Planting Life in a Dying City (S2 Finale)

Season content notes:

Pronunciation guide

The next day Tsouchm and Lefeng went out again to turn logs into boards for the city. Tchyawfu met them again but said little. And nothing of their discussion the day before. Tsouchm left em to eir silence. Some things need a little time; others need a lot of time.

On the third day, they stayed home. They needed to be on the road crew at least five days of the week or lose their places. In other circumstances, Tsouchm would have worked every day of the week. But as much as they needed the money, they needed time at home also.

The silent-one and Kolchais had cleared the last of the debris from where the colorwork weavers home once stood. Chotaikytsai had, embarrassed, asked that their new home be built elsewhere. Everyone had agreed, and the youngsters had spent part of the night before discussing where it would best be located.

Before Lefeng even ate, the silent-one grabbed eir to clear ground for the new building. They set to work at the back of the compound, very near the wall. Tsouchm frowned when he saw where they worked. If Colorwork-weavers’ house had been built so close to the wall, the fire would have jumped from home to wall and destroyed the entire compound. Or so it seemed to em.

Tsouchm shook eir head and grumbled, but it was early, and ey was quickly becoming spoiled by the chance to break eir fast right after rising. Chotaiktysai had set a pot of porridge in the embers to cook overnight, and a bowl of that was just what Tsouchm needed to wake up.

Well, two bowls.

After ey finished eating, ey got up to help clear the ground, only to be stopped by Kolchais. “I’ve been trying to figure out money stuff. Can you go over it with me?”

Tschoum hesitates — but Chotaikytsai is busy in the gardens, working as hard or harder than Tsouchm at the logs so they’d have enough food. And Lefeng and the silent-one know less of money than ey does. “I can try.”

So instead of another day of physical work, Tsouchm spent the morning discussing with Kolchais money and needs. The amount of money ey and Lefeng would earn by the time the rains started, if Kolchais’ numbers were right, astounded Tsouchm. Tsouchm has never seen so much money in one place. Never mind had such an amount eirself.

“But… you said you’ve done day labor with the roads for years?”

“Yes, but I didn’t get to save the money!” Tsouchm looked at Kolchais. “Child of mine,” ey savored the words, the connection, “You lived as familyless. You know what it is like.”

“But… but you could work! I thought…” ey hunched eir shoulders in, “I thought it was so bad because I couldn’t. That people who could do the day labor at least could do well.”

Tsouchm thought a moment before responding. “It is true, that some familyless can become wealthy — wealthy for familyless anyway! I suppose I might have done better if I hadn’t been alone. I needed less, taking care only of myself, but I also had no one to help me when I needed it. If I did manage to save money — and you know how hard the city makes that!–”

Kolchais grimaced and nodded. Everything was more expensive for the familyless: the families willing to deal with them charged extra for the ‘privilege’. That the city charged a head tax on all residents who weren’t members of recognized families didn’t help. The council claimed it was meant to keep foreigners from overrunning the city, but Tsouchm had never believed a word of it.

“–then I lost it quick enough when I got sick or injured, or in the rainy season when there was little work, and I wasn’t desperate enough to take it.”

“I’m sorry,” Kolchais muttered.

Tsouchm reached out cautiously and ruffled Kolchais’ hair. Ey’s Cenn had done that, and ey had seen many others. But Tsouchm had never made the gesture emself. “It’s alright, child of mine. It’s good you ask. We may be family, but we still need to learn about each other, right?”

Ey hoped it was right. Stillness knew ey was making this up as ey went. But Kolchais smiled and said, “Right!” So ey had muddled through that well enough.

“You had it worse in many ways because you couldn’t take the daywork,” Tsouchm murmured. “If you and Chotaikytsai hadn’t found each other, helped each other… it scares me what might have happened to you.

“But even those of us who work every day rarely manage more than to be a little comfortable between disasters. The wealthy ones… you stay away from any ‘familyless’ with real wealth. They didn’t make it at day labor.”

Kolchais swallowed. “Yeah. I know those.”

Tsouchm nodded and took a deep breath, then turned back to the question of money. There was too much they didn’t know for sure. What it cost Tsouchm to feed emself did not predict what it would cost the family to feed many. Tsouchm had never been able to buy more than one or two days’ food at a time, nor had ey had gardens to supplement what ey bought.

“We will have enough for now, that is certain. For the future? I am not a clerk to know numbers that complicated.”

Ey looked around. At Lefeng and the silent-one, laughing together, free briefly from the stillness of their losses. In the garden, which Tsouchm dreaded working in, Chestef crouched down, watching Chotaikytsai point something out on the stem of some plant or other. What would their future be? What currents — good and bad — would it bring?

“We must save some,” Ey murmured.

Kolchais shook eir head. “What did you say?”

Tsouchm cleared eir throat. “I said, child of mine, that we must save some. Some of the money should be set aside for the future.”

Return to:
Planting Life (S1, E1)
Planting Life (S2, E1)
Planting Life (S2, E8)

Continue to:
Webserial Catalog
A VERY Different Kind of Family
First Came Trust (E1)


So, we’re leaving Tsouchm & fam here for now. Tsouchm’s found eir feet as a grandparent and the family is moving forward towards the future they all see together. Rough patches on the horizon though. We’ll be back to see how they navigate some of those rough patches next spring.

For now… I goofed, and we’re going to miss a couple of Fridays. But when we come back, we have a new story. For once, I’m trying to write an actually romance story. Wish the characters luck — they may just need it.

The Last Lady of Lună

I was a child when enemies destroyed our clan. My mother escaped and tried to raise me in secret, but without my fathers’ blood, she aged and died. Now I am the last head of the Lună vampire clan. My enemies think I am dead, my clan is scattered to the winds, and I am just coming into my powers. I will claim my birthright, rebuild my clan, and destroy our enemies. I’m just going to need a bit of help.

Luckily I know where to find it. A hot team of human mercenaries specializing in security is looking for their next job. They’re exactly what I need. Now I just need to convince them to believe me, keep my secrets, and rain hell on my enemies.

And if Lună is still watching out for me, maybe I’ll finally get laid.

Posting starts 5/20/2022

Planting Life in a Dying City: Tsouchm (S2, E8)

Season content notes:

Pronunciation guide

Tsouchm and Tchyawfu spoke of small things on the way home. Tchyawfu, unlike Tsouchm, was part of a ‘pseudofamily’ and had news to share of what eir partners were up to. The few children they had had were gone, living their own lives. Some with partners of their own, one going Tsouchm’s route and living a solitary life. One had taken ship on one of the great trading boats that crossed the sea and had not returned.

Nor had Tchyawfu expected em to, of course. The great sea voyages were safe enough except during the bright days, but the land on the other side of it… Who could say? The great sailing families did well, but the familyless who sailed with them did not return as often as not. And the child had always had what Tchyawfu called ‘an itchy foot.’

Lefeng nodded with understanding. “Itchy. That is a good way to say it. My feet itch, sometimes now. But not so much as I feared they would. Ey would have done well in the mountains, perhaps.”

Tchyawfu turned over eir hands in a small shrug. “Perhaps in a different cycle, but in this one?”

It was Tsouchm’s turn to nod. “I have heard you say that one who walks the mountains alone has a fool for a trail partner.”

“True.”

Little else was said until they reached the gate. While they waited for Paiokp to answer their ring, Lefeng glared at the broken barrier. “Fixing that must be our next priority.”

Tsouchm clapped eir on the shoulder. “Protective one.”

Lefeng blinked, “That is not…” ey stopped. “Am I truly?”

“Is it such a surprise?”

“I have been so named before. I am not… I was never…”

The gate opened before ey could put thoughts to words. Tsouchm said what seemed obvious to em, “You have lost much. Is it any wonder you do not wish to lose again?”

