Saturday, August 29, 2009


Fried silkworm larvae

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)


On San morning, Pyosz took a quart jar of honey and comb each to Kolm, Gitta, and Taamsas, thanking them for all their help. Her delivery of dried fruit, fresh fruit, beeswax and honey to the allotment center managed to wipe the condescending look off the face of the clerk there. She had to search quite a while for the proper forms Pyosz needed to sign, acknowledging receipt of her production. Pyosz left with more bags of flour and grains, pectin, another 500 count of plastic bags used to package her goods for allotment, and various perishables like bacon. She decided she always wanted to have bacon in her coldbox.

It was misting lightly when she got back to Saya, a warm rain, not good for moving soil but she figured she could pick fruit in it. She hauled her wain and the empty supers back to the western end, restored the hives to a clean condition, and picked several bushels more of everything she'd been processing plus a good load of early apples and plums. She stopped to feed plums to goats, testing herself to see if she knew the name of every one except the buckling kids, which Vants had advised her to never name.

She started her sponge and between risings processed fruit. For the first time, she pulled from her cupboard the small music disk player she'd brought and popped in one of the disks Yoj had assembled for her. It helped ameliorate the sense of endless repetition and a drenched world beyond the eaves of her kitchen.

She made asparagus, a frisia salad, and of course bacon for her lunch. She noticed the txikadiis were fearlessly coming under the kitchen canopy, hopping between the rafters and darting down for either morsels of fruit cast-off or insects, she wasn't sure which -- they moved so fast, she could hardly follow them with her eye. She'd noticed them in the goat barn, too, and thought they must have nests in there, a safer habitat for helpless babies than out in the trees. The wonder is that any of the songbirds survived, given the triple threat of owls, shu, and katts.

She was overdue for a load of laundry; a small part of her mind was trying to decide what to wear for her dinner with Uli. But the drying room was full of fruit and the outside line was pointless in this weather. She did a load and then hung it on wire strung across the tool room, which was far larger than she actually needed. In fact she thought, walking to the outside wall of the tool room, I could steal this space for shelves to store preserves and bins to store root crops in the autumn. It wasn't until she was back at the table, drawing a design and calculating lumber, that she remembered she wouldn't be here in the autumn. Well, I can build it for whoever comes after me she thought, and continued.

Once the pies were cooling and her bread was baking, she sloshed to the recycling pile and returned with two empty olive oil cans and more baling wire. Trying to consciously channel Pank, she turned one can sideways and cut out the sides, leaving a 2 inch well at the bottom and posts at the four corners. She pressed the metal back with pliers until all edges were safe for contact. From the sides of the second can, she fashioned a steep roof and attached it to the little house structure of the first can. She punched two holes through the bottom well and slid peeled twigs through them tightly, making perches for tiny feet.

She'd never heard of anyone making a feeder for songbirds, and she wasn't sure what they'd eat, but she wanted a better look at them. She mixed barley, millet, rice, and cracked corn from the chicken food bin. There was a tree to the right of the kitchen, in good line of sight, and she used her orchard ladder to hang it from a long branch, filling it with her grain mixture at the very end.

She grabbed her camera and binoculars, and sat down at her table to wait. It took less than five minutes, which astounded her. They must be watching every move I make she thought. The txikadiis arrived first, and she used the small zoom on her emma's camera to get a creditable close-up of their excited flickers from side to side of the feeder. She was looking through the binoculars when the next explorer arrived, and she nearly fell off her chair as a large grey and blue bird with a head crest like pilots used to wear landed on one perch with such force, the feeder began swinging and some grain fell onto the wet ground. Txikadiis scattered to go after the spilled grain, and the blue behemoth issued a harsh call that Pyosz realized she'd been hearing all day, not knowing what bird it was. She opened Yoj's guide and discovered it was called, easily enough, a jae. She got a startling photo of it. She then got her paintbox and began trying to capture its swagger. She thought of it as a new pilot, loud and filling the space around it with insecurity.

