Saturday, December 22, 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


Later, after a bath and getting dressed, Yoj had gone into her new study and was trying again to take it in when the emmas came home. Qen called out "Yoj! Yoj! Oh, there you are." She set down a basket of small green pears and dark red cherries and said "We stopped by the furniture place and, oh, Yoj, do they have just the desk for you. But it's -- well, I'm not going to tell you, you just have to come see."

Yoj snagged a couple of cherries from the basket and, eating one, said "All right. Let's get Bux."

Veida and Qen put away the perishables while Yerush showed off the new clear glass globes for the light fixtures. Then the three of them accompanied Bux and Yoj to a large shop off the main street that was crowded with every kind of furniture to be found on Skene. The shopkeeper saw them come in the front door and walked toward them.

"This is our child Bux and her partner Yoj" said Qen. "Yoj is the one who needs a desk."

In the back corner, under a stack of metal kitchen chairs and small lamps, was a dark gleaming expanse of wood. The emmas cleared it off to reveal a desk with a built-in array of small shelves and cubbyholes. It had four drawers on either side of a kneehole, and it was the most beautiful piece of furniture Yoj had ever seen. To be frank, she'd never seen a wooden desk.

"Wherever did you get this?" she marveled.

"Someone who lived on Bosco and worked with wood made it from a tree called mahogany. It was in the family for a long time, but the last of them died out and it came to me. No one's been able to afford it" said the shopkeeper bluntly.

Yoj was instantly wary. Bux, however, could not keep her hands off the lustrous grain. "It reminds me of your hair, Yoj, in the sunlight" she said. Then she turned to the shopkeeper and said "How much?"

The figure made Yoj hold up her hands and said "Well, it's a dream then. We can't possibly -- "

"But she has something equally extraordinary to barter" put in Qen.

"You mentioned that" said the shopkeeper, now the wary one. "Care to enlighten me?"

Yoj looked at Qen blankly. Qen nudged "It's in storage at the school. Rosz's, you know".

"Oh" said Yoj. She paused, and Qen said "Unless you've changed your mind, because it's a family heirloom and maybe we should just keep it, in case one of your children wants to -- "

"No!" said Yoj. "No, I'd rather it find -- another home. With someone who will treasure it just for what it is." She faced the shopkeeper and said "It's a floor loom of golden oak, mortise and tenon joined, made at least a hundred and fifty years ago. It stands six feet tall and five feet wide, with both a breast beam and a knee beam. Its sides are carved and inlaid with emma of pearl mythical creatures. The heddles are ceramic-coated steel. The reeds are stainless steel and unblemished. It's in perfect working order, and was used by Rosz of Isola Fling, the finest takashkinu on Skene. I am her eldest and heir."

Bux was very moved by the pride in Yoj's voice. It apparently affected the shopkeeper, too, despite her merchant's acumen. After a few seconds, she cleared her throat and said "I'll have to see it."

"It's at the school and you can either view it there, or we can bring it here, but if we do the latter, it has to be worth our while" said Yoj. She and the shopkeeper fell to haggling in earnest. The emmas drifted off, knowing this would take some time.

"She'll need a desk-top lamp" said Qen to Veida.

"And a good chair" added Yerush. They split up to rummage through the shop.

By the time Yoj was done, she had the desk, the lamp and a chair of her choosing. "If the loom is what you say it is" warned the shopkeeper.

"Our partner can deliver it by sinner later today" said Yoj. "We'll return to help unload it then and you can see for yourself." They shook hands, and the emmas were able to hold off crowing in delight until they reached the sidewalk outside.

As they were patting Yoj's back, she said, grinning, "What time is it?"

Bux found a clock. "Just past 1:00. No wonder I'm so hungry!"

"We need to meet Halling at the jichang" said Yoj. "Just this once, let's go out to a cafe and treat ourselves. We can pick up something for Halling, since I'm going to make her work right after her shift."

Like a flock of chattering schoolchildren, they went to Bux's favorite cafe and got barbecued goat buns with yamsticks and a lemon bar apiece. Then they walked over to the jichang and sat at the side, eating and watching the first lighters come in. They were done chewing by the time Halling landed. Yoj met her at her hatch and said "I hate to ask this of you, but we have a need for your hauling." She handed Halling her lunch and Halling joined them to sit and eat as they told her about the desk and loom swap.

With a huge grin, Halling said "I'd be really honored. But one of you needs to scoot over to the fish docks, we caught a hnisa today and I want some of those steaks for us."

