Sunday, December 20, 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)


When Prl was done with her consultation, having handed a stick of peppermint candy to the child once it would be eaten elsewhere, she returned to the kitchen where Qala and Lawa were flanking Pyosz as they all pored over the Saya map. "This looks from the surface like a solid rock shelf" she said, pointing to the killing field, "but two feet below is a large cavern, according to Uli's notation which I trust, she know how to read underground stratigraphy. So although that's my first choice for a Manage, at the eastern point with great views all around, the best foundation is to be found over here. Which means the first story rear windows will face the escarpment."

"And your studio will be in shade, with construction very close to the Owl Tree, will that drive it away?" asked Qala.

"I'll ask Pank, or get her to bring in one of the Owl People for consultation" said Pyosz.

Prl jumped in. "But this placement gives you superior protection from storms" she pointed out, "and didn't you get an offset for your geothermal shed because the rock harvested from its subfloor gave you a credit? Seems to me like even with some of the rock being used for your foundation and hearth, you'll still benefit from building here where it's solid stone to be excavated."

Pyosz looked at her, impressed. "You're quite right."

"Listen, my apprentice is taking the rest of my duties for today, what do you need to do with your time while you're here? Are you leaving day after tomorrow, as usual?" asked Prl.

"Yes. I thought we could all have dinner with the abbas, I suppose at their Manage, and I've already invited Maar. That's all I had planned out" said Pyosz.

"Well, you need to get your drawings, clear as they are, redone into a building plan suitable for timmers. There's a firm downtown -- " began Prl.

"No, I want that done on Pya, they'll be more familiar with the regulations there and I think it will take more than a day, I want to be available for in-person input" said Pyosz. "I seem to remember tnat one of Uli's friends does this for a living."

"You'll be directing serious business her way, I hope she lives up to it" said Prl. "We need to go to my bank as well, I'm having a letter of credit drawn up for you. I'm not willing to send this kind of coin on a huolon."

"I don't have a bank account on Pya" said Pyosz.

"You'll need one, not just for this but also because you will be listed as a business owner on next year's taxes -- more than one business, in fact, not merely an ejida employee. Which reminds me, at the point you apply for citizenship transfer, Skene demands you pay all taxes due for that year. Do you have records that will enable you to do so?" Prl's crispness, Pyosz knew, was cover for how painful this topic was.

"I kept no records while I was at the U and living here" said Pyosz ruefully. "But my first week on Pya, I started keeping track." She opened her notebook and turned to a section filled with neat columns and figures. Qala leaned over for a look and whistled. "She's much more on top of it than you are" she said to Prl.

Prl grinned. "If it weren't for you, Qala, it's true I'd be a mess with finances. Other records I keep immaculate, but money..." This was new information for Pyosz, even though she knew Qala had done the Genist's taxes for her each year. "At least I write down on a slip of paper everything that comes in or goes out, which is better than my emmas' household did."

"Lev, I know" remembered Qala. "That big jar on the sideboard was the only source of coin, no records except for savings accounts at the bank. Veida would be on a rampage as taxes came due, trying to figure out actual coin income as opposed to barter, and relying only on the memories of that distracted bunch. And then, as you kids got into your teens, I know some of you were pilfering the household pot for small amounts."

"Mill and Ndege did, but Dodd refused and I followed her example, I was always trying to emulate Dodd" said Prl.

"Well, and you both knew all you had to do was approach Yoj on her own and she'd empty her pockets for you" replied Qala. To Pyosz she said "You won't owe taxes to Skene if you file a statement that you were a student whose only income was from your emma. For Pya, however, you'll owe not just for wages from the allotment system but also, all this barter you've turned into items that you can sell? The jams and oils, for instance? You'll have to pay the flat 10% on that as income, unfortunately."

"The rate on Pya is 8%" said Pyosz. "And I'm still making extra by doing it this way."

"Oh no doubt about it, you're earning your coin in a smart way" agreed Qala. "8%, I didn't know that."

Prl said "I'd like to bathe and put on fresh clothes. Pyosz, I suggest you go next door and tell Yoj you're here, invite yourself to dinner tonight, and break your news to her early. I suspect she'll want do go talk with Bux and Halling on their own. When you come back, we can go downtown. Unless you need to nap now?"

"No..." Pyosz was dreading breaking Yoj's heart, she needed to get it over with.

Yoj's astonished delight at Pyosz appearing in her office soon gave way to a grey tinge in the deep lines of her kind face. "I can't say I'm surprised. How is Prl taking it?"

