The Totem-Maker (part fourteen)
I drew for Sente mostly dry signs, the least ill-boding reversed. An easier sort of luck than rain, so given to deluge or drought, too much or none at all.
The dove, bearer of gossip, sat center. Sun was below, to the left. For glancing up now and then to meet a frown of discernment, that versedness in tiles I’d expected, I felt it was I dealt with gently by the gods. I would not be hated for the fortune I cast Lord Sente.
“There is talk of marriage,” I told him. “This will leap. The green frog and the grasses oppose, and we know the frog springs from cover to water.”
His tile opposite sun, always most personal to the subject, was swan, the bride. Sente might have a bride. I was soon to follow him to his dining hall, and might sit embarrassed, fearing to meet an inconvenient eye.
“I believe, on this assurance of the most reverend Fates,” Cime said slowly, “I will ask you to put our matter to rest. Why let money weigh on conscience, when we would rather be merry?”
“I had rather be merry.” Sente stood, and bent over my tablet. “Will leap…?”
“Oh, gossip might do another thing. Burgeon. Gallop. Flap in the wind.”
“No, keep a tidy narrative with your tiles. But add this: the anthill falls to dust at an ass’s kick.”
He spoke an old saying.
I understand the mind of my enemy. Proud men, struck in their natures with a grudging suspicion, men who have risen a little, gained in their small reputations, but never can be lords of this world, hang on praise-seeking, stub toes on open defiance. Mumas would have liked the Emperor to discern a petrified merit in his will to perform his office.
The performing of it was another matter.
He despised Cime. He supposed Cime to despise him. All gifts to Mumas were unwelcome, almost insults; but he felt no less insulted denied them.
The porter arrived, and with his stick of office prodded us along.
Lom and I were served on the steps leading to the dais, where the lordly reclined. Carried up and whisked off dripping chaos, were tables crouched into place before the divans; tables piled with meats, with netted sea-things in their shells, with fruits carved as flowers, bowls of wine.
We among all servants here had privilege to sample from Sente’s kitchen and enjoy, being not ourselves employed. We kept our heads low. We offered profuse thanks at every new plate and cup, and were loftily ignored.
The honored guests had come to broker a daughter’s marriage.
Sente held back not much of his reluctance and disdain. They, who felt wronged, felt lowered, but pleased for this to have the upper hand, commented…
And the gist of these remarks we could grasp. Often they used words of their own; often they put heads together and conversed to the exclusion of the party. Sente answered by striking up talk with Cime.
(2018, Stephanie Foster)