Monday, December 24, 2007


This is draft one of my sci-fi novel Skene. To read earlier chapters, go to LABELS in the right-hand column on this page, scroll down to the Skene tags and click on the one you want to read. Skene is set on a human-habitable planet in the Alhena star system at least 500 years in the future. There's a considerable amount of appendix material and diagrams also available here as needed:
Map of Riesig (the main island)
Map of The Manage on Riesig
Skene Glossary (Skenish to English)
Skene Cast of Characters
Skene Culture, Calendar, Clothing, and Islands
Map of All Skene
Map of The Lofthall on Riesig


The next morning at daylight, Bux, Halling and Yoj had a quick breakfast and loaded themselves up with extras from their allotment. Yoj added two lengths of silk from Rosz's crates and matching thread, letting Halling choose the colors that she thought Ng and Moasi would like best. They trudged up the lane and over to the second ferry landing on Riesig's western shore, across from Argile. At Argile, they had to walk overland in fresh rain, catch another ferry to Seda, and traverse Seda as well. They stopped in at the kinusanger dorm shared by single women who worked in the silk caverns and were in time to see Halling's next youngest sibu, Tu, right before she left for work. They drank tea but the visit was short.

On the other side of Seda, the trio caught their last ferry, to Motu Fling. The same faryaste Halling had seen weeks before was at the helm, and on questioning, declared the job was hers now, Ng had given it up and no one else wanted it. Once they were out of earshot, Yoj asked "And didn't Ng travel to Argile to do her keramiker work?"

"Yes" said Halling shortly. This meant Ng had no income at all except the allotment all Skeners got and whatever Moasi and her partner were bringing home.

The Manage on Motu sat atop a hill that had two terraces below it containing tillage and outbuildings. The southwestern corner was lichen-covered rocks giving way to a gabal that looked out over the deep between Motu and Krk. An underwater shelf along the southern curve of this deep had allowed a hard-won morrie vaseo to be built, giving Skene early access to Krk and, more importantly, Byli. Yoj remembered a couple of times going home with Halling when they were children in school and having ro ride the ferry with Ng because Halling's other emma was not home yet. She'd kept a faryaste-child's sharp eye on the buoys marking the narrow passage, a line Ng always threaded snugly.

Yoj always compared itself to Isola in her mind: The land area was about the same, but the house on Motu was not just larger, it had been kept in much better shape. The tillage was considerably more extensive during Mwezi's time had been lush and productive. Now, as she climbed the steep stony path beside it, she could see that much of it was currently fallow.

Halling walked right in the front door without knocking. Moasi's partner, Ktiva, was sitting at the kitchen table and spilled her tea in startlement. When she saw who it was, she looked relieved and came to welcome them. They piled their bundles on the table as Ktiva explained that Moasi had already gone to work.

"I'm going in on the next ferry run -- I've been transferred to the shipments area, and we go later because of the commerce schedule" she said.

"You just missed the ferry we came in on" said Bux apologetically.

"Oh, no, it'll go on to Krk and Byli, then circle back" said Ktiva. "We've got 20 minutes or so. Do you want to come back with me so you can see Moasi?"

"Where's emma?" said Halling, looking at the loft over the kitchen.

Ktiva lowered her voice and said "She really can't go up the ladder any more, Halling. We've moved her bed to the corner of the living room. She doesn't always get up before I leave for work. I take her tea and breakfast, plus leave a sandwich for lunch, but -- well, she's still not eating much."

Halling strode into the living room calling Ng's name. After a moment, they heard a low reply. Yoj and Bux stayed in the kitchen with Ktiva, to give them privacy. They helped Ktiva unwrap the packages they'd brought and put away the food items.

After a few minutes, Yoj asked Ktiva in a whisper, "Does she leave the house at all?"

"No" said Ktiva, with a worried expression. "She has a great deal of trouble even walking around the house. She can't make it to the tillage any more, or even to the privy -- we empty her chamber pot for her. Moasi bathes her, and I do as much of the gardening as I can, although I'm not nearly as good as Ng was. But mostly she's here alone, lying in bed."

Yoj looked extremely upset, and she said to Bux "That's not Ng at all. Not even after Mwezi died, which broke her heart -- she's tough as scrap."

