Planting Life in a Dying City (S3: Kolchais, E6)

Season content notes: ableism, internalized ableism, violence, autistic meltdown

Like most mornings, Kolchais woke slowly. Eir thoughts moved sluggishly, fighting their way through a haze of pain. Ey reached out, confused, and felt a warm spot next to em.

Lefeng. Always up and active as soon as possible.

Kolchais rolled over and buried eir head in the blankets, enjoying the spicy musk scent Lefeng had left behind. The scent followed em back into soft morning dreams.

Sometime later, ey woke again and crawled out of bed. Kolchais stretched carefully, watching eir body’s reaction and deciding that today would be a bad day. Lefeng had brought a walking staff into the city, but Kolchais had never seen em use it. Instead, it had rested next to the door of the seasonal shelter since they had finished building it. Hoping Lefeng wouldn’t mind, Kolchais picked it up and tried walking a few steps. The support helped.

Kolchais hobbled outside and blinked against the sun, trying to see where everyone was.

Chotaikytsai and Chestef were easy to find — ey were building a small hut in the back corner of the compound. Kolchais vaguely remembered Chotaikytsai talking about getting some ground birds to keep for eggs and meat. The birds were nasty and loud but would keep bugs out of the garden and eat any rodents they could catch. Kolchais wasn’t sure they were worth it, but such matters were a decision for the grandparents.

The Spinner was up and squatting by the fire pit. Ey rocked slowly, ignoring the bowl of food someone had left for em. Tsouchm, Lefeng, and Paiokp were working on the family’s new home, doing the delicate work of weaving the wall sections around the doorway.

Kolchais shuffled towards the firepit to check on the Spinner and get some food. Ey was just squatting down when the knocker outside the gate sounded. To Kolchais’ relief (but not surprise), Lefeng went to answer the knock. Ey returned a few moments later carrying a small staff wrapped round with wool. Whoever brought it stayed outside the gates, most likely a messenger.

Hopefully, not someone Kolchais had once known… with an effort, ey wrenched emself away from thoughts of messengers and family. Ey forgot the messenger to focus on what ey had brought —

Lefeng brought the wool to the Spinner. That was no surprise, but the Spinner responded to seeing it. Ey moved for the first time since Kolchais woke up. In moments, the wool was set to eir spindle, and the spindle was spinning. As the wool twisted between eir fingers, the Spinner began crooning. The croon was a quiet, monotonous drone, barely loud enough for Kolchais to hear. It should have been annoying but instead, it was soothing.

Kolchais had heard it before — the Spinner crooned to emself almost all the time, and Kolchais had disregarded it as another oddness of the Silent Spinners. It was so constant ey had forgotten it was there. Its return made em realize how disturbing the Spinner’s silence had been.

Kolchais smiled and looked at Lefeng to see if the protector had noticed. But Lefeng was looking at eir staff on the ground by Kolchais.

“I’m sorry,” Kolchais said, “I should have asked…” but Lefeng was shaking eir head, seeming surprised.

“No. A staff is meant to be used. It surprised me to see it here. But it has been sad to see it each day leaning against a wall. If it helps you, I am glad.”

Lefeng’s mountain dialect was much stronger than usual, making Kolchais think there was some meaning ey didn’t understand. But ey recognized the gift Lefeng offered. “Thank you.”

What was left of the morning passed quietly. Kolchais did not try to help with the house. Ey stayed by the fire pit listening to the Spinner and thinking.

At midday, the others gathered around the fire pit. Normally, they only ate together in the evening. But today, it felt right.

A few minutes after everyone settled, the Spinner stopped crooning. Before Kolchais could worry, the Spinner started singing — a quiet song about the sound of the spindle being the sound of the world being created. After a few verses, Chotaikytsai joined in, mostly singing, sometimes humming if ey lost the pace of the words.

The song sounded odd to Kolchais. The rhythm was very different from the running songs of eir own family or the instrument-backed songs of the musician families that busked the markets. But ey could see how the rhythm and pattern of it fit the rhythm of the Spinner’s hands on the spindle and wool. And the words were fascinating.

The song ended, and in the quiet, they could hear the sh-sh-sh- sounds of the spindle echoing the melody.

After a moment, another voice — Lefeng — began to sing. This song too was unlike any Kolchais had heard. Lefeng’s voice shifted with each line as if ey were two different people. The song itself was a silly song that repeated itself often. Paiokp joined in, picking up one of Lefeng’s voices, but not the other. Then Lefeng dropped those lines, letting Paiokp sing them alone.

It was a conversation, Kolchais realized: Lefeng’s voice led and Paiokp’s responded. It was a story! A story about a farwalker near-adult who thought ey could catch the sun in a bucket of water and stop the bright months from coming.

When they finished, Tsouchm started a song. After that, Chestef in a shakey child’s voice sang a song of eir lost family.

Singing… it was a private thing. A family’s songs were shared only with their most trusted friends and, sometimes, extended family.

They were family.

In time they would make new songs, but for now, it was right that they share the songs of their childhoods.

When it was eir turn, Kolchais shared a good memory from eir childhood — a song of wind and running eir Baba had taught em while they worked the family garden together.

Planting Life in a Dying City (S2 Finale)

Season content notes:

Pronunciation guide

The next day Tsouchm and Lefeng went out again to turn logs into boards for the city. Tchyawfu met them again but said little. And nothing of their discussion the day before. Tsouchm left em to eir silence. Some things need a little time; others need a lot of time.

On the third day, they stayed home. They needed to be on the road crew at least five days of the week or lose their places. In other circumstances, Tsouchm would have worked every day of the week. But as much as they needed the money, they needed time at home also.

The silent-one and Kolchais had cleared the last of the debris from where the colorwork weavers home once stood. Chotaikytsai had, embarrassed, asked that their new home be built elsewhere. Everyone had agreed, and the youngsters had spent part of the night before discussing where it would best be located.

Before Lefeng even ate, the silent-one grabbed eir to clear ground for the new building. They set to work at the back of the compound, very near the wall. Tsouchm frowned when he saw where they worked. If Colorwork-weavers’ house had been built so close to the wall, the fire would have jumped from home to wall and destroyed the entire compound. Or so it seemed to em.

Tsouchm shook eir head and grumbled, but it was early, and ey was quickly becoming spoiled by the chance to break eir fast right after rising. Chotaiktysai had set a pot of porridge in the embers to cook overnight, and a bowl of that was just what Tsouchm needed to wake up.

Well, two bowls.

After ey finished eating, ey got up to help clear the ground, only to be stopped by Kolchais. “I’ve been trying to figure out money stuff. Can you go over it with me?”

Tschoum hesitates — but Chotaikytsai is busy in the gardens, working as hard or harder than Tsouchm at the logs so they’d have enough food. And Lefeng and the silent-one know less of money than ey does. “I can try.”

So instead of another day of physical work, Tsouchm spent the morning discussing with Kolchais money and needs. The amount of money ey and Lefeng would earn by the time the rains started, if Kolchais’ numbers were right, astounded Tsouchm. Tsouchm has never seen so much money in one place. Never mind had such an amount eirself.

“But… you said you’ve done day labor with the roads for years?”

“Yes, but I didn’t get to save the money!” Tsouchm looked at Kolchais. “Child of mine,” ey savored the words, the connection, “You lived as familyless. You know what it is like.”

