Friday, August 21, 2009


Fresh cherries photo by Taylor Kennedy

To begin reading this sci-fi novel or for background information, go to my Chapter One post here. To read about the background of the first novel, read my post here, which will also direct you to appendices.

For more detailed information, posted elsewhere on this blog are:

Pya Dictionary from Skenish to English (complete up to present chapter), with some cultural notes included
Pya Cast of Characters (complete up to present chapter)
Map of Pya with Description of Each Island
Map of Skene (but not Pya)
Map of Saya Island and Environs When Pyosz First Arrived
Skene Character Lineage at Start of Pya Novel
Skene, Chapter One (With Cultural Notes in Links)


When Pyosz went to bed, Curds and Ember were both sitting on the window sill -- facing away from one another, but still, it seemed like a major development. She laid out her clothes for the morning and dropped off without reading.

She woke up some hours later to a percussion that seemed to rattle her bed. Katts had thudded to the floor and were snarling at each other. Someone had hit the side of her cabin. Terror filled her throat, but she managed to yell "Who's there?" When there was only silence, her terror grew to the point that her hearing was filled with the drumming of her own pulse. She tried to think of something she could use as a weapon, but there was nothing in the cabin.

Curds jumped onto the bed with a low growl and Pyosz reached for her flash. She looked at the window, to see if there was a face looking in at her. After a minute, she turned her flash on the window. Something was different, she couldn't tell for sure this far away. She turned off her flash and dressed in record time, glad for the steel toes in her otos, however much they might have pained her earlier. She used her flash again to look outside, seeing nothing, but standing right by the window, she could see a hairline crack in the glass and a dent in the steel screen outside.

Whoever it was, they had struck her window.

She called out "I have an axe and I will use it, you shitter." When there was still not a sound from outside, she crept to her cabin door, flung it open and leaped outside, slamming it behind her. She ran crazily to the barn, avoiding smacking full on into her wain at the last second with a pivot and a shriek. Inside the barn, she flicked on all the lights, launching a chorus of alarmed bleats. She dashed into the tool room and grabbed the newly-sharpened axe she had boasted of seconds before. All right, now she was armed.

She climbed into the mow, where the loft door stood open. From the side, she stared out into the night for several minutes. Each ripple of grass or dip of a tree branch momentarily stopped her heart, but finally she decided whoever it had been, they must have gone.

She left the barn quietly, axe in her right hand, flash in her left, and went to inspect the outside of her cabin, hoping for footprints. Instead, below her window she found a small scatter of pale feathers. She picked up one of them, amazed at how downy it was, and sniffed it.

An owl -- perhaps The Owl -- had been unable to resist the lure of two juicy katts outlined there, and tried to break its way in.

It was a relief in one sense, and newly unsettling in another. She went to her kitchen, turned on the light and started water heating for tea. The sky was completely overcast, and she could smell rain in the air. She made herself a pot of chamomile tea, added milk and a little honey, and took it back to bed. Curds was now sitting on the trunk, with a new expression on her face.

"You know the story here now, huh" Pyosz said to her. "Death in the dark for katts on Pya."

Pyosz leaned her axe on the floor beside her headboard. She read in her goat care book until the tea was finished and her adrenaline rush had dissipated. She turned off the flash and slid down into the covers. She felt a weight jump onto the bed with her and said "C'mon, Curds, you want under the covers?" But it wasn't Curds, it was Ember. "Well, well. Glad to have your protection, Ember." The katt curled up against her back and Pyosz went to sleep easily.

The roof was rattling with rain when her alarm went off. She carried her teapot and clothes to the kitchen and dressed while mutton stew heated, along with tea water. She pulled out the owl feather from her buksers pocket and studied it as she shoveled stew into her mouth. Probably from its underlayer she thought. She tucked it into the front of her logbook. Inside the back cover, she made a two-column table and filled it with a time conversion chart, what hour it was in Skene when it was a certain hour here, for quick reference.

The barn smelled remarkably better, and she fancied the goats were in a better mood as a result. She shaved another ten minutes off her milking time. Curds came out of the cabin cautiously and headed straight for under the kitchen table.

When Pyosz got to the djostiker's, Kolm said "I don't get here before 6:30, you should know that at the rate you're going." She added "I'll be open tomorrow on Roku for Market Day, of course, but I don't work two days of the weekend, I don't know if Mill told you that."

"She hadn't. That means I store the milk in the coldbox? Will it be okay?"

"Yes. It'll have a lot of cream at the top, and you'll have one lev of a haul next Moja, is all."

Pyosz thought And I'll still have to get up for milking. But not trekking in, that'll be a break.

