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.

Enjoying the story? Can’t wait to finish? Newsletter subscribers received the Season 1 Finale today — subscribe now to find out what happens!

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.”

“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.

“Token?”

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)

Planting Life in a Dying City: Season 1, Episode 4 – The Orphans (part 2)

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

“I want to go home.”

Lefeng opened eir eyes.

The youngling stood in front to Lefeng, staring defiantly into eir eyes.

“Youngling…”

“No! You tell me they are gone. That they all died like Baba Chestef last year. But Baba Chestef was buried. Even when Auilefengk was lost in a storm, we buried eir clothing and toys so eir spirit could find it’s way home. I want to go home. I want to see that they are gone. To see where they rest and to sleep in my own bed where… where they can find me.”

The once-fisher, the last Deepfisher, met Lefeng’s eyes and nodded. Lefeng sighed. “Alright, youngling. We can take you to your home. But…”

“But youngling,” the once-fisher said, “I doubt they have been buried. There has been no one to bury them. And possibly nothing to bury.”

A short walk proved the once-fisher to be right. The Netmend compound had been the last one of the village. It had been built near the edge of the rise that sloped down into the shallows and the battered mangrove forest below.

The back of the fence was gone. The sides and front whittled down to half the normal height, the walls of the central building had also been destroyed. But worst of all, the remains of the roof, washed up against half-ruined fence. The support beams snapped in half like twigs. Scattered among them, a bit of fabric, or swatch of netting. And, faintly, a hint of rot.

Looking at the village as a whole, the Netmend compound had taken the brunt of the wave. Their fence and walls had forced the water to part around them until they were destroyed.

The youngling cried out and raced towards the jumble of wreckage, prying bits of wood and wattle up and flinging them away.

They spent a long day sifting through the wreckage. The remains they found are bloated from the heat and rarely whole. Hidden under the broken bits of building and fence, scavengers had been feasting.

After they found the first of the remains, Lefeng insisted the youngling return to the Deepfisher compound. “We will care for your family, the Deepfisher and I. But this is not a task for a youngling.”

To eir relief, neither the youngling nor the once-fisher argued. Finding and then burying all the remains took the rest of that long, brutal day. They dug a great pit in the mud where the house had been and buried all the remains together. All they could find, anyway.

The next day, they talked again about the youngling’s ommer.

Lefeng explained that eir ommer are not just eir Cenn’s Highfields siblings, but also eir parents’ siblings who were born to the Netmend family and married-out to other families.

The youngling rejected Lefeng’s explanation. Ey didn’t know eir ommers, ey knew Lefeng. And Lefeng promised to bring em back to eir family. How can the ommers be family if they left the family?

Lefeng didn’t have an answer for em, but knew that the youngling had no other options. So they went out into the village, the youngling staying as close as ey could, frequently hiding behind Lefeng’s legs, to seek the youngling’s Ommers.

The search didn’t go well. The truth was that while the village seemed to survive well at first glance, it lost many people. Almost the entire parent generation of all the fishing families are gone, out in their boats when the wave hit. One family had hopes that their parents survived, as they had planned to travel up the coast to the city for trade and might have been clear of the wave. The others are in mourning.

Even the families that didn’t fish had lost people, swept up by the wave as the youngling was and, unlike the youngling, never returned. To eir relief, late that afternoon, Lefeng found that the youngling had two surviving ommer’s who had married-out from Netmend. Ey tracked the first one down to the water-grove the fishing folk here used to tie up their boats. “No,” ey said bluntly as soon as Lefeng explained why ey was there. “I’m sorry for the nibling. I can put some trade goods towards eir needs until ey can find a place. But only four of my marriage group survived. We still have all our children and grandparents and even two elders relying on us. We can’t take in another.”

Lefeng tried to convince the fisher, but in truth ey understood. That family would be lucky to feed everyone the next few years.

Ey was less understanding with the other of the youngling’s ommers, a well dressed parent in a trading family. They had lost only a few to the wave but refused to even hear why Lefeng sought em out. As they left the trader’s compound, Lefeng set eir heel on a small patch of grass that had survived the wave and ground it into the mud. Few here would recognize the farwalker curse on those who betrayed family, but if the grass died — likely with how damaged it had already been — then the curse would set regardless.

Petty revenge did nothing for the youngling, but it allowed Lefeng some small release for eir anger.

Unfortunately, the youngling had been right about how the HighField’s family regard ey and eir Cenn. HighField’s had dismissed em even faster than the rude trader.

Lefeng was out of ideas.

That night, Lefeng asked the once-fisher’s help in finding a place for the youngling. The golden-eyed one shook eir head. “I would be a hinderance.”

“What? Why”

Ey snorted. “In the days you have been here, how often has anyone come to check on me? To see if I need anything? To ask for my help?”