"She's in pain all the time, I think" whispered Ktiva. "It's dimmed her flame."

When Ng finally appeared in the doorway, leaning on two metal crutches with Halling walking protectively behind her, Yoj was shocked by how gaunt she had become and the deep pain in her face with each step. Yoj got her a kitchen chair ready and Ng settled into it with a groan. It took her a minute to catch her breath. When she had, Bux knelt in front of Ng, taking the hand Ng extended and saying sweetly "Nan Ng, I am delighted beyond words to see you again. It's a honor to see where my beloved Halling grew up."

Some of the lines had left Ng's face with sitting. Ng kissed Bux's palm formally and welcomed her to Motu Fling. She asked if they had eaten, and Bux said yes, but she stood and began to make more tea for them all. Yoj came to kiss and hug Ng. After she sat down, she showed her the silks they had brought, and Ng's face lit up, fingering the fabric. Ng had an artist's eye for color and line.

Halling helped Bux get tea on the table, as Ktiva finished getting dressed for work. Bux was exclaiming over the teapot and cups, and Halling said proudly "Every dish in this house was made by emma. I've never seen any pottery better than hers."

"Hear, hear" said Yoj sincerely.

The ferry horn sounded as it chugged up to the dock. Ktiva apologized but said she had to run.

"We'll stay until you and Moasi get home" said Halling.

"You'll have to take a night ferry, we'll make it home on the last ferry for a few hours and morrie vaseo doesn't open back up until just past 8:00" warned Ktiva.

"That's fine" said Halling. "We'll make you all dinner."

"Good, then" said Ktiva, "We can visit more." She rushed out the door.

With a great deal of coaxing, Halling got Ng to eat some toast and part of an egg, well as a cup of tea. After an hour upright, Ng's face began to look drawn again, and she said she needed to lie down, her hips were flaring. Halling helped her into the living room, and returned with Ng's chamber pot in her hands, heading outside for the privy.

When Halling returned, they conferred briefly. Yoj and Bux said they would go work in the tillage all day, getting it in complete order, except for meals which Bux offered to make. The house was clean and tidy, but Yoj found a pile of laundry in the bathroom and began with that. At noon the the sun came out, along with a sea breeze, and Yoj was able to fill the clotheslines with her wash.

Halling stayed with Ng, reading to her or talking with her when she was awake, just keeping her company while she dozed. The four of them ate lunch sitting on or around Ng's bed. Bux's excellent potato soup with carrot-cheese biscuits tempted Ng to sip down half a bowl. When Ng wasn't in pain from movement, she was alert and curious as ever, with a bluntness of speech that reminded Bux of Yoj more than Halling.

In addition to weeding the garden and bringing back herbs, Yoj cleaned out the chicken house, which Moasi and Ktiva had restocked with hens, and gathered several eggs. She called to the Fling's katts to accompany her everywhere she went, bribing them with lavish petting, but she didn't see a single shu all day.

Bux roasted the Manage chickens they'd brought, stuffing them with rice and garlic. Yoj made a pie from dried apricots, she'd carried three loaves of her bread from home, and they also had a lovely salad from the tillage. When Moasi and Ktiva returned home, they were thrilled with the meal ready for them. Ng struggled back to the table and ate a few polite bites of everything, a few extra of the pie.

They lingered over dinner as it got quite dark. Yoj had brought in her laundry and sat folding it while Bux did the dishes, refusing to let Moasi or Ktiva help. Halling and Moasi told funny stories from their childhood, then gossiped a bit about their missing sibs. The youngest, Lawa, was working at Byli for the Skene ejida, and seemed completely uninterested in dating or romance. Moasi thought Tu had two different sweethearts she was keeping secret from each other, although how she pulled that off in a small community like Seda, they couldn't fathom.

Finally Ng said she needed to lie down again, and Halling helped her to bed. She remained with her until they heard the ferry horn. Bux and Yoj went in to say goodbye to Ng, kissing her fine cheeks and promising to return soon. Halling was crying as they walked down the trail to the ferry landing, Moasi's arm about her waist.

"Nobody comes to see her, none of her friends?" said Halling, wiping her face.

