Thursday, July 1, 2010


(Small spiral galaxy NGC 2758 is captured in great detail)

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


by Louis Jenkins

We came to a beautiful little farm. From photos
I'd seen I knew this was the place. The house
and barn were painted in the traditional Falu
red, trimmed with white. It was nearly mid-
summer, the trees and grass, lush green, when
we arrived the family was gathered at a table
on the lawn for coffee and fresh strawberries.
Introductions were made all around, Grandpa
Sven, Lars-Olaf and Marie, Eric and Gudren,
Cousin Inge and her two children… It made me
think of a Carl Larsson painting. But, of course,
it was all modern, the Swedes are very up-to-
date, Lars-Olaf was an engineer for Volvo, and
they all spoke perfect English, except for
Grandpa, and there was a great deal of laughter
over my attempts at Swedish. We stayed for a
long time laughing and talking, It was late in
the day, but the sun was still high. I felt a won-
derful kinship. It seemed to me that I had
known these people all my life, they even
looked like family back in the States. But as it
turned out, we had come to the wrong farm.
Lars-Olaf said, "I think I know your people, they
live about three miles from here. If you like I
could give them a call." I said that no, it wasn't
necessary, this was close enough.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Here's the weekly best of what I've gleaned from I Can Has Cheezburger efforts. There are some really creative folks out there.

The first two on this page are by little gator.

The next two images are different interpretations of the same photo, both quite clever.

And finally, the BP catastrophe has finally reached LOLCats.  These are the first two attempts at commentary I've seen, both of them poignant.


Monday, June 28, 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)


Before dinner, Maar asked that table talk stay away from the events of her day. The adults obliged, though Pyosz noticed Thleen looked hollow-eyed. The two little ones took a bath with Maar after the meal, with loud sounds of play echoing out from the tile-lined room as the rest washed dishes and made rice for the next day. Qala went uptairs with Thleen to decide what outfit she wanted to wear at that weekend's dance.

Yoj kept picking slow, sweet songs for them to share on the porch, and Qux dropped off in Pyosz's arms as quickly as Merrl being nursed by Maar. Maar motioned to Pyosz, and they carried the little ones inside to the large sofa, settling them toe to toe amid pillows, quilts, and katts. Pyosz refilled the large carafe they used for the porch with Lawa's chamomile tea blend. As Maar quietly radioed the hospital to check on the status of Caax and the other survivor, Pyosz studied the design she'd made around the sides of the carafe: A variety of sea urchins line dancing in tiny otos while angler fish played violin and puffer fish used each other as drums.

Back on the porch, Thleen roamed the nearby yard restlessly, hoping to avoid being sent to bed, while Maar reported that both patients were stable and Caax's baby seemed to be fine. Yoj said "Two Manages tonight are facing the unbearable. but it would be doubly worse if not for Maar and her sibaste." Maar had sat on the top step, and when she leaned forward to put her face in her hands, Pyosz pushed close beside her. She looked briefly around at Prl and pointed her head at Thleen.

Prl said "Child, this side of my chair is getting cold, come warm me, will you?" Thleen gladly lighted, as Pyosz said softly to Maar "You want to tell us now?"

Maar lifted her head and looked into Pyosz's face. "I began to get suspicious before Oby's call came -- they just weren't down there. Only a few, when that inlet should have been swarming with them. This kind of planning and coordination is bad, bad news." She suddenly remembered Thleen, looking around for her tensely and relaxing only partly when she saw Thleen with Prl's arms around her. Pyosz whispered "It's okay. It's to the point where she needs to hear more,"

Maar looked back at Pyosz and said "I'm sorry. I'm sorry for what I put you through."

Pyosz didn't really want to say "It's all right." After a long silence, Maar said "When Dekkan told me -- when I looked down at that woman, my whole body remembered being pregnant with Merrl, that stage when I was both bursting with the power of life but also starting to feel fragile, like anything could do me and my passenger unspeakable harm. To have been dropped into a froth of leviathans at that stage -- I don't know how she even kept conscious, much less doing all the right things."

"Instinct" whispered Pyosz.

"There was no way I was going to let her go" said Maar grimly. After a few more seconds, she said "I thought about calling Moko's emmas tonight. They're living through it all over again, I know they must be. She must have been so scared..."

"If she was like me, she went blank before the end. The fear goes away and you give up" came Halling's soft voice from behind them. "It's not quite as bad."

Maar swiveled to look at Halling. Her voice filled with anger as she said "Danaan will talk Mill out of the kill order. It'll be lifted by morning, you just wait and see. But it's different here, in Pya. We need to do things differently."

"It's certainly different for you than it was for me" said Halling. "I thought Pax Piscata would hold. There's something we've missed."

Maar sagged against Pyosz and Pyosz felt the deep intake of breath which meant Maar was about to cry. She automatically held her close, and felt the relief around them as Maar's sobs tore into the night air. It was so loud, Pyosz wondered if the echo could bounce across to Koldok. A few seconds later, Thleen was wailing, too. Part of Pyosz wished she were holding Thleen right now instead of Maar. She felt closer to comprehending what Thleen was feeling.

She thought savagely We didn't miss something, abba, YOU did. You handed on a Lofthall where pilots are still dying. Well, I'm not Yoj, I'm not going to pretend like it's enough to hold you at night and send you off in the morning with a kiss, Maar. I'm not stuck like you are.

When the purge was complete, Maar offered to take Thleen up to bed and lie with her as she dropped off. Pyosz kissed them both goodnight, some part of her distant. Prl nudged Pyosz's rump with her foot and Pyosz glanced around at her but stayed alone on the step. Half a minute later, something enormous flew from the direction of the point and landed in the big walnut tree between the porch and the watertank. It vanished into the foilage as Lawa whispered "You all saw that, right?"

"I wonder if shu have learned to watch the night skies" said Prl.

Pyosz pushed herself upright. "Everything kills to eat. Except for levs and us." She went into the Manage and got Merrl as dead weight in her right arm, then somehow balanced a more clinging Qux on her left hip, She carried them slowly upstairs and put them together in their small bed, kissing their foreheads several times. She was asleep by the time Maar joined her.

She woke up before the alam and went to the privy, then glanced in on Qux and Merrl. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw their empty bed. A second later, she decided Prl must have taken them in with her. She headed for that end of the hall, but noticed Thleen's door open and her nightlight still on. From the doorway she saw Thleen scooted all the way to the edge of her mattress, her arm draped over the two little ones on the trundle next to her. Clicker and Barter looked up at Pyosz sleepily. Barter shook herself awake and scrambled off the bed, mewing her breakfast order.

When Maar joined Pyosz in the kitchen, two eggs were fried the way Maar liked them, no runny yolks, and coffee was brewed. Pyosz pulled toast from the aga and said "I know the Lofthall feeds you, but there's nothing like Saya bread and chickens."

