Saturday, December 19, 2009


(Pregnant Goat, painting by Brian Simons)

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)


At the dance in Koldok a week later, Pyosz couldn't bring herself to do Echo's funny bleat during the dawn chorus. She did make a persimmon-colored platter with Echo in the middle eating green plums from a low-hanging branch.

The night she spent with Maar was the best sleep she could ever remember having. She found herself daydreaming about outlandish scenarios where they would have to share a bed again. She longed to ask Maar if it had been good for her, but that was forbidden conversational territory.

She made three trips to Pertama to hole up in Nioma's office with Vants' data, planning her breeding program. The last visit, they called Prl on a private line, waking her up, to get her take on the final strategy. Pyosz watched Nioma become like a schoolchild while talking and laughing with Prl. She wished for a speaker like Halling's so she could hear the tone of Prl's replies.

They agreed on 36 does to breed, 9 of whom would be first-timers. The others had been dried off and Pyosz had nursed two cases of mastitis. One of the does was Molars, who had been bred last year but failed to become pregnant. She was only 10, however, and her lineage blended perfectly with one of the new contributions, so they determined to try her again. Echo's offspring Stutter was given a chance at using a premier contribution from Yagi.

"You're likely to be producing kids with new coat colors, body conformation, ear shapes" said Nioma. "Poth may notice, but I doubt anyone else will."

"And you said the milk may alter" said Pyosz.

"For the better, but since it all gets blended, it will be hard for Kolm to tell" said Nioma.

"I'm not so sure about that. But she doesn't gossip, not about things that matter. She and her partners know all there is to know in Koldok, and they never hurt others with that knowledge" said Pyosz.

"I've often wished our Manage was in Koldok instead of Talaba" said Nioma. "For one thing, my grandchildren could walk to school, and take music lessons with Dodd. But my child's inlaws all have work in the north Dvareka area, so..."

"Do you still miss your partner?" Pyosz dared.

"Every day, though it's been three years. But not acutely any more, not most of the time. She was my grand passion, I was never in love with anyone else, and I have good memories. I wonder if our does miss not getting to choose partners and have grand passions?" grinned Nioma.

"Some of them do, some of them form extra-kinship attachments that all the others respect. As do I. One of those pairs died together in the slaughter, I won't separate such a pair" said Pyosz. It was the first time she'd mentioned the slaughter since what she thought of as Fever Day.

"Good for you" said Nioma softly. "And, you had our sympathies in the aftermath. Poth told us all how responsible you were without ever becoming cold, a hard line to walk. She fell apart after her first slaughter, you know. Missed two days of work, she said, with a migraine."

It helped to hear. And it was interesting to learn that if Nioma had been Prl's one-time heartthrob, Prl's feelings had not been returned. Pyosz felt another pang of empathy for her emma.

Mill paid Pyosz her summer wages, 5 eks, which Pyosz immediately sent to Lawa and Qala along with the rest of what she owed them from her savings. She went on a month to month contract for Saya. Mill diffidently asked if Pyosz wanted to barter some of her goat meat in the freezer at the allotment center for another ejida product, maybe lamb or turkey. Pyosz gave her a flat look and said "All right. But don't ever bring it in a dish to a family meal."

Does began going into heat, creating unusual displays of behavior in the barn. The entire herd got jumpy, and Pyosz had a hard time being sure the "to-be-bred" does were actually in estrus. Once they all were, she called Poth whom she had requested for this training as well. Nioma sorted out the contributions, labeled by numbers which matched Pyosz's innocuous for-public-view chart, and sent them via Poth in dry ice. Keeping in 36 does from the pasture on a clear morning caused a near riot in the herd. Pyosz finally sequestered each individually and dragged her on a tether to the outside pen. Boulder was furious and Molars quietly dangerous.

"We do that biter last" declared Poth.

"I'd agree with you except the sooner we get her out of our vicinity, the better" said Pyosz. So she learned a slightly unpleasant invasive procedure on Molars, who was tied in all four directions with Poth keeping an almost throttling grip on her head. When Pyosz released Molars, she said "Now you got every reason in the world to hate me. But you do love your babies, you just remember that."

They were done before noon. Poth decided to delay calling in and stay for lunch instead. Over their meal, the two of them hatched a scheme for Pyosz to invite both Dekkan and Poth's eldest Pava to Schmona dinner.

"In fact" said Pyosz, "if it won't stop your heart, Dekkan could pick her up in a sinner big enough to carry the little sailboat you just got Pava. There's an inlet off Herne where they could safely putter about, we'll tie them to shore with a long lead. Pank and Tu are talking about getting a boat themselves, Pava could be the expert."

"And Maar would be there, if rescue was needed?" said Poth, the veins prominent on her hands. Pyosz noticed it was Maar she mentioned, not Abbo the hero of their local paper.

Poth left reminding her "Some of them does won't have took; when they come back into heat, call me right away, we got a narrow window to try again. And you can't tell if they're pregnant by looking, and even if they do start heat again, they could still be pregnant. We'll do blood tests on the doubtful cases."

Maar came for dinner and thus was there to hear Pyosz wake up her emma with a radio call announcing "I got three dozen goats pregnant today!" Pyosz couldn't tell which of them laughed harder.

Molars didn't "take", as Poth put it, and was one of five who required a repeat visit from Poth. "We'll give 'em a month before we draw blood" she said. She left detailed prenatal care instructions with Pyosz.

Who was having increasing time to throw pots, with the orchard slowing down, milking taking less than half the time it once did, and her tillage reduced to a third. She dumped all the compost she could into the fallow beds and offered the rest of her pile to Tu, who asked Dekkan to deliver a groaning pallet of it by sinner. Pyosz noticed ejida bags stacked inside the sinner labeled "bloodmeal." She now knew where that blood came from, and looked away.

The "sailboat Shmonah" experiment was a great success. Being pilot of her own craft in an uncertain medium turned Pava into Dekkan's equal again. Having two teenagers around was energizing for everyone else.

Dodd turned to Uli at one point and said "Qoj write you about the eclipse?"

"Yes" answered Uli carefully. Dodd explained to the others "There's a double lunar eclipse in two weeks, the first in 32 years. Qoj pointed out to her superiors that shipping astronomical equipment to Pya, along with her, would give them twice the coverage and data. So she's coming for a week's stay." Shw turned back to Uli. "She'll have a private room this time, and I'm very busy with school."

"That's what she said" replied Uli with a wry smile. Dodd barked out a laugh.

The following Shmonah they gathered at Arta and stood around a blaze in the outdoor pit. Pava and Dekkan were the only ones who dared a swim in the chilly pond, and Uli had warm blankets for them when they raced back to the fire, lips blue and voices loud. They ate outside but gave up even the pergala when rain started, carrying everything indoors to grab floor space by the hearth, After half an hour, Mill motioned to Pyosz and led her upstairs to the claustrophobic office.

"I wanted to let you know -- there's nothing definite yet, but someone has expressed an interest in taking over Saya Island, becoming the capriste and caretaker there" said Mill.

Pyosz had to sit down. She cleared her throat to ask "Who?"

"You don't know them, it's a young couple who've only recently partnered. They live on Chwet and have a small savings, not enough to reimburse you for all the improvements you've made but they're trying to borrow the rest. They'll live in your cabin for a year or two until they can pay off the loan, then move out another cabin so the sib of one of them can join them. With the three of them working on Saya plus part-time jobs in the area, they anticipate having enough to build a Manage within five years and start having children." Mill's tone was slightly apologetic, but there was some other unreadable emotion in there.

Pyosz was having a little trouble sorting through this information. "They're Owl People?"

"Not exactly. But they are very interested in Saya's owl, protecting her. They have excellent forestry and orchard skills. All the capriste end of things they'll have to learn from scratch, but so did you and that worked out well. Listen, Pyosz, we're not going to boot you out right away, or at all if you male a commitment to stay. But we need a permanent commitment, with contracts undergoing revision next year, every aspect of Pyan economy and production has to be predictable. I think you can understand that. So mull it over and get back to me in, say, a couple of weeks, okay?" Mill patted her on the back and led the way back downstairs. Pyosz moved like a sleepwalker. Inside she was shouting "They're MY goats, not Pya's, and there's three dozen more on the way who are even more mine, if you only knew!"