"I'll go!" said Yerush. "See you all at home." She strode off.

Halling made sure she had chains and blanket wraps in her sinner, then said "Meet me at the schoolyard."

An hour later, the exchange had been made and Yoj's new desk was in the lane in front of the Manage as Halling flew off. Veida and Qen were inside, having carried Yoj's new chair and lamp home. Bux and Yoj talked over how to get the desk through the door, then decided to wait on Veida and Qen's muscles before going further.

By the time the desk was in place in Yoj's study, they were all sweating. It filled one end underneath the clerestory and smelled of lemon polish in the warm afternoon air. Bux plugged in the lamp, turned it on, then leaned over the side of the desk to give Yoj a big kiss as she sat in her chair. Halling's voice came from the doorway, saying "What a beautiful sight."

"As befits the dichter of Skene" said Bux, going to kiss her as well.

"Are we going to that dance on Bosco tonight?" asked Halling.

"Absolutely" said Yoj, standing up. "Which means you need to bathe and get some sleep. I'll make hnisa for dinner, if you want."

"Of course I want" said Halling.

But Qen stepped in and said "I want to go to that dance, too, and I was up almost as early as Halling. I suggest we all go take a long nap and then we can have a late dinner. I'll marinate the hnisa with tarragon and mustard in the larder, it won't take more than a few minutes to broil it."

"You're on" said Veida, heading for the ladder to their loft.

Bux, Yoj and Halling grinned at each other. "I still have to bathe" said Halling.

"We'll wait up for you" said Bux.

The following day, after sleeping in, Bux finished painting the headboard of their new bed with a panoramic view from Sigrist Poke, complete with Halling flying by in a shining lighter. Once it was dry, they and the emmas grunted it over the high railing of the loft and down gently to the living room floor, then sideways into the new bedroom. Finally outfitted with the new mattress and sheets, it looked like "where I intend to sleep the rest of my days", according to Yoj. They dragged over their clothes chests, hung new metal presses over each chest for their silks, and screwed a small lamp to the wall at one side so Yoj could read in bed.

On Shmonah, everyone but Halling walked up to the school and carried back the three-person bed from Isola Fling. Yoj scrubbed it thoroughly in the lane with vinegar water and then lemon oil before it went into the house. After Halling got home, it took all six of them to get it up into the loft. Halling said "I guess when you talk with Jua about building a ladder to the new roof area, you'll have to negotiate for another mattress, 'cause this one is shot."

"We have to barter for the coldframes, too" added Veida. "And shelves for the starts room."

"Shelves for Yoj's study" added Bux.

"The greenhouse, and which trees to go in it" said Qen.

"And books for Yoj's study" said Yerush.

Yoj looked up at that. "I thought I'd bring those from my cubicle -- at least, what I'll need here."

"Yes, but I have access to printing privileges of volumes at the library that I'm not using up each year. If you'd like to look at the directory and pick out things for yourself, we can add those to your shelves" said Yerush.

Yoj was bowled over. "Oceans, Yerush! Where is this directory?"

"It's at my office. Stop by tomorrow and I'll loan it to you. Just between us, of course" grinned Yerush.

"You might wind up never needing to go to the library again" said Bux hopefully.

Yoj sighed and said "Bux -- the library is where I made my connection with you. For that matter, it's the place where Halling and I first discussed being -- more than friends."

"I didn't know that!" said Bux, looking at Halling.

"So I'm not eager to give it up" said Yoj.

Bux looked upset.

"Not because she might find someone else there, you rockwit" explained Halling, giving Bux a nudge.

Yoj laughed resignedly. "Whatever Yerush can get printed won't begin to approach what are on those shelves. For that matter, even I don't have access to what I really want to read on those shelves."

Yerush said "If you do become a gakusha, that would increase your access."

"How far?" wondered Yoj.

"Well, with my area of study, I can read anything in the library stacks and can apply to the Archivist for anything in her stacks as well" said Yerush. "But she turns me down about half the time. Plus, some of the material is in non-published form."

"On disk, you mean" said Yoj.

"Yes. And reading those requires her presence" said Yerush.

"Well" mused Yoj. "If I ever find an apprenctice to be dichter that I could trust, I could go part-time and pick up my studies again. As long as I'm daydreaming, maybe when I'm older, I can apprentice to become Archivist."

Halling looked troubled but tried to hide it. Yoj put her arm through Halling's and said "Not to worry, sweetheart. As long as your life is on the line, I'm your dichter. That comes first."

