Planting Life in a Dying City: Season 1, Episode 4 – The Orphans (part 2)

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

“I want to go home.”

Lefeng opened eir eyes.

The youngling stood in front to Lefeng, staring defiantly into eir eyes.

“Youngling…”

“No! You tell me they are gone. That they all died like Baba Chestef last year. But Baba Chestef was buried. Even when Auilefengk was lost in a storm, we buried eir clothing and toys so eir spirit could find it’s way home. I want to go home. I want to see that they are gone. To see where they rest and to sleep in my own bed where… where they can find me.”

The once-fisher, the last Deepfisher, met Lefeng’s eyes and nodded. Lefeng sighed. “Alright, youngling. We can take you to your home. But…”

“But youngling,” the once-fisher said, “I doubt they have been buried. There has been no one to bury them. And possibly nothing to bury.”

A short walk proved the once-fisher to be right. The Netmend compound had been the last one of the village. It had been built near the edge of the rise that sloped down into the shallows and the battered mangrove forest below.

The back of the fence was gone. The sides and front whittled down to half the normal height, the walls of the central building had also been destroyed. But worst of all, the remains of the roof, washed up against half-ruined fence. The support beams snapped in half like twigs. Scattered among them, a bit of fabric, or swatch of netting. And, faintly, a hint of rot.

Looking at the village as a whole, the Netmend compound had taken the brunt of the wave. Their fence and walls had forced the water to part around them until they were destroyed.

The youngling cried out and raced towards the jumble of wreckage, prying bits of wood and wattle up and flinging them away.

They spent a long day sifting through the wreckage. The remains they found are bloated from the heat and rarely whole. Hidden under the broken bits of building and fence, scavengers had been feasting.

After they found the first of the remains, Lefeng insisted the youngling return to the Deepfisher compound. “We will care for your family, the Deepfisher and I. But this is not a task for a youngling.”

To eir relief, neither the youngling nor the once-fisher argued. Finding and then burying all the remains took the rest of that long, brutal day. They dug a great pit in the mud where the house had been and buried all the remains together. All they could find, anyway.

The next day, they talked again about the youngling’s ommer.

Lefeng explained that eir ommer are not just eir Cenn’s Highfields siblings, but also eir parents’ siblings who were born to the Netmend family and married-out to other families.

The youngling rejected Lefeng’s explanation. Ey didn’t know eir ommers, ey knew Lefeng. And Lefeng promised to bring em back to eir family. How can the ommers be family if they left the family?

Lefeng didn’t have an answer for em, but knew that the youngling had no other options. So they went out into the village, the youngling staying as close as ey could, frequently hiding behind Lefeng’s legs, to seek the youngling’s Ommers.

The search didn’t go well. The truth was that while the village seemed to survive well at first glance, it lost many people. Almost the entire parent generation of all the fishing families are gone, out in their boats when the wave hit. One family had hopes that their parents survived, as they had planned to travel up the coast to the city for trade and might have been clear of the wave. The others are in mourning.

Even the families that didn’t fish had lost people, swept up by the wave as the youngling was and, unlike the youngling, never returned. To eir relief, late that afternoon, Lefeng found that the youngling had two surviving ommer’s who had married-out from Netmend. Ey tracked the first one down to the water-grove the fishing folk here used to tie up their boats. “No,” ey said bluntly as soon as Lefeng explained why ey was there. “I’m sorry for the nibling. I can put some trade goods towards eir needs until ey can find a place. But only four of my marriage group survived. We still have all our children and grandparents and even two elders relying on us. We can’t take in another.”

Lefeng tried to convince the fisher, but in truth ey understood. That family would be lucky to feed everyone the next few years.

Ey was less understanding with the other of the youngling’s ommers, a well dressed parent in a trading family. They had lost only a few to the wave but refused to even hear why Lefeng sought em out. As they left the trader’s compound, Lefeng set eir heel on a small patch of grass that had survived the wave and ground it into the mud. Few here would recognize the farwalker curse on those who betrayed family, but if the grass died — likely with how damaged it had already been — then the curse would set regardless.

Petty revenge did nothing for the youngling, but it allowed Lefeng some small release for eir anger.

Unfortunately, the youngling had been right about how the HighField’s family regard ey and eir Cenn. HighField’s had dismissed em even faster than the rude trader.

Lefeng was out of ideas.

That night, Lefeng asked the once-fisher’s help in finding a place for the youngling. The golden-eyed one shook eir head. “I would be a hinderance.”

“What? Why”

Ey snorted. “In the days you have been here, how often has anyone come to check on me? To see if I need anything? To ask for my help?”

Lefeng blinked in surprise, then thought back. No one. Not one person had come to the once-fisher’s compound. The times ey had gone out, those of the village had spoken with em little and ended the conversations as quickly as possible. Lefeng had assumed it was shock but… “I am sorry.”

The once-fisher, golden eyes shimming, shrugged. “I have always been unlucky. But I had been courted the Wavebreak family and things were settled between us—or so I thought. The day you arrived, they rejected my suit.

“I should be grateful they waited long enough to help me bury my dead.” The golden-eyed one curled in on emself as ey spoke. “Not that there was much to bury, with even the littlest in mangroves when the wave hit.” Ey rested eir head on eir knees.

“I want to help the youngling,” the once-fisher finished quietly, “Sea and root know, someone should. But all I could do is make things worse.”

Lefeng didn’t push further.

For the next several days, Lefeng did nothing about finding a permanent home for the youngling. Ey avoided thinking about it, as ey had avoided thinking about eir own family. Instead ey kept busy. When ey could, Lefeng did work around the village, trading labor for tools and supplies that ey would need when ey took the trail again. Other times, ey helped the once-fisher sort through and clean out the waterlogged mess that was a family home less than a moon-quarter past.

Ey also spent time with the youngling, doing eir best to give the youngling some sense of security. Ey noticed the golden-eyed one doing the same, and was grateful. Talking with the youngling, Lefeng realized that ey didn’t know anyone in the village. The youngling hadn’t been out of the family compound long enough to make friends from other families. So Lefeng, and now the once-fisher, were the only people ey felt connected to at all. And Lefeng had saved em, found em in the wilderness like something out of a tale. How could the child not be affected?

And how could Lefeng, having offered eir support and security, up end the youngling’s life again by leaving eir with strangers?

The golden-eyed one, ey noticed, spent less and less time out in the village. The other villagers were increasingly hostile, some even going to far as to blame the Deepfisher for the wave. The village priest had offered em no defense, listening gravely to those with concerns and promising to give them “due consideration.” It was possible that before long the village won’t be safe for em any longer.

Lefeng wanted to be able to help the once-fisher as well, but how?

Ey didn’t regret stopping to help the youngling. But ey was tired of this village. Tired of the hostile people. Tired of being trapped in a strange building. Ey wanted to get back on the trails. Deep in the trees and mountains where ey might, for a time, forget.

Might, if lucky, find another farwalker family that would accept em among them. If only as a travel companion.

But ey couldn’t leave while the youngling and the once-fisher were not safe.

Sometimes, when ey heard one of the villagers bad mouthing the once-fisher, ey found eir hand clutching the long knife at eir hip. But this was not a problem that could be settled by fighting it.

Lefeng wasn’t sure it could be settled at all.

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