by Michael Arram
THE GREAT UPRISING
Maxim and Leo Elphberg sat over their breakfast in the Petakhrad barracks commissary, occasionally glancing at each other. The Petakhij for some reason had a passion for breakfast cereals, and native plants had been found from which sucrose could be extracted, enabling them to develop a reasonable facsimile of sugar-frosted Cheerios. These were the favoured morning meal of every novachek and meledh, not to mention on the table of the royal family. Rodinijan advertising was by word of mouth and shared emotion, so the fact that it was generally known that Prince Justin Helenson shovelled three bowls down before school made the cereal a runaway success for its manufacturer.
Leo had gone back to his lodge after the queen’s bombshell, saying he had things to talk through with his zemec. Maxim had carried on hitting the booze with Henry before stumbling back to the barracks. He was now nursing his first extraterrestrial hangover.
Both young men were silent as they munched, until Maxim finally piped up. ‘We gotta confront her, bro.’
‘I want to do to her what I did to that fucking draconid,’ growled his brother. ‘I feel used.’
‘Yeah, yeah. There’s no doubt she played our libidos for her own purposes. You have a right to be annoyed, but the fact is that there will be three additions to the Elphberg dynasty in approximately eight months. If I’m the dad, the first of the majalath to pop out will be the Crown Prince or Princess of Rothenia and Duke or Duchess of Mittenheim. Boy or girl, the kid’ll be my heir, wings or not. How the fuck I swing that with the Rothenian people, I really have no idea.’
Leo suddenly guffawed. ‘What will the Rotheniske Spegele make of it? It already called you a bird-brain with the morals of a dung-heap cockerel.’ Then he grew pensive. ‘If I’m the dad, the kid’ll still be born second in line to the throne, whatever. The thing is, Maxxie, fatherhood was not on my agenda. I mean it’d be nice to have kids and all, and I know Petakhij breed young so in our terms it’s not unfair. But point is I’m a queer and I have an awesome male babe in my bed. I was getting used to the idea that me and Luczu wouldn’t be included in the family-planning programme of the Petakh.’
Maxim nodded. ‘And would you have chosen Dana for the mother? Let alone she’s a lesbian – or so they say – she’s kinda controlling. The sex was hot, but it was on her terms.’
Leo looked his brother over. ‘You’re gonna do the Elphberg thing, aren’t you Maxxie.’
‘It’s our honour, little bro. A true Elphberg doesn’t bring a child into the world and then avoid the responsibility. If either of us is the father, then its father we must be.’
Leo took his brother’s hand across the table and squeezed it. ‘My thoughts too, Maxxie. So let’s go looking for her and sort this, like you said.’
The young men gulped down their juice and headed for the door.
Finding Dana Tsernatova wasn’t easy, even in an empathic society. Anton her father was however at one of his Petakhrad workshops. He had the grace to look apprehensive when the two princes turned up. The masons stopped even pretending to work as they gawped at the impending confrontation.
‘Lord Anton,’ Maxim greeted the man.
‘Majesty,’ was the reply, with a low bow to the king.
‘Just Private Elphberg of the Militia, my lord,’ Maxim observed.
‘You still wear the armlets of an emperor however, sire.’
‘I think you know why we’re both being so formal, Durchlaucht.’
The man inclined his head. ‘In this land, sire, I am a prince, and it is no disgrace for even an Elphberg to mate with my daughter, who is of noble Petakh blood.’
‘I do not deny your noble standing, Durchlaucht. The dilemma lies in the fact that your daughter knowingly sought my brother and I for sex with the hope and expectation that she would breed from us. Elphbergs, sir, are not stock animals. Our blood is too ancient and sacred to be bargained and duped for.’
Anton flushed, then went white. ‘It was without my advice that she did so, majesty.’
‘That I believe, my lord. I think you are a man of honour.’
‘It was desperation, sire. That and I think a desire to please me. She knows how much I wish for grandchildren, and her own desire is to be a mother now, in the heat of her fertility.’
‘The children however will not be her toys, my lord. They will be of the house of Elphberg, and if it turns out I am the father, then the eldest of the majalath will be the Firstborn of the One, a child foretold, prophesied to be the first Emperor of All Earth. Bogdana trespassed mightily in what she did.’