Halling still looked troubled, however.

"Come on, you planning fiends" said Yoj. "Let's make a list of what needs doing when and divide up the work still in front of us."

Qen got a pad to make notes.

The next day, Bux and Yoj let Halling sleep in as the rain came down in sheets outside. Yoj walked Bux to the ferry for her off-island wandmaler job and then went on to her cubicle. When Halling got up, only she and Veida were left in the house.

Halling ate toast and yogurt as Veida played with figures on a pad. "What're you calculating?" asked Halling.

"Cost vs. benefits of various numbers of ducks and geese" said Veida.

After a few more bites, Halling said "How do you know that sort of thing?"

"I grew up on Beras" said Veida. "Listen, when you're done, you ready for some hard labor?"

"You bet" said Halling.

After she had on old clothes and a burzaka, she followed Veida out to their new strip of tillage on the other side of the expansion. A red string tied to metal stakes indicated their new property line. Between it and the new rooms was a space of just under seven meters. The soil was heavily compacted from all the recent construction work, and there were many standing pools of water.

Veida said "I think it'll be at least three weeks before there's a surplus of new hatches on Beras for us to acquire our flock here. And this soil needs to be aerated, anyhow. I'm thinking we could turn it lightly with forks, even as wet as it is, and sow winter rye. It'll give the ducklings and goslings something to eat right away when they arrive."

They tramped out a border with their boots, giving the ronyangers room to build their wall and stopping at the place where a fence would block off the flock from the rest of the tillage. They began turning soil in the middle, Halling working up toward the wall beside the lane and Veida back toward the rest of the tillage. Halling relished the sound of drops pelting her burzaka hood, the smell of wet earth, the thrum of her increasing pulse, the growing warmth in her body as she added fresh strips, six inches at a time, of dark churned soil.

Veida was done ahead of her and yelled "Meet me at the shed" as she vanished around the corner of the house. When Halling was finished, she shimmied over the wall into the lane, walked back to the wall next to their lettuces, shimmied over it and walked to the shed, wiping down the tines of her fork with her fingers as she went. She gave it, then her hands, a rinse from the nearby water tank hose. Chickens clustered hopefully about her feet: Maybe it was magically time for dinner.

As she dried her fork with a rag in the shed and hung it on the wall, she said "Okay if I give the chickens a little midday snack?"

"Sure" said Veida. She was measuring spoonfuls from a bag of seed into two big cans of sand.

Halling filled a third can with chicken feed and stepped to the doorway of the shed. A chorus of warbles and clacks greeted her, and she began flinging handfuls into the driest part of the run. She remarked "The bag is the same as the feed we gave our chickens at Motu, but the feed looks different to me."

Veida grinned at her. "We add two quarts each of vis and dried kelp to every bag. Makes for much healthier chickens. And eggs."

"Aha" said Halling, examining her palmful of feed. "Is this why we get all those double-yolks?"

"Yep" said Veida. "Well, that plus Pinny. Her line are amazing layers."

"Which one is Pinny?" asked Halling. Veida came to point her out, then her children and sibs.

"I've noticed we don't seem to sell the double-yolk eggs" said Halling.

Veida leaned one arm on Halling's shoulder and grinned again. "Qen just won't indulge herself much, but a double-yolked egg, that we can tempt her with. So we save them all for her. We mark them in the larder with an x on the round end." Then, casting a critical eye at the swirl of chickens fighting for Halling's tosses, Veida added "I see we've got five -- no, six -- capons ready for slaughter. We can do that next, if you're up for it."

"I am" said Halling. "How do we get pullets and capons, when there's no chanticleer here?"

Veida returned to her seed measuring as she answered, "There's a Manage up near the school with a cock, I'm sure you've heard her in the mornings. Her lineage is good for our hens, so every so often we borrow her for a couple of days. We let Pinny and other good layers keep their eggs after those visits and raise the chicks. From that we select a few new layers to replace those who may be fading out. We pay for the service with a capon or two."

Halling joined her at the shed bench. Veida was adding bright blue powder to each can of sand and seed. At Halling's quizzical expression, Veida said "This is ground clay pigment, harmless. But it'll help us see where we've already broadcast seed."

By the time they were done sowing rye, their palms were vivid blue. They rinsed their hands at the water tank again, released Pinny from the shed where she had gotten locked in earlier, and selected out the six capons, putting them into a mesh carrying-crate. Veida took them to the other edge of the tillage, next to the new boundary, and set them down with a plastic cloth over the crate to keep it dry. "I like to let 'em settle for a bit, it affects the meat if they're upset" she said. "And I never slaughter anything in view of the others. Just not right."