“Oh…” Ey blinked then, blinked again. “Forgive me, friend of my parent. I think… I think I must excuse myself…”

Tchyawfu looked between Tsouchm and Lefeng. “Yes?”

Tsouchm watched in concern, Tchyawfu in confusion, as Lefeng hurried away.

Paiokp, standing by the open gate, cleared eir throat. “My parent? You have a guest?”

“Yes,” Tsouchm struggled to pull eir attention back to the present. “This is an old friend of mine. Ey is known as Tchyawfu.”

Paiokp nodded, “Welcome, friend. Excuse me.”

Ey closed the gate behind them and slouched away.

“Is this what a family is like?” Tchyawfu asked.

Tsouchm shook eir head. Ey knew why Lefeng, at least, was so rude but was not sure how to explain. Especially after Lefeng had worked so well with Tchyawfu all day.

“Come, let’s get some food and talk.”

To Tsouchm’s relief, Chotaikytsai was more open in eir welcome. “I apologize for my children,” ey said. “None of us came to this family without grief, but theirs is the most recent.”

Tchyawfu took the opening and asked how the family had come to be. So Chotaikytsai told the story of the wave, of Lefeng and Paiokp’s loss and Paiokp’s idea to start afresh, to create a new family.

“But while Lefeng suffers the grief of eir loss and throws eirself into our future, the caring one I fear is stagnating.”

Tchyawfu nodded. “No apology is needed, then. There are none of us untouched by grief.”

“Truth,” Tsouchm said.

“And more grief coming soon, it seems.” Tchyawfu narrowed eir eyes at Tsouchm. “You spoke of Chopaums.”

Tsouchm sighed. “A fear only. But the priests have plans.”

“You as well, I think.”

“I have hopes.” Tsouchm stirred the banked fire, causing embers to jump into the air. “I am no longer of the family-less, but still to be familyless is anchored in my heart and soul. I would not see this priest bring death upon those I grew up with and care for.

“And having been both now, familyless and familied, some things I see more clearly.”

Chotaikytsai slapped eir wrist to get em to leave the fire alone, then buried some tubers in the hot ashes. “You will join us for dinner, friend?”

“Ah… yes. Thank you.”

“Good.” Ey squatted down with them. “Our quick child and I might share some of that understanding, but I at least was never really part of the familyless. Ey… ey lived among you long enough to know some. But not to understand as my spouse does, in eir blood and current.”

“And what is it you see so clearly, then?”

Tsouchm shrugged, “Only this — if you had seen the chance I did — if someone you knew was creating a new family, would you seek to join them?”

“No!” Tchyawfu burst out. Then hesitated. “I mean… it is a dream. You know it well, Tsouchm, all of us dream of being part of a family when we are young. But…”

“But you are not young. And you have a family of your own.”

“What?” Tchyawfu and Chotaikytsai spoke at once. “What family could I possibly have?”

“You know.” Tsouchm met eir eyes steadily. “Why do you say you would not join a family?”

“Because I will not… leave… my partners…” ey trailed off as Tsouchm smiled.

“Your partners. Your spouses. You have a family. It is a different kind of family. But still a family.”

Chotaikytsai closed her gaping jaw. “You… are right. You are right, for if any of my old spouses had survived, but none of the grandparents or children, still we would have been family.”

Tchyawfu was still staring. “But. But…”

“We are not bound as a family,” Tsouchm said. “We have not gone before tree or wave. But still, we name ourselves spouses, children, parents.

“It was our protective one who threw it in our faces — asked if the council refused us permission would we… stop being family, go our separate ways?

“Of course not. We have made promises to each other. So we are, whether the council recognizes us or not.”

Now Tchyawfu started out of eir shock, “Whether the council recognizes you or not?”

“Just so.”

“And you say we are family? My partners and I?”

Tsouchm reverted to familyless courtesy and took Tchyawfu’s shoulder, shaking em. “My friend, why does it matter what I say?

“What do you say?”

Blinking as if ey had stepped into bright sunlight, ey whispered, “Yes.”

Planting Life: Tsouchm (S2, E7)

Season content notes:

Pronunciation guide

The next day, Tsouchm led Lefeng through the slums of the city toward the west gate and the worker’s market. The hard work of digging up the base beams was done, and what was left Paiokp and Kolchais could do. Which meant it was time for Tsouchm and Lefeng to start bringing in money.

It was also a chance for Tsouchm to return to eir old territory. To reach out to people ey trusted about what ey had done, what the priest had said… and what ey thought the ‘familyless’ might do about it.

Tsouchm felt odd, walking through familiar areas, streets ey had lived most of eir life, and knowing ey no longer belonged there. That someone else would take eir squat on the corner where for most of eir life ey had sat trading gossip with others. The hospitality-family ey had found floor space with the past several months would miss Tsouchm’s money, but soon find another boarder.

An entire life spent on these streets; swept away in a matter of days.

Tsouchm shook off eir mood as they turned a corner and came in view of the market.

“Stay to the right as we enter,” ey warned Lefeng. “We are seeking day work only, and we don’t want to be mistaken for those selling themselves.”

Lefeng didn’t respond but stayed close to Tsouchm.

The market was as much of a madhouse as ever, especially to the right. On the left, those who were desperate, or despairing, or taking the great gamble, stood on a platform. They would advertise their skills, hoping someone would buy the life of their labor in return for food, shelter, and a healer’s care for however long they lived.

On the right, dozens of ‘familyless’ and some from families fallen on hard times crowded near another platform. One by one, those who sought ‘unskilled’ workers for a day or a week or a month announced their needs. It was there that Tsouchm led Lefeng, joining the throng waiting for a good job — or any job they could do.

Tsouchm scanned the line of those hiring and picked out a few ey knew.

“You can use an ax, yes?” ey asked Lefeng.

The parent looked back in surprise. “Of course! How else to get wood for the fire?”

Tsouchm grunted.

After a minute, it became clear that they would be waiting. The line of those calling for workers moved slowly. Tsouchm could have taken several of the offered jobs but chose to wait. But they weren’t good jobs for what the family needed. Sorting fish was a single-day job that would have them back here tomorrow looking for more work. The rock quarry was only for the desperate who weren’t quite ready to sell their lives away. And it would take them out of the city for a month.

Noticing some familiar faces in the crowd, Tsouchm gestured to the official ey was waiting for. “I need to talk with someone. Watch that one and let me know when ey reaches the front of the line.”

Lefeng nodded, and Tsouchm threaded through the crowd. “Tchyawfu!”

Eir friend turned and grinned, pushing the always-tangled hair out of eir face. “Tsouchm! I did not expect to see you here.” Ey frowned. “Rumor must have lied then; you did not magic yourself into a new family?”

“Rumor speaks more truth than usual,” Tsouchm replied. “I am indeed to be Grandparent to the Trial Family.” Ey could have burst with pride at giving eir new name for the first time. “But a new family without trade still needs money, so back I come.”

“Grandparent, then.” Tchyawfu’s voice went cool, and ey drew back a way. “You are lucky indeed, my friend. If I may still call you that.”

Tsouchm was glad then for the time ey had thought the night before. For if ey had not expected this reaction, ey might have hesitated, have drawn back emself. Instead, ey said, “Bah, did you forget my name so quickly then? I always said you would forget your own given half a chance.

“But,” as Tchyawfu relaxed and smiled again, Tsouchm leaned in and spoke softly, “I may not be so lucky, or I may not be the only one so lucky. There has been talk of other new families, talk also of Chopaums.”

Tchyawfu had always been quick and proved so again. “So…, you’ll go for road work then? You always liked the wood chopping.

“Aye. It’s steady work for steady pay. I have–”

Lefeng was then beside em, standing head and more above the crowd on those long legs. “Grandparent? The one you were watching has jumped the line.”

