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.”

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Planting Life Season 1 Episode 1
Tsouchm Episode 1
Planting Life (S2, E8)

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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.”

“True.”

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.”

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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.”

“What?”

“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?

No.

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

Continue to:
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.

Return to:
Planting Life Season 1 Episode 1
Tsouchm Episode 1
Planting Life S2 E4

Continue to:
Planting Life S2 E6

Planting Life in a Dying City: The Year (S2 E4)

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. Protective one, maybe. Or guarding one.

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. Those might be worn by those with pretensions to wealth, even among the familyless. Not these, these 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. The wave-walkers would sometimes work in the poorer sections of the city. The tree-bound rarely left their fancy quarters.

To Tsouchm 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 means 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? But 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.

Return to:
Planting Life Season 1 Episode 1
Tsouchm Episode 1
Planting Life S2 E3

Continue to:
Planting Life S2 E5

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

Season content notes:

Pronunciation guide

Tsouchm scooped up the over-energetic Chestef, and together they walked Chotaikytsai to the gate. The council meeting would start early and run most of the day. Chotaikytsai carried the scribe-rod that permitted eir to speak for them. Ey wore the skin and fur of some great beast over eir shoulders like a cape. It looked heavy, but Chotaikytsai seemed unbowed by it. Taking a closer look, Tsouchm saw the front legs and claws of the beast had been preserved as part of the cloak.

It must have come from Lefeng, and Tsouchm worried about how the council would react to the barbaric display. But ey said nothing. Tsouchm had ceded responsibility for this part of building their family to eir spouse-to-be. Ey would not question eir wisdom now, not when Chotaikytsai would need all eir confidence for the challenge ahead.

At the gate, Tsouchm dared to give Chotaikytsai a gentle kiss goodbye. Chestef, less restrained (or more confident in eir relationship), demanded a big hug. Ey had to be content with a kiss on the forehead and Chotaikytsai ruffling eir hair. As speaker, Chotaikytsai would not risk disarraying eir clothing on such a day.

After seeing Chotaikytsai off, Tsouchm brought Chestef to the last few remains of the old weavers’ home. The roof support beams and wall poles were all out now. Nothing could be seen of the building but a rectangular patch of disturbed earth littered with broken discards. That didn’t mean they were finished with the work of clearing.

Lefeng and the silent one were digging up the great timbers the walls had rested on. Those timbers, two handspans wide and a handspan thick, were the supports that held the entire house up. Families who could afford it — and the Colorworkweavers would have been among them — had the timbers coated in pitch. The pitch protected the timbers so they wouldn’t rot out from under the home. Poorer families would be forced to rebuild their homes more often as the wood turned to earth. Once the timbers were gone, the shifting of the earth under the building would slowly tear it apart.

If these were pitch-coated, they’d be able to reuse those beams. If not, well, they might still be reusable for now, but they’d likely be rebuilding again before Chestef was marriage age. Or they might need to replace them now. Replacing them would be expensive.

Tsouchm set the child to picking up and clearing away the smaller scraps that scattered the ground. Broken bits of charred wood, a few rocks, or old roots turned up in the digging. Even, here and there, a few pieces of daily life — a smashed clay cup, a scorched shell, a scrap of blanket — that somehow survived the fire and all the years since.

They’d been working for a bit over a finger-length when Chestef began playing, making a game of hopping through the debris. Tsouchm kept an eye on em but didn’t interfere. The child had worked hard for a time and was, after all, a child. Chestef had a few years yet before ey would need to learn the discipline of work.

But a few minutes into this new game, Chestef tripped and fell. Ey immediately began crying, screaming even. Tsouchm dropped eir end of the beam they were levering out of the soil, barely missing eir own toes, and raced over to the child. Lefeng stood awkwardly, still holding eir end of the timber, but the silent one came over also and squatted down next to the child.

Tsouchm may not know children, but ey knew injuries. So ey made emself forget that this child was to be eir grandchild, eir responsibility. That the very first time Tsouchm had care of the child, ey was hurt… push all that aside and focus on the actual injury.

It seemed to be little more than a scrape — the skin of Chestef’s knee was abraded and peeled back in places. It bled freely, which should be a good thing — the blood would wash any dirt or bits of char out of the wound. The silent one, who had still not shared eir name, offered to take the child. Tsouchm shook eir head and shooed the silent one back to the digging. Then ey picked up the child and held em. Chestef didn’t stop crying.

Tsouchm carried em to the corner by the new shelter where Lefeng had left freshwater that morning. With the water and a rag, Tsouchm cleaned the blood away and put pressure on the injury until it stopped bleeding. By that time, the child’s tears had died down to sniffles, and ey was falling asleep on Tsouchm’s lap. Tsouchm continued holding Chestef until ey was fully asleep, then placed em in the new shelter to rest.

