Planting Life in a Dying City (Kolchais, E1: the Fog)

Season content notes: ableism, internalized ableism

Kolchais trudged through the market, doing eir best to ignore the thudding pain accompanying each step, each breath. Ey couldn’t take day work like Lefeng and Tsouchm, could barely help clear the debris and prepar the ground to build their new home.

But ey could do this. Little as it was.

In a corner of the market, a soot-covered young adult was selling sacks of charcoal. Charcoal was necessary for the city, smiths used it, and the fishing folk preferred charcoal to wood for drying their catch. But it didn’t pay much, and the charcoaling families usually struggled.

Kolchais didn’t recognize the young adult but did recognize the sign of eir family—High Slopes Charcoal. It was sketched on the blanket. Smudged, but recognizable. In spite of the name, most of the family’s charcoal came from close to the city. Many family names were like that. Chotaikytsais’ family hadn’t specialized in colorwork for several generations.

Well, the sign was recognizable to Kolchais, at least. Time with Lefeng and Paiokp had changed many of eir assumptions about how much other people saw and understood.

Ey stopped in front of the blanket and hesitated. Courtesy would have eir squat down. But if ey did that, ey might not be able to stand up.

“Greetings,” the charcoaler said. “Do you have a need?”

“I am…” Kolchais hesitated. “I am a parent of the Trial Family. Several years ago, a parent of your family approached my parent about buying the remains of a fire in our compound. My parent wasn’t ready to sell then but is now. If your family is still interested.”

The young adult nodded. “I will speak with my family. Someone will come to your home tomorrow.” Ey hesitated, clearly torn about something.

Kolchais could figure it out what. To ask a family where they lived was rude, implied the family was so unimportant one did not know about them. But no one had heard of “The Trial Family” before. “Our home was once the home of the Colorwork Weaving family.”

“Of course.” The charcoaler blushed.

While they talked, others had gathered. Some were waiting to buy, but most were staring at Kolchais and gossiping about the new family. In pain and not wanting to be drawn into conversation, Kolchais said, “Thank you for your time,” and walked away. Ey tried not to notice to eyes and voices following em.

Unlike most of the city, the market was paved with stone. It had heated under the sun. That heat soaked through the leather of eir shoes, into eir feet. The heat felt good, easing some of eir pain. Still, ey had to stop at the edge of the market and rest a few minutes. Ey had gone out to buy food this morning; a second trip to the market the same day had probably not been wise.

But ey had done it. And ey would do it again. Ey gasped as ey straightened up and started walking. Eir new family had taken a chance on em, giving em what ey had never thought ey would have again. Ey would do everything ey could to be sure they never regretted giving em this chance.


Two outings had definitely been too much. After the evening meal, Kolchais huddled close to the fire, hoping the heat would soothe eir aches. Nights like this, the pain meant ey had trouble thinking. It was like eir mind was filled with mud, slowing eir thoughts to a crawl. Ey didn’t recognize the knocking at the gate until after Chotaikytsai had gotten up to answer it. Lefeng was already at the gate, waiting for their parent.

Kolchais blinked again and must have dozed or blacked out briefly. When ey opened eir eyes, Lefeng and Chotaikytsai had returned, escorting two strangers. Though one looked somewhat familiar. Between the darkness and eir pain befuddled thoughts, Kolchais couldn’t recall from where.

Chotaikytsai waited for everyone to gather, then introduced the strangers as a parent and near-adult of the Silent Spinning family. To Kolchais’ eyes, the ‘near-adult’ was of age to have been a parent for several years.

The Silent Spinning parent made an odd gesture, and Kolchais remembered who this family was. The strange ones, half of whom don’t talk and spoke only with their hands.

The Silent Spinning parent looked each of them in the eyes. “We come to offer our family’s support to the new family in our city. We bring these,” ey reached into a bag and offered two small skeins of yarn, “as a gift of welcome. We hope they will be useful in your trade.

“If you will allow, my child,” ey gestured to the near-adult, “will come by each day to help however ey can, or one of eir siblings, if you prefer.”

To Kolchais’ surprise, Chotaikytsai began gesturing silently. Ey must know the hand-language.