They went in the house to drink tea and warm up. Veida put a giant pot of water to boil on the aga for scalding, and they spread a dropcloth under the table to catch feathers. As Halling refilled their tea, Veida sharpened a wicked-looking cleaver. Katts slowly trailed in through the katt door at the corner, sitting expectantly around her.

"They always know" said Veida, nodding at the katts. "We give them the heads and feet, Yerush won't eat 'em and doesn't want 'em at the table."

They walked back out to the crate, now quiet, with a smaller knife to remove the entrails and a bowl to collect giblets. Veida took the capons out one by one, holding them tenderly and keeping them calm until the last minute. They didn't even have time to squawk before they died. Halling insisted on doing the next two, and demonstrated this was not her first time at it. The katts got their share, and Halling carried in the carcasses and giblets while Veida went to put away the crate and wash their tools.

Halling was scalding a second carcass when Veida joined her. As they plucked, Halling asked "So, if you were a duck-and-goose kinda Skener, how did you wind up at the Lofthall?"

Veida looked at her keenly. "Been a long time since I thought about that." There was a long pause, then Veida said "We clip their wings, you know. When they get up to a certain age, keeps 'em on the ponds. And the first time my emmas showed me how, my aggie pulled out an anatomy chart. It was mostly about how to cut them up for cooking, or the cycle of eggs, but there was an inset showing flight muscles, how the bones are porous, construction of feathers -- all about how they managed to defy gravity. I got curious."

Halling's eyes were bright. "Curiosity is our version of wings, I reckon."

Veida laughed. "My aggie was so put out with me when I said I wanted to go into lighter training. Did everything she could to stop me. I was the oldest, you know. They were terrified my three sibus were going to follow me into danger."

"Did they?" asked Halling.

"Nope. Next oldest stayed on Beras, partnered well and took the Manage. Last two also stayed there. Beras is a good place to live, really. Peaceful and plenty to eat."

"I'd like to meet your sibs, next time you go visit, if I can get off work" said Halling.

Veida was moved. "One is dead, but yes, I'd love you to go with me. And Paha lives nearby to them, lots of family at hand."

"My aggie came from Seda, so that's always felt more like home than Motu, in some ways" commiserated Halling. "Although I would never want to work in the caverns like two of my sibs do. I'd want to be out in the mulberry groves, at the very least."

"How'd you get to flight school, then?" asked Veida.

"Xaya" grinned Halling. "I mean, I did want to fly, you can't fake that. But I'd have followed Xaya anywhere."

"Even into the silkworm caverns?" teased Veida.

Halling shrugged. "Xaya grew up on Abfall right next to the robin nesting grounds, so she watched baby birds learning how to fly. Plus, she just loved motion of any kind. And I had the science and math skills, I tutored her through our courses. I love all kinds of work, hands or head, but I can't imagine having turned out to do anything but flying now."

"It means a lot to me to have another pilot in the house" said Veida softly.

"Me, too" answered Halling.

They were almost done plucking when Yerush and Yoj came in the front door together.

"You've been busy" said Yerush, leaning over to give Veida a kiss.

"Does this mean roast chicken for dinner?" asked Yoj.

"I'd say it does" answered Halling, accepting her own kiss.

"We've not had lunch, despite how late it is" said Yerush, opening the larder door.

"Us neither" said Veida.

"Well, what's fast and won't need chicken-mussed work space to prepare?" said Yoj, joining Yerush.

"I'd like something hot" requested Halling, putting her last cleaned carcass in the pan on the table and going to the bathroom to wash. Veida gathered the dropcloth carefully and took it outside to shake out over the compost pile.

When they returned, the table was scrubbed down, the pan of carcasses was near the sink, and Yerush was chopping onions while Yoj sliced bread.

"Melt some butter and oil in a skillet for grilling tempeh and onions" Yoj told Halling. Veida had a mound of spinach and carrots that she washed thoroughly at the sink after scrubbing her own hands. Yoj took over the frying from Halling so Halling could rinse the carcasses and put them in a clean pan for cold storage.

As they were eating, Yoj suddenly asked "Are your palms blue?" Veida and Halling began laughing. Before they could explain, Sigrist radio came on with a crackle and said "Call to Veida, comadrona of Riesig Pliss. Xichon of Argile has begun sudden labor, requests your services."

