Planting Life in a Dying City (S3: Kolchais, E8)

This season ended up being on the short side — next episode will be the season finale, and then we’ll pick up with Season 2 of Last Lady of Luna the week after.

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

The next morning, the Spinner returned to help with the building. When ey went to the market — Eastern Market today, Lefeng started to follow em. Kolchais tapped Lefeng on eir shoulder and shook eir head. Lefeng’s strength was needed to help build. Lefeng grimaced but nodded. “Buying supplies?”



Kolchais pushed emself to catch up with the Spinner. It took only a short time to buy enough food for the next few days and arrange to have the heavy things delivered. Once ey had everything they needed, Kolchais settled down next to the Spinner and watched the market.

The Spinner stopped spinning early this time and seemed to gradually return to awareness. But that appearance was mistaken. If Kolchais understood, ey had never been unaware, only so focused ey could not respond to eir immediate surroundings. When ey looked at Kolchais, Kolchais waved and gestured to eir purchases. “Can you help me carry all this?”

The Spinner looked at em for a moment, then nodded.

They arrived back shortly before dinner, and the Spinner stayed to eat with them instead of returning immediately to eir home. After dinner, ey looked at Kolchais, Lefeng, and Paiokp and offered to Kolchais a skein of thread. It was not the yarn ey had spun in the market that day. That had been thicker and coarse. Pale brown where this shone whitely even in the dim firelight. “I am Kyawtchais, near-adult of the Silent Spinners. I hope you will find a use for this.”

Kolchais accepted the yarn with a nod and outward calm. Inside, ey was shaking. The gift — the gift should be given to one of the leaders of the courting group. That couldn’t be em? Surely it could not. Lefeng was the leader, the one who forged ahead and created their new family. Surely the Spinner knew that?

But a glance at Lefeng and Paiokp showed that they didn’t understand the gift, didn’t recognize this city-custom. Kolchais reminds emself — again! to sit down and explain city customs to the two villagers. In detail.

So, rightly eirs or not, there was only Kolchais to take this duty. Well, it would do no harm — this even ey couldn’t fail.

Looking back at the Spinner — Kyawtchais, another fire name, if a very odd one. Nearly as odd a name as Lefeng! — Kolchais said, “I am Kolchais. I and mine will see what use we can find for this gift.”

They nodded to each other, not quite deep enough to be a bow, and Kyawtchais’ hands danced and fluttered before ey gripped eir spindle and distaff and excused emself, returning to eir birth family for the night. Lefeng escorted em to the gate and barred it behind em. Ey returned to the fire, looking pensive. “Was that…”

Kolchais nodded. “A formal request to court us. If we wish to accept eir offer, we tell em that we ‘have a use’ for eir gift.” Ey found emself stroking the skein.

Chotaikytsai nodded to the skein and asked, “May I?”

Kolchais handed it over and watched while the grandparent examined the thread. “Fine linen. Very fine. I could have made a tunic so thin you could see through it.” Ey returned the yarn to Kolchais and stood with a small groan. “It is your choice, of course. But we are here if you wish our advice. Though I think you know what it would be.”

With that, the grandparents gathered up Chestef and withdrew into the season-shelter.

Lefeng didn’t sit but instead started pacing around the fire. It was clear the tall-one preferred to walk while they talk, but ey stayed close. Kolchais was grateful. Once Kolchais stood, ey was walking only as far as their bed. Ey had already pushed emself hard today and didn’t dare risk walking further.

Whatever Lefeng might have said, it was Paiokp who spoke first. “I don’t know if I can do this,” ey said quietly.

“Do what?” Kolchais asked.

“This! Any of it! I can’t… ” ey sighed and ran a hand through eir hair. “I don’t belong here. I’m not sure I belong anywhere. I’m just… marking time, I guess.”

Confused, feeling the first stab of long-expected pain, Kolchais asked, “Do you not wish to be married to us?” To me?

“No, that’s not… I mean… I don’t even know why you’d want to marry me. What the hell do I bring? I’m a curse to everything I touch.”

Curse? What curse? Kolchais had seen no curse — nor had Chotaikytsai or ey would have said something long before. Even more confused, Kolchais looked to Lefeng, hoping ey would understand, explain.

Lefeng snorted. “Why do you still let village superstitions drive you? Your parents and your former betrothed were fools. You know it.”

So… Lefeng knew of this ‘curse’ and thought it foolishness. The watching-one, guarding-one, would not let danger to eir new family go unanswered. Whatever this was, Kolchais would trust eir judgment.

“You know nothing about me,” Paiokp cried.

At this, Kolchais rolled eir eyes, “I have lived with you for over a month, and the loud one there crossed a mountain with you. We may not know everything, but we know far more than nothing.”

Lefeng stopped pacing to squat across the coals from Paiokp, glaring at the once-fisher. “Yes, we came together as strangers. But we are not strangers now. And any of us could leave if we did not wish to be together. I could return to the mountains. Kolchais has lived as familyless already. You could sell your work here in the city as Tsouchm and I have been doing. Why is this so hard to believe?”

Paiokp shrank into emself but said nothing. Understanding came, and Kolchais put a hand on eir knee, asking, “What are you afraid of?”

Lefeng started, but Kolchais ignored em, focusing on Paiokp.

At first, the caring-one, hurting-one, said nothing, but Kolchais knew how to wait — as did the guarding-one, watching as if the answer to Kolchais’ question would reveal long-hunted danger.

Finally, Paiokp whispered, “I can’t believe this is real. That this will last. I can only live each day as it comes and hope this won’t be the day it is all torn from me again.” Abruptly, ey stood up and went in the shelter, leaving Lefeng and Kolchais to speak without em.

“I know how ey feels,” Lefeng said. “It was easier before we met you and Chotaikytsai. I could focus each day on what needed to be done and just forget… everything outside of that moment.”

“I lived that way too when my family rejected me. But we can’t stand still forever. If we do, we become dead things.”


Continue to:
Planting Life in a Dying City (S3: Kolchais, Season Finale)

Return to:
Planting Life in a Dying City (S3, E1)
Planting Life in a Dying City (S3: Kolchais, E7)

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.

Continue to:
Planting Life in a Dying City (S3: Kolchais, E7)

Return to:
Planting Life in a Dying City (S3, E1)
Planting Life in a Dying City (S3: Kolchais, E5)

Planting Life in a Dying City (Kolchais, E4)

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

Kolchais squatted with the Silent Spinner and watched the market — or tried to. The stalls on either side blocked eir view. Ey could see only a small part of the market.

Even so, there were things to look at. The Western market was largely unfamiliar. The Eastern Market was where the food sellers set up shop, and ey had rarely been able to buy anything more than some food.

Like the Eastern market, the Western market was busy and loud. Though no one raised their voices — even the people haggling — the dozens of conversations created a babbling hum that filled the space without overwhelming. The goods of the Western market were all local. Secondhand and poor quality goods sat near the southern gate, the quality gradually increasing until the north gate guards loomed over stalls of fine metalwork and thread craft.

