Monday, February 22, 2010


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)


Maar's ability to focus was being tested these days as she moved through waves of sexual anticipation and memory during her work hours. There was one particular recurrence of lovemaking with Pyosz that she had to banish from her thoughts as dangerous distraction whenever she was flying: How, at a certain stage, Pyosz would begin repeating her name in a pleading tone, with a small catch in her voice between the two syllables of Maar. Remembering it made Maar instantly crazy with desire.

She kept telling Pyosz she hadn't known making love could be like this. Pyosz always replied "I know, darling, me too" but Maar didn't think Pyosz really got it.

After dinner as the five of them cleared the table and did dishes, Pyosz would report on that day's advances in preparation for the partnership ceremony. She and Prl were conversing almost every morning as the day approached and especially as the menu for the dinner solidified. Thleen was immensely gratified to learn that Pyosz planned for an "ice cream buffet" during the first big intermission at the after-ceremony dance.

Pyosz was scrubbing a gratin pan as she said "Emma and abba both keep asking me for an estimate of how many people we think will actually attend. I don't know what to tell them." They tossed around numbers for a few minutes. As Maar spread a towel on the rack to dry, she said to Pyosz "There's one person I specifically don't want to attend, and I think you should ask Uli to tell her she's not welcome."

Pyosz, startled, said "Who? Uli?"

"No, I said have Uli ask her to stay away" corrected Maar. "I'm talking about Sey. I don't want to see her."

Pyosz laughed uncertaintly, studying Maar's face. "Are you serious?"

"As a stone floor. She has no right to be near you or among us on that day." Maar was trying to keep from sounding defensive.

"Is this jealousy?" said Pyosz, still disbelieving. Thleen was listening intently, and Qala glanced at Lawa.

"So what if it is? I'm entitled. You almost partnered with her, and I might never have gotten close to you." Crazy idea, she and Pyosz were meant to be, but Sey still was tainted with that past risk.

After a potent silence, Pyosz said "I think if it matters to you so much, you should be the one to talk to Uli." She couldn't resist adding "Uli your ex."

Maar jerked her head in Thleen's direction, urging Pyosz toward discretion, but Pyosz was trying on the idea of being angry and didn't listen. "I mean, honestly, Maar, with Fohol and Abbo there, at least three of your past lovers will be up close and personal to us that day, one of them my own levvin' cousin. I've never asked you to name all of your eight, but for all I know, every one of them will be there. And you think it's appropriate to ban Sey?"

Qala said to Thleen "It's your night to carry out the compost. Come on, I'll go with you and carry the flash," She had to shove Thleen's shoulder to pry her from the kitchen. Near the front door, Thleen whispered something but the only word Maar caught was "Abbo?" Lawa melted out the back door, and Maar faced Pyosz alone.

"I was never in love with any of them" she said, squaring her shoulders. "They know it, and you know it."

"But it'll get around, that Sey was deliberately excluded, you know how people talk" argued Pyosz. "Why give her that much emphasis? I absolutely never think about her, Maar, it's as if it wasn't me who ever spent a minute with her. I don't understand how you can be threatened, it makes no sense."

"Oh and stars would plummet from the sky if I ever dared not be sensible" burst out Maar. "I have to never make a mistake, never lose my cool, never let anybody down. You get to blow out steam and have irrational passions, we're all supposed to understand when you don't mean it, you spend two levvin' years spreading your legs for that user and then when she dumps you, I have to not carry any residue at all about you having once been head over heels about her. Well, I get to be unfair here, I've earned it and you can just DEAL with it, for once." Her face was red, her arms crossed tight across her chest.

Pyosz gaped at her. "Well...all right, yes, you are usually steady as the sun. I didn't...I'll talk to Uli, I'd just as soon not see Sey anywhere in the crowd either. I didn't know you were so..."

Maar burst into tears. "I thought I was going to have to wait another eight years for you, and anyone at all could come along to steal you away, you were the catch of the century, I wanted you with every cell in my body but I couldn't --"

"Oh, my precious Maar, come here, there was never going to be anyone else once I climbed into that huolon and you insulted my breath" said Pyosz, pulling Maar into her arms. Maar giggled and wept at the same time on Pyosz's shoulder. When Qala and Thleen returned, Thleen looking at Maar speculatively, the two lovers were running a bath to share.

The week before her Skene family was due to arrive, Pyosz produced a schedule for scrubbing every inch of Owl Manage, literally washing walls and floors, polishing brass and copper surfaces, bleaching tile grout. Thleen was outraged by the additional chores but Pyosz was relentless. Every weed in the tillage was plucked out, the barn and chicken house were thoroughly mucked, and even the hot springs bottom sand was shoveled out to be tossed over cliffs.

Pyosz bought two used double beds from Klosa with new mattresses, putting one in the downstairs empty bedroom and one in the upstairs back bedroom. She persuaded Maar to allow their velvet chair and lamp to be temporarily moved into the room she intended for Prl, and bought a good used rocker plus a wooden work table for her abbas' room. She bartered for rugs from Udek and filled two of her favorite vases with cut roses to fill the waiting bedroom with fragrance.

Her former cabin bed occupied the bedroom upstairs next to Thleen's, with a clothes chest beside it, and was intended for Su. Maar understood that Adon could not take a week off from her apprenticeship but was deeply disappointed all the same. She insisted to Pyosz she was relieved her emmas showed no interest in attending their partnership ceremony. Pyosz wondered if Maar's sense of loss would emerge once she got over being so very angry with her emmas. But that was a buried, years-old anger, no telling how long it would take to dissipate.

Vants negotiated with the small shop who had made Moasi's electric cart for rental of a second cart for Halling to use outdoors on Saya. This model had balloon tires which negotiated sand and slopes adroitly. Halling had insisted she didn't need an indoor cart, though Lawa remarked "I don't think she anticipates the size of our great hall here." She parked the cart next to the porch covered with a tarp.

The huolon arrived late afternoon, spilling out Qoj first who flew into Uli's embrace. Ehall was on her heels, nearly tumbling to the ground but caught by Oby. Ngall looked haggard, saying Omill had cried much of the flight. She handed the baby to Api so she and Ehuy could gather bags of diapers and toys from their seat.

