Feneng 9: Abalone

Feneng lay scattered in the doorway of her chambers, watching the lacquer on her fingernails dry. Today there was to be a mighty feast, and all the heirs of the house must attend, charm, overawe. She snarled at the nails in disgust and gestured at a handmaiden. This was no night for halfway measures.

"You said that it was the fashion in the city, Nightfall-without-Warning?" The other only nodded, and tossed a teasing glance at her mistress. "Please don't give me the silent treatment tonight, not tonight. Father will have all our heads if we are less fine than our guests. Show me the gauntlets."

Nightfall laughed. "Father loves you best of all, Feneng. He would hardly take your head unless you took his first."

"So they said about you," Feneng observed, "elder sister, before you went to the priests and came back wise and cold."

The older woman looked away, stung. She lifted a delicate filigree from a silk-lined box. The gauntlets were rare green liutmenéé, the metal of hours, set with abalone in a peacock feather pattern, with emerald claws at the fingertips. "It is how he lets us go."

"They are very beautiful."

"Put them on!"

Feneng did so, and flexed her fingers experimentally. The gloves were so fine they looked like a brilliant tattoo; the cunningly fashioned claws did as dancers' nails would, lashed out to an arm's length when her fingers and arm were extended, and obligingly ebbed back when relaxed. "Look at these feathers, Father never could bear to see us grow up."

"They have monsters in their eyes! How exquisite." Nighfall's eyes flitted to the wardrobe. "Remember what he did when Nílazem dressed like a man and took up spear in his army? The black gown with moss pearls, dear."

"It is so very dark, what do you think of the blue and alexandrite? He was so furious! Was that when he made the army learn maces, hoping that she would storm off at the prospect of fighting with such an uncouth weapon?" Feneng rifled through her jewel cabinet. "And the blackbird-and-phoenix crown."

They both laughed and reminisced until they were both desperately late for the feast, but once they arrived, there was no one present as beautiful as the princesses in green and blue and black.

liu<t>m(e)-néé day<EARTH>-set in motion; the metal used by clockworkers, when tempered properly it can be bent and twisted extremely and still return to its original shape when the pressure is released.
ní-lá-ZEM golden-bird of prey-PREDATOR; the sunhawk.


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