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washing day

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Kira's wings fascinate Jen, and she still finds that almost funny, the same way she'd felt like laughing at his open-mouthed astonishment the first time he'd seen them. She'd almost laughed, and she'd wondered what his urRu had managed to teach him, when he didn't know how to stay alive or find food or even male and female creatures could be different.

Later, he said he did know, they had taught him that, but he hadn't thought the difference between Gelfling would be so much or include things . . . .and there he'd gone very red and she had laughed long and hard at his embarrassment at having to find a way to say things that weren't just about having babies or feeding them.

"Well?" she'd said after she'd stopped laughing and he'd reluctantly smiled, sheepish and uncomfortable. "Who carries the babies around after they're born? Who has to be able to take them away fast and far if there's danger?" She shrugged. "Maybe that's why."

"And the men stay on the ground and fight things off?" Jen had made a face at her. "I think of the two of us, you're still better at that."

"You're learning," she'd said, and leaned over to rest her cheek against his.

He feels out of balance with her, she knows. It might be one thing if it were just that she knows practical things, things about how to stay alive, and he knows learned things, scholar things, like how to read and the movements of the stars. But it isn't. She also knows more about the Old Ones; she remembers stories and bits of songs her mother taught her, and the Podlings have always known things about Gelflings, too; that means she knows some of how the Old Ones did things, how families lived and changed.

More than once, she's tried to tell him that saving the world made up for it, but he would only grimace.

"You did that, really," he would say. "You wouldn't let me give in."

So she had given up and, at last and almost out of patience with him said, "Then learn." Then she'd gone to find dol-tubers with Fizzgig, and when she came back he'd been learning how to twist rope with one of her Podling-cousins.

It's a start start.

Jen goes to the ruins, and copies the inscriptions and copies the pictures, too. The ruins still upset Kira too much: she can feel all the sadness of the dead and the sad loneliness of the stones. Jen doesn't seem to, but it's hard to say: he grew up with the dying urRu, so maybe he's still used to endless sadness, or maybe without knowing they taught him some way to block it out. Or maybe it's like her wings, and is a girl-thing.

Or maybe it's just a Kira-thing. That, her memories can't answer and neither can her foster-family.

But Jen goes and copies the carvings; then he brings them back and translates them for her. They're mostly bits and pieces of prophecy, or history, or sometimes things that just seem like proverbs or wise sayings. They can only guess at most of the pictures. A few illustrate the words, but most of them don't seem to have anything to do with what's written and must mean something else, all by themselves.

Often, looking at them makes Kira melancholy for everything they have lost and makes her wonder if together they'll fade out, or their son or daughter will, because they're all that's left. If then Gelfling will finish dying away and become nothing more than a memory and a story the Podlings tell for a little while.

Other days she refuses to think about it, like today, and resolves to live the same whatever the answer to that question is.

 

When she pulls off her sandals and leggings, leaving just her dress, and gathers up the rest of the things she can wash to take down to the pool with her, Jen notices and gets up to follow. He's almost learned to ignore the chuckles of the Podlings he had been sitting with as well as Kira or the other Podlings do. You have to, really. It's just how they are, and every courting couple gets teased - and many of the married ones, too. The grannies are full of sayings and jokes and the grandfas smile knowingly.

Nobody means anything by it.

Kira always cleans her clothes when she cleans herself. She has fewer sets of clothes than most of the others in the Clan, although she thinks now that Garthim and Skeksis are gone, she'll be able to do something about that. The Clan will be able to spread out. Podlings everywhere will be able to spread out, and not have to worry about keeping their cultivated land secret. Easier to get food, and so easier to grow fibre-plants for clothes; it's a nice thought. But for now, she only has two sets of clothes instead of three or four: she's bigger, clothes for her are more expensive in cloth. So she washes one set each time she bathes.

Jen does the same. He has even less than her, so far.

But right now he's not following for that. He washed yesterday, while she went with the gatherers to sing the vorda to sleep long enough for the Podlings to gather the sweet sap from their trees. He's just following to keep her company, Fizzgig trotting at his ankle.

Kira pulls her dress over her head when she gets to the side of the washing pool. She stretches all six limbs, arms to the sky, up on her tip-toes and wings spread full-wide behind her. She doesn't do that very often. They knock things over. They're strong for how fragile they look, another thing Jen marvels at, but they still hurt when they hit things or when they get bent. Maybe now there aren't any Garthim, she'll have more chances to go away, go to open spaces, and stretch them out. The muscles of her back that move them protest and rejoice in equal measure, protesting movement when they're all cramped up and rejoicing that she can move them.

Then she folds them tight against her back again and dives into the pool.

It's deeper here than anywhere and runs clean, a waterfall dropping in at one end and dropping out and further down the hill at the other. The bottom is all rock, very little silt or sand, and it's clean and cold. Kira knows exactly how deep she can go and still make it easily back to the surface and every time, she dives as far as she can.

At the bottom of the dive she spreads arms and wings and kicks her feet as she skulls to the surface. She throws her head back in the open air to keep her hair out of her face and laughs, leaning back into the water to let her wings spread out and keep her afloat. She kicks water at Jen and he makes a face. He never had to worry about smoke as a child, always had warm baths with the urRu Master, instead of learning to swim in glacier water and enjoy the burn of the cold on his skin.

Fizzgig has managed to make his way up the hill, and lets out a loud squawking roar as he throws himself off the rock and into the pool, splashing Kira and Jen both before paddling over to Kira to rub noses. He dives, looking for minnows. There aren't any here, but he always looks anyway and then climbs onto the bank to sulk and dry off.

"Scaredy," Kira calls to Jen, and he makes a face again.

"It's cold," he says. "I don't know how you can stand it. I'd rather sit out here and watch you."

She splashes at him with her feet again, folds her wings, arches her back and throws herself back under the water to look for Fizzgig - who's already paddling to the surface in disappointment.

It's nice to have Jen watch, anyway. It's nice to look up at a companion and see a body mostly like hers, thin-limbed and slender, narrow-hipped and flat-chested, ribs showing even when they aren't starving. The Podlings are all round, round and soft and padded, men with round bellies and women with round breasts. It's nice not to be the only one different. Or to feel like a forever-child, even when she knows she's not.

When she surfaces again she swims closer to the side, to where a rock under the water makes a convenient place to stand. "Throw me my clothes and the soap," she says to Jen.

Here the water comes up to her waist. She lets her wings stay spread to dry in the sun, holding the bottom edges above the water. Fizzgig sits on a rock out of the water, grooming himself ferociously to get the water out of his fur. Kira scrubs her clothes and then bursts out laughing when she realizes she has both dresses.

"Jen!" she scolds, or pretends to. "Now we can't go back until one of these is dried."

Jen looks innocent. "Oops?" he offers. She splashes water at him with her hands this time, and this time it actually gets him. "Hey!"

"You'll dry," she says. "You can hang your clothes up with mine while you don't need them."