The Totem-Maker: Crafter Becomes Maker (part two)
Crafter Becomes Maker
Noakale kept me at her side during those days the suitor and his entourage filtered into Lord Ei’s establishment. She was certain of her strength, quite untroubled by the loftiness of Jute and Darsale. United the sisters were in this; at daggers, privately, otherwise.
We had not been alone, my Princess and I, so I waited my moment.
“Come help me choose my gift,” she said one morning, and led me by the hand.
I was at the window, watching a rider I could recognize at last as Wosogo. Another I must couch myself with…perhaps beg of my Prince the favor of his arranging it. I spoke when Jute’s stare after us was eclipsed by a falling curtain.
“A gift for Jute? Or does Lord Ei bring back his wife?”
“Lord Ei has no wife. The gift, yes, is to adorn the fine gown, and the gown is a gift, as well. All kindnesses to my cousin Darsale.”
“And no personal kindnesses to Jute?”
“Personal. There’s a word. But this honors me, your piercing eye. My husband puts great store by it, frets putting himself under that eye’s disapprobation.”
“He does not!” I was a bit wondering…
I’d wanted this power. I was cowed to have got it, when I wished…I discovered I did…to have felt more cunning, more victorious. He fretted over his great undertaking, fretted he would fail. I knew the northerners…fail to die at the right moment. Live to the disgrace of diminishment. Had I felt differently, I could have seen my Prince diminished for this…failing indeed. But I saw him endearing.
“Oh, yes. What a creature you are! There is no ill-luck in these stones?”
Rather than hand the collar to me, she drew behind me, and fastened it round my neck. The stones were luminous pearl, not rock. Silverwork in traceries held them.
“I fear asking Ami’s blessing. Jute despises my charity.”
Noakale’s laugh was knowing. My admiration for her husband she knew, and laughed at that too. “You’ll learn to have better fun. Of course she despises charity. Just why we go out of our way to give it.”
A moment, and I asked, “Would you have me bear this to Jute now?”
“Do you wish, at all, to wander the grounds? I have not been keeping you from your totem…? You shall have the garden all to yourself, dear, and I will give the order.”
I made motions towards the obeisant ways I’d been wont to use, when last I’d served a kind mistress, but Noakale had many years’ wisdom on Pytta. She dismissed this. “Go now, and have your lunch. The servants will trouble you long enough to lay it. Nur-Elom, I feel you have been trying to ask me things.”
Catching me with this, as I’d turned to leave.
“I wish,” I said, clasping my hands at my waist, “you would tell me how you yourself came to marry. I don’t conceal my reasons. Jute and Darsale…”
“Are Wolgan. Wolgan himself was the son of a white eagle, and an exiled chieftain’s daughter. I am Kale-Kale. We have no home, our people, but we have wealth, and there is a story how that came about.”
But saying so, she shooed me on my way. I had no time to ask if she could believe a man had been sired of an eagle, if in the north they had even seen such things.
I explored the garden’s squares-within-squares, thick-needled shrubs outermost…but tracing the path to the very wall, I found that outside this were berrying brambles. Access, to steal—and I doubted not most thieves were fourlegged—made too daunting.
Second to the shrubs were the vines, climbing wooden posts and beams, each bunch of grapes threaded into a carved notch, to hang below the netting. Third were the household grains, blue-leaved and yellow-leaved, as much altogether as a small field might supply. Then the fruiting and rooting vegetables, herbs, and in the center square an orchard, where I counted sixteen trees, four each of four sorts.
As you observe, it was not a pleasure garden; but so arranged, it pleased the eye. Stones gave seating at the center plot’s corners. I withdrew my totem. If it would manifest, tell me it preferred a garden…I would then surrender my office…
Or if it would portend for me, in some way, my Prince’s fortunes in war…
In the sunlight, under lucence of pale clouds swept from a shore not far away, the creature was lovely. The purple showed a depth, a maturing. The eyes were closed, and I braced to see them open. I was in error, of course…it seemed my totem helped me only upon this theme. Counsel not good nor bad, but steady, insistent.
You are not right. Solve your problem.
And I had sworn to choose my own path. Who would I be to the zhatabe, arriving at his great Citadel…
Not alone. I saw myself have an entourage, my importance to be impressed upon these people. That was the wiser course of diplomacy. Then, what costume? Did my dress matter? My present state of dress was an embarrassment, and so I guessed that Noakale, in speaking to me of finery, hinted as well. I knew I had been embarrassed before the women; while not feeling this in the least, I saw the apparency of it…information gained to sharpen my picture. Of who, when the balance tipped, would prove my friend.
Bodies clustered at the edge of vision. When I turned to them, I saw Lord Ei’s servants. The cook bore a table to set before me; her minions bore the parts of my lunch. But I sat in consultation with the Cannot-Be-Named, and even the phlegmatic cook showed a dread to enter its sphere.
“Here, there is nothing to trouble you,” I called, standing, and patting the object into its pouch. The little group, who trod each other’s heels, met with a new pressure. Wosogo strode down the path, an old man in plain tunic at his side…falling behind, though, for not quickening his own pace.
Crafter Becomes Maker
(2020, Stephanie Foster)