While ey slept, Tsouchm fretted. Children were sturdy — all eir life, Tsouchm had seen them tussling, tripping over things, banging into things, and getting up and moving on as if nothing had happened. But sometimes, they were really hurt. Ey had never been responsible for a child before. Never been spent time with children since eir own childhood. What if the injury was worse than it seemed? Had ey done the right thing cleaning it and letting the child sleep it off? Or had ey done too much? Was this coddling Chestef? How was ey to know how to care for this child?

No, Tsouchm reassured emself. Ey was letting eir self-doubt run away with em. The bleeding had stopped there was no sign of broken bones, and the scrape was not on the knee, where damage could sometimes hide behind a seemingly minor wound. There was no reason to believe Chestef had any worse than a normal childhood injury.

As for coddling, if it was, what of it? The child had lost eir entire family, traveled long days with near-strangers, and now lived in a strange city with more strangers who had promised em a new family but could not even offer a decent home. If any child had a right to some coddling, it was this one.

So Tsouchm sat and held the child and sang snatches of the songs ey remembered eir Cenn long ago singing to em.

As ey sang, ey watched Lefeng and the silent one. That one ey worried about. Chotaikytsai was right that there was something greater wrong with em. More than that, Tsouchm thought that ey was not committed to this family. Ey worked hard — see em digging up timbers with Lefeng. Ey cared. Ey was caring one as much as silent one. But ey seemed to care against eir own desires. As if ey wished to keep a distance but could not manage to…

No, Tsouchm thought. Ey had seen many of the pseudo-families of the familyless come together over the years, and ey had seen this before. Had seen it many times.

The silent one didn’t wish to keep eir distance. Ey wished to be close, to be part, to be welcomed. And was convinced for some reason ey wouldn’t be allowed.

And this was Tsouchm’s child-to-be who did not grieve eir family.

Oh yes, Tsouchm knew this pattern. Knew it well and the many ways it could end. What ey didn’t know was what to do about it. Watch then, and wait. There was a reason the silent one was silent. Learn that, and Tsouchm might know how to help em feel welcome, safe, with this family.

When Chestef woke, Tsouchm took em to the garden and asked the child to show Tsouchm how to weed it. All eir self assurances aside, ey would not let the child play in the clutter of the old home again and wanted to keep Chestef under eir eye.

It was the right thing to do for Chestef. The child delighted at the chance to teach a grandparent. Ey soon forgot eir injury, focused on proving how much ey knew about the plants they were growing and how to tell a vegetable from a weed. To Tsouchm’s surprise, ey learned quite a bit, and the rest of the day passed quickly.

The ringing of the gate surprised Tsouchm. Ey looked up to see that the sun had passed into the western part of the sky.

Chotaikytsai had returned from the council.

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

Continue to:
Planting Life S2 E4

Planting Life in a Dying City — The Shelter (S2 E2)

Season content notes:

Pronunciation guide

The next morning, they all gathered again around the fire. Less is seemed, because of custom or desire, and more because none of them knew what to do. From the little Tschoum had seen, Lefeng was the current that had driven them all, and with eir collapse the rest had been set adrift. A quiet word to Chotaikytsai confirmed eir suspicion. Tsouchm, too, was at sea, but perhaps Lefeng emself gave Tsouchm the direction ey needed. Money and shelter, ey had said shortly before eir collapse. Money for shelter. While Chotaikytsai talked with Kolchais — something about the council which Tsouchm was happy to leave to eir — Tsouchm went to sit near Lefeng and Paiokp.

“We need to build a house, yes? I’ve worked on several building projects. If Chotaikytsai is handling the council, I can handle the home. But it will take time — time to raise funds for supplies, time to build, time for the daub to dry, time to roof it. We may be into the bright days before it is done. We will leave matters of the council to those best suited.” Tsouchm nodded towards Chotaikytsai and Kolchais. “I think we three can at least get a start on the home.”

Lefeng, called Longstride, stirred, spoke slowly. “In the mountains sometimes we — they — build season-homes. Sturdier than travel tents, meant to last a moon cycle or two. I know how to make them.”

Tsouchm hesitantly placed a hand on Lefeng’s shoulder. “That is a good idea. Even if it only lasts until the bright days, it will be better to have a space that fits all of us, yes? Especially if rain comes. And if the building takes too long, we can rebuild your season-home to see us through the bright months.”

Given something to do, Lefeng perked up somewhat. Paiokp had little to say, but brought food for the three of them and listened while Tsouchm and Lefeng talked.

By the time they finished eating, Tsouchm thought ey had a clear idea of what was needed for the season-home, though how it would work was still confusing. It sounded like little more than a large hut made of wood and leaves. Still, it was a better idea than anything Tsouchm had.

“I think we can get all we need from one of the charcoaling families. Do you wish to go to the market?”

