A Tale of Ung
A Page from Vinja's Orchid Book
The remainder of the year 393, some 50 days, was not so hectic as the months before. Willy-nilly, I accepted my expulsion from the royal bedroom and resigned myself to sleeping all alone. I visited our daughter Oji much more frequently, as if I could get Udi back through Oji. Ajinblambia was back and forth from Dorgdid to Mecnita half a dozen times. Sometimes hardly had I realized that she was gone before I learnt that she was back again, so rapidly did she commute.
I often gathered with my friends from Holy Armalissa’s, appareling myself in nuns’ attire, to go about Mecnita, touring points of interest and landmarks. We visited Mecnita Zoo and Ung’s Botanical Society, attending concerts of Mecnita Philharmonic Orchestra and performances of the Ungian Ballet and the Opera of Ungia, once called the Opera of Ung, renamed when ‘Ungia’ was made the official name of the Ebbic part of Ung. And we visited cathedrals, chapels, shrines and convents, some tracing genealogies to hoariest antiquity.
Still I kept my friendships secret from the queen, the vice queen and the ministresses. When I appeared among them, I had on conventional attire. Although the Geese knew all about the supersession of Ajinblambia upon the queenly bed, no one said a word or offered her condolences. Barti finished up her tour of duty in the Ubbic east at year-end. Vinja, who had six more years ahead of her in Tuva, still was often in Mecnita visiting the testing laboratories or purchasing material or parts.
I should at this point interject a comment on my use of ‘parts’ as the translation of Ungi ‘zapch’. Of course, the latter term denotes a great variety of structural, mechanical, electrical and similar devices, among which one encounters bolts and nuts, screws and nails, hinges, cables, pulleys, gears and sprockets, switches, junction boxes, elbows and reducers, counterweights and windowpanes and doorknobs, turnbuckles and clevises, et cetera ad infinitum. But in Ung, whole buildings, structures, dams and bridges have been standardized, so that entire trusses, girders, ducts, conveyors and the like can be chosen from a catalog by number. You merely place an order, say, for seven trusses #1863AX-13 just as simply as you’d order, say, six quarter-inch-round galvanized self-tapping hexhead capscrews one-inch long, without having to design and detail a newly-tailored truss each time. When an order is received, a crew of workers doesn’t fetch a blueprint from a file and start cutting plates and shapes, and welding. No, no, so comprehensive is the Ungian system of supply that every piece is ordinarily in stock already, ready to be taken out and shipped. As soon as one piece is withdrawn, another one starts getting built robotically, and stock is thus continuously replenished. A whole crane runway or a hangar can easily be reduced to a list of standard parts. Computers programmed to fill orders start immediately as such a list is read and keyed, or scanned by a technician. Within a fraction of an hour, components start accumulating in the shipment and dispatch department of the facility responsible for orders, and trolleys, buggies, hoists, lifts, jacks and dollies, some wholly automatic, others semi-automatic, begin to stack and organize the items, while other pieces of equipment tie or weld or bale the loads to secure them on or in truck trailers, railroad cars or decks and holds of ships, depending on the mode of transport and the capabilities of the facility involved.
Contrasting, say, with ordering a ready-built transformer substation from a big facility around Mecnita would be on-site fabrication and assembly of more fundamental elements, such as angles, pipe and wire, conduits and insulators, which is generally far more expensive than transshipping packaged units ready to erect.
Vinja often would avail herself of Ung Construction Company’s sophisticated all-computerized facilities along the Umzid River in the Vraxpongd District of the royal city. But because of the more-than-20,000-mile oceanic voyage to the west of Ub, Vinja had to anticipate her needs quite early, 30 days beforehand at the least. Everybody knew, however, Vinja’s brain was like a living flowchart or a printed circuit and her words were optimizing pathways and algorithms in themselves. Her methodical, incisive, analytic mind, though, didn’t countermand the overpowering allure of her enchanting hair and face and body. Her posture was not so perfectly erect as Barti’s, for example. Rather she possessed a certain willowy and supple grace, swaying ever so attractively with a flexibility and svelteness greater than her cousin’s. Just 24, she’d already signalized herself as a superb administrator and important world figure, but was no less a paragon of perfect femininity and beauty.
