====September 21, 2013
====Maryam & the Steen Women
====Family dynamics and current events in Igen's public baths.

Who Maryam & the Steen Women
What Family dynamics and current events in Igen's public baths.
When There is 1 turn 2 months and 3 days until the 12th pass.
Where Public Baths, Igen Weyr



Public Baths
Stout walls have been erected around several naturally formed pools, serving to provide a semblance of privacy and protection from the harsh wind and sand. Above the pools, well cleaned walkways criss-cross beneath tiled arches and descend with a stairway or two leading down to each pool to provide one means of slip-free access through the area. Surrounding the pools there are benches, receptacles to put used clothing and towels in, and areas to get sweetsand and towels from - if you didn't bring your own.

The baths did strange things to people’s voices. Maryam was no stranger to a crowd’s roar, but this was different from the Pit’s arena.

Something about the water, she thought. Water rejects voices.

While technically available to any resident at any time, when the Steen women and their broods descended en masse all others cleared out. Whether it was wariness of the men who stood guard outside to discourage others from entering or sheer numbers crowding others out, Maryam wasn’t certain. But on Steen washaday, they had the building, and the pools, to themselves.

They were mothers, daughters, sisters, cousins, aunts and more within the bunch. They’d be a Hold within their own right if their ancestors had chosen to settle anywhere but at the Weyr. Even those women who had married into the Steen line proved to be prolific; the men’s seed was strong, the women’s wombs fruitful.

By any measure, theirs was a fortunate family.

Steam danced in sinuous lines over the surface of the water, where both vapor and liquid weren't disturbed by the women and children. The young ones’ piping voices and occasional shrieks of delight sounded sharper, almost predatory in the closed space. The women's’ voices were a rumble that summoned to mind the keening of a sandstorm about to descend on the Weyr. These were not pleasant associations and even in the thick heated atmosphere, Maryam felt gooseflesh prickle over her skin.

This was her family; she should not think such things.

Mama was notable in her absence. Since the raid on the meeting, she had remained close to home. Her protests were loud but without the force that her children expected from her. Her absence left a disturbing gap. Perhaps that’s why Maryam couldn’t keep her thoughts in order. Perhaps that’s why she felt out of sorts.

The infant in her arms gurgled and waved his chubby fists in the air. The boy, unnamed until he’d survived to his first turnday, enjoyed the baths. It was a good omen; the infants who rejected water here in the desert were seen as unlucky and fated to unhappy lives. But not this child. He was given to broad grins that showed off toothless gums, though Maryam thought she saw a sliver of white against the pink before he stuffed his fist into his mouth and proceeded to gnaw on it. She bounced him in the cradle of her arms and was rewarded with a chortling giggle, and kicking feet that splashed water against the wall of the pool. A sweet babe. One day she might have a baby of her own and she could only hope he or she would be as sweet-faced as this one. Somehow, she doubted that it would. Not with parents as ill-fated as herself and Elisau.

There was a time when being handed one of the Steen babies would have provoked a hum of well-meaning speculation from the other women. When would Maryam be married; would she have a boy or a girl first; was she destined to have as many husbands as her mother or keep just the one? But as the marriage to her betrothed was postponed and postponed and postponed again, they’d stopped speaking of it. Now, when she was handed babies such as the one in her arms, it was only to free their mothers for a few minutes, so they could wash and gossip with their good-sisters and blood-kin in peace.

She knew that was viewed askance by the others. Working as she did within The Pit itself, she was placed outside of the boundaries of their lives. Neither maiden nor mother; no proper woman nor born a man; Maryam was a thing between.

So it was a surprise when Annyka approached her. Natural, of course, for the mother to want the child back, but when the short, plump woman with the sparkling eyes splashed closer to fetch her baby, she lingered after he was transferred from one set of arms to the other. Maryam had always liked Annyka. When she’d married into the Steens, she’d brought laughter and song with her, not just in restful moments but while she worked as well. Around her, the other women were always smiling. Small wonder that her babe was chubby and flourishing.

Annyka looked at her now, her smile hesitant, her eyes showing she clearly wanting to say something.

Maryam waited silently until she was ready. Idle hands were wicked hands, so she reached for her netted bag of soapsand and began to scrub it over her shoulders, eyes down as she worked.

Tucking the boy against her hip where he commenced to reach for tendrils of his mother’s wet hair, Annyka finally said, “Everyone is grateful to you, Maryam.”

Shocked, the young woman looked up and blinked at her good-sister. Her heart felt frozen in her chest; had someone learned of where she’d sent Ladivos? “…grateful?”
“Yes. Jerome saw you speaking to the Weyrwoman, and Rindell saw you with the Weyrlingmaster and her assistant. The talk is you’re trying to keep the guard away from The Pit.”

Maryam wasn’t sure whether to feel relief or dread. “Oh. Yes. We did not speak of The Pit, though.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Annyka counters, “so long as the big knots in the Weyr think well of you. Right?”

Of course. Because that is how things worked in the Bazaar. Maryam’s fingers tensed around the little net bag of sand. Suds squeezed through her knuckles. Her tongue felt thick and heavy in her mouth; she didn’t know what to say.

The other woman studied her curiously.

“…right?” she prompted.

“Yes,” said Maryam faintly. “I am doing all I can, Annyka. To keep them away from The Pit. They have no reason to target us.”

Annyka nodded, satisfied. It felt strange to see her wear that expression. It was the same look given Maryam’s brother, her husband, when he won in the arena. It was a look that said Of course, I knew it would be so, that he would do well.

“I should rinse,” Maryam said, suddenly wanting nothing more than to be away from that warm approval.

“And I should feed this one,” said her good-sister, giving the baby boy a bounce on her hip and making him laugh. She turned to go, but left the impression of her smile with Maryam. That look of answered expectation, normally reserved for her men.

Alone again, Maryam let her legs bend and sunk beneath the water. It pulled the soapy residue from her skin, but more importantly it hid her from the voices of her family. That bright, happy hum continued above, but below all she heard was the movement of water in her ears. Water rejects voices, she thought, and was glad.

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