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?

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.