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

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

Season content notes: ableism, internalized ableism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which the Spinner might not understand. But…

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long minutes passed with neither of them saying anything.

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

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

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

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

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