The Totem-Maker: Crafter Becomes Maker (part four)
Crafter Becomes Maker
“Lord Ei. The Peddler is known to you.”
Lord Ei sat stony; I, dutifully at his feet, but laying my argument as an equal…and he had not ventured to his garden expecting to be interviewed, only to see me with his own eyes. I was not at fault, but could fault my approach. I lowered my voice to humility.
“Lord Ei, my reason for asking…”
“Hush,” he said. From his seat he saw, but I soon heard, the descent by stages of a man using a stick. Others, in softer shoes and bearing weapons, came after—but as good household knights will, held back, finding places of vantage.
Wosogo stood first; Lord Ei did not stand at all. I stood…while if I were choosing the rank of servant, I ought to have crouched and studied the earth. In the face of Jute’s intended I stood, as I presumed. He was not greatly old; he might have fallen, even, some years shy of his bride. He was lamed, but not otherwise battle-weathered…an accident, or a bad birth. His face was not handsome, but humorous.
“I see you transformed, Lord Ei!”
Lord Ei made a noise. “Why do you say so?”
“Well, disappoint me if you must. Perhaps the Totem-Maker arrives, and can shed no light on your ignorance. Now, what of mine, Oracle? Tell me a fortune.”
He was more than humorous. He was a wag. “To know your name is of the first essence. And the day and hour of your birth. Me, you may call Nur-Elom.”
As taller people were prone to do, he put a hand on me, clapping me somewhere between the shoulder blades. “Me, you may call Tnoch.”
His Balbaecan speech was of a dialect…at least, his consonants were differently said. Later scholarship gives me the spelling (this ruler of men unlettered as most), that I give to you, my reader, and a pronunciation: Nohsh.
“Pravor Tnoch,” Wosogo said, “is captain of the city of Hudor, the only other of the Alëenon coast.”
I thought, and said after a moment, catching that waggish eye, “Not Lord Tnoch?”
“No. I am a climber. I offend by it. But what land should a bride want, where inheritance cannot be? I give her the management of my house, and if she is wise, she may take my son in hand as well.”
I was owed two stories by Noakale.
I longed for them, and found I’d made a tedium for myself. When there are a thousand things to do, and an ordinary day’s hours in which to do them, good judgment suffers. I chafed, being included in talks among the lords, trying Lord Ei’s patience, bearing gibes from the friendly Tnoch…while I knew I learned things of great value.
Hudor had its troubles with pirates, as had the Emperor at Monsecchers. The Emperor could spare a portion of his fleet, gaining against loss, if it meant the pursuit of them to their hideouts and destruction. The brigands disposed of plunder by the traders’ route, each making, after spoils were divided, for his separate home. The homes were hovels, of small fishers along the coast.
The pirate ships they burnt. A light, fast construction was the practiced skill of this loosely banded people, a thing to be achieved in more or less a trice…with timbers poached from the imperial forest, as why would they not be?
And the ceremony of a maiden vessel’s launch, and the ceremony of her death, were rites of their odd religion. I could damage this faith, if I could speak to them—but the pirates were no concern of mine. They were my Prince’s solution to the problem I’d given him; he had brooded off and returned with this makeshift to busy his men, to teach the virgin warrior his craft.
“The traders, then,” I said. “No one has advanced upon them a persuasion of loyalty; even, I suppose, a leaning to our side. Strangers come blocking their roadways, encamping themselves in their fields, starting the game and trampling the flowers; naturally this argues for their choosing an allegiance…”
“Now you understand,” the Prince cut me short. It was well he did…though he told himself a falsehood. The whole of the Citadel, the reason for making war upon the zhatabe (might I regret I’d viewed this cause without sympathy), was in the traders’ disregard for sides. “The Emperor wills not to rely on a treacherous people, on such as weigh the greater profit in one choice or another.”
“Are they treacherous?”
“Less of that!” Lord Ei spoke. “To be put through paces at every turn! I will answer to Ami, Totem-Maker, and if in your power you can produce him, bring him forth. Great Ami, let my sword shed no innocent blood. There!”
“Well, there,” I said.
By some means, Noakale was inspired to join our conclave. (The means a sign from the Prince to Wosogo.)
I was taken off to—as he had demanded—trouble my host less.
She tugged me by the hand, speeding me through three of the Balbaecan rooms, divided from one another by curtain or tapestry or skin. I did not know the etiquette of this arrangement, and dared never pop round my head…to discover to my embarrassment whose privacy I invaded. But Noakale had the run of Lord Ei’s home.
We arrived at her chamber. “It is all gifts with me, rejoice! Today my treats are for you. One of irreplaceable value with which I am going to trust you, and another very dear to me, for the many hours I’ve devoted to it.”
Crafter Becomes Maker
(2020, Stephanie Foster)