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Marai had known for years,Author's Notes
since she lost her hearing to snow-fever,
that she would become a domestic.
She didn't mind that; she preferred
the quiet comfort of village life
to the inconvenience of wilderness travel.
Although she enjoyed the summer gathers,
she was always glad to get home.
She just wished that
she knew what to do with herself.
Several of her age-mates had
already chosen specialties,
even though they just became adults
at last summer's gather.
Inama was a crafter,
her clever hands quick at making things.
Adraveil was a ranger,
her steady feet good at sneaking up on prey.
Dlameda also declared as a ranger, technically,
but his growing crush on the healer Matilth
now led him to study healing as well --
surely a useful skill on the trail.
Marai was ... just a domestic,
available for whatever everyday chores
needed doing at the time.
Plenty of people did that.
Further specialization was not required.
At their age, even a declaration
between domestic and ranger wasn't;
only a third to half of new adults
decided even that much immediately.
Today Marai went to the craft-house
with her age-mate Inama.
The carvers were working new wood.
Marai sometimes volunteered to help polish
the implements after they were shaped,
because she had such patience.
How do you know what to make?
Marai signed to Inama, who was
quite adept at interpreting the gestures.
Inama pointed out several variations
in the blocks of wood they were considering,
then looked to the beadmaker Befark for help.
Marai watched closely, reading Befark's lips.
"It's just a matter of finding the beauty in the flaws,"
Befark explained, "looking at each piece of wood
to understand whether it wants to become a cup
or a bowl or a bead or the handle of a tool.
An interesting swirl of grain might become
the front of a bead carved like a cloud,
or a knothole might become an animal's eye."
Inama pointed out a long split in one piece
as Befark deftly used a wedge to divide it.
Marai realized that, while you wouldn't want
such a split inside a handle, the rough bit
of bark it enfolded would make an excellent grip
on the outside of the two handles
that could be carved from the halves.
Befark's protegee Firlii took one piece
and began carefully shaving away the splinters.
Firlii was just a few years older than Marai and Inama,
and their age-mate Adraveil had told them
such stories about his skill between the furs.
His light brown hair and hazel eyes
resembled the wood he was working.
Marai fingered the gap at the center of her necklace
as she gave Firlii a speculative look.
Inama grinned and lowered her head
over the basket she was weaving.
Some of the men wanted a woman who would
entertain them with stories and laugh at all their jokes,
but Firlii thought mainly with his hands.
Marai liked that about him.
Suddenly everyone winced and looked up.
Something must have made a noise.
Marai looked around to see what it could be.
There was Adraveil with her howling son on her hip,
looking no happier herself as she sat down.
Adraveil was diligent about nursing Liifra
and helping the raisers take care of him,
but it was plain that she missed the wilderness
and didn't care for the domestic tasks
with which she occupied herself meanwhile.
Clearly the infant wasn't in a mood to nurse.
Marai set aside her polishing and held out her hands.
Adraveil gratefully handed Liifra over to her.
Marai stood up and began bouncing on her toes.
Sometimes babies would hush,
if you moved them the right way --
probably why Adraveil was outside the infant-house.
Marai could just make out a faint, tinny whine.
She couldn't hear most high-pitched sounds at all,
though sometimes she still heard thunder,
and once, the terrifying rumble of a rockslide.
Aside from his noise, which didn't bother her a bit,
Liifra was adorable -- he had his mother's turned-up nose
and his father's mousy blond curls instead of
the more usual brown or black hair.
Marai smiled down at Liifra
as she made a slow circuit of the craft-house,
bouncing the infant as she walked.
Finally he stopped crying and began
to tug at the front of her fuzzy blue sweater.
Then Marai handed the baby back to his mother.
Adraveil dutifully opened her blouse
and put Liifra to her breast.
Marai helped her arrange the nursing sling
so that Adraveil could go back to work
on the big wooden buckle she was making
for the harness of her snow-unicorn.
Marai took up her polishing again,
the bowl slowly growing smooth
under her meticulous touch.
When Liifra finished nursing,
Adraveil started to get up.
Marai motioned her back down
and held out her hands again.
I'll take him back to the infant-house,
Marai signed to her age-mate.
Adraveil gave her a surprised grin;
clearly she wasn't getting out enough
and needed more time around adults.
Marai nodded, then tugged on her ear to say,
He can't bother ME by crying!
Adraveil and Inama both laughed at that.
So Marai carried Liifra to Kitten House,
named after the snow-kittens that were
born as helpless as human babies.
She hadn't been there in quite a while.
Inside it was warm and busy,
full of infants and the raisers who watched them,
along with nursing mothers and a few fathers.
Marai smiled. Somehow she had forgotten
how nice and cozy it was in here.
Aretolth came forward, then,
and Marai handed Liifra to the raiser.
She signed that Adraveil was in the craft-house,
and Aretolth nodded; busy parents
often left raisers to care for their little ones.
Just then, one of the toddlers
lost his balance and tumbled to the floor,
landing hard on his rump.
He wailed, opening his mouth so wide
that Marai could have counted all his teeth.
She scooped him up and made sure
that he hadn't really hurt himself,
then jollied him out of his crying fit
by grabbing a rattle to shake at him.
Soon he was distracted by the toy,
and Marai set him down again.
Do you mind if I stay?
Marai signed to Aretolth,
who had been her own raiser long ago.
The older woman spread her hands
with a wry look at the happy chaos all around,
as if to say, Be my guest.
That evening, as Marai shared supper
with some of the other young adults,
she signed to Inama,
I think I'll try working in the infant-house.
They need help and crying babies don't bother me.
Marai felt proud of herself for discovering
somewhere that her hearing loss could be useful.
Inama grinned encouragement.
Then Firlii leaned over.
He touched a fingertip to the blank space
on Marai's necklace, then offered her
a bead carved like an acorn.
He wasn't as fluent in her makeshift language
as her own age-mates, being a few years older,
but he made a point of trying
and she liked that about him too.
Marai happily strung the bead on her necklace.
Tomorrow she would spend the day caring for infants.
Tonight, she would spend with Firlii rumpling the furs.
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