Planting Life in a Dying City: Season 1, Episode 3 — The Orphans (Part 1)

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

Lefeng hailed the first person ey saw who wasn’t busy–a young person about Lefeng’s own age who sat at the edge of the village staring at the water. Like the youngling, this one had golden highlights in eir hair, but the coils were looser, like Lefeng’s own. Eir skin was brown, without the burnished look farwalkers developed after a lifetime on the trails. Unlike the youngling, this one was familiar. Perhaps Lefeng had seen em on past travels to this village. The eyes especially, bright gold with a darker ring around them, touched Lefeng’s memory.

The stranger started, as one who had been lost in thought. Then ey stood and dusted emself off before looking over Lefeng and the youngling. To Lefeng’s dismay, the stranger recognize the youngling, and eir face showed eir sorrow.

“Hail Net-mend youngling. Greetings stranger.”

“Greetings,” Lefeng replied, “I am…” ey stumbled, “I was Longstride near-adult of Sandy Cove. Sandy Cove is no more. As is Longstride.”

The stranger closed eir eyes and swallowed, as if forcing down eir own grief. Lefeng’s eyes tightened. Was this village more damaged than it looked?

“I am sorry for your loss. Youngling…” Ey crouched down to be on the youngling’s level, and Lefeng knew eir fears were right. “Youngling, I am sorry, your family… No one else has survived the wave. Net-mend, too, is no more.”

The youngling stared, then turned to the Lefeng with accusing eyes. “They have to be here. You said you’d bring me back to them. So they have to be here.”

“I am sorry, youngling. I said I would bring you here and we would look for them. But if they are not here…” Lefeng, too, crouched down.

The youngling grabbed eir hand, and Lefeng didn’t try to stop em. “They can’t all be gone! They can’t!”

Lefeng looked at the stranger, hoping for some chance to offer the youngling. But the stranger shook eir head. “The roof came down,” ey murmured.

Lefeng nodded and picked the youngling up. The stranger stared, but Lefeng ignored em. Propriety took second place to a child in need. And there was no family left now, to be offended.

“The rest of the village?” Lefeng asked.

“Most families survive. My own…” ey shrugged and Lefeng nodded eir understanding, “but the others remain. Though none are undamaged.”

“I am sorry for your loss.” Lefeng knew eir response sounded rote, not a proper reply to such grief. But ey couldn’t take eir focus off the child. “Do any of the youngling’s ommers survive?”

“I don’t know. But that generation was hit hardest,” the stranger shrugged again.

They would have been. The younglings and grandparents and elders would have been in the home compounds. It was the adults and near-adults who would have been out in the boats or on the trails.

“I want to go home!” The youngling cried. But ey has no home left.

Lefeng held the youngling until ey cried emself to sleep. Around them, the survivors went about their work, only occasionally glancing at the devastated child. Lefeng knew it was courtesy, propriety, to not interfere with the child of another family. But part of em burned with anger at their indifference. If Lefeng had not been there — a stranger from another village — would anyone have cared for the child in eir need?

When the child quieted, the near-adult of High Trail shifted eir feet and said, “I am… I was Deepfisher near-adult of this village. You and Net-mend youngling can shelter in… my home tonight, and ask around for any relatives ey may have tomorrow.”

Lefeng hesitated. Ey wasn’t eager to spend the night under a roof. Especially a strange roof.

“It might be best if you don’t,” the Deepfisher blurted out. “I… the others here will distrust you, if you stay with me.”

“The child needs a night under a roof. The trail was rough for em.” Lefeng spoke as much to emself as the Deepfisher. “I will be leaving once ey is settled and don’t care what stagnant strangers think of me.” Ey spoke the insult recklessly, angrily. These people were none of eirs. Ey wanted nothing from them but a home for the child.

To eir surprise, the Deepfisher wasn’t bothered by eir words. Ey simply waved a hand and lead Lefeng to a small compound, barely large enough for a double hand of people. The bottom of the outer walls were pocked with gaps where the water had washed away the mud-daub, revealing the wattle whithes underneath.

