Sunday, January 10, 2010


(Sugarnose and Clabber)

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)
Owl Manage on Saya Island, original plans
Saya Island Eastern End After Development
Map of Pya with Description of Each Island
Map of Skene (but not Pya)
Map of Saya Island and Environs When Pyosz First Arrived
Map of Saya Island, Teppe and Pea Pods Environs After Development
Skene Character Lineage at Midway Through Pya Novel
Skene, Chapter One (With Cultural Notes in Links)


Thleen landed at 10:00 a.m. on a jichang where several adults were gathered to greet her. She hugged everybody, even the signaler, and exclaimed "There's so many trees!" She asked to see Ziri right away, and Maar said "Might as well visit the school." Pyosz was very affected by how Ziri and Thleen kept touching each other's faces. Thleen was enrolled in Dodd's class at Dodd's suggestion, technically second grade but Ziri had been bumped up when she moved to Pya and Dodd wanted to keep them together. Dodd also wanted Thleen under her direct supervision. "You'll have to catch her up fast, it's challenging but interesting work and from my conversation with her leraar in Skene, she's bright enough to handle it." The furrow reappeared in Maar's brow.

Thleen also wanted to go see Koldok's kickball field, although Maar said "No kickball except at recess, your after school time is already committed." Thleen said "But we can still go to games, right?"

"On weekends."

Thleen leaned far over the side of the ferry to look into the kuono shallows, and ran up the trail ahead of them. Qala and Lawa carried her bags to the Manage while Maar and Pyosz gave Thleen the grand tour. Thleen had been almost overwhelmed at the news she'd have a bedroom with four walls, and had pleaded for "a little one." This meant the back upstairs room on the north where Vants had previously slept.

Pyosz's bed from her cabin was relocated to the bedroom next door, because Klosa had come up with a clever bed for Thleen, a pair of twins that trundled one under the other to take up less room during the day. Pyosz had also bought Thleen her own dresser, a small desk, and a child-sized rocker. She hung a pair of shelves over the desk and left refinishing of the furniture for after Thleen could get there to make choices. However, there were new kickball-green sheets on her mattresses and quilts in a vivid woods and creek design.

Maar had moved her clothes chest and personal belongings into the bedroom with the small bed next door, at Pyosz's suggestion that she have her own space as well as that with Thleen. Of course, her imagination drifted toward scenarios where it would somehow be necessary for Maar to share her own double bed, but she squelched those. Under the same roof was glory enough.

Maar would now be sinning five days a week, with a long lunch/nap break followed by flying the school sinner in late afternoons. She had to work hauling on Roku afternoons and keep the toxics run on Shmonah, plus all the clerical and planning duties cobbled together in her job. She would no longer receive huolon pay or the bonuses from picking up runs on Skene. Pyosz refused to take rent from her, or allotment -- she suspected Maar's allotment mostly went to the Manage on Chloddia and that would not change -- but said all the fish Maar could funnel their way would be great.

Fohol declined to take the huolon run with Abbo, and a younger pilot was moved up to that position. Not Dekkan -- Uli had insisted it not be Dekkan.

Maar would be waking up around the same time as Pyosz and leaving to sin, which meant it would be up to Qala and Lawa to rouse, dress, and feed Thleen in the mornings. Pyosz would see her to school after milk delivery and meet her in the afternoons following school to begin homework and tutoring. Maar would resume this after she got home until dinner. Maar hoped to set aside most of every weekend for Thleen to play and visit, but "we'll see how she does." Thleen was to call home twice a week, write letters home weekly, and her sojourn on Pya could be arbitrarily revoked by her emmas at any point. Dodd's weekly assessments would also be forwarded on to her emmas.

Thleen's first day at school, Dodd put her and Ziri at a desk together with the warning that if they talked together too much, she'd separate them. They spent a lot of time breaking into conversation and then abruptly shushing each other. On the ferry after school, Ziri commandeered pushing the lever, condescendingly informing Thleen she "had to learn how to do it". Pyosz chatted with Koben, ordinarily drowned out by Ziri, as she delivered them to a shouting Meamea on the Kacang dock.

On the hop back to Saya, Thleen complained "Ziri has a friend here instead of me, Thont, they play together at recess." Pyosz recognized Thont as Poth's middle child.

"Well, but I'm sure they included you, right?"

