The Totem-Maker: Crafter Becomes Maker (part ten)
Crafter Becomes Maker
As when my feet had slipped off the cliff’s edge, and but for the scream of the eagle I should have died, I felt in those feet a nervelessness; in my hands the same. The reins were two thongs…one to wrap around each wrist. Six riders their grooms drew to an even line, Toish led center. I sought for some serenity my totem might pity me with, but was very conscious of myself, apart from my horse, and from this enterprise altogether.
If Toish would hold back, I might trail the others, fall, to at least survive. Rise to perform for my audience—a poor inept, and comical. Win with charm forgiveness…
The flag was raised.
I tested with my knees the surety of my seat, crouched low as I could, having seen racers (with, confessing it, some excitement for the mayhem) come a hair’s-breadth from death, barely skimming the undersides of rock shelves. The Prince, high above, stood to give the shout.
The flag dropped. Toish lunged at once with the other five. And this, I thought, barreling and clinging, was my mount’s race, not mine. We flew to a narrow sharp turn. Toish, among stallions, proved a fierce leader, my miracle and my brush with misadventure. He did not intend any turning…he brought his rear legs together and flung at the low wall. We were up, over, plummeting, the leading two charging hard to meet our landing. Instinct, or divine help, made me shift my weight.
Or, the horse might well have known his own plan, with or without this human burden. He kicked again, laterally, the wall making a curve to the next switchback, and Toish’s feet came in touch with earth, one of mine striking a poor rider’s head as we sailed above, no one now in front of us. Toish ran, less inspired, while I felt safe at last; feeling too that my frozen limbs would need breaking to ever remove me from his back. Then a tattoo of hooves, a command shrieked in ragged exhaustion, and a scrabbling noise. We’d come to a shallow straightway, that opened before me just where a rider leaped a broader hump of gravelly stone, and took the lead.
This was what my horse had needed. My hard fast lesson made me wise enough to lean into his sudden thrust, and I and the other rider rollicked to the waiting flaggers. I won, and I lost, though the horse’s delight could not be diminished because his rider hadn’t known the rules.
And if I’d snatched a flag and carried it off, I would have been less the people’s Totem-Maker, of magic too strong for the good Balbaecans. They liked me humble, and even humorous, yet…
This sorcery was nothing of mine. Toish had won his race. I’d had common sense come to my aid—that memory for useful details; that gift for certainty in what to leave aside and what to choose. I was alive. But another had died.
And I’m sorry to say I can never account for that foot of mine. The dead man had lost his seat and been mauled by pounding hooves.
To Jute, before she rode away south and east, to the city of Hudor, I beckoned, wanting her attention. I would have run down the steps, but she urged the white bridal pony, the bells of its harness making music, and came my way. I was with the Prince’s company, aloft on that same viewing place above the plain, waiting to see Tnoch, wife, and entourage, off.
Not minding appearances, I trotted to the first level, then leapt the wall.
And not allowing her head above mine, Jute slid from the saddle.
“Now you had said to me you would divest your husband of his younger wives. It emerges he is a constant man and takes only one.”
“Nur-Elom, do you chide me?”
“I hope I send you to your joy.”
“Well, I am of the north. This is the height of my joy. I have feared worse things than showed themselves true, a fault the gods mark.”
“Let me intervene. No, this bauble carries no more than its own beauty, do you find beauty in it.” I had drawn the stone, which was Pytta’s. A jeweler had pried it from the copper setting, ensconced it again in gold…a ring once, now an ornament for the hair.
Jute’s eyes filled. Truly, I thought her too haunted by superstition; at fault for it, though never would I have chided. “We are bargaining, my dear,” I told her. “You begged me to help you, at a time past, when your pride whispered to you death was better than your sister’s household. You feared your age, the coarseness of long servitude, would render you despised and at her mercy…”
“Enough. That child’s mercy is no punishment, no. You don’t mean to comfort me, reminding the gods how much they have in balance against the weight of my soul?”
“I mean to quit you of an obligation, if you will quit me. We won’t see each other again. But my hand may gain some reach in the fullness of time. Jute, I will always help an old friend. You, though…you won’t fail to live your life, rely on your new friends? Forget me, have me out of your thoughts. Now and then wear this ornament, and remember in peace.”
Weeping still, she gave me a kiss, mounted and rode where her husband bided for her.
Our first stage was to the Tollhouse; the Prince and Noakale, his own and her noble Knights of the Household, escorting us grandly. We settled in the flower meadow, making two camps. Pravor Castor, perverse in his amusements, had me leader, and couched suggestions as servile queries: “Will the Totem-Maker have the scouts survey the road ahead, until the moon achieves her half-night post, and report to us, returning, whether the way is clear for wagons?”
Crafter Becomes Maker
(2020, Stephanie Foster)