Tuesday, August 11, 2009


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. There is a glossary of sorts for this chapter at the end of this current post.

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 the alarm went off, Pyosz thought it was Curds making noise again. She began shouting "Shut up, Curds, shut UP!" and woke up furious. She had no clue where she was at first. She could hear the sounds of a downpour over the ringing. The flash was next to her pillow, and when she turned it on, everything came rushing back to her. Curds was sitting on her trunk, looking at her coldly. Pyosz turned off the alarm, and even that single reach sent blazes of pain through her shoulders and arm.

What got her upright was a pressing need to relieve her bladder, aggravated by the sound of rushing water. She slid off the bed and decided to use her chamberpot again. Once that was pushed back under the bed, she slowly stood, moaning, and got dressed. At least the rain gave her a good excuse to wear the wellies again.

She cursed not having an aga in her kitchen so she could instantly fill a pot with simmering water for tea. She felt chilled, but decided to forego the time it would take to prepare tea and a real breakfast in favor of a glass of milk, one of Yoj's cookies, and her last orange. She still felt empty, so drank another glass of milk with some cornbread and a wedge of cheese. She could hear Curds through the rain, screaming at the cabin door. She'd feed them but they likely already needed to void, it was simply be cruel. From the looks of it, light was a long way off.

She trudged to the barn, hit again by the steaming funk of ammonia and mold when she opened the doors. She began her ritual, having to remind herself of each step as she went along because she was still half asleep and all her brain wanted to point out to her was how much her body hurt.

After half an hour, the stiffness and chill left her, which was a slight improvement. The burn of overtaxed muscles grew steadily worse, however. She crossed to the doors which led to the pen and opened them. Several kids splashed out into the rain and mud. Pyosz went back to milking, and after another hour, it was light enough to release her katts. She wondered if she would ever be done with milking by this time of day. She went to the cabin and opened the door, put fisk in bowls under the table, and went to tend to the chickens.

Back in the barn, the goats were peeved at their long incarceration. Pyosz finished only by reminding herself if she failed here, no one in the family would ever forget it. They'd forgive her, even Mill, but it would remain in their knowledge of her. She couldn't stand that.

She refilled her milk pitcher, set it in her coldbox, and tore from the logbook her list of items she needed as she reached into her pockets to make sure eks and her allotment book were buttoned into her back pocket. She wrenched her wain from where it had settled into the mud with a flare of protest from her shoulders and pulled it toward the slope down to the dock. It was well past 7:00, she could tell even with this overcast sky.

She turned the wain around to ease it down the mud-slicked incline. After two steps, her feet slid out from under her and she fell ass-backwards into the mud. Her wain hurtled downhill as she gave a scream. There was a barrier fence between the end of the incline and the ocean a few feet below -- obviously someone had foreseen this problem -- and the wain, holding a few hundred pounds of milk, hit it with a sickening crash. Pyosz sat in the muck, waiting to see the wain, milk and all go through the fence and disappear into Koldok Kuono. But the fence held, and Pyosz slowly got to her feet, wiping her hands on her burzaka as best she could.

Her first blessing of the day was that it was high tide, and transfer of the cans to the ferry was a lateral chore without much up and down lifting. Even so, by the time she sat down and pushed the lever, she was breathless. I thought I was in fairly good shape she thought. If it weren't for Lawa's gloves, my hands would be raw by now.

A couple of carts were near the Koldok wharf, and as she began unloading, a stranger came up to her, said "You're the new capriste, eh. Nasty day to be learning the ropes", and pitched in to share the work. Pyosz shook her hand gratefully without either of exchanging names.

She walked into the djostiker's full of apology for being so late. "I began at 4 a.m., I can't believe it's taking me this long" she said. Kolm patted her shoulder and said "No problem, I figured it would be like this for a while. Truth is, Ferk sometimes missed days, which is not good for the milk and affects the cheese, even in a coldbox. I appreciate you getting here."

Pyosz took more cheese when she left, another variety, and asked directions to the allotment center. When she went in, nobody was visible and she called out. After two long minutes, a young woman came through a door into the back, looking irritated at having been interrupted. Pyosz put her allotment book on the counters and said "I need a wide range of staples. I also need ingredients for making goat and chicken feed -- "

The woman interrupted immediately to say "We don't carry animal feed, you'll have to get that from the ejida."

"I don't want prepared animal feed, I'm going to make my own" said Pyosz. "I'm the new capriste -- "

"You still have to get it from the ejida, we don't carry that kind of bulk item" said the woman. She had opened Pyosz's book and now closed it, saying "This is for Skene."

