Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Crying cow carving from Algeria
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)


After Prl, Qala, and Yoj left, Bux decided to stay home and work on reports, using Yoj's study. Yoj didn't want to go back to the Archivist's, either, so she sat in the tillage, weeding and thinking. Tlunu went in for her afternoon nap, and Halling was about to go join Yoj outside for company when the front door opened without a knock and Thleen almost tumbled in. From the street Halling could hear an adult voice saying "Thleen! You can't just go in someone's house like that!"

Thleen said "Hi!" brightly to Halling before turning to yell "It's okay, they told me to come any time." A red-faced, red-haired woman in sinner mustard appeared in the doorway. She froze for an instant when she saw Halling, then began stumbling over herself in apology.

"Come on in" said Halling, grinning. "I remember you, Maar, of course, from flight school and seeing you occasionally with Abbo. Have a seat. Where's -- oh, there they are. Come on, Su and Adon, we have honey bars and leftover broccoli with cheese from lunch, what sort of snack would you like?"

"We're going out -- " began Maar, but Thleen said "Honey bars! And can I have a glass of milk with it, instead of tea?"

"Certainly" said Halling. Bux had opened the door to the study, and she came into the kitchen now, setting a pitcher of milk on the table and filling a large teapot with hot water from the aga. Halling stepped to the back door and called into the tillage "Yoj, sweetheart, we have company."

"So you're the famous siba" Bux said to Maar, whose cheeks were alarmingly red. "We've heard a lot about you, not only from Thleen but also from Danaan and Halling. You were apparently a gifted beginning pilot. No wonder our Mill leans on you so heavily."

Adon and Su cast sideways glances at Maar, who was trying to simultaneously force Thleen into a chair and checking her hands for cleanliness. Yoj came in the back door and said "Oh, goodie, it's the entire set of sibs, isn't it? Halling, in the back of the larder is a box of orange cookies I was saving for lunch tomorrow, let's set those out, too."

"No, really -- " began Maar, but Thleen distracted her by darting past and literally hurling herself onto Yoj. Yoj sat down in a chair and Thleen slid into her lap, saying "We learned about how Pomar Lagoon was built today in school, were you alive then?"

Bux and Halling laughed heartily as Yoj said "A few hundred years before my time, Thleen." Yoj said to Maar "Pyosz mentions you often" and was interested to see that Maar's flush deepened slightly -- she wouldn't have thought it possible.

Halling said to Thleen "We went boating on Pomar Lagoon during our honeymoon. In a little boat we had to row." She exchanged a lascivious smile with Yoj, who said "Rowing is harder than it looks."

Thleen asked, with a trace of anxiety, "There's no levs in lagoons, right?"

"Usually" said Bux.

"I've seen them jump the barrier and attack a ferry" said Halling before her partners could stop her. Maar's face returned to normal color as she dared to look at Halling with disapproval. Su and Adon's feigned disinterest vanished, and Thleen said "Nuh-uh."

"It was a freak event, decades ago" said Yoj reassuringly.

"Before Pax Picsata?" asked Thleen.

"Piscata" corrected Yoj automatically. "Yes, long before that."

Now Bux transgressed. "You know, Yoj once waded out onto the seawall between Pomar Lagoon and the Southern Wasa to rescue somebody, while there was a leviathan there just a few feet away."

Yoj decided this story was all right to tell, since nobody was killed in it and the real heroics, she thought, was not hers. Thleen ate three cookies and a honey bar before Maar said "Enough, your dinner will be ruined."

"Why don't you stay and have dinner with us?" urged Halling.

"I promised to take them out" said Maar apologetically. "It's something we do on Roku if I'm here." Thleen was tugging at Maar's sleeve, but Yoj asked "Where do you go?".

"Thina Bowl" offered Adon.

"By the fish docks?" said Bux. "Excellent food there."

"But can't we stay here?" said Thleen, giving on getting Maar's attention and simply saying it loudly.

"It's not up to me, I'm treating my sibs so majority vote wins" said Maar. Thleen looked at Adon and Su pleadingly, then flounced away from Maar, shunting over to Bux's lap to say "I always get outvoted."

