The Totem-Maker: Crafter Becomes Maker (part fifteen)
Crafter Becomes Maker
“Zaza, break your egg and wish you had made better gifts,” Iokka whispered to her. She snatched up her treasure instead, cradling the egg safe as though he might steal it.
To his brother slowest of wit, Iokka whispered next: “Amira poses us a puzzle, does he not? I confess myself too dull to solve it. Shall I take back the horse?”
He willed his sister Bisha to speak. She, inclined by her nature to tally what others made use of, said, “Now? At the end of the feast when the meat and bread are gone and the wineskins are emptied? Congratulations! To have played such a trick on the honor of your hosts!”
To Gunda the Slow, Iokka spoke again, low-voiced. “They malign you. Who is cleverer than Gunda, yet cannot see the way clear? Use Amira’s gift. Your land is sunny, and your barns are full. Have you a horse as fine as this? I have not named him. I leave that to his new master.”
Gunda might have wished the horse his own…
He did wish it, but thought too late of this solution. Dazha, of the Misted Forests, the wise and quiet sister, had sense enough to wish the horse multiplied by twelve, but belayed by an impulse towards Iokka, she hesitated in cracking her egg, and amended this to thirteen. Amira spied the loom of chaos, but had no egg of his own, and could only rain upon deaf ears a repetition of: “Peace! Brothers and sisters, peace!”
Bisha, who was Goddess of the Rivers and travelled by barge, wanted the horse a broken nag, to teach Iokka that trickery earned its desserts. Zaza wished the horse at home again in Iokka’s stable. Leuntha, god of the Night Skies, dared wish for his father’s great mind in this, to divine the True Answer. In short, each sibling (though I have never heard this story give a complete list of the twelve wishes) broke the egg at the same moment, asking a different fate—upon the same poor animal!
Under the great pavilion disaster burst, a herd of fierce-tempered stallions…first twelve, then twenty, then a hundred, some worse for being lamed or crazed…mounted the tables, terrified the shrieking servants and musicians, broke the dishes, summoned a cacophony of dying cries from the trampled instruments…
And brought at last the four massive tentpoles down, escaping frenzied to run riot over the earth. The strike of each hoof raised a spring, fountaining in a thousand jets until all the land lay submerged and silent.
My Totem would have me contemplate this fable. From my childhood, when the old woman had told me it, I had thought of Dahza most. The impetus to be kind had stopped her being first to wish, and if she had, all the brothers and sisters would have got their share, eleven eggs (counting Iokka’s) remaining. At that small age I could not believe in a world so full of goodness that a generous act would be repaid by other generous acts; the chain of goodwill to repeat itself forever. But I sympathized…how I sympathized…with the goddess, for meaning, for trying. For failing, because we must fail.
Here it was dawn, and time to say goodbye. Or soon, when cold limbs stirred, and even a prince might rise at the smell of breakfast… To the left-hand totem I said, do you understand? It is not courage I invest you with, but goodwill.
The face sharpened and the eyes closed like a cat’s, an acquiescence.
But this totem I felt obeyed me. I felt strong, and accepted its wish to be ruled.
Moth I found playing servant, on padded feet entering my tent to empty it. When he had chivvied me away, he folded this, helping to tie, with one of the soldiers now under my command, my baggage on Cuerpha’s back.
I moved myself further and further from those who worked, and I watched the Prince’s camp for an embassy, the party I thought surely would cross the meadow to say farewell, fortune attend you, return with good speed…
Noakale came out, her gaze fixed on me as she approached.
For the cold she was well-wrapped in skins, and wore a hat of combed shearling, and strode tall, refusing me by some means, with her hard steps and grave face.
I knelt. “Do not,” she said.
“Princess, this totem I have made is yours. If the Prince requests one…”
“Why, what will he use it for?”
Standing small before her, I felt detected, seen for what I’d meant to do. “I would have made one that would counsel him…”
“Against war,” I finished.
“And what do you call that quality, to oppose war? Can you make a totem of peace?”
“No. Of clemency. Of…reluctance.” My voice half-deserted me. “Of inaction?”
“Creature. Are you a maker?”
“Today I am. Yes. But I falter because you know. I had been going to tempt you. Test you, perhaps.”
“I believe I have treated you well.”
I might have wept for the austerity of this. “But I have made a totem of goodwill. You could not do much harm with it. Won’t you like…”
Suddenly she bent and hugged me, and I was forgiven.
“Give your gifts to the zhatabe. And be a scholar, as I’ve told you. Read my people’s history. Things of earth are wise, and we use them. Things of the gods…? No, not for the Kale-Kale.”
Her husband stood off; I hadn’t known it of the northerners, but Egdoah explained. He used a word, fhewen, and gestured with his fingers trotting like a horse. He turned his back to me, then grinned round.
Which gave me to understand that partings, figures receding to invisibility, frightened them, awaked their terrors of the ghostly realm. They did not follow this with their eyes.
Crafter Becomes Maker
(2020, Stephanie Foster)