"Bravely" said Pyosz. "She's excited about the Manage, I think she's distracting herself with that."

"Pyosz Manage, I suppose it will be?" mused Yoj.

"No -- I think Owl Manage. She's who look out over it all" grinned Pyosz. "Oh, emma, I'm torn to bits about this, what I really want is for you all to come live with me, I'm building with that in mind."

"Bux could never give up her family Manage" said Yoj. "I do ask that you not become like Mill and Dodd, returning only once a year for midwinter break, especially if you have children."

"I promise" said Pyosz. "I suppose lack of contact with you helps explain Abbo's distance."

Yoj looked out the window. "I think not -- after all, Ngall isn't like that. And we have little contact with Ndege's grown children right here in Skene. No, it's personality differences, where a grown child focuses -- plus, Abbo threw terrible tantrums as a toddler and honestly we all hated how it was handled. Mill felt ganged up on, I know, particularly after that incident with you."

"What incident with me?"

"That scar on the back of your hand, there -- don't you remember?" asked Yoj. Pyosz held up her hand to view the faint line crossing it diagonally.

"Emma said it was an accident with a knife, when I was only four years" said Pyosz.

"I suppose she was being diplomatic" said Yoj. "Something she couldn't achieve at the time. We were eating lunch, Mill and Oby were visiting, and you and Ngall were having a blast with each other. You were taking turns feeding each other like you were babies, giggling up a storm, and you kept refusing to include Abbo in the game. Mill was on the radio, dealing with something on Pya, and we were trying to distract Abbo with other treats but she wanted you to be forced to make her part of what you were doing. All of a sudden, she grabbed the knife on the ham platter and lunged at you. It was a terrible looking wound, opened a vein, but thank all that's good, Dodd and Briel were visitng as well. Briel got pressure on it right away, hustled you off to the hospital where she did the repair herself. When you all got back to the house, Prl screamed at Mill that Abbo was being ruined, she was a menace to others and you were not going to be exposed to her again. Mill and Oby went to stay at the hostel. Eventually they made up, enough for you to go visit Pya again, obviously, but Prl said she didn't want to punish you and Ngall by keeping you apart, and she also asked Dodd to keep a close watch on you. We all tried not to treat Abbo differently after that, but I'm not sure now we were successful."

"I have a vague memory of being at the hospital, of somebody giving me a shot and emma holding my head still so I couldn't watch something -- the stitches, I suppose. Nothing more. But I do remember the summer I was five, inventing a game with Ngall where we'd pretend to whisper and laugh while looking at Abbo, just to push her over the edge" said Pyosz.

"Well, your children will be growing up with Abbo's now, you'll have to do better than Prl and Mill have" said Yoj. Pyosz could not imagine Abbo ever having children. Yoj began pushing herself upright, saying "Give me a hug before I go home. We'll see you all around 5:00?"

Pyosz got an hour's nap while a pork shoulder was roasting that afternoon. She shredded it with caramelized onions, roasted garlic, and bixi sauce, carrying it in past the cao door proudly. Maar was already there, peeling large shrimp. Pyosz lingered in her abbas' hugs. After handing over her rabbit pot of bixi past, Herne bacon smoked on Saya honey, and prym, she asked Maar "No Thleen?"

"Yeah, there's a kickball game and I bribed my older sibus to take her. I thought this might need to be more of an adult evening. But all three are coming to lunch tomorrow, at their request" said Maar.

"Good, because I want to see Thleen's face when she opens that little bicycle. Oh, and I felt bad about her always getting toys from me when the other two are too old for them, so I got them presents today as well, want you to okay them first. We found this pocket comb of Chloddia silver that folds into this beautiful leather case, it made me think of Adon, you know how she's always adjusting her hair?" said Pyosz.

"She'd be mortified to hear anyone's noticed that, but yes, she'll love this" said Maar, trying to get her own hair to lie down with one palm.

"And then I was looking in a case at clasp knives, because all of you on Pya seem to carry one, but I finally decided to get help buying one there. However, I saw this for Su -- it's got a decent blade plus an adorable set of tools in the bone handle, a little screwdriver, pliers, I guess this is an awl -- your emmas won't think I'm arming her, will they?"

"No, the tools make it all right and she's going to flip over this" said Maar.

"Well, they're from me and emma both" said Pyosz. Maar thanked Prl, noting the fatigue in her face. A few minutes later, Pyosz asked Maar to help her pull cabbage from the tillage, and they had a couple of minutes for Pyosz to tell her how things had gone so far.