Inside, the space was different from anything Lefeng had seen. Instead of a large open space, many inner walls divided the building into several smaller spaces. Most of them were in disarray, but the largest had been cleared of the water-logged wreckage. A single bed, a pile of food, and a few pieces of clothing sat to one side. A firepit with a few softly glowing embers lay in the middle of the space. Otherwise it was empty. Sunlight seeped in through cracks and holes in the walls, but the inner support beams, at least, were intact.

“The youngling can sleep on the bed.” Deepfisher said. “I, ah, I haven’t sorted through most of what’s left.”

Lefeng placed the youngling down carefully and shrugged. “I have slept on the ground before, and will again.”

“Yes,” the quiet voice replied. “I suppose you have.”

Staying in the compound was a wise choice. The child had a bad night, waking up frequently from nightmares. But the familiar — the dim-red glow of the hearth, the ingrained fish smell, the sound of others sleeping nearby — helped sooth em back to sleep each time.

The next morning, the Deepfisher provided breakfast, a thin porridge with a briny taste. Lefeng recognized it from when Paiespaiokp would use sea water to add flavor to a late-season meal. Lefend had fresh food in eir pack, harvested on the move as ey and the youngling had travelled. But to offer would insult the Deepfisher’s strained hospitality.

Distracting emself from the meal, Lefeng turned to the youngling. “Do you know any of your ommer?”

“Ommer?” the youngling scratched at the dirt, not looking at Lefeng.

“Your parent’s siblings who married-out?”

The child nodded. “My… my Cenn married-out. Ey grew up in High-Fields family. Ey said that gutting fish was better than kneeling in the mud and ey felt bad for eir siblings who stayed High-Fields. Are… are eir siblings my ommer? Because they didn’t like em. So I don’t like them!”

By the time ey finished speaking, tears were rolling down eir face. “I want my Cenn and my Baba!”

Lefeng reached out to em, but this time the youngling jumped up and ran away, to curl up against the wall and cry.

Lefeng let the youngling be, instead asking the Deepfisher about the other families of the village. Unfortunately, the Deepfisher could only tell em that neither eir family nor the family ey meant to marry out to had an close ties to Net-mend. Apparently, the Deepfisher had little care for the doings of the wider village.

Lefeng leaned against the wall and closed eir eyes. The next step would likely be to find out if this village had a priest. Lefeng had never liked the priest of eir village, preferring to go to a Long Trail near-adult who had been training as a Trail-Quester in the far-walker traditions. But Trail-Questers were rare. Last year this village had only retained a single far-walking family. There would be no Quester here.

The youngling interrupted eir thoughts. “I want to go home.”

Return to:
Episode 2: The Child

Continue to:
Episode 4: The Orphans (Part 2)

Planting Life in a Dying City: Season 1, Episode 2 – The Child

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

In the morning, when the fire had burned down to embers and there was no way it could spread in the wet and the mud, Lefeng shouldered eir pack. It was overfull with everything ey could salvage–and buried in the bottom, a simple, childish bracelet. Without looking back, ey started down the trail to the next village, hoping to find someone there alive. Hoping to find answers.

The trail was more mud than trail, as if a great storm had soaked the area. Lefeng added it to the strangeness ey had seen and focused on following the path that was nearly unrecognizable from when ey had walked it last spring. The trail ran up in the foothills. High enough to have mostly escaped… this. Down towards the sea, Lefeng could see places where whole trees had been ripped from the soil or broken in half. Whole stands of saplings ripped away. Around the trail itself, ground cover had been ripped away, soil eroded and rocks exposed or pulled out of the ground. But the trees and brush had mostly survived.

Lefeng watched the trail more carefully than ey needed to. Eir ankle was mostly healed, and ey needed to keep watch on the changed trail to avoid reinjuring it. But more, keeping watch on the trail kept em from thinking about what had happened.

Late in the evening, Lefeng heard crying. At first, ey thought ey imagined it. Too often that day ey had been haunted by the memory of those ey had lost. Why would ey not imagine hearing the tears ey was unable to shed?

So ey was unprepared to come around a bend in the trail and find a young child sitting on the verge, crying. Lefeng squatted down a few paces from the child. “Hello.” The child looked up. “I’m a farwalker near-adult from Sandy Cove. What are you?”