“But… but you could work! I thought…” ey hunched eir shoulders in, “I thought it was so bad because I couldn’t. That people who could do the day labor at least could do well.”

Tsouchm thought a moment before responding. “It is true, that some familyless can become wealthy — wealthy for familyless anyway! I suppose I might have done better if I hadn’t been alone. I needed less, taking care only of myself, but I also had no one to help me when I needed it. If I did manage to save money — and you know how hard the city makes that!–”

Kolchais grimaced and nodded. Everything was more expensive for the familyless: the families willing to deal with them charged extra for the ‘privilege’. That the city charged a head tax on all residents who weren’t members of recognized families didn’t help. The council claimed it was meant to keep foreigners from overrunning the city, but Tsouchm had never believed a word of it.

“–then I lost it quick enough when I got sick or injured, or in the rainy season when there was little work, and I wasn’t desperate enough to take it.”

“I’m sorry,” Kolchais muttered.

Tsouchm reached out cautiously and ruffled Kolchais’ hair. Ey’s Cenn had done that, and ey had seen many others. But Tsouchm had never made the gesture emself. “It’s alright, child of mine. It’s good you ask. We may be family, but we still need to learn about each other, right?”

Ey hoped it was right. Stillness knew ey was making this up as ey went. But Kolchais smiled and said, “Right!” So ey had muddled through that well enough.

“You had it worse in many ways because you couldn’t take the daywork,” Tsouchm murmured. “If you and Chotaikytsai hadn’t found each other, helped each other… it scares me what might have happened to you.

“But even those of us who work every day rarely manage more than to be a little comfortable between disasters. The wealthy ones… you stay away from any ‘familyless’ with real wealth. They didn’t make it at day labor.”

Kolchais swallowed. “Yeah. I know those.”

Tsouchm nodded and took a deep breath, then turned back to the question of money. There was too much they didn’t know for sure. What it cost Tsouchm to feed emself did not predict what it would cost the family to feed many. Tsouchm had never been able to buy more than one or two days’ food at a time, nor had ey had gardens to supplement what ey bought.

“We will have enough for now, that is certain. For the future? I am not a clerk to know numbers that complicated.”

Ey looked around. At Lefeng and the silent-one, laughing together, free briefly from the stillness of their losses. In the garden, which Tsouchm dreaded working in, Chestef crouched down, watching Chotaikytsai point something out on the stem of some plant or other. What would their future be? What currents — good and bad — would it bring?

“We must save some,” Ey murmured.

Kolchais shook eir head. “What did you say?”

Tsouchm cleared eir throat. “I said, child of mine, that we must save some. Some of the money should be set aside for the future.”

Return to:
Planting Life Season 1 Episode 1
Tsouchm Episode 1
Planting Life (S2, E8)

Continue to:
Webserial Catalog
A VERY Different Kind of Family
First Came Trust (E1)

So, we’re leaving Tsouchm & fam here for now. Tsouchm’s found eir feet as a grandparent and the family is moving forward towards the future they all see together. Rough patches on the horizon though. We’ll be back to see how they navigate some of those rough patches next spring.

For now… I goofed, and we’re going to miss a couple of Fridays. But when we come back, we have a new story. For once, I’m trying to write an actually romance story. Wish the characters luck — they may just need it.

The Last Lady of Lună

I was a child when enemies destroyed our clan. My mother escaped and tried to raise me in secret, but without my fathers’ blood, she aged and died. Now I am the last head of the Lună vampire clan. My enemies think I am dead, my clan is scattered to the winds, and I am just coming into my powers. I will claim my birthright, rebuild my clan, and destroy our enemies. I’m just going to need a bit of help.

Luckily I know where to find it. A hot team of human mercenaries specializing in security is looking for their next job. They’re exactly what I need. Now I just need to convince them to believe me, keep my secrets, and rain hell on my enemies.

And if Lună is still watching out for me, maybe I’ll finally get laid.

Posting starts 5/20/2022

Planting Life in a Dying City: The Scrape (S2 E3)

Season content notes:

Pronunciation guide

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.

Return to:
Planting Life Season 1 Episode 1
Tsouchm Episode 1
Planting Life S2 Interlude

Continue to:
Planting Life S2 E4

Planting Life in a Dying City — The First Night (S2 E1)

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:

Season 1

Pronunciation guide

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.

Return to:
Planting Life Season 1 Episode 1

Continue to:
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.

As always, early access subscribers are 6 weeks ahead of the website. Don’t wait to see what happens next, subscribe now!

Planting Life in a Dying City: Season 1, Episode 11 — The Grandparents

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

While Chotaikytsai spoke with eir visitor, Lefeng and Kolchais continued discussing what they needed to build a new home. “I don’t know how much any of it will cost, but we also need money for food and drink and the bathhouse,” Kolchais was saying, “And no matter how much we have between us, it won’t be enough.”

“It’s walking season for the far-walking families. That means little leather or furs are coming into the city. I could go foraging in the forests near here. I’d need to find an area that hasn’t been hunted clear or claimed by another family though.”

“What most familyless do — and some of the poorer families — is take day-labor. The city is always hiring day-labor for work on the roads or walls. And many families will hire day-labor for things like extending their home or unloading a ship after a successful trade-run.”

Lefeng nodded and focused on digging around the burnt post. Nothing remained of the old daub, and little of the wattle, but most of the support beams remained. They were stubbornly stuck in the ground. Ey was beginning to suspect…

“Stillness throttle it!” Buried to the depth of Lefeng’s forearms, was a thick beam with holes drilled into. The poles of the wattle and the roof’s support beams were set into those holes. Possibly a few in the middle of the home for the central support beans.

Ey stood up and dusted eir hands off. “We need shovels. There are base-beams down here. I suppose that’s normal for city-construction?”

Kolchais shrugged, “I don’t know.”

Paiokp spoke up for the first time, “Probably. Only far walkers who don’t care if their home falls apart in a few years don’t put foundation beams in. And foraging would be a mistake — you’d be gone for a week or more while we need help here to get a new home built and roots only know what the council will require.”

“Enough for now, then,” Kolchais said. “Let’s put our money together and see if we have enough for at least one good shovel. We’ll need it for building as well so might as well get a good one if we can.”

Lefeng agreed and carried the last of the broken bits ey had been able to gather to the new scrap woodpile. Kolchais said they’d be able to sell it, and if not it would be firewood for a good while. That done, ey washed eir hands at the water bucket and dug out eir small pouch of trade tokens. Ey gave them to Kolchais to make sense of.

They all ended up gathered around the firepit. It was becoming a bit of a thing and Lefeng enjoyed the familiarity of it. While Kolchais went through the money and maked sense of it, Lefeng turned to ask Chotaikytsai about eir visitor.

“Tsouchm,” Chotaikytsai said, making Lefeng wince at the free use of a stranger’s name. Chotaikytsai smiled gently. “Ey has been a friend and is another family-less who has some influence in the family-less community but is very much a loner.”

Kolchais chuckles and said, “Tsouchm would have started courting Chotaikytsai years ago if ey thought Chotaikytsai would accept eir.”

Chotaiktysai looked down and away, as if embarrassed. “Stop being silly,” ey said, but it didn’t come out as forceful as Lefeng thought ey had meant it.

Kolchais laughed and said, “Now we know it’s true — if it wasn’t Chotaikytsai wouldn’t have gotten flustered.”

