Thursday, January 10, 2008


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


Yoj got up with Bux the next morning and they ate breakfast together with the children, who were misbehaving normally now that their emmas seemed to be a solid unit again. Qen announced she felt ill and was staying home, so Bux walked the kids to school. Once they were gone, Yoj moved closer to Qen and said "Have you taken one of Veida's tinctures?"

Veida laughed, a little harshly, and said "I don't have an herb for this one."

"Oh" said Yoj. She swallowed hard, took Qen's hand in her own and said "Then talk to me. As if I can help. Tell me everything. I want to hear it."

Qen eyed her, looked back to Veida, and ran her other hand through her hair -- which was now vaguely pink, with all the white crowding out her red. She said "Not a word to Bux, or our other children. Or even Halling. This is a burden you'll have to carry alone."

"It won't be a burden if it relieves your load" said Yoj, and meant it.

Qen began talking, trying to sort the hull from the germ in her decades with Yerush. A lot of it was, in fact, hard to hear, though not all. Qen had been in love with Yerush since they were children.

After an hour, and two replenishments of tea, Qen's voice was getting a little hoarse. She asked "How are you and Bux doing?"

"Talking. Beginning to see each other's side. Facing the same direction again, as we walk" said Yoj.

"She's not like Yerush" said Qen. "Not in the worst aspects."

"I'm beginning to see that -- although, paradoxically, it was Yerush who led me astray last week about Bux resembling her" said Yoj. She could see this land like a blow on both Veida and Qen.

Qen said "I hope this doesn't wound you further, Veida my love, but I miss Ng so terribly. She'd -- she'd give me drainage for this hard-packed soil I'm in."

"I miss her too" said Veida, and Qen finally cried. For the second time in a week, Yoj held an emma-in-law who was weeping without contraint, as if she were a child again and Yoj the adult. She began to wonder if children's wounds ever healed. She wondered what her own children would carry -- perhaps this past week's events. She turned her mind away from that to listen to Qen.

A while later, as Yoj got a wet washcloth to gently wipe Qen's face, Sigrist radio announced a call for Veida, a birth on Seda.

"Oh, lev" said Veida. "I was hoping to sleep a big part of the afternoon, I'm ragged."

"You could divert the call to Jyoti" said Qen.

"No, I've been with this aggie for three births now, this is her fourth. She's a friend of Moasi's, as well." Veida stood up tiredly. Qen and Yoj stood as well. "I'll go to the loft and get you a change of clothes" said Qen. Yoj began making her travel food, as Veida went to her cupboard for her comadrona bag.

Back in the kitchen, Qen looked at the ferry schedule and said "Unless she delivers very fast, you'll be spending the night there because morrie vaseo will stop around dinner for eight hours."

Yoj said "If that happens, if she's delivered but you can't return -- call the Lofthall from the jichang and ask for a ride. Or go to the hostel, don't sleep on somebody's couch, we can afford it." Yoj pulled coins from her pocket and handed them to Veida. "Eat out, there's a great cafe there, and sleep until you wake up. We'll be fine here. I'll look after -- things."

Veida looked at Qen, who giggled and said "Now I'm being reduced to 'things'", which embarrassed Yoj but they kept laughing at her. Qen already looked better.

Fifteen minutes later, Veida was out the door. Yoj looked at Qen and said "You have a day off. No chores for you unless it's something you enjoy. So, what would you really like to do?"

Qen hesitated, and Yoj said "That -- whatever came into your mind."

Qen said slowly "I'd like to walk up to the Shatters and visit my aggie's memorial. As long as the weather holds. Then come back through the ejida and maybe have lunch with the Botaniste. A long lunch, sampling whatever's new."

"Wonderful. Do you want company, or would you rather be alone?" asked Yoj.

"I think -- alone. But when I get home, will you be here?"

"I will. While you're gone, what needs doing that you don't want to do?" asked Yoj. She made a mental list of what Qen suggested as Qen began putting on otos.

