The Last Lady of Lună (S2, E1)

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Planting Life in a Dying City (S3: Kolchais, Season Finale)

We’ve come to the end of Kolchais’ season. It’s in many ways it’s been a quieter time than Lefeng and Tsouchm had, but I think that fits the wise-one. When we return to Planting Life it will be the Spinner’s turn to take center stage. But first, season 2.5 of Mighty Hero Force Epsilon starts next Friday.

Season content notes: ableism, internalized ableism, violence, autistic meltdown

Kolchais sat and stared into the fire. That way ey didn’t need to see Paiokp’s retreating back, didn’t need to think about what would happen if ey was rejected again… Ey knew it was Paiokp’s own fear speaking…

Lefeng sat with Kolchais, but when Paiokp left, ey had turned so eir back was to the fire. Guarding-one, always watchful even around the home fire. They had been talking about Paiokp’s fears, but Kolchais didn’t know what else to say.

“Your family are fools,” Lefeng said, changing the topic.

Kolchais, not sure what to say, or even what Lefeng meant, shrugged and stared harder into the fire.

“You push yourself hard–too hard.” Startled, Kolchais turned to look at Lefeng. The once-walker wasn’t looking at Kolchais but staring into the darkened sky. “And why? Others can do the physical work that you can’t. But you are wise about people, and good with barter and coin. You cut to the heart of a problem. In the wilderness, you would be in trouble, yes. But here in town,” ey gestured the obvious and faced Kolchais, “your mind is enough to give you great current.”

The night was still. The neighboring families were settled for the night, and none passed on the darkened street. Insects buzzed, and a night bird called. Lefeng would know what bird it was.

Lefeng knew many things, Kolchais decided after a moment. Ey thought the watching-one knew this, too. Kolchais did have current, even if ey, emself, was often blind to it. Had been taught to be blind to it.

“My family couldn’t see it. Their current runs in a different way, and they could only see that I moved against them rather than with them.”

Lefeng looked down. “I never had much current. I flowed with my family because it was the life I was born into, and I was good at it. I miss the mountains. There is beauty to them. But I think sometimes I never really cared about anything until I met Chestef. And then… It was less than I cared about em and more that caring for em gave me a reason to not run back to the mountains and let them take me.”

That was not the guarding-one, long-stride, watchful-one Kolchais knew. Not the strong-one who killed a great cat to defend eir family and carried it across the mountains in memory.

“And now?” Kolchais asked.

“I am lost.” The words were so soft they were nearly lost too, even on such a quiet night. “No current of my own and none to follow. I think if I were alone, I would stop where I am. But I can’t do that because you and the others depend on me.”

Hesitantly, Kolchais reached out and put a hand on Lefeng’s shoulder. “I think you mistake yourself. You can create great current when you choose, but what moves you is the people you care for. As long as they are well, you are content and let yourself be carried in the current of others. But when they are in need, you are the riptide, sweeping all from your path.”

Lefeng was silent for a time. “How do you see in me what I don’t see in myself?”

Kolchais laughed. “Well, my spouse-to-be, you are the one who says I am wise about people. Maybe you are right.”

Lefeng chuckled and raised eir eyes to the star-dusted sky. “The stars seem dimmer here. Less sharp and clear. It is harder to see.”

Kolchais felt the faintest touch as Lefeng reached up to take eir hand. When Kolchais said nothing, the touch firmed unless Lefeng was clinging to em.

“I am still grieving,” the loyal-one said. “I will be for… a long time yet. I do not think I am fit to be anyone’s spouse. To give what… a spouse should give.”

“You have already given me a family and a child–two things I never thought would be mine to have.” Kolchais squeezed Lefeng’s hand, held tight like a boat taking another in tow. If ey had such current as Lefeng saw in em, then perhaps that was eir role in this family. To be the current that the others rode upon. That carried them around the rocks and kept them moving always towards home.

It was not a role Kolchais had ever expected for emself, but thinking back over recent weeks, it might be something ey could do.

“I hope the day comes when you can give yourself to me as well. But you have shown me that you accept me as I am. I know if that day never comes, it will be because of your grief and not, as with others, because you reject me.” Kolchais smiled and felt the smile to the depths of eir soul. Ey knew Lefeng now. Knew eir spouse-to-be as ey had known few others. Ey would grieve, yes, for a long time. But when ey was ready to move, ey would not be stopped.

Kolchais turned to face the night sky with Lefeng, the stars that guided the far-walkers and boat folk in their journeys. When the day came, Lefeng would find Kolchais still here, steady as the stars themselves, which never stopped moving, but were always where you needed them to be. “How can I be angry that you grieve them? When it only shows me how great your soul is and how strongly you value those you love.”

Slowly, Lefeng leaned over until eir head rested against Kolchais. Together, they watch the night sky.

“Perhaps one day, you can take me to the mountains. Show me how the stars are meant to look.”

“I would like that.”

“The Spinner could come too.”

“I think ey loves eir markets, the way I loved the mountains.”

“Yes. But ey could still come if ey wants.”


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Planting Life in a Dying City (S3, E1)
Planting Life in a Dying City (S3: Kolchais, E8)

Planting Life in a Dying City (S3: Kolchais, E8)

This season ended up being on the short side — next episode will be the season finale, and then we’ll pick up with Season 2 of Last Lady of Luna the week after.

Season content notes: ableism, internalized ableism, violence, autistic meltdown

The next morning, the Spinner returned to help with the building. When ey went to the market — Eastern Market today, Lefeng started to follow em. Kolchais tapped Lefeng on eir shoulder and shook eir head. Lefeng’s strength was needed to help build. Lefeng grimaced but nodded. “Buying supplies?”



Kolchais pushed emself to catch up with the Spinner. It took only a short time to buy enough food for the next few days and arrange to have the heavy things delivered. Once ey had everything they needed, Kolchais settled down next to the Spinner and watched the market.

The Spinner stopped spinning early this time and seemed to gradually return to awareness. But that appearance was mistaken. If Kolchais understood, ey had never been unaware, only so focused ey could not respond to eir immediate surroundings. When ey looked at Kolchais, Kolchais waved and gestured to eir purchases. “Can you help me carry all this?”

The Spinner looked at em for a moment, then nodded.

They arrived back shortly before dinner, and the Spinner stayed to eat with them instead of returning immediately to eir home. After dinner, ey looked at Kolchais, Lefeng, and Paiokp and offered to Kolchais a skein of thread. It was not the yarn ey had spun in the market that day. That had been thicker and coarse. Pale brown where this shone whitely even in the dim firelight. “I am Kyawtchais, near-adult of the Silent Spinners. I hope you will find a use for this.”

Kolchais accepted the yarn with a nod and outward calm. Inside, ey was shaking. The gift — the gift should be given to one of the leaders of the courting group. That couldn’t be em? Surely it could not. Lefeng was the leader, the one who forged ahead and created their new family. Surely the Spinner knew that?

But a glance at Lefeng and Paiokp showed that they didn’t understand the gift, didn’t recognize this city-custom. Kolchais reminds emself — again! to sit down and explain city customs to the two villagers. In detail.