"Yeah" said Thleen grudgingly. "But Ziri is my best friend and I want her to pick me first."

"You're still her best friend. It's good she's making other friends, you can never have too many friends. And here you've got a head start on being a new friend with Thont. I mean, if Ziri likes her, she must be pretty great, and I bet she likes you a bunch already. The three of you can be friends together" encouraged Pyosz.

"You mean like Yoj, Halling, and Bux were?" mused Thleen. Sort of.

Pyosz set Thleen's bookbag on the table and was about to start them on tutoring when Lawa emerged from her room carrying a kickball. Thleen was electrified, and Lawa said "I set up a goat-proof net in the pasture, she need 15 minutes to blow out energy, she'll study better." Pyosz suddenly remembered how Lawa would wrestle with her after school, or challenger her to a race up The Shatters. "Fifteen minutes" she repeated.

When they returned, they were red-faced and limber. Qala had a bean-paste on toast sandwich and glass of milk on the table. Thleen drained the milk, and as Qala refilled it, Thleen said "They were doing fractions at school, I don't even know what that is."

"Eat your sandwich" said Pyosz as she went to the kitchen for several small apples, a cutting board and knife -- how Halling had begun teaching her fractions. Qala and Lawa began dinner but dropped in comments regularly. At one point, Lawa leaned across the table toward to Thleen and said "Did you hear the one about the mathematician who was constipated?...She worked it out with a pencil." After a few seconds, comprehension hit Thleen's face and she went into hysterics.

Several apples later, Thleen had grasped enough to start working on the homework problems. Bright indeed thought Pyosz. They had finished spelling and were about to start geography when Maar came in the door.

"Siba, siba!" shouted Thleen. "Did you hear about the maths woman who was like constipated? She STUCK A PENCIL UP HER BUTT!" As she collapsed in giggles, Maar looked at Pyosz with utter bewilderment.

"Lost in translation" said Pyosz. She handed Maar her tutoring notebook and said "I gotta go milk, have fun."

After dinner, Maar did the dishes while Thleen carried out compost and fed the katts, her new chores. Maar offered to take a bath with Thleen and Thleen ran upstairs for her sailboat. Once in her schmatta, Thleen claimed Maar's lap on the porch, wrapped in a quilt, while they all sang and looked at the stars. Maar went to be at the same time as Thleen, happily worn out. Pyosz had trouble dropping off, keenly aware of Maar at the other end of the hall, and finally retrieved her rice paddy workers' novel from under her mattress.

On Roku they all went to Market Day together, where Thleen was a big hit. Pyosz found a wool cap almost identical to her own except it was a deep blue-green and Thleen wore it nonstop. Maar had to leave for work at noon, and while Qala and Lawa took their market barterings home, Pyosz led Thleen to Klosa's. "Once you put back on weight" -- Thleen's thinness inder her shati had made Qala's face go grim -- "you'll need clothes to fit your growing bones" said Pyosz. Thleen's taste was garish and ran heavily to green, but Pyosz agreed to all her selections for play and school clothes. When it came to a new set of silks, however, Pyosz exerted sublte pressure to guide their eventual purchase.

Back on the street, where it had started raining, Pyosz said "Now for some otos."

"Real otos?" breathed Thleen. "You just got me these new kiatu" -- pea-green and already muddy.

"Pea Pod folks wear otos" said Pyosz. They caught the bus for Pertama, Thleen charming the driver with a description of her own toy bus. Pyosz used her leather allotment for not only otos but also a guibba just like the pilots wore, only child-sized -- whispering her order to the clerk so Thleen wouldn't hear. Thleen picked out a few new sokken, and they arranged to pick up the leather goods in a few days.

Pyosz then took her to the toy store, saying "you can tell me what you love most for future gifts, but right now we have to choose something for Koben's birthday next week." It was near torture for Thleen, and she finally settled on getting Koben "the toy I want most, for my very next present okay?" It was a metal katt which could be wound up with a key, whereupon it would twitch its tail, waggle filament whiskers, then pounce forward suddenly. Pyosz bought a second to send Ehall and secretly paid for a third, to be retrieved later.

They stopped at the lentil patty stand for a snack before heading home. Ziri was waving from her dock, so they ferried on and Thleen was dropped off to play until dinner. Pyosz put Thleen's clothes on her bed and went downstairs to terrorize the Manage katts with the new toy.