I always was delighted to see her once again when she arrived in town, and at year-end, when she’d slipped sultrily into Queen Udi’s office in her peach-colored challis dress, its skirts a-billow, so that you’d have expected her to be a model for some romantic painter rather than the overseer of a titanic engineering project, I was in love with her all over. Just how the irresistible attraction that this girl exerted on my mind would reconcile itself with my new fascination for the nunhood, I was not prepared to ponder at that time. Rather, I forgot about this paradox entirely, complaining unto Vinja she’d neglected me, and so petitioning she go as my companion on a two-day holiday to Vingolilo. She agreed and I was thrilled.
Ungonesia is the million-island archipelago of wonders in the Southern Ocean. To mention just a couple of the marvels one encounters on the various isles, let me recall the ten-foot savages of Fulumoa; on Pikitiwiki, on the other hand, there are people only three-feet tall. The nearby Moanao Islands are famed for telepathic and clairvoyant tribes, while Vingolilo is the isle of flying women. There, all men and the majority of women are ordinary flightless bipeds, but the ruling faction is composed of wingéd women they call daughters of the sun. Kanoloha Island has tall women and short men, and polyandry is the rule, while Kralatimu has men and women of equal height, 5’-6 or so, with both polygyny and polyandry being practised there. King Kohono, who resides in Monopeo, the capital of Kralatimu boasts 2000 wives. On Kuhotonu, people are so strong they break mature bamboo in their bare hands. The crocodiles of Keopuna Island exceed 100 feet in length, and the locals ride domesticated baleen whales all around the nearby isles. Pi’i is noted for its talking babies; there, children speak at birth. But on Muto Motu, people have no speech at all; they just gesture and make noises. On Vahanoa, everybody lives in trees, but on Taputulapu, all the towns are under ground. Oanara Island gets more than 100 feet of rain a year, but on Kikoaku, it never rains at all, not a millimeter in a century. On Pokolonga, hurricanes strike every day. Tamani’i is more than three-fourths quicksand. Panakako has many plants that are carnivorous, with palm trees that eat birds and monkeys, and willows that catch fish with prickly withes. The number of Ungonesian languages is astronomical, some interrelated in the Ebbo-Ungonesian family of languages, which extends into the south of Eb with scattered dialects around Port Crelf and Gautsma. Most, however, are unrelated or at least of dubious affinities. If you visited one island every day, it would take you 17 long Ungi lifetimes to see them all, to say nothing of studying their languages and cultures. Of course, Mecnita’s universities have collected tons of books and papers on Ungonesia, but even so, Ungonesiology in in its infancy.
Years previously, I had been to Kralatimu, where Udi had been held in candidature for Kohono’s harem, but I managed to deliver her from her captivity by hovering above his palace in the town of Monopeo in a dirigible balloon that I had hijacked, letting down a hempen ladder to Udi in her oda. And, of course, I’d been to Fulumoa, where Udi saved me from ferocious giants by posing as an emissary of their gods. The Moanao Islands are where Tufiatani, my lovely seer friend resides, but I’d never traveled elsewhere in the super-archipelago. Vingolilo was the island that I wanted most to see, and Vinja’s positive response unto my invitation was therefore doubly satisfying.
"Just wear your shorts," I said, "I understand the atmosphere on Vingolilo is informal and they welcome tourists eagerly."
The capital of Vingolilo is Molonolo, some 200 miles below Badako and therefore served by Fulumoan Airlines. Pelfingbo, who had made reservations for an early flight for Vinja and myself, drove us down to Jezgroid Airport, though a golden comet would have been as fast. In Mecnita, it was warm. Thermometers reported nothing under 82 degrees throughout the night. Vinja had on shorts of a purple woolen flannel with a sleeveless little sweater of a knitted lilac polyester so fine that, if you slipped your finger over it, the slightest imperfection in your nail might snag a purl and cause a run, but if you didn’t do so, it would cling intimately, delicately to her figure like a second skin, soft and pretty, following the contours of her bosom beautifully and faithfully. Tasty breads, scones, muffins, baklavas, with soft, warm, fresh, sweet butter were our breakfast on the plane, with the inevitable tuco, flavored with chocolate and cinnamon, as our waker. A merry little chat ensued, but the heady natural perfume of the gorgeous Vrikshaya drugged me and entranced me. I laid my head upon her arm to listen to the music of her voice. Unfortunately, my hour of sweet reveries was interrupted when a flight hostess announced we’d be arriving soon in Ekotani Airport in Molonolo.
