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When everything was done in preparation for the Council of Royals, there remained only the impending arrival of the Great Personages. Queen Aurra's serving wench, a woman named Lamassu, attained to the astonishing situation of having nothing to do and removed to a nook.

Lamassu was perched above the great hall of Barachiel's airy castle high enough to see all the nobles when they paraded in to be seated. She was joined by Gabriel then and they shared a sweet kiss. They had been together for only six days, but for as many wonderful nights.

For Lamassu the wild affair had been entirely bewildering. Gabriel seemed to know everything about her. In bed there was not a single awkward move. It was as though they had been married for a lifetime and Gabriel had returned to the very beginning to start all over again.

Lamassu was already in love with this nephil who towered over her, this dark-skinned boy who was so beautiful because che was also a girl. Gabriel told her che was a servant of Michael but that che really came from the other world where the nephilim were almost non-existent.

Gabriel adored how Lumassu communicated only with music. To Gabriel she sang:

'I sing of woe brought by those of black beard.

When noble ones stood against what they fear'd.

Just close your eyes to see them meet the king.

Mark two slave women who watch all unseen.'

Gabriel said to her, 'Technically, Lamassu, I'm not a woman, but never mind that, it's your art, right? By the way, if anyone catches you here avoiding work I think Queen Aurra has a pet whipping tree somewhere that will make the skin on your back become bloody ribbons.'

Lamassu ran a delicate hand over the cloth of the tunic covering Gabriel's back, knowing that che, too, was no stranger to the touch of the lash. Five of the scars had been given hem, che said, by men on Earth asking questions of hem, before Gabriel could extricate hemself.

She said: 'Now Gabrielle is one slave woman's name

And one Lamassu is her female flame.

They shirk toil in the valley castle

As Uriel walks before hez vassal.'

Indeed King Uriel of House Bellon had entered the chamber first, accompanied by hez daughter Princess Dafla.

They looked none the worse after their flight on the dragon Demonstroke to the Dul Valley. Ophan Barachiel excluded all weapons from the council chamber save for the Dragonthorn alone, the diamond blade in the possession of Dafla, which she wore in a scabbard on her back.

Gabriel knew the Dragonthorn was useless as a weapon of war, yet it was something more than merely a ceremonial blade. Here in Heaven, in this time, the word talisman was wrapped around it. Where Gabriel originated, it was just a transmitter and antenna to control a machine. Ophan Nithael followed King Uriel into the chamber arm-in-arm with hez spouse Losna. A jen and an ambi, red of hair in the nephilim crop, they looked less a married couple so much as nearly identical twins. The city of Vaska was theirs to rule on the western shores of Thalury. CML: Of two these nobles Lamassu sang:

'They rule distant Vaska where I was born.

Queen Aurra greets them with no trace of scorn.

Yet their bitter clash of arms claimed her son

And is fresh in the minds of everyone.'

'Not bad,' said Gabriel. 'I should have brought my sax.'

Lamassu shook her head and sang to Gabriel:

'Your horn with an otherworldly sound

Will make it sure that we will both be found.'

And Gabriel had to admit she was right. They both watched as other servants pulled out tall chairs where the king and his daughter were to sit.

The Hashmal Phanuel entered then, alone, as the final delegate of the House of Bellon. Hy ruled the city of Atria in Haaretz. As an angel rather than a nephil, Phanuel served to remind everyone at least some members of the great family of Red Beards actually had red beards.

Atria where Phanuel dwelt, at the head of navigation on the River Sabik, was the only civilized place in a land nigh to the Wall of God that was rich but largely uncrowded and untamed. Lamassu sang:

'Alodra the source of oxen and gold

All guarded well by Phanuel the Bold.'

Samael made hyz entrance without pomp, in a gait that showed forth that hy was at heart a soldier. Gabriel knew the seraph came in the role of a spoiler. Certainly Samael knew that any league of kingdoms forged in this council would be far stronger than the Adanites alone.

Lamassu had never seen the stocky and brash Adanite Emperor before. Hy came with only a single human female. No cherubim nor ophanim nor hashmalim accompanied Samael. Lamassu thought the woman looked very much like she was Gabriel's kin but she was lighter in skin and hair.

Gabriel knew much about the woman, but little che was willing to tell. Che said, 'She's from Earth, and has chosen to use the name Joy because she loves irony.' The name meant nothing to Lamassu in her own tongue. The cold and exotic woman seemed to halt her flow of verse.

The nobility of House Sala entered Barachiel's chamber. At the side of Queen Aurra walked Royal Consort Duke Evandr. The titles of human aristos differed from the titles of nephilim or angels. Lamassu, silent now, would publicly lampoon her queen later and come to regret it.

Queen Aurra ruled inland Ramman, the most fertile, well-watered plain in Heaven. Left unchecked, the Gold Beards would multiply until they outnumbered everyone else on the Slush Belt. And House Sala venerated Chokhmah alone. Samael did not intend to leave Ramman unchecked.