For a moment, it seemed the world was still. The current unsure of which direction it should turn. Lefeng looked up at Paiokp and Kolchais, and saw them looking back, just as wide-eyed as Lefeng felt.

“You know,” Lefeng said, picking eir words as carefully as footsteps on a strange night-trail. “A family should have at least two grandparents. That way they can trade off baby care and such. Even with the cenn helping out, you need at least three trading off if anyone is going to get a good night’s rest with a new baby.”

Paiokp and Kolchais grinned. “You’re right,” Kolchais said. “Isn’t ey right, Chotaikytsai?”

Chotaikytsai laughed uncomfortably. “Stop being ridiculous. Tsouchm is a friend and, yes, I like em, a lot. But ey is the biggest loner in the city. The family-less often form fake-family groups, for support and protection. Tsouchm is famous for refusing to join any of them. If ey doesn’t even want to be part of the loosely structured fake-families because it will restrict em, why would ey want to be part of a real family with even more demands on em?”

In the corner of eir eye, Lefeng saw Kolchais mouthing “Nope.” and chuckled. But the young adults all let the topic drop. A few minutes later Kolchais announced that they should have enough for the shovel, but it would mean tight rations for a week and they’d need money soon after that.

“The first of the winter beans should be ready to harvest soon,” Chotaikytsai said. “We will do well enough.”

Kolchais and Paiokp went out to buy the shovel, Lefeng having had enough of the city’s markets to last em a season. Shortly after they returned — and Lefeng was once again digging in the dirt — the gate bell rang again. Lefeng put the shovel down and heads for the gate. Paiokp rolled eir eyes at Lefeng’s hurry to get to the gate first. Paiokp, Lefeng suspected, saw it as a version of the childish ‘Me first!’.

If it made em happy to think so, Lefeng wasn’t going to try to convince em otherwise. Kolchais, ey expected, understood.

To Lefeng’s surprise, Chotaikytsai’s friend was waiting at the gate once more. After their earlier conversation, Lefeng didn’t bother asking eir to wait but invited em in immediately. This time, ey followed the strange family-less to the fire pit and squatted down near Chotaiktysai, who was preparing dinner. To eir relief, Chotaikytsai didn’t try to introduce Lefeng to the stranger. Lefeng would prefer not to have eir name given freely, no matter what the customs of the family-less were. And they had not yet discussed how to label themselves until their new family could be made official.

Instead, Chotaikytsai said, “Back so soon? Well, it may be the current steered you well for us. Kolchais was explaining to long-stride here about day-labor in the city.” Lefeng managed, barely, to keep from wincing. Ey hadn’t told the city-folk the name of eir lost family, and ey did have a longer stride than the city-folk. It was just an unfortunate nickname.

The stranger’s eyebrows reached for eir hairline — and it was a long reach. The other’s greying hair had receded to eir ears.

“We need money for building supplies,” Lefeng explained, “and we have no trade yet. I could go back on the trails, leather and furs sell well here. But that would take me from the city for too long.”

“Then day-labor is your best — possibly your only — option,” the grey-haired one confirmed. “Now that the wood has had time to dry, the city will be hiring many to do the work of repairing the roads. It will be hard work, but steady, and pays well. I’ll show you where to go for it?”

“That is good,” Lefeng said, and then let the topic drop. The grey-haired one had come for a reason, and Lefeng had hopes as to what it might be. Thankfully, the stranger didn’t wait to speak.

“I have been thinking all day on what you are doing here.” Lefeng bit back a cheer and glanced at Kolchais who had come to stand behind Chotaikytsai and was biting eir lip and trying to hold back a grin. “I know well my reputation, but while I have embraced my solitude, being alone has not been entirely my own choice. I would join this family you are creating, if you would have me.” The grey-haired one glanced around at the gathered group, but Lefeng wasn’t surprised when eir gaze was drawn to Chotaikytsai.

Lefeng held eir breath, waiting, and it seemed Paiokp was doing the same. Neither of them looked at Chotaikytsai.

Kolchais was not so restrained and whatever ey saw in their grandparent’s face made the hearth-fire flare-up — ey burst out laughing.

Worst thing ey could do. The grey-haired one mostly kept eir face blank but Lefeng saw the slight wince ey couldn’t control. Lefeng didn’t know how to save the situation. Kolchais started gasped words through the laughter. “I told eir… A dozen times… I…. told eir and… ey… didn’t believe me.”

The hidden wince changed to open confusion and Lefeng sighed in relief. Perhaps ey should have trusted the city-folk more. “I do not understand,” the stranger grated out.

Kolchais was still laughing too hard to be fully coherent and Paiokp had once again withdrawn to an unaccustomed silence. Lefeng was surprised at how hard it was to speak, how heavy eir tongue was in eir mouth. But someone needed to say something. “Of course you don’t.” Ey nudged Kolchais. “Stop it. Even I know better than that!”

“After you left earlier,” Lefeng said, speaking past a lump in eir throat. Why? Ey should be happy… “We,” ey gestured to eirself and Paiokp, “got to witness the hundredth cycle of an argument. That stubborn-one has been sure you were interested in courting the once-weaver. And our parent-to-be has been sure you were too much of loner to ever court anyone.”

Kolchais finally got control of eirself and stood, nudging Lefeng in turn and tapping Paiokp on the shoulder. Lefeng nodded heavily and stood. “The spouses – or spouse in this case,” Kolchais said, ” accepts the courtship. We had our say earlier, anyway. Come on, you two.”

Kolchais and Paiokp rounded up Chestef and headed toward the sleeping shed. Good, it was time for Chestef to sleep.

But Lefeng was unable to make emself follow them. Instead, ey moved off a short distance and looked through the charred scraps for a piece that might be worth carving. Far enough that ey wouldn’t be intruding, but close enough ey could still hear.

Ey had to know.

“So,” the grey-hair said, “You thought I could not be interested, hm? Did you also think I was a dead? Even trees twine their roots together, though they stand apart.”

“Are you a tree? I see no leaves.” Chotaikytsai’s voice was full of humor and Lefeng was glad of it. The grandparent needed someone to play with.

“No? But here is my lustrous bark and my limbs dance in the wind.” Lefeng couldn’t help glancing over eir shoulder at that — the stranger had raised eir hands over eir head and was waving them around. Ey and Chotaikytsai laughed together.

“I don’t know anything about being part of a family. And tides know how I’ll manage as a grandparent when I have never known children. But I will do my best by this family. And I have been alone long enough.”

Lefeng heard Chotaikytsai accept, and then the whole world blurred.

Return to:
Interlude: Tsouchm

Continue to:
Season Finale

Planting Life in a Dying City: Season 1, Episode 10 – The Decision

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

When they returned to the compound, Chotaikytsai had gotten Chestef to take a nap and was working the garden. Kolchais tried to join em but Chotaikytsai took one good look at Kolchais’ face and insisted ey sit down and eat something. Ey had done enough today.

Kolchais protested that ey didn’t do anything. “Rot and stagnation!” Lefeng exclaimed. “You guided us around the city, introduced us to people, and helped us understand how the city works. That is enough for anyone to do in one day.

“If I am tired, you must be exhausted.”

The once-weaver gave Lefeng a respectful nod and said, “Besides, I was about to stop and eat something. The gardens can wait for a time.”

