Planting Life in a Dying City — The Shelter (S2 E2)

Season content notes:

Pronunciation guide

The next morning, they all gathered again around the fire. Less is seemed, because of custom or desire, and more because none of them knew what to do. From the little Tschoum had seen, Lefeng was the current that had driven them all, and with eir collapse the rest had been set adrift. A quiet word to Chotaikytsai confirmed eir suspicion. Tsouchm, too, was at sea, but perhaps Lefeng emself gave Tsouchm the direction ey needed. Money and shelter, ey had said shortly before eir collapse. Money for shelter. While Chotaikytsai talked with Kolchais — something about the council which Tsouchm was happy to leave to eir — Tsouchm went to sit near Lefeng and Paiokp.

“We need to build a house, yes? I’ve worked on several building projects. If Chotaikytsai is handling the council, I can handle the home. But it will take time — time to raise funds for supplies, time to build, time for the daub to dry, time to roof it. We may be into the bright days before it is done. We will leave matters of the council to those best suited.” Tsouchm nodded towards Chotaikytsai and Kolchais. “I think we three can at least get a start on the home.”

Lefeng, called Longstride, stirred, spoke slowly. “In the mountains sometimes we — they — build season-homes. Sturdier than travel tents, meant to last a moon cycle or two. I know how to make them.”

Tsouchm hesitantly placed a hand on Lefeng’s shoulder. “That is a good idea. Even if it only lasts until the bright days, it will be better to have a space that fits all of us, yes? Especially if rain comes. And if the building takes too long, we can rebuild your season-home to see us through the bright months.”

Given something to do, Lefeng perked up somewhat. Paiokp had little to say, but brought food for the three of them and listened while Tsouchm and Lefeng talked.

By the time they finished eating, Tsouchm thought ey had a clear idea of what was needed for the season-home, though how it would work was still confusing. It sounded like little more than a large hut made of wood and leaves. Still, it was a better idea than anything Tsouchm had.

“I think we can get all we need from one of the charcoaling families. Do you wish to go to the market?”

Lefeng shook eir head, vehemently.

“I will go then, and get what we need.”

Lefeng nodded but said nothing further and Paiokp remained silent.

What does it mean to give them time? From the little Tsouchm understood of proper families, it was not for the grandparents to instruct the parents. Grandparents were advisors, using their experience to help the parents in their decisions. But with the birth of the grandchildren, grandparents stepped back from control, letting the parents take charge and make their mistakes while the grandparents were still there to advise them. Yet these young ones were lost, set adrift by their grief. Was it for Tsouchm and Chotaikytsai to take charge then, to make the decisions while the lost ones healed? Or was there something else Tsouchm should be doing?

With no answers, but a clear task to complete, Tsouchm got up and filled Chotaikytsai in before heading out to the supply market.

The supply market was filled with raw material for the crafting families. Wood, stone, charcoal, flax, metal ore, and anything else that could be turned from this into that. From what Tsouchm had heard, most crafting families had standard orders with the gathering families they preferred to work with. But if a milling family had extra wood or a charcoaling family extra charcoal after filling those orders, they would bring them to the supplies market to be bought by whoever got there first.

The green-wood poles were easy enough to find, but Tsouchm wasn’t surprised to see none of the greenery Longstride needed. Ey bartered for the wood, pleased to be able to pay for it out of eir own savings. Eir first contribution to this new family.

For the greenery, Tsouchm spoke with the DeepWoods charcoal family. Their representative at the market promised to save the limbs and tops of the next-days felling for Tsouchm, pleased at a chance to make more money on those usually-unwanted bits than they got for two buckets of charcoal. Ey even assured Tsouchm the family would deliver it.

Tsouchm returned to the compound, pleased with eir outting. That pleasure vanished when ey reached the broken gate. Silent Paiokp was half heartedly picking through the burnt out remains of the old house. Lefeng seemed to have not moved a fingerwidth in the time since Tsouchm had left. And Kolchais was no where to be seen.

