The Totem-Maker: Crafter Becomes Maker (part eleven)
Crafter Becomes Maker
“That I would have thought of for myself. But give the order.”
He bowed, and his first retreating steps he took backwards. Unless he were incurable, he would not keep this up. Egdoah was joined to our party, a pleasure to me, learning the Prince had so decided. Moth came to sit with us at our fire. The sun was setting, a number of slaughtered sheep roasting—the meat, salted, to keep us the whole of our journey.
“The traders will not let me alone. They ask for fortunes, and I tell them I am only a poor placeholder. And never to be Totem-Maker.”
“Well, fairly, we don’t know that I am. But I will take the rest away and make what I can of them. The Prince means Lord Ei to appoint you tollkeeper. Then, Moth, you had better not permit the traders wagging you about.”
“Be solemn,” Egdoah said. “Be of heavy face, and hand like so.” He thrust a hand palm-up, eyes and mouth assuming a stone-carved mien. Castor laughed, I smiled…and Moth nodded, somewhat laughing, somewhat afraid of Egdoah, and suspecting him. Perfume wafted to us, the night perfume of a meadow breathing before the fall of rain. And the perfume that heralded our Princess.
Her husband was at her side, but they had come in full trust, without servants.
“We are in accord, we have haggled our way to it. He balks at auspices, and I tell him the Totem-Maker commands the auspices. The Prince will beg a simple casting of you, and the holy ones will not oppose a night of storytelling.”
“Noakale dares,” the Prince said. “Her tribe has ranged far, and the strange gods of the Alëenon may recall them, in mercy.”
“Noakale,” I said, “commands the Totem-Maker.”
With the hint of a wink, I said it. I busied myself with tablet and tiles, looked no one in the eye, and did not perform all of Castor’s jests. My mission was to please the zhatabe…who might be a great lover of ceremony, or wry of humor…
Or—so well surrounded by sycophants—distrusting of abasement, demanding of it nonetheless. My casting was of the hours, never time enough for deeper puzzles. The sixth hour of this night’s date, fixed otherwise at such time as the gods ordained, received the fish—but this simple game cannot foretell where wealth will go. The ninth hour we know much diminished in might and gold, but in troubles and heavy labors also.
We would all be asleep by then.
Yet the ninth was wev. Meaning that as fortunes flowed, lessening, so would they go forwards; if by little, a slow descent to life’s dark midnight, and rebirth. If by much…
“But,” I said to the Prince, “one night’s fortunes will end in dreams and the promise of day.”
“This is no trick? The gods do not move those hands of yours to tell me my own fortune…?”
“Vlan. The gods do as they will.” I made the sign, only because he had startled me to confess such a fear. He made the sign himself, clumsy at it; he copied me, I felt. I had never seen him pious.
“We sit at the second hour and are blessed by the owl. Tell on, Lord Prince, how it was you took the daughter of Kale-Kale for your wife.”
He was a younger brother. He did not count himself a man contented in his nature. The land his father permitted his watching, was sparse of such fertile shallows where crops thrive. Samatho—the Prince named himself for the first time in our acquaintance—liked well enough to see things grow. His sparrow mind could bear wandering in cool pines, gaze flitting to the clouds that augured rain or sun, down again amid duff and straw, to spy strange jeweled domes and velveted pennants. It was forbidden to trap young things in spring, and so he idled and knelt, and studied what he knew were dwellings of the woodspirits, shimmered visible in the witching times of greening and browning, winter’s and summer’s ends; while in the spirit world these brief purples and reds, these mushrooms and blooms that fold and rot, have passed an age.
He could not be made a farmer, but a good dinner on the table pleased him. (Though writing so, I feel I must say that this is something of our own expression, my people’s, our tables carried to our couches, our use of cutlery and golden cups, our hands cleaned between courses… The northerners take meals around their fires, their women and men seated alike on skins, the poorer on gathered leaves. They rise with their flint-knives and drinking vessels, they sport half-dangerously over the spitted meat, they sup from skulls of animals sacred to this clan or that, and our southern ways have no civilizing virtue, for returning to their homes the northerners forget of their sojourn among us.)
He had nothing constant in the stars of his birth. His patch was a grudging offering, as Samatho was one place from the heir. Which is to say, the eldest son lived, two middle sons had died, and a younger still a child counted for little, being sickly, and the mother sickly, a bounty bride. The craggy hillside overlooked the lush encampments of the Kale-Kale, who endured the vagaries of the floods, keeping their wealth aloft in stilted houses. This camp was a sight, a bafflement; a source of jealousy, this tribe who traded with the traders…yes, those same of the land beyond the Citadel, who wend westwards for miles uncounted, and eastwards again.
Restless of foot, Samatho climbed down to the plain, seeing activities among the Kale-Kale, a circle of drummers and dancers, a parade of women whose dress to his eye seemed fine and bright. This tribe always had fringed the skirt of his father’s kingdom; they were dark with the love of the sun, and their hair was dark, and long.
Crafter Becomes Maker
(2020, Stephanie Foster)