No sooner had my girlfriend and I stepped out onto the boarding ramp, ushered by a hostess with a lovely little Ungonesian accent, than we saw on high a human avian, that is, what appeared to be a splendid bird with capelike wings, a great white egret, with the body of a woman clad in a white sarong but nude above the waist, hovering above us 40 feet and peering down intently, as if reviewing critically the new arrivals. The passengers, who for the most part probably had come to Molonolo their first time, invariably looked up and caught their breath in astonishment to see so wonderful a sight. The seraphic Vingolilan ladies neither smiled nor waved, but it would be absurd to call their beauteous and childlike sweet countenances haughty or severe. Of course, Molonolo was not a major transfer point for airborne traffic, which was obvious from the dearth of autobuggies, useful when deplaning passengers have many destinations rather than the single one we all had. A long, low wheeled platform like a shining flatcar, but with handrail all around, was parked nearby, but neither motor nor conductor was visible at all. The passengers boarded through a turnstile, which counted entrants I suppose, for when the count was right, a bell rang, and the car began to roll. In minutes we were at the terminal. I was amazed when I discovered that our bags were in the car as well, since I’d seen no one load the stuff at planeside. But a seasoned traveler explained the car had come with us from Jezgroid, where porters had already stowed the baggage. On landing, members of the crew had disengaged the car. Their wrist computer-phones were programmed for remote control of all baggage-handling gear. "Wherever you might go in Ung, there’s always something new," I said to Vinja, and she nodded.
In the terminal, two wingéd daughters of the sun were greeting new arrivals cheerfully, and I saw in an instant all was well. Outside we hired a driver with a hansom cab drawn by a chestnut stallion with a garland of camellias, pink and white, about its muscular, sleek withers, and thills of queen palm midribs at its flanks. Ea Ea Avenue, the main avenue of Molonolo, runs from Ekotani Airport all the way to Hotel Molonolo. On either side a row of skirted washingtonias leads endlessly along; this kind of palm is called an ‘ea’ here in Molonolo. Vinja was so lovely you’d’ve thought that she and I had been young honeymooning newlyweds, except that she outtowered me some 20 centimeters. Her statuesque and stately stature, for me, was reason to adore her all the more.
Hotel Molonolo was a peristyle hall, white columns ringing red brick walls. A gilded flying lady was the founded fountainhead on a fountain on the lawn that spouted water changing colors. The floorplan of the elegant hotel, we saw, was annular, with inner and outer circular colonnades enclosing a large central courtyard open to the skies.
When Vinja Kan and I’d been shown our room, we went immediately to the inner courtyard, where we had glimpsed a number of the wingéd ladies socializing with the guests of the hotel. We didn’t go right up to the Ungonesian angels though, but rather watched them at a distance as they conversed with others. They were short and delicate with graceful gestures of the arms and hands, and especially vivacious expressions of the face. Later, when we’d got comfortable, we would approach them too, we thought, but someone recognized us. A voice, electronically amplified, spoke from a speaker mounted on a wall, "Today, we’re honored having most distinguished guests; Vinja Kan, acting superintendent of the Turfant-Tuva Project and the Oirad Project and ministress-designate of transportation and communication. Also Vocno Ganven, formerly prime minister." A round of flattering applause resounded in the courtyard, and presently we were surrounded by eight of the flying ladies, petite and pretty, with magnificent white wings.
As we conversed with them, we learnt they had a temple on Mount Iko Iko, at 4000 feet, the highest peak on Vingolilo. Ordinarily, no one is allowed inside the temple, which at any rate is absolutely inaccessible, perched upon a precipice so steep no alpinist could even dream of scaling it. However, since my friend and I were of the House of Vrikshaya, the age-old interplanetary dynasty, the wingéd ladies invited us to visit.