Maar poured cream in her coffee and took a long sip before spreading her toast with cherry jam. "I imagine both funerals will be on Sju" she said. "Likely combined."

"Will they still have the dance that night?"

"Yes" said Maar. "People will need it." After finishing one egg, she said "I'm going to paint a blue hand on my face. It's starting to feel right. And I knew both of the women who died, at least by name."

"Okay" said Pyosz hesitantly. "The little ones, especially Merrl, will throw a fit to be allowed to do the same."

Maar sighed. Pyosz had started two eggs for herself. She gestured at them, looking at Maar, and Maar said "Yeah." As Pyosz flipped them over to harden the yolks, Maar cut a large wedge of cheese and heaped applesauce on her plate. "Nothing like Saya" she repeated softly.

"Thleen took Qux and Merrl in with her during the night" Pyosz said. Maar looked thoughtful, saying "Bad dream, maybe? Wonder whose."

"Before Market, I thought I'd stop by the hospital and take some roses to the new patients" said Pyosz. "And honey."

"Thank you" said Maar. She cut into a third egg and added "I'm going to ask Mill for another community meeting. Next Sju, after breathing out is over." Some people on Skene observed a week of limited activity after the death of a loved one, known as breathing out. Prl had explained it to Pyosz when she was a child as meaning that all people breathed in each other's air, over and over, but the breath of someone who had died was entirely gone from community re-use after a week. Pyosz had thought of that concept during the days after Bux died and found it horrible, a countdown of another impending loss.

"Who are you inviting? What are you hoping for?" asked Pyosz.

"It's open to anybody, and I'm not sure yet about what needs to happen. I want to talk that over with you. Just me and you, before all the other noses get stuck in." Maar looked straight at Pyosz, her brown eyes vulnerable. "I know you're mad at me. I think I get why. But we're not on oppsite sides here, Pyosz. Something's gotta change or more people are going to die. We agree on that."

Pyosz reached out her hand and very gently smoothed Maar's brow. "All right. Maybe we can sleep in on Shmonah, lock the door and tell everyone we won't be out until 10."

"Sounds good." Maar shoveled the rest of the applesauce onto the crust of her toast and fitted it into her mouth. "I won't be home until dinner, I'm sorry about that."

"You focus on you, we got it covered here. You want anything from the Market?"

"A new schmatta, cotton, short sleeves in a bright color, you know what hues I prefer. Roomy enough for your hands." Maar grinned at her, the first time that morning, as she wiped her mouth and stood to give Pyosz a firm kiss.

During milking, Pyosz thoroughly examined all her pregnant does, looking for signs of early delivery or trouble. She released the herd into a foggy, chilled pasture, and had to nudge a few of the chickens into their run with her feet. Thleen met her at the tillage and asked "Is siba coming home for lunch?"

"Not unless her schedule changes. You need something?"

Thleen regarded the overcast sky, fidgeting from one foot to another. "The back of my bike, it just has a curved fender."

"Yeah, so?" Then Pyosz understood. "Oh, if it had a shelf bumper, someone could ride behind you. Well, how about if after Market, we shake loose the rest of the family and go to the bike store? We can haul your bike over on the ferry and stash it at Dodd's until then."

Thleen hopped in relief. "I have money, depends on how much it is -- "

"Transportation we cover for you" said Pyosz. "And afterward, let's ride to Pertama, Qux's birthday is coming up and I want to see what's at the toy store." Thleen began swinging her arms in exuberance.

"Did you eat breakfast?"

"Yeah, but the little ones are still at it" said Thleen.

"Then flush the privy and sweep the front porch while I get them ready for town" said Pyosz. Thleen scampered off with no objection.

Nioma must have come in late, because she was at the table with the rest. She and Qala went into the hospital with Pyosz while the rest began touring Market. The woman rescued from the ferry pylon had already gone home. Caax was still in a room but it was crowded with family and friends. Briel promised to get her the bouquet and Saya basket, and told Pyosz the baby sounded healthy. Caax would be discharged after lunch.

When they met back up with the rest, Halling told her "Maar was right. About Mill changing the kill order." She looked quietly angry. Pyosz felt a now familiar fear inside, followed by an easier to bear resurgence of anger. She told them about Maar's request for a community meeting.

"Excellent idea" said Nioma, exchanging a glance with Prl. "We should strategize."

"Maar and I will be getting up late on Shmonah, we're taking the morning for ourselves" added Pyosz. Qala grinned at Merrl in her arms, who lit up in return. Pyosz reached for her, next best thing to Maar at the moment.

When it was time to leave, Halling already at the Lofthall to look over scans with Mill, the little ones were vociferous in their objection to Pyosz and Thleen going somewhere without them. Thleen looked rather smug, which didn't help. Finally Yoj said "Listen, let's go drop in on Ngall and her family on Dou, all right? You can run around with your cousins."

"Let's take ice cream" said Qala, sealing the deal. Ngall had given birth to her third child, Vlapi, a month earlier. Pysoz took Thleen's hand and slid her down the street to Dodd's while Qux and Merrl argued about what flavor of ice cream was "best for babies".

For her birthday the previous year, Owl Manage had given Thleen a new bike with balloon tires and a custom paint job by Pyosz featuring beetle green dragons serpenting along each fender. There were miniature kickball tassels at the ends of the handlebar, and Qala had knitted a seat cover in Koldok team colors. At the bicyclery, Thleen now earnestly made sure the secondary fender would not damage the finish of the original. As she watched it being installed, Pyosz searched high and low for a spare bike not claimed by someone with their hat left on the seat. She finally found one with low tires at the far end of the Polytechnic and wheeled it back to have more air added before she and Thleen set off down the still crowded road, whooping at each other.

They ate first at the lentil stand. Pyosz noticed Thleen was starting to use hot sauce in small amounts. At the toy store, they found a model of the big cartwheel that dominated the carnival on Trumpinne, painted in vivid enamels and with tiny wooden people in the swaying cars. It wound up with a key and played a lively tune as it took five minutes to come to a halt.

"Qux will be over the moons about this!" said Thleen. Pyosz bought one for the smaller Heaps on Kacang and Ngall's children, to be held back until after Qux's birthday.

"I didn't find the right schmatta for Maar in Koldok" said Pyosz once they were back on the street, fastened the boxed toys to Thleen's new fender. "I think I know the place here that might have it."

She felt guilty buying clothes anywhere but Klosa's. However, the Pertama shop had a large inventory. They agreed on Maar's schmatta, a new hat for Lawa, several items for Qux, long woolen knickers for Qala, and scarves in vibrant patterns for all the elders. Pyosz was rummaging through a sale bin of sokken when she noticed Thleen standing in front of a silk hanshan in a saturated eggplant hue. Pyosz joined her and said "Look how it changes from dark purple to almost green when you move it under the light."