Into the following silence, Qen sat up and looked at Yoj to say "She does love you, you know. I mean, as her child. She sees you well. That's just as true as -- the other. It's confusing that she can be both right and wrong at the same time, but don't give up on the real love."

"All right" breathed Yoj.

"And keep doing the degree work with her. That's sincere, too, not just -- her sinning. We all want you to become a gakusha. We'll see it through with you" said Qen.

Yoj was churning inside. "Tell your aggie for me, I think she raised the most amazing woman on Skene" she whispered. Qen grinned and said "She won't argue with you."

For the rest of the week, talking occurred and tensions were eased, seeds were planted on windowsills and cold frames against the coming spring, and sometimes after dinner, Yoj worked for an hour or so at the kitchen table with Yerush on her paper. She could tell Yerush was uncharacteristically grateful for this continuance, and in spite of Yoj's revulsion at the idea of romance with her emma, they actually had gotten closer. The conversations were often surprisingly rich.

But Yoj's main focus was now on repairing the balance with Bux, and with Halling. On San, they all went to bed when the children did. Yoj leaned against the headboard, Bux leaned against her and Halling lay with her head in Bux's lap. Bux was gently combing out Halling's tight curls with her fingers, over and over, sending thrills through Halling's scalp. Bux's hands were extremely talented.

After sharing all their funny or significant moments with the kids that day, Bux said thoughtfully, "Here we are, clearing our way through our overload of the last few months, and every morning when I get up, my brain feels more like me. Well, I was thinking about all the stories you've told us, Yoj, about how it was that the original settlers went crazy and began attacking each other, because they felt trapped and their usual ways of doing things couldn't work any more."

Halling interrupted, saying "Yeah, that occurred to me, too, that we were all a little looney for a bit."

"But then I realized" continued Bux, "that part of what we're doing -- the three of us, and also my emmas and some of the family close to us -- we're considering change on Skene that nobody else really knows about. I mean, some of what we're talking about over dinner constitutes revolution. A slow and hopefully kind revolution, but all the same -- if it makes us this off-kilter, what's it going to do the rest of the folks out there? When they have to adapt to some of the change?"

"Like what?" said Yoj, her voice keen with interest. She bent sideways to get a glimpse of Bux's face.

"Well, with pilots not dying at the old rate, because of the ability to save each other and other safety measures, that means fewer kids will go into the Lofthall. Experienced pilots won't retire as early. Which means burned out, heartbroken people won't be going into other fields -- not all of them find a way to foster life like Veida did, most retired pilots are bitter and withdrawn. And smart, bold kids will have to find other outlets for their ambition, including going to the U and -- I can imagine new fields of study opening up. It will have a cumulative effect" said Bux.

Yoj, her voice thick with amazement, said "Spoken like a true Sheng Zhang of Rahat!"

Halling sat up, too excited to stay with the hair-stroking. "You know, Bux, not only are you going to be elected Sheng Zhang, but eventually, when you get tired of it, Skene is going to jump at the chance to have you as our Ethicist. And it won't be just a couple of times, like Yerush, it'll be a long golden age of Bux."

Bux was transfixed by this double-sided appreciation. After a minute, she said "We are a force to be reckoned with, this Manage. And we're raising five children right in the heart of the whirlpool."

"They're all incredibly smart and decent" said Halling softly.

"And no two are alike" added Yoj. They admired their children silently for a while.

Halling faced her two partners, pulled her knees up to her chest, and said "I have something to ask you both. And -- it's not as my sweethearts. I need to hear your thinking as a future gakusha and a future Sheng Zhang. Plus -- not a word to anyone else. Okay?"

Yoj felt a chill as she answered "Yes" with Bux.

"I'm considering a change that goes against every rule Skene has" said Halling, keeping her voice soft. She told them her idea. They talked until very late, chasing down each tangent and ramification. When they finally turned off the light and went to sleep, it was with a sense of profound connection and achievement.