"I know. I just arrived here yesterday, I'm working on Saya for the summer, I haven't had a chance -- "

"You'll have to get a transfer permit before I can honor a Skene allotment. You need the Ethicist's signature -- "

This time Pyosz did the interrupting. "You mean to say I'm going to have to go locate my sibemma Mill and get her in here to straighten things out? Is that really the way things are done here?" Pyosz saw that word "sibemma" register, and the dim brain of this clerk start to put pieces together. She continued "I mean, Api is crazy busy at the moment, which I understand because my abba Bux in Skene is also consumed with her duties as Ethicist. Moreso even than my emma Prl, the Genist." The clerk picked up the book again, starting to backpedal. Pyosz thought And what would you have done, you shu-fart, if I didn't have all these connections? Send me out of here without a grain of rice?

She drew out a month's supply of grains, beans, flours, oils, fisk, vis, powdered kelp, and salt. She added modest amounts of bacon and sausage, wary of the limits of her tiny coldbox. She cut ten yards of the cheapest kelp-based linen they had, to make more milking rags. She had to fill in several triplicate forms, verifying she was not robbing Pya to benefit Skene, but left with a loaded cart, placing all her items into empty milk cans to keep them dry.

She considered going to the regular grocery as well, but decided she had enough for basics and first she needed to finish her survey of Saya's fruit and nut trees. She did stop at the mercantile, leaving her cart in view of the front window. The clerk behind the counter looked around the same age as Kolm and just as friendly, a dark woman with brown curls and a missing front tooth. Pyosz introduced herself, and the woman said "Oh, we've heard you're already hard at it. I'm Taamsas, what can I do for you today?"

Where had she heard about what I'm doing? wondered Pyosz. She pulled out her list and said "Okay. Replacement handles for a standard hoe and hammer, whetstone, machine oil, copper mesh, sandpaper in mixed grits, cotter pins, a can of marine paint, scouring powder and cloths, and do you have vinegar jars?"

"You mean like stoneware?" asked Taamsas. "We do, but they cost the earth, we have to import them from Skene because we don't have a keramiker on Pya, haven't found clayfields yet. Are you planning to make your own vinegar, then, from Saya fruit?"

"Yes, hopefully" said Pyosz.

"Well, most folks use gallon jugs in dark glass. You have to pay more attention to temperature and possible spoilage, but if you've got a dark spot with ventilation, you should do all right" said Taamsas, starting to walk the aisles and pull items from shelves for Pyosz.

"What about bottle caps? Are they the same size here as Skene?"

"Yep, same dimensions. Do you need decanting bottles for the vinegar?"

Pyosz said "There's a vast pile of bottles out there awaiting recycling, I think I'll scrub those out and start with them. Oh, and I need a bottle brush. And labels."

"Printed labels you should get from Naki, she's the cartagen, right across from the library. Also develops photographs. In fact, she's the best photographer anywhere, I think" said Taamsas.

"I'll go to her soon, but I need temporary labels for now" said Pyosz. "Plus might as well get a vat for mixing animal feed, though I apparently have to get the ingredients at the ejida."

"Who told you that?" asked Taamsas, stopping to look at her as Pyosz took an armload from her.

"Didn't get her name, but she works at the allotment center" said Pyosz.

Taamsas snorted. "That layabout, she'll do anything to not do her full share of work. Listen, I have a lot of those sorts of supplies here, what do you want?"

Pyosz hesitated. "I need to not pay for them, but instead have them come from allotment."

"No problem, I can fill out a form, I'd hardly be in business on Skene if I didn't have bureaucratic skills in my blood" said Taamsas with a grin. "It's ridiculous, giving you a hard time when you're paid by the same government she is. In fact, you produce a lot more than she does."

Pyosz handed over her ingredients list, and she and Taamsas began assembling bags on the counter. Taamsas was asking her questions about her particular feed mixes, and asked if she could try the chicken feed. "Your sibemma Dodd, she's got the best chickens and eggs on Pya, we all barter high for 'em on market day" said Taamsas.

"Same feed" grinned Pyosz. "Although I don't know that Dodd will thank me for giving away the family secret."

"It will stay with us" said Taamsas, laughing. "We've got a large family and stores to run, we actually eat most of our eggs and chickens before they ever reach market."

"Who's us?" asked Pyosz.

"My partners, Kolm and Gitta, and five kids, one of whom helps out in here after school" said Taamsas happily.

"Kolm is your partner?" No wonder you're so well-informed thought Pyosz.