So, rightly eirs or not, there was only Kolchais to take this duty. Well, it would do no harm — this even ey couldn’t fail.

Looking back at the Spinner — Kyawtchais, another fire name, if a very odd one. Nearly as odd a name as Lefeng! — Kolchais said, “I am Kolchais. I and mine will see what use we can find for this gift.”

They nodded to each other, not quite deep enough to be a bow, and Kyawtchais’ hands danced and fluttered before ey gripped eir spindle and distaff and excused emself, returning to eir birth family for the night. Lefeng escorted em to the gate and barred it behind em. Ey returned to the fire, looking pensive. “Was that…”

Kolchais nodded. “A formal request to court us. If we wish to accept eir offer, we tell em that we ‘have a use’ for eir gift.” Ey found emself stroking the skein.

Chotaikytsai nodded to the skein and asked, “May I?”

Kolchais handed it over and watched while the grandparent examined the thread. “Fine linen. Very fine. I could have made a tunic so thin you could see through it.” Ey returned the yarn to Kolchais and stood with a small groan. “It is your choice, of course. But we are here if you wish our advice. Though I think you know what it would be.”

With that, the grandparents gathered up Chestef and withdrew into the season-shelter.

Lefeng didn’t sit but instead started pacing around the fire. It was clear the tall-one preferred to walk while they talk, but ey stayed close. Kolchais was grateful. Once Kolchais stood, ey was walking only as far as their bed. Ey had already pushed emself hard today and didn’t dare risk walking further.

Whatever Lefeng might have said, it was Paiokp who spoke first. “I don’t know if I can do this,” ey said quietly.

“Do what?” Kolchais asked.

“This! Any of it! I can’t… ” ey sighed and ran a hand through eir hair. “I don’t belong here. I’m not sure I belong anywhere. I’m just… marking time, I guess.”

Confused, feeling the first stab of long-expected pain, Kolchais asked, “Do you not wish to be married to us?” To me?

“No, that’s not… I mean… I don’t even know why you’d want to marry me. What the hell do I bring? I’m a curse to everything I touch.”

Curse? What curse? Kolchais had seen no curse — nor had Chotaikytsai or ey would have said something long before. Even more confused, Kolchais looked to Lefeng, hoping ey would understand, explain.

Lefeng snorted. “Why do you still let village superstitions drive you? Your parents and your former betrothed were fools. You know it.”

So… Lefeng knew of this ‘curse’ and thought it foolishness. The watching-one, guarding-one, would not let danger to eir new family go unanswered. Whatever this was, Kolchais would trust eir judgment.

“You know nothing about me,” Paiokp cried.

At this, Kolchais rolled eir eyes, “I have lived with you for over a month, and the loud one there crossed a mountain with you. We may not know everything, but we know far more than nothing.”

Lefeng stopped pacing to squat across the coals from Paiokp, glaring at the once-fisher. “Yes, we came together as strangers. But we are not strangers now. And any of us could leave if we did not wish to be together. I could return to the mountains. Kolchais has lived as familyless already. You could sell your work here in the city as Tsouchm and I have been doing. Why is this so hard to believe?”

Paiokp shrank into emself but said nothing. Understanding came, and Kolchais put a hand on eir knee, asking, “What are you afraid of?”

Lefeng started, but Kolchais ignored em, focusing on Paiokp.

At first, the caring-one, hurting-one, said nothing, but Kolchais knew how to wait — as did the guarding-one, watching as if the answer to Kolchais’ question would reveal long-hunted danger.

Finally, Paiokp whispered, “I can’t believe this is real. That this will last. I can only live each day as it comes and hope this won’t be the day it is all torn from me again.” Abruptly, ey stood up and went in the shelter, leaving Lefeng and Kolchais to speak without em.

“I know how ey feels,” Lefeng said. “It was easier before we met you and Chotaikytsai. I could focus each day on what needed to be done and just forget… everything outside of that moment.”

“I lived that way too when my family rejected me. But we can’t stand still forever. If we do, we become dead things.”


Continue to:
Planting Life in a Dying City (S3: Kolchais, Season Finale)

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Planting Life in a Dying City (S3, E1)
Planting Life in a Dying City (S3: Kolchais, E7)

Planting Life in a Dying City (S3: Kolchais, E7)

Season content notes: ableism, internalized ableism, violence, autistic meltdown

They spent the afternoon singing and learning each other’s songs. There was no way to know what songs they would sing in the future. Family songs were always built around the family trade — the rhythm and pace of the work. But for now they had these songs to share and make their own.

When the last song ended, the Spinner set aside eir thread and began to hand-speak. Hesitantly, as if ey had trouble finding words, ey put voice to signs so they could all understand.

“My family… we get overwhelmed. Too much noise, too much movement. Too much to remember or to think about. To much change, or new things. The market hurts me if I stay too long. The spinning helps. It anchors me, protects me. And normally I am okay.

“Being here… it is difficult. So much I don’t understand, I can’t just follow my routine but constantly figure out what to do next, how to be. And talking. So much talking.”

Kolchais winced, ey had not realized how hard it was for the Spinner to be with them. “Perhaps it would be better if you stopped coming? We don’t…”

“No.” The word was flat, as the Spinners voice often was, but the hand-sign was as much a yell as the spoken word was not. “No. Listen. Talking it hard enough without interruptions.

“Is difficult being here, but worth it. Worth it make friends, maybe family. You listen to my hands, and you care, and you make me welcome. Difficult things are not bad things.

“I shouldn’t have gone to the market today. I should have rested. If I hadn’t pushed myself too hard, I would have seen that chaos-taken person. I would have remembered to be sure I was looking at my hands or the ground or the clouds because other families get angry when they think we look at them.

“But that does not excuse what ey did. When ey grabbed me, it was like thunder in my skin, like lightning in my mind, and all I knew was the pain of it.

“I lost the strands of my spinning and… I’ll never find them again. I’ll never find out what shipment the trader and shipfolk were arguing over or who the weaver thought was cheating em. And I had just started spinning the voice I swear was a pickpocket, and I lost it completely so I don’t even remember what ey sounded like.

“I spun just enough of the voices to know that there is some major change in the market. Prices on fabric goods have gone down, and cured wood have gone up, and the Spiral Carvers and Dark Masons are acting friendly with each other, and some of it is probably because of the new Temple the priests have been talking about building, but some of it is probably because of what you are creating here, and now I’ll never be able to fully piece it together!”

The Spinner looked up, and Kolchais realized ey was staring. Ey looked away, not wanting to make the Spinner uncomfortable, and saw the rest of the family, even Chestef, were staring as well.

When the Spinner didn’t speak further, Kolchais asked, “How did you hear all that?”

The listening-one (for so ey clearly was) didn’t respond, and Kolchais was afraid ey had asked too much, pushed too soon. But finally, the Spinner shifted and said. “One of my parents, who married-out to us, once told me that in a crowded room, ey could listen to just one conversation, and the other talk… faded into the background. Is that how it is for you?”

“Of course.”

“Not for me. Not for most of my siblings. We hear all of it, all the time. It is hard to focus on a single conversation and ignore the rest. I hear all of it. Whether it’s Chestef playing across the room while we talk or five different conversations at once in the market. Sometimes, I can get so focused that I don’t hear anything. But it’s everything or nothing.