"I've never seen anything this beautiful" said Thleen.

"It's too small for me, but it's got some shoulder room to go, and those gathers in the sleeves mean it can expand with growth. Try it on" urged Pyosz. Thleen looked at her, wide-eyed. Pyosz said "You can still wear your nice black calcas, but this color was absolutely made for the dark red of your hair."

Thleen shrugged out of her manteau and shati, and Pyosz helped lower the hanshan over her head. They found a mirror, and Thleen postured in all directions, her face radiant. When she turned back the cuff to find the price, however, her face fell.

Pyosz said "You'll get two years of good wear out of it before you outgrow it. And Qux will covet it after you, used or not. We're getting it for the dance."

They stopped at Dou on the way back, borrowing an empty feed sack from the turkey barn to hide the toy boxes in. Only one bowl of ice cream was left and they shared it, both refusing to give Merrl a bite despite her threats of a tantrum because Yoj said Merrl had already had two bowls. Pyosz and Ngall were able to take a walk with the new baby snugged against Pyosz's chest, sitting in the grove at the island's northwest corner to share confidences. Ehuy was infertile but had told Ngall she wanted one more child. Ngall told Pyosz "I've replaced us plus a bonus person, that's enough. I'm done. And I'm fed up with Ehuy acting cheated around it when I haven't slept through the night in years because my breasts are an on-call canteen."

"Yeah, well, if Maar has her way she'll still be stopping by the school to nurse Merrl at lunch when Merrl's in fourth grade" retorted Pyosz. They laughed wickedly and kept swapping complaints until Qux found them, saying "Habibi wants to go home."

"All right, it's almost time for goats, anyhow" said Pyosz, standing to let Qux dust off her kalsongers, unwilling to give up the new baby smell until the last minute. On Saya, Pyosz went to the barn but noticed Thleen stayed in the vicinity of her old cabin. Looking to see if the Heaps were back from their visit to south Dvareka today guessed Pyosz. Sure enough, as she was loading cans into the coldbox, Thleen burst in with "Emma, I need to go to Kacang, I'll be back by dinner, okay?"

"Okay. Wait -- take two loaves of bread and a gallon of vinegar with you, barter it for as much of their firm tofu as you can." Thleen pounded away.

In the Manage, Merrl was weeping unconvincingly at Lawa's knee. "We had ice cream early, no dessert tonight except I'll bake us all apples if you want." Merrl flung herself at Pyosz, who rocked her and murmured condolence without contradicting Lawa. Merrl's forehead against Pyosz's lips felt hot -- not another ear infection, please. Qux came to ask Pyosz to practice dancing with her.

"Climb on top of my otos and hang on tight to my belt" said Pyosz. She waltzed slowly up and down the great room with both children dragging her down to the wood floor. Prl called out "Where did Thleen go, she grabbed stuff from in here and ran out?"

"To Kacang. I think she finally found her courage to ask."

"Oho" said Prl, grinning. Nioma behind her frowned, but Pyosz was doing a dip that sent both barnacles into squeals before she began another pass of the room. Ten minutes later, Maar and Halling arrived together. Maar waltzed the little ones into the bath room for washing up, while Halling set the table and Pyosz dressed the salad. Maar was back in the dining room and had just asked "Where's Thleen?" when Thleen came in the front door, her eyes huge and unreadable.

"Hey" called out Pyosz gaily, "did you forget the tofu?"

Thleen stumbled to the couch and crumpled onto it. Maar reached her instantly, and Thleen said "Ziri's going to the dance with Xoan! They're going together, without me!" before bursting into sobs. Pyosz heard Nioma murmur something inaudible to Prl and glared at them both before rushing to enfold Thleen from the other side. Thleen's body seemed wracked with pain. Pyosz heard Qux's querelous "Siba?" and the whir of Halling's cart as she picked up both Qux and Merrl to carry them out the front door.

"Oh no, sweetie" said Maar. "I'm so sorry, that's awful news."

Thleen gasped "I can't bear this! I can't! Nobody ever wants me most, nobody ever has, I shouldn't have been born." Pyosz saw this hit Maar like a blow. Qala had reached them and tried squatting in front of Thleen but her knees wouldn't allow it. She sat on the floor with a slap of her buttocks on the wood and said "I know you feel that way. We'll help you bear it."

"I don't WANT to bear it!" shrieked Thleen. She pounded her knees until Maar moved her fists so she could pound on Maar's back. Pyosz kept trying desperately to think of a way to change Ziri's mind. She imagined Thleen riding home on the ferry, what state she must have been in. I don't know how to fix this.

Half an hour later, Thleen had worn herself out and shuffled to the bath room with Maar for face washing. Dishes left warming in the aga were set on the table, and the little ones came back in, staring worriedly at Thleen.

"Abba said you heart was broke" said Qux, reaching a hand toward Thleen. "Does it hurt?"

"Yes" said Thleen in a choked voice.

"Give siba a kiss and then let's talk about something else during dinner" said Pyosz. But so many topics seemed loaded, and conversation frequently sputtered out. After washing up, Pyosz and Thleen distributed their purchases from the clothing store, except for Qux's birthday gifts, and Prl made a big fuss over Thleen's new hanshan until Thleen said hoarsely "I won't be wearing it. I can't go to the dance now."

Which plunged the great room into silence. After half a minute, Thleen said "I think I'll take a bath now, and go to bed early."

"I'll make you some warm milk" said Qala, patting her on the shoulder. Pyosz knew she would put a few drops of her stress tincture into the mug. She headed upstairs to get a schmatta for Thleen, When she returned, most of the others had gone to the porch. Maar was waiting outside the closed bath room door.

She said quietly "I'm going to nurse Merrl but then go upstairs with Thleen, if that's all right with you."

Pyosz handed her the schmatta and said "I'll take the little ones in with me for the night. Oh, Maar, this is awful. She can't stay home alone fron the dance, she'll be wretched." Qala joined them with the warm milk and handed it to Maar, saying "If we can't persuade her to go, I'll stay with her. Things will look better tomorrow, they always do,:

"Except this will be a daily shift in her intimate world" said Maar.

"I know exactly what she's going through" said Pyosz. Maar stared at her, realizing she must be talking about losing Sey. Her eyes shuttered opaque and she stiiffly entered the bath room.

"I didn't mean it that way" Pyosz said to the closed door. Qala looped her arm through Pyosz's and tugged her to the porch. When Maar came out a few minutes later to take Merrl into her lap, she didn't make eye contact with Poysz and sat in a chair instead of beside Pyosz on the step. Her goodnight kiss on Pyosz's forehead after Merrl went to sleep was perfunctory.