Maar looked at her questioningly and Pyosz shook her head briefly. She resumed singing, sitting close to Dodd and looking around the faces of her family as if it was her first night here. When Pank and Tu stood an hour later, saying they had to go unload their smokehouse and feed pigs, Pyosz rose also to go with them. She murmured to Maar in the kitchen "When do you leave tomorrow for Skene?"

"Ten a.m. this time, I get to sleep in because of a front. What's up?"

"I'll talk to you in the morning before you go" whispered Pyosz.

Once she and her cousins were in the ferry, she said "I have to ask you for another favor. I need to go to Skene and talk with my emma, my abbas. Will you look after Saya while I'm gone?"

Tu stared at her. "This connected to whatever Mill had to talk over with you?"

"Yes, but that's all I can say right now, I have to talk with emma first." Pyosz felt like the ferry was creeping.

"Of course we'll tend Saya for you" said Pank. "I'll bring you some bacon to take the folks back home."

"I'll come back after milk delivery but I need to go to the jichang around 9. Don't tell anyone about this trip, it's a surprise visit" said Pyosz.

She was up til midnight, making bread and pastries for Gitta, packing a single bag, and whenever she could, sitting at her table to draw and write in her notebook. She packed a hamper, adding bixi paste for her family in screw-top ceramic pots she'd made with rabbits on the sides. She added the two miniature bicycles to give to Thleen and Ehall. When she finally fell into bed, she moved her alarm up to 6:00, buying more sleep time.

But the goats and her trying-to-crow chanticleer got her up at the regular time. She wearily went through her routine, picking up rounds of fudgy prym cheese from Kolm to take home. Back on Saya, she washed a load of milk rags and hung them in the drying room, then changed the sheets on her bed and swept her cabin. At the last minute, she unpinned her map of Saya from the wall and put it in a carrying tube to take with her.

Maar met her at the wharf because she had searched Koldok for Pyosz and was about to ferry over. "What's all this?" she said.

"I'm going to Skene with you" said Pyosz.

"Mill didn't say a word to me -- " began Maar as she lifted the hamper.

"She doesn't know, I just decided. If you'll stow that for me, I'll go talk to her now."

Pyosz repeated to Mill "I need to talk with emma before discussing things with anyone else. Please don't tell her I'm coming." Mill didn't like it but she gave Pyosz releases to sign and wished her morrie vaseo. Pyosz wrapped her manteau around her in the second seat, made a nest with one of her blankets and pillow, and stayed awake only long enough to see Mti vanish behind them.

She woke up to feed them from her hamper, avoiding Abbo's questions and Maar's silent curiosity. Maar let her keep the second seat, saying "You look done in", and Pyosz went back to sleep. It was 6:30 in the morning when they landed, and Skene was awake. Pyosz said to Maar "Come for dinner tonight? With your sibs if you have them. I'll tell you everything then." She couldn't bear the furrow on Maar's brow and gave her cheek a light kiss to erase it. She stretched her back before shouldering her load for the trek up the lane. She didn't knock before entering the Genist Manage. Prl was standing at the aga in her schmatta, her hair uncombed. She whirled around and stared at Pyosz in disbelief.

Pyosz set down her hamper and said "Hello, emma. I've come to talk with you about our future."

After a long breath, Prl said "Where did you come from?"

"Funny you of all people should ask that." Pyosz's giggle made her real, and Prl flew into her arms.

"Come here to the table, into the light -- you look worn, child, are you hungry?"

"Worn is a good word for it. Just tea for the moment." Pyosz let Prl wait on her. She knew sooner or later her opening sentence would work its way back to the front of her emma's keen mind. Prl made toast, she couldn't stop herself, and then while that was in the aga she dropped eggs into butter . Soon two plates were before them, and Prl fried eggs exactly the way Pyosz preferred them, the blackberry preserves were from Pya, the bread had been made by Yoj, who could resist?

Prl stood to get the green glass milk pitcher from the coldbox, but stopped herself and asked "Are you drinking milk again? Dodd told me -- "

"I am but it would be better for me to have juice, cherry or grape if you have it."

Prl said "Only orange."

"That's fine. Emma, come sit down, I'm here to have time alone with you, I didn't tell anyone I was coming but Abbo will blab it soon enough."

Prl slid in next to her, handing her orange juice and looking at her minutely. "What's wrong? You said -- our future -- "

"You know all of what's happened with me this month, I'm all right. Except for one piece of news." She repeated what Mill had told her, and felt weight lift from her instantly.

Prl's eyes were blue ice. "You won't want to hear this, but she's playing you."

"For once, emma, I think you're right. I mean, I'm sure the Chwet couple are real enough -- in fact, I suspect one of them is the child abba Bux sent to Pya when I was eight, isn't that ironic? But I think Mill is giving me a shove with regard to the timeline." Pyosz poured a second glass of orange juice and drank half of it before adding "There's something else I need to tell you in absolute confidence, nothing to the abbas." She shared the truth of how Pya had come by its goat contributions.

Prl said softly "She knows. Mill -- somehow she found out. And she either wants you in place to take the blame when it blows up, or maybe she wants you back on Skene for the same but they'll still have the herd you've launched."

"I don't agree with you that she wants me to be a target, emma, but yes, I think she knows. She's as ambitious as anyone in our family -- "

Prl burst in "Except she's clumsy at it!"

"I disagree, I think she's been wildly successful on behalf of Pya, it's all for Pya, and she expects the same of me" said Pyosz. "And she's not off the mark, only for me it's all for Saya. It's as if I was born to partner with Saya, in a way. Whatever Mill's manipulation is in all this, I realized I cannot leave Saya, I cannot turn over my herd to someone else, I even feel maternal about my owl." She put both her hands over Prl's.

With welling eyes, Prl said "This is it, then."

"It is, and soon as I knew, I came straight to you. Emma, I mean to claim Saya for my legacy, I mean to fill it with my children and their children, I intend to build a massive Manage visible for miles around, and I want you there with me. You first, and then somehow all my abbas."

Prl turned her hands upward to meet Pyosz's with a tight grip. "You already have Qala and Lawa, they'll move as soon as you have a place for them."

"They told you that?"

"No, and they may not have told one another. But I know them, what feeds their soul." Prl began crying softly. "I can't go, child, I have one more piece of work to do and I can't see how to do it, but the future of all Skene depends on me figuring it out."

Now Pyosz's grip was tight. "What is it, emma, trust me and I'll help you think it through."

"I long to, Pyosz. But -- it would be breaking a serious law and put you at risk of prosecution or perjury if I were to confide in you. I can't do that to you."

"Oh emma." She pulled Prl's face onto her wide shoulder and they wept together. "Retirement, then, when you retire you'll come spoil my children and make house pets of each new generation of kids" murmured Pyosz. Prl did not reply, instead going to the sink to wash her face. When she returned to the table, she said brightly "So, a massive Manage? Two stories?"

"Plus an attic. Long porch facing Koldok Kuono, separate keramiker studio -- I've drawn plans, would you like to see?"

They were still at it, the table covered with sketches and lists, when Lawa and Qala walked in. Qala almost dropped the eggs she had cradled in her shati, and after a few seconds, Lawa rounded on Prl with "Why didn't you tell us she was coming?!!"

Prl grinned at her, but before answering she said to Pyosz urgently "I'm the one loaning you the money for construction, me alone, promise?"

"Construction of what?" asked Qala.

"A glorious Manage and various other buildings on Saya Island, where Pyosz is to become a permanent resident!" said Prl with brittle pride.

"Whoa." Lawa sat down, picking up a drawing and gaping at it. Qala delicately transferred eggs to the bowl in the coldbox, looking around when Lawa said "Maar must be over the moons."

"She doesn't know yet" said Pyosz, knowing that would quietly thrill Prl. "Emma was the first, and now you two are the second."

"Well fill us in" said Qala, kissing Pyosz's forehead before sitting next to Lawa. Ten minutes later a knock came at the front door, and Prl looked at the clock in horror. "Oh no, that's a consultation, and look at me!"