"They're all very busy and some of them are also in troubled health" said Moasi. "Ktiva's parents are getting frail, she's their youngest, and we've talked about bringing them out here with us, but that would eventually mean one of us has to stay home with them. And I'm planning to aggie this year, as you know."

"Don't worry about the loss of income" said Halling, "I'll cover that." She dug into her pockets as Moasi began protesting, "No, Ktiva and I are earning enough, she's my emma, it's no problem" but Halling forced her to take 15 eks and promised to send more right away.

The ferry was now docked and waiting on them. Halling and Moasi hugged tight, and Moasi kissed her sibs-in-law, urging them to come back any time. She stood on the dock waving until Halling could not see her any more.

The ferry trips back were inexpressibly sad, and also deeply frightening to Bux and Yoj because of the leviathan song drifting over the black waters around them. Morrie vaseo was much harder to believe in when it was dark. Seda and Argile were both quiet, and they did not stop for a second visit with Tu because it was so late. Finally reaching Riesig again, Halling took two steps toward home, then sank down onto the bench at the landing and let herself really cry.

Bux and Yoj held her from either side, and Yoj said "It's no good, Hall. We can't leave her like that. If she can't get to the garden, and can't see people, it'll do her in."

"Moasi's doing everything she can" sobbed Halling.

"Of course she is" said Bux. "But not as much as we could."

"What do you mean?" Halling said after a second, looking up at her.

"I mean we've got an extra room, on the level, with privacy for her, plus a tillage she can reach even on those crutches, and lots of us around to help look after her. My emmas are her generation, and I'm sure Veida could do something for that rheumatism destroying her bones. And she adores you, Halling, she'd get to see you every day and hear all the news firsthand. She has to come live with us, that's all" said Bux.

Halling gazed at her, then Yoj, who nodded emphatically.

"Yerush will never agree to it" said Halling. "She's just gotten the expansion she's longed for, she won't want to give up a room to my emma."

"It's not her decision to make, it's all of ours" said Bux defiantly. "And I know I can get Qen on my side. It'll be four against two -- no, that's not even right, Veida will be on our side, too. You let me handle this."

Halling couldn't take her eyes from Bux's face. "You really mean it?" she whispered.

"She's beautiful, Halling, she's your emma which means she's my emma now, too, and I want a chance to have her around for our children" said Bux passionately. Halling began crying again, but this time from relief.

When they walked on down the lane home, all three emmas were still up, waiting on them, a little worried. Halling, with her tear-stained face, explained the delay as Qen got them tea and fussed over her. They sat down wearily and told the story of their day, leaving out only the final conversation at the ferry landing.

Bux led with turning to Veida and saying "Emma, I'm sure there are tinctures, teas, maybe salves that could help her. Would you be willing to help me get those together for her?"

Veida assured her she had several ideas already. Then Bux turned to Qen and said "She's not eating, she's thin as a rail. I think she's so lonely, she's given up. And she used to be a gardener as well as a keramiker, can you imagine not being able to get out into your own tillage any more?"

Qen's face was flooded with empathy.

"Well, then" said Bux, "I think the solution is for her to move in here with us. We have a room to give her, and thanks to Halling in particular, we have the income to support her. I'd like to save her life, if we can, for the sake of her grandchildren yet to come."

It was beautifully done, and only Yerush could have seen it coming. But Yerush's face showed no give as she answered, slowly, "So you offered this to her, without asking us first?"

"Of course not, emma" said Bux. "We didn't say anything about it to her or Moasi. Still, I was certain, given the values I've been raised with, you'd reach the same conclusion as me. That's what I said to Halling and Yoj on the walk here."

She had Qen now. Qen said "We could put railings on the one step down into the tillage, and set chairs next to the raised plots -- she could handle most anything, sitting down, I imagine. And I could get her to eat. I remember her so well from school, we were in first grade together, you know. She was the liveliest child around, and very smart."

Veida had a grin on her face. "It's a good plan, Bux. Still, it's a large burden to add on to a Manage that's intending to also have children."

"Well, that's part of the beauty of it, she adores children, especially babies, and is wonderful with them, Halling says. We'll have someone home every day to help with the little ones" said Bux, spinning creatively now. In truth, Ng was devoted to children, though Bux hadn't been told such.

