Saturday, November 28, 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)


As they circled for landing at the Koldok jichang, Pyosz saw Dodd standing at the path from the schoolhouse. Qoj was first out the door, and it wasn't until Qoj broke into a trot that Pyosz realized Uli was next to Dodd. She grinned to herself and heard Maar chuckle.

Pyosz unpacked her own bags into a cart, then threw herself into helping Abbo and Maar unload the huolon. After a moment, so did Dodd, then Uli and Qoj. Abbo was running the forklift and Maar the hatch crane, but there was still much the extra hands could do. When all was stowed in the warehouse, the huolon tied down, Abbo said "I'm grabbing a cup of porridge and hot shower before going back to sleep."

"I'll be there soon" said Maar, and Pyosz reminded herself there was no longer any reason to be jealous. Maar said to the others "I'll definitely be at Pank's play tonight, if you get there first will you save me a seat?"

"Yes" said Dodd. She hadn't combed her beard this morning, and Pyosz thought she looked uncharacteristically grumpy. Dodd said to Pyosz "Pank and Tu are at rehearsal right now, but they wanted me to tell you everything's in good shape on Saya. They've moved into our Manage for the rest of Mchele Fair. I'd like to hear from you how Halling, how all my emmas are doing." The insider's take, she means thought Pyosz.

Qoj jumped in to say "Let's all go to the cafe and eat whatever meal it is!" Her eyes were wide and happy, her face turned toward Uli. Dodd replied sternly "First we have to stop in at the clinic so your aggie can say hello, I promised her."

"Of course, and then the cafe" said Qoj easily. But Maar shook her head regretfully: "I have to bake for several days' worth of my commitment to Gitta. I have to shop for a few supplies before that, and I need to check on Saya for myself. Then I have to milk and rush back to make the plays tonight, I'm not even going to manage a nap today."

Dodd looked very disappointed. She nudged Maar, who added "Me neither, I'm afraid. I actually have to work, we all do, this afternoon. For the rest of the fair, we'll be on 14-hour shifts with 2-hour breaks here and there. So I'm following Abbo's lead. But I'll walk you to the clinic." She put a hand on the cart to help push.

Qoj and Uli talked quietly between themselves as Pyosz gave Dodd the account she wanted while they walked through Koldok. At the clinic, Maar said she'd continue on with Pyosz to the djostiker's -- "Moving my body will help me sleep," Maar didn't take her leave there, however, but accompanied Pyosz also to Gitta's where the three of them conferred on bridies and single-serving pastries that would sell best at Mchele Fair. Maar helped Pyosz load her bags and crates into the ferry, where empty milk cans were already lined up.

Looking across the water, Maar said "I swear I can see Ember waiting for you at the top of the trail."

"I felt bad about leaving her" confessed Pyosz. "I was worried she'd think I was gone for good, like Ferk."

Maar's face went serious, as she said quietly "What will you do with her when you return to Skene, then?"

Pyosz felt a jolt. "I told her I'm her person from here on out, so she'll go with me wherever I live." She and Maar gazed at each other. Maar said "I'm glad she has you that way."

Pyosz didn't know what to do with herself. She saw a glint of crumbs at the corner of Maar's mouth and leaned toward her as she gently brushed them away with her thumb, saying "Lemon cookies --"

But Maar flinched backward from her touch. Their immediate "I'm sorry" tumbled across each other. With an awkward laugh, Maar said "I really do have to go rest."

"I'll see you later" said Pyosz as normally as she could muster. She castigated herself all the way across the kuono, but when Ember rushed to the end of the dock, yowling piteously, Pyosz focused all her attention back on her Saya life.

She took enough time to comb out the katts, with much reassurance, and to go call hello over the kissing gate, though most of the goats ignored her. Then she began moving at a rapid, proficient clip, making dough, stewing fillings for bridies and tarts, and briefly transplanting the Motu lilac starts into a compost-filled hole in full sun near the non-goat side of the kissing gate. She ate a bridie in gulps while running to do a quick fruit harvest from the orchard -- even with Tu and Pank's diligence, on these long summer days picking needed to be done every day or waste was inevitable.