“When I get overwhelmed, I don’t stop hearing. But what I hear stops making sense. Gibberish.”

“No wonder your family gets overwhelmed!” Chotaikytsai said with a shudder.

“And that’s why you need us to repeat things so often,” Paiokp added.

“Yes.” The Spinner nodded and started signing in a flurry Kolchais has no chance of keeping up with. And Kolchais understood why Lefeng called the Spinner dancing-one

When the dancing-one stopped, Lefeng asked, “Can you repeat that? Slowly?”

The Spinned laughed and repeated eir signs, saying the spoken word with each sign. “I hear you, but I can’t understand what you are saying, and I need to figure it out, like trying to understand writing, putting meaning to one word at a time.”

When ey finished, Lefeng laughed too. “Or like me with your hand-talk.”

“Yes.” Again, the voice was flat, but the hands showed delight and pleasure.

Kolchais smiled to emself. Ey was beginning to understand this strange maybe-spouse.

Conversation trailed off after that. They had sat around the fire so long that it was dinner time. Chotaikytsai pulled hot tubers from the coals, glistening with fat and spices. They ate quickly, laughing again over singed fingers and burnt mouths.

Kolchais watched the Spinner, trying to make sure ey was okay. Eir face remained impassive, but Kolchais noticed that eir hands moved lightly and quick, no longer weighed down or frantic. The hands would always be the key to understanding how the dancing-one felt.

When the food was gone, they sat quietly together.

Eventually, Lefeng got restless and took Tsouchm and Paiokp to start working on the walls again. The Spinner excused emself, saying ey needed to speak with eir siblings and parents. Then Chotaikytsai and Chestef took the dishes to wash.

Kolchais remained, staring into the fire and thinking.

Continue to:
Planting Life in a Dying City (S3: Kolchais, E8)

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Planting Life in a Dying City (S3, E1)
Planting Life in a Dying City (S3: Kolchais, E6)

Planting Life in a Dying City (S3: Kolchais, E6)

Season content notes: ableism, internalized ableism, violence, autistic meltdown

Like most mornings, Kolchais woke slowly. Eir thoughts moved sluggishly, fighting their way through a haze of pain. Ey reached out, confused, and felt a warm spot next to em.

Lefeng. Always up and active as soon as possible.

Kolchais rolled over and buried eir head in the blankets, enjoying the spicy musk scent Lefeng had left behind. The scent followed em back into soft morning dreams.

Sometime later, ey woke again and crawled out of bed. Kolchais stretched carefully, watching eir body’s reaction and deciding that today would be a bad day. Lefeng had brought a walking staff into the city, but Kolchais had never seen em use it. Instead, it had rested next to the door of the seasonal shelter since they had finished building it. Hoping Lefeng wouldn’t mind, Kolchais picked it up and tried walking a few steps. The support helped.

Kolchais hobbled outside and blinked against the sun, trying to see where everyone was.

Chotaikytsai and Chestef were easy to find — ey were building a small hut in the back corner of the compound. Kolchais vaguely remembered Chotaikytsai talking about getting some ground birds to keep for eggs and meat. The birds were nasty and loud but would keep bugs out of the garden and eat any rodents they could catch. Kolchais wasn’t sure they were worth it, but such matters were a decision for the grandparents.

The Spinner was up and squatting by the fire pit. Ey rocked slowly, ignoring the bowl of food someone had left for em. Tsouchm, Lefeng, and Paiokp were working on the family’s new home, doing the delicate work of weaving the wall sections around the doorway.

Kolchais shuffled towards the firepit to check on the Spinner and get some food. Ey was just squatting down when the knocker outside the gate sounded. To Kolchais’ relief (but not surprise), Lefeng went to answer the knock. Ey returned a few moments later carrying a small staff wrapped round with wool. Whoever brought it stayed outside the gates, most likely a messenger.

Hopefully, not someone Kolchais had once known… with an effort, ey wrenched emself away from thoughts of messengers and family. Ey forgot the messenger to focus on what ey had brought —

Lefeng brought the wool to the Spinner. That was no surprise, but the Spinner responded to seeing it. Ey moved for the first time since Kolchais woke up. In moments, the wool was set to eir spindle, and the spindle was spinning. As the wool twisted between eir fingers, the Spinner began crooning. The croon was a quiet, monotonous drone, barely loud enough for Kolchais to hear. It should have been annoying but instead, it was soothing.

Kolchais had heard it before — the Spinner crooned to emself almost all the time, and Kolchais had disregarded it as another oddness of the Silent Spinners. It was so constant ey had forgotten it was there. Its return made em realize how disturbing the Spinner’s silence had been.

Kolchais smiled and looked at Lefeng to see if the protector had noticed. But Lefeng was looking at eir staff on the ground by Kolchais.

“I’m sorry,” Kolchais said, “I should have asked…” but Lefeng was shaking eir head, seeming surprised.

“No. A staff is meant to be used. It surprised me to see it here. But it has been sad to see it each day leaning against a wall. If it helps you, I am glad.”

Lefeng’s mountain dialect was much stronger than usual, making Kolchais think there was some meaning ey didn’t understand. But ey recognized the gift Lefeng offered. “Thank you.”

What was left of the morning passed quietly. Kolchais did not try to help with the house. Ey stayed by the fire pit listening to the Spinner and thinking.

At midday, the others gathered around the fire pit. Normally, they only ate together in the evening. But today, it felt right.

A few minutes after everyone settled, the Spinner stopped crooning. Before Kolchais could worry, the Spinner started singing — a quiet song about the sound of the spindle being the sound of the world being created. After a few verses, Chotaikytsai joined in, mostly singing, sometimes humming if ey lost the pace of the words.

The song sounded odd to Kolchais. The rhythm was very different from the running songs of eir own family or the instrument-backed songs of the musician families that busked the markets. But ey could see how the rhythm and pattern of it fit the rhythm of the Spinner’s hands on the spindle and wool. And the words were fascinating.

The song ended, and in the quiet, they could hear the sh-sh-sh- sounds of the spindle echoing the melody.

After a moment, another voice — Lefeng — began to sing. This song too was unlike any Kolchais had heard. Lefeng’s voice shifted with each line as if ey were two different people. The song itself was a silly song that repeated itself often. Paiokp joined in, picking up one of Lefeng’s voices, but not the other. Then Lefeng dropped those lines, letting Paiokp sing them alone.

It was a conversation, Kolchais realized: Lefeng’s voice led and Paiokp’s responded. It was a story! A story about a farwalker near-adult who thought ey could catch the sun in a bucket of water and stop the bright months from coming.

When they finished, Tsouchm started a song. After that, Chestef in a shakey child’s voice sang a song of eir lost family.

Singing… it was a private thing. A family’s songs were shared only with their most trusted friends and, sometimes, extended family.

They were family.

In time they would make new songs, but for now, it was right that they share the songs of their childhoods.

When it was eir turn, Kolchais shared a good memory from eir childhood — a song of wind and running eir Baba had taught em while they worked the family garden together.

