The Totem-Maker: Crafter Becomes Maker (part five)
Crafter Becomes Maker
Speaking, she rummaged in a chest. These threats pleased me not, but if she would trust me, I might exalt upon that and ask my god’s forgiveness later. In this silence of calculating the politic answer, I lost my chance to demur.
“Ah,” I said, as with pride she held the object under my eyes. “A book.”
A bound book, a most painstaking thing to create, each page decorated in colored inks, each left-hand border stitched in looped embroidery, looped again into its place. Of such, my people made none.
“I had said there was a story to my tribe, and this contains it.”
“It bears no curse of holiness?”
My face made her laugh. “Open it now before my witness. We shall both be struck dead, if your Ami, who is not my god, flings down his bolt!”
I opened it, and leafed it, keeping my fingertips from touching any of the text. No part of the story could I have read. The alphabet seemed to run from the top to the bottom of the page, odd to me.
“Why?” I said, simply.
With posturings very self-pleased, but acted in good humor, she gave me her second gift, a smaller chest taken from the other. A tiny key was lodged in a tiny lock, but unturned. I opened the chest, and found ribboned scrolls.
“How is your success at learning our language?” Her hands told me, pick one, unroll it.
I did, and began to understand. “But Depwoto could teach me nothing written, and he is busy with his army affairs. You are making a sort of lettering of that tongue the Prince tells me is never set down. I may use your notes to study the history…”
She smiled. “That history is recorded in the language of the Citadel. Work steadily, Nur-Elom, and master for yourself the mysteries!”
I was little consulted as to the ordering of my own affairs, but proofs of my mission finding itself peopled and supplied appeared daily at the margins of my attention. When permitted, I lay on my stomach in the garden, solving Noakale’s puzzles. She and the women would seat themselves nearby, and when she had finished her dispatches…
(How, I wondered, was Lord Ei ever to return his servants to their old management? And how haphazard might this have been? He ought to marry his cook…I did not suggest it, but had shared the thought, I felt, with Tnoch, a glint of the eye and nod of the head between us…)
I stood and knelt again, to ask my three or four questions.
“Enough of foolery!” Noakale tapped me with her fan. “You must not make such sport with the zhatabe.”
When her women had gone their ways, I said, “I show you respect for their sakes. Most certainly I will play this game wherever I go.”
She laughed then until her eyes wanted dabbing. “Well, you are a courtier, less diplomat…but to your credit, you don’t believe yourself!”
“And so your people, the Kale-Kale, are descendants of those at the Citadel. Tell me this word…tell it in my language and in yours.”
The word was conflagration. Anfer, ashfal. In the beginning, the tribe of Kale-Kale had commanded a great city perched on a plain above black sand, whose bay lay pinched between the finger and thumb of a giant’s hand. Hoto, the defeated, a Mighty Man of their heaven; Toboro…so they had called the city under shadow of a vaulting fire-mountain. Noakale’s people too recorded that life had begun among the clouds, that calamitous warfare had brought the descent of, to the gods, a diminished remnant; but to ourselves, the great ancestors of magic and power, whose gifts—for still they warred with one another—were by their own hands, at length by the anger of Ami, destroyed, denied them.
The Kale-Kale called their Ami Euka.
But he was the same, and the great city might have been Monsecchers.
“We are all cousins,” I said to Noakale. It was on the morning of the wedding, when I was reciting to her as much of the history as I’d translated, then scratched into tablets and pressed onto clean linen. My people used a panel of gold to read our linens, turning the reversed print right…it was a priestly act, done in temples. I had thought of the written word so, cloaked in the hush of sanctity and the light of candles. For candlelight and the reflection of gold were the media of prophecy, the illumination of sudden passages. This, in Monsecchers, we’d known to be the will of Lotoq expressed, such as he ordained his priests deliver to the Lords and Judges of Delia, Decima, Vei, Treiva…
But I spoke to invite. We of the coastal lands were a type, the northerners a different type. As were also, from what I’d seen, the traders…a third type. Noakale had not the face of the Citadel, or properly, of the lands beyond; she had not quite my own face, but we were alike in coloring.
“Yes, I confess to taking some pleasure in the sight of you. I confess too, for you won’t discount me, that I was happy in Monsecchers. More, I mean, than at home.” She was in sighing mood, weary from these preparations. And the greater to come, when her husband and his army left her behind in this house. “A woman of my tribe makes her home where she finds it. You note the Prince and his ilk are only a small thrust…or, to make a picture, let me say better. A drip of water below the roof tiles. The roof looks sound, but it will fall.”
Darsale on a chair held aloft by servants, called to Noakale…from the hilltop, not ordering herself carried lower.
“I’ll go up to her,” my Princess said, the containment in her voice telling all the story.
Crafter Becomes Maker
Crafter Becomes Maker (part six)
(2020, Stephanie Foster)