Veida began shoving the last of her salad into her mouth as Yerush got the ferry schedule and checked the times. "There's one in 40 minutes from the north landing, can you make that?" she asked.

"Yep" said Veida. "Will you pack my bag while I wash again and change?"

Yerush got up and began filling Veida's leather valise with bottles of herbs and other items from her cupboard in the living room, calling out questions to Veida as she went into the bath room. She then climbed into the loft with Veida and put together an overnight bag as Veida dressed. Fifteen minutes later, they climbed down. Yerush took a handful of coins from the kitchen jar, giving them to Veida and saying "I'll call the Sigrist, tell them you're on your way. Have a good baby!". They kissed and Veida all but ran out the front door. Yerush made her call and returned to lunch.

Yoj said "I don't think we should roast that chicken until she gets back, since it was her effort helped get it ready."

Yerush smiled at her and said "That's sweet of you. I could chop more onions and make a brown soup."

"There's a new batch of mushrooms, I noticed" said Halling, "They'd go good in that."

After lunch, Yoj said she was going back to the furniture store to check out shelves for her study. Halling offered to go along, adding "If you buy something without Bux's approval, well, I wasn't with you, okay?"

"Coward" said Yoj amiably. She did find four floor-to-ceiling shelf/cupboard combos in different metals, all of them used, and got them at a good price by arguing they all had to be refinished. "I'll let Bux be the one to strip and repaint them, and that'll make her happy with 'em" she said to Halling. They staggered home with their awkward double armloads and stashed them in the corner of the tillage for the time being. Yoj sat at her new desk and tinkered with her latest song while Halling did all the prep work for dinner, leaving the actual soup-making for Yerush to finish later. Then she mopped the kitchen and, taking advantage of a brief late afternoon patch of clear sky, weeded both lettuce and pepper beds thoroughly.

Veida got home late the following afternoon. Xichon's fourth child arrived after only six hours of labor to a smoothly-running Manage. Veida's payment was in hard currency plus a small carved box of mulberry wood as an extra gift. Veida hid the box so she could give it to Qen at her upcoming birthday.

At dinner, Qen announced "I'm having dinner next Empat with the botaniste. We're going to walk through the greenhouses afterward and consider all the possibilities for our own greenhouse here. I'll be home late."

After a pause, Yerush said "Why don't you ask her to dinner here? I'd be happy to cook for her, and we can all discuss the possibilities, perhaps walk over to the ejida together for a tour."

Qen said smoothly, "Oh, her dinners are extraordinary, not to be missed. She has ingredients no one else on Skene does, you know. And, well, our conversations go off into tangents the rest of you might not find as fascinating as we do."

Yerush was going to protest further, but Qen said, looking only at Veida, "I promise I'll bring all the plant information back to you, we'll make that decision together." Veida smiled and said "Have fun, then."

Qen tossed in "We'll likely make this a monthly event. The botaniste says her interactions with me are a highlight she wants to make regular." She was still not looking at Yerush.

Halling was trying so hard not to laugh that she choked on her roll. Bux got up to thump on her back and Yoj brought her more tea. By the time this was over, the conversation had moved on. Yerush's face was not pleased, however, through the rest of the meal.

After dinner, Halling carried out the compost and the separate bucket of scraps to feed the chickens. After filling their trough, changing their water, and shutting up the henhouse for the night, she was coming out the gate to their run when Qen emerged from the privy. Halling stopped and said, quizzically, "Qen, just between you and me -- do you and the botaniste have a sweetness going on with each other?"

Qen glanced at the house, to make sure they would not be overheard, then giggled and said "No. Absolutely not. We're really just kindred souls when it comes to growing things. But I let Yerush suspect an affair is either happening or about to happen. It makes her a little crazy."

Halling burst out laughing, and Qen put her finger to her lips.

Halling said, in a lower voice "Seems only fair. But -- honestly, Qen, you're a very attractive woman -- are you sure the botaniste isn't perhaps hoping for more?"

Qen's grin was delirious. "This is an absolute secret, Halling, all right? The botaniste is a Y, and she only likes to go to bed with other Ys. She is having an affair, but not with me and she's not the least bit interested in me that way."

Still giggling, Qen went on to the house. Halling stopped to rinse out her bucket, and to wonder how Qen knew this private information about the botaniste, if the question had never arisen.