Prl appeared in the hatch, squinting and trying to find Pyosz, who was at her feet. "Emma! Here, lean on my arm, that first step is high." Prl hugged her effusively before turning to help Halling, looking stiff and pale. Maar all but lifted Halling out with Su's assistance. She settled into the cart with a sigh as Pyosz went to lend a hand to Yoj. Moasi in her cart scooted close to Halling and challenged her to a race. Thleen was glued to Prl's hand, saying "You're my only abba now, we have a room for you but you can stay on my trundle bed if you'd rather."

Maar and Abbo loaded the ramp sinner with luggage before joining the rest of the family being given a tour of the Lofthall, school, and Koldok. They wound up at Dodd and Briel's where dinner preparations were under way. Pyosz excused herself and rushed back to Saya and then Teppe for milking. She returned by the time dessert was starting. Yoj asked for Dodd to get out her violin, and it was well after dark by the time they returned to the jichang. Maar flew elders and carts to Saya and Teppe, while the rest of Pea Podders used ferries to go to their respective homes.

Pyosz flew with her abbas and Prl, however, because she wanted to watch their faces as they took in Pya and landed in view of Owl Manage. Qala already had all the lights on, upstairs and down, plus two of her candles lit on the railings flanking the steps. Pyosz thought her home had never looked so beautiful, even in darkness.

Halling was clearly exhausted as she struggled up the steps. She stopped to take in the great hall, however. Yoj exclaimed "Waves and ripples!", and Prl was only momentarily distracted by Curds who ran to greet her with a surprised chirrup. Yoj and Prl took a lengthy tour with Pyosz and Thleen, while Halling leaned on Qala to a hearth chair and leaned back with a long sigh. Su carried in bags and crates with Maar.

After the tour was done, they retired to the porch with tea. They talked with a steady flow and much laughter. Su had relaxed entirely. Pyosz offered to draw a hot bath for Halling and Halling accepted. A minute later, Yoj stood, stretched, and said she would join Halling. When Maar told Thleen it was bedtime, Prl offered to tuck Thleen in and tell her a story. Su announced she was going to bed as well. Pyosz returned to snuggle next to Maar on the steps while Qala and Lawa carried in tea mugs and set up the kitchen for breakfast.

The sky was opaque, a cloud cover that promised rain before morning. Pyosz murmured "They're all under my roof. It feels absolutely right."

"It does" agreed Maar. "I wish I was hearing whatever tale your emma is spinning for Thleen."

"Two more days until Mchele Fair. Six until I name you as the woman I will walk with the rest of my days." Pyosz turned and they kissed lingeringly. Maar was a gifted kisser, concentrated, unhurried.

They pulled apart when a few drops landed on them from above, moving to the porch chair wide enough to almost hold both their generous asses. Maar remarked "Thleen looks amazing in those new red silks. They're a bit too large for her, though."

"Yeah, we erred on the side of giving her growing room" agreed Pyosz. "Qala says Thleen is going to wind up taller than any of us, even Halling. She says she may be buttless with stick legs right now, but she'll be a thick and powerful woman eventually."

"I can easily imagine the powerful part" said Maar. After a minute of silence, she said quietly "I thought once I had her future guaranteed, had her in safe hands even if -- something happened to me -- I'd feel such relief. And I do, in that regard. But there's a new fear in me now. I know you have all these people around you, but I'm terrified of not growing old with you. And it gets unbearable when I think about leaving you with a baby. Like Poth did."

Pyosz could only grip her tightly. She had no reassurance for that fear, it haunted her as well. After another minute of breathing in unison, Maar said "Speaking of babies, my otos and kalsongers waistband are a little tight today. I think I'm starting to ovulate."

Pyosz turned to look into her eyes, dark with glimmers from light through the front window. "I'm still a couple of days away, I think. You're ahead of me."

"But close enough" whispered Maar.

"Maybe on Sju afternoon? I'll call Briel in the morning, ask her about it" said Pyosz. "You're so busy during the fair, with work and our ceremony and guests, will -- "

"I'll find the time, you're not going to Briel alone" said Maar firmly. "Whether she has my eggs already or not, I'm going to be there with you."

"Are we sure we're going to risk only the one transfer?" asked Pyosz.

"We don't need to chance twins. We have everything we need" replied Maar. "Oh, lev, which reminds me, I found a place for us to go the day after the ceremony!"

"Hurrah!" said Pyosz. "I really didn't want to hole up upstairs with Thleen hovering around the door and all the others making sly jokes about us at meals. Where is it?"

"A one-room refuge beside a vineyard on Trumpinne. It has running water and a solar stove, outdoor privy, no bath but the stream is nearby. Absolutely isolated, only way to get there is a hike over a ridge. I paid for two days because I couldn't call you right then" said Maar.

"Good" said Pyosz. She was going to lean in for another kiss, but Maar was following yet another tangent.

"We've spent every coin we have on this ceremony, getting Thleen here, me setting up Adon. We're not paying Prl back or adding to savings" worried Maar. "Plus we use all the extra allotment we get from Qala and Lawa."

"This is an expensive year" said Pyosz. "But I'll have my earnings from the ejida in autumn, plus this summer's barter will convert into serious income thanks to my abbas' labor. Prl's loan was my inheritance, she's thrilled it has been channeled into this Manage. The savings will come by this time next year. Plus, Qala and Lawa's wills benefit our children's education funds. We're fine." She claimed her kiss now, and they decided to go to bed.

The abbas and Prl sat up a while longer before the hearth. Halling kept marveling at the look and space of their surroundings. "I'm getting up those stairs tomorrow no matter what, I have to see the rest of this place" she said.

Qala warned "I understand why you requested the bedroom you did, Yoj, but those two are right above you and they are -- noisy."

Prl turned pink but Yoj laughed and said "Our hearing isn't what it once was." Lawa's expression indicated anything other than outright deafness would not be adequate.