She almost forgot about her bread, pulling it out just in time. She arranged it in rows to cool, cutting open one of the rosemary rolls and slathering it with butter to nibble while she continued painting. When she was done, she pinned it to her larder door and went to the barn where she had stashed her gallon jugs of fruit juice in a cool, dark corner of the toolroom. She strained the juice into clean jugs, adding a half cup of white vinegar to each jug in hopes of jump-starting the process which would lead to her own fruit vinegars. On an impulse, she spread the fruity mast she'd strained out, as well as cores and peelings from fruit processing, onto a flat rock she could see from her table. Within minutes, birds were there as well, squabbling over the tidbits.

She returned to the kitchen to assemble identical packages for the two Manages of her family in Skene, sending them each honey, dried fruit, nut meal, and a 5 lb. wheel of goat cheese. She was about to head to the kissing gate to call in goats when Maar appeared on the path from the jichang: She hadn't heard any aircraft because of the music.

"Hey, what group is that playing?" asked Maar, setting down a cloth-covered bowl with icy frost on its undersurface.

"You won't know them, it's a band called the Kinusanders from 40 years ago" said Pyosz. She turned down the volume and said "You've saved me an after dark trip to the Lofthall, I have packages and mail for Skene."

"Well, I needed to talk with you" said Maar seriously. "And, by good fortune, the fish harvest today included a heavy run of kahe." She pulled back the cloth over the bowl. A second bowl, nestled on ice in the larger bowl, was filled to the brim with fresh golden-orange roe.

"Is that ehr?" breathed Pyosz, leaning over for a sniff. "I haven't had ehr in over a year!"

"I'm counting on you knowing some spectacular way of eating it" said Maar. "Besides just burying my face in it and lapping away." The minute the sentence was out of her mouth, she began turning red.

Pyosz laughed. "I have to go milk. Listen, here's your assignment to help with dinner. First, slice half that loaf of black bread into slices as thin as you can make them, and put them to toast in the oven at the lowest setting, so it mostly gets crisp, not brown. Then pull out the bowl of rice from the coldbox so it comes to room temperature. Go the tillage and grab three shallots, two cucumbers, and two carrots. Grate the carrots on the rasp, cut the cukes and shallots into paper-thin slices, and I'll be back as soon as I can."

"I'll feed the katts and chickens, too" offered Maar.

When Pyosz got back to the kitchen, Maar had made a pitcher of cold tea with lemon slices, set the table with two plates, and all the other tasks were completed. Pyosz washed her hands and said "Cut the toast into thirds." She began adding vinegar and spices to the sticky rice, shaping it into small ovals on a platter. "Now we feast" said Pyosz.

They piled the ehr alternately onto rice balls or toast, topped with a teaspoon of the raw vegetables and a drop of aged vinegar plus a twist of pepper. There was almost no talking until the ehr bowl was empty. Maar leaned back and pulled up her shati, patting her rounded belly to say "I've starting calling this my Pyosz pot."

"You've got a good palate" remarked Pyosz. "You never learned to cook?"

"Not in my Manage" said Maar, her grin fading a little. "But I've always wanted to learn, and it would stop me feeling like I'm not doing my share when I come to see you, if you'd care to teach me."

"Trust me, you showing up with a bowl of chilled ehr is more than your share" said Pyosz. "But yes, I'd love to teach you. We could have pie, or, I have a cold melon, Gitta saved me one from the first arrivals today."

"Melon" said Maar, getting up to retrieve it. "No, let me, I can handle cutting open a melon. By the way, that's a very good painting of a jae there."

"You know the name" said Pyosz.

"You pick it up here, after a while."

Pyosz looked at the single uneaten slice of dry toast and decided to crumble it for the birds in the morning. "You said you needed to talk with me. Is this about Thleen?"

"" Maar sat down with a bowl of melon slices. Pyosz took one on her plate and felt uneasy at Maar's expression.

"You seem to have this image of that includes me not being a completely honest person. Which, I have to say, really bothers me, Pyosz, because the opposite is true. I hope to change your mind about that. But, to get to the point today: Since you're turning out to be the kind of person who'd rather bring things up than let them go unspoken -- which is different from almost everybody else I know -- well, I need to tell you something you'll find out eventually anyhow. I figure you'd rather hear it from me."