"Mm-hm, and Gitta, have you been to the grocery yet? Well, she owns that. In fact, when you've got vinegar to barter, please go to her first. We have a distiller, over near the kickball field, but..." Her voice trailed off. Taamsas would gossip but not maliciously, it seemed. With a new tone, she said "Are you planning to turn any of your fruit juices into wine or brandy, then?"

"I don't actually know that process" confessed Pyosz. "If I took it to the distiller, would I still make a profit, you think?"

Now Taamsas was choosing her words very carefully. "Depends on the arrangement. I've not used her services, mind, so this is all second-hand. Mostly she seems to prefer to trade product for product. Like, you bring in the juice and she returns you wine or brandy less a commission. It still falls under legal allotment barter rules, but...I think she does very well. Because...most of the folks using her services want the drink, you see."

"Ah" said Pyosz. "Well, I'm not a drinker, so perhaps I should look elsewhere."

"There's a distiller in Cogio" said Taamsas. "'Course, that's a long transport."

Which is why the local distiller seems to have a corner on the market thought Pyosz. And then it suddenly occurred to her that all the empty bottles piled up in Saya's recycling, which she had taken for vinegar bottles, were identical to those used for spirits. Ferk's work ethic took on a new complexion. She saw Taamsas watching her closely, and realized Koldok wasn't ignorant of what she had just figured out. She grinned at Taamsas, and Taamsas grinned back.

"All right, then. One more thing, is there a metalworker or smith who could make me some replacement racks for the drying room out there? I can't find any racks at all, and I'm not sure it's ever been used" said Pyosz.

Taamsas's grin grew wider. "There's a forge right outside my back door here. And in the afternoon, when my child comes to run the store, I put on my smith apron. Bring the measurements to me."

Pyosz laughed. "What would Koldok do without your family of entrepeneurs?"

"Blow away" said Taamsas , with some truth to her words. When Pyosz saw the bill total, she realized it was going to seriously erode her stash of eks. She didn't get paid until the end of the summer. She was going to have to come up with alternate income before then, even with barter.

Taamsas helped her carry her items to the cart. On her last trip in, Pyosz spotted a stack of brightly-colored wool blankets in the corner. "Oh, how beautiful these are!" she exclaimed. They were silky soft, with striped borders in pleasing tones.

"Gitta knits those, when she's not busy" said Taamsas proudly.

Pyosz chose one in vermillion and one that was almost exactly Curds' cream color. Taamsas looked at her small stock of coins and said "I'm giving you a 10% discount, for being a new citizen. In fact, I'm applying that discount to what you've already bought. Take the blankets and enjoy them, no charge."

"I couldn't possibly -- " began Pyosz.

"Gets cold in those metal huts, even in summer" said Taamsas knowledgeably. "Just think of us when you get warm, and be sure to tell others who made the blankets."

You've got my business for life thought Pyosz. She shook her hand happily and headed for the wharf. Before she got there, she ran into Mill on the street, who said "I see you're still alive. Come over to the Lofthall and have a cup of tea with me, tell me how it's going." She took the cart handle and began pulling it for Pyosz.

In the canteen, Pyosz accepted an egg salad sandwich and steamed spinach as well as tea. "This is my second breakfast" she confessed. "I'm way short on sleep, but my appetite is up to the clouds."

"Hard work" nodded Mill. "I was going to come see you last night, but Maar said she was going anyhow, so I thought I'd let you make friends without my old face ruining the fun." Pyosz kept her surprise to herself. Then the visit had been Maar's idea, after all.

After two big bites, Pyosz pulled her list from her pocket and used it to refresh her memory. "Okay, first, explain to me the rules here on Pya for those of us producing for allotment."

Mill began "You have to keep detailed records, and prove you're turning over 50% to the state. Of the half you keep, you can barter it as you wish but absolutely nothing gets sold for cash, that's a serious violation. And no loopholes, no fake barter. You can keep a higher percentage if you can document that you're producing a finished product from it. In your case, that would mean making cheese and yogurt -- "

"Not likely. Kolm looks to be the expert in that realm" said Pyosz.

"Also if you slaughter your own stock, tan your own hides, and/or smoke your own meat. In the case of fruit and nuts, if you dry or juice the fruit, roast the nuts or make nut meal, that counts as production" continued Mill.

"Vinegar?" asked Pyosz.

"Yep. But you still can't sell those products for cash, only barter. Still, it's well worth the extra if you go that route" said Mill.

"I get to keep another 10%, right?"

"15% here on Pya. We're hard up for labor, rich in produce, so the more folks do their own cottage industry, the better for us" said Mill.

