Chapter IV: Birth

            The creation of new civic laws took the Council of Xema Colony over a month.  Their days were long and filled with discussions at best, arguments at worst.  Near physical violence was only averted by aun Sjir’phal’s quick responses and alertness. The most contentious topic was, of course, what would become of the ieh boueli.  This discussion itself took several days.  The traditionalists were filled with disgust over the idea of treating the neuters with respect and kindness.  

            “What do they produce that is good for the people?” oun Enobia snarled during one such heated debate.

            “They contribute with their actions and dedication,” aun Pasia’h had replied patiently.  “They cannot help how they are born, oun Shi’ehl, just as you couldn’t help being born a breeder.”

            oun D’jir was becoming tired of the argument.  He had come to a place where he could accept the ieh boueli as members of society, but it did not sit well with him to show the neuters respect, as one would respect an oun Shi’ehl or an aun Deuil.

            “Must we decide this now?” he groused, tail slapping the edge of the pillow upon which he sat.

            aun Tefa gave him a withering gaze.  “If we can’t get past our most difficult issue, of what use are we as a Council?”      

            aun Sjir’phal huffed a laugh and shifted.  “Shall we vote?”

            “We already know how the vote will come out!” oun Serphon shouted with frustration.  “Of what use are we, the traditionalists?”

            “To maintain the best of the old laws,” aun Sjir’phal replied patiently. “Not to maintain our prejudices.  Your attitude towards the ieh boueli is only prejudice and superstition.  We are an intelligent species.  We must rise above our prejudices!”

            aun P’ata’lyh spread his hands before him.  His black claws caught the light.  “Look how we treated aun Toyus.  For something he could not control.  We behave appallingly at times.  We will vote.”

            “I am not going to change,” oun Serphon growled.

            aun Sjir’phal leaned forward.  “Then you will be exiled.  Change and adapt or leave the colony.”

            Stunned silence met his pronouncement.  His eyes challenged every one of the council members.  

            oun D’jir sighed.  “That is extreme, but if we cannot unify…You are being stubborn, oun Serphon.  I am a traditionalist, but I can see the progressive’s point of view.  The ieh boueli cannot help how they are born.  If you birth one, will you kill it outright?”

            oun Serphon puffed up.  “I’ve never birthed one!”

            “That is because you have only had three kits, all of which died,” oun Enobia sighed.  “I will try to change my attitude, but you must give me time.  I have been taught all my life to behave one way and now I am being asked to change that to the exact opposite.  Give us time.”

            aun Sjir’phal inclined his head.  “Understood.  As long as we agree that the ieh boueli will be treated with respect and kindness moving forward; that they will be taught to read and write and take up places as free Sha’jeen.”

            oun Enobia nodded.  “Agreed.”

            oun Serphon snarled.

            “Do you want to leave the Council, oun Shi’ehl?” aun Sjir’phal asked with deceptive mildness.  “Because we can nominate another.”

            oun Serphon hissed a laugh.  “Do you think that threatens me?”

            “Enough!” oun D’jir shouted and slapped the wooden floor with both hands.  “If you are going to abandon the Council, do so now oun Shi’ehl.  This argument is concluded.”

            oun Serphon crossed his arms over his chest and glanced away.

            “Alright then,” oun D’jir said.  “Now, how do we decide which ieh bouel will be an educator, which a cleric and which a servant?”

            aun Isolth rubbed his chin with the back of a finger.  “We will have to decide upon each birth, depending on the needs of the people.  More servants will be needed than any other kind of ieh boueli occupation.  These are not slaves, so they will have to be compensated for their service.  We will have to agree upon the minimum they will be paid, but it must be enough for them to cease working in their old age and be able to live in relative comfort.  We cannot expect an old ieh bouel or an infirm one to continue in its role as servant.”  He frowned.  “Educators will be the second most common, I should think.  There will be hopefully many kits to educate.”

            The Councilors murmured a prayer for many kits to be born into the colony.

            “We will need to develop currency and give it denominations,” oun D’jir stated wearily.  “We have to seek through the island to see if there are minerals that can be exploited to create coins.  We have to develop things we can trade with the humans and other species on this planet.  We will need to weave, sew and form pottery.”  He shook his head.  “We have much to do before we can even trade with anyone.”

            aun Sjir’phal nodded.  “We need to develop weapons, too.  Although the Sentinels found that no race of beings lived nearby, we need to prepare ourselves for the future.”

            “Hau,” the Council murmured.

            aun Sjir’phal glanced at oun D’jir and gave him a smirk.  “We will have lots of work for the years ahead.”

            “How do we divide the land among the people?” oun Zerta piped up.  “It is a large island, but we must be equitable.”

            “I propose the greatest amount of land be owned by the people as a whole,”  aun Otol’h said.  “Those who wish to farm will be given parcels.  Big enough to grow substantial crops.  That means clearing the land.  I propose if an aun Deuil wants to farm, he will have to clear the parcel of land he is given.  That is how he will pay for the land, by clearing it.  He will provide a tithe to the Council and the High Priest of 10 percent of his crops.”