Pyosz and Maar were alone for their toast and tea at dawn. Halfway through milking, however, the barn door opened to reveal Prl dressed in new-looking work pants and otos. Pyosz kept herself from laughing as Prl stepped around fresh dung. "Can I help?" she offered.

"Sure." Pyosz showed her how to prepare rinse rags and hand them to Pyosz as does were rotated through the milk stand. Prl watched her with preternatural interest, and Pyosz resisted feeling uncomfortable under the scrutiny. She nearly knocked over the milk pail, however, when Prl let out a bloodcurdling scream. After a quick glance, Pyosz took a swing at Molars but the goat was already out of reach.

"Oh emma, I'm so sorry, I should have been looking out for you. That's going to leave an ugly bruise" effused Pyosz.

"Molars, I'm guessing" said Prl between clenched lips. "Be sure to send me her carcasse for roasting."

Which caused a brief, uncomfortable silence. Prl had insisted roast kid be on the ceremony dinner menu. "You have a large allotment of it, and people will expect it" she argued. "You don't have to eat any of it yourself."

"Then you be the one to tell Thleen about it" Pyosz had countered.

Just as Pyosz was finishing, Halling motored in, sending goats into alarmed flight. Yoj shut the doors again, holding a plate stacked with apple fritters and cheese eggs. Halling had a thermos of tea lashed to her scooter, but Pyosz scooped a mug of milk from her last pail and dug into the breakfast, sharing with Prl.

"Where is Thleen?" she asked.

"Getting ready to fish with Lawa. I'm going to join them. Su is ferrying over to Teppe to see Pava, Qala is showing her the way" said Halling.

"I'd like to go into Koldok with you" asked Yoj. "Visit the library, go watch Dodd teach. I'll be back by lunch." Killer had decided the scooter was some sort of wain and now jumped onto the case over the motor, leaning over to nibble at Halling's aqua-colored hair clip. Pyosz pushed her back gent;ly, introducing her.

"I thought she was smaller" said Prl.

"She grew up this year, didn't you, baby?" said Pyosz, kissing Killer's forehead. "She's a doe now, will be bred next fall, you'll love being an emma, I bet. Maybe we'll have babies at the same time."

Prl trailed after Pyosz to the kissing gate, where she gazed over the pasture and said "So much land, it hardly makes sense." She insisted on helping transfer milk cans into the wain and then the ferry. As they rattled to Koldok, she and Yoj both turned to stare with wide grins at the Saya Island sign.

Prl and Kolm greeted one another with slow recognition. Kolm said proudly to Pyosz "She gave us our eldest." Pyosz was floored at this evidence of Prl's unknown reach into her life.

They loaded their cart with cheese, butter, a haul from the allotment center and more shopping from Gitta's. They then stopped at the clinic. Pyosz set aside her embarrassment and asked Prl to come into the exam room with her while she talked with Briel.

"Maar's at ovulation, but I'm not yet" she said bluntly.

"Well, that is sometimes hard to know definitively, what signs does Maar report?" began Briel.

"I -- can tell" said Pyosz, not looking at either Briel or her emma. Maar had been ravenous in bed last night. "Do I need to describe...taste or..."

Briel smiled. "No, I understand. But if you'll allow me to examine you for verification, let's take temperatures first."

Prl didn't intrude, and eventually her matter-of-factness became reassuring to Pyosz. Briel verified Pyosz was on the brink of dropping eggs and asked Maar to stop by some time the following day. "We'll freeze her harvest for when you ripen" she said. She grinned at Prl. "It's an honor to be a part of this second-generation. This feels a little like my and Dodd's grandchild as well. We hope there's a cluster of cousins to carry Pya into the future."

Outside again, Pyosz said "I am glad about all the grand-sibemmas my children will have, but like Thleen said, there's only one abba, just like I had only one emma, and that's the way I prefer it." Prl's eyes filled and she said "I do my best to live up to you, always."

Back on Saya, room was tight even in the Manage's spacious kitchen but everything was put away for the days of cooking ahead. Pyosz started two turkeys roasting, along with a thick vegetable soup and platters of cornbread, before proceeding on to her baking. Qala was in the orchard and the fishers still at the point. Prl was happy to have Pyosz to herself as she simmered pie filling according to Pyosz's recipes.

Maar made it home for lunch. Tu and Pank joined them, and Halling was triumphant about the sakana she had reeled in. "Much more satisfying than sinning" she declared. After eating, the elders headed west for a hot springs soak, Pyosz warning Halling three times about the wicked slope of the trail down the escarpment. Thleen went to Kacang for a couple of hours, and once again Prl and Pyosz were alone. At Prl's request, Pyosz pulled out her logbook and charts for them to pore over the breeding program's progress thus far.

All of the Pea Pods plus Dodd and Briel came to Owl Manage for a potluck dinner. Qoj was off with Uli, but Dekkan of course was there, glued to Pava's side -- well, one side, Su was glued to the other. Maar flew the ramp sinner home, picking up Moasi along the way. Lehen came and brought Nioma with her, affording a reunion between Prl and Nioma that was a solid wall of conversation at their section of the long table. Yoj and Ulcha likewise found worlds in common to talk about. After eating, children played in The Saya while everyone else sang and chatted on the porch. As the party broke up, Dekkan offered to fly both the Teppe and Talaba folks home, giving Maar a chance to bathe before bed.

The following day was much a repeat. Halling would have fished all day except for the lure of her cart allowing her to traipse around Saya, soak her joints to ease in the hot springs, and even rumble across the bridge to visit Herne. Su went to Dvareka with Pava on her part-time ejida job. Qala and Yoj puttered in the tillage, their murmurs constant. In the afternoon, Yoj began making her small barleycakes with a caramel center for the partnership feast and Thleen was avid to be at her elbow. Qala and Prl collaborated on sauces while Pyosz baked four days' supply for Gitta. Once again, Herne and Teppe came for dinner, which included a flat of baby blue crabs Maar brought home from the fish docks.

Pyosz pulled Maar aside for a minute and said "How was it?"