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Planting Life in a Dying City (S3: Kolchais, E7)

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Planting Life in a Dying City (S3, E1)
Planting Life in a Dying City (S3: Kolchais, E5)

Planting Life in a Dying City (S3: Kolchais, E5)

Rough edits on this one bc life stuff. I don’t think there’s any content notes on this one, but may have missed something. Sorry.

Season content notes: ableism, internalized ableism, violence, autistic meltdown

For the rest of the day, they spoke quietly and checked on the Spinner often. Ey was unchanged when they gathered for dinner. Paiokp, always caring-one, left a bowl by the Spinner, but ey didn’t seem to notice.

They were still eating when there was a knock from the gate. Lefeng got up to answer it. As ey walked to the gate, Kolchais saw em checking the grip of eir long knife.

Somehow, that gives em the final key to understand the lanky farwalker. Ey was a guardian who puts emself between danger and eir loved ones. And, considering the mountain cat fur ey had gifted to Chotaikytsai, ey was definitely the best fit of them to take such a role.

They were too small a family to have someone regularly guarding the compound — nor did they need such. But violence wasn’t unheard of in the city. Far from it. Having one willing and able to guard was not a bad thing.

Kolchais was now handling (and spending) more money than ey had ever seen. Having Lefeng at eir back in the market would be reassuring. Perhaps a guard for Chotaikytsai to and from council meetings would not be amiss. Kolchais had not forgotten the talk of Tchyawfu, assassinated by the council for being a family-less who dared to gain open power.

A few minutes later, Lefeng returned from the gate, accompanied by a stranger. But something about the way the stranger moved, the way ey avoided looking at Lefeng or any of them at the fire, was familiar. Kolchais kicked emself.

“Greetings, Spinner,” ey said. “It’s good you came. We should have thought to send for you.”

The Spinner seemed to ignore the greeting. Instead, ey squatted by the fire without waiting for an invitation and spoke as it by rote. “My sibling did not return this night. And we heard of a disturbance in the market. We wish to know if ey is here and safe.” Ey stopped and eir hands fumbled for a moment, much as Kyawtchais’ did when ey was groping for eir spindle. “This one,” ey nodded towards Lefeng, “tells me my sibling is here, but says ey cannot say how ey is.”

Kolchais looked around and saw everyone else looking at em. “There was a disturbance in the market today, and your Spinner-sibling has not yet recovered from it,” ey said. “Ey is as safe as we can make em, but either does not respond or responds badly when we try to speak with em. Perhaps you can help.”

Kolchais looked at Paiokp, expecting the caring-one to step in. But ey shook eir head and looked at Lefeng, who was still gripping the handle of eir knife.

Right, the protector wasn’t going to be happy letting a stranger near one of eir people when unwell. Kolchais caught Lefeng’s eye, but as Kolchais was coming to expect, ey didn’t understand what was needed. “Why don’t you show our guest where the Spinner is resting?” Kolchais asked the guarding-one.

After a moment, Lefeng nodded and stood up, signing for the visiting Spinner to join em. Kolchais watched as they walked across the compound and squatted down by the Spinner. Then forces emself to focus on finishing eir meal.

By the time Lefeng and the visiting Spinner returned, Tsouchm had taken Chestef to bed and Paiokp was helping Chotaikytsai clean up. Kolchais had allowed emself to drowse in the heat from the coals. The days never got cold, not like some of the stories Lefeng told of traveling in the mountains. But the evenings this time of year were cool and nights could be chilly. The warmth seeped into eir muscles and bones, helping em relax and chasing away some of the pain that never fully left em.

Lefeng and the Spinner squatted down near em, talking with their hands. They were moving to fast for Kolchais to keep up, especially half asleep. But ey could follow enough. Their Spinner needed rest and calm and peace. That ey could stay here for the night. That the Spinner will something…

Kolchais was surprised by a yawn that split eir head open. Embarrassed, ey tried to sign an apology, but the visiting Spinner brushed it off and stood to leave. Ey stayed a moment, mouthing something, then spoke slowly, as if testing each word before ey said it, “Thank you for caring for our sibling.”

Kolchais nodded, fighting another yawn. “Always.” Ey managed to dredge up enough thought to recall the hand speech for ‘good night’. Then Lefeng was escorting the Spinner out and Kolchais was alone at the fire pit.

After a few minutes, Kolchais stretched and stood, then shuffled over to check on their spinner. Ey found em sleeping and Paiokp wrapping a blanket around em.

“It will be safe for em to sleep outside tonight,” the once-fisher said. Kolchais nodded agreement. It was well past the season of storms and the sky was clear. Paiokp spread another blanket on the ground, a short distance from the Spinner.

“You’ll stay with em tonight?” Kolchais asked.

“Aye,” Paiokp said. “I don’t know if it’s the right thing, but I’d want someone nearby if it was me.”

Kolchais nodded, wishing ey could do the same. But even with a blanket, a night on the ground would leave em in agony the next day. So ey said goodnight and shuffled back to the shelter and the bed Lefeng had made for the adults from rags and rushes.

It was big enough that they didn’t need to sleep on top of each other, and with Paiokp outside there was even more room. But when Lefeng came in a moment later, Kolchais found ey couldn’t stand the idea of sleeping alone. Ey reached for the once-farwalker, for the beautiful stranger who wanted to be eir spouse. Lefeng came to em, curling up with eir head on Kolchais’ shoulder. “The gate is barred,” ey murmured. “Everyone is safe.”

“Yes,” Kolchais said, understanding everything behind those simple words. Ey nuzzled Lefeng’s hair. “Is this okay?”

Lefeng shivered. “I’ve missed being held, but…”

Kolchais yawned again and closed eir eyes. “Nothing else. Just… we don’t need to be alone anymore.”

Lefeng shifted closer and wrapped an arm around Kolchais. “No,” ey murmured, “No, we don’t.”

Planting Life in a Dying City (Kolchais, E4)

Season content notes: ableism, internalized ableism, violence, autistic meltdown

Kolchais squatted with the Silent Spinner and watched the market — or tried to. The stalls on either side blocked eir view. Ey could see only a small part of the market.

Even so, there were things to look at. The Western market was largely unfamiliar. The Eastern Market was where the food sellers set up shop, and ey had rarely been able to buy anything more than some food.

Like the Eastern market, the Western market was busy and loud. Though no one raised their voices — even the people haggling — the dozens of conversations created a babbling hum that filled the space without overwhelming. The goods of the Western market were all local. Secondhand and poor quality goods sat near the southern gate, the quality gradually increasing until the north gate guards loomed over stalls of fine metalwork and thread craft.

As always, a lightning striker in the center of the square. It was supposed to be tall enough to draw lightning to it protecting the rest of the city. It was mottled with the impact of lightning strikes. Glass patches, sand, and odd places where the sandstone has become another kind of stone entirely. Dripping black bits, as if the stone had turned liquid for a time. And many places where sections of the pillar and even the ground surrounding it were simply… gone. Only lightning or (more rarely) the bright light of a midsummer day could reshape the world so.

One time, after returning from the Eastern market with Tsouchm, Lefeng said that the lightning striker was barely taller than the surrounding buildings, and even a far-walker who had never set foot in town knew better than that. Kolchais hadn’t thought of it before but realized with a shudder that Lefeng was right. And storm season was almost on them. Where were the workers to rebuild it? Why had the town council let it get this bad?