As always, a lightning striker in the center of the square. It was supposed to be tall enough to draw lightning to it protecting the rest of the city. It was mottled with the impact of lightning strikes. Glass patches, sand, and odd places where the sandstone has become another kind of stone entirely. Dripping black bits, as if the stone had turned liquid for a time. And many places where sections of the pillar and even the ground surrounding it were simply… gone. Only lightning or (more rarely) the bright light of a midsummer day could reshape the world so.

One time, after returning from the Eastern market with Tsouchm, Lefeng said that the lightning striker was barely taller than the surrounding buildings, and even a far-walker who had never set foot in town knew better than that. Kolchais hadn’t thought of it before but realized with a shudder that Lefeng was right. And storm season was almost on them. Where were the workers to rebuild it? Why had the town council let it get this bad?

Kolchais shook emself. Ey could mention it to Chotaikytsai and hopefully ey could do something at the next council meeting. There was nothing Kolchais emself could do.

[paragraph about watching Spinner and thoughts on]

When the sun was halfway to midday, Kolchais got up and wandered the market a bit. Ey stopped to listen to a storyteller for a few minutes. To eir surprise, the storyteller winked at em. Still watching em, the storyteller started an ancient story about a child of a farming family. In the story, the family’s fields were dying, and they feared the fields were cursed. The family was planning to move away from the stagnant ground to someplace healthier. But one of the children refused to give up on the corner of the fields ey tended. The child planted all different kinds of seeds and added many different things to the soil. The story was a teaching story. It explained why fish guts and other trash were buried in the fields and how to change the crops to keep the fields healthy.

Throughout the entire story, the storyteller did not look at or entertain the children around em. Instead, ey looked at Kolchais as if speaking directly to em.

Confused, ey returned to the Spinner, needing to think over the story. Storytellers were teachers in their way. And it felt as if this teller was trying to teach Kolchais something. But before ey got back to the pottery stall, ey heard someone yelling and shouting. Kolchais hurried.

A crowd was gathering, and Kolchais had to squeeze eir way through. When ey finally reached the potter’s stall, ey saw a stranger looming over the Spinner, who stared straight ahead, ignoring em.

“What the stillness you staring at!” The stranger yelled.

The Spinner didn’t even blink. Kolchais realized that ey wasn’t ignoring the stranger — ey didn’t even see em.

“You got a problem?” the stranger continued, reaching out and shaking the Spinner’s shoulder.

Kolchais couldn’t watch anymore. Ey shoved emself between the stranger and the Spinner. “Please leave, Adult. Ey meant no offense, and no harm has been done. You have no right to touch em.”

The stranger growled. “Ey’ve got no business sitting around staring at people. Putting curses on em or other evil business!”

The pottery merchant seemed to shake emself and said, “Ay! Enough with the yelling and leave the Spinner alone. They’re all crazy but don’t do any harm.

“You want this pot or not? You’re making folks wait.”

Between Kolchais and the potter, the stranger finally backed down, disappearing into the crowd.

Kolchais stayed where ey was until the stranger was gone, then thanked the merchant for eir help.

“The Silent Spinners have always dealt fair, no matter how weird they are. And your friend has never caused any trouble. Stop by when your family needs pottery. I’ll give you a good deal.”

Kolchais thanked them again and turned to the Spinner. Ey was no longer squatting calmly. Instead, ey was curled in a ball, shaking and hitting emself in the head.

Kolchais crouched down next to the Spinner and grabbed eir fist. Ey went from trying to hit emself to trying to hit Kolchais. Unable to control the Spinner, Kolchais let go and stepped back, helpless to intervene.

After what was probably a short time, though it seemed much longer, the Spinner finally stopped hurting emself. Kolchais squatted down next to em, relieved to see no sign of injury. Softly, Kolchais asked, “Spinner?”

The Spinner twitched and whimpered. After another minute, eir hands started reaching out, searching the ground.

Kolchais looked around and soon spotted the spindle and yarn. Ey put the spindle in the Spinner’s hands. Ey immediately groped for the fiber bag and began spinning and humming to emself.

The spinning seemed to calm em. In a few minutes, ey had returned to eir previous manner.

Kolchais didn’t wander the market again, instead sticking close to the Spinner and making sure ey had no further trouble.

When there was no fibre left to spin, the Spinner packed up eir things and left the market, still saying nothing. Kolchais followed em. Ey walked all the way to the Silent Spinner’s compound, then turned and started towards the Trial Family’s compound. Finally, Kolchais asks, “Is it okay to talk now?”

The Spinner jumped a little, hand-spoke “Yes?” then out loud said, “I may… not respond.”

“Are you okay?” Kolchais asks.

The negative shrug combined with a gesture that Kolchais thought meant ‘too much.’

Kolchais didn’t say anything else.

By the time they got close to home, the Spinner was shaking again and starting at every unexpected sound. They were at the gate to the compound when ey stumbled. Kolchais puts a hand on eir arm to steady them.

The Spinner froze and whimpered. Kolchais pulled away.

At the compound, the Spinner retreated to a corner and huddled there, rocking and humming to emself. Kolchais, at a loss, looked around to see the others approaching, worried. Reluctantly, ey stood and walked over to the fire, waving for the others to join em there. For a moment, ey thought Paiokp would ignore em and continue to the Spinner, but the red-headed former fisher joined the rest of the family at the fire.

As the one who called everyone together, they wait for Kolchais to speak. As briefly as ey could, Kolchais told them everything that had happened.

“When ey stumbled, and I caught em, ey reacted as if I had hit them. I don’t know what is going on or what to do, but I don’t see how we can help when we can’t touch em or talk with em.”

Chotaikytsai hums to emself a moment, then says, “My parent, who came from the spinner folk, would rock. Most of the time, it was just… a thing ey did. But a few times, when ey got overwhelmed, we stayed quiet and kept our distance. It was… a difference in em at those times. Like ey was shutting out the world.”

“Yes,” Kolchais said, “that’s what ey was doing, I think.”

“Best we leave em alone, then,” Paiokp said, “C’mon, Kolchais, we got another load of whithes while you were out.”

Kolchais blinked, surprised by Paiokp’s immediate dismissal. Ey was usually the first to step in when someone needed help. But the walls needed to be built… so ey got up and followed Paiokp to the stack of withes.

From the corner of eir eye, Kolchais saw Tsouchm leave a drink and sweet snacks for the Spinner before returning to working the small garden.

Continue to:
Planting Life in a Dying City (S3: Kolchais, E5)

Return to:
Planting Life in a Dying City (S3, E1)
Planting Life in a Dying City (Kolchais, Interlude: Kyawtchais)

Planting Life in a Dying City (Kolchais, E3: The Worries)

This one’s a bit rougher than I prefer. Figured that getting back in routine and getting it out was more important that getting it fully polished.

Season content notes: ableism, internalized ableism

The next few days passed quickly. The charcoal family arrived to collect the ruins of the Colorwork Weaver’s home. Chotaikytsai watched them go with tight lips but said nothing when Kolchais asked if ey wanted to talk. The Spinner came each afternoon, though ey was often silent and sometimes moved in a jerky and unsteady fashion. When ey did speak, it was disjointed with much repeating of words.

