From Cliff-Head: sample from The Totem-Maker
The Totem-Maker: From Cliff-Head
From my aerie, I could see a soft and bluish stretch of coastland, struck at times by sun, blackened others by the undersides of clouds. The grain fields, limning the foothills above, flared ocher in this light of late autumn, and I let a daydream carry me down to what I imagined a place of warmth, of gentler air, a sort of carelessness in the life, that I envied…
Some towns along the coast I could see, their lamps winking on at dusk, and these were as friends known at a distance. I wondered if it meant so much to them—to have such as me walk among them—as I’d been browbeaten by the tribunal into supposing. Would the people of the towns not go about their business, and ignore the outcast peering into shops?
One morning there was great activity on the plain.
I was awake at daybreak…each season the totem craft had made me wealthier, yet always I was frugal as could be with candles and oil, because of my difficulty in being able to trade only with the peddler. The sounds of trumpets and shouting had been there in my dreams; they were there, rising in bouts, as I dressed.
I saddled Cuerpha, the sun yet piercing and obscuring, and fog that always hugged the river, spread to hide the harbor town. This, I’d been told, was called Balbaec. My pony was inclined to have his own way, and we went, after he had stopped for a drink, and after he’d browsed a dotting of fresh-bloomed clover at the roadside, finally to the overlook. The way was strait, abounding in loose stone, and here his mountain-footed breeding told.
We picked our way to the broad cliff-head, the sun high enough by now, the plain clear of mists. It was true…an army camped below. My first thought was, a bit of hardship for the well-to-do. Perhaps it will shed light.
I did not really believe this, on reflection. Refugees might climb the road. I would waive the toll, and pay it myself. I would expect from them, in return, ignorance and curses.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)