The Totem-Maker: Crafter Becomes Maker (part nine)
Crafter Becomes Maker
Jute, at a round of applause, stepped out veiled, and made a pretense of searching faces. “Lord Ei I know, and Pravor Castor, brother of that man Tnoch…”
She spoke to the Peddler, giving me a mild thrill. Also, a minor treasure in information, that I must slot into place at another time.
“But this man you describe must be quite hideous.”
“So I am, my love!” Tnoch, on his brother’s arm, stood.
“Oh, is it only you, then?” The veil was flung back. “Well, we shall be married!”
And they were, with a handclasp and a kiss.
We dined, a Balbaecan feast to eclipse all abundance past, though from the start the Prince’s visit had been celebratory. When the sun fell to its third station of the day, horns were blown.
“Pravor Castor.” I bowed to my new acquaintance.
“Totem-Maker. To the archery field!”
An animal larger than Cuerpha was brought, and I was made to mount without saddle, as did the racers. My stunt, which I learned of only now, would be to drive my horse at a trot around the moving targets…
And I missed them all. I had never hunted this way. I had not ridden this way, either, but the horse was used to being ridden so. Pravor Castor among the watchers, his rueful face a poor disguise, was paying out sums of money. I saw Tnoch, who knew his brother, shake his head and refuse to bet.
The call came from several of my partisans, delighted with this comedy. I stilled my horse at the starting line, worried I’d neglected my totem, that it might jog out of its pouch. I felt fresh arrows fill the quiver at my back, a slap on my horse’s flank—which he wisely ignored. With the barest pressure from my knees, he then hit his pace, and I patted the totem to assure myself.
A bit of luck? I asked it.
I fitted an arrow, gave my horse a trifle more kick. I leant…and the motions of target, animal, arm, hand, flight, these comings together, were suddenly to my higher mind the workings of a machine, every shift sequencing to its apex. I woke from this vision at the spouting of a third wine-sack. I let the arrow fly wide at the last, halted, and the crowd came running with their cups to catch the bounty.
This success was too much, I dared not do more.
Castor took his money back, and I knew he hadn’t meant yet to spring the trap. He came on me quickly to stop my efforts, in the act of springing to earth. Tnoch, limping to his side, handed me a triumphal cup, as I guessed…and guessed again I was meant to toast the gods, lifting it above my head. I did. I downed it.
“Yes, alight,” Castor said now. But when I was landed at his feet, he said, “Toish seems well fresh, do you think, brother?”
“No grass for the lad. See the groom keeps his head up. But have him watered.”
Slip away, I counselled myself. I was not, by the hand of Castor, permitted to do so. “Come, the races begin at the gate.”
“No one will like my attempting it.”
“Why say a foolish thing? The gods favor the Looked For. You, that is to say…supposing you are.”
“But,” I said, low, “I carry the totem. I will surely not win… But I must beg its help, not to be trampled, as I am not that sort of rider.”
“Now, creature. None can tell the turn of the world.” He offered this adage with unbecoming pleasure. “Do you know Lord Ei has held six courses…and that in the normal run of six courses, one rider would die? No one has died. You and I do not want to set off for the Citadel under a cloud of foreboding. Two courses will be run today, before night falls. You understand, I hope.”
“Will you ride?”
“I can’t.” He laughed down at me. “I am not a small, nimble person. That would be far too much fleering at the Fates, to put my weight on a runner’s back.”
All I knew of my own people, and of the Balbaecans, told me this was true and inescapable. The courses were deadly…some perverse deity had chosen not yet to gather in his sacrifice.
“But they know…” I eyed Tnoch, who seemed, for my scarcely having met him, more my sympathizer. I patted the totem’s pouch.
“Oh, more than that. They are all consumed with curiosity. They thoroughly enjoyed your sorcery with the targets. The Prince, Noakale, my wife, all, will be eager to see what next.”
“Then I will lead the prayer myself.”
The brothers patted me along, until we arrived at the steps mounting the rock face from which the race to the plain could be watched. Toish was led to me; I was lifted again onto his back.
“Salo-Ami, Aeantahah, mightiest father of gods, Sala-Aza, Aeantha-aeantha, hidthar sala-leomar, mother of all, Salo-Lotoq, my protector, grant that your hand and grace be in this task you have bestowed upon me.” I withdrew the totem, held its purple to the light, starting a wave of shrinking behind deflecting arms, murmurs of Salo-Ami, spare, from the riders circling me, and over the crowd of wedding guests. I sensed a duty here, a kindness I ought to perform. “Sala-Aza, be openhanded as a loving mother, bless the wedded, Tnoch and Jute, hold no fault of mine against their happiness. Salo-Ami, Aeantahah, take what you will, give what you will. Be content.”
All prayers of ceremony ended with this phrase.
Crafter Becomes Maker
(2020, Stephanie Foster)