Pyosz went by the allotment center next. She placed her order for lumber and filled out interminable forms affirming that yes, the wood was being used for production on Saya, not to build unauthorized structures or personal furniture. She likewise arranged for rental of a honey extractor, hot knife uncapper, and solar wax melter the following week. She said she'd arrange for delivery of all items through Mill.

She dropped off bread at the grocery, buying an avocado, two bananas, and three limes Gitta had saved for her. She took a pecan pie and a blueberry crumble to Nika, leaving credit on the account there.

Pyosz stopped next at the mercantile to buy pint honey jars and lids, a new strainer, and to ask if Taamsas had candle molds in stock.

"Now that's a good question" said Taamsas, heading down an aisle and looking at the seldom-used tops of shelves. "We did at one time have a candle mold or two, but there's never been any demand for it. Most folks who have hives turn over the wax to the allotment center, which has its own wax factory."

"I intend to do the same for half my product, I don't have the structure to do serious candle production. But I'd like to make some for myself" said Pyosz, following her. She wondered if Ferk had ever turned in beeswax to the allotment center. Taamsas said "Aha!" and grabbed a footstool to pull down a dusty carton.

"Six-candle molds, ceramic, two of 'em" said Taamsas. "Plus good square wicks. And look here, there's a pair of long beekeeper gloves and a manual comb uncapper in the box, how are you set for those?"

"I was going to use my work gloves and tie down long sleeves, but I'll take these. And the uncapper. Do you have netting and a wide-brimmed hat that's metal or some stiff material?"

"Over here" said Taamsas, heading into the fabric section. "I don't remember ever seeing honey labeled from Saya Island in Gitta's store or the market here." Which answered Pyosz's question. Taamsas looked at her speculatively and said "The distiller will take bulk honey to make mead, I understand." Pyosz raised her eyebrows and they shared a smile.

"Look at these rugs, they're beautiful!" said Pyosz, stopped by a display.

"The weaver of those is Udek, lives here in Koldok. I bet she'd barter with you for goat fibers" said Taamsas.

"My goats don't make mohair or particularly desirable hair" said Pyosz.

"Nevertheless, she uses everything she can get her hands on" said Taamsas. "Makes her own dyes from vegetables, too."

"I want this blue and green one for my cabin floor" said Pyosz impulsively. "And this sturdy black one for the entry, to wipe my otos on."

At the counter, Pyosz pulled four books from her carryall and said "I hope one of these is to your liking." Taamsas read the back cover blurbs avidly and asked if she could take them all -- "We read on the weekends, kids too."

"Of course" said Pyosz. "Okay, last item, I need the other end of this prybar sharpened to cut through propolis on my hives." Taamsas disappeared into her forge, and Pyosz waited on a child looking for lathes and string to make kites.

"Do you still fly kites beside the wheatfields between here and Puaa?" asked Pyosz. The child nodded. "That's where I learned to fly kites, myself" offered Pyosz. The child showed no interest in Pyosz's reminiscence, itching to go and be with others her own age.

When Taamsas returned, Pyosz told her about the owl attempt at her katts the night before and made a hilarious story out of her frenziedly brandishing an axe against imaginary intruders. She didn't mind if that story went all over Pya, since the point was that she had a blade with intent to defend herself. They settled her bill, her additional "lending library" discount leaving her with a jangle in her pocket. She said to Taamsas, "Is there a used furniture store here, or do I have to go to Pertama?"

Taamsas grinned widely, revealing the gap in her teeth, and said "Well, I'd have to recommend Klosa. There's mostly clothing in her front window, but the back half is used housewares, including good furniture."

"Don't tell me, not yet another partner?" asked Pyosz, hearing Taamsas' undertone.

"Her partner is Kolm's siba" said Taamsas. "Tell her I sent you. But listen, if you make candles for barter, will you give me first rights on them? Not her or anywhere else?"

"Deal" said Pyosz. The rain was starting to let up a little. She stashed her rugs and netting in milk cans, and found the store with a colorful display of used shatis in the window.

"I need a couple of kitchen chairs" she told Klosa after introductions. "Ideally what I'd like are the old-fashioned kind of wide-seated cast aluminum that were popular in my abbas' youth. They have a dozen in their kitchen, and they seem indestructible. I don't care about finish or color, these are going to be outside."

"I know the kind you're talking about" said Klosa, who had a very slow drawl. "Let's go look in the storeroom. When folks migrate to Pya, they often bring those kinds of chairs because they're cheapest to ship. Then, once they've saved up, they trade them in on wooden chairs, so much more available here."