Anton Tsernatov had no answer, but hung his head. Maxim brooded a moment. ‘My lord, I think you need to tell your daughter to report to the University Hospital. I am sure that Director Uriel Atwood can test the paternity, and that must needs be established. Once it is, then arrangements will have to be made. But know this, if the eldest child is mine, then it will be rendered human by the Lord Mendamero and will accompany me back to Earth, for its fate is already foretold. It is to be played out on Earth, not Rodinija.’
‘But sire! Breaking up a majalath! It’s unheard of. The trauma!’
‘That, my lord, is the result of your daughter’s choice, and not by my desire.’
Maxim got leave from his lieutenant, who said she understood what he must be going through, and flew for Antonsberh with his brother and Lucacz in tow. The zemec said he had mixed feelings about the new development, but that he was there for his lord and husband whatever happened.
The three avians beat strongly southwards. When they sighted the clustered house-trees of the city on its hill, its surrounding plain now covered by broad fields of cereal crops and pastures for the newly-domesticated Rodinijan buffalo, they made for the university towers at the crest of the city’s heights.
The University of Antonsberh was fashioned with the Rodolfer Universität of Strelzen as its Gothic inspiration. Constructed of the white limestone of Petakhrad, it was set around a hilltop plaza, with fine views between the buildings out to the surrounding plains and riverlands. The skill of the avian craftsmen was quite as astonishing as that of their medieval Rothenian forbears.
Only a few students were strolling between the distinguished halls and classrooms. The age profile of the Petakh population was as yet insufficient to fill the campus, but it was ready for the arrival of a much larger student body. The Petakh people were prepared to invest heavily in their future.
The university hospital lay in its own quadrangle just below the northern crest of the hill. It was at this point in the realm’s development mainly a research institute, as the Petakhij were a robust species. The local bacteria and viruses had yet to work out how to exploit the avian metabolism, so they were proof for the moment against native infectious disease. The only marginally busy clinic was the maternity ward, though even so it would be seven or eight years still before it felt the effects of the next baby boom to hit the community, as the initial brood of majalathij from before and after the Great Uprising came into full heat.
The Elphberg brothers found themselves at once back in a terrestrial environment. The hospital had the familiar white walls and asepsis of the generic institution. It was one of the few places on Rodinija where Earth’s technology was evident. Computers and monitors were everywhere. The avians had brought with them enough useful technology to cushion their arrival in a new and potentially hostile environment. Here also there was an electrical supply, generated from the turbines of a small wind farm and dam upriver. If the Petakhij had to have electrical power, it would at least be clean in its origin.
The Elphbergs and Lucacz met Yuri in the reception area. She added to the earth-like environment by wearing a white lab coat and having a stethoscope slung around her neck. Scrubs apparently were not required here. They kissed and she took both Elphbergs by the hand and led them to her office. Lucacz stayed in reception, looking uncomfortable.
She got straight to business. ‘A very healthy majalath so far as can be told from its earliest development. It’ll be a few weeks before scans will reveal much more. It’s too early for me to be happy to take a sample of amniotic fluid for genetic testing, so the question of which of you two boys is the father will have to wait. But I can take samples from you now in preparation.’
‘Is Dana still here?’ Maxim asked.
‘Yes, Maxxie. Her blood pressure is on the high side, which may be due to the impending confrontation. She knows she has to have it out with you. Her cousin Karol is with her. However, they have petitioned the High Chancellor about the case, so I’m afraid the lord Davey is here too in his official capacity. At the moment he’s more or less here all the time, as his mate Cornelius is about to present. I admitted the boy yesterday, as you’re never quite sure how angel-born sexual shifts will affect the birth. He is small for an avian and his babies are full-sized.’
Yuri gave a small professional smile and took the brothers to a door leading into a conference room, with an LED screen and digital projector. It was a room which could have been found anywhere on Earth, but not its occupants. The head of the table was occupied by the handsome figure of the High Chancellor of the Petakh, Davey Skipper, his great blue wings displayed deliberately as an avian sign of a claim to dominance over a group. On his left side were a nervous Dana Tsernatova and Karol Tsernatov, their lavender-tinted skin, blood-red hair and carmine wings making them look like majalath siblings, not the cousins they actually were.
The atmosphere in the room was tense, a tension magnified by the empathic sense of the parties. All were perhaps grateful that Davey was present, though Maxim thought it overkill, for Davey was the highest legal authority on the planet. It was as if the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was presiding over a custody case in a provincial divorce court.
