Season content notes:
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.
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.
“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 S2 E3