On Sju, Maar reviewed Thleen's spelling over breakfast, which she zoomed through letter-perfect. Maar loaded them all into the sinner she'd brought home, with a stop on Kacang to pick up the Heaps children, and they spent the day on Trumpinne. Thleen had never been to a carnival and she threw up after two rides on the spinning chicken, but Qala said it was because of a bad candied apple and gave her yam crunch as a consolation. That night was a dance in Sepek. After dinner -- where Thleen's appetite for healthy food was unabated -- they again picked up the Kacang crowd, this time with adults attending, and converged on the crowded warehouse. Pyosz danced with Koben twice, baby Ura once in a slow waltz, but mostly thundered around the room with Maar. Ziri, Thleen and Thont invented their own steps in the middle of the floor.

Sitting at the table to rehydrate, Pyosz said to Tu "Vants is extremely in demand as a partner, have you noticed?" Vants was wearing silks of a delicate shell pink, and each of her many tiny braids was tied with a different color of silk ribbon.

"I think she's getting sweet on someone but I can never settle on who it is among the crowd" said Tu. Then, in a segue that gave Pyosz pause, "How is it for you, living with Maar now?"

Pyosz tried on several answers before simply admitting "Wonderful. Her and Thleen, my abbas, it's like it was meant to be."

The next week, however, Thleen began complaining steadily about having to be tutored every afternoon. The third day, Maar ran her hands through her hair and said "I don't know if I should tell you this, sibu, but if you don't pass that test in Med, our emmas will probably never let you come back to Pya again. I'm trying to help your future here."

That familiar deep furrow now struck Thleen's forehead, above terrified brown eyes. Pyosz reached out her thumb to gently smooth it and said "But you will pass that test, you're smart as can be." The complaining did not resume, which Pyosz found a terrible sign in such a young child.

That Roku, they left Market early so Maar could go with them to pick up Thleen's otos and guibba. Thleen was nearly airborne with pride. They stopped at the ejida to pick up bottles and kidding supplies, because Pyosz's does were approaching their due dates. Lawa had gotten into a conversation with Poth and told them to go on without her.

Because it was Koben's birthday weekend, Pyosz had arranged for the Heaps children to have a sleepover that night. On Sju, Thleen would spent the day on Kacang, and others would arrive there for Koben's party that evening. After picking up the Heaps, Pyosz left them with Qala while she and Vants wandered among her herd, feeling udders and bellies, making sure all was well.

They met Lawa struggling up the trail from the dock carrying the shell of a two-person wooden sailboat, with a bulging pack on her back. Pyosz and Vants took the boat from her and went on with it toward the Manage. "The bottom is completely gone from this thing, you'll never be able to repair it" said Pyosz.

"I know, it hit a boulder in the river. Sides are sturdy though, and I had an idea" said Lawa. She directed them to set it on a sandy patch between the porch and jichang. "Tiller's intact, and I could sink a pole in the middle here to hold a sail" she said. "For the little ones to play on."

"Oho" said Pyosz. She went to hunt out an old sheet and pole for the sail. Lawa sawed away any prokecting bits of wood from the hull. Vants attached brackets to the bottom and drove long stakes through these into the ground, anchoring the boat down. The children playing in the upstairs hall spotted them from the windowseat and clattered downstairs with a torrent of questions. Lawa handed them sandpaper and set them to work.

An hour later, Pyosz finished painting an owl on the sail and had begun a magical map on a square of canvas. Qala was hauling sand from a deep bed of it near the cliffs to pour into the bottom of the craft. Vants had rifled recycling for scraps, and was making both a lens-less spyglass and a pretend compass. It was a warm enough day for Lawa to strip the children down to knickers before handing each a pot of paint and a brush.

While they waited for paint to dry, Pyosz insisted the children have an early bath, promising they could put back on real clothes and sail all evening. She put them into a single tub, where Thleen said "Look, Meamea's ginny is like mine!"

"Yep" said Pyosz. She did her best to scrub daubs from all over the small bodies. After half an hour, Meamea suddenly cried "Uh-oh, I have to go!", clutching at her crotch. But Pyosz didn't have a chance to lift her out and carry her to the privy. From the unconcerned expressions on the others' faces, it occurred to Pyosz one or more of them may have already relieved themselves in the bathwater. She pulled the plug and had them all stand for a final rinse before drying and dressing.

