Planting Life in a Dying City; Season 1, Episode 9 – The Abandoned

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

Lefeng rose early the next morning. The hospitality family offered fruit and a strange kind of flatbread. Ey took the flatbread and ate it a small bit at a time. By the time ey finished, the sun was rising. Ey roused Paiokp and Chestef and waited, as patiently as ey could, while they ate. Then the three headed out to speak again with the weaver.

When they arrived again at the old compound, the once-weaver let them in, but refused to speak with them. “Kolchais will show you around the city,” ey said instead. “If you would live here, you should know it. I will watch the youngling for you. Ey can help me with the weeding.”

Lefeng was reluctant to leave, wanting to talk with the once-weaver about the family and eir thoughts on it, but Chotaikytsai was firm. Chestef, to eir surprise, liked the plan. Eventually, Lefeng realized that the youngling would feel safer in a family compound — any family compound. With the assurance of the youngling’s safety, ey agreed.

Kolchais was extremely knowledgeable about the city. Ey not only pointed out directions and landmarks but explained some of the city customs and organization. There was a council that ruled the city, made up of one member of each family. The council made the laws and set policy, and once a year elected between three and ten people to do the day-to-day work of managing the city.

“In theory, anyone can be elected.” Kolchais paused a moment to gulp for breath. “In practice, it’s almost always people from the most successful 20 or 30 families. Fifty years ago, though, one of the family-less was elected. Ey had become a hero in the fighting when North Shore tried to invade. I guess the council thought they needed to do something about em before ey became a threat, though. Ey was caught ‘stealing’ from the city and executed as a traitor.”

Lefeng glanced at Paiokp and saw the golden-eyed one looking back at em. Paiokp rolled eir eyes and Lefeng nodded. Don’t trust the council, message received.

Their town-guide stumbled. Lefeng caught eir elbow reflexively, but let go as soon as Kolchais had eir feet again. “Apologies, Kolchais. I did not mean to intrude.”

Kolchais looked down and away, pulling away from Lefeng. “No apology needed, far-walker. I… appreciate the help. Turn here. I’m sure you’d like to see the main trader’s market.”

Lefeng followed, trying to give the town-guide space. But the once-fisher hurried after and asked, “Are you okay?”

“Of course. The market runs every day, but by custom first day through fourth day are reserved for trading families. Fifth and sixth days are open to other families, and on seventh day they let family-less who have enough tokens in to buy what little we can.” Ey continued talking about the market, but Lefeng stopped listening. The once-walker had heard enough of markets, now it was time to watch.

Once Lefeng was paying attention to eir eyes rather than eir ears, it became obvious that Paiokp had been right to worry about their guide. Kolchais was sweating and limping. There was a pattern to eir steps. It reminded Lefeng of grandparents in their last year on the trails. Something that spoke of an inner strength and stubbornness, but an outer strength that could no longer keep up with that inner determination.

Worse, ey now noticed the other city-folk around them staring. Not staring at the two out-town strangers, but at their guide. The stares were hostile, and more than one person made warding gestures or signs of contempt. City folk were disgusting.

Lefeng ignored the staring strangers. They were not a problem — now, anyway. Ey hesitated before speaking, not wanting to offend Kolchais again. But Lefeng could not stay silent while the stubborn-one pushed emself into injury. “We should stop and rest a bit. You are going to harm yourself if you keep pushing yourself.” Kolchais looked down and away again, and this time Lefeng could see it for embarrassment and shame, not the anger ey had thought.

“Besides,” Paiokp put in, “my thoughts are more stuffed than a child on a feast-day. We need time to absorb everything you have said before we hear any more.”

Kolchais didn’t try to argue. Paiokp, Lefeng thought, turned the tide, giving the city-folk a reason to stop that eir pride could accept. They found a wall to sit by. Lefeng and Paiokp squated down but Kolchais leaned against the wall. “If I squat down,” ey muttered, “I may not be able to get up.”

The city-folk seemed to expect some response, but Lefeng couldn’t imagine what. Ey shrugged and went back to watching the people around them.

They had barely walked a finger-width of the sun’s course, and it took the stubborn-one a half-fingerwidth to breathe easy and stop eir legs from shaking. Not wanting the stubborn-one to push emself again so quickly — and still having much to learn — Lefeng and Paiokp began asking questions.