"Briefly painful. Hasn't affected my, you know, hunger" whispered Maar. "I guess my hormones are still surging."

"Mmm, well mine are starting to feel the tide as well" Pyosz said in her ear. "Early bed tonight, okay?" Maar leaned against the door facing briefly until her knees were steady again.

When she opened her eyes again, Prl had joined them. Maar's cheeks went crimson as Prl asked confidentially "Did it go well with Briel?"

"Um, yeah" said Maar.

"Good. Listen I need to confess something to you both." Maar felt Pyosz stiffen beside her. Prl said "Last night when I tucked Thleen in, Su came to join us, ostensibly to visit with Thleen but she was also taking in how beautifully Thleen's room is decorated. At some point she made a comment about how it all looked like Thleen, and I told her if she moved to Pya, she could have the room she's in now as her very own and decorate it to her own taste. I hope it was all right of me to make that offer without asking you first, I was simply assuming."

Maar's face lit up. "You assumed quite right. How did she react?"

"She clearly liked the idea" said Prl. "And Thleen, bless her generous heart, jumped at the notion."

Maar impulsively hugged Prl, who went red-cheeked herself.

The following morning after milk delivery, Prl accompanied Pyosz as she dropped off her and Qala's various jams, jellies, sauces, pies, and ceramics as entries in Mchele Fair competitions. Kolm had entered prym in the cheese category, and Herne Island had several different pork products competing. Ziri had filled all their eyes with projections of the ribbons her family would rake in next year, when they were well-established. Thleen had gone to Lawa asking what she could do to ensure Saya's ascendancy over Kacang. She was not happy when this resulted in her being given an additional chore.

When Pyosz and Prl returned home, Qala informed them the upstairs privy was close to being clogged. "Oh, lev" said Pyosz. "Terrible timing. I'm not sure who to call for help, I guess I'll check with Mrebbe -- "

"Su's up there working on it, says she can fix it" said Qala. "Let's give her another half hour. She forego meeting up with Pava to do this."

"But I don't think she has any plumbing experience" said Pyosz. "She tinkers with mechanics mostly,"

"Lawa says that kind of aptitude can translate elsewhere" said Qala. "Anyhow, at 10:00 Tu has offered to take Thleen and Su with her to help set the stage for tonight's performances, they'll be gone the rest of the day."

"I'll make sure Thleen's wearing clothes she can ruin" said Pyosz. She and Qala's eyes widened as the upstairs toilet flushed and Su gave a distant shout of accomplishment.

Maar ate lunch on the fly, stopping to pick up Moasi and Halling in the ramp sinner for a ride to Koldok where they would remain until the performance, having dinner at the Lofthall canteen with Mill. The rest of the family planned an early dinner so they could go save seats, leaving Pyosz to milk before joining them.

Pank had not been given the lead role in her troupe's play this year, but her villain part was colorful enough to steal scenes. Thleen was grimy, paint-smeared, and more melodramatic than even Ziri. She kept whispering loudly during the performances to Pyosz about this or that prop or backdrop in use, until Prl shushed her severely.

Pank's troupe won the black ribbon at the end of the night, which Nk said "proves that flatulence is what spoiled their chances last year". Thleen seemed to think she had a share in the credit. Tu praised Su's able assistance to Maar. They all went to bed late, everyone but Pyosz and Maar knowing they could sleep in before Market.

Prl made sure she was dressed and fed before Pyosz finished milking and went with her again for the last milk delivery Pyosz would make in several days. Kolm wasn't making cheese during Mchele Fair, so Pyosz had a stockpile of extra cans to store gallons in her coldbox until Moja. And on Moja, it would be Vants who hauled the massive load to Koldok because Pyosz would be gone with Maar. This liberating thought eased the sleep deprivation she was feeling as they met the rest of the family at Market.

Prl went on a spending spree, happily escorted by Thleen. Their large family throng kept getting separated from each other in the huge Mchele crowds, and Pyosz decided she only had to keep attached to Maar's sibs and her emma. Eventually they all joined up again by prearranged plan at the Lofthall, to decide on which stalls offered the most appealing lunch items. Thleen sidled up to Pyosz and said urgently "Don't you think abba will want to see that toy shop in Pertama?"

"I guess she will, she likes buying presents for Ehall and Omill" Pyosz teased. "So after you eat, you can take her and whoever else wants to go into Pertama. Maar and I are going to the clinic, remember?"

"Oh, right." Thleen was briefly distracted from the prospect of toys by the prospect of a baby. Toys soon re-established their dominance in her thoughts. "I don't want Ziri to go with us to Pertama, can I tell her family to leave us alone?"

"You most certainly can not" said Pyosz. Thleen's generosity had gaps in it.

Pyosz waved them off and went into Mill's office to wait for Maar. She was hungry but Briel had cautioned her not to eat because a light sedative would be given before her procedure. She could tell Prl had hoped to be invited along for this as well. It was for her and Maar alone, however.

She was ravenous by the time they left the clinic, though a lot of it was nerves, she thought. Koldok had emptied out and she tugged Maar into the cafe where the corner table was empty. They couldn't stop holding hands, even to look at the menu which they shared between them. Pyosz whispered "There's parts that are fuzzy in my memory, after we order you tell me everything that happened, okay?"

"How are you feeling?" asked Maar, her eyes radiant.

"Like -- I don't know how to describe it. Like something just happened" said Pyosz.

"My essence just embraced your essence and they're talking over possibilities inside you right now" replied Maar. They began laughing hysterically, causing the counter person to hurry their direction for their order.

It took them quite a while to find their family in the dusty masses at the fairgrounds, and it was a peal of laughter from Thleen which gave them the final location, next to the zipline. Thleen had already ridden it twice, news which made Maar go pale but Su said airily "I said it was okay, she's got strong little arms." The elders all turned their faces to Pyosz expectantly, but all she would give them was a thumbs-up.

After half an hour, Maar had to leave again for another work shift. Su went with her with Maar's promise she could help run the loader and the factory they were delivering to was pretty interesting. They arranged to meet up again at Dodd's for dinner before the kickball game.

