Sunday, October 11, 2009


To begin reading this sci-fi novel or for background information, go to my Chapter One post here. To read about the background of the first novel, read my post here, which will also direct you to appendices.

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)


Pyosz was breathless when she finally jumped onto the Pomar ferry, but after a few months of being her own faryaste, she felt drawn to stand by the grizzled woman operating a lever which looked exactly like her own. Pyosz introduced herself and said "What do you do if the chain jams?"

"Radio for help" said the faryaste. One thing I don't have on my ferry, a radio thought Pyosz.

"What about if a lev jumped the barrier? How would you know about it?" asked Pyosz.

"Well, if it was one of the northern reefs, I suppose I wouldn't see it" mused the faryaste. "But it'd make a beeline for here, so I'd be aware of it soon enough. Presumably the Sigrist would radio me before then."

"But what would you do?" asked Pyosz.

"Get everybody into the cabin and hang on. Radio my family and tell them I loved them" said the faryaste, starting to look disturbed. "It hasn't happened in a long while, do you have some cause for concern I haven't heard about?"

"No, no" hurriedly said Pyosz. "It's just I get scared alone in my ferry, especially after dark, and I wondered if there was some secret tip you could pass on in case the impossible occurs in my kuono, like a freak high tide, maybe."

"I've heard they're drawn to motion, visually and by sound" said the faryaste. "But of course if you're in the water with them, you either make some kind of motion or drown, so that's no help, really. Aren't you related to the Sheng Zhang?" She looked extremely worried now.

"I am, but they tell me I have no concerns in my ferry. Please, don't read more into in it than that. Look, here we are, I'm off to see my cousin's new baby. Morrie Vaseo!" The last phrase was automatic, but she saw it land uneasily on the faryaste. She tried to look carefree as she strode past the empty children's playground, past a few picnickers and courting couples near the pond, and through the squeaky metal gates that separated Pomar Park from the bulk of the orchards and village adjacent. She turned left; Ehuy's family Manage was not in the picturesque region overlooking Pomar Lagoon, but next to the smelly and noisy warehouse and production bulidings.

Ehuy answered the door, and from behind her came the sounds of two children crying, a baby and a toddler, as if they were competing for volume. Ehuy looked exhausted.

"Oh, she'll be so happy to see you" said Ehuy, looking around at Ehall sitting on the floor and screaming. "See here, it's your cousin Pyosz come to visit from the new world, would you like to give her a hug?"

Ehall declined in favor of continuing her tantrum. Pyosz reached into her carryall and said "I've got dried figs dusted with sugar, and a toy for any child who comes to kiss my cheek."

Ehall was on her feet quickly, although she didn't manage to stop her wails until she reached Pyosz's knee. Pyosz bent to receive a mucousy kiss, handed over the figs and another wooden sailboat like the one she and Maar had given Thleen. Ehall promptly dropped the bag of figs, her fat hands clutching the sailboat in ecstasy.

"Would you look at that!" marveled Ehuy, leaning over to move the tiller and adjust the small sail. She picked up the figs and said "I hear you're making some good products there in Pya."

"It's kinda crazy, I know, bringing fruit to Pomar, but these are from an ancient tree with a singular flavor, I thought you might have a professional appreciation of them" said Pyosz.

"Pyosz, is that you?" came a voice from behind an alcove.

"I'm going to take Ehall outside for some fresh air while you're here, if that's all right with you" said Ehuy.

"Go for it." Pyosz said to Ehall "You can go sail that in the pond if you attach a string to it, would you like that?"

Ehall was immediately trying to get out the door. Ehuy had to force her into kiatu as Pyosz walked toward the alcove. A double bed was jammed into the space, a crib adjacent leaving only enough room for a single person to approach. Ngall was sitting up in loose clothing, the baby now feeding, with drying tears on its face.

"Oh, she's gorgeous!" raved Pyosz. "Mill said she looked just like you, and she's right. Here." Pyosz spilled out wrapped gifts on the bedspread, putting twists of tissue paper containing gold and silver eks on top of Omill's belly. Ngall had to wait until Omill was full before Pyosz could take her for burping and gooey compliments delivered into Omill's face. Ngall was visibly moved by her family's largesse.