Pyosz did quick math in her head. At payment of 5 eks for the summer, that's at least 16 eks per year, plus a chance to have a great deal of valuable barter she thought. Ferk should have been much better off than she apparently was.

Maar appeared in the doorway to the canteen and after Pyosz waved at her with a big smile, she came to join them. "I thought I saw your cart out there. They just put blackberry pie on the counter" she said.

"My favorite" said Pyosz, starting to get up with an involuntary groan. Maar said "No, I'll get it. And more tea?"

"Water" said Pyosz. "Trying to flush out my tissues." As Maar left, Mill leaned over and felt Pyosz's forehead.

"You've got a fever" she said with a frown.

"I'll be okay" said Pyosz. "If I don't keel over first" she couldn't resist quipping. Mill kept frowning. Maar set pie in front of Pyosz and sat down to her own piece. "It won't be near as good as what you or your abbas make, I'm sure" said Maar.

"Speaking of them, did you call them last night?" asked Mill.

"No, I meant to, but I kept falling asleep at weird times" said Pyosz. "I will tonight. Now, about the electricity situation out at Saya: I nearly froze last night. Is there any way to get a geothermal survey done and put in a power plant?"

Mill sighed. "We have one hidraler and two fadians for all of Pya. They're backlogged for months. You'll be gone by the time they get around to it. And if we ask someone to come in from Skene, we have to pay a high guild surcharge -- the guild, by the way, is the reason we don't have more skilled people in that field, Skene guilds won't certify people already living on Pya. You have to get certified there first, and few folks migrate after that kind of apprenticeship."

"When will be out from under all those contracts?" asked Maar, her teeth showing purple stains. Pyosz noticed she had a gossamer mustache dusting her upper lip, only visible in certain light.

"Next year" said Mill, thumping the table in celebration.

"What contracts?" asked Pyosz.

Mill swiped a berry from her plate as she explained. "Before there was local government on Pya, everything fell under Skene's jurisdiction, and all the first settlers had to agree to continue Skene law, Skene guild practices, what have you. Then, in order to have our first election separate from Skene, we had to sign contracts guaranteeing certain exports and imports, etc. Twenty-year contracts." Her tone held barely-concealed anger.

"I smell change in the wind" said Pyosz.

"You know it" said Mill. "So, back to the heat issue -- if you're getting sick because of the cold, sibiya -- "

"No, I'm all right, I told you" said Pyosz. "It'll get better as the summer comes in, I'm sure."

"Don't let it get worse" insisted Mill. "Go see Briel, or you can stay on our couch and make the commute back and forth."

Mill and her family were the first to move off Dvareka or a major island onto one of the Pea Pods, Arta. They built a Manage of wood back when such construction was still new, and they were conservative in their space allocation as any good Skener would be. Consequently, there were no real guest rooms at their house. It had one story plus an attic garret that had been divided into the children's bedroom -- where Pyosz had slept on her visits in Ngall and Abbo's room --, a tiny middle room which was the office shared by all the adults and consequently filled floor to ceiling with papers, and a third small room that was set aside for Lowitt, Oby's sibu. Despite the fact that Lowitt mostly lived at the homes of one of her two sweethearts in Cogio, where she ran Ollow's second kelp processing factory, nobody ever suggested this space be given back to the family for use.

To create more living space, Mill and Oby had built a pergala outside with a grill, dining table, and lots of comfortable chairs. Family gatherings met outside in all but the coldest weather. The Manage was now noticeably listing to one side, because of improper construction, and needed foundation work. However, there was never a time when this busy group could vacate the premises long enough to have the work done.

"I'll be okay" repeated Pyosz. "But before I forget, do you have the authority to sign my allotment book so I can get payouts here without any hassle?"

Mill nodded, pulling out her fountain pen as Pyosz retrieved her book. Mill said "Hassle? Has someone given you a hard time? Because there was an announcement in the paper yesterday about you assuming this position, there shouldn't be any question about your authority."

Pyosz kept mum. She didn't want to start her time here pissing off some petty demagogue who, for all the knew, was beloved in Koldok. Mill saw her silence and said "Look, Pyosz, I'm not Prl, I'm not going to gather kerosene and torches to lay waste to whoever it was. But if they're making trouble for you, odds are they're making trouble for someone else, I'll need to have Api check it out for the good of the community."

Pyosz said "Well...As long as you make it clear I'm not looking for trouble. It was the woman at the allotment center, I don't have a name for you. However, Taamsas made it right for me, you should know that."

Mill smiled. "Taamsas and her family are solid gold."

Maar leaned toward Pyosz and asked quietly "Who's Prl?"

