The Totem-Maker: Use for Use (part two)
If in conscience one can think of harm, already the choice is made. There are few harms we do in innocence. But I tried the blade, the tip of it along the belly, the creature seeping blood and cooling all the while. I took it in my hands and left by the front way.
Snow was falling.
I held the dead thing high in the sight of the gods, and said, Mighty Ones, Great is your Blessing, humble my gratitude, and boundless. Forgive me that I am ignorant. Show me, if I err, what is your will.
I felt better then, and finished my work, tamping down pity.
Thus I had meat for a meal, and was able to stretch a lovely, small pelt…to save, as I had no use for it. And by now the storm was on me, my plan to gather firewood, the firewood itself, traded for this other boon.
I bedded down, a maelstrom howling round my house, and framed the problem. Here was a day on which I’d had a chance. Chance, not I, had won. Tomorrow I would pay attention, make no choice at all until I’d asked myself: By sunset, where will I be, if I do this thing?
Came then four days of boredom. I brought Cuerpha inside altogether, letting him make manure in his stable. I was not lucky with my fires, my hands too stiff, the winds down the chimney snatching away the flint’s spark, my coals gone dead. I found the snows, piled over the very roof, kept the wind off at last…without it, my blanketed cave was tolerably warm. And bedding under every cover I possessed, against my pony’s belly, I did not suffer.
Only for knowing Chance had won four tosses against me since I’d lost the last. Strictly, though, I’d won back some of my store of firewood, for being not able to use it. I had won back some of my fodder, as the sheep were gone sheltering to their hiding places in the cliffs. I arrived, by this path, to thoughts of the War-Maker’s game. The champions played in their heads, moving pieces in every idle moment, as Stol had told me. My troubles became as such pieces arrayed on a board…
There were many ways to advance them to my ultimate disadvantage. I talked these stratagems out, Cuerpha pleased to hear my voice.
On the fifth day, sun again.
By now I had come to accept my early turns amateur. I wasted nothing in self-blame for what I could not have known—but to be coldly impartial, I had played wretchedly. I opened the door to the yard and surprise, at breathing a gentle air of spring. Terrific icicles columned the side of my house from roof to foundation. The patch that had been clear showed signs of clearing again.
Of course I had a sense of the seasons. This was weather, not the passing of winter. In my first days here, I might have wandered in such balm, bending to study curious plants, collect pretty stones. Today, I asked my question. Where by sunset? With my basins filled, my fire kindled, and bundles of sticks laid out to dry. Today, I took proper advice of myself: Finish these tasks. Do more if you can.
I decided also, being in a speaking mood, to address the gods…to address them as friends, to call this melting weather another of their kind blessings.
“The Prince—that man, I say, who holds such title in my land, Salo-Harpthok, though to you no doubt he is nothing…to me a vexation…”
As was well, I thought better here of complaining to deities, and warned myself to do no more of it. “Salo-Harpthok, he has gathered legends of the Alëenon people, but the time to share them with me he did not allow himself…”
I drew breath.
“I name you this thing in my own language, my dears, by which I mean high-born, to be revered. These are not insults, but yet if you have some name only for me to call you, my ears are open…”
I spoke, and I bundled sticks under one arm. I spread snow, heavy wet stuff, with a hearth-broom of split twigs. I found tangled in the grasses a waxy-leaved vine, dotted with red berries. I wanted to eat them. They looked capable of poisoning me.
I knelt, took up a stone, and crushed one berry against it. I put my finger to my tongue. The flavor was waxy itself, not sweet. Not bitter. I saw that the earth was of a yellow hue, mixed with flakes of grey rock.
The roots of the meadow grasses ran shallow, but were like the old salt-cured ropes of sailing vessels, my thoughts of steeping them coming to this end: a handful of twisted straw, utterly dry.
You are dawdling.
The voice…I hadn’t said it to myself, was of one interested…
For not having truly heard the words, I felt this. One curious of what I did, not kindly disposed towards me. I stood, took up the four corners of the skin my bundles waited on, carried them indoors, strewed them far from the fire, not to catch a spark.
I ate my disappointing seeds and honey. I had daylight left…what more?
I would take the hot ashes from below the grate, out to my garden spot. That would be to care for food (at least, in good time); I had cared already for warmth. Water gave me no troubles. Second to these foremost, should be my education. I chose this, though the move was of the speculative kind. Any implement I might craft, or means of shortening my tasks, producing more of what I needed more of, with less time spent in labor, must bear to the good of my three imperatives.
All I could learn about the lay of the land, then…the wild things that lived here, the people I would one day collect my news from, trade with, ask of for the tolls, would teach me what of my time was waste, what was not.
Use for Use
(2019, Stephanie Foster)