Pyosz suddenly wished she hadn't had that last serving of ehr. "Go ahead."

"Uli -- she and I had an affair. It was just an affair on my part, but she was unhappy with how it ended, and you may hear negative things about me from her" said Maar.

Well, of course. And that explains Abbo's nasty comment about Uli moving fast. Pyosz licked her dry lips and said "When?"

"My first year on Pya. It lasted less than a month. I thought I was clear from the outset about my availability, that it was -- momentary pleasure. And honestly, Pyosz, I think I was clear. I think Uli decided to change her version of it after she couldn't -- I think she liked the chase. A lot more than she liked me."

I don't want to hear this thought Pyosz. She met Maar's brown eyes and said "You do this a lot, then? Have affairs for 'momentary pleasure'?"

Maar's face stiffened. "Not a lot. I've had a few. And I never conceal what my status is. Not once I -- sense the need for disclosure."

"And what about Abbo? Does she have affairs, as you call it? For that matter, has she slept with Uli, too?" Pyosz could hear the anger in her voice and didn't quite know where it was coming from.

"I don't think I should talk to you about Abbo. You two clearly have a canker with each other" said Maar.

"But you think it's fine to come poison me against Uli. No doubt because you've heard we have a date tomorrow night" Pyosz spat out. From the dismayed surprise on Maar's face, it seems she hadn't known about the date. Well, good, you know now.

"Maar, I think I need to -- cool off around this. It would be better if we didn't talk right now." Pyosz used cold formality as a fence against her irrational anger.

Maar stood swiftly, her melon untouched. "All right. Thanks for dinner, as always. Are these the only two packages you have for Skene?"

"I have letters, too" said Pyosz, getting them from the cupboard. "This one is for Thleen, and it's breakable, so please don't crush it." Maar's eyes went to the decoration on the envelope, her affronted expression briefly showing a glimpse of heartache.

"I'll walk you to the jichang" said Pyosz, getting her flash.

"You don't have to do that -- " began Maar.

"I'm your owl buddy, that hasn't changed" said Pyosz, reminding herself as much as Maar. They walked single file down the trail in silence. At her lighter, Maar climbed in without offering a hug. Pyosz said "Morrie vaseo."

"Thanks" said Maar stiffly. Pyosz stepped back as the hatch swung shut. She stood in the dark for several minutes, until she saw the lighter land at the Lofthall, two blue lights at the end of each wing dropping down behind the warehouse. She was doing her best to keep her mind from creating a picture of Maar and Uli together. She heard a tiny sound from the rocks of the cliff nearby, and that spurred her into returning to her kitchen, leaving shu to her owl.

She put away the melon and did the dishes, setting aside the two bowls Maar had brought for the ehr. She dared not go to bed yet, not with the turmoil inside her ready to drip into her dreams. She pulled out Vants' letter and reread it. Vants was a good writer, always full of ideas and quotes from whatever books she was currently digesting, but her last letter was crammed with what Pyosz thought of as "goat talk", and she found it even more fascinating as a result. She took some notes in her logbook, got her reference books from the cabin and created a year-long schedule for the duties of a capriste on Saya. By the time she was done, she was exhausted. Even so, when she went to bed, she felt despair well inside her heart again. She got one of the books Taamsas had returned, an adventure based on imaginary notions of what life had been like on the original colonist's home planet, and read herself to sleep.

She had a headache when she woke up. The air outside was still and unusually warm for that time of morning. A storm on its way she thought. She hoped it didn't make trouble for the huolon on its way to Skene; that was as much as she'd allow herself to think about Maar.

Before leaving for Koldok, she looked through her clothes cupboard. She could wear her silks, but that would be clearly signaling it was a special occasion. She didn't want what Maar had said about Uli to influence her. She compromised by pulling out her nicest linen shati and a pair of nadraj, hanging them to remove wrinkles.

She went to the allotment center to get soil testing kits and was referred to the ejida in Pertama. Instead, she went to the mercantile where Taamsas had them on shelves near the door. She had more labels printed at Naki's, then hurried back to Saya, not wanting to run into Uli early.

