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|Creators: Deirdre / Wyld_Dandelyon (Writer), Jenny Heidewald (Inspiration), PeggyB (Inspiration)|
|The people in the town Ferelye was born in are uncomfortable with no-gender people, and as Ferelye gets older, ur spends more and more time hiding out on a tall cliff near roi home.|
|Posted: 05/23/11 [2 Comments]
~ 4267 words.|
Author's Forward: Torn World pronouns do not indicate gender. The impersonal pronouns follow the usual categories of nouns in that language--natural, artificial, and abstract. There is also a set of (natural) pronouns that are used only for people. Normally, the personal pronouns are used for all people regardless of gender. Author's Notes
So far, in our stories, we have been using standard English pronouns, since gender is, for the most part, apparent, and English requires us to use pronouns appropriate to someone's gender. In this story, since what seems to be a lack of physical gender is very much on the main character's mind, I use the Torn Tongue abstract pronouns "ur", "ru", and "roi" as the nominative, objective, and genitive/possessive pronouns for a person who is neither male nor female.
When Uncle Narlai stopped by to visit, Ferelye had been pleased. Narlai was a favorite of the whole family. But then he invited them to dinner at Fin and Fruit, where the food was wonderful, but the dress code--well, at 19, Ferelye looked obviously out of place in both men's and women's formal traditional Slunai clothes. Ur longed to go--not to the formal dinner, but somewhere, anywhere, else. Unfortunately, Ferelye had no where else to go, and the idea of simply running away was repellant to ru.
Now, Ferelye sat in roi favorite spot high on the cliff overlooking roi house, petting Rrara. The skycat purred, not minding the tears that fell onto her fur, as salty as the wind blowing in off the ocean. The sun was low over the horizon, casting red and gold highlights onto the water. This bit of cliff was back behind their house, so the house and the promontory it was built on blocked off Ferelye's view of the beach, which made it Ferelye's favorite perch of late, since the years for puberty had come and gone, leaving Ferelye narrow of hip and shoulder, and quite flat-chested. Ur could pretend there were no other people in all the world, at least for an hour or two.
"Ferelye, come down! It's time to go!" Freidala stared up through the saplings rooted in the cliff, hands on her wide hips. Ferelye could see her reddish blond curls blowing in the wind, framing her ample bosom. The sudden spring storm the day before had ripped nearly all the leaves from the young trees.
"I'm not going." Ferelye looked down at ru sister. Freidala was four years younger, but her curvaceous shape now made strangers mistake Ferelye as the youngest sibling. Ur kept roi own curls, a brighter red, pinned out of the way in a tail behind roi head.
"What? You've got to be kidding. It's the best food in Tifureir."
Ferelye shook roi head. Like Ferelye, Freidala was brilliant about science and stuff in books, but she never noticed how people treated Ferelye.
It had been different when they were children. Everyone assumed Ferelye was a girl. She'd used the girl's room in public places and wore girl's clothing and--well, in retrospect, it was paradise. "I'm not hungry."
"You were hungry a few ticks ago."
"Well, I'm not now." Ferelye lied. Why couldn't people be as gender-blind as names and pronouns?
"Really? Are you sure?"
Ferelye thought about all the people staring and the whispered comments about angry ghosts. There was also the fact that ur didn't dare use either bathroom. "I'm quite positive that I don't want to go."
Naifol came up behind Freidala, tall and broad-shouldered. Ferelye envied roi brother his physique, almost as much as ur envied Freidala hers. They both grew up, while ur stayed narrow in both shoulder and hips, flat-chested, and bare-chinned. Naifol tapped Friedala on the shoulder. "Come on, Freidala. We can bring Ferelye something after." His shorter, dark brown hair stirred in the wind, the red highlights not showing where they stood in the shade.
Naifol understood a little better; he was a year older than Ferelye, and had always been more aware of people's emotions and social behavior than Freidala.
Once the family left for the restaurant, Ferelye took comfort in petting Rrara. It was a pretty evening; the sun was setting over the ocean, and Ferelye thought ur might just sit there, enjoying the peace and Rrara purring, until everyone came back. But then there was a strange rhythmic noise, like someone chopping wood, but softer. The cat startled, and leapt off the cliff.
