Thursday, December 17, 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 Pyosz opened her cabin door the next morning, a blast of rain hit her and she heard Curds hiss behind her. She leaned into the wind to reach the barn, and apologized to her does for the chill of her hands. She noticed a slight drop in the milk yield, but she'd already let three does dry off in preparation for breeding and maybe they were all on a shared seasonal cycle.

Boulder paused at the open door when the weather hit her. The mass of herd behind her spurred her on. However, at the kissing gate, she balked entirely. Pyosz couldn't blame her: The pasture looked like a heaving sea of grass, alive and wild. Pyosz said "Come on back to the barn. I'll fill all the ricks with hay." She moved quickly to head off Molars and Boulder took care of the rest.

She stashed her milk in the barn coldbox and went to her kitchen, where the new shutters had kept it dry and relatively comfortable. She called Kolm and said "I hope I don't ruin your day, but I'd like to not deliver this morning, I don't relish loading a ferry in this melee."

"I thought I might hear from you. Go ahead and plan to not come in at all, I'm going to close at noon myself" said Kolm.

She placed a similar call to Gitta, but since she'd delivered bread and pastries the day before, Gitta had plenty in stock. She fed her chickens a double batch of scratch and feed, and had to force her katts out of the cabin. They quickly joined her in the kitchen, where she put warmed fish oil on their fisk as she finished making oatmeal, sausage, and a large pot of milky tea. "I'm going back to bed, you want to join me?" she asked Ember. Curds beat them all to the cabin door, where Pyosz banished the wet-furred ones to the trunk until they were done with grooming. She set her empty bowl and cup on the floor, resumed her schmatta, and crawled into bed with her logbook and writing paper.

After ten minutes, though, she called her emma. They talked until Pyosz grew drowsy and clicked off. Tu woke her at noon, calling to make sure she was all right. Pyosz got up to empty her chamber pot, fry potatoes and mushrooms to go with a grilled cheese and spinach sandwich, then returned to bed, this time to actually write letters, paint in the margins, and study her milk yields.

Vants had jotted in her logbook the criteria to use for deciding when a doe was not likely to become pregnant again and thus would never return to milking. Pyosz converted this into an equation and began assessing her herd. She felt increasing dismay as animals she liked failed the math, but calamity was her reaction when Echo was one of the "no longer lactating and too old to breed" names. She quietly closed her logbook and stared at the cabin door in a cold panic.

She had no real idea where Maar would be. She'd call Dodd but school was still in session. Finally she dialed the Archivist Manage, and when Yoj answered, Pyosz said "Abba, please don't feel rejected but I need to talk with Lawa. It's -- it's an ejida thing."

"I'm sorry, child, but she's out. Is there anything I can help with?" said Yoj.

Pyosz didn't want a philosophical approach, or even empathy yet. She wanted a loophole. "No...I guess, just tell her..."

"Qala's here" offered Yoj.

"Okay, put her on."

"Happy new year, Pyosz."

"Oh. Yeah, you too, abba."

Qala answered saying "What's wrong?"

"Abba...I've stepped in over my head. My duty to Skene means I'm going to have to kill a friend," Pyosz broke into gasping sobs.

Qala listened with small sounds of reassurance, trying to make sense of what Pyosz had said. By the time Pyosz could speak coherently again, Qala had figured it out, mostly because of her decades with Lawa's career.

Pyosz stopped to blow her nose before trying to think out loud. "I need to keep at least half my herd lactating, and I have nine ready to be bred for the first time. Having even one doe not milking is a 1% reduction in yield per year. That adds up."

Qala asked "Is there a quota in your contract?"

"'s up to me. And the allotment covers my feed usage..."

"So you could keep goats who weren't producing anything at all" concluded Qala, knowing Pyosz well enough that this was an option she must be considering.

"Until she started failing, or perhaps became ill with something infectious -- at which point her meat wouldn't be usable and I'd still face the same final act" said Pyosz, staring at the cabin door again.

"Who is it?" asked Qala gently. "Not Boulder, I hope?"

"No, she's only eight." But that means in 4-6 years, at the longest, it WILL be her, oh lev. "No, it's Echo."

"I remember her, white all over, right? Always seems to be grinning?" said Qala.

Pyosz began crying again. "This is a terrible thing, abba."

