Already dressed for the festival, Shuli Waset-eperu, head of House Waset, folded his arms, tail twitching. The firelight glittered on the glass beads woven into his mane and played off the paint on his wedge-shaped head. Tight gray pants ended over the soft curls that spread over his delicate feet-hands -- length was in fashion this year -- and a shimmering chain of bronze octagons hung from beneath his waist sash, a display of the House's wealth altogether unnecessary given the nature of the festivities.
"Tafeth. I'm sorry to interrupt."
The formality of his voice set my ears back. "How may I help you, ke emodo?"
"I find this difficult to say." He reached down and lifted the stone incense cup from the table beside the portal. His fingers caressed it, and so did his eyes. He wouldn't look at me. "This will be the last festival you celebrate as a part of Waset."
"What?" I whispered, fingers trembling. The loops that trapped them irritated my flesh, and I found it absurd to notice in this moment, when my life was falling to ruin, that my clumsiness was on display. Absurd, and appropriate.
"I'm sorry," he said again.
"But the anadi," I said. "Who will care for them?"
"We will find another," Shuli said. "Please try to understand, Tafeth. If the House is to prosper, we must allow only members of distinction to remain in its ranks. Tomorrow your contract will be offered for bid." He put down the cup. "Enjoy the festival."
I stepped after him, the gown rustling. "Ke Shuli! I was born to this House!"
He glanced over his shoulder. "Yes you were, Tafeth Waset-anadi." And then the curtains parted for him and fell back, beads tangling together.
I sank to the chair beside the fire. In one sentence, Shuli had made his reasons for selling me utterly clear: any Jokkad born female, no matter what sex it Turned at its puberties, was useless to him unless it remained female. An eperu tainted by anadi tendencies would never be as strong as the same neuter had it been born neuter, or even male. Never mind that I was well-suited to my work as guardian to the anadi of Waset . . . I was flawed. The hunting incident had probably only provided a catalyst for the decision.