Producing a capacious basket of rattan with eight thick braids of tough agave tow connected to the brim, they helped Vinja and myself, who were just a little hesitant, climb in. Then each of the wingéd ladies tied a rope about her waist. They rose into the air by springing up as ballerinas do, and once aloft they fanned their wings in cadence in a nearly vertical ascent. Eftsoons we were 200 feet above the town of Molonolo, with its beautiful white houses and its terra cotta roofs, its curving streets all lined with coconuts and dates. Mount Iko Iko rose 3 miles away, so the ladies flew us there in only 15 minutes. The ogdoad of human herons set us down inside the temple precinct, which overlooked vertiginously steep cliffs on every side, and we could see at once that, if the ladies chose to hold us captive, there’d be no way to escape except by helicopter. But, of course, I was of no mind to appeal to Ajinblambia by wristphone to be rescued once again from lady captors, so I sincerely hoped no trouble would arise, and none arose. Quite the contrary, the wingéd ladies—Alalani, Tomopopo, Valahuhu, Fafotoni, I’ikiki, Konalaki, Ukafani and Weahafi—were the true embodiment of deference and hospitality, as they showed us all about the temple and the temenos. We lunched on longans, durians and breadfruit, with bits of pineapple and sugarcane, as the ladies all were vegetarians. They spoke an insular variety of Ungi very pleasant to the ear as they explained their form of government and the articles of their religion. Apparently their statecraft rested on the worship and devotion of the populace, who regarded them as sacred, the daughters of Atana, the goddess of the sun. They maintained an aviary of white homing pigeons emblematic of their cult. They’d captured the first generation of these doves in flight about the island and domesticated them with tender loving care. Often they would do their airy exercises in the company of these now loyal pets. We stayed all afternoon and watched them worship at their altar, where they maintained a sempiternal flame. Just at nightfall they flew us back to our hotel in Molonolo, into the inner courtyard whence we’d started. Once again, when they’d released us, they started mingling with the guests, as Vinja thanked them cordially, exhilaratedly, and she and I retired for the evening to our room.
It was warm that evening, and the door to our verandah we left open to admit a gentle breeze that blew in from off the nearby ocean, where we could hear the distant barking of the seals that forgather there a little after nightfall. Slipping on pajamas, we lay atop the fluffy comforter spread upon our bed, and hugging one another in the manner of dear cousins, we slept the night away, rising at the first stray ray of light.
On our second day in Vingolilo—‘ng’ should be pronounced as ‘ng’ in ‘singer’ not ‘ng’ in ‘finger’—Vinja’s shorts were flannel of cerise and her sweater rosy knitted polyester, identical to her coordinates of lavender and purple of the first day, save in hue, as if she’d just changed colors and not clothes. She was equally as lovely as before, if not even lovelier, as we strolled towards a stable to rent a pair of horses. Her long black hair spread out to cover her entire back down to the waist, but just as we got ready to get on our mares, she used an elasticized red ribbon to produce a ponytail. There were many bridle paths in Molonolo, and we selected one at random that led into an orchidaceous jungle that the locals have created from flowers native to the island.
A little later, we came unexpectedly upon an ape and monkey sanctuary, full of baboons, orangs, chimpanzees, macaques, guenons and mangabeys, as well as many kinds of lemurs, all accustomed to the sight of human beings and to gifts of fruit and nuts. Though some were shy and others were aggressive, the smaller ones were tame as ducks and affectionate as bunnies. Vinja, still a girl at heart, despite her genius and nubility, bought a bunch of ripe bananas and a kilogram of peanuts, making herself the benefactress of several new long-tailed friends. She made a special pet of one adorable small monkey, black and white, who cuddled up to her and climbed upon her lap. This was a playful young langur, which Vinja wanted to take back to Qizilot. Negotiating with the locals, she bought the male langur, whom she named ‘Popo’, as well as a coeval female, who got the name of ‘Nana’. We put the creatures in a cage of cane that we secured to the crupper of my mare. And thus we rode right back to Hotel Molonolo. We took the jolly little simians to our verandah, then went outside again and rode away.
Another famous spot in Vingolilo was the artists’ colony, where scores of sculptors carving wood and stone, painters, potters, jewelers, embroiderers, and artisans and artists in every other genre gathered to display their wares, some in permanent establishments they owned, co-owned or rented, others under canopies or tents, or in the open air.
