Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism
When they returned to the compound, Chotaikytsai had gotten Chestef to take a nap and was working the garden. Kolchais tried to join em but Chotaikytsai took one good look at Kolchais’ face and insisted ey sit down and eat something. Ey had done enough today.
Kolchais protested that ey didn’t do anything. “Rot and stagnation!” Lefeng exclaimed. “You guided us around the city, introduced us to people, and helped us understand how the city works. That is enough for anyone to do in one day.
“If I am tired, you must be exhausted.”
The once-weaver gave Lefeng a respectful nod and said, “Besides, I was about to stop and eat something. The gardens can wait for a time.”
Lefeng and the others joined the grandparent by the fire pit and shared the roasted vegetables and beer ey had prepared. Ey did eir best to make small talk through the meal — especially as the golden-eyed had fallen silent. Lefeng desperately wanted to ask what the once-weaver had decided, to ask Kolchais if ey might be willing to consider them, but held to the hunt-patience and waited.
Thankfully, when they finished eating, Chotaikytsai decided to take pity on em. “I will be part of this new family,” the once-weaver said, “but only if Kolchais is also part of it. Ey is already root-kin to me and it is only right that ey be part of any family I build.”
“What!” Kolchais exclaimed before Lefeng or Paiokp could respond. “You can’t do that! You can’t throw away this chance for my sake!”
Chotaikytsai threw up eir hands and shook eir head. “What? You think I should give up the family I have to take a new one? Or are you saying there are not family-feelings between us?”
The limping-one cut em off, and Paiokp leaned over to whisper in Lefeng’s ear, “They certainly fight like family.”
Lefeng snorted and nudged the sun-touched. “Go on then. You’re the rooted-one. They’ll listen to you better than me.”
Paiokp laughed. “I’d get between a mountain cat and it’s meat before I got in the middle of a family quarrel.”
“Very well,” Lefeng sighed. “I’ll do it. Otherwise, I see us having our first family quarrel over who will interrupt their family quarrel.”
Kolchais and the once-weaver were standing now, yelling at each other. Lefeng considered a moment. How different were the city’s courting customs?
Ey stood and put two fingers under Kolchais’ chin, startling the stubborn-one into silence and turning eir head to face Lefeng. “Shut up long enough for us to answer, courting-sib.” Lefeng leaned in until ey could feel Kolchais’ breath on eir lips. To eir delight, Kolchais recognized the invitation and leaned into the kiss. It was light and sweet, and Lefeng could taste the stubborn-one’s uncertainty, inexperience. So different from intense Paiespaiokp or teasing Poutsneptsaipn or any of eir other lost ones. Ey pulled back and blinked away tears. It took a moment to clear eir throat and regain the teasing tone ey had intended. “Unless you’ve rather not be married to us. I can’t imagine we’d be prime catch for a sophisticated city person.”
Kolchais stared a moment, reaching up to touch eir lips. “You don’t know what you are saying.”
“You city folk talk weird, I’ll admit. but I’m pretty sure I’m saying exactly what I meant to. Paiokp?”
“Stop teasing em, Lefeng. I swear when you get an idea in your head…” Paiokp shook eir head and looked down at eir hands. “Kolchais, if the once-weaver hadn’t said something, we would have asked you. I know it’s indecently fast to speak of marriage and mating and… and there are things about us that you should know before we ever asked. But you could be a big help to us, with how well you know the city. And we… I … like you.”
“We,” Lefeng said. “Smart, aware, kind, city grown, and cute.”
“I…” Kolchais swallows. “I like you too. But you saw what people think of me.”
Lefeng shrugged. “I’m a mountain child who would follow the old ways and live in a tent most of the year. Have you not heard what the people here say of me? Why should I believe they speak any more truth about you?”
Chotaikytsai chuckled. “Enough my children. If we are all agreed?”
Lefeng looked at Kolchais and raised eir eyebrows. Slowly, the stubborn-one nodded. “Agreed.”
“Go get your things,” Chotaikytsai said. “You will all stay here now. And you,” ey poked Lefeng, “who brags of sleeping in tents, you will be in charge of putting together someplace for you all to sleep until we can…” Ey stopped and took a deep breath. “Can rebuild the compound.”
Lefeng heard an echo of eir own grief in that pause and offered a hand to eir parent-to-be, who gripped it tightly.
“Off with you then! The faster you go, the sooner you are back.”
With a nod, Lefeng turned and jogged for the gate, Paiokp trailing behind.
When Lefeng returned, Chestef was awake and pestering eir grandparent-to-be with questions.
Lefeng put eir pack down out of the way and went to squat down near the child. Chotaikytsai said, “Alright, child. Lefeng is back now and we have something important to tell you.”
“You know why we came here?” Lefeng asked, picking up the grandparent’s cue. “To make a new family?”
Chestef nodded. “You and Paiokp are going to be my parents. And we would find more parents and grandparents. But will I have a new cenn?”
The child’s voice wobbled a bit at that last and Lefeng picked up the child and held eir tight. “No, Chestef. There is only one cenn, one birthing parent, for each of us. But there can be many paitche, many parents. And new Babas as well.
“Chotaikytsai and Kolchais — the short city-folk who is child to Chotaikytsai, the stubborn-one — will be joining our family. Chotaikytsai will be your grandparent, and can be baba if you want em to be.”
“Baba?” Chestef asked, looking at the once-weaver.
“Yes, child,” Chotaikytsai said, and Chestef launched emself at eir new Baba so fast that ey nearly knocked Lefeng over. Chestef clung to eir new grandparent and cried. It was a long time before eir tears finally stopped.
They talked plans over dinner. As Lefeng was afraid, the city would make everything more complicated than it had to be. They couldn’t just go before a priest and have their new family blessed. Chotaikytsai said that ey would find out when the next council meeting would be. They would need to get a hearing before the council to request recognition as citizens.
Lefeng tuned most of it out. It would be important, ey knew. But it was not something ey could help with. Leave it to those who could. Ey’s concern was getting shelter for everyone.
By nightfall, they were temporarily settled. Chestef would sleep in the lean-to with eir Baba. Lefeng, Paiokp, and Kolchais all had space under a shelter Lefeng constructed in a corner of the compound. Tomorrow, ey would start work on a winter shelter — the not-so-temporary shelters the far-walkers used when they planned to stay in one place for several weeks or months. The shelters were named for the winter in-gathers when the far-walking clans came together and an entire mountain valley would be filled from end-to-end with the winter shelters of all the families there…
The future opened before Lefeng — but the past remained, dogging eir steps.