"You're right, the most terrible. I'm glad you're sharing it with me. I'm thinking about all those children at Skene and Pya schools who lined up this midmorning for a milk break -- they didn't have that when I was in school, you know -- and how they have no real idea of the animals who spend their lives in service to their needs, or the capristes who face the ultimate responsibility." Qala let Pyosz cry some more before adding "I don't know if this will help. but Mill told Halling last week that your production totals from Saya Island for just the summer, which includes everything, not just goats, was already twice what Ferk had ever recorded for an entire year. You are a serious economic asset to Pya, as well as a nutritional mainstay to all of Skene. And for that reason, I trust whatever decision you make, I'll back you for any action you choose. You want to ask for a small island to set aside as a goat retirement wilderness, I'm for it."

Pyosz giggled once. "Maybe I could persuade the Owl People to get involved." After a minute, she talked about the storm and her lazy day so far. "But I need to get out of this little box now, it's still raining but the wind isn't howling, I want to go move my body."

"Talk to Lawa, and Vants, and Pank, too" advised Qala before they clicked off. Pyosz dressed in muck clothes and went to the barn. She fed wormy fruit to her goats, giving Echo so much extra that Boulder butted her once. She played chase with the kids to burn off their energy, then raked the floor clean and spread fresh straw before milking and going to tend her other animals.

She filled a lidded pail with cold milk, tucked a loaf of black bread under her arm, and used her flash to pick a path down the mudslide which was currently her trail over to Herne Island. As she came in the front door, she almost ran into Frahe, who had sawdust covering all the small colorful rags she had tied into the springy braids on her head. Behind Frahe were the rest of her cousins.

"Hey, just in time!" said Pank. "Set that down, we're going to the cliff to shout in the first sunset of the new year."

Pyosz had only done this once or twice with her family on Skene. Yoj said the practice came through Veida's line, and was likely from the original planet. They lined up in a row and began yelling "Death to the Red Moon!" Yells turned into screams, full-throated and requiring foot-stamping for complete release. It was primal, almost frightening, but Pyosz felt cleansed afterward. Yoj thought the "red moon" was starvation, and this was an act of defiance possible with another successful harvest safely stored away.

Their Manage smelled incredible. Tu said she'd been in a cooking and cleaning mood all day. She had hollowed out small cabbages and stuffed them with pork and onion, made tomato soup, gratined eggplant, and baked cream peas with a hamsa Pank caught with a net from the Herne-Saya bridge. There was also a platter of giant garlic roasted in a half inch of chicken stock, and they all squeezed their cloves onto slices of Pyosz's black bread.

"We finished an order of cherrywood chairs today" Nk said happily. "Great day for working in the shop."

"And I finished all the specialty grafting" said Pank. "Which reminds me -- " She pointed to a large bag on the floor by the sideboard. "That's my barter for your honey, 20 pounds of bixi seeds, ready for crushing or boiling."

Pyosz goggled. "How did you ever get your hands on that much? Do you know where the rabbit is or something?"

"I have sources" grinned Pank. "Plus I promised her a jar of whatever you make from it."

The radio buzzed and Tu went into the kitchen to answer it. "Happy new year to you!" they heard her say, then "Yeah, she's here, eating dinner with us, you want to talk with her?" Pyosz looked up expectantly, but when Tu went on chatting around the corner, they all continued eating. Tu began laughing nonstop, saying sentence fragments they could not logically string together.

When Tu returned to the table, she said to Pyosz "That was Lawa, said you called earlier, you can reach her at the Genist Manage later if you want." From the expression in Tu's eyes, Pyosz knew Lawa had recounted what she knew of Pyosz's talk with Qala.

"What was so funny?" asked Nk.

"Oh, she and Halling got to reminiscing today about this thing that happened on New Year's when I was around 6, I guess, since Lawa says she was 2. The four of us felt like we hadn't had enough honey with our apples, so while aggie was in the privy and emma was running the ferry, we tried to help ourselves from the big crock on the kitchen counter. But Moasi and I argued over who got to lift it to the floor -- she must have been 8-ish, and horribly bossy at that time -- anyhow. it slipped and shattered. We all ran and hid, but we left honey tracks all over the house. Aggie complained about the mess for days. And we all blamed each other." Tu was laughing again.

"Fancy Lawa remembering that from such an early age" said Pank.

"Well, our punishment, aside from trying to clean honey spots from everywhere, was that we didn't have any sugar for a year. We all remember that year without real birthday cakes, just whatever emma could do with fruit" said Tu.