Pyosz declined all rides except the baby ones with Meamea and Ehall. She kept spreading her palm over her belly, and declined a sip of Trumpinne wine at dinner. Su and Pava painted their faces in the colors of Pava's favorite kickball team who were competing for the championship -- Koldok was not in the running this year -- and of course all the children clamored to be painted as well.

Sitting next to Maar and her sibs during a kickball game was wildly entertaining for Pyosz. They became crazed over every action on the field, and Thleen's propensity for creative obscenity could not be kept in check -- not that Maar tried very hard when it was aimed at a ref who'd made a call she thought stunk as well. Pava's team lost, which caused Thleen to kick viciously at the bleachers until Halling said "Hey. Hard on the otos."

As soon as they entered Owl Manage, Pyosz announced bluntly "We're going to bed" and tugged Maar upstairs. Lawa drew a bath for Thleen over her protests, and Yoj said quietly to Qala "No point in us trying to sleep yet, you were right about them" with a glance overhead. Prl, eavesdropping, said "At my end of the house too." Su blushed and Thleen called out "What about your end of the house?" as Lawa hustled her toward the bath room.

The following afternoon, Pyosz won a black ribbon for her oyster plate decorated with metallic viridian dragons and for her cherry-and-almond tarts. She won three white and green ribbons for other food items. Qala won a green ribbon for her ramson jam, and Pank's fennel sausage won a white ribbon. Thleen had a total meltdown mid afternoon, after two strawberry ices and some petty conflict with Ziri.

She screamed at Su "You can't push me around any more, you turdface!", and was pulled backward in Prl's arms. Prl whispered in her ear and Thleen wheeled to sob against Prl's chest. Pyosz looped her arm over Su's shoulder and said "She yells at Maar, too, it's what kids do when they can't cope any more, don't take it personally, sibu." Su grinned at her in relief and said "She's like a different person here, mostly. Not nearly such a pill."

She then added "When we called home this morning to talk with our emmas, Thleen was talking about you and called you emma."

"Oh my" said Pyosz. "How was that received?"

"Dru jumped her hard" said Su. "I wish Maar had been there."

"Well, Thleen has other folks now to help her get past the rough spots" said Pyosz. "You do, too, you know."

Su didn't answer but she leaned against Pyosz briefly.

Maar had an hour's sleep before the dance that night. Pyosz claimed her for the first and last dance, but otherwise shared her willingly with family. Halling creaked out on the floor with Yoj for part of a slow waltz, gazing into one another's eyes in a way that made Pyosz ache for Bux. During the dawn chorus at intermission, Pyosz did Echo's bleat, and she heard Thleen mimic Killer perfectly from another part of the room. There was a sudden roar of laughter from a cluster of teenagers. Pava later told them she had whispered to her friends that she was going to imitate a rabbit, and then had silently twitched her nose.

Nioma joined their table and danced several times with Prl. Her boldness enabled a few other women to overcome the "Genist" barrier and ask Prl to dance. Prl kept giggling in a way Pyosz couldn't remember ever having seen.

Pyosz made sure she could watch her abbas' and Prl's face during "The Oak Grove" and then the closing Pya anthem. After she shouted "To Pya!" with her fist in the air, she threw her arms around Maar, adding "Pya which has given me my heart's desire." Thleen hurled herself on them and they did a three-way jig. Su blinked at it all, and Yoj was clearly making mental notes. Pyosz thought Prl's smile was sad.

The next morning, Maar got up with Pyosz reflexively, although she had only the toxics run that day at 9:00. She went to the barn to help with milking, and they talked over Thleen's upset of the day before. Maar said "Halling is moving a lot more fluidly than I've seen her."

"Riesig could pull up those stupid cobbles and replace them with flat stones or brick, the water table would stay the same and absolutely everybody would benefit from being to use carts of some kind" said Pyosz vehemently. "But the bureacrats seem to shit periwinkles about the expense."

"Mill is going with Api next week for the first contract negotiation talks" said Maar, following her own train of thought.

"Wish I could listen in on those. And have Bux nearby to explain all the subtext I'm missing" said Pyosz. "Molars" she warned, and Maar wheeled around.

After breakfast, Halling left with Maar to pick up Moasi and be delivered at the fairgrounds jichang. Yoj went with them. Halling was wearing her Sheng Zhang uniform and Yoj had on fine silks with her Archivist neck badge. Maar promised to return at 11:00 to carry goats for the parade. Pyosz reminded her "Lay down a drop cloth in whatever craft you bring."

When Prl arrived downstairs also dressed in finery and her Genist emblem, Thleen demanded to change into silks. Qala argued "You're going to be helping with the goats, whatever you wear could get stained or torn. Lawa and I are wearing nice outdoor attire, and so is Pyosz." But Thleen's jaw had a stubborn set, and Pyosz murmured "Those garish green silks she chose several months ago, she's going to outgrow them soon anyway" and Qala said "All right, let's go look in your closet."

By 11:00, everyone except Pyosz and Thleen had left for the fair. Thleen paced the front porch restlessly, and threw the front door open to shout "She's here!" when Maar returned. She waited impatiently as Maar changed into ordinaries and ate the chicken salad Pyosz had made for them all. She raced ahead of Pyosz to the barn when they finally were ready to go.

"Wain first" Pyosz shouted after her. Thleen carried the small wain to the sinner and strapped it down as if it posed a threat during flight. Pyosz didn't think Killer could actually remember going to the fair last year, but the doe walked beside her on the tether excitedly and clambered up the ramp on her own. Thleen insisted on leading Sugarnose and Clabber herself "because I'm their capriste, like we practiced, right?"

The two kids had to be lifted into the sinner and cross-tethered next to Thleen's seat. Pyosz closed the ramp opening and climbed in beside Maar. She turned to remind Thleen "Don't let them urp on you if you can help it" as Maar started the engine.

By the time they landed, the racket was cacaphonous. Thleen's brow was furrowed by anxiety, though Maar and Pyosz were both laughing. Once on the ground, Killer quieted and looked around expectantly. Thleen had forgotten to bring her bag of cracked corn, so Pyosz tied her own to Thleen's waist.