The next day, Yoj met Halling at the Lofthall to walk home with her after work. Qala and Lawa were with them, and they were all talking over each other as they came to the turn in their lane. Halling was the first to notice Ried, just leaving her manage, turning to lock the door behind her. Halling nodded her head at Yoj, and all four of them fell silent. Qala stepped forward to stand beside Yoj, and Lawa did the same with Halling. With their shoulders stiffened, and their progress halted, they filled the lane from wall to wall.

Ried glanced up and saw them, motionless and unsmiling. She dropped her key, then scrambled to pick it up and, after a second's hesitation, she unlocked her door again and vanished inside.

Halling and Yoj began howling with laughter. The four of them continued on to the Manage and came in the front door in hysterics. Everyone inside turned to look at them wonderingly, and Halling tried to calm herself down, a little worried about how Bux might take this. But when Qen said "What's so funny?", Yoj poured it out. Bux had to sit down at the table, she was laughing so hard. She managed to gasp "Just think, if you'd had Szebel and Wiaki with you, she'd have soiled herself!" Yoj leaned on Bux's shoulders to give herself up to this hilarious image.

On Ot when Yoj came back from teaching singing, Bux was home looking in the larder, nobody else in the house. Yoj, full of happiness from children and music, wrapped her arms around Bux from behind and said "Your ass, since you've had children, is more beautiful than ever."

Bux slid happily around to face her and, without thinking, suddenly they were kissing. Ravenous kisses. After half a minute, Bux pulled back with a look of guilt and said "Oh, no, I forgot to ask -- "

"I didn't ask either" laughed Yoj. They resumed kissing, and only stopped because Veida came in from the tillage, a grin on her face and her arms loaded with mint. Yoj began her usual routine of breadmaking and laundry, while Bux helped Veida blanche the mint and tie it above the aga for drying into tea.

When Halling came home, Yoj found a private minute to tell her about the kiss. Halling said "Good thing, I'm on the same timetable", and she asked Bux to go with her to put away the chickens. When they came back in, Bux's cheeks were flushed and Halling's lips were a little nibbled on.

At dinner, Mill said "Tomorrow is Market Day, what was the forecast tonight?"

"Heavy chance of rain" answered Halling with a lilt.

"Yippee!" said Mill. "Will you stay home with us?"

"I'll need to go in early and look over hauling schedules, see if there's anything we can do. But I'll come back by 9, and stay home the rest of the day unless something comes up" said Halling, looking at Yoj and Bux meaningfully.

"Yippee!" echoed Ndege.

"How about if I take all of you to Market with me?" offered Qen. "Your emmas can sleep in, and when we get back for lunch, you can wake them up."

"Can we get something at Market?" asked Dodd swiftly. "I mean, besides food?"

Bux mouthed "Thank you" to Qen and reached into her pocket, pulling out small change. "Here's a tenth-ek for each of you, which I'm giving to your abba for safekeeping."

The yells of joy became cacophonous.

"I have five extra loaves of bread for barter" said Yoj "but we're low on yeast."

"We'll get you some" said Qen. She stood up and began gathering empty plates.

"Mill and Ndege, you help scrape the plates and carry out the compost" instructed Bux. "Dodd, it's your turn to feed the katts."

Halling grabbed Prl and Speranz by the collars and said "To the bath room with you, hoglets."

Veida and Yerush began helping Qen with the dishes, silence still noticeable around them. Bux raised her eyebrows at Yoj, who shrugged and went to her study for a piece of paper. She began a list for Market, and Bux leaned against her to add a couple of items. They set it down on the table with some currency, and beckoned their older children into the living room for games when they had finished their chores.

When Halling emerged with Prl and Speranz, shiny-faced and wrapped in towels, she said to Yoj "That bath water is just too far gone to re-use" as she went to their clothes chests for schmattas.

"Okay. Dodd and Ndege, you're up" Yoj called, going into the bath room to start a fresh tub.

Mill got Bux all to herself for her bath. By the time she emerged, the youngest children were already starting to get tired. Yoj spread a quilt on the floor and told them to all get their pillows, they could sing together for a bit and then she'd tell them stories until bedtime. Qen was still sleeping with Prl and Speranz, and Veida looked despondent every night around this time.