‘Dana and Karol have asked me to referee this meeting, which I think regrettably necessary, as from what Her Majesty the Queen tells me the situation concerns more than just Petakh affairs. I’m not here to talk of the rights and wrongs of what happened. Amongst our people where sexuality is so liberally shared and open these things are going to happen, and will happen more and more.
‘The case is this, a homosexual woman who wishes no relationship with a male still wants children. Dana here is open that her equally homosexual cousin Karol has attempted on a number of occasions to impregnate her, at her wish, both of them desiring to have a majalath to care for. They are close enough in other ways than sexual to be able to work together on this, though the experience was not a happy one for either Karol or Dana, and ultimately failed in its purpose.’
Under the gaze of the Elphbergs, the avian male blushed hard and looked down. Davey continued, ‘So Dana in her desperation made an internal resolution to try for pregnancy with a male whom she could relate to. Your appearance in Petakhrad, Maxim and Leo, was a gift for her. She has a close emotional link with Maxim from her childhood days, and Maxim, you are ... well, a very fine figure of an avian. Leo on the other hand was that day a meledh out of control with his first taste of the sexual rage that is our zharpulavnij. Better still for her purposes, she was convinced you both were passing visitors who would be gone before her pregnancy became apparent to anyone. What she was unaware of was the way her condition would be easily detected by our queen, to whom the hearts of all our females, straight or lesbian, are open. And then the complication of the Yaahl War occurred.
‘So the situation is this: Bogdana Tsernatova is going to bring a majalath to term and petitions the Radkornatij that she and Karol have parental rights. She does not wish to deny the novachekij access to their father, but desires them to be brought up within the Tsernatov family.’
‘Unacceptable,’ Maxim growled out. ‘The eldest of that majalath, if I am the father, will be the future Emperor of All Earth, as the prophets amongst the Dead have determined. Such a child’s fate belongs to Earth and not to Rodinija. Any attempt to thwart that child’s future can only lead to disaster for all concerned.’
‘It’s not acceptable to me either,’ his brother declared. ‘Either way the majalath will be of the royal house of Elphberg, and if it is mine the eldest child will hold the duchy of Radelngrad after me. If I am to be a father, I must have a right to share in the upbringing of the children too, myself and my bonded zemec.’
Davey made his notes, and with admirable decisiveness made his decision. ‘A final judgement is reserved until the parentage is clear. However, the request that the children live entirely within the Tsernatov family is denied. The father must have equal rights of care, and if the mother and father cannot live together, as I think the case is here, then the father must be given agreed time with his majalath. Until we know the sex of the children their house name shall be Elphberg, but I recommend that if there are two males, the younger shall be a Tsernatov. This judgement will be entered in the register of the Radkornatij. Adjourned for one month till the father’s identity is known.’
Barry Hignett was doing what he called his ‘exit interviews’. All the Petakhrad lodge would be eighteen within three months, and it was due to be cleared (and extensively redecorated) for the arrival of a year group of fourteen-year-olds ready to leave their families and bond. A group of parents had just toured the lodge, and had been duly appalled at what meledhij could do to their domestic environment.
Leo and Lucacz sat hand in hand on the sofa, wrecked and soiled from its various uses, sexual and otherwise, as a smiling Barry went through a series of questions. ‘So what’s the career path, fellers?’
‘The Militia,’ came the unequivocal response from Leo.
‘What about you, Lucacz?’
‘I follow my lord and husband.’
‘Easy life being zemec, innit? Are you sure that’s what you want, kid?’
Lucacz seemed surprised to be asked. ‘I have to be where my husband is to be happy.’
Leo took his mate’s shoulder. ‘We have talked about it, Bazza. My baby really wants to be a soldier. He was awesome in the battle on Selene ... so cool and brave. He’s got a real tactical head on his shoulders.’
Lucacz glowed at his husband’s approval, and nodded vigorously.
‘Well ... there are zemecij in the armed forces. Sub-Commander Marky von Lauern is zemec to Commander Mike Atwood, as everyone knows. They make a go of it. But had you thought, what if your promotion is quicker than your husband’s? What if Lieutenant Adranicz ends up giving Sergeant Elphberg here his orders?’
Lucacz beamed. ‘Then I’ll be sure they’re the most loving orders ever respectfully given by a humble zemec to his lord!’