One morning, seeking something ey could do, Kolchais asked Lefeng to teach em what Lefeng knew of the hand-speech. Lefeng agreed and immediately squatted down with Kolchais to show em the basic hand-shapes that made up the signs. After that, they practiced a little bit each evening.

A few days later, Kolchais started using some hand-speech with the Spinner. Ey felt awkward and was sure ey was making a fool of emself. But the Spinner lit up. Lefeng quickly caught on and soon the Spinner, who Kolchais was starting to think of as Dancing One for how eir hands fluttered and swayed when ey didn’t pay attention, started regularly using the hand-speech for simple things like ‘yes’ ‘no’ and ‘get that’.

When Lefeng asked the Dancing-One to teach em more of the hand-speech, Kolchais quickly seconded the request. They couldn’t very well practice while weaving the walls, of course, but that evening the Spinner stayed to join them for dinner. “Here,” ey said, skimming eir hand over Kolchais’, “Knife hand, not cup hand. Cup hand to the shoulder is secret.” Kolchais flattened eir right hand and brought it up to pat eir left shoulder twice. The Dancing-One bounced twice while eir hands fluttered about eir head, then shaped themselves into snake hands, and the two snakes kissed. Or that’s what it looked like to Kolchais.

“So if the Short-One is saying ‘give me,’ are you refusing?” Lefeng asked with a laugh, “Because that’s not how you say ‘yes’.”

Kolchais reached up to flick Lefeng on the forehead. The once-walker stood a hand or more taller than anyone else in the family, and often teased Kolchais for eir height. Kolchais would have been bothered by it more if ey didn’t enjoy the way Lefeng could loom over em.

The Spinner laughed. “No. Agree. I say ‘agree’.” Ey made the snakes kiss again. “Agree is own word. I could answer em ‘yes'” This time ey made a single snake hand nod. “But ‘agree’ is better.”

Each day, on breaks or over dinner the Spinner would try to teach them more and they’d practice together in the mornings over food.

Kolchais noticed that Paiokp took no interest in the hand-speech, though ey did pick up a few common gestures. Chestef, with the curiosity of the young, frequently abandoned the grandparents and the work of the gardens to spy on the lessons.

After a few days of lessons, Kolchais started to worry about the Dancing-One. Ey had assumed many of the Spinner’s mannerisms and speech difficulty were just part of the strangeness of the Silent Spinners. But the lessons forced them to interact more and the Spinner’s odd mannerisms and difficult speaking were becoming more noticeable over time. Kolchais tried to ask the Spinner if ey was okay, but ey didn’t answer and Kolchais wasn’t sure if something was wrong or not.

The next morning Chotaikytsai announced that ey would be going out to attend a council meeting that afternoon. Kolchais shakes eir head but doesn’t say anything. Ey knows these meetings are important, but ey doesn’t have to like it.

Lefeng and Tsouchm make this a day to stay home. They see Chotaikytsai off mid-morning.

It was only the second time Tsouchm watched Chestef on eir own. The new grandparent was quickly run ragged, to the amusement of all the parents. (Kolchais froze as ey realized ey was thinking of emself as a parent. Ey was a parent. An actual parent.)

Kolchais knew better than to try to keep up with a young child emself, but ey wanted to start acting like a parent and hadn’t really spent any time with the child. So when Chestef was finally willing to be still for a while, Kolchais pulled out a double handful of smooth pebbles and drew a rough game board in the dirt. Chestef learned the game quickly, and they played several rounds while Tsouchm caught eir breath.

The Spinner, when ey arrived shortly after noon, stopped and looked around the entire compound twice before cautiously asking “Is the Silent Spinner-cousin well?” Ey accepted the explanation of the council meeting well enough but seemed uncertain. Eir hands twitched and pulled eir hair and clothes, and ey looked around frequently as if worried something would sneak up on em.

The Spinner, Lefeng, and the silent-one worked on weaving the walls. But none of them are fully paying attention and after they have to unweave a withe for the second time, Kolchais tells them to stop.

“We aren’t getting any more done today,” ey says. “Honored parent,” ey turned to Tsouchm, “We will need mud for the walls soon anyway, right? Will you and my Golden-eyed spouse-to-be and the child go to market and see what that will cost us?”

Paiokp and Tsouchm agree though Tsouchm asks, “Is it wise for the child to come?”

Lefeng, to Kolchais’ surprise, supports em. “Ey needs to start seeing the city and making friends here. A quick trip to the market is as good a way as any start.” Ey thumped the walking stick ey leaned on in emphasis.

Kolchais eyed the staff warily. Lefeng usually didn’t carry it inside the compound. Lefeng had shown the least distraction, but that didn’t mean ey wasn’t feeling the tension. The last council meeting… had not gone as well as they had hoped. As Tsouchm, Paiokp, and Chestef head out, Kolchais considers Lefeng. “Door ward?”

“That… would suit,” Lefeng replies after a moment. “Is it needed?”

“Most of the family is out of the compound. Having someone on watch can’t hurt.”

With a decisive nod, Lefeng strode over to the still-broken gate. Ey squatted down where ey had a clear view of the street beyond, staff at the ready. Kolchais was beginning to suspect that far-walker staffs weren’t always used for walking.

For em self and the Spinner, Kolchais pulled out their saved coins. The Spinner sat with em and Kolchais started calculating (again) how far they can stretch their funds. Ey didn’t ask for the Spinner’s input (that would be… presumptuous to ask of one not yet part of the family) but did speak out loud in a tacit invitation for the Spinner to contribute.

Which the Spinner might not understand. But…

The Spinner said nothing, but after a minute, took the coins from Kolchais’ hands. Ey began sorting them by value — and in the process correcting Kolchais’ estimates in a few places.

It’s only mid-afternoon when they finish, so they start making dinner. Kolchais decides a stew will be easiest and if they make enough will serve for breakfast as well.

Chotaikytsai returned from the council long after the others were back. Ey was clearly exhausted. Paiokp, as Kolchais had come to expect, hurried to meet Chotaikytsai and brings em a drink and a blanket to sit on.

By unspoken agreement, they all gathered around the fire. While they ate, Chotaikytsai shared eir impressions of the council.

Most of what the council discussed wasn’t immediately (or at all) relevant to their new family. The only thing that caught Kolchais’ attention was that the council was largely divided into factions based on family trade — all the families whose trade involved thread or fabric, for instance, had come together in one political faction.

Kolchais allowed eir attention to drift further after hearing that. The Silent Spinners were clear they hoped the trial family would take up a fabric trade. Kolchais had assumed they were looking for a customer to buy their thread but were they also looking for political allies? Ey started considering the implications of the Silent Spinners and how the trial family’s accepting (or rejecting) their suit might play out. So ey started when ey half heard Chotaikytsai mention the Far Message family.


“I was surprised to,” Chotaikytsai said with a sad smile. “But the elder from the Far Message family was very clear. Ey is not going to give us a chance to prove ourselves. Ey has already decided to be against us and is trying to convince others. Others are… not happy, but ey is the only one speaking out openly right now. Perhaps the only one willing to risk angering the priesthood.”