Lefeng blinked in surprise, then thought back. No one. Not one person had come to the once-fisher’s compound. The times ey had gone out, those of the village had spoken with em little and ended the conversations as quickly as possible. Lefeng had assumed it was shock but… “I am sorry.”

The once-fisher, golden eyes shimming, shrugged. “I have always been unlucky. But I had been courted the Wavebreak family and things were settled between us—or so I thought. The day you arrived, they rejected my suit.

“I should be grateful they waited long enough to help me bury my dead.” The golden-eyed one curled in on emself as ey spoke. “Not that there was much to bury, with even the littlest in mangroves when the wave hit.” Ey rested eir head on eir knees.

“I want to help the youngling,” the once-fisher finished quietly, “Sea and root know, someone should. But all I could do is make things worse.”

Lefeng didn’t push further.

For the next several days, Lefeng did nothing about finding a permanent home for the youngling. Ey avoided thinking about it, as ey had avoided thinking about eir own family. Instead ey kept busy. When ey could, Lefeng did work around the village, trading labor for tools and supplies that ey would need when ey took the trail again. Other times, ey helped the once-fisher sort through and clean out the waterlogged mess that was a family home less than a moon-quarter past.

Ey also spent time with the youngling, doing eir best to give the youngling some sense of security. Ey noticed the golden-eyed one doing the same, and was grateful. Talking with the youngling, Lefeng realized that ey didn’t know anyone in the village. The youngling hadn’t been out of the family compound long enough to make friends from other families. So Lefeng, and now the once-fisher, were the only people ey felt connected to at all. And Lefeng had saved em, found em in the wilderness like something out of a tale. How could the child not be affected?

And how could Lefeng, having offered eir support and security, up end the youngling’s life again by leaving eir with strangers?

The golden-eyed one, ey noticed, spent less and less time out in the village. The other villagers were increasingly hostile, some even going to far as to blame the Deepfisher for the wave. The village priest had offered em no defense, listening gravely to those with concerns and promising to give them “due consideration.” It was possible that before long the village won’t be safe for em any longer.

Lefeng wanted to be able to help the once-fisher as well, but how?

Ey didn’t regret stopping to help the youngling. But ey was tired of this village. Tired of the hostile people. Tired of being trapped in a strange building. Ey wanted to get back on the trails. Deep in the trees and mountains where ey might, for a time, forget.

Might, if lucky, find another farwalker family that would accept em among them. If only as a travel companion.

But ey couldn’t leave while the youngling and the once-fisher were not safe.

Sometimes, when ey heard one of the villagers bad mouthing the once-fisher, ey found eir hand clutching the long knife at eir hip. But this was not a problem that could be settled by fighting it.

Lefeng wasn’t sure it could be settled at all.

Return to
Episode 3: The Orphans (Part 1)

Continue to
Episode 5: The Idea

Planting Life in a Dying City: Season 1, Episode 3 — The Orphans (Part 1)

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

Lefeng hailed the first person ey saw who wasn’t busy–a young person about Lefeng’s own age who sat at the edge of the village staring at the water. Like the youngling, this one had golden highlights in eir hair, but the coils were looser, like Lefeng’s own. Eir skin was brown, without the burnished look farwalkers developed after a lifetime on the trails. Unlike the youngling, this one was familiar. Perhaps Lefeng had seen em on past travels to this village. The eyes especially, bright gold with a darker ring around them, touched Lefeng’s memory.

The stranger started, as one who had been lost in thought. Then ey stood and dusted emself off before looking over Lefeng and the youngling. To Lefeng’s dismay, the stranger recognize the youngling, and eir face showed eir sorrow.

“Hail Net-mend youngling. Greetings stranger.”

“Greetings,” Lefeng replied, “I am…” ey stumbled, “I was Longstride near-adult of Sandy Cove. Sandy Cove is no more. As is Longstride.”

The stranger closed eir eyes and swallowed, as if forcing down eir own grief. Lefeng’s eyes tightened. Was this village more damaged than it looked?

“I am sorry for your loss. Youngling…” Ey crouched down to be on the youngling’s level, and Lefeng knew eir fears were right. “Youngling, I am sorry, your family… No one else has survived the wave. Net-mend, too, is no more.”

The youngling stared, then turned to the Lefeng with accusing eyes. “They have to be here. You said you’d bring me back to them. So they have to be here.”

“I am sorry, youngling. I said I would bring you here and we would look for them. But if they are not here…” Lefeng, too, crouched down.

The youngling grabbed eir hand, and Lefeng didn’t try to stop em. “They can’t all be gone! They can’t!”

Lefeng looked at the stranger, hoping for some chance to offer the youngling. But the stranger shook eir head. “The roof came down,” ey murmured.