They found three, two of which had been painted in unfortunate colors along the way, all of them battered in finish but intact in structure. They dickered for a while, and Pyosz finally got them plus five quarts of metal paint in various colors for a price she thought she could afford. As she put the paint in her carryall, Klosa said "Now, this is not the same kind of last-forever paint like what you got on that wain of yours." Her grin was infectious, and Pyosz quipped "The wain stands alone, I wouldn't dream of detracting from its prominence on Saya."

Back on now-sunny Saya, Pyosz started a sponge, while waiting for the first rising, made several more pies, exhausting the supply of fruit she had on hand. She filled a tin tub with hot soapy water and set her rescued recycling bottles and jugs in to soak. She dragged her wain around the perimeter of Saya's eastern cliffs, gathering stones to use for a grilling pit. She mixed sand into the manure pile and spread it out to dry faster.

After punching down her bread a second time and putting pies on the table to cool, she called Api on Arta Island. Ollow answered, and after chatting for a while, Pyosz asked for statistics about Saya's past fruit and nut production.

"I don't have those at hand" said Ollow. "I can have Api give you a call when she returns, she's meeting with someone in Fjer."

"Okay. I'd also like to know which product would be most beneficial to Pya of each item -- like, ripe fruit versus dried fruit, juices, vinegars, that sort of thing." said Pyosz.

After she hung up, she created an orchard harvest schedule in her logbook:
MED: (now and for next 2-3 weeks) Apricots, cherries, currants, peaches.
LJETO: Apples, cherries, figs, plums.
MCHELE: Almonds, apples, figs, hazelnuts, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums.
RACCOLTO: Almonds, apples, chestnuts, hazelnuts, nectarines, pears, pecans, pistachios, quince, walnuts.
BURZAS: Pecans, persimmons, pistachios, walnuts.

It felt odd to outline activities for Burzas and Raccolto, when she would have gone back to Skene, but she thought it might be useful to whoever took her place. Burzas was also when the buckling kids in her flock would need to be slaughtered, and when her does would be bred again. That meant milking would drop off considerably during Raccolto. She made a note to ask Api or Vants how many does she should hold back from breeding to keep milk available for Pya.

The radio buzzed and she answered it instantly, thinking it would be Api. Instead, it was Bux. "Hello, beloved grandchild" she said in her particular way. Pyosz wondered if she referred to all her grandchildren this way.

"Abba! Isn't it rather late there? This time difference is keeping me from calling when I'm most available" said Pyosz.

"Everyone else had gone to bed and I'm sitting in Yoj's study, working on reports and wondering how you're doing" said Bux.

"Better and better, abba. I'm up before dawn and it feels like I go at a dead run until nightfall, but it's starting to agree with me" said Pyosz.

"Your habibis Qen and Veida would say they handed that on to you, an ability for ejida work" said Bux. "Once I got past the terrible shock of emma dying so far from home, I've been glad she was on Pya. I think she went to bed happy that night."

When Pyosz was three, her abbas Yoj, Bux, and Halling had brought her on her visit to Pya, accompanying Qen who wanted to see the new world and was over 90 years old by that time. The few memories Pyosz had of Qen were all from that visit. Halling and Bux had returned to Skene and pressing work demands after a week, but Yoj, Qen and Pyosz had remained on Arta Island. Qen, leaning on a stick, had walked through the fields of corn, marveling at so much room to grow a crop Skene had craved but couldn't spare the land to produce. She had talked constantly about her childhood on Byli, the child of ejida workers. One day Mill took them all in a sinner on a corner-to-corner aerial tour of Pya. When they got home, Qen ate only fresh corn for her dinner and went to sleep on the couch after singing an old harvest tune to her great-grandchildren.

Yoj was sleeping on a cot in the office upstairs, and Pyosz was in with Ngall. In the morning, Yoj was the first downstairs -- aging bladder, she'd said -- and found Qen dead, her hand tucked under her cheek, a smile on her face. Pyosz's memories after that were spotty, mostly that she cried about having to go home early and the dreadful silence of the long flight back. She'd sat in Yoj's lap and tried to comprehend what dying meant, why Habibi wasn't sitting up front with them so she could tell Pyosz more stories.

It was interesting, now, to hear that a love of the work she was doing had a place in her family culture. Of course, any aptitude she had wasn't genetic. In addition to Qen not having been an aggie, the secret truth was that Qen -- and Yoj, too -- were something marked as XXY in Prl's records. Pyosz had read something on Prl's desk she was not supposed to, as a teenager, and had been forced to rifle the University library to eventually find an explanation of the unfamiliar terms she'd encountered. Well, it didn't matter on Skene, emmadom was available to all. At least to those who passed muster with the Genist, that is.

