Sunday, September 6, 2009


Tiger maple
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)


Tu untied the kerchief around her neck and wet it in the sink, wrung it out and retied it. She pulled a thick leather cap from her carryall and tucked her hair underneath it. She tucked goggles in her gilet and gloves into her waistband. Pank finished her eel and did as Tu had done. They shouldered sledgehandles from their toolbox and walked toward the kissing gate. Pyosz turned off her oven and hurried after them. At the gate, however, Tu turned to her and said "You need to get the seawater hose and unclip it from the faucet, drag it down to near the woods."

When Pyosz caught up with them, Pank took one end of the hose and lay it over the grass to the shingle beach. She called to Tu "That nozzle open?" and Tu yelled "Yeah." Pank sat down on a rock, looking at Herne again. Most of the goats were drifting in Pyosz's direction. Kids were trying to make a game from the hose. When the sound of a sinner approached from the west, however, and grew loud overhead, goats ran in all directions. Boulder headed east, and eventually the other goats decided to stick near her.

Pank picked up her end of the hose and began shoving it back and forth in the sea off the beach. Pyosz realized she was trying to get siphon action going, and was distracted in two directions, by that and the huge swaying metal machine nearly overhead. Tu shouted to Pank "That's got it!" and picked up her end of the hose to shut off the nozzle. Pyosz wondered how much salt water had just splashed out into her pasture and how long that spot would remain dead of vegetation.

But the heat from the downward jets was palpable, even though they were at least 20 feet above the machine the sinner was lowering. Tu stood to one side, Pank to the other, directing Maar with hand signals. Once the machine was on solid ground, Tu quickly unhooked its chain leading to the sinner, never looking upward, and as she ran away from the jets, Pank signaled to Maar to lift off. Pyosz went to Tu and felt the back of her gilet: Hot to the touch. She began walking the perimeter of where the jets had blown, looking for sparks in her grass, the fear of fire now a solid reality in her mind.

She glanced toward the eastern end of the pasture and saw goats in a quivering bunch around Boulder. Kids were trying to stand underneath their emmas.

Tu and Pank lifted massive telescoping arms away from the sides of what was basically a 20-foot-long heavy carrying sledge with a long metal chest at one end, locking them in a fold away from the sledge and setting their end spikes onto ground several feet behind the sledge. They drove these spikes into the ground with alternating blows from their sledgehammers. After a couple of minutes, Maar and two forestry workers came through the kissing gate. The two workers pulled more support arms from the sledge sides. Eventually, the sledge was firmly spiked into the ground to a depth of three feet.

Pank now lifted the lid of the chest, and the four forestry workers assembled a winch from its interior, with chains as big around as Pyosz's forearm. Pyosz realized whatever was cut down in her woods was going to be forcibly dragged to the carry sledge by these chains, with traction maintained by those anchors in the ground. When it was all assembled, Tu and Pank each repeated Pyosz's search for hot spots. Declaring it clear, they retrieved chainsaws from the chest. Donning goggles, gloves, and leather chaps, they walked into the woods. The other workers followed, carrying axes and handsaws.

"Can we go watch?" Maar asked Pyosz.

"I'm going to" said Pyosz.

The big maple, the largest tree needing removal, was only three feet off the trail. Tu circled it several times, sometimes squatting or standing on tiptoe to check lines of sight. She talked intermittently with Pank, but clearly she was the decision-maker here. Finally she called out "Beginning back wedge. Pyosz and Maar, get back to the middle of the pasture." Pyosz all but skipped up her trail.

The initial roar of the chainsaws sent songbirds bursting from foliage like custard flung from beaters. Pyosz heard some of her goats bleat in protest. She could see the two crew members on the trail in the opposite direction. The chainsaw sputtered loud and soft, loud and soft, until Tu yelled out "Ready to go". Pank strolled back into the pasture then. Tu's saw gave another two-second buzz, and Pank stood patiently. There was no crack when the maple began to go, not until its branches began sliding past other trees. It fell at a neat angle, sacrificing a few small branches on small trees nearby but missing all trunks, landing with its crown nearly at the head of the trail in front of them.