"My emma" said Pyosz.

"The Genist" mused Maar. Mill said "A lot more than that, if you ask her, and she intends Pyosz's feet to never encounter the dust of this planet." Maar raised her eyebrows as Pyosz pushed back her irritation. She complained about Prl often but she didn't like hearing others make fun of her.

Abbo appeared in the doorway and came straight toward them, saying to Maar "Jiips is breathing fire, she's been trying to raise you on the radio, you were due back for another job half an hour ago."

"Oh, lev" said Maar, leaping to her feet. She looked guiltily at Mill, who waved her hand, saying "Go on, we'll bus your dishes and I won't tell her I saw her." Maar loped from the canteen, and Abbo took her chair.

Mill's face lit up gazing at Abbo. Pyosz remembered when she had been little, visiting here, Ngall used to complain bitterly in night-time whispers about how her emmas liked Abbo better, even though Ngall didn't get in nearly so much trouble.

Abbo now said "It must be nice, having the leisure to eat pie in the middle of the morning." Mill laughed, though Pyosz couldn't force more than a wan smile. She said to Mill, "I need to have a group of seven overgrown bucklings taken to the ejida for slaughter, where do I get the paperwork for that?"

"I'll put it together for you" said Mill. "And Abbo here can come pick them up tomorrow, around this time? Drop them at the ejida for you. She'll bring the papers then." Abbo turned her head but Pyosz could see the scowl.

Pyosz added "There's an outrageous stack of old recycling behind the barn. I'm going to sort through it, re-use what I can, but I'll need the rest hauled to -- what's the recyling island here?"

"Doimoi" said Mill. "Just give me a call you've got it ready."

"Be sure to get it over to the jichang first" said Abbo unnecessarily. Pyosz began the effort of standing, saying "Well, I've got another ten hours of solid labor before I get to rest again, I'd better start on it." She did her best not to limp, but Mill noticed and said "Are your feet injured?"

"I'm all right" said Pyosz a third time, a little harshness coming into her voice. She gave Mill a hug, waved at Abbo, and started putting on her burzaka as she left the canteen.

Back on Saya, she had to dig in her heels and strain her body to the maximum to pull the wain up the muddy slope. The rain was ending, but puddles covered all of the path. Curds was sitting on the kitchen table. She piled her staples beside Curds, took most of the other items to the barn along with the milk cans, and then went to empty her chamberpot.

Back at the cabin, she made her bed, leaving the door open so the cabin could air out. She found jars and canisters for all her new dry goods, labeled them and put them away in the larder. Then she pulled back out the flours and began a sponge for bread. She cut the linen into new milkrags, giving herself a supply that would last four days between laundry loads. She punched down the first rising and sat down at the table with a cup of tea to make a list of all that needed doing.

She was just finishing both the tea and the list when a familiar voice called out "Hey, there's my favorite sibiya!" It was Dodd, sloshing up from the dock with a covered pot in her hands. Pyosz went to greet her with joy. Dodd, in fact, was her own favorite sibemma. She was tall, like Pyosz, and wide-shouldered, and had developed a large belly in her middle age. Her hazel hair had thinned so much in the middle that scalp showed through, a rare sight on Skene. She compensated by growing a thick beard, neatly trimmed, in the same rich tone. Her green eyes were large and infinitely kind. She was the kind of person everybody hoped would be their child's second-grade leraar, during those tough years between 8 and 11 when development came in spurts and dribbles. Pyosz had always thought if she couldn't have Prl as her emma, she would have chosen Dodd.

"I brought the rest of a fish chowder I made last night that turned out exceptionally well" said Dodd, setting the pot on the table and wrapping Pyosz in a massive hug.

"I'm not hungry at the moment, but you can dig in if you want, it's lunchtime, right?" said Pyosz, offering Ng's bowl.

"Lost track of time already?" said Dodd, accepting the bowl and examining it with a reminiscent smile before filling it with stew.

"Yeah, pretty much" said Pyosz. "My bread is still in its second rise, but I have one piece of cornbread left, and the tea water is still hot." She served Dodd, who was offering morsels of fish to the katts, one on either side of her chair. Pyosz noticed Curds was no longer growling every time Ember was in her proximity. Packing them together like sardines seems to have done them some good she thought.

While Dodd ate, she asked endless intelligent questions of Pyosz and heard the whole story of her saga to this point. "I'll rub liniment in your shoulders again after I'm done eating" offered Dodd.

"Actually, later would be better. I need to get some things done while the sun is out" said Pyosz.