Prl and Nioma helped carry the little ones upstairs later. Pyosz said as graciously as she could to Nioma "I suppose you saw this coming."

"Not this, no. I knew Ziri was calling on the radio and Xoan was talking about her a lot, but they're friends, I hadn't seen a shift that was going to exclude Thleen. Xoan said a couple of days ago she was meeting someone at the dance but was mysterious about it, and honestly, I thought it might be Thleen" said Nioma. "I'm so glad I'll never have to live through those years of my life again." She looked at Prl gratefully.

Pyosz didn't feel like she had any slack left for others. Qux tried to keep herself awake, making the most of having Pyosz to herself, but after a very short story, Pyosz said "Go to sleep, child. I'm too tired tonight for more." She couldn't see Qux's face but imagined it looked wounded in the same way Maar's could. She pulled Qux close and said "You are my darling firstborn, we'll visit in our dreams, all right?" She could feel Qux's smile against her arm.

She was relieved in the morning when Maar hugged her as soon as they met in the kitchen. "How did she do?" asked Pyosz.

"Not really solid sleep until about 3 a,m," said Maar. "She says she does want to go to the funeral today. Apparently she knows that only the Kacang elders are attending, so she won't have to run into Ziri. I'm worried about why she wants to be in such a sad event, though."

"It helps to be around others crying sometimes" remembered Pyosz. "I know Qux is young, but I think this would be a good first funeral for her, without it being anyone she knows who died."

"What will we do with Merrl? I know all the elders want to go, I've arranged for the large ramp sinner right after lunch. Merrl will be distraught at being the only one left witn Ngall" said Maar.

"And you need to look after Thleen. Well, I'll ask emma to be the one looking after Merrl, she can keep her quiet better than anyone. I'll hold Qux." Pyosz already felt tired. "Maar, I didn't mean to compare my losng Sey to Thleen losing Ziri -- "

"I know, I had time to think about it" said Maar. "Only, Sey's treachery brought you here and gave you the life you wanted. Ziri not returning Thleen's love -- it's hard for me to see any good in that for Thleen."

"Me either" said Pyosz.

They had an early lunch, and afterward all three children crowded into the bath room to watch as Maar held her hand before her face so Pyosz could outline it in transition blue. Merrl began "Me, I want to paint my face -- " but Thleen cut her off, saying "It's for grown-ups only. And not even all grown-ups, only special ones."

"Emma" breathed Qux, following Pyosz intently as she filled in the hand, rendering Maar's face serious and alien. Prl had put together whites for the little ones, since they didn't have funeral silks yet. Merl kept asking if they were going to see dead people, until Qux said "NO, sibu, the levs ate them up." Which was not what Pyosz would have told her but it did shush her.

Everyone in the extended family who was over the age of 70 were being taken by Maar in the sinner. The rest assembled in Koldok and gave bus seats to those carrying children, the rest planning to walk to Pertama because the road was already thick with funeral-goers. Qala indicated to Pyosz she had attached herself to Thleen.

Pava also had a blue hand on her face, making Qux reconsider Pava's status in the world. She had attended funerals since Poth's death, but Pava's face was still an open wound. Thleen looked white-eyed with anxiety until Lpika and Henar arrived, saying to Nioma that the rest of the Talaba family was staying home. Pyosz saw the hunch in Thleen's shoulders relax then.

Maar found them in the throng and the family slowly reassembled. Qux was silent, her usual grin absent but her face open. Merrl kept whispering loudly to Prl and Prl patiently dealt with the torrent. Every now and then Pyosz pressed her cheek to Qux's and murmured an explanation or comment, and Qux would pull back to look intently at Pyosz with her dark liquid eyes.

Then Pyosz felt a ripple in the crowd around them. She looked where others were staring and saw a small cluster of women approaching. One of them, a face she didn't quite recognize, said "There she is!" and pointed to Maar. At that moment Pyosz realized the woman hand in hand with the pointer was very pregnant. Caax.

Three of them approached Maar, Caax flanked by her partners, the crowd parting for them. Caax wrapped herself against Maar as closely as her belly would allow, laying her face on Maar's shoulder. One of her partners was weeping. Qux looked at Pyosz, wide-eyed, and Pyosz whispered "That woman about to have a baby is who your emma saved from the leviathans. That's her family, coming to thank your emma."

Maar's face was bright red around the blue. Caax, who was short, had to stand on tiptoe to kiss Maar's cheek, her lips coming away with flecks of blue. She turned and began grasping the hands of Maar's family, thanking each of them in turn. When she reached Pyosz and Qux, Qux stuck out her hand eagerly and Caax squeezed it with a radiant grin, saying "I can see her in you! Thank you."

"You welcome" said Qux. Caax kissed Pyosz on the cheek as well before moving on. Pyosz realized suddenly she was crying. Qux looked at her with alarm and Pyosz said "Happy tears, baby child." She added into Qux's spiky hair "I love your emma so very, very much."

"I know" said Qux.

Maar and the other pilots were urged up the spiral at Pertama Peak, along with the two survivors, and asked to stand in the spot where ordinarily bodies would be. Families of the missing held up photographs and told stories. Maar cried so much blue streaks made inroads on the immaculate collar of her silks. The families then hugged each of the pilots, whom Mill had strictly prohibited from apologizing for not having saved everyone -- "Don't insert yourselves into their loss" she had said. "You risked everything you had, assuming any blame is ego." The families lingered over Caax, asking to touch her belly, finding a symbol there which helped somehow.

Thleen blubbered nonstop, which was a relief to Pyosz. Merrl, interestingly, did not cry. Qux was pressed as close to Pyosz as she could get, and Pyosz reminded her twice "This is how we get better after somebody dies. The love of other people is a magic remedy."

It hurt, like a tangible ache, when they had to extinguish torches without Kuus lifting a linen-wrapped form into the air, to be returned to Skene. Being shit out by levs is not part of the balance thought Pyosz, rage making her briefly dizzy. She looked at Maar, who was watching her, and mouthed We are on the same side. Qux touched her lips and said "I couldn't hear you, emma." Pyosz repeated it, her eyes inches from Qux's.

Maar turned over the sinner helm to Dekkan so she could walk home with Pyosz, each of them carrying a child, Thleen between them. Normal conversation returned like fresh rain, and indeed, the skies looked like they might open up before they reached Saya. Once at the Manage, Thleen's face took on a hunted look again. Qala said to her "Would you mind coming with me to the greenhouse, in case I need something heavy lifted?"

"Let's go" said Thleen, heading for the door.

"Well, I have to change outta my silks first" said Qala wryly.

"Oh yeah." A small smile cracked Thleen's face. "I'll meet you back down here."

Maar breathed out and said "I'm taking the bath I didn't get last night, and Merrl at least needs to join me, she's ripe."

