The homefathers and the exchangers avert their faces, and though they call me by my name WeSa to my face, behind my back when they think I cannot hear they call me “the Remnant of River Home.” My wife, I hear, they call “Lament of the Unmothered.” They do not shun us, of course, and most do not teach their own children to hate us, for no sin can be named to lay at my feet; I am incarnate the tragedy that befell River Home, but I am not its instigator, nor am I any more to blame than those swept away. The only one to revile me openly is my birthsister, forever named ErRu, and she shall have no children to teach her hatred to.
As grievous as this tragedy was, their whispered scorn would not be so great if I had not chosen as mate one who was already ill-omened in their eyes, she who was LuRa and had no birthbrother save the ungrown lump that was delivered with her. The tale passed down from the Forgotten Times is that those without a birthsibling were given to the River to avert bad fortune, but it is only a tale, and none can say if it was ever true. Still, the shadow of such legends lay heavy over her in her childhood, when she was LuRa and I was ErWe. And when I chose her to mate and to rename her WeRa to my WeSa—her, above all the pleading young women whose birthbrothers had been hale and hearty—then the whispers about her began anew on some lips, this time suggesting that the tragedy had been because of her after all, and by mating her I had invited the doom to linger and strike again, like a dark cloud wedged into the valley that brings no rain but only dry wind and lightning. But people say many things in anger and grief, to vent the ashes in their hearts.
When my first Longyear came, I was still an infant, clinging to my mother’s fur alongside ErRu. I must have seen the young men enter the River to ride out the Flooding, but no memory of it had stayed with me until my own Longyear. I was not the youngest of the young men in that spring awaiting the Flooding, but my father privately fretted of my chances for taking a mate. “He’s a small boy,” he said when he and my mother thought I was outside. “Thin, too. The water’ll wash him clean out of the valley, all the way down to the sea.”
“He’ll manage,” my mother said. “The River is merciful, and capricious. You were no hulking brute yourself, remember.”
“No, but I was older than ErWe,” he said. “And I was certainly enough man for you, wasn’t I?”
“You were, and are,” she said, warming to his hand on her shoulder. And their conversation quickly moved on to other matters…