The Totem-Maker: I Am the Cause (part three)
I sat on the steps to his porch, so far delinquent now, I felt a peculiar reunion with my early life, under the old woman’s care…when I had sometimes been free, finished with chores.
She had called me Fate’s child, not her own…
And so I’d been allowed to walk the ashy countryside until nightfall, numbering the small green things that willed to live, and no one wanted me.
I did suppose Cime wanted me, and expected me. I had every sense that he indulged me; little fear he would not excuse me. But for a few days, it seemed, I could please myself.
The shutters of a window folded back, someone yelling, “Why are you loitering there? Go to your master!”
I waved in good cheer, and said, “Tell your own master he has not answered me.”
This servant snorted and withdrew, I doubted to give my message to Mumas, rather apprise him I had not gone. Thinking again of the Balancers, dogged forms their quarry must see forever, if he dare look back…and never shake, until to their satisfaction he has atoned, I made my decision.
I saw the man I recognized as Vlanna Madla’s manager come up the street. He spoke as he approached.
“Lady Pytta sent that the other’s ashes be scattered upon the Dagosse, to flow as the gods will by the Edagosse, to the place. That of his mothers and grandmothers.”
“Of them all, his people,” I said. “Who on the other side must see no change, but in their ways live on. Only a strange visitor now and then, brings to them a strange tale.”
He made a gesture of piety…though I had not so much favored him with a seer’s vision, as shared a fancy I’d long held, in contemplating the vanished city.
One or two hours passed, and the house of Mumas sat closed behind me, silent. As you may surmise, I was less comfortable now than I had been, and the exigencies of keeping vigil began to tell. I might not succeed alone, for even a full day.
But a minor ruckus burst at the back of Madla’s establishment, louder than the hammering in the lofts, and someone skipped across to mount the steps beside me. She brought a water jug, a basket of bread and fruit.
“Eat if you like. Or go to Vlanna’s courtyard first, you know. She tells me to hold your place. Will Mumas come out, do you think?”
I’d made for myself a rise in status, never expecting it. Of this enterprise, at least, I had charge. I thus instructed: “Forestall him. Even if he would like to order you off, and have nothing more to do with me. You know his temper.”
She thrust up her chin and flapped a hand, dismissive, having her mistress’s weight behind her.
“Mumas knows what the law demands,” I finished. “He can give answer only to me.”
He hadn’t come out. I made myself content with jug and basket, sent the girl back to Madla…who, seeing to my lunch as well, sent her again at midday; again to play deputy, keeping my post. By now, behind the shutter, symptoms had begun to manifest.
The lane and alley carried a busy traffic as the day wore past noon. Not many knew me to speak to, but of the merchants’ clerks and porters, most cast an eye over affairs at the house of Mumas—returned my salute, gave greeting. So much tacit support from the buyers and sellers beneath him, so much bold condemnation from his neighbor, a woman of ordinary birth, but held in better esteem; so much effrontery from mere servants…
He brooded, probably. A man of law would have to advise him, but he would have to summon one. He jibbed no doubt, at not only that I cost him money (that Lom did), but that my stand gained credence for his spending of it, for his consulting upon it. The shutter edged back and knocked into place, the third time within an hour or two.
A small man, in the square-crowned hat of a lawyer, stoic also under the black cloth draped and belted, that told his profession, traversed the parting crowd. Yes, they stood off to let him pass, some moving their hands with a sardonic flourish. It was a fresh act in the day’s theater.
“There,” he said to me, mounting the steps, “sits the conundrum.”
“I don’t think I have made a very difficult puzzle. Can Mumas not kill me if he likes…only that there is some ceremony to attend…”
“I think you know well enough how you’ve placed him.”
He would not tarry to debate, perhaps give his advice for nothing, but feeling in his pouch for a scroll on which some tenet of the law must be inscribed, met the servant already holding the door.
I did not know it, though.
I own myself a bit puffed up by the crowd’s amusement, that they seemed to take my part. I would not turn over in my mind the matter of dying, since this prospect cannot improve for a closer study.
Lawyers were disliked…and so this one’s sympathies may have woken on the side of the unpopular Mumas. The man of law disapproved of me, at any rate, and was not charmed by me. I’d grown too easy in Cime’s and Pytta’s company, finding myself winsome, as reflected in the eyes of others.
Where had I placed Mumas? Where he could not win, I guessed now… Either to address me or not was humiliation.
A servant came round from the stables—my friend the groom, mounted on a horse. He pulled back on the reins, and before me nosed ahead.
“You are to be arrested. Will you run?”
“No, you won’t.”
He rode on. If he were pleased with me, or if he sneered at me, I couldn’t tell.
I Am the Cause
(2018, Stephanie Foster)