"Take Qux, too, they'll enjoy washing your face for you" suggested Pyosz. She passed Thleen hurtling back down the stairs. Shw went first into Thleen's room to hung up silks tossed on the floor -- Clicker was already making a beeline for them, then changed her own clothes and got fresh attire for Maar and the little ones to take to the bath room. She heard a loud laugh from Prl's room before she retreated downstairs.

Thleen and Qala walked out into a fresh rain and sprinted for the green house. Qala peered into the canopy and said "I see some dates ready for cutting. You up for a climb, Opicha?"

Thleen's grin was almost normal as she pulled rigging from the tool chest. She and Ziri had continued periodic rock climbing outings with Pava, and she was now deft as she pulled herself up almost 20 feet above the ground. Qala gathered what she tossed down, shaking each bunch of dates for the spiders which liked to hide in their clusters -- Pyosz tended to scream when she saw a spider. Once Thleen was on the ground again, Qala used her rolling stool to do some weeding while Thleen began feasting on ripe dates, tidily gathering pits in her hat.

"Harvesting something that sweet and rich on a bitter wet day, amazing, aint it?" said Qala. She wasn't going to admonish Thleen to save some for others, not today. She splayed her legs to reach lower, breathing in the smell of damp soil and, she was convinced, extra oxygen.

After a minute, Thleen say through a full mouth "I can't believe it, habibi."

"I can't either." They were adept at talking in shorthand. "It feels all wrong to me, too."

"Do you think maybe it's a mistake, then?"

"I wish. But I'm afraid Ziri has made up her mind. She is strong-minded." Qala gave Thleen an empathetic look.

"I hope this isn't awful for me to say, but it feels like somebody died."

"No, I can see that, Thleen."

"Did you ever feel this way?"

"Yes. More than once."

"Do you bleed inside forever?"

"Toss me a couple of those dates. No, you get over it. Sometimes so completely you wonder that it ever hurt, but sometimes there's always a little tender spot. Like a broken toe." Which you're too young to know what I mean thought Qala, pitting her date one-handed.

"I can't imagine it ever getting better. I want to just go to sleep, except I can't sleep, but maybe if I could, I'd wake it and none of it would be true."

"You won't be able to imagine it until you've done it once, like swimming or riding a bike."

Thleen snorted at her. "You can't really ride a bike, habibi, you wobble and fall over like an axed chicken."

Qala laughed. "Asswipe." Thleen laughed, too.

More audible chomping for a minute. "I'm not sure I want to be a grown-up if it's like this."

"This is a very very bad day. The good days are out of your mind better than the worst days."

"Like what?"

"Like when your heart's desire says yes, which will happen for you, Thleen, you are quite the catch. Like when a baby gets born and they name it after you, which will also happen for you. Like when the child of your dreams gets to come live at your Manage the rest of your days." Qala's eyes looking at Thleen were wet. Thleen turned red, and Qala refocused on her weeding.

"I feel like I've been left as much as I can take in one lifetime, habibi." Maar's blood would congeal if she heard this.

"I get that."

Thleen had eaten all the dates on one bunch. She inspected a second, but stopped herself. Maybe she remembers what those do to her bowels.

"That stop chain across the river's mouth in south Dvareka, where it goes into the boulder near Sepek?" said Thleen. "When people want to die, they go there to slip under the chain. The current carries them fast out to the Southern Wasa, where levis are always waiting. The same one who ate the people we honored today. The only way you know is somebody finds their otos on the boulder, because they always take them off."

Qala sat up straight and looked at Thleen with a glint. "Who told you that?"


Qala made a mental note to kick Su's ass. She picked up a stick and drew a spiral in the dirt, pointing toward it. "Almost a third of a leviathan's body is mouth and gullet. Under their skin everywhere is a network of interlaced muscles, but around the outside of their throats is a tight spiral of massive, crushing muscles. And on the inside is a spiral of overlapping, razor-sharp cartilage plates, as hard as metal. These pseudo-teeth point inward, so once they hook onto something, like flesh, the only way to get free is to go deeper into the lev. But all those muscles are squeezing in sequence, pushing you down to the next circle of teeth, simultaneoysly shredding you and juicing you." She paused to let that sink in.

"I have listened to the screams of women I loved as they hit those teeth. It takes seconds, sometimes, to die, and before you do, it hurts as bad as anything ever could. Two people from Pya, who were at Mchele Fair with you this year for sure, just had to die in that kind of agony. So I do not EVER AGAIN want to hear you talk about that kind of end as maybe romantic, maybe a glorious way to be a martyr."

Thleen looked green. Qala said "If you need to puke, do it on the path, not the cacao plants." She put down her stick and lowered her voice. "Thleen, I honestly don't know if I could go on if something happened to you. Do you hear me? Look at me. So when you start getting desperate, you have to give me a hint. Tell me there's something needs doing in the greenhouse. I'll meet you here and do whatever it takes to help you out, and I have resources I haven't touched yet. Will you make that promise to me?"

Thleen licked her lips. "Okay."

"Swear it to me on your honor as a descendant of the mining islands."

Thleen's eyes went wide. "I swear it."

"All right, we've got a parachute in place." Qala wiped sweat from her face with the back of her hand. She stood to shift her stool sideways, giving a soft moan and stretching her back before sitting down again.

"So, let's talk about this dance tonight. I completely understand why you'd rather boil your eyes out with lava than have to watch them in each other's arms on that floor. And if you really don't want to go, I will stay home with you and we'll play games, make popcorn, break into Prl's desk and read her diary." Thleen gave a shocked giggle.

"But Thleen, you know how you said you didn't have any more room to be left behind? Well, part of what happened when you got left over and over is that you had to act like everything was okay. And I think maybe that's really what you don't have the ability to do any more, is pretend that things are okay when they aren't. And I'm worried that staying home will feel like more pretending. In my experience, whatever bad stuff I imagine about a situation is almost always worse in my head than it actually turns out to be. Smart folks like us with creative brains, we paint big pictures. I am willing to bet your well-being that going and facing it will be easier on you. Because you still love them both, the levvin' shitbreaths, and you're going to go on loving them. They are your friends. Getting this ghastly dance behind you will make it a lot more possible to be friends on down the road. And if I'm wrong, I'll leave with you and come back home."

Thleen looked thunderstruck. Qala continued "See, when the dance begins. nobody except the families involved is going to know Ziri has chosen Xoan instead of you. But by the end of the dance, everybody in Pya will know. And if you're not there, they will feel sorry for you, which is okay, you sure deserve sympathy. But if you show up, you let it show how much you're hurting but you lean on your community, they will feel sympathy plus they'll think 'That Thleen is one brave woman, she's got depth, worth knowing.' And even if it takes you a year to stop wishing Ziri will change her mind and instead go look for another love, when that time comes, odds are the woman who catches your eye will be at that dance tonight, and she'll remember how honest and strong you were."