“Have ey? Stillness taken bureaucrats.” Tsouchm wasn’t surprised. The families that supplied the city with wood for the roads weren’t known for their patience. “Child-of-mine, this is my old friend. We have some catching up to do. Shall we drag em along with us?”

Tsouchm was grateful, though not surprised, that Tchyawfu was willing to be dragged.

The Road official knew Tsouchm — as Tchyawfu had said, ey preferred the road work. So ey was happy to select Tchyawfu and eir companions among the others ey hired for the month or so of work. Ey led them out of the market, across most of the city, and out the Sunrise gate. They came to a wide-open area with logs piled at one end and the middle filled with every step of the process that turned logs into the wooden slats that made up most of the cities roads and walkways.

“If you know what you are doing, get to work. If you are new, follow me.”

Tsouchm gave Lefeng a nod and headed towards the pile of axes, mauls, and wedges.

By the time Lefeng was through the introduction and ready to start work, Tsouchm and Tchyawfu had cut the first barrel-length section from the log they had chosen. Those sections would be halved, then quartered, then split twice more to make the thumb-thick boards of the city streets.

As the three worked, Tsouchm told Tchyawfu a bit of eir new family and a great deal of the council meeting and the words of the tree-priest. Lefeng stayed quiet, focused on the work.

Which, in Tsouchm’s opinion, was for the best. Lefeng had little experience at the work and it showed. Still, Tsouchm and Tchyawfu were able to keep the pace up.

By the midday break, Tsouchm’s shoulders were burning. Ey made sure to swing eir arms and shrug eir shoulders every few seconds while they ate, to keep from stiffening.

After the break, Tchyawfu was silent, and Tsouchm let em think. They all focused on the work and finished their log just before the day was called. By then, Lefeng had picked up the flow of the work, and they had a neatly integrated team.

Tchyawfu had still said nothing more when they collected their pay: three fish markers (or equivalent) for each log turned into planks. One marker for each of them, an amazing income for one of the familyless.

When they reached the Sunrise gate, Tchyawfu finally spoke. “You told me what happened, but not what you think of it. And your child has said nothing.”

Lefeng looked from Tchyawfu to Tsouchm. “Forgive me, friend of my parent. I did not mean to be rude. I just… was lost in my thoughts.”

Tsouchm, knowing the thoughts Lefeng was most likely to be lost in, put a hand on eir shoulder. “My friend wonders what you think of the priest.”

Lefeng visibly restrained emself from spitting. Then eir eyebrows rose and ey looked at Tsouchm a minute. Tsouchm nodded, hoping Lefeng would understand what ey wanted.

Tsouch knew little of families, but ey did know that some things were for the parents to decide.

Lefeng did understand. Ey turned back to Tchyawfu with a smile and asked, “Would you like to meet the rest of our family?”

Planting Life in a Dying City, Tsouchm: The Name (S2 E6)

Season content notes:

Pronunciation guide

No one said much until dinner had been cooked, and they began to eat. Then Tsouchm looked up from eir stew and asked, “Does the council’s decision matter?”

“Of course it does!” Kolchais said, “We can’t live in the city without their approval.”

Tsouchm snorted. “I have lived in this city my whole life without the council’s approval. I don’t care if I have it now. But that is not my question.”

“I don’t understand.”

Tsouchm looked around the fire. Most of the others looked confused. Lefeng once again seemed to be mirroring Tsouchm’s thoughts. Well, that one would be used to bucking the expectations of the town and city dwellers. “What do we do if the council refuses to approve us? Do we stop being a family if they say we are not?”

Lefeng looked around and snorted. “Town dwellers. Is that what you’ve been thinking? That if this council of yours doesn’t approve us, we just… go our separate ways?”

“No!” Kolchais said. Then more softly, “No, I just… never thought that far.” Ey shook eir head and picked at eir food. “A family can’t live in the city without the council’s approval…”

“So we don’t live in the city,” Tsouchm said. “There are villages that have lost whole families; you think they will be picky about who moves in so long as they can keep the village going? Or…” ey shuddered, “I am at the age that I prefer a comfortable bed to adventures, but I doubt that one,” ey waved at Lefeng, “would object to dragging us back into the mountains every year.”

Lefengs smile was small but real. The first real smile Tsouchm had seen from longstride since eir grief broke em. “I’ve become resigned to rooted living,” ey said wryly, “A village will do well enough.”

Chotaikytsai perked up. “And there is this — technically, I am not familyless but family-last. All that belonged to my family belongs to me — including this compound, and the land it is on. Even if they deny us recognition, they cannot deny me — and any I welcome — the right to stay here.”

“So…” Kolchais said, “so we are a family. Or will be, once we go before the priests. They can’t take that from us. But what do we do now?”

They were silent for a moment. Spoons scraped in bowls, and the hearth fire crackled. Clouds scuttled across the sky, and Tsouchm wondered what they would do for meals and family discussions if it rained while they were living in the season shelter. Get wet, most likely.

Then the silent one shifted and said, “We should take their trial. It will be better for us to have their approval. And if they deny it, we can still be bound together and do as we like in spite of them.”

Tsouchm nodded and saw the others nodding as well. “If so…” ey paused. But something had been weighing on em since the priest had left. “If so, we need a name.”

“What?”

“But how can we?”

“We have no trade!”

“A temporary name, then. Something…” Tsouchm clenched eir fists. “Without a name, we must use our personal names in our dealings with others. And they will never respect us if we do so. If we are to be a family, let us act like a family. And demand the respect of one.”

“But… what name?”

“I think… I think they named us themselves,” Chotaikytsai said. “We are the Trial Family, by their own word. Let us own it then.”

Tsouchm nodded and tested the name out. “Trial Family. Grandparent of the Trial Family…” It felt strange on eir tongue.

Lefeng snorted and held out eir hand, “It is a pleasure to meet you, grandparent of the Trial Family. Now could you please pass the ale skin?”

Stunned, Tsouchm — the grandparent of the Trial Family — found emself blinking back tears. Lefeng — the parent of the Trial Family — seemed calm as if ey had no idea how much Tsouchm’s world had just changed. Like another great wave had swept through, but this time, leaving life in its wake.

A hand on eir shoulder. Ey turned and looked into Chotaikytsai’s eyes, and behind em, Kolchais was grinning with tears running down eir cheeks.

They, Tsouchm realized, understood. At least partly. They, too, had lived with the shame and disrepute of exposing their personal name for years. But they could not fully understand, for Tsouchm had never had a family name… it was like wrapping a cloak around oneself in the middle of the bright days. Like the great hugs Lefeng gave (rarely) that held and sheltered and squeezed the life out of one all at the same time.

Ey was no longer — would never again — be just Tsouchm…

Blinking the tears away, the grandparent of the trial family tossed over the ale skin. “Of course, parent of the Trial Family. Just leave some for the rest of us.”

Late that night, long after the others had gone to bed, Tsouchm — grandparent of the Trial Family! — sat awake staring at the stars. Ey had a name now. Had a family, made by the only bonds that mattered in Tsouchm’s world — their pledge to each other. Yet no matter what the priest had said, the familyless were still Tsouchm’s people.

The priests went to war with the council and would use those people — Tsouchm’s people — as their tools. It was all very well for the priest to speak of eir own willingness to die, but ey had not the right to make that decision for others. For those that ey had looked down on from eir high place, wearing jewelry that would feed three or more pseudo– No! Three or more families of the… the familyless, who were not familyless at all but only had families of a different sort. Families who were taught from birth that they were meaningless; denied names, denied recognition.

Anger long pushed aside gathered. Tsouchm had never been part of those families, but eir Cenn, eir friends, sometimes eir lovers had.

And the priest would have them give up those families to meet the standards of the council? To dance to the council’s tune, beg for trial years, and hope that if they worked hard enough, bowed hard enough, begged hard enough, the council would accept them and grant them the right to be named properly?