"I'll go see them in to your office" said Qala. "I'll make tea and take in, how many of them?" asked Lawa.

"Three adults and a two-year-old" said Prl, scurrying to her bedroom. Pyosz poured another glass of juice before reaching for the radio. Lawa looked around as Pyosz said "Hi, Rark, it's Pyosz...Great, actually, how are you and yours?...I'm calling to see if Sinner Maar is there...I know, and usually I would never interrupt her sleep, but she'll really want to hear from me, could you ask someone to fetch her to the radio? Thanks a bunch."

Copyright 2009 Maggie Jochild.


Friday, December 18, 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)


After lunch, Pyosz went to Koldok, stopping first at Gitta's to buy a large stewing chicken and another gallon can of avocado oil. She went to Klosa's for the suggested leather apron, which was stiff and moisture repellant. She bought a new pair of work gloves as well.

Back home, she poured the avocado oil in a pan and heated it until the handle of a wooden spoon lowered into it produced small bubbles. She turned off the heat, added a cup of the bixi seeds, and covered it with a lid. She cut up the chicken and simmered it in water with lots of garlic and onion. When it was fall-off-the-bone tender, she shredded the chicken into a bowl with salt, pepper, and a dash of shamsjooz. She strained the bixi infusion and drizzled some of it over the chicken, turning it a sunset color and giving it a flavor that made her want to sit down and eat the entire bowl herself. She stashed it in the coldbox, made two veggies casseroles and a massive bowl of buttery rice for reheating, and declared lunch for the following day done.

She set aside two bottles of bixi oil for Pank and finished her baking, saving out a pear and walnut pie for dessert tomorrow. After milking, she exited the barn in a sweat. Once again, she decided to invite herself to dinner at Herne, since Maar had not stopped by. She carried the bixi oil and another pie, and took over frying lawei cakes from Pank so Pank could finish the salad. As Pank removed oversized baked yams from the aga, Pyosz said "I have a favor to ask."

Her tone made Pank look at her. "I've scheduled Poth to come tomorrow for -- it's time with my goats -- she said we'd need a third..."

"Ah. Lawa mentioned it to us a while back. I'll be there, what time?"

As they all sat down to eat, Pyosz asked "Do I do the hardest first, or save it for last?" Nk and Frahe looked confused. Pank said "Usually you kill the ones you love most first, but -- are you going to do it, or ask us to do it while you hold them?"

"I hadn't -- I can't both hold and -- what do I use, is it a knife?" Pyosz was finding the smell of the lawei croquette on her plate nauseating.

"One knife is for bleeding after, and a couple more for skinning and dressing. But the killing tool is a punch that's laid flat against the right spot on their head, and a pneumatic trigger punches into their brain, killing them instantly. Much kinder than a knife" said Pank. "You can either hold them still or use the punch."

"I'll hold them" said Pyosz hoarsely. "Do they -- "

"They die instantly when it's done right" repeated Pank. "I'll do it right. How many?"

"Thirteen". Pank winced briefly as she forked yam into her mouth. Tu, not eating, said "Who have you told about this? Did you call Lawa?"

Pyosz shook her head. Tu buttered a roll and handed it to Pyosz. "Eat this, and drink some tea. I'll call people for you after dinner."

Bread in her stomach helped. Pyosz was able to eat some salad and part of a yam, though not the fish. She took her cup of tea and sat on the floor in front of the hearth while the others had pie. Nk finished early and pulled a wingchair behind Pyosz, combing her dreads gently. Pyosz heard Tu on the radio in the kitchen and tried to guess who she was calling in succession by the way Tu spoke to them. She decided it was Mill, Maar, Halling, and then Lawa.

"I made lunch for everyone" Pyosz said when Tu came to join them.

"Well, I'm under orders from Prl to make you sleep here tonight. Your katts will be all right, and we'll loan you a schmatta, set our alarm for you" said Tu.

Pyosz fell asleep on the battered old couch which Nk kept saying had good structure, it just needed to be reupholstered. But when Tu woke her and led her upstairs to a comfortable bed, she wasn't able to go back to sleep for hours. In the morning, Pank got up with her and fried bacon to slap between toast for them to munch as they walked through the dark to the goat barn. She felt numb as she milked. Pank made them tea and helped her with rinsing udders.

It took long minutes to persuade the five does into a pair of stalls. Pyosz's uncertainty made them nervous, even after she poured cracked corn into the feed trough. She said to Pank "The older ones, they're all looking at me like they know." Pank finished lifting the bucklings into other stalls and said "Do I give the younger ones corn, too?"

"Yes" said Pyosz. She went to Boulder and said "Let's go." For once Molars trotted with the group, not looking around for trouble. As she walked them to the kissing gate, she could hear Echo's unmistakable bleat coming from the barn, alarm repeating itself in another alarmed half-bleat.

Pank helped her load the ferry, but then said "Go on, I'll do the chickens and then reassure the goats."

Pyosz kept thinking As long as I stay in Koldok, it can't happen. But her otos led her back to the wharf and her hand engaged the lever, on automatic.

The radio was buzzing when she reached the kitchen. It was Maar, patched through from her sinner. "I'll be there before lunch" she said. "We're the same, we have to feed Pya and Skene."

"It's Echo" said Pyosz tonelessly. "I'm going to do her first, so she won't hear or smell the others."

"Oh, lev, darling" said Maar. But Jiips cut in and said "They're ready to engage, Sinner Maar."

"I'll be there as fast as I can" said Maar.

Pyosz got a bag of dried cherries and walked to the barn. At least it's sunny she thought.

Three hours later, Maar landed a lighter next to the special crates at the edge of the jichang, one a third full of fly-encrusted blood, the other covered but containing the carcasses of five does and two bucklings. A stack of skins were on a third pallet, dusted with a powder that had blown speckled gusts against the blood-soaked sand of the killing field. A screaming eddy of seabeaks fought over what had been tossed onto the rocks below the eastern cliff.

Gory aprons were hung over the tillage fence. Pyosz was at the freshwater tap nearby, scrubbing already raw hands. She looked up at Maar with no light in her eyes. "Half done" she said.

"Come on" said Maar, taking her wet hands and pulling her to the kitchen. Poth and Pank were setting hot dishes on the table. Maar sat down in a chair and tugged Pyosz onto her lap. "We'll share a plate" she said to Pank. She loaded it with vegetables and rice. "No chicken" said Pyosz. "No milk."

Maar's warmth slowly soaked into Pyosz's interior. Poth and Pank talked about the sugar harvest, the latest earthquake on Tetama, Poth's eldest asking for a sailboat to run the river. Maar took one bite of the chicken from the serving bowl and said "Waves and ripples, Pyosz, that oil is going deluge Gitta with eks."

"Us too" said Pank.

They ate their pie quickly while Pyosz sat with closed eyes. "What are you thinking about?" whispered Maar.

"Tendon attachments" she answered.

Maar stayed for another hour, bearing witness as Pyosz soothed a buckling while Pank approached with a strange metal device, then hefted a suddenly lifeless body to a hook on a tripod that swung over the blood crate for draining. Poth issued occasional reminders as Pyosz detached the hide and dressed the carcass. Pank told her she'd be taking Pyosz back to Herne after milking.

Maar flew her lighter to Herne when she was done with her afternoon haul and joined them for dinner. Pyosz ate some miso broth with noodles and a bowl of applesauce before sealing herself into the bath room for a long solo soak. Dodd and Briel came by with ice cream, and Dodd, then Maar talked on the radio with Skene family when they called. Pyosz yelled through the bathroom door that she'd call them the next day.

When she emerged, dressed in fresh clothes, she said "I don't want to talk about it, I don't even want to think about it. It's over and that's good, can we please focus elsewhere?"

Nobody seemed to know what to say for a moment. Maar decided to keep the bowl of ice cream she'd just dished out. Then Pank offered "Poth said today they've decided where to grow that new crop we just approved, kottin. You know that expanse of barley right off south Dvareka River, between Cogio and Fjer? They're going to roll over all those fields to it, we've got more barley than folks are eating right now."

Tu whistled. "That's a heavy commitment -- it's mostly a fiber, right?"

"Some feed applications for the seed and hulls, and a low nutrition oil, but yeah, it's the fiber they're going for" said Pank.