"Abbo was here yesterday evening for a while, and when she gave me only her baby gift, well, I wondered" said Ngall. "Look, this is from Maar! She's as good a sister as Abbo is -- I shouldn't say that, but it's true."

"She's been at the abbas more than once in the last two days" said Pyosz. "She and Halling just had an intense conversation."

"Oh, tell me" said Ngall, her eyes on Omill but avid for news that didn't center around digestive tract issues. Pyosz recounted the story of that morning's sinning, speaking softly and gently so Omill didn't hear anything upsetting. Pyosz kept bending down to kiss the baby's wide forehead and sniff her hair. She felt chemicals surging through her own body, with a sense of intoxication.

"Tlunu's stodgy, to be kind about it" was Ngall's assessment. "Abbo had delusions otherwise, but Maar will almost certainly be the Sheng Zhang in Pya when emma retires. Both my emmas are grooming Maar for the position, although aggie -- Mill -- has trouble admitting it, because then she'd have to admit what a slacker Abbo is."

"Ngall, since it's just us here, I have to confess, I cannot for the life of me understand why Maar is with Abbo" burst out Pyosz. Omill blinked at her, and Pyosz realized there had been fervid disappointment in her tone.

"What do you mean, with?" asked Ngall.

"You know -- well, the're not partners, obviously, but lovers, however they define it" said Pyosz.

Ngall gaped at her. "They're not lovers. I thought you were close friends with Maar -- I mean, unless something's changed since the last time I talked with emma, which was yesterday. Yeah, they were involved briefly back when Abbo was still in high school, but she screwed that up very fast, and Maar had a doorway out. They're just friends --and work partners, of course, they work together well."

Pyosz gaped back at Ngall. "That can't be right..." Her mind was moving at lightspeed, going over everything Maar had ever said to her. She felt like the pulse in her neck must be audible to Omill, if not to Ngall. "She told me she wasn't available" she whispered.

"Well, it's not because of Abbo. Abbo's got a lover in the Lofthall here she's always shacking up with, and another one or two on Pya. I think she has some idea that Maar will eventually relent and they'll get back together, but from what I've seen, the Southern Wasa will go bone dry before that ever happens. My guess is that Maar was letting you know she's got her sib to raise, and that comes before all else" said Ngall. "Is she wet, her diaper looks damp from here."

Pyosz was have trouble tracking. In dumb slow motion, she handed Omill to Ngall, who pulled a diaper bag from under the bed and began changing the baby. "She's much more of a squirter than Ehall was, you have be careful when you first uncov -- oops, there she goes. Use a clean diaper to wipe off your shati, Pyosz." Pyosz dabbed at her clothing, handed Ngall the powder, and walked to the bath room with the dirty diaper to put it in the pail. When she returned, she said "Can I hold her again?"

"Of course" said Ngall. "So, you've been assuming Maar is off limits? I wondered what was going on, from what emma has said, Maar's over on Saya Island most all her free time."

"My dear cousin, I have been a complete and utter fool" said Pyosz in a low voice. "Which I seem to need to revisit every so often. Yes, I've been seething with jealousy about Abbo."

"And she's been seething about you, no doubt" said Ngall, laughing. "Abbo is always unhappy when she isn't the focus of everyone's attention, and she's resented your place with our abbas ever since you were babies."

"Is that why she seldom visits them?" asked Pyosz, briefly diverted. "Because it makes no sense to me, how she avoids them."

"Oh, it's complicated" said Ngall. "But I mean for my children to have their habibis, and the abbas are doing more than their share of making that possible. We can't go on living her indefinitely, me and Ehuy, not with a growing family. Her siba has the loft directly over us with her new partner, and she's been overt about her intention to inherit this Manage. There isn't another one available on Pomar, so if we have to move and commute anyhow, we're talking about relocating to Riesig. Abba Bux is scouting around for a Manage for us."