Pyosz had fashioned a new double harness for the little wain, hoping that being in tandem would reassure the kids, and it had worked reasonably well during practice runs in the pasture. Here, however, surrounded by crowds reaching in their direction and many strange noises, the kids cooperated with no one, least of all each other. After Thleen's fifth "LEV it", Maar told her to cool down, her frustration just made the goats more afraid.

Once they reached the animal pen, Pyosz sat down and pulled the kids into her lap. She sent Maar and Thleen on to the grandstands so Thleen could watch most of the parade. Killer's equanimity and regular infusions of dried apple helped the kids reach intermittent calm.

Pyosz whispered to Killer "In just a few hours, I'll be partnered. It won't be any different than right now, really, except for all time future inhabitants of Skene who might read about me will know the woman who loved me enough to join her life to mine was Maar." She let Killer lip the silver lighter at the end of her dread for a second before pulling away.

An hour later, Halling hummed up and the kids bolted in two directions, jerking Pyosz's arm on the tethers. "Abba, you should probably be at the end of the Saya contingent, so the whole thing isn't a headlong race after the goats." Yoj joined them and said "I'll walk beside her. You have the hats?"

As the rest joined them, Pyosz handed out wool caps with a fluffy ball at the tip, each in a different color of the rainbow. Thleen put caps on the kids with much struggle, and Pyosz giggled watching her as she adorned Killer. Thleen took the head of their column, walking backward with an outstretched palm of corn. Pyosz and Maar followed, Killer between them. Next was Prl, resplendent and august. Lawa and Qala were behind her, Qala wearing her black ribbon. Yoj walked with her hand on Halling's shoulder, squeezing it to remind Halling not to crowd Lawa's heels.

Thleen almost fell down as the roar of the crowd hit them. The grin she flashed at Pyosz made Pyosz's heart sing. Clabber reared up, however, and Pyosz stepped forward to help Thleen reassure the kids. They all made it to the mic, where Thleen issued an invitation to come pet the goats. Thleen stayed with Pyosz and Maar to watch the rest of the parade come at them, while the elders returned to the grandstands.

Tu and Pank's stilts were as nerve-wrackingly tall as ever, flooding Thleen's face with envy. Their articulated arms featured sparklers at the end, and their swipes at people in the stands frightened even stoic adults. Everyone seemed to be holding their breath, however, to see what the giant puppet would be this year. Pank and Tu had refused to give the family any hints.

It was a crimson rabbit with three-meter long ears and a tail made from two sheepskins. It actually hopped, clearing the ground at the height of a person. Its sheer size rendered it intimidating, but when it opened its mouth to reveal jagged incisors and its wide eyes suddenly sparked, the children who had been clustered around the goats vanished backwards. Thleen clasped the kids to her and Pyosz once again covered Killer's eyes. Pyosz looked for Pava in the stands and found her. She was the only one laughing maniacally.

Then suddenly Mchele Fair was over. Pyosz and Maar turned to look at each other and began laughing as Pava had. They each picked up a kid, Killer's tether looped around Pyosz/s waist, and let Thleen drag the wain as they braved the crowds. Halling, Moasi, and Yoj had brought their partnering ceremony clothes to Dodd's and headed there to change. Maar flew the goat contigent to Saya, where they met the rest of the family. They swabbed out the sinner and loaded it with food before going upstairs to their bedrooms to put on silks.

Thleen joined Maar and Pyosz in their bedroom for dressing. Pyosz tied ribbons in Thleen's hair while Maar gave her new zaoxue a buff. As Thleen preened before the mirror, Maar and Pyosz dressed each other with muted lust. Pyosz sprimkled silver glitter in their hair and put a tiny dab of it in Maar's chin dimple. They pocketed matching rings of Chloddia silver set with emeralds and walked downstairs hand in hand with Thleen.

All of them crowded into the sinner for the hop to the Lofthall jichang. The ceremony, dinner and dance were all to be held in the schoolhouse. Pyosz, Maar, and Thleen waited upstairs in Dodd's office until most guests had arrived. They then made a grand entrance, with Prl sobbing in a most un-Genist manner.

In the way of all partnering ceremonies, the vows were brief and simple. Su, Prl, Thleen, and all the abbas stated their support of the family blend. Pyosz and Maar said "I join my life to yours", exchanged rings, and broke into a dance as Dodd struck up her fiddle.

For Pyosz, the most memorable moment was later at the dinner, when Prl stood to make a toast: "It would be joy enough to see my only child find complete happiness with another. But I have been additionally blessed by receiving a second child to call my own, and an instant grandchild. Pyosz has been nothing but luck to my life. May it travel on for generations." Maar wept, pressing her cheek to Pyosz and saying "Luck is exactly who you are."

By 2 a.m. many guests had left and Dodd led the band in their final song. Small children had fallen asleep in nests of quilts in the adjacent schoolroom, and teenagers lingered outside in dark groves of trees. Thleen was in a group of middle-graders who were keeping themselves awake by frenzied games. Maar said to let her go until she dropped or got into a fight -- to her knowledge, Thleen had never been up all night like this.

There was still quantities of food, and in unspoken agreement, the extended family made themselves plates and gathered at adjacent tables to have a wee-hours repast. Pyosz and Maar were sitting next to each other, sharing a platter, and Prl placed the last slice of hnisa before them.

"Rare treat" she commented.

Nioma across the table said "You know, the Botaniste's records indicate they almost didn't introduce that species here, because on Yrth hnisa were considered more sentient than most animals and a lot of people didn't feel right about eating them."

Pyosz stopped chewing. "Like, how sentient?"

But Yoj overrode her question with "So they are definitely from the original world, then? It's been a matter of debate because they appear to have an effective defense against leviathans."

"So do we" pointed out Mill. Nioma was looking at Yoj quizzically. "You aren't aware that all sea life as we know it, except for levis, are introduced to Skene?"

Yoj was startled. "All?"

"As we encounter it, yes" said Nioma. "Certainly all the kelp, fish, crustaceans and mollusks that we consume. I mean, it's partly a matter of basic biology."

