This work published by Orchardblossom House Press
This work edited for publication by her Ladyship Kite Orchardblossom
Printed as inducted 951ᵉ into the Imperial Library by her Most Esteemed Grace the Imperial Librarian Petrel Fernhollow, Foremost Among the Learned of the Realm
May the Empress Reign Ten Thousand Years!
Esteemed & learned reader: I present to you a most curious tome acquired under strange and frightening circumstances during my voyages throughout the Barbarian East. These voyages I undertook at the most wise command of her Serene Radiance the Tenth Empress, who, knowing that I am, of course, foremost among the young natural philosophers of the Realm, sought me out to procure a survey of her mysterious new rimwards domain. While those of the results of this survey which are not state secrets are published elsewhere, this tome is of a special significance, and commanded publication in its own right.
In order to chart these new worlds and suns, her Radiance bade my Aunt Cormorant equip me with the finest of her enviable young-soul ships, and procured for me a hardy and intrepid crew of the Realm’s finest surveyors, geographers, alchemists, philosophers, philologists, physicians, interpreters, engineers, augurs, and even four officers of the Imperial Guard itself, foremost among them her Dauntless Supremacy the Dame-General Tanager Halewind (to my great delight and honor, a professed admirer of my work). In addition to a sizable grant in the form of Imperial Sovereigns, we were additionally stocked with a great many gems, furs, textiles, and fine clothes, the better to make trade with the barbarian natives of the region who of course do not understand the value of the Empress’s coin.
I set off with joy in my heart, at a casting-off ceremony attended by a number of the most eminent luminaries of the realm, including the Imperial Librarian herself, who for good fortune presented me with an original copy of Sister Owl Snowspire’s famed magnum opus, a most appropriate and thoughtful gift, considering the task before us. My beloved father shook my hand and said to me, “Kite, [collator: be a good girl and fill in something appropriately wise and inspirational here; I don’t remember a word the old bore said]”, words of wisdom I still contemplate each day. (My dearest mother was sadly unable to see us off, infirm due to yet another lamentable bout of tien sèi, contracted no doubt due to her peculiar sexual habits.)
Not long after crossing into the new Rimward Provinces, however, we were beset by a most unruly, violent, and disrespectful shipful of eastern barbarians. Our ship fell under attack, and by radio we were commanded in nearly a dozen tongues to surrender, one of our philologists at last deciphering the outrageous demand when it was reiterated in a rather brutally mutilated form of the Kaparttu tongue. The pirates boarded and to our great dismay the captain was flogged before us for her temerity in loosing an electromagnetic strike against their hardened voidship, which of course did the barbarian cruiser no harm.
The wellbeing of our Empire ever-present in the forefront of my mind, I soon found an opportune moment to slip away from the command deck and rushed immediately to the storerooms. It was my design to safeguard that of our cargo which held a particularly sensitive nature, and I was intent upon secreting it away within the bulkheads of the ship, the totality of which the pirates could not possibly search.
It was at this moment that I met Arissa.
The pirate-folk of the Barbarian East are a strange and pale breed, their skin the faintest silver, their hair the color of iron, streaked always with exotic dyes, and their eyes a milky blue. Into my cabin one burst, a firearm in her hand and a leer upon her features. The barbarian ransacked my modest cabin, her pockets bulging with looted gemstones, filling sacks with my finery and sexually menacing my person as she explained how we were to be made slaves of and our precious ship sold to the highest bidder.
Reader, my dignity offended and fury enflamed by her wretched, sacriligeous impudence, I could no longer suffer her taunts to continue, and resolved to dispose of these barbarians myself. In my wrath I drew myself up and, by way of my ill-remembered childhood lessons in that throat-wrenching dialect peculiar to our golden-eyed sisters in liberation, declared to the pirate wench in just whose expedition she was so unwisely interfering. “I will have you know,” I told her in a voice fearsome with righteous indignation, “that you stand even now before none other than the chosen heir to the star-spanning Orchardblossom estate, niece and protegé of the Archcountess herself, on a mission from no less sacred and righteous a personage than our beloved Tenth Empress! No merchant crew are we, to be so lightly tossed about by foreign ruffians — I, leader of this holy undertaking, am the Lady Kite Orchardblossom of Silver Falls, and your defiance will cease at once.”
It was then that something truly extraordinary came to pass. In such surprise that she dropped the bag of looted furs outright, she exclaimed to me as it floated away, in near-perfect Zia Ţai, “you are Kite Orchardblossom? The Kite Orchardblossom?”
Proudly, I affirmed my heritage, and to my great astonishment, the pirate clapped her hands in delight. “I am so pleased to meet you,” she told me. “You are my favorite natural philosopher!” Shaking my hand eagerly, she exclaimed, “My name is Arissa, and I’ve been following your work for years.”
In the long and somewhat surreal conversation that ensued, the pirate Arissa identified herself as an amateur natural philosopher and philologist, a student of many languages and sciences. She collected, it seemed, persons of sundry races as slaves to study their speech and culture and assist her in her philosophical endeavors — this, she explained, was how she had attained such remarkable proficiency in the tongue of the Empress.
(I paraphrase here, of course, as her manner, though charismatic, was simply too vulgar to reproduce directly, precisely as one would expect from a piratical rapscallion given to the enslavement of nobles and the utter defiance of our radiant Empress, whose law should justly pervade all Haven.)