"That's wonderful news" said Pyosz. "Except for the part where you're not returning to Pya, of course."

"We've discussed that too" said Ngall, looking at her quizzically. "But that would mean you and I would still be separated, when you come back to Riesig, right?" When Pyosz didn't answer, Ngall said "So...Are you going to approach Maar now, then?"

"I can't. She flat out told me she wasn't available. I just misunderstood the reason why" said Pyosz. She cooed at Omill "Your cousin can be a cobbletop, yes, she can."

"Well, not at the moment. But she's clearly interested" said Ngall.

"If I haven't misconstrued that as well" said Pyosz. "Maybe it really is all about friendship."

"Or maybe she's hoping you'll wait for her. That would be utterly romantic, you keeping a dampered flame for her until Thleen is grown and then, flash, the two of you finally admit your passion for one another" said Ngall dreamily. Pyosz thought Guess who's body is awash in a hormone stew at the moment?

"Wait for her..." she repeated. In her mind, clear as cold water, she heard Prl's voice say Don't you dare. After a minute, she asked Ngall "How did Abbo screw it up with Maar?"

"Oh, well, she went off to flight school here after graduating high school, and in less than a week had begun an affair with another pilot. Not someone also in flight school, but someone older, barely within her sui, close to being scandalous" said Ngall. "But she didn't tell Maar, she let Maar hear about it through the Lofthall grapevine. And when Maar called her about it, she acted like Maar was being possessive, hinting that if Maar wanted to join in the fun, the other pilot was open to a three-way. Which is not Maar's style. Maar had already taken a lot of heat from my emmas about being a year older than Abbo, and she was never in love to begin with, so she told Abbo to go have fun, their affair was done. By the time Abbo got back at the end of the summer, Maar was having an affair with someone else, Uli, you know Uli? Everybody except Abbo and emma, Mill I mean, thought it was sorta funny. Emma though thought it was why Abbo turned in such a lackluster performance at flight school -- completely ignoring the fact that Abbo was consumed with another pilot's ginny the whole time." Ngall was highly amused. The reminder about Uli, however, and Maar's propensity for affairs in general, seemed to reinforce in Pyosz's head that voice telling her not to wait on Maar. Because Maar certainly doesn't wait on folks she thought. Not when it comes to sex.

Pyosz decided to shake off her distraction about Maar and keep focused on Ngall, not to mention the baby in her arms. They talked about Mchele Fair, Ngall expressing envy at missing how thoroughly Pya celebrated it; Ngall's labor; Ehall's reaction to a sib; and how ossified the ejida/huerta structure was on Pomar. An hour later, Ehuy returned with a sopping Ehall clutching her boat. Ehuy reported the string had slid from Ehall's grasp and she had dove in after her sailboat. Ehuy began running a hot bath, and Ngall started to look drowsy. Pyosz took her leave, promising to visit whenever she was back in Skene and to send copies of the photographs she'd taken of the new emma with Omill.

The same faryaste was on duty. Pyosz had hoped for a quiet ride back with time to consider the earth-shifting news about Maar, but the faryaste said belligerently "I hear there was an incident with a lev during today's sinning. What are you not telling me?"

Pyosz sighed. "Nothing. But that's what I'd say if I were keeping something from you, right? The fact is, I operate a ferry twice a day by myself and I simply wanted to hear inside information from a professional. I understand your paranoia, I have it myself."

The faryaste glared at her and walked to the other end of the boat. I've prodded the beach rubble with this one, for sure Pyosz thought.

Instead of going directly back to her abbas' Manage, Pyosz went downtown and found the silversmith shop still open. "I'm here to buy a service bracelet for a pilot" she announced. "Has to be Chloddia silver, and I need to look at all your available designs."

The smith began pulling trays from under the counter as she asked "Which pilot?"

"Sinner Maar, of Pya" said Pyosz. To her surprise, the smith said "Oh, yes, she's a good customer. In fact, she has full credit with us, are you putting this on her tab?"