No.

Oh, there were other familyless — no ey needed to stop calling them that — there were others who would make the choice Tsouchm had made, given the chance. Likely many others. But that didn’t change the fact that many, perhaps most, would not make that choice, would keep to the ways and customs they had grown up with.

Either the stagnation of the city would be broken politically, or it would be broken by blood, the priest said. Maybe that was so. Tsouchm wasn’t a priest or scribe to know the cycles of the world. But ey would not leave eir people to be manipulated, made into tools for another’s hand.

Tomorrow, ey would return to eir old haunts. Ey needed to speak with some friends.

Tsouchm grinned. Of all eir people, ey, the grandparent of the Trial Family, had a proper name now. Why should ey be the only one?

Planting Life in a Dying City, Tsouchm: The Year (S2 E5)

Season content notes:

Pronunciation guide

Lefeng, of course, opened the gate. This time Tsouchm noticed that ey walked up to the broken ward with a hand on eir belt knife. Guarding, then.

To Tsouchm’s surprise, when Lefeng opened the gate it was not just Chotaikytsai who entered, but a priest. Eir tunic was green with brown bands, simple enough if finely made. Ey wore jewelry that more than made up for the simplicity of the clothing. A beaded collar with triangles in various shades of green. Bracelets on both wrists, also in green. Tsouchm knew little of jewels and gems. Still, ey recognized that these beads were not the less expensive glass beads. Whatever these were, they were real stone and gem. A priest of the trees and one of rank.

Tsouchm had had little dealings with priests and less with the tree-bound. The tree priests had gained control of the temples from the wave-walkers when ey was a child and held the wealth of the temples. Wave-walker priests would sometimes work in the poorer sections of the city. The tree-bound rarely left their fancy quarters.

To Tsouchm’s amusement, Lefeng and Chotaikytsai led the priest to the hearth, and the rest of the family followed. Once again, important discussions would take place gathered around the hearthstone. It seemed already they were developing family traditions.

The thought distracted em, for a moment, from the priest. But only a moment.

Tsouchm wanted to be hopeful. If they were lucky, the mystic’s presence meant that the council had approved their family, and they were about to be formally joined. Unfortunately, Tsouchm was a cynic, ey suspected they would find nothing good in the priest’s presence. Kolchais and the silent one, caring one, kept neutral expressions before the stranger, but Lefeng grimaced. Ey was as unhappy to see the priest as Tsouchm emself was.

Chotaikytsai stroked the fur of the great beast, seeming to take reassurance from it. “They haven’t given us an answer,” ey blurted out.

“What?” “How can they not?” “Damn it!”

Tsouchm was stunned emself. Ey had been braced for, almost expected, a rejection. But not answer? What did that even mean? Their children-to-be, it seemed, were not stunned but made thoughtless by their shock. How did they expect their parent-to-be to answer if they did not give Chotaikytsai a chance?

Tsouchm would have waited out the outburst, but Chotaikytsai was clearly overwhelmed by it. Likely the council meeting had been both exhausting and upsetting. So Tsouchm whistled, a piercing sound that made Kolchais clap eir hands over eir ears and all of them be quiet.

When everyone’s attention was on em, ey nodded for Chotaikytsai to continue.

“Thank you,” eir spouse-to-be said.

“They’ve invoked an old rule,” Chotaikytsai said with a sigh. “The council is giving us a trial year. A year to prove our family can contribute to the city. If we complete the year with a useful trade and a completed compound and demonstrate we can contribute to the city, they will recognize us as a new family and as citizens.

“But in return for their… consideration, we need to agree that we will not get married without the council’s blessing.”

For a moment, they all stared. Tsouchm broke the silence saying, “And what if we don’t agree?” Ey spat on the ground in pledge, “I know a wave-walker who would take us to the docks and bind us as a family just to spite the council. And none — not even the trees –” ey glared at the priest, “could say then that we are not a family.”

Lefeng grinned at this and hand-spoke, “New trail for us.” Tsouchm needed to find out where and how the once-farwalker had learned the hand speech of the SilentSpinners.

The tree priest looked amused. “The priesthood stands with you in this — even the trees. I am here to offer my support and answer any questions you may have.”

The others relaxed, but Lefeng met Tsouchm’s eyes, and Tsouchm saw eir own distrust in eir child-to-be.

“Why do you care, priest?” Lefeng demanded, “Why would you help us?”

“A new family is a rare and sacred thing. Why should we not support it?” The priest asked, “but,” ey said, as Tsouchm opened eir mouth, “I understand your question. I hope we would have done the right thing no matter what, but we are still human, yes? And we do not challenge the council lightly.

“But the council needs to be challenged. It has been stagnating, resisting change, and trying to keep things as much the same as possible. As a result, the city has begun to stagnate. We, both wave and tree, have been looking for opportunities to help bring a big change to the city, though we look in different ways and places. Something to shake up the council and break the stagnation before it brings death to the city.”

Tsouchm narrowed eir eyes in thought. Ey had not paid much attention to the doings of the powerful. But their doings could shake the family-less like the wind shook a tree, so a wise person always kept an ear out. Ey could not dispute the priest’s words.

“Your new family on its own would be a change. But it would also set a precedent. It is my hope now that my wave-siblings are correct. That the familyless will bring the change this city needs.”

Tsouchm laughed. “How? We have no seat on the council, no riches. No power.”

“You — they, rather, grandparent — have numbers. That is a power of its own. What would happen did hundreds of familyless come together and declared themselves new families? Take up a trade and claim their rightful seats on the council?”

“They would never allow it!” Kolchais whispered. “They can’t…”

“They have set their own precedent; they must either follow it, which brings change, or break it, which brings another change.

“We believe — we would prefer — that they follow it.”

“Chopaumsau.” Lefeng named the one familyless who had ever been a manager of the city. Tsouchm had no idea how ey knew that.

“There will be too many for them to make false charges against or even disappear quietly. Especially with us willing to spread word of anything they do in our sight. Not one person, but dozens, hundreds, nominated to the council? What would happen, grandparent, if the familyless finally saw a chance to have power and respect in this city, and dozens of their own started dying or disappearing in an obvious move to rob them of it?”

“Riots,” Tsouchm gasped, “Rebellion. You would see us all dead!”

“The forest grows anew after a great fire. If that is the only way to see this city renewed, yes, and if the council learns we plan thus, I will be one of the first to die.

“But stagnation will lead to riots and death sooner or later. You are a chance for us to avoid that. A chance only, but so is any new path.”

“It… makes sense,” Lefeng said. “If you are a priest.”

Tsouchm met Lefeng’s eyes, and they both grimaced. The others looked appalled, whether at Lefeng and Tsouchm arguing with the priest or what the priest was planning, Tsouchm didn’t know. The familied, Tsouchm had long noticed, had ingrained respect for the priesthood. It was not shared by those who lived under them. Tsouchm was not surprised that the farwalkers, who did not live under the sway of any priest, would share eir distrust.

“So… Kolchais said, “The city is so stagnant that the council will resist us simply because we are new. You are supporting us because we are new and you want to shake up the council. Fine. We know where we stand; we know what we need to do and will do it.

“Thank you, tree-friend, for your time and offer. I’m sure we will be in touch when we know better what we need.”

The priest, thankfully, took the hint and departed.

Planting Life in a Dying City: The Year (S2 E4)

Season content notes:

Pronunciation guide

Lefeng, of course, opened the gate. This time Tsouchm noticed that ey walked up to the broken ward with a hand on eir belt knife. Protective one, maybe. Or guarding one.