Together we discussed many important scientific quandaries, sharing the tales of our own investigations and the minutia of our theories, and I was bemused to find in her a mind undisciplined yet sharp, and full of curiosity and appreciation for the wonders of the Galaxy. She had even devised a novel means of discerning the material composition of suns from afar, a method I review in depth on pages 619 through 647 of the third volume of The Secrets of the Rim: An Explorer’s Encyclopedia of the Mysterious Galactic East & Its Barbarian Peoples, inducted into her Serene Radiance’s most splendid Library in 947ᵉ by her Most Esteemed Grace the Imperial Librarian Petrel Fernhollow, who I must remark has in her remarkable tenure brought a new era of discovery and learning upon the Realm, and whose name rightfully commands the respect of natural philosophers the Galaxy over. [collator, darling: that dreary last bit’s just for Carnelian’s copy; see to it that it doesn’t find its way to the typesetter, will you?]
“Why, in fact,” Arissa said to me, “a mind such as yours cannot be destined for the slave markets of Isheda! No, you I shall keep for myself, for surely it was no mere chance, but the beneficent sun-spirits themselves that foredestined our unlikely meeting.” Grasping me by the shoulder and gesturing towards the stars beyond the open porthole, her eerie, entrancing sky-blue eyes locked on mine, she whispered to me, “Imagine, lovely Kite, what secrets of nature we could unravel together! With my crew as your patrons, no limit could hope to impose itself upon us!”
Caught up in her spell as I was, like a pien şai in the grip of a sulfur-fume trance, it was fortunate that at very moment that a hand-radio, affixed to her waist, began to crackle. Alarmed voices in a barbarian dialect from which I could discern no meaning came spilling into the cabin. Arissa let out a cry of dismay, and thrust a thick tome into my hands. “Here,” she told me urgently: “take this. It is my life’s work, and you must see it published for all the people of your Empire. I entrust it you, for I know you are a woman of science. May the spirits again induce our paths one day to cross, sweet Kite — I must away.”
And before I could ask even a single question, she was gone, fleeing my cabin altogether, gems spilling from her pockets. I would later learn that the officers of the Imperial Guard, including the doughty Dame-General herself, had seized the opportunity for an uprising, and with the singular strength and speed endowed upon them from birth, with bodies forged by the divine will of our holy Empress into weapons against all manner of heresy, overthrew our unsuspecting captors, slaying some of their number and driving the rest from the deck like birds before a storm.
Luck was with us in three ways that day: for one, the pirates, anxious as they no doubt were to penetrate and seize a priceless young-soul ship, foolishly commenced their assault in the farthest reaches of the system, before we could even commence to burn sunwards, and thus we remained firmly within that radius of a star from which ships may safely depart and to which they may reliably arrive, as they flit across the hyperspace volume like flarebirds1 in the night sky.
For another, there was in our cohort of Guard officers a dame-colonel by the name of Skylark, who was skilled in the art of telecommunications, having studied her Radiance’s telegraph code early in her career. The command deck momentarily cleared, the four made haste to encode a radiograph message of distress and launch our buoys beyond the range of the pinch field imprisoning our vessel, which, shielded as they were from the enemy’s wrathful gaze by our ship’s radar shadow, permited them to leap safely to their freedom across the vastness of hyperspace.
And third, most fortunate of all, this act secured the aid of three mighty war-cruisers of her Radiance’s Fleet, which less than an hour later flashed into existence no more than half a million leagues astern and made haste to chastise our attackers with all the Imperial might they could bring to bear.
The pirates were quick to flee, returning to their ancient and tattered ship as broadsides flew and cannonfire lit up the eternal night, parcels of booty and one or two prospective slaves yet in their frantic grip. Our captain, though rescued at the last possible moment from the grim fate of enslavement and restored both to her clothing and her rightful command, was still it seemed too deeply traumatized to take swift action against our aggressors, and the pirate ship, to our great disappointment, succeeding in jumping away just before it could be netted in a pinch field.
The tome bestowed upon me by the pirate Arissa is, as you have since doubtless concluded, learned reader, the same as you now hold in your hands. It takes the form of an instruction manual, written in Zia Ţai no less, in the peculiar vulgarities of the piratical dialect of the Nikeri. I have of course taken the liberty of making certain modest adjustments to its text, repairing the less grammatical passages and excising altogether the more objectionable content, but what you see before you is more or less the same text as written by that anomalously learned Eastern barbarian.
Written by a Rim-dweller as it of course was, I must note that it makes many references and analogies to matters with which those who dwell safely within the boundaries of the Imperial aegis are unlikely to be familiar. I have therefore included where appropriate a system of annotations, explaining these alien affairs and asides by means of the veritably encyclopedic knowledge of rimward affairs I have attained by means of my extensive travels therein.
It is my firm and humble hope the unconventional and intriguing wisdom contained within these pages is of interest and use to those for whom the many secrets of the riotous rimward regions bear significance. Perhaps too this tome can serve as a lengthy final missive to occupy the time of my voracious yet faithful readers once I have departed upon my second expedition to the Rim, for which preparations are underway even as I put my pen to these very pages.
To the best of my knowledge, no other manuscript has been compiled by any grammarian or philologist on the nature of the “Niketta” dialect, and it can only be hoped that perhaps by attaining a capacity to decode these pirates’ barbarous chatter, the good folk of the Empire will gain command of a subtle weapon for the securement of a lasting peace, and perhaps in an era yet to come, prosperity, beyond the placid waters of the Eastern Traverse.
May the Empress reign ten thousand years!
Yours in scholarly sisterhood,
By the Grace of the Tenth Empress Dame of the Philosophical Order of the Jewelled Serpent, and by Blood of the Seven Sisters a Peer of the Realm.