"Doesn't seem like there'll be that much demand for a new fabric" ventured Dodd. "I mean, it's not dressy like silk or good for cold and wet like wool, and we already have a variety of linens..."

"It breathes" spoke up Pyosz. "It weaves into a variety of textures, it takes dye better than anything we've got, and it endures despite being very economical to make. I'm thinking it will be ideal for children's clothes and for casual wear. I'll be buying garments made from it."

"So will I" said Maar.

"Well, the style-setters have spoken, so I guess the ejida is onto something" grinned Dodd.

"More to the point" said Pank, "it requires a lot of land with a certain exposure to do well. Skene won't be growing a single square yard of it."

"Aaah" said several voices simultaneously. Pank added "Pyosz used bixi sauce in her chicken dish at lunch." She looked at Tu. "It'll sell like saffron, once they get a taste of it."

"Pya's laying pipe for the new contract negotiations" said Briel.

"What new contracts?" said Frahe challengingly. "Let them wonder from one week to the next whether we'll send them what they crave, let them see what it's like for a change."

Into the silence that followed, Dodd said "It occurs to me we have a couple of generations on Pya who grew up on Skene, hearing stories of their emmas' hardships, and we have other generations who grew up on Pya finding their only restrictions coming from Skene itself. A difference in perspective that will continue to shift in favor of the latter."

"I have something I want to tell you" Pyosz blurted out. "But it's a serious secret, and you have to promise to not tell anybody, not even the rest of our family. Especially not Mill and Oby. Because it will threaten the career of somebody we all love."

They blinked at one another. Several looked at Maar, to see if she was in the know, but there was a worried furrow between her eyes that could be interpreted either way. Tu said "I agree, as long as no one is being put in peril." Slowly the rest nodded at Pyosz.

She told them what Vants had done. Tu crowed and slapped Pank on the back, saying "That's Moasi's child for you!" Briel said "Api has mentioned that when our population reaches a few hundred more, we're going to need a second island dedicated to goat raising. This will open all the doors to that." Only Dodd seemed to make the connection between the new opportunity and the necessary events of today. She gave Pyosz a brief sideways hug and said only "Let's hear it for cousin capristes."

Half an hour later, after several wide yawns, Pyosz said "All I can think about is sleep. And no, Tu, not here, nice as it is -- I need to be in my own bed, with my katts and my...barn nearby. I need to go back to normal."

"We'll walk you home" offered Dodd.

But once she was in bed, in a dark rendered oscillatory by Ember's purr against her chest, normal seemed gone forever. There was no late night bleating from Echo. She kept imagining the goats looking at each other, missing their kin, does missing their bucklings, and knowing it was Pyosz who had led them out of the barn, never to return.

The next morning at 6:30, Kolm called Mill. "Listen, Pyosz just called in sick, and I'm worried about her" said Kolm. Mill motioned at Mill, about to leave for the school sinner, and said "What's wrong with her?"

"She said she ached and hadn't slept because it was too hot in her cabin. She also said she wasn't going to milk, because it didn't much matter and besides the goats were loose, all around her cabinm talking to her -- even the dead ones, she said," Kolm paused, then said "We saw there was slaughter over there yesterday."

"We'll go immediately" said Mill. She repeated Kolm's words tersely to Maar who hit the door at a run, Mill shouting "I'll send Briel!" She turned to Dekkan as she dialed Briel, saying "You've copiloted the school sinner twice now, can you do it on your own this morning? With an entire generation of Pya in your hands?"

Dekkan didn't hesitate. "Yes. Is Pyosz -- "

"Your focus needs to be those kids" said Mill sharply. After Briel was on her way to Saya, Mill called Tu and Pank. She decided not to call Skene until she had more to report.

Maar found the cabin door open and Pyosz sitting naked in bed, no blanket over her, painting in her notebook. She was glistening with sweat despite the drafts of chilly air in the cabin. Ember was beside her, and looked at Maar in relief. Curds appeared from the kitchen, meowing.

"What are you doing?" Maar asked, closing the door in Curds' face.

"Painting, I'm having all sorts of ideas for color combinations" said Pyosz. "I'm taking the day off, can you believe how warm it's turned?"

Maar went to her and felt her forehead. "You're burning up, sweetie" she said.

"I know, could you open that door again?"

"No -- Pyosz, you've got a high fever, we have to take care of you" said Maar.

"I just need a day off" said Pyosz. "Lev it, I can't figure out how to mix the green I see in my head."

Maar went to the kitchen and filled a basin with lukewarm water, adding Pyosz's gardenia body rinse. She set a pot of tea steeping and dropped fisk in both katts' bowls before returning to gently take away Pyosz's paints and persuade her to sit on the edge of the trunk.

"I need to wash you -- look, the water's not hot, it'll feel good. Let's start with your face."

Briel and Tu arrived a minute later. "She's raging with fever" said Maar, rubbing the washcloth over Pyosz's back.

"Is that blood on her chest?" gasped Tu as Briel pulled a thermometer from her bag.

"No, she was painting when I got here. No clothes on and the cabin door wide open." Maar began washing Pyosz's chest without any embarrassment about her breasts. "Can we get someone here to milk, I mean, I'll try -- "

"Pank's in there. I'll go do the chickens, call me if you need me quick" said Tu.

Briel did a thorough exam, looked in the chamberpot, and coaxed half a cup of tea into Pyosz by the time Tu returned. "Some bug, probably viral, but what triggered it was stress" was her assessment. She was persuading Pyosz into a schmatta and sokken while Maar changed the sheets.

"My cabin is so full, I can't breathe" complained Pyosz. "And I can't hear the goats any more."

"They're going to the pasture" said Maar. Briel was pulling tinctures from her bag. "I'd like her to eat something with this, and she needs to drink a lot" she said.

"No milk!" announced Pyosz. "I don't deserve milk any more."

Tu said "I'll poach eggs, make toast." Maar tucked Pyosz into bed, saying "I'm going to spend the day with you, we'll have fun, okay?"

After a few bites of eggs and toast, fed to Pyosz by Maar, Briel dropped three different tinctures on her tongue, saying "One for fever, one for inflammation, and one for sleep. She'll be fine, if someone stays with her she doesn't need to go to the clinic." Maar nodded at her.

Pank joined them. "I'll come back this evening" she said. Tu said "We can figure out then about tonight. Maar's here for today."

"I need to call Mill" said Maar, leaving the cabin to use the radio. She said to Mill "It was the slaughter did it. No, not an infection from something, just overload and we all missed it. Listen, let me be the one to call her emma, I'll say I'm doing it at your request and make sure the blame goes on me for leaving her alone last night, not you."

She went to the sink and gulped a glass of water before dialing the Genist's Manage. Prl was upset but said "She'll do that every now and then, try to stuff it all down and then she falls apart, it's why I pry so much. And yes, when she gets high fevers she goes out of her head. Let me talk with her, I know not to get frantic when she's delirious."

Pyosz took the radio with both hands and said "Emma? I killed Echo yesterday, emma, but she came back to talk to me this morning. Except I couldn't really understand what she was saying. Emma, promise me you won't eat any goat meat this year, because it could be her."

When Pyosz's lids began drooping, Briel took the radio and said "I gave her something to help her sleep, that's what she needs most, and the fever will subside as well. I'll come back this evening and call you then, but don't worry."

Prl said she would notify the rest of the family and insisted on thanking everyone in Pyosz's cabin individually before clicking off. Tu and Pank walked Briel to the ferry, discussing how to address rumor control in Koldok to counteract the inevitable "capriste goes mad after bloodletting" story that would arise. Maar set carafes of water and juice on the trunk and read over the labels on Briel's tinctures. She pulled off her gilet -- the cabin really was warm at the moment -- and wished there was an armchair in here.

Pyosz rolled over and opened one eye. "Now I'm starting to feel cold" she said.

"It's cold outside but toasty in here."

"I talked with emma for real, right?"

"Right. Listen, will you drink some more juice?"

Pyosz sat up, her eyes now bloodshot, and sipped at the cup Maar held for her. Her teeth clattered a little against the glass and she said "I feel a chill."