A buzzing started in Kolchais’ ears. Ey blinked a few times, then struggled to eir feet and walked away. Not all the withes had been stored properly. Kolchais picked one up and start weaving it through the uprights by brute force. It bent and strained in eir hands, fighting every inch of progress. Eir arms and back screamed, legs shook, but ey welcomed the pain. It distracted and drowned out the pain in eir heart. Ey managed a bare hand-length process before eir arms gave out.

Ey sank down into the dirt and stared up at the dangling withe, not knowing how ey would stand up again.

A hand rested on eir shoulder and Paiokp squatted down next to em.

Hot tears fell on Kolchais’ knees. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I’m not asking you to,” Paiokp replied.

They said nothing else. Kolchais was vaguely aware of Chotaikytsai keeping the others away, giving eir space. Eir heart-parent would understand.

Long minutes passed with neither of them saying anything.

“I am tired of being a burden,” Kolchais finally whispered.

Paiokp said nothing but put an arm around eir. They sat together until the sun sank beneath the walls of the compound. Then Paiokp helped Kolchais to eir feet and led em toward eir sleeping blankets. As ey drifted off, ey heard, “I don’t know how Lefeng and I would have survived this strange city without you.”

Continue to:
Planting Life in a Dying City (Kolchais, Interlude: Kyawtchais)

Return to:
Planting Life in a Dying City (S3, E1)
Planting Life in a Dying City (Kolchais, E2: the Spinner)

Planting Life in a Dying City (Kolchais, E2: the Spinner)

Season content notes: ableism, internalized ableism

The sun on eir face woke Kolchais. Ey blinked a few times, eyes trying to adjust to the brightness. The warmth was soaking through em, leaving eir limbs feeling loose and relaxed for once.

Not wanting to lose the feeling, Kolchais didn’t move. Instead, ey reviewed eir memories of the night before, trying to piece together a coherent whole.

The Silent Spinner’s approach was unexpected. Kolchais knew little of the family save the gossip. That they were afflicted (or blessed) with some strangeness of spirit. That they were honest to a fault. That they spoke strangely and acted strangely. That they were frequently confused by (and confusing to) other people.

To the best of eir knowledge, Kolchais had never met one of the Silent Spinners nor known anyone who had. The times Kolchais had seen the near-adult in a market, the Spinner had been sitting quietly in a corner. Ey had stared, seemingly at everything and nothing, and spun, and the regulars of the markets seemed to ignore em. The Spinner didn’t seem to frequent a specific market but could be found in any market throughout the city.

Kolchais’ didn’t remember the near-adult speaking much the night before. Eir parent had done most of the talking. But ey had spoken, so could speak normally and not just with their hand-speech.

All that was not nearly enough information. And half of it was based on rumor and gossip, so untrustworthy.

Lefeng and Paiokp wouldn’t even know that much…

Footsteps approaching pulled Kolchais from eir thoughts. A moment later, Paiokp crouched down next to em and offered a cup of water.

Slowly, Kolchais stretched eir body, the movement triggering pain that washed away the warm comfort of lying in the sun. Doing eir best to ignore the pain, ey propped emself up on an elbow and took the water. “Thank you.”

“Chotaikytsai said it was best to let you sleep. How are you doing?”

Kolchais actually looked at the sun and winced as ey realized how high it was. “You didn’t need to do that.” Ey forced emself to sit up and climb to eir feet. Ey swayed a moment and stumbled before finding eir balance. “We have too much to do for me to waste time sleeping.”

Paiokp put a hand on Kolchais’ shoulder. Ey felt a tingle deep in eir gut and swallowed. Lefeng was impressive in eir own way, and Kolchais was quickly coming to respect and trust em as family. But Paiokp… Kolchais doubted either Lefeng or Paiokp would lay with em except to get children. And it would be far more than ey ever expected to get. Surely, when ey had been given so much, it would be selfish to want more?

Ey realized Paiokp had been speaking and blushed.

“I’m sorry, I was thinking and didn’t really hear…”

Paiokp smiled. “It’s okay, I was saying not to worry about it. Lefeng and I can do the heavy lifting, you don’t need to push yourself.”

Kolchais shrugged away the pulse of shame at eir uselessness and brushed out eir clothes. “We should see about going to the baths today or tomorrow.”

Paiokp let Kolchais change the subject, saying, “A bath would be welcome. I’m used to spending much more time in water. Let me bring you some food, and we can make plans.” Kolchais might have argued, but if the once-fisher was willing to make plans, Kolchais wasn’t going to interfere. Like the grandparents, Kolchais had noticed how the fisher-folk kept eir distance unless helping care for someone.

So they ate and talked about which bathhouse the family would visit and what time would be best. When the food was done, the distant-one went back to digging a trench for the new home’s foundation beams.

After moving around a bit, Kolchais had to admit that ey needed to let distant-one and Lefeng do the ‘heavy lifting’, at least for today. Chotaikytsai was with Tsouchm and Chestef clearing the weeds and wreck from one of the garden patches Chotaikytsai had allowed to go to seed. When Kolchais finished eating, ey joined them. If they were talking about a marriage to the Silent Spinners, Kolchais needed to know more about the other family.

Chotaikytsai surprised Kolchais by being happy to talk about eir Spinner parent. Starting by assuring Kolchais that eir cenn was not eir Silent Spinner parent so there was no risk in a close relationship with the near-adult. Then ey shook eir head and laughed. “What am I thinking? It’s not like I am cenn to any of you, of course, there is no risk!”

Tsouchm chuckled and teased Chotaikytsai about already having a grandparent’s memory. But Kolchais impulsively gave eir heart-parent a hug. No matter what Kolchais’ doubts, Chotaikytsai fully accepted and supported em, and eir slip of the tongue was just one more proof.

Then they talked about the Silent Spinners for a time. Chotaikytsai warned Kolchais that ey knew few of the spinning folk and from what ey saw, eir parent was not representative. But Kolchais learned some of how their hand-speech worked and a few things they might expect from the near-adult

Shortly after sun-high, the knocker at the gate rang. Kolchais waved for Chotaikytsai and Tsouchm to stay and moved as quickly as ey could over to answer it. To eir surprise, ey reached the gate before cautious-Lefeng. A glance showed that Lefeng was watching, but the once-walker only nodded for Kolchais to go ahead. Confused, Kolchaise opened the gate

The Silent Spinner near-adult was there. Pleased, Kolchais greeted em and invited em in. The Spinner seemed friendly enough, but Kolchaise noticed how ey avoided looking at Kolchais. Clearly, ey had already heard Kolchais’ reputation.

Kolchais bit eir lip and showed the near adult around. Ey said little, but willingly pitched in to help with placing the foundation beams for the new house. Hoping to make a better impression, Kolchais threw emself into the work, ignoring Paiokp and Lefeng’s hints that ey didn’t need to.

Ey was so focused on the work that ey doesn’t notice the odd way the spinner is acting. Ey frequently to stopped to wipe eir hands of dust and dirt. If that didn’t work, ey would stop for minutes at a time picking the little bits off eir hands.

Lefeng and Paiokp were clearly confused and kept glancings at Kolchais as if asking what was going on. Kolchais wasn’t sure and honestly doesn’t care. For once ey wasn’t the only one who had trouble with a simple task that everyone was capable of. Whatever the problem was, the Spinner was still willing and able to do the work, and Kolchais wasn’t going to hassle em about how. Just one of those things about the odd Spinner family.