Credit was extremely rare on Skene, and Pyosz had never heard of it being extended by a jeweler. She had a fleeting thought that she wished Prl had been here to witness this exchange. "No, I'm buying it as a gift, so if she should happen to come in for herself, please stall her somehow" said Pyosz. They began examining bracelets. Half an hour later, she arrived at the Manage just as a full table was sitting down to dinner. They talked about the baby and Ehall during the meal. After dessert of Saya figs, Speranz and Tlunu left to visit friends, and Xunu retired to her room behind the main house, citing the need to set her leraar records in order before the upcoming school break.

The rest of the family settled around the table with tea. Lawa opened Pyosz's logbook again and said "We've been going over this. It's a thing of beauty."

"We also fingered through that sample of clay you brought back from Saya" said Moasi. "I haven't seen finer. Emma could tell you all about it."

"She'd be so happy to have another keramiker in the family" agreed Halling. "I have something to pass on to you, with Moasi and Lawa's approval." She lifted a small, stained notebook from the sideboard. "This was Ng's. Whenever she had an idea for a design or pattern, she'd sketch it in here first, with ideas for glaze and form. It's her artist journal. All we ask is that you either hand it on to another family member when you feel done with it, or donate it to the Archives."

Pyosz had to lean to one side as she leafed slowly through the pages, because tears were dripping from her cheeks. "This is unbelievably precious to me" she said in a choked voice.

"I also have a lead on a wheel" added Lawa. "If I have your consent to barter, I'll try to get it down to a price that won't be exorbitant with shipping to Pya added on."

"Just don't finalize the deal before talking with me" asked Pyosz. "The rest of this week is Mchele Fair, and next week I'll be consumed with renovations, but call me whenever you want. So far Klosa hasn't located any kind of wheel on Pya, although she may turn up a kiln."

"Did I hear you right, that Tu is going to be walking on stilts as part of a parade during your version of the fair?" asked Moasi. Pyosz told them stories about Tu and Pank's activities, eliciting much laughter. She segued into descriptions of the fair itself -- all second-hand and anticipatory, but it didn't feel that way to her. "Dodd's band will be competing for the black ribbon as Pya's favorite, and I predict they'll be using some of the music you've been sending her."

"What's the band called?" asked Moasi.

"Cawl Ffa" grinned Pyosz. This was the name of a popular bean stew, and referenced to Koldok's proximity to the Pea Pods. "I'm looking forward to the music as much as any part of the Fair, even though I'm a wretched dancer."

"You're what?" exclaimed Yoj. "You've been going to every dance they have there, right? Has someone criticized your dancing?"

"No, they've been extremely kind, despite my sending at least partner crashing to the floor" said Pyosz ruefully. "I may have inherited a propensity for working with clay, but I have none of your genes for grace."

"Nonsense" said Halling, pushing back her chair and standing stiffly by leaning on the table. "Yoj, will you provide us with some music? I refuse to allow my grandchild to remain ignorant of the joys of dancing."

"Oh, abba, it'll hurt your joints" protested Pyosz. "Plus, I'm a hopeless case, I truly am."

"It will loosen my joints, I haven't moved all day" insisted Halling. "Yoj, I didn't mean you standing in the corner singing, I'm hoping for a recording of a real band. With percussion."

"I get the turn with her after you" Bux said to Halling, going to clear chairs from the middle of the living room.

"Me next" said Qala. "You can warm up with me" Lawa said to her as one of Yoj's tapes began filling the room with the bars of a reel.

Bux bowed to Prl, who accepted the offer to dance, and they glided out beside Lawa and Qala. Pyosz felt sudden excitement at the slim hope that maybe she could shuck her klutz image. She placed her palms into Halling's gnarled hands, but Halling paused, looking down at the floor.

"You're dancing in those otos? They're the size of butter churns" said Halling.

"They're all I have on Pya" confessed Pyosz.

"Well, no wonder" said Yoj. "A beginner trying for agility in those would be like wearing gloves to dice garlic. Pull 'em off, sokken will do for now."

