Season content notes:
No one said much until dinner had been cooked, and they began to eat. Then Tsouchm looked up from eir stew and asked, “Does the council’s decision matter?”
“Of course it does!” Kolchais said, “We can’t live in the city without their approval.”
Tsouchm snorted. “I have lived in this city my whole life without the council’s approval. I don’t care if I have it now. But that is not my question.”
“I don’t understand.”
Tsouchm looked around the fire. Most of the others looked confused. Lefeng once again seemed to be mirroring Tsouchm’s thoughts. Well, that one would be used to bucking the expectations of the town and city dwellers. “What do we do if the council refuses to approve us? Do we stop being a family if they say we are not?”
Lefeng looked around and snorted. “Town dwellers. Is that what you’ve been thinking? That if this council of yours doesn’t approve us, we just… go our separate ways?”
“No!” Kolchais said. Then more softly, “No, I just… never thought that far.” Ey shook eir head and picked at eir food. “A family can’t live in the city without the council’s approval…”
“So we don’t live in the city,” Tsouchm said. “There are villages that have lost whole families; you think they will be picky about who moves in so long as they can keep the village going? Or…” ey shuddered, “I am at the age that I prefer a comfortable bed to adventures, but I doubt that one,” ey waved at Lefeng, “would object to dragging us back into the mountains every year.”
Lefengs smile was small but real. The first real smile Tsouchm had seen from longstride since eir grief broke em. “I’ve become resigned to rooted living,” ey said wryly, “A village will do well enough.”
Chotaikytsai perked up. “And there is this — technically, I am not familyless but family-last. All that belonged to my family belongs to me — including this compound, and the land it is on. Even if they deny us recognition, they cannot deny me — and any I welcome — the right to stay here.”
“So…” Kolchais said, “so we are a family. Or will be, once we go before the priests. They can’t take that from us. But what do we do now?”
They were silent for a moment. Spoons scraped in bowls, and the hearth fire crackled. Clouds scuttled across the sky, and Tsouchm wondered what they would do for meals and family discussions if it rained while they were living in the season shelter. Get wet, most likely.
Then the silent one shifted and said, “We should take their trial. It will be better for us to have their approval. And if they deny it, we can still be bound together and do as we like in spite of them.”
Tsouchm nodded and saw the others nodding as well. “If so…” ey paused. But something had been weighing on em since the priest had left. “If so, we need a name.”
“But how can we?”
“We have no trade!”
“A temporary name, then. Something…” Tsouchm clenched eir fists. “Without a name, we must use our personal names in our dealings with others. And they will never respect us if we do so. If we are to be a family, let us act like a family. And demand the respect of one.”
“But… what name?”
“I think… I think they named us themselves,” Chotaikytsai said. “We are the Trial Family, by their own word. Let us own it then.”
Tsouchm nodded and tested the name out. “Trial Family. Grandparent of the Trial Family…” It felt strange on eir tongue.
Lefeng snorted and held out eir hand, “It is a pleasure to meet you, grandparent of the Trial Family. Now could you please pass the ale skin?”
Stunned, Tsouchm — the grandparent of the Trial Family — found emself blinking back tears. Lefeng — the parent of the Trial Family — seemed calm as if ey had no idea how much Tsouchm’s world had just changed. Like another great wave had swept through, but this time, leaving life in its wake.
A hand on eir shoulder. Ey turned and looked into Chotaikytsai’s eyes, and behind em, Kolchais was grinning with tears running down eir cheeks.
They, Tsouchm realized, understood. At least partly. They, too, had lived with the shame and disrepute of exposing their personal name for years. But they could not fully understand, for Tsouchm had never had a family name… it was like wrapping a cloak around oneself in the middle of the bright days. Like the great hugs Lefeng gave (rarely) that held and sheltered and squeezed the life out of one all at the same time.
Ey was no longer — would never again — be just Tsouchm…
Blinking the tears away, the grandparent of the trial family tossed over the ale skin. “Of course, parent of the Trial Family. Just leave some for the rest of us.”
Late that night, long after the others had gone to bed, Tsouchm — grandparent of the Trial Family! — sat awake staring at the stars. Ey had a name now. Had a family, made by the only bonds that mattered in Tsouchm’s world — their pledge to each other. Yet no matter what the priest had said, the familyless were still Tsouchm’s people.
The priests went to war with the council and would use those people — Tsouchm’s people — as their tools. It was all very well for the priest to speak of eir own willingness to die, but ey had not the right to make that decision for others. For those that ey had looked down on from eir high place, wearing jewelry that would feed three or more pseudo– No! Three or more families of the… the familyless, who were not familyless at all but only had families of a different sort. Families who were taught from birth that they were meaningless; denied names, denied recognition.
Anger long pushed aside gathered. Tsouchm had never been part of those families, but eir Cenn, eir friends, sometimes eir lovers had.
And the priest would have them give up those families to meet the standards of the council? To dance to the council’s tune, beg for trial years, and hope that if they worked hard enough, bowed hard enough, begged hard enough, the council would accept them and grant them the right to be named properly?
Oh, there were other familyless — no ey needed to stop calling them that — there were others who would make the choice Tsouchm had made, given the chance. Likely many others. But that didn’t change the fact that many, perhaps most, would not make that choice, would keep to the ways and customs they had grown up with.
Either the stagnation of the city would be broken politically, or it would be broken by blood, the priest said. Maybe that was so. Tsouchm wasn’t a priest or scribe to know the cycles of the world. But ey would not leave eir people to be manipulated, made into tools for another’s hand.
Tomorrow, ey would return to eir old haunts. Ey needed to speak with some friends.
Tsouchm grinned. Of all eir people, ey, the grandparent of the Trial Family, had a proper name now. Why should ey be the only one?
Planting Life S2 E7