Planting Life in a Dying City: Season 1, Episode 5 – The Idea

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

Lefeng was washing eir clothes when the golden-eyed one approached em. Ey walked hesitantly, eyes down and fists clenching and unclenching. Scared? Had ey ever seen the golden-eyed one scared? Lefeng didn’t think so.

“Are you okay?” Had the villagers done something?

“I’m…” the once-fisher stopped. Cleared eir throat. “I had an idea. For the youngling. For… us.”

Lefeng put down eir laundry and gave em eir full attention. “For us?” It hadn’t occurred to Lefeng that there was an ‘us’. Though ey liked the once-fisher and hadn’t been looking forward to leaving when the youngling was settled. That was one reason ey had been willing to delay, despite eir need to return to the trails.

“The youngling… the youngling is acting like we are family to em.”

Lefeng nodded. “I’ve noticed. It worries me.”

“Well, why not… why not be a family?”

Lefeng stares, stunned. A family. A new family. It… “A family of three people? How?”

“Oh, not alone, a family of just three people would be ridiculous.” The once-fisher, golden-eyed one chuckled, but it sounded forced. “How could we manage with only two parents? Worse, no grandparents! But there had to be others who lost family. Maybe from this wave, but also… disease or disaster. We both know it happens. Why continue to be alone when we could come together?

“We could go to the city, I know from our trading runs that there are more family-less there. We can find others and create a new family together.”

“I… why wouldn’t the family-less in the city have already come together like that? Surely it can’t be that easy.”

The golden-eyed one shrugged, “I don’t know. But it can’t hurt to try, can it? None of us can stay here much longer. So why not try to stay together?”

Lefeng nodded, thinking. It was a clever idea, but Lefeng wasn’t sure ey liked it. Ey had never been to the city and never wanted to go. Village living was as far from the old ways as ey had ever wanted to get. But ey needed to do something, and ey had made a promise to the youngling–a promise that was keeping em sane despite eir loss and grief. And it would let em keep the golden-eyed one.

Maybe in the city, far from everything ey had ever known, the voices of eir dead would stop haunting em.

“Yes.” Lefeng finally said. The once-fisher stared at em as if ey couldn’t believe it. Or as if Lefeng had been speaking another language. “Yes. We will go to the city and see what family we can build there.”

The golden-eyed one jumped and clapped. Then, for the first time, ey reached out a hand to touch Lefeng. To share the intimacy of family.

Lefeng didn’t hesitate this time. Ey grabbed the offered hand and pulled the golden-eyed one into a hug. The once-fisher returned the hug, holding on as if eir life depended on it.

Maybe both of their lives did.

“I am Lefeng,” ey murmured, getting it over with quickly.

The golden-eyed one stilled, pulled back. “What?”

Lefeng felt blood rising in eir cheeks and looked down. “I… ah… my name. Is Lefeng.”

The once-fisher stared a moment longer but thankfully didn’t ask. Ey just said, “I am Paiokp.”

Lefeng nodded, hiding a wince at the reminder of eir dead betrothed. ‘Wave’ and variations on it were common names among fisher families. “Paiokp,” Lefeng made emself say. “Alright, clever-one, I suppose we should go have a talk with our youngling.”

The youngling’s name was Chestef, lightning. It was a name of chance, and danger, and opportunity. Lefeng found emself wondering if Chestef’s Cenn had sought out that name for eir child, or like Lefeng’s Cenn, been unlucky.

Chestef needed no convincing to accept Lefeng and Paiokp as eir parents. Ey was excited and relieved to be able to stay with them, even if it meant moving to a strange place–with eir family compound destroyed, every place was strange now anyway.

They needed to travel overland to a city. Not only were there no undamaged boats left in the village, but no one is willing to have Paiokp on their boat. Out of patience with root-bound superstitions, Lefeng asked Paiokp “What is their problem?”

Paiokp looked away. “You should know…” Ey turned around and lifted eir tunic, displaying eir back. The skin under the tunic is unusually pale as if the Deepfisher had never taken eir tunic off. Ey had a round-ish scar the size of Lefeng’s hand and a half-inch deep across the left shoulder blade.

Lefeng, baffled, asked. “What, you aren’t tanned enough?”

Paiokp stared at em. “The scar. I slipped out of the compound as a child on one of the bright days. I’m sun-branded. Bad luck will follow me everywhere.”

Ey swallowed, looked away, “I should tell you to leave without me but… I’m too afraid.”

Lefeng shook eir head in disbelief. “Sun branded? Foolishness. Do you know how lucky you are to have survived the sun’s kiss?”

“Yes, of course. Most of my parents thought it was a waste of resources for a cursed child, but my Cenn insisted. They cut the sun-damaged flesh out and I spent weeks in delirium. The old priest prayed and blessed me, which was a waste but I guess it worked.”

