I Am the Cause: part five
“What do you see?” He asked me this, after getting to his feet.
When for minutes he had not furthered his point, I tried, “What is it like for me to see…? How do I know there is anything divine in…”
“A dream? Is that how it is? A trance that comes over you?”
“No…no. I read signs only by a certainty…a paltry gift, likely no gift at all. A sense no better I suppose, than to say…”
I looked over my guest, whose silhouette was framed by the barred window. I had always possessed one shirt, one tunic and one warmer robe, one pair of shoes, one of sandals. I did not make the sort of choice that had come to my mind. But Sente wore a cuff of silver, cabochoned with that amber-veined stone, that in his house I’d admired. “I will wear this adornment today. This is right. I don’t dream or swoon, no.”
Also I said, telling myself, I lose nothing by it… “I know the gossip, my lord. But my certainty is that you will thrive. Caleyna Treiva…”
“We have given each other up already.”
He kicked at the stone wall, willing himself this pain, stifling a broken noise. “That’s all,” he said, turning, stooping for the lantern.
But sat again. “No…I’m a fool. I came to confess to you. Please don’t now pity me and forgive me. But hear me. You recall that you and Lom were on the steps, and that Mumas came into the hall. Of course my servant would not have told him… His chief, your master…seated at my table. My new father and mother. You see, Mumas had been tale-bearing. I learned it. Or, I will say, he had been hinting. Or—”
I was inclined to pity Sente. I knew what his confession would be. I knew what stopped him going on. Mumas was an oddly uncalculating man. Yes, he could make trouble for others, and with all the pertinacity of a mole paddling away at her blind tunnel. And he would tell himself this was not making trouble. This was duty. That he felt himself alone performing it, must seem all the more reason to persist.
“You blame yourself that you belittled him. And before such guests! You belittled him because you saw it in him, how weak at that moment he was. Mumas, a man you’d had nothing to do with, who did not belong to you, or Cime, or the others…Whom you felt affronted you must care for, take time to speak to. More than that. You saw it plainly. For Mumas, the completion of a task, that honored the reputation of one he despised…”
My smile here was faint…showing in the eyes only, perhaps. Sente was in gloom, and would not himself have smiled, at even bitter humor. “For Mumas, this was principle…he would complete that task. He grew to wish harm to you, the one who thwarted him, to use what he knew, and what he thought was in his power to make use of. And you wished harm to Mumas. Which you could bring about easily enough.”
“Which I did. Yes, easily enough. You credit me with eyes to see…I doubt that of myself. Will the gods really allow me to thrive? I have killed a man. Without honor. Without malice. Without cause.”
Before the great day arrived, I had one more visitor. Sente did not require Cime’s wife, in her recovery, to climb ladders…or to enter his stable at all. And when I had been brought to a small chamber, a sleeping room mostly open to the air, one found along a gallery that led from the terrace where first I’d met him; and after Lady Pytta had done with me, he told me I would stay there.
“You won’t run. But feel free, if you like. I can make excuses.”
Escorting her away, she in her own melancholy, he’d caught Pytta’s eye, and they’d sighed together. The Prince, I read from this, and from my lady’s words, found such people as fell in his way immaterial to his plans. Until the marriage had come off, Sente could not offend. After, he must try very hard not to.
“Tell me about my Lord Cime’s heir,” I’d begun.
From a pocket amid the folds of the large garment she still wore, she drew my sack of tiles and tablets.
“Don’t tease. I have come to ask you the same.”
I did enjoy the games, and would the company…but of course, I did not presume. Nor did I trouble her to name which, but chose etching a pattern best suited to a newborn’s first forecast.
“Is he a morning child?”
She liked my guesses prescient, pretending to suppose this banter. Such commonplaces, of possibilities one from two, from four…
Yet because the game was fun, often they did not want badly to think. (I had seen crooked practitioners tease indeed, cast a wrong guess as merely the sly unfolding of their mysteries.)
A boy, born in the day’s first quarter, called for a pattern of rays, and a clean line beneath, divided in thirds, for the stages of life. Each third had an up-triangle, and two down-triangles. And in this game, all values were such as the tile revealed; there were no tricky reversals. Each down-triangle gave a negative, each ray of the sun-sign applied to a house: of riches, marriage, children, war, peace, friends, enemies, length of life.
I shook the bag and threw, selecting only tiles with their faces hidden, that had at their landing formed shapes of import. I took three from a right-hand arc, and laid them in the direction of the moon’s waxing. Riches, marriage, children. Two made the portion of a star, and these I laid, one at the center of the sun, the other on one of her rays not filled, that for length of life. I threw again, commenting to Lady Pytta, as I did when casting, keeping her apprised of my purpose.
And so I’d said, “I am throwing for war, enemies. Last, for friends, peace.”
“Put it all away.”
She said, “No, never turn them. Something is happening to us. This is not passing weather, foundling. I thought I would feel happier, knowing the future…and now I feel I trust you too much. I think it can’t be, can it? Peace and friends, long life. Can he come into his own…now? No. If my son’s father stays in favor with the Prince, still the Prince profits from war. And if he lives himself, he will only invite more of them, and they will only take more of…our fields, our houses, our knights and horses and gold, our sons and daughters. And you, you won’t tell me a lie… I’ll not bear it if I see you softening the blow, being kind.”
I Am the Cause
(2018, Stephanie Foster)