Lefeng and the others joined the grandparent by the fire pit and shared the roasted vegetables and beer ey had prepared. Ey did eir best to make small talk through the meal — especially as the golden-eyed had fallen silent. Lefeng desperately wanted to ask what the once-weaver had decided, to ask Kolchais if ey might be willing to consider them, but held to the hunt-patience and waited.

Thankfully, when they finished eating, Chotaikytsai decided to take pity on em. “I will be part of this new family,” the once-weaver said, “but only if Kolchais is also part of it. Ey is already root-kin to me and it is only right that ey be part of any family I build.”

“What!” Kolchais exclaimed before Lefeng or Paiokp could respond. “You can’t do that! You can’t throw away this chance for my sake!”

Chotaikytsai threw up eir hands and shook eir head. “What? You think I should give up the family I have to take a new one? Or are you saying there are not family-feelings between us?”

The limping-one cut em off, and Paiokp leaned over to whisper in Lefeng’s ear, “They certainly fight like family.”

Lefeng snorted and nudged the sun-touched. “Go on then. You’re the rooted-one. They’ll listen to you better than me.”

Paiokp laughed. “I’d get between a mountain cat and it’s meat before I got in the middle of a family quarrel.”

“Very well,” Lefeng sighed. “I’ll do it. Otherwise, I see us having our first family quarrel over who will interrupt their family quarrel.”

Kolchais and the once-weaver were standing now, yelling at each other. Lefeng considered a moment. How different were the city’s courting customs?

Ey stood and put two fingers under Kolchais’ chin, startling the stubborn-one into silence and turning eir head to face Lefeng. “Shut up long enough for us to answer, courting-sib.” Lefeng leaned in until ey could feel Kolchais’ breath on eir lips. To eir delight, Kolchais recognized the invitation and leaned into the kiss. It was light and sweet, and Lefeng could taste the stubborn-one’s uncertainty, inexperience. So different from intense Paiespaiokp or teasing Poutsneptsaipn or any of eir other lost ones. Ey pulled back and blinked away tears. It took a moment to clear eir throat and regain the teasing tone ey had intended. “Unless you’ve rather not be married to us. I can’t imagine we’d be prime catch for a sophisticated city person.”

Kolchais stared a moment, reaching up to touch eir lips. “You don’t know what you are saying.”

“You city folk talk weird, I’ll admit. but I’m pretty sure I’m saying exactly what I meant to. Paiokp?”

“Stop teasing em, Lefeng. I swear when you get an idea in your head…” Paiokp shook eir head and looked down at eir hands. “Kolchais, if the once-weaver hadn’t said something, we would have asked you. I know it’s indecently fast to speak of marriage and mating and… and there are things about us that you should know before we ever asked. But you could be a big help to us, with how well you know the city. And we… I … like you.”

“We,” Lefeng said. “Smart, aware, kind, city grown, and cute.”

“I…” Kolchais swallows. “I like you too. But you saw what people think of me.”

Lefeng shrugged. “I’m a mountain child who would follow the old ways and live in a tent most of the year. Have you not heard what the people here say of me? Why should I believe they speak any more truth about you?”

Chotaikytsai chuckled. “Enough my children. If we are all agreed?”

Lefeng looked at Kolchais and raised eir eyebrows. Slowly, the stubborn-one nodded. “Agreed.”

“Go get your things,” Chotaikytsai said. “You will all stay here now. And you,” ey poked Lefeng, “who brags of sleeping in tents, you will be in charge of putting together someplace for you all to sleep until we can…” Ey stopped and took a deep breath. “Can rebuild the compound.”

Lefeng heard an echo of eir own grief in that pause and offered a hand to eir parent-to-be, who gripped it tightly.

“Off with you then! The faster you go, the sooner you are back.”

With a nod, Lefeng turned and jogged for the gate, Paiokp trailing behind.

When Lefeng returned, Chestef was awake and pestering eir grandparent-to-be with questions.

Lefeng put eir pack down out of the way and went to squat down near the child. Chotaikytsai said, “Alright, child. Lefeng is back now and we have something important to tell you.”

“You know why we came here?” Lefeng asked, picking up the grandparent’s cue. “To make a new family?”

Chestef nodded. “You and Paiokp are going to be my parents. And we would find more parents and grandparents. But will I have a new cenn?”

The child’s voice wobbled a bit at that last and Lefeng picked up the child and held eir tight. “No, Chestef. There is only one cenn, one birthing parent, for each of us. But there can be many paitche, many parents. And new Babas as well.

“Chotaikytsai and Kolchais — the short city-folk who is child to Chotaikytsai, the stubborn-one — will be joining our family. Chotaikytsai will be your grandparent, and can be baba if you want em to be.”

“Baba?” Chestef asked, looking at the once-weaver.

“Yes, child,” Chotaikytsai said, and Chestef launched emself at eir new Baba so fast that ey nearly knocked Lefeng over. Chestef clung to eir new grandparent and cried. It was a long time before eir tears finally stopped.

They talked plans over dinner. As Lefeng was afraid, the city would make everything more complicated than it had to be. They couldn’t just go before a priest and have their new family blessed. Chotaikytsai said that ey would find out when the next council meeting would be. They would need to get a hearing before the council to request recognition as citizens.

Lefeng tuned most of it out. It would be important, ey knew. But it was not something ey could help with. Leave it to those who could. Ey’s concern was getting shelter for everyone.

By nightfall, they were temporarily settled. Chestef would sleep in the lean-to with eir Baba. Lefeng, Paiokp, and Kolchais all had space under a shelter Lefeng constructed in a corner of the compound. Tomorrow, ey would start work on a winter shelter — the not-so-temporary shelters the far-walkers used when they planned to stay in one place for several weeks or months. The shelters were named for the winter in-gathers when the far-walking clans came together and an entire mountain valley would be filled from end-to-end with the winter shelters of all the families there…

The future opened before Lefeng — but the past remained, dogging eir steps.

Return to:
Episode 9: The Abandoned

Continue to:
Interlude: Tschoum

Planting Life in a Dying City: Season 1, Episode 8 – The Weaver

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

They set out early the next morning to speak with the weaver. But navigating the city was difficult and it took them until mid-morning to find the compound of the Colorworkweaving family.

The gate was broken off the hinges and leaned against the inside of the wall. In its place, a simple wooden bar blocked the entrance. Through the mostly-open gate, they could see the partly-cleared-away burnt remains of a large compound. Lefeng thought it could have comfortably held a family of over thirty. Around and behind the ruins were gardens that were in various stages of tending. Most showed some level of neglect and a few were completely overrun with weeds. But a few were thriving. Two people worked in one of the gardens. One who was old enough to be a grandparent, and was likely the weaver they were seeking. The other was of an age to be a parent. They were focused on their work and didn’t notice their visitors. Lefeng shook eir head. Especially with no gate, it wasn’t safe for them to not be alert.

A knocker still hung beside where the gate had been. Lefeng rang the knocker, though gentler than usual for fear it, too, was in disrepair. But it rang out clearly in spite of its battered appearance.

The two working the garden looked up and the maybe-grandparent stood and approached the gate. As ey got closer, Lefeng could see there were still a few black strands mixed in with the bright white curls of eir hair — too loose to be called coils. Lefeng had noticed that was common in the city. Eir face was broad, with a button nose, and unusually for the rooted folk, as dark as Lefeng and many of eir family.

“Greetings strangers. Who are you and what brings you to my gate?”

Lefeng glanced at Paiokp and found Paiokp looking back at em. Ey guessed Paiokp was wondering the same thing — how did one without family introduce themself?