"What rotten luck" said Bux in commiseration. Thleen fingered the maroon velvet choker with the brass seal of the Ethicist that Bux was wearing and said "What is this, again?"

Bux explained, and Thleen swiveled to reach toward Yoj's neck. Yoj untied her own choker, which was dark purple with the silver Archivist medallion, and handed it to Thleen. Maar intercepted, saying "I can see honey and crumbs on your hands, sibu, wipe them thoroughly before touching that fine fabric." Thleen complied impatiently, then asked Bux to tie the choker around her own neck. It fit very loosely, and Thleen slip off her lap to run for a look in the bath room mirror.

Bux said to Maar "Pyosz's emma's Manage heard some interesting news from her this morning. About the geothermal visit? And Herne Island?"

Maar's face was blank, and Bux glanced something confirmatory at Yoj before she explained. Maar's smile was wide as she said "For real? Pyosz getting a real stove, and some heat in that cabin? It's icy in there at night, despite it being summer." The rubor in her cheeks returned as she tried to explain "I mean, I've been in there just to set something down, I haven't -- " She couldn't finish the sentence, it seemed such a scandalous suggestion.

"I should certainly hope not" said Bux severely, and Maar all but gaped at her. She couldn't tell if Bux was teasing her or not. We need Pyosz here as envoy she thought.

Thleen returned to occupy Halling's lap now, asking "Why don't you have one of these fancy things to wear? You're the Sheng Zhang, right?"

"Was" said Halling. "I have a dress uniform, but since I'm retired, I don't wear it much any more."

"It's your name, though, on siba's pilot certificate" said Thleen.

"Yep. Plus my seal. Your siba reminds me of what I was like as a young pilot" said Halling. Thleen looked as if this was no surprise, but Maar was aware of another subtle reaction from Adon and Su.

Bux said to Maar "And what do you think about Tu and Pank moving in next door?"

"It will be great for Pyosz" said Maar. "For all of us, of course, but I'm glad to know they'll be five minutes away from Saya, they do a good job of taking care of Pyosz." She saw Yoj look at Halling, and realized she was being sounded out for some reason. She turned to Halling. "Sheng -- I mean, Nan Halling, it's Tu who is your siba, right?"

"Yes" said Halling, and Bux added "Plus Pank is my first cousin. And what about you, Maar, do you intend to eventually ask for a Pea Pod to start your own Manage and family? Or will you be returning to Skene at some point."

Maar was instantly tense, aware of her sibs waiting for her answer. "I have emigrated to Pya permanently" she said gently. "I hope to convince at least some of my family to join me there. And yes, I want a family, children and in-laws and a big Manage, though I'm not sure where yet." She looked at Thleen to add "None of that can happen for ten years, though, I have other things to do first." Yoj saw Thleen's shoulders relax.

Maar looked at the clock and said "We need to go. It's not a school night but I still have to get you home in time for bath and Thleen's bedtime." As they made their farewells, Halling said to Maar "We extend the same invitation to you that we have to your sibs, come visit any time." As they went out the front door, Thleen was asking "Can I still have a dessert at Thina Bowl? Because see I didn't get to eat here like I wanted to, and if I'd eaten here they'd have given me another dessert -- "

Once Thleen's voice trailed away down the lane, Bux faced her partners and said "Well."

"Did you see that her first thought was for Pyosz's well-being?" said Halling.

"She relates to Thleen as an emma, not a siba" said Bux.

"Thleen needs it" said Yoj. "Prl is going to relish hearing the details of this particular conversation."

"Not tonight, though" asked Halling. "I want us to have more time to talk it over -- " They heard Tlunu's bedroom door starting to open -- "Later" finished Halling in a whisper.

On the way to Thina Bowl, Maar lectured Thleen about proper etiquette. "You do NOT walk into somebody's Manage without knocking, sibu. It's just plain rude. What if they weren't clothed, or were having a family fight, or crying? You give people a chance to answer the door if you respect them."