Qala could see this last didn't mean much to Thleen. She wanted only Ziri.

"Anyhow, whatever your decision, I got yer back. Will you pull the shears out of the tool chest, I want to clip this woody stem."

Half an hour later, they dashed back to the Manage. Thleen took the dates to Pyosz in the kitchen and said, after clearing her throat, "I'm thinking I might go to the dance after all." Behind them, Maar blew an exuberant silent kiss to Qala, which Qux and Merrl immediately began imitating.

"Oh good, honey. Your hair has really grown in beautifully, would you like me to help you come up with a new style for tonight?" said Pyosz.

Thleen's face showed a little animation. "Can I do that wire thing others have been trying?" It was the current rage among teenagers to twist polished metal into their braids and nap in free-form configurations. Maar had vetoed it for Thleen because she said it was one stage away from a scalp laceration. Pyosz didn't need to look at Maar now. She said "Go out to my studio, I have reels of precious metals I imbed in pots sometimes, bring them up to my bedroom." She left dinner prep to Halling and Yoj. Qux and Merrl were right on her heels.

When Thleen slid breathlessly into the chair in front of Pyosz's mirror, Pyosz ran her fingers through the damp auburn mass and said "I could potato hill this. Sorry, it won't dread. Or would you like a frizzy mane?" She pushed one side of Thleen's hair into a mock version.

"I want dramatic. Can you weave ribbons plus gold and silver braid through the potato hills?" said Thleen.

"What, no copper or brass?" joked Pyosz. But Thleen said "All of it, if you can. Male me your art project." Pyosz met her eyes in the mirror and said "You got it." She lifted her vast array of ribbons, beads, and other adornments from a dresser drawer and set it on Thleen's lap. Two sets of small brown hands immediately began rifling through the treasures.

Maar appeared behind them. "I'm no good at taming hair, but can I watch?"

"Yes, as long as you keep an eye on the busy bees here, Merrl is terrible about pilfering" said Pyosz, starting to clip one shock of hair to the side.

"I am not!" objected Merrl, both hands full.

"Do you even know what pilfer means?" chuckled Maar.

"Taking other people's stuff" volunteered Thleen.

"I NOT!" said Merrl, dropping one handful on the floor so she could beat her chest in indignation.

"You do, you steal my toys alla time" retorted Qux. As Maar began trying to head off the hurling of gewgaws, Pyosz whispered to Thleen "I apologize for not leaving you the sole child of Owl Manage", and was rewarded with a full Thleen smile.

An hour later, Pyosz was glaze-eyed with creative concentration and toddler focus had shifted to hide-and-seek out in the hall with Maar pretending not to see the hiders until she right on them, when she would growl and pounce. The screaming was frequent. Thleen alternated between pure sensation of hands on her head and spurts of despair when remembering her rejection.

Prl came in carrying a flat wooden box which was delicately carved. "Oh, you're still at it. I thought you might be ready to consider face paint."

Thleen came alert: She knew that box and had never been accessed its contents before. "Lip gloss?" she said hopefully.

"Yes, and blusher, and Nioma offered some of her kohl for your eyes if we can find the right shade" said Prl, opening the lid.

"Nearly done" said Pyosz distractedly. "Keep your head still."

Prl experimented with mixes of color on the back of Thleen's hand, periodically holding it up to show Thleen and comment on contrast or accent. Thleen was breathing shallowly under the twin blue focus. When Nioma joined them, smelling of fried onions from downstairs, Prl said "That reminds me, scent -- you want to get the bottles from my dresser, darling, and Thleen can select which one she wants for tonight?"

That reignited the attention of the little ones, and Maar trailed them into the room, joining the knot all contemplating Thleen in the mirror. After a minute, Maar said "But how is she supposed to sleep on that recycling heap?" Prl glared at Maar, and Pyosz said "See how I tucked all the back hair into a bun, to accentuate the fan at the front and sides? All this interweaving over the bun lifts right off by unhooking here and here. She can lie back on only hair at night."

"Wow, pretty clever" admitted Maar. "I have never seen a headress this original."

"Of course not" said Prl, still reproving. "And Thleen has the best hair on Skene for it."

"Me, abba, paint me" Merrl kept repeating, until Prl said "No, only teenagers." Which brought another grin to Thleen's face. Maar interceded with "But you picked out special ribbons for your hair, yes?" Prl added "And I'll let you each have one daub of scent. After dinner, scent and painting is for the final dress-up." She pushed back Merrl's hands and looked her sternly in the eyes, quelling any outburst. She then murmured to Nioma "She's identical to Pyosz at that age". which gave Pyosz a moment of disturbed disbelief.

"There!" said Pyosz. "Stand up, see how it feels to walk around in it."

Thleen paraded back and forth before the mirror, her face alight. Prl said "Singular, nobody will look at anything else tonight." Maar hugged Pyosz from behind, and Thleen swung Qux into a spin where her beads and hardware made a musical jangle.

"The table is set, let's go down to dinner" said Nioma. "Thleen gets to lead us" added Prl, picking up Merrl.

The elders' stunned faces below were gratifyingly authentic. Qala brought out two precious candles to light for the meal, and Qux remarked "Look, siba's hair twinkles!"

"Like a splash of stars" agreed Lawa. After dessert, Pyosz and Maar insisted they would do clean-up, shooing everyone else to dress. Prl and Nioma took the little ones to their room for a change into sturdy but clean "nice things".

Pyosz had time to rearrange her dreads a little and throw on some glitter, and Maar fussed with pleats and cuffs, before they returned to the great room with everyone except Thleen and Prl, sequestered in Prl's room for the final embellishment. Maar literally gasped when Thleen came downstairs in her new hanshan, her brown eyes outlined in gold-flecked kohl, her lips dark red, a pair of Prl's gleaming patent leather zaoxue on her feet, but most dazzling, her crown of hair.

Halling stood up and walked stiffly forward, then bowed and said "You are indeed the beauty of Skene." Thleen hugged her jubilantly, accepting hugs all round as Pyosz gathered burzakas and rain hats. Maar stuffed wriggling small feet into wellies and Thleen changed into otos for the trip. Dekkan came in the front door, saying "I've got Moasi and the Herne elders in my sinner -- " before stopping to gape at Thleen. "Thunder me down"! she said hoarsely.

"I'll save you a dance!" Thleen giggled, before turning to Pyosz with "Emma, how do I fit a rain hat over this?" Pyosz used scarves to protect her artistry and found plastic goggles for Thleen to wear over her eyes. Everyone except the children, Maar and Pyosz left. The five youngest members of Owl Manage ferried to Koldok, where Dodd had stashed Thleen's bike plus two more, one with a child seat on the back, in her side yard. Dodd's household had left early because Cawl Fe was playing a set tonight.