After a moment, Lefeng says, “I am… I was farwalker near-adult of Sandy Cove. The great wave a month ago destroyed my village… and my family. My companions are also left familyless by the wave.

“I met a parent of the Southward Cobblers in the market yesterday, and ey asked that I come here and give eir greetings.”

“I am Chotaikytsai, once a weaver.” The once-weaver shook eir head at their surprised look and said. “Among the familyless, personal names are given freely. We have no other designation to share.”

“Oh.” Lefeng took a breath and glanced at Paiokp again. The once-fisher glanced away, clearly unwilling or unable to speak. “Of… course. I am… Lefeng. And this is Paiokp.” Courtesy or not, ey wouldn’t name Chestef to a stranger. It was bad enough sharing eir and Paiokp’s names.

“You are a long way from home. Though I expect farwalkers are always a long way from home.”

Lefeng blinked in surprise. “The farwalkers carry their homes with them, once-weaver. But yes, I am a long way from the fires of my family.”

“I expect,” the once-weaver said in a sudden change of tone and topic, “that my nibling did not send you here just to give greetings ey could have brought emself. And I am too old and tired to dance around what brings you here.”

But not, Lefeng noticed with a grin, so discourteous as to ask outright. And the humor of that gave eir current enough of a boost to push em onward.

“We wish to start a new family together. But three people don’t make a family. So we’re looking for others who might want to join us. It was after I told em this, that your nibling asked me to come.”

Chotaikytsai said nothing, but lifted the bar across the gate and gestured for them to come in. As they entered, the other person stood from the garden–moving more like an elder than a young parent. Chotaikytsai introduces em as Kolchais, once a messenger. This one had proper coils around eir broad face, and skin lighter brown than the weaver, but still darker than Chestef or the fisher.

Kolchais snorted and shook eir head. “No, never a messenger, just the child of them.”

Ey and Chotaikytsai exchanged looks like this was an old argument. Lefeng decided to remember that but said nothing.

“I was getting ready to break for some food. Would you join me?” Chotaikytsai asked.

“If you wish,” Lefeng said, fearing to take from what small reserve this pair must have. “We have some trail food left if you wish to share.”

It took a few minutes, but the once-weaver and… Kolchais… had more food on hand than Lefeng would have expected from the state of the compound. Between what they had and the trail food, they were all settled near an old fire pit with food in less than a fingers-width.

After they ate quietly for a few minutes, the once-weaver asked, “You would make family with strangers? Many people are lazy, good for nothings. You would risk burdening yourself with their care for how do you know which is which? And what of your own families? Would they wish you to abandon them? Their ways and traditions and history?”

Lefeng shook eir head. “I have nothing left. My family followed the old way so we kept few possessions that couldn’t be carried in a pack, and most of those were destroyed by the wave. I could make my way in the mountains, but a lone traveler in the mountains has a fool for a companion. My family would rather see me make a new life, walking the path before me than dead on the trail to no purpose.” Ey looked to the once-fisher.

Paiokp shrugged. “My family would rather be forgotten than have me be their only memory. And the longer I am gone from them, the happier I am to have it so. Let the dead bury the dead, for they will have none of me.”

Kolchais looked at Paoikp consideringly. “Sometimes no family is better than the family you had.”

“I don’t know if I’d go that far,” Paiokp grinned, “But the longer they are gone the more I see how much they hated me. Why should I give them the respect they never offered?”

“As for making a family of strangers…” Lefeng shrugged, “we don’t propose to join with anyone we meet. Courting can take many forms, after all.”

Chotaikytsai said nothing. Ey looked around the compound, the burnt wreck of eir home. “I am all that is left of my family,” ey said finally. “So long as I remain, some part of them lives on. But you ask me to abandon them to help you create a new family.”

Kolchais snorted. “Would your family wish you spend the rest of your life familyless trying to keep them alive beyond the grave? You forget the cycle with such thoughts. All things end, and in the endings are new beginnings. Your family will end. If not now, then when you die. Will you turn your back on a beginning in a futile effort to prevent an ending?”

Chotaikytsai didn’t respond, but Lefeng could tell ey was disturbed. Ey, Paiokp, and Kolchais left em to eir thoughts, instead discussing the city and Lefeng and Paiokp’s first impressions of it.

They ended up staying through the afternoon until it was time for evening meal. Chestef, unwilling to sit for long, got up to investigate the gardens, and, still silent, Chotaikytsai followed.

Eventually, the conversation wound down, leaving Lefeng with a strong respect for how much the stranger — Kolchais — understood eir home city. Finally, Lefeng decided it was time to leave. The once-weaver had said nothing, but Kolchais was worn out and they had stayed far longer than Lefeng had planned. Ey stood and called Chestef back. Paiokp stood with em and they made their farewells.

“Come back tomorrow,” Chotaitkysai said. “I will have an answer for you then.”

Ey reached into a small pouch under eir tunic and squatted down beside Chestef. “Here, child,” ey holds out a colorful woven band that could be a necklace or headband.

As they got up to leave, Lefeng saw Chotaikytsai grab the other cityfolk’s hand and ask em to stay the night. The cityfolk’s — Kolchais’ expression told Lefeng ey had never expected the request. Lefeng hurried Paiokp and Chestef out, leaving the two city folk to talk. But it seemed the once-weaver was already changing eir habits, and that made Lefeng hopeful.

Return to:
Episode 7: The City (Part 2)

Continue to:
Episode 9: The Abandoned

Planting Life in a Dying City: Season 1, Episode 7 – The City (Part 2)

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

At the area the guard directed em to, Lefeng laid out eir tent-leather as a blanket to sit on. There was room on the blanket for the leather and other things ey had brought to sell. The market was quiet, with only a handful of people haggling. Several near-adults were loitering — talking and playing dice games. One of them came over, took a close look at eir offerings, and took off at a run.

The person next to Lefeng, who had such a random clutter Lefeng wondered where ey had gotten it, laughed at eir surprise.

“Message runner,” ey said. “Families that need something and don’t want to hunt the markets themselves will hire a messenger to watch and alert them when the goods they need are available.” Ey leaned over and took a close look at Lefeng’s leathers. “I’m surprised more than one hasn’t taken off. You’re the first I’ve seen here with leather since before the bright season.”

“Thank you,” Lefeng said.

“Do you mean to set yourself up at a trader?” The other asked.

“No.” Lefeng wondered if the other was worried about competition.

“Well, if you have anything left at the end of the market, I’ll buy it from you.”

Lefeng narrowed eir eyes. “Why?”

The other tittered, rocking back and forth on eir heels. “You are new. Look, I’m a parent of the Beadtraders family.” Lefeng eyed eir goods. “I know, I know, we’ve fallen on hard times, and rarely trade in beads anymore. But it’s worth it for one of us to sit in the various smaller markets each day. You can’t afford to spend too long here — you’ll not want to pay the fee more days than necessary, and you must have things you came here to do.

“If you sell to me, I can sit here with it until it is sold or rots. I can hold onto it until a family that needs it comes along, and make more from it than you might, who must sell for what you can get. And you get the money you need and can go on with your tasks without being tied to this market or carrying around goods you have no need for.”

Lefeng thought a minute, then said, “Let us see how the day goes.”

A few minutes later the runner returned with a stranger and pointed the stranger to Lefeng.