"Looks good" called out Pank. "Okay to trim?"

"Go for it" replied Tu, obscured by still falling leaves and twigs. Pank ripped her saw into action and deftly began removing everything that wasn't trunk on the maple, with easy expertise. After a couple of minutes, Pyosz could see Tu on the other side of the maple, doing the same kind of trim. The other crew members were dragging large branches to beside the sledge, trimming them with hand tools.

It was horrifying to Pyosz, how quickly the maple turned from a tree into a single stubby trunk with raw wounds all over it. Pank put down her saw and began wrapping the trunk with chains that had spikes which bit into the wood. Tu came to help, readjusting some of Pank's placement. The other crew members kept busy until Pank said "Okay, about to winch". They moved far to the side as Pank went to the come-along's controls at the back of the sledge.

With a gentle hand, she pushed a lever forward. The sledge shuddered, and Pyosz felt the ground underneath her feet rumble a little. More goat bleating broke out behind her. Pank released the pressure, Tu said "Grip's okay", and Pank engaged the lever again. She used incremental progress to ease the trunk out of its fallen bed, onto the trail, and up to the sledge. Pyosz realized that all of Tu and Pank's slowness was a chief attribute of safety in working with the extremely heavy, unpredictable materials they faced each day. Once the trunk tip was inches from the sledge, she locked the lever in off and said "I need lunch before we do more."

Pyosz called to her goats in the northeast corner "We're leaving for a while. Eat up, the invasion isn't over." Maar set the table while the forestry folk washed themselves using the fresh-water hose and Pyosz put serving dishes on the counter. After one bite, the crew member with grey stripes in her brown hair said to Tu "You weren't kidding, about the food."

Over the meal, the crew members filled Pank and Tu in on the events that morning at Mti, involving a log jamming in the feed and something or other blowing out a whatchamacallit -- their mouths were so full, Pyosz couldn't make out all the words -- leaving whosis with a six-inch splinter through her wrist that someone else pulled out with pliers before a lighter was called to take her to the clinic.

"Hadn't oughta pull out impalements" said Pank, shaking her head. "Best to leave it in until the curandera can be there. You can bleed out that way. Remember when your friend's arm got sucked into the -- "

Tu put her hand on Pank's knee. "Eating. With non-tree-folk."

"Oh, right" said Pank. Talk turned to the exploit of a Pertama teenager who had needed rescue the day before.

For over a decade, heavy loads traveling from a site on one of Dvareka's two rivers to another site on the same river had been shipped by steam-powered barge. Folks from Skene had almost no experience with watercraft that wasn't on a cable or a narrow tiller route, and running ashore had been common during the early learning curve. Before long, teenagers began constructing their own one- or two-person boats from bent metal welded into more or less watertight hulls, with much experimentation regarding shape and draft. At first, these were merely launched into the current and ridden with whoops of delirium downstream, being stopped by the check-chain at the river's mouth.

Eventually, however, some clever youngster had done research and rigged a small sail in her boat. River sailing became a craze that spread to young adults, and when they learned how to tack back upriver, new laws had to be passed regarding right of way for barges, boat inspection, and other bureaucratic tedium that didn't do much to slow down the craze.

The day before, one brave heart who counted overmuch on the currents chart created by Uli, legendary Pea Pod Morrie Vaseo, and her own abilities had launched her sailboat from the rocks just north of the kickball field outside Koldok. Two of her friends were in ferries that ran from Dvareka to Uscat and from Uscat to Hore, because she had plotted this is where she would end up. Her friend had ropes to throw her if she failed to grab the ferry chain.

However, in trimming her small sail to take her around the bulge at Dudor instead of splashing into the cliffs there as much of the current did, she overcompensated and wound up arcing west. An exiting tide between Hamsa and Hore deposited her into the deeps east of Jaskinia: A body of water that was most definitely not Morrie Vaseo. One of her friends on the ferry had run for help, and lighters had been sent out to spot her. She was trying to steer toward a small bay off Mbili Kilima when they found her. A harness on a long rope was dropped to her, and the pilot -- Abbo, as it turned out -- had to use the loudspeaker very insistently before the teenager buckled herself into the rescue gear and allowed herself be lifted away from her boat.