"Then I'm your helper" said Dodd. "I have to be home for dinner, that's my time limit, and there's nothing would give me more pleasure than to help you make a dint in this mess out here." She was earnest, Pyosz could tell. Dodd was always earnest.

"Well, here's my list" said Pyosz. "I need to save the sorting of recycling for myself, because I have to make decisions you can't. And the barn cleaning is going to be foul, I refuse to let you do that. Anything else that strikes your fancy is your chore."

"Primo cornbread" commented Dodd, munching and looking over the list. "Okay, I'll do the chicken house and go clean the goat tank in the pasture, for starters. I dressed in my ejida clothes, and I brought gloves. I'm going to have some alluring new muscles after this week is over."

"I hope I do, too" said Pyosz. She pulled out the tin of Yoj's cookies and Dodd's eyes sparkled, accepting several plus a glass of fresh milk. Pyosz decided her bread was far enough along to bake. She separated the sponge into loaves and rolls while the stove was preheating, again wishing she had an aga.

"Let's leave the dishes soaking in the sink" she told Dodd when she was through eating. "I'll want lunch eventually myself." They walked over to the chickenhouse together and looked over the flock.

"I wish I could somehow get a few of the abbas' hens here, from that line which lays double-yolks" said Pyosz.

Dodd grinned at her. "I've got several of them, and it's an inherited trait. In fact, I just had a chanticleer come for a couple of days. When the chicks hatch, I'll give you all you want."

Pyosx clapped her sibemma's shoulder. "Then I'm going to be eating a lot of chicken in the next month, to make room for them."

"Do you have that stewed curry recipe?" asked Dodd. "Bring that on shmonah, for the family potluck at Arta."

"I forgot about that" said Pyosz. "Every shmonah, still?"

"Absolutely. I take my fiddle, and Abbo's pretty good on drums." Dodd was a member of a band that played all over Pya.

"Well, to the recycling with me" said Pyosz. "Let's check back in when you're done here." She gave Dodd a kiss on her rosy cheek and headed for the barn.

She used the wain to hold everything that was going to Doimoi and a couple of metal crates for bottles and other items she could use. It went faster than she had anticipated. She hauled the wain to the jichang, unloaded it, and return to the barn to do a more thorough check of the hay in the loft.

To her dismay, when she turned over a bale, she found it was moldy halfway through. She investigated all the bales, and only one was fit to use for animal consumption. She pushed the rest out the side door onto the ground below, then clipped the wires on two of them and filled the wain with the greenish straw.

She pulled the wain to the muddy slope by the dock and tipped it up, raking out all the hay onto the incline. She stomped it down, ignoring her complaining feet, and went back for another two bales. Once the slope was carpeted and for more stable underfoot, she covered the trails everythere there was standing water and mud. She still had two bales left, and she took this through kissing gate, packing straw into the slick slide down into the pasture. Goats of course came to investigate, and a few nibbled briefly at the hay, but even they recognized it was not a good idea and wandered off to eat good grass elsewhere. After another rain, it will be a solid mat, she thought.

Returning to the barn, she ran into Dodd who said "There's a leak in the roof on the northeastern corner of the chickenhouse. Rusted through, and not a major problem yet."

"There's tin in the barn, I can patch it later, I bet" Pyosz said. "I'm hungry now, wanna come take a break with me while I eat lunch?"

The chowder was excellent, and Pyosz had a fresh roll with it. Dodd ate two of the rolls, smeared with butter and honey, and declared them as good as his emmas'. Over this second meal, they talked about Dodd's children, Mruch and Qoj. Qoj had just finished her advanced degree in astronomy and meteorology at the University in Skene, and she was planning to spend years in apprenticeship to the Astronomer on Verzin. "Maybe by the time she's done, I can persuade Pya to build an observatory on top of Pertama Poke" said Dodd hopefully. "We could use her skills here, and I just can't believe anyone can grow up in Pya and leave it forever."

"What about Mruch?" asked Pyosz. "I saw the notice that she's been accredited as a curandera."

"Yes, but she wants to be a surgeon" said Dodd. "That will take another year of hard work there in Riesig. Again, though, if we had a surgeon on Pya, we could open our own hospital. Right here in Koldok, if Briel has her way. None of us will have to die alone in Skene again."

Pyosz suddenly hoped Ferk had never regained consciousness, had never experienced the wrench of separation from Saya that she surely would have felt.

"That reminds me" said Pyosz, getting her camera. "Will you take a photo of me that I can send back home, to show them I'm alive and well?"