"You have beautiful zaoxue at home" remarked Prl, bobbing by with her emma.

"All right" said Halling, once Pyosz was rid of her otos. "You've got a visual mind, we'll approach this as geometry. We're going to make shapes and claim space in a series of planes."

An hour later, having moved through the attentions of each of her abbas and emma in turn, Pyosz was drenched in sweat but something inside had clicked and she felt as confident moving her body to music as she did milking or kneading bread. Not with as much expertise, still, but the confidence was the major barrier. She begged for a break, drinking down two glasses of cold Skene water from the tap, then bursting into a long bout of laughter. "They won't believe it's me, at the Mchele Fair dance!" she said gleefully.

"And you have new silks to wear" added Prl, her cheeks radiant as she, too, came for a drink.

Bux turned to look at Halling and said "Do you ever wear that blue outfit -- the one you say is too baggy in front?"

"No. It's in my press, wrapped in tissue paper" said Halling. Yoj stood and went to their bedroom. She returned with a slender box, which Pyosz opened standing at the table, her abbas looking on. The dubikun and hanshan under the aged paper were of opulent cerulean blue silk in a pattern of stars and phases of the moon. Pyosz gasped. She ran the silk over her hands, saying "How old is this?"

"Oh, older than Prl" said Yoj. "My aggie wove that silk, and Qen helped Bux stitch it for Halling."

"But it bloused in the front and sagged in the seat on me" said Halling. "Go try it on."

"I'm afraid it will rip with too much motion" said Pyosz.

"It won't" promised Yoj. "Not the way Rosz made fabric."

When Pyosz emerged from the bath room, they all exclaimed at the perfect fit. "She's got your height and bones" Bux said to Halling. "But your fleshly delights" replied Halling. "And eyes, to match that blue" added Yoj.

"Take lots of photos at the dance, or rather, have someone else take photos of you" pleaded Prl.

"Come back with me for the week" suggested Pyosz. "We'll find you a room and you can go to every event with me." She was quite serious, but Prl brushed her off. Pyosz noticed Halling rubbing her knees under the table, and she said "Abba, where's that liniment you use at night? Let me ease the ache I've caused, I have very strong hands now."

"You never caused me a single ache in my life" retorted Halling. "But I'll accept the massage, especially of my feet."

Pyosz rubbed every joint on Halling's body, working the herbal emollient deep into bone and tissue, until Halling was stretched on the couch asleep. She took a turn with Moasi as well, listening to Yoj and Bux reminisce about dances of the past, or Lawa and Qala making notes in her logbook about her tillage. She didn't want this to be her last night on Skene. Szebel's death reminded her that her own abbas were of the same age. When Speranz and Tlunu returned, however, and looked pointedly at the clock, Prl said "Let's go home. We'll be back after breakfast, we'll see you all then."

It was raining and windy outside. Pyosz hoped the rain had held off long enough for the Chloddia kickball championship to be settled. She shared an umbrella with Qala, who walked with her arm around Pyosz's waist. In the privacy under the canvas convexity, Qala murmured "Your Maar is most impressive."

"She's not mine, not -- Abba, I've been believing all this time that she was lovers with Abbo" confided Pyosz. "Ngall set me straight about it today. But Maar isn't free, all the same. Thleen has first claim on her."

"Which is just" said Qala. "Thleen has a need I hope you never have to feel."

"Oh, I'd never compete with Thleen. Rather, I want to meet her need as well. I can't believe how far astray my thinking about Maar has been, though" said Pyosz.

"Stakes were high, huh" said Qala. "I could have told you Abbo would never hold the interest of someone like Maar."

At the Manage, they gathered around the kitchen table where Pyosz ate more dried cherries, trying to contend with the bone-deep weariness she was feeling. They talked about Halling and Moasi, Ngall and her family, and people on Pya. At one point, Pyosz said "I have such strong feelings for Omill, even more than I felt for Ehall. Maybe because she resembles Ngall so much. I want to be close enough to see how she grows day by day, like my own future is at stake in it."