Barry stared as the two boys erupted. ‘You little bastards. You’re winding me up. Okay, sounds like a plan to me, babes. I’d not talk you out of it. We’re going to need all the soldiers we can get if some of the rumours from the north are true. That takes care of the next question, as you two are going into barracks obviously, so I don’t have to worry about accommodation. Course, if this were Earth you two might well be off backpacking round the world at this point in your lives, as your zharpulavnjahzc settles down and you come back into focus. You avian kids don’t have that luck; it’s into the family business, the army or fourteen years of childcare for almost all of you. Maybe relaxation will come later in our life cycle for Petakhij, when indeed we have a world to tour around.’
‘Still might be fourteen years of childcare for me, Bazza,’ Leo reflected. I get the paternity results tomorrow.’
‘I’d forgotten that. I hope it goes well for you both. You off down to Antonsberh tonight?’
The two nodded, and went off to pack a shoulder bag. Flying south in a leisurely fashion, Leo above Lucacz, Leo was increasingly aroused by the working of his mate’s superb rear in flight. He swooped down suddenly on to Lucacz’s back and unerringly targeted his butt with one big thrust; then it was frenetic fucking above the treetops as Lucacz’s wings kept them airborne. After several climaxes they fluttered down together to a stream bank and washed up. They lazed on the grass for a while, since they were in no hurry.
‘A lot of questions will be answered tomorrow, my husband.’
‘Yes indeed, Luczu. What happens tomorrow will determine our future for the next fifteen years or so.’
‘If you are father of the majalath, then service in the army is out for a while.’
‘Yeah, I know. But I have my duty.’
‘And I mine, to make you happy, my lord. I will help in every way possible: wiping up baby vomit, diaper-changing, dealing with tantrums, the lot.’
‘I love you my delightful zemec ... have I mentioned that? I bless the day I was moved to suck you off. Speaking of which ...’ Leo went down on the huge green member of his lover and forced what he could into his mouth, huffing and licking around its blue head. He was eventually rewarded with an overflowing mouthful of Lucacz’s offering.
They settled down on the stream bank for the night. Leo simply did not want to have to deal with anyone other than his mate till the next day. They slept spooned together in their favourite position, Leo hard and deep in Lucacz and his wings wrapped around them both. They rose with the dawn and washed off the night’s overflow.
‘Come on baby, off to meet our fate.’
The pair beat upwards and then south to Antonsberh. They landed together in the hospital quadrangle. A red-horned figure was already waiting for them, with a diminutive wingless biped by his side.
‘Glad you could be here, Uncle Henry.’
‘I think you need the support, boys. So I had Davey bring me. I’ve been at his place helping out with the babies, or rather witnessing his and Cornelius’s struggles to come to terms with parenthood. Seriously cute little imps. I have pictures.’
Davey and Cornelius had become the parents of two girls and a boy a month previously, and Davey had been on paternal leave ever since. But that day he had returned to duty.
They found him in the same conference room as before. Anton Tsernatov was present with his daughter and nephew. There was a slight but noticeable swelling to her lower abdomen. When the table was full, they turned to Yuri who began immediately.
‘I took the amniocentesis yesterday, and am now in a position to confirm the fatherhood of the majalath, but first there are several odd things. The scan reveals something truly unique. The majalath is all male; the first ever seen in an avian pregnancy, but stranger yet and unlike any other majalath, the three are identical triplets. One egg only was fertilised, not the usual three, and it split. I cannot account for it.’
There was consternation around the table. It was a while before Davey got to the parentage question. The answer from Yuri was blunt and decisive. ‘The father is Leopold Elphberg.’
‘Then,’ said Davey, ‘the terms of the judgement stand. Leo will share parental rights, and the three boys are of the avian house of Elphberg.’
Leo, for all he was gobsmacked, had the grace to say, ‘No, my lord, the youngest boy will be Tsernatov.’
Immediately after the meeting Henry, Davey, Lucacz and the Elphberg brothers gathered in the quadrangle.
‘Wow,’ was all Leo could say. He sat on a retaining wall and stared at the pavement, Lucacz pressing up to him.
Maxim was trying not to show his relief too evidently. ‘So congrats, little bro,’ he said. ‘Guess this will make for an interesting life here.’
Davey was rather more upbeat, as a new father himself. ‘You’ll love it, Leo and Lucacz. Babies are much more interesting than you might ever guess. They also smell nice ... unless they’ve just pooped.’