Bux added "And if you're worried about what we'll do when one or all three of you are elderly and infirm and we need to care for you as well -- we'll manage. We'll do whatever it takes, just as we mean to do with Ng."

That reminder was enough to bring Veida solidly around. She had moved into this Manage when Yerush's aggie still lived here and needed much care, at the end of her life. Veida believed in doing what was asked of her when it came to family.

Yerush, however, was every bit as stubborn as Bux. She said, softly, "Well, but you're assuming Ng will want to leave behind the Manage she's lived in for decades and move in with a bunch of strangers, that she'll accept your charity. It sounds to me as if you may not be completely thinking about her best interests here."

Charity: There, the word was out in the open. Combined with the hint that Bux was being selfish. Yoj sat back in her chair, amazed at Yerush's dexterity.

Bux met Yerush's eyes, blue meeting blue, and said "You may be right, aggie. She may not wish to uproot herself, even for her favorite child and two in-laws who love her. And I absolutely will not force it on her if she says it's not right for her. If it comes to that, then the three of us will need to move out to Motu Fling and allow Moasi and Ktiva to return to Seda where Ktiva's parents live. I can stay home and care for Ng as long as she's got to live, we can afford to lose my income. And Halling" she turned to her, "Your idea about borrowing a lighter each evening to fly you and Yoj back and forth so you don't have to commute on ferries, I'm sure the Sheng Zhang will agree to it rather than lose you as a sinner. You grew up on Motu and look how you turned out -- I'm convinced our children will love it just as much as you did."

Halling couldn't seem to close her mouth. Yoj wanted to lean over and kiss Bux in sheer congratulation. Qen's protests had already begun when Yerush gave a cackle and burst into raucous laughter.

"You take the cake, Bux, you absolutely do" she declared. "How long did it take you to come up with that maneuver?"

Bux began laughing too. "Not long."

Yerush pretended to doff her hat down the table at Bux. "Well, if you're willing to come up with such blatant lies to pull this off, who am I to stand in your way? It must be something you can't be happy without. So I give in, you have my consent. Just promise me you won't try to manipulate poor Ng this way."

By this time, everyone but Qen was laughing. Qen looked at Bux, troubled, and said "Did you not mean that last part, then?"

Bux stood up and came to hug Qen. "I don't know, emma, I might have if I got desperate enough. But you all love me too much to let me get that desperate, don't you?"

Halling said to Yoj "What's going to happen when we get the way of something she wants?"

Yoj, grinning, said "Well, good thing there's two of us."

At which Bux snorted and said "I already have you two, that's what I wanted most."

The next day after work, Halling wrote long letters to Ng and Moasi, as well as explanatory notes to Tu and Lawa. She proposed that Ng come for a visit to Riesig and see the Manage, the tillage, and share a few days in Halling's life. She stressed that they would need her help with their future children and the tillage, if it could be arranged. Halling said she would fly to Motu after work on the day of Ng's choosing and bring her back. A group of pilots could carry her to the Manage. She begged Ng to consider it a visit, if nothing else, where Halling and her partners could have more time with her.

Unbeknownst to anyone, Qen wrote her own letter to Ng, reminding her of their schooldays together and urging her to come, if only for their children. She said she would be interested to hear Ng's opinion of their tillage and any advice she might be able to give, as someone who had successfully gardened in another environment. She added if Ng felt up to being toted around by Halling's exhuberant pilots, they could take a tour of the ejida greenhouses led by her friend the botaniste.

Ng was as smart as Qen remembered. Pride was not an intelligent boundary to circumscribe one's life, Ng knew. Sometimes you have to say yes to help. She agreed to the visit, to the lift and the pilots and even to the greenhouse tour. She said she would be ready by the following Ot.

Yoj made bread the night before, an extra several loaves because they anticipated inviting to dinner the pilots who carried Ng up the lane. They had samaki, a pork loin, a goose and a bucket of clams for the feast. Yoj and Bux had hauled down the Isola Fling chairs from the school and placed them strategically around the tillage for Ng to sit in. They didn't have time to get Jua to come make railings for the back step, but they placed two more chairs there set into buckets of sand for stability, turned backwards as makeshift bars to lean on. The botaniste tour was scheduled for Shmonah, time of day depending on pilot availability for portage, and Yerush had insisted on going along this time.