"It is at stake" said Lawa. "I don't think why we love the children who arrive in our family is completely self-centered, but ego is mixed in there. They're one of ours, you know."

"All decisions to have a child involve ego" said Prl. "That's a given. The question is whether it's balanced by other desires."

Pyosz looked at her with interest. "A question I guess you have to answer for each set of emmas coming to you for a Contribution."

"To the best of my ability, yes" said Prl. "I'm frequently wrong."

"It just occurred to me -- you must have knowledge about Ngall and Ehuy's children that no one else possesses" mused Pyosz. "Is it awkward when it's family coming to you for their children?"

"It has been" said Prl. "I was spared by the presence of fertile Y's with Mill and Dodd's families. And by the time Speranz and Tlunu applied, I had enough experience to not be swamped by emotion. But it was -- painful, I'd have to say -- with Ndege and Gerra. Their request came so soon after I began being Genist." Pyosz wondered at that choice of words, painful. She said slowly, with sympathy "Every social interaction you have, maybe every new person you meet, has a backstory none of us can share. It hardly seems fair to you, emma. I mean, what do you see when you look at, say, Thleen?"

"I had no role in her -- " began Prl, before stopping herself. Now that's interesting thought Pyosz, as Qala stepped in to change the subject. She and Prl began bickering gently about Tlunu's behavior that day. Pyosz lay her head onto her arms on the table. Within a minute, they heard Pyosz's breathing change.

"She's fallen asleep" said Lawa quietly. "Pyosz, honey, do you want help getting to bed?"

There was no response from Pyosz. Qala said to Prl "She's handling more of a load than I think we realize."

"What's up with her and that pilot? And now the pilot's child, more or less" said Prl without rancor. Qala considered, and Prl said "I saw you two whispering under the umbrella."

Qala decided it wasn't a secret Pyosz intended to keep. "She's thought all this time that Maar and Abbo were together. Still a couple, from years ago. Just found out the truth today."

Lawa and Prl looked at her in astonishment, then at Pyosz's sleeping head. "She must have been tormented" said Prl with extreme empathy in her voice.

"So does this mean an explosive love affair is about to begin?" wondered Lawa.

"No, because Maar has been unequivocal in saying she's not available for it" said Qala.

"Maybe in saying it, but longing leaks from her every pore" said Lawa. After a long pause, Prl said "Abba -- Bux -- told me that Sey has made an application to change her citizenship from Skene to Pya. She's planning to emigrate and take a job in Koldok, of all places."

Lawa looked furious. "Does Pyosz know about this?"

"Emma said yes. Said Mill had told her Pyosz doesn't care" said Prl.

"Do we believe that?" Lawa asked Qala. Qala's eyes had remained on Pyosz. "I believe whatever Pyosz tells me" said Qala. She finally turned her gaze to Prl, saying "Why would Sey feel the need to transfer citizenship? I doubt she's come into a new appreciation of Pyosz, she wasn't that sort to begin with."

Prl looked away. "Another lesson for me to learn about meddling, I suppose. I'll ask her about it tomorrow. I wish she were staying longer, not just for my sake but for emma Halling's. She's been distracted from her own grief by Moasi's visit, which is all to the good, of course. But then Pyosz and Moasi are both gone..."

"We'll step in" said Lawa firmly. Pyosz shifted, her neck now bent at an uncomfortable angle. Prl shook her gently and said "My darling, let me help you to bed." As they diappeared into the bedroom, Qala did the few dishes and Lawa looked in the larder, thinking about a special breakfast the next day. After Qala and Lawa left for next door, Prl read through the notes left by her apprentice, sipping more tea and savoring the idea that Pyosz was under her roof again. Half an hour later, the bedroom door opened and Pyosz, almost sleep-walking, said "Emma, are you coming in with me tonight?"

"Of course" said Prl, getting swiftly to her feet. "I'll be there as soon as I change into my schmatta." Pyosz stumbled back to her bed. When Prl joined her, Pyosz didn't reawaken but Prl heard from her the soft sigh she had always given as a child when she sensed her emma's proximity.