Dodd took one of her standing by the fig tree, then one of her holding Curds. They took one of the two of them together, and Pyosz managed to get Curds and Ember into the same frame long enough for a shot. She found an angle to catch much of the interior of the cabin, and used her last shot on a sweeping view of the goats, the grassy plain with the woods beyond, and a corner of the shingle beach to the south.

They separated again, Dodd going to muck out the goat tank, Pyosz flushing the privy and pulling weeds from the packed gravel of the jichang. There was no point in shoveling out the goat barn without fresh hay to lay down. Instead, she took one of the kitchen chairs to the tillage and sat down to spare her throbbing quadriceps muscles as she began weeding, making notes about future planting.

Before she was finished, it began raining again. She returned the chair to the kitchen, meeting Dodd who said "It wasn't that bad. It'll refill from the rain, I don't think I need to take a hose down there."

"I declare us done" said Pyosz. "I refuse to garden in the rain, after all I've done today. I've got an hour before the goats will be ready to milk. How about if we look through the books abba sent with me?"

"Hear, hear" said Dodd. Pyosz brought them to the table from her cabin, all except one novel that she realized had a lurid cover showing scantily-clad rice-farmers about to go at it next to a paddy. This must have been in that give-away pile she thought. But what on earth was abba doing with this kind of trashy book?

Dodd left eventually with her chowder pot washed (the rest of it stored in a bowl in the coldbox for Pyosz's dinner) and a bag of books which she'd return to Pyosz after she and Briel read them. Pyosz walked her to the dock, wishing she didn't have to leave. At least I'm in better shape here she thought, walking more easily back up the trail. Though my muscles are as inflamed as ever.

She didn't finish the milking before nightfall and had to stop in the middle again to put away katts and chickens. Curds was suspicious and didn't come when Pyosz put fisk in her bowl, but finally succumbed with the offer of sausage. Ember got a bit of sausage, too, "for being the good katt on Saya" said Pyosz as she shut the cabin door.

Once the milking ordeal was over, Pyosz fried sausage with chopped kale and sliced carrots she'd pulled from the tillage earlier. She added this to the fish stew and ate it with two glasses of water and a couple of figs. In the dark, she stripped and stood under the solar shower, hoping there was enough hot water to rinse the gardenia-smelling soap suds from her crusty body. The last half-minute was tepid, not even warm. She dried briskly, realizing she'd forgotten to get that massage from Dodd. She dressed in warm clothes and heated water on both burners of her stove until she had enough to fill the basin again. Her feet actually looked a little better, she found. After soaking, she re-dressed them, put on clean sokken, and sat down at the table to write letters to her family, long letters full of description and as much humor as she could muster. She began with a letter to Prl, because she was especially missing her. The idea of going an entire summer without seeing her emma suddenly seemed insane.

She picked up the radio and called the Genist Manage. After ten rings, she hung up, astonished that nobody was there. Where could they be? She kept writing and tried again half an hour later, still with no result. She started to worry: What if someone was in the hospital? Wouldn't they have called Mill, at least, to tell her? She kept working on her letters and calling at ten-minute intervals. After an hour, she was in a near frenzy. The rain pouring down around the canopy seemed like walls pinning her in, no light making its way through the dark. She was frightened but going into the cabin seemed worse.

Finally she called her abbas' Manage, figuring it must be about 9 in the morning there. To her reilef, Yoj answered, and Pyosz burst into tears. "Is everybody okay? I've been trying to call emma and nobody answered, not for hours" Pyosz wailed.

"She's here, actually, with Qala and Lawa" said Yoj, suddenly wondering if anticipating this call was why Prl had shown up so early this morning, before anyone but Halling was awake. She must have thought Pyosz would call us instead of her thought Yoj. But Prl was at her elbow, saying "Is that my child? What's wrong, do I hear her crying?" The radio was jerked from Yoj's hand and Prl said "Baby, what happened, do you need to come home?"

"Oh, emma, I've been calling and calling you tonight, I was so worried about you" sobbed Pyosz. "And my whole body aches so bad, my feet are covered with blisters, I can't wear my otos, this place is a wreck and the goats bite me and Curds hates me and I'm freezing at night, you were right about the blankets, I should have listened to you!" Prl listened, pacing the floor, as Pyosz unburdened herself of all her troubles. Eventually Pyosz was able to say "But s'bemma Dodd came and brought me lunch, and helped me loads. And some of the people in Koldok are very nice. And please tell abba Lawa that her first-aid kit has saved me several times over." She was beginning to tell Prl details of Saya's condition and about all the purchases she was having to make, when the line went dead because Pyosz had called on a private frequency.