The downpour had stopped, perhaps for long enough to get to Fjer. Thleen rode her bike impatiently up and down the street in front of Dodd's house as Qux splashed around and Pyosz arranged Merrl securely in a yameen on Maar's back, Merrl facing backward at her demand. She tied on Merrl's rainhat with a knot -- better hassle at the other end than Merrl getting it off along the way.

Maar began clipping her cuffs back from the chain, offering the same to Thleen who stopped her circling and said "Oh, yeah." Pyosz belted Qux into the rear seat on her bike, tucking down her little burzaka and reminding Qux "We don't lean too far on the curves, right? Emma is not the best cyclist in Pya." Her bike had a good headlamp, so she took an extra strap and lashed her flash to Qux's forearm. She turned it on, and Qux pealed in laughter, beginning to arc jewels of light through the drenched night air.

Merrl spotted Qux's accoutrement and yelled "Hey!" but Maar was already climbing on her seat. "Aggie, ME light!" shouted Merrl. Thleen drowned her out with "Race ya!" and a surge forward. Maar streaked after her, standing up to pedal, and Pyosz heard Merrl's initial shriek dissolve into giggles. She started sedately behind them, focusing at first on avoiding puddles until she built momentum, then seeking out the deepest holes for the waves it would make and the cries of delight from Qux at her back.

Thleen of course won, with Maar complaining it wasn't fair, she was carrying two, to which Thleen retorted "You mean you and that belly of yours?" Pyosz's head still rang with Qux's laughter as they piled their bikes together and covered the seats with rainhats. Thleen went suddenly still, facing the brightly lit windows of the warehouse. Pyosz said "Let's go in the vestibule to hang up our burzakas and change out of otos first", and she handed Qux to Thleen to carry as a shield.

The Arta Island folks were in the side room, having just landed with Mill, and their admiration of Thleen did a little to return expression to her face. She was still breathless from the long race, but all her color looked artificial at the moment. Prl came looking for them. She swept up Merrl and said "We have a table waiting. Thleen, I will lead us through but when people want to greet you, stop and let them be dazzled. Kacang is not here yet, you've no one to avoid."

"Thank you, emma" Pyosz said. She and Maar followed Thleen, Maar now carrying Qux and holding Pyosz's hand, but they might as well have been invisible, Thleen drew all eyes. She appeared overwhelmed by the time they reached the cluster of tables. Pava stood up and say "Lev, Dekkan, you were right!" She added "May I have the first dance, Nan Thleen?", which Pyosz noticed did not sit well with the young woman she'd brought as a date. It's family loyalty, get used to it she mentally aimed at the date.

Ehuy offered to take Qux with Ehall and Omill to the adjacent children's play room, and Qux was happy to abandon them. Ngall was staying home with the baby. And relishing the quiet, I bet thought Pyosz. Merrl was trying to get loose from Prl, looking in Maar's direction, but Maar skirted her as the music began and strolled with Pyosz onto the dance floor. They were both watching Thleen already in light-reflecting motion with Pava.

"I'm guessing Ziri is planning to make a big entrance with Xoan once things are underway" said Maar.

"I actually have some empathy for her, is that terrible of me?" said Pyosz. "She can't help how she feels. I mean, I wasn't bright enough to notice you while we were in school together."

Maar let herself be twirled before she answered "Those two empty tables Prl has saved -- those are for Talaba and Kacang when they get here, I gather. Is she being the diplomat?"

"And a good abba" replied Pyosz. "Our families are all connected. The faster we normalize this, the better. But notice she placed chairs so Thleen will face the dance floor, while Ziri and Xoan will only have a view of the back of Thleen's head."

Maar grinned. "The little ones had no nap today, that may cause a blow-up before too long."

"Qux is good about lying down on the pile of quilts in the corner of the play room, she'll be okay. Merrl, on the other hand..."

Maar said "We'll keep passing her around like a bad cold", then did her smoothest move, spiraling down Pyosz's arm until they were at fingertips before winding herself back into Pyosz's embrace. Pyosz laughed every time, mostly at the way Maar batted her eyes sideways on the return approach.

When the music ended, they returned to the table because Thleen had. Merrl lunged for Maar and Pyosz answered Pank's questions about how she'd done Thleen's hair. Two of Thleen's schoolfriends appeared, flickering their hands all over her head and hanshan, voices high and dramatic. Thleen was bubbly until one of them asked "Where's Ziri, didn't she come with you?" Thleen went still, and as the music started again, Pyosz said "Please, will you dance with your boring old emma?"

It was a lively line dance, and Pyosz let Thleen teach her difficult flourishes, guffawing at her occasional mistakes. As they returned to the table, Thleen whispered "I figured Ziri would have bragged to our friends by now, about Xoan."

"They both care about you" said Pyosz. "Even bossy Ziri has a tender spot for your feelings, she's trying to be kind, I'd wager." Thleen considered this as she downed a glass of cold tea. She was about to sit when she froze, her gaze locked on the front door. Pyosz didn't need to turn to see who it was, but she did and waved warmly at the Heaps, arriving in tandem with the Talaba family. She pointed to the two tables behind them. Ziri and Xoan had linked hands, which she reminded herself to forgive them for, they were new at this.

She turned back to Thleen but Qala was there, saying quietly "Shake their hands, tell them they look nice, then let me drag you away to the dance floor." Thleen's face was almost as pale as Maar's, her eyes feverish, as she followed Qala's instructions, avoiding Ziri's marveling about her clothes and hair. Pyosz stepped into the breach as Thleen escaped, answering Ziri's questions and taking 2-year-old Falle from pregnant-again Meko.

In a minute, Ziri and Xoan ventured onto the floor, where Pyosz was certain Qala would keep a large pad of distance between them and Thleen. Aleri asked her "How has she been?"

"Awful. But we're handling it. How are things at your place?" commiserated Pyosz.

"Confused. I haven't had a chance to call you -- " said Aleri.

"It's all right. We're all right. Their bond will weather this and so will all of ours." Pyosz shook a little glitter into Falle's outstretched hands, making her chortle, and noticed the relief among the Heaps adults. When the dance was over, Thleen was immediately swept back out by Dekkan, then Dekkan's sweetheart Esra, and then even by Pava's date, who had been filled in on what was up. Ziri was caught off guard by the older teenager buzz around Thleen and began advancing her own embraces with Xoan, which Pyosz kept reminding herself to let go. Maturity is hard won.

But by the third dance, some people at a nearby table were pointing to Ziri and Xoan, then to Thleen, and whispering among themselves. There it goes thought Pyosz. It will now zip around the room like a tzikidi. Well, my child will come out of this looking good, we've made sure of that.

