Season content notes:
Tsouchm scooped up the over-energetic Chestef, and together they walked Chotaikytsai to the gate. The council meeting would start early and run most of the day. Chotaikytsai carried the scribe-rod that permitted eir to speak for them. Ey wore the skin and fur of some great beast over eir shoulders like a cape. It looked heavy, but Chotaikytsai seemed unbowed by it. Taking a closer look, Tsouchm saw the front legs and claws of the beast had been preserved as part of the cloak.
It must have come from Lefeng, and Tsouchm worried about how the council would react to the barbaric display. But ey said nothing. Tsouchm had ceded responsibility for this part of building their family to eir spouse-to-be. Ey would not question eir wisdom now, not when Chotaikytsai would need all eir confidence for the challenge ahead.
At the gate, Tsouchm dared to give Chotaikytsai a gentle kiss goodbye. Chestef, less restrained (or more confident in eir relationship), demanded a big hug. Ey had to be content with a kiss on the forehead and Chotaikytsai ruffling eir hair. As speaker, Chotaikytsai would not risk disarraying eir clothing on such a day.
After seeing Chotaikytsai off, Tsouchm brought Chestef to the last few remains of the old weavers’ home. The roof support beams and wall poles were all out now. Nothing could be seen of the building but a rectangular patch of disturbed earth littered with broken discards. That didn’t mean they were finished with the work of clearing.
Lefeng and the silent one were digging up the great timbers the walls had rested on. Those timbers, two handspans wide and a handspan thick, were the supports that held the entire house up. Families who could afford it — and the Colorworkweavers would have been among them — had the timbers coated in pitch. The pitch protected the timbers so they wouldn’t rot out from under the home. Poorer families would be forced to rebuild their homes more often as the wood turned to earth. Once the timbers were gone, the shifting of the earth under the building would slowly tear it apart.
If these were pitch-coated, they’d be able to reuse those beams. If not, well, they might still be reusable for now, but they’d likely be rebuilding again before Chestef was marriage age. Or they might need to replace them now. Replacing them would be expensive.
Tsouchm set the child to picking up and clearing away the smaller scraps that scattered the ground. Broken bits of charred wood, a few rocks, or old roots turned up in the digging. Even, here and there, a few pieces of daily life — a smashed clay cup, a scorched shell, a scrap of blanket — that somehow survived the fire and all the years since.
They’d been working for a bit over a finger-length when Chestef began playing, making a game of hopping through the debris. Tsouchm kept an eye on em but didn’t interfere. The child had worked hard for a time and was, after all, a child. Chestef had a few years yet before ey would need to learn the discipline of work.
But a few minutes into this new game, Chestef tripped and fell. Ey immediately began crying, screaming even. Tsouchm dropped eir end of the beam they were levering out of the soil, barely missing eir own toes, and raced over to the child. Lefeng stood awkwardly, still holding eir end of the timber, but the silent one came over also and squatted down next to the child.
Tsouchm may not know children, but ey knew injuries. So ey made emself forget that this child was to be eir grandchild, eir responsibility. That the very first time Tsouchm had care of the child, ey was hurt… push all that aside and focus on the actual injury.
It seemed to be little more than a scrape — the skin of Chestef’s knee was abraded and peeled back in places. It bled freely, which should be a good thing — the blood would wash any dirt or bits of char out of the wound. The silent one, who had still not shared eir name, offered to take the child. Tsouchm shook eir head and shooed the silent one back to the digging. Then ey picked up the child and held em. Chestef didn’t stop crying.
Tsouchm carried em to the corner by the new shelter where Lefeng had left freshwater that morning. With the water and a rag, Tsouchm cleaned the blood away and put pressure on the injury until it stopped bleeding. By that time, the child’s tears had died down to sniffles, and ey was falling asleep on Tsouchm’s lap. Tsouchm continued holding Chestef until ey was fully asleep, then placed em in the new shelter to rest.
While ey slept, Tsouchm fretted. Children were sturdy — all eir life, Tsouchm had seen them tussling, tripping over things, banging into things, and getting up and moving on as if nothing had happened. But sometimes, they were really hurt. Ey had never been responsible for a child before. Never been spent time with children since eir own childhood. What if the injury was worse than it seemed? Had ey done the right thing cleaning it and letting the child sleep it off? Or had ey done too much? Was this coddling Chestef? How was ey to know how to care for this child?
No, Tsouchm reassured emself. Ey was letting eir self-doubt run away with em. The bleeding had stopped there was no sign of broken bones, and the scrape was not on the knee, where damage could sometimes hide behind a seemingly minor wound. There was no reason to believe Chestef had any worse than a normal childhood injury.
As for coddling, if it was, what of it? The child had lost eir entire family, traveled long days with near-strangers, and now lived in a strange city with more strangers who had promised em a new family but could not even offer a decent home. If any child had a right to some coddling, it was this one.
So Tsouchm sat and held the child and sang snatches of the songs ey remembered eir Cenn long ago singing to em.
As ey sang, ey watched Lefeng and the silent one. That one ey worried about. Chotaikytsai was right that there was something greater wrong with em. More than that, Tsouchm thought that ey was not committed to this family. Ey worked hard — see em digging up timbers with Lefeng. Ey cared. Ey was caring one as much as silent one. But ey seemed to care against eir own desires. As if ey wished to keep a distance but could not manage to…
No, Tsouchm thought. Ey had seen many of the pseudo-families of the familyless come together over the years, and ey had seen this before. Had seen it many times.
The silent one didn’t wish to keep eir distance. Ey wished to be close, to be part, to be welcomed. And was convinced for some reason ey wouldn’t be allowed.
And this was Tsouchm’s child-to-be who did not grieve eir family.
Oh yes, Tsouchm knew this pattern. Knew it well and the many ways it could end. What ey didn’t know was what to do about it. Watch then, and wait. There was a reason the silent one was silent. Learn that, and Tsouchm might know how to help em feel welcome, safe, with this family.
When Chestef woke, Tsouchm took em to the garden and asked the child to show Tsouchm how to weed it. All eir self assurances aside, ey would not let the child play in the clutter of the old home again and wanted to keep Chestef under eir eye.
It was the right thing to do for Chestef. The child delighted at the chance to teach a grandparent. Ey soon forgot eir injury, focused on proving how much ey knew about the plants they were growing and how to tell a vegetable from a weed. To Tsouchm’s surprise, ey learned quite a bit, and the rest of the day passed quickly.
The ringing of the gate surprised Tsouchm. Ey looked up to see that the sun had passed into the western part of the sky.
Chotaikytsai had returned from the council.
Planting Life S2 E4