The Totem-Maker: Crafter Becomes Maker (part six)
Crafter Becomes Maker
The Kale-Kale had built Toboro on the strength of their fine craftworkings: the potters, the stonemasons, the jewelers, the weavers. They lived on the sea, they traded by the sea, but did not much sail or fish. The fire mountain left them untroubled, its bowl a lapping turquoise lake. Lotoq…I hardly could avoid filling my imagination with familiar haunts, when all descriptions tallied…had been quiet these hundreds of years past. He had not been summoned by his chosen to rise and rain wrath on the impious…
I might be biased in supposing so. He was quiet, but the malenchantment that invaded the city came from his dominion.
As Monsecchers today (I pray it be; so it was, when these thoughts were in my mind) the landscape was formed of its ridges and terraces. The high places and the fertile were commanded by villas, the low and hardscrabble by the shanties of the poor. The hillsides served with their winding, trampled paths—human figures like ants in file climbing and descending daylong—for the stacking of one structure on another’s roof. A threshold within jumping space of the path made for a shaded perch, very narrow, below the floor beams of an upper shanty; the roof of a lower jutted to make for upstairs neighbors a sleeping place in the night air. And where the chasm walls came nearer meeting, ladders were laid from one side to the other, becoming the by-streets of the shantytown.
A scene for you, if I conjure well, of a jumble of dwellings, four-walled but off-square, balanced at hazard. Gay, though, in the weavings of cloths used to cover drafts, the glaze of tiles pasted on for beauty alone, with that strong clay dug from the bottoms of ravines.
And under the weak light of many a candle, the poor earned their bread, taking the needle and the chisel and the brush into their teeming rooms, and on their backs bearing bundles to the lower town, the Old Town, as I have described it to you, in speaking of Vlanna Madla’s workshops and the house of Mumas.
They walked with their bundles, and odd, fearful things began to plague them. A woman would lay down the weight to fetch a drink, and a deadly asp slither out. A man would feel a sudden sharp pain, and find his cloths afire. The children who trailed their parents would shriek at masklike faces darting from the trees, bone white, with rolling yellow eyes, mouths in the shape of the turtle shell.
It is one of the tiles, which foretells thus: whatever tile is turned after, that fate will be yours and your love’s, twinned. One a windfall, the other bankruptcy. One recovered from illness, the other stricken. But when a child is to be born, the fate takes this shape, that of ending the line, no child ever born to that house again.
Turtles are never touched or troubled among our people. Nor, I must suppose, among these older brothers and sisters, the Kale-Kale.
The people did not live insensible to their vulnerability; they feared and were cautious of fire. But the laborers of the shantytown were not a tribe. Their priests were the city priests. They knew that in the temples they were not wanted, that worshippers with clean shoes and coins to offer commanded these temples, and that when the poor peered in, they were swept aside. One priest, however, a blind man who had taken upon himself a sequestered life, as the unsighted often do, was said to pray day and night for the succor of these least.
A’an, he is recorded, which must in an early tongue like to our own, mean father; he was so addressed by pilgrims seeking his intervention with Euka, or with lesser deities. He was not thought to love children, but a child was lowered to him in his seacliff cave, to whisper the horror of the masked spirits.
“They are not spirits.”
This was abrupt; the child dared: “They are evil men?”
“Why do they invoke the turtle?”
“For, child, that there are other lands than ours. Places of unbelievers, infidels. You must tell your father…your father has given you this task?”
“Tell him he will go to the lake, at the mountaintop. He will see for himself.”
“They give no instruction to children in the shantytown.”
It was a question, stated flatly. The child knew it to contain a snare which agreement or disagreement would spring alike. Such were the comments of adults.
“No learning, no, Lord.”
“No…you do not call me lord.”
The child fell to a wary silence.
“I make a mild point. You will carry a message from me to the Emperor. You will give it to the guard at the gate, by this token.” The blind man went to a basket; he did so with not a pace more or less than needed. He gave the child a tile. “The message is that he must send to me an emissary and…you will hear more of it later. You.” Saying this last, he tapped the child meaningfully on the shoulder.
“I will hear more.”
“That is a business of my own,” the old man said. “I digress. Your lesson is this: when a child is given a chore he performs it. He does not say ‘but’ to an elder. What will you tell your father?”
“That he must go to the lake.”
Crafter Becomes Maker
(2020, Stephanie Foster)