"Your fever's trying to break" said Maar.

"Will you get under the covers with me? I'm so cold" said Pyosz, huddling back into her blankets. After a pause, Maar began pulling off her otos. She stripped to knickers and maillot before sliding in behind Pyosz, who groaned and said "You're so warm!"

Within a minute, Pyosz's shivering stopped and her respirations became long. Maar stayed close, her arm around Pyosz's middle, breathing in gardenia from Pyosz's hair in her face, She looked at the wall of photos beyond, especially drawn to the picture of Pyosz at around one, holding court in Prl's arms, her confident grin and intelligent black eyes the same as now. In another minute, Maar was asleep, too.

Nk woke them up at noon with a pot of bean and potato soup. Maar dressed in hasty embarrassment. Pyosz said she was hungry, and after two bites said "This would be really good with crumbled bacon in it." Maar was on her feet instantly, saying "I'll fry it." "And some chopped tomato" called Pyosz through the closing door.

When Maar returned, Curds and Ember joined them. Maar had to sit on the bed to eat. Pyosz finished her bowl and drank another glass of juice before taking more tinctures and lying down again. "Come back and hold me while I sleep some more?" she asked Maar. Maar glanced at Nk, her cheeks flaming, but she said "After I do the dishes."

"I'll wash up" said Nk with an easy grin. "You two rest well, I think Frahe is making samaki and polenta for dinner."

Pyosz dozed off quickly, this time with her head on Maar's shoulder. Curds and Ember were affronted at there being no room left in the small bed for them, and Maar discouraged them from using her as a mattress. "You're both massive katts" she explained kindly. She lay awake, trying to remember the poetry she'd memorized in school, then mentally revising yet again a plan to visit and rehabilitate all the secanos between here and Skene in the most efficient manner.

The radio buzzed at 4:00 and Maar got up to answer it. She handed Prl to a groggy Pyosz and mouthed "I'm going to the privy." She sat on the pot for a while, remembering against her will the shock of watching Pyosz separate familiar buckling skin from a pale carcass.

She ran into Pyosz on the way back wearing otos and manteau over her schmatta. "I don't want to use the chamberpot" Pyosz said. Maar waited outside the privy, noting that Pank's washdown of the killing ground with the seawater hose had left nothing to draw a single fly. There was still a lot of seabeak noise drifting up from the rocks below, however.

Back in the cabin, Pyosz looked at her notebook paintings from the morning, then said "Emma declares me back to my regular mind. Whatever that is."

After Briel's recheck, Pyosz pulled on clothes and insisted on going with Pank to the barn. "I don't want things to get any weirder than they already are, for them and for me" she said. Maar accompanied them, letting Tu do the chickens and heat dinner on her own. Pyosz milked Boulder, murmuring to her, then went to sit on the feedbox with a pale face while Pank did the rest with Maar as assistant.

"In a week they won't remember, I really believe that" said Pank.

"I will" said Pyosz. "Everything has changed."

"Yep" said Pank.

They ate together in the kitchen, Pyosz lighting a candle for the middle of the table since the shutters would keep it from blowing out. They drizzled bixi oil on the polenta and declared it genius. Maar insisted on doing the dishes alone. Tu said to Pyosz, "So, about tonight -- if you're not up to the walk to Herne, I bet we could find a pilot to fly you."

Pyosz grinned. "Dekkan would be here in a heartbeat." Maar flicked suds at her. "Actually, cousin, I'd rather sleep here if I could impose on that pilot to crowd into my bed with me one more time. And it's not what you might be thinking -- "

"I'm pretty sure it's exactly what I'm thnking" said Tu. "I know you. I can tell the difference between extraordinary friendship and th'other."

Maar looked around at them and said "I'd be happy to stay. But yes, there will be talk."

"There's already so much talk I'm surprised one of you isn't pregnant already from sheer community supposition" said Pank. Pyosz laughed until she coughed.

"I'll be back at dawn" said Pank. standing and hitching up her perpetually sagging kalsongers.

"All right, because Maar needs to go sin, right? But I think by tomorrow evening, I can pick it back up by myself" said Pyosz, "I don't know how to thank you -- "

Pank made a rude noise and ambled into the dark, followed by Tu with the still-wet polenta pan.

Copyright 2009 Maggie Jochild.


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.



Every Thursday, I post a very large photograph of some corner of space captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and available online from the picture album at HubbleSite, followed by poetry after the jump.


by Anne Porter

We're still in Babylon but
We do not weep
Why should we weep?
We have forgotten
How to weep

We've sold our harps
And bought ourselves machines
That do our singing for us
And who remembers now
The songs we sang in Zion?

We have got used to exile
We hardly notice
Our captivity
For some of us
There are such comforts here
Such luxuries

Even a guard
To keep the beggars
From annoying us

We have forgotten you.


Tuesday, December 15, 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)


Two days later was Halling's birthday. Pyosz called in the morning as soon as she had rushed back from Koldok.

"Abba, it aches to not be there for your birthday, are you having a lovely dinner?"

"It's moved on from dinner into party. Here, let me try out what Prl got me -- this radio turns into a speaker sort of device so everyone in the room can hear -- are you still there, child? Shit and thunderation, I've disconnected her "

Speranz's voice said "No, you haven't, just push this button here -- move your hand, emma -"

In the background, Pyosz heard Ehall proclaim in piercing tones "Habibi said a bad word!" and then Thleen urging "What bad word, I didn't hear a bad word." Simultaneously Maar said "Thleen, knock it off" as Ehall whispered loudly "Shit and funderation." Through laughter, Pyosz kept repeating "I'm here abba, I can hear you all" until finally Halling said "There you are, okay, I've got it now, Speranz. Pyosz, I'm astounded by this map of Pya you sent me, where did you get it?"

"A friend of mine here, Uli, drew it, it hasn't been published anywhere yet" said Pyosz. "But the Lofthall here has a copy." She heard Maar pointing out fish migration symbols in an undertone to somebody. Yoj said plaintively "If you'll let me copy it, I wouldn't have to ask to borrow it", which Halling seemed to be ignoring. Instead, Qala's voice came through, "Say hello to Uli for me when you see her, and Dekkan, too."

"Hey, I have an interesting tidbit for you" said Pyosz. "The rabbit has gone missing!" She heard Maar burst into laughter, and Ehall, who had been repeating "Emma, wat is funderation? Wat's funderation, emma?" now switched to "Wat is wabbit?" She heard Lawa start an explanation as Qala asked "Did an owl get it?"

"No, it was in an indoor run when last seen" said Pyosz. "Suspicion fell initially on Brek, but she has hotly denied rescuing it, as she puts it, and has offered her Manage up for a search, which has shifted public opinion away from her as a thief." She heard peals of laughter coming from both Ehall and Thleen, and knew, irresistibly, that Lawa must have fingers stuck up like ears beside her head and be hopping across the floor.

"I bet it's the Owl People!" called out Maar, giggling.

"Well, except it has been neutered, and the Owl People are focused on creating a habitat on Chwet, not pets per se. The speculation here is everyone's chief form of entertainment right now, gladly replacing that of -- " Pyosz stopped herself. The murder.

Suddenly somber, Halling said quietly "The woman in the hospital gave a deposition to Bux today. The trial is tomorrow afternoon."

"Oh abba, I'm so sorry." Pyosz hoped Bux knew this was aimed at her. Bux replied "I wish you were here. I might as well tell you, the newspaper has it: She testified against her partner and requested she be exiled." Bux's voice was almost unrecognizable, gravelly and flat. Ehall was still chortling in the background, but Pyosz bet Thleen was now listening to the adults near the radio.

With an obvious effort, Bux said "That card you made for Halling was a work of art, Pyosz. When are we going to see ceramics flowing from your hand?"

"Soon" promised Pyosz. Thleen broke in: "I made Nan Halling a card too, s'bem -- I mean, Pyosz -- it's a sinner killing a leviathan. I used up all my red paint on it."

Pyosz made a mental note to send Thleen more paints even as she exulting over that slip, being called sibemma. Halling, always ready to be a killjoy when it came to matters in her expertise, said "You know, lev blood isn't actually red."

