Queen of Springtime

Queen of Springtime by Robert Silverberg Read Free Book Online

Book: Queen of Springtime by Robert Silverberg Read Free Book Online
Authors: Robert Silverberg
Apuilana. Nakhaba preserve and cherish you.”
    “Spare me these hypocrisies,” she said sharply. “You want my help as a translator, your bailiff says. Translating what?”
    He indicated the stranger. “The guards have just brought him in. All he speaks is hjjk, and a few stray words of ours. I thought you might remember enough of the language of the bug-folk to tell me what he’s trying to say.”
    She gave Husathirn Mueri a cool, hostile stare. “The language of the bug-folk ?”
    “Ah. Sorry. The hjjks, I should have said.”
    “I find the other term offensive.”
    “Your pardon, lady. I mean that. I used the term too lightly. I won’t use it again.” Husathirn Mueri seemed to squirm. He looked genuinely dismayed. “Will you speak with him, now? And see if you can learn why he’s here.”
    “If I can,” Nialli Apuilana said icily.
    She went to the stranger, taking up a position facing him, so close that she too stood in the cone of light and the tips of her breasts came nearly within touching-distance of the Nest-guardian that dangled on his chest. He raised his eyes and looked into hers.
    He was older than she had first thought. At a distance he seemed like no more than a boy, but that was because he was so flimsily built; in fact he must be at least her age, or even a year or two older. But there was no fat on him at all, and precious little muscle.
    A diet of seeds and dried meat will do that to you, Nialli Apuilana knew. She had experienced it herself.
    Very likely this stranger had lived among the hjjks for years. Long enough for his body to be shaped by the sparseness of their rations, at any rate. He even held himself in a hjjk’s stiff brittle way, as if the fur and flesh that he wore were only a cloak concealing the gaunt insect beneath.
    “Go on. Speak with him.”
    “A moment. Give me a moment!”
    She tried to collect herself. The sight of the hjjk talismans on his wrist and breast had stirred deep feelings in her. In her excitement she found herself unable to summon a single syllable of the hjjk language, what little of it she had learned years ago.
    Hjjks communicated in many ways. They had a spoken language, the clicks and buzzes and hisses from which the People had coined a name for them. But also they were able to speak with each other—and with such of the People as they encountered—in a silent language of the mind, as if speaking by second sight. And then too they had an elaborate system of communicating by means of chemical secretions, a code of scented signals.
    While in the Nest Nialli Apuilana had dealt with the hjjks mainly through the mental language. When they used that, they were able to make themselves perfectly understood to her, and also to understand what she said. She had managed to learn a few hundred words of their spoken language as well. But she had forgotten most of that by now. The language of the chemical secretions had always been altogether a closed book to her.
    To break the interminable silence she raised her hand and lightly touched the stranger’s Nest-guardian, leaning forward and smiling warmly at him as she did.
    He seemed almost to flinch. But he managed to hold his ground, and said something to her in harsh hjjk tones. His face was solemn. It didn’t seem capable of changing expression. It was like something carved of wood.
    She touched his Nest-guardian again, and then her own breast.
    Some words of hjjk sprang into her mind, then, and she spoke them, shaping them with some difficulty in her throat, as if she were gargling. They were the words for Nest, and Queen, and Nest-plenty.
    He drew back his lips in a grimace that was almost a smile. Or perhaps it was a smile that could not help becoming a grimace.
    “Love,” he said, in the language of the People. “Peace.”
    A start, at least.
    From somewhere more hjjk words came to her, the ones for Nest-strength, for Queen-touch, for Thinker-thoughts.
    He brightened.
    “Love,” he said again.

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