Lefeng shook eir head, vehemently.

“I will go then, and get what we need.”

Lefeng nodded but said nothing further and Paiokp remained silent.

What does it mean to give them time? From the little Tsouchm understood of proper families, it was not for the grandparents to instruct the parents. Grandparents were advisors, using their experience to help the parents in their decisions. But with the birth of the grandchildren, grandparents stepped back from control, letting the parents take charge and make their mistakes while the grandparents were still there to advise them. Yet these young ones were lost, set adrift by their grief. Was it for Tsouchm and Chotaikytsai to take charge then, to make the decisions while the lost ones healed? Or was there something else Tsouchm should be doing?

With no answers, but a clear task to complete, Tsouchm got up and filled Chotaikytsai in before heading out to the supply market.

The supply market was filled with raw material for the crafting families. Wood, stone, charcoal, flax, metal ore, and anything else that could be turned from this into that. From what Tsouchm had heard, most crafting families had standard orders with the gathering families they preferred to work with. But if a milling family had extra wood or a charcoaling family extra charcoal after filling those orders, they would bring them to the supplies market to be bought by whoever got there first.

The green-wood poles were easy enough to find, but Tsouchm wasn’t surprised to see none of the greenery Longstride needed. Ey bartered for the wood, pleased to be able to pay for it out of eir own savings. Eir first contribution to this new family.

For the greenery, Tsouchm spoke with the DeepWoods charcoal family. Their representative at the market promised to save the limbs and tops of the next-days felling for Tsouchm, pleased at a chance to make more money on those usually-unwanted bits than they got for two buckets of charcoal. Ey even assured Tsouchm the family would deliver it.

Tsouchm returned to the compound, pleased with eir outting. That pleasure vanished when ey reached the broken gate. Silent Paiokp was half heartedly picking through the burnt out remains of the old house. Lefeng seemed to have not moved a fingerwidth in the time since Tsouchm had left. And Kolchais was no where to be seen.

Ey banged on the knocker, and was grumpily unsurprised to see the noise jolt Lefeng out of eir mental eddy. The would-be parent jumped up and came to open the gate, muttering about the need to repair or replace it.

“Come,” Tsouchm said, handing eir the wooden poles. “Healing takes time, yes. But to sit and stagnate after an injury brings only sickness. Show me where and how we will set these poles.”

Anger, Tsouchm had often noticed, was the other side of sadness. Lefeng proved it once again, being snappish the whole time they were setting up the poles. But ey was up and moving and Tsouchm did not mind being a target for eir anger. Tsouchm had a great deal of experience ignoring or brushing off the things people said to and about eir.

Inspite of that, the once-walker gave clear instructions, showing Tsouchm how the green wood could be bent and interlaced to form a dome-like net over and through which they would lay the greenery.

Tsouchm expected ey was more hinderance than help, and Paiokp even more so when the other near adult came to join them. But they had time. The greenery would not come until the next evening.

Shortly before dinner, Lefeng declared emself satisfied. Paiokp immediately headed for the fire. But Lefeng, with nothing more to do, stared into the distance, blinking heavily.

“Go rest, then,” Tsouchm told eir. “Rest! Not stagnate.” Ey glared at Tsouchm a moment, then nodded. Tsouchm reached out to eir. “I never had a family. Only my Cenn. When ey died… it was like I lost my whole world.

“I’m not word-smith. I won’t say I know what you are going through or anything trite like that. And I don’t know anything about being part of a family. But I’m here. And I’m sorry for your loss.”

Lefeng said nothing, just walked away. Tsouchm sighed. “Stagnation, I made a muddle of that.”

Chotaikytsai had come over while they spoke and rested eir head on Tsouchm’s shoulder. “You tried. That matters more than exactly what you said. It will be okay.”

Tsouchm looked at Paiokp, staring into the flame of the small cook fire. “And that one?”

Chotaikytsai sighed. “Ey isn’t really grieving, and that worries me more than all Lefeng’s tantrums.”

Tsouchm nodded and they walked together to the cook fire. Hesitantly, ey reached out and brushed Chotaikytsai’s hand with eir fingers. The once-weaver took Tsouchm’s hand with a smile. If nothing else in this strange family, the current between they two was flowing smoothly. Ey could only hope it continued to do so.

The next day passed slowly. They could do nothing with the season-home until the charcoaling family brought greenery and so the parents returned again to working on digging up and tearing down the ruins of Chotaikytsai’s old home.