Mill complained that Yoj's stories were not adventurous enough, and Yoj replied they had to be quiet because it was time to sleep. After every child had a final trip to the privy and was tucked in, Qen doing the honors for her two companions, Yoj went into the bath room to wash for bed. After a few seconds, Bux slid in the door after her. They began kissing tempestuously.

"I really could use a bath, but it will have to wait" said Bux.

"You know I like you ripe" murmured Yoj.

"In the morning, after the house clears out, we could take a bath together" offered Bux.

"Mmmm" Yoj answered. Then "Let's not go too far without Halling."

"I'm going to the privy, I'll see you in bed" said Bux.

Halling was already sitting up in bed, wearing her schmatta.

"Veida's braving it alone" she whispered to Yoj.

"Yikes, I know" answered Yoj. "Bless you for being so incredible about all this." She began unlacing her gilet and stepping out of her boots. She was down to her knickers when Bux joined them, her face still damp from washing. Bux looked at Halling and said, with a delicious grin, "Whatever do you have that on for?"

Halling laughed and pulled off her schmatta.

Bux said "Who gets the middle?"

"Let's start with you" said Yoj, dropping her knickers into her clothes chest and closing it.

"Turn off the light" said Bux, scrambling in beside Halling.

When Halling rose quietly before dawn and left the room, Yoj woke up and needed to pee. She resisted for a few minutes, dreading the cold dark outside, but finally slid out of bed and, pulling on her schmatta and otos, went toward the back door. Halling was making herself a cup of tea. Yoj waved and hurried out the back door. When she came back in, she went to Halling and breathed into her ear "No Veida this morning?"

"Hard night, I bet" said Halling.

"I'm going back to bed" said Yoj, shivering a little. "Carynn bye." She kissed Halling, who whispered with a grin "You smell like Bux."

"So do you. Hurry home."

When she got back into bed, still wearing the schmatta, and spooned into Bux, Bux stirred and murmured "Your hands are icy."

"I went for a piss."

"Put them under my breasts, they'll warm up fast."

They were both awake now, and Bux rolled over on top of Yoj, kissing her slowly and leadingly. But after a minute, Yoj said "Hang on...there's something I need to tell you. I need to tell Halling, too, but I'll do it separately with her. And please understand, in advance, this is just me to you, I don't expect you to return it."

Bux was now scared. She pressed tight against Yoj.

"Bux -- I don't want anyone else. What I need are you and Halling. I mean as lovers. I just -- I should have told you a long time ago, I was stupid to keep the door open to a room I had no interest of ever entering. I'm never going to sleep with anyone else but you and Hall. You satisfy me completely."

Bux was close to tears. "Oh, Yoj. I can't believe you're saying this after I made a spectacle of myself with the next-door neighbor!"

Yoj laughed. "I don't know about a spectacle, exactly -- "

But Bux was kissing her ardently, urgently, and Yoj responded.

They slept a couple more hours before Halling came home and woke them, sitting on the foot of the bed and shaking Bux's feet gently.

"Hey" she said, when their eyes opened. "Do you want breakfast in bed? Nobody's here but us."

"C'mere" said Yoj thickly, pulling Halling in between them. She began unlacing Halling's gilet as Bux unbuttoned her pants. Halling helped them.

Later, Yoj repeated her promise of fidelity to Halling, who listened intently and said "No strings?"

"None. I understand about Szebel, I really do." After a few seconds, Yoj added "And -- if there should be someone for you, Bux, I meant to say." Her voice was much less convincing on the last part. Bux burst out laughing.

"I appreciate your intent" she told Yoj affectionately.

"Okay" said Halling. "I'm glad to hear it. I don't want to ever look like Qen has."

"Yerush is up to her crap again, I gather" said Bux. "You've been spending a lot of time with her, Yoj, have you seen whoever it is she's hot for now?"

Yoj and Halling were both trying to breathe normally. "I have no name to give you, Bux" said Yoj.