Halfway through the afternoon, Paiokp abruptly stopped what ey was doing, dropping the sharp stick ey had been using to dig (they only had one shovel), and walked away. Kolchais ignored it, assuming ey was going for water or to relieve emself, though Paiokp usually timed such breaks for the end of a task.

A few minutes later, though, ey returned with wet several rags and gave them to the spinner, who took them with a brief “Thank you.”

Kolchais looked at Paiokp and mouthed, “What?”

Paoikp shrugged and whispered back, “Ey doesn’t like stuff on eir hands.”

Kolchais shook eir head. Of course. With the rags, the spinner was able to clean eir hands more easily.

As it got close to sundown, Kolchais was forced to move even slower than usual, stopping to rest even more often. Ey wanted to take the time to get to know the spinner, but just breathing was almost too much. Finally, when it was time to position the foundation beams, Paiokp insisted that Kolchais and the spinner allow em and Lefeng to do the lifting. And Kolchais couldn’t argue. Once again, failing to do eir part.

The spinner abruptly took their leave, barely taking time to say goodbye. Kolchais worried for a moment that Paiokp had offended them, but didn’t have the current left to worry about it. Ey barely managed to eat dinner and went to sleep early.

The next morning, Kolchais remained wrapped in eir blankets until almost sun-high. When ey finally got up, it was only to move to huddle near the coal. How long, ey wondered, until they have a proper hearth again?

Continue to:
Planting Life in a Dying City (Kolchais, E3: The Worries)

Return to:
Planting Life in a Dying City (S3, E1)

Planting Life in a Dying City (Kolchais, E1: the Fog)

Season content notes: ableism, internalized ableism

Kolchais trudged through the market, doing eir best to ignore the thudding pain accompanying each step, each breath. Ey couldn’t take day work like Lefeng and Tsouchm, could barely help clear the debris and prepar the ground to build their new home.

But ey could do this. Little as it was.

In a corner of the market, a soot-covered young adult was selling sacks of charcoal. Charcoal was necessary for the city, smiths used it, and the fishing folk preferred charcoal to wood for drying their catch. But it didn’t pay much, and the charcoaling families usually struggled.

Kolchais didn’t recognize the young adult but did recognize the sign of eir family—High Slopes Charcoal. It was sketched on the blanket. Smudged, but recognizable. In spite of the name, most of the family’s charcoal came from close to the city. Many family names were like that. Chotaikytsais’ family hadn’t specialized in colorwork for several generations.

Well, the sign was recognizable to Kolchais, at least. Time with Lefeng and Paiokp had changed many of eir assumptions about how much other people saw and understood.

Ey stopped in front of the blanket and hesitated. Courtesy would have eir squat down. But if ey did that, ey might not be able to stand up.

“Greetings,” the charcoaler said. “Do you have a need?”

“I am…” Kolchais hesitated. “I am a parent of the Trial Family. Several years ago, a parent of your family approached my parent about buying the remains of a fire in our compound. My parent wasn’t ready to sell then but is now. If your family is still interested.”

The young adult nodded. “I will speak with my family. Someone will come to your home tomorrow.” Ey hesitated, clearly torn about something.

Kolchais could figure it out what. To ask a family where they lived was rude, implied the family was so unimportant one did not know about them. But no one had heard of “The Trial Family” before. “Our home was once the home of the Colorwork Weaving family.”

“Of course.” The charcoaler blushed.

While they talked, others had gathered. Some were waiting to buy, but most were staring at Kolchais and gossiping about the new family. In pain and not wanting to be drawn into conversation, Kolchais said, “Thank you for your time,” and walked away. Ey tried not to notice to eyes and voices following em.

Unlike most of the city, the market was paved with stone. It had heated under the sun. That heat soaked through the leather of eir shoes, into eir feet. The heat felt good, easing some of eir pain. Still, ey had to stop at the edge of the market and rest a few minutes. Ey had gone out to buy food this morning; a second trip to the market the same day had probably not been wise.

But ey had done it. And ey would do it again. Ey gasped as ey straightened up and started walking. Eir new family had taken a chance on em, giving em what ey had never thought ey would have again. Ey would do everything ey could to be sure they never regretted giving em this chance.


Two outings had definitely been too much. After the evening meal, Kolchais huddled close to the fire, hoping the heat would soothe eir aches. Nights like this, the pain meant ey had trouble thinking. It was like eir mind was filled with mud, slowing eir thoughts to a crawl. Ey didn’t recognize the knocking at the gate until after Chotaikytsai had gotten up to answer it. Lefeng was already at the gate, waiting for their parent.

Kolchais blinked again and must have dozed or blacked out briefly. When ey opened eir eyes, Lefeng and Chotaikytsai had returned, escorting two strangers. Though one looked somewhat familiar. Between the darkness and eir pain befuddled thoughts, Kolchais couldn’t recall from where.

Chotaikytsai waited for everyone to gather, then introduced the strangers as a parent and near-adult of the Silent Spinning family. To Kolchais’ eyes, the ‘near-adult’ was of age to have been a parent for several years.

The Silent Spinning parent made an odd gesture, and Kolchais remembered who this family was. The strange ones, half of whom don’t talk and spoke only with their hands.

The Silent Spinning parent looked each of them in the eyes. “We come to offer our family’s support to the new family in our city. We bring these,” ey reached into a bag and offered two small skeins of yarn, “as a gift of welcome. We hope they will be useful in your trade.

“If you will allow, my child,” ey gestured to the near-adult, “will come by each day to help however ey can, or one of eir siblings, if you prefer.”

To Kolchais’ surprise, Chotaikytsai began gesturing silently. Ey must know the hand-language.

Kolchais didn’t bother trying to understand what Chotaikytsai was saying. The Silent Spinners’ handspeech had spread through the city, and most people knew at least a few gestures. Many familyless had learned as much as they could, adding their own gestures and meanings so they could talk semi-privately while in public. But Kolchais had never made an effort to learn. Now, with mud-filled thoughts, was not the time to try.

Instead, ey pondered the Silent Spinning parent’s words. There had been the sound to them of a speech, often practiced. But the words themselves were flat, without inflection to give them meaning beyond the simple words themselves.

Chotaikytsai stopped gesturing and finally spoke out loud. “I believe I am the only one of our new family familiar with your family and your ways. I do not wish to offend with our ignorance, especially when you are so gracious to one who knows your loss.”

Kolchais blinked, confused. The Spinning parent shook eir head. “Ey was my sibling, but your parent. And all of your family.”

Oh, one of the Silent Spinners married out to the Colorwork Weavers. That’s how Chotaikytsai knew the handspeech.

By the time Kolchais’ thoughts caught up, the near-adult was speaking. “I spend much of my time in the markets, among those who know little of my family. I may not always understand, but I do not offend easily.”

“Oh!” Kolchais exclaimed, the mention of the markets clearing away some of the fog. “I remember you.” With eir thoughts momentarily clear, ey finally pieced together why the Silent Spinners were here.