Kolchais shook emself. Ey could mention it to Chotaikytsai and hopefully ey could do something at the next council meeting. There was nothing Kolchais emself could do.

[paragraph about watching Spinner and thoughts on]

When the sun was halfway to midday, Kolchais got up and wandered the market a bit. Ey stopped to listen to a storyteller for a few minutes. To eir surprise, the storyteller winked at em. Still watching em, the storyteller started an ancient story about a child of a farming family. In the story, the family’s fields were dying, and they feared the fields were cursed. The family was planning to move away from the stagnant ground to someplace healthier. But one of the children refused to give up on the corner of the fields ey tended. The child planted all different kinds of seeds and added many different things to the soil. The story was a teaching story. It explained why fish guts and other trash were buried in the fields and how to change the crops to keep the fields healthy.

Throughout the entire story, the storyteller did not look at or entertain the children around em. Instead, ey looked at Kolchais as if speaking directly to em.

Confused, ey returned to the Spinner, needing to think over the story. Storytellers were teachers in their way. And it felt as if this teller was trying to teach Kolchais something. But before ey got back to the pottery stall, ey heard someone yelling and shouting. Kolchais hurried.

A crowd was gathering, and Kolchais had to squeeze eir way through. When ey finally reached the potter’s stall, ey saw a stranger looming over the Spinner, who stared straight ahead, ignoring em.

“What the stillness you staring at!” The stranger yelled.

The Spinner didn’t even blink. Kolchais realized that ey wasn’t ignoring the stranger — ey didn’t even see em.

“You got a problem?” the stranger continued, reaching out and shaking the Spinner’s shoulder.

Kolchais couldn’t watch anymore. Ey shoved emself between the stranger and the Spinner. “Please leave, Adult. Ey meant no offense, and no harm has been done. You have no right to touch em.”

The stranger growled. “Ey’ve got no business sitting around staring at people. Putting curses on em or other evil business!”

The pottery merchant seemed to shake emself and said, “Ay! Enough with the yelling and leave the Spinner alone. They’re all crazy but don’t do any harm.

“You want this pot or not? You’re making folks wait.”

Between Kolchais and the potter, the stranger finally backed down, disappearing into the crowd.

Kolchais stayed where ey was until the stranger was gone, then thanked the merchant for eir help.

“The Silent Spinners have always dealt fair, no matter how weird they are. And your friend has never caused any trouble. Stop by when your family needs pottery. I’ll give you a good deal.”

Kolchais thanked them again and turned to the Spinner. Ey was no longer squatting calmly. Instead, ey was curled in a ball, shaking and hitting emself in the head.

Kolchais crouched down next to the Spinner and grabbed eir fist. Ey went from trying to hit emself to trying to hit Kolchais. Unable to control the Spinner, Kolchais let go and stepped back, helpless to intervene.

After what was probably a short time, though it seemed much longer, the Spinner finally stopped hurting emself. Kolchais squatted down next to em, relieved to see no sign of injury. Softly, Kolchais asked, “Spinner?”

The Spinner twitched and whimpered. After another minute, eir hands started reaching out, searching the ground.

Kolchais looked around and soon spotted the spindle and yarn. Ey put the spindle in the Spinner’s hands. Ey immediately groped for the fiber bag and began spinning and humming to emself.

The spinning seemed to calm em. In a few minutes, ey had returned to eir previous manner.

Kolchais didn’t wander the market again, instead sticking close to the Spinner and making sure ey had no further trouble.

When there was no fibre left to spin, the Spinner packed up eir things and left the market, still saying nothing. Kolchais followed em. Ey walked all the way to the Silent Spinner’s compound, then turned and started towards the Trial Family’s compound. Finally, Kolchais asks, “Is it okay to talk now?”

The Spinner jumped a little, hand-spoke “Yes?” then out loud said, “I may… not respond.”

“Are you okay?” Kolchais asks.

The negative shrug combined with a gesture that Kolchais thought meant ‘too much.’

Kolchais didn’t say anything else.

By the time they got close to home, the Spinner was shaking again and starting at every unexpected sound. They were at the gate to the compound when ey stumbled. Kolchais puts a hand on eir arm to steady them.

The Spinner froze and whimpered. Kolchais pulled away.

At the compound, the Spinner retreated to a corner and huddled there, rocking and humming to emself. Kolchais, at a loss, looked around to see the others approaching, worried. Reluctantly, ey stood and walked over to the fire, waving for the others to join em there. For a moment, ey thought Paiokp would ignore em and continue to the Spinner, but the red-headed former fisher joined the rest of the family at the fire.

As the one who called everyone together, they wait for Kolchais to speak. As briefly as ey could, Kolchais told them everything that had happened.

“When ey stumbled, and I caught em, ey reacted as if I had hit them. I don’t know what is going on or what to do, but I don’t see how we can help when we can’t touch em or talk with em.”

Chotaikytsai hums to emself a moment, then says, “My parent, who came from the spinner folk, would rock. Most of the time, it was just… a thing ey did. But a few times, when ey got overwhelmed, we stayed quiet and kept our distance. It was… a difference in em at those times. Like ey was shutting out the world.”

“Yes,” Kolchais said, “that’s what ey was doing, I think.”

“Best we leave em alone, then,” Paiokp said, “C’mon, Kolchais, we got another load of whithes while you were out.”

Kolchais blinked, surprised by Paiokp’s immediate dismissal. Ey was usually the first to step in when someone needed help. But the walls needed to be built… so ey got up and followed Paiokp to the stack of withes.

From the corner of eir eye, Kolchais saw Tsouchm leave a drink and sweet snacks for the Spinner before returning to working the small garden.

Continue to:
Planting Life in a Dying City (S3: Kolchais, E5)

Return to:
Planting Life in a Dying City (S3, E1)
Planting Life in a Dying City (Kolchais, Interlude: Kyawtchais)

Planting Life in a Dying City (Kolchais, Interlude: Kyawtchais)

Season content notes: ableism, internalized ableism, violence

It was late afternoon when the Short-One sought out Kyawtchais.

Kyawtchais was starting to think that Short-One might also be Wise-One, Seeing-One. With a Wise-One, a Guarding-One, and a Silent, Caring-One as parents, the trial family was stronger than ey had been told. Small, but thick yarn poorly spun would break sooner than a well-balanced thread.

The Short-One sat down next to Kyawtchais as ey worked, spinning the fine linen thread. It would have been better spun in the workroom, with fewer distractions and no dust and mud to stain the fibre. But it was tradition to spin the gift-thread among the family a Spinner sought to join. If you could not spin thread among a new family, the Silent Spinners said, you could not spin yourself into that family.

Short-One watched for a time, then asked, “What do you learn in the markets?”

Kyawtchais let the spindle finish the last turn and caught it up, thinking. Not-Spinners rarely understand. Unless they were the sort to marry into the family. None of the Spinners knew why they were different, but they were. As were their children, often. Even if they married-out. “I spin the voices,” ey finally said.