"An entire year?" said Pyosz. "That's an extreme punishment, I didn't think your emmas were that harsh,"

"They weren't" said Tu, "not on purpose. But that ten pound crock held all the honey we used in a year, bought the week before for the new year -- hence, our emmas' rationing of it. I mean, they didn't even put honey in their tea unless somebody was sick, it was strictly saved for special events. And they couldn't afford to go buy more, not with the four of us littles ones needing manteaus and kiatu. Still, that next New Year was one of the best I ever had -- emma dripped half a teaspoon of honey into each of our open mouths. I let mine sit on my tongue, not swallowing, until body heat melted it down my throat."

Pyosz remembered how everyone in her family teased Halling about her sweet tooth. She tried to imagine being four years old and going a year without sugar, and emmas plus a community allotment system which could not offer more. Death to the Red Moon she thought to herself.

Tu had closed her eyes, a smile on her face, and now swallowed luxuriously. Pank giggled and said "So what did you make for dessert tonight?

Tu opened her eyes and announced "Bread pudding with a vanilla glaze."

"I'll get it" said Frahe, going to the kitchen. Tu turned her gaze to Pyosz and said "You need to talk about anything?"

"No. You all being here, and this meal, is what I needed" said Pyosz. Pank looked at Tu quizzically but Tu shook her head as Frahe returned with the pudding.

After dishes, Pyosz took a hot bath in the Manage's copper tub before joining everyone by the hearth, where Frahe was whittling, Tu and Nk both knitting, and Pank reading aloud from a book of adventure poetry. Pyosz pulled her notebook from her pack and made sketches of each face illuminated in red glow. When she left, Frahe walked her as far as the bridge gate. The rain had stopped and her pasture was waist deep in fog, something that would have terrorized her goats but she found fun to wade through.

The next day was pleasant and dry. Pyosz met the huolon that afternoon, despite her aversion to seeing the dead exile's family, because she want Maar to come back to Saya with her. She'd roasted mutton and potatoes, made a lemon pie, and cleared her evening. Maar looked into her eyes and said "Hot spring in the deal? I smell."

"Hot springs with clean knickers and a new wool shati in pale blue to wear home" said Pyosz. She waved at Dekkan as they walked to the ferry, saying "The baby pilot brought me fish and invited herself to dinner while you were gone."

Maar turned and gave Dekkan a look that drained color from Dekkan's face. "Leave her alone" said Pyosz calmly. "I handled it -- well, me and Uli. The family's going to take her in, help her grow up."

"Your family's good for that" said Maar.

"Smart work on dodging that storm, by the way" said Pyosz. "It was a bad one, had the katts keeping their little legs crossed for hours."

She opened the cupboard holding her new pottery before going to milk, saying "Have a look, and pick the one you want." When she got back from the barn, Maar said "I made gravy from the roast drippings, put some on the katt's fisk." She paused, then cupped Pyosz's cheek in her palm. "The Moko plate -- I cried."

"Do you have tomorrow off? Will you go with me to give it to her family?"

"I'd be honored. And I want the cup with Killer on it, if you can part with it" said Maar.

Pyosz filled that cup with milk and set it beside Maar's plate. They sat down and held hands for a minute of silence before eating.

"So...what's up?" said Maar.

"Hang on -- what did you use in this gravy?" asked Pyosz.

"Blackberry wine to deglaze, minced shallots, red kelp to thicken" said Maar.

"Wow." Pyosz licked her spoon appreciatively, and Maar's cheeks went pink.

"Maar, when you sin, do you ever feel guilty about killing fish?" asled Pyosz. Maar was now adept at the heady turns conversation with Pyosz could take.

"Nope. Well -- the first time I dumped a load at the fish dock, and then landed, had to walk beside it, a writhing mass taller than my head being coldly sorted by uorui and I realized more creatures than I could count were suffocating right in front of me, yeah, I felt compunction. But there was no room to share that with anyone" said Maar thoughtfully.

"That aspect of your job is like me being part of the ejida system" said Pyosz. "We both have a duty to feed Skene." She studied her pitcher of milk and traced one of the painted vines on its side with her finger. After a minute, she said "I really missed you."

Maar said again "What's up?" Pyosz sighed and recounted her realization about Echo, the talk she'd had with Qala, but quietly this time.

"So, are you rethinking this as a career?" Maar was trying to keep anxiety about Pyosz's future decisions from her tone.

