The Totem-Maker (part twelve)
If Sente often was read his fortune, he would doubt me, and I would need at once to think of a role for Lom.
But we passed unspeaking down a dark and cool hall, the secret pomegranate nature of Sente’s taste in things apparent. Tiles of a stone I’d never seen, matrices of amber polished into streaks of lightning…
Yes, truly, a deep water hue blazed with glassy gold. I marveled at the tiles alone. But the walls were also tapestried, telling of Sente’s ancestry; and each pilaster had its pedestal, sporting a bust or figure, a goddess or a beast.
We descended to an open room. The hillside curved his terraced garden; benches braced his balustrades under awnings. The air was rich in scent, of sea waves on gusts of wind, of mountain breezes moving languid, teasing flowers on vine-laden trees.
A fountain played too, sunken and half-moon in shape. Sente wore only a cloth knotted at the waist. I was propriety in tunic and sandals. Blue-feathered birds eyed our approach, unconcerned until the movement of our garments made its own breeze.
“Tell Cime…” Sente paused at the scattering of wings, then sat. “That the gambit is a clumsy one.”
I sighed. To me, my master had seemed clever enough.
A servant mounted from the cellars, bearing a tray of sugared fruits and wine. Sente gestured for me to take the second cup, to eat as I pleased.
Yet, seeing through it all, his gesture ought to have been his own usual gambit…of leaving Cime’s envoys to stew (likely enough in such weather).
Sente wanted something of me. I ate a single berry, and took a restrained sip. “My Lord Cime has sent me here only…”
“To do the work of his deputy.”
To this, his disparagement of Mumas, I felt receptive enough. And I’d shown my smile…we do, when our lips are still, and our eyes downcast. He stared, measuring me. A weakling would leap to flattery, speak out of place…
But, however false-hearted, I repeated myself. “My Lord Sente, I have brought in writing the demand of the Emperor, not of my master, and I will give it to you. My Lord Cime asks that I do, and I cannot take it upon myself to do more.”
“You are a slave. If Cime will not give you your freedom, I’ll buy you and I will give it. Mumas…” He began this, and said under his breath: “Why anyone has use for him!”
“My Lord, will you bid Lom indoors?”
At Sente’s hand was a gong…which he struck with a fist. I had won my point, all I hoped to win—that my dear Lom not be made inferior even to me, but allowed to share Sente’s wine.
(2018, Stephanie Foster)