"I'm sorry" said Thleen, suddenly looking stricken.

Unexpectedly, Su said "They always do seem glad to see us, though. And you are somebody they already respect, Maar, seems like."

"Well, I have relationships with several members of that family, personal and professional" admitted Maar. They sat down and ordered. Adon said "So, what exactly is your job title at the Lofthall in Pya?"

Never once had her two oldest sibs evinced any interest in her job. Maar swallowed hard and outlined her responsibilities. She added her income level and allotment package, telling Thleen "These figures are not to be repeated, you understand?"

"And you got all this just be going through pilot training?" asked Su.

"Well, pilot training plus persistently volunteering for every new experience I can" said Maar. "I work longer hours than our emmas, for example. Some of my responsibilities have life and death consequences. But yeah, it's available to anybody who is a hard worker, willing to learn, and takes the right training."

"You don't have to go to the U to do all that" pointed out Adon.

"You certainly don't" said Maar, her pulse quickening. "Which is why my offer to you all is either four paid years at the U or -- OR -- however many paid years is required in apprenticeship to become trained in the field you'd like to pursue."

"What do you mean, paid years?" said Adon. "Don't apprenticeships pay you?"

"Some offer a stipend" said Maar. "Some just give you room and board, which can be like living off allotment. Often the most lucrative and popular fields, like yanjanging, for example, are only room and board, meaning you really need family support to go get through those three years. My offer is that if the board is a shitty bucky -- yes, I know, I used a bad word, Thleen -- and you can find better single housing, I'll pay for that. I'll pay for any extra training that's available at a fee, and good tools, and new work clothes each year. Plus, I'll buy regular walking-around clothes for you, and a nice set of silks each year, enough so you can dress up in style. I'll give you pocket coin so you can go out to eat once a week, go to dances and performances, buy a few luxuries, get presents for your family, AND start a savings. Because at the end of your apprenticeship, for a lot of high-demand fields you will either have to buy into an existing business or start your own, and that will demand savings."

"You can afford to do that?" said Su.

"Yes" said Maar. "I'm thrifty. I'm saving for my family."

There was a long silence, broken by Thleen saying "Could I get more potatoes?"

"Go to the counter and ask for them" said Maar. Once she was gone, Maar said to Adon and Su "You can do anything you want with your lives. I don't have a plan for you, only a request that you find what makes you happy and healthy."

"I don't want to leave Chloddia" said Adon.

"I understand that" said Maar. "So, what could you do on Chloddia that will make you happy and healthy?" When Adon stopped to think this over, not answering "Mining" automatically, Maar's heart leapt inside her chest.

"I like mechanics" offered Su. "I'd like to build machines, fix them, maybe invent new ones. I don't need the U for that, right?"

"Nope, except for inventing you may need to ask questions of gakushas from time to time" said Maar. "Pya is crawling with machinery, almost all the heavy ejida work is done by complicated equipment there. Not to mention the jigongs at Lofthalls, and factories on Verzin and Dvareka. There's never enough mechanics to go around."

Thleen was back with an entire plate of fried potatoes. Maar helped her douse them with tomato sauce but not utterly drown them.

Adon finally said "I like the idea of turning ore into chemicals or metal. Refining, you know. It's a kind of magic. Maybe work my way up so I'm a manager, figuring out how to do things the best way possible."

Maar took a long drink to help blink back tears. "I know for a fact there are good apprenticeships available in the refineries on Chloddia. And Exploit. They all cost money to get into, though."

"Chloddia" repeated Adon. "I mean to inherit our Manage." Su gave her a sidelong look. Thleen said "I'm moving to Pya to live with Maar after school, in her Manage."

"Maar doesn't have a Manage" needled Su.

"I willl by then" said Maar. "And Manages on Pyra are twice the size of those on Skene. With all the food you can eat. And the best dances I've ever been to. It's a great place to be single, and it'll be even better when I start my own family." Thleen looked at her questioningly, and Maar let the moment sit. After a minute, conversation turned to kickball.