Pyosz smiled at her wanly. "I think you're the first person to directly acknowledge this is a career choice for me, instead of just a summer job. I don't know, buddy. I can't think of anything I want to do more than live here and care for Saya, but I'm not sure I can bear all the ways that caring must be expressed. I think I have to let it soak in. I need to have somebody come vaccinate and worm my herd this week, and I'll stop milking the does I want to breed. One step at a time."

"Speaking of soaking..." Maar stood to carry dishes to the sink. As she scraped plates, she said "Oh dear, you've got ants in your compost bucket."

"Yeah, they arrived after the storm, Tomorrow I'll do another pennyroyal wash of the kitchen, for now let's just set it out in the sand." They did the dishes together, Maar telling her about her visit with her sibs. The walk to the hot springs was in silence, however. Pyosz heard the distant whir of a table saw coming from Herne, and thought again about her quarter-sewn maple curing in their shed: She wanted a table large enough to feed all her family at once, but she had no place to put it.

Over the next few weeks, she sent home one ceramic each to her emma's and abbas' Manages, as well as the bowl to Thleen, but saved the rest for midwinter gifts. Storms alternated with clear, crisp days, and despite the heaviest-of-the-year Raccolto harvest from her orchard, she still managed to squeeze in more potting time. She began working on a Gong Tong board whose background was aquamarine with matrices of mustard yellow. She cut the tiles from rolled out clay like miniature cookies, and kept the whole thing secret from Maar somehow.

At the start of Burzas, she got an early morning call from Vants. "Have you received any word back on your application for contributions?" asked Vants.

"No, and Nioma said to expect denial by paperwork lethargy" said Pyosz.

"Yeah, that's a good description" said Vants. "Well, I've been granted leave to enhance my herd as per the proposal I put in two years ago, pending final review next summer, so I'm in Western Yagi right now submitting my requests for contributions."

"How exciting for you, cousin!" said Pyosz.

"Thing is" said Vants in a tone that sounded odd to Pyosz, "You know how I take my time deliberating decisions, so I didn't get in all my requests yet. I'll have to do the rest tomorrow. Just so happens, it'll be a different clerk on duty tomorrow. This office is swamped, what with all of us asking for service at the same time. I know Maar is in Skene right now, can you get hold of her and ask her to come see me tomorrow afternoon? A short visit will do. I've wangled a private room at the bucky here. But her alone, no sibs and no Abbo."

Pyosz felt an electric thrill down her spine. "She'd be glad to see you, I'm sure. cousin."

"Well then, we'll talk again soon. Say hello to Nioma for me, thank her in advance for all her assistance to you."

"Got it, cousin. Take care of yourself." Pyosz heard Vants giggle before they clicked off.

It took Pyosz a while to track down Maar at the jichang office in Verzin, and then she had to call back on a private line. Maar assured her she'd arrive at West Yagi with a sealed crate cooled by dry ice. Pyosz then called Nioma and swore her to complicity. "I know a storage freezer that's unmarked, in a separate building where nobody is assigned to work" said Nioma. "She's taking a terrible risk, there will be a paper trail somebody can follow if they're determined."

"She does what she thinks is right, always" replied Pyosz.

Two days later, Pyosz met Maar at the jichang and helped them unload, including two crates from her family. Maar offered her a ride home in a lighter but suggested they go get a lentil patty meal in Pertama on the way, she'd had a craving the entire flight back.

Nioma called Pyosz the following morning, her voice vibrating with excitement. "This must be one sample of everything they have, including fiber goat lines we've never seen on Pya!" she said. "We now have unlimited potential. I'm having a hard time not telling anyone else -- but don't worry, I won't. The data is all sorted, you come in when you're ready and we'll set you up."

Pyosz's euphoria evaporated when she remembered breeding would only take place after slaughter. She walked outside and bent over, but didn't retch, after all. She returned to her radio and called the ejida back, asking for Poth.

"I need to schedule slaughter" she said with bile in her throat. "Could -- will you be the one to come teach me?"

"Of course" said Poth. "But we need a third, since this will be your first time."

"I'll ask Pank" said Pyosz.

"Get a leather apron from Klosa, she'll know what you need. We'll bring all the other gear and arrange for transport through the Lofthall" said Poth. "How many are we talking about?"

"Thirteen, including eight bucklings" said Pyosz.

"We'll be there by 9:00" said Poth. "Keep them in from pasture."

Will they guess what's about to happen? Pyosz wanted to ask. But she knew Echo would, she was a smart elder.

Copyright 2009 Maggie Jochild.

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