Throughout Ung in general, there’s never been a tendency for schools of art to appear and disappear, or for fads and fashions to keep changing. Hence, it’s usually difficult, if not impossible to find impressionism, dadaism, expressionism, nihilism, surrealism and other avant-garde creations. The Gallery of Mecnita is devoid of all such works of art, and private galleries in the Piljandar District and other places in the capital are also free of everything that Ungians consider decadent. Not that they’re devoted to a rigid, frigid, ultimately barren kind of classicism. No, there is room for an extravagant and sensuous romantic art as well. But sloppiness and nonsense aren’t awarded prizes in this kingdom. And everything that you can say about Mecnita is doubly true in Molonolo, where, of course, the arts are always traditional or primitive, but executed with respectable, sometimes consummate, skill.
I rode with Vinja out to Inakama, the village where the artists’ colony is located. We dismounted, tethered our two palominos to a candlenut tree trunk, plucking dozens of the euphorbiaceous nuts, and then began our visit, which lasted until nearly nightfall. Vinja bought a number of small paintings, rings and Ungonesian figurines. But most impressive of all the things we saw was a book, The Orchids of the Isle of Vingolilo, comprising a collection of 500-odd handpainted pictures that depicted all the orchids native to the island. Accompanying every picture was an exquisitely phrased botanical description—you can well imagine just how exquisitely if you realize that Ungi has 1000 words for leaf shapes, not just the 10 or 20 words that English-speakers stutter over, with their ensiform, panduriform, pinnate and bipinnate leaves, and perhaps a dozen others—and that’s but one example.
Epidendrums, cattleyas, cymbidiums, oncidiums, dendrobiums and who can even guess what other genera were there, in all their species and varieties. This was a gorgeous folio bound in dark red cordovan, with gilded edges on the leaves. The price was 30 florins—about $3000—and I charged it to my personal account, but, of course, this was a token only, for Vinja had at her disposal trillions.
We returned our mares and strolled to Hotel Molonolo, carrying our purchases. When we got to our room, I strung candlenuts upon a length of wire on the verandah. We sat in chairs of woven palm fronds, sipping glasses of champagne by the light of flaming candlenuts, until we both got tipsy. We slept atop the comforter again and rose the first thing in the morning. By noon we’d reached Mecnita once again, with Vinja’s monkeys, paintings, figurines and orchid book, all of which she took with her when she returned to Qizilot. Incidentally, the 15-mile runways in Tuva were complete, so Vinja flew nonstop from Jezgroid all the way to Nuula. I went down with Pelfingbo to see her off, but this was not farewell. She’d be back in days of course.
On the 15th of ’394, the fourth anniversary of Udi’s coronation as the Queen of Nya—not just the Queen of Ung, which had been her station since the death of Yuni—there was a gala celebration in Mecnita, in many ways almost like the initial coronation, but with the added presence of Ajinblambia, Shandra and the Geese.
The septenary Avenue of Ung—four 100-foot-wide promenades alternating with three 100-foot-wide carriageways—was decorated with festoons of calla lilies and red floribunda roses tracing catenaries hung from poles of burnished chrome on either curb of the inner promenades and on the inner curb of the outer promenades, longitudinally from pole to pole, transversely and diagonally above the carriageways, forming X’s within boxes, if you could see them from on high, 100 tons of flowers all in all. Though, of course, the pageant would be televised and photographic albums would be published, still about 10,000,000 people were expected to attend in person at the very hour of the procession and upwards of 100,000,000 in the week of feasting that would follow.
Again 10,000 lovely maidens clad in rose-red gowns of satin and organza proceeded ten abreast. The two middle girls of each rank of ten upheld a banner, standard, pennant, ensign, flag or gonfalon—every shape and color, monochrome and polychrome, every kind of fabric and embroidery. The thousand fluttering and gorgeous cloths denoted kingdoms, provinces, republics, principalities, dominions, communes, cantons, territories, states, protectorates, dependencies and isles comprised by Ung. One of the most illustrious, prestigious flags was the oriflamme of Ufzu, emerald and white and gold, flown for the first time ever in Mecnita. An Ungi artist had created also a big flag for the territory of Dlivandor, perhaps a trifle prematurely, and it too was flown that day. By the way, my proficiency in haute couture had enabled me to get Queen Udi to appoint me to design the gowns the girls wore, which differed from the earlier gowns by being fitted much more flatteringly and including Ufzuan motifs to symbolize the annexation.
