The Totem-Maker (part seventeen)
The cloth was painted with a favorite legend, of the lovers who confounded the gods.
The young man held prisoner to be sacrificed; the princess, having begged her father allow a parting word, throwing herself from the tower in his stead, a great sin…
To shed unconsecrated blood and spoil the omens. Giving a cry that rent the heavens, the young man smashed to earth the bowl of entrails, just placed for the priests to read the smoke of their burning.
He poured the flaming coals over his garments.
He ran crazed, then, and followed his love.
And the gods gave to the watchers the dreaded sign. They graced the lovers with life, transforming them into palmeini, small hawks (who, in truth, hunt our songbirds). Such cloths of silken stuff and fine needlework moved the air up and down, side to side, in the hands of slaves (such as we).
Vlanna Madla kept a large workshop, the lower hall all looms and weavers, the courtyard filled with pitted fires and dyeing vats; the upper story and attic let to drapers, makers of flags and banners, their sewers and embroiderers, their artists of the brush. Money changed hands on a porch at the building’s front. But only servants paid here, or delivered to Madla the request, as Nyma had sent her woman to do, to dine, and bring samples.
The meal was necessary; it was custom. Important merchants and proprietors were of reckoning in our land. They were never, unless family, guests at weddings, or birth feasts, and their guilds honored holy days in ways peculiar to each trade. But Lady Nyma’s order for the nursery, for the hosting of many visitors, meant asking a favor…
That Madla take this job, occupy her people with it; give, quite possibly to her lasting loss, other jobs to competitors.
I was at loose ends with Lom on the rim of a well, sitting under the porch where the great ones sat. It was cool in this spot, and we were silent, listening.
They pretended for a time there was no business to discuss, speaking only gossip—billows of which, in those days of the Prince, passed from mouth to ear. Sente’s affairs were powerfully interesting, but Madla knew not raise them in the house of Cime Decima.
Her deep voice honed to carry, she ventured a toe. “Those… Leelaye. The father paid a call on Mumas. To see his horses, I believe…that would be the nature of the meeting. I don’t know if they are ignorant.”
(Leelaye was a white-rooted plant that crawled over rock where water fell. Stepped on, the thin skin peeled to a slippery gum…they were pallid, weak, and treacherous. Yet the poor would wrap them in leaves to ferment, portion the stinking matter into water jars, and be drunk on this wine. The desperate had leelaye in abundance, as no one else wanted it. You see, Reader, why the name lent itself to the newcomers.)
(2018, Stephanie Foster)