Abbo climbed to altitude with urgency, because from the cockpit she could see leviathans gathering near the surface. Once her dangling bait was beyond the 30 meter mark, Abbo's copilot had reeled in the teenager. They stayed stationary over the deeps long enough for the youngster to watch, shivering, as her small craft was overturned and mangled to small clumps of aluminum by disappointed levs.

There was thick horror in Maar's voice as she told this story. "She not only risked the lives of the pilots who had to go after her, it's quite possible this will bring unwanted leviathan attention to our inland bays and cortices" she said. "There isn't a law to charge her with, but Api's working on one already."

"Thing is" said Pank "If she'd stayed in the waters around the Pea Pods, instead of crossing over that reef to the south, she could've sailed around safely all day long."

Maar looked at her disapprovingly. "I really hope that kind of conjecture isn't being bandied about among the river sailors" she said.

Tu said slyly "But if watercraft expertise became generalized, and a protective chain, maybe, was extended along the reefs on either end, folks could travel from Dvareka to the Pods by individual boat. No more need for ferries, or even as much lighter deliveries."

"Nothing will ever replace the Lofthall" said Maar firmly, and Pyosz felt like she heard an echo of Mill in Maar's voice.

After emptying most of the platters, a short rest in the shade, and visits to the privy, the tree-folk returned to their industry. Maar and Pyosz did dishes together, and Pyosz showed Maar how to mix softened butter with rosemary to stuff beneath the skins of her capons before roasting. They collaborated on a slaw of cabbage, carrots, and cauliflower; sauteed criminis in butter and aged vinegar to pour over a heaping bowl of rice; sliced zucchini bread onto a platter with goat cheese; and steamed carrots before drenching them in allspice-seasoned butter.

"All right, let's fit the perishables somehow in the coldbox, we can leave the rest on the counter" said Pyosz. "I hope the Lofthall knows they're paying for cooking lessons."

"They don't, but they ought to be happy about it" said Maar.

"Don't get huffy, but I'm intrigued by the idea of sailing on an open-water boat" said Pyosz as they went through the kissing gate."

"I tried it once on the river" admitted Maar in a near whisper. "It was as much fun as flying."

The aged walnut and two other trees had been felled, roughly trimmed, and were being winched toward the sledge, lined up like pencils in a box, Pyosz thought. Tu had a tape measure against the side of the maple, inspecting it from every angle. Finally she said to Pank "I'm going to say 22 feet, right here", and she drew an imaginary line on the bark. "If I'm wrong, Nk will never shut up about it."

"You got that right" said Pank. She stepped back as Tu started her chainsaw and began severing the maple into two halves. When she was done, the crew of four pushed with all their might to roll the upper half of the trunk a few inches over so Tu could look at the heartwood she'd just cut into. She ran her hands over the sappy surface and grinned hugely, giving a thumbs' up to Pank. She turned to Pyosz and said "You get half this wood, you know. It's magnificent stuff, and you can't sell it. You oughta think about having Nk and Frahe make you some furniture."

To put where? thought Pyosz. Pank and Tu now settled in to decide on a loading order for the sledge, as the other two crew members continued cutting branches into logs. Tu had said everything but twigs and bark would be taken back to Mti; smaller wood debris would be used for making charcoal or sawdust. There would still be clean-up to do in the pasture for Pyosz, including watering down drag gouges, filling in dangerous spike holes, and she didn't know what to the crushed grass under the sledge itself. But all those wide board lengths of perfect maple will be mine she thought.

She and Sey had intended to have a Manage and had talked about furnishing it. That seemed discordantly remote now, that part of her life. She felt like the teenager in the sailboat, having struck out into what she had felt was a good plan, only to need rescue in very short order. She felt saved from the life she would have tried to lead with Sey. I hope Abbo didn't make caustic remarks to that young woman watching the leviathans below them thought Pyosz But, being Abbo, she probably had.

Pyosz walked down her pasture to the northeastern corner, beyond the water tank, where goats had gathered to watch interlopers and machinery with alarmed suspicion. She sat down on a rock at the base of the escarpment and immediately one kid came to lean against her knee, another doe to accept rubs of her ears.

