October 29, 2014 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
“Hey, Zhadrie.” Pozhvetradov leaned in through the doorway of their room, beaded braids bouncing against his chest. “Aren’t you usually off with your friends – your teammates – this time of day?”
Saydrie looked up from his homework. “I can clear out if you want the room.”
“No, no, you’re fine, Parsnip. I just thought you and your teammates were getting along fine?”
“We were.” Saydrie closed his book to be polite. “I’m not sure what happened.”
“Oh, then they’ll get over it soon. Do you want to come feed the squirrels with us? Aarden and Paanratzhie want to and you know how Paanzhie gets when she doesn’t get what she wants.”
“Um.” Saydrie had never even seen a squirrel close-up. “If I wouldn’t be imposing? I’d like that.”
“If you were imposing, I wouldn’t have asked. Also, neither Aarden or Paanzhie get stupid about Bitt – Bitrani. On my honor.” He made an x over his throat. “Come on. They don’t have flying squirrels down where you come from, do they? They’re sort of a cold-weather creature.”
“They don’t have any sort of squirrel. I mean, we have lesser and great techivani, weasels, but I don’t think those are anything like squirrels.”
“Pozhdov, are you… ah, you must be the roommate.” The slender girl in Kyokyoenet House – martial – colors squeezed into the doorway next to Pozhvetradov. “Hi. Are you coming to feed the squirrels, too?”
“They float pretty nicely. I know someone in Akaizen who is working on wings based on their design…”
Saydrie shook his head. “Really? That’s… that’s so Akaizen.”
“I know, right?” The girl shook her head. “Sorry, I know who you are, but there aren’t many Bitrani here. There’s a gods-hands of Calenyena all around you, and I bet we all look the same to you.”
“Um.” He was used to hearing you Byittie all look the same. How did he —
The girl put both hands over her face. “If I were eating my braids any more, they would be coming out my feet. Let me try again. I’m Paanratzhie, you clearly already know Pozhvetradov, and this is Aarden, our team-three. Aarden, this is probably Zhaydrie.”
The third in their group – wearing Art-house colors and with a smudge of paint over a particularly Bitrani-looking nose – bowed politely to Saydrie. “Squirrels?”
“Squirrels!” Saydrie hopped to his feet. Squirrels sounded like such a better idea right now than trying to figure out Paanratzhie.
Of course, as they headed down the stairs of Onadyano House Tower, Paanratzhie – just kept going. “I’m always doing that, you know.”
“Eating my braids. Aarden can tell you.”
“She puts her hair in her mouth more often than not,” the third agreed solemnly. “She likes the taste.”
“Hair in your… oh! Sock-in-Mouth. I understand!” Saydrie felt his cheeks heating up. “Ah, that is…”
“I didn’t think about that! Even the figures of speech have to be different, don’t they? Did you grow up speaking Bitrani? Do we all really look the same to you?”
“Do we look the same to you?“ Saydrie slapped his hand over his mouth, but it was too late. The question was out.
She laughed. “That’s a hit. Not a mortal hit, but you got me. Um.”
“It’s the braids,” Aarden offered helpfully.
“Yes!” Paanratzhie grabbed a handful of her braids. “If you look around, almost everyone has a different pattern. So we start there, and then there’s noses. The royals – like Aarden – they have the nose, it’s a lot like yours. History and all.”
“History,” Saydrie agreed. His people and theirs agreed on that much, at least.
“And brownness. So the Northerners are sort of a light roasted-parship color and the down-coast ones are sort of this steeped-tea color and the ones from the East coast are sort of baked-clay, right? But you guys, you’ve all got the same haircut, and you’ve all got the same sort of rust-on-marble complexion.”
“Hunh.” Saydrie touched his cheek. “So you think my hair looks the same as, say, Shevali’s?”
“Well, do you think mine looks the same as Pozhvetradov’s?”
Saydrie gave them both a long look. He was taller than both of them, of course, though Paanratzhie was a rope-knot or two shorter than Pozhvetradov. The Martial-House girl had her hair done in a series of thin braids, running in rows across her head and then twisting into two thick braids at her neck. His roommate, on the other hand, had four braids coming back from the temples and running all the way down his back that way. “Your hair is different,” he allowed, “but only today. What if you did a different hairstyle tomorrow?”
“Well, my nose would still be pointy.” Pozhvetradov tapped the offending protuberance – which was very pointy. “And my chin would still be pointy, too. What about you?”
Saydrie gave it some thought. “Well, Shevali’s hair is longer than mine by almost a hand-span. It’s lighter, too, and it goes blonder where the sun hits it, so he has almost stripes across the top of his head. He’s got a dimple in his chin, and his hair has a bit of a wave to it. Also, he’s broader everywhere.”
“Like a mountain,” Paanratzhie grinned. “He is pretty broad. So, see? You look for little details, the same as us. But you don’t really have trouble telling your teammates apart, do you?”
Tairiekie was usually covered in grease smudges, and had the perpetual frown lines between her brows. Enerenarie always had a small smile on that looked insincere. Saydrie went with the easy answer, though: these people did not need to know how many dishes were in his team’s cupboard. “Well, Tairiekie wears the Mechanics uniform, and Enerenarie’s in the Diplomat’s…”
Paanratzhie laughed. “Okay, note to self. If we want to mess with the Bitrani kids, we should all wear… hunh. All Bitrani colors. Brown and dust and grey?”
“That’s not all-”
“We’re here.” Aarden swung the door open, letting them into a tiny room with another door, just barely big enough for the four of them. “Close the outside door, and then-”
Once they were all squeezed in, the inside door swung open into a high vaulted room. Big glass windows filled much of the ceiling – more glass than Saydrie had seen in his whole life – and the area inside was filled with trees and rocks, grasses, and even a small pond.
Aarden reached up a hand until a small creature glided down to alight on a wrist. Saydrie swallowed a gasp; the thing’s face was almost human-looking.
“They like nuts,” Aarden explained, “and seeds. Here, I brought some.”
Saydrie held out his hand for the nuts and his other hand for the creature, his problems with Tairiekie and Enerenarie momentarily forgotten.