Ferelye watched the skycat, limbs spread wide, the membrane between her legs supporting her in a swooping glide. The cat headed out over the ocean instead of toward the house. It was a long way down, and even longer back up. Ur sighed. The cliff didn't seem as attractive now that ur was truly alone, and the noise hadn't stopped. It was coming from the beach, or the part of the ocean Ferelye couldn't see from where ur sat.
Ferelye swung over the edge of the cliff, clinging to the side of the wall automatically, having been up and down this stretch of rock so often that ur climbed it as casually as ur used to climb the ladder to the top bunk, back when ur shared a room with Freidala. When ur reached the edge of the promontory and looked down, ur gaped.
Below was a large ship, listing to port, a huge tentacled creature spread across the deck, tentacles tangled in the cabin and rigging, the stumps of two tentacles hanging low over the port railing. Blue-green gore was everywhere, sometimes mixed with splashes of red human blood. Two dwarf sailors were systematically chopping the remaining tentacles away from the body, spreading more blue-green blood everywhere.
Ferelye ran back to the house and rang the alarm bell. It wasn't exactly a shipwreck, so ur rang the codes for ship, monster, and medic. That would be confusing, but should get the right people headed for the beach.
Then Ferelye grabbed the box of first aid supplies and ran down the path to the beach. This wasn't the first time hurt people had washed ashore below their house.
When Ferelye got there, two men were walking toward her, stepping over ragged piles of seaweed and other storm wrack to reach sand that was smooth and dry. They had a third man on a stretcher, the inflatable cushions still flat.
Ur didn't waste time on names. "Where's your medic?"
"That would be me." The man on the stretcher groaned. "The blasted thing swatted me with one of the masts."
Ferelye looked him over. "Internal injuries, or just the broken legs?"
He looked ru over, eyes glancing up and down, not flinching at the mismatched eyes or the strange, sexless form. "Good, you have some training. Ah--at what level?"
"I'm nearly through fourth form. Planning to take the exams to qualify me as an assistant medic this summer."
The man's eyebrows rose.
Ferelye grimaced. "I'm not as young as you think."
The man simply nodded, taking Ferelye at ru word. "Good. Lads--set me down by Anruu." He looked over at Ferelye. "Before the Captain killed the thing, it grabbed an axe. Luckily, a smartarm is just a beast. Mostly it hit her with the back end."
Ferelye followed them to where a dwarf woman lay in the sand, bloody wounds roughly bound with someone's blue-green stained shirt. "I need water--a lot of it."
The woman whispered, "Better, grab a barrel of whiskey from the hold."
"Yes, Captain." One of the men set off running.
The bare-chested man lifted the medic into a sitting position. "If you can hold him up, I'll pile some sand to hold him that way."
Ferelye nodded, kneeling beside the injured healer and holding his shoulders. "My name is Ferelye."
"The medics from town will be here soon. Maybe you would do better laying down?"
He shook his head. "Open your kit. I need to see, once you're cleaning. Have you done any stitching? The one deep cut was awfully close to vital blood vessels." He looked over his shoulder. "Del, pile the sand high enough to support my head. I--I'm not as steady as I like."
The other man appeared, dropping a small barrel in the sand next to the captain. "Here you go." He put a pry-bar in the top and opened it.
Ferelye pulled out a bowl and cloth, scooping up some of the whiskey. "This will hurt, Captain, wherever the alcohol hits any wound." Ur started wiping down the captain's body.
"Tell me something I don't know, child!" The captain hissed as Ferelye washed the blue blood away from her body, exposing a dozen scrapes and shallow cuts and numerous puffy areas that were already starting to turn purple. She hesitated at pulling the woman's pants down, but the Captain nodded. "Go ahead." Doiyerl's assessment was accurate; Ferelye did not find any other serious wounds. Ur shook a large, thin towel from the kit over the woman's legs and belly.
"You'll have to cut away her shirt, and Del's, to get at the real wound."
Ferelye nodded. "I wanted to make sure there was no other serious wound before cleaning that one--the makeshift dressing has almost stopped the bleeding there."
"Get to it, boy, I have wounded crew." The captains words were sharp, but Ferelye knew it was pain and worry.
"Now, Anruu, Ferelye here said that more medics will be along shortly. We apparently beached near a town."
Ferelye nodded. "I rang the alarm bell. Don't worry. We'll take good care of your crew." Ur pulled out a scissors and cut through the cloth at both shoulders.
The captain grimaced. "That's c-cold."