She hurriedly hung her new silks and stacked the rest of her bags on her trunk for later unpacking, saving out a new pale yellow shati with chocolate linen kalsongers to wear to the play. She did a rough wash at her sink after milking, throwing a new burzaka over her attire as she literally galloped her wain toward the dock. Dusk had closed in, and Ember's face had been tormented when Pyosz shut the cabin door. Once on the ferry, however, she caught her breath, checked to make sure she'd remembered her camera, and cheerfully accepted the help of two passersby to transfer crates from ferry to cart. The grocery was closed but Gitta was waiting on her and exclaimed happily about the quantity Pyosz piled on her counters.

"I'll freeze some, and it'll get us through the rest of the Fair" said Gitta.

"Pay me later" said Pyosz from the door, "and I'll get my crates over the weekend." She sprinted for the schoolhouse, and had to apologize her way through standing-room-only throngs in the entryway. The first play was halfway through, and in dark Pyosz couldn't see anyone in her family, nor did she want to disrupt the audience's rapt attention by searching. She tucked into a wall sconce and gave herself over to watching. As soon as applause began, she pushed out into the eddy of humanity and almost immediately heard Frahe calling her name.

Her family was at the front but on the far side, minus Nk who was backstage helping her emmas. There was no visible seat for her. However, as she reached them, Qoj stood and sat back down in Uli's lap with a wicked grin which was a perfect inverse of Dodd's scowl. Pyosz slid into the vacated seat with "Thank you for your sacrifice, cousin", which made Briel giggle. Pyosz stood again briefly to shuck her burzaka, far too hot for indoors. Maar whistled and leaned around Oby to say "Great shati."

"The color of Saya cream" said Pyosz happily. She fumbled her camera out of her bag as there came a thud and an oath from behind the stage curtain.

"Did you get a chance to eat?" asked Maar, leaning over Oby again.

"No, but maybe at the next intermission" began Pyosz before Oby said "Here, Maar, just switch seats with me." Maar pulled a lentil burger and bottle of lemonade from her own pack, and Pyosz had gobbled most of it down before Pank's play started.

Pyosz found herself laughing through tears by the final scene. She could hardly believe how good Pank was in it, and the minimalist scenery was quite effective. Pank had landed the role of romantic lead and carried it off quite dashingly -- except for the instant where she had to bend over her sobbing enamorata and there was a distinct report of breaking wind which blasted into either wing, followed immediately by audience hysterics. Tu later complained it was this indiscretion which kept their performance from winning the black ribbon. The whole family stayed through the other two plays so they could be present for the award ceremony, and they cheered riotously when Pank and Tu's troupe won green.

Api, Ollow, Mill, Oby and Abbo left after that, but the rest stayed to help strike sets -- the stage would be needed the next day for other events. Giddy with tiredness, Pyosz said yes to Tu's suggestion they all retire to the Lofthall canteen for tea and catching up. After Maar dozed off sitting up, she was banished to her bunk down the hall, but the rest kept chatting, Dodd determinedly asking Uli questions, which Pyosz decided was mostly to keep her and Qoj from slipping off alone. Well, my cousin will leave her emmas behind tomorrow, I'm sure of it thought Pyosz. In fact, when the rest finally walked her to her ferry, Uli and Qoj melted away into the growing fog.

Somehow she remembered to set her alarm, and she fell instantly into slumber despite Curds and Ember wanting to complain to her about how strangers had invaded their bed for several nights. Getting up came too soon, but she was happy to get her body back into the satisfaction of milking. She donned another new shati -- this one a gauzy print of red cuttlefish amid green kelp -- and left her clean milk cans in the ferry to have breakfast at Dodd and Briel's before setting out with her family to experience this particular Roku, the "market of all markets". She collected her earnings from Gitta first, and had to return to Dodd's house twice to stash her purchases, mostly the finest of Pya's handicrafts which she intended as gifts for her family.