"Well, doesn't matter. Eventually they'll iron it out, they always do" said Bux. "Listen, since we have the house to ourselves -- it's been a while since we all squeezed into the tub together, shall we make the most of it?"

"You run the water, I've got to hit the privy again" said Yoj.

"I'll join you" said Bux, getting out of bed and opening the door.

"You're going outside naked?" said Yoj.

"Um-hmm, with you on my arm. Just in case the neighbors are watching" said Bux with a flash in her eyes.

"I'll start the water" said Halling, laughing.

After a long, playful bath, they dressed and made breakfast together. They were still eating when the emmas and five children arrived home -- they could hear them approaching down the lane, despite the thick front door being shut. The children swarmed them, showing off their purchases, as their abbas put away food.

Ndege's prize was a noisemaker which swung around on a string, both loud and dangerous. Mill had bought yet another kite, this one of an aerodynamic complexity that immediately absorbed Halling; their matching dark heads bent over its struts and pockets, talking about lift and resistance. Prl and Speranz had gone in together on a small bright wagon with a ceramic bed and plastic wheels. They also each had the last remant of a peppermint stick in their mouths.

Speranz grabbed Cheery the katt with sticky hands and tried to persuade her to take a ride in the wagon, but Cheery departed for parts unknown. Bux suggested they go find Petunia, who was docile to the point of inanimation, and they clattered out the back door, calling Petunia's name and dragging the wagon behind them.

Dodd was leaning against Yoj's lap, her prize clutched tight in her hands: A clear glass bottle of dark green ink.

"What are you going to do with the ink?" asked Yoj, a little worried about the lid popping off.

"Write" confided Dodd. "Like you do."

Veida grinned at the unholy joy that appeared on Yoj's face.

"Oh, Dodd, that's wonderful. But you don't have a fountain pen. You use pencils still at school, remember?"

"I know. But really good writing should be done in ink, and someday I'll have a pen. When I get one, I'll have the ink already. Look, hold it up to the light and see the color?" Dodd closed one eye and squinted with the other, positioning the bottle of emerald liquid in a shaft of light from the kitchen window.

"Wait here a second" said Yoj, standing up and going to her study. When she returned, she had two fountain pens in her hand.

"You recognize this pen, right?" she said, laying down the polished silver pen Bux and Halling had given her for her birthday the year Mill was born.

"That's what you write with" said Dodd, tracing it reverently with her fingers.

"Well, this other one" said Yoj, pointing to a squatter pen of maroon ceramic with a chip at the end showing dull metal underneath, "This pen was my graduation present from school. I used it all through University, until me and your emmas began our family. When I first became dichter, this was the pen I used."

Dodd gazed as it as if held magic.

"Here, hold it and see how it fits in your hands" said Yoj. All the adults were now listening, waiting for what was to come.

Dodd unscrewed the lid with her deft fingers, then closed them around the barrel. "It feels really good, emma" she said softly.

"It's empty, been empty a long time. Can you fill it from your bottle of ink?" said Yoj.

Dodd seemed to be holding her breath as she performed this maneuver for the first time without spillage. Bux had gotten a sheet of paper from the kitchen pad in the drawer and brought it back to the table, handing it to Yoj with a grin.

"Now, the trick to writing with a nib is to not press down, not like you do with a pencil. The ink flows like water, and you direct it but you don't force it. Try writing your name" suggested Yoj. Ndege, bored with this turn of events, went out the front door with her toy. Halling called after her "No swinging that where it can hit anybody."

Dodd licked her lips and carefully printed her name: "Dodd La Bux". Then she looked up at Yoj and added "Na Yoj + Halling".

"Does it feel like it could be your pen?" asked Yoj. Dodd finally tumbled to what was happening. She didn't seem to be able to answer, just started into Yoj's face incredulously. "I'd be honored if you'd allow me to present you with your first fountain pen" said Yoj, kissing Dodd's cheek.

Dodd flung her arms around Yoj's neck, taking care, however, to hold the pen away from all contact.

"Oh, thank you, emma, thank you so much!" she cried.