"I know, loud monsters and goat-eating foresters trampling all your lovely grass, huh" commiserated Pyosz. "You knew all along nothing good comes from those woods." When Boulder came within reach, Pyosz scratched her back in the place she liked and said "I'm looking after you. You can tell them by milking time, all this kerfuffle will be gone."

A few minutes later, one of the crew came to the tank to lean over and drink the icy water dripping steadily from the well-feed above. Pyosz looked around at her and shouted "Molars, NO!" She lunged just in time to shove the goat jaw back from its destination, the woman's bent-over rump. The crew member wheeled, pressed her back against rock and said "Are they all biters, then?"

"No, just the one. She's incorrigible, though. Killer, no!" One of the kids had stood up against the crew member, trying to reach the fuschia-colored kerchief at her neck. Pyosz had at first been baffled by a kid named Killer on Ferk's list. But this small, affectionate goat went into a frenzy whenever she saw a bug on the ground, bringing her two front feet together as she reared back on her hind feet and then crashed down onto the insect in a chitin-splattering frenzy. Killer's other quirk was a passionate attraction to bright colors.

Pyosz waved her hat to get Killer's attention now. "Come on over here, Killer, you sweet baby. I know, it's hard to resist those urges, isn't it?" Killer dropped back to the ground and came to lean her forehead against Pyosz's shoulder. Pyosz kissed her flat little cheek.

The crew member backed away from the flock several yards, then hurried to her striped-hair coworker. She leaned in to tell her something. Several does and kids had come to crowd around Pyosz for reassurance, and the coworker gave her a narrow glance before whispering back to Fuschia Kerchief. Pyosz muttered to herself "Thus the Capriste Sorcerer legend is born."

Maar involved herself with the loading, she and Pank arguing down the other crew members about weight and stability. She heard Maar say heatedly "If this sledge shifts while I'm 40 meters up with it, I can die, do you get that? We're not talking cartons of ikan here." When it was finally stacked and lashed down with straps and metal netting to Maar's satisfaction, long chains were attached to each corner and a four-point carry system created, again using Tu's tape measure and Pank's eye.

Maar said "I can drop my hooks 35 feet, but you're going to get toasty clamping these chains on."

"We'll take turns" Tu said to Pank. They went to the seawater hose and wet down the upper halves of their bodies as Maar walked to the jichang. Pyosz came to stand by the seawater hose in case she needed to douse pasture or cousin from jet combustion. When finally the sledge cleared ground without a lurch to one side or any wobble, they all cheered vociferously. Pyosz looked her goats' way, hoping this outburst didn't drive any of them over the cliff. Maar sedately headed north, to gain altitude before turning toward Mti.

"Uh-oh" said Pank. Pyosz looked at the sinner in panic, and Pank said "Got some smoke here." She calmly took the hose from Pyosz and turned it on an incipient blaze. After three thorough inspections, Pyosz decided there were no other danger spots.

"I have to go milk" she said.

"We're gonna hit the hot springs" said Tu.

"If one of you walks back with me, I'll give you towels, soap, and a bucket to rinse with" said Pyosz. Fuschia-Scarf accompanied her. At the kissing gate, Pyosz turned to the stream of goats who were trotting in her direction and said "Line up nicely, now. For all your good behavior today, you're getting extra cracked corn in your dinner." They followed her to the barn uncustomarily close and quiet. She left them behind closed doors for a minute to supply the wide-eyed crew member, adding two clean shatis for Tu and Pank to change into. She tended the chickens, fed and sequestered her katts, and before returning to the barn, she squinted down the pasture, once again making sure there were no small curls of smoke anywhere.

Maar returned before she was done milking. "Set the table again?" she offered.

"Yep. Nothing needs heating up" said Pyosz. She inspected the pasture one last time in the dusk before returning to her kitchen after milking. She said "Since I didn't get to the hot springs today..." as she pulled her shati over her head. Maar didn't watch as she showered, but she didn't make a production of looking away, either. She ducked into her cabin to dry off and dress -- she hadn't done her usual level of labor today, yet she felt worn out. From the strain of watching grand old trees die, I guess she thought.