The stranger came to where Lefeng sits, and crouched down in front of eir, fingering the half-finished leathers. “You are out-of-season, farwalker. Usually, it is in Spring, before the Bright Season, that your people come from the mountains and flood the city with leather and fur and herbs.”

Lefeng clenched eir hands but managed to speak calmly. “I am no longer farwalker, city-folk. My family was destroyed in the great wave and I have brought the last of the summer’s traplines to get money to stay in the city.”

The stranger nodded but made no further comment until ey was done examining the hides. “You will accept city tokens, then, once-farwalker?”

“Yes,” Lefeng says, “if you have fishing tokens.” The city tokens confused Lefeng, but the hospitality family had set their price in fishing tokens. Lefeng knew how well the hides would have traded for fish in Sandy Cove.

They dickered for a short time, but in the end, the stranger took all the hides. Ey left Lefeng with enough tokens for a week with the Hearthsafes. Lefeng suspected that the stranger got the better of eir, but the price ey got was much better than what the traders paid when they come–came–to the village each spring. So ey did not complain.

As the stranger gathered the hides, the ey asked, “What will you do in the city, once-walker? I would have expected you to head for the mountains and find another family there.”

“What business of yours stranger?” Lefeng gestures agreement, though. Ey and Paiokp had agreed that starting gossip would be a good thing. “I come with two other family-less, rooted folk, left alone by the great wave a month ago. We hope to find others and perhaps form a new family together.”

To Lefeng’s amusement, the Beadtrader’s ears were practically twitching as ey tried to pretend ey wasn’t listening. But to Lefeng’s surprise, the stranger also looked interested and crouched back down.

“So… once-walker, I am a parent of the Southwardcobbler family. Are you looking only for those of your own generation, or grandparents and elders as well?”

Lefeng sat up suddenly. If this cobbler was implying… “A family needs all generations to be complete, does it not, Southwardcobbler?”

Ey nodded in satisfaction. “Just so. Just so. Though too many family-less of the city will deny this.

“My Cenn married out of the Colorworkweaver family. You can find the remains of their compound on the street of Hares

“The remains?”

“Yes. There was a fire when I was a child. The only survivor was one of my ommer, my Cenn’s sibling. A parent then, ey was too old to be adopted into another family.”

Lefeng nodded, knowing ey was doing a poor job of hiding eir eagerness. “Perhaps we might pay a call upon eir?”

The cobbler nodded several times and smiled. “If you would give eir my greetings, I would be grateful. I do not have time to go down to that part of the city often.

“Ey still lives in the remains of the compound. My Cenn visits from time to time, so I know ey has not left.”

Lefeng accepted the suggestion with thanks and promises to bring the cobbler’s greetings to the weaver. Ey was tempted to sell what ey had left to the Beadtrader but forced eirself to patience. The weaver would not disappear overnight.

By day’s end, Lefeng sold most of eir other goods. Ey sold the few things that were left to the BeadTrader for a few tokens. Then ey returned to the inn to meet with Paiokp and Chestef.

Over the evening meal, they discuss the results of the day. Lefeng told Paiokp of the Colorworkweaver they will need to seek out. Paiokp, unfortunately, has less hopeful news. “No one has heard of others who survived the wave coming here.” Ey shrugged “We should have expected it, I think. The damage got less as we traveled, and if any further than your village had survived and come this way, they would have reached my village before we left. There are many family-less here, I am told. But they are born family-less and instead of forming proper families, have joined into fake marriage groups with no connection from one generation to the next.”

Lefeng shakes eir head. How can the children be raised properly with no grandparents to tend them while the parents work? How can the grandparents and elders be well with no parents and near-adult children to care for them? But… “We knew city ways were strange. I don’t see it as much stranger than any other thing rooted folk have done. Perhaps some of them will be willing to consider new family ties.”

Paiokp stared at Lefeng, then focused on eir food. Rooted folks. Each so sure that only their way was best.

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Return to:
Episode 6: The City (Part 1)

Continue to:
Episode 8: The Weaver

Planting Life in a Dying City: Season 1, Episode 6 – The City (Part 1)

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

Lefeng crouched down to examine the trail. That morning it had widened, from a narrow forest trail to a packed dirt path. Now, the dirt had given way to what looked like logs. As thick around as Lefeng’s arm, they lay perpendicular to the road, pressed deep into the dirt. The bark had been removed but the wood was rough, pitted and scarred and worn away in places to expose the ridges formed by the rings of the original tree. Most of them were showing signs of rot, returning to the earth. Paiokp stopped beside em and said, “I didn’t think they did this on the trails. The roads inside the city are all made this way. They say it keeps the streets from turning to mud after a rain.”

Lefeng shook eir head. “How?”

“I don’t know,” Paiokp shrugged. “It’s a great deal of work, isn’t it? Especially all the way out here, where we can’t even see the city. Maybe there are families who specialize in road building?”

Shortly after the logs appeared on the road, the forest surrounding the road disappeared. They came out of the forest into a clear area that stretched three times the length of Sandy Cove. The open area ended at the edge of the city.

The area was half a giant bowl with the deepest part of the bowl as the edge of the sea. High up on the ridge were what appeared to be family compounds, but two and three times the size of any Lefeng had ever seen. Lower down were more normal family compounds grouped around what appeared to be markets and other open areas. Most of the open areas had a great pillar, taller than any of the surrounding buildings by several person-lengths. Lightning towers, Lefeng guessed. The village had talked about constructing one from time to time, but there were many tall trees on the ridge above the village to draw the lightning. Lightning had never struck the village in Lefeng’s lifetime. A few of the towers were particolored. One grew what looked like a stone tree atop it. Lightning did strike here. Perhaps often.

Down towards the water were smaller buildings. They might have been homes for small families, but had no walls or yards to separate them from their neighbors. And right before the docks ware large buildings that Paiokp said stored food and sometimes other goods.

The city was overwhelming. The noise and smell of it alone, even from a finger-width away, were shocking. The youngling seemed shocked as well. Chestef clung to the two adults, staring at the city. “Are you okay?” Lefeng asked.

“There’s so many people…” the youngling replied before burying eir face in Lefeng’s tunic. Of course. The youngling wasn’t used to seeing the various adults of eir village. Now ey was confronted with thousands of people beyond anything ey ever imagined.

The number of people was a bit much for Lefeng as well, but ey had seen hundreds and thousands gathered together before at the great farwalker conclaves each winter. It was the buildings, the sheer number and variety of them, that took eir breath away.

Paiokp wrapped an arm around Chestef’s shoulders. “It’s big. Bigger than I remembered. I don’t recall it being this loud, either.

“Look, there’s the gate.” Ahead of them, the path ended — or perhaps began — at a gate set in a wooden palisade. “No wall though. The harbor is surrounded by a sea-wall, to hold off raiders.”


Paiokp looked at Lefeng in surprise. “There are sea-raiders all up and down the coast. Your village never saw them?”

Lefeng shook eir head. “The fishing fleet was attacked from time to time. But never the village.” Ey smiled. “Almost, I would have liked to see them try. Half the village was farwalking families. Any raiders who tried would find themselves in a hornet’s nest.”

“Ah.” Paiokp was quiet a moment. “The sea-wall is two person-heights and made of stone. They say it will hold off the local raiders, and attacks by other cities. I thought they’d have a similar wall here.”