Ziri and Thleen instantly made a power grab to be "captain", but Lawa divided up the fun parts: Pilot on tiller, rigger on sail, navigator with map and compass, and lookout with spyglass. They were forced to cooperate for determining where to explore and encouraged to rotate duties, which they did gracelessly at first but with fervor once Pyosz began a running narration from the porch. When she left to milk, Maar took over. The children had to be peeled away under protest to eat dinner, even with promises of ice cream after.

After a long argument during the meal, they agreed to name their craft The Saya. Upon resuming her journey, the adults sat on the porch to watch and listen. Lawa left for a while, and Pyosz spotted her at the corner of the house with a burlap bag over her top half, crawling toward the Saya's stern in the dark. Pyosz assisted by calling out to the lookout that there seemed to be a whirlpool on front of the boat, and all hands fell to, eyes forward. Lawa sprang with a roar on Thleen at the tiller as Maar shouted "Leviathan!"

Thleen came close to bloodying Lawa's nose in the ensuing shrieking melee. Ziri lost map and compass overboard, and Meamea wet her pants. Koben, however, took off in a dead run toward the dock, and it was all Pyosz could do to catch her before she reached the ferry.

After that, the children took turns being the lev, and their terror never seemed to abate despite knowing what was coming. Bedtime was late. Ziri shared Thleen's room, Maar went to her own bed, and Pyosz took Koben and Meamea in with her, sandy as they were.

When they woke up, a squall had hit. Meamea worried about their boat washing away as Qala served pancakes. Pyosz was secretly glad the children were going to Kacang if outdoor play was restricted by weather. After a peaceful lunch, Maar did laundry while Pyosz and Vants made the rounds of her does again.

Borage was missing. They searched the escarpment, rain soaking their heads because they lowered the hoods on their burzakas to see better. They beat through the pasture and began tracking the edge of the woods, finally finding her tucked into a thicket on her side, clearly in labor.

"She's early!" said Pyosz, cradling her head. Vants lifted Borage competently and said "Run ahead to the barn, heat some burlap sacks so we can rub her down." Borage was placed in a nest of clean straw, but once dry and warm, she insisted on standing.

"That's good" said Vants. "They deliver on their feet."

After a couple of hours, Pyosz brought in the other goats early, sequestering the pregnant does in friendship clusters 3 and 4 to a stall. She gave them a warm mash, though Borage refused to eat. Her fur carried the herbal odor which had no doubt prompted her name, but Pyosz thought she could smell something else about her, too. Vants said she knew what she meant.

The labor was slow but Vants said nothing was awry. They sent the others on to the party without them. Pyosz milked and returned to murmur reassurance to Borage, who was among the more stoic of the herd. She delivered a beautifully spotted kid just past 7:00, a baby doeling whose efforts to stand and nurse brought tears to Pyosz's eyes. They rubbed down the kid and Pyosz entered her in the logbook, nameless as yet because Pyosz wanted to share the naming with her family.

Vants said "Someone now has to sleep in the barn, and you need to keep the pregnant does in from pasture. I'll alternate nights with you. When do you want me to start?"

"Tomorrow night, I want to be out here tonight" said Pyosz. She went to the house for quilts and a pillow, bringing back a thermos of tea and plates of dinner left for them in the aga. They ate sitting on the feedbox.

"I wish I'd seen Killer when she was that little and wobbly" said Pyosz.

"You're going to breed her next year, right? She's nice lines" said Vants. She left for Teppe, saying "Good job. Call me when another starts."

The family returned from Kacang an hour later, Thleen looking drowsy until she spotted the baby. She fell to her knees and cuddled the kid, saying "Can I have her, please?"

"Well, no" laughed Pyosz. "She belongs to Borage for now, she needs a lot that only her emma can give her." Thleen also begged to sleep in the barn with Pyosz, and after discussion, Maar said all right, she'd join them. She made a second pallet on hay in the loft, with Thleen claiming the middle. It wasn't quite what Pyosz wanted but it was a step closer.

