The Totem-Maker: Crafter Becomes Maker (part seven)
Crafter Becomes Maker
“His knife he must carry. His two companions wait for him below the ridge that encircles the lake. He will in great stealth approach. With speed and in secret descend, and tell what he has seen.”
Some of these words were new to the child, while the priest’s diction made even the familiar obscure, but the two things assigned he carried out. He later learned himself recommended to that quarter of the city where only the holy dwelt, to be educated there; and in old age had authored my portion translated, this child. He told the reader so at the outset, in preamble, a dedication to his savior.
The father and his companions discovered the bowl with its sulphurous waters, its spined encircling ridge, become a camping place. Strange works were underway, handcarts brought to the lake’s edge by gangways; most, natural in their courses, but cut to widen and smooth. These paths, the men thought found in quiet forays, and the labor, which seemed the hauling of many rocks, proceeded also without a shout. The rocks were placed, not thrown.
The carters made off, at a pace deliberate, zigzagging to what looked a tunnelway. Why should they do it? There was some good in the rocks that made them worth stealing… The men discussed this, speaking low, glancing often over their shoulders. Like maggots, the strangers would eat away at the sacred mountain, leaving bones. Or, until some evil were awakened.
“The emperor…what does it mean, that token your Bani carried to the guard?”
“The old man said. A business of his own.”
“Do we go to the guard ourselves, then?”
Together they sat, having reached a shelf of rock that overlooked their town. They saw past and future in these movements, that passed below in innocence, loved ones and loved homes… They could not speak their fears, each doubting, without words to express it, that the Emperor would not act against the Law. This was never flouted by those Kale-Kale most in need of faith, the law no blood be shed on Lotoq’s flanks. The Emperor was a conqueror from afar.
“Why is it us they terrorize?”
“Here is truth,” Bani’s father said. “Where the tunnel leads, that we must learn.”
And did they learn? And did these events lead to their exile? Yet it was in exile the poor had grown wealthy…
“Please.” The woman was one of Darsale’s. “Please, I am to summon you. The games begin soon.”
“I am in the way, I suppose.”
She ushered, my remark too conversational for her comfort.
“How does my Lord Sente?” I asked her, pushing to my feet and collecting things.
“Please,” I offered in return, a space later. “I will accept gossip. Drop your pebble into this well, its depths cannot be plumbed.”
Now she stopped, now I’d played the expected part, speaking in phrasings of mystery; now she turned, low-voiced. “It was no trouble to him, to wave his wife’s party off.”
“Tell me another thing. Was there a time he tried, or she? Has the match fallen cursed, or was it born so?”
“He lives with a woman at her own villa.”
I felt a touch of joy—Ami forfend—for Sente and Caleyna. Pity, yes, for Darsale. Her happiness no greater than Jute’s, the ambitions of her parents…
And here I stopped, because I would only have said a condemnation, to the daughters, lacking heart. But I must have Noakale’s marriage story to understand the northern daughter’s expectations. I was fond of Sente, because he had been fond of me. I knew, for that, the worst of him—and if rude, short speech and mockery were all he would grudge to Darsale, she lived in high vexation. She envied Jute’s better luck, and this pill was bitter, as Jute to the girl Darsale had been legend only…
And that, one of fatedness. Among a people to whom all fates were deserved.
A kind person, then, who does not intervene, who won’t champion you in your humiliation…yes, more angering than a kinsman’s wife cold-natured, known to be…
The Prince would have Sente’s life if Darsale asked. He would rather not, keeping Sente for use, if his cousin held off, if the matter slept. If, by showing sympathy, Noakale were to breathe life into that slumbering pride…
I laughed, at the intricate irony I had discovered, and Darsale’s woman laughed too, nervous to seem disagreeable to a person such as me. Puzzled, otherwise, and fearful of this outburst, no doubt.
When I’d followed her through the hidden archway, and up the stairs, and out into Lord Ei’s proper playing fields, I’d expected to be seated and to watch. I found the carpets for guests had not been laid…nothing made ready but the roasting pits, the bridal pavilion.
But targets for archery were hung. I saw the gates through which bareback riders charged at the drop of a flag, racing a path to the plain on which the daring plunged over switchbacks, sparing stages of descent…
The gates stood stoppered against the wind. Barked trunks stood fixed in pits, and a guest or performer practiced his acrobatics here, vaulting to alight on one foot, hoisting the pole to spring with it to the other trunk-top, keeping his balance by keeping in a constant motion.
I heard and felt a bundle land at my feet.
Crafter Becomes Maker
(2020, Stephanie Foster)