She cut up apples to make applesauce, plums and cherries to make jam, and peaches to can in halves. She boiled canning jars and took a photo of a black bird with red wings checking out her toast crumbs on the flat rock. At 9:00, she called her emma.

"I was hoping to hear from you soon" said Prl. "How are you doing?"

"I'm busy, and that's good. But...I'm troubled. Emma, I think I have residue from Sey's leaving that I've not touched" said Pyosz.

Prl sat down at her kitchen table. "Tell me what you mean."

Pyosz rambled on, and after ten minutes Prl still had no clear idea of what was bothering her child. "Anyhow" Pyosz finally said, "It's good to hear your voice. Mail and packages are on your way."

"I have a package ready for you, too" said Prl.

"Oh, emma, don't go overboard" said Pyosz.

"It's not overboard" hedged Prl.

"Actually, emma, there is something from Skene I could use, if you can send it. You know the kind of lightweight ronyang rocks that people put in their hearths to hold heat? Pank said they're perfect for lining the bottom of an outdoor grill. They don't have them on Pya, do you think you could locate them there?"

"I know where to ask" said Prl. "You have an outdoor grill?"

"I wrote you about it" said Pyosz, telling her the story. "Oh, the storm just arrived. I don't know if I should leave the goats out in it -- do goats ever get hit by lightning?"

"I can't answer that one, darling. But people do, be careful" said Prl.

"My first batch of jam should be done right about now, I need to go pull them off the stove. I'll call again soon, emma. Thank you for staying up with me."

Prl made a note on the kitchen pad reading "Ronyang upset goats lightning?" which mystified her apprentice in the morning.

After setting out a half-dozen jars on the counter to cool and putting another batch into the pressure cooker, Pyosz donned her burzaka and walked to the kissing gate. The rain was blowing in sheets across the width of Saya. Kids were huddled near their emmas, but most of the does were grazing without apparent concern. She stopped by the barn to check on the current racks of drying fruit. She picked up her two milking stools, one of which was lopsided from loose joints, and decided to repair them. First she sanded them well. She stabilized all the wobbly places with wood glue, and, grinning to herself, painted them both wain orange, leaving them to dry on top of the feed box.

She put on music again as she made a quick lunch, and spent her afternoon setting row after row of jewel-bright jam on her larder shelves. No birds came to her feeder, which was blowing sideways in the wind, but she spread a handful of her grain mix on top of the coldbox and the txikadiis appeared, flitting down to grab a bite and retreating to the rafters. Ember and Curds sat on chairs, watching them raptly. Every now and then Curds made a chittering sound in her throat. Pyosz said "Compensation for the threat of owls, eh? Pya is a whole other place."

She gave up on the idea of washing her hair, but stripped and took a quick shower, running out of hot water before she was done. She went into her cabin to dry and huddled under her blankets for half an hour to warm herself again. She brought in the goats, wet and fragrant (she said to herself nicely), for milking and an extra handful of grain apiece on this weather-smote day. She dressed in her cabin with katts watching her curiously, and gave up on the idea of cleaning her otos. The rain had slackened somewhat by the time she started across to Koldok on her ferry.

Uli was waiting at the wharf with a pair of the thick-tired municipal bicycles found in every town on Dvareka. Most of the roads on Dvareka were paved at least with gravel, despite how hard it was to come by rock of any sort for construction purposes. A public bus, powered by solar batteries, ran every hour between all the main towns, but this vehicle was small and the back half was given over for cargo, including farm stock. For quick transit between towns, folks grabbed a bicycle from a rack and took off. On Sju afternoon, the bus driver went from town to town hauling bikes to make sure there was a viable number available come the start of the work week.

Pyosz had learned to ride bicycles on Pya as a child, but not well, and she'd spent no time on them as an adult. "Oh, dear" she said, laughing, "I'm liable to fall off. Or worse, crash into somebody."

"We'll go slow" promised Uli. "The buses will be crammed, and it looks like the storm has blown itself out." Uli had clips to tuck up the hems of their burzakas, keeping them from getting caught in the spokes. After a start that sent one teenager in Koldok leaping over a tillage fence to escape Pyosz's trajectory, they wove onto the main east-west thoroughfare, Uli patiently calling encouragement over her shoulder.

