Sunday, August 30, 2009


Olive oil can from Pya
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)


The following day, Qala walked in to the Genist Manage kitchen where Lawa and Prl were sitting down to afternoon tea holding a crate with a bundle of letters on top. "Mail from Pya!" she declared. They unwrapped the string-sealed envelopes and read in silence for a few minutes.

Lawa said "She writes that Tu was there when she opened the hoe and remembered it was the first one I ever bought for myself. She says it made her cry; that's a good kind of crying, right?"

"Best kind" said Qala. "She says here that Dodd is giving her chicks descended from the double-yolk line at the Manage down the hill, she plans to reinvigorate the chicken flock on Saya. She also says she's set up a killing field near a cliff where blood can drain into the ocean." She looked askance at Lawa, who replied "Makes sense to me."

"I've got photos" said Prl, trumping them both. She'd been through them twice already, not reading her letter yet. She handed them over to Lawa and Qala, going to her office and returning with a thick sheet of chart parchment which she pinned to the wall next to the table. Once Lawa and Qala had pored over the pictures as well, Prl sorted them into clusters and began pinning them to the parchment. The one of Pyosz in her kitchen drew a simultaneous exclamation from Qala and Lawa, who got up to come look at it closely.

"That's her, that's her down to essence" said Qala.

"Who's she looking at behind the camera?" asked Lawa. Prl pointed to the photo of Maar and Pyosz together. "The pilot whom she's been asking me questions about" said Prl with disapproval in her voice. Beside that snap, she'd put the photo of Pyosz and Uli together. "And this is the mapmaker who went to University here on Riesig."

"Looks to me like we got a competition under way" said Qala. "Oh, look at the one of Pyosz and Dodd together, that's beautiful!"

"And here's the pilot frolicking naked with Abbo" continued Prl, her jaw tight.

"Doesn't she have a name?" asked Lawa.

"Maar" said Prl tersely. She could see Lawa trying to work out where she'd heard it before. However, what Lawa said was "Sounds like you've made your mind up about which one she should choose. Because University means smart, and pilot who helps her on Saya means stupid, right?" She stalked out of the kitchen into the large larder.

"Don't I get to have an opinion about my child's life choices?" complained Prl to Qala.

"No" came from the larder. "You totally fell for Sey, you used up all your barter credit."

Prl glared at the larder door, waiting for Lawa to return. Qala pointed to the photo of Pyosz with Dodd again and said "Look at her arm muscles, those are new." Lawa emerged and came to peer through her bifocals.

"Stars" said Lawa. "She looks like a Jiang Giant."

There was an old and endlessly expanded-upon children's story about Jiang Giants who lived beneath Skene's crust, massive beings made of sizzling rock, swimming in magma which was also their sustenance. Every now and then, lava would find a fissure to the surface and erupt into the open air, where it died. This would enrage the Jiang Giants, and they would stomp around, throw boulders, and rage in stony roars. This is what children were told caused earthquakes.

Qala laughed. "That's a great description."

Prl said to Lawa, in a challenging but kind tone, "Why do you do that?"


"Act like if some reference is made to intelligence or education, that what's being hinted at is that you are stupid" said Prl. "Lawa, I've never ever heard anybody question your smarts. I've leaned on your mind for decades now. So why do you have that tender spot?"

Qala was exulting inside at someone else confronting Lawa about this, and doing a nice job of it.

Lawa pursed her lips and thought for a minute. "I don't know." And that was one of Lawa's most golden attributes, when she was asked a hard or painful question by someone she loved, she never showed resentment. After another minute, she said "I'll think on it."

Prl hugged her lightly and said "Thank you. I guess I've got some thinking of my own to do, huh." She refilled the teapot with hot water from the aga and sat down at the table. Lawa was now peering at the photos of Tu.

Qala sat down across from Prl and poured herself a cup of tea. "Aren't you going to open the crate? I imagine it's a duplicate of what Yoj's Manage received."

Prl opened the latch and began pulling out bags of dried fruit. Lawa came to her side and examined the label closely. "She's been there two weeks, and look at all this" she marveled. Prl opened the honey jar and put a teaspoon of it into her tea, taking a long sip.

"Mill certainly knew who to ask to come help" she said not quite neutrally.

"I think Mill lucked out" said Qala. "She asked Vants, I know that for a fact, and Vants turned her down. Let's give Pyosz all the credit here and leave it at that. Hand me those apricots, will you?"

She and Lawa began sampling each bag of fruit.