Bux interrupted Pyosz's memories with "We got your letters today, have passed them around and absorbed every word. I had no idea you could draw that well, Pyosz." Whenever Pyosz stopped to think how to word a sentence, she had the habit of doodling in the margins, little depictions of what she was thinking about. Sometimes the sketches continued on down all one side and across the bottom of the page, like Ember chasing Curds through the mossy area underneath her thickest stand of trees on this end of Saya, or does lining themselves up to be milked according to self-perceived flock rank, squabbling in the process. For a couple of these illustrations, Pyosz had pulled out her watercolor tin and painted in the inked outlines.

"I'm very visual" said Pyosz. "My math comprehension was always in pictures. I know I disappointed abba Yoj, with my not picking up a musical instrument or showing a facility for words -- "

"I'd hardly call these vivid letters lacking in a facility for words" said Bux with a laugh. "Have you seen the owl again?"

Pyosz told her latest stories, and heard the latest about both Manages she considered home on Skene. She mentioned the possibility that milk production had already gone up, and Bux said "I wouldn't be surprised. Did you know that the current generation of schoolchildren on Skene are an average inch taller than when our children were in school? Clearly due to improved nutrition, mostly because of Pya. When Halling and I were first learning to love each other, I had a hard time with her leaving each morning before dawn. Well, for good reason, it was still a death sentence in those days. But she'd always say 'I have go feed Skene', and now here you are, in a different way, going to feed Skene. I'm very proud of you, Pyosz. I think you're doing well by yourself."

Pyosz was moved to confide the commitments she'd written on her to-do lists. It wasn't a private line, but she had forgotten this fact.

"And how are you doing with missing Sey?" asked Bux gently.

"To be honest, abba, I'm not missing her much. I think of her from time to time, usually with a mix of confusion and a little hurt, but mostly I'm so busy and engaged and... I'm making friends here, it's always fun to make new friends" said Pyosz, not quite ready to tell all.

"You know, I waited seven years for the women I wanted to spend my life with to finally choose me" said Bux. "It look me even longer to get over the remembered pain of that wait, longer than it should have, really. The truth is, I wasn't sitting around waiting, I started a career and was already important to my community by the time dimwitted Yoj said 'Uh, you there, care to aggie?'" Pyosz burst into laughter at Bux's imitation of Yoj's befuddled tone. "So there's no hurry, sweetheart. Not that you'll have to wait seven years, please don't misunderstand me."

"I should hope not" teased Pyosz. "Oh, stars, I forgot about my bread! I have to go, abba, I need to get it in the oven before the yeast dies. Tell everybody -- well, you know."

"I will. And look for a cascade of packages from us, it's been pile-it-up-for-Pyosz around here the last couple of days" said Bux.

She split her dough into loaves and rolls. The smell awakened her hunger, so she ate the last of her mutton stew as she made a complicated line chart of milk production over two pages in her logbook. She ate a banana for dessert. Both katts appeared for combing, and she obliged them, stopping briefly to answer the radio and talk with Api. Turns out, Api could find no records at all of previous vinegar or nut meal products coming from Saya, no beeswax or dried nuts, only whole nuts and fruit juices being remitted to the allotment center by Ferk.

"Does that juicer out there still work?" asked Api.

"Yes, and I scrubbed it out. I'm having new drying racks made, though, there's not to be found" said Pyosz.

"Bill us for that, those are permanent items associated with the Island, not your habitation" said Api. "This lumber order, I've already okayed it and the rest."

"Do I need a permit to build a grill for cooking?" asked Pyosz.

"Technically, yes" sighed Api. "Technically, it has to be so many feet distant from blah blah blah. Ask Pank for the particulars, she'll know it. We'll fill out the form later and I'll back-date it, everybody here has a grill, Skene pollution standards are universally ignored in that regard. Thirty years from now, whoever is Ethicist can revisit it."

Next, Pyosz scrubbed out bottles for an hour, until she had filled one cupboard with gleaming empties. She used a gallon jug to make sun tea, started a pot of rice, and bagged her cooled bread. She sat again to create a smoker from two old olive oil cans and more left-over rubber as a bellows. She basted netting to her new hat, looping string around the bottom to cinch it tight, and donned her baggiest long-sleeved shati. She collected her prybar and two escape boards from the barn, plus a bushel basket and fruit pole, before ambling through the kissing gate, wearing her bee-hat.

The kids frolicked around her, nibbling at her basket and the long gloves tucked in her waistband, but only as far as the edge of the woods. She gathered her nerve briefly before plunging into the dark thicket. Part of the problem was, the trail had a bend in it, which meant you could not see all the way from one side of the trees to the other. Once she made the corner, as it were, and could see an opening filled with sunlight at the end, it was easier to not give in to her impulse to run.