Before too long, Paiokp began to get restless, after traveling with em for a month Lefeng recognized the signs. But Lefeng was used to judging eir family’s fitness for the trail and gestured patience. After another finger-width, Lefeng asked Kolchais if they could continue.

The city-folk agreed, but Lefeng insisted that ey tell them when ey needed to rest again. Lefeng found eir eyes caressing Kolchais’ broad face and the cute way ey bit eir lip while ey thought. “Alright. As long as you don’t mind…”

“If I minded, I wouldn’t ask.”

So they walked and rested, walked and rested. Over the course of the morning, Kolchais explained everything from the street sweepers who passed by (family-less hired as day-labor) to the working of the council. From class distinctions within the city (class being a combination of a family’s trade, location, and wealth) to how family compounds could be sold or trade hands. Even how the family-less lived in the city.

Lefeng and Paiokp were by then used to the physical presence of the city. But they had many questions about how so many people managed to live together. Kolchais’ explanations help them make sense of how the city worked and how they would need to function to survive within it.

Lefeng was not happy with city ways. They were, as eir family always believed, unhealthy and ridiculous. Why they practically lived in their own filth! But this is the choice ey had made, so ey would deal with it as best ey could.

Ey wondered if Paiokp might also be having second thoughts. Sometimes the wind shifted to blow from the sea. Each time the golden-eyed-one looked toward it with longing, in spite of the horrific smell that came from the docks.

Throughout the day, Lefeng continued to see (and sometimes hear!) strangers stop and yell taunts or make rude gestures at Kolchais. For most of the walk, Lefeng and Paiokp politely ignored it as a personal matter they didn’t want to call attention to. But Lefeng found emself thinking that this stubborn-one, with eir knowledge of the city and how it functioned and the best ways for someone without power and influence to survive, could be a valuable addition to their family. Plus ey liked em. Paiokp must have been having similar thoughts. Lefeng could see eir hands clenching and eyes narrowing at each new insult. So ey wasn’t surprised when the golden-eyed-one asked about the rude people.

Lefeng expected the city-folk, stubborn-one to refuse to answer. It was an invasive question. But Kolchais began talking of eir family and eir illness. How eir slowness and difficulty walking was the result of something that caused them to be constantly in pain. Eir family believed ey was lying and lazy to get out of contributing and doing work for the family.

“That’s ridiculous,” Lefeng burst out. “You nearly pushed yourself to collapse this morning. Anyone with eyes can see that you do what you can and more. Or was it someone else working in the garden with the once-weaver yesterday?”

Kolchais shrugged. “It is what they believe. And for a long time, I thought they were right.”

“Were the healers and priests unable to help?” Paiokp asked gently.

Kolchais looked down. “There are no healers for the family-less. The one healer my family brought to see me gave a potion that helped the pain, but it didn’t stop it.”

“I’m sorry,” Paiokp said.

They didn’t speak of it further, and soon Kolchais turned their steps back toward the once-weaver’s compound. But Lefeng caught the golden-eyed watching em with eyebrows raised in question. Lefeng grinned and nodded. Yes, ey thought they could do well with this one.

Return to:
Episode 8: The Weaver

Continue to:
Episode 10: The Decision

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

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue to:
Episode 9: The Abandoned

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

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

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

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

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

“Thank you,” Lefeng said.

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

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

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

Lefeng narrowed eir eyes. “Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The remains?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue to:
Episode 8: The Weaver

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

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

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

Lefeng shook eir head. “How?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Raiders?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You have trade goods?” The Hearthsafe asked.

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

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

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

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

“Token?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Return to:
Episode 5: The Idea

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

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

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, why not… why not be a family?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe both of their lives did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

“I want to go home.”

Lefeng opened eir eyes.

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

“Youngling…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lefeng was out of ideas.

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

“What? Why”

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

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

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

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

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

Lefeng didn’t push further.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Return to
Episode 3: The Orphans (Part 1)

Continue to
Episode 5: The Idea

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

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

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

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

“Hail Net-mend youngling. Greetings stranger.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The rest of the village?” Lefeng asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Return to:
Episode 2: The Child

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