In the morning Stutter and Spatter were both restless, standing in odd postures. Qala called the rest of the family to have their Shmonah gathering moved to Saya from Herne. Spatter was clearly in labor by mid-afternoon, delivering a pair of black twins after everyone left that evening. "You get not just Spatter for your herd but two kids, one a buckling!" Pyosz told Vants. She had trouble leaving the barn to sleep in the house, but Vants promised to wake her if help was needed.

At dawn, Pyosz discovered Vants rubbing down a brown and white kid already nursing from Stutter. "She went fast" Vants said. The kid was accidentally dislodged from Sutter's udder and gave a bleat.

"Did you hear that?" demanded Pyosz. She scooped the kid into her arms, causing it to bleat several more times, a staccato half-repetition after each full bleat. "It's just like Echo! Echo was her abba, and she inherited it." Pyosz burst into tears, rubbing her face against the still-damp little head and breaking her own rule to declare "I'm naming you right now, you're Ditto!" Thank the stars you're a doeling she thought.

Over the next week, Pyosz barely got her baking chores done and nothing at all else in the house. She took afternoon naps to be fresh for tutoring, but retreated to the barn right after dinner. On Iki a kid went missing at night, and they finally found it trotting around the outside pen, somehow having squeezed through the doors. Pyosz whispered in its year "Don't you know you're just the size for a particular owl's dinner?"

On Empat, Dancer's labor didn't progress. Vants said she was blocked and called the vet, but she wasn't available -- it was lambing time all over Pya. Poth said to bring her to the ejida, and Maar dropped in with a lighter to haul Pyosz and Dancer to Pertama. Once in the ejida barn, however, Dancer suddenly began gushing blood. Someone said her uterus had ruptured and they cut her open, but both Dancer and kid died. Maar flew Pyosz home, bloodsoaked and weeping, and Qala helped her into a bath.

After that, Pyosz couldn't relax if a doe was in labor, which one or more was around the clock. But by Sju evening, each of the 35 does who had been successfully bred -- Molars had failed to become pregnant, all had delivered. Or died thought Pyosz. There were four sets of twins, meaning 38 kids were now crowded into the barn, They were not going to be able to release the kids into pasture for at least three weeks, so the does would have to come and go through the kissing gate between grazing to feed their young.

Of the 38 kids, 18 were doelings, 20 bucklings. Vants had offered to take five of the bucklings to raise for fur a year before slaughter, and Pyosz gratefully accepted. After dinner on Sju, Pyosz called her family to the barn where Vants had already separated the bucklings away. Pyosz opened her logbook and said "Time for naming. Each of us gets to name 3 kids, something not already in use."

"And not goofy" Maar said, looking at Thleen.

"If you want to name twins, that counts as two. And since I already named Ditto and I know them all best -- well, with Vants -- I get to start. The little buff one who escaped into the night, I've been calling her Owlbait ever since. And Yams' new kid, I want to call her Rutabaga." Pyosz entered these in the logbook and said "Next?"

Maar exercised joshing persuasion on Thleen until her choice of names became more creative than Blackie and Tiny. Pyosz particularly like Qala's monikers for a pair of mismatched but devoted twins, Sugarnose and Clabber. She also thought Maar's selection of Caramel was very apt for that kid. In the end, additonal names in her logbook read Soots, Hothead, Halfdipped, Inks, Endive, Stormborn, Fogling, Urchin, Galaxy, Sokken, Bumble, and Ghost.

"Wait, what about all those over there?" asked Thleen, pointing to the bucklings. After a long silence, Pyosz said "Those will never be able to get pregnant, so they'll never have udders or milk, they're bucklings."

"What does that mean? Are they Ys?" Thleen's face was red but challenging.

"Buckling is the term we use for goats who are kind of like what we call Ys among humans" said Maar.

"So because they can't have babies, they don't deserve names?" Thleen was disbelieving.

"That's not why we don't name them" said Pyosz, feeling faint. "We don't have enough pasture to keep them around if they can't make milk. I'm under contract to Pya to give people either milk or goat meat. We -- I'm going to have to kill those kids when they're only a few months old. That's where roast kid comes from. If I don't name them, it's a tiny bit easier."

"Only the bucklings" repeated Thleen. She turned to look at Vants, who nodded sadly.

The afternoon before, deprived of a visit with Ziri and Maar off at work, Thleen had gone to play with the goats in the pasture. An hour later she had burst into the barn and said to Pyosz "I went through the woods and I saw Vants at the hot springs!"