Rumor said the Silent Spinners preferred bluntness, which would explain the stiltedness of the parent’s speech. Ey wouldn’t be comfortable with the indirect traditions the rest of the city followed. But Kolchais didn’t mind bluntness. Especially when ey was in pain.

“Three isn’t enough for a marriage. Four, barely. But we don’t have the tradition and bond of a sibling group to anchor us. The more we add, the more we risk fracturing the marriage group.”

“Change does not come easily to our family,” the near-adult said, “but we have no wish to stagnate. Perhaps some of what we have learned about _choosing_ to create new traditions will help.” The near-adult, Kolchais noted, had more tone and expressiveness than eir parent, enough that Kolchais thought ey might learn to understand em. For now, ey responded only to the words.

“I would like that. I’m afraid I’m not thinking clearly tonight. Can we discuss it more another day?”

The near-adult nodded, “Yes.”

“This is my child, a parent of our family,” Chotaikytsai told the Spinners, introducing Kolchais as best ey could without a family name to give. Kolchais nodded a belated greeting. The Spinners remained still and silent.

After a moment, Chotaikytsai began to introduce the others. Kolchais tried to watch and listen, curious what they would think.

Tsouchm also knew some of the handspeech. Ey asked the Silent Spinners outright what they wanted from the new family. Kolchais winces at such blunt-speaking, but the Silent Spinners actually seem to relax.

Kolchais tried to understand what they said. Unfortunately, ey had lost the brief moment of clarity. The Silent Spinner’s words faded in and out.

“Our family lost a great deal with the destruction of the Colorwork Weavers… will take up a similar trade, and we may regain some of what we lost…debt to the priesthood. The priesthood wants…”

Then Tsouchm’s voice… “don’t speak this bluntly in council!”

Paiokp was there then. Kolchais was surprised that ey didn’t seem interested in the strangers. Ey was polite but left quickly, saying only that any help the Silent Spinners gave would be appreciated.

Kolchais blinked, and Lefeng was there. Ey was laughing and… alert… for the first time in days, eir hands moving in the hand-speech.

Kolchais shook eir head and forced emself to focus. The Silent Spinner parent was speaking. “I had a grandparent who married into the Trackless-Path family. I had no idea the hand-speech might have traveled that far.”

Lefeng made another gesture and grinned. “Farwalkers travel, well, far… last winter gathering several folks were experimenting… hunt-sign.” And then the laughter was gone. “…didn’t think I’d ever use it again.”

From the little Kolchais understood, Lefeng seemed oblivious to the Silent Spinners’ marriage offer or its political implications. But that was okay. Kolchais or Chotaikytsai could fill em and Paiokp in later. Right now, the Silent Spinners have caused Kolchais’ spouse-to-be to set aside eir grief for a time. For that alone, Kolchais would be grateful to them.

Kolchais stopped trying to focus and let the voices flow around em, wrapping em in their current.

Continue to:
Planting Life in a Dying City (Kolchais, E2: the Spinner)

Return to:
Planting Life in a Dying City (S1, E1)
Planting Life in a Dying City (S3, E1)
Webserial Catalog

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: Tsouchm (S2, E8)

Season content notes:

Pronunciation guide

Tsouchm and Tchyawfu spoke of small things on the way home. Tchyawfu, unlike Tsouchm, was part of a ‘pseudofamily’ and had news to share of what eir partners were up to. The few children they had had were gone, living their own lives. Some with partners of their own, one going Tsouchm’s route and living a solitary life. One had taken ship on one of the great trading boats that crossed the sea and had not returned.

Nor had Tchyawfu expected em to, of course. The great sea voyages were safe enough except during the bright days, but the land on the other side of it… Who could say? The great sailing families did well, but the familyless who sailed with them did not return as often as not. And the child had always had what Tchyawfu called ‘an itchy foot.’

Lefeng nodded with understanding. “Itchy. That is a good way to say it. My feet itch, sometimes now. But not so much as I feared they would. Ey would have done well in the mountains, perhaps.”

Tchyawfu turned over eir hands in a small shrug. “Perhaps in a different cycle, but in this one?”

It was Tsouchm’s turn to nod. “I have heard you say that one who walks the mountains alone has a fool for a trail partner.”


Little else was said until they reached the gate. While they waited for Paiokp to answer their ring, Lefeng glared at the broken barrier. “Fixing that must be our next priority.”

Tsouchm clapped eir on the shoulder. “Protective one.”

Lefeng blinked, “That is not…” ey stopped. “Am I truly?”

“Is it such a surprise?”

“I have been so named before. I am not… I was never…”

The gate opened before ey could put thoughts to words. Tsouchm said what seemed obvious to em, “You have lost much. Is it any wonder you do not wish to lose again?”

“Oh…” Ey blinked then, blinked again. “Forgive me, friend of my parent. I think… I think I must excuse myself…”

Tchyawfu looked between Tsouchm and Lefeng. “Yes?”

Tsouchm watched in concern, Tchyawfu in confusion, as Lefeng hurried away.

Paiokp, standing by the open gate, cleared eir throat. “My parent? You have a guest?”

“Yes,” Tsouchm struggled to pull eir attention back to the present. “This is an old friend of mine. Ey is known as Tchyawfu.”

Paiokp nodded, “Welcome, friend. Excuse me.”

Ey closed the gate behind them and slouched away.

“Is this what a family is like?” Tchyawfu asked.

Tsouchm shook eir head. Ey knew why Lefeng, at least, was so rude but was not sure how to explain. Especially after Lefeng had worked so well with Tchyawfu all day.

“Come, let’s get some food and talk.”

To Tsouchm’s relief, Chotaikytsai was more open in eir welcome. “I apologize for my children,” ey said. “None of us came to this family without grief, but theirs is the most recent.”

Tchyawfu took the opening and asked how the family had come to be. So Chotaikytsai told the story of the wave, of Lefeng and Paiokp’s loss and Paiokp’s idea to start afresh, to create a new family.

“But while Lefeng suffers the grief of eir loss and throws eirself into our future, the caring one I fear is stagnating.”

Tchyawfu nodded. “No apology is needed, then. There are none of us untouched by grief.”

“Truth,” Tsouchm said.

“And more grief coming soon, it seems.” Tchyawfu narrowed eir eyes at Tsouchm. “You spoke of Chopaums.”

Tsouchm sighed. “A fear only. But the priests have plans.”

“You as well, I think.”

“I have hopes.” Tsouchm stirred the banked fire, causing embers to jump into the air. “I am no longer of the family-less, but still to be familyless is anchored in my heart and soul. I would not see this priest bring death upon those I grew up with and care for.

“And having been both now, familyless and familied, some things I see more clearly.”

Chotaikytsai slapped eir wrist to get em to leave the fire alone, then buried some tubers in the hot ashes. “You will join us for dinner, friend?”

“Ah… yes. Thank you.”

“Good.” Ey squatted down with them. “Our quick child and I might share some of that understanding, but I at least was never really part of the familyless. Ey… ey lived among you long enough to know some. But not to understand as my spouse does, in eir blood and current.”

“And what is it you see so clearly, then?”

Tsouchm shrugged, “Only this — if you had seen the chance I did — if someone you knew was creating a new family, would you seek to join them?”