"Speaking of stupid...." began Prl, her voice soft. "I have no wisdom or experience at all in the ream of romance, lovers, dating, whatever you want to call it. It's hard for me to acknowledge. I don't have anything to offer my child. Maybe that's why I'm herding hard in a direction where it looks like I can have a rational judgment." She laid her head on her arms.

Lawa looked around at her. "You're her emma. We don't take questions like that to our emmas. I mean, Ng was an open door, but I never once told her who I was sweet on."

"Who did you talk with?" asked Qala, feeling an old flicker of jealousy that there had been lovers before her.

"Mostly nobody. Sometimes Tu or Halling" said Lawa.

Qala grinned. "And Halling is who told you I had feelings for you."

"I didn't need to be told twice" said Lawa with an answering grin. "I actually ran down the hill that night toward the Lofthall."

Qala saw that Prl's eyes were closed, and signaled silently to Lawa that they could reminisce another time. Qala said "You know, Prl, I can imagine Pyosz actually bringing some of her questions to you. They'd be indirectly phrased, and she'd float a windsock kite first, to see if you were going to be all lecture-y. But you and she have been closer than any other emma and child I know."

Prl's eyes opened. "The odds are, I'll piss her off right away."

"Mebbe not" said Lawa. "You're already thinking on it, that's a sign."

Prl sat up. "You realize we're spending as much time dealing with her as our youngest, despite her being half a world away, as we often did when she lived here?"

Lawa chuckled. "Remember that time when she was four and you discovered she was getting up in the middle of the night to cook stuff?"

"Oh, lev" said Prl, her face losing a little color. "I walked into this kitchen and she was standing on a chair right there, the aga door open, trying to stir burning oatmeal with the sharpest cleaver I owned, and the hem of her little shati was so hot it was about to burst into flames."

"Well, you got to let her stir this pot now with whatever she's got to hand" said Lawa.

"Or you could mail a bunch of eks to the pilot and see if you could buy her off" said Qala, deadpan. After a long moment, Prl and Lawa both burst into laughter. Prl looked at the clock and said, "Crap, I have to go tell a couple of 19-year-olds they're not suitable to add a child to their mix." She carried her cup to the sink. She almost never talked about her duties, and Qala stared after her.

"How do you tell someone that?" asked Qala.

"Well, in their case I'll simply suggest they wait a year, until they're 20, making it sound biological rather than emotional" said Prl. "They won't be together in a year. One of them is cheating on the other with her partner's siba. Or so rumor has it. If I'm wrong, they'll come back in a year and I'll take another look."

"How do you hear all this gossip?" demanded Lawa, part of her mind trying to figure out who Prl might be talking about and the other part of her mind insisting she leave it alone.

Prl turned to grin at them a little wickedly, and lowered her voice to say "I go to Market every week, right? And it's well known that I duck under a canopy and take forever looking over selections before I actually barter."

"You're a reverie kind of shopper, that's true" said Qala.

"No, I make up my mind right away. But if I stay quiet, I can hear the conversations going on five and six stalls away. People are appallingly indiscreet about what they discuss in public. I store it all away in my memory, and if a rumor persists, I find some subtle way to refer to it with emma. Bux, that is. She's like Qen, she knows what everybody is doing." Prl kissed Qala's cheek and said "I don't actually like that part of my job, not like emma does, but everybody lies when it comes to their children, real or hoped for." She kissed Lawa's cheek as well and went to her office to retrieve her carryall.

Lawa sat down close to Qala to say "If it's not the University thing, then she's heard something about the pilot. But she don't have no dirt on the mapmaker."

"See, you just put that together lickety-split" whispered Qala. "Let's go next door, Yoj is deep in the stacks and the Manage is empty."

On Pya, Saya Island had been sunny and bustling since goats were released to pasture. Pyosz finished adding soil to her new raised beds, using leftover planks to make sequested areas for aggressive plants like mint and fennel. She built trellises for future beans, at the opposite end of her tillage from the onion/garlic/shallot bed. She also built trellises for cucumbers, next to the beans but well away from potatoes, and capers in the area most protected from the northwest prevailing wind. She made hills for an entire field of corn, enough to make her abbas crow, and buried a core of enriched dung at the base of each hill.

Until soil testing was completed, however, she couldn't rearrange her tillage according to her new chart or put in new seeds. Instead, she planted starts in the special trays her abbas had sent and put them in the sun on top of her grill cover. She folded tiny envelopes for half of each seed type, labeling them and adding a small drawing, to pass on to Tu and Pank. She felt the txikadiis watching her avidly from the rafters as she poured seeds from one envelope to another.

