, believing the apparel from Cissi's to be somewhat superior. So I invited Ellennamandia to Shayvurddhi Circle to review and compare.
She came three or four evenings later and was highly impressed with our fashions. She agreed to represent Cissi's at Piljandar Mall, going from store to store and showing samples of our work. I promised her a commission on anything she'd sell, but I was less interested in random sales than in establishing regular supply contracts. Ellennamandia set apart a room in the Swannery as a showroom, which she called Cissi's in Piljandar, and whenever a merchant from the mall showed interest, she'd invite her to the showroom. My royal warrant as Panty-Maker to the Queen, displayed above the door, surely helped the effort too.
The evening that Ellennamandia came to Shayvurddhi Circle, Zevanardia was there also. It was obvious that there were bonds of deep affection between Zevanardia and myself, despite our inequality, with Zevanardia as lady and mistress and myself as damsel and maid, so to speak. I was not so vain as to suppose that if my attachment to Zevanardia had not existed, Ellennamandia would have shown a romantic interest in me. However, she was tactful enough that, if she had felt such an inclination, she would have suppressed it completely. So Ellennamandia's and my relationship remained that of mutually respected friends and business associates.
The astounding news that Usha, 25 years old, had been appointed Ministress of Finance and directress of the Bank of Ung broke at about the time Ellennamandia and I were beginning to organize Cissi's in Piljandar. Anyone who knew the Vrikshayas as well as I did would have known that Usha's meteoric ascent to eminence had been powered by her incomparable intelligence. However, since she superseded two men, Dzemlavang, the former bank director, and Yarlomenx, the former finance minister, there were people in Ung who felt that Ajinblambia, who had made the appointment, was a feminist. By feminist they meant someone who would prefer women only because they were women, regardless of the presence or absence of requisite ability within them. The test scores, with Usha getting 100%, Dzemlavang 93% and Yarlomenx 91%, falsified this notion. Usha said she'd remain resident at Inni Villa for the time being, nor could she see any reason to resign from the Eldor Geese. Dzemlavang and Yarlomenx would become deputy ministers under Usha.
As for Ajinblambia's feminism, there was a grain of truth to it, of course. Since women outnumbered men 100 to 1 in Mecnita, it would have been easy to conclude that women were naturally superior, as they were everywhere to be seen in the upper strata of business, government and art. Surely there could be no argument about their more beautiful appearance either.
Some time earlier, Vinja, who was superintending the desalination and reclamation project in western Ub, had been appointed Ministress of Land, and had in her purview not only agriculture, but also highways, railroads and construction projects. Like Usha, she got her orders from Ajinblambia herself. She too remained at Inni Villa nnd on the Eldor Geese.
Ajinblambia had begun to speak about making the Eldor Geese into a royal council of state or a cabinet, with myself and each of the five girls from Gangawar being elevated to the rank of ministress eventually. I wondered where I would fit into the new organization. Ajinblambia said jokingly, it seemed to me, that I would be the Ministress of Panties. But in aftertime, the 'joke' came true.
Whenever I got a chance, I visited the Royal Egrets' School of Dance for continuing exercise and efforts in ballet, though in nowise did I aspire to being a ballerina in a category with the Egrets. Zhvizhvi, however, said I was making good progress. I had advanced to the point of doing fine arabesques and fouettes, entrechats and cabrioles. Modifying them to the limitations dictated by my roller skates, I improved the figure that I cut as I made my deliveries. Pedestrians, seeing my horns with their golden orbs, would stop to watch me performing my dance steps on the sidewalks of Mecnita, and many a passerby took my picture. Sometimes one of these pictures appeared in a district newspaper, like The Onjmo Sibyl or The Flestermon Advocate, which were much smaller and less widely known than Obscont, Ung's greatest newspaper. I probably didn't even see all the pictures, since it was by mere coincidence that I saw some of the ones that I did see. Still, I was flattered, and I started a scrapbook with clippings and pictures that I cut from these gazettes and tabloids.
Adjacent to the Eldor District on the south lies the Ramdonia District, at whose very center the eight one-thousand-story towers of Ramdonia Circle stand as an emblem of the majesty of Ung. The sevenfold Avenue of Ung extends the five miles from Eldor Palace to Ramdonia Circle.