Once the meal had been eaten and cleared, what Pyosz thought of as the interrogation began in earnest. Yoj put on her glasses to look over Pyosz's plans, Halling was noticeably short-tempered, and Bux kept glaring at Maar as if she were the real cause of Pyosz's defection. Lawa kept arguing for the advantages of Pya until Halling snapped at her "Stop pretending you're simply thinking of Pyosz!", which sent Lawa into wounded silence. Finally Prl said "How about if we leave the map and plans here with you tonight and we can talk more tomorrow? Pyosz is exhausted and I want to get home for sleep." It was a graceful out.

On the walk up the lane, Pyosz slipped her arm through Maar's and slowed them both down so they lagged behind the other three. "That was tense in ways I don't quite understand" she whispered.

"Well, think about what you've heard already: Prl says Lawa and Qala will follow you, so Halling is facing losing not just you but also her sib and oldest friend. And Yoj said it was Bux who'd never leave that Manage, not her and Halling, a revealing way to put it. Which I'm guessing Bux knows and is feeling conflicted about. You're jostling some of their unexamined bedrock" said Maar. "And I bet they all hate me, because I'm the one who'll get to see you every day from now on."

"Speaking of which, don't pretend you're simply walking us home, you're staying over in my room tonight" said Pyosz.

"Thank you for such a gracious invitation" grinned Maar. "I have to be gone early, though, to fly the school sinner."

At the Manage, Pyosz pulled her emma into the hall and whispered "I asked Maar to stay over, that all right with you?"

"I assumed you would. But I meant it about you going to sleep soon. And I'll join you, I want all the time alone with you I can get" said Prl.

"She has to get up early" temporized Pyosz. "Actually, emma...I was thinking about sleeping with her tonight, in my bed."


"It's not what you think, it's just as friends, we did it once before when I was sick and she stayed with me -- "

"No, Pyosz. Whatever the truth is, this is the Genist Manage and I have to maintain the utmost propriety here. I hope you haven't asked her already, I'll explain it to her -- "

"I didn't ask, it was just an idea." She'd probably say no anyhow. "Forget I brought it up." But Prl's expression said Fat chance.

Prl insisted on fresh sheets, despite Pyosz having only napped on them, and once that was squared away, she excused herself and went to her own bedroom. Qala and Lawa left soon afterward. Maar drank the cup of warm milk Pyosz handed her and said "You certainly put a change in the works in record time. I was afraid you were coming home to tell everyone you couldn't be capriste any more, not with the prospect of another slaughter in late spring."

"It doesn't feel like record time to me" said Pyosz. "How do you think Mill will react?"

"You're kidding, right? I'm sure she and Oby are already celebrating" said Maar.

"Did you tell Abbo, then?"

Maar snorted. "Not likely. But she'll have found out, Lofthalls are seething whirlpools of gossip."

"Is that the source of Mill's information, you think? The Lofthall?" Pyosz was trying to figure out how Mill might have learned about the purloined contributions from Yagi.

"Mm, partly. But she's an enormously influential person, far beyond her offical sphere, more than Api really. If you want something done in Pya, you need genial Mill on your side. So a lot of folks funnel information her way, as barter for future favors or whatever" said Maar.

This was a fascinating take on Mill. Maar stood, however, and went to rinse her cup. "Speaking of powerful women, your emma is waiting on you. I'll see you at breakfast.' She leaned over and whispered "Best sleep I ever get is in your bed."

Pyosz was smug as she changed into her schmatta. Prl was reading a file, her glasses low on her nose. Pyosz asked "How much of a decrease have you seen in demand for your services over the years?

"Not as much as I expected" said Prl, putting away her file. "People still have to register a birth with a blood sample, and that plus most comadronas recommending a genetic profile to anticipate possible problems has even emmas who are using their own eggs coming in for a visit. I'm popular, unlike most prior Genists, and it's become something of a cachet to say your pregnancy was approved by the Genist, however it occurred."

"Of course you're popular" said Pyosz, snuggling into the quilts. "I kept wishing you were there when I was getting my goats pregnant -- not that you have expertise in the mechanics of it, per se, but ut was so odd, Poth and I kept laughing at the whole process. But then I thought about you, all alone, putting your eggs together with a wild know, you've never told me the actual technique of it, how did you pull it off by yourself?"

Prl had gone very still. "I can understand your natural wish to know, but it's not really a topic for going to sleep by. Are you planning to read?"

"No, emma" said Pyosz quietly.