Qen said, from the door to the larder, "Next year when you're in my grade's second year, Dodd, I'll let you do your schoolwork in ink if you promise not to spill on my floor."

Dodd returned to writing, trying cursive, which made the nib grab at the paper more. Mill said in an aggrieved tone "How come she gets your pen? I'm the oldest."

"She's a writer" answered Halling. "It's a tool she needs."

"What tool do I need?" asked Mill. Then, before Halling could answer, Mill added "Since I'm going to be a lighter."

It wasn't the first time Mill had expressed a passion for lighting -- every child on Skene wanted to fly -- but the matter-of-fact tone in her voice and the look on her face always surprised Yoj with the realization that this was, absolutely, what Mill was meant to do.

Halling's face was conflicted. Mill, oblivious to the unrest she was causing, continued "I know! You can give me your guibba when I graduate from school and go into training. Can I be the one to get your guibba, emma?" She turned and looked into her Halling's face beseechingly.

Halling pulled her to her chest, her eyes closed tight. Mill took this for a Yes and wriggled free, running to the coat rack and pulling down Halling's guibba to try it on. Resignation in every motion, Halling stood up and went to help her.

Yoj had to look away. Bux put her hand over Yoj's and they communed for a minute. Then Yoj said "Okay, I need to start lunch. Dodd, if you'll scoot down to the end of the table, you can keep writing."

Yerush said "Can you leave me some space too? I got a twenty-weight of plums and I'm going to make jam."

"Jam!" cheered Mill from the living room.

"Sure" said Yoj, finding it easy to talk to Yerush normally today. She said in a lower voice "You know how the smell of sugar drives them crazy -- if you'll save a cup or two of the first simmer, I'll bake a jelly roll for dessert tonight."

Yerush's face flushed and she looked away from Yoj to answer "Good idea."

"I'll scald some jars for you" offered Bux. Qen and Veida both went out the back door to work in the tillage. Halling came to Yoj and said "I'd like to take Mill to fly her new kite up in the Shatters, plus whoever else wants to go. Will you be all right without me here?"

There was an undercurrent of meaning in her question. Yoj gave her a steady look and said "Fine." Then, turning to Dodd, "Do you want to go fly kites?"

Dodd was torn, but finally said "I'd rather keep writing. If I write a poem, can I read it to you?"

"Of course" said Yoj. Halling went to the back door and called out her offer to Prl and Speranz. They burst in with "Yesses". Then Yerush said "They'll get very hungry before you return."

"I'll take some ikan, and fruit" said Halling.

"I'll make some riceballs in a jiffy" said Bux.

Yoj helped pack a quick lunch for Halling's pack. Veida brought in a basket of ripe tomatoes and new lettuces, and she carried a big bowl of salad with ikan and riceballs back out to the tillage for her and Qen to share in the sun.

Once all the children except Dodd were ushered out the door with Halling, clutching kites and balls of string, a quiet fell over the house. Bux did dishes, boiled jars, and chatted sporadically with Yoj as Yoj started garbanzo beans simmering to make a spice-paste later, then chopped cabbage for vinegar slaw. Dodd breathed heavily out her mouth as she labored over her poem. Yerush, settled in her chair at the other end of the table, sliced and pitted plums. A ripe smell of vinegar and fruit filled the air. Bux and Yoj found many opportunites to brush against each other.

Once the bread was under way, Yoj washed her hands and said to Bux, who was sitting on the counter, watching her, "What now?"

Bux pulled her in between her legs and kissed her sweetly. "I hate to say it, but we still have laundry piled up and I think the gutters at the back of the roof need clearing out."

"I'll do the laundry" said Yoj. Gutters might mean shu.

Dodd called from the table "I'm done!"

Yoj turned around in Bux's arms and leaned against her. Bux fitted her chin into the curve of Yoj's neck as Yoj said "Let's hear it."

Dodd stood up to rock back and forth as she read her poem. By the second verse, Yoj had goosebumps coming up on her arms so strong that Bux noticed them and rubbed her flesh for her. At the end, Yoj burst across the room and lifted Dodd into the air.