Following Aurra and Evandr was the Countess Ayani, the recently widowed wife of Aldred Firegem, which made her the most eligible bachelorette in Heaven. But many at the Council noted the continuous eye-lock Ayani had with Hashmal Phanuel, who was already seated at the table.

For hyz part Phanuel returned the gaze of the willowy and now, apparently, the flirty Ayani. Something was obviously happening there. Lamassu was slightly disgusted because it had been less than a month since Count Aldred's death. In Rammon the people were still mourning.

Gabriel knew Lamassu lived for saucy drama of this sort. Remembering the finest horses in Heaven were bred in Ayani's city of Locotin in the coast range of Rammon, Lamassu sang:

'Heeding no more her grand prize winning stallions.

Ayani now seeks two-legged medallions!'

Following Ayani was her kinsman the Baron Alastor Firegem of Thorgram, who was also eligible for marriage, but his ever-wandering eye made marriage impossible. When his dalliances annoyed his mother she would send him abroad. By now he knew Heaven better than anyone else.

Lamassu found the man easy enough on the eyes. He was as brawny as any angel of greater stature, but always smirking, as though frozen in perpetual boyhood. Of him she sang:

'Alastor's a feast for many a talebearer.

'Whomever he's with, he finds the next much fairer!'

Thorgram was nestled in the range of high hills that formed a fence between the fertile heart of Rammon and the narrow coastal plain along the shore of Thalury, amid a vast forest of gopher trees. These produced lumber that was found neither on Earth nor natively in Heaven.

Gopher trees were a hybrid of both worlds and their wood had been used by ships in the Deluge, for it could not be destroyed by expanding ice. It is ridiculously easy to cut and work. Perhaps Alastor was so boyish, Gabriel thought, because he ruled a city made of tree forts.

The delegations came into the chamber ordered by lots, lest any think the sequence represented the opinion of Ophan Barachiel which noble one was the greater. Hy only decreed that the hosting Larund delegation must enter last. So Michael entered next with hyz growing family.

There hy was, thought Gabriel, grandpa in hyz younger days, a bit more well-dressed than usual, but still just a glassblower's son. Lamassu was too filled with awe for the incarnation of her God to see Michael as less aristocratic and regal than any of the others present.

Gabriel's own mother Leliel walked in front of Michael, just four years old. Gabriel found it a unique sensation to realize che was seeing har now, in the flesh, and not through something like a film. Even more interesting was how sha had somehow been tamed to a slow walk.

Gabriel recognized hez grandmother Lilith, of course, walking next to Michael, but it was the first time che had seen har with hez own eyes rather than through the memories of others. Hez first impression was a dark thunderstorm had somehow been frozen as a long-legged yin.

Lilith was attired in the gray and black lines of a Fallen Angels dress uniform, a recent thing which had appeared as the Sealiah colony took root. And Gabriel saw that sha carried in har arms hez uncle Ithuriel as a very young infant dirk, perhaps only a few weeks in age.

When Leliel seated harself sha methodically removed a white scroll from a fired clay cylinder and prepared quills in what was taken to be a precious parody of an adult scribe. Lamassu sang:

'I thought the child would sit and fidget

Now I think sha is really a midget!'

The Hashmal Raphaela, second-in-command of the Fallen Angels, followed Lilith wearing an identical dress uniform. Sha walked beside Ophan Barachiel while they held hands. The two apparently grew quite close in the months they were left to watch the empty frontier with Adan.

The green island of Sealiah held in fee by Ophan Barachiel kept the people of Rumbek well-nourished, and many more besides. It was a great blessing but perhaps not all thought so. Lamassu sang:

'The more the soil yields in Dul Valley

The more we toil in Ophan's galley!'

Uzziel of Elketz entered at a stately pace. Hyz city lay west in cattle country, where the animals raised were driven throughout Magodon to be slaughtered.

Lamassu sang:

'Check your soles Uzziel before further you roam,

I just caught a whiff, a small reminder of home!'

When Uzziel reached the place where hy was to sit, hy did not take hyz seat, but said rather, in a loud voice, 'Lords and ladies, please rise to your feet, Metatron king of Rumbek is come.' Nineteen complied with this rule of etiquette, but Samael and Joy remained seated.'

Cherub Metatron entered the chamber through a massive door behind the head of the long table where hy was to sit. Lamassu sang:

'Fishers circle the island in a ring

All of them subject to Metatron King.'

'Your pardon,' Gabriel told her. 'The Lord Michael has need of me.'

Since all eyes were already on Metatron, Gabriel started there. Walking to the king's side, inverting and restoring his leather pouch to show here was nothing inside, che reached in to withdraw a crystal goblet of golden wine and set it on the table to gasps and applause.

Gabriel repeated hez trick down the table on the king's left-hand side, omitting wine only for Leliel and Ithuriel. Samael seemed to be deeply impressed by the magic. Only Joy seemed bored. 'Hush, daughter,' che said to her in the tongue of the latter-day B'nei Elohim.