Stalls spilled out of Koldok and lined the road all the way to Pertama and the fairgrounds, with only a narrow lane left in the middle for buses which ran back and forth nonstop. Qoj was hand in hand with Uli, and Tu had whispered to Pyosz that she'd not come home the night before. By 10:30, Pyosz felt headachy from sunlight, dust, and spectacle. When Nk said "Let's grab lunch from a stall and go claim early seats for the shearing competition", Pyosz was glad for the chance to sit down under a tree on a quilt. She kept wishing Maar were with them, or at least not having to fly all over Pya on endless hauls and shuttles.

At one point Tu confessed to her "We took one jar of every sauce and jam you make, and entered them in the culinary competitions under your name," Pyosz gaped at her, and Pank added "Plus that pie you left for us in your coldbox. Folks was expecting to see a pie by you in the line-up."

By 1:30, Pyosz felt tapped out. She said "I have to nap before milking or I'll never last through the kickball game tonight. I'll see you all at the bleachers." As she threaded her way through the stall by the Lofthall, she heard Maar call her name and made her way to the front of the Lofthall.

"If you want to join the others, I can tell you where to find them" said Pyosz. "You have a couple of hours off, right?"

"Well, longer, because one of the rushers on the Koldok kickball team fell out of a tree this morning and broke her arm" said Maar. "They've asked me to fill in for her, and Mill's given me the afternoon to rest up."

"I didn't know you were on the team" remarked Pyosz.

"Haven't been for a few months, kept missing practice" grinned Maar. "But I guess I'll do in a pinch. Abbo is steamed they asked me and not her, especially since she's having to work extra now. Where are you headed?"

Pyosz told her, amid great yawns, and Maar said "You can save yourself ten minutes by dossing down in my bunk if you want. The dorm area is under quiet orders right now, with so many of us sleeping odd hours." Pyosz stared at her, and Maar said with red cheeks "I'll take Abbo's bunk, she won't mind."

Pyosz was filled with the desire to see where Maar spent her nights and she nodded instantly. Maar, her face still flaming, led her silently through the side hall and down the aisle between rows of bunks separated by canvas walls. In the corner, these walls had been shifted to make a small room holding two metal cots which faced each other. One side of this room was littered with dirty laundry, a few mugs left on the floor, and the sheets on the unmade bed were not quite clean. To Pyosz's relief, the other half, clearly Maar's from all the photos of Thleen, was spotless and tidy. Maar sat down on Abbo’s bunk, pushing a disarticulated newspaper onto the floor, and began wearily tugging off her otos.

Pyosz felt suddenly shy. She removed her shati with her back to Maar and folded it neatly over the foot of the cot. Maar stood again to close a curtain against the light and she mutely handed Pyosz a soft old shati from her clothes chest. By the time Pyosz had changed and pulled back the blue-and-yellow coverlet on Maar's bed, Maar was prone and seemed to already be asleep. Pyosz listened to her breathing, smelling the lemony scent on Maar's non-Lofthall linens, and studying the hundreds of photos overlapping every inch of the wall next to where Maar slept.

She didn't remember dropping off. It was Abbo who woke them a few hours later, jerking back the curtain and snorting loudly when she saw them. Pyosz was unpertubed, feeling rested and contented to a degree she could hardly explain. She dressed slowly, alternately watching Maar assemble her kickball gear and taking in the three photos of herself pinned in among the ode to Thleen.

Ember met her at the dock again, trying to make sense of Pyosz's comings and goings. Clouds were rolling in, and Pyosz willed rain to delay until midnight. Even so, she wore her cap and burzaka when she returned to Dvareka for the game. Her family had a seat for her this time, and after getting another meal from the food stalls, she settled in between Tu and Mill as Mill rattled on about Koldok's chances against the brutes of Cogio. "At least we have Maar in there, she knows how to throw an elbow and put a scare into 'em." Pyosz smiled serenely and shared her candied orange slices with Tu.

Her serenity lasted throughout the raging fervor of the extremely close game. Koldok lost by one point, with Maar scoring two goals and bloodying the nose of the most hated Cogio player. Pyosz took all the photos she could, knowing the professional thrill they would give Thleen -- especially, she suspected, the one of the Cogio player bent over with gushing nose. Afterward they went to Dodd and Briel's house for tea while Briel treated Maar's scrapes and bruises. Mill and Oby asked Dodd to accompany them as they walked Pyosz to her ferry and Maar to the Lofthall, since post-game rowdies were still out and about.