To Tsouchm’s surprise, when Lefeng opened the gate it was not just Chotaikytsai who entered, but a priest. Eir tunic was green with brown bands, simple enough if finely made. Ey wore jewelry that more than made up for the simplicity of the clothing. A beaded collar with triangles in various shades of green. Bracelets on both wrists, also in green. Tsouchm knew little of jewels and gems. Still, ey recognized that these beads were not the less expensive glass beads. Those might be worn by those with pretensions to wealth, even among the familyless. Not these, these were real stone and gem. A priest of the trees and one of rank.

Tsouchm had had little dealings with priests and less with the tree-bound. The tree priests had gained control of the temples from the wave-walkers when ey was a child and held the wealth of the temples. The wave-walkers would sometimes work in the poorer sections of the city. The tree-bound rarely left their fancy quarters.

To Tsouchm amusement, Lefeng and Chotaikytsai led the priest to the hearth, and the rest of the family followed. Once again, important discussions would take place gathered around the hearthstone. It seemed already they were developing family traditions.

The thought distracted em, for a moment, from the priest. But only a moment.

Tsouchm wanted to be hopeful. If they were lucky, the mystic’s presence means that the council had approved their family, and they were about to be formally joined. Unfortunately, Tsouchm was a cynic. Ey suspected they would find nothing good in the priest’s presence. Kolchais and the silent one, caring one, kept neutral expressions before the stranger, but Lefeng grimaced. Ey was as unhappy to see the priest as Tsouchm emself was.

Chotaikytsai stroked the fur of the great beast, seeming to take reassurance from it. “They haven’t given us an answer,” ey blurted out.

“What?” “How can they not?” “Damn it!”

Tsouchm was stunned emself. Ey had been braced for, almost expected, a rejection. But not answer? What did that even mean? But their children-to-be, it seemed, were not stunned but made thoughtless by their shock. How did they expect their parent-to-be to answer if they did not give Chotaikytsai a chance?

Tsouchm would have waited out the outburst, but Chotaikytsai was clearly overwhelmed by it. Likely the council meeting had been both exhausting and upsetting. So Tsouchm whistled, a piercing sound that made Kolchais clap eir hands over eir ears and all of them be quiet.

When everyone’s attention was on em, ey nodded for Chotaikytsai to continue.

“Thank you,” eir spouse-to-be said.

“They’ve invoked an old rule,” Chotaikytsai said with a sigh. “The council is giving us a trial year. A year to prove our family can contribute to the city. If we complete the year with a useful trade and a completed compound and demonstrate we can contribute to the city, they will recognize us as a new family and as citizens.

“But in return for their… consideration, we need to agree that we will not get married without the council’s blessing.”

For a moment, they all stared. Tsouchm broke the silence saying, “And what if we don’t agree?” Ey spat on the ground in pledge, “I know a wave-walker who would take us to the docks and bind us as a family just to spite the council. And none — not even the trees –” ey glared at the priest, “could say then that we are not a family.”

Lefeng grinned at this and hand-spoke, “New trail for us.” Tsouchm needed to find out where and how the once-farwalker had learned the hand speech of the SilentSpinners.

The tree priest looked amused. “The priesthood stands with you in this — even the trees. I am here to offer my support and answer any questions you may have.”

The others relaxed, but Lefeng met Tsouchm’s eyes, and Tsouchm saw eir own distrust in eir child-to-be.

“Why do you care, priest?” Lefeng demanded, “Why would you help us?”

“A new family is a rare and sacred thing. Why should we not support it?” The priest asked, “but,” ey said, as Tsouchm opened eir mouth, “I understand your question. I hope we would have done the right thing no matter what, but we are still human, yes? And we do not challenge the council lightly.

“But the council needs to be challenged. It has been stagnating, resisting change, and trying to keep things as much the same as possible. As a result, the city has begun to stagnate. We, both wave and tree, have been looking for opportunities to help bring a big change to the city, though we look in different ways and places. Something to shake up the council and break the stagnation before it brings death to the city.”

Tsouchm narrowed eir eyes in thought. Ey had not paid much attention to the doings of the powerful. But their doings could shake the family-less like the wind shook a tree, so a wise person always kept an ear out. Ey could not dispute the priest’s words.

“Your new family on its own would be a change. But it would also set a precedent. It is my hope now that my wave-siblings are correct. That the familyless will bring the change this city needs.”

Tsouchm laughed. “How? We have no seat on the council, no riches. No power.”

“You — they, rather, grandparent — have numbers. That is a power of its own. What would happen did hundreds of familyless come together and declared themselves new families? Take up a trade and claim their rightful seats on the council?”

“They would never allow it!” Kolchais whispered. “They can’t…”

“They have set their own precedent; they must either follow it, which brings change, or break it, which brings another change.

“We believe — we would prefer — that they follow it.”

“Chopaumsau.” Lefeng named the one familyless who had ever been a manager of the city. Tsouchm had no idea how ey knew that.

“There will be too many for them to make false charges against or even disappear quietly. Especially with us willing to spread word of anything they do in our sight. Not one person, but dozens, hundreds, nominated to the council? What would happen, grandparent, if the familyless finally saw a chance to have power and respect in this city, and dozens of their own started dying or disappearing in an obvious move to rob them of it?”

“Riots,” Tsouchm gasped, “Rebellion. You would see us all dead!”

“The forest grows anew after a great fire. If that is the only way to see this city renewed, yes, and if the council learns we plan thus, I will be one of the first to die.

“But stagnation will lead to riots and death sooner or later. You are a chance for us to avoid that. A chance only, but so is any new path.”

“It… makes sense,” Lefeng said. “If you are a priest.”

Tsouchm met Lefeng’s eyes, and they both grimaced. The others looked appalled, whether at Lefeng and Tsouchm arguing with the priest or what the priest was planning, Tsouchm didn’t know. The familied, Tsouchm had long noticed, had ingrained respect for the priesthood. It was not shared by those who lived under them. Tsouchm was not surprised that the farwalkers, who did not live under the sway of any priest, would share eir distrust.

“So… Kolchais said, “The city is so stagnant that the council will resist us simply because we are new. You are supporting us because we are new and you want to shake up the council. Fine. We know where we stand; we know what we need to do and will do it.

“Thank you, tree-friend, for your time and offer. I’m sure we will be in touch when we know better what we need.”

The priest, thankfully, took the hint and departed.

Planting Life in a Dying City: The Scrape (S2 E3)

Season content notes:

Pronunciation guide

Tsouchm scooped up the over-energetic Chestef, and together they walked Chotaikytsai to the gate. The council meeting would start early and run most of the day. Chotaikytsai carried the scribe-rod that permitted eir to speak for them. Ey wore the skin and fur of some great beast over eir shoulders like a cape. It looked heavy, but Chotaikytsai seemed unbowed by it. Taking a closer look, Tsouchm saw the front legs and claws of the beast had been preserved as part of the cloak.

It must have come from Lefeng, and Tsouchm worried about how the council would react to the barbaric display. But ey said nothing. Tsouchm had ceded responsibility for this part of building their family to eir spouse-to-be. Ey would not question eir wisdom now, not when Chotaikytsai would need all eir confidence for the challenge ahead.

At the gate, Tsouchm dared to give Chotaikytsai a gentle kiss goodbye. Chestef, less restrained (or more confident in eir relationship), demanded a big hug. Ey had to be content with a kiss on the forehead and Chotaikytsai ruffling eir hair. As speaker, Chotaikytsai would not risk disarraying eir clothing on such a day.

After seeing Chotaikytsai off, Tsouchm brought Chestef to the last few remains of the old weavers’ home. The roof support beams and wall poles were all out now. Nothing could be seen of the building but a rectangular patch of disturbed earth littered with broken discards. That didn’t mean they were finished with the work of clearing.

Lefeng and the silent one were digging up the great timbers the walls had rested on. Those timbers, two handspans wide and a handspan thick, were the supports that held the entire house up. Families who could afford it — and the Colorworkweavers would have been among them — had the timbers coated in pitch. The pitch protected the timbers so they wouldn’t rot out from under the home. Poorer families would be forced to rebuild their homes more often as the wood turned to earth. Once the timbers were gone, the shifting of the earth under the building would slowly tear it apart.