Then came 2000 limousines, tops down, full of further calla lilies and red floribunda roses. Next on a float, a moving platform, Barti, Usha, Vinja, Mlechi, Dhabbi, Ajinblambia and Shandra, on chairs of carmine plush, appeared, a massive globe of Nya behind them. After them came the sextet of ladies carrying the litter with the crown. At last, in a gown of dazzling white beneath an azure cloak with ermine, seated on a mare caparisoned in violet and silver, rode Queen Udi, the embodiment of majesty and grace. Wearing indigo and black, I followed Udi, holding up her train.
A distance of five miles lay between the thousand-story towers of Ramdonia and the gates of Eldor Palace, with its nine white marble ovals. It took the five-mile-long parade five hours to negotiate five miles, and it was sunset when Queen Udi reached the gold and garnet door of the oval on the south and started walking down the hall leading to the throne, accompanied by the luminaries and dignitaries of the realm, as well as by great numbers of the splendid multitudes of opulent Mecnita, though, of course, the palace couldn’t hold them all.
Queen Udi stood before the dais of her throne, where the stairs attired in white brocade, with peacocks barely visible embroidered in white silk, lead up, where once it was forbidden all except the queen to enter. On the 15th of ’390, I had placed the crown on Udi’s head just outside the hemisphere of tracery, but on the 15th of ’394, Ajinblambia, gowned in crimson velvet and chapleted in laurel leaves of gold, stood with Udi just before the dais, inside the hemisphere of tracery, and crowned her there. Then taking Udi by the arm, she led her up the stairs and seated her upon the throne, standing at the queen’s right hand. "Vivat regina! Vivat regina!" cheered the crowd. Benedictions and acclamations rang for half an hour. At last did Ajinblambia step down, while Udi continued sitting on the throne. Shandra and the Geese and I watched from outside the hemisphere, as if we’d been the family.
A lovely photographic color-picture of Udi being crowned by Ajinblambia covered the first page of Obscont on the 17th. Neither the title, Obscont, nor a headline or a caption accompanied the newsphoto, the paper being circulated without even being folded, so Ungians could keep it as a memento of the memorable occasion.
Pork and lobster, venison and salmon, grouse and crabs—these were served in heaping portions to all comers in the week that followed, along with ale and champagne, punch and cordials, beer and cider. Mountains of red apples and deep orange tangerines, fresh dates and ripe papayas were everywhere about. Chestnuts, almonds, cashews and pecans, pistachios and filberts, peanuts and black walnuts filled baskets of rattan and sacks of jute. You could smell the barbecued kebabs, grilled sausages, hot bread, popped corn, fried fish and melted cheese wherever you might wander on the septenary avenue. In the evening, lanterns made of colored paper were lighted on the poles of chrome, and there were singing, dancing, blindman’s buff and hide-and-seek. Tipsy celebrants just slept on spacious lawns or spread their blankets among thousands upon thousands of aerials roots and tendrils hanging from the boughs of banyans thronging in the distance.
Queen Shandra’d never seen a celebration quite so grand and gala in her life—Ufzu’s paled in comparison—not that any of us natural or adoptive Vrikshayas had seen so many, but at least we were accustomed to magnificence on a Mecnitan scale, and took it in our stride. Queen Shandra went about exclaiming her amazement and displaying her excitement like a girl, which all of us sophisticated royals found charming and endearing. She’d returned from Mli for the anniversary of Udi’s coronation, and since only 35 short days remained until the launching of the Photon, in which she had a clear-cut interest as the ruler of the realm whose Supermeteor was the Photon’s prototype, Queen Udi pressed her just to stay at Eldor Palace in the suite she’d given her. Shandra wanted to go back to Dorgdid to see more plays at the theaters at Senesto, and I promised I would take her when the feasting and regaling were all over.
All week long we went daily to the Avenue of Ung and celebrated with the fashionable multitudes. I saw Sister Hestermonia, Sister Panniponnia, Sister Dalabertia, Sister Vintamagnia, Sister Quequemenia and Sister Lumidelfia one day along the avenue. So I went back to my apartment, changed into my habit, and joined them for a while, of course, without Queen Shandra’s knowledge.
A Page from Vinja's Orchid Book:
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