Pyosz remembered as a child hearing her emma complain to Qala in the kitchen "Dodd was always our first choice for a game or company or being on your side, we all felt that way about her, but Ndege and I were the only ones who made sure it went both ways, that Dodd got back from us as much as she offered. And now that Ndege has given up on anything except keeping Gerra safely confined to Sigrist Poke, why did Dodd let herself be tricked into going to Pya to help out Mill?"

Pyosz hadn't been able to hear Qala's quiet answer. Now, though, she'd guess it had been something along the lines that Dodd had gone to Pya to help out Dodd, not Mill. And Briel, of course, who did more than anyone in their family to keep Dodd feeling treasured and in balance. She briefly wondered if Qoj was going to sleep in Uli's bed again tonight; from how they'd looked this evening, swollen and distracted, she'd guess yes. Her mind suddenly reminded her YOU slept in Maar's bed today, and she suppressed a laugh. She fell asleep reliving the smell of Maar's pillow.

The following noon at awards ceremonies Pyosz won a green ribbon for her apple-cheese pie with hazelnut meal crust, and pink ribbons for her lemon curd, ginger fish sauce, and blackberry jam. Maar insisted she pin all the second and third place ribbons to her shoulders, and Tu said "This is before you've had time to age your vinegars or develop your orchard, just wait until next year." Which dimmed the smiles on both Maar and Pyosz.

The final award was for the crop or confection "which best symbolizes Pya this year", and Pyosz was stunned when it was given to her shamsjooz sauce. Dodd pushed her up the steps to accept the glossy black ribbon. As Pyosz rejoined her family, Gitta called out to her "Our prices just went up!"

Pyosz celebrated by riding the zip line set up on the fairgrounds, her ribbons flapping wildly, otos clamped together and her high screams causing half the crowd to look her way. Maar met her at the bottom with an exuberant hug before leaving for another work shift. "Save your first dance for me tonight, I'm already bruised from the kickball game" she whispered in Pyosz's ear.

Pyosz took at least one turn on every carnival ride with her younger cousins, and cheered on Pank at the axe-throwing pitch. She left at the last possible minute to get back to Saya before dusk, feeding her out of sorts katts before milking. She took a long hot shower and lay down for an hour's nap before rising to pick her hair, dress in the rich old blue silks, tuck her silver zaoxue into her pack for dancing, and make a quick cheese sandwich for eating on the dark ferry.

This dance was being held in a Pertama factory which smelled of wax and resin, but the floors were expansive and smooth. Two stages had been set up for the band competition. Pyosz refused to take off her burzaka, even after she had on her zaoxue, until Maar was there. Her unveiling caused the sensation she wanted. Dodd fingered the silk and said "I know where this is from", Mill said "You look so much like emma", and Maar couldn't seem to find words at all. Dodd's band wasn't playing for the first set but she was obsessively tuning her fiddle, so Pyosz handed her camera to Briel and led Maar onto the floor as the first bars of music began -- a fast waltz, thank the stars.

Her memory wasn't perfect and she hadn't enough practice, but still after 30 seconds the difference in Pyosz was so profound that Maar came to a halt briefly and said "Are those silks enchanted? I mean, what happened?"

"My abbas" said Pyosz cryptically, coaxing Maar back into motion. She was a little crazy with triumph at the end, and accepted every dance request extended to her, making Maar compete heavily for turns. However, when the first two bands exited the stage and Cawl Ffa began setting up, Pyosz sat down next to Maar, breathing heavily and draining a cold glass of tea. "I don't want to miss the anthem or the dawn chorus, and since they have a limited set, I'm going to sit and listen as much as I can. Is there a pitcher of this tea, or -- "

"That was mine" said Maar. "Save my chair and I'll go get us a pitcher."

"And food!" Pyosz called after her. "I'm ravenous."