The not-Spinner, once-Runner, Stubborn-One doesn’t understand, of course. (The Guarding-One was also Stubborn-One, ey thought. But not always. Not often.) “How can you spin voices?”

“The market is… loud, many voices. The voices splitter. To understand, they must be spun together.” Kyawtchais hummed for a bit, tapping eir fingers with the rhythm of the spindle. “Today, I spun voices in the Eastern Market. Tomorrow maybe the Western Market.” Ey hummed a moment, remembering the voice-threads ey had spun that morning. One thing there was that would be of interest. “The new winter crops begin to come in, but trade with Far-Walkers has been poor. Meat will be priced high, I think, this season.”

“May I come with you tomorrow? I’d like to see.”

Kyawtchais hesitated. It was rarely… comfortable… having others with em at market. But ey needed to let this family get to know em, and the markets… the markets were special to em. “You must not distract me. Or interrupt me.”

“I am do that,” the Short-One smiled, “Honestly, a chance to just sit around for a morning and watch other people will be… nice.”

Frowning, Kyawtchais looked over the trial-parent. Ey saw nothing in the Short-Ones face, which non-Spinners read as easily as one of eir niblings read animal tracks. But the tightness in shoulders, the slightly hunched posture, the slightly-too-relaxed fingers… “You are hurting.”

The Short-One startled. “It’s nothing, I can do what is needed.”

Kyawtchais shook eir head. “You must stop. Spinners know.” Ey thought a moment, translating hand-sign into mouth-speech. “When you hurt you must stop, or you will…” The sign ey used was two thread-hands ripping apart. The not-Spinner didn’t understand, couldn’t understand. Ey sighed. “You will come tomorrow and sit. When Watchful-One is back from day-work, ey will tell me mouth-words.”


The next morning Kyawtchais left the Silent Spinner compound to spin the market like ey did most days. Unlike most days, ey waited at the entrance of the Western Market for the Short-One, once-Runner to join em. But the currents were kind, and the Short-One arrived soon after Kyawtchais. They entered the market together.

Kyawtchais had a regular spot between a pottery stall shared by three families and the Woven-Reed family’s stall, which sold baskets and some floor and window coverings. They did not mind Kyawtchais’ presence near their stalls, which was not always the case. Ey spread a leather mat out on the ground and squatted down, gesturing for the once-Runner to join em.

It was the work of a moment to set up eir spinning. Not the gift-thread this time, but a thicker linen, suitable to be plied with another like it and woven into sailcloth. Steady, familiar work. Ey started the spindle but couldn’t sink into the rhythm, hyperaware of the maybe-spouse-to-be squatting next to em.

But unlike many who had joined Kyawtchais, the Short-One was still. Ey said nothing as the spindle turned and fibres twisted. And within a few minutes, Kyawtchais was able to the rhythm sweep em away.

The fibres flowed through eir fingers. They made a familiar and reassuring /shh shh shh/ as the spindle twisted it from an indistinguishable mass to a smooth and orderly thread. With a practiced twist, ey wrapped the newest thread around the spindle and set it spinning again to catch up more fibres into the thread.

The feel/sound of the thread and spindle in eir hands grounded em, and Kyawtchais opened emself to the noise of the market. It was as chaotic and messy as the fibre in eir bag. Ey couldn’t hear all of it, couldn’t put meaning to a fraction of what ey heard. But ey heard enough. Like the spindle, eir mind twisted out a handful of sound-fibres at a time, pulling them together and putting them in an orderly thread.

Today ey sat near the potter, but ey pulled sound-fibres from much further away.

‘…don’t know how you can get away with…’ ‘…messengers have petitioned the Dark-Stone…’ ‘Long-ship is back in port with…’

‘…prices like these. Shoddy work. 2 fish tokens…’ ‘…Carvers they won’t ever take Dark-Stone tokens…’ ‘…goods from a great sea within the Trackless Desert and they say…’

‘…no more. Fine, 2 linen fish tokens and take your business elsewhere.’ ‘… You didn’t hear? Dark-Stone refused a betrothal…’ ‘…cloth like you’ve never seen, animal fur!’

Three or four or five sound fibres at a time. Ey separated them from the mass so ey could put meaning to them. Then twisted them into the whole thread of memory. When one sound-fibre ran out, another picked up to take its place.

It was as hard as spinning the linen thread in eir hands was instinctive. But like the spindle, once ey started, ey couldn’t just ‘stop.’ The momentum of the spin needed to run out. If you tried to grab the spindle mid-spin, the friction of it would sting your hand.

The sound-fibres held em tightly, as tightly as the linen fibres wrapped the spindle. So the first sign ey had that anything was wrong was the hand closing on eir shoulder and knocking em to the ground.

Continue to:
Planting Life in a Dying City (Kolchais, E4)

Return to:
Planting Life in a Dying City (S3, E1)
Planting Life in a Dying City (Kolchais, E3: The Worries)

Planting Life in a Dying City (Kolchais, E3: The Worries)

This one’s a bit rougher than I prefer. Figured that getting back in routine and getting it out was more important that getting it fully polished.

Season content notes: ableism, internalized ableism

The next few days passed quickly. The charcoal family arrived to collect the ruins of the Colorwork Weaver’s home. Chotaikytsai watched them go with tight lips but said nothing when Kolchais asked if ey wanted to talk. The Spinner came each afternoon, though ey was often silent and sometimes moved in a jerky and unsteady fashion. When ey did speak, it was disjointed with much repeating of words.

One morning, seeking something ey could do, Kolchais asked Lefeng to teach em what Lefeng knew of the hand-speech. Lefeng agreed and immediately squatted down with Kolchais to show em the basic hand-shapes that made up the signs. After that, they practiced a little bit each evening.

A few days later, Kolchais started using some hand-speech with the Spinner. Ey felt awkward and was sure ey was making a fool of emself. But the Spinner lit up. Lefeng quickly caught on and soon the Spinner, who Kolchais was starting to think of as Dancing One for how eir hands fluttered and swayed when ey didn’t pay attention, started regularly using the hand-speech for simple things like ‘yes’ ‘no’ and ‘get that’.

When Lefeng asked the Dancing-One to teach em more of the hand-speech, Kolchais quickly seconded the request. They couldn’t very well practice while weaving the walls, of course, but that evening the Spinner stayed to join them for dinner. “Here,” ey said, skimming eir hand over Kolchais’, “Knife hand, not cup hand. Cup hand to the shoulder is secret.” Kolchais flattened eir right hand and brought it up to pat eir left shoulder twice. The Dancing-One bounced twice while eir hands fluttered about eir head, then shaped themselves into snake hands, and the two snakes kissed. Or that’s what it looked like to Kolchais.

“So if the Short-One is saying ‘give me,’ are you refusing?” Lefeng asked with a laugh, “Because that’s not how you say ‘yes’.”

Kolchais reached up to flick Lefeng on the forehead. The once-walker stood a hand or more taller than anyone else in the family, and often teased Kolchais for eir height. Kolchais would have been bothered by it more if ey didn’t enjoy the way Lefeng could loom over em.

The Spinner laughed. “No. Agree. I say ‘agree’.” Ey made the snakes kiss again. “Agree is own word. I could answer em ‘yes'” This time ey made a single snake hand nod. “But ‘agree’ is better.”