On Roku, Pyosz woke to a still morning which turned into bright sunshine by the time she reached Koldok. She picked up extra butter and cheese from Kolm and her newly-forged pot rack from Taamsas. On Saya, she used a hand-drill and much profanity to hang the pot rack. She polished her copper pots and hung them with pride she wished somebody was there to share.

She flushed the privy, cleaned out the chicken house and run, and raked the barn. After getting lunch started, she washed her hair and put on clean clothes. She was emerging from her cabin when Dodd appeared.

"I'm all sweet-smelling for your hug" said Pyosz. "I hope you'll share lunch with me -- it's early, I know, but I eat when I'm hungry. There were squash blossoms aplenty this morning, so I picked a bunch, stuffed them with rice and garlic, to go with some broiled ryba and chilled grapefuit."

"I'll set the table" offered Dodd. They sat down, and Dodd said "I heard about Tu and Pank moving to Herne. I bet this gets Frank home, don't you?"

"It's good on all levels" agreed Pyosz. "I was thinking about offering them my extra chanticleer, maybe with one of the little hens, would that be all right with you?"

"Great idea" said Dodd. "As along as we keep our double-yolked chickens in the family."

"Are you playing at the dance in Sepek this weekend?"

"No, I get to actually dance at this one" said Dodd. "Briel is happy about that. So -- I need to talk with you about something. I hope it can stay confidential."

"I seem to be secrets central these days" said Pyosz. "Never mind that. Of course, s'bemma, you can trust me."

"It's about Qoj" said Dodd, her green eyes looking troubled. "She's gotten a letter from Uli that she thinks is significant, and she's talking about coming for another visit soon."

"Another visit, that's good, right?" said Pyosz.

"Yes. But...well, I just have to come out and ask you, are you romantically interested in Uli? Qoj said you weren't, that you were focused elsewhere, but from what I've seen..." Dodd trailed off.

"You don't want her getting played, is that it?" said Pyosz. She laughed briefly. "Good luck with that in a big picture sense, but as far as Uli goes, I've made it clear to her that I'm not available for dating romantically. I'm pursuing a friendship with her. And if Qoj wants a clear path, she's got it as far as I'm concerned."

"You know, don't you, that Uli looks at you in a way that's -- more than friendly?" said Dodd.

"I'm aware, and I did consider thinking about more with her. For about ten seconds. But my decision is not going to alter now, s'bemma." Pyosz swallowed her bite, and added "Uli looks at a lot of women in a come-hither manner, I think."

"I think so too. Which is the other part I'm worried about, but you can't help me there" said Dodd.

"This wouldn't be Qoj's first serious attachment, would it? I remember her being with someone at the University" asked Pyosz.

"For over a year, yes. It didn't end badly, but she had heartache over it."

"Of course she did" said Pyosz. "Still, she's not wet behind the ears. I think Qoj is smart enough to handle Uli. Possibly Uli simply wants to settle down. She could grow into a very good match."

"Listen to you, sounding like one of the abbas" said Dodd with her first real grin. "Well, part of why we moved to Pya was so our children would have more options available to them, so if Qoj uses this as an excuse to return home, I have to believe it will lead to goodness for her, even if Uli doesn't pan out."

Pyosz was slightly distracted. "You said 'part of why you moved' here. What was the other part?"

Dodd looked at her evenly. "Still confidential, yes?"

"Yes." Pyosz felt anticipation.

"I felt fairly settled at the Sigrist Manage. I had my own room, I worked the midnight to 4 a.m. watch part-time and was still able to keep up with my schoolwork, and -- you know, I didn't really want to move out of my emmas' Manage, but it felt so crowded, even with Prl gone. Speranz was already dating Tlunu, and Qen and Veida were still heads of the household, so I accepted Ndege's offer to live with her and Gerra. Which on Ndege's part was because she wanted me there, but I think Gerra simply wanted another person to work at night who wouldn't make waves in their arrangement." Dodd paused, perhaps to temper her words. "Gerra is a lot like Asha was, her aggie -- she can be practical to the point of being mercenary."