"Thunderation!" burst out Thleen, and as Maar began an intervention, Pyosz said "This kind of radio is a marvelous device, abba, what a perfect gift for you." Prl jumped in with "Do you want me to send you one as well?"

"Oh, no, I make my calls alone, I wouldn't use it, emma." Pyosz was willing to bet Prl wouldn't get one either, citing Genist need for confidentiality but the real reason is that Prl wouldn't want to share her calls like this.

Pyosz meant to call the following morning, when it would be just past dinnertime in Skene, her abbas home from the horrors of the trial, but a violent thunderstorm which lasted until noon made her leery of all electronics, especially in a metal cabin or under the kitchen's tin roof. It was just as well.

When Bux, Yoj, and Halling got home from the trial, held in the main hall at the University, Halling was in deep pain from the walk uphill that she was trying to deny in order to comfort Bux. They walked into a warm Manage redolent with the smells of a seafood chowder and fresh rolls Tlunu had made -- she wasn't a creative cook but she made delectable basics. Halling sat in the nearest chair and Bux returned from their bedroom with a jar of liniment, pulling a footstool beside the chair.

"You don't have to do that" began Halling.

"Hush. It will soothe me as well" said Bux, warming a puddle of ointment between her palms while Yoj, with grunts, removed Halling's otos and sokken. As Bux began rubbing to Halling's groans, Yoj hung up their wet burzakas and went to the kitchen to wash her hands.

"How did it go?" asked Speranz in a low voice, dressing steamed carrots and greens with some of Pyosz's garlic oil.

"Bux exiled her" said Yoj. She looked at Tlunu. "I'm sure Danaan will tap you as part of the group who will fly her out to Peisuo tomorrow."

"I've never actually landed there" said Tlunu.

"It's forsaken. I wish it had never appeared above the surface of the ocean" said Yoj, but not loud enough for Bux to hear. She added milk and honey to two mugs of tea and carried them to her partners, holding Bux's to her lips so Bux could keep rubbing Halling's ankles. Tlunu set the table and called in "Come while it's hot."

Halling was already walking easier as she and Bux went to wash their hands. Bux sat at the end next to the sideboard, flanked by Bux and Halling. In habit from when this table was more occupied but would now strike a visitor as odd, Speranz sat far away at the other end with Tlunu to her left.

After a bite, Bux said "Look at all the crab in this stew!"

"Yeah, I traded a nice dogefish for it from a Bohaira crabber at the docks" said Tlunu, pleased with herself. "There's more dogefish in the coldbox for tomorrow."

"I'm taking the day off tomorrow -- after escorting the Peisuo contingent to their departure, I mean" said Bux. She looked at Halling. "I'll roll the filets in nut meal and fry them in bacon fat for your lunch, you love that."

"I'll stay home, too" offered Yoj. "After going with you" she said to Bux. A concession perhaps only the three of them could appreciate.

After another minute of eating, Yoj added "I'll make a crate of books and spices to send along with the allotment to Peisuo." Which was extralegal but she knew Bux would agree with it.

Halling buttered a second roll and was about to speak when Bux said "I told her, when we met after sentencing -- I explained we wouldn't call for a week or answer her calls unless she said it was an emergency. And if she lied about her need, the silence would get worse. I said we'd bring chickens and katts when we go to check on her after a week." She had stopping eating and was playing with kelp in her chowder.

"I can find a kitten for her, as well as a grown hunter" offered Yoj. "Lawa will have a line on chickens -- "

"She won't be alive in a week" said Bux tonelessly. "She'll simply lie down and die." Everyone looked at her. She dropped her spoon into her bowl and leaned her face into her hands. "She died a month ago, her body just hasn't caught up."

Yoj waited for Bux to cry. Speranz said, "What do you mean, a month ago? The murder was only -- "

"When they ended the meaning of her existence, the definition she'd built on her entire adult life!" burst out Bux. "The two people she trusted most said 'Yeah, we've realized you're not so special to us anymore, no hard feelings but could you stand a little farther away, you smell a little.' She died then. I can absolutely imagine what happened to her inside."

After a moment, Halling said "You can imagine that happening to you?"

Bux wheeled on her "Don't be stupid, Halling. I don't mean I'd ever think you and Yoj could feel that way about me, I got over my shit decades ago." Speranz and Tlunu glanced as each other as they kept eating. "But I can still imagine what it would be like, can't you?"

Yoj said "Yes" quietly. "She couldn't see any way to start over, not living at the edge of the world and left behind by her children, and now her partners. I think her advocate should have argued for insanity."

"I agree, and I urged her to" said Bux, her voice thick. "That poor woman kept telling me her partners were only temporarily gone, they'd come back for her any minute now. Clearly she's not competent. I'd still have to exile her, but she needs a caregiver. Her family refused to go in that direction, however. When the surviving partner is well enough, she's migrating to Pya with her daughter, Wyspa Fling will come to new tenants."

"Ay, what sort of desperate family will take it?" wondered Yoj out loud. Halling looked at her, communicating without words.

"They've dumped her like molded paper, and she probably won't eat a bite of whatever we send to Peisuo with her" said Bux, finally giving in to her suppressed grief. "I could have exonerated her, I seriously considered it, let the new Ethicist deal with a retrial if community outrage demanded it. But without a family, where could she go?" Halling pulled Bux toward her. Before leaning her face against Halling's shoulder, Bux ripped the dark green collar and medallion of office from her throat and flung it on the floor. One of Yoj's elderly katts actually roused itself from near-perpetual slumber and tottered over to investigate.

The next day, Yoj recounted Bux's anguish privately to Prl, who passed it on unedited to Pyosz. Bux's prediction about the exile proved accurate, with an odd twist: After the sinner had departed, the exile had shoved all her allotment supplies off the kitchen table onto the floor and laid on the table to die, never even turning on the hearth.

"Why the table?" mused Qala. "Why not the bed?"

"It's the first place I look for family when I get home" answered Lawa. "She still thought they were going to come for her."

That week, while a dead woman lay on a forsaken table waiting to be discovered by Tlunu, Pyosz was spending her afternoons experimenting with pot glazes. She was buying the time for it by doing her orchard processing after dinner, meaning a string of late nights that were beginning to show on her face. Maar made her meals a couple of times, but there was no mistaking Pyosz's fever to be translating the visions in her mind to bowls and plates. For once, Pyosz had no letters to send home to her family. Or to Thleen, which finally intruded on Pyosz's obsession.

She loaded what she had finished into her kiln and turned it on, grateful that day was cold enough to hint at the onset of winter in a month. She wished Maar were in town to invite for dinner, but she had returned to Skene, remarking the exile's remaining family would be flying back on the huolon. Pyosz focused on roasting pistachios, arriving on her trees in abundance, and made a warm mash for her goats before she called them in for milking.

After dinner, while quince jelly bubbled on the aga, she sliced apples into a lemon-water bath and called her abbas. Bux told her about the exile's death and they cried together. Yoj was making the funeral arrangements because the family had declined. "I hope I never have to associate with them when they get back to Pya" remarked Pyosz. "I don't understand murder but I don't understand how they're being about it, either."

Which roused mixed emotions in Yoj: Gratitude at her grandchild's innate compassion, and worry at the implication that Pyosz's residence on Pya might become permanent.

Right after Pyosz clicked off the radio, it buzzed again. This time it was Maar, saying "Can you spare a minute to talk, I need to tell you something."

"I've finally turned over my pots to firing, and I already know the news, I just talked to my abbas" said Pyosz.

"Uh...they don't know yet, so -- what are you talking about?" said Maar. After hearing Pyosz's update, Maar said, "No, I wanted to tell you I'll be here in Skene an extra day, at least. A wicked weather system is socked in over the ocean and I don't think we can climb high enough to avoid a risky run. The good news is that I'll be with my sibs for the New Year, which has made Thleen very happy because school starts up again the following day, you know. We're going to dip Pomar apples from Ngall in honey from Saya. The bad news is, well, obviously I won't be there for New Year."

Pyosz was taken off guard by how disappointed she was. "I'll really miss you. I guess I'll go to Herne, or Dodd's. But I'm happy for Thleen" she said.

"This last year was the best of my life, and I have high hopes for the one about to commence" said Maar softly.