"Del!" Ferelye's voice snapped. "Stop that and start piling hot sand on the Captain. Take just the top layers, where the sun's warmed them. Doiyerl, you just let your head rest if you need to." Carefully, ur slid the scissors blade underneath the tied shirt. It was very tight, and Ferelye had to start cutting before ru wanted to. Ur grimaced.
"You're doing fine, Ferelye." Doiyerl's voice was steady, though it was not strong.
Del was piling the hot sand carefully onto the blanket over the captain's legs, being careful to stay downwind of her wound. He must have helped medics in a similar way in the past.
As Ferelye worked, ur heard the first familiar voices--Freidala, Naifol, and some of their classmates. Someone said, "I'll get those medics hurrying!" and then Freidala landed on her knees beside Ferelye.
"Freida--good--rub your hands well in the barrel, it's whiskey, then get ready to put pressure anywhere that starts bleeding."
Doiyerl looked at the two of them. "Sis--er, siblings?"
Even as ur cut through the last of the shirts and turned to dunk roi hands into the barrel, Ferelye appreciated his casual recognition of ru. That level of politeness was a large part of why ur had gone into medicine--the medics were almost the only ones who treated ru more as a person than as a freak, once roi condition became known to people outside of roi immediate family. Ur nodded. "Ready, Freida?"
Ferelye lifted the shirt fragments. Some of them lifted right away, but the bottom layer was quite stuck, and stained thoroughly with the smartarm's blood. The cut ran from the collar bone--Ferelye ran her fingers along it to make sure it wasn't broken--through the side of the breast and under the arm. It had to hurt like hell. Ferelye started to cut as much extra cloth away as ur could, then poured whiskey over the rest. The captain groaned, and Del settled down beside her head, taking hold of her arms and positioning them to bare the wound well. Then he settled in to hold her still.
Ferelye dipped roi hands into the whiskey again, and wet a new rag. Then, nodding at Freidala, ur started pulling away the last bit of cloth, wiping with the clean rag so she could see what she was doing. The captain groaned again as the wound started to bleed more heavily. Freidala leaned in, experimenting a little to see where she could place her hands to limit the bleeding, while still leaving the wound open for cleaning.
It was deep, and Ferelye had mostly cleaned it out by the time roi teacher, Kaileyi, came by to check on them, another first aid kit in hand and purple robes swishing around her frilly dinner clothes. "You doing all right here, Ferelye?"
Doiyerl smiled. "Ferelye is doing fine. I'm Medic Doiyerl. My legs are broken, but I'm alert enough to supervise--can you check on the other wounded?"
She pulled a medicated stick out of her bag, unwrapped it, holding up the wrapper for Doiyerl to read. "She have allergies?"
She stuck it between the captain's teeth. "Bite on this--the herbs will help with the pain. I'll be back." Then the purple robes were gone. Medics didn't waste time, another thing Ferelye liked.
Then there was just the tedium of checking the length of the wound for foreign matter, spreading a salve to dull the pain and prevent infection along its length, and finally stitching, the expensive absorbable thread on the inner layers, then the sturdier stitches holding the surface muscles and skin together.
Doiyerl leaned forward, grunting in pain, to examine the wound and watch the first stitches, before sitting back, looking pale. "You're doing fine."
Stitching got easier as the medicines took effect and the captain stopped flinching with each poke of the needle. It seemed like a very long time before Ferelye finished the stitches, but that was nothing new--it was as if time stretched, sometimes, during emergencies. Freidala wiped the edges of the wound with more salve, and started taping a dressing over it. Her fancy dress was rumpled, the lap covered in one of the kit's towels. The towel had some smears of blood, but there was no blood on the dress, quite in contrast with Ferelye's clothes.
Ferelye stood and stretched, looking to see whose wounds were most urgent. All of the medics and science students in town were here, some helping the wounded and others examining the dead creature--the only smartarm that had ever washed up on their shore before were long-dead and bloated all out of shape. Other townspeople were helping to cut the monster into pieces small enough to store in slow rooms or process for old-fashioned forms of preservation. There would be a feast tomorrow--there was too much fresh meat not to throw a party.
Ferelye turned back to Doiyerl, seeing that he had a still-wrapped pain stick in his hand. "You're next."
"Are you sure?"
Freyle nodded firmly. "Why don't you start sucking on that stick in your hand, and I'll check out your legs."