As they all sat down to eat, Curds gave a long wail from inside the cabin door.

"They smell this chicken" said Maar. Pyosz yelled at the cabin "You had your raw egg, give it a rest." Fuschia-Kerchief looked at the cabin as if she thought it might be stacked to the rafters with bloodthirsty katts.

Over the meal, Maar told the story of how the Saya Island owl had come to visit Pyosz her second day there. She got up to show its wing span, and then pointed to a cleaver gouge Pyosz had accidently left in the table surface as "where its talons dug in as it landed in the pitch black". Pyosz didn't correct her. She saw the two crew members exchange a significant glance with each other then, and again when Tu said "You have a magic hand with herbs, Pyosz", her chin shiny from chicken grease.

After pie and milk, Pank said to Maar "I wonder if I can ask you for one more favor today. We'd like a little time alone with our cousin. Could you run these folks to Mti and come back for us afterward?"

"No problem" said Maar. As Maar walked her passengers to the jichang, Pyosz heard her saying "That's the giant owl tree right over there, the big oak. Maar walks me to my lighter after dark, because she seems to be sympatico with it."

Pank opened her carryall and said "Oh. Forgot about this." She handed Pyosz a latch that could be bolted to her cabin door. "Couldn't find a keyed one. Not a lot of keyed latches on Pya" she said.

"It's mostly just so I can sleep knowing somebody has to knock to join me" said Pyosz, thanking her. Pank was pulling something else from her carryall, a thick fold of paper which she started to spread on the table.

"Hang on" said Pyosz, "Let me wipe up spills." The paper was a detailed topographic map of Herne Island.

"We've asked Api to give us Herne" said Tu, her eyes gleaming. "For a Manage, and some particular tillaging we want to do. Nk and Frahe will move there with us. But it means our access to Koldok will be by ferry to Saya and walking through your end here to your ferry, and we want to be sure that's okay with you first."

Several things fell into place for Pyosz. "Are you serious? Okay with me, I'd be utterly thrilled!" she said, jumping to hug them. "Has Api said yes yet?"

"No, but she will if it's good with you" said Pank. She began pointing to the map. "See, we don't even need a pylon for the ferry, it's such a short gap, just a couple of docks and a chain. Thing is, Nk and Frahe already have to use lighter delivery for their wood and furniture, so it don't matter where they are. And we're retiring -- "

"Overdue for it" said Tu.

"And what we'll be doing won't need much hauling, either" said Pank.

"Is this your Manage?" asked Pyosz, pointing to a large square drawn in pencil on the map.

"Lev, no" laughed Tu, "we don't need a warehouse. Here's the Manage in the southeast corner, overlooking Pea Pod Kuono. Nope, this big 'un is our greenhouse; this is Nk and Frahe's woodworking shop and lumber shed, this is Pank's smokehouse, this is the tillage and chickenhouse, the well, water-tank, geo shed, and toolshed."

"We're leaving the woods except for what has to come down for health reasons" said Pank. "We'll plant more fruit and nut trees. We're going to fence the tillage in very tight and let pigs roam free, have twice a year slaughter, I'll make sausage and smoke bacon for income."

"Greenhouse?" said Pyosz, excited. Though not as excited as they were, she could see. "Oranges and bananas?"

"More specialized" said Tu. "Now's the market time to go for what the ejida only provides in limited quantity. So -- cinnamon and vanilla trees, avocado, cacao, ginseng, nutmeg, wasabi, lemongrass, star anise, cloves, cardamom, and if there's room in the right cycle, saffron."

"The vanilla and cloves alone will pay for the greenhouse cost in five years" said Pank. "Time-consuming horticulture but easy on the body and very lucrative."

"We're putting in two stories to the Manage, taking the downstairs bedroom and, get this -- "

"Indoor privy!" they said in unison, laughing heartily.

"Plus three bedrooms upstairs" said Pank. "We don't think Frank will want to stay on Skene, it's too crowded there. Offering her a Pea Pod to inherit will get her back home."

