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THE TROUBLE WITH THE COTTON PEOPLE / Ursula K. Le Guin from Always Coming Home Written by Grey Bull of the Obsidian of Telina-na, as part of an offering to his heyimas. When I was a young man there was trouble with the people who send us cotton from the South in trade for our wines. We were putting good wines on the train to Sed every spring and autumn, clear Ganáis and dark Berrena, Mes from Ounmalin and the Sweet Betebbes they like down there, all good wines, selected because they travel well, and shipped in the best oak and redwood casks. But they had begun sending us short-staple, seedy cotton, full of tares, in short-weight bales. Then one year they sent half in bales and the rest stuff already woven—some of it fair sheeting weight, but some of it sleazy, or worse. That year was the first I went to Sed, with my teacher in the Cloth Art, Soaring of the Obsidian of Kastoha-na. We went down with the wine, and stayed at the inn at Sed, a wonderful place for seafood and general comfort. She and the Wine Art people had an argument with the foreigners, but it got nowhere, because the people who had brought the cotton to Sed said they were just middlemen—they hadn't sent the lousy cotton, they just loaded and unloaded it and sailed the ships that carried it and took the wine back South. The only person there, they said, who was actually from the cotton people, wasn't able to speak any language anybody else spoke. Soaring dragged him over to the Sed Exchange, but he acted as if he'd never heard of TOK; and when she tried to get a message through the Exchange to the place the cotton came from, nobody answered. The Wine Art people were glad she was there, since they would have taken the sleazy without question and sent all the good wine they had brought in return. She advised them to send two-thirds the usual shipment, and no Sweet Betebbes in it at all, and to take the rest back home and wait to hear from the cotton people. She refused to load the sleazy stuff onto the train, so they put it back into the ships. The ship people said they didn't care, so long as they got their usual share of the wine from us for doing the shipping. Soaring wanted to cut that amount, too, to induce the ship people to pay attention to the quality of their cargo; but the other Valley traders said that was unfair, or unwise; so we gave the sailors a half-carload, as usual—all Sweet Betebbes. When we came home there was discussion among the Cloth and Wine 86 · The Missouri Review Arts and the Finders Lodge and the councils and interested people of several towns, and some of us said: "Nobody from the Valley has been to that place where the cotton comes from for forty or fifty years. Maybe some people from here should go there, and talk with those people." The others agreed with that. So after waiting a while to see if the cotton people would send a message on the Exchange when they got their sleazy back and less wine than usual, we set out, four of us: myself, because I wanted to go, and knew something about cotton and fabrics; and three Finders Lodge people, two who had done a lot of trading and had been across the Inland Sea more than once, and one who wanted to keep up the Finders' maps of the places we were going. They were named Patience, Peregrine, and Gold. We were all men and all young. I was the youngest. I had come inland the year before with a Blue Clay girl, but when I said I was going to the end of the Inland Sea she said I was crazy and irresponsible, and put my books and bedding out on the landing. So I left from my mothers' house. I had been busy learning with the Cloth Art and had not...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 86-95
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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