The following Ot, Yoj came in from her singing lesson at the school and immediately began making bread. Bux returned a while later from her two-day wandmaler job and Yoj kissed her joyfully, getting flour and bits of dough all over her. When they could finally pull apart, Bux said "Where's Halling, still asleep?"

"Yes, but she'd want you to wake her up" said Yoj. Before Bux could leave Yoj's arms, however, Veida came in from the tillage and Qen opened the front door. Bux had to show off her wandmaler payment -- two pounds of honey and comb in a big blue glass jar, plus a pound each of peanuts and filberts.

"My goodness, your work must have dazzled them!" explained Qen, holding the honey up to the light. Bux laughed gaily. A few seconds later, the bedroom door opened and an almost sleepwalking Halling said "Bux? Is that you?"

Bux flew into her arms and they had a sweet reunion. Halling let Bux pull her into the kitchen still in her schmatta to show her the honey and nuts. They made Halling's eyes light up, but not as much as looking at Bux's face did.

Qen opened the larder door and said "What sounds good for dinner?"

"Well, honeycakes for sure" said Yoj, grinning at Halling, who replied "I brought kala from the docks -- I thought we could press it for the oil, then make frycakes from the flesh."

Veida held up her basket and said "Chard, brussel sprouts, cress, and a few golden beets." She went to the sink to scrub the vegetables. Qen took kala from the larder and Bux got their press from a shelf. Yoj went to rinse the load of laundry she'd started. Halling took her chance to get dressed.

An hour later, Halling was setting the table as Yoj pulled out a batch of dinner biscuits, along with a pan of cake she immediately drizzled with honey. Qen was beginning to watch the clock when Yerush came in the front door, her frizzy grey hair even frizzier from the light rain just beginning to fall. She came into the kitchen, pulling off her manteau, and said excitedly "I have news!"

After a brief pause, she said "The Genist has an appointment available tomorrow afternoon! It opened up suddenly, and Raisa said you three can have it if you want it."

The mention of Raisa's name did nothing to improve Qen's mood. Halling, Bux and Yoj looked at each other -- they hadn't thought to see the Genist for another three weeks. Halling said slowly "The forecast tomorrow is for heavy rain, and I told emma the next rain day I had on a weekend, I'd come out to Motu and visit. With you two along." Halling had been going weekly to visit Motu Fling, borrowing a lighter mid-week to spend the afternoon and dinner with her family before returning to Riesig, but so far Yoj and Bux had not been able to accompany her.

Bux picked up the ferry schedule by the radio and studied it. "The ferries will run in our favor on Sju as well, if the rain continues. Which it likely well, this time of year."

"I guess I feel ready. I mean, nothing's going to change in three weeks, right?" said Yoj. She could see that Yerush was beginning to look irritated, but this was not her decision to make.

Halling said "I don't see how we can pass it up. If I take a letter right now to the central box, emma should get it tomorrow afternoon and, well, she'll be disappointed but she'll understand." Halling went to Yoj's study to write a quick note, then put on her burzaka and hurried out the door.

"Will Raisa be at this meeting?" asked Qen, a little chilly.

"Of course" said Yerush. "And that's to our favor. She is a friend of this Manage."

Not everyone in this Manage, thought Yoj, looking at Qen's stiff profile.

"When Halling returns" said Yerush, "I'll talk you all through the process."

Yoj took off her apron and said "Yerush, will you finish the last of the frycakes, please? Qen, I want to consult with you about something in my study."

It was transparent, but Yoj didn't care. Once in the study, she offered her chair to Qen and leaned against her desk to say "I want your honest opinion. Should we take this earlier appointment? And should we bring one of you with us? My vote is for you, of course."

She was gratified to see Qen's face completely go soft. "Oh, Yoj -- I do so appreciate being asked. But no, it needs to be just the aggie and emmas. And yes, I think it's a grand opportunity."

"Yerush is all politics and business sometimes" said Yoj. "But I'm just a hick from the Flings who wants with all my heart to be an emma. You did this for your three -- got any advice for me?"

By the end of their short talk, both of them felt immensely better. Just as Yoj was about to open the door, Qen said "What excuse are we going to use -- for you consulting me in here, I mean?"

"No excuse needed" said Yoj, grinning. "I actually know how to be oblivious to others, too." Which made Qen laugh all the way back into the kitchen.

Halling had returned, and they were ready to sit down. Bux was telling Yerush about her wandmaler job, and Qen slid in calmly next to Yerush without a word.

Copyright 2007 Maggie Jochild.

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