Yoj and Bux heard the pilots' singing as they came up the lane, and opened the front door just as they arrived. Ng was laughing, despite the pain of being jostled, and Halling simply picked her up and carried her to the kitchen as if she were a large child. Bux had cushions ready for her chair, next to Halling's at the table, with a commanding view of the kitchen and much of the living room.

After introductions and greetings, with a special something between communicated between Ng and Qen that caused Yerush to frown, Yoj and Bux served tea and appetizers. They insisted the emmas sit down at the table with Ng and the pilots while they finished the last dinner preparations.

Ng kept laughing throughout the meal at the pilot's banter. When Sigrist radio announced heavy rain as the next day's forecast, a huge cheer went up. Halling said "If you want to go to Riesig Market with us, we'll get this rowdy bunch back to carry you" and at their eager urging, Ng finally said yes. The food vanished at an alarming rate, and Halling was gratified to see Ng eat more than just one bite of everything. Veida had dropped tinctures into Ng's tea at intervals, and although she got very tired by the end of the meal, her color remained good. She began to resemble the Ng whom Yoj remembered.

Halling chased the pilots out of the house after they gorged on dessert, reminding them to eat breakfast at the Lofthall before coming at 8:30 the next morning. After they were gone, Halling said "We can't feed them as often as they want to eat here".

Ng struggled to her feet and let Halling show her the guest room where she would stay. She declared it beautiful and asked Bux long questions about the quilt on her bed. Halling offered to draw her a hot bath, and when Ng hesitated, Veida said she had some herbs to put in the water if Ng wanted to soak. Ng accepted then, and Halling got her into a deep steaming tub littered with of bags of floating herbs.

Coming back to the table, Halling's face was radiant. Veida gazed at her with satisfaction. Qen whispered to Bux "Did you put a chamber pot under her bed and a chair in there for her to lean on?"

"Yes, emma" said Bux happily. "She already looks better, don't you think, Yoj?"

Yoj grinned and said "How could she not? Thank you so much, all of you."

"She loved the flight in" said Halling. "I took her over Seda and Argile three times, then we buzzed up and down Riesig until I'm sure folks wondered what was up. I guess she's not sorry now I went to flight school, huh."

Yerush stood and said "Well, let's decide what we're taking to the Market tomorrow, shall we?" Veida joined her to look in the larder, then go outside with a flash and do a last-minute harvest of the tillage. Qen, however, contrary to her usual habit, stayed at the table with the younger women. At one point, out of the blue, she said to Halling "It feels right. Her being here, I mean. Like a full circle." Which brought tears to Halling's eyes.

When Halling helped Ng to her bedroom, Qen followed and stood in the doorway to ask "How do you like your eggs best, Ng?" Ng grinned and said "Scrambled. With onions. What about you?"

Qen giggled abruptly and said "Do you remember that time some poor child, I can't remember her name, brought a hard-boiled egg for her lunch and forgot about it? Left it in a corner of her desk for weeks, as the odor crept all over the class room."

Ng laughed heartily and said "Oh, I'd forgotten about that! It was bitter winter but we began leaving the windows open and huddling in our manteaus. The children sitting nearest her began accusing each other of having dirty knickers, until finally the leraar did a desk-to-desk search and discovered the foul thing."

"That poor child, she got called Stinky after that for almost a year" said Qen.

"I never called her that" said Ng. "And neither did you." After a pause, she said "Thank you, Qen."

"The pleasure is mine" answered Qen. Halling looked at them curiously. "Sweet dreams, Ng" said Qen, leaving the room.

"You too" replied Ng, lying back and sighing at the comfort of the bed. Halling kissed her and shut the door.

A little while later, as Halling snuggled up behind Yoj in their own bed, she whispered "My emma. My emma's just past that door." She wriggled in happiness. Bux kissed her and said "What were she and Qen talking about?"

"Some child at school they called Stinky, except they didn't call her that. I'm not sure" answered Halling. "But at least Qen likes her."

"They'll all love her, just you wait" promised Bux.

