The Totem-Maker: Crafter Becomes Maker (part thirteen)
Crafter Becomes Maker
She told him that by the will of the gods, I could not be possessed or controlled. That I was patient, but that I need not be. That I would return and bring news, but that I need not return.
And while I kept my face preoccupied, the Prince said in reply, this emissary I would lose gladly enough. All our conversations have been a thwarting of my plans. Now I am to be on tenterhooks, unable to act…and she I rely on for counsel, counsels ignorance.
Oh, does she?
Please, peace. Do not pretend.
There are those I count wiser than myself. In the legends of my own people…
She cut herself short. Disquieting. Bravehearted, ever sensible Noakale, had thought of words she feared to speak. I came close to lifting my eyes and asking her: What legend?
But I asked this instead of the totem in my hands. Its color, for a moment, shimmered green.
“Totem-Maker, accept my apology. Now… I was careful of my state, and descended by the road, and a company of my father’s men marched behind. I felt the showing was good…for the girl’s sake. I recalled her scorning me.”
“Your memory played you false.”
“I recalled I’d thought it. My memory plays in a simple key, love. And if it were not for simplicity you chose me…”
“Ha. It was your face. And that your pride needed breaking, or you would do yourself an injury.”
Hach’kale Liben knew the soldiers stood for threat, and gave orders for a grand hospitality, rivers of wine. In his own house, with his wife and daughters, he feted Samatho more circumspectly.
“One coin for a thousand, two coins for two thousand, eh? Four coins, then, and not five? How much above the purchase does your brother want? When you eat under my roof you are family. I expect, between you and me, frankness, Samatho.”
Liben spoke the Darsdena tongue, a hidden gift. But Samatho did not lie, in his bewilderment. He understood of this negotiation only one thing, that Liben expected profit from his investment.
The gong sounded. The means of climbing to the lower stage of this manor, sprawled over its forest of legs, was a cage of rope. Below much village living took place. Berries grew in pots, flowering vines in baskets, singing birds were kept in cages, sellers of crafts sat on cushions, their wares at their feet. A trio played longnecked instruments, a fisherman emptied his net for Liben’s cook, and two at a jogging pace—readily seen, for the Kale-Kale constructed flights of open decks with moveable walls of woven reeds—left the road returning and made for Liben’s entry.
That road. Samatho fell entranced for a moment, thinking of it. A way beyond his father’s land that others, in liberty of whim and choice, travelled. The newcomers climbed, hailing Liben, who rose and called to his wife. She with her daughters was curtained away, their chamber reached by steps that also served for benches…below, where the men held important talks. Samatho was told to go up to the women.
“I have news. The news may concern you, but I shall have to hear it. We’ll see, we’ll see…”
Liben was off, whistling an air, lending a hand to the messengers, and Samatho, in difficulties with his pride, passed through the curtain. He refused food and drink; he gave short answers to Liben’s wife. But her learning surprised him…she spoke Darsdena to best her husband, and knew of the king’s late conquests, and the state of his purse.
She sent two daughters to perform an errand, the exchange low-voiced, glances and smiles sent his way; while Samatho, piqued, sat deaf to all he might have half-understood.
“My middle girl, Karabitha Noakale. What lands does your father promise you upon your own marriage?”
He did not dwell in such isolation as to miss this close comingling, of daughter and marriage. “Unless my father and brother both were dead, I expect nothing at all.”
Liben’s wife thrust at him a stick of peeled bark. “Now, now. Put that in the fire. Pray Chos, forgive me. Carry my words by the west wind, lest the sun set on them.”
He knew the prayer. He understood he was to repeat it. The girl, Karabitha Noakale, tapped him on the shoulder. “Stubborn? Pray Chos-kit steal away mischief from your heart. Suppose, boy, you were to marry wealth? Is it in that heart to wish ill on your father and brother, when you have no need of theirs?”
He pushed the stick in the fire, and said, loudly enough to draw a laugh from the other side of the curtain: “Pray Chos forgive me.”
She tapped him again.
He finished. “Carry my words by the west wind, lest the sun set on them.”
(Chos-kit was the god’s bastard, the only of his two hundred children not born of his wife. She, this great mother of the northerner’s faith, was then no Aza, who could not have spawned so unseemly.)
“You wonder why Noakale had her way with me. I knew my position, and I knew my danger. Not even from displeasing Liben, but for displeasing my father. And if I cost my brother his ambition, he too would have my head. Then, Liben’s wife, who was my elder and a lady… And the girl, of course. She had insulted me badly to call me boy. But she touched me, and I felt something lingering in it.”
Through all prompt and balking, rage and fear, longing and reluctance, the Prince had seen clearly one thing to do. He put himself right with the god he had paid few respects to.
Crafter Becomes Maker
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Crafter Becomes Maker (part fourteen)
(2020, Stephanie Foster)