"How did Briel enter the picture? I thought she was Gerra's cousin" said Pyosz.

"She is. She started at the U, and the commute from her family's Fling in the Western Tendril was onerous, plus -- you know that Briel's aggie died when she was very little, right? Her emma never really got over it, blamed herself, and according to Briel, some other folks in the family blamed her as well. So her emma was both distant and controlling with Briel and her sib. Briel wanted freedom. She moved in with us, sharing a room with me -- we put up a divider, and we were basically sleeping different hours, so it wasn't as close as it might sound. Once we fell for each other, however, Briel said she didn't intend to live at Sigrist Manage past graduation, we needed our own space. It was hard to find a place on Riesig, though. And with our careers, commuting was senseless. We came here on a visit when Qoj was a baby, and Briel said Koldok had all the good parts of living on a Fling with none of the negatives. It took me a few months to make up my mind. I wanted my children to grow up with my emmas, their abbas. But Briel came first. And I fell in love with Pya, too. It turned out to be my freedom we found, too."

There was a long silence. Pyosz felt troubled by ideas she couldn't articulate. Finally she said "I asked my family for a loan to put in geothermal here and do some other capital renovations."

"Ah" said Dodd, making the connection instantly. "How did Prl react?"

"I haven't talked with her, or the abbas yet, except for Qala. Qala was great" said Pyosz.

"You'll likely never need it, but if you ever want to live with me and Briel, we'd love it. We've talked it over" said Dodd. Pyosz was surprised and touched.

Curds jumped onto the table and Pyosz said "Nuh-uh, you know the rules while we're eating. Find a chair." Curds leaped into a chair with a flip of her bushy white tail and looked at Pyosz expectantly. "Hope you like spicy marinade" said Pyosz, giving Curds and Ember both a morsel of ryba. She stood to scrape her plate into the compost tub, and Dodd joined her. As Pyosz started putting away condiments, the radio buzzed. She looked at the clock as she answered.

"Emma? I can't believe it's you, it must be the middle of the night there, is everybody all right?" said Pyosz.

"Yes. I had a bad dream about you and couldn't shake it off, and I thought you might be free for me to just prove to myself you're really okay" said Prl, sounded ragged.

"I'm really okay. Do you want to tell me about the dream?"

"No" said Prl. "I want to leave it behind. Qala told me about your call. She told my emmas too, except for the part about the clay field and the soil samples. Which was extremely rash of you, Pyosz."

"Is that why you had a bad dream? It's going to be fine, emma" said Pyosz. "Listen, I just finished having lunch with Dodd -- "

"Oh, then I should let you go" said Prl. Dodd was signaling that she would like to talk to Prl.

"Wait, emma. I need to go work in my orchard while the weather holds, but Dodd is asking for me to give the radio to her, would you like that, or do you need to go back to sleep" said Pyosz.

"I'd love to talk with Dodd" said Prl fervently.

"Then I'll leave you to it. I'll talk to you soon, emma. I love you dearly and I am well cared for" said Pyosz, handing the radio to Dodd and kissing her cheek goodbye. She gathered fruit-picking equipment in her wain and headed west. She worked all afternoon and evening, forgetting to call her abbas or Prl back because she was so absorbed in thinking about renovations she might make.

The next day at Market she bartered jam and nuts for an old brass pencil box of good construction, a set of fine-tipped woodcarving tools that she thought would work in clay, and several half-sized loaf pans. She stopped by Naki's and bought a set of eight colored pencils. At home, she polished the pencil box until it gleamed, filled it with colored pencils, and wrapped it as a gift for Thleen. She pulled out her only other silk shirt, plain jade green but it fit her beautifully now, and hung it in preparation for the dance. She went through her small collection of jewelry and found a gold hair barette in the shape of a nautilus shell outlined in black enamel to wear with the shirt and her black-and-gold calças.