“Not if I understand you right.” Lefeng pointed to the mountain side. “They have little danger from the land-side. The mountains climb high above the city, there’s no space for towns and villages which might hide the land-version of your sea raiders. And few farwalkers would stay anywhere near the city. The noise and smells would drive away game and the forests would be stripped bare by city-dwellers seeking to feed their vast numbers.

“There is no other city for a month’s travel south of here — there is no area with a good enough harbor to support such a large fleet, and the mountains are too close to the coast to allow much farming.” Ey spit on the ground at the mention of that aspect of rooted life. Fishing folk and crafters kept to their villages and waves, but farmers tore up the forest and burnt the trees which were the birthright of the farwalkers.

Paiokp nodded, understanding what ey said. “So, at worst, bandits here, lawless folk from the city itself. Not organized raiders or attacks from another city.

“Not from this side of the bowl.” Lefeng scanned the city. “Perhaps the other side.”

As Paiokp warned, guards stopped them at the gate and required them to state their business. Lefeng told the gate guard that eir village was destroyed and ey had come to the city because there was nowhere else to go. The guard was brusque but sympathetic, telling em that they have one month to find a permanent place to stay or they’d need to leave the city. Lefeng was confused but decided that asking would not be wise. Lefeng and Paiokp ware both given clay tokens to carry with them and show to any official who asked. Lefeng found a spot for eirs in a pouch. Any farwalker, who carried everything they owned, had many pouches about their person. Paiokp strung eirs on a cord and wore it as a necklace.

Paiokp led them, with some difficulty, down to the docks. From there ey remembered the route to what ey said was a “hospitality family.” The family provided a place for travelers to stay while in the city. Paiokp had eaten in this family’s compound before, though eir family always stayed on their boat when they traveled to the city. Lefeng was confused and uncomfortable with the idea of a home being constantly intruded on by strangers. Didn’t that defeat the purpose of each family having their own space? But the place Paiokp led them too looked nothing like any compound Lefeng has seen before.

Instead of a solid fence with a single gate facing the street, this compound had a small building right on the street. The fence stood behind the building, set back from the street. Next to the building was a shed where Paiokp told Lefeng to leave the travois. Lefeng wasn’t comfortable with it out of eir sight, but a near-adult of the hospitality family, Hearthsafe, came forward and promised it was safe. Reluctantly, Lefeng accepted the assurance and followed Paiokp inside.

In some ways, the building was similar to Lefeng’s home. There was a central firepit where several members of the family were preparing food, lots of shelves and pegs for hanging coats and bags and things, and a floor covered with rushes and old, tattered blankets.

A parent of the Hearthsafe family greeted them. Ey gave them a price in trade-tokens for staying there. The trade tokens were nothing but confusing to Lefeng. Thankfully, this family was used to hosting traders.

“You have trade goods?” The Hearthsafe asked.

“Some. Mostly half-cured leather, some herbs.”

The Hearth-safe nodded. “You’re here out of season–that’s why we’re empty. The few guests we have are about their business and will return for evening meal. You’ll likely get good trades for the leather. If you’ll leave half your leather as surety, we’ll offer 3 nights’ shelter and food. Trade the rest of your leathers and pay us before the fourth night, or you forfeit your surety and need to go elsewhere.”

After checking with Paiokp, Lefeng agreed. The Hearthsafe gave Lefeng directions to a market. Lefeng got the trade goods off the travois, leaving half the leather with the Hearthsafe. Then ey headed out again, leaving Paiokp to get Chestef settled. The two rooted folk would want to rest after their travels, but Lefeng was well rested after the slow pace they had taken. Ey wanted to settle with the Hearth-Safe family as quickly as possible.

The traveler’s market was between the docks and one of the smaller landward gates. It is three times the size of the Sandy Cove quarter-moon market, but smaller than other markets they had passed through on the way to the Hearth-Safes. A bored person in a uniform stopped Lefeng as ey entered.


Lefeng withdrew the clay token ey had been given at the gate. The guard looked it over then asked, “Selling or buying?”

“Selling,” Lefeng answered. “Leather and herbs and leftovers.”

The guard nodded, examining the embroidery of eir tunic. “I don’t know your family, farwalker.”

Lefeng blinked. Not many rooted folks even knew that the embroidery of a farwalker had meaning, never mind was able to read the meaning in it. “Longstride,” Lefeng stopped, cleared eir throat. “Longstride summered a half-moon down the coast. The wave last month destroyed our village and I am the last.”

The guard nodded but didn’t make any attempt at sympathy, for which Lefeng was grateful. “You’ll be new to the city then, family-last. This is the right market for you. Come again if you have more to trade. Big traders don’t come here. Small traders and travelers who have a few things to sell only. There’s an open spot on the sunward side you can set up. Sun won’t bother you none, not like some of our city folk?”

“Not this time of year, guard.” Lefeng said with the finger flick that meant ‘instructions understood.’ To eir surprise, the guard responded with the sign meaning ‘on your way.’

How did a city guard learn not just farwalker embroidery but farwalker trail signs? But cross family marriages could spread information in the strangest ways.

Return to:
Episode 5: The Idea

Continue to:
Episode 7: The City (Part 2)

Planting Life in a Dying City: Season 1, Episode 5 – The Idea

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

Lefeng was washing eir clothes when the golden-eyed one approached em. Ey walked hesitantly, eyes down and fists clenching and unclenching. Scared? Had ey ever seen the golden-eyed one scared? Lefeng didn’t think so.

“Are you okay?” Had the villagers done something?

“I’m…” the once-fisher stopped. Cleared eir throat. “I had an idea. For the youngling. For… us.”

Lefeng put down eir laundry and gave em eir full attention. “For us?” It hadn’t occurred to Lefeng that there was an ‘us’. Though ey liked the once-fisher and hadn’t been looking forward to leaving when the youngling was settled. That was one reason ey had been willing to delay, despite eir need to return to the trails.

“The youngling… the youngling is acting like we are family to em.”

Lefeng nodded. “I’ve noticed. It worries me.”

“Well, why not… why not be a family?”

Lefeng stares, stunned. A family. A new family. It… “A family of three people? How?”

“Oh, not alone, a family of just three people would be ridiculous.” The once-fisher, golden-eyed one chuckled, but it sounded forced. “How could we manage with only two parents? Worse, no grandparents! But there had to be others who lost family. Maybe from this wave, but also… disease or disaster. We both know it happens. Why continue to be alone when we could come together?

“We could go to the city, I know from our trading runs that there are more family-less there. We can find others and create a new family together.”

“I… why wouldn’t the family-less in the city have already come together like that? Surely it can’t be that easy.”

The golden-eyed one shrugged, “I don’t know. But it can’t hurt to try, can it? None of us can stay here much longer. So why not try to stay together?”

Lefeng nodded, thinking. It was a clever idea, but Lefeng wasn’t sure ey liked it. Ey had never been to the city and never wanted to go. Village living was as far from the old ways as ey had ever wanted to get. But ey needed to do something, and ey had made a promise to the youngling–a promise that was keeping em sane despite eir loss and grief. And it would let em keep the golden-eyed one.

Maybe in the city, far from everything ey had ever known, the voices of eir dead would stop haunting em.

“Yes.” Lefeng finally said. The once-fisher stared at em as if ey couldn’t believe it. Or as if Lefeng had been speaking another language. “Yes. We will go to the city and see what family we can build there.”