“A waste!” Lefeng yelled, then, caught emself, continued in an irate whisper. “Listen to me. Among the old clans in the mountains, the sun-kissed are hunt leaders, way-finders. Everything you touch is lucky because you are lucky. Because you had to be lucky to survive the sun’s kiss. If you weren’t lucky you’d be dead. So how can you be unlucky? How can you curse those around you when you carry such luck?” Clever one? Ha. Not if ey believed these.. these… “These fools should be bringing you gifts to come when their cenn’s give birth! But they shun you and refuse you even the courtesy of aid in travel! You are right to leave. Let them rot in their own foolishness. If I had the sense of the tides I’d scoop you up into the mountains where the old ways still hold and you’d be treated as the treasure you are!”

Paiokp had been staring at em in shock, but at that last, shook eir head and jerked away. “You would not! What would I do in the mountains? Live in a tent? Never have a home? No shelter from the bright days and get branded again? No. We’ll leave, but we’re going to the city. And I will be careful to hide my brand because in the city they aren’t ignorant and know how unlucky I am.”

Lefeng gave up trying to convince Paiokp. Ey has seen this before. The root-bound insisted that the barbaric farwalkers knew nothing and anything they said could be dismissed. If Paiokp wished to be a fool like those who surrounded em, Lefeng would not waste breath. Instead, ey focused on preparing for the journey. The overland path to the city was longer than the sea path, but Lefeng didn’t mind. Ey knew the woods and overland paths. Ey had never actually been on a boat. Though Paiespaiokp… Paiespaiokp had often teased em and promised to take em out with eir family before they left for the mountains that fall.

Lefeng had insisted on checking the trap lines instead. If ey hadn’t, ey would be with eir family now…

Slowly, Lefeng put eir work down and walked out of the village, under the trees. Not the great trees, which provided shade and shelter to many of the unrooted folk in the summer months. But still, the hushed green space was as much ‘home’ as anywhere under a roof.

Why was ey doing this? Why go to a city? It would be full of strangers with strange ways who looked down on the unrooted life and would never know this sacred space.

But ey had nothing else to do. No other path to take. So ey would walk this path and hope it was the right one.

Over the next few days, Lefeng approached those families who owed debts to the Deepfishers. On Paiokp’s behalf, Lefeng bargained for partial payment immediately in return for Paiokp forgiving the rest of the debts. To those who were owed debts, ey gave rights to take whatever they wished from Paiokp’s family compound after they were gone. It wasn’t enough to completely cover the debts, but the cut and cured wood in the support beams and roof would make repairs and rebuilding much easier. Everyone was pleased.

They weren’t sure what to do about the land and (remaining) possessions from Chestef’s family. They didn’t want to sell Chestef’s inheritance but they couldn’t take it with them. After much discussion, they took Chestef to the ruined compound. Ey picked out a few things from what remained that ey wanted to keep and take with them. They told the priest to sell what was left and hold the funds until ey heard from Chestef.

Given Paiokp’s experiences with this priest, Lefeng wasn’t sure ey trusted em, but they don’t have many other options, so this was what they would do.

There were three cities in the region they could have traveled to. Lefeng had never seen any of them. But the great winter meetings included several farwalking families from each of them. Paiokp had actually been to one and heard of two others from other fishing folk. Paiokp knew of several cities from much further away, including one across the sea, but they didn’t want to travel that far with the youngling. Well, Lefeng didn’t want to travel that far with the youngling. Paiokp didn’t want to travel that far at all.

After some discussion, they agreed to set out for Deep Harbor. It was a small city to the north that had grown around a natural harbor. It was the one city Paiokp had seen before, but that wasn’t the only reason they chose it. The city was sheltered by a spur of mountains that would have blocked the worst of the wave.

The trip to the city took half a moon. On her own Lefeng could have managed it in under a quarter-moon, but ey didn’t try to push the pace. Paiokp and Chestef didn’t have experience walking for hours or experience living on the trail. So taking it slow and leaving extra time for making camp and all just made sense.

Lefeng had made a travois out of some of the salvage from the Net-mend compound. With that ey was able to bring most of what they had. Including the results of eir last check on the trap lines–half cured leather, dried meat, and herbs–and goods remained from the two family compounds.

They passed by a few more villages and one town on the way to the city. The worst of the wave’s damage seemed to be behind them, and Lefeng and Paiokp were doubly glad they hadn’t decided to try for the southern cities. The wave must have been strongest to the south.

The trip itself went smoothly. Traveling in a group most assume them to be part of a family. Chestef’s presence was unusual but Lefeng was clearly one of the trail-hardened farwalkers. Everyone ‘knew’ their children traveled with them.

The closer they get to the city the busier the trail got. On the last day, they traveled with a small stream of people. Paiokp said that most people come to the city by boat, usually. But with the damage from the wave, there may have been more foot traffic than usual.

Return to:
Episode 4: The Orphans (Part 2)

Continue to:
Episode 6: The City (Part 1)

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