She spent the rest of the day picking immaculate herbs and dropping them into bottles of hot vinegar to make infusions. She did the same with bottles of warm olive oil, and filled her counter with the collection. She cut fruit for drying and made jam of the rest. Nectarines and pears were now coming ripe in earnest, along with figs, apples, peaches, and plums. It looked like this round of cherries might be the last. Next week, hazelnuts and almonds by the basketful she thought.

When she needed a break, she filled a bucket with good composted soil, dug out two dozen lemon verbena plants from the bed which had been overrun by them, and walked around the edge of her cliffs looking for small cubbyholes in the rock where she could trowel in dirt and a verbena plant. She returned to the bed and pulled out most of the rest of the lemon verbena for drying and eventual barter.

After dinner, Lawa called. She and Pyosz spent almost an hour talking over soil amendment specifics based on the sample results, Pyosz filling pages of her logbook with notes. After she clicked off, she was starting a list of what to order from allotment or buy at Taamsas when the radio buzzed again. This time, it was Yoj, who began with "We had another visit from Thleen and her sibs yesterday, but this time Maar was with them."

"Oh, really? I'm glad you got to meet her" said Pyosz, feeling uneasy for reasons she couldn't name.

"Maar and Thleen seem to be cut from the same cloth. I don't have a real handle on the other two yet" said Yoj. "Listen, we're all lined up to talk with you, but I wanted to start with saying we've talked to Qala, and you don't have to avoid us."

"I wasn't avoiding you, honestly abba" said Pyosz.

"We can make crisp loans with you as well as shower you with unrequested coin" said Yoj, a smile evident in her voice. "Halling's crowding me here, but I'm just going to elbow her out of the way and ask if there's any requests you have to make of me in particular."

"Yeah, in the books you're sending? Pank is quite a fan of plays and long poems, she's in an amateur theatrical company here, you know. So more of those. And anything to do with Skene early history, even very esoteric stuff, is going over big" said Pyosz. "I personally would like some kind of dictionary of ancient Skenish to modern, or even pre-Skene languages to modern."

"I'd be glad to share those" said Yoj, a note of excitement in her voice. "You know, I'm working right now on translating a set of memoirs that's been on an unreadable disk until some whiz at the U figured out how to access the obsolete format. When the original colonists began getting old, they realized the world they'd known would die with them, and there was this spontaneous effort to record every memory they could dredge up for future generations. It's fascinating, revealing, and full of pathos. I could send you those as I get each section in rough form, before waiting for the print-ready version."

"Absolutely" said Pyosz.

"As for the language issue, it's complicated" continued Yoj. "Seems like on the original planet, there were hundreds or maybe thousands of different dialects. Not all those came with the colonists, of course, but once it became apparent their link to home was severed, small clusters of speakers of a particular tongue began refusing to use a common or what might be considered agreed-upon pidgin for terms of importance to them, insisting on inserting their language's words into what would become Skenish. As a result, the vocabulary and grammar they cobbled together often has no rational coherence, certainly no easily traceable etymology. But you know I'm working on it."

"It feels important to me in some symbolic way to understand it" said Pyosz.

"Maybe it's because you know on an instinctive level that given enough time, Skene and Pya will drift apart culturally and may wind up speaking different languages as well" said Yoj.

"You really believe that?" said Pyosz, disturbed.

"It's what human beings do, apparently. We're inventive and stubborn at the same time" said Yoj. "Hang on, Hall, one more minute. Pyosz, those bird photographs you're sending me are extremely good. I took the liberty of showing them to the botaniste, and she's requested they get shared with the University. She thinks we don't have actually have any reference material on songbirds with photos of that quality. Is it all right with you, if I make sure you get full credit?"

"Yes" said Pyosz, feeling a swell of pride. "I've got about 14 of the total species documented, and I intend to get them all eventually, even the ones who might not be nesting on Saya."

"Okay, I've got to hand over the radio. You keep doing what you think is right, Pyosz" said Yoj.

Halling and Bux each brought up Maar's visit with Thleen, adding their impressions -- sincerely favorable, Pyosz could tell. Bux asked for a copy of Pyosz's contracts with Pya for review, and Halling made a point of saying that Maar intended to have a Manage and family on Pya in the future -- a comment for which Pyosz could find no reply.