"She's good enough for you" Prl whispered to the back of Pyosz's head. "I can see that, and I want you to know it."

The next morning, breakfast was quiet. Everyone was up by 6:00, to spend all the time they could with Pyosz, who felt real grief at leaving this particular Manage behind again. Prl helped her pack her carryall plus a borrowed bag to hold all her new clothes, tucking hangers and small treats in among the garments. As she set the bag in the front foyer, a knock came at the door. She opened it to discover Thleen, bright-cheeked with excitement, and Maar behind her in a mustard-colored burzaka.

"I have a present for Pyosz!" announced Thleen, giving Prl a quick hug before rushing past her. "Wait until you're asked in!" yelled Maar after her.

"Come in" said Prl with humor. Thleen was already in Pyosz's lap at the kitchen table, her wet burzaka being ignored by both her and Pyosz. "We went shopping yesterday and -- oh, wait, look at my new shati" said Thleen, standing to pull her burzaka over her head.

"What a beautiful print!" exclaimed Pyosz. "I didn't know they made fabric showing kickball scenes. Which reminds me, who won?"

"Not the team I like" said Thleen, her face suddenly tragic. "But we got to have spun sugar and chicken buns at the game. Do you want me to show you the best play? See, there was this big player -- "

"Thleen, you have to be at school in five minutes" interrupted Maar. She said apologetically to Pyosz, "She found this and wanted to get it for you, and she insisted she had to deliver it herself."

"You have a surprise for me?" Pyosz asked Thleen, who pulled a small box from her pocket. She'd clearly wrapped it herself, and she couldn't keep from helping Pyosz now undo the string and open the lid. Inside, on crumpled tissue paper, was a tiny silver lighter that twinkled under the kitchen lamp.

Maar, her tone again apologetic, "I know lighters may not mean as much to you as they do to Thleen -- "

"Are you kidding me, I love it!" said Pyosz. "I come from a Lofthall family, I first flew in a lighter when I was a baby too young to remember it." She hugged Thleen exuberantly.

Qala said "I remember, Halling carried you to the jichang strapped in a yameen facing outward. She said your face got very serious when she started the engines, but as soon as she lifted off, you began squealing with delight. She toured the entirety of Skene, banking every chance she could so you had a good view of your home. When she finally landed, you wailed because it was over."

"I was nearly unconscious from worry" added Prl. "You didn't want to come into my arms, you wanted more flying, even though you'd filled your diaper and you urped on me a minute later."

"You could wear it as a necklace, or maybe an earring" suggested Thleen, tracing the intricate lines of the pendant with some cupidity.

"Oh, no, it's going to hang from the end of one of my dreads here at the front of my face" declared Pyosz. "See, I already have a goat and a sun, this will be the perfect third thing, to make it all balanced. Emma, will you get some silk thread to tie it on for me?"

Maar let them remain long enough to see the lighter attached, Pyosz demonstrating how she could make it soar by tossing her head. Then she rushed Thleen through hugs and out the door, saying "We'll have to run if we're to beat the bell." She called over her shoulder to Pyosz "See you at noon." A reminder which helped ease some of the misery of departure.

At 10:00, they walked together to the abbas' Manage, which smelled deliciously of an early lunch plus food to pack a hamper for Pyosz's return flight. Bux announced "We had a visit from Qoj this morning, and guess what? She's flying back to Pya with you for Mchele Fair!"

"Oh, glorious" said Pyosz. "Do her emmas know?"

"She made the decision last night and called them. They've already given her room away to Pank and Tu, but she said she doesn't care, she'll only be home long enough to sleep anyhow and the couch will be fine. Apparently Mchele Fair is something not to be missed" said Yoj.

"Well, and I think Uli is also a draw" reminded Halling. "What's that in your hair, child?"

An hour and a half later, Pyosz wept as she said goodbye to her abbas. Lawa, Qala and Prl insisted on carrying her bags and hamper to the Lofthall with her, where a lighter would take her to Yanja to rendezvous with the huolon. "I'll be hard to reach for the next several days, but Mill will always know how to find me if you need me" she told her emma. "And I'll call you all Shmonah evening, I promise."