She cleared the table, scrubbed it down along with her hands, and brought the latest batch of dried fruit from the drying room to bag and label. She made a marinade for her lamb of mashed peaches and juice, lime juice, honey, vinegar, and a dash of allspice. Before she rubbed it over the carcass, she cut slits into the meat and inserted slivers of garlic, then returned it to the coldbox. She called Arta to make sure there would be room in the aga for roasting, and Api told her they were planning to build a fire in their massive outdoor covered grill, despite the hot weather, because Dodd was also bringing a dish for roasting. "We're planning to grill asparagus, onions, squash, whole heads of garlic, and onions" said Api. "Plus potatoes."

"I'm hungry already" said Pyosz. "I can't wait until the corn harvest comes in."

"Best time of year" agreed Api. "It's not too late for you to get in a crop before fall, you know."

"I'lm planning on it" said Pyosz.

"I need to come inspect your renovations, by the way" said Api. "Maybe this week."

"Any time after 9:00 most days" said Pyosz. When she clicked off, she made lunch with warm-yolked eggs for her wilted escarole salad. She gathered her orchard gear, plus scrub, towel, and clean clothes, and trundled her wain through the kissing gate.

Halfway across her pasture, she heard the distant drone of aircraft approaching. She looked around at the nearest goats and grabbed Yams, a large yellow-brown doe who was easy-going to the point of near somnolence. She whipped off her red cap and tied it over Yams head, which brought all the kids in for a hopeful nibble. She lifted Yams into the wain, jumped in after her, and lifted Yams as high in the air as she could. Yams decided this was really too much and began struggling, and it was all Pyosz could do to hang onto her as the lighter zipped overhead. It made an instant banking curve and swing back around for a second look. She was laughing wildly, goats running in all directions, and she wished there was a camera in the lighter to photograph her, but it was unlikely. After a waggle of flaps, the lighter went on and Pyosz set Yams down in the wain. Yams promptly urinated, narrowly missing the pot holding towel and scrub, before leaving the wain with a complaining bleat at every step.

She took a long soak and washed her hair, scrubbed every inch of her body, and then laundered her red cap in the pot with shampoo, setting it on a wain upright to dry. She missed Maar's company during the rinsing process and also during the fruit picking. Back in her kitchen, she sorted dutifully for allotment, preparing half for drying or sale as is, the other half for jams and preserves. At one point she heard the jae calling repeatedly. She walked out to spot it, and discovered it was sitting atop her red cap still drying on the wain, trying to remove the fluffy red ball at the peak of the cap. She ran toward her wain yelling "Stop! You there!" The jae waited until she was only a yard away before taking wing. She carried her cap back to dry in her kitchen.

It began raining before she was finished milking. She had hung her silks earlier to air, but as she ate dinner, she began to feel dread about the impending dance. She wondered if the downpour was enough to excuse her absence. Chewing, she picked up her radio and dialed the Genist Manage.

"This early, I knew it must be you" said Prl happily. Pyosz thought she could hear the cast-iron lid on the aga cistern being lifted for tea water in the background. "We have a wall covered with your photos here, and I've eaten so much of your cheese I'm going to need some of Lawa's stewed prunes to unbind me."

"Emma, I went out to eat at a fancy restaurant in Pertama with Uli last night" began Pyosz. "But I told her it wasn't a date, and I realized as I said it that dating is simply not something I can handle right now. I mean, I'd already said something similar to Maar, but this made it official."

Prl sat down abruptly. Listen, just listen she reminded herself. "How does it feel, a day later?" she asked with light interest.

"Good. I had a good day. Curds and Ember found a nest of baby shu and killed them all, and I lavished praise on them, though I suspect the shu were easy pickings because its emma was hunted by an owl this week. I can't imagine shu being emmas, but I guess they are" said Pyosz, off on a tangent.

"Well, reproduction and emmadom are not necessarily the same thing" said Prl.

"You oughta know. I mean because of your career, not you personally" added Pyosz hastily. Prl laughed and said "Clarification not necessary." Qala came in the back door with a basket of eggs, and Prl wrote hastily on the kitchen pad: "Pyosz. I was right, pilot and mapmaker both chasing her. She said no. Brought it up with me!"

Qala gave her a thumbs' up, whispered "Give her my love" and left again.

