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.

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Episode 11 The Grandparents


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

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Season Finale

Planting Life in a Dying City: Season 1, Interlude — Tschoum

Season Content Notes: Natural disaster/death, ableism

Pronunciation Guide

Tsouchm got breakfast, as usual, from a rundown cooking-family by the docks that catered to the familyless. Ey sat and ate alone, unusual among even the family-less in eir stubborn individuality. When ey was younger it had seemed a fine thing to make emself a reverse of the society that had rejected em. Not for em the banding together in unsanctioned “families” that mimicked (and mocked) the ‘proper’ families that ruled the city. Ey went eir own way, as eir own person, and did eir own thing. Ey had survived, and even to some small extent thrived, alone since eir Cenn died when ey was still a child.

But lately, ey had been feeling regrets. Age was creeping up on em. It was a fine thing to walk alone amidst the whispers and stares as a young one, daring the world to react to eir choice. And if ey could be sure of a quick, clean death, it would not be a bad way to finish eir life.

But the memory of eir cenn dying slowly, coughing out eir life over long, horrible weeks, haunted em. Nothing could have saved eir Cenn, but the dying would have not been as hard if there had been anyone other than a poor child to take care of em. It was, Tsouchm thought, the beginning of old age and these creeping fears that had em dreaming of eir cenn’s death so often of late.

For the first time since Cenn died, Tsouchm found emself wishing for a family to belong to.

It was with these things in mind that Tsouchm heard the gossip. The two strangers ey had spoken briefly with a few days before, given directions to the husk of a family compound where old Chotaikytsai stubbornly held on, sought to form a new family. That last night they had been seen moving all their things into the once-weaver’s place.

From the gossip, not many would bond with strangers. Why force a new family into being when one could live life as best ey can with friends and unfamily? But Tsouchm was curious. Ey had done business with Chotaikytsai many times over the years. They had become friends. Ey didn’t know Kolchais as well, but the younger had frequently been at Chotaikytsai’s home when Tsouchm had visited the last several years. So they knew each other.

Deciding to humor eir curiosity, Tsouchm paid for the tab and headed out.

Arriving at the burnt-out compound set off a familiar routine. Or should have. But it was a stranger who came to open the gate, the lean far-walker who had constantly checked eir stride to keep from outdistancing eir companion. Ey would not let Tschoum in immediately but asked em to wait. Family propriety was already reasserting itself.

Chotaikytsai was technically not familyless but family-last. And ey had been raised in exactly the kind of family that would least encourage a marriage to such as Tsouchm. When eir family had lived, Tschoum would not even have been allowed inside the gate except for occasional day-labor. But to Tschoum’s relief, Chotaikytsai came to the gate a moment later. Ey greeted Tsouchm as always, with full courtesy, giving respect to eir rank among the familyless.

Tsouchm had always liked Chotaikytsai, and the once-weaver’s respect was part of why. Ey was the only one from a family who looked at Tsouchm as a person deserving of respect and consideration.

Tsouchm had at one time considered a liaison with Chotaikytsai but had decided against saying anything. The weaver was still very much a child of the families. And one thing that stuck with em from eir childhood was that no physical liaisons were to be had outside of the marriage group. It would have shamed eir family.

Chotaikytsai’s loyalty to eir family had made Tsouchm doubt the rumors. But the stranger who had opened the gates went to join another stranger and a child. They were clearing the remains of the burnt house while Kolchais sat nearby talking with them.

“I heard rumors but did not know what to believe. You will do this thing?”

Chotaikytsai nodded. “I had thought to never be a grandparent. But the cycle has turned and it is time to start anew.”

Tsouchm grunted. “I hope that this cycle is a good one then.” Ey looked around the familiar compound. “I… expect I shall see you less often. Now that you will have a family.”

Chotaikytsai flipped a rude hand sign meaning ‘root rot’. “You have been a friend when I needed one most. You will always be welcome in my home and my family’s home.” Tsouchm laughed and shook eir head. Ey should have known better than to think Chotaikytsai would go all proper on em.

They spoke for a few more minutes, and then Tsouchm took eir leave, much distracted.

Tsouchm had enough saved by that ey didn’t need to seek work for a few days. So ey went to the edge of the dockyards and squatted in eir accustomed place. Any of the familyless who wished to seek em out knew they could find em there. A twinge of arthritis reminded em of eir age. Ey didn’t know how old ey was. Like many familyless Tsouchm had no one to remember eir birthing and no younglings to count the years by. But eir hair had grayed several years ago, so ey was probably of an age with Chotaikytsai.

One of eir neighbors stopped by, needing information on what families were hiring for day-labor. They haggle briefly, but Tsouchm’s heart wasn’t in it.

Unlike proper families, the groups the familyless formed were all the same age. When those eir age were banding together, Tsouchm had been taking care of eir cenn. Cenn had been part of a group, but they all died either before Tsouchm was born or while ey was very little. So ey and eir cenn had no one else. Tsouchm could only have joined a group by leaving eir cenn to die alone. And ey refused to do that.

By the time eir cenn finally died, ey had a reputation as a loner. Even if the groups forming by then would have been willing to accept someone older, everyone just assumed Tsouchm wanted nothing to do with any group. And ey had been too proud to ask.

So Tsouchm made a badge of eir alone-ness instead. And it had worked for em. Ey was known and respected not just by the family-less but also by some of the families. Ey had even done business a few times with members of the council. And ey never looked back.

It was a bold thing these strangers were doing. They had to have had families. No one born to familyless-ness would have considered it. To start a new family with strangers, trusting that the belief in family and what it meant would be enough to bind them together for generations.

Tsouchm grimaced. Old age was making em too prone to endless thinking and not enough doing. But, ey admitted, in this case, there was a reason for that. What ey was thinking of doing scared em.

Slowly, Tsouchm stood up and headed for eir tiny room in the port district. Ey changed into eir one set of good clothing and strode back to the compound which was once the home of the color-work weaving family. Boldness and refusal to apologize for who ey was has gotten em this far. Ey would ride that current where it took em now.

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Episode 11: The Grandparents