If it bothered Tsouchm’s spouse-to-be, Chotaikytsai gave no sign of it. Instead ey chivvied both Chestef and Tsouchm into the small gardens. From what Chotaikytsai said, ey had enough planted to supply eir and Kolchais with most of their needs. Which meant they had maybe a third of what they needed for the new family. Tsouchm didn’t know the first thing about growing food. Ey had always stuck with day-labor that kept eir within the city and it’s familiar surroundings. The forests and sea beyond the city walls were both alien to eir and ey was happy to keep it that way. But breaking ground for new plantings was straightforward enough. While ey worked at that, Chotaikytsai tended the existing plantings, teaching Chestef as ey went. Tsouchm listened as well, learning as much as ey could. For now, ey could focus on the building, but once that was finished ey would be taking on fully the job of a grandparent — raising food plants and children both.

By the time the charcoaling family arrived, Tsouchm had ground broken and turned for two new gardens. Lefeng was once again first at the gate, and Tsouchm was amused to notice that the other almost-parents were holding back to allow the protective-one to lead. Were they used to ey leading, Tsuochm wondered, or allowing eir this foible?

Regardless, there was work to do. Tsouchm arrived at the gate a few steps behind Longstride and helped unload the greenery from the cart. It took less than a finger-width of the sun’s travel to get the greenery on the frame Lefeng had built the day before. It would be big enough for all of them to sleep in, with some room left over.

It was rough and unconventional, but it would work.

Rather, Tsouchm hoped, like their family would.

Return to:
Tsouchm Episode 1

Continue to:
Planting Life S2 Interlude

Planting Life in a Dying City: Season 1, Season Finale

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

Tears leaked down Lefeng’s cheeks. Dripped on eir dead hands.

It was done. They had a family. Enough of one.

Tears dropped faster now. Ey choked back a sob.

As quietly as ey could, ey moved away, to the far corner of the compound. Ey crouched down, leaning against the wall, and let the tears pour forth. Ey had kept eir promise to Chestef. It was like laying a burden down.

So why did it hurt so much?

Eventually, ey slept.

Lefeng woke slowly the next morning. Moving was hard and thinking was harder. Eir whole self felt slow and weighed down. Like ey was carrying a heavy pack through thick brambles instead of… just waking up.

Tears leaked from eir eyes and ey buried eir head in the blankets.

Blankets?

Ey looked around. Ey was still in the corner of the compound where ey had retreated to last night. But someone must have found em and brought blankets during the night.

More tears poured forth. Wrapping a blanket around eir shoulders like a cloak, ey stood and stumbled toward the firepit.

Paiokp and Kolchais were up and eating. They filled Lefeng in on what ey missed. Tsouchm went back to eir rooms last night, but would be moving into the compound that day. Kolchais and Paiokp were to put together a sleeping area for Tsouchm while Lefeng helped Tsouchm move eir things into the compound.

Lefeng said nothing. Talking seemed to be too much effort. Ey had known ey was not doing well since Chotaikytsai accepted them, but that had been a general grumpiness and tiredness ey had put down to being stuck in the city. This was different.

Ey barely managed to choke down any food and more than once had to scrub tears from eir face.

Chotaikytsai was absorbed with Chestef, but Paiokp and Kolchais asked em what was wrong. Lefeng tried to shrug it off, push the way ey was feeling aside, but Kolchais wouldn’t let em.

“Pushing stuff away doesn’t help. I mean, if you’re in danger and have to push stuff away to deal with it, that’s one thing. But you’re safe here, so don’t push it away, whatever it is.”

“Maybe you should rest for a day,” Paiokp said, “You haven’t stopped pushing yourself since… ” ey swallowed, “…Since the wave killed everyone.”

Once Lefeng had witnessed a flash flood in the mountains. One minute the narrow canyon had been dry, the next it was running knee-deep with water, and rising. That was what it felt like now, as grief surged through em and washed eir control away. Ey broke down, crying, sobbing, blubbering.

By the time Tsouchm arrived, the worst of the storm had passed. Paiokp had helped Lefeng retrieve the Baba’s old necklace from the bottom of eir pack and Lefeng had wrapped it around eir hand, fingering the beads.

Lefeng managed to help get Tsouchm’s things but had no life to spare for curiosity about the city or the new grandparent. As soon as they returned to the compound, Lefeng retreated again. Ey had done eir duty to the living, but Kolchais was right. Lefeng couldn’t push eir dead away any longer.

Ey had much grieving to do.

Return to:
Episode 11 The Grandparents

Continue to:
Planting Life Season 2
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This ended up being a very short episode. Sorry about that.

Next week we’ll be starting the first season of The Price of Survival.

The wolves of Long Valley knew they couldn’t win a two front war, but they thought they had leverage for a negotiated settlement.

A genocidal attack has forced their hand. The Pack Father will offer full surrender to the lesser of two evils. Now the pack will discover – can they afford to pay the price of survival?

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

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kolchais shrugged, “I don’t know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ey had to know.

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

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

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

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

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

Return to:
Interlude: Tsouchm

Continue to:
Season Finale

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

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Episode 9: The Abandoned

Continue to:
Interlude: Tschoum