            The Councilors nodded.

            “Excellent, aun Otol’h,” aun Sjir’phal praised.  “Part of the land has to be for a schoolhouse.  Part of the land has to be for a temple.  The Sentinels informed us that the main island, upon which we live currently, is olta shanstk shanstk shanstk shanstk x-stok sepeks long and half that  wide.  There are many smaller islands that form an archipelago.  Some of the smaller islands are shanstk shanstk sepeks long and wide, although none as our continent.  We can take over the other islands as we grow as a people.  But Colony Xema will always be the capital, where the High Priest and King live.”

            oun Norus shifted.  “How will we divide the land?”

            “Right now we need most of our aun Deuili as soldiers,” aun Safahn stated.  “We only have 110 of these. We can release 50 to oversee the development of the land.  The ieh boueli can develop the land and grow crops and they can hunt and forage. They will be growing crops in the people’s land.  In the future we can parcel out land, but right now we have to feed the people and breed.”

            “We don’t need crops,” oun Enobia hissed.  “We are carnivores.”

            “We will learn to eat all manner of food, lest we deplete the continent and islands of prey,” oun D’jir told him.  “Towards that end, we must also tame some of the wild animals so that we have a ready source of meat.”

            “Ye,” aun Kaphil agreed.

            “I must return to our main duty,” aun Safahn stated firmly.  “We must couple and breed.  To that end, the High Priest must join oun Shi’ehli to aun Deuili–“

            “But if we have indiscriminate coupling, that will be best for the population,” oun Serphon said.

            aun Safahn shook his head. “We must take care of bloodlines.  We cannot interbreed.”

            oun Zerta huffed his agreement and slapped the floor.  “We must demand that each couple produce several litters.  At least 10 litters!  We need to ramp up the population, for we are still vulnerable to disease and warfare.  We cannot open our borders to trade until we are a strong colony.  We are not there yet.  These civic laws will be for the future.  Right now, we have to survive.  We must choose a High Priest that will sanctify couplings.”

            “Ye!” aun Tefa agreed.

            aun Sjir’phal shifted.  “Then I nominate oun D’jir to be our High Priest.  His kits still move in his womb and live.”

            oun Enobia hissed.  “We don’t want to tempt fate!  oun D’jir’s kits must survive!”

            “We are scientists first and foremost,” aun Sjir’phal said with measured patience.  “Ie’teina will protect.  Do we agree that oun D’jir will retake his place as High Priest?”

            With a dissenting oun Enobia and oun Serphon, the other Council members agreed to aun Sjir’phal’s suggestion.

            aun Sjir’phal turned to oun D’jir.  “You must now move into the prayer hut and choose several ieh boueli as your servants and your clerics.”

            oun D’jir shifted.  “I must have other priests with me.  The High Priest chooses five oun Shi’ehl who assist him.”

            aun Sjir’phal inclined his head.  “Just so, but they will not come from the Council.  This is not a theocracy.  The High Priest does not head the Council.”

            oun D’jir hissed his ire.

            aun Sjir’phal’s flattened his ears but otherwise showed no disconcertion.  

            Eventually, oun D’jir’s gaze dropped.  “Fine.  I will choose five aun Shi’ehli to assist me.”  He rose.  “If you will excuse–”   He huffed with surprise and fell to the floor.  

            Gasps and mewls of distress filled the Council Hall.

            oun D’jir gasped.  “Take me to the oun Shi’ehli long house!  My kits come!”

            aun Sjir’phal hissed with distress.  “It isn’t time!  Can this be another false labor like the one you had previously?”

            oun D’jir fought against the overwhelming desire to push.  “aun Sjir’phal!  The kits come!”

            aun Sjir’phal rose and picked oun D’jir up in his arms, hurriedly carrying him out of the Council Hall and under the soft patter of rain to the long house where the oun Shi’ehli slept.  

            “Bring pillows and a pallet!” aun Sjir’phal called over his shoulder.  “We need blankets, a basin of warm water and cloths!”

            oun D’jir closed his eyes and refrained from pushing.  “How do you know about births?”

            “I read the texts,” aun Sjir’phal replied.

            “Anathema!” oun D’jir hissed as a wave of pain overtook him.  He mewled his distress.

            “So it appears,” aun Sjir’phal replied with subdued humor.

            Within minutes, two ieh boueli brought in a pallet and others followed with pillows, blankets, a basin of warm water and cloths.  One had the foresight to bring a cup of detergent.

            aun Sjir’phal gently laid oun D’jir on the pallet stacked with pillows.  

            oun D’jir was panting from the pain.

            “You must leave right now,” oun Enobia hissed.  “The birthing hut is not where an aun Deuil belongs!”

            “I’ll be right outside,” aun Sjir’phal informed him and stalked from the hut.

            oun Enobia, oun Serphon and oun Benska remained behind.  They sat around the pallet while other oun Shi’ehli entered and lit incense and candles.  Soon all the oun Shi’ehli were sitting cross-legged on the swept floor.  