Lefeng nodded and picked the youngling up. The stranger stared, but Lefeng ignored em. Propriety took second place to a child in need. And there was no family left now, to be offended.

“The rest of the village?” Lefeng asked.

“Most families survive. My own…” ey shrugged and Lefeng nodded eir understanding, “but the others remain. Though none are undamaged.”

“I am sorry for your loss.” Lefeng knew eir response sounded rote, not a proper reply to such grief. But ey couldn’t take eir focus off the child. “Do any of the youngling’s ommers survive?”

“I don’t know. But that generation was hit hardest,” the stranger shrugged again.

They would have been. The younglings and grandparents and elders would have been in the home compounds. It was the adults and near-adults who would have been out in the boats or on the trails.

“I want to go home!” The youngling cried. But ey has no home left.

Lefeng held the youngling until ey cried emself to sleep. Around them, the survivors went about their work, only occasionally glancing at the devastated child. Lefeng knew it was courtesy, propriety, to not interfere with the child of another family. But part of em burned with anger at their indifference. If Lefeng had not been there — a stranger from another village — would anyone have cared for the child in eir need?

When the child quieted, the near-adult of High Trail shifted eir feet and said, “I am… I was Deepfisher near-adult of this village. You and Net-mend youngling can shelter in… my home tonight, and ask around for any relatives ey may have tomorrow.”

Lefeng hesitated. Ey wasn’t eager to spend the night under a roof. Especially a strange roof.

“It might be best if you don’t,” the Deepfisher blurted out. “I… the others here will distrust you, if you stay with me.”

“The child needs a night under a roof. The trail was rough for em.” Lefeng spoke as much to emself as the Deepfisher. “I will be leaving once ey is settled and don’t care what stagnant strangers think of me.” Ey spoke the insult recklessly, angrily. These people were none of eirs. Ey wanted nothing from them but a home for the child.

To eir surprise, the Deepfisher wasn’t bothered by eir words. Ey simply waved a hand and lead Lefeng to a small compound, barely large enough for a double hand of people. The bottom of the outer walls were pocked with gaps where the water had washed away the mud-daub, revealing the wattle whithes underneath.

Inside, the space was different from anything Lefeng had seen. Instead of a large open space, many inner walls divided the building into several smaller spaces. Most of them were in disarray, but the largest had been cleared of the water-logged wreckage. A single bed, a pile of food, and a few pieces of clothing sat to one side. A firepit with a few softly glowing embers lay in the middle of the space. Otherwise it was empty. Sunlight seeped in through cracks and holes in the walls, but the inner support beams, at least, were intact.

“The youngling can sleep on the bed.” Deepfisher said. “I, ah, I haven’t sorted through most of what’s left.”

Lefeng placed the youngling down carefully and shrugged. “I have slept on the ground before, and will again.”

“Yes,” the quiet voice replied. “I suppose you have.”

Staying in the compound was a wise choice. The child had a bad night, waking up frequently from nightmares. But the familiar — the dim-red glow of the hearth, the ingrained fish smell, the sound of others sleeping nearby — helped sooth em back to sleep each time.

The next morning, the Deepfisher provided breakfast, a thin porridge with a briny taste. Lefeng recognized it from when Paiespaiokp would use sea water to add flavor to a late-season meal. Lefend had fresh food in eir pack, harvested on the move as ey and the youngling had travelled. But to offer would insult the Deepfisher’s strained hospitality.

Distracting emself from the meal, Lefeng turned to the youngling. “Do you know any of your ommer?”

“Ommer?” the youngling scratched at the dirt, not looking at Lefeng.

“Your parent’s siblings who married-out?”

The child nodded. “My… my Cenn married-out. Ey grew up in High-Fields family. Ey said that gutting fish was better than kneeling in the mud and ey felt bad for eir siblings who stayed High-Fields. Are… are eir siblings my ommer? Because they didn’t like em. So I don’t like them!”

By the time ey finished speaking, tears were rolling down eir face. “I want my Cenn and my Baba!”

Lefeng reached out to em, but this time the youngling jumped up and ran away, to curl up against the wall and cry.

Lefeng let the youngling be, instead asking the Deepfisher about the other families of the village. Unfortunately, the Deepfisher could only tell em that neither eir family nor the family ey meant to marry out to had an close ties to Net-mend. Apparently, the Deepfisher had little care for the doings of the wider village.

Lefeng leaned against the wall and closed eir eyes. The next step would likely be to find out if this village had a priest. Lefeng had never liked the priest of eir village, preferring to go to a Long Trail near-adult who had been training as a Trail-Quester in the far-walker traditions. But Trail-Questers were rare. Last year this village had only retained a single far-walking family. There would be no Quester here.

The youngling interrupted eir thoughts. “I want to go home.”

Return to:
Episode 2: The Child

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