"Then sweet dreams." Prl turned off the lamp and slid down into tne bed.

After five minutes, Pyosz whispered "Are you still awake?"

Prl sighed. "Yes."

"You had help, didn't you? You must have, to harvest eggs. Why hasn't anyone else ever figured that out?" said Prl, sitting up.

"I'm sure they have, but for various reasons didn't want to make it public" said Prl. "I've been very lucky. And I would never have divulged the identity of my -- colleague, I always maintained I had sufficient training to do it on my own."

"It was Briel, wasn't it?" breathed Pyosz.

"Dodd found the perfect partner" said Prl. "Now can we go to sleep?"

"I owe her a lot" said Pyosz, curling into her emma. "Thank you for having me against all odds."

"Smartest thing I ever did" said Prl.

Pyosz woke shortly after dawn and put on pantulfas to go to the privy. She gathered eggs and dug some potatoes by growing rosy light. She steamed the potatoes, then lined a casserole with alternating layers of them, thinly sliced onion, chopped dill, and crumbled sausage. She poured a mix of beaten egg and cheese over it all and set it to bake in the aga.

She took a quick bath and dressed, returning to the kitchen to make cinnamon toast. Maar was up and dressed, brewing tea. "Smells great in here" she whispered.

"All your favorite ingredients" answered Pyosz. They set the table and sat down to eat in comfortable silence. Maar started doing dishes, saying "I'm not going to have time to stop by the fish docks before lunch."

"We have plenty of leftovers, and Qala is roasting a lamb for tonight, don't worry about it."

"See you later." After Maar left, Pyosz went into her bedroom where the bed was neatly made. A few boxes had been stacked against the far wall, Prl had been clearing the hall cupboard, she said. When Pyosz opened her armoire, she was surprised to see it full of clothes. After a glance, she realized a lot of them were Prl's summer garments, no doubt stashed in here to make room for heavier woolens in her own closet. It made Pyosz feel desolate for a moment, even though technically she was giving up future claim to this room and, indeed, to Skene citizenship.

She sorted through to find what was left of her own things -- mostly just the winter items, which she began lying on her bed: Might as well take them back to Pya. She also looked through the zaoxue and pantuflas, taking only two pair because she simply didn't spend much time indoors. She looked down at her otos and realized she was overdue for new ones, but decided to have them made on Pya -- Maar could tell her where the pilots went for theirs.

She picked up the three wooden boxes in the bottom of her armoire and sat on the bed to go through them, starting with the bottom one which held jewelry, hair clips, and ribbons going all the way back to her babyhood. She decided to take the whole box with her, feeling nostalgic. The box above it was wide and flat, and she remembered it held mostly paper mementoes. She feared there might be notes from Sey on the top, and she decided not to open it, just carry it back to Pya as well.

The third box was of hand-rubbed mulberry wood from Seda, and she couldn't quite place it. On top, tucked under the lid, were several family photos, though not her favorites and not representing everyone in their family. Puzzled, she looked deeper and found a folded piece of paper with PYOZ written in a large crayon scrawl. She remembered it was the first time she'd been able to write her name, and realized this must be Prl's mementoes. She was going to close the lid, but then she saw one of her baby curls tied with silk, and a tiny tooth, and she kept on, delighted with evidence she had been an adored child.

Underneath a couple of decidedly untalented drawings she'd done in first grade, she came across a few pages which had been torn from a bound journal. These were in a round childish script. definitely not Prl's elegant writing, and Pyosz had the fear that Prl for some reason had removed these from one of the diaries Pyosz kept all her life. The first words she read proved they were not from Pyosz -- not from any child, in fact -- but there was no way she could stop reading until she'd consumed it in horrified facination.

This must be from Raisa's journal, Raisa the rogue Genist who had played such a secret role in shaping her family. And obviously as nasty as they come.

She jerked when Prl opened her bedroom door and the pages scattered on the floor. "I've been calling you, didn't you -- what are you doing with that?" said Prl, her voice going from high to a gutteral hiss.

"I thought it was my box, I'm so sorry, emma" said Pyosz, scrambling to pick up the pages. Prl stalked over and snatched them from her hands.

"Did you read this?" demanded Prl. Pyosz nodded, and Prl said venomously "Then you knew it wasn't yours. How dare you invade my privacy this way!"

"Emma, please let me explain." Fumbling for words, Pyosz began trying to tell Prl the sequence of events. Prl stood stony until Pyosz said "But then that first line, the crudity of language, and there was Yerush's name, my habibi -- oh lev, emma, this is the woman who trained you? Did she ever -- was she after you, too?"