Four avenues, like spokes, divide the circle into sectors of 45 degrees. Carpeted in green, the sectors are planted with flowering trees--coral, jacaranda, poinciana, golden rain, lilac, floss silk, redbud, crape myrtle and more. It was here that, years earlier, I had first met Queen Udi, who had been masquerading as an ordinary college student in order to elude Plubac and Jilndij, conspiracies that sought to usurp the throne of Ung. I was newly arrived from Motinia, then an independent kingdom on the eastern seaboard of the continent. Udi tutored me in Ungi, and I became her neighbor on Ponduraf Lane in Corlamarn, another district of Mecnita.
Anyway, according to Gvagma's schedule, the Eldor Geese would play the Ramdonia Roses in Rosebush Stadium, behind 7 Ramdonia, which housed the headquarters of Ung Insurance Company, on its lower 700 floors, with a number of smaller companies sharing the upper 300 floors.
Their figures were svelte and sleek, their skin was slightly tan, and they all had long blonde hair. It was usual in the Girls' Volleyball Association of Greater Mecnita for teams of lookalikes to form as if spontaneously. At any rate, that seemed to be the case with the Roses.
It looked as if the Geese could stand improvement, for the Roses beat us 25-20, and we were in a four-game losing streak. Of course, our games were for fun and sportsmanship, so there was no gambling or rancor involved.
I had brought a suitcase with some samples from Cissi's Intimates. I showed them around and invited all the girls to a mini fashion show in Shayvurddhi. They seemed enthusiastic, so I didn't feel that I was imposing on their agreeable nature. Moreover, I was enchanted with the bridal pink rose on their uniforms and wanted to adopt it, with their permission.
They did come to Shayvurddhi. I concluded with them an agreement to produce sheer white peignoirs with their emblem on the yoke just below the shoulders. I would use a reduced size, with two in front and one in the back. The label would read Ramdonia Roses Original.
Things seemed to be going along exceptionally well. I haven't mentioned all the unforeseen expenses that befell us in our first six months, but we earned enough to meet them all somehow. It was at about this time that we managed finally to show a net profit, though it was minimal. Perhaps in aftertime, we'd zoom ahead.
I engaged a girl, Hozibbi, to do the housework at Inni Villa, which gave me three extra hours a day. This came about in the following way: Previously I had written a number of sketches about my travels in Ub and some of the people I had met there, including Ajinblambia herself. Ajinblambia liked my brief biography of her, which, however, did contain a number of inaccuracies. She wanted me to expand the work, making it a trilogy. When I explained that I had so little time, she instructed Barti to allow me to hire someone to replace me as housekeeper.
Each morning I would go into Ajinblambia's dressing room when she had come from Udi's bedchamber, and she would give me all the information I needed in order to write chapters of her official biography. Since her schedule was also very full, she thought it would be convenient if, at the same time, I helped her get ready for her day. For three hours, as she answered all my questions, I would help her with her bath, set her hair, apply her makeup, do her nails, serve her breakfast and straighten up her dressing room.
She was especially pleased with the "excellence" of my manner in seeing to her needs, and said that she had been planning to appoint someone to be her serving-lady anyway, so it was "fortuitous" that I had shown myself worthy of the appointment. Now I would be Lady-in-Waiting to the King, with another royal warrant. I was thrilled.
She grabbed me by the wrist, turned me over her knee, and began to spank me playfully, saying she'd spank me in earnest if I didn't do everything exactly as she pleased. "Oh, this is so much fun," she said, "that I could spank you for 100 years!"
It appeared that, if I accepted Ajinblambia as my superior in every way, without trying to be her rival and competitor and without remembering how, with her brilliance and incomparable beauty, she had conquered the world and its queen, reducing me to the status of mere child and silly girl, she and I could get along splendidly. All I could do was shrug my shoulders and accept the facts as they had occurred. I resigned myself like a snippet before a goddess. Much as I might wish it otherwise, she could spank me whenever she wanted to, and my only choice would be to like it or dislike it. I decided to like it.
Just as I was getting used to my new morning round of duties as Ajinblambia's beautician and attendant, improving my approach to hairstyling and cosmetology, while I also took notes on her exciting life, both on Mli and on Nya, more amazing news came out. Mlechi, hardly 22 years old, would be the Ministress of Welfare, which included oversight of education and health. She would supervise all medical treatment facilities, universities and schools, and insurance companies throughout the kingdom. Ajinblambia had appointed her to this important office, not because she was a Vrikshaya, and therefore Ajinblambia's cousin, but because she scored the highest score on the examination that all the thousands of candidates were required to take.
