The Totem-Maker: Crafter Becomes Maker (part eight)
Crafter Becomes Maker
“I know you can make a decent showing for yourself, unless…” The Peddler toed my wrapped bow and arrows. “This living inside the scholarly head proves a rusty affair. A poor man like myself must hunt to eat, as he would rather than not…”
“I’ll bow out, thank you,” I said.
“No, you won’t. Not sporting.”
I disliked the way he made his speech a satire, on a manner of speaking not mine.
“Tell me about these games. I’ve seen the races…Lord Ei is fond of them. Shall I guess the targets are weighted, carry themselves downslope, and that the archer places inside the ring to win…to score the prize?”
“I’ll set one for you.”
This was answer, and so I had to scramble, fitting arrow to bow. The target came scuttling, twisting this way and that (the weight in such games was a skin of wine, a deep berry red, to fountain pleasingly when punctured); I saw, too, distracting markers laid, and my mind wished to explain them, thus I missed the ring, missed the sharper portion of hillside, where the painted sack moved its fastest.
By the set of his shoulders, and returning swagger, I knew the Peddler would top this performance, and that he knew it himself. He flapped a hand at me, to run draw a target to its starting place.
I decided I would…sport with him…later to insist he at last give me a name, if we were to travel together; later say, “I am no grand person, Mero, but I prefer to be spoken to.”
He struck the ring, and someone shouted: “None of that!”
The wine had stained my shoes, but—thinking in time—I’d hurried from the worst. The Master of Games arrived with two underlings, one of whom nobly put his mouth to the wound. “These are for the competition. Over there, if you want practice.”
I looked for anyone who wanted me, for events in our few minutes of idling had come in a rush. Now servants unrolled carpets, lowered tables and set them with winecups and baskets of fruit. The guests came to overlook their seats prepared. Servants holding cloths upright made a moving tunnel through which the bride entered her pavilion unseen.
The Peddler tapped my arm. “I, being your instructor, hope to see my pride untarnished. Show me you can still take at least the gourd.”
The gourd was the loser’s consolation. The prize itself whatever some prankster cared to put inside. But also, the loser was toasted by all the winners, a second consolation my tolerance for spirits could hardly have borne.
I fitted another arrow and loosed it where I stood. Bravado rewarded me; my shaft trembled from the bull’s-eye.
The Peddler whooped. “I’ll have a wager!”
Custom required that bride and groom be serenaded, the groom to the taking of his seat among us, the bride calling her answers from the curtained pavilion. I was happy to sing, in a sea of voices indifferent as my own, happy to hear Jute chime in with near gusto. I was happy to drink and eat, of delicacies…
I was sorry I must play, and carry small sums to their owner’s losses.
They seated me with the bride’s family. “Vlanna,” I said to Darsale. “A good day.”
The words were tradition, their meaning impersonal. But she returned me what had preyed at her, what some cover of conviviality permitted. “My husband admired you. I haven’t seen reason for it.”
“Sente spoke of you for a time. Before this journey, nothing.”
“Oh. Well, but he wouldn’t have known me to be at Lord Ei’s.”
She nursed her wine.
“Vlanna, I am not clever. I was acquainted with Sente slightly…you will have the right of it. He has forgotten me.”
She smiled. Within the poverty of her opinion, my small labor had earned me a rise in status. “No. He would much welcome your magic. He loves a woman other than me, he wants not to die for his transgression, he wants…and why should lovers not want? To be free, to be bowered in luxury, to be wholly safe. I pity him, and I love no one, so I forgive more than he supposes. But…”
She said this last, catching me when I’d nodded, deeming her argument fair. “Never so forgiving, as not to wish him pain.”
“Fair enough.” I found my answer the same. Given her vantage, fair enough. “Does the House of Vei die, then? While its master lives in charity.”
“Consult your tiles.”
And she shook her head, but smiled more warmly. I knew this smile forestalled my humble denial, of any intent to get information from my foolish questioning. A time will come—perhaps the totem said it—when you will cease to charm. Can you guess why?
Yes, I could. If I could have stood from my seat to walk myself through these thoughts, I would have left them all at that moment.
The bride and groom held the honored places; the games could not begin until the ceremony had ended…and so began the ritual, which must be lively. The bride was summoned by the groom. The curtains shuddered, but she held herself hidden and sang to the guests, “Shall I marry this man? Teach me his faults, I wish to be sure of him.”
Tnoch was treated to raised cups, and a long round of faults—that he was lame and ugly, that he ate more than he earned, that he was poor at sums, the Peddler’s gull, that he spent too much on tasteless finery, that he had been cuckolded many times by his late wife…
Not one of the male guests defaulted at his turn, and Lord Ei counted off fingers for some minutes.
Crafter Becomes Maker
(2020, Stephanie Foster)