If these were pitch-coated, they’d be able to reuse those beams. If not, well, they might still be reusable for now, but they’d likely be rebuilding again before Chestef was marriage age. Or they might need to replace them now. Replacing them would be expensive.

Tsouchm set the child to picking up and clearing away the smaller scraps that scattered the ground. Broken bits of charred wood, a few rocks, or old roots turned up in the digging. Even, here and there, a few pieces of daily life — a smashed clay cup, a scorched shell, a scrap of blanket — that somehow survived the fire and all the years since.

They’d been working for a bit over a finger-length when Chestef began playing, making a game of hopping through the debris. Tsouchm kept an eye on em but didn’t interfere. The child had worked hard for a time and was, after all, a child. Chestef had a few years yet before ey would need to learn the discipline of work.

But a few minutes into this new game, Chestef tripped and fell. Ey immediately began crying, screaming even. Tsouchm dropped eir end of the beam they were levering out of the soil, barely missing eir own toes, and raced over to the child. Lefeng stood awkwardly, still holding eir end of the timber, but the silent one came over also and squatted down next to the child.

Tsouchm may not know children, but ey knew injuries. So ey made emself forget that this child was to be eir grandchild, eir responsibility. That the very first time Tsouchm had care of the child, ey was hurt… push all that aside and focus on the actual injury.

It seemed to be little more than a scrape — the skin of Chestef’s knee was abraded and peeled back in places. It bled freely, which should be a good thing — the blood would wash any dirt or bits of char out of the wound. The silent one, who had still not shared eir name, offered to take the child. Tsouchm shook eir head and shooed the silent one back to the digging. Then ey picked up the child and held em. Chestef didn’t stop crying.

Tsouchm carried em to the corner by the new shelter where Lefeng had left freshwater that morning. With the water and a rag, Tsouchm cleaned the blood away and put pressure on the injury until it stopped bleeding. By that time, the child’s tears had died down to sniffles, and ey was falling asleep on Tsouchm’s lap. Tsouchm continued holding Chestef until ey was fully asleep, then placed em in the new shelter to rest.

While ey slept, Tsouchm fretted. Children were sturdy — all eir life, Tsouchm had seen them tussling, tripping over things, banging into things, and getting up and moving on as if nothing had happened. But sometimes, they were really hurt. Ey had never been responsible for a child before. Never been spent time with children since eir own childhood. What if the injury was worse than it seemed? Had ey done the right thing cleaning it and letting the child sleep it off? Or had ey done too much? Was this coddling Chestef? How was ey to know how to care for this child?

No, Tsouchm reassured emself. Ey was letting eir self-doubt run away with em. The bleeding had stopped there was no sign of broken bones, and the scrape was not on the knee, where damage could sometimes hide behind a seemingly minor wound. There was no reason to believe Chestef had any worse than a normal childhood injury.

As for coddling, if it was, what of it? The child had lost eir entire family, traveled long days with near-strangers, and now lived in a strange city with more strangers who had promised em a new family but could not even offer a decent home. If any child had a right to some coddling, it was this one.

So Tsouchm sat and held the child and sang snatches of the songs ey remembered eir Cenn long ago singing to em.

As ey sang, ey watched Lefeng and the silent one. That one ey worried about. Chotaikytsai was right that there was something greater wrong with em. More than that, Tsouchm thought that ey was not committed to this family. Ey worked hard — see em digging up timbers with Lefeng. Ey cared. Ey was caring one as much as silent one. But ey seemed to care against eir own desires. As if ey wished to keep a distance but could not manage to…

No, Tsouchm thought. Ey had seen many of the pseudo-families of the familyless come together over the years, and ey had seen this before. Had seen it many times.

The silent one didn’t wish to keep eir distance. Ey wished to be close, to be part, to be welcomed. And was convinced for some reason ey wouldn’t be allowed.

And this was Tsouchm’s child-to-be who did not grieve eir family.

Oh yes, Tsouchm knew this pattern. Knew it well and the many ways it could end. What ey didn’t know was what to do about it. Watch then, and wait. There was a reason the silent one was silent. Learn that, and Tsouchm might know how to help em feel welcome, safe, with this family.

When Chestef woke, Tsouchm took em to the garden and asked the child to show Tsouchm how to weed it. All eir self assurances aside, ey would not let the child play in the clutter of the old home again and wanted to keep Chestef under eir eye.

It was the right thing to do for Chestef. The child delighted at the chance to teach a grandparent. Ey soon forgot eir injury, focused on proving how much ey knew about the plants they were growing and how to tell a vegetable from a weed. To Tsouchm’s surprise, ey learned quite a bit, and the rest of the day passed quickly.

The ringing of the gate surprised Tsouchm. Ey looked up to see that the sun had passed into the western part of the sky.

Chotaikytsai had returned from the council.

Planting Life in a Dying City: S2, Interlude: Chotaikytsai

Season content notes:

Pronunciation guide

The morning of the council meeting, Chotaikytsai looked around the finished season-home with satisfaction. The building itself still looked strange to em, with its round shape that made no distinction between walls and roof. The walls were made of layers of leafy branches, filling it with the scent of greenery. The leaves lent the shelter their natural waterproofing to keep the family dry.

The rainy season hadn’t started yet, but Tsouchm had tested it by dumping buckets over the thing as high as ey could reach. Chotaikytsai was sure it could stand up to anything except the rare cyclones or lightning. Nothing, ey thought with a shudder, could withstand the strange power that lightning had.

Lefeng had been right about the size. It was a tight but comfortable sleep for most of them. Tsouchm, who had no experience sleeping with siblings or spice all together, found it hard to get used to and woke often during the night. But for the others, it felt right to sleep so close that one could feel the breathing of those on either side. The jostling during the night when one or another rolled over whispered safe and home to their sleeping minds.

Once everyone started waking up, it became crowded. Chotaikytsai was not looking forward to spending days crammed inside during those lightning storms. But the safety of having a roof, even such a flimsy one, between them and the lightning was worth almost any discomfort.

Chotaikytsai held that satisfaction to emself as ey went to eir old lean-to. Ey searched through eir things for the one set of good clothing ey had managed to hold onto.

Outside, ey heard Tsouchm and Kolchais arguing about how large the new home should be. With their season-home built, everyone’s focus has turned to a permanent dwelling. Chotaikytsai found emself agreeing with Kolchais. Eir spouse-to-be still hadn’t learned to think of the future of a family. A home big enough for all of them now wouldn’t be big enough when babies started coming and didn’t have room for larger future generations.

Listening to them is a good distraction. Reminding emself that ey was no longer alone was a balm as ey pulled on the long linen tunic. Ey had not worn it, had no reason to wear it, for years. Had not even been sure why ey kept it.

So ey was pleased with how well it fit. A little loose, but looser tunics had come into fashion in recent years. And while eir back was slightly stooped, it was not so much to distort the fall of the cloth.

The tunic was a natural off-white, kept that way by careful washing and being worn (even before the fire) only when nothing else would do. But the hems… the hems were a bold pattern of red and black and yellow diamonds. Those bands had been woven by eir Cenn, some of the last work Cenn did before retiring. Arthritis was the curse of the weaver. Chotaikytsai ran eir fingers over the colors, remembering eir Cenn weaving, knobby fingers flashing in spite of the pain.

Chotaikytsai’s own fingers were smooth and strong. For a moment, ey hated them, a reminder built into eir very bones of all ey had lost.

Voices echoed in the yard. Chotaikytsai focused on them, letting them anchor em now, in this moment of the cycle. Not what ey had lost, but what ey had found.

Ey jumped when Lefeng spoke from behind em.