The child’s hair was more tightly coiled than Lefeng’s with golden highlights brightening the auburn that no one in Sandy Cove had sported. Eir skin was tawny and lighter than most folks Lefeng had met — in the village or on the trail. Ey had the button nose of most children and wide-set eyes.

Lefeng didn’t recognize em.

The child rubbed eir eyes. “I’m–I’m fisherfolk youngling. I– I don’t know the name of our village.”

Youngling meant the child was old enough to leave the family compound, around 5 years. This one looked young enough to have just left the compound that season. And Lefeng spent so much time in the foothills, ey might not have seen this child.

“Did your village have a sandy beach where the fisherfolk could pull their boats right up onto the shore?”

“No. The trees grow right out over the water and the boats are tied up to the roots.”

Not Sandy Cove, then. But… “That sounds like High Trail village. I’m traveling there. Will you travel with me?”

“I want my Baba and my Cenn and my parents.”

“Do you know where they are?”

“They were at the boat. It got broke and they were fixing it. I was playing with my friends when the water disappeared. Everyone was shouting and yelling and then the water came back and it picked me up and brought me here and I didn’t know how to go home.”

By the end of eir little speech, the child was crying again. Lefeng offered em a scrap of soft leather to wipe eir face.

“It is almost dark. How about if I sleep here with you tonight, and in the morning we will go to High Trail and see if your parents are there.” Ey wanted to pick up the child and hold em, as Lefeng would have done with eir sibling’s babes. But one did not touch the children of another family. So ey could only sit and wait.

To Lefeng’s shock, the child threw emself at Lefeng. Lefeng caught em instinctively and ey burrowed into Lefeng’s arms, clinging to em.

When the child calmed, Lefeng settled em on a cool rock and began laying out a small camp. The child devoured the food Lefeng offered as if ey hadn’t eaten in days. Which ey probably hadn’t. Ey took water too, though ey didn’t seem particularly thirsty. When Lefeng asked, the child said that ey had been drinking water from a ditch a short distance from the trail. With a full stomach, the youngling began to drowse. Lefeng, after a moment’s hesitation, pulled out eir greatcat fur that had, miraculously, survived the… the wave to make a soft, dry bed for the youngling. Exhaustion and safety carried the youngling off into a deep sleep. Hopefully, it would be free of dreams.

On the other side of their banked fire, Lefeng slept lightly. It wasn’t likely they would have trouble. Not on a well-trod trail this close to a village. But the wave must have disrupted the habits of the animals in the areas as well. The child might seem easy prey to predators looking for a meal.

Besides, any time ey started to fall into a proper sleep, ey dreamed.

In eir dreams, ey saw the wall of water the youngling described crashing over eir home. Eir family battered or swept away or sucked out to sea in the great undertow such a thing would carry with it.

The next morning, Lefeng was eager to get back on the trail, and away from eir thoughts. The youngling was slow to start moving, but once awake seemed relieved to have a grownup telling em what to do. They ate a quick meal of trail rations and started walking. At first, the child seemed cheery and curious. Lefeng’s presence and promise to help em find eir family was enough reassurance to have em darting ahead along the trail or lingering behind to examine some plant or interesting rock. Ey asked questions constantly about this or that thing ey saw.

But as the day lengthened ey became quiet. Ey stopped exploring and instead stayed close to Lefeng, frequently clinging to eir hand. Lefeng should have pulled away, but didn’t. The youngling needed comfort and reassurance. Even knowing how eir actions would have shamed Lefeng’s family, ey couldn’t deny the youngling’s need.

The youngling’s presence also helped Lefeng. Ey no longer heard the voices of eir dead or saw the sprawled bodies, like discarded dolls. The need to take care of the youngling, keep em from danger, and comfort em kept Lefeng focused on the moment.

Eventually, as the youngling clung more and more and began to stumble from exhaustion, Lefeng picked em up and carried em.

Often, Lefeng had carried an infant sibling on the trail. Less often, ey had carried younglings, those old enough to follow the trail but still young enough to be worn out at the end of the day’s walk. The familiarity of it finally brought the tears to Lefeng’s eyes. Ey didn’t wipe the tears, not willing to let go of the youngling. They dripped down eir face to soak into the youngling’s hair.

