I don’t know why it’s daylight here and it’s night in the other section – but that can be smoothed out later. Here Daffak leads his sister up the valley at a brisk pace. The brisk lasts for awhile and then Lillibell starts lagging. Morganzer tries to keep up with Daffak, out of competitiveness for awhile, but sits and waits for Lillibell when she notices that she’s fallen far behind. She stays with her for the rest of the trip, remembering that her knees are bad.
When she first catches up, she puffs a bit.
“Would you like to sit and rest for awhile, Morganzer asks without rising. Lillibell unties and unstoppers her water skin and takes a good pull.
“No. It would be harder getting up again than just standing. I’m not used to this exercise any more. I’m sure it will be good for me.”
“What about your knees? Are you going to be all right?”
“I should be fine, at least as far a pain goes.” Lillibell pulls a small bottle out of her cleavage. “this should dull the pain and ease the stiffness. I’ve got two charms sewn into my pants to reduce swelling, too. It isn’t something that should be kept up long. There are side effects to using this stuff long term. But long term is years. I should be fine for a few weeks at least.”
“Assuming you’re not dead,” said Morganzer, dusting grass off of her behind.
Assuming that. I’ve gotten used to the about to die thing. So far I’ve always been able to avert it. I’ve had help, of course. My scrying isn’t that strong. Ready?” and they began walking again.
Every few hours Daffak would stop and they’d eat something out of the packs. There were boiled bird eggs and short, thick boiled carrots. There were tied cloths holding uncooked peas and jars with cooked dried beans or small pickled beets. There was knotbread.
Halfway up the valley there was a herders’ hut with a well. They refilled their containers, rested on dried cut grass in the hut for a bit, before going on. Felt frolicked while they rested, burrowing into the grass and biting it, then pestering Daffak, who only needed to rest his feet and was happy to play back.
The valley sloped upward a bit from the middle to the end, so the rest of the way was harder going, but deceptively so. Daffak is feeling less put upon and hangs back to walk with the others. He starts to spread the rest of his bad feeling around.
Lillibell is a little concerned by the bickering, but it’s mostly Morganzer that is on the receiving end. though the questions that start it are ostensibly aimed at Lillibell.
Why do aunts use the word nemen? Why call them not-men like that? Do you think they don’t know? Do you think they don’t care?
well, said Lillibell with a slightly rueful smile , if they were all that big on sparing feelings they wouldn’t call us whores. it’s a point of negotiation. they distance themselves and set themselves apart from us and we distance ourselves from them, to show that it cuts both ways
that’s not what they say
Lillibell shrugs “ were any of them here when it started? Half of the men that come are new from the time when I was little, and I’m only 42. The downsizing happened more than eighty years ago. And they would have killed a good number of us if we hadn’t taken our losses.
Daffak’s scowl was deeper than any of the frowns that Morganzer used when annoyed. Lillibell changed the subject
Nemen only means they’re not our men. We don’t marry them. We keep our children. They respect that. They wouldn’t think it was proper for their women, but they respect it.
They call you whores because you’re not properly married.
We’re not properly married because there are no proper men around, only marauders. Our men went to Farside.
Daffak scowled again.
“You think they’re cowards, don’t you?” Morganzer decided to get the argument over with, if there was going to be one. “You hate people you’ve never met. You hate your own kin because they’re not killers.”
“I hate them because they’re not strong. Because they didn’t protect their families.”
“They protected their families. They kept the prophet alive. The prophet can’t be moved and has to be tended. If we had all run or been stupid enough to get us all killed, we would have been deliberately wasting the lives of everyone who was killed in getting us to this place and everyone who died those first hard years setting up the colony.
“I’m sorry if your precious marauders don’t have anything to work for except for killing people and taking things, but we do, and we’re not weak enough or stupid enough to be killed or run off if we have the strength and the wit to stay.”
Daffak scowled again and walked farther ahead for awhile, though not so far that he couldn’t hear what they said or so far that he couldn’t help quickly if something happened.
“How old were you the first time you saw yourself die?”
“Oh, I was about six, I expect. that wasn’t the first time I came near to dying, of course. I was two when that happened. There was a fever that came in with the nemen and it was hardest on the little ones.
They were going to quarantine the top of the valley, to keep it from spreading, but the bowl said that it would get through anyway and that all of the babies and toddlers would die. So they kept us down in the nursery, and they did what they could. More than half of us made it.
Now when I was six, the nemen brought in some pigs. They were tired of the taste of goat meat, they said. They were tired of fish and beans. Well, the bowls said that the pigs would get big and mean. Different things were tried. Handling them a lot would work for most of them. But there was one big one that was just going to tear up the gardens and savage the goats.
I was just learning to scry and all of us were trying different ways to prevent damage from those pigs. One day I was scrying and I let myself get near it, in the bowl. And it just chomped me up. That poor little girl. I could see her screaming and shaking and it just kept going on and on.
I was a weak scryer so no one could see what I was seeing and turn over the bowl. I just had to ride it out. That damn pig didn’t just kill me, it ate me. Took a good long time about it, too. And my mother’s face when she found me. That hurt almost as much as the other had.
:So mothers were still called that, back then
yes, we learned that lesson slowly.
what was the hardest death to avert? or were they all about the same?