"Me too" said Pyosz.

The next morning Pyosz went on to Pertama to meet with Nioma. She found their discussion invigorating, partly because she was trying to decide if a teenaged Prl could have carried a torch for a teenaged Nioma. She found this exercise a little too difficult in the end. Maybe I can ask Dodd she thought.

Going to sleep that night, she kept remembering one remark Nioma had made. She had expressed sympathy for how the recent trial and outcome must have upset Pyosz's abbas, which in someone else would have been an attempt at extracting gossip, but Pyosz thought was not so with Nioma. She had then said "Skene loves to imagine it prioritizes balance. We especially believe we have evolved beyond the savagery of those on the original planet, whose ways we had to abandon in order to survive. But at times like this, our imbalance and savagery are clearly retained. And I'm not referring to the murderer."

After she left the ejida office, Pyosz's eye was caught by a Pertama storefront showing children's toys, including a plush representation of a rabbit. She went right in and discovered there were only two of these, both delivered that morning. "What fur is this?" she wondered, running her fingers through the odd-looking creature's covering.

"Squirrel" answered the shopkeeper. "It's been dyed." The source was almost as startling as if it had been rabbit. Pyosz looked at her and said "Do you have relations, then, among the -- among those from Chwet?"

"By partnership, yes" the woman answered with a flinty grin. Pyosz asked how much the toy cost and sucked in her breath at the answer. But these will never make their way to Skene she thought. And if she's kin, the folks on Chwet are making some coin from this. She looked over the rest of the woman's stock and walked out with both plush rabbits, plus a small carved version to send Qala and Lawa; two perfectly functional miniature bicycles; a pair of toy sheep whose fleece snapped on and off; and two squirrel tails, one for her katts and one for Yoj's. She had no money left to buy a lentil patty but her gift-giving for Ehall and Thleen was taken care of for months.

Pank ambled up to the Saya kitchen as Pyosz was finishing lunch, accepting a cup of barley soup and settling into a chair. "We need apples and honey for the new year" she said.

"Take all you want from my larder" said Pyosz. She showed her new toys to Pank, who marveled at the bicycles. Then Pank said "I was thinking you might want to do your honey harvest early. My elbows says it's gonna be a fierce winter."

"Your elbows are good enough for me" said Pyosz.

"Anyhow, I'm free this afternoon, be glad to help you" said Pank. "Tu is planting and being disagreeable."

Pyosz wondered what that looked like. She said "Well, it's cold and dry, it would be a good day for keeping bees calm. Sure. I'll get my gear together." When she returned rumbling the wain behind her, she saw Ember leap six feet into the air trying to catch the squirrel tail Pank was dangling over her own head. Still laughing, she called the allotment center and asked to rent the extractor and hot knife again.

"Everybody wants that equipment right now" said the snarky clerk. "There's one coming back in at 5:00 today but it has to be somewhere else by noon tomorrow, and then nothing will be available for over a week."

"I'll take what you got for overnight. I'll call the Lofthall and arrange delivery myself" said Pyosz, resigning herself to another scanty night of sleep.

Pank picked the orchard while Pyosz pulled supers. Pank stuck around back at the kitchen, shelling nuts and telling Pyosz about the play someone in her troupe was writing. Pyosz sat at the table with her, cutting nectarines for drying and apples for applesauce. Once these items were in the second stage of processing, Pyosz went to her kiln and felt its lid.

"Completely cool" she said. "You want to see my first run?"

Pank stood and cleared the table swiftly. She turned out to be an ideal person to view the results with: Pyosz wanted to pore over detail of what had worked and what had not, and Pank had infinite patience coupled with curiosity. Pyosz lost all track of time. When she heard the sinner overhead, she said "Oh, stars, the extractor delivery" and ran for her wain.

Whoever was lowering the pallet was not at all skilled in it. It took her four tries, nearly decapitating Pyosz until she got well away from the jichang, and the sinner landed afterward with a sickening lurch. Pyosz wasn't surprised when it was Dekkan, cheeks flaming, who emerged from the hatch. She held out a paper-wrapped bundle and said "I, uh, brought some cauca from the fish docks."

Oh, lev thought Pyosz and she heard Pank's chuckle from the trail.

Dekkan helped her muscle the equipment from the pallet into her wain, and Pyosz of course had to invite her to dinner, adding "I have more work to do than I can quite handle, you'll have to help. What can you cook?"

"Uh..." But Dekkan's gaze had gone to one of the new plates on the table. and she reached out to pick it up. "Don't" said Pyosz sharply. She removed her pottery to a cupboard as Pank set up the extractor.

"I can make risotto" said Dekkan, not meeting Pyosz's eyes. "And, uh, I'm pretty good with salads."

Pyosz took pity on her. "Excellent. Go to the tillage and pull for a salad plus one veggie to mince into the risotto, all right?" Dekkan strode into the dusk.

"Your strainer in the barn?" called out Pank.

"Yes, and buckets that will seal afterward" answered Pyosz. Lowering her voice she said "Cauca is my least favorite seafood, it's so bland and falls apart easily. I'll have to make a marinade that will flavor it without starting the cooking process." Pank was giggling again.

Pyosz set a pan on the stove and added chicken stock to heat for the risotto. Dekkan returned with an armload of produce just as Tu came around the barn. Tu stopped a few feet away from Pank and said "I'm sorry I threw that trowel at you."

"I'm sorry I laughed when your pants split open. Although it was lovely to see your buttery ass" said Pank.

Dekkan had frozen, her eyes showing a lot of white.

"Will you come home now?" asked Tu.

No no no begged Pyosz with her eyes, the two of you have to stay here and eat with us. But Pank laughed and said "I was about to head that way. I'll be back tomorrow, Pyosz. We're going to need at least 20 pounds of honey, we're going to use it to glaze hams this winter. But wait til you see what I have to give you in exchange." Pank picked up the bucket of fruit cores for her pigs, handed a bag of apples to Tu, and they ambled off. A chorus of bleats arose from the kissing gate when they reached it, and Pyosz said to Dekkan "I have to go milk, I set you up to get started on the risotto, please leave the fish to me."

By the time she returned, Dekkan had removed her gilet and rolled up the sleeves of her shati. Pyosz thought irritably I just turned 21, doesn't she realize that means we're out of sui? But Dekkan was visibly sweating as she grinned hopefully at Pyosz. "You, uh, got a radio call, they told me to take a message,"

Oh LEV. "Who was it?" Pyosz was rapidly beating a raw egg into her katts' crumbled fisk as they yowled at her feet.

"Uh, your abba."

"Which one?" Pyosz jerked open her cabin door and turned on the light so she didn't trip over the katts.

"She didn't give me her name. But she asked you to send her her own map and for her birthday she wants a historical record nobody has ever seen."

Pyosz was now back in the kitchen, pushing in next to Dekkan to put fish under the broiler. "Oh, that was Yoj" she said, laughing.

"The Archivist? She asked me a lot of questions about who I was" Dekkan said hoarsely. The risotto looked done and Pyosz turned the burner off under the pot. Clapping Dekkan on her shoulder, Pyosz said "I have to run feed the chickens. Set the table and I'll be right back." She felt pity again at the look of gratitude Dekkan gave her.

The fish was dry, the salad gritty, but the risotto actually good. Pyosz served them sponge cake covered with fresh applesauce for dessert, by which time Dekkan was no long starting every sentence with "Uh" and had even made Pyosz laugh hard with a story from flight school.

"Well, I'm a dreadful host tonight, Dekkan, but I can't linger at the table any longer, I have to unseal those supers over there and let the honey strain overnight" said Pyosz.

"I can help, I don't have to get the sinner back" said Dekkan eagerly. But when they reached the supers, a few doomed bees were sitting sluggishly on the wood.

"Uh -- I swell up enormous when I get bit" said Dekkan, backing away.

"Tell you what, go do the dishes and I'll call you if I need help lifting" said Pyosz. But she was done before Dekkan was. She covered it all with a tarp and returned to the kitchen for half an hour's mercy over tea before walking Dekkan firmly to the jichang.