"Emma, why do you think Ngall and Abbo were treated so differently? Ngall has always lived up to expectations, at least until she scratched dirt in her emmas' faces to go marry Ehuy, but Abbo still got treated like she was the favored child" said Pyosz. "Makes me really glad I didn't have sibs."

"I don't think Oby treated Ngall differently than Abbo, I think that's mostly Mill's doing" said Prl. "And isn't it obvious why? Look at Abbo."

"What about her?"

"She's an almost exact duplicate of Oby" said Prl. "Physically, I mean. Especially if you knew Oby as a teenager, which of course you didn't. Mill and Oby fell in love by the time they were 13 or 14, and had known each other all their lives, so I'm fairly sure when Mill looks at Abbo, she sees the young Oby who's had her heart nearly forever. And Oby doesn't interrupt that because ego is human nature, after all."

"Do you think Abbo is good looking?" asked Pyosz. There was a note in her voice that caught Prl's attention.

"Yes, I do" said Prl honestly. "She's every bit the looker Oby was. But I don't think she's really at all like Oby in other ways. Oby was raised by two emmas who are profoundly service-oriented and on the conservative side, in an intelligent way. She pursued adventure only in realms where it enhanced public good. At heart, she's not self-absorbed." Prl didn't need to make the comparison. She suddenly realized this was on a public frequency. Before she could ask if that were so, Pyosz changed direction again.

"Emma, have you ever been in love?"

There was a long silence. Pyosz said "I'm sorry, I'm prying -- "

"No, it's a good question. But will you call me back on a private frequency?"

"Oh. Yeah, right away."

Prl got down a sip of honey-laced tea before the radio buzzed again.

"All right. Yes, I've been in love. Only once, but for a long time." Prl felt dizzy. She'd never told anybody, not even Dodd or Yoj although she suspected they both knew.

Pyosz was stunned. Even the request to change frequencies hadn't altered her expectation that Prl would say no. "Wow. I guess I can't ask you who."

"I'd rather not say" admitted Prl.

"Which means it's probably someone I know" said Pyosz. Prl closed her eyes. "Did she know how you felt, emma?"

"We didn't speak of it...directly. But yes, I think she did. She chose someone else" said Prl.

Which means it must have been before you became Genist thought Pyosz, this time not saying it out loud. "Do you still have heartache?"

"For her specifically? Not really. I think my love for her was, shall we say, misplaced. You know what I mean" Prl dared. "But I wish I'd had a lover. I'm not sorry to be Genist, and I certainly pushed the boundary lived by any other Genist on Skene, but I'd like to have had a partner. Or partners."

"Wow" said Pyosz again. "I can hardly wrap my mind around this. I don't think I would have liked sharing you with someone else."

"She would have been your emma, she would have given you double what I could" said Prl.

"I can't imagine that" repeated Pyosz. "You could retire, emma, and go find love again."

Prl was close to crying. "I have more work to do, Pyosz. At least one big piece, one problem yet to resolve, before I can feel okay about turning it over to the dullard." She whispered the last phrase so softly Pyosz only understood it because she'd heard it so often from Prl.

"I really thought I was in love with Sey, emma. I think I wanted to be in love, I wanted to be like everybody else. You know, even if I don't fall in love again, I mean to have a Manage and children. Several children. You showed me I can do that no matter what" said Pyosz.

"That may be the finest thing you've ever told me" said Prl softly. "We're all so proud here of what you're doing, how you're leading your life, we can hardly contain ourselves."

"We're going to run out of time. There's a dance tonight in Koldok and I really don't want to go, but the rest of the family is expecting me. I guess I'll write you all about it" said Pyosz.

"Thank you so -- " Static cut in. Prl lay down the radio very gently before bursting into tears.

Pyosz sat for a long time, staring into the slanting quicksilver of nighttime rain. Finally she went into her cabin and lay her gold commencement outfit on her bed. She stripped down and wiped off her otos before changing into clean underwear, then donning the silk, which felt luxurious in a new way against her skin -- it had been over two weeks since she'd worn silk. As she was lacing the jirekinu, she heard Maar's voice from outside calling "Hello? Are you still here?"

"Getting dressed, I'll be there in a minute" she called back. She pulled a small pot of gold glitter from her cupboard and dropped a sprinkle onto her damp hair. She put back on her otos, tucking her calças legs into the tops to keep them dry, then donned her burzaka and red cap. She found Maar sitting at the table, drinking fresh tea. Maar said "I thought you'd appreciate a ride in this weather."

