The Totem-Maker: Crafter Becomes Maker (part twelve)
Crafter Becomes Maker
Barking of dogs stopped the dance. His own had run ahead, while he wavered, disguised by the bole of a tree, one whose roots clung to rock as though a winter jug of honey, lightly warmed by fire, were poured there to bead and ooze. He had wanted to hide from the eyes of women, not thinking of his companion.
The fathers of the tribe sat busy at their talk, careless hands tossing scraps from the feast. Samantho’s dog, Ia, joined in the fray…
And was indulged, patted on the head, spoken to.
“Out from there, fellow,” the Kale elder, the others making way, called up, striding forth with his staff.
Samatho, unclean, ungracious in manners—which awareness of his fault could not correct—stumbled down to them. The steep slope and its pine straw brought him to a sudden seat, mortified.
For a while he kept there, from pride, the elder coming to stand over him. “Call your dog, will you?”
Their speech had a music to it, the words half-understandable, as to myself with the Balbaecan tongue. Samatho heard laughter…and if much had not been female, he might have drawn his knife in challenge.
Sullen, he got to his feet. “Ia! Ia!”
The dog ignored him.
“Samatho, is that your name? Son of our protector, the King Dars Gesvar.”
(A pale-haired man, come to his land a stranger, as the name translates from the northern speech to this.)
“I have never seen you.” Sullen, Samatho gave this answer.
“A solitary youth, who does not fit himself for company, who walks the forest, plays upon a bone flute, wishing to entice the birds to his snares. But birds have wisdom, and Samatho has not.”
“Ia!” he shouted. “Ia!”
At once, he felt he had erred. Dogs must fend for themselves, choose their homes…so it is always, and so he ought to have turned on his heel. He did now, consoling himself as very slowly he climbed, and still his feet slipped, and still he heard the laughter of girls, that he would never see them again. He would not make this mistake twice.
A sense of eyes on his back made him turn. That, of this day, his only other memory. A tall girl, an older girl, stood next the tribal chief, and Samatho disliked what her smile promised.
The sickly boy was dead. He had died before that day, but Dars had closed his fortress in mourning, and sent no message. Mourning, he did not feel. Now the bride could offer him nothing, he had ordered her poisoned.
Yet King Dars knew himself in peril with the gods. He scorned Samatho for an heir; this son was not obedient…
“He said that I was not obedient. I was not reverent to him. The Darsdena count the death of an eldest death of the house. For, true, my people henceforth will bear my own name.”
“Only…you have no son or daughter?”
“I have both.” The Prince laughed—that I had thought so.
“Noakale is your favorite wife,” I guessed. “But, children of her tribe do not…?”
“No, we have none, the two of us. In that you are not mistaken. And no, her children could not, had they been born, be called Darsdena.”
“But at this telling, your elder brother still survived.”
“Perhaps you anticipate how it was his marriage brought me back to the Kale-Kale.”
Invited to, I could. “Your father was spendthrift, drained his treasury, sought to restore it. Drained, spent…both those things, perhaps? Finished, for wives whose families would accept an old man. And the fortune he coveted needed wooing by fortune.”
“Hmm. Well, you have the right of it. But when he borrowed of the Kale chieftain, he would not speak for himself. Lower himself. By means of gossip he had gained…you will not be astonished…a picture of far more than had occurred. You have befriended them, he said to me. Hach’kale Liben you have spoken to, he will recall you. My father put four coins in my hand. I assumed this man he named was that elder I had been insulted by. Never from that day had I had to do with them.”
“Insulted by,” Noakale said.
Her husband reached for her hand, kept it in his, but did not banter.
“Each coin represented a sum requested. And that was how the bidding of your father was conveyed.”
“Yes. By custom.”
“My Lord Prince, I am not prompting you to finish quickly. I surmise, because this is the custom everywhere.”
He left off, leaving me to surmise further that I’d gleaned too much of his contempt for his father, expressed this observation too openly; that I would tuck another lesson away, as to caution and familiarity.
Noakale spoke to him in their own language. She shot me a glance, that said you and I have a secret. To ward away speculation upon myself, then, I brought out the totem and meditated. The secret was that her tutorials had broadened my understanding…I knew what they said.
Crafter Becomes Maker
(2020, Stephanie Foster)