The Totem-Maker (part two)
The Little I Can Tell
Soon after came scouring floods that islanded our village, once situated on a rise, now a barren plain. Deprivation followed, and I was protected from sacrifice, for being born to a woman with no means of telling: What was her home? What had she seen?
Her agonies were heard at the old woman’s door, and she was found fainted there. She awoke in her throes, her shrieks all her speech…
I was born and my mother died.
Thus the priests said wait, wait for another sign.
Fresh deluges came, kinder rains, rolling pebbles into channels with the endless push of running water. New streams recarved the ways of old rivers. The land found its depth and waxed fertile, green spreading outwards from banksides, still in the years before I knew myself a being, in a place.
The old woman spoke to me only to correct, to give orders. I had nothing to teach me that adults feared at all, or what they feared. Doing for myself, doing of chores, perfecting them that I not be punished, was all the world held in my knowledge of it.
I had not known how this village from the day of my birth withered. Nearly all had survived, but none wished to stay. Under such a vastness of devastation it seemed odd, but it was true…only a day’s march, and one came upon planted fields, wells that yielded pure water, houses in prosperous gatherings at crossroads, caravans of traders, passing. Tidings arrived, and the limits of Lotoq’s wrath were believed at last.
But the people were forced to bind themselves to the land, to do labor, as the holdings skirting the mountain belonged to three lords. One overseer who kept vineyards and cornfields in his master’s stead was called a fair-minded tyrant; another was called the son of a goat. A third refused to welcome any of our refugees.
They worked off the price of their keep, and one by one returned. Why had the old woman and the priests remained, why did messengers in those years bring food, kindling wood, jugs of water for our sustenance?
For that the god’s sign did not appear. Had not, though my years became ten.
On a hot afternoon, I followed Elberin. The old woman said he was now my master. Our feet made dust fly among slim-trunked trees, that had within their decade’s sprouting gained many in number. To dig one for the sake of moving it (which for the shade, the builders of new houses did), meant safeguarding the trailing roots, tangled with the next tree’s, and the next’s. Each must be severed at no less than an arm’s length, or the tree would die.
Their height was twice my own. Their shade was a thin veil over gritty earth; the sun beating on their leaves drew out a brothy smell.
The Little I Can Tell
The Totem-Maker (part three)
(2018, Stephanie Foster)