"And how" said Pyosz. "Are you hungry, I could -- "

"No. Hard as it is to pass up your cooking, I'm full enough and don't want to try dancing after the kind of gorging I do with your food" said Maar. Pyosz grabbed her flash and they splashed their way to Maar's lighter. Two minutes later, Maar was tying down the craft at the Lofthall jichang, shouting into the rain "Go on ahead, I'll meet you there."

Pyosz ran for the schoolhouse, entering through the mudroom and finally locating a free hook to hang her burzaka. The buzz of voices from the adjoining assembly hall was louder than the rain. She stuffed her hat into the burzaka pocket. As she turned around, Maar was coming in the door. Maar froze and gaped at Pyosz.

"Thunder me down, but don't you clean up well" she said. She bent closer to look at the glitter in Pyosz's hair.

"Oh, dear, I'm not overdressed, am I?" worried Pyosz.

"No, folks deck out for dances. But I've lost the crease in my kalsongers, and, well, you look dazzling, that's all" said Maar. She held out the crook of her arm and Pyosz took it gladly, suddenly shy to walk into the next room alone.

There were appreciative looks cast their way as they entered, and Pyosz could see people whispering "Who is that?" Before the gauntlet got too embarrassing, however, Tu was waving them down from a table crammed with family. Pyosz hugged them all exuberantly, even Abbo who said "You'll have to save me a dance, cousin, you're going to sparkle on that floor out there." Dodd and her band were already on the small stage, but Dodd waved at her. Pyosz sat down next to Qoj and they started talking excitedly. Nk went to get her a glass of cold tea, and before she returned, the music began, a swinging two-step.

Oby asked Pyosz to dance, and Pyosz said "Thank you so much, S'bemma, but I need to just sit for a while and take it in. The idea of not moving my body is most attractive at the moment."

Oby turned to Mill and they swept onto the floor, along with Abbo and Maar, Tu and Pank, Briel and Api, Frahe and Qoj. Nk returned with her drink, and they listened to the band for a while. In addition to Dodd on the fiddle, there was a mandolin, a bodhrán, an accordian, and a small silver trumpet. Nk said the squeezebox player would switch on and off to the piano there in the schoolroom, as melody required.

Pyosz managed to avoid the dance floor for a few more songs, either by engaging herself in conversation which it would be rude to interrupt or going to get drinks herself. Her family was dance-happy, and there was an even number at the table plus Maar, which meant Pyosz sitting it out didn't keep someone else from taking a turn. Finally, however, thankfully during a relative sedate number, Maar said "All right, it's time for you to let Pya see you on your feet", grabbing her hand and tugging her upright. As they reached a clear spot and Maar pulled her closer, Pyosz whispered "I'm a terrible dancer, Maar. I truly am."

"You haven't had me as a partner" said Maar gallantly. She smelled of rain and juniper, Pyosz noticed. Their hands were almost exactly the same size, clasped together, and their matching height helped Pyosz relax a little as they began moving slowly in unison. Every muscle in Pyosz's body was trying to guess where Maar was going to direct them next, and almost half the time, it was a wrong guess. Maar demonstrated no impatience, however. Her grin was wide and Pyosz had fleeting seconds of enjoyment between the times when she stepped on Maar's feet or brought them to a brief halt because she had jerked them in the wrong direction.

When they reached the end, Pyosz was sweating hard. Maar stood beside as they applauded the band and said "Now, that wasn't so bad, was it?"

"You tell me" said Pyosz.

Maar bent to her ear to whisper "I'll keep Abbo off your back, okay?" Pyosz felt a flush of something move through her, and she was grinning when they returned to the table. "Save one for me" said Tu as she was heading onto the floor with Nk. Abbo grabbed Maar before she could sit down, and Pyosz sank into her chair gratefully.

A few seconds later, she recognized the song Dodd was beginning. It had been written by Yoj not long after she, Halling and Bux had partnered. She'd once told Pyosz it was about a weekend they'd spent on Pomar, surrounded by orchards and nature without other people nearby. The verses were about trees, about unobstructed views toward a distant coast, and about falling in love with a new place. The music had long chord stretches with high, sweet notes.

As she listened now, however, Pyosz realized it applied much more forcefully to Pya than to Pomar. At the end of the first verse, Dodd stopped playing to sing the chorus, and most of the dancers halted as well to sing with her, Dodd's clear tenor almost piercing with emotion:

I embrace this good green earth
Rising safe I am this hour
Above the ocean's salty scour
Rising safe for each new birth
This is my home above the sea
This is my home, embracing me

Pyosz felt tears sting her eyes, looking around the room. This is a kind of anthem for them here she thought. She wished the abbas could see this, could see how Yoj's words had been claimed by the new world. She resolved to find a way to describe it in a letter.