Maar returned with a platter of fish-stuffed noodle wraps, onion fritters, and apricots just as Dodd strode to the front of the stage and sang

I embrace this good green earth
Rising safe I am this hour

Pyosz sprang to her feet, and at the end her shout "To Pya!" was thunderous. But so was everyone else's. She ate steadily through the next song, then wiped her mouth and asked Maar to teach her how to do the following tarantella. During the dawn chorus, she contributed the bleats of both Stutter and Nips. Cawl Ffa concluded their set with "Oak Grove", Dodd giving a brief history beforehand, and during the final bout of appause, many of the dancers were weeping. Pyosz whispered to Maar "They've won it, those bagpipers from Pirinc might as well go home right now.'

"Except there's nothing like pipes for doing the leaping step I want to teach you next" said Maar.

By the time Pyosz waved goodbye to her family from the ferry, her silks crusty from sweat, her feet aching in a pleasant way, Dodd had a black ribbon tied into her beard and Abbo was talking to Mill about how hard could it be to learn to play bagpipes, really, you didn't have to start young.

Pyosz went right back to bed the next morning after milking, since Kolm and the rest of Pya would be sleeping in. When she got up at 10:00, she called Killer out from the pasture and let her gambol around the kitchen during breakfast, stopping often to pull the kid away from nibbling clematis, climbing on the table, or eating toast from the counter. "I'm sorry we've only had the one chance to practice" Pyosz told her as she put on the leather harness so Killer could get used to it. "I'll be with you every instant, and all the new people you're going to meet will adore you, keep that in your little goat thoughts." She filled a leather bag with cracked corn and tied it to the waist of her black broeks, donned a short-sleeved fuzzy black shati, and used an old feed sack to carry Killer's props out of sight as she led Killer on a tether to the ferry.

Killer said an adamant no to the idea of being lowered into the ferry. Finally Pyosz tied a scarf around Killer's eyes and swiftly slid down the ladder with her, engaging the lever forward before removing the scarf. Killer bleated at the top of her lungs, pressed hard against Pyosz's thigh, and when they reached Koldok wharf, Killer nimbly evaded a second blindfolding. Eventually Pyosz called up to the wharf for help, and she was relieved when Poth's face peered down at her.

"I’ve got a recalcitrant goatling here" said Pyosz.

"Bit of an oxymoron, that" remarked Poth. "What are you doing with her?"

"Taking her to Mchele Fair" grinned Pyosz. "I need to hand her up to you, if you can assure me you won't drop her no matter how she struggles."

"I know how to keep a grip on animals" said Poth, bending down. She was as good as her word. Killer emptied her bowels onto Pyosz's shoulders as she was swung into Poth's arms, but it was mostly pellets. Pyosz brushed them away and said "I guess I asked for that" as she handed her other bags to Poth and scrambled up the ladder.

"Good thing you're wearing black" observed Poth. "I’m guessing this is part of the Saya Island contigent listed in the parade line-up?"

"You guess right" answered Pyosz, taking back the tether from Poth and patting the goat's head with a loud "GOOD little Killer", startling an onlooker.

"I'll make sure my little ones come visit" said Poth. "They seldom see goats."

Indeed, Killer caused a sensation as Pyosz coaxed her along the road to the fairgrounds. At first she balked whenever anyone besides Pyosz was near, and Pyosz used corn as a bribe for each step. But Killer loved to be petted, and once she realized all these strangers wanted most of all to to rub her velvety ears, she trotted along confidently toward each new human form.

Killer panicked again when they reached the parade assembly area and were directed into a holding pen that held sheep, pigs, geese and turkeys meant to be part of various contingents. Pyosz didn't think she could vouch for the good will of the other animals, some of whom were agitated, so she sat on the railing and held Killer tethered close outside, where only human contact could reach her. Pyosz was gratified to see Killer slowly calm down and her curiosity take over. "You're as clever as I thought you were" Pyosz told her.

She hadn't spotted anyone from her family but she knew they would be watching and could imagine their surprise. The flock of turkeys which belonged in the Pabo contingent were rounded up amid a cacophony of shrill bird cry that almost unnerved Pyosz herself. She bent over to wrap her arms around Killer's neck and said "At least it's just you and me, hmm, not a crazed herd of your kinfolk. Ready to put on your hat? No, it's for wearing, not for lunch. Here, you can mouth my red cap once or twice, yummy salty wool, eh. Okay, now remember this? It simply rolls behind you but is no threat at all, remember?"