Ng was agonizingly stiff the next morning but pushed herself to come to the table and eat Qen's eggs. She bundled up tightly for the Market outing, complete with an umbrella, and roared when the pilots carrying her through the rain-soaked streets began referring to her as the Grand Poobah. She found herself dazzled by the goods displayed and the crowds. Qen stuck close by her, making sure to barter for things that caught Ng's eye. The pilots were tireless and gladly consumed all pastries Bux and Yoj kept buying for them. By the time they got home, they were laughed out and just sat at the table for a while after the pilots left for the Lofthall canteen.

Then Yerush said she'd throw together a soup, and Yoj offered to make sandwiches to go with it. Ng got to her feet and said "I'm ready to see this legendary tillage", which drew a slight frown from Yerush, who suspected sarcasm, but only a laugh from Qen. Veida, Qen and Halling led Ng outside, where they remained until Yerush called them for lunch in twice, the second time sharply.

Lunch was dominated by talk of growing things. Veida and Ng, sitting next to each other, had found a common language and their conversation was excited, nonstop. Qen was the third corner, and Yerush found herself all but ignored. Halling, Yoj and Bux at their end of the table had discovered they were all starting their menstrual periods at the same time, and were quietly absorbed in looking at a calendar, calculating what season and year they should try for getting Bux pregnant.

After lunch, Ng said she really had to rest and went to lie down, but it was a genuine nap this time, not the retreat they'd seen at Motu Fling. Halling, Bux and Yoj trudged back and forth to the school several times, bringing the last of Rosz's silks and the other crates to show Yerush and Qen.

Qen insisted in adding Isola's few dishes to their collection on the sideboard. She and Bux then made a list of the fabrics, considering yardage and possible garments for the future, even as Yoj and Halling stashed the crates in loft storage.

That night during dinner, Ng and Veida began discussing how to create optimal duck and goose feed for the flock yet to arrive. When Qen joined them, Yerush covered her sigh and pushed her way in, too, asking questions where she had no expertise.

After dinner, as everyone lingered at the table to drink tea and talk, Qen appeared with a bottle of pale blue lotion and stood next to Halling, saying "Switch chairs with me for a minute." She turned Halling's chair to face Ng, sat down and held out her hand to Ng, saying "Give me your hand, please.

"What for?" said Ng warily, not moving.

"This is one of Veida's magic ointments, let's see if your helps your joints" said Qen, taking Ng's hand gently but firmly in her own. Ng's expression was torn. Qen poured a little of the liquid into Ng's palm and began rubbing in gentle spirals outward. Within a few seconds, Ng's face registered relief and she breathed out heavily.

Halling walked around the table and sat down next to Yoj. "Hi" she said brightly. Yoj smiled at her and said "Hi" back.

"I've seen you around, I think" said Halling in an adolescent voice, fluttering her eyelids a little. "What's your name?"

Everyone began grinning, even Ng with her eyes closed as the heat of the lotion spread into her knuckles.

Yoj said earnestly, "Well, those who are closest to me call me -- the One and Only Dichter of Skene." Bux began giggling.

"Oh, I have heard of you, One and Only. You must know all those cute pilots at the Lofthall!" exclaimed Halling coquettishly.

"I've slept with every one of them" said Yoj modestly. "Twice."

Veida brayed with laughter. Bux's grin slipped slightly.

"Oh my goodness!" breathed Halling. "Could you possibly introduce me to a few of them?"

"Introductions will cost you one ek each" replied Yoj. "Except for that Halling -- you can meet her for free, 'cause she kisses like a shu."

"I'd heard that you were the one person on Skene who knew what shu kissed like!" retorted Halling. They began trying to playfully punch each other, almost sending their chairs backward, until Bux said "Cool it, you'll crack your skulls."

Rubbing Ng's hands, and sometimes her knees and ankles if she was in her schmatta, became a twice a day ritual for Qen. Ng remained slightly embarrassed by it but never protested, and within a couple of days, everyone could see that she handled a fork with much more ease, that her gait was less grueling. Veida continued to prepare special teas and give Ng drops of tincture, as well. By the end of her week there, the gauntness of Ng's face disappeared as she ate normal portions every meal. Her grey hair took on body and shine. When Yoj remarked on it as she and Halling got ready for bed that night, Halling stopped unlacing her gilet, sat down abruptly on the side of the bed, and put her face in her hands, weeping.