The lighter stopped briefly on Verzin to pick up Qoj, which made Pyosz wipe her tears and focus on the flight ahead. Abbo was taking the first leg and asked Qoj to sit up front with her. Pyosz helped Maar make a nest against the window in her second-row seat, worried that she wouldn't sleep well enough sitting up, but Maar dropped off quickly as the huolon ate daylight. By the time Maar was awakened for dinner and her turn at piloting, it was full dark. Without being asked, Pyosz changed seats to where Qoj had been, sitting beside Maar in the front. She handed her second pillow back to Qoj, saying "If you feel like sleeping." Qoj wrapped her own manteau around her like a blanket and leaned back, eyes closed.

Once it had been quiet for a while, Pyosz leaned toward Maar and said softly "Be sure to tell Thleen that Halling noticed my lighter and thought it was wonderful."

Maar's face lit briefly. "She couldn't stop talking about you. And your emma."

"My emma was impressed with you both as well" said Pyosz.

They were silent for a couple of minutes. Maar cleared her throat and said "I have a big favor to ask of you. And I really want you to say no if that's your choice."

Pyosz nodded.

"If something should happen to me...I have a will and instructions all spelled out, but...I'd like it if you stayed in Thleen's life, made sure she kept connections to your family. I don't know how she would make it, without me, but she'll need your help to make it possible." Maar's face was grave and very pale.

"Oh, Maar -- this is because of the lev attack, isn't it?"

"Not entirely. I worry about it a lot of the time" said Maar. "But it's my worry, you don't have to take it on -- "

"Of course I'll keep her close" said Pyosz. "For my sake, as well as hers. We'll grieve your absence together every day. But that's not going to happen, I refuse to consider it a possibility."

Maar placed two fingers from each hand across each other in the symbol for luck. "You know, Pyosz...I was thinking about Tu and Pank, at the funeral, how elderly they are, and then I looked around at all your abbas...The bulk of your family, the ones you love most -- the truth is, 10 or 20 years from now, they may all be gone."

Pyosz felt cold at her core. "I try not to think about that. I want them to be around to pass on their love and wisdom to my children."

"That is to be hoped" agreed Maar. "What I mean to say is, when the time comes to let go of them, I'll be there for you. I'll share the load."

Pyosz slid her hand into Maar's. "I'll need you" she whispered.

They sat, hands linked, through another long silence. Pyosz thought about asking Maar how Thleen had been conceived, but decided to sit on that information a while longer. Eventually Maar said "What's in the wrapped bundles you brought on board, looks like plants?"

"They're a gift from Moasi to Tu. It's cuttings from the massive lilac bush on Motu Fling, perhaps older than they are. It's why Halling wears lilac scent. Moasi's sending them to plant on Herne Island" said Pyosz. Maar's hand felt different to her now -- now that it belongs in no shape or form to Abbo she thought.

She asked Maar "This may be intrusive, but how many lovers have you had? And how often have you been in love?"

Maar glanced at her, then in the rearview mirror. "Eight lovers. Never in love...with any of them."

"Eight in what, three years?" said Pyosz, shocked.

"Four years. My first was when I was 15. That's not so many" argued Maar. "Why, how many have you had besides Sey?"

"None" said Pyosz in a low voice. Now it was Maar's turn to be shocked. Pyosz decided she wasn't ready to confide to Maar how wrong she'd been about her and Abbo; not yet.

Maar said "Well, let me know if you have trouble with Sey once she gets to Pya."

"Thanks, but I can handle Sey" said Pyosz with a grin. "She knows it, too. I think her being afraid of my about-to-emerge adult power is part of why she ditched me."

"Moron" whispered Maar to herself, but Pyosz heard it and squeezed her hand. She wanted to take a nap. However, she forced herself to stay awake, chatting with Maar often enough to keep Maar alert as dawn hurtled in their direction.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.