“Sorry,” the once far-walker said, “Are you well?”

Chotaikytsai shook emself. “I’m okay. Just getting lost in the past.”

“Ah. Yes.” Lefeng lifted a bundle ey was carrying, offering it to Chotaikytsai. “I’ve been… That is… You should have this. For today.”

Ey pushed the bundle toward Chotaikytsai.

“I don’t know how it survived the wave. Or why I saved it. Extra weight, really.”

Chotaikytsai took the bundle. It was flexible and heavier than ey expected. Ey noticed Lefeng’s fingers lingered on it before letting go.

“Thank you.”

Curious now, Chotaikytsai carefully unwrapped the package.

It wasn’t a package.

The leather was the inside of a cape. A cape made from the pelt of one of the great mountain cats. Once or twice a year, maybe, the far-walkers brought such a pelt to the city. The cape eir child-to-be offered eir could have paid for the building of their new home several times over.

“Lefeng…”

“It attacked when I was first old enough to walk the mountains. The cats… they usually avoid us, and we avoid them. It must have been sick. Or injured. I speared it, almost by accident, when it went for my Baba. So they gave me the hide. I could have sold it, and the merchants that came to our village that spring offered more than I had ever seen. But who needs more to own than ey and eir family can carry?

“But if city folks value these that much, wear it today.

“And wear with you the great cat’s heart.” Lefeng straightened and, briefly, the fire ey had carried when ey arrived at Chotaikytsai’s gate speaking of family and new life, returned to em. “You go as one demanding what is eirs by right. Not a beggar they can dismiss on a whim. And if we forge a new path doing it, so much the better.”

Chotaikytsai clasped eir hands and bowed as one acknowledged an elder who shared their ancient wisdom. “You are right. Barbaric, but right. I will wear this with pride and return it to you when I no longer need it.”

Lefeng nodded sharply and walked away. Tears glimmering in eir eyes.

Chotaikytsai watched em go, then settled the new cloak over eir old tunic.

Planting Life in a Dying City — The Shelter (S2 E2)

Season content notes:

Pronunciation guide

The next morning, they all gathered again around the fire. Less is seemed, because of custom or desire, and more because none of them knew what to do. From the little Tschoum had seen, Lefeng was the current that had driven them all, and with eir collapse the rest had been set adrift. A quiet word to Chotaikytsai confirmed eir suspicion. Tsouchm, too, was at sea, but perhaps Lefeng emself gave Tsouchm the direction ey needed. Money and shelter, ey had said shortly before eir collapse. Money for shelter. While Chotaikytsai talked with Kolchais — something about the council which Tsouchm was happy to leave to eir — Tsouchm went to sit near Lefeng and Paiokp.

“We need to build a house, yes? I’ve worked on several building projects. If Chotaikytsai is handling the council, I can handle the home. But it will take time — time to raise funds for supplies, time to build, time for the daub to dry, time to roof it. We may be into the bright days before it is done. We will leave matters of the council to those best suited.” Tsouchm nodded towards Chotaikytsai and Kolchais. “I think we three can at least get a start on the home.”

Lefeng, called Longstride, stirred, spoke slowly. “In the mountains sometimes we — they — build season-homes. Sturdier than travel tents, meant to last a moon cycle or two. I know how to make them.”

Tsouchm hesitantly placed a hand on Lefeng’s shoulder. “That is a good idea. Even if it only lasts until the bright days, it will be better to have a space that fits all of us, yes? Especially if rain comes. And if the building takes too long, we can rebuild your season-home to see us through the bright months.”

Given something to do, Lefeng perked up somewhat. Paiokp had little to say, but brought food for the three of them and listened while Tsouchm and Lefeng talked.

By the time they finished eating, Tsouchm thought ey had a clear idea of what was needed for the season-home, though how it would work was still confusing. It sounded like little more than a large hut made of wood and leaves. Still, it was a better idea than anything Tsouchm had.

“I think we can get all we need from one of the charcoaling families. Do you wish to go to the market?”

Lefeng shook eir head, vehemently.

“I will go then, and get what we need.”

Lefeng nodded but said nothing further and Paiokp remained silent.

What does it mean to give them time? From the little Tsouchm understood of proper families, it was not for the grandparents to instruct the parents. Grandparents were advisors, using their experience to help the parents in their decisions. But with the birth of the grandchildren, grandparents stepped back from control, letting the parents take charge and make their mistakes while the grandparents were still there to advise them. Yet these young ones were lost, set adrift by their grief. Was it for Tsouchm and Chotaikytsai to take charge then, to make the decisions while the lost ones healed? Or was there something else Tsouchm should be doing?

With no answers, but a clear task to complete, Tsouchm got up and filled Chotaikytsai in before heading out to the supply market.

The supply market was filled with raw material for the crafting families. Wood, stone, charcoal, flax, metal ore, and anything else that could be turned from this into that. From what Tsouchm had heard, most crafting families had standard orders with the gathering families they preferred to work with. But if a milling family had extra wood or a charcoaling family extra charcoal after filling those orders, they would bring them to the supplies market to be bought by whoever got there first.

The green-wood poles were easy enough to find, but Tsouchm wasn’t surprised to see none of the greenery Longstride needed. Ey bartered for the wood, pleased to be able to pay for it out of eir own savings. Eir first contribution to this new family.

For the greenery, Tsouchm spoke with the DeepWoods charcoal family. Their representative at the market promised to save the limbs and tops of the next-days felling for Tsouchm, pleased at a chance to make more money on those usually-unwanted bits than they got for two buckets of charcoal. Ey even assured Tsouchm the family would deliver it.

Tsouchm returned to the compound, pleased with eir outting. That pleasure vanished when ey reached the broken gate. Silent Paiokp was half heartedly picking through the burnt out remains of the old house. Lefeng seemed to have not moved a fingerwidth in the time since Tsouchm had left. And Kolchais was no where to be seen.

Ey banged on the knocker, and was grumpily unsurprised to see the noise jolt Lefeng out of eir mental eddy. The would-be parent jumped up and came to open the gate, muttering about the need to repair or replace it.

“Come,” Tsouchm said, handing eir the wooden poles. “Healing takes time, yes. But to sit and stagnate after an injury brings only sickness. Show me where and how we will set these poles.”

Anger, Tsouchm had often noticed, was the other side of sadness. Lefeng proved it once again, being snappish the whole time they were setting up the poles. But ey was up and moving and Tsouchm did not mind being a target for eir anger. Tsouchm had a great deal of experience ignoring or brushing off the things people said to and about eir.

Inspite of that, the once-walker gave clear instructions, showing Tsouchm how the green wood could be bent and interlaced to form a dome-like net over and through which they would lay the greenery.

Tsouchm expected ey was more hinderance than help, and Paiokp even more so when the other near adult came to join them. But they had time. The greenery would not come until the next evening.

Shortly before dinner, Lefeng declared emself satisfied. Paiokp immediately headed for the fire. But Lefeng, with nothing more to do, stared into the distance, blinking heavily.

“Go rest, then,” Tsouchm told eir. “Rest! Not stagnate.” Ey glared at Tsouchm a moment, then nodded. Tsouchm reached out to eir. “I never had a family. Only my Cenn. When ey died… it was like I lost my whole world.

“I’m not word-smith. I won’t say I know what you are going through or anything trite like that. And I don’t know anything about being part of a family. But I’m here. And I’m sorry for your loss.”

Lefeng said nothing, just walked away. Tsouchm sighed. “Stagnation, I made a muddle of that.”

Chotaikytsai had come over while they spoke and rested eir head on Tsouchm’s shoulder. “You tried. That matters more than exactly what you said. It will be okay.”

Tsouchm looked at Paiokp, staring into the flame of the small cook fire. “And that one?”