"That was incredible, my darling darling Dodd!" exclaimed Yoj. Dodd crowed with laughter. Yoj set her back down and took the poem from her hands, sitting down to go over it line by line. Bux joined them, leaning over their joined heads.

Yerush's voice interrupted them from the stove where she'd put on a vast pot of plums to cook.

"It really is remarkably good" she said with a note of surprise in her voice. Bux flashed a wide smile at her, bent down to tell Dodd "Did you hear that? The most respected gakusha on Skene thinks your poem was remarkably good."

After a long discussion of word choice and line construction, where Dodd revealed a strong intelligence behind her gift for expression, Yoj pinned the poem to the larder door with magnets. Dodd was itchy with accomplishment. She was given a choice of helping with laundry or gutter cleaning, and after an apologetic look at Yoj, she opted for the outdoors with Bux. Yoj went into the bath room and began sorting piles of laundry as the cistern filled with boiling water.

Four loads later, their clothesline was filled to capacity and the bath room basket was empty. Yoj punched down the final sponge, cut it into loaves and put it in the aga. Four loaves, the muffins and three dozen rolls were cooling on the sideboard. Yerush's face was sweaty and pink from stirring the slowly cooking jam. As Yoj headed for the back door, Yerush said quietly "I'm sorry."

Yoj thought, If that's a confession, I don't want to hear it. But she turned to face Yerush and said "Bux is my beloved."

"I know" said Yerush. "I love her." Then, after a double heartbeat. "I love you, too."

Classic Yerush ambiguity. Yoj suddenly remembered Veida's admonition to not have private talks with Yerush about this. She said "I love you back, emma", coming down hard on the last word, and went outside.

Bux was done with the gutters and was using the washwater Yoj had just drained into the runoff tank to flush the privy. Dodd was squatted beside Qen, weeding and repeating her poem for the tenth time. Yoj looked for something to do, but Veida and Qen had turned compost, raked the chicken run, and harvested the tillage into rustling green order.

Yoj wandered over to look at the basket Qen and Veida had filled. "What do you want for dinner?" she asked.

"Squash and the root veggies can keep. We should eat the peas and kale tonight" said Qen, looking up at her with a face more peaceful than it had been the past 24 hours.

"Some of those tomatoes are enormous -- how about stuffing them with spice-paste and rice?" said Veida.

"Yummy" called out Dodd.

"We have great big sakana fillets from yesterday" said Yoj. "And I could steam the kale with a few pieces of bacon."

"A feast" declared Bux, coming to wrap her arms around Yoj's waist. "There's a dance tomorrow night on Verzin, and the ferries run until midnight."

Before Yoj could answer, Qen said "I'll stay home with the children, the three of you could go without them for a change."

"Bless you" Yoj told her. Then, to Bux, "You want to pick out my dancing clothes for me?"

During the resultant long kiss with Bux, Yoj briefly had the uncharitable thought that she really hoped Ried was watching.

Halling returned with some agreeably tired children just in time to wash for dinner. Qala and Lawa were already there, helping Yerush seal the last of her jars of jam. After cleaning plates and eating every last crumb of jelly roll, all five kids were allowed to stretch out on the grass in the back and make up constellations in the vivid night sky. Katts sat nearby, cleaning themselves and on shu patrol.

On the way home from the dance, the next night, Bux told Halling and Yoj that she, too, had decided she would never want another lover: Her heart was complete. Halling said "Well, now the pressure's on me, I guess."

"Not at all!" said Bux, spinning Halling into a waltz on the ferry deck. "You stay with that Yanja firebreather as long as you want! Yoj and I will wear each other raw when you're gone."

Several other passengers laughed out loud, and Halling was mortified. But Yoj cut into the dance and they tried to figure out how to waltz as a trio. Yoj knew she had Bux back, all the way, the Bux she'd always known.

Copyright 2007 Maggie Jochild.


letsdance said...

delicious, Maggie.

Blue said...

I am enjoying this novel immensely. Especially the hard parts.