"You were a big help, lovely company, and I'll eat your risotto any time" she said from a safe distance. "Give my regards to your family." She backed away to the chicken house as the engine turned over, and there was a shower of sparks when the pallet's chains were jerked awkwardly into the air. She suddenly wished she had been on Pya during Maar's first year as a pilot. Except she was just as unavailable then and you had a lot yet to learn she thought.

She was bleary the next morning and longed to go back to bed after milk delivery. Uli caught up with her as she began loading her ferry, handing her cans and saying "I've had a talk with Dekkan, she won't be barging in on you again."

"Oh, Uli, it wasn't that bad" came out of Pyosz's mouth before she could stop herself. She and Uli stared at each other briefly, then they both roared. Pyosz leaned against the gearhouse in the stern, and Uli sat at the edge of the wharf, her feet dangling. With the wisps of fog burned off, the day was already warm and still, the water unusually smooth -- what Skene called sentimental summer.

"I do like having company for dinner, as long as they don't expect to be served or have a kiss afterward" said Pyosz. "I can't speak to the latter, but she did more than her share of cooking."

"She acts like she's too mature to hang out with her buddies who are still in high school, and the ones her age are either at the U in Skene or apprenticing elsewhere on Pya. And my friends don't welcome her tagging along" said Uli. "Plus those damn pilots, the ones who cluster around Abbo, all they talk about is, well, ginny. But what I think what Dekkan really wants is a friend."

"She's got potential" said Pyosz. "Listen, I'm going to Herne Island tonight for the new year, why don't both of you drop in? If you're both invited, it's not a date and your emmas have to let you disappear for a while, right?"

Uli laughed appreciatively. Pyosz dared "But no Sey tagging along with you." Uli's smile vanished.

"Look, I've wanted to explain that to you -- " she began.

"You don't have to. I won't socialize with her, but I'm not asking that of my friends here" said Pyosz. Except Maar would never consider it she thought.

"She -- she and Cremen have been seeing each other" said Uli.

"Ah, well, I had a better opinion of Cremen's judgment than that, but whatever" said Pyosz with a grin. Uli roared again, and said "That's why I haven't invited you back to Gong Tong, it's been bugging me."

Pyosz heard someone calling her name distantly. She looked around and spotted Pank standing on the Saya dock, waving at her. Pyosz waved back and said to Uli "Any time this evening, don't bring food, we'll be up to our ears in it. And Uli? Tell Qoj how you really feel, that's my advice. See you later." She pushed the lever into gear.

Tu was at her tillage and stopped her, saying "There's a monster storm due in after midnight, we need to harvest anything that'll get pulled to bits."

"I was thinking I'd get those rose starts from Isola Fling in the ground today, because it's so warm" said Pyosz in dismay. "I'm not sure what to do with them now."

"Plant 'em" advised Tu. "Stake 'em good and cover them with clear plastic, once the storm's over they'll have a chance to take hold before we get any freeze. I'll do your tillage."

Pank had started her honey through a second strain and was crunching on comb. A sextet of small minute chops lay on the table. Pyosz peppered them heavily, dropped them into a pan with butter, reheated leftover risotto and sliced some of the tomatoes Tu was rescuing to grill in the chop fond with a dash of cream. Pank and Tu joined her for a second breakfast before they all resumed their work. Pank pruned trees on the eastern end of Saya while Pyosz planted the largest of the roses on the other side of the kissing gate. She put two more in front of her kitchen and one in a sheltered dip along the trail to her dock.

Tu moved on to rake out the chicken house and lay down fresh straw. Pyosz transferred her rented equipment to beside the jichang for pickup and turned some of the tillage harvest into dishes for the family meal that evening. Then she and her cousins returned the cleaned supers to her hives, setting out a feed of sugar water against the impending weather the next day. They stripped the orchard of anything likely to fall in wind. Pank said "We need to go work on our place now." Pyosz said "I'll be over within the hour to help."

She rolled her loaded wain straight to her dock, deciding people would want the harvest as is right now. She saved out two bushels of apples and another of chestnuts from what she hauled to the allotment center, taking them instead to Gitta, who crowed when she saw Pyosz coming in the door. "I'm almost out of apples!" she said.

"I have honey, too" said Pyosz. "Do you have any goose or lamb?"

"All gone. But I have a large duck left."

"I'll take it" said Pyosz. She stopped at Koldok's only food stall for a portable lunch, adding extra for her cousins, before heading home. She put plum sauce in the bag with her duck and walked to Herne, deciding to start her bird roasting there before she dashed back to milk.

She cleaned their chicken house and pig barn, hauled pruned limbs to the woodpile, and swept their first floor before goats beckoned. As she was finishing milking, Mill, Oby, Api and Ollow appeared in her barn, carrying bowls and platters. "I have to change, I'll be there soon" she waved them on. She secured her chickens, fed her katts, washed at her sink and loaded a crate with vegetable dishes before strolling to Herne with a sense of accomplished anticipation.

The twilight was dead calm, a stunning night to eat on the porch. Pyosz jarred half her duck fat to take home -- it was so good for frying potatoes -- and gladly hugged Uli and Dekkan when they arrived. Uli had two bottles of sparkling apple wine which were immediately opened and poured. Dekkan was dressed in stylish ordinaries and carried a velvet bag containing a set of silver pennywhistles. She confided in Pyosz "Uli's friends, and Abbo plus some of the pilots, are all going to a big party in Dudor, but we decided to come here instead."

"I'm so glad" said Pyosz, feeding Dekkan a slice of honey-dipped apple and allowing herself to be fed in return.

The radio buzzed three times. Frank called from what she said was a tediously slow labor on Inish Fling. After they clicked off, Nk said to Frahe "Homesick" and Frahe nodded. Halling used her new radio speaker to call from what sounded like a riotous brunch at her Manage. Prl kept shouting in the background "These apples were picked by my baby's hands, a toast to Pyosz!" Yoj whispered "She's been drinking brandy for an hour." Pyosz giggled "She'll have a migraine to start the new year."

The third call was from Maar at her family's manage, sounding utterly happy. Thleen announced "There's a kickball game tonight and then I get to stay up an hour late, even though there's school in the morning!"

"Who is Chloddia playing?" asked Pyosz.

"Abfall and they stink. Adon is on second string because she's not old enough yet but she says they'll get far enough ahead of stinky Abfall that she'll get put in during the second half" said Thleen. "Maar made apple pancakes for breakfast and we put your honey on them, she said we can eat treats from Saya all day."

"We're doing exactly the same here" said Pyosz.

When Dodd began tuning her fiddle using Dekkan's pitch pipe, she said quietly to Dekkan "Pava really misses you." Dekkan looked at her hands. Pyosz knew that Pava was Poth's oldest child, 15, and guessed she had been Dekkan's best friend at school. After a minute of adjusting strings, Dodd said "I was thinking that once the term gets under way, maybe on your day off you could come have lunch at the school and then speak to the fourth graders about what it means to choose the Lofthall as a career." Dekkan's face lit up and she looked at Dodd, nodding.

Frahe brought out her massive copper drum and music commenced, bouncing through the hushed dark to cliffside rocks and back. Once during a lull between songs, they heard a faint snatch of leviathan song, which made them all laugh hysterically for reasons Pyosz couldn't explain. Briel, who was wiry and slight, came to sit in front of Pyosz and lean back against her, dispelling any trace of Pyosz missing her Skene family.

Shortly past 10:00, Pyosz felt a breeze blow through a gap at the back of her untucked shati. A shower of leaves from the hickory nearest the porch made Oby turn her head and look at her watch. "I think maybe it's early" she said. Five minutes later, a distant flash of lightning stopped Dodd mid-song.

"I don't want to ride ferries during a storm" said Briel, an unfamiliar anxiety on her face.

"I know" said Dodd, putting away her fiddle. By the time they got to Pyosz's kitchen, the rain had arrived and the wind was already alarming. "Don't walk us to the dock" commanded Mill, "we've got each other. Get indoors and stay there."

Pyosz felt a wave of gratitude for her radiator and the wood paneling of her tiny metal box. She used her chamberpot and invited the katts under her blanket before turning out her lamp. "Happy new year" she whispered to the owl, wherever she passed a night like this.

Copyright 2009 Maggie Jochild.