When she clicked off, she thought about trying to track down Maar in Skene to hear her account of this visit, but decided she wasn't sure where to begin at this time of day. It might be a good idea to sleep on it thought Pyosz. She made a fresh pot of tea and returned to her soil amendment plans.

The following day, after a full day and another dinner alone, Pyosz felt extremely ambivalent about going to the dance. However, Dodd called and said they were going to ride bikes down to Sepek, since it was a clear night, and they'd wait on her if she was coming. She said she'd be there in half an hour and began getting ready.

Nk and Frahe were with Dodd and Briel. Pank and Tu had apparently caught the bus, and the Arta Island crowd were flying via sinner. None of the bicycles had working headlamps, so Pyosz strapped her flash onto the front of her handlebars and led the way, Dodd beside her giving route instructions. Although with so many people all heading for the same destination, it would have been impossible to get lost.

The band was from Cogio, comprised mostly of mining and refinery workers. There were two sets of bagpipes, one player of pennywhistles, a tuba, a set of skin drums, and an autoharp. Pyosz couldn't imagine what they would sound like until they started up: Loud, rhythmic, and oddly evocative, she decided.

The dance hall was a cleared-out warehouse connected to Sepek's pig slaughter industry, and cedar sawdust managed to mask most of the odor. It was at the northern end of Sepek, on the road to the Prase ferry. Pyosz declined dancing, finding her family exerting less pressure on her this time. She spent two songs at the table of Poth's family and friends. Walking back around the circumference, she saw Nioma at a large table of family and waved, feeling slightly guilty about having deceived her.

The snack bar here was serving hard cider in addition to the usual libations, and Pyosz thought it was reflected in the dancers, who moved with a sort of blurry bonhomie which lacked a bit of the connection she had felt at Koldok. About half her family had one or two glasses of cider over the course of the evening. Pyosz decided trying to ride a bike while tipsy would be a bad idea, and declined.

There was the apparently requisite singing of the Pya anthem, which she came to her feet for, reminding herself to borrow a video camera before the next dance so she could record this for Yoj. As the intermission began, she asked Dodd if this band, too, would be doing the dawn chorus.

"Nope" grinned Dodd. "Just us."

"I'm really sorry to miss it, then" said Pyosz. Uli appeared at her elbow and asked if Pyosz would like to take a stroll outside "in the opposite direction of the hog pens". Pyosz took Uli's hand to be led through the throng to a side door. Uli aimed them south into Sepek, making a meander through town until they came to a bluff over Dvareka River. One moon was full, one nearly so, and the mouth of the river was clearly visible, even the color mixing as fresh water was cannibalized by ocean.

They shared a perch on a boulder. Pyosz noticed Uli smelled strongly of cider. She told Uli about her renovation plans and the soil test results, except for any hint of the clay field. Uli seemed distracted. Maybe she doesn't want to talk about things that are connected to her work thought Pyosz. She waited for Uli to change the subject.

"It's been a hard week with emma" said Uli abruptly. "Bad headaches and mood swings. I wish Dekkan were around to make it three in the house instead of just me and emma during the day."

"I'm sorry to hear that" said Pyosz. "Is that why she's not here at the dance, feeling ill?"

"No, she's better now, but she gets motion sickness easily" said Uli. "She can walk to work at the sugar mill. Otherwise, she sticks pretty close to Koldok. Summer is better than winter."

"Are you planning to compete or perform in some way for the Mchele Fair?" asked Pyosz.

"I help emma with her rug stall" said Uli. "I enter drawings in the art contest, and my other emma makes pickles which always win a ribbon. Plus, Dekkan and I always construct a kite for the aerial show. If she can get back for the Fair, we've got one of a dragon that will dazzle everybody."

"You know about dragons, then" said Pyosz, pleased. "I used to pore over the illustration that was in abba's bestiary, trying to figure out how you could breathe fire but never burn your tongue."

"I wish we'd known each other as children" said Uli, leaning closer. "I bet we'd have been best friends."

