Season content notes:
The next day, Tsouchm led Lefeng through the slums of the city toward the west gate and the worker’s market. The hard work of digging up the base beams was done, and what was left Paiokp and Kolchais could do. Which meant it was time for Tsouchm and Lefeng to start bringing in money.
It was also a chance for Tsouchm to return to eir old territory. To reach out to people ey trusted about what ey had done, what the priest had said… and what ey thought the ‘familyless’ might do about it.
Tsouchm felt odd, walking through familiar areas, streets ey had lived most of eir life, and knowing ey no longer belonged there. That someone else would take eir squat on the corner where for most of eir life ey had sat trading gossip with others. The hospitality-family ey had found floor space with the past several months would miss Tsouchm’s money, but soon find another boarder.
An entire life spent on these streets; swept away in a matter of days.
Tsouchm shook off eir mood as they turned a corner and came in view of the market.
“Stay to the right as we enter,” ey warned Lefeng. “We are seeking day work only, and we don’t want to be mistaken for those selling themselves.”
Lefeng didn’t respond but stayed close to Tsouchm.
The market was as much of a madhouse as ever, especially to the right. On the left, those who were desperate, or despairing, or taking the great gamble, stood on a platform. They would advertise their skills, hoping someone would buy the life of their labor in return for food, shelter, and a healer’s care for however long they lived.
On the right, dozens of ‘familyless’ and some from families fallen on hard times crowded near another platform. One by one, those who sought ‘unskilled’ workers for a day or a week or a month announced their needs. It was there that Tsouchm led Lefeng, joining the throng waiting for a good job — or any job they could do.
Tsouchm scanned the line of those hiring and picked out a few ey knew.
“You can use an ax, yes?” ey asked Lefeng.
The parent looked back in surprise. “Of course! How else to get wood for the fire?”
After a minute, it became clear that they would be waiting. The line of those calling for workers moved slowly. Tsouchm could have taken several of the offered jobs but chose to wait. But they weren’t good jobs for what the family needed. Sorting fish was a single-day job that would have them back here tomorrow looking for more work. The rock quarry was only for the desperate who weren’t quite ready to sell their lives away. And it would take them out of the city for a month.
Noticing some familiar faces in the crowd, Tsouchm gestured to the official ey was waiting for. “I need to talk with someone. Watch that one and let me know when ey reaches the front of the line.”
Lefeng nodded, and Tsouchm threaded through the crowd. “Tchyawfu!”
Eir friend turned and grinned, pushing the always-tangled hair out of eir face. “Tsouchm! I did not expect to see you here.” Ey frowned. “Rumor must have lied then; you did not magic yourself into a new family?”
“Rumor speaks more truth than usual,” Tsouchm replied. “I am indeed to be Grandparent to the Trial Family.” Ey could have burst with pride at giving eir new name for the first time. “But a new family without trade still needs money, so back I come.”
“Grandparent, then.” Tchyawfu’s voice went cool, and ey drew back a way. “You are lucky indeed, my friend. If I may still call you that.”
Tsouchm was glad then for the time ey had thought the night before. For if ey had not expected this reaction, ey might have hesitated, have drawn back emself. Instead, ey said, “Bah, did you forget my name so quickly then? I always said you would forget your own given half a chance.
“But,” as Tchyawfu relaxed and smiled again, Tsouchm leaned in and spoke softly, “I may not be so lucky, or I may not be the only one so lucky. There has been talk of other new families, talk also of Chopaums.”
Tchyawfu had always been quick and proved so again. “So…, you’ll go for road work then? You always liked the wood chopping.
“Aye. It’s steady work for steady pay. I have–”
Lefeng was then beside em, standing head and more above the crowd on those long legs. “Grandparent? The one you were watching has jumped the line.”
“Have ey? Stillness taken bureaucrats.” Tsouchm wasn’t surprised. The families that supplied the city with wood for the roads weren’t known for their patience. “Child-of-mine, this is my old friend. We have some catching up to do. Shall we drag em along with us?”
Tsouchm was grateful, though not surprised, that Tchyawfu was willing to be dragged.
The Road official knew Tsouchm — as Tchyawfu had said, ey preferred the road work. So ey was happy to select Tchyawfu and eir companions among the others ey hired for the month or so of work. Ey led them out of the market, across most of the city, and out the Sunrise gate. They came to a wide-open area with logs piled at one end and the middle filled with every step of the process that turned logs into the wooden slats that made up most of the cities roads and walkways.
“If you know what you are doing, get to work. If you are new, follow me.”
Tsouchm gave Lefeng a nod and headed towards the pile of axes, mauls, and wedges.
By the time Lefeng was through the introduction and ready to start work, Tsouchm and Tchyawfu had cut the first barrel-length section from the log they had chosen. Those sections would be halved, then quartered, then split twice more to make the thumb-thick boards of the city streets.
As the three worked, Tsouchm told Tchyawfu a bit of eir new family and a great deal of the council meeting and the words of the tree-priest. Lefeng stayed quiet, focused on the work.
Which, in Tsouchm’s opinion, was for the best. Lefeng had little experience at the work and it showed. Still, Tsouchm and Tchyawfu were able to keep the pace up.
By the midday break, Tsouchm’s shoulders were burning. Ey made sure to swing eir arms and shrug eir shoulders every few seconds while they ate, to keep from stiffening.
After the break, Tchyawfu was silent, and Tsouchm let em think. They all focused on the work and finished their log just before the day was called. By then, Lefeng had picked up the flow of the work, and they had a neatly integrated team.
Tchyawfu had still said nothing more when they collected their pay: three fish markers (or equivalent) for each log turned into planks. One marker for each of them, an amazing income for one of the familyless.
When they reached the Sunrise gate, Tchyawfu finally spoke. “You told me what happened, but not what you think of it. And your child has said nothing.”
Lefeng looked from Tchyawfu to Tsouchm. “Forgive me, friend of my parent. I did not mean to be rude. I just… was lost in my thoughts.”
Tsouchm, knowing the thoughts Lefeng was most likely to be lost in, put a hand on eir shoulder. “My friend wonders what you think of the priest.”
Lefeng visibly restrained emself from spitting. Then eir eyebrows rose and ey looked at Tsouchm a minute. Tsouchm nodded, hoping Lefeng would understand what ey wanted.
Tsouch knew little of families, but ey did know that some things were for the parents to decide.
Lefeng did understand. Ey turned back to Tchyawfu with a smile and asked, “Would you like to meet the rest of our family?”
Planting Life S2 E8