Lefeng’s arms were just starting to get tired when ey saw the first set of footprints in the trail. Sometime since the wave, someone had walked part of the trail then turned back. When Lefeng started seeing footprints in the mud covering the trail, Ey roused the youngling and set em on eir feet. The village was likely nearby, and it would not be well to approach the village with Lefeng holding or touching a child not of eir family.

They walked into the village as the sun was touching the tops of the mountains.

Unlike Sandy Cove, this village had been built on a rise a fingers-width walk from the water’s edge. Lefeng had heard fisherfolk in Sandy Cove talk about the foolishness of it. Why build so far out you couldn’t even see your boats from your gateway? But Lefeng saw the wisdom of it now. Sandy Cove had been destroyed by the water. This village was damaged, yes, but it was still standing, and full of people who even now were bustling around repairing compound walls or clearing detritus from the street. It was worse damage than Lefeng had ever seen after any storm, but not unrecoverable.

It gave Lefeng hope, that the fisherfolk youngling might be luckier than ey was.

Return to:
Episode 1: The Wave

Continue to
Episode 3: The Orphans (Part 1)

Planting Life in a Dying City, S1 E1: The Wave

Left alone after a tsunami destroys eir village, Lefeng would have walked into the mountains and not looked back. But a child lost on the trails redirected eir course and another survivor plants the seed of an idea – a new family. Lefeng’s commitment to those ey comes to love will take em to the hated city and a new way of life. But in a slowly dying city, Lefeng’s determination can only carry them so far.

Planting Life in a Dying City is a low fantasy, multi-generational found family story. Each season will be told from the PoV of a different character. No explicit sex, minimal violence, lots of trauma. Agender, disabled, elder, and autistic characters.

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

A shaft of sunlight lanced through the forest gloom highlighting another empty snare. Lefeng shook eir head as ey pulled up the small game snare and examined the grass rope for damage. Somehow no one had seen that break in the canopy over the summer. They were lucky the snare hadn’t been sun-touched.

A small ground shake rattled the trees as ey coiled and stash the snare-rope it in eir pack. Lefeng had pulled a dozen others earlier that day and found a pair of lemurs that had been caught by two of the traps. Ey had been surprised by them. Penpy ran the trapline two days ago but had forgotten to pull the snares. Lefeng was just as glad. It gave em a chance to get into the foothills on eir own one last time before the bright months ended.

Ey moved to the next snare, pausing on the way to pull leaves from a low growing mint plant. Munching on the leaves refreshed eir spirit and moistened eir mouth. The air was dry in the foothills, above the influence of the ocean. But ey only had a few more snares to pull and then ey could head home.

Tomorrow, the adults and near-adults like Lefeng would start packing for their winter travels. They’d follow the old ways, camping for a short time to gather food and supplies, then traveling on when the area they were in started to become depleted. Each year they traveled a slightly different path, giving the land time to recover. This year, Paiespaiokh would come with them, spending a full journey season with the family. If all went well, Lefeng and Paiespaiokh would join the marriage group together next spring. Spouses who married the group at the same time weren’t always close, but ey and Lefeng had been pair-bonded since childhood, and Lefeng couldn’t wait to bring em fully into eir family and life.

The ground shook again, making a stone under eir foot move. Ey fell to the ground. “Stagnant water!” ey cursed. That was the third shake today. The first one had been strong enough to bring down some of the young saplings. Earth shakes were a part of life. As the priest liked to remind them, even the earth is alive in its own way. But three in one day was unusual.

Ey stood and cursed again. Eir right ankle hurt when ey put weight on it. Checking the ankle showed that it was only swelling a bit. And it had held when ey put weight on it. Ey hobbled up to a straight sapling and used eir handaxe to cut the sapling down and strip the branches from it. With this rough-made walking stick, ey continued down the trail carefully.

Lefeng had no intention of staying in the village this walking-season. And a bad injury would keep em in the home compound this winter with elders, the young children, and some of the grandparents. Two of Lefeng’s siblings were courting other families in the village. They would be staying with their prospective-spouses most of the winter.

