The Totem-Maker: Jealousy (part two)
My predictions earned me status in the Decima household as a prodigy. Or, if nothing more, a jester. Divorced now from any shadow of belief…which for myself I had never had (had wanted only, for the sake of those to whom I belonged, earnestly to will into being), I waxed a hint histrionic…I shaded my words, to color their interpretation with wider and happier possibility.
I had no usual work-mate. I shared quarters with the others, and was called for alone. Lady Pytta was full of laughter; she enjoyed paying her visits…her circuit of the high houses, of which to make, as a young wife, she had the duty. And novelty to carry in her train…and so I was given the hood of a priest for a lark.
The other servants were sent away on pretense of concealing my revelations from gossip. It was sainted secrecy, this drawing of the veil of mystery; it made fun for these idle wealthy. I was given the importance of making my preparations and declaring myself ready…flattered to be attended, to have silence fall at the sound of my own voice. I was played upon—kindly I do think—to an even higher pitch, asked to choose, as the women could not among themselves, whose fortune would first be read. The game lasted the spring and summer, and I suppose in all it was only camaraderie, sport.
I had been isolated in childhood; I had not known what rivalry was.
Now autumn must come, following one cycle of the moon, and I was put in that place designed; ordered to accompany on his rounds Cime Decima. I received to complement my livery a pony, indifferently named for his brown coat, Cuerpha. The sun was low and burned in the afternoons. I wrapped a cloth around my head and neck, and sweated under my cap.
“In the planting season,” Cime said.
He was speaking to me, because he had raised his voice. Because his voice had a note of duty; duty done with resignation…and because his deputy, riding beside and not behind, did something with his shoulders on these occasions. Something that suggested an inward laugh.
“We will ride to the fields and take measure of each planted hektar, each left fallow, what grains are sown. Also we inspect the vineyards, the new leaf. The landholder pays in that portion determined, and if the harvest fall short, he is free to make appeal. But there is no appeal if he has not paid his taxes.”
“And in the harvest season…” I said, to prompt him. To show I listened.
You, who read my tale, heed: I had been taught to be well-spoken, been by exigence made well-read. In these manners, my faith was perfect, for all the men and women I had known—those whose orders I obeyed, who met my eye now and then, conversed with me—were of this kind. But the world is a large place. Here was a lesson I had not learned: that servants and slaves could, must, belong in the eyes of some, among the brutes. That upon a man like Cime’s deputy, Mumas, I—myself, my being, my looks, my voice, my sayings—grated.
All these things taken together, at the mere parting of my lips, sparked in him ire. To appease this man I could not have debased myself to a low enough humility. (Nor, then or later, would I have done so.)
He found me out of place. He found me grasping.
“Again we see how the crops stand in the fields…and nothing, if I have not certified its quality, can be taken to the exchange. You guess how it would be, giving too much license to these farmers. Even as close as we watch, there is not one, I promise you, doesn’t keep aside his stash, to sell over the border.”
“Because,” I said, still in innocence, “we are so near the border, it is not much effort to them.”
He laughed, and shook his head. “I did that work at one time, riding the boundary road, before my present honor.”
Cime was of the knightly caste, as you have surmised, his education all in arms; and what he had got from his tutors, he scorned. He found it easy to employ me in the jotting of figures. And then, for I wanted to do well at anything I undertook, I had thought of chart-making.
My success with Lady Pytta in mind, I’d said so aloud, this brainchild also, that grain and grapes grow with the weather, that in a fine year like this, we would expect a fine yield.
Next year, we would see.
“And the year after, Lord Cime…because by then…”
“How you let it prate!” Mumas said.
(2018, Stephanie Foster)