Totem: To Be and to Choose (part one)
To Be and to Choose
Lady Nyma’s assize was all of a nature impressive, sober, ceremonial…for me, never-seen. I must be dressed, I discovered, in a blue and yellow garment, one with high collar and buttoned cuffs, ornamented fasteners down the chest, that designated me Petitioner. I had counsel, and I had not expected it.
Vranga-lan Banche, for three days’ visits to my cell, had showed a face of wonderful containment. I was sure he despised me…why should he not? By his title, and by his great stoniness of manner, and by these competent mysteries urged upon his charge, each task of which I could but agree to, his aid to me was a gift.
More a boon…or even a tribute. For Cime, Pytta, Sente—and likely enough, Caleyna Treiva—were in cause together. My counsellor was a price too high for me to repay; I must bear an eternal debt.
I would stand when ordered to do so, I would sit and keep quiet, I would allow Vranga-lan Banche to speak, and speak for myself only when Lady Nyma questioned me. He’d said that word, allow. I was sorry if I’d come to be known…it would be my fault…by a reputation. By this, and by other things, Banche was hemming me in, as did my shorn hair and stiff coat. He wholly expected I would surprise, I could see that he did…in some way disobey, seize on this chance to have my name known.
Not that. I have no name.
“What do you think? It is only the villa of Montadta.”
I thought Banche smiled a bit, whispering as we entered a pillared hall…this, serving for antechamber, so that I understood his “only”. Strange furnishings, skulls ensconced in burnished helmets, and hides of animals, were hung on the panels between. It must be then the villa of Montadta the Prince had made his home. This awfulness must be both a norm to the northern castle, and a laugh in our shrinking southern faces.
Mumas was there with his own counsellor. As Respondent, his costume was like mine in trim, but of brown cloth. As well, he was allowed a sash, to represent the colors of his family arms. I did not bear Cime’s, had not suspected such honors, and the solemnities of this great performance embarrassed me…embarrassed me again at the vanity of feeling so.
I will take a moment to explain what may puzzle you, Reader, about the ways of this first country. I have lived in others; I know scruples are not alike among all peoples. The first party to the case, called to make his statement before the court, following a confusion of echoes, of voices shouting for silence, steps in cadenced pattern, and the blowing of a horn…a rush of air from a curtain drawn back, a faint scent that reminded me of my master’s house on that day of Lom’s murder, was he, Cime. You may object. Yes, it was his mother who summoned him to the dais.
My counsel prodded me ahead, soured on all the world and blaming me.
I faltered into the great chamber, stumbled over boots, drew laughs and found myself misdirected. I whispered:
“My lord Vranga-lan, will I sit below the dais?”
His head inclined at an angle.
“No, slave! There!”
One of the knights took my arm, pushing me back from the steps. Banche flushed in anger as three others rose, and bowed smiling, moving themselves from a front bench to a leaning place, over the rail of the gallery. Mumas and his counsel scooted next to us, furtive, and no one corrected them.
I hoped, for Banche was sharp of eye, that I’d well-enough concealed my gambit. Yes, he was enraged with the Prince; the Prince had upended all proper forms of conduct…and no doubt for the first time in his career, Banche had not himself known what was expected. His pride would not confide this to me. A man like my counsellor felt legal tradition travestied as acutely as Mumas did loss of place.
In the Prince’s land, a Father-King dictated all.
The Prince entered, kept his feet, the heralds blew a salute and flourish. He spoke, informing us of this custom, and how, again a stranger to ours, he anticipated the enjoyment of witnessing these…opening the session with a mockery of pomp, where I understood from Banche’s careful rehearsals, now from his bitter frown, ought to have been a simple reading of procedure.
Somehow, to our mercenary ruler, the rigid steps by which one climbed in the north—houses rising on marriage-bonds paid in tribute; tribute money gained from fratricides; houses aligning in plotted assassinations, tumbling when such schemes failed—were just and right. He and his knights spread limbs over all the remaining benches laid before the seat and table of Lady Nyma and her ministers. Her authority to recreate in the Prince’s usurped house, a proper court, had won her this, since he would not trouble himself to ride for a day, and would not allow our people to administer our law without him.
I do not mean to digress, having said so much. Lady Nyma bore a role bestowed upon her line, the founding House of Delia, by the gods. The gods, who ordered all things, could not mistake their own purpose. To suppose or to suggest that Cime might influence his mother, was as mad as to claim a mortal could hold power over the divine.
To Be and to Choose
(2018, Stephanie Foster)