Chotaikytsai sighed. “Ey isn’t really grieving, and that worries me more than all Lefeng’s tantrums.”

Tsouchm nodded and they walked together to the cook fire. Hesitantly, ey reached out and brushed Chotaikytsai’s hand with eir fingers. The once-weaver took Tsouchm’s hand with a smile. If nothing else in this strange family, the current between they two was flowing smoothly. Ey could only hope it continued to do so.

The next day passed slowly. They could do nothing with the season-home until the charcoaling family brought greenery and so the parents returned again to working on digging up and tearing down the ruins of Chotaikytsai’s old home.

If it bothered Tsouchm’s spouse-to-be, Chotaikytsai gave no sign of it. Instead ey chivvied both Chestef and Tsouchm into the small gardens. From what Chotaikytsai said, ey had enough planted to supply eir and Kolchais with most of their needs. Which meant they had maybe a third of what they needed for the new family. Tsouchm didn’t know the first thing about growing food. Ey had always stuck with day-labor that kept eir within the city and it’s familiar surroundings. The forests and sea beyond the city walls were both alien to eir and ey was happy to keep it that way. But breaking ground for new plantings was straightforward enough. While ey worked at that, Chotaikytsai tended the existing plantings, teaching Chestef as ey went. Tsouchm listened as well, learning as much as ey could. For now, ey could focus on the building, but once that was finished ey would be taking on fully the job of a grandparent — raising food plants and children both.

By the time the charcoaling family arrived, Tsouchm had ground broken and turned for two new gardens. Lefeng was once again first at the gate, and Tsouchm was amused to notice that the other almost-parents were holding back to allow the protective-one to lead. Were they used to ey leading, Tsuochm wondered, or allowing eir this foible?

Regardless, there was work to do. Tsouchm arrived at the gate a few steps behind Longstride and helped unload the greenery from the cart. It took less than a finger-width of the sun’s travel to get the greenery on the frame Lefeng had built the day before. It would be big enough for all of them to sleep in, with some room left over.

It was rough and unconventional, but it would work.

Rather, Tsouchm hoped, like their family would.

Planting Life in a Dying City — The First Night (S2 E1)

After a lifetime as a loner with no family, Tsouchm must now step up to become a parent and grandparent to five orphans, and a spouse to the love ey thought far beyond eir reach. Lefeng’s determination took them this far. Can Tsouchm find it in eirself to step forward and help not only eir new family, but the community of familyless ey is leaving behind?

Season content notes:

Season 1

Pronunciation guide

Tsouchm wasn’t sure what to do with emself. Ey squatted awkwardly by the coals while Chotaikytsai prepared dinner for… for the family. It would be a simple meal, ey said. Just tubers and eggs baked in the coals.

All eir life, when Tsouchm could afford a home at all, it had been a tiny room shared with others and barely big enough to lay down in. More often, ey had slept in corner of the floor in an inn. For a little extra, ey got meals from the inn’s stew pot. When ey didn’t have anything to pay the inns, shelter had been an out of the way nook off the main roads and food whatever ey could scrounge.

An entire tuber? Baked in the coals and not boiled to tastelessness? That wasn’t ‘simple’, that was luxury.

The child, Chestef, leaned against eir side. Saying little, but gripping the bottom of Tsouchm’s tunic as if afraid ey would up and disappear at any moment. Feeling self conscious, ey cleared eir throat and asked the child, “So… have you had baked tubers before?”

The child looked up at eir, wide-eyed, then nodded. “Baba loved baked tubers, but ey only ate the red ones, not the yellow ones. And my Cenn made fun of em for it because ey said the yellow ones were the best.” Ey sniffed and said quietly, “Chotai says you don’t have yellow tubers in the city.”

Tsouchm froze as the child began to cry.

Stillness take it, what did ey do? What should ey do now?

Ey looked at Chotaikytsai who mouthed, ‘hold eir’ and gestured to the child. The three young ones were still working on clearing the debris and too far away to notice.

Carefully, Tsouchm picked up the child and set em on eir knee. Chestef wrapped eir arms around Tsouchm’s neck and held on so tight that ey had trouble breathing for a moment. Tsouchm patted the child’s back and babbled. “It’s okay. Red tubers are still good, right? And maybe we can find yellow tubers somewhere. Maybe when the far walkers come back before the storm season they’ll have some. Or… or something…”

Ey ran out of words before the child ran out of tears. Not knowing what else to do, Tsouchm simply held Chestef and let the tears soak into eir tunic.

Eventually, the child fell quiet. Tsouchm was afraid to move, afraid to say anything. The quiet went on and on, with Chotaikytsai occasionally looking up to smile at them. Finally, Tsouchm needed to move. Ey carefully lowered the child until ey lay across eir lap. Ey blinked in surprise. The child had fallen asleep!

Tsouchm held Chestef for a time, surprised to find ey enjoyed the feel of the child curled up in eir arms. Ey knew ey should find a place to put the child down, let em sleep. But Tsouchm found ey was as reluctant to put the child down as ey had been to pick em up! Besides, the child still had a tight grip on eir tunic. Ey would probably wake if Tsouchm tried to dislodge em.

“They are all grief-broken,” Chotaiktysai murmured. “Their entire world disappeared in an instant.”

Tsouchm nodded, remembering how lost ey had been when eir Cenn died. “Time. They need time.”

“We didn’t have time. We had no choice but to survive.”

Tsouchm met Chotaikytsai’s gaze and nodded again. That would be their first responsibility to this child, to all the children, then. To give them time.

That, Tsouchm could do.

When the food was ready, Chotaikytsai helped Tsouchm put Chestef down in the sleeping blankets. The child stirred, and for a minute Tsouchm was afraid ey would wake, but then ey snuggled under the blankets and settled down with a little sigh.

The tuber was good. Crisp on the outside and soft on the inside and with just enough char to add a bit of flavor. Eggs, baked or boiled, weren’t Tsouchm’s favorite but ey had gone without food to often to turn eir nose up at them.

Chotaikytsai was to talking about the council and what they needed to do to get official approval. Tsouchm didn’t care about official approval and was uncomfortable with such high matters as the council. After trying to listen for a while, ey scraped up a single useful comment — “If the council is like any other group I have known, best to have just one of us go with the petition to speak for all. Otherwise the discussion will get bogged down with too many people–them–asking questions and too many people–us–trying to answer them.”

Chotaikytsai thought about it for a moment and agreed, then turned to the adults to give an opinion. But to Tsouchm’s eyes, ey would best not bother. Lefeng was still grief stricken, Kolchais diffident, as if afraid to put emself forward. And the former fisher had the look of a child that has been beaten once too often — afraid to speak and waiting for the next kick. Eventually, eir would-be spouse gave up and finished eating in silence.

After dinner, Chotaikytsai signed for Tsouchm to join eir and led the way to the shed ey and the child were using as sleeping space, leaving the near adults to their own devices.

In the dark, they lay down together and Chotaikytsai wrapped eirself around Tsouchm. Tsouchm felt eir relax, as if in that moment the tension of years flowed from eir. A few minutes later, eir soft snores filled the small space.

Tsouchm took longer to relax. Ey had never truly slept alone except in the bad times when ey slept on the street. But ey had never truly slept with another. Even eir rare sexual liasons had always parted before dark. It was strange and somewhat uncomfortable to have someone wrapped around em so. On the other side of Chotaikytsai, ey could hear Chestef murmuring and moving, then silence.

Ey was still surprised Chotaikytsai had accepted em. Still surprised that ey had dared to ask, to even consider that ey might be part of a family. Most of all ey was overwhelmed by how different eir life had become in a single day.

Had ey made a mistake? Would this uncharted current dash em on the rocks? Ey didn’t know. Only time would tell.


Finally back where we began when we began this journey. As you can see Lefeng & company are back too, though Lefeng still isn’t doing to well.

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