“No!” Tchyawfu burst out. Then hesitated. “I mean… it is a dream. You know it well, Tsouchm, all of us dream of being part of a family when we are young. But…”

“But you are not young. And you have a family of your own.”

“What?” Tchyawfu and Chotaikytsai spoke at once. “What family could I possibly have?”

“You know.” Tsouchm met eir eyes steadily. “Why do you say you would not join a family?”

“Because I will not… leave… my partners…” ey trailed off as Tsouchm smiled.

“Your partners. Your spouses. You have a family. It is a different kind of family. But still a family.”

Chotaikytsai closed her gaping jaw. “You… are right. You are right, for if any of my old spouses had survived, but none of the grandparents or children, still we would have been family.”

Tchyawfu was still staring. “But. But…”

“We are not bound as a family,” Tsouchm said. “We have not gone before tree or wave. But still, we name ourselves spouses, children, parents.

“It was our protective one who threw it in our faces — asked if the council refused us permission would we… stop being family, go our separate ways?

“Of course not. We have made promises to each other. So we are, whether the council recognizes us or not.”

Now Tchyawfu started out of eir shock, “Whether the council recognizes you or not?”

“Just so.”

“And you say we are family? My partners and I?”

Tsouchm reverted to familyless courtesy and took Tchyawfu’s shoulder, shaking em. “My friend, why does it matter what I say?

“What do you say?”

Blinking as if ey had stepped into bright sunlight, ey whispered, “Yes.”

Return to:
Planting Life Season 1 Episode 1
Tsouchm Episode 1
Planting Life S2 E7

Continue to:
Planting Life S2 Finale

Planting Life in a Dying City, Tsouchm: The Name (S2 E6)

Season content notes:

Pronunciation guide

No one said much until dinner had been cooked, and they began to eat. Then Tsouchm looked up from eir stew and asked, “Does the council’s decision matter?”

“Of course it does!” Kolchais said, “We can’t live in the city without their approval.”

Tsouchm snorted. “I have lived in this city my whole life without the council’s approval. I don’t care if I have it now. But that is not my question.”

“I don’t understand.”

Tsouchm looked around the fire. Most of the others looked confused. Lefeng once again seemed to be mirroring Tsouchm’s thoughts. Well, that one would be used to bucking the expectations of the town and city dwellers. “What do we do if the council refuses to approve us? Do we stop being a family if they say we are not?”

Lefeng looked around and snorted. “Town dwellers. Is that what you’ve been thinking? That if this council of yours doesn’t approve us, we just… go our separate ways?”

“No!” Kolchais said. Then more softly, “No, I just… never thought that far.” Ey shook eir head and picked at eir food. “A family can’t live in the city without the council’s approval…”

“So we don’t live in the city,” Tsouchm said. “There are villages that have lost whole families; you think they will be picky about who moves in so long as they can keep the village going? Or…” ey shuddered, “I am at the age that I prefer a comfortable bed to adventures, but I doubt that one,” ey waved at Lefeng, “would object to dragging us back into the mountains every year.”

Lefengs smile was small but real. The first real smile Tsouchm had seen from longstride since eir grief broke em. “I’ve become resigned to rooted living,” ey said wryly, “A village will do well enough.”

Chotaikytsai perked up. “And there is this — technically, I am not familyless but family-last. All that belonged to my family belongs to me — including this compound, and the land it is on. Even if they deny us recognition, they cannot deny me — and any I welcome — the right to stay here.”

“So…” Kolchais said, “so we are a family. Or will be, once we go before the priests. They can’t take that from us. But what do we do now?”

They were silent for a moment. Spoons scraped in bowls, and the hearth fire crackled. Clouds scuttled across the sky, and Tsouchm wondered what they would do for meals and family discussions if it rained while they were living in the season shelter. Get wet, most likely.

Then the silent one shifted and said, “We should take their trial. It will be better for us to have their approval. And if they deny it, we can still be bound together and do as we like in spite of them.”

Tsouchm nodded and saw the others nodding as well. “If so…” ey paused. But something had been weighing on em since the priest had left. “If so, we need a name.”


“But how can we?”

“We have no trade!”

“A temporary name, then. Something…” Tsouchm clenched eir fists. “Without a name, we must use our personal names in our dealings with others. And they will never respect us if we do so. If we are to be a family, let us act like a family. And demand the respect of one.”

“But… what name?”

“I think… I think they named us themselves,” Chotaikytsai said. “We are the Trial Family, by their own word. Let us own it then.”

Tsouchm nodded and tested the name out. “Trial Family. Grandparent of the Trial Family…” It felt strange on eir tongue.

Lefeng snorted and held out eir hand, “It is a pleasure to meet you, grandparent of the Trial Family. Now could you please pass the ale skin?”

Stunned, Tsouchm — the grandparent of the Trial Family — found emself blinking back tears. Lefeng — the parent of the Trial Family — seemed calm as if ey had no idea how much Tsouchm’s world had just changed. Like another great wave had swept through, but this time, leaving life in its wake.

A hand on eir shoulder. Ey turned and looked into Chotaikytsai’s eyes, and behind em, Kolchais was grinning with tears running down eir cheeks.

They, Tsouchm realized, understood. At least partly. They, too, had lived with the shame and disrepute of exposing their personal name for years. But they could not fully understand, for Tsouchm had never had a family name… it was like wrapping a cloak around oneself in the middle of the bright days. Like the great hugs Lefeng gave (rarely) that held and sheltered and squeezed the life out of one all at the same time.

Ey was no longer — would never again — be just Tsouchm…

Blinking the tears away, the grandparent of the trial family tossed over the ale skin. “Of course, parent of the Trial Family. Just leave some for the rest of us.”

Late that night, long after the others had gone to bed, Tsouchm — grandparent of the Trial Family! — sat awake staring at the stars. Ey had a name now. Had a family, made by the only bonds that mattered in Tsouchm’s world — their pledge to each other. Yet no matter what the priest had said, the familyless were still Tsouchm’s people.

The priests went to war with the council and would use those people — Tsouchm’s people — as their tools. It was all very well for the priest to speak of eir own willingness to die, but ey had not the right to make that decision for others. For those that ey had looked down on from eir high place, wearing jewelry that would feed three or more pseudo– No! Three or more families of the… the familyless, who were not familyless at all but only had families of a different sort. Families who were taught from birth that they were meaningless; denied names, denied recognition.

Anger long pushed aside gathered. Tsouchm had never been part of those families, but eir Cenn, eir friends, sometimes eir lovers had.

And the priest would have them give up those families to meet the standards of the council? To dance to the council’s tune, beg for trial years, and hope that if they worked hard enough, bowed hard enough, begged hard enough, the council would accept them and grant them the right to be named properly?


Oh, there were other familyless — no ey needed to stop calling them that — there were others who would make the choice Tsouchm had made, given the chance. Likely many others. But that didn’t change the fact that many, perhaps most, would not make that choice, would keep to the ways and customs they had grown up with.

Either the stagnation of the city would be broken politically, or it would be broken by blood, the priest said. Maybe that was so. Tsouchm wasn’t a priest or scribe to know the cycles of the world. But ey would not leave eir people to be manipulated, made into tools for another’s hand.