"Yes? She goes there often, what about it?"

"I...I hid behind a tree" said Thleen, embarrassed.

Pyosz looked at her now. "Why would you do that, honey?"

"She's -- her ginny is like mine, only way lots bigger" said Thleen uneasily.

"Oh. Yeah, she's a Y. And all of you will grow at just the right rate as you get older" said Pyosz. "Have you never seen a naked Y before?"

Thleen shook her head. Pyosz said "Well, Qala is also a Y. And my sibemmas Dodd and Oby, and my cousin Frahe. You'll see all of us naked when it's warm enough to start swimming again."

"Is that all of the Ys?" asked Thleen.

"That you know in my family, yes -- oh, and Ngall's new baby, Omill. I know people tell you it's rude to ask about it, but if you are a child Y and you have questions, it's fine to bring it up. It would be fine to ask Vants or Qala or Dodd anything you want to know, I can make sure they know to answer your questions, would you like that?"

Thleen had nodded vigorously. Pyosz had passed it on to her family and to Maar.

Now, in the barn, Thleen turned to meet Qala's eyes. Qala said gently "We're not goats. We are treasured and loved exactly for who we are. It's very sad for the bucklings. but nobody sees us that way." Lawa's fingers laced through the curls on the back of Qala's head.

Thleen took a deep breath and said to Pyosz "I can't believe you kill babies like this!" before bursting into tears. Maar pulled her into her lap, giving Pyosz an anguished look.

Pyosz handed her log book to Vants and left the barn. She went through the kissing gate, noting fog pouring into the pasture from the beaches north and south like milk trickling into a pail. She didn't think about being alone in the woods until she was halfway through. At the springs she stripped quickly and went all the way under, holding her breath until her shivering slowed.

Half an hour later Vants appeared, carrying towels. "Figured you'd be here" she said, getting into the water with a sigh. After a minute she said "That's a good set of names we came up with. I'm going to call on you all next spring with my own kidding."

"Is she all right?" asked Pyosz.

"Better than ever" said Vants. "You know, she's undernourished in a lot of ways. I always had abba Ng, and two sibemmas, and Dodd, I can't imagine going 8 years in the kind of isolation Thleen has, it's nearly criminal." Her voice held anger.

"Maar's done the best the could -- "

"I'm not blaming Maar, she's too young herself to have had to emma as much as she does. Anyhow, Thleen's getting what she needs now and sometimes scabs will be ripped off in that process" said Vants.

"I ardently wish I could keep those bucklings, I feel like a -- a leviathan every time I look at them" said Pyosz. "Which is how Thleen thinks of me now, I guess."

"You've been the golden doorway, for her and for Maar. She just found out you're not perfect, is all. She'll be fine tomorrow. That is, if you don't pull away from her" said Vants. "Listen, I have not enough to do and your load has ramped up this week. Why don't you let me take the afternoon milking until your tillage gets planted and the kids can go out to pasture all day?"

Pyosz grinned at her cousin. "What are you going to name that buckling twin who came from Spatter?"

"Zero" said Vants, and they laughed together.

The following weekend, the Heaps children came over on Sju to play sailing. When rain drove them indoors, they rattled the floorboards in the upstairs hall. Pyosz had bought a used upright piano which sat against an inner wall downstairs, and Thleen had begun practicing from Dodd's music book every night after dinner while dishes were washed.

Thleen and Ziri now came downstairs to "do a duet" on the piano. Koben and Meamea followed, bored. The racket became cacophonous, and Maar offered to help them all make sock puppets. Qala gave her a grateful look.

After the Heaps ad been returned home, Maar went upstairs for something. She quickly reappeared at the head of the stairs and yelled "Thleen! Get the lev up here right now!" Thleen blanched and looked at Pyosz pleadingly. "Come on" said Pyosz, holding her hand as she trudged toward the stairs. Qala and Lawa followed.

Maar pointed to one wall. Thleen's nightstand had been dragged underneath the spot where a half-ladder nailed to the upper wall led to the attic's trap door. The door was ajar.

"You climbed up there?" yelled Maar. "You could have fallen and broke your neck!"

"It was Ziri's idea, she wanted to see what was up there" deflected Thleen urgently.

