The Totem-Maker (part nine)
It had been uneasy, my trailing after Mumas, told to serve him…and to never mind him.
“You’ll sort it out,” Cime said, with his good cheer.
Yes. My marks, so careful, were not legible to Mumas. I scribbled; I had better copy it all again. Mumas before the high-born wished me to merit no acknowledgment. But they knew. I was Cime’s curiosity.
“See, it writes everything down. What do they call you?”
“Foundling. Creature. Scribe,” I answered.
“Read my words back to me!”
“Wait.” Another spoke. “Let me find a chair, I may suddenly sleep. Here!” [To a servant.] “Fill my cup.”
“Lord Arima,” I read, “blames his foreman, who ought to have avoided bribing the Emperor’s Guard.”
Laughter, and Arima, to his friend: “There you have a record! History will know us. We had some hope in the days Mumas’s memory held it all…”
I was not at fault; this idea of Cime’s (or his mother Nyma’s), of keeping proper accounts, was wise. But it was novel to this circle, fun for them.
And I think Mumas had not made himself popular.
No word of mine could be answered by other than a snap, a sneer, a long quiet space of busyness, of attending to the important…a bit of lint on his sleeve to pick, a question of whether he’d heard his name called, a craning of the neck. Then, absently (or with a mild start), what was I staring at?
My Lord Deputy, shall I repeat myself?
Fools and children, it seemed, the rich of Monsecchers were. But I loved…I nearly did…my own Cime and Pytta. I would have been crushed if something I’d done, or they feared I might, frosted our exchanges.
What had I ever expected of Mumas?
This was as I saw it. We walked together for a time, and I soon would walk another way. My stolid bearing of his companionship was a steppingstone, in its fashion.
Pytta gave me Lom…my fellow slave’s freedom for the afternoon. He had my broom now, and my role of sweeping the garden walk.
“Yes, take him! He has just cursed me with the sight of a dead snake in my birth month. Money I was saving for a good cloth must go to alms. I’m going to make Cime give you back! But tell me if you need any other thing.”
I was not certain I needed Lom. I trusted him for his good heart. He was the one I’d told you of, first to speak to me the day I arrived.
“I’ll teach you the signs,” I said. “As a way of passing time.”
(2018, Stephanie Foster)