The Totem-Maker: A Mother or a Father (part four)

Posted by ractrose on 19 Mar 2022 in Fiction, Novels

Collage of wary person looking over shoulder

The Totem-Maker

Chapter Eleven
A Mother or a Father
(part four)

 

 

 

 

 

At this, I took up Areygna, fell to one knee and waited.

The crowd held faces of birthright, a people whose folklore told this same tale. And I, possessing Bani’s history, meant to amaze them. I felt the Kale Kale had buried this danger, never speaking of the flight from Toboro, becoming outward Fortesans.

But yet, they must harbor a wish…

What subjugated people, what people shamed and silenced, did not wish it? A leader to call them to themselves, tell them, “Rise.”

I did not seek a prince, to disembark from my boat, but a city, discovered with its slum of poor artisans, who had found a powerful, deadly thing; a green, glowing thing. I would not tell so much in the time before Bashtat arrived. I met her eyes, and she was paces away.

“Oh, Meret…”

She reached a hand to pat my head; as it may have been, in refusing the totem. But I seized the hand and touched my brow to it. I stood and said, very loud, “Areygna is yours, Bashtat. She has chosen to serve the high priest of our temple.”

I spoke in the language of Suma Fortesa, and the crowd stirred and clapped. But next I gave a long invocation of all the gods I knew, confusing my hearers with my own tongue. And when I reached the naming of the temple, I called it Aa’bani Idà.

Temple of Bani the Father.

I had, I admit it, forgotten the legend of the Totem-Maker. I do not lie in these annals; if I have not made clear that my cause was trouble, that the trouble was to force the zhatabe to reckon with me, as with an enemy who might destroy them, I say it here.

But only in that late instant did I recall a Returner from the far-flung tribes had been prophesied. I had shaken the crowd, and now the engineers, their dragon restored, unleashed its fire. The boom made me smile, at my god’s ironic ways.

Bashtat whispered, “You terrify me.”

“No. This is what you must do. Take the totem, take Areygna, hold her in your hands, enter the temple. Remain, and pray, until you are certain of your orders. You will teach yourself to listen to her. When you are ready, walk out, here, to the steps. The people will wait, I promise you.”

“Meret, did you feel unworthy yourself? Were you afraid of your totem?”

“My dear, I’m sorry to say, not in the least.”

She laughed, and left me, and I began a song, a powerful one of the courts of Monsecchers, with a tune that rose from octave to octave. Singing, I gestured join me, and the words my audience began to echo by their sound. This roar from the hilltop I knew to be unprecedented. The zhatabe must act, even if the act were only to alert their spies…

Watch, follow, and make yourself invisible.

 

 

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I backed through the columns, passed an unheeding Bashtat. As I’d instructed, she knelt and prayed over her totem. I meant to find a path that carried to the highest Fortesan summit. One hill of promise sat in forested country just beyond the temple. I would study the Citadel, the lagoons, all figures I could detect in the crowds who moved preoccupied.

Spring, the night stars had told me, was fully arrived. I strolled under a low-grown fringe of trees, those that flower and fruit, and came to the cooler shade of pines. My totem was my companion, so I asked it, “Do I do well? Do I go too far?”

And with its habit of making riddles, it answered: You do well to go far.

For godly purposes, perhaps I do. I see dying, I confront dying, but I do not wish to die.

Think of those who die by the wayside, it said.

Think what of them?

That they are.

We climbed, and the birds sang with mating ardor. When I reached the peak, I found blocks of stone laid square. A curiosity. I bent to see what pictures were carved, or what letters, and whether I could interpret them.

From afar we come…afar

Below, a sign of the forbidden. A prone body. The all-seeing eye.

But the ground inside the square looked never to have been worked. I saw no trace of a vault, an altar, a burning circle, no humps or hollows.

I climbed a small tree, that vines in this clearing had weighed so, its trunk stretched like a bridge, while in the shape of a U two limbs sought the sky. I took my seat between, and looked to see if my crowd was dispersed.

No, they thronged the temple steps, and motionless now, I could hear the singing continue, at times an exhorting voice.

“Am I much honored, to receive the Totem-Maker, or do I mistake?”

“Am I the Totem-Maker?” I said in return. The voice at my back had been rich, soft, neither high nor low. Not aged and not callow. “And if I am, does the title honor those I meet, or do you grant me that virtue in myself? And is it that you receive me, or have I trespassed? And are any or all of these matters mistakes?”

“First, quite easily, yes. Second, all visitors honor me. I have few. Third, the gods have sent you, and none who travels by their will can trespass. The fourth is answered by the third.”

“Elder, are you priest of the temple?”

“Bashtat, whom you have raised there, is priest.”

“Elder, do you stand as guide and guardian to the zhatabe of the Citadel?”

She mounted the tree to sit on its bridge below my feet, spry in her robes, but elderly indeed.

“Guardian I do stand, but not guide. Meret, you must call me Escmar.”

 

 

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A Mother or a Father

Virtual cover art for The Totem-Maker with volcanic eruptionSee more on The Totem-Maker page
A Mother or a Father (part five)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(2022, Stephanie Foster)

 

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