"I could have used a best friend" said Pyosz. Before she could add more, Uli's mouth was on hers, slightly open, soft, and distressingly delicious. Pyosz leaned into the kiss, letting the tip of Uli's tongue part her lips gently, before her mind caught up with pleasure and gave it a hard yank. She pulled back, and when Uli followed, Pyosz put her hand over her own mouth.

"No" she said from behind her fingers. "That was nice, but it's not what we agreed upon."

"I'm so sorry" began Uli, looking stricken. "I wasn't really thinking, I just -- looking at you in this light, feeling the relief of being with you -- "

"It's all right" said Pyosz. "I mean, don't chastise yourself. But don't do it again, okay? I need us to be friends, Uli, only friends. Don't muck this up, I like you too much to want to lose out on our friendship."

Uli leaned forward, putting her head in her hands. Pyosz thought she must need to cry. However, after a minute, Uli stood and said "I won't muck it up. Any more than I have already."

"Sit back down and talk some more" said Pyosz.

"No, I'd rather walk back, clear my head" said Uli. Pyosz felt let down. She got to her feet, and noticed motion to their left -- some sparking couple was also on the river bluff, looking their way. Pyosz didn't recognize them but one of the figures had on sinner mustard.

By the time they got back to the dance, they were talking almost normally again. Uli sat at the table with her family for a while, being very polite to Dodd and Briel. Before she left, she invited Pyosz out to a games night the following Roku. "It's mostly Gong Tong, do you play that?" asked Uli.

"I love it" said Pyosz. A single round of Gong Tong could take hours, involving creating matrices of cooperative patterns on a large grid, teams building cumulatively on each other's efforts.

After Uli departed, Dodd looked at Pyosz questioningly. A slow ballad began, pipe music skirling almost visibly through the rafters. Pyosz said "S'bemma, will you risk your feet in a dance with me?"

She and Dodd found the center of the floor and Pyosz said "If we mostly stick to swaying, I probably won't knock us down." Dodd chuckled and let Pyosz set their pace. Once she felt relatively competent, Pyosz leaned close to Dodd and said "Uli just tried to kiss me."

"You looked odd when you came back" said Dodd. "Was it upsetting?"

"Not really. I didn't see it coming, and I stopped it, but not immediately" said Pyosz. "I told her never again. I got the distinct feeling she's unhappy at home. Plus she's had too much cider, I'm pretty sure."

"None of which are excuses" said Dodd severely. "I need to tell Briel about this."

"Okay, but not Qoj, s'bemma. Let Qoj be the grown-up she is" urged Pyosz. "I mostly told you as a substitute for my own emma, not wanting to keep it all to myself. It isn't worth romanticizing that way."

Dodd leaned back to look her in the eyes and said "All right. Thanks for trusting me."

Two songs later, Pyosz realized she was getting sleepy and decided to pack it in. None of the rest of her family was ready to leave, and she made her goodbyes feeling a little sorry for herself. She opted to ride the bus back instead of biking half the length of Dvareka along in the dark. She stood at the bus stop half an hour before one came along, getting more fatigued by the minute and trying to ignore a couple nearby who were making out noisily, clearly on their way home to lovemaking.

The bus smelled like sheep droppings and managed to hit every pothole on the poorly-paved northeastern road to the main artery north and south. Once they were on better surface, Pyosz leaned her head against the window and closed her eyes. She didn't quite drop off. Still, the driver had to rouse her when they reached Koldok. A light rain had begun, and Pyosz had only her manteau, not her burzaka. She ran to the wharf, getting her blood pumping again, and leaned over the side of her ferry to watch occasional patches of underwater terrain illuminated by moonshine despite the rain.

In her cabin, she hung her manteau so it would dry out, dumped her silks on her trunk, and then realized she needed to piss. Wearing only otos and a burzaka, she trudged to her privy. She crawled into bed without wearing a schmatta, aroused by the kiss in spite of herself. After a few minutes, she turned on her lamp and reached for the rice paddy workers novel.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

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