"Don't shove this off on Ziri, this is your Manage, your responsibility -- " ranted Maar, lifting one foot to the top of the nightstand.

Pyosz interrupted "Maar, I don't think it'll hold your weight."

"Gimme a boost, then" said Maar, glaring at Thleen. Pyosz moved the nightstand and clasped her hands together. As Maar clambered up Pyosz, she continued "If you think you and Ziri can do any levvin' thing that come into your hot little brains, you are in for a rude awakening, and I'm just the one to deliver it." She scaled the ladder, aiming her tirade at Thleen. "You got no levvin' reason to be in this garret, there's not a -- " She had poked her head through the trap, and Pyosz heard a strange squeak from her. In the next instant, Maar slid down the ladder and fell the rest of the way onto Pyosz.

"Close it, close that door!" she gibbered. Pyosz was moaning and trying to push Maar off her. Maar slid into the floor and crawled a few feet away, repeating "Close that door, before it comes down here!"

"What is it?" said Pyosz, scrambling to her feet. "Shu?"

"Owls" whispered Maar, her eyes glued on the trap door. Qala pulled Thleen behind her. Pyosz asked Lawa "Can you get me up to the ladder?"

"Don't step on my face like Maar did with you" reminded Lawa. Pyosz lifted herself and before reaching the top of the ladder, she extended her arm to gingerly slide the door shut. She jumped down nimbly and said to Maar "Owls, plural?"

"A nest of 'em" said Maar, finally getting to her feet. She wheeled on Thleen. "Did you go up in there with them?"

"No, I started to but then Meamea was going to cry because she was too little to go, and Ziri called her a baby, and Meamea said she was going to tell, so we stopped" blurted Thleen.

"You'd have been ripped to shreds" Maar hissed in her face. Qala put her arms around Thleen's shoulders. "We sleep with locked doors tonight up here" said Maar, heading downstairs with backward glances.

"She's kinda got a thing about owls" Pyosz whispered to Lawa.

"Yeah, but we can't have 'em in the Manage. I'll call Poth tomorrow, see what she says" offered Lawa. Qala told Thleen to carry her nightstand back to her room.

On Moja when Pyosz went to meet Thleen after school, a vaguely familiar woman was standing on the wharf. She approached Pyosz and introduced herself as Ulcha. "Poth called me. Said you have an owl problem?"

"Oh, Ulcha, one of the -- citizens of Chwet" recollected Pyosz. "Yes, come on with us."

At the Manage, Ulcha asked to go upstairs and investigate by herself. Thleen stood near the bottom of the stairs, listening intently but apparently hearing nothing. When the front door opened suddenly, Thleen jumped back. Frank said "Hey, didn't mean to startle you."

"Come in, have some tea" called Pyosz.

"Just one cup" said Frank. "I'm on my way home from a long hard delivery in Talaba, I'm almost out on my feet. Baby and emma okay, eventually."

"Glad to hear it" said Pyosz, putting a pot on the table. Qala followed with cream and sliced lemon. Lawa began piling cookies on a plate. Thleen whispered loudly "Here she comes" and scooted into the kitchen.

"Here who -- " began Frank when her eyes met those of Ulcha. "Oh. Hi. I remember you from school, Ulcha."

"Frank" said Ulcha. "I'd heard you were back, that's good news. For us all, I mean."

There was an awkward silence, broken by Thleen saying "Did you see the owls?"

"I did" said Ulcha, accepting the chair Pyosz offered. "You have three owlets and a young first or second nest emma, not yet reached her full growth."

"I don't think Maar saw the emma" said Pyosz. She would have passed out if she had.

"Likely not" agreed Ulcha. "They're very effective at defending their young," Pyosz was glad Maar wasn't home to hear that.

Ulcha reached around to her pack. "I took a video."

"Wow" said Qala. "Wasn't it dark in the attic?"

"We have a night vision camera" said Ulcha diffidently. "I can play it back on the small screen here, if you squeeze in." Frank immediately pressed close to Ulcha. Pyosz went to the other side and put Thleen in front of her. Ulcha smelled unusual, but very good, Pyosz thought.

The video began with Ulcha whispering the date, where she was, and what she was investigating. A scientist thought Pyosz. It took a second to get used to the strange colors of the night vision recording. There were some small sounds that Pyosz thought might be owl vocalizations except she realized they were coming from behind the camera, and the trap door wasn't opened yet.