Pyosz's revulsion and concern got through to Prl. She sat down at the end of the bed. then leaned over to click the door shut. "She didn't have time before she died but I think she would have eventually, she was always commenting on how I was the very image of Yerush."

Pyosz swallowed the bile in her throat. "And she actually traded -- ginny -- for giving your emma the Contributions she wanted? She and Yerush had that exchange?"

"It appears so" said Prl. "Pyosz, you can never tell anyone about this, not ever, no matter how much you love and trust them." Her voice was desperate.

"You removed these from her journal?" Pyosz was still putting pieces together.

"How levving mad she was, to write this in the offical Genist diary, that automatically goes into the Archives upon a Genist's death? She wanted it to come out -- she claimed to have loved Yerush all her life, but I think she hated her too. Yes, I ripped them out, thank the stars I read it, looking for more guidance, if you can believe that. And if Yoj noticed the gap, she never said a word. But I think she knew a lot more about Yerush than she's let on." Prl's adrenaline had all dissipated, and she slumped back against the wall. "This is a heavy burden and you'll have to carry it until your last breath."

"Well obviously, emma, I'm not going to ever reveal your actions. And I understand it -- our family would have been tarnished forever, you did the right thing" said Pyosz.

Prl stared at her. "It wasn't that. I mean, yes, I can't deny self-interest as a motivation. And Qen and Veida were both still alive, and I couldn't bear to have what must have been a long ordeal they lived with go public -- they had no reason to feel shame but they would have. The main thing, though -- do the math, child. Or, I guess you don't know birth years. Yerush and Raisa were out of sui. And here where Raisa lists Yerush's other affairs or whatever you want to call them, half of these people were out of sui as well. Yerush had no boundaries sexually. Once that came out, with all the people she had angered over the years, plus those who resented our family's influence: There would have been a petition filed to remove all the young children from our family. You weren't born yet, but all my sibiyas, Dodd and Mill and Ndege's children, they would have been fostered out with such evidence of this strain of documented sexual deviance in our immediate environment. It would have killed those emmas. So I did what had to be done, and I watched them all carefully, my sibs, for signs that Yerush's presence in our household had contaminated them. I examined myself rigorously for years. And I finally decided Yerush was an aberration that the others, my emmas and Qen and Veida, had set a positive example against."

If it had come out, or if you had decided the taint was there, I wouldn't be here thought Pyosz.

"Again, emma, I am so sorry I broke your trust, especially with all the talking we've been doing, how closer than ever I feel to you. But I'm not sorry to share your burden, I'm glad to be who you can tell what you've lived through with this." Pyosz held out the box to Prl, who scooted over to sit close as she took it from her.

"You should burn those pages in the aga" said Pyosz.

"I know, but I'm Yoj's child, destroying official records is anathema to me."

"I'll do it, then" said Pyosz. Prl looked her in the eyes for a long minute, then handed her the paper. Pyosz stood decisively, adding "And what kind of stupid were you, leaving that particular box in my room? Seems like you were begging for it to be found." She was already out the door and didn't see the expression of shocked self-realization on Prl's face.

Five minutes later, Lawa came into the kitchen, sniffed, and said "Something's burning."

"Not any more" declared Poysz, then she and Prl collapsed into giggles. Lawa ignored them.

Lunch with the abbas was bittersweet but no longer fractious. Having Thleen there helped. Afterward, Prl accompanied Pyosz to Pomar, where Ehall ran to Pyosz yelling "Did you bring me sumfing?" They had new winter clothes for baby Omill and of course Pyosz's news to talk over, which made Ngall both sad for herself and excited for Pyosz.

Back at the Genist Manage, the four of them made dinner together with affectionate chatter before walking down the hill for a last meal with the abbas. That night, Pyosz slept with Prl again, this time in her own bed where she could smell lemon faintly on her pillow. Lawa and Qala got up the next morning to walk Pyosz through the dark to the jichang, carrying her crate between them while Pyosz took the hamper and Prl claimed her bag.

"I'll be back for midwinter, if not before" she promised. "And I'll send you weekly updates on the Manage construction, with lots of photos."

"You'll always have a room in my house" said Prl, fighting tears.

"Likewise" said Pyosz, trying to grin. It was the hardest parting yet. Skene glittered gold and crimson in the morning light, a gorgeous jewel of tightly-bound humanity in a cold watery world. She wondered how Maar could bear to come and go each week.

Copyright 2009 Maggie Jochild

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