"Say more" urged Prl, leaning forward. Pyosz finished her bite, recognizing when elders had stolen the conversation, but left the rest of the hnisa to Maar, who ate it appreciatively. Making sure no one was looking her way except Maar, Pyosz forked a morsel of kid meat into her mouth. It wasn't how she remembered it.

Nioma said "Think about it. The life forms we all know are native to Skene, leviathans, shu, robins, seabeaks -- we never eat them. We have an almost visceral reaction against it."

Halling interjected "Levs reek, I think we'd throw up their flesh." Pyosz switched to her salad.

"You may be right" said Nioma. "Yoj, have you ever run across records indicating the original settlers ever tried to eat native life forms?"

"Well, no if we're not counting fish and kelp" said Yoj.

"From the evidence of them bringing a complete biological array of fauna and flora from the home planet, and their immediate attention to cultivating rice and sinning from boats" said Nioma, "I think our ancestors arrived here intending to augment their rations with lifeforms from Yrth. Which means they knew they couldn't eat what already lived here."

"You mean an earlier scouting party had been to Skene and taken back data" said Mill.

"Seems obvious" said Nioma. "Plus -- "

"But katts and owls eat shu just fine" said Lawa. "Owls are thriving."

"They are strictly carnivores, both species, and owls don't have taste buds" said Nioma. Prl, who had been gazing at her nonstop, said "That could be enough differemce in biology, you're right."

Nioma had tucked her long black and silver hair into an elegant bun for the ceremony. She was wearing silver brocade with black piping, and long black jade earings in silver settings. It all made her hazel eyes seem to flash green as she talked with animated intelligence. Pyosz had noticed earlier that Nioma and Prl were very similar in body size and shape as they danced together in an easy fit. She once again felt a rush of emotion toward Nioma that reminded her of her connection to Prl.

"So are you contending that earlier group, the scouts, they deliberately set fish and kelp loose in an unknown ocean, to see if they could survive?" asked Halling.

"What else would make sense on a water world, but subverting the water to your own biology?" asked Nioma. Maar had stopped eating and was listening intently. She said now "But how did they know it would work?"

"Maybe it was an experiment" said Nioma. "But they assuredly knew it had worked before they sent colonists to live here for a year."

"You're implying interplanetary communication" said Qala. Everyone looked a little frightened.

"I am" admitted Nioma. "Which only deepens the mystery of how we became an abandoned outpost."

Yoj said slowly "I think it's pertinent to remind us here, we are very very different from those first arrivals. They were sent by a business enterprise, not a community or a governmental entity. Their value system was not our own. They meant to extract and leave."

Prl breathed out "So they might have been willing to utterly wreck the ocean environment as it had been on Skene, to make it suitable for their own use."

"Not just the oceans" said Nioma, her glinting eyes like the emerald in Pyosz's new ring. She released two silver clips from her hair and the bun cascaded down around her shoulders. She ran spread fingers through her shiny locks, and Pyosz heard someone breathe out nearby. Nioma said "All of the micro-organisms that create soil, all the insects and bacteria associated with plant life on land, every growing thing on every known inch of Pya and Skene -- they were brought here from another world. Who knows what we exterminated as we claimed each island for ourselves?"

"If they were like shu, it's no great loss" said Pank. Nioma glanced at her, and Prl said "That's the attitude we inherited from them, isn't it?" Nioma nodded at Prl.

"But it's the drive of all organisms, to survive" argued Yoj. Nioma shrugged.

Prl reached a spread hand onto the tablecloth, and Pyosz saw Prl's fingers flicker, staying curled in her palm. Uli said "Why don't they teach this in school, then, or at least at the U? How much the biology of Skene is created by us?"

Prl answered for Nioma. "Because it would utterly expose the myth we carry of living in balance." Nioma grinned, and Yoj said "We have compelling reasons for that myth. We didn't just remake Skene, we remade ourselves as human beings."

"Or at least we're still conducting that experiment as well" said Nioma.

After a long pause, Yoj said "If we were to see the return of our distant cousins, if they were to drop from the heavens back to Skene, I'd get on the radio and urge we immediately imprison them all. With an intent to kill them before they could send any word of us back to that extremely damaged culture which spawned them."

Pyosz was shocked to her core. She was even more disturbed to see Maar nod. And Nioma, and her emma. She was missing something. She'd have to talk it over with Maar.

Thleen and Ziri burst into the room and said "Some of the teenagers are going swimming at the reservoir, they said we could go, too!"

Several adults said "No" simultaneously. Thleen thought about throwing a tantrum. but Halling offered her some of her chocolate cake and Thleen came to sit, fidgeting as she gobbled the cake. Postponing the storm thought Pyosz. Uli and Qoj left to chaperone the swimming party. Ziri was forced into a quilt next to slumbering Koben, under shrill protest, and went to sleep within a minute. Thleen pestered Maar and Lawa to keep herself from succumbing like Ziri.

As dim grey light touched the schoolhouse windows, people began clearing away food and stacking chairs. Pyosz and Maar were not allowed to help, though bread, cheese, and a packet of delectables was handed to Pyosz to store in her pack. They decided not to change except replacing their zaoxue with otos. Mill said "Fohol will be up, you can grab that ride now." The newly partnered pair made a round of goodbyes laced with ribald humor. Thleen was saved for last.

"I really wish I was going with you" she said with dying hope in her voice. There were bags under her eyes.

"We'll be back tomorrow night" said Maar. "While we're gone, you must be a good host to Owl Manage's visitors."

"And you get to ride the bus all the way to Talaba this afternoon with emma, to have dinner with Xoan's family" reminded Pyosz. "I bet you sleep all day."

Thleen's face brightened. "Are the abbas going, too?"

"No, Yoj has a rare invitation to Chwet, for dinner with Ulcha's family" said Pyosz. "And Halling is having her sibs over to visit her. You'll all have good stories for us on the porch tomorrow night." They each kissed a cheek, shouldered their packs, and walked out into dense white fog.