Qala and Thleen took a break outside "to cool off", and while they were gone, Lawa sat between Pyosz and Maar to whisper "Qala said I couldn't tell you this, but Su has filled Thleen's head with tales of how people go to south Dvareka to commit suicide."

"What?" hissed Pyosz, and Maar was on her feet before she remembered Su hadn't come to this dance, she was working the carnival tonight. Lawa added "Qala took care of it, don't worry", and Maar subsided into her chair, her face white as parchment except for two bloodspots of anger on her cheeks. Lawa went to dance with Frank, and Maar leaned into Pyosz.

"I don't know what I'd have done -- me and Thleen -- without you and your family." Her voice broke.

"Maar, it goes both ways, don't you see that? I need you so much...I don't want to share you with Skene, but after that funeral, seeing Caax today, I can't be selfish. In my family, we give without question, and that's why you're one of us. I'm just so scared of losing you." Pyosz felt weight compressing her chest; she pushed her muscles to take in air.

"You have to let fear move on through you, don't give it a place to hide." Maar pressed her mouth against Pyosz's and they kissed slowly, stopping to breathe and look at each other before resuming, until Pyosz though there must be threads of gold and silver crackling in her own hair.

Prl returned witn Merrl from a trip to the privy and Merrl scrambled into Maar's lap, saying "You dance wif me now?"

"All right" said Maar, giving Pyosz a rueful laugh. Pyosz went to check on Qux, who was in a frenzied game of tag. When she returned, she accepted a waltz with Uli while Maar took a turn with Yoj. Thleen was on the floor with someone in her class, who looked very animated. Thleen has now been peeled loose from the Ziri -- and Xoan -- orbit, and others see their chance thought Pyosz.

The band who had been playing now finished their set, and an intermission was announced, with Cawl Fe going on next. A sweating, red-faced Dodd sat down to catch her breath from non-stop dancing with Briel. Pyosz wet her new scarf in water and wiped Dodd's face for her. She then whispered to Thleen "During the dawn chorus, I'll do Echo if you can imitate Killer." Thleen grinned almost normally and said "Deal." Vants joined them with Spatter's rather whiny bleat, and they roared with laughter when the lights came up.

Maar plopped Merrl into Halling's lap and skidded away, looking back at Pyosz. They knew this song; it was long and changed tempo twice. Maar took the lead, her palm itching to rest on Pyosz's hip. Pyosz cupped the back of Maar's neck and fitted her cheek against Maar's, not even a quarter-inch difference in their height. "I choose you" she murmured.

"Yes, you did" replied Maar. "You know, the night you told me that Uli had kissed you, and you'd liked it -- after I got to the Lofthall, I vomited myself empty beside the jichang, couldn't even make it to the privy. I was so scared you would never love me."

"Oh, sweetheart" said Pyosz, pushing closer. "As if."

"Well, I know Thleen wanted Ziri as much, and look at what she's having to face" said Maar. They turned to find Thleen in the crowd, dancing with Prl, both of them resplendent and Thleen clearly counting steps.

Maar turned around and danced in reverse, her wide rump firm against Pyosz's belly and thighs. Pyosz nuzzled the velvet fuzz on the back of Maar's neck, murmuring "Wonder what Pya would say if they knew how much you love for me to pleasure your ass.: She bit Maar's earlobe lightly and Maar tried to turn and face her for a kiss, but Pyosz held her in place. "Lean back on me a little" she whispered, pushing Maar's knees apart only a fraction, yet still enough to symbolize Pyosz being between her thighs. Maar's moan was covered by the high notes of the horn.

Then the first tempo shift arrived, and Maar broke free to push Pyosz into a mad polka. All Pyosz could ever manage at this speed was to let go and trust Maar's body talking to hers, finding a space into which they could plunge. She was always triumphant when she managed not to fall.

The final third of this song was best done to a slinky grapevine, sliding by each other sideways, still breathless. Maar's lips turned crimson after such exertion -- and right before she comes thought Pyosz.

Pyosz felt on fire by the time the song ended, and she fleetingly entertained the idea of seeking out a shed nearby where Maar could push her up against a dark wall --

But Merrl was reaching for Maar as they came off the dance floor, her cheeks still tear-streaked. "Habibi wouldn't let me go!" she complained.

Pyosz said "Habibi was right, we wanted to be alone for that dance." Merrl decided to ignore this betrayal, her small fist clasped on Maar's ear, the possessiveness on her face feral. As the music began again, Merrl said "Me dance!" and Maar carried her to the slow center of the floor. Pyosz dipped her scarf in water once more and washed her own face, grinning so widely her cheeks ached.

A few minutes later, Qux appeared at her knee, crying loudly. "Ehall called me a baby!" she wailed as Pyosz lifted her into her lap.

"Well Ehall is clearly mistaken. Babies can't walk across a crowded dance floor and tell their aggies about injustice, can they?" Qux's tears were usually brief. She spotted the snack tray on the table and sucked back snot to ask "Is that cake?"

"Too late at night for desserts" said Pyosz. "How about we go get you some warm milk with maybe a little honey in it?"

Back at the table, Qux sipped her milk and lolled tiredly against Pyosz. Pyosz took the mug from her when she could tell Qux was dropping off despite the hubbub around them. Maar returned and said "She out?"


Moasi called over "Let me hold her, she is so cuddly when she sleeps." Moasi shrugged out of her jirekinu and wrapped the thick silk against Qux as the child was transferred. Maar unlaced her gilet and said "Maybe nursing this one will do the same trick." Pyosz sat out the next dance, scooting her chair so Maar could lean against her, playing lightly with Merrl's little hand. When Dodd performed the anthem, Maar and Pyosz both pushed their fist into the air but only whispered "To Pya!" because Merrl had, in fact, dropped off.

They stayed to the end because Thleen kept being asked to dance. Ziri and Xoan made moon eyes at each other and didn;t interact much with others, but only as would be expected, and Thleen stopped constantly trying to catch a glimpse of them. During farewells, Thleen even managed brief hugs for her friends. Pyosz sent Merrl home on Halling's scooter, Moasi keeping Qux, and the bike ride back became an all-out race between her, Thleen and Maar. Their legs were soaked with muddy water by the time they reached the dock, Thleen crowing victory once again.

"This time you earned it" admitted Maar. Thleen went silent on the ferry, looking over the water toward Kacang, and Pyosz patted her leg as she said "I am more proud of you than I know how to say."

At the Manage, the little ones were already put to bed. Prl and Nioma had also gone upstairs. Qala had the game cupboard open and said to Thleen "Take your pick, Lawa and I are staying up tonight." Pyosz thanked them all before hurrying upstairs after Maar.

Copyright 2010 Maggie Jochild.