At the end, the dancers again stopped moving to repeat the final verse. They all then flung their arms into the air and shouted "To Pya!" Pyosz came to her feet belatedly, and remained standing as her family returned to the table. In their wake was Uli, who hugged her and said "Can I join you for a while?"

"Of course" said Pyosz. Maar had sat down on the other side of the table, next to Abbo, and Uli took her chair. Tu and Pank returned immediately to the dance floor.

"That last song was amazing!" Pyosz said to Briel. "Does Yoj know what it's become here?"

"I don't think so" said Briel. She said to Abbo and Maar's questioning faces "Dodd's emma wrote that."

"I never knew that" said Abbo, looking shocked. "We sung it every day in school, I just thought it was some old piece from before I was born."

"Well, it was" said Mill, mussing her hair. "Seems like half the popular music on Skene was composed by emma."

Uli leaned toward Pyosz and said "Those hanshan and jirekinu are gorgeous. And clearly Skene-made. Which shop do you use?" Pyosz told her, and Uli pointed to her own dubikun, saying "They made these, too."

Api and Ollow went to the snack bar and returned with a platter of ikan, salted tomatoes, rice balls, and assorted fruit, along with a pitcher of cold tea. The dancers ate lustily, talking at volume over the hubbub around them. People kept stopping by to visit, and they were all introduced to Pyosz, who quickly lost track of names but found she was happy to gaze into interesting faces, press hands in her own, and accept the welcome being extended her. Uli showed no signs of wanting to return to her own family table. She was charming the sokken off Qoj, Pyosz could tell, and very deferential to all the older women, but hardly engaged with Maar at all.

Two songs later, Dodd stood in front of the mic with her fiddle lowered and said "I have a new song for you all tonight. It's from ancient Yrth, lyrics translated by my emma Yoj, music hopefully translated correctly by me. The band has worked all week to learn the words, but before we sing it, I'll play you the melody. We're calling it 'Oak Grove'." A murmur went around the room. Pank said to Pyosz "Good name change."

The room had gone silent by the end of the second bar, except for thuds from children playing on the second floor above them. When Dodd lowered her fiddle again and the band broke into the lilting ache of the first line, Pyosz realized she was going to cry all out, no stopping it. Uli held her hand as Pyosz stifled her sobs enough to hear the beautiful words. Dodd was smiling at her. After the last chorus, Dodd played the melody again, and there was a thunderous roar of applause.

The band began a clogging melody, and Uli said to Pyosz "Care to take a turn with me?"

"Oh, lev, not right this minute" said Pyosz, wiping her face with her palm. Uli turned to Qoj and they melted onto the floor, adding to a cacophony of leather on wood. Half a minute later, Maar was in Qoj's chair, leaning toward her to say in her ear "What did that song make you think of? Missing Skene?"

"Um, I guess some. But more, about those poor people who were stranded here against their will, never to see anything familiar again. I mean, I'd have gone crazy too. Memory is linked to the soil, you know? I'm so attached to Saya already, it's a little frightening." Pyosz was close enough to Maar's face that she had an impulse to touch her forefinger to the dimple in Maar's chin.

"I know what you mean" said Maar. "My third week here, I was flying over Zold and even though a cloud had covered the hot springs, I could see the beetle green of its color in my mind as if it were clearly visible. And I said out loud 'Zold, you're quite the beauty.' Unfortunately, my radio was on and Jiips heard me."

Pyosz giggled. "You know, I realized while I was biking precariously to Pertama with Uli, I haven't gone beyond Koldok since I got here. One of my intentions this summer was to explore Pya as an adult. I need to start venturing out on the weekends, instead of work, work, work."

"I concur" said Maar emphatically. The song ended, and Maar stood to grab another chair for Qoj before returning to sit beside Pyosz again. Abbo leaned across the table to say "You're the talk of the Lofthall, cousin. There's a raging debate about how many points are awarded for a redcap sighting on a goat with a two-person lift in a wain." Pyosz and Maar erupted into laughter, and Abbo explained to the others.

"Whatever possessed you?" asked Qoj.