In the orchard, she gathered all the fallen nuts she had missed with Maar, shaking them to discard the rotten ones over the cliff for the time being. These had been on the ground since the previous winter, which could contribute to mold and tree disease. She filled her basket with cherries and apricots. With a little clearing, she ought to be able to get her wain through the woods trail and down here to fill it for a more serious harvest.

She set the basket a few yards in on the trail, then stripped down and took a short soak in the hot springs. She let herself air-dry before re-dressing, this time also putting on her long gloves. She collected dry bark from the forest floor and took her time getting it burning briskly in the smoker. Smokers seemed to go out right when you needed them most.

She managed to put the escape board between the brood section and the upper, extremely honey-heavy supers on both hives with only a couple of stings, both of them caused by her own carelessness. She chewed a bit of propolis as she retrieved her fruit and returned to her kitchen, feeding cherries to begging kids along the way.

She sorted her fruit and nut harvest into bags for taking to the allotment, bags she could use for barter at Market the next day, and enough to make four more pies. She wasn't going to offer bread or pies as Market barter in order to not compete with Gitta. Then, with a sigh, she put on the long apron she deigned to use for cooking, got her axe from the cabin, and walked to the chicken house.

An old stump was next to the run, which was against all the rules of animal slaughter Pyosz had been taught. You don't kill creatures within sight and sound of their kin. She dragged the stump over to a flat rocky area between the jichang and the privy, and returned to select a plump capon. She held it reassuringly under her arm while she walked to the stump, and killed it with a single blow, tossing the head over the cliff: She didn't eat chicken heads or feet. She tied the carcass to the outside of the cliff and returned for a second capon. When both bodies were drained of blood, she sat on the stump to pluck them, katts at her feet chasing fluttering pinfeathers. She took her time with this as well, enjoying the breeze here on the eastern point, thinking about what she would use to stuff one of these for her lunch with Tu and Pank.

She managed to find room in her cold box for both chickens plus the gallon of sun tea. She scrubbed her hands and arms, set the Mti sausages on the counter to make for dinner, on second thought covered that package with a heavy bowl against katt incursion, and went to do her evening milking.

She steamed greens and winter squash to go with her rice and sausage for dinner. She took a quick hot shower, washed her hair in the sink, and asked the heat of the day to linger long enough for her towel-wrapped hair to dry before the evening chill set in. She sat at her table with a small bowl of cherries and apricots to snack on while she sanded down all the rusted iron clasps on the old goat tethers. She then painted them marine orange, grinning at her choice, and braided new handles into the ends of her new rope for the tethers.

Her thoughts kept going to Maar, wondering what she was doing and trying not to care. Finally she pulled out the small bird guide Yoj had given her and studied it until she realized she knew two of the birds by sight and call, something called a kwal and one known as a cardnul. She painted these in the margins of a fresh sheet of notepaper and started another letter home.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.


C. Diva said...

I'm not sure what to think when I hear Yerush's voice while Bux is talking. Hmm.

Maggie Jochild said...

Well, Cowboy Diva, at first I took your comment as positive. But now I'm wondering.

Yes, I believe (and that belief shows up in my writing) that we tend to re-enact our parents in our own choices, personalities, marriages, etc., despite our best efforts -- usually unconsciously. And with a powerful figure like Yerush as your aggie, well, you're not going to escape some icky imprinting, no matter what. So yes, I intended Bux in her latter years to have a whiff of Yerush. As does Prl, for that matter.

But maybe it's just that I can only create two or three characters and they keep repeating in everybody I describe. I hope that's not the case, I hope it's the first one.

Do let me know.

Also, you readers of Pya, this world is so real to me I keep worrying I'm failing to explain something that makes perfect sense to me but is baffling to someone "not from Skene". If you see such a puzzler, or a cultural anachronism, or anything else that you think might be an error on my part, please feel free to point it out. Thx.

Maggie Jochild said...

P.S. I grew quite fond of Yerush in Skene before I killed her off. She was a fun nasty bit of work. I realize not everyone liked her, however.

C. Diva said...

It was positive. I just wasn't sure if I liked what I saw. ;>
Yerush was such a forceful personality and I sometimes thought that even as engaging as she could be in conversation, especially if she thought you were worth her time, that she could suffocate and steamroll you as she attempted to achieve her definition of "right."
That being said, I know in my own family I can occasionally pick out the impressions of my great-aunts in the actions of my cousins. Oddly enough, it is easier for me to glimpse such imprints in my partner and her extended family than in my own.