October 02, 2010

Cold Words, Page 2

     Parker lowers his head. "She comes down by shuttle at the sunset hour. Your presence at her arrival would grant us Cold honor - and we might make sure of her."
     Wauuunn! My skin tenses at the thought of ice-winds at sunset. My Lowlander's fine fur gives scant protection, and too little heat remains in my blood, so I'll need more - but how can I refuse? "Yes, I'll go with you."
     Parker shifts feet in discomfort, almost like one of us. "Still, I wish we didn't need her. Majesty Gur-gurne would admit me to Audience if my Rank were high enough. As Councilor, couldn't you raise me enough to try?"
    "Parker, you know it's impossible." I toss my mane. "I'll meet you at sunset, but for now I must return to Council, before Majesty grows impatient."
     Too late: Majesty has gone out to choose his dinner, taking Council with him and leaving the outer door open on the stone walkway above the animal pens, where I must follow. My fear of shiver-shame rivals the cold - I should have stoked my blood hotter before I left my house.
    Outside, sun lowers toward its set, blooding the snow-heavy peaks of the Dominator's Teeth against the sky. Majesty paces beside his lengthening shadow, with heavy beads of silver-glass chiming in his dark mane: royal ice that only he of most exalted Cold may bear. Below the stone walkway, a dozen horn-blunted urrgai have been separated from the mobs in the pens, lined up with their rumps within his reach. He comments on their quality while his submissive heavy-furred councilors bob their noses approvingly.
     No hunting pack, these!
     Blunted now is the fierceness that incited their tundra ancestors to annex our lands. They depend on the urrgai that our Lowland clans first bred tame, and their ancient hunt-calls have changed in sense, to Cold words proclaiming dominator status. Only in Majesty's exalted presence must the Cold words be used by all as they were long ago: the language of the ice-hunters.
     "Ru-rulii! Bow-bow," Majesty orders. "Come; tell me of your human petitioner." All along his dense-furred muzzle, Cold words shape the satisfied smile of the superior race.
     I could bite him.

>>Read the rest of the story in Into the New Millennium: Trailblazing Tales from Analog Science Fiction and Fact 2000-2010