Each day, on breaks or over dinner the Spinner would try to teach them more and they’d practice together in the mornings over food.

Kolchais noticed that Paiokp took no interest in the hand-speech, though ey did pick up a few common gestures. Chestef, with the curiosity of the young, frequently abandoned the grandparents and the work of the gardens to spy on the lessons.

After a few days of lessons, Kolchais started to worry about the Dancing-One. Ey had assumed many of the Spinner’s mannerisms and speech difficulty were just part of the strangeness of the Silent Spinners. But the lessons forced them to interact more and the Spinner’s odd mannerisms and difficult speaking were becoming more noticeable over time. Kolchais tried to ask the Spinner if ey was okay, but ey didn’t answer and Kolchais wasn’t sure if something was wrong or not.

The next morning Chotaikytsai announced that ey would be going out to attend a council meeting that afternoon. Kolchais shakes eir head but doesn’t say anything. Ey knows these meetings are important, but ey doesn’t have to like it.

Lefeng and Tsouchm make this a day to stay home. They see Chotaikytsai off mid-morning.

It was only the second time Tsouchm watched Chestef on eir own. The new grandparent was quickly run ragged, to the amusement of all the parents. (Kolchais froze as ey realized ey was thinking of emself as a parent. Ey was a parent. An actual parent.)

Kolchais knew better than to try to keep up with a young child emself, but ey wanted to start acting like a parent and hadn’t really spent any time with the child. So when Chestef was finally willing to be still for a while, Kolchais pulled out a double handful of smooth pebbles and drew a rough game board in the dirt. Chestef learned the game quickly, and they played several rounds while Tsouchm caught eir breath.

The Spinner, when ey arrived shortly after noon, stopped and looked around the entire compound twice before cautiously asking “Is the Silent Spinner-cousin well?” Ey accepted the explanation of the council meeting well enough but seemed uncertain. Eir hands twitched and pulled eir hair and clothes, and ey looked around frequently as if worried something would sneak up on em.

The Spinner, Lefeng, and the silent-one worked on weaving the walls. But none of them are fully paying attention and after they have to unweave a withe for the second time, Kolchais tells them to stop.

“We aren’t getting any more done today,” ey says. “Honored parent,” ey turned to Tsouchm, “We will need mud for the walls soon anyway, right? Will you and my Golden-eyed spouse-to-be and the child go to market and see what that will cost us?”

Paiokp and Tsouchm agree though Tsouchm asks, “Is it wise for the child to come?”

Lefeng, to Kolchais’ surprise, supports em. “Ey needs to start seeing the city and making friends here. A quick trip to the market is as good a way as any start.” Ey thumped the walking stick ey leaned on in emphasis.

Kolchais eyed the staff warily. Lefeng usually didn’t carry it inside the compound. Lefeng had shown the least distraction, but that didn’t mean ey wasn’t feeling the tension. The last council meeting… had not gone as well as they had hoped. As Tsouchm, Paiokp, and Chestef head out, Kolchais considers Lefeng. “Door ward?”

“That… would suit,” Lefeng replies after a moment. “Is it needed?”

“Most of the family is out of the compound. Having someone on watch can’t hurt.”

With a decisive nod, Lefeng strode over to the still-broken gate. Ey squatted down where ey had a clear view of the street beyond, staff at the ready. Kolchais was beginning to suspect that far-walker staffs weren’t always used for walking.

For em self and the Spinner, Kolchais pulled out their saved coins. The Spinner sat with em and Kolchais started calculating (again) how far they can stretch their funds. Ey didn’t ask for the Spinner’s input (that would be… presumptuous to ask of one not yet part of the family) but did speak out loud in a tacit invitation for the Spinner to contribute.

Which the Spinner might not understand. But…

The Spinner said nothing, but after a minute, took the coins from Kolchais’ hands. Ey began sorting them by value — and in the process correcting Kolchais’ estimates in a few places.

It’s only mid-afternoon when they finish, so they start making dinner. Kolchais decides a stew will be easiest and if they make enough will serve for breakfast as well.

Chotaikytsai returned from the council long after the others were back. Ey was clearly exhausted. Paiokp, as Kolchais had come to expect, hurried to meet Chotaikytsai and brings em a drink and a blanket to sit on.

By unspoken agreement, they all gathered around the fire. While they ate, Chotaikytsai shared eir impressions of the council.

Most of what the council discussed wasn’t immediately (or at all) relevant to their new family. The only thing that caught Kolchais’ attention was that the council was largely divided into factions based on family trade — all the families whose trade involved thread or fabric, for instance, had come together in one political faction.

Kolchais allowed eir attention to drift further after hearing that. The Silent Spinners were clear they hoped the trial family would take up a fabric trade. Kolchais had assumed they were looking for a customer to buy their thread but were they also looking for political allies? Ey started considering the implications of the Silent Spinners and how the trial family’s accepting (or rejecting) their suit might play out. So ey started when ey half heard Chotaikytsai mention the Far Message family.


“I was surprised to,” Chotaikytsai said with a sad smile. “But the elder from the Far Message family was very clear. Ey is not going to give us a chance to prove ourselves. Ey has already decided to be against us and is trying to convince others. Others are… not happy, but ey is the only one speaking out openly right now. Perhaps the only one willing to risk angering the priesthood.”

A buzzing started in Kolchais’ ears. Ey blinked a few times, then struggled to eir feet and walked away. Not all the withes had been stored properly. Kolchais picked one up and start weaving it through the uprights by brute force. It bent and strained in eir hands, fighting every inch of progress. Eir arms and back screamed, legs shook, but ey welcomed the pain. It distracted and drowned out the pain in eir heart. Ey managed a bare hand-length process before eir arms gave out.

Ey sank down into the dirt and stared up at the dangling withe, not knowing how ey would stand up again.

A hand rested on eir shoulder and Paiokp squatted down next to em.

Hot tears fell on Kolchais’ knees. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I’m not asking you to,” Paiokp replied.

They said nothing else. Kolchais was vaguely aware of Chotaikytsai keeping the others away, giving eir space. Eir heart-parent would understand.

Long minutes passed with neither of them saying anything.

“I am tired of being a burden,” Kolchais finally whispered.

Paiokp said nothing but put an arm around eir. They sat together until the sun sank beneath the walls of the compound. Then Paiokp helped Kolchais to eir feet and led em toward eir sleeping blankets. As ey drifted off, ey heard, “I don’t know how Lefeng and I would have survived this strange city without you.”

Continue to:
Planting Life in a Dying City (Kolchais, Interlude: Kyawtchais)

Return to:
Planting Life in a Dying City (S3, E1)
Planting Life in a Dying City (Kolchais, E2: the Spinner)

Planting Life in a Dying City (Kolchais, E2: the Spinner)

Season content notes: ableism, internalized ableism

The sun on eir face woke Kolchais. Ey blinked a few times, eyes trying to adjust to the brightness. The warmth was soaking through em, leaving eir limbs feeling loose and relaxed for once.

Not wanting to lose the feeling, Kolchais didn’t move. Instead, ey reviewed eir memories of the night before, trying to piece together a coherent whole.