"Oh, public scrutiny is something you have to not take seriously" said Pyosz. "I learned that early. My next plan is to find a way to put my cap on an owl." Maar and Pank roared, and Tu said "Take a photograph this time, before it removes your kidneys for you."

When the band resumed, Tu said "My turn with the capriste" and extended her arm to Pyosz. Tu's frame was very much like that of her sib Halling, with the long bones that Pyosz herself had, but elegant and light. Pyosz hoped to do better with her cousin than she had with Maar. Tu seemed to sense her limitations immediately and moved them into the center of the dance floor, where elders and small children traveled at a slower pace. This plus Tu's decades of practice kept Pyosx from repeatedly crushing Tu's feet beneath her otos. Pyosz was again breathless at the end of the dance, mostly from strain, while Tu had not even a flush. As they returned to their chairs, Pyosz said "It's so crowded, I'm beginning to think the entire population is here." Tu replied "Folks on Pya never miss a dance. It's our main form of community gathering. Even the Owl People are here."

"The Owl People?" said Pyosz. "I thought that was some yarn Mill spun us when we were kids."

The older folks at the table sat out the next dance in order to talk with Pyosz about the Owl People. When Pya had first been explored, not every island had resident owls, though most did. In particular, the medium-sized island of Chwet, choked with a mixed forest of oak, beech, hickory, chestnut, and pine, seemed to have great numbers of owls.

There were two different owl species which the original colonists had apparently introduced as their form of shu control, one which preferred to live in rocky burrows and one which required large trees as a habitat. Any island which had a respectable forest would have the latter, and over time, these owls had become the massive creatures which struck terror into those back on Skene who heard the reports: Flat-faced birds with wing spans averaging eight feet and often up to 10 or 12 feet from tip to tip, a height of 3 feet, and talons like elongated razors. The rock-dwelling owls had wing spans under five feet, and were a buffy-grey instead of the dark brown plumage on the tree owls.

Despite the extreme efficacy of owls as shu-hunters, Skene had adamantly refused to allow this species a foothold on their own set of islands. So great was their fear, that only a single specimen was allowed to be kept by the botanist. It was aversion which determined this vote, but in practical terms, it also made sense: Katts on Skene prowled at night, and to an owl, a katt was as good a meal as shu. So were lambs, kids, chickens and other fowl. Those who immigrated to Pya learned to keep all small stocks and pets indoors once darkness fell. Skene was unwilling to make that change.

Early on, a set of three families from Bosco had migrated to Pya together. They had expertise with forestry and farming wild pigs, and they were offered their choice of the wooded islands as their home. After a stay in Pertama to get acclimated, they had surprised Api by asking to settle on Chwet.

Api explained to them that Chwet, like Pabo, had been set aside by Skene law as primarily inhabited by a now-native species, and therefore human development would be limited to activities which would not substantially threaten the habitat of the owls on Chwet or the turkeys on Pabo. This partial observance of environmental law, in place since the Troubles 500 years earlier, was being circumvented on Pabo by the decision to build a small community on the coast, adjacent to meadows avoided by turkeys (likely because of human proximity). A small group of wild turkeys were caught and "observed" for a couple of years, during which time they hatched many young who were declared by the people on Pabo to be "no longer wild" and therefore available for breeding and farming. Thus, early on Pya had earned a steady income from importing turkey meat to Skene, who had no environmental qualms about consuming vast quantities of the protected animal.

In the case of Chwet, Api said, there could only be cutting of trees which were clearly impeding the growth of other nearby trees, or which were already dead or dying. The wild pigs of the forests could be hunted and eaten, because Skene did not recognize the rights of wild pigs on Pya any more than they recognized the rights of wild pigs on Bosco in Skene. But hunting and consumption had to not threaten the ongoing numbers of pigs on Chwet. Further, there was no ferry to Chwet and none planned for the coming decade, because it was never going to be a high population or industry center. And, of course, Chwet was simply crawling with owls. Wouldn't the new immigrants prefer to settle on Mti or Nec, instead?

No, they said, they wanted to live in a wilderness and they rather liked the idea of the owls. They were dropped off with an allotment, their belongings, and a set of tools, plus the little metal cabins used by the first Skene arrivals on Pya, identical to Pyosz's on Saya. Oby returned after three days to check on them, and discovered they had begun building houses made of entire logs, not boards. They were observing the tree-cutting guidelines, and were employing an ingenious method of notching the logs at either end so they would stack without much gap. When Oby asked where they had come up with this technology, one of them produced a translation of ancient, pre-Skene texts written by Yoj.