The trap door went up slowly, and a furious-eyed concave face filled the lens. They all leaned backward in alarm. The behind-camera sounds increased, and the angry owl face bobbed from side to side. After two long minutes, the emma retreated and there was a glimpse of three fuzzy blobs with the same sharp eyes. The camera rotated slowly, stopping at a shaft of light coming from an air vent. There was an irregular gap beside the vent. Ulcha said "My guess is that a shu chewed its way into your garret, the owl noticed the hole -- they don't miss much -- and followed, killing the shu and deciding it was a great place to build a nest."

"So, the owl being there means no shu up top" remarked Lawa.

"Well..." Pyosz didn't want to offend Ulcha. "We'll need that space eventually, and I'm not sure how hygenic a nest overhead will be..."

"Once they fledge, it will be easy to clear the nest and patch the hole" said Ulcha. "Have to do it at night when she's out, though."

"She's pretty daring, moving in this close to that giant in the oak tree next door" remarked Qala, moving back across the table. Everyone separated except Frank stayed close to Ulcha, not looking at her.

Ulcha raised her eyebrows. "The giant owl is almost certainly her mate" she said. "These are her young, too."

Thleen whispered to Qala "Does that mean the giant owl of Saya is a Y?" "Indeed" said Qala. Thleen's face shone.

"I'll be glad to come back when the owlets are grown and clear the garret for you" said Ulcha. "I'd love some footage of your alpha owl as well."

"Stay for dinner" urged Pyosz. "I'm not sure it will be good for Maar to actually see that video, but she ought to have the choice. In the meantime, Thleen, we have tutoring to do."

"Stay, do, they're amazing cooks here" Frank said, her first utterance in quite a while. "I'll keep you company until then."

"I've been curious about your goat barn, if it could be part of your owl's territory. I'd like to check it for access points in the loft" said Ulcha.

Pyosz was suddenly scared for Owlbait and the other newborns. "Please go look" she said.

"I'll show you" said Frank, on her feet instantly. After the two went out the front door, Qala said to Lawa "Well."

"Well what?" asked Thleen.

"Well it's time to start dinner" said Lawa, ruffling her hair.

Maar came home with samaki. She waffled back and forth about watching the video, and finally did sitting almost in Pyosz's lap. She was drained of color for half an hour afterward.

During dinner they learned that Ulcha's dream was to be a vet, but the only place to get a degree was on Skene. "I couldn't handle living there, even temporarily. So I'm apprenticed after a fashion to one of the ejida vets, and I get barter enough for now."

"Spealking of which, what barter do you want for this consultation?" asked Pyosz. "Cheese, nuts, vinegar, jam... "

"You are the grandchild of Yoj, correct?" asked Ulcha. "We hunger for her translations of early texts, and her essays on Skene history. Are there books of hers which are not yet in the library?"

"Uh...yes, I have two upstairs" said Pyosz, glancing at Qala.

"The loan of them for a month is what I ask" said Ulcha. "We'll all have a chance to read them by then."

"Done" said Pyosz. "And I'll keep you in mind when future books come my way."

Frank burst out angrily "It's a disgrace that Pya has not been able to create its own university!" They regarded her with mild surprise, and Maar replied "Well, that could change within the year, eh?"

After dinner, Frank said she would walk Ulcha to the ferry landing. Maar looked after them and said "Huh." Thleen made her way to the piano and Maar retreated to the sink to do dishes. That night as she went to bed, Maar picked up the poker from beside the hearth and carried it with her. Pyosz managed not to giggle until she was out of hearing.

Copyright 2010 Maggie Jochild.


Blue said...

LOVE the x's and y's talk.

Margot said...

_I_ love the owlets in Owl Manage. Perfect!

Maggie Jochild said...

Blue, I think you already knew Thleen was a Y. And Vants. Anyone else caught off guard?

Owls are a rich symbol to be delved.

The next chapter is a little tough, so I skipped ahead to write the section after that. Will go back to fill in maybe tomorrow, but it will be a longer than usual wait for #52.

Margot said...

Yup, me. Thleen was a total surprise. Vants was more like, "oh, right".

Someone I know says OWL stands for "Older Wiser Lesbian". In her case, two out of three ain't bad.