The golden-eyed one jumped and clapped. Then, for the first time, ey reached out a hand to touch Lefeng. To share the intimacy of family.

Lefeng didn’t hesitate this time. Ey grabbed the offered hand and pulled the golden-eyed one into a hug. The once-fisher returned the hug, holding on as if eir life depended on it.

Maybe both of their lives did.

“I am Lefeng,” ey murmured, getting it over with quickly.

The golden-eyed one stilled, pulled back. “What?”

Lefeng felt blood rising in eir cheeks and looked down. “I… ah… my name. Is Lefeng.”

The once-fisher stared a moment longer but thankfully didn’t ask. Ey just said, “I am Paiokp.”

Lefeng nodded, hiding a wince at the reminder of eir dead betrothed. ‘Wave’ and variations on it were common names among fisher families. “Paiokp,” Lefeng made emself say. “Alright, clever-one, I suppose we should go have a talk with our youngling.”

The youngling’s name was Chestef, lightning. It was a name of chance, and danger, and opportunity. Lefeng found emself wondering if Chestef’s Cenn had sought out that name for eir child, or like Lefeng’s Cenn, been unlucky.

Chestef needed no convincing to accept Lefeng and Paiokp as eir parents. Ey was excited and relieved to be able to stay with them, even if it meant moving to a strange place–with eir family compound destroyed, every place was strange now anyway.

They needed to travel overland to a city. Not only were there no undamaged boats left in the village, but no one is willing to have Paiokp on their boat. Out of patience with root-bound superstitions, Lefeng asked Paiokp “What is their problem?”

Paiokp looked away. “You should know…” Ey turned around and lifted eir tunic, displaying eir back. The skin under the tunic is unusually pale as if the Deepfisher had never taken eir tunic off. Ey had a round-ish scar the size of Lefeng’s hand and a half-inch deep across the left shoulder blade.

Lefeng, baffled, asked. “What, you aren’t tanned enough?”

Paiokp stared at em. “The scar. I slipped out of the compound as a child on one of the bright days. I’m sun-branded. Bad luck will follow me everywhere.”

Ey swallowed, looked away, “I should tell you to leave without me but… I’m too afraid.”

Lefeng shook eir head in disbelief. “Sun branded? Foolishness. Do you know how lucky you are to have survived the sun’s kiss?”

“Yes, of course. Most of my parents thought it was a waste of resources for a cursed child, but my Cenn insisted. They cut the sun-damaged flesh out and I spent weeks in delirium. The old priest prayed and blessed me, which was a waste but I guess it worked.”

“A waste!” Lefeng yelled, then, caught emself, continued in an irate whisper. “Listen to me. Among the old clans in the mountains, the sun-kissed are hunt leaders, way-finders. Everything you touch is lucky because you are lucky. Because you had to be lucky to survive the sun’s kiss. If you weren’t lucky you’d be dead. So how can you be unlucky? How can you curse those around you when you carry such luck?” Clever one? Ha. Not if ey believed these.. these… “These fools should be bringing you gifts to come when their cenn’s give birth! But they shun you and refuse you even the courtesy of aid in travel! You are right to leave. Let them rot in their own foolishness. If I had the sense of the tides I’d scoop you up into the mountains where the old ways still hold and you’d be treated as the treasure you are!”

Paiokp had been staring at em in shock, but at that last, shook eir head and jerked away. “You would not! What would I do in the mountains? Live in a tent? Never have a home? No shelter from the bright days and get branded again? No. We’ll leave, but we’re going to the city. And I will be careful to hide my brand because in the city they aren’t ignorant and know how unlucky I am.”

Lefeng gave up trying to convince Paiokp. Ey has seen this before. The root-bound insisted that the barbaric farwalkers knew nothing and anything they said could be dismissed. If Paiokp wished to be a fool like those who surrounded em, Lefeng would not waste breath. Instead, ey focused on preparing for the journey. The overland path to the city was longer than the sea path, but Lefeng didn’t mind. Ey knew the woods and overland paths. Ey had never actually been on a boat. Though Paiespaiokp… Paiespaiokp had often teased em and promised to take em out with eir family before they left for the mountains that fall.

Lefeng had insisted on checking the trap lines instead. If ey hadn’t, ey would be with eir family now…

Slowly, Lefeng put eir work down and walked out of the village, under the trees. Not the great trees, which provided shade and shelter to many of the unrooted folk in the summer months. But still, the hushed green space was as much ‘home’ as anywhere under a roof.

Why was ey doing this? Why go to a city? It would be full of strangers with strange ways who looked down on the unrooted life and would never know this sacred space.

But ey had nothing else to do. No other path to take. So ey would walk this path and hope it was the right one.

Over the next few days, Lefeng approached those families who owed debts to the Deepfishers. On Paiokp’s behalf, Lefeng bargained for partial payment immediately in return for Paiokp forgiving the rest of the debts. To those who were owed debts, ey gave rights to take whatever they wished from Paiokp’s family compound after they were gone. It wasn’t enough to completely cover the debts, but the cut and cured wood in the support beams and roof would make repairs and rebuilding much easier. Everyone was pleased.

They weren’t sure what to do about the land and (remaining) possessions from Chestef’s family. They didn’t want to sell Chestef’s inheritance but they couldn’t take it with them. After much discussion, they took Chestef to the ruined compound. Ey picked out a few things from what remained that ey wanted to keep and take with them. They told the priest to sell what was left and hold the funds until ey heard from Chestef.

Given Paiokp’s experiences with this priest, Lefeng wasn’t sure ey trusted em, but they don’t have many other options, so this was what they would do.

There were three cities in the region they could have traveled to. Lefeng had never seen any of them. But the great winter meetings included several farwalking families from each of them. Paiokp had actually been to one and heard of two others from other fishing folk. Paiokp knew of several cities from much further away, including one across the sea, but they didn’t want to travel that far with the youngling. Well, Lefeng didn’t want to travel that far with the youngling. Paiokp didn’t want to travel that far at all.

After some discussion, they agreed to set out for Deep Harbor. It was a small city to the north that had grown around a natural harbor. It was the one city Paiokp had seen before, but that wasn’t the only reason they chose it. The city was sheltered by a spur of mountains that would have blocked the worst of the wave.

The trip to the city took half a moon. On her own Lefeng could have managed it in under a quarter-moon, but ey didn’t try to push the pace. Paiokp and Chestef didn’t have experience walking for hours or experience living on the trail. So taking it slow and leaving extra time for making camp and all just made sense.

Lefeng had made a travois out of some of the salvage from the Net-mend compound. With that ey was able to bring most of what they had. Including the results of eir last check on the trap lines–half cured leather, dried meat, and herbs–and goods remained from the two family compounds.

They passed by a few more villages and one town on the way to the city. The worst of the wave’s damage seemed to be behind them, and Lefeng and Paiokp were doubly glad they hadn’t decided to try for the southern cities. The wave must have been strongest to the south.

The trip itself went smoothly. Traveling in a group most assume them to be part of a family. Chestef’s presence was unusual but Lefeng was clearly one of the trail-hardened farwalkers. Everyone ‘knew’ their children traveled with them.

The closer they get to the city the busier the trail got. On the last day, they traveled with a small stream of people. Paiokp said that most people come to the city by boat, usually. But with the damage from the wave, there may have been more foot traffic than usual.

Return to:
Episode 4: The Orphans (Part 2)

Continue to:
Episode 6: The City (Part 1)