It turned out, they had read Yoj's translations extensively, and were keen to reproduce life as it might have been on the planet before Skene.

One of them had a nasty gash in her leg from a wild boar attack, and said boar was roasting on a spit. Oby stayed to eat with them, discovering they also had located in one of Yoj's translations a means of leeching the tannins from ground acorn meal so it was edible. She said the acorn mush she had was appetizing and filling. They requested a few more basic items -- wire mesh to build pig-proof fences around their small settlement, tin roofing for their cabins, and red lenses to place over their flash so the light would not disturb nocturnal creatures. Owls, it was presumed.

Over the next year, they dug wells, set up solar panels for electricity, and fed themselves well from their tillage, a pen of chickens, and the allotment. One member of each family went to work as a forester on other islands, hitching rides to and from Chwet on the school sinner. Their children proved to be above-average students and voracious readers. On Market day, one individual from Chwet arrived with a load to barter. What little income they earned was often spent on ordering more books. Otherwise, they all stayed on their island. They accepted one radio for emergencies, which was used primarily to call in a comadrona as their numbers increased.

After a few years, one of the Chwet foresters working on Mti was part of a crew which unwittingly disturbed a tree whose trunk was the home of a large owl. The owl emerged, making an angry cry and flying around their heads. Most of the crew scattered in stark terror, but there was one who remained and served as witness to the Chwet woman holding up her arms and beginning to answer the owl in its own language. The owl settled down quickly, the Chwet woman led everyone away, and despite repeated questions, she refused to pass on what she might have said or how she had learned to speak owl. That was when those on Chwet began to be called the Owl People.

After ten years, a ferry to Chwet was constructed. Visitors were not treated badly but they weren't especially welcomed, either. Teenagers now grown to adulthood took jobs elsewhere on Pya long enough to stash a nest egg of eks and, occasionally, to find sweethearts who would move back to Chwet with them. New cabins were built, and rumor had it that the Owl People were extraordinarily good lovers.

At the next annual tasting and Vote, all of the residents of Chwet showed up, listening to arguments on issues, asking intelligent questions, and relishing the food at the tasting. Two of them approached the botanist and strongly requested that the following year, she regenerate an ancient species called squirrels. The Owl People said squirrels were endemic to forest environments, made a tasty stew, and had highly desirable pelts.

Intrigued, the botanist complied with their request. Six squirrels were brought into being and allowed to breed in number sufficient to provide meat for the tasting on both Skene and Pya. Skins were cured and on display. Everyone on both locations agreed the meat was all right, though not plentiful given the animal's small size. The botanist, however, was alarmed by the rapid reproductive capacity of squirrels and their utter lack of domestication: Finding them for slaughter would mean endless hunting through woods with snares and traps. Some members of the population found them a little too much like small katts to view them as food. The decision was near unanimous to leave squirrels out of Skene and Pya's animal roster.

Six squirrels remained alive at the Pya ejida. While the botanist was trying to decide what to do with them, two nights after the Vote a heretofore unnoticed break appeared in the enclosure which held the squirrels, and they escaped. A panicked search was made throughout wooded areas on Dvareka, and Skene demanded a thorough search of all crates and imports from Pya. The squirrels were never found. That is, until the pilot flying the school sinner noticed two long-tailed red-furred creatures racing up and down a tree trunk near the jichang on Chwet. Api and Mill talked it over, and finally decided if the Owl People wanted squirrels badly enough to steal them, they could have them. There was no guarantee they could now be removed from the forests on Chwet, anyhow, and spread from the island to the rest of Pya was unlikely.

Two years later, Chwet children were seen coming to school wearing coats and hats of luxurious dark red fur. Again, no action was taken. Mill said quietly to Oby that she bet owls liked the taste of squirrel as much as the Owl People did.

At last year's Vote, the contingent from Chwet had another request, this time for return of a herbivore called deer who lived primarily in forests, again reportedly had excellent-flavored flesh and large skins which made superior leather. The botanist had researched this organism extensively and had decided they would appear on the menu and in pens at the Midwinter tasting. Api said "This time we'll keep a close guard on them."

Pank said with a grin "You'll never hear the Owl People at night, though; they fly in on massive silent wings."

During lulls in the music, those at the table had lowered their voices so as not to be overhead. Pyosz now whispered "So they're here, at this dance? They've started coming to dances?"

"All but the infirm" said Briel. "And no, I'm not going to point them out to you, that would be extremely rude."

© 2009 Maggie Jochld.

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