The Silent Spinner’s approach was unexpected. Kolchais knew little of the family save the gossip. That they were afflicted (or blessed) with some strangeness of spirit. That they were honest to a fault. That they spoke strangely and acted strangely. That they were frequently confused by (and confusing to) other people.

To the best of eir knowledge, Kolchais had never met one of the Silent Spinners nor known anyone who had. The times Kolchais had seen the near-adult in a market, the Spinner had been sitting quietly in a corner. Ey had stared, seemingly at everything and nothing, and spun, and the regulars of the markets seemed to ignore em. The Spinner didn’t seem to frequent a specific market but could be found in any market throughout the city.

Kolchais’ didn’t remember the near-adult speaking much the night before. Eir parent had done most of the talking. But ey had spoken, so could speak normally and not just with their hand-speech.

All that was not nearly enough information. And half of it was based on rumor and gossip, so untrustworthy.

Lefeng and Paiokp wouldn’t even know that much…

Footsteps approaching pulled Kolchais from eir thoughts. A moment later, Paiokp crouched down next to em and offered a cup of water.

Slowly, Kolchais stretched eir body, the movement triggering pain that washed away the warm comfort of lying in the sun. Doing eir best to ignore the pain, ey propped emself up on an elbow and took the water. “Thank you.”

“Chotaikytsai said it was best to let you sleep. How are you doing?”

Kolchais actually looked at the sun and winced as ey realized how high it was. “You didn’t need to do that.” Ey forced emself to sit up and climb to eir feet. Ey swayed a moment and stumbled before finding eir balance. “We have too much to do for me to waste time sleeping.”

Paiokp put a hand on Kolchais’ shoulder. Ey felt a tingle deep in eir gut and swallowed. Lefeng was impressive in eir own way, and Kolchais was quickly coming to respect and trust em as family. But Paiokp… Kolchais doubted either Lefeng or Paiokp would lay with em except to get children. And it would be far more than ey ever expected to get. Surely, when ey had been given so much, it would be selfish to want more?

Ey realized Paiokp had been speaking and blushed.

“I’m sorry, I was thinking and didn’t really hear…”

Paiokp smiled. “It’s okay, I was saying not to worry about it. Lefeng and I can do the heavy lifting, you don’t need to push yourself.”

Kolchais shrugged away the pulse of shame at eir uselessness and brushed out eir clothes. “We should see about going to the baths today or tomorrow.”

Paiokp let Kolchais change the subject, saying, “A bath would be welcome. I’m used to spending much more time in water. Let me bring you some food, and we can make plans.” Kolchais might have argued, but if the once-fisher was willing to make plans, Kolchais wasn’t going to interfere. Like the grandparents, Kolchais had noticed how the fisher-folk kept eir distance unless helping care for someone.

So they ate and talked about which bathhouse the family would visit and what time would be best. When the food was done, the distant-one went back to digging a trench for the new home’s foundation beams.

After moving around a bit, Kolchais had to admit that ey needed to let distant-one and Lefeng do the ‘heavy lifting’, at least for today. Chotaikytsai was with Tsouchm and Chestef clearing the weeds and wreck from one of the garden patches Chotaikytsai had allowed to go to seed. When Kolchais finished eating, ey joined them. If they were talking about a marriage to the Silent Spinners, Kolchais needed to know more about the other family.

Chotaikytsai surprised Kolchais by being happy to talk about eir Spinner parent. Starting by assuring Kolchais that eir cenn was not eir Silent Spinner parent so there was no risk in a close relationship with the near-adult. Then ey shook eir head and laughed. “What am I thinking? It’s not like I am cenn to any of you, of course, there is no risk!”

Tsouchm chuckled and teased Chotaikytsai about already having a grandparent’s memory. But Kolchais impulsively gave eir heart-parent a hug. No matter what Kolchais’ doubts, Chotaikytsai fully accepted and supported em, and eir slip of the tongue was just one more proof.

Then they talked about the Silent Spinners for a time. Chotaikytsai warned Kolchais that ey knew few of the spinning folk and from what ey saw, eir parent was not representative. But Kolchais learned some of how their hand-speech worked and a few things they might expect from the near-adult

Shortly after sun-high, the knocker at the gate rang. Kolchais waved for Chotaikytsai and Tsouchm to stay and moved as quickly as ey could over to answer it. To eir surprise, ey reached the gate before cautious-Lefeng. A glance showed that Lefeng was watching, but the once-walker only nodded for Kolchais to go ahead. Confused, Kolchaise opened the gate

The Silent Spinner near-adult was there. Pleased, Kolchais greeted em and invited em in. The Spinner seemed friendly enough, but Kolchaise noticed how ey avoided looking at Kolchais. Clearly, ey had already heard Kolchais’ reputation.

Kolchais bit eir lip and showed the near adult around. Ey said little, but willingly pitched in to help with placing the foundation beams for the new house. Hoping to make a better impression, Kolchais threw emself into the work, ignoring Paiokp and Lefeng’s hints that ey didn’t need to.

Ey was so focused on the work that ey doesn’t notice the odd way the spinner is acting. Ey frequently to stopped to wipe eir hands of dust and dirt. If that didn’t work, ey would stop for minutes at a time picking the little bits off eir hands.

Lefeng and Paiokp were clearly confused and kept glancings at Kolchais as if asking what was going on. Kolchais wasn’t sure and honestly doesn’t care. For once ey wasn’t the only one who had trouble with a simple task that everyone was capable of. Whatever the problem was, the Spinner was still willing and able to do the work, and Kolchais wasn’t going to hassle em about how. Just one of those things about the odd Spinner family.

Halfway through the afternoon, Paiokp abruptly stopped what ey was doing, dropping the sharp stick ey had been using to dig (they only had one shovel), and walked away. Kolchais ignored it, assuming ey was going for water or to relieve emself, though Paiokp usually timed such breaks for the end of a task.

A few minutes later, though, ey returned with wet several rags and gave them to the spinner, who took them with a brief “Thank you.”

Kolchais looked at Paiokp and mouthed, “What?”

Paoikp shrugged and whispered back, “Ey doesn’t like stuff on eir hands.”

Kolchais shook eir head. Of course. With the rags, the spinner was able to clean eir hands more easily.

As it got close to sundown, Kolchais was forced to move even slower than usual, stopping to rest even more often. Ey wanted to take the time to get to know the spinner, but just breathing was almost too much. Finally, when it was time to position the foundation beams, Paiokp insisted that Kolchais and the spinner allow em and Lefeng to do the lifting. And Kolchais couldn’t argue. Once again, failing to do eir part.

The spinner abruptly took their leave, barely taking time to say goodbye. Kolchais worried for a moment that Paiokp had offended them, but didn’t have the current left to worry about it. Ey barely managed to eat dinner and went to sleep early.

The next morning, Kolchais remained wrapped in eir blankets until almost sun-high. When ey finally got up, it was only to move to huddle near the coal. How long, ey wondered, until they have a proper hearth again?

Continue to:
Planting Life in a Dying City (Kolchais, E3: The Worries)

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Planting Life in a Dying City (S3, E1)