She sat there, deliberating calling back. She hadn't had a chance to talk to any of the others. But she was mailing letters tomorrow, and she had told Prl twice how much she loved her, and she really needed to go to sleep. She felt so much better, she thought she could maybe sleep soundly tonight. She put the radio back in the recharger and turned off the kitchen light, sitting there a few more minutes in the pitch-black night, breathing in the moist air and feeling like maybe she hadn't made a mistake, after all.

Prl, of course, was in near hysterics. She repeated everything she could remember Pyosz saying, often with embellishment, and shouted "I will never forgive Mill for doing this to my child, putting her in peril like this!"

It was Bux who calmed her down, saying "She just needed to cry, you know what that's like, she's only 20 and in a strange place, doing a hard job. She needed her emma, and she got you, that will make all the difference a grown woman wants." Although Bux did cast a look at Yoj and Halling which said, plainly, We will be checking in with Mill about her behavior here.

"It sounds like she's already running out of money, because Mill is letting her spend all her savings on fixing up that shu-hole" said Prl.

"But you yourself told Pyosz you weren't going to give her any money to help her in this foolish stunt" said Qala quietly. Prl looked daggers at her. Lawa said "She'll ask for help if she needs it. Sounds like she accepted Dodd's offer. Her body will heal, and she'll come back with enormous advances in self-confidence."

"I'm afraid she won't come back at all" whispered Prl.

"Nonsense" said Halling. "She's not Mill, she doesn't have a point to prove about being the Sheng Zhang. She's not driven in that particular way."

"Not like an 18-year-old I remember" added Yoj, "who became the youngest of all Genists with inadequate preparation and the responsibility of all Skene's future on her shoulders." Yoj's gentle tone drew a reluctant smile from Prl.

"If she doesn't call back, it's because she's done with this outburst" added Bux. "You know how self-absorbed that age can be. She'll move on to the next shiny object, now that she's wept in emma's lap."

They all laughed, then, and Prl finally showed a willingness to go back home to her neglected duties. Lawa went with her, but Qala stayed behind, saying to Yoj quietly "I'm not so sure Pyosz will ask for money if she needs it. Anything else, yes."

"Well, she won't go hungry" said Bux. "It's Pya, and there's family all around her there."

Pyosz was still and contemplative at the table, her flash in one hand, radio in the other. She was already in the habit of sitting on the side of the fable facing Koldok Kuono, where beyond the water she knew was town on her left, Arta Island on her right, though at the moment nothing was visible. She began making a mental list of what she had to do the following day, besides the levvin' milking -- call Mill and get a load of hay delivered, first thing. Maybe Abbo could bring that when she came to get the goats, if it wasn't pouring again.

Suddenly the grey of the rain in front of her turned black, utterly black, accompanied by a break in the breeze from that direction. A shape glided toward her and dropped down effortlessly onto the metal table next to her left hand, with a small sound of chitin scraping aluminum but no other indication of flight. The light-blocking wings folded elegantly against a body three feet tall, and a neckless head swiveled in her direction. She caught a glimpse of tapetum, and would have screamed except she was not breathing at all.

Before she passed out in terror, the head swiveled in the opposite direction, seemingly too far for a head to turn. Again without a sound, the creature lifted into the air, its wings passiing inches over Pyosz's head as it glided into the night again, a single flap giving it height once clear of the canopy. Pyosz breathed in with a gasp, and startled at the rattling she heard nearby before she realized it was the flash banging against the table because her hand was shaking uncontrollably. A few seconds later, Pyosz heard the scream of a shu in the direction the owl had gone.

That got her to her feet. She burst into the cabin, scooping Curds into her arms and gibbering "You surely don't want to be out there, katt of mine, you surely don't". She put on her schmatta, set the alarm, spread the new blankets on her bed, pushed her trunk against the door, and lay down with the flash and radio still in either hand. Ember was looking intently out the window, and Pyosz whispered "Did you see it, Ember?" From Ember's glance down at her, Pyosz thought the answer was yes. Curds seemed to have picked up on the tension, and curled against Pyosz's back, silent. Pyosz fell asleep without completely closing her eyes.


Chanticleer -- rooster.
Cogio -- town at southern tip of Dvareka in Pya, which has a salt factory, several refineries and ore processing plants, a distillery, a kelp factory, and a number of the only taverns on Pya.
Kuono -- ocean bay

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.


Blue said...

Ahhhh... got my fix.

Cowboy Diva said...

How interesting that Pyosz spurred herself on by deciding she didn't want to look bad in front of her cousins and dilemmas but felt no compunction with bearing her soul to parents and grandparents.