Totem: To Be and to Choose (part four)
“Now he who is challenged may see fit to decline. If it be entered into the record that he has answered no, this is the same as to forfeit the right of dispute. Whatever is charged against him stands, though he pays no other penalty than in honor lost.
“If he will fight, he will agree to appear with his challenger at the offices of Cause; there record will be made of the dispute, its circumstances, who charges, who denies, where they will fight and with what weapons. He may, and his challenger may, employ as champion a knight…or a friend.”
She mentioned then, glancing down…though she spoke from expertise and had no tablet to consult…
She made of this summing up what struck me untrue, acted. She mentioned, I say, and somewhat hurried, that also they who seek charity may, counselled as to form by her deputies, apply to the Vranga-chae’m of her order, and that the law permitted any length of delay, but that his refusal meant the combat must take place within four days.
All this was a disturbance. Only to me. I had wanted to pay such close attention to these great ones, to trust with all my heart in this idea…
That the gods had ordered our world as a pyramid, my place in it so low, I need think of nothing for myself. I wished this, that I could sit with an empty mind, drink in grand-sounding phrases, gaze with wonder at the Villa of Montadta, at its alley of columns, every four the legs of a giant horse, a team to pull Lotoq’s chariot, to speed his wheels of thunder and fire…the high dais, its rich cloths, the handiwork of patient years…
And I was not so gifted, to be unwise. Nor so very wise. I understood it; Pyrandtha knew something of me, a thing decided in privacy…and I feared the friend was Cime. And I could not allow him to champion me, even if he was certain of himself.
The Minister of Cause took her seat, and the High Magistrate rose.
“In summary, I state the question again. The law was made, in large part to protect the property of citizens, in lesser part to protect their persons; within the tradition of the law our enquiry has uncovered two key principles. First, that the law must touch the slave, albeit the slave is not a citizen, albeit the slave holds no property, else the will of a slave shall be ungovernable, for the slave may then act by a will independent of his master’s, and do harm to either or both the property and person of a citizen. Second, that also a slave may do great good to a citizen by the exercise of an independent will, and that, as in the case of Hanit, and where a slave is regarded covered by the precepts of the law, we may fairly consider a word of warning, or bodily intervention where evil is intended by one against another, duty—duty to speak or to act—not mere privilege to do so.
“Then we must consider, as Pyrandtha has given you to understand, that the challenge requires an answer; that the answer may be no answer. There are consequences for declining combat; these to be borne or spurned as best the heart of the accused advises him. The objection may be raised, that if one slave challenges, many will challenge. I counter this with two points: One, that we allow marriage among slaves; we do not complain that if one slave seeks to marry, many will seek to marry. We uphold by custom the master’s right to place this slave in the stable, that in the kitchen, a third at his side; we do not cavil that if this one have a task different from that one, many will fall into jealousies and intrigues…and yet this we know to be the frequent result. If the court allow weight to an argument constructed on such lines, it cannot be lax in enforcement, or blind to instances of identical construction, for the sake of convenience.
“Two, the law is founded, the limits of the law expanded, upon this principle, that each new case introduces a new question. Were we ever to see the later arising of a petition wherein no single factor departs to the smallest degree, but all correspond precisely to those of the earlier, there could be from the court no issue, other than that previously determined…”
I will not give more of this speech, Lady Nyma going forward from this preamble, to restate the attestations of Mumas, of Cime, of my man of law, Banche, on my behalf. She spoke of the laws of property and of challenge.
The Prince’s men began to be difficult.
From nerves, I’d felt no hunger all day. But I supposed for these forced witnesses, pleasing their lord, here for no other reason…that which they found amusing and worthwhile beckoned, in reverie, to minds long since astray.
Lady Nyma’s officer bellowed now, in a voice to silence the room, cow the flouters of our assize’s dignity: “Rise, Petitioner! Rise, Respondent! All rise!”
The Prince reached across the aisle, surprising me, and hauled me to my feet by the collar, as he stood to his own. I hadn’t even the chance to be laggardly; his act was of contempt. I think only for the ceremony itself.
“Citizens. Honored guests. Counsel and client. My son, Cime Decima. Sente Vei.”
Sente also must be present. Standing with my head no higher than the Prince’s bruma, a half-breastplate in gold the northerners wore, a flared-nostrilled and fanged beast, bear or boar, molded upon the heart, I would not look back. I would not move in any way to suggest opinion, loyalty, even curiosity. But with great curiosity, I wondered. Sente had made an attestation of his own; Lady Nyma had not introduced it.
“The court rules thus: The challenge against the respondent, Mumas Martas, is in full keeping with the Law of Challenge, therefore Mumas Martas must make answer. That is all.”
All, but not simply. He had balked from the start, and for the pride of such a man, as already I have said, to give answer to a slave was to stoop low, and too far. Surely, Mumas would have come to it. He could not embarrass himself less making any of choices left to him…surely, he would have said no, and come to it. His imagination must torment him for a time…he would suppose himself laughed at; he would draw inward and grumble, when—most especially at this season, the pilgrimage needing weeks of filling jars and baskets for the journey, weeks away—his adventure would be only forgotten.
To Be and to Choose
(2018, Stephanie Foster)