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In the deepest darkness of winter, it was easy to sleep the day away. It often took a rough shake to wake Marai on such days, and she would grumble and rub her eyes with exaggeration, to make the child who woke her giggle and laugh.Author's Notes
"It's not morning," she would say, as clearly as she could, knowing well that it didn't sound to their ears the way the speech of others sounded. "Wake me when the sun comes up!"
But of course, the sun wouldn't come up for hours and hours, so the children, more of them gathered now, would laugh and tug at her bedding and sign for her to come and give them breakfast. She sighed, and swung her legs out of her bunk. Treqaa immediately put arms up to her, begging to be held. She obliged, and pulled her into strong arms.
Lenarai was already up, unable to sleep through the early chatter of the youngest children and the cry of hungry babies. She was nursing Jitoi; her own infant, Relkei, was already fed and watching with bright-eyed interest as one of the toddlers distracted him with a colorful knitted toy.
"Good morning!" Lenarai said with a slow smile, looking directly at her and speaking distinctly. Marai could not hear a word of it, but could easily guess at it from the shape of her mouth and the situation.
"Good morning," Marai replied with an equal smile.
Meirg tugged at her shirt and mimed food to his mouth, not bothering to speak. Marai put Treqaa down, and led the gaggle of toddlers to the low fence that kept the uncoordinated children from coming too near the fire in the center of the circular room. Treqaa tried to push through the gate with her, but Meirg gently took her arm and held her back. Treqaa's face crinkled, threatening to protest, but Meirg said something kind that Marai could not hear that stayed the tears away and led her back to the sitting step. The other older children got the youngest to sit quietly in a semi-circle around, and Marai curled her hand up in approval at them and began to serve them bowls of the endless soup that simmered near the fire.
It was not without incident. Treqaa's tears returned when she thought that Blafev's soup looked better than hers, and Bayarl managed to upend his soup entirely on Alainya. Yaadu refused to eat entirely, looking fretful and pouty, and several of the children wanted to play more than they wanted to sit still and eat.
It took Marai nearly an hour and much help from Lenarai and the other infant house raisers to see that they were all fed and settled into the play and learning habits.
"Do you think you will stay in the house?" she asked Lenarai, when they had a quiet moment free of incident.
Lenarai was quiet a moment; Marai was unsure if she'd understood the question, or only had to think about it. Finally, the young woman shook her head. "I'd like to go back to cooking," she said. Marai was unsurprised
Relkei was nearly 3 months, and though Lenarai looked at him with pride and love, it was clear that she was not entirely comfortable in the chaotic infant house.
She looked guilty, but Marai was quick to reassure her, "This is not the job for everyone!" At that moment, Treqaa gave a dreadful, high-pitched wail that Marai only identified by Lenarai's wince and the immediate attention of everyone in the room. Marai grinned wryly. "It helps to be deaf," she said humorously, standing to go comfort the little girl and resolve the problem.
The middle meal of the day was less well-ordered, as the children were running out of energy and not as hungry. Some of them chose to eat, some of them refused it, and tempers ran high over favored toys. As some of them were banished to bunks to nap or sulk, the oldest infants, nearly ready to graduate into age-sets, helped clean dishes and took up simple mending tasks with blunt needles.
Marai conferred with the other raisers, half with speech, half with gestures, discussing the latest group's dynamics, and trying to decide which would be paired together, and which should be separated; it looked like this group may be clustered well by age. It would have been easy to feel dismissed: sometimes the other raisers talked away from her, forgetting that she could not hear them without seeing their mouths. It was ironic that the children rarely had to be reminded, but her peers were constantly forgetting!
After naps, there was quiet play, and subtle teaching games. Treqaa seemed greatly subdued, but it was Yaadu who drew Marai's attention; she'd eaten no first-meal and little mid-meal, and she seemed distracted and unhappy.
"Do you want to go see Kalitelm?" Marai asked her privately. The short healer was a favorite of the children, who never minded visiting.
Yaadu shook her head at first, but when asked a second time, only shrugged.
Lenarai took her away to the elder's house where Kalitelm practiced her trade, looking grateful for the escape, and Marai clapped her hands to get everyone's attention and declared that it was snow time!
There was barely controlled chaos as everyone was bundled up into heavy clothing, wrestling over favored boots and gloves. It had to be carefully explained to Treqaa that she no longer fit into her favorite boots, and that they had to be shared with Bayarl instead. There were more tears, and after a very long time, they all managed to spill outside to play in the cold snow.
It was the long dim before dark, outside - the sky was a rich dark blue and the brightness of the moonlight on the snow made the area outside of the infant house navigable. Children already old enough to be in age-sets were recruited to keep the scatter of infants from straying too far.
A mitten was lost, and there were many tumbles into snowbanks, but it was, on the whole, a successful romp. Tempers were muted, afterward, and appetites were good for a special dinner of cooked grain. Firl came and told them stories with torn bread for the evening, and the babies were put to bed without considerable fuss.
As the older children were bustled off to bed, Marai found another "quiet" moment with Lenarai, who reported that Yaadu would be staying with Kalitelm for the night to be observed. "Poor dear," Lenarai added.
Marai patted her arm. "Poor dear," she agreed. "Don't feel bad about not staying to be a raiser," she added. It was a guilt that Marai had often watched - the conflict a new mother (and sometimes a new father) often felt leaving their baby to others when they weren't called to be a raiser.
This was her world, her place of comfort, but it wasn't everyone's.
Lenarai leaned into Marai for a strong hug - it hadn't been so very long since Lenarai herself had been one of the energetic youngsters in Marai's care. "Thank you," Lenarai murmured into her shoulder. Marai could hear neither of the words, but felt the rumble of it, and knew its meaning.
Marai squeezed her, then let her sit up and wipe tears away. She made a show of yawning and stretching. 'The sun's been down for hours," she said, standing. "Now it's my turn."
She smiled as she settled herself into her bunk again, content.
This is a story that came from the February 9, 2010 Muse Fusion. Amelia asked for a story about an ordinary day, and Lorna sponsored it for public viewing.
Yaadu, Treqaa, Relkei, Meirg, Marai, Lenarai, Kalitelm, Jitoi, Firl, Blafev, Bayarl, Alainya,