After a lifetime as a loner with no family, Tsouchm must now step up to become a parent and grandparent to five orphans, and a spouse to the love ey thought far beyond eir reach. Lefeng’s determination took them this far. Can Tsouchm find it in eirself to step forward and help not only eir new family, but the community of familyless ey is leaving behind?
Season content notes:
Tsouchm wasn’t sure what to do with emself. Ey squatted awkwardly by the coals while Chotaikytsai prepared dinner for… for the family. It would be a simple meal, ey said. Just tubers and eggs baked in the coals.
All eir life, when Tsouchm could afford a home at all, it had been a tiny room shared with others and barely big enough to lay down in. More often, ey had slept in corner of the floor in an inn. For a little extra, ey got meals from the inn’s stew pot. When ey didn’t have anything to pay the inns, shelter had been an out of the way nook off the main roads and food whatever ey could scrounge.
An entire tuber? Baked in the coals and not boiled to tastelessness? That wasn’t ‘simple’, that was luxury.
The child, Chestef, leaned against eir side. Saying little, but gripping the bottom of Tsouchm’s tunic as if afraid ey would up and disappear at any moment. Feeling self conscious, ey cleared eir throat and asked the child, “So… have you had baked tubers before?”
The child looked up at eir, wide-eyed, then nodded. “Baba loved baked tubers, but ey only ate the red ones, not the yellow ones. And my Cenn made fun of em for it because ey said the yellow ones were the best.” Ey sniffed and said quietly, “Chotai says you don’t have yellow tubers in the city.”
Tsouchm froze as the child began to cry.
Stillness take it, what did ey do? What should ey do now?
Ey looked at Chotaikytsai who mouthed, ‘hold eir’ and gestured to the child. The three young ones were still working on clearing the debris and too far away to notice.
Carefully, Tsouchm picked up the child and set em on eir knee. Chestef wrapped eir arms around Tsouchm’s neck and held on so tight that ey had trouble breathing for a moment. Tsouchm patted the child’s back and babbled. “It’s okay. Red tubers are still good, right? And maybe we can find yellow tubers somewhere. Maybe when the far walkers come back before the storm season they’ll have some. Or… or something…”
Ey ran out of words before the child ran out of tears. Not knowing what else to do, Tsouchm simply held Chestef and let the tears soak into eir tunic.
Eventually, the child fell quiet. Tsouchm was afraid to move, afraid to say anything. The quiet went on and on, with Chotaikytsai occasionally looking up to smile at them. Finally, Tsouchm needed to move. Ey carefully lowered the child until ey lay across eir lap. Ey blinked in surprise. The child had fallen asleep!
Tsouchm held Chestef for a time, surprised to find ey enjoyed the feel of the child curled up in eir arms. Ey knew ey should find a place to put the child down, let em sleep. But Tsouchm found ey was as reluctant to put the child down as ey had been to pick em up! Besides, the child still had a tight grip on eir tunic. Ey would probably wake if Tsouchm tried to dislodge em.
“They are all grief-broken,” Chotaiktysai murmured. “Their entire world disappeared in an instant.”
Tsouchm nodded, remembering how lost ey had been when eir Cenn died. “Time. They need time.”
“We didn’t have time. We had no choice but to survive.”
Tsouchm met Chotaikytsai’s gaze and nodded again. That would be their first responsibility to this child, to all the children, then. To give them time.
That, Tsouchm could do.
When the food was ready, Chotaikytsai helped Tsouchm put Chestef down in the sleeping blankets. The child stirred, and for a minute Tsouchm was afraid ey would wake, but then ey snuggled under the blankets and settled down with a little sigh.
The tuber was good. Crisp on the outside and soft on the inside and with just enough char to add a bit of flavor. Eggs, baked or boiled, weren’t Tsouchm’s favorite but ey had gone without food to often to turn eir nose up at them.
Chotaikytsai was to talking about the council and what they needed to do to get official approval. Tsouchm didn’t care about official approval and was uncomfortable with such high matters as the council. After trying to listen for a while, ey scraped up a single useful comment — “If the council is like any other group I have known, best to have just one of us go with the petition to speak for all. Otherwise the discussion will get bogged down with too many people–them–asking questions and too many people–us–trying to answer them.”
Chotaikytsai thought about it for a moment and agreed, then turned to the adults to give an opinion. But to Tsouchm’s eyes, ey would best not bother. Lefeng was still grief stricken, Kolchais diffident, as if afraid to put emself forward. And the former fisher had the look of a child that has been beaten once too often — afraid to speak and waiting for the next kick. Eventually, eir would-be spouse gave up and finished eating in silence.
After dinner, Chotaikytsai signed for Tsouchm to join eir and led the way to the shed ey and the child were using as sleeping space, leaving the near adults to their own devices.
In the dark, they lay down together and Chotaikytsai wrapped eirself around Tsouchm. Tsouchm felt eir relax, as if in that moment the tension of years flowed from eir. A few minutes later, eir soft snores filled the small space.
Tsouchm took longer to relax. Ey had never truly slept alone except in the bad times when ey slept on the street. But ey had never truly slept with another. Even eir rare sexual liasons had always parted before dark. It was strange and somewhat uncomfortable to have someone wrapped around em so. On the other side of Chotaikytsai, ey could hear Chestef murmuring and moving, then silence.
Ey was still surprised Chotaikytsai had accepted em. Still surprised that ey had dared to ask, to even consider that ey might be part of a family. Most of all ey was overwhelmed by how different eir life had become in a single day.
Had ey made a mistake? Would this uncharted current dash em on the rocks? Ey didn’t know. Only time would tell.
Planting Life Season 1 Episode 1
Planting Life S2 E2
Finally back where we began when we began this journey. As you can see Lefeng & company are back too, though Lefeng still isn’t doing to well.
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