Tomorrow, ey would return to eir old haunts. Ey needed to speak with some friends.

Tsouchm grinned. Of all eir people, ey, the grandparent of the Trial Family, had a proper name now. Why should ey be the only one?

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Planting Life Season 1 Episode 1
Tsouchm Episode 1
Planting Life S2 E5

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Planting Life S2 E7

Planting Life in a Dying City, Tsouchm: The Year (S2 E5)

Season content notes:

Pronunciation guide

Lefeng, of course, opened the gate. This time Tsouchm noticed that ey walked up to the broken ward with a hand on eir belt knife. Guarding, then.

To Tsouchm’s surprise, when Lefeng opened the gate it was not just Chotaikytsai who entered, but a priest. Eir tunic was green with brown bands, simple enough if finely made. Ey wore jewelry that more than made up for the simplicity of the clothing. A beaded collar with triangles in various shades of green. Bracelets on both wrists, also in green. Tsouchm knew little of jewels and gems. Still, ey recognized that these beads were not the less expensive glass beads. Whatever these were, they were real stone and gem. A priest of the trees and one of rank.

Tsouchm had had little dealings with priests and less with the tree-bound. The tree priests had gained control of the temples from the wave-walkers when ey was a child and held the wealth of the temples. Wave-walker priests would sometimes work in the poorer sections of the city. The tree-bound rarely left their fancy quarters.

To Tsouchm’s amusement, Lefeng and Chotaikytsai led the priest to the hearth, and the rest of the family followed. Once again, important discussions would take place gathered around the hearthstone. It seemed already they were developing family traditions.

The thought distracted em, for a moment, from the priest. But only a moment.

Tsouchm wanted to be hopeful. If they were lucky, the mystic’s presence meant that the council had approved their family, and they were about to be formally joined. Unfortunately, Tsouchm was a cynic, ey suspected they would find nothing good in the priest’s presence. Kolchais and the silent one, caring one, kept neutral expressions before the stranger, but Lefeng grimaced. Ey was as unhappy to see the priest as Tsouchm emself was.

Chotaikytsai stroked the fur of the great beast, seeming to take reassurance from it. “They haven’t given us an answer,” ey blurted out.

“What?” “How can they not?” “Damn it!”

Tsouchm was stunned emself. Ey had been braced for, almost expected, a rejection. But not answer? What did that even mean? Their children-to-be, it seemed, were not stunned but made thoughtless by their shock. How did they expect their parent-to-be to answer if they did not give Chotaikytsai a chance?

Tsouchm would have waited out the outburst, but Chotaikytsai was clearly overwhelmed by it. Likely the council meeting had been both exhausting and upsetting. So Tsouchm whistled, a piercing sound that made Kolchais clap eir hands over eir ears and all of them be quiet.

When everyone’s attention was on em, ey nodded for Chotaikytsai to continue.

“Thank you,” eir spouse-to-be said.

“They’ve invoked an old rule,” Chotaikytsai said with a sigh. “The council is giving us a trial year. A year to prove our family can contribute to the city. If we complete the year with a useful trade and a completed compound and demonstrate we can contribute to the city, they will recognize us as a new family and as citizens.

“But in return for their… consideration, we need to agree that we will not get married without the council’s blessing.”

For a moment, they all stared. Tsouchm broke the silence saying, “And what if we don’t agree?” Ey spat on the ground in pledge, “I know a wave-walker who would take us to the docks and bind us as a family just to spite the council. And none — not even the trees –” ey glared at the priest, “could say then that we are not a family.”

Lefeng grinned at this and hand-spoke, “New trail for us.” Tsouchm needed to find out where and how the once-farwalker had learned the hand speech of the SilentSpinners.

The tree priest looked amused. “The priesthood stands with you in this — even the trees. I am here to offer my support and answer any questions you may have.”

The others relaxed, but Lefeng met Tsouchm’s eyes, and Tsouchm saw eir own distrust in eir child-to-be.

“Why do you care, priest?” Lefeng demanded, “Why would you help us?”

“A new family is a rare and sacred thing. Why should we not support it?” The priest asked, “but,” ey said, as Tsouchm opened eir mouth, “I understand your question. I hope we would have done the right thing no matter what, but we are still human, yes? And we do not challenge the council lightly.

“But the council needs to be challenged. It has been stagnating, resisting change, and trying to keep things as much the same as possible. As a result, the city has begun to stagnate. We, both wave and tree, have been looking for opportunities to help bring a big change to the city, though we look in different ways and places. Something to shake up the council and break the stagnation before it brings death to the city.”

Tsouchm narrowed eir eyes in thought. Ey had not paid much attention to the doings of the powerful. But their doings could shake the family-less like the wind shook a tree, so a wise person always kept an ear out. Ey could not dispute the priest’s words.

“Your new family on its own would be a change. But it would also set a precedent. It is my hope now that my wave-siblings are correct. That the familyless will bring the change this city needs.”

Tsouchm laughed. “How? We have no seat on the council, no riches. No power.”

“You — they, rather, grandparent — have numbers. That is a power of its own. What would happen did hundreds of familyless come together and declared themselves new families? Take up a trade and claim their rightful seats on the council?”

“They would never allow it!” Kolchais whispered. “They can’t…”

“They have set their own precedent; they must either follow it, which brings change, or break it, which brings another change.

“We believe — we would prefer — that they follow it.”

“Chopaumsau.” Lefeng named the one familyless who had ever been a manager of the city. Tsouchm had no idea how ey knew that.

“There will be too many for them to make false charges against or even disappear quietly. Especially with us willing to spread word of anything they do in our sight. Not one person, but dozens, hundreds, nominated to the council? What would happen, grandparent, if the familyless finally saw a chance to have power and respect in this city, and dozens of their own started dying or disappearing in an obvious move to rob them of it?”

“Riots,” Tsouchm gasped, “Rebellion. You would see us all dead!”

“The forest grows anew after a great fire. If that is the only way to see this city renewed, yes, and if the council learns we plan thus, I will be one of the first to die.

“But stagnation will lead to riots and death sooner or later. You are a chance for us to avoid that. A chance only, but so is any new path.”

“It… makes sense,” Lefeng said. “If you are a priest.”

Tsouchm met Lefeng’s eyes, and they both grimaced. The others looked appalled, whether at Lefeng and Tsouchm arguing with the priest or what the priest was planning, Tsouchm didn’t know. The familied, Tsouchm had long noticed, had ingrained respect for the priesthood. It was not shared by those who lived under them. Tsouchm was not surprised that the farwalkers, who did not live under the sway of any priest, would share eir distrust.

“So… Kolchais said, “The city is so stagnant that the council will resist us simply because we are new. You are supporting us because we are new and you want to shake up the council. Fine. We know where we stand; we know what we need to do and will do it.

“Thank you, tree-friend, for your time and offer. I’m sure we will be in touch when we know better what we need.”

The priest, thankfully, took the hint and departed.

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Planting Life Season 1 Episode 1
Tsouchm Episode 1
Planting Life S2 E4

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Planting Life S2 E6