Ferelye washed her hands and the scissors into the whiskey. It was starting to look dark, she wouldn't be able to use it for washing wounds any more, but Doiyerl didn't appear to be bleeding. If he was, there were plenty of people to run for supplies now. She dried hands and scissors on one of the smaller rags from the kit. "Let me cut these pants off of you."
Doiyerl grimaced, but nodded. "Figures I'd be wearing my new pants when we got attacked." He watched the first cut unhappily, then looked back to roi face. "Do you have some Glifai blood?"
Ferelye shook roi head, realizing that wisps of red hair had escaped the tie. "Idiopathic." His calf was unwounded but it was safer to cut from the bottom up than to stab through near the break. Ferelye kept cutting. Ur tried to think of something to distract him with as ur got close to his groin, but couldn't think of anything but roi own brooding. "The shamans say I was supposed to be twins. They claim that's why I have one green eye and one grey." Ur exposed a swollen, bruised area high on his thigh. There was no bleeding, but the leg lay crooked. It would have to be set and splinted. Ur would need help to pull the leg straight. "You really should start sucking on that medicine, emoses, it's going to hurt when we set that leg."
Ferelye started cutting up the other pant leg, while he ran his hand along the naked thigh. "Oh, my, yes it will." He unwrapped the stick and, with a grimace, stuck it into his mouth. "I'm no emoses. Just a ship's medic."
This leg was more swollen, the swelling higher on the thigh. Any higher and his reproductive organs would have been crushed.
He mumbled around the stick. "Keep talking, child, it helps."
Ferelye bared the area between his legs, checking it briefly. Ur had been right--no crushing there. Ferelye was glad--ur liked him, and such wounds were incredibly painful. Ur politely draped it with a strip cut from his pants. "About what?"
"I don't know. What were you talking about--your shamans?"
The shamans weren't Ferelye's favorite topic. "When all my friends were developing into men or women, and I didn't get any wider anywhere, someone got the shaman who'd blessed me at my birth drunk enough to find out all about me. Now the best thing most people call me is ghost-cursed." Ferelye shook roi head. "I'd rather talk about something else. What happened here?"
"No, that's a smartarm." Ferelye looked at him more closely, suddenly wondering if he might have a head wound.
Doiyerl laughed and took the stick out of his mouth. "Sure, this is." He waved toward the ship. "It came upon us, out in open water, and we shot some arrows at it. One hit a tender spot and it was retreating, but then the deathfin came up behind it and swallowed two of its tentacles."
Remembering the two stumps hanging low over the side of the boat, Ferelye was convinced that he was still lucid.
Captain Anruu snorted. "That was no deathfin."
"Of course it was!" Doiyerl turned to look at the captain in alarm.
She took the pain stick out of her mouth and waved it at the medic to emphasize her points. "I know a deathfin when I see one. They don't like cold water, and the shape of the head is different."
"Then what was it?"
The captain shrugged, then grimaced in pain. "Maybe death has a northern relative." She closed her eyes and put the pain stick back in her mouth.
Ferelye returned to examining the medic's legs.
He sighed. "Fool captain, worrying about that now. But captains are all like that, you know. Where was I?"
Someone brought a bucket of soapy water, and Ferelye started washing his legs.
"Oh, yes." A large--" he glanced over at the captain. "--mystery monster bit two of the smartarm's tentacles off, and suddenly the smartarm was shooting directly at us and trying to climb onto the boat. It must have thought the Rainbow Chaser would make a good place to hide out on the sea floor while it healed. We're lucky it was disoriented and in pain--we were able to kill it before it poked a hole in the hull and sunk us."
More help arrived, and Doiyerl's legs were quickly set. Soon Ferelye was carrying one end of the captain's stretcher toward town.
The sailors stayed for several weeks, making field repairs to the ship and letting the wounded start to heal. It was amazing having people around who treated Ferelye like a person--and a valued person. None of the sailors forgot it was ru who rang the alarm bell and came running to stitch their captain up. Ferelye took to spending all of roi free time at the ship, making friends with the younger sailors and warsailors, and starting to learn a little about sailing. Ur started to dream about sailing away, even though ur really wanted to work with children.
Ferelye's teacher spent time with both Doiyerl and the captain, and one morning told ru to report to her office after classes. Reluctantly, Ferelye did.
Kaileyi smiled. "I know this is sudden--but you have a job offer. The Rainbow Chaser is planning to sail for a proper repair facility next tenday. If you can pass your tests early, you can go with the proper licenses to work as Doiyerl's assistant until his legs are healed. He will then help you find schooling in a city where no-gender people aren't so unusual.
