The Totem-Maker (part sixteen)
Jealousy makes the most vigilant of watchmen; jealousy’s regard never strays from the envied man’s house, his wealth, his luck in love—his luck, even, in misfortune, should misfortune draw sympathy, open purses. Jealousy’s regard is on the street corner word exchanged with one of higher office than its host; it is on the beggar before the hated door, on the dog and cat…
On the slave.
And Mumas’s eyes regarded—
Who was great in our city, who greater still.
The tragedy, then (for why should small, scheming men’s lives not end, as do the lives of kings, in the Fates’ laughter?), was that Mumas did not attempt blackmail. To keep this earnest pest from offering himself to the parents of Darsale, Sente would have paid, Caleyna Treiva prodded him if he balked.
But Mumas was not made to tuck away sums, contented as a spider. If Mumas said duty compelled this report, said it everywhere, and to the Prince’s men, the lawkeepers, the inward heart that knew vanity compelled it, would still its beat. Audience with the Prince and praise were wealth to Mumas. He had learned the poor secret, that Sente crafted for his paramour golden gifts, as much to keep Darsale in want (if the marriage must be), as to show Cime the tax collector his empty vaults.
Mumas made the point that he was an equal, not a servant. He left Sente’s feast, glancing once, where my eyes would have met his boldly. But he looked at Lom.
It was full autumn, when the gods of the north and south winds blow battles over the sea, and the hills bloom scents of change, exhalations from the chimneys of the earth, while dying greenery sweetens the morning mists. Trees whose pods we gather and roast, bend like a nattering flock, rich in red feathers.
In the lowlands withering slows, and gardens go long without change…but don their touches of purple and gold, go out of flower, sport their fruits.
Lady Nyma had come to order her son’s house for the birth. Cime was free of duties, other than to sit in the chambers hearing speeches.
“Gods above, deliver me!”
Pytta, dressed in a flowing suirmat, moved to the garden pavilion. Her friends came laughing, draping themselves over cushions. From post to post hung targets: the serpent, the cat, the dove, the sun, the ship…
When anyone felt moved to do so, small pillows stuffed with seeds of another podded tree, the bitter rosira, were hurled to strike them.
This game was also of fortunes. But lightly played, and desultory. Pytta put her feet in a basin of cold water. Lom and I took two ends of a cloth, and fanned the women, moving nearer and farther.
(2018, Stephanie Foster)