'You hush, father,' she said in reply, and Gabriel could do nothing but just that, though che longed to ask her why she was in the company of Samael in this pivotal moment. Instead, che produced more goblets of what would be called a crisp, oaky Chardonnay in hez own time.

After a time that was far more brief than if Gabriel had poured wine rather than pulled full goblets from hez leather pouch, everyone had been served, and Gabriel stood a distance from the king with wine in hez own hand. Metatron said, 'Lords and ladies of Heaven, welcome.'

The king picked up hyz goblet since hy deemed it more mannerly to raise a glass in the direction of someone than to point a finger. Hy shifted hyz wine and said, 'Queen Lilith of Salem and har husband Lord Michael have been my honored guests on this isle for over two years.'

'They arrived through the air inside what Lord Michael has called an avatar, made by the hand of Chokhmah himself. With them came their daughter Leliel, who even now is marking down the words I say here, and har mother insists Leliel will not merely play at being a scribe.

'Now Lord Michael and Queen Lilith have experienced many lamentable misfortunes which have led them to be driven into exile from Salem, but recently the birth of their son, Ithuriel, on this very isle, has been an occasion of great joy, and I rejoice in union with them.'

Metatron turned hyz hand holding wine to where Samael and Joy remained seated, both unmindful of decorum in the presence of the king. Hy said, 'It is well that the ruler of the Adanites, Lord Samael, has also made hyz appearance. We do not conspire against hym in secret.

'Lord Samael has come to us in the extraordinary way that some among us have seen before, as hy is of the seraphim and can travel anywhere in Heaven at once. An Earthwoman named Joy accompanies hym. I am told she is a warrior of rank that would make her as one of the sarim.'

The king looked along the table and said, 'The Baron Alastor Firegem of the House of Sala has come, and he did not need to go far as he was already in Rumbek on an errand laid upon him by his mother.' At that Ayani could not help making a sharp chuckle, to her embarrassment.

Metatron had intended to mention Ayani next, but her short eruption of mirth did not suit the words hy had prepared touching the recent death of her spouse Count Aldred. Annoyed, the king passed over Ayani and introduced instead King Uriel of Jelaket and hez daughter Dafla.

'I think in all of Heaven the only means of travel more unusual than the one employed by Lord Samuel must be to come hither on the back of the last surviving dragon, even as the nobles from Jelaket have done. I am certain the Cherub Uriel will have more to say about that.'

Metatron's eyes moved further up the table. 'We are honored to have with us here the Ophan Nithael of Vaska and also hez spouse Losna. They traveled by means of the avatar of Chokhmah which whisked them over the wide expanse of Thalury, the Wall of God, and most of Magodon.'

'We have with us also Hashmal Phanuel and I am told hy was the traveling companion of Baron Alastor. They had perhaps the most arduous journey of all who have attained to this council chamber, for they went by foot and by steed, and took the better part of a year to arrive.'

COA:'I am pleased to see my son the Hashmal Uzziel is also here today,' said the King. 'Hy is come from Elketz, the nearest city to Rumbek west of the Nine Mile Wall, yet hy spent the better part of the summer riding here, as this Heaven where we dwell truly is great in extent.'

COB : Metatron then introduced Raphaela of the Fallen Angels, who sat between Uzziel and Barachiel. 'Of har doings on the marches of House Larund to the east sha has much to say, for indeed events there precipitated this very council, which is, I think, unique in the long history of Heaven.'

COC : 'Yet it is long overdue. The question before us is nothing less than this: Will there be lasting peace in Heaven? Such must be foremost in the thoughts of Queen Aurra Firegem of Rammon, and Duke Evandr, and the Countess Ayani, who come to this council still deep in grief.

'Not a one present here can be unaware that the nobles of House Sala have come to us soon after the life of their kinsman Count Aldred was taken on the field and in the days leading up to this conclave it first came to my mind to utter soothing but empty words in his memory.

'Let us drink to a better sentiment instead,' said Metatron as hy raised hyz goblet. The lords and ladies seated at the table raised their own at the bidding of the king. 'As we trot our grudges at this council may we resolve to forge something truly lasting and meaningful.

'Let us see through to making Count Aldred's otherwise useless death significant in an enduring way.' Then the King and all the attendees quaffed the wine, save for Samael and Joy, who remained seated and did not share Metatron's sentiment. There were gasps around the table.

The gathered noble lords and ladies marveled how the wine was somehow as chilly as a mountain stream after being poured from Gabriel's wineskin. Even Gabriel joined them in the toast, standing near the King, and Lamassu marveled that che was not rebuked for drinking on duty.

But Gabriel was finished with hez task for now. Che polished off hez crystal goblet of wine and returned to the high nook where Lamassu waited. The Cherub Metatron bade everyone to be seated. Then hy rang the little bell that was set before hym and the council had begun.

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