A few people nearby stopped to watch and laugh. The contigent after Pabo had called themselves the Pya Oceans Reclamation Society, whose acronym was a slang term for erect nipples. This turned out to be a group of teenagers who had transferred an old sailboat to bicycle wheels. As they glided by Pyosz and Killer through the gates into the parade ground, a hue went up: Every child in the stands is going to want a ride on this boat thought Pyosz. Change is surely afoot.

Between the Erect Nipples and Saya was a band which turned out to be the Pirinc bagpipers. As their skirl and drone launched an almost visible wall of sound in the small zone behind the gate, Killer screamed in alarm and Pyosz wrapped around her, filling her palm with corn and her voice with reassurance. "You're handling impossibilites very adroitly, because you're the one and only Killer, yes you are."

Then they were being waved on by a grinning parade monitor. "Okay, Killer, let's go find the barn" said Pyosz, standing and giving a tiny tug at the tether. On Killer's head was a baby's chinstrap cap which had been dyed the same color as Pyosz's famous Redtop. Her leather harness was attached to a child's wagon painted marine orange, a goat wain. Killer followed Pyosz out of sheer nervousness -- the wain didn't rumble much here on the sandy parade ground, and Pyosz's hand was packed full of corn.

As they emerged through the gate and came into view of the bleachers, however, the delighted roar stopped Killer cold. Ignoring the cries of "I claim ten points for a double sighting!", Pyosz went to her knees beside Killer and murmured into her ear "Just noise, like the wind, but I'm your capriste, I'll always keep you safe." She slid a wedge of dried apple from her pocket, which overrode all of Killer's other senses. Pyosz stood again and Killer followed her easily, aware of more apple in that same pocket. But Pyosz heard one or two voices nearby saying "She talks to them and they understand, her I swear."

By the end of the parade route, Killer was enjoying herself again. Pyosz led them to the loudspeaker, where she said "I'm the Saya capriste and this brave kid is Killer, but don’t let her name put you off, she wants nothing more than to cuddle with people. Especially children." From every corner of the bleachers, Pyosz heard small high voices begin importuning "Emma -- " She let Killer bleat into the mic and announced they'd be in the dispersal zone next to the end gate, if anybody wanted to make friends with Killer. She barely had time to unbuckle the wain from Killer before they were surrounded by children.

Maar found her quickly, laughing wildly and bestowing a kiss on Killer's redtop as she said "Children all over Pya are going to refuse roast kid in the future."

"Okay with us, isn't it, Killer?" answered Pyosz. "Please tell me somebody got photographs."

"Dodd was on it" said Maar, squatting beside Pyosz. They watched the remainder of the parade together. One of the last contigents caused a stir when it was announced as "Some Denizens of Chwet." Maar said to Pyosz "The Owl People never been in the parade before", her eyebrows raised.

A leather-garbed figure emerged from the far gate and ran nimbly to the end of the parade ground. As she came within range, she clanked slightly, and Pyosz realized she had full-length vambraces of metal under each leather sleeve. She was unusually tall and muscular, and her hat seemed to made of squirrel, with a long furry tail hanging down the back that Pyosz wanted to take home as a toy for her katts.

The woman from Chwet turned and solemnly faced the distant entry gate. As it swung open, the bleachers went so silent Pyosz could suddenly hear Killer's chewing. A second leather-clad Chwetian stepped out with a massive owl on her shoulders -- not as big as my owl thought Pyosz, but seven foot wingspan, at least. "Lev" swore Maar under her breath, leaning toward Pyosz. Emmas swiftly swung children up into their arms.

The owl was swiveling her head from side to side in a seemingly impossible radius. The woman near Pyosz lifted her squirrel cap from her head and waved it at arm's length, twitching the tail in a tantalizing manner. Pyosz saw the owl's vision lock in on the motion and her squat feathery body hunched a little. Pyosz wondered how long her talons were, and guessed the armor underneath those Chwat garments was steel rather than copper or aluminum.