"I was so scared for her!" she said from behind her hands. Bux sat down beside her, and Halling lay her face on Bux's shoulder, saying "Your emmas are saving her life!"

"She's our family now, too" said Bux. "She's my emma, too."

Yoj gently removed Halling's otos and kalsongers as she cried, and they both helped her into a schmatta. Calm again, she lay in the middle and dropped off before they joined her in the dark.

Ng had begun getting up with Halling before she left for work, joining Veida in seeing her off. She was deeply moved by Veida's love for her child, and told her so one morning after Halling was gone. Veida replied "I see how you've taken to Bux, as well. They're glorious children, and I'm so glad they have one another."

Bux gave up meeting Halling after her work shift, instead staying with Ng in the afternoons. When Halling and Yoj arrived home, they would find Ng and Bux deep in laughing conversation. Halling went to Ng first thing and kissed her, then Bux. After she went in for a nap, Ng would go out to the tillage and be working there when Qen got home and joined her.

The last night of Ng's planned stay, after dinner she took Halling's hand and said "Moasi and Ktiva are expecting me back at Motu tomorrow." Bux's face fell, and Yoj felt her stomach turn over. Halling began saying "But emma, I really want you to stay -- "

Ng shushed her, and turned to face her contemporaries at the other end of the table. "I'm well aware that what I mean to you is charity" she began. Qen threw Yerush a furious glare, then actually stood up to protest "That is not what I feel."

Ng raised her hand, with its gnarled knuckles, and Qen paused.

"It may be the loving charity of family, I grant that" Ng said. "But after a week of your care, things have altered enough for me that I have hopes it doesn't have to remain that way. I can't do all of my share, but I can work the tillage here, I can care for myself, I can help prepare food if it's brought to me at the table, and I can definitely love babies." She grinned hugely at Bux, who grinned hugely back.

Ng continued. "I would like to earn my way entirely. And I have an idea. Please excuse my presumption, but I can see enough space in that new back room of yours, off the tillage, to hold a potting wheel. I think my hands are improved enough for me to resume being a keramiker, and it is my passion as well as my talent. If you will front the cost of buying a wheel, a kiln, and the slip and clay, and do the work of taking my wares to market, I am certain I can pay you back within six months."

Halling again tried to argue, saying "You don't have to pay anyone back -- "

"But I want to be independent, Halling, and I think I can do this" interrupted Ng. "On Argile, I was earning an income of 25 eks per year after expenses, and that was with a merchant taking a large cut because she transported my product to market here. If we sell them on consignment here, in the central district, I imagine the income would go up to 30 eks."

Ng didn't try to conceal her satisfaction at the shock on Yerush's face. Even Halling was surprised. "Really, emma? I had no idea."

"Before your aggie's long illness and my decline, we had a large savings" said Ng. "So, what I'm saying is, I'd like to stay here with the provision that I try to earn my way." She turned to Halling directly and said "I can think of nothing I'd like more than to live with you and your beautiful family. You are the child every emma longs for."

Halling flung her arms around Ng as Yoj found herself fighting tears. Qen held Yoj's hand tight and Yerush managed to smile down the table at Bux.

"Oh, and one more request" said Ng. "When you begin having babies, please let them sleep with me until they're old enough to climb into that loft."

Halling cried "I remember waking up between you and aggie, it's one of my earliest memories. You were so sweet in the mornings. You'll be a gift to my children."

Ng leaned against Halling and the resemblance between them was never more striking. Halling said joyfully "We can write Moasi and Ktiva tomorrow, then pick a day next week to fly back to Motu after work and get your things. She'll be sad but Ktiva's emmas will luck out."

Qen said "So...where does one go to barter for a potting wheel?"

Copyright 2007 Maggie Jochild.


C. Diva said...

Is "Grand Poohbah" an anachronism?

Maggie Jochild said...

Yes it is, Cowboy Diva. Great catch.

C. Diva said...

"doff her hat?"

Maggie Jochild said...

Pick away, but I don't know what might be off with this one -- the gesture, the term? What are you thinking?