Lefeng couldn’t understand why they would want to marry-out to village families. Who could want to live a rooted life? If they had married out to another farwalker family, like Tsukstaifupy last summer, that Lefeng could understand.

But no matter what eir siblings did, Lefeng would be walking-on with the other near-adults and the rest of the family next week. Plus, ey was hoping to get some time with Paiespaiokh outside of the crowded confines of the compound. So no more falls!

A short time later, ey had finished pulling the snares and was headed home. The sun was setting—ey’s injury was making em late. But there was still light to see by.

A half-mark from the village ey reached the lookout clearing. The hilltop had been cleared of trees to give a view of the sea. The fisher families used it in storm season to watch for storms gathering on the horizon. Most years only saw one or two of the great storms, but that was more than enough. Lefeng was a bit surprised they weren’t already posting watch. The bright days were all but passed and the great storms sometimes came early in the year.

There were no storms today, but the sea looked strange. More like a mud puddle a child had jumped in, swirling around and full of debris.

Lefeng licked eir lips and looked harder. Ey had the best far sight in eir family, and while ey had never seen the sea like that, some of that debris looked familiar. Like the scraps of wood and sail that washed up on shore sometimes after a wreck.

Paiespaiokh had gone out with eir family boat that morning. Ey told Lefeng ey wanted to feel the sea under em one more time before spending more than half the year in the mountains.

Caution forgotten, Lefeng pelted down the trail, skidding and sliding in damp leaves and muddy loam. A short time later, ey burst from the trees at the village edge and stumbled to a halt.

Everything was mud. Mud and dead fish and ragged stumps of wood where walls and homes had been that morning. Here and there, a lump sprawled in the mud — lumps covered with fabric and often trailing banners of waterlogged hair.

Lefeng stared, trying to take in what ey was seeing. It was like the entire village had been washed away. Step by step ey crept out into the mud. It sucked at eir boots and clung to eir legs.

The first body ey came to was the elder, Chainchyu. Ey’s face was unrecognizable, but somehow ey was still wearing the silly bracelet of nuts and dried berries ey had worn for nearly twenty years. Lefeng sank into the mud next to em and gently touched the bracelet. Lefeng had given it to em, a childish gift from a youngling to eir favorite grandparent. Chainchyu had promised never to take it off.

Now, Lefeng removed it for em. “Journey long, Baba. Until I join you at the meeting-fire.”

Tears pouring down eir face, Lefeng forced emself to stand. Somewhere, there had to be someone still alive. There had to.

There wasn’t.

When dark fell, Lefeng, retreated into the shelter of the trees and made a small camp. Ey forced emself to eat, having learned well the lessons of the trail. Never go hungry when there is food, you don’t know when you will find more. Sleep couldn’t be forced.

With dawn, ey returned to the remains of the village.

Most were gone, leaving no sign they had ever existed.

Where eir family’s compound had once stood were a few stumps from the fence and the support beams of the house. Scattered throughout the village were a few–a very few–things ey recognized as once belonging to eir family. Ey gathered everything ey could, both from eir family and others, that might be useful.

The next day, ey spent gathering the double handful of bodies together on a pile with as much wood as ey was able to move. It had been over a year since ey had started a fire without coal or spark to work with. And the wet wood didn’t want to burn. But the effort of getting the fire started kept em from thinking about what ey was doing.

About what ey would do next.

Others from the village might have survived, but no one had been off on a long journey. Only the far-walking families regularly went further than a half days travel from the village, and they had all been here, preparing for the winter journeying. Even the fishing boats returned each day except for their yearly trips up the coast to the big city. Anyone who hadn’t been in the village when… whatever it was had happened should have returned by now.

Which meant Lefeng was completely alone.

Finally, the fire started. Ey sat upwind and watched it burn. Saying and singing the prayers for burying the dead. But there was no way ey, alone, could bury them all before scavengers became too bold for em to chase away.

The fire burned long into the night and ey watched.

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Webserial Catalog
What Is Hierarchy and Why It Isn’t Evil Incarnate

Continue to:
Episode 2: The Child
A VERY Different Kind of Family