            The idea of so many eyes observing the birth did not feel correct to oun D’jir, but he also knew these kits belonged much more to the colony than to him.  In the arks, when High Priests bore young, they did so with their chosen priests.

            His next thought was wiped from his mind as the pain pushed against his sex.  He panted and mewled.

            Around him, the oun Shi’ehl mewled in distress and sympathy.

            oun D’jir pushed, gripping the pallet edge, and screeching as if he were engaged in battle.  His display was so impressive, the oun Shi’ehli fell silent.  Beyond the silence in the room, the soft patter of rain could be heard and nothing else.  oun D’jir gasped as the first kit approached the opening to his body through the birth canal.  He closed his eyes and pushed.  After a moment, he felt someone take his hand and he gazed up at an unfamiliar oun Shi’ehl.  The oun Shi’ehl gazed upon him with such sereness and kindness that oun D’jir gasped.

             He swallowed.  “What is your name?”

            “oun Shamisj, oun D’jir,” the oun Shi’ehl murmured and stroke the back of oun D’jir’s hand.

            oun D’jir pushed hard and howled as he expelled the first kit.  

            The congregation mewled in greeting and watched avidly as the small kit, no more than the length of a hand, began its inexorable journey over the woven landscape of the pallet towards the pouch where it would live, affixed to a teat, for a few weeks more.  The Sha’jeen could not assist the kit.  The drive to live would assist the kit.  As oun D’jir struggled to expel the second kit, he watched nervously as the first kit stopped to pant in exhaustion before continuing to crawl along the pallet, drawn by its parent’s scent and the scent of milk from the pouch.

            oun D’jir expelled the second kit as the first kit reached the fur of his pouch and pulled itself along until it tumbled into the warm pouch and disappeared from sight.  oun D’jir closed his eyes and concentrating on feeling the kit move about against his skin and affix itself to a teat.  He huffed with relief and opened his eyes to watch the second kit.  The second kit stopped to rest as oun D’jir was filled with the overwhelming desire to push.  He panted and pushed until the third kit tumbled out with its mucus and excretions.  The tiny kit gave a mewl and the oun Shi’ehl gasped.  The kit paused, tiny head lifted as it sniffed the air, before taking its first shaking steps.

            The births came fast, as was necessary to a warrior race.  The kits took an average of a quarter of an hour to make the long journey to their parent’s pouch.  The last one, though, once expelled, lay quiescent for a few minutes until oun D’jir was sure it had been born dead. He mewled a question and the tiny head popped up.  Soon, the little runt was unsteadily making its way over the woven fabric of the pallet towards where oun D’jir lay.  oun D’jir saw its tiny red tongue as the kit stopped to pant from its exertion.  It stopped, its tiny paws on oun D’jir’s fur before it hauled itself up the outside of the pouch to the lip and then through into the interior of the pouch.  oun D’jir closed his eyes and concentrated on willing his kit to find its teat.  When the runt found the teat and latched on with surprising fierceness, oun D’jir opened his eyes and howled in triumph.

            The oun Shi’ehli pounded the floor with their fists as oun Shamisj dipped a cloth into the warm water soapy with detergent and gently wiped oun D’jir’s sex clean, then the outside of his pouch, and finally the pallet clean of mucus and other excretions.  oun Shamisj covered oun D’jir with a blanket and sat serenely facing the rest of the congregation.

            oun D’jir sighed.  “Tell them.”

            oun Shamijs bowed and stood, striding to the door, and throwing it open.

            “oun D’jir’s kits number six!  They are alive!”

            The yowls from the rest of the people filled the afternoon, thrumming through the temple and drowning out the sounds of the rain.

            “Hau! Hau! Hau!  Long live the High Priest!” the crowd chanted.

            oun D’jir closed his eyes and felt as the kits kneaded the teats to release milk.  His exhaustion would be taken care of with some sleep.  There was so much to do, his head swirled with it all.  He distantly heard as the oun Shi’ehli left the temple to return to their chores.  

            oun D’jir struggled awake.  He noticed oun Shamisj had remained.

            oun D’jir grasped his hand.  “Find oun Belihe, oun Tamos, oun Kelzi, and oun Satishe.  They, as well as you, are my priests.  I want them here when I awaken.”

            “Ye, Eminence,” oun Shamisj murmured and rose.

                “oun Shamisj,” oun D’jir murmured.  “Stand watch over me and do not let any other oun Shi’ehli near me.  I fear for my kits.”

                oun Shamisj frowned.  “The God has warned you?”

                “Ye,” oun D’jir replied.  “Betrayal.  Murder.  I dreamed it.”

                oun Shamisj scowled.  “Who, Eminence?”

                “That was not reveal,” oun D’jir assured him.  “Hurry back.  I am vulnerable right now.”

                oun Shamisj bowed.  “I will hurry.”

             oun D’jir  watched as oun Shamisj left the hut.  He struggled to remain awake until the others returned.

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