No. dying in childbirth was the hardest. My insides just aren’t right for making babies. the nemen have no use for barren women, and to tell the truth, the valley folk before the split weren’t too keen on the idea either. they were all trying to give birth to the two-scry, or barring that, to the best scryer in the next generation.
you can’t do that if you can’t make babies. and if you’re fertile, like I was when I was young, you can’t mate with anyone, even once without risking death. everyone went round and round about that one, from the time I was ten to the time I was fourteen.
Fortunately, I was always flat-chested as a girl, so we could keep me out of the baths without any complaints. And one crusty old biddy down below finally came up with the answer. She found a diseased nemen coming in with a mating fever that would make me sterile. He was a smelly, bony man with bad teeth and boils around his middle. And it would be a dice roll because the fever came in two stages. They had to let the first stage hit me as hard as it could, or I’d still be fertile, then they had to stop the second fever hard before it gave me the slow death and boils, like that poor man had.
A lot of us respect them for what they did that trip. They made that man stay on the boat. I had to sneak down to see him. And they were watching him close enough that if we hadn’t had a nest of meddling scryers, I’d never have been able to get to him.”
“You sound like you think of him kindly.”
“I do. I had to explain my problem to him to get him to cooperate. I couldn’t say scry to him though, I had to say I’d had a dream. Even still, I had to make it a recurring dream and describe each one as worse than the last and cry and go into near hysterics about how afraid I was of dying like that.
And he apologized when he finally joined in. And he was gentle. And he cried. He said he was sorry that I wouldn’t be having sons to take care of me. And I could tell that he was sorry for a lot of other things too, but he wasn’t going to make me feel bad by talking about himself.
I don’t know how he got that disease, but I respect how he handled himself once he had it. And I respect the other men for making sure.
Daffak was back walking with them again.
Did mother want to marry father, he asked
Lillibell collected her thoughts for while
I think she wanted him to stay. But she knew that would be bad for him, so she never mentioned it
And I think he wanted to take her with him. But he knew that would be bad for her, so he never mentioned it.
Your see, if he had stayed, his people would have had to treat him like a woman. And they can get really cruel when they do that. A woman can’t help being born a woman. But a man choosing to be a woman is very unsettling.
Daffak shivered, thinking about it.
That’s not what some of them say, said Morganzer. some of them say that women are born women because they were lazy in the womb and didn’t work at growing properly, so the gods refused to let them be born a man.”
“That’s mostly a story.” said Lillibell “It tells the truth about their feelings, but most don’t believe it literally. Some do, of course, but some people will believe anything if they hear it young enough, no matter how foolish it is.
“Why would it be bad for mother to go with him. Other than having to live with marauders, that is?
“Well. A man’s mother rules his house. And his mother lives in a world where people are valued by the strength of the orders that they can give. And she has no dominion over anything but her daughters-in-law and grandchildren. And not even all of that if her husband’s mother is living.
So she pokes and prods and complains at her son’s wives and their children. A lot of their stories have evil mothers-in-law because that’s the way they think it has to be. That way is natural and can’t be avoided.
tsk – Morganzer clicked her teeth in disapproval
A woman can start talking back to her husband’s mother once she has three sons. And some women kill themselves trying to get them. And while she’s trying, her son can kill her and take another wife if she has too many daughters.”
“How many is too many?” Daffak had to ask. It was just too amusing seeing the tables turned like that. Topside, daughters were valued because women could usually scry better than men and because they could stay, while boys had to leave.
“Three.” said Lillibell
“You’re kidding!” Morganzer said it, but even Daffak was appalled by that answer. Three daughters were just too easy to get if you were trying for three sons.
“How many men actually. . . you know?” he asked.
“Just because a person can do something, doesn’t mean that they will.”
Lillibell shrugged. :”it’s hard to tell. I’d guess that it would depend on the family. I’d guess that in some families is would be really hard not to. But I haven’t heard anyone talk about getting a second wife. I have heard about how weak girl babies are, though, so I’m guessing that the women smother second or third girls, if it looks like it could cost them their lives.
Neither Daffak nor Morganzer were happy with that thought. Both of them grumped their way to the top of the valley.
“You don’t think of father as a real relative, do you:”
“Maybe not. I think he’s happy with that, though.”
Daffak wasn’t happy with that answer. Not totally. But he couldn’t deny it. Maybe wanting a connection to father wouldn’t have done his sister any good. He dropped the subject.
Morganzer didn’t though. He had been right there. He had been with her mother whenever he visited. He looked after them, in a distant sort of way, after she was dead. And she hadn’t acknowledged the connection. She hadn’t respected him for it. What else was she not seeing? How many blind spots could you have before it affected your scrying?
Well, she’d have to think about that. She’d have to scry over it, as a meditation. There would be time for that on the trip. She hadn’t intended to scry as they traveled, because she knew it would irritate Daffak. Well, let him be irritated. He could poke at her all he liked. Maybe she’d learn something she needed to know.
She was going to be cranky in the morning, she knew.
As they reached the last house in the valley, Daffak and Morganzer looked up at the mountain snow still to be walked. They looked and they thought of Lillibell, with her bad knees. They thought of the cold and the wind. They looked at each other. Their eyes called truce for the duration. It was almost enough to make Morganzer change her mind about scrying along the way.