When a bus appeared coming from the opposite direction, Pyosz decided to leave the road altogether. She didn't intend to embrace a row of corn, but she and Uli laughed it off and resumed once the bus was past. Once in Pertama, they walked their bikes to the downtown area, where the restaurant Uli had chosen showed a gilt sign in the window and had no counter, only tables.

They hung their burzakas in a cloakroom, and Pyosz saw that Uli was wearing silks. Pyosz felt a flicker of relief that she had not. At the table, covered with a thick red tablecloth, a waiter offered them wine as well as other choices to drink. Uli ordered wine, while Pyosz asked for lemon-water.

The introductory salad was very good, and the bread all right, though no one's bread outside her abbas' Manage was up to Pyosz's standards. They swapped stories about University days and people they knew in common until the main course arrived, lobster for Uli, urchin for Pyosz because cracking lobster shells was a messy proposition.

Pyosz had mentioned sharing a room her first year at University with Ngall. Uli replied she'd been in the same grade as Ngall at Pya School and had carried a small crush on her when she was 14 or so.

"She's wonderful" agreed Pyosz.

"And Abbo, are you having a chance to enjoy her now, too?" asked Uli.

"Ah...Abbo and I have never been cut from the same weft" said Pyosz, with a rueful smile.

"But you're already on friendly terms with Maar?" continued Uli.

"Yes" said Pyosz, wondering where Uli would take this. When Uli busied herself with extracting claw meat with a pick, Pyosz said "Maar told me you and she had once been involved."

"She did, did she?" asked Uli with a quizzical smile. "How, I wonder, did that topic arise?"

"We cover a lot of territory, me and Maar" said Pyosz, suddenly remembering how good she'd been at this kind of incomplete conversational exchange when she had been with Sey but now finding it a little tiresome.

"If I presume, please let me know, but are you and Maar -- dating?" asked Uli.

That's a little more like it thought Pyosz. "No, we are not" she said crisply. "I'm not dating anybody. I'm less than one month out of a two-year relationship that ended badly, and what I'm doing in Saya leaves me time only for friends."

Uli's smile never slipped. "Then I hope to be among them" she said easily.

"I hope so, too" replied Pyosz. She felt a definite relief at her declaration, and began to enjoy herself without reservation. She couldn't tell any difference in Uli's attitude toward her after that -- it was interesting how Uli's demeanor was actually not nearly as transparent as Maar's, despite Maar's efforts at poise and politeness. However, it didn't matter. We're two new friends out for a lovely meal at the end of a hard week she thought. She didn't offer to pay for Uli's meal and Uli didn't offer, either. They rode around downtown afterward, Uli pointing out places Pyosz might like to shop or visit. The streetlights here were shaped like tree trunks, and the reflection from wet paving was beautiful.

Traffic was less on the way back to Koldok, and Pyosz already more practiced at biking. She declined a final cup of tea at the cafe, saying "Goats at dawn" and agreeing to look for Uli the following morning at Market Day. When she got home, she drew a picture of her crashing into the cornfield at the bottom of a sheet that she intended as a new letter for Thleen. She read more in her adventure story and went to sleep easily.

After dropping off her milk and bread, she went directly to Briel and Dodd's Manage, and they set out for Market together. Dodd was exuberant because their daughter Qoj had called the night before to say she had a few days off and planned to come home on a brief visit. "She'll be flying back with Maar and Abbo for Shmonah!" she said excitedly. Dodd's love for her children matched her devotion to Briel, bottomless.

"I hope she brings one of her small telescopes" said Pyosz. "I'll come back to Koldok after milking if we have a clear night to do some star-gazing."

They joined up with Uli and her emmas, as well as Ollow, Oby, and Lowitt, Oby's sibu. Pyosz bartered pints of honey and jam for double-wide thick writing paper, a dozen limes, waterproof cushions for two of her kitchen chairs, and a large bunch of escarole. She and Uli talked easily, mostly about the intersection of math and geography. Before she left for Saya, she returned to Gitta's and bought a lamb carcass, determined to make something special for Qoj's visit. She also went to Naki's and found a large record book which was long enough to accept one of the sheets of her new paper folded in half.