Ey banged on the knocker, and was grumpily unsurprised to see the noise jolt Lefeng out of eir mental eddy. The would-be parent jumped up and came to open the gate, muttering about the need to repair or replace it.

“Come,” Tsouchm said, handing eir the wooden poles. “Healing takes time, yes. But to sit and stagnate after an injury brings only sickness. Show me where and how we will set these poles.”

Anger, Tsouchm had often noticed, was the other side of sadness. Lefeng proved it once again, being snappish the whole time they were setting up the poles. But ey was up and moving and Tsouchm did not mind being a target for eir anger. Tsouchm had a great deal of experience ignoring or brushing off the things people said to and about eir.

Inspite of that, the once-walker gave clear instructions, showing Tsouchm how the green wood could be bent and interlaced to form a dome-like net over and through which they would lay the greenery.

Tsouchm expected ey was more hinderance than help, and Paiokp even more so when the other near adult came to join them. But they had time. The greenery would not come until the next evening.

Shortly before dinner, Lefeng declared emself satisfied. Paiokp immediately headed for the fire. But Lefeng, with nothing more to do, stared into the distance, blinking heavily.

“Go rest, then,” Tsouchm told eir. “Rest! Not stagnate.” Ey glared at Tsouchm a moment, then nodded. Tsouchm reached out to eir. “I never had a family. Only my Cenn. When ey died… it was like I lost my whole world.

“I’m not word-smith. I won’t say I know what you are going through or anything trite like that. And I don’t know anything about being part of a family. But I’m here. And I’m sorry for your loss.”

Lefeng said nothing, just walked away. Tsouchm sighed. “Stagnation, I made a muddle of that.”

Chotaikytsai had come over while they spoke and rested eir head on Tsouchm’s shoulder. “You tried. That matters more than exactly what you said. It will be okay.”

Tsouchm looked at Paiokp, staring into the flame of the small cook fire. “And that one?”

Chotaikytsai sighed. “Ey isn’t really grieving, and that worries me more than all Lefeng’s tantrums.”

Tsouchm nodded and they walked together to the cook fire. Hesitantly, ey reached out and brushed Chotaikytsai’s hand with eir fingers. The once-weaver took Tsouchm’s hand with a smile. If nothing else in this strange family, the current between they two was flowing smoothly. Ey could only hope it continued to do so.

The next day passed slowly. They could do nothing with the season-home until the charcoaling family brought greenery and so the parents returned again to working on digging up and tearing down the ruins of Chotaikytsai’s old home.

If it bothered Tsouchm’s spouse-to-be, Chotaikytsai gave no sign of it. Instead ey chivvied both Chestef and Tsouchm into the small gardens. From what Chotaikytsai said, ey had enough planted to supply eir and Kolchais with most of their needs. Which meant they had maybe a third of what they needed for the new family. Tsouchm didn’t know the first thing about growing food. Ey had always stuck with day-labor that kept eir within the city and it’s familiar surroundings. The forests and sea beyond the city walls were both alien to eir and ey was happy to keep it that way. But breaking ground for new plantings was straightforward enough. While ey worked at that, Chotaikytsai tended the existing plantings, teaching Chestef as ey went. Tsouchm listened as well, learning as much as ey could. For now, ey could focus on the building, but once that was finished ey would be taking on fully the job of a grandparent — raising food plants and children both.

By the time the charcoaling family arrived, Tsouchm had ground broken and turned for two new gardens. Lefeng was once again first at the gate, and Tsouchm was amused to notice that the other almost-parents were holding back to allow the protective-one to lead. Were they used to ey leading, Tsuochm wondered, or allowing eir this foible?

Regardless, there was work to do. Tsouchm arrived at the gate a few steps behind Longstride and helped unload the greenery from the cart. It took less than a finger-width of the sun’s travel to get the greenery on the frame Lefeng had built the day before. It would be big enough for all of them to sleep in, with some room left over.

It was rough and unconventional, but it would work.

Rather, Tsouchm hoped, like their family would.

Return to:
Tsouchm Episode 1

Continue to:
Planting Life S2 Interlude

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