With no obvious effort, the owl was abruptly airborne, swooping with unbelievable speed in their direction. Killer at last spotted the source of all the tension around her. She froze like a statue, without appearing to even breathe. With one motion, Pyosz and Maar pulled the kid between them, and Pyosz could feel trembling, though she wasn't sure of its source. A second later, the owl landed on the outstretched arm of the woman nearby, with a grunt from the woman and an odd clicking sound from the owl. She was shredding the cap between one talon and her wicked beak. The woman pulled a strand of meat from a pocket and gave it to the owl, making similar clicking sounds with her beakless mouth. The Chwetian at the far end gave an elaborate bow, and the stands exploded into relieved applause. Women and owl departed with a wide berth around them, and Pyosz heard Maar give a long ragged breath.

Pyosz thought nothing could top this demonstration of what must be going on during the night hours on Chwet -- wait til the abbas hear this story she thought. However, after a short lull, Dodd and the bodhrán player from Cawl Ffa stepped out of the far gate, playing a lively reel. Dodd was still wearing the black ribbon, and her pu and jirekinu were of dazzling silver brocade with a green thread which brought out her eyes.

Behind them rose up a quintet of eerie masked figures, ten feet off the ground, moving with slow grace in time to the music. Pyosz could tell which were Pank and Tu by their leg and back muscles. Their arms were as elongated as their legs, thin sleeved appendages culminating in four-digited hands with claws that the stiltwalkers could lever open and closed. They were reaching into the stands, swiping at children who shrieked in terror and hid beneath benches.

The last ten feet, Pyosz saw Pank zero in on her. She squared her shoulders and whispered to Maar "Look after Killer." Maar covered Killer's eyes with her hands. Pank pivoted in a spiral and ululated from beneath her mask as her open claw closed on Pyosz's head. Pyosz heard one child begin crying. At the last minute, Pank deftly snatched the red cap from Pyosz's head and broke into a loopy victory dance. Pyosz sat back flat on her ass, laughing with everyone else.

The stiltwalkers exited and a phalanx of various band members, all carrying rainsticks, formed inside the entry gate. "This is it" Maar whispered to Pyosz. Killer decided to sit down in Pyosz's lap. The rainsticks began moving in unison, creating crashing and ebbing waves of sound. The far gate swung open, and Pyosz felt her dreads stand on end. A massive dark green lobster with purple spines and legs scuttled forward, easily as big as a Manage. The 11 puppeteers it took to move the lobster were dressed in ocean blue covered with ripples, and almost immediately faded from view: The lobster really seemed to be alive and on its own.

Any child which had toughed out the last two contingents now decided an emma shield was necessary. Even teenagers were alert. The lobster's progress was slow and horrific. Pyosz stood and lifted Killer, asking Maar to bring the wain. They climbed to the second tier of bleachers to watch the end of the parade, the lobster prowling off to find easier prey.

The family found each other by clustering around Pank and Tu's easily-sighted forms above the crowd. Dodd and Briel invited everyone back to their house for a barbecue. Pyosz said "I'll be there, but I need to somehow persuade Killer back onto the ferry home, she's been pushed as far as she should today."

Maar said "I have to run shuttles all over Pya for the next couple of hours, I'll give you two a lift if you'll save me a plate for later." Pyosz accepted, and helped clean Killer's vomit from the sinner floor before Maar left for other runs. Killer scampered into the pasture with an air of self-importance, and Pyosz called after her "They're never going to believe you."

At Dodd's they all took turns talking to family on Skene, recounting hilarious detail, as lobster and corn roasted on the grill. Qoj and Uli seemed to be squabbling, which Briel whispered to Pyosz was simply the stress of Qoj having to leave the next day. Pyosz looked at Qoj with deep empathy. She resolved to get her photos developed first thing the following morning, so she could send copies back with Maar to show Thleen.

Pyosz waited to eat until Maar had joined them. They dipped their food into butter mixed with black-ribbon shamsjooz sauce, and Pyosz murmured "Next year, Killer will be an old hand at the parade." Maar looked at her with wistful brown eyes but said nothing.

copyright 2009 Maggie Jochild

1 comment:

Blue said...

The zipline screaming still gets me. She's fucking adorable. This is lovely, lovely writing.