Season content notes:
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.
Planting Life S2 E5