Kolchais didn’t bother trying to understand what Chotaikytsai was saying. The Silent Spinners’ handspeech had spread through the city, and most people knew at least a few gestures. Many familyless had learned as much as they could, adding their own gestures and meanings so they could talk semi-privately while in public. But Kolchais had never made an effort to learn. Now, with mud-filled thoughts, was not the time to try.

Instead, ey pondered the Silent Spinning parent’s words. There had been the sound to them of a speech, often practiced. But the words themselves were flat, without inflection to give them meaning beyond the simple words themselves.

Chotaikytsai stopped gesturing and finally spoke out loud. “I believe I am the only one of our new family familiar with your family and your ways. I do not wish to offend with our ignorance, especially when you are so gracious to one who knows your loss.”

Kolchais blinked, confused. The Spinning parent shook eir head. “Ey was my sibling, but your parent. And all of your family.”

Oh, one of the Silent Spinners married out to the Colorwork Weavers. That’s how Chotaikytsai knew the handspeech.

By the time Kolchais’ thoughts caught up, the near-adult was speaking. “I spend much of my time in the markets, among those who know little of my family. I may not always understand, but I do not offend easily.”

“Oh!” Kolchais exclaimed, the mention of the markets clearing away some of the fog. “I remember you.” With eir thoughts momentarily clear, ey finally pieced together why the Silent Spinners were here.

Rumor said the Silent Spinners preferred bluntness, which would explain the stiltedness of the parent’s speech. Ey wouldn’t be comfortable with the indirect traditions the rest of the city followed. But Kolchais didn’t mind bluntness. Especially when ey was in pain.

“Three isn’t enough for a marriage. Four, barely. But we don’t have the tradition and bond of a sibling group to anchor us. The more we add, the more we risk fracturing the marriage group.”

“Change does not come easily to our family,” the near-adult said, “but we have no wish to stagnate. Perhaps some of what we have learned about _choosing_ to create new traditions will help.” The near-adult, Kolchais noted, had more tone and expressiveness than eir parent, enough that Kolchais thought ey might learn to understand em. For now, ey responded only to the words.

“I would like that. I’m afraid I’m not thinking clearly tonight. Can we discuss it more another day?”

The near-adult nodded, “Yes.”

“This is my child, a parent of our family,” Chotaikytsai told the Spinners, introducing Kolchais as best ey could without a family name to give. Kolchais nodded a belated greeting. The Spinners remained still and silent.

After a moment, Chotaikytsai began to introduce the others. Kolchais tried to watch and listen, curious what they would think.

Tsouchm also knew some of the handspeech. Ey asked the Silent Spinners outright what they wanted from the new family. Kolchais winces at such blunt-speaking, but the Silent Spinners actually seem to relax.

Kolchais tried to understand what they said. Unfortunately, ey had lost the brief moment of clarity. The Silent Spinner’s words faded in and out.

“Our family lost a great deal with the destruction of the Colorwork Weavers… will take up a similar trade, and we may regain some of what we lost…debt to the priesthood. The priesthood wants…”

Then Tsouchm’s voice… “don’t speak this bluntly in council!”

Paiokp was there then. Kolchais was surprised that ey didn’t seem interested in the strangers. Ey was polite but left quickly, saying only that any help the Silent Spinners gave would be appreciated.

Kolchais blinked, and Lefeng was there. Ey was laughing and… alert… for the first time in days, eir hands moving in the hand-speech.

Kolchais shook eir head and forced emself to focus. The Silent Spinner parent was speaking. “I had a grandparent who married into the Trackless-Path family. I had no idea the hand-speech might have traveled that far.”

Lefeng made another gesture and grinned. “Farwalkers travel, well, far… last winter gathering several folks were experimenting… hunt-sign.” And then the laughter was gone. “…didn’t think I’d ever use it again.”

From the little Kolchais understood, Lefeng seemed oblivious to the Silent Spinners’ marriage offer or its political implications. But that was okay. Kolchais or Chotaikytsai could fill em and Paiokp in later. Right now, the Silent Spinners have caused Kolchais’ spouse-to-be to set aside eir grief for a time. For that alone, Kolchais would be grateful to them.

Kolchais stopped trying to focus and let the voices flow around em, wrapping em in their current.

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

Return to:
Planting Life in a Dying City (S1, E1)
Planting Life in a Dying City (S3, E1)
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