As they followed the path to the Lofthall, holding hands tightly, Pyosz said "Is it safe to fly in this?"

"It'll vanish 10 meters up" said Maar. "Or rain will rinse it away."

She was right. They burst suddenly into yolk-colored light, the entire world a fluffy blanket below them that was seeping cherry at the eastern edge. Pyosz gasped, and Maar said happily "I love it every time I set out sinning in this kind of weather." She added "Mornings without you were the hardest. Not waking up beside you."

"For me, it was having to lie down at night without you there" said Pyosz. They were strapped under the same harness on the second seat. Fohol was going to return and get the scooter-users home to their islands before starting her day's shift. She didn't intrude on her passenger's reverie.

Current-driven breezed thinned the haze on Trumpinne's southern shore, and Fohol was able to locate the tiny jichang used by nearby vineyards and orchards. She set down in billows of swirling white, and turned to grin at them. "Welcome to a brave new world."

"Thanks" Maar grinned back. She helped Pyosz out the hatch and from a safe distance they consulted the hand-drawn map Maar had as Fohol took off again. After ten minutes through an olive grove, their red silks soaked with dew, they found what seemed like the right trail. This was confirmed five minutes later when they discovered the cafe and general store marked on the map. It was open, workers already eating porridge and sausage.

Pyosz got their thermos filled with hot chocolate while Maar bought olives and grape juice. On the counter were a few carved wooden whistles and Maar added one to her purchase -- "For Thleen." They set out on the northern path, finding sun was breaking through even as rain clouds rolled in from the west. Ten minutes more brought them to the top of a ridge and the first drops hitting their heads.

"There's the creek" pointed out Maar. "The cabin is between this ridge and a bend in the creek, if this map is -- "

"I see it!" said Pyosz. She flashed a wicked smile at Maar and said "Race you, buddy" as she took off in a dead run. Maar wadded the map in her fist as she loped after Pyosz.

Copyright 2010 Maggie Jochild.


Blue said...

I couldn't resist staying up.


C. Diva said...

It's funny to think about how difficult it was (and how long it took) for the humans of earth to reach a point where they could consider themselves as merely denizens of one planet in a vast multitude. For the group sitting around that table to reach the conclusion they were on an abandoned outpost seems an amazing leap, even given their historical knowledge of the early settlers.
The terraforming process seems almost cliche'd in most science fiction; of course humans would recreate their environment in their own image. For you to turn it around, making it a criminal act, even for the sake of survival, is an intriguing response; one I will have to ponder.

little gator said...

After a long pause, Yoj said "If we were to see the return of our distant cousins, if they were to drop from the heavens back to Skene, I'd get on the radio and urge we immediately imprison them all. With an intent to kill them before they could send any word of us back to that extremely damaged culture which spawned them."

Doesn't Yoj realise that she is spawned from the same culture that those hypothetical cousin are? Who knows what the other side of the culture has or hasn't changed to in all those generations?

Maggie Jochild said...

Little Gator, you've zeroed in on it: Yoj doesn't know. The historical disconnect Skene experienced has left even scholars like Yoj with bizarre gaps in their comprehension, especially the lack of access to the extreme diversity of human history and its lessons of how change occurs. The first generation set up rigid parameters to counteract a repeat of the meltdown which occurred after their abandonment, but reactions against what went before are still being strongly shaped by what one is rebelling against.

In addition to the historical disconnect, their lack of exposure to uncontrolled nature, i.e., wilderness, has seriously impaired some facets of their imagination. Human monoculture stunts progress and creativity, and the alien hostility of remains in Skene's native environment has heretofore been too threatening to allow our little band of adventurers to consider some of the heresies now on their horizon.

This set of characters has enough pad against the exigencies of survival, assorted intelligences and drives to make leaps in understanding. (Which is generally true of heroes in novels about "when it changed.")

Talking with y'all or even imaging your reactions certainly is shaping this book, for the good, I believe. Thanks for the engagement.

little gator said...

will this be extra points on my grade?

Maggie Jochild said...

I operate on Pass/Fail and you are on the plus side for all time, Little Gator.

Margot said...

Fascinating. Every so often I have to remind myself how few of them there are. For instance, the "vast crowds" at the fair are actually tiny by comparison with the crowds at say a football match or a big open-air music festival.

Our press of humanity would boggle their comprehension - 6.8 billion people? Impossible!

Maggie Jochild said...

Good point, Margot. The total population of Pya at this point is around 600. (Which helps explain how Pyosz with her herd of 100 goats is responsible for about 1/4 of the milk, cheese and butter available on all Skene.)

Cowboy Diva has asked how it could be that in such a small population, there could be anybody you DIDN'T know? How could there be a stranger? She partly answered herself by saying the geographic spread of islands made it hard for people to visit.

But another piece of the puzzle is that even in huge modern cities, most folks only know about 100 people on a name and personality basis. It seems to be a physical limit in our brains.

As someone who lived in a town of 86 through high school, I can verify I would not have recognized or been able to name all of those 86. Our high school of 35 students drew have its body from the nearby town of Ringgold, population 300, and there were people in Ringgold who were strangers to each other. In these isolated communities, there is gossip which gives you second-hand knowledge of some families, but you can't claim even first-hand acquaintance with them as individuals.

So it is on Skene. The social structure insists all children be educated together, to prevent island factionalism. to help facilitate relationships separate from family and neighborhood networks, and honestly to encourage the selection of partners and breeding outside incestuous circles, something our earliest human tribes did even as they practiced xenophobia otherwise.

But on Skene, for instance, each of its three public school grades has at least 30 children in it, and "first grade" has over 100 children. Even over a span of 13 years together, you could have your little cluster of friends (there's no boys and girls division, remember, so segregation is happening on the basis of shared interests and island connection) and never really make a close connection to someone in your own grade. And with the strict rules about sui, once you left first grade, you would not be encouraged to pursue friendships with those in other grades.

Thus, the open space full of "crowds" at Mchele Fair is even more exotic than our masses of 100,000. It's an ALMOST knowable number. And if you are single, it's the best mixer you'll ever encounter.