‘Seriously, Leo,’ Davey continued, ‘this is good news for the Petakh. To have our own House Elphberg has put real heart into the People. The news is spreading across the nation, which is rejoicing. Everyone sees it as a shaft of great hope for our future. You’re loved as the hero of Selene.
‘King Damien will commemorate your naturalisation as a citizen of Rodinija by the creation of our first princedom. A duchy of Radelngrad will be created for you as the inalienable fief of the House of Elphberg on Rodinija. It’s a very promising peninsula south of the Great River, must be way bigger than Luxembourg. No one lives there yet, but it’ll be all yours to do with as you like.’
Henry suddenly took on a brisk air, as if he was checking down the last few items on his to-do list. ‘Good. Well that’s settled at least. Now we have to get ready to go back to Earth.’
‘What? But how can I ...?’
‘Leo, you have to come back with us. I know you’ll not want to stay on Earth but your parents can’t be left in the dark. I’ll have you back here in time for the birth of your kids, never fear, and maybe some more humans will want to come with us when I do.’
‘But ... Lucacz! How can I leave my zemec? How can I leave my usakamaradij?’
‘Ah well, that actually is not something you’ll need to worry about, is it Luczu?’
‘What?’ gaped Leo.
Lucacz shyly stood away from his husband. ‘I talked to the guys, Leczu. Our time in lodge is coming to an end. None of the girls are fertile yet, and the lads have no real jobs as such to go to. No one’s made millenij apart from us, so we’ve decided to do the thing Barry is always talking about ... we want to go backpacking on Earth.’
Henry grinned. ‘I can take you all back with me and Maxxie, so your empathic link won’t be broken. You can introduce your partner to your parents, and explain what’s happened. Then, if your dad and mum don’t immediately kill me, you guys can all go off to Ibiza, or Goa, or Australia or wherever it is backpackers go nowadays, and you and your usakamaradij can have a seriously exotic holiday back on Earth. They can see how the place has changed since they were last there.’
‘And you can give them human bodies?’
‘Sure! Or at least I think I can. They’ll hate them, but it’s only for a bit. And they’re all human-borns aren’t they? They have some background.’
A huge crowd gathered to see the Petakhrad meledh lodge off on its terrestrial tour, and also to say farewell to Henry and Maxim. The lodge’s musical drama The Song of Selene, which had premiered in the Hall of the People the previous night to a delighted reception, made it an even bigger occasion. The theme had caught the general mood.
Henry had donned his terrestrial suit and tie, which were neatly laundered and pressed as Queen Helen had promised. It felt really weird being in clothes again.
One by one, the lodge knelt to kiss their king’s hand and be blessed, and then to be hugged by their parents, foster parents and the queen. There was a great cheer when Leo sank to his knees before the Petakh king to do him homage as duke of Radelngrad. There was also quiet appreciation for the Tsernatov clan, who turned up to each kiss Leo and Lucacz as a token of reconciliation.
‘Time to go, my babes!’ Henry announced, and he was taken up by Maxim in his arms. They ascended high above the city, many of the Petakhij following them for a space. Eventually, Henry extended his consciousness and sought the earlier rift. He found the glowing point and exerted himself to punch through to it from his present reality. The rift formed immediately above them, and with Leo and Lucacz hand in hand in the lead the avians flew through it. Henry and Maxim arrived in a Hofkapelle alive with the rustle of wings, the avians hovering under the baroque vault as if gigantic pigeons had invaded a church.
Henry led them down. He first triggered the Elphbergs. They shrank back to their human forms, handsome enough youths but lacking in the vitality they had enjoyed as avians. Leo felt for the first time naked and would not meet the glowing blue eyes of his avian mate.
Then it was the turn of the meledhij to shrink, amidst gasps and cries, to an assorted group of average-looking teenage girls and boys. Leo stalked amongst them concerned, and barely recognised his Luczu, now a pale, skinny youth with blotched skin, his face disfigured by a scar and his hair thin and straggled. The others drew back.
Lucacz stared at his mate and blurted ‘My lord is ... so beautiful.’ Then in silence, with heartbreaking pathos, he indicated himself.
Leo just grabbed him to hug the boy’s thin chest to his own. ‘My own zemec, now and forever.’
Only Henry heard the chapel door open. He turned to confront a startled Rudolf Elphberg, who observed coolly ‘Is it a sick fantasy of yours, Outfield, to turn the chapel of the Residenz into a gay bathhouse?’