The Totem-Maker: Jealousy (part seven)
Sente got nothing from the gods as to wealth.
Of course, my master’s humor must break the solemnity at least once…he quipping in low voice that his friend could hide gold so cunningly, even the gods did not perceive it. But I pleased Sente, for drawing mostly dry signs, the least ill-boding reversed. An easier sort of luck than rain, so given to come in deluge, drain to drought.
The dove, bearer of gossip, sat center. Sun, below, to the left. For glancing up now and then to meet a frown of discernment, the versedness in tiles I’d expected, I felt it was myself dealt with gentle-handed by the gods. I would not be hated for the fortune I cast Lord Sente.
Whose reading he could himself anticipate. He was cautious, a man thoughtful of possibilities. Not merely that he liked an omen before acting…
Sente kept his finery from envy’s sight, and he kept his counsel.
“There is talk of marriage… This will speed.”
His tile opposite sun, always that most personal to the subject, was swan, the bride. Sente might have a bride. I was soon to follow him to his dining hall, and might sit embarrassed, for fear of meeting an inconvenient eye. Sente himself seemed abashed at my words, and put a daring face to Cime; who knew, by his own, the answer.
But whether the secret were open among the nobles, or poor-concealed in Sente’s heart, I could not know.
“I believe…on this assurance…of the excellent, most reverend Fates,” Cime said slowly, flickering a smile; stopping it. “I shall ask you to put our little matter to rest at once. Why let money weigh on conscience, when we would rather be merry?”
“I had rather be merry.” Sente stood, and bent over my tablet. “Will speed…?”
“Talk,” I told him. Gossip, of course.
“The anthill falls to dust at an ass’s kick.” He spoke an old saying.
I understand the mind of my enemy. Proud men, struck in their natures equally with a grudging suspicion; men who have risen a little, gained somewhat in their small reputations…but who never can be lords of this world, must always land in service to the scions, the Cimes…hang on praise-seeking; stub their toes on open defiance. Mumas would have liked the emperor, or Lady Nyma in his stead, to discern a petrified merit in his will to perform his office.
The performing of it was another matter.
Mumas despised Cime; he supposed Cime to despise him. Thus all gifts to Mumas were unwelcome, almost insults; and yet he felt no less insulted denied them.
In that frame of mind, as I suppose him, Mumas had busied himself on this day serving assessments. I could suspect a sporting rivalry—I was closer to Cime and Pytta, of their household. I’d seen there distance, varieties indulgent and austere with elders, comradeship with Sente and a handful of the young…all these came to the villa and went, making their visiting rounds, as had I, accompanying my lady. Her enchanting novelty…the foundling, the reader of destinies.
They played with one another, I felt, at catch-me-if-you-can… But as to causing harm, they meant none. I think my freedom was not a thing that had occurred to the Cimes; the notion I would be better off for having it…
Yet I digress.
Trouble sprang from this, that Mumas preened himself on bringing the delinquents to bay. He’d done so much—a day’s success for him—and felt he could do more.
The porter came to announce another of Cime’s servants.
Lom and I were served our meal on the steps leading to the dais on which the lordly ones reclined. Fully laden tables were carried above stairs, crouched into place delicately before the divans; and emptied, carried away below. Lom and I, among all who waited on these steps, had privilege to sample from Sente’s kitchen and enjoy, being not ourselves in employment.
We kept our heads low. We offered profuse thanks at every new plate and cup, and we were loftily ignored. Sente’s guests were parents brokering a daughter’s marriage to him….this the embarrassment.
Sente held back not much of reluctance and disdain. They, wronged, but pleased for this to have the upper hand, commented…the wine in this country had for many years now a sulphurous under-taste…well, it was the water…unfortunately, the soil itself… Sweeter could be found in the north… And its being a month’s journey, of course there could be no occasion to wait for the mid-winter fairs…
The gist of these remarks we could grasp. Often, careless, they used words of their own; often they put heads together and conversed to the exclusion of the party. Sente answered by striking up talk with Cime.
“What else must we send for? My poor Darsale. But…she will grow used to it. Are you familiar at all with our sort of food, Sente?”
These two, the palest man and woman I had ever seen—they had spots to their skin, a russet pattern dotting their arms, and for the bareness of these, they were more clothed, too, than anyone I had seen, under and over garments, bonnets on their heads, and shoes that came above the ankle—made me pity all the more this daughter.
To be such as that, and to come alone, and to have been supplanted beforehand by some other love…
(2018, Stephanie Foster)