Returning to the subject of Ajinblambia, let me note that she was born in Vavlu, the capital of Ufzu, a kingdom on Mli. She was the matriarch of the House of Vrikshaya, which boasted a history of 500,000 years, though some authorities disputed that figure, arguing for something more like 200,000. Uranium-lead dating techniques did provide evidence of the great antiquity of rulers like Nemgatto, Pebtushonk and Unharari, but it was not perfectly clear that they were forebears of the Vrikshayas. At any rate, the House of Ung was much younger, with a history of 103,000 years.
Ajinblambia had a dozen college degrees, having received her first at the age of 12, but college alone did not explain her phenomenal gifts. She had voluntary control of her endocrine, reproductive and circulatory systems, as well as incipient clairvoyant, telepathic and prophetic faculties. She had a photographic memory and an unheard-of IQ. She spoke several Ubbic languages and was versed in a wide range of sciences.
Ajinblambia was a remarkable athlete too--horsewoman, gymnast, mountain-climber, swimmer and skier. And don't forget her extraordinary ability to compete in such mundane games as volleyball and tennis, and win.
Moreover, she played music, sang, danced and acted beautifully. She had written novels and poetry, and she could paint watercolors.
I was proud of my achievenents as a courier for the Girls' Volleyball Association of Greater Mecnita, a teammate on the Eldor Geese, and a fashion designer for my own company, Cissi's Intimates, but my achievements paled in comparison with Ajinblambia's. I should have felt honored to set her hair and make her bed!
I continued with my deliveries for Gvagma and with making contacts with other teams, not just for profit but also for camaraderie and sorority, for merriment and friendship.
I must have visited all 400 of Mecnita's districts. I can't even remember all the names, though I recall a good many, like Ninogorc, Jimijimi, Rilwangz, Merideri, Twicsli, Hanabata, Gaumlu, Zipno, Sialpa, Dbodba, Tuviduvi, Conobar, Devanasc, Azza, Ungjngu, Fcilla, Nrompi, Khufguf, Otomolo, Anjmanj, Thlefsti, Clascar, Cshurth, Pujinards, Sugants, Ceod, Sulugur, Tdola, Nicshaic and Clybgal, to name a few.
Ulmla, of course, is the district that has the planet's largest bakery, which produces 600,000,000 loaves of bread a day from the wheat of Psebol Field, 5000 miles northwest of Mecnita. The volleyball team there is called the Ulmla Bakers. Devanasc District is the home of Ulmactab Mills, which weave and knit the kingdom's cloth. I guess that's why their team is called the Devanasc Damasks. The sixteen buildings of the Museum of Mecnita stand in the Clascar District, in Museum Quadrangle. The district team is the Clascar Statues. Anjmanj Park, in the Anjmanj District, is famous in Mecnita for its dolphin lagoons. Anjmanj's volleyball team is called the Anjmanj Dolphins.
Mecnita has hundreds of suburbs, forming a metropolitan circle 300 miles in diameter where 350,000,000 people live. I visited many of the suburbs, also served by Mecnita Metro, as they usually had teams in the Girls' Volleyball Association of Greater Mecnita. Notable suburbs include Boncfilj, Stotcremp, Andalut, Joprinx, New Ozgingd, Rolasponiu, Wavernbo, Uqilso, Queshganc Heights, Slanchgav and Dagomagd.
There are thousands of cities throughout the continent of Eb, but most are too far to be a part of the life of the great city.
The Umzid River, 15 miles wide, is the western city limit of Mecnita. The region to the northwest of Mecnita, beyond the Umzid River, is called Transumzidia, and this is where the 1000-year-old larch and cedar that are the pride of Ung stand in towering majesty, making Glozbanc Forest.
One day, when I arrived at the offices of Gvagma's Courier Service, Sundari gave me a number of parcels to be delivered to the Anavana Fuchsias, in the Anavana District, due north of Eldor Palace. This was unfamiliar to me, so I was excited at the prospect of meeting new girls. The members of the team were Illa, Marzi, Venedora, Ipsi, Tandema and Svevi, with Illa as the captainess. Since I had made good time on the metro, I had an hour to visit. Of course, of course, I invited them to Cissi's Intimates, or if they preferred, Cissi's in Piljandar, which was much closer. They opted to come to Shayvurddhi, which pleased me, for this was the real eye of the storm I was trying to stir up in the intimate apparel business.
Anyway, as we chatted over walnut fudge cake and tuco--Ung's genetically enriched supercoffee--Venedora, who seemed to be the spokeswoman for the team, with her lovely melodious soprano, like the strains of a harp, told me about Glasterhadd, a haunted house in Anavana, where seances were held and ghosts materialized. I expressed my curiosity and skepticism, but decided to pay a visit to Glasterhadd one day in the near future. I wondered.