At home, she refilled her bird feeder, then took her wain to the orchard for another haul of fruit. After peeling and pitting, she set jam in pots to simmer while canning jars boiled. In between stirring, she began to draft a chart on her new paper showing the name, age, lineage, offspring, and average milk yield of each of her does, leaving room at the bottom for future doelings. She glued this into the back of her new record book and began transferring the information from Ferk's logbook into the new one. She created tabs to divide the book into sections: Goats, Honey, Orchard, and Woods. She got her colored pencils and illustrated the headings of each section with whimsical drawings.

She harvested mint from the tillage and started the process for making mint jelly. She took photos of new birds who showed up to pick through her fruit leavings and made a quick vegetable soup for dinner. After milking, she put more music on as she finished her jam-making and continued to make a thoroughly organized logbook.

Shortly after 7:00, she turned off her music and dialed the jichang office on Chloddia. After four rings, an unfamiliar voice said "Hello? We're not quite open yet."

"I'm sorry for the hour, I'm calling from Pya" she said. "By any chance, is Sinner Maar there?"

"Yeah, she's -- no, she's on her way back in, hang on" said the voice. There was a clank, and after a long minute, Maar's voice said "Hello?"

"Hey, it's Pyosz. Everything's okay, don't panic, I was simply wanting to talk with you a bit" said Pyosz.

"That would be all right" said Maar diffidently. "What's up?"

"I do very much appreciate you coming to tell me about you and Uli" said Pyosz. "I can't quite explain or defend my reaction, I'm like a volcano that can't decide whether to erupt or not, seems like, but after time to think about it, I want to thank you for your honesty."

"Well" said Maar. "That's good news." Her voice was guarded, and Pyosz thought Oh, no, I've jerked her around once too often. Maar continued "I can't tie up the line here too long, I should warn you."

"Oh, I get it, you've got someone sitting right there listening to every word, is that it?" said Pyosz.

"That's the picture" said Maar, with a grin Pyosz could now hear.

"How's Thleen?" asked Pyosz, her concern evaporated.

"I have to tell you, that photo frame is a work of art. She's over the moons, and it made me cry. Which, you know, drove her a little nuts until she finally understood it was a good kind of crying, but now she likes it even more because it had that affect on me" said Maar, her voice completely familiar again. "Plus, she's counting on more episodes in the Bunteen Thleen chronicle."

"All right, I'll work on it" said Pyosz. "Mostly, I just wanted you not to have to wait until Shmonah to know I'd come to my senses. Oh, and my cousin Qoj is coming back with you, did you know?"

"Yeah, Abbo told me, that's great" said Maar. She paused and said "How was your date?" Pyosz could still hear the grin.

"It wasn't a date, and I made that very plain to her" said Pyosz. "I'm not dating, not any time soon. And, to answer your question, we had a wonderful time. I rode a bicycle and ate urchin and wore my blue-striped shati, which you've not seen but it's the color of Bohaira Lagoon."

"Kudos for you" said Maar, the grin still in her voice. "Listen, they need the radio, but I have a quick question. I may not have a kitchen but I'm a grown-up, I intend to do my share in the Shmonah potluck. What else could I bring from Skene, that doesn't require cooking?"

"Oh, let me think. Well, it isn't my cup of tea, but you'd thrill Tu and Pank if you got some baicang from Seda" said Pyosz. Baicang was the leftover pupae from silkwork larvae after the silk had been harvested. It was deep-fried, sprinkled with spices, and sold in bags as a crunchy delicacy.

"I've never had it, what's it like?" asked Maar.

"About what you'd expect. But they adore it" said Pyosz.

"I love watching them chow down. Okay, thanks. Especially for calling" said Maar.

"Carynn bye" said Pyosz. After she clicked off, she noted that Abbo had never brought anything to family potlucks, on Pya or Skene. She turned her music back on and kept working on her logbook as part of her mind concocted a new story about Bunteen Thleen.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

1 comment:

Blue said...

"Prl made a note on the kitchen pad reading "Ronyang upset goats lightning?" which mystified her apprentice in the morning."
Brilliant moment!