The teacher continued. "The gender reforms have protected you from physical harm, but the people here remain superstitious about no-gender people. I--you may think me a meddling old fool, but I have already sent letters of recommendation to schools in Affabreidalam and Affanumuur, and I will send you with several more, all with the proper official seals."
Ferelye felt a light feeling in roi chest, a feeling similar to what ur imagined Rrara must feel when gliding. But what Kaileyi was saying seemed impossible. "I can't afford--"
"The license fees for the travel licenses and the early tests have all been paid by the Rainbow Chaser to repay you for services to their healer and captain, and you'll be working for your passage fees. All you have to do is score high enough on the tests before they leave. You're excused from regular classes to study for the rest of the tenday, and on the 9th, you'll sit for the tests.
Ferelye didn't know what to say, and perhaps the teacher had predicted that, because she piled study materials into roi arms and pushed ru out the door. "I'm available for questions, if you have any about the study materials."
When roi classmates found out ur was to test and presumably graduate early, they started to harass ru in the library and even at roi home. Ferelye didn't know if they were envious, afraid of roi supposed ghost-curse, or just mean-spirited, but it hurt. If they wanted ru to leave, couldn't they at least leave ru in peace so ur could accomplish that feat?
Ur took to trying to study on the cliff, though it was windy and there was no good place to put books. That kept roi classmates well beyond arm's length, at least, though it didn't mask their voices. More than once, Naifol chased people away, acting like a proper man protecting his family, though that got him some harassment too.
What finally stopped that was Captain Anruu overhearing some of the taunts. She sent Del to invite Ferelye to lunch on the beach, sharing the fare of the men and women repairing the boat.
Ferelye packed her books into the carrysack and climbed down. "Thank you," ur said politely.
"No, thank you. The Captain's pretty grouchy at all this delay; she'll be prettier-mannered if she's got a guest. Besides, if you're going to sail with us, we should get to know you, and you us, don't you think?"
He laughed. "You've lived here all your life, haven't you?"
"You'll like traveling. You're not stuck with what people already think of you." He sounded like he understood how limiting that could be.
The captain had a bowl of smartarm stew in her hands, and thrust it at Ferelye. "Welcome."
"Thank you." Ur didn't know what else to say, so ur took a bite of stew. The thrill of eating monster had dulled, by now, and ur was looking forward to the day when no more smartarm lingered in anyone's slow room.
Captain Anruu accepted another bowl of stew and made a face. "I'm ready for some honest fish, but it's not profitable to let something good go to waste."
Ur nodded. The shamans taught that waste angered the ancestors, and while Ferelye didn't think she believed in the ancestors, not wasting resources was sensible.
The captain didn't even pause; she clearly didn't expect Ferelye to answer. "Which brings me to the point of calling you off your pretty cliff. It's obvious that your people are willing to waste your talent. I'm not. I expect you to study in the chart room until it's time to take your tests."
Ferelye was speechless. First Kaileyi and now Anruu.
The captain grinned. "Good. It's settled then. Eat your stew and get back to work." She walked back to the ship, still looking a little pale under her tan, but obviously up to supervising the repairs.
The studying went better after that, with the whole ship's crew as a buffer between ur and the superstitious townspeople. Roi friends came to cheer ru on for the tests, but tests were rarely an issue for Ferelye, and the quiet study time--if you didn't count the sounds of hammer and saw, and the occasional sea chanty--did wonders to settle the butterflies in roi stomach caused by knowing how important roi scores on the tests would be.
Twelve days later, bags packed with roi brand-new licenses, clothes, and gifts from roi family and teachers, Ferelye climbed back to roi favorite perch to look out over the ocean, Rrara on roi shoulder. Ferelye sat down, and the cat presented her belly for rubbing. Ferelye didn't look out at the ocean, this time, but at the house ru had grown up in, and the town in the distance. Ur would miss that home, but it was a relief to be going--and it was exciting to know ur was't just running away, ur finally had somewhere to go to.
This time, when Rrara leapt off into the air, Ferelye got up smiling, and headed down to start a new life.
I'd been thinking about "no-gender" people in the Empire, and somehow that blended with a prompt about two sea-monsters fighting and another prompt: "Really? Are you sure?" Although it's long, I'm posting this for public view right away, however, I'd be happy to have a sponsor or two!