Ah, the main reason for this plan thought Pyosz. "This looks glorious" she said. "And having you within shouting distance will be even more glorious. But -- I have to remind you, I won't be here that much longer."

Pank grinned at Tu. "We'll take our chances. Don't tell anyone until it gets finalized, all right? We're going to ask to share the cost of geothermal survey and installation with those folks immigrating Kacang Island, because it's a levvin 2.2 eks per day to get a guild-certified person from Skene to do the work. And they charge the same rate for their travel time. We figure we can halve that, at least, by having her do more than one installation while she's here."

They were still going over the map when the sinner began landing again. "It's okay if Maar knows" said Tu. "She knows how to keep a secret. We don't need to rush off, either."

They made more tea and ate a little more pie as Maar got filled in. When Pyosz yawned, however, Maar began washing dishes for the second time that day. Pyosz pulled from her coldbox leftover stewed hen as she said "You leave tomorrow moning for Skene, right? I'll pack you a lunch."

Maar said "In the interest of balance between cousins, will you please make the same for Abbo?"

"Of course" said Pyosz, abashed she'd needed a nudge. She made chicken salad, mixing in the remaining slaw and roasted pecans, piling it thickly on multigrain bread. To each lunch box she added pickled radishes, celery sticks filled with spicy bean paste, ripe plums, jam tart cookies, and some of her precious smoked eel.

"Here's my mail for Skene" she said, putting a bundle of envelopes on the lunchbox. "And these packages have jars of jam in them, don't sling them about, please."

Tu took the envelopes address to Halling and Lawa, adding notes from herself on the back. Pank refreshed her tea and watched the interaction between Pyosz and Maar.

"You didn't get to see my latest pictures yet, but I've included a shot of you in your cockpit to Thleen, is that all right?" asked Pyosz.

"Yep, thanks for checking. What's Bunteen Thleen up to this week?" said Maar.

"She dive-bombed a fluffy white katt to steal fur for decorating her nest" said Pyosz. "The white katt was livid but alas unable to sprout wings and give chase."

"Curds is going to demand redress, perhaps a strip titled 'Words Against Birds by Curds'" said Maar.

"Curds' notion of a comic would be only stalking and evisceration" said Pyosz.

"I can't wait to see how Qoj's photographs from the other night turn out" said Maar, scrubbing the casserole pan.

"I didn't get to spend enough time with her this visit" complained Pyosz.

Maar grinned over her shoulder at Pyosz. "She invited Uli to dinner tonight at her emmas' Manage."

Tu chuckled and said "Dodd seems easy to get around, but I'd hate to have to pass her inspection." Pank nodded, opening her claspknife to pick delicately at her teeth.

"I'm going to use my awake time this flight to pick Qoj's brain about black holes" said Maar.

"Well, try to memorize what she says so you can teach me, I'm still very confused about it all" said Pyosz. She handed a pie tin to Pank, saying "This is two pieces of each kind, for you plus Nk and Frahe. Return the tin when you can, please. Oh, and here's a loaf of bread for your own lunch tomorrow."

Maar hung her dishtowel over a chair to dry. They all walked to the jichang together, carrying toolboxes, parcels, and lunchbox. Past the chicken run, their heads turned in unison to inspect the silhouette of the owl oak against a starry sky.

"You know" remarked Pyosz, "Abba Halling has a set of night-vision binoculars. I think I'll borrow them sometime."

After seeing off the sinner with "Carynn bye" and "See you on Shmonah", Pyosz returned to her kitchen and began loading a crate with jars. It took her three trips to empty her kitchen larder of preserves into the new toolroom larder. A few kids stood in the doorway, watching curiously.

She lifted away the lower shelf, exposing its secret slide. She emptied her pockets onto the shelf and sorted through her cash, finally convincing herself if she was rigorous about barter for a while, she could afford to lay away an entire ek in two rows of brass tenth-ek coins. Once her bank shelf was replaced, she stood with her kids, hands on her hips, and said "Look at that. Ready for the future." She immediately made the flinging sign to ward off hubris, and went to her cabin.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

1 comment:

Blue said...

Lovely, as always. I dream it, day and night.